Monthly Archiv: March, 2015

Dress Up

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

My younger kids are especially crazy about dress up. They beg to play almost every day. They will clean things to get a yes. If I say no, they somberly depart, collect a costume each, then descend the stairs to beg if there is any way they can at least put on the costume in their hand. They solemnly pledge not to touch a single other item from the dress up tub should I say yes.

There is probably a justification for not allowing someone to wear a ballerina dress or plastic armor over their clothes, but I can never think of it when they look so plaintive. I leverage a small task and inevitably say yes. Maybe because I get the thing about dress up.

Dress up is an invitation to become our dreams, to experiment with what our dreams even are. To be someone else and to become more ourselves. The only one of my kids not in love with dress up right now is the only one not quite sure how to sit in his own skin. Trying to figure out a walk and a talk he can call his own, he’s dressing up alright, but he doesn’t know it yet.

Holy week is a drama. In some places it’s official with passion plays or musicals. Other places it proceeds without mention. Which is too bad because Holy week is an invitation to dress up. Wrap yourself in deep sorrow, unanswered longing, and uncertainty about the future. Try on doubt, worry, wonder, hatred, love. Leave them on the floor, pick up anger, joy, fear, hesitant faith, despair, and unrelenting hope. Look in the mirror. Pick through the piles and try it all on. Laugh, cry, throw your voice, get help with the zipper at the back. When you realize it’s broken throw a cape over it and go out anyway.

You look around and it’s all so much bigger than you. Heavy burdens that you carry are reduced to what they are: some things in the  midst of a vast multitude of things. A lot of people don’t fit their shoes quite right. Missing buttons, rips and tears. There’s a whole world of people sporting costumes like yours.

Holy week is a week that’s going somewhere. There’s a parade and you’re in it. Every outfit you’ve ever worn or wanted to wear is invited. Nothing is too awkward, outrageous, unsuitable, or simple this week. Attired accordingly, Quakers, transvestites, prophets, priests, professors and prostitutes, we are all on the float. Swept along towards a mystery we cannot possibly understand.

On Friday the pile of costumes will be collected to make a hill. On top of the hill a naked man will die without a costume. Before he does, he will look at us and smile. We will realize then that we are naked, clothed only in his love. Naked and in love, we will wait the rest of Friday and Saturday.

Sunday in awe, we’ll dress slowly as ourselves. Every one of us resplendent, honest to God children of the King.

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

Jr. prophets and teachers

compliments of morguefile.com by dave

compliments of morguefile.com by dave

A week ago I was on a very well planned vacation. I knew everything about who, what and when. There were lists of options and lists of set itineraries. I knew it so well I stopped looking at it.

And then my brain missed an entire day. The plan was to leave Georgia at 6:00am sharp on Thursday morning. Somewhere in there I started saying, “Thursday is our last day.” This despite weeks of excited planning about meeting a friend along our route on that same Thursday. It was 7:15am Thursday when I realized that I had invited my aunt and her family out for the day to a home in which we no longer had accommodations. 7:15 when I realized that there was no physical way to meet my friend by  1:00. We weren’t packed. No one had eaten.

I felt sick. This does not happen to me. Except it was. My aunt was looking forward to another day with us. The much anticipated hours with my very dear friend were being cut down to very little. There was no way of fixing it with either of them.

We drove to my aunt’s home. She met me dressed to the nines in preparation for our visit. I explained the situation and apologized. “It’s alright,” she said. But it wasn’t alright. We visited there for an hour. I wiped my eyes and tried to hold it together. We said goodbye and got on the road. I set to crying in earnest. My husband could not get past the idea that eating a sausage egg Mcmuffin was the answer. I ate it and he felt better.

There was no way to undo anything. Now we were late. For more than 7 hours we were late. I am not wired that well for ongoing failure. I’m big on making things up to people but there wasn’t any way to make it up. Until 5:30pm we were not there yet.

It should be called a good day. Although shorter than intended, the visits with both my aunt and my friend were deeply meaningful. I was still muttering about my massive failures getting ready for bed when my oldest daughter began singing softly.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do . . .

It’s a song Girl two brought it home from school a few years ago. Turns out it’s from Sesame Street:

               Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do

               Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too

               Big people small people matter of fact all people

               Everyone makes mistakes so why can’t you?

 

At home a few days later, I was telling the story of Michelle’s most awful disaster. “My aunt, my friend, the kids, they all forgave me, but it was awful . . .”

Which is when a freckled eavesdropper marched over to the sink where I was going dishes and tapped me on the arm.

“You know what I noticed,” said my youngest daughter on her tip toes so only I would hear her. She is missing her two middle teeth at the top. “Everybody else forgave you but you didn’t forgive yourself.”

She turned on her heel quickly and walked away, armed folded across her chest the way she does when she is sure that she is right.

 

Love and the abyss

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We are broken, all of us. If we do not weep this night, we have wept another night. Some tears we taste. Others carve unseen a myriad of hidden rivers, our insides quietly rearranged without our having any choice about the holes, their shape, their size.

This is what makes us so nervous about loving each other. We’re not that put together ourselves. Touching broken people reminds us about the rivers.

On the good days, we’re Swiss cheese in clothes talking cheddar. Other days (against our wishes) we go topless covered only by post it notes with arrows pointing to the holes. In a world of hurting people, our own holes ache to be filled but the when and how are confusing.

Suffering come with complicated formulas. It’s okay to  be suffering only if the diameter of my pain exceeds my neighbor’s. Measurements in my favor spell relief. But carrying rulers to relegate sorrows hurts everybody.

When my neighbor’s pain exceeds my own, it stops me short. What do I even have to offer them?

How do I love into the abyss?

My neighbor’s apartment is on fire. (This is a metaphor.) I am afraid to look at the flames. They bother me. Keep me up at night. I don’t need reminding. My eyes still burn from the smoke of my own recent fire. The power is out. There is one glass of water half full on my counter. The fire department is not here. They are supposed to be here. No one knows if they’re coming. Maybe my neighbor told them not to. What if she wants her place to burn?

Share your water, love whispers.

That much water cannot stop a fire. It’s not enough even to quench her thirst, I say.

Love waits for me to see.

It isn’t about rescue. We aren’t saviours. And yet by simple things have each of us saved. The 1/4 cups of water, half the kingdoms of our fellow pilgrims offered freely where they could not possibly make the difference between life and death. And yet they have.

When all is dark, it is in the arms of these moments that we are held. There is no promise for tomorrow to grab hold of (except by wings of faith notoriously difficult to strap on properly enough to stay in place). But there are moments of brokenness into which we can declare each other beloved.

The woman who washed God’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair didn’t fix anything. The feet were going to be dirty and smelly the next day. She washed them anyway.Tomorrow’s addictions and confusions will haunt unheeding of our sacrifice. But we offer the treasure of our love and into the ground a stake is struck.

I believe, we say to each other, you will be well. Whether or not I live to see your wellness, my love is not wasted on you. I see here, now, the promise of your wholeness.

We are ill suited to save each other but to love like this, into the abyss of dusty roads and canyons, perhaps this is what we were made to do.

 

Returning in sections

MIA: believed to be en route

MIA: believed to be en route

4450 kilometers (2765 miles) later we are home. Our bodies arrived a few hours of schedule. Our brains seem to have been lost in transit. Hopefully they’ll catch up with us before too many days go by.

Highlights people without brains can remember:

Air BnB:   Has everyone except me heard of this? I had never heard of it until this trip. We rented a small house from a local couple for the week. Full kitchen, two bathrooms, laundry room, porch, yard, living room, 4 bedrooms . . . it was amazing.

Public Transit: Once we figured out how to use public transit (which wasn’t that hard because we ran into so many helpful people) the city became a very easy place to get around. Buses were good. The kids liked them, but the subways were great. Major thumbs up from all parties. The first day we had to ride around on them for a while even though we’d already been everywhere we needed to go. Tired people in their seats couldn’t help smiling and laughing at the kids yammering about what was out the window and doing motion experiments holding on to things or not when the subway stopped.

Fruit: When you drive two days south and go to the grocery store, the fruit is a lot more remarkable.

Cash: We haven’t ever done a trip in cash before but we’ll do it again. It was downright exciting to sit girl one and boy two down at the table and assign them to count out our money for the trip. We attempted to write down everything we spent so we’d have a tally of how much went for gas, food, museum admission etc. but that kind of fell apart. Regardless, there is something really nice about having money that you can count and see.

Blue Ridge Mountains: Our little timeout onto the parkway to see the mountains (estimated at half an hour) turned into an hour and a half. The fog was so thick up in the mountains that we couldn’t see twenty feet in front of the car and had to drive very slowly with the hazard lights on. We had a very good laugh about the view from the mountains

It’s good to be back, with or without the brains.

 

 

 

Road Trip

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Before we had children (back when we thought the number of children you have is the kind of thing you decide) we planned to take a road trip. We would load them the children we did not yet have in a car, as soon as they were old enough to appreciate it, and drive across Canada.

Life happened. Jobs, schools and houses came and went. Four children made it to born. We moved to the farm. The theory of small farms is that one supplements one’s food supply and therefore income, while enjoying the wholesome qualities of country living. The reality is that while working  harder for it, you also pay more than the neighbors for your food. We stick with it because the farm makes us happy, our food tastes great, and we know where it came from.

The kids are now old enough to appreciate a road trip across Canada just in time for us to appreciate that the rest of our life choices have made that impossible. Luckily they weren’t there when we vowed to do it so nobody is upset. We the vow makers are okay with it because we think the trade off is worth it. Nevertheless, I have longed for a smaller version of the road trip. We looked at a few ideas in the last few years but nothing clicked.

This January I sat fretting about a beloved aunt. Should I fly down to see her?  If so when? I batted these questions around until I realized the problem: I really wanted to go see my aunt, but I really didn’t want to leave my family at home and go off by myself on a big journey.

Which is when I realized that a road trip would solve everything.

In January, my husband was ambivalent but willing. Since the end of February, he has been gleefully counting the days. The internet estimates the trip at 17.5 hours of driving. Past experience predicts at least 2 hours of stops for every 8 hours of driving. The return trip is longer. :)

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print. I’m away from the blog for a week to be fully present for our adventure.

Revolutionary Activities

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It’s almost March break up here in the snowy lands. Snow banks are sinking. Roofs drip madly. The maple syrup is running and the pancake houses have put out their open-for-business signs. March break is not the end of winter, but it’s the time you let yourself start longing for spring. Maybe if the schools didn’t let out for a week it wouldn’t stir up every trapped feeling I’ve ever had. But they do and it does. Institutions and structures and culture loom like prison bars on a window begging for a jailbreak. A holiday is great, but I’m feeling revolution.

My opening battle cry of revolutionary activities to be completed or repeated

Give a child directions on how to get somewhere and leave (The grocery store, main street in a small town, the woods, or a major urban center depending on the age.)

Leave children untended with no more than two rules for hours. (Ditto for self)

Sing together for fun (This will be hard if there are too many Catholics unless they play the guitar. According to my observations the majority of guitar playing Catholics are accustomed to singing, the rest are not. So guitars, Protestants, or musicians required if anyone else wants to pull this off.)

Read a book requiring many sittings, out loud with the family. (There is little better than a children’s book to begin with. Reading one out loud with someone else means you get to inhabit another world together. If anyone else feels the same way, some of the most delightful I’ve run across lately: The ***Penderwicks, The Calder Games, Chasing Vermeer, Artemis Fowl . . . and I have it on strong recommendation from a seventy year old and an eleven year old that, “The Borrowers,” though hardly a new release is well worth a read or a reread.)

Write letters. Put them in envelopes with stamps and mail them. (I discovered to my horror in February that although my grade ten son is working to become bilingual and is quite proficient in math, he had no idea how to mail a letter or where to write a return address on the envelope.)

Play board games or cards.  (We are big kitchen table game fans but have been playing only in bits and snatches of 15 -30 minutes. A multi-hour game-fest is calling.) If anyone else is feeling the itch:

Our tried and true: Go Fish, Old Maid, Uno. Trouble or Sorry. Dominoes. Taboo. Pit.

Recent delights:  Settlers of Catan, Seven Wonders of the World, Apples to Apples

The eternal classic that may not have broad based appeal but will forever hold my heart: The Farmers’ Game

 

Poetry is enough to start a revolution all by itself. The kids like to listen to it but I want them memorizing it and writing it. Maybe when I figure out how to put feet on that vision, I’ll write about it. So far it is a mystical yearning with no good ideas to hold it up.

Hard Work

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The human aversion to forced labor is alive and well here. Boy two is extremely tired of bringing in wood for the stove and has been since somewhere between the first and third loads in the fall. I assigned him a partner mid-winter to try and inspire his efforts. I looked out the window the other day to discover that the reason he had not yet returned with a load of wood was that an archery lesson was in session. He was immensely proud of himself for occupying his (and Girl two’s) time so well.

Having a partner has not increased the dedication to the task. However, it has made the task diversions much more pleasing. On his cheerful days, he lets Girl two ride on top of the wood stack and is setting all kinds of records as to how much time one can take to fill a wheelbarrow with wood, run it across the path to the house and unload it. The girl on moving wood stack method makes me nervous but months in, so far so good. I tell myself the snow would prevent a concussion should there be a toppling.

It was only after I snapped this picture that I saw the egg container perched up on top of the wood. I made them both promise to never balance eggs with the wood and they swore it was only for when the wheelbarrow was standing still and they were doing a lesson.

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Chicken coops and sunshine

Really, I promise we will fix up the outside of the coop this summer (and paint it)

The first two of many brave chickens. (And really, face lift for outside of the coop is  coming…)

I received the following in an e-mail this week:

You worry too much, woman. You call YOURSELF a square peg. No one else does. We love you dearly. Know that. Believe that. The burden you place on yourself is far harder to carry. Far. Harder.

Considering how completely together I have it, there is probably a sense of shock that someone would feel the need to say this to me. Or not.

I read the e-mail. Cocked my head (kind of like a chicken) and read it again. Huh. I read it one more time and then started folding laundry so I could think. I called my husband.

. . . I got this kind of weird e-mail. Now I’m walking around with this crazy thought in my head. Like what if I’m not a failure? Maybe I’m not even failing. Maybe the book taking so much longer than I ever thought doesn’t mean anything other than long sagas are frustrating and things take time even when you don’t want them to. Maybe I’m not doing anything wrong.  Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe everything is ok and I can just keep plugging away at things when I can and not worry about the rest. I mean, is that crazy? Seriously, what if I’m not a failure?

He didn’t think I was a failure. I said goodbye and put on my snow clothes. The chickens love the outside but they don’t like standing on two feet of snow. I shoveled some paths and space in the outside part of their coop. They didn’t come running so I stole some hay from the cows, made a dry place to stand, and lined it with food scraps.

Somebody had invited me out into the sunshine. The chickens were the only ones home I could think to pay it forward to. Invitation complete, I watched for a minute and enjoyed with them the way it feels when you’re stuck in a coop for so long all winter that you forget about the way out and then someone points to the door, calls from the outside and beckons. You cock your head to the side, let it bob around a bit to show you don’t take risk lightly, tip toe back and forth a few times, then bob out into the fresh air and sunshine to look around. Breathe. Smile. It’s not so bad out there.

 

Dear Reader,

Having been so graciously invited myself, I pray that similar invitations will be extended your way. Beginning now or sooner, may a path be shoveled through your two feet of snow, your coop entrance cleared, and enough hay put down to make your feet happy. In answer to your courageous head bobbing from your very wiggly neck, may the sun rise each day and the treats at your toes be as pleasing as rotted fruit or discarded vegetable scraps.

Yours in the Journey –

Michelle

People gawking to see why something's different. Par for the course.

People gawking to see why the chickens are daring to opt for fresh air.

March Buzz

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You can see at least a few of the bodies here.

 

The business of bees nags at my brain. I want a sugar alternative, I want kids on fire for living things, and I like us learning whenever possible. People tell you to expect nothing for honey harvest in year one, while simultaneously telling you how much honey their uncle Harold, neighbor Frieda, and son, Billy, got their first years. We did not become a story like Billy; our first year we got zero.

I discovered in early January that the winterizing of the hives had not been done properly. Exits and ventilation are as important for bees as they are for people. One hive seemed ok. The other had both entrances inadvertently sealed. I removed hundreds of dead bodies and ice and settled into hopelessness. I mentally pronounced hive A dead and the hive B potentially terminal.

February broke all kinds of weather records for average cold, most consecutive cold days . . . This past weekend saw warmer temperatures. Despite the sunshine, I walked with heavy steps through snow higher than my boots (or knees) to make myself look at the hives.

“Good news!” I told my husband afterwards. “There were dead bodies all over the snow.”

I had hoped to see a bee or two fly out into the sunshine (they use the warm days to relieve themselves). I didn’t see that, but I did see a lone bee fly. Granted, she flew straight to the snow and committed frozen harakari . . . but before that she flew.

“It’s kind of weird,” said my husband, “when you say, ‘good news,’ because you discovered dead bodies and witnessed a suicide.”

But good news it is. Dead bodies on the ground mean the girls inside are alive and cleaning house. Should the buzz continue into spring, I’ve made some resolutions in celebration of hope’s resurrection:

  1. We’ll buy better bee protection. Winterizing would have been done better if we weren’t so sick of getting stung.
  2. I’ll give up expecting the boys to own the bee project. We all find the bees exciting. The boys are willing to work and willing to get stung. For the foreseeable future, they aren’t going to carry the emotional burden, initiate anything, or wake in the night with what they’ve forgotten to do. I can own the project or we can quit. I can be bitter about what my bee men aren’t doing or be happy for what they are.

With dreams of project watching gone, I am officially the project manager. May the eventual honey sweeten the gaps in working style among the partnership. I’ve got the ability to make myself do what I don’t feel like doing at a particular moment because it needs to be done and the notion that the pursuit of ongoing knowledge is required.  The boys are actually much more comfortable handling the bees than I am. We could do worse for a combined skill set.

4000 Words

A picture’s worth a thousand words . . .

A lot of hay gets wasted (according to us) but the animals are quite happy with the edible bedding in the middle of the field. The white stripes on the barn are feed bags hung and weighted to keep the wind out at night.

A lot of hay gets wasted (according to us) but the animals are quite happy with the edible bedding in the middle of the field. The white stripes on the barn are feed bags hung and weighted to keep the wind out at night.

Unlike the rest of us, Buster is not phased by winter.

Unlike the rest of us, Buster is still unphased by winter.

 

Game of tag

Game of tag to celebrate some warm days!

 

Boy two making Anabelle happy by letting her lick his face. We don't know why she likes it or why he lets her.

Boy two making Anabelle happy by letting her lick his face. We don’t know why she likes it or why he lets her.