Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Undaunted

I have never successfully gotten my whole family on skis. Like never having organized a family bike trip, I've been too daunted by the expense and the coordination required to have five pairs of functioning skis on five sets of feet (I'm talking cross-country skiing here—downhill would be in a whole other realm of expense and getting up really early to drive really far away).



I did try once, rounding up enough second-hand and hand-me-down skis and boots to outfit all three kids, ages 7, 3, and 3 at the time. I wrote about the disastrous event in my zine in an essay called "Easily Discouraged":
After breakfast Saturday morning, I get everyone dressed and ready to go out skiing. This process takes nearly two hours, most of which I spend convincing them they want to go outside and looking for the size 9 boots, which M suddenly “finds” behind the curtain in his bedroom just as I give up and start to walk out the door. I stuff my pockets with cookies to fend off any low blood sugar-related meltdowns, pile skis and boots and poles into the sled and we trek up our driveway to the neighbor’s field, a large expanse of gently- sloping white.  
I help Mi fit his boots into his ski bindings, strap his poles over his gloves and walk him a few steps into the field. I go back to the sled and start buckling a pair of skis over Z’s snow boots when one of M’s skis detaches. I finish Z, lead him to the snow and re-attach M’s ski. I return to the sled and start to put the size 9 ski boots on E when Z falls down and M’s ski falls off again. I get E into his boots and skis, help him to the snow, right Z and attach M’s ski again. I try to help E and Z move across the crusty snow and M makes his way toward a small hill he wants ski down. None of them is heavy enough to break through the crust on the snow. M reaches the hill and I try to describe herring-boning from 30 feet away where I’m trying to keep E and Z vertical. The snow is too slippery and M keeps sliding backward. I make my way over to him and show him how to side-step up. He makes it to the top of the hill and starts down, in a fast, beautiful run, until he leans backward slightly, starts to lose his balance, overcompensates and falls flat on his face. 
By now everyone is crying, except me (although I’d like to). I try cheering M up, telling him what a great run it was, but he is unconvinced. We take off skis, load them in the sled and head for home. I prop six little skis and six little poles next to the front door where they will sit, unused, until late April when I finally put them away in the basement. 
And I never, ever tried to get my kids on skis again. I go cross-country skiing with friends maybe once or twice a year. M has since taken up snowboarding—tagging along with friends whose mothers are less easily discouraged (and more enthusiastic about getting up really early to drive really far away) but when I've (half-heartedly) suggested ski or snowboard lessons to E and Z, they both have shown a decided lack of interest which I've felt a lack of interest in trying to surmount. For the interim, we've stuck to snow shoes.



But this year I decided to overcome the enthusiasm gap and get the twins outfitted for cross-country skiing. We picked up skis last weekend through an organization in our area offers season-long cross-country ski/boot/pole leasing for a reasonable price and I'll be signing them up for a four-day ski clinic at a local nature center in January.



In the meantime, after our first measurable snowfall Saturday, we all strapped on our skis and hit the slopes, er, driveway, and that same neighbor's field.



We had a few setbacks, a few falls, a few pairs of tangled skis and legs, but both boys got the hang of it pretty quick and—shh don't tell them I said this—I think they even had fun!

Monday, December 11, 2017

It's beginning to look...

Holiday spirit has been in short supply in our house this year. Maybe because the people in this house whose ages begin with a 1 outnumber all others. Or maybe because we didn't have an snow until Saturday. Or maybe because my own lack of enthusiasm has rubbed off on everyone else. Or maybe it was just that we hadn't done much holiday-ing yet. This weekend we set about jump-starting the household festivities.



M had drama and work all day Saturday and Sunday morning, so we had to wait to get the tree. In the meantime, E and Z and I got the house clean and ready. I made some peppermint bark, using roughly this recipe (I neglected the cream in the chocolate layer, used a blender rather than rolling pin to pulverize the cookies, and used peppermint extract in lieu of the toothpaste extract that's been haunting my cabinet for years).




E and Z and I played out in the new snow a bit Sunday morning (more on that tomorrow).



When M got home, we went out on our 16th Annual Family Christmas Tree Hunting Expedition. Like I said, the holiday spirit, it is weak in this house, and two young people needed coaxing even to get out and look for a tree.

Once outside, though, their enthusiasm increased.


As did their boisterousness (perhaps that was the problem all along—to much time inside in front of screens, not enough outside wrassling in the snow).



C has always lobbied for cutting down a great big tree and taking home just the top 8 feet. I've argued against this plan, because it means taking down a much older, more mature tree, which has put a lot more years into sequestering carbon and plays an important role in shade and habitat.

But as the years go by, all the trees in our christmas tree forest get taller, and I get more amenable to taking the top of a tall tree, because they're both more compact and dense (relative to other forest-grown trees, that is). So the top of a big tree it was.



It ended up being a little on the skinny side, which means it fits just perfectly in our living room.

And it's so far doing a good job of cranking up the holiday spirit, brining lights and greenery inside our home.








Friday, December 8, 2017

Best of the Blog ~ Kid Art Embroidery

Over the last few weeks of blogging, I thought I'd revisit a few of my favorite posts. Since it's the holiday season—and who doesn't start a new craft project two weeks before Christmas?—I thought I'd harken back to one of my very favorite crafts—embroidering my kids' drawings. I've had so much fun over the years working with my kids' art and transforming it into decorative household objects.



I love these projects because kid art is so great, and tracing over it with floss and needle allows you to spend a lot of time noticing the details and character in their work. And, honestly, it's nice to sit and focus on something sweet and simple that has nothing to do with the horribleness of the world. It's good therapy—and cheap therapy. I encourage you to try it.

Don't worry if you lack sewing skills—if you can thread a needle and tie a knot, you can embroider. To get started, see: 
I'll admit, there's a limited range of finished projects you can make with the art once you've embroidered it (for a while I thought of doing a quilt with embroidered squares alternating with printed fabric, but that never happened). Some things you can make with your embroideries:

Wall Hangings (rotated seasonally):


Autumn Wall Hanging
Santa Wall Hanging
Pirate Wall Hanging
Table runners and placemats:


Halloween Table Runner
Thanksgiving Table Runner
Christmas Table Runner
Christmas Placemats
Pillows

 Owl and Pussycat Pillow
(Sadly, this pillow has gotten completely destroyed by use—the embroidery floss worn off, the white linen shredded; I don't recommend a pillow project in a household of—er—active people).

One of my favorite things about blogging and reading blogs has been getting inspired to try new things and learn new skills. Kid art embroidery is just one of those things I might never have discovered if it weren't for bloggers out there sharing their work.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

November Reads

A monthly recap of books I've read. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads  
June Reads
July Reads
August Reads 
 September Reads
October Reads 



Last month's books were all over the place—a little of this, a little of that. No theme dominated, except possibly "escapism and inconvenient truths."

Fiction
I start my day with a perusal of news and analysis and I end it with an escape from said news cycle. The last couple of weeks, my escape has been "Stranger Things" (my first Netflix binge, if two episodes a night can be considered a binge). But before that, I was flinging myself to the comforting and imaginative world of Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels, with a book I found at a used book store (Devil May Care) and one I found on my bookshelf (Wings of the Falcon). The more I read and reread Mertz's books, the more I love her voice, her encyclopedic knowledge of everything, her sly wit, her clever use of Gothic and suspense tropes (both satirizing and embracing), her great characters, and the general fun of her books.

I also read The Mistletoe Murder, a collection of short stories by P.D. James, mainly to see how a murder mystery is done in short story form (thinking about writing one myself), but also because I enjoyed the two books by Ms. James which I read last month. These were great and I didn't realize until after I finished the book that the title story is actually nonfiction. Which kind of wowed me.

Play
Over the last year or so, I've been (very slowly) watching a series of YouTube videos called an Introduction to Literature and the Environment. Several readings go along with each video/lecture and since most of these have been individual poems or excerpts from longer works, they haven't appeared on my lists. The lecture on the Elizabethan period, however, focuses on several poems as well as Shakespeare's play, As You Like It. The edition I found at the bookstore has a "translation" into modern language on the page facing the original, which I had to refer to far less often than I expected. It was an entertaining piece (I do enjoy the comedies more than the tragedies) and I plan to read a second play, "A Winter's Tale," which is not analyzed in the lectures, but which the lecturer mentioned as another piece which addresses how nature versus culture was viewed at the time.



Read-Aloud
On our road trip this summer, the boys and I listened to a couple of Elizabeth Peters audiobooks—the ones where Amelia Peabody's young son Ramses gets wound up in the murder investigation and causes plenty of trouble of his own. The boys enjoyed the stories—particularly Ramses's role—as I knew they would and, after we finished our last read-aloud, Z asked for "the next Emerson book." I failed to realize before we started that the next book in the series, The Deeds of the Disturber, was the one where one of the suspects has syphilis and the miscreants engage in orgies, but Ms. Peabody's Victorian sensibilities causes her to narrate these events in such oblique terms that we didn't have to have too many uncomfortable conversations. They were quite entertained by Ramses's outrage that he wasn't allowed to investigate an opium den with his parents. After the holidays are over, we will probably launch into the next book in the series, thus fulfilling my master plan of creating more Elizabeth Peters fans and expanding my children's vocabulary to include words like "ratiocination" and "terpsichorean."

Nonfiction
This summer, I attended a reading of Soap Opera Confidential, a collection of essays about, what else, soap operas, edited by Suzanne Strempek Shea and Elizabeth Searle, both delightful writers and wonderful teachers in the MFA program I attended. The collection is a super-fun read that covers the range of soaps, from Dallas and Dynasty to daytime, to a nod to Downton Abbey. Before I read the book, I didn't think I had a soap opera story in me, but as I read, I remembered the summer I watched three soaps with my sister, which was also the summer I volunteered in two hospitals as a candy-striper and "volunteen," and a story began to unfold and is now a rough-draft essay, waiting for the call for submissions to Soap Opera Confidential II. It's amazing how words trigger memories and memories trigger stories and 30 years of distance can connect those stories in ways that were not at all obvious at that time.

Lest you fear I spent too much of my reading time last month in escapism and fun, you need not worry. I also read Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug are Killing North America's Forests, by Andrew Nikiforuk, which is about the mountain pine beetle and other Dendroctonus and Ips beetle species that have ravaged coniferous trees from British Columbia to Baja. Even having read several articles on the topic and hiked through miles and miles and miles of dead trees last summer, I did not grasp the enormity of the situation until reading this book. Long story short: climate change and poor forestry management practices (primarily fire suppression) have conspired to turn a rice-grain-sized bug from a natural forest manager which aided in the diversification of forest species and age structure to a region- (or continent-) wide destructive force. And everything humans do to try to combat the bug only compounds the destruction. I can't imagine anyone who is not doing research on this subject  reading this book, but I think everyone who cares about forests, trees, and oxygen should. Consider this statement: "If ambient oxygen levels drop further, women will need to carry their infants for longer periods of time, as many mountain dwellers already do. But for many women, thirty-seven weeks is already a dangerous stretch. 'It's a matter of molecular physics,' says Beresford-Kroeger. 'When the forests go down, women will suffer.'"

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Decking

Like in our politics these days—rich/poor, right/left, rational/insane—there is polarization in our house right now, between Holiday Spirit and Grinchy.






Surprisingly, it's the teenager who's been pounding out Christmas carols on the piano since September and asking if it's too early to get out the holiday records and movies yet.




The two 12-year-olds, on the other hand, have complained that it's too early for holiday movies and music (echoing their mother's voice through all of November, ahem). They even declined to do our Christmas Book Countdown for the first time ever (in lieu of the daily picture book, I'm reading them A Christmas Carol, much to their chagrin. But I'm persisting; in today's anti-education climate, it may be the only Dickens they're ever exposed to).



For my point, I've been slow to get the Christmas game on around the house. We went to a wreath-making party Saturday, and I gave my Fiestaware its annual bath and arranged the red and green pieces in prominent positions, but this approach is a bit to subtle for my housemates.

After watching Elf over the weekend (because that is one holiday movie they're always game for), E decided to take over the household decorating himself, Elf-style. He started with a paper chain, but our supply of construction paper was low in the red-and-green department, so he changed gears, and

with a stack of coffee filters, a skein of white yarn, and a roll of scotch tape, he soon scissored and finger-knitted a snowflake garland that sweeps from the living room to the kitchen. 


Even Z got into the act and added some coffee filter art of his own.



I love both the initiative (all I had to do was find yarn and remind him how to finger knit) and the results. Maybe we'll leave the ornament boxes in the basement this year and leave the twins in charge of decorating...

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Quilt (Top) for E

Ever since I finished Z's quilt (top) back in February, the squares for E's quilt have been sitting forlornly on my sewing table, gathering dust and waiting for someone to come and do something with them. Around mid-October, I finally got the inspiration to put them together (probably fueled by something else I wasn't inspired to do, like clean the house or write a book), and so I cleared and dusted my sewing area, threaded my machine, and put a few squares together.



Then the late October mega-windstorm came, wiping out both our internet and the daily solitude that's a prerequisite to writing (did I mention the kids got a whole week off school with that one?), and I got cracking, putting together most of the squares. The momentum continued, and in less than a month, I had the whole top assembled, which is something of a record, even if you include the years since I started cutting pieces.



The original motif was to have been frogs, and I started with some fabrics from my stash and some my mom sent me. Over time the theme expanded to include salamanders, lizards, turtles, alligators, butterflies, crickets, beetles, fish, and parrots. I guess we can call it "Non-Mammal Vertebrates Plus Insects." I suppose it would have been more age-appropriate had I finished it back in 2014, but who doesn't love frogs, really? They're timeless. And he doesn't have to take it to college with him if he doesn't want to.

 In the meantime, I got Z's quilt back from the long-arm quilter months ago.



We chose a quilting pattern called "West Wind," which is highly appropriate, and not only for the nature theme of the quilt. For the backing, my quilter recommended this tan and brown flannel with a pattern like tree rings and to my surprise, I liked it. The front is so busy, that a neutral backing made sense. After much hemming and hawing, I've decided to use the same fabric for the binding, not only because I have a lot of it (nice and long so I won't have to do much piecing), but also because I thought it would be lovely to have a soft flannel edge to one's quilt.



I was hoping to give both to the boys for Christmas, but I finished E's to late to get it quilted. I'll have to wrap up the top for him with a promise of finishing it in the new year—a family tradition I carry on from when my mom used to wrap up fabric and a pattern or yarn and needles, the promise of a gift later on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ten Years

I thought it would be fitting to share this image from one of my earliest blog posts, which depicts a page from a book M created as part of my half-assed and half-hearted attempt to make Thanksgiving crafts in emulation of my beloved/hated craft blogging domestic goddesses. For any mom worried about her six-year-old's obsession with weaponry, I can say to you that, in M's case anyway, it is a phase that does pass. Hang in there.


I published my first post on this blog on November 21, 2007…ten years ago today! A lot has changed in that time, not the least of which is that my kids went from being 2, 2, and 6 to 12, 12, and 16. In that time, my oldest child went from sitting in a booster seat to driving a car. How crazy is that?

I've used this blog for many things over the years—to show off, to vent, to share, to start a dialogue. The blog, in turn, inspired me to be a more interesting, creative person and a more engaged, crafty mom, because at the end of each weekend, I had to have enough material for a week's worth of blogs. (For a brief dip into the origin and evolution of my blog, see here.)

Lately, however, I've felt less driven to do things so I can share them on the blog, and less driven to share things I do do (don't be fooled by the ages of my children; they would laugh uproariously at the ending of that sentence, especially the 16-year-old). And time spent on the blog means less time working on The Book and other creative (or not-so-creative) projects.

So I have at long last come to the decision that it's time to say goodbye. Rather than just fading from the screen, as so many of my favorite bloggists have done over the years, I'm leaving in a slow, deliberate, you might say drawn-out fashion. I'm going to stick around through the end of the year, and maybe into January a bit, to document the holidays and the annual I Did it Post. I hope that you will stick around, too.

And I'm not disappearing from the internet. In fact, I've created an actual website and even bought a domain name:

The site includes a blog page, where I'll share news and updates, mainly related to writing, but who knows what I might dream up. Check out the new space and let me know what you think and let me know if there's anything from this blog that you insist I carry on to the next.
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