Monthly Archiv: June, 2014

Acts of Courage

David gegen Goliath, by Gebhard Fugel. Early 19th century

David gegen Goliath, by Gebhard Fugel. Early 19th century

 

It came to me the other day that to be happy was sometimes an act of courage. The idea surprised me enough to keep me thinking about courage for days. If being happy can be a bold counter cultural statement about being loved in the face of loud messages that beg to differ, what else might courage look like?

Like my mother before me, there is nothing so comforting in a trial or helpful in a confusion, as a list. A work in progress, but here’s where I’ve come so far.

Acts of courage:

1. To be happy. (i.e. to act as one who is unmistakably beloved and secure in the love)

2. To be hopeful when logical reasons for such sentiment seem lacking. (13.5 years into mothering, no child yet gives a hoot about cleaning their rooms or taking care of possessions, theirs or others. My attempts at book publication repeatedly miss the mark. And yet.)

3. To believe that I can change and become the person I have repeatedly failed to become. (Despite my elite level skills in flippant, sarcastic, and caustic remarks, I will someday be free of those crutches.)

4. To believe that others can change and become the person they dream of becoming. (I build the boxes I put people in too small. The timing of when they rise up to overcoming is not my concern. The least I can do is leave the lids off.)

5. To believe that failure does not define people. Me, or anybody else. (Failure, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. No matter who sees it or says it, apt or not, it remains separate from our value as human beings.)

6. To believe that others are doing the best they can and to make this the underlying premise and starting point for every relationship I have. (I cannot logically believe this 100% of the time, but I cannot see what there would be to lose for acting as if it were true the 5% of the time it isn’t.)

7.  To start each day with no strings attached, a day of new beginnings devoid of the weight of yesterdays dead ends, engine troubles, and thirty car pile ups.

 

That’s as deep as I’ve dug so far. I’m going to mine the hill a little longer in case there’s something I missed that applies to now. Then again, it might be enough of a challenge already.

A morning

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The girls had been up late, so I was anxious waking up about keeping the place QUIET. This is not a concept that Boy one understands. My husband sees the wisdom in some vague kind of way that is never connected to his actual feet pounding or thing banging. He came in from the barn with news that a racoon had made it through again with another chicken gone, so both of us were glum.

The loud men had at last left for work and exam respectively, and the others remained miraculously sleeping when the phone rang. I had confused the pick-up time for my new laying chickens and was late. At the feed store, customer service is what you get when you do it right. Open irritation is what you get when you don’t.

I jotted a note and ran for the car. Upon arrival, I realized that I had not grabbed the feedbags that I usually use to prevent the droppings of live stressed chickens in very holey crates from covering the car.

Any extra feedbags?  I asked smiling.

Nope. Not allowed.

I went inside while Mr. Feedstore was with another customer and found a piece of unmarked plain cardboard.

Any chance I can use this? I said, returning friendly.

Nope. Belongs to the company. Has to go back.

So I scrounged and rummaged and covered the back of the caravan with church bulletins, a small newspaper, and children’s art. It mostly covered the area where the crate sat. At home I unloaded the chickens in the rain, then disposed of my papers and surveyed the car. It needed attention but not as much as I needed breakfast.

I got breakfast amidst negotiating a settlement for World War III. An hour and a half later, it was time to pick up Boy one and another student, and somehow I had forgotten about the car. I grabbed some disinfectant and a rag, quickly scrubbed down the back, rinsed my cloth and got back in the car. I met Boy one and two others, and returned.

Full of  the feelings one has when one has spent too much of a morning going everywhere without really getting anywhere, Boy two committed one crime too many. It was a minor violation, but he was sent to wash the breakfast dishes anyway. A few minutes later I yelled down my reprieve and headed downstairs to finish the dishes myself.

My belief in dedicated dish clothes had escaped him. The actual dishcloth sat submerged in his rinse water. Somehow he had spied my cloth from earlier, washing carefully all our plates and glasses with the cloth I had used to clean all the chicken poop from the car.

Upon discovery, I sighed and reached for bleach. He whooped with delight and ran laughing to tell his brother.

State of the nation summer edition

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We started summer on Saturday with a coughing, hoarse Girl one and a UTI for Girl two. After we saw the Dr. I asked Girl two to call her father and tell him she had a urinary tract infection but had medicine and would be ok.

Daddy, she said proudly, I have a urinal confection but I have medicine now so it will be ok.

The picture of bakery counters filled with urinal confections has hit my funny bone. When Girl two reaches 13, she’ll be hard pressed to find an acquaintance who doesn’t know about it.

I wanted to start the summer with a bit of gusto and I didn’t want to wait until Boy one was finished exams so I organized a cleaning party for Monday. When I called my friend to ask if I could hire her 8 and 10 year old to come work with us, she thought I was crazy. I might be, but that was not the point. The bolstered troops announcement was met with much enthusiasm here. By the end of the morning, my downstairs was strewn, but our porch was clean and ready for summer use, the driveway was full, but the garage was swept and tidied. The kids were happy, and content to play for the afternoon. By dinner, it was all put away. If I am crazy, I stand by my insanity.

Yesterday I discovered that Boy two took to cough drops sometime in the winter. I found wrappers strewn throughout his treasure drawer. With no shame he admitted that he eats them for candy.

In the afternoon, we went to the library. Our library is a restored one room school house, an old stone building in the middle of the country. Our first summer library outing was another cause for rejoicing.

Boy two and Girl one hit the car after with books in hand and disappeared into couches and chairs as soon as we got home. Girl two begged miserably for a playmate to no avail. She leapt with excitement when Girl one finished her book after an hour or so, only to be ignored as Girl one walked past her to the library shelf to get a new book. Applesauce came to our rescue. Girl two made it for dessert, spun the spinner herself and chose her own spices.

Yesterday, I had to stop the car on the way home from Boy one’s exams so he could baptize the weeds with his lunch. I wish I could say our exam taker is toiling endlessly. He is toiling mildly. No sweat, but one hopes the heart rate of the brain is elevated ever so slightly. He has two exams left to go and then he will join our book loving group of manual laborers. The thought no doubt delights him.

And that is the state of our nation. :)

Free flow

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Some prayers take a long time to answer. When I was 18 and couldn’t cry, I would beg God, please, please, just let me cry. Ache. Stare. Nothing. Seriously. I’m broken. Let me cry. Mostly, nothing. He must have been saying, “just a minute,” and I couldn’t hear it. At 42, I cry for reasons including but not limited to:

* School is not out yet. I cannot take another note about anything and I cannot pack another lunch.

* It’s the last day of school and I realize they will never be in that grade again. It’s gone forever. They’re growing up and they can’t go back.

* Someone else’s child I’ve never met just made a great play on the soccer field and everyone is high fiving them.

* My husband is late coming home from work and I worry something has happened to him.

* I startle a few seconds into watery eyes over husband’s demise to realize I’ve started making a checklist as to how we will manage. The guilt of starting a list before you know, the funeral, or an actual death, well it doesn’t feel so good.

* Girl two tells me she wants her hair like mine.

* I hear Boy one pick up her sister and call her pretty princess.

* Boy two says thank you to someone without me prompting.

* Girl one helps with dishes because she says she likes to be with me.

* I read about old age, childhood, loneliness, hunger, rejection, abandonment, joy, accomplishment, triumph, victory.

* I have no ideas. Life is flat.

*  I have a new idea. Life is bursting with possibility.

* We weren’t able to have more children.

* There is too much laundry. It won’t go away and there are like a hundred years left until they’re old enough to leave home.

* One of the children is crying.

* The children are laughing so hard they are peeing their pants and I’m just so happy that they’re happy.

* I need quiet and I can’t get it.

* Everybody is distracted by other things and not into talking.

 

It’s getting downright mortifying the things that can flood the ducts and well up the throat. I think I can confirm not only God’s compassion but a wicked sense of humor as well.

Graduation and not

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With school ending this week, there has been a graduation focus in the air.

The lambs are on their last week of bottle feeding. We are definitely ready for them to graduate.  I’ve been scratching my head about what to do with the leftover milk powder. Feeding longer is not the answer. My latest thought is Christmas. Little packets of milk powder tied up with a ribbon, a note attached about the glories of a milk bath. What teacher would not like that? Grandmothers. Aunts. Why not uncles and brothers?

Girl two graduated from kindergarten last night. She loves the stage so it was a good night for her, even if the school learned by experience why not to schedule an end of year function for 4 and 5 year olds to start at 7:30.  By the time they hit the stage at 8:15 they might as well have been drinking. They were three sheets to the wind, anyway. Whatever they had practiced was lost in short people wandering in circles and yammering to themselves, or shouting to the crowd depending on personality. Mine had a wrestling match for a microphone with another sweet girl in a fancy dress.

The only ones sent back for remediation this week were my husband and I. Last year, after an unusual number of losses, we swore off ANYTHING that would upset the meat birds. Fraternizing ducks had been an issue, but nothing we decided, would ever mix with them again. They bred to grow not to be robust.

Then I caught a chicken eating an egg the other day and threw her outside until I could deal with her. I was pretty sure she was eating an egg she had previously pecked open, but it was also possible she was eating the remnants of an egg someone else had pecked open. Why don’t we put her in with the meat birds overnight, I suggested to my husband. If there’s still an egg eaten tomorrow, we’ll know we have the wrong girl, if not, we can put her on the fast track for a different kind of graduation.

It was not a good idea. We had some worries that the meat birds might kill the suspect but it seemed safer than leaving her outside for the raccoons. It was a bad idea. The eighteen birds we put her in with did her no harm. She on the other hand, pecked one bird to death and left another one dead of a heart attack inside (we debate annually about using this breed or not due to the frequent heart attack issue).  And in case anyone is wondering, no eggs eaten the following days. For reasons we can no longer defend, we protected a lawless chicken from wildlife, then locked her up with some innocents so she could rack up a few murder charges for her rap sheet. Maybe we will pass our classes next year.

 

Together on the wide, wide sea

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Boy one came home unusually chipper the other day. He had happened across someone who compulsively turned open padlocks backwards and set closed locks to zero when passing lockers. Together they had raced the halls in a mad attempt to set every lock in the school to zero. Although he spent a great deal of time bemoaning the hallway they had failed to finish, the first words out of his mouth were, “Mom, I actually met someone like me. I’m not the only one.”

I was once a woman in her early twenties, at least battling depression. Post traumatic stress syndrome would have fit too. I was haunted by nightmares that paralyzed me, drained me of energy, and left me unsettled for days. Being objective about my emotions was an idea I could grasp but not put into practice most of the time. I tried to rise above my troubles, but my downfall appeared inevitable. I felt confused, hopeless and desperately alone.

I didn’t know anyone, including myself, comfortable with mental health issues, or knowledgeable about the need for help and where to get it. I sought advice, but for years did not find anyone who understood. I remember an older woman I spoke with. That she was a woman with a lifetime of fragile mental health was unknown to me. She was respected and admired. She was old and not dead yet. That was put together in my books.

I was in the habit of testing people on small doses of me, so I poured out enough troubles to relieve the pressure. I remember at first, I was irritated, wondering if she’d even heard me.  But what seemed at first a non sequitur, made a lot of sense.

“You know those stairs down the hall?” She had a bit of a southern accent. “When I stand at the top and look down, I know I’m going to fall. They’re so steep I don’t even like to think about it. Every time I can hardly move because I know am going to fall. But I stand at the top, grab the railing tight and step one stair at a time, two feet on every one. Takes me forever, but I get down. And I haven’t fallen yet.”

Lately, sadness and loneliness have sat their ample bottoms down on my chest and refused to move. Life goes on, but they are heavy and quitting tempts. Monday, I remembered the railing, two feet on every stair until I get to the bottom. Which reminded me that we are never alone. A long time ago, someone who didn’t know me or understand me, possibly accidentally, gave me really good advice. My stairs were different, but we were both afraid of going where we had to and it helped.

I picture her stairs and think. We are inadequate answers to each other’s questions, and insufficient medicine for each other’s pain. Yet out of the immense alone, what cannot be, is. In darkness for tiny seconds, we find each other’s arms and we are known. You too? Yes, me too. From imperfect and impossible rises us. We glimpse our belonging and for that moment, heaven.

Irrelevant torpedoes

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My son cannot stop creating. I don’t remember all the things he has made, although I wish someone would. Stuffed animal clothes, blankets, weapons, endless Lego worlds, transportation devices,guns, catapults, and duct tape dresses for his sister’s barbies. A week ago he spent half an hour cutting letters out of maple leaves so he could write “Happy Father’s Day/Birthday,” across the seat of the rocking chair.

He is taken again with sewing and his eye for re-purposing is very keen. We had a chicken dinner. The next morning, I found a needle made out of chicken bone. A few days ago he was carefully stitching navy thread around the edges of a Kleenex. Frustrated, I demanded the needle. My admiration for his creativity did not dent my irritation at having my needle borrowed. It had only been the night before that another ill begotten needle stolen by Girl one had greeted my shoulder as I leaned back against a couch.

Needle in hand, I proceeded to mend more wrongs on the path toward tidy and well disciplined. Half an hour later I passed by Boy two, still pouring over his Kleenex. The thought that he had retrieved yet another needle incensed me, but closer inspection revealed that he was sewing this time with thread and a nail. Gently, he would poke a hole, then set the nail aside and jimmy the thread through. Repeat. Painstakingly repeat. If anything, he was taking more joy from his nail sewing than from the needle sewing before.

Why is a good question. I had made it clear that I thought sewing a Kleenex was a waste of time, why didn’t he quit then? Why didn’t he quit when I took away the needle? We don’t own a museum, so most of what Boy two labors over is not saved. He is usually too busy creating the next thing to care. He gives away Lego masterpiece creations to people who own ten or twenty times more Lego than he does. He doesn’t care. He makes things because that is who he is and he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think. When he’s tires of making things, he reads or plays.

Recently he brought home some pictures from art class. He showed me a picture with a B+ on the back. “I don’t know why I got that – it looked good to me,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever.” But that was the end of it. He went unimpeded to work on his current creation because that is what he does.

Boy two needs me to make him brush his teeth and change his underwear. I need him to remind me that worrying if you’re good enough to do what you were made to do is silly. When you’re born to do something, you do it.

I am in negotiation to acquire the Kleenex with nail and the chicken needle. I want them framed. To me, they say: Be who you are to the very best that you can – the rest is chaff in the wind.

Dear Cindy and Dave

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Me, fretting about the particulars

In August, friends of ours are staying in our house while we’re away. We haven’t seen them for a few years. In fact, they’ve never been to County Road 21. Their coming was an idea followed by a possibility, which is now a plan. This has me thinking that some information is in order.

Dear Cindy and Dave,

We’re glad you are coming and hope you have a great time here. A few things to  mention …

1. Every bug on the property has been bred to squeeze through the holes in the screen. If you don’t open the windows at night, you will be found medium to well done in the morning, but we don’t advise windows open and lights on at the same time.

2. The 2nd sink does not drain properly if there is water in the 1st sink. We don’t know why.

3. half the time you run a load of wash, the washer emits a most unpleasant odor. Everything that can be taken apart and cleaned has been. The clothes come out smelling ok, which does not make sense, but since it’s true, we keep going.

4. The kittens are friendly but we advise socks. Toes make them crazy.

5. If you take a walk through the pasture and look at the lambs they will attack you, but only long enough to find out if you’re packing a bottle. Then they’ll offer some loud rebukes and high tail it out of there. Since you won’t be packing, don’t envision a lot of petting.

6. If you find something that looks like a lamb’s tail, it probably is. Our breed has long tails and a certain kind of fly tortures them by laying eggs underneath it if you leave it on. We follow the conventional wisdom and rubber band the tails when the lambs are a few days old. Eventually, the tails fall off and can be found in fields or hidden in odd spots in the house. Most recently, I attended a play at Girl one’s school, where I discovered her generous spirit in donating a real tail to be safety pinned on to the girl dressed up as a sheep.

8. The TV only has an antenna, no satellite or cable. We get about thirty channels, except for when it rains a lot or storms. Then we get three or four. The internet is very slow at night. We don’t know why. Cell phone coverage is also moody and weather related.

9. If you are sitting in the bathroom downstairs and you hear the rush of water in the pipes from the toilet flushing upstairs, you have about five seconds to move before some very energetic bubbling begins below you. On a good day, you get a mild spray (think bidet). On a bad day, think cold, not necessarily clean depending on where you are in your process, jacuzzi start up.

Hopefully that covers it. :) Welcome to our home.

Thanks to you

DSCN0010Dear Readers,

It is such a gift for me to be able to write for you on County Road 21. Having a venue to do what I think I am here to do means a lot to me. So first and foremost, thanks for reading. Thanks for the encouraging notes and for sharing your thoughts and experiences with me, both on the blog and by e-mail. To anyone who has ever seen something they liked and shared the link with others, or recommended the blog to a friend, thank you. Thanks to your recommendations, readership continues to grow steadily and has more than tripled from where it was six months ago.

Since beginning, I have tried to post five days a week, more or less. Heading into summer, I am experimenting with a change, and a move to posting three times a week. This is influenced by a couple of things. First, it is surprisingly  hard to maintain sustained writing time when kids are out of school. The ability to think is reduced even further.  I am also finding it hard some weeks to maintain the schedule I initially set for myself, just in terms of creative energy. I chose five days a week because I not so secretly still wish the world was all newspapers and magazines. Five days a week let me pretend I had my own column and was writing for a newspaper. When I didn’t feel like writing, I would picture my editor on the phone with a cigar dangling out of his mouth telling me it didn’t matter that I had nothing to say, the column was going to print in an hour.

I haven’t fired my imaginary editor (although Frank definitely lets me down on the proof reading some days) but I’ve decided (not without some anxiety) to take a chance on letting him fire me. I may increase the posting schedule again in the fall, or I may not. For now, I’m cutting it back to three, occasionally two posts a week, to give a little breathing space to my imagination and to make room for other things.

The last reason for the change is that every once in a while I think a piece deserves more than a day to sit there. It bothered me today to rush in and cover up yesterday’s Pentecost piece so quickly, but I hadn’t shared my thoughts yet, so didn’t feel I could. (Frank said it was unconscionable to break an established pattern without explanation.)

Thank you again for your support and readership. Please know that I pray for all of you. En masse, because I don’t know everyone, and by name when I know of a specific reason to, or just because you come to mind. I remain grateful for the gift you give me when you take your valuable time to read and when you return by choice to my simple attempts at true and beautiful.

With much gratitude,

Michelle

 

Running and Pentecost

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I have been thinking a lot about Pentecost.  I got hung up a little bit wondering why it was so small. How, I wondered, could the observance of an event that kicked off the official start of the largest, most enduring organization on earth range from a blip of remembrance to blank stares? Shouldn’t the birthday of the Christian church be a big deal?

But wanting to march in too many parades is a quick way to wind up miserable. Besides, the truth is, Pentecost passed me without much notice last year and some years before that. This year, there’s an inexplicable Pentecost bee in my bonnet. The buzz has been impossible to ignore, so I have been pondering Pentecost and what it means that God gives us mystery.

Pentecost is a bit like God showing up one day at the door with a gift, invisible of course, but no denying its existence, we can feel the weight in our hands. God says we need the gift, He loves us, and then He leaves.

Don’t worry about how everything turns out, He tosses over his shoulder. You’ve got the gift now.

For the rest of your life you know what the gift is, sort of, but you have no clue what the gift is exactly. What you do know is that since you received the gift, you are not the same as you were before. Sometimes you actually know this, like you know that standing in the sun feels warm, other times it’s a matter of faith. A lot of times you can’t see clearly what the gift is giving now as much as you can see it looking back at then.

Which I guess answers my own question about why the whole celebration has never really caught on that widely or crossed over into mainstream culture. If you tried to sell it to Hallmark they would have no way of making it tidy. If you think about it too long, Pentecost is a bit unsettling. It’s not a warm greeting card kind of feeling.

Pentecost says, Jesus came as one of you, but I remain beyond what you can imagine. You accepted a baby. Well done. Now let me set you aflame with the fire of Me. Afterwards, you will never be the same. Flesh and blood. Mystery. Forever and ever intertwined. Yes?

Pentecost is a voice on the wind. Whispers of a love that roars and takes no prisoners. One minute tearing you off your feet. Teaching you to walk again. Asking you to run. Another minute gently wiping your tears, sitting vigil with you at your private groanings.

The only question about Pentecost really, is which way to run. As far away as possible, or headlong into the wind?