Category Archives: Holidays

Giving Advent Room to Get Loose

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The winds are blowing in different directions this year. My thoughts on advent themes suggested these: light, dark, light in the darkness, hope, waiting, anticipation, preparation, joy, love.

After this came the notion of writing a list that left this year’s Advent with room to surprise. Some things I hope to do many times, but the only requirement is to do everything once.

 

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Advent List

Change some of the furniture around

Make some part of the house more inviting

Greet an unwanted change with a smile

Go on a date with my husband

Stop and speak unhurriedly with someone I wouldn’t normally speak with

Count being stuck in a line as a metaphor for waiting, a reminder of the sacred in the mundane

Look for other sacred things hiding in irritation

Do something quiet

Add or subtract something to this list

Be still in the dark

Light candles

Write a letter

Read a story

Sing a song in the dark

Bundle up and go star gazing

An Open Letter to My Mother-in-Law

Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.

Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.

My in-laws had us over for American Thanksgiving. They cooked the turkey, mashed the potatoes, made the dessert and set the table. We ate enthusiastically. Somehow the conversation turned to refrigerators and freezers. My mother-in-law and I do not share views about how to keep them, a point I felt compelled to share (in the spirit of Thanksgiving?). On the drive home a letter began writing itself in my head.

Dear Mother of my husband (who has loved me full and well these seventeen years and then some),

Having shared so generously my thoughts about your freezers, it seems a fuller picture is in order. After lo these many years, perhaps the time has come to clarify.

Over all the years, almost without a moment of exception, I have found you a warm, generous, and open person. To a fault I find you hard working, dedicated and faithful. Do I find you a practical person?  Not particularly, but practicality is overrated for the artistic temperament. I think it hinders mine and I envy your approach to all things art. I love your art. I love that all the arts are you, from poetry to paint to music.

There are moments when we are so different on a small thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around it. (Possibly this happens to you as well when the germ paranoia’s invade my psyche.) There are also moments when I think you understand my own attempts at art better than anyone I know. That in the places mostly without words we share a common core, our insides inhabited by unruly but not unpleasant muses.

You can keep buying freezers, and I’ll keep panicking about controlling contagious disease. Regardless, the years past of being family with you have been nothing but a privilege for me. I look forward to enjoying your company, conversation, insights, ideas, and inspirations for many years to come. Thanks for a wonderful Thanksgiving, take 2.

With love much more than I say,

Michelle

All Souls Day Again

Inspired by All Saints and All Souls, I am working on a piece about death, but it’s not quite ready. When I made attempts to talk about death last year, a former student of mine from Mexico wrote me afterwards. I found his brief response to my writing more profound than what I’d written. The video he shared took me by surprise. First I wasn’t sure I liked it, then I almost cried. Since tears are one of my shyest friends, when they come round I take notice, say thank you, and give their inspirations a big thumbs up.

From my wise now adult friend . . .

Your blog made me remember how we forget that death is not suffering, it is part of us, and we corrupt the meaning. I found this video about the tradition in Mexico!    

 

 

 

Birthday Party

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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.

 

A few from the twos

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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.

 

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

One of the local ladies out for a stroll in the front yard on Thanksgiving weekend.

One of the local ladies out for a stroll in the front yard this Thanksgiving weekend.

What gratitude looked like

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.

 

New Years Day

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In elementary school, my husband was small. Short and skinny, but undaunted in the world of sports. Not big, but fast and scrappy. He didn’t much care how tall he wasn’t as long as he was on the field or the court or wherever the action was.

At 5’6″ he has never outgrown his love for sports. As a concession to family life, he has curbed his sports viewing from twenty plus hours a week to about four per week between September and January. Should I meet an early demise, this would be subject to change. For now, he’s taken it down to the bare bones necessities, aka, football.

It’s a game about men in tight pants pushing and shoving each other, I say.

He rolls his eyes.

Football is like his bike from high school. When he was in high school he traveled across Canada with a bike team. The aging bike he rode then is dusty and unused. I have pulled it out for selling or giving many times but he is immovable. It is an amazing bike, he’s keeping it, and the fact he’s keeping it means it’s possible he’ll ride it again. But whether he ever touches it again, or whether or not I understand doesn’t change the fact that he’s keeping it.

The count down to New Years Day has been whispered with growing excitement for a week now. New Years: the first game of this year’s football season. (Football’s place in his heart is more entrenched than the bike.) All yesterday, I felt him practically twitching with excitement, knowing the season would start that night. We don’t have cable. Football hits our tv for Sunday games only. Thursday he catches the scores by radio or the internet. Excitement dimmith not.

There are things about the game I find sincerely irritating, maddening, troubling even. But it would be almost impossible to love this man, and not give in to the palpable joy on a Sunday afternoon after kick off. A loyal fan with some common sense (rare commodity), he loves the Cowboys, but advised the kids to choose a different team to love.

I’ve tried, he’ll say. I know they have “issues,” but I can’t help it. I was born in Dallas. They’re my team. They’ve always been my team.  It’s like they’re in my blood. They’re my team.

So it’s true. At County Road 21, where we grow our own meat, make our own bread and yogurt, and try to keep things simple, we also watch highly paid men in bright, often striped, pants, push and shove, and chase each other around a field in an attempt to advance a brown leather ball in one direction or another. There are those who watch for hours and those who watch for minutes. The latter often bring snacks to the former.

Happy New Years everybody. And for my husband, upon whose temporal happiness it depends- Go Cowboys.

Rich

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The children have taken to telling everyone that we had three vacations this summer.  There never seems to be a way to explain my side of it. The first, “vacation,” was a weekend invitation to a friend’s cottage. We left earlier than planned in order to get to the hospital and brush up on appendicitis facts, but prior to that it was quite wonderful. The second, “vacation,” was a once in a lifetime week by a lake with family, an hour from home. Cousins, the chief excitement of my children’s world, were present. But my husband was still working. There were 14 people to feed. Our calf was sick part of the time. Trips had to be made home, vets called, and well . . . I loved seeing my family, I just couldn’t say it was restful.  Which brings us to, “number three.”  This was the real kind . . . with my husband, six hours AWAY from the farm and all its potential needs.

For the record, we did not have three vacations! If we had, I imagine I would be rested. Instead, I watch the clock longingly until school comes tomorrow to take the rest robbers away. People with three vacations are rich. We are not rich.

Except we are and I know better. Forget clothes and food, we go to school, drive cars, spend money on things that might not pan out, quit things because we don’t like them. My husband pays for a cook (me), maid (also me), chauffeur (me), and tutor (still me) for the children. Since I don’t worry about getting fired, I also spend quite a bit of time writing. Lots of people we know have more than we do, but it is a matter of degrees. From a global perspective, we live solidly on the rungs of the rich ladder.

Light broke through this weekend though. Girl two is about to be a first grader. That got me thinking about me in grade one. Six years old for me was a bad year. A lot of things went terribly wrong. Girl two, bouncing up and down happy, turns six today. The comparison has me profoundly to my bones, grateful. The brokenness I came from is not her inheritance. She doesn’t know a thing about it.

I am thinking about that. About being rich. So rich I can’t keep track of everything. I wake up to discover stocks grown wildly that I hadn’t checked in ages. Investments I’d forgotten I even had.

My husband is hoping to take the kids camping for a weekend soon. I’m thinking maybe they can stop telling people how many vacations we have and just say we’re so rich we basically live on vacation.

But seriously. Some days I can’t believe it. My kids are really happy people. For real. How rich is that?

 

Gifts of last week

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

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

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

Watching Boy one learn to drive a putt putt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing cards at night with boys up past their bedtimes

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

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

Long car rides with alternately silly and grumpy kids

Time together with nothing else to do

Reading with the girls . . .

Down time

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