Sunday, January 31, 2010

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 55

Much has been said of time in our household this week. I can steam clean all the parts needed for the breast pump in six minutes. The baby is fed in three or four-hour increments. Each day I'm asked how old he is by some passerby and I respond with a number of weeks. Tonight, Audrey began using the word "future." This week, a friend posted pictures on Facebook from our wedding day, which is now closer to being a decade ago than five years ago. This same friend also posted some pictures from a high school Christmas slumber party I attended, almost fifteen years ago (you can imagine the firestorm of fashion-related comments such a picture elicits). Then, on Friday, Jason turned thirty-three. Yes, much has been said of time lately in our house. Jason and I have looked at each other and asked, "Thirty-three? Really?" I did the math, just to make sure. It's not that we shouldn't be this age - obviously, we've put in the time - we just got so busy we stopped keeping track. We started keeping track of other things: the things that Audrey says, the ways in which she grows, Nathan's increasing facial expressions - all things that should remind us of the time we've spent, but they seem to distract us, instead.

So here they are, the distractions of the week - and just more proof that these kids are growing before our eyes:

On Sunday morning, Audrey serenaded Jason with a song, made up entirely of the word "waffle" (her nickname for him) to entice him to come get her out of bed.

Monday morning Nathan was crying. Before I could get him fed (and, thus, calmed down) Audrey woke up. When I met her in her bedroom she said, "Your yelling woke me up. Or, maybe it was my little brother."

That same morning we took Nathan for his one-month check-up. It was snowing as we walked into the doctor's office. Audrey noticed. "It's snowing," she said. "The snow is flying. It's teaching me how."

Later that day she informed me, "I want a new mom. Mine puts me in time out." (She wasn't even in time out when she said this. She hadn't been put in time out all day).

Apparently, by dinner, all was forgiven. Jason told her, "You know the hug you gave me this morning? I took it to work."

Audrey answered, "Can I have it back? I want to give it to Mom."

This week, I've been teaching Audrey that she only needs to use two sheets of toilet paper when she goes potty (we have an entire roll that has been pulled off and discarded sitting on top of the porcelain tank). On Wednesday, Jason took her to potty and pulled off three sheets for her. "That's not two," she said.

Audrey likes to play doctor. She has a cream for anything that ails you. On Friday, while coloring, she handed me a red crayon and asked, "Can you draw a rash?" When I didn't start coloring, she decided to sweeten her request. "Can you draw a rash, sugar?" she said.

Before long, we will be referring to Nathan's age in months. But for now, we are taking him in in minutes. The strength of this little one surprises us, almost as much as his quiet, sweet demeanor. He clutches onto fingers so tightly, and sometimes, when upset, grabbing his mama's hand is enough to calm his cries. Be still, my heart.

With minutes like these, it's easy to get distracted from the years.

Friday, January 29, 2010


One day last year Jason came home to find me utterly defeated. I don't remember the day or the events that led to my defeat. I just remember Jason walking through the door at the end of his workday. "I didn't even get the dishes done today," I said.

"It's fine that you didn't get the dishes done," he said. "But just be happy that you didn't do them." Those two sentences changed my outlook that night and every day since. Now when my days get rushed and I start to feel like the cartoon character being dragged from a speeding car by her own shirt sleeve (that she was silly enough to get stuck there in the first place), I think of his words. As everything around me spins and falls out of my control, I smile for a minute and think of all the tedious things I'm not spending my day doing. And, suddenly, the ground feels a little steadier.

Today, that husband of mine, the one who steadies my ground and seems to come with an endless supply of much-needed pep talks, turns 33. And, while I know it's his birthday, somehow I feel like I'm the one who got the gift.

Thank goodness for this day. Happy birthday, Jason.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Paper Pushers

My parents gave me an Origami Page-A-Day calendar by Margaret Van Sicklen for Christmas - the perfect accessory for a creative mama's desk, but apparently, an even more perfect gift for my crafty three-year-old whose daily attempts to swipe it prompted its removal from the desk to higher (ahem, safer) ground. The swipe attempts turned to daily inquiries as to its whereabouts and if we could get it out.

Today, we did just that. We pulled down the calendar and grabbed a stack of origami books. Audrey had already been introduced to origami through one of her favorite books, Lissy's Friends by Grace Lin, a sweet story about a girl who takes comfort in the origami friends she creates when she has trouble meeting friends at her new school (you can see just the corner of it in the top of the first picture). After what might have been our six hundredth reading of Lissy's Friends, along with reading a couple other origami-inspired picture books we found at the library, we pulled out our bone folder and got down to some serious creasing.

With the exception of a few origami facts thrown into the mix, each day of the Origami One-A-Day calendar features instructions to make a paper animal or object. The calendar is made of beautifully printed origami paper. The instructions appear on the front of each calendar entry while the backs are nice patterned prints. Essentially, you use the backside of yesterday's discarded paper to make today's object or animal. Not ones to burden ourselves with dates, we skipped straight to the handy index to pick our projects. First, I chose the Kimono Heart. It looked simple and sweet (notice the green in the photo above creates a heart shape with pieces that cross each other like the sides of a kimono, hence the name).

Masters of the Kimono Heart, and Audrey sold on this new art form (especially her new found power tool, I mean, bone folder), we decided to try our luck at another. I asked if Audrey wanted to make an animal like Lissy (all of Lissy's origami friends being animals). I had in mind a crane or a dove, thinking that these might be simpler since they seem to be the equivalent of an origami cliche. So, it should come to no surprise that Audrey answered without hesitation (and in no uncertain terms), "Yes. An elephant."

For my part, I was able to morph the "Oh my," forming in the back of my throat to "Let me see what I can find," before it hit open air. Luckily, the index had four elephants to choose from, and the cute little guy you see above was the second one we found. We made this one out of excess card stock. He looks a little like a dog with an accordion snout. Hmm...there's a breed you don't see everyday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Grommet" Update

One more grommet (eyelet, really) to go, then it's on to Phase Two, which involves windows and a door, and a much-needed hem. It sounds so simple written out. Hmm...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Dusting

We knew the cold front had arrived before our toes touched the floor.
It had settled in our sinuses.
Today was a good day for wiping noses,
burrowing in blankets,
holding babies close,
over-replenishing and cozying up with a stack of library books,
tucking into steaming bowls of homemade soup with muffins,
and sneaking peeks at the powdered sugar perfection being dusted outside our windows.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 54

Lately, Audrey has been referring to her hands (and our hands) as spiders. It is not uncommon to hear, several times a day, "What are your spiders doing now?"

Audrey's spiders move like arachnids on five pots of strong coffee, dispensing a half a bottle of glue in the squeeze of a fist, squeezing her little brother's "spiders" before mama's spiders can intervene, and matching puzzle pieces in a flash.

The only thing that moves faster than Audrey's spiders is her ever-expanding brain. Here are a few of the ways she's shown off her run-away brain this week and left us in the dust, just wondering what comes next:

Jason has gone through the steps of hand-washing with Audrey several times as she hones her skills. He repeats the steps the same way each time with the same directions. On Sunday, he turned the water on, put some soap on her hands and asked what comes next. "You say, 'Do you see bubbles,' and I say, 'yes,'" she said. She washed the soap off her hands and continued her commentary, "then you say, 'do you see bubbles?' and I say, 'no.'"

On Monday, while playing with her Grammy, Audrey crawled underneath the turned-over frame of a papasan chair. Realizing that she had barricaded herself in, she said," I want out of this mistake!"

We've had the good fortune of having friends bring us dinner for a couple weeks. Monday afternoon, Audrey asked," Is someone bringing us dinner today?" After I told her yes, she asked, "Can they bring me a donut?"

"You have big hair," she told me Monday afternoon. "Why did God give you big hair?"

While eating cheese as a snack later that day, she said, "The cheese makes me feisty." She meant thirsty, but feisty seemed equally appropriate.

Audrey's uncle taught her how to play the card game Go Fish several weeks ago. We've tried to teach Audrey to yell outside rather than inside. She takes advantage of any outdoor time, be it in the backyard or traveling via cart from store to car, to practice her yelling. Her favorite phrase to yell is, "Go Colts!" Thursday, after leaving a store, she yelled, "Go Colts! Go Fish!"

Friday night when Jason got home from work, Audrey ran to give him a hug. "You can take that to work with you if you want to," she said.
"What?" Jason asked.
"The hug," she said.

We will take those hugs of hers and carry them with us. We'll hold on tight and squeeze her as often as she'll let us, because those busy little spiders of hers were once half their size and looked a lot like her brother's. And, that little boy? Well, he doesn't look like the sunken-cheeked newborn we brought home a month ago. Those cheeks have filled out and we love to watch them lift with his perfect crooked smile. It's only a matter of time before his hands begin to busy themselves with glue bottles, squeezing his sister's hands, and stealing her toys. Oh, those little spiders. They move too fast.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fiction Thursday: The Paris Bloke

This week I was going to choose a story start written in third person, since the last story I shared was written in first person. But, the third person starts I have feel a little heavier than I'm wanting to delve into this morning, so here's another first person start. This one is written from a male point of view, which is unusual for me (and, perhaps, one of the reasons I'm struggling with the piece). That's all I'm going to say until the end.

I don't know why more people don't spend the holidays in Paris. Forget the twinkle lights, which are more trouble than they're worth, that you forget to plug in, to test, before hanging, ultimately hanging a dud string, which means another trip to the roof to take them down, and another, if you're real adventurous, to hang a new string. Forget the fruitcake, with its inconsistent consistency, that your Aunt Bernie requests you bring each year, that you'd rather not partake of, but someone must, since Doan's Bakery sells 5000 a year. Forget waiting in line to buy gifts, which undoubtedly, will be the wrong size or color (or a bad idea altogether), leading the recipient to stand in line the next week to return them.

Simply, forget it. Renew your passport and go to Paris, instead. That is where I spent my holiday season, roaming the corridors of the Louvre, except on Tuesdays and Christmas, when it was closed. I began on the first floor examining Egyptian antiquities, artifacts created by people who lived 4000 years ago, in civilizations that cropped up along the Nile. The exhibit included a scribe's instruments, a spoon, a dagger, and jugs, cracked and broken, pieced together by museum curators. I walked among the artifacts but did not stay long. I did not want to be among broken objects, once useful, now useless, their cracked pieces (both visible and invisible) glued together by unfamiliar hands and deemed "restored."

I prefer paintings. I like the covering they provide to a dull wall. I prefer portraits, like the Mona Lisa, encased in glass to keep the fragile poplar canvas from breaking. The Mona Lisa is also on the first floor, beyond the large-format paintings, paintings of men battling, building new empires, breaking ground to tame the land, these being the sorts of measures men will go to to impress ladies, make them smile.

I passed through this gallery nearly every day, at least every day the museum was open, to view the Mona Lisa, stand and look at her face, constructed of layers of accumulated oil. Da Vinci added turpentine, weak turpentine, to the oils used to paint her, creating oils that were almost transparent, so he could add layer upon layer, endlessly remodeling her face. And, suppose Da Vinci had disturbed one layer of the woman, he could cover his mistake, create a new layer with fresh paint. He did not need to speak with counselors and (when they failed) lawyers, and sign papers. He had weak turpentine.

So there you have it. For those of you wondering, this piece was an emulation of Michael Chabon's "Along the Frontage Road." "Along the Frontage Road" seems to have sentences with an excessive number of dependent clauses. My theory (and my apologies to Chabon if this is not the case) is that the clauses are the narrator's attempt to create a diversion and put off talking about the "real" story. They also seem to act as filler, as if the narrator is trying to pad himself with dependent clauses to make up for the loss he feels.

As for my character, I have no idea where this guy is going - if he's even back from Paris yet. All I know is that some girl really did a number on this bloke. Unfortunately, he seems willing to talk about anything but what happened. Pesky men who hide their feelings. Has he filled any of you in?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little Background

I have a fault when talking. It's called backstory. I can't seem to tell a long story short. Rather, I tell long stories longer. In that spirit, here is a little background on the material you will be reading (if you so choose) on Fiction Thursdays.

Shortly after our marriage, Jason and I moved to southern Illinois. While there, I had the good fortune to study creative writing under the brilliant Beth Lordan. Not a member of SIU's creative writing program, and barely a student at the university (hers being the only classes I took, as an independent study), I was touched by her generosity of time and encouragement. Beth is one of those rare finds, someone as gifted and enthusiastic in her ability to teach her art as she is at creating her art. The classes focused on the formal features of writing, the tools used to create stories (point of view, punctuation, sentence structures, etc.). Beth taught me that seemingly mundane (and already confusing) items, such as semicolons or independent clauses, could be used metaphorically in fiction. Grammar has the same effect on me as Brie does the lactose intolerant. So, when Beth said that not only EVERY SINGLE word in a good writer's work is used intentionally to move the story forward, but the form (I immediately thought punctuation) should have that purpose as well, I dropped my notebook and raced to the nearest Barnes & Noble self-help section (well, I thought about it).

In the end, her class gave me a renewed appreciation for grammar. Perhaps, it wasn't the reunion-dampening, moth-ball-scented, sharp-tongued Great Aunt I'd made it out to be. I ran out and bought a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I had intentions of really studying grammar, reacquainting myself will how it all works, if you will. Instead, we moved and I found out I was about to become a mother. Grammar, and writing, took a backseat.

The other thing her class gave me was a handful of "story starts." Our assignments alternated between written analyses (where we analyzed how one of the pros used form metaphorically) and emulations (a few paragraphs or a page where we shamelessly stole said pro's methods). The characters from a few of those starts haunt me a bit. I feel as though they are going somewhere. I just wish I knew where. These first few Fiction Thursdays will feature those story starts with the hope that one of those characters will ante up their secret and tell me where they're going. Now, will the first character please stand up?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Button Week: Part 2

Today's date was highlighted with a big colored tab reading "Nate's baptism". An important day. A special day: a major event, friends coming from out-of-state, guests spending the night. This is the sort of day that I tend to plan badly. I rush too much. I clean too much (and still feel like I should have cleaned more). I listen to the on-going dialogue in my head ranging from list-making to reminders that I don't want to be the sort of mother who barks orders at her children (oblivious to brightly-colored tabs on calendars) who wake up wondering when they enlisted in the Marines.

Today, amidst the bad planning and life-changing events, Audrey and I had a crafty twenty minutes. I told myself that the shower could wait and that our friends loved us more than freshly-vacuumed stairs. Then, I pulled out my ceramic mug of random buttons, a hot glue gun, a spool of pink grosgrain ribbon, and some metal hair clips. Audrey rummaged through the buttons lining them up as I glued the ribbon to the metal clips. To my surprise, when I asked what buttons were her favorites, she pulled out a collection of white ones. I dotted the ribbon with glue and Audrey handed me the buttons as she wanted them ordered on the clips. We discussed shapes and colors and tried out her new accessories. Then I made a mad dash to the shower and changed Audrey into a dress for the evening's festivities.

Audrey has been a trooper since Nathan arrived, doting on him, increasing her patience, even asking, "Now that he's not on your lap, can I be on your lap?" Those twenty minute projects, so hard to fit in right now (especially on days like this), seem that much more important to fit in (especially on days like this). After all, we know that today's events changed Nathan's life forever, but you never know, those twenty minutes might have just changed hers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Button Week?

If baby number two came with a label, it would read this: Pace yourself. Nathan is the epitome of this mantra: a lingerer of the eyes; slow to fuss; happy to just be. I considered myself a natural pacer. My sport was distance running. My hobbies are ones that require patience, repetition, and time. I'm indecisive. In. The. Most. Pain-staking. Way. (My husband is laughing, also in a pain-staking way). If not pacing myself, every ounce of me seems to lend itself toward the, ahem, slow. I thought my patience suited me to being crafty with Audrey, rolling with the punches (or paint-splattered clothing, play-dough matted rug, whatever the case may be) of creative living, so to speak.

And, then there were two. Turns out, I don't move as slow as I thought I did. Nothing points this out quite like adapting to the unexpected schedule of living with a baby and toddler while attempting to do creative projects with said toddler. I have been planning a Button Day. Several weeks ago, a friend emailed me a recipe for Button Cookies. They sounded yummy - and adorable. My wheels began turning. Why not have a yummy adorable day - a Button Day - filled with button-inspired crafts? Audrey and I would make cookies and play with the different textures and sizes of buttons. What could be more simple?

Apparently, a lot of things. I've been attempting to pull off Button Day for a week and a half. But things pop up, people pop in, and Button Day gets put up on the shelf for another day. This weekend, I decided that Button Day was going to happen. I pulled out the recipe. I realized I didn't have shortening. I didn't feel like running to the store. I got online and found an alternative no-shortening-required recipe. We made the dough. Then, we decided that Audrey was too tired to stay up to her normal bedtime and we put her to bed early. The dough got refrigerated for another day.

We baked the cookies Sunday. They were adorable. Audrey chose to make them orange and brown, after I told her I didn't have black food coloring as she requested (blame the color choices on her near Halloween-baby status). Audrey says they were yummy. They are harder than I like my sugar cookies, so I haven't tried one. The dough was a bit dry and crumbly, making it hard to roll out. But the manner in which Audrey used a straw to create four buttonholes here, a randomly-placed three buttonholes there, was perfect. I'm eager to try my friend's original recipe for Button Cookies Round Two.

As for the button craft? We're still waiting for our moment. This might just be a Button Week. We've got a new mantra. We're pacing ourselves.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 53

Last week Nathan hit a growth spurt. His cheeks are filling out and he's staying awake for longer periods of time. His eyes travel the distance of the room, lingering on our faces - learning. We've all hit a bit of growth spurt around here - learning just who we are as a family of four. And, as always, Audrey had a few things to teach us this week as well.

When potty-training Audrey, we set an alarm that would go off every thirty minutes or so. We would ask Audrey to go potty when the alarm went off. Usually focused on a task, she would often tell us that she didn't want or have to go. We would tell her that she had to go, the alarm had gone off. On Monday, Audrey asked me to play with her. I told her I would, but first I had to go potty. "Did the alarm go off?" she asked.

Later, I gave her chap stick to apply. I saw her put it on her lips. She asked me why God made chap stick. "To protect your lips," I said.

A few moments passed. Then she said, "I put some on my tongue. To protect it."

Audrey's Grammy stayed Tuesday night to help out and play with the kids. I told Audrey that the next morning she had school and needed to move quickly so we would be on time. The next morning, she remembered that it was her day to go to school. "I have to hurry," she told Grammy. After a moment she said, "I have to HURRY!" and began running frantically around the house as if the meaning had just hit her.

Wednesday at dinner Audrey wanted a brownie. While she asked nicely, she forgot to say please. Jason said, "You did a good job asking, but you forgot one thing."

Audrey looked squarely at Jason and said, "What do I gotta do?"

Thursday, Audrey asked me, "Do you love me?"

"I love you so much!" I said.

"Oh, that's great," she said, as cheerfully as she had asked.

And, I do. And, it does feel great. I find myself smiling and laughing in spite of my lack of sleep or energy or free time. We are just a little family - just one among millions. All things considered, we are not that special. But each of us is growing - learning to focus or smile; learning to be the patient big sister; learning to adjust to the faster pace of parenting for two - learning and laughing. And, that - that is very special.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I meant to log on here yesterday and do a little post about what to expect for the next Fiction Thursday. But I got a bit distracted. The day passed me by. Hmm. What excuse can I give?

Yep. That'll work. Better luck next week. (Well, I do plan on getting a Week in Review posted sometime this weekend. I can't stare at baby toes all weekend. Can I?)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Taking Stock

Here's a little secret. I'm getting a little help this week. A lovely group of ladies (and my mother-in-law last night) have been feeding my family this week, granting me some precious free time to finally tackle a sudden mountain of laundry and make the adjustment from busy family of three to busier family of four. Tonight, I used a bit of that free time to make future dinner preparations just a bit simpler. Using those jarred gifts so popular at Christmas-time as my muse, I jarred up the dried ingredients for our go-to dinner muffins. Then, I typed an abbreviated recipe card and slapped it on the front of the jar. Easy-peesy. Now, I just have to toss the dried ingredients in a bowl, add a few fresh ingredients, and we're into the oven and off to the races in no time. The best part? The jars just get thrown into the dishwasher for a quick clean-up when I'm done. And, they're pretty. Pantry art, if you will.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life in a Snapshot

Yes, those would be the linings of her jeans pockets and the tag that you see. Audrey insisted on putting her pants on by herself. Then she decided to go smush her brother with love. Oh, that girl. I'd clobber her with squeezes if she were awake right now. Not that that's where she gets her ideas. ;)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grommet Girl

Okay, so they're really eyelets, but Eyelet Girl isn't nearly as catchy as Grommet Girl. Jason has come to a stopping point in our "playhouse project" for Audrey and passed the reigns to me. One "grommet" down, 33 to go. Now I just have to figure out how to pull off massive hammering with a sleeping toddler and infant. Tricky. Very tricky.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 52

I have been staying off my computer this weekend, as Jason's "vacation" ends tomorrow. I'm not sure what to expect of the week to come. I had intended to use Jason's time off getting "systems" in place to help me balance the two kids on my own. (To be honest, I have no idea what these mysterious systems were going to be, just that I was going to create them and they were going to work seamlessly.) But somewhere between Christmas, the heat going out, seeing friends we've missed for months, and trying to spend time together as a once-again "new" family, those systems never got created. Balance has not been restored. Something, namely the repetition of the phrase, "I want two mommies," makes me think that Audrey has noticed. I have to agree. Two mommies would be so efficient. Luckily, she had a pretty efficient Daddy with whom she spent the week. Here are just a few of the moments they shared:

On Monday, Jason taught Audrey how to give Eskimo kisses by rubbing noses. Then he taught her how to give butterfly kisses by touching eyelashes while fluttering them. Then she asked, "How do you do a hippo kiss?"

We had an early outing on Wednesday. Jason woke Audrey up to get her ready for the day. "Daddy, I think my eyes wanted to sleep some more," she said.

Later in the week we began a little creative project for Audrey. Audrey was very curious about what Daddy was doing with a drill, some wood, and metal hooks, so Jason quickly explained that he was making her a playhouse.

"So do you know how to make a playhouse?" she asked.
Jason implied that he thought he did.
"Well, I know how and I think you'll do a good job," she said.

We devoted more time in the following days to the playhouse, and Audrey devoted more time to talking about it.

On Friday, Jason took her on a trip to Lowes for some more supplies. As they pulled into the parking lot, Audrey said, "There's Lowes. You found it. Yea for Daddy!" (I know several children who can identify McDonalds or Chick-fil-a from the road. Our child can identify Lowes. Hmm.)

Later that day Audrey asked, "Are we going to make my playhouse?"
Jason told her he didn't know.
"I think you can figure it out," she said, much like a mob boss might tell one of his underlings, You better figure it out.

As for Nathan, he seems to take most things in stride. He takes it in stride when his big sister dotes on him, grabbing his hands and feet while he tries to sleep. It didn't seem to bother him (although, it terrified his mother) when Audrey picked him up and moved him from the center of his boppy pillow because she wanted to take a turn sitting there. His body doesn't seem to take such a laid-back approach. He has hiccups four or five times a day. He sneezes, a lot - always in multiples of three. He is a pint-sized oxymoron: a laid-back boy with a lot going on about him.

And, well, that's where I feel that we are right now - we're a bit of a contradiction in terms. We're trying to do more (be involved parents of two) while trying to do less (none of the clothes I want to wear tomorrow are clean, and other than letting Audrey loose with the broom after baking cookies this week, I can't tell you the last time the floor was swept). I'm without clean clothes or a plan, but sometimes, the best we can do is to simply wing it. In the meantime, I'm off to bed, because an extra hour of sleep is one system that always works.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fiction Thursday

This story is a little longer than what I will typically post on a Thursday, so I won’t give much background. I’ll save that for another time. I will say that it began as an assignment for a class. It was meant to be a short exercise, not a complete story, but once I got going, it just wrote itself. (I’ve often heard professional writers make similar annoying statements. This is the only time it’s ever happened to me. I walked around stunned. For days.) My professor suggested I send it to a magazine. So I did. I entered Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest. I won third place and $300. I have a very sweet memory of Jason running into the house from the mailbox with a letter from Glimmer Train with “third place winner” written on the envelope. He jumped onto the bed, waving it in my face to wake me up. I used the prize money to buy an elliptical machine. It’s still in our basement (the elliptical machine, not the envelope).


It was a bet made between children. The sort of thing that occurs when boys grow restless with lemonade stands or catching tadpoles, or the creek has dried to cracked dust. Not that anyone (myself, included) had ever witnessed anything of this magnitude before, but we could have. Boys will grow restless.

Boys grow restless when saturated by too much sun, when their bodies become too tanned or their hair too dry. They grow restless when given too many days of summer in which to ride their bikes and create new paths, which they will do – through fields marked with signs of “no trespassing” and the prints of young boys, through the yards of widows, until they feel the itch growing from their bellies to discover new boundaries.

It was a bet made between brothers. A bet, like most between brothers, that one never expects to be carried to fruition, like the time you found a roll of pennies in your father’s desk and insisted that your brother could not fit ten up his nose, which had been true, he only being able to squeeze three into his left nostril before being found by your mother.

(Was she, perhaps, to blame, having not come quick enough? Not quick enough to save him by a nose.)

Many evenings of setting summer sun were spent at the county hospital wriggling the big ideas out of restless boys, extracting pennies from their nostrils, stitching the cuts above their eyes. Nightly, nurses bandaged wounded elbows and knees while mothers administered the medicine of “you should have known better.” Just wait until your father hears.

It was a bet made between an older brother and a younger brother on bicycles. One rode a brand-new red Roadmaster Luxury Liner, its paint slick like the waxy skin of a Red Delicious. The other brother, having not just turned eleven, rode a secondhand (the first hand always being his brother’s) Schwinn Deluxe DX painted green, where paint remained. He was eight.

During the summer, younger brothers become tag-alongs. They follow you through Old Packard’s field riding their scraped-and-dented bottle-green bikes. As they coast through furrows, they whoop like cowboys and ride clumsily over molehills like girls or headless chickens. They draw attention to themselves and pedal slow. They bring fist-shaking widows to their porches.

No eleven-year-old wants to tote his eight-year-old brother through town. It’s not the kind of duty you volunteer for. It’s imposed upon you with threats or bribes of a dollar for fountain drinks. You crease the bill, stuff it into your back pocket and hope you don’t bump into Molly Waters or any of her friends at the soda shop while drinking brown cows with your kid brother.

After you slurp the last suds from your froth-coated glasses, you stick to fields and back roads. You stick to back roads because you will bump into fewer people than you would in town, particularly Molly Waters. You never expect your little brother to get hit.

It was a bet made out of boredom. The dollar had been reduced to change. The creek bed had been visited and jumped over – even though it was dry, presenting little threat or opportunity for amusement. Carvings had been made in the dried trough, the unsettled earth shavings transferred to pant legs and socks. The Carter boys had been invited along and Packard’s field had been ridden through twice. The bikes had even plowed between two rows of corn, the fresh leaves slicing bare arms, the underdeveloped husks beating the knuckles gripping the handlebars.

It was late summer and all the usual paths had already been taken. The bikes turned west, following the fields of corn and beans to the edge of town. They passed the Prue sisters’ place, an old farmhouse that smelled of worn muslin drapes and licorice, where boys were dragged – some by their ears – on the last days of summer to have their pants let down before the start of school. They passed the Prue place. Handy’s Fill-Up, the bait and tackle hut. They passed the last scatterings and scraps of town until they met the edge, marked by the tracks of the Southbound.

It was a bet made never to be repeated. It’s something one can’t even imagine. It’s the kind of dare that you can only conceive as you see the Southbound approaching, when the words form in your throat before you realize what you are saying. “You can have the leftover change from the sodas if you can beat the train across the tracks.”

It’s a gamble your kid brother should never take you up on. But he does. Maybe he wants to impress Bud and Joey Carter, or maybe he gets caught up in the rush of the train. Either way, he begins pedaling in hard, quick strokes upward toward the tracks. The eldest Carter whoops and beats his fist in the air like he’s at Fenway Park wanting your little brother to swing away, past the bleachers and lights.

Your kid brother is losing speed. You notice his stroke has become rough, his feet turning the spokes in uneven increments, off-rhythm. You yell for him to stop, to turn back. But he has cleared the hill and the train’s whistle drowns you out. He continues to the tracks.

It’s a tie. The Carter boy is no longer whooping. He is biting his fist as the other one screams. You run toward the tracks, change jingling in your pocket as you call your brother’s name. But nothing can be done; you must wait for the train to pass. You must wait to collect your brother, wait as the Southbound separates you.

You replay his ascent up the hill, trying to determine where he will be when the train passes.

He might have made it had he kept straight, had he not looked back. But he turned to look, look at the oncoming train, look back at me. He looked and his shoulder arched, the handlebars turning, the cross of the bike twisting. And he was a toddler again, wobbling unsteadily, his arms and legs unable to catch up with one another, as if being partnered for the first time. And he looked back, the look one more of surprise – as if questioning – than fear, as he tumbled. A toss of legs and arms. Appendages.

It was a bet made and lost.

We waited by the tracks, waited for the train to pass. We waited for the crew to collect my brother and clear away the pieces of bottle-green Schwinn. We waited for the sirens and lights to dissipate, for our parents to stop clutching us to their chests. We waited for summer to end, to outgrow our bikes.

* * * *

So there you have it, my last complete story. I’m sorry if it’s a bit more depressing than you were hoping for today (I once had someone read it and say, “but you seem like such a happy person,” and I have to say, it was harder for me reading it this time as a parent - I wasn't one when I wrote it). It’s not the path I wanted for the brothers, but I suppose if they didn’t occasionally have minds of their own, we wouldn’t call them characters. Hopefully, Audrey will offer up some more light-hearted fare for tomorrow. The next Fiction Thursday will be in two weeks. (Please forgive certain things not being centered or spaced right. I began typing this using a different program last night. Unfortunately, I'm not savvy enough to navigate between the two.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reclaiming Home

Thanks for the kind words yesterday and today! We're back to toasty conditions at our house, using the time to pack some things away for another year

and get back to those things that feel like home.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Year One

Today is my one-year blogging anniversary. One year. Really. The procrastinator in me is a bit dumbfounded. After all, it took a couple of former college roommates two years of asking and gently prodding, "When are you starting a blog?" (as if the act was not a question, only the timing) before I finally took the plunge. Now, one year in, perhaps they were right. Now that this blog has become a near daily practice of sorts, it feels as if it was always sitting there, luggage packed, waiting at the train station for me to buy a ticket. And, well, what a pleasant ride. When I began this, I didn't know where it would lead. I did not anticipate reconnecting with old friends, sweet souls who I now correspond with monthly or weekly. I didn't anticipate the new ways in which I would get to know people I already thought I knew well. I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that complete strangers would pop by to see what my family and I were doing in this little space. Who knew that anyone would read this, besides my husband and my mother?

I had simply hoped to build a creative space for myself. A little spot to get back into the practice of writing, to capture inspiring/creative activities of my day, and chronicle one-of-a-kind Audrey moments. I didn't mean to build a home. But this does feel like a home of sorts: a place I hang my coat each day, protected from the elements, where I can kick off my shoes and unwind with a cup of hot chocolate. But one with a bit of whimsy. A tree house, perhaps. With a fireplace. Hmm.

Of course, just like my real home, the New Year has me evaluating my space, looking to see how I could better use the rooms. I have an idea for this little tree house of mine. It began small, unspoken - an idle piece of flint. Then, just over two weeks ago, on our last date night, pre-Nathan, Jason looked up from his soup and said, "You should start putting your fiction on the blog." And just like that, it was out in the open air - a spark.

I used to write stories. Stories that made me think and try to solve puzzles. And, while very few people read them (which, let's be honest, is sometimes better) I loved creating them. I completed my last story in 2004. But I have a stack of "story starts", pieces, if you will - puzzles just waiting to be solved. This year, I'm going to share some of those pieces with you. I haven't figured out the details yet, if it will be once a month a bit each week, but I plan on posting the story starts that I haven't been able to stop thinking about (most of which were also written in 2004 or earlier). My hope is that by writing them out here, I will use the time I would spend on a normal post thinking about these stories, ruminating on them. Hoping for a spark. We'll see what happens. That's the thing about saying something out loud. You never know where it will lead.

I know that my fiction will not be every one's cup of tea, and I will not be hurt if you decide to skip over those posts. I know you each have your own reasons for stopping by here, whether to check in on Audrey or just see what's been cooking on our stove. My plan is to do fiction posts on Thursdays, with the first post being this Thursday. I think I will post that last story from 2004 while I use this week to collect my story starts and figure out a plan. In the meantime, thank you for being a part of this little space, for your encouragement, and for bringing a bit of your own stories here. The train ride is always better with other interesting passengers on board.

Monday, January 4, 2010

One More Look Back...

I realize that it's January 4th. And, while I should be focused on the now, I'm finding myself dawdling just a little bit in the Christmas season. Perhaps, it's Nathan's fascination with the Christmas tree lights, or the lack of free time to take down our ornaments. It could have something to do with the time I've spent the last couple of days finally getting our Christmas pictures developed and our cards signed. Ahem. Whatever the reason, could you humor me for one last post? We had a sweet little Christmas here this year, we wouldn't have changed a thing. However, I couldn't help but be inspired by a few things I ran across while reading others' blogs this season. So, for the sake of putting it all in one spot (and giving you one last dose of Christmas cheer and eye candy), here are some ideas I love for next year:

This tree by The Lettered Cottage.

The bulbs hanging from ceiling in the second picture on this post featured on the Spire Design Group Blog.

The idea of a Picture Book and Activity Advent for the month, found at The Crafty Cow (there is also one for 2009).

This Western Union card, posted by Betz White.

These recipes:
Apple Cranberry Tart and Roasted Red Pepper Crostini posted by Stephanie Levy.
101 Cookbooks: Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies and Orange and Oat Scones.
Chocolate-Dipped Hazelnut Marbles posted on Chocolate and Zucchini.
Three Layer Peppermint Bark found on Orangette.

Here's to moving on to the now, and looking ahead to next year and the Christmas to come.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 51

As I look over my scribbled notes of the happenings earlier this week, they seem a world away. Much has happened in the span of seven days. We had just begun creating a blueprint of our family of four days - trying them out for size, baptism-by-fire style. We were feeling blessed, lucky: a quiet healthy baby, a doting big sister eager to help (who, thank goodness, seems to be completely unchanged by the shift in our family, or shift in circumstances as the stories below will show). Then, thirty minutes after the stroke of 2010, our heat went out.

Jason used to reminisce about weekends spent at his aunt and uncle's house: the Saturday morning ritual of cousins piling onto the master bed for a morning of games and cartoons. It's the sort of ritual he hoped to recreate in our home one day. I just don't think he imagined a weather-induced start. But in the early minutes of New Years Day, we piled all of our family members (even the dog) onto our bed to keep everyone warm in the absence of heat (the high for New Years was slated for the mid-teens). We spent our morning there, until the repairman diagnosed the problem and regretfully informed us that they are not allowed to carry the part we need, and the store that does was, and still is, closed. So we wait. Jason sent me off, kids in tow, on New Years to seek warmer accommodations. Then, in true captain-of-the-ship form, he stayed behind, armed with space heaters, to insure that our pipes don't freeze.

So as I read my early-week notes, missing my husband terribly and hoping that he's warm, they seem from a different time, one of which I am happy to be reminded:

On Sunday, Audrey was playing with one of her new toys, a magnetic easel (complete with alphabet magnets) from her grandparents. She was picking out magnets and handing them to Jason. She picked up a "D".
"D for Daddy," she said, handing it over. Impressed, Jason put it up on the easel.
She fished an "A" out of the pile and passed it on. "A for Audrey." Jason placed it next to the "D".
"M for Mommy," she said as he put the "M" up beside the "A".
"N for Nathan."
And then we saw it, "D-A-M-N", spread out in bright colors across the child-size easel. Just more proof that you can't think of everything when naming your children.

As we went through the paces of Audrey's typical bedtime routine on Monday, Jason snuggled up next to her. She began rubbing the top of his head while he told her goodnight. In the midst of telling her he loved her and that she was his little pancake, she interrupted, "You do have hair!"

Jason's mom came over to help out on Wednesday. While tending to Audrey in the kitchen, my mother-in-law called her "babe". Audrey looked at her blank-faced. "What's babe about?"

Thursday, we decided to have breakfast at a local place that serves great pancakes. Since Audrey is his little pancake, Jason has taken to referring to Nathan as Flap Jack. Not one to leave me out, he's deemed me his Crepe. Crepes were on the menu (and, I have to admit, I am a bit drawn to them). Audrey asked what they were and Jason explained. "Mom, you're a fancy pancake," she said.

On Friday, I loaded the kids into the car to head to may parents, where we have been enjoying their generosity (and heat) ever since:

Nathan got fussy as I finished gathering the last of our gear into the car for our trip. I came out to find him crying and Audrey saying, "It's okay. Okay! Okay!" followed by a plea to me, "Can you sing to him?"

My mom took care of bath duty Friday night. I could hear Audrey singing made-up songs as she splashed in the tub. Mom tried to join in, but was quickly informed that she wasn't allowed to sing.
"Maybe I'll cry, instead," my mom said.
"You can't always get what you want," Audrey informed her.

On her way to bed, Audrey found a couple stuffed Miss Piggy dolls, which she gathered and ran to put in her bed. "They missed me, dude!" she yelled halfway up the stairs. My parents and I exchanged glances before asking in unison, "Did she just say dude?"

When I packed on Friday, I brought enough for a night's stay, thinking we'd be back in a toasty house Saturday afternoon. But Jason still sits at home, surrounded by space heaters, and I sit at my parents' wishing he were here. It's not quite how I envisioned us spending our first full week as a family of four. But it is how we spent our week, and it reminds me that I am lucky and blessed: to have a husband so easy to miss; family close by to offer their home and help; and the reality that this lapse in heat is a minor inconvenience for us rather than the constant struggle it is for some who also have little ones and spouses to protect. And let's not forget the blessing of Audrey and her laughs, because laughs - they can keep you warm.