Sunday, October 5, 2014

to forgive or not to forgive

We read The Maytrees by Annie Dillard for last month's book club--a challenging and hypnotic read.  I passed it on to a good friend's mother who is an avid reader.  I've lost my chance to go back and pick out parts of the text that I highlighted, but I did find some notes with words for which I had to use the dictionary:  "tatterdemalion", "pauciloquy", "epistomeliac".  Have you ever read any Dillard?  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or The Writing Life?  She is a lover of rare words.  They are sprinkled into spare prose like hot peppers into a plain soup. 



The Maytrees is a meditation of love set on Cape Cod with an assortment of eccentric characters.  Lou and Toby, bohemian painter/poets, fall quickly, madly in love, but as it turns out, Toby does this quite often.  At age 42, after the birth of his son, he leaves his wife for another woman.    Lou falls apart and gets it back together by making daily treks to Pilgrim Monument.  Her son grows up to be a fisherman.  Toby's wife, Deary, is on her death bed when he asks if he can move back in with Lou.  She invites them to come live with her.  Under these extraordinary circumstances, Lou and Toby find their way back to each other.  Love, birth, loss, and two beautifully told death scenes are bound together by the theme of forgiveness. 

Right before I started reading this book, I was sitting in church listening to a sermon on forgiveness.  This does not come easy to me.  While I am able to forgive little daily trespasses (I have a teenager for crying out loud), I can not forgive the big things.  The Rector asked us to consider letting go of hurt and anger and forgiving someone who had done us harm in the past.  I mentally checked out and did a grocery list.  "Not gonna happen."  My husband is always amazed (appalled??) that I remember every little insult/hurt/slight/comment over the course of my life.  He likes to point out some are imagined.  But the big ones aren't, and I will never forgive certain things that have happened to me.  I am not proud of this at all.

So when I started reading this book it was hard for me to imagine how Lou would welcome home her husband after he ran off with another woman.  Usually when I read a novel I like to imagine what I would do in certain situations.  How would I have responded to this?  The fact that his wife (for whom he had callously thrown over for a mutual friend) allowed him to bring Deary to her home to die really made me think hard about the way forgiveness can be freeing.  Not that I think I would be capable of doing that, but that it speaks to the power of how we heal. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

things i have learned since becoming a Southern transplant

Well, I have been meaning to write about the most amazing book I have read in a long time:  The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. 


It was intense and thought provoking.  Despite discussing it in depth last week, I find myself still pondering the story and the characters.  It's a beautifully poetic book that explores the theme of forgiveness.  Will get on that post soon, but for now, a little procrastination while I ruminate a few more days.  I found myself trying to explain how to use the expression in #10 to someone the other day, and felt like I had learned a thing or two since we moved here 14 years ago.

Things I Have Learned Since I Became A Southern Lady

1.  Teach your children to say yes ma'am and no sir.  Even if they don't address you that way, they need to address adults and teachers as such, lest people think you are raising barbarians.
2.  Always have a go to casserole recipe on hand (or in freezer).  My signature casserole is a spinach-chicken-pasta bake.  It has a high calorie secret ingredient which makes it popular.  I end up delivering one at least once a month.  There are always people going through a divorce, an illness, tending to an aging parent or sick child, etc.  I know my friends have signature ones as well, because I have seen repeats when my mother died and I was going through thyroid cancer.  God bless the chicken enchilada casserole.
3.  Join a club:  PTA, Garden, Book, Supper, Board of Directors, or whatever floats your boat.  Cultivate a community. 
4.  Take care of your front porch.  Have a seasonal presentation.  Right now it's the mums and pumpkins but I make mine unique by painting them odd colors--the pots and the pumpkins.
5.  Never go out in your pajamas--even if it is to drive the kids to school or get a gallon of milk from the store.  SOMEONE always sees you.  Or your kid is late and you have to walk into school in polka dot pj's to sign him or her in and collect the tardy slip.  And then they think you are a sloth or a drunk or a nut job.
6.  Go to church.  Enough said.
7.  Be a good neighbor.
8.  Always plan your parties with your guests' preferences in mind.  For example, I have a friend who is a g&t fellow.  I once made the mistake of not having tonic water on hand when he was over.  That will NEVER happen again.  Plus the limes.  Never forget the limes when you host a party.  Or the post-party bourbon for late night stragglers.
9.  RVSP and always write a thank you note.
10.  Employ the expression, "bless her heart" when you are talking about someone else in a less than flattering light.
and finally, embrace the Mint Julep in the springtime. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

round the world blog hop

The lovely Elizabeth at Bottle Branch has very kindly invited me to take part in this "Round The World Blog hop".  A former writer over at the defunct Manners For Modern Mothers, Elizabeth now has a blog devoted to her artistic/creative endeavors. 

Once I won this pretty silk screened tea towel in a giveaway on her blog, which I have in our guest bathroom. She does a lot of needlework too, and her blog is very interesting to read, even if you don't needlepoint!  She seems to have loads of wonderful, creative projects to do with kids.  Plus she is a great photographer.  So how could I ignore her invitation?

While my blog isn't a blog devoted to one craft pursuit, I sometimes talk about my crafty projects, so I will take her up on the offer to have this chance to introduce myself to you, following the blog hop format. 

linen silk screened towel 


Where I Have Lived/Lived

I grew up in Miami, Florida, in a little community called Miami Lakes.  My father was transferred to Ohio when I was a teenager, so I feel like my roots are Midwestern.  Some of my best friends are those girls I went to high school with.  I went to school in the Midwest as well and then moved to Washington D.C. for a few years.  Then it was off to Charlottesville, VA and then Seattle, WA.  I was married at the Asian Art Museum in Seattle, just blocks from my condo.  I also gave birth to my first child within walking distance of our condo, so a big part of my heart is still in Seattle. 


pulled this out of a frame--on the steps of the museum
 


We moved to Virginia when she was a baby, and we love it here in our little city.  My husband's job is based out of Connecticut so we could truly live wherever we wanted to, but we choose to stay.  After 14 years our roots are deep here y'all!  Eventually I want to live near a beach, but there's a lot of living to do before then.

What I am Working On

When I do get involved in crafting, it's usually with furniture.  I love to paint furniture.  In almost every room of my house there is something that I have painted.  I have a pale green dresser and desk chair in my bedroom, a yellow side board in my kitchen, a French blue dining room table and multi-colored china cabinet  in our family room, a blue dresser in my son's room and a white armoir with designs and white desk in my daughter's room


dining room table, post dinner party (color is different in real life)
 
I tend to eschew trends (like the chalkpaint thing that is going on right now) and just apply color and lots of polyurethane.  I always replace knobs or pulls with funky ones.  I have "distressed" furniture before, but usually the things I paint are not in great shape or of high quality so they end up looking somewhat distressed on their own accord!  If I had a dream house to furnish, it would be a beach house because I am madly in love with the shabby chic style of light colored (whites/blues) furniture.  This store in Wilmington, NC is my favorite place to wander and admire gorgeous pieces of painted furniture. 



Why I Write/Create

I enjoy writing as a form of reflection and relaxation.  I blog because it gets me focused and helps me process things.  I also enjoy journaling and letter writing.  I am going to get the children's book idea out of my head and onto this computer this fall if it kills me.  I used to write a regular column for our neighborhood paper, but now I contribute every now and then.  This September I wrote an article about Thyroid Cancer Awareness Week.  It's on page 10 if you want to take a peek.  It's no prize winning piece of journalism.  I can't imagine ignoring the words and thoughts in my head--they need to exit onto paper or a keyboard.  It's a satisfying experience.  I do envy those people whose writing skills and creative gifts are such that they make it their livelihood. 

My Creative Process

I love to create things because when I am working on a project, I get into a zone.  All the crazy chatter that goes on in my head most of the time shuts up.  I have a lot of chatter.  I love the process of turning something ordinary into something extraordinary, even if it is only extraordinary in my own eyes.  I need to get into a quiet zone at least once a day.  I love swimming and running for this reason.  I put my body on autopilot and it frees my mind.  The longer, the better.  I guess that is why I enjoy doing things like swimming 4.4 miles across a body of water.  I have two 3 mile open water swims and a half marathon on my calendar this fall, and I couldn't be happier.  When I was a classroom teacher, I would usually leave right after school and go for a run.  By the time I finished the run, I had all my lesson plans completed for the next day.  I get a lot of thinking done when I exercise!  But I don't need to sweat to relax.  I also enjoy slipping into a book, hence the blog centered around books.  At any given time I have 3 books on my bedside table that I am reading at the same time.  It's a terrible habit, but I have stopped trying to cure myself of it.  So I guess this paragraph is less about a process, per se, and more about a state of mind in which creativity can flow.


great summer memory with my girl
 
 
I would like to invite 3 neighborhood bloggers to take a turn putting their own unique spin on this:  The Closet Coach, Fraught, and Life Under the Bigtop Too.  While they don't have blogs devoted to a particular craft either, these ladies are all creative, interesting, smart and funny.  I would love to read about why they blog and their creative process.  And I believe readers will benefit from learning about their vast knowledge of fashion, urban planning/re-visioning, and city chicken farming.  One has been rather scarce of late, perhaps this will inspire her to blog again?  Yes, I am selfish that way!  Cheers ladies!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

back to school!

Ahh, to start school after Labor Day.  Would that it were so.  We started school on the very uncivilized date of August 18.  The poor darlings had quite a shock to their systems.  We are now in week 3 and it feels like we have finally found our groove.  This is the first time I haven't been in a classroom since 1993 in some form or another, and it is MOST WELCOME.

A lot has changed in education over the past 2 decades.  I was remembering my first year of classroom teaching, way back in the olden days of 1993.  I had sophomore English and the only thing I was required to teach was Mythology and Othello.  That's it.  No standards of learning, no curriculum frameworks, no standardized testing.  I was able to team teach for 3 years with a history teacher and we created all our own integrated curriculum.  Two other teachers and I started a creative writing class!  The last year I was in the high school (Washington state), they introduced a standardized writing test that I proctored.  We coached the kids on the essay structure beforehand and it wasn't a big deal.  Fast forward to 2012 when I was working part-time doing reading remediation and given a reading program that I was required to follow, completely scripted and paced.  I actually didn't even have my own manuals or books.  I had to borrow them from the coordinator.  I lost my room when there was formal testing (formative assessments) and SOLs and had to relocate in the library.  It did me in.  I miss the kids already, and the many great, dedicated teachers at the school, but not the system.  It was a great gig for the time I had it.  The principal was a strong advocate for the students who were not meeting benchmarks and gave me a good deal of autonomy, but in the end my students didn't pass the SOLs, despite making individual reading progress, and it depressed me.

Luckily I have a few students I am going to be tutoring, and I joined a Board of Directors committed to starting an early literacy program, so I am still involved in my passion.  I also have some wiggle room to try a project with a photographer friend.  So lately I like to say I am "regrouping".  I am doing yoga on Thursday mornings, swiffering, volunteering at my son's school doing running club and Healthy Happy Cooks, swiffering, walking the dog, swiffering, catching up on our monstrous medical bill/paperwork/filing (never again will we do a high-deductible plan), carpooling, getting ready for two 5K open water swims, driving daughter to Charlottesville on Sundays for lacrosse (that's 6.5 hours every week), and, yes,  swiffering some more.  Honestly, I hadn't seen that Swiffer in years!  It had collected dust in the basement!  The Swiffer itself needed swiffering!  Maybe I'll get the cobwebs in the ceiling corners next week.  Clean out the dead stink bugs in the lamps.  Exciting stuff.  This all may seem lovely and nice, and it is, but I will add that my husband is out of town every week through November.  So there is some stress there.  He has left me alone with a teenager whose personality tends to clash with mine quite frequently.  Here is the lovely darling at breakfast, headphones on, of course. 



please don't converse with her in the am

Jack is back for his last year in the magnet school he has been attending since 3rd grade.  It is a good fit for him.  He has an adorable new teacher this year, one whom he described as "old".  When I brought cupcakes to his class for his birthday, I met this "old" lady and she is definitely 10 years younger than I.  She seems to have a sparkle that all good teachers who like what they are doing have. At his school he is encouraged to pursue interests and read on topics he chooses.  Of course he chooses weird/crackpot topics such as The War of Northern Aggression, but whatever.  He gets to take Spanish and this year a Strings music program.  He has a great principal and a librarian who actually likes books and children.  It's all good.  I will worry about him when we throw him into the sea of mediocrity that we call our public middle school, but he is looking forward to being back with all his neighborhood buddies and actually told me he wants to run cross country and join a club.  Shocking.  He's becoming mature!  Hopefully he will find his way without too much angst.  Sophie never liked middle school, but then again, who does?

 As a sophomore, Sophie seems much comfortable with her studies this year.  Last year was her indoctrination into The Roanoke Valley Governor's School and it was incredibly stressful (for everyone!!).  This year she isn't have any trouble with her math class, likes chemistry and hasn't complained once yet about engineering.  Fingers crossed this continues.  She has an amazing cross country coach, some top notch teachers, and a great lax coach too.  Her school is so diverse, and she doesn't blink an eye at some of the characters who populate the halls.  I certainly didn't have any "emo kids" or a transgender student or a pregnant student in my classes.  Good for her.  I couldn't be more pleased about her high school experience thus far.

 I think back on what I did in high school and the classes I took (never made it to Physics, which she took last year), and it puts me to shame!  I researched things at the library using a dewey decimal system.  I read books and wrote essays on lined paper with a pen and used words like "epitomize" over and over again.  I don't think I ever did a science fair project--she has been doing them since 6th grade.  Now at the Gov School they are fancy and called "Project Forum" and a huge deal.  I took the SAT once, with no prep course, and applied to just 3 schools without much thought.  How things change.

Well, that's all our news on the school homefront.  Off to a good start across the board.  I hope yours is too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

back to school humor

I don't think you had to be school-aged in the 70's to appreciate this hysterical comparison about going back to school between "then" and "now". 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

simmering

Hello readers,

I have a couple of posts simmering and sitting in draft mode.  Just can't finish 'em up.  One is about the fabulous movie The Giver that I saw last week with my kids and one about the beginning of school--the good, the bad and the ugly.

But for now, I'll just get a few things off my chest.  Just some random questions for the universe. I am currently hanging out with 3 boys and am lacking for adult companionship.


a glass of wine and a book--solitude

1.  Why the hell do people go camping?  I spotted a Volvo in a camping spot today with a sorry looking tent next to it.  If you can afford a Volvo, can't you afford a hotel room?  I don't get it.

it's hot and humid and muggy--this doesn't look fun
 

2.  Have you learned a practical life skill lately?  It's fun.  At age 48 I learned how to flush a toilet when the water is shut off.  Saved my weekend!  


3.  Can we stop with the hashtags?  #overused

4.  Can we stop pouring water over our heads?  #donate$

5.  Do we agree that having a teenager is God's way of paying us back for the crap we put our own parents through?  #karma

Over and out.  I am about to send some disgustingly dirty 11 year old boys (and dog) into the creek to wash up. #momsruinthefun




How about you?  What burning questions do you have in your heart right now?

Friday, August 1, 2014

food dichotomy

We were at the cabin last week and I brought some magazines to catch up on:  Garden & Gun's current issue "The Southern Food Issue" and the new National Geographic.  I read two articles back to back that struck me as sadly at odds.

not the current issue

Kim Severson's article "Southern Comfort:  the value of the table in the digital age" explores the rise of the food culture. 

"As the golden age of jazz defind the fast moving 1920s or film helped us unpack the harsh realities and changing sexual mores in the 1970s, food has become the cultural currency of our time . . . How we eat has become our cultural organizer.  Fast food used to be a novelty, then a necessity.  now it's a symbol of class division.  Homemade sausage used to be the stuff of a peasant class.  Now it is the new luxury food.  A country ham and the person who smoked it are as revered as an haute couture dress and the woman who designed it."

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be caught dead at a McDonald's. 

It was a well written article, and I agreed with a lot of the points regarding the pleasure and value of sitting down together at the table.  In a crazy, digital world, it's nice to share a meal with your family with no distractions, even nicer when it is a good one with fresh, wholesome ingredients.  It's a chance to slow down and reconnect.

What a privilege it is to be able to buy fresh, organic food.  And to have the time to prepare it.  Not everyone can eat this way; it is not sustainable for the planet.  Someone has to eat crap, food out of cans, GMOs, and it falls hard on the poor.  I don't think the farm to table movement means much to someone buying groceries with SNAP.

In the August issue of National Geographic, Tracie McMillan raises the question, "Why are people malnourished in the richest country on Earth?"  There is a new modern term for hunger:  "food insecure".  And there are 48 million Americans living under these conditions, more than half white and living in rural areas.  Many are families where one parent is working.  They are not deadbeats.

When you call up an image of someone living with hunger or food insecurity, you might be tempted to think of someone scrawny and malnourished.  The sad fact is that many are overweight.  Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, points out "people making trade-offs between food that's filling but not nutritious may actually contribute to obesity."  Would you rather give a hungry child a bowl of mac and cheese or some roasted kale?  And when I say hungry child, I mean the kind of hunger that comes when you don't know when your next meal will be, or it's a Friday and you know your kid won't get a hot lunch until Monday at 11:30 in school, and even then it will be crappy.  Or the food pantry is empty.  Or you've used up your grocery budget.

 
 
 
I would also add that from my experience working with low income children, many are not going to sports activities after school, instead transitioning to daycare or home to sit in front of a screen.  No exercise = sedentary lifestyle = obesity.

It IS possible to eat cheaply in America, but oftentimes people don't have the resources or education.  It takes planning and resourcefulness.  That is why programs that teach students, and parents, how to cook and grow food are beneficial.  In Roanoke, we are lucky to have some programs that are doing good things.  Two such programs are Food For Thought and Happy Healthy Cooks.  You can read about some of the success that the Happy Healthy Cooks program in the schools is having here.

Does your school system have something like this?  Do you have community gardens where you live?  I'd love to hear about it.