Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Hard Day for Dreaming

A little more than two years ago, I retired as a green blogger in part so I could spend my free(writing)time working on a novel. I've always planned to write a novel, and since the Day I Must Return to Work was looming closer and closer, it seemed like a good time to start. Two months ago, I finished the rough draft, and Michael had the manuscript printed and bound.

that time I wrote a novel

Let me tell you about this novel. It is partially based on some experiences I had in college and partially based on some thoughts I've had about motherhood and marriage, which means that the audience for this novel is very narrow - basically, people who are exactly like me. And if we assume that we are all unique individuals and that no one else in the world is exactly like us, we can conclude that I am the sole audience for this novel. So when I call it the Novel No One But Me Will Ever Read, I'm not being completely facetious.

I recognized approximately two chapters into writing it that the story had no audience and that it would never be published, but I finished it because it was something I'd set out to do. I try to console myself by describing it as a learning experience, but since my primary take-away lesson is that the type of stories I like to write (character-driven, heavy on the nostalgia) are not the type of stories most people like to read (plot-driven, heavy on the supernatural), I have to accept from the get-go that anything I write will be Novels No One But Me Will Ever Read. Spending two years on a novel just so it can sit in a drawer for the next fifty years is not exactly motivation to try again.

The title of my novel is A Hard Day for Dreaming (after a Rilo Kiley song), and the idea behind it is thus:
  1. About the time that Michael and I started dating, one of my old crushes suddenly decided that he liked me back. Every now and then, I have a dream about this boy, and when I wake up, I am always in a mood.
  2. Every young adult novel these days seems to revolve around some kind of love triangle. I'm a fan of love triangles, but one day, I started to wonder...what happens next? Bella chooses Edward, ten years pass...does she sometimes wish she'd picked Jacob? Does she regret the choice she made? (If I were stuck with Edward for all eternity, I know I would!!!) 
So my story goes like this: In college, Emma Whitacker is pursued by two boys. Ten years later, she has married one and dreams about the other. The plot of the novel flip-flops back and forth between the present (where Emma is in a mood after waking up from one of those dreams) and the past (where we get the backstory of those college years).

Right now, the manuscript is with my sister-in-law, who is hopefully putting together some solid feedback. I plan to have a couple more people review/edit the rough draft. Then I'll work up a final version to give to my mother.

This whole post feels kind of heavy on the gloom (perhaps I'm in a mood), so let me add:
  • What you don't see in that picture at the top is me feeling ridiculously over-the-top giddy about seeing 300 pages of my own words all bound up like that.
  • Despite its many flaws, I really love my novel overall, and I'm proud of myself for finishing it.

Thanksgiving Turkey

As flexitarians, every year we order a turkey from Rainbow Meadows farm, one of the meat farms at the state farmers market. Because these turkeys are in high demand, you have to place your order in September, and since I wasn't sure at that point how many members of my family would be coming for Thanksgiving, I ordered a fifteen to eighteen pound bird. When I found out that only my parents would be coming to see us this year, I figured we'd just have a lot of leftovers. Little did I know...

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Michael headed to the farmers market where the lady at the Rainbow Meadows farmstand informed him that our turkey "got to eighteen pounds and kept right on twenty-eight pounds."

A twenty-eight pound turkey!!!!


Here's Michael getting ready to put the turkey in the oven. We estimated that it would take six and a half hours to cook, but it ended up only taking four and a half hours. We had to scramble to get the rest of dinner made two hours early.


Dinner was simple, the leftovers were delicious, the company was perfect, and we have enough turkey in the freezer to last us until February.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Birthday Season

You know how when you're a kid, you have a birthday, and on that day, you actually feel older? 10 felt different from 9, 13 was much different from 12, etc...I turned 35 a few weeks ago, and it's the first time in all the birthdays I've had as an adult that I actually felt older. 35 feels much different from 34. I feel like a grown-up. Not a young woman - a grown-up. I feel old.

I told Michael recently, "I'm starting to look old. I have a lot of wrinkles. I'm thinking maybe I should start wearing make-up everyday." Of course, I am extremely lazy when it comes to my appearance, so even if I should start wearing make-up everyday, I haven't. A real grown-up would probably start wearing make-up.

Cole also had a birthday a few weeks ago. He turned 10. As I typed that, the thought crossed my mind that maybe he's the reason I'm starting to feel old. How can I have a ten year old? How can I only have eight more years before Cole moves out of my house? My baby done growed up.

Michael made me a hot fudge ice cream cake for my birthday, but we don't own a springform pan, so he had to put it in a bowl. If you put an ice cream cake in a bowl, it basically becomes a giant sundae, so when Cole asked for an ice cream cake for his birthday, I talked him in to serving sundaes instead.

Erin's birthday cake 2013

Cole had a really wonderful 10th birthday party. He wanted to take all of his friends to the dollar theatre to see Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. When we sent out the invitations, Percy Jackson was still in regular theatres, so we figured we'd have to pick a different film. But fate was smiling on us, and Percy Jackson moved to the dollar theatre just in time for the party.

One of the guests got the location mixed up, so I sent Cole and his other three friends into the movie while I waited outside for the late guest. Knowing that Cole would do exactly as I asked and not cause a ruckus in the theatre is a wonderful perk of having a 10-year-old.

After the movie, I drove all of the guests back to our house to play video games, eat pizza and ice cream, and open presents.

Cole's 10th birthday party

Fall is our birthday season. Cole's birthday is exactly two weeks after mine, and Rylan's is exactly two weeks after his. In between their birthdays is Thanksgiving, and Christmas follows soon after Rylan's birthday. Is it too cheesy to write that at this time of year, we have no money, but I feel very rich indeed? Too bad. I wrote it anyway.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nicolus in His Natural Environment

Recently, I talked for thirty minutes with a mother of one of Cole's friends about how much I love the social environment of the boys' school. Yes, because they attend this school, they've gotten to take Zumbatomic, computer art, band, and a bunch of other fun electives. Yes, the academics at this school are stellar and the teachers are top notch. But the number one thing that gets me singing the praises of this school is the fact that my socially awkward, incredibly nerdy 10-year-old fits right in.

I said to the other mother, "Cole is a bit of a dork, but at their school, it's okay to be a dork." It's okay to be smart and love to read and make a gazillion Origami Yodas and know 1000 different Pokemon and design comic books and speak with the vocabulary of a seventeen-year-old. It's okay, and you're not going to be excluded for being a dork because 50% of the kids are also dorks, and when 50% of the population are dorks, being dorky becomes the new cool.

I remember fourth grade as the year my peers began dividing themselves into cliques, so maybe it's still coming for Cole. Or maybe as a boy, he gets to avoid that particular brand of drama (a mother can only hope). But so far, fingers-crossed, in the environment of his school, his dorkiness is thriving and it's beautiful.

Cole field trip to science museumCole field trip to science museum

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Field Trip to Oak View Farm

I was able to join Eli's class a couple weeks ago on their field trip to Oak View County Park. In the 1800s, Oak View was a cotton farm made up of several hundred acres. Now, it is only 17 acres of mostly pecan groves as well as the old farmhouse and some other buildings where the county offers educational tours about the history of North Carolina agriculture.

field trip with Eli to Oak View parkfield trip with Eli to Oak View farmfield trip with Eli to Oak View farm

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Recipe Club: Halloween

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween '13

I'm sitting at the computer on the night of my least favorite holiday of the year while Michael takes the children door to door to beg our neighbors for candy. Over the next few weeks, I will gather up candy wrappers every time I sweep the floor, and it doesn't matter how many times I threaten to take away their candy hoard "if I find one more wrapper on the floor!!!!" because the boys know that in this case, I am the boy who cried wolf.

My problem with Halloween (besides all of my other problems with Halloween) is that it is a holiday celebrating cheap candy. If my kids came home from trick-or-treating with a jack-o-lantern full of Ghiradelli chocolates, I would lobby to make Halloween a four-times-a-year holiday. Instead, they bring home a two-month supply of Smarties and Hubba Bubba and can't even pay the chocolate tax to Mom and Dad for taking them trick-or-treating.

Halloween's one redeeming quality is the chance it offers my children to shine as super creative costume designers. Eli and Cole went as Origami Yoda and Darth Paper respectively, and their costumes are giant origami finger puppets. Unfortunately, no one knows who Origami Yoda and Darth Paper are, so Eli looks like a giant tree and Cole is a black fire hydrant.

Halloween 2013Halloween 2013Halloween 2013

These are great costumes for children of The Conscious Shopper because they are 100% recyclable.

Rylan's costume is not creative, but he makes a very cute zombie.

Halloween 2013Halloween 2013

For school today, Rylan had to dress up as a Letterland character, and he chose Impy Ink.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Post from the Conscious Shopper (Have you missed me?)

I had an epiphany as I was walking to the boys' school one afternoon last week. Purely out of laziness, we have only walked to or from school a handful of times this school year, but that afternoon the sun poked out from behind the gloomy grey clouds and began to call my name. A few minutes later, with my body preoccupied by the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other, my mind slipped into deep thoughts. And then I realized: "This is why I haven't felt like writing!"

Let me share some of the thoughts I had last week. I came across a blog post about ways parents make raising kids harder than it should be (for example, giant birthday parties), and while I agree completely with her point, I have a bone to pick with the part where she talks about buying organic. She says something like (and I'm completely paraphrasing from memory), "I get that eating organic food is best for our health, but do we really need organic everything? Organic diaper bags? Do we really need the bags we store our poopy diapers in to be organic? Are we eating them later?"

Okay, yes, it's funny. But it so completely misses the point! And it's a "missing the point" kind of statement that I hear all the time. Health is one reason to choose organic products, but it's not the only reason. In fact, the science is still out on whether or not organic food is actually healthier than non-organic. You can find studies to support either side. Personally, I think it's logical to assume that if we use chemicals on our crops with the specific intent to kill other living creatures, it can't be very good for our own bodies.

But health is not the only reason to choose organic!

I put that in big, bold font just in case that's the only sentence you read in this entire blog post.

Back in 2009 (four years ago!), I wrote a post called "Seven Reasons to Eat Organic," and since I'm lazy (see first paragraph above), I'm just going to quote myself here:

1. Organics protect soil quality. Years of monocropping and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers depletes soil quality and leads to massive topsoil erosion. On the other hand, sustainable farming methods generally used by organic farmers - such as rotating crops, planting cover crops, and composting - protect and replenish the nutrients in soil.

2. Organics protect water quality. Chemical fertilizer run off causes algae overgrowth, leading to huge ocean "dead zones" (areas where the water on the ocean floor has so little oxygen that marine life can no longer survive there). Scientists estimate that there are now 400 dead zones in the ocean, covering a combined area half the size of California. Additionally, chemical pesticides and intensive livestock farming contribute to water pollution.

3. Organics promote biodiversity. Industrial farming focuses on a handful of crops, choosing the varieties that are hardiest and stand up to shipping rather than those that taste best. Many organic farmers, on the other hand, grow a variety of plants, including heirloom varieties with interesting colors, textures, and tastes.

4. Organics support small farmers. Although more and more large, industrial-type farms are becoming certified organic, most organic farms are still small-scale, independently owned, and family run. Keep in mind that not all farmers that use organic farming techniques are certified organic. Becoming certified is a cost many struggling small farmers can't afford. So ask your local farmers about their methods for pest control and fertilization, focusing more on sustainability and less on certification.

Another reason, which I did not include in my original post: Organic farming is less harmful to the people who work the farms and the people who live around the farms.

I have to admit that not much of what I buy these days is organic. Over the past few years, our health insurance premiums have gone up, our taxes have gone up, and our kids have gotten bigger, and that has meant tightening the budget more and more. Organics are expensive - I admit it. I buy organic when I can, and when I can't, I focus on other ways to be green and don't beat myself up about it. But I'm aware of why buying organic is an important goal to have, and for me, it has very little to do with my own personal health.

Organic farming is part of living sustainably, of protecting and cherishing this planet that we live on, and of respecting the people who grow our food.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Superman Was Here

My favorite moments as a parent are those times when you recognize that you really like your kid. Of course you love him always and forever because you're his mother, but you also really like him as a person. You realize that as people go, he's a pretty darn cool one, and it's fun to be around him.

One day, I sat down at the computer and saw a post-it note that said, "Superman was here." I chuckled a little and then went about my business.

That night when I went to bed, there was a new note on the computer:

a note from Eli

Sometimes that kid is funny.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My apologies.

I have blogwriter's block.

Is this a real affliction? I don't know. Have any of you ever had blogwriter's block?

It's just that I'm realizing that our lives are the same thing on repeat over and over again. Do I really want to write another post about the same old thing we did last year and the year before that and the year before that...

I would like to post about Kellie's wedding, but I didn't take any pictures.

Eventually, I'll think of something to write. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the past few months.

cousinssilly RylanChimney Rock 2013Chimney Rock 2013sillycooke st carnival 2013cooke st carnival 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Desperately Seeking Pretty

When I met Michael, I was 22 years old and had never had a boyfriend. I had been on a respectable number of dates, but I had never been kissed. I didn't go to prom or any other high school dance, and no boy I liked had ever liked me back.

My mother, who is a lovely person inside and out, talked a lot about her weight and was constantly on a diet. So were most of the girls I knew. So were their sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.

My older sister, who always had a knack for doing hair and make-up and following fashion trends, knew that the best way to get under my skin was to remind me of my physical faults. She'd say, Your butt jiggles when you walk. Your ears are too big. Your nose is too big. Why did you wear that?

When Michael and I were dating, I told him, "I only want boys. I don't want any daughters. I would screw them up."

At the time, I felt screwed up.

I had no doubt that I was smart; not only had I been told over and over since I was a little girl how smart I was, I had a thousand examples in my memory store of life experiences that proved to me that I was smart. I didn't wonder if I was talented: I played the violin and was learning the guitar. I had a pleasant alto voice. I was a kick-butt writer. I sucked at sports, but that was no bother since I didn't like them anyway. And besides, I was this close to mastering the headstand in my yoga practice. I didn't doubt my inner beauty: I was kind to others. I was reliable. I was a hard-worker. I felt a lot of empathy for other people's suffering, and I tried to be a charitable person.

But if you had asked if I thought I was pretty? No, I did not. I had exactly zero examples in my memory store of life experiences that told me I was pretty. I was 22 years old and had never had a boyfriend. I had never been kissed. I didn't go to prom or any other high school dance, and no boy I liked had ever liked me back. Girls who were prettier - and thinner - than I was were on diets, and I had been told over and over since I was a little girl exactly what was wrong with my appearance.

All culminating in this: When Michael and I met, I had serious issues with food, I was on a downward spiral toward depression, and I had been seeing a therapist once a week.

Ever since this Dove ad came out, I have come across blog post after blog post saying, "No, no, no, Dove. You're getting it wrong. 'You're more beautiful than you think' is a nice message, but the real message should be, 'It doesn't matter if you're beautiful at all.' We shouldn't be teaching our daughters to even care about beauty because it's not important."

Well, you know what? Screw that.

Beauty may not be THE MOST IMPORTANT but it's laughable to say that it's not important at all.

I wish someone in my childhood had made it their mission to let me know how beautiful I was. I wish they had drilled it into my head. I wish that the grown women in my life had embraced their aging beauty and flaunted it confidently and had said, "I may not have the beauty of a 20-year-old anymore, but I do have the beauty of a 40-year-old." I wish that the girls and women around me had found confidence in their personal brand of beauty and that they'd expressed that confidence so loudly that I would have heard it over the cacophony of television ads and magazine ads full of fake women selling a beauty standard that I will never be able to reach. I hope that I am lucky enough to have a husband who tells me when I'm 82 that I'm beautiful just like he told me when I was 22.

If I had a daughter, I would say to her over and over again: You are pretty just the way you are. You are pretty just the way you are. Of course, I would praise her when she does well in school. I would cheer from the sidelines when she sings in the choir or plays in the band or scores a goal on the basketball team. I would teach her that she is strong and resilient and courageous, that beauty is subjective and youth is fleeting. But I would not hesitate to tell her that she is pretty -  not to fulfill some personal agenda but for the same reason I tell my sons that they are handsome: because I look at them and see beauty and the words come spilling out. And I would pray that when she is 15 years old with an awkward body and a pimply face, crushing on boys who don't appreciate and living in a culture that upholds an impossible standard of beauty, she would be able to look in the mirror with fists full of all the times I told her she was pretty and at the very least be able to say to herself, "You are more beautiful than you think."


I wrote this post in May, but I was too scared to publish it. I don't know why I'm publishing it now when the conversation on that particular subject has ended except that re-reading it five months later, I still feel THIS PASSIONATE about it. 

Before ending up with what's here, I wrote a dozen mental rough drafts, but it wasn't until I decided to make it personal that the post finally flowed the way I wanted it to. At the same time - my early twenties were not the happiest time of my life, and I'd rather not talk about it.

After reading the rough draft of the post, Michael asked, "Did your parents really never tell you that you were pretty?" The truth is that I'm sure they did and I didn't hear it, just like if I had a daughter, she wouldn't hear it either. Unfortunately, that's the nature of girls. But that doesn't mean we should stop saying it.

My sister is a wonderful person. I was as cruel to her as a child as she was to me, and I think we've both gotten past it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Josh and Jaime versus the Waterfall


Chimney Rock 2013


Chimney Rock 2013


Chimney Rock 2013


Chimney Rock 2013


Chimney Rock 2013


Chimney Rock 2013


Chimney Rock 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

4th Grade Logic


I told Cole the other day, "I'm thinking of making you a bag to put your lunchbox in. I'm thinking of making it out of old jeans. Would that be too dorky? Would the other kids make fun of you?"

Cole said, "I don't think that's dorky. No one at my school makes fun of anyone else."

But the next day when I suggested that he wear his old soccer t-shirt to school, he said, "I don't wear that kind of clothes to school."

I said, "But it's a t-shirt."

"But I wear it for pajamas."

"But it's not pajamas. It's a t-shirt."

"But it was my soccer uniform."

"It's still a t-shirt."

"I don't wear that kind of clothes to school!"

He was adamant.

Jessica, thank you for all the polo shirts or this kid would have nothing to wear!

Eli's baptism

How was your summer?

This year, I discovered that you can make your summer zoom by if you purchase a punch pass to the community pool and hang out at the pool several mornings a week. However, during the last two weeks of summer vacation, you may still find that your kids are slipping into the "I'm bored so I'm going to punch my brother" mindset. If that should happen, you should plan mornings at Adventure Landing, Jellybeans, and Monkey Joes. Yes, we did it all this summer. We mini-golfed, we laser-tagged, we roller-skated, and we bouncy-housed. It was not cheap, but friends, it was sooooo worth it.

Adventure LandingAdventure Landing

We topped off our summer vacation with a trip to the beach. Waiting until the last week of summer vacation to take a beach trip is always a little risky - if the weather doesn't cooperate, you may not be taking a beach trip that year. On the other hand, even in Wilmington the beach is practically empty four days before school starts.

beach tripbeach tripbeach trip

Michael told me to take a picture of him and Cole diving into a wave. My camera phone is not quite fast enough:

beach trip

But I caught them coming out of the wave:

beach trip

I enjoyed this beach trip much more than I have in years past - probably because I had a lot fewer worries about small children wading too far into the water and drowning. However, there was a small incident where I was joking about sharks and Michael took it very seriously and started telling me all the reasons why it was not very likely that we would see a shark but that if we did, we wouldn't be able to tell if it was a shark or a dolphin until it was right up next to us, and it basically freaked me out. Being eaten by a shark is in my top ten of Terrible Ways to Die.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bands We've Seen

  • Coheed and Cambria
  • Counting Crows
  • The Dambuilders
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Foo Fighters
  • Frodus
  • From Autumn to Ashes
  • Fuel
  • Fugazi (twice)
  • The Groovy Ghoulies
  • Hopesfall
  • Hum (twice)
  • Jawbox
  • Jump Little Children (twice before I met Erin)
  • Kill Devil Hills 
  • Live
  • Our Lady Peace
  • Pearl Jam
  • Radiohead
  • R.E.M.
  • Saves the Day
  • Sonic Youth
  • Southern Culture on the Skids
  • Sunny Day Real Estate
  • Thursday
  • Yo La Tengo
  • 7Mary3
  • Dixie Chicks (twice)
  • Ingrid Michaelson
  • Jonatha Brooke
  • Nickel Creek
  • Over the Rhine
  • Reel Big Fish
  • Sarah McLachlan (and a bunch of other artists at Lilith Fair that I can't remember specifically)
  • Sheryl Crow (twice)
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers
  • Alkaline Trio
  • Bayside
  • Better Than Ezra 
  • Broken Social Scene
  • Cake
  • Death Cab for Cutie
  • Eisley
  • I Was Totally Destroying It
  • Jimmy Eat World
  • Jump Little Children (Michael has seen them multiple times,  but we've only seen them once together.)
  • Nada Surf
  • Nickel Creek (I saw them once alone, and apparently we saw them once together, although I don't remember that.)
  • Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Pedro the Lion
  • Pinback
  • Say Anything
  • Stars
  • The Rosebuds
  • Weezer

Friday, August 9, 2013

Music Lessons: Benjamin Gibbard

When Michael and I found out a couple years ago that Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel got married, Michael's reaction was "How did he get her?" and mine was "She is soooo lucky."

In case you're my parents and therefore have no idea who I'm talking about, Ben Gibbard is the lead singer of both Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service.  Zooey Deschanel is...the sister of the star of my favorite TV show of all time: Bones.

I have a big crush on Ben Gibbard, and I don't have to apologize for it because he is my husband's celebrity doppleganger.

Those are both pictures of Ben Gibbard. I know, right?

Last year, Ben released a solo album of songs he wrote for Death Cab but never recorded. I'm not going to pretend that this album is as good as anything produced by Death Cab or the Postal Service, but this one song keeps getting stuck in my head:

About the time he started dating Zooey, Ben stopped drinking, took up running, and lost a ton of weight. I like the new look, except...what happened to the glasses??!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Garden Update

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I'm grateful for all the rain we've gotten this year since I've had so little time to spend on my garden. These pictures are all from our spring garden - we got a good harvest of onions that we're still finishing off, and about 30 pounds of potatoes. I bought two blueberry bushes last year, but the birds got to the berries before we could. This year, I covered both bushes with netting, and we ended up getting about a handful of berries a day - enough for me to snack on while working in the backyard. :)

Right now, we've got our usual summer garden chugging along nicely: as many tomatoes as we could possibly want, foot-long cucumbers because I keep not noticing them, jalapenos coming out of our ears, and approximately five cantaloupe that will not ripen fast enough.
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