Sunday, December 14, 2003

my Christmas prayer

It may be a while before I post again--or not, depending on the next few days. In any case I wanted to post my Christmas prayer here. I wrote it to be used at our services Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but I won't be here to hear it. It's a concluding collect for the prayers of the people; just a short thing, but it expresses, I hope, how I'm feeling about Christmas this year, and what I'm praying for.

We welcome you, Jesus, who came to us as one of the most vulnerable of all. Grant that we may remember to seek you in the strangest places. Teach us the hope of the expectant Mary and the frightened shepherds, that we may continue to find new life in the darkness of our world. Give us the paradoxical peace of the newborn, which interrupts us in all that we do, to call us back to your presence and love. In your name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

a little better cooking news

Maybe I'm better at taking orders than initiating today. I took the kids to church this evening to help out with cooking dinner for our homeless guests: we host a group for a week every year at around Christmas time. This was the first night. Someone else had planned the meal, done the shopping, started things off. So I chopped carrots and potatoes, stirred soup, made coffee...everything went fine.

The kids were great, too. They helped pack bag lunches for the morning, peeled carrots and cucumbers, chopped (only Mariah), and generally ran around being useful for about an hour. Then everything was done (there's often a "too many cooks" problem at this event) and they watched Jungle Book for twenty minutes or so until it was time for dinner. Oh well.

bad cooking day

I thought I'd make cookies and spiced nuts as gifts for some folks we won't be seeing at Christmas time this year. I'd made the cookie dough yesterday and it was in the fridge waiting to be rolled into little balls and baked. I got the first batch in, and went on to do something else while they baked. I could smell them as they baked--they smelled good. Then, after a while, not so good. I thought maybe I'd let something fall onto the oven floor and it was burning.

Not so. It was the cookies. Salvageable, but let's just say that's the trayfull we'll be eating here. The other two came out fine.

Then the spiced nuts. I dug up an old recipe I got from Readerville a year or two ago. It looked good, but I didn't have enough nuts. So, off to the store. An hour later, back loaded down with bags. But, yes, I did actually remember the nuts. So now to mix the ingredients together: maple syrup, olive oil, nuts, herbs, cayenne, salt...

And into the oven at 300 for forty minutes.

When the buzzer went off I went to check and they looked good. I was shaking the pan, trying to break up some of the clumps, when something happened. Next thing I knew the pan was upside-down on the open oven door, and nuts were everywhere: on the floor, on the oven floor, in the drawer underneath the oven...

Again, some were more salvageable than others. But maybe this is not the year for food gifts. You think?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

reading causes colds

Nick has a cold. Like every other elementary school kid, I might add. We spent about an hour in the doctor's waiting room this morning and I almost packed Nick up and came home, fearing that sitting around there might make him sicker, cancelling out any benefit we had from the consultation. But we stuck it out and now have a prescription for cough syrup.

But, before we went, Nick and I had a great conversation. We were talking about his cold, and how long he'd been sick. (It feels like weeks, but can it be, really?) And after that we were talking about his reading, which is getting much better (unlike the cold, I might add). And he looked at me very seriously and said, "You know, Mommy, last year when I couldn't read I didn't really have very many colds. And now that I can read better I keep getting sick. So maybe reading is making me sick."

He was kidding. I think.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Peg Bracken

I'm "I Hate to Cook"ing tonight. The I Hate to Cook Book, by Peg Bracken, is a classic of my youth. With illustrations by Hilary Knight, of Eloise fame, no less. My copy was purchased at, I think, Small World Books in Venice CA one afternoon when I was hosting a dinner party that evening and just had to have the recipe for Crazy Cake. OK, she calls it "Cockeyed Cake" but somehow it got crazy in our family early on and that's the name that stuck. It's the chocolate cake made with both oil and vinegar, no butter, no eggs...and it is weirdly good. It even turned up in this Moosewood cookbook some years back, somewhat gussied up but effectively the same thing.

The thing about The I Hate to Cook Book is that it's almost a little time capsule. Published in 1960, it assumes moms stay home and dads go to work--and that this drives moms crazy, so they need to occupy themselves with almost anything but child care or cooking. Most of the recipes involve something out of a can, or something in a package, but the cookie recipes are pretty good and crazy cake, while not the best chocolate cake you'll ever eat, is the first one I ever made. And the first one Mariah did. And that's worth something.

I think Peg Bracken is a lot like Erma Bombeck and Jean Kerr, those mom-humorists of the sixties who are almost forgotten now. The cookbook isn't so great for the recipes--and the humor is, as I'm suggesting, dated--but it is still fun to open up and browse through every now and then.

So here's a tidbit:

"It is a lucky thing that little children can't just decide, bang, they're going to have a party, the way grownups do, and then have it. This is one area where what Mama says still goes. What little kids have is birthday parties, and that's it. And actually they're not quite so horrible close up as they are at a distance. The only thing to fear is fear itself."

She then goes on to recommend that all kid parties be tied to a holiday, so as not to tax Mom with coming up with a theme (summer parties where there is no holiday can be, in a most un-PC naming, "hobo parties"). Later she suggests freezing maraschino cherries in ice cubes for the lemonade, noting that "If there are some left over, they're good in Old Fashioneds, too." What kills me is that this turns up as a tip for people who hate to cook, who are assumed to be out of their kitchen as much as possible, whereas today it would turn up in a Martha Stewart mag of some sort, right? Same tip, different audience. Why?

Anyway. She also wrote The I Hate to Housekeep Book, a copy of which used to live in my parents' house but apparently does so no longer. This one I have to find, because--unlike cooking--I truly do hate housekeeping.

By the way I'm making "Elevator Lady Spice Cookies" and "Chewy Fudge-Cake Cookies" tonight, in the hopes that they will be good enough to take to a holiday open house tomorrow.

kids say the darnedest ...

So Nick and I are listening to NPR : Morning Edition for Friday, December 5, 2003 yesterday, and the story about boomer bands reuniting comes on. (Scroll down almost to the end of the show to hear it.) Now, I never know how much Nick hears when I listen to NPR--frankly, I hope not much, especially when they're talking about Ugandan kids killing other kids. (He hasn't mentioned the Lord's Resistance Army lately, so there's hope.)

Anyway they're talking about Simon & Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, Elton John, whoever...and they get to the part about ticket prices. "Ninety dollars!" exclaims Nick. "For ninety dollars those tickets better be made of gold!"

Sunday, November 30, 2003


Here's a nice post on I Advent from Going Jesus. I especially like the prayer from Henri Nouwen.

giving thanks

Tomorrow's World AIDS day so today in church we heard about AIDS and the church. And I'm giving thanks that our church community is inclusive and that my children are healthy. I'll be back with more blogging soon, I hope, but I'm still recovering from ten hours plus on the road yesterday (including more time than I care to remember on the ever-pleasant NJ Turnpike) as well as from T'giving. Actually we had a lovely time, but it's always a bit crazy and I need some down time. So this is it.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

baby goats

...are so incredibly cute. Mama and daddy goats are, you know, goat-like. They push their noses through the fence at the children's farm park and beg for food. When they're not doing that they're not doing much.

But the baby goats--we saw twins, born 10/28--are adorable. They frolic. They jump. They twitch in the air while they're jumping. You might even say they dance. They play-fight, butting heads with each other, jumping on top of each other and then immediately falling off. They run up the little ramp someone has set up for them, and then skitter off the upended plastic tub that sits at one end of the ramp. They can't get any purchase on the plastic, so they slide off, jumping as soon as they land and running off again.

They chase each other around, then forget what they're doing and stop.

Good thing the parents were around looking all adult-goat-like; otherwise, we would all have wanted to take a baby home. And have been mighty disappointed when it grew up.

No, this is not an allegory. I'm actually finding my human kids get better with age. Though if they'd jump around and kick their heels in mid-air, that would be cool.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Gender Genie

This algorithm supposedly can predict your sex based on 500 words of your writing. I posted in my column from Literary Mama and it guessed right. But wait, there's more! I pasted in a book review I'm working on and it guessed totally wrong! So, hmm, academic writing is masculine, my column is feminine? Why am I not surprised?

Thanks to This Woman's Work for the link...

The Gender Genie

Stirring the Cake

Today is Mom's birthday, and it's time to tell the stirring the cake story again. I know I haven't told it here.

You see, Mom's birthday comes at a particularly busy time of the school year, which is really the only calendar I've ever been attuned to. In fact I've rarely seen her on her birthday since I started prep school at age 13. We usually just shift the celebration to Thanksgiving--as, indeed, we'll do next week, since we're driving up for Thanksgiving again this year.

In the fall of 1977, I was living with two other girls in a studio apartment in the basement of our prep school infirmary--apparently the school was overenrolled and a few of us lucked out with these "cushy" digs. (We're talking bunk beds and another single bed dropped on top of ugly linoleum, with a little kitchenette in one corner...not terribly cushy, but access to cooking equipment was always worth something.) Abby was living upstairs in a regular double. According to my palm pilot calendar Mom's birthday was on a Thursday that year, so it must have been the day before that Abby and I decided to go into town and get a cake mix to make Mom a cake. Not that she was going to benefit by it, but it was the thought, right? And Wednesdays were half-days for us then, so that must have been it. (Either that, or this happened in the fall of 1976, when her birthday actually fell on a Wednesday. I can't remember what dorm I was in then, but perhaps Abby & I were roommates and I've just conflated two episodes? Not that it really matters...)

Anyway we went into town, got the cake mix, and came back up to my apartment to make the cake. Abby had a trick for making a peppermint chocolate cake--a few drops of peppermint extract in the mix--so we had done that, and the apartment smelled fabulous. Oh, I can still remember how fabulous it smelled.

The cake came out of the oven and we got it cooling, then decided to frost it. It was still pretty warm, but it smelled so tempting we just couldn't wait. We'd bought a can of chocolate frosting, and we popped it open.

Well, you know what happened. It began to fall apart in big clumps, the frosting sticking to the warm cake and pulling it apart. At first we were crestfallen--all our work, going to naught! But pretty quickly we saw the humor in it. We dumped the whole mess into a bowl and just stirred away, frosting and cake in big gobs filling up the bowl. Then we ate it.


So that was the year we "stirred the cake." I think we sang happy birthday to Mom as we ate it. I remember it every year around this time, and it gets better and better in my memory, though I don't think I've ever done it again.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Science: Mother Knows Best

More mother-related science. I teach at the same university with Craig Kinsley, which is sort of a brush-with-greatness for me, since he gets so much national and even international press. I even wrote up some of this research for Brain, Child some years ago. That had to do with the rat-moms getting more courageous about seeking food. Now there's more: ACCORDING TO RESEARCH done by Craig Kinsley at the University of Richmond, mother rats are less susceptible to stress than those who have never given birth. Read the rest here:Science: Mother Knows Best

The thing is, being neither a baboon nor a rat, I'm not sure how helpful these animal studies are. On the one hand, yes, I'm more courageous than before I had kids. And I think the health benefits of having friends--particularly friends who will groom you!--are pretty obvious. But: less susceptible to stress? Um, no.

Baboon mothers

Among baboons, moms with lots of female friends are the most successful parents, according to a new study that supports the idea that social support is an essential part of being a baboon -- or a human. So the big question is whether there is any relationship between baboon mothers and human ones. Read about it | News | Baboon mothers with social networks are more successful at raising young, study shows

my column is up!

Yep, this is me. Midlife Mama

Thursday, November 13, 2003

the other shoe drops

So who else figured out Nick was actually sick, after last night's fight? Yep, as usual, the bad behavior presaged a day at home from school with a nasty cold. I've been at this parenting thing for over 13 years, and both kids have often had this pattern of bad behavior right as they get sick, and I'm still always figuring it out after the fact. Though I do recall that there were times, in the throes of toddlerhood, when we would say "I hope he's sick" as a way of explaining behavior. Sigh.

Anyway the kids spent the day at home (Mariah's still not better, and her school is off tomorrow for conferences, so there goes another week...) and, according to Mark, who stayed home with them, they were angels. Figures. Not that I'm bitter or anything, but by the time I got home Nick was working up to something again. Late day, low energy, no reserves...

Maybe I need a sick day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Fighting about food...

I know "they" say not to do it--fight about food, that is. "They" say it will cause eating disorders, make meals stressful, all those bad things. We do it anyway. But tonight was the worst. We went out to eat, partly because I'd already been fighting with Nick over dumb stuff and just needed a break. He'd wanted to play on the playground after school, for example, and I'd denied him because it was raining. We'd argued about that ("It looks like it's going to stop soon") all the way to the car. In the grocery store we'd had a battle over which chips to buy. The kid can barely read and he's insisting on the ones that look more like Fritos than the ones that look like Tostitos. Why? I dunno. I want the cheaper --Tostitos-ish-- ones, but I let him win, because I won over the mac-n-cheese five minutes earlier. [Edit: by the way, he was right. The chips he chose were awesome. Mark and I finished the bag today...11/15] Then we fight because I have to call him five times. He says it was just three times. But either way, he wasn't coming when I called, kept going the other direction from where I wanted to go... it sounds petty as I write it down, and indeed it was, but it was also exhaustingly real. This is what it's like some days with a six-year-old.

So, here we are in La Casita. The food has been put in front of us and we need to eat pretty quickly since we're taking Mariah to the high school open house in an hour. We all dig in. Nick's still eating chips. [Edit: not the chips from the earlier fight. Sorry, I guess that really did sound pretty bad!] We remind him he's got a meal in front of him -- the oh-so-authentic cheeseburger and fries. We get ketchup distributed appropriately on the plate. I'm about halfway through my chimichanga. He's still eating chips.

Finally he eats a french fry, after complaining that they're too hot. Then another, and another. Something in me wants to remind him that he's also got a burger. I restrain myself as another five or six fries go down, but then I have to say it. "Nick, eat some of your burger."

He eats another fry, drinks some water.

"Nick, you ordered the cheeseburger and I'd like you to eat some of it."

"I want to eat the fries first."

"But I don't want you to fill up on fries and not have room for your burger. You like burgers -- you ordered it -- eat some, ok?"

Another french fry. Mark grabs his hand as he's reaching for another one.

"Nick, listen to Mommy and eat your cheeseburger now."

"I want to save it."

"Just a bite. Just take a bite and you can go back to the fries."

I'm already wondering why this is important. It's not like anything on the plate is all that healthy. It's not like he would die if all he ate was fries. But it hurts me somehow to see him doggedly shoveling them in, ignoring the slab-o-meat(ish) that he asked for. I tell him so.

"Nick, I just really want to see you eat some of the cheeseburger before you get too filled up on fries."

Well, it went on. And as usual, I was ready to back down after about five minutes. After all, I don't really care. I realize I don't care at all. I realize all I care about is finishing my meal in peace, but that's not going to happen.

Mark cares. He cares that Nick defies my authority, he cares that stable boundaries are set. So he insists while I begin to backpedal.

"I have a better reason than you," I say. "I want you to eat what's healthy first, in case you get too full for it later. You haven't told me your reason."

"I just want to do it this way. I did it this way before and you let me."

"I can't believe that, Nick. I always want you to eat your healthy food first. Or whatever's healthier, anyway. Not that burgers are all that healthy..."

He sees an opening. "French fries are just as healthy as cheeseburgers and ketchup. Maybe more. They're potatoes and you always want me to eat potatoes."

(This is true. He hates potatoes unless they are french fries or chips.)

"OK, just eat. I don't care."

But Mark still cares. "Eat a bite," he insists again.

Nick cares. For some reason he cares more about eating the french fries first than pleasing me. No, he cares more about defying me than anything else. But he's crying, because Daddy is mad at him.

It goes on. My plate is clean. So is Mariah's. The open house starts in fifteen minutes, and it's ten minutes away. Nick is sobbing, having been denied another french fry until he eats a bite of cheeseburger. Mariah is aghast. "Why does this matter?" she asks him.

"It doesn't," I say.

"It does," says Mark.

Sobbing still, Nick shouts, "Fine," picks up the burger, tears a bite out of it, chews through his tears, and picks up another french fry. He eats one more bite of burger --again at Mark's urging-- before finishing the plate of fries. Mark and Mariah leave for the open house while Nick and I sit across the table from each other. I watch him finish the burger, dipping bite after bite into the ketchup still on the plate. He's calm now, not a tear in sight.

"Nick, do you know why that happened?"

"Because you wouldn't let me eat my fries," he answers, reasonably enough.

"But, it happened before. Since I picked you up, you haven't done anything I asked you to. Why is that?"

"I'm not feeling good," he says. "Can we stop talking about this?"

So we do. What's to be gained, after all?

I remember the Salon piece that I linked a few days ago (scroll down). Some days you just don't want to say "no" any more. This was one of them, but I said it anyway, and wished I hadn't.

Writing about Food

Last year I began a document ambitiously titled "A Year in Food." For two months (ok, so nothing like a year) I wrote as often as I could find the time, about what I'd been cooking. Re-reading it this morning was a revelation: the meals I made! The time I spent! Fall cooking always gets me going, and this year fall has started and stopped so often that I've lost track. But still. Last fall I made bread just about every other day, soups, roasts, crock-pot meals... it made my mouth water to remember it all.

I've been wondering why I wrote about it, though. Mom used to keep lists of the dozens and dozens of cookies she baked every Christmas season. I think they are still there, on a back page in her old Joy of Cooking (the one whose spine cracked so long ago that even the tape she used to hold it together has atrophied). She would consult the previous year's list every Advent when she started up again. Did she keep the lists to remind her of what we'd liked? Out of some obsessive-compulsive need for order? To get "credit" for the work she'd done?

At some level I think that's it, with my "year in food" as well as Mom's lists. So much of mothering, so much of living, goes unacknowledged. So many days I wonder "what did I do today?" Keeping a list, writing about food, gives me a tangible reminder of my activities, activities that leave no trace except in the expanding and contracting waistbands of my clothes. As I read through my cooking journal from last year I was astonished at how much I accomplished--the cooking, the feeding, which were my primary focus, but also the things we did with the kids, the academic work I did--I recorded them all (or most of them) and I really did get a sense of how much I had done. All this evanescent work, still there on the screen.

I told Ann the acupuncturist that I thought of my knitting as "creativity lite"--as something I could do relatively quickly, without a full investment of mind and heart, that ended up in a tangible product. More and more I realize I need to be making things, whether it's scarves or cookies or earrings or words on a page. Words on a page may be the most satisfying, but they also require the greatest investment. So last year, I guess, I invested the time in cookies and breads, then doubled their value to me as products by writing about them as well.

I still think a book recounting a year in food could be interesting. But mine petered out in December in the pre-Christmas rush and I never returned to it. What if I started in January?

Monday, November 10, 2003

The body always knows...

I've been coasting along pretty calmly these last few weeks, insisting to all who asked that, yes, I was busy, and yes, there's a lot going on, but --thanks for asking-- I'm really doing fine. Hmm. Lots of people asking. Maybe they knew something I didn't know?

I really did feel fine. I was eating ok, sleeping ok (well, relatively), not really shouting at the kids--

Then I got whacked by the mother of all headaches Saturday morning. And despite naprosyn and naps, it hung in there. Sunday wasn't quite as bad, and today's even a little better. But now I know--

I was really proud of myself for how well I was managing. I've been really working on staying balanced, not getting too frantic about work, keeping calm--and it was working OK, but that pride thing, I think, was not.

Maybe it should have been a clue when my massage Friday didn't really work out the kinks as it usually does.

Maybe I should have paid attention the couple of times I did wake up in the night and couldn't get back to sleep.

Maybe I should have noticed that I was complaining about the kids, even if I wasn't yelling at them.

Why do I have to keep learning these lessons over and over again? I spent 90 minutes with a reading/prayer group last night talking (among other things) about how we need to learn that we're not in control, and here I was thinking I was, all along.

So, note to self: you're not in control. And, especially, try not to take credit for when it feels like you are.


My headache's not gone, but it's a whole lot better. And I'm going to try to get to the gym this afternoon. Life | Letting my kids go crazy

Here's the thing about motherhood: You say the word "No" all the time, and this word and many of its kind slowly begin to strangle your language, like weeds wrapping themselves around the prettier words you imagined using with your child like "Yes" and "Love" and "That's beautiful honey." But "No" forces its way in and eventually you can't help yourself, this urge to curb, squelch, and put a lid on almost everything your kids get into. Not because you're a meanie but because they are constantly pushing you and it's exhausting and ... Read the rest here: Life | Letting my kids go crazy

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Silent Lunch

I put a picture of Nick's on the refrigerator the other day. It depicts "the wite wich in hr sled" and Aslan. Yes, we've been reading the Narnia books. But that's not what I want to talk about. After I put the picture up Nick told me that he'd drawn it during "silent lunch." Apparently some Thursdays lunch is silent. I'm not sure if this is a desperate effort by the cafeteria workers to regain their sanity, or a pedagogical plot by the teachers, but it amuses me. I had heard of "silent lunches" before this year and they always sounded bad. Why make kids be quiet while they eat? Eating and talking are two of the great civilized pleasures, best practiced together. We were definitely nay-sayers.

But silent lunch this year is a little different. In the past the kids had to keep quiet and weren't even allowed to gesture or pass notes to each other. This year there's paper and pencils in the cafeteria and they can write notes. So when Nick thought C. was being mean he wrote her a note: "your mean." It got passed around, and she wasn't happy about it, but at least he was communicating.

Apparently M. wrote a note that said "your butt smells," and got in trouble for it. I tried to figure out why. Was it just the word? (Mariah was once punished for talking about Beavis and Butthead, because talking about them entailed saying the b-word.) Was it that it was mean? It couldn't be that it was because it wasn't true...

In any event I think it's fine that they're passing notes. Last year they couldn't even write their own names. Now they're writing, they're communicating, they're using their words. And if what they want to use them for is to tell each other how smelly they are, well, it's better than fighting, isn't it?

(PS--I also love that M. had to ask Nick how to spell his note.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Literary Mama

Literary Mama has launched! I've got a small role to play with this mag, but it's really a huge joint effort of a lot of very talented women. Check it out! And let me know what you think...

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Opting in, opting out

I've been thinking about those articles I linked below some more. Lisa Belkin's piece on Opting Out and the piece from the Chronicle about quitting a tenured position, especially. I have one friend who left her tenured position recently, and others who've never really tried for one, but I don't know many, really, who are opting out in the way Belkin and the pseudonymous professor outline. What I do know are many who are dissatisfied with the way work is--and I think that's the real problem. Belkin gets there in the end, too. We work too hard, we don't know when to quit, the expectations are too demanding... yada yada. Today I was thinking that the same thing is true of school as it is of work. Neither of my kids is really overstressed from homework, but I still see the stress of long days spent doing busywork, long days spent "being good." They come home tired, crabby, anti-social. Not always, but often enough that I wonder what they'd be like if we homeschooled. What we'd be like if home, school, and work were less at odds with each other.

I don't have any answers, just questions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Chronicle: 10/31/2003: When Tenure Isn't Enough

This article doesn't really describe my life, but it's close:"I began to wonder if being a healthy adult and being an excellent professor were mutually exclusive at my college." If reading the article requires a subscription, sorry!
The Chronicle: 10/31/2003: When Tenure Isn't Enough

Edit: OK, it does require a subscription. So here's a sampling:


When Tenure Isn't Enough
Overworked and unhappy, a tenured professor decides she wants out

I just resigned a tenured position. I did everything right. I worked hard to earn a Ph.D. I landed a tenure-track job at a small, liberal-arts college. I excelled in teaching, research, and service. The year I earned tenure I also received the highest faculty award given at the college. And then I quit ... with no other job in sight.

Gender, personality, and college culture are all factors that swayed my decision. Female professors, especially at my patriarchal college, are implicitly expected to do more of the scut work. Committee assignments, work with student organizations, advising, and assessment all seem to fall heavier on the average female professor.

No matter how much I did, I always got the impression that I should be doing more. I remember once questioning why I didn't get the highest rating for college and community service on my yearly evaluation. I had done numerous activities that I thought clearly merited an excellent rating. The administrator told me that I could get the highest rating only if I worked so hard that I totally collapsed at the end of the year. Anything less than that was not considered excellent service.
I began to wonder if being a healthy adult and being an excellent professor were mutually exclusive at my college.

By the way, this particular professor is childless. So it's not only an issue for moms--as she and Lisa Belkin both point out in their pieces, it's an issue for the American workplace generally. Why do we define ourselves through our jobs? And why do only moms get the free "get out of the workplace" pass? Not all moms, not most moms, I know...but there is a tacit understanding in our culture that mothering is important enough to give up even the most important job for. Not, however, fathering. And not at all, being a good person. Or am I overstating?


You've already read this one, right? The Opt-Out Revolution. Salon's Joan Walsh had a great response:Clueless in Manhattan. Here's a sample: "I also believe that modern feminism, disproportionately represented in the '70s by childless women, didn't tell the truth about what motherhood would feel like, which is part of why Belkin and her subjects are so confused, and feel like they're telling some new forbidden truth. It's a truth all right, but it's not forbidden; it's just partial and incomplete."

They're talking about what women want in Canada, too. Here's an excerpt from a great piece: When the rare man leaves the work force to tend to children, it should be noted, no one suggests he's being kept or is a man of leisure. Last year, Fortune magazine ran a gushy cover story titled "Trophy Husbands," which reported on the growing number of men who are staying home to raise families while their supercharged wives work. The subhead enthused: "Arm candy? Are you kidding? While their fast-track wives go to work, stay-at-home husbands mind the kids. They deserve a trophy for trading places."

Meanwhile, its cover on women who dropped out to stay home was titled "Goodbye Boss Lady, Hello Soccer Mom." It's all so predictable.

Read the whole article here:NATIONAL POST

Monday, October 27, 2003


I just learned that Nick didn't know the Cinderella story. I can't remember not knowing it, and I can't remember first telling or reading it to Mariah--I think at some level I thought it was just one of those stories that's in the culture that everyone knew. (I thought everyone knew who Bob Dylan was, too, but it recently came to my attention that Mariah didn't know what his voice sounded like. And references to Barry Manilow are equally meaningless to her, though that doesn't trouble me quite as much...)

It came up with Nick because he wanted me to read to him, and I was tired of all his books. He's big into repetition right now--repetition of chapter books. So we have read Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and Homer Price over and over again. I have also read him the entire Chronicles of Prydain (the 5-volume set by Lloyd Alexander) once, and some books in it more than once, and the other day we finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But for some reason we just don't have shelves-full of chapter books for pre- and early-readers (I think maybe Mariah skipped this stage) and so I was scanning my shelves for something--anything!--new to read, and I came across Philip Pullman's I Was a Rat!. I pulled it off the shelf (along with a few others) and offered Nick some choices. He was curious about the Pullman book but wanted to know more, so I started to tell him.

"It's about the boy--the rat in Cinderella who gets turned into a boy."

"What rat?"

"Well, the rat who becomes a little coach boy. Remember?"


"Do you know the story of Cinderella?"


No joke. So I offered to tell it to him.

OK, big feminist dilemma here. I've written about Cinderella fairly extensively, teach various versions in my children's lit course, know all the parodies and revisions and "PC" versions and everything. I've read The Paper-Bag Princess to Nick a hundred times (give or take...) When I teach Cinderella to my children's lit students they always moan that I've ruined it for them by pointing out the feminist objections to the tale: that it emphasizes female competition, the undesireability of older women, the need for young women to be "saved" by men, the necessity of beauty rather than wit or goodness for that "salvation." There's a lot to object to, and I don't really mind "ruining" it for 20-year-olds, who are old enough to handle some complexity. On the other hand, it's a pretty foundational text in our culture, and it expresses some useful things about sibling relationships, the value of fantasy, and the ability of even the poor and oppressed to make changes in their situations. And, it's a pretty good story--rich with magic and cruelty and happy endings.

So: what to do? Tell him the "real" version (and if so, which one?) or alter it? But wait, I need there to be a rat-coach boy, or the whole thing makes no sense. And really the rat-coach boy is fairly insignificant in my understanding of the tale (which is, of course, why the Pullman book works).

So I told him the classic version, pretty much straight out of Perrault. (No rat boy in the Grimms as far as I could remember...) It was a pretty bare-bones version, nothing fancy, but it did have the pumpkin coach and the various animal transformations.

And that was it. He didn't ask me to read the Pullman book after that, and he hasn't mentioned it again. Instead we read Regarding the Fountain, a complex novel-in-letters and memos and newspaper clippings by Kate Klise. I have no idea how much of it he got--it's really more a book for independent readers in, oh, 3rd grade and up--but he got enough. Puns and everything. And there were no references to Cinderella.

Sunday, October 26, 2003


We've got the pumpkins carved and Mariah's been working on costumes so I guess it's almost Hallowe'en. Feels like sacrilege to say it, especially when you've got two kids, but I don't really care about Hallowe'en one way or the other. I actually really like All Saints Day, which is Nov. 1. It's a great opportunity to think about all sorts of saints, canonized or not, people who've made a difference. Plus the music is usually terrific. But I've never been a big one for costumes--not since the days of the gypsy costume made by wearing Mom's clothes, makeup (!), and curtain rings for earrings. Since then it's all gone downhill, if you ask me.

But we've got carved pumpkins sitting on the porch, and I've already bought the candy, so I guess we're all set.

Monday, October 20, 2003


So, the phone was out because the phone company was upgrading our line in preparation for our DSL installation. Woulda been nice if they'd warned me...

giving in

Nick's home sick, sort of. He complained of stomach and head aches this morning, and despite not having a fever and eating a perfectly reasonable breakfast he insisted that he couldn't go to school. I was trying to be hard line with him--after all, he really didn't seem sick to me, and I had lots of work to do myself, and I didn't want him to manipulate me. Then I remembered 6th grade, when I missed school, oh, one or two days a week, it seems. And I remember how much my stomach hurt, those mornings, though it's true I usually felt better by mid-day. And nothing was wrong with me, or nothing any physician could diagnose, at any rate. Eventually my pediatrician gave up and prescribed valium. Yes, valium, for an 11-year-old kid. I was so impressed by myself, however--that I actually needed "tranquilizers"! That someone thought I was going crazy!--that I think I only ever took one, and I went back to school. In hindsight it seems that I was anxious about our upcoming move, and having trouble adjusting to the idea of adolescence (in my case, still several years away).

Anyway. I remembered that my mother sighed, and tried to get me to eat breakfast, and sent my siblings off to school, and let me stay home. And I still got into college, yes, and graduate school, so apparently those days spent at home (staring into the windows of my classroom, truth be told, since it was right across the street) didn't do much harm. And being believed, I truly think, helped me.

So I let Nick stay home, though I don't know what it is that he's trying to stay away from. We're not moving, after all. But he's been having a tougher transition to 1st grade than any of us expected--he loves the teacher, and the kids, but he's been having a harder time following the rules than he did last year or the year before, and I'm a bit bewildered by that. And a big part of me thinks the rules are stupid and he's just fine, but then again they are the rules and I'm kind of stuck there.

So he's been home all day. He changed back into pajamas and dutifully got back into bed when I suggested that maybe he needed some more rest, but he's been up and down all day since then, finding things to do, things to talk to me about, lunch to eat, games to play. And, finally, after only 4 hours of that, I suggested Loony Tunes. I admit it, I'm the one who brought up TV. We taped a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons before we yanked the cable last week, and Nick can watch these same few hours endlessly. I hope he doesn't, today, but I was feeling a bit crowded, anxious about my work, and in need of a little quiet. So there it is--he's plugged in and I'm typing away here.

And apparently our phone is out. Or at least I couldn't get a dial tone last time I tried, and, yes, I checked, and the extension in Mariah's room is NOT off the hook (that was the problem last time). So here we are, Nick and me, at home in the world.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

time for a change?

I'm feeling antsy, unsettled. This has been going on for a while. A couple of years ago--actually, yes, almost two years ago exactly--I began to think I was feeling a call to ordained ministry. For a while exploring that kept me from feeling antsy--or, if I did, I attributed it to the fact that I was still exploring, not actually making the change. Then, I decided (or was it decided for me? anyway) that probably ordained ministry wasn't my call. So, fine. I had a great summer after that, feeling very centered and happy even if I wasn't particularly getting any work done. I knew I'd be teaching writing in the fall, and working on Literary Mama, and otherwise doing cool stuff, so I felt as if things were going in the right direction.

Now it's the fall, and I am teaching writing, and Literary Mama will launch in less than two weeks, but I'm just feeling stuck and bored. I haven't been writing much (not that you noticed, right?). I'm too busy to really get to work--or that's what I say to myself--but then I feel too boring to write, anyway. I've been knitting a lot, which I decided today is, for me, creativity lite--it keeps me occupied, makes me feel as if I'm making something, but it's not really what I want to be making. (OK, it's fun to make stuff, and I'll get some good Christmas presents out of it, but it's not my life's work, that's all I mean.)

So, what is my life's work? Is it teaching overprivileged kids, maybe getting them to recognize their privilege? Writing every now and then and hoping someone reads me? Raising good kids, loving my husband, contributing to my church? Those are all important, I know, and I am fortunate to be able to do them all, not to mention the luxury of getting paid and having medical insurance. Nothing to sneeze at, I know.


I feel antsy.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 17, 2003

too long between posts

...and I have no excuse except that I've been watching too much baseball, and my teams lost. (As a Mets fan I have no particular stake except in seeing underdogs win, though, so at this point I guess I'm with the Marlins...)

and I've been busy at work, and we had houseguests, and I think I'm coming down with a cold.

Still, I'll try to get something up this weekend. I started scratching out notes on a pad as I sat on the grass watching Nick's "soccer game" this afternoon (four-on-four, no-defense, half-field, everyone under 8--you see why the scare quotes) and I had an idea or so but I'm just too tired to type it all in now.

TODDLER is out, though! I'm in it! Go buy it!

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

kids and friendship

Sometimes I envy my kids their friendships. Both of them have friends who have known them almost since birth. In Nick's case, I especially love to see him play with Marina (she of "Help me Hell"). They have the kind of friendship only kids whose parents are friends can have, I think. We have done stuff together as families since long before Nick was even thought of, so he has just been incorporated into the larger group, as has Marina. We're lucky they get along--it doesn't always work out that way. Some years ago we were friends with another couple who had a son Mariah's age. When they were kindergartners, they were inseparable. Mariah hates me to tell this story, but they even used to kiss whenever they met. At one point I swear they were experimenting with making out--when they were in about first grade. But then something happened. We took a joint vacation at the beach one year--I think Mariah may have been in third or fourth grade. And, basically, they refused to play together, only nagged and whined at each other, but also refused to be separated. It was hell. Here we were having this great time with the parents--cooking fabulous meals, staying up late at night drinking on the balcony, hanging out for hours at the beach--and the kids were completely unable to be in the same room without fighting, but wouldn't go into different rooms. Aargh!

Of course now that couple is divorced and we don't see them any more. Not that we had anything to do with that.

But the thing about these friendships is the confidence they seem to inspire. Mariah still does have one very good friend from our earliest days here--they met when she was not quite four--and although they have only spent one year at the same school, in the 10 years of their friendship, they are utterly confident in each other's friendship, care, and love. They don't talk every day, but they are in some significant way deeply connected--and expect always to be.

I know they may not be. I moved when I was five, and again at eleven, and have no friends left from either of those early periods. My best and longest-connected friend and I met on the first day of ninth grade, and I'm pleased and sometimes amazed that we have stayed connected. There have been long periods of disconnect, but we still come back to each other. And there's never anything to explain. Newer friendships, important and strengthening as they may be, always require a certain catching-up, a certain period of sharing histories, before they are fully as comfortable as these old ones.

Sometimes I think it's possible that Mark and I will spend the rest of our lives here, and that in that case our kids will always be able to connect with the friends they've made here. While the idea of living in the same place for the rest of my life is actually a little more frightening than appealing (and I do like it here, that's not the problem), the benefit to my kids makes me feel better about it.

On the other hand travel is good for you too.

hopelessly behind

I can't believe it's been over a week since I posted. Well, of course, I can. It's been busy at work, and I'm trying hard to stay off the internet on weekends. So that doesn't leave much time for updating the blog. Go read Linda's at Plotsville instead! I love what she's saying about Jane Eyre. It's hard to know how autobiographical the novel is. Brontë certainly knew what it was like to be dependent--that's why she and Emily went to Brussels to try to upgrade their teaching and governessing skills. They never did manage to get any students at the school they tried to open in their home, but they did work as teachers and governesses before finding some measure of success as novelists. And writing, difficult though it can be, was a far lesser servitude than teaching, which really was like being a glorified servant when the Brontë sisters were doing it.

I think I'll save Jane and Rochester's first meeting for another post.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003


Linda's reading Jane Eyre! Woo-hoo! And she's SHOCKED. Check it out here: Plotsville.

Of course I have to agree--Helen Burns is NOT Elizabeth Taylor, and I think the novel's the better for it. She's a slovenly little brat, smart but inattentive--and fixated on the life to come, since she knows she's leaving this one. This last troubles me a bit--Linda's more generous than I, when she says "Helen Burns loves life, wants life. She accepts rather than ignores the unbearable injustice of life on earth and takes the sweetness where she finds it."--Well, yes, but I still find her too passive. I find myself with Jane, wanting her to stop turning the other cheek, to fight for herself. But she's already chosen her way, and there's a sort of maturity about that that seems to me heart-breaking. She's old because she's suffered so much, because her life is almost over, and she knows it.

When I think of the death and suffering Charlotte herself had known by this time in her life--two sisters and a mother already dead--I wonder how much of Helen she had in her. Not much, I think. I think she was more Jane, more the fighter, though she loved and admired the Helens in her life (primarily her sister Maria, or so all the footnotes tell us...).

Friday, September 26, 2003


I've had trouble finding things in the archives lately--somehow the dates on the blog page don't seem to correlate to the actual dates. So I'm switching to daily archiving and hoping that works. I'm also going to try to reinstate the comments. I like that feature on other blogs so I'll see if it works here.


power to the people

The temptations to make various "power" jokes right now are just too great. We got our lights back last night, so I've got loads of laundry running, clean dishes in the dishwasher, and a huge shopping-cart full of groceries back in my fridge. So nice to have all the mod-cons working again.

On the other hand the cable's out (could have been out all week, or just gone down last night, for all I know) so we've got no internet at home. And the kids were disappointed when "Ripley's Believe it or Not" disappeared on them this morning. (We did have intermittent service for about 12 hours, then it just quit altogether.)

I really want to reflect on this whole experience but it's going to take me a while to process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


I have been wanting to write about Isabel but, alas, without power it's hard to get online. We haven't had power since last Thursday (so, approaching a week now), and I've only been online a couple of times since then, when I could get into the office. Even here in the office things haven't been perfect--there are several campus entrances blocked, the water wasn't drinkable until yesterday (because the pumping stations were down when the power was out, potentially allowing bacteria into the system), and although the power came up on Saturday it was knocked out again yesterday by tornadoes in the area.

So we're not quite up to full speed yet. But classes resume tomorrow, we were able to have church on Sunday, and the kids have managed to occupy themselves without tearing down the house or killing each other. Today Mariah is babysitting for someone who got her power back yesterday--after five days in the house with three boys, she needed someone else to watch them while she cleaned up and did laundry today! And Nick came into the office with me, to watch a video in the library (seven days without television was beginning to seem like cruel and unusual punishment) and to cut up paper on my office floor. In the meantime I've managed to plow through over 300 e-mails. Frankly, it was more fun reading by candlelight, something that I've really enjoyed over the past several days. In fact, I'm starting to think it would be fun to have "blackout night" once a week or so, where we eat by candlelight, keep the TV off, and play hearts around the dining room table, as we've been doing all week. Check in with me in a month or so to see if I carry this one out.

There's plenty more to say, but I'm a little sleep-deprived--not to mention overwhelmed by the sudden return (to me, anyway) of the internet.

Monday, September 15, 2003

the first date

I think I was sixteen when I had my first date. I was a (too young) high school senior, and he was a too-old one. He had a deep voice and dark eyes and I didn't really like how he kissed, but I didn't really know there was any other way. That took a while. And we didn't date for very long. Really, I just went out with him because I was flattered he asked. And, after all, I was a senior in high school and had never gone out on a date! So, you know, I had to. But it didn't add up to much.

Mariah is thirteen. She had her first date on Saturday, with a fifteen year old boy she met at camp. He seemed sweet when I met him the day I picked her up, but how much can you tell in a few minutes? He lives an hour away, and when he "asked her out" over IM, Mariah asked me permission to go out with him. "Where?" I said. "Oh, nowhere, you know, just go out." I said yes, and she said I rocked. That was the easy part.

Then he asked her out on a real date. This took a little doing, as neither of them drives and a two hour round trip to sit around while teenagers go to the movies wasn't my idea of a fun Saturday. But they persisted, and made a plan that worked.

He came to pick her up around 11:30 Saturday morning. As he stood on the doorstep I realized I'd had entirely the wrong picture of him in my head: he was skinnier, shyer, than I'd been picturing. He thrust an envelope at me. His mom said, "He wrote you a letter." I left them sitting on the couch while I got Mariah out of her room.

His mom said, "I left my other two sitting in the car, so..." and they were off. The letter was an itinerary, with a sweet note thanking me for letting him take her to the movies. He included a synopsis of the movie (off of imdb, maybe?), and exact times for lunch, the movie, and the return home. I almost cried when I read it--it seemed so sweet, so caring. I thought I'd done the right thing letting her go off with these strangers.

She got back just when he'd said she would. They parted on the doorstep--was there a quick kiss? I didn't see, didn't ask. But she looked sad when she came in. I asked how things had gone.

"I don't know, ok I guess." But she was still sad, so I pressed a little. And then it came out. "He didn't talk to me the whole time!" she moaned. She could list all the inconsequential words they'd exchanged--over the movie, over a song on the radio. "And then he fell asleep in the car on the way home!" She was really in tears now and I moved over on the couch to hug her--a bit awkwardly. She's a big girl, almost my size now, and she's not so huggy as she used to be. But she put her head on my shoulder and sniffled a bit more. We talked about what might have happened--maybe he was shy in front of his mom and siblings in the car, maybe it felt awkward because they had really spent more time IMing than talking, maybe, maybe.

"Maybe he doesn't really like me that way," she said. "And the thing is, maybe I don't like him that way either. I just want to be friends again!"

I suggested that maybe they could. "But if I say that to him, it really means I'm breaking up with him! And I don't want to hurt his feelings."

And so it starts. After a while she looked at me and said, "I'm just really confused and disappointed." And I had to say it. "Welcome to the dating world, sweetie. There will be plenty more confusion and disappointment before it's over."

The advantage, we both agree, is that since he lives 50 miles away they don't have to run into each other every day and maybe they can work things out on their own. The disadvantage is, of course, that since he lives 50 miles away they can't run into each other every day and work it out together.

All her friends who've had one say their first dates sucked, too. And maybe that's the biggest consolation.

Jane Eyre

Some years ago I was talking to another mom, a smart woman and a reader, who said to me she just couldn't read Charlotte Brontë because her child characters are so unbelievable. I gave her an Elizabeth Gaskell novel to read, tacitly agreeing with her.

But I've just finished reading Jane Eyre again. And, first of all, it holds up under repeated re-reading. I have to drop it off my syllabus every few years because I stop reading all the words when I'm preparing for class, but then I miss it and put it back. And this time I read all the words. And they are so remarkable, I kept stopping to say, "this book is just so good!" (Luckily, my husband is used to this sort of outburst.)

This time I really focused on the child characters, on Jane herself and the beatific Helen Burns (memorably played by a child Elizabeth Taylor in the 40s film version) and little Adèle, Mr. Rochester's ward. And I found them utterly believable.

My favorite moment--or one of them, anyway--is when Jane is being grilled by Mr. Brocklehurst, the hypocritical evangelical head of Lowood School. He asks her if she knows what hell is, and who goes there. Of course she does, and then he asks her how she can avoid hell. She answers, "I must stay well and not die."

There's child logic for you. I can imagine Nick saying that. If you go to hell when you die--if there's even a chance of it--then the best thing is not to die. I remember telling my father I'd give up birthdays so I could live forever, figuring that if growing older eventually meant dying, then I'd just stop growing older. I realized I was giving up a lifetime of presents, but it seemed a small price to pay for eternal life. It's the same sort of logic, or it seems so to me.

Helen, true, is a little unbelievable. She's too perfect. But then again, she dies. Jane has about two conversations with her before that. So I give Brontë a pass on her.

And Adèle, well, she's the best. The spoiled brat daughter of an opera dancer and a misanthropic near-bigamist (maybe), she seems pitch-perfect to me. She gets all the ladies oohing and aahing over how delightful she is, she sings naughty songs and gets all the gestures right, she begs for gifts whenever Rochester returns from wherever he's been. She gets in between the lovebirds and demands all the attention for herself.

Charlotte Brontë died of complications of pregnancy. She was 39 years old. She never got to raise children of her own, to measure her recollections of her own childhood against her own growing children. She never got to nurse an infant, or teach a toddler that stoves are hot, or hear her daughter speak to her. And maybe those things wouldn't have meant much to her--childhood was different in those days, after all. But she wrote some fascinating child characters nonetheless. And Jane Eyre is still a terrific read.

Friday, September 12, 2003

not quite there

I couldn't even come close to posting yesterday. It was my big teaching day, and though all morning I was consumed with thoughts of September 11, 2001, it didn't even come up in either of my classes. I remember, though, that two years ago the weather was much as it was yesterday--sunny, brilliantly clear, one of those great late summer/early fall days when you're glad to be alive. I spent the morning in the doctor's office, two years ago, trying to get some kinks worked out of my back and side. I exploded at the nurse-practitioner who saw me, yelled at her about how I'd just been seen for this problem, and it wasn't better, and why wasn't she taking me seriously. I was sobbing as I went into Radiology for an MRI. The tech thought I was crying about the planes, about the buildings, but I had only the foggiest idea of what was happening. I was crying for myself, for my own damn pain.

I came home and sat pretty much glued to the television, like everyone else I know. But what I really remember is the morning, and how unhinged I was by my own pain, and how that just seemed to blend in with what was going on in the world.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The Futile Pursuit of Happiness

I really liked this article. It had a certain "no, duh" quality to it--that is, I know a new car won't really make me happy--but the ultimate message, that happiness is less important than we think, is helpful. And not just happiness--sadness or tragedy too. We accommodate ourselves to whatever our realities are, the author argues, more quickly than we think. And that seemed really helpful, because it makes the future so much less scary. Or so I thought. Not because it says we should give up on happiness, but because it argues that we can be smarter about it.

Of course, modern capitalism is premised on the notion that the new car (shoes, makeup, fill-in-the-blank) won't make you happy--and therefore you'll have to buy another. So if too many of us read this article, will capitalism collapse? (Alas, probably not...)

The Futile Pursuit of Happiness

low-carbing it

Everyone I know seems to me low-carbing it except me. I love bread, and I just can't find it in me to give it up. Besides, since I started doing yoga every morning and practicing a little moderation in my eating, I feel better and I've lost weight. So I really don't want to go all extreme and give up carbs. I'm really sorry so many have, though, because I like to bake bread and give it to people and now it seems like I'm trying to tempt them or something. I'm not, really. I just like to bake bread.

Besides, I think it's unChristian to give up bread. I mean, really. Jesus didn't say he was the meat of life. Think about it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

back to school

This morning began with a phone call at 7:30 am to tell me that Mariah didn't have school today because a water line had broken over the weekend and flooded the middle school classroom. So she took off her "first day of school" outfit and got ready for one more day of vegetating in front of the TV before school...

At least Nick got to go. He was all excited. Well, actually, when I went to wake him up he first said, "I don't want to go to school" and then claimed he'd rather be in his kindergarten class again. But that didn't last long.

By some stroke of genius both kids had made their lunches the night before (the FlyLady would be proud of me!) so we got out of the house on time. Still there was no place to park within two blocks of school. Many of the bus kids get driven to school on the first day; none of the car pools are in place yet; and the "drop off" line wasn't even operating. So everyone had to park and walk. Nick and I had circled the school a couple of times when I saw a woman wave at me, motioning that she was about to go to her car. I stopped and threw the car into reverse as I opened my window, but then another car pulled up behind me. "Just drive around the block," the woman said. "I'll wait for you." I took off, circling the block faster than I should have given the number of illegally parked cars on the corners. But when I got there she was still standing on the sidewalk. She saw me pull up, got into her car, and drove off waving out the window.

A random act of kindness that kept me smiling all morning.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Not the last word on prayer, but mine--for a while

One of the people I've been praying for lately died last night. She'd been very ill, and her passing was peaceful. It was, in fact, all she'd wanted--she died at home surrounded by family. I hadn't been praying for her to get well. Should I have? I prayed instead that she would die peacefully, that she would be able to let go, that her family would know her love and that she would be surrounded by God's love.

I don't know much about intercessory prayer. Some years ago I heard Jack Spong speak, and in the course of a much longer talk he mentioned that in his first wife's long battle with cancer many people had prayed for her. Of course, he and his wife welcomed the prayers. But then, he said, he began to feel badly when they would say, "she's lived this long because so many people are praying for her..." or something of the sort. He began to wonder if they really believed that his wife deserved life more than someone else, equally sick, who was less known to praying people, who wasn't, therefore, surrounded by prayer as she was. He said he wasn't sure he wanted to believe in a God who responded to prayers like that, who just listened to the loudest or most persistent prayers, or who somehow kept score and responded to those who had the most prayers.

His wife finally died of her illness, surrounded by prayers. In the end, he said, he simply believed that prayer was "the God-stuff in me responding to the God-stuff in you"--that is, it's a way we connect with another across time and space, perhaps even without their knowing, in love and care. For now, that's enough for me.

So now I'm praying for those who live on, who have said good-bye to a loved one and have to go on with that hole in their lives. I know they will--they have plenty of love and strength and compassion--but it will be hard and so I'm praying for them, and in part it's for me, so I can connect with them and their love.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Highest IQ Ever Recorded

Can I just say that this is not what I was talking about when I was talking about the Lord's Prayer? Sheesh! (And thanks to Diane at Nobody Knows Anything for pointing it out...) The Highest IQ Ever Recorded

Sunday, August 24, 2003

and then the rest of the prayer

The whole middle of the Lord's Prayer is so great. Really. Here's how it goes: "Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our sins/trespasses as we forgive those who sin/trespass against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil." Or, for those who prefer the older words, the last line goes "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (If you want to compare many versions, you can check them out here: Pater Noster. However, to get the version I'm saying, with "sins" instead of "debts" or "trespasses," you may have to look here: The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.) It's a petition for care, for feeding, for safety, for forgiveness. It reminds us that in receiving forgiveness we should also grant it. I like the modern language, "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us," but I know some people still like to say "trespasses." For me the word "sin" isn't a big stumbling block as I know it is for others: in my mind I hear it as "error," or "distance," or "separation," or any number of other things which might or might not be inspired by, as the Church Lady says, "Satan." It's a state of being out of sorts, out of alignment. Anyone who's seen a six-year-old have a tantrum (as I did several times today) can recognize a sort of sinfulness that is an inability to share, to be part of the group, to be in communion. It's putting "me" first, and a "me" that is shallow, insincere, inauthentic. To go back to the tantrum, it's letting momentary disappointment or incomprehension overshadow what's good. Of course it can be much more than that as well--but I think misguided self-interest is at the root of much that is sinful, from hypocritical environmental policies that benefit chemical companies to graft and greed and--well, choose your favorite from the seven deadlies. (By the way, I'm not surprised but a little bit unnerved to find that there really is a If "trespasses" conveys that to you--going the wrong way, being where you shouldn't--then that's fine with me. But "sins" works as well.


Then there's that bit right after "holy is your name," which goes "your [or thy] kingdom come." This troubles me on a couple of levels. First of all I've already tried to stop gendering God as masculine, so why a kingdom? (Though, in fact, I think queens get to rule kingdoms too, so maybe that's not such a big deal.) But more important for me is the image it creates of, again, a place, and a place that has a certain hierarchical structure. I don't mind being less than God, of course. That's fine. But human kingdoms really haven't worked well, and the idea that we're working towards a future that looks like a kingdom seems limited, really. Unimaginative.

Not that I can do a whole lot better. But I'm trying. Sometimes that sentence goes this way for me: "your fulfilment come, your will be done on earth as in your perfection." It's my best shot, though I think it could still be better. Language is so slippery, so inadequate, finally, to express the inexpressible. So we struggle along. In one of the hymns in the Episcopal hymnal we sing: "time makes ancient good uncouth." I like that. We do our best in the moment, then we revise.

Sometimes, of course, time makes us uncouth and we need to go back looking for those ancient goods again. But not always.


No, I'm not going through the Lord's Prayer word by word, or phrase by phrase. In fact when I really get right down to it there are only a few things in it I want to change. (I'm sure Jesus is relieved that I don't really want to edit him that drastically, right?)

One bit is "heaven." Depending on how you learned the prayer, it begins "our father in heaven" or "our father, who art in heaven," or "our father, which art in heaven." That last one tickles me--after personalizing God with the term "father," the prayer then immediately depersonalizes God with the "which." Hedging your bets, maybe. I can respect that. But what about "heaven," anyway?

Nick asked me the other day if I thought there was a hell. I'm not sure where the question came from, though he did of course have that little episode with Marina and "help me hell" earlier this summer, so obviously he's thinking about it. Anyway I told him no, I don't really believe in hell. I think God loves everyone and so there's no need for a hell. This troubled Nick. "But for really really bad people, there's hell, right?" "Maybe," I said, "hell is not being sorry for being bad. Maybe it's not wanting to be loved. That might be hell."

"But if God loves everyone maybe the bad people are sorry, and then they don't have to go to hell," he responded. I love when he actually seems to be listening to me. "But if they're really really bad, then I still think they go to hell." And sometimes I wonder why he even asks me stuff, when he so clearly has his mind made up. Hmm.

But it did get me thinking. If I don't really believe in hell--certainly not as a place, though perhaps as a psychological state--then what do I think about heaven? Again, I have trouble with the "place"ness of it. I don't believe in a personal God who sits in a place up there, from which he (always he, in this version) decides who gets to come hang out with him and who doesn't. Most versions of Christianity I'm familiar with suggest, in fact, that God is omnipresent. So where, or what, is heaven?

Sometimes when I'm trying to work my way through this I end up saying something like, "Our mother and father in perfection, your name is holy." I'm not crazy about it, but it works better for me than "heaven."

Friday, August 22, 2003

"Our father"

I didn't mean for that prayer post to sit up there all by itself. I was going to go right into my revision of the Lord's Prayer. But it's been a busy week and it's just going to get busier, so I'll do what I can.

The Lord's Prayer begins, "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." Or, if you prefer the "new" words, "Our father in heaven, holy is your name." Either way.

I once heard a great sermon on how if all you could say was "our father" you were already praying. If you didn't know what else to say, even that was a start, because 1) it was making our relationship with God/the creator communal--it's not "my" father, it's "our" father--and 2) it was asserting a familial relationship with the creator, a closeness that not all religions espouse. God to Christians and Jews and Muslims is not some abstract, distant figure of creation, but an intimate partner, a family member.

I read recently that the only really radical thing Jesus does in the gospels is call God "Abba," or "Daddy." Everything else, this source (probably John Shelby Spong, but I'm not positive right off-hand) claims, is well within the bounds of orthodox Judaism, or the Jewish tradition at the time, at any rate. But that intimate familial relationship with God is a biggie.

Well, fine. But what if "father" doesn't imply intimacy to us? What about "mother"? That doesn't quite work for me either, though in terms of a creator-relative it makes a little more sense to me, frankly, than "father." "Creator" seems too distant, for the reasons above. If I wanted to be a Deist I'd live in the 18th century (or something. You get the point.)

The big all-powerful creative parent, in my experience, is the mother. If we want to get all stereotypical about it, the father is the big all-powerful disciplinary parent, and that's not really how I want to think of God. So I'm thinking of starting this prayer with "Our mother." Or "our mother and father." How about "hey you," which seems to work for my kids?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

bedtime prayers

I said prayers on my knees next to my bed every night of my life until I was about 12, I think. I don't remember when it started or when it stopped, but I remember doing it the whole time we lived in Tokyo, at any rate, which was from my 5th birthday until I was 11.

I still remember every word. There was a whole routine: an invocation, the Lord's prayer, blessings on family (we had a rota, even, with various family members different nights of the week), a prayer for safety and care, thanksgivings & confession, praise, and a benediction. Every night. Every word comes back to me if I even start one of the prayers now, though I can no longer remember which aunt & uncle & cousins were prayed for which night of the week.

Dad or Mom would kneel down with us at bedtime. I don't really remember my younger sister joining in (sorry, Caroline!) but she was probably there. I remember my brothers because we often had our nightly ritual in their room, for some reason. Maybe to ensure their presence.

I didn't teach my kids nightly prayers. I think Mariah and I did something similar for a while, but with both kids our routine has emphasized reading and then settling down. Prayers can be part of settling down, of course, but they haven't been for us. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that--they go to church, so they hear the liturgy every Sunday, but the idea of private prayer isn't instilled in them in the same way it was in me. I remember saying these prayers to myself, in bed, when I was in boarding school--not every night, certainly, but as a way of calming myself down, some nights, yes. I still do, though these days I'm trying to rework the Lord's prayer so I can say it with some integrity. And I don't have a rota for praying for relatives anymore. I just remember whoever seems to need it at the time.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

the pause that refreshes

"It's as flat as a pancake," Mark said. I heard the disappointment in his voice as we came over the rise and onto the beach. "I can't even hear it."

It's not unusual not to hear the waves in Virginia Beach. Too many jet-fighters flying overhead. Bumper stickers proclaim, "Praise our noise! It's the sound of freedom!" If I lived in the neighborhood I'm not sure that would satisfy me.

So the waves were flat and the beach was noisy. Still, it was the beach and we were here for a break. We might even stay the night if we were enjoying ourselves. We still had almost an hour before Mark's surf lesson. We set up camp--folding chairs, boogie board, skim board, two buckets, assorted shovels, towels. Slathered sunscreen on every exposed bit of skin. And headed for the water.

Surprise number one: it wasn't cold. Last time we went to the beach I hadn't gotten in above my ankles. Numb feet aren't my style. This time it felt fine. I kept going, and found surprise number two: the sand extended out for a long ways before falling off. I could walk and walk and still not be in over my knees. There was a little dip right at the beginning--enough to make a neat sandbar at low tide, we learned--but then it was flat for twenty or thirty yards.

There weren't any surfers out, but we did see some boogie boarders managing to ride something. So it wasn't completely flat. Still, we weren't sure the trip would be worth it. Mark's been missing the beach more or less fiercely since we moved to Virginia ten years ago. Twice-a-summer trips to Virginia Beach haven't made up for it. One year we rented a beach house with friends, and had a terrific time. Then their marriage broke up, amidst disgusting revelations of infidelity and deceit; we haven't had the heart to try again. Every other year we visit Southern California and Mark renews his love affair with the ocean; the Pacific is awfully cold, though, so I rarely get in. I hadn't swum in the ocean in years, I realized.

The appointment time with the surf instructor came and went; we saw no sign of him. But Nick was figuring out the boogie board on the gentle waves, and I'd even been in over my head, swimming as the waves lifted me up and set me down. Mark rode a few waves on the boogie board and then set off to track down his missing instructor.

I'm afraid of the ocean. That's the bottom line here. Mark loves it, and wants me to love it, and I want to love it as well--but I don't want to get in it too deep. This was big, for me, to be swimming and floating on my back and even riding some waves. And I didn't drown. Nor did Nick, though I gasped and ran for him every time I saw him fall off the boogie board. He came up spluttering, and once needed to be held after he'd rolled around in the surf and swallowed some salt water, but mostly he was fine.

And I was, too. I realized I hadn't even had a chance to get in the water in the last --well, how long? Since Mariah? So that would be 13 years. But even before that, I wasn't big on going in the water because I couldn't see. I was always afraid of losing a contact lens, but without them I was completely blind. Last year, though, I had lasik surgery--now I can go in the water and not be afraid of losing a contact lens. Between not having to watch a child, and knowing I could see, the ocean became a different place to me. A friendly, welcoming place. I lay back on the waves and let them rock me.

Later that afternoon--after Mark got back from tracking down the surfing guy, but before he finally arrived for the lesson--we saw a school of dolphins just off-shore. They seemed to be clustering around a tour boat--maybe people throw food off it for them. They romped in the water, slapping their tails down, showing their fins--I know I'm attributing emotion on the basis of just seeing body parts, but they sure looked like they were enjoying themselves. Nick watched for a moment, then got back on the boogie board, more interested in his own enjoyment than theirs. But Mark and I were transfixed.

We stayed overnight. We got a motel room after dinner, figuring we'd get up early and Mark would get to put his surfing lesson to use for a while before we cleaned up and left. (That was after discovering the nail in the front tire--Mark changed it in a grocery store parking lot. Thank goodness the car came with a full-sized spare.) We ended up spending the whole next day as well, visiting two different beaches and fitting in a round of mini-golf (Nick got two holes-in-one!) before we left. The dolphins returned while Mark was surfing the next afternoon and he paddled closer to them, getting within six feet of a baby. It was glorious.

Nick fell asleep in the car twenty minutes out of Virginia Beach. The perfect end to the nearly-perfect vacation.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

beach vacation

I want to go into detail about our fabulous two-day beach vacation, but I don't have time now. So I'll just have to say it was fabulous. Nick & I both learned to boogie board and Mark got a surfing lesson, and then spent lots of the next day putting his new knowledge to use. It was perfect despite the nail in the front tire, the surf instructor standing Mark up (the first time), the crowds and the flyovers from the naval base. Really amazingly perfect.

But now we're back home and things are really gearing up for the semester to start soon. So more later.

comments down

I think the comments thingy was keeping me from viewing the blog today. And I've been away for a few days so it may have been longer. So I took it out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

rules of the reading & viewing lists

I just put those reading & viewing lists up for fun. Mostly for myself, because I do forget what I read if I don't write it down. It can be annoying, as when I've read a book all the way through, thinking all along, "I must have started this before, but I just can't remember the end." And then when I get to the end I realize I have indeed read the whole thing before. This even happens to me with good books. It happened, for example, with The Hours. I should be ashamed to admit that. In fact I am ashamed to admit it, but it's also true. I had read both of the Lois Lowry books I listed to the right earlier, a year or so ago at least, but forgot. In fact I was sure that I'd only read The Giver and Gathering Blue, and I wanted to read some more because I invited her to come to our campus and SHE SAID YES! (Yes, that was pretty exciting.) So anyway I thought I should prepare by reading some of her other well-known books. Turns out they were even well-known to me, I had just forgotten. Sigh.

So anyway I made those lists but then last night we watched Dr. Doolittle with Eddie Murphy. This, you might suspect, was Nick's choice, and you'd be right. It was really really awful. I like the original book by Hugh Lofting--I even bought Nick a copy of it last year (somewhat edited for pc reasons, but I thought it worked fine) and read him the whole thing. The Eddie Murphy vehicle has nothing, not one thing besides a doctor who can understand animals, in common with the Lofting novel. Now, that's ok, I guess--go ahead and make movies that take off from books if you want to. But the movie that they made was so incredibly lame--alleviated by the occasional fart joke but otherwise, totally boring. And the plot--such as it was--was so inappropriate for kids! It's all about being taken over by an HMO! Like any 6-year-old understands, or cares! I couldn't even have cared less, in this case. Oh, yeah, there's a little subplot--probably at one point it was the main plot, but it really got swallowed up by the HMO thing--about accepting yourself and accepting weirdness in others--but that was so obvious and Hallmark-y that it was just insulting, really.

So anyway Eddie Murphy is not going on my viewing list. I may not even like everything that I put up there, but if I watch it under duress AND I hate it I'm not putting it there.

And if you want to know what I think of any of the other things I've been reading or watching lately you can post comments and ask. I'll tell you. There's just not room over there in the sidebar. I thought about a rating system (stars? A-F grades?) but decided I have to do enough of that sort of thing in real life so I'm not going to do it here.

OK, that's enough about the reading & viewing lists.

a frivolous post

The perfect summer lunch: a BLT on sourdough (preferable) or wheat toast, and a limeade. The BLT would probably be best with some fancy gourmet-shop bacon, Hellman's mayo, homemade bread, and homegrown lettuce and tomatoes. Mine had store-bought fluffy wheat bread, soyannaise (last time I ran out of mayo and thought of it, I was in the health food store), turkey bacon, and the lettuce and tomato came from the grocery store. Still, it was divine. I honestly think I'd even eat a fakin' bacon BLT if that's all that was around--basically I want something crunchy and salty.

And limeade. Lest you think this is lemonade made with limes, let me correct you. In Richmond VA, at least, a limeade is a fizzy drink. Think, lemonade made with limes and fizzy water. It is incredibly tasty and I've never had it anywhere else. It caps off the perfect lunch.

no computer

Well, I was two days without a computer and that was about enough. I could check my email on a shared computer in the office but my trusy laptop was awaiting a new keyboard and cd-drive and I felt somehow held hostage. Now it's back and the spacebar works and I am very excited.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

make this pie

I've made two peach pies this season and I'm hoping to make several more before the peaches run out. It's my favorite pie, the sweet/tart soft juiciness of the peaches perfectly complementing the flaky crust. Really, it's so good. It's good warm, with vanilla ice cream melting all over it, and just as good cold. (Mark says it's better cold.) And it's really not that hard--or somehow I've convinced myself that it's not, and I've had years of pie-phobia brought on by my mother's pie-perfection. (She does bake the best pies in the world--and she'll tell you so. But I don't actually remember ever eating a peach pie that she made.)

OK, enough talk. Here's the recipe.

First start the pie crust. For a 9- or 10-inch pie pan (mine's a lovely pottery one that Mom bought me, and I think it's about 10 inches in diameter) you need 2 cups of unbleached white flour, 1/3 cup crisco in sticks, 1/3 cup unsalted butter, and 1/3 cup very cold water. Maybe a pinch of salt, but I do without and it's fine. DO NOT USE crisco in a tub. Get the hardened stuff in the sticks. I don't care if it's bad for you. You could use lard for your shortening--Mom used to--but if you are going to feed vegetarians, or people who are grossed out by lard, this will work fine. Maybe even better than lard. It's better if the shortening is very cold but don't put off making the pie if, say, your crisco just came from the store. It will be fine.

Put the two cups of flour into the food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Cut the shortenings into 1/2 inch bits and toss them into the flour. Put the top on the machine and pulse it a few times until the shortening is in little pea-size bits. Turn the processor on, open the feed tube and pour in the very cold water. Process until the dough begins to pull together into a ball--it should only take a few seconds. Don't do this for very long!

Dump the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper. Divide it into two roughly equal lumps--one can be a little bigger, and you can use that for the bottom crust. Pat the lumps into rough circles, wrap each one in waxed paper, and put them in the freezer.

If you're not going to make the pie that day, take the pie crust out of the freezer a couple hours before starting to peel & slice the peaches. You want it cold but not hard when you start to roll it out.

Preheat the oven to 400.

While the piecrust is chilling, peel and slice about 6 cups of peaches into a large bowl. If the skins are recalcitrant, or the peaches are a little less than ripe, plunge them into some very hot water for a few minutes before peeling. It may help loosen the peel.

Sprinkle the sliced and peeled peaches with 1/4 - 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tbl flour, and some cinnamon if you like it with peaches. (I do.) Maybe some lemon juice--no more than a tablespoon or two.

Now roll out the crusts, fitting the larger one into the bottom of the pie plate and mounding the peaches over it. If you are scared of pie crust, as I am, a pastry cloth and rolling pin cover will really help out here. Or you can flour your rolling pin generously and roll the dough out on a (new, unwrinkled) piece of waxed paper. Roll it slightly bigger than you think you need it. Don't worry if it cracks a little--or even a lot--as you put it in the pie plate. You can patch it and no one will ever know. Both a pastry cloth and the waxed paper can help you get the pastry into the pie plate--just pick up the cloth/paper and, centering it, invert it over the pie plate. You may have to peel the pastry off it in places. That's ok.

Roll out the top crust and place it over the peaches, sealing the pie by pressing fork tines down all the way around the edges. Or press them together with your fingers. Slice a curve or two into the top crust with a sharp knife to release the steam and allow you to see the juices bubbling. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar, if you like.

Put the prepared pie on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and then slide it into the 400 oven. After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 375 and set the timer for 30 minutes. It may not be done then--mine usually isn't--so keep checking until the top is lightly browned and you can see peach juices bubbling through the decorative slits you cut. It won't take more than another 10 minutes or so, depending on your oven and how ripe the peaches were.

Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes or so, if you can stand to. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or just plain on a plate (Mark says this is best). Then stand back for compliments.

unconditional adoration

The other day as I was leaving Nick, after getting him settled for bed, he called out to me, "Sleep with me, Mommy! Sleep with me, sleep with me!" As I said to Mark later, it's not like I ever had teenaged boys clamoring at me in that way, but I imagined it being something like that: pure hunger. Then this morning he crawled into bed between Mark and me, settled down onto my pillow, and gazed into my eyes. "I love you Mommy," he smiled, and then he reached over and kissed me. We joke and call him "Baby Oedipus," but I have to admit I like it.

It's so nice to be loved. Yesterday Nick & I hung out together and I got a lot of love. I took him shopping so he could spend his birthday money. He was delighted that I took him to Walmart (he'd heard they had bey blades, his new obsession, there). He loved that there were so many choices. He loved that I helped him with the money. He adored me for putting the thing together when we got home.

And when I say he loved it, I mean he looked up at me and said, "I love you, Mommy." He is just so full of love these days, it's great.

This is not to say that he didn't whine and complain when I spent way more time in World Market than he wanted to, or that he didn't slam the door or stomp his feet or otherwise act up at various times during the day. He did. But then periodically he'd just look up from what he was doing, smile, and tell me he loved me.

I can forgive a lot of whining for that.

But there's a weird bit of narcissism in this love, I feel. I look into his eyes, and I see--me. Nick resembled me so much as a toddler that a friend said, "He looks more like you than you do!" With his new buzz cut and his stretching-out, lanky body, he resembles me less than he used to, but still. His eyes are mine, his mouth is mine, his whole facial structure is mine. So when he looks at me in love, or I at him, we are mirroring each other in an odd way. I don't know if he feels it but I do. Not that I fight it or anything. But it's new and different. Mariah's adoration at a similar age was very different, so based in need, I always felt. And looking at her was like looking at a picture--she was this beautiful little blond toddler with sparkling blue eyes, nothing like Nick's velvet brown ones. She was other, almost ethereal in her difference from me. (As she reaches my size and her hair darkens she's much more like me, though still not as similar to me as Nick.) I love having two kids if only for the insights it gives me into how unique each of us is--even Nick, my little Mini-me, who has his father's temperament built into my looks.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

over there...

There's more in the commonplace book now. Enjoy!

that question

The other day Nick asked me,"Why do people do bad things, Mommy? Why didn't God just make everyone good so no one would do bad things?"

This was not a rhetorical question.

I can't remember the context now, but he's up on the war in Iraq. We had the radio on in the car that day and he was fascinated by the story of the Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners. He couldn't figure out why they were prisoners, and I wasn't much help.

So when he asked the question, I cringed. I know the answer, of course, the answer that was given to me when I asked the question, the answer that a lot of us, I think, heard when we were kids. The answer is not "Satan" (cue Church Lady voice), though now that I think of it that would simplify an awful lot. What an easy answer! There's a bad guy running around messing up what God did.

I wish I thought so.

Instead I gave him the answer I learned in Sunday school, or at my father's knee, or somewhere like that. "God did make everything good," I told Nick. "God made everything good but God gave us choices. And that means we're free--everyone's free--to do bad things if that's what they choose."

Oddly, this seemed to satisfy Nick. Or maybe Scooby-Doo was on and he didn't care any more. But I wasn't satisfied. Free will doesn't explain crib death, or stillbirth, or tornadoes or earthquakes.

Then there's the argument from aesthetics--that contrast is aesthetically enriching, that pain, or evil, or wrongdoing, allows us to appreciate goodness or joy or beauty even more. Maybe.

Mostly, of course, I don't ask why there's evil. There is, and I know it, and I try to work around it as best I can. I try to do good in the small ways that I can see, and I try to teach my children to do the same. If you stop asking why you can focus on what's next, and that's useful in adult life. But I'm glad Nick asked. It's good to be reminded that the presence of evil is not normal, cannot be taken for granted, doesn't make sense. As long as kids keep asking why I feel better about the future.

Monday, August 04, 2003

women and leadership

For some reason wanted me to buy a book called Women and Leadership, by Caroline Sweetman. I clicked on it out of curiousity. First of all, it led me to a Walmart site (so Bill Gates and Sam Walton are buddies?). Second, the book is 72 pages long!!! Is this a joke? There are only 72 pages' worth of information on women & leadership?

I'm depressed.


It's amazing how much you can do on a Sunday if you skip church. I am usually out the door by 9 (ish) for choir rehearsal and a service at 10. This summer I've been taking a break from choir but still making it to the service. I like going to church on Sunday morning. It grounds me for the week ahead, gives me things to think about, puts me in contact with people who share interests and commitments with me, puts me in contact with people who are very different from me...etc. I've gone to church far more Sundays than not in my life, first because I was taken there as a child and, over the last 13 or 14 years, by my own choice. Church takes up all of Sunday morning, then, and my usual Sunday afternoon pleasure is to lie on the couch with the Sunday New York Times.

But yesterday we decided to play hooky. I'd been to eucharist with Mariah when I picked her up from camp Friday, so I didn't really feel the need. And then, the rector's on vacation this month and one of my least-favorites was filling in. Actually I like the man himself, but I just can't listen to him preach. Or I won't. Ever since he somehow managed to get a reference to moon-pies and RC Cola into his retelling of the feeding of the 5000, I've had trouble taking him seriously.

So we went out to brunch instead. Yum. Our local Cuban restaurant does delicious things with eggs and bread. Good coffee, too.

Then we got ambitious, and decided to go pick peaches. There's an orchard a little over an hour away--or so I thought. We'd never been there. Still we piled in the car and headed west. While it was sunny and warm when we left the house, we drove through clouds and light showers along the way. Still, we pressed on. The kids were quiet in the back seat--still too full of eggs, maybe, to start anything.

It took more like an hour and a half but the countryside was lovely so we were fine. I'm always surprised by the rural landscape around here--there are vistas of rolling meadows and sunny valleys that will take your breath away. It's not terribly built up--you'll drive by falling-down trailer homes right next to stately old houses, and around the bend from much newer McMansions. We passed a couple of new developments, so urban sprawl is definitely a threat, though it hasn't quite been fulfilled yet. Because the rural area is really only an hour or so from a couple of major cities I guess people can commute, or retire, or something. But it's hard to figure what everyone does.

We found the peach orchard without any trouble and were handed a box and directions to the appropriate trees. They were so heavy with fruit even Nick could reach lots of huge, beautiful peaches. Many weren't quite ripe but we picked plenty--over 13 pounds, we found out when we returned. (There will be peach pie in our future--yum!) We only picked for about twenty minutes, I think, stopping when the box got too heavy and, not incidentally, we started to hear distant thunder. So we went back and paid, and as we were getting ready to order some home-made peach ice cream the skies opened up. Rain poured down in buckets on us. We took shelter under some pine trees for a while, and when they weren't enough we went back to the fruit stand, where the employees happily made room for us. We stood eating peach ice cream and watching the rain pour down off the tin roof in sheets.

It lightened up just as we were finishing our ice cream so we loaded ourselves and our peaches back into the car and headed home. There were two or three monster downpours on the way home, too: windshield wipers on high, we still couldn't really see the cars right ahead. Some people pulled over to wait it out; we drove on carefully.

And when we got home the sky was clear and blue, the roads dry. There were puffy white clouds in the sky. It was warm enough that we took a short trip over to the pool before dinner.

That was a lot to do in one day. See how much time you save when you skip church? But I still haven't read the paper.