Saturday, April 12, 2014

Procrastination rocks

My sister Sarah shared this very cool video with me earlier this week:

Somehow, even an hour and half away, she must've known I've been a little … well … neglectful of current projects.

Lately, procrastination has made itself quite comfortable in my house. Just an hour ago, it cozied up in my bed with me and a bowl of chunky peanut butter ice cream and an episode from season two of "Downton Abbey" (Cousin Matthew* can walk again huzzah! But did Bates kill his wife?!).

What was I procrastinating on, you're no doubt wondering. I'll tell you what. 

Writing this post. 

That's right. I was procrastinating on my go-to method for procrastinating on finishing my novel.

And I wasn't even making disturbing stick horse heads while procrastinating on procrastinating. Does that mean I was procrastinating on procrastinating on procrastinating? I can't even keep track of my own stall tactics anymore.

In my defense, the reason I decided to watch "Downton Abbey" in bed with nary a stuffed sock with button eyes and yarn mane in sight was because I'm bone tired from the day's earlier procrastination.

Namely, moving rocks from one portion of my yard to another.

See, when we moved into our house five years ago there was this giant pile of rocks lining the length of our sunroom. And I hated that pile of rocks -- because it was ugly and as far as I could tell its only use was collecting piles of leaves and serving as a habitat to giant spiders like this one:

This picture doesn't really do the spider justice. But you can get a sense of her immensity with a couple of clues. On the bottom left corner of the picture you'll see an acorn cap and on the bottom right corner there's a dead oak leaf. The spider falls on the upper end of the acorn cap to dead oak leaf spectrum. It's an obscure spectrum. But a really big spider.

And more recently, it's offered endless rounds of ammunition for a little game the girls like to play called "Throw the Rocks at the House and Sometimes at Each Other" (it's not a very catchy name … they need to work on their succinctness … wonder where they got that problem from hmmm?)

Anyway, five years ago, I did nothing about the rock pile. Nor did I do anything the year after that, or the year after that or the year after that … you get the picture. 

Here's the rock pile. And the red wheel barrow, on which I actually did depend a lot on today. 
But today -- today the sun shone overhead, the birds were singing, the breeze was blowing and the rocks were ready to be moved.

So even though there was writing to be done and a husband around to monitor the little ladies, I began relocating them. 

First I'd loosen them from the dirt with a shovel, then I'd pitch them into the wheel barrow, then when the wheel barrow got full I'd roll it to the opposite side of the yard and dump them. I did this for a couple hours.

It was pretty tedious. But still way, way better than working on that novel. At least that's what I told myself.

At a certain point during the proceedings as I was attempting to dislodge a potato-sized rock from the grip of some very unwilling clay, I started thinking about how stuck I was on my novel. I have probably 75 percent of it written. But I'm terrified that that 75 percent is awful and also that I have no idea what to do with the remaining 25 percent (or, that I have ideas, but those ideas are also awful … which, if I'm doing the math correctly, would mean that 100 percent of the novel would be awful). 

And then what would I have to show for my life?

I wrote this awful novel and all I got out of it was this lousy blog. 

And the reason I think that my novel falls on the upper end of the orange-juice-and-toothpaste to Nickelback spectrum of awfulness (another obscure spectrum) is because I'm worried that 1. I don't have a strong enough central conflict or 2. That that central conflict won't be compelling enough to read about for the length of an entire novel. 3. That my characters and their conversations are way more poignant, hilarious or enlightening in my own head than they actually are in the reality of the novel**. 


Johnny Kelly is so right about procrastination.

"It's not being able to decide what way to do something. It's overcomplicating things for yourself. It's being afraid to finish something. It's not knowing when to finish something. It's not knowing how to finish something.

So, much like the past several times we've revisited this seemingly unending project, I'm still mired in self-doubt. A big 'ol pile of it.

My pile of rocks. Also, a convenient metaphor for my self-doubt!
But mostly just a pile of rocks.
On the bright side, the back of my sunroom is no longer mired in unnecessary rocks! 

Here's where I need to give a shout out to Brad, because he took over rock-moving after I burned out at the the halfway point. He transferred the remainder of the pile to the other pile, then braved a spring Saturday in at the Lowe's garden center (twice!) to get the necessary amount of dirt to fill in the rather large hole I'd created, and then he also filled in the hole. 

Maybe I should just get him to finish my novel … I kinda want to watch the next episode of "Downton Abbey."

*British nobility doesn't help itself when a romantic protagonists proclaims her love for Cousin Matthew. Maybe just call him Matthew. You know, so that way we don't have to picture your future children as 11-toed hemophiliacs.

** This fear has been especially aggravated after finishing Maria Semple's perfect "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," whose protagonists now top my list of favorite characters in literature. And how I loved this line: “People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.” Who knows, perhaps my writing is actually a menace to society, but not writing is a menace to my soul.

Friday, April 4, 2014

When stick horse heads attack

"So have you worked on your novel at all recently?" a friend asked today.

The answer to that question is no. No, I haven't worked on it recently. I haven't even opened the story file in weeks. I've avoided even thinking about it this week -- even though I've had time to think about it. And even though I've spent most of the last two years blogging about how I don't have time to think about it. I'm the worst kind of whiner.

When the pangs of guilt start creeping up I push them down with the efficiency reserved for the dog when he's forced to swallow entire bagels whole after stealing off the table lest he risk of having them stolen from his jowls mid chew. 

Lily's stick horse. His name is either Minimus or Sparky,
depending on what Disney Jr. show she's more into that day.
Obviously, we're totally willing pawns in Disney's
quest to indoctrinate the brains of our nation's youth.
My guilt is a honey-walnut cream cheese slathered blueberry bagel and I am the beagle that stomachs it in one tremendous gulp. 

I haven't been working on my novel.

But I have been making a large quantity of stick horses. 

You know how the saying goes -- those that can't write, make disembodied equine heads out of used socks, buttons and yarn.

I might not have that totally right.

Anyway, since my brain has taken an unapproved writing/creativity vacay, I decided to put my fingers to work with a little crafting.

It's for a cause.

See my friend is hosting an event at her farm to benefit in May. And despite the fact that my sisters teased me about the stick horses I made for the girls (they couldn't stop themselves from suggestively stroking the sock head -- we're a perverse bunch) they thought that other, less disturbed people, might be willing to pay money for a handcrafted stick horse. So I thought I'd make a bunch to try to sell at my friend's party to help raise money for the wounded warriors. 

So that's my excuse for not writing. 

It's getting a little creepy at my house right now though. See, I haven't gotten bodies for my stick horses yet, so right now I'm just amassing stick horse heads. 

All the pretty little horses' heads.
It's like the prop closet for an ill-conceived children's theater staging of "The Godfather."

Lily is not at all fazed by the fact that none of the horses have bodies. In fact, she attempted to gallop around the house using just the neck of one of my half done ponies, which I'm sure will not leave her permanently scarred when she reflects on her childhood in therapy years from now.

Look ma, no body!
For those of you living in the Mid Atlantic (or any of the Ukrainian readers Google Stats reports I have scads of) looking for a family-friendly adventure, please consider checking out Blue Hound Farm's 200-year Barn Birthday Bash 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 17 at 125 Pleasant Hill Road, Lewisberry, Pa.

Activities will include: 
A barn dance from noon to 3
Native plant sale
Edible nature walk
Stable tours
Sheep shearing
Discussions on cheese-making and beekeeping
Repurposed crafting
Pony rides
Hay rides
Bake sale
Bass fishing (bring your own rod)
Silent auction

Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and younger and free for veterans and active military with ID. All the money raised will benefit Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors Inc.

You're also welcome to test-trot one of my stick horses (which Lily demonstrated today also make fantastic weapons -- especially when battling little sisters) or get a henna tattoo from my sister Sarah.

Blue Hound Farm is one of the most beautiful places you'll ever visit (and I've been to Yosemite, so I know about such things) and there's plenty of cute critters (pigs, goats, horses, chickens, ducks, cows, etc.) and great photo ops. It's a magical place. So. You should go and stuff.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The day I stumbled into a squirrel's nest

So what's more amusing than someone dressing up a pair of stone squirrels in seasonally themed regalia? 

What about someone dressing up actual squirrels in seasonally themed regalia? 

Meet Penn State student Mary Krupa and her friend(s) Sneezy the squirrel(s)*:

I went to Penn State and always found the squirrels around Old Main to be unusually friendly. Not that I tried to lure them with peanuts before putting handmade paper hats on them or anything. I do remember being especially amazed by one I saw running up a huge old elm tree with an entire apple in its mouth. And I seem to recall at least one story of an especially bold squirrel climbing up on a girl's head … but I could be misremembering that. 

At any rate, doesn't seem a little odd that there are multiple squirrel wardrobists* running around the Keystone State? 

And after further investigation, I found that Mary and my neighbors have many rodent-loving predecessors -- one who was even covered in Life magazine no less.

In the early 1940s, the magazine featured as story about Mrs. Mark Bullis and her adopted squirrel Tommy Tucker.

"Mrs. Bullis' main interest in Tommy is in dressing him up in 30 specially made costumes. Tommy has a coat and hat for going to market, a silk pleated dress for company, a Red Cross uniform for visiting the hospital."

And then there's Sugar Bush Squirrel "The world's most photographed squirrel" (according to Sugar Bush's caretaker Kelly Foxton of Boca Raton, Fla.)

Sugar Bush has more than 3,000 outfits and accessories and has posed for more than 5,000 photographs. After scrolling through the site I don't doubt either of these statistics. If you still haven't picked up a 2014 calendar yet, you might consider picking up one from Sugar Bush. Also, if you're in the need of a whimsical, though potentially offensive gift, order a 6-inch plush version of Sugar Bush in various costumes, including "Brokenut Mountain" Cowboy and Gnawty Nurse. 

As Brad noted, it seems I've stumbled down a rabbit hole … or into a squirrel's nest or something.

There's a squirrel that's been visiting the bird feeder in our front yard lately. Lily likes to peek at him through our front window. She named him Rake and says he's her pet. 

"He's kind of crazy," she told her dad today.

I haven't found Lily fashioning any miniature outfits for Rake … yet. Maybe I can tide her over with these dress up squirrel magnets.

In the event that you want frequent Sneezy updates (and who doesn't, really?) be sure to follow Sneezy the Penn State Squirrel on Facebook.

(If you're wondering, our favorite statuary is currently dressed in honor of the March Madness)

*Thank you Sarah for pointing out this fantastic story to me

**Spellcheck says this isn't a word, but I say it should be a word. Say it out loud. Wardrobist. Kinda fun to say, no?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trying to make sense of a life cut short

Gabe and me at Dork Camp in summer 1998.
(with evidence that our friend Steve, right, was a photo bomb pioneer).
The summer before my junior year of high school I went to a summer camp for nerds at UVA where I developed a small crush on a boy named Gabe. 

Although there were no romantic interludes on the four-square court or even in the dorm common areas, where Gabe and his friend Steve would engage in endless rounds of Mega Block Toss, I gave Gabe a ring at the end of our two-week stay. It was a ridiculously sentimental display -- maybe I hoped it would be insurance that we'd see each other again or that it said, without me actually having to say it, that I like-liked him, not just liked him. 

My 16-year-old self was prone to these awkward gestures toward boys. 

Of course, my 32-year-old self is mortified by this moment. No 16-year-old boy wants to be responsible for a ring from a girl he's only known for two weeks and who's already shown stalkeresque inclinations. 

But Gabe took the ring graciously. 

And, as is the case with most 16-year-old boys who've been left with the responsibility of tending to rings left to them by fawning 16-year-old girls that he only had a passing interest in, he promptly lost it.

He confessed and I realized that he just wasn't really into me in that way. Which was fine. Really! We didn't live all that close to one another anyway, and I was just as happy to count him as a friend.

Today Steve sent me a message on Facebook. Gabe passed away suddenly after getting the flu. He's left behind a wife and three small children.

It's strange processing this information. I haven't talked to Gabe or Steve in more than 10 years. The news of his death was immediately sad and shocking. He's so young and his poor wife and babies. It seems unjust and wicked. Why? Why?

And now I can almost see my brain flipping through the endless rows of file folders, searching for the one labeled "Gabe" which inevitably leads to the one labeled "Steve," because they were close friends back then and we were friends, too. 

There's this primitive urge in me to recount that story -- however short it is. The one where we're all 16 and 17 and I'd drive to Falls Church every few months to hang out in Steve's basement and trade jokes and watch the boys play video games while listening to "Hello Nasty" by the Beastie Boys. I'd make fun of Steve's cat whose flattened face made him look as if it'd run into a brick wall. What was that cat's name again?

I never had too many male friends in high school (probably because of my aforementioned earnestness and creepy obsessive tendencies) but I never felt out of place among these guys. They were cool and funny and intelligent without being pretentious or condescending. And being friends with them made me feel cooler and more interesting just by association.*

Gabe and I went on just one date. We went and saw "What Dreams May Come" at the movie theater. I had to get up and leave part way through the movie because there was a line in there "All suicides go to hell" and an acquaintance of mine from high school had just killed himself and it was too awful to think about such a kind-hearted soul being in such a terrible place. Poor Gabe had no idea about the death and was probably befuddled by my sobbing, but I remember he was kind and consoling. He didn't think I was weird or over-emotional (and if he did, he didn't show it). 

Another time Steve and him ventured out to the "country" (really the D.C. suburbs where I grew up) to hang out in my basement. My friend Becky joined us after having a terrible time at a party thrown by some of our school's more popular kids. The four of us spent our Saturday night constructing an elaborate Lego House of Doom -- and it was a perfect evening -- uncomplicated and silly.

One time we were all talking about what animals we were the most like -- they agreed that my spirit animal(s) would be a koala riding on a golden retriever's back. It's funny because it's true.

I won't pretend that we all developed a lifelong friendship or that we were anything more than small blips on the radars of each other's lives. After high school was college and after college, jobs and families and we all lost touch and I'm left with nothing save for a few photos and some fond memories.

We cross paths with so many different people in a lifetime and each leave impressions large and small. Today I'm grateful that my path crossed Gabe's and Steve's that summer at UVA. I might have lost a ring, but I gained two friends and the boost of confidence that comes when people you think the world of respect you back.

I'm so sorry for the Ruth family's loss. And Steve and the rest of the guys, too. I haven't seen an obituary for him yet, so I wanted to contribute my small footnote to his story. Gabe was a great person and I'm proud to have known him. 

*Strangely enough I'm reading "The Interestings" right now, which deals with these very topic: The people you meet in life who value you for you and make you feel like a stronger person because of it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Finding grace and the permanent present

So during a yoga class last week there was this first-timer -- a lithe woman in her 60s or early 70s whose daughter talked her into trying out a class while she was visiting from Georgia. She kept announced that she had no idea what she was doing (while bending her uber-flexible body in ways she had no idea it could go) and fretting that people would laugh at her.

I reassured her that nobody would laugh. That we're all learning. 

At one point she looked over at me and exclaimed "Oh my god, you are so graceful." 

At which point I did laugh. Because I don't believe anybody in my 32 years on this little planet has ever called me graceful. Ever. 

In fact, any commentary on my mobile abilities usually centers around how not graceful I am. Or, if not that specifically, then maybe on how goofy I look when I attempt to be graceful. 

But actually, during yoga, I do feel graceful. In fact, it's caused me to reassess some of my preconceptions about what I always thought I could or couldn't do. It occurred to me during the class that it's been about a year since I started yoga. And while I still can't do crow for any amount of time without falling on my face -- I'm getting closer. 

So maybe after all these years, my dance moves still resemble an amalgam of all the Peanuts characters with, like, a hint of Elaine, but dammit I can look graceful while standing in weird poses.

So that's something.

Speaking of weird poses, my instructor said something that struck me as funny. We were all attempting this arm-balancing pose -- sitting in lotus and holding our bodies up off the floor (Google says it's called Scale Pose) -- and I commented how awkward it was. 

Rhiannon said that most of yoga was like that -- you put your body in these strange positions often enough and it gets used to it.

"You just kind of have to embrace the awkward." 

Finally, a mantra by which to live my life!

So in honor of my first yoga anniversary, here's me embracing the awkward today:

Luckily, I gave birth to two kids who are more than willing
to embrace the awkward right along with me.

And here's a grab bag of other random stuff: 

* For Christmas, Aunt Ann gave Lily a copy of "Fancy Nancy," which has recently become one of Lily's (and my) favorites. It tells the story of Nancy who is young sophisticate, preferring the finer and frillier things in life, while the rest of her family is kind of plain. Nancy decides to help her parents and sister out by offering them a class on being fancy, which they gamely participate in. And after learning that Christmas bows, garland and a plenty of ribbon can make any ensemble fancy, they all venture out to an uber-fancy pizza-and-parfait (i.e.: ice cream) dinner, which delights Nancy. I was skeptical about the princessy undertones of the book, but the ending message -- to embrace your children for who they are and try to live in their world every no and then -- is one I can get behind. And Lily definitely has Fancy Nancy inclinations -- she loves wearing dresses gets strangely excited on the rare occasions that I put one on.  

* Aunt Ann also flagged me on this episode of Fresh Air, which featured author Jennifer Seniors who talked about her book on the paradox of parenting, "All Joy and No Fun" (what an awesome and apt book title!) Seniors offered a lot of interesting thoughts and research about modern parenting compared with years past; it's definitely worth a listen. My favorite part (conveniently "Fancy Nancy" related) was Seniors suggestion that parents experience the permanent present with their kids -- go eyeball to eyeball with them and enjoy the world as they do in that moment. "Suspend all that noise. ignore all that running endless ticker tape of noise that is looping through your head … it is glorious," she says. It's been a long week already in our household, so this was a really good reminder for me.

* Also quasi-"Fancy Nancy"-related, we painted our front door. It's purple. Like, really purple. The technical name of the paint color is Grapealicious, but Lily said it's actually "Sofia the First Princess Purple" and who am I to argue? To accent our super-purple front door, I made a wreath. Out of decidedly unfancy toilet paper tubes (What? we're on a budget!). (Among my other weird habits, I stockpile toilet paper and paper towel tubes -- they're great for crafting -- although my hoard was dangerously depleted after this wreath project).

* Speaking of squirrely, Here's a bonus, belated St. Patrick's Day Squirrel (they had two holiday-themed outfits this year.):

Where's the corned beef?

* Finally, my best good friend Stephanie sent me a link to this fantastic post from The Oatmeal on creating content for the web, which is what I do for my side hustle.* Beyond creating content for the web, it's about the excruciating-infuriating-but-ultimately-gratifying task of writing the things that are the most meaningful to write. 

* I just learned about the phrase "side hustle" from my side hustle: I.E. part-time money-making gig.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Goodbye winter: A story in pictures

It's been a long winter.

The kind that Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about in "Little House in the Prairie" with bitter winds, finger-numbing cold and mountains of snow (albeit without the luxuries of a central heating system or access to stimulating diversions like the grocery store and DirecTV).

Couped up inside our cozy rancher, I found myself deploying increasingly strange ways to occupy the girls.

Dressing up the pets …

Delaney was not amused.
Playing "Everybody in Dad's Pants!"* …

Note to self: The demobilizing quality of two kids in one pair
of pants might make them useful for timeouts in the future.

And finally, venturing into the Pennsylvania tundra for a little extreme swinging ...

Jovie was nearly asleep in this picture.
Squirrel sightings were rare (the streets in our neighborhood have not been very wagon friendly the past few months.) But when I did spot them, I noted that they, too were rarely without their layers:

Get them some mittens! Those poor stony paws!

Apparently, they did make it to Sochi … even medaling: 

Looks like he got a silver in nut hoarding.**
But they've recently packed up their super-heavy winter wear, preparing to celebrate their Irish heritage:

Where's the Guinness?!

We've finally been able to play outside without the requisite half hour spent layering and bundling. 

Although, we were hit with a touch of Seasonal Confusion Disorder: 

The girls alternated between playing in the sandbox, romping in this leaf pile
and scaling the remaining pile of snow in our yard.
The plants, at least aren't confused. They seem to know that despite a dip in temperatures today, that they'll be the victors in the battle against winter. 

Suck it snow!

And though there's still another week until the equinox, my heart already feels lighter.

* Ahem. Get your minds out of the gutter.
** See above.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Seasons come, seasons go and my how these little ones grow

We're all sick this week. The house littered with tissues, reverberating from coughing and moody from too many nights of restless sleep.

My shoulders and jeans are streaked with snail trails of snot as Lily and Jovie use me as an oversized mobile wiping unit. Just as I used to do to my mom. We mothers are just walking handkerchiefs after all.

It's been a long, cold winter and I think this is her last assault on my household before melting back into the earth. Each day the snow in my backyard cedes more territory to the grass. The other night I started dinner late, not realizing what time it was because the sun was still streaming through my living room at half past five. 

I've been staring down winter and screaming for spring so loudly I've missed the subtle shifts that signal its impending arrival. 

"I'm almost here," she whispers in a tree full of robins and a the rounded tips of buds on my neighbor's tulip tree.

In "The Night Circus" one of the performers of the Cirque des Reves is a living statue. A person who seemingly stands unmoving to watch her, but turn your back for a moment and she'll be in a totally new pose. 

It occurred to me recently that motherhood is a lot like these statues.

You stare intently for the slightest signs of change.

That glorious first night of uninterrupted sleep. The moment that first tooth breaks through. The tentative early steps. The heart-stopping moment of a small soft arm wrapping around your neck in a hug.

When do I get to celebrate the next big milestone? When will they stop needing me for this or that? When will she be the person she is to become?

And then it happens. Maybe you weren't looking or you were and it was too fast or too slow for you to take note. But there it is. And there it went. And all that happened before it was a mirage.

Isn't this how it's always been?

What did that gummy grin look like again?

I wish I could remember.

Here is Jovie, who will be 2 in April, trying to dress herself. 

Yesterday, Lily was patting my belly waiting for her little sister to come out.

And wasn't it just last week, I was pacing the labor hall at the hospital on the eve of motherhood, unknowing of the impending earthquake that would shape every fiber of my being with her tiny fists and perfectly round head. 

"Mom, tell me the story about the day I was born," Lily asks, because at 3, she wants to know her own narrative. And I tell her all I remember, the details both vivid and fuzzy all at once. 

I imagine my parents and aunts and uncles have the same feeling. Where has time gone?

Those babies with their sticky, orange popsicle faces all have babies now. All those exhausting years we wished to be the ones, separated by a generation, who could sit back and laugh at those silly, naughty children and rain all the easy parts of love on them are here now. 

You said Lily tells you not to sing? And Jovie wipes her nose on your shirts? They fight in the back seat of the car and refuse to eat their dinner?

What goes around comes around daughter.

May the circle of snot be unbroken.

(With special thanks to Steph for sharing this Anna Quindlen essay and to Jovie, who insisted that the only place she could take a nap yesterday was on my stomach, which gave me a rare hour of quiet reflection.)