Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Love Bug and Other Random Springtime Love

A bunny named Love Bug. Is there any other kind of flop-eared bunny than the love bug variety? He is truly the sweetest rabbit ever. Unless he gets in my garden. Then he'll be in the crock pot (just kidding!).

Some whole wheat bread hot from the oven. Why does Blogger rotate my photos? Anyone? The photo doesn't have the same golden homemade beauty when it's flipped sideways, now does it?

Sarah learning to sew with my beloved Janome New Home. She's ever so much more precise than I am. Sigh.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Toys 'R' Us or Spring Cleaning, Suite Style

To tell the truth, we're not doing any spring cleaning around here. Any. The laundry, dishes, laundry, animals, laundry, children, laundry list is just too comprehensive and frankly it distracts me from sewing the girls' Easter dresses.
But today Laura and I cleaned out the couch cushions. Mind you, this isn't the couch from the no-holds-barred den. This is the living room couch, and it's as formal as we get in the Suite. There's no eating on the living room couch (except after the wee ones are in bed, when I break out the brie and ... no, just kidding!) or else there'd be sure to be some Cheerios in the mix.
For the record, we found: eight Lego blocks, one vintage Fisher Price Little Person, a toddler spoon, a barrette, one Domino, a hair ribbon, a hat and a Polly Pocket blouse. (Is it a blouse if it's elasticy plastic and fits your average pinky finger?)
This brings me back to a point. I'm not sure what that point is. Maybe I'll find it under the den's couch cushions.
Oh! Yeah! Spring cleaning is overrated. Playing is much more fun. It was a beautiful, 60 degree and sunny day at our little farmstead. The chickens even managed to find some dust to give themselves a bath. The horses rolled in the mud. The girls and I played with stickers and I baked some bread and we left the front door open for the perfect breeze. The laundry piled up on the den couch (surely adding a few runaway socks to the cushion cracks) and a flock of doves landed in the front yard.
Madeleine hauled her jump rope and a bouncy ball and the Breyer horse barn out to the front yard. We washed the wool blankets and dried them on the line. What a perfect way to avoid spring cleaning. I wonder what other ways I can do that?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Look Out, World

(Gratuitous and inexplicably rotated photo of chubby grubby baby toes just for kicks. Even chubbier baby thighs and messy "muffin head" hairdo courtesy of that's-really-my-life photography. Translation: No time for stylist (or pants?) when we're taking our first steps. )

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Little Souffle


After three weeks (or so -- I've lost track in that particular way of long vacations or ongoing insomnias) of near-daily doctor visits and too-frequent ER dashes, we still have no diagnosis.

We have an old-fashioned quarantine.

Oh, they're not calling it quarantine. There's the lack of a sign on our door. And there's a serious lack of slowing in the visits and phone calls such as you would expect in a true quarantine situation.

Not that I have any knowledge of quarantine protocol that goes beyond what you could learn in a movie (by that name, I think? Quarantine?)... anywho, I don't know the first thing about quarantine.

But I do know Sarah's on steroids for their anti-inflammatory effect, and I know we're not going to chess class, or archaeology, or the zoo, or anywhere else but stir crazy for two weeks until her next round of tests.

Sarah folds over on herself. Sarah is as flexible as a gymnast, a ballerina, a switch-hit debate star. This flexibility is her strength and her signature and a great reason in a long list of reasons to love her.

But right now Sarah doubles over like a crepe, golden but much more fragile than your workaday pancake. She folds in on herself as a morning glory does at dusk, exhausted in retreat from the beauty of the day. She's a souffle', sensitive to temperature and sound and the moods of those around her.

She's been ultrasounded (now that's a funny made-up verb) and X-Rayed and EKG'd and poked and prodded and annoyed as all get out by (apparently) falsely cheerful RNs. Her blood's been drawn too many times to count and I want to shout at the medical profession to please plan accordingly. "How much blood can the anemic girl spare?" Katie wanted to know. I want to know too.

Staying home for two weeks sounds restful. But now that I've had a day of it? One day? I'm exhausted. I am strung out like a strand of costume pearls on thin elastic. I am run through a wringer washer and hung to dry with the wrinkles getting crackly in the dry heat of a desert day. I am possibly just now sifting through the half-dozen doctors' ideas and concerns and oft-conflicting recommendations. Did we really just do all of that? Did I remain standing for that? Did we all?

Why didn't someone warn me to sit down?

In these past few weeks I have given so much thought and prayer to the concept of chronic illness and disease. The need to remain cheerful and calm for my children and myself is prime, but the inner dread and worry that I feel is somehow projected outward to the thousands of families who face debilating and life-threatening problems. How does one march forward? How does one maintain grace and hope?

I want to know.

Oh, and this brings me to another point. Everyone else wants to know as well. Everyone wants to find out what's causing Sarah to be so sick. The doctors are working very hard, following thin leads, trying to alleviate her symptoms while we're at it. Our families are also very supportive. But it's maddening. It's easy to fall into the role of armchair quarterback, backseat driver, Doogie Howser, M.D. Every medical site on the Internet has been attacked by Sarah's extended family, every symptom searched, every known illness cross-referenced. There is an answer, and I am confident it will be found soon. I'm frustrated though. I'm ready for her to be better. A miraculous healing would be fine by us.

As soon as I tucked the girls in bed tonight I went looking for something to read. And Barb did not disappoint! I am so grateful for my front-loading washing machine and my stocked freezer and my pea plants peeking out of the soil. I'm so grateful for modern medicine and for the Internet (although sometimes the Information Age is overwhelming).

I've missed my friends here. Thanks for all of your prayers and emails. We'll be back to your regularly scheduled farm frolics just in time for spring and summer gardening season.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Again with the Roller Coaster

It's a gorgeous spring day in our neck of the woods. In fact it's the sort of day I wish I were in a choir.

You heard right.

It's the sort of heavenly-chorus-of-voices day that features a perfect combination of 58 degrees, impossibly Jello-esque blue skies dotted with marshmallow puff clouds. It kinda makes you hungry for a church potluck. Kinda sorta.

Now that was unfair.

Our church potlucks are unbelievable. They give church potlucks a good name. My kids ask EVERY Sunday if we can stay for a potluck. Maybe the ladies of our church should open a Sunday-only restaurant. Even if Jello isn't one of your major food groups... I'm just sayin'.

The best thing about most church potlucks is that you don't have to cook. Well, you have to cook a large quantity of one item. And you have to plan ahead-- already we are seeing why it might be a problem for me.

This week it has proven impossible to plan anything. Or possibly I should say that it has proven fruitless to plan. Pointless. I love lists as much as the next girl. To-do lists. Honey-do lists. Long-range goal lists. In fact I like lists so well that when I am pregnant I don't nest, I list. (That's my husband's joke, not mine. Ba-dum-dum.)

So this week I have (had) a lot of plans. Doctor appointments, accountant and attorney appointments, work, writing (oh, the certifiably important but the least urgent and therefore the first to go), parenting (this list is in no particular order, obviously).

All those plans? To the place handbaskets are rumored to travel with regularity. One-way ticket.

But it's a beautiful day! I think I'll plant a few more peas as soon as I can check a few more things off my list.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Apropos of... Spring

Today is the DAY. The day for planting peas, my friends.
My husband is out mowing springy grass. I poked into the still-cool soil approximately two thousand and eight peas. Fragrant flowery sweet peas in the front garden, sugar snap peas in the kitchen garden, peas peas peas.
The lettuce and spinach are still cozy in their cold frame. The garlic and celery are peeking cautiously above ground. And now the peas, the all-important harbinger of gardening days, are in the ground.
It makes me yearn for the hot and lazy summer days. Even in the midst of my "living in the moment" crusade. Honestly, what's wrong with looking forward a little? It seems to me that is a gardener's prerogative, nay, responsibility. Look forward a little. Sow a little faith in the future.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Surfin' Safari ... Farm Style

The Suite girls were spirited away for the day by my lifelong friend Carolyn today.

We visited a nearby wild animal park for a safari adventure, then enjoyed a picnic of sorts in the car while we waited for the sun to warm up the not-quite-spring air. After lunch we walked through the small animal farm and zoo exhibits. It was exactly the getaway we all needed.

Look over there!

Shall we look through the guide to identify the creatures or just marvel at them?

Those are zebras for sure.
Sarah's doctor's office only called twice during our road trip.

I answered it the first time and after that I let them leave a message about her next appointment.
The weather was gorgeous and the animals were stunning... especially the over-friendly emu who scared the living daylights out of me by sticking its beak in the car window. He looked a little interested in the chips the girls were eating so I sorta-kinda took off in a hurry. Man, that was a big beak.

We saw these signs everywhere, but no one took them literally until an apparently benign little duck took a chunk out of Carolyn's hand.

The monkey was on the lookout. But he was behind glass. We learned that it's been proven that primates can plan ahead. I guess they're one up on me already.

There weren't any warning signs about the spitting though. Sarah and Madeleine were sprayed with such a huge amount of llama cud that they smelled like alfalfa even after showering this evening!

I know y'all were craving a picture of Laura's toes. The girl will not leave her socks and shoes on. And don't get me started on her hair bows.

The park had a life-size cow to practice milking on. After nursing four babies it sort of hurt my feelings. Or offended my sensibilities. (Is it too late at night to be writing this post? I think so.)

It's good to get away. And it was, as always, great to come home to our own private zoo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

All Sunshine All Week Long

To me it matters not that we've had snow followed by 60-degree sunshine followed by hail followed by cold, clear moonbright nights. It's all sunshine, all week long, people. Maybe longer than that..
The last round of Sarah's tests came back yesterday, STAT. (Stat? Is it an acronym? Abbreviation? Anyone?) I was grateful for the hurry-up, because honestly the waiting around for dire news was shortening my life. I could feel it happening with each shattering tick of the wall clock and sad unrung bell of the phone. Just as surely as those charts that show four-pack-a-day smokers live 20 years fewer and married people live two years longer, my life expectancy was creeping backward on me with the anxiety of waiting for test results.
For instance. Yesterday afternoon, at which point there was no "all sunshine all week long" forecast (or proclamation by me), we sat in the waiting area of a lab. I had all four girls with me because I no longer have a babysitter: 'nother story, 'nother day. So all of my girls were sitting at my feet reading old Highlights magazines and chewing on teething toys (that part's Laura). We were, as usual at midday in the lab, surrounded by elderly people.
One woman of approximately my age was there with her mother and her mother's entourage of wheelchair, walker, oxygen tank. Everyone else was old and enamored of my beautiful babies and/or annoyed that there were children in the medical facility. You could tell.
I struck up a conversation with the 30-something woman after I was done helping a little tiny great-grandmother flirt with Laura for a while. Laura was very obliging but the woman had to leave with her tinier great-grandfather husband. So my new chatmate was wearing a sweatshirt that proclaimed the name of a small town high school about 40 miles from me. I know the small town from my (dearly departed) real estate selling days. Picture a Main Street and a cluster of cute antique peddlers surrounded by grass seed farms as far as the eye can see.
The main employer of that cute little town is (was) the recreational vehicle industry. Those who didn't work grass seed and its cousin, livestock feed (a huge industry of its own), worked designing, making and marketing enormous land yachts that cost the equivalent of a luxury home sans wheels. These were family wage jobs and better, all chaff on the wind of our economy.
I asked how her cute little town is doing. She shrugged the tiniest shrug and answered, "No one has a job. No one. [Quick glance at her mother.] No one." Despair is a sin, I've heard, because it evidences a lack of hope. I for one am pretty determined to remain hopeful, but some circumstances are so sobering as to give pause, to blot out the light of hope long enough to starve it a little.
I thought about touring the sun- and snow-bleached high desert ghost towns of Montana as a child with my mother and brother. We went on some elaborate history trips and my photographer mom was enamored of falling-down gold miners' shacks and storefronts. Hmm. There were beautiful hopes and dreams and families in those homes. Or maybe that's romanticizing the past. There was illness and hunger too, surely.
What we want for our children, all of us, is this unblemished beautiful apple of a life. What they get, unfortunately, is the same reality we've all received. It's messy and painful and beautiful. If someone were going to work out the pain-free version, I'd be lining right up. Wouldn't you?
Sarah's tests show no sign of cancer. She has some more imaging tests to go through but the worst spectre is gone. The clock ticks normally, the phone rings without inciting panic attacks.
It's going to be all sunshine all week long.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sleeping Through the Rodeo

My husband woke up early this morning and rounded up the pony in the dark on his way to a VIP (Very Important Proposal). He lost the dog in the meantime. But don't worry, both the dog and pony shows are back to their regularly scheduled programming around here.
Also, because I am practicing looking at the bright side, I'll have you know my husband made it to the office with his khakis unblemished by mud or pony poop. I think. It was dark, and I was sleeping. I only became aware of the breakout upon his wake-up call to me. That wake-up call being literal, not figurative. You know, the call where your honey gets to work and you're still snor--I mean, snoozing?
It's been awhile since Little Houdini (otherwise known as Sarah's beloved pony Dolly) staged a midnight raid on the neighbors' lawns. In fact, it hasn't happened since I was so pregnant as to add an element of clown to the rodeo as I galumphed around after the stinker.
Ponies, Shetlands in particular, are notorious for their -- a-hem -- independent spirits. Dolly is of the age when a lady no longer wants to advertise her age, but she's not retiring gracefully into a peaceful pasture ornament. Oh, no. She's of the feisty retiree variety, jumping fences or commando-crawling under them, as the case requires.
We were JUST DISCUSSING new-and-improved fences, thank you very much, upon the occasion of our Saturday drive. I took so many fence and gate and falling-down-barn photos that I flat wore out the Nikon's batteries. Both of them.
The fence pictures were research. Split rail, woven wire, corner bracing research. The barn pictures are just an obsession. I have my own little barn, thanks, and it's not of the falling down variety nor am I about to aspire to owning one.
Also I am declaring a moratorium on hyphens in this here post. Just in case you hit your limit.
So our place needs some new fencing. There's an old farm and ranch (crikey, but the hyphen urge was strong with that one) adage that says you build your fences before you get your livestock. Also, good fences in any neighborhood, as anyone knows, make "good neighbors." Maybe because that way the pony can't eat the B&B's flowers and I won't have to delete the snippy post I put up just the other day. (Yes, I did delete it. I never should have posted it. It doesn't reflect well on me to snipe at the greenhorns.)
I hate when I get snarky and no one smacks me around about it.
But I sure love it when I don't have to chase the pony through flowerbeds in the wee hours of the morning.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Homemade Mac-N-Cheese

Now there's a promise of spring if I've ever seen one.

Um, no, Mama, I wouldn't be eating butter with a spoon.

This photo I couldn't resist sharing. Remember Fern's visit of last week? This was her enchanted fairy-inspired hairdo. (With the merest hint of rabbit ears.)

And now, a recipe for my homemade macaroni and cheese. Obligatory aside: Does anyone else get a little itch under their nose when something-"n"-something is on the menu? Just a little twitch of spelling snob annoyance? Anyone?

Okay then. Here's my [family]famous macaroni and cheese recipe. Gratuitous aside: Recently on a trip to the coast Grace Hannah ordered macaroni and cheese in a [statewide]famous restaurant. She cried silent tears of exhaustion and disbelief when it was served to her -- orange as a Hawaiian sunset with clumps of unidentified alien cheese powder still clinging to the edges of the bowl.
Miri's Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
12- to 16-ounch package of macaroni noodles
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, cut in 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup (appx) milk or cream
2 T flour
2 to 4 T butter
diced onions
minced garlic
Boil and drain noodles al dente. Set aside in a casserole dish. Preheat oven to 325.
In a cast iron or other heavy saucepan, saute onions and garlic in butter on medium until onions are translucent and garlic is golden brown. Whisk in flour to make a paste. Continue whisking and add the chicken stock. Bring to a high simmer and stir in cheese cubes, stirring pretty much constantly. It doesn't take very long to begin to melt them. As soon as they are melty lower the heat and stir in the milk or cream just until incorporated. Pour the whole mixture over the noodles in your casserole dish. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Sauce will thicken and you will not have leftovers. I sometimes add diced ham or small steamed broccoli pieces before baking. Yum! And not orange!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chicks and Bread and Butter Oh My

A quick stop at the feed store is never as simple as it sounds.

Cuddly little creature. We bought Americaunas, the "Easter Egg" chickens that lay blue and green eggs. They are living in the laundry room currently. Do you spy the baby hand creeping into the picture? Laura is in love with the chicks. She calls them "brrds" and talks to them and sneaks up on their crate whenever we're not paying attention.

Sarah made some banana bread while I made the whole wheat yeast bread. She has been feeling a little better but has strict instructions from the doctor not to get rowdy. I wish he'd included sassiness in his list of "do nots." (As we were leaving I heard her whisper ever-so-quietly that he's "not the boss" of her. Ah, but I am, I answered.)
Last week she had three birthday party invitations. She went to the first but promptly fell off a teeter totter and chipped a tooth. Her equilibrium, white blood cell count and energy are all low, but her sense of humor is unaffected by whatever's going on.
So we visited the dentist and the doctor on Friday. One fixed tooth, a few more tests, another appointment for Monday, and a prohibition on further partying as her heart rate -- and impish grin -- are easily affected by girlish party antics.
So we sent our apologies to birthdays two and three. Katie's daughter Fern was so sweet as to visit our home with daffodils and news of her party's postponement until Sarah is feeling better.

The weekend has been full of quiet country drives and bread baking. Bread baking is meditative and exactly what the doctor ordered for me.
Then we made butter! And a huge mess. Note to self: Buy a splatter guard for the Kitchenaid mixer. Butter churning 21st Century style? Not so meditative. But delicious nonetheless.
Thank you to all who are praying for Sarah. We'll update here as soon as we know more.

Friday, March 6, 2009


R.P. (Roly Poly) Hamsterling is spending a week at our house.
As rodents go, he's okay.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


MSG. Madeleine, Sarah, Grace. After all the agonizing over names, and nicknames. After actually bringing two of our four girls home from the hospital without names. How did it escape my attention that the first three girls' initials would form that (in)famous collection of letters that causes headaches but also somehow ends up in lots of really yummy ethnic food?

MSG. The gang of three. Laura, our fourth, is striving every day to catch up with the big girls. She's been walking and talking much more than any 14-month-old ought.

Sarah Olivia, the first of our daughters to wait awhile for her name, is as sweet as a girl whose name means "princess" should be. She's a classic middle child in her peacemaking and easygoing manner, but she's possessed of plenty of spunk and creativity of her own. Don't touch that girl's watercolors... I'm just sayin'.

Maybe it's because she waited for her name, but she's 100 percent her own girl. Never one to be swayed by popular opinion, she's quick to beat us all in Scrabble with a 46-point use of the word "moron," which of course is off-limits in conversation but does exist in the Scrabble universe... and in strategy games: she's the one to make the important chess sacrifice with a perfect poker face only to erupt in giggles as she goes in for the checkmate.

Sarah's been facing some health struggles. She has a form of anemia called Thalessemia. It's chronic and usually not a hindrance to her daily life. But these past weeks, and maybe months, she's dealt with pneumonia and now some new symptoms that have precipitated a slew of tests. She thinks her blood as it's drawn looks like root beer. She entertains the phlebotomist and me. She can barely walk back to the car.

So we wait for test results and we pray that the news will be good. We save our energy for a trip to the General Store to celebrate her best friend's birthday with ice cream cones. We try not to hold our breath when we have the odd quiet moment. We realize the nurse can make or break our day with how long she pauses between words.

Tomorrow holds more tests. Today holds some pizza, homemade, and some Scrabble. And a lot of prayer.