A wrinkle in title...oh, whatever

For her first second grade project, Mallory had to go through a magazine or newspaper and cut out words that describe her likes, interests, and personality, and then glue those words to a paper apple. We don't get the newspaper, and the only magazines we subscribe to are Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker. I figured that the former would be more fruitful in this instance than the latter; so the words that Mallory ended up finding and cutting out were "Movies" and "Music" and "Games" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Future Star!" We finally got to the end of the magazine, to its one lone page of book reviews. "Books!" I said, pointing to the headline. "You like books, cut that word out."

Mallory sighed. "Mommy, actually, I don't really like books at all," she said, and I keeled over dead.

No, I didn't. But I sighed heavily, on the inside. I don't know if she means it, really, although it's true that she now seems to view reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. I think she's getting bored with picture books, but she refuses to commit to chapter books. Ramona, Nancy Drew, Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones -- we have a whole shelf of these, and she'll read a page or two and give it up. She won't even allow me to read those books to her.

How can this be my child?

Maybe I'm taking it too seriously -- and believe me, I know that the instant she knows that it bothers me that she doesn't like to read, she'll never pick up a book again as long as she lives. Mallory cannot be convinced of anything, least of all by me. So I'm playing it cool. I make her read something every night -- because she's supposed to, for school -- but I don't push it. I am noncomittal. I don't comment. But I still read to Phoebe, usually while Mallory's in earshot, and I'm still carrying around my own books and reading in every spare minute of my time, which she sees, and I guess that's all I can do.

But it hurts, a little. You see, long ago, when I young and naive and not tired all the time, I pictured my future family as being like the families in Madeleine L'Engle novels. We were going to be like the Austins or the Murrays -- we'd listen to classical music and recite poetry from the star-gazing rock in our backyard. We'd have discussions about religion and science and literature and art while eating our dinner, which would always be home-cooked and nourishing and delicious. We'd read Charlotte's Web or Alice in Wonderland at bedtime. We'd take rides on time-traveling unicorns and solve mysteries in the catacombs of the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Well, maybe not those last two. But my family doesn't do those first things either. Instead, we eat frozen pizza with Spongebob Squarepants playing in the background, and we listen to Hannah Montana music in the car. Phoebe's favorite books are all tv-character based (Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony) and now Mallory doesn't like to read at all.

I feel like I've failed. I feel like I messed up at the very beginning. I should've set better limits on TV watching. I should've read more nursery rhymes (I don't know if my kids can even recite Little Bo Peep, or Little Miss Muffet.) I should've been stricter about the kinds of toys they play with and I should've taken them to the library more. I should've been a better guardian of their little brains.

It's hard, though. It's especially hard because I've been away from them most of the day every day since they were very little. It's hard to control what I don't see, and, frankly, it's hard to care at the end of the day when everyone's tired and it's all I can do to get them fed and bathed and in to bed. Those are just excuses, though, I know. I should've tried harder. I should try harder now, starting today.

And it's not that I think my kids are ruined, or that I wish they were different than they are. They are both bright and funny and imaginative and sweet. They are typical 21st century children and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just that...I want to do better than typical. I want them to exceed their potential, and I'm not sure that I'm doing enough to help them along their way.


Spin Cycle

My college had co-ed dorms, in the sense that boys and girls (men and women?) lived on alternating floors and could come and go as they pleased. I snicker at myself, now, for finding that a bit outrĂ©, then. (And I am amazed again at the memory that even twenty years ago, the dorms at my former boyfriend’s college were so anti-coed that it was a punishable offense to enter the women’s dormitory if you were a man, and vice versa. It’s one of the reasons I chose not to go to his college, although we were still dating at the time – we’d never have gotten to see one another anyway.)

My sophomore year, to drone on to the point of this story, I lived in North Hall, which had men on the third floor and women on the first and second. There was exactly one washer/dryer set in the whole dorm, on the third floor. It was a nightmare, trying to catch the washer empty. One time, early in the semester, when I actually managed to put a load in, I came back thirty minutes later to find my wet clothes strewn all over the floor, with a note that said: “Keep your gosh-darned freaking girl panties out of the men’s washer!” (It didn’t really say “gosh-darned freaking”.) I was incensed, outraged, humiliated, angry, annoyed. I took the ridiculous note, cursing its ill-informed author (if the dorm had had a “women’s washer” I would’ve used it, doofus!) (I didn’t think “doofus”). I wrote an impassioned letter to the dean of students detailing the incident and making the case for the installation of additional washers and dryers in our hall. (I did not sign my name. This was the one burst of activism in my entire college career.) From then on, I took my girl panties (and everything else) to the Laundromat a few blocks from campus.

But how different things would have been, how happier a story I would have to tell, had I been starting college this fall. According to my alumni magazine – which comes once a quarter, and which I flip through with joy in my heart, because I just love finding out that This One Guy from my class has just gotten tenure, and This Other Girl is operating an orphanage in Tunisia, and That Goofy Guy from Introduction to Microeconomics is now mayor of a large Midwestern city, and That Girl I Always Hated runs marathons in her spare time – where was I? Oh yeah – according to the magazine, my college has installed a new fleet of digital-age washers and dryers across campus. There is a website! which you can log on to and check washer/dryer availability. You don’t need quarters! but simply swipe your meal card to pay for each load. You get a text message! on your phone when your load is done. I am gobsmacked by the wonderousness of these machines. It almost makes me want to go back to college.



The truth hurts

As a child, if I happened to notice my mother taking a Tylenol, I would immediately feel a twinge of guilt, thinking that she must have a headache because of my siblings and me.

Now that I'm a mother, I know...that I was probably right to think so.


Back to School

Mallory is in second grade:

...and is happy enough about it, I suppose:

Phoebe was excited to start preschool today:

...but not excited about taking a picture with her sister (a familiar theme, for long-time readers):

Mallory's big news on the first day of school was that a girl in her class broke her foot and had to use "crunches."

Phoebe walked right up to the new girls in her class and asked if they wanted to have a tea party with her. Last year, she didn't speak to anyone til about mid-December, so she's obviously made some progress.

Chris started school too! No pictures of him.

My life has not changed, except that now I have to make sure the backpacks and lunch boxes are ready in the morning.

And so it goes.


Practical Child

Mallory's friend: Hey Mallory, if your house was on fire, and you had to run out really really fast, and you could only take two things with you, what would they be?

Mallory: Um...a hot dog and a bag of marshmallows.



Phoebe would like you to know that our garden also produced one giant cucumber:

From 2009-08-18

Just the one, alas. It was a really good cucumber, too.

Mallory's first day of school was yesterday. I took pictures, but I can't bring myself to post them yet. The first day of school used to look like this:

What happened? And how did it happen so fast?


I say too many

My father-in-law planted a garden in my backyard, and it produced tomatoes:

Lots of tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes:

Now, some people claim that there is nothing more delicious than a fresh tomato, but unfortunately, none of those people live in my house. But as much as I didn’t really want to eat all these tomatoes, I also didn’t want to waste them, so I decided to preserve them. My family does love pasta, after all, and pizza and lasagna too (well, except for Phoebe, but she doesn’t like anything that is not a grain of some kind), and I thought it would be great to have a bunch of fresh-made tomato sauce on hand for the long winter months ahead.

So I found a recipe for making fresh tomato sauce (and freezing it – I wasn’t keen on canning, I’m not that domestic) and set aside Saturday for the project. And – well, here’s the thing. When you blog, sometimes there are certain experience that you look at from a blogger’s point of view, right? So I not only documented the process with photos, but I also kind of kept a running commentary in my head, and at certain steps I’d think, here’s when I’ll write that things were not going well, but by the end I’ll show that it all turned out to be worth it after all – which turned out to be not quite the case, but I guess that just adds to the fun, right?


So. I had, I guess, about 4 dozen tomatoes on Saturday afternoon. Now, my recipe said to use tomatoes that had been fresh-picked – as in, picked that very day -- but honestly, I don’t know what kind of tomato plants this recipe writer has going on, but my tomatoes didn’t all ripen on the very same day. So I had some that had been in the fridge for at least a week, and were getting a bit leathery, and I had others that were still the slightest bit green. I figured it would all balance out.

First, I cored and chopped. This is about halfway through:

Then I pureed. I don’t have a full-size food processor, so I had to use my Magic Bullet. This took a long, long time.

Here’s the pot full of tomato puree. It looked distinctly pink and frothy.

The recipe said to simmer the puree for 6-8 hours, stirring every half-hour. I told Chris we wouldn’t be going out to dinner that night.

About halfway through cooking. It was also about halfway reduced; the color had deepened, and it smelled good. (Although Mallory complained that she didn’t like the tomato odor at all.)

About six hours in, it was nice and thick, but also full of seeds and pulp and things. The recipe said that removing the seeds was optional, but that leaving the seeds in could result in “bitterness”. I decided to run it through a food mill to get rid of the debris.


Of course, what remained after the milling was very thin – it was more tomato juice than tomato sauce, so I had to return it to the pot and cook it for an additional hour to thicken it back up. By this time it was eleven o’clock and I was heartily sick of tomatoes. When the hour was up I put the lid on the pot and stowed the whole thing in the refrigerator, not wanting to mess with portioning it up for freezing that night.

The next morning, though, I divided it up in these two-cup containers.

And that’s what I got. After all those tomatoes, all the chopping and pureeing and cooking and stirring, I ended up with eleven measly cups of tomato sauce. Which is maybe three jars of Prego. And it still seemed kind of thin, so when I use it, I’m going to have to bulk it up with…canned tomato sauce. Along with whatever herbs and spices and whatnot it takes to make a yummy sauce. Which I probably won’t figure out on my first try, because I’m not an instinctively good cook, so it’ll probably take me two or three attempts to make anything decent out of this sauce. And then it will be gone. For good, because I’m not doing this again, ever.

Except…this is what I found in my garden last night:

Sigh. I think this time I’ll just make some salsa.


Chocolate Chip Missile Crisis

When I was in fifth grade, I was consumed with fear that the Soviets were on the verge of destroying us in a nuclear attack. I’m sure I’m not the only almost-forty-something who remembers being afraid like that. It was the early eighties, the final tense years of the Cold War. I remember hearing about the death of Yuri Andropov, the Soviet premiere, and wondering – Does this make war less likely, or more? (Remember the joke about Yuri? What did Reagan say to him before he died? “Go to a cliff, Yuri, and drop off!” Ha. Well, not really.) I prayed every night that nuclear war might somehow be averted.

At some point during that school year, I attended, with a group of other students, a series of weekend enrichment workshops at a nearby college. We were taught rudimentary pottery skills by a middle-aged man with a ponytail, who may very well have been the first man with a ponytail I’d ever met. One Saturday he mentioned that the next night’s episode of 60 Minutes was going to feature Pantex, a nuclear plant near Amarillo. “You know about Pantex, right?” he said to us all. “If that place goes up, everyone in Texas will die just like that,” and he snapped his fingers.

I hadn’t known about Pantex, in fact, and I can tell you that learning about Pantex did nothing for my anxiety level. And for some reason – and I guess the only reason I need to mention is that I was ten – I got it into my brain that Pantex was going to “go up” simply because it was going to be on 60 Minutes – as if the act of filming it was going to trigger a terrible reaction that would end in catastrophe. (I guess I also thought that 60 Minutes was filmed live.) Which meant, I surmised, that Pantex was going to blow tomorrow night, and we all had just over 24 hours to live.

I prayed very hard that night, and I prayed very hard at church the next morning, and I moped around all day, bracing for the explosion. My sister Jana suggested that we make chocolate chip cookies, as we were wont to do on a Sunday afternoon, and I listlessly agreed. I remember thinking, though, as I cracked the eggs, as I spooned the dough – What’s the point? What’s the point of these cookies? Tomorrow, we will all be dead.

I don’t know why I didn’t take my fears to my parents, who would have done all they could to assuage my fears. (I think it’s quite possible that, along with being terrified, I was also a tiny bit interested in the drama I was creating in my head.) That night, my dad, as usual, vetoed my little brother and sister’s request to watch the Wonderful World of Disney and turned on 60 Minutes. I went out the front yard and sat. And waited. The sun set, and my mom called me inside. The show was over, and we were still alive. Somehow, the crisis had been averted.

And the cookies were delicious.


My First Wizard

For an ye heard a music, like enow
They are building still, seeing the city is built
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built for ever.

I was in junior high when I first read Mary Stewart’s version of the Arthurian story – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, the Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day. I devoured the books, one right after the other, and declared myself to be a devotee of all things Arthurian. I did school research projects on Arthur, I wrote (embarrassingly bad) Arthur stories of my own. I tracked down other books about Arthur, the best of those being The Once and Future King by T.H. White and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. In college, I took a seminar on Arthurian literature, and read Geoffrey of Monmouth and parts of the Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur; I wrote a paper on how Arthur, in an epic poem (or opera?) by Dryden, symbolized both King David and Jesus and King Charles I. In a class on Victorian literature, I read The Idylls of the King and wrote another long paper on Merlin’s fate and how it related to…something I no longer remember, but it was that paper that made my adviser say, “You’re good at this; you should go to graduate school.” (Thanks!)

When I went to England, the fall of my junior year, I dragged a friend who would have preferred shopping in London to Glastonbury, so I could see the Abbey where, legend has it, Arthur was laid to rest. I would have dragged her on to Tintagel, in Cornwall, to see the fortress where Uther Pendragon, disguised by Merlin’s magic, went in to Lady Ygraine’s bedchamber and thus begat Arthur, but the bus service was down. I even went to Wales to catch a glimpse of Snowdon, the mountain where Merlin’s cave may once have been. (This involved many long hours on a train. There was very little else to see in Wales.)

My Arthur obsession abated after I left school. I saw a few bad Arthurian movies – First Knight comes to mind – and failed to get through a few bad Arthurian books, and I acknowledged that Le Morte d’Arthur is kind of a slog, as is Idylls of the King except for a few good lines (see above). But a few weeks ago, I was searching my shelves for a book to bring to the beach, and I saw The Crystal Cave. Well, why not? I thought, and brought it along, and after I cracked it open one night while the kids were getting settled in bed, I found it as un-put-downable as ever. As soon as we got home, I dug out the other three books in the series, and read them all in a four-day rush.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really that I like King Arthur and Merlin so much. I just like Mary Stewart’s King Arthur and Merlin – particularly Merlin, who is the narrator of the first three books. It’s true that some parts of the books are a bit slow – there are overlong descriptions of bracken and oak trees – and a bit prim – even her villains never say anything stronger than “For pity’s sake!” – but she turns these legendary figures into characters you can’t help but care deeply about. She makes them human, even though one has supernatural abilities and the other is a High King, and, more importantly, really, she makes their story make sense. The Arthur story has been adapted and used and manipulated throughout the centuries, to represent or illustrate any number of religious and political and societal ideas; and because it’s such an old story, with so many versions, there is much about it that is illogical, bits that don’t fit together. Stewart distills everything down into a coherent narrative; you believe the character’s motivations and personalities, and you also believe that everything really could have happened exactly as she describes it.

The Wicked Day, the last book of the series, is also, I think, the weakest and my least favorite. In part that’s because Merlin isn’t it in; imagine a Harry Potter book without Harry, and you’ll understand the problem. In part it's because Stewart has the maybe impossible task of making a sympathetic character out of Mordred, Arthur's son and his downfall. The book lacks the focus of the first three; it gets a bit bogged down in the antics of wayward knights. One gets the impression that Stewart wrote it because she felt she had to see the story through, not necessarily because she enjoyed the telling of it.

There are many books on my shelf that I keep because I hope that some day my girls will want to read them; these books rank at the top of that list. (Maybe I should lay the groundwork by having them watch The Sword and the Stone.) I'd love for them to be Arthur and Merlin devotees, even for a little while. I'd love for them to know magic beyond Harry Potter and, for pity's sake, The Wizards of Waverly Place. Stewart's Arthur will always be my King Arthur, and her Merlin is my once and future wizard. You should get to know them too.


Something was missing

...with apologies to the author. My addition is in italics:

Along the aisle between the tables he walked, and he spotted the three Ma.lfoys, huddled together as though unsure whether or not they were supposed to be there, but nobody was paying them any attention. Harry hesitated, then walked straight over to Dra.co Mal.foy and held out the hawthorn wand. "Thanks, mate," he said.

Malf.oy's father drew in his breath, perhaps to protest, but Narc.issa put her hand on his arm and shook her head. Dr.aco stepped forward, looked Harry in the eye, nodded, and reclaimed his wand.

I know, if you haven't read the books you don't know what I'm going on about, but if you have read them -- wouldn't you agree? Shouldn't this be there? I've always thought so.

I saw HP6 last night. (Was okay. Probably the best one yet in terms of making the story make sense in spite of everything that had to be left out. But none of the kids seemed to do any magic at all. And not a mention of the fact that Harry had just lost his godfather. And...well, never mind.) Am now trying to decide whether or not to devote the next week of my life to rereading the series. Re-re-reading, that is. I shouldn't do it. But it's hard to resist. Which the author would allow the books to be kindle-ized. This may be my lamest blog post ever. My apologies to my readers.


Just Beachy

So, we spent all last week at the beach. And it was fun. And there's not much more to be said, really, because really, when you're at the beach, pretty much all that happens is that you get wet. And then you dry off, and put on dry clothes, and then five minutes later your kids want to go back to the beach, or the pool, so you change into your suits again, and put on more sunscreen, and go get wet again, and if you repeat that cycle about forty times, well, that was our week. It was fun, and wet, and I didn't take many pictures, because, well, we were always wet.

Like this:

Here Phoebe is saying, Mommy, why are you taking our picture now, when we could be getting wet again?

Here is Mallory thinking that she might sleep in the big bathtub for the night:

It didn't take her too long to change her mind.

I should mention that last summer, Mallory refused to go underwater under any circumstances; she's gotten over that, thankfully, and this summer has actually swum. (She has no technique, but she can get from one end of the pool to the other. And she can tread water like no one's business.) She also finally drummed up the courage to jump into the pool from the side, or the diving board, and moved on to making up crazy names for her jumps -- "I'm doing the graham cracker!" she'll yell, before plunging in with her legs at a weird angle, or, "I'm doing the vanilla split!" She even cavorted and dove around in the ocean waves. I'm proud of her for getting over her fears. Now if we can just get her on a bicycle, we'll be in business.

Strangely, though, when asked what her favorite part of vacation was, Mallory said it was playing miniature golf. We did take her one afternoon -- it was "Hawaiian Rumble Golf," one of the five million courses, apparently, in Myrtle Beach. I thought it was a pretty boring putt-putt course, myself; there were no windmills or secret passageways of the sort I remember from my youth. My family always played putt-putt on vacation, I told Chris, leading him to ask why I wasn't any better at it. It's true I'm no good; I tend to either sink it in 2, or fail to get in under the 5-stroke maximum, but I have enough of my father in me that I kept berating Mallory to line up her feet and to grip the club right, for heaven's sake. She actually got a hole-in-one, somehow, and then requested that we buy her a trophy.

Anyway, that was our vacation. Now we just have two more weeks before school starts. What happened to the summer?