Sometimes it’s the furniture. Sometimes it’s the accessories on the desk or counter or mini-altars. Sometimes it’s the blog. Changing the arrangement of things does shift the flow of energy from my perspective, and when the fog closes in like it has this morning, the time is ripe. Settling in for the coming winter, anticipating future musings and reflections taking place fireside . . . my heart warms with gratitude. Good things are in store. Good things are here now.
Fruit of Our Labor
It wasn’t a part of my written to-do list as part of the move. Maybe I didn’t want to put it in writing. It does look a little odd.
There. Written. Done.
Yes, as we unpacked the fridge and freezer, I knew it had to be done. I wasn’t going to move an organ across state lines. I took a shovel and the almost six-year-old frozen placenta to the backyard.
Why I had waited so long, I’m not exactly sure. I wanted to bury it where we were going to be for a long time, in our final home. I wanted it to be special, sacred.
What I realized is that this home was the birthplace of our fourth child. That makes it special and sacred. Where I buried it was beneath a tree that I had chosen to let grow, knowing that it’s shade and fruit would be welcome. I hoped, too, that maybe the nutrients would help see this young tree through the drought, through the seasons.
I also hope that nothing digs it up and carries it away. If that does happen, I don’t want to know, and I’ll trust that some little beastie will savor every chewy, freezer burnt bite.
So I buried the placenta and returned to the house to box up possessions and memories after taking a sweeping glance over the crispy, sunburned lawn. I could almost hear the laughter of the many children having played there, taste the sweat of all the hours we’ve put into gardens and maintenance, smell the smoke from the pizza oven.
This isn’t our final home, but it was a home, indeed. Special. Sacred.
Arriving many hours later with two laden vehicles at our new-to-us house, the memories remain to be made, but we’re making a start. There was a rather large spider on the window sill, watching us carry every armful in. After we were finished, it had apparently moved on to another resting space.
In this new place, we are joining a community that is already sacred, already special. We are in good company.
All I have to do is saute some onions and celery in butter, and my husband salivates. Get a good meal cooking and baking, and I’m likely to hear, “Smells like my grandma’s house in here.” More often than not, I hear such a comment when I’m frying potatoes, okra, pancakes, or especially bacon.
While my husband’s sensory recall is triggered by smell, it’s the very act of preparing a meal itself that takes me to my grandmothers’ kitchens and mealtimes. On weekends when our whole schedule is determined by when and what our meals are, I realize why I associate mealtimes with my grandparents and why my husband also associates mealtime smells with his grandma’s house.
We both come from subtly matriarchies. Sure, our forefathers were the bread-winners, but it was and is the mothers who keep the home, prepare the meals, provide most of the childcare and tending, and encourage the religious traditions. Our foremothers have held the family together. As they’ve passed, so has the golden thread that tied our families together almost imperceptibly. Even gold over time wears thin. Time changes things. People change.
My husband and I are most fortunate to have the memories we do. Our grandmothers loved and love us unconditionally. They dedicated their days to make sure that when we were around, they nurtured us the best way they knew how — through our stomachs. What could best assure our survival than a full belly? These queens of the kitchen knew how to make the groceries last for their respectively large families, and I certainly never wanted for food.
I learned so much about cooking itself in the kitchen with my grandmothers, trying not to be in the way. How to pinch a pie crust. Learning how to make eight hamburgers at once in two cast-iron skillets on the stovetop. Shortcuts to make quick desserts for unexpected visitors. That there was enough time to bake a meatloaf while you were at church. Some lessons weren’t just about cooking. One grandmother still had dreams of things she wanted to do. One grandmother wanted so much for me to make choices that would help me lead a different, and somehow better, life. Such lessons are hard to understand without the experience behind them, but I honor these lessons still, even if I didn’t heed their wisdom and advice.
The next time I return home later in the day after a morning breakfast that included pancakes and bacon, I’ll try not to turn my nose in distate. It means we provided for our family. We are giving our children associations to their childhood that, when they reflect upon it later, will hopefully tell them we cared for them by nourishing them, not intentionally giving them heart disease. May I have the patience to welcome them into my kitchen and try to teach them as subtly as my grandmothers tried with me. May I pass on a cookbook to them of their favorites so that they won’t have to labor like my husband in trying to recreate family favorites. Is there more to taste than simple ingredients?
Our family dynamics have changed. We don’t always go to “Mother’s” or “Grandma’s” for Sunday dinner anymore. Our sense of family includes a wide range of friends. Still, though, our primary focus is our shared meals, the time we spend preparing, gathering and sharing in the kitchen and at the table.
Our grandmas were and are beautiful teachers.
Ice & Sun
Thanksgiving Eve I found myself at the wholesale club post-dinner wondering why I waited, yet again, until the last minute to do this. Kids to bed, cooking underway, I spent the night on the couch, falling asleep but for the grace that woke me as the boiling potato sputter burned on the stovetop and the lid rattled in low undertone. The iPad had gone to sleep, too, but the sweet potatoes still needed time in the oven. Potatoes drained, oven off, I figured all would be well a few more hours when I would be awake enough to conjure up the salad and casserole.
Thanksgiving morning NPR told me the Macy’s Day Parade was underway. I grinned to myself, remembering in my childhood the warmth of the kitchen creeping into the living room where the t.v. blared the parade and I watched the floats make their way through the seemingly small streets. It was a day of rest for me then. Now, looking through my steamed-up kitchen window at the sink, I realize how much work we do. But in yet another moment of grace, I realize how much I love my family. For a moment, it feels again like this is my job. I’m not a working mother, I am a mother, wholly and completely. (Still, I have to consciously resist saying “just a mom.”)
I was only joking when a co-worker and I marveled at the warm weather earlier this week. Our office felt like a sauna, and I was grateful for my layered clothing and the ability for others to open their windows in the old building to give me fresh air. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “It’ll probably snow next week.” I was just joking. But the weather forecast mentioned freezing weather. My husband researched about chickens in cold weather, what we needed to watch out for and check into. We got the wintry mix and a few minutes of all-out snow on our way to the relatives Thanksgiving day. Snow is forecasted next week, too. You just never know around here.
There’s something about the ice that coated everything around our relatives’ homes. There was something different this year that I haven’t been able to put my finger on yet, adhere coherent thoughts to. I do know that there wasn’t ice on our limbs at home, only 30 minutes away. Maybe it’s just the memory, frozen in time.
Post-Thanksgiving, I slept until 8:30 or so. It is cold. The chickens are still alive, though their water did freeze, even in their coop. (Husband is winterizing their coop more today, even as I write, and they are all out chasing the same bug apparently, in a frenzy.) I skip the Black Friday madness. Not everyone participates in that frenzy, but I mentioned to my daughter that we might stop at the bookstore and a couple of thrift stores. It is a weekday I have off, and I actually have some energy to something other than laundry. (Of course, tonight there are a few home projects that might be started to last all weekend. Watch out bathroom and garage!)
I signed up on Ravelry. I sent a sincere e-mail to a friend. I have other calls to make. My gratitude continues this day.
I’ll hem some pants, make a Christmas list, and fill the Advent calendar with a new list of somethings to build onto the anticipation of Christmas in a meaningful way.
Most importantly, my gratitude continues. On this bright sunny day, no matter how cold it is outside, my heart is warm. I am a mother, a wife, a worker, a daughter and granddaughter. My own daughter plays, softly talking for and with her toys, sweetly singing every now and then. Life is simple and sweet, some moments more than others.
All we ever have is this moment at any given time. For this I am grateful. It is a beautiful life.
My Lint Bowl
Yes. I have a lint bowl. It’s quite small and irregularly shaped. Actually, it’s from the first and only pottery class I’ve taken. It wasn’t the first piece I made (that “gem” went to my mother), but it’s one of the first few for sure.
This little bowl sits atop our dryer, and after each load, I put the lint in it. Or maybe I just set it there . . . or squish it on the top. It started out in laziness, really. The small trash can has a lid and is low to the ground and squeezed in between the dryer and the wall that has the broom and dustpan hanging there. Why twist and stretch every time I switch the clothes?
Then I realized that I liked watching the lint bowl fill up. The clean clothes these days have been dispersed rather quickly to where they need to go, but the lint . . . it fills up and becomes a little abundance of accomplishment, a monument of achievement. When I think it’s time to dump it and start over, I do, knowing I can watch it grow again.
It’s the little things, right? We are all working so hard every day to keep the wheels running smoothly. Whether we’re working outside the home helping some company/business/organization to thrive or working in the home to make sure those nearest and dearest to us are thriving (and chances are, all of us are doing both, whether we’re paid for it or not), we are all working hard. Sometimes we just need little signs to remind us that our work adds up. What we’re doing makes a difference.
I have a lint bowl. You might have a diaper pail, laundry pile, crossed-off checklists, clean dishes . . . who knows. Keep tally marks on a post-it if you have to. I’m telling you that you make a difference. The work you do is appreciated.
And you will always be loved more for who you are than what you do, anyway. So, as the card I received from a friend says: “be a beacon of fierce and potent love.” May my family always remember how much I love them. I know they won’t know how many times I empty the lint bowl.
Today’s calendar presented an open slate, which then filled with the simple pleasures of keeping house and preparing an abundant lunch. The next wave of thunderstorms has rolled in, just in time to go pick the kids up from school.
For this brief moment, I find myself sitting in a quiet house . . . well, maybe not completely quiet. The thunder, rain, and dishwasher have their voices heard at the moment, along with the clicking of the keyboard. It is, however, still — especially compared to what it’s usually like with four kids and two adults and a dog and cat running about.
Some days we just have to revel in what is, and I know that this is good. I don’t know what the next hour or tomorrow or next year holds for us, but I do know that if I can remember the joy and gratitude I feel in my heart at this present moment, that all will be well.
Right now we also get to enjoy eating the few fresh strawberries we have from the garden, reminding us what a real strawberry tastes like, what a fruit of the earth carries in a perfectly packaged little bundle of tender juiciness. Experiencing and tasting these delights, I know that what I buy in bulk from the store doesn’t even get close to the truly organic variety from the backyard. Sometimes we just have to be reminded of how good it can be. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves how sweet we really have it, fresh strawberries or no.
I consider myself delightfully spoiled today, and I give thanks to all that is.
(Cloudy skies today contrast with the sunny skies of yesterday morning, when we remembered to collect our first strawberries of the season. 🙂 )
The community creeps out of hibernation, slowly but surely. The sun’s mighty power pulls us all out of our dwelling places. The crocuses beckon us to look more closely at the earth. It’s time.
Cold-weather crops. Garden planning. Spring cleaning. It’s time to open the windows and let the fresh air disrupt the winter residue. If outside, we have to make sure not to be fooled by warm yet cool temperatures; sunburns happen regardless of temp. It’s a good time to clear out some clutter. Yesterday I cashed in $100 worth of things laying around that we had collected (aluminum cans), didn’t need (extra movies and video games), or didn’t use (outgrown jeans) anymore, turning excess into something useful (groceries, gas, soccer kleats). I also gave back to the community with a donation to Goodwill. To give and receive should be a daily practice, not just a seasonal thought.
And now I cut this post short because while I do want to get kids’ clothes out of the attic to take to the consignment store, I don’t want to miss this morning’s opportunity to take my youngest out in the bike trailer. Truly, the blue skies are amazing, and the bike trails await.
This evening concludes with church and the bookstudy I mentioned yesterday. Oh, what a beautiful day.
Our Next Venture
Chickies! (As Autumn so gleefully calls them.)
Yes, thanks to a city ordinance, we are allowed to have four hens. Our hope, of course, is to have eggs sometime after fall and ever after. But, we are learning very quickly that one doesn’t just get chickens and have eggs. You get chicks, have to raise them, checking them ever so often to make sure they’re not getting sick or dying, and make sure their living environment isn’t disgusting and that the cat and dog don’t get in. We’ll have to build a coop outside soon.
Oh, wait? You didn’t know they have to be kept above 80 degrees F? Well, they do. So right now our bathroom feels like a sauna (which has its advantages, if you can get past the scent of chickens). We have six chicks in our whirlpool tub, and my husband has his giggles about that, for sure. When they are big enough and when it’s consistently warm enough, we’ll be moving them outside. Fortunately, Spring Break is right around the corner, so we’ll take this on as a family project.
The first dramatic thing that happened was that one of the chicks had “pasting.” Before we knew it was dangerous, we just fondly called the chick Dingleberry. Fortunately, after what I’m sure was traumatic cleaning for the chick, the name is the only thing that stuck. 🙂 Autumn has interpreted the name and Jingleberry recently. Of course, now we don’t know which chick it was since it recovered well and is healthy and thriving like the other three that look the same. We may just have to come up with two more -berry names!
The next thing wasn’t so much drama as it was wanting to improve their quality of life. I added a perch to their set-up. Give them a little diversity, you know? They loved it immediately. I do have to check in on them sometimes to make sure they’re not playing king of the mountain. As they grow, the space available is shrinking. They are growing rapidly. In a day it seems like their new feathers get longer. These photos are from last week. It really is amazing, and I have to watch myself, making sure I don’t spend too much time checking in on them. Lucky for me I have at least two kids who are content to watch them for as long as I’ll let them.
Aside from getting all in order to build a coop, our next concern is that they’re about to fly out of the tub. One has already figured out how to get on top of the waterer (just the water, not the food yet). Avery said one got out of the tub last night, but I’m hesitant to believe it fully until I see it happen without a child around. It is possible, though.
Our over-arching concern is that they won’t all be hens. Roosters aren’t allowed in the city. Red and Dino are the only two with distinct markings to be able to tell them apart enough to name. May they all be hens. We have friends who would be happy to have a couple of hens, too.
If you’re interested in raising some chicks, my dearest found BackyardChickens.com. Great information there (how we saved Dingleberry’s life!), and good luck to you. If you’re not interested, you’re welcome to live vicariously through our venture.
A friend shared this recipe with me several years ago, and I’ve made it every Thanksgiving since. How grateful I am for our family and friends and the food, shelter, warmth and Love we are so blessed with.
So, I share this with you, with thanks and attribution to Erin W. 🙂
(and this is my kitchen at past-midnight, Thanksgiving-eve)
Sweet Potato Casserole
This casserole is sweet and yummy, almost of dessert quality, so a little goes a long way.
5 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
*In medium bowl (or the 2 qt. dish you’re baking in, if you’re lazy like me!), mash potatoes. Add eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt and butter.
*Pour into buttered baking dish (if you used a bowl — I always omit this step/forget to butter the dish!)
*Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 min. Mix the topping ingredients.
*Remove, heat oven to 375 degrees F.
*Sprinkle on topping. Bake additional 6-8 minutes.
Part of being home is nuturing and nourishing the family. After husband read In Defense of Food, a renewed sense of commitment to nutritional quality and wellness arose. I find it difficult to buy manufactured loaves of bread. Hopefully this is a practice that will last because the allure of homemade bread is irresistible and extremely enjoyable.
Many thanks to this book for making it so easy, though it does eat a chunk out of our refrigerator. I know I’ve mentioned it before.
I think it’s worth it, though, and I’m sure the kids do, too.