Dinner Again?

It has come to my attention that dinner is to be served every evening.  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  More to the point, I am supposed to be involved in this process.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love dinner.  In fact, it is my general feeling that this is the point in the evening where you can relax, undo your top button, and be social.  We eat at exactly 7… except when we don’t.  Because of hockey or whatever.  Anyway, everything before 6:59pm is supposed to be the scampering about: school, twins’ various activities, my work, homework for the older kids, and then quick clean up the house. 7 is magic. It’s the deadline – all over.

 I also enjoy food.  I like the taste.  The feelings.  I like artful arrangement on the plate and ‘fresh from the garden’ because then I get a bought-local puritanical glow. I like to eat what’s in season and splurge on Ocean-caught Salmon.  A flower arrangement in the middle of the table is nice, but not required.  In short, for me dinner is an event.

And yet, not everyone in my family has gotten on board and so I am at turns a martyr (do you know how much time I spent cooking!), shocked (you don’t appreciate the coconut milk in the rice!), angry (how many times must I tell you to remain seated during THE ENTIRE meal!), dispirited (whatever – do what you want) and combative (yes, I poured you milk for your drink.  Girls need calcium.  I did it for YOU.  Go ahead and leave it in your glass and continue glaring at me.)

So, this week I treated myself to ordered meals from ‘Let’s Dish.’  For those who don’t know, it’s a prepared dinner service equivalent to a box of wine.  That sounds demeaning, but it’s not.  I used to go with my friend Serra and we talked and made the dishes, but now I live too far away.  Instead, I look at the posted menu and select dishes for an employee to make and then I go pick them up. More expensive than doing it myself, but less expensive than a restaurant.  Meals are adequate to good and certainly convenient.  Best of all, if my family complains I can just shrug.  I didn’t make it!

I should note, one of the reasons I thought of this was because I received an e-mail coupon.  You know that by the time I got around to using it, it had expired, right?

Purple Heart Pick-up

Notice came in the mail the other day – Purple Heart will be in your area…yada yada.  I am a regular stop because I LOVE putting out bags of clothing.  Last time the little red RadioFlyer wagon went and so did the teddy bear and Winnie-the-Pooh latch hooks I made and then Mike framed.  I imagine that they will be hung in some nursery where a baby can pluck at the soft little yarn pieces instead of stashed in the back of my older children’s closets, an embarrassing reminder of what they used to have on their walls.

                Lots of reasons to give to Purple Heart: to support military families, because they pick up right at my curb, because it keeps unused clothing from stacking up at my house.   There’s also a fairly obvious psychological/childhood reason I stalk through the house and gather up items for donation every two months.  Five children in a three-bedroom house.  My two older sisters and I were moved to the basement – a dark place with items stacked up to the ceiling in some spots and in from the walls in others so that only a walkway was clear to the laundry section.  Paintings, those beach scenes you buy in Ocean City, propped against a basement wall – supposed investment where you buy a ‘lot’ of paintings for a discount price and then sell each one for profit.  But none ever got sold.  Next to the paintings a duffel bag of clothes that needed to be sewn, patched, or a button replaced.  Covered in dust and forgotten.  My father did pull the duffel bag upstairs once, set up the sewing machine and got to work.  He fixed one of my favorite skirts, a peach ruffle-ly flowered affair.  Too bad it didn’t fit anymore.  A ping pong table unplayable because of the blue boxes of Amway detergent sitting on top and remote control airplanes underneath.  Not the cute kind, the six-feet kind.   A couple Rainbow vacuum cleaners stashed around, victims, like my father, of a pyramid scheme.  How I’d hated when he’d made me call my school acquaintances, get their parents on the phone, then ‘drop by’ to discuss vacuums.  Me along for the ride to keep it all a friendly chat, barely able to swallow through my embarrassment, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

Upstairs stacks of mail sat in the bedroom, piles of pizza boxes by the fire place.  Like college furniture.  Fuel for the fireplace my parents said.  What’s the problem?  There are fifteen to twenty greasy, crumb-filled boxes sitting in our living room.  That’s the problem.

                So, it makes sense that in reaction I keep my house organized and neat, to a point that some of my friends mutter ’OCD’ under their breath.  Even so, we still have TOO MUCH, but I try to pass things along, keep them moving, keep my house light and airy. Not so easy with seven people living here, but we do alright. 

                There’s another reason, though, a spiritual reason.  People hold on to things because of fear.  You never know when you’re going to need it.  What if this becomes valuable.  Maybe I’ll find the other sock to make the pair.  I’ll keep it for the grandkids.  What if I run out of money and only the broken lawnmower I have in the carport will save me from a life of destitution.  It could be an antique…one day.

                I’m not judging, I can only do what is right for me.   Right now, that means letting go of the ‘what-if’ fear and finding joy in donating clothes, books, toys and imagining those things being used by someone else.  Grabbing onto faith that what we need will be supplied by my Heavenly Father.

Unsure

Quote: “It’s bold and interesting.”  Tom Jenks (editor of Narrative Magazine in reference to my novel-in-progress). 

Wouldn’t it be exciting to say I will be jetting off to San Francisco by myself in May for a five- day workshop with TOM JENKS?  Luggage would be twenty pages of my current manuscript and the &%^ short story about my runaway au pair that has turned into my personal albatross, a black cashmere sweater and a pencil skirt.

I did talk to Tom Jenks on the phone.  The man who has edited “America’s Best Short Stories” and worked with crazy famous authors like Joyce Carol Oates.   I’m going to keeping saying his name for the rest of this entry, so you can stop rolling your eyes.  I texted my sister Tammy about five times before the schedule call with the countdown clock numbers.  I thought I was going to have a heart attack.  We talked for twenty-nine minutes.  He gave me feedback on the story, offered suggestions, told me the first pages of my current project were bold and interesting.  Then he discussed the price of the class, the reading list, and what the work load would entail.  He also said he could help me fix the technique problems he’d noted — I’m too visual and need a stronger narrative framework to contain my images.  Sounded fantastic and wonderful and decadent — like I could call myself an ‘artiste’ with a capital ‘A’ if I grabbed this opportunity.

Lot of negative thoughts: what if that is steroid week for Evelyn – no one else can handle the medications of steroid week but me.  Even normal weeks of giving chemo is a lot to turn over to someone else.  And, Who?  And who is going to keep the household running.  Mabye acceptance was only for the tuition money, not because I’m any good.  Too much money and too far away. What would I really get out of it.  Would I turn into that mom who went to Japan and never came back, leaving her two young sons behind in exchange for a New York Times best seller? 

Or, maybe it would have been as wonderful as I’d imagined and my writing would have gone up to the next level, I would have finished my novel in progress, my short story would have been accepted before I’d even left California, someone would have thrown around terms like “Pushcart prize” and “O. Henry” and I’d start wearing a beret.

Probably would have been somewhere in between those extremes.  I moped for a bit, sulked, did some “if he’d REALLY liked my sample pages, he could have called or e-mailed me.”  Which most people would probably consider stalker-ish, but in my world just means you care. 

Moving on. My friend May sent me a list of workshops that are closer, tuition more reasonable, dates more flexible.  I’ll be working on the admission packet in the next few weeks.  I also wrote down the books on TOM JENKS’ reading list and will be checking them out of the library.  Finally, I have his suggestions for that stupid au pair story. Still don’t know if I made the right decision, but I’m including this entry because I did, after all, talk to a recognized member of the elite literary establishment.  For 29 minutes.