Monday, April 29, 2013


Super mom
Nursing mother
Soccer mom
Welfare mother
Helicopter parent
Bad mother
Good mom

There are lots more. Can you think of any?

Being a mother during a busy time

Alumroot transplants. This plant has a taproot. I had no idea.

Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. Part-time job, new business opening this Saturday, a magazine writing gig, this blog, a martial arts demonstration this Sunday. The only thing suffering more from neglect than a herbal studies correspondence course that I bought back in March, is my family life.

There's hardly time. I'm always multi-tasking. I'm often exhausted. When I look out to the horizon for some relief, all I see is my to do list. There's someone tugging at my knees, someone who doesn't realize I am doing this new business to be at home more and also to help us one day buy our own home. This little someone also doesn't know that I have no time for myself. All he knows is that my time for him is short.

Beren's been asking to nurse frequently, which has been making me grumpy. When he nurses, I feel like falling asleep. A friend and mentor, who is soon to be a grandmother, helped me see more clearly what is going on. Among other things, she asked me if I was giving my son enough attention.

Certainly, that's difficult to hear, especially when I feel so worn down already. My son is very capable. I'm very lucky and perhaps I pushed it too far, so now for as long as it takes, I will baby him until he knows I'm there for him no matter what goes on in the airspace four feet above his head in the adult world.

I gave myself completely to his needs the past two days, as best I could. I went to work, yes. I showered when I got home from a long day, surveying hiking trails in the rain, yes. But I made time in every other way I could. We read stories in bed in the morning, he sat on my lap during meals, we played together in the evening. I put all tasks aside while he was awake. I nursed when he asked, and when I was ready to button my shirt back up, but he wasn't, we read another book.

I'm mothering a two and a half year old. He's our first and likely our only child. Everything is still new. Everything I try is still the first time. It's been only two days, things seem better. Who knows?

There are some days, and even weeks or more, that someone in the family will need to be flexible, even when feeling their most rigid. Now it's my turn to bend.

Friday, April 26, 2013

When you sail alone

When you sail alone, the boat rocks with the wind, the surf, one's own movements to the bow and back.

Another climbs aboard and the boat slows. It then picks up speed with two on hand. One balances one's movements with and against the other's.

Another climbs aboard and the boat slows again. The captain is no longer the captain, the first mate might be the second or third or fourth. The boat picks up speed again. One balances one's movements with and against the other's and the other's.

The waves, the wind, the surf.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Driving a Beater Truck

Goin' down the road feelin' bad, honey babe. Goin' down the road feelin' bad. Lord, I don want to be treated this ole way. --Elizabeth Cotten

Driving a beater means that a 10 year old girl with an upscale afterschool hobby look at you like, "What are you doing here?" When you stop to rescue a red bellied woodpecker that was recently struck by a car, a college-aged jogger will stop 100 yards away and jog in place for a long, long time. Basically as long as you and your beater vehicle are there.

Drivers of beater vehicles usually have a camaraderie, much like drivers of vintage VW bugs have, except I have never seen a VW bug driven by anyone but a white person. Maybe you have, but I haven't.

Beater vehicle camaraderie can cross racial lines. Not always, it depends on the situation. My husband and I had several vacations grind to a halt courtesy of a broken beater vehicle. People of all nations have assisted. One left our broken vehicle even worse off, but at least he tried. The guy was drunk and probably didn't realize he was pouring tap water from a Fantastic bottle into our beater's battery. It didn't seem quite right, but I figured he knew what he was doing. He had a beater vehicle also, so he probably had to fix it often. Right? I later learned that batteries of all vehicles, even beaters, prefer distilled water. Picky beater.

Conversely, drivers of beaters are often grumpy. We worry that our beater may break down at any moment. At the intersection of Livingston Avenue and George Street in downtown New Brunswick, for example. Drivers of beater don't typically wave at each other like drivers of VWs do, especially if you are holding up traffic.

Beater vehicles allow you to strike up conversations with the guy who pumps your gas. "Hey, howsigown? Yeah, usually hafta put the pump in upsi down. Yeah, sorry. Thanks. 'Preciate it."Often, the guy has to stand just outside the driver's side door of the beater while a line of cars pulls up. An Audi, a Hyundai, a Chevy. The drivers tap impatiently. They glare at the impossibly dirty beater vehicle. The driver of the Chevy juts out his chin and jerks his head up slightly. "Hey, what's the hold up?" The attendant services the other cars, and the pump to the beater vehicle clicks off as the handle slips out of place.

"All done?" the attendant asks. "Well, my gauge doesn't work. Mind trying the pump again?"

"Naw, no prolem."

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Stinging Nettles and Red Admiral chrysalis. June 19, 2012
Last year I harvested nettles and found this chrysalis on the foliage. Nettles are a host plant for the red admiral caterpillar. 

Once our son was asleep for the night, Jared remarked, "I'm so glad we don't have a 'bad' kid. I don't think I could do this every day."

Amen. Today was rough. Today always starts with yesterday's events - a two hour nap lead to a 10:30 p.m. bedtime last night. And so:

 This morning's wake up call is a full diaper and a very whiny child - perhaps because of the full diaper which I smelled before dawn and was unable to rouse myself to do anything about except note the smell and fall back asleep. Whining continues through breakfast.

After chores, we drive out to Hunterdon county. We pick up dumplings in Sergeantsville and head to our nettles picking spot. Jared takes the pork bun and the cranky kid to the creek, while I pick nettles. They sting my hands - a sort of burning feeling that will give way to an icy-hot feeling an hour later. Several hours hence my hands will itch. And then, they tingle as though tiny bees roil beneath the skin's surface. A day after nettles picking, I might have small, painful blisters than form beneath the skin. Jared calls me 'macho' about picking nettles.

Along the trail, Beren picks up sticks, which he called "hoses" and used to spray "pants" (plants). He charges around the preserve, a bit hell-bent, a bit of a bad listener. He reels into patches of poison ivy and nettles.

Jared points out nettles to Beren, and says, "They sting. We eat them cooked. Those are the herbs Momma tells you to sprinkle on your bagel. Momma picks them. Only Momma knows how to pick them." He's right, I am macho about the stinging, but nettles are a preventative for arthritis, which runs in my family. Nettles have formic acid, histamine, and serotonin. Sting away. Well, sting me, but please leave the cranky kid alone.

We provide ample snacks and a new (hand-me-down) book for the car ride. We visit multiple bodies of water, including the Delaware - at which we see a boat embark and disembark. One even features a dog. Nothing takes the edge off our tired child.

We stop at a high-end artisanal market and met a family we knew. "We're in search of a treat. We have a cranky kid," I say.

"Yes, we have one of those, too. Sleepover party last night," the father says. Their son, obviously bored with the adult conversation, turn a cellophane wrapped brownie over and over in his hands.

We roam the market and settled on ice cream and sorbet. We purchase one cup to share - a healthy and delicious serving costing five dollars.

On the ride home, Beren requires a parent in the backseat. I read stories to him and chatter away. Like a native speaker to a foreigner, I turn up my volume when he protests his seatbelt. "Out, out!" he cries. "Oh! Look at that TALL TREE. BEREN, LOOK AT THE STREAM OUTSIDE THE WINDOW!" I nearly shout.

Once home, Jared leaves to bring tea and soup to a sick family member. He has been making daily, sometimes twice daily, visits since Friday. "I'll be back by 5:30," he says. The ride is 30 minutes each way. He'll stop at the greenhouse. He'll brew teas, feed the dog and chickens, and comfort his sickly charge. No way he'll be back that soon.

I turn to Beren who is sprinkling Cheerios on the carpet. I let him know it's not ok. To bridge the difficult late afternoon into dinnertime hours (always the worst with a tired kid), we vacuum and bathe.  Beren slips on the bathroom floor. He lands on his back.

He's now hungry. Dinner is leftover chicken, miso soup, and noodles and spaghetti sauce. He sits on my lap. Hummus and carrot sticks are also on the table. Carrots end up in Beren's cup. Soup splatters down his chest. He pees on my lap. No diaper, my fault, but we're reverting here. I run to the bathroom, and he dribbles a bit into the potty. Not a total reversion.

Back at the dinner table, we extract peas from the soup and dip them into the spaghetti sauce. He migrates to his own chair. He falls off his chair onto the side of his head. He cries. I murmur comforting sounds. We eat chicken. When is Jared coming home?

Dinner is finished, and so we play with animal figurines. Beren pees on the floor and stomps in the puddle. You might wonder...but, have you recently diapered a tired, cranky two and a half year old with a truly independent streak lately?

We read stories. Beren asks to nurse. I ask if he can wait until bedtime. He asks again. I ask again. He nurses. When he breaks his latch, he tosses his head back and hits the edge of the side door with his temple. He asks to nurse again. I rub his head. How about another story?

Jared bumps down the lane at 6:30. He is hungry, so I scrape the remainder of dinner onto a plate for him. "Did you guys eat? Is this all for me?" he asks.

That's how nettley today was.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rue Anemone Flower Essence

Early spring is a time when our dried herb cabinet is bare. Only nettles, corn silk, and holy basil are left. The rain, sun and warmth bringing forth the plants will change that. 

Jared clipped back the rue anemone flowers on our nursery plants. He put them into a beautiful bowl we bought at Pearl River in NYC.

"I guess I'm making a flower essence," he said. So, I moved it to the windowsill to catch the spring sunlight.

Later that evening, I mixed the infused water half and half with brandy. Our choice is pictured.

The mother tincture fit in this little jelly jar. I'll take a drop of this tincture and add it to one ounce of brandy. Flower essence mothers go a long way, as you can see. I asked Jared what the essence was for, and he replied, "Friendliness."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

F*ck sharing

Marsh marigold in bloom today. It's that tome of year when we seek out the flowers.

Today we woke up and decided to "get the h*ll outta Dodge." We chose to hike Clayton Park, a Monmouth County nature preserve known for its wildflowers. Like everywhere, it's been a late spring and like everywhere, they need to shoot several hundred deer per square inch annually. The browse intensity was sad.

Sorry, dear readers, but I spend fall and winter waiting for spring and sending strong mental messages to the hunting community, and spring and summer mourning the passing of yet another not-successful-enough hunting season.


This weekend, I hiked with a friend through the forest near my house. I commented to him, "I haven't been here that long, six years, and I have seen species disappear from the woods." He was silent. I felt a little nervous. Though I have made this statement many times, I felt like he was really listening and cared. I didn't want him to feel bad - because with two of us feeling bad, then the slow unravelling of the forest was witnessed on a lovely spring day. When an event is witnessed - It is true. It is happening.

I want my son to have flowers to pick. I want some flowers to be precious because we leave them, and some because we pick them. I hate hearing myself tell him, "Don't pick. There's only one. Leave it for the bees." The latter sentence is the only way I can think of to excuse my tone which sometimes borders on the "Don't touch. Hot."

In the greenhouse, I have a flat of celosia and zinnias seedlings. He and I picked out the seeds at Basil Bandwagon. Come summer, we'll have a picking garden closed off behind gates and fences. He'll pick there.


Bloodroot, in the 'no pick' garden. We hope to collect seeds. Jared requested that Beren not pick these. He obliged, but loomed over the flowers making a snapping crab gesture with his hand.

My son's spontaneity is incredible. On the trail he picked "boody" - spring beauty, the only flower abundant enough to pluck. Sticks became fishing poles and saws. He climbed logs. We paused on a bridge. He decided to lie on his belly with his face hanging over the edge. The muddy bottom stream rushed below. He chewed on the bridge until Jared suggested that he rest his mouth on his hand. The moment was too brief, a mountain biker blasted past, but Beren resumed his downward posture immediately. Jared and I flopped back down, too.


I love places and times that I can abandon my thinking self. Dancing at concerts, lying on soft mossy patches, walking through intense weather, the beach.


Being watched

I remember when Beren was, I don't know, a year and a half old, we went to the beach. Nearby our blanket, a couple watched their toddler play in the sand. I have a hard time calling them "family" because they were acting like "a couple with a child". Beren walked over. I followed and greeted the parents. I helped to negotiate the exchange of shovels and pails - partly for the children and partly for the adults, of which I was supposedly one. "Look we can share," I was attempting to demonstrate. The couple made no gesture of welcome.

I did not feel like an adult. My body was completely covered in sand and partially covered by an old, saggy, ill-fitting bikini. The sandless couple stood above the children and me, grimacing. The tan-skinned mother wore a beautiful black bikini and a thread-thin gold necklace. The father wore his annual gym membership. They stared at me as I played with my son and their daughter. After an eternity or just a few minutes, I dragged my shrinking self and my reluctant toddler from his newfound companion. I could not bear the scrutiny.


I'm not sure why I titled this piece "F*ck sharing", but that's how I feel tonight. F it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tax time

Just sent off our partnership forms to the state and the feds. I turned over the ship to an accountant, and it was the best money I have spent in a long time. As I crammed the crisp pages into already addressed white envelopes, I mangled them.

I am so glad I didn't have do taxes this year. So glad. So very glad.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Tonight's one of those nights when bedtime just doesn't work out.

The day was exciting - we spent the morning at a friend's house. She and I made a salve on her deck while the kids got sandy in the sandbox, then naked, then wet in the wash basin, then smudgy dirty as their wet bodies picked up the dust and soil that whirled in the dry wind and covered everything including our children.

When we arrived at home, Jared was finishing the red cabbage, rice, and venison hotdog leftovers. We descended on his "plate", the still scorching hot Pyrex dish he heated the food in. "I thought you were having lunch out," Jared said. "I would have cooked something."

We snacked our way through the rest of the afternoon - popcorn, hummus & cucumbers, chips & salsa, cheese. We took a siesta in the late afternoon after Jared and I snuck a tiny bit more work in and designed a couple banners for our business.

We dug in the garden after the heat passed. We composted and turned our beds, planted catnip (a tap-rooted mint?? No wonder it doesn't like our clay soil), mint, and lemon balm, picked dandelions for supper, and discovered a nest of baby voles.

We made a simple pasta dinner with a side of dandelion greens fried in 2 day old bacon grease. Jared, typically the conservative one on food handling, believed me when I said, "I don't think it goes bad." Hours later, we're feeling fine, except for the late bedtime, which I am about to get to.

After dinner came bathtime and then bedtime. Beren's eyes became heavy, but the thunder rolled in and then the rain, and then the neighbor's barking dog sealed the deal. It's 8:57 p.m. and bedtime is usually 7:00 or 7:30.

It's summer, I mean spring, so our spirits are high. We'll just have a tired kid tomorrow.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Chew with your mouth closed.

Last night I gave a talk at a local library. Prior to the presentation, I called the institution to confirm our meeting time. My telephone, dialed and ringing was in one hand, and a generous slab of my mother's delicious (in her words "a little dry and not that good. I'm not sure what's wrong with it.") carrot cake was in the other.

On ring one a generous portion of the delicious carrot cake went into my mouth. In between ring one and ring two, I began to regret multi-tasking. At the end of ring two, I had cleared a passage connecting the back of my throat to the telephone's receiver. A wad of delicious cake the size of my tongue sat upon my already existing tongue. Maybe I'll get another ring and have time to swallow, I thought.

"Hello, thank you for calling the...," I heard. It was the executive director.

"Mmm. Oh hi, this is Rachel," I said.

"Oh Rachel," the director paused. "Rachel who?"

"Mmm. Rachel. Rachel Mackow. Tonight's speaker. I'm calling to confirm."

"Oh, hello! I didn't recognize your voice," she said.


When I arrived at the program venue later that evening, the director handed me a stack of interlibrary loans. "I checked these out for you. I thought your husband might not be in until Monday to pick them up." She also apologized for not recognizing my voice on the phone.

It's a small town, and my husband, son, and I frequent the library regularly. My husband and son attend Monday story hour weekly, enjoying new books and a craft. I stop by to check email or finish out the work day on their computers. For us, it's the Cheers tavern, but with books on tap.

Raised Catholic and never imbued with the ability to lie at all, I blundered on, "Welllll... I had just taken a big bite of my mom's carrot cake from Easter. I guess I was multi-tasking."

Luckily, I was invited back to do another program.