Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Eve 2015

New years. On this holiday I celebrate by writing a new year on checks, Excel files, and within my digital photo filing system.

An invitation to a party might be nice. The last time I went to a party was when Jared and I lived in Queens. We found ourselves in a loft apartment (a real loft apartment - cold, big as in actual big not New York borough big, concrete floors, dusty) in Brooklyn. The party was held by a friend's son. We knew no one, and found ourselves sitting atop a wooden platform  high above the partygoers. Next to us, a fight was brewing. It seemed like it would a boring yet still physical fight. Jared and I moved on. A popular dance song bleated and blipped in the background. I say "background" because although the music was loud, no one danced. No one.

The prospects of a rowdy party tonight are nil. It's 9:25 pm and Beren is finally asleep. Jared's doing some research online. I'm writing a blog.

Nevertheless, next year is going to be a good one.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Township

Tonight's bedtime routine...Ranger Rick magazine and snack. Lights out. Free form Cheetah Story: Beren find s a jar of pickles left on his friend Cheetah's sidewalk. Together, Beren and Cheetah wonder who might have left the pickles for Cheetah.

Beren interjects in my story and says, "They should call the township."

This is definitely better than when Beren recently paraphrased one parent (who will remain unnamed) who was saying something about a "shitting bag" (plastic bag malfunction) by saying "Sh*t bag. Sh*t bag. Sh*t bag."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Working with a knife

Yesterday I found myself writing for an intended audience. My thoughts were caught in quicksand. I always write with someone or many someones in mind, but I felt as though I might be too easily misunderstood and that my words would be carefully and individually examined. My writing went into the draft bag and is likely to remain there.


At night, I lay awake at times and consider aging, taxes, itches, and scampering sounds. Most nights I can drift off, even when I think I might not. Some nights I wake in the night charged with thought. By my side, my husband breathes. Some mornings he tells me he slept poorly, and I wonder if we were both awake at the same time.


This week we began stewarding the edge between our field and the woods where the geology changes from bony to steel. Along the edge, Japanese honeysuckle climbs multiflora rose. Beneath their vines forms is a gnarled architecture of dead stumps, and bent box elder, mulberry, black walnut, black cherry, and slippery elm. A mix of unkindly named trash trees and inhabitants tolerant of people and too many deer. Most of the trees had been cut again and again, resprouting contorted and weighed down by vines.

Jared ran the flail mower, growling, through the tangle. I went in with the chainsaw's spinning teeth. We freed the trees and selected the best stems to leave, cutting the rest. With such machines and noise, sacred harvest often loses to cold efficiency.

Still, we collected rose hips, and Beren with pure innocence pointed to each stem I might leave behind. "Momma, there's one," he said, gesturing towards a cluster of three rose hips, one nibbled, two perfect. "Ok, I'll get that, too," I replied adding it to my basket.

From the pruned black cherry, we took the best stems, leaving those girdled and deeply wrapped in honeysuckle. I considered leaving it all behind, but decided I'd make a syrup for gifts.

Back at the house, I debarked the wild cherry twigs and branches. I tried different methods until I settled on the first method. Behind me, Jared split firewood and Beren stacked. "I don't want to interrupt, but I found the peeler worked really well on the cherry last time," Jared quietly called.

I'd forgotten that. The peeler worked for me on this task, too. "Ok," I said returning to my work. Several branches later, I said, "I'm not ignoring your thoughts. I'm just enjoying being here. Just working with my knife."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Then and Now, the ages in photos

Beren's first egg.
Recently I blew my top. I put dinner on the table - noodles and some kind of sauce. It possibly was something my mother would have put on the table when I was a kid and said, "Slop's on."  

Beren protested, "I don't want sauce on my noodles!" The day had been long, and the refrigerator near empty. There had been the pre-dinner witching hour - the hour in which the demands of little ones come fast, come unreasonable, and come with imperative. 

I'm not one to force feed my child. "Make your own noodles then," I growled. "I caaaan't," wailed this hungry boy. Jared remained silent. "Yes, you can." "I caaaan't!"

"Yes!" I said standing up. "Come with me! Let's choose a pot, and now find a lid that matches. OK, fill it with water. Now, add salt. I'll turn on the stove. Watch and we'll add noodles when the water boils."

Beren whimpered a bit at first. He was uncertain. I was furious, possibly unnecessarily so. In ten minutes he had a bowl of noodles he could dress as he wished, and he did. "You cooked your own noodles. How do they taste?" I asked. "Good," Beren answered. "Good."

Cooking an egg, 2015
 Sneaking a taste of crusty gingerbread 'glue', 2014

Trimming rose hips for syrup, 2013

Sitting on a wooden wine box (covered with a blanket) at the table since my mother was too cheap to by me a hideous, plastic booster seat, 2012

 Intense baby stare, 2011

Arrival, 2010

Friday, December 4, 2015

More on artmaking

Untitled (A campfire for bears at the south pole), Beren, age 5
Pencil and pencil shavings on paper, December 2015

Each month Beren anticipates a new issue of Ranger Rick Jr. The children's wildlife magazine uncannily arrives on a Tuesday, just in time for me to slip out for my kung fu class.

Jared looks forward to it's arrival for that reason. The distraction is less important these days as Beren less frequently implores me, "Stay, Momma. Stay." My heartstrings would play sad note, but I'd leave nevertheless. The internal, somber tune plays as I drive past the front of our house. Last year, I'd see Jared occupying Beren, keeping him distracted from my departure.

More recently, Jared would remind me as I kissed them goodbye, "Now, Momma, remember to look at the window." They'd wave from the brightly lit window, Beren smiling. I'd roll down the window and honk. Down the road, the farewell song would dissipate in the whir of the car's transmission as I sped along county roads highway-wards.

In my absence, Jared and Beren read Ranger Rick Jr. straight through. Often, Beren asks to read the narrative feature, "Ricky and Pals", first. Father and son discuss the animals, correct any mistakes in infrequent references to flora [a couple weeks ago Beren asked me to mail the letter he and Jared wrote to Ranger Rick Jr. explaining that they were incorrect in saying that pine was inedible], complete puzzles, and look for Sammy Skunk hidden in the pages.

Beren enjoys "Ricky's Mail", a page towards the end of the magazine that features drawings by young readers. "Lemon shark" by Helen, age 4. "Penguin" by Antonio, age 5.

Lately, when Beren and I reread Ranger Rick Jr. issues, I no longer mention the children's ages lest Beren think he needs to make line drawings of bald eagles, zebras, or warthogs using his Crayolas. I'd rather he not. He seems pleased with his artistic endeavors which include working with various materials and color. Age and skill appropriate, I'd say.

At about age 3, Beren had an artistic crisis. "I make mess art," he moaned deprecatingly. I was shocked and dismayed. Did he expect to make lifelike graphite renderings of cheetahs and fire trucks? Where was this coming from?

I decided this funk needed a remedy. I pulled out lots of art supplies from college. Dr. Marten's watercolors (I thought Dr. Martens only made boots for punks before I found these). The little glass bottles are lovely objects themselves. Colored pencils and a sharpener. Modge Podge. We made mess art.

We still make mess art, though neither of us call it that. Since I hold a degree in (mess) art, I'm hoping we can hold off on drawing lollipop trees. Instead, I'd like to let our hands and color roam freely across the page like lions on the savannah.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A whirlwind day...birthday breakfast and Lego assembly with the birthday boy and Papa before heading off to a La Leche meeting with old friends. I held my friend's newborn for a couple minutes. Had lunch with friends, saw another friend by chance, held another baby who was heavier than the newborn but nowhere near as solid as the five year old birthday boy.

Zoomed back homewards to pick up the birthday boy. Read Dr. Seuss books from the library, I could definitely leave the Dr. Seuss. Ate birthday cake which the birthday boy is still burning off in his bed. Wonder when he will wake up tomorrow.

Friday, November 27, 2015

It's for free to help us work

Beren suggested these edits to our "FREE" sign. He found it in the yard while he and Jared worked on a building project. "But no one's helping!" he exclaimed a few times this afternoon.

"Free" this sign previously said. Very simple. It marked a pile of free stuff at the end of our driveway a couple months ago. The pile included rusty U-posts, deer fencing enmeshed with stiltgrass and poison ivy juices, random nursery pots, and a big red plastic sandbox in the shape of a crab.

Shortly after leaving the fence posts out, the rusty U-posts went in the back of someone's rusty pick up truck. The male driver screeched to a halt and the female passenger hopped out a feverishly tossed them into their truck. Thank you. I'm so glad I don't have to move or pound those things back into the rocky earth.

The black plastic deer fencing was eyed by a few passerbys. I peered from behind the shed and wondered if a friendly offer to help load the fence might actually scare the freebie-seekers away. I remained silent. Finally someone in a little sedan came by and shoved the bulky load into her trunk. Thank you, and sorry about that case of poison ivy you likely got. My husband got it, too. Nearly ruined our vacation to Virginia Beach. The stiltgrass, well, we got to keep the seeds, which certainly shed somewhere between the farm junk pile and the end of our driveway.

The nursery pots were not taken. They were taken back by me. I hauled them back up the driveway and tossed them down next to hoophouse 1. Next time someone tells me they're thinking about "getting into farming," I might ask if they're ready to spend as much time cleaning up after farming as farming itself. Anyway, if there's one task I dislike, it's trying to organize random nursery pots. I do this more than you might suspect.

The big red crab-shaped sandbox that we trash-picked a couple years ago? Still got it. That's what happens when you live on a relatively kid-less road to nowhere. No one wants your kid-related plastic crap.

We thought it would make a good kiddie pool. As it turns out, Beren had never been too excited about kiddie pools, except in a couple cases. One, when we filled the crab pool with water to play in, and then Beren decided to fill the pool with bricks, soil, rotten stumps, etc. Two, when a bunch of kids came over and they found various things to leap off of into the pool. I'm sure there's other times he's had fun (like the time I piled in with my shorts on...and my camera in my pocket), but he angles for muddy puddles, streams (especially raging ones), waterfalls (especially really high ones), waves (especially...).

 Jared assisting Beren with the pool transformation back at the 'red house'.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fresh communications

Fresh for November 2015..."I'm not tired. I'm not going to bed." C'mon, the time change was really working for us.

"I'm tiiiiiiiiiired," seemed like a declaration that we'd hear endlessly, but it's followed mastodons into the ice. It's revived occasionally, much like the inquiry, "Why?"

Despite stubbornness about going to bed, Beren is increasingly communicative with our adult friends, telling them all about his projects. When they don't quite realize he's talking to them, I respond. To this, he shouts, "I'm not talking to you."

Please and thank you are making more sincere appearances in daily speech.

Bottom line, you win some, you lose some. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Photos from Florida

There's just so much going on, inside and out, that I'm just going to share these vacation photos from last spring.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I'm gonna break my rusty cage

 Considering Beren's personality, it all makes sense.

One afternoon last month, Jared belted out, "I'm gonna break my rusty cage and run!" Beren found this very funny, so Jared sang it again and again. And again a few more times at Beren's request.

Jared explained that there is a song called Rusty Cage. We listened to the song, and since then we have listened to Rusty Cage by Soundgarden dozens of times while running through our darkened house.

Other songs have been played during our evening dance parties, some noted by Beren. Last night Beren asked, "Momma, what is Smokestack Lightnin'?"

It's been a blast to blast music and dance. What an oddball song to break it all loose.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Both Jared and I love making art with Beren. Tonight, Beren picked up a soft drawing pencil. Rolling it between his palms, he said, "I'm making a shagbark hickory. Momma, you make the branches and leaves." Beren made the trunk, and I made the lateral branches at top and the green leaves.

This all lends truth to the phrase I disliked hearing while a student and then a professional artist, "This is art? But my kid could make this." Damn, look at that texture and line. Shagbark hickory bark, indeed.

On Sunday, Jared took a day-long class on cordage. He left before Beren was up and returned just before his bedtime. It was a long, but good day for all of us. 

The challenge of parenting in the modern world is that many of us do it on our own. If one parent is away, then the remaining parent is one on one (or one on however many children your family has). On good days, everything rolls. On bad days, I'm checking the clock regularly. When's Papa coming home? On either kind of day, creativity and patience can run thin. That goes both ways. Kids get tired of parents, too.

Toss in a virus or bacterium, and you're sunk. The house, no matter how hard we all try, is a disaster. The entry way looks like an abandoned parking lot - grit, old shoes, tattered leaves. The kitchen looks like a restaurant that lacks running water and a dishwasher. Suddenly, the only easy snacks available are mucus-producing dairy products. Luckily, Beren was beginning to kick his bout with The Croup by this Sunday. Some dishes and sweeping had been done.

Beren slept in a bit, so I had time to plan. I pulled three drawers out of a bureau and set them up outside at Beren's height. Each held an array of art supplies - pastels, pencils, inks, oil paints, acrylics, charcoal, beads, string, brushes, sponges, and many types of paper. My intent was this - get my recuperating child out in the warm sun and to lessen any sickness-related crankiness/malaise by providing three huge drawers of treasures. 

I also hoped the cure-all sun would remove the paper's musty smell that remained from our last house. I set up the clothes horse and pinned my paper collection to it. Christmas paper, handmade paper from high school and college, drawing paper, writing paper, gift bags, and tissue paper. The bonus was I'd be getting this massive task I'd been intending to do since we moved.

Beren finally staggered downstairs for breakfast, and we sat together eating. When his interest in food waned, I said, "There's something unusual outside." "What?" "Look."

Beren saw the billowing paper and sprawling drawers. His boots and jacket went on, and we spent hours with the drawers. We sorted beads and made paper trays for them. 

I guided Beren away from white paper and markers and towards black paper and colored pencils. We watched shadows on the barn and drew the shadows we saw. "See how the color is different in the sun and the shadow? Here, I'll draw the pine tree. I'm just making scribbles and textures to make the tree, no lines." 

Big drawings, little drawings. We found a long sheet of paper, and I traced his body. "That tickles my ear!" he said. 

Lunch came and went, his appetite still low. Just a couple sips of soup. By late afternoon, the wind and sun had chased the mold away, and maybe a bit of Beren's sickness.

We took a break inside, and we decided to make cookies (very therapeutic cookies). While the first batch cooked, Beren slid on the kitchen floor. A sickening smack. His head collided with the tile floor. On sound came from his open, twisted mouth as he wrestled away from me. He came back and screamed, "How can you make me feel better?" over and over and over. Over and over.

I was reeling, too. I watch a big purple lump appear on his temple. My heart pounded. Would I call Jared? My Mom who was just 10 minutes away? Our health care practitioner? After a long, very long seeming time, Beren settled. I checked him for a concussion. I pulled the cookies from the oven. We spent the rest of the day inside, tenderly. Occasionally, he'd cry again, telling me his head hurt.

Beren finally recovered but was then overtired and talking wildly and without pause. He'd been talking and talking and talking for what seemed quite some time. 

"What's this?" he asked as he pulled a lamp off my desk. "Does this bend like this? How does this work?" "Can I have moment Beren? I'm writing a note to a friend," I said and lifted my pen. He continued chattering, and I was unable to continue writing. "Can I just have a moment of quiet? Five minutes and then we'll do something together?" "But Momma, I have something to tell you." "OK."

When Jared walked in, we were all pleased for the change.
Life is so complicated. So complicated. And then it's not and then it is.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sorting out swordplay


Last night Beren picked up "a sword", actually a big whitish stick, probably a tulip branch. At times, he called it a "light saber" (source:  kids at school who watch movies). At turns, he wore a "lightning suit" and used his sword to shoot lightning up into the sky. He told me he was going to hunt deer, and perhaps at this age he'd learn to do that but just a hundred years ago or maybe less.

The three of us wandered into the woods along a favorite trail we cut by frequent travel. We passed a mossy boulder nestled into a small wedge of mesic woods at ledge of the mountain before it descends to the road and then another couple hundred feet down to the creek.

We reached "the raspberry tree", a place Jared and Beren found. There, a tree was wrenched from the ground by wind or disease. At the top of the root ball in the mineral soil exposed by its fall, a purple flowering raspberry seed found purchase and germinated. Below it, and closer to the ground, is a red elderberry, about two nodes high. Plants, how do they know the perfect place to be?

From atop the fallen bole, Beren asked, "What time is it?" You don't yet need to know what time it is, my little one. Be free of the tickling ticking, tick tock tickling your sense of being. "It's dusk. The time when the sun has slipped behind the mountain, but its light is still strong. Dusk. Just before night."
Dusk painted itself darker blue, and we went down the mountain beneath a canopy of arching witch hazels, yellow in foliage and flower.

Back at home, Beren resumed his swordplay. In the darkness, I could see, but better hear, the sticks he and Jared swung. Click clack. The sound of a father teaching through play a skill a child might need. Defense and offense. Everyone needs to eat.

So often we think of fighting as barbaric. Sometimes it is, and can be unfair. When I look at the root, I sometimes see a human element suppressed - the need to hunt for food. Blood is usually on someone else's hands and land. The bloody hand probably don't own the land, they're there for a paycheck. Everyone needs to eat.

And if adults can fight (or "play fight" as in sports), why can't children? Because they don't know better? Perhaps they know better than we do! Closer to the earth and their biological needs, perhaps they know what's coming, or what would have come, if they were still directly reliant on the earth.

Who am I to suppress an ancient element with a nagging voice, "Put that down! Be careful!" No fighting!"? I wonder about the aimless, rage soaked ways of today. In cultivated, modern life there's hardly danger that activates human cunning and skill. Sports, sure, they are ways to hone energy, skills, muscle, and bone, and to use excess energy, and create camaraderie, competition, and maybe laugh. What about stalking the fields and forests, looking for food, following signs of predator and prey as you'd be both, reading the plants as they'd be your life's blood.

So, I'll guide my child through saber play, dreams of police and firefighters, and fast vehicles, allowing his swordplay as he defines good and evil, food and hunger, all for himself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gender Agenda

 Puppy Dog in his bed

At a recent birthday party for one of Beren's friends, I asked a Mom if her son and daughter were different, along gender lines anyway. She affirmed, and we chatted on the subject the way two people getting to know each other might. We agreed we'd been hands off, not pushing trucks or dolls.

The gender agenda might be pushed in other ways, ways I might not like to admit. Last spring, Beren picked out a pair of socks at Old Navy. They were bunny themed - red, white, and pink (girl-like). I hesitated and said sure. He tears through socks, literally (like a boy).

One morning Beren selected the bunny socks as he dressed himself for school. I hesitated, this time a bit longer. The gender agenda presents itself. What if someone tells him pink is for girls, I wondered. Would he be surprised? I wonder this, too, when Beren happily gobbles vegetables. WOuld you like some greens? "Yum yum! Yum yum!" he says. What of the time he hears, "Ew! You eat that?"

Some of his friends are less interested in girls, according to one mom. Beren, on the other hand, hasn't really shown a preference yet.

I showed him some of his infant clothes recently, we exclaimed over how tiny they were. Impossible that they'd fit such a big kid. I mentioned they'd fit his plush toy "Puppy Dog". Beren wanted to dress Puppy Dog in his baby clothes, so we did.

Beren gently dressed Puppy Dog and asked me to carry Puppy Dog around. Then, Beren took a turn. So carefully, so gently. "Here is Legos, Baby. They are very fun. Legos are not for babies because they put little things in their mouths," Beren said as he showed the baby around.

Later, he made a bed from on old wine box, lining it with soft blankets. The following morning, Puppy Dog came down the steps hitched up on Beren's hip. "Here's Puppy Dog, Momma. Let's give him big cuddles." Beren put Puppy Dog on my lap and we gave that sweet little baby a hug.

I really enjoy being a mother. Each day brings something new.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Who's farm is this?

Background:  Jared watering the swamp milkweed. Foreground: Allegheny blackberry my Mom and I potted up.

"Jared's farm." I occasionally, but memorably, hear this phrase. The speaker is more typically male, but at times is female.

My reaction ranges from an inward, "Huh." or "Hm." My reaction might be an inward "That's f*cked up." or "That's amusing." Outwardly, I may say nothing, or I may subtly let the person who just talked about "Jared's farm" know that Jared's farm is also Rachel's farm. I wouldn't bother trying to give Beren a share of the farm, too. Not at that point anyway, because if someone doesn't notice that Jared is working with at least one other adult on a regular basis, I doubt they'd recognize a child's contribution.

Not that I'm getting haughty (b*tchy or maybe sophisticated as an old friend used to say), but let's be honest, my blood pressure is elevated at the moment. Perhaps the speaker made a mistake, an honest mistake. But really, here I am, driving a big *ss truck, and I'm dirty. I'm working on the farm, "our" farm.

Ya wouldn't say "Jared's house", would ya? Nope, 'cos I live there, too.

I'm glad to let Jared rig up a connection between the walk-behind tractor and a dump cart. I'm happy that he enjoys running the flail mower. I'm very happy that he tinkers with our website. He's probably just as glad for things I like to do around here. I'm glad for our camaraderie. Our shared labor, expertise, and intuition allow for things to happen successfully.

I'm somewhat tempted to list the power tools and two cycle engines I can use. Maybe list the stewardship plans I've written, the highly technical GIS resources that I could access to help inform management decisions. The stupefying number of invasive plants I could identify and manage. The various hats that I wear around here. That might seem like I have something to prove. Nobody really likes someone with something to prove. And yet, here I am boxed into a corner.

I like the idea of complementary roles, around the house, inside and out. We'd hardly get anywhere with out complementary roles. So, thanks, Jared and Beren, for rigging up the dump cart so we could load the firewood I cut yesterday. Couldn't help myself. Now you know part of my curriculum vitae on the farm.

I'm not even sure how I feel writing this. Irritated. Embarrassed. Unsure.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Where my heart is

"Momma, I'm two cushions long," Beren tells me. "Yes, it's true. I remember when you were one cushion long." Beren's first clothes I bought for him atop a current outfit.

When I met the man who would one day become my husband, I felt as though my heart was protected. He didn't run away with my heart. I was certain my heart would be taken care of in ways it had not been before. We had romance but I also had certainty. He took up part of my heart's burdens. "You are balm for my soul," I once told him.

At a blessingway for a dear friend who will give birth this autumn, one mother said, "When you have a child, it's as though your heart is walking around outside of you." She'd been told this by another mother before she'd become a mother herself.

My, my. How true. How different a place than where my heart resides regarding my husband. I described this mother's wisdom to him. Indeed, he and I agreed, how elegant a way to say, how true, each of our hearts were outside of ourselves.

What a vulnerable place for a heart to be. How joyous, how exciting. It's startling how it feels.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sick and Display Only

Day 3 home sick. Losing cohesion. Losing patience. Day 3 late bedtime and/or bad sleep. I made it through an entire Richard Scarry book with just one yawn. After three cookies child is happily playing with blocks. I'm trying to figure out what to do that rouses no interest in my activities. My phone seems to be missing.

Momma Bear undeniably has a tickle in her throat. Shall I blame the regional corn harvest for tossing Zea mays dust into the winds? Allergies? I think I am just beat.


Display Only

In the nursery, Beren has a Display Only section. He selects the best looking plants and arranges them. When someone comes to pick up plants, he asks, "Did they take anything from the Display Only?" It sounds more like Dispway O-knee. "No, of course not," Jared or I tell him.

At times, a customer will pick up when just Beren and I are home. He'll refuse to go outside with me. He's used to hearing from strangers, "OH THAT HAIR. I LOVE THAT HAIR. WHERE DID YOU GET THAT HAIR?"

He'll later tell me, "I HATE when people say that." "Me, too," I agree. Once we were lucky, and Beren liked a customer's wife. She spoke to Beren like a person, and he readily toured her around the grounds. I commented on the magical chemistry, and the customer said his wife had years of pre-school experience. A ha.

Sometimes I use the Display Only section as a carrot. "A customer is here to pick up plants. Please show the customer the Display Only section," I'll say. He gets his shoes on and meets the customer. "This is Display Only." By announcing himself and his intent, we can usually bypass the OH YOUR HAIR comments.

Sometimes for bragging rights, I'll hand Beren a potted plant and say, "Beren, can you put this plant by the coral honeysuckle?" The customer will look incredulous. Beren will put the plant next to the honeysuckle. He's more than a bunch of platinum hair.

Beren also wonders why people have to take our plants. "We grow them so the bees and butterflies have food. There are places with no food, and people want to help the animals. They want to have flowers to pick, just like we do. We save some for ourselves, and sell most to people who need them." My explanation usually satisfies him, but he's asked me this many times. The Display Only helps.

I had a similar feeling when Jared and I started out. The plants were a lot like our children. They still are, but over time, I found that feeling ebbed. The plants belonged more the land, and year after year, we could successfully grow more. Some plants failed to thrive, through fate or lack or experience. More perhaps they were just tough to grow, unique, and specialized. But most plants did fine.


While I could say more about this, Beren tells me he's been playing with the circus toys. I'm punching back in on parent-time.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Time Flies

It ain't right that glow sticks don't last forever.

I could say, "It's no big deal, kiddo", but there are many things that don't last forever. Some of them have made me sad. So, it ain't right.

We all had a good time dancing around the living room sharing two glow sticks between us last night. It's definitely not all right that those glow sticks disappointed us tonight.

A couple nights ago, I read Beren bedtime stories. I turned off the lights, and Beren handed me "Duck".

"This duck is forty years old," I thought. Duck was my duck when I was a baby. It's balding pattern was accelerated by my infant gums.

My son is aging out of "T" sized clothes. He's going to a school. His jokes are increasingly sophisticated. Time flies, and with every wingbeat  a memory is blurred or lost.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Capacity Building Through $%^&# Gas-powered Machines and Herbs

Today was the day - string trimming day. I hadn't done it all year. We hadn't had the capacity, but it was time. I can feel it in my wrists 8 hours later.

I stopped only because I heard Jared's voice over the din and through my hearing protection. "Huh-uhhhhhh!" I heard." I shut off the machine and was too tired to walk it back to the shed. "Maybe I'll get back it later." "Lu-unch!" Jared called again. Oh, lunch.

"It's 12:30," I said. "You were trimming for hours," said Jared. "Nachos are ready and perfectly heated now," he added. "I'm really sweaty, and no doubt some juicy bits of poison ivy got me," I said.

Many year ago, I gave myself a tattoo on my wrists, forearms, and biceps with poison ivy juices that splattered my body during one work-related string trimming experience. Chopped bits of Toxicodendron radicans hit my exposed skin at high velocity. Not even 100% humidity will prevent me from leather gloves, long sleeves, pants, and a bandanna (to protect my neck) anytime I pick up a trimmer.

No two-cycle engine work (chainsaw or trimmer) is completely free of operator error. I removed the tri-blade and put on the grass trimming blade by carefully following the scant directions and confusing diagram.

I fueled the tank, spilling gas on my hand. The kitchen sink was full, I mean overflowing, with dirty dishes. I emptied it and washed my hands three times.

Back at the shed, I remembered my other promise - always wear chemical-resistant gloves when pouring gas.

The trimmer started on the second try. Not bad, not bad at all for a machine that hasn't been used for a couple weeks. I noticed the trimmer head rotated quickly but with an occasional slowing. When up against grass, it would not cut.

Off with the trimmer head. I reassembled it, this time leaving off two of the parts that seemed not to be included in the assembly directions. The head spun freely. Uh oh, I remember this happening once before. I hadn't included the part that allows blockage of the shaft and removal of the trimmer head. Luckily, I hadn't really tightened it and was able to remove it.

I reread the directions, including the ones about mounting a metal cutting assembly. I figured out the parts I needed. All went back together fine.

I began cutting, but got little done. The trimming line wasn't feeding. I shut off the trimmer again.

I was about as hot and ineffective as the engine I attempted to wield. As I tromped by, Beren asked if I'd play with him. "I have to fix the trimmer," I said.

I considered You Tube, but found another set of directions, these for the trimmer head itself. I took a dropperful of Mad Dog Skullcap.

I disassembled the trimmer head. Last time I refilled the line feeder, I'd sloppily wound the line. I rewound the tangled part, and it worked.

The line stopped feeding again, but this time I was patient enough to show Beren what was wrong with the machine and how to fix it. I think the skullcap works really well for me.

Now, I have to do some horrible paperwork for our business. Night, night.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Summer odors, not good ones

The odor of the liquefying beast lodged somewhere under our side porch and the foundation has reached its 18th permutation. 

The smell is strongest in the basement on the south side of the house, right by the dehumidifier which I empty two or three times a day. 

The odor was noted the day prior to us leaving for vacation earlier in August. I had just finished typing a note to our house sitter. The text detailed our requests, including emptying the dehumidifier. 

I announced the breaking news to Jared, making sure to not alert the smaller member of our household. I wondered if the smallest member of the family, the cat, was to blame. I then panicked and researched how to remove such smells. Would our house sitter be unable to occupy our morgue?

In the evening, the smell abated. I was relieved and reported the news to Jared. 

The following morning, the sun rose, passing over the black cherry and the box elder until it shined on the house. The smell returned. Slow roasting corpse.

I went into our two hundred year old basement, and aimed a flashlight into the cavern between the old wooden floor beams, cobwebs, and electrical wires. Nothing observed. Just the smell.

"Can't find it," I told Jared. "I'm just going to forget about it." 

"OK, good," Jared answered. 

"But, I smell it everytime I go down there. Hope it doesn't get worse," I added. No comment from Jared. Case closed as far as he, the guy who said he'd help me with the dehumidifier emptying chore, was concerned. He, the guy, who emptied it a few times and told me we should hook it up to a hose so it can drain outside. 

To be fair, it is the busy season. I did come up with the idea of a winter task list, which we agreed was a good idea. If I'd taken the time to start that list, the dehumidifier would be on that list.

Tomorrow when I empty the dehumidifier, the beast will have come closer to becoming soil. It's been about three weeks. 

In an internet forum, I found a brief comment by one person who had a raccoon die under their porch. Took two weeks for the odor to go away. That seems a bit like wishful thinking. Still, I appreciate the image.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Goodnight Tea

I lean over and kiss Beren. "What does that kiss mean?" he asks. "It means I love you," I say.

"That kiss means it's time for you to make your bedtime tea," Beren says.

And with that, I kiss him again and come downstairs.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ups and Downs

 Beren and Mountain were lounging peacefully until I took out my camera.

After what seemed an impossible week, we made it through. Anything, anything, anything that could have been done to push parental buttons was done. And as the red, fiery, angry poison ivy rash faded, so did the red, fiery, angry attitude.

Sometimes, it seems as though my child is pushing me away with red, fiery, angry button-pushing behavior. And I guess sometimes he is, and after all, he's a person. In the meantime, I'm getting burned, so I might be backing away. Everybody needs to brood alone. We give our child space when needed. 

Sometimes, I hold tight to that whirling, fiery tiger until he quiets. "I love you no matter what," I say. I once was told that sometimes we need to hold a child through a storm of tears or rage. I read elsewhere that you can say, "You're out of control, and I'm going to hold you until you feel better." 

I was a little surprised. I turned the thoughts around in my head. Before hearing these perspectives, I might have tried this, but given up too soon. Just as likely, or maybe more likely, I'd get upset or angry at the small fireball before me. From my mouth would spill, "STOP!" or maybe I'd walk away. 

And hey, I still might. I'm a person, too. But there's something good and kind about holding a little kicking and crying person who really needs help. Saying GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF doesn't demonstrate how to get a hold of yourself. 

And because we're in a relationship, the mother child relationship, holding that little fireball close physically or emotionally, gives us both a chance to CALM THE H*LL DOWN. 

I'm so glad the poison ivy rash has passed. Was it the root of our rough week? It didn't seem directly related. It didn't seem to bother him that much. "Did Adam and I ever have bad weeks?" I asked my Mom. "Well, yes, but you not some much, but sometimes," she answered. Maybe Beren was teething Jared and I agreed and laughed. Teething, now that was a rough time.

During fireball week, Beren declared, "Spruce Run is not as fun as other beaches." I'd taken him there last week, and we had a great time, or so I thought. "What beaches are better?" I asked trying to mask  disappointment in my voice. "I dooooon't knoooowwww," Beren whined. "OK," I sighed. "Other beaches might seem like more fun. I do like going to Spruce Run with you though."

"We should tell Papa to come to the beach with us," Beren said. Papa? You mean the dude who's Crocs you kicked dusty gravel into while we stood in the parking lot? That guy who you shrieked at repeatedly this week? And, alternately asked him play with you? And then, shrieked at for some minor play-related infraction. Papa? The guy who made you palascinta (Hungarian crepes) and then got lip from you about them not enough jam inside? Not that I'm counting or holding a grudge for my husband.

"Yes, I like when Papa comes to the beach, too," I said. Jared doesn't love roasting on the beach like I do, so beach days happen when Jared has long days away.
In the midst of it all, I picked up Beren from camp one afternoon. I waited in the vestibule with another mother. Our boys happen to like each other. "So, has your son ever said he's really tired and doesn't want to come to camp?"

For weeks, Beren's complained, "I'm tiiiiiii-urrrrrrrd." Fair enough, camp is new, lots of play, and time away. "Oh yeah, this is his first time, right? Sure, my son was exhausted, and then his behavior was awful, especially in the afternoon. He's also been really tired this week."

Perhaps the meteor showers, another celestial event I heard about after the fact, got us. Who knows. Teething? It must have been something because even the vanilla ice cream we made together this week was not quite right, though it came out the way it always had - delicious. Too soft, doesn't taste good Beren declared and dumped it back into the mixing bowl tearfully.

As fireball week came to an end, I planned another trip to Spruce Run. Jared was headed out for a long day of consulting. He and I packed lunches side by side while Beren slept on. I was ready before Beren woke, and when he did wake, he was on a tear. "When are you coming back tonight?" I asked Jared. "After bedtime," he said. "Oh."

Once breakfast was on the table, we cheered up. We all went outside to see Jared out. As I opened the gate for Jared, he said, "Now take care of Momma today, and Momma, you take care of Beren. Do lots of good work." Beren was already digging into the leaf compost with toy trucks. "I'll take care of Momma, and Momma will take care of me!" Beren said.

Today might just be ok, I thought. It was. From then proceeded one of those lovely days. Just perfect. The weather. The flow of activities and snacks. We played around the farm. We worked around the farm. We laid out a picnic blanket and snacked on the picnic lunch meant for Spruce Run. We watched the clouds and saw shapes. We watched the planes, and the birds flying to a from the black cherry tree.

"I've always wanted a black cherry tree," I said. "These trees must have been here for years and years to get so big," Beren replied.

We used our cups to amplify our voices and shout at the clouds and planes. "STOP THAT CLOUD! GIVE THAT CLOUD A TICKET!" We saw an eagle and a red-tailed hawk, a pileated woodpecker, robins, jays, finches, and turkey vultures that like to cruise low over our mountain.

Laying and watching and talking and laughing seems so simple, but I was giddy. Really? It seemed a dream to lay and relax with my son. Had we ever done this before? Actually stopped moving while outside? Anytime I felt like getting up, I let the spell hold me close until Beren broke from our magic web and sought out his toys. I slowly walked to the potting table and got back to work.

Which way's the beach? The fun one? 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ready, Set, Stink


One of the teachers at Beren's future school asked if he was right or left handed. Neither of us really knew, but we both leaned towards righty. He uses both, but tends towards right. She said we could roll a ball towards his feet and see which foot he chose most frequently. From that, we could see which was his dominant side. "Good idea," I thought. "That sounds fun and interesting."

A couple evenings later we explored whether our child was right or left hand dominant. Here's how it happened:

Mountain Kitten peed on his bed while we were in the Catskills. Our house-sitter kindly washed it, but in a note to us she also said that she could still smell cat pee. We re-assembled the bed, and he peed on it again.

We tossed the bed out into the lawn. It laid out there for a week. The rain didn't help.

In July, Beren, Jared and I went to a local music fair. We brought our plants to sell. Our neighboring vendors were a jewelry maker and an artist. Across the path, a local bank had a tent and table set up with piles of plastic giveaways.

Beren and I ambled over, and I encouraged Beren to spin the bank's game-of-chance wheel. He was unaware that there was a purpose to the wheel other than spinning it and listening to the clicking sound it made. I watched. The bank representative told him to give it one hard spin.

He won a fanny pack. He declined his prize and was handed the blue frisbee instead. He took it.

At home, Beren became quickly discouraged by the frisbee, so its final toss wedged it between a purple flowering raspberry and the deer fence. Weeks passed and the grass grew over it.

One evening the three of us checked on the greenhouses. I'd fertilized the plants earlier in the day. "The smell never used to bother me," Jared said. In previous years, I had let Jared apply the fertilizer, an organic, blood and bone meal mix that nauseated me.

The greenhouses represent the only flat and open outdoor space on our property. Their aisles make  great raceways. "Let's race," Beren said. "OK," agreed Jared. "READY! SET! STINK!" And off they went again and again.

After awhile, we drifted downhill towards the house. Beren rediscovered his frisbee. I searched for his purple ball from Shop-Rite. I found it, hidden in tall grasses and ever more bespeckled by the black spots that grow on plastic things left in the elements.

I'm not sure how the cat bed came into play, either Jared or Beren grabbed it. Jared started kicking it into the air, while shouting "READY, SET, STINK!" Beren found that the frisbee and ball fit into the bed perfectly. We ran around taking turns launching the ball, the bed, and the frisbee into the air.

"READY, SET, STINK!" yelled Jared we all laughed. The cat bed was on Beren's head at times. We played tug o' war with the cat bed - I held Beren under my arm while he and Jared tugged back and forth on the squishy bed. "READY, SET, STINK!" Jared shouted again and again.

I think we confirmed he's a righty.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is the Easter Bunny real? Who left the basket next to the mailbox on Easter?

"Who's egg did you hatch from, Momma? Who hatched Papa?"

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Right Toe

The photo looks crooked, but we live on a many angled slope. I tried to 'fix' the photo. When I adjusted the angle down to the right, the u-posts and mullein were then crooked.

Is it really July 25? It can't be.

The week began with taking Monday off to visit my in-laws. Good fun was had until I dropped the metal, weighted base of an outdoor umbrella on my right foot's big toe. The nail turned blue immediately. Blood oozed from beneath the nail. Funny, I had thought to myself that I ought to put some shoes on before moving the umbrella.

I held my act together until my sister-in-law asked me if I was ok and would I like her to bandage it. My face crumpled and tears rolled. I nodded.

She returned with gauze and tape and wrapped my bloody foot. "I'm ok with other people's blood, but my own..." she said. I was surprised and how gently but confidently she worked.

I hobbled. I stumped up and down our steps. The toe throbbed, but fear of stubbing it was even worse. That night, I rummaged in the cluttered fridge. It was packed with garden vegetables and leftovers from guests. The cheese drawer had broken eariler in the day, making the jam up even worse. Suddenly, a jar of homemade pickles fell out of the fridge and smashed. Jared was putting Beren to bed. "AH!" "Are you ok, Rachel?" "Yes," I said sullenly.

On Tuesday, Mountain Kitten joined me as I weeded a garden. He attacked my leg and threw himself down at my feet, as is his routine. This is an annoying game, and on this day he landed on my right toe. "ARGH!" I came inside to brood. I grumpily put food away. A piece of corn rolled out of the impossibly packed fridge. Guess what toe it hit.


"WHAT?!?" Beren exclaimed and ran to my side.

"Nothing. The corn hit my toe," I said. I wanted to be alone.

"Can I get you a pair of shoes?" asked Jared

"No, I just want my toe in the open!" I said.

I stubbornly went to Kung fu class later in the day. "You're late!" My classmates exclaimed. "Look at how I'm walking!" I avoided the jumping and hopping warm ups. I did everything else. Excepting a 180 degree heel kick maneuver, I was ok. Participating in class was easier than walking.  

Three days later I was rummaging through a pile of nursery supplies buried in weeds. I felt a sharp stab in the back of my left calf. "AH!" My Mom, who was working with me, and Beren came running. "Are you ok?" she exclaimed. "I got stung."

I'd been stung the month prior, and every little stab or pinch I'd felt while outside had me paranoid. A couple remedies and a Benadryl later, I was ok, but a little brooding.

In the evening, I convinced Beren and Jared to race me to the bathtub. "Last one in the tub is a spotted egg!" I shouted. "You're a spotted egg!" Beren shouted back. He ran up the steps and banged the bathroom door shut. As Jared approached, Beren giggled frantically and hopped up and down. I knew what was going to happen. He landed on my right toe.

Today it seemed I spent the whole morning and into the afternoon rendering 10 apples and two massive yellow squashes no one wanted to eat into something edible. Was it worth it? 

The squash chocolate chip cookies are good, we all agree. The applesauce is just ok. The dried apple slices are good. And the squash bread tastes fine. 

Now, I have to figure out what to do with the 6 massive cucumbers, provided they're not bitter. I  watched kids race decorated zucchinis on wheels at the Zucchini 500 today at the Easton Farmer's Market. Perhaps wheels can be mounted to cucumbers, too.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hurry and the Monarch

 Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on our corn (Zea mays). We'll be tending our milkweed, as we tend our corn.

"There's so many of them. Why are there so many of them?" Beren asks pointing to a painting of migrating monarch butterflies. His finger traces over an increasingly blurry haze of orange as the monarchs continue their flight into the distance. "They're going so far."

We were reading Hurry and the Monarch, a children's story about a monarch butterfly and a tortoise. At about page four, my voice cracked. I paused but could not regain composure. I whispered a few sentences and allowed time for us to linger over the illustrations.

I considered a possible extinction during my child's lifetime. Extinction of, a once very common, very iconic insect. It's likely there will be many extinctions during his lifetime.

"Momma, what if a dead animal decides it doesn't want to be dead?" Beren recently asked. I thought over my response. "Once something is dead it doesn't breathe anymore. It doesn't play anymore. It doesn't walk anymore. That's it." Beren looked at me, and that's where we left it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Itsy Bitsy Spider

The thing about living on a mountainside is that the echo is incredible. I've been listening to about two hours worth of fireworks displays. I couldn't find any of the fireworks displays listed online so we could attend. Could they be really far away?

"We always miss out on the fireworks," Jared comments. "It's just as well, Beren really needed to get to sleep," he adds.

Therefore, putting a child to bed before nightfall with surround sound fireworks is not easy. He charged down the steps twice after "being put to bed".

I intercepted him once, giving him a flashlight (my idea) and the task of putting his stuffed animals to bed (Jared's idea). The second time, I followed him again back upstairs, but this time I stayed.

"Would you like to hear a story about when you were little?" Beren affirms an asks for a silly story. I tell him about when he'd eat raw kale in the garden as a toddler. He bend at the waist and graze like a goat.

Fireworks pop. We hear gunfire. Pow, pow. Pow, pow. Pow, pow. "What's that?" Beren asks. "Gunfire. It makes me feel a little scared," I say. Beren is silent. "Sometimes people shoot guns on holidays when there are fireworks."

I sing Itsy Bitsy Spider, which is perfectly in my range. I like singing it for that reason. After one round, Beren requests, "Momma, sing one where the spider doesn't come down." Fair enough, who wants to end the day on a bad note, even if the spider does climb up again?

I begin to sing, and Beren prompts me. "The spider goes for a ride on Milka's (my in-law's cat) back." I weave the suggestion in. He makes other suggestions and each one is woven in, until the spider and Milka become very tired. "Milka closes both eyes," Beren says. I add that to the song. Beren and I like a Margaret Wise Brown poem in which a mother cat advises her wandering kitten to sleep with one eye open.

I lose the melody a bit, but holding my notes. I ease down Beren's bunk bed ladder, and offer him a drink. He gladly gulps some.

I make my way into the hall. As I descend the stairs, Beren says, "Everything in this house is asleep."

Once downstairs, I plop on the couch next to Jared. "Every thing is asleep, but not a single person," I say. And we hear not another sound from Beren's room.