Monday, September 30, 2013

you and me house

Tree House

A tree house, a free house,
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches
Cozy as can be house.
A street house, a neat house,
Be sure to wipe your feet house
Is not my kind of house at all-
Let's go live in a tree house.

Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

We are starting a new project here.  A long promised project.  One that was supposed to be started and completed last summer, but never was.  When we moved here, we left behind a truly awesome treehouse, and it is the treehouse that the kids miss most about our old home.  Jonathan and I both made assurances when we moved here that we would build them a new one.  And so, in efforts to not be the parents of empty promises and dashed dreams, we are trying our very best to follow through with this.

We tried to keep things simple with other building projects in our yard this summer (well, there were a few exceptions), so as to allow the time to devote to this project.  New fencing, painting the exterior of the house, building a woodlot for our firewood, have all been pushed to another summer so that we could devote enough time to this.  And still, we are beginning the project in late September.

Well, let's be honest, we started it a bit over the summer, moved some beams from where we first thought would be the best location, and put them up in a better location.  Correction: I thought it should move, Jonathan did not agree, but now that he has moved it he agrees that this location is much, much better.  We will skip the middle part.

So here is the problem.  We are not handy.  And I am strong on ideas and poor with execution.  And a bit distractible.  And the frequency with which we are both free to work on something during the daylight hours is rare.  Because I am often drawn to the garden, and the children, and feeding people and creatures, and cleaning up after them.  And Jonathan.  Well, he tries.  But there have not been a lot of building projects in his past.  But he is wickedly creative, which overcomes his lack of skill...or his needing the correct tool for the job...or his having the time to complete the task...

And so, with some time this weekend, we revisited the project.  Luckily, Jonathan kept his sense of humor about him.  And took some time away for crafting.  Iron Man's arm.

I was helping, while also trying to do a few other things, including laundry and cleaning and preserving and harvesting.  So, I may have been absent for a bit too long.  Because when I arrived on the bank, where the treehouse is underway, I found a significant amount of time had been devoted to support.  Suspending.  Strappage.

Yes indeedy.  Your eyes are not deceiving you.  There are no posts under this end of the frame.  Dangling.  From a branch of one of my best maple sap producers.


I made some helpful comments.  And headed back to the garden to gather some tomatoes.  For saucing.  Thinking that sauce was a good thing to have going on the stove while I am down on the bank.  Helping.  

When's lunch? asked Nicholas as I entered the kitchen.

So lunch was thrown together, a sandwich was delivered by someone less likely to irritate Jonathan with helpful advice (Elliott), and some time passed.  And I returned again to the bank.  

And found this.

The bank is steep.  And there is no path up and down it where he is working.  But that lovely maple tree?  The one holding the whole end of the structure's frame up?  Rope was now encircling its trunk, the other end fastened to Jonathan's torso.  Safety first.

And in his hands were scissors.  And a ball of twine.  Now this could be interesting.

What are you doing?  I asked.

Making a plumb line, he answered, without looking at me.



Like when we wallpaper? I asked.


I swallowed my why and hoped, to myself, because I am the queen of verbal restraint, that wallpaper was not going to be used as the next material for fastening something.  Maybe it would be used to connect the roof to the floor?

I wandered off again.  Not really wandered.  I had a purpose.  One was to give him some time to work this out.  And likely a child came to get me.  Because someone had fallen and gotten hurt and needed a bandaid.  Or a chicken was loose.  Or there was an unidentified bad smell.  Or the sauce was boiling over.  I can't remember exactly. 

As I left, I said: Having fun?  Or do you want to figure out how to tell the kids this is not going to happen?

I don't know yet.  We will see after today.


In the meantime, I am going to see if there is a passing cloud I can lasso.

I went down this morning to see how things had progressed, knowing from the expression on his face, when he came in last night as it was getting dark, not to ask him last night.

It looks like this.  Still an amazing levitating construction, swaying a bit in the wind.

Or rope...or clouds...or perhaps I should fire up ye olde hot glue dispenser.  Work my own brand of magic.  Won't Jonathan be surprised when he gets home?

Friday, September 27, 2013

bestowing stories

Once upon a time, long, long ago, Nicholas came home from school and asked how we felt about him reading The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  There was quite a buzz about it at school, it was the cool book to read.  I love books that make it cool to read.  But I did a bit of research and was concerned.  Concerned about how Nicholas would respond to the violence in the book, particularly to the darker content, the psychologically darker content of the later books in the series, because I guessed that once he read one, just as Collins has set it up to draw you in to read the next book, he would want to read on.

I hoped he could wait a bit to read it, when he could follow his interest and enthusiasm and read on, without becoming too troubled by what he read, given what I know about him and what tends to trouble him.  And then, not long after, he came home and asked how we felt about him seeing The Hunger Games movie, as many of his friends were planning to do when it was released.  That was not a hard one; he does not watch movies that have such difficult subject matter.

But we were still unsure about reading the book, and about whether we should even be the ones deciding whether he should read the book.  We own And Tango Makes Three.  We have it facing out on our bookshelf here at home.  We rant and rave about how incensed it makes us, somewhat overly dramatically for effect, but also because we truly feel this way, about how this book, with its subject matter of two male penguins raising a non-biologically related penguin in a loving and wonderful way, would be excluded from libraries and classrooms because of such content.  "How could they do such a thing?" we ask them.  Our children are just as enraged.  Awesome.

The fact that their father is a Librarian, one who celebrates Banned Book Week more reverently than the Fourth of July, may also have some influence.

But it also makes things more complicated.  What do we do about our children wanting to read a book that we don't feel they are developmentally ready for, or maybe perhaps more accurately we don't want them to be developmentally ready for, without crossing the line into being book banning burning zealots?

As I have mentioned before, influenced by this article I had read about Lois Lowry's thoughts on book banning and The Hunger Games and speaking to children, we decided that we wanted him to read Lowry's The Giver Quartet first, and he did just that this summer.  Then, we said, he could read The Hunger Games.

In my mind, Lowry and I are on a first name basis, so I will call her Lois from here on out.  My children do as well.  I know.  Weird.  I have never spoken with her.  But let me explain our relationship.

Several years ago, I attended a panel discussion at which Lois was a participant. What she said that day stuck with me. There was a great deal of talk by panel members about the popularity, salability, successfulness of books at one point in the discussion. And Lois, who seemed to me a bit like she would have rather been home in her lovely and quiet house working through a new book, said she did not really understand what people were talking about. That she did not sit down and plan what she was going to write, that the story controlled her. She learned what she was going to write about as she was writing it, she waited with anticipation as did her readers to find out what was going to happen and how it was going to end. I liked that sensibility.  And, for whatever reason, I had the feeling she was speaking directly to me, back there in the last row.

It made perfect sense to me to listen to Lois, to read her books first, and so Nicholas, Jonathan and I embarked on the Quartet this summer.

And then, in a coincidence that seems telling, Nicholas was assigned Lois' Gathering Blue as required summer reading, and his school year has begun using this text.  His class has jumped right into literary devices, writing as readers, reading as writers, text interpretation, close reading, classroom discussion, and analysis of the story.

And then, another coincidence, an email message arrived telling of Lois' return to Maine and about her being a speaker at USM, sponsored by The Telling Room here in Portland.  I knew I wanted to take Nicholas.  And Julia, having listened a bit to Gathering Blue here at home when Nicholas was reading it, and hearing us discuss it with such enthusiasm, had spent her sick days home from school last week listening to The Giver and loving it.  She wanted to come, too.  We bought two tickets, and then three.  And then discovered that we had a conflict, that I was missing Nicholas' Open House at school to go, and that Jonathan would not be able to stay home with Elliott while I took the older kids, because he would be representing the family at Open House.  And we bought a fourth ticket.  For Elliott.

We arrived in the auditorium, not yet full, a bit hurried and with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  We found a seat, then moved, so the shorter ones amongst us could see the podium.  And then waited.  Elliott took off his shoes.  He and Julia discovered the tip up writing surfaces and manipulated them for a bit.  Julia blushed when I asked her to stop, realizing she had gone a bit young childish there for a few minutes, when she so very much wanted to be a big kid here.  And Nicholas read the program, noting how the program's cover had been designed to look like the covers of the Quartet books.

And then, Lois was introduced by Andrew Griswold, and he spoke eloquently of teaching her book when he was a young teacher and how her book had changed his first year of teaching, and his years of teaching from then on.  That he had had a moment of connection with her book, and had watched his student connect with the book, and then, as a result, had been able to break through his first experiences of teaching and reached that sweet spot of true engagement in learning with his students.  At least, that's what I heard in what he said.

And he said this, which I jotted in my notebook, the kids leaning in to see what their mommy was writing, wondering why this and not something else.  It was the one thing I wrote during the entire talk.  Nothing else.  He said: Ms. Lowry manages to unsettle her readers in just the right ways.

And from this comment, I became a bit unsettled.  Somewhat self conscious.  Here I was, a psychologist, a children's book enthusiast, a mommy of three children of different ages, sitting in the audience.  Likely Elliott should not have been here, it was out of necessity that he was.  And Julia was a little more Gooney Bird Greene than Kira.  And Nicholas was in it, eyes wide open, engaged.

What was she going to say.  What might Elliott hear that would keep him awake that night?  Had I made the wrong choice in coming?

Once Lois took the stage, we all relaxed a bit.  Elliott smiled at me when she projected a picture of herself petting a dog, called herself an animal lover, and spoke of her experience as a child being read The Yearling by her mother.  Julia sat up in her chair, her feet dangling and swinging in the auditorium's too big chair, leaned forward and tightened her lips when Lois spoke of writing Gooney Bird Greene, a child so different from herself, Lois never having been to second grade herself and certainly, as a shy and introspective child, not at "a desk right smack in the middle of the room, because I like to be right smack in the middle of everything."

And Nicholas?  He sat quietly and listened, relatively unreadable.  But attentive.  I tapped him knowingly a few times when Lois said something that touched on something he and I had spoken about in the past.  I tapped his knee and whispered that's cool  to him when she told the story of why she had written The Giver.  He nodded at me, but also let me know we should be quiet.

Lois explained that the story idea for The Giver had come during a drive home from a visit with her aging father who was slowly losing his memories.  And that he was forgetting over and over again that his other daughter, Lois' sister, had died young, years ago.  And that his mind was slowly erasing some of the pain from his life.  And how she began to consider what it would be like if a society did this, removed the bad, the pain, the adversity, from the consciousness of its members.  And how this could be good, and this could also be bad.  And these musings gave rise to The Giver.

It immediately made me think of another one of Lois' books, Gossamer, one that is a particular favorite of mine, given its focus on dreams. Some Freudian dream interpretation coursework and work of my professional past, got me sitting up at attention when I read passages such as this:
Through touching, they gather material: memories, colors, words once spoken, hints of scents and the tiniest fragments of forgotten sound. The collect the pieces of the past, of long ago and of yesterday. They combine these thing carefully, creating dreams, Then they insert the dreams as the humans...sleep. The act of dream insertion is called bestowal.
And this passage made me think of young minds, overexposed, presented with content before they are ready.
Delving means touching too deeply. pressing your hand instead of using that lovely light flickering touch you just showed me. It sometimes happens unintentionally, when dream-givers become too interested in what they're touching...You can't be a dream giver when you come consumed by the dark side, the menace. 
And ultimately, this passage.  Because it is such a reminder to me in this parenting gig.
And you know what Thin Elderly? Sad parts are important. If I ever get to train a new young dream-giver, that's one of the parts I will teach: that you must include the sad parts, because they are a part of the story, and they have to be part of the dream.
Gossamer was not a book that Lois had time to speak about that evening.  But it was one that was there in my mind as we listened.  Having recently read this New York Times post about the inclusion of difficult subjects in middle reader and young adult literature, I had been thinking about the diet of issues my children are taking in with some of their current reading.

Nicholas tends toward fantasy and science fiction, and fathers who exterminate young children in The Giver are mixed in with young heroes that overcome difficulties, pain, and loss to become strong.  Julia tends toward realistic fiction and in the past month has devoured books about characters with craniofacial deformities, cerebral palsy, and now autism.  Just as their father is kind and gentle and they have not experienced mortal wounds, they also have limited experience with these other adversities.  These books are exposing them to struggles and adversities far worse than their everyday life.  While Julia hears stories of overcoming obstacles and kindness, Nicholas imagines himself there, with a sword, on a dragon, choosing between good and evil.

These stories and their authors, they bestow themselves upon my children.  Having sat in the room with Lois, I strangely feel I trust her judgement, her ability to unsettle my children in the right ways.  Not too much, just enough.  To give them an experience, complete with emotions, that affect them.  And affect each differently, given who they are and what they can take in.

* * *

I am a little bit proud to say that Nicholas devoured all four of the Quartet books, and then read The Hunger Games and is only part of the way through the second book of that series, his interest seeming to have fizzled a bit.  It could be that school has started and he is busy, or it could be that he was more drawn to The Giver Quartet.  I choose to believe the latter.

In a way, as parents, we are bestowing the world upon our children.  We are gatekeepers, intentional and unintentional, deciding, especially when they are young, what they will experience of the world, and what we will hold back and protect them from.  Learning the right balance between allowing the information to flow in and when to close the gate a bit, and also knowing when to step back as they decide to walk past us and out that gate.

This getting older thing my children are doing is constantly challenging this.  Because I know in my heart, and I observe as they experience some of it, and process it, that they need to know this world, its good and its bad.  So that they can know the whole story.  And also, to inform their dreams, because these dreams will determine where they go, and how they move about the world.

So I'm never going to tell them they can't read a book.  But I might ask them to read it just a little later, to wait for their feet to swing a little closer to the floor.  I will trust that their minds will protect them, allow them to take what they can handle from the story, and leave the rest for later. Their young and strong and complicated minds will keep them from delving.   And I will be there with them, reading alongside them, in case they get in too deep.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

sweet tendings at home

It is fall.  And it is chilly.  I am monitoring the house's temperature, holding myself back.  Because I am really tempted to fire up ye olde woodstove and make it cozy in here.  But the warmth of midday makes me think it is still a bit too early for it.  Especially when I see the bees stream out of their hives to forage when the sun hits the bee yard in late morning.

I have never really paid attention to all the goldenrod and aster in the yard, until this year.  Because these flowers are some of the last few plants of the season from which the bees can forage for nectar and pollen this time of year.  And happily, our yard is doing its job, offering plenty up for them, and for many other pollinators.

The kids are back at school.  And just as I am shifting from summer to fall management of the bees, we are doing a different kind of child tending these days than we do during the open and relaxed days of summer.  Homework and routine and the perfect pair of pants seem to be what's required most of these days here at home.  And managing their health.  Because there are some nasty germs flying around the kids' school.  At this point, I am the only one of the five of us who has not succumbed...tick...tick...tick...

It has not been a terrible sickness, but it has been the kind that has left me wondering, while I throw a breakfast together in the morning, trying to stay on schedule, whether or not they should go to school that day.  Fevers?  They are wonderful, because they tell me that without a doubt the child with one should stay home. And I love the no fever within the past 24 hour rule.  That helps me a great deal.  I have been wielding my digital thermometer this week like a trusty six shooting side kick.  And like any trusty side kick with a flair for drama, it seems to be missing at all the necessary moments, and a frantic search ensues.  Once found, in a drawer, in the refrigerator, out in plain sight but missing nonetheless, anyone who complains of feeling sick gets it popped into their mouth.  Fever?  They stay home.  No fever?  They continue on our rushed routine of getting them out the door for school.

For some, particularly the younger ones amongst us, feeling sick has been their way of asking for a bit more care, nurturing, and tending, as they adjust to the change of our schedule, the rushing, the have-to's, and the separation from us as they head off to full days at school.  Elliott in particular is needing this special care, and it has become focused, for some unusual reason, on his choice of pants.  Fuzzy on the inside, smooth on the outside, elastic waisted, and not too colorful.  Those are his demands.  I have done my best to try to find a few more pairs to supplement the worn, holey, and overworked ones he currently has, but with no success.  Too bright, too scratchy, too puffy... They have all been rejected.  So I stain stick, mend, and wash the ones he has.  I stuff them each night into the washer, waking early to pop them in the dryer.

This week, Julia presented me with the easiest decision about whether to go to school: a low grade fever, and cold and flu symptoms.  And therefore?  I was gifted two very gentle days with her, on the couch, listening to audiobooks and drawing, embroidering, and using up boxes of tissues.  With a scratchy sore throat and an upset stomach, we went through gallons of tea, sweetened with honey.

Despite some rather humiliating public moments in which we opened our car doors and wet dirty tissues actually spilled out of the car in the school drive-through drop off line, as well as one rather frantic moment in which I constructed a lean to in the back seat of my Subaru out of a forgotten thermarest sleeping pad from the back of the car for Julia to sit under, concealed from passersby while I ran a nervous and jittery Elliott into his classroom, we seem to be coming out the other side of our sickness.

As I tend the children, I am also tending the bees, working through fall management of the hives, getting them ready for the winter months as best I can.  Our bees, newly establishing themselves here and with a strange summer of weather and foraging that began a bit late for them, are keeping their own hard won honey this winter.  I am leaving it all for them, and feeding them a syrup of white sugar and water, in the proportion of 2 to 1, a higher proportion of sugar to water than I used earlier in the season.  To make it a bit less work for the bees to collect it from the feeders' place above the inner cover but under the outer cover of the hive, and turn it into honey.  This higher concentration requires that I actually boil the water to get the sugar to dissolve, rather than using the hot tap water I have been able to get away with when there was less sugar to dissolve in the water.

And so, my counter is full these days.  Of sugar canisters, pots and mason jars of syrup and water, and small mugs and mason jars of the sticky remains of tea, sweetened with honey.  All of this mixed in with my preserving items, many overlapping, of mason jars, sugar, fruits and pectin, all waiting to be turned into preserves, when the time is right.

I have one hive that is going strong.  Full of honey, behaving predictably.  Bonnie, my mentor and honey supplier until we have our own, helped me consolidate them a bit, removing the top box that they had built out but not filled with any brood and only a small amount of honey.  We moved those frames with honey in them over the the other hive, into the box above the inner cover with the syrup feeders, so those bees could bring that honey down into their own frames and store it for the winter.

Just as I pop the thermometer in the children's mouth to monitor their required amount of tending, I am also monitoring the bees.  I have been counting mites.  On the bottom board where they fall when they are groomed off the bees by other bees.  In brood cells that I open with a toothpick to see if there are growing mites in with the larva.  And I determined that it is time to treat.  Though Bonnie and I both agree that my mite counts are low, we want to be sure that strong healthy bees go into the hard winter months.  Bonnie and I placed Apiguard in one hive this week, a natural remedy containing thymol, placed above the brood nest, where the amazingly hygienic bees will remove it from the container and carry it down, through the brood nest and out the bottom entrance, trailing goodness and mite deterrent throughout the hive, knocking down the mite population as they work.

All this monitoring.  The feeding.  The treating.  The tending.  All the sugar and honey.  The pants.  And the containers for it all.  It is a sticky messy business.

Apparently it is not just me who is wanting to nest and make the house and hives ready for the cooler months.  I found this tucked in the garden, built by Elliott the other day while I was harvesting.  A cozy shelter, solid walls, complete with food, in the form of pollen and nectar, for anyone who should need it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

end of summer

We spent the weekend with one bare foot in summer and the other in a wool sock stepping into fall.  We picked apples at one of our favorite orchards, Ricker Hill, with the most beautiful views of the mountains and clouds out across the farm.

And then headed off into those beautiful mountains and down to the lake.  Though it was mild and the water was still warm enough for the intrepid to swim, the turning colors of the leaves, on the trees as we walked and along the shore as we kayaked, were constant reminders of the change in season.  

But that did not keep us from getting out in the light, watching it shift and change across the hills and lake as the clouds moved across the sky.  Or from dipping our toes in the water and getting tickled by the reeds as we whooshed through patches.

There is something wonderful about pushing these last few moments, on the brink between one season and another, getting a few possible one last times in and looking ahead to the goodness that is to come.  Being reminded that there is just as much beauty ahead as there was behind.  Moments when you stand with your bare feet in warm water and feel the chill in the breeze, colors reflected in the rippled lake, clouds sitting upon the mountains.  The change in the air and saying goodbye for another year.  But always, the possibility for one last swim, and knowing that it will all come around again.  

Happy Fall!

Friday, September 20, 2013

connections in the corn patch

I was recently reading Alana Chernila's blog post about her relationship to social media as well as this post on the NYTimes Bits Blog about smartphones in our daily lives.  I spend a good deal of time thinking about my own and my family's use of technology.  And this has become especially timely for me as our oldest child is entering a stage when many, if not most, of his friends carry a personal device on which they have access to social media.  Nicholas does not currently have his own device and he seems content with using our family's iPads and computers for any internet access he needs or would like.  At least for now.  But as I have recently entered the world of social media myself, I am aware of the modeling I am doing for him and of the contradictions I may create when he points out that I am not allowing him to do something that I myself am doing.  He and his friends, with their limited developmental capacity for digital citizenship, create some tricky questions.

Admittedly I am new to this blogging thing.  I am still just trying to figure it out and whether it will work for me, and for my children.  I certainly don't want to be the parent texting on the school playground or the one who is ignoring my children when they are talking to me.  I tend to take pictures of an event after it has happened, or sometime before it happens -- like of my messy dirty food straight out of the garden when it has not yet been hastily thrown together into a rustic meal.  By contrast, I am far less likely to interrupt things to photograph a beautiful dish that is placed before me at a restaurant.

When I do use my devices in the kids' presence, I have attempted to explain to them what I am doing in that moment, and why I need to do it right then.  To explain why I am choosing to put my face in a screen rather than to interact with them, why I am -- as Bernadette Noll describes it -- choosing to engage "in the constant process of connecting, responding, replying and reaching in" that screens make all too easy.  Sometimes formulating that justification makes me realize I don't have a very good reason and I stop.  If not, once this necessity has been quickly addressed, I put my screen away.  And return to them.  To the present.

I don't want to be the parent that records a dance performance but then needs to watch it again later because I did not in fact observe it while I was recording it.  There is no way to replace your nervousness for them layered with their own nervousness that only you as their parent can recognize in that moment, the feelings that exist only when mixed with the lights and energy and sound that a live performance holds.  And there is no way to reclaim the moment when your little performer turns to you and says How did I do? if you do not have a genuine and in-the-moment answer.  Same goes for taking pictures.

But I do think this.  For me, I am pretty much in the moments as they happen.  I am too much of a reactive emotional being to not be.  My tendency toward distraction and diverted attention are pretty difficult for me to overcome.  I am not a multitasker; instead I am most aware of whatever is the most pressing drama before me.  And that drama is always the lives unfolding right in front of me.  For better or for worse.

But what blogging, or writing, or photographing does for me is to give me the chance to process the moments later.  To think through what just happened.  To make meaning once I have caught my breath and my emotions have cooled a bit.

Case in point.  Yesterday afternoon here was a bit of a mess after school.  We are still working out the kinks of Nicholas' increase in homework and the addition of practicing for music lessons and needing to stick with a school schedule friendly routine for meals and sleeping.  That being said, the summer activities are overflowing into fall, particularly the need to preserve the food still streaming into the kitchen out of the garden.  Not to mention holding back the fruit flies that are happy to take anything we let sit too long off our hands.  And our efforts to cook fresh and homemade food as much as possible have made for some less than ideally timed meals cooked while helping hungry children with their homework.

All of these demands yesterday evening led us to Jonathan working in the kitchen serving up leftovers while Nicholas and Julia did homework at the counter, all three children having practiced for their lessons and each of them needing to head upstairs for a shower.  Soon.  And me, feeling a bit disconnected, but knowing that this was one of my few chances all week to be out in the garden to assess what was going on down there.  I found the corn, which I had never had a chance to hill or support, had fallen down in the softened soil from all our recent rain, the ears small and under-developed.  And when the stalks fell, they had taken the gigantic sunflowers, planted behind the corn along the fence, with them.  And there were ripe tomatoes to be brought in to freeze, and a bed of potatoes that needed to be dug.

So I was out there, feeling a little bit put upon to be doing this alone, slapping at mosquitoes, and feeling left out of the hum of activity in the kitchen above.  I had forgotten my camera, and there was little in the fallen stalks that I would have photographed anyway.

I was joined by Elliott soon after, and we spent some time together down there until it got dark, the bugs became too fierce, and Julia called us to dinner.  And then we went inside, had dinner, and got everyone to bed.  So in the moment, it felt rushed, and disappointing (the corn...and the frenzy), and messy last night.

But this morning, with everyone off at school and work, I came upon this.

As I look at the basket of corn and the bathtub full of potatoes, I realize something.  I remember, that yesterday evening there was more to the story.  That while I was out there feeling a bit sorry for myself in the fallen corn patch, there was a diversion to my feeling overwhelmed and frustrated...

That when Elliott wandered out the back door, away from the house, his obligations (his rousing version of Twinkle, Twinkle had been audible out the window a few minutes before) were complete until someone could help him wash his hair.  So he quietly skipped down the hill, school shoes abandoned for his at home summer Crocs, and found me in the garden.  Where I was grumpily pulling out vestigial corn ears from their stalks and looking about for a way to save the sunflowers for bees and birds a bit longer.  His skipping always makes my mood lighter, and he called to me as he opened the gate and entered the garden.

What are you doing?  he asked me.  Can I help? 

Without waiting for my mumbled, bristly answer, because he likely already knew the answer, having watched me for a bit as he moseyed down the hill, he ran back to the house and came skipping back with a basket and an old enamel bath tub.  Then he fetched staking wire (ah, yes, someone clearer headed was able to figure out how to help the fallen sun goddesses) from the garden shed and he found scissors cast aside in the cucumbers, and set to work.

Following his cheery lead, we quietly worked together for a bit, Elliott filling a basket with possibly edible corn, more likely chicken treats, removing them from the stalks I pulled from where they lay across the pumpkin vines.  He held the stems of the sunflowers while I tied them to the fence.  And he giggled and danced in the potato patch as I pretended to aim for his feet with the pitch fork.  And, in the failing autumn light, we carried the basket and tub up to the house and into the kitchen.  Along with a colander of kale for kale salad, to freshen up the leftovers a bit, to pull it all together as Julia put it.  Jonathan and I made eye contact and smiled at her comment, because it is what I often say about bits of goodness rescuing otherwise subpar meals.  And we all sat down peacefully and happily together for dinner.  Nicholas offered to quiz Julia for her Spanish quiz while we ate, his pronunciation being so much better than ours.  And we connected and chatted about our days.

Today, it feels like yesterday evening, Elliott got an important moment.  Granted to him by my having been away from the kitchen, away from the bigger kids' lives, and outside, with a manageable if messy task to complete together.  One he obviously threw himself into, given how tidily and compactly he packed those spuds and ears.  A chance to slow down, wear his summer shoes, chat, and giggle.  So very important for a boy getting used to full day school and all it demands of him.  He got a necessary moment for himself, and I was gifted a necessary moment from him as well.

The afterprocessing.

It gives me a moment to spin it.  To see the good amongst the chaos.  And to get ready for the return of the storm this afternoon.  And I certainly feel more connected to the children and Jonathan right now than I did, and I am wishing and yearning to regain this connection when they are back home this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

our grove of trees

There is an area of our yard out behind the barn, a patch leading to a steep and wooded slope down to the river, that often gets forgotten.  True, in the spring, it gets a good deal of attention since it happens to be where some of our best sap producing sugar maples are and we visit these trees each day.  We empty the buckets on these tapped trees into a pail and ever so carefully carry them back to the larger barrel in which we collect our sap.  Before we lived here, this area seems to be where they piled yard waste and clippings.  It is mostly shaded, except on its fringes, and a blanket of moss and wintergreen covers the overgrown paths.  Here, so close to the city, we know how rare it is to have a section of our yard be unused, un-landscaped, forgotten.  Wild.

But as we end summer and turn toward fall this year, I am finding myself out in the area a bit more than usual.  There is an old, old apple tree in this grove as well as several wild black cherry trees.  And the blackberry bramble seems to be easing its way into the grove as well.  Crab apples are everywhere, in varying stages of ripeness, and I have been researching a bit to determine how I might use them.  Our old trees, untended, some of them are dropping their fruit.  I scavenge amongst the bramble for the apples.  These trees are so tall that I am quite grateful they do drop the fruit, as I am not sure how I would reach it otherwise.  Jonathan has climbed up with a ladder to shake some branches.  And we spread out a tarp to collect some of the wild cherries where they fell...and parked our cars elsewhere for a bit, as they were pinging off our hoods leaving a sticky residue behind.  If I learn how to prepare these cherries, there are so many more for us to collect next year.

Thus far, I have sauced the fallen larger apples, some with my mother at our camp last weekend, trying to keep pace with the fruit flies that quickly find their way to the soft spots on the fruit when they sit for too long in our kitchen.  Next, for the crabapples, I think I will start with this recipe.  And I am considering a shrub-like potion for the wild cherries, since I am afraid they may have gotten away from me a bit.  My Ball jars are currently standing at attention.

But the amazing thing is when you stop all the collecting and just stand out there in the glen.  The sounds.  Loud thunks percuss as apples, both big and small, fall onto the ground.  And the birds call and chatter and create cascades of fruit and berries as they hop and flutter about the trees.  I spied a groundhog sitting on the stone wall looking out over the area, and then later an entry into his well located burrow.  Chipmunks, their cheeks full of seeds and berries, are scurrying everywhere.

Some time long ago someone planted and cared for and ate from this old apple tree.  I am amazed at what I could have missed if it had not been noisily dropping its fruit as I walked past.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

unplanned visit

My grandparents, my father's parents, lived in Presque Isle, Maine.  In 1978, Presque Isle was the launching point for the first successful trans-Atlantic balloon flight and my grandparents attended the launch celebration.  I know this, not because I actually remember them telling me about it, but because I had a favorite bumble bee yellow T-shirt which they purchased for me at the event.  My brother had one that matched in a slightly bigger size.  I imagine that they were thinking of their grandchildren that day in 1978, maybe wishing a bit that we had been there to enjoy the day with them, as they stood in the field, later delivering the shirts to us and telling us the story of the flight of the Double Eagle II.

Elliott loves this shirt and has worn it often since my mother pulled it out of a bin a few years ago.  And because he loves the shirt so much, and loves the movie Up, this article about a man who attempted such a trip more recently caught my eye.  

After seeing the movie Up last year, Elliott spent months trying to raise small toys into the air with balloons he scavenged from birthday parties and other such ballooned events.  He loved the story for the balloons, and for the animals so hilariously and lovingly depicted in that movie.  

I loved the movie, too, but more for the relationship between the old man and his wife.  My breath caught when their chairs, each unique, different, and worn stood beside each other in that floating house, as a symbol of their relationship, even after she passes away.  Two similarly quirky and worn chairs sit in my grandparents’ camp in northern Maine, referred to as Grandmother and Grandfather’s chairs, centerpieces of the cabin, to this day.

Each year when we spend time at this cabin in Aroostook County, we see advertisements for the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest.  This festival, much different I am sure from the launch in 1978, allows spectators to observe the assembly and launch of balloons by pilots and their teams.  Then people who have purchased the limited number of tickets are taken by these pilots on a short scenic ride. 

This year, the timing of the event happened to coincide with our time in the County so we made a spur of the moment decision to drive into town.  There at the fairgrounds, the balloons filled the fields with bright billowing colors, ropes glinting in the sun, small teams of people working together quietly and skillfully in order to get their balloons out of their trailers, out of huge duffle bags, attached to the baskets, filled with air, and then -- after countless loud bursts of air and fire -- airborne.  

As we watched, an older couple came to stand next to us in the crowd.  I noticed them out of the corner of my eye.  They were more formally dressed than the rest of us, and something about the way they were standing next to each other, just the two of them, the man with his hands in his pockets, the woman with her purse and a scarf, smiling and quietly enjoying the scene, reminded me just then of my grandparents, gone now for many years.

My reminiscing was interrupted by the dramatic moment when one of the rising balloons got caught in the electrical wires overhead, causing the basket to tip almost sideways, and making the crowd gasp, and then breathe out in relief when the balloon pilot expertly disentangled the basket and continued upward.

I turned to the couple, who had grabbed on to each others’ arms during those moments and were looking concerned.  I spoke with them, just a bit, and talked about what had just happened, commenting on how frightening that moment must have been for the riders, and how relieved we were that they all seemed okay.  She lessened her grip on her husband's arm.  And then we smiled at each other and wished each other a good night.  

I felt as though that moment had bridged the time between 1978 and now.  As if we, my grandparents and I, had finally seen the balloons together.  The swirl of associations between place and event and time and people had given me a window into memories of my grandparents, and how they were with each other.  I smiled to myself and then slowly returned to the present.

I hadn't expected a visit with them, but it is one I will remember, perhaps even more than the fluttering fabric of the balloons.