Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And Then There Were None

If you've been reading here for a while, you know that I had the privilege of growing up with three grandfathers, and that I lost two of those grandfathers in the last few years--Grandpa Homer died about 3 years ago, from lung cancer, and my Grandpa Dub died last summer, mostly of old age. And this morning, I got the call from my mom saying that my Grandpa Gene is being taken off of life support for kidney failure today, and will be with hospice the next few days as he makes his transition.

He would have hated the way I put that, "making his transition." It's too soft, too weak. He preferred to call things the way he saw them. He would say, "He's dying. Well, that's the way things go." He could be a sarcastic, blunt old man. I hear his voice coming out of my own mouth sometimes.

There are other things I know about him too, though. His father was killed by Nazis in Germany when he was a young boy, which shaped him emotionally for a lot of his life. He has also been a stereotypical old world European, proper and a little sour, inflexible and yet social. Clearly valued boys more than girls, though I think he loved me anyway. Or was at least proud.

He volunteered his ass off after retirement, working at the VA hospital and for the Shriners, and lots of other things, too. I got the feeling he was deeply compassionate, and maybe wanted to be a different man than he ended up being. He was a colonel in the army. He went to the same college I did, and my grandmother wrote some of his papers for him, though not as many as she'd like you to believe.

Despite his brusqueness and rough exterior, he could be easily offended or wounded. If you sat down to talk with him, which I didn't often enough, he had questions for you and wanted to know more about you. I saw a different side of him then, and he was always different, more likeable, when my grandmother was not around. Maybe our relationship would have been different had my grandmother not claimed me as her own so early on, and had I reached out to him more. But no matter, now.

He saw the world in black and white. He ate a ham and cheese sandwich on rye for lunch everyday of his life. He loved watching soccer on t.v. He walked around in shorts and a bathrobe and floppy slippers, his chest hair whorling around every which way on his chest, which drove my grandmother crazy. He liked his riding lawnmower. He hated waste, and frequently scolded me for using too much water when washing dishes. He and my grandmother fought viciously my entire life. He loved his son, fiercely, and I think also loved my mother, his step-daughter, deeply, though in a different way.

He and my grandmother provided me with lots of financial support and special opportunities, all along the way of my growing up, and for that I feel immense gratitude.

He never got to know my girls, and maybe wouldn't have even if we had been around. Again, too late to know. And no sense in rewriting the past.

That's it. That's about all I know.

Soon, no grandfathers. I am already speaking of him in the past tense. And am feeling unexpectedly sad. But maybe I can imagine the three of them, my grandfathers, flying around in the ether, making friends in the absence of the strong, trouble-making personalities that are my grandmothers, who are thankfully still here on earth. If things had been different, perhaps those old men would have shared a brandy together, or played cards or worked in their gardens with one another, and would have found some common ground.

As long as I'm rewriting the past, why not?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sup Here

My time has mostly been taken up lately with grading papers (why the HELL did I assign so many?), taking a really interesting class at the University of Denver (it's only 3 Monday nights, not a whole semester--I'm not that crazy), and generally just trying to keep my wits and sense of humor about me (it's working. It took a while, but it's working).

Still, things have been happening on the sew-y/crafty front. I'm always promising pictures and then not delivering, I know. But I figure it's best not to inundate you with images of my mania. Instead, you get these. Up top, pictures of the fall garlands the girls and I made after dinner today. We put some thread on big upholstery needles and went out and collected leaves and other "nature" and strung them up here. Lovely, yes?

You might also notice our new breakfast nook-type thing there. We got it on Craig's List, and it feels just right hanging out under Rupert, our giant ficus. And we actually sit in our dining room now. When the girls and I eat dinner there, and I can look out the window at the foothills, and our plum tree, and our yard, I feel something loosen in my shoulders and am so glad to be in my peaceful home.

And then you see images of Addie, crocheting her very first scarf (I won't tell you who it's for yet). Isn't it pretty? Isn't she pretty? Isn't she big?


Then, my very own knitting project. I've known a few simple crochet stitches for a while but you might remember I recently taught myself how to knit on YouTube. I've been looking for a good book to actually learn from, and found the (appropriately titled) All About Knitting at the library. It's awesome. So now I'm finally working on this purse, using the yarn from L., making an Alterknits Felt pattern, which I'm translating using All About Knitting. I'll let you know if it works. It's taking me a while to build since I'm learning as I go.

Slow but sure. Maybe more slow than sure. But I'm knitting! It's fall! Leaves are falling!


Friday, September 25, 2009

Another Blog

So, thanks to N., I'm doing a little blogging over at the Denver site of the Huffington Post. I might cross-post links here, if that's okay. There's just two posts up so far, one on a night out Eric and I had for his birthday, and another on a climate change project I'm involved in at school. I'd like to keep this blog about my neuroses and crocheted whats-its, if that's okay with you, but I'll post links now and then.

Speaking of neuroses, I had a heck of a time writing these two Huffington Posts, as it somehow feels more official and visible and scary over there, while over here it's intimate and safe. So the writing is a little stiff. Forgive me while I warm up.

Fear, Meet Love

From a recent article by Martha Beck, in O Magazine:

Fear: Always feels bad, motivates grasping, seizes control, insists on certainty, needs everything.

Love: Always feels good, motivates liberation, relaxes control, accepts uncertainty, needs nothing.

"My Love Is Good," Addie, 2009

"School Fair," Addie, 2009

"School Fair," Addie, 2009

Yeah, I'm reading too much into these pictures. But the fact that Addie is obsessed with Fairs right now (School Fairs, County Fairs, State Fairs, People's Fairs), combined with her confusing "Fair" and "Fear," was too metaphorically rich to resist. I mean, isn't that exactly what I've been trying to do, with talking to flying pigs and chattering teeth and making friends with my anxiety? To make a Fair out of my Fear?

And then, of course, there is the greatest truth in the universe, coming straight from the mouth of a five-year-old: My love is good.

If that ain't the God's truth, I don't know what is.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Disappearing the Bus

I've been telling everyone I know lately that oh I'm so busy and I feel like I'm staying just a few steps ahead of the speeding bus. You saw it in that schedule post from a few days ago.

But I went a whole weekend without even thinking about the bus. In fact, I woke up today feeling perfectly myself.

N. and I were talking a few weeks back about our to-do list strategies. We both have a tiered system, with a large-project to-do list that gets broken down into a smaller to-do list, which gets broken down into daily tasks lists (we both also experiment with an intricate system of tasks and rewards). I write a new to-do list everyday, and sometimes multiple times a day. It helps me to stay focused and to triage when there's a whole lot of stuff coming at me at once.

Invariably, though, there are times when the to-do list starts to feel less helpful and more stressful. Like, almost always, during the fall semester. Because there is always more to do in a given day than can be done. I usually manage this by having reasonable daily task lists so I can at least get done the most important things, and feel good about that. But lately so many things have been coming up and coming due that I've been feeling behind.

Here's where the transformation comes in: I'm trying a daily intention list instead of a daily to-do list. Inspired by a truly eye-opening exercise with my spiritual teacher (a practitioner at my church, who reminded me gently and kindly and with a laugh in her voice that the speeding bus is an illusion, and I might benefit from seeing it as such) and a kick-ass unchurch service yesterday morning, I'm going to set my intention for the day, and then try to support that with tasks.

So, for example, my intention today is to work hard and experience peace. I got an email last week asking me to pray for one minute of peace today, so it seemed to make sense to set that as an intention for the entire day. I meditated on the concept of infinite peace, round the beads, and am working quietly from home today. Focused and steady but peaceful, not frenetic. It helps that the weather is cooperating by giving us a rainy, cold day--perfect for desk work. A few times, I've felt pulled to go into the office, but I'm resisting and continuing to work on the tasks I've set for myself here.

This way, the tasks become less about feeling a step ahead of the bus (which is really a metaphor for time, I think) and more about the energy that I bring to my tasks (which is peaceful).

Tomorrow: work and joy. Because I get to go hang out with some girlfriends in the evening. So why not try to bring that joy into my whole day? Why leave it to the end, as if it's an antidote?

We'll see how this all works out. You've seen me devise such programs before and then I'm back to my pissy old self in a week. But who knows? Maybe this will make that stupid bus go away for a while. Maybe even for good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

here's the thing

about Nolie. She has become completely inured to any traditional attempts at discipline. Addie can be a total firecracker, no question, but Nolie? A brick wall. A wrecking ball. A tank. She's inured to yelling, time-outs, consequences, rewards for positive behavior, and anything else we try to throw at her (without actually throwing anything at her, which is sometimes what we'd like to do, but don't).


A few months ago, Nolie discovered she could get up out of her bed and come out of her room at bedtime. Actually, she didn't discover it. I had to teach her. Because once your kid is potty trained, they have to be able to get up and pee in the night. The trade-off: no more diapers, but now your kid is no longer a caged monkey. She is mobile.

But still a monkey.

It looks like this now:

8:00 Nolie finally in bed, after bath, books, tummy rub, etc. We are using soft, soothing voices and there is much gentle smooching and loving.

8:04 Nolie cracks door open, then slams it shut.

8:05 Nolie cracks door, slams shut.

8:06 Open, slam.

8:07 Mama or Daddy goes in, puts Nolie back to bed, rubs her belly, she makes like she's all sleepy and will now stay in bed.

8:10 Nolie comes out and asks if there is going to be a storm tonight. Mom and Dad tell her to go back to bed right now and I mean it.

8:15 Nolie opens door. Sticks one limb into the hall. Fishtails her whole body into the hall. Is now carried back to bed screaming.

8:20 Nolie opens door. Mama or Daddy yell at Nolie to get back in that bed right this instant or else.

8:22 Nolie opens door. Mama or Daddy begins to drag Nolie's toys into the hall. Put Nolie back into bed. Then we collapse in our bed completely defeated.

8:24 Nolie opens door. We try again to be gentle.

8:26 Failure. Nolie opens door. Slams shut.

And so on. She finally has a big, big cry with one of us physically holding the door shut (she is SO strong. I can't even tell you). Once she has tired herself out crying she will eventually go to sleep. We curse ourselves and her and wonder what kind of parents would let their kids stay up until 9pm on a school night. Wonder how our friends who insist on 7:30 bedtimes do it. Wonder at Nolie's strength and will.

We need Nanny 911, I think. Or, a nanny. Or maybe just a good lock on the door.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

typical day

coffee clinks on my bedside table; check in to see which body parts hurt today; curse ageing; pry allergy-ridden eyeballs open; put Addie's hair in pigtails; kiss Nolie and Eric goodbye; shower; take birth control so all of this never happens again.

check emails while Addie plays. Make a list of things that need to be done because of emails; read articles that emails link to; shake my head at the sorry state of the world, because most of my emails are from climate change blogs; look at a few emails from craft blogs and wish I could stay home and futz in my office/studio instead of go to work. Worry about my children's future in this sorry world.

subsume. shake it off. a beautiful morning, and life is so good. the world is good, not sorry. forgot.

Addie to bus stop.

head to work. Prep class (if I remember to, apparently); grade papers; attend meetings; put out fires I started by my very own self; start new ones; teach class; cram lunch from home in my gob; read an article or two if I'm lucky. Work on article I'm writing if I'm lucky.

on the way home, stop at library, post office, and/or grocery store.

race to Nolie's school to pick her up in time so that we make it home before Addie's bus drops her off; if we're lucky, unload the car; pick Addie up at the bus stop; race home to prepare both girls a snack before they have a meltdown. If we're lucky.

unload kids' lunchboxes and mine; wash out the litle food containers and set to dry; make coffee for the next morning; load up all the lunches; make a vegan/organic dinner that the kids won't hork up onto their plates from disgust; set aside a plate for Eric; clean up dinner dishes; sweep floor.

vacuum, or scoop the kitty box, or play with the kids on the hammock, or go grocery shopping, or bake a birthday cake, or sign permission forms, or call the contractor who is supposed to be staining our house, or talk to the kids' teachers about our kids, the one who reads like a 3rd grader but forgets to put on underwear, the other who kisses you one minute, bites you the next because she needs more of your time, your attention, your love; because she's three.

eric gets home and crams food in his gob while I go out for a run or collapse on the couch; kids in bath; read to kids; kids in bed; kids out of bed; kids back in bed; kids out of bed; get kids water/bandaids/saline; kids back in bed. Maybe sleeping.

then? sewing? reading? television? sex? conversation? meditation?


maybe. if we're lucky.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lessons on Time

Man. Can you tell the first few weeks of the semester have been kicking me in the ass? Add to the last few crazy posts, this: I actually forgot to prep a class yesterday. Walked in with the wrong video and no homework assignment. My students think I'm NUTS. Yikes.

Then, a long talk with N., (and reading her post here) and I feel better. What came of that: sometimes, when you think you need to work more, it pays to work less. I think of the Dalai Lama (yes, again--sorry), who says that when he has a particularly hectic day ahead of him, he meditates twice as long.

In other words, it's not always about how much time you put in, but what kind of energy you put in. Easy to forget this.

So instead of being miserable and stressed and trying to get through a stack of grading last night, the girls and I pulled a picnic out onto the lawn, and I laid on a beanbag, letting all the angst flow out of my body, while they crawled all around me and gave me kisses (and kneed me in the groin--but who's noticing?). I had a good, long phone conversation with a friend after the girls went down. Finished a little embroidery. Watched a little crap on t.v. Read my most recent issue of Orion.

And, this morning before work, took a little time to sit out on my deck and soak up some sun. Just a few minutes, but all the difference in the world to my day.

Energy, more than time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Mean Boys

I'm putting Nolie down tonight, and she's all quiet like she's getting ready to nod off. Then she says, "Mama? No boys like me."


"No boys like me. Those boys won't play with me."

"Well, Owen loves you. And Neal. And Daddy," I lamely add.

"Yes, that's true. But no MEAN boys like me. They won't play with me."

"Oh," I say. "You don't have to play with them, then. You just play with the girls you like, okay?"


And off to sleep she goes.

Those stupid mean boys.

All readers who have boys: your boys are excluded, of course. They're not mean. So go easy in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Guilty Admissions

You won't find this on the crafty mama blogs. This is not about my latest embroidery project, or picking organic berries, or doing papier mache.

It's the guilty admissions of when I'm a horrible parent, a terrible mama, and want to just throw up my hands and give up on the whole thing.

Like, how Addie somehow made it all the way to kindergarten today, wearing a dress, with no underwear on, and we got an email from her teacher. That wicked pit in my stomach: because I was too hasty getting out of the house this morning, my kid might have gotten teased or something at school. Geez.

Or, following a dinner party conversation a few nights ago, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to try to have both girls sleep in the same room. EVEN THOUGH Addie is an introvert and really needs her quiet time and alone space and EVEN THOUGH Nolie cannot sleep with other people yet and gets too excited and can't stop shaking all over when she's not in her own room at night. But I wouldn't give up! I yelled and threatened and cajoled both of them to JUST PLEASE FREAKING GO TO SLEEP NOW last night before finally squeezing back the tears and having Eric drag Nolie's bed back to her room. Eric shaking his head at my insanity.

Or, how I've had rough words with Eric lately in front of the girls.

Or, how I sometimes struggle to find even a little kind word, and my kids are so little, and innocent, and precious, and I wonder what in the world hardened my icy heart so that I can't see them, how important and dear and wonderful they are, and instead get mean and small.

And then wonder why they are mean and small to each other.

And then wonder what I would do if there were a few more hours in the day so that I didn't feel quite so stretched and could be a better mama and a happier person and not quite so cranky.

Now. How to make that happen?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Someone has a new

haircut! Isn't it adorable? And somehow, it's as if she was supposed to have this haircut all along. She's just more her this way. Little bug.

Little Play

I found these embroidery canvases at the thrift store this summer, and traced some of the girls' artwork onto them, then embroidered over them. The top one is Addie's (an elephant) and the bottom one is one of the crazy bubble people Nolie always draws--they make me happy. So now these are in our living room.

Other than this little project: Nothing and everything to report. I've somehow let myself get too busy, again, again, and yet also have afternoons where everything feels quiet, and the girls and I have a little play, imagining time, and rest in the hammock, waiting for Eric to get home. I have days where I wish I didn't have to work, and days where I think I have the best job in the world. Days where I think I'm on top of it, days in the riptide. You know: life.

Still find myself seeking out moments of quiet. Checking in with the still small voice. The bit of flame within, unwavering. All that jazz.

In practical terms: make a short to-do list each day. Finish it, then on to other things

watching movies
hugging Eric
cuddling the girls.

Trying not to forget, trying not to compare.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

No Biggie

I've been having some good conversations with friends lately about the whole switch-to-vegan thing. The responses have ranged from support to questioning to dismay. I think this whole issue of how you eat and what you eat is a pretty big deal these days. There is such a spectrum of possibilities, and each position on the spectrum seems to be tied up with so many other issues and identities. Specially for us middle-class white folks.

So, I'm writing this post not in defense of my decision to eat vegan-ish (vegan-like?) but just to explore what led to my decision four years ago to become a vegetarian, and now to go a step even beyond that. As I think about it, the whole thing has a lot less to do with idealism than with pragmatism. You can decide.

The decision to become a vegetarian--smackdab in the middle of my pregnancy with Nolie--was a pretty easy one. Both pregnancies had soured me on eating pork or chicken (I could look at an uncooked chicken breast and totally vomit), except in their very worst forms: I craved McDonald's chicken nuggets and Home Depot hot dogs. In a big way. The smell of both nuggets and hot dogs, to this day, still makes me drool (yum!). And, of course, Eric and I ate plenty of steak. We would get one of those six-pack of Costco flank steaks and just go AFTER it. I grew up in Idaho, yeah? So eating meat there is like breathing air--you just DO it. You don't even think about it.

But I'm pretty health-conscious, too, and I knew that the meats I really enjoyed (chicken nugs, hot dogs, and steak) weren't that good for me, and certainly weren't good to eat very frequently. Actually, most meats aren't that great for you. And, right about that same time, MorningStar came out with a whole bunch of yummy (for once) vegetarian products that could be sauced up and made to taste pretty good. There was still fish and eggs, too, which seemed to offer good health benefits and could be purchased in an environmentally friendly way (maybe).

At the same time, my research was taking me into the field of Environmental Communication and climate change. I knew about the research showing that most meat production and consumption has pretty devastating impacts on our environment. So, even though you can buy organic or free-range meats, it seemed, generally, to be easier to just give up the meat. And, I didn't miss it, so why not give it up? No harm done by not eating it.

It helps, I think, that I haven't been agro about the no-meat thing. If I accidentally order something at a restaurant that has "meat-bits" (like in a soup) or if Eric makes a mostly-veggie recipe but uses a little chicken broth, no biggie. If I forget to tell the host of a dinner party I'm a vegetarian, no big deal. I just eat around this stuff. My kids eat turkey dogs and pepperoni pizza now and then. And I do not give a whit what you put in your pie-hole. I don't think of this as "cheating," maybe because I don't think of vegetarianism as being about "rules." I just want to be practical in a world in which most people around me eat meat.

Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that there was a kind of growing body of evidence to suggest that I would: 1) feel better 2) be trimmer, and 3) not be doing as much environmental harm if I gave up something that I didn't really enjoy that much anyway. And all that turned out to be true. I just trusted my body and my head to figure things out.

The vegan thing happened pretty much the same way. If someone had told me two months ago I was going to give up cheese, I would have snorted cheez-whiz out my nose laughing so hard. But, then, a critical number of factors came into play: 1) I read The China Study, which pretty convincingly argues that there are very negative health affects that stem from consuming animal protein 2) I gained a bunch of weight this summer that I couldn't lose, even when I upped my exercise 3) I discovered the joys of coconut milk and its derivatives (coconut yogurt and the most amazing treat of all, coconut ice cream).

I thought I was allergic to soy--remember the migraines--but I'm going to a new doctor who is fairly convinced my sinuses are to blame. He put me back on a kick-ass allergy pill (and it does kick my ass. Zyrtec is like an insane sleeping pill) and, voila, I'm feeling much better. Still eating soy (and coconut), but no headaches yet.

So. There it is. No big political statement. No judgments about animal cruelty (though I do like animals). I still have the occasional bite of cheese, and I will gladly hold your leather jacket for you while you head into the bathroom to pee. I'm mostly motivated by a hedonistic impulse to want to feel healthy, energetic, trim, and like I'm decreasing my impact on the environment a wee little bit). Eating vegan has helped with all of these things. I don't have my afternoon sleepies anymore, I've lost some fat, and in general, I just feel better.

And here's the shocker: I don't miss the cheese. I don't know how this is possible, but it is.

If you can feel happy and energetic and good eating your turkey leg and philly cheese steak, more power to you. I love your meat-eating self. Maybe we can share some coconut ice cream afterwards :).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Upcycle: More Faux Velvet Edition

'Nother upcycle. Made from 'nother old formal. I know it's not for everyone, but melikes.

Photo, courtesy Addie.