Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Brain Balls

Brain Balls 
How do I occupy my time now that the holidays are over? And yes, they are over. A holiday that starts after bedtime is not one for families with young children.

We occupied some free time this holiday season by making Brain Balls. Uh huh. That's right. Brain Balls.
Mixing the herbs
I was inspired after watching a video with Rosemary Gladstar called "Herbal Pills: Zoom Balls". Jared and I agreed that she seemed to quietly delight in saying the word "balls" again and again.

Balls, this particular type of balls, are powdered herbs mixed with nut butter, tahini, and honey. She suggests adding optional ingredients like coconut, chocolate chips, and carob.

Besides the lightly giddy use of the word "balls", two other items firmed my appreciation for Rosemary. When discussing nut butters, she mentioned that you could also use peanut butter. Though it was not as easily digested as almond butter, it was more affordable. And, of course, herbalism is a medicine of the people and should be accessible to all. Regarding chocolate, she says again that this is an optional ingredient, but she clearly likes it.

Thus, we have a simple, affordable, and tasty manner in which to consume herbs daily.

The day I made Brain Balls (December 26) was one of those cooped up kind of days, where everyone as trying to get something done and recovering from the excitement of Christmas day. I pulled out my copy of Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and tried to determine how much almond butter, tahini, and honey I'd need. The recipe was in parts rather than cups. Beren contributed by making and repeating demands that I tried to ignore as Jared tried to assist me with the recipe.

"I can't think straight with all this noise!" I said.

"Just listen, if you want to have bzzzbxxxzz so you'll end up with about kkrsshrgzxxxx amount of moist ingredients," Jared said. [Beren talking in the background, or the foreground, actually].

"Beren, can you wait a moment? Really, I cannot focus," I said.

"Rachel, this is what you need to do. You have 2 parts of the…" Jared continued.

"OK! I am just going to do this! You want pickles?!?! OK!! HERE ARE SOME PICKLES. I'm going to make these Brain Balls now," I said.

I sensed that Jared was disappointed and irritated that I couldn't accept (or hear) his help. But, Beren had won this round. He had created enough static in the lines so his parents could not have an adult conversation. I was determined to make Brain Balls, so I ceased communications and dove into my foxhole - an stainless steel bowl that I intended to fill with herbs.

Beren was my herb grinder. In succession, we added, ground, and then measured gotu kola, rosemary, and gingko. He really dislikes loud noises, including the electric herb grinder, which I purchased at a yard sale. I knew he'd have to operate it, or he'd become upset by the "racket".

I mixed the honey, tahini, and almond butter. Jared's suggested proportions were ultimately in the ballpark. I added Sinerian ginseng, carob, goji berries, and coconut to the herb powders. With the moist ingredients, I rolled the balls. They're delicious.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A miscellany on December 26

A selection of the gifts from my parents to Beren - play food for his kitchen set.
I smiled with some pride when Beren referred to the orange juice as "olive oil" and the Balogna as "salve". 

The holiday blast will continue. It started on Thanksgiving with Thanksgiving and Hanukah. Then Beren's birthday, then his birthday party, then Christmas, then Christmas part two with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, then Christmas with my brother and his girlfriend.

By the end of our gift exchange with my parents on Christmas Day, Beren was vibrating with a wild energy. We went to the playground to unwind on the swings.

It's not easy being three, if I am able to put myself in my child's shoes. Not much is in a three year old's control. To a certain extent, wake up time, some amount of food intake, and some aspects of dressing are among categories that a young child might "control". 

A typical conversation might go like this, "What will you eat next? Broccoli, chicken, or wild rice? We also have salad with dipping sauce," I say, gesturing to the food Jared has arranged on Beren's plate. I try to keep Beren's attention, but climbing is more alluring. I could replace any number of clothing items with the above. "Would you like to wear this shirt or that one?" And lately, the answer has been neither, but with the winter solstice heat wave behind us, the tall people in the house 'win' (eventually) on the clothing disagreements.

Really, none of us are "in control". Occasionally, one of reels with emotion while the remaining two family members are stoic or calm. As a mother, I feel as though I am steering a ship of moods. Excited, bored, upset, sad, angry, gleeful, bashful, thoughtful, spiteful, pensive, hesitant, afraid, courageous, curious. I'm not just talking about my son's disposition either, but all of ours.

Jared and I have watched Beren become his emotional self in recent months. His reactions and feelings have become more subtle and varied. It's stunning to watch, as have most of the events of the past three years.

We recently visited friends who have a newborn. The stillness, the quietness, the dimness, and warmth of their home reminded me of Beren's newborn days. It was womblike. 

In our daily discussion of events regarding our child, Jared and reminsced about how difficult the early days could be. How quiet they were, how slow. It's so different now, but then again, is it?

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Music Critic at the Dance Party



Our fantastic three person dance party has been going every night for a few nights. The humidifier is our smoke machine. Each of us twirl our "dance flashlights". Johnny Burnette, Rolling Stones, Warsaw Village Band, Brooke Shive.

It all began with Jared picking the first few notes of Cancion del Mariachi. Beren said, "I like that music*." I jumped up and plugged in our music player. In moments, Antonio Banderas y Los Lobos were cranking and we were all running in a tight circle in our tiny bedroom.

Beren discovered he could fit into a pillow case, and I swung him around. "Watch the wall!" Jared said. We spun until I couldn't. Beren began to fade and remained inside his sleeping bag pillow case. This time, he was cradled in Jared's arms, just like old times.


*Beren does not like all music, however. One evening, Jared absently played the melody of "Eye of the Tiger." I began to sing along. Beren was interested. The lyrics are about an animal.

"What's that music?" He asked. "Eye of the Tiger," I said. "What's that?"

I turned to YouTube.com for interpretation. The opening bars sounded, and the band members strutted down the street in the fuzzy video. Beren went for the iPad. I was concerned that the coiffed rock stars appeared to be looking for a fight in the video, so I subtly directed Beren's attention away. He went for the iPad again and then the speakers.

He turned the speakers sideways. "Terrible music. Terrible. Terrible."


Sunday, December 22, 2013

At the playground, a child reveals his true love

Beren receives a heart-shaped ornament from his great-grandmother.

A sudden jump in sure footedness.

Today at the playground, Jared and I watched as Beren climbed a spiral ladder, stepped across space, and onto the adjacent platform. He strode across a wobbly bridge, which would have made him nervous just weeks prior.

A sudden jump in language.

We sat on the platform, our "snack hut" out of the unseasonably, historically warm drizzle, dividing smoked salmon and slices of cheese onto fresh bread. "I love you, salmon. I love you, cheese," said Beren.

Jared and I smiled at each other. "After all I've done for you?" Jared whispered to me. I shook my head. "We rarely even get hugs. He loves the cheese!" I answered. "I never ever heard him say the word 'love' before." Jared agreed.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Redo

My guys three years ago, almost to the day

Because I write about myself, I have to be honest. I have to include an ugly moment or two. So, here you go:

I spent yesterday walking up and down the forested hills and slopes of Pleasant Valley. When covered with several inches of snow and a crust of ice, this section of Hopewell township, is not that pleasant. Beautiful, yes. Deer browsed, yes, absolutely to pieces. And this is why I was walking up and down slopes for about 7 hours.

My coworkers and I were doing the first component of a forest health study that assesses deer browse. The study goes like this: Each December, we carry bare root native tree seedlings bundled in plastic garbage bags into the forest. We also carry two dibble bars, which are crude shovel-like tools that foresters use to plant tree seedlings.

The type of dibble bar we use, in case you wanted to know, is a Jim Gem KBC Bar. It weighs just over ten pounds and is 39" long. The T shaped bar has a heavy wedge instead of a shovel blade. It is bright orange so you don't "accidentally" lose the ten pound instrument.

If you are strong, like my one of coworkers, you slam it into the ground a couple times and stomp the crossbar with your foot, and you then have a sliver of a hole for a tree to go into. If you are a lightweight like me, you hop onto the crossbar and wobble. You stomp and rock and sway while standing on the cross bar. You bang your knees into the center bar. Eventually, you make a hole.

We also carry a map and GPS to guide us to our randomly selected plots where we plant ten trees per plot. Each site has a minimum of ten plots. We bring ten extra trees in case the multiflora rose thorns that shred my legs also shred the trees. The trees must have their end buds intact because in six months (mosquito season), we go back to see if the trees have been browsed by deer. You can read about what I will be doing six months from now regarding this study here.

It may seem like I am complaining, and I am, but I still really like the job. Even this part of it.

Unrelated but affecting my stamina for this activity, I got very poor sleep the previous night. I woke up just fifteen minutes before I needed to descend the icy Sourland ridge into the (pleasant) valley below. I packed in as much fatty food as Jared could cook for me in ten minutes, and drove away in the very slow to warm up Ford Ranger.

Once at the site, I took 50 trees. My coworker took 60. I look like Santa Claus with a black garbage bag  full of trees, of course. My other coworker took the map, GPS, and two dibble bars. He slings the bars across his shoulder. We march out into the forest. As the trees go into the ground, our bundles diminish until one of us can take a dibble bar. I find that it nooks nicely into a muscle knot in my shoulder. The crossbar occasionally grazes the back of my skull.

With each step, one foot punches through the ice crust. The other lifts out of it. We often walk single file, taking advantage of each other's footprints. My stride is shorter and my straddle narrower than my coworker who is in the lead, and I can't quite match his step. Sometimes my other coworker and I walk side by side and chat about our sons. Both of us are too polite to jump into our other coworker's tracks, so we each blaze our own trail. The shards of ice that our boots kick up slide down the slopes. Mini-avalanches.

We plant two sites (200 trees) in one day. By the time I return home, I'm exhausted. Truly spacey exhausted. I shower and request that we eat dinner in the living room, so I can stuff my belly from a semi-reclining position.

Jared also looks exhausted. He did not sleep well the night before, nor did our three year old. Though their day had been pleasant until lunchtime, a lack of sleep made the afternoon edgy.

Our friends had planned to eat a new and expensive restaurant in Princeton that evening. We had no childcare option. It was Jared's turn. He needed a break. He almost stayed home, but I told him, "If it was my 'turn' and I wasn't to tired, I'd go."

Shortly, he was in his jacket. As I said goodbye to him from the doorway, I could see his face relax. "Fresh air," he sighed. "See, it's good for you. I'm glad you're going," I said. In the background, an overtired three year old careened around the house.

I skipped bath time, thinking Beren might get a second wind. We snacked, read stories, nursed. Read more stories. I turned off all lights except a tiny flashlight to illuminate our book. My eyes glazed and I drifted. Beren complained repeatedly that I was not holding the flashlight up high enough. I told him that I was tired and was shutting off the flashlight.

He protested but settled down. He then began to wiggle. He put his feet on my knees and propelled himself up and down as if hopping while laying down. "Not good," I thought.  Ten minutes or more later, he hopped up and exclaimed, "Let's eat something!"

I groaned, but roused myself. The previous night's poor sleep was partly due to a child who needed a wee hours snack. "Anything to avoid that happening again," I thought. Anything, except perhaps, acting like a loving and generous spirited mother. I was grumpy. Oh yes, I was very, very grumpy.

In spite of the distant whisper of reason, I turned on all the lights. I banged cabinet doors. I stormed around the house. As I spread butter on crackers for Beren, I was surprised that the knife didn't melt in my hand and the crackers burst into flames. I was mad mad mad. And honestly, Beren was behaving just fine. It was me. I preferred that we both be in a deep sleep.

When Jared returned from his pleasant outing, he opened the door. What he heard was Beren angrily and tearfully protesting me cleaning up his blocks and me angrily and tearfully protesting his taking out more toys. "You are supposed to be asleep!" "Take out my toys! Don't put toys away!"

"Looks like I chose the wrong night to go out," Jared said. "Or the right night!" I growled. The addition of an audience calmed me a bit. "How was dinner?" I asked. When he replied, "Really nice," tears stung my eyes. I flopped on the couch.

Beren climbed into my lap. He nursed as Jared quietly told us about his dinner and the restaurant. Beren's eyelids drifted cosed for a moment, and Jared continued until our child was asleep. "I should have just enjoyed our night together," I said. "You are tired," Jared said.

Overtired, I slept poorly with long wakings in the night. Only once Beren whimpered, and in the moonlight I could see he had rolled free of his blankets. His legs were cold and covered in goosebumps. I gently replaced the blanket. He settled and fell back to sleep easily. I was surprised as this was unusual for him. I went back to bed and laid awake. The night was so bright - snow and moon. I suppose I've come to rely on night nursing to get back to sleep myself.

Affected by a second night of bad sleep and a late bedtime, our day was up and down, once again. A tired child and tired parents. I wondered if Beren would fall asleep early. If he doesn't, I promised myself, this will be my redo. The three of us built with blocks and played with trucks until bath time. We had a fun time in the tub. "I'm done," Beren announced stepping out of the bath and into his green towel. He blotted his body like an expert. "Dry my legs," [Dwhy my wegs] he said. From there, he ran into the kitchen, announcing, "I'm going to get my jammies on!"

After stories, he and I settled. We talked. I rubbed his back. When he sat up and said, "Let's eat something," I jolted.

Redo. I get my redo.

"Ok," I said. "Let's do that. Would you like crackers with butter and a carrot?" "Mmmhmm!"

After a trip to the kitchen, I sat on the couch and opened my correspondence course text. Beren climbed up, and I showed him the books. "What's this?" he asked as we looked at the black and white pictures. I pointed out images of flowers, herbs, tincture bottles, the author of the writing.

"Here's a picture of the author's garden and her watering can. Here's her apothecary where she keeps herbs. Herbs help you feel better when you are sick." I thought about the reading I've been doing lately.  I thought about how Beren always adds herbs to his imaginary soups. I though about a quote I picked up from a herbal for children. The bit of wisdom was that parents should be clear that the body heals itself and herbs simply help it to heal.

"Well, the herbs help you. They help your vital force. Did you know you had a vital force inside of you?" Beren shyly tucked his head into my elbow, and I wondered if I frightened or confused him, possibly both. He crawled into my lap and it was time to get to sleep.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

precursor to leaping

precursor to leaping

Is it cabin fever or a growth spurt? For the past several days Beren has been leaping. Not the long jump, not sashaying. Leaping. Belly flopping.

Beren's birthday gift was a homemade 36" by 18" workbench. (or there about. Jared designed it and did the cutting and assembling. I urethaned it, in a familiar division of labor that was handed down from our parents). Our house is already built out, crammed with furniture. After all, we once believed we had room for no couches, and we now have two. 

The newly introduced birthday workbench bumped the toybox to the dining room. The toybox provides a step up to a window that connects to our bedroom. Beren climbs from the toybox, onto the windowsill, swings around, and steps up onto his dresser. From the dresser he leaps onto his mattress which is on the floor. It's probably a 3 1/2 foot drop. 

Beren also climbs onto Jared's and my bed and into a different large framed out window. Sometimes he sits on his "birdie perch." Other times, he slides down onto an armchair. From there, he clambers onto the arm and leaps towards the couch about 3 to 4 feet away, depending on where the chair is. 

At times, he sticks the landing. Frequently, he belly flops onto the edge of the couch. Jared catches him, too. Very infrequently, Beren leaps from the couch back towards the armchair. Oof. The armchair is not deluxe. It lacks cushy padding. 

Each time Beren sticks a landing or flops, Jared belly laughs. Beren is his father's best medicine. Jared reserves a very particular, honest, and deep laugh for his son's adventures. 

At the commencement of dynamic leaping, I thought I should discourage this, but Jared had already encouraged it. I decided that I'd set guidelines. While leaping: No food, No sticks or objects in hand, No objects tossed from perches. Also, No playing with the telephone on top of the dresser. I'm glad all our furniture is secondhand. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sick bed

A view from across the room. Jared photographed Beren and me in our sick bed - reading side by side. Late November featured lots of sniffles, coughs, and cuddles.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

White Pine Needle Tea: My First Wild Edible

The magnificent white pine. 
Find a bluff along one of the mighty rivers of Pennsylvania, make certain it is a wild place, look up and you will see a wind and weather shaped white pine. In its native habitat, this is my favorite tree, if I am allowed.

We walked down a snowy trail along a white pine hedgerow. We nibbled on a couple rosehips from a dog rose, much more tart than the sweet-from-frost crabapples we'd sampled further back. "Want to make tea?" I asked Beren. "Mmhmm!" he replied.

I picked a couple twigs from a pine branch, and quietly said "thank you for letting me make tea." I put the aromatic branches to Beren's nose. He sniffed.

Back at home I discovered the twigs. I had already put cider with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice on the stove to warm, but I heated the water anyway. All four burners were going - reheating a pot of faro and beef stew each, steaming broccoli and Swiss chard. I glanced at the clock and knew everything would be room temperature by the time Jared arrived.

I dished out of food, and as I saw the truck headlights coming down the lane, I felt a bowl of stew. Cold. I poured myself a cup of white pine tea - hot and pleasant tasting. Sweet, aromatic, warming.

The tea of white pine needles contains vitamin C. After being low grade sick for a couple weeks, I appreciated the boost that I was receiving.

I had used white pine topically, in a salve with red cedar that helped me resolve some pesky summertime skin issues - a possibly fungal, a possibly "who knows?" kind of affliction. Steady applications and a bit of faith worked. "I uninvite you from my skin," I said firmly while rubbing the salve into my irritated flesh.

Sipping, I remembered the white pine salve and skin affliction fondly, perhaps because I no longer had red, nettley bumps on my knee.

Sipping, I remembered sitting around a campfire sipping scalding hot white pine needle tea from a styrofoam cup. It was 1986 or 1987, or so, and I was at the Linwood-MacDonald Camp. The camp counselors (one of them, the pretty one, was named Honey, much to the delight of 6th and 7th grade boys) were serving me my very first wild edible food.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Simpler in the Kitchen

Purslane, a garden simple

Usually, I'm a simpler. A simpler uses one herb at a time. In most of my lifeways, I am a simpler as well. When I make music, take photos, cook.

I'm not a multi-tasker, though I will take on many tasks all at once. I'll take my toothbrush into the closet. As I pick out clothes, I notice I'm not brushing. I'll put the kettle on and put away dishes as the toast burns.

Jared can have four burners going on the stovetop and an array of spices on the counter, each on its way to one pan or another, or perhaps all of them but in different quantities. Me? Chicken with salt and a sprinkle of rosemary. An array of steamed vegetables with… salt. I might be exaggerating, but only a bit.

I recently put mindfulness into a pot of soup I made for an ill friend and her partner. It's one of my favorite soups from a recipe I found back when we lived in Queens and used Fresh Direct to buy our groceries. Butternut squash, broth, onions, garlic. I left out the pear and replaced the heavy cream with coconut milk. I forgot about the thyme, and added fennel instead. A touch of salt to bring out the flavor, of course.

I thought of belly soothing foods, nutritious, and gentle for someone who's body is under duress, I looked in the fridge for what I had, and I put them into the pot. When my mind drifted, I reattuned myself to the soup and my task.

I have made this soup dozens of times, and sometimes it has been tasty, other times bland. This time, it was infused with such a sweetness and gentleness. I was surprised. I'm used to adding and adjusting, filling in the lack of flavor. It was perfect. Simple and mindful.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Birthday to Us


Three years ago at this time, I held my three hour old newborn in my arms. I can honestly say that I am a changed person because of the past three years. In moments or maybe hours or days, depending on how I'm calculating my time spent laboring to give birth, life changed.

Where I went, how I went, and when I went, all changed because I became we. I had long been a we, as Jared and I often went together, but this we-some, this threesome was different. Profoundly so.

Before this date three years ago, I might have had a book on my lap, or perhaps Jared's had may have rested on my knee. And then, I found a baby on my lap and there he stayed on and on. Once and awhile, I'd lay him on our bed while he slept. And once, I looked at the bed and was startled to see a baby there. I had forgotten I had one of those.

Each day we learn how to live together, a threesome. We are creators, negotiators. We love. We disagree. We try things out. We say new words. We arrange for the good of the group, and sometimes for just one. Our alliances shift. We take turns. Our resumes are quite long, the tasks varied, simple and difficult. Unceasing and wonderful.

Mother. Father. Child. Wife. Husband. Son.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Making an Herbal Salve on This Last Day of November 2013

Chickweed flowers

Last year, I purchased Rosemary Gladstar's home study course, The Science and Art of Herbalism. About a month ago, I received an email from one of the teachers to all the students. The note mentioned that the recipients were probably well on their way to completing the course. The sentiment made me raise my eyebrows, as I had barely skimmed Lesson 1 and its Addendum.

I felt a bit discouraged, but in the following weeks readied my blood for the challenge. Things are a bit different than March, when I bought the course. Beren sleeps better (as of the past month), he also goes to school two mornings a week. One of those mornings Jared and I get to spend together, working on our nursery. The growing season and seed collecting season are over. It's amazing what the alchemy has created - restful evenings free to do not only chores and nursery-related computer work but a bit of reading and schoolwork.

Here and there, I'll be posting pieces of my homework. Some assignments include making herbal preparations and discussing my experience. Just like my apprenticeship and the Chrysalis Center, this is perfect for me. If you've read this blog before, you'll notice I don't mind writing about myself…in some ways.

Chickweed foliage. In our garden.
The Science and Art of Herbalism: Lesson Two. 
Making an Herbal Salve:


With winter here, my son (3 years on 12/2/13), Beren, has chapped cheeks. He's independent and does not like when adults wipe food from his face or add salve to it. He does respond well to participating in creating herbals (and chickweed is his plant, for now), so today I asked if he'd like to make a salve with me. "Yes!" he answered.

I set up the mini-crockpot that we use for wintertime infused oil/salve projects. I added a chickweed oil I had made in the summer. I chopped small bits from a large hunk of beeswax given to me by the beekeeper who tends hives on our landlord's property (also where we live). Beren added the beeswax to the crockpot and stirred, a bit vigorously at times.

We went for a walk outside, and when we returned the house smelled of beeswax. We ate lunch and tested our salves. They were a desirable consistency. Beren spooned his into an old, beat up and faded Nivea tin.

A month ago, I had given him this tin with a softer version of this salve in the same tin. I went off to do something and when I returned, the tin was nearly empty and salve was smeared all over his hands. He wasn't too happy with his greasy, slippery hands, nor was he happy when I wiped them off.


I hope this salve is a harder consistency and one he is more inclined to use on his face. I succeeded on the first task, but on my son, who is a Metal Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, he'll determine what goes on his face in a happy manner.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Heavy Metal Meets Hair Metal

Tonight Jared, Beren, and I danced to the Bangles, Rob Base, Skid Row, Motley Crue, and New Order via youtube.com. It had to happen. We stopped for lunch at Five Guys after looking a piece of property and buying produce at the Stangl Market in Flemington.

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison came through the speakers. I sang along. Jared made a joke about playing the song at a New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team gala event, and politely ignored the tears that appeared in the corners of my eyes. Perhaps only "Night Moves" by Bob Seeger would have brought the tears from my eyes and down my cheeks. I am a sucker for rock ballads.

About twelve years and two weeks ago, I sat in McCormick's, an Irish bar in New Brunswick. They had St. Patrick's Day "Warm Up" the 17th of each month and served corned beef and cabbage. I'd go there with friends sometimes. On this particular evening, I sat across from a guy named Jared that I had had my eye on. I had invited friends, but they stayed away.

Earlier in the week, we'd watched the presidential polls come in at a grungy rental inhabited by lefty political types. We managed to get past "hanging out" at the lefty hub - a place where my rear end fell asleep on the far too cold hard wood floor, and to a place where a couple beers might warm our reclusive natures.

I hooked my motorcycle boots around the rungs of the barstool. We talked about music. Jared had been into metal as teen. 'Real' metal.

Me? My teen years were spent in rural New Jersey. My first concert was the Bangles in Easton, PA. I loved the 1990's era hair metal band's hit songs. I spent memorable hours (probably six in total because my friends who actual had cable TV were bored by it. But, me, I was without at home, and was transfixed,) watching MTV at a friend's house. Headbanger's Ball, Aerosmith videos…

"I liked hair metal," I admitted. I laughed and turned my face to the side, a bit embarrassed, but also a bit "love me if you will. I dare you." Jared took me up on my dare. He told me later that he knew he loved me when I turned, and he saw the profile of my face, my nose especially, I think, and I was laughing.

I cut all meadow down

 I thought he'd be upset seeing the meadow trimmed, but he watched steadfastly, with no comment. "I cut all meadow down," Beren would say later. 

I'm eavesdropping from the couch. Jared and Beren are reading bedtime stories, including a favorite from the library called A Visitor for Bear. Beren finishes the punch lines. In the story, a grumpy and solitary bear is repeatedly surprised by a mouse. He opens the cupboard, and "There was a mouse!" Beren says. "Small and grey and…" Jared continues. "Bahwight eyed!" Beren ends the sentence. In case you have trouble interpreting that, it's a "bright-eyed" mouse.

Is it just us? Do other parents melt when they hear their children speak? Jared and I love Beren's words, his stories. I have surreptitiously filmed Jared and Beren reading this story at least three times.

On drives, he pipes with tales. "I've got a tahwactor," he tells us from the backseat. "Oh, what color is your tractor?" Jared asks. "Buhwoo." "Blue, of course." "And, it has a buhwushhog attachament." "Brush hog attachment!" Jared exclaims. "I'm gonna mow the meadow with my tahwactor. I've got a new gahween one," Beren says, kicking at the back of my seat. Jared murmurs to me, "Beren knows words I never heard until I was thirty. A brush hog?"

"What are them ammohs doing? Some are sitting. And they are standing. And they are laying down in the meadow," Beren tells us as we pass an alpaca farm. Ammohs are animals, by the way. He always accents the "do" in doing.

Slowly, Beren's letter "r" is coming into its own when placed at the end of a word, at the expense of the preceding vowel sound. "I'd like some murrrr," he says. I thought I heard an "l" sound, too. The word "knife", inexplicably remains, "neef".

It's all touched by golden wings for me. His little voice flecked by gold. Why is that? Was it the wait - that we waited a good while for him to talk?

Hearing the soft little voice of my friend's two year old charms me sweetly, too. "A lot of traffic at this time of day," she told us as her mother drove Beren and I to a local farm. I was stunned.

Last winter, we picked carrots at North Slope Farm with one of the farmers, Colleen, and her son. We warmed ourselves by a woodstove, and the other farmer, Colleen's husband, Mike, joined us. Beren was silent, except for his glad crunching on his sweet carrot. In the quiet of the still room, Beren pointed to the front of the woodstove where a vent was open and said, "Hole."

Hole? There I sat with my then two year old, who refused (could there be another word or phrase here - "chose not") to speak in words to, hug, kiss, wave bye-bye, or high five even those who he loved best. And he said "hole."

In the early days of talking, Beren's personality, one who likes activity and good laughs, would call from the backseat, "Mouse!" "Cat!" "Dog!" "Wubs!" "Fuzz!" We'd respond appreciatively and exuberantly. "A cat? A cat is in the car! Oh!" "Oh no, not a fuzz! Not a fuzz in the car!" "Webs! There's a spider in this car?" We'd all laugh and the game would begin again.

A year later, I lay beside Beren as he drifts to sleep. I break his latch. "Let's talk," I say. "Let's talk about something," he agrees. "I've got a tahwactor." "What are you growing on your farm?" Beren answers, but I don't quite understand. "Beets? You're growing beets?" "No. Nuhshing. I grow nuhshing. I have a meadow. I cut all meadow down," he says. He grows nothing, but has a meadow he's stewarding. His breathing slows and becomes raspy with the last bit of congestion from our household's week long cold. I wait a moment and rest my hand on his chest. He rolls away and sighs.

Golden wings. Good night.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Asleep, and then awake

As I sat chatting with a friend, I looked up at Jared and said, "He really needs to be taken out of the game. He looks grim." Jared agreed and brought Beren a couple morsels of food. Jared was rebuffed by our stone cold almost three year old.

There were subsequent attempts to add warm articles of clothing to his body, to add food and drink, to engage. Each time either Jared or I was ignored. For the past hour, he had been climbing on hay bales at a local farm's end of season party. The sun had set long ago. Dinnertime had passed. A reasonable amount of time since the last potty break had also passed.

As a child I was notorious for not wanted to take bathroom breaks while engaged in outdoor play with my neighborhood friends. I remember once making it to the screen door and peeing in my pants. I did this many times, many more times that I should have, until I truly old enough to know better.

My mother would whisk me into the house, clean me up, and send me back out. I never remember an angry word from her, but I do remember turning back once and seeing my friend lean over to inspect the puddle on the ground. "Carrie would knock at the door, 'Where's Rachel?' she'd ask. I'd say, 'She'll be out soon,'" my mother tells me.

With family history in mind, I watched Beren careen around the hoophouse loaded with hay bales. It was cold. Jared and I were ready to go. Yet, he didn't appear to be having a good time. Jared approached him once more, and Beren refused him rudely.

It was Jared's turn to say, "I tried. He's all yours." I've said that to Jared, once or twice or many more times. I suppose it's the loving and respectful, but rightfully frustrated parent's version of "Your son…"

Beren dashed the other way as I approached and shouted, "Run away! Run away!" He began to exit the hoophouse. I grabbed him, and he kicked furiously. I sensed a stalemate. I pointed him back into the hoophouse. He ran inside.

I regrouped. A few minutes later, I approached again and whispered into his ear, "In five minutes, we are going home." He stared at the banjo player who had begun playing minutes before and said something. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you," I said. "Go home now." "Go home now?" "Yes."

I lifted Beren up, and he was exhausted. I'd 'won' by waiting out my child. I carried him to the porta-potty, and we packed inside. "What's this?" he asked pointing to the pink spiderweb shaped thing in the urinal. "Do you want to pee before me or after me?" I asked. "Later." "Ok, when I'm done, you go." We finished without trouble.

In the dark, we reunited with Jared and walked to the car. Beren shrieked when I put him into the seat. His clothes were filled with hundreds of long and short bits of straw and his skin was scratched and irritated. We changed his pants and the drive home was pleasant, though we noticed his face was puffy.

At home, it was already Beren's bedtime, but we all bathed, warming and soothing our upsets. Jared and Beren continued our bedtime routine - stories in bed. I brought a snack and water. I sat nearby in the living room. After stories, Jared and Beren make one final trip to the bathroom, but this time, Beren loudly protested all the way. He streaked back across the house and into his bed. "I don't have to. I don't want to!"

Jared crawled into our bed. He was exhausted, and not feeling well. I sat on the couch. "I'm ready for Momma," Beren said, which he says when he is done with stories and is ready to nurse to sleep. "I'm ready for you to go pee," I replied. No nursing until the last bathroom trip is our rule. Silence. He had fallen asleep.

I was stunned. We've been gently working on getting to sleep without nursing. And then… there it is.

He snored and slept poorly, nursing a few times through the night.

The following day, we went my parents' house. Beren stay with them, as we tended to our in ground beds that we cultivated for seed collecting. Jared and I slipped out for a pleasant lunch together at the Bridge Cafe in Frenchtown. When we returned. my mother appeared on the front porch, "He's not well," she said.

On the drive home from my parents' house, Beren was exhausted. Despite my attempts at chatter, story time and low key car games, he was miserable. Beren became agitated. "I want to sit in Momma's lap. I want to. I want to!" He gulped air and tears streamed down his cheeks.

Thoughts of a friend's imaginary invention, "the maternity seat" came to mind. I considered pulling him into my lap, he was so forlorn. Jared, tired and still not feeling quite right, had nearly missed an oncoming car in the minutes previous. I decided to let him stay in the seat.

"Do have anything in case he throws up?" Jared asked. I was dazed and thought, I hope that doesn't happen.

"It's stinky. It's stinky in here!" Beren wailed. When I cracked the window, he shouted "No!" I rolled the window up and down, and Jared passed back a eucalyptus hand salve, "Maybe this smell will clear your nose?" Negative.

About 15 minutes later, Beren emptied his belly thrice and again. Once into my hand and his lap, then his shirt. Then into his hood as I held it. Then, onto a pair of Jared's spare pants.

At home, Jared made a simple soup for dinner while Beren and I cuddled… after I changed his clothes. By this time, I was not feeling well either. I'd been denying that I was getting sick, but now I was drooping. We gobbled our soup. Beren had passed what he needed to, whether it was an upset stomach from the illness or from misery or both. Jared hosed off the carseat outside.

"I think I'm going to take a shower. I need to relax," I told Jared. "Good idea," he said.

I stepped into the warm water and pushed Beren's pants, shirt, and carseat pads aside with my foot. "I can't relax with this stuff in here," I thought. I scrubbed the sour vomit from the articles. The last was a cute t-shirt my parents had found in the Outer Banks. A sweet and friendly cartoon of a dog driving a blue car. A lanky piece of bacon stands in front of the vehicle. "I brake for bacon," says the shirt. I noted that Beren's vomit appeared to emanate from the puppy's mouth.

That night, sleep was spotty. I moved from our bed, to Beren's, to the couch. The last move was to be away from my menfolk's guttural buzzsaw snores. In the morning, Jared ribbed me, "Everyone had their moments last night." I had been guilty of sawing in the moonlight, as well.

That brings us to today. I spent the day drinking teas and taking doses of various herbs - elecampane, aralia, boneset, and gargling with echinacea. When I wasn't laying around, I read Beren stories.

Jared headed out alone to do our weekly shopping. Beren and I waved from the front porch. Though it was balmy, I was pleased when Beren opted to go back inside to play trains with me.

The day passed slowly. At bedtime, Beren wasn't interested in stories. He played instead. I climbed into   my bed, Beren followed and then climbed out. Jared said goodnight and went to read. Beren played again. "Turn off the lights," he said. When I did, he protested and asked for water.

This is not going well, I thought and then told Jared so. I went to the bathroom to gargle with echinacea again. "What's Momma doin'?" Beren exclaimed as he heard my gurgles. "I'm taking care of myself," I said, looking down at a beaming child. "She's gargling, Beren," Jared added.

"I'm getting back into bed," I said. Beren climbed on top of me. He rolled off, then around, around again. He tucked his hands and knees under his body, and I heard his breathing deepen. Asleep.

Ah, bittersweet. I shuffled into the office, and Jared turned to me with a smile. He saw my crumpled face, and I buried my face into his shoulder and cried. "My little boy doesn't need me," I said. Jared comforted me. We talked about Beren's exponential growth and his changing needs.

A half hour later, he rolled over, crashed into the wall and couldn't get himself back to sleep…without nursing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Treasures



How quickly the leaves have fallen. With the seasons changing, I have an accelerated sense of time passing. I miss swimming at Spruce Run. How unfair that we went just three times, and once to the beach, when I could spend most summer days, all day, by the water.

Jared and I seem the same day by day. It's only in looking back at photographs that I see that we've changed in the past few years. Just like the big oak tree by the pond. It seemed like it might there for another hundred years. Then, it leaned, leaned some more, then a big wind came. Now, it seems like the trunk has always lain partially submerged in the dark pool.






We'll miss this little red house when we go.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

R.I.P. Okra House



 R.I.P. Okra House
Things change with the seasons, Jared had to explain to Beren. But, falling leaves are fun.

I rub a glue stick across a piece of paper and try to adhere another to it. The glue is not working.

"The glue is dead," Beren tells me.

That's so interesting, I think.

***

Often Jared and I hear Beren day something, and we turn to each other, "That's so sweet," we mouth. I wish I could remember even the smallest number of phrases.

Like today, "I'll read this one," he says as he grabs a book from the stack we just put on the porch. "Momma, you read, too."

"Mmm. I'd love to, but I think I'll look for my book."

Or, while rolling on the floor, mid-tantrum, "I don't want to go on a trip. I want to be alone."

Or, a story that Jared related to me: while in the garden after this week's hard frosts, Beren said, "My house dried out," upon seeing his "okra house", which he trimmed the lower leaves off of until he could walk under them. Jared explained the frost, and when Beren saw the zinnia patch, he said, "My favorite flowers are gone, too."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cucumbers are fruit, at least for now

Halloween night 2013, perhaps my last batch of pickles for the year. 

I couldn't help myself on our last few trips to the Hunterdon Land Trust's Farmers Market. I told Jared, "No vegetables. We have so many at home. We just need fruit." Mrs. Bossy purchased cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and another pint of small, sweet red peppers. Couldn't help myself.

What if this is the last week for cucumbers, for corn, for tomatoes? I wondered. Everyone enjoys the lacto-fermented pickles (boy, I wish I knew of a sweeter sounding name for them). Tomatoes, well, I could make sauce. Corn. It's so easy to make, and all summer I have wanted to dry some cornsilk for tea.

By the time Jared I crossed paths again at the market, I was loaded. "Sorry, I know I said no vegetables," I said. "They're all fruits anyway," he answered, smiling. "Just think of it that way."

My spouse is my king of common sense and calming sense. Sometimes I return the favor, but mostly I rely on him to read the maps and know what day of the week it is. I pay the bills and keep pretty good track of things around the house. "Have you seen my…?" he'll ask. "On top of the junk table, behind the mail and the glue," I'll reply. Complementary roles, like cucumbers and brine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Coffee and Three Mothers

Autumn is a time for slowing down and telling stories

I had a cup of coffee with two other mothers this morning. They are remarkable women. I enjoy their stories. I enjoy listening and being heard.

One mother asked how we were doing with mothering and life outside the family. How did we feel about all the other things besides mothering - work, namely.

"Sometimes I feel like I am not challenging myself enough," I said.

"Is that coming from inside or outside?" she asked.

"Outside," I replied quickly. Instantly, I wasn't sure if myself. Maybe it was a voice from within. Or, maybe not.

Regardless, I hold myself up to others. I know that. I know that very well. We talked about feeling sad, looking at others' Facebook posts and wondering what we are doing, or not doing.

I look at others' trips, families, newborns, businesses, musings. I wonder about my own life.

Am I spending enough time enriching myself? I hardly began that correspondence course I bought last spring. Of the half dozen books we bought online over the past few months, Jared's read all of them. I've read just a few pages. I hardly have time to pack a pint jar with dehydrated cornsilk, and about that pile of marigolds, withered and hanging on our cookbook collection… where does my time go? Am I spending it well?

I recently saw a young mother in the Wegman's selecting produce while her infant sleeps soundly in the Baby Bjorn on her chest. "Oh how sweet," a woman says to the mother. "How old?" "Three weeks," she says. She seems totally together. She appears totally alone except for her baby and a bulging plastic bag of apples. No spouse, no grandmother. Alone.

Three weeks? At three weeks, I was still hobbling around, hardly leaving the house and hardly wanting to, except it was the holidays and I "had" to leave the house to share my newborn with the world. You might wonder why I'd be concerned about what a mother of an infant is doing when my child is nearly three. I still look back at childbirth and very early infancy as some of the most difficult times of my life.

I look and reflect on myself, my bravery, my failings. It's so helpful to have friends. It's so helpful to feel like I can land in a nest made of my friends' stories. Looking closely, I can see that each blade of grass in the nest is a bit bent or worn, very real, and not at all edited for social media.

Because it's real, I can take to heart the mother's mantra that we repeated this morning over coffee, It goes by so fast. The days are long, but it goes by so fast. Enjoy it, it goes by so fast.

And so, because Beren was such a peach during my hours long coffee break, I took him to the park. I wondered if I'd regret it. It was lunchtime, not playground time, but making choices for reasons other than fear was another topic of over coffee.

Beren pedaled to the playground on his tricycle. We ran up the steps and down the slide. We played garbage truck. We watched a train go by, so loud I couldn't hear myself shouting into Beren's ear. So loud, I could hardly hear him say, "oil tanker" again and again. I pushed Beren on a swing and ran around the playground. We made Norway maple wings. And finally, made an easy transition back to the car.

At home, we ate chicken soup leftovers for lunch. We made sure there was no more cat poop in the sandbox. We cut a few lengths of wood to build a sandbox lid sometime soon. I bundled Beren in a blanket, and we read stories on the porch. We made dinner until we agreed we were tired of being in the kitchen. We visited the garden, ate partially ripe (mostly unripe) everbearing strawberries and tough-skinned cherry tomatoes. We watched a beat up mantis climb the arugula.

I pushed Beren in his big, plastic black truck and we crashed into the recycling bucket a couple dozen times. We tossed a ball around, and Beren played his trick of throwing it into the tall wildflowers and disappearing into them to find the ball. His attention for catching the ball was much longer than last time we played this game. He tossed the ball to me, kicking at the same time. He lay on his back, hands over his eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut. I curled up into a ball. "I'm in my den," he told me.

It seemed as though we laughed all afternoon long. We walked down the road to visit the mockernut hickory, whose autumn color is my favorite, whose autumn color I missed except for the crinkled leaves scattered at the gravel road's edges. It seemed we laughed all afternoon long, and we greeted Jared on his way home from work in our rickety old pickup truck.

We ate dinner. Jared and Beren bathed. I tidied the house and lit the smiling jack-o-lantern they carved on Monday. They read stories, and I sat down to write until I was called in for nummies time.

Today came from the inside. I wasn't challenging myself, but I was working hard. And, it was such a pleasure.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkin Junction

 We took the train from Flemington to Ringoes or "Pumpkin Junction" last weekend. Jared settled into his seat and said, "Papa's going to botanize on this train ride." Beren was totally entertained by the swaying passenger car, so Jared got his wish.


On the way, we passed the former site of China Buffet. Jared and I got our moving day meal here when we first moved to the Sourlands about 6 or 7 years ago. We can't seem to remember when we moved here, but it seems like longer than 6 or 7 years.


We passed a sweeping nursery with a sign reading Mavrode Farms. I think they took over the monumental sports complex on Route 202. Perhaps fifteen years ago, the complex opened and closed within just a year or two. The nets that surrounded the fields sagged and became torn. Then, in the past year or so, I noticed the Mavrode signs.


 Crop circles? Golf course.


Crop circles? Can't tell, corn's too high.


 Crop circles? Pumpkin patch with light burn down from a touch of herbicide, I reckon.


Beren would not cede his place on the tractor to any other child. Jared and I talked loudly each time one older boy drifted by, noting, "This tractor is broken. The batteries are dead." Beren did not notice or care. Why, he had me to push him around on the broken vehicle. Jared's back was bothering him.

We arrived at Pumpkin Junction at lunchtime, so there were only two other boys interested in the last five minutes of our stay. Had we taken the 2 o'clock train, he would have had more competition. 


 Wind and sun-blasted, we snacked on apples from the Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers Market on the ride back to Flemington. We rode the more upscale car back.

Crop circles? A toothy circumference around the apple.


Hunterdon Building Supply. "That's a classic Mackow," Jared said, noting my former life's love of photographing decaying buildings and signs.


Botanizing on the train. Curcurbita pepo.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Data Miner

I'm a data miner. I'm always seeking data on the sleep patterns and behavior other people's kids, unless I don't want to know or I have received bad information from a source.

Bad information comes in the form of unsolicited suggestions and bad advice. Bad information may also be or seem to be false. If I have received bad information from a source, I don't consider them reliable. I may no longer share my current status as having had yet another night of poor sleep due to my child's sleep patterns.

Today I shared my zombie status (4 wake ups with the last three starting at about 4:00 a.m., and ending around 6:00 a.m.) with Linda who works at our healthcare provider's office.

"No, my first one didn't sleep well. My others did. Well, my daughter hated the car. She never slept in the car. My daughter just had a baby - 3 months old now. The baby naps only for 30 minutes at a time. I've watched him, and it's true," she said, more or less. I said, "It seems there's no rhyme or reason to the nights." "No," she said nodding gravely.

I like Linda. We traded stories. She offered no advice. I consider Linda to be a reliable source.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


These are my two favorite people. My husband and the child we created - the child who creates us. Now stop growing up so fast. 

Love,
Momma

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Susto

Marigolds (Tagetes sp.) on the porch after bath

In Rainforest Home Remedies: The Maya Way to Heal Your Body and Replenish Your Soul, Rosita Arvigo says that one must never brag about spiritual healing, that one must not have an audience. So, I here I will try my best.

For the past eight evenings, I picked nine stems of marigold from our garden. One evening, I sent Jared to harvest. "Say prayers and give thanks," I told him. He nodded, and went to the garden. And so, nine nights, nine stems.

Marigolds have been a favorite flower. I've always liked the smell, sweet but pungent. As a child, I remember saving marigold seeds with my mother.

When I read Rainforest Home Remedies, I was surprised to find marigolds (Tagetes erecta and related species) discussed. I had heard of for them as helpful companion plants in the vegetable garden, but not as remedy for insect bites, bacterial infections, and illnesses of the spirit.

In the North and West (Northern Hemisphere and "The West"), we hardly consider spiritual illness. Stress and depression, both of which I have suffered, skirt close. But how often have I heard, "You have headaches. Are you stressed?" or "Try relaxing more."

Neither approach the root or give hope or gravitas to the person and their state. Perhaps the best line I ever read in a conventional, mainstream self help book on depression was something like - a person capable of terrible lows is also equally capable of experiencing equally profound joy. I took that sentiment, packed it into my luggage, and have carried it with me since.

And so, marigolds. Humble marigolds, coarse marigolds. For sale at every garden center, Agway, and roadside stand. A remedy for susto. Fright.

For nine nights, I added marigolds to the bath. Some nights I made a golden tea and poured it into the warm water. Other nights, I sprinkled the flowers in. One night, I could not draw a bath. Instead, I made an infusion and wiped hands with a rag soaked in the golden waters.

I won't tell what has changed, but something new has happened.  Something that has not happened before.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cellularly Yours

Live action in the garden. The revolution will not be cellular.

I sat on the picnic bench next to Beren. My cell phone itched in my pocket. Beren nibbled lunch. I glanced at the time on my phone about three times. 12:15 pm, 12:18 pm, 12:25 pm.

Why has I so agitated? Anyone who has tried to feed a curious, active toddler a full meal might be able to relate.

Jared and I have been wolfing meals down for about two years and ten months. A friend who raised several children, including twins, and is now a grandparent once quipped, "There is no sound a child dislikes more than the sound of a parent's fork scraping a plate."

Eating with a young child does sometimes feel as though a tractor trailer filled with jack-in-the-boxes jackknifed at the table. Jared and I have sometimes wondered aloud if we would ever have a peaceful meal again. We do often have pleasant meals, and watching Beren handle utensils with increasing skill charms both Jared and me.

And so, I'd say that speaking on the telephone peacefully is impossible, while eating a meal peacefully can and does happen. Let me show rather than tell:

Me: Hi, Mom. How are you?

My Mom: Good, hon? How are you?

Me: We're fine. [Din in background.] Today, I... wait a minute, Mom. Beren, can you...? Mom? [Din in background arrives at my feet.]

Mom: MMmmmmuph nnnummmnn.

Me: What Beren? You need what? Mom, I'm sorry, can you talk louder?

Mom: MNNUNUNMMMSSPPHH.

Me: Beren, can you wait? Mom, I'm going to have to call you back.

I hardly talk on the phone. Hardly. I almost never check email or the internet when Beren and I are alone together. I actually don't like him to see me staring at the computer, so I wait until he's asleep or with Jared. But, really, who am I kidding? Would I really be allowed to use the computer without Beren crawling up into my lap, tapping on the keyboard and causing the screen to do something I have never seen before?

Back to the picnic table at 12:26 pm in Rocky Hill one recent Wednesday. I wasn't agitated over a picky eater. Beren was eating nicely, as he often does. I wanted to make a call, and knew that I must not or Beren would become distracted and lose interest in the food.

The call I wanted to make was unimportant. I wanted to ask Jared: Would he be able to pick up spark plugs on his way home form work?

I could hardly contain myself. I don't even like talking on the phone. Jared and I are horrible at talking on the phone. Always were. Even as young lovebirds separated by several dozen blocks in New Brunswick.

This compulsion to "mark things off the list" and to check email/facebook/messages/etc., even though I don't really like to, is precisely why I am turning down an offer of a hand-me-down iPhone from my mother-in-law. I don't want to be chased by bings and beeps, nor do I want my child to be trained to respond to bings and beeps. To boot, the potential iPhone gift has one flaw - the ringer doesn't turn off.

While I'd like to talk to my Mom on the phone every so often without a concurrent din, I think that may have to wait until after Beren's bedtime. If not then, then at the playground while he plays? I would rather catch my child's eye and share a smile. Someday too soon, I expect that he'll be looking to others, his peers, to catch their eyes, and I hope that they won't all be glued to the smart phone.