blank Friday


After the push of the last few days, getting organized for Thanksgiving festivities with a house full of guests, it was nice to have a day that was almost entirely unscheduled. I did take my sister and nephews to the airport at 4 a.m., which was 2 plus hours round trip. And we had a puppy obedience class at 6. But between those hours, we didn’t have any scheduled commitments. What we did have was a bunch of things still to wash and put away.

In any case, the kids and I and my mother (who is visiting) played some card games and did a jigsaw puzzle together in between clean-up and organization tasks. At one point, my mother and I went in the kitchen to make some tea before starting a game, and I guess we were gone a bit longer than expected, discussing various place setting issues that had come up for last night’s dinner for 12. My daughter asked: “What were you talking about.”

“Oh, dishes,” my mom said.

“And utensils,” I added.

“I can’t wait to be an adult,” my daughter quipped.

It’s true. The ways of adulting are multifaceted and glamorous.




Rainbow Jelly (friday foto finder: food)

A few years ago, a doctor wanted Phoebe to go on a clear fluid diet for a day as a part of a medical evaluation. In addition to clear juices and broths, she was allowed to eat Jello. Jello is not something we tend to eat in our family, but under the circumstances, I decided to go all out. I picked up packages of cherry, orange, lemon, lime and grape Jello, and I put together a dish of rainbow jello for my rainbow-loving girl.

The process involved making the different layers of color separately, letting each chill and gel, and then adding the next layer. I honestly don’t remember how long the process took. But I do remember that the result was quite striking to look at!
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When Theo was a baby, maybe a year or so old, I came across a link someone had shared of Andrea Bocelli singing to Elmo. We were travelling at the time, visiting my in-laws, and a super-tired baby Theo was sitting on my lap long after he should have been asleep. I clicked on the video, and Theo was entranced. What’s more, he was lulled. By the end of the video, he was asleep in my arms.

This is not the sort of magic than an overtired parent easily forgets, and this video was revisited quite a few times over the next year or so. (Not always with exactly the same magic.) I also bought the song (not the Elmo-directed version, but the original Italian version), and found that it was effective at getting Theo to nap on car rides. When Theo was a little bit older, he would request the song. However, the name he had for it was “Rainbow Jelly.” I’m not sure how long it took us to figure out what he meant, but eventually we realized that it must have been how he’d misheard “Andrea Bocelli” in the video.

And so it was that I was inclined to call the rainbow layered Jello “rainbow jelly.”

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Last week’s friday foto finder theme was food, and given my recent run on rainbows, I couldn’t resist sharing photos of this. It is somewhat debatable whether this treat counts as actual “food,” but Phoebe had fun with it.

To see what other potentially more nutritious food items have been shared, pay a visit to the fff blog.
fff 200x60


With the start of summer comes the end of structured school days. While there is lots of fun to be had, I still need to squeeze in time for my work. Picnics and visits with friends and fireworks and trips to the zoo don’t mean any less cooking, or food shopping, or laundry, or cleaning, (and in fact often mean more) and there are days when I find myself feeling squeezed. I optimistically promised my advisor that I’d get him a large chunk of writing done while he was away on vacation, but I foolishly did so without looking at my calendar, and observing the small number of child-free hours on it in those 2 weeks. When I find a 4-hour chunk of time to focus on my research, my thoughts start to get organized, but then comes the next over-full day and my thoughts scatter. Really, I’ve been enjoying the summer fun, and the extra time with the kids, but just now find myself wishing I could just do one thing or the other for a sustained time. Today I have maybe a 6-hour chunk to do squeeze out as much writing as I can while both kids are out of the house. (Just now I am trying to squeeze out this blog post as the kids eat breakfast. I have only been interrupted roughly 14 times.)


Starting next week, the kids will both be in camps and childcare more-or-less full-time, so hopefully the squeeze will feel less tight. But if I’m actually going to finish this degree, I have to be prepared to keep on the tight squeeze, long-term. (Hold me.)

Quick Home Organization Projects from American Hovel Magazine (with before and after photos!)

It’s been some time since I’ve posted content from American Hovel Magazine, the magazine dedicated to lowering neatness standards in the American home. The publishers have graciously granted me permission to reproduce one of the features from the upcoming June, 2013 edition.¹

Quick Home Organization Projects
Other popular home magazines are full of helpful hints on getting organized and staying clutter-free. The photos from these beautiful homes suggest lives of calm and beauty in which calm and beautiful people live and exude calm and beauty from their very pores.

People who live with Real Families and Real Clutter™, however, often find those home organization projects to be completely out of reach. After first sighing in envy at the neatly partitioned closets and gleaming clutter-free surfaces, real people will choke back sobs of despair when looking up at the disarray of their own home. They will then tear the pages out of the offending Magazine of Impossible Ideals, stomping them into a crumpled mess on the floor, and then drink vodka and/or eat chocolate until they pass out under their kitchen table.

We here at American Hovel know that feeling well. After recovering from our last magazine-shredding-chocolate-eating-vodka-drinking rampage, we solicited photos from our readers on their own home projects. You will agree that the scope of these projects is far more attainable. Share in the joy of being able to see a project from concept to completion in a matter of minutes, leaving you much more time to enjoy your vodka or chocolate with self-satisfaction instead of self-pity.

Project 1: Kitchen Counter
Competent cooks know the importance of clear work space for creating inspired and wholesome meals. This is why you so often have cereal for dinner.

Before: It’s covered with mismatched containers and lids, tools, toys, swag, and a basket full of lord knows what other crap. Problem: you can barely tell what’s what, let alone find room to make lunch.

After: Putting the dinosaur toy front and center focuses your attention on the dinosaur toy. Look at the dinosaur! Dinosaurs are cool. Raawr!

Project 2: End Table:
End tables can be beautiful accents to a living space, giving room for guests to set a drink. Assuming that you ever have guests, or that they could find room to set a drink.

Before: This end table is an elegant antique piece. The lovely wood surface is visible between sketch books and art supplies, various toys and craft projects (is that a paper Tardis?) and whatever the hell else is all over it. (Is that a jar of foot cream?) Problem: there is no real focal point. All you see is pile.

After: The robot Matrushka doll has been turned around and given a prominent place, using the lantern as a pedestal. The owl craft is now on top of the paper box. What once just said “pile” now says “pile with Matrushka robot doll and cheery owl.”

Project 3: Kids’ Toy Corner
You live in a reasonable sized house, without a dedicated play room for the kids. What you have is a living room which has a lot of toys in it. Often all over the entire floor. Sometimes the toys get “put away” into a corner like this one.

Before: The toys are vaguely sorted into bins and stacks. Some might find this level of chaos distracting,though, with all the clashing colors. Problem: There is no unifying theme.

After: Covering the pile with a throw quilt from a nearby couch turns the chaotic pile into a lump of pleasing simplicity. Further, it adds a feeling of warmth and comfort to the room. (Quilts are warm and comfortable, you know.)

Bonus idea: Put a stylish pony on top and it’s now Imperial Fantasy Mountain, a home suitable for the Princess of all the Ponies.

Project 4: Kids’ Craft Corner
Your kids love to do art, and you have amassed an enormous collection of craft supplies, not to mention a never-ending flood of projects and papers coming from their schools. You’ve started tackling this roughly 27 times over the past 3 months, using boxes to sort artwork, schoolwork, and other miscellany, but have been interrupted each time. The pile has seemed to explode and expand daily whenever you look away. (You look away as often as possible).

Before: A massive, heaving, seething pile of headache. Problem: the throw quilt from the couch is already in use in the living room, plus it’s not nearly big enough for this pile. Your king-sized comforter would do, but you’d have to go upstairs to get it, plus you’d be cold tonight.

After: Move a couple of things around and call it a day. Then stop looking at it. You have more important things to do. Go have some good quality chocolate or a strong drink.

Can you spot the difference?

We hope you have enjoyed this American Hovel Magazine feature. Please feel free to contribute your own organizing project ideas and tips.

¹Note: American Hovel Magazine is a completely fictitious magazine that exists only in my head on and on the pages of this blog. I was flattered to hear that a friend of a friend actually once hunted for the magazine at news stands a few years ago, after seeing my cover. Perhaps the magazine will come to life one of these days, but for now I will just have to live the dream of living in that dream world of clutter. For back issues of American Hovel Magazine, please visit the archives:

I am weary

The past few weeks have knocked the wind out of me. I hardly know where to begin, there is so much to say. The biggest news, at least for my family, was that John’s father died. It was not unexpected. It was not fast. It was also not easy.

Just over 2 weeks ago, we got the call that John’s father was not expected to survive the night. As you might imagine, there was much travel, and rearranging of plans. John was able to travel to New York to be with his parents for his father’s last few days. I stayed home with the kids. Things were complicated by Theo having a fever one day, then getting pink eye the next, which meant missed school for him, missed work time for me, and more trauma than I would have expected dealing with the medication. (This was Theo’s first sick visit to the doctor, which itself was remarkable.) Phoebe managed to pick up her first case of poison ivy, a bad one, including welts on her face around both eyes. This led to a doctor’s trip and missed school for her, too. Then there was the funeral. Phoebe ended up missing a whole week of school. This week is her school vacation. And did I mention the stomach bug that hit Phoebe Sunday night?

These were the weeks that I was supposed to be working intensively to make a last push to try to finish my degree. Time is limited before my subject pool, the BU undergrads, is taken away by finals and the end of the term. I have now lost 2 full weeks of work time. The only day that was not taken up by sick kids or travel or memorial services and time with extended family was one that I spent shopping for something to wear to the funeral.

My days are eaten up. My energy is eaten up. My motivation and momentum for my research have all but left the building. I have been trying to push through, in the windows of time that open up here and there.

But next comes a terrorist attack in Boston, and the wind is knocked out of me again. I was not there, but I am shocked and grieving. 3 dead and over 170 injured in a blast at Copley Square, a place I know well. The news that one of the dead was a child of 8 hit hard. The news that another was a BU grad student hit hard again. The realization that my friends and family from far away might be worried about my family hit me again. We could have been there.

I am steady in times of crisis. Strong and reliable, I keep pushing through. I know that I have to keep going until the crisis time is over. But I am strained and drained. I am edgy and touchy. I am slipping.

This is not the worst crisis I can imagine. This is not even the worst crisis I or my family have lived through. I remind myself every day how lucky I am to have John and my children here with me, safe and (largely) healthy. My mother and my sister and her family are safe and well. I have financial stability, a home, and wonderful friends. I am very, very lucky. But I admit that I am tired, and I just wish I could have a few days to catch my breath. At this point, I’d settle for one.

I don’t remember growing older

Today I registered Theo for kindergarten. Come fall, we’ll have two elementary school students in the house. I feel a bit sappy and nostalgic (my baby!), but I am also really looking forward to the easier schedule we’ll have when the bus comes to the house to collect both children. (The pick up and drop off at Theo’s preschool take about 45 minutes on either end, what with the 15 minute drive plus the time it takes to deliver or collect. It’s like I have a commute even on days when I work from home. I can’t seem to manage to get Theo to his preschool and be back before Phoebe’s bus, so I don’t get back home to start working until around 9:30. )

My post title is, in case you don’t recognize it, a reference to “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, which has been running through my head much of the day. Of course, I feel like I’ve just grown older tonight, as in the course of choosing a photo to go with this post, I managed, with the help of a very annoying bug, to completely screw up the keyword tagging system I’ve been using in iPhoto the last few years. I’ve noticed that a bunch of my keywords were showing up on photos that I hadn’t tagged as such, and in the course of “fixing” some of these, I witnessed the bug in action. As I watched, I saw keywords getting applied to thousands of photos that shouldn’t have had them. So now those keywords are completely meaningless. Years worth of tagging rendered useless. So, you see, I can measure my aging by means of the technology that torments me. Why 10 years ago, I didn’t even have a digital camera of my own, let alone a digital photo library of many thousands of photos to mismanage.

In other (less cranky) news, the wave of nostalgia triggered by getting ready to send my baby out into the wild world led me to go poking into my blog archives from the time when Theo was a new arrival. In addition to finding the expected ramblings about having a new baby, I also found this other post, which (if I do say so myself) is quite entertaining:
Advanced Topics in Procrastination. If you are a procrastinator, you should definitely put it on your list of things to do later on.


I was at a conference, and the family came on the trip with me this time. I was at some sort of event that involved mingling, perhaps a coffee break, and having some in-depth discussions about some aspect of the phonetics of intonation. John and Phoebe were off somewhere together, but Theo was there with me, and getting bored and impatient. I suggested he go back to the hotel, and continued my conversation.

A bit later, after the discussions had wound down, I realized that I had sent Theo, barely 4 years old, off to wander the streets of some strange big city. Of course he didn’t know how to get back to the hotel by himself. I had no idea which way he’d gone. I started to look for him, and in the flexibility of dream space, I looked on many streets, in many directions. I asked countless strangers if they had seen a little boy, walking by himself. I became convinced that I would never find him again and fell apart. Not only had I lost Theo, but it was my fault. It was through my carelessness and inattention and self-absorption. My worst fears had been realized. I cried and moaned in my panic and grief.

I woke up in the dark, at home in my bed, my heart racing. My throat felt tight as if I had indeed been shrieking. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t actually made the loud noises I remembered making, that I still heard echoing in my head, as John was there asleep next to me. I curled up towards him and let myself go back to sleep.

When I next woke up, there was light coming in under the window shades. This is never a good sign, as the alarm typically goes off at 6:00, while it is still quite dark out. Last night we’d had a power outage, and while I had correctly set the alarm on our ancient radio alarm clock, I had managed to set the time wrong. By 12 hours.

It was 7:30. Happily, there was still time to get Phoebe ready for the bus. I could take Theo to his preschool after the bus instead of before. We should have rushed, since time still tight, but I climbed into Theo’s bed and held him close, curling myself up against him, warming his cold feet. I called Phoebe down from the top bunk to snuggle, too, and we snuggled, the three of us, until the bickering over who was taking up too much space and the jabbing elbows got the better of me. I got up, got the kids up, got dressed, and started the rush to get breakfast, finish packing lunches, and get us out the door.

I should have felt more rested today from having gotten that extra sleep, but I’ve been feeling shaken by my dream all day. I know that I would never really send Theo off by himself like that. Or Phoebe either, for that matter. (Though there was that one time that Theo did wander off outside by himself, while John and I were engaged with Phoebe, arguing over a lollipop. Theo had followed some friends who had visited our house and left. Our friends noticed him following them, and walked him back. And there was a time at the beach a couple of weeks ago when Phoebe wandered off looking for shells and got disoriented in the crowds of people and umbrellas. She couldn’t find us, and we couldn’t find her, for far too many minutes.)

My dream shows me that anxiety about separation is still rooted in my mind, planted there by too many health scares and nourished by so much time spent lately trying to focus on my work and school. With so many things going on in my life and in my head, I clearly sometimes worry that I will lose hold of what is most important to me.

spring fever

Spring has definitely arrived here. Possibly with a vengeance.

I’m not generally prone to seasonal allergies, but there have been a few times in my life when I have wondered if I’ve been beset. This being one of them.

This week is Phoebe’s school vacation. On Tuesday morning, we had Phoebe’s annual check-up scheduled. (Almost 2 months after her birthday. We’d had to reschedule a couple of times.) I was going to take the kids to the dentist in the afternoon (way to vacation!), but the hygienist had to reschedule, so we had an unexpected free afternoon. It was a beautiful hot, sunny day, and I thought we should spend some time outside in the window between lunch and Phoebe’s karate class. A trip to the town playground was in order!

We got ourselves together and over to the park remarkably quickly, given my reduced ability to nag. (And I totally felt like a responsible adult when I remembered that we should wear sunscreen. I have to pat myself on the back for these rare moments.)

The kids had lots of fun. Phoebe dug up a worm and picked dandelions. Theo climbed and jumped off rocks.They slid on slides and swung on swings. Both kids ran around and interacted with other kids.

But I was zonked. I think we were there for a little more than an hour, but it felt like an eternity. I tried to occupy myself by taking some photos, something that can usually keep me quite content for long stretches of time, but I barely had the will to focus, what with all the coughing and the sneezing and the blowing of the nose. I fantasized about being at home, curled up on the couch, box of tissues at my side. Happily, Theo started to get overheated! Yes! I suggested we could go home and watch an episode of Scooby Doo. This was effective at luring Phoebe away from her enjoyment of the great outdoors as well.

So we went home to sit inside and watch some TV.¹

Brought to you by Great Moments in Parenting.

¹ For the record, I did decline to give them bowls of candy and potato chips to munch on. And I hardly let them have any beer or crack.