Thursday, December 29, 2011

Us, 2011

For the past year, Jim has been on this kick of wanting to take family pictures every month so we can see how much the kids are growing and changing. I'm not as camera-shy as Jimmy, but I confess I don't particularly enjoy having my picture taken because I'm seldom satisfied with how I look in snapshots--so it hasn't broken my heart that most months Jim has forgotten.

I should have known it it was coming, though, that he'd want to send out Christmas cards with a family picture. I decided this would be a great exercise for me in applying the whole "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change" mantra... so I agreed to do it, with a few conditions: please, no snapshot of us taken inside our dark, poorly lit house; and give me enough warning for me to slap on some makeup and fix my hair.

Of course, no one shot caught all of us looking our best, but in this particular one we all looked presentable, well-groomed and well-lit in the late December afternoon sunlight. Success!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Three months

This post comes ten days late, but I've been busy--finishing up the last few days of school for 2011, sewing flannel pajamas for the kids to wear Christmas Eve, snuggling with Joe, and letting go of the things I wanted to do, but just didn't have time for... like blogging.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hello, joe


September 16, 2011
8:24 a.m.
7 pounds, 1 ounce
18¾ inches

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tightwad tuesday: pretty, cheap

Health and beauty is one of those areas where it's hard to give tightwad tips because everyone's personal care routine is just that: personal. We all have our preferences, proclivities and products that we stick with because they are what we have come to know and love.

Rather than trying to give advice about specific products or techniques, let me just offer a few general tips:
  • Be willing to experiment. About a year ago I realized I had been fighting a losing battle with my hair for about 30 years, trying to beat unruly frizz into smooth, silky submission. The result was that my hair was dry, damaged and definitely lackluster--in spite of my arsenal of curling and straightening irons, rollers, balms, serums, sprays, and deep treatments. I wondered for the first time whether working with the wave, rather than trying to straighten it, would improve the overall appearance of my hair and make it lower maintenance. So I did some online research, found a great website devoted to caring for wavy and curly hair, learned what worked on my hair and why, and started to try some new products, including a few homemade (and extremely thrifty) ones. The result? I now embrace my lovely, loose waves. My hair is much healthier, and I spend a lot less on fancy shampoos and other haircare products I no longer need.
  • Shop around. This may sound obvious, but I know I have a tendency to pick up my health and beauty products at the same place I buy groceries just because it's convenient. Is convenience really worth extra expense? Maybe, if you have a full-blown sibling scuffle going on in aisle three, but otherwise... being willing to go to another store to get what you need can be much more cost effective (even including the price of gasoline) if you buy enough to get you through several months to a year (depending on when those items expire). If you have go-to name brand products you just can't live without, compare the prices for those products at different retailers, including online. Keep track in a notebook. Be sure to evaluate cost per ounce in different sizes. Then, when your holy grail goes on sale, you know if you're getting a really good deal and can stock up accordingly.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of product vs. technique. This applies in particular to items like make-up and razors. If mastering a great technique for applying foundation and coverup means that inexpensive products give you a desirable result, then by all means ditch the designer brands and get your cosmetics at the drugstore. If, on the other hand, using cheap razors leaves you with painful bumps, it may be worthwhile to cut back in some other area and pay a bit extra for the 5-blade shaver and the anti-bump shave gel.
  • Simplify. Are you still using items that no longer work for you, or serve a function that could be filled by a multi-tasking product? I've been using lipstick for years but recently looked at how I wear it and realized I was always mixing it with lip gloss or lip balm to tone it down. I'd invariably wind up with several tubes that weren't completely used up by the time I forgot how long I'd had them in my makeup box. So, I switched to tinted lip balm, which is cheaper than lipstick, and much cheaper than lipstick and gloss together. Multi-taskers are great because you can buy fewer items (which means less packaging) and in bulk (which means lower cost per ounce)--and you use them up fast enough they don't have a chance to go bad. Some of my favorites include using olive or avocado oil as a moisturizer or deep conditioning treatment for hair, or an organic soap (such as Castile soap) that works well as a shampoo bar.
  • Ask around. Talk to people you know about what works for them. You might be surprised at the great cost-saving ideas you can get from the medicine cabinets of your family and friends.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tightwad tuesday: read up


A while ago, one of the children's librarians at our library (who happens to be a friend we got to know last year at the community garden) gifted me with a couple books the library was letting go: The Tightwad Gazette, volumes one and two. Since then, they've languished on a windowsill under a stack of library books (what can I say? I've been a bit preoccupied), but the other day I was looking for something to read while I camped with my swollen ankles propped up in front of the A/C, and they caught my eye.

Amy Dacyczyn, a self-proclaimed "Frugal Zealot", first published The Tightwad Gazette in newsletter form in 1990; later she compiled the newsletters into three volumes, organized seasonally. One of the things I really enjoyed about the books right away was Dacyczyn's notion that thrift gets an undeservedly bad rap, and we should promote "tightwaddery" by seeking out and sharing with other like-minded penny-pinchers.

As with all tightwad tips, her newsletters have some suggestions that won't work for every household, and some are even a bit dated. What I've found useful is that her ideas (and those of her readers) get me thinking about how I do things, where I could cut back, what I can tweak in how I'm doing things now. One of the best ideas that I'm itching to try--but it's going to take more work than I can do right now--is creating a price notebook of all the items our family purchases most frequently so I can compare how much different stores charge for that item, and know when I'm really getting a good deal. I plan on trying this later in the fall, and will report back on how it goes.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for some interesting reading, I highly recommend checking out The Tightwad Gazette--from your local library, of course.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tightwad tuesday: 72-hour kits

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

It's an old saw that never gets outdated--and it's true: sometimes you have to spend a bit now in order to save later. Look no further than Virginia earlier today to see that there is no instance in which this is more true than preparing for an emergency. Spending now could save you money later on--and more importantly, maybe even save your life or that of a loved one.

Before Jimmy was born, I worked for the City of Bellevue. All City employees were expected to be available to help assess damage to local infrastructure in the event of an emergency or natural disaster, and because I lived within 2 miles of city hall, I was in the first tier expected to report. The big risks in that area were earthquake, volcanic eruption and terrorist attacks. That's when I got in the habit of having a portable 72-hour kit stashed under my desk at work that included a change of clothes, food, water and first aid, as well as one at home and a smaller kit in my car.

Now we live in a more rural area, but we're still at risk for earthquakes and volcanic eruption, and flooding is a problem in our county every year, although this past winter is the first time we ever found any water leaking into our basement.

Currently, I keep a kit in my home near the front door, as well as the mini-kit in my trunk. The big one's in a large wheeled plastic storage chest that includes a backpack for each person with clothes and food, along with first aid and sanitary supplies for the whole family. It's true, I go through various stages of vigilance in rotating and updating the contents of my kit, but my recent bout of nesting got me thinking I needed to check it.

Last week I gutted and reorganized Jimmy's and Audrey's closets, and it seemed like the perfect time to swap out the change of clothes in their kit backpacks with the sizes they're currently wearing. I also went through and replaced all the food that was outdated, and added a new feature to my kit: a "refresh list". I got the idea from a recent issue of Parents magazine, which suggested keeping a card with a list of the expiration dates of all perishables in your kit, so you could see at a glance what needed to be updated.

If you want to put together a 72-hour kit on your own (since pre-assembled kits tend to be pricey) and are looking for a good place to start, try 72hours.org. I also like this checklist put together by the Washington State Emergency Management division.

Just remember: you don't have to put it all together at once. Start with a container large enough to hold all the supplies for however many people are in your household. If you don't already have something suitable on hand, try an inexpensive container such as a large food-grade bucket or a suitcase or backpack you pick up for a couple bucks at a thrift store.

Buy a few items for your kit each week when you purchase your regular groceries, or go in with someone else if there are items you need to purchase in bulk. By working at it gradually, you can assemble your emergency kit without breaking the bank.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dinner paradigm shift debrief

The short ribs were a big hit. I had to bite my tongue and reel myself in (old habits die oh, so hard) as I coached Jimmy through different tasks to prepare dinner, but it was definitely worth every ounce of self-control I exerted. He glowed with a sense of accomplishment after, was willing to try two new dishes, and loved everything he cooked.

This old dog is gonna learn new tricks, even if it kills her.

Dinner paradigm shift

To say my relationship with food is complicated is an understatement, and of all the things that perplex me, cooking dinner tops the list. I love to eat, to cook for the holidays, and to cook for company or take dinner to friends when they're sick or have had a baby. When I know the people I'm cooking for will enjoy what I'm preparing, I find myself taking creative pleasure in trying new dishes and experimenting to improve old favorites. Making everyday dinners, though, is at best a perfunctory task, and most nights frustrating and exhausting.

I can't pinpoint the precise time I started to dread dinner, but I can trace it back to puberty, when my mom went back to college and work. I had to take on dinner duty several nights a week and like a typical teen, I chafed at the unwanted responsibility. That early resentment has informed my attitude about cooking dinner ever since.

When I first got married, it was challenging to cook for a husband who had strong prejudices against certain foods (many of them my favorites) but was reluctant to tell me for fear of offending his new bride. During the early years of our marriage, I struggled to find things we both liked while still injecting some variety into our menu; I could only eat spaghetti so many nights a week. I found a solution that seemed to work for a while: I created a monthly meal calendar of recipes we both could live with, so we only ate the same dish once a month.

When we had children, though, the monthly meal calendar no longer seemed to work. Not only were we on a tighter budget, but even more challenging, I had three disparate palates besides my own to satisfy. Some nights, out of desperation, I became a short order cook, making one meal for me and Jim and two additional, separate meals for Jimmy and Audrey. Even then, no one seemed pleased--especially not me.

Jim and I have come up with a few strategies to cope, but none of them is a complete fix. Each week I sit down with him, the kids and the ads from the local grocer, and ask for their input in deciding on what dinners we'll eat for the week. That way I can try to cater to their requests while taking advantage of what's on sale.

Each child also has one night a week that is "their" night: they get to choose what's for dinner--and originally the idea was for them to help cook dinner, too, though I've been less successful at implementing that part of the plan. Often, however, I still wind up preparing a separate meal for at least one person because Audrey will request chicken nuggets every time it's her night, and no one else likes them--or she refuses to eat what Jimmy has chosen for his night. Even with one night where they do get to choose, there are still six nights of "But Mo-om, I don't like this," and it wears me down. I look at blogs, food shows, and my go-to website, Allrecipes.com, and try to introduce new dishes, but it's a challenge to find ones that make everyone happy.

So, we buy a lot of Dino-nuggets at Costco for Audrey--and make a lot of peanut-butter-Nutella sandwiches for Jimmy.

Meanwhile, my resentment about cooking dinner has continued to grow. My blood pressure rises automatically at 5 p.m. As a matter of course, I tend to banish everyone from the kitchen while I prepare dinner just to have some peace and quiet so I can tend to a task I don't enjoy as quickly as possible. I am usually short with everyone while I cook and during the entire meal. If we're in a hurry to get somewhere after dinner (cub scouts, soccer practice, piano lessons), I get even more stressed out.

Add pregnancy to the mix... and yeah, the last several months have been rough. Jim has taken pity on me and we usually eat out about once a week, or he gives me a break by doing the cooking.

The upshot of all this is I'm suddenly finding myself in a place where I feel ready to change things up. Our dinner problem has been going on for years now, and I have had no idea how to fix it, but I want to--and I want a permanent fix.

If it's me that has to change for it to get fixed, so be it. While the timing isn't ideal because I'm pregnant and don't have a lot of energy, somehow being in a place in my life that is intrinsically creative (i.e., nurturing a new life) is helping me to think creatively in terms of solving this problem. I've been brainstorming, reading, bouncing ideas off Jim, and tweaking the things that are already working to see if I can take them further.

I just started reading a wonderful cookbook, Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, by Lucinda Scala Quinn. Most of the recipes are for delicious but uncomplicated meals with basic ingredients--but even if none of them appeal to our family, what I'm really going to take away from the book is the author's philosophy that well-made meals can be an extension of our love for our families only when they are prepared joyfully and used as a teaching and bonding time between parents and children. Tonight we're test-driving, at Jimmy's request, a recipe from the book for short ribs, and I'm going to do my best to budget my time and have him in the kitchen with me.

I want dinner to be fun again. For all of us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping busy


Last Thursday I got the top of the baby quilt pieced and pinned to the other layers. Next, I had to figure out what design I wanted to use for quilting. Rather than just the diagonal lines suggested in the pattern, I wanted something more memorable. Jim talked me out of X's and O's (apparently a bit "too girly") but I riffed off that and came up with appropriately masculine X's and stars.

Last Friday I started hand-quilting and have been working at it slow but steady all weekend. I'm almost a third of the way done, and the design is really starting to take shape.

The callouses on my fingertips are coming along nicely, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Who says...

...you can't teach an old dog new tricks? One of the things I love about Jim is that over the 16+ years we've been married, he continues to surprise me by trying new things. Case in point: tonight he is out with Jimmy, having back-to-back piano lessons. Jimmy's been taking piano for almost two years now, but this is Jim's first lesson ever.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Baby quilt


Both Jimmy and Audrey have red, white and blue baby quilts. Jimmy's was made by my mom, and I finished Audrey's the week before she was born. So, of course, Joseph needs to have a red, white and blue baby quilt, too.

Did I mention we picked out a name? (with the caveat from Jim that he may still change his mind.)

A while back I found a couple of simple, free baby quilt patterns online. I based Audrey's birthday quilt loosely on the "Furrows" pattern, and have been excited to try out the "Sunshine and Shadows". I picked this pattern because it would go together so quickly and be easy to both sew and hand-quilt, but made a few alterations for the color scheme I chose.

I just finished cutting out all the squares this morning, laid them out, and am planning to get most of the top pieced tonight.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 weeks...

...means it's ultrasound time again. Sorry, no pix--but the baby's grown so much we could only look at one part of him at at time: a leg, a beating heart, his abdomen and so on. In fact, his head was so big it took up the whole screen in the top-down shot my doctor used to measure the circumference of his cranium. This ultrasound was all about taking measurements to make sure the baby's growing on track (which he is) and not getting too big from the gestational diabetes (which he's not).

Just two months to go... good thing I got started on the baby quilt today!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tightwad tuesday: fire your cable/satellite provider

Back in April, Jim and I decided it was finally time to call and cancel our satellite service. We just couldn't justify spending $80 a month for dozens of channels we didn't even watch. We also reasoned we'd waste less time sitting on the couch channel-surfing by simply not having the option available--which has turned out to be true; our evenings and weekends are much more productive now!

We'd been gearing up for the switch for several months. Techno-geek that he is, Jim wasn't satisfied with just streaming shows through his X-box--no, he took part of our tax return and bought a new computer that would be our dedicated home-entertainment unit with all the bells, whistles and yes, a Blu-Ray drive, to run our favorite shows and movies in HD on our 72" flat-screen TV (Jim's 40th birthday present last year).

You can, however, go cable/satellite-free for a lot less than we did. With a few inexpensive cables, you can connect your computer to your television and watch your favorite shows through Hulu or Netflix for a significantly lower cost, or sometimes even the network websites for free.

If you still want to be able to pick up your local channels, you can do so with a good-quality antenna. In fact, Jim built one himself using instructions he found at Makeprojects.com, for about $15. With the new antenna, we pick up almost a dozen local channels, most of them in HD quality.

So, if you find the thought of "killing your TV" too extreme, you can at least cut back on your costs (and consumption) by cancelling your cable and watching only those shows you really want.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Done


What with canning both cherry and raspberry jam this weekend, I was delayed a bit longer finishing Jimmy's quilt--but finally, finally, yesterday afternoon I sewed the last few stitches of the binding.

While he was otherwise occupied, I spirited it up to Jimmy's room and made his bed. A few hours later he went up to get his shoes on before going on a bike ride, and--surprise.

"Mom! My quilt is done! I love it!"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Canning 2011


I almost saved this for a Tightwad Tuesday post (always be ready to jump on a good deal), but couldn't wait that long to post about this year's cherry jam.

This is the third year we've done cherry jam, so we've found and perfected our basic recipes. A week ago Jim's mom had a line on cherries for a dollar a pound, but Jim said he wanted to wait and see if we could get a better deal. Then on Wednesday night we got a call from his dad. Apparently a friend of theirs had gone to a fruit stand and gotten several large boxes of cherries free (!!!) because the fruit was slightly damaged--and he wanted to know if we wanted a couple boxes. This was just what Jim had been waiting for, so he went and picked up the fruit.

Last night after dinner, Jim and I sat around the table with the kids and sorted through what turned out to be about 50 pounds of Bing cherries, with a few Rainiers mixed in for good measure. About a fifth of the cherries were too badly damaged to use, but most of them were in really beautiful condition, and absolutely delicious. The biggest--and best--surprise of the evening was how hard our kids worked. Audrey was the fastest of all of us at stemming the cherries; Jim and Jimmy could barely keep up with sorting good cherries into her bowl for her to pluck the stems off.

This morning Jimmy pitted four quarts of cherries for my first quadruple batch of sugar-free jam. We had so many cherries, I decided to do a second quadruple batch, for which I modified my basic recipe by combining it with Jim's Spiced Cherry Jam recipe:


Sugar-free Spiced Cherry Jam

3 pounds (about 3 cups) prepared cherries (pitted)
½ of a 1.75-oz. package no sugar needed fruit pectin
1 cup artificial sweetener (I used Splenda)
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1. Prepare boiling water canner, jars, and lids.

2. Place prepared cherries in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan and use a hand blender to puree to desired consistency. (The recipe didn't call for it, but I actually simmered my cherries for 15 or 20 minutes while I was washing jars and getting the canning kettle boiling.) Gradually stir in spices, almond extract, pectin and lemon juice. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

3. Add artificial sweetener. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim if necessary.

4. Fill and seal jars. Process in water bath for ten minutes.

(makes about four half-pints)


So. Delicious.

Tonight it's Jim's turn to crank out a few batches of fully-leaded (sugared) jam. He had the kids helping him pit cherries, and as I type, I can hear him mashing up the first batch with his KitchenAid hand blender.

It's going to be a long (but deliciously aromatic) night.

Did I mention we'll be up at 7 a.m. to pick raspberries in Yakima River Canyon? Yep, more jam.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tightwad tuedsay: DIY takeout

Way back in the day when Jim and I were still childless, in college, and both working full-time (read: rolling in cash but short on time to cook) we used to get takeout at least once a week from our favorite Chinese restaurant, Toy's Cafe in Bellevue. My favorite was their green beans sautéed with garlic--and every once in a while I'd spring for the extra couple bucks to get the beans with shrimp. Mmmm.

Don't worry; there is a tightwad tip at the end of this tale fraught with wanton outlay of cash!

Last Wednesday, we went out to lunch at the local Chinese buffet and I was heartbroken to find they no longer served green beans, which are still a favorite of mine, and which I've been craving lately in a big way. Fortunately, a while back, we asked the waiter how they make the beans, and he gave us a list of ingredients (fresh beans, chicken broth, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, vegetable oil and cornstarch). It was easy to look up the technique online (cook the beans for 7-8 minutes in hot oil, until the skins start to pucker, then add the ingredients for the sauce).

The very next day I hit the supermarket and picked up all the ingredients and yes, I splurged on a pound of EZ-peel prawns to make it special. Worth every penny, and still far less expensive than ordering takeout!

So, if you're pregnant (or not) and craving one of your favorite restaurant dishes, save yourself some cash by taking a few minutes to research how to make it yourself. You may get lucky, like we did, and get tips from a helpful waiter or waitress. Or, if you fancy something from a big fast food chain, there are websites specializing in clones of "secret" recipes, such as Todd Wilbur's aptly titled Top Secret Recipes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Family portrait redux


Audrey rendered this portrait of our family last week on Jim's whiteboard. It reminded me of a similar picture created by her brother, four years ago. From left to right, that's me, Audrey, Jimmy and Jim. In case you couldn't tell.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Getting there


I finally finished piecing Jimmy's quilt top this afternoon! It took a bit longer than I planned (okay, a lot longer, when you consider I started the project back in mid-March), but I got sick shortly after my last post and it's taken me a while to get back into my groove.

I'm hoping (fingers crossed) to have the tying and binding finished by the middle of this week... because I've already got fabric for my next project in the queue ready to go: a baby quilt.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tightwad tuesday: two-fer


As in, two-fer-the-price-of-one. It's been such a long time since I've posted any tightwad tips, I'm throwing in an extra one free of charge.

Some of my favorite tightwad tips are the original ones that are hundreds of years old and sprang from the necessities of every day life. The two I'm trotting out today:

  • Re-purpose old clothing into something new
  • If you don't know a skill/have what you need, barter with someone who does

The inspiration behind these two tips is a project I've been sewing, off and on, for a couple months now: a birthday quilt for Jimmy. It's made from old pairs of jeans in shades of red, white and blue denim. I usually have a few pairs of ratty, worn-out jeans around just to cut up and make into patches for mending small holes and tears, since kids are so hard on their clothes--but for a couple years now I've been stockpiling old jeans with the plan of turning them into a nice, heavy quilt for Jimmy. It's great to have an abundant supply of sturdy fabric without having to go out and spend any extra cash for it. Though just to add some variety and texture, I bought a couple pairs of striped denim shorts at the local Goodwill and cut those up to mix in with the solid denim.


I got the idea for the pattern from a lovely vintage cotton summer quilt my step-mom Lo gave me, but I decided to double the scale (six-inch squares instead of three-inch squares), as well as making it in a heavier fabric. Instead of hand-quilting it, I'm going to tie it with red cotton yarn. The backing will be a wonderful piece of soft, blue-striped fabric that has a fleecy feel very similar to flannel, which I picked up at Goodwill for a couple dollars.

It's a relatively simple nine-patch design that alternates a solid block with a nine-patch block throughout the quilt. If you're a beginning quilter or (like me) just want something that will go together fast and simple, this is the perfect pattern. If you have a rotary cutter and board, it's very quick to cut out the fabric in strips, and then into squares. Even if you don't know how to sew, this would be a great place to start, as you only have to sew in a straight line: easy-peasy.

Which brings me to tip #2: if you don't know how to sew, barter with someone who does by offering to do something of value to them, such as cooking, baby-sitting or housework. Sewing is one of those homey skills long out of vogue, but now being re-embraced as people realize how liberating it is to be able to custom-make what you want or need, when you want it.


I started this back in mid-March, but was still experiencing a lot of pregnancy-related fatigue and wound up putting the project on the back burner just so I could conserve the small amount of energy I did have to get us through the end of the school year. Now we're done with school, Jimmy is at Cub Scout day camp this week, and I figured it was the perfect time to cross this quilt off my to-do list. I finished cutting out the last of the squares yesterday, so for the next couple days, I'll be busy sewing, tying and binding.

Yes, I'm nesting; can you tell?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

g.d. again

I'll be six months along tomorrow, and I went in this past Tuesday for my monthly check-up. Everything looks and sounds good (mom with low blood pressure? check! baby with strong heartbeat? check!)

While I was there, my doc told me it was that time again: time for a glucose screen. I went in the following morning, and then got a call the next day to come in again, this time for the super-duper extra-fun extended test complete with four blood draws in three hours. The verdict? No surprise; I have gestational diabetes.

I have to say, I was expecting it, having had it with Audrey--but I'm feeling a lot more relaxed about it than last time. The hassle of poking myself and using the glucometer is actually pretty minimal, and it's good to have an additional incentive to be careful about what I eat.

What matters most is making sure this baby is healthy, and the best way to do that is to make sure I am.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No news = good news


I haven't posted lately, mostly because I've been keeping my head down and powering through the last few weeks of the school year. Jimmy (with a whole heaping helping of micromanagement) has cranked out three science biographies in the last three weeks: Anton Van Leeuwenhoek (the first page of three is above), Florence Nightingale and Elijah McCoy. We'll be starting a fourth (George Washington Carver) tomorrow. Only a week until our last day of school!

The other reason is the absence of anything noteworthy to comment on--which is a good thing. I'm at 22 weeks as of yesterday, the baby is kicking up a storm, and--nothing else.

Here's to no news!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

20 weeks...

...means it's ultrasound time. While you can't tell from the scan above, this one is definitely a boy. As soon as we found out, Jimmy let out a whoop--but Audrey cried all the way home in the car.

Good thing we've got another 20 weeks to go, so she has time to get over it.

Oh, and so Jim and I have time to come to some kind of agreement on what to name this kid.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Come what may

Wait a minute--what?! It's May already?

One of the side-effects of pregnancy (for me, at least) is that I lose track of time. That can be both pleasant ("I'm already 19 weeks along?--almost halfway there!") and unpleasant ("Wait--I thought I still had another week to get caught up on all those poems I wanted to write!") Sorry, Ruth. I'll try to crank out a poem here or there in the coming months, but for this year's NaPoWriMo, 18 poems will have to suffice.

In the past month or so I've had more energy than I did my first trimester, but lately I've been facing the reality that I still have to take it easy or I get tired, cranky, and my ankles swell to the size of... cankles.

Unfortunately, NaPoWriMo (along with all my quilting projects) has been one of the casualties of me scaling back. I must say, however, me and my ankles are absolutely okay with that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NaPoWriMo #18: fashion faux pas

Sometimes when I write after a certain time of night (which varies, depending on how long my day has been) that my poems cross the line into ridiculousness--for instance, a tanka about the wrong outfit. Oh, well.


Fashion Faux Pas

Those purple patent
alligator shoes with a
red and green floral
velvet dress? It seemed like a
good idea at the time.

NaPoWriMo #17: ghazal

I discovered last year that when I get in a rut, it's good to try something new. A few prompts ago, NaPoWriMo.net suggested the ghazal, so I gave it a try.


The Fall

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
(Genesis 3:1)


I will greatly multiply thy sorrow
said God unto the woman; in sorrow

thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire
shall be to thy husband. Oh, what sorrow

for he shall rule over thee and I will
multiply thy conception and sorrow

greatly. The woman knew the tree was good
for food, to be desired not for sorrow

but to make one wise, and it was pleasant
to the eyes. She took the fruit of sorrow

did eat thereof, and gave unto the man
that he not be left alone to sorrow

in the garden, and he did eat. Then said
the woman to man, Passing through sorrow

is better for us, that we may know the
bitter from the sweet, the depths of sorrow

from the mountain’s height; therefore, it is right
to sweat, to bear children, to eat of sorrow

all the days of our lives. And so man took
her hand and they left the garden. Sorrow

awaited them, for out of dust they came
and to dust they would return—but sorrow

showed them sweetness in the work, sweat, children.
Light must have dark, and joy must have sorrow.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

NaPoWriMo #16: family history

So, I'm still behind--by even more, now. I've been tired this week and have had to cut back where I could (sorry, Ruth). But I'm still committed to this, and am not giving up (not yet!)

Today's poem started coming to me when I woke up at 6 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. I've been working at it off and on all morning. It feels like there are still some pieces that may be missing, but I don't know what they are. Maybe a whole other poem? We'll see. But here's the piece that makes sense now.


Gold Rush

In August 1897
my great-great-grandfather
left Seattle aboard the steamer Rosalie
made his way north with the horde
in what he called
“the great race for gold”
by way of Skagway, the Dyea Trail
Sheep Camp, Chilkoot Pass
Lake LeBarge, Yukon River
finally reaching Dawson City
later that October.

He kept a diary, wrote
how he learned the use of gum boots
was to keep his feet not dry, but warm
how he paid 75 cents at Sheep Camp
for a meal of bacon and beans
hot biscuits and coffee
how he missed his son and two daughters
those “dear ones” left behind
how he packed boat lumber on his back
up Chilkoot Pass
rather than pay five cents on the pound
for a packer to do it.

The diary stops after January 11, 1898.

What he didn’t write was
how his wife returned with the children
to her parents in Massachusetts
before the end of 1897
how he worked as a clerk in Dawson
even after staking his claim
how he went south after the gold rush
worked as an architect in California
married again twice
how he mailed the diary
to his youngest daughter
but never saw her again
how he counted the cost
of the load he chose
one he couldn’t pay someone else
to carry.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

NaPoWriMo #15: oxymoron

Earlier in the month, NaPoWriMo.net offered this prompt: use an oxymoron as the basis for your poem. They provided a convenient link to the Serendipitous Oxymoron Maker, which generated for me among others, "miserable miracle". I filed that away in my notes, waiting for it to settle and speak to me.

Then, last night, after our public library's first annual National Poetry Month open mic, I was chatting with my friend Elizabeth about what I'd been writing lately. For the open mic, I read two older poems, as well as the newly penned Lacuna, which generated some great feedback. Elizabeth has read most of the poetry I've written about my miscarriages, and she asked if I'd written anything recently about being pregnant. I had to say no.

I've reflected on it lately, knowing I want to write about my pregnancy, but just not sure where I want to go with it--which is what I told Elizabeth. Well, here's a start--today I looked at "miserable miracle" and it suddenly said something.


Miserable Miracle

In this
my fifth and final pregnancy
I am reminded
of the miserable miracle
it is to bear children

how
from the moment
I feel in my gut
conscious without knowing
the presence of this life
I sense, too
a combined weight
of joy and sorrow

how
I recognize my own lack
of power to prevent
what I dread most
frees me from the burden
of trying to stop it

how
each day of nausea
when my stomach rebels
at any given sight or smell
is a gift
because it means
my child continues
to grow

how
I have learned to hope
in the face of uncertainty
because anything less than nine months
may be too short of a time
to carry a child
but it is too long to carry fear

how
my body is possessed
changing in ways
I can’t control or fathom
opening its petals
in the radiance
of its own private sun

how
my soul enlarges
in the realization
that in spite
and because of
this transformation
my heart, like my body
is stretching beyond
what it has ever known.

NaPoWriMo #14: forecast

A while back I was checking the weather report, probably on Wunderground.com (my meteorologist of choice), and noticed the phrase "90% chance of precipitation". Sometimes a word or phrase just hits me sideways, and this was the case. I jotted it down with the note, "a poem that needs to be written." It was long enough ago, I don't remember exactly the sense of what it was I felt I needed to write, but today, with spring sun filtering through the curtains, this is what came of it.


90% Chance of Precipitation

I always laugh
when I read or hear this phrase
and wonder
does it mean
rain 90 % of the time
rain in 90% of this area
or just
rain is 90% more likely
than something else
or even
we're saying precipitation
instead of rain
because we're not sure exactly what
will be falling from the sky
and need to cover our bets

I always laugh
when I read or hear this phrase
while feeling on my face
the radiant glow
of sun slicing through clouds
and sense somehow
I’ve beaten the odds.

Friday, April 15, 2011

NaPoWriMo #13: rant or rave

Sooo...halfway through the month and I'm a couple poems behind. No biggie; the weekend is the best possible time to get caught up. Once again I turned to NaPoWriMo.net for a prompt. Today it was to write a hymn to something bad, or a complaint about something good. Being in a sort of glass-is-half-empty mood, I chose the former.


In Praise Those People (You Don’t Know Who You Are, and it’s Probably Better That Way)


Where would I be
without those people
the ones I see coming
and want to run
in the opposite direction
the ones who say
the least sensitive thing
at the time I least need to hear it
the ones who ask me as a favor
something they just don’t want to learn
to do for themselves
the ones who twist imitation
that sincerest form of flattery
into a profound insult
the ones who manage
to turn every “how are you?”
into a conversation about themselves
the ones who provide
the best possible excuse for staying home
from work, church, store, library, restaurant
gym, book club, post office, salon
where would I be
without those people
the ones who remind me
I, too have done
all those same things?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NaPoWriMo #12: take five

As in, five minutes to write a poem. That was one of the prompts at NaPoWriMo.net, and once again I thank them for a good prompt, and the permission to just get something, anything, on paper. I'm not even sure what this is about--just a bunch of stream-of-unconsciousness images that were suddenly there.


Five Minute Poem

This is the place where my back
is up against clammy vinyl
wallpaper over cracked plaster
where I smell my own sweat
and wonder if anyone else can, too
where my mouth tastes like copper
as though I’m holding a penny
under my tongue
this is where my knuckles crack
as I brace them between me and the wall
the place where I wonder
if anything will ever change
if tomorrow the sun will still rise
if I will still be chained
to this monster who knows my name
sucks my blood through a straw
leaves me sinking slowly down the wall
until I lie weak on the cold boards
of the kitchen floor
in a puddle of sour milk
and sweat.

NaPoWriMo #11: good grief

I know, I know--another poem about loss. What can I say? Working through grief is a good thing, and I'm still working.


Eight Faces of Loss

I wear the first
as I pull my eyes from an ultrasound screen
look my obstetrician in the eye
then tell my children
our baby has gone back to heaven
I tell them it is okay to cry
while I hold back my own tears.

I wear the second
as I buckle seatbelts
pull side door closed
stand outside our minivan
tears streaming, cell phone in hand
to break the news to my husband.

I wear the third
as I wait
wait for the drugs to work
wait for my cervix to ripen
wait for labor to begin
wait to see the child
I will only hold once.

I wear the fourth
as I come home to an empty house
my husband in Atlanta on business
my children with my in-laws
and finally
I fall apart.

I wear the fifth
as I drive my children home
from grandma’s house
tell them they had a brother
and his name was Daniel.

I wear the sixth
every time I see a friend
who is still pregnant
and walk away
without speaking.

I wear the seventh
as I turn inward with everything
that has already been said and felt
because saying it a thousand times
feeling it every moment of every day
will never be enough.

I wear the eighth
as I realize though I lost my child
I never lost faith
as I see grief and joy coexist
in the same second
as I learn I can navigate this place
for which I have no map.

Settling in


Apologies to my sister Ruth, who I hear is chomping at the bit for more NaPoWriMo. Soon, I promise. But meanwhile...

Meet the newest member of the family.

Sid came into our lives over the weekend. On Saturday we noticed him meowing up on our roof, but didn't think much of it--we see a lot of neighborhood cats up there, and they always seem to find their way down without too much trouble.

Then on Sunday, as we were getting home from church, we saw him again---looking and sounding rather frantic. Our neighbor, who was in his driveway packing his truck, commented that this was the third day he had seen the cat on the roof. We had no idea it had been so long and felt terrible. Jim borrowed an extension ladder from his dad and climbed up to do a rescue. The cat came right to him and though he seemed scared of the height, he let Jim carry him down the ladder without a struggle.

We set out canned cat food and a water dish on the front porch, and watched him while he ate. No collar or tags, but he seemed quite friendly--when he had his fill, he waltzed right in through our open front door and made himself at home. Jimmy was sure it was the same cat that had belonged to some neighbors across the street who moved six months ago.

I had a sneaking suspicion Jim left the front door open on purpose, and was surprised he seemed so ready to adopt Sid, in spite of his winning personality. Back when Will died, Jim said he had no desire to get another cat anytime soon. So on Sunday afternoon, I grilled him about it. All Jim would say was, "I'm a sucker for a hard case, and it doesn't get much harder than being stuck on a roof for three days with nothing to eat."

Jimmy suggested we call him Obsidian, which Jim shortened to Sid. First thing on Monday we took Sid down to the pound, but no one had reported him lost, and he didn't have a microchip. On the plus side, he was already neutered. By that time, too, he had started hammering out all the little feline territorial snags with Fiona and getting acclimated.

The kids love him and it's mutual; he spends a lot of time hanging around and watching them while they play, and is very patient and gentle.

We snapped this last night when we went in to check on Audrey before calling it a night.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NaPoWriMo #10: solitude

I've always loved being by myself--maybe because I grew up in a full house, where solitude was hard to find--and because now as a homeschooling mom, I have very little time to be alone.

I've found that as much as I consider myself an extrovert and am energized after spending time with friends, I need in equal measure time to myself: to reflect, to write, to just be. I was talking the other night with a friend who really struggles with the idea of spending time alone, even though she knows she would benefit from doing so. This poem was inspired by that conversation.


Butterfly

She fears being alone
mistaking it for being lonely
and so she suspends herself
on razor-thin stained glass wings
hovering from one contact to another
mistaking connection
for communion
while the weight
of those exquisite wings
keeps her from heights
she was born to reach.

Monday, April 11, 2011

NaPoWriMo #9: spring

Gray Time

In that hour before dawn
when the world has no colors
and you cannot tell a starling from a grackle
or a sparrow from a chickadee
unless you hear their song
you still know they are back
from their southern sojourn.

In that hour before spring
when the maples, elms and sycamores
wear only their rumpled, hoary husks
by the first light of day
you can still see the outline of new buds
bursting from the tips of lilac branches
and know the trees will follow soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NaPoWriMo #8: why

Have you ever had a kid ask you a question, only to follow up the answer with "But, why?"

Yeah, me too.


The Hard Questions

They are the ones
who ask me the hard questions.

Not
“Where is the pain
on a scale of one to ten?”
(Between 7 and 8.)

Or
“What are your plans
for the baby’s remains?”
(I need to give that some thought.)

Or
even those questions
disguised as statements,
“We’ve got a narrow window here
to test for genetic abnormalities.”
(Like I told you before,
I’m not interested in testing.)

No
they are the ones
who ask me
“Mom, why did our baby die?”
(I don’t know, honey.)

“Which parts weren’t growing right?”
(The doctors couldn’t tell.)

“Will we have another baby?”
(We’ll see, sweetheart. We’ll see.)

They are the ones
who ask me the hard questions
questions that school me
with answers I don’t know
outcomes I can’t control.
(We’ll see, sweetheart. We’ll see.)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

NaPoWriMo #7: curriculum vitae

My friend Steve from my poetry group recently finished an excellent CV poem and challenged the rest of us to try it. I did one for NaPoWriMo last year, but recently I've been ruminating on a different direction to take on the concept--my CV as a mother.

How appropriate that pregnancy was the catalyst to get me writing this; at 3:30 this morning I woke up after a particularly bizarre dream and found myself with insomnia (both things that happen often when I'm expecting).

Written when and how this was , it is a very, very rough first draft. In fact, as I read it, I'm almost not wanting to post it because I realize it's an uneven mix of imagery and narrative--but that's the beauty of NaPoWriMo. I write a lot of fresh, raw stuff, and figure out what works, what doesn't and what has the potential to be developed further.


Resume of a Reluctant Mother

I was born the first of five children
to a good man and good woman
who were each lonely before marriage
and lonelier after.

My early childhood was a happy haze
of beaches, blackberries and books.
My father had an unnamed rage
used the belt on us
like an artist uses paint on canvas
but sang us to sleep at bedtime.
My mother had an unnamed sorrow
her children couldn't know or fix
gave us no boundaries
but sewed our clothes
and baked bread in yeast cans.

The last half of my childhood
I spent as a third parent
while my mother and father took turns
trying to run away
from discontent at home.
I was babysitter, cook
laundry washer and ironer
tyrannical big sister
and unwilling partaker
in my parents' disaffection.
When I was sixteen
my father and mother gave up the fight
of staying together for their children
and for a year or two
we were all happier.

At the end of my senior year
my parents remarried
within a month of each other.
We stayed with my mother and stepfather
got four new brothers and sisters
grieving a mother lost to cancer
just a year before.
I was still the oldest
and at eighteen, took my own turn
running away from home.

At twenty-five I married
terrified but hopeful
I would not repeat my parents' mistakes.
Instead, I made my own.
I waited too long to have children
traded stamina and immaturity
for patience and rigidity.
In the end it was a fair trade
for motherhood came hard to me.
I thought it would be different
with my own children
if I chose to have them
loved them because they were mine.
Instead, I found myself
living out my own unnamed sorrow
one that brought back the agony
of responsibilities I hadn't chosen or wanted
except this time, I had.

This time, I could only blame myself.
I could, and did
but now I'm done blaming.

I've decided this story will have a happy ending.
I've decided sorrow and joy can and do coexist.
I've decided I can be a mother
without that being who I am.
I've decided I can love my children
my husband and myself
all at the same time
because I have enough love to go around.
I've decided to let go of resentment
again and again
as many times as it takes.
I've decided to be grateful to my parents.
I've decided to make peace
with my mistakes and flaws
for they have shaped me but do not define me.
I've decided that while I didn't always know
I wanted to be a mother
I do now.