Summer Is Almost Over ?!?

 

Hostas
Image Description: a large amount of hosta plants with purple flowers on stalks

Holy crow it’s almost over, isn’t it?

What happened???

Every summer I vow that this summer will be more structured and balanced. I won’t forget to exercise. I will take all recommended supplements. We will go to the farmer’s market every Friday (so far we are one for eight on that). New hobbies will become habit. Writing will happen. But life doesn’t like it when I try to wrangle it into an organized march. Every week has been a different rhythm what with camps and vacation and lessons. So it goes with blog posts, too. I did not intend to write one today but noticed it had been a long while so here we are.

Here is some summer stuff that I haven’t gotten to properly process/reminisce about/think through and will run out of summer time before it happens:

  • I have nearly 200 pages of my book written. That is bananas. I still have about 20,000 more words to go. Even more bananas
  • The boys have done a chess camp and a stop-motion animation camp, swim lessons and have an archaeology-ish camp coming up next week.
  • We had my mom’s side of the family reunion in Kentucky and I got to be 100% myself for a full week because I was around A) people who know and love me in all my overly enthusiastic goofiness and B) locals who I may never see again. No masking required.
  • I survived a NASCAR race and a day a Six Flags in a heatwave.
  • I need to up my Lyme treatment again because while my heart rate was great on vacation, the stress of real life means my body isn’t coping as well as I’d like. I don’t really want to up my supplements because it means I lose some of my day.
  • We’ve taken the boys off of dyes and preservatives with good results. We’ve taken me off of gluten with the result that I feel a bunch better, but I complain a lot more about what I can’t have.
  • Our new house has so many flowering plants that I didn’t realize. Every week something new is exploding and while I’ve tried to keep track I am finding it impossible.
  •  The outside of the house renovations are FINALLY DONE!!! Thank goodness.
  • We saw Incredibles 2.
  • We just went to an outdoor concert where the band Classical Blast played The Cranberries’s Zombie as a symphony would, and I just about died from 90’s nostalgia happiness.
  • We have plans to make some pineapple sage lemonade this weekend.
  • I have an adorable Modcloth dress that I need to wear out somewhere, but we haven’t had a chance to go out.
  • We don’t know, still, which school the boys will attend in the fall. We might not know until the week before school. That is not helping my (or the kids’) anxiety levels.
  • I got to hear Len’s Steal My Sunshine.
  • I realized that I have a lot of symptoms of both Autism and ADHD that overlap-and that ADHD strategies are helping me figure out how to make my life work.

 

There is a ton I could unpack about any of these-really! I can think of a mini-essay for all of these, but alas time is fleeting and I need to go make lunch, add 500 words to a chapter about How to Train Your Dragon and disability rep, get some groceries, remember to put our bin of batteries by the door so I remember to take them to recycling, learn how to write a book proposal, submit a story, learn about how people with ADHD have very little concept of how much time tasks take, sew a pillow with Christopher, try not to obsess over how young I looked on the day of the 2016 election and how I’ve aged ten years in the last 18 months…the usual.

Just checking in, hopefully I can get something more coherent to you soon!

Kristin

 

Thanksgiving 2017

We are currently in the middle of renovations on our new house and aren’t living there yet. As of this writing this is what my kitchen looks like.

Kitchen a mess
Image Description: A kitchen cluttered with renovation debris and drywall dust 

Countertops are covered in sawdust, there are trim pieces and a table saw in my living room and bag chairs in the family room. We need to set up Wi-Fi and cable, and do not have any toilets upstairs. Our kitchen table, sofa and entertainment center are still in a storage unit.

We are less than a week from Thanksgiving and my ridiculousness has insisted that I still want to host Thanksgiving. It’s been our thing for years and years. Since graduating from college my husband and I have hosted a Thanksgiving dinner every year. We made pasta and turkey for just the two of us in Tennessee, and the next year there my brother-in-law came and visited. We’ve had my mother- and father-in-law over in Texas when our oldest was just three weeks old (though I did very little cooking that year). The ten years we’ve been back in Illinois we have added in my brothers and significant others, my parents, friends that became family and aunts and uncles and cousins. Like, it’s a whole thing. I have a collection of recipes and timetables and serving platters and autumn leaf-colored plates and a stuffed turkey and gold and brown tablecloths and a Tiffany-style pumpkin lamp. Like, it is on. This is happening.

My mom has teased me that this really isn’t necessary. My husband stared at me with wide eyes this morning, one of the few times in our twenty-one years together that he has admitted we probably have bitten off more than we can chew. My youngest was sad that every year we decorate a cardboard box that we then fill for the food pantry and that we might not get to this year-I told him we have a million moving boxes and I just grabbed some construction paper from Target. I’ve got Hawaiian rolls in my pantry, a pound and a half a pecans in the freezer, cranberries in the fridge.

My deviled egg plate, immersion blender and portable cupcake holder are out of storage. The big ass square stuffing bowl is ready.

Square Bowl
Image Description: Large white serving dishes on a windowsill overlooking trees

This may be the most ill-advised Thanksgiving we have ever held. But, this is one of the ways I show my gratitude for some of the people I love, and who have been there through this whirlwind process.

Let’s go.

Thanksgiving Table
Image Description: A table set for Thanksgiving with red and orange plates, a vase of autumnal flowers, gourds and leaves. This is last year’s set up

When Fiction and Reality Meet

Room

My favorite reading experience, where the book I was reading matched the circumstances around me perfectly, used to be easy to pick out. I often used to take the train from the Chicago suburbs to Champaign-Urbana, when I bounced back and forth between my parents’ house and college. This particular trip I took was in the evening in the middle of a cold, clear winter. While the train was usually full enough that I was obliged to make small talk with a seatmate, this time it was almost completely empty and silent. Every other time I sat under fluorescent lights with dull grey metal all around me. This time I found myself in a refurbished Pullman car. Red velvet lined the seats, with a fringed gold trim edging the armrest. A sumptuous carpet rested under my feet. The lights had a soft glow emanating from ornate sconces. I burrowed myself into my seat, cushioned and alone, and picked up where I had left off reading The Shining for the very first time. The opulence matched The Overlook Hotel, and as I glanced out the window at an endless stretching snowy winter, seeing a single farmhouse light in the distance echoed my own isolation and that of the Torrences. For nearly twenty years that has been my favorite.

I may have a new contender. I have been sick with a really horrible protracted cold, and my boys are now sick with the same excruciatingly slow virus. My husband is traveling for work, and the boys have now missed three days of school. Last night my oldest wanted to sleep on the couch, so when he went to bed I tiptoed to my room and grabbed a book since I was not going to be able to fall asleep at 8:30. I had bought Room by Emma Donoghue more than a year ago and hadn’t touched it since. I’m not sure if I was worried that my heart wouldn’t be able to take it, but for some reason it nearly jumped off the shelf at me this time.

We are told the story through the perspective of a five-year-old boy named Jack. He and his mother are held captive in a small room by the man who kidnapped his mother years ago. The book opens on his fifth birthday and describes how they manage to make a life for themselves in “Room”, a place Jack has never left. It opens on the day of the spring equinox. I began to feel eerie, as yesterday was the spring equinox as well. Jack describes what TV shows he likes to watch, and because this is set in contemporary times, they are all shows my children watched too. Backyardigans, Wonder Pets, Dora the Explorer. The way his mother helps structure their days reminded me so much of what it was like when the boys were small, when one day can bleed into the next if it is just you together in the house, seeing no one else, going nowhere else. A state I am in right now. It is just us, quarantined away from the world, only using the resources we have on hand, and with each other as our sole company. It is both intimate and confining all at once.

Jack counts his teeth with his tongue when he is trying to distract himself. Each time he does I do the same and am reminded that a crown popped off one of my teeth earlier in the day. As I think about when I’ll be able to get that fixed Ma takes a ‘killer’ (painkiller) because her bad tooth is aching very badly. She is also waiting to get her tooth fixed, though for her it may never happen.

I read more than half the book in that one sitting, entranced, both seeing myself and the day I just had and the day I was about to have stretched before me, and seeing how much more I had that they didn’t. A window. A telephone. Food in the cupboards. The ability to open the door and feel fresh air on my face. Things I would never have stopped to appreciate that I still have even if I don’t have the Outside right now.

I’m not capturing how odd it felt, how odd it feels when your reality and fiction blends so perfectly together that you cannot extract one from the other. It isn’t something you can plan, though luckily sometimes it comes together. I read a scene from The Signature of All Things where the protagonist laments how useless paper is on a tropical island exactly one day before discovering all our paper was a humid mess in Puerto Rico. We read Harry Potter for the first time through the 2016 election and the coincidences were spooky (though that is an essay for another time). I guess I’ll tell this story better after twenty years than I do now, but I wanted to say…

Books are magic in a totally unpredictable and unusual way. And in the middle of a boring household cold, I got to experience that again.

 

International Women’s Day and Day Without a Woman

devalue

Today is International Women’s Day. This particular March 8th is also, in the United States, Day Without a Woman – a general strike to highlight the importance of women and how their contributions of both paid and unpaid labor are grossly underappreciated. I have been spending all of this week leading up to today trying to figure out how best to honor both.

The easiest way to support the day and the strike is to wear red, a show of solidarity with women fighting for equal rights, opportunities and recognition. Done. I’m wearing red, my two kids are wearing red. Easy.

red shirt

The next is slightly harder. As women purchase 70-80 percent of items and services for sale, women are asked to refrain from purchasing anything today, to demonstrate how much our purchasing power is worth. Another way to do that is to purchase exclusively from women-owned companies. I will be purchasing an item to support the wonderful online site The Establishment, a bastion of intersectional feminism and support for writers (they pay every writer for every story they publish-which is unusual and welcome in the world of online publishing). I won’t be buying lunch, or dinner, or groceries, or clothes, or books, or my kids’ haircuts or an oil change for the car today.

The last is the most difficult. Women are called upon to strike from all paid and unpaid labor today. Except for the once-a-month tutoring gig I do get paid for, all my labor is unpaid right now. I am a published writer who last got paid for an essay in 2007, and a stay-at-home mom. When my husband is not traveling for work, we already share household chores and child-raising tasks equitably. He doesn’t need a reminder of what I do, and I feel appreciated. And if I refrain from writing, I lose the opportunity to advocate for recognition of the work that women do. So I won’t be taking time away from unpaid labor.

I also never thought of it this way before, but I have women in my employ. I am a chronically ill person who functions most weeks as a single mother would, taking care of everything while my husband travels for work. We have a service come and clean our house every two weeks to help. Vacuuming, washing floors, dusting high shelves, scrubbing toilets: I can technically still do all these things. However, the pain and energy cost of doing these chores (my fibromyalgia tends to flare) leaves me bankrupt for days sometimes, unable to do other things that need doing. I am so grateful to have the three women who do this work for me. Wednesdays happen to be the days they come. I appreciate what they provide for me so much, and know I am a more productive person if I let this work still happen. If they do strike today, I am completely supportive and understanding. If they do not, I will try to make sure to tell them how much I appreciate the work they do.

But, most of all, what I want to do today is explain just how many women make my world possible. I have lived in the world of women for a decade, a world of stay-at-home moms, retail workers, grade school teachers, pediatricians, nurses and volunteers.

I will start with school. From the early intervention services that my youngest had at age two, to the fourth-grade teacher my oldest has now, almost every single educator my kids have had have been women. Since preschool my oldest has been taught by at least thirty teachers and four teacher’s aides, and only three of them have been men. Since early intervention my youngest has had four speech therapists, and at least twenty-four teachers and teacher’s aides, I think one of whom has been a man. We have a male principal, but the vast majority of workers at the school, from the school secretaries to the lunch moms to the volunteers who organize fundraisers and room parties, are women.  Grade school workers are notoriously underpaid and in a capitalist society being underpaid means being underappreciated. I love our school.

I went to work out today. Seven out of the nine receptionists I see regularly are women. When I peek in on classes, I have yet to see a male instructor. Most of the trainers are women. All of the instructors for early childhood classes at my park district are women.

I thought about spending time at our library. I have seen two male librarians over the course of nine years.

Where we get our boys hair cut, eight out of the nine hairdressers I see regularly are women.

Grocery stores, at least half the employees are women. Fast food and slower paced restaurants seem to be the same, at about 50%. So is our local post office.

Clothing and shoe stores? Almost 100% women.

Our local food pantry and community services administrators? 80% women.

Emergency room at our local hospital? The boys and I have only ever seen two male nurse versus about twenty female nurses. We’ve seen two male doctors versus at least ten female doctors.

The pediatrician’s office? All the nurses are women. Half the doctors are as well.

We would visit my mother when she worked at the offices for our local church. A full half of the support staff the offices, and roughly 90 percent of the teachers for both year-round parochial school and CCD were women. And these are just the paid positions. Mothers often volunteer to help even more. In fact that’s how my mother got her foot in the door for this job in the first place.

Most of the women I know, whether they work outside the home or not, do vast amounts of unpaid and unappreciated labor. I once had a conversation with other moms who were completely shocked that my husband did the grocery shopping for our household. I was told that to expect their husbands to do this task was completely unthinkable. Working women still do more household and child-rearing chores then working men. Stay-at-home mothers are still looked down on as if they aren’t contributing.

Most caregivers for disabled people and the elderly are women, both paid professionals and unpaid family members.

On top of all this, is the emotional labor that I have seen women do for free. The labor of keeping relationships healthy, families emotionally whole, communities functioning and working together.

The contributions women make to this country, to the world, are staggering.

The last other thing I am going to try to do today is to spend time not only thinking about how much would be lost without women doing the too-often invisible work of the world, but how much would be lost without their voices too. I have set my playlist to all the music I own either written or sung by women. I am reading I Am Malala for the first time.

women's voices

 

This is how I will spend today.

Stoner Conversations

A really good friend of mine once told me, totally unaware that I was then a hormonally insecure mess of a mom-of-small-children, that she always thought I would do really well with my kids when they we like ten. At the time I took it to mean that I must be hopeless with babies (I kind of am) and threenagers (I do tend to lose my mind), not that I would really hit my stride once my kids got to be tweens. It is a compliment that has taken me years to accept both in its truth and its sweetness. I am really good with kids approaching ten.

It could be that I’m just good with my kids, one of whom is approaching ten and the other who is seven. We’ve have had people ask us what we do with the boys – they are pretty well-behaved, empathetic and that all-important measure (insert big eye roll here) they standardized test really well. I don’t have a great answer that is easy to bust out over small talk, because the real answer is that we have a lot of stoner conversations. Without anyone being actually stoned, of course.

Once your kids are verbal and start asking questions, you need to answer them and start asking questions of your own.Whatever musings pop up, man we take our time exploring them regardless of what else needs to happen. We’ve talked over whether a diamond could melt in a volcano and what that might look like. We’ve gone over The Garden of Eden a few times; “So God can make a talking snake that tries to tempt people to be bad, but he can’t let Adam and Eve get away with breaking a rule he himself made? Is God all-powerful or not?” I get questions like, “Can I try to catch fish with a mosquito net?” and “What if I made a tiny computer for my stuffed animals?” and “Do you think Voldemort is milking a snake and drinking it’s venom to make himself into a snake?” The other day we had a lengthy discussion about whether or not one of our hands was fatter than the other and why that might be.

 

stoner-hands

 

My oldest asked, “What if people made up the idea of souls and heaven and hell to get people to do what they say?” My youngest asserted that if someone was doing nothing they were still doing something. Damn, it’s fun.

We are thinking critically non-stop around here. When you take a stoner conversation seriously, no matter how goofy the topic may be, if you tease it out and give it time and attention and try to figure out whether mosquitos could bite God if God is invisible, you find stuff out. You learn facts,

 

diamond-melt

 

You learn how to argue, you learn how to imagine, you learn that creativity and questions are wonderful things, you learn how to dig deep, you learn how to analyze. You learn that there are mysteries. You learn that wondering is fun. Curiosity is a gateway to deep learning.

And ambiguity is a gateway to open-mindedness. You learn the complex idea that maybe there is no right answer. Sitting in the ambiguity that comes after the question, “Why did people think people had souls to begin with, who came up with that idea in the first place?”; uncertainty unsettles kids in a great way-my guys never assume, even though they are quite smart, that they have all the answers or that the way they see the world is the only right way. These conversations make them open to new ideas and new experiences and new people.

So, if your kid asks if you think that aliens might have other senses that we don’t even know about some morning as they are scooping up Frosted Flakes and you are trying your damnedest to pack a lunch and shove a signed permission slip into their backpack, know that the best thing you might do for them in that moment is to say, “Like, are we talking aliens who live underwater, or ones that are humanoid, or like giant blobs who don’t even need to eat? Because if we are talking humanoid creatures what sort of sense could they have we don’t? If we’re talking blobs, man, who knows what they would be able to do, that’s a whole other ballgame.” It seems to be working out well for us.

Tiny Bites

big bowl pomegranate

The bowl of little red jewels caught the light, the reward for nearly a half an hour of preparation. Pomegranates require patience. Once scored you can peel back the tough outer layer and begin to use your hands as claws pulling sections apart. Submerging the whole fruit under water, you can delicately loosen the gems from their white pith moorings and let them sink gently to the bottom of the bowl. Some will fall easily without bursting. Some will require finesse, like wiggling a baby tooth loose from pink-red gums. Some arils will split under too much pressure or when they catch the edge of your nail, but there are thousands upon thousands left to pick from. Like fish eggs, we assume so many are created because inevitably so many will be lost along the way. The whole lot is drained though a fine mesh, and the work continues picking out the blemished and the burst, rescuing the ones that need the last bits of white scraped off their bottoms. Then they are ready to eat.

I worried about this Thanksgiving. My body is dysfunctional in that way that means specialist doctors with extensive waitlists, daily confusion as to what healthy can look like for me, the possibility that something is very wrong or that no one will really know what the problem is. Until the cause of that dysfunction is uncovered, most of the canon of holiday food is actively dangerous to me if I lose my inhibitions and eat too much. Candied sweet potatoes and stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, cocktails and pecan pie are only safe for me in .01 parts per million, like arsenic. Turkey and green beans are acceptable. I worried about how empty and sparse my plate would look. That that emptiness might feel so much like sadness, or grief.

I worried that all the time it takes to make all these things, the hours and hours of peeling and mashing and sautéing would feel like masochism. Like deprivation. Like resentment of the people I love for being able to enjoy these things when I couldn’t. I worried that my love of cooking was purely selfish and greedy, that I was able to indulge my gluttony by it, but didn’t enjoy serving other people no matter how much I care for them.

Worse yet, I worried that my family would be able to see the sadness and selfishness flash across my face. The twin commandments I placed on myself, to be truthful and to be loving, were going to be compromised either one way or another. I didn’t want to lie, nor did I want to pout in envy, and I was quite convinced that at least one would be unavoidable.

As I worked through the process of freeing the pomegranate arils with my oldest son, as I shopped and cooked and cooked and cooked, I was happily surprised that I didn’t feel unhappy at all. The work was as satisfying as it had always been. I felt happy to make, and make, and make without hope of more than a mouthful of each treat. Without the expectation of tangible reward. And I was absolutely relieved to find out that I could be content that my loved ones could have something I couldn’t. The frustration I anticipated in myself dissolved before it materialized.

I had a beautifully happy Thanksgiving, where I got to find out that I still love cooking, I still love my friends and family more than my gluttony, I still can enjoy life with just a taste of this or that, I can be more than my self-pity.

Persephone, the goddess of springtime, spends part of each year as the Queen of the Underworld. We have one month of winter for each pomegranate seed she ate while in the keep of Hades, her kidnapper. As I allowed myself just a few arils out of the thousands we harvested for Thanksgiving, I let the juice burst into my mouth one by one. I was happy with my few, and thought ruefully that four months of winter was more than enough. Too many pomegranate seeds and spring might never come again. But the temptation to have at least a few is too much to pass up altogether, especially when winter, in all its coziness and closeness, is pretty wonderful.

4 pomegranates

Houswifery and Rage Against the Machine

housewifery

I have tried to like housework.

I really have. I have quotes scribbled into my notebooks about the Zen nature of caring for the objects that serve you well. One reminds me that caring for pots and pans we use or combing our tangled hair, is an act of self-care and should be done carefully. Another is a conversation on how to reach enlightenment, where the student asks the teacher how to do so, and the teacher replies, “Chop wood, carry water”. The student then asks what one does after enlightenment and the teacher replies, “Chop wood, carry water.” The act of cleaning, scrubbing, folding and putting away can be meditative.

I have more quotes scattered around the house and Pinterest boards about how women authors balanced housekeeping and writing. (This is not a question many male authors have had put to them, nor have many commented on it spontaneously) Agatha Christie found herself plotting novels while doing dishes. I think about the episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon takes a menial job to free his brain for a creative breakthrough.

I own books called The Hoarder in You, Love the Home You Have, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I have bribed myself with clothing, and lunches out of the house, and new books to try to goad myself into the domestic duties are mine to tackle.

My husband is a neat and tidy person, an equal partner in shopping and cleaning and childcare when he is home. But four out of seven days he is not, and the entirety of our house’s functionality rests on me.

The only way I have found to prod myself to do the right thing, when all these other things fail, is The Housekeeping Playlist.

The Playlist is raucous.

I yell along to it instead of singing.

Head-banging and fists pumping in the air might be involved.

And it consists almost entirely of Rage Against the Machine songs.

People of the Sun. Bulls on Parade. Renegades of Funk. Guerilla Radio. Testify.

Sleep Now in the Fire.

Once I get a good dose of “F*ck the system” out of my system I am ready to tackle dirty dishes and wiping down stainless steel appliances. Maybe it’s my way of announcing to myself that it’s okay that I feel pissy and whiny and don’t want to be stuck doing this. Maybe it’s the deep down irony of yelling at the patriarchy and then looking like a stereotypical housewife perpetuating the system. Maybe it’s a way for me to remember that me not wanting to clean is a ridiculously small and petty thing, compared to what bigger injustices are going on in the world. Or maybe I just need a beat and some passion in my day.

We watched American Hustle last year, and there is a scene where Jennifer Lawrence is smashing around the house to “Live and Let Die”, yellow rubber gloves on, vacuum nearby and ready to go. I yelled out, “That’s me!” as my husband started laughing his ass off gasping, “That’s you.”

I really tried to like housework. I did. Once in a while, you’ll still see me staring off contemplatively while I wipe down a counter. Or peacefully sweeping up. Or on my hands and knees humming while I scrub like Cinderella. But, if it looks like I’m having some sort of seizure through the kitchen window, the playlist is most likely why. And the house might just end up spotless.