Wrapping it up

No, not like that:

I am way behind here. I don't think I ever posted about Mallory's birthday, and I had some thoughts about Christmas decorations which I guess I'll save until next year, and I should tell you about the fab time I had with my family last week, but instead I'll just sum up 2011.

Best Books Read:
There But For The by Ali Smith
Chime by Franny Billingsley
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Worst Books Read:
Obedience by Will Lavender
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Sister by Rosamund Lupton
The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Best Movie:

Fave TV show:
Modern Family; also Prime Suspect but I think they're taking it off the air

Proud of myself for:
Teaching myself how to crochet
Losing 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas (now need new pants)

Best new experience:
Riding a Segway with Aimee through downtown Charlotte

New places traveled to:
Chicago (prefer Chicago)

Glad that I:
Took the girls on fun outings this fall, even though it ate up my weekends and wore me out

Not glad that I:
Spent too much time on the internet
"Prepared" so many unhealthy "dinners" for my family

Most fun had:
Trip to Chicago (except for getting there, and the heat)
Visiting my family at Christmas

Favorite picture:

Up next:
Painting/reorganizing the girls' bedrooms

Hope to:
See my whole family again soon
Crochet more
Exercise more
Get my children to eat vegetables and meat that isn't dipped in batter

Happy 2012!


The Have Nots

A few weeks ago I sorted through the girls' books and set aside some to donate. I put them in a Bruegger's Bagels bag because it was big and sturdy and had big sturdy handles. Naturally, the bag has been sitting in our hallway ever since.

Phoebe noticed it last Saturday. "Mommy, why is there a Wubbzy book in this bag?" she asked.

"Because those are books I'm going to donate," I said.

"To the poor?" she asked.


"I don't think that's a good idea," she said.

I was about to launch into a lecture about how she had too much and other children had too little and she hadn't read any of those books for ages and --

But then she added, "Because if the poor children see this bagel bag, it's just going to make them hungry."


Twenty-five people were laid off from my office yesterday. Luckily I was not one of them, although there were a few tense moments when I thought I might be. I feel bad for feeling happy that I'm still employed, when so many of these people -- including some friends of mine -- are now not. And, although of course I never want to lose my job, knock wood, wish on a star, cross your heart and so forth -- Chris and I have a pretty good safety net. I'm fairly confident that we would never end up without a home to live in or food to eat. I'm afraid that a few of the people who were let go yesterday don't have that kind of assurance, and it just makes me feel terrible. And although I understand the reasons they were let go now instead of a few weeks from now (because if they kept their jobs into 2012 they'd be able to claim there 2012 vacation hours) -- it's still particularly awful that this happened right before Christmas. I think the powers that be deserve a few lumps of coal for that one.


If you're not in the spirit yet...

you will be after watching this.

My only regret is that this version does not have Beeker singing the nine ladies dancing part. That cracks me and Phoebe right up.



Last night Mallory asked me to carry her. "Carry you?" I said. "I haven't been able to carry you for many years."

"But you said you always would, no matter what," she said.

"When did I say that?"

"On your blog," she said.

I guess she read this. Which, in spite of its schmaltziness, is one of my favorite posts. I can't believe that was 5 years ago. I can't believe that Phoebe is older now that Mallory was then. I can't believe that I thought five was old. I can't believe I didn't factor 4th grade social studies into the equation.

She's ten, my beautiful, goofy, kind-hearted, generous, bright and funny little girl. If I'm a bit sad today that she's growing up so fast, I'm consoled by the fact that I'm the one who gets to be there with her while she does.

Happy Birthday!


Notes for when I take over

Went to the grocery store today; glanced at my receipt on the way out and saw that, through my store's Loyalty Card scheme, I have saved $436 on groceries this year. And it occurred to me to wish that they gave you an option -- you could either save this money on your purchases throughout the year, OR, you can pay full price for your groceries, but then get a rebate check for the amount you WOULD have saved at the end of the year. Would that be awesome or what? Paying $10 extra per grocery trip wouldn't be that bad if I could get a $500 check around Christmastime.

Teachers should be disallowed from giving two major tests in one week, especially when one of the students is so excited about her upcoming birthday that she can barely breathe. (Studying for a 4th grade science test is just as exciting at age 39 as it was at age 9 (in other words, not). Mallory always manages to lighten things up though. She gave this example of a food chain: "Grass...hamburger...me...a shark!")

Employers should release their employees one and a half hours early each working day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This would be more effective if I had more examples, but now I'm going to bed.


What I'm thankful for:

A mother who taught me the importance of a homemade pie crust, and a father who perfected the art of applying vanilla ice cream to a piece of pie. Streusel topping for when the top crust just doesn't come together. A daughter who loves to bake, who's almost old enough to bake things by herself, but who still asks questions like, "This says I need three-slash-four cups of sugar...how much is three-slash-four?" Another daughter who is finally old enough to play games that require reading, but who is still young enough to say "cimmanon" and "bekfrast." A job to go to, even when I have to go there the day before Thanksgiving. A house to live in, no matter how messy. The internet, so I don't have to go shopping for reals tomorrow. In-laws who have always welcomed me with open arms, and who gave me the job of making desserts, rather than vegetables, for Thanksgiving dinner. Two sisters and a brother who feel close even when we're far apart. A husband who always makes me laugh, and who tolerates me when I'm not in a laughing mood. Happy Thanksgiving to you!


5th member of Kemple family

We got a blue beta fish last night at petco. Did you know that NONE of the fish were dead? We prayed on the way over there for all of the fish to be healthy and God preformed a miracle! Mallory came up with the name Blue Berry Kemple. She is reading him a story now. She is very happy.Happy Birthday Mallory! [This post was written by Mallory]


Recipe for Disaster

So I've been hunting around on online recipe websites for some Thanksgiving inspiration. I love being able to search for recipes online and am thinking about doing away with cookbooks altogether. I really like the reviews that most sites have - it's useful when someone comments that, for example, the recipe called for 1 TBSP of salt when it should be 1 TSP, or that someone else substituted chicken thighs for chicken breasts and the recipe still turned out delicious.

But. It drives me nuts when someone gives a recipe a bad rating and then says:

This recipe was terrible! It was so bland! I left out the garlic and onion because I don't like those, and it had no flavor at all. Plus I left out the cheese and sour cream to save on fat but cooked it as directed and it got really dried out!

Well, guess what, you didn't really make this recipe. You changed the recipe, and it turned out terrible, but that's not the recipe's fault.

This kind of thing is even worse:

This was delicious! I made it as written, except that I added a bunch of different seasonings, plus some link sausage, plus I shortened the cooking time but amped up the heat a little bit. I didn't use the sauce recommended, I used another sauce that my grandma taught me how to make, and it turned out great! Five stars!

If it's so delicious the way you made it, then post your own recipe!

It also bugs me when people give books a bad rating on Amazon because the book may have been damaged in shipping, or because they thought the price was too high, or because of some other reason that has nothing to do with the book.

People. What are you gonna do.



I don't pretend to know anything about how government works, but this is what I'm picturing in my head about the supercommittee meetings:

Democrats: We need to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans: No.

Democrats: But [list reasons, some of them valid, why this is a good idea].

Republicans: No.

[Break for lunch]

Republicans: We need to cut entitlements.

Democrats: No.

Republicans: But [list reasons, some of them valid, why this is a good idea].

Democrats: No.

[Break for the day. Tell members of the press that the gridlock is the other side's fault.]

The end.



When she was about 18 months old, Phoebe somehow chipped her front tooth. We had it capped at the dentist -- a procedure that involved me holding her body on my lap while a dental hygienist held her head and the dentist worked (very slowly) and Phoebe writhed and screamed like we were killing her -- but two days later, she bit into a bagel and the cap came off. Of course.

So we decided to let it be. After all, it was a baby tooth, it was going to fall out eventually. I remember thinking, though, that five or six years was going to be a long time, looking at that awful chipped tooth every day.

It wasn't a long time at all. And it stopped being awful:

And now it's gone:


Mrs. Neill

I found out today that my third grade teacher, Mrs. Neill, has died.

She was one of the best. She's what every teacher should be.

I hate to even mention this story in the same post as Mrs. Neill, but still -- I would bet that Mrs. Neill wouldn't have run away and called her dad and asked what she should do about an unsettling thing she saw in the locker room. I would bet that Mrs. Neill would've hauled back and given that person a solid punch in the jaw. Without having to think twice about it.

I like to think that, having been taught by her, I would do the same thing.


The dollhouse dilemma

For her second Christmas, Mallory got a very nice wooden dollhouse from Santa. Her grandparents and aunts chipped in to get all the associated furnishings and dolls.

She played with it fairly regularly for a while, but then when Phoebe came along, we had to rearrange some things in her room and it kind of got pushed back to an inaccessible corner. Later, we moved it into our attic playroom, but by that point, they were both more interested in Polly Pockets and Barbies, and the dollhouse got very little use. I estimate they play with it once or twice a year.

I would like to get rid of this dollhouse. I think it's a wonderful toy, it's high-quality, it's a great thing -- but my kids don't play with it and it's taking up quite a bit of space and gathering dust. I've considered saving it for my grandchildren, but that assumes that I'll have grandchildren that will be interested in a dollhouse, which really is a tall assumption, and we don't really have the storage space to hang on to this for 20 years or so. I have thought I'd either try to sell it on craigslist (thus generating a bit of cash for this year's Christmas presents) or offering it to a friend of mine who just had a baby girl.

However, when I mentioned to the girls that I was thinking the dollhouse had to go, they protested. They love the dollhouse! The dollhouse is their favorite! The dollhouse is very special to them! How can I consider giving away the dollhouse!

Except, they don't love it, except in an abstract way. I understand that it's upsetting to lose childhood toys, but we've gone through this before (selling Little People playsets at garage sales, donating stuffed animals to charity) and within days they've forgotten all about the toys they no longer have. It would seriously not be a deprivation for them to be without this toy.

On the other hand, I do feel that dollhouses ARE special, and have a kind of symbolic importance. I would be a little sad if we didn't have this dollhouse around anymore.

So, what wins out here? Practicality or sentimentality? What would you do?


Can you believe we had even MORE fall fun?

Really, I just can't stop with the weekend activities. My kids have been enriched to death the past month or so.

This weekend, we went downtown Raleigh for a double-header. First up: the North Carolina History Festival, which I hoped would get Mallory excited about the enormous NC Social Studies project she's working on. That night: Tickets to the ballet, a few blocks away from the festival. In between: About an hour and a half of down time (poor planning).

The festival was fine. We saw sculptures and a real dugout canoe and a replica Cherokee longhouse and the girls made bonnets and paper cardinals.

Much more exciting than history, however, was riding bus between venues:

Then, to kill time, we had an ice cream cone and wandered back to the garage where we'd parked the car. In the elevator, to be whimsical, I pushed 6 even though we were only on 3. The sixth floor level turned out to be empty of cars and the girls thought this was the best thing ever. A photo shoot ensued:

It WAS a lovely view:

We rode up and down in the elevator a few more times. I suggested that they pursue careers as Elevator Inspectors. "I didn't know that could be a job!" Phoebe exclaimed. Mallory expressed enthusiasm too, but then caution intervened: "If I ride an elevator in a really tall building, will my ears pop?"

Our parking garage fun wasn't over; next we went to our car to change clothes for the ballet. (The other option was schlepping over to the theatre, changing clothes in the restroom, and schlepping back to the car to put away our other things -- not appealing. It was cold out, and I'm lazy.) This turned out to be quite an adventure, because of course the people in the car next to ours walked up at the very moment the girls removed their shirts. Our windows are tinted so I don't think anyone could see anything, but the girls shrieked and dove under their seats anyway. "This is the worst idea ever!" Phoebe said.

Still, they cleaned up nicely:

The ballet was based on the Fancy Nancy books, which Phoebe adores. The series illustrator was there, looking very glamorous, and Phoebe got an autograph and a picture:

The girls insisted on sitting at the very tippy top of the balcony section, and then proceeded to wiggle and squirm throughout the performance. "What did you think?" I asked Phoebe when it was over.

She said: "I think ballet would be better if there was popcorn."

I think she's probably right.

We ended the night with dinner at IHOP. I know that my kids will remember the wrong things from this day -- they won't remember what a Cherokee home looks like, or what the North Carolina state reptile is, or the music from the ballet. They'll remember frolicking on a parking garage roof and chocolate chip pancakes. But I guess as long as they remember that we were there together, that's okay with me.


That'll cheer you up

As a break from my list of depressing reads, I turned to Anne Frank.

Yeah, I know. It's like continuing to eat spicy food while complaining that your mouth's on fire.

Mallory asked me about Hitler the other day. How do you explain Hitler to a 9-year-old? Her main concern seemed to be whether such a thing could ever happen again. She didn't seem comforted by my answer ("I hope not") but what else can you say?

Anyway, in an attempt to bring things down to her level, I told her about Anne Frank. Then I ordered a book for her -- "Who Was Anne Frank?" -- one of a series of biographies for children. (I think I've mentioned before how much I loved the biographical series in my elementary school's library. They were all bound in hideous orange. My favorite was Jane Addams: Little Lame Girl.) I thought this summation of Anne Frank's life would be easier for Mallory -- who does not like to read -- to digest than the actual diary.

I read The Diary of a Young Girl when I was...ten or eleven, maybe? And I thought it was dull, honestly, although I would like to believe I was sufficiently saddened at the end. But then in 7th grade, as part of an "Accelerated Learning" project in Language Arts, I "got" to read the play "Anne Frank." I don't remember much about the play itself, but I do remember the series of exhausting questions in my literature book that I was forced to answer. "What was the basis of the conflict between Anne and her mother? Cite three examples." "The basis of the conflict between Anne and her mother was...One example is in Act One..." It seems that I spent weeks answering these questions. It kind of turned me off Anne Frank, to be honest.

But after reading the short book I got for Mallory, I was intrigued anew. I tried without success to get the Diary for my nook; so instead I downloaded a book about the Diary, Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose. This is a fascinating book; it details how the book we now know as Anne Frank's diary wasn't just the diary of a young girl; Anne actually spent a great deal of time and effort (although, what else did she have but time, while hiding in the secret anenx) revising and polishing her book into a true memoir. It relates eye-witness accounts of Anne's last days in Bergen-Belsen, which were, of course, horrifyingly awful. And it talks about how odd it is that what most people know about, or take away from, the diary is that famous line about how "in spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart." In fact, that quote is usually lifted out of context -- Anne may have believed that, but she also believed that the world could be a pretty terrible place. And even if she had believed whole-heartedly in the goodness of people -- the fact is, she was proven wrong, wasn't she? She lost two years of her life hiding in an attic; and then she was found and spent the next six months in a concentration camp; then she died a horrible death. Good people didn't make that happen.

On the other hand. Of course the last line in Mallory's dumbed-down version of Anne Frank's life is that very quote. And if that's what Mallory, for now, takes away from this story -- that there was once a girl who was persecuted through no fault of her own, but who managed to be brave and optimistic in spite of everything, and whose words have inspired other people to be more tolerant and fight against injustice and oppression -- well, actually, that's a big take-away, but if she gets even just a little bit of that -- I guess that's enough. For now.


Almost two digits

Mallory is busily creating her birthday party invitation. It was difficult to rein her in, to say, no, you can't invite your friends to a movie AND go swimming AND go for ice cream and no, as an alternative you can't invite every girl in your class (except the one you don't like) to the Tumble Gym.

It's even more difficult to wrap my head around the fact that she's going to be ten.



So I've just read a string of really depressing books, y'all. (I don't know why I just called you y'all.) In the past month or so, I've read:

We Need to Talk about Kevin -- A mother writes about the lead-up to, and aftermath of, a school massacre perpetrated by her son, Kevin. I simultaneously hated this book and couldn't put it down. All the characters behaved in a completely unrealistic fashion. (Hi, I've suspected my son is a psychopath since the day he was born, but I'll let him babysit my daughter anyway.) It obviously doesn't end well and left me feeling ooky for days.

The Night Circus -- Depressing because I thought I would like it more than I did

The Grief of Others -- stillborn baby, enough said

Please Look After Mom -- An elderly Korean woman disappears in a subway station; her daughter, son, and husband ruminate about how little they appreciated her and how badly they treated her. Nice.

Nightwoods -- Children witness brutal murder of their mother, then lots of people tromp around in the woods on various missions with varying degrees of success. Really not very uplifting at all.

Have you read anything light-hearted lately that you would recommend?


The day after

My kids' school doesn't "do" Halloween, but as a "fun" alternative, they allow require students to dress up as saints for All Saints Day (November 1). How does one dress a child up as a saint, you may ask? Answer: I don't know, but apparently wrapping them up in veils and shawls does the trick well enough:

Don't they look happy to be saints? Phoebe is St Catherine of Siena (which is the name of their school, but it was chosen because Phoebe's middle name is Catherine) and Mallory is St Maria Goretti, who was murdered at the age of 12 and beatified because she forgave her murderer on her deathbed. Which is a nice story, right?

Still, they're getting a good education. Phoebe had to write sentences with selected "sight words" last night; the sentences had to be at least 5 words long. One of her words was "does." "I can't think of a does sentence!" she said. Then she said, "Oh wait -- how about, 'Does potatoes grow in gardens?' No...that sounds wrong. That would be 'do', not 'does'. It should be: 'Does a potato grow in a garden?'" My heart swelled with pride. Only six and she's nailed subject-verb agreement.

For the word "Who," she wrote: "Who are my parents?" I pointed out that sentence was only four words long. She erased and wrote something else and brought it to me. The sentence now read: "Who are my parents well who?"




What you don't want to happen on Halloween night is, you don't want it to rain. Rain ruins everything. Rain means that either your kids' costumes (that you spent hours making or dollars buying) get ruined, or that your kids wear a raincoat that covers up their costumes (that you spent hours making or dollars buying). Rain gets their candy buckets damp. Rain makes their face paint run. Rain deters other children from trick or treating, which means that you only manage to unload one of the five bags of candy that you bought. Rain means that you, too, have to slog around the neighborhood, wrangling umbrellas, bumping into other parents carrying umbrellas, resenting parents who opt to drive their precious snowflakes from house to house, feeling your socks get increasingly soggy. "Being a parent sucks sometimes," I texted my sister from under my umbrella.

But honestly -- I wouldn't have it any other way.


In case you were wondering

The dreaded Social Studies test? She made a



Confederation, confederation, confederation

Mallory has a big Social Studies test today. She’s not doing well in Social Studies, this year. When I asked her why her grades were so low, she said, “I don’t like Social Studies. Besides, no one can be good at everything.” I thought this was a fair point, but let her know that it was not acceptable for her to do quite so poorly, whether she liked it or not.

We studied for hours for this test. We read the chapter twice, summarized main points, went over vocabulary words, filled in blanks and did true/false quizzes. There were moments when I despaired – as when I asked, “The villages of the Cherokee people came together to form a...” and she said, “Um...bison?” But I think she knows the material pretty well; honestly I’m not even sure what else we could have done to get her prepared. I told her we would like for her to get at least a B.

I know she’s nervous. I’m nervous for her. I slept poorly all night.

But, I also know more than I really wanted to know about the early peoples of North Carolina. Ask me about the Three Sisters or the Green Corn Ceremony! And think good thoughts for her today around 1:30.


Even more fall fun! Man, I'm tired

Yesterday the girls and I went to a pumpkin farm -- it was "Scout Day" so the girls got in free. (I paid $12) (The pumpkin was not included) This was, in fact, more than just a pumpkin farm -- it used to be a tobacco plantation, but ten or so years ago its owners decided to diversify into organic produce and "agritourism." So they grow strawberries and blueberries, and cabbages and carrots, and they sell their produce at farmer's markets and through CSAs. And they do school tours and scout events and they turned the back 40 acres of their farm into a huge playground.

I love this place. Every time I visit I think how fun it would be to run such a place myself. (I know. Please. I grew up on a farm and I know it's really not that fun at all.) But it's all so wholesome and pretty and nice. And I learn something new every time I go. For example, did you know that asparagus in the field looks like this:

It's that weedy-looking stuff in the foreground. Huh.

The farm also a huge variety of pumpkins, not just the kind people buy for jack-o-lanterns. There are peanut pumpkins:

and squashy "Cinderella" pumpkins:

and "warty" pumpkins:

and stripey Mexican pumpkins:

Here is an impressive tower of pumpkins, but what I love about this picture is that scrap of sky at the top. That's a Carolina blue sky. Every time I see the sky looking like that, I'm glad that I moved here.

The farm also has animals, such as Rosco the donkey:

and some baby pigs:

The girls love the playground at this place. I love it too, because everything is made of a re-purposed something else. There's a cow train made of old barrels, and swings and an obstacle course made out of old tires. There's a huge underground slide and tin-can stilts, just like in some Ramona book:

There's a giant bin of corn kernels, and an inflatable thingy to jump on:

And of course there's the hayride that gets you there:

Anyway, it's a good time. And as I said, I know better than to romanticize about life on a farm...but this place makes me do just that, if only for one autumn afternoon every year.


Fall Fun

Whoooo wanted to buy my items at the craft show last weekend?

Nobody, apparently. Which is okay, I wasn't counting on sales to pay the bills.

Mallory also made a craft:

...and got her hair sprayed pink:

...and ate lots of cotton candy:

Phoebe, ditto:

Then we spent a loooong time in line to get their faces painted, but they were very pleased with the results:

It was a lovely day, in spite of being not-profitable.


What now?

Not to sound like a commercial, but we switched to Vonage for our phone service. We considered dropping our land line completely but that just seemed too daring. Anyway, you can set up your voicemail to automatically forward transcripts of any messages to your email account. With hilarious results! For example, yesterday we got this message from the town council, which makes all kinds of robocalls to announce exciting town happenings:

This message is from the town of Xville and it's not an emergency. We are calling to let you know about our babies and microchip pet clinic on Saturday At Main Street, Park the park which is at 200 South Main Street.

A babies clinic! Ha! When it's really a rabies clinic!

So I'm getting entertained on top of saving on my phone bill. What a deal.

Speaking of money, I'm going to be (attempting to) sell my crocheted wares at a craft show this weekend. I have no idea what to charge for my products; I have even less of an idea if anyone will be interested in buying little owls and little owl cell phone cases at any price. (Also: I may have overdone the owl thing.) I will try to take a picture of everything before I offer them to the world. Wish me luck!


What's making me happy today

Seeing these pictures on the October page of my 2011 Shutterfly calendar:


The other other meat

I read an article this week about entomophagy -- eating bugs. Apparently, 80% of the world's peoples eat insects, Western Europe and North America being the main holdouts. Bugs are nutritious -- full of protein and other essential nutrients. Bugs are versatile -- you can fry them in butter, you can grind them into flour, you can dip them in chocolate, you can make them into a BeeLT sandwich (really). Bugs are, according to sources in this article, delicious, reportedly tasting like shrimp (which are also bugs, only from the sea), chicken, bacon, or scrambled eggs. Bugs are, importantly, sustainable -- farming bugs results in a very small carbon footprint; they're already numerous; there are no worries about humane treatment because bugs like crowded conditions and filth.

Ironically, many countries where eating bugs has been the norm for centuries are now planting "Western" crops such as corn and wheat, which are arguably less nutritious and digestible than insects, and using pesticides to kill those insects. Some people in these countries are falling ill to new diseases; the bugs they used to eat provided protection against endemic bacteria, or nutrients that were otherwise lacking in the native diet.

The only problem with bugs is their size. Ounce for ounce, a grasshopper has more protein than beef or chicken. However, you'd have to eat one thousand grasshoppers to match the calories of a 12oz steak. (Can you imagine? I'd have to prepare four thousand grasshoppers for dinner. Or maybe my kids would only be able to eat 750 a piece.)

The article concluded that insects are the meat of the future. I am all for sustainability and certainly things need to be done to curb world hunger and whatnot. But I would be more than happy if this innovation in food doesn't come to pass until I'm dead and gone. I'd rather be a meal for worms than make a meal of worms.


On knot giving up

Yesterday I was working on a new crochet project (will show off when finished), but the skein of yarn I was using was a snarly mess. Every other stitch I was having to yank and pull and curse to get another couple of inches of yarn. I finally decided to unravel the skein from the other end and unknot it going backwards.

Hours later, I was still working on the stupid yarn. I ignored my children’s pleas of hunger and even forgot to get Mallory started on part of her Enormous School Project of Doom (due in April, luckily, not today). I was determined to unknot that yarn.

As I fought with it, I recalled another time in my life when I committed to a similarly Sisyphean task. When I was maybe eight or nine years old, I found a golf ball with a nicked cover in our yard. Before, it had never occurred to me to wonder what was under the outer cover of a golf ball, but seeing this damaged one made me curious. I picked at the opening – less than the size of a dime, probably – to try to peel it off completely. It was quite stuck. At this point I made it my life’s work to remove the cover of that golf ball.

I spent the better part of the weekend, as I recall, in a nook beside my grandparent’s carport (because I intuited that if anyone had seen what I was up to, they would have demanded, with reason, what the hell I was doing), gouging at the golf ball with the only tool I could find, which was, I believe, a very dull putty knife. It was tedious work, shoving the end of the tool under the flap, wiggling and wiggling until a bit more of the cover came loose. It gratified me to learn, after hours or toil, that apparently, a golf ball’s insides are composed mostly of rubber bands. I wiggled and wriggled and pulled and tugged. I eschewed riding my bike and swinging and climbing the weeping willow. I worked. Finally, the great moment came – I pulled off the last bit of white, and the first layer of rubber bands spontaneously unraveled with a very satisfying phffffp! I eagerly pulled off the bands, layer after layer, wondering if that was all there was. And then I found it, the tiny rubber bouncy ball in the center. It was orange and textured with stripey indentations from the rubber bands. It bounced nicely on the driveway, and against my bedroom wall. I kept that thing for years.

I applied this persistence to other, more worthwhile projects too. One Sunday I decided to make every single project in the Mickey Mouse Make-It Book. I made a Dumbo out of a straw and a piece of paper. I made a Captain Hook piggy bank out of a green bean can. I made a Goofy bouncy ball by wrapping a ball of foil with rubber bands (we didn’t have many rubber bands, so the ball didn’t bounce very well – certainly not as well as my golf ball center). Best of all, I made a Mickey Mouse puppet – two big circles for head and body, two slightly smaller circles for his ears, four small circles for his hands and feet, attached to the body with stapled rubber bands (which I had to rob from my Goofy ball). Then I taped quarters to his feet to make him hang properly. He was adorable and I was very proud. I brought him to school the next day and took him out to recess with me. A teacher’s aide asked to inspect Mickey and told me he was very nice. I skipped away to the swings, and when I turned back I saw the teacher’s aide talking to another teacher, pointing at me and smiling. I figured they were talking about how smart and clever and wonderful I was for making a Mickey Mouse puppet. They were probably saying, “Poor Krista, what a show-off, no wonder she has no friends.” (Kidding. I did have friends.)

I wonder what happened to my persevering spirit. It must have gone somewhere; if it hadn’t, perhaps I would have finished my PhD or written a novel by now. I’m not sure I can see signs of Persistence in my kids, either; I don’t think they’ve ever applied themselves quite so obsessively to anything. I wonder what’s worse – to have had perseverance and lost it, or to never have it at all?

I finally did give up on the skein of yarn. After all, I can buy another for less than two bucks. Its knots will continue to taunt me, though.


Even nicer than sugar and spice

The other night I was walking behind Phoebe as she rode her bike around the block. She learned the trick of standing up on the pedals to go faster. She shouted: "Mommy, I'm on fire!" And then clarified: "I'm on girl fire! Do you know what's in girl fire, Mommy?"

"No, what?" I asked.

"Sequins! And peace signs! And hearts! And flowers and lots and lots of PINK!"


It's Me!

I haven’t written in so long that I don’t know where to begin. That implies that a lot has happened since the last time I wrote, which isn’t true; in fact, very little has happened, which is partly why I haven’t written. It’s more that once you stop writing, it’s hard to get back in the habit.

So, today, a random collection of thoughts.

Girl Scouts has begun! After two meetings for each troop, I’ve come to the not-so-surprising conclusion that first graders are far more easily entertained than third and fourth graders.

Cold front coming Friday! It’s not even going to hit 65. This raises the clothing problem. I have summer clothes (which I am so sick of; if I have to wear one particular pair of black capri pants ever again I will scream) and I have sweaters; I have nothing in between.

Least favorite parts of the day: Loading and unloading the car. The backpacks! With their water bottles that always fall out! The lunchboxes! The bag of clothes to wear after school, the books for piano lessons, the assortment of toys we can never leave the house without, the stray pencils and ponytail holders and other detritus…it drives me crazy. Crazy!

I avoided most of the 9/11 remembrances and retrospectives and so forth this weekend. I did, however, while flipping channels, catch the video of the second plane swerving and crashing into the South Tower -- and I actually gasped and raised my hand to my mouth, as though I was surprised that it happened. It's still so shocking and horrible, ten years later.

Mallory has joined the band. She chose the xylophone, apparently based on the assumption that a percussion instrument would be less likely to transmit germs than a flute or a trumpet. She’s doing very well in piano so I think this was actually a good choice for her. Also, according to a friend of mine with a son in high school, girls who play percussion are considered very cool indeed.

Airplane tickets around Christmas time should be free. Yes, I know that would create no end of logistical problems. All four of us were supposed to go home for the holidays; now it looks like just Phoebe and I will be going home for a few days before the holidays. Mallory is also invited but can’t decide whether she wants to go or not. On the one hand, she hates flying. On the other hand, she loves Grandmom’s fruit salad. It’s a difficult choice.

The North Carolina General Assembly has voted to put a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage the ballot next May. According to one fine politician, this is the most critical issue of our time – more important than jobs, or education, or hurricane cleanup. I am so disgusted by the whole thing I could spit. Here’s an idea: If you’re against gay marriage, don’t have one. Otherwise, leave people alone. Or: If you’re so worried about the sanctity of marriage, why not put a constitutional amendment banning divorce on the ballot? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The president is in town today; therefore, all the highways and byways around my office, which is near the airport, are closed down. I am in full support of our president and care about his safety, but to me this seems extreme. I guess I’ll stay in for lunch.

That is all.



Early Tuesday morning I found Mallory on her bathroom floor, soaked with sweat. “?” I said, and she said, “I don’t feel good, and it’s just easier not to go back to bed.”

She did not go to school on Tuesday, but this morning she looked less peaked so I told her that she needed to go today. She said she still felt bad. I said I thought she’d be fine. “You don’t know everything, you know,” she said. “You’re not God.”

“No, but I’m your mother, so I know more than you,” I retorted.

Before lunch, the school secretary called and said that Mallory had a fever. Apparently strep throat has stricken the fourth grade. I feel kind of bad about sending her to school this morning. But then again – I think I would rather her teacher think that I’m a mom who errs on the side of sending the kid to school than a mom who keeps the kid home just in case.

This would be a good strategy, if I’d only known as much as God does.


My brother has suggested that I repent

Yesterday, an earthquake. This weekend, a hurricane.

Yesterday, Mallory told me that her math homework was fun. Today, Phoebe woke up, said she was stuffy and had a bad cough, but did not request to stay home from school.

Yesterday, my boss told me that the promotion which has been in the works for me for almost two years is on the cusp of being approved.

It just may be the apocalypse, y'all.


First Day of Shool!*


A first grader, a fourth grader. Another summer gone, another year ahead. When questioned, Phoebe said her first day was "Good," and Mallory said hers was "Bad, because I hate school." So there you are.

Phoebe is supposed to read aloud for 15 minutes each night. Last night she chose her favorite book, which is, alas, Spongebob and the Princess. I’m not above laughing at Spongebob the TV show every now and then, but the whimsy doesn’t translate well into books.

I also thought the book might be too hard for Phoebe, but I was mostly wrong. She read words like “gloomily” and “understand” and “delivery” with no problem. And when she got to a word she didn’t know…well, for the first few pages, she would just kind of make a confused noise: “Spongebob walked through the door and …bishbesh?” And I would say: “busily,” and she would continue. As we went on, though (and as she gained additional audience members, namely Chris and Mallory), she became more inventive:

“I need to count me money,” Mr Krabs…squibbered? (whispered)

“I don’t believe you!” Squidward circled (cried)

“You mean the princess isn’t coming?” Spongebob squivered (shrieked)

And my favorite: “Very own trumpets!” (Everyone turned)

It was very amusing. I don’t mind this kind of homework at all.


Charlotte was both

Mallory was required to read Charlotte's Web over the summer; what ended up happening was me reading it aloud to her. We finished tonight, with one day to spare before school starts, and my children proved themselves soulless by not only failing to cry when Charlotte dies, but by giggling at me when I cried.

Although I saw the original Charlotte's Web movie many times as a child, and can still hear the voices of Templeton and Wilbur in my head, I don't think I've ever read the book until now. (I did read and re-read The Trumpet of the Swan several times.) It will seem silly to point this out, but it's a very good book, isn't it? I love the exchange between Mr and Mrs Zuckerman after the first word appears in the web. He says: "A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig."

"Well," said Mrs Zuckerman, "it seems to me you're a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider."

"Oh, no," said Zuckerman. "It's the pig that's unusual. It says so, right there in the middle of the web."

The description of nature, of the changing of the seasons, of the rhythm of life on the farm, are just beautiful (and are, alas, probably why my kids thought the book was boring). But how can you not appreciate this line, about the coming of fall: "A little maple tree in the swamp heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety."

I took issue, however, with Fern. Not at first; of course at first Fern is wonderful, crying injustice to save Wilbur's life, and pushing him around in her baby buggy, and spending her days on the milkstool by the pigpen. But then Mrs Arable talks to the doctor about this odd daughter of hers, and how she claims that the animals talk to her, and although the doctor wisely notes that perhaps children can hear animals talk because they pay better attention, he also makes a prediction that comes true far too soon: that sooner or later Fern will forget about talking animals and turn to something else -- boys, for example. And that's exactly what Fern does, without skipping a beat -- she rides with Henry Fussy on the Ferris Wheel and from then on, she doesn't care one bit about Wilbur. Even when Wilbur's future looks bleak, when the big pig Uncle wins the blue ribbon, Fern just asks for money to ride the Ferris Wheel with Henry again. And when Wilbur whens the special prize at the Fair (twenty-five whole dollars!!) -- instead of rejoicing in her pig's moment of triumph, instead of celebrating that his life is saved, Fern just runs off to be with Henry. And I know that Fern has to grow up, and I know that her growing up has to be part of the story too -- but she's eight. I'm not sure why this eight-year-old girl had to grow up so callously fast, and why Henry Fussy had to be part of the equation at all.

Maybe I just object so strongly because my oldest little girl is about Fern's age, and I'm not ready for her to turn her attention to her own Henry Fussy.

Still and all -- an excellent book. I could make you cry (unless you too are soulless) by quoting the last paragraph, but instead I'll quote the one right before the end, which I think is even better:

Life in the barn was very good -- night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicous cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.


I laughed when she said it in spite of myself

"When did you and Daddy move into your first house together?" Mallory asked.

"The year 2000...we bought a house in Durham."

"Was I born yet?" she asked.

"No, not yet."

"Were you pregnant with me?"

"No, not yet," I said.

"Were you..." she paused for a minute. "Were you maybe trying the thing that would make you pregnant with me?"

"That's a personal question," I said.

"Well, I'm sorry if you were," Phoebe chimed in. "That's not pleasant for the woman."



Next to impossible: Getting all four kids to look good in one shot

Seems impossible: That these kids (plus two others!) used to look like this:


Completely impossible: Two girls getting along better than these two did for four days

Possible: That I have the best family ever

Also possible: That I'm sad that it'll be several more months before we're together again