Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Ending of Things

Pensive is my mood today. In the midst of a busy week, sad news reached me in the middle of the night and I've just begun to allow myself the time to process the shock of it. I sit in front of a warm wood stove, pen poised over a piece of my nicest stationary as I look inward to translate my emotion into words of comfort. My children are occupied with play, completely unaffected by the gray sky, the snow frosted air nor my quiet mood. It's all I can do to pull myself away from the washed out color outside and look inward.

Every year, as the leaves drop from the trees and the tamaracks glow yellow, melancholy memories filter through my mind like a disjointed slide-show: friends lost to slow, cancer-eating death; relationships permanently marred by thoughtless, angry words; moving from a secure future for one that is unknown and fraught with the fear of possibility; the unexpected exit of a beloved family member. I feel bereft of words to express myself.

Bordering on desperation, my mind continues to seek connections, looking for a story among the randomness of life, even as I try to rationalize the symbolism of a season that seems pockmarked by regular journeys toward death.

Yet, I am unable to share these memories with a man and his children, thousands of miles away who so desperately need comfort. My memories are meant only as a conduit for empathy, but I cannot find the words to truthfully express that emotion. It paralyzes me. I decide to write the following:

I'm so sorry. We love you. I'll call you soon.

It's not enough, but it will do.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Letting Go...of the Pie

Autumnfest. A celebration of autumn, harvest, community and food.

The words heave dread into my belly even as my eldest excitedly jumps around, waving a piece of green paper pulled from the bottom of her backpack and explaining how she signed up to make apple pie. Surely, that can't be good.

It's 7:30pm on a Sunday night and the children are checking their bags and gear while I watch and occasionally question the crumpled bits of paper, no wait...homework, pulled out of pockets or comment on the half eaten sandwiches. I'm completely taken off guard by the sudden enthusiasm and squealing coming from my 10 year old.

As G gives me a rapid fire account about pies, food drives and contests, I peruse the wordy document that is essentially telling me that this concoction is due two days from now. There are some complicated rules about the massive dessert being homemade with no parental help and points being awarded, but I ignore this. G has never made a pie, so obviously I am going to need to help. At this point, I can only focus on two things: the kitchen calendar that has the next four days blocked out solid with hastily scribbled shorthand and the realization that I may not have time for a shower let alone make a pie or figure out how to bake it in an oven that is as moody and temperamental as my well meaning, but overbooked "tween".

Are you feeling my stress yet?

So, doing what I do best, I begin the process of shutting it all down. I carefully, quietly, but without any hesitation begin to list the reasons why I do not have time to make the pie. G becomes very quiet herself. Trouble is brewing, but still being very new to having a 10 year old (she was just 9 a few months ago!) who has taken the Kelly Clarkson song "Little Miss Independent" more literally than I would wish, I miss the subtle signs.

I keep talking, reiterating how busy we are this week with my heavy work load and their heavy school/soccer load. I can hear myself talking more quickly, more loudly, even a bit hysterically as I begin to psych myself out in front my three kids who are shuffling their feet and wondering why I keep babbling about dirty laundry, tours, grants and yoga. G takes a step toward me, with a look of barely contained exasperation.

"Mom. Mom! Can you just stop talking for a minute? I've got to tell you something."

I don't hear her because I am still muttering, but this time about schedules and showering and my youth slipping by.

"Mom. Did you read the rules? I HAVE to make the pie by myself. You CAN'T help me."

That caught my attention.

"What do you mean, I CAN'T help you? You've never made a pie before and believe it or not, turning ten years old does not make you suddenly able to snap a pie out."

I can feel her infamous stink eye burning a hole in my back as I stomp into the kitchen to see whether I have the apples we'll need to turn out the pie. I ignore the feeling of guilt because frankly, I won't have time to stop in the store if I won't have time for a shower. Frankly, it will be a miracle if I can find the time to dress myself in the morning or eat a meal, so frankly, we better have the apples if there is any hope of getting this pie made in time.

"Mom," G has followed me into the kitchen. "I can scramble my own eggs, make pancakes, cut anything with your big knife and I always clean up after myself. I think I can turn out a pie." Now it's G's turn to stomp off.

Damn. I blew it. I'm pretty sure I heard a quaver in her voice and with that I realize what an ass I'm being. I pull in a deep breath, mentally kick myself for my reaction and seek her out in the back room where she has pulled out a book by the fire while the youngest two have dutifully started brushing their teeth during my previous rant.

I try to hug her stiff, resentful body, squelching the sad feeling I get when she puts me off like that and gamely, apologetically, ask her if we can break the pie making up into two nights: prepping crust the first night, cutting apples and baking the second. The task feels more do-able like that, but I still dread finding the time and energy to push what will surely be a cranky, tired kid with the best of intentions but with only so much reserve. G immediately softens, hugs me back and bounces into the kitchen to look up a recipe. I follow, shoo her back into the bathroom because no matter what, it is bedtime and promise that we'll find the perfect recipe tomorrow.

I head back into the kitchen then, picking up dishes as I scoot my slippered feet toward the sink and all at once, I realize it's going to be OK. I need to let it go, get it done and get the hell out of my head. I feel a weight drop and my neck relax. I prep a cup of tea.

Although I don't know it yet, it turns out that I will find the time to get to the store to pick up a bag of apples. I will find that the enthusiasm of my well intentioned (and tired!) child really can carry her through two pie making sessions in spite of her very long, very full days. I will find that I have to let go of my idea of pie and let her create her own, even when I feel like she is overworking the dough. I will find that the same child can not only make a beautiful crust and learn to peel an apple, but then inspire her younger siblings to do the same. I will find that in spite of being too hard on myself and on my daughter, she'll not only forgive me and love me, she will not let it deter her from her own inspirations.

I also find that I have time not just for one shower, but two.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sleep. Pretty, pretty please?

Mama, I still can't sleep. Mama! Can you hear me? I can't sleep!

Putting three kids to bed, after a long day of school, homework, soccer games, french horn practice, dinner chores...well, you get the picture. The ritual isn't always smooth. Or timely.

Tonight, the youngest is tossing and turning, a good two hours after she should have been asleep. From the room below, I can hear the springs in her mattress and the deep sighs, occasional yawns and the thump of feet hitting the wall where her bed is.The house is dark, except for the lamp by my desk and the glow of the wood stove. I'm tapping away on the computer when I hear a voice through the grate in the ceiling, where my two youngest share a room.

"Mama! Can I have a glass of water?"

"Yes sweetie. Hold on, I'll be right up." I fill a mug with cold tap water, carry it up and hand it to my youngest. A blue-eyed blond child with the face of an angel and the mouth of a sailor. "Drink it up and go right back to bed. It's late."

"Okay Mama. I will." She takes two teeney, tiny sips and hands the mug back. I don't think she can see the stink eye I give her in the dark. Nightlights cast only so much light.

I tuck her back in. Find a few stray stuffed animals or stuffies as the kids call them, and tuck them in with her. Giving her a kiss, I head back down to my spot by the fire.

A few minutes later, I hear a thump followed by a voice. "Mama? I have to go potty."

Why am I surprised? "Fine. Go potty and go to bed."

Her quick steps on the stairs, silence and then the sound of the toilet flushing tells me she is all business. I hear her head back up, the rustle of blankets, a few inaudible words, then silence. Twenty minutes later, I head to my room, hot cup of tea in hand and something new to read. Quiet at last. I settle under my down blanket, check to make sure the alarm is set and inhale the cinnamon-y scent of my tea. Then out of nowhere, a voice calls from across the hall and through my open bedroom door...

L: "Mama? Mama. Guess what? Pengi (a favorite stuffie this week) told me she likes tea. Can she have tea right now?"

Me: "Ssshhhh, honey. Everyone is sleeping and you need to sleep too."

L: "I can't sleep."

Me: "I hear you, but you need to try."

L: "Mama? Did you know that men in Scotland wear skirts? Except the guy who stands in front of the bagpipes. He wears pants. Because he's in front and doesn't want anyone looking at his legs."

Me: "Go to sleep. Now Lilli. This isn't funny."
There is a short pause. Then...

L: "You are the meanest mom in the world. You didn't even say please."

Crying ensues, for which I climb out of bed, cross the hall and halfheartedly pat her back and give her a quick kiss. I'm not happy about it, but I say again,

"Please go to sleep. Now". L, equally as frustrated: "I CAN'T!"

I take a deep breath while she quietly cries into her pillow, rub her back and stroke her forehead, something that I've done since she was a tiny babe. She quiets down, sighs deeply and her body is finally still. She's asleep.

I head back to bed, eyes heavy and stinging. I lay in bed, listening to the sounds of the cats getting into something and the snoring of my dog. My limbs are heavy.

"Mama? Mama? Maaa-maaa!"

I jump from the verge of blissful sleep. An indiscernible shape is in the doorway, but I know immediately who it is.

"Mama? Can I snuggle with you?"

Without a word, I lift up the comforter, scoot over to one side and she climbs in next to me, turns away onto her side and immediately relaxes. Before long, her quiet breathing signals her sleep.

As I lay beside her, snuggling against her warmth, memories rush back of my first winter in Vermont with a new baby in my arms and two little ones tucked under a comforter beside me. Was that really six years ago? Before long, there will be no more voices in the dark, telling me stories about penguins, tea parties and men in skirts. Before long, there will be no more late night trips of sneaking into Mama's bed for a snuggle. Before long, the children will be children no more and I'll have only my memories.

Now, laying here with my youngest, I stop to savor this singular, fleeting and sweetest of moments. Tonight, I'm going to sleep really well.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

30 Days of Yoga

I did it.

Well...I almost did it. Thirty days of yoga turned out to be more like 24 days of yoga, but I'm going to round up. Yay for me!

Next week, I'm off to a yoga class with friends.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Why Local?

I'm a local.

Not that kind of  "local", as around here that entails several generations of living in the same town, often on the same land, with a surname that is familiar to anyone who lives here whether or not you personally know the family members. A local knows your place not by the street address, but by the family that lived there before you. A local has a harmless chuckle when I naively quote Henry Ford about chopping wood and then ask where I can get a good price on a few cords. Yes, I'm one of those transplants that came from away and bought a house in the village. I'll never be considered a local, nor will my children or my children's children...but that's okay.

I'm a "local" because I believe in putting my energy toward local matters. Local food, yes, but more than that. Local schools, local economies, local government and more. I believe that to live in a place means caring about it too. I volunteer and involve myself in my local schools. I know the teachers, staff and administration. I purchase from my local shops and know the people who run them. I know many of my local farmers, mechanics, landscapers, carpenters, plumbers and mail carriers. I know my Select Board and School Board. I know the kids and their parents. I know when Town Meeting is, and I attend, lending my voice and my vote. I've adopted my community, not just by living here, but by really LIVING here.

So why does local matter? Honestly, I'm not sure if it matters at all. I read about global warming, declining bio-diversity, stock market crashes, crushing poverty and famine. I read about wars in countries I know nothing about and the frightening economics of world powers that are not the United States. I read about a soldier, lost to war and the family that mourns him. I read about the end of days.

Yet, when I wake up in the morning, the cold light of fall filtering through my window, I am home. I hear the delivery trucks which will soon give way to snow plows. I hear the geese as they head south and the whipping of wind through the cedar and maples by my barn. I hear children talking as they walk to school. I see the hills behind my house alive with color and I watch the clouds form a myriad of shapes on the horizon, endlessly fascinating to me. I see the stand of weeds that I once had a vegetable garden in and fret about how tall the grass has become in less than a week. I smell the musty odor of my basement when I head down to rummage in the freezer and note that the rest of the wood  needs to be brought in soon. I smell the coming of rain.

What else can I do but participate right here and right now? I am incapable of taking on matters that have national, let alone global consequences. I am too easily overcome with heartache when I read about the trials of the world. Yet, I can invest the power of my dollar into my community and reap the rewards. I can add my voice, whether out loud or in print, in support of my community. I can lend myself to my community by volunteering and engaging and helping out a neighbor.

In this small way, with these small victories, I find hope in humanity and in the world. In this small way, my being a "local" has larger consequences. In this small way, I am affecting change.

What's for Dinner?

I'm a dork. I write menus most weeks, jawing about how with three kids it is an attempt to be organized. Given that "organization" is ripe for interpretation, I will concede that it's because I like to do things like menus...and to-do lists...and trip itinerarys...and, well, you get the picture.

The last few months, I've been enjoying an amazing array of food from the Sterling College gardens as part of their first CSA.The last couple of weeks, knowing that the shares of vegetables are coming to an end soon, I've been working hard to use every last bit of food in creative and tasty ways. My meat, eggs and cheese come from local farmers/producers and pantry staples are purchased from my local grocer or general store.

Here are a few things I've done or will be doing.

Last two weeks:
  • Spicy Blueberry and Vegetable Chili-delicata squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, fresh toms, canned toms, spices and BLUEBERRIES! Yes folks, it was really good and I wish it had been my idea.
  • Miso soup with lots of veggies-THINLY sliced delicata squash and carrots simmered in a vegetable broth with onions. Miso added after simmering is done.
  • Roasted Roots, dressed with cider/garlic/oil vin., fresh herbs from the garden and sea salt/cracked pepper
  • Cilantro Cabbage Root Veggie Slaw in a maple/cider vinegar dressing
  • Chantilly Potatoes w/ Hardy Greens, Cream, Nutmeg and Goat Cheese
  • Korean-Style Lettuce and Chicken Wraps of shredded carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, sweet peppers, herbs 
  • BLT with garlic aioli -I ate a lot of these.
  • Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce and herbs. Topped with Coomersdale cheese from Bonnieview Farm.
  • Potato Leek Soup-So flippin' easy. Kids love it with a slice of toasted cheesy sourdough bread.
  • Veggie Burritos -Cabbage makes a great bulk vegetable for this. Thanks Buffalo Mt. Co-op Cafe for the idea!

This week:

Sunday: Warm French Lentil Salad with Escarole and Sauteed veggies of onions, fennel & swiss chard. Topped with goat cheese rounds.

Monday: Black Beans, pickled red onions on yellow rice and served with sauteed kale and roasted pork.

Thursday: Butternut Squash Barley Risotto with caramelized leeks and blue cheese.

Friday: Roasted Chicken, roasted beets and vegetable chowder (potatoes, onions, carrots, kohlrabi, leeks, garlic, cream, fresh herbs)

Saturday: Creamy polenta with sauteed or roasted as-of-yet-unknown veggies

More Meal Ideas:
  • Chocolate Beet Tea Cake-beets keep the cake oh-so-moist
  • Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk-Top with cilantro, basil and mint
  • Maple-glazed Pennies From Heaven-Carrot "coins" lightly steamed and glazed in maple, butter and cinnamon
  • Braised Cabbage with caraway and a splash of cider vinegar
  • Flash fried Escarole with caramelized leeks over creamy polenta and drizzled with a balsamic reduction
Leftover/Preservation Ideas:

Veggie Stock- I throw the "tops" and "tails" of prepped vegetables (including head lettuce!) and herbs into a stock pot. Add enough water to cover, a generous pinch of salt and simmer for a while. Cool, bag and freeze.

Potato Bread-Throw leftover mashed potatoes into any yeast dough. Johanna Laggis (Laggis Bros. Dairy in Hardwick) gave me the idea and she makes fantastic, yummy bread. Have made pretzels and slicing bread so far. Yum!

Freeze Leeks and Onions-Chop and bag and freeze. Works great in soups.

Herb "pesto"-chop one or a combination of herbs in a processor and thin with oil. Bag and freeze.

Frozen Greens-Hardy greens like beet tops, kale, swiss chard, etc. freeze well when steamed and frozen.

Frozen Tomatoes-Whole tomatoes thrown in the freezer. To use, run under hot tap water to remove skins. Chop and add to soups, sauce or make into an easy pizza sauce by simmering chopped tomatoes with garlic, oregano, splash of red wine and salt.