these precious days

One of my favorite things about the children is their cheerful and utter confidence they are worthwhile human beings. I call out to Ralph, “I’m going to turn up the heat just until I get into bed – it might get hot in here for a bit.” Before my husband can respond, Nels says, “That’s fine, mama,” placidly – he’s buried under a comforter in my bed, entirely pleased with himself and how the evening is going.

My kids are always assuming I’m addressing them, talking to them like grownups. They make me proud – every single day.

I thought maybe my youngest child would miss public school – after his one-year experiment in the medium last year – but he most certainly does not. The neighbor boys – who first trod on our lawn and then began to peek in at the kitchen door, especially after they were fed well at our Halloween party – now appear here and there, now on the stairs, now on the deck. Nels knows them all, directs them in minor yardwork, and conducts a variety of “Imagination” games in the autumn-soaked greenery. “Just so you know,” one thirteen year old tells me as I walk down the path to the car, past where the boys are sitting: “Nels is awesome.”

My sewing space is getting colder as the temperature falls outside. I find myself without wool and layers to bundle up in, and without a convenient way to heat the space. The occasional massive spider is gone, at least. Just me and my music, and little tiny sweater dresses for an infant, with a cranberry wool caot. Or perhaps a corduroy blazer size 2T in two shades of forest green. Because I just can’t get enough of that sort of thing!

The house quiets; Phoenix, finished with her math homework – which I am kind of amazed she can keep up on – is now drawing a new obsession, a character from one of her beloved cartoon programs. Ralph has made fresh brownies and they cool under a cloth, on the stove. Behind me, the dog groans and stretches, his blanket freshly washed in the morning housework Nels and I conducted.

The summer seems like it was ages ago, but the fall brings comforts. Hasn’t it ever?

i got a man to stick it out, & make a home from a rental house

At the oddest times I suddenly feel like I’m living in a dream. I am loading the washing machine and I suddenly wonder: maybe I will wake up, and our lovely new home will be gone. We will be back in our rental. Nothing was particularly missing, or awry in our old place. But our new home is very, very special to us, and has felt like home from the very beginning.

Now that I’m working for the county a little over half-time, life has a tendency to fly by pretty fast. Today my supervisor asks me to stay late tomorrow, on Election Day – and I tell him, I have to go home and ask the family. It’s unreal to suddenly be working for pay, where there are a hundred (figurative) fires to put out, and not enough time, and every now and then you hear someone say something catty about someone else, which is seriously not something I’ve been around regularly as a homeschooling parent and artisan. And the public comes in and either tries to engage me in idle chit-chat while I’m obviously very busy – or maybe they say something really out of left-field. Or report a changing circumstance in their lives – something heartbreaking or just kind of unimaginable or different than anything I’ve thought about. And there is one issue after another, bam-bam-bam. The hours fly by, and then it’s time to go home!

The cold weather hasn’t set in yet, but the rains have. Yesterday while talking with a friend over coffee, a violent hailstorm of about three minutes’ duration shocked us all. My new house is on a hill, the living room window facing north to my neighbors at a higher elevation. It isn’t exactly an expansive plot of land, and the combination of this closeness and the trees in our neighborhood, help me feel safe, and secure.

Nights, Ralph and the children take our dog for a walk. Tonight three cats followed along. A few moments of quiet, and some time for me to journal. My daughter sits at the kitchen table and completes her homework – now that she’s in college, she’s completing a year of high school math in a quarter’s time. Somehow she’s adjusted to this as smoothly as the rest of us have adjusted. It’s going to take a bit for it to feel real, to feel like a new rhythm – although the old one feels so long ago.

a hot meal for a weary evening

My children are the bright sparks in my life, when things seem to go amiss, to seem dull or muffled. Last night – while my husband and my daughter were deep in their separate studies – my son and I made a simple meal: pasta covered in homemade marinara and golden, bubbling fresh mozzarella – green beans – garlic toast – roasted garbanzo beans – homemade dill pickles. I was tired but Nels chirped alongside me, happy and full of energy. He set the table, and clearly took a great deal of pride in helping dinner along.

I am well aware my children’s experience of this house are on another plane entirely from that of their parents. Nels regularly calls our house his “dream home” and he knows every inch of it – from the two warm attic spaces to the beloved modern kitchen to basement, a basement yesterday he praised high and low for its functionality and usefulness. He is tending a small garden outside and has strong opinions about the landscaping in our very private, very small and lovely backyard. He is quick to give a tour – whether the place is in good shape or not! – to almost anyone, and show off to friends.

My daughter is doing well in her studies, gliding effortlessly into college and digging into hours of homework per night. Today she took herself to soccer practice, came home and played games with her brother, and is finishing up schoolwork as I write. Ralph and I are still flummoxed as to tuition and scholarships: she is too young for many of the academic merit scholarships available, even though she tested so well! Well, there’s a wrench for every nut, as they say.

The beautiful summer has turned into a warm, balmy fall. Our large maple tree is dusting the deck with leaves the color of leather and loam. The days are getting darker and with that change: more introspection, sadness, but also a time of reflection and rest.

Wrapping up in blankets and holding one another a little closer, now and then.

Spoon Creek Falls

‘PAVEMENT ENDS’

I am a Strong, Independent Woman™ but I am not kidding, on today’s sojourn to Spoon Creek Falls I missed my partner more than once. A mile prior to reaching the trailhead, while pulled over at a remote camping/resort facility to make sure we weren’t getting lost, my eyes fall on an official poster exhorting dishearteningly-detailed strategies to survive an attack by a mountain lion or bear. So when we finally get outside on foot I keep thinking how we’ve been having cougar sightings in town (as well as local Great White Sharks but, I wasn’t too worried about those) and that you can’t hear these creatures, until they’re on you, jaws fastened on your neck. Between the intense heat, the isolation of our location, a busted-ass car, my fears of ravenous predators (including scary hillbillies), and an impending ice-cold swim – I figured I’d be nicely tuckered out by the time I got home (I was right on that account).

The kids were bickering just a little as we disembarked on the trail. It had been a long, hot, and unfamiliar drive – and the kids had caught my irritation that even official directions to scenic locales are often a bit wonky. But when we rounded the first trial switchback, barely off the gravel thoroughfare, the view to the 70-foot falls and crystal-clear punchbowl immensely cheered my travel companions. “This was worth the drive,” my son tells me, skipping ahead. “And that’s an understatement!”

Spoon Creek Falls
The falls were private, and magical, in a way my camera couldn’t capture (but hey – here’s a panorama anyway). And while we were there – not a soul to disturb us.* Clear water and the reflection of the ripples dancing on the tree trunks.

The kids thanked me profusely for taking them there. I thought to myself how I’m not at all a natural – exploring, trying to find something new. If it weren’t for the kids, who knows if I’d do it at all!

The ascent back to the trailhead is as steep as one could comfortably walk. We’re wearing flip flops so it’s a little treacherous. I tell my son – “Be careful,” and he says, “Why?”

“You’ll fall and sprain an ankle.”

“Fall into a ‘sprankle‘? What is that?” His voice is that same bright, cautious, very alert tone he’s had his whole life. Nels like Danger. What can I say? He’s hoping for something scary, something fourth-dimension and treacherous. He lives for that stuff.  You already know this.

As we pull back onto the first gravel road, rehydrated and ready for home, my car odometer clicks over to 205,000 miles. The road isn’t so dusty we have to keep the windows up – thank God, as my A/C doesn’t work. Our trip back to Hoquiam was at turns loud – listening to music and singing along – and at times quiet, contemplative – driving through miles of sun-dappled road, the tree-soaked hills roaring up around our ears. We took Donkey Creek back, to avoid the massive amounts of Friday traffic heading to our beaches.

For a day trip it was pretty special, and I’m glad we made it back – a heat wave, a car with a cracked radiator, and isolated backroads are a little nerve-wracking for little ol’ me! Especially given such precious cargo.

Spoon Creek Falls
* ETA – Except horse flies. I had a friend visit the falls the day after I wrote this post – and she reminded me I neglected to note this! So – you’re warned!

Baking

Baking

Melting butter and chocolate in the double-boiler; a cake cools on the counter. In the living room: four teen/preteens stuff themselves on our couch and take to lunch with alacrity.

It isn’t so much that I want to be with the kids, goofing or playing. But providing them with a date, an event, food, a movie, a drive through the countryside: this, it seems, is my vocation. I can do maths and work and produce and write and all that but what I like best is making a home for these young people, their boundless energies, their optimism, their love of one another and of music and play and the physical world. I get completely irritable about the bullocks that grownups are up to and find the conversation of children immensely refreshing.

My studio is alive again – that is to say, a mess. Painting scarlet shapes on blood-red canvas, on wine-hued twill. Another project, another design. Washing dishes, leaning against the counter while my son is asking me something about his homework but I’m thinking of design: topstitching, how many underlayers for the quilted effect? Will this new project work out or be an awkward failure?

Outside the warm weather has changed to a more typical spring chill. My husband mows the lawn; the cats sprawl on furniture not even purring – dead to the world. Likewise, my children fold their lanky frame into corners of the loveseat or bed, chewing through another massive pile of library books their father has provided them. As the children grow into adulthood, my eldest especially, their babyhoods are more on my mind than ever. The age I think of my daughter most is when she was two; she so little resembles that blond, cherubic little presence but in other ways she is astonishingly similar. The same strength, the same scowl, and the same beautiful crooked smile. Her babyhood flowed through my fingers like sand, as much as I tried to enjoy every moment.

A Little Rough

January:

The days are short,
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark

The rent money: it isn’t here (but thanks to a friend, we’ve got groceries! and – thank you thank you thank you!).

Two cats are sick; yesterdays’ gratis vet appointment fell through due to flood.

An unexpected bill (or two). An overdraft fee. Memories of when that was a lifestyle. Let it go. It’s not that way, today.

This morning: my daughter is diagnosed with asthma. The doctor can tell this is a bit for me to process. So he begins speaking slowly, explaining things in a thorough, calm manner. His kindness and dignity are so moving I feel the sting of tears in my chest.

(outwardly: I am stoic!)

I am ill – a head cold – but I do my job. I do the laundry, and the housework, and I drive a kid or two here and there. My head hurts. But I ask after people. How are they? How is their day?

I drink my water. I feel nausea. I swim in it, for a bit. I breathe deep.

(outwardly: I am stoic!)

Yoga class – a more challenging class than I’d expected. My back is strong – my leg strengthening work has clearly evidenced itself as we move through warrior, side-angle, triangle.

Headstand. I fear the attempt against a wall; I want help. I don’t ask for help. I try it. I bang my head against the wall. Everyone says, “OMG are you okay?!”

(outwardly: I am stoic!)

Lit candles: in awareness for our neighbors who have been affected by, and devastated by, the flood.

The truth is, I do have a pretty good attitude. And days like today it shows. And I need to keep a record so I can treat myself with the kindness I’d wish, in the future, I’d had the sense to enact today.

 A Little Rough

A Little Bit Damp

here’s a night pities neither wise man nor fool

We’ve been hit unbelievably hard with flooding.

Sunday night after yoga class I noticed the rain was fantastic – even for an area known for its rain. Deep in that evening while we slept the county – especially Aberdeen, and to a lesser extent Hoquiam – absolutely went awash.

By nine in the morning my entire family and I had (carefully) made our way to a grocery shop to get enough supplies for a day or two – as many roads were impassable. I passed someone in the aisle I’d known since I was eight – I was to find out later, they’d lost a house only hours before.

Both the kitties’ trip to the vet (offered by a friend helping us out) and my daughter’s doctor’s appointment were cancelled. School was cancelled. Ralph’s workday: cancelled. Almost all the roads in and out and everywhere: closed!

My social media stream began trickling in photographs of basements and homes flooded – cars submerged, streets absolutely awash. I comforted my friends and neighbors, I updated my own feed with our day’s events. I thought a bit about those working hard to help – especially the road crews, police, aid workers, and all who had to brave the elements.

Our house stayed warm, and dry. Our animals and human family members stayed safe. Nels even made a little newscast last night.

Life goes on even during catastrophe. Last night at 1:30 AM, and quite improbably, the neighbors across the street – who yesterday had a lengthy, out-of-doors, screaming, I’m calling the cops! fight – suddenly blast a soulful, sexy R&B tune.

My son: kept up into the wee hours by night terrors. This morning, my heart is sad.

The doctors don’t seem to be in just yet. My attempts to reschedule Phee’s doctor’s appointment – I am concerned with her cough – go in vain. A glass of water, a couple ibuprofen for my own sore throat – and then falling into bed with an anxious little boy, who is home from school.

A Little Bit Damp

no family is safe when I sashay!

I’m up before the children – three, in all – and I have those few minutes after my husband leaves for work, and before anyone else joins me. I shower, and dress. No makeup but a little lipstick – hair back in a slouch cap. Dishes, and laundry, and tidying up some tailoring work as we’ll be expecting company throughout the day.

Now I wake up the children: first, my son, who is frightened over the vaccination he’s set to receive this morning. Then, the girls: my daughter and the kids’ friend C. We’ve got to hit two doctor’s appointments back-to-back. We’ll be doing that before we get a meal out together.

It’s rainy out but I have a little coffee in my Nalgene bottle, and my warm scarf. The kids are cheerful company. Phoenix is a young woman now and would no more skip a morning shower than I. Her hair is wet; her face dear freckled face snubbed with a little powder. At the doctor’s, she finds some women’s magazine – Jane or Marie Claire or something – while the other young girl finds a Highlights.

People in the office, and later running errands – so many seem so unhappy. Irritable at those minor delays that happen everywhere. At the taquería working class men look me up and down as I ferry drinks and napkins and salsa to the table. I eat slowly, checking my phone. Enjoying that first meal of the day. I eat until I’m satisfied. And now: I must get us home. Drop one child off, receive another. Put together a few Christmas gifts.

It’s cold and rainy; my car is giving me fits. Tomorrow is payday so tonight I can write a check for our dinner, and for Christmas Eve dinner. My husband is tired – as tired as I. My knees, my neck ache. My son runs through the house, first acting out every song in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (he’s still quite fixated); later, in a pair of neon green boys’ briefs that match the garish bandaid on his thigh – his vaccination site.

The rain, the curious meow of kitties needing love. Keeps me company as the house falls more and more still.

Movie Date

i titter & coo / like i’m a cartoon / i congratulate you / as i leave the room

We’re in a group of about thirteen people all watching a film – and next to me my son sits in his white fur cap, content as possible. I watch him as he eats popcorn and tidily drinks from a small can of Sprite soda. His elven profile tears at my heart. I am rendered entirely helpless at how much I love him, and his sister, how they are my everything life and limb and body.

Today I dug into rent money to take my children – and two others – to the movie, and then for pizza dinner. I popped popcorn and hit the drugstore candy aisle and all that stuff because I will work for it, to give them a decent memory on their Winter vacations from school. All that work to try to get us to the theater on time and watching the film I am almost entirely disinterested; I check my phone as discretely as I can. I have a special exhaustion that seems fruitless and yet serene. I just have to move my body from here to there, to wash dishes, to cook pizzas, to direct children to wash hands or get ready for bed – et cetera, et cetera.

Last night was the second night in a row my son falls asleep right next to me, where I sit – crumpled up against me, his body turns heavy and his breathing even. As much as his interests have turned to school, for now (well – kickball and P.E., really), he is still a little boy who finds comfort in his mother. Why he seems so young and his sister – so much more sedate, darkling, older than her years – seems so grown, I do not know. It’s a rather dreadful juxtaposition as I’m torn between being too-important and not-important-enough, depending on which child I behold. Both children seek out my arms often and when I hold them I’m just wrecked in so many ways.

A Christmas package in the mail: a project knit in secret. Homemade Christmas cards. Yoga, and some time to myself on the mat. Breathing out a deep “cleansing breath” and feeling my face against synthetic plastic and knowing my husband is now at home, caring for the children. Dinner will be ready when I arrive and another day will come to a close.

Day in and day out, caring for younglings, one can learn quite a bit about the Right Stuff for the Right Reasons.

Movie Date

stitch by stitch, inch by inch

Tonight feels very special. The day was a quiet, reflective one – populated here and there by debilitating nausea while my kidneys work stuff out.

My work goes well. I am constructing, slowly but steadily, a tailored wool blazer. The weather outside is crisp, sunny – and has that wild edge, the verge of a storm. In the afternoon I head out to the kids’ school and help my son’s class make a fall craft – grating crayons, pressing the colors into wax paper, cutting out fall leaves. It’s a simple project but the children take to peeling and grating crayons with alacrity – and every one of them enjoys sprinkling the flecks on translucent paper and watching the resultant blooms under my old steam iron.

Tomorrow the children and Ralph don’t attend school or job – so tonight, while they are off at a meeting, I clear up my sewing work, sweep the floor, set some essential oils out in the diffuser, light a new candle for my shrine, put away laundry, and lower the lights. I am feeling nauseated and dizzy, but I pace myself so I can get the house ready. The cats pad in and out of living space – peeking into the master bedroom where Ralph’s floor-refinishing equipment provides new terrain.

Today I only talked to a couple people outside my family, and the classroom of children. This felt nice and reflective. A little different, too, than most my days!

Ralph and the children return. He brings bowls of vegetables out the fridge, kneads masa. Tex Mex puffy tacos with Chile Con Queso, rice, fresh tomatoes. I am secretly working on a Christmas present for him which I have to carefully hide so he won’t discover it. The thing is, I could trust my kids to never ever tell.

They don’t grass up.