Perfect Day

Have you ever played  the If I Win the Lottery game?  Variations include If Money Were No Object, If You Couldn’t Fail, What Do You Really Want To Do, No Regrets On Your Deathbed.

Perfect Day is my favorite iteration.  To play correctly, you must master some subtlety.  The danger is that you will only dream big and those dreams will stay out of reach, or you will dream too small and never realize the amazing possibilities.  You must know how to dream big and small.

I’ll put myself out there to show you what I mean.

Big Dream:

I am an artist, sought after for my one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted whatchamacallits.  I spend my early mornings alone in the studio with a wall of windows and the sunrise streaming in.  The coffee is hot and black.  Two perfect croissants, a small platter of cheese and fruit, and cold cucumber water magically appear without any effort from me.  It is quiet except for birdsong and breeze.  I work on creating something beautiful and useful. I review the orders for my creations, leave instructions for my assistant, who will arrive to process the orders after I have gone.

Midmorning is spent working vigorously at something outdoors in the company of like-minded friends – hiking strenuously or digging ditches or building houses for charity.

In the afternoon, I shower, read, and write.

Evenings are for laughing and singing and music and food with family with twinkly lights and a warm atmosphere.

Small dream:

Looking it over, my big dream doesn’t really seem crazy.

How do I make it happen within the limits of my life as it is, within the confines of my responsibilities?

Without abdicating my role as queen of domestic the realm?

I believe my current role here is important.  Occasional escapist fantasies aside, I’m not really looking to run away and join the circus leaving my kids to forage for nuts and berries while I live a life only to satisfy me.  I know my calling – I’m just trying to figure out how to answer it a little better.

So, I’d need someone to take over cooking and cleaning and laundry and teaching.  That ought to clear up a few hours.  How could I make THAT happen?  I’m brainstorming here.

I could train the children to take over quite a few of the household chores.  Not in a slave labor way, but in a we’re all a part of this team and you must contribute more sort of way.  It’s not unreasonable that they should all be doing their own laundry from beginning to end on a regular basis.  It’s reasonable that summer could be a focussed training time to teach them proper K.P. duty.  And it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.  It could give them an encouraging feeling of autonomy and responsibility.  It’s probably what I should be doing anyway to help equip them for adulthood.

We have an out building on our property that is in terrible disrepair, but the sunrise does strike it in a lovely way and the windows are large… Maybe someday?

As for the rest of it… it seems like mostly time management and some strategic lighting, doesn’t it?

Do you see why I like this game?  It’s creative and inspiring and points out fixable flaws in our systems.  It’s telling me that there are things I can do to create a more satisfying (and productive) life for me and my family.

So, do you have any big and little dreams?  What’s your perfect day?


Mr. McGregor Is Rolling

My boys were transplanting tomato plants into our vegetable garden when they caught the sweetest little thief.  After showing him to me, they returned him to his feast because he paid for all with his cuteness and we have enough to spare this year.  So says me.


And while I want to snuggle and kiss the bunny, it has somehow renewed my 12-year-old’s interest in keeping rabbits…for meat.


“Well, they’re tasty.  Besides, I don’t want to eat THAT one,” he said, as if that makes it any better.

“What kind of monster are you?  Bunnies aren’t for eating!”  He doesn’t get it from me.

Look, we already keep chickens for eggs and meat.  We process them ourselves.  But CHICKENS AREN’T CUTE!  and yeah, I’m OK with any apparent hypocrisy you might think you perceive here.

Hard Work is Good Medicine

I was feeling pretty foul yesterday.  To be honest, I’m still not right.  Hormones.  You all understand how everyone else is wrong, I am terribly persecuted, and I’m living with a bunch of selfish pigs whose mission in life is to make me unhappy?  Glad we have that settled.

So, I waited until everyone’s back was turned and I sneaked off by myself.  I went out on the porch – the one we’re scraping and sanding and painting – and I put in a couple of hours.  I have dreams of a haint blue ceiling, hanging ferns, and paint that isn’t peeling.  It’ll take a while.  There’s a lot of detail – spindles, spindles, spindles and that fussy dental woodwork.

My people found me soon enough, but there’s nothing like the threat of hard work on a beautiful sunny day to scare away little boys and my solitude was soon returned to me.

And it was the best I’d felt in a couple of days.  Monotonous work, done alone, whose doing makes a visible difference, is apparently my happy place.  Hard, repetitive, manual labor, especially outdoors, zones me out in the most pleasant way.  I need to remember this good medicine.

And, while my instinct is to hide when I feel this terrible, to not inflict myself too much on those around me, and to stew in my own pity party, it is good to be available and approachable to my people.

As I sat cutting in under a window, my children came to me with a baby bird they’d found.  We had a brief lesson on robins and how to determine whether an animal actually needs help, and letting nature do her thing.  At the time I resented the intrusion, but in hindsight I’m glad to have been so easily accessible to these excited, compassionate children.  And they will remember that I was there.

Gift from the Sea

I read a book.  To myself and not aloud to children.  From beginning to end.  Nobody made me do it and it didn’t take me six months.  So, twelve and a half years after the birth of my first child, and almost eight years after the birth of my last, I’m finally getting my brain back.

Reading used to be my chief pastime, comfort, and joy.  I read everywhere and everywhen:  at lunch, on busses and trains, walking, waiting in line, sitting at bars, in restaurants, at the beach, on the front steps, in the yard, in bed.  In school I’d hide books under my desk.  And I read everything:  classic literature, modern novels, the dirty parts of Judy Bloom books, and toothpaste boxes.

Now I read slower, better, absorbing and remembering more, but I can only concentrate on a very little at a time.  Because I have limited brain capacity, I’m also choosier about what I read.  Anyway, it seems appropriate that I should tell you about the book that seems to be the rekindling of a beautiful friendship between me and books.

I just finished Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea.  It’s about “[t]he search for outward simplicity, for inner integrity, for fuller relationship.”  Oh, is that all?

Mrs. Lindbergh compares stages of life to various seashells.  It sounds trite when I say it, but it works in her writing.

There are so many little helpful nuggets confirming my suspicions, or stretching my thinking.  The need for alone time, creative outlets, quiet, solitude, nurturing relationships, and how these things don’t easily blend with modern life and the practical needs of a family.

She writes about the evolution of one’s self and the evolution of relationships, especially the marriage relationship.  Anyone in a long-ish marriage can testify that there are ups and downs.  Lindbergh doesn’t say “ups and downs,” but “ebb and flow.”  Much more apt because it points out the inevitable return of connectedness and intimacy.  What goes out comes back in, dependable as the sunrise tide if you only wait for it.  I cannot say whether this is universally true in relationships, but it seems to be so in mine.  The tide always returns.  Faithfully.

But Mrs. Lindbergh’s husband wasn’t technically faithful.  Or maybe it’s more true to say that he divided his faithfulness between several families.  So, is this ebb and flow idea just a lie she told herself?  And if it wasn’t true for her, is it not true for anyone?

And if Mrs. Lindbergh was lying to herself, why?  To be able to stay married?  But why?  For the good of the children?  Financial concerns?  Respectability?  Because other relationships wouldn’t be as satisfying or they’d be much the same?(A friend’s mother says, “I had to get married twice to figure out they’re all assholes.”)

But maybe the facts of Mrs. Lindbergh’s marriage are irrelevant.  Am I committing an error in logic by criticizing an idea based upon its origin?  (genetic fallacy).

Whatever the message of this book, it was the calm seaside feeling that I really enjoyed.  I admit to being jealous, that though Mrs. Lindbergh struggled with many of the same issues that bother me, her wealth gave her a buffer that mitigated many of the problems. She wrote much of this book while on a beach vacation ALONE for several weeks, even though she had five children.  I can’t even imagine.

I’ll be off to Goodwill in the next day or two to pick up my next book.  Wish me luck!



Quitting Crafting

I’ve done “crafts” for years.  Collected them, really.    Knitting, embroidery, quilt-piecing, soap-making, artisanal bread-baking.  I’m not very good at any of them, but I understand them well enough to sound like I know what I’m talking about when I meet another crafter, which is all that really matters.  Right?

You might craft for the challenge, for the superior quality of the results, for acquisition of skills, for creative expression, to be part of that crowd, or to be ready for the zombie apocalypse.  Because when the shit hits the fan, everyone is going to need a crocheted tea-cosy.

Crafting has given me joy and comfort and I am glad that I have so many weapons against boredom to bring with me into old age.

But you know what crafting requires?  Supplies.  Fabric, needles, beads, yarn, yarn, yarn.  I know I’m not alone and that my craft stash is modest compared to those of many of my fellow crafters, but I am lately overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff.  Beautiful stuff that makes me wish my skills were greater than they are, but as it is, sits mocking in crammed, untidy drawers, waiting for someone with more time, better taste, greater inclination to do something fabulous with it.

Maybe it’s depression?  They say depressed people no longer enjoy things they used to.  I don’t think I’m depressed though.  I think this is just the springtime talking to me and maybe greater health and vigor keeping me moving.  It’s probably also middle-age and an unwillingness to live with clutter.

I’m struck lately with a deep, deep desire to get rid of everything.  Trash it all.  Start fresh, or don’t.  I suddenly really want fewer feathers in my nest.  I’ve got a laundry basket full of stuff for the mail and Goodwill, but I still have loads more pretties it is taking me longer to part with, as well as one or two long term projects I’m not ready to give up on.  I need to keep something just in case I AM in the midst of a passing nervous breakdown and will regret the purging once I’m well again.


Gardening Tools

We long for lush, neatly-edged lawns, perfectly placed shrubs, lovely flower beds.  We want a place that evokes eternity.  Easter.  Eden.  Sanctuary.  A GARDEN.

But every time I pull a weed or move a stone, something wriggles.

And the grass is growing up around the bottom of the picket fence.

and tent caterpillars have made a home on a peach tree

and the lawn is as much weeds as it is grass

and there’s a bare patch on the lawn where we had to dig up the septic.  again.

Gardening is a battle for which one must be properly armed.  We need an action plan and we need TOOLS.

My plan of action is simple:  work my way around the yard fixing things as I go.  Mulching the lilac hedge, weeding stone stairs, digging trenches under fences and laying weed block, collecting creek stones to fill the trenches, as well as mowing and trimming as needed.  I started in April and now, near the end of May, I’m about halfway around the yard.  I will probably make it all the way around by the end of July.  And then I’ll start again, improving and completing what I started the first time around.

My tools are also simple.  I could wax poetic about hand tools allowing one to be intimate with the earth, the well-worn wood of each handle, the history, the lost skills, how the tools have come into my possession, environmental responsibility, and how truly calming it is to work in relative quiet, but really it’s that power tools give me the fits.  I have a tendency to bend back a fingernail or punch myself in the nose when I try to start the weed whacker.  Things with motors are always breaking or out of gas.  I can’t be bothered.

My hand tools are repaired and maintained by me with a sharpening stone, oil, and a rag.  Wiped after each use and put away carefully.  It’s simple, and being so meticulous makes me feel very German.

Of course it takes CONSTANT VIGILANCE to keep hand tools from walking off on their own.  They seem to enjoy lying down at the most recent site of use to be forgotten until rusty.  I know you, dear reader, would never allow that to happen, but I can’t seem to get the borrowing garden elves to be as scrupulous as they ought.

It seems I’m always looking for my bent old dandelion fork.  Tap roots are a bitch and the majority of gardening is weeding.  So, I look and I ask and finally I find it sticking straight up out of the ground like an industrial flower.

I’m not sure how I came to own three hoes but it’s good that I have because they keep disappearing and reappearing in the oddest places.  This year all three of them were huddled together in a disused corn crib where some thoughtful person placed them at the end of last fall.  Unfortunately, thoughtfulness and forgetfulness sometimes walk together.

My old-fashioned hedge clippers, pruners, loppers and saws don’t wander as much as the other tools, but my shovel vanishes constantly and my lovely, lovely reel mower has occasionally taken off for the vegetable patch without so much as a by-your-leave.  I think it says something about my introverted nature that I love being able to mow quietly.  So satisfying.

Mysteriously, my boots also occasionally relocate themselves to the far side of the porch with the inserts all twisted up inside.  I’m using a pair of Muck chore boots.  They have almost no tread and spring mud can be treacherous so I’ve learned to take some truly tiny steps, but they make up for this deficiency by keeping my socks from squelching and being thick enough to stand on a shovel.

I almost never misplace my gloves.  After years of messing about with pretty gardening gloves that didn’t do shit, I’ve finally been converted to heavy leather work gloves through which I can feel nary a squiggly worm.

The gloves are important because, you see, hands are the tools I use most often in the garden.  There are no tips or tricks, no gadgets or amendments that eliminate the need to do the work with my own two hands.  Every shortcut comes with a price.  Every tool, product, method, plan has a down side.  Just like every other kind of work, the only way to do it is just to do it.




The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Where did I learn that a waxing moon can be cupped in your right hand and a waning moon in your left?  Not literally of course, because that would be magic and would possibly knock earth off its orbit and be the death of us all and then that trick wouldn’t seem so nifty.  But maybe it was one of you nice people who taught me this bit of scientific coolness?  Can you teach me the counting by nines finger thing?

I can’t remember in which hand I held the moon last night while I was walking puppy.  If you’re looking for a way to increase your activity, I recommend a puppy.  Nothing motivates better than the fear of dog shit in the house.  I’ve gone from around 6,000 non-exercise steps a day to 10,000.


Spring has sprung and the little boy gifts have begun to arrive.  Some little plants for my terrarium, pussy willows for the counter, creek fossils for … I think we need a fossilarium.



Peepers are peeping, there are ducks on the pond, the creek is full, the mud is thick,  and the air is balmy.   Life is full of baseball, swimming, and 4H.  The strawberries will be uncovered today, and the peas and lettuces are going in this week.

It is the most wonderful time of the year.


How I Got Fat and Began to Get Unfat

part 3

I knew I was going to get fat.  All of the women in my family are fat.  It was genetic destiny.  It was fate.  It was the dynastic plan.  Or was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I knew so absolutely that I was going to become overweight that before I would marry him, I made my husband promise to love and desire me no matter what, “even when I get fat.”  For the record, he has been true to his word for 19 1/2 years.


But I was not showing love for myself.

I ate without thinking.  I ate without hunger.  I ate because I was tired, nervous, sad, or scared. I ate past the point of satiety, fullness, and comfort.  And in the short term, eating made me feel better, or at least numbed me a bit.

It took me a long time to accept that what worked for me in the past would not work with my current lifestyle.  I could not simply increase my activity.  I did not have the time or desire to walk and bike everywhere with children strapped to my body.  And when I tried, it always resulted in crazy hunger, which led to overcompensating with more food than I actually needed.

I had to be willing to eat less overall to reach a healthy weight and then to be willing to eat at maintenance to, well, maintain that weight.

All I did  for the first couple of weeks was jot down everything I ate on a piece of paper.  I didn’t try to change what or how much I ate, but in a kind of observer effect, my behavior modified in response to being recorded.  I made lower calorie choices and lost a little weight.

Honestly?  I felt terrible.  I was cold, I was hungry, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I got shaky. All I could think about was food.  I was probably eating too few calories but I wasn’t counting calories so I didn’t know that.

Part 4 coming soon.

part 2, part 1