Thursday, September 25, 2014


Kale provides life lessons. Before it has sprouted it is just a pretty picture in the Johnny's seed cataglog. So much promise and youthful adventure in such names as Toscano, Russian Red. First romance comes to mind in the Sunrise variety. All those glossy photos show what kale can be; unblemished, blight free.

This year I planted too much kale. This happens in spring we make promises that we can  only mostly keep. There is energy to keep kale under floating row cover. Swattled against flea beetle. Powdered with diatomaceous earth to deter slug and cabbage worm. So much care given to tender micro greens with the hope of growing a robust provider.

However, by summer kale turns bitter with heat while my attentions turns to more fleeting vegetables like sweet peas and cherry tomatoes. It can't be helped.  There is so many diversions. But by autumn time is measured by chores  completed: the wood is stacked, the apples sauced, the socks are darned.

The garden is emptied, brown and rotted. Withered by a few frosts and the neglect that comes with too many green tomatoes and not enough time. There are a few cabbages left to pick and brussel sprouts have yet to have their day. Pumpkins are still be to pied and carved. And when it is all has been canned,  frozen or put by for the shorter days, Kale will still be standing like green sentinels in the garden. Mature in its flavor after a touch of frost when so much else succumbs to the season.

Kale persists. Thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Handling Abundance

The kettle is on. First thing in the morning, it heats the water for my one cupper coffee filter. The fuel that gets this mama moving. This mama is always moving these days. Work is busy with college students buying books, planning author events, front list (new books) being released in greater numbers as the calendar creeps towards Christmas.

Home is busy. The school schedule has taken full hold of our time now. Homework has started. Cub scouts and Piano have started. Finding time to just let Evan play becomes a religious pilgrimage. It is sacred time I feel uncompomising about. It is also scheduled time but I make sure it happens.

Home is busy for me too. I did plant a garden this year. It is a vital part of our overall welfare. It defrays costs at the grocery store. It eases the loads we have to carry in in the winter. This time of year it feels like a race against frost. Can I get one more batch of pesto? How many green tomatoes are left? Do I have time to get to the farm for pick-your-own tomatoes ( 1.25 a pound!). More importantly, do I have time to put them up?

Ah there's the rub. I confess to spending a few hours, after a long day, hanging over the canner. I have not put by as much as I used to in the past. I just don't need rennet anymore. I'm not making cheese these days. I like making wine but I really shouldn't drink the wine I make.

And there are some things that I really should give more attention to; like the crazy amount of apples in my orchard.

Here's this crazy thing I am just realizing. We are only given what we can handle. Well, yes and no, while we are in what ever craziness life is throwing at us it can feel like more than we can handle. I would not presume to diminish the pain and strife of anyone. What I mean by given more than we can handle comes down to this..

Last year in all the turmoil my dehydator broke. Not a big deal normally. Had I the resources it would have been a tool I would have replaced. But I didn't. There were few jars filled...maybe some jam, a couple of jars of tomatoes, saurkraut and whatever could get into the freezer did. But there was no money for the big bag of corn, there was no money for blueberry picking. Oh and there were no apples in the orchard; early bloom and a frost took care of that.

I don't like waste; especially food waste. I would have made an effort to put by what I could but many would have just fed the deer.

So, I guess you could say that I was not given any more apples than I could handle last year.

This year; however, I am blessed with abundance. Nature seems to be in sync with me as long as I can keep up. There are piles of food still to be processed: tomatoes, zuchinni and lots and lots of apples.

I can handle it.

                                                                    My Midsummer Garden

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I paint my door red

My new door. That something like a new door should carry such weight in my world may seem a silly thing to some folks but it signifies a lot to me. Last winter was brutal. I have objective proof of this all around my home. The roof caved in on the wood shed. Snow fell off the roof and blocked our windows. Tristan was outside three times in one day just trying to keep the snow that slid off the roof  from blocking the windows. ( Such a good kid!) A window broke when a chunk of ice went through it at 6 am one cold February morning. 

I tell folks that you could blame me for last winter's brutality. Last October,I stood in my woodshed and bragged that I had the same amount of wood put up as the year before, only I  had it all under cover and stacked long before my ex ever did. 

And then I ran out of wood.

 This does not even tell the whole story. My kind neighbor plowed us out last year. Normally, I just park the car up on the town maintained part of the road and we trek out in snowshoes. Being plowed out felt like a luxury. 

Alas, this becomes the story of the three trucks. The first truck got stuck in the drive way when my battery died on a bitter cold morning. AAA ( a kind gift from my aunt) came down the drive to give me a jump. However a flat bed tow truck is no match for the like of the narrow driveway. We had to push the car to the tow truck for the jump and then we had to wait for the truck to get out. The second truck was delivering firewood. This truck did have the foresight to back down. But I did warn him that he might get stuck so we would not mind if the wood got dumped at the top of our portion of the road and we would haul it down.. Yep he backed it down and got stuck and we still had to haul the wood in. The third truck was a AAA truck again; only this time he was pulling me out of the mud. But he got stuck in the mud himself, then broke a hydraulic line. 

At this point you are probably asking yourself, " What does this have to do with a door?"


That new door  was installed at the same time the two new windows in my kitchen were replaced. I got some help from the Mission of the Eastward with the labor. The old door was so old that, no matter how much weather stripping we put around the door, we could still see daylight. My broken window is replaced. There is nearly 3 cord of wood in the driveway and I am saving money for snow tires and a portable battery chargers.  I bartered a four wheeler for a snow blower so we can keep the snow away from the front of the house and make some easier trails for walking. I will not park down at the house this winter. No matter what!

Some people buy boats, I buy doors.

I live at the very end of a two mile dirt road. I can afford the mortgage on my house a lot better than the rent for an apartment. However, when we moved here there was another person whose skills offset the ones I did not have. I am figuring out how to do this on my own. One door at a time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Food for Thought

It is nearing dinner. After piano lessons, we go home; hopefully to be there by 4:45, and then I will have to answer another one of those grand illuminated questions of life, “ What is for dinner?”

When I think about how much mental space is consumed with this question every single day I think, “Gosh imagine the empires conquered, the great art that could have been made, the good works done, if I did not have to think about this Every. Single. Day.”

There was a time, not very long ago, when what was prepared for dinner was an important part of my identity. I was a stay at home mom. I cleaned the house, got the kids where they needed to go and I cooked a healthy, wholesome, from scratch dinner; sometimes all grown on our own land or locally sourced, nearly every night. If I didn't cook the meal, I still had a plan.

There would pots of stew, new recipes to try. I would give myself cooking challenges to see just how local I could go. How many things can one make from a rutabaga? I would can nettle juice for rennet for making cheese. I would drink teas from red clover picked over weeks during the summer and dehydrated. This seems like leisure to me now.

Planning is ultimately important to this new way of living. But compromises have had to be made. There is just not enough time to cook every meal, every night of the week. Some nights I am athe only one home, some nights I am not home at all. I confess to boxed macaroni and cheese ( the healthiest kind I can find, but, well you know , it comes from a box)But, despite this, some nights the guys and I can enjoy a good meal.

These meals take on extra meaning now. They are nearly sacred. I find myself resistant to accepting invitations, add more outside work and more kids' extra curriculars so that we can have these 2 , sometimes 3, meals a week. They are meals where I approach the task of cooking with calm. There is no harried prep of food for the sake of sustenance but an actual event with thought and intention. There is grace and candlelight. There is communion together around the table.

And then there is the multi-tasking I can take care of when I am cooking the meal. Inevitably making these meals gives me a boost of energy to prepare for busier times, warm the home with something baked or, these days, put something in the canner for winter. Maybe I can whip up a batch of granola or get some bread started. If I double the recipe I can have the left overs for a meal after a long day. I am well aware of the strategies to keep the good food coming even when the energy isn't there to cook it.

In the end , as with everything, it comes down to balance. Somedays that balance leans towards expediency and necessisty. Somedays it leans towards nourishment of our bodies and our souls.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Catch a breath

Pacing. Some days; despite my best intentions, there is just chaos. Yesterday I woke at a little later than intended. I wrote for a while, got ready for work, swept the living room floor, prodded Evan to get ready for school. I left the house at 8:20. I thought I would have enough time to pay the after school care person, put Tristan's bike in the car so I could take it to the repair shop after work, get gas, deliver books for the store at Evan's school and still have a good amount of time to sit at the local coffee shop to deal with online stuff. All before 10:00 in the morning; when I have to go to work.

What was I thinking?

If, as I planned, it all went according to design the morning would have been busy. I should know at this point that it never goes according to plan. It started with a hiccup at the day care. We ended up chatting for a few minutes to take care of logistics. Then , the bike would not fit in the car; of course. Finally, I had to stop for gas if I wanted to go anywhere else. Evan did arrive to school on time, I did make it down town but not before feeling swept up in the pin ball machine that had become the morning.

Work was brief and,well ,somedays; as much as I love my job, it can be work. I had a “something” I had to deal with when “something” else got in the way. Which left no time to take care of the first something before I had to meet Evan at the bus.

Somedays, just leaving the house with clothes on can feel like a big accomplishment.

Once home I find I can switch gears. Evan shared his day. We had a snack. We changed into our play clothes. He packed his bag for his weekend with his dad and I went to the garden to see what needs to be picked.

A second crop of broccoli is coming on like gangbusters. The first crop has been sending out a multitude of florets. There are tomatoes, cucumbers and an abundance of famine food we call zuchinni. There is a heft to the harvest basket. Once these are gleaned I move on the berries.

A chance to really slow down. I can feel the gears shifting; third into second. Elderberries are plump and plentiful this year. Another rush of everbearing raspberries has invited the hum of bumble bees. They must prepare for winter as well. The black berries were late this year. When I think of the many quarts of berries I keep in the freezer I marvel at the fact that I have touched every single berry. One at a time they are proof of a collection of sunny days, quiet moments and the joys I had sharing some of this job with Evan. In those moments when I am picking I know for sure that I am day dreaming, catching those cosmic lines that will only fall near you when you have that quiet moment.

Now that the berries are here I feel inspired to make wine and jam of the assorted berries I've gathered. This may be work too but never feels like it.

Pacing. Somedays there is no pacing. It can feel hard to find those quiet moments that allow one simple thing...a breath.

Thank goodness for berries.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dust to Dust

 For a just a few minutes I stand in the middle of my house and say.” This is good.”

The afternoon sun shines through the living room windows. The house plants are plump and healthy looking from their morning drink of water. I walk across the floor and do not feel grit on my bare feet. In the kitchen everything is in its place. It looks ready for cooking. No smells of dirty socks, used kitty litter, rotted refrigerator science experiments. Laundry catches a breeze on the line; a friendly wave from the house goddess.

It is still mid afternoon and there is a luxury ahead for me. I can actually sit and knit or read to Evan.

And just like that the moment is gone. Toys litter the floor, grass clippings are brought in on shoes. Kitty litter is tracked across the rug in the living room. Dinner is made. It starts all over again.What was once a a quaint domestic scene is now something out of an action thriller.

My mission, if I should choose to accept it, is to maintain a clean house during the week. This seems like it should be an easy task. But no. There are long days when I don't get home till 7:30. The first week of school behind us I feel like I am driving bumper cars; bouncing from one thing to another.

My heart is not the only one that beats in these four walls. I try to enlist the other bipeds help. One boy, the not so tall one, sorts recycling and returns the bin from the curb, he puts the silverware away, he helps to make dinner. He picks up his room sometimes easily; sometimes its like rangling a bucking bronco. The other boy, now man, washes dishes, takes the garbage out, does his laundry, attends to heavier chores like chopping and stacking wood.

My plan this last week was to do one thing everyday, at least, to stay ahead of the devolving state of the house. I cleaned the house on Sunday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it felt like I was succeding. Counters cleared, table cleared, floor swept every day, cat poop scooped. All it took was one day. ONE DAY?? One very long day and it sorta went all to pot.

How does a house get messy if no one is home? I put this unanswerable question up there with some of the other great mysteries of life like...what is the meaning of life?

Okay...I do have one idea to all this. It comes to me at the writing of this post. It is 7:27 am. I could be sweeping the floor, washing a few dishes in the sink and instead I am here...clutter on the table has been pushed aside for the lap top, Evan is dozing up stairs. I should rouse him. I began this post at 7:10.
Twenty minutes of writing..hmm

writing or scopping cat poop? Is there really a choice there?

                                                Getting real at Fleecenik Farm.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What is enough?

I dreamt last night that I had a large sum of cash; so big it would not fit in my hand. I remember feeling anxious that I did not know what to do with it. It sorta flopped all over the place in the way I imagine such a volume might. Bills scattering around my feet. I felt clumsy with so much. I know I had a conversation where I told the nondescript presence that I did not need this much but only needed enough.

I woke this morning wondering what enough is?

This seems to be a life long question for me. When I was a child I knew that we were poor. Not poor in the we don't have enough money to buy food. Poor in the way that it was a struggle to manage unforseen expenses. Poor in the way that all my classmates knew I got free lunch. Poor in the way that my mother could not afford the more expensive shoes or the shirts and socks for our school uniform mid school year. Five turtle necks, five pair of knee socks, let the hem out on the one uniform in September; make them last for 9 months no matter how much the sleeves shorten or the elastic wore out on the socks.

My mother worked full time as a diet techniciam at the local hospital. My dad did not pay child support. My mom supported two children. I have these memories of her sitting at the kitchen table with a coke, a cigarette and this wide ruled pad of paper. She excelled in addition and subtraction. We knew better than to bother her at these times.

I remember her bitterness after a visit to the welfare office when the worker asked her where my brother and I got our new winter jackets. My grandparents had bought them. I remember her honest fretting when our medicaid got cut during the Reagan years.We stopped going to the dentist after that. I remember trips to the surplus food store. It was a real treat to get a whole big box of orange cheese.

I remember her pride at paying off the lay away on our bedroom furniture.

From my childhood recollections I think, well, I knew we were poor but we had enough. My mom had pride but she did not let that get in the way of what she needed to do to take care of her kids. We received some services: foodstamps, medicaid, section 8. My mom had family to help out. My grandparents provided more than I am even aware off. My aunt was the cool aunt who gave us extras. Extended family were always giving us bags of produce from their garden. Their were friends who provided childcare.

Is this enough? Sure we were provided for. My mom went through a lot of stress. She put up with a job that was a constant headache. I seem to remember she also put up with some sexual harrassment. She was lonely and bitter at my father for leaving her for another woman. She was angry to be the only parent too. Though she would never admit it.

Oddly, it was never a driving motivation for me to have more than my mother. Perhaps if it were then I would probably have finished college. I would have followed my grandmothers advice and found “ a good factory job.” Regardless, I really have no regrets. I always had a job, I always paid my rent and I always ate.

And often I struggled.

After I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I started reading about the simplicity movement. If I couldn't find a job that would pay me a bazillion dollars I could at least need fewer of those dollars to get by. I livd in Portland. I had cheap rent, no car, a garden. I had pretty low overhead. If I couldn't have a bazillion dollars I could at least have some time to do the things that brought meaning to my life. I read Duane Elgin, Joe and Vicki Robinson and the Nearings. I grew a garden, learned to knit, used my library librally

I did not have a lot of money but I did have the other important thing. Time and better health as my MS symptoms receded.

And then I married. Marriage does provide one thing, some economic security. I worked at home growing our food. I provided an economic benefit to our household. And now,well, we eat, I can pay my mortgage. Compared to 2 years ago when I was not working, unhappily married and shell shocked by the impending changes. We get by. But still we struggle. Not enough work, not enough pay. I find ways to need less money but still sometimes the car does not understand this.

Today, there are workers from all over the country who work for fast food restaurants striking for a living wage. If you are going to work real hard shouldn't you be assured that you income covers your basic expenses. Shouldn't a job provided enough?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Day of School

I was awakened at 2 am by a cat who thought this was a good time to eat. The simple act of removing his loving, purring ,annoying body from the room so that I may get back to sleep has insured that I will be awake for a while.

The alarm goes off at 6 am. This was going to be the day to start the new writing regimen. Wake at 6 before everyone else. Get at least a cuppa coffee and a half an hour of writing before the day kicks into high gear. Alas alas...I hit the snooze. And then his small foot steps climb the stairs and his body instinctively fits next to mine like a lost puzzle piece finally joined with its brethren. Cuddles.

This is the first day of school. There are routines we need to revive. Breakfast, bathes, backpacks and cold lunches. What marks this day is the tie he wears. A red and blue striped tie. I let my motherly concern for bullying go for this day and let him wear it. I have learned to let him him live his own life in little ways. If there are consequences he knows he can talk to about them to me. And he does.We leave a few minutes early so that we can have breakfast sandwiches at Douin's, the local general store, and we read. A new school year tradition I adhere to regardless of what changes we have or may face. He reads a Jo Nesbo for kids. I read a book for work by Dianna Wynne Jones. And then we go to school.

Small tanned bodies, parents holding coffee cups, new shoes all clutter the hall awaiting the bell to ring. There are hellos from classmates and last year's teachers. The guidance counselor gets an extra special hug. She has helped us through some hard bumps and bruises as Evan got used to school and his parents divorce. We find his classroom on the second floor ( big promotiom). No longer a cubby kid, we find his locker and find his classroom. We introduce ourselves to his teacher, find his desk, quick hug and this moment is gone. In my car I remember I left my coffee on the piano at home.

In the car my mind wanders. It is a familiar route. Routine. I arrive in town early enough to take care of a few errands and then head to work.

It is a busy day at the bookstore. College students are back. Some professors at the Univeristy order their books for their classes from us. Local public schools order from us and it is a busy time of year for new releases for the general retail end of the business. The day flies and soon it is, blessedly, five o'clock. Finish cash out, lock up and head to the small grocer for, unabashedly yes, a box of mac and cheese, milk, dog food and cat food. Rush to the after school care provider who meets my guy at the bus most afternoons.

She has recently lost her husband. He died suddenly. I could provide reams of wisdom but really, she just needs to talk.

In the car I hear all about my little guy's day. He seems excited to start the school year. He feels challenged by some of the math but open to learning it. His school is small enough that he is cherished by his learning community for his individuality. Who could ask for more?

I pull into the drive way at 6pm. Not a lot of time before my guy has to be in bed.

Once home I dump out the cold coffee from the morning. Pick some broccoli in the garden; some for dinner and some for the freezer. It may not be a fancy dinner; partially processed, but it was done in ten minutes. The whole time I was making it my guy was right there with me sharing his day. He finishes his dinner. I spend some time writing this post.

Time for reflection? Sure why not.

Not a bad day. Everyone in the house had a good day. We may not have accomplished everything we set out to do but we got enough done that we are not disappointed in ourselves. We are so grateful to our school district for having late Wednesday mornings because this means much to us. An easier morning tomorrow, a time to take care of some light chores, perhaps we walk the dog, perhaps I get up at 6 am and I write some more...

But there are miles to go...

I read to him from the Wynne-Jones book. We dance to Phil Ochs as he revolves around the record player. My guy climbs the ladder to his bunk bed. Hugs, Kisses and the last bit of sharing from his day,

The day is done.

How to be a single parent

How to be a single parent? Well; by fate, circumstance, death, your own dysfunction, someone else's dysfunction, that special stew of dysfunction you shared with your former partner, you find yourself the only parent in your home responsible for the little people that reside there at least part of the time. Statistically speaking the majority of single parent homes are headed by women. A large percentage of children in poverty live in homes headed by single parents. These are homes and families with challenges that any solid family unit do not have.
How do I know this? Well, I am a single mother.Twice over. My first son was born when I was 26 years old. I left an abusive relationship when I was 6 months pregnant. I gave birth,took 6 week maternity leave at the same time that Dan Quayle was maligning Murphy Brown for being a single parent. I went back to work when my son was 6 weeks old with spotty daycare, a former boyfriend I would have to negotiate with for the next 18 years, a low paying job.
My second son was born when I was 39. This time I was married. It was never a whirlwind romance. But it was comfortable and reliable ( so I thought). We shared the same dreams. But as the years past, I realized I was really unhappy and I wasn't getting what I needed out of the relationship. I supported everything he wanted to do but somehow there was never any room for what I wanted. And him. I can only guess. My theory is he didn't want to be married anymore and he needed somebody to be the bad guy..and that wasn't going to be him.
So there I am 45. I have a 6 year old. I have no job in one of the toughest job markets in decades. I have a forty year old house at the end of a 2 mile dirt road that needs work I can't afford to fix and can't afford to sell. I have a crappy car. A single mother again.
That was two years ago. I know challenges. I know shame. In know pride in my boys. I have had small but very important triumphs as well. And while I may not be on the solid financial footing I was on when I was married; while connecting the dots between incoming and outgoing funds may require a little negotiating with my friends Peter and Paul, every day; like so many other single parents, I get the job done.