Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blue Wednesday

I don't do week nights.

Week nights are for all the lazy pleasures I discussed earlier this week. Family dinners. Early bedtimes. Maybe if we are feeling a little wild, half of a movie.

But when my best friend is visiting from Brooklyn, I am willing to break my self-imposed rules to drive up the road a bit and eat Ledo's pizza and drink gin and tonics and walk down to the pier in a bluish glow.

It's a fine way to spend a Wednesday, even if it did make me bitterly nostalgic.

On the way up, we stopped at a liquor store we patronized occasionally in college. And as I walked in, I for a moment forgot about the husband and three kids sitting in my mini-van. There was something about the humidity in the air and having just enough cash in my pocket to buy six precious beers that transported me, made me feel like the self I was for a few years when Joanna and I first became friends. It was powerful and fleeting.

Nostalgia is hard sometimes. It doesn't matter how content I am with my present, there will always be a part of me that longs for moments past-  times when I was younger, times when my kids were younger (the older ones at least). But then I try to remind myself that there will be a time when I long for what is now my present, so I had better get busy living in it. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Enough Time/ Slow Living

I read a New Yorker article about being busy, about how overwhelmed our society is, by and large. One of the ideas mentioned is that busyness is equated to importance. If you are important, you are busy.

I guess I'm not very important, because, I am not that busy, by nature and by design.

I don't cart my kids to dozens of practices and rehearsals. I prefer our evenings to be occupied with playing in the yard and family dinners, our weekends to be spent on the beach or around a bonfire. I like to spend time with my family and my friends, rather than driving around in our beloved minivan and then being forced to make small talk with other parents as our kids do all the things we think that they are supposed to be doing.

And as I was writing this post, I realize that this risks turning into nothing more than a humble brag, just me waxing philosophical  about how I have figured out how to live a slow, purposeful life. The truth is, I do feel pretty good about the pace of my life and the lives I'm helping to shape. But it does come at a cost. I frequently have to disparage myself. I have to brand myself lazy, apologize for all the things I don't do, for all the things I do badly.

I don't like to be busy. So that means I don't get involved. I don't spend time working on fundraisers or organizing events. And when people ask me to do things, which honestly doesn't happen that often, I don't have the handy excuse of being busy because... I'm not. And I don't want to be. So I say no so that I can remain that way. When I don't do the things that I really should do-- send care packages, volunteer at church, drop off boxes full of things to be donated, work-out-- I have no reasons to fall back on.

For instance, what did I do this weekend? I hung out. I spent about 10 hours on the beach. I folded some laundry. I made some food. I wrote a blog post. I looked over the new nature workbooks I bought for Sena and Gus. I watched three movies. I felt like I pretty good mother, but not the least bit productive. I am not, generally, very productive.

And I don't want to be. And I hope that's okay. I hope that the busy people will forgive me for not lightening their loads. I secretly suspect that their loads don't need to be so heavy anyway and that even if I did bear some of the weight, they would just find more things to pile on their poor, over-worked backs. But I hope they will forgive me all the same.

And with all my time spent not being busy, I'll just keep reading New Yorker articles and figuring out how to make them all about me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

This Weekend We

I feel like we should be good at Memorial Day Weekends. We live in the right place, and we love cook-outs. And yet, somehow, every Memorial Day I feel like I made the wrong choices, that I didn't do the best thing.

Early last week I vowed to not repeat the mistakes of Memorial Days past. I was determined to make this one the thing of Wes Anderson colored day dreams.

However, I'm left with that lingering feeling that yet again, this particular holiday let me down a little bit, despite the fact that the weather was beautiful and the weekend had not a bad moment. It had a handful of great ones: big breakfasts, endless hours at the beach, cook-outs,  pier jumping, and some seriously good late-night movie watching. Oh, and there was a pretty awesome water gun attack while some poor, unsuspecting kids were just trying to enjoy their root beer floats.

The extra day leaves time for a little more sleeping-in, yard work, and few dips in the bay.

I am  of the school that declares Memorial Day the beginning of summer, maybe since that is the fastest way to get to the start of my favorite season.

Maybe next year I will nail the whole Memorial Day thing. This year was just fine just the way it was.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How Did This Happen

Gus is sort of a redneck.

Well, maybe an aspiring redneck.

Actually, maybe redneck is not the right word.  

Redneck has negative connotations. I just looked it up.  Merriam Webster defines a redneck as:  a white person who lives in a small town or in the country, especially in the southern U.S., who typically has a working-class job, and who is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive. 

Gus is white. He does live in a small(ish) town in the (sort of) South. He wants to be working-class, with dreams of being a boat captain or a carpenter. And he is pretty uneducated; he is only in first grade, after all. But I can't imagine him having opinions or attitudes that are offensive. He's a kind boy, charming and more sensitive than you might imagine. He looks out for people. He cares.
But his favorite song at the moment, replacing Girl Downtown by Hayes Carll (which I much preferred)  is Boys 'Round Here. I assume that he heard it from my sisters or one of their boyfriends because I certainly had never heard it until Gus started singing about drinking ice cold beer. 

When you have kids, you sort of assume that they will be something like you. And if not you, that they will at least be something like the other parent. But Gus, he is not me. He is not Tom. He is not Sena, and I will put money on the fact that he won't be Arlo either.

He is all Gus, a boy who doesn't look like any of us or act like us either.

Gus is proud of his buck teeth, and he talks with a twang. He loves to fish, and he wants to hunt. He hates wearing shoes almost as much as he hates wearing a shirt. He adores my sisters' boyfriends, who are varying degrees of country: men who buy him sling shots for Christmas, who take him on rockfish tournaments, who show him barns full of muskrat pelts. 

He looks up to my brother and my friend Steve. He likes working in the yard and building fires. He likes eating meat, preferably with ketchup. He doesn't like to read. He will most certainly drive a truck one day.

If  I had designed my own son, I would not have designed Gus. It would never have occurred to me to make a little man so different from Tom, so different from every boy I ever had a crush on. I wouldn't have planned for a country gentleman, which is actually probably a more accurate label for my eldest boy.

I'm so glad I wasn't in charge. I'm so glad he came out just the way he did. I would have totally screwed it up.

I asked him once if he wanted to be a lawyer like his dad; he said "I don't want to be a lawyer, just like dad. Daddy doesn't even like being a lawyer."  Maybe he does have something in common with Tom after all.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

This Weekend We-- Summer of the Boats

This weekend we declared this summer Summer of the Boats. I plan to do my best to get invited on as many boats as humanly possible.

For the past two years, Steve and Christina have been trying to get me on their Boston Whaler. I had it in my mind that I didn't really like boating, that boating wasn't something I did

I was wrong. Very wrong. I, in fact, love boating. And I have a lot of lost time to make up. The bay was too choppy, so we cruised up the river and saw ospreys, a bald eagle, and a mama duck with more ducklings than I can ever remember seeing.

The kids were all in Ocracoke with my mom. It was strange to be completely childless, to ride around on boats without any responsibilities. I suspect, though, that I'll enjoy boat rides with my sidekicks even more because, really, I like seeing things through their eyes even more than my own.

So now I have to weasel my way on to more boats. I have a whole list of people to go endear myself to. I better get on that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Elusive and Oft Praised Date Night

Date nights seem to be one of those things everyone tells you that you need. The sort of thing listed on tips for a successful marriage. However, they play almost no role in ours.

Dates are not something we do.

But Friday we did. We ate Mexican food and snooped around Home Depot and went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which just happened to still be playing near us. And it was completely nice, but for us, also completely unnecessary. Lucky for us since they don't happen often, our date didn't feel like something we've been missing out on, which I'm sure has a lot to do with the fact that our big kids spend the night with my parents so often.  It's easy to sneak in episodes of House of Cards or Mad Men while Arlo sleeps. Maybe those moments alone provide all the date night we actually need.

Just another reminder that every relationship is different. What we need just isn't the same as what other folks do.  Also, as it turns out, we have absolutely no problem not talking about our kids for a whole night. Maybe we're heartless. Probably.

Notes on wearing a romper: You can't really tell that I am wearing the equivalent of grown-up pajamas in this picture, but rest assured, I am. While all the coolest girls in Nashville and Portland sport rompers like it ain't no thang, wearing a onsie is not for the faint of heart. In my experience, people feel that it is their god-given duty to comment of this particular sartorial decision. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Be Inspired

Like my mother, there's a part of me that wants to be an artist. I want to create. I want to be creative. But I have no medium, nothing that I go back to over and over again, perfect and refine.
I love the idea of inspiration, of looking at the world through the lens of searching and finding.
But what am I searching for? What do I hope to find?
I'm coming to realize that all I actually want to create is happiness, and, even more, I want to give it.

When I'm looking at beautiful homes or perfectly styled parties, what I want isn't the things; it's the feeling. It's the idea that I have done something and that it has created a moment. And that moment is good because it brings me joy because I created it and, hopefully, brings joy because I gave it.

I want happy spaces and events. I want clothing that makes me feel good about me. I want food that is beautiful and nourishing.

I am realizing that a search for beauty is really my search for happiness. That's where all my roads lead.
I come by happiness easily, mostly.
But I work at it.
It's important to me.

I wish I could come to terms with my only art form, accept that what I do is enough. That I can look for inspiration and it is not in vain or without purpose. I don't have to be in a creative field. I don't have to be a stylist or a designer or an event planner to appreciate what they do, to take their cues and apply them in small ways. And I hope that I can cultivate my creative aspirations without feeling frustrated, disappointed, or jealous that they aren't bigger or more prominent in my life.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

This Weekend We- More Babies, More Banjos

This weekend we had the best idea-- have our friends come hang out, but not just for the evening, not even for just one night, but for the whole weekend. It felt like a mini-vacation. It was equal parts fun and relaxing. There was time for all the good stuff: bonfires, banjos, babies, lots and lots of cheese, mimosas, afternoon naps, and stand-up comedy.

I highly recommend the whole weekend hang-out. It leaves you lots of time for the best part, and you don't feel guilt neglecting laundry and dusty corners.

 Arlo and Felix might not resemble each other as much at their fathers' resemble one  another, but watching them play together is even cuter.

Although I have to admit, their dads' friendship is pretty cute.

Arlo taught Felix how to eat with a spoon and how to walk down the stairs facing forwards. Felix encouraged Arlo to give babbling a fair shot.

And because it's fun to look back at other hang-outs with some of our favorite peeps:
Hot Chocolate Cuddle Puddle Sleep-Over
A Visit to Pennsylvania
Matt and Carrie's House
Labor Day with Banjos and Babies

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Road to Motherhood

There are some stories that have been told so many times that they exist separately from you. They become myth. It's hard to remember their existence apart from you. Like the story of the Spring Break that we drove Joanna's car into an alligator infested swamp. Or the tale from a year later when we were camping in the Dry Tortugas and a raft full of Cubans washed ashore.

This is another one of those stories.

I was nineteen and filling out forms at the Health Department. I was there getting my travel vaccines. I had graduated from St. Mary's a few weeks before and I was going to go spend a month in China with Joanna before I started the job I had lined up to teach English in Thailand. As I checked the boxes marked yes and no on autopilot, I stopped at one. "Are you pregnant or could you become pregnant in the next month?" After a brief pause, I checked no. I was not. I would not. And I said a little prayer for  reasons I didn't fully understand.

A little while later I was in one of the back rooms being poked and jabbed, making small talk with a friendly nurse. "So what happens if you are pregnant?"

"You just can't get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine." We continued to talk. She continued to stick me with needle after needle. She went to get the last one.

"I'm actually out of the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine," she informed me. "We had a group of Papa New Guinea missionaries in here earlier today, and we used them all up." My heart sunk. Or maybe it was my stomach. Something sunk. She told me to come back next week when they would have more.

I called Tom when I got home. I mostly felt silly because I didn't really think I could be pregnant. But I also felt a little afraid.

I decided I would take a pregnancy test on Monday, before I went back for the final shot. He told me to call him as soon as I knew. I said I wouldn't call until five, when he would be home from work. And that is exactly what I did.

On Monday, I called him to tell him that the test was negative, that our plans did not need to change. He would work the summer in Maryland and move to New York in the fall. I would get on a plane to Asia. We weren't going to be parents. Not yet. Not together.

And then he said every kind, wonderful thing you want to hear from the boy who, for a few moments, you thought might be the father of your child. He told me that he hoped one day, maybe, life would bring us back together. He hoped that one day, I would be the mother of his children. It was sweet and ridiculous and everything I wanted to hear. He said it even though he didn't need to. He said it when there was no pressure.

So I went back to the Health Department exactly a week later, told them I was ready for that final shot, and for reasons I still don't understand, they gave me a pregnancy test, which they had not done the week before. And then the nurse who I made small talk with seven days prior, walked into the room where I sat on a white paper sheet and asked me when my last period was. And I just cried.

If this was a movie, the next few months would be a montage. Or maybe it wouldn't be. Maybe I just don't want to have to get into how hard it was to tell people. Tom. My mom. My dad. My best friend, Joanna, who was in China, awaiting my arrival. These months of uncertainty and sadness are not a part of the myth. The months of friends still in college, and other friends traveling around Asia, sending mass emails full of pictures of places I thought I was going to see. If it was a montage, there would be lots and lots of shots of me eating cookies, so many cookies, watching Oprah and Dr. Phil with my mother, with boxes full of cookies.

The montage would end on the day after Christmas 2004 and most likely it would show a television screen reporting on the terrible tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, killing over a quarter of a million people. The tale I tell saves me from those beaches, beaches where I thought I might be. Sometimes the tale I tell puts me on those beaches with certainty. I'm inclined towards the dramatic. But in all honesty, I don't know where I would have been.

All I know is where I wasn't.

I wasn't in Thailand.

I was sitting in my parents' home eating cookies, watching Oprah, awaiting the arrival of a person I would love more than anything I had ever known.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Today a sixteen year-old girl told me I was naive. We were discussing compassion and Atticus Finch, having one of the best discussions I have ever led in a high school classroom.

And the more I've thought about it, that sixteen year-old was probably right. I am naive. I am optimistic in the face of experience. I am hopeful. I am trusting. I believe people are basically good, even when they are profoundly screwed up.

Optimism comes at a price. My hope is sometimes met with heartbreaking disappointment.

But I know the sun will rise again tomorrow, even if I can't see it for the clouds.

And people can change.

And God is big.

And I am happier for believing in both.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wabi-Sabi / 08

Milla finds beauty in the small things and reminds me to look closer at the natural world. She is opinionated and smart and thoughtful. She was also the first person I contacted about this series (I think), and she has encouraged me from the beginning. Her blog, The Girl Who Married a Bear, is always thought provoking; I feel like every time I visit I want to write incredibly long responses that never get fully realized. I'm so grateful that she shared her thoughts and peeks of her home.

Tell us about your home.

For five years my partner and I lived for free in a little cabin at the county park he worked at until a few months ago. The house was small, dark, and as it turns out, mold-infested, but it was home. Last fall, we made some big changes to our lives and one of them was moving out of that house.

After considering our options, which on an island can sometimes be a little limited, but ranged from buying a bus from a friend, to smaller cabins and yurts, we landed, the way we always seem to, luckily and randomly to a great, beautiful rental house within walking distance of Charlie's new place of work and some of our dearest friends.

This house is a curious H-shape, the kitchen, laundry room (We have a laundry room?!?! A room for just a washer and a dryer) and bathroom on the one side, connected by a small studio/ kid's room and a staircase to an upstairs bedroom and then the other side of the H is one giant room that used to be the music room of the guy who built this house. 

I can't even begin to guestimate our square footage, but this place is definitely way bigger than what we need. We mostly use the kitchen and the bedroom, just as we did in our little cabin. To me, kitchen is "the living room", the one where your life takes place. Food is prepared while talking out the day, friends gather,  I've never understood living rooms, they always seemed like just the place to keep the TV. Out here in the country, your living room is also the outside; your yard, your garden, the woods beyond it. A big house has little point to most people I know here, because no matter where you live  and what you live in, there is always open space all around it. It may not be solely yours, but the beaches and woods of this island are as much home to me as any old house. 

What is your relationship to the mess, to disorder?

I've always been a messy person. 

It's not that I don't enjoy a clean home, it's just that I find little joy in the act of cleaning itself and the end result to me is not worth as much as doing something more compelling: working on projects, reading, writing, walking in the woods. 

In my childhood home, Saturday was always "cleaning day" regardless of what other fun things we could be doing. I never understood why a house had to be cleaned every week, rather than say, every other week, or in my child mind, never. I would have been perfectly happy with the Alice In Wonderland, never-ending tea-party kind of set up, where once your dish is dirty you just leave it and move to the next seat with a clean setting. Perhaps not the most practical idea, but then I've never been a very practical gal. 

Since I know this about myself, I try to keep my messes in check, but frankly, they always seem to one step ahead of me. We live half outside most days, so we are constantly tracking in dirt and pine needles and other small pieces of the forest, not to mention the mess that firewood brings in, so I try to sweep the downstairs every day. I attempt to stay on top of the dishes, though this is a loosing battle and often I just let them pile up until there isn't a surface to lay another dirty mug on. I also keep a healthy pile of discarded clothes on my side of the bed, which I try to fold and put away once a week. 

I do sweep our floors almost every day and do superficial cleaning often, but I almost never do the kind of top-to-bottom cleaning that my mother insisted on every Saturday. A life-long act of rebellion, I guess…

How does your home reflect wabi-sabi?

Almost everything we own, is found, thrifted, handed down, or borrowed. Our decoration is hodgepodge of things we like and find attractive and things we're simply willing to put up with because we don't want to invest resources in having "the perfect thing". Our rooms are littered with books, open to various pages, with art projects in various stages of completion, drying herbs, jars of fermenting beverages and foods. They are so much more important to me than a clean house. They're the stuff of "home" to me, not a clean, presentable space.

What do you find beautiful? 
Prints from artists and cards from our loved ones all over the walls in random constellations. Bouquets of wild flowers and branches. New plant starts on the windowsill, spiderwebs, weird jars of ruby red sauerkraut in the sunlight, messages written in steam on the bathroom mirror, muddy boots, collections of cups on my nightstand, the signs of life... 

Milla, thank you again. I feel your home is such a wonderful and perfect reflection of you and your family. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

This Weekend We

This weekend we played bell to bell, and that makes it a whole heck of a lot easier to wake up on Monday mornings. Making it even easier still is the sun shining by the time I leave for work and the knowledge that that the evening holds plenty of daylight for walks and beach excursions.

We ended on a high note: a Sunday dinner bonfire with hot dogs, lots of stolen potato chips, and blissfully dirty kids.

We're in a minor transition period. My brother is moving in with us, trading his numerous skills for rent, helping us get our house ready for an attempt to refinance in a few months.  That man is a worker if I ever knew one. He's piling into our to-do list with an energy I have never personally known. My yard is on its way to looking like something out of Better Homes and Gardens, and on rainy days when he can't get be outside moving, digging, and edging, he has dinner ready and waiting. 

I'm from a family that doesn't fly far from the nest, and he had spent far too long on the West Coast. So now five of the six of my parents' children live between two houses right next door to one another. We just might be a rather strange flock.