Wednesday, August 18, 2010

summer garden expectations

I was so happy that we finished a project this year. I asked for a garden this spring and that's exactly what I got. I showed you pics of it back after I first planted in June and now it is in full festoon. We harvest the beans, nasturtiums, herbs and squash every other day and still more come. I get so much pleasure from the snaking vines, the scents, the 8 foot tall towers of sunflowers. But, I am not a perfectionist in the garden. I've read some books, looked over the seed packets, and still my garden has issues. I am trying to look at this in a philosophical way and I'm learning about expectations.

I almost gave up on the beans. I almost pulled them out at one point in early June. They looked so wilty, so weak. And then, finally, they took hold and VA-VA-VOOM! Holy Moly! My beans are insane producers. I love hunting for them, my hair falling in my eyes (ok, I hate that part), searching through the dense underbrush of bean foliage and nasturtium tangles. There are always a zillion hiding out deep in that forest. Every day I get a full bucket of beans and then I make a marinated bean salad that is perfect summer potluck fare. Garlic-Dijon-Champagne vinaigrette over green and yellow beans (recipe below). Marinate all day. No cooking necessary. Crunchy, garlicky goodness!

The Cinderella pumpkin plant, below, is immense, taking up a full 12 foot bed. One seed made that plant. One little seed. I am awed by that kind of power. There are so many shoots and new pumpkins that I'm constantly cutting it back, giving some hope and energy to the ones already developing. It's hard for me to prune my veggies. Must be something in that that I could psychoanalyze, but suffice it to say I hate to minimize potential harvests. What I've found though is that some plants need the sting of the pruning sheer to flourish. The tomatoes are covered with blossoms but no fruit has appeared. The tomatillos are covered with empty paper lanterns but are waiting for the juicy green fruits to fill them from the inside out. Now that I see the wasted opportunity, I actually appreciate the idea of gardening with some reserve, with some self-control. It's like having a good sense of boundaries with your kids. A little uncomfortable to have such hard edges sometimes, but it's what they need to feel safe and to ultimately flourish.

When I planted the garden I had a combination of anxiety and impatience. Anxiety that nothing would grow and no patience to wait the time necessary to fill the empty spaces in between the plants. (I used to be like that with boys too, hating to wait for them to call me back, anxious about the future and the past until I'd talked to them again. It's been a long time since I had to play those games, and luckily, the guy I eventually got didn't seem to mind at all when I called him back right after a date!) So I planted plants in those in between spaces and now there are corners of the garden that I believe are suffering from claustrophobia. The bush beans are starting to keel over and the squash has stopped producing new fruit.

Of course, it's late August and we've barely had a handful of long, warm days. The wind from the ocean blows every afternoon and often brings a heavy wave of fog with it. There are mushrooms sprouting in our brand new organic compost + soil mix. I water by hand, but I'm never sure which things need more and which less.

But I guess I'm feeling sort of Zen about it. I accept it as it is. No need to improve. Everyone's having issues with their tomato crop this year. You can see many of my tomato plants have keeled over, musty and skeletal. I am thinking about planting a winter garden soon. My palate down in the garden needs some cleaning out. Lettuce, winter squash, maybe some Brussel sprouts. Lots of possibilities.

Honestly, I'm just glad we got through our challenges this past spring and were able to put a garden together.

I think the garden is helping me to deal with dashed expectations. Or maybe I should say "altered". This is somewhat of a struggle for me, the perfectionist homeschooling mom. I hate to live with no expectations, and yet every time I make a to do list for the boys or pile up a stack of books and materials to share with them I find that their agenda is apparently different from mine.

This year I've been collecting books that seem to relate to this place, our land, Mother Earth, Northern California. I have a strong urge to get us up and out of the house and to focus our attention on the horizon as well as the minutae around us. On our table is An Everyday History of Somewhere and Keeping a Nature Journal, a stack of brand new spiral bound sketchbooks, and some watercolor pencils. I have dreams of hiking and spotting jackrabbits, sitting quietly and watching hawks and vultures soar overhead. Honestly, we could sit on our deck and do some of that, but I want us to venture out a bit as well. 

We homeschool year round, meaning we don't stop in June and start up in September, but we've been so out of kilter with Ben's surgeries, camp, camping trips and the like that we are not in a rhythm other than being in an unsatisfying one for me. I've started waking the boys up a bit earlier (9 am, not so early!) and writing a to do list of sorts on the white board the night before with things like: "Some things we may get to..." at the top. Maybe I'm not being forceful enough, but I've learned this much at least: If I force it they definitely don't show up!

I started reading An Everyday History to them yesterday. They were oh so resistant. For three days I'd written it on the white board and they'd avoided it in one fashion or another. But finally, I made them sit and listen yesterday. And guess what? They LOVED it. Toby has to figure out sitting quietly and focusing, but they all were intrigued by this lovely storyteller's history of the native peoples and animals of Northern California. Today I didn't need to coerce them at all and they even asked when we'd be reading it.

Tomorrow we head out to the annual California Homeschool Association conference in Sacramento. A weekend of fun, inspiration, and time in the pool with our friends. I haven't been looking forward to it nearly as much as in years past, but I'm starting to get excited. This year I'm volunteering in the exhibition hall rather than going to the lectures. This year I'll hang out more than soak up new information. I know more about what I want from our homeschooling life already six years into this life. But still, I'm trying not to have too many expectations, even low ones, of the weekend ahead, and yes, of the year ahead. I'm trying to let my garden teach me something. Having expectations often means having dashed ones.

That's such a negative, glass-half-empty kind of outlook, you know? Instead, I can choose to embrace the uncertainty, I can choose to wait with quiet patience and embrace the anxieties that go with not knowing what will come. I can also trust that if something fails, something else wonderful may fill the void left behind. I can do that, I'm sure.

Tomatoes are usually our favorite crop. But this year it's the beans.

Garlic-Dijon-Champagne Vinaigrette Beans

Bucket o' beans
Nasturtium flowers for garnish
Dijon mustard
Champagne vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Trim beans. Place in a large ziplock plastic bag. In a bowl mix 1 T mustard, 1/2 c olive oil, 4 T vinegar, and 2 chopped cloves of garlic. Mix till they are fully incorporated. Pour into bag. Squeeze out air, zip closed. Toss until beans are covered with marinade. If there doesn't appear to be enough marinade, add more olive oil and vinegar. Marinate several hours in the fridge. Turn a couple times throughout the day.
To serve: Place in a serving bowl, pour marinade over beans, salt and pepper to taste and decorate with clean nasturtium flowers (I soak these in water to make sure the ants have evacuated!).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

scenes of summer

I haven't had a lot of trust in our technology situation of late, but finally organized some of the photos from our summer fun. Here are a few. No captions, since these photos say it all. More to come in a day or so.


Friday, August 6, 2010

the honeymoon is over

Yesterday all hell broke loose here. (Will I never learn to inform the universe that I'm feeling great?)

  1. The boys started fighting with each other.
  2. My horse got gimpy again. VERY gimpy.
  3. The house is a total and complete wreck (two camping trips in direct succession and a cross-country trip for surgery will do that to a house).
  4. Ants have invaded and staked out territory in the kitchen.
  5. Mark and I talked about finances.

Well, I suppose I could have avoided the grief of the last on the list, but unfortunately, it's the month before the "new" year starts (schooling-wise) and I have plans. Big plans. Plus, Toby and I spent a couple days at the beach with Mark's sister and brother-in-law, and that got me to thinking how much our family needs a beach vacation. A vacation that doesn't involve surgery, as Ben would say.

And so the cash register started to b-rr-rr-rr-ing!

But the first four on the list, well, those just got me off on the wrong foot. I was literally in tears about Tess, my horse, who was doing great (just benignly neglected of late) foot-wise. She was very gimpy last year, but I healed her. And now, she's worse than before. Sigh. It feels as if any left over energy I might have gets funneled into someone with a chronic medical condition. Double sigh.

The morning hit its peak, though, when Toby and Ben were fighting over the breakfast table. Ben was feeling sorry for himself and apparently Toby and I weren't showing enough sympathy for his plight. (I was already taxed, having spent a couple hours dealing with Tess and calling various people who might have some insight and come to my aid.)

"I am feeling terrible about my life because of all the things I can't do!" he grumped.
"Oh, what things can't you do?" I asked, definitely not showing my usual compassion.
"Well, bungee jumping and sky diving," he said.
"You can do those when the rod comes out," I said.
"When I'm 19! I have to wait until I'm 19!" he said.
"How many people do you know who sky dive and bungee jump before they are 19? You'll just have to wait!" I wasn't getting any points for best mom here.

The conversation stopped but he glared at us. I returned to the reason for our raised voices: he had been calling Toby "stupid."

"Maybe you're not in the right frame of mind to go visit your friends today," I warned. Plans had already been made with Victor and Alex, two of Ben's favorite buds.
"No! You can't cancel that!" he and Toby shrieked together.

And then Toby burst into tears.
"Please don't cancel that!" he cried.
"Why are you crying, Toby?" Ben asked. "They aren't even your friends."
"Because," sob, sob, sob, "I just want you to have fun!" sob, sob, sob.
"But why are you crying about it?" Ben asked again, clueless.

"Because," Toby choked out, "I'm a mensch and mensches care more about other people than they do about themseeeeeeeellllllvvvves!" Oh boy! It was quite the moment, I can tell you.

Ben's eyes got pretty wide at that point, awareness dawning. Things calmed down. Apparently, Toby had justified himself and Ben apologized for his snarkiness. Moments later we rallied to get the car packed up for the day.

Suddenly, sobs rang out again. Ben and Toby had collided and Ben's back, specifically the exact spot where his adjustable growing rod attaches to his ribs, was in the epicenter of the collision.

Ben cried. And then, Toby cried. I stood and held one boy under each arm, patting them gently. "Ok, guys, it's gonna be ok," I said.

With that kind of morning, who needs nightmares?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Surgery the Sequel: Chapter Four

I was visited by a memory this morning. It swooped in on me as I trudged up the stairs after feeding the equines and cleaning the pasture, kicking off my boots in the mudroom, and padding past Ben and Toby sitting on a window seat happily engrossed in a game of Magic: The Gathering.

The memory is this: I am sitting on our cushy love seat, Toby tucked in close on one side, Ben on the other. It is the day after Ben has finally, FINALLY come home from the hospital after having four surgeries for Chiari I malformation, two months to the day since the first surgery took place. I am feeling that I never ever want to be away from my children. I want to keep them home, next to me, safe. Whatever it takes.

Deja vu.

Ben is home again, and he is almost pain-free. He appears lighter in body and spirit. He is calm and even. Happy, considerate, grateful, mellow. He has focused on Toby and playing with Toby all day, much to Toby's intense happiness. The baby brother really REALLY missed the older one.

Driving Ben home from the airport last night we talked about being apart from each other while he was in Philly. "I'm going with you next time," I said.


"Weeeeell, I don't think so, Mama," Ben said. "Daddy can move me, help me get up, reposition me," he paused, "I really need him for surgeries...and he doesn't mind helping me pee into a bottle."

Well huh. I protested a bit. ("I don't mind helping with the pee bottle!") But, I guess I can handle this.

I just want everyone to know that we're all lighter here today. We're at peace because our Benny is doing so well. Mark's coming home early from work, it's Make-Your-Own-Burrito night for dinner, and the piles of dirty laundry are scattered in front of the laundry room door. Life is getting back to normal.

But next time (9 months from now, according to Ben's surgeon), next time I'm going with him. (Anyone know of a place that I can order an extra large duffle bag from?)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Surgery the Sequel: Chapter Three

A Yin and Yang Afternoon

Today Toby and I attended a picnic celebrating our friend James, a 17 year old Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor. He was diagnosed with the disease at the turn of the year. He is one of Harry's friends and his mom, Sarah, is one of my dearest buds. This year he had chemo and radiation, lost all his hair, grew it back, and now is in the clear. The party was a thank you from Sarah and James' whole family out to their community for all the blessings and pots of soup and nights someone let the cat out and hugs that had been bestowed upon James' family this year.

I knew quite a few folks, mostly from our days at Harmony School in Occidental. People who know me and my kids and were actually around when Ben had his first serious experience with surgery, brain surgery, over four years ago. Of course, these folks want to know how Ben is and so, I told them. Mostly they were shocked to hear he was back in Philly for another surgery. It's like whiplash how fast the turn around was for this one.

At one point I stood with a few moms who were there for me four plus years ago. Moms who drove down to Oakland to take me out to dinner after Ben had been in the hospital for seven weeks, had had three surgeries and still wasn't healing. They all piled in a car and drove down to take me out for a diversionary dinner at which I learned that not only was I not the only one with a kid who'd spent time in the hospital, but every single one of us had a kid who at one time or another had spent time in the hospital. Every. Single. One.

Toby and I had another stop today. We were attending a gathering at our friends Anna and Dennis' home. Anna fought breast cancer two years ago and they just found four more tumors in her chest. So we gathered to bless her with our words, prayers and songs. I had my guitar with me and I led the group in some beautiful melodies of hope and healing.

Yesterday, just a day after Ben's surgery I felt such overwhelming lack of ambition. I was deflated, like a popped balloon. Looking back over the few weeks preceding the surgery I could add up the anxiety, the anticipation, the dread, the desire for it all to be over. And following that crescendo, Friday the surgery came and went in such a blur (I was truly asleep for most of it) and the relief was so strong to have come through, that Ben was okay, that it was over. The day after is always the day after. It's not a cliche for nothing. My day after was not so horrible, I suppose, but it still took me a bit by surprise.

As Toby and I were leaving James' picnic we got a call from Ben who had spent the whole day in pain. For some reason today was a hard day, but I've been told the third day after surgery is hard. That was today. Full of pain. (Have I mentioned how much I hate being on the other side of the country from my baby who is in pain?) He spent the day in bed. Grandma Joyce came to visit from New York. Dan the concierge brought him a popscicle. He's got his meds, so they're dealing with it. But, sheesh, I'm so tired of the pain...and it's not even mine.

I suppose I tell you all of this because we talked about blessings today at Anna and Dennis'. And Sarah's party was all about gratitude. And truly, when I have some energy I am so totally grateful for my friends, for hugs, for the popscicles and emails the blessings we get from our communities.

But in order to really see the blessings, there seems to be so much pain. Months of chemo or surgical wounds healing. Tears shed by a little brother missing his big brother while he's away. The anxiety and anger that fills my stomach as we wait to hear the results of a test. It feels like too much at times. And yet, I realize it's what life is all about. Every single one of us has wounds and loss and grief and where would we be without each other?

So, thank you for caring about me and thank you for accepting my songs of healing. This is not the end of my story, but I have a sniffly child sitting next to me who needs a hug.