Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

alice0042dspng“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I was in a funk this morning, so I started looking for Six Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast. It wasn’t difficult. It only took me about a half an hour:

  1.  Sunday night, I woke up and glanced at the clock. It was 2:22. I remember laughing and rolling over to go back to sleep. Monday night, I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 3:33! I thought, “Oh, mysteries of life” and fell back to sleep. I woke up again and immediately looked at the clock. It was 4:40 and all I could think was, “Dangit! Four more minutes and I would have nailed it!”

deer-212737_12802.  As we backed out of the driveway and turned up the hill, I stopped the car and said, “Carlos, look! Two deer!” Two small does stopped at the corner of Miss Sarah’s yard to look at us with their ears perked up. We didn’t appear too threatening–just another clunky metal purring thing with heavy round feet. They tiptoed across the road and into Mrs. Hodgson’s azaleas. Carlos whispered, “deer!”

10658710_10204082009963555_7281379235282340952_o3.  When I got back home after dropping him off at school, I stepped out on the deck. There’s a sourwood tree out there that I tried to cut down many years ago. My saw was too small and my arms too weak, so I gave up on it. Now, the sourwood tree grows up and over the deck, giving us shade from the heat, a perch for chickadees, and brilliant red leaves in the fall. As I admired the leaves, I remembered–leaves don’t “turn” colors in the fall. The colors that we see now have always been there, but the green chlorophyll that the plants need to make fuel overpowers the color during the spring and summer. When the year turns to the months of rest, the chlorophyll dies away and we can see the colors that have been there all along.

10679498_10204082009723549_2392038021595593732_o4.  Then my eye fell down to a row of shells that we found on our vacation this year. Oysters, whelks, conchs. As they bleach in the sun, all those plain grayish shells start to show their colors too. Pink and brown, orange and cream. From the bottom of the sea to right here on my deck. Then I remembered that half of my state used to be at the bottom of the ocean a long time ago. And the water in that river that runs through the backyard is the same water, recycled from the ancient ocean, the Mississippi, the Ganges, the Jordan, the Nile. Nothing is so far away after all.

10733867_10204082009443542_5464091185153558402_o5.  I went back inside to load the dishwasher. And who do I spy outside the kitchen window? It’s another writing spider. This one is much smaller and browner–the male of the species. If all the pretty yellow girls are “Charlotte,” I decide he will be named “Charlemagne.” Welcome, spinner, to our space. When I stepped back outside to get a better look at him, the dewdrops made his web sparkle in the gray morning haze.

10661655_10203813515051350_6537100019182294571_o6.  Time to make breakfast. I stirred together some oatmeal and milk, then added a dash of salt. I diced up a Honeycrisp apple to throw in before cooking it. I put a sliver of that apple in mouth and the flavor was so perfectly what I wanted at that moment, that my first thought was, “I don’t care if they cost $5 a pound. I’m going to buy these every week until they’re gone. This is why I went to graduate school–to afford these apples.”

Six impossible things before breakfast. Impossibly sweet, impossibly strange, impossibly magical.

I sat down on the couch and booted up my notebook computer while my oatmeal cooled. In a house built of bricks in 1961, on a hill that was carved by that river over a few million years, under an impossibly blue October sky from which leaves of red and orange fall with a whisper, I tapped my finger to a glass screen and connected myself to every other part of the world. I saw Catie standing in a field of orange marigolds in Bhutan, the cinnamon rolls that Beth’s daughter had made in France, and Lucy’s brand new baby down in Dublin.

It’s ALL impossible yet so precious and close. And here we are, right in the middle of it.

940 Saturdays

9780804185424Between your child’s birth and his or her 18th birthday, you’ll have 940 Saturdays to share together. That’s the premise behind a new family activities guide and keepsake journal by Dr. Harley Rotbart.

I’m a big fan of keeping a journal for my children. My friend, Andrea, gave me a pink suede journal with a flower clasp before I even knew whether my first child was a boy or girl. I started writing letters to Vivi when we still called her/him “Pollywog.” One day, she’ll get the journal and read all those letters G and I wrote to her along the journey. Carlos has one too. I’m realistic that I won’t do scrapbooks and such for my kids, but journals? Right up my alley.

That’s why I got a copy of this book for review. Great concept! Making journaling easy for busy families. I’m sorry to report that the difference between concept and execution in “940 Saturdays” is much like the difference between what we dream parenting will be like and what it’s actually like. Great plan in theory, but NOT going to happen in real life.

I was expecting a thick book of family activity suggestions, with a small keepsake journal in the souvenir pocket in the back. The actual book is the opposite–300 pages of empty journal and a slim book of family activity suggestions included in the pocket.

What bugs me about the design of the journal is that it’s arranged numerically, with a heading for “Saturday #249″ or “Saturday #632″ next to a place for you to enter the date and a brief description of what your family did on that day. Honestly, I can see a new parent keeping up for the first few weeks, then getting off track for a few weeks and not bothering with the math to figure out where they are in the journal. A free-form journal with a simple space for the date would be more forgiving.

This past Saturday, G and I took the littles to a pumpkin patch for all kinds of photogenic autumnal activities. We played hide and seek in a sunflower field. Carlos picked out a pumpkin so big that he couldn’t lift it, so he rolled it to G and declared, “Pick if up, Daddy.” We went on a hay ride and named the tractor “Otis” just like in the books. Vivi buried herself in dried corn. Carlos patted a rabbit.

That’s the kind of Saturday I want to write down in their journals, but I don’t want to have to calculate that it was the 322nd Saturday of our life together!

The Saturday before that? It was just as magical. We cleaned out the garage…as a family.

The one before that? I’ve already forgotten.

So yes, these memories should be captured, but most families are going to need a little more wiggle room. If you’ve got a baby shower coming up for a super-organized, left brain type of parent, “940 Saturdays” might be the right gift. For everyone else, buy a pretty journal and wish them well!


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Writing Spider

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve used my “room of her own” down in the basement. G got me a sweet notebook computer before BlogHer so I’ve been writing in bed, on the couch, outside, wherever.

This weekend, though, I retreated to my lair to write while the kids played quietly with collaborative educational games made from all natural materials (or watched Max and Ruby while sniping at each other–it’s all a blur). When I settled down at my writing table and looked out the window, to my delight, I discovered a new neighbor had moved in:

writing spider

Meet Charlotte. Please don’t EEK. She hates that.

“Hello, Charlotte!” I cooed to her. Is there any better name for a giant spider? Nope.

Her web stretches across the window that’s right at ground level. Good eating there. When I first stepped closer to the window, she scuttled a few inches higher into her web until she decided I wasn’t anything to worry about. Her wide spiral web bounced gently from her sudden motion. As it stilled, I watched her pluck the web with her front legs to set it swaying again. Her large yellow and black body perched on the white zig zag line that runs down the middle of a Charlotte web. That white line is usually the first thing I see when these spiders set up house in the fall.

And because I was supposed to be writing, and there are 1000 ways to avoid writing, I did some research on my new friend instead. Most call her the “Common Black and Yellow Garden Spider” but that hardly seems flattering. I like the sound of her Latin name: Argiope aurantia.

So much for getting away from writing–I giggled when I discovered that she is also nicknamed “The Writing Spider” for that zig zaggy line that stabilizes her web. Oh, we are going to get along just fine!

Did you ever hear the legend of the writing spiders? If you find your name spelled in her web, death will visit you soon. Makes me grateful that I have a few wiggly and curvy letters in my name, but now I worry about Vivi. That’s a whole lot of straight lines.

CharlotteWebI can’t think of a writing spider without thinking of Wilbur the pig, Fern and Charlotte and Templeton the rat. That story turned the legend of the writing spider upside down. The clever spider in “Charlotte’s Web” spelled encouraging messages like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” into her web to keep Wilbur from being turned into bacon. In turn, Wilbur watches over Charlotte’s egg sac so that her babies will be born back at the farm after she is gone. So she can pass something along to the world that lives on without her.

Huh.

I was talking to an author a few weeks ago (Anne Nahm) about how she found the courage to convince herself she could write a book. “If you don’t do it, you could die never having written that book.” Well, shit, Anne. Way to cut to the chase. It’s hard to dilly dally around that one.

This Charlotte outside my window will build a papery sac for her eggs this fall then she will die before the winter. The babies will be born and they will continue to live in the sac over the cold months.  Next spring, they’ll emerge and wander off into my garden. I hope to have something to show them by then. Something written in my web.

My story also features a pig and a kind girl, and a sweet soul who left before the story was done.

terrific

Bye, Felicia–I Got Things To DO.

oh noBefore I tell the story of how I was a totally unrepentant jerk this evening, let me preface it with a couple of facts:

  1. Kroger at 6 p.m. on a Monday in a college town is a lot like the Hunger Games right after the cannon goes off. Don’t be wandering in between me and the Cornucopia. The odds will never be in your favor.
  2. I’m older and have more insurance. If you don’t recognize that reference, go read “Fried Green Tomatoes.” TOWANDA!!!!
  3. If you haven’t heard “Bye, Felicia!” it’s time to rent the movie “Friday.” Or ask a teenage girl.
  4. I went to therapy today so fools, whiners, jokers, and malcontents are forewarned.

OK, so there I was in the Kroger parking lot at 6 p.m. on a Monday night. Three hungry kids at home and not a can of soup in the cupboard. I was crack-a-lackin’ because we were lackin’ crackers. I had made three circuits of the parking lot in search of a spot–no luck.

towandaI turn right up an aisle and spy an empty spot on the left side. At the same time, a little red car turns down the aisle from the other end. We both stop at the open spot then she drives on past. I figured I had won the showdown at the KRO Corral.

Just as I start turning left into the parking space, I see the red car backing up straight at me.

I honk.

She hits the brakes then honks.

I’m halfway into the parking space but stop because I don’t want to clip her. Both of us have our windows down.

She sticks her head out the window and wails, “I was BACKING IN!”

I stick my head out my window and say, “Honey, it looks to me like you drove past an empty space and I took it.”

“But I’m BACKING IN!”ice cube

“You weren’t signaling.”

“I WAS BACKING IN!!”

I inched my car a little farther into the spot, thinking about Kathy Bates in “Fried Green Tomatoes” when she crushes a teeny car belonging to a couple of smart-mouthed young girls.

She huffed, “That is so RUDE!”

Rude? Maybe. I call it more of a difference of opinion.

I flapped my hand in her general direction and said, “I’ve got things to DO. Bye, Felicia!”

Sometimes? On a Monday? When I’ve spent most of my day (week, month, life) making sure everyone else gets everything they need? When it’s 6 p.m. and I’m burning daylight and gas trolling the Kroger lot instead of being at home with my kids?

Times like that, I don’t mind being a jerk.

felicia

I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…

Back in the days when I was in grad school, I spent a lot of time studying Alice Walker. In my research, I discovered that Alice Walker had spent a lot of time studying Zora Neale Hurston. For the title of the collection of Hurston’s work that she edited, Walker selected a Hurston quote that has stayed with me all these years:

Zora Neale Hurston, Class of 1928, Chicago, Ill., November 9, 1934

 

These days, I feel so disconnected inside that I’m not sure what will come out if I open my mouth–a laugh, something mean, something impressive. I’m trying to love all of that. Make space for all of it.

zora

Today I wanted to scream when Carlos pooped half in the toilet and half on the floor. I resisted yelling, but I gave him a talking to that was certainly mean and impressive. Then 5 minutes later he walked by himself to the car and he looked so grown up, moving so easily away from me, that I reached out silently to let my fingers brush against his hair. He walked into school by himself instead of asking me to carry him and I thought I would have to curl up in a ball in the corner for a while.

He’s growing up–that’s a good thing–but he can’t stay my baby and I love that baby so much.

Loving tiny people this much–it’s mean and impressive.

 

 

The Gold Bug

Green Beetle With Brown Legs by Jan Vincentsz van der Vinne

Green Beetle With Brown Legs by Jan Vincentsz van der Vinne

I went on a personal archaeology expedition last week and got choked up on a little gold bug. A yellow plastic beetle, to be exact.

Ever since I read that journal that I wrote while my marriage to Fartbuster was ending–“Bless My Stupid Heart”–I’ve been trying to recall more about that time of my life. After 15 years, the big events stand out, but the minutiae of our ordinary life together has begun to fade. I started keeping gratitude journals about a year before our marriage went up in flames, so I pulled out the really old ones, the dusty ones in the bottom drawer of the nightstand and I began to read.

I spent 3 hours reading through 2 years worth of gratitude journals–a tough two years. I was prepared for the awful days, those days when I wrote terse little entries like, “Well, at least I have myself” or “Now I know the truth” and “my neighbor came over to check on me when she noticed I was parking in the middle of the garage.” I turned the corner down on those pages so I could come back to them when I need to.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the days just before those awful ones. It’s so had to look back and see what I was genuinely grateful for the day before my whole life blew up.

In the detail of thousands of entries, my old life assembled itself again. The hollyhocks that grew higher than the windows in the sunroom. The way my dog, Zoe, shivered after her bath. Margaritas at his grandmother’s house on Christmas night. The lazy Sunday mornings when I woke up with my feet entwined with my husband’s. A new Judybats CD coming in the mail. Reading Oxford American magazine. Pecan rice with a roasted pork tenderloin. That time we installed the dog door without arguing. Painting the bathroom a terra cotta color and talking about going to Rome someday. Walking the dogs in the evening when the whole neighborhood smelled like dryer sheets. Dusting bookshelves then finding myself rereading a favorite book. Valentines. Nicknames we gave each other.

About every 20 minutes of that 3 hour journey through my grateful past, I had to stop to cry. Once, I got so sad for my younger self that I tiptoed into Carlos’ room to listen to him breathe those deep little boy sleepy breaths.

It wasn’t all bad, that life.

It ended so badly that I have trouble remembering that it wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t stupid to love Fartbuster. Most days, we were doing our best.

That came clear for me when I read one little line in a journal that brought a dear memory back through all the pain:

“a little gold beetle in my drink at dinner.”

gold beetleI don’t remember how I ended up with a yellow plastic beetle–it doesn’t matter. One night, I tucked it under the covers on Fartbuster’s side of the bed. He saw it and jumped. We laughed. The next day, I picked up my drink at dinner and there sat the little gold beetle on the bottom of the glass. A few days later, he found the beetle in the toe of his shoe. For weeks, we traded the gold beetle back and forth in pockets, the sun visor, on the towel bar, in the cereal box.

It was fun. We had fun.

When your heart is broken by someone you trusted, it’s so hard to remember the good times. It’s hard to accept that those days were just as real as the months I spent in that middle place of fear and pain.

The muddle of it all reminds me of an idea from Hermann Hesse, one of Fartbuster’s favorite writers: “Oh, love isn’t there to make us happy. I believe it exists to show us how much we can endure.”

Hesse

C+ Living

school-303928_1280Raise you hand if you are a bit of a perfectionist…Raise it high. And straight. But just high enough that your upper arm doesn’t flap. And be sure you aren’t blocking anyone behind you. Is that a pit stain? Might be a pit stain, so lower your hand ever so slightly to get that situation covered up. But does lowering your hand imply that you’re less of a perfectionist? Might be. Raise it high. Oh but the pit stain. And not too fast or the arm will flap. It’s hard to hold that hand up for this long. Need to work out more. Weight bearing activity reduces the chances of osteoporosis……..WHAT WERE WE TALKING ABOUT?

Oh yeah–perfectionism.

I live with it. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that my life is perfect–it means I feel constant guilt because it’s NOT perfect. So maybe I’m a lazy perfectionist.

Yesterday, I was talking to my friend about people who either give themselves 100 points or zero points. Anything less than perfect is an utter failure. She and I were at the employee Health Fair. We were at  the height and weight station for BMI calculation. I got on the electronic scale and it said, “One at a time, please.” We each got our BMI and consulted the chart. Hers was 25 and she was crestfallen. “It’s in the overweight category!” This woman ran 12 miles this weekend, so she was a little bit annoyed with the BMI number. I looked at the “Healthy Weight” category. Guess what the highest range was for healthy BMI? 24.9

One tenth of a percentage and she was dissatisfied. Stuck in the wrong category after all that work. Damned by .10 on a broad scale.

It reminded me of grades and school and all those arbitrary measures we impose on ourselves. Is a 92 really that different from an 89? Is a BMI of 25 different from 24.9?

I have to remind myself constantly that C is average, not A. In those times, I shoot for C+ living. Average, with a teensy bit to acknowledge some extra effort.