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."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lost Post: Summer Melody

Some posts are written, and put aside... forgotten.  
This is one of those.


I am standing at the counter in the kitchen, the blare of mid-afternoon lighting up the room so there is no need to switch on the lights.  I am slicing up strawberries that are needing to be eaten.  What a lucky food, to be needed in such a way.  Guy has taken the big boys bargain hunting for shoes.  Ellie is at a friend's house.

A few feet away Jonah, Tessa and Natalie are gathered at the table.  I have cut for them, Jonah and Tessa, each, giant wedges of watermelon, because I can.  Because when there is not enough money for new shoes and fancy electronics and big trips to exotic destinations, a giant slice of watermelon all-to-yourself when you are eight feels magically, over-the-top indulgent.

Something eases it's way into my ears.  It's silence.  Well, at first that's what my brain labels it to be; no one is fighting or tattleing.  No one is rambling on about Pokemon.  Nothing is being slammed, banged, clicked, thumped or klonked.  But there is a heavy, present something in the silence.  

Then, there it is. The deep, quick inhale as Jonah leans over his ruby wedge and takes a bite, and a bite, and a bite, with an expectant but very delayed exhale as he leans back, chin dripping.  There is a crunch and slurp as Tessa goes for a bite so big her cheeks can't help but be molded to the crescent arc, or to come away coated in juice.  Bite after bite, they move along like the caterpillars I have seen devouring my garden plants, and without a word to each other, they are in their own worlds; two little parallel universes.  

Their pursuit is almost a meditation, their reverence almost religious.  Tessa leans back in her chair and I hear the wood creak as she sighs, resting from her delicious work. Jonah looks out the window at his childhood, of course he doesn't know it. But that bright sidewalk outside and the sweet cold melon on his cheeks will burn deep into a place in his little mind and not surface for a few dozen years.   

They won't remember today, but they're sure to remember sweet watermelon in the summer.

I must have looked away, then.  
Because it's winter now, 
and the children aren't asking
 for watermelon anymore.


Photo courtesy of the amazing Annmarie Hall.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


My little maple tree in the front yard is confused.  It has been a pretty warm, dry winter here in Northern California, and in November we had a week or two of weather in the seventies.  A few weeks later my little maple tree began pushing out shoots and tiny green leaves.  Those baby leaves opened around the same time the rest of the tree was in it's full autumnal glory, all ablaze in Christmas red.  My little tree was all decked out for the holidays in it's little red-green combo.  By the time the baby leaves were teenager leaves, the rest of the tree was quite a nursing-home baldy.

Then the cold came blasting in, and my little tree has rushed those sweet leaves right through adulthood and on to leaf geriatrics.  The tree spent a week as a clump of sticks with a red beanie of little fall leaves on top.  Now they are dropping into the pond below, confused little boats on chilly black water.

I've noticed a few of my other garden plants that seem botanically befuddled.  My impatiens are usually limp and soggy by now, and my begonia's strength should have retreated deep into the soil, the shroud of fall's last bloom turning black on the surface.  Instead they are a mix of dull greens and faded blooms, uncertain and insincere.  My bulbs have sprung, and a few brazen daffodils have burst out defiantly, as if daring a frost to even think about showing up.  In my neighborhood, springtime blossoms on fruit trees have shown up to the party far too early.

I once read that the earth needs to rest; that just as we need to sleep, or should, each time this blue planet does a singular turn, that the trees and most plants need to rest too.  The soil itself, covered in dead-fall, takes on nutrients and gives away nothing for a few short months before Spring, a demanding toddler, begins to take and take and take, again.

That is what winter is for.  Solitude.  Restoration. Quiet.


I'm a little worried for my tree, that maybe the work it has had to do when it should have been resting will compromise its health and strength in the coming year, making it susceptible to to disease.  Then I go on to worry about all the trees; the ones the that grow the fruit that my family and community have taken for granted we will enjoy in this summer.  What if they bloom too soon?  What if winter comes back from it's strange vacation, trying to get all caught up on missed work, and with frigid fingers throws out a blanket that covers them and kills their blossoms?

My mother would say I'm borrowing trouble.  I probably am. What If-ing has never been a prosperous pastime.  Still, it feels like someone has taken a great, tentative breath, and we're all waiting.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Westward Ho! ~ An Adventure Photo Album

I walked along the road with Natalie in my arms, a few dry leaves scuddering around my feet.  The morning was chilly, but my shawl and apron added a little protection against the wind.  My bonnet hung down my back.  I was walking back in time, but I hadn't arrived yet, and strolling past the hospital in my full prairie attire, I felt a little self conscious.

  I saw the girls in the distance standing outside Sutter's Fort; Ellie nervously guarding our belongings, head bowed and fingers by her lips, Tessa marching confidently around the grassy hill on the look out for me.  Knowing we "women folk" wouldn't have been able to wrangle our bedrolls and belongings, a cot and the baby all the way to the fort from the parking garage 2 blocks away, I had left the girls with our things as I parked the van.  As a approached, Ellie caught sight of me and immediately ran down the slight hill toward me.  I heard the sound track to Little House on the Prairie in my head as I saw her Ingals-like braids bouncing against her cotton blouse (later, in retelling this moment to Guy, as I sang out the tune, he said, "That's The Waltons,".  Buzz kill.  It was Little House to me!).

This week as a part of our Charter School we participated in a Living History event at Sutter's Fort.  Dressed as pioneers, we were to spend a day and a night living as though the year were 1846.  Our day started after we got "settled", pun very intended (get it?  Settlers...?  Oh, never mind.  Some things are funnier in my head), welcoming the wagons that rolled in carrying some of our fellow travelers.  After some pictures with those newfangled "boxes", we were welcomed by none other than Captain John Sutter himself.  Then the children gathered into groups and began their day's adventures.

The girls headed off to their day full of activities, and I started my patience-building exercises, consisting of 8 hours of trying to help little boys to make tiny knots in tiny pieces of yarn with tiny, uncoordinated fingers.  It was amazing... 
that I didn't go jump in the well.  Actually, most of the kids did great, and I learned exactly when to step in and help with the knot tying before melt downs occurred. 
 I learned this after two melt downs occurred. 
 Yah, I'm a little slow.
Girls tended to enjoy the process more than the boys, but once I figured out to tell the boys that they could make their "action figures" into ninja pioneers, things generally went much more smoothly.

Too bad I didn't get to work in the trading post, though.  There is nothing that builds the patience muscle like waiting for 70 small children to make a choice between one little wooden thingy and another little wooden thingy.

Ellie and Tessa brought handmade items and treasures from home to trade; bracelets, beads, shells, lemon drops and marbles, and bartered and dickered with the folks at the trading post.  They felt really great about their purchases; a wooden snake for Jonah, a little wooden rattle for Natalie, and a few little toys for themselves.  I loved that they combined their barter items and used them together, never thinking about who had made what.

The children had been encouraged to take on a real character from pioneer times, and the girls chose two of their great-great grandmothers, one from my family line and one from Guy's, who crossed the plains with handcarts.  They learned all about them before we left and were to tell their stories when anyone asked.

The only picture I managed to turn up in.  
All I can say is, I'm not a bonnet girl.
(Notice Tessa admiring her new cowgirl boots,
 a timely gift from Sweet Auntie Joyce)

The night before we left I had been so busy that I asked Guy to get our snacks ready for us.
The next day, every time I reached into our little cloth-lined, metal pail and pulled out one of the tiny wax paper bundles Guy had wrapped with twine, I felt like I was really unwrapping a little present.  I thought about him kindly folding the paper of each one.   It was the best granola I ever ate.

(Natalie agrees)

During the afternoon we watched as a replica cannon was fired.  It was shockingly loud.  I think Sutter incapacitated the enemy simply by making them pee their pants.
I opted to some how plug four ears (mine and Natalie's) with two hands, one shoulder and by burying Natalie's little head into my chest, rather than catch a picture of the actual explosion.  Just picture the image above with a lot of smoke.

Part of the children's experience was to make all of the food we ate during our stay.  They chopped veggies and sorted beans for lunch (dinner), and  made a very nice stew, and with the flour they ground at the mill, they baked bread for dinner (supper).  We ate on the lawn with new friends, and washed dishes in community wash tubs.

Tessa helped grind wheat on the mill stone,

while Ellie watched.

I guess the mill stone was just a little to technologically advanced for Ellie,  She's a purist; she opted for the older-old fashioned approach.

Natalie spent a lot of the day allowing me the opportunity to re-direct her.  Her favorite place for us to practice was the rickety wooden staircase.

The children baked the bread in the adobe oven in the courtyard.  It came out looking like stones, but was amazingly soft and delicious.

Great care was taken to make sure that all modern objects remained out of sight.  Cameras were hidden behind aprons and bonnets, and everything we used was as accurate as could be.  I kept my water bottle stashed between a post and a bench, and little Natty frequently took a sip.

Finally, my girls made it to my station, and I helped them make their dolls as pretty as rags could be made.  Lucky rags.

Natalie stayed close by all morning, but by the afternoon she began to expand her circle of comfort wider and wider.  It included a lot of communing with the earth.

The kids got to try blacksmithing, wool carding, helping with the goats, and learning all about the fort and life in a wagon train.

In the middle of it all, a mail bag was delivered.  Letters had arrived from loved ones back east, wondering if their dear ones had arrived safely.

The girls' last class of the day was, of all things, school!  They sat still and tired as they listened to their teacher and wrote their lessons on slate boards.

Finally, we all tidied up our stations and gathered with our children for dinner, supper... dinner, whatever it was.  It was delicious.  I tried not to think about the fact that 70 children had had their hands all over this food. 

After our stew and apple crisp, mothers sat and visited, and children played.  I met some of the most amazing women.  Strong, intelligent, and brave... true pioneer stock plucked from a modern world.  Many had large families like mine, many had huge age spreads in their children like mine, and I met at least a half dozen of them that shared my same faith.  It was wonderful.  Natalie slept peacefully in my arms. I didn't even notice when the sun set.  Before long music began to play and toes began to tap.  

A new friend held Natalie while I joined the girls in a wild dance.  We had so much fun, it could not actually be captured by camera.  Or maybe this is what happens when you randomly hand your camera to someone.

By the time we were done dancing, I was exhausted.  We couldn't keep up with the caller of the dance.  But that was just the beginning.  We were pooped, but the musicians were just getting started.  They played on in the distillery for an hour more at least!  The lead caller was part musician, part comedian, and all energy.  Caffiene, meet Roadrunner, now have take guitar.

By the time the music was done, the children had all been up on stage playing along on instruments from all over the world.  But it was now after 10 pm and we were beat.  The band cleared out, and the beds went up, or down - on the floor - as it were.

But was just as we were getting settled in, the Night Watch was called!  The children were needed to scout out the fort for bandits and intruders.  Some of the troops wielded rifles, and had to be careful not to accidentally capture rouge cows and chickens.  The children ran around in the dark corners of the fort, some in animal costumes, giggling and feeling so daring and so safe at the same time.

The "little" kids took the first watch, and the "big" kids took the second.  Ellie made the cut for the big kids group.  When the Night Watch finished their rounds and the mamas and little kids went to bed, the big kids were allowed to stay up in the courtyard and visit for a little while.  Tessa was sad she wasn't with Ellie, and I realized there was no reason she couldn't be out there.  "Go on, Tessa."  I said.
"Really?" she said, handing me Natalie as fast as she could.  She had a ball, and the bigger kids welcomed her as is usually the case in a homeschool crowd.

I cuddled down with Natalie in my cot (yes, mama got a cot.  Mama ain't 12.  My old butt won't keep it's shape after 8 hours on a concrete floor).  But she was oh-so-wide-awake after her luscious nap, that she stayed up for almost an hour talking and even singing to me.  I'm sure the other families appreciated the serenade (she featured "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" in her repertoire. She sings the "na nas" in the song).

I finally got her off to sleep and the girls slipped into their sleeping bags, just in time to listen to the little boy nearby begin his own serenade of sleep apnea. The buzzing weed-whacker sounds would zip along faster and faster, and then came the grunting, and soon a little bit of choking would join the medley.  Finally there would be silence, and I would wait for many long seconds for an eventual choking gasp.  It would finally come.  I would then notice I had also been holding my breath.  I would revisit this place many times throughout the night.  I shared the stiff cot with the now sleeping Natalie who assumed her favorite sleep position, the Spread Eagle.  From time to time rain would pelt the window above me, and the wind would howl through the giant plank doors.  It was a great night's sleep, let me tell you.

Morning came too soon.  A stirring around me of sleeping-bag zippers and the hiss of deflating air mattresses said it was time.  Time to get up.  Time to go home.

We pulled on our shoes, and packed up our bedrolls.  We wandered with square-dance-hangovers out into the chill of the morning wrapped in blankets and shawls, and ate the child-made cinnamon rolls and drank very welcome hot cocoa as the wind pressed our skirts hard into our legs.

An occasional juicy raindrop would fall, like a kindly but firm warning.  It was over.  It was time for us to go.

We cleaned up the fort, swept out the distillery, and gathered our things.

I had the girls wait with a sweet family there in the fort while I went to get the van.  I was dirty.  I had  my sleepy, no-makeup-face on.  My hair was wonky.  I gathered Natalie up in my arms and wrapped my shawl around us, reluctantly stepping out of the gate of the fort.  It was sad.  I wasn't quite ready for the real world, my real world, yet.

Busy people walked past me without bothering to look into my face.  They didn't seem to notice my dirty apron and dusty boots.  As I stood on the corner, a sandwich wrapper came bumping down the sidewalk on the wind, making a b-line for me.  It was like the world, the crazy, messy, busy, world was rushing right at me, like it couldn't wait to overtake me and rob me of the happy peaceful feeling of the fort.  It blew right up to my boot and pressed into the side, and then I laughed, because it was like it was begging, "please!  Take me back with you!".  I couldn't blame it.  Certainly it recognized that things wrapped in paper in the world I had just come from were also lovingly tied with twine bows, and would never be left to blow alone down a busy, impersonal street.  

I bent over and picked it up.  I did.  I carried it with me to the parking garage and helped it into a trash can there (what?  Did you think I was going to take it home with me?  You're silly).

When I got back to the fort with the van, the sky was giving it's final warning.  Big, fat, random drops of cold rain hit the ground and my head.  We gathered our things, we said our goodbyes, and we climbed into the van.  It felt very strange.

The girls almost cried.  They said they wished they could stay a whole week.

"Why can't it be longer?" Tessa asked.

"Because it is always better to leave when you are having fun, and not stay so long that you start to get bored.  That way you will want to come back." I said, talking myself into my reasoning as well.

And we will go back.  The girls are already planing their barter items for next year, and I'm thinking about a brand new bonnet.

As we made our way down the freeway toward home, the clouds finally opened up, and the rain came pouring down.  "I waited just for you,"  it said.

"I know," I smiled back.

Till next year!

(This picture was the girls' response to my question, 
"So, did you love it?")


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Date Nite with a Fugitive

I had a hot date last week.

He is gorgeous, and very youthful.

I love his sense of humor.

We went to the movies together.  He held my hand!

At one point he even climbed up into my lap, declaring into my ear his favorite sweet-nothing "I nevoh let you out my ahrms."

We shared Skittles and stayed till the credits were over and the lights came back up.

I don't usually go for younger men, but I just couldn't resist his boyish charm.  I hope he goes out with me again sometime.


As we left the theater, Jonah-boy saw an arcade-style photo booth out in the mall.  He wanted to know all about it, and then, of course, he wanted to DO it.

Funny, this from the boy who hides from my camera every time I try to capture his little round face. Stinker.

I refused to pay $5 a pop, but then I had an idea.  We got into the booth and went through the motions.  And except for the little thrill of watching the strip of pictures drop out of the machine into the tray, it was just about the same experience as the funny photo booth.  Of course, there was no merciless countdown that pops a bright flash in your face whether you are ready for it or not, which was very helpful with this camera-shy boy.

This off-duty superhero is a real challenge lately.  He torments his sisters, annoys his big brothers, and throws cloud-burst-like fits many, many times a day.  He refuses to pick up his toys, and changes clothes 4-8 times a day, always opting for a fresh outfit and leaving the others on the floor like abandoned snake sheds.

And I think he is my youngest to try his hand at lying.  Today he said, "I'm full!" to avoid eating the rest of his dinner, but then when he heard there was pie, he sang out, "I want pie!"

"But you just said you were too full to finish dinner.  If you are too full for dinner, you're too full for pie."

His reply was very straight forward:

"I lied!" he said frankly.

*Sigh*.  Of the many phases of childhood, this one I could do without.  This, and booger eating.  Oh! and the "fart-laugh-fart-some-more-because-you-laughed" phase. Followed by - you guessed it - laughing.

I read an article the other day about a study determining that time-outs are ineffective because the offending child views them as punishment.  Uh, hellloooooo, duh.  That's the whole point, isn't it?  Wow, my bad-momma-flag is flyin' high now.

The article says that you need to take the mis-behaving child, the mini-miscreant, and snuggle them and love all over them.  Well, not exactly that, but it did read a little like "reward the criminal by slobbing him with kisses, thus reinforcing all future wooden-block-throwing".  Rubber stamp of approval.  Sounds like a great way to create a monster to me.

A little voice in my frontal lobe reminded me that the single way to get Jonah to mellow out when he is in that Thelma-and-Louise, I'm-drivin'-this-trike-off-a-cliff-and-taking-y'all-with-me rage is if I coax him into my arms and love away the grumpies.  I don't see using this for our pint-sized hooligan as the first resort post-malfeasance, but maybe when holding down the linoleum in the entry-way at our board-approved time-out spot proves futile, it wouldn't hurt to try.

We'll let you know how it goes.