Archive for September, 2006

Because Moving Five Kids Across the Country Isn’t Excitement Enough

September 29, 2006 @ 6:00 pm | Filed under:

Today’s adventure: sustaining bodily harm! Picture me up on a stepstool, teetering on tiptoe to reach boxes on a high shelf, crashing to the ground under an avalanche of pink dresses. And then erase the picture, because that is NOTHING like the way I managed to hurt myself. I leave all the high-shelf-reaching and heavy lifting to my friend Lisa, who (amazingly) loves me anyway.

Nope, I was doing something even more dangerous, more foolhardy: I was walking.

To my driveway.

Carrying nothing.

And I tripped, because I am Grace personified, and fell hard on my knee.

And my wrist!

Plot thick enough for you? Seriously, did someone sign me up for Survivor: Suburbia and not tell me? Is it like a Truman Show thing and there are hidden cameras in our mirrors and stuffed animals? I really hope not, because I am nursing the baby right now and taking no pains to be discreet.

Anyway, all the teddy bears are in a box, so that’d be a really boring show.

But the sidewalk cam got quite the little scene: the quintessential pratfall. Walk, walk, walk, splat. No reason. Shoe caught on, um, air? I don’t know.

I am fine. I think. It sort of hurts a lot when I walk up and down stairs. Or kneel. But there’s no kneeling in Packing, right? Oh bwah ha ha I crack myself up.

Okay, yes, I may be getting a teeny bit punchy right about now. (My poor mother, who is here to help: THAT’S the person to feel sorry for.) But really, I don’t think there’s anything to be alarmed about. I think I bruised my knee and it’ll be fine in a few days. Say by the time I hit Indiana. I’m pretty sure I’m going through Indiana. As I recall, the route I’m taking goes through some spectacularly beautiful hill country in southern Indiana. Anyway, it’s not like I’m going to be CLIMBING those hills. Just going oooh pretty between rousing choruses of "You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."

But back to my Hard-Knock Life. The wrist, hmm. It’s sore. Don’t think it’s sprained or anything. Just ouchy. I took the precaution of wrapping it with an Ace bandage just because I’m doing all this box-lifting, but I really think it’ll be fine in a day or two.

Which is good, because a day or two is all I’ve got left. Packers arrive on Monday! MONDAY! I am doing the MOVE version of cleaning up for the cleaning lady: madly packing before the arrival of the packers. But I have to, of course, because I don’t want them to take all the wrong stuff.

Okay, the baby’s asleep now and I’m going to go put her to bed. And then I am totally going around the house and checking the appliances for cameras.

Oh Wow Is Right

September 29, 2006 @ 4:56 am | Filed under: ,

Calling all galaxy girls (and boys)—you HAVE to see what Tracey just posted at Jinkies! Too incredibly cool!

You’ll excuse me for being scarce today—it’s almost time to start pushing. In the comments to my "moving is like childbirth" post, Jennifer remarked that she’d be happy to be my virtual doula, and I thought, WHAT A FABULOUS IDEA—seriously, there’s a business for a big-hearted entrepreneur. Doulas for people who are moving. Oh oh oh. I’d hire one in a snap. Someone to catch the little details that keep falling through the holes in my brain, someone to take my by the shoulders and say, You do NOT need flannel sheets in southern California!, someone to make sure I remember to eat, and also! The backrubs! Doulas give backrubs, right?

Now lest you get all sorry for me, I want to make it very clear that I have TONS of help here. TONS. You would not bee-leeeeve how amazing everyone, EVERYONE, has been. Meals arriving every other day from lovely neighbors, more (or sometimes the same) lovely neighbors spending hours helping me pack, lovely neighbors reading my blog and showing up with MORE Dr. Pepper!, lovely grandmothers (my children’s own, I mean) also reading the blog, and not to be outdone by a son/son-in-law, supplying chocolate and more chocolate, lovely friends sending amazing gifts in the mail (of the sort that you are VERY happy to have on a two-week-long cross-country odyssey), more lovely friends driving ALL THE WAY FROM NEW JERSEY to pick up a beloved loom that wants some babysitting while we’re on the west coast (and volunteering to run errands in town as long as they’re here), and dazzlingly lovely friends taking care of Wonderboy for hours upon end, and hauling countless boxes of Stuff to the Goodwill, and giving up a billion afternoons to help me weed through what’s in my basement so that I don’t wind up like this.

I have lots and lots of help; it’s incredible. I just thought a doula for moving sounded really cool. When we were in the hospital with Jane, I used to think a doula for mothers with very sick children would be a great thing to have too.

P.S. Lest anyone scold me for taking the time to read blogs on a DAY! LIKE! THIS!—this morning I only read three. Two of them, chosen from the yikes almost 250 feeds I sub to at Bloglines, I linked to above. The third was of course Alice’s, which made me sputter my tea, too too funny, and then when I clicked through to the earlier post she referenced, I got choked up all over again.

I Always Suspected that Cheery Demeanor Was a Ruse

September 28, 2006 @ 5:21 pm | Filed under:

Beanie, pointing at the picture of the Pillsbury Doughboy on a box of muffin mix: "Who’s that?"

Rose, dead serious, in a grim, disapproving voice: "The devil."

Me, surprised: "Wha?? The devil? Honey, that’s the Pillsbury Doughboy."

Rose: "I call him the devil."

Me: "Why?"

Rose: "I SAW him on a box that said devil’s food!"

Shakespeare on MP3

September 28, 2006 @ 10:04 am | Filed under:

No time to elaborate right now, but I wanted to pass on the link: Shakespeare for the Ears by Chirotoons. It’s a $19 disk that has a bunch of mp3 files including an audio recording of Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, some old-time radio adaptations of Shakespearean plays, and a bunch of other stuff including PDF files of study guides and whatnot. I have ordered other things from these folks in the past and was quite happy with the quality. Just had to share!

Comments are off

Okay, So I Guess Moblogging DOES Work

September 28, 2006 @ 5:14 am | Filed under:

Well. That’s pretty nifty, I must say. But what a pain, and yes I know complaining about keypad typing makes me an old fogey. I know all the kids are doing it these days. Maybe I have finally found the secret to keeping my posts short!

Maybe I’ll just have to live-blog our cross-country trip in haiku. And add the capitals later, because that shift key business is a knuckle-buster.

Moving is Like Childbirth, and I Have a Book to Prove It

September 27, 2006 @ 6:41 pm | Filed under:

I’ve given birth five times with no drugs, so I know a thing or two about pain. Packing for a move has got to be the emotional equivalent of giving birth. It HURTS. You go through the exact same stages as you do in labor.

Like this

(from Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg):

The First Emotional Signpost: Excitement

…contractions start off short and easy, with rest periods of five or possibly more minutes. You could have an hour of this or several hours….

You feel quite happy and excited; you have been waiting for this day for nine months and maybe longer. This is it at last, you feel with some elation. Of course, you may feel a tiny bit of stage fright too. You feel both eager and anxious.

Adjust the time span a bit and yup, that’s pretty much where I was two weeks ago.

The Second Emotional Signpost: Seriousness

…Excitement gives way to concentration…You work diligently because you do not want these contractions to get ahead of you.

You are working hard, and you will be for the next several hours or more…

The serious emotional signpost is total absorption in the work and the need to be undistracted. It is a do-not-disturb and get-to-work attitude.

Now we’re up to last week. Of course, experiencing a NEED to be undistracted doesn’t guarantee NO DISTRACTIONS, and really the idea of my ever doing anything without a zillion distractions is

(HA! The baby just woke up! Case in point! I was about to type the word laughable but I can’t because I am laughing too hard.)

(We’re back. And may I just interject that she could not possibly be sweeter? Distractions don’t get better than this.)

Anyway. What were we talking about? Oh right, second signpost, the get-to-work attitude. Check. That’s me armed with my Supply Basket: six rolls of tape! Fancy tape dispenser thingie that doesn’t work and causes much aggravation but by golly I will use it anyway because I paid for it! Notebook for logging boxes! Big fat Sharpie for writing on boxes! Regular pen for writing in notebook! Three Legos and a Polly Pocket shoe! Wait, how did those get in there?

The Third Emotional Signpost: Self-Doubt

Your uterus now shifts into high gear and speeds by the centimeters from seven to ten. You begin to wonder why you haven’t reached your destination yet. You wonder if you are going to reach it. Are you really as far along as you thought? You are nearing the end of first-stage labor.

Oh no. FIRST stage. No, seriously, we have got to be around fifteenth stage by now, right? Okay, okay, I know there are only three stages, and the third one is the big happy payoff at the end where you’re holding the baby (or standing in your new living room) and everything is messy and sweaty and you’re crying because you’re so relieved it’s over and isn’t she the sweetest little room you ever saw? Look at those big windows! Honey, she’s got your crown molding!

So fine, I’m still in first-stage labor. FINE. I’m NEARING THE END, right? The book SAYS so.

At this point you will be quite absorbed in yourself and your body so that you might not even notice, but your coach sees that you have become uncertain, indecisive. You don’t know quite what you want to do, and even when asked you cannot say or explain.

I think that’s where I am now, but I’m not sure.

At this point, if you are asked any question, the most common reply is, "I don’t know." You are not sure that you can do this, and may even say so aloud.

Aha! Yes! I did this! Last night! On the phone! I said it aloud! VERY aloud! I think I also said "I don’t know" a lot. Okay. YES! I’m ten centimeters! This is good! Right? I think it is. Oh, shoot, I don’t know.

Coaching the Self-Doubt Signpost

In the last emotional signpost, the laboring woman is uncertain; she doesn’t know what she wants to do. She experiences self-doubt. Although to you [the coach] she looks like she is doing a great job


and dealing beautifully with the contractions, she may not be sure about that at all.

(She totally isn’t. Sure about it, that is.)

She looks to you for support; she depends on you for confidence and reassurrance.

(And chocolate! Good move with the chocolate, coach.)

That’s it for the first stage. The second stage is the pushing (oh no not the pushing), which I guess is what happens when the moving truck comes. Or maybe it’s this weekend in the last days BEFORE the truck comes. I don’t know. I’m not sure. See? Textbook third emotional signpost! Quick, someone get me some ice chips! And where’s my backrub?

I Guess that Makes Me a Gazelle?

September 25, 2006 @ 8:34 pm | Filed under:

A couple of days ago, Scott and I discovered that we can do a one-way video chat. I have a webcam here (actually, it’s Beanie’s, a gift from her amazing godmother), but Scott doesn’t have one there, so during his first weeks in California we were just using iChat to type at each other. Then we discovered we could do an audio chat, which is pretty much the same as talking on the phone, but hey, it leaves both hands free—so we can type at each other AND talk at the same time. Ooh, the excitement!

And now, when our separation is (oh frabjous day!) fiiiinally drawing to a close, we have discovered that DUH, since I *do* have a webcam here, I can use it to let him SEE me while we’re talking and typing. I can’t see him, of course (and wah), but it’s really all about the kids anyway. HE CAN SEE HIS CHILDREN. He can talk to them and watch them laugh when he says obnoxious things. He can shout, "BOY!" and watch Wonderboy’s eyes light up. The kid just about chokes with excitement, and the way he signs "Daddy" over and over again, I’m afraid he’s going to gouge a hole in his forehead.

Scott has a hard time seeing the baby, though. She has grown so much. It’s been over a month since he saw her. When she laughs into the camera, I can hear his voice crumple.

But he likes to see the rest of the kids. One morning he asked me to leave the v-chat open for a while after we’d finished talking, with the camera aimed at the middle of the room, just so he could feel like he was home for a little while.

"It’ll be like my own personal African watering-hole wildcam," he said. Ha! I always knew I lived in a zoo.


Another room with a zoo.

Unearthed: The Notebooks

September 25, 2006 @ 5:45 pm | Filed under: , , ,

I found 1997 in the bottom of a box today.

1997 was the year that brought two of the most significant events of my life, and my family’s life. It was in March of 1997 that Jane, then 21 months old, was diagnosed with leukemia. A few months later, in her hospital room, I received a phone call from my wonderful editor at HarperCollins, telling me the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate had loved the sample chapter I had been commissioned to write, and they wanted me to write the Martha series.

The talks about my possibly writing Martha had begun months earlier, before any of us had the faintest inkling that there was something terribly wrong with my sweet baby. I had written a chapter (which later became the ending of Little House in the Highlands) and, huge Little House fan that I was (and am), was immensely excited about the prospect of diving into Laura’s family archives and writing books about her great-grandmother. There were actual letters from Laura in those archives! I would get to read them! I would get to try to write books worthy of being shelved next to hers! It was thrilling to contemplate.

And then one day Jane was covered with bruises, and the whirlwind swept us up and dumped us in a children’s hospital on Long Island, where we spent most of the next nine months fighting for her life.

By the time the call came, she was well into chemo. Her hair was falling out. She threw up all the time, usually on me. She lived on ketchup and breast milk. I was learning how to gauge the degree of her fever by the touch of her hand. She was hooked up to multiple IVs day and night.

I wasn’t thinking about writing any more. What I did was take care of Jane. I slept in her hospital bed with her, I changed the dressing on her central line catheter, I swabbed out her mouth with antiseptic and antifungal rinses. I read to her for hours at a stretch, until my voice went hoarse. I sculpted enough little Play-Dough people to populate, well, a cancer ward. I inhaled the scent of toxins from her skin, I took her for walk after walk up and down the corridor, past the nurses’ station and the other patients’ rooms, dragging her i/v pole alongside us.

Scott spent every minute he could at the hospital, but eventually he had to go back to work. He’d race out to Queens each evening, bringing us dinner (which Jane never ate), clean clothes, a book for me to stare at after he dragged himself back to our apartment at night.

Oh, the nights were the worst. You can’t sleep in a hospital. The lights, and the nurses, and the pumps beeping, and the loud voices in the hallway, and the trash cans being emptied with a bang. I would get Jane to sleep, her poor face paler than the pillow it lay on, a cord snaking out from her chest to a dripping bag on the pole beside the bad. I would watch her sleeping and feel grateful I had been given another day with her, and write about that day in a blank book that my friend Alice had given to me the week the nightmare began.

She knew I would need a place to write about what was happening.

That was one of the notebooks I found in this box today. Between the scrawled notes about which doctors had done what are snippets like this:

The other night her i.v. was beeping; she looked at the pump and announced, “Fusion complete.” Gave “timentin” to her baby. Told Daddy he was her best friend.


6:15 a.m. wake up, realize Jane has soaked through all the bedding, both sheets beneath and blankets above. Change her, and then the nurse comes in to say she’s running 100.1 axillary, so could I give her some Feverall. Yeah, right. Try for ten minutes, she pukes up the one sip she swallows, we give up. Jane is now wide awake. I turn on Sesame Street and doze while she plays Barnyard Bingo, using the curve of my body as a recliner.


Or this one, dated 9/27/97, which follows a lull:

This has been a tough month. Not just all the inpatient time, but also the deaths of three of our little friends here: Eric, Jen, and Tiffany.

I don’t want to write about that.

It’s official now that I’ll be writing the Martha books. And Jane herself is exploding with new words and new skills. In clinic one day, the two of us sat eating lunch by ourselves. Jane looked up at me and said, “Me have really good time with you, Mommy.” Melt…


When HarperCollins offered me the books, I wondered if I could possibly manage to write them with all that we were going through. But the nights in the hospital were so agonizingly long. Better to work, I thought, than to sit there marking the hours by the dripping of the drugs into my baby’s veins. When you spend a lot of time in a hospital, there’s a real danger of getting broody. The worry can consume you. You have to forcefully turn your thoughts to something else. Work helps, if it’s the right work.

Martha was. The folks at Harper sent me a laptop to use at the hospital—awfully sporting of them. And they lined up a researcher in Scotland to hunt up answers to my forty thousand questions, since obviously I couldn’t get out to hunt them up myself. I spent the next two months poring over notes in the dim room while Jane slept the sleep of the drugged, and one night I took a deep breath and started to type.

Loch Caraid was a small blue lake tucked into a Scottish mountain valley. On its shore were a half dozen cottages that had no names and one stately house that did. It was called the Stone House…

…and I was off.

Oh, what Martha gave me during those long, hard nights! Highlands is the story of a little girl running freely on the grass, rolling down hills, poking in the corners of the kitchen, getting into scrapes, doing all the things I was afraid my own wee lass might never have the chance to do. My friend Elizabeth, herself a cancer survivor, recently pointed out to me that I talk a lot about Martha’s hair in that book. She is always shaking her heavy curls off her shoulders. Every last wisp of Jane’s hair was gone by the time I started writing, all those fine golden strands swept away by a janitor’s push-broom.

I found my Highlands notebook in the same box today, crammed with descriptions of houses and furniture and meals and customs. There’s a line about how floorboards often had holes in them near one end, holes bored at the lumberyard so that a rope could be threaded through to keep them stacked for the journey on rough, rutted tracks that could hardly be called roads. Next to this interesting snippet I scribbled a large star and the words, “COULD BE FUN—HAVE MARTHA DROP SOMETHING THROUGH HOLE TO ROOM BELOW.” In the years that followed, I wrote three different chapters involving Martha dropping something through a floorboard hole: twice I had her tormenting a guest by raining nuts upon his wig, and twice I axed the episode as not quite in character. I think somewhere in Highlands she pokes her toe into a hole while her mother is brushing her hair; and in Heather Hills I finally used the floorboard hole to full advantage when she desperately needed to get a message to young Lew Tucker, the blacksmith’s son, in the kitchen below.

I wrote Heather Hills here, in Virginia, and it’s strange to remember the details that took root way back in that hospital room in New York.

More from the hospital book:

November 1997—lost first broviac, got new one.
—finished last IV chemo on Thanksgiving Day
—we are pregnant!


December—Bone marrow biopsy on 12/6—still in remission.


Feb 98—Rocky. J has fever. Low potassium. Is utterly lethargic.


4/23, pretty bad again. Not wanting to walk. I asked Dr. R. if we could d/c the Dapsone. She agreed, somewhat doubtfully.


3rd day off Dapsone. Jane jumped out of bed and said, “I would like Daddy’s leftover gnocchi for breakfast.” !! First voluntary mobility in three weeks. We were floored. She devoured a dishful, then two big slices of raisin bread.


Best moment by far—I watched her running in circles on our bed, holding a pair of underwear in one hand, a piece of raisin bread in the other [INTERJECTION: WHAT IS IT WITH THE RAISIN BREAD?], singing:

I‘m dancing
I’ll never stop dancing
I’ll never stop eating
I’ll never stop doing either of these things.
I’m having fun
Whoa, I’m having fun

How do I express how moved I was by this, and how grateful?


5/20  She has begun to tell long imagined stories. Is also very excited about “her” baby and often kisses my tummy and talks to it.

She saw the word “Kalamazoo” in a book and said, “Look, Mommy! Zoo!”

Oh, and she’s got her curls back.