Monthly Archiv: August, 2014


Bitsabobs, by Boy two and the girls

Bitsabobs, by Boy two and the girls

Tuesday my lists were long, my spirit overwhelmed, and my brain sick of starving. Brain space is a problem around here. Heart space that lacks sufficient solitude gets satisfied in other ways, the magic of children, the joy of love. But brain space can be meager rations.

At breakfast I said I had a few quick things to do, work jobs began at 9:00 a.m. sharp. It was a plan. There was logic involved. On the porch, I wrote and thought. The kids don’t wear watches anyway, said I to me at 9:00. What’s it to them if we start late? At 11:30, I decided to run an errand, integral I determined to getting my ducks in a row. Besides, I could still hear them. I’ll be back in an hour. Make PB & J if you get hungry, I said to the children.

But why was there paint everywhere? They were squatting in a circle holding paintbrushes. And paint was against the rules without permission. I told them to clean it up, noted to be angry later, and left. I arrived home to apple cores and trails and piles of raisins on the table, happy sounds coming from upstairs. The raisins had been some kind of medicine or ammunition. I couldn’t understand the explanation, but whatever it was, it required them to consume great amounts with a great deal remaining, various piles belonging very specifically to someone. With great pride they told me of the triple decker, open faced PB & J sandwich that three of them had split. I was then asked to negotiate a battle involving a needle.

What needle, I asked cluing in half way through the diatribe of who did what. They had, I learned, forsaken the forbidden paints and gone straight to the use with permission only sewing kit. Amazing clothing had been produced, but they were terribly sorry about the not asking part. Someone should have done something really grim. But I couldn’t do it. I needed more space to think and didn’t want my entire brain power spent on speeches about rules and permission. I made them clean it up and promised out loud to be angry later. It seemed like the least I could do. Then I went back to thinking.

After dinner I sent everybody on a task that required them to be somewhere else and was somehow related to their crimes, although everyone preferred what they were asked to do to dishes. I did the dishes by myself in peace. Then I took pictures of their painted creation and their sewing projects.

One plus one is supposed to be two. Ergo, I should feel terrible about letting so much go . . . but if Bitsabobs and stuffed animal clothes were the cost of damn the torpedoes while the house crashes down around us so I can breathe some space to think, I accept with gratitude.

Another view of contraband laden, Bitsabob

Another view of contraband laden, Bitsabob


Pants to accommodate tails available for early Christmas orders. :)

Pants to accommodate tails available for early Christmas orders. :)

Clothing recipients

Clothing recipients

Gifts of last week


Listening to a loon call with increasing intensity, then swim in circles looking while a grinning Boy two called back.

Seeing a pregnant rattlesnake in her natural habitat. The man hired by the parks to monitor the health of the rattlesnake population, happened to be taking his walk ahead of us.

Listening to the rattle of the younger snake he had caught for tagging and seeing it without being in danger.

Watching Boy one learn to drive a putt putt

An all family adventure day of canoeing, portaging, swimming, exploring and picnic

Watching Boy one determined to carry one of the canoes solo for the longest leg of our portage

Watching Girl one put two and two together in a New York minute. I had said that fishing was fine, but anything caught and kept was to be eaten, period. In a row boat with the others, she was working on her casting. She cast the line that Boy two took and reeled in. By the time it made it to the boat, there was a 12 inch bass on the other end. Long before we heard there was a fish, we heard Girl one running up the path and shouting. “It wasn’t me. I wasn’t fishing. I didn’t cast it. It wasn’t me.” She calmed only when I explained that casting was not considered catching and in fact, she did not have to eat the fish.

Watching Girl one scamper to the beach to work on her J stroke. I don’t have one myself, but the kids are getting trained up proper compliments of Nana.

Cooking with another woman and dear friend. Chopping and chatting.

A furious paddle in kayaks with my husband, each of us carting a garbage bag, trying to reach the dump and get back before the thunder in the distance moved in for the afternoon. Dawdling on the way back with mission accomplished and then the rain just starting within sight of the dock.

Playing cards at night with boys up past their bedtimes

Watching Girl two tear off to get her swim suit on for the third or fourth time in a day, turn half fish, and leap giggling into the water.

Taking a soggy, cold Girl two up onto my dry lap for warming up

Long car rides with alternately silly and grumpy kids

Time together with nothing else to do

Reading with the girls . . .

Down time



Despite the camera we forgot at home, we are enjoying our annual summer retreat, where we go far enough away to not know how things are going at home. It’s a good time to be together, to pull back in the quiet and look at things right side up and upside down, to enjoy good food, and to laugh together. The quote that has me smiling the most at the moment came from Boy two. Heading out for a canoe, portage, picnic trip, he stole his sister’s hat and refused to give it back. Climbing into his canoe, proudly wearing a pink plaid hat, his bow legged, small for his age, 10 year old self announced, “today you may call me by my true name: The Eternal Sexiness.”



I keep up with the news in bits and snatches. Children who cannot eat, mothers who cannot get medical help for their families, fathers who cannot protect them, these things weigh heavily on me. It does not take much for the enormity of the world’s suffering to overwhelm me. I don’t know the answers to children neglected by people with the physical resources to do better. Everywhere I look, life is about things. People seem worth less every day in the craving to fill emotional spaces with things. When we cannot have things, we have pictures of things. Virtual things. Pretend things. Anything, just not living breathing, uncontrollable love and life.

I won’t belabor the point, but the world troubles me deeply. I feel helpless and alone against forces ridiculously beyond my control. Enter a mouse.

My father was helping us fix a wall on our barn. I sent the boys out to clean out the straw and dirt shoved all along its edge. They came back excited. They’d found a nest of baby mice. Everywhere was ready but they’d left the nest area intact. Too late, the message came and another eager cleaner had finished the job.

I looked but to no avail. Through piles of dust and straw I searched, trying to find something still alive. There was nothing to do but continue. An hour or so later, my father pointed. Four feet away on the stone fence was the mother mouse come back for her babies. I wished there was a way to tell her that was too late. That they were probably already suffocated under one of the piles on the barn floor. Again, there was little to do but continue.

I didn’t see it myself. I went in to make dinner. But my father swears he saw the mouse come back as he worked, dig through the piles and carry living babies off into the bushes. I still don’t know if I believe it but I’ve decided I don’t care. Whether she found them or not, with my own eyes I saw her come looking. The chaos we created in her fragile world couldn’t have seemed any less overwhelming than the chaos of my own. She came back because her babies weren’t where they were supposed to be. She didn’t have a plan for the winter, the fall, or the rest of the week. She noted our gigantic presence, the destruction of her home and worried only about doing what she could do right then to be who she was made to be.

Oh mighty mouse, may your days be long, your food stores full, your babies fat, your nest restored. Smaller than my daughter’s palm, brave mother mouse, you give me much courage and hope.

Fifty Percent


It’s been a frustrating spring and summer on the farm this year. We lost a third of the meat chickens we raised, almost all within ten days of their scheduled demise. We have now lost 2 lambs in three weeks, and treated both Buster the 600lb calf and the other lambs for parasites. In our vision of natural we have no idea if following standard advice about parasite treatment is foolish or wise. Nor do we have any idea why we found the latest lamb dead after no apparent illness.

When I found the most recent dead lamb, I called my husband. Together we looked for signs and shared the glumness of death and the frustration of our ignorance and helplessness. We shook our heads, sighed and shook our heads again.

“Hey,” said my husband, tired. “It’s not 50%.”

We smiled, strangely comforted with the reminder that we were not alone.

I had lunch recently with a Dutch couple in their early seventies. They made their living as farmers of lots of things, but chickens were a mainstay.

“We’re about ready to quit with the farming stuff,” I told them.

“Don’t quit,” the woman said.

“I’m not sure we’re smart enough for farming,” I said.

“No,” she said. “It’s not like that. Things happen.”

“You should see all the terrible things happened to us in the beginning,” the man said.

Two stories he told me. One night after dark, something broke and started a flood in the barn. It was fall, all the chickens were laying beautifully. He was looking forward to a good profit that year. A few thousand chickens died in the flood that night. The rest were so traumatized they stopped laying completely.

Another time a bird flew up into a fan in the barn where he was raising new chickens. The sound of the bird caught in the fan scared all the chickens. They flew up against the back wall of the barn in a panic. Two thousand survived. Two thousand were crushed and suffocated at the bottom of the pile.

“All night long,” said his wife. “All night long, we carried out dead chickens.”

It was honestly the most encouraging conversation I have had about farming in weeks, possibly months.

“We aren’t in their league,” I said to my husband, “but maybe we don’t have to give up. I mean, we only lost a third of our chickens, right? Only a sixth of our lambs- heck, we’re doing great.”

Well, maybe not great, but it’s not fifty percent yet. And when it’s laugh or cry, sometimes laughter helps. With hats off to our Dutch heroes, we carry on.

Beet Red


I love beets. Pickled or plain they please me. I like the greens too. My husband professes a dislike for beet greens, a fact which I can’t quite get my head around. This winter, sing the bags upon bags of beet greens in the freezer, we shall find our way to his stomach by so many circuitous routes that when we are gone he will miss us. I smile knowing at some point he will read this and think himself forewarned. Determined do I rise to the challenge.

I did up beets for the freezer this week. Beets aren’t like beans, rinsed and tidy. Beets come with dirt and grit and infinite red juices. I can only wipe the oozing red pink from the counters so many times without remembering my mother over a boiling pot of pink.

It was Halloween, a definite NOT holiday for us. My mother the minister’s wife had helped the church get an All Saints Day party off the ground instead. ¬†Kids were asked to go as a character from the Bible. My mother suggested I go as Lydia, the seller of purple, and promised to make me a purple tunic. By make, she meant dye a sheet and towel the appropriate color and wrap it around me. I can still picture us standing in the aisle at the drugstore reading directions on different colors of purple Rit dye.

At home in the kitchen, my mother stirred my sheet in a canning pot of water and dye, less than impressed.

That’s not purple, it’s beet red. Could have made this color myself for free, she said.

We dried the sheet and towel, and dressed me for the party. All along the way she muttered about throwing in a few beets for free and $5 for something that could hardly be called purple.

I didn’t mind the wrong colored garments so much as being twelve and wondering if I really belonged anymore at something for little kids, but being twelve turned out to be an advantage. The woman assigned to run the evening, leader of all games and parties, upon whom all eyes would be fixed at all intervals requiring direction . . . being twelve, it was hard to miss the horror in my mother’s eyes when they saw each other. My awkwardness changed to absolute delight as our host’s bright red lips and ample bedecked bosom jiggled over to greet us. A fifty something, slightly overweight church lady host, enthusiastically dressed as Rahab, the prostitute.¬† I gazed at her very fine impression of a hooker and felt glad indeed to have agreed to come. Thirty years later, I’m still slicing beets and smiling.


Northern Flicker (of the woodpecker family) but of no blood relation to the subject of the post.

Northern Flicker (of the woodpecker family) but of no blood relation to the subject of the post.

Two weeks ago a Northern Flicker came our way. Not being avian savvy, it was first just a bird with a pointy beak and a hurt wing. (We suspected the slinking stray cat in the bushes.) After a day it became clear that Flicker had no intention of winging his way into our hearts and magically healing in the box on our front porch, while ignoring the chicken food and bug offerings we had available. (He should have been eating ants, but I drew the lines at things that could march independently into the house.) So we drove to a bird hospital.

The woman that admitted Flicker flipped him upside down, inspected him and noted not only the wounded wing, but serious bruising and swelling as well. Before the cat, there was some kind of impact, she explained. He seems to have had a very, very bad day, she added. Maybe she said unlucky or maybe I thought it. Regardless, the notion got stuck in my head. Fermenting, wiggling, stirring gently until another way of seeing things occurred to me.

Getting hit, possibly by a car, and then getting attacked, possibly by a cat, really isn’t a great day. Unlucky is one side of the coin for sure. But after that, it falls apart. Flicker survived a punishing blow. Then Flicker survived a predator assault. He might have been finished off by a lawn mower, but a boy happy for diversion was mowing the fence line that day, not an adult determined to finish the job. Another boy, fearless and accustomed to catching all manner of small animals was nearby. Together they secured the bird without further injury. On the following day, a long anticipated, three generation, all family farm work day, the life of a bird might not have trumped the lure of assistance. But it was raining. Every time I looked up to see if it might be clearing, it poured down even harder.

Then there’s the fact that we live in Canada. Not only are there such things as bird hospitals, but there are computers and working internet. For some reason I needed to know conclusively what Flicker was before I agreed to drive an hour to help him. I found bird calls on the internet and played them. When the Northern Flicker calls came on, he called back. Listening to him talk was a convincing argument.

The admitting person told us he might not make it. This weekend I called back with Flicker’s ID number in hand to see what had happened. As it turns out, Flicker had been released back into the wild the day before. While some birds are now privately referring to him as Flicker the Blessed, word has it he’s taken to going by Lucky.