Epic Bedtime

Bedtime always epic in our house. The only time bedtime has not been epic was when my son was sick for a week with a fever recently. For about three nights he passed out, on his own, on the couch at about 6:30 p.m. Otherwise, it is epic.

Tonight, we went out for dinner and returned home at about 7:30 which is typically when bedtime begins. Instead of going straight upstairs, we read 3 short books - Jamberry, Dream Snow, and The Snowy Day - beside the wood stove. 

We took an apple and water upstairs. We brushed teeth, etc. Lights out. While Beren munched on an apple, I told an imaginary story about an eclipse (thanks, Debbie, for cluing me in to August 21, 2017).

In the dim light created by our neighbor's Christmas lights, I noticed Beren working at his teeth. "Something stuck in there?" I asked. No answer as he probed his mouth. "Would you like a toothpick?" He got the food out.

Two stories from when Beren was little, back scratching, "favorite cuddle"... I drifted off as Beren breathing deepened. I woke with his arms and legs over my arms and legs. He was asleep.

I made a move to get out of bed. From the depths of the comforter: "Momma, what are you doing?" "Moving a little bit." "Me, too." Then he was out.

We wish a whatever kind of Christmas gets you through this singalong to the cookies for kids and adult time for the parents, at least the parents with older kids

After 10 pm. One piece of firewood on the rack. Damn.

Kid is asleep.

We went to a year end sing along at Beren's school. Many songs about celebrating the solstice, peace, and a couple about the holidays. Enjoyable for me. Grumpy for Beren. 

Last year, we had been crowded into his small schoolroom. After just a few songs, the noise and heat made Beren slump to my feet. He covered his ears with my hands. One spirited boy grabbed the performer's puppet and throttled it as she tried to sing and manuever it. Jared and I hid our laughing and kept that amusing memory for the following 365 days.

 This year, we met at a nearby church where larger school functions are held. Beren was lured from the back of the crowd to the front by the performer's small, quiet set of panpipes. The rest of the show was cheerful, loud, clapping, etc.

 Beren happily performs silent theater and dances at home with background music piped in. However, much music aimed at children is "stupid" in his six year old opinion. He's a rather discerning and vocally critical audience member. This is one reason why I look doubtfully at people who ask if I have considered sending him to a Waldorf school. Hell, maybe he would love Eurhythmy.

Beren grumped around in my lap, telling me to "make faces like this" (he made grimaces) rather than to sing. Nevertheless, I was going to ride this out, because I wanted to socialize with other parents afterwards. A few songs from the end, I began to sing softly into Beren's ear along with the music. I admit that I sang "we wish you a poopy Christmas and a stinky new year." And the like. It worked. Beren's grump subsided and got to sing, though very, very quietly. I wonder if  he will remember to tell his friends about my lyrics. Ah!

Despite my wonderfully poopy parenting, no one brought in more wood. 


"Papa, do you want to play hospital?" Beren asked Jared today as I lay on the couch with an earache. The stuffed animals were listed on paper, each with their unique ailments. Bent feather, cracked shell, 3 different monkeys with glass in the stomach, earache, hurt tail, broken bone. The loon with the bent feather was an easy fix. The rest were admitted. Together, they healed each animal.

When Jared suggested they needed hospital medicine for one animal not herbal medicine, Beren said, "And herbs, too." 

Beren gravely added that their hospital did not have a laser knife. Instead, they used a snake to remove the glass from the monkeys' bellies. "What hospital has a laser knife? One nearby?" I inquired later, curious to discover where he'd learned about laser knives. He didn't know, he admitted slowly and uncertainly.

One animal received an injection to help them sleep prior to surgery. Jared and Beren agreed that they would need to tell the animal of what might happen when the animal woke up. "Tell them that they might wake up with a leg that feels bad and does not work right," Beren said.


About a year ago, our little guy had surgery. Jared and I had put it off for several reasons and finally several factors aligned making the surgery a possibility and making avoiding the surgery more and more of an impossibility. Better said, surgery seemed an inevitability, though Jared and I still found room to debate mixed in a swirl of unknowns and fears. Our reasons (hope and fear) to delay mixed. The hope that things would resolve faded, and fears needed to be faced.

We scheduled a doctor's appointment to for a referral to a specialist as required by insurance. In the midst of this, his health insurance switched unbeknownst to me, requiring obsessive phone calls to the insurance companies and doctors. When we arrived at an appointment with the surgeon and were told our paperwork was not in line, not in the folder, though I had called to confirm we were set twice.  

We waited for the surgeon's office and the general practitioner's office to sort things out and were seen after waiting what felt like hours. The grey waiting room lacked toys I assumed they might have. 

Our agitated child was barely interested in the stickers and coloring supplies we brought. Sullen kids went through the doors to be seen. Squalling kids came out. My resolve cracked when another patient came a out from being seen - a thirty-ish woman was pushed out the door in a wheel chair. She held her head up with one hand as tears of grief rolled down her checks. She'd just gotten bad news.

Beren was displeased. Jared was grim. And I was grim, too, my teeth set, guiding the family along. In our conversations about our appointments, I mixed alarm with empathetic listening and calculated responses with high-pitched cheerfulness and steely determination, in response to everyone's complaints. Beren told us he would never come back to this place, but he would a couple months later.


After I scheduled the surgery, I called the hospital and the insurance company to confirm that the appropriate paperwork had been generated on our behalf. Yes, they assured me.

In the meantime, Beren's surgeon changed office locations. I called again a couple weeks before the date and some paperwork was lost, confused, or misplaced. I spoke with the surgeon's receptionist, "I'll have a nurse call you back."

I kept my phone in my pocket, waiting for the call. The nurse called and asked for my information. She opened our file, "Ok, Mommy, I don't see the referral." I carefully listened to the nurse's words, noting her insurance lingo. Referral. A referral was needed. Referral not on file.

I called the insurance company. I begged for clarification. I'm a dummy. I don't understand the lingo, I told her, hoping for sympathy. Please help. "What do I need?" I asked. A very friendly, forgiving, and jovial woman with a Southern accent told me nothing. Nothing, it seemed. I needed nothing. Sometimes the doctors office get confused, too. I carefully noted that.

I opted to need something over nothing. If I had a referral, we wouldn't be turned away on the day of the surgery. This was my Greatest Fear Number 2. I  called our general practitioner's office again. I was apologetic. I had called them numerous times during the insurance switch. I was certain they had a photograph of my face on a dartboard. Or, perhaps they had a picture of my guts on the wall. My guts felt like they were filled with darts.

I repeated what the surgeon's nurse had requested. A referral. The irritable receptionist at the general practitioner's office bristled. It seemed that she'd set everyone straight. As it turns out, we needed a 'script' not a referral.

I called several numbers at the hospital again days before the surgery. I went deep into the belly of the hospital - the accounting department, the surgeon's office, and then some deeper layer. I felt as thought I was talking to a woman far inside some castle-like tower. Being close to Christmas, the people on the other line seemed kinder.

All seemed well. Then, as scheduled, a nurse called from the hospital the day before the surgery with instructions. "You'll need to be at the hospital by 6:00 AM. No food or drink after 9:00 PM tonight." I balked slightly at the time. "It's ok. We're used to cranky kids," the nurse answered.

I knew Jared would blow his top. He did. "What time?! They want us to arrive at WHAT time?!" By this time, I felt like a pincushion, covered in darts.

"The surgery is likely to be early. They take the kids from youngest to oldest," I said. "They don't even know what time?!" Jared exclaimed. "No, but I'm thinking we're likely to be early," I said, being optimist, and possibly lying.

"And, he doesn't need to do anything to be discharged. Doesn't have to pee," I'd been afraid of everything, imagining things that I heard about in hospital dramas might come true. Mothers who just gave birth have to go pee before being discharged, right? Or was it anyone who had surgery? Anyway, our stubborn child had a steely will and bladder. He'd never pee on request and luckily he didn't have to.

Meanwhile, I just wanted Jared to help me steer the ship towards tomorrow morning. I was too tired to discuss medical protocol. "Not even water?!" he went on. "No, they don't want him to vomit and aspirate," I said quickly. I hardly wanted to mention anything going wrong, but I wanted Jared off my back. "I'm not making the rules. Let's just follow the rules," I said.

I had been steering the ship for some months, making appointments and calls. He listened when I stressed out about the logistics behind the surgery. The surgery itself - we sought other options but surgery was the only answer.

Our care provider was encouraging. He's young and healthy, she told us. The Mayo Clinic online pointed towards surgery. A friend studying herbal healthcare asked her teacher - surgery was the answer. All our inquiries pointed towards surgery.

Ultimately, I had convinced Jared to move ahead with the help of his mother. We double teamed him in the kitchen one afternoon while Beren played on the other side of the house. Dealing with the insurance was a nuisance compared to the moral responsibility I felt I had taken on. Though Jared and I agreed, I pushed. If our ship crashed, I was the one who pushed. If all went well, we could forget the whole thing.

On the morning of Beren's surgery, we set our alarm for 4:00 AM. Beren, normally a late riser, woke, too. I cuddled him and we cheerfully talked in the dark until I reminded him we would be leaving to go to the hospital. We had given him several days notice about something he had never experienced. 

"NO IT'S TOO LATE. NO. NO. IT IS DARK OUTSIDE." Beren clung to the bars of his loft bed with fury. His adrenaline surge made him stronger than me. I spoke in quiet, calming ways, though I am certain my nervousness was felt. "NO NO NO. BAD GUY. BAD GUY. NO NO NO." 

"BAD GUY! BAD GUY!" Beren's screams were guttural, possessed. Who was the bad guy? Me? I wondered.

Once in the car, he continued to scream. I couldn't buckle him. His body was like a feral wire. We began driving and finally he settled. The cold air and routine of buckling prior to driving pierced through his anger. I had been counting on an out of sorts kid. I had been counting on a hungry kid who wasn't permitted to eat until after his surgery, but this was harrowing. I splashed us with Rescue Remedy.

The sun came up as we drove towards the children's hospital. Once there, we passed through momentarily exciting revolving doors.

We were directed to a waiting room where we sat, bleary. Beren played with the toys. I filled out digital forms binding us to pay for his care no matter what, absolutely no matter what. 

We sat. After awhile, I inquired about what we were waiting for, and our presence reasserted, we were hustled along to another waiting room. We sat uncertainly. There was no one to receive us. I ventured through two double doors. "We've been waiting for you," someone said.

Beren refused to sit on the tiny hospital examination bed. We sat on the floor of the small triage type room instead. A kind nurse took his vitals and talked with him cheerfully.

A friendly social worker brought him a canvas bag with the children's hospital logo. Inside were a box of trucks, a coloring book, and crayons. The trucks were seconds with the shiny paint chipping a little. They were welcome distractions. She worker squatted beside him and explained briefly about hospitals and asked if he knew why he was in one. "Yes," he said slowly.

I grimaced as he played shoeless and shirtless on the examination room floor. The nurses asked me to dress Beren in a hospital gown and socks. He refused. 

The nice nurse returned, commenting on the toys. She would be the one person he remembered favorably. 

An assemblage of hospital workers--nurses, doctors, the pediatric anesthesiologist--stood in the doorway. The anesthesiologist explained possible side affects to Jared within earshot of Beren and me.

Another hospital employee came in with no introductions. "This medicine will help you to not remember any of what happened today," they explained. [I can't recall the person's gender, I was so startled at this point.] They held out the small disposable cup of red liquid. Beren refused. I cajoled him. He refused.

"He will need to be in the gown," one of them said. "No, I have already forced him to do too much today," I said weakly to the phalanx in scrubs. I put on my own paper gown, booties, cap, and finally the mask. I smiled and joked to Beren and Jared about my outfit. I had a knot in my throat.

The social worker deliberately and with purpose walked us down the hall. I held Beren's hand, submitting to the social worker's friendly talk. All I have to do is make Beren trust us right now, I thought. I imagined Jared's eyes on our backs as we walked through double doors to the operating theater. My eyes stung, thinking of him.

We continued down the long hall, the doors clicking closed behind us. I felt more relaxed than ever. Beren didn't respond to the social worker's gentle, child oriented questions. "What color do you like?" I asked her. She replied orange. Beren, disarmed, added that he liked orange, talking easily for the first time that morning. I had made him trust her and I hoped that was not betraying him.

The operating theater was bright, so bright as to be shadowless. Video screens were suspended from the high ceiling. Fish swam across the screens. "Look at those fish. I like fish," the social worker said. "Do you like fish?" I was surprised to hear Beren reply, "Yes." She did her job well.

"Mommy, you can put him on the table."

I helped Beren up onto the operating table. The anesthesiologist explained to Beren that he was going to put a mask on Beren. "Ok? Mommy will hold it." No refusal. I cradled him, and the social worker continued to talk about fish. Beren blinked.

"Mommy, he may shudder when he becomes unconscious," someone said to me. "That is normal." Moments later, he shuddered and I felt like his light went out. 

"Ok, Mommy." My cue to exit the theater. I froze.

"Ok, Mommy." Time for business. I laid Beren down. The social worker was at my side to escort me. I looked back at Beren from the doorway because I thought I should. 

Back in the waiting room, Jared and I hugged. We choked out a couple sobs. We watched the gritty city from our colorful seats on an upper floor in the children's hospital.

A groggy kid in a hospital bed was wheeled past and loaded into the elevator. His parents stared at their phones as an orderly pushed the bed. "Get off the phone," I thought. And then again, a children's hospital is the last place I'll pass judgment against a parent. I shifted in my seat.

I glanced quickly at a couple to our right. I wondered why they were here. I wondered if they wondered about us.

Hours later, the surgeon arrived with her team. "The surgery went well," I heard. I missed the rest and asked Jared about the other details later. Did they do this and did they do that? Did they do what they said they would (as if they might have forgotten)? I asked him. Yes, yes, he assured me.

The night before the surgery, I dreamed that the surgeon was driving a bus and we were waiting for her along a gravelly sand road. I told her the dream. I later hoped I hadn't offended her.

A nurse led us to the recovery area and to Beren's side. He'd wake in a hour or so. Don't try to wake him she told us. Curtains separated beds with knocked out kids. He looked so small under the white cotton blanket. I checked his breathing. I felt his chest. I felt something but felt under his nose, too. "He's breathing, right?" Jared asked. We sat by his side, relieved, slightly giddy at times, watery at others.

The nurse showed us his incision. It was more red, ragged and larger than I thought it would be. I hoped Beren's fury would not reignite at its sight.

We talked about gardening with the nurse. Beren blinked, rolled his eyes, and closed them again for some time. When he finally woke, he was groggy and sluggish but wanted to sit up immediately. He was still shirtless. He sucked down three blue ice pops.

He wanted to walk not long after but couldn't. The nurse was not surprised at his is feeble legs. Jared and I were startled. After several hours in recovery, he was ready to go, and the doctors agreed.

Back at home, he insisted on walking but still couldn't. His legs crumpled under him. Jared caught my eye. I called the hospital. The nurse reassured me, and said to call back in one or two hours. When he still has stumbling after a couple hours, I called again. The nurse explained that it was not likely to be affects of general anesthesia but of local anesthesia to prevent muscle movement during surgery.

He never took a painkiller, not that I was proud of that. I was relieved that his body handled it well. Within a day, he was walking and sooner than we wanted, he was running.

Nevertheless, Beren angrily complained that the doctors had broken his leg. For months he bitterly decried the hospital. Why would someone go into a place perfectly fine and come out unable to walk? he wanted to know.

I tried to explain. It wasn't easy. Our conversations often happened after Jared finished reading bedtime stories. I'd pad upstairs to kiss him goodnight. Suddenly, he tell me he'd knock the hospital down with dozers and rescue the children. He'd destroy the city. I listened to his fury. I stood by his bed holding his hand as he cried.

Some nights, I laid next to him, listening. I once added that we could build a wall around the hospital. Yes, and keep all the doctors inside, he agreed.

Sometimes, I quietly re-explained why he had surgery. Other times, I explained why doctors are helpful. I agreed that going into a hospital with working legs and coming out with non-functioning legs made no sense. Many times, I simply held the space, listening, reassuring him that we'd not return to the hospital.

I sometimes told him that Jared and I had listened to the doctors and carefully decided that going to the hospital was important. I talked too long and no matter what I said, I made no sense to Beren. He always blamed the doctors, never me, never Jared.

After Beren drifted to sleep yet another night, I stumbled downstairs in the dark, reeling emotionally. I had hoped for and expected a successful surgery. Unexpectedly, I had a furious and insulted five year old. Jared and I talked it over, again and again, reassuring each other that we made the right choice and that our child was well and feisty, too.
Back at school, he brought in his souvenir first aid kit from the hospital. It was my suggestion to help him process the experience. The children hadn't really listened to his show and tell he later told me. They were distracted and noisy. He was disappointed and tearful.
I was shaken up for some time after the surgery. Though all went well, I was in a haze and socially isolated, unable to complete the process. I often used the canvas bag from the hospital, proud of our hard work. I sensed Jared would rather not see the bag so I told him why I used it so often.

A year later, Beren scar has faded to a dull brown. He looked at it once, maybe, when it was red and painful. We haven't had a sad night-time talk about the hospital in many months.

When Beren asked to play hospital with Jared today, I knew this story was ready to be written, t least my side of it. Beren owns the rest, always did.

Magical Drawings

I opened the rear passenger door to help Beren buckle himself. Though he's recently mastered that task, he already had a pile of paper and pens on his lap.  He wasn't able, or willing, to buckle himself.

I looked at the inside of the door. A line drawing in pen - buildings and stick figures - decorated the fabric around the door handle. Oh! I thought. I paused and consider my options. Blow my top? Stern lecture?

My internal reaction was mild. I was slightly amused, slightly surprised, and just a touch annoyed. Beren and I had spent over an hour together cleaning the well-worn interior of this car last week. I'd vacuumed while he wiped dust from the molded plastic.

Then, the car had been pronounced "clean" despite the lingering odors of plant material and sweaty bodies. "But, what about that spot?" Beren asked pointing to the driver's seat which was covered in dark spots from far too many meals and snacks on the road. "We may need some fabric cleaner for that. It's ok." I'd often looked at the front seats and pondered what cleaner might work - that or dark seat covers.

Where did Beren's happy drawing fall in with what adults had done to this car? Jared and I had plopped down into this vehicle with our dirty clothing regularly, if not daily. We'd spilled coffee, tea, water, dry snacks, sticky snacks, condiments, contents of sandwiches, and so on. We've loaded soil, plants, tools, and more into the car. All leaving their indelible sensory marks on the car.

"I see there's a drawing on the car, Beren," I said quietly in a friendly voice. Jared turned to look from his spot in the driver's seat. Beren looked, too.

"Paper is a good place for drawings," I added.

"I didn't do that," Beren said quickly.





"Who did?" I asked.

"Magic," Beren answered simply.



"Can you tell Magic to do drawings on paper?"

"Magic doesn't have ears," Beren said.

"Ok, can you communicate with Magic in whatever way you can and let Magic know that drawings go on paper?"

Jared looked at me and smirked.

All three at home

Some days all three of us are at home. I often like those days and today is one of those days. Beren has a cough, so we agreed he would be better off at home. I am not sure how working parents do it...do they take a vacation day, a sick day, an unpaid day? Since we have our own business, we get an unpaid day, tucking in emails, consulting work or plant work between parenting and tending the house.

Days when we are all home mean the house is a constant wreck and worsening by the moment. Craft projects, tea cups, soup bowls, soft animals (how we call stuffed or plush animals), various dismantled and reassembled contents of drawers and boxes, anything to pass another minute.

Last time Beren was sick, he was supine for a week. He left the couch only to be carried to the bathroom. This illness is more the usual fare, a spirited kid with variable energy, attention, and patience, and a raspy voice, too.

Earlier in the week, his teacher noted "the frog in his throat" when I picked him up in the afternoon. "There is no frog in there!" Beren told me.

The frog turned to a cough and one rough night, and so now we are all at home. Jared is out sowing seeds. Beren is under the couch eating a potato. I'm sitting on the toilet lid (lid closed, pants on!) taking a moment to write. Downstairs, I hear the toaster oven clicking on, most likely lunch is overcooked, and I am enjoying this moment to myself.


Today is International Day of Peace.

I used to ponder the concept: when one person is not free, no one is free. Makes sense. You could be next. I could be next. I don't know, and I am captive to the idea, the fear. The next.

The next what?, we could ask. The next anything. The next target.

This is deeply sad to me. I remember the fear that someone would push a red button and the world would be enveloped in a deadly nuclear cloud. Who would do this, I wondered. Someone with power, someone I couldn't even fathom when I was a child with this fear.

In the 1950s my father recalls drills that sent him and his classmates into the coat closet, squatting, heads down. As a child, we had fire drills, and now schools have lock down drills.

It's sad, truly woeful. And now, I'm going to wake my sleeping child who knows nothing of these things.

Sink With Your Parents

Well, I've been around the country
And I've met a lot of kids
Some kids are smart and some kids are dumb
But I don't pass judgement they're just having fun.
---opening lines of "Sink With California" by Youth Brigade, 1983 
I picked up the local newspaper this week. The headline screamed:

Well-meaning parents told kids that they would melt. They did according to local police reports. 

Kids, do you believe this bullsh*t?


A local ice cream and fast food eatery, Jimmy's, next to a stream. The water is typically low and slow, though in some areas the banks are deeply eroded and steep. Yet there's plenty of places to traverse up and down easily. The most heavily trafficked path gets slick, as ground up shale soils do, after a rain.

About a quarter of times we go, there are kids in the stream. I like ice cream, and this ice cream is cheap and the scoops are generous, so we're there frequently. A couple times a month. Sometimes parents and grandparents join them.

Beren usually gets down in the water. He usually requests that a parent or two, or a grandparent or two, get down there for some dam building, leaf floating, or muck slopping activity. Once there, we're there, sometimes much longer than I'd prefer.

The majority of the times we go to Jimmy's, kids are forbidden to go in the water. I feel the kids and their parents staring at us. It's pretty uncomfortable. We're what I consider a "good" influence (making other people's kids want to go into the water) and a "bad" influence (making other people's kids want to go into the water).

Some kids are reckless, some clumsy, and some are just little. They probably need a little help. Parents, buy a cheap set of dark colored Jimmy's clothes. 


Kids only section, no parents allowed past this line. Really, parents, I mean it.

Some streams have glass, fishing lures, and other debris. Once Beren and I dragged a 8' tall metal post out of the Nishisakawick Creek in Frenchtown.

Kids, if you are reading this, don't tell your parents about the metal post. If you do, they definitely will not let you in the water. Instead, ask them for a sturdy pair of water shoes and practice walking on slippery rocks (when they are not looking!). When your parents are deep into their phone, take the shoes off. Unbelievable, right? Rocks are not deadly, not even wet ones.

Never, ever complain about getting wet. If you do, you will get an immediate "I told you so" lecture on the creek banks, and you will also get a "remember last time" lecture the next time you so much as look at that water.

For your sake, kids, bring a hobo sack of extra "play" clothes, especially if you aren't usually allowed to play. Think ahead, put on the dingy play clothes prior to leaving the house. Have stash of play clothes in your booster seat for surprise trips to Jimmy's. Don't get caught unprepared. Water is everywhere. Mud and dirt are even more frequently encountered in the landscape.

Boys and girls, absolutely no brand new shoes, no tutus, no brand names - not even cheap box store brand names. Have you ever seen a dirty ballerina? Don't simultaneously ruin your chances of becoming a ballerina and ever getting wet outside a pool or bathtub! Boys, you get off a little easier here, but make sure to wear black to avoid dirt and water stains.

Wise up kids, your parents want to control you. Don't let them. Don't believe the mind control, or one day you will melt upon stepping into water. It's true, but only if you believe your parents.

Now, go ask your parents for a set of play clothes. Loose lips sink ships on dry land.

Forty pounds, Forty four inches

Went to Target to get kid shoes. The aisles looked like several mother Tyrranosauraus rex had gone through, scooping all the good meat off the bone. I picked up two sets of shoes in the right size.

In the clothing section, I noticed there were no clothes marked 6T. Lump in the throat. I thought about my friends with babies. Enjoy it. It flies by, I thought. We are as close to age ten as to newborn, and we might be graduating from the little kids section to the boys clothing section.

I walked through the rest of the store, ogling brightly patterned carpets, bins, and food. The lump in my throat came and went.

From there, I went to Kohl's in search of back up shoes, in case my other selections were duds. 

I passed the kids clothes section. Like most stores, a fair amount of color for boys, at least in the tops...Culture (god) forbid a boy want color below the waist. A grandmother chastised her grandson for standing in his stroller. A boy begged her mother to allow him to help push his younger sibling in the carriage. I moved through quickly.

Another mother stood in front of the shoe section with her sons. "No size 12 of anything. I think we are a little late," she says to her son. "Uh oh, that's what I'm looking for," I say. I think I purchased the last 12s left at Target. I back away and hear her son say in a helpful tone, "I could wear these."

I head back home with a bunch of goods from Target. Some for Beren...a bottle of black paint, shoes, beads, kid scissors to replace our missing ones, and a basket for his stuffed animals. Some for Jared and me...a door mat, a basket to replace the basket I am going to take from him later to replace my broken beyond use laundry basket, and a string of lights. 

A fairly pricey trip by my standards, but I'm giving the lump in my throat a little retail therapy. Uh oh, it is back. Definitely seem allergic to how fast that kid is growing.

Occasional Insomia

Hours ago, I listened to Beren's breathing ease, steady, and deepen. I picked up his incredibly heavy forty pound body (the weight of a soil bag, Jared tells me), put him in his own bed.

Jared was still awake. We talked. We both felt sad as it turns out. The passage of time was our theme. We talked about many things, but like many things, they will remain private.

I gulped down a few rounds of tears in the dark, maybe Jared did, too. I guess guys learn how to hide tears, but I have had time amd desire to control my tears. Despite the frequency of my chances to practice, I have never learned that skill.

Jared and I went downstairs. I picked at a glob of goat cheese, trying to quiet my noisy belly. Jared pulled a bottle down from the cabinet. He examined it at length and finally opened it. He poured a cup and frowned. 

"What's that?" "Red wine." "Oh, where'd it come from?" "Dunno. One of our friends from a party?" "Yeah. We always get red wine from friends."

 "I can't really drink the stuff. I mean, I can drink hard liquor but wine..." Jared says. Jared is a brandy drinking man. I am a gin drinker, though it has been a while since I treated myself. Somehow our liquor cabinet is stocked with whiskey.

 We laugh. "Your parents sometimes get good wine. Sometimes, but we drink wine there a lot and only sometimes it's good," I add. 

We have had this exchange dozens of times over the past, well however long it has been since our friends got sophisticated (economically stable? Socially comformist? Kid-i-fied? Eco-friendly?? Locoboozed??) enough to bring red wine and IPAs and lagers instead of cheap beer and booze and well, more cheap booze.

"I just can't drink anymore of this. ready for bed?" Jared asks.

Back in bed, I listen to Jared's breathing ease, steady, and deepen. I lay there for awhile. Probably not that long. I sit up and watch the stars until I decide to go downstairs, pull on my worn kung fu shoes, and go outside.

Out here, I am reminded that the dome above us is so starry. We have beautiful stars here. As good as the Catskills, though pur peripheral star count goes down the closer the sky dome gets to earth. Phillipsburg, Bethlehem and Easton, Clinton and Flemington, possibly, dim our star dome. I hope no one builds next door, I think.

On earth, the stubbly lawn grass and field pathways are illuminated by glow worms. There is one about every three or four feet. I have to show Beren this tomorrow, I think.

I listen for the highway. Tonight, the road noise is loud, carrying across rolling Highlands farm fields up to our ridge. Motorcycles, trucks, cars. A train. Someone plays loud, dance music towards the north. Sound carries, except when I walk down in the lower field. I have noticed cool currents of air down there, too.

As I walk through the field, I look up and watch the star dome change. That must be a constellation. I once read in a fairly straight pamphlet about constellations that said one day the stars will speak for themselves. I liked that idea and still do. More glow worms.

At the highest point in our field the dome expands to its greatest potential this side of the prairie, or so it seems quite huge to me. No trees, I think, no trees. I like the meadow, more Rudbeckia.

By now, i have out lasted the dance party in the northlands, but not the highway and not the police siren that calls out twice to advise the singing insects and the woman writing as she sits in the hammock that it is most certainly time to go to bed.

Summer Fair As Metaphor for Family Life

 Family life can be a fairy tale.

 Or, more bumpy.

Family, friends, and strangers all chime in with thoughts, advice, wisdom -- cheerful, gloomy, or in between -- when they find out you are having a child, thinking of having a child, or considering not having a child.

Of the pearls I was given -- shiny, misshapen, sinkers, floaters -- I don't recall any impressing upon me the colossal, monumental, gigantic all-consuming task mothering would be. At times it is pure task, including laundry and food preparation.

And each task on the list is multi-dimensional, whether you're a worried and melancholy mother but mostly somehow excited, cheerful, and accepting at the same time and occasionally grumpy, overbearing, and moody (nobody told me mothering was completely contradictory as well) like me.

When I say laundry is multidimensional I don't mean delicates versus towels, lights, darks, and hand washables (my mother did tell me that most things can go in the wash despite what the label says. Thanks, Mom. You are right about that and many other things, too.).

I mean laundry is multidimensional when you are a mother. Probably when you are a father, too.

Here's the laundry decision tree in snapshot form:
  1. Can you get the laundry on the line prior to or after the child* wakes up?
  2. If the child is awake can you get the laundry on the line in a timely enough manner to allow it to dry?
  3. Will the machine wake the child?
  4. Does your child still fit in the laundry basket and find that fun?
  5. Do you or do you not attempt to remove spots?
  6. Do you care about spots, does your child care about spots, do those around your family care about spots?
  7. Will your child (like mine) be insulted that you find his clothing dirty enough to launder?
  8. Do you have time to do laundry at all?
*Make plural depending on your family size. 

Everything requires strategy. Balancing the household's time with the household's will and temperament. Who's out of underwear? Who has a tissue, shell, peach pit, or broken glass in their pocket? What has greater priority - gritty sheets, smelly towels, or work clothes?

And then there's food. Who likes to eat when and what? Can a trip to the market fit between naps and your partner's precious return from work? Do you head to the market alone or take the children with you to give your partner time at home alone? Is a trip to the market even feasible?

Talking about being a stay at home mom a friend told me, "I should have this." She said she felt she sometimes feels that she should have a clean house, dinner on the table, and happy kids. "Why do you feel that way? Because it's your chosen profession?" I asked.

Becoming a parent is natural, sometimes accidental, and commonplace. That doesn't mean it comes naturally. Despite some parenting books telling us otherwise, families are not made of blocks that can be moved from one slot to another. Conveniently and consistently from waking to retiring. Nah. Rubick's Cube is complicated, but it has nothing on family life. 

 A fire ball, good and bad.

Tossed upon the seas, but still glittery and fascinating. 

On Weeding

 Hermit sphinx caterpillar

If you like to fail, try weeding. It is not fun. It is mostly useless. It is certainly a mind game.

Even when I think to myself, "I'm privileging the [fill in the blank --- 'native plants', 'the plantings', 'the vegetables', etc], and I don't expect to have a weed-free space", I get tricked. Some corner of my brain must think, "The weeds have been defeated" because when I return a week later or after a rainstorm, there they are. Weeds. And, I'm annoyed or disappointed.

I know there's foragers, herbalists, ecologists, and so on who try to rehabilitate the concept of "weeds". I fit in there. Many weeds are edible, many are native, and they certainly are not invasive species. Yet, crap, man, there are so many weeds out there.

Every year, I get a little closer to planting this place up and hoping that the weeds feel like a germ inside a feverish body. Not so welcome.


Close Act Theatre's SAURUS performance sent us racing through the festival grounds. We chased three dinosaurs and a man on stilts.

Bethlehem's Musikfest... we made it into the city to catch four days out of ten. The first night we headed to SteelStacks (pictures are at the end of this post). The other three we spent in downtown - walking, eating, listening and watching (music, art, performance, and lightning).

Musikfest definitely pulled the summer out of the sh*tter. It has been a rough one but I'll save that story for another time. August is still young, and we've got several more weeks of partying to do.

 When one of the Dutch performers asked, "Were you scared?" Beren replied, "No." I did feel his heart pounding and saw him flinch when the dinosaurs came close. A half hour into the show, Beren noticed a man inside the costume. That realization and my willingness to pet the beak of one dino made Beren a little more comfortable.
We liked SAURUS so much, we came back for the show at dusk. 

 We ate several chicken gyros.

Beren watches a busker. He was inspired by the previous day's acts and dressed accordingly. We thought his boots were a mistake due to the heat, but later it rained.

 Watching a busker just before lightning shut down the evening's events. I tried to find this performers website, but couldn't yet. Daredevil Circus from Australia. Juggled a chainsaw and fire. Contortion. I appreciated how he got the lackluster crowd going through jokes and honesty.

 Our first Musikfest trip was to SteelStacks.
Native gardens at SteelStacks...our local Highline.


The window on certain kinds of nursery work is closing. The calendar tells me so. The sun's slant and the night insect songs remind me when I'm away from the calendar.

I'm looking at this year's crop and imagining next spring's stock, wondering what to pot up, what species to let slide. I like them all, well mostly.

Plants are like people. This is not new age smoke. Plants do have personalities. They thrive when in their chosen habitat. They can grow perfectly well under sub-optimal conditions when given a little extra care or resources, but maybe they have fewer bloomers, and leggier, leafier, more prone to ailments, less aromatic, less likely to produce offspring.

Like people, there are some plants that seem quite commonplace, but are truly needy outside of their chosen domain. Some are slow, stubborn. Some are exuberant except when mysteriously they are not. After years of being easy to grow, they just die. That's it. Dead. Some are what I like to think of as "Bang out of the gates" and they just keep running. They'd move into the house if they could.

Summer Bug

 No, not this kind of summer bug.

 Nor the kind of bug that comes from eating fair food. Just a plain old stomach bug.

I recently congratulated myself on a real, actual months-long sickness-free streak. Within 48 hours a mild, warning-like plague struck. Mother and child down with bellyaches. Nothing more.

Today, Beren and I ingested one half a bagel each, a cup of bergamot tea, and shared a Mexican Coca-cola (real, healthful sugar as opposed to the crappy tasting corn syrup). In the morning, I made it to the gate to open and close it for Jared who is out doing a botany job. Later I made it to the mailbox to mail off bills and went back to the couch. Then, back to the mailbox with Beren to find - no incoming bills, no letters, no junkmail, nothing to distract us.

Back to the couch. We read about a dozen books including old board books, Golden books, picture books, and multiple chapters of a Magic School Bus book that clocks in at 104 pages.

The Magic School Bus was a tithe-type purchase from a particularly good used bookstore in Florida. Beren and I parked ourselves in the kid's aisle, reading about Ms. Frizzle and her students while Jared scored a stack of ethnobotany and herbalism books. At 50 cents, the books had to come home - in fairness - to the bookstore and to Beren who was deep into the story.

I recall the long past days as a bookstore clerk at the somewhat less long-gone Barnes & Noble located in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

In Magic School Bus homage, here I will present... Two Facts: only Barnes is "plural". Noble is not plural despite many insisting otherwise. Displaying an opposite tendency, our own local Bowman's Hill is Bowman's Hill, not Bowman Hill.

OK, back at B&N, we had many customers (library patrons?) park in the cafe with paperbacks until they looked like they'd been to the beach. Spine creased, edges worn to use book-speak. Not that I really care about supporting Debbie MacComber's prolific romance output with sales of $7.99 mass markets to those who'd rather use a box store like a library, HarperCollins and other publishers, nor box store bookstores.

But, butt, my sections at Barnes & Noble - art and reference - were by the bathroom. One customer (library patron) took her books not just to the cafe but also to the bathroom. Yep, she did. She'd moan and groan on the pot and read away.

Again, to be fair, she didn't have a peachy life. She also brought what I assume were her life's belongings packed onto a cart into the bathroom. And yet, I must tell you that her sh*t was sour-smelling. Be comforted, while "her" books may have made it back onto the shelves, no one would buy them, not even you. They were tagged by appearance and possibly aroma. You'd never have purchased a book that looked like that.

 I chose to withstand terrible portable toilet smell to take this classic photo. I liked the colors.

Anyway, we're at page 40 of the Magic School Bus book, and I expect to hit page 104 later today.

Right now, Beren's digging into a box of puzzles and train themed stacking blocks (babyish toys too nice to giveaway until a baby cousin hits the scene) that I had stashed in the attic just for a time like this. I can hear blocks rolling around on the hardwood floor upstairs.

I imagine his room is a "mess". It's ok. He's momentarily forgotten his upset belly, and I've had a break from the Magic School Bus. I've learned various interesting facts from the book, but books put me to sleep and never, ever, not so far, my son.

One benefit of this bug was a lazy day, floating on the couch, totally relaxed, and I don't have to cook dinner.

This little piggy, these little piggies

"Momma, this is the snack station. This is how you do it: dip your fingers into the sour cream then dip your fingers into the bag and you pick up crumbs. You try."

He hands me a plastic bag that once held entire crackers. A couple weeks ago, I had tossed some almonds in the bag, too. The mix went into my backpack for a hike. It went up and down a couple North Carolina mountains, and made the trip back to Jersey. I am cheap about tossing even stale food because you never know when you will be hungry.

The inside of the bag is streaked with sour cream, bits of crushed stale crackers and one almond. I dip my fingers in the tub of sour cream and then into the somewhat yucky bag. The cream is cold and speads across my hand. Crumbs cling to my hand which has also picked up more cream from the bag. I lick my fingers.

Beren assesses my hand. "Momma, you may need to lick more than once." I decide to rinse my hands instead.

It is time for a trip to the market to restock the larder.

Family Business

Jared wrote a great blog piece on having a family business, so it's kinda like, "enough said", but since I like to have the last word... Well, wait, everything he said was true, so this isn't the "last word", not by far, so this is a "yes, and...":
My coworkers and I had a mud fight on vacation just to let off steam. I started it.

Having a family business means that I'm on the clock here, so I better hustle along this this creative endeavor and get back to work. Here we go with some key points:

I vacation with my co-workers. I couldn't get away from them. They just followed me. I took a vacation to get out of various personal ruts, including my guilt about how the hell can I get any work done around here. That's also wound up with guilt number 2, when will my boss let up so I can relax and spend more time with my kid.

Ideally, my boss would let up so I could see my husband, too. Luckily, my husband is likely to stick around once my kid leaves the house. So, I suppose I can catch up with my husband then - in 13 to 15 years when our kid is about 18 or so.

My co-workers came back home with me after vacation. They just followed me. Last night my coworker took a shower in my house and shaved in my sink. I figured if he was so bold, I'd go right ahead and ask him about Virginia waterleaf transplants while he toweled off. We've worked together for awhile, so I had no problem ignoring his lack of clothing.

Meanwhile, my coworker also brought his kid over. His kid refuses to go to sleep, so I hardly get a break. No breaks to work, no breaks to hang out with my own kid, no breaks to talk to my husband.

I did recently take an evening walk on July 4 with my coworkers. We watched the fireflies and listened to the fireworks and the rain came down. A somewhat romantic thing to do with coworkers. More like something I'd do with my family, it's true.

"Farm" Triage

 During the busy season, this is the view I most frequently see of my spouse. Head down, working. I miss you (even when I don't and even when you wish I too would take my grumpy self elsewhere) even though I sleep next to you.

A reflection on my personal state of affairs. It has to be done every so often. Here it is:

Farming is looked at as a majestic release from the 9 to 5 dread of punching a time clock in the face, unless you are salaried and then they never really let you go. Most people realize that farming is tough. Tough, yes, but again, a noble venture. After all you are feeding people, and that is noble, generous, and looked upon with favor.

There are exceptions and caveats, and of course it is subjective. Some might say that the family farm is noble while farming GMOs for feed is not noble. Other types of farming are not considered 'real farming'. Let's admit it, lots of folks grumble about horses..."that's not farming". Nurseries, be honest here, friends, not necessarily farms. It's ok, I don't think "farm" when I see rows of mums, so you don't need to when you see rows of Joe Pye weed.

I'll admit it, I awkwardly call our land a "farm". I awkwardly call it "our land". Farmer? Me? Not so much. Nurserywoman? Frankly, I'd rather be called a nurseryman, just to go easy on the syllables.

I don't love the word "farm". I like what it vaguely connotes, kinda and in the best sense of the concept. Actually, I'd prefer to call what I'm doing a restoration or replanting. 

And back to the majestic release from drudgery. I'll tell you what, every April, May, and June my family slightly to completely unravels. Complete disconnection from each other and the planet earth. We are so incredibly busy that life becomes like an emergency triage. What's going to get done, and what's not going to get done. We eat poorly until with great effort we reverse that.

Minor criticisms of each other are duly noted, registered, and rejected. We're cranky, we're lonely and brittle. Our kid, who supposedly we are doing this "for" so he has a better life, acts badly, too. Momma and Papa are not paying attention and are pretty unpleasant at times.

And hey, remember, I'm not even a 'farmer'. I'm a nursery(wo)man who also makes programming and land stewardship consulting part of the business plan.

We don't see our friends who farm during this time of year. We don't see our friends who work in the financial world during tax time, that's true, too. Nor, our college age family during finals... but... what am I trying to say? There's some irony in the noble venture to farm. The f*cking to do list won't go away. And just when the to do list gets really long and my head is about to explode, many of my pals might be in the same boat, and nobody's able to get together and unwind.

Ultimately, I need something more than unwinding together anyway. I'm really feeling the need to build a little village that links our separate farms, regardless of what we're farming...whether its vegetables, wildflowers, taxes, or the myriad other tasks that pay the bills.

 Home office before the plants took over Hoophouse 1

 OK, so riding this rig does put a smile on my face.

 More family time together checking out the labors. Part of this area is now paw paw, persimmon, hearts a burstin', New ENgland aster, pearly everlasting, steeplebush, etc.

 More family time together laboring. Race around picking up all the things that should not be flail mowed.

 More family time together pulling weeds.

 More family time together picking as many strawberries as possible so we have then for the winter.

 That's me. Nurserywoman, hear me question my existence.

The vegetable garden, mixed feelings. We do have adequate purslane finally.

School Trip to the Nursery

Beren heads for the rain in Florida

One of the many things I love about my son is that he heads right out into rainstorms. Yesterday, the older kids from his school visited our nursery. Rain came on cue. Their teacher said, "I love rain. This is great. They'll certainly remember this trip."

Kids ran screaming, "TORNADO!" "RAIN!" Some ran under a tent, others didn't. Beren partly went under, standing directly below a stream of water that poured down his head. Did I say I love that kid?

In between racing around the pond and playing on the swings, we saw some plants and yelled over the excited din. As it should be.

One teacher discovered a butterfly in hoophouse two. The girls hustled in to see it. Magically, the butterfly slipped out of a slit in the plastic. I found a bumblebee clinging to the shade cloth. I gently grabbed it, banking that this creature would not sting me. A few buzzes and the bee calmly clung to my right pointer finger.

"Won't it sting you? Can I touch it? Can I see it? I can't see it! Can I pet it!?" "Yes, the bee could sting me, but I've had practice. Plus, today is a little cold." I added to the teachers, "I hope I'm not a bad influence here."

I got a couple minutes of attention because of my outrageous act. I talked about buzz pollination and pollen sacs, showed the bumblebee around a final time and placed the bee on a fleabane.

After the kids left, I was pretty overstimulated. Bottom line - teachers deserve rich rewards for all they do.