Monthly Archiv: November, 2014

Home and Space

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Our house was built mid 1800’s, it’s evolutions marked in rises of the floor, sloping ceilings and the crooked corners of additions here and there. Our kitchen now was once the summer kitchen. We made our bedroom in the unfinished (still unheated) attic space above the kitchen. Altogether we have 4 bedrooms now and an office desk space carved out of a hallway.

Family is visiting. The eight kids running, laughing and playing inside our walls this week have no doubt encouraged my meditations on space. Recently, my husband met a man. One thing led to another as they talked and come to find out, the man knew our house and the family who had it before we did. He knew them because before they lived and raised their four kids here for 43 years, he and his family lived here. He was born in our house.  He grew up here in  a family of eleven children.

I assume, I pray, I hope, the summer kitchen had been converted by the time that they were here, but the bedrooms? When my brain happens upon free space, it is the sleeping arrangements of this very  large family that I puzzle over, admire, and sometimes envy. Like a jigsaw, I picture the rooms and lay out the bodies in my mind. It intrigues me because it’s my space and my world configured in a very different way.

Two notions from the thirteen body pile up request consideration. First, about space and how easy it is to get piggish about it. MacDonald’s fries aren’t all that’s been supersized in the last fifty years. Despite my frustrations about design and layout, there are more people today living in housing inferior to mine than there are people living in houses superior to mine.

The second notion is about the meaning of it all. Space in a home is a lot like space with meteorites. Space by itself is nothing but the shape between things. Space in a home is nothing but the shape between people. A shape made holy only by the presence of kindness, compassion, long suffering, and love.

These are not new thoughts. I say them to remind myself of true things I forget. I doubt I am alone in periodically wearing down against the onslaught of propaganda screaming (or is it streaming?) STUFF MATTERS. Houses do a fine masquerade as stuff, not space. Stuff resembling space in that by itself it doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Perhaps grace exists to reclaim a home, reconsecrate the spaces even when things aren’t quite as you’d make them in a perfect world.  Or maybe things are already perfect and we simply need to open our hearts to the richness of the spaces.

Siphonaptera

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At an anonymous and unclarified point in time (assume ancient history out of generosity) I was combing Girl two’s hair. It was the morning of a busy day. The kind of day with thirty things clambering for completion on the list and only room for twenty if absolutely nothing went wrong. Girl one was already waiting in the car – after a none too gentle chiding for the explosions of contraband I emptied from her backpack.

Girl two’s skin is fair. Her hair is fair. Even in the morning shadows I saw the black speck dart through her hair. My fingers moved with purpose while my brain began a calming meditation about the silly ways that dirt can seem alive sometimes.

Don’t move, I commanded.

Ow, yelped Girl two in surprise as I tore at some strands of hair in hot pursuit.

It can’t be helped. Don’t move, I said again.

Overnight guests were arriving in less than ten hours.

It was not a piece of dirt. It was not lice.

It was a flea. I think.

I think this because our house growing up had more than one flea invasion. I remember the worst time sitting and watching the carpet hop like popcorn. Our only carpet here is on the stairs. I inspected. No popcorn. Ditto for furniture.

What do fleas do? asked Girl two.

They make you itchy, I said.

I was itchy as soon as I got in bed last night, said Girl two.

It’s true, I realized. She’s been complaining of itches every night lately. How could this be happening today?

I grabbed a comb and a cat and inspected. No fleas. I took the kids to school.

Boy two looked at girl two, somber. “I promise I won’t tell anyone at school that you have fleas,’ he said.

“She does not have fleas! There was one flea.  And it’s dead so she doesn’t have it anymore.”

I’m not sure that he believed me.

I got home and left a message for my husband to buy updated animal flea protection just in case. I checked the internet for signs and symptoms then resumed my search. Bedding clear. Mattresses clear. I found the wool blanket I added to Girl two’s bed last week with a small measure of relief. It would be a better reason to be itching than the unspeakable.

Meanwhile I’m itching. My head. My back. Even my fingers are itching. Wool blankets, winter dryness, these things we can manage. A flea invasion shortly before the guest arrival on the other hand . . .

I calm myself between mantras that it wasn’t actually a flea or that the flea market was a one man show.

Rewarding Risk

What my idea of a robot would look like.

My idea of what a robot should look like.

I was obligated to attend a Lego Robotics tournament all day on Saturday. I confess my viewing of the practice runs for the teams of Boy two and Girl one left me less than enthusiastic. Someone had to explain to me when the Lego robot finished maneuvering whether things went well or not. Since I didn’t get it, I assumed the kids didn’t either.

My fantasies for freezing rain or a last minute illness didn’t materialize, but the kids’ excitement was catching. By the time we got there, it seemed like a nice day. Their eagerness (and my plans to leave them and only watch for the afternoon) had unScrooged me.

To my surprise, the afternoon I thought would be long, proceeded to unfold as a series of revelations to my traditionally low tech self.

Revelation #1:  The place was teaming with grade 4 – 8 kids (including mine) who understood most of what was happening.

Revelation #2: The pedigree of judges and referees giving their time to the event was nothing to sneeze at. People with all kinds of engineering degrees, employed in some of the most prestigious companies in Canada, were there convinced that my kids (and a few others) were the future of Canada’s ability to innovate.

Revelation #3: Nobody there was interested in grooming cookie cutter kids. (One of my biggest frustrations with education today is that inadvertently or not, much of it is designed to spit out kids who don’t think, risk or try new things.) First Lego League (not something I was previously familiar with) is out to reward risk taking, innovation, teamwork . . .

Here’s the list of the core values that teams were marked and rewarded for understanding and exemplifying:

*We are a team.

*We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.

*We know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together.

*We honor the spirit of friendly competition.

*What we discover is more important than what we win.

*We share our experiences with others.

*We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.

*We have FUN!

(For more on First Lego League, see  http://www.firstlegoleague.org/mission/corevalues#sthash.Z7mZlLR4.dpuf)

 

Revelation # 4: Waiting for the judging results, they cranked up the music and invited the kids to dance. Seventy five or so geeky kids spontaneously dancing (or forming trains with kids they don’t know) to Cotton Eyed Joe and YMCA is a pretty refreshing thing to watch.

Revelation #5: The world is a big place. Some really good things are happening. I stopped short of a one man standing ovation when one of the extremely accomplished speakers commiserated with the kids about failing, starting over, and not understanding why something wasn’t working. How great is that? When a successful adult talks shop with ten year old’s like they’re colleagues in the big world of innovation and design? When someone teaches by example that failed attempts are merely steps on the road to discovery?

Searching for There

A picture from Newfoundland for free . . . although I'm guessing it's a lot whiter right now.

A picture from Newfoundland for free . . . although I’m guessing it’s a lot whiter right now.

I want to move to Buffalo. All that snow appeals to me. But Buffalo is a passing fancy. As is Newfoundland (I think). Newfoundland, small foreign villages in pick-a-country (Ireland, Spain, the Philippines, anywhere in South America or Africa without the overgrown insects). Sometimes I dream of going north north. They’re always looking for teachers and nurses up there.

Sometimes I dream of cities, preferably somewhere cold. Cities with soup kitchens and streets and friends that you don’t have to drive to. Cities with vibrant churches, schools, museums, and concerts. Cities with artists, musicians, and other writers.  Cities, or maybe towns, with neighbour kids and lots of people who live next door.

When I visit my grandparents, my fancies turn to the Finger Lakes. And what of Michigan, I said last year when a writer’s retreat took me that way. For a woman who likes where she lives, the near yearning for new lands is a puzzle.

Unless it’s not. Unless the restless searching is part of being here and not quite home. I’ve been thinking about that for myself, but also how it might relate to dementia. What if it’s we, the memory rich, who forget we don’t belong here. That there’s a reason we can’t quite settle in. What if somewhere deep down under what we see, people with dementia begin to glimpse in stages that their belonging is somewhere else?

My loneliness, emptiness, the hollows of my soul. Maybe we all forget that they’re not mine or yours, they’re ours. That we walk a planet full of lonely people together. It is either insanity that we don’t connect enough to fill each other’s emptiness – or it is reality that we never really can. I’m guessing it’s a little of both. That we’re put here to hold hands and help each other, but we can’t quite make it all better.

Why that makes me want to go to Newfoundland is anybody’s guess. But maybe it’s ok sometimes to feel a little disconnected where we are. To wander a bit down here in search of there.

Of Information, Elephants, and Taking Back the Night

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Nutrition is high on my list of burdens. The quality of what goes in my children’s mouths sits like a pregnant elephant on my back. We grow our own grass fed, antibiotic free meat. We have our own eggs and freeze a fair bit of vegetables for winter. We eat whole wheat everything. We avoid sugar. We don’t keep junk food in the house. When we need to binge, we’re at least slowed down by the need to make it and bake it.

The problem is the information overload combined with the lack of six lifetimes required to verify the “facts.”  Whatever you do, it’s never good enough. Brown rice and lentils are good for now, but after that it gets a little dicey.

Meat? Very bad. Unless it’s important. Organ meat is exceptionally good. Unless you should limit intake. Potatoes are either loaded with Vitamin C and a host of other good things, or they’re a starch so don’t have too much. Milk is good. So is cheese. Unless all the dairy products are so hormone/additive compromised that they’re actually terrible.

Green vegetables are great. Except Broccoli which the children love but which gets a lot of spraying. (This much you can verify by growing your own bug infested, skinny, odd shaped, poison free broccoli. It tastes good, but the kids don’t like this kind.) Salad is great except lettuce and cucumbers don’t do much beyond taste good and accustom people to the color green. Tomatoes are great except when they come from California and Mexico which is 90% of the year. Then they tinkle all their vitamins out on the road while simultaneously destroying the planet by coaxing the trucks to keep driving. Beans (also on the kid list of edible) are ok . . . but really not a power packed veggie the way some are. Corn, peas and sweet potatoes are “just a starch.”

Frozen beet greens, Swiss chard, spinach, and beets are excellent. I refer to them as tasters. You start out getting the kids to put a square centimeter in their mouths for dinner. Depending on the age, we’re up between one and five bites now.

Fruit is good but not as good as vegetables. Apples would be good if they weren’t so notoriously sprayed. Oranges and grapes are ok but they travel too far. Whole wheat pasta is good, unless all pasta is evil. Then there’s the wheat debate. Whether you embrace your whole grains or cast them to the outer darkness, there’s no shortage of “facts,” to support you.

I was going to give up cooking and eating. Instead I’ve decided to give up reading about nutrition for a while and am committed to forgetting at least half of what I know. For a season, the elephant has been re-homed from my back to the couch. Consequently, I have fed the family all manner of potentially dangerous things (broccoli three times!) and la ti dah.

Confessions of a B level Tooth Fairy

I'm sure this picture reminds everyone of me.

Rare picture of me gearing up for TF duty.

Girl two’s gap teeth have me reflecting on tooth magic. My fairydom spans four mouths. Despite significant experience, I am rated B level (possibly C) due to memory and attitude. My work is sporadic but not infrequent.

I transitioned to congratulations only for Boy one a few years ago. The rest remain on the payroll.

At a young age, Boy two announced rather cheerily that the emperor had no clothes, so his lost teeth go something like this:

“Hey. Mom. Lost another tooth. You want to give me money this time or not?”

He uses his tooth funds for charity so I still pay up.

Girl one, thanks to her brothers, has been informed repeatedly of my dual purpose mother/fairy role, but continues to hold out for a real fairy who is not me. She knows because of Mexico.

One sad day Girl one woke up to nothing under her pillow except the tooth she put there the night before. This day happened more than once. Or twice. This third day she had looked very carefully. There was no chance of “finding,” the money while I helped her look for it. She was quite sad; the tooth fairy had forgotten her.

We walked down to breakfast quietly. I hugged her and said there must be something we hadn’t figured out yet. I’m not a big Santa Claus fan. I don’t like telling kids things that aren’t true. I don’t know why this doesn’t apply to the tooth fairy but it doesn’t. While she was eating her cereal, I disappeared upstairs and then returned a few minutes later.

If a tooth fairy was ever late, I wondered out loud, do you think they would leave something in the day or wait until the next night?

Girl one decided to check then yelled for me to come. A letter was under her pillow. The tooth fairy had been held up. Something she couldn’t help but she was terribly sorry and it would hopefully never happen again. Hopefully, because apologizing was expensive and the tooth fairy wanted to return to the usual rate as soon as possible. Included was Canadian money at triple the usual rate and a coin from Mexico where she had been stuck.

Mexico explains the memory rating. On attitude, I am a tooth fairy who does not particularly like teeth. There are one or two in my drawer mixed in with paper clips and ear rings. I save them so no one can say I didn’t love my children, but I have no idea which child they actually belong to. I encourage the children to leave notes for the tooth fairy requesting that she leave the teeth after she sees them. Then they can lose them to school or lose them at home. Here I can attest from experience, teeth vacuum rather nicely.

Last Notes of Autumn

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We’re squeezing out the last joys of fall while winter whispers that its coming. The smell of the leaves is fainter but not gone. The sound of my sneakers on the path still sings with leaves crunching underneath and brushing against each other.

This year’s fire wood has been drying for at least a year. Next year’s wood is being split and stacked. We’re using the wood stove, but it’s not even close to the continual feeding of wood and blazing fires that winter will bring. Black winter jackets have gone on the bee hives and mouse guards have been tacked across their bottom entrances. Little by little, we’re battening down the hatches and getting ready.

Rumors of rising electricity bills have me dreaming again of hanging my clothes on the line all winter. I’ve learned from experience to commit in smaller chunks. Nothing like a whole season weighing on my shoulders to make me give up before I start. Ergo, I’m hoping to hang the clothes all winter, but I’m only promising one additional load to the one that just went up on the line. If I make it to the end of December, I get a party. If I make it to the end of January, I get an entire day off. It may be cheaper to run the dryer than to get my just desserts if I make it to the end of February.

I have a sense of accomplishment this week. We made it to the end of birthday season. All kids dutifully celebrated. All details of figuring when and what and with whom are past. Memories of overwhelming are melded together in the shape of a birthday cake. Fuzzy. Like the feeling most people get after a few glasses of wine. Or that I get after a swallow.

Pudding cakes were the big hit this year. They require a cake, a wooden spoon to poke holes all over it, and some fresh homemade pudding to pour into the holes and all over the top. Fun while they lasted, but I’m not sure I’ll make another one before Christmas. Maybe not until Easter. Who knows. Who cares. They’re officially all clocked in now at 6, 9, 11, and 14. For another year, it’s over.

Oblivious to its role as an illusion, time, like the seasons, dependably marches on.

Boy Man

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Tucked in among the surprises of the past week was a gift from Boy one. Bold, cocky boy with the never ending words was quiet, almost bashful coming into the room.

I made something for you, he said.

The last thing he made me was a sign for Christmas two years ago. Somehow in the chaos of Christmas, it was lost before it ever made it to my door. I’m  not a thing person really, but over that I could still cry.

Here, he said. He handed me a string of beads on a piece of yarn. On one end I detected a lopsided cross. I twisted it around seeing how to make the cross lie flat and wondered if my head would fit inside the circle.

It’s a rosary, he said looking down. I made it for you, then I kept it for a while but I thought today maybe I should give it to you. I don’t make things very much. Not like the other kids.

I looked with curiosity through plastic beads to the boy. Sometimes with pride, sometimes with frustration, still for months upon months I have been seeing a young man in his gangly limbs and brooding eyes. All that wing flapping and splashing makes it hard to remember the boy inside it all, but I touched the beads and there he was. The boy he always has been. The boy we all are.

We visited my mother’s grave a few days ago. We took things the kids had made and decorated it. Sang a song, said some prayers, and had a snack. The kids didn’t like it that we undecorated before we left. My explanations about cemetery rules didn’t satisfy so I switched to theories about time.

Really smart people say it doesn’t exist, I said. Not like we think it does with past, present and future. If your treasures were here as a gift today, they’re always here now, even if we take them.

Maybe this is how we grow old without ever ceasing to be the child we were. However it works, I have translucent beads on multicoloured yarn between crooked knots from the boy who is taller than me, to remind me that it’s true. That for all our dreams of manhood, we pray and hope and love with the heart of a child.

In my pocket my fingers touch the beads softly. If I could hold on to the gift of this picture, with what gentleness could I see the world?

And if not that, at least the grace to hold this imageof my son.

 

The Farmer and the Belle

November morning

November morning

I wrote before of cows getting loose, run ins with law enforcement, corralling them, cajoling them and getting them back to where they belonged. The emphasis was irritation, interruption, and the frustrating need for better fencing.

Better fencing has happened. In one of the scenarios above we met a neighbour who helped us. My husband remarked on the man’s friendly three legged dog. They talked cows and the farmer mentioned he had a bull coming shortly to stay for a spell. We said thank you and gave him some eggs and a chicken.

Last week it came to our attention that Anabelle is again in heat, despite having magic potion delivered by the nice man in the white truck on three different occasions.

What would you do if you were us and the potion fails this time? I asked.

Get a bull, he said.

We’re not set up for housing a bull, but Anabelle’s condition jiggled up the memory of the nice new neighbour. My husband called and the bull was still there. Transport and accommodations were arranged. We did our best to communicate to Anabelle our approval of this new young man and our extreme best wishes that she find him an acceptable sire for next year’s calf.

Hopefully she’ll be home soon. The fields don’t seem quite right without her. Buster’s been wandering the pastures mooing soulfully. On and on and on.

Who knows if this time will be the ticket or not, but the irony makes me laugh. We only met the farmer who’s helping us because Buster got a taste for a good wander and convinced his mother to join him. If broken fences and crazy cows equal a nice little Hereford/Charolais calf next summer, I’ll have to reassess more illogical reasons for hope and gratitude.

 

Education Updates

The Country School, by Winslow Homer. 1871

The Country School, by Winslow Homer. 1871

Boy one has learned to iron. Better yet, he likes it. My iron broke this week so we had to get a new one. Boy one couldn’t wait to try it. In fact, he was so excited about trying it out, he had Boy two standing in line begging for a turn. This is good news for future wives, not to mention the current ironing brigade (that’s me) which now has some budding reinforcements.

 

Boy two finished paying off damages from his experiments with vandalism. To my complete shock, I found a hole carved the entire way through the girls’ bedroom door one day.

What were you thinking? I said in none too calm a voice.

It wasn’t my fault, he said. I was just trying to be nice. Girl two said she wanted a peep hole for her door, so I made her a peep hole.

 

Girl one has five pairs of socks left if she’s barefoot, the laundry is completely done, and I look the other way on some of the holes in the heels. I know this because after a full week of daily morning sock crisis, I did a mad thing, searched every crevice of her room for miscreants, then completely washed, dried, and folded everything in the house in one night. Girl one swears she has not conscripted/stolen the missing socks to make clothes for stuffed animals. Either she actually has no idea what has happened to her socks, or I have not found the magic phrasing combination required for full confession. Before this child, I was rarely late. When I am not with this child, I am rarely late. This week marks a new level of accomplishment. If I am not mistaken, we have been late to school now every day for two weeks running.

 

Girl two brought home some art work. I admired the painted butterflies and construction paper penguin.

I’ll have to put these up where we can see them, I said.

Girl two disappeared then returned.

I’m trying to figure out where the coldest place in the house is, she said. Where is the coldest place in our house?

I must have been half listening because I didn’t answer.

Where’s the coldest place in our house, she repeated.

Why are you asking that?, I said.

Because that’s where we should put the penguin, she said.

 

Should this have been obvious?