Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween in Dunwoody

If you aren't heading home from work by 3, you'll need two hours to navigate the gridlock.

If you haven't bought at least 100 pieces of candy, you'll run out in the first hour.

If you need to traverse Mt. Vernon Road between Abernathy/Ashford-Dunwoody and Happy Hollow/Winter's Chapel Road . . . good luck. 

If your tween has a sleepover guest tonight, it's going to be a loooooonnnnngggg time  until bedtime.

If your teen has decided he's too old for trick-or-treating, he may regret his now too-cool and too-old status when little sis comes home with a bulging sack.

If you pay attention, you'll realize that you're saying "say 'thank you'" to your child and "thank you" for your child a kazillion times tonight.

If your child wants the maximum candy payload per street ratio, just about any neighborhood in Dunwoody will scratch that itch. So chances are, your child can range within a half-hour radius of your house and amass all the sweet goodness essential to the holiday.

Happy Halloween!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

AP World History Has Taken Over Our Lives

I have a  pragmatic appreciation of the correlation between effort and achievement. Increasingly complex and demanding homework through the high school years, then through college has always made perfect sense.  Advanced learning, whether academic, work-related, or craft, has always begun with a sense of climbing up a mountain, culminating in exhilaration at the summit.

Until my son took AP World History.

This isn't just his class. It's our entire family's commitment. Because poor A is chained to his homework load seven days a week, up to 4 hours a day. We can't travel on weekends. We can't enjoy a spontaneous diversion during the week.  There can be no must-see television or movies. We don't dare linger at church, and Youth Group is hit-or-miss, depending on how productive he's been during the afternoon. Scouts? Maybe he can join the Troop for the business portion of the meeting, but forget the fun stuff.  

There are charts to complete, vast sums of pages to read and outline, study guides to review, and unit tests to prepare for long in advance. This year-long course, once daily, is now every-other-day, shared with World Literature. So the students have half the time in class and double the homework to make up for it. Of course, there are also four other classes in his block to cover: World Literature, Algebra II, Latin II, and Nutrition. So that homework has to get squeezed in there somehow.

Bedtime is usually midnight and he has to be up again by 6:15 to get ready for the next school day.  

For A, knowing that AP World History is modeled after college classes is somewhat off-putting. "Mom, I don't think I can do college. This is just ONE class." 

It's hard to know the answers he needs and keep my lips zipped. I'll hear him muttering about Confucious and his motivation or Byzantine migration routes and have to will him to find the right answer. Eventually he does, but it's painfully slow.

Sigh.  Just eight months until the AP World History exam.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sustainable brainstorming

The amazing duo of Pattie (Sustainable Dunwoody blog maven) and Tracy (she of the chickens and triplets and urban homestead lifestyle) came to Dunwoody Nature Center to discuss Sustainability opportunities here in our newborn city. We're very excited - certainly Sustainability fits in with our mission of preserving and protecting Dunwoody Park and providing environmental education to the community. I loved brainstorming with them and Claire, our fearless leader, was very receptive to their ideas. Time will tell, but I hope to be a part of this engaging concept for Dunwoody.

It's a slippery slope to focus on the big picture/philosophical mode rather than the here-and-now reality of living pragmatically.  I appreciate the long-term benefits of growing our own food and reducing our dependency on imports and their tangential cost in terms of fossil fuels and quality, but I need to know HOW and WHAT to plant right now. I value the reduce-recycle-reuse concept but I need better recycling options than the paltry blue box DeKalb County offers (hello - Gwinnett County has gone to the mega-bin recycling/garbage cans with robo trucks picking each up every week).  I want to walk to more places, but I must have more time to do it in the midst of work, school, and social commitments. 

A Sustainable Dunwoody is a delightful and essential concept for our community. Let's make it a reality!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's kinda fuzzy

If you have one of those amazing memories filled with important things like the actual DAY you joined your church, graduated from college, met your husband . . . as well as your first telephone number, the address of the first place you lived after college, or dorm room number: wow.

I'm not that person.

Facts kind of float away from me as time passes, making room for the here and now. I can't remember the street we lived on (well, we lived on 13 different streets as we moved from air base to air base), the names of the neighbors in Kirkwood (our first house as newly marrieds) my children's preschool teachers' names (unless I check their scrapbooks). I forget names, volunteer jobs, the ways and means of fundraising campaigns I've led, and so many other details of my life.

It's not that I don't care. I have a dozen scrapbooks that prove otherwise. It's just that my brain is FULL.

There are so many details to tend to in the present that I've had to tuck away the past into some synaptic files that are gathering dust with each passing year. 

Which brings me to this morning. We were gathered at church over a tasty luncheon sharing our beginnings as a get-to-know-you activity. Memories I thought were well out of mind came quickly to the forefront as we shared backstories about first impressions and why we finally chose to join St. Luke's. I was quite happy that details were right there when I needed them.

So I'm feeling better about hazy history. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Knitting in nature

It's amazing how many people drive down Roberts and have no idea Dunwoody Nature Center exists. We get a steady stream of first-time visitors, who've lived in Dunwoody years, entire lives, and never stepped foot in the park.

Their reaction is always one of pleasure - surprise that "all this" is here in Dunwoody, amazement that it's a public park, wonder at all the programs and events they never knew about.

I had just opened the main building this morning and heard a rustle behind me in the classroom. A small chipmunk had slipped in and was looking earnestly for an exit. I slid open the screen door and out he shot. Down in the meadow, a red fox trotted over boulders and through a thicket. The air is crisp, red and gold leaves are starting to drift down from the trees above, and there's nothing to hear but birds and squirrels chattering about the coming cold weather.

Dunwoody Park is a lovely respite. I am so blessed to call it my office.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Food memories

I wasn't raised in the South, but I was raised Southern. As my born-and-bred parents traveled the U. S. and Okinawa via the United States Air Force, they carried with them the traditions and values of down-home North Carolina.

It wasn't easy to find Southern staples in Kansas and Okinawa, but they managed. I remember upside down pineapple cake, fried chicken livers, big pots of black-eyed peas flavored with bacon drippings, potato salad, homemade ice cream - food was comfort in strange places.

Then we finally landed back in North Carolina and my own Southern experience began. In rural Goldsboro, North Carolina, right outside Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, I discovered the amazing flavors of school cafeteria food. This wasn't the Sysco-delivered frozen fare my kids endure. It was fresh, from the farm, made from scratch by cafeteria ladies who'd been cooking for years and years.

I cleaned my tray every day.

I know the vegetables were amazing, and the fruit was never something in a syrup. I've never been able to recreate the homemade pizza and yeast rolls. What I really savor in my memory are the desserts.

  • Frothy marshmallowy white frosting on sheets of moist, dark chocolate cake.
  • Dense peanut butter bars covered with a thin super-sweet icing.
  • "Boiled cookies" mixing chocolate, oatmeal, and peanut butter for a no-cook dessert that was never plentiful enough.
  • Snickerdoodles as big as the palm of your hand.
The aroma of peanut butter bars is filling the Knitternall house and the kids are sniffing the air. I found the recipe in the AJC a while back and rediscovered that childhood flavor. I made a batch for the teachers and junior counselors during summer camp at Dunwoody Nature Center and have heard several ask if I'll make them again this summer (of course!).

I can't do a thing about the stock market, our investments, or the rising cost of everything we need. But I can bake.

Comfort food. Whether you're traveling far from home or the world around you is changing way too fast, comfort food can be a welcome respite.

Peanut Butter Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing: combine 2 cups confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup peanut butter and up to 1/2 cup evaporated milk to make a thin icing. Spread on bars right after baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 11x17 jelly roll pan. In a bowl, combine flour, oats, soda and salt. Set aside. With mixer, beat butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Add peanut butter. Gradually mix dry ingredients. Scrape down sides often. Mix in vanilla. Spread in pan. Bake 18-22 minutes or until edges just begin to turn golden. Do not overbake. Cut into squares while still warm, then let cool completely.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sometimes you just have to start over

Knitting is a metaphor for life.

  • If you knit something, and the yarn feels wrong, and keep on knitting, and discover you miscounted somewhere, and keep on knitting . . . stubbornness will not turn a series of mistakes into a right. You need to unravel, choose another yarn, and start over.
  • Sometimes people knit really ugly things. They love the scarf, shawl, hat, bag, etc. and bestow their gift to treasured family and friends. Think Aunt Bea and those horrible, nose-plugging, heartburn-inducing kerosene pickles. Wear the scarf, eat the pickles, and value the love behind the less-than-lovely results.
  • Many patterns look a lot better on paper than in reality. The same is true for candidates, laws, recipes, school curricula, franchises, mortgages, stocks, mutual funds, credit cards, and e-friends. Ask around and see what other people have said before you invest your time, talent, and money in a pretty picture.
  • If you don't take the time to knit a swatch, you shouldn't complain if your sweater ends up way too small (after spending weeks and weeks knitting it).  Trial runs and rough drafts almost always lead to something way better.
I just spent a week knitting a vest I really want, even though I knew at the outset that the yarn felt too rough, the sleeve design didn't work right, and the stitch count was inconsistent with the pattern. Finally, I took stock of what I was doing, and frogged the whole thing (rip it, rip it).  
I'm starting over. With a gauge swatch, the right yarn, a better understanding of the pattern, and more than a little humility. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Knitting in The Shack

It's a quick read. It comes with accolades from the pulpit, mainstream blogs, and friends. You already know the "punchline" long before you get to it. As well as the ending.

I read The Shack yesterday in carpool lines and during homework time. In the back of my mind was the personal situations of the people who had recommended it: I could understand its appeal to them.

Yet, to be honest, it didn't have the same emotional impact for me. Why? I think because of the very long and complex answers the Trinity gave Mack, the main character and representative for all of us who struggle with the "why's" of pain and fear. A few slaps against organized religion, some intellectual quotes from various theologians and writers, a careful sidestep from any specific denomination . . . The Shack tries very hard to build a personal connection with the Trinity without the strings attached by thousands of years of manmade traditions and rites. I had to re-read many paragraphs to "get the point" the author was trying to convey. And therein lies my lack of enthusiasm.

Faith isn't supposed to be complex. You can't really explain it. You can't define, quantify, qualify, or justify it. Faith just is. Sometimes it's deep. Sometimes it's tiptoeing across shifting sand. Always it's the real, indivisible connection between us and the Trinity. When I'm numb, it's there. When I'm tingly from a sense of rightness, it's there. When I'm hurt, it's there. When I'm furious at the unfairness of something, it's there. When I'm just not sure, it's there.

Faith is trust that God knows a whole lot more than we do and cares enough to make things right in the end. That when something awful happens - the death of a young mom by cancer or accident, the suicide of a grown child, the loss of a job or retirement fund, the devastation of adultery, the neverending fear of a chronic illness - God is with us, loving us, guiding us.

I don't mean to dismiss The Shack completely. It certainly creates healthy discussions about faith, trust, and self-determination. It's just not the panacea that enthusiasts have suggested.

God knows I'd like it to be. Who doesn't want the satisfying proof of a conversation with the Almighty?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Housewives get real

The cover story in the Living section of today's AJC presents a new television offering for our, ahem, entertainment. Real Housewives visits the purportedly "typical" Atlanta housewife, a species I have met, but do not enjoy. Self-important, narcissistic, over-the-top . . . there simply are not enough words to describe the featured cast.

How about a few REAL housewives?

Mary: career woman, leader in her church, willing to host any gathering in her home at a moment's notice, with her husband of many years raised two children who now have post-collegiate careers in mission and seminary studies.

Val: an extraordinarily creative woman who is fit, stylish, long married, close to her grown children, and still volunteering hours upon hours with the young children in her church.

Carol: caring wife, calm mother of a large brood that includes a grown child with lifelong medical challenges, imaginative preschool director, creative stylist of parties and interiors, and faithful friend.

Janna: runner, nurse, skilled at balancing high-demand career and the diverse needs of her family, volunteer at her children's schools, and on-call friend to her entire neighborhood.

Cathy: one-time child star and soap opera diva, now a seminarian, wife, mother, and friend. You should hear her sing!

Diane and Karen: friends for 25+ years, sharing the joys of mothering beautiful children, faithful marriages, longtime careers, quirks, happiness and deep pain, always there for each other.

Kitty: deeply faithful, taking an "it is what it is" approach to her husband's dementia and her own painful arthritis, yet still offering to knit squares for a prayer blanket because she's determined to contribute.
They're just a few of the "real housewives" I have the privilege to know, and each is far more entertaining than anything the television industry can toss into the digital mix.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Things to do when gas is not so much

At looooonnnnngggg last, the gas shortage has eased here in Atlanta. Dunwoody has gas, even the BP station, which has much more frequent outages than any other stations during normal times. Of course, it's way above four bucks a gallon, so it's a good news/bad news proposition.

Our Sunday School class discussion centered on the issue of simplicity, choosing what and who are important, passing on the unnecessary. Yes, we've grown technologically in the past 2,000+ years. We still haven't learned a thing. While Martha was cleaning up after feeding Jesus and his entourage (and in a mighty snit about having to do it all by herself), Mary was enjoying the visit. Guess who Jesus praised? Not the busy Martha.

So, despite the nerve-twisting and costly gas crisis, it did offer one silver lining: it forced us to slow down and think thrice about how and why we drove anywhere. Staying close to home was easy for us, because Dunwoody has all the basics right here in town. Groceries and a few things from the hardware store? Check - just three blocks from home. Pick up the kids after school? Check - a couple of miles away. Breakfast at Old Hickory House with T early Saturday morning? Easy. Church on Sunday? Right around the corner. Walking to the bank and post office, as well as work at Dunwoody Nature Center was a peaceful option. Our family is blessed by proximity.

And, because it was a slower week all around, I finished two prayer ministry projects (a shawl and a lapghan), cast on the Side-to-Side Garter Stitch Vest, and finished one Maine Morning Mitt. The compost pile for next spring's Square Foot Garden is coming along nicely, and I raked up a ton of acorns falling across the driveway and sideyard.