Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm not over it

I still have an overwhelming sense of peace and gratitude (despite the Great Coffee Incident of 2009) that I brought home with me from the Sylvia Beach Hotel.

That's the best possible form of getaway, for me. The kind that comes back with me a newborn fluffy bird which spreads its wings in relief and warmth and recognition of home.

While I was gone I received a real estate call on the dread batphone, a referral from my favorite independent bookstore owners. The Bookmine in Cottage Grove doesn't have a web site, but it does have a small organic plant nursery and several comfy couches. It doesn't have seven levels covering one city block, but it does have a corner filled with vintage Little People for my little people to play with while I read. It doesn't have air conditioning or flourescent lights or many other modern conveniences... but it does "have" Gail and Birdie, sisters I've known my entire life who have run the bookstore nearly as long as I've been alive.

So when Gail sends me someone who wants to talk about moving to our area, I consider it an introduction to a possible friend. Even on vacation, I'll take that call.

I met a writer and her writer partner on that call. I learned about their dreams and hopes for a second home on small acreage with a big garden and room for a big table on which the two of them write but not enough room for a lot of visitors.

That part made me laugh.

Anyway I just want to say that even though I'm still working real estate I found my rose-colored glasses again. Certainly the financing woes and the sheer incompetence of many in the field and the agonies of buyers and sellers at huge financial turning points ... surely those things will rear their ugly heads. But just as surely I am a person at peace. I brought it home with me and I don't plan to let this particular bird fly too far.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When frugal goes too far

So yesterday I saw the bottom of the coffee tin. The ten-pound bag of beans ground, scooped, brewed, tossed on the compost pile, leaving just a rattle of broken beans at the bottom and no trip to TJs or Costco on the horizon.

No problem, says I to myself.

I called my husband at work after brewing a half-pot with the last of the beans. I asked him not to pick up coffee beans but to bring home a few scoops of coffee from the office. Just to get me through until I go to town.

Fantastic! Three pots' worth of grounds came home in a zipper lock bag. (Did my husband re-use this bag? I never would have thought so, but....)

This morning I scooped out enough for a delicious pot of coffee. Filter. Water. On button. Pour my cream and sugar in the cup and anticipate the morning. (Read: tap foot impatiently for first cup to brew.) It's taking too long. Open the lid to check on progress. I do this every morning it seems. Compulsive much?

The grounds were satisfyingly steamy and damp, the coffee dripping into the pot with an aroma I like to think I detected early was... different. Not that I'm a coffee snob (snork). So I opened the lid again for further inspection. And what did I spy? First I thought that offending little lump to be an unground coffee bean.

However. It proved to be a piece of dog kibble. Unmistakable.

Coffee snob signing out, people. Whilst drinking tea and making my grocery list.

Thirty days of thanksgiving

I was talking to my mother-in-law on the phone yesterday evening when we realized it was exactly one month to Thanksgiving.
It's a good year to be thankful. Come to think of it, when is it ever a bad time to be thankful?
For family and fun and free time (little inside joke there, not to worry) and the fantastic fireworks of life.

Man, that dog likes to jump at falling leaves. Every year I take dozens of pictures of him leaping in the air like a fool after leaves as they drift down. The girls enjoy helping him out with his game. When there are no leaves falling, he settes for bubbles. But the leaves are clearly preferable.
I stayed home yesterday in a serendipitous dead battery situation (it was a car, not a metaphor) so Laura and could have tossed a few leaves between rain showers. But we didn't. We baked chocolate chip cookies while the big girls walked across the road for band and a wetlands project.
The wetlands part cracks me up a little. Don't tell Grace; she takes it very seriously. And of course she's right. Preserving and restoring our native environment is very important. It's a big part of what my husband does every day. But last week? The kids came home full of knowledge of the "edible" plants of the wetlands.
Um, well-meaning school district? Do we need to be encouraging our children to forage in the wild for camas bulbs and cattails?
Even more for which we can be thankful.
On the homeschooling front, I am grateful that we are in a good groove this year. Last year's shiny slick has worn off and comfort is back in our learning styles. Madeleine and Sarah spend a good deal of time on self-directed reading and research every day. We opted not to drive into town for chess or archaelogy or any of the other cool electives they took part in thanks to a homeschool co-op last year. Although the classes were fabulous, the girls and I were in the car way too much. So this year everyone is blessed to take part in our local great music program including flute for Sarah and clarinet for Madeleine. In addition to that they can and do join the school for any special projects.
Gracie is excitedly learning to read. Her favorite book character is "Bob." As we are attending a masquerade party next week at which everyone must dress as a character from a book, I am struggling to figure out how to dress my five-year-old as a stick figure with a very square head who likes to rhyme every sentence with the next.
Madeleine is going to be -- who else? -- Nancy Drew. I am on the hunt for some penny loafers. Sarah vacillates between Hermione Granger of Potter fame and Fern from Charlotte's Web. I hope she decides quickly or I am going to be thankful for my sewing machine in an all-nighter kind of way.
Laura doesn't get to vote. She'll be Dora the Explorer and I defy the host and hostess of the party to mention that Dora is not primarily a literary figure.
It's 29 days to Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. What are you thankful for?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The guilt is strong with this one

Thank you, friends, for all the encouraging words.

I honestly don't know how those pioneer women -- the women I admire so much -- perservered through so many trials and personal hardships with none of the comforts we take for granted.

Maybe that's why the Sabbath concept was so important to them: plan ahead, bake enough bread and get all the laundry done, because on the day of rest you won't be working. At all.

I wish you all the kind of Sabbath retreat I just returned from. My biggest decisions were hot breakfast or cold, Austen or Lessing, doze in the thin sunshine or by the fire.
Of course returning home was wonderful. I was ready by Friday morning to come home, I thought. But Saturday afternoon when I really did open my own front door I found that my husband had been organizing my office/craft room/school room for no other reason than to give me a retreat that requires no driving. My children were raking the mountains and mountains of leaves in the back yard. (And jumping in them a little.) The ponies trekked up from the barn to watch.
My next-door neighbor walked over to mention that the Little Einstein infant and toddler video series is recalled by Disney. I have no direct knowledge of the recall nor of the videos, but it was a thoughtful gesture that I'll pass on to y'all, in case you have those and want to look into it further.
What do you do to recharge your batteries?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spoiled rotten... is it such a bad thing?

Last month I was pulling out of the grocery store parking lot when I had that moment. You know the one. The momentary midlife crisis that you're too young for but still recognize with every crows' foot. Maybe it's foreshadowing. But whatever it is at its evil root, it presented on that particular day in the form of a Honda Civic, gold package, cutting me off as I turned right into my lane.

She drove over the curb, people. She flashed me the special finger known in my house as "Tall Man" from the Thumbkin family. Also gracing that hand was a visible CZ from 35 miles per hour.

Her other hand was busy holding a bejeweled cell phone to her ear. I'm not sure but maybe she was steering with her knee? My shocked self took in her license plate frame as she zoomed away: "Spoiled Rotten Princess."

I drive a Suburban: Red, nine-passenger, flex-fuel-but-still-not-sexy, tows the horse trailer and hauls the feed and keeps my kids safe. My wedding ring took my husband saving an entire summer job's earnings between his sophomore and junior years at a public university. (That worked out okay for him, though, since I worked as a reporter to help pay tuition for the next three years.)

So spoiled rotten princesses may cut me off in traffic. They may assume my loaded Suburban defines me. (And in my neck of the granola, owning an SUV is enough to have you run out of greentown.)

Stereotyping goes both ways, I guess. She may have been a very late-for-court spoiled rotten princess. She may have been hurrying to deliver Costco goods to a relief plane for all I know. I shouldn't judge her by the self-spinning chrome hubcaps on her wheels any more than she should have judged me too slow to follow and too old to fight back in an alley.

I shouldn't judge.

But I'm at the Sylvia Beach Hotel for a four-day, three-night getaway because my family truly does spoil me... rotten.

I've spent the past couple of days writing, reading and drinking tea while the fog alternates with driving rain. Just perfect weather for a bookworm in the West Coast's best Luddite hotel: no phones, no television, no internet, no problem.

Yesterday I read Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve. Beautiful but a little disturbing; just the way I like Shreve. The day before, Northanger Abbey by of course Jane Austen. There's nothing like a little Jane on a rainy day. Today I'm sitting by the fire in the Newport Public Library, where they don't mind if you steal their wifi. Really. I asked. Because I'm not so spoiled as to fail to ask permission.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Times. They are changing.

So this morning I was stressed out about the big girls going on a field trip to hear the symphony play. I was experiencing this anxiety and stress because it was taking them a long, long, long time to get ready.

We have two bathrooms and four girls.

About six years ago it was really difficult to get my daughter Madeleine to dress herself. Or to wear clothes at all. In fact, one Kindergarten morning found me in a most memorable embarrassing moment when M opened the front door (big, big no-no for a 5-year-old in our house) to the pastor who lived across the road (nice man) wearing nothing but her Dora underpants (if you are in trouble for opening the door at all, how much trouble are you in for opening it while nearly nekked?).

None of that is the embarrassing part.

The embarrassing part is that I was chasing her down the stairs, wielding her day's outfit like a sword and shield, shrieking in my very best impersonation of a fishwife that she would get dressed right now, little miss, right now, and OH HOLY TOLEDO YOU DID NOT OPEN THAT DOOR Miss Madeleine you had better close-it-right-now!

So in our former house in a small town near here, we had the kind of staircase I am sure you have seen in movies. It was a turn-of-the-century grand dame house whose stairs landed graciously in the foyer like a prom date disembarking a limousine.

Me, I landed much less gracefully at the bottom of the stairs, still seeing red over Madeleine's refusal to get dressed for school, demanding that she shut the door. My assumption (and we all know how assumptions usually turn out) was that she had opened it just to irk me, or worse, to run outside to exercise her right to move to a nudist colony.

I was wrong. As you or any other less-freaked-out mommy would have probably already guessed, she had merely answered the doorbell.

All of this I figured out when my nice pastor neighbor leaned his head in to announce that he would close the door.

Imagine my horror. Just sit with it for a minute. Too painful? Then look at this beautiful field instead:

Humility is a virtue, right?

Anyway I was thinking back to that morning this morning when I was tempted to hurry the girls along in their braiding and primping and sweater selection and oh-my-word-now-we-have-earrings-to-change-to-match-the-sweater extravaganza.

I was just thinking about that.

By the way, we visited the pumpkin patch last week.

It was beautiful.

And the girls were too. (Not that Madeleine or Sarah would sit still long enough for a picture. At least I still have Laura and Grace as semi-willing subjects.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In search of my inner city girl

Now there's a title that looks like it needs a hyphen.

Inner-city girl? Nah.

In search of my more urban self, I visited Portland last week. By myself!

I visited one high-rise office building and then spent a marathon evening at Powell's City of Books.
Going to Powell's with my girls is fun. Going there by myself is, well, way more fun. Or a different kind of fun; the kind in which I choose the hour to sit and the hour to browse and I never have to enter a public restroom. Because I (and my neurosis) can hold it better than a five-year-old, that's why.

And I read a whole new novel in the bookstore cafe. Yes. That was me, cluelessly camped out for two hours at a table for four nearest the register. (At least I wasn't like that pack of laptop-toting tourists complaining about the lack of power outlets. Get thee to a Barnes and Noble, people.)
First I browsed the debut fiction, because I'm a little obsessed with who's publishing what and with whom. Score! "Girls in Trucks" by Katie Crouch is in paperback here. I can't tell you how much I love this book about smart girls who know better but still make some crazy choices.
Then I hit the literature in L through P... Le Guin, Lessing, L'Engle, Livesay and so on.
Crafts. "Applique Your Way" through "Rug Hooking 101."
Travel. China to France in less than 15 minutes.
After a blissfully silent (save the temper tantrum of the ugly Australians with the power needs) evening at Powell's I walked a few blocks to the parking spot that God's angels had delivered to me earlier in the afternoon.
The young and impossibly cool people were out: Several photographers and worldly models in an underground parking garage on a fashion shoot; unlined faces smoking on the sidewalk with devil-may-care stances. Neon and train noises and outdoor bar seating. I consciously walked the city walk in my Capezio boots. Aware, alert, keys in hand.
The city visit was rejuvenating enough that I floated on that independent cloud for about three hours on my solitary drive home in the dark to my little homestead, where the leaves are turning as bright as neon and the bookshelves are well-stocked if not of Powell's caliber. I took my little bit of city girl home to the country.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boxcar Children and other tales of riches untold

Oh, how I loved the Boxcar Children when I was little.

This got me thinking about romanticizing the make-do, the degage'. I think I'm pretty good at this, if I do say so myself. Sometimes I can even perform this gymnastic feat of positive thinking on the fly, turning a Mother Hubbard moment into an opportunity to make bread, as it were.

Living in a boxcar = cozy, not impoverished.

Canning tomatoes = healthy, frugal, not too-broke-for-Trader-Joe's.

During the contemplation of my marriage vows seventeen years ago I obsessed a little. (Shocking, I know. OCD Girl overthought her vows? Nah.) The focus of my freak-out had nothing to do with the "love and cherish" part nor even the "obey" part ('cause it wasn't in there; again with the shocking).) Nope. I wasn't your garden-variety bride with stars in her eyes: I spent a good deal of time dwelling on the "worse" part.

You know. "For better or worse."

I just thought that if I could know the worse, see it coming, I could plan better.

At the time I was a cub reporter at a weekly paper. Just graduated and happy to be working in my field, interviewing small-town heroes and notable folk. At the back of my mind all that summer: What is their worst? What will be mine?

Sometimes you think you can see people's "worse" written on their lives. Sometimes you're convinced they've had no experience with the second half of that commitment phrase, dwelling in the "better" for all the world to see.

Given a little more life experience I suspect that those apparently better people may have the worst secrets of all. Given a little more living I have more compassion, less fear. More belief and less anxiety. (Erm, I still have anxiety. Don't get me wrong.)

And all the "worse" that I wanted so badly to predict and plan for? Turns out that there is no preparing for the disappointments and heartbreaks of life. Or maybe there's only character, built through the valleys and nurtured at the high points.

In 1997 my husband and I had our first miscarriage. It broke my heart and my innocence about life and in some ways I've been gluing it all back together ever since. There may be a watershed moment like that in your life: The one where you realize that you can survive the unthinkable. A sick child. A lost relationship, car accident, natural disaster, financial devastation.

We've had other times of sadness, times that necessitated leaning on the "better" in order to make it through the gloom. I keep a little journal (one of many that prove my dorkiness; different journals for different purposes) of worries and their outcomes. I learned to write these things down from a mentor who walked with me during a sad time. She told me to clean my house right to left, top to bottom. Routine will sustain you through a lot. She told me to faithfully write down my worst fears and to check back later to see how they turned out.

Turns out we have had to face the illness of a child. Turns out we have had to face some "worse" moments. Turns out we had usually enough strength to see them for what they were: low points between high.

Maybe the vows ought to be changed. For better and worse. For boxcar and mansion. For five-star hotels and camping in the wilderness. And it seems to me everyone, not just the married people, should make these vows: vows to perservere through life and to make lemonade.

Sometimes a lot of lemonade.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Multnomah Falls and a time-out

Surely Multnomah Falls is one of the most beautiful sites I've ever tried to photograph while keeping track of four children.
The water comes crashing down into a pool below that footbridge and then cascading further to just below the level of the first viewing point.

We didn't think it wise to take the Danger Girl up there.

She wouldn't stop climbing the railing so she had to sit down. Look how happy she was about that. And while we're checking out that time-out moment, let's consider my children's wardrobes. If there were any more stripes someone might've mistaken them for a short chain gang on the run. Barb once told me that she liked to dress her children (when they were younger) in a manner approaching clownish. I replied that I completely understood, that my kids do that all on their own. Remembering of course who buys their clothes, I am hesitant to lay blame.

Laura finally got over not being able to swim in the frigid water when later that day Daddy let her sit on a life-sized Clydesdale built out of barbed wire. Notice my six-foot-tall husband not even visible behind the horse. That's his hand holding the happy Danger Girl in place for a photo.

It was a cold, cold October day up the Columbia Gorge. Our stated mission was to visit a rescue center for Maine Coon cats, and maybe to come home with one.
On the way there we drove right around Portland -- Powell's was calling my name -- and stopped at Multnomah Falls for a picnic of roast beef and cheddar on homemade oatmeal bread. Yum! We ate in the car though, because our clothing was fall-appropriate for our valley temperatures but not adequate for the biting wind at sub-40 temps. In fact durin our visit to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood the thermometer registered 30 degrees. Brr.
Note to self: Bring warmer coats next time. And maybe a leash for Laura.
(Perfect spot for a parenting moment. I know those leash things are popular and intended to keep children safe. I realize parents are doing their best to keep track of active babies. But they bug me. (The leashes, not the families who use them.) No matter whether they have a monkey on them (talk about a weird metaphor -- a monkey on your baby's back) or Elmo, it's just odd, disturbing, even, to see a leash with a mother on one end and her child on the other. Feel free to discuss. Unless you're going to tell me I'm cracked, in which case, feel free to, you know, go visit Katie's blog.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One of those Gilligan trips

We did drive up the Columbia Gorge to Hood River, up and around Mt. Hood, and back home again yesterday.

We saw a lot of orchards. A little fall color.

Some hardier-than-me windsurfers.

Some amazing WPA history at Timberline Lodge and Multnomah Falls.
... but did we get a cat? ...
Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hardscrabble life

Our beautiful fall weather continues this week. The air is clear and cold while the same sun of summer lights up autumn leaves just turning to look for clouds.

The forecast calls for storms next week. But that's next week, and in true Scarlett O'Hara fashion we'll just worry about that... tomorrow.

Ooh! Guess what we're doing today? Go ahead and guess. You'll NEVER GUESS.

We're driving up the Columbia Gorge to see if there's a rescue kitty waiting to come home with us!

We have heard rumors ("rumor" is my word for October) that there are Maine Coon kittens at a special shelter there. In fact my husband has been corresponding with one of the staff about a certain cat, huge and furry and orange and not such a kitten anymore.

So we're going to go meet him and see if he's our family.

Meanwhile, on the three-hour drive, we'll just likely pass a few fall displays of color and possibly a couple of photo ops. Hurray for the country drive on a cold clear day in October! Three cheers for the cooler packed with roast beef sandwiches and thermoses (Thermi? I crack myself up.) of soup! Best of all it's family time.

It's a hardscrabble life but somebody's gotta live it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sawmill Ballroom, open your gates

Not too far from our little homestead is a fantastic place called the Sawmill Ballroom. They sell only lavender.

All the lavender you see in these photos is my very own beloved lavender hedge. The plants are probably 40 years old and super fragrant.

It's all I can do to harvest my thirty feet or so it before the rain starts in earnest.
The girls and I made some lavender bags at the sewing machine late Sunday night. We stripped the dried flowers off the cut stalks and poured them into flannel pouches before stitching them up and heating them for bedtime. My favorite to make and use are the "headache" shape -- like nighttime sleep masks only with weight. Here's a place a picture would serve. Anyhow they make me feel like the farm girl version of a glamorous (can flannel be glam?) movie star who's resting from her last scene enveloped in the soothing scent of lavender.
At the Sawmill Ballroom they have dozens of varieties of this gorgeous plant. They know the names but I just know you've never seen so many different forms. White and dark purple and French and Italian and braggart ruffly and barely visible and so on. The lavender scent invites you in to their quaint farm as you drive by. It's some sort of pre-engineered sales tactic. I'm sure of it.
Even though I have an existing heirloom lavender hedge (lucky, lucky me) I did dabble a little in planting more lavender -- just six or so new plants in my herb bed and flower beds -- once I discovered my wonderful neighbors.
But then I heard a nasty rumor that they were going wholesale, or, gasp, out of the business.
Say it isn't so. Or at least say you'll still let your hometown farm girl shop retail with you.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The pressure! The pressure! And the sweet life.

Yesterday before dinner I was immersed in the tub and reading a magazine.

Yes, I said a magazine: glossy page after page of unattainable projects (er, inspiration).

Madeleine and Sarah were upstairs practicing clarinet and flute. Grace was using every possible medium from the craft box in creation of a card for Daddy. Laura was playing with her bead track toy on the bathroom floor. How did this happen? A moment of (near) solitude and (absolute) relaxation in the midst of a crazy busy week? It just happened.
All told my bath took 20 minutes but felt like a week at the spa in contrast to the hectic days we've been leading. Hundreds of miles on the Suburban showing property and picking up horse feed and running to lessons and and and....
Let's not forget the grocery store or the never-ending Great Food Preservation Season or my husband's birthday dinner (which, by the way, was salmon and stuffed potatoes with steamed brocolli followed by homemade carrot cake; Rachel, watch out for this farm girl's 30-minute meals).
So my 20-minute time-out was short but sweet. And I'm glad. Prolly like yours, my days are hectic but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Birthday Fairy? Are you there?

My niece Kayla told me there are no fairies. She's 9 so I suppose she knows.

But just in case? This greenhouse, cute as a bug and Earth-friendly as all get-out, would surely fit in the southeast corner of my garden.

How many fairies would it take to deliver that, do you suppose?

(Just your everyday side note: Do you think anyone likely noticed me as I trespassed my big red Suburban onto these nice (completely unknown to me) people's front drive to steal a photo of their newly delivered beauty? I'm not sure because I sped away quick-like when their big (huge) dog came charging out.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Seasonal stress and the phone call. Also some fruit leather.

The weather has mercy. Or a sense of humor. I don't want to stretch this personification too far, but I'm feeling rather grateful to Mother Nature for this week of intermittent sun and rain in the Pacific Northwest. Had we faced October with less sunshine and more mud I can't say how well I might have done with the stresses -- non-weather-related -- I faced. Or not.

Stress in itself is an interesting word. Quite possibly the word has become less meaningful as the stressors proliferate in our modern lives.

Sort of like the word "awesome" that inspires and describes no awe, "stress" doesn't seem to carry strong enough connotations of being pushed, bent, pulled beyond one's limits. Stress is just omnipresent and thus diluted or accepted as the norm. Peace, or a state of not being affected by stress, is the anomaly. It becomes remarkable to be without anxiety.

When I think about stress I think about metal and its stress points. I think about steel and how hot it must get before it bends without melting altogether into a puddle of liquid.

That's the alloy point I'm seeking. The one where I'm stressed enough to be flexible but not broken.

So I'm grateful for the gentle weather transition in the midst of this season.

The fields around us are all greening up again for fall. At first it looks a little like a tapestry that's half-woven as the green perforates huge stretches of fallen gold and brown grass.

The girls and I festooned the front porch with six 75-pound pumpkins and a half-dozen sunflower heads that are bigger and heavier than most of the sugar pumpkins I save for the oven.

Birds subsequently have been busy on our front porch to the extent that we'll have to re-think the sunflowers as decoration.

Fruit leather is the hit of the party just about every day. It couldn't be easier with my schmancy new dehydrator (thanks, Mom!). The only bummer about it is that we are using up all the homemade applesauce I canned. One quart of applesauce with a few frozen berries added in the blender, spread on special trays and dried for about six hours, makes three huge rolls of delicious, sugar-free fruit leather. This equals about 12 generous servings. Which my children can mow through in significantly less time than it takes to make more.

However. It does keep them quiet when it's raining too much to send them outside but I must take a phone call. No doubt dealing with one of those stressors.