Sunday, March 28, 2010

About anchors and children and babies being born

Chanel and me in 1992. She is 12 and I am 29.

Tomorrow morning I will be leaving home for three days. I’m going to Sacramento to hold a beloved hand.

The story begins about 23 years ago, when I was a young teacher in Vallejo. I was one of those teachers who spent about 18 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, pouring my heart and soul into my classroom. I can still remember the looks on their faces when I read aloud to them after lunch, their bodies draped across their desks, sweaty from a recess of dodgeball and four-square. I can remember how they smelled! And I remember their hugs and silliness and beautiful poetry and voices when we sang together. Many of those kids became a piece of my heart, their stories of gang violence, drug addicted parents, and loss at an early age causing me to take stock of all that my life had sheltered me from. Two children from my second year teaching are still a big part of my life, Chanel and Jasmine, though now they are beautiful young women of 30. Both still call me Miss Stonefield when they speak of me to each other, I'm sure, though I insist they call me Susie. And both have told me they want and expect me to be present at their personal milestones this year – a birth and a wedding. I would not, I could not refuse.

(Today’s story is about Chanel. I’ll tell you about Jasmine in a month or two.)

Chanel came into my classroom as a child of nine, bouncy and bubbly, loud, funny, and unkempt. She had all sorts of learning issues, she also had a few social issues, but she was never a pessimist. Her family consisted of numerous cousins, aunts, uncles, a few younger siblings, a mother I rarely saw, and a grandmother who was the family matriarch. Most of her relatives lived in the Crest, a gang ravaged neighborhood in north Vallejo, near what is now a colorful amusement park with large rollercoasters sprouting out of the ground like strange alien lifeforms painted orange and red, purple and turquoise. It’s an odd contrast to the neighborhood right next door that seems to house the grimmest of communities. About a third of my class came from just such a neighborhood. Chanel’s family was full of drug dealers and prostitutes and other folk who never seemed to work, but could always be found smoking in front of the TV in Grandma’s living room. Many times I would drop Chanel off or pick her up from Grandma’s house and I would try to make small talk with her elders, always feeling completely out of my element and slightly on edge.

Chanel was in my class for two years, both 4th and 5th grade, and she and I had some mighty chemistry between us. I loved that girl with all my heart. She was an amazing spirit, so funny and optimistic, especially considering the row she had to hoe. Her heart was pure gold and her smile lit up the room. I would frequently take my class down the street to sing at a convalescent home and Chanel would always go right on up to the old folks, even the drooling ones, the ones that freaked out the adults in our group a bit, and she’d sit right down saying, “Well, hi. How are you? My name is Chanel!” What heart. Such an unusual soul.

I remember receiving an envelope the summer after Chanel had graduated from my class and moved on to 6th grade. In it was a photocopy of an essay written in a messy child's hand and a note written by a teacher. "I thought you might want to read this," the note said. The essay was a 5th grade writing proficiency test given districtwide. The topic the students had to write about: "The Most Important Person in My Life." The essay was Chanel's. She'd written about me.

Over the years I kept in contact with her on and off, and it got harder after I left Vallejo’s school district in 1992. During high school she slipped off my radar, but one day Jasmine ran into her in town and told her, “Miss Stonefield’s mad at you! You better call her!” And she did. Again years elapsed before we caught up, but finally in 2002, we connected again through Jasmine, and we had a reunion. It was wonderful to see them both, rather than woman and girls we were all women now. Chanel had made it through a bumpy high school career, helped out of the murk of the Crest by a cousin who’d made it to the NFL. She’d lived with him in Reno, taken junior college classes and met a young man. With him she became a parent to Arianna, her beautiful daughter who is only a year younger than Toby, my baby. That took some getting used to!

Jasmine, Chanel and Arianna at our reunion in 2002.

I often had thought that were it ever to become necessary I would have adopted Chanel, or at least taken her in and raised her. Mark loved her too, so it wasn’t just fantasy. But it never did seem to come to that. She is such a strong person and she’s persevered to become an anchor for her own family. Now, living in Sacramento, raising her daughter and working, her mother and sisters and cousins gravitate to her proximity. I worry that one day they’ll bring her down with them.

Throughout these past eight years we’ve had some amazing conversations and I’ve had the chance to give her some needed support. Chanel has thanked me for being the person all through the years who had faith in her. She told me she knew it to be true even during the years we were out of contact. Knowing that, I told Mark, I could die happy. I'd been her anchor even when I wasn't near her. She'd heard what I'd told her all those years.

Several months ago she told me she was pregnant with her second child. Practically an old woman (by the standards of her peer group) to be having her second. But she was more careful than most, I’d say. I’m proud of her. She knew ahead of time she’d be having a scheduled C-section and she asked me to be there with her. The baby’s daddy is not in the picture, and her mom just isn’t up to the job. She wants me to hold her hand during the operation. I hope I don’t faint, I told her.

So tomorrow I’m heading up to Sacramento. I’m going to go hang out with Chanel and Arianna, take her some needed items for the baby and some fun stuff for Miss Ari. Maybe we’ll go shopping and get some other things, too. Tuesday, though, we’ll meet at the hospital at 5:30 am. Then, after the baby comes, we'll hang out. Maybe I'll spend some time with Arianna. And Wednesday I'll come back for another day, see if I can help Chanel get the hang of breastfeeding. (Have I told you that I have a dream of one day being a doula...when my kids get old and don't need me around as much?)

Ben has been having some separation anxieties, but his pain is almost completely gone. I've talked to him about why I am going away for three days. He seems to get it. He seems to understand that Chanel needs me, too.

I'll tell you how it all went when I come home!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is where I live, part 2

I find that the more I look the more I want you to see...


Sunday, March 21, 2010


It took four weeks, but Ben’s bandages finally came off. He’s got an aversion to bathing, as do most preteen boys, so it was only under occasional duress that I was able to coerce him into the shower. Had he been taking the daily bath, those Steri-strips wouldn’t have stood up to the water for more than a week or two. At his rate (“I’m not even sweating, Mom!”) it was a month post-surgery before we got the full view of his incisions.


We’d been told beforehand that the staples would be inserted through several small incisions on his side, under his right arm. What was laid bare last Monday was a gash six inches long, running diagonal along a fold in his soft body. Even now, a week later, I cringe inwardly when I see it. It is a slice through my child’s flesh. (On his back are two more, one three inches, the other, an inch and a half.) We don’t know why the change in protocol, and no one prepared us for it. They are all healing nicely, she says like a nurse. The skin knits together. The angry welts will calm down. One day it will just be a thin white line.

And yet. How does a mother grapple with that type of scar?

So much has come up to the surface in the past week. As surely as his skin is mending, the emotional wounds are weeping. I had in my mind that a return to his routines would be helpful and healing. Seeing his friends, laughing and having fun would give him a reason to get more active, feel more normal. As soon as we got home from Philadelphia I set up playdates with friends. But after a week I observed the stress that comes with normal. “I feel different. I have all this metal in me now,” he said.

How is he to process all that he’s gone through if he’s constantly in social mode? How is it to be 12 and have gone through multiple major surgeries? What kind of an emotional burden is that for him?

I watched him diving deep into his video games and when he wasn't doing that, TV. But, as soon as I said, “Ok, no more playdates for a while” I saw a marked powering down of his stress levels. And when I pushed him about the video games and the way he was hiding away in them, not dealing with his feelings, the tears flowed full force. Amazingly enough, he thanked me afterwards, able to feel the relief the meltdown had given him.

I am reminded of his neurosurgery four years ago when I was hell-bent on getting him back to school (he wasn’t homeschooling yet) as a sign of recovery. Just get him back to school. Just get him back to school. Then everything would be fine. We’d gone through so much, the stress had pulled us to a frayed thread. I actually wanted nothing more than to sit on a couch with my babies in my lap…forever…and yet, I was in a mindset that once he went back to school everything would go back to normal. (Why is normal so important to me?) Finally, after a week of calls before noon from the nurse asking me to come pick him up for one reason or another, I realized that he wasn’t actually ready. He wanted to sit in that lap, too. And the bottom line was, there wasn’t a way to return to “normal.” That was something to redefine.

Friday night I was gone for hours with Harry at his ballroom dancing class graduation dance. I’d missed some fireworks between Toby and Ben. Mark filled me in when I got home, but everyone involved had been sound asleep by then. At 3 am, though, Ben was awakened by pain both physical and emotional and I sat with him, soothing him, for about an hour. When he awoke in the morning the first thing he told me was, “I feel emotionally broken.”

He was in a funk when I told him I had to be gone all day for a full Saturday of activities: 4H club foam weaponry project with Toby, Hebrew school teacher appreciation luncheon, and then Hebrew school. But later he put on a smile and gave me a kiss goodbye. Ten minutes from our front door, though, I got a call on my cell phone and his sweet, sad voice said, “Mommy, I miss you! I want you to come home to be with me.”

I put him off temporarily while I got Toby settled at his activity and lined up an afternoon playdate and rides for him to and from Hebrew school. I talked to my very understanding friends and suddenly it didn’t feel at all indulgent to rush back to him, to pull him into my lap.

On the face of it, Ben is looking fine. He’s moving more smoothly, having far less pain. But, I knew that I needed to go home. I called him back up. He was more cheerful, being brave and putting off his anxieties about being separated from me. He and Mark had worked something out with the computer. He told me, “You can go to work, Mom. It’s ok. I’ll be ok.” And I thought, he can hide in that, yes, that could work to free me up to take care of my obligations.

But I countered that with the voicemail I’d just listened to from my boss at Hebrew school and her emphatic understanding for my last minute cancelation of music. I countered that with the voicemail I’d just listened to which he’d left on my phone the night before: “I need you to help me cry, Mama,” he’d said. “I need you to come home.”

I’ve always been the caretaker of the emotional territory in our marriage. It’s something we’re both conscious of. Mark is amazing and talented and very sensitive and generous. But he’s also someone who routinely dismisses physical and emotional ailments of his own or someone else’s. It’s not hostile, it’s a level of consciousness. And it’s not a male/female thing. Harry and Toby are much more outwardly emotional, like I am, than Mark and Ben. So having Mark tending to Ben when Ben is feeling emotionally broken didn’t feel right to me. Not that harm will come, mind you. No harm would come.

“Ben, if you were a baby, I’d stay home and nurse you, if that was what you needed to feel safe. It’s ok, no one at Hebrew school needs me more than you need me right now.”

"Thank you, Mama." He actually thanked me.

And so, I went home. Mark met me in the driveway, he was stuffing the back of the truck with a load to take to the dump. “I don’t think you needed to come home,” he said. “I know you don't,” I said. “But I did."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This is where I live

I have been wanting to share with you some snapshots of my world. This is the first of two photo posts, giving you a little window into my life.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reading list

I saw this stack of books at a friend's house yesterday.

She's a new homeschooler.

It begs the question all parents considering homeschooling ask themselves: Should I homeschool my kids or should I just commit myself now to the insane asylum?

Truth is, though, that for many of us, that craziness came from trying to make it work in the "system." My feeling about it five years in is: homeschooling isn't perfect, but it certainly is an amazing journey to embark on with your family.

One thing I know about my friend is she is definitely prepared!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Short Rib Fail

This is me attempting to laugh at myself.

It’s not working.

I pondered today how Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, manages to write a fabulous blog full of pictures, stories, contests, recipes, tutorials, and, oh, teach her four little homeschooled kids Greek and Latin root words while I can’t seem to get dinner on the table and talk to my children on the same day. I pondered it knowing there are even people out there in the world who wonder how I get everything I do done. I pondered it even as I was flying around the kitchen dripping red wine on my slippers, my wavy gray hair in my eyes. I pondered it again, later, when it all failed.

Today I neglected my kids in honor of an amazing meal. I will say that I did take Toby to soccer class and I did read a chapter of The Magician’s Elephant out loud to whomever would listen. But other than that I was chopping and braising and sautéing and frying and pureeing and baking, all the while wondering how Ree gets it all done. I even took this photo of my kitchen after finally getting the short ribs into the slow cooker (more on this later).

Enough said.

Later, I spent many minutes lovingly cleaning it up. I was enjoying the focus, even as it ate up every minute of my afternoon.

I pondered how she manages to take beautiful, mouth-watering photographs of every single step as she cooks. I can barely keep up with the pace and not burn the pancetta while I’m chopping the shallots, let alone take a photo of every step. But I thought about it. I thought, I’ll ruin my camera right now if I pick it up with floury fingers. But I thought you, dear reader, might want to see every step. That’s how important I’ve come to think every step is.

And I had a quandary. Menu was Heavenly Beef Short Ribs, cauliflower puree, salad, challah, and chocolate chip bread pudding (kids asked for it). Sounds good, right? The problem was the short ribs recipe called for either braising in a Le Crueset style Dutch oven, which I do not own, or slow cooking. The slow cooker I own, but the recipes just didn’t look tasty. I didn’t wanna. So I took Ree’s recipe and did all of the on the stove part on the stove and then transferred to the slow cooker, put it on high for three hours and assumed all was good.

Weeeeeellll, got to the part where I taste-tested the meat (and burnt the tip of my tongue) and it was not even close to ready to come off the bone in a succulent, food-of-the-gods way. That’s how she described it, or at least, that’s how it looked in about 75 of her photos of the recipe.

Ahem. 6:20 pm. Cauliflower, check. Shabbat table, check. Salad, check. Challah, check. Bread pudding, check. Main course…not happening.

Mark, trying to save the day as is his want, made chicken salad. Yup. Chicken salad. From a can. I tell you this in all naked honesty. We sometimes use canned chicken to make our chicken salad. It tastes great in a sandwich, on celery, on a hot afternoon. We put in sliced apples and sometimes walnuts. My friend Catherine did that once for us and we’ve done it ever since. But, in place of heavenly braised short ribs? I weep.

I have sacrificed time with my children for a piece of short rib falling off the bone, a piece I will not eat tonight, unless I want to wait until way too late. And now, sitting up here on my computer licking my wounds (with my burnt tongue) I am setting a terrible example for my children. Get up! I should say. It’s not the end of the world! There’s food on the table. Forget the main course! Why are you moping around when there’s chicken salad to be eaten?

If you’re free and aren’t a vegetarian, you might want to come over at about 11 tonight.

But you have to promise you won’t laugh at me.


I have been instructed to inform you that on Monday night (since we were away all weekend), the short ribs were eaten. And lo, they were tender and heavenly morsels.

Thanks to the wonderous and patient husband, he who saved the dinner on Friday night, for his compliments and groans of satisfaction (at the dinner table).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

About blogging and Ben's recovery (about half way down)

One afternoon after Ben left the hospital, we watched "Julie and Julia" on the TV in our room. The RC offered a large selection of movies-on-demand and though it felt like a splurge (after all, we have Netflix dvds at Sebastopol), it also appeared to be an enjoyable alternative to watching Curling on the Olympics. “Julie and Julia” seemed like a good fit for people who love to cook, eat, and talk about food as much as we do. I can remember watching Julia Child cooking shows with my mom on our black and white TV. Ben and I frequently watch the cooking channel together, too, critiquing the recipes or the chefs. Those are the moments he’s told me he wants to be a food critic when he grows up (and an architect and a chef and a photographer) and I point out that he needs to actually develop a more extensive palate than mac’n’cheese (the way Daddy makes it), or corn flakes, or cheeseburgers (preferably from In’n’Out), or chicken tikka masala. We often cook together, Ben and I. We’re currently working our way through a book of pasta sauce recipes, not exactly methodically, but at least with a “no recipe is too complex for us to whip up one hour before dinner” attitude.

We loved the movie. Pretty much everything about it was enjoyable: the story, the acting, the characterization, the glory of food, the sweet love stories of two solid marriages. But, the surprise for me was the part that focused on Julie’s blogging and how it became something so big and meaningful in her life, that led to something more. I’ve often thought of publishing my work, or should I say, trying to publish my work, but I will admit that I don’t have the core of iron needed to send my pieces out into the world only to be rejected. I don’t have the stomach for it. Blogging is a great alternative. You’re reading this, right? (And you and you and you and you and you…well, maybe that’s excessive.) How hard was it for me to put this blog up and share my writing with you? I’m an opportunist, a nice opportunist, but an opportunist none the less. Ben’s surgery gave me an opening, really, to get my blog up and a readership hanging on my every word. Sounds brutal, but it’s true.

The hard part about the blogging in my real life is that it is a major distraction. As you may have noticed, the time to write is more elusive in my real life, the life that includes three boys, two cats, two donkeys, two horses, one husband, homeschooling, a messy house, appointments, classes, friends, meetings, cooking meals, cleaning up meals, and doing the laundry. Did I forget anything? Most certainly. Suffice it to say, one thing I loved about being at the RC was that life was less complicated. And I had time to write. In my real life I’m not disciplined enough to wake up early, feed the animals outside, pour myself a cup of tea, and sit down to compose jaunty phrases before the kids all wake up and wonder who’s going to make them French toast or crepes. I’ve tried (all of those things, including the crepes) and it just falls apart. It’s the sitting down to compose. Actually, it’s the getting up from sitting down that gets in the way. “Just one more sentence…” I say. Now if I could blog in short bits, that would be better. Instead, the tea gets cold. The kids turn on the tv. The animals bray. And I try to squeeze out a new post. The rest of the day is shot to hell. (And don’t even ask me why don’t I try writing in the evening before I go to bed, just go talk to Mark, who’ll tell you he thought I did write before I go to bed, but really I’m only answering emails.)

A while ago Ben called to me from bed. (In case you’re wondering I did hit “save” and go to his side, but I might have written another sentence first. Or two. He didn’t sound too distressed.) His pain is up some this morning because we got cocky last night. We got off our schedule of pain meds because he was doing so well yesterday. We know that we can head it off at the pass if we keep ahead of it. If we lighten up or go without, the pain sneaks back up and he starts having muscle spasms (think Charlie horse in your back, side or all over your body). Last week I was surprised at how much pain he still had. For some reason I was under the impression it would ease up to Advil-only levels by the end of the week. If you’ve looked at his x-rays you’ve seen the huge change his body is adjusting to, and luckily my friend, Nurse Shawna, reminded me about how angry those muscles are. After all, we’ve made them move, stretch, and reconfigure. Their complaints take the form of spasms and they come out of the blue if we don’t keep him dosed up on pain meds.

Yesterday our friends the Kellys threw him a sweet surprise Welcome Home party with all of his buddies. He was completely surprised and enjoyed the attention, happy to see everyone and celebrate. Everyone was beaming at him, there was much laughing and tentative, but sincere hugs. Sawyer gave him a hat and scarf she'd knit just for him. (That drew an ear to ear smile from him, he's a bit partial to her.) Claire, Harry's girlfriend, came in and went straight to him with a heartfelt hug. I got my hugs too, my mom friends were waiting for me in the kitchen. It's so nice to be home again!

Ben took a break midway through and went into a room by himself to lay down, emotionally and physically overwhelmed. He clouded over, a bit like the sky outside which was going from blue to heavy rain clouds in an instant, feeling lousy that hanging with your friends requires too much of you, that even just having fun and playing video games is more than you can handle. Suddenly, the fact that he has metal in his body and set off the metal detectors at the airport made him feel different, not special. He’s still recovering, so very up and down, and we can’t push it. Remembering to monitor our speed as we move through this recovery period is challenging us. I suppose our normal speed is just way too fast for someone just out of surgery.

Well, I've dodged the bullet, but it's late already. I've been sitting here for two hours trying to get this done. I like writing too much. But the crepes are calling. (Note the eggs up top of this post.) And so are the donkeys.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Surrender: A long rant having nothing to do with scoliosis

So, can I just complain here for a moment?

I am so freaking sick of technology.

I mean, I love it. And I hate it. It’s giving me a nervous twitch and carpal tunnel syndrome. I can’t go an hour without using it and it makes me crazy and miserable.

Two weeks before we went to Philadelphia our computer, the one that Mark and I share, crashed. It had been showing signs of it for months, really. It was slowing down. It was freezing up when I would open up email. It was crashing in small ways. But we’d been putting off dealing with it. Had a couple other things on our plate to deal with. And then there's denial.

Mark, who had nothing better to do, I might add, valiantly worked on it, resuscitating it, drawing from its murky depths all our data and files we’d forgotten to copy to our backup hard disk. Temporarily, we lost everything. Permanently, we lost my calendar and contacts (mostly phone and address). For a while we had no contacts for email. Luckily, at about the same time I had become the proud owner of a new iPhone (I’ll bitch about that in a minute) and a hand-me-down laptop computer from my brother-in-law. (Thank you, Barrett!) My contacts had been laboriously, I mean lovingly, added to the phone one day while Ben and I sat at Sutter Hospital waiting for him to have a pulmonary function test required for pre-op. So, I could at least call people. And the blank laptop was ready and waiting for us to transfer my files to so I could at least do my writing.

(I should interject here that the one piece of good news was that the computer was so seriously dead that even Mark, my dear husband the electrical engineer, couldn’t pass off the problem as “user error,” an analogy for “The computer doesn’t work because there’s something wrong with YOU, my dear wife.”)

In the meantime, I had no calendar on the computer. You may not know this about me, but, I’m a calendular over-achiever. (Not a word, I know, but it works for me.) I have a paper one I carry in my backpack. I have a large format one on the bulletin board. I have one on the computer. I also have a friend named Sandy (Hi, Sandy!) who is the most organized person I know. I make her crazy. She thinks I’m a complete failure with calendars because I never get back to her right away. (She’s never said this, I just know it.) And I always lose papers she gives me that I have to return on time to our 4H club. But really, I’m very organized. It’s just in my head, not in my environment. She’s organized everywhere. I mean, I haven’t looked in her pantry, but I’ll bet you it’s all labeled and alphabetized. (I’ll check next time I’m at her house and let you know.) That’s all by way of saying that when I lost my computer calendar, I just asked Sandy to tell me what I needed to make sure I put on my calendar and she did. Right away. (Thanks, Sandy!)

Hence, it wasn’t a complete and total disaster. I just had to check my paper calendars and Sandy’s email and put it all back together.

Truth is, I barely did that. I was in the middle of planning for Toby and Harry and their caregivers for the weeks I’d be in Philly and I made several versions of calendar pages with every imaginable detail included. I needed to focus on that because I didn’t want to have to worry about it while I was gone. And it was separate from my calendar on my computer. I didn’t need to bring it with me. And I didn’t need to make plans for myself…I knew I was going to be either in the hospital next to Ben or in the hotel next to Ben.

As I said yesterday, I didn’t even think past March 1. I had a couple plans, but barely that.

In the meantime, Mark’s search and rescue operation recovered most of our data and since we didn’t trust our old computer he put it all on my nice, newish, clean-slate laptop. WAAAAA! Can I just say, I liked it all blank canvasy? I really, really did.

Within moments it was all crapped up. Sheesh.

Last Saturday night, at the Ritz-Carlton, I couldn’t sleep. (And no, I didn’t call down to the front desk to have the resident masseuse come up to help me relax…didn’t even think of it. DAMN.) It had been hard settling down. As soon as I was comfortable Ben needed water or Happy Dreams spray or a massage or pain meds. By the time I was done with all that, Mark was snoring. I got back in bed and realized I was wide awake. So I got up and thought, This is an excellent time to get my calendar going again. I opened up my laptop and my emails and started putting in the events I knew we’d have going on when I returned home in a few days.

As an aside, I’d say that I was begrudgingly using the Outlook calendar that was installed on the computer because it seemed more convenient than the calendar I used to use. I used to have a handheld device, a Palm Pilot thingee made by Sony, called a Cliè. But that was back in the day (ok, it was 8 years ago and heck it still worked) and though I wasn’t using the Cliè anymore, I was still using the calendar program that I got with it. I had recently researched other options, like Google Calendar, because what I thought made sense was having a calendar I could sync to my iPhone, too. But I didn’t like the format for that one, so I was just tired of looking and not making a decision, and I had given up.

I feel like I’m surrendering all too often these days.

Remember I said I’d talk about the iPhone in a minute? Well, people keep saying, Do you love it? And my answer is, Well, no, not really. I LOVED my iPod Nano. It was so cute and blue and did exactly what I wanted: kept my songs and my podcasts all organized and ready to go. I also was totally happy with my cell phone. It wasn’t the newest one on the block, but it had a good speaker (I hate using an ear piece, it just HURTS my ear and I always forget to charge it) so I was happy. I thought I wanted an iPhone, and I mentioned it repeatedly to Mark, so I am to blame here. But once I got it I found it to be a pain in the hiney. When I type on it I make ridiculous typos. It has a terrible speaker (at least for listening to messages, but I’ll admit the speaker for talking on the phone is a bit better). I am always calling people by accident just because my finger brushes against the face of it when I don’t realize it. (So, if you have a strange silent call from me, now you know why.) And I'm sure that because of all the reading I do on it I am going blind. Right now my screen is on "largest" type size. Largest! I don't have anywhere left to go!

When I finally synced it to my iTunes library it took hours and days and didn’t do everything right. I lost several things (albums) and had to redownload them. It erased my playlists. It downloaded podcasts I’d already listened to. And then, one day after Mark had recovered the contacts on our email account (and put it all on my new laptop) he synced my iPhone to the laptop and I got 5 million contacts on my iPhone that I didn’t want. I’m talking about email addresses for people I haven’t seen in about 10 years. ARGH.

But, I’ve moved on. At least I thought I had. And then last Saturday night I spent a good hour looking over emails and thinking over my life and inputting events into the Outlook calendar. When I returned home this week I started to put my life back on track. I set my computer to Pacific Time, I returned a few emails, I added a few things to the calendar. That’s when I noticed that most of the events had the wrong time. They were three hours earlier than they should be. In other words, when I changed the time from Eastern to Pacific, the calendar adjusted the times I’d entered in Eastern time. Is that the most stupid thing you’ve ever heard of? I’m sure there’s some way to get around it. But my IT guy (Harry) and I haven’t figured it out yet. We changed the time back to Eastern time zone and adjusted the clock by three hours and now I see it’s marking my emails with true Eastern time, not the time in the left bottom corner of my computer. I have no idea what to do, except maybe throw my computer out the window. (My IT guy says "percussive maintenance," i.e. hit it with a rock.)

I don’t know what people do who don’t have husbands who are electrical engineers or sons who are computer geeks. Maybe they have less technology and are happier. Whatever, they couldn’t be more freaking sick of technology than I am.

I surrender.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Home, Sweet Home

Toby's altar to Ben, including stuffed animal congregation and Welcome Home Ben! sign.

Yesterday I had this odd sensation of being an observer in my own life. I sat at the kitchen table with my mom, Toby and Ben and looked around the kitchen thinking, How did I get here? Aren't I living it up at the Ritz? Isn't it snowing outside? I drove through Sonoma county and saw the vistas of rolling green vineyards and orchards as through the eyes of someone who was returning home after a very long time away.

I am already finding it difficult to make time for my writing. The business I need to attend to (my homeschool committees, the phone calls, the laundry, the marketing, the animals, the children) absorbs my free time like a parched sponge touching water. I'm trying to draw some lines though. I sent Mark away this morning with a gruff, "I need to get my work done!" and a reminder, "You get to go to work to do that. I have to stay here and try to work when no one believes that's what I'm doing!"

The clouds have broken here over our sodden farm. Last night there was a deluge and yesterday it poured for half the day.The mud is truly ridiculous out in the pasture. I'm going to need hip waders soon just to feed the equines. They are mud-covered and slow and a bit sullen. No cantering around the pasture right now. Cassidy, our little blonde donkey, hates to be wet. He cowers if I try to pet him when he's waterlogged. But, the sun broke through for several hours yesterday which allowed for some fur drying and some wonderful donkey hugs. No one out there acts like they noticed I have suddenly appeared there in the pasture again. Only I appreciate that I've been gone and now I'm back.

The brotherly bickering has begun already. And the involved discussions of Dungeons and Dragons and LEGO and video games. I went to the market yesterday and spent a fortune just on veggies and fruit and had finished a Golden Delicious apple before reaching the car. I spent the afternoon cooking dinner. I am feeling quite alive, returning to my routines is waking me up.

There's something to be said for being on the "other side." As soon as my tush hit the seat for our plane trip home on Monday, a vision of my vegetable garden sprang into my head. I turned to Mark and we started making plans. "It's not too late to get it moving," I said. "I can actually have a summer garden this year." I have spent the past many months preparing for February. I made no plans past March 1. In fact, our computer crashed two weeks before our trip to Philadelphia and the only thing we were unable to resurrect was my calendar. But it didn't pose too much of a problem, since I had barely put anything of import on it for the future.

And suddenly sitting there on the plane, it came to me. The Future. My Future. I have a bit of space and time to do something. I am not fully consumed with worries and doctors appointments. I can weed and plant and make something beautiful in our garden. I can even make war on the gophers. (Take heed, oh you nasty rodents!) I feel like a dry sponge, my plans the drops of water...what potential, what possibility!

We had a smooth day of travel Monday. Ben did spectacularly well. He was dosed up on meds and had zero pain, our goal. I’m very glad that we gave ourselves a couple extra days before we went home. (We’d made plane reservations for both 2/27 and 3/1 as insurance and since we were flying Southwest, all we had to do was cancel the first one…now we have a credit which we’ll be able to use the next time we fly to Philly.) Ben was really not in good enough shape to hack the trip on Saturday, but by Monday we all felt that he’d be able to manage it. And he did, with flying colors.

We hired a driver, Kevin, to take us to the airport in a Lincoln Towncar. It’s bigger and more comfortable than a cab and he doesn’t drive like a cabbie. Easier on the nerves, if you know what I mean.

We’d ordered medical assistance when we booked our flights and that was such a help. The wheelchair came to get Ben at the curb, we checked our bags and were at the front of the security line in a minute. Don’t know if it was Ben’s brace hardware or his titanium rod hardware, but he set off the metal detector! Boy, was he thrilled. Apparently, he always wanted to do that! The security officers checked him out in the “booth” gently, respectfully, and kindly. We were none the worse for it. In addition, the wheelchair got us on the flights first and helped once we got off the planes (on both legs of the trip), too.

I had intentionally booked a flight that stopped in Phoenix, a place with little weather interference. It was a good call. Our flights were on time and trouble free. The break between flights gave Ben an opportunity to stretch his legs and grab a smoothie. All in all, quite a breeze.

Our trip took a total of 14 hours door to door. My other boys (and my mom, who stayed with them, and my sister, who drove us all the way home from the airport) were thrilled to see us, but especially Ben who was doing so well. It was really hard to be separated by so much distance and we were gone for two and a half weeks. Ben had quite the “rock star” life at the Ritz (something his brothers are not only aware of but somewhat envious of, as well), and though that made all the difference for him (he’s actually looking forward to returning for his lengthenings just because of that hotel and the staff there!!), it makes it a bit challenging to be normal again.

Today I'll be calling our Feldenkrais practitioner to set up some appointments for Ben. He's been having painful muscle spasms probably from holding his body in a braced position, protecting himself from his pain. Not to mention adjusting to a diferent posture. He's also quite stiff.

I'm thinking about what to make for dinner, about communing with my equines, and about finishing some of the many knitting projects I began in Philadelphia. I'm pulling my gardening books off the shelf again and returning some emails. I'm feeling a huge sense of appreciation for our care at the Ritz-Carlton, rather than the wistfulness I thought I'd feel. I assume that has much to do with what I have here, in my farm mama life.

As I've said before, I'm one lucky girl.