Monthly Archiv: October, 2014
About a week ago around bedtime, Boy two became desperate for me to call his friend’s mother. It wasn’t clear what I should say, only that I should call her. Oh and sign the paper. The paper has the boy’s phone number on it. Now do you get it? he wanted to know.
Not exactly, I said.
We’re doing a bake sale to raise money to ship boxes to kids for Christmas. Someone else will fill them. You’re signing that you’re ok with the bake sale. Mrs. V says you have to sign.
The next night at bedtime he again became desperate for me to pick up a phone.
But what am I calling to say? I said exasperated.
About the bake sale, he said a little exasperated himself.
But I don’t know anything about it, except you’re doing it to raise money for the Christmas box shipping fees.
We’re not doing it for that any more. We changed our minds. We’re raising money for The Angel Tree. And we want to do it at the general store. Now can you call her?
I agreed to call the next night on condition he answer important questions like when was the bake sale?
He wasn’t sure.
Who was baking?
Only them. Mrs. V. said they had to take care of things themselves.
What were they making?
He wasn’t sure but could I buy chocolate chips?
When were they baking?
Just call his mom and then you’ll know all the answers.
So the other mom is organizing the bake sale?
No mom, I already told you. Mrs. V says we have to do everything ourselves.
The General Store was more flexible than I was. We stopped by so Boy two could ask permission to do the bake sale on their porch for an unspecified time on an unspecified day. No problem, they said. Angel Tree is a great cause. As soon as you make a sign, we’ll post it and start telling people about it.
Boy two called his friend to work things out. They settled on the friend might or might not be coming over the next day to bake. I broke down and called the other mom. We managed to confirm a date and time. She’s donating some pies. I’m donating some muffins and letting the boys use our kitchen.
Boy two spent last night happily working on a sign. If you’re curious, the bake sale is Saturday afternoon. In addition to pies and muffins, Boy two is doing some bread loaves in the bread machine. The boys are making cookies together and Boy two is cutting up packages of carrot sticks. They’re going in plastic bags labeled, “Halloween Recovery Packages.”
In advance of curious customers, we have also upgraded the explanation of The Angel Tree fund from, “I have no idea but they might be at the mall,” to “an organization that gives Christmas gifts to kids whose parents are in prison.”
Interior in the North of Holland tea-time. By Sipke Kool
Monday I invited a friend to tea. She wore a purple sweater. Deep tones that matched her long and flowing skirt. I’d forgotten that people dress for tea, but it wouldn’t have mattered. There was something about her seventy year old self I couldn’t have matched anyways.
Our farm’s not perfect, but most days we like it, I said.
Nothing down here is perfect, she said.
We talked about everything. Schools. Kids. The value of memorizing. Farms. Babies that die. Far away countries. Cows and milk production. Thirteen liters a day was a very good milk cow when she was young. Now the cows give forty liters a day. What have they done to the cows? We discussed the effects of poison and growth hormones for plants, animals and humans. Wondered about the best chickens for meat. Talked about when things go too far. When we forget we can’t control everything so we kill ourselves trying.
She told me of someone she knew who cared deeply about her home. Someone wanted to visit with her child who was in a wheelchair. No, the woman said. The wheels cannot come in the house. They will be too dirty.
That cannot be right, she said.
I told her my failed dreams of adoption, my thoughts about foster care someday. I talked about my piano teacher, Mrs. Murdoch. How strict she was, how much I hated her until I loved her and realized how lucky I was to have her.
My kids’ piano teacher was strict, she said. They didn’t mind her. I think they were used to strict with me so there was no difference. Some people didn’t like her, but I was strict and I wasn’t changing. That’s how I was. So they were used to it.
She shared my tea, overlooked the shortcomings of my presentation and gave me the gift of slow time together. She probably had clay feet hidden under the table, but I couldn’t see them. What I saw was her heart. Full up with tears. Courage. Love. Determination. And each of these in such abundance it left me quiet with wonder.
What a gift the moments when, however dimly or however briefly, we really see each other.
Girl one is different kind of bird than I am. Consequently, I admire her but am frequently at a loss as to exactly what to do with her. Maybe because her dreamy artistic self is sometimes lost to me in translation, I worry that others will pass her by. Her love of beauty and her need to create come standard equipped with a lot of distraction and a fair bit of stubborn. Following the crowd has never occurred to her. On the other hand, not quite knowing how to be a part of it, bothers her quite a bit.
She made recess fun for herself for a few years by creating her own school, appointing herself principal, and recruiting younger students to attend. This year her institution dissolved. Half the time she is cheery about friends. The other half, she thinks nobody likes her. I coach from the sidelines with limited success. Holding on to an idea not her own for more than ten seconds is not a strong suit.
I look for ways to get involved, but modern life complicates things. There are no other children who bike to our house, or vice versa. Kids get together by adult arrangement only, and therefore not very often.
Somehow in my mind, the answer to all of my worries became the birthday party this past Saturday.
Modest party goals were: fun, inexpensive, and child feels loved, not just by me but by all her friends. Conversely, the friends should feel loved, have fun, and leave wanting to come back. While providing good wholesome fun in the spirit of yester yore, avoid needless excess, needless waste or nutritional suicide.
So yes, I was a little anxious going into my daughter’s party. The bad weather plan was for the each girl to pick a kind of cake and make it. They played. It rained. I made the birthday cake. They played dress up and put on silly fashion shows. I called Girl one after an hour and asked if she wanted to skip the cakes and just keep playing. I heard, “keep playing,” and the sound of feet running back to join the others. I made some cupcakes for the girls to take home. They giggled and ran around and played. They made hats and purses out of old newspaper. After three hours they had satisfied every single one of my criteria for a party. I did nothing but listen from the kitchen, admire fashion displays and wonder why I worry so much. Or how in the world I ever thought it was up to me anyway.
Thanks to the dog, who really needed some exercise, the three younger kids and I took a good long walk yesterday. Everyone was allowed to take three or four pictures of whatever captured them . . .
A tree that caught Girl one’s attention.
From Boy two who ran ahead to try and find beautiful things first. He didn’t quite manage the focus, but I liked the way he set things up with the leaf.
What about you? I said to Girl two. What do you see that is beautiful? We walked at least another 5 or ten minutes through thousands of leaves. Then . . . stop right here, she said. Where? I said looking around at the trees. Right here, she said and pointed down at her feet.
Two different young photographers were desperate to capture this. It looks like the prairies in the books you read, they said.
It takes about 45 minutes to get here. Boy two begged for the destination because he said he had to photograph the, “Rows upon Rows,” his official name for this section of the forest.
“Rows upon Rows,” the hoped for destination so he the girls the seemingly never ending rows of trees.
These are Girl two’s perpetually backwards boots. She swears it doesn’t hurt her feet and she likes them that way. None of us had felt like a walk. Only the duty of the dog got us there. More than an hour later, we all came home happy and content from the tips of our toes to the top of our heads. As Girl one pointed out, if you actually get out into the woods, no matter how much you didn’t want to go, you never, ever, regret it.
It was a bad day. I started off with a spring in my step, discovery and new possibilities at my finger tips. Why not an experiment?. Tra la. I chopped up a cup of raw Swiss chard and threw it in my muffin batter. Zucchini, cooked spinach, applesauce, oatmeal, and all kinds of leftovers do just fine in muffins. Raw Swiss chard it turns out does not. They weren’t inedible, but the song they were singing failed to make the family set down their weapons, call a ceasefire and dance. With our worst foot forward, we picked at each other with all the God given skill available.
The morning worked like a giant search light. Illuminating the absolute pointlessness of what I do. The stupidity of even trying. It was a gym day, so no pulling back for a quiet day to reboot.
In P.E. Child X ran for the usual hug upon seeing me. Not a big fan of sports (in her perfect world, we’d all stand around hugging) she was joyfully tagged out and came to sit by me. Glancing down, I found her with a finger so far up her nose, I wasn’t sure she’d be able to retrieve it.
Obviously, I told her to stop. Nose picking, particularly at that kind of depth, was not part of the game and therefore not allowed, I explained.
A second later, she reached up to hold my hand. Naturally, I recoiled.
She was six and dumbfounded.
But I was 42 and unmoved. Another teachable moment. Most people (that includes me) prefer not to hold hands with boogers. No doubt that goes for ear wax and a few other things but I kindly only mentioned the boogers.
It was a giant metaphor. Almost everyone I ran into yesterday had boogers of one kind or another and was trying to touch me . . . despite my obvious need for space (on account of the worthlessness of everything I do).
So yes, a bad day. But it ended in unexpected mercy and by morning’s light, that really seemed the more important part of the day.
A friend came for dinner last night. I love when she comes. She helps the kids with French. I feed an audience that swallows and says thank you no matter what I serve. To my surprise, she arrived with arms loaded. A mammoth package of ribs, baguettes, and a container of my favorite salsa (not available near me and usually reserved for special occasions). No reason for the gifts. She gave her usual excuse: they were on sale. But on sale, just means she buys lots and lots until she’s spent as much as she would have spent if there hadn’t been a sale.
I was too grumpy to let it fix me for good last night. But this morning, it’s hard to miss Love’s little fly by of mercy with the unexpected dumping of grace. Maybe an extra hug for my young friend is in order the next time I see her.
Man Having Just Painted A Fence. By Jean-Francois Raefëlli
The wisdom of the cows finally came to me: it’s all about fences. I’m feeling pretty warmly towards fences at the moment. Emergency fencing is keeping the cows home until we can finish adding more durable electric fencing to the wooden fences that border our property. Fences are protecting a pretty big investment, not to mention the local motorists.
Enter Stephen King, whose book on writing I have almost finished reading. There’s lots of advice, specific and general, but Mr. King’s work space admonition caught my attention. Consider this, consider that, he says, but the one thing you have to have if you’re going to write is a door. I’m guessing there are a lot of things besides writing that work best with doors that shut, protecting from distraction.
God interrupts me incessantly with sick kids and wandering cows, but otherwise I have a door. When the kids are at school, the house is empty. I am hard pressed to find enough time to work on my novel right now. Hard pressed enough to feel the nagging of other little doors. (Technically they’re “windows.”) Like any bad habit, it’s crept up on me, but it’s a door alright. A door I’ve started leaving open to the detriment of quiet spaces.
I like the internet. What’s not to like about a free post office? But I long for a world where connectivity is limited to an hour a day. It’s an interruption I ought to be able to control for. But somehow the cows made me realize how much it needs a door. Better yet an electric fence.
Don’t get me wrong, I see the beauty, not just of the post office, but the library. Available whenever needed with some seriously extensive resources. But I wonder if in the internet, humans have invented something which we lack the discipline to access without excess. I don’t know. What I do know, is that plugged into everything I am connected to nothing, most especially my own thoughts or the people around me. Plugged into nothing, everything and everyone remain a possibility.
Ergo, I am currently figuring out the dimensions of a better fence for my library/post office.
In the kitchen:
Boy two wanted to cook. With much delight, he sequestered himself for the making of the world’s best molasses cookie ever. I am descended from a master of molasses and make a pretty fine molasses cookie myself. I tasted his cookies ready to sweetly encourage him from the heights of my better way. But his cookies weren’t ok, they were amazing. Starting to feel a little threatened, I reminded myself to be happy for him. He is after all my son. Just because he killed the competition on his first shot at molasses cookies didn’t mean my contributions to the craft of cooking had no value.
To comfort myself, I ate a lot of cookies. Secret ingredients were enthusiastically confessed as I ate. Clarity came not with the choice of ingredients, but rather their amounts. My prize Mexican vanilla (for which one needs half the called for amount to equal three times the glorious flavor) had been used by a boy who didn’t wait excitedly for it to arrive, procured by relatives visiting in Arizona. The cookies were soaked in vanilla like fruit cake in brandy. Undercooked cookie consumption could have meant a drunk driving charge. The recipe called for a teaspoon. Boy two used a 1/4 cup. (That’s 12.5 times the amount the recipe called for if anyone’s curious.) I’m going to stick to my recipe after all, but if I ever want a very pricey cookie, I know who to call.
On the way to school:
Girl one says God can do anything.
Girl two is sympathetic to her position but not convinced. God is great and everything, she says, but . . . God has never turned a mother into a baby. He has turned a baby into a mother, but never a mother into a baby. And even when he turns a baby into a mother it’s not very fast. It takes like a really long time. So maybe he can turn a mother into a baby, but so far, he never has.
After dinner exchanges:
I see Boy two give Girl one some money. I can’t figure out why, so I take the money away, give it back to him along with advice not to share, and go about my business. He takes his money and goes upstairs to find Girl one. I can hear him giving her the money again.
She doesn’t need your money, I say when he returns. It’s really ok to have your own things.
Don’t worry, he says rubbing his hands together with a wicked smile. The only birthdays left are hers and mine. I’m just helping make my present even bigger.
Anabelle’s first go round as mama
I really believe that everything we need to know and learn is right in front of us. That kids, cows, and seasons sit hidden in plain sight; lessons laid out for the taking. When I don’t get it, I try to turn the paper sideways and upside down. Although for Anabelle, I may have to throw the book across the room.
A few months ago, Rick from the breeding company came. We requested Black Angus and then chose from one of two test sire vials. Later, Anabelle made it clear that Rick should come again. We sighed for the trial and paid for another vial.
We didn’t see any signs of insanity in the weeks that followed so figured we were home free. Until this weekend when Anabelle spent a lot of time exploring her inner crazy, stomping around, attempting to mount my husband, mount Buster, and yelling for a husband of her own to visit the farm. We gritted our teeth, called Rick, and chose the other sire vial. The one named, “Camero.” I wasn’t wild about a car in the bloodlines, but at stage reproduction critical, car cows are better than no cows.
Yesterday, Girl two was home sick. At 10:30 in the morning a man came to the door. Ya got a black cow an a white cow? he asked. People kind enough to find your house on their own way home (so that nobody gets hurt when your cow meanders down the road) deserve a medal. Although I declined his offer to help, for that too, he deserves a reward.
Six year olds don’t come programmed to be alone for an hour, so Girl two had to come along. I figured that I’d done my part to keep her home to rest, there wasn’t a lot I could do about God dragging her outside to tramp around the fields in pajamas. When we found them Anabelle was ambling beside the road. Getting her back in a field was easy. After that it got energetic.
I used a very wide container of grain to coax, but the cows were too jumpy for Girl two to be beside me. I had her trail behind the cows, which had me calling the cows, getting them to follow, jogging, and hollering for Girl two to follow faster so she didn’t lose us in the paths through the brush. Once we got to the woods, the trick was to find a place to get them back over the fence and onto our property. An hour and a lot of lively running around later, Anabelle and Buster were in the barn and Girl two (who had gone AWOL in the midst of the last bit of Buster chasing) was found changed out of pajamas on the front lawn swinging.
We gave up and bought more electric fence. Anabelle and Buster are in the barn until we finish installing it. There is a wise something in it all, I’m sure, I just don’t know what it is yet.
One of the local ladies out for a stroll in the front yard this Thanksgiving weekend.
What gratitude looked like
Above is the head of Boy two, who forgot to get the eggs yesterday and was therefore pressed into service after supper, whereupon he happened across a battle of wits between young cat and young chipmunk. Although he prays often for the cat success in mice work (mostly to aggravate a sister praying fervently in the opposite direction) he has developed an aversion to seeing the cats in action. Rising sentiment culminated in the intervention pictured atop the head.
Seeing the chipmunk in mortal peril (and, “completely frozen in terror”) boy raced in, scooped up chipmunk and shooed cat. Chipmunk remained in Boy two’s hands for a split second then ran up his chest, around to the back of his neck, and up onto his head, a sensation he somehow recounts with delight. Chipmunk was content to be lookout, so Boy two commanded Boy one to call the cats, fetch me and bring the camera.
“You know you have to take a shower now, don’t you?” said mother the realist. Who likes her boys tender but find the chipmunk population a bit too hearty for her liking.
Boy two is careful not to tilt his head. “I don’t care,” he says. “It’s worth it.” This is as strong a statement of love for Chipmunk 348 as I can imagine. I didn’t know it possible. Nor if there are dangers for which he would willing shower for my sake or not. Best not to compare I suppose.
After his photo op, we went back inside. Boy two walked around the driveway content and I tried not to think about the fleas and tiny creatures numbers 1 – 10,000 merrily shipping their offspring to the new world of Boyscalp. The sun almost gone and feline predators inside, Boy two at last took off his hat. Pulsing with thanksgiving spirit, 348 did a flying leap from his hands to a nearby tree and was gone.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Despite the fleas you never asked for and the strange way you walk and bob your head, may the ample cup of the wild turkeys roaming and chipmunks delivered be yours also, filled up with all manner of good things, but especially gratitude, pressed down and running over.
The Feast of St. Nicholas, by Jan Steen. (via Wikimedia Commons)
You can’t have families without kitchens. Families are all wrapped up in kitchens, in the lines on the tile, mixed in with the paint on the walls, and sprinkled like rice in odd cracks on the floor. The family you grew up in lives in the cupboards. The one you have now is everywhere else. Sometimes things stay as separate as a quarter of a century. Other times it’s like a finger painting when the finger can’t stop. Lots of swirls but they’re all the same colour and you can’t tell where the lines are supposed to be between your life then and now.
Boy one came across the kitchen the other morning and somebody must have opened the cupboards. All of a sudden I wanted my mom to see how tall he was so much it hurt. That’s the thing. I don’t miss her at certain times of year, I miss her in my kitchen. She’s never even been there. Except of course the cupboards.
I do my best thinking in the kitchen. It’s not because I’m already there so much; I go to the kitchen on purpose to think. I do my worst thinking in the kitchen too. If I’m sure somebody isn’t home yet because they’ve died in a terrible accident, you can bet I’m cleaning out the toaster or whipping up some biscuits, possibly refilling the spice jars.
A kitchen is somehow the place that can hold the weight of your sadness, while keeping the floor polished (flour and sugar granules with a hint of barn boot work well) and ready for a happy dance. A kitchen is like a church with a reversible altar. You can sacrifice tears and laughter on the same day and nothing is awkward. Whatever you bring rises up and joins in with a hundred other joys and sorrows. Yours and other peoples brought to the same counters and sinks.
In my kitchen, I am an indentured servant. Long hours required. Gratitude optional. I am also a queen with magical powers. I choose whom to bless and whom to curse. At my fingertips are the ingredients with which I can turn a grumpy heart cheerful and vice versa. When my subjects behave, I feed them well. Albeit while puttering away in dribs and drabs at the leftover heart and tongue disposal project. (Thanks to an obviously confused butcher, we clearly have the heart of every lamb from four counties in our freezer.)
At our kitchen table we play, pray, plan and decide things together. Above all, we eat. Children’s positions are changed regularly in an ongoing attempt to divine the best possible combinations for conflict reduction. The perfect set up lasts about a week. Some days I imagine eating somewhere else. The porch. Anywhere spelled by myself. The kitchen says no thank you. It all belongs here. Messy love, indentured servitude and joy beyond all recounting.