April 29, 2014

A bit of summer

It's been a cold spring up north, so when my husband travelled south for a conference and suggested I join him for the weekend, I was happy to pack my bathing suit and shorts. Nothing beats the feel of sunshine on bare skin.

April 22, 2014

Fancy napkins

Easter comes at a difficult time of the semester, just as my classes are finishing up and I'm facing all kinds of deadlines. "It's not actually a holiday," a colleague pointed out. "We don't get any time off." 

It's true. Whereas we get an entire month off for Christmas, Easter is just part of a normal weekend. That means I don't have any extra time for little niceties like cleaning the house. My husband's April work schedule is even worse than mine, and all of our kids are on the same academic schedule that I am. So on Saturday, when I counted up the family members who would be coming to Easter dinner -- somewhere between 20 and 24, I figured -- and calculated how much time I would be spending making food, the harsh reality hit me: there was no way we could clean the house in time.

"We should have started cleaning last weekend," I announced to my husband.

He shrugged. "Let's just see what we can get done now."

But I had a better plan. I sent him off to the grocery store with a list. And by the time he returned, I was deep into my secret plan. He came into the house, carrying bags of food, and looked at me in disbelief.

"You're ironing cloth napkins?" he asked.

"Yep," I said. It was a foolproof plan. Thanks to youtube, even someone like me can become an expert on folding cloth napkins into fancy shapes. At Christmas time, Boy-in-Black found a way to fold our red napkins into Christmas tree shapes, and my extended family was so impressed with them that they talked of nothing else. All I had to do was fold some napkins into pretty shapes, and my family members would never notice the rest of the house. They are easily distracted.

And yes, the plan worked. My husband set up the folding tables, we covered them with white tablecloths, and I added the fancy napkins. I made a bunch of food, other family members brought food, and everyone exclaimed how festive the house was. Fancy napkins. It's all you need.

April 15, 2014

Lilac buds in the snow

Yesterday felt like summer. On campus, students wore sandals and shorts with their tie-dye shirts. It was the first day of Earth Week —a whole series of events leading up to Earth Day — and our small quad was filled with students, milling about and enjoying the sunshine. When I got home, I opened all the windows in the house to let in the warm air. The spring peepers are singing at long last, and by the end of the day, the lilac bushes near by back door were covered with green buds.

But then today, I drove home in a snowstorm.

April 08, 2014

April weekend

I’ve been traveling so much this semester that it felt good to stay home for a weekend. On Friday night, I went out to the movies with my husband, all of our kids, plus a bunch of extras – thirteen in all. I didn’t even know until I got to the theater what movie we were seeing: I just like to be part of the gang. I ate popcorn, listened to the whispered comments of my family members, laughed at the funny lines, and held my husband's hand. Afterwards, we stood in the theater and talked about the movie before heading out into the cold night.

Saturday afternoon, I picked up my daughter and then my mother, and we drove to Red-haired Niece’s house, high in the hills above Snowstorm City. Blonde-haired Sister and Blonde Niece greeted us as we came in. Family and friends were already filling up the kitchen, talking and laughing over plates of food, while the living room was filling up with baby shower gifts. Schoolteacher Niece will be having a baby in May, the first of the great grandchildren in the family.

The shower invitations had asked everyone to bring a children’s book instead of a card, and it was fun to see what everyone had chosen. While Schoolteacher Niece opened gift after gift, I sat on the floor and read through all the books. It’s funny how baby shower gifts come in and out of style: I didn’t even recognize some of the gifts she opened. Looking at all the baby clothes made the upcoming baby seem suddenly real. I’m going to be a great aunt.

Saturday evening my husband and I headed over to the castle, the ironic name for the little house where our oldest two kids live. We knew that Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl would be arriving to share their big news: they announced their engagement! Of course, we’ve all known they’d be getting married: we’ve all known it since practically the first day they met. But it’s nice that it’s official now. 

“No, there wasn’t a sexist proposal,” Shaggy Hair said. “It was a mutual agreement.” He finishes his Master’s degree this summer, and Smiley Girl graduates from college next month. The wedding will be next summer.

“It’ll be outdoors somewhere,” Smiley Girl said. “That’s all we’ve planned so far.”

On Sunday, I worked on a journal article I’m writing. But then I noticed that the sun was shining. When my friend Makes Bread called to see if I wanted to take a walk along the canal, I agreed right away. It was still cold enough for winter coats, but at least the snow had melted. The afternoon light through the bare trees was lovely, and the sun on my face felt warm. We walked briskly, and soon I was warm enough to unzip my coat. We passed a few families, several people on bikes, and a man walking his dog. Everyone, it seems, was eager to get out into the sunshine.

After the walk, we met some friends at a restaurant, where we enjoyed platters of Middle Eastern food. “We can actually plan these get-togethers again,” said Long Beautiful Hair. “The roads are dry. It’s spring!”

April 02, 2014


Just a few days ago, my parents and I drove out to the lake for lunch. It’s a tradition, this time of year. We go to the same restaurant we’ve always gone to. It’s right on the water, with a banquet room where my husband and I had our wedding reception thirty years ago and a big lawn where Red-haired Sister and Tie-dye Brother-in-law said their vows more than twenty years ago. The sun stayed hidden behind clouds, but the air was so warm that I left my mittens in the car. We took our usual booth by the window.

“It’s been a long winter,” my mother said as the waitress came over with menus.

The lawn that stretched down to the lake was covered in snow and ice, but enough had melted so that we could see whole bare patches of grass and earth. The lake was frozen still, but shallow pools of water shimmered on the ice, and all was quiet. The snowmobilers have put away their machines: their season is over.

It’s almost time to take the snow tires off my car. Spring is on the way.