Category Archives: Holidays

Fall birthdays and the odd joys of gambling

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We’re a little more than halfway through this year’s birthday season. I’m limping a bit on the enthusiastic party zeal, but working hard to fake it. No one knows how many times I’ve fondly rememberd the conversation where Boy one said he didn’t want a birthday party this year. No one knows I shed tears wanting him immediately crowned my favourite child when I recall it.

I find strange comforts in the midst of afflictions. Girl two’s birthday party (not to be confused with her family birthday dinner – the math on this is 4 kids x 2 celebrations minus one party thanks to current favourite child = 7 events in just over two months) was an example of this. I didn’t use to serve lunch at parties but it’s a good time killer while you’re looking at your watch to see how many more minutes until the party your child looks forward to all year is over.

I went to buy hot dogs for the party, only to broadsided at the store by my North American-waste-panic, concurrent with my panic about nutrition vs. people eating what feels like fun to them. Illogically, I could deal with the hot dogs themselves, but the thought of white buns instead of whole wheat sent me over the edge. In went the whole wheat buns to my cart. A minute later I was back exchanging them for white. I got them in, then I took them out. After much deliberation, I resolved to buy precisely one package of 8 white buns, come back another day when I was stronger to finish the shopping, and make this the last time I ever bought them. Driving away I pictured future birthday parties and the possibility of blindfolding picky visitors until they had finished eating their proper brown buns.

Of course, I never made it back to the store. The party began. There were 6 children in attendance. Celebrations are about extravagance. I decide to gamble on eight hot dog buns anyway. Some people take chances on cards, some people take chances they can outmaneuver seven year olds. We all have our vices. I sweat, but I do not panic. There’s actually a strange kind of pleasure in the challenge.

I put some fries in the oven. I prepared the hot dogs and cut each one in half. I made a mountain of carrot sticks and apple slices. Each child got a plate with half a hot dog, some fries, and their choice of fruit or veggie. I poured milk and I served slowly. Everyone who asked for seconds was served. Eventually, I brought around seconds until everyone refused more and gave the leftovers to a stray sibling.

The white bread guilt is gone. Party weariness disappeared that day. I served 6 children as much as they wanted with a mere 8 hot dog buns, none of whose pasty whiteness remained on my counter. And yes, there’s a bit of an afterglow just remembering it again.

Boats, songs, and sails

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It is summer here and I have boats on the mind. We returned recently from the land of canoes, kayaks, and other water craft. Boy one spent the first day of and a half of vacation making a plug to fill the hole of an old rowboat. He cleaned it out and attached a small motor he found. The row boat’s plug was not perfect but only a little ongoing bailing seemed necessary to keep things ship shape. His triumph culminated in a solo trip with his brother to unknown places. There they discovered a waterfall, a swimming hole, and a burning desire for more adventures of the same.

On a summer evening mid July I was singing. Kids waited for the story to unfold, laughing as another woman and I sang every verse of “There’s a hole in my bucket.” Since then my head has been visited going on weeks now with the recurring choruses. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza . . . With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza.

I share Henry’s bewilderment. Buckets in need of repair are tricky. Effective possible remedies are difficult to come by.

I picture the rowboat and know that I too am a boat that requires bailing. There is a hole in the boat, I have said quietly now to a few friends.

One night we sang campfire songs in the living room around a pile of red pillows because it was too windy outside for a real fire. This is the song that never ends sang the kids again and again. For the uninitiated, there are three more lines in the song which then circle back to the beginning whereby you sing with increasing gusto, this is the song that never ends! Kids love the song inversely proportional to how much other people hate it. The quickest and most bearable way out (which is still not that quick) is to sing along and pretend to like it.

Recapping, there’s a hole in my bucket, a song that never ends, a rowboat with a homemade plug, and me the boat with a hole. Or two.

Mulling it all over on a walk at home, I remembered another very windy vacation day. With much enthusiasm two kids gathered materials: sticks, hammer, nail, duct tape, pillow case, white garbage bags. Two models of a sail emerged and out into the bay they went. With one sitting on a blow up raft and another on a blow up yellow tube, they held up sails to catch the wind. Over and over they went, changing the angle of the sail, trying new starting points, stopping to take the sails apart and revamp with new materials. Twice, for thirty seconds of so, they were able to sail side by side. The last sail began with a laborious swim to drag sail and raft as far from shore as possible. An impressively long sail followed, steered with great pride to the precise corner of the dock.

We bail our leaking boats at times with a bit of discouragement. Will the bailing never end? Can anything be done about the holes? Seemingly ignoring the questions, the wind blows lightly. Only enough to tickle our ears. We remember that unannounced and arriving on a schedule quite its own, wind also comes with a mighty will across the water. When it does, from almost nothing, sails can be made.

Today the tiniest of breezes, and it is true that for now, we bail. But not without hope of wind and sails.

 

 

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Down time again

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I had hoped to post more today but alas a houseful of seven happy kids and the need to say, “please shut the door,” six hundred and seventy-five thousand times, left me unable to process too many other thoughts. County Road 21 is taking some down time for the next few weeks with plans to be back for the second week of August. In the mean time we’ll be catching up on farm work, dispensing with farm work, taking walks, canoeing, kayaking, reading, talking, taking naps, and playing endless games of cards.

Blessings on you all.

 

p.s  This just in as I write . . . one of mine to visiting sleepover guest .  . . do you know what I call those little poops that are just tiny?  Rabbit droppings!  I just did a rabbit dropping . . . and on the conversation went to hair, pig tails, and other such important things.

Baptisms of Pentecost

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wind photo compliments of morguefile.com

Being overwhelmed feels like sensory overload. There’s too much stuff in your head. You crave space, quiet, nothingness. When at last the grace of quiet comes, you awaken not to the nothing you envisioned, but to a myriad of somethings.

I found I could save a trip last week if I simply stayed put after a doctor’s appointment and picked my son up straight from school. That left a few hours so I drove to the library. I saw a bench overlooking the water and sat down with my lunch. Across the river I saw man/boys in school uniforms squatting together in a circle. There was a stick which turned out to be two sticks which turned out to be fishing poles. I wondered where you could put in a good word for the man/boys toward future quests for education and employment. They would, I believed, make better humans for having fished on their lunch hour, than having either strutted somewhere for the women/girls or studied. After that I noticed the way the balsamic vinegar had soaked in just enough to make the cherry tomato halves on my fork spectacular, but not enough to make them something other than tomatoes.

On the tractor, I discovered a third color of trillium on the property. The white and pink are the same species, I learned. The red are not. Hanging laundry, I saw a gray tree frog attempting camouflage along the cracked paint of the hand railing. We found each other curious.

I observed the irony of tractors. Going places in cars drives me to distraction. Driving a tractor in circles in a field makes me peaceful and reflective. I turned off the computer and noticed the feel of a pen in my hand. Watched my handwriting, sloppy and unpracticed across the page, breathe in and breathe out. It’s slower on the uptake. But no amount of pen clicking on the lined notebook page could interrupt the space of now with the distraction of the internet.

I realized that my husband had been talking about tea. I noticed his focus. Unlike his placement of personal possessions, his approach to iced tea is highly systematic. There is a perfect amount of lemon; he will find it. A perfect number of spearmint leaves. A perfect temperature at which to leave the tea bags for a specific amount of time. Like a beagle on the trail, he is on it. I noticed it was to my preferences that he is measuring the standard of perfection.

These were my first whispers of wind and fire. My personal invitation to Pentecost.

The Spirit descends when we’re looking and when we’re not. Spirit that is. Blood in the veins. Wind in the grass. Creek water in the rush of spring. Soul food at a well worn kitchen table. Black gold compost for the garden. Morning’s light for another round of unremarked upon photosynthesis to feed the world. Spirit that drives through time like a second hand on a watch. Ignored by all but track stars, yet insistent and unremitting in it’s creation of minutes, hours, time. Spirit with the earthy rich sounds of a woman with her eyes closed and her hands open as she sings. She’s black singing to an all white crowd who doesn’t get it. She’s known fear and sadness and could yell about it, but opts to sing instead about deliverance. Because it’s bigger. And they need it.

Because the one thing you can say for certain about Pentecost is that it comes.

 

Becoming Lazarus

La résurrection de Lazare (English titles: "The Resurrection of Lazarus" or "The Raising of Lazarus") by Leon Bonnat, 1857.

La résurrection de Lazare (English titles: “The Resurrection of Lazarus” or “The Raising of Lazarus”) by Leon Bonnat, 1857.

Sometimes when things are not good or safe, you separate yourself into pieces. In hospitals and battlefields, this time honored tradition is known as triage. There are not enough resources to save everyone, so you save those most likely to live. Losses are unfortunate but inevitable.

Growing up and into my twenties, the survival of some of me came at the cost of the rest of me. This has been a source of grief. Not to mention a long and bitter war within myself. (The parts of me scheduled for early demise were not that cooperative with the parts of me giving the orders.) I wasn’t happy about the executions, but then again I didn’t exactly see other options. The ferocity with which some parts tried to live troubled me. I worried that if they did not die, they would spread through my bones like cancer, and then there would be none of me.

I got them before they got me – those other parts of me. But the death bothered me. It might have been the only way I knew to survive, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Through the years against my wishes and without planning to, I would find myself like Mary and Martha weeping inconsolable at the tomb.

Engulfed in sorrow, I mourned the loss. But I did not dream of resurrection. In matters of life and death there is no going back. I did not think of Lazarus. Dead is dead. What’s done is done. These are true things which even a child can verify.

At least they were true until yesterday. On a Tuesday after Easter, some irrevocably done things were undone. The dead were invited to live. Love spoke and the parts of me long wrapped in grave clothes and buried were called forth.

I believe in the necessity of risk. I believe in betting on the gamble of love. But sometimes you don’t do anything. You aren’t even hoping terribly hard (on account of being dead and all). From the depths you begin to hear a voice. This is strange because dead people aren’t known for their listening skills, but the sound of your name becomes unmistakable.

It is shocking. So much so that you don’t do anything about it for a very long time. Months. Years. Dead people don’t lie around anticipating change or feeling urgency. (It never crosses your mind to remember that the dead lie waiting to be called forth.) The voice is insistent, beguiling. It dances invisible in the air around your corpse until it seeps into you. Until it is moving through you like blood from the determined heart of a lover. One moment you are resigned to death; the next you cannot lie there another minute agreeing to accept it as a permanent condition.

You rise up not knowing what waits. You find it a surprisingly long walk from where you were lying to the entrance of the tomb. You walk blind, shaking and stumbling because you aren’t dead anymore but you aren’t used to being alive either.

You look, sound, and act like you came from far away because you did. You don’t know for sure how to take off all the chic death wrap but you’re looking forward to it. How much help you’ll need or what you can manage alone you’re not sure. But you don’t care. He’s there. It’s an Easter story. It’s not a metaphor, it’s a resurrection.

Whatever the word on the street, death is not the last act. And resurrection isn’t earned. Resurrection is offered, with it’s power hidden behind such tenderness that it takes your breath away. I know because yesterday, this was me.

Two small stories for April Fools

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

Because we are all of us April fools most days of the year…

 

Girl two was in the bathtub yelling madly on the weekend.

Daddy…..  Daddy…..

On principle, I never interrupt when I hear this call. But I was starting to feel agitated waiting for him to respond. I told myself she had just dropped something or least it was a small injury.

Daddy …..

My husband does not hurry, even when a drowning or gushing flesh wound seem likely

Daddy …..

At last I heard him entering the bathroom to answer the call of distress.

What was it? I wanted to know when he returned. Is she okay?

She wanted to know if there were electric eels in Canada.

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I drove in the driveway to see three children huddled around a tree, obviously covering something up as a result of my entry. They cast glances in my direction and huddled more tightly around the tree. I couldn’t think of any tree related crimes requiring immediate attention so I put the car in the garage and went inside. Half an hour later, they were knocking on my door triumphant.

They had a surprise for me. They could microwave it if I’d like but they wanted me to see it before it went any further.

A mug was held out with a half an inch of clear liquid.

It’s sap!

We got it ourselves!

For you!

It’s a surprise!

They had found a nail, pounded it into a tree and wiggled it, while catching drips in plastic cup. They had strained bits of tree bark out with limited success.

I took a tiny sip, proclaimed my delight and suggested more cups.

No way, they said. We all had some. The rest is for you.

Every bit of it.

It’s our surprise, they said.

So I have a mug of sap and tree bark in the kitchen. I can’t bear to throw it out but neither do I wish to drink it.

 

 

 

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.