Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Damnestic

My family is due here in just a few hours and I'm cleaning like crazy (except for I'm blogging my pants on fire for one last moment here before invasion). You know, I would feel so fake if only the parts you could see were clean, so I've organized the closets, vacuumed the attic (seriously), and toted a few loads from the storage closet too Goodwill. All that's left is the kitchen, glittering with a universe full of glass slivers.

I screamed and the pyrex 8 x 10 exploded. There's this historic problem with making tea before having any. The wrong burner, a messy kitchen, and the pan from last night's roasted veggies. Blue glass shot all the way down the stairs, around two corners and melted carpet. Sine and co-sign co-mingled somehow with longitudes and latitudes, speed and velocity, and out of this science and math orgy in Huck's brain popped 175 mph shards of glass. Whew. I was only three feet away and fully survived with only a barely burned toe and a prick of glass. If you're going to be randomly executing a series of catastrophic coincidences, make sure you do yourself a few favors, like piling cookie sheets on top of the pan at such an angle that the glass can't shoot into your backside. Nice. I admit I'm a domestic catastrophe. But I've got the cleanest closets full of broken glass that you'll ever see.

As far as the kids chores go, Santa's got long coat tails and this mama's gonna ride them all the way to Christmas. This morning I spent two hours answering the same question, "What else can I do?" Seriously. I ran out of chores so I had them scrub the banisters and spindles. I wondered what could possibly cause this unprecedented spirit of helpfulness. Then Blue asked, "Do you think Santa would really leave a switch or a lump of coal in some one's stocking?"

The chickens have also been further domesticated, although much less willingly. Their free ranging days have been cut short. We all discovered this week that the neighbors scatter chicken scratch all over their yard... for quail. Not for our chickens. They were sour pusses about the clucking visitors. And once the girls knew there was a candy store next to our health food aisle, they started Bee lining first thing in the morning to their yard.

My chickens. My responsibility.

And yet there's something here that seems not completely fair. I mean, wouldn't you wonder about my psychology just a little if I set out dog food for coyotes and then whined that the neighborhood dogs (who are free range) were snacking at my door step?

Without any spare time, incessant darkness closing in, and a budget without wiggle room, I installed a quick and dirty chicken yard. It's saggy and ramshackle and genuinely ugly. Those are the neighbors that always remind us that our yard and house are their view and so I hope they enjoy it.

The chickens moved through the seven stages of grief fairly quickly, however. They seem happy to consistently know where they are. Recently they'd been utterly lost... on the back porch. I found them huddled in the dark, crying. They could see their red lighted coup, but couldn't figure out how to get to it. (Hint: try going down the stairs directly behind you!) King Louis le Cat is thrilled that he can wander outside without getting his eyes pecked out. And although I miss spotting them in the most unusual places, I'm all enjoying my poop-less deck.

In other heartbreaking domestication news, Sukey's halter caused a Satsuma sized callous on her face which made me cry. She has to be tethered otherwise she escapes the "fence", which looked fine when we moved in but has since been revealed as a hoax and/or a hologram inadequate to contain tumble weeds, much less a wild calf. I applied a new halter, one that will hopefully rub differently. But Huck found her last night, slipped free and dancing beneath those million disco balls in the night sky. I tied her again. A bull moose crashed through the neighborhood last week, destroying otherwise good fences and devouring the rosarium. The last thing I need is a well-insured calf to blame it on.

Taming isn't my strong suit. Caging, tethering, time-outing, boiling watering. Ick. It's the wild in us all that resonates in me, that calls my curiosity, that gains my compassion. It's those scribbles outside the lines. But I've somehow elected myself as animal husband. And I suppose it's now my duty to keep my animal... um... wives, in line, safe from themselves, those cars and the entrapping neighbors. oh well. I'm off to scrub the drawers of the fridge. I wonder what I'll shatter and burn this time. My own free spirit, perhaps?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mommy, I need a tissue!


Whew. I just breezed in from my time travel experience. Wow. Sure am glad to be back in this decade again. I went into the past about 60 years, and then caught a glimpse of the future in the next 30, and let me tell you: this is the time to be a woman.

I went through the entrance of a place called Toys R Us (although my computer won't let me do that adorable little backward R). I'd heard that other people with kids make pilgrimages. I think I went once, to return something. Our kids have toys, I assure you (is anyone from CPS reading this?). And some of them are indeed plastic and occasionally trendy. Today, however, instead of entering into a toy store, I seem to have wandered in to a time machine.

After I passed through the corridor of zinging lights and red and green, I found myself smack dab in the 1950's.

There were the pink aisles. And the blue aisles. In the pink aisles I found miniature domestications. Strollers, cribs, easy bake ovens, dolls, dolls, dolls, dolls that made Barbie look progressive. Dolls that poop and pee. Dolls that cry: "Mommy I need a tissue!" (SOOOO cute!!!! Right?). Not wanting risk any misconception that some toys could be gender neutral, they applied thick layers of pink plastic to everything. Pink radios, pink computers, pink guitars, pink micro-scopes (those were the special edition super-weak ones) and pink vomit (that was mine!).

And then on the blue side of the store (divided by an impossibly wide crevasse of aisle) there were all sorts of cool toys, toys that used batteries for something more interesting that crying, toys with buttons (and if those buttons caused poop it was COOL poop), toys without toy diapers, toys that vroomed, toys that built, toys with courage, toys with balls, really.

Call me an old fashioned femi-nazi, but I found this array of crap to be so disheartening, so disgusting, so frighteningly back slid, that I almost started crying myself, "Mommy! I need a tissue!"

What the hell is going on here? I'd seen some glimpses of modern culture through the fingers I've had slapped over my eyes this past decade, but holy crap. Do girls really find changing a pretend diaper to be the most exciting thing they want to do all day? I would expect there to be some girls like this. But that's all there is. That's it. There aren't any other options. There's nothing exciting about girl toys. AT ALL.

I want boy toys myself. Yo, Santa, get me a remote control ANYTHING!! I love that shit. But DON'T GET ME AN EFFING REFRIDGE!! I'm sure I speak for many stifled little girls right now.

The only truly gender neutral thing I found was the McDonald's kiosk, with plastic patties to flip, and a dorky little visor. So, both boys and girls can proudly cross the gender divide, equally earning minimum wage and pimples galore. Thank god it's not all going to crap.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Art-eries carry blood from the heart to the body

During teacher conferences a few weeks ago I mentioned to Blue's teacher that Blue is less than thrilled with the art "class." This is taught on Fridays, not by a trained, enthusiastic certificated teacher, but by the regular teacher. She's brilliant at teaching math and reading, but like all of us, she's not perfect at everything. Her art instruction is less than inspired and rather control-freaky. Anti-art. I mentioned being a couple credits short of my art degree (I was a double major until that pink cross appeared on the dip stick, then I shortened my elongated college career by finishing up just the one philosophy-esc major) and so art was kind of important in our house, and Blue probably had absurdly high expectations of art at school. And the teacher burst forth with a plea for me to help her, readily admitting it wasn't her forte. I was impressed she knew herself and her limits so well.

I've been careful with what I involve myself. I'm planning on staying here for an absurdly long time and I have immense difficulty un-extricating myself from volunteer work once I've begun. I've chosen surgical precision infiltration into activities. And people. I want everything I do to ring true. No time fillers. No people fillers. Just people that get me and work that touches me. And until that happens, I'll be fine alone-ish, with my family.

This seemed close enough. So I decided to try it. With the caveat that if it doesn't make my heart sing, I don't do it again.

My heart is still belting out an aria.

To match their Sioux studies, I suggested a shield decorated with a dream animal of protection and festooned with feathers and beads (this I pulled from a book about the Sioux... it's not just some stereo type I gleaned from Tonto, rest assured). We discussed, improvised, planned and developed the project. And then we began.

Where I went during those two hours astonished me. I was there, in this hectic class room. I wasn't overwhelmed or frazzled as I suspected I would be. I was fully present, asking each child if the animal resonated with them. If when they looked at their drawing they saw something they loved. If they felt they were done, or if they wanted to add more. Nothing was bad. Nothing needed erasing, unless they felt it wasn't their best. I encouraged drawings so big and powerful and protective that the plate could not contain them. I wanted them to feel safe enough to be big, and free enough to express the big world within each small child. What I wanted them all to know was that art is about personal expression. And in this there are no rules except: do your best. Art is about our best and truest selves. Whoever you are is beautiful and wonderful and that is the story that art tells, first and foremost. And I got to help them hear their shields tell that story. I took each shield into my hands and praised it for it's specific strengths. And while I did that I explained about colors and textures and dynamics. I got to speak about artists using the unique qualities of their materials, such as the ruffled edges of our paper plates. As long as a teacher is present, art is a collaboration with that teacher, with her values, with her ideals. What I valued and expressed became part of their work. I felt it was my responsibility to guide them to a final work they felt proud of because it was theirs and it was good.

I honestly fell in love with every student and every shield they created. And I was free to do this because the teacher was attending to the business end of 24 3rd graders. The class buzzed with beauty and enthusiasm. I was not overwhelmed with kids, I was overwhelmed with love for 24 perfectly cherish-able beings. My heart could barely contain that much love.

When the students left, the teacher and I pawed through their plates and I tell you, I have never seen such beautiful work. We were both astounded at what they accomplished with some pencils, paper plates, yarn and a little instruction. Such a humble project and such glorious and divine rewards.

Most schools have cut real art programs. Teachers, untrained in this crucial spiritual work, have had to roll up their sleeves and get to it. Some probably love it, relish it as their favorite part of the day. Others welcome help. And I will. I will.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Zero Tolerance

First there's an issue with borrowing your husbands balaclava. The black anarchist face mask makes the whole frozen, below zero air problem burn the nostrils a little less. Unfortunately, it's worn in the wee hours of the morning, before personal hygiene has been attended to. A fix for this hot-box of hell might be to breath only through the nose. However, then you get the morning smells of some one else, a man, and everything he's ever eaten in the full stench that this baklava has accumulated over the past months. I should be thankful he's ever out there, in his bulky michelin ninja suit on mornings he doesn't have to be at work early. But instead, I'm complaining about the smell of his loaned warm things.

The next problem is with wet things and frozen metal. Never touch the barn or stall doors with wet hands. You wash off the cow's teet and then you grab the milk bucket and then you can't put the bucket down. You shake it. You scrape it. And eventually, it flies off into cow crap. But no worries the crap is frozen solid, albeit only five minutes old. This makes mucking out the stalls a piece of cow-cake, almost. You can just pick the patties up and toss them into the wheel barrow. No shovel required. They also aren't as wet and soupy not only because they are frozen, but also because the cows are wasting away with dehydration, despite your best efforts. It is hard to slurp a three foot by two foot ice cube down. And the hose is frozen. So I'm trekking buckets of water from the well to the barn, over and over. The cold well water which so thoroughly quenched thirst and shivered me timbers this summer, now steams as it rushes from the spigot and clouds up as it pours on to the ice trough. When you finally get to milking, it freezes to the sides of the pail before it even hits the bottom. Don't worry, once it gets in to the house it slides down and gets pourable.

But the milking works up a fine sweat, as does some hefty mucking. It's great exercise, and fills the lungs with a burning cold which is supposed to make me pound my chest and want to live forever, but instead makes me pound my chest and think I'm dying.

At least the radio still works. It's not tuned to news or anything, but contains a special CD. I read a study on milk cows. And they give a gallon more a day if listening to Mozart vs. not listening to anything vs. rock music vs. Rush Bimbo (which is scientifically shown to plummet milk production as well as IQ's). Not that I could use a gallon more a day, I'm drowning in the stuff as it is. But it does seem to make things come out easier. I found Mozart to be a little too exciting, actually, so the first song we hear is "Sonata for Two Pianos, Andante" by Brahms. The first few notes sound just like "Baby's First Christmas" by Connie Frances. Then comes Vaughn Williams with "Greensleeves," the tune for "What Child is This?" That's when she's almost going dry, but then the rushing main melody floods in and she lets down anew. It's so Christmassy!

Yes, a dark cold barn, the stiff and tough shit, the hormonal chickens fighting in their coop, the water frozen solid: your worst bucolic nightmare. But with Brahms and Vaughn Williams the stars twinkle more brilliantly in the icy sky, the hay smells manger-y and warm and my 700 pound wild cow seems almost cuddly.

Modern life had me down. No reason to experience nature's ways and whiles. No reason to not cocoon myself into a constant, safe temperature. I wanted reality, cold and hot, mild and wild, windy and calm, spring and summer and fall and winter, all of it to dance with me, to touch my swirled finger tips and lead my feet to the music of this sphere. I wanted life on earth: full, unrestrained, unchained, intimate, relevant.

I walk across the frozen grass. It sparkles in the sudden motion light, a trail of stars in the dirt, and Paul Simon sings in my mind, "She's got diamonds on the soles of her feet..." I'm a rich girl. I'm a mortgage-broke and frozen girl, but I'm a rich girl too. I don't try to hide it. Diamonds on the souls of my feet.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

First, I need to gush about my daughter who's again decided that her name really sucks and is going by one of her middle ones, Juniper. So, Juniper rediscovered last Christmas's knitting kit (which I stashed away, away, away thinking "My god people, WE don't knit. Not in this house. Keep your bundles of tangle-ready yarn to yourself." While we perhaps LOOK like a knitting family, I can't (personally) imagine anything worse. If I'm going to lounge for a second, I'm going to be reading and if I'm supposed to be listening to something, like a lecture or you talking, it better be so interesting that I don't have extra attention left over for knitting any kind of itchy, semi-warm, bulky crap (that I frequently love in spite of it all), and if what you're saying isn't that interesting, I'm going to walk away or turn you off (if your some sort of recorded visual with that sort of switching device) because I've got dishes to wash!

Regardless of my best intentions to shield her from such craftiness, she pulled it out on Saturday and proceeded to knit herself a hot pink hat on Sunday. This morning, she says, "Mom, can I take my knitting (another hat) on the bus?" "WHAT!??"
"Well So-n-so and So-n-so and So-n-so and So-n-so knit on the bus!"
"What? There's some sort of elementary school Bus 41 Knitting club? Fine take the knitting and be sure to loose the needle somewhere you can't find it!"

We've definitely plopped in to our perfect school district. In addition to knitting as the school hobby, every girl also owns a horse. Traditionally they each, personally, own a wild draft horse stallion, who rears and has silky black hair, and the little girls are the only one's who can control them. Not only does Juniper need to bring her knitting on the bus, she also needs at least one wild stallion, of the tall, beautiful and impossibly strong variety. This ain't no city school district.

But honestly, that knitting kind of looks like FUN! It's this simple little plastic ring with knobs on it. And it looks, if not interesting at least fun and, dare I say, relaxing? I might try it... some day. My new friend, Yoko, is learning how to knit this week too. She's trying to drag me along with her! "We'll have so MUCH FUN!" She insists. But she's on a mission to knit 6 hats to send back to Japan before Christmas. I'm just casually observing with a small seedling of interest. There's that whole learning stage, where everything you do sucks. I don't tolerate that stage well. And anyway, I've just learned to milk, and make yogurt and cheese and truffles (three batches in a week! One experimental!) and gather eggs (very tricky). Isn't that enough for a while?

We plunked down a five spot for a permit and trekked it up to the Mountains, near Usk, and chopped down ourselves a fine fine tree! We only went about 25 feet into the National Forest because there was snow and ice and cliffs on the ground and we didn't want to go too far in that dangerous "survivor Man!" direction. And Juniper cut down a tree for herself too!

Coyote treats the trees as temporary storage for his Christmas toys on strings. Santa in a race car and Bob the builder with a Christmas tree zoom around the house, converse with each other and everything else and then eventually make it back to their home branches. All the ornaments get a chance to play for a while before going back to bed. Isn't that nice.

I can see, via the USPS, that it's time for Christmas donations. Juniper once crammed all of her cash in an envelope and sent it off to her hero: Jane Goodall. And now we get invitations to do it again, and again, and again. Coyote got the mail today, noted the picture on Jane's envelope and queried, "Mom, why is that monkey in jail?"
To go in to the particulars of animal testing or not?
"Well, the monkey, he got drunk. He sat on the elephants trunk. The elephant sneezed and called the police and that was the end of the monk, the monk." He felt unsatisfied with the answer, but I wasn't. So, I did go in to animal testing which was a series of Why?'s that I cannot adequately answer anyway.

And we also had a big fabulous party, with real live people, not E-people (although I love you, whoever you are). It was my usual style of hosting which means that I didn't really calculate the number of party goers until an hour before. And I counted 18. We don't own enough service for 18 anythings, much less people who want to eat off plates, wipe mouths with napkins, drink from something other than a spigot and eat with utensils. I've prided myself on maintaining only one dishwasher load of dishes, which can never equal 18. I impressed my guests with my casual-chic poverty-heirloom collection of aging, random paper plates and birthday party left-over utensils. I had upped the numbers with some garage sale finds this summer and it wasn't so bad.

It was supposed to be a small, intimate gathering of the few friends we've made since moving here six months ago. Instead it was a drunken rager of staggering proportions. Hostess extraordinaire, I failed to finish preparing dessert before they arrived. After dinner, tipsy and silly, I finished dipping the truffles while they watched and seemed fascinated and certainly enjoyed the final products, once they dried. Luckily no one here (anywhere?!)knows about my blog so I can make up whatever fabulous crap ("they seemed fascinated") I want to about them and no one is the wiser... that's the beauty of having a no-name blog, FYI. And then the MEN CLEANED THE KITCHEN and the women went to the Lord of the Flies basement to whip the kids into cleaning too. By the time everyone left, the house was yet again spotless: wink, wink.

It was a milestone of moving and life. A house big enough. And friends/acquaintances enough. And here we are, making our nest and laying our eggs in Spokane, of all the crazy, random places.

My photo loading abilities have vanished, either through my own fault or the computer's or some thing out there in computer land. Will post photos when I figure this out again, again, again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Presenting: the five debutants


Last night, beneath that brilliant full moon, deep in the barn, behind the hay, far from the nesting box I purchased (then filled with straw and dropped an oh-so-suggestive golf ball into) eggs have been discovered. Perfect, small eggs. 1-2-3. Not the gelatinous orbs I was warned they would initially grunt out. But thick shelled and brown.

We'd hoped. We'd dreamed, but still we wondered. The girls aren't even 6 months old yet. And winter is when egg production usually drops off. Apparently the issue is food: they need to be awake long enough to eat enough to have enough calories left over to pop out an egglet. We put a light on a timer in their hutch and at least one of them has responded.

We are perfectly giddy over our debutant, whoever she may be! Chicken Bat Mitzvah!

Of course, the eggs weren't where they're supposed to be, which raises eyebrows. The girls spend most of their day under the back porch and I'm wondering if I should belly crawl down there to check out the scene. But that sounds like some grody combination of Halloween and Easter, hunting rotten eggs with spiders.

I was going to tell you how we have these fabulously egalitarian chickens. No pecking order has been observed. Everyone eats. Priscilla, the white one who flaps across the lawn like a plastic bag, is a bit of a loner who likes to be pet. Otherwise, they're all kind of the same. But now that puberty has set in... Well, we all know what happens next. This morning there were fights! Massive chicken brawls in the barn! Like some crazy illegal boxing match. I couldn't believe it. They even did that cocky head strut thing, circled around each other, eying their opponents, bobbing around looking for openings and weaknesses. Crazy girls. I almost ran and got the Principal! No way was I going to break that up myself: too entertaining and I'm too chicken... or not enough chicken, to jump into the middle.

Chickens are easy pets, mostly. You should really get some. They are hilarious. They follow Blue out to the bus stop in the morning. They follow their silver scrap bucket everywhere. I'll take it out to the barn and they'll run behind me, their thin little legs whirling while their humongous thighs causing quite the waddle. I'll dump the bucket in their trough, and then they will follow that shiny metal bucket of promise all the way back to the house, never even noticing the treats of whey and soggy toast crusts in the trough.

Chicken food is perfectly formulated for chickens. Every little pellet contains every nutrient a chicken needs in perfect proportion. And my harem hates it. They'll pick at it once they're locked in the hutch for the night. And they'll peruse the first handful in the morning. But they're easily bored with it and would much prefer the kitchen scraps or to run about rummaging for grubs in the cow shit, for seeds in the dead garden, for insects anywhere, for ANYTHING BUT their food. And when you think about it, how would you like to eat the same thing every day, every bite the same flavor. No matter how perfectly, scientifically suited to your dietary needs, I think we'd all go crazy.

And that is the story about my crazy quintuplets, may they survive their adolescence and figure out where to put their eggs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The OJ issue

First it was Orange Juice.

A road trip, two moms, three kids, and a stop at a gas station. The kids were thirsty. I grabbed an OJ. And her daughter puked it all up in the back seat. "Don't you know people shouldn't drink orange juice!" Her mom howled at me. Um... no I didn't. My people drink OJ without much of a hitch, so it never occurred to me that OJ would be the ONE thing in a roadside convenience store that would be bad for children. Apparently Skoll would have been preferable. Despite the fact the her people don't do OJ, we continued on as friends.

Now, here comes the reprimanded for NOT drinking OJ every morning. The previous generation is appalled at the lack of it in my fridge. APPALLED! Usually, they bring their own. Here's my perspective: Good OJ is EXPENSIVE and I'm not all that in to it. Perhaps, if your household consists of 2 self-controlled adults, $7 a week on the stuff is peanuts. But here, where children roll and rumble, $7 OJ is absurd. And the frozen stuff sucks. And we've got a gallon-a-day fresh, raw milk machine in our back yard, so I'm not sure that importing OJ from the far corners of the earth, or rather the middle part, is so crucial.

Do you OJ? You suck either way.

The same holds true for our conundrum child, Coyote. His birthday is July 13th and he's always been young...very very very young for his age. I don't think he was ready to be born until he was 6 months old.

They say to hold boys back a year, if at all possible. They're not ready for school at the crack of five years old. They need a whole other year to play and run. Girls: make 'em miserable just as early as possible, but leave the boys alone. Last year, his Montessori teacher was sure he would not be ready for Kindergarten. Our child-psychologist friend agreed.

Decided: wait a year on Kindergarten. Awkward, expensive, odd to me, a girl so young for her grade she could barely walk when others could run.

Then came teacher conferences a week or so ago. And Coyote's teacher (a former NOW president BTW who opted out and has now taught Montessori for 25 years --- wasting HER LIFE!!!! as the "Feminine Mistake" would have us believe.) Anyhoo... she says she hasn't found anything Coyote CAN'T do and she thinks this should be his Kindergarten year (they're flexible like that). First Grade next year.

Well, I had just gotten used to the idea that we'd hold him back. So this was a shock, like telling a mother her child was 18, then breaking the news that she was just four, and a year later telling her she just earned a drivers license and was accepted at the University of Paris. The wonderful teacher assured me that no matter what I decided, I would spend the rest of my life wondering if I did the right thing and blaming all Coyote's foibles and failures on my inability to navigate the basic task of parenthood. As a parent of four, she told me it is the unavoidable fate of all mothers. And then I suddenly realized: my gosh, first grade! I'll probably have to get a job!! And he's my baby. My bambino. My little Jesus in a manger who just learned how to fart on demand. So soon I'll be marching him off for 6 hours a day of blahblahbladdyblahblah. And she says to me, "It sounds like your the one with the issue here. He's ready. Now you need to be." Don't hold him back!

Conferencing with Blue's teacher, I asked what the difference was with summer birthday boys. She was clear that waiting a year would ensure a confident leader and "rushing" in would result in a follower, always a follower.

Weigh that against Coyote's teacher who noted that he really doesn't care about friendships. He's got one good friend and ignores everyone else. I don't think he cares to lead or follow. He's his own little dude. He's way deep into his own head. He's charming and polite and doesn't give a shit.

Something to think about, no? So,I took my usual course of consulting with everyone for their opinions and ideas, the better to shape my own. Oh. How that backfired. Backfired so shockingly, so forcefully, it might shut me up FOREVER.

Well. Over Thanksgiving, I met with someone else who's opinion was strongly in the Hold Him Back Camp. Start Kindergarten next year. It's ALWAYS best for the child.
And this person then said to me, "It sounds like you're the one with the issue here. He's not ready and you need to stop pushing him." Gosh, but just three years ago this same person noted how terribly I was coddling him by breastfeeding "too long."

Yes. It sounds like I'm the one with the issue here. If you don't come into this world born with a staunch opinionated sword, and a closed minded shield, you are the one with the issue. If you're considering the possibilities and you haven't made up your mind yet, it's an "ISSUE". A made-up mind, tight as a drum with hospital corners, always sounds so intelligent, so knowledgeable, so right. And those of us still considering the options appear stupid and slow. I'll admit to having issues, but slowly deliberating upon important, life altering decisions that don't need to be made for nine more months is not one of them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Original 1776

It has come to my attention that the Constitution is obviously the original, inerrant word of our founding fathers, all 50 to 200 of them, depending on how you count. These guys rocked. They were gods, actually. But they died. Anyway, they couldn't have been wrong. And they aren't open to interpretation, FYI. They wrote a truly awesome document, and we need to stick to it, down to the letter of the law (even if they were confused about u's and v's) and the times they lived in, and the intent we divine for.. er... I mean, from them.

And here, we'll find something for everyone! I guarantee it!

First off, we need Thirteen Colonies, the original thirteen. No more. No less. We can call them states, but nothing West of South Carolina is ours. And the rest of this great manifest destiny reverts back to the Natives. And that means that you and I need to start packing and bust a move on our own trail of tears and cram ourselves back in to the hell of the Eastern Seaboard. Button down white shirts an khaki slacks for all. Las Vegas belongs to the Native Americans, but I'm sure they'll let you visit.

A wife's paycheck legally belongs to her husband. That's the original institution of marriage that our founding fathers intended, undiluted, thank you very much.

Ethan Allen must return to leading a well appointed militia with matching cannons.

Corporations don't exist in 1776. They don't have rights. They don't vote. They don't count, not even money.

Gas-taxes on asses of gas-passing horses.

Global warming didn't exist in 1776, just like today! (But could some one explain to me exactly what the motivation would be to make up the so-called-totally-not-founding-fathersy climate change conspiracy? That's where I'm stuck.)

No electricity (and thereby no utility TAXES!!). No TV's, digital or analog. No radios. No computers. No blogs. You shouldn't be reading this, you unpatriotic infidel.

No hand washing. No baths. No deodorant. No indoor plumbing.

Which brings us to our moral obligation to toss our shit in the streets. As our founding fathers intended.

Wigs. Large rolling white waves of wigginess.

A hell of a lot more Congregationalists, Quakers and Unitarians in leadership. A hell of a lot more.

In 1776 there were no emission standards, not for our little cook fires. Just so long as we all get by on burning faggots in our hearths, no emission standards should be required.

Voting rights: for land owning white men only. That means condo owners and Penthouse renters are excluded because they don't own land... only platforms in air. No votes! Count em. None.

Health Care regulation doesn't exist because health care consists almost entirely of liberal applications of rum. Wifely income is spent mostly on health care. See, things wouldn't be that different from today!

And the centerpiece of our 1776 reversion is gun rights. A FULL and COMPLETE right to bare arms, just so long as they are three feet long and take five minutes to reload. Just like the ones our beloved founding fathers owned.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Morning Has Broken

Saturday.
6 am.

A nose peeks out of fleece sheets and wool blankets. It wiggles, sniffs, directs sensitive nose hairs in all directions, antennae. 25 degrees in the Fahrenheit, it concludes. 22, if you want to go dramatic. A glow around the dark wood blinds hint at snow.

Yes, the hippocampus recalls the snow ball fight last night. Then it remembers the cow in the barn, full of milk presumably.

The legs moan, drunk in relaxation. Not moving. For twenty minutes the brain and bones argue, scream, come to blows. Six AM is a violation of Saturday codes.

The longer it takes, the angrier the cow, the less milk she gives. And giving it is. She's learned to hunch her back and hold it in when she's mad. Saves it for the calf, almost as big as she is now, and whom she sometimes tries to nurse on herself.

Fine, then. The body gives in. It must. But today, things will be different.

The barn door is frozen shut. Milker's arms with new and surprising twin sunrises of biceps slam the metal door. Ice cracks off and the wall slides over. Snow has drifted in, onto the chicken water and the fly trap. Hendrika sways deep in her stall. Her eyes are watery and she looks like she's going to spew her cud. She's guilty and stricken. She'd whistle if she could. That overly casual tune announcing, "Nothin' unusual here. Just the same ol' same ol'."

But even morning eyes can see that's not true. Because she can't close the stall door behind her. It's still wide open. The hippocampus forgot she could do that if latches weren't checked.

An entire bale of alfalfa is strewn across the barn. With a cow, you don't feed the animal so much as the bacteria in their 40 gallon gut. A sudden food change creates a famine for one bacteria. But the guys needed for this new stuff have yet to get up to speed. Hence, the cow is left with no digesters for the time being. And 90 pounds of alfalfa filling her up.

Whatever she hasn't eaten is blanketed in a soft brown fleece of squirts.

"Yeah. right. You're saying you don't know anything about all this."

When the hand grasps the teets with a hot wash cloth, they feel wet already, warm, flaccid, empty. The mind reels. Sukey's already nursed this morning through the bars of her stall. The imagination boggles. Sukey burps softly, a milky burble. Her mother echoes, a rancid belch. Then a sigh.

There's no use miking. Of feeding either bovines. Neither was there a point to getting out of bed. After all that, the legs might have won just this once. Now they vote to go back. But the barn boots are on and the place seriously needs a mucking out.

Hendrika trots after the wheelbarrow. Sifts through the wreckage of her wild night, now topping the compost pile like a maraschino cherry. Her digestive tract is gaining ground again. And she's ready to send it all through once more.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Like a Surgeon

My father-in-law is here! And this is a good thing. This house, however nicely done up, has some pockets of serious neglect and misuse. For instance, part of having a home is protection from the elements. Thus, a set of french doors and their windowed henchmen, improperly installed, becomes a farce, a joke of a shelter. An entire east wall which laughs: "Helter Shelter! Taheeeheeeheee."

And the house inspector also becomes a farce. I, I had an excuse for not noting the one inch gap, the way the door wouldn't open against a swelling checkered floor, the way the weather stripping hung off like a drunk stripper passed-out halfway through her routine. My excuse was that I was in love and love, if not totally blind, has some seriously limited vision issues - by choice. The doors were so cute, how could they be criminal? I wouldn't believe it even if the inspector had noticed. "Oh no, doors this adoorable don't sin. They can't."

Eventually, with men, I learned to look for faults I could live with before falling head over heals. Because love, once it strikes, makes every issue seem like a brilliant foible of All Great Men. I have yet to learn that with houses, and since I will move from this place only with a shotgun in my cold dead hands, I won't have a chance to.

The inspector also didn't notice other key items. Of course it's hard to notice things that aren't there, like dryer vents. But the water saturated kitchen window sill would have given an unskilled and un-in-love eye some clue about leakages.

Whatever. Here we are now. I still love this old cold house. And although my bedroom door slammed shut during a wind storm, I adore it. I'd live here even if I'd known all it's sins.

And also, we've got Richard, Huck's dad. He's unfortunately currently laid off from foremanning/superintending towers in downtown Seattle. Fortunately, that frees him up to help all of his loved ones with their wood and nails projects. It's like having a brain surgeon volunteering as a school nurse. I read a house inspection from a home he once built and it said something like, "In all my 20 years, I have never seen a house so perfectly built, so square, so solid, with such attention to detail." And this is the man re-installing our doors... and also fixing the rotten floor beneath them. He also babysits and cleans up after himself in the kitchen too! No, you can't have him.

Coyote was his big helper, picking up errant screws and wood scraps. We leaned in close to watch his work. And I said, "Pay close attention, Coyote, this is extremely useful work. It's very important to know how to do this stuff."
One second later, Grandpa Construction-worker, absorbed by his efforts, screamed, "WHAT KIND OF OVARIES DID THE F*** A** WHO INSTALLED THIS PIECE OF S*** HAVE?!!!"
We backed away.
"Okay, don't pay THAT close of attention. I'm sure Grandpa's not really a raving misogynist. He's just used to working with lots of men..."

Many unexpected twists and two days later than scheduled, the door whispers shut. It's perfect. But not perfect enough.

"Listen." He says, "Listen to how it slides shut like that."
"Wow. Perfect." I say.
"Not quite." He holds up his hands, pinches the air, pinky out like a wine or cheese connoiseur, and says, "No, not yet. I want it to glide. Just a little more sanding, I think." And he says it like he's speaking of the finest wine this earth has ever seen.

The room is warm, the fire is crackling. I've been reading in my chaise lounger and falling asleep all morning. This, this is shelter, people. This is a human right.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mother May I?

Dear Mother,
I have a really big problem and I hope you can help. Okay. Here goes. My daughter brought home, from school, a paper cut-out of a bear. The bear is wearing popsicle stick skis. It is surrounded by mounds of cotton balls. This is on a paper plate. What am I supposed to do with this?
-Don’t want to hurt her feelings in Wenatchee

Dear Don’t,
I am so sorry to hear about your recent experiences with school crafts. It is a great tragedy and your peaceful home most likely didn’t deserve to be infected thusly. Enough with the grief however, and lets get going on remediation. Obviously, as you have contacted me in your dire moment of despair, you are unwilling to throw it in to the garbage, in the dead of night, sneak the bag into the trunk of your car and dispose of the evidence down the end of a dirt road. I assume you have already considered and rejected that most obvious of solutions. In which case, I will lay out your alternatives:

1) You should approach the school. This should be done cautiously, without using your legal name. Gently but firmly let the teacher know that your daughter (who shall wisely remain nameless) is not allowed to use cotton balls or popsicle sticks, that you have deeply held beliefs about such things and would appreciate it if the school could show a little “cultural sensitivity” to your family’s unusual but perfectly legitimate and legally protected beliefs. Of course, that will not solve the current issue of this particular “craft”, but should prevent additional incidences.

2) Keep it on the mantle above your fireplace. I won’t actually endorse this so-called solution, as it may result in lugging the craft object around for the rest of your life. It will become familiar. It will become an old treasure. And in your waning years you will defend its existence to the home health care nurse:
“No! Don’t touch that!”
“But it’s covered in two inches of dust!”
“It’s a family heirloom!”
"A health hazard.”
“It was made by someone I love!”
“Who?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Why are you keeping it?”
“I… I…” you’ll falter, “I just don’t know anymore.” Pathetic.

3) Use the plate. Yes! Try it! Bring it along on a picnic and use the paper plate. Sure there will be cotton chunks in the baked beans and popsicle sticks in the hot dogs. But were those foods so great without sticks and puffs? This will make your daughter feel important, your big helper. Downside: she may continue making them, imagining them to be very helpful.

4) Encourage your daughter to play with it in the bath. Within minutes, it will be completely unsalvageable. This could, however, backfire when your daughter insists that it IS salvageable. In that case, your troubles will double.

5) Store it. Yes, the cotton puffs will fill an entire double sized storage box. However, years later when you pull it out, all you will see is your daughter’s (which one? You’ll never remember) obedient execution of her clever little teacher’s crafty plan.

6) Return it to the teacher, with a D for creativity, a D for functionality, a D for educability, and an F for considerate behavior. Again, name withheld.

7) Write your teacher, your principal, your superintendent, your senators, your president and plead for the eradication of cotton balls and popsicle sticks from all schools, pre-schools, after-school programs, and teacher training materials. Cotton balls are for something, I don’t know what, but not crafts. And let us all work together to keep popsicle sticks out of schools and in the popsicles to which they belong. Thank you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Boo!


I found the perfect graveyard for my yearly stroll through those who have gone before. A stone fence, jagged and lichen splotched. Tall, leaning stones, worn by time, death to death, so that the names were nearly erased. And the sun, sunk below the heavy blanket of clouds so that it shone a gold spot light on the birch with the white trunk and fiery leaves.

Late October is the time, I've heard, where the veil between the worlds is thin and beings pass easily between. I don't know if that's true. Nor do I know it's not true. What can't be proven, proof wise, is what doesn't exist. So what if? What if there is a veil? What if there are worlds, plural? What if the veil between them is thin? Well, then, I'd like to be listening.

And what if that's not the case?
Who cares? A fresh contemplation of the brevity of life and our own mortality is rarely a bad idea. My dad never took me to playgrounds, only graveyards. It was better for the mind, he always explained. So I suppose that informs my concept of fun.

And there they were: the dead. The loving mothers. The devoted fathers. The baby Does. I imagine them in photos in that black and white world they inhabited. Their leather shoes, flat and cold with the laces always breaking. Those curls, laying for one still moment in eternity on their baby cheeks. Children, grown and dead. I could see Al and Ava dancing, maybe the Charleston, on a warm summer night by the lake, the band playing. All those musicians are dead now too.

Yesterday morning, Coyote crawled into bed with me. He does this less and less and I miss it more and more. Although, Huck and I share a full size bed, which is way too small for two people, much less three. But we squeeze him in still, and I hold on tight so he won't wall off. And because it won't last forever. So he turns to me and says, "You know mother, we won't be together for much longer."
"Why NOT?"
"Because I will grow old. I will be as old as a grandpa soon."
"So, why can't I be with you then?"
"You'll be dead."
How frank.

He inherited this collapse of time from me. I wailed through my sixteenth birthday because I knew the next would be #87.

When you parent with some one else, say a spouse, you see your own strange ideas, like graveyards for fun and imploding time. Huck's set of neurosis put mine in contrast and I wonder where mine came from. My childhood was a bowl of cherries by comparison to many others I've heard of. And, to be noted, childhoods are never responsible for the whole story. Nevertheless, I trace some vein of my parenting style and reactionary issues to my parents. Seeing how they were raised, I know where they got their ideas. And knowing how my grand parents were raised, I can see where they came from. And it goes back and back and back as far as the eye can see. Really! Some of my issues go all the way back to my great-grandmother, an alcoholic who parented her 12 kids for only a few hours of the day. Beyond that, I don't know. But I'm sure my great grandmother got her shit from somewhere. That's not to say that we aren't responsible in the here and now for our own shit, but it's traceable.

These dead folks still have a say in me, I guess. These are the real ghosts. A thousand ghosts live within me, in my DNA, in my history. A host of dead ancestors haunt me. History haunts us all.

Speaking of spooks, there was dentist trauma all over the place here this week. And what could be scarier than dentists?!

I pined for Dr. Pape back in Wenatchee as Dr. R took a mass excavator to my teeth, and his assistant rolled her eyes when I insisted I couldn't have epinephrine in my Novocaine. I can't even take Sudafed. Oh, fine, I almost said, if it's too inconvenient just give me the epi-nov and see what happens! THAT will be inconvenient! It's like they forget that my mouth and my body are MINE. Not just work, but someone's personal space.

Blue's substitute dentist strong armed me into a mass of extractions. He looked at her mouth, exclaimed, "What a beautiful smile!" and then ripped it out. It's like he forgot what teeth are for! Not just pretty things for the perfect grin, but also for, like, eating. How will she do that with 1/2 her teeth missing, her mouth mutilated? I feel sick about it. How could I consent to that? How could I be so bamboozled? I could blog for a long time about that...

That morning, when I made her lunch, I sent an apple, thinking we were going in for a 20 minute extraction of a back baby tooth that wouldn't get out of the way. She has this problem repeatedly. Part shark, I guess. After the sudden removal of all her teeth, I realized she wouldn't be eating an apple. I considered keeping her home and IV-ing her smoothies, but it was the class Halloween party. So we picked up a can of mandarin oranges with a finger-open lid. She asked the poor-substitute-for-a-teacher to open it and the lady REFUSED! Said, "What kind of mother sends her kid to school with a can she can't open." Instead of lunch, Blue got an earful about what kind of mother she had. When I heard about this, I let loose the appropriate string of expletives about just what kind of teacher... THAT's the kind of mother Blue has. And what about all those mothers sending their kids to the cafeteria for corn-dogs and chik'n nuggets? And what kind of mother sends her child to a school where they have a substitute like that? Well! That's just what I'm asking myself these days...

Then I realized that this woman, too, is haunted by a host of ancestors. She's a bitch. She's the only one responsible for being a bitch. But she's clearly got baggage that's probably not helping. And that baggage was handed to her by the previous generation, a poisoned baton in this sick relay race.

This All Souls Day, I'm contemplating just how many ghosts haunt us and our fellow humans. The many specters of horror that birthed us. And how, just how, are we going to break free of this ball and chain, Jacob Marley?

And I'm now plotting how I'll haunt my great grand kids, and yours.

BWAAAAHAHAAHAA!



photos: O why isn't there a caption contraption on this blog?
Blue as Lady Jane Grey, beheaded teenage queen (she just read a biography of her)
Coyote was a Karate kid, his choice.
I was ye olde stand-by: corn flower. I can get INTO costumes, but this year I had no where to show off. Apparently my costume enthusiasm requires an audience.
The warty pumpkin Huck picked out was too tough for kitchen tools.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The gods really are crazy

I might just be stubborn.

I've refused to believe it, though evidence exists. But I'm slowly accepting this possibility, which I think goes to show that I'm really not THAT stubborn. I'll acquiesce to the accusations, a little, just to prove them wrong.

Yesterday, that bull-headed trait really wreaked some havoc. And I haven't cleaned it up yet.

All I really wanted was a catalyst, like a meteorite, or something else surprising. Out here, alone mostly, on five acres, in another new town, nothing happens. Unless I force it to. The girl wants some excitement, and she wants it to originate someplace else, that way, it's actually exciting and surprising, instead of inevitable and predictable, because she predicted it. I want Ed McMahon to drive up with a foam core check, even though I never filled out the sweepstakes forms. I want to win the lottery without buying a ticket. I want you to drop by, without an invitation.

But alas, everything out here is my idea, my doing, my choice, my own volition. God-like, yes I am. But it's boring too. Now I know what the gods must have felt when they slapped together some humankind: "It's boring. Nothing interesting ever happens around here. Unless I do it and even if I don't do it, I know it's happening. You know what we need? We need to make something over which we will have no control, and every second of the day, we'll never know what it will do next."
"Oooh! Great idea, Omniscient Igor!"
"Look what I just slapped together, my omnipotent Bertha!"
"Let's give it some free will and watch it gogo!"
"WEEEE! that's funny!"
"Oh crap... not cool little dudes, not cool."

And that was me in my kitchen yesterday. Bored, I tackled no less than three disasters at once, each one a proven prior failure. I charged head-on into disaster out of sheer boredom. And it sucked, as predicted.
Half the ingredients were substitutes.
I've never had one bun of success with yeast, and yet, I dove into dinner rolls with absurd abandon.
I miscarried yogurt, and I'll never know why.
And I ruined a perfectly good quiche by messing up the crust with an experimental flour. The CRUST people! As the name suggests, it's not that hard. It's crust. Crust happens. I've never effed up crust.

Why did I undertake these obviously ill-fated fiascos? Because I was bored. Because I am the god of my kitchen. And I think that's what happened to them too. They rolled out this human dough even as they stubbornly knew, "Now THIS is going to be a disaster."

Late and muddy, my Catalyst came home from work, mixed up some hot buttered rum
(which actually turned out, the jerk) and served it to his failed, deflated goddess. But rum and I...mmm... let's just say that rum doesn't perk me up. I don't even know why I have it... except for Huck also makes really great rum caramel sauce for things like apple pies and pumpkin pies, which he's been successfully rolling out ever few days, the ass.

Eventually Blue noted, "Mom, that's some seriously negative self talk." As an example, I clearly stink. But as a didactic teacher, I seem to be getting some where with my kids.

"I just don't get micro-organisms and bacteria, I guess. I even used thermometers this time."

They're so subtle, those living micro-scopic cultures. And yet they seem so easy. It's like failing at Chia-pets. Everyone can make bread. But me. It's the basic staff of life. After 15 years of trying, I still can't even make a single bun of life. People say to me: Oh! you should make bread! And I usually say, Actually, I prefer to support others for whom that is a successful passion. When I say that, I feel that my failures are actually blessings upon micro-economies.

Huck said, "I think this is an improvement. They're actually sort of edible, if they're hot, with enough butter....and honey."
"I made a dozen rocks for dinner, don't sugar coat it."
"I ate one!"
"That's not a compliment." The man eats everything, anything.

I can't get it going on here, despite that fact that we are all positively swimming in a sea of catalysts. Every day we walk through an invisible fog of catalysts: bacteria, yeasts, molds, micro-organisms yet unnamed and undiscovered. We are continually bathed in catalysts. Nothing -no change, no growth, no life even- happens without them. They make me live and they'll devour my death. And I cannot control them. I cannot tame them. Just like the gods and their little catalysts, us.

Maybe I am my own best instigator, but you could never infer that from what I messed up yesterday. It wasn't boring at least. Mission partially accomplished, I suppose.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ode to a Night Out

I'll never forget where I was when Huck proposed we go see Bright Star, the understated, smoldering film about Keats and his muse. I was on the toilet, my favorite one. And I nearly fell off at his suggestion.

I read the reviews. I ached and pined like Fanny herself to see it. But I didn't even mention it. Huck's hissing and spitting hatred of poetry is epic, steadfast and unwavering. It was hopeless, I knew. His poetical loathing probably accounts for some percentage of the reason I married him (probably less of a percentage than having his 5 month old baby (as I may have mentioned here before) but a percentage none-the-less because I have learned well and thoroughly a distrust of poets, especially male ones. Love the poem; pass on the poet). So a poetry-despiser seemed like good odds in my mate-hunting favor.

But Huck's hatred of poetry suffered a crack recently. We loved the film The Motorcycle Diaries. LOVED IT! The both of us. In this film, Pablo Neruda is quoted extensively. And a few days later, as fate would have it, I decided to finish unpacking my office.

I've been 1/2 unpacked since June. Another 1/2 of my books and office gear languished in piles and boxes. And the previous half of my volumes were donated, discarded and sold during "The Ordeal of Sarajoy, June 2008 through May 2009." (I do have to specify the dates because I've had some number of ORDEALS).
Anyway, Huck was stretching nearby when I un-crated a translation of Neruda's called Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon. Curiosity pre-piqued by Che, Huck actually took the volume in hand and began to read "Ode to the Onion." And he hasn't looked back.

This is probably THE WARNING SIGN NUMERO UNO. Alarms should be clanging. Red lights should be flashing. From greasy dock worker to poetry loving dandy with fabulous taste in shoes and a passion for Neruda! YIKES! But me being me, I find it charming anyway. Life on the edge!

Bright Star, if you need to know, rocked. The love rocked. The costumes rocked. Fanny reminded me of our Wenatchee babysitter, in that she was a talented young seamstress who also sewed almost all her own clothes. The period was not quite spot-on with a few 21st century mannerisms and I swear there was a banister in there from the 1910's. But nothing as historically wicked and barf inducing as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Ipecac of Cathode-Ray-Tube.

We viewed Bright Star at the tiny artsy theater named The Magic Lantern: cute!

The date was facilitated by another visit from my grandkid-obsessed parents: THANK YOU!!

And we never puked up our dinner. It's like a first date, or a date of firsts. Awesome movie, not followed by food poisoning. I just don't know what to expect next from this crazy life!

photos are of our wedding and part of my new office

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Alphabet-man mock-up

Top Ten Signs You Might be a Bored Housewife

10) You'd actually consider an affair with Bob the Builder. He's so cute in those over-all and hard hat. He's so nice to Wendy! And since he landed the contract for Sunflower Valley, he's Eco too!

9) "A barrel of monkeys" is no longer a euphemism for fun, but is realistically a stupid Christmas gift played with for five minutes picked up for several years.

8) You dream neither in black and white, nor in color, but in cotton balls, paper plates, glue, and popsicle sticks.

7) Soap operas are so 80's. They're called blogs now.

6) Quiet time is reading a book on a lounge chair (while children roll all over you, mewling about boredom).

5) When your husband comes home, you actually ask him how his day went just so you can hear someone speak clearly in a well moderated tone of voice.

4) Even if they are just bills, you love getting the mail. It's your big adventure of the day: sneaking all the way to the end of the drive way, crossing the street, and opening a secret compartment where the secret car with the official light on top drops you secret messages. So thrilling.

3) The last person who cried out your name during sex was not even in the room with you, but was down the hall and needed a glass of milk.

2) You would actually blog about the top ten qualifications you have for the job of "bored housewife".

1) Ten? I'd rather go do the dishes…

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Studious Mother

"Kids teach us so much." The jumbo parent cliche.
I don't even know what people mean when they say that.

But I have discovered, like a new world, at least 1000 ways my kids teach me. Most importantly, I learned that "Remember when we had a dog and we tied him to a fish with a wee-cock?" (Blue around the time she turned two) actually means "I'd like a dog to walk on a leash, and I'd also like a peacock."

I've also learned, or rather come to the surprising place in my life where the opportunity has presented itself to note: Cauliflower is not for standing on.

In addition, I've learned much about myself, such as how my voice sounds and the skin around my eyes bag when I've been awoken in the middle of the night to change sheets or hold a bucket at the precise projectile distance.

I've actually learned that Blue's constant use of the word actually, actually comes from me!

I've learned that some piano teachers really stink.

But here's what I've REALLY learned. The first time I learned it, I was on the bus cruising through Seattle's tiny Chinatown. I was anxious about: school, money, being pregnant with some dude's baby and I barely knew him, having to deal with everyone else's responses to being a knocked up adolescent (okay, I was 25, but I looked 16 and that's how people treated me and now I have a lifetime of empathy for any teen who gets knocked up) and then dealing with a different set of opinions when I chose to have the baby, not to mention having to deal with my own tangle of emotions while having to make crucial decisions in which the entire world seemed to be claiming a stake.

So... where was I? Oh yes, I was on the bus. And I was stressed. And I could feel it in my gut. And I had just read that fetuses get emotion related hormones out of their mama's blood stream. So this baby was feeling anxious for no reason that it could figure out. And I thought to myself, "Self, why should this Being carry your anxiety? Let's give it a rest, a peaceful place to grow without imported anxiety hormones." And then I thought, "Wow, I guess this is sort of love, the responsibility love, the caring-for-another love." And then I thought, "Self, if being riddled with anxiety and stress are good enough for you, why should your baby have it any better? An early dose of anxiety will actually acclimate it perfectly to modern life. So, go ahead, wind your stomach into a ball, chew your nails and hyperventilate, enjoy it. Why deny yourself just cuz your preggers?"

Okay, not really. The question was actually, "Why wouldn't you want peace for yourself? You don't need a fetus en utero to give yourself a break. Love yourself! Live in peace, grow in confidence and safety! Self, let go of your anxiety for your own sake AND the baby's!"

And that is how I began to care for myself. What I want for my children, why is that too good for me?

My son can be a basket case. He's fairly happy-go-lucky, but once he starts wailing, it's anyone's guess as to what decade he might stop. He's done this since birth. The first 6 months, he spent almost every waking hour in the bath, which was the only place he would stop crying. That, and whenever I shoved a mouthful of boob at him. When he was three, he cried for most of an afternoon. After he cried himself to sleep, the neighbor lady scuttled over and proclaimed, "Wow! That was intense!" In worse moments, I've told him to get a grip on his emotions, (okay, loudly told him to get a grip), that it was necessary for his sanity and mine. Of course, he's only 5, where would he have pulled those skills from?

These tears wear out a mother and worry her. So I ordered the book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. It's in line with the rest of my parenting library: How to Talk so Kids Can Listen and Listen so Kids Can Talk, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, Non-Violent Communication, Playful Parenting, etc.

If you ascribe to the ideas proposed in these volumes, you will endure shock from the authoritarian set. Shock, ridicule and annoyance. You will also note that these tools are effective some of the time, but not all of it, which will leave you feeling like a total idiot when they don't work in front of your authoritarian friends (and that is the only reliable time they won't work).

The gist of Emotional Intelligence is the refrain: you can feel whatever you want, you just can't act however you want. This isn't news to our family, but I recently adopted it as a mantra.

I was uncomfortable with Coyote's depths of despair. I was unhappy with his anger, his sadness, his whatever crappy emotion: what if he gets stuck this way! like a bad face, or crossed-eyes. I took it personally too: instead of "WAAWAAWAA!" I heard, "You're a shitty mom and if you were any good at this job you would have fixed the problem before I even noticed it!! WAAA!" I mentioned this translation at a party and all the moms stopped and stared at me. I thought, yeah I just hit the nail on the head. Au contrair! One mom ventured in to the silence and said, "No, Sarajoy, they're just crying cuz they're babies." Well, maybe they could just SAY SO next time! Sheesh!

Anyway my prior attempts to coax, cajole, or sooth him out of it were more about fixing the problem and my problem with it, than about genuinely understanding him. And I'm going to say to you now, that I am really happy with the way this is going. Coyote is fussing a little less, but I DON'T CARE! I mean, I care that he's unhappy, but it doesn't get under my skin any more because it's okay for him to feel unhappy!

And there's more! I'm singing the same song to myself. Dear Sarajoy, it's okay to feel whatever you feel. You don't have to fix it. You're not going to get stuck in it. It's okay. And the more I say it to the kids, the more I say it to myself, the more I feel it. In my frustration, in my anger, in my PTSD from this past year, I'm fine. I'm even sort of happy when I'm sad because I don't feel this pressure to put a pink ribbon on every teardrop and find the f-ing cure already. We're not broken and I we don't need fixing. We've got feelings and they are fine.

And that is what my difficult child has taught me these past few weeks. Like a Buddhist, I am grateful for my adversary...er child.

Also: happy lame birthday to me! I'm 34 and so much more... At least I'm not in the hospital this year (barfing, 4 bags of fluids and still didn't pee for 2 days), nor am I visualizing starvation like last year. I just bought a cream cheese, huckleberry danish at the farmer's market (where I bought mostly potatoes and squash and my tongue kind of curled up inside it's hovel and said "I'm soooo not ready for my winter palate!") and now I'm going to take a bath with a good book that I just bought at Auntie's. I picked out a couple Pulitzer winners because, you know, those people have really good taste, I've noticed. For dinner, I was dreaming of my favorite caramelized onion tarte, but now I'm liking the idea of take-out pizza and no dirty dishes.

Friday, October 9, 2009

2009 Winner of the Nobel Prize for Miniture Disasters

1) Hendrika kicked the bucket. Hoof: really shitty. Gallon of milk: vanished into a fresh pile. Just getting a head start on the theme for the day.

2) Promised kids pancakes for breakfast. No pancake mix. The time calculations relied on the minute-shaving mix. But I figure pancake mix is over-rated and we were just finishing a bag from a camping trip. It's mildly more convenient. So it was buckwheat from scratch. I'm still unruffled.

3) Half way into pancakes I find, or rather don't find, that we lack maple syrup. I whip up strawberry syrup with our frozen summer strawberries. I remain un-peeved.

4) Huck and I begin a very heated discussion involving left-overs of all things.

5) Coyote is screaming at the CD player, trying to make it go. Finally Reggae for Kids blares.

6) Dishwasher starts hemorrhaging all over the floor. I slip across the wet tiles while the pancakes burn. "Mommy! Mine's crunchy!!" and "Three Little Birds" shout through the dining room.

7) A container of rice falls and cracks. And so do I. In my frustration, I pick up the container and hurl it down the basement stairs. (It's a genetic disorder that is never aimed at people.) And "children don't worry 'bout a thing" blares in the corner.

8) Blue is late for the bus. "Every little thing is gonna be all right."

9) Huck is late for work. "Smiled at the rising sun" repeats until I finally shut it off.

10) Coyote and I spend most of the morning chasing down rice before the mice find out about it. And I spend the rest of the day washing dishes by hand.

We all have these mornings. And this was mine.

Now I'm headed for a ladies night out with a bunch of strangers. Happy they thought to invite me, my husband's coworkers. But I miss my old friends, the one's I could be myself with and they wouldn't get scared and run away. And now I'm wishing I'd been the one to kick the bucket, fall down the stairs, crack and hemorrhage this morning. At least I would have a great excuse to not meet anyone new.

But at midnight tonight, I fully expect the bells to toll and to find myself again, a princess at home in a simple, manageable, friendly world with no accidents waiting to happen. That's not a fairy tale, right?

Right.

Just humor me, please.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The New IT child

One minute, you're hunting down a piano teacher, the next you're contemplating the meaning of life and our places in it.

Outfitted with a list of possibilities put together by Blue's last piano teacher, I have been phone calling around town.

The first one seems mentally unbalanced, which is fine as far as personal friends go, but not what I'm looking for in a piano teacher.

The fourth one didn't call me back for a whole week. Until today and this is what transgressed:

"How did you hear about me?"
"My daughter's old teacher (a professor at WSU's Piano Pedagogy School) gave me a list of people she'd recommend in Spokane."
"Did she take lessons from one of the student teachers?" You could hear the woman's nose wrinkling already.
"No, she did the group lessons with the head instructor." This was WAY cheaper and group lesson have an added bonus for social learners such as Blue.
"Oh... well let me tell you about my program. I only teach Spokane's higher end students, I mean, Upper End. (Like cars and purses?) I have high expectations of my students. I don't think we will likely be a good match. But just to give you some idea:" the woman's voice was straight out of Disney Villain-ess school. "My students are highly driven. I have a very demanding curriculum that is very competitive and performance driven. My students are career oriented and most become professional pianists. They're almost all Asian, you know."

I could barely refrain from laughing. Based on my admission of group lessons, this woman had concluded a variety of things about us and our family. I was not in a grovelling mood, nor do I ever expect to be. So I didn't tell her anything that might have changed her mind, should that mind have been expansive enough to do so. I try to keep Blue's life to herself, somewhat. She did excel at piano and was selected to perform for a certain composer who was visiting the school. She is blessed and cursed with an amazing brain, one that doesn't fit in with most third graders. In all of her math testing, they haven't found the upper limits of her abilities. She may come from an income challenged family, but she is by no means limited in any other way. The limitations we experience are usually in other people's very small minds, such as one, Ms. Miller, piano instructor to unbalanced over-achievers.

No, I could not grovel. I had already made up my mind that WE were too good for HER, in her current incarnation. Instead, suppressing giggles, I gave her an earful about the supreme value of mediocrity. This is my sermon-ette: I believe in the value of mediocrity, Ms. Miller. Our purpose in piano lessons is NOT to create a puppet for the wealthy to admire in concert. Our purpose is NOT to fabricate this small human into our wildest fantasy. She is her own purpose and her life is hers to live, alone, as she sees fit. Our only purpose in piano lessons is to expose her to musical thought so that she can, if SHE so chooses, pursue that path. Our purpose is to give her access to the width and breadth of the human experience and all it's joys and possibilities. Music is a deeply spiritual endeavor and I would never tether her experience of it to something as mundane and insane as "demanding curriculum." Certainly, we expect her to practice daily. But we don't push. We don't shove, not in this family. Playing piano in full, resplendent mediocrity is my highest hope for her. Perfectionism destroys the soul and creativity. We do our best, but never more than our best, for then something else, we can not predict what, suffers.

...but, would you be willing to recommend another teacher? One more suitable to our goals?

"I don't know how to put this," she sneered, "But I seriously would NOT be associated with a teacher that you would probably find to your liking. All the teachers I know expect the child to put some effort in to the lessons."


For a music teacher, Ms. Miller really can't hear. I was very clear that we expect her to practice nightly. I never said anything about NO EFFORT. Obviously, the woman herself needs some instruction: ALL or NOTHING are very rarely the only two options. It's dishonest, a lie, and it ratchets up the pressure to no good end.

I laughed. I told her what she already knew, that she was so very right, and that we would not be a good match at all.

I'm telling you this for several reasons, the first being that I think it's funny. The second is because this topic is very near and dear to my heart. I really believe that childhood is for being a child. For finding the joy in life. For developing our souls into things we can hear and understand. And a lot of studies back me up, not test scores, but studies of psychological health and happiness. And a robust emotional and psychological interior, which is best developed in freedom and free play, is the key to happiness, not some stressed-out achievement of perfection. A demanding curriculum and too much practice may make perfect. But not necessarily happy or healthy. "Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure," Thomas Edison once wrote. This is a common and thoroughly f-ed up thought process. And I don't buy it, but Ms. Miller seems to.

What is success? This is the question I want my children to ask themselves. Some among us fit with the greater culture's vision of success pretty well; some actually want what's placed before them, and such as being the greatest pianist the world has ever known. Others among us have an internal drummer who's way off the beat. And we've got to work hard to negotiate our true selves with the real world in which we've been plopped.

For myself, success is a fairly consistent happiness that I expect to go away in times of grief or trial, and expect to return to me in times of relative calm. I've found much of that... not entirely, but much of it is here. Unfortunately, nothing in which I find happiness would I ever do for money: my elaborate meals, my cows, my chickens, my gardens, my children. None of it would I enjoy as a W-2 style job. Usually they say a job you love is one you would do for free. But I've found a job I love which you couldn't pay me to do. Not that I think childcare, chefdom, or farmer are sneer-able occupations, they simply aren't where my earning joy lies. I don't yet know where my earn-ability joys lie, but I'm on the scent.

And so.. all that to say that a week delayed return phone call (now don't lecture ME about perfectionism if YOU can't return phone calls in a timely manner!) got me reviewing some core values. I couldn't help but share.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Soup for Coyotes

It's 11 am and I don't know where my chickens are.

Until recently, they have been about as complex to own and care for as feather pillows. And then I decided to free range them and that has created issues they don't mention in the books and advice columns. On the back porch, I stepped in one such issue in my socks. The other issue is with our King Louis. That avian-eating feline had opportunities to disembowel them when they were but handfuls of fluff, and yet he valiantly refrained because he knew they were pets. Now he's cowering at the bottom of the pecking order. I found all five chickens cornering him and closing in! I gave them to the count of five to stop because that is simply not allowed. King Louis is top dog around here. Don't mess with him or your ass is mine. I will EAT chicken, if that's what it comes to!

Otherwise, the girls are absurdly easy.

But when the forecast was for 20 degrees in the Fahrenheit, I began to fret. We went from 90 to 20 in three days. I don't know how they're handling it, but I'm a mess. The thermostat won't let me go higher than 66. Yes, I know, that is HIGH. But I was wearing flip flops and a bikini top just three days ago and I need a minute to acclimate! After yesterday, when my fingers turned numb typing, I acquired an office heater that is right this minute toasting my footsies to a perfect golden brown.

Anyway...I nothing about chickens and winter is very clear. They say that full grown chickens only need a little shelter down to 0 degrees and any lower than that and they're screwed. But my chickens aren't exactly full grown... so what does that mean? I decided that it meant I needed to move their coop from the dog run to the barn. I'd seen old etchings with chickens and cows and milkmaids gleefully frolicking all together in a barn. So I'm guessing it works... old art can't be wrong, right?

We shuffled the coop to the barn. But the girls did not follow. Huck and I spent the greater part of our evening chasing them down to send them to their room. You'll note I have an historic and well founded chicken phobia. So this was not my favorite activity. In fact, honest to god, I'd rather be washing dishes. At one point Huck said to me, "It'd be easier for you to actually catch one if you used your hands... instead of your feet." Yes, I had already figured on that, but thanks for pointing out the obvious.

After a night in the barn, I let them out, assuming they'd know it was their new home. But chickens have very tiny brains, we've noticed. In fact, it no longer surprises me that I was chased by a headless chicken as a child (see a previous post for full story!) because their heads are so small and so empty that it really seems unlikely that they are of much use. It is entirely possible that a chicken could live a long and probably happy life without one.

They spent the day under the porch. By evening, I was worried they'd fall asleep there, a place I could never get to them, but a coyote would find a buffet. Huck wasn't home. So I invited my own Coyote out with me. The moon was high. And that boy was full of energy. I could see his point: a child at a nighttime chicken rodeo.

My goal: catch all five and cage 'em in the barn. Bonus pressure: wild coyotes howling about a half mile away. The Buff Orpingtons were easy. Next time, I'd get all B.O.'s. They have the most agreeable personalities. The rest are a disaster. I locked them in the dog run until they fell asleep. Then the two Barred Plymouth Rocks were easy to catch. But the White Rock, she's a bitch. Priscilla is psycho. I don't know why I got a white one, as I'm pretty sure that's the one that chased me. Eventually she fell asleep behind the dog house and I had Coyote poke her with a stick until she stumbled out in what looked like a drunken stupor. I almost expected her to tell me how beautiful I was "no.. I mean... really... really... beautiful...and so nice too... you know girls... like my girlfriend... she... she's just... you know... knows she's beautiful... but you... I like you. You're reeeeeeealy nice... I like nice girls..." But she was just a sleepy chicken, not drunk. So much like kids, they just melt your heart when they're sleeping. So easy to love when they finally shut up and stop scratching at you.

I left them in the barn after the morning milking (in which I got nearly a full gallon, yes ma'am, with nary a kick!). But by the time I left to bring Coyote to his awesome and perfect Montessori school, they were out. No idea where.

And just as I was writing this, Huck reported that they are cuddled up with the cows! awww.

Speaking of cows, I just made a huge roll of Fromage Blanc and it was exceedingly tasty. Don't you wish you were here! We've eaten most of it on La Panzanella's Croccantini... and it pains me to buy the stuff as I worked for them for three years and received all of my focaccia, crusty Italian loaves, and croccantini for free. My boss was Ciro, the owner and "inventor" of the ultimate cheese tasting cracker. Paired with the cheese and crackers, we layered some very special tomatoes. These tomatoes were given to us as starts from our last land lord, a Sicilian with a passion (that's redundant!). He actually ordered the seeds from Italy. And those tomatoes tasted so beautiful, I almost wept. A summer sunset on my tongue.
And I wondered if this world is really a fallen place at all. Maybe paradise is not lost behind us, in a distant human history. Maybe paradise is in the palm of my hand. Not a collective memory, but a collective possibility. We know what the future holds for us, and it is a pepper cracker, fromage blanc and an old world tomato communion. Take. Eat. This we do, not in remembrance, but in our only moment. We take paradise into our mouths, ourselves, and we shall all thrive with a little Eden on the tip of our tongues.

"Listen, the only way to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it into the body first," Mary Oliver, The Plum Trees.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Witch aint so crafty

My new motto: BURNS WELL AT THE STAKE.

My consistent inability to make butter would have, at one time, been a great reason to lash me to a flag pole and roast marsh mallows by my blackened toes.

That's not going to happen... I don't think. I'm not mean and I don't have any warts on my face, although I do have a single hair that springs out now and again. You haven't noticed it because I pluck it often. I enjoy the moon, but I don't ride a broom, though I do seem to be spending an awful lot of time with it lately. And, unfortunately, I think bats are important.

The difficulty of buttering has piqued my curiosity and I found myself pouring over my new library of cow and cattle books to discover what was wrong. Nothing like a repeating failure to goad me in to finally reading the directions!

Here is what I discovered: February cream doesn't butter, but June cream does. Cream from a fresh cow butters, but cream from a cow over half way through her milk cycle doesn't. It's apparently about the size of the fat globules. Too big or too small and they won't butter. And the size is determined by juiciness of grass and duration of milking. AND...that's not all! I also read that getting butter is a random act of god, hence the burning of any woman who couldn't do it. I have no idea how Darigold sorts these things out.

We've got a September cow on her 6th month of milk, so fresh butter will not soon be spreading on my toast. She'll dry up before June and won't freshen again until Sept. We may never butter our buns on that schedule.

I've tried blenders, hand mixers and food processors, everything but the whole day with a stick and a long wooden barrel. I'm starting to follow the directions, what I've read of them anyway, as best I can.

I thought I'd have a leg up on all this. I thought that helping my grandpa with the cows and my mother's childhood on a dairy farm and my dad's youth spent milking a few cows for his enormous, non-Catholic, non-Mormon, absolutely-no-known-reason-it-was-so-big family. You'd think something would have trickled down the gene pool. Maybe I'd osmotized the farm. I hoped my childhood with steers just outside my bedroom window would have prepared me for a cow and her calf and their milk and all the milky endeavors thereof.

But, alas, none of it means anything except that I began this endeavor knowing what a cow actually looked like and that their eyes were juicy and listeny, ten times more soul-matey than a dogs. And their shit smelled familiar, homey even. My mom said it smelled like "money." I suppose my cow ownership is much like smoking for those who had parents that did: the odor of home, objectively offensive it may be but to me it smells like mom. Maybe that's what drew me out here, to put a bucket under a heifer and squeeze until the sun shines: the smell of a good home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

say *CHEESE*

It feels so improper, posting so soon after the last. Am I being too forward?

I'm sorry, but I just can't help it. I am positively giddy. Not a bone in my body is Not dancing right now! And all because the yogurt turned out terribly!

Really bad. Not that I know anything about this, but I'm guessing it was over-done. It was whey with chunks and caused crying and tears this morning at breakfast. It wasn't me that wept over the imperfect result. It was someone a few decades younger than me, but I wouldn't put it past me. It just happened to not be me this time. I did think, for a moment, that maybe I do believe in factory farming and in mega food corps that can turn out huge vats of yogurt and cheese with the flip of a wrist on a couple of controls. Mad cow be damned, let's conveyor belt 'em and get efficient.

But the chunks gave me a cheesy idea. And it is sooo good. Like a chevre. I'd post a photo, but it's all full of cracker crumbs now. I don't even know why I have crackers on hand today. Usually I eschew anything prepared so that there have been times where my kids whine: "Moooom, I'm hungry." And all I can say is, "I'll whip up some brown rice and we can have a little snack in only 45 minutes!" It's just a small step up from having to chaff the rice first. Sometimes I get sick of this, and yesterday I bought 6 boxes of crackers. And I've tried them all on my cow-chevre. And they are all delicious accessories.

I'm so stoked, I had to share this with EVERYONE! The news, that is. The cheese is mine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Teeter totter, bread and butter


Wins: X
losses: X + y - y = X again!

The gains are lousy long shots and the losses luckily don't out weigh them.

I tried making butter today. Today, and not yesterday, because today was the first day I had enough cream, separated, to try for butter. I felt so clever with my sun tea jars. Just strain off the milk from the bottom! Right?! Unfortunately, there's that last full inch of milk and cream clumsily sloshing around. So I poured my several days worth of cream in to a jar. And then I actually syringed the errant milk from the bottom! Syringed. It took a long long time because the syringe only holds one tablespoon.

The directions said to let the cream sour for a day on the counter. Easy! Then it said to put the cream in my blender. I have the world's best blender. Not only does the carafe perch upon a chrome beehive with retro perfection, it's also very powerful. Don't mess with my blender. They said it would take five minutes, and butter is nothing but over-whipped cream. I turned it on, removed the lid, as per directed. And sat back. If you recall my spring smoothie incident, you'll know that I kept my hand securely on the blender. They said it would outgas a little. So I took it in stride when curls of gas began to spiral up. But when the gas became gray, and took on a more billowy shape, I stuck my nose in to investigate. Yes, after five minutes, my cream was still cream, spraying up my curious nostrils. And there was smoke.

When my kitchen experiments become (unintentional) disasters (see below for Huck's contrasting disaster), I dive into avoidance and denial like the deep inexhaustible lakes they are. I just put everything back. The disobedient cream is in the fridge (still in the carafe) and the blender butt is right where it belongs. Almost like Nothing happened.

I'll freeze a fiasco for MONTHS before tossing it, just to burn off the humiliation and waste of it all first. The curry where I accidentally increased the toasted cardamom seeds by 10 fold: that sat in large bags in our freezer for 6 months. Took up the whole thing. No ice cream could even fit. But how could I trash the 4 hour dinner that ended in pizza? Eventually... but not immediately.

Huck looked in the fridge, saw the blender carafe filled with cream and said, "Oh! You made butter!" He saw my face and said, "Oh! you tried to make butter!" We'll call that a shoot, in the dairy game of life.

Not entirely put off by the experience, I plugged in my new yogurt maker. Scoff. Scoff, I know you will. Yogurt maker! HA! What kind of woman needs a special appliance to let something sit around for four hours?! Well... I have tried it without and it was a 2 quart disaster. So I decided to set myself up for success, stoke my ego, get me a maker and some starter and see what I could do. With my accessories in hand and my failed past behind me I achieved total success...so far it's a ladder! My yogurt looks right at least. I'll find out more about the flavor in the morning.

This fresh milk thing is sort of a wash. Financially, it could be years before we recoup anything. Ladder! today, I got my first massage in 7 years. Shoot: because my arms are really getting sore from squeezing out teets. Ladder: I'm visibly buffer too. It was only a 15 minute massage, on a lark, at the local natural foods store, but it was GREAT! I got to keep my clothes on, which helped me relax, a lot! Aromatherapy was used and all day people have been telling me that I smell like the natural food store. Shoot: I just spent two weeks worth of milk on a massage.

Shoot: forgot to muck the stalls for two days. Had to do it tonight after putting the kids to bed. Ladder!: stood out for a long long time admiring the stars and the silk of a late summer evening on my skin.

Ladder!: fresh milk. Shoot: had to milk these last two days while sick, with a fever. I hadn't anticipated that. I had imagined cold, dark mornings, snowy mornings, drowsy mornings, etc. But not sick mornings. Even so, it's better than a third kid, I think.

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