Thursday, July 31, 2008

Movie and a dinner

We took the kids to see Wall-E today. A good movie. Not the best I've seen, but the animation was amazing, and the kids liked it, until it got too long.

A few observations:
  1. I spent the first 45 minutes or so wondering how Abby -- an extremely verbal child -- was doing with this essentially non-verbal movie. Timmy was all over the social cues -- "He's happy! She's angry!" -- but I wonder if Abby was just lost in the trash skyscrapers and clicking little bug's antics.
  2. It wasn't as loud as I expected it to be. Meaning, I didn't need my earplugs.
  3. It could have been more concise, especially in the beginning.
  4. The ending credits were the best part of the movie, for the amazing and beautiful art history lesson.

Then we went out to dinner, at Outback, a place none of us had visited before. It was all right -- the kids could get what they wanted, and we could, too.

The best part was that the only mishap was when Abby's styrofoam cup inexplicably developed a tear, showering her with apple juice. She was remarkably composed about it, however.

No crazy bathroom runs. No perceived vomiting threats. No lost silverware under the table. No stimming or flapping or anything too conspicuous. Just Brian standing up from time to time on the seat of the booth, Timmy eating mostly french fries, and gentle showers of apple juice.

Flitter and flutter

I got back with the Flylady program on Tuesday, and I'm feeling much better, and have gotten a lot accomplished, too. I basically spring-cleaned the living room -- vacuuming under and behind furniture, washing windows, washing and re-hanging curtains. Plus I just submitted an article ahead of deadline, leaving me time later today and tomorrow to meet the next deadline.

The cooking indulgences continue: yesterday I revisited an old favorite recipe for dinner, and also made yummy cherry-berry jam. Easy, both of them, and delish!

Speaking of food, I've decided to take the Flylady/baby steps approach to my weight issues. Since I went cuckoo on Weight Watchers last fall, I've fallen off the wagon in a big way -- gaining back the 10 or so pounds I lost, plus five more. All told, I'd like to lose 20, but would probably settle for 15.

So my new mantra is: "one pound at a time." Translating, roughly, to "one pound a week." I think I can do that without feeling deprived or like too much of a martyr. Because, as I've already written in this space, I love to eat. Exercising is dicey these days, schedule-wise, but if I can just take off a pound a week until after the kids are back in school and my schedule (presumably) eases up a bit, I'll only have 15 pounds to deal with in the fall instead of 20.

And one final note in this brain dump: the other night, when I was feeling so grumpy, I started reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson. Very few books make me laugh out loud. This one does, every single time I sit down and read a few pages. I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

(Dragon-)Fly Lady

I overdid the flinging and flying today, and I'm grumpy, tired and a little sad about it. Harrumph.

Monday is "house blessing" day -- so I spent an hour doing a very basic dusting/vacuuming/mopping/cleaning mirrors/changing beds/emptying trash. No biggie, and the house looked and smelled pretty nice from it.

Then, I took on the daily mission for the "zone" for the week, which is the living room. The mission itself, which was to re-think the various decorations on shelves, etc., was pretty easy. But then I got started on the toys.

So many toys! I spent a couple of hours going through the various toy boxes and baskets in the living room and dining room, and set aside some to give away. I think I just spent too long on them, though, and I'm feeling very overwhelmed and cranky about how many more there are to deal with, in the family room and the kids' rooms.

I should have just set my timer for 15 minutes, like I'm supposed to. But I got carried away, and instead of feeling proud of what I accomplished, I'm dreading having to deal with the rest of the toys.

Perhaps there's a lesson here. Like, don't bite off more than you can chew (deal with the toys in that one corner of the living room instead of everywhere the toys are stashed on the main floor.) Like, take a break (I never got to the gym or did any writing or had any fun today.) Like, take baby steps instead of trying to run a marathon (just do the mission and don't create additional work for yourself.)

And now, I'm going to read for a while. I deserve some fun. Harrumph.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Domestic goddess-in-training, part the second

Yesterday, I indulged in what used to be one of my favorite pastimes: cooking. This is very closely related to another favorite pastime: eating. How I love to eat! But that's a topic for another day.

Back to cooking. I used to subscribe to Cooking Light, a wonderful magazine about cooking food that's good and good for you. Plus a whole lotta other stuff, like recipe makeovers, travel (yawn) and fitness (sigh.) I'd let my subscription lapse because I never had time to deal with all the fussy ingredients, but I was getting tired of the same old same old, so I bought a copy a couple of weeks ago.

Yesterday, I needed inspiration for dinner, so I settled on a chicken shawarma recipe from the magazine. After scouting Stop & Shop for tahini for more than 20 minutes, I finally found it in the natural food section, not in the international foods aisle, where anyone with half a brain would stock it. I had Greek yogurt in the fridge already (quite unusual) so I got to work about 4:00 yesterday afternoon. I was also making sweet cherry pie, a recipe from the same issue, at the same time.

Multitasking is not my forte, but both recipes got made and onto the table. Abby liked the shawarma, Timmy tolerated it and Brian hated it. But Earl and I had a great time, remembering what it was like when we'd try new recipes regularly, and enjoying this one. I didn't love the pie; I think there's a reason most cherry pies are made with tart cherries, not sweet ones. But Earl did, and Timmy, too.

The whole cooking/baking thing took me nearly two hours, and I was tired of standing in my kitchen afterwards, but it helped me reconnect with a part of my life that has been noticeably absent for a few years. I've been so concerned, wanting the kids to always like what I'm cooking, but now I'm thinking that once a week or so, it won't hurt them to try something new. I'll just plan to have parts of the meal that they do like, and if they don't like the entree, they can have the sides. After all, there's more to life than chicken nuggets.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Domestic goddess-in-training

This week, I recalled that I used to read a website called Flylady, which offered all kinds of hints, motivation and encouragement to not only keep a clean house, but one which offered peaceful and tranquil surroundings. My house isn't dirty, but with three kids, there's a lot of stuff, and I've been feeling boxed in by the clutter. So I took a gander at the Flylady website, and signed up for the email group.

Immediately my inbox was flooded with emails explaining about Flylady, giving tips for a cleaning routine (called a "weekly house blessing"), a morning routine, a new daily cleaning habit, ideas to get kids to pitch in, and a deep-cleaning zone of the week. I felt a little overwhelmed, but the emails assured me I wasn't behind, that I could take baby steps, and I could do anything for 15 minutes. So I gave it a try.

Monday I did the house blessing (vacuum, dust, mop, change sheets, empty trash, wipe down the bathroom and a few other things I don't remember) and tackled the out-of-control pile of photos in the master bedroom, which was the zone for the week. The house blessing took an hour and the photos I got out of there and put into boxes to deal with another time in less than 15 minutes. I did the daily bathroom wipedown and kitchen-sink shining. My house looked better already.

Since then, I've cleaned my bedroom closet; dealt with nightstand and dresser clutter; polished my bedroom furniture; organized and cleaned the non-kids bookshelves in the house; washed the bedroom windows; changed my bed again, including washing all the linens and flipping the mattress; washed the bedroom curtains; and cleaned my bathrooms and kitchen sink daily. All in mostly 15-minute intervals.

And I've kept up with most of the other stuff I had to do, too -- caring for kids, of course; practicing violin with Abby; cooking meals; meeting my column deadline; working on other stories, and teaching a full day on Tuesday. I didn't make it to the gym on Thursday but it was pouring rain. I'll get there today.

One thing I like about Flylady is the constant emphasis on baby steps, and the reassurance that things don't have to be perfect. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but breaking down big tasks into small steps and not insisting on perfection is very liberating.

If I were braver I'd post a photo of my sparkly uncluttered bedroom. You'll have to trust me on this one.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Abby, the opera idol

I just got this in an email from the paraprofessional who goes to lunch with Abby at summer camp:

Thursday at lunch the kids were pretending to have an American Idol contest -- an opera singing contest. Everyone had a turn and let's just say they were not so great. Then it was Abby's turn and it was AWESOME!! The kids and I were shocked at her great voice. Just thought I would share that she is the opera idol at camp.

That's my girl. Let them hear your voice.


I'm a syndicated columnist wannabe. I'm thrilled to be writing my family column, Just a Minute, for the Patriot Ledger, and I'm also thrilled that the Ledger is part of a larger news network, GateHouse News Service. Because of that connection, the last column ran in the following papers, in addition to the Ledger and the Brockton Enterprise:

- Dover (DE) Post
- Wellington (KS) Daily News
- Siskiyou Daily News (Yreka, CA)
- DeRidder (LA) Daily News
- Ridgecrest (CA) Daily News
- Maryville (MO) Daily Forum
- Stuttgart (AR) Daily Leader
- Little Falls (NY) Evening Times
- Daily News Tribune (Waltham, I think.)

Now, just because they picked up that column doesn't mean they'll run it faithfully every other week, but it's a start. I think it was topical, with the summer upon us (I had written about a family vacation) and maybe they just decided to try it out. Hopefully they'll continue to do so, and I can look forward to my column running in different cities, regularly.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Milton Hospital story

My story on the Bedside Medication Verification system in use at Milton Hospital ran on the front page of today's Milton Times. Scroll down to the third headline.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Big feelings

Abby had a tough afternoon and evening. Almost from the moment I brought her home from camp, she was melting down: screaming, crying, contradicting herself ("I want to/I don't want to"); even refusing to use the toilet, when she obviously needed to.

This behavior continued through dinner, upset Brian, and really wore on my nerves after a couple of hours. She hadn't had trouble like this in weeks.

I wondered what was causing the behavior, but was too stressed in the moment -- or rather, in the hours -- to patiently tease it out of her. Besides, I had two exceptionally needy boys who were chiming in with their own shouts and cries throughout the afternoon.

Sometimes the kids calm down in the shower. I hadn't even cleared the dishes from the table when I started herding them into the bathroom to try. Timmy got clean quickly; Brian had his usual fear-of-water-in-the-eyes issues but was mostly compliant, as well.

Then it was Abby's turn.

More wailing and moaning, screaming, baby talk, refusing to comply. Finally I just told her I wasn't going to talk with her until she used the bathroom and got ready for her shower.

Then, from the other side of the bathroom door: "Mommy! Mommy! Come here. Please! Mommy!" This was punctuated by sobs.

I went into the bathroom, as calmly as I could.

"I am sooooo sad about Grammy Ruth!" she wailed.

And just like that, my heart broke.

Monday, July 7, 2008

For Grandma Ruth

The following is the reflection that Earl wrote and shared with the assembled at his grandmother Ruth Fay's funeral, this morning at 11:00 in Westborough, Mass.

Do you have one of these? (Photo at right of a "Christmas Mouse" ornament, one of many handmade by Ruth.)

Simple, beautiful, treasured. That was grandma. From February 15, 1922 until July 3, 2008 her life was well lived.

Here are some thoughts and memories I’d like to share:

There is nothing remarkable about a chickadee. It’s a small black and white bird that lives here year-round. Grandma loved it.

Grandma didn’t drive. She tried once and never again.

On December 27, 1943, in front of the Christmas tree, Ruth Elenor Wheeler and Robert Harold Fay exchanged marriage vows. For over 60 years of marriage there were many good times and certainly there were some bad. There was serious sickness but mostly there was health. Married life ended only a couple of years ago when death did them part.

Lunch or supper always included a glass of milk and a slice of bread and butter.

Take out is now a way of life. When I was little, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at Grandma’s was a big deal.

Grandma didn’t need a drink to have a good time.

Memorial Day meant a drive with her beloved sister Gertie to visit the cemetery where her dad is buried. Perhaps just as important, it meant stopping for ice cream on the way home.

A couple of years ago, at the Fay/Smith family Christmas party at my mom’s, Grandma was sitting on the couch while gifts were being exchanged. Grandma had trouble articulating her thoughts and I don’t think she really knew who many of us were, especially the great-grandchildren. I observed grandma watching presents being passed around and opened by the kids. She didn’t say this to anyone in particular, she just motioned to a present and said, “I wish I had one of those (gift) to give to one of them (child).”

The best job Grandma ever had was working on Goff Moore Farm. The rat farm. It was not the best job because she was unskilled or because there was no other employment. It was the best job because she truly loved it.

I’ll re-tell the highlights of this story one more time.

They were recently married. Grandpa was in the service and stationed in the south. Grandma decided that she would travel there to be with him. If I’m not mistaken, she traveled by train from Boston to New York where she was to take a bus for the remainder of the trip. At the New York bus station, she had difficulty finding the right bus. She was overwhelmed by the city; closed in by the buildings. It seemed to her that people were everywhere and just going all over the place but finally she found the right bus. There were many service men on the bus. As she worked her way further and further back on the bus, she felt that everyone was staring at her. Near the back of the bus, she finally found a women sitting by herself and grandma asked her if she could sit next to her. Only then did Grandma realize that she wasn’t supposed to sit with the “colored” people, but she did it anyway. Certainly the black lady that grandma sat next to was shocked but by the end of the trip, they were like longtime friends.

I don’t think grandma ever said much about her actual time on the army base except that it was dreadfully hot and humid and that there wasn’t much to do. Grandma described how the colored people had their own areas, they were dirt poor, and many extended family members lived together in small shacks. Each evening, even from the distance, you could see and hear the colored people talking, laughing, and singing together. Grandma could never understand why people despised the Negros so much, after all, they were the only ones who were having any fun.

Grandma may have repeated this story a hundred times, yet each time she told it, it was told as passionately as if it were the first time she had ever shared it with anyone. We all would laugh about it but I don’t think this was just a little quirk. Grandma had a few important things she wanted us to know and she used these stories to communicate them. So she had to tell this story. She was compelled to do so. This is what grandma was really saying. “I was alone and I was scared as hell but I found a way to travel from rural New England, through the big cities, and to the South because I loved my husband and I wanted to be with him.” Grandma was also saying that judgments based on race or economic status is nonsense. To really live, you need to share joy.

Grandma truly had courage and she had wisdom and I’d like to hear her tell that story one more time.

Grandma had this 1815 publication of the King James Bible. I’m not sure how she got it. It’s old and musty. On many different levels, this Bible is difficult to read and understand. There is however a simple bookmark that Grandma placed at Psalm XXIII.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou prepareth a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou annointeth my head with oil, my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Earl and Ruth at her 80th birthday party, February 2002. The cake, made by longtime family friend Kathy Smith, was in the form of a hat, and decorated with flowers. Grandma thought she'd try it on.

Ruth and baby Abby, Christmas 2001.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Three on the Fourth

Here they are, in their patriotic best. From left, Timmy, Abby and Brian.
The kids all have beautiful smiles, but synchronizing them is out of my realm of expertise. Which reminds me, I need to get their annual summer portrait taken. Which also reminds me, I need to make dentist appointments for the three of them, too!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

New column and other links

My third family column ran in today's Patriot Ledger. It's not on the Ledger's website yet, but it also ran in the Brockton Enterprise, which has it posted already. Here's the link. There was an error in my byline, which has since been fixed. But for a couple of days, there, I was Julie Fat. Ouch.

As always, your comments (on the column, not my physique!) are most welcome at You can also contact me directly at fayjulie at gmail dot com. The Ledger is always looking for reader feedback, so let your voice be heard. Especially if you like what you're reading! ("Just a minute" is made possible by verbal support from readers like you. Thank you!)

While searching online for the column, I found out that my two articles from last week (summertime injuries/first aid and Bob Dunn religion article) ran in several other cities, including Waltham and Taunton, Mass.; Utica and Little Falls, New York; Galesburg, Illinois; Dover-New Philadelphia, Ohio; and Carthage, Missouri. I also learned that my MOMS story from last fall ran in Holland, Michigan. At least they all got my name right!

And speaking of bylines -- my name did not appear anywhere in the print version of the Bob Dunn article in the Ledger last week. I'll take that as a reminder from God to have a little humility now and then.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Back into it

Today was a teaching day for me, the first in nearly three weeks. As usual, I was in a panic before my first lesson, trying to make sure the house was presentable. But, as I so often find, once I actually started teaching, I remembered why I teach. It's really fun.

I started three piano beginners today. Two of them are siblings of current students, and the third was a child whose mom had contacted me months ago. Beginners are such fun. All three kids were enthusiastic and patient with the rudimentary material we needed to cover. I think they're going to be good students.

And a pleasant surprise from a voice student tonight, who wanted to revisit a Handel aria we had worked on a few years ago. At that time, the music was really out of reach for him technically. With a few years of work and growth in the meantime, however, his voice has really come into its own on this aria. There are still some things to polish, but I'm very pleased at the improvement -- much of which took place without active work on this specific aria.

It just proves what dear Mrs. Meyers, my college voice teacher, used to say: repertoire learned and put away is like money in the bank. When you go back and revisit it, it has accumulated interest, and is better than when you left it.