Monday, June 22, 2015

(all of us)

 Climbing the lilac

First day of camp. A little nervous (all of us).

One of the teachers is a friend of Beren's. He's been drawn to her, the times they've met each other. Rightfully so, she's smart, kind, thoughtful, and quiet.

Recently, Jared searched for words to describe someone he had just met. "Quiet," he said. "But not meek." "Reserved?" I asked. "No..." We batted a few adjectives around. Nothing really fit. I hadn't met her anyway.

There are few words for quiet people that cover the range of types of quiet. Even fewer words lack a slightly negative connotation.

"HI! HOW ARE YOU?" a very nice, loud person might address my (quiet) son (or me as a kid). No answer. "OH. I GUESS YOU'RE SHY." I guess you're not, very nice, loud person.

I trailed Jared and Beren around the classroom. "Look interested. Check out some stuff here," Jared coached me. I must have looked stricken. I'd been tearful just a few moments before.

A friendly and kind teacher addressed Beren, and he leaned back into my legs. She talked to him for a few minutes. He was silent.

We made our way to a table where several children were shaping play dough. "Would you like some?" Beren's teacher-friend asked. His hands became busy.

I drifted to the entryway, and Jared stayed awhile at the table. One of the teachers said, "The first day can be tough..." She continued with kind, thoughtful words, and I wondered if she was addressing my feelings or Beren's. "Soon he'll run through the door to be here." I guess I looked ok.

We left the building. "Maybe I'll go back and look," Jared said. He came back shortly. "I didn't look. If Beren would have seen me..."

Beren had a fine time. When we picked him up, he was purposefully stacking blocks back in place with other children as clean up music played. "He had a good day. Got along well with other children. He's very helpful."

A couple years ago we tried out a school situation for Beren. It didn't work. Luckily, we recognized that quickly and had other options. Lately, we've seen signs that he'd be ready for something like this, and we felt ready, too. Tearful (me, not Beren), but ready (all of us).

Summer is so sweet. So many changes. So much exuberant growth. I want to hang on to that little kid forever. Forever and ever.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dirt Burt

When my brother and I were kids, my Mom would call us Dirt Burt if we got filthy. I'd get dirty a lot. Lots of laundry from Mom, no doubt. Jared and I crack up about Dirt Burt. It's such a great name.

"I don't know how you continue to do the laundry with everything else going on," says Jared.

This blog is at least partially about "getting the laundry done", or so says my header. Well, a few  laundry items to air out:

I found a pile of my field work clothes from Monday in a wet heap in the corner of the kitchen.  "I just did darks," I said to Jared. "Don't worry, you can wash them with my field clothes."

Every Wednesday Jared ventures into trackless wilderness with another botanist. Yesterday, I could smell him from across the porch. "How about you take a shower before dinner?" I say. I grab his soaked swamp sneakers from him and offer to put them by the dehumidifier. "You better wash your hands after that," he says. Poison ivy, ticks, chiggers.

Yep, chiggers. Ever get nasty, itchy, big, oozy bites along the belt line, sock tops, underwear elastic, backback straps? That's chiggers. Not fleas, not mosquitoes. Though I fear Lyme disease et al., chigger bites are the worst.

Today is Thursday. I did the laundry despite the misty weather, and the need to use the dryer. Those Monday field clothes had to be washed. Another full load of darks.

Lots of layers today. It was chilly. Beren went outside, and I tossed a flannel short over his t-shirt. In no time, we was at the pond, shoeless. "Isn't it a little cold to get wet?" No answer. "OK, up to your ankles is fine." Moments later he lands on his bottom, "Ugh!" he says. Soaked up to his chest. Out comes the clothes horse.

In winter I think, "It's winter, lots of bulky clothes means lots of laundry. In spring, it will be easier. No coats, mittens..." The clothes horse comes out, and should stay out, but I battle it. The morning load of mittens and socks. The afternoon load of mittens and boot liners. The evening load of mittens and socks. If it's snowing or we've been playing, any remaining hook, chair or knob is occupied with a hat, scarf, jacket.

In spring I think, "It's spring, we're all excited to be outside all the time, and there's lots of mud. And laundry. Summer will..." In spring there are lots of jackets - leaky raincoats, bulky fleeces, trim denim vests. Wet socks, hats. Wet sandbox sand stuck to everything. Countless layers for cool mornings, another set for warm afternoons, and another set of warm layers for the evening because the morning layers haven't dried yet.

Summer as bad as winter, perhaps worse. The the body odor-rich layers, sandy sandbox layers, sandy beach layers, sun screen sticky layers, tick layers, chigger layers. Swamp sneakers, filthy backpack, wet butt, sweaty drawers, dewy morning slippers, and so on.

Autumn, well, who the h*ll wants to think about that month when summer's almost here?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New place, new people

Admitting that you're lonely is mostly unacceptable. Loneliness as a phenomenon is fine to discuss, but individual loneliness - not ok.

We're a social species. If you're lonely, you're probably doing something wrong. People congregate, conjugate.

There are people everywhere. In central Jersey, there's hardly a lonely spot. I could be deep in the woods, and then hear a car go by, a dog bark, or a mower start up. Not so deep in the woods.

A car driving by isn't a friend, though. Finding friends in a new place isn't always easy, even with an ice-breaking kid by my side. "Hi, I'm Rachel. That's my son. How old is your son? Mine's..."

Our new (old 1830s) house is truly home. We've scratched the hardwood floors we refinished over a year ago. A couple pieces of framed artwork have been hung up. I can walk in the basement barefoot. For better or for worse, the house smells like us. We've made it ours.

But, no friends. Not local ones anyway.

And then suddenly, there are people everywhere. Neighbors, locals, familiar and friendly faces at the hardware store and the playground, too.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hungarian Festival, New Brunswick

Hungarian Festival, New Brunswick, 2015
Performance at the Hungarian American Athletic Club

The three of us huddled in the front corner of the theater, waiting for the show to start. The poster at the door promised exhibits and beer to be enjoyed in air conditioning. The crowd was in the hundreds. Human breath and perspiration conditioned the air, any machines were outpaced.

From the stage, an older man explained where the exits were. "This is important," he admonished the crowd that chattered on. "Sh! Sh!" agreed some onlookers. The crowd quieted a bit, and he repeated safety information and asked that everyone notice the person next to them and make sure everyone could see the show. Shortly, more people filed in and crouched in front of us.

Beren's cheeks were pink. He's not one for crowds or a din. The announcer was the same young woman who has led other Hungarian events we've attended. "We thank you for your patience, the show will start soon, There are many children's groups participating. Getting the children together can be a hassle." Jared and I snorted. Multilingual speakers are fantastic.

 I never tire of photographs of photographs.

The music began - violin, cimbalom, double bass, a woman on vocals - the traditional nasal singing. Dancers, more singers.

Overall, I like Hungarians. I have more experience with them than any other ethnic group, since I married one. Generally, very generally, they don't know about "personal space". They stare. They grab you by the arm and the waist and whirl you around the room - you're there to dance, igen?
Gender is not blurry, just different. Older women will dance and dance and dance with their female friends and family, in ways that couples might dance. Hungarian dancing is quite chaste, there's often about eight inches distance between partners and zero movement of the hips, but plenty of hand holding and arms around waists.

Men hug, touch hands. Hungarian masculinity is not assailed by carrying feminine objects. Jared carried my shoulder bag around the street festival. I considered telling him I could carry it, as I might at some typical street festival, but it seemed quite all right for a guy to carry a woman's shoulder bag. I can't really describe it, but Hungarian men are different.

Before we entered the hall, I told Jared that I'd take Beren out if it was overwhelming. That way, Jared could stay and watch the show. At our last Hungarian cultural event, I was whirled around a cramped room by a young Hungarian woman who's boyfriend was a wallflower. Jared chased an overwhelmed, pink-faced Beren around the room.

Dancing in slip ons!

I was distracted. I wondered if Jared could see through the guy who insisted on standing in front of us, though everyone else was sitting on the floor behind him. Finally, Jared asked him to sit, and he replied in Hungarian. Jared said something in Hungarian, but all I could understand was "Köszönöm" or "thank you" as the man sat down. I wondered if Beren was ok. I felt hot, headachy, though I enjoyed the music tremendously.

A toddler complained to her mother who sat next to us. She climbed into he mother's lap and began to nurse. Beren watched. He wrapped his arm around my neck and squeezed tightly for longer than he's ever done. "I love you so much, Momma."

Group after group performed. Kids clambered around. People came and went. Beren sat on my lap, briefly standing now and again to watch the children perform with staffs or the men kick and slap their black boots in time with the music.

We left as the final group bowed. The color left Beren cheeks once we were on the street. He happily ate two ears of corn, a sausage, and one chocolate palascinta. Not bad for a few hours off the mountain.

Friday, June 5, 2015


A couple nights ago, I tossed the painstaking instructions for a bunch of Lego sets. I was on a cleaning, reorganizing, tidying tear at 11 p.m. I didn't dare wait a week until the recycling pick up. They'd be discovered for certain, and then, I'd hear: "My stuff is in the recycling. WHY?!? How did this happen?!?"

The trash was picked up this morning. There's no going back.

Evidence of Lego-related injury
After climbing back on the couch, getting a little cuddling, turning little whimpers into little giggles, and making this photograph, Beren told us, "There were two bad things about today. The chip bag getting wet and falling into the Legos."

Goofin'. "This is garbage!" Beren says and laughs. He loves to empty the toaster oven crumb catcher.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


 If I could bottle something, it would be the sound of Beren's laughter. It's born of the fountain of youth. When Jared and I get a good laugh going, I age backwards.


One afternoon I noticed a long black strand in my cup of coffee. I kept drinking it. The strand went in my mouth. It went back into the cup. I sipped until I could see what it was attached to. Cave cricket.


Luckily, I got Beren buckled up. I was worried there might be a fight. There were already tears. "I don't want to go home!" "Where do you want to go?" "My tractor store!" A few miles down the road and that much closer to home, the conversation was still tearful. "I don't want to go home!" "What color is your tractor store's roof?" "Orange and black." "Stripes or checkers?" "Both." "Does it have curtains?" We made it home ok, but there were more tears and lots of cuddles once I parked the truck in our driveway.


Misheard botany:
Columvine (columbine)
Hot cornbeam (hop hornbeam)


A little boy tells his smiling and stunned parents:

Upon seeing a single sprig 6" long, "Is that knotweed?"

While driving 65 down Route 78, "That's all autumn olive." and then, "Was that sumac?"

Walking in our field, which was conventional corn and soy before we (trashed it - likely what the local corn and soy boys think) (recovered it - what we think) (you decide), "This is box elder, not poison ivy, because the stem is glaucous."

I've often said that anyone can learn plants, and I think I'm learning that's true.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Four and half and it's spring

"I have a store called Wrecking Ball Fun," Beren tells us. Sounds like a store in Japan, Jared and I agree.
If a parent uses patience and kindness, a four year old will eventually stop crying and tell you why a day was "mixed up" and things were "turned out". A Mountain Kitten can also help with distraction and wiggly cuddles.

I love when we work together as a family, when things go spontaneously well. Spontaneous, ha! I think Jared and I continually considering how to make things work. Then again, there really are those moments when everyone takes up their role with ease.

Parent-child art at home. I wish there were more parent-child classes. I love watching other teachers. I like sitting back a being a bit of a kid - there's some other adult in charge, and I get to be with my child, too. I love watching teachers who are loose, relaxed, and have only the expectation that something will happen and the child will lead the way.
I found myself prodding and coaching Beren at a craft table at Warren County Preservation Day. The project was to make a dream catcher. "Back off!" I told myself. I chatted with the woman running the table and another mom who had brought her daughter to the craft table. Turns out, we're country neighbors (we will in the same township), we have a couple mutual acquaintances, and I'd actually been introduced to her husband by those acquaintances via email when I was looking for names of plumbers.

When I finally looked down, Beren had nearly finished coloring his creation of beaded pipe cleaners and feathers. It looked like a peace sign.

Night, Animals. Duck, who is in the middle, got extra blankets to cover the belly area. This was so sweet, I had to take a photo.