Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Beloved Summer Pastime of Eradicating Pantry Moths

I don't think I ever blogged about our pantry moths.

Actually, I know I didn't. Because I remember starting a post about them and then thinking, "this is just too embarrassing!" and I never posted it.

So, here I am, posting about it now. Because it's been a year and we're still dealing with them, and I don't care how gross it is, I NEED HELP.

When I advertise that we live in an urban cottage, it's pretty much true. By square footage it's bigger than a cottage, but it has a very cottagy feel with it's low ceilings, it's non-minimalist decor, and it's shabbiness. It also has a lot of flaws, and a lot of bugs. We live in a very damp area of the river valley and so we have a constant ant problem (when an area entomologist was consulted it was basically a "too bad for you, you're never getting rid of them" scenario) among other crawly things. We just have a lot of bugs, and since they aren't snakes (further up the hill in both directions there are tons of snakes!) or bats (I love bats, but not in my house,) I consider myself lucky.

Last summer I came out one night from putting the girls to bed to find Martin watching something on the wall above our little freestanding pantry in kitchen. He said, "Look at this little inchworm. It started out way down here, and now it's all the way up here!" He was really impressed by the progress of this little yellow "inchworm."

I took a look. Oh, gag. "Um, that's not an inchworm. O-M-G. Martin, that's a maggot." I was horrified. I almost threw up. I'm can take a lot of grossness, but maggots making their way up my kitchen wall is about at the limit of what I can handle. And then it got worse. We looked around the corner and saw a whole collection of them crawling along the hallway ceiling. I was ready to light a match and burn the house down right then and there.

At first I was too disgusted to even think, but after the maggots had all been flushed, I considered the problem and where it could be coming from. We didn't have flies, or any other critters that I would necessarily consider maggoty. The only thing we really had a lot of were ants and moths.


Then I realized that part of our glorious summer (last summer was really a great one) had been spent admiring the moths in the pantry. Every time I'd open the pantry door a little host of moths would flutter out. Sometimes we'd catch them and release them outside the kitchen door, but mostly we just let them be because the girls and I thought they were sweet and beautiful, and what harm could a moth do, anyway?


You guys, I didn't know about pantry moths. I didn't know they were a thing, so when I was living in harmony with the moths in my pantry, I had no idea that they were eating and pooping and birthing in my dry goods. I HAD NO IDEA. I don't even remember what clued me into the idea of pantry moths, but Google can solve all the problems of the world and it was discovered that that was our problem. We stayed up half the night clearing out the pantry and finding little collections of webs and *more maggots* on every shelf. (Even just writing this is making my skin crawl and it was almost a year ago. You can see why I was embarrassed to talk about it!) Then we were absolute crazy people about keeping moths out of the pantry and out of our life.

Except, it's not an easy fix. The good news is, they've remained confined to what we call "the bird room," which is the bedroom next to the kitchen where we keep our parakeets. I'm pretty sure that the Bird Room is where these nasty things emerged from in the first place, in some batch of long-ago purchased birdseed. And since we don't keep any of our people food in that room, it's better that the problem be there than in our kitchen, but STILL. I would rather the problem be GONE. Almost every day I go into that room and kill between fifteen and fifty pantry moths. I kill all that I can see. And then the next day THEY'RE BACK. I have no idea where they're coming from and no idea how to stop them. Are we getting more with each new bag of birdseed we buy? Will they not be eradicated until the parakeets are all dead? And don't parakeets live for practically ever?!?

This morning when we were cheerfully getting ready for our day, Ingrid and I spied a moth outside the bird room. Then there were more--there were about six moths fluttering around in the hallway and we went into full attack mode. She had her strip of toilet paper and I had my tennis-racquet bug zapper thingy and we tackled the problem without mercy. They just kept appearing. They are worse than they've ever been and I'm losing my mind over it. While it's pretty cute to see Ingrid excitedly leaping around in her undies trying to nab moths with her tiny bit of toilet paper and her poor coordination, I really wouldn't miss giving up this summertime activity.


I will be forever grateful.

P.S. You may remember last summer that I did post about our bout with lice. One of the reasons I was embarrassed to post about our moth problem was that the moths and the lice were happening at the same time. Imagine finding maggots on your ceiling and bugs living in your daughters' hair within days of each other. If my self confidence as a clean human had been low before, you can imagine how far down in the dungeon it was dwelling during those weeks of infestation. Yeesh!

Monday, June 11, 2018

What do you do with a Regression?

As we approached the end of our homeschool year I was filled with plans for the summer. Everything was going SO WELL. Our mornings were spent schooling, but in the afternoons the girls would be occupied for hours playing outside, climbing the tree, sidewalk chalking, playing on the swingset... there were not enough hours in the day for us to get in all our play, and the play that happened was a picture of harmony. It was beautiful.

For about three weeks.

When we ended school for the year, I had a list of books I wanted to read, I vowed to keep an immaculate house, and I even decided that this would be the summer that I really wrote something substantial. I felt like it was the perfect time, seeing as my children got along so well and were so independent. Three of them are solid readers, Ingrid's potty issues seemed to have resolved themselves, and even the annoying quirk of Elka not wanting to go into separate rooms of the house alone was apparently an outgrown habit. Anja and Greta had begun making their own breakfasts and both could reach the kitchen tap, which meant two less people asking me for water throughout the day. I felt like a free person. This was my time. This would be three months of focusing on my own creative outlets for the first time in years, and I was pumped.

I don't understand how they knew. I don't know what prompted them to regress to utter savagery as soon as I announced that we were done with our school year.  I don't know what kind of super-powered brainwave readers they've got hidden in their bedroom laboratory, but it was only the second or third day of our summer break before I thought. WHAT. THE HECK. HAPPENED. My big plans for lazy days at the patio table reading and sipping sun tea were smashed. All the short stories swimming around in my head that I was finally going to write? Ha! Not a word. I have been working so hard just to keep up with the constant needs of these girls, I haven't had time to do much of anything for myself. (Although I did read a very zippy biography on Hans Christian Andersen that was written for children, but that's for another blog post.) Friday night was stormy so I got out the paints for all of us to paint at the table together. It ended with Ingrid painting the kitchen floor using her body as a paintbrush. It was not an especially productive or meditative painting session for me.

The fault really is mine, though. I was delusional, as usual. Just like I don't leave for my obligations until the actual time they start because I don't understand physics--or life really--I somehow thought that having my children UNOCCUPIED for THE ENTIRETY OF THE DAY was going to make less work for me. What?! WHAT?! Why on earth did I think that?! It's because I don't understand life, that's why.

Also, one of my best talents is forgetting. So, I guess I just forgot. I forgot about wet swimsuits seven times a day. I forgot about the mud play. I forgot about the scattering of dirt across every floor, the bits of nature left on every surface, the need to change clothes every few hours, the constant hunger, and the boredom that comes from days upon days of undevoted time. I forgot about the drippy nature of summertime snacks and the necessary cleanup that follows. (And, depending on the mood, the tears.)

And they must have inherited my talent for forgetting because it seems they've forgotten a lot as well.  Like how their legs work. Since I'm not so clearly busy instructing anymore, they seem to view me as just their errand runner. "Can you please bring me my marker box?" "Will you bring me my coloring book?" "Oops, I dropped that bit of string next to my chair. MAMA I CAN'T POSSIBLY LEAN OVER TO PICK UP MY STRING MAMA PICK UP MY STRING FOR ME WAAAAAHHHH"and so on.

Also forgotten: How to flush.

And the biggest thing I myself forgot, of course, was that the whole idea with homeschooling is training your children to go through life in an always-learning mental state. This means questions about everything. Talking about everything. So, if I'm not reading to them, if I'm not actively teaching them, they are observing in everything they do--(WHICH IS A REALLY GOOD THING)--and they are asking questions about absolutely...... everything. Every bug. Every plant. Every thought. Every moment of wondering. Some of these questions turn into excellent conversations that make me glad we're continuing along our Path of Passive Learning during the summer months. But sometimes the questions are more... bizarre. Like last night, when Ingrid was falling asleep (At ELEVEN O'CLOCK because our sleep schedule was wacky this weekend!) and she got really excited with this idea about magic fingers that could talk, and you could talk to your fingers and ask them to pick up something and they would, and I thought...... isn't that just, like, the nervous system? But she was so excited about her idea that I played along and told her how amazingly cool that would be. This is a good example of the conversations that happen with Ingrid around here. They generally range from "kinda weird" to "super weird."

In the end, I'm glad it's going this way. I could do without the sister squabbles, but I know even those have their place. (Although the screaming and hitting is getting old.) Endless empty hours to fill are part of summertime and I'm glad they're getting a break from the more rigid school year. Next year Anja and Greta will be in 5th and 4th grades, which means a more regimented school year learning heavier topics, so I'm not sorry to see them idling away these carefree days. And maybe with heavier bookwork for them I'll end up getting my own creative time. Until then, I'll just try to be content with wiggling in times for myself where I can, knowing that our summers of this style are going to end before I know it. I saw a meme the other day that said "You only get 18 summers with your child." Waterworks! Eighteen is not a very big number and I'm halfway done with two of my children! I've never jumped aboard the "Word for the Year" movement, but I like to think about words that could fit my life, and one would definitely be Savor. I'm pretty good at savoring the moments, but I could always be better, especially when I start itching to ship the kids far away so I can just have some time to do my own thing. I'm going to work hard at reminding myself, when I feel that way, that I've only got eighteen short summers of finding unflushed toilets, so I'd better savor it while I can!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

That Time My Daughter Folded All the Laundry

Out of my four daughters, only Greta is exceptionally clean. She really appreciates cleanliness and hygiene; she showers every other day and very thoroughly. She's an obsessive hand-washer. She keeps her drawer organized the Kon-Mari way, picks up toys without being asked (not always, but frequently,) and has been known to wash the dishes for me. But her really big thing is laundry. She likes to have all her clothes clean and in her drawers, at all times. (Impossible. Sorry, G.) She isn't tall enough to reach the knobs for the washer (we have an apartment size stack unit,) or the detergent, but she IS able to climb up and get the clothes out of the dryer, then put the wet clothes in to dry. And sometimes she helps me fold clothes, especially if she's feeling upset about something, it's always been kind of her way to hang out with me and talk things out.

Laundry is only halfway my favorite part of housework. I really enjoy the DOING of the laundry--the sorting, the washing, the switching, the drying, and so on--but when it comes to folding and putting away... I suck. And while I may have the World's Tiniest Washing Machine, I make up for that by having the World's Most Enormous Laundry Basket! And it's usually OVERFLOWING.

So, a few days ago--who knows what I was doing all day--it was the first day of our official summer break from homeschool. It was a little funny because the girls didn't know quite what to do with themselves without our morning school routine, but I guess I had plenty to do, because I did not experience the same level of boredom. Toward the end of the day it somehow comes out that all day long Greta had been folding clothes... THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE LAUNDRY BASKET. Matched socks, undies put away, each person with her own pile, then tucked nicely into each assigned drawer. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. It was a total gift, and I gave her all the tremendous thanks she very much deserved, but on the inside, I was weeping. I felt like the laziest slug of all. How could a NINE YEAR OLD finish the chore that had been hanging over me SINCE CHRISTMAS?!? How could I have gone so long without accomplishing that simple piece of work? It took Greta a big part of the day, but SHE DID IT. Why couldn't I do it? It wasn't just that I was lazy... Every day I woke up staring at that overflowing laundry basket and every day I vowed to tackle it, and to conquer it once and for all. And every night I'd got to my bed, and there that laundry basket would be. Just sitting there. Still full. Laughing at me. WHY WAS IT SO HARD TO JUST GET THE LAUNDRY FOLDED?!?!?

I did mention my regret over this aloud in front of the girls. I couldn't keep it in, I felt SO BAD. And do you know what I was met with? Greta told me it was just her way of helping out because she didn't know what to do all day without having any school work to do, and Elka chimed in saying that I don't have time to fold the laundry because I'm busy doing so much other work during the day.

It really was a comfort to hear that, but at the same time, I was doubtful. I mean, truly, WHAT am I getting accomplished in my days? I have four children who are almost entirely independent. I have no diapers, no nap times, I can let them play outside by themselves, they can even get their own cups of water when they're thirsty. SO WHAT AM I DOING!??

After a few days of thinking it over and really observing my days, I've figured it out: I do nothing. So much of my day is filled with mundane nothing tasks. The little girls still like me to stay in the bathroom with them, so I end up spending SO MUCH TIME just standing in my bathroom, usually listening to weird stories or dreams from the night before. I spend a lot of time trying in vain to fix Unfixable Objects--broken toys, broken sticks, broken bananas. More listening to dreams. I make food... Oh my gosh, SO MUCH FOOD. Then I clean up the food. And while the food is still being consumed, Elka always drops her fork at least three times. I sort drawings into "keep" or "toss" piles. I watch. So much watching. I watch people stand on one leg and hop. I watch people make funny faces in the mirror. I watch people ride their bikes with their legs sticking out. I also read freshly written stories and am privileged to view new dollhouses made of empty butter boxes. I vacuum a million times a day because #NEWFOUNDLANDLIFE.

All that food prep and clearing creates dishes to be washed. Martin usually calls in the afternoon to talk, during his break between work clients.  Elka and Ingrid still love finding pictures in their food, so I spend an absolutely ridiculous amount of my days observing (and taking pictures of!) bits of food that look (to only them) like funny objects.

(Pictured: A "cave" in a.... I don't even want to know what that piece of utterly unrecognizable food is. Ew.)

I admit that I do a lot of daily yard work. Our yard is a wild beast that needs tamed and it's very hard to keep up with. Slowly I've been taming it--basically turning the whole thing into garden beds. I do this while the girls play outside, and from the yard I can't see my laundry basket.

Ingrid, being only freshly four, is still very enthusiastic about things like swimsuits and fancy dress-up dresses, but she needs some assistance with the straps and clasps and zippers and whatnot. And of course, with arms through leg holes and heads through arm holes, comes lots of crying. And comforting.

Then, a lot of the days, I actually take them places.

(At Happy Hollow Park)
Or help them navigate domestic experiments.

(Elka and Anja made their own sourdough starters from scratch... Elka's is doing REALLY well.)

And there's still the set up and light monitoring that comes with our normal, every day activities. 
(Painting. Always.)

And really, when I think about it, my house is a lot cleaner than it was when I was holding babies all day every day.

So, gosh, what DO I do all day? So little. So much. There are many days when I think I could probably slip away and these girls could run the house themselves perfectly smoothly. The only thing that would be really lacking (besides nutritious food, because let's face it, my girls' favorite thing to cook is chocolate cake and if I were out of the picture they'd be eating chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) is the watching and the affirmation. And even still, sometimes once they're tucked into bed at the end of the day, I feel like I didn't watch them enough. I didn't pay close enough attention to that newly learned somersault, or I didn't really listen so carefully to that exceedingly drawn out story of something funny that had just happened. I'm here listening and watching all day long, and still it doesn't always feel like enough. I often wish I could find the time in a day to write down every cute thing they do all day long because tomorrow they won't be doing it anymore. I'm so busy soaking up their childhoods spent with me that I guess I don't care about the laundry as much as it should. That's what it comes down to.

I am SO appreciative of the work Greta put in to help give me a restart on my laundry debacle. I've vowed to keep up with it and quickly fold each tiny load as it comes out of the dryer instead of saving  it for later until it builds up to be an insurmountable task. And Greta learned about giving and helping and gifts of service and love, so that's hard to regret. But in thinking it over, I see that my days are full of very important tasks of listening and loving, and if that means Mount Laundry gets a little scary, well, so be it. I have plenty of years ahead of me to sit and fold laundry quietly without missing out on anything else. For now, I might just let it grow right alongside these funny girls.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mothers Day is Weird

So, Mothers Day always feels kind of weird to me. I guess this is because Motherhood feels weird to me. Still. After more than a decade of it. I just feel like Mothers Day was a lot better when it was just a fun time to get together with my cousins and extended family to celebrate my mom, grandma and aunts, and eat morel mushrooms and other foods that my uncles made that one day every year, and imagine a far off and distant land in which I would someday have cute little live babies of my own instead of just Barbie dolls. Mothers Day sounded great when it seemed so far off. But then it actually came upon me. It's shocking to wake up one fine Sunday in May and realize, OH. This day is about ME now. It's only a little less shocking than becoming a mother.

Motherhood just kind of happened to me. It came suddenly, a lot earlier than I'd expected it and I didn't have the faintest idea what I was getting into. I liked babies alright, but I had never LOVED them. Babysitting was for the birds and the only infants I knew and actually enjoyed were my nieces and nephews. (Still my favorite people.) So when the time came when I was sitting face-to-face with my own offspring, I was a little bewildered. Okay, a lot bewildered. And that feeling has never really gone away completely.

I'm not a good mom. On bad days I think about sending them off to someone else (forever), or hint at Martin that maybe he should go looking for a new wife who would do a better job than I ever could of this child rearing thing. Good days are when no uncomfortable topics are broached, we play happily all day, we actually LEARN something during school time, and the kids all get to bed at their actual bedtime, or at least sort of in the general window of it. I have absolutely zero qualifications for motherhood. Biologically, I'm old enough (creeping toward the "too old" mark, in fact!) but even speaking strictly biologically, I'm a 4x c-section mom--I'd totally be dead by now if it weren't for western medicine! My worthless birth canal would have gotten me off the hook FROM THE GET GO. Therefore,  I consider myself: naturally disqualified. I'm also a mix of the two worst parenting "styles": Helicopter and Permissive. Basically I just hover around my kids while they act like complete savages. I'm WATCHING them be all the bad parts of "wild and free." (And then I post about it on Instagram.)

An example of this would be from last weekend. We had guests. Actually, we've had guests at our house for the past three months, but this was the last of our guests and they were older people. They were very nice people. People who have really good table manners and remember to put spoons in the bowl of fruit for their guests. I, being not one of those people, forgot the spoon for the fruit and my children, being raised by me, just helped themselves with their hands, straight out of the bowl, like any barbarian in her natural habitat would do. I had thought this was going to be a nice patio lunch I was providing, and it turned out to just be a showcase of what a rotten mom I am, BECAUSE JUST WAIT IT GETS WORSE. 

I had tried to delicately explain Ingrid's bathroom troubles without going into all the nitty gritty detail. (In short, she's a withholder. She doesn't like to poop, she's convinced it will hurt, so she holds it in until she gets so constipated that it DOES hurt when she finally goes, and then the next time she can only remember it hurting so she doesn't want to go.... it's a bad cycle.) One of my "tricks" when Ingrid gets into these cycles is to let her go without undies because just having to deal with underpants in a moment of "maybe I have to go poo poo" is enough time to allow her to change her mind. Trust me, it's just better to leave them off. So, we had commando Ingrid sliding down the slide in front of our guests (Ha! Slide! AS IF we have an actual SLIDE. We have a freaking piece of plywood leaned against a homemade balance beam BECAUSE WE ARE TRASH BAGS) and I was given a friendly alert that Ingrid had forgotten her underpants! Whoops!

OH BUT JUST WAIT IT GETS WORSE. You know what's coming.

A little later, I got another friendly alert about Ingrid, who was hanging out awkwardly on the sidewalk near the kitchen door. "Ingrid's not constipated anymore!" Sure enough, all along the sidewalk she'd been pooping. So we gave her her promised Poo-Poo Prize, which was a little package of gummy bears.


The combination of being biologically and educationally unqualified and not having a speck of natural talent for the job is enough to make me worry that someday (probably after I've written this blog post that really lays it all out) somebody is going to catch on that I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. I mean, I'm still surprised to have these four living beings in my care. I don't feel old enough to have children. I don't feel mature enough to have children. I don't feel like I am mom-material in any way shape or form. Yet, here I am, answering to "Mama" and hanging out with these super cute, spunky sidekicks every day of my life. How the heck did this even happen?!

Since I don't know what I'm doing, I just go along with my life, doing what I do, allowing them to do it with me (so I can safely hover over them while they do tasks recommended for adults.) This method seems to be working out miraculously well--Greta now switches out my laundry loads and folds clothes without being asked. Anja hears we're going to a gathering and asks what she can make for it. (A cake! We all love cake!) Elka is a natural gardener and has taken over a chunk of the weeding and watering, as well as planting a cut flower garden. Ingrid... well, I don't know where she came from or who's in charge of her. I certainly don't go around pooping on sidewalks. But seventy five percent isn't a terrible success rate, is it?

I'm nowhere near a success and I certainly don't deserve to be celebrated. But I do consider myself INCREDIBLY LUCKY to be able to be with these girls every day. Last week we were learning about composers of the Baroque era, which meant sitting on the patio observing birds and drawing while listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I AM SO LUCKY.  During an evening storm last week we all cuddled together on the couch and read a chapter of Little Women because some of us are a little bit afraid of storms. I AM SO LUCKY.  Today we went to a Baptism (of my new nephew with the most adorable little tiny face!) and my kids were attentive, respectful, and kept their clothes on the whole time! I AM SO LUCKY.  I get to give reminders to brush teeth and fix hair into braids and wash grubby faces and deal with endless piles of loose drawing paper on a daily basis... I AM SO LUCKY. And even though I'm pretending not to know about the rose bush they got for me this afternoon to replace the rose bush they got me last year (which was a replacement for the year before... I have a really hard time keeping roses alive) it brought me such joy to listen to them outside with Martin planting it and to be ordered to stay away from the front of the house, and to see them scurry around trying to help me avoid that area. Even though I feel like a failure, I AM SO LUCKY.

I'm celebrating all the moms I know tomorrow--hats off you! To those of you who are on the path of success, to those of you who are hanging onto the back bumper of the struggle bus, to the grandmothers, godmothers, biological mothers, adoptive mothers, to the mothers who think they're failing--YOU ARE SO LUCKY.

I've got so, so, so many negative marks against me as a mom. But that number is nothing compared to the precious bits of life these girls give me every day! Happy Mothers Day to all the moms. Even though it still feels weird to be among you, I'm glad I am.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Compact Ecosystems (The Urban Backyard)

Oh my gosh, you guys, SPRING is HERE!! I am so, so unbelievably happy about this. Winter dragged on so far into the springtime months that I really thought I'd never see a green leaf again. I was just beginning to dip my toes into the Pool of Utter Despair (okay, let's be honest, I was already knee-deep) when suddenly we got a burst of warmth and sunshine, and everything erupted. Lilacs blooming, dandelions everywhere, little wild violets and white flowers I can't identify. The garden centers are open all over town, I laid out new garden beds and then ACTUALLY FILLED THEM WITH DIRT AND PLANTS. I've been pulling weeds! Things are really growing! It's amazing!

Over the years we've tried to improve our house on the inside and on the outside. Limited funds, limited time, limited skill... not everything gets done when or exactly how we'd like. But this year I really have devoted myself to the yard. I've got dreams for some things I can't do myself (like installing a fence along the back alley) but I was able to use some of our old wood stashed in the corner of the yard from the dying Tulip Poplar we had cut down years ago to build some fresh garden beds. I answered a Craigslist ad for free stone--it turned out to be my cousin!--and stoned in little flower areas. Martin put a picket fence panel across the top of the driveway, replacing the stick fence I made last year (which fell down, whoops) and closed in that area to make our entire yard secure for kids and dog. I set up some pallets to make a little fence wall for the girls' play area underneath the honeysuckle, and in another corner of the fence we tied up a hammock (an old woven baby wrap, idea stolen from my sister-in-law and her daughters!) and I put up an extra panel of picket fence behind that just for decoration. I've planted flowers all over the yard and vegetables in all the beds, and I'm really pleased with my own hard work. (Toot-toot! That's my own horn!)
This year I think I've finally kept my planting to a reasonable level. I started everything from seed (except some potted flowers) but I don't know if any of my seedlings are going to survive. They're definitely not thriving, that's for sure. But it's still early yet, I suppose. Back in April we bought some little strawberry plants and the girls and I set up a new bed for them--they look GREAT! My onions and garlic look fantastic too--actually, pretty much everything I bought as plants from other people is doing wonderfully, while the things I started inside on my own with all of my love and passion are sort of withering.

But it's not just plants that we're enjoying around here. Our little snippets of wildlife are giving us such joy! We don't have deer down here, unfortunately... we do have lots of urban deer in our town, even just a few blocks up the hill from us, but our neighborhood doesn't have much in the way of woods, so we have to be content to watch our birds and insects, but we do have lots of birds and insects! We keep our feeders filled and really enjoy watching our feathered friends (and bushy tailed thieves) visit for snacks. But today we saw something we'd never seen before!

Right before dinnertime Anja noticed a bunch--I mean, hundreds--of baby spiders coming up from the dirt under the old air conditioning fan thingy that is in the yard. (We don't have air conditioning anymore and we really need to have that thing removed.) They were SO TINY, and they all crawled up a thin web, then they spun their ways over to this trash can (we sound so dumpy right now, and I can't even deny it, we really are,) then from there to the bird feeder. There were SO MANY TINY BABY SPIDERS. And I'm not a lover of spiders, but these things really were so cute. They were just unbelievably little, and yellow, with a little bit of black on them. So, from their web that they'd made, they hung out for awhile, AND THEN! THEY STARTED DRIFTING AWAY ON THE WIND ONE BY ONE!!! It was JUST LIKE in Charlotte's Web when the baby spiders go parachuting away. It was so, so beautiful, I can't believe we were lucky enough to see it. Some of them went up to the top of the bedroom window where I bet they will stay. Some of them ended up all over us, haha, and some just went off to who knows where. It was seriously amazing, I've never seen anything like it. Over the span of about three hours they almost all went away; I counted 20 still on the web when we headed in for baths and bed. A basic Google search lead me to believe they are orb weavers, or garden spiders, and extremely beneficial to the environment while typically not inviting themselves into homes. So basically they're my favorite spider.

I am beginning to see an odd benefit to having such a small space (and this is made better by our awesome neighbors who yard-keep in the same spirit as we do) in that we don't need to look far for these little miracles. There is an intimacy that comes with all of our nature-ing being crammed into a teeny urban backyard. The birds are friendly, so we get up-close views. Things as tiny as baby spiders don't go unnoticed. Snakes, centipedes, worms (we love worms!), all kinds of creepy crawly things are in abundance and just waiting to be observed. (Okay, snakes don't come in abundance, but we have had a few over the years.) And our bees!
With our beekeeper friend we opened the hive last week and found all of our busy, buzzy friends are thriving in there. Anja has really become brave in her beekeeping. I love these things. They are beautiful and fascinating and whatever breed they are (they were caught wild by our friend pictured here,) they are SO docile. Our only stings have been accidental, except for Martin--they don't seem to like him very much and tend to go into attack mode when he's around. But the girls and I can go right up to the hive door and observe them for as long as we want and they don't seem to care at all. (I think they can sense our peacefulness.) We also have mason bees making homes in various places in our yard--also insanely cool to watch. 

We've got a good spot here. And even though this afternoon I was reminiscing on our cozy winter nights of Hot Buttered Rum and Poldark binge-watching, I am so incredibly glad it's not winter anymore. In fact, I think a measurable portion of my days lately has been spent standing in the middle of the yard exclaiming, "It's such a beautiful day!" to the kids who have started ignoring me. It's not that they don't notice the beauty of the day--they're just too busy setting up their mud pie pastry shops to comment.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Life you Share

Let's just start out with a universal truth: Life is hard. No matter who you are, no matter how relative hardship is, everybody struggles with something.

These days my life is really pretty good. Probably the easiest it's been in a long time. We still don't have any money, but I just don't feel the press of needing a lot of money anymore, which feels as freeing to me as a bigger paycheck. I don't have any babies or toddlers, which seems crazy, but at the same time... really nice. No nap times to juggle my days around. No diapers to mess with. No frantically digging small objects out of a crawling baby's mouth. No leaking breasts, no leaking infants... heck, we don't even use a stroller anymore. My life is a breeze.

One thing I do tend to struggle with from time to time, though, is the old social media comparison game, specifically when it comes to magical locations. It can seem--based on social media--that everyone and his brother are homesteading merrily these days, keeping a small flock of chickens and some livestock, romping in the fresh air and luscious grass, soaking in all the beautiful and extraordinary benefits of Country Life. And I'm not here to underrate the fabulousness of living in the country. After all, at one time this was the view out my bedroom window:

And then we moved to a different homestead and this was my view:

Want to know what my yard view is these days? This: 

No one has ever said to me, "Oh, what idyllic scenery you have!" while we've lived in this house.  So surprising. Hm.

When we lived in the country, I really thought I had everything I could want or need. I had animals--I love animals!-- I had space to dream and plant and let my kids run wild. I had sunsets, and fresh picked wildflowers, and walks to the creek, and as much time to myself as I would need in three lifetimes. I've never jumped aboard the Introvert/Extrovert bandwagon and have never strongly associated with either term. Sometimes I feel very Introverty and don't want to be around people for long stretches of time. Sometimes I feel very Extroverty and need people around me in order to feel charged. It just depends on the day. But one thing I noticed after three years of living such an isolated life was that I felt like I was missing something. I had everything I wanted and it was all so beautiful and I had no one to share it with. One of the happiest little stretches of time for us was a few weeks when my teenaged nephew was routinely coming over in the evenings to lift weights with my husband. Afterward he'd come back to the cabin and we'd all have dinner (usually I saved him back some leftovers, but in any case, he came back to the house to eat and visit.) It was so delightful and I really felt like we were sharing what we had with someone, something I didn't quite realize was so important to me. You know in Little Women when Marmee says about Aunt March, "her blessings became a burden because she had no one to share them with"? Looking back, I realize that was a big part of my feeling so isolated. Having all of that perfection and idyllic space was great for my family and me, but we weren't sharing it with anyone. Looking back at that time from where I am now, I can see that while we were living for God in many ways, something else was lacking.

Because I'm Catholic I have such a viewpoint, but non-Christians might just think of this as "being the best person you can be." I felt we were doing a good job of being stewards of the earth, but there's more necessary on our path: We are called to Be Christ and to See Christ through all the works of mercy. We can be Christ to someone in the way we treat them and we can see Christ in everyone we meet, especially those in need. When I lived with just my family so far from town, our world seemed very small. We could be Christ and see Christ among ourselves, but beyond that there were few opportunities. Fast forward to us returning to life in our downtown house, and, oh my! The opportunity for charity abounds. I'm not by any means saying this is the only way, or even that I'm such a good person--I'm saying that here I am confronted with the Christs of the world rather than being able to hide from them. Because I'm not very naturally motivated to go looking for ways to practice the works of mercy, it's necessary that I live in a place where the works of mercy just come--literally--knocking at my door. (This is because I'm not really a good person--I'm lazy and my two best talents are procrastination and avoidance.)  In the country God might have said, "drive into town and see if you meet Me along the way," and I could respond easily with, "No thanks! I'm pretty comfy here at home." But in our current location God says, "HERE'S A HOMELESS PERSON, DO WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO." It's a much more direct way.

A year ago we traded in all prospects of a country lifestyle for this urban life. And almost immediately upon our return, we were given opportunity to practice being a face of charity. Some ways are only pleasant--people drop in for visits constantly, especially on the weekends. If friends have a window of wait time between obligations, instead of sitting in their cars, they can come here for a cup of coffee and a chat. We are able to talk to strangers on the street and be a voice of pleasantness to them, almost every day. We have this huge dog who inevitably makes people smile, which is nice. We have close neighbors, and are friends with the librarians--last weekend the girls picked little bouquets of wildflowers from the yard, wrapped them with yarn and a tag on each that said, "Here's a bouquet to brighten your day!" and delivered them to the couple next door and to all the librarians working in the children's room that afternoon. These are the easy, pleasant things. The less easy, but just as important things are when people approach us for money. Or when someone stops by at a moment when I'm feeling more Introverty. Or when someone needs a place to stay for awhile and we have an empty guest room. Those are opportunities that are only presented because of our downtown location. And sometimes it's hard, but it can feel less hard when I think of how we are being Christ and/or seeing Christ. 

And of course, in the end, it's all about the example I'm setting for my children. There are so many different flavors of childhood that one can have, and we dabbled in giving ours one of the rural variety. But how much of our independence was laced with a little bit of hiding from the rest of the world? It's important to note that even though we had *plans* of making our homesteads into something that wasn't just for ourselves, we never made it that far, so the reality was that we were only living for ourselves. We were not producing anything for anyone else. We were not helping other homesteaders. We weren't helping anyone! We were just living for ourselves, by ourselves, because even though we wanted to grow into something shareable, we didn't have the means to do that. If the message I want to send my children is how to live for others, we were not succeeding at that in our rural life. It was a lot of, "let's just stay home and pick flowers today... and tomorrow... and forever!!..." In our current spot, the door is open for us to be good people in a circle much broader than just our own little family. And even though it's different, and even though it's sometimes hard, and even though I miss my goats, there's a good feeling that comes with this urban, shareable sort of life. 

And when I'm feeling super-duper Introverty and it's especially hard to take on all the peopley-ness of this life, I remind myself of how fortunate I am to have a home where people feel welcome. Together, my family and I have made a space where people seem to feel comfortable dropping in unannounced, where people know they can come if they have a need, even if that need is just someone to talk to for awhile. When I see that people know they can come here for whatever reason, I am filled with gratitude and joy. And I am repaid tremendously! By welcoming people into our life I have received so many great stories, advice, knowledge, and memories. Even though the view out my bedroom window is a scuzzy alleyway, this life is its own kind of beautiful. And I hope we never lose sight of that beauty and the joy that comes with opening our downtown door.

Friday, February 2, 2018


I love the idea of traditions, though I have complicated feelings about them. I am one who detests change. Truly. I dislike change so much that when we took out our disgusting white plastic countertops that were stained and broken and completely embarrassing and replaced them with beautiful solid wood butcher block countertops, I had an evening of regret. I felt sadness that I'd replaced the most awful countertops in the history of kitchens with what was, no joke, my dream countertops.

So, on paper, you might think that I would obviously LOVE traditions and view them as being very important and keep up with them year after year. You might imagine that when we partake in annual activities, we do the same festive things, eat the same festive foods, sing the same festive songs EVERY SINGLE YEAR. But you would be wrong, because there's a catch!

I don't actually have my life together at all. And so, even though I place great value on the idea of keeping traditions, a lot of times when the celebration time comes, I haven't gone to the grocery store, or I forgot what month it was, or I somehow lost all the key accessories to our tradition. Take, for example, some of our Christmas traditions. One is the feast of St. Lucy, for which "somebody" (always Anja) dresses up like St. Lucy and wakes everybody up at daybreak for breakfast.  The breakfast is supposed to be these really beautiful Santa Lucia rolls that have these lovely swirls and are beautiful, buuuuuuuut, our rolls looked a little bit different.

Our rolls came individually wrapped in plastic from the Fresh Thyme grocery store and they weren't even rolls! They were these chocolate croissants that I can never decide if they are yummy or gross! We unwrapped them, stuck some greenery on a cutting board, and TA-DA! Tradition! Another mishap with that tradition every single year is the costume. We used to have this white angel dress and long piece of red silk. Then one of the cats peed on the dress after the first year and the silk made it a little longer but eventually just kind of disintegrated into nothing. We still have it, but it looks more like a hankie now. So the night before the sunrise breakfast, I'm in the craft closet trying to find something red that will fit around Anja's waist. Thankfully I found this bit of reddish linen from a skirt project and the chamises from their costumes for our yearly historic festival we attend in the fall.  But then the whole headwreath thing was another--I didn't have any idea where the one from last year was (I made it out of floral wire and fake greenery) so I took this--literally the centerpiece from the coffee table--wedged some little candles in, snipped off some boxwood branches from outside the front door, and, TA-DA!! Tradition!

And while we're on the subject of Advent traditions......... I've pretty much given up on ever beginning lent with purple and pink candles. It's only happened one year when my sister-in-law sent us some.

So we use plain candles and red and pink ribbon instead.

Let's see, what's another tradition that I totally botch every year? Oh! I know! Waldorf window stars! You might think, if you know me, that waldorf window stars would OBVIOUSLY be something I do with my kids every year, probably I have stacks and stacks of kite paper and all the good Waldorfy books about how to fold these cool stars. Well, you would be wrong again. I've been parenting with Waldorf undertones for ten years and this was the FIRST year we made window stars! And you know what else? I didn't even know what kite paper was! But I ordered some from Amazon, and I am pleased to say I really think this WILL become tradition because I love them and they were loads easier to make than I thought they'd be.

The tradition that made me begin this post though is one of my favorites. Today is Candlemas (or yesterday was, since it's past midnight as I write this) and evidently in France, people traditionally eat crepes on this day. I didn't know that before today, but I do love crepes! We don't make them a lot because they're so labor intensive I save them for special occasions, but we probably make them four times a year. But this is my favorite tradition because of my treasured recipe:
I have only ever used the crepe recipe from Strawberry Shortcake's World of Friends storybook. It's a very long, very boring book, but when Anja and Greta were toddlers they LOVED IT, and it's what made us start making them in the first place, and so now every time we have a craving for crepes, our fate hinges on whether or not we can locate the Strawberry Shortcake book. Now this is a real tradition.

I guess what I'm saying is, sometimes traditions can be less than picturesque, or sometimes the picturesque traditions (like my window stars) aren't really traditions at all. They're just fun things we did on a Sunday afternoon before a party.

We do have one other winter tradition, which is going ice skating. It's always fun and it's always exhausting, but this year there was a little twist on the old tradition because I brought my elephant along!
Here's to all traditions, beautiful, junky, or pachydermic

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Downtown Gratitude

Every Thursday evening at 4:45 I hustle all four kids out the door and down to the Ballet School, which is exactly four blocks away from our house, as the crow flies. On leisurely days we cross at the lights and round the corners to get there; sometimes we see a police officer friend, sometimes we get honks and waves from familiar drivers. We always check the time and the temperature on the theatre marquee and all four girls love to stomp across the metal grates in the sidewalk that make the loudest noise. We pass the salon where the girls typically get their hair cut once a year before Christmas (except we didn't do that the years we lived away) and the candy stores where we have lunch with friends or ride our bikes for chocolates in the summertime. These are the things we pass if we take the long way. However, when we're running late, or when it's very cold, or very rainy, we take the more direct route, which is straight across the library parking lot, down the alleyway between the apartment buildings, across the police station/pizza joint parking lot, not crossing at the lights, then finally through the big parking lots to Main Street, where the ballet school is.

One night shortly before Christmas, Martin was home from work in time for me to walk Anja on my own, but we still took the short cut (which is easier with only two people.) It's always nice to have a little one-on-one time with my oldest. I dropped her off at the door of the school--a little white building nestled between a large old building that houses our favorite brewery, and the food co-op, (which at one time was a gift shop where I worked.) Anja delivered safely, I turned and began the walk home the same way we'd come, using the shortcut across the parking lots and through the alley. As I was coming across the parking lot, I was met with a view that really made my heart sing. It was such a blend of modern warmth and Dickensesque charm--ahead of me was the pizza shop, all lit up with neon signs and twinkle lights on the trees outside, then behind that, rising above into the twilight sky were the tops of the old apartment buildings, then to the left the very beautiful stone Presbyterian church. I could see just the top of the library roof, and a ways beyond that, out of sight, would be my little house. It was such a comforting view--the city where I was raised, the downtown neighborhoods where I've lived for fifteen years--such familiarity in this urban setting.

I was so grateful to see that and to know that we are back downtown. It's a feeling of great contentedness, to feel like I'm where I am meant to be. I was never unhappy when we lived in the country--I loved it. We loved the lifestyle there, and it suited us really well. But it's funny, in those three years away, I never stopped referring to this downtown house as home.

Later in December it snowed on a night I was meeting some girlfriends out for a birthday dinner. We were meeting at a new Japanese restaurant on Main Street and had I not been only four blocks away, I probably wouldn't have gone because I don't like to drive in the snow. But instead, I put on my snow boots and walked. When I arrived there were seven of us total, and four of us had walked through the snow to meet each other. It was such a neat experience. As we were getting ready to leave it started snowing again, the most incredible snowflakes, so perfect they were unreal--it was like being on a movie scene, the snowflakes were so light and powdery. Being a Friday night, there were lots of people out and about, and as we parted ways everyone was so cheerful. The groups of strangers making their ways to the restaurants and bars and theatre were all so happy. It was one of the most magical walks home I've ever had, like walking through a perfect snow globe.

And maybe I'm biased. Maybe I look at this area with rose tinted glasses because it is home to me and everyone loves their own home the best. But I really think this place is something special. More than that, I'm just grateful that these views are mine, every day.

Monday, January 8, 2018

I'm Late to my Resolution (surprise, surprise)

It's a new year! 2017 is in the past (I know a lot of people who are pretty glad about that) and a shiny new year has begun. A clean slate. An opportunity for fresh starts and second chances. For resolutions! It shouldn't surprise any of you that I don't do New Year resolutions very well. Some people choose a word to see them through the year, and I've read a lot of really good ones in recent weeks. Some people step into the new year intending to make good, healthy changes to their lives, in their bodies or in their relationships, or just for their own pleasure. I really admire those people who can stick to something, who set high aims and do their very best to hit their mark. I think that's great! However, I am not that way. I try to be sometimes, but as the years go by it's becoming glaringly obvious that I'm really, really far from being an even vaguely organized person. In the kitchen, in homeschooling, in my music, in my resolutions. My life is messy and disorganized, and somehow I don't think people would feel very inspired if the word I chose for 2018 was "Chaos." 

So I did something different this year. Instead of saying, "This is the year that I WILL...(fill in the blank)," I said, "This is the year that I WON'T." This is the year that I'm just going to take what comes and try to use every situation as an opportunity to savor the moment. I'm not going to pile expectations onto myself or my kids. I'm not going to spend the year wishing I had more things or wondering when we can ever do such-and-such around the house.  I'll seize opportunities for action as they arise, but I'm not going to go looking for challenges. Because I'm lazy. Maybe that should be my word of 2018!

Here's really what I AM going to do: I'm going to remember that my kids will only be the ages they are at this time ONCE. I'm going to remember that this day is not plural. I'm going to remember that we seldom get warnings ahead of personal tragedy so if I'm not experiencing something devastating at any given time, I will be thankful. I'm going to remember that my kids are totally awesome and I'm the luckiest to be able to spend every day with them.  I'm going to remember that even though it can be a challenge to get everyone dressed and out the door, spontaneity ALWAYS makes memories. And I'm going to remember that we all have raincoats for a reason.

2017 was actually a really good year for us. We came back to our downtown house and settled in to stay. None of us wants to move ever again, not for land, not for chickens, not for a cow, not for a bigger garden. We love our house. And we've made some shifts and changes within the house that make us all love it even more, but mostly it just feels so much like home to all of us, even to Ingrid who was born when we were living on our first homestead.  Her first experience with this place was as en empty rental (that never rented)!  This year I just want to enjoy what we have. I want us to work our little urban garden boxes together and ride bikes and eat popsicles on the stoop and watch birds. 2017 was filled with all of those things and I think I did a pretty good job of appreciating what I had. I want to do it again this year, that's my only resolution. If I look at my days through the lenses of an outsider, it looks like this: The kids do their school work, we play games, we sew doll clothes, we make music, we draw and cook and talk and learn words and stories and history and myths... and our days just go by like that. There's no reason I shouldn't be looking at my own days just like that and thinking every day--despite the tantrums and the difficulties and the juggling of little girl emotions and bad habits and struggles-- "this is the good life." That can be my word for 2018! Or phrase, I guess. Because it's so true! This IS the Good Life.