Equinox

Fall is here.

I know this displeases some of you, but for me, this is delightful. I love fall. It is, by far, my favorite season. I love the crisp in the air and the apple crisp* in my kitchen.

The weather has taken a wonderful turn for the cooler here in Virginia. Last Saturday, I sat on the sidelines of a soccer game wearing jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a long sweater vest, a scarf, and boots. El was sitting next to me in long pants and a heavy fleece and was huddled under a blanket. (Pete, on the other hand, was coaching while wearing a t-shirt and shorts.) (I know you’re surprised by that revelation.) (Oh boy, do I wish I had a sarcasm font.)

This week, it has been a bit warmer, with highs in the 70s. Really, not all that chilly, but compared to the highs we had just a month ago, it feels downright nippy out there. I’ve seen lots of people breaking out coats, scarves, and other layers. I’ve even worn long sleeves and long running tights on a couple of my recent early morning runs. (Gettin’ ‘em in while I can.)  Heck, I pulled out gloves for a bike ride last week because a local friend warned me that he’d already been out on his bike and his fingers were practically frost-bitten.

The funny thing about this is that six months ago and again six months from now, a 55 or 60 degree day is going to seem downright balmy compared to winter in Virginia. We’ll be shedding layers like snake skins and basking in the so-called warmth. But for now, we’re all reveling in the chilliness.

Out in the garden, I’m getting things ready for the cold months. I’ve cut back the asparagus, weeded thoroughly, and generally cleaned things up in that part of the garden, so as to avoid an infestation of asparagus beetles. Trust on this one, if you have asparagus in your garden, do not forget to clean the bed out or else you’ll regret it come spring.

The tomato plants are gone, not because they were finished producing, but because some fucking deer decided to frolic through them one day and pretty much trampled the hell out of my Brandywines and Yellow Pears. (So help me, next year is the year I put up an electric fence.)

My roses are putting forth one final display of color for me, as are the hydrangeas, which are El’s particular favorite out in the garden.

I desperately need to weed the mulched areas in the front yard, but my knee simply won’t allow it right now. And yes, that is how I weed — down on my hands and knees, pulling plants out by the roots. It’s therapeutic and I highly recommend it.

Did you know that blueberry bushes turn vivid red in the fall, just like burning bushes? It’s true and mine are in the early stages of going scarlet for me.

It’s raining here today, but I don’t mind.

Normally, I’ll go for a run in the morning just as soon as I walk with the girls to the bus stop.  Today, however, because of the rain and because I needed to go to the grocery store to stock up on ice cream sundae fixin’s for Graceful’s party, I drove the girls to their respective schools first. Graceful got Adele’s latest CD for her birthday and I can now report that it takes exactly the first two songs (“Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumour Has It”) to get from Jenworld to Graceful’s school, then those same two songs again to get from Graceful’s school to Elegant’s. I’m sure there are other great tunes on the album, but right now, we’re listening to the same two songs over and over.

The kitchen smells good, due to the pound of beans simmering in the slow cooker. Because of Graceful’s birthday yesterday, we broke with tradition and did not have our usual Thursday night dinner. She requested grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and creamy tomato soup, so that’s what we had.

Tonight, we’ll have Thursday night on Friday night, then tomorrow night, we’ll have Friday night (pizza) for dinner at Graceful’s birthday party. For Sunday, I’ve already decided to use the leftover mashed potatoes, some leftover pot roast in the freezer, and various vegetables to make cottage pie.

I’ve been fooling around online all morning and have stumbled across some fun things that are surely going to lead to blog posts next week or, at the very least, spirited discussions on Facebook.

As I type this, it’s coming up on noon and it’s still raining. Rain or no rain, pain (in my knee) or no pain, I will be going out for a run shortly.

And on that note, I’m going to wrap up this scattered randomness and hit “publish.” Have a good weekend, my friends.

~ ~ ~

* Super easy apple crisp: Chop and peel 3-6 apples and put them in a pie pan or baking dish. Sprinkle cinnamon on top and maybe drizzle on some vanilla extract. Melt one stick of butter and then mix with one cup of flour and one cup of sugar. Add cinnamon to taste. (The flour mixture can be easily modified to include oats, wheat flour, etc.) Bake at 375 until lightly browned on top. This should be around 15 minutes, but watch to make sure the crisp doesn’t burn. Eat with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. This is excellent as a leftover for breakfast.

Independence

One of the things that is difficult for me as a parent is knowing when to give my children independence and how much of it they need. We’re long past the phase of holding hands when we cross the street, yet I often find myself putting a hand near one of my children, sort of like I’m using the Force to guide them across safely.

As we get closer to the teenage years*, I find myself thinking more and more about the girls’ independence and assessing where they are and where they should be. If I didn’t stop to consciously ponder these things, I’d probably still be doing far too much for them instead of having them learn for themselves. Forget about being a helicopter parent; my natural inclination is to be a tank parent and I have to fight it regularly.

What is it about my generation of parents that causes us to hover so much? Is it because we grew up on a steady diet of ABC Afterschool Specials about drugs, bullies, kidnappers, and pedophiles?

But, as I said, I can’t protect my girls forever, so I am trying to teach them what they need to know and then allow them to go out on their own. I’ve been leaving the girls home alone for limited periods of time — Graceful for a few years and Elegant within the past year. We’ve established the rules and things have gone well.

The biggest thing we did this summer is allow Graceful to start working as a mother’s helper. She took the Red Cross babysitting class last year and has been desperate to start her career as a babysitter. Mother’s helpering was a good first step for her, because she watched a baby while his mother worked in another room. The friend of mine who hired Graceful this summer had her come over once or twice a week. For the first two weeks, I walked or biked with her to and from her job — it’s .8 mile straight down the road from us. Starting with the third week, I walked to the end of our street and watched her bike off alone, with Pete’s cell phone tucked in her pocket. She called me as soon as she got to her destination, then later on when she was leaving, she called to let me know she was on her way home.

That first day, as I watched my baby bike off, I had a lump in my throat. This is just one of many times she’ll go off without me, but that time was significant. I had never allowed her to bike anywhere by herself, other than on our street within sight of our house, yet there I was watching her bike down a road alone. She knows the rules of the road and she’s a cautious biker who pays attention, so I knew she’d be okay. I also knew that she needed this new step toward eventual total independence.

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about independence and how I should be encouraging it without totally pushing my chicks out of the nest. (Time enough for that later.) For example, the school bus stop is two-tenths of a mile from our house. Graceful walks to and from on her own, but Elegant — who rides a different bus that comes and goes on a different schedule — does not. She’s younger and is also often the only student getting on the bus there, so I’m just not comfortable with her going on her own, especially since it’s a high-traffic area where drivers don’t watch out for kids who might be crossing the street. But maybe I’m being too cautious?

What about the rest of you? How old were you when you started being more independence? If you have children, what have you done so far to encourage it?

~ ~ ~

* Happy 13th birthday to this beautiful baby:

Jeans

One issue that crops up when one is losing weight is what to do about one’s wardrobe as it needs replacing. It’s hard to stomach the idea of buying clothes that are essentially disposable if you know that you’re only going to be in them for a few months. Or, worse, you think you’re going to wear something for a short time, so you buy a cheap something that’s just fine but not 100% great, but then you end up wearing that cheap something for a few years because your weight loss stagnates.

A few years ago, I lost enough weight that my jeans were too big. So much so, in fact, that they slid right off my butt right in the middle of Target. (Hellooooo Housewares! How YOU doin’?) Figuring that I’d have just as much luck losing weight and getting to the next size down, I picked up some cheap jeans while I was there at Target. They were far too long — like 4 inches — so I just rolled them up rather than walk the excess length off. Why bother having them hemmed if I’m just going to be passing them on to someone else at some point in the very near future, amiright?

You know where this is going, yes?

I hit a plateau not long after that, induced mostly by the winter of 2009-2010 when we got 60 inches of snow in two months and I apparently spent much of my time in between shoveling snow eating foods in the au gratin and bacon food groups.

So I regained some weight and the cheap temporary jeans didn’t fit, but then I lost the regained weight, so the cheap temporary jeans fit again, but I still never got around to having them hemmed. Because, again, I was going to lose that weight quickly, so there was no point.

So here we are in the fall of 2011. The jeans fit fine, but I’m back on a losing streak, so to speak, and I am again hoping the jeans will soon be too big for me. In the meantime, however, I need jeans that fit. What self respecting soccer mom doesn’t have jeans for Saturday games?

I pulled the far-too-long jeans out of the drawer and started wearing them. Only, they’re still too long, as fairies did not magically appear in my house and hem all pants that are too long. (Which is nearly all of one’s pants when one is 5′ 4″.)

And that excess length annoyed me and annoyed me and annoyed me and irritated me and got on my nerves and annoyed me more. Finally, two weeks ago, I’d had enough. I had cuffed and recuffed those jeans far too many times.  And, much in the same way that a woman will grab her nail scissors at 10:00 one night and start hacking at her bangs in desperation, I grabbed bigger scissors and cut the excess length off my cheap temporary jeans.

(Only, there’s no way I’ll ever hack at my bangs with nail scissors or anything else because Richard the Hair God would kill me dead if I did something like that. At which point I’d have to I’d have to go into Witness Protection in order to hide from him and I’d up in some farming community in Idaho where I’d be the only blogger with fabulous accessories for a 13 county radius. So really it’s just best if I keep my cutting hands away from my hair.)

So where I am now is that I have jeans that are the correct length, but they’re cut off and fraying.

And this should be the point where I tell you that I’m embarrassed about my fraying jeans, but the fact is, I’m not. I simply don’t care. Because who’s going to give a crap about jeans that are worn to the soccer field or the grocery store or to pick up someone from fencing or take someone for a horseback riding lesson or to a casual lunch with a friend?

Well, okay, someone else might care, but I don’t.

What I am happy about is that the jeans are the correct effing length. Finally. After three years. It’s about damn time, I say. I should have cut them off years ago.

(Said jeans were worn yesterday with a fabulous navy blue henley from J. Crew that I got supermarkeddown, plus some red L.L. Bean driving mocs that were also supermarkeddown, as well as a fun scarf in bold colors of red, navy, golden yellow, and more.)

(What I’m saying is, there was no black involved with said outfit.)

Tell me I’m not alone in this. Who else has had a moment of utter desperation that might or might not have involved cutting jeans or hair or doing something else entirely?

Smelly

I was out with a friend the other day and we passed some flowers that smelled especially good. I commented on them and then my friend and I started talking about floral scents that we both love. (So not just any good smells, such as freshly-baked brownies, but flowers in particular.)

Gardenia, for example. That definitely makes my Top 5 of favorite floral smells. And since it doesn’t grow here, it’s something that I almost never smell. I’ve tried raising a gardenia plant inside but the results were rapidly tragic. (In spite of what people think — and the serious number of hours I give over to gardening every year — I actually do not have a green thumb. The only reason that things grow outside for me is that gardening fairies come by at night and sprinkle magic dust on everything.)

Lavender is another smell that I adore, which is mostly why I have loads of it in my yard, with plans to plant more. (And also because it’s one of those super easy plants that just grows and grows and you don’t have to do anything to it. Plus, it’s hard to kill, which is another mark in its favor.)

Jasmine, for sure. Totally love the smell of that. I didn’t think we could grow it here in Virginia and then last week I just started noticing scads of it around town. I’ve never noticed it before now and I happen to know that it only grows in zones 9-10, while around here we’re in zone 7, so I don’t know what’s going on. Global warming, perhaps. Or maybe it’s an imposter jasmine.

Honeysuckle is another scent I can’t get enough of. I love when it starts to bloom in May and then I run by and catch a whiff. It’s not quite strong enough to mask my personal sweaty stinkle, but still quite lovely.

Another fragrance I was reminded of while gardening yesterday is smell of bee balm (a.k.a. monarda). The leaves have a spice-y (as opposed to spicy) smell that’s reminiscent of cloves and other similar spices. So maybe I like the smell because it reminds me of gingerbread?

My favorite smell, however, the scent j’adore most of all, is freesia. Unfortunately, freesia doesn’t grow here and it’s only rarely found in the floral section of the grocery store, so I don’t get to sniff it all that often. On the rare occasion that I do buy it — once or twice a year — a single stem can fill the first floor of my house with its lovely smell for days. The fragrance is heavy enough that I feel like I should be able to roll around in it and coat my skin with it. Truly divine.

Unfortunately, freesia is a smell that is best fresh and never, ever fake, as in, created in a lab. It is the rare freesia soap or lotion or shampoo or other product that smells like the real deal and not like some cheap, wannabe knock-off.

And for some reason, until yesterday, it never occurred to me that someone probably sells essential freesia oil and that I could buy said oil and be able to smell it whenever I want, rather than once a year. A quick Google search showed that LOTS of people already knew this and were capitalizing on my nose’s desire. There’s now a bottle in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting for my next purchase.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the smells that I loathe. I’m not talking about the obvious ones, like garbage or decaying road kill. No, I’m talking about the ones you wouldn’t expect. For example, I cannot stand the smell of roses in lotions, soaps, or even in real life. Gag. I don’t why, only that I disliked it as a child and it’s only gotten worse over the years. That hasn’t stopped me from planting loads of roses in our yard, but you’ll never see me sticking my nose in a blossom.

What about y’all? What is your favorite smell and what’s your least favorite?

Just say no, but then say yes

About this time every year, I get Halloween catalogs in the mail. You know what I’m talking about — glossy pages filled with overpriced costumes for children, teens, and adults. Unfortunately, for the pre-teens and teens, the costumes are frequently inappropriate and, in fact, are scarily reminiscent of other kinds of crap I’ve recently blogged about.

It’s one thing for adults to wear provocative costumes and create whatever fantasies they have in their heads, although preferably they’re keeping it in the privacy of their own homes. However, it’s another thing entirely to sexualize minor girls and say that it’s all in good fun.

And every year I bitch about this, as do countless other bloggers. This year is no different … except that I’m not going to link to any websites or mention any company names. I’m not even going to post photos here and make jokey/snarky/bitchy comments about slutty witch, slutty kitty cat, slutty angel, or slutty whatever. Nope, I’m not going to send any traffic to those companies.

I could say that I’m going to take a stand and that I’m not going to buy any of this crap…

… except that there’s no way my children would ever wear that stuff because 1) it’s not their thing and 2) they know I’d never sign off on such sluttery.

I could wave a flag and lead the change in asking all of you joining me in this ban…

… except that I’m pretty confident that most of you already refuse to buy the trampery because we here in Jen-land are not the target audience.

It’s all those other folks — the ones who aren’t here reading this now — who will buy overpriced hookery shit for their daughters and themselves.

So I really don’t know what to do. Not that there’s really anything I need to do, I guess, except express my righteous indignation and then limpingly stomp off in a huff.

On a happy note, as I type this it’s 8 a.m. and 45 degrees outside, with an expected high today of low 60s. I’m dressed for a bike ride — long sleeved tech shirt, long running tights, my favorite Sweet Spot Skirt, and Smart Wool socks, plus I’ll be adding a fleece — and a friend just mentioned on Twitter that he wished he’d worn his gloves this morning, so I’ll grab a pair on my way out. A friend and I are going out for a bike ride and I’m sure we’ll end up downtown getting some coffee. Clearly, fall is in the air and I’m going to embrace it with both arms. Who’s with me?

The products mentioned are some that I already own and love. No one asked me to mention them or offered free goodies, blah blah blah.

Poison ivy

Given that yesterday was a somber anniversary, I had originally planned to write something serious and reflective for today. But then by evening, I was actually a bit overwhelmed by all the coverage and thought perhaps y’all might be ready for some smiles too. I mentioned on Facebook the other day that the more stressed I am, the more shallow I get online and it’s true. Faced with reminders of September 11, 2001, I wanted to do was peruse shoes online and watch TV sitcoms.

So today I’m going to tell you a story that is lighthearted and perfectly illustrates why I should never be trusted with anything that could hurt myself or others.

First off, a week or so ago, I posted this on my personal Facebook page:

Early this morning: Grace, “What do you think would happen if you set styrofoam on fire?” Me, “I don’t know, why don’t we try it some time?” Pete, “Uh, we’ll all die from toxic fumes.” Me, “Never mind.”

One of my friends commented:

Where’s your sense of adventure? Just have Pete do it outside, and the toxic fumes will dissipate to the neighbors :-)

I said:

I’d be all for it, but would probably only accidentally poison myself. I guess I should blog about the time I foolishly gave myself poison ivy through unconventional means…

Naturally, I’ve been encouraged to share this tale of folly with you all, so that you can go about your days, secure in the knowledge that you could not possibly be as stupid as I am on occasion.

Back when we lived in Old Jenworld, I was constantly waging battle against poison ivy.  There was one spot in particular where it always cropped up — the area between our driveway and our neighbors’ driveway 20 feet away. Between the two was a hedge and plenty of other shrubs and trees.  And poison ivy. Lots of it.

Actually, the poison ivy problem was over on our neighbors’ side. They were lackluster gardeners at best and once let their grass get so tall that other neighbors called the city department that enforces these sorts of things. I’m not talking about grass that was a foot tall. Oh no. This stuff was savannah height — entire herds of lions and wildebeests could have hidden in our neighbors’ front yard. This slatternly approach to yardwork also included dealing with poison ivy when it popped up in their yard. Which it did, regularly.

This family had a daughter the same age as one of my girls, so one day when I walked over to collect said daughter from a playdate, I was standing in the neighbors’ driveway making chitchat with them when I looked over and noticed poison ivy in the area between their driveway and mine. It was also right next to the garden gate the girls had been running back and forth through. I pointed out the poison ivy to the neighbors, then took my child home and gave her a Silkwood shower, on the likely chance that she had run through the poison ivy while playing.

Weeks later, I was once again retrieving a child from a playdate and noticed that not only was the poison ivy not gone, but it had spread further. I once again mentioned it to our neighbors. They never dealt with it. In fact, over the years — years, I tell you — the patch got larger and larger. It got to the point that I wouldn’t allow my girls to play in the yard next door because the stuff was everywhere.

Because of the apparent neighborly efforts to encourage poison ivy to grow wherever it wanted, the plant felt free to attempt to colonize my yard too. When I saw the familiar leaves-of-three, I dealt with it immediately. I’d get a plastic grocery bag and put it over my hand, glove-like. I’d pluck the offending plant with my plastic-encased hand and then use my other hand to pull the bag closed, knot it off, and then toss it in the trash can. And then I’d go inside and scrub my hands with the same attention to detail as Lady MacBeth, only my line was, “Out, damned plant oil!”

In 2005, at some point early in the summer, I somehow allowed a single poison ivy plant to escape my killing clutches. It spread and spread willy-nilly until I was faced with an actual patch of the stuff. For some reason, I felt that pulling it by hand would be too much work, so I set about looking for a non-toxic, non-chemical way to deal with it. And somewhere online I read that pouring boiling water on poison ivy would kill it dead. I now know that it does, but there’s a caveat:

Never, ever pour boiling water on poison ivy.

Let me repeat that for you in a very loud, stern voice, so as to make my point:

NEVER, EVER POUR BOILING WATER ON POISON IVY.

I went out there with a gallon or two of boiling water and I poured it onto that patch of poison ivy. Almost immediately, steam rose from that spot and engulfed me. Steamed that was infused with poison ivy oils.

Several days later — on the day we were leaving for vacation, in fact — I woke up and discovered a rash on my chest. Within a couple of hours, it had spread to my arms and lower abdomen. By that night, I had a rash from my neck to my wrists to my ankles. By the next morning, it was blood red.

And we were in the car heading north toward Boston.

Now let me stop here and ask you a question: When something goes wrong with, say, your kids, your dog, or your significant other, do you haul them off to the doctor/vet that day? But when something goes wrong with your very own personal body, do you wait days, weeks, or even months to get it checked out?

Yeah, I thought so.

[Side note: Speaking of waiting far too long to deal with medical issues, I did have the MRI on my knee and it confirmed that I have a cartilage tear. I'm seeing an orthopedic surgeon today to find out what's next. And by what's next, I guess I mean what kind of surgery and when and how much TLC I'm going to need from Dr. Pete.]

Here’s the thing about poison ivy: It spreads via oil, so until you wash that stuff off your skin, you risk sharing the love with other people. Once you break out, however, you can roll around in a three-way or whatever and no one else is going to get that rash. (They might get another kind of rash, but that’s a different story…)

So I did what I do best and that’s ignore my health. I should have gone to an urgent care place and gotten whatever drugs and ointments prescribed to me, but instead I coated myself with calamine lotion and went about my vacation. Surprisingly, I didn’t itch too much.

I just checked our photos from that trip: There are none of me. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Either I never once handed Pete the camera or the ones that did get taken showed too much of my horror movie rash.

Luckily, I got plenty of photos like this one:

My rash lingered for several days, then faded away. Since then, I’ve been especially wary about poison ivy (hand picking only, thank you very much) and haven’t gotten it again. We moved two years ago and our new neighbors are much less slatternly in their approach to yard care, so I haven’t had so much as a single leaf of the dreaded leaves-of-three in our new yard.

I can’t possibly be the only person who’s done something so incredibly foolish, am I? What have the rest of you done that will show me I’m not alone?