Thursday, December 6, 2012

My merry wreath of joy

 Merry merry. 
 Rehearsal rehearsal.
Tech rehearsal.
 Backstage shenanigans.
 Professional audience.
 And Willy Wonka.
 It's a two-show, twenty-three performance Christmas round these parts.
We're still farmy.
The horses are fed and the chickens are (usually) laying.
But you can find us at the theater through December 23.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Any October candy left over?

all together now, the costume edition
Well, the house didn't get painted before the rain started. But. The candy is all sorted, traded, sacked up and labeled by owners and squirreled away for rainier days. Don't worry, we had plenty of sugar high and sugar sickness to last until at least, oh, November 10. (And I only broke into the chocolate during tense moments on Election Day, so no need for the kids to recount, 'K?)
birdhouse, bokeh, what's not to like?
We are still canning applesauce. And my garage boasts six boxes of beautiful apples too pretty to process. Any word from my farm girl friends on how long we can store these for snacking?
locally (in)famous rope swing near me
The trees are slowly dropping leaves into the water, onto the road and lawns. The ponies think they are potato chips dropping from the sky, perhaps, and snack while waiting for the autumn rain to green the pasture. Silly ponies. Don't they know we'll bring them apple cores galore?
swimming, not so much

I haven't been running, as the heat made my music device stick to the inside of my, er, undergarment. Obviously I am super committed. 

I did join a gym as a birthday gift to myself, though, and am excited to try a new yoga and pilates instructor as soon as Willy Wonka rehearsals (and thus my extra four trips per day) are over in two weeks. The end of rehearsals means... of course... the beginning of performance! Three shows per weekend from November 30 through December 23. Madeleine had to leave rehearsal early last night because she was sick, and now she is sick with worry. I do wish she didn't get that from me, you know?

We think a lot, it seems to me, about the traits our children inherit: blue eyes or green, tall or short, perfect pitch, athleticism. But I worry about the worry. The things we can't change, the seasons and the illnesses and the shapes of our bodies: these should be granted a pass on the anxiety scale. 

The things we may affect, neighborliness and good works and commitment, these I am sure are worth the extra thought and attention of turning the subject over in our minds until a solution is wrought, forged of ideas and actions.

I wish she wouldn't worry.
it's 36 degrees outside as i caption this
One of the things I love about running is the extra thinking time. It turns that potential for worry, for me, into a more productive meditation. It curbs the chocolate cravings too.
that's the road frontage of the south end of our property... tree tunnel!
There's running, and then there's running.
pumpkin and calendula, by me, for me, happy me
Out in the garden we have picked the last of the winter squash. Remaining in the ground are gorgeous and delicious purple cauliflower, which unlike the purple carrots or purple "green" beans, does not lose its color when cooked. This makes for an interesting cream of cauliflower soup. I'm not sure I'm ready for lavender soup. BUT I love cauliflower soup, creamy and hot, so I close my eyes.

Also still in the garden are leeks, chard, kale, spinach, turnips. I do love turnips. No one else loves them, alas, and my father-in-law (who lives on the farm with us) cannot stand them. I sneak them in with roasts and stir fry and they are pushed aside on the plate. Sigh. More turnips pour moi.
snow white and pilot, ham and turkey
We trick-or-treated between dance classes this year, because the downtown in Small Town Near Us is too too adorable and closes Main Street to traffic for all the sweet diminutive princesses and tiny Napoleon Dynamites. (And because we had to be there for Madeleine and Sarah's class.) We visited the three independent bookstores (go books!) and the baby resale shop and local artisans' and bookkeepers' storefronts and collected the aforementioned candy while visiting with neighbors and friends. Whether you love Halloween or hate Halloween, you must love preschoolers in costumes.

Heck, my kids wear costumes most every day, so I've resolved not to worry about the potential creepiness factor of some traditions and just go with the good. And the Good.

I hope your season is full of grace. I hope your heart is light and your worries are few. Please write and tell me how your garden is and how you're doing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

And then again...

Y'all know it's not truly a calendar that saves the day nor a 'smart'phone that simplifies your life. Right?

I'm just late to this party, this realization, this evolution of humanity, and I want to be clearer than I was in my last post: I only write about my calendar because it's a breakthrough for me. All of you, dear readers, are waaaay ahead of me in figuring out that I am a flake-with-a-capital-reschedule when left to my own brain's ability to multitask.

(Have I mentioned that multitasking is the evil of our generation?)

Until a couple of years ago, I thought the calendar and the electronic gadgety things that start with "I" or that have a name that came from Startrek or Star Wars (or was it Dancing With the Stars? Android? His quick step was ah-MAY-zing.) were fine for people with high-pressure, deadline-oriented lives. In fact I lived by my Daytimer (TM) and my pager (ha!) while working in publishing and this is a gift to you, this giveaway about how long it's been since I was a professional person. And my years in real estate sales (shudder here) were ruled by a cell phone and the electronic mail, the fax machine, the clients' calendars, the banks' calendars.

So I know from schedule stress and I thought my stay-at-home, homeschool self should just be able to keep it in my head. You know? The lessons and doctor appointments, the veterinarian and farrier visits, the gym times and my husband's duties on local committees and commissions.

I thought pretty highly of myself and I feel better now that I've reduced that opinion. I sleep better. It's simpler, even though it's a crazybusy life we lead.

Thanks. I needed to post that.

Meanwhile I must take the applesauce out of the canner because one of my four timers went off while I was typing. And case in point: I have four timers while only three calendars (wall, phone, purse). I have four timers because I am easily distracted and things can burn and a timer means "pay attention," it's time to [use your imagination, something urgent usually, or else just the end of someone's screen time or the dog's outdoor 'bathroom' break]. I have four timers because my memory is fallible, short-term and long-term. I forget. It happens.

And skirting and the edge of my no-politics-on-interwebs rule: Please remember to vote.

Perhaps put in on your calendar.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Look! It's autumn. Or: Still peaceful, happily surprised

Madeleine took this picture at the dedication of a local park (engineering done by Mr. Suite!). And then we rode in the balloon. A Very Good Day.
Over the summer we took approximately forty-nine trips to the river, "rednecking it" with our lawn tractor trailer full of toddlers and inner tubes and a cooler full of pb&j sandwiches, iced tea in Mason jars.

For the first two weeks of October we left the flotation devices and life jackets and whatnot accessible. "One more swim" was still possible. Beach books still resided in go bags. Sun tea was even an option because we still had, you know, sunshine.
Salvador has discovered his pockets. So boy.
Now that the rain is here and our stove is crackling with flames that fog up the viewing glass I am almost instantly ready where I wasn't before. I didn't see this coming, and the surprise is a little burst of joy over and over. Fall. How is it possible to be taken unaware by a season one has loved for 40 years? I think it's a bonus, a little-known side effect of that cliched but wonderful practice of "living in the moment."

Come to find out I like the NEXT moment a lot better when I enjoy the one I'm IN well.
The tractor races at Farm Suite's front room always draw a big crowd. Scalewise anyway.
When Madeleine, our nearly 14-year-old, was a tiny baby, we were unfortunately anxious. (Royal we again.) When is the next feeding? How long will she sleep? Should she sleep that long? Can we grocery shop between naps or let her sleep in the car? We missed a lot of joyful moments, I fear, in the practice of scheduling and looking for what was next.

Our schedules today, as I go on and on about here, are ever-so-Seussian muchly much much more busier than that. (The house it often looks like it was visited by the Cat in the Hat.) On a daily basis our calendar is so full as to give me hiccups if I look toward what is next, or worse, how many/few minutes we have to prepare for "what's next." Algebra, chemistry, literature, ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance, flute lessons, community theatre rehearsals... they all go better with a cup of tea and my full attention. The next will come around in its own time.

And just in case you ever struggle, as I have for years, with how to do that, how to be fully present and still be ready when the agenda switches up, I want to share the logistical, completely non-spiritual tool that has helped me achieve a little bit of peace in apparent chaos.

It's a calendar. In my purse I keep an old-fashioned appointment calendar. I also have it hand "synched" to my phone and kitchen wall and computer calendars. Even though I resisted this system for years, preferring in my fantasies to think I was better unencumbered by such mundane tools, I actually feel much more FREE having it all written down, keyed in, cross-referenced.

My little purse calendar saves the double-booking disasters and saves my life. (We also have a newer launch pad system of dance bags, snack bags and whatnot that I think you can probably imagine better than I, and this is instrumental in the new peace system as well. I might write about that later but I'm not very predictable in the posting. Maybe I should put blogging in my calendar. A-hem.)

Does jazz start at 3:00 or 3:15 on Mondays? Would we be able to pick up an extra child in the carpool next Tuesday? Can we move flute to Friday at 4:00? In five seconds I can answer and I don't have the anxiety that comes with the not knowing, the must-remember-to-check.

When I get an email tweaking rehearsal schedules I transfer the new information to my calendar(s). When the girls get invitations to parties I write the time and contact info in my calendar. When I make my weekly menus I write them in my calendar.

The calendar saves us from the fast-food drive-through, which my kids and wallet dislike strongly, on nights when there's no time to go home for dinner between dance and theatre. I can plan ahead for portable meals for my actors and snacks for the rest of us. I can reasonably tell my dear, patient, already organized since birth engineer husband what time we will be home.

Don't get me wrong: I still struggle with busy-ness. But it seems somewhat manageable this way and I can even feel free to be happily surprised by something as small as a "divine appointment" with a friend at a coffee shop or something as huge as the change of seasons.

Now to go deflate the inner tubes. Because, friends? It's raining outside.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

If you're busy and you know it

It's been a little while since we looked in the attic.
It will be a library. Soon. And that is a (not-plugged-in?) power tool next to the baby. Just sayin'.
Because September and October are the real months of summer in Western Oregon, we are still harvesting. Just last night I brought in the last of the tomatoes under threat of frost. We haven't finished picking blackberries yet, but I do believe that'll be this week. And just one more apple tree still holds fruit, which we hope to core and peel with my super-duper thirteen-dollar gadget as we did the apples from the first two trees. Applesauce is our friend, my friends.
Late in the summer we took a little trip with Grandma and Papa to the butterfly garden and the adjacent Fort Umpqua, the southernmost Hudson Bay trading post to view the in-progress buildings and gardens. Summer school. Who knew?
And Mr. Suite and I went to a Jimmy Buffet tribute band concert in some friends' back yard. I never laughed so hard. Ever. Highly recommended.

Madeleine and Sarah are back in the dance of things, with ballet, jazz, modern and tap filling six afternoons a week. Oh, and hip hop on Fridays. I don't want to talk about it.Grace dances too: ballet and tap and jazz. Laura just moves creatively in a preschool dance class one day a week and Sal waits (more or less) patiently for everyone elses' classes from 2:30 until 5:30 most afternoons. Thank goodness for the Legos in the waiting room.

We are busy and it's still somehow peaceful. How did this happen? I think it's all about perspective and intention, which I fully intend to write about here once I stop writing about it for a national magazine. YIKES. (Mommy's busy too.)

Oh! I almost forgot: Madeleine auditioned for the community theatre's holiday season production of Willy Wonka, where she won two roles: Oompa Loompa and a candy shop child whose name I can't recall. She is super disappointed that the OLs will not be face-painted orange. Rehearsals 6:30 until 9 most nights.

Meanwhile we continue to learn and grow at the school table most mornings from 8 until noon. I thank God for homeschool, among many reasons but front of mind today is because one afternoon a week we pick friends up at the middle school for tap dancing class and that carpool line is brutal.

Sarah is working for Grandpa at his office, performing hard labor at her own initiative in pursuit of an electronic gadget that starts with an "I," one morning a week. She still plays flute and her private lessons directly follow working for Grandpa. Well, they directly follow the Dutch Brothers coffee stop that directly follows me picking her up from Grandpa's office.

Circling back to dance (as every day does around here): Sarah and Madeleine will both perform in the Nutcracker Suite this year. Sarah is a Chinese tea dancer and Madeleine a Spanish flamenco dancer. Rehearsals ramping up soon.

To fill the waiting time I have my laptop and my embroidery. A little knitting. And I'm tired, but it's a good tired, you know?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's me again. From the farm.

 There're (were) a lot of apples on them there trees. And I'm so tired I can't think of whether I've made any grammatical errors in the first sentences of this post.
 We started school.
You know how moms the world over (okay, in the First-World World) rejoice and have a mid-morning hair appointment (cocktail?) sometime during the first week of school?
Yeah, homeschooling moms, not so much.

My kids are probably a lot like kids you know and love -- brilliant and funny and eager to learn -- and that's just part of why I. am. exhausted.

We started school and started canning apples, pears, green beans, blackberry jam, salsa and spaghetti sauce all in the same weeks. And that was right after I wore out the cartilage in my right hand sanding (likely) asbestos glue off of the dining room and stairwell walls in the hopes to save money and, frankly, square footage by not covering the adhesive and torn wall surfaces with new sheetrock.

I may regain full use of my hand again in time to start blogging more regularly. Or, you know, to finish the canning.

Love you. Miss you. It's crazybusy here on the farm and I wish you were here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A little stretch, and joy

Let's talk about contentment.
For years and years I fantasized about taking a tiny house and creating something all mine. I dreamed of a Snow White-esque woodland setting, a babbling brook, an attic full of built-in beds and a cozy kitchen-living-library room with wainscot and a crackling fire. You know, like a Rosamunde Pilcher novel. We'd have geraniums at the scrubbed tabletop all summer and friends popping corn around the woodstove on winter evenings.

And over the past 20 years, through house after beautiful house, my husband and I tackled small remodeling projects. So of course I continued to romanticize The Big Renovation To Come. I pored over blogs and magazine articles and I justified the expense of satellite television so I could memorize the HGTV lineup.
We painted and roofed a 1920s craftsman bungalow in the big city. We gutted a ranch house kitchen and made it something like midcentury classic on a budget. We put in flooring and re-plastered and added a bath to a 1910 Dutch Colonial in a small town. We moved into an 1898 country church and every stone was lovingly replaced in the foundation, every shiplap board caulked and painted to rustic perfection up to the soaring ceilings.

We didn't do much of the work in any of those examples.

My brother. Assorted contractors. People with Knowledge of Power Tools. Those folks created our improved living situations and added to our equity and in general it was something like watching HGTV, only with dust.
So of course we were prepared for this, the Big Renovation That Is: a couple of mill cottages of indeterminate age, cobbled together with Yankee pluck in the midst of the Great Depression, set against the backdrop of a gorgeous year-round creek and a big century barn. Of course we could tackle this. Without help, because the economy it is quite different than it was for the first 15 years of our marriage and adventures in homeownership.
We are up for this challenge. Our children are too, vote or no vote.
The thing I might be learning this past eight months is that the state of the flooring, or indeed of insulation and plumbing, is not related remotely to happiness. Joy is not dependent on finish work nor even on the availability of hot water. (It has been like that.) When every room has three-quarter-finished projects and every child has an activity that takes us away from home (ballet, jazz, flute, community theater, chess club, you get it) AND every available moment of my dear husband's time feels stolen from his engineering and survey business -- at these times, whether the carpet is ripped out or not is just not an issue.
Did we stretch a little to move to this bigger property, smaller house? Yes. Are we learning things along the way? Definitely. We are learning how to tape and mud drywall, please don't misunderstand. We have learned how to diagnose water pressure issues, to be sure. There are geraniums on my windowsill.

But ultimately this past eight months at the farmhouse looks like an exercise in joy amidst the dust, contentment despite the carpet.

It might take us a long time to create the storybook cottage of my dreams but we can have the life of our dreams without waiting, without contractor help and certainly without spending a dime.

I think that's called contentment and joy. So glad I found it here in a ramshackle house.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hello, July

We are making hay here, quite literally, in the summer that emerged hot and heavy from what had appeared to be a never-ending damp and dreary season of in between.
 The berries and the hay fields and the boys are happy for the sunshine.

The girls and I are happy for the heat, grateful for the riverbar and the little glamper parked in the woods.

I am working on projects, creative and fun, and working on my year's ambition: To lead a quiet life of work with my hands (1 Thes. 4:11). A little quiet never hurt a country girl.

Friday, June 29, 2012

There were days

There were June days when dozens of butterflies dried newly unfolded wings in the garden sun, and on these days I didn't water at all for fear of moving the fluttery flock. 

Laura sat between raised beds in stunned silence for hours, and if you know the child, or maybe any inquisitive sparkly 4-year-old, you know this was a miracle of its own. The tomatoes and basil were witness to this birth of butterflies, as was Laura's oft-used bug box. When I told her she should not attempt to catch butterflies with her hands she opened the lid of her box in a bright spot, loaded it with a sprig of honeysuckle, and waited. 

And waited. Finally one cooperative yellow-winged creature visited the box. Laura was ready. We took pictures and then opened the lid again.

I don't think I've ever seen such a display of butterflies and dragonflies as we were blessed with here. And another week? A baby fawn at the edge of our pond:

 Whose mother was just over the fence, nose twitching. I have to tell you the story, because, well, I do. The engineer and I were at the table with his dad. The children were at the pond catching pollywogs, which is an entire month's worth of posts, when Grace and my niece Maiya discovered the sleeping baby. They ran in the house to report their discovery but I was not particularly impressed. In fact I stayed at the table drinking coffee while my husband trekked out there to see what I was sure would be a stump or twisted root.

O me of little faith.

In other news I am considering using chemical fertilizer. I think I do this every year about this time, when the fish fertilizer and compost wear me out and my garden is still not as green and gorgeous as the neighbors'. It's a constant flirtation with Miracle Gro, I'll tell ya.
The hummingbirds ran out of fruit blossoms at the end of June and fought over my one pitiful feeder.
The strawberries are ripening now -- finally -- mocking me with their "June" bearing and, worse, "ever" bearing variety names. We did enjoy homemade shortcake with our own strawberries and whipped cream just this week. On the back deck with sounds of the stream and baby swallows.
Salvador turns 2 tomorrow.

There were days this month when I was sure I wouldn't make it through, when I doubted my preparation, my ability to persevere. Day camp deliveries and pick ups, business meetings and garden maintenance. Five dentist appointments in one afternoon. Recitals and graduations and crises, a sick lamb and sleepless nights holding her upright. I wanted to run away to the coast, I wanted to run away to the mountains. I wanted to run away to my glamper in the woods at the edge of the back pasture.

So instead I stuck with it. I pretended I was landing a difficult dismount off the end of the balance beam and I just stuck.

Looking back, despite the days, I loved June. And I'm betting July will be loved as well. Day after day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Simple living, suite style

A blushing spider at the outer left petals... nearly perfectly camouflaged in my favorite peony.
 I settle in to the quiet of our little farmhouse. Of course "quiet" is relative. On a rainy day the roof rattles. On a sunny day we hear the creek over rocks through the south-facing windows. Every day brings children's noises: the pencil sharpener, bolted to the desk since 1978, grinding another fine point; Brio trains on a wooden track; a Barbie car on the linoleum and then the disagreement about who should drive; flute practice in the back yard or in the unfinished attic; tap dancing on the covered patio or, noisier still, interfering with the Barbie car's kitchenward progress.
Another early reader. With good taste in books. No, really.
 An afternoon when we don't leave the farm is amazing. Theoretically we stay home in the morning and study. Doctor appointments and emergency veterinarian visits -- so much more common than you'd imagine -- furnish approved absences from the dining table school. But the afternoons are for running, car-ishly, "like a mommyac" as Laura likes to say, to flute, ballet, jazz, grocery store, chess club, choir, feed store, modern, tap, rinse and repeat.
The irises I didn't plant, didn't hope for as I did the peonies, but their heavenly fragrance redeems them greatly.
 So last week we were on the run every. single. day.
A little stage fright.
I have managed to get over, mostly, my guilt about quitting the homeschool co-op. Just because it's the right thing doesn't make it easy, you know? I still haven't sent a response to an email that pleaded for one more, just one more, meeting. It gives me hives to think about it. Zyrtec works better than Benadryl.
My old guy and my preppy-cool cowgirl.
Despite our extreme busy-ness I am aware that we live this charmed life. I can hide in the woods, I can hide in the cedar-shingle-sided house or the massive hay loft. I can hide by the pond and I can hide in the driver's seat of my own life.
Not so much with the stage fright.
And we planted an enormous garden that promises to feed an army. Or my family. Or both. I subscribe to the idea that when Armageddon arrives I will open my pantry to all comers. Anyone who ventures out to our remote corner and who is, in my highly trained estimation, you know, nice. Do you watch the National Geographic channel's newish show, "Preppers"? Oh how I lovehate that show. You should watch and hatelove it with me.
I am learning to love the flaws and humility of my new farmhouse. Even before we can paint it. 
 Our preparations for the end of the world are pretty much just like our preparations for the continuation of the same. More kale. But sometimes a diet soda is pretty darn good, and then I remember that it's badbadbad for me.

On the flipside there is insulation in the unfinished attic and if you are on the underneath of 150 pounds you can play on that temporary floor all you like. Generations before us would have called it palatial, this mill cabin of mine. Underneath our house are stumps, some of which hold it up. (Unless you are an appraiser in which case it is a perfectly modern perimeter foundation.)

Anywhat this house has sheltered families through the Great Depression and maybe worse and I am so grateful for it and the cozy sweet history in which we live. The future can bring what it will: ready or not.
Don 't worry, she brightened right up under the stage lights.
 I even told my regular gas station attendant that, while I will miss him should the end of the world surprise us before my next regularly scheduled fill-up, it would be somewhat of a relief to stay home.
Oh dear, there are those plaid Bermuda shorts again. They call to mind the yellow shortalls of last summer.
Do you suspect that of some doomsday preppers you may know? That a wish for simplicity may drive them to hope for the end of today's hectic pace? My secret is this: We can have it now. Simplicity, beauty, peace. Before your debts are paid off, before your home is perfect, before your pantry is perfectly organized, before you fly to a beach vacation.
Madeleine and her sweet friend always ready to tap.
Busy doesn't have to mean unsettled. And while "intentional" is overused to the point of meaninglessness I am finding again that an intentionally full life can be peaceful, restful even. Simple living doesn't mean, to us, staying home full-time. It means filling our lives with the gardening, dancing, reading, chess-playing joy of being alive. It means weeding out the toxic and focusing on the beauty.

What does simple living mean to you?