Carving a creative space out of our smallish and crowded house seems to be an ongoing theme in my life (and this here blog).
Nearly two years ago, I cleaned up a desk in our living room to make myself a nice little writing spot (with a view). Not long after I took this picture, though, our laptop lost its ability to talk to its own screen, and C purchased a desktop, which needed a surface to live on. So it ended up, you guessed it, on my little desk. Of course a computer should have been the ideal addition to my spot--only it is C's computer, meaning he's sitting his butt in front of it to work most of the time and let's just say he's not the most tidy person on earth--so any surface of the desk not occupied by monitor or keyboard is overflowing with papers, and various and sundry crap (more on the frustrations of a shared computer here).
For a while I moved operations to a small blue table in my bedroom, but that table was soon taken over by my sewing machine and I set up an even smaller table, squeezed between the blue sewing table and the Big Ugly Chair, but the table is so small, and the lighting (at night) so poor, I rarely, if ever, used it (preferring instead, to write in bed).
I've had my eye out for a fold-down writing desk for a little while, and finally picked one up a couple of weeks ago while my mom and I were antiquing.
Almost immediately I succumbed to buyer's remorse. As we carried it out to the car, I noticed the sides are veneered particle board, not solid wood, the back is Masonite and the bottoms of the drawers coated with some plastic fake-wood material. I wished I'd inspected it more closely before I'd paid for it. Then we went to another antique store, and I found a desk that was an actual antique and not that much more expensive than the one I bought (though still not quite perfect). The drawer pulls are already starting to come loose (with some assistance from little hands, I believe). The desk surface is too high for a laptop (you know, that imaginary MacBook I can't stop talking about).
But, it does fin in the corner of my room (goodbye, Big Ugly Chair--the irony being I had just recently started to sit in the BUC, rather than pile clothes on it), and it has room for my writing books, a pencil holder, and two drawers for stuff. And not a moment too soon, either. Today is the first day of an online writing class I'm taking (The advanced version of Kate Hopper's Mother Words, which I took last summer--it look like another session will take place next winter; I highly recommend it!).
I may be spending a little less time in this space over the next few months, as I give my five a.m.'s to the class, but I'll check in. Maybe more pictures, fewer words, or maybe I'll post some of my work from class (yikes!). In any case, I'm excited for the class--it helps me immensely to have the motivation and structure of lectures and assignments; I appear to lack the discipline to motivate myself. And we'll see if having a corner of my own helps out with the creative process, or if not having my own creative space has just been an excuse for procrastination.
How have you made your existing space work for your creative needs?
We wound up the Birthday Week Extravaganza with the most perfect-weather camping weekend we've yet had (usually you can expect a few showers the third weekend of May, if not outright downpours--other than a bit of fog Sunday morning, we didn't see a drop).
We spent most of the weekend relaxing on the beach,
although E, my mom and I managed to get in a short hike, on which we glimpsed a pair of friendly, if not downright tame, deer.
The boys clearly thought it was high summer and spent a good deal of time right in the water, jumping waves. Brrr.
I kind of see our May birthdays camping weekend (this is the third annual) as our personal official start to summer--a weekend spent lazing on the beach, sleeping in a tent, cooking on a fire--a signpost that we're not going to let summer pass us by unexperienced, but that we're going to be right there in it, touching, tasting, being summer. Won't you join us?
I don't know why, but nine sounds like an awfully big number today.
Is it wrong to wish he was still this tiny once in a while?
When M was a newborn, he was much more interested in the red and black batik elephant tapestry that hung behind our couch than he was in me. Something in his eyes seemed very wise. It seemed like he had an old soul. A couple of weeks ago (at the pool of all places) M told me that he sometimes gets these images in his mind, like a memory, but of something that has never happened, or hasn't happened yet. I suggested he might be remembering past lives, and explained to him about reincarnation. This led to a discussion of theology and physics (why can't there be a material explanation to spiritual questions, I say?)
When I carried baby M, he always arched back, away from me, like he was much more interested in life going on out there. He had no interest in snuggling with his Mama. Motherhood is about attachment and a long, drawn-out letting go. I just wish the letting go didn't have to start so soon.
M and I tend to butt heads a lot. Maybe it's a first-born child thing. I've always had high, not always age-appropriate expectations of him (due, in large part, I think, to the vocabulary that has always galloped a few years ahead of his actual age). Parenthood may be equal parts exasperation and exaltation. I usually talk about the exasperation, but today is about exaltation (warning, I'm about to brag about my kid; please move on to the next blog if you find this annoying).
M is a child who never, ever, ceases to amaze me.
He is a child who can peruse the periodic table of the elements over his breakfast cereal, run up and down the soccer field for a solid hour or smack the baseball across the field (and, if he happens to strike out all three innings, jogs back to the dugout, smile on his face to cheer on his team). He is smart and funny and personable and athletic, all at once.
He painstakingly satin-stitched "US" on this little pouch he made (true, embroidery evoked more than a few tears of frustration), then gave it to his friend--the other Army guy--for his birthday.
He built his own Army tank one morning and announced that it was better than buying some plastic thing at WalMart that was made in China and would just break and end up in the trash--while his version was completely recyclable (oh my, have I brainwashed the kid a wee bit?).
Then he tried his hand at a biplane. It looked good, but didn't fly so well and also ended up in the recycling bin. But it's all about process, right? The product is secondary (although there were some tears of disappointment when the biplane crashed into the couch in a pile of corrugated cardboard and dental floss).
Did I tell you that he now "prefer[s] the Beatles to the Army,"? Good news. Here he is receiving a "pudding basin" haircut (of course the British wouldn't use anything so prosaic as a "bowl" to mold haircuts).
Paul McCartney is his favorite (isn't he everybody's?) so he made himself a guitar.
This is how he listens to a record (yes, I do mean record): he sits on the couch next to the stereo, with the album cover on his lap, memorizing every detail of information on the cover while listening to the record (or select songs) over and over. And over. If it's the Beatles, he also has The Concise Beatles Complete book open so he can commit the song to memory more easily. The Monkees, the Ramones, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson's "Beat It" are other current favorites.
He thinks he'd like to be a spy or a detective. This boy, who could barely be persuaded to wear a Halloween costume the first six years of his life has traded in his second-skin of Army fatigues for a Perry Mason outfit--blue button down shirt, navy blazer, clip-on tie and fedora (I'm a little disappointed in myself that I don't have a picture of him in this outfit). Sunday, after a gang of three masked thieves stole all of my belongings, he showed up on the scene (before I'd even reported the incident) with two deputies to ask questions and take notes. The only suspicious part was that one of the thieves and one of the deputies were both wearing 101 Dalmatians t-shirts.
Nine...still sounds like a big number. I can't believe I've been a mom for nine years (am I even old enough for that??). Lately M's been letting be hug him (instead of going all porcupine like he has for the last year or two) and even sits on my lap once in a while. It's nice, but I fear it's just a bit of reeling in before he casts off farther and farther from my reach.
Happy birthday M, and many happy returns of the day!
May is definitely a month when the old adage holds true...three boys' birthdays being the rain that draws in all kinds of wild weather. In addition to "Second Christmas" as it's known around here, we have a house guest coming and our annual birthdays-in-the-rain camping trip. We've been invited to at least three different things that same weekend, including the next budget meeting for our still budget-less school district. Baseball games every Tuesday and Thursday night. M got tickets to a Seadogs game on his birthday, only I have a very important meeting at work and C doesn't want to fall any further behind in his work and I have to figure out how to be two places at once. Kindergarten screening is scheduled for the same day as the game and the meeting and the following day, which is when we leave for camping (and instead of being weepy and nostalgic about my boys turning five--FIVE!--I'm mainly looking forward to sticking them on the bus and not having to contend with the preschool drop-off/pickup next year).
This past Saturday we had three things scheduled which all got cancelled (rain, illness and birth of a baby) and should have freed me from the prospect of spending Mother's Day cleaning house, in anticipation of my mom coming to spend a couple of weeks, except I just couldn't seem to find traction and spent the day spinning my wheels on one project after another. Maybe that's just how that type of cleaning goes--trying to get the piles under control, when you try to pick anything out by itself you find it's hitched to everything else in the Universe (with apologies to John Muir).
I seem to have forgotten my Epiphanies--especially the ones about taking care of myself and being mindful of the tasks before me--and the principle of Underdo.
And lest you start feeling sorry for me that I spent Mother's Day mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms and cooking dinner, that's not all I did on Sunday. I read in bed a bit before breakfast (which I did NOT cook, even though it was Sunday and my day to cook breakfast), I did a little writing--trying to put together my column for the summer issue of The Motherhood Muse, which I am struggling with for some reason, and trying to write something about my son who is going to turn nine next week. Only I didn't get too far with that, either, because that same son kept distracting me with requests to play card games and Monopoly (we played a 2 1/2 hour game on Saturday, so I didn't feel too bad saying "no." Did you know that the harder you try to spend all your money and go bankrupt, the more money you make and the longer the game goes on? I am totally going to buy a new couch on that principle.)
We also took a family hike down to the river. It had cooled down from the previous week's amazing 80 degree weather and was windy, so there wasn't a black fly in sight, although I was dismayed to see poison ivy growing up in our spot. I took my binoculars and tried to hunt down some of the birds I heard in the woods, but they proved elusive (I can't believe how early it's leafed out here!), until we neared our house and I laid eyes on the chestnut-sided warbler I've been hearing outside of our window in the morning.
A fine Mother's Day, all-in-all. Now, for the rest of the month, a little more living in the moment and a little less getting overwhelmed by life.
I've been struggling lately with how to find time to fit in both blogging and reading the blogs I love with everything else I need and want to do in a day. Now I know I don't need to complain to you about not having enough time in the day--it's our lot in life as busy moms. However, I know I don't want to give up either blogging or reading blogs. One of the many reasons I love reading others' blogs (along with the connection, the catharsis, the sense that I'm not alone, the inspiration, etc.) is that I learn so much from others who just have better sensibilities about the right thing to do (for example, the value of the thank-you note).
I have never been a person who was good at being there for others in a time of need. I never feel like I know what to do or say and do they really want me around anyway? However I have been deeply moved by the beautiful handwork created by many bloggers out there for friends and family who are going through tough times.
So it occurred to me the other day to make a little something for a little friend of ours who's spending some time in the hospital.
The boys all drew cards and I made a little pillow with a pocket to put our wishes into. I stuffed it with buckwheat hulls and herbs (though later it occurred to me that wool would have been a softer and quieter choice for someone who is stuck in bed than noisy, crunchy buckwheat hulls).
We sent along some books and paperdolls and a little toy to keep both our friend and her brother and sister entertained while in a strange place. Who doesn't love to play with paper dolls (apparently a lot of people, cause they're hard to find!)? I remember getting paper dolls when I was sick and they always cheered me up. I hope our wishes can cheer up our little friend and her family just a bit.
I have been a long-time admirer (okay, lurker) of the work of Melissa at Tiny Happy. She makes the most wonderful bits of nature-inspired embroidery. I pop over to her blog every day just for a little image of something lovely. And, actually, her baby shoes made from vintage linens have on more than one occasion nearly convinced me that maybe I need just one more kid. And her wonderful foraging satchels inspired our EarthScouts bags (which are, admittedly, nowhere near as beautiful as hers). I'm waiting for her to make a book of all of her embroidery so that I can just lie in bed and take it in, computer-free.
However, I have never ordered anything from her Etsy shop. Maybe it just seemed so extravagant to have something shipped from New Zealand (or Norway, where she lived before), even though the shipping is no more than from a US shop (i.e. super cheap), or maybe I was just shy (similar to the way I have a hard time going up to a house that has a sign "zucchini for sale" on the front yard). Whatever the reason, I've passed up many really beautiful and original works. Until last week, when I got this package in the mail:
A little zippered bag embroidered with pussywillows, wrapped up with a hand-drawn card and a tiny packet of vintage sewing needles.
For some reason, I knew it was right when I saw it. When I ordered it, I thought I might use it for storing double-pointed knitting needles, or organizing jewelry, or as a travel bag. But it is too nice to store away somewhere, so now I use it as a purse and get to look at it, and touch the lovely linen every day.
Whenever I have ideas for short stories or fictional scenes (which, by the way, rarely make it to paper), my character is usually driving a car. I think this is because the only time I get enough peace and quiet to let my mind wander into the realm of fiction is when I'm driving all by myself, although I've had a lot less alone time in the car over the last year because E and Z's preschool is near my office (another reason I'm looking forward to them attending public school--so I don't have to listen and respond to questions like "what does eight-seven-zero make?" repeatedly before eight in the morning).
Sunday morning I woke early and, even though I'd been up late the night before, I decided to get up and go bird-watching. I hadn't been out yet this spring, and the leaves and bugs are coming out fast and furious, making finding birds, and standing still to see them, more and more difficult. My general method of bird watching is to listen for an unfamiliar bird song and follow it until I can train my binocs on the bird and identify it, thus learning a new bird and a new bird song. I must be out of practice, though, because all the birds seemed to be across ponds and rivers (and because I nearly forgot my binoculars!). It didn't matter, though, because I enjoyed stumble-crashing through the woods, standing under fir trees to wait out rain showers, opening my eyes and ears and letting ideas percolate through my brain.
By the time I got home I had three ideas ready to boil over, but Sunday is my morning to cook breakfast, so I took some black bananas that have been festering in the fruit bowl and started banana bread, then I figured I should probably make some regular bread too, since I didn't made any all last month, and when I opened the refrigerator to get out eggs and yeast, I remembered that I'd bought an extra jar of milk to make into yogurt, but hadn't gotten around to that yet, so I poured it into a pan to heat up. I got the banana bread in the oven (after accidentally adding the two teaspoons of salt destined for the bread batter), E and Z left with Grampy for breakfast at the High Hat and, with the bread rising and yogurt cooling, I flipped on the laptop and settled on the couch for a few minutes of writing.
M came downstairs at about this time and settled himself next to me, reading over my shoulder, which let's just say is not conducive to the flow of words. Then C came down and I made eggs and toast, with the last of our bakery bread, because I'd had to add extra ingredients to the banana bread to try to soak up some of the excess salt and now it was taking forever to bake. After breakfast I tried again with the writing, and again M sat next me. I asked him to please not read over my shoulder so instead he chattered and played Michael Jackson's "Beat It" on the record player over and over and over (that kid is all about mastery).
At last I gave up and we went up to the boys' room to start on a mega clean-up. I don't have before and after pictures for you (if I did you'd say, "Ah, that explains it, she lives in squalor"); after we were done, M said, "We had a forest floor, an understory, a canopy and an emergent of stuff we had to walk on." Exactly. I began sorting through E and Z's dresser for too-small clothes and rearranging furniture (by shoving all the toys, books and clothes accumulated on the floor into the middle of the room). After an hour or so of this, the sun came out and C and M took off on their bikes to the General Store.
At last I had some time alone, but my idea had grown limp after the repeated interruptions earlier and the late night and early morning were catching up to me, so instead I took some banana bread and a book out on the deck, and alternated dozing and reading, until all the boys returned. I played with them a bit then had C help me install the straps that hold up my hammock and retired there for the afternoon. Unbelievably, no one searched me out and the wind blew just enough to keep the black flies at bay so that I was able to finish reading my book before returning to the bedroom. The boys and I spent the rest of the afternoon restoring order from chaos--and getting rid of two laundry baskets of too-small clothes, a big bag of recycling, a crate of books and a few handfuls of trash.
After dinner I cleaned the bathroom while the boys took their Sunday night bath and showers (meaning I cleaned the tub before E and Z got in it so it immediately got dirty again and the shower never got cleaned at all--so much for multi-tasking). After I put them to bed I thought about going through the three bins of hand-me-down clothes in the basement so I could finally--finally--get out the spring and summer clothes (we've had 80 degrees all week), and I thought about working on the column I really need to write for The Motherhood Muse. But instead I decided to just go to sleep, windows wide open, so that the bird song would come in in the early morning.
I am a writer, a public servant, a mama of three boys, a tree-hugger and nature lover. In my spare time I try to live lightly on the earth and strive for mindfulness in all I do...and I hope to teach my kids to do the same.
All content on this blog copyright Andrea Lani.
With a nod to Kazuo Ishiguro's wonderful novel, The Remains of the Day, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I had not even read until this blog was nearly two years old. It's surprising to find one has a lot in common with an aging butler.