Thursday, June 30, 2005

Off I go

To do the dumbest thing a person can do, drive to a destination roughly seven hours away for July 4th weekend.

It's not my choice, believe me.

Farewell until Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Feeling Empowered

My right turn signal wasn't lighting up, so rather than let the shop have the car all day and charge me the hour minimum of labor for five minutes of work, I bought a $5 bulb and replaced it myself.

I am woman, hear me roar, my '94 Taurus Wagon too loud to ignore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Things you hear yourself saying "yes" to...

M. is looking at the cover of the August Magnificat:

Why is Mary putting that crown on, Mommy? 'Cause she wants to be cool?

MV, folding laundry and not really listening: Yes...wait! No!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Nothing To Do

When I was little I had a book called Nothing To Do (I hope it's still at my mother's house, because a quick Amazon and Abebooks scan indicates it's both out of print and obscure). It was about a family of--I suppose they were badgers or something--and the father and mother have a lot of chores to get done, they tell the kids to stay outside, and their son complains he has nothing to do. So the father gives him a smooth pebble and tells him it's a nothing-to-do stone and when you hold it in your hand it helps you think of something to do. So first the boy says he's going to play with his erector set and the father says "That's an inside thing to do; you were standing too close to the house. Try again." Then "You could give me a dollar and I could go downtown...." "That's a 'costs money' thing to do. You were standing too close to my wallet." Eventually he finds something to do and later helps his little sister occupy herself.

I think that's the kind of day we're going to have around here. I need to do laundry, bake bread, toast granola (we went through two huge pans in one week), and eight zillion other things I haven't thought of yet. Better find a couple of smooth pebbles.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bigger Rant Averted

Whereas at morning in a jeweled crown
I bit my fingers and was hard to please,
Having shook disaster till the fruit fell down
I feel tonight more happy and at ease:
Edna St. Vincent Millay, ll. 1-4, sonnet xxiv, Fatal Interview

Edna says it for me almost every time.

I was in a really foul mood yesterday, so foul that I couldn't even manage to type it up, for which be very glad. But at some point the fever broke--not until after I had left a crying phone message for someone at 7 a.m. their time, dropped S. at the skating rink with no socks, and offended a friend by inadvertently making a face when she suggested bringing a sprinkler and slip-n-slide to a barbecue we were both attending later. Okay, the fever broke at the barbecue after two beers, a frozen margarita, and the professional-level funniness of one of my friends' husbands. I wish his genius translated to the written page, but trust me--I'll just tell you one jest involved Pixie Stix.

Oops, gotta run...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Tiny Rant

R. (I can't truthfully say "little R." Anyway, R. my son) woke me out of a glorious, sound, fathoms-deep sleep last night at 11:30 to tell me...that he couldn't sleep.

It's one thing to come and tell me that if I'm, say, watching TV downstairs. Then I might invite you to join me (although I'm a mean mom with adult tastes in TV, and probably not). But when I am lucky enough to be asleep? What am I going to do about it? Yes, it sucks when you can't sleep, but, I a mean mom? I was pretty nice about it, but yeesh!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I'm going to take the rest of the week off from blogging, and, if I'm strong enough, from the web in general. I need to focus on settling into a summer routine, and I've been neglecting my book lately. So, 'til the weekend, mes amies.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Been a Long Lonely, Lonely, Lonely, Lonely, Lonely Time

Saturday was R.'s last game of the season, and the head coach's wife took me aside earlier in the week and said, ramblingly, "MV, we're going to get together on Saturday night at the beach, around 6, 6:30, everyone's just going to bring some food to share, we'll send you an e-mail."

So I thought, hmm, I guess since three team families belong to our beach club, they negotiated some way that everyone else can come in on Saturday night for an end-of-season thing. I didn't ever get the e-mail, so when I dropped off money for the coaches' gifts I left a note, let me know what I can contribute. So then I got an also rambling phone message, "Well, I'm going to bring some hot dogs, and some cheese, and a salad, and a watermelon..." then she named the families who would be there, and they were beach families, not baseball families, and I thought, Hey! We're being invited to a party! With the Coach-Families!

These are people we have known ever since we moved here and R. was not yet 3. I guess she invited me to some random things back then, and I always said no, because big R. worked 12 hours 7 days a week that first year. She also backed out of R.'s 4th birthday party the day of, and failed to RSVP for a Christmas party and then said months later that they found the invite behind the kitchen cabinet...I guess we both just gave up inviting each other to things.

We had a fabulous time Saturday night, although as always I did better talking to the men than to the women. Women (not my friends, but random privileged suburban women) always seem to me to be sliding around beads on an elaborate internal counter, figuring out who wins. Whereas the men seem to be thinking, "Are you sexy? Okay, are you cute? Hey, you're funny!" And it's okay if you can just get them to stay away from, "Ooops, you're too smart."

Anyway, as the sun set gorgeously and I was processing a margarita and a fair bit of white wine, I decided I could overcome my usual reticence and solid boundaries to say, "Mrs. Coach-Family, thank you so much for including us." So I did, and to my wincing horror, Mrs. Coach-Family said, "It's been a long time coming." Don't say that!

I know, I'm very neurotic.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Present mirth hath present laughter

Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
"Look what I have!--And these are all for you."
Edna St. Vincent Millay, ll. 9-14, Sonnet xi, Fatal Interview

It's teacher gift season, since today was the last day of school. When I was in grammar school there was an explicit school rule against giving gifts to teachers, and only a few bold mothers flouted it. My mother disdained breaking this rule, but always had a luncheon party for my teachers because they were all her friends anyway (she taught in the same district). My mother comes to this issue from a complicated background (and thus so do I): my great-grandmother became a Jehovah's witness late in life, and because she lived with my mother and grandmother, her religion (and refusal to celebrate holidays or birthdays and exchange gifts) exerted a chilling effect on the household. My mother had one birthday party, her sixth; and she's weird about holidays and presents.

All this to say I don't know how many of my issues with gift-giving stem from that and how many are valid--although anecdotal evidence indicates I'm far from alone in my feelings. To wit: I hate feeling obligated to give presents. I hate feeling like presents have to cost a certain amount of money. I love picking out presents for people, and I hate watching people open presents I have selected, because I'm so afraid they will be disappointed--not just by the cash value, but also by what the present seems to say about them. I love receiving presents and I hate opening them in front of the givers because I fear that I will be disappointed (never in the cash value, but maybe sometimes in what they represent) and it will show on my face despite my best efforts.

Most people give the teachers gift cards, and I understand the desire to spare them more tchotchkes, but I hate hate hate giving anyone a present that has its monetary value literally written on it. And frankly, I don't know how other families can afford the amounts they hand out. So I had what I thought was a pretty good idea: I bought (at Burlington Coat Factory, which has the best accessory department among discount stores) packable sun hats and tied coordinating scarves around the crowns, put them in also-coordinating dollar store gift bags. S. came home reporting how her teachers Miss R. and Mrs. D. had oohed and aahed over their hats, the colors, the usefulness, etc. Raly said that his teacher Miss O. loved hers and had modeled it for the class. So then I asked, "Did Mrs. S. and Mrs. W. open theirs?"

"Yes." Beat. I couldn't help laughing. I guess three out of five isn't bad.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fake Meme

Ergo posted 14 goals, some of which she suspects may be unrealistic. So I decided to come up with an arbritary 14 goals of my own.

1. Write a book
2. Publish a book
3. Convince my kids (and myself) that everyone makes mistakes, and they can almost always be fixed
4. Travel to France, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark.
5. Learn to surf
6. Landscape our yard so it is (in front) not an embarrassment and (in back) a beautiful private retreat
7. Sing (and maybe act) in public again
8. Learn to play the mandolin
9. Use my advanced degree for something other than making people nervous at book clubs
10. Learn to speak Welsh
11. Own a pied-a-terre in Manhattan
12. Become an authority on something
13. Save as many good books as I can from obscurity and destruction
14. Help keep folk music alive

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Gotta Run for Shelter, Gotta Run for Shade

It is so hot I don't know what to do with myself. My best idea so far is weeping. When I woke up this morning and it was already 80 and muggy, I just felt despair. I did get all my stuff done yesterday, although I swept up a pile of crumbs and grit and then got distracted on my way to the dustpan and brush, so when R. stopped home to change before the baseball game he saw it and then asked me, "what's up with the pile of crap?"

I wish I had a digital camera so I could show off my Martha Stewart cupcake creations.

Ordered bed number two. Oh, and I hate doctors, especially the Patronizing Pediatrician we increasingly get stuck with at our group practice. I called the nurse line to say, "My daughter S. has a stye and her eye is almost swollen shut. I'm putting on warm compresses. Anything the doctor can really do for us?" The nurse calls back and sternly orders me to make an appointment. So we go in, and S. tells the PP she has a stye. The PP nods condescendingly, examines her all over, then turns to me and says, "She has a stye. Do you see it?"
"Yes," was all I felt safe saying.
"Has she ever had one before?"
"No, but I get them all the time. We've been putting on warm compresses..."
"Here's what I want you to do: get a washcloth wet with water as hot as she can stand, then hold it on her eye 10 minutes out of every hour."
"Yes, we've been doing that..." and just as I'm warming up to complain about the phone nurse, the PP, and healthcare in general, she throws in,
"I'm going to prescribe an antibiotic ointment, although," she looks pointedly at me like I'm a proven drug seeker, "it would get better on its own."

So because of the ointment I can't claim there was no point to our coming in, but it's really just another opportunity for her to do what she does best--patronize.

Sorry, I'm sure my mood will improve after the violent thunderstorm this evening.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


My day:

PTA Executive board meeting 9-10 a.m., to which I was already dragging a 3-year-old, now add a 7-year-old home from school, eye almost swollen shut with a stye.

Make 4 dozen cupcakes, 24 graham-cracker-crumb "sandy beaches" with cocktail parasols, 24 blue icing with construction-paper shark fins sticking out (thank you Martha Stewart) for advance celebration of 7-year-old's summer birthday in school tomorrow, assuming eye is better.

Possibly go to doctor although there is nothing to do for a stye but wait.

Drive 9-year-old to 2:45 piano lesson

Make dinner way ahead of time because of:
Out-of-town baseball game at 6 o'clock.

Call yard man and ask him to tear out all bushes in back yard (I know this seems like it would take two seconds, but if you have phone phobia like me it takes all day. Weeks.)

Usual laundry and tidying.

Deciding whether to buy this bed, this bed, or this bed, or some infinitely better and just as cheap bed I will discover one week after one of those beds arrives.

And I started all this off with a silly fight with my dear husband. I was telling him about my parking adventures this weekend while he was away. The main idea of the story was supposed to be "Our town is so hip that you come to blows with people trying to get a space on Saturday night" but it ended up being "Why do you always start with the assumption that I'm in the wrong when I tell a driving-related story?" I should never converse before 9 a.m.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A Syndrome

Big R. and not-so-little R. left this morning to go camping and whitewater rafting. I steeled myself for a couple of hours of running around despite all my best efforts to pack and prepare extensively on Thursday and Friday. I know this routine because my little brother is the most neurotic camping-trip preparer in the universe. And okay, in our family I'm the neurotic one.

Big R., though, drives me crazy with something my mother calls (and we lived with my parents for a year, so she knows) "Don't I Have A Wetsuit?" Syndrome. R. has such an optimistic nature, and a vivid imagination, and loses things so frequently, that if he doesn't own something he needs he quickly convinces himself that he does own one and just hasn't located it.

"Where's the groundsheet?"
"What groundsheet?"
"The groundsheet that goes with the tent. You have to put a groundsheet down to keep the damp from seeping through."
"We don't have a groundsheet. We've only used this tent on the beach up 'til now."
"Are you sure? I think we have a where would it be?"

*Edited at 9:20 to say: The above exchange did not happen exactly as written, but it could have. I'm just trying to describe the syndrome, but I had to clarify in the interest of honesty.

Equal Time

You can read below about baseball, my son, and me.

This morning I was driving S. to softball practice. She is delightfully alien to me. She asked me if I played softball when I was her age. I nearly lost control of the car laughing, No. She then said,
"I love sports so much that I can just never give up on them whether I'm good at them or not."

Sense and Sensibility

Over at Things To Do, Ergo says (see comments) I would like to be less sensitive, cause it doesn't turn out to be that useful.

Hmm. Not useful. In weaker moments I often accuse daughter S. of liking to argue (favoring semantics), and now I know where she gets it. Not profitable, maybe. Not...productive?

I have to believe it's useful, having, being, and knowing so many sensitivos. It can be an excuse--"X. is so rude and nasty to everyone else in the family because he's sensitive." It can be a way to dismiss someone--"Oh well, you're so sensitive." And my mother now dismisses everyone in the world who mistakenly describes someone as sensitive by wheeling around hand on hip and remarking wryly, "We're all sensitive."

But. But. Then I look at my son, who is...let's just say he feels things deeply. It makes things hard for him sometimes. It makes things particularly hard among boys. I think, though, that it also makes him particularly loving, and particularly insightful. And the usefulness of love and insight are not always abundantly apparent, but I think they must be very useful indeed. In a butterfly flapping its wings in another galaxy kind of way, maybe.

I know for a fact that ergo sang "In My Life" once on an important occasion, so she knows that we are made up of all the little moments in our lives. And don't get me wrong, I would love to be a stronger person, and less sensitive, too. Some days.

And of course there's art, but that's another post...

Friday, June 10, 2005

More from the mouths of babes

The kids were trying my patience in the car, and they knew it:

S: Mommy, are you going to leave us on the outskirts of town?
R: We live on the outskirts of town.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

O Wise Young Judge

Three-year-old M. on the weather:

"This hot is so yucky."

Put Me In, Coach!

Last night, at my son's baseball game, I experienced one of those time-warping moments of advance nostalgia--you know, when you astrally project, survey the scene and think, Is this happening? Is this real? I was watching the third-grade boys crowded around the water jug, looking so grown-up--mostly tall and skinny, with the everything-old-is-new-again long hair--and still such vulnerable babies at the same time. I listened to the chat and laughter of the parents on the bleachers, felt the baking heat and the sun in my eyes (finally, after weeks of shivering when the sun starts to go down).

My boy, R., has been playing with this same team of about a dozen boys since Kindergarten Tee-Ball; and we've known a couple of them since they were in diapers on the playground. Being the shy weirdo that I am, I'm really just getting to know the other mothers. While it's true that I pray for rain almost every time there's a game, and I complain about how baseball makes the springtime so hectic, I really enjoy the games once I get there. They're so American, so small-town. I grew up in this small town, but I wasn't sporty, and since I wasn't a boy no one tried to make me sporty (unlike my poor brother). So this is a new frontier in normality for me, and I have a kind of double experience of it, being both the suburban mom and the amateur anthropologist.

I should mention that R. is really pretty terrible at baseball. I'm not sure if he's the worst on his team, but he's definitely in the bottom quarter. When he's not on the bench he's in center field, and on the rare occasions that the ball comes to him, he's off in another world. He's the king of walks, though, so everyone gets to yell, "Good eye!" at him a lot. Most people are surprisingly nice about it, considering the image of small-town sports as a cutthroat arena of obsessive near-violent pushy parents. My husband is very athletic, so I shudder to think how inept R. would be if I had married someone clutzy like me.

Anyway, as you can tell, I relish the (for me) ironic, slightly unreal game of being a baseball mom. I love walking through town with R. in his baseball uniform and having people ask him, "Did you win tonight?" I like calling people on my cell and saying, "Hey, I'm just headed home from R.'s baseball game; would this be an okay time to drop off that pie plate?"

And I love how every game is different, in the stands as well as on the field. The first game our guys won this year (after a starting the season with a long losing streak) was the night a mom who lives near the field dragged a plastic sled full of chips, salsa and wine over to the bleachers. As the boys whooped and hollered, someone called out, "Get the parents loaded and the kids finally win one!" At the last game last year, someone's little brother kissed my daughter S. under the jungle gym (the siblings know each other really well by now too) and the news spread like wildfire. Talk about small-town! And an excellent lesson for S.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Men carry stuff

We discovered Jay Hitt, an unjustly obscure singer/songwriter, at the Rutgers Folk Festival a couple of years ago. My favorite song on his album "Bright Extraordinary Day" is called "Twenty-Five Years Ago," and is a good song for putting on endless repeat and singing along to while sobbing quietly, although I'm sure it would be even more cathartic for someone who's closer to fifty. The last song on the CD is the brilliant "Men Carry Stuff," which includes a rambling Arlo Guthrie-style introduction; the chorus depicts a mother instructing her daughter--

Darling, when you grow up you'll be something;
You'll be strong and you will thrive when times get rough.
There's not a thing that you can't do alone, but in the end
You'll want men to carry stuff.

And it's true. Carrying stuff stinks, so why not ask men to do it? They seem to consider that they possess not only strength, but also unique knowledge that specially qualifies them for carrying stuff. They're cute when they're doing it, delivering gruff and pinched instructions to each other and looking grimly determined.

So imagine my surprise when I suggested to my husband last night that we call my dad and ask him to come over and help carry the garage sale armoire, paint presumably dry, up to our bedroom. He said, "I think the two of us could do it."

We did. The paint was not, in fact, quite dry. I did, at one point, have to say in a gruff and pinched voice, "My ankle is pinned against the stairs." But the armoire is now in our bedroom. I don't know whether I feel good about the experience or not.

My bread theory

So I have this theory. (When I announced this to my husband he snickered and I said, "What, do I have a lot of theories?" "Yeah, kind of.")

1) Because I have to, because it would be embarrassing (and in the case of dinner, expensive) not to, I manage to put a home-cooked dinner on the table every night and have clean clothes for all five of us every morning. No matter how busy and lazy I am, those things get done--they're the standard.

2) Store-bought bread comes in two varieties: nasty (hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, fake preservative smell) and cheap or good and expensive.

3) It doesn't take all that much hands-on effort to bake bread, especially if you have a machine. (I don't like to bake in the machine because of the weird paddle-hole, but it does a great job of kneading and raising).

So I think it would be eminently possible to bake all my own bread if I make it a clean-clothes-and-dinner-level priority. Starting today--wish me luck.

Friday, June 03, 2005


If I may beg your supreme indulgence...actually, who am I kidding? Almost no one reads this.

As I was saying, I'll try not to make this any more of a habit than laundry posts, but I am about to post a composition my son wrote in school, in its entirety:

Mommy is very smart.

She can do many things other moms probably can't do. [n.b. If he's anything like his father, this is a really nice way of saying I can't seem to manage the things the other moms can do. Not nearly as bad as Julianne Moore's character in The Hours, but like that.] I say this because once she cooked dinner and it tasted terrible! I said so and she probably didn't like that. So when she said she didn't like it either I think she was just trying to make everyone happy.

Now, why do I like my mom? Because she always finds an answer to a problem.

The Odd Sock Basket

I could have called the blog "The Odd Sock Basket," but it would make me feel very Erma Bombeck or Jean Kerr, and I only want to be those women some of the time.

There is, in fact, a basket in my room filled with the odd socks that are left after every laundry-folding session. The many odd socks I might say, but I won't go on and on about my family's inability to put things in hampers--others have scooped me on that story. And I'll just mention briefly the absolute guarantee of finding the odd sock's mate two days after you have given up and thrown it away.

No, what gets me about the odd sock basket is that with every load some socks are reunited, but new socks are inevitably consigned to the lonely basket existence. It's emblematic of a quality of life--especially domestic life, but I suspect all life--that can bring you up or down, as you choose. The relentlessness, the eternity of it. Every day we have to cook the damn dinner; every day we have the opportunity to savor what sustains us. Every day things get dirty and have to be cleaned; every day is the opportunity to start fresh. Every day some things are lost and some are found.

Don't worry, this blog isn't going to be about laundry every day. In fact, this being a rainy Friday, I think I feel a song coming on...

Thursday, June 02, 2005


I am adding a new link to my "places to drink," with a caveat. I am not a true Flylady devotee because I don't do her daily routines and I can't stand to be pestered and nagged via e-mail. I do, however, find some of Flylady's philosophy helpful--especially that "housework done incorrectly still blesses your family," and that you can do anything for 15 minutes. I have made one Flyladyish rule for myself: I don't leave the house in the morning unless the beds are made, the dishwasher is emptied, and one load of laundry is started.

I have a friend with eight children. Eight years ago when I had one child and she had four, I was complaining about the laundry. She told me, "I have three loads of laundry every day. If I skip a day, the next day I have to do six." That's pretty much where I am now.

My house looks like a cyclone hit it (as my grandmother used to say) at this moment, but I know it's pretty tidy underneath the cyclone, and I'm not in despair as I might have been a couple of years ago, thanks to what I imbibed from Flylady.

I still have a kind of scattershot method of dealing with the domestic front. I bought those tons of food (shocker, because grocery shopping is something I enjoy and do well). Leroy delivered the car.* But other than that I've done nothing on my list for today. I bought and installed a new telephone that doesn't make periodic loud electrocution noises. I covered the mudroom wall with cork tile so I can display the children's artwork there. I dealt with one daughter's tantrum over her homework. Now to the mess.

*In case you ever looked at an auto carrier truck and thought, "That looks scary, but they must have some really technical and secure method of getting the cars on and off," no. Leroy poked at the cars with a crowbar, stuck his leg out the open driver's side door and pushed them back and forth when they got was one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen. But I enjoyed the receipt, which included a diagram of the damage the car showed when they picked it up ("Note: car is scratched all over. Note: Car is extremely dirty.") Hee.

The piazza at the end of the tunnel?

Yesterday I let someone down. I hate doing that. Caused by sheer laziness and procrastination, too, which would make it worse except that I have many years of experience in beating myself up for laziness and procrastination, and the sting is kind of gone. "Busy month" was my technical excuse (don't worry, I also apologized profusely) but honestly, who isn't having a busy month? A busy life?

So today I have to make it right. But I also have to buy huge quantities of food for my ravenous growing family. I should work out. At some point a man named Leroy is going to deliver my sister-in-law's car, and he informs me that he cannot come to my house but must meet me at a shopping center ("Leroy, I live on a four-lane road--Ma'am , I cannot unload a 100-foot truck in a traffic lane"). I want to work on my book. And while this is not a high priority, I want to listen to my The Light in the Piazza original cast album that arrived yesterday.

Oh, and I want to sleep forever, because yesterday, between Cub Scouts, Little League, and letting someone down, was exhausting. I had a boyfriend in college with a theory that good and bad days reliably alternate. I'm going to try to start this good day up with a latte now.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Love Story

I'm facing the morning with a horrendous sore throat that I fervently hope is caused by allergies, not a cold. So I'm chewing Aspergum, which I love. Aspergum and I needlessly spent so many years apart. When I got the first bad sore throat of my college career, I told the boy I was yearning after at the time, "I'm going to go to the U-Store and get some Aspergum." He said, "What's Aspergum? That sounds like a terrible idea. I'm sure it's not very good for you. You should get Sucrets or something instead." I listened to him. Sometimes I think my daughters should not be allowed near males from the time they're 12 until they're 25.

Then for years I could not find any Aspergum, anywhere. No one had ever even heard of it. A couple of weeks ago I was in the Mom and Pop pharmacy, the one where your prescription is actually ready when they said it would be, the one where the pharmacist is not channeling Ursula from "Mad About You," and--Aspergum! Right up front, as you walk in the door, even! I bought some on speculation, and here I am needing it.

So along with the sorrow of a persistent soreness on swallowing, comes a joyful reunion with a medication I love that has not, in fact, been banned.


Okay, so yay, links. Now it's time to pick the random items up off the floor, all over the house. I'll be back tomorrow, and with any luck I'll have regained my sense of proportion.