Friday, February 29, 2008

Chasing After What

We drove down to Florida over February break. The trip had been planned on the back burner for months. I was ignoring it for it was to be the first time we'd be at my father-in-law's house since he passed away. It was liver cancer. Diagnosis one month; dead the next.

Our last conversation is eternally etched in my memory. I don't even have to close my eyes to hear him uttered that heartfelt line, "I never thought I'd love an Italian." To which I tearfully replied, "It's worse, I'm Sicilian."

And so, we returned to an empty but very full house. Empty, for we were not greeted by a happy old man dressed in minimal shorts and sandals. And full because all that remained of him was still there. Some boxed up by my sister-in-law, and placed in neat piles scattered about the living room and florida room. Each with a name on it; a destination of the soul, a place for the memories to rest.

When we walked into the house the air was hot. The girls ran from room to room. At first they seemed hopefully. Maybe that memorial service was for someone else. Twenty minutes later, they found the pile of boxed up toys. "Can we play with the doll beds and dolls?"

We were there for a short week; truly only 4 days. If they were destined to go to another family, we'd repack them before we left. I set up the little play set, right in the middle of the living room. Exactly where it had stood so many times before. The girls played just like they had so many times before. Somethings don't change.

While we were their I looked through his cook books, record albums and photo albums. I sat in his chair. We played all the games on the game shelf. As in years past, I cooked, and cleaned up; standing at the kitchen sink and looking out upon the citrus trees. For years, they produced tons of fruit; lemons, grapefruit, three different types of oranges. Now most of the trees had died. It's as if they knew their master was longer there to tend to them.

In years past, Pepere would load us down with fruit. Smiling I would take it, all the while wonder who was going to eat all this. In years past, a few pieces would be eaten, but the majority of it was stashed in the bottom of the refrigerator and left there to rot. This year as we packed up to leave I said, "I'm going to get some grapefruit." My husband looked at me. He'd seen me roll my eyes at the huge boxes of fruit we had trucked North before. "Just a few. I want to seeds to grow a tree."

"In New England?"

"I'll keep it inside." Close to my heart. So it can hear it's master saying, "I never thought I'd love an Italian."

There's only a half of grapefruit left. I wonder who will be lucky enough to eat it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Banjo

Yesterday the earth shook, the sun faded, the moon sagged, the oceans thrummed, and when I practiced the banjo, I heard the melody line embedded in the forward roll. The little one used to play until she got the boot... Being a person that hates to see waste, and my greater waist for that matter, I picked it up. Played for a few weeks on my own before I ran into Teddy, her old teacher.

It took two chance meetings and an interview for a magazine article to convince him to take me on... no small deal... during mother's hours, so that my lessons wouldn't impact my family's life. After one lesson, the little voice in the back of my head was saying, "This is hard." The bigger voice in the front, reassured me that there wouldn't be a test or even a quiz. "It's just for fun." Why should the kids of the world get all the opportunities, and their moms be delegated to driving from opportunity to opportunity? Get out of the driver's seat!

My second lesson was this week. After playing the piece I had been practicing for the day, I asked, "Are you going to run screaming into the night?" It was horrible...

Teddy the teacher said, "No, it's there. It's coming"

I laughed... then handing over my instrument, I demanded he play it as it should be. On his notes I melted. Even now, I close my eyes and I can still hear his playing. Of course, he has been playing for over 40 years.

So, sent home with homework to practice, I did just that, and wouldn't you know it, I'm beginning to get it. It's still hard. But aren't the harder things worth working for? I can't wait to practice today.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"I feel like a farmer"

There we were shin deep in snow. Boots on, trudging across the neighbor's yard to a tree that is fast becoming a favorite due to its high sap yield, when one of my lovelies uttered, "I feel like a farmer." It wasn't a complaint. She was smiling.

How wonderful that she has this opportunity, if just for a few weeks, in high tech suburbia. Where generally the dawn is greeted by emails, and electronically kept calendars. For six weeks, maybe more, if the snow white blanket keeps the roots cold, our usual routine will be broken.

With the start of the season, having to make new bucket hooks out of coat hangers, and pulling apart the stacks of buckets, and matching them with lids, I was wondering if all this work was worth it. Still not quite convinced, I set 14 taps. So now, everyday, rain, wind, snow, I am committed, twice a day, to follow the worn trial in the snow, slush, then mud from bucket to bucket, across our yard and the yard of three of our neighbors, collecting sap. In my pocket I carry wire to adjust how the buckets hang on the hooks. A badly hung bucket will spill its sap upon the ground. This time of year, nothing is sadder than losing a bucket of sap, for it takes us about 55 gallons of sap to create 1 gallon of golden goodness. At each tree I have to take my mittens off to release the lids. Yesterday, I smiled when I once again realized that the excitement of the gathering keeps the cold away.

The first few treks, I don't even mention to the girls that it's time. Quietly, on my own, I seek a peace with each tree, check the taps for leaks, and give thanks for the generous outpouring. But then, when there is time before school, or right after the bus returns them home, I put on my boots and head out. The girls are right behind me. They are just as excited to see how full the buckets are. Their first question after alighting from the bus at the end of their workday is, "How much sap did you get today?" My answer, "Come see." And we make the harvest together.

As of yesterday we have 18 gallons of sap. Another 20 or so, and we'll have enough for a boil. Then we'll all be up at 4 AM lighting the burners and eating oatmeal with hot chocolate.

Truly being a maple sugarmaker is not a burden, it is a gift.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

100 Calories

What is so magical about a 100 calories? Are consumers being led to think, "Oh, it's only 100 calories. I can eat that."

In an effort to be more fit, I'm watching what I'm eating and trying to get more exercise. (I think until the day I die these edicts will rule my life.) So I'm reading labels and counting calories and carbs. Looking at salt content and comparing protein grams to fats. That in itself is a mental workout. Too bad the baggage I carry at hip level doesn't directly fuel the old mental machinery, but I digress.

For the past week or so the ads with the skinny women enjoying their 100 calories have caught my attention. And I wonder just how much enjoyment they are really getting from their decadent sneak of a snack. First of all in that 100 calorie bag of almonds there is 12 nuts if you're lucky. For me this was a wake up call. I have eaten an entire can while comfortably wrapped in a blanket, reading on the couch. And those new Girl Scout cookies, Cinn-a-spins, you might get 15 teeny tiny cookies per sack. Just enough to get you interested in more. The hundred calorie granola bars are so small they have to inflate the packaging with air so they aren't crushed into a 100 one calorie crumbs. Lo cal chocolate bars are more wax and air than chocolate. After tasting one, I have pretty much sworn off chocolate. That might be a good thing.

In the end, maybe it would be better if we skipped the fancy packaging, and the 100 calorie promises to thinness. After all it would take only 15 packages of Cinn-a-spins for me to passively eat through my recommended caloric intake for one day. That's like eating 15 normally large cookies. I could eat that in the time it takes me to blog about those 100 calorie packages.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Bend In The Road

For many reasons my life is at a bend in the road, so I can really relate to this picture. School vacation is over today. I really don't have time to dwell on pie in the sky possibilities. Truly this family is built for vacation.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I tapped

I was going to wait, but couldn't. The sun out. The winds calm. I hung 14 buckets. Some were shy to let forth their clear goodness. Others spewed forth welcoming the season with a reckless abandon generally reserved for a new bride.

As I walked from tree to tree, knee deep in snow, I saw the synergy of the weather with maple sugaring. The thick blanket of snow will ease in the season. With this weather comes a reassurance that there will be plenty of thoughtful sessions in the sugar shack. Quiet mornings, with bowls of steaming oatmeal and hot chocolate before school. All good for soothing the soul.

I have a second book

For a year I've had Forever Yours in the can, so to speak, and sitting on a shelf. For a year I've ponder the advice of others to start writing the next book. For a year with no plot in mind I've scribbled other dribble, but now I have the plot. And strangely enough, with this arrow in my quiver, I'm now able to make the final edits, and get Forever Yours off my desk. It's strange. All this time I've rested upon this book, figuratively and literally. Was I afraid to let it go? Afraid that it was my first and last book? Afraid I could write no other?

Plot notes: in no specific order --
Two years have passed.
Jeff, Melody and Sarah are the best of friends.
Martha and Sarah become close; no brainer here.
Martha dies.
With very little communication between the families word comes that Carolyn's mother dies. Carolyn must come to live with the Cahills.
Carolyn moves into Sarah's room with Sarah.
What is the impact? Are the girls still friends? What about Bobbie? Can Charles help? Is Charles still around? Can Sarah help Carolyn deal with her lose? How does this intruder effect Melody's and Sarah's friendship?

It feels good to have a plot again.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

So Much Unpacking....

The best thing about being on vacation is not being home. At home there is always an overwhelming list earmarked as to-do. This morning we've picked off hundreds of tasks and still I feel buried up to my lobes. I'm exhausted by clutter and mess.

On vacation we played games and games of bingo, while the laundry waited. Now the games wait... Not fair! Not fair!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Okay one last one for tonight

Taken with my new lens. Talk about up close and personal.

Bird's Eye View


Homa Again Home Again

Giggity Gig...Truck.
There is something about lights and night that I can't get enough of.

Pictures paint a thousand words.
Over the next week or so I will be posting pictures from our drive to FL.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hormones Coming and Going

or Lessons From a Fourth Grade Homework

One of my lovelies had a homework assignment to read and then summarize an essay about a miserable old woman. The woman, totally disgusted with her life seeks out Buddha, and asks for his help. He says, "I will help you, but first you must bring me one mustard seed from anyone that has not known pain or suffering."

The woman goes away happy. Buddha will help her.

Weeks later when Buddha returns, he finds the woman humming and washing clothes by beating them on the rocks of a nearby stream. He asks, "Did you find a mustard seed?"

"No," she sings. "But I discovered that everyone has pain and suffering. And by comparison my life is fine. " Then she asked if she still needed to find that mustard seed because after she washed these clothes for her neighbor there was some other people who could use her help.

"No," Buddha replied. "You have learned your lesson well."

Hormonal waves, are the undercurrents for the chemistry of turning a great day into a battlefield. Some days my daughter is coming, and I'm going. At times, neither one of us paints a joyful picture of life. But now, we have this old woman and her life lesson to think about. And instead of lashing out, what if we reached out to someone else in need? I suspect it would be just enough to turn the hormonal tides in our favor.

Thoughts of Spring

Not to rush the maple sugaring season, (in one week we will tap our trees), but I'm having thoughts of spring. They settled upon my psyche when I opened the compost bin to offer our latest contribution from the kitchen. Inside that bin is the warmth and breath of our next garden. The great circle of life will reinitiate when that goodness brings on healthy germinations. Already I'm pondering what to plant. Corn for sure; tomatoes too, pepper, basil, maybe more gourds. Last year's crop are drying and almost ready for painting. It should be a fun project.

What about yellow squash? The kids couldn't get enough of it last year. Maybe some pumpkins too; it would be nice to grown our own.

Still with these thoughts I am delighted there is snow on the ground. Cold roots bring forth the sweetest sap. One week and we tap our trees. After that, I am ready for spring.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentines, Homesickness and the City of Love

I'm not a hopeless Valentine's Day romantic. In this house saying, "Happy Valentine's Day," followed by the response, "Et toi," is all well and good. I'm fine with that.

But mention Paris, or suggest we watch French Kiss or the remake of Sabrina, and I go all weak in les genoux.

My present jello state is my own fault. Last weekend I pampered myself with a midnight showing, tout seulment, of Sabrina. By the end of the movie, I was having my own Millie Vanillie moment with the french script. Then a few nights ago I suggested we watch French Kiss. And despite the vast differences in weight and overall appearance, I was Kate, wearing that baby blue dress and then realizing that Luc et le vin were the only things pour moi. Amore.

A lifetime ago, I had the chance to live in France, and I took la rue more traveled. Knowing full well, I made the right decision, I still look back to that junction and wonder. Where would I be? Would I have morphed into that high style Parisian, or just been une autre mere displaced by un ocean.

I've been to Paris trois times. I've sat in cafes drinking coffee, walked along the Seine, and I've even written nonsense in a journal, long before these experiences were shared avec Sabrine. Still, not a day goes by where I'm not looking forward to my next chance to fly over the great big ocean, and I do hate to fly, for real.

Alone with my husband, I envision us walking les rues, de concert, with no plan but to be in a city that feels like no home I've ever known. Amore.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gifts only a sick child can bring you

After writing yesterday's, dare I say, essay, I started thinking about all the wonderful things I had experienced since the cherubs contracted the common neighborhood viral strain. And that list far outweighs any pile of complaints I could come up with. What do you think?
  • took a nap with the cherub in the unbunked bed
  • played chess
  • did homework (A mom favorite when it involves math or writing.)
  • made pizza for lunch (I never have anything so extravagant when I'm home alone.)
  • played more chess
  • found out my cherub has been reading my Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess book
  • learned how to tune a banjo (i was desperate.)
  • had a tickle fight
  • snuggled on the couch
  • played more chess while cozied in my bed
  • learned how to read music and play the banjo at the same time (It's like walking and chewing gum; hard at first, but keep trying.)
  • played in a flute banjo duet

The fever broke yesterday. The school rule is fever free for 24 hours before they can return. I'm on the fence. Is it off the school, so she doesn't miss anymore? It will be 18 hours fever free... Or is it, stay home and play chess with mommy, cozied under the covers, then learning cross stitch?
Tough choice.

decision made: School is canceled due to weather.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

House Arrest

Nothing clears my calendar like a sick child. I go to bed, thinking the day ahead is planned, only to be awoken at 5 AM by the low mournful moan, "Mom." Half awake, feet feeling for my slippers, I contemplate what is it about that tone of Mom that draws me away from Harrison Ford's smile.

I've had two weeks of clearing calendars; first one cherub then the other. I didn't so much miss my mammograms, note the plural... But I seriously doubt, since it involved canceling two appointments, the original and its replacement, that the receptionist believes I even have children. Instead she's thinking, "Likely excuse... This woman doesn't like to have her breasts pressed rice paper thin; chicken." The next one is in two weeks... I wonder if I'll make it. Maybe just uttering the word mammogram opens up a viral portal to the intestines of the child sitting closest to me... mammogram... oh wait that one is already sick...

Also I didn't mind missing my weekly volunteer stint stuffing Friday Folders at the school. It was distribution week, the week where every children's service organization and their uncles send information home via the students' backpacks. Information regarding camps, educational programs, insurance, fund raisers, town programs, my Aunt Martha's programs, you get the picture. One time (in band camp*) there were 20 flyers to be collated and sent home. In this house, on those days, when I go through the Friday Folders, I stand by the recycle bin.

I do mind missing my walks, and my banjo lesson, food shopping, my freedom to run out on and errand for this or that, and visiting my uncle who is laid up. But the house has never been cleaner, as I've made headway plowing through the clutter that collects. Of course, the one who is home is finding all sorts of ways to undo my good deeds. Regardless, I have found a lost library book, music books, a lone slipper, three odd buttons, and a Barbie puzzle piece.

I wonder if I'll be let out tomorrow? I'm sure we'll all be in the pink healthwise, and that the pending snow storm will keep us all buttoned up together, tight. Then someone will whisper mammogram, and I'll come down with the latest and greatest intestine twisting distress.

* If you don't get the reference, there really isn't anything I can do for you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

When one door closes

He opens up a window. I'm waiting to feel the breeze; winter cold or otherwise.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Today started off snowy, then sunny, then blizzardy, now sunny again.

Friday, February 08, 2008


For years we stacked our children like cord wood. The oldest on top. The youngest tucked into the cave. This arrangement maximized the floor space in their room for clutter and clothes. Typical wake up routine was to stand on my tiptoes and try to kiss and snuggle the top bunker. The child who always pushes me away; avoiding my hugs and kisses. Then I would crawl into the lower dwelling spot and cozy the little one, who never pushes me away. Same for bad dreams, except I might climb up the ladder for better listening. In all the time we had bunks I never crawled up there myself; always afraid both bed and body would be visiting the lower lair under the weight of my expansive backside.

Over the past few weeks, we switched rooms, repainted, and debunked them. From that first night on, they've enjoyed having their own air space. They go to bed, read, and fall asleep without that tension of being on top of each other. But last night my eyes and my arms were opened.

Last night, homework that had to be finished today, kept the oldest up and in tears.

I asked, "Is there anything I can do?"

"No," came her tearful response, "I have to rewrite these four paragraphs."

I gave her a snack, and left her to finish. Which she did, beautifully.

Later when I went upstairs to do some stitching, she was still awake, and called to me. She couldn't sleep. No surprise really; there was no way her little body could have relaxed enough after her stint at the kitchen table.

"Move over," I said. And then I crawled into bed with her and gave her the cozy and started to rub her back.

"Can you rub under my shirt?"

In the darkness I smiled. She relaxed against me, and as her breathing evened out like small waves upon a lake, she asked, "Will you sleep with me?"

A gift well worth the lose of a bit of floor space.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fame and Fortune

Pleco did good. He's heading to Worcester to participate in the State High School Science Fair Competition. Well, not him really -- but a poster describing his love for brown over green algae for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


I love the rain.
But it's a balance,
like all of life,
and love.

Where too much of a good thing isn't good.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tying Up Lose Ends

Everyone has a to do list for a rainy day. Lately I've been checking off my life's to dos.

- brew beer (check)
- make mead (check)
- concoct lemoncella (check)
- learn how to play the banjo (in process... no recording gig soon)
- knit, spin, sew, quilt (almost check...)
- buy Sketchers (check)

Other items were:
- more walking for exercise
- maple sugaring
- write a novel

Strange on a day to day basis I feel I lead a very boring, stay at home mom life. But when you put it down on paper, there is a different story being told. I guess on those days when life doesn't come screaming to your door, it's time to do a bit of screaming on your own behalf.

What's next on the list?
- get the novel published... harder said than done.
- build a banjo. But first I have to learn how to play.
- sing in more places than our church... scary but true
- teach classes on maple sugaring. Truly it's a way for me to learn more about this passion. I'll be at a local larger sugar shack giving tours to school groups and scout troops. I called another local sugarer to see if he was interested in giving tours as well. He would have been, but he's going out of town. He's already tapped his trees; lucky duck. I have to wait. I chat with this kindred spirit only in the late winter, to check in, to make sure all is right and he'll be tapping. I'm happy to report all is better than right. Another check for the to do list.

What's on your list?

Monday, February 04, 2008


Generally I don't procrastinate. Generally, I take on a task, then get it done and out of the way. Opening up the sluice for another challenge. But normal has fallen by the wayside, and I've not take pen to paper for an article for two weeks. So today, that is first and foremost on my agenda, after cleaning the oven...

Like the Nike saying, "Just do it." I need to "Just type it." So without further ado, and after I get a cup of coffee... I'll be back.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

One bomb I didn't mind

I can't stand a messy house. Not that my house is neat, or dust free, but I do my best. This past weekend we had family over for a sleepover. We hadn't seen them since Christmas. We had a blast, and I mean that two ways. We had a wonderful time. It was great to be with family. And the kids took out every toy and game and musical instrument we have. No room was spared. They had such a wonderful time playing. Normally a mess of that proportion would have put me over the edge. This time it put a smile on my face.