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?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Daily Bread

This week on the farm, we've been baking bread:

Cutting rose hips for wreaths and tea:

And studying:
Grace is obsessed with bubble letters. She often forms her letter of the day perfectly and then creates bubbles around all of those practice letters. What's a homeschooling teacher to do? She's 4. I think it'll be okay. If she's still writing in bubble letters when she's 6, I'll be sure not to blog about it but take her straight to some sort of intervention.

And now to my favorite part of the week. The bread.

A neighbor wanted me to rinse the last grapes of the season and use the resulting water to start sourdough. This is complete bunk, in case any of you wanna-be hippie chicks had heard of dirty water sourdough through the grapevine. (Har har.) The yeast on grapes (and it is there) is completely different than the sourdough culture.

Anywhat, today we're making egg bread. It's my own challah-like recipe, further tested early this week in the kitchen of Katie's Calamities. I don't know what disaster may have befallen it in the Calamity zone, but last I heard it was nicely risen and baking in the oven.

Miri's Rainy Day Egg Bread

4.5 to 5.5 Cups Flour (I use half white, half whole wheat)

3 to 4 Tablespoons Gluten (if you use "bread flour," no need to add gluten)

1.5 Cups Milk (goat or cow milk okay here)

2 Eggs (3 if they just started laying and the eggs are tiny)

2 Tablespoons Sugar or Honey

3 Tablespoons Butter
1 Teaspoon Salt

To get ready to make bread, I let all the liquid ingredients, including eggs and butter, warm to room temperature for an hour or two. I keep my yeast in the fridge, so I take it out to warm to room temp about the same time. In a pinch you can warm up all the "liquids" in the microwave for 20 seconds or so. I'm a little heebie jeebie about the microwave. Don't hate me ... I can't help it.

So after it's all at room temp, I stir together the wet ingredients in the bottom of the bowl, then whisk the flour, salt and sugar together in a separate bowl and pour the whole dry bit into the big bowl. I then pour the yeast into a well in the top of the dry ingredients. I do this in my snazzy Kitchenaid mixer (mine's an heirloom) after lightly oiling the bowl. I don't proof the yeast first unless the girls are begging to see bubbles and discuss yet again how a little powder like that can be alive (bwa ha ha). Do you proof your yeast?
With the dough hook attachment, or your good old-fashioned muscles, mix the ingredients on a 2 or 3 (low) until they form a ball of dough. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 10-20 minutes.
Knead it again for three minutes, again on low. Feel free to add pinches of flour if it is too sticky.

Cover it with a towel again and place it out of any drafts to rise for 35 minutes to an hour, or until it's double or more in size. Punch it down a little and let it rise again.

I have no idea why I might do this. I mean, I know that I do it because my grandma always did it. But the reason behind the method? Something with the texture? Enlighten me if you know! Sheesh, writing this stuff down makes me feel like it's all in my head or something.

After the dough's all tall and about to ooze over the bowl (another hour or so later), take the lump out and turn it lightly in flour before hacking it into two pieces for the loaf pans. These should be greased and dusted with flour. Let the dough regain some of its height in the loaf pans. I never really think about how long to do this for because the kids are too busy pinching pieces of dough and dropping them in hot oil to make sorta-kinda donuts. It's my only foray into frying. But it's good.

Now that I think of it: If you handle it too much it'll be tough. I only mention this because my kids like to handle it a lot. Then I have to stop and make playdough to save the bread.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. If you like a shiny crust, brush the tops with milk or egg white about 10 minutes before it's done.

Mmm.... try to save some for tomorrow's pb&j... if you can.

***ooh! Updated to add: Katie's bread was BEAUTIFUL. She used 100 percent whole wheat flour and the loaves had a gorgeous texture. SUCCESS!***

****also! This works perfectly well in the bread machine on the "whole wheat" setting for a "large" loaf. Try taking it to work and baking it as your co-workers volunteer to do your job for you in exchange for a whiff of the yeasty goodness.****

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Everyday Sneakiness

The rain I was wishing for has finally begun. I can't tell you what a relief it is to finally spend some time indoors without guilt. The garden is put to bed, the chicken chalet is finished (complete with a cleverly engineered chicken-only door that appears to also have potential as a plywood guillotine, should the Cuckoo Maran roosters really get on my last nerve). The garlic and daffodils are in the ground and the orchard is planted too -- all just in time for torrential downpours that make me ever-so-glad to have a cozy little office and a teakettle at the ready.

The girls are all set for the season with Legos and schoolbooks and Breyer horses and art supplies. We were even blessed by the gift of a microscope with about 25 prepared slides. Oh, the joys of seeing butterfly wings magnified 100 times.

And since it's raining now, and I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations is up, I thought I'd share the photos from my latest expedition into sneakiness. Yes, I made my kids trespass for the sake of a photo shoot. In my defense, I didn't see the "private property" sign until after Grace was already climbing through the field fence:

Sarah was a little worried about getting caught. I was on the other side of the gate. Hey, I couldn't leave Laura asleep in the car and trek into the field with the big girls! But I couldn't pass up that light either. And especially I had to shoot the way Sarah's hair matched the overripe hay:

Grace had absolutely no compunction:

But Madeleine was fairly certain we were going straight to trespassers' prison:

I used to be really afraid (all the time) to get in trouble. Even well into my 30s, when I ought to have known better, or had more gumption, I worried a lot about obedience and the letter of the law. Maybe I've lost my mind, and maybe I've been let off easy by state troopers a few too many times, but I don't have time to worry about stuff like that anymore.
Besides, who's gonna arrest the mother of four for taking a few pictures in a field? Or driving with one headlight burned out? Or moving the furniture compulsively? Or "borrowing" WiFi on a road trip?
Did my moral compass get lost or did I just get better stuff to worry about?
I think the pictures were worth it!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Everyday View

Nearly every day I drive past this exact view.
Or, more days than not I drive past this exact point on the Earth.
And the view is different each time.
I love grapevines. I love the grapevines that grow on our little farm -- three ancient vines that twine together and whose grapes are unidentifiable but delicious... mine in their tart-sweet imperfection. I love the grapevines at the wineries that dot our local landscape -- thousands of vines pruned to precise standards by hundreds of hands. I love the way those workers know how to preserve exactly the right number of leaves on a vine to shade the grapes without starving them. I love the way the leaves turn colors in concert as though a conductor told the strings to whisper while the brass section has a turn at glory.
I love grapevines, and I love that the view from that point is different every day.
And there's this easy parallel to make between point of view and point of reference. We know that the exact same circumstance in our lives can look infinitely better or worse depending on which way we view it. We know that a glass can be half full or half empty. I can (and often do)turn myself in circles looking for a better perspective on the same situation. I can take the high road, if you will, to look at my troubles from afar. But that's not the point I'm thinking about today.
The thing I am thinking about today is... why do I keep coming around to the exact same location? Do you ever feel like that? As though your life orbits a planet of your problems, and those challenges present themselves in different moon phases so as to render them nearly unrecognizable? They're grapevines dressed in different color leaves and perhaps a cloudier sky one day from the next. Do you feel, every once in a while, that your life lessons keep re-presenting themselves at work, at home, in the books you read?
Oh, and in the people you meet. Some days it seems that everyone I meet is lacking patience. Gee, it couldn't have anything to do with me, could it? Some years it seems that I have worked for the same boss in different skin and in different decades... the same unreasonable, demanding person expecting me to change for him or her.
At first glance it may seem as we drive by that we're viewing a different landscape. But when we examine the topography we see that we might be passing that same point, exactly, right there. Did I circle around again? If I'm lost in the woods, it's best to leave a marker so I know whether I'm passing the same point again, just with different color leaves.
So I want to look at the topography of the problem. I want to see past the changing foliage and take a different road every once in a while. Or lay asphalt for a new one if need be.
It might be obvious to everyone but me. It probably is. I once read in Madeleine L'Engle's published journals that a close friend of hers had wounded her pride by judging that L'Engle's writing was stating the painfully obvious. All I know is that there is power in saying it out loud, in clacking the keys to make a point that may finally get me driving in a new direction.
I have three grapevines to care for. The field hands at the big vineyards have thousands. Once I get my brain wrapped around the problem, I will prune mine with as much precision as the pros do. My grapes will get precisely the right proportions of shade and sun. I'll type up my points, and they'll sometimes show up on the same corner of the map as they did before. But that's okay, because I'll recognize the lay of the land. They may come dressed in different color leaves, but they'll still be grapevines. A little bitter, a little sweet. That's how I like my life lessons too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Every Day, Baby

This morning we woke to a houseful of five girls. What's one more? Actually, five usually works out to be easier for me than our own four. They entertain one another. I wouldn't want any of the moms who give me kudos and props (there's my one and only attempt to use 1990s lingo... moving on to current slang as soon as I learn it) for keeping "extra" kids so often to figure out my secret.

Was it way too far from the beginning of that sentence to the point? I think so, too. I backed into the point for a REASON, though. I really do feel guilty. We have extra children over all the time, and the other moms in our circle marvel at me.

It feels kind of good to be the recipient of blatant awe. And disbelief. But the truth is out now -- I get more out of the sleepovers and all-day play days than my children do, probably. Worse than that, when a friend asked last weekend if she could take my girls to a large wild animal park or just "away" for the day to help me with my writing deadline, I turned her down. Am I cracked? I just don't like to be without my kids, even when the other person is a long-trusted friend. Even when my own kids beg to go.

I always wanted to have a tribe of children. I grew up with just one brother; we were both teenagers before my sister was born and then we were young adults when we were joined by stepsiblings. So the big-family mystique was strong with me. I often want to snatch other peoples' children on the street. But only when they look like they don't appreciate or feed or bathe their kids often enough. Don't worry... I'm not after yours. Except maybe for a playdate.

In a related matter, I'm signed up, committed to NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo this month. We have an extra child this morning... two extra last night... and it helps me get stuff done and still have my babies around. Mercenary, maybe. But it works for me.

Every day, baby.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Let The Dress-Up Begin

Princess Laura, your first masquerade ball will commence just before sunset on the 31st of October. Please be prepared for a motley assortment of costumes and an abundance of candy you will not be allowed to touch.

Your escorts include the usual suspects. A large bag of Skittles (Again, please do not eat any candy of any sort, including Sarah Skittles. Grace, as a side note, don't put any Skittles up your nose.), a Narnian White Witch, and Dorothy will be along for the ride. The King and Queen will not be in costume, but it's for your own good. They have to save up the embarrassment factor for when more of you are approaching puberty. At that point they'll probably dress as Haight Ashbury residents.

On an up note, Grandma and Grandpa (okay, it was only Grandma) went all out on the banquet. Yum, yum, jack-o-lantern sloppy joes and meatball mashed potato faces.
Please wait for Mom, I mean the Queen, to cut yours up.

All the royal cousins will partake as well. Don't worry, that'll just be ketchup on Cayden's, I mean SuperGirl's, face. The royal cousins have fun costumes too: transformers and storm troopers and Indiana Jones (such celebrity presence at this ball!), multiple princesses and superheroes. It's too bad your mommy didn't remember to ask whether she could put the royal cousins on her blog, because they were REALLY CUTE and not scary at all. It's not good to scare the princess.
Then when it's time to gather candy, Grace, I mean Dorothy, will exclaim that she and Cayden are the cutest ever! That must be why they get the most goodies EVER! The sugar high will be the highest EVER!
And before Dorothy can click her ruby slippers together three times, you'll be asleep in the coach on our way home.

Thanks Grandma and Grandpa for this fun night out. We'll be sending lots of candy with the girls when they come back for a sleepover.