Sunday, January 31, 2010

Put a ruffle on it

When I was pregnant with Madeleine, 12 years ago, I was so ecstatic to be expecting, so happy to have the pregnancy progress well, that I barely thought of how it affected my mood. To tell the truth I didn't pay that much attention to myself, so busy was I counting kicks and sewing and painting in her sweet Dick and Jane nursery.

I worked at my dream job as an editor in the big city, floated through the days with a good deal less concentration than is flattering in retrospect, and gave serious concern time to the harmful effects of waiting at the Metro station and breathing in bus fumes. When I went into labor, it took my best friend who'd been through it before to tell me we needed to stop shopping in order to call my husband to take me to the hospital. I didn't even notice that I was in labor because I was so overjoyed to be having a baby. Silly but true.

When I was pregnant with Sarah, 10 years ago, I was of course 10 years younger than I am today. Basic and not very profound, but true. That pregnancy was so very different because I was chasing the precocious Madeleine, whose first and favorite word was "danger." We also were moving and for some part of the pregnancy I was working part time doing mind-boggling editing for a medical research outfit that was frankly WAY over my pregnancy brain capabilities. Sarah was a swimmer, almost never kicking or elbowing me with force but pretty consistently doing her baby water ballet. Of course it must be noted that at 26 weeks I was put on bed rest and we were simultaneously moving from city to city, renting a cute but ill-placed apartment amongst rowdy graduate students. I can remember one late spring night of every neighbor partying outside our bedroom window when I padded to the back door and shouted that they certainly didn't want to see the "wrath of the pregnant girl" so they ought to quiet down.

My husband thought that was really funny.

When I was pregnant with Grace I was selling a lot of real estate. I used to joke that she was such a quiet baby because she looked around, said "Mommy's busy. I'd better be good." My beloved grandmother was leaving her independence behind for assisted living. We were moving our family into my dream house on half an acre in a cute little town, in part to be closer to Grandma. I don't think I ever counted kicks because I was so busy running. Grace was a happy baby, born just in time to meet my grandma before she left the assisted living for heaven. I remember in the early days of Grace's life some rare moments sitting with her on the south-facing window seat in my dining room just wishing things would slow down.

When I was pregnant with Laura, we had moved to the country and begun to live a rural dream life. I experienced more peace surrounding her pregnancy than with any other. It seemed I knew how to do this, finally. I spent a lot of time on hobby farm chores, gardening and stretching fence wire in my maternity overalls. We left the public school system and figured out how amazing it is to be able to learn together. We ate organic food, a lot of it grown ourselves or by our neighbors, and took a lot of slow walks. Conversely Laura was apparently born running.

This time around, despite being more than a decade older than with my first pregnancies, I feel a lot like I did then. I live with a sense of the miraculous. And I experience a primal sort of protection urge surrounding everything that might happen to our little family. (That strikes me doubly funny: The fact that I feel even a tiny bit responsible for ensuring safety in this crazy world coupled with the fact that I think of our family as "little," which I really do.) I recognize that I've been snappish, even though there are no neighbors with late-night parties to take this out on. I realize that I'll drink a glass of juice and lie down to count kicks for no particular reason.

I'm sewing and baking and painting and nesting and I just find it all so exciting. Last night my husband and I went out on a date -- thank you, Mom! -- and I felt happy to be going out and thrilled to be heading home again. Wrapped up in a miracle.

Friday, January 29, 2010

It was a biggish whump, Sir.

So a notable but not historically significant windstorm took its toll on my husband's shop last week. And now it continues to thump me over the head every day as I am the designated insurance-husband-contractor-husband-restoration-insurance-husband liaison in our family. (Did you know that was possible? Everyone has their roles, suited or not.)

See those orange-ish sticks of wood? Yeah. Those're 2x12s, I'm told, and part of the essential, um, rafter thingamajigs that hold up the roof. I don't mean to get all technical on you but it's been a highly educational week. **Edited to add: My quality control officer, AKA my husband, said they are actually 2x8s. He also said I might want to remember my big following of construction types who would know and think less of me for not knowing. That was him being funny; please remember he's an engineer. **

I almost forgot to mention my copious interaction with the utility companies. After the big (tree-size) branch whumped on the shop, it sent a few smaller but still-big-enough-to-weigh-down-power-lines branches. It only took four phone calls to the power company to let them know we couldn't leave our front door before they showed up to tighten the lines. "That's a big tree, Ma'am." Don't these people know that the late 30s are the new late 20s? I (with four children underfoot and a burgeoning tummy region containing number five) am clearly due a "Miss." Under the circumstances. **Edited to add: I didn't need my quality control officer to tell me that this sounded vain and, um, snarky. Yikes. That 40-something, hard-working lineman can call me Ma'am all he wants and I'll complain not. Thank you is what I'm trying to say.**
And I'm not saying all these construction and restoration folks aren't busy. I know they are. What with the massive amount of building going on in the current economy (heavy sarcasm is not my best feature but I hope you caught that) it's hard for an estimate to get done on time. On the first or third request. My favorite contractor asked me to describe, in detail, over the phone, the materials that needed replacing. Then he wanted me to name the construction style of the shop. Pole barn? Um... Stick-built but metal sided? Sorry, Sir, but ... let me tell you, this is not my specialty. Good thing it's yours.
We mustn't forget the insurance adjuster. I am quite clear that our damages are not in any way to compare with some other disasters that might be covered by homeowners' insurance. And I'm grateful for that. But my favorite thing about the insurance adjuster was how I specifically told everyone with whom I spoke that our road does not appear on Google maps. He and his hybrid car and its GPS system knew better and were therefore a little late after being a little lost and doing a little unintended four-bying in some offroad mud near us. What a nice guy, though. He remarked that the contractors, even the one he sent, would surely work for his estimate since none had turned one in a full week after the storm.
I guess I should relax a little.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

chocolate angel

This was the scene of the crime.

This was the perp resisting arrest.

Just a few more notes from my files.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A person can forget

Yesterday I forgot for hours at a time that I am pregnant. When I mentioned this to my husband at bedtime, he said in minor horror, "What did you do?" As though he imagined me kicking back shots or changing cat litter or some other such unthinkable thing, pregnant or not.

I didn't actually do anything harmful or neglectful. I just forgot. Until my lunch fell on the growing shelf that is my tummy, that is.

Hey. I'm a busy mom. The girls had a big history project followed by a lot of Elmer's glue going on, and Laura was supposedly stacking cans in the pantry but was actually making cocoa angels on the floor. This led, predictably, to some extra laundry. We lost our rooster (may he rest in peace) and one of the new Araucana pullets to a cursed (I really mean that) neighbor dog. I had approximately ten thousand different activity slips to enter in order for my husband's invoicing to get out on time. Data entry is my favorite, let me assure you. My father-in-law stopped by and I overcooked the pasta. The phone rang about seventeen different times. I considered unplugging it but once it was a reminder from the electricity company so I thought better of ignoring incoming messages. Thank goodness for reminders. A person can forget, did I mention?

Then the baby would kick in that second-trimester "I've got the whole world to turn somersaults in" way and I'd say, WOW, there's going to be a seventh Suite sooner than later. Wow.

When Dixie found this scrap of sheepskin she claimed it as hers. Sometimes it's a playmate, sometimes it's her cuddle partner and sometimes it's her doomed prey. She essentially treats us the same way. She doesn't forget. She just chooses her moments. A little like I do.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My (unfortunately all-too-normal) Saturday

Separate the cream. Make a little butter, a little yogurt.
Some chocolate chip cookies.

Sneak in a little time at the sewing machine in my sunny nook. Marvel at the utter quiet despite Mr. Suite's absence and the presence of four extra children for the day. (Yes, that makes a total of eight. What was I thinking with the sewing?)

Look up from sewing to see the end of a mud festival.

Where to even start with this?

And they were so proud of themselves. For the record, from the left: Fern, Sarah, Zoe and Madeleine. No one was innocent.

Luckily for me I had already cleaned up after myself in the kitchen because I was suddenly tied to the laundry room for, oh, four hours. And lest you think I'm a relaxed country mom with no fear of mud, let me disabuse you of that notion immediately. I made the girls undress on the back deck, outside, in the thin January sunshine. I made them stuff their twenty-pound mud-soaked jeans and tees into a paper bag before I carried it through my sewing nook, kitchen, and finally to its soaking place in the laundry room.
Did I mention Fern and Zoe didn't have extra clothes? And they are both much, much taller than Madeleine or Sarah. Sigh.
I called my mother and she mentioned something about getting repaid for my wild youth. I have no idea to what she could be referring.
How was your weekend?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Announcement! Announcement!

Well, my baby turned 2 last week. And a "once and for all" donated every last item of maternity clothing six months ago or so. Then I went and lost 23 pounds.

So you know exactly where this is heading?
Another Suite baby. Due in June!
(Written as soon as the three months of nausea stopped, er, slowed to a more livable rate of puking. Oh yeah. It's like that.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Meet my friend Naomi

The photo above is of course of quake damage. I took it from the website of our friends at Mercy League International, who run an orphanage in Haiti among their other faith-based humanitarian efforts around the world.

This is our friend Naomi. Her dad is the director of Mercy League International and her whole family is one of the biggest blessings in our family's lives. They were our across-the-road neighbors for the first two years that we lived here. In fact we met Naomi, Noelle and Brendan, her sister and brother, and their parents before we made the offer on this house. It sealed the deal; we couldn't believe how perfect it would be to have built-in playmates when we moved to the country.
Naomi and Madeleine were fast friends: They share their loves of books, lots and lots of books, and art. Sarah and Noelle, also of similar ages to one another, share their sweet but mischievious temperaments. The fearsome foursome made a lot of fun trouble in those years of living within shouting distance!
We quickly grew to love the entire family. They pastored the church across the road from us before they were called back to work in missions. You see, they had been in Haiti for (I think) three years before moving to our little quiet corner of the world. That's where Naomi and Noelle joined their family. Since living back in Oregon, both parents have pursued graduate degrees, made multiple mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, added another boy to their family (making a total of four fun children!) and they have been planning a move to Africa. Just a little busy, wouldn't you say?
So of course the distastrous quake in Haiti is on our minds and hearts. Naomi's dad is in Haiti right now. Mercy League had a team in the area at the time of the earthquake. Everyone on the Mercy League team is safe but no one currently there spoke Creole. So our friend and father of four flew to Haiti Friday with his knowledge of the language, his compassion and all the antibiotic cream, ibuprofen and protein bars he could carry.
I know that among his hopes of helping deliver medical supplies and aid to the people of the country, he also hopes to locate Naomi's birth family.
I have been told that Mercy League will be shipping a container a week directly to Haiti. Time is critical. I started writing this post four days ago but my utter lack of knowledge of the workings of rescues, rebuildings and missions have had me paralyzed. We are so incredibly blessed in this country with reliable water and power and medical care and building codes that keep our families safe and insulated that I am stunned, maybe like some of you, that elsewhere mothers are struggling daily to find clean water for their babies.
Please pray for the people of Haiti. And if you don't already have a place to send your donations, please consider giving to our friends at Mercy League as they continue to help the people of Haiti.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Story problems with no correct answers

1. If three out of four children in a family have doctor appointments on one day, and there is only one parent to attend to those children, and that same parent must of necessity take all four to all three appointments despite the only un-appointed child's being buried in at least 10 books throughout the day, how many arms will that parent need to successfully contain the children? As extra credit, answer how many Nancy Drews and Wimpy Kids that parent can fit in a diaper bag when they are confiscated.

2. If the youngest two out of those four children have three and five immunizations respectively, and if the other two children let that particular secret out early enough to cause general hysteria, how many ice cream cones will the parent need to promise in order to restore relative peace throughout doctor appointment number one for child number two (in which no needles are necessary but one CAT scan is ordered)?

3. If all of the numbers are small enough, does that inversely add up to a larger Margarita when the parent gets home? Are you sure? Even if that parent virtuously passed on the ice cream? (You know I didn't; it's hypothetical.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What a difference a year makes

Laura at her first birthday. Just look at that little dimpled chin, willya?

Not only was the weather different at the coast for this year's birthday jaunt, but we couldn't get Laura to sit for a picture. She wanted to embrace the whole beach.

She was busy, raindrops or no.

All the girls have grown and changed so much in a year. Laura is walking and talking (and talking). She's dressing herself in her own unique style and she is sweetly opinionated on nearly any subject you care to discuss. Mother Goose? Window washing? Naked trees? You bet she has a dissertation on that one. While she's gone from baby to toddler: Grace is reading, Madeleine and Sarah are playing instruments, everyone's jeans and shoes have gone up a size or two.

And they're still the same happy gaggle of girls ready to celebrate. Happy Second Birthday Laura!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Welcome to Nice

We don't live anywhere near Nice in the literal sense. I think it's in California, although without a quick Google map check I can't be sure. (And even then, with Google maps, who knows.) We drove through this charming town on our way home from my favorite city:

We also don't live near San Francisco, not close enough to have visited since last summer.
But I have my ten thousand two hundred and forty eight pictures to comfort me. And my sense of Nice. As in, nice to be home. (Even when the cabin fever is causing some of my over-abundant head of hair to thin. I'm sure of it.)
So this morning I was putting some split pea soup ingredients into my slow cooker. Who doesn't love a slow cooker? Honestly. And homemade soup at the end of the day? Too good.
Grace Hannah (5) passed through the kitchen and gasped as I emptied half of my canister of dried split peas into the Crockpot along with diced carrots, onions and a ham hock.
"What's for dinner, Mommy?"
"Split pea soup. Yum, yum." Because you know if I don't add that she'll never grasp that some people prefer their legumes without a fuss. And the additional bribes of grated cheese and homemade biscuits and a big glass of fresh milk. Right? EveryMom is with me on this. I'm sure of it.
"Oh, okay." Wait for it. "But when you're out of the peas can you pleasepleaseplease buy more?"
"Of course!" This is the moment when my deranged or at least deluded homemaker self believed she's come to enjoy pea soup or at least to appreciate a well-stocked pantry.
"Oh, good. I need those for gluing to things at craft time."
Welcome to Nice. Where we build bridges to food appreciation in innovative ways every day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Farm G. Suite

Yesterday ended our Christmas vacation here at Farm Suite. All three big girls (11, 9 and 5) were eager to return to formal (as it goes around here) school. They sat down, breakfast eaten, fully dressed and chores done, at a couple of minutes after 8 a.m. to master personal challenges ranging from multiplication tables eight and nine all the way through creating a book of alphabet sounds.

Laura (2 in a few days!) is finding that school mornings are a perfect time to create trouble. It seems I just get her set up with toddler-size Legos or crayons when I turn to help with a long division problem and then she's off and spreading someone's Polly dolls all over the staircase or pouring out an entire bag of cat food into the litter box. I must say, I've never parented such a busy baby before. On the other hand she knows her alphabet song and many of the letters (and their sounds!) by sight so she is undoubtedly picking up on Grace's kindergarten work.

After lunch it was a beautiful, sunny 55 degrees outside so I declared recess for all four of them. I used that time to clean up worksheets and books and set up our art project for the afternoon -- we have decided to do science experiments, art and other potentially messy projects while Laura naps. It's self-preservation mainly, plus we get to have fun without distraction of the toddler type.

Speaking of outside, we finally clipped the hens' wings. I know, I know, it sounds cruel. But the real cruelty was in letting them wander across the road after flying effortlessly over their six-foot fence. (Why does a chicken cross the road?) Anyway it took the help of Madeleine, Sarah and their 12-year-old friend Zoe for me to catch all nine hens one at a time. The first few were easy -- they are tame after all -- but after two or three they seemed to "catch" the general hysteria and their evasive techniques got fairly creative. Katie the Rhode Island Red even hid at the back of the compost pile before her haircut. Yuck.

So now the hens are all safely inside their chicken yard again. The rooster can still hop the fence with ease but he doesn't tend to go far when his harem is cooped up. (Har har. Cooped up.)

Seven, Madeleine's horse, is sold to a lovely neighbor who keeps her gelding Sun at the boarding barn. You might say he's the boy next door. So Seven's not actually paid for yet but after just word-of-mouth advertising for a week we feel blessed that she'll go to Michele, who's loved Seven for the past year but despaired that we'd never sell her. And a year ago, I wouldn't have. My love for Seven was all wrapped up in her resemblance to the horse of my teenage years, a black Polish Arabian named Shamarrh. Seven and Shamarrh shared that certain dreamy big-dog quality of appearing to listen. They also shared a love of coffee breath and granola bars. Shamarrh had to be put down when I was 17 after a dog ran her through our fence and her front foreleg was broken along with my sense of all-is-right-with-the-world.

The moment that I saw Seven five years ago, I knew she was mine even though she wasn't for sale -- just a beautiful dishy dark filly head peeking out of a stall at a property I was showing. I immediately felt a rush of (mushy and ridiculous alert) youthfulness and joy. That is what Seven is. But you really can't go home again, no matter what Bon Jovi says.

So today for afternoon projects the girls and I will be making resolution collages. We don't go too heavy on the resolutions at this time of year -- sometimes we make fun "predictions" for the coming year such as "Laura will be potty trained by June" or "we'll go to Disneyland in October" (more a wish than a prediction, I know). I think my collage will have some horse pictures. Probably not black and probably a lot slower and cooler of blood than the horse(s) of my youth. Because I'm a different girl than I was 20 (or even five) years ago, that's why.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Everybody's back to work... the farmgirl edition

The hens all went back to work just in time for the holiday baking we've been doing. If you look closely you can even see that a few of those eggs are pale green... my Easter Eggers are laying!
The New Year. The new year is an opportunity, of course, for buckling down to face resolutions and inner revolutions and the most important of all, closet organization. It ought to be for me a time of much, much writing. Lists and such. And the occassional blog post.
Football games. (Feel free to pause a moment for the Oregon Ducks.)
A new man door f0r our detached garage (I have dreams of converting this into a schoolhouse/guesthouse. Also: "Man door" (?!) -- there must be a better word for the door through which a person walks to enter a garage.).
Selling my beloved, of late Madeleine's beloved, black Quarterhorse mare Seven. (My reaction to this event in all its swiftness, in a severely depressed horse market no less, astounds me and I just can't seem to find adequate words.)
Happy New Year to you and yours. I sure hope I can find a little time to make a resolution or two. How about you?