Mama Son Day

Before the first day of school arrived, before we all got sick and sniffly and miserable, before the weather turned so very cool, before the return to the hectic days of homework and the tyranny of weekly schedules… My seven year old and I took some time off for one day, just the two of us.

Antique Cars

Flume

Fountain Flume

Lily Pad

Frogs

Carnivore

 

Deadly Dinner

Take A Peek

Downhill Engineer

Water Works

Up Up And Away

We walked all around the magnificent acres of the Heritage Museum and Gardens looking at cars, and playing in frog ponds (our favorite part, we think), wandering through the current exhibits, and discovering hidden hollows meant for exploring and building and getting wet and being a kid. He laughed and jumped and ran, stretching those legs of his and soaking up the last bit of clear summer sunshine as I walked more slowly, following his lead and letting him chose which paths to follow. He waited for me around the corners, unseen, and even when climbing up ahead, he checked back when he reached the summit, just a small glance and only once or twice, before running on

The most difficult, heartbreaking challenge of parenting isn’t about the number of times you’ve failed them, how often you’ve lost patience, how many fevered brows and scraped up knees you’ve kissed, or the growing pains you’ve witnessed but can not take away… it is learning how to let them go, bit by bit, even when you don’t know how and you’re not ready.

Hand Held

 

I hope, as he gets older and we experience more of those bumps and bruises known as the adolescent and teen years, that he remembers this day as fondly as I do. That maybe if he doesn’t exactly remember that moment he reached for my hand, that he’ll have internalized the knowledge that mine was there, waiting and ready, for his.

 

With Open Arms, Welcome September

It never fails… ever.

August rolls around, the cicadas start to sing, the grass is burnt to a fragrant, golden, late-summer crisp, the shops pull out all the stops for their back to school displays, and my creativity starts to trickle back to life, slowly building into a steady stream that come September is a full-on flood. I welcome its return. Often, I find this time of year more rejuvenating, more full of promise and excitement than the turn of the new year in January. Surely I’m not the only one?

Travel Prep

This summer was so very, very full for us all. There were :: broken bones, or I suppose, just one bone; lengthy stays with the grandparents back in Pennsylvania, European travel to Greece, France, and Germany; ten year wedding anniversaries to celebrate (hence the reason for the grandparents and travel!), garden created just for flowers, a visit to a yarn facility run by family, birthdays galore, visits from new friends just to devote some time to making, creating, lobster bakes, time for socks and sandals (socks and sandals? my goodness who let that happen?)… oh I could go on!

Thems the Breaks

Socks and Sandals

Already there are ambitious plans shaping up for this Fall as well :: a cookbook club, some long-planned and much-needed home improvements, a new photo project or two, more knitting to finish up and even more to start, some amazing fiber to spin, a few rooms to revamp and/or finish up, a much neglected blog to return to, maybe a weensy bit more travel, Christmas projects to begin (I’m determined to get a jump start this year!)… oh I could go on!

I’m really looking forward to diving into all these projects that are floating around my head. Do you have any exciting plans?

Squam :: Of Pathfinding and Salt and Hay-Scented Fern

During the summers when I was a small child, we used to drive several hours to my grandmother’s camp nearly every weekend, to a small, no-longer-mobile home placed on a small, cleared piece of property up a hill from a not-so-small river. There were, on any given weekend, a range of five to ten adults and seven or more of us little cousins. I remember that time more as a vignette than a storyboard, an abstraction of knees and heels and elbows, sharp angles and unfiltered energy covered in mosquito-bite scabs and sunburns; sweaty, our hair plastered to our foreheads as we lay on the floor of the back bedroom, a jumble of blankets and pillows, too excited to sleep, each of us filled with whispers and summer songs and scary stories.

Memories of a River

There are a handful of particular moments that rise above the din, but for my purposes here, it is the gestalt where I am finding my thoughts drawn. It is difficult to describe this phenomenon fully, what I picture is more of memory of a memory, a trace left behind of what has been forgotten. I believe these are the roots of nostalgia, a longing to capture those wispy threads and weave them into something more than a few frames of a short movie clip, a desire to process their meaning into something relevant to our lives as we live them now so we can preserve the ephemeral and transform it into what we believe is more concrete.

Sitting on the Dock

It is within this space where I am now processing the past week spent at Squam. I have been trying to write about the experience for the past three days, but haven’t found the right way of stringing together the words to properly convey and commit those moments to the meaning I intend. I find myself thinking about the pleasures and taste of salt, the difficulties of describing that intensity, the brightness, complexity mixed with desire, and somehow an understanding of how it all comes together without the ability to call it anything else than by what is already known. There are no simple words for it, and using metaphor is the only clumsy way in which I can imagine it might make sense.

Little Bits of Work

On Friday morning I found myself a tiny bit lost in the woods of New Hampshire, not realizing I was on the incorrect path until I found myself at the far edge of the camp. I wasn’t truly lost with the lake on my right, and I didn’t have a particular schedule so I felt little need to continually compare the forks in the road with the map I carried along. I was trying to find a way to capture the beautiful paths that led through the woods through the lens of my camera, paths that were hard to find and impossible to photograph while looking ahead, yet magically appeared under your feet with each steady-paced step.

Hidden Path

That walk was so very evocative of the woods in the backyard of my childhood and the entire placed smelled like my grandma’s camp. “Hay-Scented Fern,” my cabin mate Ivy pointed correctly toward the lacy green covered ground, but she didn’t know what she was missing in her description; she carries none of my memories of elbows and summer scabs. Her nostalgia was fed by the sounds of squeaky sliding summer doors. Olivia, by thoughts of screened-in lake-view porches for a summer’s worth of writing. Or Jenn, by the paths left on her body mapping her entry into motherhood. Only short, shared glimpses of a whole that is difficult to see, capture, or describe fully, but imbued with meaning none-the-less.

Hay-Scented Fern

And so it is with Squam. A collection of amazing women, in an incredible setting, exploring our creativity, and restoring our spirits. Each of us finding and losing and finding once more our own paths, intersecting with others, connecting through experience and stories over smoky camp fires in rustic cabins, coffee served in thimbles, and meals announced by the ringing of a bell carrying clearly over the still waters of the lake. Words that describe only the vaguest sense of what the experience actually meant to those who participated. And therein lies the crux of my problem; I am grasping at all the threads gently drifting on currents of thought, trying to tie together that which is amorphous and unwilling to be shaped by restrictive constraints of words falling inextricably in line to explain the entirety of something too abstract to properly convey.

Process Piece

Squam is the path; impossible to see beyond the length of your step or to capture through the limitations of any lens, but unfolding steadily as it was always meant to be. And we are the salt; a richness, a point of saturation in sensation, an experience that defies description, but is instantly understood by all who know it.

Be Back Soon

This is an incomplete and unworthy metaphor, this talk of salt and paths, but it the best I can manage. Perhaps the words will come to me next year—and yes, I will absolutely return—when likely I will once again find myself following an unexpected trail with an unknown destination. I will think of the friends I made; fellow mamas who pack up all the belongings and move themselves and their four children on a boat to set sail to far away islands; women who feed the hungry of their community every Tuesday for eight years with soups and salads and twelve loaves of the bread they make each week; two women who maintain their cross-coast connection through Squam every year but are willing to open their arms to welcome new friends; vibrant women who have already written two books before they’ve reached mid-life, and who will share openly their passion and talents and offer honest advice; women who are our personal icons who teach and nurture us along this path and share themselves and open their hearts (and studios) as the most amazing resources…

And I will be sure to think of salt once more.

Food on Friday :: Fried Egg Sandwich

I imagine, during these last long days before Spring, there are different food we all crave when we seek out comfort. Mine is the color of sunshine on a warm summer morning.

I am pretty sure that if I were to go back in time and tell me six year old self that this humble fried egg sandwich would be something that not only would I eat, but actually dream about, I would think the messenger had me confused without someone else.

Butter Onion Salt

I love to cook, although sometimes my plans are grander than what time or energy may allow. But there are times when I need something filling, and warm, that wraps arounds me like a soft blanket, and of course it should be quick. It never ceases to amaze me with all the spices and recipes and fancy vinegars and oils I keep on hand, that it’s the humble combination of onion, butter, and eggs to which I always return.

Nicely Browned

Browned gently with a touch of salt, the onions become transformative, changing a few beaten eggs into substantive meal especially when placed between two slices of bread thickly spread with mustard.

Add Beaten Eggs

It smells wonderful. I can’t imagine a more welcoming scent than onions and butter cooking together. This, to me, is the smell of home.

Falls Right On Out

I know some recipes call for a gentle approach to heating the onions and cooking the eggs. This, however, isn’t a delicate recipe, and I find the browning of both with a quick and hot flame adds a bit of depth, a touch of texture, and a quality that some may call rustic, but I consider heartening. And you need the good old-fashioned yellow mustard here; dijon and whole grain have their place but it is not here on this sandwich.

Yellow Mustard

My mom used to make this for supper and although I’m sure we had them occasionally all year, I associate them most with clear winter evenings when the light faded early and the fireplace was warm and inviting and burned your back when you sat too close.

Piled High

This is a pile-it-high type of sandwich, one where the bits fall out through your fingers and onto your plate and you need utensils to dig it all up.

Time to Eat

It is not just eggs and onions between the slices whole wheat, it is a powerful memory these simple meals serve to us. I suppose it’s a way of reconnecting to a simpler time when we had more care given to us than we distributed others, the care we give freely now as parents and neighbors and community members. How could I not feel comforted remembering that love?

The Pantry Project :: The Payoff

This morning I sat editing the photos for today’s post, and my five year old son asked what I was doing. “Working,” I said while he cuddled up next to me. “Doesn’t look like work to me,” he replied. And I thought about it, this strange place in the world that allows me to take pictures of my pantry—my pantry—and have other people look at it; a place where organizing a pantry is newsworthy. I wonder what my Gram would have thought about this, whether she would shake her head and chuckle about the crazy world we live in, or whether she would find any value in the activity at all. I suspect, as the master of the practical that she was, the idea would be so foreign to her that she might even be slightly appalled at how much time I was spending writing posts and editing photos about such a task when there were more important chores waiting to be done such as the never-ending and thankless laundry. I know she would be absolutely stunned that I would sit here and write in the virtual world while actual dust bunnies gathered on the real world stairs.

The Right Side

Yes, it is a strange thing, this blog-land we participate in, yet I find it comforting even as I wonder if it’s too large a time sink in my life.  It’s not that pantry organizing is such an interesting topic, really, at all. I think posting about it and reading about other organization projects on the web is more about recognizing a connection with others, experiencing a piece of our everyday, mostly boring lives, through the lens of another’s perspective. It’s a highlight reel of the mundane, an instant capture of the the unremarkable and normal, the things we all struggle with and that aren’t a normal topic of conversation when we still down with loved ones but that does fill up the most space in our day. I can’t imagine an article about a mother of four’s struggle with her pantry on the front page of the New York Times—well, not without a more interesting existential byline—but really, when I look back ten years from now, I’m sure I’ll wonder how I managed to find the time and con my dear friends into organizing a space that is immensely practical and useful and finding some way to make it pleasing.

The Left Side

Yes, there was the purchase of the organizing racks, the lazy susans, the can stackers, and the chalkboard labels, and yes, we cut up little circles and tied them with ribbon on the front of brightly colored paper baskets I bought on clearance two years ago at Lowes.

Behind The Door

And we finally found a place for the step ladder that’s been hiding in the garage while I used the wobbly chair to reach the top shelves. It’s probably not in the best place though, because I still use the chair.

My Precious Platters

And there are pictures that show things that are precious to me and hold interesting bits of family history; the platters made when I had three, then four kids, my gram’s recipe box, a few pieces from my depression glass collection that is still packed up in the basement waiting for the time when it can once again see the light of day.

One Small Stand

Visible Stacks

Really… why is it interesting? Why do I feel compelled to write about it?

Airtight Jars

And although I thank you for following along—I really really do—is it really interesting enough to hold your attention? Rows of “airtight” jars that need to be replaced because they’re not actually airtight? Cans aligned, side-by-side. Ziploc bags, scales, bakeware?

Bakeware I Use

Maybe another reason we read about these things—trust me, I read and love them too—is not just about the connection we feel, but also the payoff. Who doesn’t love a great reveal, the feeling that something somewhere was accomplished by someone, maybe even someone ordinary enough to have piles of dust in her pictures and coffee splatters on her machine (erHEM).

Small Appliances

Maybe that payoff gives us some hope that really, it can be done. We can take that step to make something useful to us better in some fashion. There is evidence in the world that not only do we all share some of the same struggles, but we can each of us appreciate a good resolution; good even if it’s not perfect, or perfectly staged, or exactly finished.

Chalkboard Labels

And I know that a few months from now I might look back at these pictures and be thankful that I took them because I know that if it looked like this once, it can look like this again.

Baking Ingredients

And maybe some other day, many years in the future, I’ll look back at these and not necessarily wonder about the curiosity that is the subjects we chose to write about, but marvel at the ephemera I captured—dog dishes, maple syrup, paper plates, lentils, beans—a visual representation of a moment in time that was so ordinary that it was never given another thought, yet ends up invoking a network of emotions about a life and time that was anything but ordinary or unremarkable, because none of our lives are.

Doggie Bowl

All of this because of a pantry.

Gram might have thought blogging is a silly venture, but surely I would have loved to see these tiny snippets of her life, from her perspective… a different type of payoff, a treasure of small, nondescript moments from a life that is gone, moments in time that end up being more meaningful than the perfect posed Christmas snapshots and portraits in a studio. An important portrait of a life rich, and full, and anything but insignificant to those who loved the life they represent.

Seven Things About Me Award

Seven AwardOK, so a few weeks ago, a new blog-friend of mine, Alex from the North Of Seven blog nominated me for the Seven Things About Me Award. What a lovely idea!! Thanks so much Alex. So I’m finally getting around to finishing this post that I began quite some time ago.

The first requirement of the award is to thank the person who nominated you… Hey Alex… You ROCK and THANK YOU. Check! Next, share your seven tidbits, then nominate a few others, and tell them you’ve nominated them. This is the hardest part for me, really… I hate to bother people or make them feel obligated, BUT, it’s kind of fun so here goes nuthin’…

Seven Things
1.) When I was younger, I used to think that the double yellow line in the middle of the road was the bicycle lane. I also thought that the best way to end racism was for white folk to buy only black cars. I truly believed my parents were a bit crazy when they explained that money didn’t grow on trees; I mean how stupid did they think I was? I knew the money came out of the ATM. As a four year old, the only job I could imagine that was worth having was the bubble blower for the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. Imagine how crushed I was to discover the position was held by a machine. Oddly enough, I just found out that he got his start in Pittsburgh (also the home to Mister Rogers!) and up to a few years ago (and possibly still today) the machine was/is still on view in one of the hotel ballrooms. Thanks for the heads up ThatGirl at Spinsta@Large.

2.) My favorite movie of all time is the Big Lebowski. Or the Sound of Music. But definitely not The Big Blue, which I watched three times over ten years just to make sure I still hated it as much as I remembered… and I did (and still do).

3.) I received two degrees from Carnegie Mellon University; a BFA in Art with an additional major in Cognitive Psychology and a Master’s in Communication, Planning, and Information Design. Yes, that’s the title of the degree. Yes, my diploma is extra large in order to fit it all on the paper. My husband received his BS, Master’s, and Ph.D. from CMU as well. I also taught there for a few years. We have four children; we’re expecting a bulk rate discount on tuition when the time comes. Please don’t crush my dreams with any explanations of reality.

4.) I am the only girl out of six boys; one biological brother, five step-brothers. I’m about as Polish as they get, if you discount my pinky finger, which is all Irish. My family is huge. I have over thirty aunts and uncles, and more than fifty-five cousins. This does not include my husband’s family, which increases the aunt/uncle/cousin count to numbers that no human mind could possibly comprehend. No, we’re not LDS.

5.) I first tried to learn how to knit when I was seven. It was an unmitigated disaster. The lady who tried to teach me had the patience of a fruit fly, and I was so nervous that I made mistakes that were beyond her thirty-forty-some years of practice to deal with. That’s what happens when someone yells at you when you’re crying trying to learn something that’s supposed to be fun.

6.) I constantly, and will for all eternity, confuse my left and my right.

7.) I despise horseradish, can’t stand it, can’t even smell it without wanting to do something drastic. This might have something to do with my uncle asking my little four-year-old self (four was a rough year for me) to take a deep breath of the newly ground root soaking in vinegar. Not knowing any better, I did. And I couldn’t breathe, or see, or speak because of the searing pain that started at my nostrils and ended in my lungs. This uncle may or may not be related to the person who tried to teach me to knit. No, that person is not my mother or father.

So there are seven things about me. It took me forever to figure out what to tell you. I had four for a few days, and finally managed to find a few other things. I dug deep.

And here are my nominees for the award! You ladies are a few of my favorites… hope you’ll play along… no pressure or anything. 😉

Entertaining Monsters
Gwen Erin Fibers
Finding Silver Pennies
Little House That Grew
This Heart of Mine

And even if I haven’t nominated you, care to share anything (or seven things) about yourself, dear readers? I’d love to know something fun or frivolous about you!

Barking Mad

I’m not sure about you, but I am so thankful that it is Friday. This week was rough.

Barclay Dog

Three years ago this month we moved to the New England coast. We took with us three children (found another while we were here and now there’s four) and our first baby… our sable and white Border Collie, Barclay, who was seven years old then, and is now ten.

Although we all miss home, Barclay has probably had it the hardest since we’ve moved. He has been infected with Lyme disease three times now; we’ve never been able to properly vaccinate him because his levels have never gotten low enough. This past June, he began acting sick again, and even though we had him to the vet the Friday before, that Monday morning he wasn’t able to get to his feet at all. I was devastated. Somehow, I managed to get him downstairs and into the car and to the vet. It was a few hours later we discovered that the Lyme had infected his kidneys, which is rare, and caused them to begin to fail. He stayed at the vet’s for a week, and we thought several times that he was going to have to be put down, but then he would make a miraculous leap forward; a pattern that repeated itself several times over his stay. Incredibly, we were finally able to take him home, where it took at least another two weeks before we felt he was out of the woods.

Any of you who have pets know that “pet” is actually a misnomer; it can not possibly describe the relationship that develops with these creatures. Barclay Dog was our first dependent, our first foray into the world of shared responsibility of a life separate from our own yet belonging to us. He was the only dog at the shelter who wouldn’t come running up to the front of his kennel when someone new stopped by; he was too overwhelmed with all the noise, which explains why this beautiful thing was passed over by so many other families. But get him out and on the leash… he was a whole other creature. Easy to train and eager to please, he had the intellect of a Border Collie, but the calm demeanor of a Great Dane, the greatest couch potato you could imagine. We named him ironically, as we didn’t hear him bark for the first few months we brought him home (rest assured, he has been making up for that lost time ever since).  He is a Border Collie that needs little exercise and will often flip onto his back at the end of our driveway in order to avoid a walk. I would like to say that he is so sweet that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but the truth is they have always been his worst enemy and he has spent much time in these past years doing his part to decrease the world house fly population. That being said, he is incredibly gentle, and has never shown any agression once to any of our kids. Not once. Nothing but ever-bearing patience to ear pulls and teeth pokes and eye jabs and the occasional pony ride. When it becomes too much, he waits until the kids climb off of him, then slowly rises and walks to the other side of me, still as close as possible to all of us.  He is, in the truest sense, the perfect family dog.

That’s why it was so surprising this week that while our three year old was rubbing his belly he quickly turned, snapped, and bit her.

It wasn’t a bad bite—it barely broke the surface of her skin—but it was sudden and seemingly unprovoked and scared us all. I had noticed that he was spending more time by himself, and was going outside more frequently, but he was still eating, so I didn’t rush to the vet’s. This time, as I drove him to the doctor, I realized that his kidney failure had probably fallen off the edge, and that it was time to make the difficult decision that eventually has to be made. Our beloved vet who was also quite surprised by Barclay’s reaction wanted to check him over as well as run his blood labs, but she shared my fear and suspicion. Dogs with kidney failure do not seem to thrive long after their diagnosis and it seemed that the writing was on the wall.

So imagine our great surprise when once again, Barclay defied the odds, and not only is his kidney function no worse than in June, but it is clear from the labs that he was suffering from a rather nasty UTI. Not only is it easily treated with antibiotics, but it would cause of great deal of soreness and pain on his belly, that was accidentally agitated by our three year old. A few days of the antibiotics, and a few days of rest, and he should be fine.

Relief, sweet relief!

Over the summer, when we realized that Barclay’s time with us was going to be limited, we decided that it might help ease the transition if we had another dog. We’ve always liked having two dogs, and had adopted two older dogs (a black lab that was with us for a year, and Mom’s Westie—Katie—for two years, which was still her dog but stayed with us while she and my stepdad worked all over the US) but the past three years and all the transitions and adjustments have made it difficult to invite another dog to come stay with us. Now that we’ve been in our home for a year, the timing seemed right.

So even though we have four _little_ kids, a senior dog whose health is on the verge, and all the time constraints and responsibilities that come with it all, we went ahead and executed the plan to bring home another family member.

Leash n Things

Tomorrow morning, as mad as it all sounds, we will meet, greet, treat, and bring home our new girl from her rescue foster family.

We couldn’t be more excited!

As a post note, I wanted to mention that of course we also realize that we will need to be extra vigilant with Barclay when he begins to show signs of illness. As I said before, we had noticed he was off by himself more frequently as well as drinking more with many additional visits outside. Next time we have a whiff of something off, then we will immediately schedule some time with our vet. And I’m afraid that any more signs of aggression will force our hand earlier than we would hope. We have too many small children to take any chances.