Thursday, May 29, 2008

12 excuses why I’ve been averaging one sorry blog post a week

1. I’ve been busy.

2. I’ve been funneling all my creative energies into other writing projects in preparation for a writer’s conference I'm attending next month (where I get to meet with agents, editors and writers who actually know what they’re doing. Wahoo).

3. Lately, whenever I get some free time, I don’t feel like writing on my blog. I feel like reading. Or listening to a podcast. Or walking. Or watching entire seasons of West Wing in one stretch. Or pretty much anything besides writing on my blog which for some reason feels like a chore to me or maybe an old boyfriend who I used to be infatuated with but now he just gives me the creeps so I ignore his calls and walk on the other side of the hall whenever I see him coming just to avoid eye contact.

4. Sometimes I’m just too sad.

5. It’s not that I’m depressed. It’s just that my life is depressing and I’d be an idiot not to get sad about it. I like to think there’s a difference.

6. Some days, I’m sad enough that I hear things like this about how a giant new particle accelerator may have the potential to create a black hole that will eventually swallow all life on earth as we know it and you know what I think? I think: What a relief.

7. Trust me, nobody wants to read what I would write on a day like that.

8. Some days I remember I also have a wonderful life with amazing kids and a great job and a husband I can talk with about anything. I should write on days like that. But I don't because I'm too busy taking care of my kids and dealing with my job and talking to my husband.

9. I’ve been exercising an hour every day. This is good for my body but it cuts into my writing time.

10. Nora has been sick (again) and grumpy. She insists on sitting on my lap (up peese!) whenever I try to type anything.

11. I keep meaning to get back into the habit of writing every day (okay so maybe I wasn't ever actually in that habit, but I plan to start). I have the best intentions. I compose handfuls of posts in my mind over the course of a single day. I have a million things to say. Then it’s 11 pm and I say, I can write something or I can just go to bed and worry about it tomorrow.

12. I have a very comfy bed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why we need a national kid day

It must be spring. My kids would move their beds and all their worldly possessions outside and LIVE in the yard full-time if I let them. Also, they can't wait for school to end so they can get on with the really important stuff. All weekend long, all four of my children were seriously committed to catching every bug within a 2-mile radius and studying them like the scientists they are and then, every night, releasing them ceremoniously to live another day.

McKay has had a particularly tough school year and he's the most excited to see summer vacation right around the corner. He told me he's tired of adults who never listen to what kids really think. "Kids have great ideas if people would just pay attention," he said.
"I think so too." I said. "What's your great idea today?"
"Kids should get paid vacations."
"But you already have those. Don't you get holidays and spring break and stuff?"
"No, I mean paid vacations. You know how Dad gets days where he doesn't go to work and he still gets paid. Well, I think we should have times where we don't have to go to school but we still get straight A's."

He's right. Maybe we should just put the kids in charge from now on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


In honor of Mother’s Day weekend, I spent from 6 am to midnight on Saturday working working working. It was one of those days where I hardly had time to eat (wish that happened a little more frequently) and my body ached all over by the time I finally crawled into bed, but it actually felt good to get so much accomplished. I tackled some projects I’d been meaning to get around to for months, the largest of which was to sort through every stitch of children’s clothing in the house (many boxes and many hours’ worth) and pack away the clothes we are saving and give away the rest. I took not one but two trips to the thrift store, where they were kind enough to tell me “thanks for your donation” and hand me coupons as I unloaded on them several garbage bags full of my purgings. Suckers. (Of course, I’ll be back next week to use those coupons and pay them real money for a pile of things they got from someone else for free. Who’s the sucker now?)

My laundry room is now clean. The drawers on my children’s dressers—the ones that used to require the thigh and back strength of linebackers to wrestle shut—now glide into place with at least a centimeter of head room to spare. My home feels a little lighter. My list of things to do is shorter. What more can a mother ask for?

In my sortings, I came across a box of old calendar pages. In our leaner years, the only way I could afford to decorate our home was to buy artsy calendars on clearance in February and cut the paintings out and frame them with whatever used frames I could find and refinish. One of the pieces of art I rediscovered on Saturday must have come from a calendar we had actually used because on one side was a gorgeous painting by Frederick Carl Frieseke and on the other side—the month of May, 1995—there were notes and scrawls about appointments and such. The fascinating part was not so much the notes themselves, but the huge empty gaps in between. In the entire month of May, there are only six days with anything written on them (and one of those things is a reminder to watch a documentary on TV so it hardly counts as a pressing engagement). The rest of the boxes are blissfully naked. How is it even possible that I once lived a life of such negative space?

I’m sure if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you I was a very busy person. I was working full time. I was teaching a class each semester. I was cooking and cleaning for two. Ken and I were hunting for a new house that summer. And I was pregnant (one of our six May appointments was the ultrasound that would tell us our first boy was on the way). But truly, in comparison to the effusive, ink-covered calendar that currently hangs on my kitchen wall, May of 1995 was a positively peaceful month. I would even dare say it felt much like the painting on its reverse side. I must have strolled through the days like the woman in pale green, taking a moment to examine a dainty stem of hollyhocks. She blends right in, another column of greenery among the rest. She is surrounded by flowers and space and time in abundance. I can’t even imagine having that kind of leisure.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A country fantasy

For our anniversary, Ken and I took a weekend jaunt to a historic town in central Utah called Spring City. While we were there, we looked around at the sleepy main street, rode our bikes up and down the sidewalk-less roads (past sheep and goats and pastured horses and a cemetery with gravestones dating back to the 1800s), ate in a café where the regulars chatted about water shares, and watched a man drive to church on his four-wheeler. We also got as serious as you can get in 24 hours about moving there someday. It’s a kind of mutual dream Ken and I have—to transplant ourselves to country soil, to get away from the crowded valley where we live (…and work and fight the traffic of a half-million other people’s lives and works), to trade in our tiny backyard for a few acres of weeds and some sycamores big enough to anchor a treehouse for the kids. I yearn for a coop full of chickens so badly I have already picked out names for all of them. I want to sit near an open window and not hear the sounds I hear right now: the beeping of reversing construction vehicles, the zooming of semis on the freeway a mile away, the roaring of the lifeflight helicopter landing at the hospital down the road, the incessant yelping of our neighbor’s neurotic penned-up dog.

I’m fully aware that we might hold a slightly romanticized view of country life. In my Spring City fantasy for example, we have no neighbors with trashy yards full of rusting abandoned farm equipment and discarded appliances (Mavis next door, however does keep an old cast-iron tub spilling over with wildflowers out back). The air is always fragrant—not “pastoral” in a way that had me checking the back of my shoes obsessively for the first several hours of our stay in Spring City. The regulars at the café never tire of discussing irrigation and move on to gossiping about our private lives. Our children would never get injured in falls from their four-wheelers and require a 45 minute drive to the nearest medical facility. There are no biting flies in my Spring City. The cows mill about cooperatively in a picturesque fashion and produce no cow pies.

I’m willing to take even a less-than ideal version of my fantasy if it would allow me to extricate myself (and my children) from our current nature-deprived, plugged-in, materialistic surroundings. But of course, as Ken said more than once over the weekend, if we really ever tried to move, the kids would kill us. Yes, they would love the treehouse, but they would hate leaving their friends and schools behind. They would love the wildness of it all, but they would miss the library (and, I admit, I would dearly miss the library too). They would especially hate having to mow the acre of back lawn and take care of my chickens. Oh, and Nora loves real birds but she loves our frequent “copper” flybys even more.

Boucher, Shepherd and Shepherdess reposing
And so I get to keep my fantasy intact—pristine and beatific and all loamy— because I doubt we’ll ever really take the naked leap into a country life. Like the 18th century noble Parisians who imagined the lives of peasants to be sweeter smelling than their own, we’ll have to be content with the perfect, unreal version of farm country we have managed to till in the creative soil of our own minds.

That is, unless we found a really good deal on a five-acre lot with a few sycamores . . .

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Grades were due yesterday, which means I woke up this morning with the thought that I could finally check out my course evaluations online. If I were a stronger person, I wouldn’t care so much about the evaluations, but being the validation-junkie that I am (exhibit A: my blog), I get a kick out of reading students’ comments at the end of every semester. This morning I was not disappointed. Let me first say that I had a great bunch of students this semester and I put a lot of extra time into class preparations and things just went well. Sometimes things don’t go so well. This time they did and my evaluations reflected this. In terms of ratings numbers, this is my second highest semester ever (and nothing will probably ever beat the summer I had only 25 students and they met outside of class twice a week to have extra study sessions with pizza and we all clicked in a way that made them better students and me a better teacher and at the end of the term I gave them almost all A’s and they gave me a standing ovation and an inscribed book about cathedrals, and well. . . that semester has ascended to semi-mythical heights in my mind and on my evaluation records). But anyway, this past semester came in a close second. I don’t want to brag, but it’s always gratifying to read compliments from the students I have worked hard to teach and have grown very attached to over the past four months. I’ll try to ignore the 2 or 3 negative remarks, including the one that suggested I only teach in classrooms with softer chairs and stadium seating.

My kids were up already and they read my evaluations over my shoulder. Ethan said, “I didn’t know you were such a good teacher.” And McKay said, “Way to go Mom!” This is also gratifying since it’s my kids I must desert when I teach and whom I neglect in innumerable ways when I grade papers and choose to put that aforementioned extra time into class preparations.

Then I read my email and found a rejection letter for an essay I submitted to a journal about two months ago. I interpret the confluence of events as a sign: clearly I’m a better teacher than a writer. And maybe, judging from the feedback I’m getting today, I should be focusing more on my strengths. And maybe even, despite the fact that there’s no such a thing as a Parent and Wife Evaluation form, I should be focusing more on the five people who matter most to me rather than wasting my time with dreams of writerly grandeur. Obviously, I don’t take rejection well.

But really, the Parent and Wife Evaluation form isn’t such a bad idea. For one, I’d like more regular feedback on things like: “Learning materials are effective” and “Course has strengthened my spiritual and intellectual skills” and the important “Instructor shows respect for individual students and their opinions.” I guess with mother’s day coming up, I may expect a card or two, but what if I had a quarterly review complete with scaled questions and suggestions for improvement? What if I could compare my efforts from one semester to the next and keep an eye on my approval ratings (which I suspect just might show a sickly little dip during each pregnancy just as my student evaluations have).

Then again, maybe the occasional “way to go Mom!” is feedback enough. Bear hugs are also good and then there’s Nora’s fishy-mouth kisses—neither of which, let me just make perfectly clear, I get from my students. McKay tells me almost every day “Thanks for all you do for us.” Ken says I’m a good mother. Ethan tells me my cooking is so gourmet I should open a restaurant. Gabie lets me come into his room and hang out with him even after he has attached a forbidding sign to the door that says, “no pepol at ol.” What do I need evaluations for?

Plus I think I’ve long since earned my mommy tenure.