Thursday, December 12, 2013

I resisted this guy. It seemed like just one more thing to buy and to remember to do each night before bed. I resisted for so long I thought all three of my children had outgrown something like this.

I was wrong.

This year Livvy, who is almost nine, has talked about an elf on our own shelf every single day. Many of her friends have elves who appeared soon after Thanksgiving. She never whined; she simply looked sad each morning when she came downstairs. She talked with a friend from school (whose elf also hadn't made an appearance), and they decided maybe the elf didn't come until the tree went up. I knew Livvy was grappling with the whole concept, because every so often she would ask, "But wait, do you buy the elf?"

She is right on the cusp, this girl. She hasn't asked directly whether Santa Claus is real, but there have been so many questions. How does he know what I want if I haven't told him? How does he know you haven't bought me the same present? How would he know how to find us if we went away for Christmas?

I think, in the end, she's not quite ready to stop believing. Which takes us back to the elf. He seems more important to her this year than ever before, so last night, at long last, he arrived. This morning, when Livvy came downstairs, she said, "No elf, right?" And I said, "Liv, we put up the tree last night. Maybe he came. You should look."

And there he was, sitting next to some glasses in the cupboard. Great joy for one almost-nine-year-old. We may not need him again next year, but this year we definitely do.


Friday, December 6, 2013

When I picked up Holt, my 11-year-old, from a sports practice last night, he asked if I had heard that Nelson Mandela died. He said he had listened in on a conversation some older boys, who were working out nearby, were having about the South African leader. Later, when I walked into the family room, I found him sitting quietly, watching a tribute to Mandela on television. So, in honor of a man who changed the world and a boy who seems to recognize that, a quote for Friday:

"People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." - Nelson Mandela

I hope you have a very happy weekend.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Livvy, my 8-year-old, is beginning to worry about Christmas. Specifically, she's worried that not much is happening around here. There are no lights on the trees outside. There's not a wreath on the door. There's no elf on a shelf. There's not even an Advent calendar, and December most surely has begun.

I remember one year, when I was 13 or 14, driving home with my mother several weeks before Christmas. It was almost dark, and as we drove up the driveway, I asked her why she hadn't started decorating yet. Instead of answering, she began to cry.

It scared me then, but I understand it now. And I'd like very much not to feel so much pressure around this holiday (with a child's birthday thrown in the mix) that it makes me cry. Last year that meant not sending out Christmas cards. This year it means taking a little time to think about the holiday we just had and maybe starting the Advent calendar a week late. Over Thanksgiving, we went to Washington to meet my sister and brother-in-law. It was good to get away and be tourists for a little while. To let the preparations for the next holiday wait. I know they'll get done. Livvy shouldn't worry.

Cartwheels at the Kennedy Center.

A majestic Abe Lincoln.

Each time I've visited Washington as an adult, I've walked around with a lump in my throat. It was true at most of the memorials, including World War II and Vietnam, shown above. It was certainly true at the Holocaust Museum.

The Air and Space Museum is always a fan favorite.

The lump in my throat was back during our walk through Arlington National Cemetery.

This time we took a tour of the Capitol, a first for me.

A little sisterly love :).

All photos taken with my iPhone.

Love story

Friday, November 22, 2013

I have a friend who's always reading and who, when she says she loved a book, I know I will as well. Her latest recommendation was eleanor & park, one of the most moving love stories I've read in a long time.

Eleanor and Park are two 16-year-olds - a redheaded girl and an Asian boy - who are forced to sit together on the school bus. Neither of them fit in in their 1980s high school in a working-class neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. But they slowly realize they share a love of comics and music and, most important, a sense of humor, and their friendship becomes something more.

eleanor & park falls under the category of "young adult," but I'd hope anyone reading would be at least an "old young adult." The language is harsh, and Eleanor's home life, particularly her relationship with her alcoholic and abusive stepfather, is disturbing, to say the least. Yet the relationship between these two teens is innocent and tender and so true, and I was rooting for them from the minute they met until the last page.

"Nothing before you counts," he said. "And I can't even imagine an after."
She shook her head. "Don't."
"Don't talk about after."
"I just meant that ... I want to be the last person who ever kisses you, too ... That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I'm trying to say is, you're it. This is it for me."
"Don't." She didn't want him to talk like this. She'd meant to push him, but not this far.
"Eleanor ..."
"I don't want to talk about an after."
"That's what I'm saying, maybe there won't be one."
"Of course there will." She put her hands on his chest, so that she could push him away if she had to. "I mean ... God, of course there will. It's not like we're getting married, Park."
"Not now."
"Stop." She tried to roll her eyes, but it hurt.
"I'm not proposing," he said. "I'm just saying ... I love you. And I can't imagine stopping."

Have a happy weekend.

A Book (or Four)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The books I've read most recently have ranged from memoir to a compilation of advice columns (not what I would typically pick, but one of the most moving books I've read), from fiction to a children's book (by one of my all-time favorite authors, Patricia MacLachlan). What have you been reading? I'd love to hear.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed)

'The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer - and yet, also, like most things, so very simple - was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial.... As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go. The bull, I acknowledged grimly, could be in either direction, since I hadn't seen where he'd run once I closed my eyes. I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward. And so I walked on.'

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed)

'I do know one thing. When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we've fallen before. I hope you remember that the next time you fail. I hope I will too. Remembering that is the most important work as parents we can possibly do.'

The Good House (Ann Leary)

'I show homes to a lot of important people - politicians, doctors, lawyers, even the occasional celebrity - but the first time I saw Rebecca, the day I showed her the Barlow place, I have to admit, I was a little at a loss for words. A line from a poem that I had helped one of my daughters memorize for school, many years before, came to mind. I knew a woman, lovely in her bones.'

White Fur Flying (Patricia MacLachlan)

' "He doesn't speak?" asked Alice.
"No," I said.
"Why?" asked Alice.
I shrugged.
"Okay," said Alice. "I can talk."
I smiled.
"You sure can," I said. "You and Lena."
"He doesn't have to talk," said Alice.
"That's what Mama said."
But why didn't he talk? Was he afraid? Was he sad? He must have talked once, maybe when he was a baby. When he was little? Maybe he talked last week. Why not now?'


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One of my very favorite design blogs, Remodelista, has a new book out called Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home, and it doesn't disappoint. It features 12 very different homes, including a loft in Los Angeles, a cottage on the Cape, a bungalow in Pasadena, and probably my favorite of all, a brownstone in Brooklyn, owned by one of the cofounders of Remodelista. What I've always liked best about the blog (and now the book) are the resource guides - where to buy or how to get a similar look.

The house tours are followed by chapters on kitchens, baths, and design ideas (using jars as party glasses, dining tables as desks, or army cots as reconfigured coffee tables). There's the Remodelista 100, the author's favorite everyday objects (and where to buy them), including butterfly chairs, Miele vacuum cleaners, Steele canvas hampers, painters' drop cloths, John Boos cutting boards, sheepskin rugs, and wire flyswatters.

I read the book through like a novel the first time around and then went back and took mental notes. I'm sure I'll continue to refer back, like the manual the author intended it to be. It won't gather dust.

(All photos from Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home)

Beautiful world

Friday, November 8, 2013

A quote for Friday (so late that you may not see it until Saturday).

'The world did not have be beautiful to work. But it is.
What does that mean?' - Mary Oliver

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

(Photograph by Emily Anderson for Rue Magazine.)

Kindness, again and again

Friday, November 1, 2013

I thought once I became an adult, I wouldn't need this reminder so often, but I find I do, almost every day. So a quote for Friday. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

"Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see." - Mark Twain

(Photo by Vitaliano Bassetti, Italy 1954)

Fans and frights

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A quick post to say an enormous congratulations to our hometown team, the Boston Red Sox. I was a fair-weather fan, to be sure, jumping on the bandwagon only after the team made it to the post-season. But I got the biggest kick out of this group of crazy, bearded guys who liked to have fun, had an enviable work-ethic, and seemed to love each other. We spent far too many late nights watching (resulting in one 8th-grade late slip this morning), but it was worth every single moment.

Meanwhile, the plea this Halloween in my house was to go not just scary, but SCARY scary, and I failed. We had spider webs, spiders, carved pumpkins, and many hanging creatures with black hair, exposed skulls, and broken teeth - but still it wasn't enough for my children. I even hung a black witchy creature by the back door, which scared me half to death each time I was in the kitchen and the wind blew her skirt across the window. At least one of us was afraid.

I hope your Halloween was fun and tremendously scary.

Pickup game

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The email from my youngest daughter's soccer coach said practice this week would start a bit earlier and "go until dark." I wasn't sure how dark dark should be, but when I arrived, I had to look hard at the girls running up and down the field to find mine. Formal practice had ended, so the girls had divided themselves into teams and switched out a regular ball for one that glowed in the dark. Their ponytails were snarly and their cheeks pink from the cold, but no one wanted to stop. To them, it didn't matter that there was dinner waiting or homework to be finished. They just wanted to play. And so it goes.

It's these informal pickup games that my youngest loves best. At recess, after school, after practice, and between "real" games. All they need is a goal, a ball, and a few children. Age, gender, ability - none of that matters. They're happy when a parent or teacher joins in. Shoes (and shirts for the boys) are optional. I'm in love with this age, with these pickup games, with their snarly ponytails. I know that too soon the fields will freeze, the snow will fall, and these 8-year-olds will be 11- and 14- and 16-year-olds. I'd like to think they might still play this way, that it won't end.

In Brazil, home to next year's World Cup, it never ends. In an article from last Sunday's New York Times: "In Brazil, the ball is always moving. It moves on grass and on sand, on concrete and on cobblestones. Sometimes, during the rainy season, it even moves on water." There's the dream of fame and fortune, of course. According to the article, Brazil is annually among the nations exporting the most players to foreign professional leagues. But mostly, pickup soccer in Brazil is about escape, and about joy. It doesn't matter if the game is played on a strip of grass between highways, on a beach, in a cage, or in a parking garage. "This game ... this is where you go to be yourself," one boy said. True in Brazil, and true on a field behind an elementary school just down the street.

Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

White church, orange leaves

Friday, October 11, 2013

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." ~ Anne of Green Gables

Have a wonderful (long!) weekend.

(Photo: bluepueblo.tumblr.com)

Smoke from the chimney

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

This is how, if you asked, I would describe our across-the-street neighbor: such a good guy.

He lives in a traditional Colonial house in a most traditional suburban neighborhood. He's my age but is single with no children. In the warmer months, he skateboards to work, and when the waves are good, he straps his surfboard to the roof of his car and goes. He typically dresses in board shorts, even when there's snow on the ground. His shoes of choice are flip-flops and sneakers, and each morning he runs for miles. When he comes back, he crosses the street to pat Clementine the dog, lying in the driveway. He buys boxes of cookies from the neighborhood Girl Scouts and many more tickets than one person needs to the annual pancake festival at the middle school. When he was frustrated by too many cars speeding through the neighborhood, he worked to get a new stop sign installed on the corner.

In the summer, he tends to his vegetable garden, and in the winter, he builds fires in his fireplace, and those fires are the whole point of this post. (It took me a very long time to get there, didn't it?). It's cool, sometimes even cold, now at night when we get home, and thanks to our across-the-street neighbor, that cold air more often than not is filled with the smell of smoke from his chimney. Most nights, in my house, we're too busy to make a fire, even in the dead of winter, and that's a shame. I love everything about fires, including the smell and the sound. I love the orderliness of stacked wood and the containers people use to hold it. And so a goal for the winter: to take the time to make more fires. And in the meantime, feeling grateful for our surfing, skateboarding, gardening, cookie-buying, all-around good-guy neighbor, who already does.

(Photos from top to bottom: Sanctuary; The Ranch at Live Oak in Malibu from Remodelista; convoy.tumblr.com; thegiftsoflife.tumblr.com; Catherine Kwong Design)

Second best

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Oh, what a week, including one daughter home from school yesterday, a second one home today. What I think they need most of all is sleep. School, away games, late-night practices, and even later-night homework, and it's not yet October. And, in our case, it's not yet high school. But it reminded me of a New York Times interview with Debora Spar, president of Barnard College and author of a new book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, which came out this week.

In the interview, Spar says Barnard women are "coming out of high school exhausted," after years of fighting for perfect SAT scores, working to get into AP classes, and trying to balance all those many, many sports and extracurriculars. In her book, Spar advocates "satisficing," or settling for second best. "Sometimes second best is really good," Spar says, "and second best is much better than fourth best or worse."

She gives an example of coming home from work, saying a quick hello to her 8-year-old, and rushing back out the door. "Where are you going?," her son asked. To a PTA meeting at your school, she said. "Why?," he asked. Because I want to be involved in your school community, she told him. "But I want you here," he said. And after that, she never attended another PTA meeting.

During late-night homework sessions this week, I finished The Art of Fielding, a book I resisted for too long, thinking I had enough baseball in my real life. And if I'm completely honest, I also resisted because I tend to prefer books written by women. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this - it's ridiculous - but it's true. After reading this book, I hope I've learned a lesson. This is a story about baseball, yes, but also about relationships, home, fear, failure, and love. It paints such a true picture of college life and the friendships formed there, particularly male friendships:

"Schwartz held out his fist and Henry bumped it with his own, and Pella could tell from their somber, ceremonious expressions that their feud, or whatever you'd call it, had ended. Men were such odd creatures. They didn't duel anymore, even fistfights had come to seem barbaric, the old casual violence all channeled through institutions now, but still they loved to uphold their ancient codes. And what they loved even more was to forgive each other. Pella felt like she knew a lot about men, but she couldn't imagine what it would be like to be one of them, to be in a room of them with no woman present, to participate in their silent rites of contrition and redemption."

Be brave

Friday, September 20, 2013

I went walking with a friend tonight, and she told me about two brave things her children had done recently that hadn't turned out the way they hoped. It's so hard to understand when you're 14 or 11, but it's the bravery that matters, not the outcome. I've been thinking about bravery this week - about not letting fear get in the way - since coming across these two quotes I love.

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"- Spencer Johnson

"Be you, bravely"- author unknown

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

What they're wearing now

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I always wished for a brother. During a drawn-out tomboy phase, I envisioned someone who would play basketball with me on the driveway or skateboard down the hill. When I was a teenager, I pictured a sibling who would be both protector and friend and who would bring home his own fun friends. What I never thought about were the clothes.

But in our house, at this moment, it's all about the clothes. My oldest daughter has become almost more interested in her brother's closet than her own. My youngest daughter looks carefully at what he's wearing and wants to wear the same. Suddenly, athletic shirts and shorts, crew socks, boy fleece, and grey T-shirts are all the rage.

The child least interested in fashion is leading the fashion pack. Who knows how it began or how long it will last. For one of us, it can't end soon enough. Because not only is the style of clothing appealing, the actual clothes are best of all. And he'd like his sweatshirt to stay on the shelf of his closet, not to find it at the bottom of his sister's backpack. He wants his socks to remain in his sock drawer. "That's mine!," I'll hear him yell from upstairs.

I suspect this may be his lot in life, and he certainly won't be alone. Sometimes the boy clothes are just better. But for now, I'll play my part, that of backup. "That's his," I'll say. "Go get your own jacket." I'm happy with my role: I know in seven short years, he'll be gone, and I'll no longer need to help defend his drawers. I'm confident he'll be ready. He's getting such good practice.

(If you're interested in more feminine fashion, Kate Spade is having a 75 percent off sale, but it ends tonight, so hurry.)

While the drawings are still girly, the everyday clothes are less so. Illustration by Livvy Fletcher.

Getting off the phone

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sooner or later, I was bound to drop my phone in the pond. Nearly every day I take our dog, Clementine, to a nearby pond to swim, and typically I'm holding a leash, a small bag of treats, and always my phone. This particular day, I put my phone under my arm to throw a stick, and it slipped and fell in the water.

It spent the next few days charging in a bowl of white rice. Each time I took it out of the rice and unplugged it from the charger, the phone turned on and off at will until it quickly lost all power. Even the short trip from charger to desk was too far, so back it would go.

I needed a new phone, but time got in the way, and for several weeks I did nothing about it. I simply left the phone charging and checked emails and texts from the kitchen counter. And I realized: not having my phone with me was something of a life-changer. Before, when I was stopped at a red light, I would check my phone. Before, while I waited at the orthodontist for a child to be done, I would read emails, send texts, or look at Instagram/Facebook/Twitter. I'd hear the ping of a new email or the different ping of a new text, and I would check as soon as I could.

Not having a phone with me meant sitting quietly at a red light, or reading a magazine at the orthodontist, or, even better, talking with the person beside me. I realized that before the phone-in-pond incident, I was on it all the time. I'd like to think I was better about it around my children, but I know I wasn't perfect. I know this because one night my oldest daughter, Kate, said to me, "I think not having a phone has been good for you."

I bought a new phone this weekend. I feel more comfortable having it with me when I'm out. But I'm going to try to hold on to my new after-the-phone-fell-in-the-pond life. I'm going to sit at a red light and pretend it's back home, sitting in a bowl of rice. I'm going to leave it in my bag while I'm waiting at the orthodontist. I'm going to try to be a little more present. And when I take Clementine for a walk, I'm going to leave it on the kitchen counter.

(Photo by Livvy Fletcher)


Friday, September 13, 2013

Several people I follow on Pinterest collect quotes, as I do. They've named their boards such things as "Words to Live By," "Wise Words," and even "Wordy Candy." I have a board of quotes, the name of which is "Quotes." I could do better. But the important thing, I suppose, is coming across words that are thought-provoking and a good reminder of something. Words to live by.

The end of the week seems like a good time to share some of these thoughts, and I'll start by sharing two.

"Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big. Because to them, all of it has always been big stuff." - Catherine M. Wallace

"The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" - Arabian proverb

I hope you have a happy weekend.

(Photo by Raceytay.etsy.com)

Good things online

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two new-to-me Web sites I'm loving, plus one not-as-new but always good:

A group of bloggers - writers, photographers, stylists - recently got together and started Clementine Daily. I love it for its name but also because it's like getting a favorite magazines in the mail - or email - every day. House tours, interviews, fashion, food, and a daily quote that I like most of all.

Have you heard of Tradesy? It's a site where you can sell clothing items - jackets, handbags, sweaters, etc. - you no longer need or want, and Tradesy will do all the work, including sending you a pre-paid shipping box once an item sells. You can go there to shop, too, of course, and I just spent more time than I should have looking through an assortment of size 10 shoes.

I've been reading Sweet Paul Magazine for some time now but always get excited when a new issue comes out - and a new issue just came out. The photography is gorgeous, and there's always something good - from recipes (salmon stir-fry for dogs!) to travel (Stockholm) to interesting kitchen finds. I think you'll enjoy.

First day

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

While I've been thinking a lot about this blog, I haven't actually been writing this blog. My excuse is summer, filled with lots of children all the time. But then suddenly yesterday, they were gone, leaving a dog behind and a mother with a lump in her throat. There are changes this year, as there always are, including the first year of middle school as well as the last. It was a big day.

I won't say summer flew by, because it didn't always feel that way, but it was good. Good to be off schedule, good to go away and come home again, good to move a little bit slower.

The slower pace meant more time than usual to read, which I'm always grateful for. I just finished The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani and couldn't put it down. I also liked Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and Oprhan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I re-read one of my all-time favorites, Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen. I cried hard throughout the book, which my husband says is proof I loved it. He's right. Now I'm looking for my next good book. Any recommendations?

Motherhood here and there

Thursday, July 25, 2013

For four years, we lived next door to a family from Norway, and they became some of our closest friends. Our children were young, with a 7-year-old, a not-yet-born, and everything in between. The kids raced between houses, had their first sleepovers, and started preschool and elementary school together. We celebrated Norwegian holidays with them, and they went trick-or-treating and to Fourth of July parades with us.

Audrey (the mom) and I spent hours talking on their driveway, and often those conversations were about life in the United States vs. their home in Norway. Audrey is Scottish, married to a Norwegian, and her ability to adjust to other cultures seemed almost effortless. Her insights into life both here and there fascinated me.

Eventually our friends moved back to Norway, and we miss them. I thought of Audrey, her sweet, Americanized kids, and all our conversations on the driveway, when I read the first of a series on one of my favorite blogs, A Cup of Jo. For the series, called Motherhood Around the World, blogger Joanna Goddard interviews American mothers about their impressions of raising children in a foreign country. First up was Norway (coincidentally), and last Monday was Japan. You can find both here.

I've loved reading about the differences these mothers have encountered living overseas. But I've also loved the sameness. For example, Joanna interviewed Yoko Inoue, a photographer who grew up in Japan but lived in the United States for 17 years before moving back with her American husband and son. She talks about children walking to school: "As parents [in Japan] we have to make sure kids always say greetings 'with big voice! Good morning!' No mumbling or looking down. If you don't, it's considered so rude!"

I smiled when I read this. "Remember to look the person in the eye," I'm constantly telling my children. "Use a good, strong voice" (though I'm going to start using the simpler instruction, "With big voice!"). Very Japanese of me, I now know.

This photo is not really related to the post other than reminding me of when she was 7.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Last night a friend asked me how long I had been married, and I couldn't remember. I knew it was either 15 or 16 years, either 1996 or 1997 but not which one. I was fairly certain my husband wouldn't know, either. It wasn't until I sat down later with a calculator that I figured it out. My other option would have been to dig up our wedding invitation.

One of the things I do remember about that time is going to wedding after wedding after wedding. It seemed as though there was one every weekend, usually requiring road trips, hotel rooms, pedicures, new dresses, and reunions with friends. All those weddings took a bit of effort but were so worth it. They were that much fun.

After the wedding stage came the non-wedding stage, where I remain today. The non-wedding stage consists of one wedding every five years or so, if I'm lucky. Definitely not enough. Not enough beautiful brides and beautiful dresses; earnest, clean groomsmen; scene-stealing flower girls; moments that make you cry and many that make you laugh; that feeling of two people starting out on a great adventure.

I got a little bit of a wedding fix last night when I read C Magazine's fall wedding issue. I loved seeing the dresses, the table settings, the flowers, the brides. I was intrigued by an article about Greg Kalamar, an artist from Los Angeles who paints scenes from people's wedding celebrations in the likeness of a Degas or Monet painting. The image below is a painting he did of a reception inside San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Meanwhile, looking forward to my next wedding invitation. I'll try to be patient.

(All images from C California Style Magazine)

Finding the way there

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A friend dropped a book off on my doorstep yesterday morning with a note saying how much she liked it. My computer was moving slowly, so as I sat and waited, I read the author's note at the beginning of the book. And there I came across a perfect description of my life, right down to the detail about the author's sister:

"A hopeless navigator, I regularly got lost trying to find birthday parties and doctors' offices, exiting the highway at the wrong place and driving around for ten minutes without recognizing anything. After a while my children would begin shouting from the backseat, 'You're lost, aren't you? You're lost again! Call Aunt Bridget!' My sister, Bridget, would navigate me back to our town after I called her on my cellphone, my heart pounding with the stress of being late, being a wretched driver, risking a citation, being lost."

This is me. I remember driving a carful of girls to a birthday party and becoming utterly lost with no idea where to go next. The GPS was no help because apparently - as I remember - there there two streets with the same name in the same town. I called my sister, trying to sound calm for the listening ears in the backseat, and sure enough, she got us there.

I love the author's description of this state of being - being late, being a wretched driver, being lost. I once told my children I don't panic when I'm lost because I'm so accustomed to it, but that's not true. Being lost in a car is a terrible feeling. The GPS (usually) helps, to be sure. And of course my sister.

The book, by the way, is Paris in Love by Eloisa James. It's about the author's decision to take a sabbatical from her job, sell her house, and move with her family to Paris, where she continues to get lost, but this time on foot and - most important - with much greater pleasure.

'Wet foot, dry foot. Low foot, high foot...' *

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I won't tell you too much about my feet, because certainly no one needs to know that. I'll only say they're nothing like my 8-year-old's feet, or even my older children's, though I become less and less familiar with theirs as the years pass. But my 8-year-old still needs me to trim her nails, so I know those feet well. They're soft and smooth and wash off quickly and easily with soap and water, even when she has spent the large part of her day outside barefoot.

Part of the problem with my feet stems from my love of flip-flops. The fact that I wear flip-flops almost all the time in summer, even to walk the dog in the woods, certainly doesn't help. When my feet are grimy after a walk, they don't wash off quickly and easily with soap and water. So I was intrigued when I came across a recipe on Pinterest for a foot scrub and thought I'd try. It's so simple, with just two ingredients: liquid soap and granulated sugar. To make, pour half a cup or so of sugar into a bowl and mix with liquid soap until goopy. Then, using your fingers, rub the mixture all over your feet, concentrating on heels and toes, and rinse.

That's it. And the best part is, it works. It's the sort of DIY scrub my 13-year-old loves. After using it a few times and ending up with fairly clean, softer-than-when-I-started feet (though still not 8-year-old feet), I'm loving it, too.

*Dr. Seuss


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Katie Cole and I were best friends from Kindergarten until the day she moved away in 4th grade. Here is what I remember about her:

1. She wore her blonde hair in two braids every single day.
2. Her mother's name was Priscilla, and she had a little sister named Sarah and a one-eyed Dachshund named Oliver.
3. One day I was sitting next to her on the school bus, and I lied to her about a grade on my report card because I wanted her to think I had done better than I had.
4. Both her parents grew up on farms in Iowa.
5. There was a big bump in the road in front of her house, and I always made sure to ride my bike over it when I went to play.
6. One day on the playground, she said something mean about me to a group of girls, and I went home and cried at the kitchen table with my mother. I forgave her the next day.
7. I sat in the bathroom and cried again the day she came to our house with her parents to tell us they were moving cross-country. Almost immediately after, or so it seemed to me, they were gone.

Two of my children each have a close friend who is moving far away in a month or so. Unlike my experience in the bathroom, both have known about the moves for a little while, and I hope this will make it easier. But they will miss their friends and will remember them when they're grown. I feel sure of that. But which memories will they take with them? I hope to find out when we get there.

Friday thoughts

Friday, June 7, 2013

The details of the story I'm about to tell you elude me, such as the store I was in or what I was looking for, but about a year ago I was in a store looking for something, and the woman (very young) who was helping me suggested I look online. I must have stared at her blankly for just a second, because she said, "That means the In-ter-net," as if I were 110 years old.

I remembered this last night when I was thinking about the Internet and how I'm still sometimes amazed at being able to look up anything I can possibly think of at the exact moment I think of it. (Coming across something I'd never think of in a million years or know anything about also is good.)

Last night I was thinking about Mary Oliver and began to read through some of her poems. I have several favorites, and there they all were, just by typing her name. Here's one I particularly love because of the last line. Amazing thing, that In-ter-net. I hope you have a happy (almost summer) weekend.

The Summer Day, Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(Photograph: Baby grasshopper by Jack Hochfield. National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2012)


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Part 1

Six years ago, when we bought our house and did a renovation, there was very little left at the end for landscaping. We had budgeted for some "hardscaping" - a stone wall along the driveway, a smallish bluestone patio in the back, and a very small bluestone landing by the side door. Plantings were minimal, mostly because of cost, but also because I wasn't sure what I wanted.

I knew what I didn't want, though, and that was color. I consistently tore pictures from magazines (this was pre-Pinterest) of all-white and green gardens, and I thought they were beautiful. I'm not a big color person to begin with, so this was easy.

Part 2

Very slowly, over time, I began to add to the garden. They key to Part 2 was my good friend and neighbor who also is a professional gardener. We'd wander through nurseries and sometimes bring home a hosta, a boxwood, or some Solomon's Seal. She'd often stop by with a shovel and a bucketful of something she'd divided from her own garden or a client's, always white. "These will sulk for a while," she'd say, "but just wait."

Part 3

My mother's house was about to go on the market. I thought about how my children always asked if they could pick a Lamb's Ear from her front bed, I think mostly because they liked the name. I thought of her rose bush by the front door. I thought of her garden out back that had become overgrown but once had thrived, and which my mother had loved.

So we put on our boots and went back to see what was there. And what was there were peonies. Peonies that were not in bloom. I tried hard to remember what color they were but couldn't. I also couldn't leave them behind. So we dug them up and brought them home.

Part 4

For a while after the peonies were planted, nothing happened. Nothing happened for long enough that I began to think they hadn't survived the trip from one garden to the other. But then, this spring, buds began to appear on one of the plants, and one day those buds exploded into bloom.

A few days earlier, I had been talking to my 11-year-old about a big decision he had to make. I had asked him to try to explain to me what he was feeling, and he said, "I don't have the words."

That's how I felt when the peonies opened. They made me both happy and sad, but mostly happy. I took a picture with my phone and emailed it to my sister. She made me promise that if we ever move, we'll take the peonies with us, again.

One last thing: My all-white garden now is splashed with a deep, hot pink. That was the color I couldn't remember. Of course.

The peonies cut from my garden.

Home from the library

Monday, June 3, 2013

I haven't yet come up with a perfect system for reading (or, rather, for buying or borrowing books). Typically, it goes like this: I'll be at the computer late at night and realize I have a list of books in my head or written down somewhere that I'd like to read. I'll skim through reviews on Amazon and then order them all at once from the online site our public library maintains. Because of this, they usually come in and need to be picked up all at once. But I can read them only one at a time, which means I rarely get through the stack before they're due back, which in turn leads to another flurry of emails and inevitable library fines. There must be a better way, or at least I need to read much faster.

With that said, this is the stack I've just picked up (and as I write, I realize there's a common theme running through all of these):

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. A single mother searches for the truth about her daughter's tragic death.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. A father prepares for the wedding of his daughter at his family's New England summer home.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. A fed-up mother disappears, and her daughter sifts through clues to find her.

She Left Me The Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. A daughter travels to South Africa to try to unravel her mother's mysterious past.

So here I go. Trying not to panic.

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