Thursday, April 30, 2015

I'm So Not June Cleaver

I might have to concede that I am hopeless when it comes to housewifery. 

I was taught by the best. My mother is a terrific cook, keeps a clean home, decorates seasonally, and never leaves the house without looking put together. When I was growing up, she did all this as a single mother and successful banking executive. She still had time, skill, and energy left over to have a thriving social life. Her parties are legendary. 
She set a fantastic example for me.

art credit:

It just didn't take with me, though. I have no idea why. I'm smart. I had a great teacher. I was given every opportunity--until that day in high school when my mama returned from work to find the kitchen a complete disaster.  Something in her broke, and she banished me from her kitchen, telling me that my best hope was to marry a chef. (How right she was!)  The only thing I seemed to have picked up from her was my knack for putting together a shindig.  I do know how to throw it down for an occasion.

photo credit: Tupperware

An illustration: When I was a young stay-at-home mom, my Personal Chef came in from his work one evening to hear me shrieking at a toddler Thing 1, "Stop helping me!  Just stop it!" He took the beautiful, wee imp in his arms in a hug, and over her shoulder looked at me and deadpanned, "I knew you weren't a great housekeeper when I married you. Go ahead. Get a job."

photo credit:

So, I did.  I returned to working in child care, bringing Thing 1 and Thing 2 with me. I never looked back.

For over twenty years, I have barely managed to keep the laundry done, the dishes clean, and the bathrooms in good enough shape to prevent an outbreak of disease.  My decorating projects are never quite complete. There are always piles of things that need to be put away somewhere else. Dust mocks me on every flat surface of my home. I am ashamed to look you in the eye and talk about the dog hair that rolls across my floors like big, fluffy tumbleweeds. And truth be told, if I hadn't married a chef, the kids would have ended up surviving on cereal, cold cuts, pasta and cookies. Until VERY recently, mealtimes always crept up on me like a surprise.  (What?!  It's time to feed these people again?!)

photo credit:

I've been out of work for over six months now. So, I've tried making a comeback at this homemaker business. I got off to a fantastic start. In a frantic two-day whirlwind--preparing for an out-of-town house guest--I hung the pictures that had languished in boxes for YEARS, finished painting the woodwork in the living-room, hung actual drapes, artfully filled my bookcases, and replaced the decorative throw pillows.  With that success propelling me forward, I moved into my kitchen. There, I've discovered the pleasure that other folks have long found in preparing a good meal.

art credit:

That's about as far as I've gotten, though. My bedroom makeover has been unfinished for so long that it is now time to re-redo it. I found Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter decor all co-habitating in my dining room. (Most of which I would not even own if my wonderful mother hadn't thoughtfully gifted me the pieces over the years.) Because I'm home to create them, there are even MORE piles of things that need to be put away somewhere else. The dust still mocks me. The dog fur tumbleweeds still roll by.

Just this morning, as I went to wash the pan from last night's dinner--which My Personal Chef prepared, I should note--I was thoroughly doused by the kitchen hose that has been broken for as long as we have lived in this house. (Yes, ANOTHER thing that is only a surprise to me. I get it.)  Then, my inner Heloise kicked in.  I took off my soaked sweater, and used it to mop the floor. Brilliant, right?! I might get this housewife thing down after all.

photo credit Pinterest

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Bigger Than Expected Joys Edition

What. A. Week.  My heart overflows. Like any week, there have been difficult moments and joyful moments.  A few of those joyful bits left me gobsmacked:

  • Thanks to the wonders of technology, I got to hear my Personal Chef putting his best foot forward in a presentation. Not that I doubted it, but he was absolutely fantastic. To see him so excited about a professional opportunity is pretty incredible, too. 

  • I got connected to Girl Noticed. This project speaks to me in a powerful way.

  • I finally met this little bundle of wonder. Born prematurely with a few complications, at two months old, she is finally 7 lbs. I held her until my arms fell asleep. I love her, her mama, and her Papa Smurf (her grandfather) more than I can say.

  • I spent a working lunch with the coolest 10-soon-to-be-11-year-old going.  Together we planned a Dr. Who-themed birthday party that is sure to rip a hole in the fabric of time it is going to be so awesome.

  • I was gifted with more time to love. A dear friend's life threatening health scare had a happy ending.

  • My second favorite harbinger of spring--the official proclamation of "ice out" on Lake Winnepesaukee was declared.  That's the day that the ice has melted enough for the Mt. Washington to make her complete run around the lake. 

photo courtesy of

  • The first blooms in my garden all appeared this week--the forsythia, the hidden hyacinths, the creeping myrtle, the weeping cherry, the daffodils, and this one, early-bird tulip.

  • The veggie beds got tilled, composted, and planted.

  • I rebuilt the fire pit. Sacrificing the first Peep* of the season under a beautiful night sky was the perfect way to end a day of hard work. *Years ago, we upgraded from toasting plain old marshmallows to toasting Peeps on a campfire.  Try it.  They morph into fantastic shapes, and, if done right, they taste like creme brulee.  And if you get it wrong, the colored sugar turns the flames into great colors. Either way,  you can't lose.

What has filled your heart this week?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Do You Notice?

     We are absolutely inundated with visual stimuli that vies for our attention. Entire industries are dedicated to capturing images, packaging images, transmitting images, branding images, correcting/changing/updating images, getting the most hit counts for your images...

     I bring this up, because whether we like this or not, the truth is that in our culture we invest in what matters to us. And according to our spending habits, we are overwhelmingly concerned about what we look like, and how that look is perceived by others.

     This is true in all areas of American life, but for the purposes of this blogpost, I'm going to focus on women's personal appearance, okay? A simple Google search on "women spending on appearance" comes up with 62,100,000 links. In the first few links I clicked, Huffington Post articles note that American women spend $426 BILLION a year on beauty products and treatments.  Lea Goldman from MarieClaire talks about the unfair business practices targeted at women, resulting in $151 BILLION in mark-ups that men do not pay for the equivalent products marketed to males.  The Today Show revealed that on top of spending their money on products, the average American woman spends two weeks of their time a year on selecting clothes. Judging by the way we spend our money and our time, women, clearly, have accepted the messages about image.

     Only every woman I know is so much more than our image. We are more than our hair style and the clothes we wear and our skin regimen.  We are more than the vehicle we drive and the place we get our coffee and our magazine subscriptions. We are absolutely more than the color of our skin or the language we were first taught at home. We teach children, heal the sick, run corporations, write poems.  We grow vegetables and flowers. We develop policy and draft legislation.   We start families. We worship. We build communities. We make mistakes. We fail at some of our relationships. We suffer losses. Sometimes we give up.

We experience the entire gamut of the human experience. 
We are so much more than what we look like.

     I don't actually have a problem with women (anyone, actually) cultivating their image. It's part of what makes each of us ourselves. Personally, I love getting my hair done, and a new skirt can make my whole day. The problem is when we all make our value judgments about each other based solely on our look. There is a lot of great work going on right now, bringing attention to that--especially in regards to women.

     Here is one project that has especially resonated with me, though. Florida artist, Lori Pratico, and photographer, Elizabeth Sanjuan, have founded Girl Noticed.  Over the next three years, Lori and Elizabeth will be traveling to create mural-sized, charcoal portraits of local women in all 50 states. The subjects of these portraits are allowed to voice what it is about themselves that they wish the world noticed.   Designed to be an interactive project, viewers of the murals will also be able to add their own notes about what they want noticed about themselves. The installations already done in Florida and Michigan have been powerful and impacting. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be even tangentially involved in this important creative work.

     You, too, can get involved in this project.  Check out their website. Make a financial donation. Submit a story about why you or another woman in your life would make a good subject for a portrait. Offer up the exterior of your business as a site for a mural. Visit one of the installations and add a note of your own. Most importantly, make the effort to notice, really, fully notice the women in your life.





Sunday, April 19, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--a weekly round up

Even the worst days have moments of joy.  They do. I promise you they do.  Here are some of the joys that blessed my socks off this week:

  • Having a preschooler announce to the entire class on Monday that it was my birthday*, then having the entire group scramble to make pretend birthday cake and gifts.  I am now the proud owner of multiple pretend hammers, a new baby doll, and a Thomas the Tank Engine. I was really hoping for a Percy, but I can't complain.  This impromptu birthday party rocked!    *My birthday is actually in December. 
  • Spending a delightful hour or so wandering through a couple of my local garden shops.

  • Spending two self-indulgent afternoons engaged in some serious dirt therapy.  My window boxes are now filled with cheerful pansies, my perennial beds are cleaned out.  The potted tulips and daffodils from Easter are transplanted into the yard. I got my morning glories and cutting flower seeds planted.  

  • Discovering these little daisy cousins--bellis.  Don't you think that they look like the flowers from Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who ?  I simply had to have them in my perennial bed.

  • Sending the Evil Genius off on his 8th grade class trip to Washington, DC.
  • Spending a morning shopping for baby shower presents with Thing 1.  I do not spend nearly enough time with my firstborn.  
  • Adventuring with My Personal Chef on a Progressive Supper Date Night.  Three restaurants in three different cities in one night.  So. Much. Fun. 

What filled your hearts this week, my beloveds?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Managing My Yes

 I have these dear friends in Rwanda who are married with three beautiful daughters, a large, close-knit extended family, and satisfying careers that fulfill them. They are so obviously happy together.  It's adorable. When they first told me the story of how they fell in love, I was gobsmacked.  Forget that they came together in the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide. Their story is charming and romantic on its own, in any place and any time.

For him, it was love at first sight. 
For her, not so much.  

See, she's practical, thoughtful, and fiercely independent. She's not exactly distrustful, but she certainly doesn't rush into relationships of any sort.  (I suspect she was like that before genocide undid her world.) Undaunted, he pursued her patiently, gently, relentlessly.  For over a year he tried to get her attention and woo her.  For over a year she refused him. Another man would have given up and moved on.  

Another man wasn't in love with her, though. 

He had a powerful ally in his quest--one of her sisters.  Together, they worked out a plan that they hoped would finally win his true love's heart.  He would throw her a surprise birthday party.  He got all the friends and family gathered at her favorite spot at the home of a beloved uncle. This was several hours from her home in Kigali, mind you, so it involved him making several round trips to get all the party guests there, all while keeping the party a secret.  He arranged for all the food and drink and music. This man really went all out. After the party was done (and deemed a smashing success), he made several more round trips to get everyone back home.  

Late that night, he received a text from her that simply said, "Yes."

He was over the moon.  
She was happily anxious.

What she said next to me, was striking,
 "So, now I had to figure out how to manage my yes."  

What an incredible turn of a phrase, right? It really gets to the heart of commitment. Beyond the giddiness of being smitten, there is the practical, ongoing, active demonstrations of your loyalty, of your steadfastness, of your love. It's doing the endless loads of laundry, working overtime to pay the bills, biting your tongue when you really want to criticize, making the apology when you weren't able to bite it...

Managing your yes. 

I love to say yes.  I say it all the time. I often say it without giving it much--or any--thought at all.  I dive headlong into relationships.  I enthusiastically sign onto a project. I volunteer for pretty much anything anyone asks of me. Very frequently, I say yes to things that I cannot realistically manage, because truthfully  I'm too busy or too ill-equipped for them. 

Lately, I've been thinking about the people and things I have said yes to. It shames me to realize how often I have let someone down simply because I didn't consider my yes to them or their project a commitment I've made. So, I'm trying to be more mindful of the yeses I say. 

I'm finding it to be a lovely lens to see the world through. It turns burdensome tasks into practical demonstrations of affection when I see them as part of managing a yes I said to someone. It makes it much easier to say no to something I think is a worthy project when I see it as a commitment that I cannot meet.  

I'm learning to manage my yes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--a weekly round up

Even the worst days have moments of joy.  They do. I promise you they do.  Here are some of the joys that blessed my socks off this week:

  • Spending a morning with some of the best minds and biggest hearts in early childhood care & education.  Whenever I spent time with these folks, I always leave feeling inspired and encouraged.
  • Sitting on the screen porch watching the first Red Sox games of the season.  Especially delightful is the fact that the Sox are already up 2 games to nothin' over the Yankees. 

Photo courtesy of

  • Joining my sisterfriends and the Men & Boys Who Love Them in a high school auditorium, because one of our sons was the lead in the school musical.

  • Getting in a good walk along the shore, taking a break to listen to the changing tide and clanging sailboat rigging, returning just ahead of a rainstorm.
photo courtesy of Goddard State Park

  • Being a substitute kindergarten teacher for a day.  Having one of the little boys spontaneously wrap his arms around me and exclaiming, "I love you, Mrs. A.!"
  • Letting a fifth grade class have a dance off as a reward for getting across the school with a minimum of noise. You haven't lived until you've had to judge between hip hop, Irish step, Ring Around the Rosie, and whatever the heck THAT move those boys were bustin'.
  • Going with Thing 1 to our favorite hairdresser/cousin for a visit and a 'do adjustment.

  • Celebrating the awesomeness that is having the Providence College Friars Hockey Team win their first ever NCAA hockey national championship!  I'm giddy over this because one of my Other Favorite Cousins is the athletic trainer for team, because the game was fantastically exciting from the first period to the final seconds, and because the Friars were the underdogs when they came up against undefeated Boston University. (That's right, it was two local teams facing off for the national championships at the TD Boston Garden. It. Was. Electrifying.)

photo courtesy of the Boston Globe

  • Celebrating my brother's 45th birthday with my FabFam.

  • Hearing the peepers in full chorus.  It's my favorite harbinger of spring.

What joys did you catch this week my beloveds?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Musings on Grrrlhood

     Now, while it is true that my radio presets are pretty much all classic rock stations (with one set for sports radio, because, DUH!), I do love me some old school hardcore punk rock.  So imagine my delight to learn that today is Riot Grrrl Day in the city of Boston. No, seriously.  Kathleen Hanna, Riot Grrrl and third-wave feminist, is speaking in the city tonight! In response, Mayor Marty Walsh is proclaiming April 9, 2015 as Riot Grrrl Day.  It's a big enough deal that not only did all the cool indie press sites pick up the story, but so did the Boston Globe .

     Even if you aren't into the punk scene, you should pay attention to this, because the whole Riot Grrrl movement is so much more than a collection of bands from a single genre of music. It's about women claiming their rightful place as creators. It's about women using their voices--the louder the better--to express what they are compelled to express.  It's about women demanding that we expand our world views to include not only women, but all people--LGBT folk, people of color, believers of all stripes, non-believers, everyone. It's about believing that everyone's art is valid, everyone's art expresses something important, everyone's art has a place.
     While it is true that the art world is more diverse than many other fields, there is still such a long way to go.  As I write this, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is happening.  It is the largest literary conference in North America.  There are nearly 500 offerings for the 12,000 attendees.  Yet, somehow, the session on small press publishing has an all-white male panel.  White men fill the bulk of all the panels, it seems. That isn't meant to knock the conference.  It's a fantastic gathering of brilliant creatives.  It just serves to illustrate how deeply rooted the standards of validity are when it comes to art in our culture. It's not just AWP.  It's not.  The outcry over the reboot of the Ghostbusters movies with female leads is mind-boggling. The internet is blowing up over the idea of re-drawing classic superheroes as heroes of color, as if a Latino Spiderman will trigger the apocalypse. (Although, I wholeheartedly support the arguments that there is no reason not to create brand new superheroes that aren't white, and that we could use new female superheroes that don't look like porn stars.)

     Another example that is much closer to home for me:  I was filling in for the Evil Genius' English teacher one day last week.  I have met the teacher several times and we get along quite well, as we share a passion for the written word.  This was the first time I had been in his classroom before, though. He's created a good space for his students. It's warm, inviting, and literature rich. Lots of books, including plenty of poetry (a rarity in middle school classrooms).  Noticeably, though, there were very, very few female authors, and even fewer authors of color.  I took a chance on the strength of my connection with him, and left the teacher a note calling him on that.  I even sent my son to school the next day with several poetry anthologies that featured a diversity of contemporary writers. When I saw him in the hall a few days later, he thanked me for them sincerely, and launched into a discussion about poets and writing and the creative call that was heartening.

This wasn't a man who was intentionally biased to only accept the art of 
Dead White Guys.  

     It's simply become so ingrained in us as the standard that we need to be pushed to recognize it. We have so very, very narrowly defined creators as specific professional artists. Anything that falls outside of that definition is invalid. Don't believe me? Check out any textbook in any public school.  Overwhelmingly, they are filled with the work of white men. What we teach our children is what we as a society have deemed worthwhile. So yes, teach my children about Shakespeare and Michelangelo and Beethoven.  Please, though, show my children enough women and men of color so that they understand that art comes in many forms from everywhere.  I hate that Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou are singled out as "special,"  as if they were the only black poets who wrote anything worth teaching our children. The world is full of brilliant artists, and our children should learn from their diverse examples.

My son's teacher just needed a gentle nudge. Lots of folks need a loud, violent shove.
Riot Grrl is all about providing that shove.

     All people are creative.  Personally, it is the foundation of my faith.  I believe with all of my heart that I was formed in the image of my God.  The Almighty is a CREATOR, so, I, too, must be a creator. So are you.  So is your neighbor.  So is that guy you don't like. So is your daughter.  We are all creators.

Our culture discounts that, though.  

     Thankfully, in every generation, though, there are those who are called to blow up that paradigm and push the boundaries.  New genres appear--jazz, cubism, free form verse, hip hop dance...   Each new creative endeavor brings us closer to true equality.

     It's dangerous to be a creator, to be an artist, to express what is in you. It is also very holy. It is sacred to respond to the call to create. So today, even if you aren't in Boston, celebrate Riot Grrrl Day by creating whatever it is you create: paint, dance, write, sing, bake, arrange succulents in a terracotta pot, quilt...  You do you. Hardcore.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Easter Edition

Even the worst days have moments of joy.  They do. I promise you they do. This week has had more than its fair share of rough moments. Still, here are some of the joys that blessed my socks off this week:

  • Waking up to coffee, challah French toast with local maple syrup, and ham...
  • ...and the intoxicating scent of lamb stock simmering in preparation for the incredible holiday feast my Personal Chef is pulling together.

  • Being surrounded by folks I love for another successful Annual Tie Dyeing of the Easter Eggs Fandango.

  • Having a friend like Bob who loves my kids so much that he'd invent the Annual Tie Dyeing of the Easter Eggs Fandango back when Thing 1 and Thing 2 were teeny beans.
  • Knowing that my kids love the tradition--and especially Bob--to do whatever it takes to make sure they're here for it.

  • Ricotta pie from Modern Pastry and friends who love me enough to bring me one.
  • Being surprised with a bonus pie from Modern Pastry, because my friends are made entirely out of awesome, and know that I have never met a pie I didn't like.

Photo Courtesy of Modern Pastry

  • Getting the screen porch and Oasis of Awesomeness put back together in time for opening day of baseball. We've never missed an opening day, but this is the first year that there's still snow on the ground, so it was a worry.

  • Listening to the spring rain falling on the roof in the quiet hours before sunrise.
  • Paying attention when the rain shower ended and the sun came out in all its spring glory.
  • Discovering my tulips coming up, and spotting the buds on the forsythia.

  • Finally perfecting my macaroon recipe--they taste like little bites of lemon meringue pie in heaven.  My Personal Chef announced them to be his favorite cookie ever. (Snickerdoodles, you've had a good run.)
  • That unexpected phone call from Sister Theresita that lifted my sunken spirits, and put me back on track. Her radical faith is demonstrated in a thousand practical, persistent ways. That she is a joy-filled force of nature just adds to her charm.  Her example and her friendship are among my most treasured gifts.

  • Cadbury mini eggs, Reese's mini eggs, and  jelly beans
  • Loading some of my favorite kids with bubble stuff for the season.

  • Believing, really believing, that better days are ahead.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Musings on Motherhood

     When my children were wee tots, I struggled with all of the insecurities that every mother of young children I know struggles with--impatience, exhaustion, not being able to break the laws of physics in order to chase children who have taken off in different directions... I worried about not being able to give them everything they need.  I worried about how I defined what they need.  I worried about putting expectations on them that didn't fit them. I worried about ruining everything. I worried about ruining them.

     It never ends, being a mother.  I continue to worry about all the things I didn't get quite right, the things I flat out blew, and the things that I simply cannot--could never--control. It is a relief to realize that I haven't made a complete mess of this mothering business. Each of my children has their shortcomings, but overall,  I am so proud of them. They can read, write, speak, and compute with above-average competence.  They can cook. They can clean (I said they CAN clean).  If pressed to, they can each put together an outfit appropriate for a job interview, a wake, or a wedding. They know how to behave in church, at the theater, and in a sports arena. They can eat out at a 5-Star restaurant without acting like they are at a barbecue joint. I count it as a sign of success that they all still want to hang out with their father and me. Most of all, they are kind, generous, and accepting in their dealings with other people.

     What has been keeping me up nights lately is knowing that each child is really suffering right now--Thing 1 has some ongoing physical health issues, Thing 2 has his mental health issues, the Evil Genius has teenage angst issues--and there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix any of it. It is especially difficult to have to let my oldest two manage on their own. I know it's the natural order of things. They are in their twenties, so need to make their own choices, find their own solutions, come up with their own coping mechanisms. To stand by and watch them struggle so, though, is just so very difficult to bear. Gone are the days when I could say, "Abracadabra-wallakazoo, make this boo-boo good as new," and bring my children relief.

     There is so much out there to help care for our youngest children: books and magazines and expert consultants and tv shows and workshops and specialty products.  Where is the support for the mothers of grown (or nearly grown) children? Because I could really use an expert consultant and some snazzy specialty products right about now.

photo courtesy of Jason Marzini