A fine gift

Now that I’ve set off a frenzy of speculation among my friends and family about the vast secret to be revealed at 3 pm (instead of 11 am) I’m really feeling the pressure. This post needs to be funny, insightful, tender, touching, well-written and actually completed on time. Breathe, Brenda, breathe.

(Oh, and Adam, if you’re reading before you’ve gotten home … stop.)

So, several years ago my mother-in-law came to visit. This isn’t all that unusual, although I’ve noticed that visits tend to be clustered in times where the temperature is higher than 50 and lower than 80. (Something about “attic” and “no air-conditioning” and “lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia”.) My mother-in-law loves me dearly, and often brings me what can best be described as LOOT. This often takes the form of clothing, jewelry, furnishings and other lovely objects that she thinks we’ll enjoy. My husband, not being a girl or a child, gets the smallest amount of loot. It’s ok – he had his turn until I came along.

Well, on this particular trip, Laureen left behind a pair of boxer shorts. They were in a box of other things she left. I looked at them and figured decorative boxers had to be for Adam since I do not wear boxers.

The infamous boxers
The infamous boxers

I put them on his dresser and moved on with my life.

A few days later, I found them on my bedside chair. Hmmm. I replaced them on the dresser. They returned to my chair.

“Your mom left you these boxers, honey. You want to put them away?”
“They aren’t mine! Look at that fabric. That’s not manly fabric. Plus, they have no fly. She clearly meant them for you.”
“I don’t wear boxers. They’re obviously yours!”

Now at this point, a sensible person would call my mother-in-law, ask for whom the boxers had been intended and settle the issue. I waited until my husband’s back was turned and snuck the boxers into his underwear drawer. The next day they were in MY underwear drawer.

It, um, kind of escalated from there.

The fabric is admittedly lovely
The fabric is admittedly lovely

I put them in his work bag. He once got through several months by stuffing them into the arm of coat at the beginning of spring. I stuffed his pillow with them. He put them in my music bag. I think I found them in my cereal box once.

I noticed some time this winter they’d been gone for quite some time. Now, it’s entirely possible to play this game too well. For example, we had a similar, uh, exchange of goods with a friend and a video game CDROM (the best hiding place in that exchange involved a false top on a hat) and that CDROM hasn’t been seen in over 5 years. Either it’s hiding in our house somewhere in a completely epic plot twist or… it’s actually been lost. I casually mentioned to Adam that I hadn’t seen the boxers in a while. He looked both concerned and suspicious. (Do you really think I’d lie about that in order to throw off suspicion? Little innocent Sunday School teacher moi?)

This Christmas Tree hides a DARK SECRET
This Christmas Tree hides a DARK SECRET

On Christmas Adam pulled out a particular present with extra pride. “Brenda, I don’t think I’ll be able to return these. I just really hope you’ll like it. I mean, promise me you won’t ever get rid of this gift, that you’ll keep it forever. It means so much to me for you to have it.” I, not being a churl, promised.

Now, I thought the box was a little large for the diamonds and opals it clearly contained, but my suspicions were not yet roused. I tore open the paper. And the next set of paper. There were, if I recall, six separate wrapping jobs. And at the heart of this package was, of course, the boxers. And I had promised to treasure them forever! Argh! Social engineering! Upping the ante!

Then I had an idea...
Then I had an idea…

I laid them out in plain sight since then, to make him nervous. Then, on Sunday, he left for a week long business trip. Before he went, I made a trip to Michael’s for two thingies of stuffing stuff, some needles and some heavy duty brown thread. While Grey and I watched the departure of Frank Burns and the arrival of Charles Emerson Winchester the Third on M*A*S*H, I reached deep back into my home ec lessons and converted the boxers to a beautiful throw pillow. To make my victory complete, I am adding Adam’s name as a possessive. In gold glitter.

Nothing says "your move" like gold glitter
Nothing says “your move” like gold glitter

I’m so proud of myself.

I discovered, in the course of preparing the pillow, that each set of shorts has one pocket, on the right hand side. (Seriously, what were these actually intended to be?!) Having used all my batting to stuff only one of the boxers (I thought it might expand out of the package? I was wrong.) I decided it was only sporting of me to stuff the other boxer into the pocket of the pillow, unchanged. I’m curious to see if he finds it before he reads my blog.

Which of course brings me full circle. He boards an airplane tomorrow at 3, and I suspect that unlike his wife, he will relax on the flight instead of getting wifi to do work. So ideally my surprise will be intact when he walks, unsuspecting, through that front door. MUAHAHAHAHAH! MUAHAHAHAHAHHAH! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Your move, love.


I also have, in the course of preparing this post, gotten my pictures from March and Piemas posted.

Quilts and connections

On Monday, there was a package on my doorstep. It was a box and it was (astonishingly) NOT from Amazon. (The Fedex driver must have been mightily confused by that!) It was from my beloved sister. I knew it was coming. I had an inkling of what was in it, and opened the box with the expectation of seeing an old friend.

Our wedding quilt
Our wedding quilt

This quilt is just about fifteen years old. It was my sister’s first quilt, and is made with my favorite colors. The white around the edge is done with the silhouette of Mt. Rainier. In the corner, the dates and our initials are embroidered – the last time my initials would be BJJ instead of BJF. (Which, side note… changing your initials might be harder than changing your name!) The reason it was sent back to me is because quilt backs are not as durable as quilt fronts and sometimes when it spends a decade on your bed it can get torn. Maybe. (Maybe this is kind of a regular thing with all our quilts. Maybe.)

BJJ & ARF August 5, 2000
BJJ & ARF August 5, 2000

There was also Thane’s baby blanket. He was old enough to vote on his colors. (Grey’s was ready for his arrival, and was themed with dragonflies. He was also lucky enough to get dragonfly curtains which still hang sparkling in his room.) He opted for the Pigeon theme. PIGEON! He was – is – absolutely entranced by it. In this cold winter, where bundling up in blankets against drafts and chills is a necessary comfort, he has been delighted to wrap himself up in Pigeon. (I have dreams, you know!)

Don't let the pigeon hog the heat ven
Don’t let the pigeon hog the heat vent

Grey dug out his quilt from his room and demanded we all cuddle up on the couch in our Aunt Heidi quilts. Well, if you insist Grey! (I’m not cuddled up because I was photographing the situation, obviously.)

Couch snuggles
Couch snuggles

I had this idea, when I was young, that it was impossible to do anything my sister was good at. This was for the obvious reason that I might not be as good at it as she was, and this was completely unacceptable. Things this ruled out for me as a youth included: photography, poetry, cooking, fabric arts and Georgette Heyer novels. Some of these we’ve clearly swapped places on. My niece asked – looking at our senior pictures – why her mother was holding the camera instead of me. I became a half-decent cook. Poetry I love to read but never wrote. And I’m the only one of my family who hasn’t read Georgette Heyer. (I KNOW!) But fabric arts were, and have remained hers. (Well, other than a very unfortunate encounter with a bright neon-striped apron in the year of Home Ec I was forced to endure before I absconded over to shop with the boys.)

The tradition of quilting, and of giving a baby a quilt, is one my sister comes by honestly. My mother can sew well – I have a cloak of her making in the closet. But she was of the age where women were taught to sew because it had previously been practical… but where it ceased to be a survival skill for a well equipped woman. I’m sure my grandmother can sew too. But it was my great grandmother whose sewing I remember.

I don’t remember when I got my quilt. It must have been after we got back from Africa – I doubt it crossed those oceans. Perhaps it was given to me when I lived in Merced. I can’t remember life without it. My great grandmother (Grandma Finley – my mother’s mother’s mother) made all three of us crazy quilts – my brother’s being made when she was north of 84 years old.

What is a crazy quilt? The most practical of all quilts. The depression quilt. Here’s mine:

My crazy quilt
My crazy quilt

My sister’s quilts are made with cotton fabric of a consistent weight. The fabrics are selected for color and pattern, and cut to create the design – then sewed back together. It’s an art form – a lovely one. But creating a quilt like that is certainly a cost. Fabric costs almost more in a fabric store than clothes do in a clothing store.

But the fabric on my crazy quilt was not purchased for its loveliness or pattern. What you see on my quilt are the dress shirts, worn out skirts, curtains, blouses, dresses, slacks and tablecloths all worn out past repair or reworking. My grandmother collected the fabric from worn out garments (and buttons – we had her button box for a long time and it was super fun to play with!) and then when a child was born she reached into that treasure trove and put together a quilt. I’m quite sure a few of those squares come from my mother’s childhood dresses. I have cuddled myself in the castoffs of my ancestors, put together to warm me by the thriftiest of them all.

You can see how each quilt square was put together by different pieces of fabric – whatever would fit. There are no squares on my quilt made of a whole piece of fabric, although the same fabric will show up in multiple squares.

This block has no fewer than 12 different fabrics
This block has no fewer than 12 different fabric pieces

Each of those tiny, tiny squares of fabric is sewn to its partners to create the block. What a labor of love. How long did she spend composing the squares – piecing them together like a puzzle? I can see the thoughtful look in her eyes – rimmed by old-fashioned golden spectacles – as she contemplated the pieces. (She had a tremendous sense of spatial reasoning. She was famous for being able to pick the perfect size tupperware for leftovers at a glance. She also cleaned our clocks regularly at Chinese Checkers. She died when I was in my late teens, so I knew her well.) And each of those seams is TINY. Not an 1/8th of an inch more fabric than was absolutely required for those seams was spent.

My favorite block
My favorite block

The differences in the kinds of fabric (there are thick cotton fabrics, thin gingham pieces worn almost to the woof, synthetic fabrics – all manner of clothes) mean that those unforgiving seams have pulled apart in many places – unrepairable because there isn’t enough material to bridge the gaps. The different squares were then sewed each to the other. The actual quilting portion of the quilt was incredibly simple. She sewed the filling and the back on at the edges, and then tied each quilt-square corner with a green yarn knot. I think this all meant that she could put together the entire quilt on her regular, workaday sewing machine – without any specialized machinery. Practical to the utmost.

There’s a lesson in that crazy quilt. My great grandmother was born in 1900. She was coming of age in World War I, and was a young mother when the Great Depression ravaged a generation. She watched all the young men of her daughter’s age go off to war when World War II hit. I can imagine her as a ruthlessly effective Rosie the Riveter. (She actually was a switchboard operator.) She learned – and she taught – that waste was not only morally unacceptable, but that the ability to make the best things with the least waste was a skill to be proud of. (Well, modestly proud of. She wasn’t a big fan of pride.)

My home and my life overflow with good things. I have bags of perfectly good clothes and toys I’ll summon some charity to haul away for me. I never know what to do with the spare buttons that come with my clothes – my memories of her keep me from just throwing them away, but I might as well since I never repair any clothing. But perhaps, in her memory, wrapped in two generations worth of love-wrought quilts, I could consider myself pleased with what I have that is durable, of great value, and be content.

Becoming a family

There are two socially sanctioned ways to increase the size of your family: babies and weddings. Adding babies is a lot of fun, but it’s not really a team activity. At most of the key stages, there’s two or a few people there. Also, pictures of the precise events are not, shall we say, to be encouraged.

Weddings, on the other hand, involve a team. Heck, they involve a tribe! And the moment where two people create one family is one of the most public, most photographed and most iconic in our culture.

New family!

My family just grew, this past Christmas. I thought it was growing by one – my sister-in-law Andrea. But then I met Harvey, and it became clear that it was growing by two.

We had almost a week together – my parents, my siblings and my new sibling and puppy-in-law – before we had to kick into wedding mode. The first activity was the traditional Johnstone Christmas, with the uncles and cousins and grandpa’s famous chip dip. I finally got my uncle to tell his war stories, and there were the age old arguments about which Seattle street had housed which relatives. These are the brothers and sisters by marriage in the prior generation whose relationships have lasted for over forty years. It was my oldest family – the family at whose feet I wandered when I was a kid and didn’t think much about what made a family. It was the first time I’ve been together with them in several years, and it was lovely.

Spinning yarns around the Christmas tree.

Then, the team turned to decorating cupcakes to be planets. It’s possible that way too much frosting was consumed. WAAAAAY too much frosting. It’s possible we stayed up a little too late giggling. We siblings by marriage started to get to know each other, under the influence. Also, the cupcakes and cake were delicious and way cooler than anything we could’ve bought.

Decorating. Not all that frosting made it onto the cupcakes.

Over the next few days we added in adventures – we went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and wandered through a submarine. We watched animation techniques, had dinner together, poked through Powell’s books for an hour and made commando raids to find a better wireless router for the home castle. We talked Space Law & Insurance and then somehow gravitated to book recommendations on the long dark ride home. The week went on and Harvey went on walks, we went on hikes, puzzles got half-started, sewing and banners were created, children hid themselves in the basement and created imaginary worlds inhabited by Warrior Cats. By the time we rang in the new year, we were starting to feel gelled and connected, family-like.

The extended team

As they year ticked over to 2015, the rest of the team arrived. I’d quickly met Bobbi before, but not Joe or Susan. The wedding crew was in place, and we delved into the work with a passion. Fingernails were painted. Flowers (which were ordered but did not arrive) were purchased and crafted. Tuxes were obtained (with much angst – the flowers and the tux were the angst moments of this wedding). We were on the slopes, getting closer and closer together as we went, to the final moments of the wedding.

Group pedicures

The very best moment was the night before the wedding. None of us who had grown up in Mineral had EVER been to the Headquarters Tavern there. Given that Mineral has two churches, a general store, a bar and a post office… this seemed a lapse. We decided to cut apart an hour to go rectify said lapse the night before the wedding. It was fantastic. It’s possible there was head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody. Some people might have reported that the dulcet tones of Sweet Caroline (so good! the bride is from Saugus) reverberated for the first time in the crawdad traps in the ceiling. It was, generally, phenomenal.

Such a sight the tavern hadn’t seen since fishing season ended

The wedding was beautiful. It was small, but lovely. I played trumpet. My mom performed the ceremony. The bride was lovely. The groom was smitten. The children (and dogs) were adorable. The two people became one family in a kiss.

Practice kiss

It was lovely. We took pictures at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and dined in the Melting Pot in Tacoma. From there, we all fragmented back to our packing and our regular lives. (Funny story about the rv we were staying in and the broken door latch… which wasn’t really all that funny until we found an unlocked window.) Our Kindles as thoroughly mixed up as any French farce could devise we parted – as a family. A new family. A larger, more joyful family, connected by frosting, puppies, submarines, Staples-runs, pedicures, Arbys, ice-crystals, Kindle-swaps and lipstick-color-arguments. Welcome to the family, Andrea & Harvey. Thanks for inviting us into yours. Welcome, Joe & Bobbie & Susan. I’m so glad we are together in this!

Team wedding

The lines between Christmas and wedding are blurry. I have two sets of pictures – the first half are here, and the second half you can find here!

Liturgically Red Winter

Thaxted

Three years ago, in December, I stood in the sanctuary I was raised in, confirmed in, married in. I was dressed in red, and slung my trumpet up to play “Thaxted” (from Holst’s planets). It was in celebration of a rare sacrament – a once in a life sacrament. My brother was being ordained, and the spirit of the Lord was with him as it was in Pentecost.

On January 3rd, I will stand once again in that century-old sanctuary with the view of Mt. Rainier. I will be dressed in red. I will sling my trumpet once more, and play Thaxted. It will again be for a once-in-life ceremony. My brother and his bride will become husband and wife on that day.

My l33t photography skills failed to get a single picture of them with all their eyes open, but you get the idea.
My l33t photography skills failed to get a single picture of them with all their eyes open, but you get the idea.

Guys, that’s pretty awesome. I’ve had the chance to meet my brother’s intended (who has been patient enough to put up with me calling her my “sister-in-law-elect”). She’s fantastic. I could go into details, but that would probably be bragging on my part. Let’s just say that she’s a Space Lawyer (working on becoming a Space Doctor because just one 7 year degree isn’t enough) and – best of all – she loves my brother. Also, I’m currently batting 1000 for her bringing me donuts when she comes. And there’s an extremely cute Beagle that comes into the family with the ceremony.

I’m really looking forward to spending the Holiday Interregnum with my family, in Washington State. That weekend ordination aside, we don’t all make it home for Christmas very often. (My parents, souls of gracious practicality that they are, encourage us to come home for Camp Gramp instead, which is at our convenience.) We’ll be there for about 10 days, with a mix of chillaxing, weddinging, taking off with my own husband, staying together and generally being a family. The older I get, the more I appreciate both the family of my birth, and the combined family of my married life. It seems rare to luck out on both sides!

So a little googling reveals that there’s actually a lovely wedding hymn set to Thaxted. I’ll leave you with this lovely thought:

We pledge to one another,
before the Lord above,
entire and whole and perfect,
this union of our love —
a love that will be patient,
a love that will be wise,
that will not twist with envy,
nor lose itself in lies;
a love that will not falter,
a love to hold us fast,
and bind us to each other
as long as life shall last.

We pray that God will guide us
through all the years to be,
our lives be shaped by courage,
hope and serenity.
Through joy and celebration,
through loneliness and pain,
may loyalty, compassion
and tenderness remain,
that those who share the blessing
of love that cannot cease
may walk the paths of gentleness
into the place of peace.

(Youtube for those of you who can’t immediately come up with the hymn tune… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2rednwDOd8)

John Turley, 91 and a half, gone to the Great Thanksgiving

John Turley, in his aging backwards period
John Turley, in his aging backwards period

Saturday morning, my grandfather-in-law did not wake up. He was 91 and a half years old. He’d be in hospice care for more than six months. Never a man to do things in half measures, he was there for both heart and lungs. In July I was lucky enough to see both my relatives of that generation. (My grandmother is still doing shockingly well in Merced – she just finally went into assisted living this summer.) I added a few hours to my schedule and detoured a couple miles on a business trip to go see John, knowing it might well be my last chance. I sat with him for an hour and held his hand. It’s always hard to know what questions to ask in those circumstances. You find yourself wondering what you’ll want to know, later, when you won’t be able to ask. For many of those questions, the right moment for asking has already passed.

I asked John about his time as a submariner in WWII. I have, not three feet from me now, a carved wooden chest from China. His boat had gone up the Yellow River (I believe) and he’d bought the three nesting chests and enough white silk to make a wedding dress for his girl back home. He solved the storage space problem for such large purchases by storing them in a spent torpedo tube. By this I know that his submarine had seen action. He was a short man – well proportioned to a submarine. But I don’t know much more about his service than that, and that he was proud to have served.

John and Mildred
John and Mildred

That white silk was for his girl back home; a pretty, dark-haired nurse with more than her fair share of pep. I asked him that afternoon how he’d met her. He talked about dancing, and how she could dance the dawn up. That wedding happened, and that marriage was blessed with two dark-haired, energy-rich daughters – one of whom became the mother of my husband. Their life in Long Island sounds like an idyll of satin bows, maiden aunts (I’ve never been clear who the unmarried sisters were affiliated with, but there’s a litany of maiden aunts), gardens and decent labor for decent pay. (He was an engineer with tools and telephony, and finished up his career at a hardware store.)

John and his grandson
John and his grandson

Adam tells a lot of stories of the important role his grandfather and grandmother played in his life. There were trips home from Saudi, when he stayed with his maternal grandparents. In ninth grade, Adam went to boarding school in Long Island. The Saudi expat education stopped at high school. He’d wake up at five oh something in the morning to catch the train to see his grandparents. John would be waiting at the other end. I can almost see him in the imagination’s eye – wearing a too big wool sweater and a jaunty tam. John was marvelously patient. I doubt – although my husband can confirm – that he complained about being dragged out of bed in the dark of the morning on a Saturday to pick up his homesick grandson. He and Adam would go get breakfast sandwiches (which Adam speaks of longingly). Then he’d buy Adam a whole stack of hamburgers to fill that adolescent-boy-belly and take Adam back to a loving home. There were silver dollar pancakes and quiet places to read, or play video games.

Easter dinner
Easter dinner

I first met great gramps on Thanksgiving, after Adam and I had been dating a whole year. I was nervous enough to spend my $5.45 an hour work-study wages on a new skirt and sweater for the occasion. I remember being greeted by turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and a stack of Sunday comics they’d been saving for Adam. I would have just turned 19, and they were as gracious and hospitable to me as they could possibly be. (Although I nearly had to break up with Adam over what constituted serving coffee after dinner – I still blanch at the very thought.)

Thanksgiving was an apropos time to meet John. One of my favorite stories is about the time he was invited to three different Thanksgiving dinners. (See also: many sisters.) He went to the first and did a manful duty by the plate. Then he said his farewells and headed to the next sister’s house. They were just sitting down to dinner, and it would be rude not to join them, right? So of course he couldn’t be rude. His efforts at table – for a small man – were nothing short of Herculean. And best of all, he made it home in time to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Five foot two, and he could eat three full Thanksgiving dinners to the satisfaction of an Irish/Italian set of sisters and wives!

John and Grey
John and Grey

When Grey was born, he brought great delight to both Millie and John. They LOVED to see him. More or less from the first trip I brought a baby with me, in all the pictures I have of John he’s playing with his great grandchildren. Although he was well north of 80, in many of the pictures I have of him with Grey, he’s on the floor playing! John had two daughters, two grandsons and three great-grandsons: a great wealth.

Great Gramps and Thane
Great Gramps and Thane

John loved dominoes. He was a canny and shrewd investor who delighted in figuring out the best strategies. He was a patient man, with soulful blue eyes and a fondness for meals made of meat, potatoes and a veggie. He wore hats with panache. He took his duties as a Catholic extremely seriously, and towards the end devoted his life to prayer. He never once turned his face away from a person in need.

He will be greatly missed.

John and (great) grandsons
John and (great) grandsons

I’ve gathered some of my pictures of our time with John here

Preschooler No More

My company hosted its annual convention this past week. In addition to presenting at a session and connecting with my clients, I was also the official event photographer (which was wicked fun, by the way). On Thursday, though, I walked out of the cool, dim & artistically decorated rooms and crossed high bridges between crane-risen buildings back to the parking lot, to head home for a rite of passage. Preschool graduation.

Stoneham YMCA Preschool Class of 2014
Stoneham YMCA Preschool Class of 2014

Now, much fun has been made of the proliferation of graduations. I confess to a bit of mirth on my part at the banner strung between the sensory table and block area proudly pronouncing the “Class of 2014”. But when those small, bright faces in pint-sized blue robes came walking through the room to find their chairs, my heart swelled with the pride of the mother of a graduate. The celebration was short. There were readings by two of the emergent readers (including my sweet Thane). The classes sang the songs with Music Jill that I’ve been hearing so much of lately. They called forth the graduates and presented them with both diplomas and “superlatives”. Thane was “Most Likely to be a Scientist” – a role I was heartily glad to hear for him! (I was betting on “Most Likely to be a Pokemon Trainer”)

Thane delivers the keynote
Thane delivers the keynote

I glanced around the room at the kids I knew from playdates and birthday parties. At the parents who shared the 5:59 pickup time with me, and the ones I’d never seen before. We had been together a long time, those of us in that room. Thane has attended the Stoneham YMCA since he was just over a year old, and many of the kids had been in those infant rooms with him. Now they scatter – some to other school districts, some to other elementaries. A handful will find themselves the smallest members of South School in the Fall.

A rare picture of all four Flynns
A rare picture of all four Flynns

Thane is ready for it. He hasn’t napped in like 3 years, so giving up the enforced nap time will be great for him. He has started to read everything around him. Curious and literal-minded, he asks again and again for definitions he knows, trying to ensure he has them just right. His reading is ready. His math is ready. I think – I fear to say it – but his behavior is ready too. He has become amazing amounts more helpful and cooperative over the last year.

He’ll have two more days in the Orange Room, with the beloved Miss Laureen and Miss Jenn. And on Wednesday, when I drop him off at the Y, it will be downstairs at Summer Camp instead of upstairs. A swimsuit will replace the blanket. He’ll be ready for new adventures. And ready he is.

He's ready.
He’s ready.

For more graduation pictures and videos of the kids singing, you can check out the album!

Six things my sons have never seen me do (and two they have)

I was in the basement the other day, folding Mt. Laundry as usual, when my eye fell on the ironing board in the corner. I wondered when the last time was used it. I gazed at the rather crinkly blouse in my hand, and wondered how long it would be until I used it again. (Certainly not at 11 pm on a Sunday night!) Then it occurred to me that my sons had never seen me use it. Not once. It was unlikely they even knew what it was for.

What other things are there that I know how to do – that I was carefully trained for by patient parents – that my sons have never witnessed in their memory? As I gradually eroded Mt. Laundry, I compiled a list.

Iron clothing
I remember my mother in the living room on a Saturday night, ironing my father’s work shirts: collar, sleeve, fronts & back. I remember being taught how to do it myself – the hiss as you pulled the iron upright, the spurt of steam to ease out a particularly wrinkled patch and the moist warmth of the rapidly cooling cloth as you pulled it onto a hanger to join the rest. My husband wears button up shirts to work every day, but I discovered the wonders of “no iron” shirts. One or two of my shirts ought to be ironed. In response, I never wear those shirts. And even if I unburied that old ironing board and exhumed the iron we bought when I got married… I do my laundry segregated in a laundry room in the basement. (One of the few joys of doing the laundry is you get to watch WHATEVER YOU WANT ALL BY YOURSELF while you fold it.) So my sons would not be introduced to the phenomenon even then.

Clean the house – including vacuuming & dusting
I work full time. Lately, full time has been even fuller than 40 hours a week. I also have a 1 hr each way, each day commute, and I travel for work regularly. Once home, I cook for my family, do aforementioned laundry, schedule our summers, pay the bills, raise two kids, volunteer in my church and enjoy a rich social life. Sometimes I even make it to the gym to work out! About the time Grey turned two, cleaning the house on a glorious Saturday morning, I wondered how much it would take to hire cleaners to come once every two weeks. I have barely turned on a vacuum since that glorious day.

Now, I know *how* to clean a house. I can mop. I can vacuum. I can dust, and wash windows. I can polish. I’m not amazingly great at it, nor is it a great source of pride to me. But my sons have never seen me spend a Saturday morning truly cleaning the house. Magic fairies (we call them “the ladies” which is questionably accurate) come and make the house smell great and change our sheets and scrub the floors. I threaten the kids to pick up their room with the reminder that “the ladies” are coming and anything left on the floor will inevitably get put into a random bin. I think that – unlike ironing a shirt – cleaning a house is actually an important skill for a kid to have, so I’m trying to figure out how I’ll teach them this vestigial skill of mine before they become responsible for their own houses.

Jump
Lest this list get to be a list of ways in which I am not a housewife, I thought I’d add in one other thing that I would like to do, and don’t. Since I tore my meniscus night on four years ago, I’ve noticed I’m very physically careful. I have a back which is a challenge, and a zombie left knee, and I’m often sore and achy. And so… I don’t jump. I just don’t. I don’t hop or leap or generally move quickly. I’m active – I hike and climb. You wouldn’t think of me as a sedentary person – but I wouldn’t (for example) jump on the trampolines at Skyzone, and I often bow out of activities that require cutting and dodging. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever rediscover my courage and flexibility, or if this will become who I am.

Sew a button – or anything
In Jr. High and High School, we were fortunate to have vocational education. There was a well appointed “Home Ec” classroom and quite an extensive shop with gear for woodworking, machinery, CAD and other practical applications. (Fun fact: my computers credit in high school was actually in CAD drafting.) In a sign that the ’50s were still going strong in that neck of the woods at that time, by default in Jr. High the girls would get one semester of Shop with Mr. Jones and three semesters of Home Ec with Mrs. Muir. I suffered through my required first semester of Home Ec, learning how to bake a biscuit and sewing an apron (seriously – an apron!?!?). I learned enough to sew a seam, thread a bobbin, put on a button and read a pattern. But although I cook often and regularly, clothing now does not reward the effort of sewing. It costs considerably more to buy fabric and sew it yourself than to go to Kohl’s and get something.

I particularly thought of this because Thane made a puppet in Cozumel and LOVED sewing it. Loved it. I think he’d really enjoy learning some sewing, but I’ll extremely ill-suited to teaching him. Also, let us speak of gender neutral options that exist in sewing kits. (HINT: THEY DON’T!)

After my first semester of home ec and my first semester of shop, I knew which one I preferred. There could not be a RULE that said girls couldn’t do shop instead of Home Ec and so I happily spent 8th grade as the one girl in a class of 26 guys learning how to put together a lawnmower engine and turning a bowl on a lathe.

Sit down & write a letter to my mom
I have loved writing letters for my whole life. I still do. I have boxes full of papers and envelopes, and stacks of pencils. I have written hundreds of letters in my life – to my uncle, or my penpal on the Island of Sumatra that I once met in Olympia and wrote to for years. I wrote letters in codes. I wrote them backwards. I wrote them and then cut them up to be a puzzle. I wrote to people I knew well and people I’d never met.

I remember my mother writing letters too. She wrote to her mother, mostly. I remember the envelopes with the return address from Zaire and lovely block pattern that were filled with regular missives – daughter to mother – and the return envelopes that came with beautiful cursive addresses.

But. Well. My mom reads my blog, right? And sometimes I call her on my way home. Periodically I send her emails or comment on her G+ postings. Once a year – on Mother’s Day – I write her a letter. (HINT HINT SIBLINGS!) But to my sons, that letter is indistinguishable from goofing off on Facebook, or being at work, or playing Minecraft. It’s just mom on her computer, again.

Chop wood
For a period growing up, our home was heated by wood. (This was true of many homes around us, and remains true for some.) My father, the archetypal good Boy Scout, knew all about the cutting, splitting, stacking and seasoning of firewood, as well as the tending of fires. I learned this art on hot August afternoons where there was no where I’d rather NOT be than in the “back forty” splitting, stacking & hauling with wood chips in my hair and splinters in my fingers. We’d get a cord or two of logs delivered off a local logging truck – which were were NOT allowed to play on lest they shifted. Then we’d gradually cut our way through them, trying to make sure no one got crushed or chain-sawed up or had an axe head fly off at them.

The Easter I was 13, my grandfather gave me my very own axe. (A Boy Scout axe, light and sharp, with a blue handle and gilt writing.) I know how to aim an axe, how to heft it. How to condense the space between your hands as the head flies towards to wood. I know where not to stand when someone else is splitting. I know what to do when the axe gets stuck. I know when you’ll need a splitting maul instead, and how to construct a woodstack that will be a pride to you among your neighbors. (Actually, I’m not really sure we ever got that right. I for one did not care about the opinion of my neighbors on my wood stacking abilities.)


Ah, the things that I learned to do that are of a time past. I doubt I will ever regularly iron my husband’s shirts during M*A*S*H episodes, sew a summer dress, heat my house with wood or spend an hour every week to write my mother a letter and put it in the mail. (I may eventually have to clean my house again, and I hope some day I’ll get to jump!)

But while my housewifery is clearly being called into questions, there are a few arcane arts I preserve. I often feel – when I do these things – like an archivist or a wizard. I think very much of my ancestors while I do these things. I remember their hands at work at these same tasks.

Bake bread & pies
There was a period of my life when my mother decided to bake all our bread. This was particularly true when she was struggling with her carpal tunnel syndrome. She said that working the dough made her hands feel better. I remember the countertop kneading, the distinctive slap as she’d shape the loaves. I certainly remember how delicious they were. (She usually made 2 small loaves, one of which was mine by right and tradition.) I mastered my mother’s recipe (although I make it much more rarely since my husband bakes bread for us weekly!) and still enjoy that same slap on the loaf!

I also learned to make her pies, although in all truth I have never mastered quite that pinch of the crust that she makes look so effortless. Also, it took me like 9 years to get my crusts to come out round instead of square.

My sons have stood in the kitchen and watched me in my apron – flour on the tip of my nose – wresting with dough. Just like I watched my mom. But better yet, they have also watched their father do the same!

Put up a batch of jam
I usually do this after they’re in bed, truthfully. But they have watched me transform a bushel of apples to gleaming jars of apple butter. I picked the crabapples during their soccer practice which I turned into delicate pink crabapple jelly. I remember my great grandmother’s crabapple jelly, made from the tree in our back yard. Every time I hear the “pop”! of a jar lid, I remember. And hopefully my boys with find the sound a keen source of memory too – connecting them through shared memory across generations.


So, what do you no longer do? What do your children not realize you even know how to do? And what relics of bygone eras do you hold firmly to

April Fools!

The mad prankster strikes again!

I woke up this morning to find this menacing visage staring back from my erstwhile toothpaste-smile-free bathroom mirror. Of course, this morning I woke up with a certain alacrity usually missing from my morning hours. A door burst open, shedding light into the snoozy darkness of our bedroom. “Mom! Dad! It’s 9 am!” Adam and I immediately levitated two feet above the sheets and initiated a midair synchronized panic – one of the rarest forms. “April fooooools!”

He was permitted to live because it was 6:58 am and we were getting up in 2 minutes anyway. Plus, this kind of thing is good for the heart, right?

Downstairs for a good ol’ bowl of cereal in purple milk (my contribution). In the car on the way to school, my usually suave second grader effused, “April Fools day is my favorite holiday! It’s just a day of cheerfulness and energy and good fun!” I have to agree with him. We are now in the apex, the absolute height of April foolishness. My guitar was mistuned. Many long discussions happened about what the best “alternative” filling for an Oreo would be. (Mayonnaise? Avoid cookies in our house this time of year.) Some prankster *ripped a hole* in the sheet of toilet paper to be used next. THE HORRORS!

Google joined in the fun, as it so often does, inviting me to enhance my gmail experience with Shelfies. I sadly didn’t listen to NPR, so I didn’t get a chance to be completely taken in like I was with the epic “Coffee Pipeline” debacle. I have personally retired from the trade after my epic accomplishments in the “It’s twins” announcement when I was pregnant with Grey.

I’ll second Grey’s notion – I love April Fool’s day too.

So, what about you? Did you get any great ones off today? Do you love it, or do you find it, well, foolish? What’s the best prank you’ve ever been part of, as pranker or prankee? And why does such a non-commercial holiday persist in our culture?

With iron pen and with lead

Family portrait
Family portrait

My family was here for Christmas. My mother and father and brother joined my husband and sons and I in the cold turning of the year. Puzzles were solved. Puddings flamed. And even in the cold of New England winter, my mother and brother would put on their coats and boots and go for a walk.

A statue from Lindenwood.
A statue from Lindenwood

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the walking and talking. We took long turns around the Lindenwood Graveyard, where I walked when I labored with my youngest son. In between pointing out my favorite gravestones (Yes, I know it’s weird that I have favorite gravestones. Whatever.) we talked. We talked about family history and lore. We talked about my brother’s new call and pastorate in Denver. We talked about the boys and how they were growing. We talked about my sister and her family and how we missed them.

“You know,” my brother said “Some people think I must not care much about my family, to be willing to move so far away from them.” We laughed.

“Well,” I pointed out, “We four families do now live in all four continental US time zones.” I can see where someone who counts on proximity and constant familiarity would look at the facts of our family and think us unloving and unconcerned. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And then we turned to Job. I’m reading the Old Testament in my Humanities Book Club. This is the club that brought me Herodotus and Thucydides. We’re on year five and semester three. Semester three includes selections from the Old and New Testaments. It doesn’t say, in it’s lovely calligraphy, just what the selections are.

So as the resident Christian, I was nominated for the picks. What do you select? If you need to give a cultural grounding in Christianity based on readings of the Bible, what do choose? What do you leave out? Do you follow the lectionary and disavow all knowledge of Chronicles? That’s where the really good stories are! You must read Genesis, of course, but can you understand modern conservative Christianity without Leviticus? Of course there have to be the Psalms. And if you don’t read Isaiah, the New Testament will feel more random than ordained.

For the first session, I decided to stick to the Pentateuch. That led to a long discussion on whether God was in fact cruel for hardening Pharoah’s heart. It is an interesting thing, as a born and bred Biblically-saturated Christian, to start from scratch in explaining the God of Jacob to someone who has never read the Bible, and is starting at the beginning. The Old Testament God is much harder than we remember in our Sunday School lessons.

So after that, I had to tackle propose that we tackle Job and Ruth. Ruth because Ruth is the very definition of faithful love, in my book. Job because I love Job, and I think that Job speaks to one of the great questions religion must answer: why do good people suffer and bad guys do well?

That’s what I talked to my pastor mom and pastor brother about there on the hill between the tombstones. Job, and what Job tells us in his hard but beautiful poetry.


Oh that my words were written down!
Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God
whom I shall see on my side.

Job: 19:23-27

As I explained to my mother and brother, what I love so much about Job (in addition to the words which are some of the best poetry in the Bible) is that it takes that great problem of understanding WHY God chooses to do what He does, or why there is suffering… and basically replies that the answers are beyond our understanding. Thane said to me the other day, “I wish no plants would ever die, mom.” I look at the glory of a flower, and I understand it. Isn’t it sad that the daffodils fade in the matter of days? That the glory of the spring lilacs is so fleeting? But do you not, fellow grownup who has studied any part of biology, understand that if no plant ever died… the entire planet would cease to function and we along with it? Well, perhaps so does God look at his creation and understanding it in a way we cannot, and sets it upon courses that we, with all our wisdom, cannot understand.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: …
“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.”

Job:38:28-30

In other words, “What do you know about any of it? Nothing!” I find that liberating. I don’t understand because I can’t understand because I am not actually God.

Grey and I were recently watching NOVA (again – the third episode) and it showed how the universe was at its most orderly at the moment of the Big Bang, and with entropy comes increasing chaos and unpredictability. I found myself struck by the thought of an omniscient, omnipresent, immortal presence. After a certain amount of order, the first few eternities, wouldn’t you be tempted to create a moment of chaos – of free will and chance – out of your order just to be delighted for a moment by the joyful and chaotic complexity? It does not mean you do not rejoice in the daffodil’s bloom – to the contrary – but autumn is a marvel too.

So this I explain to my kinfolk.

“Well,” pronounces my brother, “I always thought of Job as the ultimate book of messianic prophecy.” (This earned him a say-whaaaa? My earlier snippet aside, there’s not a whole lot of Messiah going on.) “Job,” expands my brother, “when he accuses God of being an unfair judge, wishes that there was someone who could argue his side against God. “There is no umpire between us, who might lay his hand on us both. If he would take his rod away from me, and not let dread of him terrify me, then I would speak without fear of him.” (Job:9:33-35) “That right there is what Jesus does for us, and what grace is for us. Jesus is the umpire, and grace is the taking away of the rod of judgement.”

Huh. Ok. Cool!

“You know,” says my mom, “Job was never my favorite book.” And we talked instead of the New Testament, and the calling of Christ, and how hard it is to pick hymns when you need to get the bulletin done.

We walked together, hands in our pockets and breath glimmering in the moonlight, and were a family headed down the hill and back towards home.

My family’s two pastors at my brother’s ordination. The bald one in the middle and the lady standing next to him singing.