Monday, March 30, 2009

Soup Night 2009

Soup night is a tradition for the "yards". Our immediate gaggle of neighbors with yards that touch get together annually for a group feed of homemade soups. Usually it's a mid-winter gathering, but as this winter will never end and it's still soup weather in April, the delay was inconsequential this year. We're a fair weather commune otherwise. There are no fences and kids wander through all yards with full rights and privileges of ownership. Adults have discovered over the years that wandering the yards often can lead to a beer being thrust in their hands, so there are a lot of adults running through the yards as well.

It's been a strangely important priority for me that kids feel safe cutting through my yard. I'm not a fence person. We've considered it to contain the runaway artist-in-residence, but it's too critical to my "takes a village" parenting philosophy to be one of those family houses where kids know the "Mrs." is cool with the cut through. I was a big cut through kid and I ran with a merry band. We were always running through yards as kids to get to where we needed to go, scaling fences if needed. Occasionally some cranky neighbor would yell at us, but it was worth it for the economy of traveling as the crow flies.

Even though the snow came and my bitter Easter egg throw was implemented, the snow didn't pack much power at this time of the year and has mostly melted since. More bad weather on its way this week, but it's all good now. Spring break is almost here and the more miserable the weather the week before, the sweeter the trip south becomes. We aren't headed south but we are headed to friends in St. Paul, someplace warm in spirit.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring thaw? Not yet

Snow again. Wisconsin oldtimers never count on winter being over before May 1st. The past six or so years, winter did always wrap up well before May and I chalked up the negativity to fogeyism. But this year maybe they'll be right and I'll have to admit they aren't fogeys. The first year we lived here, I gardened on Mother's Day as I had always done in Philly and was warned off it due to occasional May frosts. But Mother's Day gardening had always been my day of escape! "Sorry, honey, mommy's hands are too dirty. I can't.... hold you, feed you, change you, help you, read to you, play a game with you, fix that, put a band aid on that.....go ask Daddy."

A little flock of baffled juncos at the feeder

Granted it's nowhere near May, but everybody's done with winter. This storm is going to be wet and heavy snow. Chip and Allison are running the tryouts for girls Little League this evening--softball means spring! Outdoor practice on Monday obviously will need rethinking.

Bruce hiding from the weather

A few years ago, we were leaving for China in late March and as it does the night before anyone leaves southern Wisconsin for warmer temperatures, a snowstorm rolled in overnight. We had had about enough of winter that year as well, so Chip and I looked at each other in the garage that morning and with few words exchanged, told the kids to get in the car and gunned it full speed in reverse out of the driveway through the seven inch base and just left the mess behind. It's simply not done here in our neighborhood to leave walks and driveways unshoveled, but we figured anybody who had a problem with it could try to come find us in Shanghai. When we returned, the forsythia was blooming and the snow was gone-problem solved.

Chip vows it's the Shanghai plan tomorrow morning-Mr. Shovel is retired for the season. My therapy will be to decorate for Easter tomorrow. I fight the late winter snows with well placed stuffed bunnies and plastic eggs hurled from the front steps in disgust across the snow covered lawn. Oh, and I'll medicate with pastel foiled Hershey kisses.
Minnie cannot believe her eyes

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hip mama dog walk

Walking the dog late morning today in my UW baseball cap and my "mom sweatpants" and with my harnessed dog on her retractable leash, I looked to be what I am....a suburban lady of leisure doing my lame power walk around the neighborhood to work off the Easter Hershey's kisses I had with my grape nuts. It was a peaceful walk interrupted only by an errant Yorkie which I initially took for a giant rabbit...clearly an escapee as I've never seen a Yorkie without its human attached. He headed south, yapping in rejoice of his freedom.

The last stragglers had made it to school, the working folks had gone to work. It was just me and the dog and the geese and the squirrels and the Yorkie. I was wearing my iPod and normally I have to stifle myself for fear of others hearing my atonal belting. But today, I cut loose to my jams given the empty streets and closed windows. I presume anybody who drove by and noticed my S.L.L. uniform might have thought me listening to Josh Groban or Michael Buble. I know that's what O and A wish I would listen to and stay away from their music as it leads to my singing and dancing to it. (mom, stop)

"....'cause my grandmama hate it, but my lil mama love for me daddy...whatcha lookin at?...i wanna see ya grill......ya wanna see my what?...ya ya grill ya ya ya grill.... "

No way! I like to work it out! I'm hip hop mom! (mom, really, you're not...please stop) I'm going to continue to walk the dog later in the mornings from now on and express myself through my music as I was clearly born to do, without interference from daughters, the public or Simon Cowell judging me.

The dryer is fixed. We're lucky we didn't have a fire. There was fifteen feet of knitted felt lining the inside of our dryer vent. I haven't ever cleaned the duct myself so I shouldn't be surprised. But the denial fairy assured me that the lint elves would take care of it. The Kenmore guy gave me an excellent tutorial on dryer safety which every person should get along with driver's education and subsequent license renewals.

Many fluffy clumps of gray lint have blown around the yard from the vent cleaning out back. I hope the Hunter lint clumps nurture a few baby birds in their nests, maybe somehow mitigating the losses mercilessly meted out by the Hunter cat over the years. He's tired of trying to snuggle the dog and wants to get back outside to the killing fields.

Monday, March 23, 2009


My beloved dryer that I pined for in England has quite literally left me hangin'. The Kenmore man comes Thursday. The clothes pile up and back to being an English washer woman I go. It feels completely non-urgent and that would not have been true a year ago. But the dryer is a luxury so the English tell me, and I can certainly do without for a few days, especially after a master class in hanging laundry to dry on radiators for five months. Life is easy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The questionnaire

I completed an application today and part of the application process was to fill out a 120 item work style questionnaire. As numerous characters in numerous movies have said, "I'm gettin' too old for this shit." I've taken enough of these little tests and I'm smart enough to know that HR is making an attempt to get my personality boiled down to a few notes, without locking eyes on me.... for KEY-riiist sake! So, I answer honestly but with some care not to sound too needy or too bossy or too dependent or too inflexible...and I know that they know that I know that they know that these surveys are somewhat effective so....yeah. Why not just meet me? I'm old school. It feels a little amateurish to be interviewed in this fashion for a professional job. But for my first advanced practice job, I had to pee in a cup for a drug test and go to an orientation where they reviewed the importance of handwashing. Meanwhile the new doctors did not have to do either such thing. So I''m not surprised by the just makes another age line on my forehead but whatever. However, it feels unbecoming at my age having to flap my arms and do a soft shoe to say "Look at me! I have some skills and actually you would be lucky to get me!"

I've established a work pattern throughout my career of roughly five years on, one year off. The college tuitions are approaching and my clock is running down. I considered a big job change at this point, but the economy is telling me that this is not the time. Nursing is still the best paying gig. Blogging is fun but it doesn't pay the tuition man. But part time work does pay the tuition man somewhat and leaves time for blogging. Ergo...

A friend told a friend, "I'm just better at work than I am at home." And there is some truth in that statement for me although I think I'm at my best when I do both. I'm actually pretty good at staying home and I don't dislike it. I love my quiet days alone. But my days are incompletely filled and the things that would fill my day completely like exercise or hobbies or volunteerism are like my worst nightmares come true. In England, it took so long to do everything without the car, the garage, the appliances and the one-stop supermarkets so my days were full full full and I miss that a bit. I'm a little adrift with my chores easily distilled down to one or two trips a week. So, back to paid work it must be. That's what I've concluded this week anyway.

The next job after this one, they'll need to come looking for me. Beware whomever hires me, I'm never leaving.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Losing one's childhood

We're having a minor crisis at our house. Natasha Richardson died today and both Olivia and Allison were so shocked and sad to hear of it. "She was our childhood!" they both exclaimed independent of the other. She was the mom character in The Parent Trap with Dennis Quaid and Lindsay Lohan. If I'm going to be brutally honest with myself, I know she was the fantasy nice, cool mother they wished they had. That whole scene in the movie, where Elizabeth gets the phone call in her feminine, pillowy bedroom she doesn't have to share with a stinky man, and she's sketching gowns in bed with her daughter lovingly looking on, and then has to run down to her boutique High Street bridal shop to help Vendela and the photographer fluff the beautiful wedding dress and invites Hallie to come and run around and try stuff on and be in the pictures? Are you kidding me? No real mother can compete with that--almost more brutal than Disney's killing off the Mom. Even so, The Parent Trap was one of those VCR tapes Chip and I were always happy to watch again and again. A guilty pleasure, that one. Something for everybody...Dennis for me, Natasha for Chip, Lindsay for the girls.

It got me thinking about two things. One, how laughable it is that my kids think they're childhoods are over. It sure doesn't feel over for me, everyday when they need help lifting the spoonfuls of food to their mouths. And two, the nature of pop culture figures and the feelings of intimacy we develop with some. I remember when Freddie Prinze died (elementary school for me) and I was devastated. I apparently was in love with him and cried in my bed, embarrassed my parents would discover that I was in love with Chico. And John Lennon. I was 17, and I cried and cried the night he died. As all my Beatles albums were actually hand-me-downs from my parents, I think it felt like the loss of my childhood that night. And Princess Diana. I was in my thirties by then but through photographs and a rough parallelling of life's milestones (marriage, children, skiing in St. Moritz), I felt I had lost a very glamorous friend. Do we lose a little bit of ourselves represented in that stage of life when we saw the movie or heard the song? It does feel like we lost something especially innocent today. Even when you're 14 and 16, I guess you still feel like you have a past.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ski weekend

The whoosh of the snow beneath the skis, the sun, the flirtation with disaster, the mastery of control over speed, the scenery, the thrill of racing down the hill....

The fried cheese curds, the hotel pool, the beer and pizza, the laughs, the friends, the puzzle, the cutthroat game of Hearts, the freedom from home routine, the delightful exhaustion....

Spring skiing doesn't get much better than this past weekend when ten families from our neighborhood came together to ski and eat up north. It wasn't much of a hill (1,800 feet-ish) but it's a family resort with the basic amenities of fabulous ski destinations out west. A fast chair lift, a multitude of fried foods in the chalet and a beautiful patio that serves beer and gets sun all afternoon. The ski runs...well....Wisconsin is not known for its altitude.

For many of the kids of this trip, who don't so much as acknowledge the remotest connection to one another when in Madison, they happily come together and play again like little kids in whatever pairings or groupings suit the needs of the moment. A "love the one you're with" scenario if ever there was one. After running the hallways in their bathing suits and causing all manner of havoc together, they return to school on Monday, strangers once more, until next year.

For the adults of this trip, it's a commune weekend of energetic and at the same time, sketchy parenting. It's not a trip that, say, nervous types who keep track of their kids, should attend. "Have you seen Allison?" "When was the last time you saw any of our kids?" "I'm ready for a beer." "He was skiing the trees last time we saw him." "One more run? C'mon....I'm sure the kids are fine." And so it goes. We sort of become teenagers again ourselves. Teenagers with kids....and we know how well that generally goes.

It's the kind of trip I never had when I was a kid. Skiing requires a fair amount of money, which my parents claimed to need for food. My dad was determined to teach us to ski though and so we took day trips to the local mountain and I started my lessons with him. And so full circle, we took him skiing with us this weekend. He did pretty well, only falling a few times and with a good sense of humor and a load of determination to enjoy himself and work his technique. He was a mere babe in the woods on the slopes. The 94 year old guy was out there on Friday.

Thanks, Dad, for the lifelong love of this wonderful sport, fried cheese curds and beer inclusive.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Seasonal juxtaposition

Softball tournament on the weekend feels WAY too early. They've built ("they" being, evil men who want to make money at the expense of my sanity) an indoor playing field near us and although it's great for the girls to practice batting and eat nachos, it's a whole other thing to be able to host a 24 hour indoor tournament when there's still snow on the ground, with the girls playing at 9:30pm Saturday night and 6:30am Sunday morning, daylight savings time. Four games in 23 hours. Allison crumpled on my bed at 9pm last night, with that sort of over-exhausted panic that sets in when sleep deprived. She couldn't even make it for the last five minutes of Cold Case. Chip crumpled two hours later.

The spring ahead of the clocks also feels way too early. Perhaps coupled with the winter storm yesterday that went from rain to sleet to snow over the course of Sunday, it was just too much. I don't ever remember understanding the why and when of changing the clocks--farming maybe? I just don't know nor do I have any interest in it. It could be Communist for all I know. I just wake up two Sundays a year and twirl the clock hands when the newspaper says it's time. When newspapers go out of business for good, I suppose I just won't set my clocks back and forth anymore.

Icy willow

From playing in the mud back to playing in the snow, it's like being attached to a bungee cord where we snap from cold to warm to cold and hope our brains don't slosh too violently inside our heads until spring finally comes. The neighborhood talisman signaling "impromptu happy hour at this address today!" will have to wait a little longer.

Sad fellow

Raspberries will have to wait as well

I'm glad I don't have a job right now, coinciding nicely with a job market that is glad I'm not looking. Could be seasonal affective disorder, could be a delayed response to returning from England...but the girlies are requiring the kind of structure that toddlers enjoy. And I'm just out of practice and a little out of gas myself for this level of supervision and intervention. Just running through my side of the story alone yields insight into our winter fatigue.

"....get a snack, pack your lunch, where's your homework, when's the test, oh, shut up, let's go, I'll pick you up, where are you, how long will you be gone, be home at 5, do you need a ride, I hate you too, where are your boots, what classes will you miss, where's your trumpet, no, I'm not saying you're fat, put your dishes in the sink, walk the dog, wear a hat, take a shower, feed the animals, are your legs broken, get it yourself, how much, don't forget, you suck, too, wear your big coat, yes, it's cold, no, it's not that cold, it's going to rain, wear your boots, fix your hair, you're butt's hanging out of those pants, really..., don't be an idiot, it's in your cubby, it's in your room, it's in the family room, I may have thrown it out, I didn't throw anything away today, I haven't seen it...."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bubba's Birthday

These are Southern Bubbas

When we moved to the south, we learned that many families call the brother in the family, Bubba.

Well, I didn't have a brother so I just started calling my sister Bubba and it stuck. For good or bad, for thirty years, she's been Bubba to my parents, my N'Awlins friends and my boyfriend Chip. Sometimes she's Bubs, sometimes she's Ha-Bubba. But she's rarely Amy anymore.

So, my jumbled thoughts over some forty plus years of sisterdom, in no particular order:

She can't remember names well and once referred to a woman as "Janet Undergarment", which Chip and I immediately said we were pretty sure wasn't correct. She dutifully ran behind me lugging all the suitcases for 30 minutes in 1986 as I zigzagged hyperventilating across the Barcelona airport after realizing there was no plane and our tickets were out of Madrid. She got into a girl fistfight at the Circle K in high school, prompting my mother's classic comment still used to this day, "How tawdry." She's been a friend to Trudy and Stephanie for thirty years, one who she still sees almost daily and introduced her to her husband, Dave....and one sadly that she can only see in her prayers now.

Despite years of protestations from everyone in the family, she still spends hours choosing from the Hallmark mushy card section for our birthday cards, the ones that have flowery script writing and horribly gaggy sentimental sayings and cost five bucks a pop. She dropped everything and came to live with us in the early nineties to be our nanny for six months while I was in graduate school. She has endured endless torture at my hands her whole life, rarely if ever telling on me. This torture included the usual sibling punching, pinching, pushing and hitting but I think I took it to a new level that could well go in the Guinness Book of worst things done to siblings: mouth to mouth resuscitation whilst breathing. I can say with authority that the sound of the lungs inflating on the Resusci-Annie mannequin is quite authentic. It was the exact same sound my sister's lungs made right before she pushed me off of her, coughing and gagging uncontrollably as I pleaded with her to be quiet before Mommy or Daddy heard.

She is the most faithful of friends and to this day, keeps in touch with old neighbors and friends from our childhood hometown. She went to a really cool 70s hippy school in the woods called Rose Valley that nurtured and celebrated her for who she was and probably helped make her the person she is today along with my patient, loving parents. She has a chameleon quality that makes her the best of friends to all sorts of people, assuming their interests and concerns with the same passion as she would her own. She took more than a month out of her life to live with and take care of our mom with a broken ankle. She's acted as lay social worker to boyfriends, stepchildren, nieces, friends, parents, husband and even me. There is no one more special than my sister and I feel undeserving at times of the love and loyalty from such a unique and fantastic person--a truly good person, and there aren't enough of those in the world which is what makes them stand out.

This is My Bubba

Happy Birthday, my Bubba. I can't wait to see you in April when I hope to buy you a steak for your belated birthday and then try the Heimlich maneuver on you if you'll let me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring thaw

Mud mohawk, my fault entirely

We don't fool ourselves by thinking this is the end of winter, but these first few days of 50ish temps in March are an optimistic sign that Old Man Winter is losing his grip. There might still be some snow left to puff from his weak lungs but it won't hang on long on this thawing ground, plus we're gaining daylight rapidly and spring break is within sight....winter's almost over and we rejoice with mud! Mud means spring. These hearty 'sconnie spawn love the outdoors and I fear that my pleas for staying dirty until I got my camera caused an uptick in the actual mudslinging. Their moms were good sports luckily for me, and I think the pictures make it all worth the laundry. But I do apologize for any riot I may have incited. I may be in for a hundred bucks in the boys department at Target for some new t-shirts and shampoo.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Victorian crazy quilts

This poem is reprinted from Good Housekeeping, October 25, 1890.
Excerpted from:
The Crazy Quilt
And where is the wife who so vauntingly swore
That nothing on earth her affections could smother?
She crept from your side at the chiming of four
And is down in the parlor at work on another.
Your breakfasts are spoiled,
And your dinners half-boiled,
And your efforts to get a square supper are foiled
By the crazy-quilt mania that fiendishly raves,
And to which all the women are absolute slaves.

And thus it has been since the panic began,
In many loved homes it has wrought desolation,
And cursed is the power by many a man,
That has brought him so close to the verge of starvation,
But make it she must,
She will do it or bust,
Beg, swap, and buy pieces or get them on trust,
Oh, the crazy-quilt mania, may it soon cease to rave
In the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I'm awestruck over a fad that happened over a century ago. Victorian crazy quilting swept the nation in the late 19th century like scrapbooking has swept the nation today. Women were obsessed with making these quilts that it reached a pop culture status of its day. I read about an exhibit at the School of Human Ecology at the UW in the paper and went to see it today. I don't know what Human Ecology is but it has a building.

The quilts are indescribably elaborate with layers of embroidery, photo transfers, appliques, and a pattern that is reckless and orderly at once. There is an obsessiveness to the stitching that is positively manic. It was a fanatical pursuit, and women would scrounge for swatches of any interesting fabric they could get their hands on....even if it meant tearing it from another person's body. Women were known to rip apart men's hats for their silk linings and it wasn't clear that they always asked the men before doing so. The industrial revolution brought textiles to another level working with fabulous new textures and designs of fabrics, most of which don't even exist anymore. At the time, collecting fabric pieces was the rage and women went to all sorts of lengths to obtain swatches of fabrics to put in their quilts. Montgomery Ward finally got sick of it and made it plain in their advertisements that "swatches would be sent by request but not of any size usable for crazy quilting."

I still have a bin full of baby clothes because in my fantasies where I know how to do stuff without putting in the effort to learn it, I am going to make a quilt for each girl. It's like my fantasy about Pilates. I'm really quite good at it in my mind. My core is tight. Crazy quilting seems a possible pursuit for me as I do enjoy knitting and running the sewing machine occasionally, but then I remember I'm me....once someone walks into the room and turns on the TV or someone calls me to come over for a glass of wine, that project's going to get put down indefinitely. I have two good hours in me as craft projects go and then I need a long break...sometimes months.

I talked to the student working the exhibit desk as she sat sewing something in the color protective low light of the exhibit. Aaah, young people eyes. I remember them...I used to have them! Walking around the exhibit was like one of those learn about the human body experiences in a natural history museum...the amazing macular degeneration simulator.

I asked the student what she found most amazing about these quilts. She said she couldn't believe they were done by hand and that they took, in some instances, an unimaginable 1,500 hours to complete. She laughed and we agreed it was possible when I pointed out there were no TVs and computers and no jobs for women. It seemed far too possible that the over-obsessive nature of this quilting craze was perhaps a sign that women were restless for serious and heartfelt occupation beyond mothering and housework, an occupation that was creative, innovative and challenging. I like to think maybe Suffrage replaced the obsession of crazy quilting as the new passion of women of that era.

Will my great granddaughters go to a scrapbook exhibition in 2100? And will it be as remarkable?