Day 26: Daily Tasks


Resuming the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twenty-Six.

There aren’t very many things I *have* to do each day… I’m both fortunate and cursed by that reality. The way I’m wired is I am what appears to be fallow for stretches of time, and in crazy bursts of creativity and productivity, I get *everything* done in a short span of time. Then I sit back and appear fallow again. The truth is more complicated, because what looks like a sleeping field is really a calm surface with a million micro-movements happening invisibly. But I know how it looks.

So back to my days. I write every day. I feed my family every day. I put things off every day. Until suddenly I don’t. Most household and mothering tasks I find neutral. I neither love nor hate them— I am fully cognizant of the fortune of having modern appliances and a comfortable, warm, safe home from which to run my family. I don’t mind laundry- it’s pretty easy to stuff my machine full of similar colors and push a button. In an hour it’s all clean. That’s pretty awesome. Folding it, on the other hand…

Does anyone else have a Laundry Chair in their bedroom? I throw the clean, warm laundry on the bed, fully intending to fold it, and then at bedtime, I realize “Nope. Not happening.” and it moved to The Chair. Sometimes we repeat his little dance for days on end. The kids have their chores, but they’re pretty simple- unload the dishwasher, put their (occasionally folded) laundry away, clean the bathrooms as assigned, feed the dog.

The daily task I actually enjoy is cooking.

Being in the kitchen, dicing, chopping, slicing, prepping mise en place, stirring bubbling pots of alchemy, all things that calm my swirly mind and bring me happy peace. I love my good knives, my heavy cutting board, my beautiful island with the maple counter, my kitchen full of well-loved and well-used tools. My kitchen, while small, is organized and utilitarian, and while I occasionally curse the lack of cabinet and counter space for multiple projects, actually works very well for what it is. Just remind me of that next time I curse as the spices fall on my head when I open the cupboard…

Lambeau Field and Snow…


So remember what I said about trading buying stuff for having experiences? The trip to New Orleans was part of that- my attempt to say “yes” far more often to things outside my comfort zone. I’m also encouraging the kids to do the same.  So… the day after we got back from New Orleans, Jon and Jeffrey got on (another miles-free) flight to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

My uncle holds season tickets at Lambeau Field- and he has since 1954, when his parents were original investors in the Green Bay Packers. I honestly think when Jon learned this is when he decided he would marry me. Apparently, this is a very big deal to football-y type people, and both Jon and Jeff were beside themselves with excitement. They spent the weekend with my uncle and cousin, on the frozen tundra of Green Bay.

I wasn’t there. I stayed safe and warm at home. I watched on TV and I got the play by play from my boys, until their phones died or their fingers froze, I’m not sure which was first. The Sunday morning of the game, Jon texted me, “Today, football is being played the way God intended it-in the snow, in December, at Lambeau Field.” I don’t think he’s ever been happier- though he did wear his Broncos hat. Jeffrey more than made up for it with the Packers swag. It snowed the *entire* game.

I’m so grateful for family. The picture of Jeffrey with my uncle and cousin are three of the four McKay men (Bean is the only one missing), Grandpa Jack’s descendants. I’m just so happy this happened.

New Orleans


So the day after all our family left, Jon had to leave for a business trip. We had some miles socked away, and he said “You should come with me!” and I thought about it for half a second.  A girl from church came and stayed with the kids, and I hopped a flight and met him in New Orleans.

I fell in love with the literary New Orleans when I was about Abby’s age. I read historical novels a lot, and NOLA is a place writers love to romanticize. As I got older and became something of a student and lover of architecture, New Orleans again rose in prominence. Like so many others, Anne Rice further introduced me to details of Lafayette #1, the Garden District, and the French Quarter. I had always wanted to go there. But nothing can quite prepare you…

Writers much better than I have been seduced into trying to describe and pin down the elusive, ephemeral swirl of verdant, swimming life, juxtaposed with the constant companion of decay and death. I have never seen anything quite like it. When an entire city and the culture it contains is built in the cradling elbow of one of the world’s mightiest rivers, when sea level is above the ground, when the soul of a place is older than the country in which it currently sits, it effects everything. I’m not even going to try and go beyond that- three days of wandering does not qualify me for anything except appreciating the experience.

New Orleans in beautiful and complicated in a way I have never experienced, and I am grateful to have been in her embrace for a short time.

During the day while Jon worked, I was free to walk and wander. Walking kept me in a fairly small area of the historic areas, and I am aware New Orleans is a bigger place than I was able to see in three days. I did a historic walking tour of the The Garden District, where  a mishmash of Italianate, Greek-revival, Colonial, and some of the finest double-gallery architecture is preserved. None of this escapes the shadow of New Orleans being the largest city in the Confederacy, built predominantly on the backs of enslaved people, and that history is ever-present. Since it fell early in the Civil War to the Union, it escaped extended siege and the architecture was saved. But as I said, it’s complicated.

There are very few original buildings in the French Quarter- most were refurbished after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 to be more Greek Revival. It’s funny to think of 1804 as being a modern revision of the face of the city, but that’s how old New Orleans is. As you wander around, the buildings, hugging the curbs with their ornate cast-iron porches and galleries, are more than 200 years old- but they are remodels. Of course, most people wandering Chartres Street aren’t looking for markers of original Creole architecture. Jon just smiles and rolls his eyes at his weird wife.

So setting aside my predilection for history and architecture (I didn’t mean to wander so far down there, really…) we did take the requisite walk down Bourbon Street. I can say I have done it, and that’s good. It’s really kind of crazy, touristy, and commercial- because of course it is. People flood there, but it’s not all just tourists. Every bar is open, with greeters in the narrow sidewalks inviting you inside. Live music pours from every doorway, and the swirling lights, warm air and crush of people is intoxicating. If you wander off Bourbon and down the side streets, you can find lovely supper clubs, tiny charming restaurants with magnificent food, and some of the best live jazz you could imagine.

Walking back to our hotel after dinner, we were stopped at corner by a parade of bicycles. Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of bicycles. They were all decked out, with lights on their wheels and spokes, some riders had colorful lights on their bodies, a bike or two had DJ equipment with loud music, there was even a tuba on a bike- and they rode on, ringing their bells, singing, a colorful swirl of laughter and kinetic energy. We stood, amazed, until the last person pedaled through the intersection. I looked perplexed at the man standing at the corner with us, and he shrugged “Don’t look at me, I don’t live here!”

When we got back to our hotel, we asked the concierge, “So, what’s up with the lit-up musical bike parade?” He laughed. “Oh, that’s because it’s Tuesday. They do that every Tuesday.” And that pretty much sums it up.

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And Then The Dishwasher Blew Up…


It’s almost the middle of December, so right on schedule I’m getting to Thanksgiving. Anyone who knows me know Thanksgiving isn’t my favorite holiday. Yes, I know it’s un-American, and that my taste-buds offends most of the country. I don’t like turkey. I don’t like stuffing. I loathe anything with visible marshmallows. Gravy is gross. So for years, I made Mexican food for Thanksgiving. It worked well in my world, and my poor deprived children knew not what they were missing. Until Jon introduced them to real Thanksgiving food. You can imagine Jeffrey is a huge fan… Bean and I still huddle in the corner with our personal foods of choice.

The part I *do* like is having a house full of family. I do like the camaraderie and the cooking together. I do like the banter and the laughter and the getting out of the pretty dishes and the setting of a nice table. I do like everyone being together and the house overflowing with people I love.

So for Thanksgiving this year we had a houseful, and it was wonderful. Jon’s family feels so much like my own family, it’s easy to be at home with them. I am used to loud, boisterous brothers who tell off-color jokes. I am at home around strong women who are multidimensional and not afraid of voicing their opinions. There’s just an ease to being together. It’s comfortable and welcomed.

So after the requisite Thanksgiving turkey, pretty table, et al, we had some fun for a few days. Getting 12 people to do anything in unison is a feat, but we managed it. There was a Korean dinner out for just the grownups, while the older kids got paid to babysit. We learned a new role-playing game and a few of the kids are hooked. We got everyone to the theater and caught Moana (I cried several times over, and enjoyed a deep theological discussion with my brother-in-law over the divine feminine, and on my use of ‘its’). We took everyone to the amusement park, where it was nearly deserted, and the kids got to ride their favorite coasters over and over, while the parents huddled indoors trying to stay warm. I understand completely why Disneyland is in southern California now. Speeding a long a roller coaster is much more fun 0n a balmy 68* November night than it is on a bone-chilling 37* Maryland night. But the kids didn’t mind.


But I’ve skipped over the dishwasher blowing up. It really did. Willy proclaiming, while we stood in the early morning kitchen, “Burning plastic! Burning plastic!!” as the acrid smell flooded the kitchen was the first clue. I thought something was caught inside on the heating element, and pulled the door open. Usually the dishwasher stops when one does that, right? There was the second clue something was terribly wrong- the water jets just kept spinning, spraying water everywhere, while black smoke poured from the little vents on the side of the door. “Kill the switch!” Willy said to a confused me, “What switch??!” Jon came running downstairs and burst into the guest room, where the fusebox is located, and where part of his family were still sound asleep, and ripped open the breaker to kill the power. A lovely way to wake up. So our Christmas present to ourselves was a new dishwasher!

There’s a story in here, too, about how the first one Lowes delivered was actually bent, and how I spent a couple of hours trying to level something that was inherently unlevel-able, and the vindication I felt when I realized my dishwasher-instalation skills were not actually at-fault, and Lowes brought us a nice, perfectly un-bent replacement dishwasher, and that meant I had to un-install the first one and install the new one. But that’s just me bragging about being a FREAKING PRO AT INSTALLING DISHWASHERS NOW. So all I’m saying is if you have a dishwasher that needs installing, including hardwiring, I’m your woman. I got it down cold.

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There Was A Cake…

There was a cake. The intention behind the cake was good, pure, and kind. My niece was coming with her family for Thanksgiving, and her sixth birthday falls on or near Thanksgiving each year. My own grandma’s birthday was always circled by the holiday, and I know she sometimes felt lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, my intent was to ignore all Thanksgiving, and create a pink birthday suitable for a 6 year-old. Thanksgiving could take over the next day, but prior, everything would be pink, darlings!

The best of intentions, eh? I mean, the decorations were fine- the pink fluffy unicorn stuffed animal taking up most of the table was perfect, the plates, cups, cutlery, straws, all in shades of bismuth. I,  carefully made the cake into six layers of rainbow, whipped up a batch of Mom’s buttercream, and layered that baby up on my favorite cake stand.

Using a star piping tip, I covered the cake in pink roses, and was putting the finishing touches on the trip around the bottom edge, when the ENTIRE CAKE TUMBLED FROM THE CAKE STAND, face down, onto the My Little Pony pink plastic tablecloth.

I gasped terrible enough that all my family ran into the dining room where I was working- and then they stood there, paralyzed, looking in horror at the mess. (what a great symbol for November as a whole, right?) I wanted to cry, but my brain was also simultaneously whirring as the silence broke and we all started laughing. There was nothing else to do.

Jeffrey got me the pizza-peel and we managed to flip it back over, scrape all he icing off, and make up batch #2. I used the first batch as a sort of spackle to stick all the layers and crumbling chunks back together. It wouldn’t be pretty when we cut into it, but I could probably salvage it- family was due later that night, and I didn’t want my niece to walk in to this monstrosity.

Two two cake mixes, four points of sugar, four sticks of butter (and I didn’t even swear, which is a miracle. Swearing is my comfort food) we had a repaired and serviceable cake.

She never knew.


New York, New York

In our quest for more experiences and fewer things, we packed the kids up the first week of November, and headed off to New York City. Other than our trip to see Hamilton back in May, I had never been to NYC, either- I’m not sure the five hours in May counted as an actual visit. Jon’s sister and her husband met us there for three days of city exploring and fun, and it ended up being a pretty much perfect family trip.img_8674The drive from DC to NYC is only a few hours, and even Bean can manage that. We were able to leverage a great room in Midtown, where we not only had space (miraculous in Manhattan!) but the free Marriott breakfast buffet was included every morning. We figure we saved about $300 on breakfast alone, so totally worth it.

The first NYC Miracle was this:

img_8684Jeffrey immediately discovered the $1 pizza slices- Kelsey had been to NYC several times and was showing him the ropes. Our first foray, while we waited for Jon to return from parking the car, was the to the pizza stand on 6th and 39th. As I ordered slices for the other kids, Bean looked quizzically at me, and said, “Where’s mine?” Maintaining a calm facade, while freaking out and cheering inside, I slid another dollar towards the pizza man and asked for another slice of cheese. Pizza man, if he noticed me, might have been wondering why I was tearing up over his cheap pizza.

Having Bean in the city had me a little worried; how would he respond to the crowds of people, the smells, the noise? We’d talked about it, and part of why we got a midtown hotel was in case he needed to withdraw— it would have been easy for me to get him there, while letting everyone else go about their fun. Turns out it was all worries over nothing. He loved the city. He ate new food, he never wandered off, he communicated well, he seemed to just thrive on the energy- it was a complete, pleasant, surprise.

Jon met us back at the hotel, and after marveling at the views, we headed to Times Square. I wanted the kids to see it first in the dark, in all its flamboyant, garish, glory. They were not disappointed, and we walked through the throngs of people, laughing and with great smiles on everyone’s faces. Pro Tip: Dressing Bean in very loud clothing helps keep track of him—evidence to follow.img_8702Then, of course, we made our way to Hamilton, right as the night’s performance was getting under way. These kids, like a bajillion others, enter the lottery as often as possible, in hopes of someday getting a golden ticket. Someday it will happen!img_8701On Day Two, Bean donned what he named The Party Suit. Makes it very easy to keep track of him, honestly. We made massive use of the Marriott breakfast buffet, and headed out for our first NYC subway ride.

We headed down to see the September 11 Memorial. That was somber and more powerful than I anticipated; I knew it would be emotional, I just wasn’t quite prepared for how. I found the name of James V. DeBlasse, the man whom I wrote about in the 2996 Project, and stood still for a bit, thinking about that day. Three of our five kids weren’t even born yet, and none of them really remember a world before then.img_8724It’s a short walk from there to Trinity Church, where we were able to visit Alexander and Eliza Hamilton’s graves, and marvel at how many other people come to see them now. We found Angelica and Hercules, too, and then spent some time in the gorgeous sanctuary, where the kids lit a candle for David. It was a lovely pause in the middle of an exciting day.

Leaving the church, we made our way down Wall Street, visited General Washington, and headed towards the Battery. If you’re a #Hamilfan, you’re already singing all the same songs we did on our walk. The weather was sublime for November, and the skies were crystal blue and clear, with only a soft breeze. We didn’t need coats, and were fine in light sweaters. It was perfect.

Catching the Staten Island Ferry is a great way to get close to the Statue of Liberty, but keeping it affordable for a big family- we couldn’t get off, but for free, eight of us got to ride the ferry, see Lady Liberty, take our pictures, and everyone was happy. The ferry was easily Bean’s favorite part, but Abby was disgruntled because there were tall people in front of her- a fact she neglected to tell us until we’d disembarked. I think she still had fun anyway.

By the time darkness (such as it is in the city) settled in, everyone was pretty tired and ready for a break. We headed back to the room and ordered pizza, which for the first time ever, made EVERYONE happy! How great is it to feed all your kids the same food??!

Day Three, Jeffrey declared at the Breakfast Buffet that he was defeated. He was finally full, and the Marriott had won. Jon and I fist-bumped and marked the day.img_8776Much to our delight, Kelsey and I found a flea market on our blocked-off street, and we hurried down in search of souvenirs and treasures. It went on for blocks and blocks- food, vendors, crafts, junk, it was so amazing and fun. We wandered around until everyone was ready to head uptown. It was much colder than the day before, so cute scarves were in order, and easy to find. Everything is pretty much easy to find in NYC, right?img_8814

We headed uptown, towards the park, only to be stymied by the New York Marathon and the throngs of humans there, cheering on the runners. On Jeffrey’s food-bucket-list was a pastrami sandwich from Carnegie deli. Since no one else wanted one, we insisted he get it to go, and we wandered off to Rockefeller Center, where Bean desperately wanted to go ice skating, and Kelsey was her amiable self, happy sharing a piece of cheesecake with Abby.


Our last stop was Grand Central Station, before we had to say goodbye to family and head our separate ways. Everyone was tired (according to the fitbit, we’d walked more than 23 miles in three days) but everyone was also happy. This is the first family vacation we’ve taken where there was no stress, no conflict, everyone got along beautifully, and everyone really had a great time. It’s so much easier to do this now that they’re older, and this just makes me even more determined to swap out stuff for experience. They are all still talking about what a great time they had, but have already forgotten the Lego they bought at 30 Rock. It’s pretty clear we have a plan for the future now.



Okay, campers, rise and shine and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cold out there today!

Well, it’s December 1st. So how about that November, eh? I half expected to wakeup this morning and have it be November 1st again, and we’d get to Groundhog Day the whole month until we got it right. What a piece of nightmarish grace that would be, eh?

Mostly, I am trying to hold still, breathe, listen and pay attention to the things that actually matter, and not the twittery, shiny-bits meant to distract thoughtful folks from anything meaningful. Like so many Americans, I am trying to figure out what the new temperature is, and even though it’s not a season I chose or wanted, I can adjust, I can raise my voice, I can disallow my own silence, I can examine my dis/comfort (both of which are revealing).

We’ve had some good talks with the kids about our Republic, about the democratic process, the vital importance of voting, rule of law, and fact-checking. We’ve circled around to revisit well-known topics like bullying, standing up for one’s beliefs, being respectful to those who are different, but being courageous when called upon to stand. The biggest change is our complacency. I am guilty being certain in the arc of justice, and of not doing my part assure that truth. We are now actively seeking ways to volunteer in our community, to be involved, not just as a nice thing to say or at the holidays, but in a for-reals, boots-on-the-ground way. I don’t know yet where those steps will take us, but I’m doing it anyway.

I’m going to circle back around to a position of trying to say “yes” more often to experiences in my life. It’s so easy to allow gravity to do its work, keeping us in place. Even for things that would be enjoyable- but I remind myself, I am *always* glad when I break my own gravity and say yes to something new.

So for December, aside from living a sort-of normal life and enjoying the holidays, I’m going to pick back up on the memoir writing challenge, I’m going to write about New Orleans and New York City, where I have become enchanted, like so many better writers before me. I’m dialing back on physical Christmas gifts, and focusing on experiences and *doing* rather than *stuff*.

Some bullet points for my posterity on the last few weeks, and notes for forthcoming posts:

  • We should have know the Cubs winning the World Series would usher in Biff.
  • We started out the month in New York City, where we met Jon’s sister and her husband, and took the kids for the first time. We geeked out at Hamilton (didn’t get in, of course), visited Trinity Church, the Battery, and the NYPL. We walked nearly 30 miles in three days, ate cheap street pizza, rode the Staten Island Ferry, rode the subway, ate more cheap street pizza, watched the skaters at 30 Rock, waited in line for a ridiculous pastrami sandwich of Jeffrey’s dreams, and introduced the world to Bean’s Party Suit. It was magnificent, and we can’t wait to make it a family tradition.
  • The night before the election, we watched a film on women’s suffrage, and the girls wore white and accompanied me to vote. Regardless of the outcome, this was an outstanding lesson in civic duty and history.
  • I’m proud of the artists and poets and creative ones who are finding ways to use their art—as ever—to make the world safer, brighter, and better. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
  • I started stress-knitting after the election, and I think I have 30 socks now. Upside, right? Stress knitting > stress eating, at the very least.
  • The dog… oh how the dog has been loved this month. Everyone wants him to lay on their feet, and he follows me from room to room. I never expected to love him so much.
  • Birthdays were celebrated by my dad, my brother, Auntie Heather, and my adorable niece- and there was a colossal birthday cake debacle, of which there are pictures.
  • Penzey’s Spices, already my culinary accompaniment of choice, further solidified their bonafides in my kitchen. I will be loyal forever.
  • For Thanksgiving we were overflowing with family, and it was wonderful.
  • All twelves of us went to see Moana, and I cried at least three times, and will write down my complicated thoughts at some point. But L-MM’s voice though… seriously.
  • Christmas Tree Day was honored and the halls were decked- it was chaos, and I had a mea culpa moment with Jon, after I insisted on a life tree, then chose poorly. Have to put up a Christmas tree on day, only to take it down a day later and replace it with another? I have!
  • To wrap the month, and in keeping with our quest for experience over stuff, we used airline miles for me to accompany Jon on a work trip to New Orleans. It’s been on my list for decades, literally, and I have been walking the streets in amazement. I shall return and report shortly.