Friday, August 17, 2018

Plant for Pollinators!

On Instagram the other day I posted a video of Anja, Greta, Ingrid and I singing a song we wrote last summer that we call "Plant for Pollinators." We love pollinators! Anja really got us to be pollinator advocates a number of years ago when she read about endangered bees and insects, and learned about the devastation that would come of losing our beloved pollinators. She had a "Save the Bees" booth at a local festival, and hung a sign on our front gate that said, "Don't Spray! Save the Bees!" Now we have one beehive in our yard (thanks to her) and we and our next door neighbors have filled our yards with pollinator friendly flowers and plants. It's a beautiful little urban ecosystem! 

Anyway, it's a catchy tune and little kids seem to like it, so I thought I'd print the words here for anyone who wants to sing it! Spread the pollinator love! 

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Hummingbird, big bee,
Little bee, Bat

Ladybug, Butterfly Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Ironweed, Milkweed, 
Columbine, Sage

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Goldenrod, Hyssop, 
Pincushion flower

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Bee balm, yarrow,
Borage, Catnip

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Moth and Bumblebee,
Plant for pollinators! 

And here's a link to the Best-We-Can-Do video on Youtube, haha! 

Keep singing, friends! 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Double the Fun

If you are active on any parenting themed Facebook groups or online forums, you probably recognize that a lot of the dialogue is based around the same handful of snoozy questions being asked by new members over... and over... and over...
"Not wanting to start an argument, but--what are your opinions on vaccines?"
"Needing fast, healthy meals to feed a family on a budget! GO!"
"Does this look like Hand Foot & Mouth to you?"
"Best breast pumps?"
"How many c-sections have you had?"
"I'm a mom of eight expecting number nine and I still have absolutely no idea what I'm doing PLEASE HELP."

One question that plays on repeat that always stands out to me is the "Those of you who have children close together: would you recommend it?" I find this question both puzzling and comical. For one thing, I DO have children close together, and if Greta hadn't been a "happy accident," there is absolutely NO WAY she would have come into being. I mean, when Anja (crankiest baby in the universe) was five months old, I had sworn off of anymore children EVER. Literally, Martin and I had decided that we weren't going to have any more children because Anja was SUCH a difficult baby and we had no idea what we were doing and life was just awful. When she was seven months old she'd turned a corner and was becoming a super fun toddler and had stopped crying all the time, and we were realizing why people thought having babies was a good thing. Still, we'd not changed our minds about having more.

Luckily, we are not in charge.

Anja and Greta are sixteen months apart, which at the time was both exciting and difficult. Anja really was the MOST FUN toddler after she grew out of her nightmarish babyhood, so by the time Great was born, I was happy to have closely spaced sisters. Being pregnant and having a baby was a little embarrassing, what with all the comments from strangers and stuff, but more than that I kind of wondered if I was destined to be the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe with her uncountable number of feral children. That thought was a little frightening.

After a rough figuring-things-out first few months, we fell into being a fine family of four. It was excellent having two small children at once. It helped that Anja was not a difficult toddler or child--no tantrums, fits, whininess... she was SO EASY. Greta was not what I would categorize as an especially "easy" human to deal with, but she was definitely entertaining. She wasn't a dangerous kind of crazy--she didn't put small objects in her mouth, or try to stick forks in the electrical outlets. She was energetic but not insane, and her fits were often over things so ludicrous that it was hard to not just laugh about it. And as the months and years went by the two of them became more and more of best friends. Inseparable. A Delightful Duo. The only big difficulties we encountered were when Anja had to start going to speech therapy and Greta was left behind. (She was not a fan.) Other than that, the did everything together.

I know that not all closely spaced siblings have this sort of relationship, and I feel so lucky that mine have.

But I'm not done.

So, one of the really great things about having two kids close together is that I get kind of a double dose of each age. After one really tremendous year passes for Anja, I think, "I don't need to be sad to say goodbye to this age, I have a whole year more of it with Greta!" Two was a big one. I LOVE TWO YEAR OLDS. All of these beautiful preschool and early childhood years chugged along, two at a time, and I was so happy to be able to really get my fill of each year before leaving it behind (until Elka caught up, three years later.)

Until Nine.

I think I've mentioned here before that my sister had warned me about Age Nine. "Nine Year Olds are weird," She said. She didn't really expand on that statement, but it was a subtle warning. And then, sure enough, shortly after Anja turned nine, I felt the jolt. Nine has by far been the most difficult age with Anja. (Shortly after she turned 10, she became her delightful old self again--it was truly ONE year of difficulty!) She cried ALL THE TIME. She was sassy. She was all the bad things you hear about teenagers, with the terrible attitude, the eye-rolling, the thinking her parents are stupid, the constant tears and emotional turmoil. It was terrible. And the whole time I was thinking, "I know this will end.... but I also know I might have another year of it."

And sure enough, I did.

Now Greta is nine. And I know it will end because Anja has already come out the other end of the tunnel and is wonderful again, but GOSH, nine is a hard age! We fluctuate between sadness, irrational anger, and sassiness all day long. There are SO MANY TEARS. Oh my gosh. The emotions. Oh my goodness. And then the just being a jerk, which is so hard for all of us. Oh my. Nine.

The good part of having two close together used to be that I got a doubler of every year. Now the good part of having two close together is that I can see the light at the end of the Tunnel of Nine. It's still just a speck in the distance right now... but I know it's there.....

So, if you're on the fence about having two children close together, my advice is, DO IT! Or, DON'T DO IT! It's wonderful and terrible all mixed together, just like every day of every life of every person in the world.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Progress, Regress, Rinse, Repeat.

I have four daughters, as most of you know: Anja, Greta, Elka and Ingrid. 

Anja and Greta are only sixteen months apart in age, so most of their early first two years are just a blur in my memory, when I was sure I was doing everything exactly wrong, when I felt I'd lost all of who I was to motherhood, and couldn't imagine there would ever BE a light at the end of the tunnel, I was so far away from it. But about the time Greta turned two, we all seemed to turn a corner together and realize that, hey! This was GREAT! The summer that Anja and Greta were a 3 and a 2 year old still lives as one of my absolute favorites. We just had so much fun. I dressed them in matching outfits every chance I got, we sang together, we drew together, we gardened together, and for the most part, they got along beautifully. It was so good, in fact, that I warned Martin that if we didn't have another baby soon, it might not happen, because I was beginning to not be able to imagine life any other way.

Three months after Greta turned 3, Elka was born. She was an answer to many prayers and that summer was another one of absolute perfection. She was an ideal baby that whole first year, my little June Treasure who could do no wrong. She slept well, she ate well, she was hilarious, and even during her 9 month sleep regression I remember being up in the night thinking how wonderful it was to have that one-on-one time with her.

Then Elka turned one. And she was very active and got bored easily and if I didn't give her something to DO, she was making mischief or screaming. She wanted to walk everywhere and climb everything. She was suddenly very difficult! She hit all her gross motor and language milestones super early, and it was as if after having Anja and Greta, who were pretty late bloomers in terms of milestones (especially Anja,) I just didn't know what to do.

That started a pattern with Elka, which is clearly continuing into her sixth year. The pattern is to grow out of her comfort zone, not know how to handle that growth, and be kind of a beast until she figures it out. This is so unlike how Anja and Greta have gone along that it still throws me for a loop ALL THE TIME. Now we're getting into school agedness with her, and I think, "You are clearly old enough to act better than this!" in a lot of situations where she just seems to be throwing fits like a two year old. I guess it's a combination of having big emotions and a very short fuse, along with thriving on responsibility, which can't always be given. I have watched her blossom in situations like being in the dentist chair alone, being the oldest child in a group, being a part of a group of children led by a non-parent adult, even when the activity was insanely long and boring. She has the ABILITY to be a perfect angel, and she will go spans of time exercising that ability with grace, during which time I rejoice and soak it all up. And then something as simple as her *thinking* someone had eaten all of her pretzels will send her into a full-blown, on the ground, kicking screaming fit. And I accept it and try to work through it and I even see progress in that fit, because she's not reacting with violence toward anything else, and that is a step in the right direction!

Of course when progressions are upon us, it's vividly clear and I can see, "oh! That's why she was so frustrated before!" A good example is reading. She went through a terrible behavioral regression right as she was on the verge of reading. Then, once she got it, she was a saint. She could distract herself with a book before she let her emotions get the best of her. And I realized, aha! She had been frustrated in her inability to read. She learned to read very much by herself and very much in private, as a late five year old. She knew she could do it, she devoted herself, and she conquered, but not without making the rest of us suffer.

Today was another good example. She woke up in a great mood, she got ready for church like a champ, and was awesome on the walk there. But once we got there, she was NOT on her best behavior. I was getting frustrated with her because she's gone through a long time of being EXCELLENTLY behaved at church, week after week. But suddenly these past weeks she's being so difficult again! I'm trying to recognize that she must be on the verge of a progressive leap of some sort, even though I don't know what is going on, and even though she's really testing my patience. From Mass, we walked home a new way and found a hidden Sharing Garden (which we'd been told about but hadn't been able to find until today.) We stopped and pulled weeds for awhile, and Elka was absolutely in her element. She pulled weeds and observed all the vegetables, and was a really good little worker the whole time we were there, then she cut two red zinnias for herself. In a garden with work to do, she feels like she has a purpose. Growing and tending are her passions and she blossoms (haha, punny, punny!) when she is put into a situation where she knows what to do and can do it with confidence. She likes to be brave. She likes to be responsible. And as a little sister, I think she struggles with finding opportunities like that.

Today has been mostly a progression day of behavior and attitude for Elka, as she's been awesome the whole rest of the day since stumbling onto that Share Garden. Some days just aren't like that. The good news is that every regression is a little less severe than the last and the progressions do keep happening. I'm predicting that once we start our school year she will have another bump in maturity--she does really well with being given a task to complete. She LOVES workbooks, and even though she writes "I Don't Like Copywork" on all her copy work sheets, I can tell she really does like it. She's also a great reader now, so that will help her keep up with her sisters in a lot of areas, AND she's learned to knit! Another activity she can do alongside her sisters with minimal frustration!

I know we'll hit another bump in a road. We will backtrack and have to deliberately work on keeping tempers in check. We'll have meltdowns over being unable to do something, or unable to do something "perfectly" (because she's a hot-tempered perfectionist, which is about the worst combination I can imagine!) and we'll have boredom-induced fits of nutty, aggressive behavior. But we'll just have to work through it, one regression at a time, and keep our eye on the inevitable progressions that will (please, please, please) follow.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The School Year is Looming

Well, whaddaya know.. it's August again.

If we're speaking in averages, August is "on average" my second least favorite month of the year. (The first is a tie between February and March, depending on weather.) August 1st rolls around and suddenly everybody's all about Autumn. I don't understand it! In my heart August is still within the absolute best part of summer--everything is ripe! It's ALWAYS warm! (Except a few years back when we had "Auguary," where it rained and was only in the 50s for like two weeks and we had to wear sweaters and jackets every day and it was absolutely horrible.) We can spend all our time outside! And a big reason Summer is the best: nobody judges you for being lazy in the summer! Because, "Oh, I understand, it's so hot." In the wintertime, if you're feeling unable to function because it's so cold, you're just a wimp, but in the summertime, weather is a totally acceptable excuse for not getting anything done. And the best part of August: We're still on summer break!


I think the reason people equate August with Autumn is because--well, except for their very similar spellings--August is when school starts back up. Summer vacation is over. Officially. It's back to early bedtimes, packed lunches, homework, after-school sports, signing permission slips, losing your lunch money, forgetting to bring something for show-and-tell, having to endure the humiliation of being called up to the blackboard to solve a math problem that you have no idea how to even begin.... And it's somewhere among that black hole of school memories that I realize--



We do start school in August, because after all the school systems have started back it feels kind of boring to not be doing school, but I feel so fortunate to be able to put it off until the end of the month rather than jumping into full-blown Fall when the tomatoes have just begun to get ripe. It doesn't feel natural!

This brings me to the actual point of this post, if I ever have a point, which sometimes I do, but it usually gets lost in all the tangents along the way. The point of this post is to say that FINALLY after however many years of homeschooling, I feel really confident in my chosen course. Homeschooling is getting really popular in my area, which has given me the opportunity to talk to a number of different families this summer about what their homeschool paths look like. It has been really neat to hear all the different mixtures of curriculums, methods, philosophies, and schedules that different families have found. There are SO many options! In years past when I heard of different methods of home education I either felt overwhelmed, or inadequate. But this year for the first time, I feel one hundred percent confident in the structure of our upcoming year. I'm even a little bit looking forward to it! Okay, that last part is kind of a lie.... I wish it could be summer forever. Especially since this one started out being so terrible but has since turned around and goodness, we have just been having the nicest days! But, the calendar rolls on, so I have been planning and preparing. We've ordered some books and maps, and each girl got a brand new eraser, which they were really kind of oddly excited about. I still need a few more things, but for the most part we're ready to roll. It's so freeing to hear about other people's plans and see with great clarity that their method would not work for us. I love the feeling of being able to encourage someone along their chosen path while saying frankly, "that is really not something I would be good at, but I'm so glad it works for you!" Because I AM glad it works for them. Because if we all did homeschool the exact same way that wouldn't be very homeschooly. Well, I mean, it would be SCHOOLing at HOME, but without the whole idea of freedom and doing your own thing, you understand.

Likewise, I can see the pictures of my friends' children setting off on their first day of buildingschool and I can be really happy for them! In fact, I may even get a little misty-eyed. Because I don't think buildingschool is terrible! I think it would not be the best choice for my children at this time.

My plan is to start our kitchen table schooling on August 27th, and I will NOT enjoy a pumpkin spice latte on that day because it will NOT be Fall yet, even though we'll be back at the books. And I intend to enjoy and savor this year, because I really think it's going to be a good one. And even if it's not, it'll be the only school year I get with a Pre-K, 1st, 4th, and 5th grader so I'd better live it up!

I wish all of you the best of luck in the new school year, no matter what your school looks like!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Rainy Day Fun Times

We've had a span of cool, rainy days here and while it's been kind of nice, in July I'd rather have the hot summery weather. Salads and pools and creek days, and getting by with as few clothes as is appropriate. That's what I love.

Still, yesterday--the third straight day of rain--was the last day for this little scavenger hunt one of our bookstores hosted this month. So we woke up and the girls were ready to hit the town looking for Waldo. It's a Waldo celebration, and I guess it's going on nationwide, but Waldo is hidden in all these little small shops downtown and we had to find him in each store and have the store clerk sign our little paper, which let me tell you, by the end of yesterday morning that paper was looking pretty sad and soggy.

We got our sweaters, we got our umbrellas, and off we went. We started with the best smelling bakery, and ended the morning at the coffee shop where Martin was able to meet us. Being the end of the month, our bank account was empty, which was A VERY GOOD THING, because otherwise I would have spent all our fortunes on baked goods, coffee, books, and antiques throughout the day. As it was, I got by only spending a few dollars on a truffle for each of us at a chocolate shop and a cup of coffee for Martin and me. Lucky me! We were quite wet when we came back home for lunch, but that didn't stop us! We went back out after lunch! We were determined to get all the stamps we needed to be entered into the drawing at the WALDO PARTY that was being held that night at the bookstore. We really wanted a chance at winning the deluxe set of Waldo books!

(There were a few kind of frightening experiences... the Waldo to be found was about three inches tall. Some places had him near the front counter, but some places were quite large--like the ANTIQUE STORE--and the smiling lady was just like, "good luck!" Aaaahhh!!!! I think we spent more than half an hour looking for him there. It was very fun, but a little stressful, haha! Thankfully, having something to look for kept curious hands off the shelves upon shelves of Extremely Breakable and in some cases Very Valuable items. Whew!)

We finished just after 5:00 when everything was closed for the day and we had *just* the exact number required to enter the drawing. The party was scheduled for 6:00 so we zipped home for a quick dinner, then walked back down to the bookstore, which was...


They are never open on Tuesdays, but at ten after six the store was still locked and dark. There was another family waiting outside, just as disappointed and confused as we were. We all were checking on social media for an explanation, but could find none. The mother of the other family sent a message to the shop owners, we looked for a mail slot to drop in our stamp sheets for the drawing, but there was none. We waited around for half an hour.

During that half hour, we talked to this family, and I can never believe what a small world it is! Inevitably, the "where do you go to school" question came up. I always feel so self-conscious about homeschooling, even though I believe in it so firmly, and am so confident that it is the right path for us at this time. I still don't like the feeling of being labeled as weirdos by the rest of society. But guess what! This family is also a homeschooling family! Not only that, but they had just joined one of the homeschooling groups that a number of my friends are members of! And NOT ONLY THAT, but it turned out the husband of this family works at the same company as Martin! All these similarities were just unbelievable! Phone numbers were exchanged, and we went our separate ways at the intersection.

It's funny, but nobody in our family really cared that much about party not happening. I was disappointed for the kids' sake, but they didn't really seem too bothered. We had had a GREAT day, and yes, the end goal was the party, but even though it didn't happen, we still had a super fun day. I'm so glad my girls pushed me to get out the door and wander around in a downpour. I'm so glad they are so easily excitable. I'm thankful for big fun on small funds. I'm thankful for our community and all it's little corners--the small business corner, the homeschooling corner, the bookworm corner (we went into a bookstore we'd never visited before and it was hard to drag Anja away!) All the people working at these stores were SO kind and welcoming. The men at the game store, the women at the chocolate shop, the familiar and the unfamiliar faces, they all were just so nice and enthusiastic. Many of the participating businesses are ones we frequent, but some of them I had never visited before, or had not visited in years. The goal of the hunt was to get people into shops that were outside their habits, and I think that goal was achieved. I've got a lot of places in my mind for Christmas shopping now that are not!

Later that night I got a nice text from the mother of the family we'd met--she'd heard back from the bookstore saying they had rescheduled the party for Friday. I'm happy it's going to happen anyway! And I have a feeling it will be even a better time for us, since the kids won't be totally wiped out from walking all over town all day in the rain!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hobbley Flobbley, My Lymph Node

Here's a long, ridiculous story. Every part of it is ridiculous and it just keeps getting more ridiculous as time goes on. It starts more than a year ago. (Let me just say before you read further, because it might sound alarming, EVERYTHING IS FINE.)

Sometime in the early spring of 2017 I noticed that I had a swollen lymph node in my neck. I was only moderately concerned, so I did what I would do in almost every circumstance: nothing. I just waited for it to go away. It didn't go away, and I found another one under my chin shortly after, so Martin convinced me to see a doctor. The doctor was unconcerned, saying they felt okay, and they are likely being caused my my teeth, which have always had issues. I let it go for some months until one morning last July I woke up to find lots of my lymph nodes were puffed up and I thought, "Oh great. This is bad." I zipped off to my favorite urgent care with my favorite doctor and he showed legitimate concern and did a full blood panel, and when he came in and said my blood work looked PERFECT, my nerves celebrated. After awhile all those puffed nodes went down except for the original ones in my neck and under my chin, as well as the ones in my leg, which is really called "groin" which is a seriously creepy word, so I'm just going to say LEG.

Over the next six months I monitored them, asked my doctor about them, and eventually in December saw a surgeon to talk about removal. He also was largely unconcerned, saying they *could* be lymphoma, but probably weren't, however, if I wanted to have one taken out and checked it was a NoBigDeal surgery. I was glad to hear he thought they were nothing and told him I'd think about it, and left. I didn't call him, but I did think about it, all through Christmas, all through spring, and into the summer. Eventually I realized that the not-knowing factor was eating me alive. I finally decided that even though it was probably nothing, it was definitely not worth the anxiety of keeping it. So in June I went back to see the surgeon. (Super nice guy!) He again gave me peace of mind, but understood if I wanted it looked at just to be certain, and I did, so a few days later on a Friday I went in and he and his nurse, Mary (WONDERFUL MARY) just cut that little bean right out of my leg and sent it off to pathology. The procedure was nothing--no worse than having a cavity filled, except better because instead of having my mouth propped open, I got to chat about gardens and children while they worked on me. I can be a chatty patient.

This is where it gets obnoxious. The weekend was fine, my leg hardly hurt at all. It was just a scratchy-bruisey feeling. I went on with my life, and it seemed to be healing up nicely until about the middle of last week when it seemed to have turned down Not So Fine Road. It was super swollen, rock-hard, and it was hurting a lot--the pain was spreading all down my leg. I called Mary and told her about it on Friday, exactly a week after the surgery--she said keep an eye on it for the weekend and if it still hurt on Monday to call her back. Well, it did still hurt on Monday but I didn't call, because I'm one of those idiots who thinks, "maybe it will be better tomorrow..." (which is never is.) By Monday night I could see that my healing had veered onto Infection Avenue and on Tuesday I called Mary again. She was very apologetic about the doctor not being in until Thursday and agreed that it wasn't right to be still hurting this much after a week and a half, so she made me an appointment for Thursday afternoon, which was the earliest she could do. Meanwhile, I'm having a hard time walking and I can't invite my kids to sit on my lap, the pain is radiating everywhere. Still I was telling myself that it would probably be better the next day, but then before bed on Tuesday, a week and a half after having the lymph node removed, I got a little fever and the incision spot was super red and hot. I have no medical training but I've been alive in the world for long enough to know that fever + pain + red + hot = infection. I weighed my options and even though it was 9:00, which is bedtime, and the kids were getting ready for bed, I thought I could zip to the E.R. and get an antibiotic and be on the Healing Highway. I thought I'd be gone just an hour or two and it would be simple, and I'd be going before the crazies showed up at the ER.

Well, I was definitely right about the getting there before the crazies--when I arrived I was about the only person there, and during my three hours there the crazies definitely started showing up. I was wrong, however, about the people in the ER doing anything worthwhile or helping me in any way at all. Or even being nice people! They were super invasive and borderline rude and when I acted friendly toward the doctor she looked at me like I had three heads. They stuck a giant IV in my arm, drew a bunch of blood and did a freaking sonogram on my incision. I tried to converse with them and they were not having it. (Except the sonogram technician who was very sweet.) Martin was sending me texts that the girls were not going to sleep, not cooperating, and/or melting down. Greeeeaaat. I just wanted an antibiotic prescription and to be sent on my merry way, but that wasn't happening.

Three hours later, the doctor came back and told me there was nothing wrong with me and to take some Tylenol. WHAT?!? I said, are you sure?! I have a fever and this looks pretty infected?! She gave me a death glare and repeated what she'd said.

I. Was. Livid.

One of the grumpy, jaded young nurses came back and took my end of visit vitals and had the nerve to ask if my heart rate was always so high. I explained to her that I was pretty upset. She didn't care. I think she gave a weak "hmmm.... sooooorrryyyyyy..." under her breath.

So I struggled through the 4th of July, which was superbly boring, I binged on potato salad and green beans, and just simmered until today when I could go to my previously scheduled appointment with my surgeon, where I relayed (much more kindly) the Emergency Room experience and he was very surprised. He took one look at my incision and couldn't believe they'd told me to just take Tylenol. He called in a prescription for an antibiotic and drained the seroma that had formed. And while he said it's true that it hadn't become a terrible infection yet, it needed to be done because it wasn't going to get better the way things were going. Above all, he was SO KIND. He kept apologizing for this happening and told me I was handling it better than he would. He asked me if I was wishing for my lymph node back, and I told him honestly that I still am not--the stress of that little node was too much!

I could never be a surgeon or a nurse. Talk about nasty! They literally cut me open and drained old blood and fluid out of my *LEG* (if you've forgotten where this incident takes place, check the second paragraph.) So now I have a gaping wound that I HAVE TO PACK TWICE A DAY I AM SO GROSSED OUT, and I'm still furious about my emergency room visit, mostly because they just were so not nice to me. And also because I'm going to get a bill for millions of dollars that I don't have, for being told that nothing was wrong and that I should just take Tylenol. UGH! So mad! RAWR!

In the end, though, I'm still celebrating the glorious fact that the lymph node was totally normal (actually it was labeled "reactive" and nobody seems to know or care what's making it that way...) and my blood tests are all totally normal, because that news is totally worth the absolutely revolting wound packing that is going to be happening for the next few days.

So, if you've happened to have seen me hobbling around over the past week or so, now you know why! I kept it quiet to keep anyone from worrying, but now that I've had an *ANNOYING* experience, I needed to shout it out. SHOUT!

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.