Sick Daze


Not me. My kids. Two of them are wandering around the house in various states of moan. Nobody is vomiting–this is what luck feels like. They ache, they leak, they cough, and they remind me of sweet, listless zombies. Poor dears.

The house feels small and tight, not because of sick zombie children but because of snow banks. Look out the kitchen window at the front yard and you need to crane your neck slightly to see over the mound of snow to the street. Look out the back and you’ll be confronted by a porch full of the white stuff (we really should shovel that off) that renders the back yard invisible. We are being slowly buried. There are tunnels that lead us to the driveway, and we discovered last weekend that we could exit via Barno’s bedroom window and jump off the porch roof if we need to escape (or just for fun, as you do on a Saturday afternoon) but downstairs it does feel like we’re animals in holes, waiting for a spring that might not come.

And it’s cold. I went for a run yesterday, out of desperation, and oh, it was bitter.

Apparently, the Grand Canyon is in Arizona. We are thinking of going there for April vacation, which is a mere six weeks away. We are not the kind of people who plan well. But at least now I know what state we’re aiming for.

Is it warm in Arizona in April? Will we be able to stand outside without hunching our shoulders and wincing? Will there be T-shirts and sandals? A desire for salads? Will I have to pull my hair back so the wind can find my neck? Because to hell with scenic vistas and educational sightseeing. I just want to feel not cold for a couple of days.

I think I’ll make a chicken pie. It’s been a while since I made a chicken pie. The older I get, the less I like to cook. But chicken pie–that’s a perfect meal for the cold tonight. And I know at least one kid likes it.

Stay warm, dear ones.


Book Woes


I’m reading a very terrible book. It’s a review book, so I can’t tell you what it is or who wrote it. I can’t even warn you not to waste your time! Not yet, anyway. But please know, I am suffering for the sake of readers everywhere. I am taking on the unpleasant task of slogging through these burdensome pages so that you don’t have to! Rejoice!

What kills me especially is that I have a stack of books, lovely hardcovers, that I got for Christmas, and the heartbroken looks on their pristine spines is nearly too much to take. “It’s not you!” I want to reassure them. “It’s me! I have to meet this deadline and earn my fifty bucks so I can buy more of you!” Not that they aren’t enough to keep me reading for a month, maybe two, but there’s always room for more. Poor new books. They’re just going to have to wait another couple days.

My book addiction waxes and wanes. I’m always reading, but I go long periods of time, we’re talking years, without buying. I have libraries, bookseller friends, review copies, and a life’s worth of previous purchases to keep me in words long after I’m dead. Some people do drugs, I do books.

But this time of year is tricky. After all that holiday shopping, I’m in the buying mode. My credit card just slides so easily out of my wallet. And T has ensemble rehearsal in Hanover every Saturday this month, and what does one do to while away the time while one waits for one’s child to be done with rehearsal? Why, one heads to the bookstore right down the street.

And these writers, these lovely writers, keep writing more books! If they would just pause for a year, I could catch up.

I know, I know, these are not real problems. Some people can’t read at all. Some people can’t afford food, never mind books. I should read my terrible book and be grateful I have eyes. Sigh. Fine.

But let me tell you, as soon as I’m done, as soon as I’ve written 225 words about the terribleness of this book, I am going to read five really good books in a row. So there.

Happy Birthday to me. And to Rebecca, and to Barbara Kingsolver.

“High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is!”

-Barbara Kingsolver

It’s raining today, and cold, and birthdays are great.

Even this one, which is mostly marked by leaving work to pick a sick boy up from school. Luckily, he’s not that sick. And a more appropriate way to take this life – at least, my life –  for what it is doesn’t exist.

A friend sent me that Kingsolver quote on Facebook, and another Facebook friend mentioned he still had some greeting cards I had made as a child. My best-friend-at-the-time (his daughter) and I pressed flowers and stuck the results under clear contact paper and sold the cards at a local general store called Bramhall’s. It was a general store in the old-time sense of the phrase. They sold penny candy (for only a penny!) and ice cream cones and local produce and lobsters. And antiques. And our greeting cards. We were WV Designs and so proud. I don’t remember how long we lasted, or how much we sold the cards for, or why we eventually quit. We were eleven, maybe twelve, so that was probably why. Other things, like horses, awaited us.

I learned a few days ago that the man who owned Bramhalls, Wedge Bramhall, died. I think of cancer. His wife was my preschool teacher and they were both very kind people who later had four kids, who, I imagine, are terrific kids. I remember him studying our one sample greeting card that we presented with shy confidence on a summer day, the oak shade doing not much to dispel the heat rising from our heads after our bike ride from Sarah’s house. This was in the days before helmets and we were wind blown by a hot breeze. “Sure,” he said, nodding. “I’ll stock your cards. Fifty-fifty.”

I don’t actually remember his exact words or the percentage he offered. I do recall his face and his willingness to say yes to awkward middle-schoolers who were desperate to do something that mattered.

I’m not cooking dinner on my birthday. Instead we’re ordering Chinese food and eating in front of an episode of Doctor Who. Boys will fight over who gets to sit next to their mom, and while most nights this annoys the hell out of me, tonight I will find it endearing and I might even get a little teary because yesterday I looked at old photos of my boys as babies and, gack, I miss them even though they’re right here with me. We will eat and I will have a glass of wine and later we’ll pile into the big bed and I’ll tell them the next installment of The Color Children, which is about five children of different colors – indigo, periwinkle, orange, green, and pink – who live together with no grownups in a big house that eats their enemies. It’s a really great house.

The glorious debris – I am surrounded by it, and so, so grateful.



Sunday Afternoon and Life Is the Opposite of Malaise

We aren’t an active family. I mean, we do stuff. Just not a lot of stuff. Sometimes it feels like a lot of stuff. But usually it feels that way because it’s a lot of stuff at the same time.

But today, oh, today. Today is…fine. It isn’t great, it isn’t bad, it’s just a very reasonable fine. We saw old friends this mornings, we cheered L at a basketball game early in the afternoon, and now we are home, and a chicken is roasting in the oven. The younger boys made popcorn. The older boy started a movie. The dogs are half-asleep on the couches thinking this is exactly the way life should be all the time and mostly I think they’re right.

Maybe not all the time. I like the highs, and while I can’t say I like the lows, I do see why they are necessary. They remind us of how much worse things could be.

And even the fact of Philip Seymour Hoffman and his stupid death–even that can’t quite puncture my general feeling of the opposite of malaise. What is the opposite of malaise? Webster’s offers antonyms like joy, well being, calmness, cheer, but none of those are, well, French enough. Joyeux? Still doesn’t cut it. You know what I mean. There must be a word out there that means “a French word directly opposite of malaise” and that’s exactly what I am right now.

I think I might go build a fire. And read a book. Tallis has a music thing every Saturday morning and it’s right near a bookstore, which is wonderful for the bookstore and not so wonderful for my bank account. I am trying to be good. But! Have you heard of A.S. King? She write really great YA books. I am reading all of them. You should too.

I wish for you all a Sunday like mine. Warm, cozy, just active enough. Perhaps with a roast chicken.

Kicking the Ass of the New Year


I used to love swimming, and then I didn’t. We’d go the beach and I’d be happy on the sand, maybe wade up to my thighs. I rarely even took off the sundress slipped over my bathing suit (or, more usually, the yoga top paired with skirted bikini bottoms). Was it a body image thing? Am I really that careful about UV rays? I don’t think so. I think it was a control thing. In the water, there’s less of it. And it’s rare for me to go to water without having to think at least a little about keeping boys alive. So, I stayed dry. For years. Even after my kids gained enough ability (except for my oldest, who still can’t swim) that I didn’t have to worry quite so much about accidentally turning them into floating corpses.

But here I am, on a Sunday night, feeling if not water logged at least pleasingly spongy. I went swimming twice this weekend. In a really big pool. In my new bathing suit. Which is black and even a little pretty.

Maybe this level of pride is unreasonable for this wispy accomplishment, but hell, I’ll bask. Our world, have you noticed? is not conducive to accomplishment, unless you play video games. Which I don’t, not because I think they’re objectionable; I just haven’t found one that truly speaks to me and life is too short to settle. And by accomplishment, I mean this easy kind: you decide to do something and then you do it. Ah. Maybe it’s only me who has this trouble? The deciding and then the never doing? Anyway, I decided to start swimming, I bought a bathing suit, and then I, yes, went swimming.

The first time was yesterday evening when M and I escaped for a date, thanks to my visiting parents who were willing to babysit. The nice people at the pool gave us a discount. We swam for half an hour and then sat for a few minutes in the hot tub, and then went to dinner at a restaurant that has a fireplace. It was… a really good night. Until we came home to a lame dog and then M threw up a lot. But still! Date night! Hallelujah!

And then today I took the kids, the ones who swim, and while it was less exercise it was still fun.

And I’m going to swim again on Tuesday, because after my eyes are dilated at the eye doctor’s I won’t be able to read and write for a couple hours and what else is there to do in this world?

What to do with all this money?


This is a problem I’ve never really had.

Yesterday I went on a school field trip with my oldest son, and the ride home took two hours longer than usual for a total of four hours on a shrill, cramped, steamy school bus.

(Oh, how I appreciate my own particular kids after spending the day and much of the evening with the offspring of others. Is it me? Is it them? Do my children spring horns when they’re out of my range? I don’t suspect it, but if so, let me know. While T and I drew our own version of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips on the translucent windows, children around us fought and mouthed off and tossed trash hither thither. I was proud of my quiet, respectful kid.)

Around the three hour mark I finished my book and T dozed off against my shoulder. The woman on my other side offered me a can of espresso, for which I wanted to kiss her. We talked. We talked about how convinced we were that we were crap at our jobs, how difficult it is to stay married while renovating your house, how setting fire to your yard isn’t the best way to clear the land for a vegetable garden. Then she told me she’d recently gotten a promotion and to celebrate, she’d bought her husband a mustang.

I thought, but did not say: “When my husband got a raise we each bought new pants at J.C. Penny.”‘

I liked her a lot, and that can be unusual for me – I’m reserved and shy and a tiny bit suspicious about new people, so when I find someone I can connect with fairly easily I’m thrilled. But – a mustang? “Mustangs are so expensive!” she moaned to me. “Of course it costs way more than my raise!”

I’ve heard about this trend on the news. The consuming trend. But she was so coherent of it. She knew buying the mustang was a bad idea, and she did it anyway. She didn’t mention plans to sell it, but maybe that’s just not part of the story she told me. I hope they sell it. Sell it and put the money in the bank. Or invest the money in their house, because it sounds like they are barely able to survive their oddly modeled bedrooms and the weirdly situated kitchen and the flooded basement.

I only just met her, but I’m worried about her.

But, what’s that thing about that which we despise in another person is that which we see in ourselves, something something? While no mustang will ever appear in our driveway we do splurge perhaps too often on takeout Chinese food. And M bought an afghan he didn’t need today. And I do find it easy to click PURCHASE when I mean to click READ FREE SAMPLE. I am far from innocent. I completely understand what my new friend was reaching for when she bought that car. For just a moment to feel successful, accomplished, worthy of the admiration of her family and friends. Of course it only lasts a day or two, until the payment comes due and once again you are a woman approaching forty who has never, ever earned more than $22,000 a year.

Dear woman on the crowded school bus: let’s make a pact and avoid the shops for a while.

And thank you, again, for the espresso. It made all the difference.



I keep wandering into the kitchen and trying to fill my food craving. After eating a short bread cookie and a handful of salt and vinegar chips I realize – I’m just very tired. It’s not a food craving, it’s a sleep craving. I didn’t get much last night. My nose is stuffed up so whenever I lie down I can’t breathe. And a medium-sized boy joined our bed early last night. When the small-sized boy woke up and tried to squeeze in, he and I switched to the medium-sized boy’s bed (empty) where I got a couple hours, but then there was the not breathing and on top of everything just a sense of doom, pending failure, low-grade anxiety about everything I have not managed to accomplish.

So. I’m tired. Driving to West Leb to get a birthday present may not have been the smartest choice. But the alternative was to drop the largest boy at his Boy Scout overnight camp. I hate the Boy Scouts. They discriminate against gay people and they take my sons away from me for overnights. In the freezing cold! Damn them. I was afraid I’d get teary, and that would make T teary, and then those damn Boy Scouts might sense weakness. So I made his dad take him. Turns out, he still got teary. But at least he didn’t have his nearly unconscious mother sniveling into his hair.

I’m supposed to be working right now. I missed two deadlines last week. Projects are piling up at the office. No wonder anxiety has come to visit, right?

Two injured chickens have been using our mud room as a rehab center. Today M put them out in the sun. They look like two old women sitting on their metal porch chairs, house slippers at the end of their nearly-useless mottled legs, smoking cigarettes and gossiping about whomever walks by.

Maybe some leftover spaghetti will do the trick.

Play well, dears.

Seasonal Daze


I know I’m ready for spring when I strip our bed of its flannel sheets. Not just to wash and replace, but to tuck away in the dark recesses of the linen/BB gun closet until the temperature drops next fall. I’ve been waking up in the tiny hours with a sharp craving for smooth, cool sleeping surfaces. And fresh mozzarella cheese. Either it’s time for spring to arrive or I’ve got pneumonia. That happened once. I thought I was just hot all the time because it was April and our bed was still in winter mode, but it turned out I had a fever. For three weeks. I’m pretty sure, though, that this year it’s a seasonal thing.

What I love about spring:
the noise
the diminished wardrobe
sap buckets
open windows
deer prints in the mud
the once again acceptable taste of white wine and gin. Not together.

We’re not quite there, yet, despite the cotton sheets rumpled under me right now. It’s still red I reach for in the evening. Snow pants still clog the living room floor around the heater vent. If I look hard I can spot a snowflake or two weaving its way down from the skies. But it’s coming. Soon.

Play well together in the mud and wind.

Snow Daze


Way back in my time, you’d listen to the radio. Your mom would wake you up with a whisper – “Snow!” – and you’d bounce to the living room radio and do your best to find a station that was announcing school closing, holding your breath and standing very still on just your right foot. There was no spoon-under-the-pillow, no backwards-pajamas, no ice-cube-down-the-toilet nonsense; we knew, back then, that the only way to effect School Closing Magic was to stand on your foot while you listened for the list.

Now we get an automated phone call, and an email, and the news is posted on the school’s website. The feeling, though, is the same. That surge of potential injected into a day you were expecting to be sameasusual. Suddenly, there is space, room, temporal stretchiness. Usually we make pancakes to celebrate.

Now, though, there’s also a sinking feeling paired with the joy. Snow days mean arrangements. Snow days mean projects pushed back, scrambled phone calls, desperate email pleas, that sinking feeling of resignation that the work you want to do is not going to get done, not today.

But, mostly, there are pancakes and happy boys. Play well, dears.

Stealing Time: Fortnight of Flash


We make the hike up the mountain to find the Fort. Walls built from sticks and string, a fire pit alive with someone else’s fire. We marvel. The boys succumb to ancient rhythms of stick swinging and destruction. We warn them: someone else built this place. It is not ours to destroy even just a little. They listen with awed eyes. They get it. They fall into the underbrush to satisfy their need to pummel.

We are about to leave. We call through the woods for the boys to come back. One of them, my middle boy , is still swinging his stick when he enters the clearing. A bottle of Heineken is ripe for bursting there on the ground, half hidden by a tree root, and my boy’s stick barely breathes in that direction to result in a POP and shattered glass. He looks up with wide and pained eyes and says, “Oh, sorry,” his apology half a question. He’s shocked at his own power and worried at the level of punishment he faces.

“No, honey. It’s okay,” I tell him. I kneel and pick up every piece of glass and wrap the collection in a red checkered handkerchief and store it in my camera bag. “It wasn’t your fault. That beer bottle wanted to burst.” There are times for admonishment and there are times for immediate reassurance.

We start back down the mountain. We’re all tired, and one of us smells like beer.