Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Matching! And Organizing! Concentration!

Remember that game you used to play with your mom and dad's cards? Concentration is what we called it. My brother and I would spread all 62 (64? I can't remember. Challenge me to any card game and you will win. Except maybe concentration. I'm so good at that. Except this long parenthetical proves otherwise. Who's counting?)... anyway, my brother and I would spread out the whole deck, upside down, in a perfect grid on the floor.

I was a little particular about the grid and its spacing. My brother, nearly three years younger, just wanted to slap 'em down and get on with the game. Brothers. It was always a stretch, literally, to organize the middle just right so the grid looked more or less orderly. This would be important later, when mentally photographing the split-second overturning of a card to find a match.

My brother is a chemical engineer. He's all slapdash and "whatever," clearly, to this day. Me? I'm a (mostly) stay-at-home mom with a blog. Which one of us was paying attention in the big concentration game of life, I'll never tell.

Oh! The REASON for this post?

I have decided to get more organized in the New Year. How novel! you say. Feel free to leave me tips in the comment section. Or hire me a personal organizer. Either one.

Because this is not the first time it has crossed my mind, I have a few (dozen) books and torn-out magazine articles on the subject. All over my office floor. Plus (bonus!) all the new magazines have refresher courses for me.

It occurs to me that one's entire house, indeed, life, should not be a huge game of Concentration. One (that one being me) should not have to close one's eyes and picture where they left their keys, underwear, smallest child. One should decidedly not have to overturn any playing cards to find any of those items. Puh-lease.

So I decided to start the big effort, yesterday, with a shopping trip. What did I buy? Certainly not clever lined baskets or totes or filing cabinets or even bookcases. I bought bras and underwear, people.

I bought five new bras, none of them flesh-toned or nursing-capable, and two pairs of panties to match each bra. The angels of organization are singing as I type that. Can you hear them?

Now, this very morning, I shall attack the organization monster with a vengeance. Clearly I am girded for the chore.

(First stop: Throw away all nursing bras and maternity panties and tidily arrange my new lingerie drawer. Next: Cup of coffee and self-congratulations. Finally: Peruse more magazines to plan the whole attack. Disintegrate into overwhelm. More coffee. Keep you posted.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


We've been baking a bit.

So much so that I've re-named that powdered white product formerly known as Sugar.

Around here, you'll hear it referred to as Christmas Crack.

Divinity, the Devil's candy, calls for powdered sugar and corn syrup. I think it was very early marketing genius to name it "divinity." But a wolf in sheep's clothing, still.

Icing for the sugar cookies. Um. The cookies are made with sugar and butter, and then we put some nearly liquid sugar on top with a little food coloring for good measure. I find the food coloring is especially helpful in ensuring children sleep well at this time of year.

Cranberry Hooties. Hooties? Who names these things? They're oatmeal and cranberry bars, people. Just some grain and fruit cleverly holding the sugar together in a cookie bar with a vaguely disturbing name.

Cardamom bread. Now this, and I kid you not, has made my Christmas. My Finnish grandmother made cardamom bread around the calendar, but it's still a Christmas must when baking. And as a bonus... no sugar.

My grandmother died four and a half years ago. So an hour ago when I was kneading the dough, aromatic with fresh-crushed cardamom, and 8-year-old Sarah paused in the kitchen to say, "smells like Mumuu's house," I of course immediately dissolved into a puddle of (sugary) tears.

Traditions are funny that way. Some we're conscious of creating. As parents we do some things simply because our children's childhoods make more sense with traditions. It's not particularly fun to make sugar cookies and spread icing from one end of the house to the other. But it wouldn't be a proper child's Christmastime without the opportunity to press the shape of a tree and a wreath and the bells into dough, drop the coloring into icing with abandon, spend hours with flour on our cheeks and sprinkles stuck in our hair.

Some traditions are so entrenched we didn't even know how important they were.

And, by the way, my photos have nothing to do whatsoever with this post. Laura likes to take her baths in the kitchen sink. I like to force my husband to pull over so I can shoot little white churches. The camera is storing up the happiness for me, so I can pull the memories up thanks to the miracle of Random Access Memory. Or is that Read Only Memory? Whatever. They're my memories.
I have a longtime habit of comforting myself with pretty pictures. I used to raid my mother's photo albums when I was a little girl. How much better is it to have a large hard drive and a huge stack of CDs... all mine! Anyway that was me at 11 years old, sitting in the closet with a sheaf of square snapsots and some C.S. Lewis books, breathing through Constant Comment teabags, making the world perfect from my perspective.
I have just a minute between kneading dough and braiding Christmas Eve hair to sit in my (closet of an) office with a cup of tea, a year's worth of pictures, and you. While the world looks much more complicated than it did once, it's still pretty wonderful from here.
Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Little Women 2008

Gracie's mastered the fine art of homemade cinnamon rolls. The more butter, the better.

Laura is trying to figure out the knitting thing. She's precocious that way.

Watch Mommy for a minute.

Yeah, that's the way.

Madeleine hasn't stopped knitting since her birthday.

Sarah's working on a blanket for her doll.
That's good, because it's cold outside. Something about being snowed in brings out the little homemaker in me. I'm just one stop short of finding a copy of "Pilgrim's Progress" to read aloud at night around the fire.
Wait, we don't have a fireplace (yet).
I guess we're still not the March family. After all, Daddy is home most evenings, not off to war at all. But the old-fashioned cozy togetherness is definitely growing on me. This year's economy and weather have conspired to make any trips to the mall impossible.
I dislike the mall with a passion that precedes Etsy or even Ebay. But this year I'm not even shopping online.
I'm just... not shopping. I made some really neat gifts in the kitchen and at the sewing machine. I already had some things in my closet of surprise. (For instance, Sarah wanted a "spy kit" a la Harriet, and I'd picked up the components of that previously.)
I've combed through my books and other treasures and found meaningful presents. The girls spontaneously went through their things and made four boxes of lovely donations for our local women's shelter. (It personally bothers me to donate anything that's not in pristine condition, so I'm proud of their selections.) And the big girls are prepping surprise hand-me-downs of teddy bears and dolls for Grace and Laura, which I find charming, so I've been secretly sewing little wardrobes to complement those gifts from the heart.
You know what? I think we're not alone. I think other families across our nation and around the world took hits in the wildly fluctuating stock market and the dismal economy. I think when we took the hit, we took stock. And then we said, let me off of this wild ride, Mr. Toad.
Christmas has never been a super-commercial time in our family, but it's never been as low key as this year. For our part, we are incredibly blessed to be together with tons of time for baking gingerbread and cinnamon rolls and pulling out rows of knitting just to start over.
There will be no Wii under the tree, but "we" are alright with that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it Snow

Welcome to the Bird Seed Cafe. Won't you have a perch? It's a little chilly, but we'll warm you right up with some hearty sunflower seeds.

There's plenty of seating al fresco.

A reader in California (Okay, it was my mother-in-law. Hi, Maggie!) emailed me and asked me to post some pictures of the snow.

I have some really pretty pictures of last year's snow.

I thought about posting them, because this year's snow is not lovely to behold.

It's ice-glazed and bluish.

For a couple of hours today the temp went above freezing. Thirty-three point six degrees. Mmm-mmm, toasty.

I braved the elements and risked my hip to take a few photos.

There was a cute little brown bird hanging from that sunflower... split seconds before the shutter snapped.

There's our front door. What with the pneumonia, the other unidentified fevers, the hip injury, and, you know, life, we didn't do our normal range of outdoor decorating this year. I love to have a 30-foot cedar garland over the front door. It's one of my traditional holiday splurges.

This year, thanks to 9 degree weather and the drafty 120-year-old house, there's a festive quilt draped over the inside of the front door. Visitors come in and out through the kitchen door. Just in case you wondered.

This tent isn't outside, but I had to throw the photo in. If I were "10 and under" I'd be happy to crawl under the dining room table with them. Oh, and if my hip weren't broken. I think I'm just racking up reasons why I'm okay with being excluded. It's bringing up a lot of insecurities. I even told the girls they ought to exclude the dog, then, because in dog years he's older than I am.

I'm not sure why this trike is still outside. A-hem. At least it's appropriately Christmas-colored.
And in (sort of) unrelated news: The downstairs toilet supply line thawed. Merry Christmas to us! Also on the bathroom topic: I stepped in the downstairs bathtub for a quick hot shower this morning. As usual at 6:30 a.m., I was only half awake. A tub full of ice water (stored there in case the well pump went out) greeted my bare toes. That's one surefire way to wake up!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Establish Peace

Isaiah 26:12 Lord, You establish peace for us. All that we have accomplished You have done for us.
Isn't it the eternal vicious cycle ... to sweat and struggle to keep up with the [fill-in-the-neighborses] and then, at the end of the day, fail to even feel good about what we have done? Is it ever enough? Will we ever attain that elusive peace?
Yes, we will. When we realize that it's never ours to establish. I don't know about you, but that's a relief and an encouragement to me.
For more encouraging Words this Wednesday, pop over to Amy Deanne's.

Monday, December 15, 2008

From the Front Lines



Toilet tank frozen.

This is not a recording.

If this were not an actual emergency, I'd have more time to blog about it.


It's really cold here. Note to Floridians: Eleven degrees is not as cute as 30.

It's all cuter on the Discovery Channel than in real life.

Bread pudding only keeps you warm for a minute.

Why-oh-why did we give up satellite TV? Also, why is there no heater in our downstairs bath?

Bread Pudding and a Deep Breath


I submit that there is nothing more comforting than bread pudding made with challah bread and little chunks of heaven, otherwise known as dried pears, liberally stirred into the gooey yet chewy sweet goodness.

Oh, yessirree, stop, hold the presses, there is something better: Said bread pudding with a cup of hot Constant Comment tea. Lots of milk and sugar. Good conversation about the plot twists of the latest Harry Potter. Some at the Suite book group would rather imbibe hot cocoa than Constant Comment. I try not to hold that against them.

The snow here is about six inches deep, which is a big deal for us in Western Oregon. The Eastern Oregonians, they're a tougher lot. They wear their Wranglers a bit tighter and their sheepskin-lined Carhart jackets nine months of the year. It's so cold in Eastern Oregon right now that the air is seeping over to the valley already crackling frigid.

The ground is white with snow and the trees are white with frozen fog. It's cold, people.

When the Eng-Gen-Eer and I were newlyweds, we lived briefly on the east side of the state while he finished his degree. High desert summers, blue skies, young love, and long icy winters spent, um, er, studying.

I have some good memories of Eastern Oregon. But I'd never want to move back there. It's so much better to be where it's green all year round, where we have four children, where we have maybe less time for "studying," but lots more of the building blocks that stack up to make a beautiful life.

Speaking of stacking bricks. Our first winter of marriage, we lived in a little concrete block bungalow in a low-rent district near the college. It was a slum, but it was a newlywed, redneck slum, and we didn't really notice anything odd about it. The houses around us were all built just after WWII, without benefit of structural engineering.

In January the area was under record snow accumulations. Our rental, specifically, was under a record amount of snow load.

Our next-door-neighbor's house, more specifically, fell down from the weight of the snow.

It fell a little bit onto our house. One whole wall just sort of leaned over into our bathroom and master bedroom, but only a little. We barely heard the crash.

We did, however, hear the fire department's arrival. They banged on our door and asked us whether we had any children. I said, "I can't remember."

Isn't that a strange answer for a girl of 20, married for four months? I can't remember whether I have children?

I'm sure I grabbed my favorite teapot and my wedding album (which I hadn't, at that point, finished paying for). We had a condemned house. We were on CNN. We had each other.

But we didn't have any bread pudding!

Miri's Bread Pudding With Pears

About 6 cups day-old challah, cut into 1-inch cubes (I make my own bread but have to make extra if I want day-old!)
3 cups milk (half and half is better if you have it)
Half a stick of butter, cut into small cubes
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup or so diced dried pears

Grease the inside of your crockpot with the butter wrapper or pan spray. Pour the bread cubes in. In a separate bowl, first beat the eggs, then stir in the milk, then add all other ingredients. Pour the wet mixture evenly over the bread cubes. Cover and cook on low for about three hours. Stay warm while it's cold outside.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Surprise! A Happy Farm Update!

Peace and quiet. Pastoral views.
My favorite: a sturdy and strong century barn.

A Jack-In-The-Box.

New glasses.
(Okay, so Sarah has pneumonia, my hip is nearly killing my "active country lifestyle," we have had our first power outage of the year (may it be the last), a 10-day cold snap has begun, my Meyer Lemon tree may not make it.)
(Just in case you stopped by for the bummer tour.)
(A little melodrama never hurt anyone. Did it?)
This weekend was a good one. I haven't uploaded pictures yet, but (after the urgent care staff and the X-Ray tech all wished us a Merry Christmas; quite seriously, we are getting to know them at the hospital) Sarah and Grace and Laura and I stayed snug in the house while my husband and Madeleine shored up the farmstead for a much-heralded wintry blast of snow and ice.
We (okay, they) installed the stock tank de-icer I raved about a few days ago. They also put a heat lamp in the chicken chalet for our remaining hens and the rooster. They set up the generator just in time for the first power outage to be over and they purchased a Christmas tree in town. Usually we trek to the woods with a Bureau of Land Management permit to cut our own, but this would not be that kind of year.
Then my husband took a shift with the recuperating masses indoors while Madeleine and I tucked her horse in to the stall for the duration of the storm. Some horses have the sense to come in from the cold or at least to keep a blanket on. Seven, not so much.
I (okay, my husband) had the brilliant thought to bring my prized geraniums into the shop for shelter. Also the Meyer Lemon. It's not looking so good, but I have hope that we didn't wait too long.
As I write, Madeleine and Sarah are playing chess. Grace and Laura are sleeping. My husband's snitching cookie dough from the batch we made this evening. I'm able to sit in the office chair long enough to download beaucoup coloring sheets from Crayola and a little weather lesson or two for tomorrow's school. What do the hip kids say? It's all good.
It's a happy farm update.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tiny Hiney, Big Fear

We've been home sick this week.

I know, I know, home all week and not much blogging to show for it.

But it's been that kind of sick where each and every daughter (I count four through bleary eyes) needs my constant presence round the clock.

Round the clock, people.

Grace, our 4-year-old, is not even sick. But she's clingy because it rocks her world to see her big sisters and her baby sister sick and the all-powerful mommy (whoo-hoo, that's me) gimping around without benefit of Vicodin.

Anyway the clinginess. I completely and utterly understand that many fears are irrational. They don't have to be fever-induced to be so. And just because they're irrational does not mean they aren't real fears. Or, maybe they are scarier precisely because they aren't rational. There's no scaring (or explaining) away an illogical fear, now is there?

Grace's particular phobia this week is falling in the toilet. To my knowledge she has never actually done so. Also, she's not easily grossed out, so it's unclear what this fear is about. Again with the irrational, and why go there? So we hauled out the little toilet-topper seat for her tiny hiney. It enables me to be with another feverish child or three instead of holding Grace steady on the throne.

Which of my fears are huge and nonetheless irrational? What crutches (Dutch Brothers latte, anyone?) and elaborate detours ("creative procrastination," phone call avoidance, compulsive thumb twiddling... anyone?) mark me as completely beyond reason on the way to resolution of my most likely normal problems? Most likely normal, right?

How small would the actual feared outcome be if exposed to the light of rational thinking?

Yeah, I don't really want to find out either.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Friends Love One Another

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another. For love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
I've been thinking a bit about friendship lately. About how easy (relatively speaking) it was to fall into friendships when we were younger, and how much harder it is to find time to build friendships as adults with busy lives and busier children.
Heck, I can't even find time for myself.
But isn't that what friendships are for? We love one another, we fill one anothers' cups with the tea of kindness, and we are blessed by the reflected friendship.
Finding time for friends is finding time for ourselves, I believe. Maybe you have great ideas on how to do both... to spend time on your hobbies and with your best buddies. Maybe you have made best friends with your childrens' friends' parents and share a cup of coffee while they play.
Or maybe you talk on the phone every day to a friend you've know since forever. How do you make time for friends in the midst of the everyday hustle and bustle?
I am going to make some extra time for my friends this season.
For more encouraging words this Wednesday, pop over to see Amy Deanne at the 160 Acre Woods.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tank Thawing Thingamajig, $36

Water trough warmer: $36. Not having to haul water to the horses from the kitchen sink in 30-degree weather: priceless.

My husband can consider my Christmas done.

In fact, it seems as though we could cover all of Christmas at the feed store. Why not? The feed store gets most of our non-mortgage money anyway. A 50-pound bag of chicken scratch is $11 and lasts about two weeks. (Unless of course all of the chickens are eaten by raccoons or dogs.) A dozen eggs costs about $3. Something about that math is not right. A 50-pound bag of horse feed costs $9.50 and lasts two and a half days. (Unless of course the pony breaks into the tack room and eats it all and has to be walked for four hours for fear of colic.) A ride at a dude ranch costs about $50 and lasts for an hour. That one works out better. I think.

Try not to stress me out with algebra. We still have at least two months before I have to remember it well enough to teach it.

Back to the feed store Christmas.

Since I am such a novice knitter (ten rows knit with perfectionist (read: anal) tendencies can take a while), no one I love can expect scarves or hats for Christmas. I am working kind of a lot at my husband's office (ah, the togetherness), so there's no time for quilting or sewing or painting or any of the things I might actually do halfway well. And in between working the farm and working the front desk I still try to hurl a little learning toward the girls every day. So the only shopping time is grocery and feed shopping time.

Let's kill two (very proverbial... we've lost enough real-life fowl) birds with one stone! How shall we take care of Christmas at the feed store?

All of our farm friends can expect a bale of hay. Hay is more expensive per pound than gold, I understand. I'm all but selling my wedding band for the hay effort around here. We'll tie a big bow around it. Try not to let your livestock eat it all in one sitting.

Cityfolk friends might enjoy a bag of salt. I'm not sure whether this salt is culinary since the uses on the bag seem to indicate using it for baiting deer (how unsportsmanlike, really) and/or thawing ice on the sidewalk. Doesn't the feedstore know there are no sidewalks in the sticks? Again, a big bow, and try not to eat it all in one sitting.

Children on our list are easy to please at the feed store. The aisles are full of some obvious gifts like John Deere replicas and model horses. Today I noted there are model wildlife animals too. Ooh! Model tigers to stalk your model horses! How exciting. How British. (Why does that strike me as British? Could it be because I haven't blogged properly in weeks?) A tiger truly could eat a horse in one sitting. But that's too morbid for Christmas.

Some of the less obvious presents are a ("completely safe herbal formula!") tranquilizing paste and matching drops for the water bowl. Imagine how much easier Fluffy will be to manage on the way to the vet. I mean, how much less stressed out Little Bit and Bite will be.

And isn't that what the holidays are all about? Getting less stressed?

Maybe I should have picked up some of that Quietex for myself. (Joking! Just kidding! Everything's fine here!)

(I'll try not to use all the tranquilizer in one sitting.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just Me And The Girls

Madeleine turns 10 next week. That obviously calls for A&W root beer and a Coney Dog ... ordered with a flipped switch and expertly hung on the car window.
It also called for a trip to the Sylvia Beach Hotel to revel in all-night Scrabble playing and learning to knit. Just me and the big girls.
Knitting and Scrabbling around in the E.B. White room of the greatest book-lovers hotel anywhere. Eating authentic Italian and walking on the beach. Finding tiny shells to bring home to the fairies.
I could easily flip the switch and order up a big side of angst over my oldest child turning double-digits. But for now I think I'll just be so so glad we did all that together.
For now I feel extraordinarily grateful (I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving anymore) that my daughters love to read and walk on the beach and play word games with me. How lucky can I get?
Oh! And there's more! I'm now a member of the Coney Dog Preservation Society. Who knew?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Roller Coaster, Check; SeeSaw, Check; Pendulum, CHECK

Oh, the back-and-forth of country life.

A couple of weeks ago, I shoveled up hens with my neighbor and lamented the not knowing to whom those bad chicken-eating dogs belonged.

Then, a week and a half ago, I met the kind and sweet owners of those bloodthirsty dogs and we commisserated on the whole tragedy. Promises and phone numbers were exchanged, people. Their kennel was to be shored up; our chickens were to be safe evermore.

KL gave me new hens, and, lo, they were nicer than the ones who went to chicken heaven. They started laying. All was good. For a day and a half.

Of course, the bad dogs kept coming back. They sniffed around the chicken yard and laughed at the memories of the big party they'd had. I kept the hens locked inside.

I spoke to the neighbors again. They threw up their hands in despair. The dogs are escape artists! They can't be contained! And we have to go to work every once in a while. But look! They're so sweet. We'll make the kennel FORT KNOX, we swear.

I swear, too. But only when pushed to the very limit.

Dog break-in number four occurred this morning at 10:00 in direct view of my kitchen window. I was unpacking from our four-day trip. The girls were all studying and the hens were all sunning themselves to kick off December properly.

Little did the feathered ones know how thin that winter sunshine really is. Nay, even the DOGS had no idea. Because this chicky had HAD it.

She hurt her healing hip with the wrestling of an injured hen OUT OF THE MOUTH of the worst dog. Then she tripped while throwing the bad dogs into her kennel. She cussed up a storm (sharky! criminy! like that) remembering that she had locked those dogs in there before and it did exactly no good. So then she further wrenched herself out of whack and into real pain by tying the dogs to the back deck.

Oh, yes, she did.

Then she called the nice neighbors. Who, of course, were not home. Then she called the nice sheriff.

And the pendulum swung a little bit toward normal.

Did you notice how I had to slip into the third person there? It was too grisly to have been me, I think.

Speaking of grisly, we have a mostly featherless but live hen in a towel-lined box our laundry room. Anyone know what to do about that?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Live Coal In The Sea

I find thankfulness is the perfect antidote to the everyday blues. Mine have seemed legendary to me, much more than "everyday" blues. I have after all, "broken my butt" as KL so delicately puts it. I have, after all, been thrown a fever or four and a chicken drama, novel writing failure, dead and dying vehicles, frantic cleaning for housesitters while feverish and gimpy as all getout (this list of trials is getting too long to track, isn't it?). And, after all of that, I would just like a minute. Of the pity party variety. But my life has no time for moping, and a pity it is indeed that I am too busy to feel sorry for myself.

Which is why I'm so particularly grateful for Thanksgiving. The cynic in me can hardly stand the apparent smarminess of that phrase, but it's true, actually -- I am grateful for a day set aside for giving thanks.
We Suite types were blessed to have four days this year dedicated to family and all that we are truly thankful for.

And in the midst of that, there's no feeling sorry for yourself. The sheer beauty of my nieces and nephews, of great-grandmas and grandmas and new husbands and a perfectly cooked organic turkey ("It has no timer thingy!")... the sheer beauty of a windless, fogless day at the ocean... the sheer beauty of life... I am so thankful, and humbled, to be witness to and participant in this messy yet glorious life.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Television Shmellivision

A week or so ago, Sue posted a funny piece about her almost Amish children. You should go read it.

But first you should hear about how my children want to be good little Marches. You know, I never set out to have the Little Women household, but it sure is looking more like that every day.

We have no television, so the girls are forced to entertain themselves. And it's not like they didn't do so before we cut the cable cord; none of them has ever had that tv addiction thing where they couldn't pull themselves away ... or where we could use tv time as a reward/consequence currency. You know, "If you don't finish your reading, you can't watch Hannah Montana," or "If you do all your chores, you can have an extra half-hour of tv." That kind of thing has no weight here.

They'd rather be outside. If you tell Sarah she can't go outside because, for instance, she has a bad cough, she'll cry and whine -- I mean -- she'll logically explain how important fresh air is to her recovery. Whatever.

And if they can't be outside girls would way rather read or create huge crafty messes with permanent paints (oilcloth is my friend) and hot glue guns than watch television. They would way rather create a new game (their latest board game is called "Uh-Oh") or write a play and rehearse it all day and then wheedle Daddy into buying tickets to the performance.

They get a little confused when they go to friends' houses where tv is the main event. "But what're we gonna do?! "

And I'm aware this makes me sound like a beyond-PBS mother. I'm fully cognizant that this could be construed in that hyper-competitive parenting way that some folks have fun with. Trust me, I'm not judging. Our girls still fight over computer time, if that makes anyone feel better. The Marches had to share gloves to go to a dressy party, and my girls won't share clothing unless forced (or, in a pinch, if Grandma's watching).

So when my beloved white Suburban gave up last week (I know: broken hip + chicken massacre + terrible flu + family car demise = fantastic fortnight) it was time to buy a new one. We really need a Suburban because it's the only vehicle to seat our whole family and to haul a horse trailer. (Just in case you're worried about the minivans-save-the-Earth dilemma.)

I had narrowed my choices to a couple of used Suburbans. The final contender seats nine (one more than the old one!) and has low miles, snappy red paint (cop magnet, anyone?), FlexFuel, heavy duty towing package, etc. It doesn't have only one thing on my wish list: leather. I decided that I could give up the leather for a car we could afford that also drives. Down the road.

It also has highly embarrassing Fresno-style blindingly bright chrome 18-inch wheels.

And a television. Which is hilarious. The salesman thought he really had me there. I just want all car salesmen to know: buying a car is a pain. in. the. butt. And I have plenty of that without buying a car. A moving DVD player has no value to me. None. I'm not just bargaining with that, it's the gospel, folks.

So Madeleine knew about the new car one day earlier than anyone else. She was torturing her sisters-- I mean -- she was handing out hints about our big "appointment" like the tiny niblets of power that she knew them to be. It is so awesome to be in the know, isn't it? I wish I was in the know about a lot more things. I think that's why I was a journalist, originally. Not only do you have the information, you package it and disseminate it. This is power. But the digression goes on long enough.

The short one who was in the know about our impending car pick-up gave Sarah the hint that "you can watch movies in it." Sarah thought. And thought.

"We're buying a THEATER?"

They still haven't watched any tv in the car. They already have colored pencils and notebooks all over the back two rows.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Broken Butt Roundup

There's just something wrong with that title.

And yet... there's no other way to say it.

How have y'all been spending the last week or so? I've missed you like the Dickens. (Where did that saying come from? Certainly not from, you know, a yearning to be reading Charles Dickens. Let's think for a minute....

Okay. Enough thinking.)

I can't wait to catch up on blog reading. I can't believe I can sit upright and type. I can't believe I have SO MANY blog posts in my brain just bursting to be, um, posted, and meanwhile I'm writing about my broken hiney and issues thereabout.

So let's get it over with: I'm too young for a hip replacement, or it's apparently not beyond hope of healing, or my doctor is into cruel and unusual punishment of my wild youth (I used to babysit my doctor's kids when I was a teenager. He knows too much.), or... my pain threshold is epic and I am paying the price of being too long too tough.

Who knows. What I DO KNOW is that I can walk today! Just like leaving a Benny Hin revival. (Only partly joking. And nobody smacked me on the forehead. I just laid in bed with a fever that killed a lot of brain cells and forced me not to move around much, that's all. God does work in mysterious ways. And it shouldn't take deathlike symptoms to keep me resting, now should it?)

Consider the parenthetical statements on, friends. I have so much to tell you and no way to categorize it all.

Of course we should start with the farm news:

This morning one of the rotten chicken-shredding dogs was baa-aack! I kid you not, the little monster (insert other, stronger word if you must -- my kids are in the room) had the nerve to come around looking for seconds.

Unluckily, as it happened, Sarah had already done her morning chores and the new little sweet hens were pecking around their yard like appetizers for the mongrel.

The rooster (of course, he's one of the formerly loathed cuckoo morons, but we can't put him in the crockpot now, not after his brush with death brought out his finer quality: lone survival) crowed a warning! Madeleine leapt to attention! We recognized the muddy furry beast as not one of our farmyard! We quickly dialed Daddy's cell phone!

Daddy u-turned his car and chased off the threat with a big stick and not a soft word! The girls closed the hens (and their protecting moron) into the safety of the henhouse! All was well!

But wait! No sooner did Daddy go back to the necessary commute but the DOG DID RETURN! (The nerve of him!)

We ran out of exclamation points!

I gimped myself out there because the horrid creature was actually IN the chicken yard after tunneling under the fence. This was obviously too big a job for the girls alone. He was snorfling around the hen's little sliding door and trying to work his way in to the ever-replenishing (Thank you, KL, for the new hens) breakfast buffet. And here's the bummer: He looked like a perfectly nice dog.


I hauled him out of the chicken yard and of course called my husband. What to do? A nice little (albeit blood-hungry) dog whose owners are (darn it all anyway) nice neighbors of ours.

Chicken-hunting dogs. You can't live with 'em. You can't shoot 'em.

So I locked him in our kennel (Thanks, Carolyn, for the loan of your boys to put that together.) and the girls blocked the henhouse door with bricks. It was an exciting, and oh-so-typical welcome back to the walking life.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Under the weather...

Well, dear readers, Miri has been caught by some gigantic bug. She is home trying to fight the bug to its death but that just plain wears her out. Reader, Miri feels bad. Like, snuggle with a hot water bottle and some herbal tea, bad. Not only did she throw out her hip but she also caught funkyvirusbactosus or the flu or some such thing.

Be not dismayed, dear ones. While soaking away her cares she thought of you, reader. She did not want you to think all hope of reading her blog was lost so she enlisted the help of a bloggy good buddy.

So, in the spirit of Get Well cards, leave Miriam a Get Well comment so she doesn't die from lackofcommentyosis.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Refresh Yourself


A breather.

Just the thing for today.

I may be projecting, but I seem to sense a little ennui around blogdom this week. November is two-thirds over, we're all writing (and reading) our hearts out.

Time for a Coke and a smile. Make mine diet.


What's your favorite way to rejuvenate?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It Never Fails

Is there anything like a longtime friend? (You know, I had typed "old friend," but we have potentially reached the age where that is no longer as flattering as I'd like.)

Is there anything like a friend who knew you before your husband was even in the picture? Who knew you when you worried more about your social life than your budget?

I submit, there is nothing like a longtime friend.

Many of our friends at this stage in our life revolve around our lives with children and/or work. This is a wonderful set of friends and acquaintances! We've loved getting to know fellow parents and business associates. It's great to have people whose lives mirror your own in some small way.

But the friends who were there when you learned how to drive? If they're still around when you're driving carpool, count yourself blessed.

Over the weekend I added a leaf to my Thankful Tree. I am ever-so-thankful for my longtime friend Carolyn. We were laughing (together, I think?) on Sunday over how, in high school, she was such a good girl, and I had quite possibly an undeserved reputation as a good girl!

Get this: she stopped by my house to help me. There was some sort of story about her sons (AMAZING teenage boys who give me hope for the future) needing to do some community service for extra credit in a class. Can you imagine? I never felt so inadequate and grateful at the same time. Ever.

She didn't even know about the Great Hip Injury. It's a little embarrassing, folks. Two years ago I broke my, um, tailbone in a bad horseback riding accident. I was laid up, as they say, for a couple of weeks. And it was Carolyn doing my dishes and entertaining me with jokes and stories until more than my funny bone hurt. It's actually cruel to make a person with cracked ribs laugh. Did you know that?

Anyway, as though the longtime friend radar were pinging, Carolyn and her wonderful sons made the drive to the boondocks to help me on Sunday. The boys gave my husband a MUCH-NEEDED break from indoor duties by helping him erect a dog kennel and some neat-o wooden compost bins. Carolyn stayed inside and played Legos with Grace between DOING MY DISHES and FLOORS.

I am so grateful to know her still after more than 20 years of cracking up. Literally and figuratively.

I think I'll add a little glitter to that Thankful Leaf.


Hip update on Friday after the Chief of Staff (dun-dun-dunnnn) looks at me. Specifically, at my hip. Man, I wish I'd been doing a better job with Mrs. G's Derfwad Manor A$$ Challenge.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thankful Tree

Somehow I messed up NaBloPoMo. Blogger wouldn't post my scheduled items, I couldn't log in as me to fix it for two days, my chickens were pulled limb from limb by stupid dogs, I broke my hip, the whole comma splice thing is annoying me already. Moving on.

It's really okay with me that I failed NaBloPoMo. Because I must tell you about my new favorite thing.

It's a Thankful Tree, shamelessly stolen from Margaret at our church. I am so in love with it that it might not be fair to my family. All that love aimed at an object. But trust me, you'll love it like that too.

All you have to do to create your own Thankful Tree is choose a branch from your backyard and embed it in sand or pebbles or a little Quickcrete. I am using a beautiful Manzanita branch that I once had on the wall as sculpture. I also chose one of my most gorgeously mossy terra cotta pots. But any old bucket will do.

Then have your children (or do this yourself if you are OCD like me) trace Oak and Maple and Ginko leaves onto construction paper in appropriate fall colors. Russet sounds good, doesn't it? The church has used real leaves before, but then they are no good for saving As I might be wont to do. You too?

Then punch a little hole in the hundreds of leaves your children (or OCD you; remember, you're never too old to control the crafts) cut out. Thread some raffia or pretty ribbon through each hole.

Display them prettily on your sideboard in a pottery bowl next to the tree with a Sharpie marker or two.

As your Thanksgiving guests arrive, let them know they are welcome to fill out a Thankful Leaf. Or force them, if they are stodgy about it.

After the leaves are filled out (we encourage pre-writers to draw a picture), have them tie their leaves to the tree.

It is my favorite thing about Thanksgiving. Thanks, Margaret.


And, in case you're keeping score at home, I can't take any pictures at this time as I am currently unable to walk. Standing up, sitting down, transitioning between the two: none of them any good. This should be fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Cocoa At Bedtime -- Today

You know how they say children thrive on routine? Consistent, predictable routine?

Yeah, not so much with us.
Today we fed the animals and had school in the morning. Quick! Who can finish their math first?
Then Laura and Grace went to stay at the neighbor's house while Sarah and Madeleine joined me in a drive to town.
Sarah had a clay class and Madeleine has been doing a writing group. Gee, I like their lives.
I had to fight with a dinosaur bookkeeping program in a somewhat lame attempt to be helpful at the EGE's work. It's sort of like wearing flip-flops to a softball game. You know, so no one asks you to fill out the team roster. What I'm trying to say is... I am uniquely ill-equipped to perform bookkeeping tasks. This is how I know God has a sense of humor.
Then I ran errands while the girls played on the computers at the office. Bank, post office, bagel shop. I excel at errands.
CRUD! In the middle of lifting a 50-pound dog food sack into my cart I remembered: VOLLEYBALL.
I called my husband, the Eng-Gen-Eer, also known as The World's Most Organized Person, and asked him to please push the girls out the office door as the Suburban careened past.
Twenty-five minutes of driving like a maniac, or mom-on-a-mission, and we then threw Madeleine out at the gym. In a great arcing move I also picked up Grace and Laura, heated up leftover pork fried rice and wrapped it in tortillas (multicultural too), called the EGE to remind him that he needed to drive home in a hurry, loaded everyone back in the Suburban fully fed, picked up Madeleine, allowed the EGE to enter the Suburban while we slowed down for a split second, and
for. social. visit.
I'm not sure I breathed today. I do know that Sarah asked me whether she could have cocoa at bedtime, and I answered that the sugar wasn't a good idea right before sleep.
It's entirely unclear where that parenting moment came from.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When I Woke Up Today I Had A Neighbor

There's gold in them there hills.

Not far from our home is a hill filled with gold. It's been mined for nearly 100 years by methods high- and low-tech alike. Once a year we attend a small-town summer festival commemorating local mining history. We pay $5 or $6 for each girl to sift through a colander of dirt to "find" some gold nuggets. Then a man in grubby Levis will use calloused hands to deposit the gold flakes into a tiny vial of water that's exactly like perfume samples used to be on my neighbor lady's Avon catalogs. Only not stinky.

The girls keep track of their gold nuggets for a while, but the experience of sifting through the sand and gravel and dirt to find something shiny and valuable is living history. They hang on to that for longer, I hope.

I've been living some of that history over the past several months. And as I drive the back roads (way too much), I sift over and over the dirt and the gravel of disappointment in hopes that I'll have a nugget to display. Or to deposit in my bank of faith in humanity. I may need to draw on that account every once in a while.

Neighbors are problematic. Neighbors are just so -- human. To tell you the truth, so am I.

We moved to this idyllic, storybook setting more than two years ago after years of dreaming of living not just in the country, but right here. Our community is legendarily desirable. The land is gorgeous, the commute is decent, and the people are incredibly diverse in the best possible meaning of that word. We live side by side with ranchers and fiber artists and loggers and yoga teachers.

The Grange is the epicenter of a rural arts society where I can learn wreath making and woodworking and quilting ... and where we can watch films on a snowy winter evening during a potluck. The church reaches out to our area's families with sweetheart dinners and free babysitting services. The school hosts a spring carnival that draws all 400 people in a 10-mile radius... and some from further away... to play games that have no electronics in sight.

Nurseries and vineyards and community-supported agriculture are all within shouting distance of our old church-turned-farmhouse. And it's so very quiet here. On any given day, I swear the loudest noises are children playing a mile away and Canada geese honking in the next valley. Because there's no other noise. No traffic, no media, no hustle of commerce.

But the trade-off that comes with all this utopian village life is that we are all up in one another's business. We all know whether the bed-and-breakfast owners like horses (or not), whether the new gal on the road picks her kids up at school on time (or not), whether those other neighbors' dog slaughtered my chickens in broad daylight (oh, he did).

We all get to live side by side. The big front-porch movement in urban planning over the past decades? It's exactly based on our village, I'm pretty sure. We watch our neighbors walk on fine evenings. We ride our horses on the lane and wave to others sipping iced tea on their porches. We help when a widow needs a new foundation (literally, we dig under the piers with a dozen shovels and as many local men replacing concrete blocks at their own expense and while the big game's on to boot). We mow the elderly folks' pastures and we bring food when someone's sick. Oh, man, do we know how to bring the food.

But then, on the less-picturesque flip side, we know intimately who's been drinking too much. Who lost their temper one too many times. Who feeds their cattle moldy hay. All the togetherness turns judgmental and mean sometimes. I hate that part. I hate feeling scrutinized and I certainly don't want to sit in a judgment seat or the gossip booth. Ever.

Yesterday, when those dogs massacred my hens, the neighbor voted least likely to like me came and helped me in the rain to scoop up all seven. She refused to listen to my protestations that I could handle the job alone (I don't know how I could have). She ushered my children inside as we arrived home because she had witnessed the end of the tragedy and didn't want them to see the carnage. And then she helped me with one of the worst farmgirl chores I have ever had to do. She was gracious, and kind, and a gleaming example of the best of country life. Or neighborliness -- anywhere. I am humbled.

Yesterday my neighbor helped me. I feel a little as though I've been through a barn fire, and the chaff of personal opinions and prejudices burned away to reveal this nugget of truth.

Yesterday my neighbor helped me. And all the dirt and grit of a couple of years sifted away, washed away, to reveal a new porch in the neighborhood. A stunning deposit in my faith in humanity account.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Daily Dose Of Spending

A month or so ago, I threatened -- nay, planned -- to sneak in an extra spending hiatus this year. I even invited you to join me. THEN I went so far as to set a date range, because I thought it might help more of you play along if you could stock your pantries before swearing off spending any money for 10 days. Ten long, frugal days. Ten days of testing our willpower and resisting our natural urge to spend.
Why did I ask you to play along? Weren't you just dying to see how it would turn out for you? Would you make it through a week and two weekends without any three-dollar lattes? Would your planning and thrift match that of our grandmothers'?
I've been there. I've done that. I sewed the t-shirt.
But this November, despite my plans, I am NOT doing it. I just can't. We've cut back so far, and so deep, that I just couldn't face 10 days of giving up the occasional paperback book. We don't even have television anymore, people. No HGTV. No RFDTV. And no other strange initial TV either. It's raining outside (I know, I know, I asked for it.) so we can't play horses. The garden is done so I can't mess around in the dirt. It's reading or board games or nuttin', honey.
So, instead of embarking on the "bonus" spending hiatus, I went and bought a thermos. It's a little ironic, since I own a fairly impressive collection of vintage thermoses (thermi?). But this one is brand-new, with no one else's coffee schmutz inside. It's cheerful red gingham with a glass liner. The stopper and cup are pristine. Because, you know, they're new.
Every morning since I bought it at an overpriced gift shop in a college town near me, I make myself some of my favorite espresso. I warm some milk on the stove. It's doesn't take any longer than the microwave, and it's just essentially better. Then I further splurge on a splash of hazelnut syrup.
I think I've paid for my spendy new thermos in money saved at Dutch Brothers. But that was not the intent. I went to spend a little. To feel spoiled for just a minute. I walked into the overpriced gift shop with the goal of blowing some cash on me. Me me me. I spent some money, and it wasn't on groceries or auto insurance or Osh Kosh or animal feed. Is that called retail therapy? Because I think I like it.
Anyway it's cute and it makes me happy. And ... all the other volleyball moms wanted to know where I got it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

National Scrabble Day

I just made that up.

Is anyone aware of an actual National Scrabble Day? Because that's a nonsense holiday I could get behind.

Here's something else to get behind:

My 9-year-old is driving. This weekend she learned to drive the lawn tractor and she had the audacity to do it when I was inside. I just barely hustled myself out there in time for a photo.

It's good to know that even though she's driving, she's still firmly planted in childhood:
Oh, yeah, and the dog thinks falling leaves are a huge threat to Suite security. An actual threat is greeted with a lot of slobber, but the leaves get a full fang treatment.

The rest of our weekend on the farm was a little bit tradition and a little bit groundbreaking.

For the traditional part, we made chocolate chip cookie dough:

As soon as the dough was done, Sarah, of course, had to ask: "Are you going to make cookies too?"
Madeleine said it was against the law to eat cookie dough. Then she revised her statement upon realizing how easily that could be refuted. She said that she had meant that it was unhealthy. Sheesh.
For the groundbreaking part, Madeleine had her first-ever competitive sports event.

I'm going to pause a moment for some well-earned tears over the passage of time. You go right ahead reading.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day In And Day Out

Are you a night person... or a morning person?

If you're a mom, and you're anything like me, you may not remember the answer to that question. It's all a blur, really.

The single girl in me has a carton of yogurt in the fridge and a huge chrome wind-up alarm clock that makes sure I don't miss the sunrise.

I jump out of bed after a luxurious stretch. The covers are nowhere to be found because I kicked them aside in my joy at seeing the morning. I have a little notebook by the side of the bed where I wrote down strange things in the night. I train myself to do so without fully awakening.

The coffeepot is programmable. The morning is fantastic. Don't call me after 10 p.m. unless you're bleeding, but anytime after 5 a.m. is fine. Okey-dokey. Wonderful. Oh, you say you're a late riser? You are MISSING OUT.


Fast forward a few years and four babies.

The mommy in me doesn't own an alarm clock (and my fridge is full of string cheese and applesauce). I am so grateful for any sleep, at any time, that I refuse to purchase anything that might limit said sleep. When I really, truly need to wake up (and only if there's some outside chance that the children might sleep past dawn), I ask my husband to set the alarm on my cell phone. Oh, yeah, the single girl in me doesn't have a cell phone either.

I can't really say that the mommy in me is a night owl, but I do appreciate the wee hours more than I did pre-parenthood.

It's just so quiet in the house after the kids are in bed. That certain kind of quiet makes me want to put on a pot of coffee and write all night.

Except the morning will come around. And the phone will ring, and the children will expect, you know, interaction. Nourishment. Clean clothes. At least two out of three of those require me to be semi-conscious.

So, are you a night owl or an early bird? Have you always been that way?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One Day At A Time

We had some rare fairy sightings at the farm this week.

I don't think fairies worry about the future much.

Napping in the kitchen sunlight is cure for whatever concerns they might have.

A few wings.

I think this will fly.

Fairies appreciate a little wardrobe help every once in a while. Grape and Big Leaf Maples are some favorite fall choices.

Ahoy there! We have discovered a likely scenario for the indoor fairy festival. Madeleine and her trusty sidekick Zoe discovered a PIRATE HEAD in Fairyland. The fairies evidently took care of the threat but then retreated in the farmhouse for good measure.

Just a little Laura telling the cats not to bother the fairies either.

That's right, shake a stick (leaf) at your problems.

That's where the fairies live most of the time. We were surprised by the visit, but so glad to be reminded of the fleeting magic that is all around us.
Who needs to worry about tomorrow?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Daily Freak-Out

I'm going to start a new blog. It'll be called "Freakworthy" and everything on it will come directly from my life. Except when I'm too busy with a freak-out session to sit down at the computer. In those instances I'll have guest writers, but only when they can top my personal freak-outs. They'll have to pitch me their posts and then I'll judge them thusly:



"What the heck are you freaking out about?"

Guess which writers will get to guest post? If you'd like to apply, send me an email. My email box is just full of garbage from other Realtors (yes, I'm selling houses again, dang it all anyway) and pesky reminders from the FlyLady (I do love her, but I'm a little overwhelmed by the volume) and the occasional doctor appointment tickler.

(The "doctor appointment tickler." Now THAT could be a good children's book. Or maybe a horror novel. OR a hip chick lit novella where the heroine falls for a gynecologist and places all her friends in full freak-out mode.)

(You knew I was coming back around to the freak-out, didn't you?)

Some folks you know just seem to thrive on drama. I might know some of them too. But me... I like my life uncomplicated. I like to wake up in the morning to a hot cup of really, really good French Roast freshly ground organic coffee with half-n-half. If it's bad coffee I won't drink it. But I don't freak out about it. I just have some tea.

Similarly, I like to sit in the corner and read. This was the main impetus behind my decade-long career in editing. Ah, the sitting. Ah, the reading. (There may have been the occasional conversation, but it was mostly the sitting and reading, red pencil in hand, power and glory.) If I have something good to read, I'll wait until I have at least a metaphorical quiet corner in which to read it. If I am so unfortunate as to be required to read among noise, I am equally fortunate to have been given a very good (you might say freakishly good) ability to tune everything else out. So... no corner, no quiet, no freak-out.

(I often ponder the irony of a girl who craves quiet like fresh air and chocolate... deciding to have a lot of children. I think it's a whole Alanis Morrisette song already.)

There is a pattern here. I don't think I'm being vain when I say I don't freak out easily. AND YET. My life is so full of the freakworthy. The unexpected traffic stop over a burned-out headlight can give me a full-on panic attack. Oh, yes, it can.

Last week I was stopped in just such a manner by a young gun, I mean cop, I mean OFFICER, who openly laughed at my freak-out. First he noticed my quaking hands as I searched out my license. Then he commented on my quivering voice as I nonstoptalkedgibberish. The nice young man told me it was all going to be okay and backed away slowly from the car as though he might have to call in backup to perform CPR.

I think I actually told him I'd have my husband "Fonzie" the headlight. What. On. Earth.

The panic attack wouldn't stop for the rest of the evening. I couldn't calm down to salvage a much-needed night out. So what's up with that? The palpitations, the sweating, the eyes rolling back in the head (okay, not really that last part)... it becomes clear to me that while I rarely exhibit drama-queen tendencies under truly stressful life situations, the mundane unexpected can make me a little whirling dervish of freakiness.

Daughter with two broken arms is burned by novice doctor? I'm cool as a cucumber. Husband working triple-time? All clear here. Three real estate deals threaten a domino effect that'll lose four people's dreams and a half year of income for me? Never let them see you sweat. However, walk down Pier 39 with your skirt caught in your underwear (oh, yes, I did)... obsess about it for days. Make your husband tell you your undies were cute that day. Make your friends tell you your cellulite isn't too noticeable in the San Fransisco fog. Make your daughters triple-check your hem for months. In short, FREAK OUT.

Are you tired of the word "freak" yet?

Until I get around to starting this hot new blog, which is sure to grab the attention of all late-night cable show producers, leave me some freak-out comments.

Come on, impress me with your freak-worthy stories!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day Off

My husband took this photo for me. To give me a day off. I said, "I've committed to blogging every day this month."

He said, "Give me credit and you can use one of my awesome pictures."

Okay, he didn't say anything like that.

I just stole the picture and decided y'all might like to see it today. (Is stealing a photo from your husband really stealing? Or is it like endorsing the back of his paycheck in order to put it in the bank? You know, they should do a power of attorney along with the marriage vows. Just a thought.)

Speaking of everyone else working so I don't have to... my good friend from Katie's Calamities has been sprucing things up around here for me. Isn't she great?