Tuesday, April 29, 2014

year two and a big bag

So I made my annual trip north to the Fedco Tree Sale again.  And by annual, I should say I have done it once before.  Last year.  Though there was no man in a sombrero waving me into the parking lot this year, and though I missed the deadline for potatoes (thank goodness for a later deadline at Seed Savers) and my seeds came by mail this year, it was quite the same.  Lovely and friendly and informative and exciting.

We had already placed an order, and this year a big bag was waiting for me with our name on it, as opposed to the rather unimpressive small bag with my name on it last year.

I made it to the greenhouse this year.  I braved being the strange woman with the camera taking pictures a bit more.  I listened as experts told how best to plant the onion sets I purchased.  

And I filled a box with a few annuals and vegetables that I had forgotten to order as seeds.

If I am completely honest about it, the most fun part of the trip for me was the three hours alone in the car during which I listened to Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool.  I am loving this book.  And just as I cannot wait for summer for us all to be together and schedule-free and playing and growing in our garden together, I also now cannot wait to share this book with the kids, perhaps placing it first on the list of audiobooks we will listen to together this summer...this summer's Wonder perhaps.

But a close second in terms of fun parts was the indoor section of the tree sale.  I didn't make it inside last year. But this year, having hefted my big bag of heritage apple trees across the parking lot and fitting them into my car...

Sometimes I think I could be a commercial for Subaru

...I then entered the indoor section of the tree sale, where I could pretend for a few minutes, since the big bag in my car was paid for months ago and therefore felt like it was free, that I was only spending the money I spent that day, and therefore my budget expanded, just a bit.

I splurged on a few items that we had decided against when we were pre-ordering.  Because I was alone, and there was no voice of reason (Jonathan's) telling me that we probably didn't need to purchase any wild blueberries this year, or grapes for arbors that have not yet been built.  

And then I took a few minutes to enjoy just how beautiful I find this place to be.  With their environmentally friendly wrapping, their handwritten information posters, their carefully and tidily displayed trees and bushes and plants.  

Their wrapping stations were so perfectly Fedco.

And then it was homeward bound again.  So proud of my bag and its labelled size am I.

last year's pathetically small bag

And now, slowly, sometimes in pajamas, we are, between rainstorms and the unbearable cold and lacrosse practice and school, beginning the work of getting my loot into the ground.

There is a great deal left to do, and seeds that are still waiting to be put in the ground even, but the growing season has definitely begun.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

enjoying spring

There is much that is Springish going on around here.  We are excited to spend this week of school vacation together.  Enjoy the warmth, the activities and creatures, the outside world that is waking up, and each other.

Friday, April 18, 2014

i'm with the band

me, in my awesome band uniform, in my 1988 high school yearbook, guiding left

This week, I feel very lucky that Full Grown People -- a web magazine I so enjoy and respect -- has published my essay: I'm With the Band.

It's about being a parent of a sporty kid and feeling completely unable to blend in with the crowd on the bleachers.  Which sends me down the path of considering how I got there, who my crowd was when I was younger, and what this crowd gave me.  In the end, I realize that it doesn't really matter how we move outward and define ourselves; it just matters that we find a place in the crowd that works for us.  We are all still just making music together.  Hopefully having a moment of connection across a crowd, one person's tune finding yours.

The best part, truly, is the video that Jennifer, the editor, found to go with the essay.  It makes me giggle.  Also, if you are giggling and then decide to show your youngish children the silly video too, and you are all standing around watching it until suddenly your child sees the category at the top of the screen that your essay is filed under, Love & Sex, be prepared to have some horrified children.

And here I thought the image of me singing and dancing publicly was going to be what embarrassed them.

And also, I think I need to find myself a camouflage grass costume, with some spanish moss to dangle from the end of my piccolo (watch the video, and then you will understand.  And you will want one, too).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

confabulations on the deviant verbalizations

In another life, long ago and before wrinkles, I used to perform psychological evaluations with children.  One type of assessment I was trained to give was projective tests, which essentially are tests in which ambiguous pictures, pictures that are blurry or vague or incomplete, are shown to the child, and the child is asked to describe what they see.

The idea behind these tests is that we all tend to try to make meaning of our world, try to apply order to what is laid out before us.  When we encounter something nebulous or vague or unclear, we try to make sense of it, figure it out, make it fit into what we know, project meaning onto it.  By having the child describe what they see, the examiner is given a window into how the child views their world and how they make meaning.

As a parent, I find this idea fascinating as I listen to our children play, pretend, and tell stories. And also in terms of some of the things I find myself doing and saying as I parent. Administering all those projective tests, I learned to listen to what other people say, to realize there are so many ways to understand the same thing.  I better appreciate that how people interpret or make meaning of the world -- when you listen to them very carefully -- can tell you so much about the internal workings of their mind.  It's fascinating stuff.

There was one such projective test, a rather famous test -- but a test that shall remain nameless here for fear that the psychological community may swoop down on me digitally for mentioning it in a rather, as you shall see, unscientific manner -- that was based on a series of images.  One of these images in particular always looked to me a bit like a small winged creature.  A small winged creature with ears.  Yup.  I said it.  Ears.  Or maybe horns.  And I think, maybe, hands.

Having admitted that I saw ears, or maybe horns, or maybe hands, I want to make it clear that -- if I were to apply the standard interpretations of projective testing responses -- my response might indicate that I had difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, that I was prone to disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and other forms of deviant thinking.  Because things with wings don't, in general, have hands and horns.

But, now that I have children, and am therefore thankfully familiar with the The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black and have so enjoyed the illustrations, I see that it is okay that I may have a mind that tends toward incongruous combinations and contaminations of logic.

To Tony DiTerlizzi, I say confabulations, defined in the psychology world as the confusion of imagination with actual memories.  In the Urban Dictionary, it is defined as congratulating someone on their fabulousness.  The more I use it, the more I think I may be developing a strong allegiance to the Urban Dictionary's definitions.

The minds of these two imaginers, these writers and illustrators for children.  Are they really delusional? It's poppycock, I tell you.

* * *

Returning to said aforementioned, unnamed test, there is a statistically-based coding system for the responses that children can give, and as the examiner, one scores and codes the child's response to each of the images.  The examiner selects codes from categories that are good, categories that are interesting, and categories that are, well, bad.  Like as in signs of mental illness.  Which is bad, right?

So let's just say, if we take this carefully categorized thinking about a child's deviant verbalizations (another projective code), incongruous combinations, and confabulated images and ways of making meaning and then overlay that on top of the events of raising children, there would be some interesting codes given to my days.

Take for example the phrase: hoobie doobie.  Classic deviant verbalization.  I tend to use it when I am in a hurry to bibwhack my husband and get a thought out before he falls asleep or a child enters the room and announces he/she is hungry.  Or that he/she has spilled something red and stainey on the couch.  Sometimes there is no time to think of the actual word(s): shoe or Elliott or I forgot to buy milk at the grocery store.  So I use hoobie doobie and I feel, at this point in our marriage, if Jonathan is listening carefully enough, he should be able to figure it out.

That being said, I was happy to discover that Mo Willems, king of quirky humor and phrases that are just right for young readers (aggle flaggle klabble, case in point), is with me on this.  An important character in Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct, is named Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie.  And he is a naysayer, a non-believer in the fantastical, and a realist.  But a name that could represent all that doubt would be too wordy for Mo to use.  So he settled on Von Hoobie Doobie, which seems just right.

And also, Mo knows the importance of bringing others over to the dark side of non-reality based thinking, of verbal deviants.  How do I know?  Because, in the end, Reginald jumps into the dinosaur's avoidance of reality and embraces her total impossibility 100% and without further questions.  He even enjoys her cookies.

But it isn't just Mo.  Let's not forget the famous deviant verbalizations of Roald Dahl: snozzcumbers, snozzling, boggled, and swalloping are all very useful words that should be incorporated into daily usage.

Likewise, William Joyce stands accused of confuzzling reality and fantasy as well.

But really, Joyce's explanations for where all of our missing Smartwool socks have gone makes so much more sense, as well as a much better story, than any we could imagine ourselves.  So does the idea that the Easter Bunny is sort of macho and from the Outback.  Right?

This idea of taking a small piece of information, or an image that is unclear, or looking at life with all of its vagaries, and being able to run with it?  Make it a better story, make it a more fantastical story, make it play out using the weird associations and connections in your brain?  That's pretty cool.  And, if that makes you a bit off?  Well then sign me up.

Case in point.  The other night, with all of us a bit overtired and ready for the coming vacation, we found ourselves mixing up the words to Let it Go, from Frozen, the movie.  We had been talking about the health classes the kids were having as school, with their focus on...puberty.  Soon, we were all singing about puberty, to the tune of Let it Go.  I don't know how or even why it started.  But it was kind of hilarious and silly and took some of the discomfort away from what we had been talking about.  These verbalizations were definitely deviant...but we were all in on it.  They saved us.  They helped us.  They gave us perspective.  Or perhaps this is just a confabulated memory.

So thank goodness for children's books.  And the Urban Dictionary.  Because really, it is all about who you surround yourself with.  Whether you have a playground full of children engaged in pretend play, or are among some of the most imaginative and genius writers of children's books, or are just sitting around our dining table.  You can always make yourself look completely sane as long as someone else is in on it with you.

And to me, it's pretty redunculous that somehow we think we are supposed to move away from these confabulations as we grow up.  Confabulations allow us to make meaning where none exists.  As far as I'm concerned, calling it anything but creativity is all just a load of hoobie doobie.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


We are listening to The Penderwicks again, a bit earlier this year than in previous years.  I came upon the kids cozied up in our bed, listening early one morning.  As I moved about the room, I realized that we were back at the beginning of the story, despite listening to a a section from the middle of the book when I was making dinner the night before with them.

Are we back at the beginning? I asked.

Yup.  I wanted to hear the beginning again, explained Julia.

And the end is kind of sad, said Elliott.  So, since we already know that part, we decided to listen to the happy parts.

As I stood there, the Penderwick family was just arriving (just arriving but for us going on perhaps our 8th listening of their just arriving, at least) at their rented cottage on the grounds of an estate called Arundel.  The other times we have read this book, Jonathan or I have been reading it aloud, and we have always pronounced the estate's name like the town here in Maine, Arundel (ah-RUN-dull).  Emphasis on the second syllable.  This morning, the story was just describing the gardens and grounds of Arundel and the narrator pronounced the word ever so slightly differently (AH-ren-dell).

Nicholas turned to me and said: Arundel.  It sounds like the name of a city in Middle Earth. 

It turns out there is no such city, though in Nicholas and my minds just then it was the name of the elven city, which is actually Rivendell.  But for a moment there, Nicholas and I thought we were so cool to have figured that out.

Elliott said, I think Jeanne Birdsall did that on purpose.  Because in the Penderwicks, Arundel is like an elven city.  The gardens and the animals and all the magic that happens there. 

Julia, jumped up.  And it's the name of the city in Frozen (the movie).  Arendelle.  

So it is.

And so, even before breakfast, we were talking books.  Well, books and movies.  But let's go with stories, and the shared stories between us, and making connections between them.  And the enthusiastic love of these stories we know from reading together creating more connections between us.  All brought to us by really knowing our stories, and reading and rereading them together.  All this before we got out of pajamas.

I couldn't get them to stop reading, or listening.  And so, I compromised and told them they could bring the story with them and get dressed while still listening.  It worked.

And so our day began.

Friday, April 11, 2014


It's brown out there.  Brown mud in the river.  Brown grass.  Brown trees and shrubs.


And I mentioned the mud.

We are making due with what the outside has to offer in these very early stages of Spring, or what the less optimistic might call mud season.  Yesterday, Elliott brought me this bouquet.  He said, It's a smell bouquet.  Smell it.

And he was right.  If you closed your eyes, and breathed in, you could smell the pine and the lavendar.  It was a lovely smell bouquet.

We pulled out taps yesterday, as there are no more predicted freezing temperatures at night.

Maple sap foraging is ending, as soon as I boil down this last batch of sap.  But the kids are just getting started with their tree use.

The Christmas tree, well, its trunk anyway, is in the brush pile.  But the bottom branches, the ones I sawed off the day Jonathan was away and I decided that right then was the day I needed to get the tree out of the house, but couldn't wrangle its girth out by myself, those branches were thrown out the porch door.  And then an ice storm that very night, or perhaps it was admittedly a few nights later, froze those branches to the ground before they made it to the brush pile as well.

But the thaw and the sun have freed them.  So they were just lying about.

And before long, the kids had found the perfect use for them.  

A tree branch fort of course.  In the shade of Sylvia.

Inside, they even found a use for the bits of blow downs scattered about the property.  Shelves.

Similarly, the snow melting and ground thawing allowed me to repair the smooshed chicken tube, or access tunnel from the coop to our garden, and it is open again.

And the flock is helpfully stirring and digging and rooting around in there.  I even saw Raspberry swallow up a worm yesterday.

Another creature of the warmer months is back at it again as well.  Yesterday evening, Elliott and I were out and about.  And we decided to go check on the river, which has completely thawed.  And we saw a small creature, head just above the water it seemed from where we were, swimming up the river.  It was creating a triangular wake out behind it.  See it, small and headed away?

Could it be the beaver, back and working on its dam?  It's a possible duck, but we were excited nonetheless, and watched it for a bit.  And then I looked to the right, on the bank where my crab apple tree is.  The one with the beautifully red and sweet crabapples that I turned into jelly this past fall.  The one who's silly apples I was picking when I almost ended up in the river.  I have a special relationship with that tree.

But it was not there.  How can a tree disappear?

And then.

Methinks that wake was created by a medium sized crab apple tree headed crosswise up the river.  I now imagine it worked into the dam up the river, woven in with our small birches and other results of the beaver's early spring foraging.  I plan to search it out once we get the kayaks in the river.

This is the pine sapling I have been protecting, imagining the shade it will cast on our river landing once it grows a bit.  If it makes it that long.

But the best foraging going on in the yard, the least destructive, and the most colorful?  Is here.


And even more closely?

My bees.

Take a look at the bright yellowy orange color of the crocus pollen.  It exactly matches the color of the center of the flower.

So, then, take a look at my busy hive.  The bees are all excited and out collecting.  No pollen substitute necessary in this beeyard.

So, here is the yellowy orange crocus pollen coming in.

But what about this?  The buttery yellow color?  It's kind of shinier and smoother looking.  And the bees that have this color are not quite as fully packed.

I am thinking about Sylvia, our silver maple as the possible source of this pollen.

Silver maples are listed as some of the earliest sources of pollen here in Maine.  And if ever a large source of pollen there was, it would be from the massive Sylvia.

Maybe it's her.  But there are some other possible providers.

There is a great deal of buzz in the bee world about the coming dandelion bloom.  And how this is the time when you A) do not, under any circumstances, mow your lawn and B) do your splits and mergers and nucleus colony creations, because with the enormous amount of pollen out there created by all the lovely people who do not de-weed their yards (thank you), there is pollen and nectar o' plenty for the bees to collect and therefore have the resources to do the work that these interruptions to their colony will create.  Such as queen rearing.  And brood raising.

We live on three acres.  On that three acres?  I found one dandelion in bloom.  That's going to be one popular dandelion.  Luckily beavers don't seem to be as drawn to dandelions as they are to crab apple trees.  At least not that I know of.