Thursday, February 27, 2014

One Upsmanship

Human nature seems to tend towards one-upsmanship. It's disappointing when this occurs among lovers of the wild world.

Let's not count how many plants we can call by scientific name, nor how many herbs are stocked in the home apothecary, nor how many species of rare wildlife we've seen, nor how much wild food we've foraged.

Instead, try this: 

1. Plant one native plant.

2. Add a pinch of wild food to one recipe.

3. Drink one herbal tea.

4. Watch the crows. Play like they do.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sleeping child, speaking child

Chinatown sleeps.

One afternoon Jared and I carried our then newborn son, Beren, around Princeton, just to get some fresh air, just to be among people. An older woman, deep into her grandmotherly years, smiled at me and said, "There's nothing closer to heaven than a newborn baby."

I smiled back and falteringly said "thank you." I thought, "These are the craziest moments of my life. What then, could heaven be like?" If I were to be less generous and more honest as I write, I may have also thought, "That's crazy."

I recently saw a bunch of photos online of mothers and babies, mothers and newborns. A strange feeling flickered through me. A touch of heaven, perhaps.

I can assure you that heaven for me has always been, at least since becoming a mother, the face of my sleeping child.

Tonight, just before Jared turns off the light, he'll say, "Goodnight, Beren. I love you." He'll turn back to me, look me in the eye, "Goodnight, Rachel. I love you." I'll return his look, "And, I love you, Jared. Goodnight, Beren, I love you." Jared will turn back to the lamp, turn the switch, and with it's click, we'll be swaddled in blankets and darkness.

Fly away, bad spirits. Goodnight and goodbye, sad spirits. Into the dark night, mad spirits. Away, until tomorrow. Our child sleeps.


On Sunday, Jared told Beren, "Say 'bye bye' to Momma." Beren turned to me and said, "Bye bye, Momma." This is a milestone that we just reached. He also said (for the first time ever) 'bye bye' a couple weeks ago to a friend's child after she and Beren had a particularly contentious playdate. I almost fell over.

And sweetest of sweet… after reading a book called, "I love you, Mommy", Beren said, "I love you. Momma. I love you. Momma."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Morning after an Ice Storm, February 7

Drowning in Plastic

The alternating vortices of winter. I am ready to point my facial solar array towards the sun and produce more vitamin D than the grid can handle.

The bamboo flute scratched my lips a bit, but I played on. Jared finger-picked a melody on his bass ukelele. Beren spun in circles, and played another bamboo flute. I thought, "I don't want to buy anything plastic ever again." 

Music (playing or listening), walking, or other forms of moving meditation bring on unusual and improbable thoughts. As the thought sunk in, I felt inspired, then doubtful and then wondered how I might wean myself from plastic. 

No plastic wrap on vegetables from the market. No plastic toys. No plastic pots in the nursery. No buttons. No shampoo, lotion, toothpaste. No lots of things. 


Beren and Jared test the latest almost garbage-like 'toy' - a huge cardboard tube that dispensed landscape fabric for the nursery. Beren likes to call down the tube, "What's goin' on? What's goin' on? What's goin' on?" 

We recently had the Vietnam Veterans Association's Please Pick Up truck come by and remove a pallet (a pallet!) of usable items from our home. Books, clothes, shoes, furniture, toys, household items. 

We live in a small house. We are not accumulators. And yet, the pile of things we didn't want grew, as I combed through the house. I spent a couple hours boxing up the items. I brought them to the porch while Jared ferried them to the pallet we put in the front lawn. A pallet 4' x 4' and at least as high full of stuff. 

The arrival and departure of Please Pick Up truck was wondrous. It occurred while we were out, but I am sure that a rainbow shone in the sky above our home. A weight lifted from my being. Shortly thereafter, I organized our tax-related paperwork. All surfaced were liberated from items. We vacuumed. We rearranged the house beautifully.  

The snow has, unfortunately, caused a re-accumulation of crap. A snowstorm. A box arrives in the mail. I save it so Beren can paint it. It dries and becomes a ship for stuffed animals and fake fruit. Another snowstorm hits. I pull down a couple puzzles form the attic. Another snowstorm. I bring up a six foot long cardboard tube that once had landscape fabric for the nursery on it. It had been in the basement (eek, our loose block floor basement over dirt) for a year. Beren races cars through it. Another storm. We build a tent with it as the center beam. Another storm. I give Beren an egg carton, mail, anything he can rend apart.

I'm ready for long lasting outdoor stints. I am ready to point my facial solar array towards the sun and produce more vitamin D than the grid can handle. I am ready to turn my back on the accumulation and see spring.

Tree buds are swelling. Birds are singing. It's just a matter of time. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cry it out

Every once and awhile I feel like throwing up. Cry it out or 'CIO' for short is a 'technique' for getting a baby to sleep through the night. Baby wakes, mother (sorry, ladies, this is usually on us) let baby continue to cry and often until baby vomits or becomes exhausted. Baby learns to 'self-soothe' back to sleep. CIO makes me feel like throwing up.

I can say that because I have a kid who hasn't been a sleep champion. I've earned a couple Scout badges and military medals related to my misadventures in getting my child to stay asleep. We're far better off now - down to one wake up per night.

After attending three years worth of La Leche meetings, I've determined that every mother is trying to get their baby or child to sleep better. Every single one. There's always exceptions - some of those babies and children sleep better now, after time or dedicated (but gentle) work by mother and father. Sometimes I think there should be a Dormir League dedicated to babies, toddlers, and children's (and their parent's) sleep patterns.

I also sometimes wonder, since we are separated by years, walls, roads, lawns, hallways and all types distances from other families, we have no idea what is 'normal', especially after the sun goes down. We see other children in play groups, at school, activities, the library, the restaurant… some are well behaved, some are not. Some parents are well behaved, some are not. But how do they live day to day, and sleep night to night? I have no idea, except for what I observe and what I am told.

I am told that CIO is some kind of f*cking miracle. Two days of letting your baby vomit in bed as he or she cries hysterically for a suddenly MIA mother, and a miracle occurs. Baby sleeps through the night.

When I hear about CIO, it's always someone else talking about someone else's kid who experienced the CIO miracle.

I think it's f*cking bullsh*t.

I've been desperate, deeply desperate and depleted and exhausted and angry. We tried CIO, for about 2.5 minutes a couple nights. Jared and I laid in bed. My mothering instincts boiling as I listened to my baby cry. "I can't do it," I said and we agreed.

A vomiting child is a distressed child. As an adult, have you ever enjoyed being left weeping and desperately lonely? Have you ever enjoyed vomiting? Have you ever responded favorably to being told, 'get over it'?

Like I said, I think it's f*cking bullsh*t.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mouse drives four wheeler

On some days I have a great part-time job for Take Your Kid to Work days. This was one of them. This past fall, I drove around a four wheeler pulling a trailer filled with bare root seedling trees and a dibble bar.

Now, if you saw how nervously I drove this number, you'd laugh. My husband was impressed to see the photos, and he shared them with Beren. He, too, was impressed.

Nevertheless, when Beren describes us as an "family of animals", I am a mouse. Jared is a fox. Beren is a tiger. He roars, Jared yips, and and I squeak. Jared tries to defend my masculine femininity: "momma is bigger than a mouse. Maybe she is a different animal?" No, not at all. I get to be a mouse.

But, damn it, I drove a four wheeler for five hours one day! Nope, still a mouse.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Papa, stop smelling things

Pre-bedtime dental exam

Tonight it seemed Jared might be able to bridge Beren to sleepland. From the office, I heard quiet talk and then long silences.

Jared later told me that Beren wiggled and breathed short, little breaths. Jared decided to breath deeply, and provide a peaceful atmosphere. After a minute, Beren said, "Papa, stop smelling things."

A little while later, Beren hopped up and said, "Let's make fresh squeezed orange juice!"

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sweet Inspiration from the North Country to Remedy the Mid-Atlantic Blues

Sugar maple, delicious, wonderful sugar maple season is here. I need a sugar bush. Climate change is troubling this native tree, Acer saccharum.

On Monday, we were snowed in. I worked from home. Beren was very, very crabby. Jared did his best to entertain and comfort (and he does a d*mn good job), but nothing could stop Beren from bursting into our home office repeatedly. He sought me out in every corner of the house.

Very early Tuesday morning, I woke to the sounds of a three year old retching near my ear. We had played musical beds, and I found myself in his bed. I hustled him to the bathroom and murmured somewhat comforting words and practical instructions, "This is scary. It hurts, I know. This is your body doing what it needs to. I am here. Lean over the toilet." Nothing came up. We hustled back to bed.

Previous day's crankiness explained.

Later Tuesday morning, I called out of work. My mom stopped by for a couple hours, hung out, played, did our breakfast dishes. I dialed in for a work meeting via conference call. Beren nursed and fell asleep in my arms while I listened.

The crankiness ebbed and flowed. And flowed. Knowing that we'd have yet another snow day on Wednesday (today) and possibly a power outage, we needed sweets to get through another day. Jared and I would be shoveling more snow. Possible cranky child. Possible ill child. We would need sweets. I would need sweets.

We made maple granola and pumpkin pie. We carved a cheesecake pumpkin from a vendor at the Hunterdon Land Trust Market* and steamed it up. Seeds were rinsed. I gave Beren the task of drying by pounding the seeds between two towels. I hoped the effort would left off steam. Seeds salted, went into the toaster. For the pie crust, I used pork lard that Jared rendered from unprocessed lard from Lima Family Farms*. Delicious.

Wednesday arrived under a layer of ever accumulating ice. Definitely very cranky child. Definitely needed sweets. In fact, I made cookies.

Pecan and whole wheat flour cookies sweetened with honey and maple sugar. I'm no food photog - misty effect created by when my camera lens fogged after being brought in from the cold.

I've long complained that sweets are just a vector for sugar. No flavor, no interest. Too sweet, even when I really reduce the sugar that is called for. Inspired by pecan and honey cookies that Jared made a couple weeks ago, I replaced the sugar with honey (from Tassot Apiaries*) and maple syrup and part of the flour with freshly ground pecans and almonds. We needed chocolate, so in went chips. My nervous system needed support, so in went rolled oats. Delicious.

Power went out. At least we had a very short stack of wood for the woodstove and sweets.

The chocolate and homeopathic remedies (Nux vomica followed by Chamomila) definitely worked. By dinnertime, he happily took the invitation to our neighbor's house for dinner by candlelight. Before heading over he liberally scooped spicy green salsa with blue corn chips and cheese. At dinner, he wolfed down his plate of venison meatloaf.

Jared and I took a deep breath. Thursday would be a better day.

*I mention some of the businesses here because Tassot's honey is excellent. Lima Family Farm's meat is very tasty and their eggs are the best I have had locally. In summer, Hunterdon Land Trust Farm Market has great live music.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chinese New Year

 Chinese New Year is loud. I love Chinese New Year.

Last minute we decided to go to Philadelphia's Chinese New Year celebration. We lived in Philadelphia for a year and a half, so it was easy to get around and find parking. We were probably aided by the football game keeping many home. Unlike NYC's New Year, the Philly parade roams about - three lion dancers from The Suns perform in front of a Vietnamese restaurant, three in front of a beauty shop. The crowd follows.

The 'crowd control' are members of The Suns, who where golden hooded sweatshirts and carry bamboo staffs. They hold them horizontally, making a mobile fence, as the lion dancers and drummers and cymbal players go from store to store. Strips of firecrackers hang from shop awnings. They're lit as the lion dancers move about. As they dance, they grab and eat lettuce that also hangs from the shops' awnings.

Kids are up on parents' shoulders. Firecracker spit smoke, red paper and bits of debris. One lands on the absolute center of the crown of my head. I'm exhilarated. An auspicious sign, indeed.

Barbecue platter at Vietnam restaurant

After lunch at Vietnam, an old favorite restaurant, from our Philly days, we catch the final two forms of a kung fu academy that perform at the intersection of 10th and Arch, or so. We arrive in time for the masters, it seems. One performs a bo (staff) form, and the final demonstrates double broad sword form.

Their chi is incredible, a sensory experience that I can feel though I can see just their upper bodies. The crowd blocks their footwork. The staff vibrates with each thrust. From my shoulders, I can hear Beren repeat, "Let's go inside the circle. Let's go inside the circle." I agree. I want to jump in the circle, too, and feel the chi even more vibrantly.

I miss my kung fu class terribly. We attend these events and are inspired to continue our practice at home, awaiting our return to class. I think this is the only aspect of my life, pre-motherhood, that I mourn. The tradition of new year warns against negative words, so I will leave it there.

We wandered, following the lion dancers. We ended up in the front row as a dozen or more ribbons of firecrackers were laid across the street. All other firecrackers had just been a few feet long, these spanned the sidewalks and street. "This will be loud," we agreed.

The firecrackers were lit, acrid smoke filled the air. The lion dancers pranced upon the smoke and sparks. A masked buddha fanned the smoke. It was so loud, I could feel it.

Goodbye, bad spirits of last year. May this year be prosperous and good. Gung Hay Fat Choy.