Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Long, long ago, before wrinkles, and before I added another last name, I was in graduate school.  And we used to have these working lunches.  When a faculty member would present a research project and we graduate students were to listen and learn, and at the same time, eat fast, swallow hard, and try to be brilliant.  

I did not offer much for the first few years of my attending these meetings.  I did not feel I had much to add, and so I kept quiet and listened to the wiser souls around me.  My program director caught on.  And began asking me what I thought.  I began to have a nervous stomach as a side dish for my lunches, attempting to chew and digest all the while waiting for that moment when the attention in the room would turn to me.  There was one lunch time during which I was asked if I could compare what I was working on research-wise to what the faculty member had just presented.  I swallowed hard.  Swigged from my water bottle.  And emitted my brilliance.

It's the same, but different, I offered.  Stalling.  My friend sitting next to me giggled.  Or rather, snorted, releasing a bit of her lunch onto her notebook.  That was informative, she whispered to me through her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

And, so, apple growing.  It's kind of like children growing.  It's the same.  But different.  Wait.  I will explain further, once I swallow this bite of apple crisp.


pomology:  the science that deals with fruits and fruit growing

apple picking, 2008

Apple picking.  I am going to tell you about the apples.  But first.  How did this happen?  How did they get so big?

The children.  Not the apples.  

We have been returning to the same apple orchard for a number of years now, Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine.  High on a hill (sans the lonely goat herd) looking out over the foothills of the western mountains of Maine. This farm has been tended by ten generations of the same family.  During those years, the farm houses and barns have been maintained and repaired, much remaining the same, while other buildings have been modified and constructed to meet modern needs; some practices have been rethought, others remain unchanged.  Bouncey houses were added down the hill at the farm store where one can indulge in that entertainment if one chooses, or one can drive quickly by and head up the hill to the orchard itself.  Where it is stunningly gorgeous.  And old.  I admit like it up there much better.

Organic farming, a simultaneous innovation yet a return to past practices, has flourished in this orchard.

Small crops of different fruit have been added.  A small peach grove, for example.

A pumpkin patch appeared.  But our years of wisdom and maturity don't allow us to be fooled by the field of grass with pumpkins plopped out in them.  No vines to be seen.  But still.  A patch of pumpkins.

The grass is magical.  It grows many things.

Despite these changes, and the changes in my children's interests and their belief in the imaginative, and how well they do or do not fit into the wagons we pull around behind us, there is much that remains the same.  It is a beautiful mountainside orchard.

And we have a wonderful time there.  Doing the same things each time.  Yet also discovering new areas that shorter legs and attention spans and emotional fuses have not allowed us to explore in the past.

Like the vineyard.  

Wait.  There are grapes here?

Oh.  Well, yes.  There are.

There is still a bit of the mystical, the magical, the otherworldy feeling here.  Even now.

And here, first meetings.  And first tastings.  Remind us that not much has changed.  Julia.  Sensitive to anything pokey, rough...or tart.

Still has the same face.

Even if her choice of clothing now leans toward fleece instead of the lovely fabrics and flowie dresses of yesteryear.

I found myself noticing the other plants growing wild and untended, but still just as important a part of the farm.  The Aster.  

And Milkweed.

My still fledgling but expanding knowledge of insects, pollination and forage plants, and migration also helps me focus on different aspects of the farm. But ones that were likely always here.

Nicholas and my Dad used to spend hours quietly walking amongst the trees, finding the perfect high up apples.  And used the apple pickers to bring down apple by apple.  Gently.  Without dropping a single one.  No bruising from them.

But now, our bags fill almost too quickly.  We have to be careful not to pick too much, to stay within the budget of the cash in our wallets.

And the pickers take on other purposes.  Such as being used to scoop apples like some kind of BFG lacrosse stick.

And cradled.

I walked out from between a Cortland tree and a Macintosh tree to find Nicholas doing this.


Oh, and my children?  They love the rotten apple sling shot.  Though not necessarily the rotten apples.

The horror.

Some are more bothered than others.

I used to fight it.  But it really is kind of fun.

The smacking squishing splatting sound of rotten apples on plywood is so distinctive that I can actually conjure it up right now.  Along with the vinegary smell.

We may no longer wear overall shorts. Sniff. I do miss those thighs. Such delicious chub.

Ours is not the orchard behavior of yore. But it is still quiet. And funny. And just as challenging as it used to be when shorter legs were attempting to navigate the uneven terrain of the long grasses and unexpected roots and groundhog holes. They challenge themselves with new activities.

I love the views. And the walk amongst the memories of us there in years before.  Moving in the air of the rows between the trees with us.

We are all unfolding.  And growing.  Trying to master new skills.

Bursting into bloom.

And so, our trips each year to the orchard.  And all the growing that happens in between.  There is a cool mountain breeze that rustles the leaves and our current selves and those of previous years.

Floating around between the rows.

There is always change in the air when we are here.  Seasonal.  Developmental.  Maturational.  It is a beautiful place to notice these changes.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

long ears

Have you seen Mac Barnett's TED talk?  

Oh, my.  You must.  It is brilliant.
If I am going to break down the fourth wall, I want fiction to escape and come into the real world.  I want a book to be a secret door that opens, and lets the stories out into reality.

~ from Mac Barnett's TED talk
Well that's what happened this past weekend.

Stop!  Mommy!  Stop the car!  It's Long Ears!

And Storm!

There was a great deal to love about One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake.  I myself miss Georgie and her voice, her honesty, her humor from the audiobook version of the book.  For Elliott, and apparently Julia, their love centers on Long Ears, the velvety-eared mule.  And Storm, the horse.

We know these characters aren't real and yet we have real feelings about them.
~ from Mac Barnett's TED talk

It has been about a month since we left Georgie and Long Ears in Placid, Wisconsin.  But they aren't far from our thoughts apparently.

And though, yes, we knew that these were not they, still.  I feel we had a little check in with them.
It's a weird place.  But it's not just a place that kids can get to...Art can get us to that place...in the middle...I am going to call it Wonder.  It's what Coleridge called the willing suspension of disbelief...those moments when a story, no matter how strange, has some semblance of the truth, and then you are able to believe it.

~ from Mac Barnett's TED talk

It was hard to say goodbye.  

Kids...they deserve the best stories we can give them.
~ from Mac Barnett's TED talk

Friday, September 26, 2014

reading the drama

We used to live, briefly, in Boston.  Julia was born there, though she still to this day does not seem to be able to assimilate this information into her brain.  I have taken to drilling her on the city and state of her birth.  We are working on it.  Last I checked, she still had to pause and think before answering.

Elliott did not come along until after Boston.  Once we had moved to Maine.

But we took a quick trip to Boston recently.  To see beloved Aunt Wendy who is currently performing in the play Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.  AND she is performing with Theo Huxtable.  I mean Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

In order to have the trip work for all the kids with a longish drive and different levels of maturity for the content of the play, we decided that Jonathan would take the bigger kids to the performance and Elliott and I would have some time together doing something that was just right for him.

We all hit Quincy Market for a quick lunch.  Partly, I was appeasing Nicholas' middle school boy love of food.  But mostly, I was trying to learn from past mistakes.  Because let's say, for example, a certain eldest child, raised mostly in Maine, was set loose on a field trip last October with a bit of money but only limited time in Quincy Market and was not necessarily prepared for what to do.  And may have wandered aimlessly and felt a bit scared and ended up just grabbing a slice of pizza instead of one of the other delicious things he saw other people eating.  And then might have dreamed about what he did not get for an entire year.

But, as I said, just for example.  Julia will be heading on the same trip next year.  And I wanted Nicholas to get a better sense of how this place works, and wanted to prep Julia a little bit for it herself.

We caught a bit of a musical Shakespearean performance in the square out front.  Again, watching my children, I thought to myself: must continue to expose children to the larger world so they look less terrified in the face of strange and eccentric behavior.

Hilariously, Nicholas turned to me and said, This is kind of like when that man was breakdancing to silent music in the entryway of Walmart this summer.

Moving about on the streets of a large city.  It is something I would like to make sure my children are comfortable doing.  Because they will miss so much if they are not.

Delicious lunch consumed, we dropped Julia, Jonathan, and Nicholas off at the theater, where they had an amazing afternoon watching their talented and so hip Aunt perform.  Getting to go backstage and see her dressing room.  And meet her cast mates.  I mentioned Theo Huxtable, right?  He was, apparently, fabulous.  And so very friendly and kind and genuine in person.

I was very sorry to miss the performance.  But I was kind of also looking forward to taking Elliott to some of the places I used to take Nicholas when we lived there.  And to having some rare alone time with him, so wanting this, missing him amongst all the busy back to school shuffling and activities and noise.

We hit our former favorite toy store.  Where big city Schleich display cases are larger and more diverse.

We went to the puppet theater and saw our young child friendly performance.

And after, had our own backstage / this is how things work experience.

But my favorite part?  Oh yes.  The books.  Specifically, The Children's Bookshop, one of my absolute favorite children's bookstores.

I haven't been to a book store in awhile.  The Recently Acquired shelf at our branch of the public library is as new I get these days.  But there are some lovely new books out there.

Flashlight, by Lizi Boyd.  So lovely.  And perfect for those fall camping trips.

For me?  

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire

I had to limit myself.  And wait to order these from the library.  And first wait for the library to acquire some of them, actually.

But we spent a good hour sitting here.  With this as our landscape.

What could be better?

So what we were reading?


There are four, yes four, new Elephant and Piggie books out since last we purchased.  We read them all.  And chose two to come home with us.

As we read, I was remembering all of my time in these places with preschool Nicholas and baby Julia.  But Elliott, in the way that any child, perhaps especially a third child can do so well, was shouting out his individuality, making the time his.  By being himself, uniquely himself.

We were alone in the shop.  And we were giggling.

Because this Mo Willems dude is funny.  Fun-ny.

And also?  This Mo character gets drama.  Gets drama in the theatrical nonverbal expressive sense.  I think that kids who have been raised reading the Elephant and Piggie books have been gifted the experience and therefore skills to read the pictures, the facial expressions, the actions, what isn't said but seen as being as much a part of the story as the words.  This is the kind of reader that Elliott is.

As we read, My New Friend is So Fun, Elliott surprised me.  He is very good at this.

We got to the part in the book where it is revealed that Piggie and Bat have been drawing pictures.  Their good friends, Elephant and Snake, had been getting a wee bit worried that they were going to be forgotten by these two new friends.

But no.  Not forgotten.  

I stopped reading and looked at Elliott: Did you know that's what they were drawing?

It is not exactly what I meant to ask.  I was actually trying to assess him, get a sense of how he might be taking this story of new friendships creating worry that others might be forgotten.  Wondering, in this freshly back to school, new peer groupings in his classes, shuffling of attachments and interests and all.  How this might be hitting him.  Wondering if he might talk about it.  We were, after all, alone in a bookstore.  With Wonder shining down on us.

But no.  He smiled.  And then rolled his eyes.

Of course I did Mommy.  I knew all along.  

He leafed through the book backwards from where we were.  And stopped on the endpages at the beginning of the book.


They are using grey and green crayons.  What else would they be drawing?

Right.  I had not noticed that.  Elliott, the most visually thoughtful and perceptive of us all.  Of course, he did.  And had been reading it with this knowledge the whole time.

But really, what I think this book shows most is that the best work happens on your belly.  On the floor.  With you tongue sticking out.