Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brave Little Celery

Brr... cold.

We have been experiencing a dry, cold January in our little farm village.

The power outages have been minimal compared to the other winters we've spent in this house, but as remote as we are, we are always prepared. The five-gallon containers of water are in storage. The generator stands ready to hum away the chilly blues. What else might we need for survival, my husband asked the girls one wintry day.

I give you Madeleine's "MacGyver List," second edition. Her first edition included the Suburban, her teddy bear and a cooler full of food.

She didn't exactly get the essence of minimalist survival embodied by MacGyver: You know, the list of what to carry in your pockets in case you're locked in a basement or cargo boat hold and need the end of a matchstick and a paperclip to secure your safety. Her second go-around was hardly more compact; in fact it got bigger and more complex. Because that's how we edit around here.

Magivers Kit
Things we'll need:
flashlight batterys
hot hands [these are chemical hand warmer pouches my husband takes to football games when the girls go along]
bottled gas (generator car + things)
matches [double underlined]
flashlight in every room incase of emergency
homad bread (before power goes out)
check propane ? for gas stove CHECK
hot cocoa mix, powdered milk, sugar, choclat powder [she's my daughter alright]
bottled water
buckets of water
board games
SURVIVE [with an illustration of a mountain climbing stick figure on a snowy peak that sprouts out of the "U."]

That's what the celery is doing under its thick layer of mulch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just Another Source of Social Anxiety

This one may have been in dry dock a while. (I'm just guessing by the way the boards are all pulled away from one another so as to create a gigantic ship-shaped colander effect.)

So this past weekend I went and got all 21st Century and started a Facebook account. I'd like to blame my good friend from Katie's Calamities , who convinced me in her patented boundlessly enthusiastic way that "Facebook is fun!" I was lured in by her recounting the stories of late nights writing on friends' "walls" (what's not fun about graffiti?) and then the deal was sealed as she expounded on the joys of reconnecting with old friends from high school (this was before I regrettably unblocked certain (okay, all) memories of my high school experience).

After setting up a facelessbook wall (didn't upload a picture, what a loser) I went looking for some graffiti opportunities. That was fun. I wrote on Startastical's wall, and then on Misty's and Lexie's. I asked my sister-in-law whether she'd be my "friend." Thankfully she accepted. She even wrote on my wall. Whew. That could've been embarrassing at Easter dinner, huh?

Speaking of embarrassing, there are three people I'm now avoiding on Facebook. I know all you popular people are avoiding WAY more people than that, but bear with me. I simply can't remember who they are and I'm afraid they might be weirdos who just up and try to befriend any technophobe dumb enough to say yes to a name they've never heard. Is this possible, technically speaking?

Continuing on the Luddite theme, I keep thinking a simpler life might be in order. In fact I ordered two custom-painted "simplify" signs for my house. Mmm-hmm, I said two. I know from irony, friends.

Hip update: I act like I'm basically fine at the physical therapist. I'm here for fun, doncha know. I don't belong in this gym full of geriatrics. (No offense.) It's quite possible the physical therapist thinks I'm wasting her time. But to tell the truth I bawl as soon as I gut it out and walk through sheer determination in an upright manner back to my Suburban. I hang onto the oh-bleep handles and thank God for the running boards as I pull myself in. Then I sit and bawl. Every time.

Because it hurts like a son-of-a-pun. Maybe I should go tell my Facebook friends. (And this is to what it boils down... or it boils down to this... or to this it simmers ... crud. Prepositions be danged. I can't even tell my PHYSICAL THERAPIST about my excruciating pain level because it might, I don't know, make her think less of me. Or make her worry. How the heck did I think that another medium in which to spend time trying to hide my freakishly self-conscious real self... why did I think that would be fun?)


Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Not To Wear, Farmgirl Edition

I just invested in a bunch of bras and panties that match one another and are not designed for maternity or nursing purposes. Go, me. Way to get my groove back after giving birth to four children. Oh, and ew and apologies on hitting you with "giving birth" right off the get-go -- I was going to type "raising," but as the first is only 10 and the last is just 1, they're hardly raised yet.

Right after the bras and panties but with a few peanut-butter sandwiches in between (a mom can't shop all day) I further invested in three pairs of "good" pants. Not morally superior, just good is what I mean. As opposed to bad. More on the bad later.

The new good pants are black, chocolate brown and denim. This was not any old farm denim, mind you. This was deep dark blue lightweight denim (with no stretch!) and cut of the "trouser" shape. Trouser jeans. My, my, we've come up in the world when even our jeans are trousers.

The trouser jeans are so much better (and by this I mean flattering) than the mom jeans I was wearing previously that I may give up (and by this I mean pretend to still care but not) my floundering heine reduction effort. It's just too hard to work out when my hip can forecast the weather better than can channel 9's team of meteorologists and accompanying sophisticated satellite weather radar thingamajigs. Whenever they tell us it'll be dry for days, I think to myself, yeah, maybe you went to graduate school for this, but did you consult my hip?

There is an elephant in this room, and I'm about to out it. (And I'm NOT talking about the size of my rear, which has been well-documented here.)

Forecasting the weather with one's joints is supposed to be a party trick of the distinctly aged. Distinguished by decades of experience and worthy of their hand-carved canes, these gentle folks are welcome to the task as far as I'm concerned. I would rather not know what's going to happen weather-wise thanks to the creakiness and general shrieking pain factor of any of my joints. I'd happily wait another 40 years or so for the privilege of being so prescient.

Anywhat, back to my pants.

I hadn't bought clothing on purpose in four years. I mean, I hadn't set out to buy clothes in that period of time. I had picked up the odd maternity cardigan or vintage skirt in that time but I certainly didn't spend any time driving between strip malls looking for flattering pocketless pants. Shocking as that may be, that shoppingless fact didn't actually bother me until I saw a picture of my rear end in the mom jeans. And then roaring onto the scene came another picture of me at a Fourth of July picnic, in a cute blue striped A-line linen skirt (classic!) and white cap-sleeved t-shirt, the outline of my maternity bra clearly showing. Crikey. It's a wonder WNTW didn't swoop in with helicopters whirling to whisk me off to a shopping spree right at that moment.

That's what I look like, I thought to myself. No wonder I'm self-conscious. I've been buying clothes for the fabric or the nostalgia and not for how they look on me.

I am famous (in a very small circle) for saying that there ought to be a check-point at the edge of our rural community, some sort of border guard who makes sure we don't look like podunk hicks when we're off to the doctor or orthodontist or neighboring town's bookstore. No one agrees with me. They think I'm being funny.

This might have something to do with the fact that they all look fine most of the time.

So last night my husband and I went to a large home-and-garden show at a fairground near us. I wore the trouser jeans, a blue blouse WITH A COLLAR people, black medium-heeled boots (did I mention the hip is getting better enough to walk around the fairground gawking at home improvement possibilities?) and a grey wool cardigan WHICH WAS NOT MATERNITY. (I gave the maternity cardigans to St. Vincent De Paul. Even the sweet lavender cashmere one, even though I hung onto that bag a smidge too long. Just a smidge. It was hard to let go. Um. Can I get that one back?)

Then we ran into some business acquaintances. Quite a few. Contractors, architects, surveyors, civil and structural engineers were trading cards and stories like gleeful quilting women at a fabric swap. And it was when we met a landscape architect (they're well-known to be natty dressers, those architect types) who happens to be a woman and own her own firm that I knew the trouser jeans were a good choice. It was because I didn't once feel self-conscious.

I wasn't tugging at anything or holding my bag in a certain manner so as to camouflage my brand of country-come-to-town. In fact I didn't even THINK about my clothes. (Until later, when my blog radar started pinging. Maybe, just maybe, some of y'all have been a momfashion victim like me. And maybe, just a little maybe, sharing my pain would help someone else save the high-wasted stretchy jeans for gardening. Who knows. )

Yeah, I know this is shallow of me. And I may be coming to a point nevertheless.

The point is this: "Nevah again! As Scarlett is my witness, I'll never have panty lines again!"

Okay. Vague Gone With The Wind references aside, the point is this: It actually feels kind of good to treat myself at least as well in the wardrobe department as I've always treated our girls. It actually feels good to not be worried that the pediatrician might see my cleavage, or the neighbors might see my pajama pants, or I might be pictured on a billboard in a LBMD (little black maternity dress -- don't pretend you don't have one).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"And Remember, Every Movie Ends Happily"

This is how my children comfort one another in the middle of watching Kit Kittredge on DVD. There may be a scary moment in a homeless camp, and a stolen mortgage payment to boot, but rest assured it'll all end well.

Right after that movie time reminder, another girl answered, "Yeah, I know. Isn't that weird?"

It is weird. And glorious. This is why I love the movies.

Not to mention buttered popcorn.

Broccoli Soup and Its Unfortunate Effect On My Manners

Is that weird? Does anyone else put their cheesy biscuit on top of their soup like that? Like a lid?
Will I ever eat in a restaurant again? Will my children respect my lessons on table manners? (No. Duh.)
I'm in a soup kind of mood. Okay, since October. The cold weather always makes me feel soupy and cozy and grateful for warmth. One of the best things about homeschooling is the hot lunch every day. We do resort to PB&J every once in a while, but most days it's hot soup or homemade mac-n-cheese. None of which is found on any weight-reduction diet, by the way.
I make my broccoli soup with chicken broth, olive oil, pureed steamed broccoli, a little potato flakes, and some half-and-half added at the last moment. Then we make homemade baking powder drop biscuits with lots of grated cheese and garlic. I don't put any butter on them. Does that help?
The broccoli seeds we started two weeks ago are just sprouting. I am running out of frozen broccoli from last fall's garden and I can feel the panic setting in. It's the same with my stewed tomatoes. I used my last quart the other night and here it is only mid-January. What if we were pioneers with no grocery stores? I'd be failing miserably, that's what.
Not only would I not survive on the frontier, but I wouldn't have a blog to chronicle my failures. Oh! And there'd be no one but me to teach table manners to my children, who'd then be completely shut out of polite society when they dumped their biscuit on top of their soup.
But the French do top their onion soup with a humongous crouton (otherwise known as cheese toast). Am I right?
I can't decide whether to be grateful for what I did can and freeze from the garden or beat myself up for what I could have done and didn't. It's the same with my whole life, actually. I can't decide whether to dwell on what I should have, would have accomplished by this time in my life or just make that list of what worked, what didn't, and move on to try to do it better.
Since it's January, and a month of new beginnings, I'll give myself a chance to do better this year.
But I'm probably still putting the biscuit on top of the soup.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change of Heart

I am sure I'm the last American to admit she doesn't like change.

Change with the capital "C" is our word of the day today. My local radio station was running a contest to see how many times the new President would say "change" during his inaugural address. I didn't count, but I did listen.

We're all looking for Change, I am made to understand. The list of Changes we're looking for is astounding, and by that I mean lengthy and incredible. In 100 days or fewer, we want Change in our corporately dismal financial condition; Change in our nation's involvement in wars and world peacekeeping; Change in our (let's face it) largely failing education system; Change in the way we access and pay for health care; Change in... Change.

I have now heard the rhetoric about this Change tsunami ad nauseum and it has forced me out of my staunchly apolitical cave.

Hating that. I'm comfortable in the cave, relatively speaking. I have my frugal thoughts and some equally tightwad household budgetary concerns. I can overspend punctuation marks and italicized fonts without offending anyone (for the most part, my old editors aren't emailing me in horrors) and my bank account is hardly affected. I know the Blogher ad to the right might lead you to think otherwise, but no one cares what I think about my (genius) children and my (blissfully busy but basically uneventful) life. At least not enough to pay for it in more than the occasional latte money.

But now I've gone and done it.

I hate Change. Heck, I don't even like change of the lower-case variety. Neither do you -- do you? Let's make a list: change a messy diaper, change a tire, change jobs, change schools, change directions without signalling and pay a lot more than pocket change for the ticket.

I want to be perfectly clear. I don't want any Change. I want to sit in the corner and read. I want to stay here in my Suburban, keying in my thoughts on grocery shopping while my girls are in computer class. I want to stay in my 30s for pretty much forever. I want to stay in my community unless I travel for fun and I never want to get out of that comfort zone.

Ever. I will, though. Despite my wants and whinings, the world will continue to change and Change around me. I can be part of it or I can pack a lunch and watch. Probably I'll join in because I'm mouthy and energetic like that. Plus it allows me to complain about the outcome. (Not blogwise. Don't worry, this will probably be the closest to politics I'll ever get, blogwise.)

Facing change is hard for me. Effecting change, knowing how much I like that cave of comfort, is harder.

How much harder do you think it is for President Barack Obama and his beautiful family right this minute? Change houses, change jobs, change schools, Change the world.

No pressure.

As I listened to the inauguration on my radio today I was not even an observer. I relied on the observations of the commentators and those they interviewed. I relied on the airwaves to move the new President's voice across the nation to me. I relied on my imagination to fill in the gaps.

It must have been something to be there. I understand it was bitter cold but the crush of people must have done something to warm up the atmosphere (I am not going there with the global warming joke. Sue would be proud.). I heard one commentator say there were overtones of arrogance; I heard many more people say they wished their parents or grandparents could have lived to see this day. This day of Change.

Change is like that. We're uncomfortable with it in its gestation but we marvel at its fruition. Decades of strife over race aren't erased by today's inauguration, but they are eased. The struggle is validated. The Change is worth the journey.

So, to me, the next 100 days or the next four years don't sound so encouraging. I am eager to see the process begin and happy to see our nation galvanized to action, but I feel oddly reserved about the work ahead (and it's obviously not my work to do). This Change journey will be full of stress and strife. The end results -- the changes that result from the hard work and the sleepless nights and the mighty minds working at conference table negotiations -- are the building blocks for the history we seek to see.

Maybe that's why so many of us are optimistic and glad today. Because we get to party for a minute. We are acknowledging the hard work of generations. I'm not one to say the election has been all about race, but I am proud of us as a nation for moving past the question of whether we can elect a Black man to the Presidency. We can. We did. We Changed.

I don't like change much, I started to say. I'm probably the last person in America to work this out in my mind. Change is not always comfortable. I may be borrowing trouble to say that I perceive that the changes we will have to walk through as a nation and a world will not be comfortable. It certainly won't be as relaxing as sitting in the corner with a good novel. I don't like change; I hate change; I change my mind and I see its necessity.

So probably this all adds up to laziness on my part. I bask in the reflected glory of the Change our preceding generations have brought to pass and yet I harbor trepidation about the possible turmoil and unrest that may result from pushing for further change.

I don't like change much. Except when I love it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Lonely Beach Blanket and Other Tales

We returned home from a whale-watching (clam chowder) trip to spend a sunny Sunday shoveling two tons of gravel.

What do you call "we" when it doesn't actually include you?

You know, because the Royal We is of course meant for when one is too grand to just be "me."

Maybe the peasant "we" is when your husband shovels all the gravel and you actually just spend Sunday looking through the 349 pictures you took the day before.

The perfect, measure-all-other-days-by-it Saturday was otherwise known as 12 hours of picnic deliciousness, perfect weather and family harmony.

Unless you count the few-and-far-between moments of sass.

It really wouldn't be the Suite family without some sass. And at least one pair of cowboy boots.

Just look at that blue sky. And that baby. She learned to say "shell" yesterday. Then she said it nonstop today. It didn't seem to relate to any shell sightings while we watched Daddy shovel gravel. Ah, the genius of my children. Or maybe that's early sass. It's hard to tell; she just turned 1.

It's all fun and games until someone gets wet.

And then it's a lot more fun and games.

Poor lonely beach blanket.

Friday, January 16, 2009

How To Start Your Own Seedlings

Fill peat pots or egg cartons or even eggshells with sterilized soil. Try to do this in a spot where it doesn't matter if you spill.

Gather your seed packets. Now is a good time for starting cold-season crops. We did lots of kale and spinach and lettuce. The sugar snap peas, carrots and radishes will wait a few weeks until we can direct-sow them outside.

Carefully place three seeds in each place. Mama labeled the rows.

Remember that you forgot to break up clumps in the soil. Forget that you already had some seeds in there. Abandon all plans of rows and call it "mixed salad greens."

Repeat every two weeks for the next eight weeks so you'll have lots of salad all spring.
Some ideas of what to do while you're waiting for your seeds to sprout:

Roast a marshmallow on the bonfire that the neighbors so kindly lit.

Take a few walks. Slow down.

Make friends with the trike now that it's not covered in snow and ice any longer.
I know many of you are snowed in and iced in and just plain freezing in your area of the world. Here in our neck of the woods, it's been chilly at night, just 29 degrees, but crisp and gorgeous each morning followed by sunshine and false spring warmth all afternoon.
The daffodils are poking up their heads and the horses are rolling in the mud. The kids are itching to be outside. The temperature reaches the high 50s each afternoon and if you sit in a south-facing window the warmth is intoxicating.

Quietly, quietly the hope of a new season is sneaking up on us. Once we taste a little baby spinach salad it'll be confirmed: winter doesn't last forever.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Yes, You

For me?

For me?
All for me.

Sleeping through the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Lazing away the summer.


And helping.

Today, Laura, you are 1. Today you are no longer measured in days or months or feathery baby breaths but in years.
Tonight you blew out the candle (with a little help from your sisters) at Grandma's house.
Tomorrow you'll continue to walk all over me, demanding to know, "what's that?" no fewer than a dozen times an hour.
Before you were born, a long, long time before you were born, I told Daddy that I thought we might have four children. Four bouncy babies with bright eyes and lots of hair. Was it maybe a premonition? A self-fulfilling prophecy? Or did I just know in my heart that the day you came home to us would be the day our family was made whole?
I think I just knew.
Of course there would have been no way to know your belly laugh or your funny curls or your determination that completely rocks the whole birth-order theory. How could I have predicted a way for us to have four feisty girls vying for firstborn position?
In a miracle of math it's exactly what you are. You are my cuddly baby and my Type A go-getter. You are the light of the dinner table and the laughter of the day. Your sisters adore you. Your daddy is completely wrapped around your pudgiest pinky. I am enthralled with your sense of humor and your dimpled chin. And I'm a little afraid of your scary smarts.
Happy Birthday, Laura. We love you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Clucking Good Time

The hens were in a tizzy. I know this isn't exactly a portrait of backyard bird bliss, but you'll soon see why the "girls" were so flustered.

A New Year, a clean coop.

Oops. And a full boot.

All of the shavings (and whatever else) from inside the coop went straight onto the compost bins. See how clever it was of my husband to place the compost just between the chicken yard and the garden? I am anticipating some great gardening this year.

We started a few flats of seeds. Kale, broccoli, cabbage, Swiss chard and butter crunch lettuce. All the cold-season crops that last year I had to buy as seedlings -- it makes me feel so thrifty. I will put these out in a couple of weeks in the new cold frames that my husband built for me over the weekend.
Until then, my kitchen table and the pumphouse floor are crowded with crops in waiting. We spritz them every morning and speak encouraging words so they'll sprout. Next year, maybe a greenhouse will be on my Christmas list.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

And Your Little Dog Too

So... back to the continuing saga of the weirdness that surrounds me. I'm starting to think I've inadvertently traded my Pollyanna-sunshine-rose-colored-glasses for a special pair of Ripley's Believe It Or Not shades.

I was born with those Pollyanna glasses, people. And I want them back.

On the outside I still have the counselor face. You know, the face from Lake Placid. The face you could confess anything to and still bask in its approving and not-judgmental glow. There's a "hmm... how did that work for you?" just tripping off my tongue at every turn.

But on the inside, I am freaking out. Gurgle. Take a breath.

Oddity Update Number One:
The extra children we entertained last week? Their mom is recovered from her medical emergency but is now having a custody dispute with their dad over their brother. Just the brother, mind you. Maybe more on that later if I can think of a way to write about it without, you know, crying or throwing up. The Little Boy Lost from the week before continues to do well, thanks for asking. He's the proud recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in hide-n-seek, never has to play again, I'm told. I'm still invited to the quilting retreat, more importantly.

Oddity Update Number Two:
And I do mean Number Two. In the midst of our nation's stock market, mortgage and real estate foreclosure crises, I am still inexplicably a real estate broker. I don't think much about it except to use it as a special torchlight of minor insight into the way we got here as a society. I thought about it quite a bit more last week as I began four separate real estate transactions. To put this in perspective, I haven't had four active deals in a year, and now that I'm juggling four kids and homeschool and a farm and an extra house and extra help at my husband's office... I don't know, I just don't find myself to be the same salesgirl I once was. My fantasies of returning to the traditional workforce had a lot more to do with returning to hard news journalism and virtually nothing to do with selling houses. Again, God, with the sense of humor.

Oddity Update Number Three:
The boundary dispute that visited my front door in the guise of a sweet elderly neighbor lady is apparently resolved. Go me! (To tell the truth: GO HUSBAND! I didn't have anything to do with the resolution other than entertaining the genteel great-grandmother while the menfolk dug for the incontrovertible evidence of property pins.) I don't think anyone stole any of her pasture. I don't know what she thinks, but I'm sure all her yard is still there too. This one I truly wish I could tell you ALL ABOUT, because it was hilarious in a Twilight Zone way, but the nice neighbor lady doesn't want anyone gossiping about the creeping boundary. (Envision the bushes with cartoon feet sort of sneaking a little bit closer to her house, just inches a month.) Maybe more on that later when I can appropriately rename the cast of characters and change it around in case Great Granny's got internet access. Or, for goodness sakes, what if the ADVERSE POSSESSION/ HOSTILE TAKEOVER neighbor has internet access? Crikey. I'd better be quiet now.


That episode in its confidentiality and spunkiness brought to mind this little old lady I used to know who has now gone to heaven (in order that I can tell you this story). Delia was 98 when she passed away, just one year following her husband of more than 70 years. They had a huge extended family and a beautiful legacy of love.

She spent the last four years of her life guarding her coffee table.

It was a nice coffee table.

As I remember it, the table featured several varieties of hand-carved hardwoods. The legs were three (sort of gruesome) Bald Eagles. They must have been half scale or something, because they held up the table portion of the event with their wingspans, and I think I know that Bald Eagles have six-foot wingspans. The fact checker will let us know if I'm wrong.

The eagles' beaks were a different wood than the rest of their carved bald heads. Their legs were knobbly Rosewood. They faced center as though earnestly conferencing on how to hold up the glass-and-wood top.

(Don't you hate when people just make a verb like that? Conference. People (and Eagles, I'm sure) confer, they don't conference. I'm slipping, everyone. It's the practice of real estate dumbing me down. Someone grab me quick before I slide into the Abyss of Ain't.)

So the eagle table was one-of-a-kind, unique in every way. I had never seen one like it before and have never seen one like it since. Frankly I tried not to look at it because it was a little creepy.

Delia, on the other hand, wouldn't take her eyes off it.

Some unguarded night, before she became vigilant, someone stole her coffee table and replaced it with one that was remarkably similar, but different in ways that Delia alone could recognize. No amount of rational talk would convince this otherwise reasonable great-great-grandma that her original coffee table remained in her home. It was a difference only she could see.

This is what I worry about with the Pollyanna glasses.

I have to get them back.

Now that I think of it, this weekend everything appeared normal. After showing property, of course, I enjoyed a gorgeous sunny Saturday afternoon and an unseasonably warm Sunday. After church the girls and I planted seeds: butter crunch lettuce, kale, chard, cabbage, broccoli. My husband built a cold frame for the kitchen garden. He used one of my vintage windows. We took a walk with the jogging stroller. I stayed on the paved road and my hip behaved itself.

Everything was basically rose-colored.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

When Pigs Fly

I showed some real estate today. Actually quite a lot of real estate. Country property, of the hike-the-pasture and climb-the-farmhouse-stair variety.

There are issues here.

The market, for one.

My foolish "never" statements of late last year, for another.

Let's not say anything for a moment.


But did you notice that cookie is broken at the hip?


Friday, January 9, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

I think this cat's up to Life Number Six. I hope I'm pacing it okay.

I hope I haven't overspent my curiousity account. I wonder what that overdraft notice would look like.

I hope I'm not causing Lewis Carroll to turn over with my mix-up of cats and the lovely Alice.

While emailing with my friend Barb yesterday, I told her I live at the Epicenter of Odd and then, upon further reflection, realized that's just not quite right.

The truth is that I live with a front-row season ticket to Odd. Most of the strangeness goes on in front of me, so close that it sometimes seems as though it's rocking my world with quakes and shakes. In reality, however, nothing's shaking. It's just the view from here. Sorta like one of those reality rides where the seat tilts slightly and the 3-D images get you seasick. I hate those rides.

So what's been playing lately?

Lots of extra kids. Lots and lots. My peanut butter jar is empty and the Costco-size box of graham crackers is down to crumbs. I've made approximately ten thousand carrot sticks and exactly three batches of chocolate chip cookies in the past four days and my kitchen is now practically certified as a quesadilla factory.

The visitors have included the usual suspects plus a couple. One pair of sisters who've been here a lot are new friends of ours. In fact, on the first day of hanging out with them, I didn't even know them.

A mutual acquaintance sent them over in an emergency situation and then they've been back after school ever since. This served to make me feel better after last week's infamous LOSS of a child on my watch. As in, lost, couldn't find, nowhere to be seen, call 911, oops he's under the wheelbarrow hiding. For crying out loud.

In fact, there's even more to recommend this homeschooling mother of four to a restful week or two at the spa or the loony bin:

Two days ago, during a late-night "me time" I accidentally went to a (in my judgment) pornographic movie. (Shouldn't the rating system mean the same thing from one movie to the next?) There were actually children attending this movie. I also sat a few rows away from some people who not only ignored the "no smoking" sign... but smoked something that's not legal without a doctor's prescription. I left surprisingly hungry.

Holy Mom's Night Out. What's the cheap theater coming to?

And in other oddness, yesterday afternoon one of the sweetest octogenarians I have ever known stopped by our home (of course while 11 children were parading through the house in their tutus with marker-drawn jewels on their foreheads). She knocked on the door at 2 in the afternoon to ask if I could help her find her true property corners because her son and grandson are building a fence this weekend. It seems the neighbor has been slowly and surreptitiously stealing her yard, you see. Maybe a blade of grass a day over the past four years and it's adding up quickly.

I know what she means. And oddity or two a minute for the past 10 years and I'm exhausted just watching the show from here.

This very moment a sweet little bird is exploring the moss-covered branches outside my office window. The girls have finished school today. Grace glued beans to paper in her number work. That was fun and messy, a phrase that could describe our life in general now that I think of it.

Madeleine and Sarah wrote stories that theoretically included their vocabulary words. Both of them tend to get carried away with a story and forget the purpose of the assignment, letting the characters do what they will and the plots ramble away regardless of word choices.

I wonder where they got that.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Post In Which I Curse Dial-Up Internet and Technology In General (Don't Strike Me Down Now, Please)

Did you ever feel like that?

Like everything around you is upside down, inside out, and topsy turvy to boot?

Did you ever wonder why we say "to boot"? That one I'll have to say turned me around all by itself. Wikipedia couldn't even help. What? No help from the all-knowing Wikipedia? It is dire indeed.

We started homeschool again today. Madeleine's reading assignment was titled oh-so-cleverly "Punctuality and Punctuation." I took offense at the humor. I won't tell you which subject bothered me more. Let's just say I enjoyed the discussion on ellipses but it made us late.

It seems as though the rest of the world went back to school yesterday. And I'm just contrary.

We had some fun over the holiday break. We visited Santa Rosa and San Francisco and played with piles of cousins near and far. We were snowed in at our little farmhouse for days on end. We played a lot of Scrabble... and chess... and dress-up. We spent too much time with the dog.

Oh, and that sparkly celebrity baby there is my niece Maiya hugging on our very own Grace Hannah. Maiya can wink AND snap her fingers. Although maybe not at the same time. I'll have to get back with her people and check.

I wish Maiya would snap her fingers at my phone company. Surely they'd listen to such a force as my glittery niece.

I have spent the better part of today in most encouraging conversations with tech support personnel who are not native to our nation. Our land line has been out for about a week. That is, one of our land lines has been out while the dedicated internet line hummed right along. Small mercies.

This was all well and good while the cell towers were still standing and delivering signals.

So today I was expecting a nice repairperson to look into the mysterious problem of no dial tone on my all-important connection to calling my husband to pick up milk on the way home.

Well, I was sort of expecting someone, in that cable-guy way that means you don't make any other plans to breathe or anything for a 24-hour window of time so as to ensure that the person shows up when you're changing a messy diaper and the teakettle is simultaneously screaming.

But this is misleading. I didn't wake up today expecting to wait on the repairperson. No, I had an appointment for today that was canceled last night. Are you following? Because I barely am, and I've been here.

Last night, well after dark, a repairperson stopped at my house to say that someone had given me a new "box" during the course of the day and that I was all fixed up. Oh, thank you, thank you, I gushed. I am not kidding when I say the girls gave the man warm chocolate chip cookies for his long drive back into the city.

I did mention to him that we had not been home, as our appointment wasn't for yesterday but TODAY. He said it wasn't a problem, they hadn't needed access to our house.


This morning I woke to no dial tone. Feeling curious, I walked outside to inspect my new box. Hmm. Should a new box be rusty inside?

I didn't think so either.

Thus began another day of tech support calls and too little time on the internet since I had to use that line to convince the usual ladder of folks in India that my phone was not yet fixed.

Then (it gets better and better) I decided to tackle the chore of reporting that our cell phones haven't worked anywhere near home for a while now... only to find that our cell provider has been purchased by our (you guessed it) land line company. Can anyone say Ma Bell? (Bonus points if it's in other languages.)

More importantly: Don't they know they're interfering with my precious blog reading time?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

This Is Me, Making Friends

We moved two and a half years ago to this idyllic rural community of organic farmers, third-generation ranchers, and burgeoning vineyards and wine-makers.

We're here because we really wanted to be part of something old, something new: the marriage of neighborliness and quietude. The front-porch sitters' union. People who walk to the post office even though it measures in country miles away. People who swap stories around the general store's woodstove. People who aren't, at least metaphysically speaking, in a hurry.

We moved here and got all that we hoped for... and then some. The tight-knit village has its perks and its percolating problems. Sometimes I may have hinted at specific points along that spectrum here on this blog. Sometimes I have attached weights and sunk my thoughts to the bottom of the sea in order to not write it down anywhere that anyone would find it. (Surprisingly, some of these observations of rural village life are just not fit for public consumption.)

Friday I was beside myself with excitement because we were expecting company. I mean it: I was all kinds of dorky because I was making a new friend. My own everyday self had the gall to enjoy the free show created by my feverish preparations.

In the morning I had a meeting with an accountant (because my life is glamorous like that) and then I had some VIG (Very Important Groceries) to buy.

Just after lunch I crammed the VIG into the freezer and pantry while the girls carried laundry upstairs and argued about the visitors. (Glamorous and charmed.) The bickering went like this:

No boys upstairs! –Madeleine was not citing a rule of the house. Nope. She was protecting her stuff. (As can be expected of any eldest child beset with the plague of three younger siblings and frequent smallish visitors.)

But they can play Breyer horses.-Sarah, ever Switzerland, attempted to choose a gender-neutral game that would keep forever the secret that Madeleine at the ripe age of 10-going-on-22 still enjoys her baby dolls. A lot.

No one touches Secretariat! –There are boundaries to be established in every state visit, after all.

I’ll let them use Grace’s horses. –And then there are liberties taken by the stronger nations.

What if they break a leg?! –Of course this refers to the precious plastic, not the boys. The national treasure must be protected.

My new friend has four boys, ages 4 through 12. And right before the scheduled play date, she called to say that, somehow, she had six. Kids’ll multiply like that on you. But once you’re outnumbered, it’s all a matter of crowd control anyway. Plus, I really, really wanted to have this woman over for tea. My husband and hers have visited many Sundays after church and bonded over the manly subjects of vintage cars, earthmoving (literal large-machinery moving of dirt) and, of course, college football. We visited their lovely vintage home. We warmed ourselves by their magnificent woodstove one evening last month. She sat with me in the bleachers at many a volleyball game and then… wait for it… invited me to an exclusive quilting retreat in February.

If the girls have to play with a few extra boys, so be it. I am making a friend.

So, Friday, my floor was freshly mopped.

I made homemade brownies with butterscotch chips and walnuts. I made a pot of pomegranate tea. And while I’m at it… what’s up with pomegranates? Little bits of fruit under leathery skin. Oh, and a super-tough pit-like piece in each bit. The fact that we as a culture even bother to make juice from this creature is incredible to me.

In my family, the pomegranate is a traditional Christmastime fruit. My siblings and I would never eat any until our fruit was in a pile in our bowl. The peeling is laborious and, frankly, a pain in the butt. Maybe my mom would give them to us to keep us busy while she wrapped gifts. I don’t know. Our fingers would be red like strawberry-picking time in the middle of December. The dubious reward of bitter but juicy nuggets of seed-like fruit: I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.


So my new friend and her boys (plus a couple) arrived to much fanfare and, as the sun was shining on our little farm, seven small children eagerly trooped outside for a game of hide-and-seek. We sat warm and cozy in the kitchen, drinking tea and watching them out the window while Laura played at our feet. It was dang picturesque if I do say so.

You know that moment in every mom’s radar training when she stops doubting the warning ping? That time when you realize it’s too quiet to be good and too long to be without a check-in. Ordinarily that ping serves to alert us of nothing more dire than the glue sticks’ misuse on the shower curtain, or the willful but surreptitious pestering of sisters.

However. I am now sure those previous pings were mere practice for the day when I’d be casually sipping tea and counting heads out the window… to count one too few.

To count one too few.

I have no idea whether it’s worse, but let’s just say it’s worse, because I think it is, that it wasn’t one of mine missing. It was on my watch, and on my property, but I just don't know enough about that dear little head to know what he might or might not do.

Upon determining that the game of hide-and-seek was long over, and that my friend’s 4-year-old could not be found “for a long time” (the words of her 12-year-old), we of course set out with just a tiny but building buried panic to find him.

My husband cannot abide a delayed lead, and insists always on the bottom line coming first. So I have to tell you before I write more that all’s well with the little boy. If I were still a journalist, I might have written this post this way:

Four-year-old wins elaborate game of hide-and-seek, eluding detection for more than an hour while entire village searches nearby river and farmland frantically. Multiple law enforcement agencies cooperated in organizing a search that was thankfully completed by the boy’s mother, who finally heard a tiny giggle.

The small boy with a brown crew cut and big brown eyes was wearing only a sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers when he burrowed under a wheelbarrow in the back yard. Determined to beat the six older children with whom he played, he did not come out for “Olly olly ox-in-free,” for the shouted promise of extra brownies, or even when called vehemently by his mother.

Searchers were particularly concerned that he may have fallen in a body of water or been snatched by a passing driver.

His first words upon emerging were, “Did I win?”

After a little less than 48 hours of reflection (and four hot baths, and untold glasses of wine, and painkiller for my aching hip-which-should-not-traverse-bramble-patches-in-search-effort), I have the luxury of knowing it all turned out okay. We were so very, very fortunate that he was just an exceptionally strong-willed hider.

The sheriff on the phone wanted to know which came first: the hugs or the consequences.

This is me, making friends. It’s a tiny bit like peeling a pomegranate.