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. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013


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?


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.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Catskills

The four hour drive is always hell, but if we're going for 3 or more days, it's worth it. Interstate 287 to 87, then off the highways heading west... each section has its special ants in the pants factor. The highways: "Hon, you can slow down. You're a little close to that car! Should we stop at this rest stop? If this is the one with the escalator, that could be fun." The local ways: "Beren, we're getting closer, just another half hour," one of us will say as we pull another novel item or snack from a canvas bag.

Hay scented fern. I never knew it turned such beautiful colors.

We usually visit in the spring and summer, but my in-laws wanted help on a building project. Last weekend was the first time we could string more than a couple free days together. September was busy.

The meadow down to the spring-fed pond. 

We all went into the pond each day to clean up. Jared went under, delighting Beren, who happily splashed us with "refreshing" water, his words. I went in up to my shoulders, making my chest spasm. Jared likes to say, "It's good for you, good for the heart." The highs were in the upper sixties.

When we exit the water, fine silt we stir up sticks to body hair. Beren looks as hairy as a full grown man. I shaved my legs, so I looked a bit sooty. The generously furred husband appears like a wooly mammoth. We laugh every time.

Sedges around the pond

 In just a couple days this golden ring of ferns faded to brown.

All the asters were going to seed.

We discovered gentians on the far side of the pond a few years ago. Their numbers have increased.

A couple gentians retained their stunning color, but most were bronze or browns.

The dwellings. No phone, no cell phone service, no television, no running water.

In the hornbeam thicket.

We returned with sacks of feral apples. Each tree's fruit had a different flavor. We've been making sauce and apple chips all week. Today, the yellow jackets found us, and flew into the kitchen. A spider web caught one, and a spider had lunch.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Back online with a whole world of new stuff

Recently, my writing became a conversation. The Internet is an odd space. I was reminded that I'm an introvert.

 I realized that some people do read what I write, more so than anyone ever looked at my photographs that I printed, framed and hung on gallery walls. Once I'd hang my work, with the help of Jared, I'd turn away and not examine the pictures. They were mine, but I'd given them away. I also did not want to see anything I felt critical of or embarrassed by.

I suppose this blog is the same. I'm giving the writing away, and once I do, it's not me any more. I've released it and freed myself of it. Except, you know something about me, whereas a black and white photograph of a nature scene doesn't tell you too much about me, my state of mind, family life, checking account balance, sleeping arrangements, or shopping habits.

I try to balance my family's needs with my own. When I write about my family, I consider how they may feel about what they read now or in the future. They're the stars of the show, and I do like their company.


What's new:

1. School for Beren, and a morning of quiet time for Papa. I cried, and went to my part time job. Jared had watery eyes, I think. My eyesight is doing that just about 40 year old thing, so I'm not sure. Jared went on to have a productive morning. Beren loved it.

2. No more open ended questions which can be answered with the word "no", "no", or "no". The threes are upon us. We find at thigh height an incredible, articulate, creative, mischievous, capable, fragile, sweet-hot child that practices somersaults (he can say the word, too) before bed.

Thoughtfully phrased questions also can be answered with "no", but the frequency of that response has gone down.

3. Calling out "Momma" clear as day, but in the middle of the night...rather than just crying.

4. Using people's names. Again, also clear as day. Examples: Grandpa (a month or more ago). Nona (a couple weeks ago). Norman and Frieda also recent.

5. Consistent use of the facilities.

6. No more saving crispy chicken skin for last on Momma's dinner plate. The little one's got a taste for it.