Sunday, December 30, 2007

A couple of upgrades

I spent a little time last night and this morning figuring out how to offer subscriptions to my blog, and I think I've done it. If you like, you can subscribe via e-mail, or subscribe in a reader via RSS.

I get the e-mail part but I really don't understand the RSS at all! If anyone subscribes in a reader, let me know if it works, OK?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two articles

The Patriot Ledger ran two of my stories in this weekend's edition. The story about Jesuit author James Martin was in the family section, and a story about the afterlife of a Christmas tree was in the Home Living section.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas photos

Click here to see family photos from Christmas. You do not need to sign in to see the photos -- just click on the "View Slideshow" button.

We had a great day -- very relaxing and fun. Hope yours was the same.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Herding cats

There are reasons I decided not to try to get all three kids in one photo for our Christmas card this year. One of them is below.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas cheer, part 2

It's amazing what meeting deadlines and taking a little break will do for the psyche. I feel a delicious sense of freedom, knowing that I'm done teaching for a couple of weeks and I don't have anything else due, writing-wise, until January 2nd.

At 4 days before Christmas, there are a zillion things I could be doing, but I'm taking a break. I deserve it.

Here is Abby, on the night we went to see a small production of The Nutcracker a couple of weeks ago. She is hoping that Santa will bring her a fish, whom she plans on naming Splash Nemo Fay. She made her request in a letter addressed to "Santa Claus, North Powl." She also wants to leave him a note, just as a reminder, on Christmas Eve.

She asked me the other day why she doesn't have any jeans or khakis. The short answer, which I gave her, was that she outgrew them all. The real reason is that she's never been able to fasten the snaps, and has been resistant to working on it with us. Maybe if she's motivated by the desire to be fashionable, the fine motor skills will come along.

Here is Santa's Little Helper, Brian, opening an early present at his Grandma Fay's Christmas party last weekend. His biggest wish for Christmas is a train with tracks. I joke that he'd probably be even more thrilled with an atlas, a calculator and a Sudoku book, but will trust Santa's judgment on this one.

He keeps saying "I want to open a present!" He's singing all kinds of Christmas carols and is into candy canes, Hershey's kisses and gingerbread. He's helped me make cookies and fudge, and likes to help wrap presents, too.

And here is Santa, aka Timmy. He is hoping for a fire truck ("A quiet one," says Abby) for Christmas. His favorite book these days is Corduroy's Christmas, a lift-the-flap book that has taken up residence in our bathroom, where he can read it at leisure while he's in there on business. He was very excited this morning to see a snowplow clearing the intersection outside our house. He's fighting a little cold, which hopefully will be gone by Tuesday.

For the first time in 14 years, I don't have to sing at any masses on Christmas day. I'm really looking forward to lounging in my jammies and enjoying the kids' excitement without watching the clock. I may be a little groggy from singing the midnight mass, but that's what coffee is for.

Everything is just about perfect. Now, if I could only find the $75 worth of gift cards I've misplaced. I keep asking St. Anthony to help me out, but so far he hasn't answered me. They'll turn up, I know, but I hope they do so before Christmas rather than after.

A little musical Christmas cheer

Watch this video. As my sister wrote when she sent me the link -- it's Christmas caroling at its best!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Autism Speaks piece

Autism Speaks published my piece, A Different House Tour, on their website today. It will also be featured in tomorrow's e-Speaks newsletter. Complete with photos of Abby and Brian in both places!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Opera in Tinytown

Today's Tinytown Gazette contains a piece I wrote about an opera audition I sang this year, and what I took away from the experience. It's on page 11 of the PDF.

Suzette Martinez Standring's column is at the top of the same page. I'm thrilled to be page-mates; if it weren't for Suzette, I wouldn't be writing!

The backstory: I had enjoyed Suzette's columns in the Milton Times for some time, when I saw that she was offering a writing course through Milton Adult Ed last spring. I wanted to take the class, but then couldn't make it to the first one. She telephoned my house to encourage me to come to the next class, anyway. So I did.

And it was her help and encouragement in that course that set things in motion for me, writing-wise. Suzette is a terrific writer, and a wonderful teacher and a generous soul. I hope you enjoy her piece about the highlights of her 2007, on page 11 of the Tinytown Gazette.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An unlikely article

Click here to read my debut as a fashion writer, in the Womyn Zone section of today's Patriot Ledger. It's a story about holiday fashions, and I'm very grateful to the women in the article for their thoughts and expertise!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Something that works; something that doesn't

It's too late to wax poetic, but I did want to tell everyone about the new man in my life: Mr. Clean. That magic eraser thing that Sharon suggested really, really works. The blue graffiti on my walls is no longer, and it took off quite a few scratches and scuffs, too, with very little elbow grease.

Of course, this means I have no excuse whatsoever for scuffed walls anymore. What have I done?

In other news, the weight thing is not good. Up 2.5 pounds this past week. The combination of looming deadlines and cookie-and-fudge-making is deadly for me. I suppose there are worse substances to self-medicate with, but chocolate as my drug of choice isn't good for staying on the the weight-loss path.

I guess my self-control muscle just needs a better strengthening program.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blue and white

'Twas two weeks before Christmas, really 'leven days
and most things were cranking along at the Fays'.
The tree was all shiny with tinsel and lights;
It stood in the corner and lit up the nights.

I started my baking today, it is true.
I'm tired already. It's quarter past two.
The snow that piled up in the yard overnight
Got Brian's bus stuck. It was quite a sight

To see the white van on the corner, all still.
It couldn't find traction to get up the hill.
I unbuckled Brian and got him inside,
and marveled that he hadn't sat there and cried.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But my two-year old, Timmy, a grin ear-to-ear.
With a dry-erase marker, so lively and quick
He'd colored my hallway. I thought I'd be sick.

Blue marker on doorjambs, on floors and on walls.
On steps and on carpets, and in my front hall.
With several choice words, to myself and to Tim,
I voiced my displeasure, with this and with him.

On Softscrub! On sponges! On 409 too!
But nothing, no, nothing would take out the blue!
The floors are OK now, the window and stairs.
But the walls are a mess, and I can't move the chairs

To cover them up, 'cause it's in my front hall.
And the passage too narrow, the spaces too small.
Perhaps this will have to be covered with paint.
'Twill be Earl's next project, because Julie's it ain't.

And now I'm recovered, from anger and wrath
and fatigue that came over me; the aftermath
of being so angry o'er nothing at all.
Someday I'll miss having my kids be so small.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pride smackdown!

Well, Mother Nature is putting a snowy blanket on my exuberance. Earl caught the morning weather report, came back into the bedroom and said "You're not going to Scituate tonight." That's where Fr. Martin's talk is -- you know, Mr. America? I'm so disappointed, but Earl is right. Unless the promised storm takes a detour, it would be foolish for me to be out on the roads. Driving in snow is one thing; driving in an intense storm packing 2-3 inches an hour is another.

I will wait to see exactly how things look this afternoon, but it seems unlikely that I'll be hearing Fr. Martin speak tonight. Maybe he will reschedule.

Perhaps this is God's little humility reminder for the day. I was getting pretty full of myself after talking with Fr. Martin (and before), thinking all kinds of thoughts about how great it is that I get to write about such a high-profile person.

Or maybe it's just the writing gods, telling me never to blog about an upcoming story again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Blog? What blog?

I haven't been writing much in this space, but it doesn't mean I haven't been writing! I guess one of the things I'm cutting down on, in my effort to simplify things this month, is blogging.

First, the weight update. I'm holding steady this week -- no gain, no loss. And I'm fine with that. If I can stay at this weight through New Year's, I can blast through the few remaining pounds in January.

The big story is writing. Things keep happening that lead me to believe I'm on the right path with this. I'm getting assignments, pieces are being published, and I have pretty steady work (from a part-time freelancer perspective.) This thing that started out as a creative outlet, and as a means to get to Houston to visit Kathleen (paying for the trip with my earnings), seems to be really taking off as a (gasp!) career. And I'm almost afraid to write that, for fear that I'll jinx it.

I'm having so much fun. I was working on a story yesterday morning, and editing what I had written the night before. I figured out a way to say something succinctly, and as I was making the change, this joy bubbled up inside me, with the thought: "I love the English language." Seriously.

I've described the writing situation like heading down a busy road and hitting all green lights. Or like God opening a door and saying, "Come on in, this is all yours. Have fun with it." It is a little strange, and wonderful, how quickly things are happening, and how much I'm enjoying it.

And although I generally don't blog about upcoming assignments, I am so tremendously excited about something I'm covering this week that I have to share. The Ledger asked if I were interested in going to a talk tomorrow night, given by a Jesuit priest. It's a busy week, and it took some juggling, but it sounded interesting, so I said yes.

Well. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know who he was, but the priest giving the talk is the Rev. James Martin, author of the book My Life with the Saints, a Publishers Weekly best book of 2006. He's a well-known writer, speaker, retreat leader, and the associate editor of America magazine, the Catholic weekly. And I have an interview with him today.

I'm feeling a little star-struck, like when I met my college friend Stephanie Blythe backstage at Symphony Hall last year after she sang with the BSO. But I knew Stephanie from years ago, and I've never met Fr. Martin. He was very nice on the phone yesterday, and willingly accommodated my request for a little more time to get my thoughts together before we talked. I'm sure the interview will be fine, and I've got a decent list of questions ready to go, but still.

So I'll be on the phone with Mr. America at 10:00 today, and meeting him tomorrow. Gosh, I love my job.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ledger article

Here's my story about Samantha Hamel, a Quincy girl suffering from Rasmussen's syndrome. A brother and sister from Plymouth, Jennifer and Michael Ahern, are helping Samantha's family with Christmas this year because of the financial toll Samantha's illness has taken on her family.

It's on page one (!) of today's Patriot Ledger.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Grinch story

Here's my story about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, in today's Patriot Ledger.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A day off (sort of)

I have a conference with Brian's preschool teacher this morning, so Timmy and I are taking a day off from the gym. I love going to work out in the mornings, but there's something about a deliberate day off that makes me giddy, thinking of the possibilities. All that extra time! What shall I do with it?

I'd like to start my holiday baking and fudge-making, but that could lead to calorie overload. Better to put that off as long as possible. What I should do is clear a space in the living room for the Christmas tree. This involves moving several boxes of toys, rearranging the furniture and making sure appropriate electric outlets are available for the lights. And then it will involve reassuring Abby, in particular, that the arrangement is temporary, that the toys aren't gone forever, and that lots of people put up Christmas trees in their houses and everything is going to be OKAY.

This reassuring will go on for a couple of weeks. And then, when it's time to de-decorate in January, I'll have more reassuring to do.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Simplify, simplify

Thoreau had the right idea. So why is making things simple so darned hard?

I've been thinking about what I can do to simplify my life for the next few weeks, to give myself extra time to enjoy the holidays. So far I've come up with a few ideas:
  • lighten up on the menu planning. If the kids eat chicken nuggets more than once a week it's not the end of the world (right?)
  • cut my workouts short and/or exercise at home some days, rather than take the time to drive to the gym and back
  • stop cleaning the house and doing laundry (not really an option)
  • drink more caffeine and spend less time sleeping (already in place, but not a great idea, either)

But that's about it. Children still have to be cared for, music lessons taught, masses sung. I could stop taking on writing assignments until January, but that's not a smart move when I'm just starting to get some work. Besides, I really enjoy it. And I'm learning so much, both about freelancing in general, and about the topics I've been assigned.

So I'll just keep plugging away, until the week before Christmas when, in all likelihood, workouts will cease and we'll all eat chicken nuggets every day, in a dusty house with laundry piled in every corner.

Not really, but you knew that, right?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Weighting for good news?

I lost 3.6 pounds this past week, after more or less being stuck at the same weight for all of November. But does Weight Watchers share my excitement? No. They caution against losing weight too rapidly.

I'm not even following the plan all that strictly any more. Yes, I've been working out, but I eat more when I do that. Maybe so much weight came off this week as an effect of finally blasting through the plateau I was on.

At any rate, this brings my total weight loss to 14 pounds. Four more to my goal.

In other news, Christmas cards are signed and sealed. Later this week, they'll be delivered, too.

I think the reason the holidays make me feel so stressed is that all the associated activities are not in my normal pie plate. So some other pie pieces have to get smaller to make room. I'm going to spend some time this week thinking about where else I can simplify, and what I can let go, in order to keep the pie from bubbling over in the oven of a busy December.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

No flip-zing out

When I bought my 2007 planner in January, the first thing I did was to take a pencil and write the following sentence over every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas:

"I will not make myself crazy about Christmas."

This is because I was nearly certifiable by the time December 25th rolled around in 2006. It had been a crummy year, in general, but I didn't help my sanity by all the things I tried to do during the holiday season. So I decided right away, on New Years' Day, to write a reminder in my calendar, to save myself from decking the halls at McLean hospital this year.

And so far, so good. Once in a while I catch myself going overboard, like when I thought I'd use Kathleen's idea from last year and do chocolate-dipped pretzels and then decorate them, in addition to the normal baking I do for the kids' teachers and therapists around the holidays. What was I thinking? Let them eat flipz.

Of course, as I write, my printer is busily turning out my Christmas cards, which I then need to address and mail. But this may be the last year for that: I read an article in the Ledger about "green" gifts, and one suggestion for the environment was to create a virtual card and then send emails to everyone on your list with the link to the card. That may be my strategy next year. And I did simplify a bit, already, by deciding not to do a Christmas letter. I included the link to my blog on the back of the card instead.

Part of my motivation for trying to simplify things is that Christmas itself is always extra busy, because of the masses I sing on Christmas Eve and Day. So if I'm stressed out on the actual day, and also stressed out for weeks beforehand, the holiday season becomes more of a hassle than a special time. And frankly, that's how I've felt about it for the past few years. Not good, when the kiddos are really at the ages to enjoy the holiday and all the traditions (with the exception of spiked eggnog.)

So I'm making my own cards, but not stressing out because they're not perfect (neither am I.) I'll bake goodies for the special folks in our lives, but I won't fret that they're not packaged as nicely as Martha Stewart could do it. And if our Christmas tree isn't up for a couple of weeks, that's OK, too.

Wishing you a peaceful December. Take a deep, cleansing breath for me if you get a chance.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The A List

I've had a busy week, and feel like a pat on the back. So hooray for me, for accomplishing the following:

1. Making deadline on two features, one with a tight turnaround given my schedule this week.
2. Smoothing the wrinkles of misunderstanding with a couple of friends, and finding peace in that.
3. Remembering the prayer that always works: "Lord, help me be a good mother today."
4. Saying yes to an assignment I could do, and no to one I couldn't, and not worrying about it.
5. Assembling a new desk chair, after my old one died last week. It was the best chair, and I miss it, but the new one is pretty comfy, too. And I did it myself!
6. Losing a couple of pounds since Monday (this will force me to be good all weekend, so I don't have to report on Monday that I gained it back.)
7. Realizing that I'm becoming much braver in a few different areas -- approaching strangers to ask for their input for a story; communicating expectations clearly to people I work with; taking a small risk when communicating with an editor I don't know well (humor can be treacherous) and having it work out OK.

There are other, minor things, like teaching all my students this week, popping out a couple of ringing high D-flats at rehearsal on Monday, and making decisions that made me happy, like going to writers' group last night even though I had another story to write by today. And taking time out to enjoy the kids now and then. Actually, that's not a minor thing, at all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Feature Story

Here's my feature story about where women on the South Shore go to find a little solitude, in today's Patriot Ledger.

Monday, November 26, 2007

By the numbers

Somehow I managed to essentially stay the same weight this past week. I actually am about a quarter of a pound down, but I'm just glad I didn't gain after all the holiday indulging I did.

And there's been another coffeemaker miracle at my house. It decided to cooperate with my programming efforts last night, so it's again willing to turn on whenever I tell it to.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The curse of the grateful heart

It's the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and two of life's little conveniences have given out on me. This, after I recognized them in my pre-Thanksgiving post. Ingrates.

For starters, my coffeemaker still works, which is good. But the auto setting only works at seven minutes past the hour. So I can have it turn itself on at 5:07, or 6:07, or 7:07, but not at any other time. This reminds me of one other time it acted up -- it somehow switched itself to 24-hour military time, and then one day I noticed it had switched back to 12-hour time with am/pm designations. I guess it had been feeling martial. Maybe it's feeling lucky this time.

But I'm not feeling so lucky, as my washing machine bit the dust on Friday. And, wouldn't you know it, Abby got sick on Friday night and vomited not one, not two, but three times in her bed. Thank goodness my sister and her super-capacity washer live close by. And thank goodness for after-Thanksgiving appliance sales. My new washer should be delivered tomorrow, and it will be put to good use immediately upon hookup.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cash or charge?

It's time to pay the proverbial piper. I have no one but myself to thank for it, but I raised cheating on my diet to such an art form last week that I actually gained a half-pound.

This does not bode well for Thanksgiving week.

But Thanksgiving is only one day. One day won't kill me. I'll just be on the straight and narrow for the whole rest of the week.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thank you for being a friend

Thanksgiving is next week. As I look at the blessings in my life, it’s a precious friendship that sparkles with extra brightness. Kathleen and I became friends nearly 30 years ago, and no one knows me like she does. She’s my BFF, as the young’uns text-message each other these days.

We met in fourth grade at Lakeshore Elementary School in Rochester, New York, long before the days of text messaging and cell phones. (That's Kathleen on the left, me on the right.) Both of us were assigned to the Delphi program, an experimental educational model at that time. We quickly became inseparable and were fortunate to be in the same class for three years. We spent an awful lot of time “socializing” as our teachers would say, yet for a good portion of those three years, we were seated near each other in class. Our sixth-grade teacher became so frustrated with our constant conversation that he told us we could talk in class only if we used sign language. So we learned the sign alphabet and continued to chat away.

As fate and school assignment plans would have it, we went to separate schools after sixth grade. We lost touch with each other and developed other friendships. We went to college, and grad school. She went to France, where she found her husband; I moved to Boston where mine found me. We settled into our own lives and our friendship, once so vibrant, lay dormant for more than 20 years.

A Delphi reunion brought us back in touch a few years ago, and now we’re as inseparable as ever – as much as friends living in Massachusetts and Texas can be inseparable. We email each other daily and chat on the phone a couple of times a week. Despite our separate lives, we still have a lot in common: we’re both teachers (she teaches French; I teach music), we have the same quirky sense of humor, and, most improbably, we both have children with autism. Her Patrick is 7 years old and my Abby is 6; Kathleen is planning their wedding already. When she gets too exuberant, I remind her that we need to get them to make eye contact first. (They’ll have lots of opportunity to practice when Abby and I fly to Houston in January.)

Kathleen inspires me with her single-minded dedication to Patrick’s success. Most evenings will find her making flashcards to help him study, or running him to therapy, or planning a social activity for him and his younger brother. How she does so much for him while balancing the demands of a full-time job and making time for her marriage and herself is beyond me. To top it off, she does all this in French and English, and her children are bilingual, so they can converse with her in-laws on their biannual trips to France.

Inspiration aside, Kathleen and I know each other so well from having spent three of our formative years together. We were both violinists – she very accomplished, me less so – and many of our extracurricular activities centered on music, including the orchestra her violist father founded and directed. So there’s the musician thing, and the Delphi thing, and the Rochester thing, in addition to the autism thing, that binds us across the years.

Today is Kathleen’s birthday, but her friendship is a gift to me, every day. So happy birthday, to my one, best friend, from 1978 to now.

Kathleen and I at the Delphi reunion, May 2006

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Religion feature article

Here's my feature article on the Ministry of Mothers Sharing program at St. Mary of the Hills Parish, which ran in today's Patriot Ledger.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The little scholar(s)

Here we have Timmy and Brian, perusing the classic book "Are You my Mother?" Brian needed help getting it off our crowded bookshelf, but once he had it, he proceeded to sit next to Timmy on the couch and read it to him.

Brian definitely has some sight words, but he also has a good understanding of phonics and will sound out (or "decode") words he doesn't know. He's three years old and reads nearly as well as Abby, who is reading at grade level (she's in first grade.)

One difficulty that sometimes crops up with kids on the autism spectrum is that they decode well, but struggle with comprehension. I haven't really checked Brian's understanding yet, mostly because I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that he's reading. But I'll get on it, as soon as I'm done bragging.

The photo backstory: I tried to sneak up on the boys as they were enjoying the story, but they kept looking at the camera and saying "cheese" (and "broccoli," for some inexplicable reason.) So I told them to just keep reading and look at the book, and they both put their heads down and proceeded to say "cheese" again.

Anchors aweigh

Today is the weekly day of reckoning, and I somehow managed to lose a half-pound this week. This surprises me. I had one complete blow-out day, and three days where I was a food vampire -- I was very good until the sun went down, but then I owned the night, and all the food in it!

Thank goodness I get a fresh start every Monday.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Keeping the Faith

My religion column, Keeping the Faith, ran in today's Patriot Ledger. Complete with a photo of Papelbon (in the print version)!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Good news

A few bright spots to share:
  • We have, at long last, reached a final agreement with the school district about Brian's full-day programming. We had agreed as a team that Brian needed double-session preschool (morning and afternoon) two days a week, but there was no programming in place to occupy his time and let him eat lunch between sessions (11:00 - 12:00.) Beginning on Wednesday, he will join children who have full-day programming for that one hour. His day won't have a big interruption (I had been picking him up and taking him back an hour later) and it will give him more opportunity to practice taking the initiative in conversation and play during the recess portion of that time. And a nice plus is that my day won't be broken up any more, either.
  • Report cards and progress reports came home on Wednesday, and we had Abby's parent-teacher conference yesterday. Both Abby and Brian are making good progress toward their goals. I was especially pleased with the progress reports in that they were specific, saying what the kids were doing well (and by what percentage) and what they needed to work on, and how those areas would be addressed. The areas needing improvement were no surprise, and the teachers and therapists have good plans in place to work on them.
  • Timmy continues to make progress in his big boy undies. I had started a posting yesterday to brag, but then he had a big, messy accident later in the day, so I'm glad I didn't post it! But that was the first biggie since Saturday, and other than that, he's been dry all day for a couple of days running. He's also been dry at night and naptime -- an added bonus. I even took him to the Y yesterday and he did just great. We'll try it again today.
  • I got another freelance assignment for the Ledger. My Ali's Place story never ran in print (although it was in the online version) and my religion feature seems to be lost in the ether, but they must like my work because they gave me more.
  • My "November" piece ran in Wednesday's issue of the Tinytown Gazette. I'm not sure if the link will work because I can't seem to see the pdf on my computer. But I hear it's on page 4, titled "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

I should mention that the only reason we reached the settlement regarding Brian's lunchtime is that Earl put so much work into it -- taking the appropriate steps to make sure the issue didn't languish; working with the SPED director (and the district's attorney); keeping the pressure on and never giving up. The kids are very lucky to have such a knowledgeable and persistent advocate. And I'm very lucky that he's willing to do that so I don't have to. I find it emotionally draining, not to mention all the time it eats up. So we're done wrangling over IEPs, until the spring. Hooray!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Light Dawns on Marblehead

Remember that post a few days ago, where I wrote that the little envelope at the bottom of each post is for making comments? WRONG! That's for emailing the link to someone else. I now believe I have the comments feature up and running correctly. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Egged on

My house has been shelled regularly over the last month. No, I'm not writing from Iraq. I'm at my usual post in my cozy little Cape, which has been the victim of ovoid bombing three times in as many weeks.

The first missiles found their targets in broad daylight on a Saturday. I returned from a gig and found the slimy yellow entrails half frozen to my glass front door. Oh, well, I thought as I broke out the Windex and the scrubby sponges. At least they didn't get any other window.

The car was the next victim. All Saints' Day dawned brightly with sunbeams reflecting off eggshells in the driveway. And they got the car again last night.

What to make of this? We don't have enemies in town that I'm aware of. Oh, sure, we've gone head-to-head with some school officials over our kids' special education services, but I'm hard-pressed to imagine any administrator gettin' eggy with us in the dead of night. And it's true that I've given the teenager across the street a few penetrating looks when he's blasted his music at decibel levels that would give Ozzy a headache, but I hate to think he'd be so cowardly as to take it out on my humble abode.

We spoke with a friendly police officer, who promised extra patrol cars for the area. My inner vigilante ponders a stakeout, perched in my front-yard magnolia tree, flashlight and lasso at the ready. But what if it's a drive-by? What I really need is a remote-control tire shredder, like those nasty toothy devices used to discourage rental car drivers from taking a car back out once it's been returned. Maybe I could get a permit from the DPW to install one of those things in the street. Then I could conduct surveillance from the comfort of my living room. Any suspicious slow-downs after a certain hour, and bam! The egg-launching operation will be terminated.

Arnold Schwarzenegger-type fantasies aside, the saving factor is the weather. Pretty soon the nighttime cold should discourage pranksters, whether they've been targeting us specifically or we've just been lucky. Then eggs will be restored to their rightful place in the refrigerator, rather than scrambled among the leaves -- and cars -- in the driveway.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A milestone

Today is weigh-in day, and I've lost 10 pounds. 10.4, actually. I'm very proud of myself. Eight more to go. I'm finally out of the "emergency zone" -- that weight where I'm very uncomfortable with myself, rather than just a little annoyed now and then.

Of course, based on my new weight, the little fiends at Weight Watchers are taking away more calories. But I guess they know what they're doing, and I'm not starving to death, so I can do it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

(Early) morning offering

Bah, humbug. So much for the extra hour of sleep. The boys had been sleeping until about 7:00, so I figured I had until 6:00 this morning. Not so. It's 5:30 and they're singing "The Wheels on the Bus" to each other in the dark.

But here's what I really wanted to write: last week I went to a mini-retreat for people involved in the various ministries at my church. During a small-group discussion, when I mentioned I am not very good at being aware of God throughout my day, an acquaintance mentioned that she usually says the morning offering. I'd never heard of it -- how could I be Catholic for going on 17 years now, and be learning this for the first time? Anyway, I have been beginning my day with this simple prayer, and it definitely has brought a small, positive change in my awareness. There's something about getting in touch spiritually, and offering the entire day to God, that helps me keep things in perspective (most of the time.)

The boys must be taking an intermission. All is quiet.

And now a word from our sponsor (me):

I've been keeping this blog for nearly a month now, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it. I want you to know I welcome your comments -- that's what the little envelope at the bottom of each page is for. If there's something you'd like to talk about (or disagree with), send me a comment.

Also, please feel free to forward my blog link to anyone you think might be interested in reading it. I'm not putting anything out there that I don't intend for public consumption.

Intermission must be over; I hear the alphabet song. Off to start their days. Enjoy yours!

Friday, November 2, 2007


Here's a column I've submitted to The Tinytown Gazette, but I wanted to share it early:

November, November. It’s not balmy like August or glittery like December. Bare trees stand under often-gray skies, and the flowers have all gone by. It’s not the prettiest month, but I love November for a cornucopia of reasons.

It begins with my favorite church feasts: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. I love thinking of all the good people who have gone before us and who surely are in Heaven. In particular, I remember my dear grandmother, whom I love and miss so much. I think of my uncle Howard, who died far too young (at 37) from cancer. I think of my aunt Charlene, who joined her husband a few years later. And I still remember Brian Campbell, a middle-school friend who carried around a heart problem that killed him after we had gone our separate ways in high school. I hope his little heart has been filled with joy for the twenty-something years he’s been gone.

November also brings school conferences, when I get to talk to my kids’ teachers for more than a hurried greeting on the playground. This is a new pleasure, with Abby in first grade and Brian in preschool. Even if the news isn’t all glowing, I like hearing from the people who spend the most time with my children, outside of our family. As the kids get older and more independent, conferences with their teachers give me a window on their developing lives.

The November air is crisp and chilly. No chance of sweating between the house and the car now. The leaves crackle underfoot and the sun is still warm. And when the rain comes down sideways, soaking every inch not wrapped in a raincoat, the fireside is perfect for drying out.

Of course, November’s defining holiday is Thanksgiving. That Thursday has become my favorite holiday in adulthood, replacing Christmas, which is more busy than fun. Part of the reason is that Thanksgiving always meant a four-day weekend when I was a corporate worker bee. But now that I make my own work schedule and typically host the dinner, it’s really all about the food.

For someone who likes to cook, Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl and the Fourth of July rolled into one. There’s the busy-ness of planning and preparation, trying to find the right balance of traditional favorites and horizon-expanders. There’s the shopping – done early to avoid the crowds – and delegation to guests who are eager to contribute (since I don’t make pies, it’s up to my mother-in-law. Otherwise we’ll eat Oreos for dessert.)

Then it’s game day. My master schedule is taped to the cabinet doors, and the oven is cranked. I’m happily chopping and stirring and basting all day. I usually forget to iron the tablecloth, but once it’s covered with platters and plates, no one will see the wrinkles, anyway.

Finally, the bird has rested and it’s dinnertime. Amid the culinary fireworks, there’s usually a dud, but by that time I can let it go. The wine is poured, the turkey carved, and we’re thankful for each others’ company.

After dinner, I don’t look at the reams of sale flyers that come with the newspaper. I’m a master online shopper, and already have a growing stash of gifts squirreled away. So I can enjoy the day without getting lost in anticipation of that other holiday in December.

So pour me another glass of wine, and leave the dishes, for now. Don’t mention a word about Christmas shopping. Let’s just be thankful for the people, both here and in the hereafter, that gather together with us in November.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mercredi Gras

Ah, Halloween. Weight Watchers be darned. I've used up all my discretionary calories for the entire week in one evening.

Here's Abby, our little ballerina, striking a pose in character before she went trick-or-treating. I've never seen her so excited. She was wired for sound and ready to go before school this morning, when the first words out of her mouth were "Happy Halloween!"

Here we have Brian, our leopard. This photo caught him as his mighty roar was winding down. He loved going out tonight, but was ready for bed as soon as he got home. I don't know too many three-year-olds who essentially beg to go to bed every night.

And here is little Timmy, our bumblebee, who was flying all around the house, buzzy noises and all, but couldn't do any of that when the camera came out. He tried to go into nearly every house he went to.

Hope everyone out there had a safe and happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Weight update

I didn't post on Monday, my weigh-in day, because I was still thinking in iambic septameter (heptameter?) I think my four baseball poems were more Dr. Seuss than Ernest Thayer. Would that make me Sam Iamb?

Anyway -- last week wasn't a great weight loss week. I ended up losing a half-pound, which actually was reasonable since I started eating on Friday and never really stopped the madness until Sunday night. I'm back on the straight and narrow, now, and even passed up dessert at my writer's group tonight. Slow and steady wins the race, I'm telling myself.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Game four began with highest hopes from every Red Sox fan.
Then right away Jacoby hit and onto second ran.
Pedroia grounded out at third, Ellsbury took that base,
Then scored on Papi’s single hit, a smile upon his face.

Three up, three down, three up, three down, amid a walk or two;
The fans swung towels ‘round, but there was nothing they could do
To prevent Varitek from scoring Lowell in the fifth.
The score was two-to-none and stayed that way throughout the sixth.

The seventh, our third baseman homered; Red Sox now had three.
The Rockies put one on the board. The next one brought Kielty
In his first Series appearance. He homered on a pinch,
The Rockies got another two; we couldn’t give an inch.

The score stood, four-to-three, through the beginning of the last,
Ellsbury caught a deep left fly; thank goodness that he’s fast.
Then Papelbon took a deep breath and struck the batter out.
The Red Sox were the champions; and all the fans did shout:

Hooray for our dear Red Sox, who have won it all this year!
We kept the faith. You proved us right. The Nation, full of cheer,
Now celebrates our baseball team, who’ve proved that they are great.
Two-thousand-seven’s over. Let’s bring on two-thousand-eight!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Part the third

A chilly night it was again, this time in Denver’s park.
The Rockies thought their Fogg would leave the Red Sox in the dark.
The first and second had no score; the fans their towels waved.
But by the bottom of the third, the fans in Boston raved.

For Ortiz doubled into right; Ellsbury scored a run,
The pitcher walked Ramirez, thinking him a loaded gun.
Pedroia was at third when Lowell hit a single blast;
Our Dustin and Big Papi scored, though Ortiz isn’t fast.

Then Manny was called out at home, but Lowell ran to third,
On a single from Varitek. Then Lugo walked, my word.
With bases loaded, Dice-K hit to left – who knew he could
Make contact, bat-to-ball; the leather hard on solid wood?

Two RBIs for Matsuzaka, then another hit,
From Ellsbury again. Fans watching liked this not one bit.
Before the third was over, the game’s score was six to naught,
The fourth and fifth brought little change; the fans in Boston thought

The Sox would win. It took a lot for them to think that way.
The curse had been gone but three years; that night ‘twas to the day.
The mem’ry of two-thousand-four was sweet, their hearts were light;
The Fenway faithful drank a coffee, their third for the night.

The score changed not until the Rockies in the sixth got two.
The seventh brought three more for them; the Nation simply knew
A lead of one was much too close. ‘Twas Red Sox, six to five.
But our dear Olde Towne Team just then began to come alive.

They got three more runs in the eighth, another in the last.
The worry and anxiety was a thing of the past.
The Red Sox won. ‘Tis three to none. So let the fourth begin.
What need of caution now? There’s only one game left to win.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Apology, part 2

The second game at Fenway 'twixt the Sox and mountain men,
Had fans asking each other if their team would win again.
The Rockies took an early lead. The Schill had hit a man,
Then Helton grounded into first. Taveras homeward ran.

The Olde Towne Team went one-two-three; The Rockies did the same.
The bottom of the second brought no changes to the game.
When Drew was hit, then hope sprang up; but luck had come too late;
The third good pitch our Varitek watched sail over the plate.

Three up, three down again they went at the top of the next.
The bottom passed, then top of fourth. The fans all said, perplexed,
"Where are those bats our favorites swung when they won yesterday?"
Then Varitek scored Lowell, which just might have saved the day,

For there was only one more run scored on that chilly night.
Big Papi came home in the fifth to set the score aright.
'Twas two to one through all the rest of World Series game two.
Okajima and Papelbon made sure that it was true.

So now the Red Sox go out west, to face the mountain men
on their home turf. We'll cheer for them to do their best again.
Around the Hub, our steps are light, our faces in a grin,
and there's cautious optimism, with but two games left to win.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

With Apologies to Ernest Thayer

Anticipation was the rule in Boston yesterday;
With Beckett on the mound and at least four games left to play.
The mountain boys were hot. They hadn't lost a game in weeks;
Francona rocked and paced and watched, tobacco in his cheeks.

The Rockies failed to get on base when they first came to bat.
Then catcher Torrealba looked at Francis 'neath his hat;
The pitcher read the signs and mentally prepared to throw;
The two of them were certain that the ball in glove would go.

Pedroia stood behind the plate and gave a swing or two;
He waited for his pitch as finer batters often do.
And one flew by, but on the next, he knew that he could pounce;
That baseball sailed left to the wall, and off the top did bounce.

"Home run," the umpire said, and Dustin jogged 'round to the plate.
The fans at Fenway and at home, who knew that he was great,
Went crazy for the rookie, who's so good at second base.
It looked to be a soggy night for Colorado's ace.

From then, the Red Sox never stopped. 'Twas three-zip in the first,
No doubt the Rockies were concerned the second would be worse.
Then Tulowitzki doubled off the wall to score a run,
Big Papi answered with the same; the rout had just begun.

The third one passed without a score; it was a boring inning,
But by the fourth the Fenway crowd was thinking about winning.
For Varitek scored Papi and Ramirez with a hit,
The scoreboard bellowed, "Six to one!" The Rockies had a fit.

Then Youkilis doubled to left; Ellsbury came to score.
The fifth inning was was underway. Surpassing inning four,
The Sox scored seven runs in all. The score stood at thirteen
to one lone run. The mountain men were turning shades of green.

And that was it. The final score when nine innings had passed,
Was thirteen-one. 'Twas so much fun. The game was done at last.
The way they were defeated, Colorado thinks a sin.
And there's cautious hope in Mudville, with but three games left to win.

Feature story

Here's my piece in today's Patriot Ledger about Ali's Place, a new store that sells cancer awareness items and gifts in Plymouth. My first newspaper feature!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Less would be more

I lost a pound plus change this week, so that brings me to a total loss of 7.2 pounds in two weeks. Not bad, considering I wasn't very vigilant while my mother was visiting this past weekend. I'm being very faithful about getting to the gym or doing my step aerobics tape (fondly known as the kick tape) 5 times a week. I'd like to do six, but so far it hasn't happened, and I like the days off, too.

In other news -- last Tuesday I was disengaging myself emotionally from the Red Sox. It looked like the pennant was all but lost, and with the long, cold winter standing between October and April, I had to turn my energies in another direction. But now, with the world series looming, I'm lost in the Sox drawer again, and it started with the win last week in Cleveland. It escalated to the point that I saved all my weekend laundry-folding for the evening, when the games were on. I even went to bed last night when the Sox were ahead 5-2, and then proceeded to watch the rest of the game from under the covers.

This is not typical behavior. I can see a few late nights coming my way, starting on Wednesday.

Two new published pieces

These are printed in the October 24 issue of the Tinytown Gazette:

Twice-Fallen Heroes, page 5
The Parade of Unrealized Boyfriends (I Love a Parade), page 8

Also check out pieces by two friends from my writers' group:

Suzette Martinez Standring, page 3
Ruth Baltopoulos, page 7

Happy reading!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ten blessings

In no particular order:
  1. Work I enjoy: teaching, singing, writing
  2. Mom, an easy houseguest
  3. Having enough to eat, and I don't mean just while I'm doing Weight Watchers. It really bothers me that so many people in the world go hungry. I think it's time to start contributing to Oxfam again.
  4. Peace and quiet first thing in the morning
  5. Three beautiful (sleeping) children (see #4)
  6. The "starship" minivan, which lets me go where I need to go
  7. Knowing that whatever it is, Earl and I can work through it as a couple
  8. The vast network that supports us: family, friends, kids' therapists and teachers, understanding employers, other parents
  9. Fitting it all in, most days
  10. Realizing that a list of ten blessings doesn't even begin to cover it

The missing links

Here are links to my published columns thus far:

The Patriot Ledger, religion column, May 2007

The Milton Times, Mother's Day column, May 2007

Tinytown Gazette: This is a bi-weekly paper covering five towns on the South Shore of Massachusetts. The paper loads as a .pdf and my columns have run in the following issues:

October 10: Shop Vac'ing the Starship, page 13
September 26: Too Old at Three, page 3
September 12: A Day of Firsts, page 8
August 29: Gone Country, page 13
August 15: Fat Elephant, page 1

I should be able to add more links in the near future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mr. Sunshine

Timmy and I took Abby to school this morning, like we do most days. A John Denver Greatest Hits CD was in the car, left there from Earl's outing to his parents' house on Saturday. Apparently it made quite an impression on Timmy, who started singing "Sunshine on My Shoulders" as soon as we got out of the van and continued until Abby was standing in line with her class.

It went something like this:

Sunshine...ona showdow...make ee happeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...
Sunshine...ina ahhhhhes...can make ee cwyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy...

Over and over, with the sun on our shoulders all the way to school.

Monday, October 15, 2007

An outlaw no more

I finally got the van inspected this morning. Of course there was a police car right in front of the inspection station, but fortunately I guided the nose of the van into the parking lot without any further interaction with law enforcement. And now my new orange sticker will shine as the emblem of this law-abiding driver for another twelve months. Or nineteen.

Timmy and I went to the gym, and then picked up a few groceries. Crescent-rolls-in-a-tube were on sale, and the kids love them so I picked some up to have with dinner tonight. Then we were on our way to pick up Brian from preschool. Suddenly, I heard a loud pop, and my first thought was that the U.S. marshals were shooting at me because they found out I only got my inspection sticker today and they don't like my kind. Then I thought I might have blown a tire, but the on-board computer didn't say anything about the tire pressure. Finally, I decided it must have been a falling acorn that pinged the roof with extra volume and probably left a dent.

When we got home, I didn't see any evidence on the van of an attack by U.S. marshals or acorns. So carried the groceries inside and put Timmy down for his nap. It was then that the mystery was revealed: one of the cans of crescent rolls couldn't take the pressure any more and had exploded in the bag. Guess we're having that one tonight.

Good news and bad news

The good news: I lost 6 pounds last week.

The bad news: The good folks at Weight Watchers took away approximately 180 calories a day, based on my new weight, so I have to eat even less this week. Celery, anyone?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Alphabet soup

A is for Abby, who went to her second CCD class this morning but didn't want to go to church with me after she got home.

B is for Brian, who is helping his father build a stone wall in the back yard.

C is for car, where I spent way too much time yesterday.

D is for dishwasher, which I need to empty and refill.

E is for Earl, who took all three kids to visit his parents yesterday, leaving me with some much-needed work time and relaxing time.

F is for football, which will be responsible if there aren't very many people at the mass I'm going to sing at 5:00 today.

G is for a Greek Orthodox wedding, which I sang a couple of preludes for yesterday, one even in Greek. Brian's former ABA therapist was getting married and asked me to sing, and I stayed for the ceremony, which was unlike any wedding I had ever witnessed.

H is for Halloween costumes, which I now have figured out for all three kids.

I is for iPod, which refuses to charge for some reason.

J is for Jimbo's, where my sister and I went for dinner last night. Mmmmmm.

K is for my brother Keith, who is coming to visit next week.

L is for laptop, which I really want, to make the whole information-gathering process for freelancing much more streamlined.

M is for Map-O-Spread, which is a yummy maple-flavored toast and bagel topper. It's only available in Canada, and my in-laws brought back four containers for us last week. We're stocked for the winter.

N is for nap, which is what Timmy is taking right now.

O is for outside, where I need to go today to soak up some sunshine.

P is for Plymouth, where I went yesterday to interview some people for a freelance assignment.

Q is for quiet, which is how my house is right now. This is why I'm not outside.

R is for Red Sox, who need to play better than they did last night if we're going to get to the World Series.

S is for stock -- chicken stock -- which I made this morning out of the bones left over from Earl's yummy roasted chicken from Friday.

T is for Timmy, who greeted Abby after her CCD class with such enthusiasm, and a big hug to go with it.

U is for uh-oh, I have to think of something for the letter X.

V is for voice, which is feeling good these days.

W is for Weight Watchers, which I've been faithful to all week.

X is one of those little football symbols coaches put on their diagrams of plays. Hopefully Belichick has some good ones today.

Y is for yell, which I did at Brian this morning and made him cry. He and Timmy were beating each other up, and Timmy was crying from that. A few minutes of hugs made it all better for them, but not for me.

Z is for zzzzzz, which I hope no one is doing after slogging through this bowl of alphabet soup.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sorry, wrong color

Yesterday I was in the car with the boys, talking to Earl on the phone, when I got a back windowful of flashing blue lights. "Uh-oh, honey, gotta go. I'm getting pulled over."

The cruiser had been sitting at the end of my street, and came after me as soon as I turned the corner. What had I done? And why had I been so careless as to do it in front of a cop?

Mind racing, I dug through my purse for my license. Amid the old grocery receipts and new toothbrushes from the kids' recent trip to the dentist, I finally found my wallet. I pulled out the least flattering photo ever taken in the history of the Registry, and waited for the moment of reckoning.

Madame Officer approached and said, "Do you know your registration sticker is expired?"

I turn and see that there's a very clear number 3 with a blue border adorning the lower right corner of my windshield. That means that somehow it slipped our minds in March that it was time to get the van inspected. I don't even know what color the sticker is supposed to be this year.

I said the only thing that popped into my mind: "I'm going to kill my husband!"

Madame Officer smiled and said, "I would, too." Then she handed me a written warning, and told me to get it inspected as soon as I could. And I very gingerly continued on my way.

A new home

I moved my old blog, and transferred the posts here from the old address. Welcome to my new home!

A return to my roots

I got a call this morning to sing a funeral tomorrow at a Methodist church in Quincy. I'm pleased, not only for the extra income, but also because I get to sing "The Lord's Prayer," by Malotte, an oldie but a goodie.

I found the music and sang through it a couple of times, and it felt good. Timmy was laughing and saying "Mommy LOUD! Mommy singing!" I don't do much singing around the house, and none that ventures into the higher part of my range, because Abby and Brian both get very upset at the volume and intensity. But Timmy thought it was great. Good boy.

Back to the music. The Malotte was a real standard in the mainline Protestant churches of my youth, but I haven't heard it much since I became a Catholic more than 15 years ago. It was nice to revisit, and see how it's changed, or rather, how the way I sing it has changed. It felt very free and easy, and the middle-voice stuff (read: most of the song) is no big deal now. For that, I am sure I have to thank being older; being a better singer; singing almost exclusively in middle voice for my cantoring jobs since 1996; and having three children in four years. (The power and effect of hormonal changes during pregnancy cannot be overstated. During one pregnancy, this soprano once sang a credible B-flat an octave below middle C while teaching a piano lesson. I don't think anyone would have hired me to sing Rigoletto, but still.)

I think I'm a better singer now due to my teaching, too. Of course, I hand down words of wisdom from my past teachers to my current students. But trying to articulate the particulars of vocal technique forces me to be very specific and clear, and that rubs off on my singing. At the very least, thinking like a voice teacher helps me be a problem-solver in both the studio and the practice room.

So tomorrow during the funeral, I'll keep my ribs expanded and my soft palate high, and sing this chestnut of a solo as beautifully as I can. And hope that it brings comfort to the mourners, and maybe even a little (more) joy to the departed.

Boy wonder

My sweet son, my little one....
From Auntie Chris's song-gift to Brian at his birth

Brian, Brian, Brian. You are three years of blue-eyed smiles and sunshine hair. A big boy most of the time but still little enough to need Mommy when the going gets tough. I am full of you today.

You amaze me with your intellect and eagerness to learn. You color like a champion; you write your name legibly. Your idea of fun is to do "table work" alongside Abby when she has her first-grade homework to do.

You read. (At 40 months old!) Like last week, when we were stopped at an intersection in the car and you shouted from the back, "I see the word PIZZA!" You quickly learned that reading doesn't always equal getting, but it didn't diminish your enthusiasm.
You love to "play Starfall" on the Starfall website with your sister. I honestly think you read nearly as well as she does. And you have mastered the mouse.

Your delight when you play the piano is contagious. You're playing the first "Twinkle" variation now with your right hand, and you're nearly ready to tackle the left. It makes me so happy to see how much you love music and how you want to learn. It's too early to tell, but I am hoping (!) you will play alongside my other students on the recital in May.

And dance class! Today I had the chance to watch your class warmup, and was proud nearly to bursting at how well you followed directions and participated.

My sweet, sweet son. I am humbled by the responsibility your father and I have been given.


I joined Weight Watchers online yesterday. There's something about making a commitment, and paying money to do it, that is motivating to me somehow. I've been hungry, but not overly so, and I'm pretty excited to be taking this concrete step to do something about my weight. My goal is to lose 18 pounds, and to not find them again.

While at the gym yesterday, I caught some of the Today show. From what I could tell by the captions, one guest had lost more than 100 pounds, with another 20 to go. She said she did it not by following a diet, but by deciding to "live-it" -- thinking of her commitment to healthy living as a way of life, not a temporary fix. I like that idea very much.

Can't weight any longer

I think I'm nearly ready to get serious about taking off the 15 pounds or so that I need to lose. This will likely involve joining Weight Watchers. I've always been a guerrilla-type, go-it-alone dieter, but I've been trying to go it alone for the better part of a year, and I've gone exactly nowhere.

I haven't made the commitment yet, but I keep remembering the thinner me, inside, and am realizing that she's been hiding so long she may take some somewhat rigorous coaxing to emerge again. It will take time and effort, and priorities will have to be shifted (the exercise and meal-planning pieces of my life pie will get bigger; something else will have to get smaller -- sleep? emailing? writing?) But once she joins me again, I think I'll be able to readjust and it won't take as much time and effort to keep her around as it did to dig her out.

I'll keep you posted.

A dose of normal

On Friday we took the kids apple-picking, and it was a great day. Very warm -- hot, really -- and sunny; more like summer than October. We went to Lookout Farm in Natick because it was relatively close and it had a lot of interesting things for the kids, like a petting zoo and play area.

I had read an article in the paper a few weeks ago about how many U-pick orchards and farms were charging admission in order to remain financially solvent. Lookout Farm is one of them, and it's a good thing we went on a weekday because it cost $27 for the five of us. If we had gone on a weekend or holiday, it would have been twice that much, not including any fruit.

Once we got over the sticker shock, we had a great time. There's a little train ride that takes you to various stops in the orchard, and naturally we went for the stop with the petting zoo and play area. The kids enjoyed seeing the goats, no doubt because they have chevres-amis in Canada over the summer. They also enjoyed seeing the new calf, the emu, and even a very shy (or very hot) pig, who was resting in the presumed coolness of its shed.

Then we played on the playground for a while. Timmy and Brian owned the slide, and Abby flitted from one structure to another. Timmy even clapped for another two-year-old who apparently impressed him with her sliding technique.

Then we filled five bags with enormous Jonagold and Golden Delicious apples, and a few Asian pears. The sweet smell of grapes on the vine wafted down from the arbor over the train path. Back at the main building, we paid for our apples and picked out a few pumpkins to brighten our fall doorstep.

We then took the kids to Friday's for dinner. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. We have been very hesitant to take the kids out in the past, given the eating and behavioral issues, and just the complexity of dealing with three young children at a public table. But we all had lunch at a Friendly's on vacation in August, and that inspired us to try the evening meal.

And it was just great. The kids all ordered burgers and fries, and ate as well or better than they do at home. Timmy and even Brian made small talk with the waitress; no one spilled anything; no one got sick.

It makes me so happy to think that we can actually do something normal as a family. For years it seemed as though having small children, and then having two of them on the autism spectrum, prohibited us from doing any normal family outings -- going apple-picking, eating in a restaurant, going to the beach or a children's museum. But we've done all those things within the last couple of months and have actually enjoyed them -- by which I mean that the pleasure of seeing the kids have fun, and having fun with them, outweighed the busy-ness of preparation and anxiety of making sure no one had a meltdown, or wandered away, or acted too autistic in public.

Little kids plus special needs still equals lots of work and worry, but I'm beginning to feel the proverbial glimmers of hope with more regularity lately. And that makes me very happy.

A piece of the pie

Life is a pie. We all have many pieces in the pie, and they make demands on our time, energy and psyche. When one piece gets bigger, adjustments have to be made, because that pie plate is only so big.

That reads like the opening narration of a Grey's Anatomy episode, but it's a theory I've had for a long time. I find when I'm feeling out of balance, it's because I'm resisting the adjustments. I tend to try and put more in the pie plate than it can possibly hold, and while it makes for a very full life, it can get messy.My main pie pieces are:
  1. Being a mother to my three children: Abby (6), Brian (3) and Timmy (2).
  2. Taking care of my marriage to my dear husband of 14 years, Earl.
  3. Being a musician: cantoring three masses most weekends and teaching my private voice and piano students. Oh yes -- and practicing.
  4. Being a writer: putting words on paper in such a way that people will find interesting, maybe even funny or helpful. Maybe all three.
  5. Being a published writer: querying editors, seeking new outlets, coming up with story ideas.
  6. Physical and spiritual self-care: going to the gym and trying to eat healthily; eking out time to remember why I'm here and how the pieces of my life are fitting in -- or not -- with God's larger plan.
  7. Mental self-care: keeping in touch with friends and family; knowing when not to keep in touch with friends and family; finding time to relax.
  8. Running a busy household.

I'll be writing here about all of these pieces, and new ones that get crammed into the pie plate. Bon appetit!