Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bouquets and Harvest Feasts

Amelia waits for the earth to burst with color and she begins to plan her flower collection. She bundles together the spring color bursts. She knows the combination even before she gathers single green grass strands and bunches of wild purple flowers. She walks among the fields picking yellow flowers from the collards and dill and white ones from the blooming cilantro. Their metamorphosis offering the colorful blooms as the garden is done providing winter food and now offers sweet smelling flowers for her bouquets. 

Friends arrive to camp and play and create. By lunch time, the “harvesting” is happening They are going to have a feast. A harvest feast. They collect Loquats, thistle flowers (you can eat), collard leaves, brussel sprouts still hanging on, the last of the beets, wild onions, and all they can handle of rosemary, sage, mint, and parsley. They make a fire and set to work. 

The piles of produce they’ve gathered is arranged so strategically, I want a frame for it to hang right in the middle of my life to see everyday, to remember always. 

They work together peeling, chopping, cooking, creating. And, when all is ready, they feast.


Chasing Water Sources and Staying Cozy

 Spring Break suddenly was upon us along with an extremely chilly cold front. George offered to take the kiddos on a short camping trip for the first two days before we all took off for the North Carolina mountains.

As he was heading out the door, I mumbled something (I'm sure out of guilt that as a home school mom I'm never doing enough) about using some of his great geography, topography knowledge to make their trip ever so slightly educational. By the end of spring break, the kids had visited a total of 4 hydroelectric damns, seven rivers, and followed one river all the way to it's source.
 They also studied the Torreya trees, learned the history from a local plantation, and drank gallons of hot chocolate. By the time we reached North Caroline, the temperature was dropping into the teens at night. We stayed cozy and found adventures bundled in the closest thing to bundled our Floridian wardrobes would afford. The kids wanted to find snow. We found snow and hiked in the snow and ate the snow and made snow balls. We found long icicles and frozen waterfalls along the creek. It was NOT spring, but it was awesome.

 The sun broke through after a snowy hike into the clouds and we found a warm playground and played until we thawed.

 William is brave almost always, but the playground seemed to beat him down a few times. After hiking in the snow all morning and playing hard, he didn't have a lot left except a pile of tears! He bounced back and we headed towards the Nantahala.
We met up with our dear friends Ralph and Lisa on the Nantahala river. We didn't stop finding adventures up and down and around the river valley.

Amelia kept track of different pine tree varieties and we learned a little about trout too. We ate and sat by the fire and jumped in the freezing river and hiked and drove Ralph's ranger. It was a most magnificent spring break and the kids got the geography lesson of a life time!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Terrible Two Tango

Parenting isn't for the birds. It isn't for the faint of heart. It isn't for anyone that doesn't like to do hard things. It isn't for me usually between 10:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m.  near daily because my two year old has some serious need to be heard during that hour.

 Three years have passed since I've had a two year old and he, (William-now five) although clingy, wasn't nearly as loud and in my face as our current two year old in residence.

Our Hannah was succeeding in breaking me down. Her terrible twos made me want to hang my mama hat. I was ready to announce, "I'm clocking out -- forever!"
 I've spent the last year giving some sage and calming advice to new mamas. I've sat with them and held long conversations on the phone or via text. I've given them all the tricks I've got up my sleeve. I've calmly accepted their compliments on my children's behavior, and I've prayed for them at night that they would be able to wake up and have a great parenting turn around with their kiddo struggling with potty training, nap time, traveling, school work, chores, attitude, eating, nursing, not sleeping, and basically all things related to raising perfect children like mine.

A few days ago, I stood in my front yard at a complete loss. I didn't want to even try interacting with Hannah. I didn't even desire to succeed. I basically wanted someone else to do it so I could focus on all the other children and laundry and dishes and meals and bills and anything but a tantrum.

I made a phone call. I called my professional two year old mom friend. We talked for ten minutes. She helped me remember all of those two year old things that are so hard and so important and so fun. We talked about using real words, real boundaries, and real consequences, and real praise.

"Hannah, I will not hold you, I will hold your hand. I will gladly walk with you, but I'm not picking you up. You have strong legs and you can do this." If she keeps crying, then I put her in a place where she is safe and can cry her little eyes out until she is ready to walk. The fun part is a two year old only has about two minutes of tears in them before they are ready to rejoin the party.
"Hannah you have to stay in your seat while you eat, you can't get up and walk around and get up and get down. Sit and eat." And add some praise..."You are so good at sitting in that seat and this is really good food."

"Hannah, I will buckle the bottom buckles, you can buckle the top. If you fuss, I buckle both." Then,  "You are so good at buckling that top buckle!"

"Hannah, after we have finished this puzzle, you can do some on your own while I cook dinner."

"Here are two outfits, which one do you want to wear?" Instead of her rummaging through the drawers pulling out everything.

Basically, all of it involves talking directly to Hannah. Telling her exactly what she needs to hear, giving her a choice in a boundary and helping her see that I am here, I am with her, she is fine and she is smart.

Affirmation, real words, real directions, real life. Kids are real and alive and need to be treated that way. They want to be a part of our worlds and letting them participate with boundaries gives them so much freedom. Hannah helps me cook. It's awful. It is messy, but if I let her help for a minute, she will cook on her own kitchen set or sit on the floor with her baby doll. Then, if I play babydoll for two minutes and change a babydoll diaper and send her off to collect some ingredients in her cart from the pantry, I've bought enough time to chop all the veggies for dinner.

Reading The Winged Watchman

We read together every day. It’s the pause with my older two that we all wait for. All day. Hannah goes down for a nap and we sit and read. We rotate science and history. We are reading a book called “The Story Book of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre. A French Uncle telling stories to his nieces and nephews. The stories open up the natural world, the electric world, and most recently, the world of the power of steam. We were looking up images of steam engines, sketching and labeling and learning as we went. 

We moved to different forms of energy. We used the internet to look up different forms. Elastic, gravitational, chemical. There is so much to know. We were intently studying each type. Nuclear was next. As we looked at nuclear power plants, nuclear fission, and nuclear reactions, George Wilder noticed that among the images there were big orange warning signs with skulls and cross bones. Lots of bright warning signs. We suddenly were discussing Chernobyl. How heavy. How hard. How they just don’t understand and do and hurt and are angry and so so curious.

This led to images of animals that have experienced the effects of radiation. Three eyes, two heads, too many legs…George Wilder asked if it happened to humans. Our day ended with the short documentary on the recent  _____ separation of the two boys. Steam power to nuclear disasters to separating attached humans.

But what we love best is our history readings. Most are historical fiction. Witch of Blackbird Pond, stories of Lewis and Clark, Britches, Caddie Woodlawn, Johnny Remain, Across Five Aprils and the list goes on. 

We reached the world wars in our history lessons and so began the reading of The Winged Watchman.

The Winged Watchman is a historical fiction that tells the story of a Dutch family, the Verhagens, who survive the German Occupation of Holland . The family and their windmill become the linch pin of protection for members of the resistance, children forced out of the city by hunger, intellectuals in hiding, a downed English pilot, and anyone in need of food or shelter. The two young boys Verhagen boys grow up without knowing the difference between wearing worn out clothes and having nice ones. They don’t remember that their life has been turned upside down until eventually the German’s push to destroy the Dutch leaves even the children feeling the evil power of tyrrany and war. 

We were spell bound by their heroism and prowess, their enthusiasm to help even when it put them in danger, and their forever ability to stay resourceful and content even without light, heat, soap, food and freedom.

At the end of the story, the Jewish mother comes to collect her baby that has lived with the Verhagen family for nearly three years. The Verhagens rescued Trixie as her family was dragged away to concentration camps. They raised her as their own to save her life. When Holland is freed and all is returning to normal, the harsh power of German’s evil remains; yet, they keep fighting against it. There is the terrible moment when toddler Trixie doesn’t know her own mother. 

The heroic Ms Verhagen asked the Jewish mom how she isn’t steaming angry at the Germans. The mother responds, “Oh no,” she said. “I’m sorry for them. To suffer yourself, that is nothing. God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. But to hear God ask, ‘Where is your brother?’ — themes be dreadful. The hardest to bear are the wrongs we do to others.”

So we’ve taken from this last reading a life lesson that I hope we will carry with us always. 

If you have a chance to read it, it is delightful and beautiful and sorrowful and hard and powerful.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Grow Again

We wolfed down waffles and went to work under a cool cloud cover. We pulled the beets and rutabaga and found some surprise potatoes. We harvest tiny brussel sprouts -- our first attempt.
We chopped in the collards that fed us all winter and left enough to keep us going until they bolt. Bolting is happening everywhere. The plants respond to the warm sun with intricate floral displays. Their taste is gone to the flower, so we bunch for bouquets.

The dark green plant matter that has fed us for the winter folds back into the black soil and we smile and watch. It will put nutrients back into the soil so this generous grid of ground will stay mineral rich as we prepare it for spring seeds and starts.

We all work. It takes all day. The food needs a home, the soil needs hoeing. It takes Hannah to help with Ocala -- even for a split second. It takes all of us to love it and care for it. We don't do it well all the time. As a matter of fact, the kids and I managed to loose our tomato starts to neglect. We didn't do enough other starts, and we forget to plant and water. We leave out tools and can't find them. But we keep going.  My sweet friend recently said that success is failing and trying again. So, we try again and plow again and grow again.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Absolute Adventure Mode

Forty came quick. I guess it’s normal to think I’m still just a spritely twenty something, but then again, there are several events that I might need to figure into that aging equation…

Twenties - Absolutely adventure mode. I was on the road all the time. I played soccer all the time. I ran my first marathon, graduated from college, and moved to Montana. I met George -the best part of the adventure yet-and we moved into adventure mode together with marriage, hikes, education, jobs, a year in England, two masters degrees, a first house, a first dog, four more marathons, and we added sweet Amelia to the journey.

Thirties - Only more of that adventure mode. Add three more kids. Add sheep. Add loads of chickens. Add a doctorate. Add two more marathons. Move to another state. Add a farm (a very old house that needs lots of work). Add pigs. Add gardens. Add bees. Add homeschooling. Add road trips with four kids and a dog. There was no way this adventure was about to slow down. I wanted to think of a way to meet the next decade. 

Forty -  This feels like a big milestone. I did some thinking as forty grew closer. What has life looked like and what is next? I just want to do more of the same with the people I love— except the add-more-kids part. The one thing that happened during all these years is that I moved further away from my sister and very best friend, Jessica. I saw her less and less as our lives took totally different awesome turns.  We’ve loved each other’s lives and each other from a distance. We’ve had to savor little moments here and there and I’m forever thankful for cell phones and texting. We do that - daily. But, we’ve never adventured together. For the last twenty years, the two of us have birthed a pile of children. These sweet blessings have kept us quite grounded.

To celebrate forty, I asked Jessica to join me on an adventure.  We started off in two different places and met at our gate in the Charlotte airport and boarded a plane to Arizona. The goal: hike as many miles as we possibly could in two days and, check Arizona off as the 49th state I’ve visited. Lots of the people that love us took on the responsibility of caring for the pile of kids we left behind - THANK YOU ALL!

We started talking on the plane and didn't stop except to sleep.  We landed in Phoenix late in the afternoon determined to hike, but by the time we were in our rental car, we were racing the setting sun and Phoenix rush hour, which was snail pace, not setting sun pace. With absolutely no idea where we were, we told Siri the name of a trail on a mountain and slogged through traffic…away from mountains.

About this time, we discovered that our voices are so similar that both of our phones responded every time we asked Siri anything. Siri echoed through our black Ford Focus as we fought traffic and our terrible navigational skills. We reached Siri’s destination — a baseball park in the middle of the city. We had to move and the sun was winning, so our first two miles in Arizona were around a track around a baseball field with 20 bulldogs taking their people out for their evening stroll.

As hunger overtook us, we headed towards Barrio, a Mexican restaurant that came highly recommended. Siri took us to Barrio. We seemed to pass through a rather rough part of town. In the dark, all we could see were brightly lit store front signs…Liquor Store, Title Pawn, Adult X, Liquor Store, Title Pawn, Adult Something, Chinese Buffet, Mexican Fiesta, McDonalds… Where was Barrio?

We found Barrio nestle tight between two buildings.  “Go in through the back door,” the website said.  We were skeptical. We were in our work out clothes. We creeped in through the back door directly into a dimly lit room, beautifully decorated, complete with white linen and candles on each table . Beautiful people in beautiful clothes sat quietly eating exquisitely prepared dishes. We sheepishly asked if it was okay to have a seat in ASICS, tank tops, and leggings. They agreed and treated us gently. The menu offered a French/Spanish cuisine. We found delicious guacamole and colorful salads and devoured them before heading out to find our Airbnb.

After a powerful night’s sleep in a superb Airbnb, we woke up at 4:25 a.m. (time change issues) ready to find some real trails in Sedona, AZ.  Fortunately, there was a Starbucks en route that opened at 4:30 a.m. and Sedona is straight up Interstate 17 so Siri and coffee easily found it for us. 

We found our trail head: Soldier’s Pass, took pictures of the posted map and stepped into the hills. Glorious stone walls and rock outcroppings rose all around us. The chilly air kept us moving up and down and around cliffs and rocks and trees. We headed for Brins Mesa, a long vein leading us away from Soldier’s Pass. This trail had a completely different terrain. Trees, brush, creeks, rocks, and fields. We crossed over dry creek beds and trickles of snow melt here and there. It was glorious. As we came back out of the woods, Jessi started violently sneezing. Her sinuses filled and her eyes gushed goop and water. She was allergic to something - the juniper tree. They were everywhere. Through watery eyes and sneezes, we hiked another four miles through beautiful country.

Three javelina met us on the trail. They disapprovingly grunted at us, so we continued on the trail and granted them the peace and solitude they requested. Great trail markings and our map checks led us right back to our car eight miles later. 

Once again, we were starving. We headed into town to find some grub. At the first red light Jessi declared that Whole Foods would have everything we would need to refuel. Siri directed us to turn right. Hello Whole Foods right under our noses! We mowed down some calories under the warm midday sun, reloaded our water supply and drove into Oak Valley Canyon for our next hike. After a bit of confusion, we found what we were looking for. Sterling Pass would take us through a canyon and to the Verde Arches. 

This pass went straight up a muddy, snow soaked trail. Fifteen minutes in, we met a lovely lady in her mid-sixties finishing her hike. She strongly suggested we find a different trail. We took her sage advice and found Mountain View Trail nearby. This rather dull path wasn't exactly what we had in mind, but up and up we hiked. It wasn't long before every switch back presented us with new views of Oak Valley canyon and distant rock outcroppings. It was glorious and up and up and up. We stopped and stared because we had to. Bright orange, deep grey, blue, green, silver — whittled away by water and time and wind and snow, the rocks towered above us, holding out their chests to the sky, showing forth holy glory. This, I could take in daily.

We didn’t make it to the top. The elevation gain wore on us and we decided that our day was over. We lumbered and climbed and chatted our way back to the car content with the 13.5 miles of trail we’d met that day.

It didn’t take us long to find guacamole, lots of tortilla chips, and really good fajitas at the Barking Frog. We were totally exhausted, but were determined to make it back to our cozy bed at the Airbnb, so we jumped on I-17 South toward Phoenix.

Jessi and I collapsed into bed after washing off the red mud caked to our legs. We slept hard and woke up ready to find trails in Phoenix.

After a rather challenging drive to find Camel Back Mountain in the middle of Phoenix and with no parking anywhere near the trail head, (apparently it’s a popular trail) we started hiking through a lovely neighborhood towards Camel Back Mountain. The warning that the hike was challenging must have been for the goats that wanted to climb the mountain. We didn’t give up even when our knees and hips and shoes and feet slipped and creaked and groaned. We made it to the top along with a pretty impressive percentage of Phoenix. Going down was no easy street, but we met a lovely couple and chatted our way to the base.
After refueling and studying up on some “easy” hiking with easy directions, we found The Sonoran Desert Preserve. The color coded flat trails through miles and miles of land surrounded by crazy cactus, beautiful scraggly plants and crazy colorful rocks were the perfect match for our last adventure. The signs at the trail head and advice on the website suggested that we take plenty of water. We did take plenty of water, but we figured that they really were suggesting that for summer hikers. By the end of the hike, we were sunburnt, hot, and totally out of water and on cloud nine. 

In two days, we covered 27 miles on four different trails all with a different terrain and challenges. We chatted non-stop with each other and with friendly hikers. We trashed our shoes and perfectly exhausted ourselves. 

I would do it again tomorrow if time and space allowed. But my amazing life allows for some pretty wild and daily adventures. This one just served as the next bullet point — the reminder that I thrive on adventure. There doesn’t need to be a lot of order and rhyme or reason or straight lines and neatly packed plans. This life I love, the thing I was created to be is an explorer, an adventurer, a finder, a collector, a friend, a lover, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a believer — Yes, a believer in this beautiful world and this gift of life. I plan to cherish it as much as I can. 

I’ve got one more state now. Alaska. Until then, I’m staying in adventure mode.