Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mind Blowing

The wind has been busy, sweeping. The trees are plucked of any leaves that would have fallen this week, and the lawns are brushed clean. Heaps of crunchy leaves have gathered against walls and fences in tidy piles, and walkways are clear. The sky sparkles a sincere blue.

There is nothing like a good, blustery day to bring some clarity.

The wind dies down eventually, and you survey the scene. Things are reorganized; shuffled around. And because things look different, you can actually see for the first time, really see what things actually look like. You realize you had stopped seeing things the way they really are. Suddenly details you had long since ignored come to the forefront, the giant looming thoughts that took center stage are pushed to the wings, and there is a shift.

I think this is what they call a shift in consciousness.

Yesterday was a joyful day. When the phone would ring, the answer that came out of my mouth the the how-are-you-doing?-s was a firm and sincere "Great!". I haven't felt this way in a long time. I thank the wind.

The wind, for me, was this week and all the visits with the doctors, culminating in the good news from the endocrinologist. A week of considering the possibilities of an ugly outcome from those tests gave me lots to think about. But it also gave my brain a rest from all of the exhausting soundtracks that have occupied it of late. I took a week off from my "hamster wheels" as I call them - ruminating thoughts that start here, end there and then start all over again. A break from thoughts of loss and grief and uncertain futures.

The wind blew through my mind, and took with it so much worry. The clarity that has come with the good news of this week has left me with some open, ready spaces in the yard of my mind. The thoughts that were before, scattered across the landscape of my conscious like dead leaves, are now neatly piled and feeling most manageable (why did I just hear Bill and Ted in my head? Is my sense of humor coming back, too?).

Dude. It's mind blowing. :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reflections on Mountain Climbing

I had a visit with the endocrinologist today, and it was good. But before I tell you about it, I have to tell you about mountain climbing.

When I was in college a group of us decided to hike to the peak of Mt. Timpanogos in Utah. I am not out-doorsy. I went because a cute guy asked me. I have some vague recollection that it was 12,000 feet high and that I should have packed more food. We left at midnight and hiked all night to reach the summit by dawn to see the sunrise. It was hard. It was cold. The air was dry and burned my throat. I was exhausted by 4 AM, but had little choice but to continue with my friends. By 6AM we were scrambling like billy-goats up steep, loose rocks to finally reach the summit just as the sun began to burst out over the horizon, ushering in a new day.

It was beautiful.

I hated it.

I was a wimp. All I wanted was my bed. I wanted to be done with this. I wanted it to be over, and for me to be on the other side of this ridiculous day (I deeply apologize to my dear friend, Andrea, who loves the outdoors so much she only keeps a house so that there is someplace to pick up her mail). It was indeed beautiful, but it was just not fun for me. It had been hard getting up there, and now after a night of no sleep and on wobbly legs and throbbing feet, I had to begin my stagger back down the mountain.

A strange thing had happened that year. The glacier had melted for the first time in anyone’s memory. We had planned to slide down the ice on trash bags and thus shave an hour off the hike back down, but instead we stumbled, slipped, and fell our way down for two additional hours. The ice had melted far enough to reveal large jagged rocks, but remained frozen between the rocks. With no place for our feet to grip, we slipped constantly, landing on the sharp rocks. By the time we reached the end of the glacier I had two bloody, frozen hands, a giant hole in the seat of my jeans, and several more hours to go.

It was then that our fearless leader got a little confused and took us down the mountain the wrong way, adding another two hours to the decent. We reached our cars at 4PM, 16 hours after we had set out. Then I was home, showered, sitting on my couch, and it was all over. I was literally on the other side of that darn mountain. I cannot describe the relief. Bliss, thy name is being on the other side.

I never wanna do that again.

Often when things are hard I say out loud, “I can’t wait till I am on the other side of this.” I know that with every trial that has inevitably come into my life, eventually, if not very slowly, it has gone it’s way. Some trials have felt like they might do me in. I was in such shock when we lost our first baby I couldn’t imagine that I had the capacity to feel any more pain, until 2 weeks later when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Other trails have been hard in other ways, but usually I can look forward knowing that there will be an end, and just wishing I was there already.

Guy called me this morning to tell me he would meet me at the hospital for my appointment. I was so relieved not to have to do it alone. How I love him, my knight in shining Hyundai. All week as we would talk about the possibilities, treatments, surgeries… that might come, I would always end with a weakly-hopeful, “It’s prob’ly nothin’.”

But the innocence has gone out of us, and we know that sometimes it is something.

After two appointments last week and an ultrasound, I was surprised they had gotten me in so soon. The doctor did more tests and ultrasound, and then came the news. It’s OK. There is no concern of cancer. Yes, my thyroid is very large but working well, and there are no growths, though she described it in such unflattering terms as “boggy”, “puffy” and “moth-eaten” looking (Guy says I should learn to sleep with my mouth closed to keep out the moths). It would seem that my auto-immune system is picking on my thyroid a bit, and my thyroid is irritated and inflamed as a result (can’t blame it, I would be crabby, too). No known causes, but no needed treatments either. No threat to me at this point, just a follow-up every six months for a little look-see. I can do that.

The doctor left the room. Guy smiled, and in his slightly-joking-but –in-all-seriousness tone said, “See? It’s nothin’.”

“Scary nothin’.” I replied.

We watched each other’s eyes fill with tears for a little moment and then breathed in the relief. I thought I should be joyous and celebratory, but there was sort of a feeling, so soon after Lisa’s funeral, of a near miss - a narrow escape. It wasn’t “hurray!” (though it certainly is now)… it was more like “whew”.

So glad to be on the other side of this here mountain.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

When a cub gets into your bathroom

I love my cute cub scout. He is learning so much. He knows the scout oath, how to tie knots and how to do "a good turn". He knows how to identify some constelations, carve pinewood derby cars, and make (and use - yikes) a marshmellow gun.

And he knows how to fold a flag properly. He practices regularly on my bathroom towels.

Thanks, Adam!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Butterflies and Dragonflies

I hate going to the doctor, and yesterday I finally figured out why. It's not the poking and prodding, or the little tushy-less paper gowns. It's because when I look around me there, I am surrounded by people who are sick. Not swine flu sick, but sick with things that won't go away after 10 days on penicillin. Folks with long looks who walk beside loved ones with longer looks.

At a recent appointment it was discovered that my thyroid gland, shaped like a butterfly, is very enlarged. I blew it off. With all that is going on in our lives trying to figure out why I keep having miscarriages, I didn't want to be bothered with something new to deal with. It wasn't until I realized that one of the reasons a thyroid can get big is due to cancer, that I began to take it seriously. Cancer runs strong in our family. It strikes young and hard. In the metaphoric sense, that gave me butterflies.

Last week I went to my cousin's funeral. She was 41. She left behind 4 children, ages 7, 7, 7 and 7. Lisa was born deaf, and struggled with the losses of 4 babies, losing one of her tubes in the process. Finally, fertility treatments gifted her with four gorgeous babies. She nursed and pumped for all for babies for about 6 months. She wanted to give them what she would have given them if they had come one at a time. After her babies came, Lisa's husband began to manifest schizophrenia and became dangerous. She left him for the safety of the children, and has raised them with her mother. Now her mother will raise them alone.

At the funeral, there were hymns sung and scriptures read, but there was nothing of Lisa. No talk of her spirit, of her eternal soul, of her good work here in this life. There was talk of pain, and grief, and perhaps some weak hope for something better-than-misery later on. It felt as though the priest who spoke was putting Lisa's spirit on a paper airplane, giving a toss into the great beyond and hoping for the best. I felt flat and emotionless. I was perplexed at the dull feeling. When we left the little church, I burst into tears. The only thing worse than a funeral, is a funeral that doesn't feel like a funeral. People need to grieve.

The next day Guy and I went to church. It was a meeting like few I have been to in my life. I felt like every word had been written for me. One of the speakers even talked about the miracle that "the spirit is able to, in this room, teach a hundred messages by saying the same thing, by using the same tool." For me the messages of that day were to help me to understand the purpose of pain and trial in our lives. I learned about how to know if the answers to my prayers are really coming from on high when I fret that I might be making them up in my head. I felt peace and love and understanding. It was the message that should have been given the day before, at the funeral. I am so grateful that I was able to be there for it.

Lisa loved dragonflies. I will think of her every time I see them.

They did an ultrasound on my thyroid yesterday.
I am waiting for my test results.
(You can listen to the talks here:
2009 1016 Cohen Jay & Nick Hammer.mp3 ... there is an engineer in the ward there with Asperger's syndrome, and he records every meeting. I don't know if it is mormon-kosher, but I am glad that I can listen to the messages again. It is a recording of the whole meeting, so you will have to skip ahead to hear the last two talks by Jay Cohen and Nick Hammer).

Insect photos thanks to Flikr

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fallin' in love all over again

This is (some of) why I love Sonoma County.

Once a year there is an open studio tour of artists homes, where you can see their art and work spaces and enjoy the beauty of the amazing landscape. Every year Guy and I make a pilgrimage to go to ARTrails.

We meander through oak lined lanes to find artist's homes.

Nichibei Pottery was our first stop this year. We indulged ourselves in some of Mikio and Cheryl's pottery. There is something so magical about eating out of the pottery made by the hands of good and grateful people. Cheryl thanks us a thousand times for our little purchase, and says that because of folks like us they get to do the work they love and still make a living. I am grateful and inspired. I love that, it this world of plastic dishes made by machines, I can see the finger markings of these good people in the pieces we use at our table. I tell her so, and she gets goosebumps, and tells me that's magical.

Mikio demonstrates his carving technique.

We wander through the crowded work spaces, shelves crowded with tiny sculptures, while outside, giant sculptures loom over us.

Dinner at Checkers: Butternut squash tortellini, smoked chicken, cranberries, and candied walnuts in a shallot cream sauce. Too full for dessert.

A day of art, nature, good food and my sweetie.

What's not to love?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rainy day - part two

Rainy day + wet kids - homework = soup day.

And I did something I have never done before. I used a recipe I had ripped out of a magazine. Know why? Cuz' it was called Cracker Jack Soup. And yes, it has Cracker Jacks in it. Candy in soup. So cool.

After trying it out, we decided to change the name to Candy Corn Soup, because the Cracker Jacks get all soggy and the kids don't like them. But they thought they were getting candy in the soup soooo...I dropped a single candy corn in each bowl, which was fun to find and a sweet little bite in contrast to the salty soup. It sounds ridiculous but it was really yummy.

Here is the recipe (with the addition of chicken for more protein):

Candy Corn Soup

3 Tbsp butter
1 small diced onion
2 cups cubed sweet potato
Melt butter and sautee onions and yams. Cover and cook for 15 min stirring occasionally.

3-4 cans chicken broth
1 can (with liquid) cooked chicken
1 can coconut MILK
1 cup peanut butter

Simmer till yams are soft. Puree' in a blender till smooth.
Serve with one candy corn in each bowl. :)

Fun Soup + warm dry kids = happy mama.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Harm's way

Huge gusts of wind are banking off of my house. The rain is sheeting sideways, and the trees are moving so frantically, that their branches seem like angry serpents whipping back and forth. Two soaked finches and a disoriented hummingbird are seeking refuge under the eve of my roof. Every so often a blast of cold wind lifts a spray out of the rain gutters straight up to the sky. My friend Ellen from Tennessee says this isn’t a real storm, but it’s pretty wild for here.
I am all alone in the house. Just me and the howling wind pushing its way into this drafty old place. I have never felt safe here alone. Until today.

Yesterday I put myself in harm’s way. I was so unbelievably stupid, naïve, careless. Today I count the blessings of what didn’t happen yesterday.

In my attempts to be honest in all of my doings, I have been looking for some discounted used software to buy for my computer rather than accept offers of free bootlegged software. Having had my own artwork reproduced without my permission, I am protective of the copyrights of others. So I found a posting on Craigslist for a guy selling his old software because he had bought a Mac. The price was good, so I arranged to purchase a disk from him.

Yesterday Guy and I drove over to the address I had been given. Waiting on the porch of a rundown house with a dead lawn was an older, pot bellied man. As I approached, he barely acknowledged me. “Tim?” I asked. “I’m here for the software.” “Hang on a second,” He mumbled. He tossed his cigarette and opened the door. “Com’mon in.” he said, and I followed behind him into the door, my husband only about 30 feet away in the van.

The door closed behind me. The room was dark and there were only a few items of furniture pushed together in the middle of an otherwise bare room. It appeared as though no one actually lived here. Suddenly a second man, over six feet tall, rough and disheveled looking, stepped out of a doorway in front of me, and my heart seized in my chest. I took instant inventory of my situation as my pulse raged. I was standing between two large, strange men, in a dark and nearly empty house. The door was blocked by one of the men. My husband and child were in a van with the engine on, out of ear shot. The men were big. I felt small. My head began to pound and thoughts race as I took a step back.

Why had I walked into that door? How had I allowed the thought to enter my head that it would be OK, on any level, to go into a house alone with a strange man?

“Come back here.” said the second man, as he headed for the doorway he had just entered from.

“No, I think I would be more comfortable waiting outside with my husband.” I said, trying to sound confident and firm.

“OK, suit yourself.” He said, and the first man opened the door. I rushed out and greedily took in the glorious sight of Guy in the van, and in split seconds a million images rushed through my head of what would be happening right at that moment had I not been allowed to leave. I felt like my guts were vibrating inside my body. I was shaking.

The tall man brought out bootlegged disks, which I took- just to get off that porch and back to my husband, van, child, life; safety. Once in the van, I told it all to Guy, and told him I didn’t want the disks. With Guy at my side we went back and approached the tall man, who was still on the porch. He gave me my money back, shrugged, and we left. On our way back to the van, I chatted a moment with a neighbor next door to ask if the man I had dealt with even lived in the house. He thought the place was being foreclosed on, and that they ran shady business deals often.

Once back in the van, I looked over my shoulder to see the tall man, standing on the porch, watching us drive away. In a few moments, my cell phone rang and I answered.

“WHAT WERE YOU TALKING TO MY NEIGHBOR ABOUT!?” The angry voice demanded. I hung up. We turned off the phone. He called back twice with nasty messages.

As we drove further and further from the house, intense feelings of dread overtook me.

What if…

I could have been…

Why did I…

I am furious and baffled at myself for having entered that house. I am mystified that it never crossed my mind that I could be in danger. I am shockingly aware that had they meant to do harm, harm would have been done. I wouldn’t have had a chance.

I sit in my safe, warm house now. The wind is a bit theatrical. The howling is slightly eerie. But I am not afraid. Just grateful.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A letter to Jack

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." - Jack London

Dear Jack,
Do you remember the time that we came and visited your house in Glen Ellen? Ethan was a toddler then. We strolled the grounds and ate lunch on a strange minty green lawn that nature had grown inside the walls of the ancient roofless winery you used to house farm equipment so long ago. I was so sad to hear your house had burned down just after you finished building it, but to be honest with you, I preferred the little white house, where you wrote and slept for so many years, to the Big House anyway. As we strolled up to see your grave, I hadn't expected to see the graves of the two pioneer children beside your own. I felt self-conscious when I cried, out there in the open, in front of your grave. The world had been yours, traveler, writer, explorer, magician of words. You had said you wished to be buried next to them, so they wouldn't be so lonely.

Thank you for saving all of those rejection letters from the publishers who didn't realize what they were turning away from. 600, were there? How did you have the strength to keep writing after that?

I watched the little black and white movie over and over as my family continued on through The House of Happy Walls, your widow's house-turned-museum dedicated to you. I couldn't pull myself away. Did you have any idea as you played with an armful of little piglets, that you would be dead four days later? You looked so happy, so full of life. You were 40.

I have to say that since that day, the day when we visited you, I have kept your credo up where I could see it. I have known it by heart for years. "I would rather be ashes than dust..." etched into my mind and eventually, my being.

But I need to tell you that I don't think I feel that way any more.

I want to
be here. I don't want to burn through my days so frantically. I want it to be more than using my time. And maybe that was never how you meant it, but I guess that's how I read it.

I hope you don't mind so much, but I put your words away. I had read them like a letter to me, but I am writing you back to say, things have changed. I think there is more than the choice between flaming meteor and sleepy planet, than ashes or dust.

Thank you for the visit. I'll write again when I get settled, as soon as I figure out where that is.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Recalculating directions..."

"Can you point me to Zinfandel Rd.?"

The man in the truck had passed us once before and now stopped us on our walk to ask directions. Always thrilled to help (read here "get involved in other peoples beeswax), I blurted out the directions and he began on his corrected way. "But wait," Heidi said quizzically, "Don't you have to take Aramon?"

"WAIT!!!" I hollered, trying to stop the man. "I missed a street!" After giving the man correct-corrected directions, I fretted to Heidi.

"Oh, man, if I had given him the wrong directions I would have felt so bad!" I pictured how many times on my mission in Costa Rica the people gave us wrong directions just because they wanted to have something to tell us, even if they didn't really know the way. I pictured him reaching the dead end I had sent him on originally, and cursing my offspring and cattle.

But hold up.

I wouldn't have known if Heidi hadn't spoken up. I wouldn't have known to feel bad! Then the next thought came out loud, "Oh my gosh, I wonder how many times I have done other stuff that I should have felt bad for, and never knew I should!"

Heidi laughed. Sometimes my meandering thought-threads are a little wack-a-doo.

Suddenly I thought about all the times I have felt rotten - over nothing. Agonized over something that I thought I had done to offend or mess up, only to learn much later that I hadn't messed up at all. Too late! Already felt bad for it. Done deal.

I hope there is a cosmic balance, that somehow my many crimes against calenders and compasses (and other things I don't even know about) somehow find equilibrium with all of the silly things I have worried about over nothing.

Note to self: next time let someone else give directions.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The thread that holds it all together

When I feel sorry for myself, I end up thinking about pioneer women. I think about pioneer women WAY too much. I think about how they toiled in their sunny gardens, tended and taught their children, stopped to nurse chubby, dirty babies, and then turned right around to dismember, salt and smoke large animal carcasses for winter. They pickled what ever could be pickled (ever had pickled watermelon rinds?), scrubbed their houses clean with sand and vinegar, baked daily and cooked massive meals for big, sweaty pioneer men. From the dust of the earth they made a life, and they wasted nothing.

But what I really think about is their dresses (I am a woman, it's all about clothes).

Truly, I am obsessed with pioneer dresses and what they mean (because to me everything means something. I will be a sad little spirit, if, when I die, some other spirit floats over to me and says, "Um, yeah, all that meaning you found in everything, well, you were pretty much making that up."). A pioneer woman of course made all of her own - and for that matter, everyone else's - clothes. Due to the cost of cloth, that probably meant she seldom made clothes and mostly mended them. But, on the rare, special occasion when she did make a dress for herself, she did something really interesting. She used too much fabric.

Well, too much for the moment. She would cut the skirt to be about four inches longer than she needed it to be, and that extra length of cloth would be tucked up under her waistband and hidden within the bodice (because just what every prairie woman needs is one more layer of fabric around her middle in the dead heat of summer), and there the fabric would stay for a few seasons. As her skirt hem brushed the dusty roads, hovered in the embers of her fireplace, and scraped along barn floors, the fabric would fade and become tattered.

Then on some rainy day she would remove the skirt from the dress, carefully picking out the thread so that she could reuse it again. She would cut off the exhausted fabric from the bottom of the skirt (to be used as rags of course), then skillfully invert the skirt and reattach it with the same thread, creating a brand new dress hem. The rest was interesting too, how her old dresses would later be made into aprons and children's clothes, then how those would be made into rags and rugs. Nothing was wasted, not the first time, not ever. But for me, the skirt is the point.

Because while she worked so hard and gave so much and carefully conserved everything, in this case, she saved something back. Of course she was saving things all the time to be stored for winter, but I am intrigued that, in a time when there was little to spare, she, this woman, would set something aside for herself that she would need later. Maybe it was tempting to make something else from the extra fabric for one of the small children, but she tucked it away for her future self.

I don't need to make my family's clothes. I have a freezer and a grocery store. I don't even have to cook if I don't want to. I can't count the times while sewing I have picked up a seam ripper with no regard for the little thread that held it all together.

Where in my life do I need to tuck away a little extra fabric? And where is my little thread?

Paintings by Harvey Dunn and Morgan Weistling

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Little boxes

Wednesday is my crazy day. I am going from morning to night on Wednesdays, and that only counts the predictable stuff like Joyschool, scouts and carpools. Other things, like phone calls and lost jackets don’t even get a time slot, though certainly they take time. Guy has class till 9PM, so on Wednesday, I am flying solo. When I look at the little box on my calendar that says Wednesday, I know I cannot cram anything else in. It's my "just say no" day.

Yesterday after I dropped Tessa at Joyschool I headed off to clean house for a sister at church whose husband is in the hospital fighting cancer. Chantal and Rebekah came as well, and let me tell you, we were a force to be reckoned with. As we ladies do, we talked while we worked. “I found a quote for you." Chantal said, "When I read it you came into my mind real strong, so I wrote it down for you."

"It says, “Sometimes doing nothing brings the world back into balance.”

My eyes filled with tears and she thought she had hurt my feelings. No, I said, just taking it all in. I have been desperate for balance, but have not known where to look. No matter how many times I re-arrange my little boxes, they are out of balance. Laundry and dishes eclipse scripture study and one-on-one time with the kids. Weeds grow and disrepair mounts while homework and shuffling to the van become the main events each day. A layer of dust has fallen on the painting I began weeks ago.

“Why don’t you let me take Tessa so that you can go to the temple today?” Chantal asked. My mouth opened to say, no way, heck no, today is Wednesday and that square is full! But I realized that, wait, I traded carpool this morning so I don’t have the afternoon run, and if Chantal could retrieve Tess from Joyschool, I could actually go.

Then, there I was, on crazy Wednesday, throwing on a dress and heading for the temple. In our faith, going to the temple is something we do on our own. It is not a social gathering, though on occasion you run into someone you know. It is a quiet worship. The temple is a refuge from the cares of the world, and within its walls solitude and tranquility are understatements. I entered, and tried to shake off the residue of the days and weeks, and just be present. Before leaving the temple, I went to a place called the celestial room. It is a room for prayer and reflection, and it is utterly silent. You could hear a feather land. I was fortunate to have the room all to myself for a while.

I silently prayed, pouring my heart out to my Heavenly Father. Finally, after purging myself of the chaos in my head, I thought, “Sorry, Father. I have been doing all the talking. I’ll be quiet now.” And I was. As heavy thoughts floated to the surface, I hushed them, “Not now, I’m listening.”

After a while, I found myself in a giant, empty space. I didn’t recognize it because it had been so long since I had seen it. It was the inside of my head, all de-cluttered. I hadn’t seen the walls in such a long time I had forgotten how vast it was. I stayed there a while, amazed at what my quiet mind could be like, and then, slowly, five images entered, one after the other. Guy’s face, and all the tenderness that it holds for me. Ethan’s gentle smile, Adam’s impish grin, Ellie’s face, her favorite hysterical cross-eyed look upon it, and finally Tessa’s cherubic little face, looking serious and strong. Each of the things that I am most fond of about each of these eternal beings surfaced in the expressions they held.

Other things came, then, things that need not be shared, things my heart needed. I said a prayer of gratitude, then drank deep of the peaceful feeling I had, like one who would drink from a cool spring before heading back out into the desert.

I left the temple, and stepped back into the world. I felt renewed. I felt some clarity. I felt relieved of a burden. I felt quiet. I knew I had to go back to life, and the trials and struggles that waited for me there, but there seemed to be a steadiness that hadn't been there before.

It didn’t feel like Wednesday anymore.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalms 46:10

Monday, October 5, 2009

Breakfast, anyone?

“Francine’s here!” the kids scream, and the screen door slams as they run to greet her. Francine is my friend, who I adore, who teaches me so much about letting go, finding peace, living well, being kind, and allowing others to find their path without getting in their way. She loves people, and is tender with their feelings. She is clear about her limits, and always speaks truth.

When I grow up, I wanna be like Francine.

Francine comes every other month for an overnight visit. She pulls my little ones onto her lap and listens to their epoch tales of skinned knees and Pokémon movie plots. She brings amazing foods to share, and her African baskets and Guatemalan bags are always hiding wooden toys and beautiful pottery that find their way onto our shelves. On this trip she brought two sweet Crenshaw melons, a bottle of hours-old pressed apple cider, giant pastries, and a little silver charm she found that she thought I might like. We ate and painted and listened to the girls sing. She measured the boys against her shoulder, insisting they were taller than last time, and tousled Tessa’s shortened hair. When Francine comes, there is excitement and laughter and lots of hugs. When Francine comes, it's like a party.

What does every party need? Food. And, Oh, the breakfast we had at the hand of Chef Guy… What a perfect start to fall!

Pumpkin waffles with pumpkin butter cream spread, crescent rolls … some with bacon, onions, spinach, pecans and cream cheese inside, others stuffed with pears and chocolate and topped with slivered almonds. Next to that, herb scrambled eggs topped with pepper-jack cheese and turkey bacon. And to wash it all down, hot apple cider with a drizzle of caramel in it.

Guy gifts with food. It is how he honors the people he loves.

Francine left this afternoon. Our time with her is never long enough. We’ll see her again in a couple of months. Just in time for holiday baking!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Apple time

Fall has fallen. The weather has suddenly gone from 103 to a lovely 70-something, and there is that hint in the air that change is coming. I open the door wide for it.

Please, Change, come in, sit down, stay a while.

I have felt like it’s been yet another semester in the school of life, and fate has been helping me cram for test time. So much learning, so much growing. I am learning that I am not in charge. I am learning that I can plan all I want, but when push comes to shove, nobody ever plans to have things be difficult. They just are, sometimes.

So this week for our little Joyschool field trip we went to Apple Hill, or “Mountain Apple” as Tessa calls it. A short drive away from all my troubles, it is a cluster of little apple orchards and farms set on a hill that welcomes weary travelers to remember why Adam and Eve were so bummed to be cast out of the garden. With pumpkin patches and wooden bins of lovely, unwaxed apples, golden colored fresh-pressed cider, and the scrumptious smell of apple turnovers and pies wafting through the air, it is a blissful sensory adventure. It is not my messy house. It is not the funky smell in my kitchen that I can’t seem to find. It is not the boring food I keep buying because I have no time to cook. At Apple Hill I am renewed.

I breathe in the heavy, honey sweet smell of the cider press and the warm salty aroma of pie crust, the tang of the Granny Smiths, and see the day glow of pumpkins in the sun, and I begin to make new plans. Simple plans.

I want to be sure we carve pumpkins this year, and not it a hurried rush. I want to bake for my children and give them the memory of coming home to sweet, warm food made for them, not the left-overs of a meal made for someone at church, but just for them. I want to sit at the table and hear them talk about things I won’t hear about while we are rushing off to soccer or scouts or Daisies or the market (“Hurry, we’re late!”). And really, while I am talking here mostly about food, food is just a metaphor for time.

I brought home apples and Asian pears, and a turnover (just to get me in the mood). And I made a new plan.

I plan not to plan so much. I am going to try to cut out a few things. It’s true we can’t be all things to all people, and the more I try, the less I have to give to the people who matter most to me. What I do plan needs to matter. I plan to expend less energy stressing when stressing will not help. I plan to use the crock pot more. I plan to put more attention into the special details that let the people around me know that I care for them, and let the rest go.

Am I biting off more than I can chew? Am I overly optimistic? Maybe. Or maybe if I cut out the clutter it will be easy.

Easy as pie.