Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Autumn at the ocean

September is the beginning of our favorite time to visit the Oregon coast. Saltwater and sunshine and sandy feet combine in an alchemy of pure joy. The winds are slow and so is time.
This particular September we are choosing rest. Is this possible in the midst of ballet, tap, jazz, modern, Guys and Dolls, piano, voice, sewing... farm work... and schoolwork? I submit that it is possible. At least it's worth trying.

Dear Mr. Suite and I talk a lot about finding balance. He runs an engineering business and serves as a planning commissioner for our county government. He fences (and re-fences) and hauls hay and fixes the farmhouse. I teach school to five students of hugely varied learning styles and giftedness and I keep the house (mostly) and garden (sadly small this year but still) and meals and carpool schedule. I also write grants for a few non-profits and squeeze in the occasional writing and photography that fills my heart. So there's that.

Our teens are intensely involved in community and children's and public school theaters. They dance at two different studios that are 25 miles apart. One is dedicated to ballet and one loves modern and tap. One is training horses and dogs and one is showing rabbits. Our younger children have pets and piano lessons and passions of their own. The Lego budget. The book budget. The gas budget. 

And the time and energy budget. I'm just saying.
We used to have an unofficial family motto, spoken somewhat in jest: "Work hard, play hard." Most famously, my exceedingly hardworking husband once declared in a time of exhaustion, before a 9-hour-drive to see a baseball game: "We. Will. Recreate."

In a slight divergence from that I propose: "We. Will. Rest."

We will rest in the moments between tap and rehearsal. We will rest in the knowledge that a great thirst for knowledge and discovery is a much better educator than is a proficient lecturer. We will rest and realize that sometimes good enough is truly enough, that perfectionism is a pit that separates us from joy and from others. We will rest knowing that the waves come in, the waves go out. The wind calms in autumn.

And there is a season for rest.

How do you find rest? Is it a principle or a practice? Or both?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Playing catch (up)

How was your summer vacation?

I'm taking it as a sign of a good summer that I am, once again, not ready. Last week at the swimming hole I sat with a friend watching the children splash about picking blackberries from the overhanging vines. Feet in the cool water, with pebbles massaging our toes and the laughter of eight or nine swimmers entertaining our ears, we watched the first of the turning leaves float to the water's surface and skim downstream. Our shady spot will be exposed to the autumn sky in a month or two.

But we'll be inside with books and tablets and schedules to make the gas gauge sigh.
How not to make a two-month catch-up letter a series of "been there, done that?' How to capture the feeling of summer? We took some drives. We splashed in the creek and swam in our "secret" swimming hole. We went to a big family wedding in the redwoods and we went to the movies with friends.
Madeleine stretched her musical theatre skills with singing/dancing/acting camps and Sarah attended a ballet intensive and a melodrama performance camp. The big girls were in our local heritage parade too, on the Storybook Theatre float. Sarah was the blue fairy from Pinocchio, reprising her role from last spring's performance. Maddy was Tiger Lily and Grace was a mermaid, both from Peter Pan. I broke three sewing machine needles on Grace's costume but she glittered like an undersea princess. Salvador and Laura caught a lot of candy and waved at all the floats. I ran after the Storybook float with my camera and Mr. Suite was impressed with my speed in pursuit of the photo.
Then! Grace worked on a new quilt top and on her model horse barn. Mr. Suite bought her a miter saw and she uses it with more confidence than do I. Grace and Laura won ribbons at the fair. Grace exhibited a blue-ribbon bookhouse and her handmade puppet collection, also a blue ribbon winner. Laura showed a Lego coffee delivery boat of her own design (blue!) and her pony collection (red).

The whole family plus some friends hung out at the fair and watched the steam engine demonstrations. We ate caramel corn and drank lemonade and I regretted that but not in the baking hot moment.

Mr. Suite and I had a few date nights. We celebrated our anniversary -- 22 years -- with a Tom Petty concert where almost every song made me feel younger. We hiked the mountain above our house a few times and took photos at the river bar where he grew up and learned to drive. We drove over a floating bridge and visited farm stands and old haunts and longtime friends.
On the pet front, Laura has two guinea pigs. I am informed they are not rodents. Charlie the Spaniel took a brief vacation with another family whose mama works at the self-sustainability workshop on our road. He went camping by the lake and then came home and we were very, very glad. Murphy the Bernese went up the mountain with Maddy and Mr. Suite on a hike and came back down in the Suburban. I understand the hip joint pain.
Maddy and Sam cut new trails in the woods above our pasture. We made hay in record amounts and two teen boys with more energy and bigger appetites than imaginable helped get all eight tons in the loft before it rained. We picked blackberries and visited friends. We hosted a mini craft and swimming day camp for friends. We took some more drives. I am gathering rose hips for wreaths and tea. I am gathering the school books and calendars and my wits for another year of sharp pencils and sharper minds.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

And they danced

The girls finished nine months of six-day-a-week dance classes with this thing called a recital.
I cried through nearly the entire thing.
From the second row the click of the Nikon shutter
punctuated their steps.

Madeleine was in ten different pieces.
Sarah and Maddy both had their first pointe performance.
Hip hop was a surprise favorite.
Tap was a crowd pleaser.
I love this stuff.
And I try not to count the recitals we have left
stretching before us in beauty.

(When classically trained ballet dancers
go hip hop it will surprise you.)

 Grace was a bookish ballerina.
Considering carefully a year of quiet work.
Laura was a ballet diamond in the cutest deck of cards.
And a teddy bear tap dancer.
Grace also got jazzy.
We have a vocal recital before summer starts in earnest.
Then a few dance intensives and a couple of theatre camps
and a lot of backyard camping.
A wedding.
Swimming in the creek.
Playing with the ponies.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

It's a coffee table book

Today I felt that need to look for beauty -- does that happen to you? --
and where better to turn than my photo files of this past month? 
(Well. I could have gone outside, but weeds are lurking there, creeping ever closer to farm domination.)
And one of my other favorite diversions is to drive over that-there bridge on my way to town and back.
Alas it is under construction until September.

So photo journal it is.
 The barnyard is stomped-down packed mud, the hay field is sodden but gloriously tall and green. 
The pond is finally fenced off from horse and/or sheep invasion and just a little prettier already.
Mr. Suite planted some trees.
The skunk cabbage and cattails (such lovely names!) grow unmolested.
A grey heron rests there between fishing trips to the river. 
A pair of Mallard ducks made a nest immediately after the fence went up but are gone now.
I hope they come back.
Frogs and toads of the green and noisy variety make music we can hear all the way to the house.
The flowerbeds and garden beds are overrun with chickweed, crabgrass and clover. 
I'm going with it on the theory that nature knows what to do with itself.
We pick lettuce and peas from the beds and a little grass sneaks its way in the salad.
Most is edible.
 Fiddler on the Roof, a sold-out run. 
Maddy had "Fiddler prom" backstage with friends
while other high school friends rode in a limousine
to dance that was decidedly not Russian nor Jewish.
Sarah sang Matchmaker.
And Anatevka was weepingly beautiful.
 Pinocchio, a sold-out run.
Grace was the prettiest puppet I have ever seen. Or sewn.
Sarah wore blue hair and a beautiful gown to convince Pinocchio
becoming a real boy takes bravery and honesty.
 On top of the hill, a neighbor's barn less used than ours, with a view to Blue Mountain.
I would let you think I hiked up there but it is very, very high. So I drove.
 Salvador got his hair cut after Easter.
The barber was smoking a cigarette so we went to the salon.
I explained the haircut preferences:
scissor cut, whitewall around the ears, side part, 
you know, LEAVE THE CURLS.
And the stylist pulled out her clippers and buzzed his hair right off faster than I could gasp.
"This is better," she declared.
 The forest wants to take over my back yard. See those weeds of which I speak?
When we bought this place I loved the back yard's "shabby" fence
and asked Mr. Suite to leave it a while.
Its time has probably come.
The creek flows through the trees back there
and it is good to have a little barrier
so we don't worry about Charlie swimming away.

 Fencing off the pond was a family affair.
Mr. Suite has been engineering a lot of hours.
The development and building trade is picking back up.
We are catching up.
 Madeleine was given a lovely vintage dotted swiss dress.
Great-grandma remarked "it looks just like a dress from the 1940s."
It is!
The lawnmower was broken. 
Too many trips to the river pulling inner tubes and children in its trailer perhaps.
We replaced it but not before the horses had lawn duty.
 What can a girl say about columbines? They self sow and are a favorite.

 I only took a dozen pictures at Easter and each one is a testament to ...
something about the difficulty of herding cats.
And every time I see one of these posed sillinesses
I hear the Beatles singing "All Together Now"
and that makes me giggle.
If I were not the parent of teens now I'd say
I'm just grateful no one is picking his or her nose.

You can, however, see a bit of Salvador's hair pre-buzz-cut.
So there's that.

I feel better after that chatty update. 
Is it just me or do you too sometimes need to
focus on your beauty to press a reset button on gratitude?

I'm also participating in #100happydays. Don't let the hashtag stop you.
I don't understand hashtags either!
But I do understand happy.

Blessings from farmsuite.
I hope you are surrounded and lifted up by joy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


If ever I thought I'd arrived, I was wrong.
 Did you, ever?
Hike and climb and fix your eyes on that highest point
--sometimes it seemed to move further away--
to flop down on nearest apex boulder
or raise your hands in amazement
of the crisp
clean air
up there.
 The bear went over the mountain
to see what he could see.
The view an enticement, surely, but the promise of rest
that idea of repose kept me moving
eyes on the prize
picnic in sight.
The light is clear enough to see the next mountain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The middlest is 10. The middlest is full of Grace.

When you are the artistic, quiet middle child in a boisterous family your tenth birthday might be an opportunity to take a weekend trip to a favorite bookish getaway at the Oregon Coast. You might take hundreds of pictures on your camera -- architectural details from your four-foot perspective and portraits of your dolls on the beach and funny plants you've never seen and even pictures of your traveling companions to be funny -- and you might pose once or twice for your mom and grandma to take a couple of pictures of you. You might explore the library and the attic of the hotel and eavesdrop on the other guest's conversation and completely dissolve into giggles remembering later what you heard while they thought you were just looking at the ocean.

You might be camera shy but your mom probably took a few pictures of you over your ten completely unique and beautiful years.
Sometimes you might take your mother's breath away.
You are so very brave, my Grace girl. Being in the background, intensely observant and then jumping in with help when your talents or opinions are needed.
 I like the funny stories from when you were "little." I like to remember your finger friends, all ten of them with names and personalities to keep you company on long car rides and while waiting for big sisters' dance and lessons and activities.I like to remember you making your own language with words we'd never heard and I like to remember when you made poetry about rocks. Now you collect rocks and are a bit, um, passionate about geology. Now you concentrate on a puzzle and can't hear a person repeating your name from two feet away, so focused are you.
 You shine.
 On the stage dancing and acting. At the piano. In designing and sewing (remember the ribbon at the fair on your first quilt this past year!) and in perseverance beyond your years.
 You're fun.
 You might have more fun than anyone.
 I like how you can be absolutely silent throughout an entire group activity, for hours. And then when it's over and the crowds are gone you overflow with bubbly observations. I like how you speak up in those groups when someone isn't kind. You are sensitive for others as well as within yourself.
 I like how you redesigned the Tolkein room for the Sylvia Beach Hotel and then painstakingly wrote a letter of suggestion, bordering it with thanks.
 I like how loyal you are to your siblings and your friends.
 I like all these qualities. And I love you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Over the weekend we hosted a quinceanera for Madeleine. Her great-grandmother and grandparents were there and her teenage friends helped the smaller children break the world's sturdiest pinata. It was full of sweets and the babies raked them up and carried them in their shirt tails and skirts. The renovated theater where we played was lit with twinkle lights and spotlights and Latin music and my daughter wore polka dot Converse with her dress.

Over the weekend Madeleine and many of her friends also danced in the incomparable local Rhythm and Blues Revue. My baby danced the mambo in a flirty purple dress. She tapped to live jazz music and danced to live singing -- one of our favorite playwright's -- a rendition of "It's Not Unusual."

It was full of sweets.

Over the month Madeleine and Sarah have begun evening rehearsals for "Fiddler on the Roof" while Sarah and Grace started rehearsing a children's "Pinocchio." I have been moved to tears by the rehearsals, people. My girls will tell you I cry easily and this is true.

I cried this morning in the grocery store line (I hope it wasn't noticeable) while the young, very young, couple and their infant in front of me bought a peanut butter chocolate cake and a bouquet of flowers for a friend's wedding. I cried (pretty noticeably) when Laura unearthed video of my wedding and we watched babies of 21 years ago scraping up candy from the fluffy pinata at the reception.

It was full of sweets.

Winter is coming to an end at the Suite farm. The daffodils are barely yellow in bud but the violets of one hundred years of homesteading are spread all the way to the creek. It took a while for that proliferation to be sure. I am so grateful after the icy winter we had that it is time to put in the peas. My raised beds are not even properly cleaned as I was taken by surprise by the first hard frost but we are still harvesting leeks and chard.

The tractor transmission, rebuilt last year, encountered a rock it couldn't conquer and so we may hire the tilling of the rows. We moved one horse into the barn with short turn out times but everyone else has grown fuzzy and fat with winter grain. A sure sign of spring is when the fence posts are covered with their shedding and the birds flock to steal tufts for lining nests.

We have a new family member! I can't believe I forgot to mention Charlie the Cocker Spaniel.

He's no stranger to us as we've been his dogsitter for a couple of years. Now he is officially our house dog on the farm. Murphy, our behemoth Bernese Mountain Dog, doesn't like to come inside. He prefers to romp the pastures and plunge in the pond in even frozen weather. He waits for Charlie to come outside and they run, big and little, companion and protector, each with their jobs on the farm.

Still raising kids and vegetables and a ruckus.

Full of sweets.