With A Away

For a while it made me feel mighty. Packing everybody up on work and school mornings, in charge of every sock and toothbrush and lunch bag and favorite lovey. Or muscling us all back into the house after a trip to the grocery store, a toddler flailing under one arm and a week’s worth of groceries slung over the other. In private, I practiced my barbaric maternal roar. I can do this! By myself!

Then I got lonely. I require a lot of solitude, but by five weeks in I’d had my fill. I seized opportunities for conversation, chatting up store clerks and random strangers at the Y, and demanding the attention of friends: Don’t leave! Stay here and talk to me!

I noticed for sale signs on large houses and imagined buying one to start a commune in. Instead of fantasizing as usual about clean, empty hotel rooms where I could curl up with a novel, I thought about populating those big spaces with people who would become a family, cooking and gardening together and keeping each other company.

And now—just less than two weeks from the end—I’m starting, ever so slightly, to lose it. This has a lot to do with our new morning routine, done the past three days:

1. At 5:30, if not earlier, Iris wakes up.

2. I bring her into bed with me to nurse, hoping she’ll fall back asleep as usual.

3. Halfway through the nursing, Ingrid comes in and snuggles up next to me.

4. Iris finishes nursing and, though she seemed plenty sleepy a second ago, is so thrilled to see her big sister, she’s now all set to get up and play.

5. Ingrid doesn’t want to get up.

6. But she doesn’t want to stay there by herself. She wants me to stay with her.

7. Which I’d love to do.

8. But I can’t because Iris is trying to wrestle me out of bed by clocking me on the jaw with her forehead.

9. Ingrid has a huge tantrum about wanting me to stay in bed with her.

10. I finally drag myself out of bed to get away from the screaming.

11. I take Iris with me to the bathroom, and she starts crying because she doesn’t want to leave Ingrid.

12. As I pee and brush my teeth, Ingrid joins us in the bathroom, still crying, and they both wail until I'm ready to head downstairs for breakfast. Bathrooms: they have awesome acoustical properties.

It’s a super way to start the day. And then the past two mornings there've also been twenty-minute tantrums over getting dressed, because Ingrid Wants To Wear The Sparkly Socks (for the third day in a row) and Wants To Wear A Skirt (so you can see the sparkles) Even Though It Is Really Really Cold Outside, Too Cold For March In My Opinion. And Also That Shirt That She Believes Looks Beautiful With That Skirt, Even Though It Clashes And She Wore It Yesterday AND The Day Before And It is Covered With Play Dough and Avocado. Not To Mention It Has a Pumpkin On It and It Is MARCH.

This morning I had to turn on Willie Nelson’s Stardust just to remind myself there is beauty and love in the world.

Willie Nelson! At eleven thirty in the morning!

Good thing they're so cute. Good thing we've only got 12 more days.


Word Fog

(Melissa nailed it: grapefruit. If I asked you to guess the age, would you say three months? You'd be right. Thanks for playing.)

I typed a representative sample of the stuff I say over and over and over into Wordle, and here's what I got. Sheesh. I need to calm down and take off my watch for a week or two.

And then I put my blog url in. First reaction: Oh, crap, I spelled fuchsia wrong. Second reaction: What is it with me and time?


Can you guess what it is?

I know I promised no more compost photos for a while, but I love the texture and weight of this. And besides, I found it—ahem—in my fridge like this. The compost bin is just where it happened to end up.


Mittens for My Favorite Almost-4-Year-Old

A tiny bit of thumb weirdness aside, the mittens were much, much easier to knit than I thought they'd be. Quick, even.

I made the "Small" size, thinking it would work for a smallish adult, but it turned out they really meant small, so I ended up shortening the pattern a bit to make them fit Ingrid. They're pretty long on her, but that's good. It'll keep the snow out of her coat.

Unsurprisingly, she says they're too itchy. I'm thinking of lining them with some soft fleece so that she'll wear them.

Next up: socks. Ana set me up with a pattern. I may go blind from using the world's skinniest yarn and size 2 needles, but hopefully I'll also end up with something colorful to keep my feet toasty next winter.


Surprise Equinox

Spring is a marvelous time for the faithless.

You believers know all winter long that one day the snow will melt and we’ll all voluntarily hang around outdoors without our coats. You picture the tulip bulbs hoarding their little lives under the frozen ground, and you’re sure that in a few months you’ll see those first bright leaves push their way up.

Me, I picture sunken patches in the soil under the snow. The squirrels, I’m certain, dug those bulbs up and ate them in October. Not that it will ever again be warm enough for plants to grow, anyway.

Oh, I put on a good show. I talk all January about my “garden plan” and remind the kids that when summer comes we won’t even have to wear socks. But deep, deep in my heart, every winter, I know it’s impossible for spring to come. So far from the leafy green world of summer, warm air seems like a fable.

So this week astonished me. The snow—except for a few filthy patches of crust—is gone. The sidewalks are dry. The park across the street is screaming with kids. We played in the backyard for half the morning. We raked mulch off the flower beds and found green, living leaves. Ingrid drew a giant yellow fire truck on the walkway with chalk. Iris ate rocks. We saw that the peach tree the grandmas bought in honor of Iris’s birth—which we worried about in the twenty-below-zero but never did manage to cover up with an old blanket—has buds on every single one of its little branches. What a miracle.

If green leaves started popping out on the trees, I'd probably faint with delight. Too bad that'll never happen.



I vaguely remember taking this picture a few months ago and deciding not to post it. I don't know what that stuff is. Something caramelized—maybe broth that boiled over? I decided not to use it because I was ashamed of the surrounding mess. You know, that...stuff in the center of the burner, and ew....what is that?

But lately I've been coming across a lot of blogs that are just too lovely. You know, the perfect photos of perfectly decorated perfect topped with perfect. Mostly, I don't recognize my world in them. What are we doing here, women writing on the internet about domestic life? Are we revolutionizing how we think of ourselves and one another by communicating about the realities of our lives? Or are we clambering over one another to create the latest incarnation of the unreachable ideal?

Forget shame about stovetop crumbs. It's my duty as a woman of conviction, as a feminist, as a citizen, to give you this version of where the beauty lies.

Check out that color, people! The COLOR!



One time I peed my pants.

It was December 1994. I was in Kathmandu. I’d spent the past month in the mountains in western Nepal, a long bus ride from the capital to a lowland town, then a short flight to a mountain village, then a three-day hike to the cluster of huts where I hung out for those weeks, chilled, often homesick, usually lost, and mostly unsuccessful in the little research project I’d made up for myself. I slept in a sleeping bag on a mat on a clammy dirt floor. I ate with the village family who was kind enough to host me: rice, lentils, potatoes. I daydreamed about cheese.

I returned to Kathmandu on an overnight bus. It was 12 hours across the hot lowlands. I tried to sleep with my head against the half-open window, and ended up with a pounding headache from the wind and the bumps and vibrations of the bus. I was grubby from weeks without enough water to really get clean, wearing the same clothes I’d worn, unwashed, for most of the trip, and wiry from all those days walking. The bus arrived in the city just after sunrise, and I went straight to a favorite student hangout, a breakfast joint, and devoured a plate of pancakes and a pot of coffee.

I planned to spend the next week staying in a guest house, writing up my research report on a borrowed computer. I was ready to check in and head to my room for a long shower, but on my way I stopped at a little grocery store to pick up some food for those days.

It was a grocery store by 1994 Kathmandu standards, which is to say about an eighth the size of your average American gas station convenience store, and with basic (though, in that context, exotic) merchandise: bread, jam, peanut butter, candy, cheeses. You could buy produce and meat easily in the outdoor markets; these were prepared foods, provisions for the backpacks of trekkers and snacks for the pockets of tourists wanting something a bit like home.

I walked into that store with my filthy green backpack over one shoulder. I picked up a red plastic shopping basket and stopped in front of the first set of shelves, stacked with Snickers and Smarties and Mars bars and all varieties of Cadbury’s chocolates. And suddenly there was something warm and wet running down my leg, soaking my thick cotton kurta and eventually my raunchy wool sock as well.

At the time I couldn’t figure out why it happened. I even went, a day later, to a clinic to find out whether I had some sort of infection. The doctor told me I’d probably just drunk too much coffee.

Now it's obvious: I was in sensory overload; more specifically, luxury overload. For those weeks, I’d been isolated, hungry, and away from almost everything I knew as comfortable. And then there I was, beholding three hundred chocolate bars. What could I do but fill my hiking boot with urine?

When what I have doesn’t seem like enough, I think about that village in the mountains, and about returning from there to the life that’s mine. That grocery store would seem sparse and tiny to just about anyone in this country, but the scene was enough to make me empty my bladder on the spot. In a way I think I went to Nepal in the first place—and to that remote village—in order to have that experience. To move so far outside the familiar that I could come back and know it in a new way. It’s a hackneyed reason for travel to the developing world, but it was mine, and I got what I was after.

I’m thinking of this these days because A is in such a remote place. He doesn’t hear the doom and gloom headlines or get a constant stream of witty and informative comments via Twitter or eat anything but overcooked vegetables and stewed fruit and gravy-covered meat. He bathes with a bucket of water twice a week and pees in the snow. And here I am, with proverbial fistfuls of proverbial chocolate bars, and feeling, on occasion, that the world is desolate, that we’re all getting poor, that the weather is terrible. It would take a lot, these days, to put me into such luxury overload that I’d need a change of clothes. And yet, look what I’ve got: so much more than a rack of candy bars.

Maybe the day A comes home, I’d better put some newspaper down on the floor.



This will be a gift, probably for my grandma, who loves the whole family of colors from fuschsia to purple and who this week sent me a birthday card with a photo of a cat on a bar stool licking the back of its paw as if preparing to do a tequila shot.

You’d think I wouldn’t have time to complete a knitting project, considering how whenever anyone asks for something useful out of me I go on breathlessly about how I’m lucky to get 45 minutes to myself every day. But, I don’t know: garter stitch. Knit, knit, knit, turn, knit, knit, knit. I can handle that.

Next I’m making mittens, which is a big jump. I’m intimidated by the thumbs, and I’m not convinced the pattern writer is in tune with what sorts of details I will need. For example, there’s this: “On next round, fold hem to inside at purl turning ridge and with left-hand needle, pick up 1 stitch from back of cast-on edge and knit it with one stitch from needle.” Which I will require some type of dictionary and possibly a YouTube video to decipher. But then she also specifies, after the heading “To Knit Mittens”: “(Make 2)”. Oh, right! Two! Thanks!

I'm going to use some fake Fair Isle yarn which I'm trying to convince myself isn't cheesy. I'll let you know how it goes.

That's a mouse. Can you tell? An expensive wooden lead-free organic free-range European-made mouse that I bought Iris for her first Christmas and that no one has ever played with. But I love it and I think I'm going to keep it. My displaying it on the nightstand years after the girls have grown up and moved out will be an early symptom of my dotage.



One of the songs on the girls’ current (constantly played) music class CD is an instrumental version of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” One day in the car I started singing along with it, mashing up the traditional Shaker lyrics with some of the “Lord of the Dance” version, plus a little fake Copland-esque trumpet fanfare.

Ingrid was intrigued, and from then on she wanted me to sing along every time the tune came on. She requested a capella performances at bathtime, as well.

I looked up the traditional version so I could sing it right. Hopefully no horse-drawn copyright lawyer will appear on my doorstep on account of my posting some of the lyrics:

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right

After one bathtub singing session, I repeated, “the valley of love and delight.” Ingrid grinned up at me, eyes wide open. “What do you think that would feel like? What would be in that valley?”

“Toys,” she said decisively. “And ice cream.”

Today is my birthday. It was an ordinary day, mostly, and a good one. Lots of people went out of their way to wish me a happy day, or to deliver me chocolate. I spent the evening with some of my favorite people in the world, including—briefly, by phone—A.

Thirty five is halfway to seventy, and it's halfway between thirty and forty. It’s almost two times eighteen. It would be easy to feel too old. But mostly I feel hopeful, lucky, and wise. I’m a year saggier, but also—ha!—thinner. I’m a year less clever and a year less cool, but hopefully also a year kinder and a year wiser, and that much closer to finding a good way through this life. Good birthday gifts, all.


No Bull

I—along with possibly my whole family of origin, and possibly also a bunch of other people from the part of the country where I grew up—pronounce the syllable ul funny. At least, it sounds funny around here.

Until A, a purebred Midwesterner, pointed this out, I had no sense that there was any regional variation in this sound. (I was a little like my native Oregonian friend who once nearly scratched my eyes out to defend her insistence that pin and pen are homophones.)

I can’t really hear the difference between how I make the sound and how the newscasters would, so I’m at a loss to describe it. A says I make it sound “cute”. It has something to do with saying the L in the back of my throat rather than up by my teeth, and the harder I try to say it the standard way, the funnier it gets. I can’t hear the difference accurately, and I think my tongue might be incapable of the standard pronunciation, so I make randum ul-like sounds but have no way to evaluate whether I’m moving in the right direction.

I get that regional linguistic differences are the spice of life, etc., but I’m so aware of this difference that I get all flustered when I start coming up to an ul word, and I do all kinds of ridiculous circumlocution to avoid it:

dull = losing its sharpness
bulk = in bins
cull = weed out
gull = bird at the ocean
hull = the body of the ship
mull = ponder
null = Uh…just void.
pull = (This is a tough one. I blush a lot.)
sully = muddy, ruin
Sully Sullenberger = that airline pilot
Colin Turnbull = (Quit grad school, don’t need to worry)
bull = daddy cow
bullshit = B.S.
ululate = (Well, that’s easy to avoid.)
vulva = (Huh, I just say vulva. But not in public, very often.)
lull = pause or slowdown or soothe
bulbs = tulips and crocuses and things

Have you ever heard of such a thing?

P.S. There was no more puking, and Ingrid woke up fine the next day. It took me 14 hours to get all the blankets clean with our front-loader, which left vomit chunks on everything the first time through. What’s grosser than grosser than grosser than gross? McDonald’s cheeseburgers eaten, vomited up, washed in hot water, and reduced to crispy little flakes in the dryer. Just add water…


First and Last

Ingrid, at almost four, had never been to McDonalds.

I felt sort of smug about it, and also the tiniest bit guilty for depriving her of one of the widely known pleasures of American childhood.

Then I heard they were giving away Hello Kitty watches with happy meals. And we were out swimming at the Y and needed a quick dinner. I was kind of bored with the food co-op deli (where we've eaten a lot these past few weeks) and, besides, dreaded shepherding two hungry kids through the co-op. It had been a long weekend. The slides and tunnels would be a nice diversion. So we went.

Ingrid ate two thirds of a cheeseburger and a handful of fries and gave the meal a thumbs up. Iris ate two bites of hamburger and drank half a container of milk, then spilled the rest on Ingrid's coat and the floor. They weren't giving away Hello Kitty watches, they were giving away stupid bobble-head cats in plastic cages. The place was filthy even before we spilled the milk, and the slides and tunnels were full of loud rambunctious ten-year-olds. Ingrid bravely went for a turn on the slide by herself. It was fine, but definitely not the sky-high experience I'd feared I was keeping from my kids.

Then we came home, and I put them to bed. Five minutes later, Ingrid threw up all over her bed and all eight of her blankets.

Time will tell, but after one puke she seems all better. She was perky as I mopped up the floor and offered in a chipper voice to help me remake the bed.

I ought to be sleeping in case we have a night of hourly vomiting, but I've got to at least stay up until the first washing machine cycle is done. If I don't get started on the blankets we could get smothered with vomity laundry.

Whatever tonight brings, the smell of thrown up McDonalds cheeseburger is going to be with me for a very long time. I'm glad Ingrid didn't seem to love the big M enough to beg to go back, because pardon me but I don't think we will.

Hi. Remember me?

I’m so deep in this parenting thing that it’s hard to know what to say, here or to any grownup who might ask. I’m moving all the time, or shuffling people along. Socks, shoes, mittens, coats, hats. Shoes, Iris. SHOES! Or mediating. Hmm, we have two girls who want the stuffed kitty, and only one stuffed kitty. What solutions can you think of? Or correcting. Ask nicely. Use a Kleenex. It's ok to touch your bottom, but not when there's poop on it. And usually at the same time whirling around the house picking stuff up, moving clothes and food and dishes along their predictable paths. How interesting is that?

A friend from grad school called yesterday afternoon. After sharing all sorts of news of cross-country moves and career achievements and tropical vacations, she asked if we had any plans for travel, and my first impulse was to answer, Well, this afternoon we might make it to Super Target. I could tell she was being careful not to say anything that would point up my supposedly unexciting life. I couldn’t pull myself far enough up out of the dance to convey that I’m pretty content with how I spend my days. I think she interpreted my lack of talk as dissatisfaction, when really I just couldn’t find a way, right then, to turn this constant, exhausting love into something to say. A trip to the suburban mega-store is a big expedition right now. Weirdly, I don’t crave a whole lot more glamour than that, but on the phone with this busy, overachieving friend, I couldn't think of how to get across that what I'm doing seems like enough.

But, wow, I do crave rest, and silence, and the opportunity to think and speak and listen in long stretches. The material of life feels fulfilling, but the pace of it is starting to knock me around a little. I’m not quite craving a year’s sabbatical, but a week of vacation sounds awfully nice. Even the idea of a brief dissociative fugue isn’t totally unappealing.

Mostly, though, I’ve been feeling level-headed and capable and even proud about what the three of us do in a day here. We’re almost halfway done. The house is mostly in order. People are mostly happy. You'll be over shortly to take the kids for six or seven days so I can have my mid-expedition break, right? Good. After that, I'm sure doing this on my own until April 9 will be no problem.