Monthly Archiv: April, 2014

Song of the Little Battalion



Yesterday was Palm Sunday. The bittersweet of love and death. The hope of deliverance and the painful roads we walk to get there.

Palm Sunday 2012, we carried a tiny box to church. I had miscarried 13 week old, Francis Xavier. He fit in the palm of my hand. I had spent the night on the couch, not wanting him and the box with the angels on the cover more than a foot from my head. We said prayers at church. The choir sang, “can a mother forget her baby, or a woman, the child within her womb.” Tears splashed my fingers as I played the piano.

Palm Sunday, 2013, we went to church hollow. The choir sang the same song. We had learned the day before that the baby who was healthy inside me at 9 weeks, was now dead, also at 13 weeks. My miscarriage of Baby Grace was a nightmare I try to forget. Nothing  beautiful except her and her name.

Sometimes the babies I have lost are far away, not somebodys as much as something that happened and I remember I was sad about it at the time. Other times, Grace and Francis especially, are so close we almost touch. Like I can see a tiny finger reaching out to mine and I put my finger out to meet it. Only the thinnest of cloudy glass barriers separates us. For tiny bits of time we see each other, albeit dimly from my end.

Leading up to Palm Sunday this year, I ached a bit. For the hope that was them. The reality that is me. A nameless grief sang softly. But a sweetness too. I sensed their love. Their prayers. My lost little ones are a secret army fighting unseen on my side. I feel them smiling, hoping for me this week. Little fingers poking out to lift my grumpy chin.

I forget that love is stronger than death. I panic regularly about losing the people I love. But they don’t seem to.

Somewhere in the heavens it was decreed one day, that for me, Palm Sunday would be everything it ever was and more. That it would hold something especially for me. Hidden. Quiet. But very, very real. A persistent cry of Love. Like the daffodils pushing up through ice cold mud, year after year.

Either way, it’s not the garments

Girl with Pigs, by Thomas Gainsborough. 1782.

Girl with Pigs, by Thomas Gainsborough. 1782.

From yesterday’s unbidden refrains in my head:


1. Rend your heart and not your garments. (Joel 2: 13)

2. Render your lard, and not your garments.


I sincerely apologize that I spent Thursday rendering lard. The first is more important advice, but the second is pretty good too.

Our home smells remarkably like boiling pig fat. It will be the business of Friday to reduce the weight of the air by begging as much outside air as possible to come in and change places.

It has been, “eat out of the freezer,” week here. The children were not amused, but they were fed. The goal is to have one of the freezers emptied before the hot weather gets here. Hence the need to stop procrastinating on the lard job.

All the thoughts of rendering . . . which my feeble mind mixed up with rending for most of the day, helped me to discover this quote from poet, Katherine Lee Bates (author of, “America the Beautiful”).

“It is the hour to rend thy chains, the blossom time of souls.”

The fat set aside for the project was procured a year ago, so Ms. Bates quote was immediately reenvisioned:

“It is the hour to render thy lard . . . the blossom time of spring.”

It was the job of half a day at least, back and forth to stir and ladle out what was ready. I estimate my end product valued in the neighborhood of $30.  I had to go to bed consoling myself with visions of the end of the world. My favorite picture was of me calmly searching the bodies of squirrels and rabbits for bits of fat we might boil down to be used. “Bet you wish you’d spent a day saving $30 once or twice, now don’t you?” I’d say to my marveling friends.

Poultry goings on

Successful jailbreak

The chicken egg eating problem has taken a turn for the better. Last summer Boy two was paid to park himself in the coop and catch the crook.  The offending bird was removed to chicken prison until her execution could be arranged. While there, she produced lovely eggs, which she did not eat. Meanwhile, inside the coop, eggs continued to be eaten. Boy two was sent back for free to be more vigilant. Soon we had two jail birds, both laying eggs they didn’t eat, and a coop full of chickens, also not eating eggs. After a few weeks, we returned the prisoners. Apparently jail time is a deterrent in poultry.

When egg eating resumed, a chicken, who may or may not have been one of the original felons was remanded to private custody. A few days later, a skunk dug under the fence of the prison and kidnapped her for consumption. We told the chickens what had happened, so the whole flock towed the line and things were ship shape. Somewhere in there we dealt with rats and started wondering if the chickens were all innocent – even the one in the belly of the skunk.

Winter came. Snow. Snow. Ice. Snow. Cold. Ice. Wind. Dark. The chickens stopped laying all but an egg or two a day, then started their way back up to normal production. A few weeks ago, someone started eating eggs again. It’s not just the wasted eggs that make me crazy, it’s the fact that the eggs we do get are covered in bits of hay glued on with egg yolk. A few days ago, I finally cracked (no pun intended, no egg yolk involved). Options were to try some of the many bits of available advice, or kill all the chickens. Both appealed, the first was more expedient.

Three part approach was as follows:  1. Added some extra protein to their diet. Their diet should be better than fine already, but just in case. 2. Put a golf ball in every spot they like to lay. Supposedly they get sore beaks pecking at the golf ball. I found that thought calming. 3. Blew out a raw egg and refilled it with mustard. Apparently they hate mustard. They go at the mustard egg and then are so turned off that they are not as keen about eating eggs.

Results:  Mustard egg was devoured in its entirety. No one has eaten an egg in two days. I am wondering what benefits their might be from feeding mustard eggs to children.

More on naked revelation


A Young Scholar, painted by Jean-Honore Fragonard. 1778.

I like to remember brave deeds. Grade six friends who forgot their bus notes could count on me to pen their permissions and sign their parent’s names. When the burly book keepers from a Jello Wrestling fundraiser tried to fudge the numbers, my 17 year old self was more than happy to take them to task while our math intimidated adult supervisor fretted. I am comfortable questioning immigration officials, security personnel, and government employees.

I don’t remember many instances where people described me as fearful. I remember more the feeling of being jostled forward with, “send Michelle, she’s not afraid,” in my ears. The day I grabbed my brother and kept him firmly between me and the growling dog, no one was there to see.  But No-Criticism-Lent (Reduced-Criticism Lent might be more accurate) isn’t lying. I am afraid.

I went into Lent thinking I needed it because I walked around with inappropriate levels of grumpiness about other people’s foibles. Considering fear in the equation is like realizing I’ve been navigating the kitchen with a paper bag on my head. My eyes are adjusting to the super bright. I’m still taking in the increased definition in shapes and the nuances of color.

It is amazing to me how the patterns we develop as children shape our adult responses. Sometimes when I think I am keeping my own children safe, I am really assuring the child I once was that she is safe. The insight doesn’t give me a pass on criticizing, it gives me the chance to do something about the fear that’s behind it.

Which is scary.

“Naked revelation,” I wrote yesterday, “I criticize because I am afraid. . . If no one messes up, everything will be ok, nothing will fall apart, and no one will get hurt.”  The statement implies that my criticism does not actually save me from what I am afraid of.  In other words, I realized that fear drives me, and then I realized my go-to coping mechanism is useless. My footing would be more sure on the melting ice floating around on our pond right now. I guess the best thing about having grey hair, is that you can feel all that slipping and wait it out. Wet boots, cold feet, soggy pants maybe, but you make it to something solid and go on in to get warm.

I’m afraid of things falling apart. I don’t have the power to make myself and everybody else do it right (so that bad things never happen). But it’s ok. The fear of the child who was me can be gently diffused. The future is uncertain and uncontrollable. Instead of tearing down the metaphorical neighbors who walk on my yard, I can lean into loving them. It will be a work in progress, but if the world starts crumbling on account of it, maybe we can face it together.

Naked revelation


It is still Lent. For two more weeks I am attending to the business of not criticizing, forgetting to attend to it, refusing to attend to it, and again attending to it. I expected my attempts would make a nice Lent for others. (I have longed to point out the rudeness of not thanking me for the blessings of my sacrifice, but I withheld the criticism.) At times, I have taken myself down off the ledge by thoughts of a list. Perhaps, I have told myself, if I had a tiny notebook, I could quickly note unspoken irritations. I imagine Easter morning, arising notebook in hand, to toddle down and mark at long last on a poster.

Coffee container lid left off: 12

Coffee grinds on counter: 29

Cupboard doors open: 231

Outdoor voice in church: 2


Laughing at myself has so far prevented the move to record keeping. When the notebook idea fails me, I imagine exercises to commit the crimes to memory. It would be, I tell myself, rather like memorizing Bible verses, but slightly different. A liturgy of infractions one could sing softly at intervals.

If I’m not mistaken, Lent is a little longer than usual this year. I’ve had time to analyze. Misdeeds are occurring at the usual rates; my silence has not impacted them for better or worse. The usual pattern of things has held. There are days virtually free of transgression, and there are days on which felonies are committed so closely together as to appear continuous.

But some things are different. No-criticism Lent is making itself known, despite imperfect execution. The house is more peaceful. I am more peaceful. At the moment I hold my tongue, chewing banana peels would be preferable, but later, even minutes later, the world has not ended and I can smile again.

My speech diet is helping my eyes. I notice unfinished projects, but keeping my mouth shut is buying me enough time to see the good intentions waylaid by interruption. I feel more grateful, more patient, less irritated.

On the bad days most of this is thrown in the garbage while I go back and live like I’m used to. This is the mystery I have wondered about the most. If withholding criticism and practicing generosity of spirit yields such positive results – which for me it does – why do anything else ever again? Why even want to?

Maybe everyone has known the answers to those questions since they were five. I realized the answer while I was driving last week. It was the kind of thing that made me want to stop the car and sit with my thoughts, but the stopping part wasn’t possible. I used my kilometers to think.

Naked revelation: I criticize because I am afraid. If we don’t get it right, we get it wrong. When you get it wrong, bad things happen. If no one messes up, everything will be ok, nothing will fall apart, no one will get hurt.


More on this tomorrow. :)


The failure of success

file1761306949777A friend of mine was once taken with a motivational speaker. The enthusiasm and accompanying propaganda was overwhelming. To silence the onslaught, I agreed to read a book. The message was that success, as measured by making more money, was an achievable goal/sacred duty. Bullet points followed for execution, the result of which would save you and your children from being like them (the mediocre lovers/unsuccessful) and make you one of the great (who followed the bullet points to their destiny of success).

I hated the book. I considered burning it, except it would have caused my friend to buy another. Clarity is easy when it’s someone else’s words on a page.

I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school class. No one was picturing me as mistress of the laundry, master pot scrubber (cooking and other), professional child transporter, duchess of the schedules, former teacher, former secretary, former (you get the idea), and aspiring writer. By most measures, we would have to admit, the voters got it wrong. I have failed to reach the bars one envisions for “the most likely to succeed.”

I am happy. I am doing what I want to do (excepting the part where the publishers fall over themselves trying to buy my work). Frequently, I am so content with my lot in life that I feel waves of guilt not to be enmeshed in more miserable circumstances.

And yet.

Often, I worry I am failing in some important way. I trust myself as a parent/writer/person until I don’t. I’m one of those that holds with God’s promise to allow only as much as we can handle. Anything facing me ought by virtue of its presence give me confidence that I am equal to the task. But often it doesn’t.

A woman I deeply respect wrote yesterday about the rough stretch of road she’s travelling. I was proud of her. I  empathized with her worries of failure and feelings of falling short, but she was struggling, not failing. Courage and love she couldn’t see, poured out of her heart and words.

A few day earlier, another rejection letter on one of my book projects came. Another failure, I felt. So very discouraging, and I may never get it right. Admiring my friend’s unsung walk to help her daughter, has screwed my head on straight again.

Hilaire Beloc, once wrote: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said, his sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”  I’d love to be like Beloc (having my books read and all) but I’d also like to be like my friend. I have no intention of giving up on the books front. But if I can only have one dream or the other, I’ll take the love/courage option and let all the words flitter flutter away like grass. I’ll be who I think I should be and let the chips fall where they may.

With a thousand thanks to my courageous friend of the lonely road.

Signs of spring

Remains of snowman

Remains of snowman


I'm thinking they won't work for next year

I’m thinking they won’t work for next year


Successful jailbreak

Successful jailbreak


Mud pie time (with chatter about the recipe that doesn't show up in a picture. )

Mud pie time (with chatter about the recipe that doesn’t show up in a picture. )


And lastly . . . badminton.  Badminton has been going on in our garage for three or four weeks now. Although the boys have played until well after dark on the weekends and filled many other hours with their new sport, I have never gone to see the game.  I could not imagine a version of badminton in my garage that would elicit anything from me other than, no. Stop. Now.  Looking the other way seemed the kindest policy, so I haven’t gone.

Yesterday, I saw my first robin. Others saw them earlier in the week, but today was my first. Spring is here. If badminton ends, nobody will die, so finally, I went to see for myself.

The court: look for yellow pole from extended paint roller, stretched from fort in progress across to the shelves for storage tubs.

The court: yellow pole from extended paint roller, stretched from fort in progress across to the shelves for storage tubs, serves as  the net.


Points are had by hitting the birdie into one of two plastic tubs at the end. Extra points I am told are had by setting off the mouse traps, one in each side corner. Only one tooth has been lost so far to injury by frozen puck. One hopes with the rising temperatures that the game will be almost safe. :)

Points are had by hitting the birdie into one of two plastic tubs at the end. Extra points I am told are had by setting off the mouse traps, one in each side corner. Only one tooth has been lost so far to injury by frozen puck. One hopes with the rising temperatures that the game will be almost safe. :)







Growing a voice

Young Girl Wearing a White Muslin Dress. By John Singer Sargent, 1885.

Young Girl Wearing a White Muslin Dress. By John Singer Sargent, 1885.

I picked Girl one up from school in tears. What was wrong? I asked.

“I like to sing. None of my friends like it when I sing. I hum a lot when I work. My friends tell me to stop. I like to sing but Boy two hates it. He tells me to stop any time he hears me. Even the teachers are telling me to stop.

I love to sing, but now I have to stop doing it.”

The words came with intermittent sobs and much sniffling.

I just don’t want to stop singing,” she whispered through more tears.

Whatever the facts from the others involved, Girl one was in pain. What to say, I wondered. I believe in the importance of voices. Finding them, using them, celebrating them. I also like to work in silence. No sound (unless it is happening live in nature) is my idea of perfect working space.

When Girl one was two and three she would talk non-stop, especially in the car, no audience required. If she wasn’t talking, she was singing, making up ballads that told all kinds of stories. Now that she is older, she writes some of her songs down. On scraps of paper. In torn up notebooks. We don’t have them all collected. If I could find one, I’d count it a triumph, but I’ve seen a few. Little verses with chorus. At eight, Girl one has a beautiful voice. Other people have noticed it too.

What to do?

I told Girl one about my working habits. How, unlike Daddy, I NEVER listen to music if I writing, or thinking, even though I really, really love music. And how her friends might be like that too. Being asked to be quiet, I suggested, is not the same thing as people hating your voice. Whatever the answer is, it is not to stop singing. The answer is to know when to sing.

We like to read together, what if we start looking for times to sing together? Learn new songs? I have a few minutes right now if you’re interested, I said.

Girl one’s eyebrows touched the top of her head and pulled the rest of her up on tiptoes. I thought she might pirouette.  “I would love that,” she managed. We went to the piano and got out my music. We sang one she knew and worked on two others. I sang the verses with her but let her have the choruses to herself. She poured on her vibrato whenever possible. Fifteen minutes later, I had to get back to dinner. She walked away with little spins.  Her toothless smile began at the torn out- earring- redesigned ear, and didn’t seem quite finished when it hit the other side. “Thanks a lot, Mom,” she said coming back for a hug.

To bee or not to bee

file000817686898To bee or not to bee; that is the question. We are thinking about getting bees again. Not because we are managing our current farm responsibilities with precision and ease, but bees are just so amazing. (And we really like honey.) 5 apple trees and bees. Doesn’t that sound like a nice improvement for the farm this year? This was all scratching away inside me when I found out about a bee seminar and read an article by a friend and master gardener, Margaret Rose Realy, within twenty-four hours of each other.

“A decade ago the fruit set was about a third more than it is today. Extra plants are needed to get the same amount of food. The issue is not with the cultivars, and the problem is pretty straight forward—no bees.

And no bees, no food.

It doesn’t matter if you’re growing in containers on a patio or running a multi-million dollar farm. Without pollinators—I’m talking about insects—fertilization and fruitfulness doesn’t happen. No apples or oranges, no cucumbers or tomatoes,”  she writes.


Read the whole thing here:  and find out what you can do to help bees (oh, and plants, animals, and humans, too) when you’re heading out to buy plants this spring.

And while your at it, pray that all the buzzing in our heads here on County Road 21 yields sweet results, in the form of either honey or infusions of common sense about the matter of bees. It’s too soon to say if we’ll try it, much less if we’ll like it, but one thing is for sure. Reading about it is very interesting.

In memoriam


Scooter with Anabelle

Scooter with Anabelle. Laughter with sorrow. Sometimes odd things go together.

We got Scooter the week we moved to County Road 21 four years ago. Everybody got along with Scooter. Before Anabelle came and befriended him, Scooter slept with the pigs. I discovered this one morning out checking on the pigs after a particularly cold night. I shoved at their combined black masses (or minus the M, as you wish) and they grunted to their feet. Younger ones first, and then at last our amazing sow, Oregano. Tucked up in the corner, having recently been kept warm by a few hundred pounds of pig was Scooter.

Scooter napped in cribs of hay, burying himself a foot or so down into the warmness, but his favourite spot, summer or winter, was outside in the fields, sunning himself on Anabelle’s back. Scooter died this weekend. Boy one found him curled up in the sheep’s hay. It was a sad surprise for everyone. We worried about Boy two, Scooter’s most ardent admirer. He was teary, but ok.

The husband and I wondered quietly what to do with a dead cat while winter is very much still with us. Cremation was the only viable choice but I worried whether or not the kids could handle the idea. My first attempt at discussion led to an unexpected sidetrack.

So, I said, Dad and I have been talking about what to do with Scooter.

Oh, we already have it figured out, said Boy one.

You do?

Yeah, said Boy two.

Either we can bury Scooter in the pasture outside Anabelle’s stall, said Boy one.

Or, we have another idea, said Boy two, eye’s still glistening.

We can’t really bury Scooter outside Anabelle’s stall, I said. (Or anywhere, I didn’t add) The ground is too frozen. Even digging three inches would take a long time.

That’s ok, said Boy one.

Yeah, said Boy two. We like the other idea better.

So what’s your other plan?

We want to bury Scooter above Anabelle’s stall.

I think I’m missing something. How would we “bury” Scooter in the air over Anabelle’s stall?

Ok, we wouldn’t “bury” her. I don’t know what word you use, said Boy one.

We’re going to make him a casket, said Boy two surprised that I am not getting it.

So you want to put Scooter in a casket and hang the casket from the ceiling of the barn over top of Anabelle’s stall?

Exactly, says Boy one, relieved that I finally get it.

Isn’t it just perfect? says Boy two.


Epilogue: I suggested gently, that although the idea was lovely, the idea of a decaying feline dangling above her and her new calf, might not be well received by Anabelle. Boys had their doubts that I knew what I was talking about, but decided plan B was ok because we could put ashes near Anabelle’s stall.

Scooter. Barn cat. Friend of all creatures. R.I.P. We shall continue to chase the mad black cat off the property in your honor.