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.

Mama Magnet

We've all experienced the "baby magnet" syndrome, right? I felt it today as I walked into the office my department shares with history. A clutch of historians was in the hallway--two women holding children, another man and woman standing around admiring. The two kids belonged to one of the women--she has a toddler boy and baby girl. I felt drawn in as I joined the clutch--none of us said anything of any importance, we just stood around and looked at the babies.

Lately I feel like a magnet myself. The reason I came into the office today, in fact, is because I couldn't work at home. I went down to the basement this morning before anyone else was up,trying to send an important email that I'd been mulling over while doing yoga. I hadn't been down there a minute before Mariah joined me, saying she wanted to do some cleanup in her part of the basement. Then, mysteriously, Nick was there, too, offering "help."

I couldn't concentrate. Finally I said to Nick, "see this carpet?" (The desk is on a small patch of carpet, marking off an area less than eight feet square.) "This is my office. Pretend there are walls around the carpet and you can't come in without permission." From upstairs I heard Mark call Nick to him. Gratefully I turned back to the computer and tried to finish my email.

This happens all the time when I work in the basement. It was bad when the computer was in the back hallway, right by the kitchen, because I was in the thick of everything. Everyone always had to walk by. I thought it was because of the location, but now I find it's because I'm a magnet. Last Wednesday Nick had a friend over and I went down to work in the basement while they played upstairs. Sure enough, they were inexorably drawn to me. They came down to the basement in full battle gear (plastic armor, plastic swords, random sticks). They found the "Bop Buddy," an ill-advised gift to Nick that is part punching bag, part Don Rickles-style insult-generator. "That the best you got?" he taunts as the boys hit him. Harder and harder they hit as the Bop Buddy's screams and laughter grow ever more hysterical, mixing with the shrieks and grunts from the boys. I can't take it anymore and let them know. "I'm trying to work down here," I say as calmly as I can. "You boys need to take your game upstairs, or outside. You need to play somewhere else." They try to negotiate, to get me to move the Bop Buddy, but I refuse. (Now I'm sure Nick's friend will go back to his mother with the news that I'm so mean...but so be it.) It still takes them five minutes to disengage, and then only when I lead them back upstairs myself.

I tried moving into my bedroom to read for a while but their game inevitably spilled over from Nick's room into ours. Wherever I went, it seemed, they followed. I finally gave in to the inevitable and allowed them to turn on a video, the only entity in the house with greater powers of attraction than my own.

I know I'm lucky. I can do much of my work at home, and when I can't take it--and Mark can pick up the slack--I have a "real" office where I can go as well. But I'm tired of being a magnet. I wonder if babies get tired of it too?

(Read Lizbeth's blog entry on a similar subject here: Saturday, August 2, "The Mommy Tug-of-Wars")

Saturday, August 02, 2003


I picked up Mariah from camp yesterday. It's almost three and a half hours away so we left at 6:30 to make it to the 10:00 worship service that closed out the week. Despite a slight detour when my friend Jane & I were too busy talking and missed a turn, we got there in plenty of time.

Jane is the mother of Mariah's best friend so we had driven up together to collect them. When we got there they were--somewhat to my surprise--not together. Mariah was in the middle of a clump of three bodies, linked by arms and walking as one. Spork & Ben (Spork's a girl) were the two other components. Emily, Mariah's friend, was hanging with the counselors.

And apparently that's how the week went. Em hung with the counselors (developing a major crush on one) and Mariah with her two buds. They looked cute together, I have to say. I was a little worried about Ben--he's fifteen, already drives (learner's permit...), and lives an hour away. Will we be seeing more of him? Mariah says she hopes so.

I'm not quite ready for this. They looked like smurfs, the three of them--shaggy hair, long long pants dragging the ground, childish nicknames, drawing all over each other. But we may be moving into a new stage before long.

Today Mariah has already written a letter to Ben (he doesn't have email) and emailed with Spork (real name Sarah, but she doesn't use it). She seems to be going through some kind of withdrawal--she's quiet and preoccupied when she's not on the computer or watching TV. She leaves to visit her grandmother in just a few days, so maybe Grandma will get to deal with the aftermath. We'll see.

getting organized

I've been investing in my career today--buying storage materials, boxes, file holders, all kinds of stuff so that I can organize the various bits of paper that flood my life. The idea is that once I'm organized I'll be more efficient, happier, more productive...

Or maybe just better organized. Actually at this point I'd settle for that.

One thing I've done is get bankers' boxes to store the kids' artwork & schoolwork in. So far it's just been lying around the house: taped to the refrigerator, hanging on Nick's clothesline art gallery in his room, propped up on a shelf, etc. Now each one has a large box full of stuff--and I have enough boxes that they can produce a lot more. While we were at it Nick went through his alphabet puppets--his kindergarten teacher had them produce one puppet for each letter. Each puppet had a name and a story, and the stories got retold in their homework journals. So we have the full sequence of puppets, and all the stories but one. (Nick was sick the week they did "S.") I have some fantasy that when he has a kindergartner he'll open the box and go through them all again... I know it's a fantasy, but it's a pretty harmless one.

Anyway things are looking a little neater around here, and that's all to the good.