Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Fair As Metaphor for Family Life

 Family life can be a fairy tale.

 Or, more bumpy.

Family, friends, and strangers all chime in with thoughts, advice, wisdom -- cheerful, gloomy, or in between -- when they find out you are having a child, thinking of having a child, or considering not having a child.

Of the pearls I was given -- shiny, misshapen, sinkers, floaters -- I don't recall any impressing upon me the colossal, monumental, gigantic all-consuming task mothering would be. At times it is pure task, including laundry and food preparation.

And each task on the list is multi-dimensional, whether you're a worried and melancholy mother but mostly somehow excited, cheerful, and accepting at the same time and occasionally grumpy, overbearing, and moody (nobody told me mothering was completely contradictory as well) like me.

When I say laundry is multidimensional I don't mean delicates versus towels, lights, darks, and hand washables (my mother did tell me that most things can go in the wash despite what the label says. Thanks, Mom. You are right about that and many other things, too.).

I mean laundry is multidimensional when you are a mother. Probably when you are a father, too.

Here's the laundry decision tree in snapshot form:
  1. Can you get the laundry on the line prior to or after the child* wakes up?
  2. If the child is awake can you get the laundry on the line in a timely enough manner to allow it to dry?
  3. Will the machine wake the child?
  4. Does your child still fit in the laundry basket and find that fun?
  5. Do you or do you not attempt to remove spots?
  6. Do you care about spots, does your child care about spots, do those around your family care about spots?
  7. Will your child (like mine) be insulted that you find his clothing dirty enough to launder?
  8. Do you have time to do laundry at all?
*Make plural depending on your family size. 

Everything requires strategy. Balancing the household's time with the household's will and temperament. Who's out of underwear? Who has a tissue, shell, peach pit, or broken glass in their pocket? What has greater priority - gritty sheets, smelly towels, or work clothes?

And then there's food. Who likes to eat when and what? Can a trip to the market fit between naps and your partner's precious return from work? Do you head to the market alone or take the children with you to give your partner time at home alone? Is a trip to the market even feasible?

Talking about being a stay at home mom a friend told me, "I should have this." She said she felt she sometimes feels that she should have a clean house, dinner on the table, and happy kids. "Why do you feel that way? Because it's your chosen profession?" I asked.

Becoming a parent is natural, sometimes accidental, and commonplace. That doesn't mean it comes naturally. Despite some parenting books telling us otherwise, families are not made of blocks that can be moved from one slot to another. Conveniently and consistently from waking to retiring. Nah. Rubick's Cube is complicated, but it has nothing on family life. 

 A fire ball, good and bad.

Tossed upon the seas, but still glittery and fascinating. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On Weeding

 Hermit sphinx caterpillar

If you like to fail, try weeding. It is not fun. It is mostly useless. It is certainly a mind game.

Even when I think to myself, "I'm privileging the [fill in the blank --- 'native plants', 'the plantings', 'the vegetables', etc], and I don't expect to have a weed-free space", I get tricked. Some corner of my brain must think, "The weeds have been defeated" because when I return a week later or after a rainstorm, there they are. Weeds. And, I'm annoyed or disappointed.

I know there's foragers, herbalists, ecologists, and so on who try to rehabilitate the concept of "weeds". I fit in there. Many weeds are edible, many are native, and they certainly are not invasive species. Yet, crap, man, there are so many weeds out there.

Every year, I get a little closer to planting this place up and hoping that the weeds feel like a germ inside a feverish body. Not so welcome.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Close Act Theatre's SAURUS performance sent us racing through the festival grounds. We chased three dinosaurs and a man on stilts.

Bethlehem's Musikfest... we made it into the city to catch four days out of ten. The first night we headed to SteelStacks (pictures are at the end of this post). The other three we spent in downtown - walking, eating, listening and watching (music, art, performance, and lightning).

Musikfest definitely pulled the summer out of the sh*tter. It has been a rough one but I'll save that story for another time. August is still young, and we've got several more weeks of partying to do.

 When one of the Dutch performers asked, "Were you scared?" Beren replied, "No." I did feel his heart pounding and saw him flinch when the dinosaurs came close. A half hour into the show, Beren noticed a man inside the costume. That realization and my willingness to pet the beak of one dino made Beren a little more comfortable.
We liked SAURUS so much, we came back for the show at dusk. 

 We ate several chicken gyros.

Beren watches a busker. He was inspired by the previous day's acts and dressed accordingly. We thought his boots were a mistake due to the heat, but later it rained.

 Watching a busker just before lightning shut down the evening's events. I tried to find this performers website, but couldn't yet. Daredevil Circus from Australia. Juggled a chainsaw and fire. Contortion. I appreciated how he got the lackluster crowd going through jokes and honesty.

 Our first Musikfest trip was to SteelStacks.
Native gardens at SteelStacks...our local Highline.


Monday, August 8, 2016

The window on certain kinds of nursery work is closing. The calendar tells me so. The sun's slant and the night insect songs remind me when I'm away from the calendar.

I'm looking at this year's crop and imagining next spring's stock, wondering what to pot up, what species to let slide. I like them all, well mostly.

Plants are like people. This is not new age smoke. Plants do have personalities. They thrive when in their chosen habitat. They can grow perfectly well under sub-optimal conditions when given a little extra care or resources, but maybe they have fewer bloomers, and leggier, leafier, more prone to ailments, less aromatic, less likely to produce offspring.

Like people, there are some plants that seem quite commonplace, but are truly needy outside of their chosen domain. Some are slow, stubborn. Some are exuberant except when mysteriously they are not. After years of being easy to grow, they just die. That's it. Dead. Some are what I like to think of as "Bang out of the gates" and they just keep running. They'd move into the house if they could.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer Bug

 No, not this kind of summer bug.

 Nor the kind of bug that comes from eating fair food. Just a plain old stomach bug.

I recently congratulated myself on a real, actual months-long sickness-free streak. Within 48 hours a mild, warning-like plague struck. Mother and child down with bellyaches. Nothing more.

Today, Beren and I ingested one half a bagel each, a cup of bergamot tea, and shared a Mexican Coca-cola (real, healthful sugar as opposed to the crappy tasting corn syrup). In the morning, I made it to the gate to open and close it for Jared who is out doing a botany job. Later I made it to the mailbox to mail off bills and went back to the couch. Then, back to the mailbox with Beren to find - no incoming bills, no letters, no junkmail, nothing to distract us.

Back to the couch. We read about a dozen books including old board books, Golden books, picture books, and multiple chapters of a Magic School Bus book that clocks in at 104 pages.

The Magic School Bus was a tithe-type purchase from a particularly good used bookstore in Florida. Beren and I parked ourselves in the kid's aisle, reading about Ms. Frizzle and her students while Jared scored a stack of ethnobotany and herbalism books. At 50 cents, the books had to come home - in fairness - to the bookstore and to Beren who was deep into the story.

I recall the long past days as a bookstore clerk at the somewhat less long-gone Barnes & Noble located in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

In Magic School Bus homage, here I will present... Two Facts: only Barnes is "plural". Noble is not plural despite many insisting otherwise. Displaying an opposite tendency, our own local Bowman's Hill is Bowman's Hill, not Bowman Hill.

OK, back at B&N, we had many customers (library patrons?) park in the cafe with paperbacks until they looked like they'd been to the beach. Spine creased, edges worn to use book-speak. Not that I really care about supporting Debbie MacComber's prolific romance output with sales of $7.99 mass markets to those who'd rather use a box store like a library, HarperCollins and other publishers, nor box store bookstores.

But, butt, my sections at Barnes & Noble - art and reference - were by the bathroom. One customer (library patron) took her books not just to the cafe but also to the bathroom. Yep, she did. She'd moan and groan on the pot and read away.

Again, to be fair, she didn't have a peachy life. She also brought what I assume were her life's belongings packed onto a cart into the bathroom. And yet, I must tell you that her sh*t was sour-smelling. Be comforted, while "her" books may have made it back onto the shelves, no one would buy them, not even you. They were tagged by appearance and possibly aroma. You'd never have purchased a book that looked like that.

 I chose to withstand terrible portable toilet smell to take this classic photo. I liked the colors.

Anyway, we're at page 40 of the Magic School Bus book, and I expect to hit page 104 later today.

Right now, Beren's digging into a box of puzzles and train themed stacking blocks (babyish toys too nice to giveaway until a baby cousin hits the scene) that I had stashed in the attic just for a time like this. I can hear blocks rolling around on the hardwood floor upstairs.

I imagine his room is a "mess". It's ok. He's momentarily forgotten his upset belly, and I've had a break from the Magic School Bus. I've learned various interesting facts from the book, but books put me to sleep and never, ever, not so far, my son.

One benefit of this bug was a lazy day, floating on the couch, totally relaxed, and I don't have to cook dinner.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

This little piggy, these little piggies

"Momma, this is the snack station. This is how you do it: dip your fingers into the sour cream then dip your fingers into the bag and you pick up crumbs. You try."

He hands me a plastic bag that once held entire crackers. A couple weeks ago, I had tossed some almonds in the bag, too. The mix went into my backpack for a hike. It went up and down a couple North Carolina mountains, and made the trip back to Jersey. I am cheap about tossing even stale food because you never know when you will be hungry.

The inside of the bag is streaked with sour cream, bits of crushed stale crackers and one almond. I dip my fingers in the tub of sour cream and then into the somewhat yucky bag. The cream is cold and speads across my hand. Crumbs cling to my hand which has also picked up more cream from the bag. I lick my fingers.

Beren assesses my hand. "Momma, you may need to lick more than once." I decide to rinse my hands instead.

It is time for a trip to the market to restock the larder.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Family Business

Jared wrote a great blog piece on having a family business, so it's kinda like, "enough said", but since I like to have the last word... Well, wait, everything he said was true, so this isn't the "last word", not by far, so this is a "yes, and...":
My coworkers and I had a mud fight on vacation just to let off steam. I started it.

Having a family business means that I'm on the clock here, so I better hustle along this this creative endeavor and get back to work. Here we go with some key points:

I vacation with my co-workers. I couldn't get away from them. They just followed me. I took a vacation to get out of various personal ruts, including my guilt about how the hell can I get any work done around here. That's also wound up with guilt number 2, when will my boss let up so I can relax and spend more time with my kid.

Ideally, my boss would let up so I could see my husband, too. Luckily, my husband is likely to stick around once my kid leaves the house. So, I suppose I can catch up with my husband then - in 13 to 15 years when our kid is about 18 or so.

My co-workers came back home with me after vacation. They just followed me. Last night my coworker took a shower in my house and shaved in my sink. I figured if he was so bold, I'd go right ahead and ask him about Virginia waterleaf transplants while he toweled off. We've worked together for awhile, so I had no problem ignoring his lack of clothing.

Meanwhile, my coworker also brought his kid over. His kid refuses to go to sleep, so I hardly get a break. No breaks to work, no breaks to hang out with my own kid, no breaks to talk to my husband.

I did recently take an evening walk on July 4 with my coworkers. We watched the fireflies and listened to the fireworks and the rain came down. A somewhat romantic thing to do with coworkers. More like something I'd do with my family, it's true.