January 31, 2007


Today is the last day of January, the last day before the never-ending, ridiculously long month of February begins. Despite wool socks and hiking boots, my feet were cold as I walked from building to building on campus, my parka buttoned against the winds and my hood pulled up for extra warmth. My feet are always cold. Even my office felt chilly, my fingers numb as I tried to type at my computer, and I couldn't wait to come home to sweatpants, down slippers, and a fire.

On a day like this, I like to look through my photos from summertime, especially the pictures of my parents' camp, where every photo shows tanned family members enjoying sunny weather. This photo shows Dandelion Niece, riding home in her Dad's boat, after swimming at one of our favorite islands. When I've been cold all day, I like to look at a photograph like that. I am remembering what it feels like spend hours on a rock that has gathered sunheat, the warmth penetrating my skin, my whole body heated through until I welcome the chill of the wind.


January 30, 2007

Facing myself

Usually on the days I work at home, I take a break by hiking in the woods behind my house or by dancing in my own kitchen to some Middle Eastern music. The knee injury has prevented me from that sort of physical exercise. I can't hike, or snowboard, or belly dance, until the ligament heals.

But I do have a digital camera. A few days ago, as a creative outlet, I decided to start playing with the camera. Stuck inside with a limited range of motion, I looked around the house for something to photograph, and realized suddenly that I was it. My own face was far more interesting than the unwashed dishes on the kitchen counter or the living room filled with musical instruments and dirty ski socks.

Since I am the person in my family who usually takes the photographs, I don't have many photographs of myself. Certainly not any close-ups. When I see myself in a photograph, I am usually a tiny head surrounded by kids, siblings, nieces and nephews.

My camera is a point-and-shoot camera with a broken flash. So I've been limited to taking photos in my daughter's bedroom, where there is enough natural light for the kind of camera I have. And the one blank wall in her room where the light falls is the wall she painted an obnoxious bright pink, so I have to switch the photos to black-and-white before I can even stand to look at them.

I don't plan to do anything with the photographs. They aren't going on my blog, since they show my face. I don't intend to show them to anyone. Some I have already deleted. And yet, it's been a valuable experiment.

Somehow, it is a jolting change of perspective to look at a photograph of my face and see that person from the outside. I look at that face, and I am able to name the feelings reflected in those eyes. I look at that face, and wonder what it would be like to be friends with that person. I look at that face, and wonder who she is. I look at that face, and wonder what her future holds.

January 28, 2007

Tattered pages

My address book had ripped pages, a broken binding, all manner of food stains, and a red flowered cover that ripped off years ago. It was so filled with cross-outs that I strained my eyes trying to send out holiday cards, and it was stuffed full of old envelopes with return addresses that I wanted to save. I'd been searching for an address book with a binding that wouldn't break and pages that lay flat so I could copy an address without holding the book open. My mother found me a book that fit my criteria exactly and gave it to me for Christmas.

Today, I was stuck on the couch with a knee injury – yes, that stupid injury which hasn't completely healed yet even though it's been a WHOLE WEEK. The house was quiet because all the kids, on this beautiful white and blue and gold winter day, were off snowboarding. Without me. Sigh. I was feeling too sorry for myself to do something like grade papers, and the knee injury at least gave me the excuse not to do housework, so I looked for another project and decided to copy all the addresses into the brand new book. The clean white pages were waiting.

Reading through the old address book brought back memories; I kept seeing the names of relatives who have died, friends who have moved away, or friends who have simply disappeared from my life. Deaths, divorces, marriages, births – all these life events were reflected in the splotched pages. I copied over only the addresses I still need, leaving old street numbers and city names to fade away in the tattered old book.

Of course, I don't use an address book as often as I used to. Most of my friends send me emails these days, or call on the telephone. But still, I feel comforted knowing where long-distance friends are located. I feel reassured printing in the address for Artist Friend, who lives faraway in the State With the Derby Where They Serve Mint Juleps, although he prefers to think of it as the State Where Real Men Drink Bourbon, and the address for Poet Woman, who has moved to the City Where They Make Cars. I like that Brooklyn Friend lives on a street that has the same name as my oldest sister. Urban Sophisticate Sister has moved so many times that she used up a whole section of my last address book – but as I wrote in her latest address, I thought fondly of her little apartment in the Big City Like No Other.

By the end of the afternoon, I had a completed address book, filled only with addresses I might reasonably need the next time I send holiday cards. I put the old address book, filled with cross-outs, stuffed with envelopes and post-it notes, in a ziplock bag and tucked it away on a shelf. I couldn't quite bring myself to put it in the trash.

January 27, 2007

Quiet evening at home

It's Saturday night, and I've got a knee injury.

My husband is gone for the weekend. He's at the monastery with his friend GreatLaugh, who just happens to be married to MonkingFriend, the friend who accompanies me when I go on to the monastery. I'm glad he's had this chance for a retreat. He'll come back rested and relaxed, and hopefully, full of patience. He's going to need all the patience he can get because a knee injury does not agree with his wife at all, and she is in a miserable mood.

By the end of the day, my leg hurts, and so I am lying on the couch. Boy in Black, home for the weekend, took sympathy on my knee injury and did some grocery shopping. Shaggy Hair Boy and Blonde Niece are taking groceries out of the bags and putting them away in what seems like a really haphazard fashion. Blonde Niece pauses to ask the crowd: "Do you think jelly is a lipid?" The whole gang has orders to clean the kitchen, but now the counter and floor are filled with bags of food, with frozen cans of juice concentrate rolling about.

Older Neighbor Boy, sitting at the table, begins playing his guitar, a simple chord progression at first. Boy in Black stops unloading the dishwasher and begins drumming on the counter. Blonde Niece, who is pouring noodles into a pot on the stove, swishes her hair to the music.

Boy in Black grabs a pair of drumsticks, and plays them on first the counter, then the table, then the oak chairs, then the bookshelf. Skater Boy, without even looking up at anyone, begins to drums on the table with his hands. Shaggy Hair Boy talks over the music, teasing Blonde Niece about the bindings on her snowboard. With-a-Why goes to the piano and begins playing. By then Boy in Black is leaning over Older Neighbor Boy and is drumming, softly, on the guitar.

They finish the song – or whatever you might call it – and switch immediately into a discussion of Xiaolon Showdown, arguing which monk has the coolest powers. Somehow, cleaning the kitchen gets abandoned in favor of a snack. The boys are eating potato bread dipped in basalmic vinegar. The conversation at the table turns suddenly serious. Blonde Niece talks about the wake she will be going to tomorrow: a sixteen-year-old boy killed in a snowmobiling accident.

With-a-Why climbs onto the couch next to me, cuddling for a moment, and then insists on making me watch the latest YouTube clip that the group has been obessed with: a young man on the piano playing the music from the Mario video. "He's nasty at the end. He plays so fast. It's so sweet." Everyone gathers around me to watch the ending, the pianist's hands just flying across the keys.

Shaggy Hair moves to the piano to start playing "Holding Out for a Hero" from the movie Footloose. With-a-Why, for no apparent reason, decides to throw pencils at him, which results in a mad chase around the house, ending only when Boy in Black tackles With-a-Why. In the midst of the noise and confusion, Blonde Niece and Skater Boy are doing some kind of homework together, muttering stuff about quadriatic equations. They question each other's answers with great tact and politeness: "What? How the fuck did you get that?"

As the night gets later, I remind the kids to gather up everything they need for snowboarding, since they will be leaving early in the morning. With-a-Why comes to snuggle against me and ask, "Can we get the sheet music for those Mario songs?"

January 26, 2007

Grey City Light

Smart Beautiful Wonderful Daughter, who is spending the semester in the City Where People Buy Fish and Chips Sprinkled with Vinegar and Wrapped in Newspaper, sent me some photographs over email. She has been gone for almost two weeks, so I was excited to see a picture of her, looking healthy and happy. And older, somehow.

My parents have a framed photograph of me that was taken when I was a college student living in European City Once Famous for Fog. In the photo, I am standing outside of the Towers Where Lots of People got Beheaded, and I am flirting with one of the guards. So my daughter sent me her imitation of that photo: she is flirting with the guard outside of the Palace Where the Royal Family Sometimes Lives. It is strange to think that my daughter is as old now as I used to be.

Seeing the photos brought back memories for me: during my semester abroad, I spent hours and hours wandering around by myself in the City Where Color is Spelled Colour. I had classes in the morning, but then my afternoons were free, and I used to just explore. I would wander into bakeries just to stand and smell the fresh bread, or flower shops just to get that moist smell of cut flowers. I'd look at the different kinds of architecture everywhere: grey stone churches, little shops tucked below stone arches, balconies and statues, carefully designed parks. I'd hurry along the grey sidewalks, staring in all directions at once, and then when my eyes were tired from so much stimulation, I would find a cosy place where I could drink afternoon tea from a smooth china cup.

I love to walk around and get the feel of a city. Each has their own personality. Big City Like No Other always seems so fast-paced to me, just being there makes me speed up and rush around like everyone else. Midwestern City With the Loser Baseball Team always seems as friendly as a small town to me. When I am in French City With Eiffel Tower I want to slow down, sit in a cafe – just eating and talking and people-watching.

During my semester in City With Great Theatres, I loved the tradition of afternoon tea, drinking hot tea and some kind of chocolate pastry, and then wandering through the streets aimlessly. Looking at my daughter's photographs made me think of those afternoons, the way the grey light shone from the buildings onto women selling flowers, the old man roasting chestnuts, and the children playing on the steps. I can just feel the damp chill of late afternoon, and remember the way the lights would go on inside buildings, as afternoon moved slowly into evening, time for me to head back to my flat and then to the local pub where I would gather with my friends for the evening.

trafalgar square

Photo taken by Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter.

January 25, 2007

Small world

Anyone who knows me in real life and has stumbled on my blog has recognized me after reading about two posts. And bloggers from Snowstorm region usually figure out pretty quickly where I am from because I am always describing the local landscape. So I am used to getting emails from people who live in my area or who know me in real life. I have only once had a blogger out me by giving someone else my real name (with, I might add, disastrous consequences), but I've outed myself through my writing any number of times. It's always interesting to watch how this process works – the ways in which people figure out who I am.

Last night I got an email from an academic blogger, someone I've never met, who teaches at Snowstorm University. She told me she reads my blog and figured out pretty quickly that Snowstorm City was indeed Snowstorm City. Then she noticed this "quiet, long-haired very smart dude" in her class and thought immediately of my son. Of course, I have never shown his face on my blog, but she figured out who he was from my descriptions of him.

I asked Boy in Black the name of his teacher, and yep, she does indeed have him in her class. Boy in Black doesn't read my blog – none of my boys do – but he has often teased me about it. So when I told him that his teacher was a blogger who read my blog, he just laughed and rolled his eyes. "That figures."

January 24, 2007

Everybody hurts sometimes

A friend of mine says that every time you get a physical injury, your IQ goes up a few points. Her theory is that having an injury forces you to do things differently, forcing you to get new perspectives and change your patterns, opening new pathways inside your brain. I thought of her theory today as I tried to negotiate our hilly campus with an injured knee. Instead of walking along in my usual fog, I had to keep stopping and planning what routes I wanted to take.

I suppose that is why I rarely take pain medication for an injury. It seems to me that pain has a function, a reason for being, something to teach me. The pain in my knee reminds me to take the elevator instead of the stairs, reminds me not to leap off a step, reminds me to take care of that leg so it can heal.

I wonder sometimes if emotional pain can make us smarter. Does the deep sadness of a loss, the sting of rejection, or the deep hurt when you've just been insulted by a close friend – does that open new pathways in the brain? Perhaps there is some kind of silver lining to emotional pain, some way of using it to learn, to grow, to change patterns for the better.

January 23, 2007

Jo(e) Athlete

I am not much for going to the doctor's office. My husband has often mocked me for being the pioneer type, something he attributes to my childhood fixation with the Little House on the Prairie books. But pressure from blog readers and family members plus two days of physical pain finally sent me to the doctor's office today. I knew nothing in my leg was broken, but it wasn't just a bad bruise either – I am used to bad bruises – and I wanted someone to tell me just exactly what was wrong with my leg, why it hurt like crazy to walk up the stairs, what I needed to do to avoid long-term damage, and most importantly, when it would be okay for me to snowboard again.

When I called the doctor who does the school physicals for my kids, the cheery triage nurse said, "Oh, I can get you in to see Dr. Sports Injury."

Well, that made me feel important. No one has ever invited me to see Dr. Sports Injury before. I have to admit, I liked the novelty of having a sports injury. I mean, the phrase sports injury conjures up this image of a highly trained, super fit athlete. It made me want to go out and buy some spandex.

I tested the new phrase out on the phone with a friend earlier today. "I'm icing my knee," I said to her importantly, "I've got a sports injury."

There was a pause. Then she said, curiously, "You got an injury from belly dancing? I didn't realize it was a contact sport."

At least she resisted the urge to laugh when I told her that I got injured getting off the chair lift.

So this afternoon, I saw Dr. Sports Injury, a sadistic young man who kept twisting my leg into different positions saying, "Does this hurt? Okay, does it hurt now?" I am guessing he got his practice from torturing siblings; he must have been a fun little brother. Like most doctors I know, he kept hesitating to give me an absolute diagnosis. I swear, I know doctors who will look at a woman who is eight months pregnant and say, "Well, there's a 95 percent chance you are pregnant." Luckily, I find it very easy to be assertive with a doctor when he is younger than me, and I got the information I needed out of him.

He said that when I twisted my leg into that horrible position, I stretched a ligament (the medial collateral ligament, to be specific) and pinched the cartilage. He kept saying, "It could be much worse. Your knees are actually in great shape for someone your age." Someone your age? I wanted to slap him but then I remembered that he spends most of his time dealing with high school athletes, rather than their mothers, so I cut him some slack and decided to take the compliment.

He finally gave me a percentage; there's a seventy percent chance the injury will just heal on its own so long as I am careful to stay off it. The other thirty percent would involve physical therapy or surgery. I am of course assuming that I will be in that seventy percent category. My gut feeling is that my leg is going to be fine.

When he asked how I treated the injury immediately after it happened, I said, "Ice, elevation, and reiki."

"The ski patrol does reiki?" he asked, impressed.

I explained that the treatment consisted of me sitting in a snowbank and doing reiki on myself. "With mittens on because it was fucking cold out." I might have left out the part about me snowboarding down the mountain on the injured limb.

I kept badgering him to help me come up with a rule of thumb so that I would know when I could snowboard again. Finally, he said, "Okay, if you can run up and down a flight of stairs without pain, you are ready to snowboard again." That made sense to me. I've had injuries far more painful than this one, so I am confident it will heal pretty fast. I'd like to get back to the slopes while all this wonderful snow is still here.

January 22, 2007

Phone call

So my daughter is in faraway European City Where the Prime Minister Sadly Isn't Really Hugh Grant, and I call her to let her know what is going on in my life. The first thing she says is: "So when you going to go the doctor's? All your blog friends think you should get that knee looked at."

Yes, she has figured out how to find free wireless and read her mother's blog.

Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter has been living in Big City Where People Have British Accents for a whole week now. I've gotten emails from her, and we've talked by instant messenger, but it was still wonderful to hear her voice. Her flat is not very far from where I lived, 25 years ago, and I can just picture the scenes she described.

She said the streets are filled with little Arab kids, just like the apartment building I lived in. Over the phone, I taught her a few words in Arabic so that she can get to know her neighbors. That is the cool part about big cities: you can learn about all kinds of other cultures without even going to those countries. Perhaps the most amazing part of the semester I spend in London was the time I spent with the women and children in my building, who were all from Saudi Arabia and who lived in London just as they would in Saudi. None of them spoke any English at all, yet they welcomed me into their flats and treated me like a sister. My first exposure to Middle Eastern music and dance happened on lazy afternoons in those flats when I was just hanging out with my Saudi neighbors.

Of course, my daughter is also doing the tourist stuff Americans are absolutely obligated to do when you arrive in a European city, like going to the Famous Square Where People take Photos of Each Other on Statues and Feed the Birds. She's taking classes, of course, and hoping to do an internship as well. So far, she said, nothing has been a challenge, the adjustment has been easy. But then again, that has been the story of her life.

Oh, and the answer to her question? Tomorrow. Unless I wake up and feel miraculously cured, I am calling Orthopedic Guy first thing in the morning.

January 21, 2007


It happened in the terrain park. My teenagers were saying to me, "Yo, Mom, you're looking wicked nasty – you oughta hit a jump. Come on, wreck this piece up." And I was feeling pretty confident today, because I'd been flying over the slopes and the conditions were right, so I headed towards the biggest jump, carving toward it as fast as I could and hitting it just right to get all kinds of air. I spun too, managing almost a full 360, before crashing to the ground, twisting my knee against the slope even as strangers around me applauded the daring move.

Well, that's the story I am telling my students tomorrow. The real story? I got injured getting off the chair lift. Yes. Possible the lamest injury in the history of snowboarding. In my defense, chair lifts are designed for skiers, not snowboarders, and the triple chair lift is especially difficult to maneuver if you are in the middle seat like I was because you've got a person on either side. Well, that is my excuse, but really, I don't know what happened. One minute I was getting off the chair lift, and seconds later, I was lying on the ground with my leg twisted in a way that it is not ever supposed to twist and my right knee throbbing in excruciating pain.

I couldn't tell how bad the injury was, so I decided to wait and see if the throbbing stopped. I sent Skater Boy and With-a-Why on without me, and then spent the next 45 minutes icing my knee in a snowbank. It sucks to get injured at the top of a mountain. All around you, happy skiers and boarders are congregating and zooming off to take a run, perfectly healthy people on strong, functioning legs. It was about 0 degrees Fahrenheit out this morning, so by the time Skater Boy and With-a-Why had come back through for a second run, my whole body was feeling pretty numb.

I was, ironically, about ten feet from the Ski Patrol shack, which is situated at the top of the mountain, and several of the Nice Skiers Dressed in Red offered to give me a ride down the mountain on their toboggan. But I was too stubborn to admit the injury could be that bad. So eventually, I got up and snowboarded down, even enjoying the run despite the pain, and then made my way to the lodge. Once I was inside and my body warmed up, the knee resumed its throbbing, and I realized that I was done for the day.

So I spent the next few hours in the lodge, eating random food, holding a bag of ice to my knee, and talking to my kids whenever they came in to get warm. Older Neighbor Boy, who is an aggressive boarder, gets injured all the time, and I tried to adopt the same cool attitude he has when he is injured. For the record, this did count as a snowboarding injury, even if I wasn't exactly snowboarding when it happened. I mean, my leg would not have twisted in that bizarre fashion if it wasn't attached to a snowboard. All right then.

Eventually, I tossed the car keys to Boy in Black, since my right leg is needed for driving. Now that I am home, warm and dry, I still can't tell how bad the injury is. I am notoriously bad at judging the severity of injuries – I once mopped a kitchen floor with a broken hand because I thought it was just a bruise, and when I broke my leg in two places several years ago, I walked out to the car rather than call an ambulance. So I've assured family members that if I am still in pain on Thursday, I will go to the doctor's. On the other hand, it's better by then, I am taking the day to go snowboarding.

ski slope

A photo of my nemesis, the evil chairlift, taken just minutes before the injury.

January 20, 2007

Breath of winter

It's been a week of change and transition. On Monday, my daughter flew to European City Where Cell Phones are called Mobiles and began her semester there. Boy in Black went back to college. Shaggy Hair Boy turned sixteen, old enough to drive a car. Neighbor Guy's father died last weekend. Poet Woman's mother died Tuesday morning. My semester began, with students arriving back on campus the same day that winter returned, with snow and ice and chilly winds.

Through this week, I've had a bad cold. Even as my body and mind have tried to adjust to the changes around me, I've felt mostly like I was underwater, caught by currents I didn't understand and moving slowly while things around me floated away. This morning, I woke up with my head clear for the first time in days. A storm had dumped six inches of snow during the night, so I put on my coat and took a walk in my woods, which had been transformed. The muddy ground had frozen and disappeared beneath glistening white, and above my head, tree branches held bits of snow up against sky.


January 19, 2007

Mourning clothes

The schools here have a standard dress code for band and choir concerts: black pants and a white dress shirt. That's the outfit my kids wear to awards ceremonies, too, and the outfits get passed down from kid to kid as the boys grow. The neighbor kids, Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy, are in our hand-me-down loop, and I've more than once made a frantic call to Neighbor Woman when I've discovered just before a school concert that With-a-Why's pants did not fit. Since a school event comes up every few months, I can usually be assured that each of my kids has a nice pair of black pants and a white shirt in the closet.

When Neighbor Guy's father died this week, I told my boys they should come to the wake. "Wear your concert clothes," I said. Then I went upstairs to find my good pair of black pants. My husband wears a suit to work so he didn't need to change.

As we walked to the car, I noticed that Shaggy Hair Boy was still wearing his sneakers. "Where are the dress shoes you wore to the concert?" I asked. "How come you aren't wearing them?"

"Boy in Black's got them on."

It turns out that Shaggy Hair's feet had caught up to Boy in Black's feet, and so they have been sharing a pair of shoes, since they never have concerts the same night. Neither kid had asked me for a new pair of shoes because they felt one pair was perfectly adequate. Luckily, Shaggy Hair's sneakers are black and looked at least appropriately somber for the occasion.

In the car, I reminded the kids about funeral etiquette. "When you go through the line, you can give Neighbor Guy and Neighbor Woman hugs," I said. "You can say something like, 'I was sorry to hear the news' or you can tell some kind of memory you have of him."

Shaggy Hair Boy looked at me in horror. "Out loud?" he asked, "We're supposed to say something out loud?"

"Of course, aloud," said my husband, "It's not into a microphone or anything. Just talk to Neighbor Family."

The boys behaved fine, of course, and their friends were glad to see them. It was a shock to see Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy in suits. How old they looked, how serious. I've known them since they were little kids, and all of a sudden, they are both taller than me.

"Their first time as pallbearers," Neighbor Woman said to me.

She and I looked over at our gang of boys, standing somberly in a circle about ten feet from the casket, all dressed up and behaving formal. Shaggy Hair Boy, his freckles faded and his hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, was talking seriously to Philosophical Boy, who stood with his hands in the pockets of his new suit. Only With-a-Why still looked like a little boy.

It's a strange thing. I mean, I am always clearing out closets, passing outgrown clothes from one child to another, and buying new sneakers for those fast-growing feet. But despite the constant shuffling of clothes, I somehow fool myself into thinking that my kids are staying the same, that things will always stay the same. But then a grandfather dies, we gather at a funeral parlor, and suddenly, I realize that our little boys have turned somehow, inexplicably, while I wasn't watching, into young men.

January 18, 2007

Snow at last

winter scene

Winter weather has returned at last to this part of the country. The ice storm earlier in the week snapped trees, sending dead scotch pines crashing down in my woods. The river birches and white pines near my house merely drooped and then sprang back into position after the ice melted a bit. The woods are quiet today, dusted with white snow, and the sky is smudged with blue as if a small child had been painting it with water colors.

January 17, 2007

When they are away

My laptop computer keeps me connected to all sorts of people. Even my friends who live in town will often send an email, since it's very hard to get me on the telephone. My extended family sends all kinds of silly messages, congratulations, and news across the family email list. My out-of-town friends and I exchange long emails, confiding in each other, discussing relationships, and figuring out the meaning of life. Artist Friend will write me a long, sensitive email and then throw in a paragraph about football just to make sure I don't think he's too sappy.

When I log onto instant messenger, I usually do not intend to talk to anyone. I just like to read the list of away messages left by my kids, my nieces, and my extras. It's comforting to know that Schoolteacher Niece is Heading to Happy Hour! TGIF! or that Skater Boy is having a good day (My beat is correct) or that Boy in Black is Just chillin'. Ask any parent who has kids in college how often they check away messages. For the record, First Extra often has the funniest away messages – although Film Guy is good at finding cool song lyrics to put up. One of Shaggy Hair Boy's friends today had an away message that read: Off to inject some heroin. I am guessing he's training his parents early not to rely on his away messages.

When my daughter was home over winter break, and she'd see me open my laptop, she would often send me an instant message – just to make me look up and smile at her across the room. It seems funny now to see her instant message icon on my computer screen, to chat with her just as if she was sitting in the room, and to realize that she is on the other side of the ocean. She's arrived safely in the Big European City with Cool Pubs Where She is Not Underage, and today she and her friends found a flat to rent, just northeast of Hide and Seek Park. Her classes begin Monday so she has a few days now to explore the city she will be living in. Her laptop computer (and a wireless signal from some pub across the street) is already providing those of us at home with a steady stream of email messages, enabling us to enjoy her adventure vicariously.

January 16, 2007

Crimes of the Hot


The weather has been peculiar this year. Sure we've had warm El Nino winters before, but season has been stranger than anything I can remember. The place where I snowboard was closed again for the third weekend in a row because it was simply too warm to even make snow. Last week when the temperature rose to record highs, I heard tree frogs. It was disturbing to hear that discordant note of spring; I don't usually hear the first peeper until the end of March. Plants and animals seem confused by the weather: buds are swelling months too early, trees have been tricked out of dormancy, and birds that should have flown south months ago are still here.

My teenagers, lulled by the warm weather, have been playing with frisbees instead of snowboards, wearing hoodies instead of winter coats, and leaving their sneakers outside on the back step to dry.

Naturally, my scientific colleagues have been discussing the weather, sorting out what can be attributed to El Nino, and graphing the more subtle changes that are global warming. Both local information (that is, anecdotal information gathered from someone like my father who has lived here for 75 years) and scientific information indicate that the climate is changing, although certainly there is some uncertainty as to what exactly that change might look like. I've seen charts that graph trends out for fifty years or five hundred. It's pretty scary.

Of course, many of us are wondering quite simply, what might happen this week. The temperatures have been dropping rapidly, an ice storm yesterday was followed by snow today, and winter is returning all of a sudden. Below freezing temperatures and snowstorms are absolutely normal, of course, but this year, many plants and animals that were lulled into thinking it was spring are going to be caught by surprise.

Note: Today's title comes from my youngest son, With-a-Why, who was sitting next to me when I wrote this blog post. He read the post and said, "Call it Crimes of the Hot. It's the Futurama episode about global warming.

January 15, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Airport photo

Last night, my daughter teased me about how tense I was. "I'm only going to be gone for four months," she said. "And we'll talk every day over the internet. And you're coming to see me in March."

She was right, of course. And yet I still felt anxious.

I reminded her of how she felt when she had to go to kindergarten. She cried at the thought of being separated from me for three hours. At the kindergarten orientation, all the kids were supposed to go into one room, and the parents into a different room, and my daughter was just too shy to leave me. She sobbed and clung to me, and she ended up coming with me into the parents' room, the only child who wouldn't go off with the other kids.

Now, of course, our roles are reversed. She has transformed into a confident, self-assured, independent woman who is not at all nervous about living overseas for a semester. And I am the one with the separation anxiety. Oh, I am excited about her taking this trip, thrilled that she has this fantastic opportunity, but it is still difficult to let her go.

Late last night, just after we had had a nice candle ceremony in front of the fire, and we were talking about all the cool things she was going to see in Famous European City, she showed me the instant message Film Guy had just sent her. "WINTER STORM WARNING. TRAVEL ADVISORY IN EFFECT." The weather experts were predicting freezing rain, sleet, an accumulation of ice.

Freezing rain can make the woods beautiful, every twig and branch coated with shining ice. But it can also shut the airport down. And my daughter needed to make her flight out of Snowstorm City Airport so that she could get to Big City Like No Other in time for her overseas flight.

It turns out that the one thing that can make me more anxious than the thought of my daughter leaving is the thought that she might not be able to leave. So my separation anxiety disappeared over the more familiar worrying about the weather here in Snowstorm Region. And worrying about weather? We are used to that here. I slept fine last night.

I did wake up this morning to the sound of rain and sleet, which had turned the trees outside into drooping ice sculptures and the roads into slick surfaces. But my daughter had given herself seven hours of extra time in Big City Like No Other Airport, just in case something like this happened, and an hour delay would make no difference.

So she said goodbye to her sleepy brothers and listened to their last minute advice ("Don't let anyone know you're American," said Boy in Black, "Pretend you're Canadian. Everyone likes Canadians."). She'd said goodbye to my parents on Friday night, when my mother had her over for dinner, but we stopped on the way to the airport so she could say goodbye to her other grandmother. Then at the airport, she checked her luggage, hugged both my husband and me, and stepped into the security line. We stood and watched while she made her way through the line, gathered her things, and put her shoes and coat back on. Then she turned to wave goodbye one last time and disappeared around the corner.

January 13, 2007


It's a quiet evening at home. A fire crackles in the fireplace. I am sitting in the comfy chair, jumping up every time we need another log. My husband has gone to run some errands and bring back food. My Wonderful Beautiful Smart Daughter is sitting on the couch, with her three brothers and Skater Boy piled around her. Boy in Black is leaning against her shoulder, his head snuggled against hers, his long hair in his eyes; Shaggy Hair Boy, leaning on her other shoulder, is playing with her cell phone, which he gets to use during the next four months while she is overseas.

Music is playing from one of the laptops; they are joking and laughing. The ringtone on my daughter's phone has long been Shaggy Hair Boy's voice saying, over and over again, in an obnoxious way, "Are you there? Pick up the phone! Are you there? Pick up the phone!" My daughter is saying that she might actually miss that voice. Boy in Black does not even look up as he talks to his sister; he makes jokes in his sleepy, deep voice and his long arm stretches lazily across to pet the cat that is sleeping on Skater Boy's lap, but his body leans against her, even though she is about half his size. With-a-Why, perched on the arm of the couch, exchanges insults with Boy in Black.

We've got nothing special planned for the night, just the same familiar routine of hanging out in the living area, talking and doing nothing in particular. First Extra is on his way over. Blonde Niece already said her goodbye to her cousin before going off to visit her sisters this weekend. My husband returned from his errands to find that all spots near Beautiful Wonderful Smart Daughter were taken, so he squeezed onto the end of the couch by shifting With-a-Why. The boys are planning a late-night Ultimate Frisbee game with their new glow-in-the-dark frisbee. Philosophical Boy and Older Neighbor Boy are coming over, so it is likely we will have music.

Upstairs, in my daughter's tiny bedroom, are neat piles of folded clothing, everything she is planning to pack for her trip. Tomorrow, she will fit it all into the two suitcases we gave her for Christmas. And tonight, even while we are gathered near the fire, talking and laughing and listening to music, we are all thinking about that airline ticket, those suitcases, the goodbyes that none of us know how to say.

January 12, 2007

Safely sleeping


I've always thought that in many ways, pregnancy is the easiest stage of parenting. You don't have to worry where your child is or who she is with or who will be driving or whether or not there will be drinking. She's safely tucked inside your body, where you can feel her every kick, her every move. Sure, there are disadvantages to parenting a child you can't see yet, including the way she might kick at your bladder or keep you awake at night with acrobatics, but there is also that wonderful security of having her safe inside of you at all times. Once that baby is born, well, she grows quickly. Parenting is just a series of letting go, of allowing your child to grow up and become that independent, confident adult that, deep down, you want her to be.

I've enjoyed having my college kids home for the last month. Even in the early morning, when the house is quiet and I am just downstairs working on my computer, I love knowing that all my kids are safely sleeping here at home. Of course, even in their sleep, teenagers can be annoying: I was startled the first morning I was home to hear a deep voice coming out of the bedroom saying, repeatedly, "Boy in Black, wake the fuck up!" When I finally went into the room, wondering why Boy in Black had this need to talk to himself in an obnoxiously loud voice, I saw that he was sound asleep. What I was hearing was the message he'd put on his cell phone alarm. He sets his cell phone alarm to go off every ten minutes and then he ignores it for hours and hours every morning. After that first morning, he did change the message to some kind of ringtone, which was only slightly less obnoxious.

For the last two years, while my daughter has been at college, With-a-Why has been sleeping in my daughter's bed instead of the boys' room: he goes to bed earlier than his brothers and her bedroom gives us a quiet place for putting him to bed. So when my daughter is ready for bed, she has to move him over and make room for herself. He is growing fast, so the bed is beginning to get crowded, and soon enough, he'll be a teenager staying up late in the boys' room. But right now, for just a brief time longer, he is still a little boy who can snuggle with his big sister.

When my kids were little, I used to sometimes wake up during the night and check on them. It's amazing how a few hours of sleep can erase the memory of a terrible meltdown or an annoying squabble or the obnoxious repetition of a child singing a Disney tune loudly. In the moonlight, with their eyes closed, the long black lashes draped against pale skin, my kids always seemed at their most lovable.

I can remember the months after September 11, 2001, when none of us could erase the image of the Twin Towers imploding, again and again. My kids slept together in one room, huddled together for safety like a litter of kittens, clinging to one another in that time of horrible nightmares and daytime anxiety.

Now that the kids are older, they often go to sleep later than me. It's morning, with sun pouring in the east windows, when I walk around to check on them. Often bodies are strewn all over the boys' room (or on weekends, down in the living room). My kids and extras are kind of casual about where they sleep; each kid just grabs a blanket and pillow and rolls up on the floor. I have to peer at the hair to figure out which kid is which. Blonde Niece is the easiest to identify because she's got all that blonde hair.

This morning was the last morning of break, my last quiet morning to work in a house with all my sleeping children safely gathered around me. We've got a busy weekend, and then my Wonderful Beautiful Daughter flies to Big European City with a Famous Bridge. Boy in Black and his friends return to college. It will be May before I have all my children gathered safely in this house again.

January 11, 2007

The Wikipedia Game

During the month that all the college students have been home, my living room has been filled with laptop computers, usually set carefully on the oak bench that we use as a coffee table. Sometimes a bunch of kids might be piled on the couch, watching an episode of Futurama on one of the laptops. Other times, they might all be gathered around a laptop puzzling over Weff Riddles. Updates from friends at other houses will come in the form of instant messages. "Philosophical Boy and Older Neighbor Boy are coming over," Boy in Black will announce as he glances at his computer screen.

Skater Boy recently began a new craze called the Wikipedia Game. He'll grab a laptop and challenge someone else on a different laptop. Both people go to Wikipedia and start in the same spot. I think the day he started the game, Shaggy Hair was working on his chemistry homework and so "Chemical Sources" is traditionally the place where they begin. Then someone calls out a word or term or person, like "Bob Dylan," and they race to see who can get there first. The rule is you can't type anything; you can only click on links. And you can't go backwards.

It's a surprisingly fascinating game. I raced Boy in Black the other night, and I got stuck for a long time in medieval weapons. We were racing from "Chemical Sources" to "Thor's Hammer." I lost the game, but I have to say it's the most random information I've read in a long time. And it's cool to see that no matter what two terms someone yells out, everything ultimately can be connected.

January 10, 2007

When the morning comes, we will step outside

view from front door

Here is perhaps the laziest photo I've ever taken for my blog readers. I took this picture this morning from my front porch. I stepped out wearing socks, not even bothering to put on my boots – or pants, for that matter – and snapped it quickly before ducking back into the warm house, where breakfast and a fireplace awaited me.

The weather here has been ridiculously and unseasonably warm; the ski centers were closed last weekend because we simply didn't have enough snow. No snow in Snowstorm Region! That is just wrong. I've barely even used my mittens so far this year, no less my snowboard. So I was thrilled this morning to wake up to a snowstorm, to look out and see the grass and trees all covered with white, to have winter return to this part of the country.

Fresh snow in the early morning turns my landscape into a monochrome. Drifts of white cover the ground, smoothing out any sharp edges, even the tree branches are puffed with snow, and the light turns everything grey or black. It's a muffled world without edges, without colour or noise.

Later in the day, the sun will rise higher, and the sky might turn a deep blue. The pine trees will show their green colour, the tree trunks will look brown, and subtle reddish tints will appear on the barberry bushes. The wind might stir the branches of the scotch pines, making that creaking noise, and dogs will go by with their owners, barking.

But early in the morning, my world is grey and white and soft. Simple.

I've been asking members of the household to give me titles for blog posts, and this one comes from Film Guy, who took it from the lyrics to a Midlake song.

January 09, 2007

Airline Ticket

It came today, delivered by a woman driving a FedEx truck. My daughter ran to the door eagerly to sign for the envelope; she'd been watching for the truck all day. Film Guy, who lives only a few miles away and who is going abroad through the same program, had just sent a text message to say his ticket had arrived, so we were looking out the window when the truck came.

My Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter has been looking forward to this semester since she began college. She has her passport and a converter for her laptop and a suitcase for the clothes she will bring. She's lived her whole life in Train Track Village, insulated by a close family and loving friends, she's spent two years of college in nearby Snowstorm City – and now she is ready to see more of the world. She leaves on Monday.

I know just how she feels. Twenty-five years ago during my junior year in college, I too spent a semester in the British City with Cathedrals and Theatres and the Houses of Parliament. I still look back at those four months as an amazing and wonderful time in my life, weeks of discovery and growth. I can close my eyes and remember exactly the smell of the fish and chips place around the corner, I can hear the muttered Arabic greetings I would get in the lobby of the building I lived in, I can feel the rattle of the trains we rode every day. As Hemingway noted, when you fall in love with a city at an impressionable age, you carry that city inside you for the rest of your life.

January 08, 2007


We came in from the winter cold, slowly shedding our outer layer of clothes, tossing down coats, purses, sweatshirts, and boots. The big room filled quickly with chatter and laughter as we found our spots and stretched our muscles. After a hiatus for the holidays, it felt good to return tonight to belly dancing class.

At the beginning of the class, we worked each muscle, moving through the drills one body part at a time, much like a good masseuse might slowly work her way from head to toe, releasing knots of tension, creating a melting sort of warmth that spreads gradually to your whole self. We stretched our necks, rolling our heads, then worked on shoulder pops, then chest slides, then body undulations. We practiced snake arms, leading with the elbows, rolling the shoulders, letting each finger make its own movement as our arms slithered through the air. Learning to belly dance means learning to isolate one muscle while holding the others still; it means an intimacy with your body, an awareness, an awakening.

A couple of women were new to the class, and I could tell they felt self-conscious as we moved our hips in a figure eight pattern, as we began to shimmy. But somehow the rhythmic music and sparkly energy from the other women soothed their nervousness. As we practiced the up-hip, rotating as we did so, all twenty women – different ages, different sizes – turned at the same time, all moving their hips to the same beat, as if we were one entity.

By the end of the hour, my muscles felt loosed and relaxed, my hips and shoulders following the drum beat without thought. The air seemed to get thicker as we danced, and we were all moving as if underwater, slowly pushing that thickness up and down, our knees always bent so that we could weave our hips, our pelvises, our bellies. Even my toes and fingers felt warm and tingly, my whole self awake, as class came to an end, and I began putting layers of clothing back on for the ride home.

January 07, 2007

Sailing away


When we first met Sailor Boy, he was a skinny kid with freckles and short curly hair. He was the first of our extras to grow his hair long, beginning a trend that first Shaggy Hair, and then eventually all of my boys adopted. (Despite the many photos of long-haired teenage boys on my blog, long hair for boys is not the norm in this part of the country. Not at all.) Sailor Boy's easy-going personality and scientific mind made him a good fit for our household. He's played Monster here and stayed up late playing computer games with the other boys; he's come to camp with us – and posed for hair photos.

Sailor Boy went to school with my daughter; we've known him since seventh grade. He comes by his pseudonym honestly; he is an experienced sailor who races Hobie Cats. Even after my daughter went to college, she kept in touch with Sailor Boy, and they've been dating since last May. The photograph above shows them deep in talk up at camp Memorial Day weekend.

Today we say goodbye to Sailor Boy. He will leave in the morning to begin his career in the Coast Guard. Leaving behind his friends, his family, and even his laptop computer, he will fly to a southern city alone to begin basic training. By tomorrow at this time, his long hair will be shaved off.

January 06, 2007

The seasons they go round and round

I've written about Pretty Colour Lakes State Park on my blog so many times that when a blogging friend was in town yesterday, it seemed entirely appropriate to take him there for a walk.

Normally in January, we'd be putting on snowshoes or cross-country skis to follow the trail around the lake. But the weather has been unseasonably warm. We didn't even need mittens or hats, and I wore my winter coat mostly out of habit. Our conversation began, of course, with some depressing thoughts of global warming as we followed the cedar-lined trail. In keeping with that mood, the lake was not showing off its lovely deep green colour, but the darker blue grey that it looks on cloudy days with a wind.

Of course, this was not my friend's first time at Pretty Colour Lakes. He grew up here in Snowstorm Region, and he can remember taking swimming lessons at the lake. Although we met through blogging, he and I went to the same elementary school, the same high school. We are practically related.

We circled both lakes, talking intently. Since Practically Related and I have kids the same age, our conversation soon shifted to parenting, the joys and frustrations of raising teenagers. These kind of conversations usually lead to the eternal questions parents of teens ask each other. How come our kids can't learn from our mistakes? Why must they do the same stupid things we did? How is it they don't see how cool and progressive their parents are?

Over lunch we talked about writing and blogging, about work and family, about finding a balance in life. We've both made choices that give us time to spend with our kids and spouses, time for reading and writing, time for hikes and picnics and friendship. The restaurant we ate in was still decorated for Christmas, with white lights and fake pine boughs, and we sat for a few minutes even after we were done with our veggie burgers, talking about the twists and turns our lives had taken, and how lucky we were.

January 05, 2007

Cradle and all

Recently, my kids unearthed an old videotape I had forgotten about. A friend had lent me her camcorder the week With-a-Why was born, saying, "Take some footage of him while he's a newborn. You know how fast they grow." I didn't know enough to take good close-ups, so With-a-Why mostly looks like a generic newborn, bundled in a receiving blanket, but the tape is a fascinating glimpse at what life in our household was like twelve years ago.

In one scene, you see Shaggy Hair Boy, a cute three-year-old with short hair and freckles, rollerblading in the kitchen with a neighbor kid. Our kitchen was tiny, but they just keep going back and forth, from the stove, past the refrigerator, and into the laundry room and back, both unsteady on their feet but moving as fast as they could. At some point, my daughter, who was all of eight years old, wanders into the scene, clutching a rag doll with one arm and gesturing with the other, oblivious to the boys speeding past her. When she stops to talk to the camera, you realize that the doll she is holding is actually a newborn baby.

In another scene, six-year-old Boy in Black and three-year-old Shaggy Hair are sitting on the living room floor playing with Power Rangers action figures. They begin hitting a shoe with the figures, shouting "Attack the shoe! Attack the shoe!" I don't remember what the shoe had done to offend them; in fact, I think I've blocked out this whole violent stage of their development. Minutes later, they are tossing a container of margerine around in the kitchen, just over the head of the sleeping baby.

Later in the tape, Boy in Black rushes into the living room, wearing a black cape and singing the Batman theme song. Shaggy Hair sits on the couch giggling at his brother. The camera focuses on Boy in Black, who whips out a plastic sword and begins swinging it wildly, and perhaps a bit dangerously. Suddenly, we hear a loud scream from the couch and a gasp from the person holding the camcorder.

The tape does include endearing shots of all the kids holding the baby. Well, they would be endearing if you didn't feel so afraid for the baby. Hey look, the three-year-old is in charge of the baby now. Watch him smack, I mean pat, that baby head. Then there is a famous clip of my daughter, bouncing the baby around so that his little head bobs on its weak baby neck as she sings the song, "Celebrate." (Twelve years later, my daughter could barely stand to watch this part: she says it looks way too much like those educational tapes about Shaken Baby Syndrome.)

In another scene, Boy in Black, who was a skinny little six-year-old at the time, is demonstrating some kind of martial arts moves that he is clearly just making up. He's yelling things like, "Heya" as he kicks and karate chops, his little arms and legs flailing. Every few minutes or so he tumbles onto the floor, rolling and kicking, before bouncing back onto his feet again. The camera pans out to show the baby lying on the floor next to him. I can remember reading somewhere once that the safest place to set a baby is on the floor, where he can't roll off anything, but clearly that advice was meant a quieter household than mine.

When I watched the tape, I kept thinking, "Where was I during this?" In fact, where was any responsible adult? The tape makes it look like this bunch of little kids are taking care of this newborn baby all on their own.

Then it occurred to me. I was the person holding the camcorder. Clearly, I was too sleep-deprived to notice minor details, like the way the kids were passing the baby back and forth. The camcorder we borrowed had a imprinted the date onto the film so there is no mistaking the age of the infant in these scenes.

He is one day old.

We are saving the tape for With-a-Why to bring to therapy some day.

January 04, 2007


I don't like competitions, and my kids, for the most part, avoid them. But I agreed with With-a-Why's piano teacher that playing the piano in front of judges might be a good experience for a child so shy. He would like getting a ribbon, and a competition would give him a deadline for learning some new songs. Besides, it's hard to say no to his teacher, who is one of the few adults that my painfully shy child will talk to.

The competition wouldn't take much time. Each kid gets a time slot, and he just has to show up, play his two songs in front of the judges, and then leave. The teacher gives him the judges' feedback and the ribbon at his next lesson, so the competitive aspect is low-key. Because it wasn't a recital, I figured there was no reason for With-a-Why to dress up, so we didn't even have to go through the usual last-minute crisis of wondering if his dress pants still fit him.

We ended up with a late-day time slot on the day of the piano competition. The judges were running behind, and the usually empty studio was filled with kids and parents. I was surprised at how dressed up the kids were. With-a-Why, with his black band shirt, black hoodie, and long hair hanging in his eyes, looked out-of-place amongst cleancut boys in crisp dress shirts and girls in fancy dresses. He was by far the shyest kid in the room, looking only at the floor as we waited for his turn. His dark, uncombed hair hid most of his face.

I admit I felt a pang of parental guilt. Should I have made him dress up? Or at least suggested that option to him? Maybe I should have combed his hair. Or made sure his shirt was clean. How come I never even think of these things?

Then I came to my senses. The judges were supposed to be paying attention to the music, not the clothing. I can't think that a dress shirt and tie would help a kid play the piano any better.

Through the glass wall, we could hear each kid play the piano when it was his turn. Some of the parents seemed nervous about the competition, and as I listened, I could hear why. I know almost nothing about music but even I know you aren't supposed to stop awkwardly in the middle of a song. Most of the songs the kids played seemed pretty simple, their fingers picking out some kind of melody, one note at a time. What's nice is that all the parents were quick to say supportive things to each child, no matter how badly he had played. Many of the kids gave big smiles and bows after their performances, and they seemed to be enjoying the whole thing, and I figured that was the most important thing.

When it was With-a-Why's turn, he walked in without even looking at the judges. Because I was shy myself at that age, I knew just how terrifying this next part would be. He said the name of his piece without looking up. The judges had to lean forward to hear his words. He answered a question or two – his name, his age, that sort of thing – and then walked over to the piano without even shaking the hair out of his face. Other parents gave me sympathetic looks. I breathed a sigh of relief. The difficult part was over.

Next came the easy part. With-a-Why sat down at the piano. As soon as his hands touched the keys, his entire posture changed. He seemed to forget the judges, whom he'd never looked at anyhow, or the parents staring through the glass wall. Gone was the shy child with the slouch. He was completely poised and confident as his hands moved rapidly across the keys. His fingers seemed to fly. As the music – a fast, complicated jazz piece – filled the room, the other parents looked over at me with surprise.

Yeah, he is shy and his mother doesn't know enough to make him dress up, but this kid can really play the piano.

January 03, 2007

If you give a mouse a cookie

It began with the carpet. Know how carpet salespeople talk about high-traffic areas of your house? Our entire house is a high traffic area. The living room carpet has been trampled on, danced on, rollerbladed on. It's been used to demonstrate snowboard moves and skateboard tricks. It's been peed on by cats and burned by sparks from the fireplace. Even though we cleverly chose carpet the color of mud, years of spills have taken their toll and even the brown is showing stains. The only part of the carpet that looks even remotely like carpeting was the part under the couch.

It was time for a new carpet.

But is it ever possible to do a single home improvement project without getting sucked into three more?

It was my husband's fault. Or perhaps, I should say, his brilliant idea. Last night, we all worked together to move everything out of the living room. The drum set, guitars, and amps got piled into my bedroom. The orange tree got shoved into my office, where it most certainly does not fit. The couch and comfy chair got piled into the kitchen area, after we moved the table and put all the kitchen chairs up in the boys' bedroom. The piano got rolled away from the wall. My daughter and I ripped up the carpet, yanking it from the floor and wrapping it into one big roll. Then, in a move which reminded me of a scene from the The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, an effort that took six of us, we shoved the whole thing out the front door.

That's when my husband looked around and said, "Hey, so long as the room is empty, maybe we should paint the walls."

Easy for him to say. He conveniently had to work today, and the younger boys were in school. Boy in Black and First Extra had other plans. But Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter and I decided that we could do the whole project in a day and have the room painted before the new carpet arrived tomorrow morning.

So that is all we did today. We took down curtains. We pulled up staples from the old carpeting. We spackled. We sanded. We painted.

We did nothing but slave away at this project all day. Well, maybe we took the time to go out to lunch with my parents, driving out to a nice restaurant on the lake. And perhaps we took breaks for eating and talking and writing the occasional email. I may have looked at a blog or two. But mostly, we worked together in the echoing room, congratulating ourselves as scratches, black marks, and strange stains disappeared under a new coat of cream paint. By sunset, the room looked brand new.

That's when we noticed that the kitchen area could use a little paint ....

painting at sunset

January 02, 2007

The lion, the bitch, and the wardrobe

My wardrobe does not have a lot of variety. I wear the same clothes over and over again. Jeans, of course, and a brown shirt, a red shirt, a coral-colored shirt, and oh, yeah, another brown shirt. Anyone who reads my blog knows what items of clothing I have purchased in the last two years because I have blogged every shopping trip, on the theory that painful experiences often lead to great writing; it adds up to three pairs of jeans, one pair of black pants, and one red sweater.

Why then was my closet so filled with clothing that the shirts were all jammed together and it was hard to pull one out?

I could argue that it's because my bedroom is small, with no room for a chest of drawers, which means that every single t-shirt and pair of jeans gets hung in the closet. I could argue that it's because I have to share the closet with my husband, who has a million cheap t-shirts he's gotten from charity fund-raising efforts. I could argue that it has to do with the climate I live in, so that I have summer clothes and warm winter clothes and everything in between all hanging in my closet all at once. I am far too lazy to pack up clothes and put them away every season. Those thing are all true, but the real problem is simply this: I am a pack rat. It's hard for me to part with an item of clothing. I'll look at that shirt I wore back in 1986, the year my daughter was born, and I'll remember what a nice color it used to be, and how comfy and convenient it was for breastfeeding, and how disloyal would I have to be to turn it away now just because it's all stretched out and faded and two sizes too big?

I am no good at cleaning out my half of the closet. No matter which item of clothing I look at, I can think of a time when it might come in handy. What if I am painting the living room? What if I am gardening in the rain? What if I decide to be Andy Gibb for Halloween? I hung onto some of my favorite maternity clothes for years after my husband had a vasectomy. Well, you just never know.

I have inherited pack rat tendencies from an aunt on my mother's side of the family, which means, for instance, I will happily take bags of hand-me-down clothes from sisters and hang onto them forever – but I am also like my father's mother. I don't like clutter. Yes, that is a bad combination of traits to inherit, enough to make a person crazy. I hate a crowded closet, and yet I cannot bear to get rid of those shirts I wore back in 1988, the ones I bought at that great garage sale.

So yesterday, I cleaned my closet the only way that would work: I made a deal with the devil. I told my daughter that if she helped, she could make all the decisions about my clothes. I would try on every item of clothing in my closet, and she would tell me if I could keep it – or she could put the item in the bag for the Rescue Mission. She would have the ultimate say. I knew she would jump at the chance. She is a woman who loves power.

So that's what we did. I tried on every single item of clothing I own (well, she drew the line at lingerie) and modeled it for my daughter. Then she made the call.

Half the time, she didn't have to even say anything. I'd pull on a shirt or baggy pair of pants, and she'd be rolling on the bed laughing. I kept trying to defend my clothing. I had a whole bunch of shirts and pants that were a size too big, clothes that always came in handy right after I'd just had a baby. I figured I should hang onto them in case I ever gained any weight and needed some faded, stained, out-of-style clothes. But my daughter thought differently. She was ruthless.

"What about this pair of black pants?" I'd say, "Shouldn't I keep them?"

"Why? I already let you keep two pairs of black pants that actually fit you. Those are baggy. And shapeless. And kind of ugly. Why would you keep them?"

"What if I have to go to a funeral? What if I get fat and someone dies?"

"If you wear those, I'm sure your dead friend will be rolling in her grave. She'd probably rather you go naked."

She would grab the pants from me and stick them into the bag while I was still talking. I'd try on a lovely turtleneck sweater, one that I have never actually worn.

"Get rid of it. You don't wear turtlenecks."

"But it looks good on me."

"Yeah, but you don't wear turtlenecks. They make you feel claustrophobic."

"Yeah, but it's a perfectly good sweater. It fits me."

"But you would never wear it."

"Well, yeah, that's because I don't wear turtlenecks."

"Exactly! That's what I'm saying! If you're not gonna wear it, I'm not letting you keep it."

She kept using that logic over and over again. Why keep clothes that you intend never to wear? After a while, I gave up. I'd put a shirt on, look in the mirror, and then strip it off and throw it over to my daughter before she even said a word. She eliminated about half the clothes hanging in my closet. And we had three garbage bags of clothes to take to the Rescue Mission.

Of course, the best part was getting to spend time alone with my daughter. One of my sons would try barging into the bedroom, and she'd yell, "Mom's got no pants on!" Nothing gets rid of a teenage boy faster than the prospect of seeing his mother in her underwear. So we had time to ourselves, drinking juice and eating snacks, while I pulled cherished clothes over my head and she screamed in horror. "Good God. You paid money for that?"

January 01, 2007

Quiet beginning

Round Lake

While the teenagers in the house were still sleeping this morning, my husband and I decided to sneak out of the house for some time to ourselves. We began the year with a quiet hike around Pretty Colour Lakes. It's been unseasonably warm, ridiculously warm really, and we didn't even need mittens as we walked the trails. The lakes aren't frozen yet, and the trails, normally filled with cross-country skiers this time of year, were muddy. We took advantage of the warmth to find a bench in the sun where we could sit and talk about the year that has just passed and our hopes for the year to come.