Monday, September 1, 2014

Mom's DIY Kitchen vs. Store Bought


Yesterday I made peach fruit leathers. Today Beren sampled one, burst into tears, and exclaimed, "They don't taste like anything!"

The fruit leather took far longer than the online recipe stated. However, as the recipe said, they were less expensive than the store bought ones, which serve as a frequent on-the-go snack for Beren. With a kitchen sink full of dishes covered in peach slime, our family will probably enjoy the next batch of peaches fresh and continue to buy fruit leathers.

I like the idea of do-it-yourself. I like when we grow our own food and manage to preserve a shelf-worth of vegetables. And then Beren says, "Let's make salsa like they have in the store."

I always liked my Mom's cooking better than anyone else's. At my grandparent's (Mom's parents), they used Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise as my Mom did. I really disliked tuna fish with Miracle Whip sandwiches at Grammie and Pop-pop's. For holidays, my Grandma (Dad's mom) would prepare a Polish feast -Gołąbki (cabbage stuffed with ground meat, onions, and rice cooked in a tomato sauce), boiled carrots, and kielbasa. Grandma boiled the kielbasa, and I preferred my non-Polish Mom's kielbasa - baked or fried until crispy. After traveling to Poland and eating in Philadelphia's Polish neighborhood, I realized that boiled is the way they do it - at least these days. Still, I love that crispy kielbasa. 

There were three things that I thought the local grocer's deli did better than my Mom. They all came from the same family of foods - potato salad, macaroni salad, and cole slaw. Store bought cold salads were sweet and tangy. I now know the deli's secret was sugar and maybe vinegar or some preservatives. I still have a secret love of those sweet salads, but I prefer to gobble up my Mom's salads. They are better.

After a sleepover at a friend's house, my friend's mom made crepes filled with grape jelly for breakfast. She sprinkled powdered sugar on top. They were delicious and memorable. I never had that mysterious, sweet treat again until I married a man who made the Hungarian version - palascinta

Cole slaw and crepes aside, Mom's cooking was the best and still is. For Beren, perhaps his exceptions to Momma's cooking being the best will be salsa and fruit leathers.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rejoining a Circle

My family, back in 2010

Years ago, I returned to college to study photography after a long hiatus from school. I burned out in high school. I burned out on school, but still I applied to a few colleges, chose one, spent a semester there, and dropped out.

I moved back into my parent's house and worked a variety of jobs, most of them at a local mall. A bookstore, a novelty shop, a hippie clothing and incense kiosk, and a one hour photo lab. I made art, I played guitar and sang in punk bands, and set up punk rock shows. I made friends in a few different cities and drove my Ford Escort all over to visit them. When at home, I went to the local library and read every feminist non-fiction book I could find.

After a year or so, I became a student at a local community college. I took all photography and video classes. I wanted zero pressure, zero stress, zero over-acheiver meltdowns. I took a sociology class, too.

I had a really good, really edgy professor for two dimensional design. I can't remember if that was a prerequisite, or something I was curious about after making collages and punk rock flyers.

This professor was so cool. So cool. Short, white blonde hair. Tall, lanky. Black leather jacket. Black leather men's dress shoes. Jeans. White t-shirt. Slightly pursed mouth or slightly scowling. She was beyond rebel girl. She was unclassifiable. She was older but not old, she was street-wise. She would snort if she ever read this. God forbid.

I followed her around. Took all her classes. I went to New York and bought a pair of men's dress shoes which were excellent for dancing to the band Make-Up.

I told my professor I might become a social worker. She snorted. "If you want to make no money doing something, be an artist. I have a friend who is a social worker. She makes no money."

I frowned. "You should take a drawing class with my friend. She's the one that all the students who are afraid of drawing should take," she told me.

I took my professor's advice and enrolled. By Drawing II, I found I could draw, and actually enjoyed it, most of the time.  On one frustrating assignment, some drawings were tossed onto the front lawn during a rainstorm. Ultimately, I made my images with a camera, but in the meantime, I developed a portfolio. My drawing professor insisted it was necessary, that no matter how good my photographs were, or weren't, I needed to show that I could draw.

I considered going to another community college with a good reputation for the arts, but my drawing professor gently pushed me along to a multi-college portfolio review hosted by FIT in New York. My edgy video professor told me it was "time to go."

My drawing professor brought a bunch of students into the city. A friend came along. I went into the room where professors from Mason Gross, the art school at Rutgers, were looking at student artwork.  I laid out my photographs, which were ignored. My drawing professor had been right. I laid out my drawings, and said that I'd like to study photography. The professor shuffled through my 24"x36" drawings - charcoal, pencil, and color pastel.

In the end, I was accepted to Mason Gross, pending the receipt of my transcripts. While at Mason Gross, I studied photography, papermaking, and printmaking, and I left social work, and drawing, behind.

Still, I continued to be interested in the stories of people. I considered how I might work with people. Therapist? No, I didn't want to go back to school. I'd already attended three different ones. And once I graduated Mason Gross, I decided I'd return to school only for art, but I felt that more time at a university would not necessarily improve my craft or critical thinking. Instead, Jared and I traveled around.

Occasionally, I'd mention that I was interested in working with people. Nurse? Herbalist? No…

Back in February, I began the process of becoming an accredited Leader for La League International. I left the journey when I realized I needed to support my husband and together we had to turn our attention to finding a permanent place to live. We did, and then we had to turn our efforts to our new farm and home.

Recently, I've spent a lot of time with women. Hearing their stories, holding the space for their joys and their grief. I've been participating in "a circle", which apparently is a "thing". I've never heard of it before, but it's where people, in this case, women gather to share. It's been very powerful for me to participate.

Last month, I told my birth story in the kitchen, after the circle had ended. I wept. The women there held the space for me. It was big week, otherwise, too. Things were happening on the farm, in the neighborhood. For a week or more, I went to a dark place, and I was surprised to find myself there. Though it has been a long time, I felt really raw. I hadn't felt so dark in such a very long time.

I moved through it as I needed to, and parried as I needed to. I found it was my turn to hold the space for others. Lots of news, lots of tears all around.

And then, someone called me with good news. About halfway through our conversation, the La Leche Leadership journey popped into my head. It felt good. I'm ready to rejoin that circle, the circle of mothers.

So, in my journey I ask that you send me your love and support, as I dive into many books about parenting and breastfeeding, as I hone my skills as a listener who can truly listen and empathize, and as I deepen my commitment to mothering and family life. This will be my people work, sharing with mothers, newborns, infants, and children... the womanly art of breastfeeding.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Momma, why do you like orange so much?

Through love all things can be changed. Beren's Oma used to hate the color orange. She now likes it. Why? Because her grandson loves it.

"Momma, why do you like orange so much?" Beren asks. Actually, it's Beren who likes orange so much. Though when he was 2 or so, he really disliked orange...

Most mornings we asks to put on the "bright orange" shorts and shirts. Both are hunter orange. He tells me he'd like to remove the white, athletic style stripes that run down each leg.

For better or for worse, Walmart regularly stocks bright orange clothes with nothing else to get in the way of the orange, except stripes. The hunter orange shorts from the Carter's outlet in Flemington have the wide grey stripes. They popular until the hunter orange shorts with just skinny white stripes came home from Walmart.

I've tried the consignment shops, but alas, they're not really on the way to anything, and shopping for a boy who likes color is already difficult enough.

Those short are brown, dudint (that's "doesn't" for yous non-locals) matter that it's from Baby Gap or Luxaby in Princeton.

Momma, it's brown. I don't like brown. I like all colors, Momma. I don't like brown or beige or grey. I like orange and red and blue and orange… OK, kiddo, it's still made in China for pennies anyway. We'll hit Walmart after we go food shopping at Shop Rite.

So Walmart it is.

But then, while dressing on one tough, somber morning, Beren told me, "Momma, no, no colors. I want no colors. Just dark." He put on his black shorts, he does like black, and his adorable brown "I brake for bacon" t-shirt.

After breakfast and play time, he told me he would wear bright colors again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Man's Best Friend

Beren plays with Bunny Rabbit and Puppy Dog. Puppy Dog looks a lot like Max the dog and was a gift from my mother-in-law to Beren. Puppy Dog gets some role play time as the dog a kid might encounter.

Three and a half year old versus dog. The child is out classed in height and weight. The dog presses forward. The mother squeezes the child's hand gently. 

The mother says, "He's on a leash. I'm right here."

Or, she quickly lifts her child as an unleashed dog rushes forward to touch noses with the child. The mother says, "I've got you" as she lifts her child up.

Most, if not all, public parks, trails, and nature preserves, require that a pet be leashed. Yes, it's true, even a very well behaved dog that would not hurt a soul, but still is rushing forward with intents unknown towards my thirty some pound child. Even if he loved dogs, he still might be startled. 

I'm trying to gently teach my young child to be wise and aware and unafraid and cautious around dogs. He tells me that dogs are too noisy. I grew up with cats, and I tend to agree, but I don't tell him so. 

I've noticed other children react the same way. Startled, they leap up into a parent's arms or flinch and raise their elbows to protect their faces. I've noticed dog owners often act the same at each encounter. They walk with wide steps towards their dog, calling the dog's name. "Oh sorry, this is what he does. He's friendly." It's unpleasant to watch, and even more unpleasant to be part of the interaction. 

This happens at parks, while hiking, at farmer's markets, in cities and towns, in retail stores, and restaurants. Dogs are welcome in many establishments these days. To a lesser extent, they've replaced the cigarette. You may not smoke, but you can bring your pet instead. Dogs are also increasingly considered members of an owner's family, not just Fido who sits in the backyard. They go where the family goes. I get it. Some of them wear more expensive booties than I do.

In case you're wondering, my child is bold, agile and curious. He climbs boulders, fences, and trees. He chases butterflies, watches wasps, transports daddy-long-legs and earthworms, and catches lightning bugs. He adores cats, chickens, rabbits, llamas, and ducks. With confidence he identifies plants from maples and poison ivy, to stiltgrass and sorrel. He uses tools and works on our farm. He's also sensitive, alert, and aware. Last, he does not like strange dogs, especially not dogs that rush towards him with intents unknown. 

My in-laws have a dog. A big one. A black lab pit bull mix with a lot of energy and a stegosaurus-like tail that knocks over kids and wine glasses. For the first half hour of a visit to their house, my child leaps up into my arms or Jared's. He's practically weightless. His mass is replaced with nervous power. It's no wonder that people can perform physical miracles when propelled by adrenalin.

Once Max the dog settles down, I pet him. I encourage my child to touch his ears and chin and tell me which fur is softer. By the end of our visit, my child and the dog are fast friends.

I'm not willing to put the dirt time in with every stranger's dog, not like I do with my in-laws' dog. I don't want to be pals with a stranger's dog, especially not once he scares the crap out of my child. Honestly, I just want to go back to peacefully strolling or wading or shopping.

So just in case you have a dog, and my child may meet your dog, consider that we've not met your dog yet. Keep your dog in check, please. We'll put in the dirt time and become friends as needed.

In turn, I promise not to rush up to you, my eyes wide, my mouth open and shouting, my intents unknown. And if I do, Jared or Beren will let tell you, "Oh sorry, this is just what she does. She's friendly."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Light and Dark



Sorting through my vegetable seeds, I found that it was too late to sow another crop of some. Autumn is on the wind, especially at night.

I noticed black walnut trees dropping their yellowing leaves. They're always first to go, but isn't this too early? Perhaps it's the drought. Though I've heard others talk about what a rainy year it's been. Not at our farm's latitude and longitude, and not on our rocky, well-drained soil that lost much of its organic material to years of erosion and corn and soy plantings.

With autumn coming, we decided to have a campfire a few days ago. On that particular day, Beren had slept until 10 o'clock in the morning, so why expect a timely bedtime?

Beren and I stacked the branches from a felled box elder and balled up newspapers. I lit the match, passed it to Beren, and Beren lit the fire. Jared followed the smoke from some corner of the farm to the circle of fire. We sat. Beren chased the smoke.

As the sun set, we watched the sky clear for but one low cloud. Vega appeared first. Then Altair and Deneb. Stars. "I think that's the summer triangle," I said. The sky darkened more and Beren asked me to count the stars. I thought it might be easy, this is New Jersey, after all, but I gave up after 26. "There's a lot," I said finally.

We agreed that we wanted camp food. Jared and Beren carved sticks, while I got sausages from the refrigerator. I was hardly hungry, but all five sausages were cooked and eaten in turn.

Time goes so quickly. I wish we could camp out every night and watch the stars. Instead, some nights we go food shopping and pick up another canister of propane for the grill. Some nights, we plant vegetable seeds and then slouch on the couch reading. Others, we wash dishes and tidy the house. Some nights I balance the checkbook while Jared answers emails and Beren makes Play Doh forms.

Some nights I ask Beren if he wants to put on the headlamp and dump the compost with me. Some nights we go into the night with no light. "Which way do I go, Momma?" "You know the way. Feel the path with your feet, Beren." He runs.

Some nights we do it all beautifully, and other evenings are quite otherwise.

***

I'm reminded of a well-put together book Beren had as a toddler. Photos of animals, many pretty pictures. One page was called "Creepy crawlies". Pictured were a worm, a centipede, a butterfly, a moth, and more. I really disliked the phrase "creepy crawlies".

So much of life is in between the light and the dark. So much of it is the thrill of the dark, walking at night. Being close to the fire, and creating fire. Of touching things dangerous, things crawling and strange. I'd like to give the creatures of the night the dignity. I like to walk among them when I allow myself the time.

***

Though my heart stops when Beren's headlamp turns one way, and is so dim I think I lose him momentarily. "There's nowhere he can go," I tell myself. "He's fearless, let him feel safe and courageous. Not even courageous, just curious and free. Let him be 'alone' in the dark." I watch him, letting him be alone, quieting my inner self that is always nattering away.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Year Ago or So, Leo Gave Me a Glimmer of The Days to Be

Potting up purple flowering raspberries. Beren's choosing the next plant.

Not a moment of the past four months would have been possible if this was any spring between the years 2010 to 2013.

Last year, I watched a friend's child, who was a bout three years old, roll on the floor and sing songs to himself. He chose toys to play with - by himself. Both the choosing and the playing were done by himself.

I stared. Other mothers stared. Each of us bounced babies or young children on our laps or scrambled across the floor, zooming cars or trotting animals. All the mothers also tried to converse with varying degrees of luck. Leo's mother must have noted the room's collective stare. She bounced her own infant, Leo's baby sister, on her knee, and she said, "This is what you have to look forward to. This is three years old. They start playing by themselves, usually when I'm about ready to leave the house, but…"

"He's singing to himself, Kat," I said.

"Yes," she answered simply.

"Wow," I said.

I went back to zooming, trotting, and scrambling.

Since that time, we've reached that magic age. Beren's in his sandbox. Beren's on the couch playing with Legos while Jared types on his laptop. Beren's gotta go, and he goes. Beren's sweeping out the greenhouse with me. Then, Beren's on the swing and wants to be pushed. Or, he plops in the sandbox, and I feel the urge to weed the garden, but I plop down next to him.

Sometimes I go and weed, and I feel guilty. Of course. He's playing by himself. That's a good thing, for everyone. Remember when you had exactly zero minutes to yourself, Rachel? Still, hardly a minute goes by without thinking something about being a mother, but I can do adult things with my child or with my child nearby.

Ah yes, so long as that adult things is not: talking on the phone nor having a "discussion" with Jared. Forget it.

We've always tried to include Beren in our work. He has his own clippers and will use them, whether we might like it or not. Purple milkweed by the front of the house? Oops. But then, there goes a pokeweed, and better choice for clipping. He likes to lug things, dig things, and figure out where plants can be planted. "A sedge or a cynthia there?" No answer. "Sometimes they call this Krigia. Do you like  the name Krigia or cynthia better?" "Krigia." "Which do you want to put in this hole?" "Krigia."

"Don't cut the snakewoot, Papa," he says while Jared scythes the work area. "Not the snakeroot?" "No." "OK."

And about that scythe - we have no money to buy a big tiller. We have no money to build a big shed to park it in. When one of us wavers on the "no lawn mower" stance, the other pulls the purse string tight. No mower. No shed anyway. We also have child who is very intrigued by power tools when they are off. A scythe and shears are the resolution for those with no money for more two cycle engines, no shed for two cycle engines, and a child startled by two cycle engines.

Solo play and participation and sharp blades - it's how we've been able to set up our farm at our new home. It's been, mostly, a pleasure. The milkweed will be back in 2015, and meanwhile Krigia is doing great.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is this swimsuit top seaworthy?

Upon emerging from a large wave at Seaside Heights this weekend, I wondered aloud to my mother if my new swimsuit was seaworthy.

In fact, she told me, it was not and that I could probably shorten the top strap.

This, we joked, was probably not the first swimsuit of the day to be found unworthy of the sea, nor even the first of that particular hour.

Indeed, should I find time, I may shorten that strap.