Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stinky Banks and Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers

"This is a poisonous mushroom," Beren repeats to no one in particular as he handles one of our Christmas tree ornaments.

Jared prompts Beren, "So what were we talking about today? Tell Momma. What was that place you made up?"

"The Stinky Bank," he answers.

"The Stinky Bank?" I ask. Jared laughs, "Who goes into the Stinky Bank?"

"People with a stinky attitude," is his reply.

To hear Beren ask for milk in the "Zabar's cup" or use the word "obstacle" or tell me "You may not" or tell Jared that he saw a "yellow bellied sap sucker" at the playground today kinda blows my mind.

As Beren sits on his "dozer", a old piece of railroad tie near the playground, he asks me what bird is up in the tree. I glance and say, "There is no bird, maybe some insects."

He asks again. I repeat myself, and then say, "Oh, my, yes, that's a yellow bellied sapsucker. Good eye."

We watch closely as the bird drills the tree. Sap drips down the trunk of the Norway maple. I explain how the bird forages and point out the sap. It's time for sugaring. The sapsucker works up the limbs, then down, almost to the ground.

"Where's the sap? Where's the sap?" We approach the tree and the bird will not leave its sugar bush. Instead it climbs higher into the branches.

I point to the holes the sapsucker made in the bark, and we poke our fingers into the openings and like our fingertips, again and again.

It's lovely, really lovely. Most of the day's worries wash away in a sweet trickle down the tree bark.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

That's the momma bird

For a brief time, I will wear the plumage of a male bird.

While reading book about birds, Beren points the outstanding male wood duck, the scarlet male cardinal, the resplendent and sapphire indigo bunting, and say, "That's the momma bird." Absolutely confident.

"Who's this then?" I ask, pointing to a brown feathered female. "That's the papa."

"Sometimes the papa birds are very colorful, and the momma birds are brown," I say and turn the page.

We silently look at a page depicting wild turkeys. Several females, one displaying male. "That's the momma," Beren says, gesturing to the immense male.

For this brief time, I'm a beautiful, jewel of a bird, large and filling the space of my child's world.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Last night I was given the gift of Vision. I was given eyes to see my Vision. Vision that had been there all along. To tend to the earth and soil. To live and share, sing and dance, play music and be with others. This is what I want to do, but is this Vision? Yes, I am told by my circle of sisters.

Sitting in a circle of sisters, I listened and was heard. So many stories, I am reminded that I never know the load that a stranger or even a friend is carrying. At times, we can put our burdens down and then pick them up again, or perhaps it's that the baggage was fraying dropping weight all along, but then dragging in the mud and ice, we pick up rocks and ice.suddenly the load is heavy again.

And so I find we all agree last year was difficult, up and down. This new year we are optimistic. It will be lighter, more joyful. I accept the vision of the majority, let this year be quiet and peaceful.

And so my son fell asleep soundly and quickly in my arms. I tell my husband of my Vision. In that Vision he sees a human vision, one that has been lived and shared for all time, perhaps until recent times. And so, I go with my new and old Vision.

Be well and blessings.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's been a blockbuster homesteading weekend.

Stomped and repaired Stoneroot stem

We spent so much time puttering around the house this weekend. It was great. We vacuumed and split wood. Cooked and read. Played and walked. Beren played with his toys while Jared and I played in the kitchen. 

We all also continue to play silly rhyming games, inspired by two recent book acquisitions. They've been in the attic at my parents' house since my childhood - Bendemolena (retitled The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head) and I Can't Said the Ant. Beren's rhymes border on and cross into off-color land, innocently, of course, but Jared and I do laugh at some of his invented words. 

These are the joys of being three and parenting a three. 

And then there's the pain.

On Saturday, Jared, Beren, and I sat around the woodstove talking. Jared and I were talking, Beren was nursing. I asked Beren, "Who runs the house?" He instantly said, "I do," and resumed nursing. We laughed, but really. Later that afternoon, I forced Beren into his rain pants, after insisting politely. Our goal as family was to finish digging a pit in the garden for elderberry stakes. Everyone had already gone through one pair of pants. 

You can see it coming, can't you? This is what I said: "If someone else wants to take over doing the laundry, they can, but until then you will wear these rain pants!" 

Forgive me Father, it has been fifteen years since my last confession. Whew. I feel better. I admit it, that's what I said. 

Once in the garden, Jared and Beren commenced their jovial digging project. They talked and widened the growing pit. I spread the extra soil about fifteen feet away. Beren twice approached me with clods of mud, went behind my back, and tossed the mud at my legs. That's certainly premeditated. "I don't like that you are throwing mud at me." A weak response, but I was surprised. 

Back at the house, he stomped on the stalk of the stoneroot (Collinsonia canadensis) I was photographing. "You stomped on that. You made me angry. I feel really sad that you did that! This is broken now. How can we fix this?" I snapped. Beren looked startled and upset. "What can we do to fix this stem?" Beren picked it up and held it while I took another photograph. "Thank you, I feel a little better, but I am still sad and a little angry." 

Wow. That's the ups and downs of three. 

 Winnowing amaranth finally worked, thanks to the seed screen set from Horizon Herbs. 


Years ago, Jared and I tried winnowing the chaff from the tiny seeds by playing "parachute" with a sheet on a slightly breezy day. Chaff and seeds flew about. I asked others about winnowing amaranth (less nicely called "pigweed), and they hadn't had success either.

The finest chaff fell through the screen, and the seeds and large chaff remained. I blew the remaining chaff away…while photographing because it looked so interesting. A small percent of chaff remained, but it's better than previous harvests.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A delicious day

 Today's cookie with a dab of frozen blackberry syrup made this past summer. Sugar made our local Allegheny blackberries palatable. I had the syrup in the freezer for months, and found a recipe called for fruit syrup in Foraging and Feasting

I doubted that Beren would eat these, but he and Jared both partook heartily. When I gave Beren a second cookie - they're full of great ingredients, after all - Jared said, "Well, if he gets a second one…" and reached for the tin.

 After baking, the cookies looked like Halloween treats - bloody eyeballs. Let them cool on the tray and harden. I gobbled one very hot, crumbly cookie right from the oven, as well as many spoonfuls of uncooked dough.

Last night we made plans for today. We'd go to the Red Mill in Clinton and then hike at Ken Lockwood Gorge. We woke, and the day was dark. Grey. Weather said high 30s, snow, then sun and wind.

"How about Philly?" I asked. "Maybe not a good day to be in a sunless gorge." We researched Philadelphia museums, exhibits, ticket costs, as well as, parking and directions.

Snow began to fall. The snow tugged at my sleeve. We dressed and went outside. The snow was pretty. The three of us walked down the lane until Beren used up his last reserves from breakfast - English muffins, eggs, and bacon.

We returned to the house at 10:30. "Maybe I should look in the basement for wood for some kind of a project," Jared said. When he emerged from the basement, Beren and I were chopping sunflower seeds, almonds, and sesame seeds in the Cuisinart. We added sugar, butter, and salt to make a cookie recipe from Foraging and Feasting. I dotted eash cookie with homemade blackberry syrup.

We spent the rest of the day in the garden digging in the mud. When we came back in, it was 4:30pm. The day had passed easily (not counting Beren's occasional testing of his parents) with no distractions.

I made chicken strips breaded in masa, nettles, and wild bergamot. For vegetables, we had steamed broccoli. For a starch, leftover noodles, transformed in cold sesame noodles, based on the leftover nut butter base for Brain Balls.

A delicious day.

Masa and wild bergamot and nettles, prior to battering the chicken. Dip the cutlets in milk first.

I put the chicken in the oven with a little olive oil. Fried would have been better, but I didn't want to smell like a greasy spoon.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter blues are coming on strong. I wish everyone left their Christmas lights up until February.

I took a walk on January 11, a wet, cool day, but warm for January. A breeze of warm air touched my face. It startled me. The waves of cool and then warm air caused the fog to roll in and out. We watched from the window. I went walking alone, and here is what I saw.

Friday, January 10, 2014

That was me, I was that mom

Just so you know, it was me, the stony faced mother with the screaming and weeping, coatless and shoeless child walking down Wiggins Street. Sometimes we weren't walking. Sometimes I was dragging, sometimes carrying like a log under my arm, my child.

He did not want to leave the library.

And my goodness, a three year old is heavy. So are a half dozen turnips, two dozen eggs, two dozen carrots, kale, extra clothes, and two water bottles. Going to the farmers market after Beren's morning at school ended seemed like a good idea. Other parents who have gone before think doing just one thing per day with young children is a good idea. I tend to agree with them.

And yet, I did not want to sit around the house with a particularly fiery three year old, who I had to stuff into the car seat against his will at the very start of the day. Let's count, then, how many times did I stuff a fiery three year old into a car yesterday? One. On the way to school. Two. On the way to the farmers market. Three. On the way home. Three may not seem like many times to get into a car to you, but to me, it's at least two too many.

I have wondered if I would approach someone who seemed suspicious who was with a child. I assure myself that I would, that I would most certainly say, Excuse me, is this your child? Or perhaps something more subtle, but that conferred the meaning, What the f*ck is going on here? Or, I'd find someone to help me intervene.

I wondered if someone might say some such to me. It was Princeton, perhaps people were too polite or too busy to inquire of me, the stony faced woman with a coatless, shoeless weeping child. Or perhaps, they read the scene right. Pissed off mom. Pissed off kid. He's trailing after her. She's not moving very fast, cabbage in a plastic sack, flower print babushka covering her hair, faded Carhartt jacket. Quite a pair.

Yup, that was me. I was that mom.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A young farmhand, lovingly guided

The young farmhand, March 15, 2013

Just a couple thoughts on parenting and life, just in case I don't get time to write more on them later. Surely if I write a snippet now, I might cross it off the list. Done. At least a little bit, even if it was done poorly. There's a risk f I don't write now that it will remain on the list until I become tired of transferring it to a new to do list. Or, the thoughts will become so distant that I won't really remember what I meant to say.

Like that sweet thing Beren used to do. When was that? Oh, yes, that one thing among so many things… Like when he'd take one of his big cardboard blocks, hold it to his chest diagonally, and switch his shoulders up and down. He'd hum, "Hmm hmm, mmm mmm. Hmm mmm, mmm mmm." That's how he played violin.

Today's thoughts are more philosophical. Uh oh. I think I forgot one of them. Nope. Got it. I remembered. Here we go:

If you make responsibility a pleasure, so it will be. 

Beren loves to help in the kitchen. I give him tasks, always pushing at the edges. Slicing kale with his red plastic knife. Running the Cuisinart to blend sauces. Turning the hand cranked herb grinder. Seasoning the food. Pealing the onion skin. Whoa, that's a lot of cinnamon. Uh oh, onion tears. No! Don't touch your eyes. Sorry, but the tears will help. It will pass. Those onion tears. 

I give him credit. "This is Beren's sauce. Beren made this dish, Papa," I tell Jared as we sit at the dinner table. I glance at Beren. He's beaming.

I gave up saying, "Beren helped." Or, calling Beren "my assistant". It didn't have the gravitas.

Tonight, Beren struggled to carry a basket of wooden trains and tracks. "I need a helper," he said. "I need a helper on this side." I grabbed one handle, and we brought the basket to the center of the room.

All those times I pulled the trash and recycling cans as Beren pushed, it's adding up. In moment, crossing the indeterminable expanse between the porch and the edge of the lane, hunched over a trash can, it can seem and is, horribly inefficient. Horribly, horribly boring. Horrible, horrible aching back, coaxing the child and trash can ever forward. Ah, but those sturdy and confident, proud and occupied little legs and hands. Great. I like when we do things together. Thank you for bringing the trash out with me.

When you practice loving guidance as parent, you are ever present in your child's life. 

You chose the easy and difficult path. Easy because the home is a more peaceful and loving place. More difficult because it seems, sometimes, that yelling or forcing or television might be easier. And largely, you are not yelling or forcing or television-izing.

You may be angry, upset, forceful, and looking for an out. You may yell. Even so, you are thinking, considering, and honoring yourself, your child, your family. You are present for all aspects of your child's life. You are not missing anything in your child's life, even when you wish you were.

I do my best to practice loving guidance in the home. Sometimes, times are difficult. Jared and I take turns. Sometime, times are wondrous. Jared and I look at each other and he'll say, "What a sweet kid."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Spiritual Tea

Been thinking about the concept of spiritual tea making. Rather than a habitual warm drink in the morning, or a simple beverage, or a remedy for an ailment, it's a tea for the current character in the home. I don't make spiritual teas often, but when I do it feels good.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

When did my three year old start toweling himself off after bathing?

Friday, January 3, 2014

American hazelnut going nuts

Despite a poor night's sleep with a croupy child, I woke inspired to prepare American hazelnut custard, a recipe from the Joy of Cooking. American hazelnuts are far superior to the already shelled, wood-like European filberts (hazelnuts) at the market. We shelled the nuts the prior night using garlic presses. Beren ground the nuts in the blender stick attachment. I added a dollop of cream cheese and s splash of milk to make up for our short supply of sour cream. I reduced the sugar to a quarter cup.

As we sat to eat our simple breakfast, I noticed Jared's nerves were a bit frayed. Beren and I had been sick and have been sick, on and off, since mid-November. Dozens of cloves of garlic, nutritious foods, and adequate hydration have not forestalled a wave of antigens from storming through our household.   While Jared's nursing skills are excellent, better than mine, his tolerance for loafing around the house is nil. 

After breakfast, Jared checked the weather. "You thought the cabin fever was bad before. Four to eight inches of snow will be falling later today." 

To save Jared's mind from melting in a pile of Melissa & Doug blocks, he went out into the cold with an agenda. Fix the greenhouse yard fence. Bring over some firewood. Gather kindling. Sift soil for seed sowing. After an hour or two, we seemed refreshed.

In the afternoon, we decided to spend a gift certificate to the Flemington Department Store. Once off the mountain, we found the roads were packed. We stopped by the Basil Bandwagon health food store. The parking lot was full. 

It's going to snow. Probably a lot. The coming snow gives each of us purpose. Weather makes people move. Weather is always happening, but weather that causes everyone to take notice awakens the connection to planet Earth. The food supply could be cut off. Let's get busy.

Flemington Department Store was empty. Everyone already had their appliances and Carhartt's except for our family and a few people, including a couple we know from the conservation scene. The husband, a PhD botanist and professor, was there to do his yearly shopping. Jared was also fulfilling this need, down to just one pair of winter pants without holes. And though without holes, the thighs and knees of his 'good' jeans are faded with a ground in layer of nursery soil.

Beren remembers the stairs at this store well. To us, it is Corduroy the Bear's department store. We try out chairs and couches. He declares to Jared that the red leather one is his favorite. While Jared is shopping, we climb the stairs and take the elevator twice. 

Shopping is one of Jared's least favorite activities. I dislike it, too, finding it eerily sad. Even so, we emerge with a new outfit for Jared and a pair of truly warm gloves for me. Beren receives a fruit leather on his way into the carseat. We head home, ready for the weather to happen.

Hazelnut custard in stages. I forgot to photograph the double boiler stage. Final stage with a dash of cinnamon. Very filling, very rich.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The State of Socks and Mealtime

Respite from dressing in winter clothes on the Solstice 2013. Record temperatures.
Parenting. The state of being a parent.

If I have learned anything, it is to have no or few expectations. Jared and I have just a vague roadmap. We each have preferences and tolerance thresholds. Jared is tired of the getting dressed song and dance.  "It's cold. You must put on socks." I'm tired of food-related meltdowns. "If you're hungry, can't you just eat?" We tagteam. I expect that, but I expect that of my adult spouse.

Socks are not as exciting as trains, swings, or batting balloons around the house. Especially not boy's socks - navy, grey, and navy with cadet blue stripes. Especially not since Beren has declared this week, "I don't like silver. I don't like brown. I don't like gold." Especially since he has discovered secondary colors. His once favorite color, blue, has ceded to the once despised hues of green and orange.

I did spy Beren trying to put his socks on this morning. And, he did put on his own shirt yesterday. Wow. The Age of Three is about "I'll do it myself, or not."

Onto my parental exhaustion point. Food. We eat primary (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and secondary (very important snacks between those meals) meals. Beren's primaries are our secondaries, except second breakfast. Second breakfast is serious business for all members of our household. Crankiness rules without this meal.

Dinner is a big one, so long as Beren can sit for it. Beren used to climb into one of our laps to eat. He's given that up, but instead stands in his chair until he leaps from it. Expectations. I don't expect that my three year can sit for dinner. He can't. He doesn't. Jared wishes we had gotten a booster seat, but I say No Regrets. He never used one for more than a moment in a restaurant. He did seem to sit in one at my in-laws', but…No Regrets. anyway, I appreciated the adherence to social norms while at my in-laws'.

I tried really hard to urge Beren to sit at my parents' dinner table. No can do. Didn't work. I just looked like an ineffective parent. I opted to look like a neglectful, modern parent who is part of society's crumbling to waste. My child stands on his chair at the dinner table. No family values here. Luckily, my parents laughed and my mother said again and again, "He's just so and so years old. He's too much. Look at him." Her cheeks shone. She shook her head in faux disapproval, while beaming at her grandson.

And this week, when he stood at the dinner pulpit and waved his hands above us - me, Jared, my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend, he declared that [we were] "All pears. I'll eat you all up." As he proceeded to gnaw on Jared's head, my parents laughed. My Mom shook her head, cheeks shining, smiling, said "He's too much. Maybe the Mexican food is too spicy."

I rolled my eyes and sighed. I smiled, but was relieved that Beren's blonde skull blocked my view of his gleaming teeth taking playful, but bordering on unwound, nips at my husband's forehead. No speaking (or teething) when spoken to here.

And then, why does bedtime snack work best? A couple reasons, I suppose. Beren's bright flame has burned down a bit, worn by the day's chewing. More importantly, Jared is reading a story to him. His focus is on the book, and he can eat.

It took us a bit to realize this. For the upcoming dinners of 2014, we'll be reading at the table, thank you. No New York Times, no Wall Street Journal, no New York Post, nor Trenton Times. Not even the Hopewell Valley News.

Papa Bear will not be smoking a pipe while checking on stocks, the weather, and local crime. He'll be checking on the progress of Ma and Pa and Penny and Pickles Pig in Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.