Wednesday, December 31, 2008

december 31st

Because I live on the Atlantic coast (not “near” the coast but “on” the coast) I never believe any forecast that calls for snow. Oh, it might snow two miles inland, I’ll say, but for snow here, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The bay window is a beautiful white-out, my tiny blue car buried below, my family out trekking to finish a few more errands before we hunker in for a New Year’s Eve at home. (We had other plans, but I’m Not Driving.) I’m starting to brainstorm ways to celebrate right here in the living room, or maybe sliding down the icy street from the snow ramp below our house.

I see no harbor today—I can barely see the flag flying in the boatyard half a block below. I love the filtered light, the muffled sound. I hear snowplows thundering somewhere, engines warming, a neighbor shoveling.

Three weeks ago I turned in my last packet of school work for the quarter and shifted to be Holiday Mom, the baker of cookies for the bake sale, the person who guides children through gift-making and thank-you writing, the person who can convert a European recipe for gingerbread house frosting. And these days I’m enjoying a new role as The Person Who Assists. Gingerbread houses? I hand them the kits, carefully stored from last year, and $20 worth of candy and supplies. Tree? I plunk it in the bucket and wire it to the wall, then I bring boxes of ornaments from the attic and stand back. I put the star on the top. I untangle lights. They do the rest. Cookies? I make sure the dough is the right texture for the cookie press: they can do the rest. I take photos. I admire the results. I clean up, which is a mighty task but look how much the kids can do themselves! Each year the kids grow more confident, sensible, capable, funny. I like these ages. I like assisting.

I set up the loom with enough warp for two scarves: one for a kid to weave, one for me to weave—it takes time, but I’m learning a little more every time, how to make the fabric stronger, how to make fewer mistakes, how to make the most from a skein of great yarn.

I see my family trying to steer the minivan up the unplowed street: no way. This is going to be a good one.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

recipe for winter-dry hands and Christmas gifts

Luxury Salt Scrub for Knitters and Other People

Madeleine is labeling the glass-topped tins, now, for gifts for all the women in her life—and a few men, too. “Place a generous pinch in the palm and rub into hands and cuticles vigorously. Helps prevent hangnails and makes hands SMOOTH.” The scrub is also good for elbows, feet, and peeling lips.

Sea Salt—coarse is good but fine is also good. (I hear sugar works also, but I don’t know if it will clump)
Oil that is good for skin: jojoba, vitamin E oil, almond, avocado or grapeseed oil.
Essential oil: choose a scent you like. Lavender is very good for scrapes.

We poured three cups of coarse salt into a glass bowl and added two or three tablespoons of oil, then shook in about a hundred drops of essential oil. Stir and put in sealable containers.

If you don’t live near a health-food store, you might look at a pharmacy for vitamin E oil to combine with salt or sugar. Essential oils are very concentrated and not at all like perfume—I wouldn’t use other scents. But if you do, let me know how it goes.

WARNING: This is not a cheap project. Organic, healthy, but not cheap. A small bottle of lavender oil is $17 and my grapeseed oil was $5. Sea salt, $3. But the ingredients go a long, long way, and we use lavender oil for a number of things. We crafted 25 little tins of salt scrub, and didn’t even use a third of our ingredients. (A.C.Moore Crafts sells a bucket of “favor tins” @ $20 for 25 tins, and I had a 50% off coupon—hooray!) With more tins, we could easily make 50 gifts from these supplies.

My hands are feeling smooth, and they smell great. And my daughter has a stack of Christmas presents all lined up for teachers, neighbors, and all her grown-up friends.

looking for non-verbal diversions

Hey! I hate blogposts that say "hey, I've been lame about blogposts," but never has this message been more true. I just submitted a boatload of all-over-the-place pages to my faculty mentor, who just wrote me a gracious and honest response. And I've never been tired-er of the written word.

After I submitted my end-of-quarter work, I submitted a proposal for a $9000 scholarship-- of course after I hit the "send" button I doubted the content of my application. But it's sent!

Now I find myself cleaning house madly for school vacation, which starts Friday. And I find myself spinning yarn with my spindle, remembering how much I love color and wasting time on pretty stuff. Yarn therapy. I'm reading a novel, which feels just decadent. Scott and I are watching the John Adams miniseries. Kids are preparing Christmas gifts for teachers. And I am feeling delightfully boring.

I'll write as soon as I'm recovered.

Friday, December 12, 2008

birthday poem

Given to a fiery Brendan from his teacher:

The light that burns within me-- hidden, silent, deep,
It streams with power like the sun from realms of sleep.
It fills my heart with joy. It gives me strength and gladness
And lets me shine to others too, to heal their sadness.

When fire burns and I am master of this fire,
Then, pouring light upon me, Heaven's Sons inspire
My work, and I can do God's deeds as they require.

Master of his own fire: may it be so.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

rare gifts

The quick solution to after school hunger was a stew from last night’s roast and potatoes and carrots—cut the meat and potatoes, add a handful of peas and a cup of chicken broth… it was a good start, one small bowl each for three people.

Madeleine whined. She loved the roast last night, raved about the sauce made with red wine and red lentils. She walked to the frig and noted the pie dough, whose recipe said the dough could chill up to two days in advance. (It’s been eight days, but who’s counting?) She put her foot down and demanded to make pumpkin pie, from the ingredients we purchased for Thanksgiving, the ingredients we never used.

Let’s see, my child is insisting that she make me a pie, with a vegetable in it! Um, okay, I guess, if you want to bake me a pie, I guess I can just roll the dough out for you. I guess. Aprons come out, hands are washed. She squints at the recipe on the back of the pumpkin can.

I can’t write with them at home, so I save chores for these hours, the laundry folding, the last of the dishes to wash, the dusting. Brendan offers to help with the pie, and I demonstrate how to use a can-opener. They mix. I roll. We nibble scraps of crust and I agree they can lick the pumpkin bowl if they help me clean up.

Then Madeleine asks if she can reorganize my cabinets. Um, yeah. Brendan wants his own project and asks if he can re-label all of my jars of herbs, if he cleans them and removes the old illegible grubby labels. Is this the same guy who was dragging all through school prep this morning? The same guy who’s been so terribly stubborn? He pulls out the permanent pen, the computer labels, and goes to work. Some bottles are so old we need to guess what they were. The change is astonishing.

Madeleine finishes with the cabinet and asks if she can organize the freezer. Hmmm. Okay. She dons mittens and pulls a chair up to the freezer door.

I should go into their room right now and reorganize the desk, which is piled high with stuff, or their unmade beds, or the piles in the closet. Nah. They are capable. Besides they are tidying public spaces, and the house smells of pumpkin pie, my miraculous luck. They kick and scream over putting away their socks. I don’t understand, but I love pumpkin pie.

Time to fold more clothes. They are singing Halloween songs. Sounds good to me.

Writing goes well enough, with an academic paper in the draft stage and a creative essay in the draft stage. I attempted to teach a dozen third graders how to spin yarn today, and it wasn’t half-bad! Several kids got it right away, and some got it after some work, but they were all enthusiastic to try. Christmas prep is going okay.

Did I mention my kids are making me a pumpkin pie? All I had to do was roll out the crust. It’s coming out of the oven, now, and smelling like dinner.

Monday, December 01, 2008

quick and unimaginative update

Turkey soup is bubbling on the stove.

My son is tired and grouchy, but pulling out his viola to practice. Grouchy + tired + viola, hmmm. We’ll see how it goes.

My daughter says she is finished with her bath, but is dragging her way out of the bathroom slowly. She woke howling today, convinced her teacher would be mad that she’s not finished her Native American project. She was still weeping into her waffles when I phoned her teacher for a word of encouragement. Madeleine finished her last illustration this evening without further dramatics, so the weeping can be over and the project can be turned in tomorrow.

My husband tells me he was exposed to strep throat yesterday and by the way his head hurts a lot. I’m remembering Gloucester once had a “sick house” for contagious people, on the other side of town, and suddenly that seems like a good idea. I mean, he could take a stack of magazines, and I’d bring him some chicken soup (as long as he didn’t breathe near me).

Essays and a critical essay are due in a week. I’m drafting the critical essay today.

Got a work memo asking where my report was from last Friday. I’ve never heard of the necessary report form mentioned in the memo. I asked when I should send it, and the answer was “now would be good.” Sigh.

But, I have a critical essay topic and the book seems newly salient to daily life. M. F. K. Fisher wrote How to Cook a Wolf to encourage economy and even flair among beleaguered cooks suffering food shortages during World War II. While quite dated in some parts (one recipe is for flavored tooth cleaning powder), much of the “we could all use a bit of common sense” tone could be quite useful today.

I have turkey wings, bubbling into broth.

And the viola playing is not bad.

Thanksgiving was simple and lovely, and the leftovers did not last nearly long enough.

The house we hoped to buy was pulled from the market last week, and the sellers decided (firmly) to keep it for themselves. But we discovered we can qualify for a mortgage, especially if house prices continue to lower. And the former-sellers (the non-sellers?) know where to find us if they change their mind. (Which they clearly need to do—the land has a creek, a bit of woods, a view of our favorite beach, a fireplace…)

I was typing away earlier, in my bay window in the clouds, when the sky suddenly opened up and I could see the fog sink down to the ground, and gradually pull itself away. With the sun out, my daughter and I skipped along the beach for half an hour after school, watching the waves play, a lovely treat.

Now the stars are icy clear and sparkling and I need to think of dessert for children, who believe dessert happens every day and I’m too weary to argue. I love them wildly, and they are skinny children. I am glad for them to eat. So I’d best go rustle up something. Then their bedtime, then back to my work, if I can stay awake.

That’s my quick catchup. Tell me if you need more news, and I’ll keep you posted. But most likely, I’ll write again next week, after the pages of essays are turned in.

It’s still mostly fun to be a student, even if it means studying every waking hour, trying to catch up for five days at home with the family.

Tomorrow morning, they all leave AGAIN to go to school AGAIN and leave me to my quiet. Hopefully.