Friday, September 26, 2008

Swirly, sparkly, addicting things

Is it normal to feel so bereft after being practically done with the project that has consumed every free minute of my life for several months and that has haunted me (the guilt, mostly) for years? I feel out of sorts. I keep thinking of things like public space, private space, house as a symbol of (fill in the blank). That's not just a "green home"--that's a political stand, a sign of the times, a vote with dollars. But maybe it's just a cool house with a living wall and roof, graywater processing system, and solar panels, all backed by someone with more time and money than he/she knows what to do with. Perhaps some things are not more than the sum of their parts.

We have fun family or mama/SB things planned all weekend. I have a stack of magazines, all glossy and undogeared, waiting on the coffee table and nightstand. I even bought two brand-spanking-new books, which I never do, cheapskate that I am (Plenty and House at Sugar Beach). Yet, I'm fighting the urge to sit at my computer or scribble notes on scraps of paper. While eating lunch with SB, I got up and wrote the following on a Working Assets pad of paper I found in the debris of my desk: "Public v. Private lives. Milk on porch. Internet. Green parenting. Risk private for public? Holloran. Losing data and identity theft. Embrace public." Good grief, woman. Let it go for a couple of weeks.

But I'm Type A--can't sit still, have to stay busy. Which is a kind of sickness. Or is it that cliche about scratching at a long-ago amputated limb? One day, if I'm lucky, I'll forget about it. But that day is not today.

When we were out celebrating Alex's birthday the other night, he asked, "So, what are you going to do now that your thesis is mostly done?" I was supposed to say, "I'm going to Disneyland!" but instead my shoulders seized up and I felt a flush of panic flood my body. What am I going to do with all my newfound time?

My acupuncturist says to maybe just let the rest of my life, the stuff that's been crammed into the tight corners of my days, stretch out a bit. Don't fill yourself up again, she gently warned me, as she stuck me with about thirty needles meant to beat back an encroaching cold and get rid of weeks of stress. But she's not like me. She's a mellow, relaxed person. Just being in the same room as her makes me sleepy. I might be lazy, but I'm rarely ever relaxed.

The thing is, I remember a time before full-time work and family and trying to live a greener life and writing in the spare minutes of a day and hanging out with friends. I had less to do, I was more relaxed, but some days, I couldn't even get out of bed. There was nothing to yank me out of own head and into the world. I cried a lot and felt sorry for myself. That was a crappy time of thinking too much and doing too little.

The swirl of sound and color and motion—of SB and her friends running through the house while unwinding a ball of yarn, of jam burning on the stove, of hooting and moaning at the Daily Show, of Twittering about Project Runway, of newspapers and magazines slipping off of every flat surface in the house, of weekends so full that they feel like weekdays—that mess of parts equals the sum total of my life. The energy of this crazy book project can't just disappear, so where will it go? I'm not worried: something else equally sparkly and distracting and addicting will come along. And honestly, I can hardly wait.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Goodbye, goodbye, hello

We're reading Charlotte's Web right now, a chapter or so before bed. Tonight we read the bittersweet chapter about the crickets, how they call "goodbye, summer" and everyone hears it. I hear it, too.

We went to the Eastbank Farmers Market for the last time this season. I'll miss the lovely ritual of stopping there after work to buy fruit for the weekend (peaches are still lovely, and apples are coming in strong) and eat a little dinner (Toddbott Triangles for SB, tamales or lamb sandwiches for Alex and me) and listen to music. We always run into to friends, old and new. Tonight, Todd saw us in line, heard SB asking about the spinach roll with tamari, and had one ready for her when we got to the top of the line. We said goodbye to him until next year.

At the market, we picked up twenty-five pounds of tomatoes to can or freeze. Last week, Alex and SB went to the farm while I worked on my thesis and picked up seventy-plus ears of corn and ten pounds of beans. Later that night, while I continued to work, Alex blanched and prepped the vegetables for the freezer. Though veggies are still rolling into town from the nearby fields, there's a turn in the weather, a chill in the morning air. I think we'll soon be saying goodbye to tomatoes, corn, and beans, too.

But--Hello to football season for Alex. Hello to striped tights, flowered tights, pink tights for SB. Hello to the stack of books and magazines piled on the coffee table that have been waiting for me to finish my thesis. Hello to fall dinners with friends, to stews and soups, to squash of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Hello to reading, guilt-free, on cold, rainy Saturdays.

Goodbye to summer's pleasures and pressures--I'm just about ready for fall.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


It's done! 113 pages. Finished a draft on Sunday night at 10:30 and turned it in to my advisor on Monday afternoon. Whew.

Next up: a week of revisions in mid-October then I give copies to my committee. A ten-page written exam later (WTF?) and I defend in late October/early November. If all goes well, I'll be a master by December!

On Sunday, the last day of thesis writing, as SB was heading out with Alex to the Children's Museum to meet some friends, I heard her say, "I miss Mama." Almost stopped working to run out and hug her, but realized that I just needed to keep writing so that I could join my family in the real world again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Passing the blogging buck this week

Here's what my crazy week looks like (full of links o' plenty to compensate for this posting's embarrassing lack of content):

Tomorrow--SB turns four! We had the big bash on Saturday at Kruger's Farm on Sauvie Island, which was fabulous! I haven't gotten around to getting the photos off my camera yet, but my amazing friend over at WhatKnot (who gave us the idea for the place AND made the goody bags AND gave SB the cutest halek of sewn tomatoes) has, so visit her site to ooh and aah!

Wednesday--Two good friends, Miriam Gershow and Debra Gwartney, each have books coming out next year, so they start their first rounds of reading and speaking engagements at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show in Portland. Please do yourselves a solid and read these brilliant writers' books! (I plan to, once the t-word is done: see Monday below.)

Saturday--The Green Home Tour, some of which will make good color for the t-word (again, see Monday below). Join us in checking out the cool eco-conscious stuff Portlanders are doing with their homes.

Sunday--Alex's birthday! Breakfast out (Simpatica? Screen Door?) and maybe a set of speakers are forthcoming, but the official celebration must unfortunately be deferred because . . .

Monday--Thesis due to advisor! Then it's a couple of weeks of normal life before I have to revise and prep for the defense in late October. Almost there. Land, ho!

P.S.: I've been Twittering lately, so you can visit me there, too!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Three things that will help me sleep tonight

I'm one of the millions of worriwart Democrats who's been losing sleep ever since Sarah Palin's speech at the RNC. Here are some natural sleep remedies that, I suspect, will lead to a restful night for me:

1. People who are rallying their networks of friends to help ensure that Obama is elected in November. For example, my friends Rachel and Tony sent a hilarious email out itemizing their “latte-sipping, arugula-munching” liberal ways. They vowed to cut back on things like "Taking the family out for sushi or Vietnamese noodle bowls while ground hamburger goes bad in the fridge" and send the money instead to the Obama campaign. In the weeks between now and November 4, they challenged their friends to "Send all your extra cash that you would have put toward organic bananas to undecided voters in southern Ohio."

So, I accept your challenge, R & T, and vow to skip my morning tea and coffee runs, visit Buffalo Exchange once a month rather than weekly, and resist buying handfuls of glossy new magazines every time I go to Rich's Cigar Shop across the street from my office. And friends in my network: Tag! You're it.

2. Cheri and Brian for sending me a link to the Huffington Post analysis of why polls showing a huge McCain-Palin lead are suspect.

3. Katherine and Brian for passing along their much-needed optimism and encouraging me to read Gail Collins's column in the New York Times, which explains, point by point, why Dems need to calm down.

This Dem is calmer now. Thanks, all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A very, very, very fine house

SB's favorite song right now is Our House by CSNY (not Madness, though I might have to introduce that one to her soon). It's a fun one to sing at bedtime, much better than Puff the Magic Dragon, which Alex and I had to sing for months and months and got so sick of it that when Peter Yarrow was in town for a concert, I almost showed up so I could spit at him.

There's something incredibly fitting about that song as I'm in the last weeks of getting my thesis draft together (due to my advisor on September 22). Because though our house is still torn apart as Alex works on weekends to get the electrical and ductwork done, it is still a very, very, very fine house. And the song remind me that fall is coming, and triggering my nesting instincts. I want to make thick soups full of potatoes and chunks of meat. I want to crack open a jar of strawberries that we canned in June and eat the sweet fruit by the spoonful while I stand at the kitchen window watching leaves fall from the tulip tree. I want to go for a bike ride along the river in early evening, watching the bridges light up one by one, then come home to eat popcorn and drink cocoa while we struggle to keep a fire lit in our fireplace. I want to spend all evening curled up in bed with SB following the adventures of Despereaux or James and his friends in the peach or Ramona.

Our House might just be our family song of the season.

Friday, September 5, 2008

When I'm not slaving away on this %#&^@ book . . .

I'm loving Architecture School on the Sundance Channel. I'd been taping the episodes and finally got around to watching the first two during my thesis-writing marathon last weekend. I felt was legit to watch it since it was sort of related to my project. It turned out to be a great combination of watching Project Runway and reading Dwell magazine.

The set up of the show is that architecture students in Tulane University's Urban Build program first design and then build a prototype house in a low-income neighborhood in New Orleans. The first term is spent designing (under the tutelage of their incredibly smart and sexy professor Byron Mouton, he of the "bold gesture") a 1,200 square-foot, three bedroom house on a practically no budget. At the end of the term, all of the designs are reviewed by a ruthless panel of architects, contractors, design people, and folks from the program's nonprofit partner agency Neighborhood Housing Services. During the review, one student is asked to explain why his concepts and ego should trump the practical needs of a family who would live in his design. Awe-some. Then, in a surprisingly democratic turn for reality TV, the students vote for which design they want to build.

By the third episode, the students show up for the next term of school to build the house--in something like fifteen weeks. While all of this is happening, there's another drama unfolding with the previous year's Urban Build house, which sits vacant only blocks away. The neighbors interviewed seem to the run the gamut from those who like the house's modern design and think it'll help their troubled neighborhood and those who think it's ugly and want it torn down. Drama and architecture, plus hubris, class warfare, and king cakes? Can't. Look. Away.

Fortunately, there are only six half-hour episodes in the entire season, so it's a short, quick, not-too-distracting fix for me, unlike last month's debilitating obsession with Jane Austen: not only did I reread P&P, I also rewatched the 1995 and 2005 movies, as well as Clueless (always good for a laugh) and The Jane Austen Book Club (ugh). That's how I've been filling my insomniac nights. How about you?

Monday, September 1, 2008

A record of what matters to us

Yes, I'm procrastinating again. But this time, the distraction (and my compulsive need to share it) is directly relevant to my book project! As I sit here for the fifth consecutive day trying to stitch my notes and thoughts and journal entries into a coherent chapter (or two), SB is having not-so-quiet time upstairs humming to herself in her bedroom and Alex is in the basement noisily wrestling with lengths of metal ductwork that will help us more efficiently heat the upstairs of our house come fall, which, judging from today's brisk weather, is already upon us.

Against this sensory backdrop, I read this passage in Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness (thanks to SVW for reminding me of this book!):

"There need be nothing preternaturally sweet or homespun about the moods embodied in domestic spaces. These spaces can speak to us of the sombre as readily as they can of the gentle. There is no necessary connection between the concepts of home and of prettiness; what we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding on to.

"As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us."

Thank you, Alain de Botton, for reminding me why I'm working on this project in my not-so-pretty, half torn apart house.

And can't help but notice more craziness regarding Sarah Palin in today's more reputable news sources, but I will resist for as long as possible. . . .