Category Archives: best intentions

Optimism is genetic

My children, they are sometimes so very much my children.

By which I mean, they too know the delight of planning, but sometimes fail on the follow-through.

Today, as we drove to yet another baseball game (but this time a real one, the attendance at which was a fundraiser for the kids’ ones), I regaled them with my notions of What We Will Do This Summer. We’re just at that point where I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it will have to happen, the summer break, and I’ve come up with some ideas for Ways We Can Survive and Maybe Even Improve Ourselves, and it’s too soon for all this to have come crumbling down around my ears, so I’m full of optimism. Ahh, can you hear it? The tiny thrilling trill of undiminished hope, all around.

Here’s my plan, I said to them. We’ll do some exercise, all of us, every day. And we’ll read something, and learn something, and clean something, and make something. And when we’ve done all that, we can have our screens.

And bless their hearts, they barely even balked at the “clean something”, though their ideas ran more towards cleaning windows (fun spray bottles) than the room-tidying I’d been hoping for. They were full of ideas about things that could be made, and learned, and even read. Mabel said “Mummy, can I write out a schedule of what I’m going to do every day at what time, so that I remember to do it?”
“Yes, my dearest,” I said to her, for I am benevolent, indulging her every whim. “You can do that.”
“I don’t want to give up math time to reading, and I want to do an experiment every day,” Dash pointed out, trying to swap some cleaning for some reading, or something.
“We’ll work it out,” I told him. Heaven forfend you lose any math time.

In about three weeks’ time, when we’re all grumbling and grumpy and screen-time has swollen to mammoth proportions and is taking over our lives like a hungry octopus, I will remember this moment of bright, lovely, scholastic optimism in the car.

And how I will laugh, briefly, before Facebook sucks me in again.

Dash and Mabel by the car

Momentarily in accord

New beginnings

It’s done. The book sale is over and both of my children are at school. Summer is over.

Now I have to make good on all those plans and whimsical notions of greatness I fermented over the long hot break. (It’s still hot. Heat index of 100 F forecast today.) So far I’ve thrown out a plethora of pine cones, magnolia seed pod things, sticks, stones, scraps of paper, abandoned art projects, and bits of broken plastic from the family room and the kitchen that I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to move until now.

If I pick up some more things tomorrow, and the next day, by the end of the week I might reach the carpet, and then I can hoover.

Meh. That sounds hard.

Dash headed off to school today. I feel as if today really is the first day of the rest of his life; that’s how much hope and confidence I have in the new school. I think this will change everything. It certainly changes my nice lazy morning routine into a more demanding one, but we’ll roll with that. I’m sure there are advantages to spending almost an hour stuck in traffic every day, when it’s an hour I’d otherwise have merely wasted on sleep.



I forgot to take a first-day-of-school picture, but this was this morning, showing off the ribbons their entries in the photo show won. (Mabel got a first; Dash got a third.) First day of Fourth Grade, then.


Oh, I’m supposed to ask you something. If you’re so inclined, I’d be delighted if you’d click that button over there – the one that says “Vote for Us!” which must be the royal we or something because there’s only one of me, and then select Awfully Chipper, which is handily right at the top of the list, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the alphabet. But only if you want to. No pressure, now.




New Year To-Do List

So evidently, I don’t have any real new-year’s resolutions. I do, however, have a to-do list. I always do, but maybe the to-do list at the beginning of the year is longer-ranging in scope and more aspirational in content than it is at other times.

Here are some of the things on my to-do list, great and small:

Renew Dash’s Irish passport. I have the forms, I even have the photos; I just have to do the pesky witnessing part. No, my children don’t need both Irish and US passports, but it’s a point of pride, I suppose.

Could this possibly be the year we actually redo the shower? Because [whisper] I sort of don’t bother cleaning it as often as I should because it’s so horrible that we’re definitely replacing it very soon.

Last year, I remember looking up hotel rooms in New York (or more accurately, in New Jersey just across the river from Manhattan, where it’s a lot more practical to stay though it lacks the romance of the Big Apple) for a weekend away in early Spring but never actually booking them. Maybe this year I’ll manage step two of that process. You might think that if you live in DC you’d be able to hop up to NYC for the weekend at the drop of a hat; and yet, it so rarely happens to us.

Another thing we’ve been saying we’d do for years is take the kids skiing. It could just be an one-day thing – you drive a couple of hours north to Pennsylvania, say, and you’re back before bedtime. It’s not a major commitment. And yet, like so much else, it requires planning and costs money, and there we have fallen down. (Also, the kids have snow pants but the adults don’t. Need to remedy that.)

I might remind myself how to crochet. If we have a snow day, that’s on my list.

Finally, I hope we’re going to Ireland in the summer. (I know it might seem like a crazy extravagance to travel so far pretty much every year, but let me remind you that we don’t see my parents, whose only child I am and whose only grandchildren I keep on this side of the Atlantic, if we don’t go to them. And they’re old. And they don’t even do Facetime.) Aer Lingus is reintroducing direct flights from Washington to Dublin, and I cannot overstate how much this will radically improve the journey in both directions. It would be great to show them some more of the country – the south and/or west, specifically. Some castles, some cliffs; your standard American tourist stuff. How many friends can we convince to put us up along the way?

Dental appointments. Must not forget.

More work. I should definitely keep going with the freelance thing. That worked out well. And we’re going to need money for all this other stuff.

And there are the things I’m not interested in doing:

I don’t really feel the urge to audition this year for Listen to your Mother. I did it last year, I didn’t get in, that was fine.

Also, and I might kick myself later for this, I’m not raring to attend BlogHer, even though it’s in New York, which might be as close to me as it gets for another four years, so it would make a lot of sense to plan it. I just don’t feel the need, though I had a great time in 2013. Am I crazy?

Dash January 2015

My favourite of the passport photo outtakes

What’s on your to-do list?

True Lies

Do you remember back at the start of the year when I made the monumental effort of having everyone eat at the table, together, every night?

It’s wonderful, we still do it, it’s become second nature now. We are so much closer as a family as a result, and my children have expanded their palates wonderfully too.

No. No, that’s a lie. Sorry, I couldn’t find the sarcasm font, but here I am admitting once again, just for a change, that I fell off the good parenting wagon. Or the good housewife wagon, or whichever wagon it is that applies here.

(No comments from the rabble down the back about silly wagons, now. The Americans won’t understand you, anyway.)

All summer, we slipped out of the habit, and I said “Well, when school starts again we’ll get organized and the TV will be off and they’ll be doing their homework and we’ll have dinner at 6pm all together.”

Nope. Nope nope nope. They come home from school and they want to flake out in front of the TV, not sit down with books and pencils. And they want snacks, and more snacks, and then they just want dinner, with no perceptible pause in between. And then, when he’s had some snacks, Dash wants to go outside and bounce a basketball or kick a soccer ball with his friend, and even Mabel does too, sometimes, or else she wants to play with her animals and her babies and her tiny bits of who knows what, making them do things and say things and basically working out her whole day’s experiences and frustrations the way she always does, re-grounding herself through her imagination.

And guess what? I want to let them. Because that’s what they need to do. And because it’s easier for me to give them a plate with food on it that I know they’ll eat, while they watch TV in their vegging out time, and then they can play while I get the other dinner together and we adults eat it in relative peace, and then the push for homework can begin, and because they’ve eaten early, it won’t all push on and over into bathtime or bedtime.

(Mabel’s homework is quick and easy and she doesn’t mind doing it, so long as I don’t pester her but let her come to it in her own time. Dash’s homework takes longer, but he does it in his room now on his new desk. The hard part is getting him there, but once he’s started he’s pretty self-steering.)

But the whole thing – routine, lack thereof, whatever it is – conspires against eating dinner together, and they still won’t eat what we (the adults) eat, which I fully understand is a circular argument and a self-fulfilling prophecy if I never sit them down with us and offer it to them; but I’m fighting one battle at a time here, and right now the dinner battle is not the one I’ve chosen. I don’t know what this one is, maybe it’s called giving up for the moment, but this is what I’m doing.


I just didn’t want you to think I was all bloggy perfect in my life. I’m not. I don’t want to pretend to be. I want us to be honest with each other, so that the world inside the computer is as imperfect and real as the world outside the computer. That’s when you make connections, not points.

autumnal leaves on the ground

Random picture of leaves on the ground, which you are at liberty to believe is a metaphor for anything you like.


Begin as you mean to go on

No, don’t. Who could ever live up to that? The pressure’s killing me already.

“Begin as you would like to go on” would be more accurate. Begin well even if you know you’ll never keep it up in a million years. Begin as if someone was watching. Begin as if you’re blogging it for your very beautiful lifestyle and homeschooling blog that makes people want your life and think your children are always perfect because you’re doing it right.

Begin by going all out, and some little part of it might stick and become a bit of every day.

This brings me to summer vacation, which is breathing down my neck. In fact, it’s practically here. It is here, I’m just hanging onto denial with my fingertips. Mabel finished last week; Dash has two more days.

(I can’t believe he still has spelling homework for a spelling test on the last day of school. When they added those extra four days to make up for all the snow cancellations earlier in the year, they decided to really get their money’s-worth out of them.)

I have so many half-baked plans for the summer. On Monday morning we’re going to sit down and have A Meeting. We’re going to Decide “Together” what we will do this summer. Mabel will wander off and start drawing a picture after about three minutes, but Dash will like it, and I will have some sort of buy-in from the kids on every rule I lay down thereafter. I have notions, like…

– While I work out (I’m doing the 30-day shred again, day 6 today, woot) every morning Dash will do his reading. Mabel will… get in the way, probably, and cause this plan to be amended, but I’m going to try to get them to go for it.

– We will specify exactly which two hours, and no more than two hours, daily will be accorded to tv, and then we’ll stick to it yes we will. If this involves some time when they get to watch My Little Pony or CyberChase on my computer, I will put up with it, because that way I have to clean up the kitchen.

– We will allot some time every day to housework, which the children will partake in, my control-freakish tendencies bedamned. (Not that I want to do the housework myself, but I get all twitchy when they start trying to clean things because it never works the way I want it to.)

– We will write a list of things “we” want to do, or parks we haven’t visited, museums, whatever. Dash will put “Make a lemonade stand” on this list, and I will try very hard not to shoot him down with my killjoy attitude to him and lemonade, which always involves me buying a lot of lemons and doing all the work. (I think he actually can do the work himself by now. But see above re. control freak.) (See this whole post, I suppose. Shush.)

– We will write a schedule (what? what sort of crazy woman am I?) wherein all the things we are going to do get their own time of day, and we will put meals and snacks in this schedule so that we leave the allotted 3 hours between each, just as the doctor ordered. Or we’ll work up to the 3-hour gap, because so far we haven’t been doing very well with that. Going cold turkey straight from a grazing lifestyle to a rigidly French-children one has not been a good or practicable thing this week. There has been much whining and asking and yelling and being turned down and finally helping of oneself to unauthorized snacks.

– We will teach ourselves Italian from the Internet. That’s a great plan, that is. I have great faith in that one working out well.

And then we’ll just go to the pool every damn day we can and maybe that will do the trick.

Whatever the trick is. The staying-sane-over-the-summer trick. That one.

Terrible mother seeks redemption: dinner-time edition

Here is my secret shame. Which I can only tell you about now that I’m doing something about it. Because up till now I’ve just been a bad parent, and no matter how much everyone pretends to blog about their terrible parenting, nobody really does.

Increasingly, totally, I’ve been feeding my children their dinner by bringing a plate into them while they watch TV. Dash, we know (bad parenting already acknowledged), has a sandwich on a plate. Mabel might have a bowl of pasta, which she would eat with her fingers although I definitely gave her a fork. There might be some broccoli in there. She might have had an apple or there might not. There might be some chicken, which I would offer and she would reject. It was all very terrible and reeked of atrocious parenting and yet I was powerless to change it. It made my life easier because once they were nominally “fed” I could make something nice for B and me and we could eat it in peace while they continued to watch TV. Mostly, I was lazy and blaming it on the children.

Two nights ago I decided I’d had enough. I was sick of being the waitress in the movie theatre of my home. I called a family meeting, got out my trusty notebook, and wrote a list.

This was basically how it went:

  • Aim: We need to eat dinner together at the table.
  • Difficulties: They don’t want to wait till 6pm. B can’t come home earlier than 6pm. How can I get them to wait longer, and then to turn off the TV and sit with us?

The answer, as usual, was bribery. Sorry, I mean a star chart. They now both have clear motivating factors – an Anna doll (from Frozen, that Anna, of course) for Mabel and more money for Dash, who likes acquiring money and has no immediate plans to spend it on anything.

I put forth my plan, as follows: That we all have dinner at 6pm every night; that we all sit together and eat our food with nice manners. That in return, I will provide food that people like, and also a hearty snack at after-school-time so that they can wait until six for dinner.

Then I got them to help me list food they like for dinner (Mabel, that is) and for snacks, so that I could go shopping. And we agreed on the star system, of course. They can earn a total of three stars per dinner: one for eating at the table, one for using good manners, and one for trying/eating a new food. (Definition of “trying” is at my discretion. Because for Dash sometimes a lick counts; for Mabel I expect a bit more than that.) And I get a star for every dinner-for-four I get on the table, because mums need motivation too.

Once Dash stopped shouting at me because he wanted to have the meeting in what he had decided should be the “meeting room” (aka the front room) and I wanted to stay at the kitchen table, the rest of the discussion went down a treat. They loved being part of the decision-making process, they really did.

Last night too, things went surprisingly well. I’m still making three (mostly) separate dinners, but first things first. Dash sat at the table while we ate cooked food that he could smell (quinoa, kale, chicken) and didn’t complain about it. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s a big deal. Mabel ate her pasta and peas with a fork. They both tried some raw carrot: Dash didn’t like it and Mabel has found a new favourite food. (They have both had carrrot before, I promise.)

I made the table a bit more exciting by letting them both drink their milk out of small, sturdy wine glasses, which they loved. I’m thinking tonight I might put fancy napkins at each place, if only to stop Dash wiping his fingers on his sweater.

So we all got our stars last night. I have decreed that they will earn 5c per star, which doesn’t sound like much but works out to 1.05 at the end of the week, which effectively doubles Dash’s allowance and will get Mabel to her Anna doll a lot sooner than she otherwise would. I have not yet decided what my reward will be, but I’ll be making sure I get one.

Will it work? Will it fall by the wayside like so many others of our star charts? Will I be ferrying food back into the TV room in a week’s time? I suppose it’s up to me, really. I do feel better for having started it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pizza to put together.

Children sitting at the table

Dash dictates exactly how much pizza he might taste.

Glass containing some proportion of liquid

All the things I have not done that were on my to-do list for January:

  • Made the children write thank-you notes for Christmas [hangs head in shame; no excuse for that]
  • Booked the summer holiday. [Was just about to do this last night when Mabel wet the bed and all the information I had just entered and selections I had made timed out. Then when I tried again the flights had disappeared. I gave it up as a bad job and will try again tonight.]
  • Contacted my so-called contracting job to see if they might ever again need my services, for money, that they would pay me, that I could use to go to the hairdresser, for instance. Or pay for expensive summer holidays.
  • Planned dinners, preferring to continue to fly by the seat of my pants and make a lot of something-with-pasta.
  • Made muffins, because I need to do that today.

Things I have, however, managed to do, so it’s not all bad, you know:

  • Gone to the chiropractor, which is an ongoing adventure but I’m glad to have started it because I do officially have a bulging disc and it’s good to know about that so that some day when I accidentally bend sideways to pick up a dropped pencil and it suddenly agonizingly herniates, I’ll know what’s going on. Now do I have exercises which will “take the pressure off my spine.” Which is not all that reassuring when you wonder where else you can lean the rest of your body if not on your spine. And it’s nice, you know, when they tell you that it’s great because it’s not your whole spine. Just one little bit of it. So yay.
  • Acquired an audition for Listen To Your Mother, as promised, which was very easy to do once I knew it was a thing, because I wrote my piece and then when they said auditions would be happening I just sent an e-mail and they gave me a timeslot. So that will be this Saturday and I will tell you all about it afterwards so that if you do it you can be forearmed. (But not four-armed.)
  • Got anything done at all, such as keeping milk and cereal and toilet paper in the house, considering all the snow days and polar-vortex days and two-hour delays we’ve been running up against for the past few weeks.
  • Continued to make a renewed effort to, if not exactly prioritize, at least not let fall entirely by the wayside, writing that is not on my blog. By which I mean I have done a little of it and there are more words on the page than there were before. Chipping away at all that white space, I am, sentence by sentence.
  • Oh, and I did do that moving to WordPress thing I had planned for. And my stats are looking more realistic and yet not totally non-existent, so I suppose that’s good too.



I have plans. Audacious plans.

I want to audition for Listen To Your Mother this year. I don’t have to get in, I just want to get as far as auditioning. I don’t have any clue what to read, but I’ll figure that out later.

I want to finish this thing (not this thing – it’s longer than a blog post) I’m trying to write, and then I want to do something with it. Something more than sitting on it or leaving it under the bed or not actually finishing it.

I am seriously – seriously, I say – considering moving this whole blog to WordPress and actually going self-hosted, like a grownup blogger.

Is that enough for you? What are you planning for 2014?

Children with ballooon

Points of things

Sky, sea, land

Tomorrow is the first day of the last week of the summer holidays. Mabel doesn’t go back to school till after Labor Day, but Dash starts second grade on August 19th. The second-grade thing isn’t phasing me, but the fact that the summer is almost gone is a bit stunning. This year seems to be going faster than any one before. If this keeps up, by the time I’m in my eighties, I imagine days will fly by like seconds. No wonder my mother is confused.

I partly feel like I’m just getting back into the groove of our nice laid-back summer (after the disruptions of going away, two weeks of camp, and then BlogHer) but on the other hand I’m looking forward to a bit more peace and the opportunity to throw away some of all the crap that’s been piling up around here. Because apparently I can’t do that when the kids are in the house.

I went to Target on my own for an hour yesterday and realised why I like shopping: it gives me a chance to center myself and plan things, whether it’s figuring out what might help for organizing the house a little more (I bought an in-tray!) or deciding what I want to, um, invest in this autumn. (Found a dress I want as a shirt, decided to e-Bay a bag I never use and buy one I fell in love with in Marshall’s; also tried on boots, but that’s not relevant ahem as I was saying…)

I thought I’d missed my Dad’s birthday and blamed it on the fact that apparently now I only know it’s someone’s birthday when Facebook tells me about it, and my Dad (needless to say) is not on Facebook. But then I realised I just had no idea what the heck date it was in August, and I hadn’t missed it at all. So that’s good.

I might have a freelance editing job lined up for when the kids go back to school. You might not get so much blathering from over here if I find I’m actually working instead.

In the last week both kids have started swimming underwater, Mabel for the first time ever and Dash for the first time since a little last summer. My kids have never been those ones who don’t seem to notice whether they’re on top of the water or the water’s on top of them – they would always crane their necks to keep their faces out of the water, even with goggles on for extra protection. So to see them whooshing around underneath all of a sudden is pretty cool. I told Mabel I didn’t do that till I was twelve, and she was well chuffed.

Technically, I finished the 30-day shred yesterday. That is, it was the tenth day I’ve done the level-3 workout. However, I did take off about ten days in July when I was sick and then away, and almost another two weeks from BlogHer until yesterday, and I spent a few intervening days working back up to it by doing levels one and two a couple of times. I don’t feel any different, though it’s not as hard as it was at the start, so I must be at least a tiny bit fitter and stronger. Dash says I look taller, which has to be a good sign. The scales still say I’m a few pounds lighter even though at no point did I stop eating all the muffins I usually eat. I will try to keep going until I get totally bored or something else happens or they go back to school and I try running again.

Since we didn’t do anything today, here are some photos from last weekend, when we took in some history by going to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. A decisive battle of the War of 1812 took place in Baltimore Harbor, and as the poet Francis Scott Key watched to see which flag would be flying over the fort as dawn broke the following morning, he wrote what would become the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner.

Stars and stripes over Fort McHenry
Teeny little flag up high; huge enormous flag down low
Three people walking the battlements
Walking the battlements

A singular sensation

A strange thing happened when I came back from BlogHer. I felt very small.

Not that I go around feeling like a great lumbering giant every day, but I usually feel comfortably right-sized in my space. But at the start of last week I found myself looking in the mirror and thinking I was a mere wisp of a thing; that a breath of air would knock me over; that I was lacking weight, significance, heft.

Small in a not-good way, then. Maybe it was the exhaustion that hit me when I got home, a combination of post-excitement, post-travel tiredness and a bit of an extended hangover. Maybe it was because I’d hung out with some women who were taller and bigger than me – but that was by no means the majority. At 5’4 and a US size 8, I’m pretty much average, and certainly not tiny. I am not a wisp.

I think perhaps it was a physical manifestation of the fact that I’d been such a small fish in such a huge pond at the blogging conference. I don’t mind not being in the limelight; I don’t want to be top of the heap. I have very little ambition, and I’m fine with that. I have no illusions that my blog is secretly a Big Deal. I don’t think anyone’s going to jump out of the alcove and present me with a trophy for being the biggest little blogger that could, I really don’t.

So I don’t know why, honestly. It was an odd and unsettling sensation. But I’m happy to say it’s wearing off, and I’m feeling pretty much normal again.

Which probably means I should get back to that 30-day shred thing if I want to keep fitting into my size 6 Gap jeans. (Which we all know are just like size 8s anywhere else.)