Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summertime and the living is easy

Because we spent the last school year having school at home, I guess I thought this year's summer would lack that certain sense of ease that comes after nine months of hectic schedules. I thought maybe we'd just continue as usual with our routine throughout the summertime: a little school in the morning after the farm chores are done, a little playing around with horses after lunch, as little running into town as possible.

Maybe it's the weather, but the summertime ease has grown into a full-flowering vine while I wasn't watching. Sure, we still have rabbits and chickens to feed and horses to lunge and a little multiplication table work to dread (Universal cry of mothers-to-elementary-students: Enough with the times tables! Enough for Mom!). We still have to run into town every little while for the mundane: grain, coffee, fencing supplies, coffee.

But the undeniable laissez-faire of the season is upon us. My husband's little brother played his last tournament over the weekend (Isn't he so cute? Also, I think he's past the age where he views "cute" as a compliment. Let's keep it between us, shall we?). The big girls are back from sleepaway camp. Laura's molars are in. The hay too is all in and none of our neighbors lost any to weather.

My neighbor boys pulled all the weeds out of a 30-foot-long flowerbed. I took some pictures of them and teasingly called the two 13-year-olds "mancake" in an attempt to get them to smile for the camera. One was thrilled and one was, well, properly grossed out. I crack myself up.

The deer fence around my 56-by-52 garden is three-quarters done (and I've not done any of the work; sorry, Honey) and the Big Leaf Maples are positively laden with their signature enormous leaves. The shade is thick in the back yard, the wading pool is filled and the afternoons stretch out until I realize it's bedtime.

Yesterday Sarah asked if we could make some doll clothes. I couldn't bring myself to sit in front of a sewing machine while there was still light outside. Then I couldn't bring myself to stay up late.

Today we're off to the lake. I hope you're enjoying an easy living kind of summer, no matter how much or how little time that has to blossom in your life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Change the oil and vinegar, please

We pick up the two big girls from sleepaway camp today. Hurray!

I have been having the strangest anxiety dreams. This morning in the wee hours I insisted the fast-food drive-through window should accomodate my request to change the Suburban's oil and vinegar. The customer is always right. And dream visualization was all the rage a while ago. But I may be pushing it.

I crack myself up. Even in my sleep.

Today is also Grace's last day of vacation Bible school. The church across the road has been hosting it all week. She thinks the big girls are missing out. It has a game show theme and is loud and rowdy -- exactly Gracie's cup of tea. Each day there's been a different wardrobe challenge to get the children ready to act goofy. Grace is all about the goof. Crazy hat day, check. Backwards and inside out day, check check.

For the final day of VBS they asked the children to wear mismatched items. I think Grace has that covered.


In fact, each and every morning she's been ready to go without any prompting from me. She checks her assignment and lays out her nutty attire the night before, all excited that she won't be alone in wardrobe goofiness for the next day.


I think the VBS is on to something.


Now if only I could get Burrito Amigos to change the oil while I'm grabbing lunch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mommy anxiety strikes again

So the girls are gone for a week at camp. This is the same idyllic riverside, tree-lined, semi-rustic site where Madeleine's camped four years running. This is the first year Sarah's been old enough for the big-kid version that lasts longer than 36 hours.

And for you who are keeping score at home, this is also the year that Sarah's been in and out of hospitals; had more blood draws than any character in the much-hyped but still inane Twilight series; set a record for the most X-rays and ultrasounds followed by the longest MRI followed by the longest bone scan; lost seven pounds from her already slight frame in six weeks; started treatment and back to ballet in the same month.

Sarah's a trouper.

Me, not so much.

I typed a full page of instructions for the on-site RN. I put her medication and a spendy ear thermometer in a gallon-sized zipper lock bag and taped the instructions to the inside of the bag.

I turned in said instructions, which were as wordy as you'd expect from me and yet made more (I hope) clear with the use of bullet points and strategic repetition (avoiding parenthetical statements so as not to confuse the nurse!).

I double-checked with the camp director. I was reassured to be followed by a mom whose child has severe asthma. (Misery does prefer company.) I asked at drop-off to speak with the nurse.

"She's not here yet. I'll just set these aside and she'll make sure to follow your [overly explanatory] written directions." The director wrote Sarah's full name on the bag with a permanent marker. And moved it aside on the stack. I was dismissed.

Oh. Well, I knew there was a reason I was so thorough in my instructions. And a written word can hardly be misinterpreted as easily as can a spoken exchange. Right?

I think I'm right. Because when I called this morning for a report from the nurse (my note detailed under which circumstances she should call me) I was told that "we don't have a nurse this year."


"I can put you through to the first aid girl."


And, gentle readers, it gets so much worse. The first aid girl appeared, if I am any judge of voice age, to be 14 at the oldest. She assured me that Sarah is doing "just great!!!!" and "taking her temp every night! with lots of her friends?! right before bed?!?! and writing it down, like you said!!!!!"

(I swear to you I could hear the extra punctuation in this child's voice.)

Right after she told me how "great!!!" Sarah is, she told me that Sarah's temp on Sunday night was 86.5 and on Monday night it was 87.1. Roughly the temperature of the muggy June air. Not even within 10 points of the range I specified as "normal" for Sarah.

Breathe in. Breathe out. The child does not know how to point the thermometer into the ear. Breathe again before you speak. Then put the keys in the ignition and drive directly to camp.

Discover that Sarah's cabin mother is a Licensed Practical Nurse and more than capable of administering meds and taking a temperature every 24 hours. More importantly, discover that cabin mom is a real-life mom and likely to call me if she needs to.

Discover that the "first aid girl" is indeed 14 years old and is more than capable of placing a band-aid (mostly) on a scraped kneee. (But she has her CPR certificate ("!!!") which was probably a good thing because I practically needed resuscitation after my 45-minute panicked drive to camp).

Discover that handing over one's child to the care of others is best not left to a one-page typed explanation.

(Note to self for next year: Ask around for new camp. Preferably one in which they wrap the children in a little more cotton wool. And maybe where they keep a little extra cot for me.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

From this side of summer

It goes by so fast. Yesterday I was browsing through all 1,865 photos from June of last year and then contemplating the fact that I'm on pace to break that record number of snaps this month in 2009. But how could I not?

Even without a wedding or a graduation to attend this June. The stopwatch quality of the changing grasses and long summer evenings are alone enough to keep the camera batteries charged. To put the miles on the Suburban.

Yesterday we dropped Madeleine and Sarah off at camp for a week. I know they're singing campfire songs and eating cinnamon rolls and making new friends while keeping the old. I know it's infinitely different to be with a preschooler and a toddler for the week than it is to parent four who range between learning to walk and running toward adolescence.


They change as quickly as the summer grasses, those girls do.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Haying Time

It's time to make hay in our valley.
A few freakish hailstorms over the past couple of weeks laid the hay down in the fields under wet conditions, a bad omen for feed prices at the very least. Luckily the storms were followed by weeks of sunshine and the hay recovered and stood tall... to be laid down again, only on purpose this time.
Under sunny skies the straight lines of cut timothy, alfalfa, field grass lie waiting for the baler. Later today they'll stud the field in golden cubes like stored summertime. Teams of shirtless men will be instantly tan and sweaty (reminds me of that old Diet Coke commercial where the office secretaries plan their break around watching construction workers) from the hot day's work of lifting 90-pound bales from ground the truck bed. They'll buck the bales by thin orange cords that cut into their leather gloves. They'll lift them over and over until their muscles burn and the hay's all in.

I love haying time with a passion borne mostly of the fact that I rarely have to buck bales. I can count on one hand the bales I've had to lift, actually. My husband and his dad or sometimes a buddy will collect the bales from a large storage barn at my neighbor Linda's, moving two tons or more in a load, restacking them in our shop bay.

Then our system at home is to roll a bale to the trailer of the lawn tractor, moving two bales at a time. The girls and I mostly take care of this. Madeleine is better at driving the lawn tractor that I am. The confidence of youth. We move hay down to the little horse barn from the big bay where the hay is stored in six-ton stacks of golden green beauty. I have to say our system is not nearly as sexy as the big ranches'.
One thing we have in common with the big boys is that it is strictly verboten to climb in the hay. It breaks the bales and spreads boot muck that might invite mold, and also, that's 20 feet in the air too high for little children to be without a harness or a railing or some other helicopter-parent protection device.
Nevertheless I'm constantly finding evidence in the top of the stacks. A colored pencil. A Breyer horse and tiny truck and trailer. A Nancy Drew book.
I can't say I never hid in the haystacks, or worse yet used them as a huge jungle gym, when I was a child. Because that would be a lie. Following naturally on this confession is the fact that I don't really care if the girls hide up there with their books and art projects. I think it might be an essential part of becoming a farm girl.
I love haying time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Roses and Cabbage Patches

Today I wanted to say something about the sheer beauty of life. Something about slanting sunshine, scraps of fabric and fallen petals. The reasons I love quilting and gardening and playing in the sandbox with my kids. But I decided it had all been said. Or the words weren't there for me because the breathless joy of it is (shockingly) beyond my vocabulary today.

So I thought I'd introduce you to another of my wonderful neighbors and her new baby. At 10 and a half pounds, he was huge and healthy and gorgeous in the June heat.

The only thing this photo can't do is share with you the new baby scent. Remember when yours used to fall asleep with that much abandon? When your own baby moved from deep-breathing sleep to snorting and chortling starving anger in one breath? Manoman I miss that. Almost enough to forget the sleeplessness of the mommy... almost enough to forget how the advice to sleep when the newborn sleeps seems irrelevant because all you really want to do is watch the baby's eyelashes grow.

Can't you almost feel the delicious weight of that little one on your arm?
I wish Jamie lived a little closer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Radishes (Radishi?) ... Ravishing, Anyway

I'm joking about the radishi. That would be like a socially timid but radical group of kids, right? (Homeschoolers, probably.) As in, rad-i-shy. Ba-dum-dumb.
Our garden is going gangbusters. (Ooh--look out--another etymology and/or goofball soundalike tangent averted.)
The sugar snap peas are HUGE, friends, just HUGE. I am still hopeful to freeze lots for winter stir fry, but we know I'm probably kidding myself. They just taste too good fresh in their sweet little pods; it completely wipes out any planning and canning instinct. If I'da been a pioneer, we'da been in big trouble.
But thank goodness for Trader Joes, eh? They'll freeze some sugar snap peas for me. Probably.
This brings me to a conversation I had yesterday with one of my legendary neighbors. Although I have periodically had neighbor, um, issues, while living here, I want you to know that I access some of the finest farmgirl resources in the nation (okay, at least the state) just by visiting with my neighbors.
For instance, there's BJ, who the finest organic gardener and baby-shusher-to-sleep I have ever had the privilege of leaning upon in times of insect or napless crises.
And then there's Alice, who can matter-of-factly sex a two-day-old chicken while describing the process to a gaggle of giggling girls. An little puff of air, the 70-year-old rancher and chicken guru will say, and if it's an "O" it's a she. If it's an "O-val" it's a he. Or is it the other way around? I'll have to ask Alice.
For my third and ultimate example of my wealth of neighborly goodness, I bring you (oh, you farmgirls wish it were literal) Linda. I've known Linda all my life and loved her for her true and boundlessly hospitable nature. She is a rodeo queen from the '50s who could really ride as well as look fantastic. She's still a ranch-hand to outwork any man, 18 to 80. She's impeccably manicured and groomed in town -- locals running into her may not recognize Town Linda from Ranch Linda -- and windblown blond and tan, the exact colors of ripe hay, when working her ranch.
Linda has for decades shorn my groomer-shy Golden Retriever, diagnosed my horse maladies, let my kids catch the tadpoles in her pond, sold me the best valley hay, given me invaluable advice, and in general been everything I hope to grow up to be.
So yesterday Linda and I got talking about disaster preparedness. Do you all remember the year 1999? Prince song notwithstanding, the preparations for a massive computer and banking crash were headline news. Normal everyday people everywhere were stockpiling beans and rice and toilet paper for the day the electronic doors on the supermarket wouldn't open and the trucking industry was somehow inexplicably stalled as well.
I'm a little unclear on my recent history here. But I do remember the survivalists came out of the woods to have a moment in the sun, giving lectures at churches and interviews to news crews.
I think country folk were amused by the hoopla then and quietly still "disaster prepared" nine years later.
Linda was telling me about her pantry system, how she keeps about six months of non-perishable food rotating as a matter of practicality. For a family of six, this would require a huge storage facility. We eat a lot of fresh food, a lot of local food. But what if our supplies were temporarily unavailable?
I think I usually have on hand about three months' worth of beans, rice, pasta and canned goods. I am moving toward grinding my own flour but still buy it in 20-pound bags, one whole wheat and one white at a time. Storage is an issue.
I'm fascinated by the idea of a root cellar and have been reading "Five Acres and Independence" and other seminal back-to-the-land books I've picked up at garage sales and others that I was lucky enough to inherit from my grape-growing, wine-making grandfather. (I wonder how much wine one would store for disaster purposes? I should ask another friend and resource.)
I realize even our water supply in the country relies on electricity -- no pump, no water. I consider ordering a hand pump and consider that I may be crossing that invisible line between preparedness and paranoia.
What do you do to store food? To save money? To cushion a possible job loss or power outage?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Church of the Dogwood Blossoms

When my husband and I lived in the great irreverent city of Portland, we commuted together the four miles, from our cute and trendy neighborhood of Eastside bungalows and cottages, to the downtown core of modest skyscrapers and converted brick warehouses. We parked where it was cheapest, a little over a mile west of work, and walked together briskly, often sharing an umbrella.
These walks were our time to plan vacations to Mexico or the coast. They were our time to plan our still-imagined family. We planned what to say to our bosses that day and we planned to meet later at the Coffee People that was two blocks from each of our respective offices.
We could have never planned the life we have now. I never imagined, then, the possibility of living surrounded by this much quiet and green, this much blossom (nor this many children).
Anyway we used to walk past The Church of Elvis. It's on the main drag of downtown Portland, and a great tourist attraction. The proprietess maintains it is a church, when of course it's a quirky museum. She holds services and, well, sort of kitsches up the worship of the King.
I was just thinking about that as I noticed the dogwood's bloom over the ghost of our neighboring church in the background.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's a FIG, People!

Actually, there are two baby green figs on my new baby green fig tree. Never were newborn twins so coddled. I murmur to the fig tree sweet encouragement. I water it twice a day. Yes, you're reading the blog of a fig whisperer. Also: Woe unto the bug or bird who attempts to harm my fig tree. There will be an occasion for pesticides. I'm just sayin'.

Forty or fifty feet in the air climbed my sweet husband. I held the ladder and my breath.

For this. The horses are mystified. Two Spot swings his big ol' head back and forth like a candy bar commercial while Dolly turns her back in disgust. Who'd want to ride a board on a rope when you have a perfectly good (relative term alert) Shetland pony? Um. The Suite girls, that's who.
Even me. Although my skirt flew up in a most compromising manner so I won't be sharing any of those photos. Trust me. It's for your own good.

That? That's just the greenest field in Oregon. As I was driving home from a grain run (some girls have beer runs; I have grain runs) I pulled over (to, thankfully, no complaints as I was miraculously a-lone) and had my own little photography field trip. Field? Get it?
Don't mind me. I'll go talk to my figs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Incongruity Bites

There is a crow living with my chickens.

When I was a litte girl, my grandmother used to pay my brother a nickel for every crow his bb gun could conquer. It was the way of a farm, the way of protecting the corn and the cat food.

Crows in general are brash and bossy, quick to assert themselves. They're not my favorite bird. Neither have I ever paid my children to dispatch them to the other side.

Now this little crow has moved in. It all but roosts with the hens at night. The first few days our rooster chased it off. Patiently it waited on the wall of the compost heap, next door to the chicken chalet. It never, to my knowledge, crowed in that signature raucous way of the crow. In fact it nearly clucked for acceptance as day by day it moved closer to the flock, closer to the steady supply of crumbles and kitchen scraps.

I sort of like the little crow. It hops unevenly. Perhaps a neighborhood boy missed his mark and lost a nickel or a dollar or whatever is paid today to keep the crops safe.

Today the crow is in the chicken yard, pecking away like a tiny black hen. The others take no notice.

My corn is planted, most is up, in a 45-foot windbreak (to be) on the north side of the garden. I inspect it each morning, sometimes twice a day, unable to stop myself from the "knee high by the fourth of July" worries. Will it make it? Will our corn stock the freezer? Will I be fighting off the other, pushier crows with shiny CDs hung from the stalks and funny iconic scarecrows on the fence poles?

Don't think it hasn't occurred to me, either, about the short-term neighbors we had over the past couple of weeks.

But I like the little crow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Little Peas and Quiet

We took break from weeding amongst the peas to visit the garden center. Is there anything to top a trip to the garden center in late May? I submit that there may be something to top that incomparable experience. And that would be a trip to the garden center in late May that includes my four goofball children.

Are you guys feeling okay? You haven't moved since I've been here.

Don't let my sisters bother you.

(No statues harmed in the making of this post.)

(No plants either.)

(Except maybe that fuschia.)
The astute reader may notice a distinct lack of goofiness from Grace recorded here. That would not be due to her suddenly becoming a quiet, reserved child. Nor would it be due to her being absent on the trip to Gray's Garden. Nope. Just one of the small weirdnesses of life that stack on top of one another and make things what we call normal. Grace goofed off plenty, even dunked herself (accidentally) in a display pond. This, for us, is normal. Inexplicably so. But of course there are no photos of that episode.
Update on something ELSE of which I didn't take pictures! (Strange sentence construction aside, let me say, it was difficult to not snap pics of the weird neighbor incident. SO HARD. War-photog-in-Bosnia-with-no-lens hard. Ansel-in-birch-grove-with-no-film hard. It was hard, people. But I was afraid of their Pit Bull. And them. I imagined myself some sort of anti-papparazzi (sp?) wanting to chronicle the oddities of having a greengrowing homeless camp across the road but worried they'd snatch my Nikon away and smash it when I least expected it.)
So they're gone. I feel guilty. Which is nothing new. I challenge any of my Catholic and/or Jewish friends to rival me in the guilt gut. Honestly, I can work up a good-sized molehill of guilt over blackened toast. A little thing like begrudging some (probably pot-dealing) homeless people their week of flopping across the road? GUILT MOUNTAIN, y'all.
When they left on Saturday night, they didn't go far. The church elder who gave them permission to stay a week was very clear they had to be gone by services on Sunday morning. Now this seemed a little backward to me. We want to show our Christian love but we want you gone before anyone shows up to worship God. Crikey. Mind you, I didn't SAY anything about this thought, because, as I mentioned, I couldn't get my sun tea jar off my front porch without getting a whiff of them in all their multi-pet micro-gardening traveling (not so much) glory.
So they left Saturday night to our other neighbors' property, just five or so driveways away from us.
Oh, the GUILT, people. The guilt. Now this nice grandma had them in her back yard. She'd already been feeding them a couple of times a day, she told me. And they were using her shower. And since it was just "one night" (actually, that would have been two, but I kept my mouth shut and it turned into five) until they were leaving for [state unknown that changed depending on the questioner's identity] on Monday, it was the "least she could do."
Oh. I thought the least she could do would be to say "you're welcome for a week of food and showering." You see why I deal with guilt. You see.
Of course they overstayed their welcome there, but not by much. I don't know how this went down. Maybe another, gutsier neighbor helped out my sweet grandmotherly neighbor and towed them from beside her tomato plot in the dark of night. Or maybe she ran out of food. Or (not as likely) patience. But last night, just before midnight, the Blue Bayou was parked across the road from me again, fixin' to get on the road. Fixin' their headlights and tying down their crates and such. And on the road they are. As far as I know, they are at least a mile away by now.
Tomorrow I'll be introspective. Tomorrow. Today I'm just breathing a little easier.