Christmas

You know how you hear that you just have to "sit with something". I have f*cking sat with this set of feelings. I have sat on them. I have looked at them. Looked at how I thought about the feelings, felt about the feelings. I have examined myself. I have dragged the feelings around and I have socked the feelings in the eye. I have boxed 'em up, and periodically taken them of the shelf, and said, hello.

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Greenhouses I Have Dressed and Undressed

 Wiggle wire Quigong

 Stretching the Film with Goldenrods, December 18, 2017

Greenhouse I, March 30, 2013 (mixed media, work in progress)

 Greenhouse I with Men (Father-in-law and Friend), January 6, 2013

 Greenhouse I with Man and Child (Husband and Son), March 16, 2013

 Greenhouse I with Man and Child, March 16, 2013

 Greenhouse II with Man, April 25, 2014 (work in progress, PVC, rebar)

  Greenhouse II with Woman, April 25, 2014 (work in progress, PVC, rebar)

  Greenhouse II with Woman, June 5, 2014 (work competed, temporary exhibition, PVC, rebar, garbage)

  Greenhouse III installation materials, December 14, 2014

Greenhouse III with Parents and Husband, January 1, 2015

  Greenhouse III installation materials, December 14, 2014

Greenhouse III (r) and IV (l), January 6, 2016
Plants at left covered in extra film because temps were going to dip down and we hadn't covered the house yet.

 Greenhouse III and Man in Snow, March 5, 2015 

 Greenhouse III and Woman, March 5, 2015 (interior)

 Greenhouse III and Boy in Snow, March 5, 2015

"F*cking f*ck f*ck," my husband said as the wiggle wire popped out of place. I laughed quietly. "You know, this would be  easier if you pulled down on the shade cloth," he added. His head was partially buried under sagging greenhouse plastic. I put down my section of wiggle wire and helped him finish his section of wire.

Minutes later, I said, "F*cking f*ck f*ck," as my wire popped its track. Jared laughed. I laughed. "It's better than wet, mucky lath," I said.

"Oh, lath. I hate that stuff," he replied.

Years ago, we used lath to hold greenhouse film in place. It's a tedious, difficult method - the film is rolled around the lath which is then nailed to the greenhouse baseboard.

Ideally, each spring we yanked up the lath with pry bars and hammers. Usually spring is as busy as (apologies for the dated references here, both of which have partially gone the way of the dinosaur) Black Friday with a new Cabbage Patch Kid on the shelf or midnight at Tower Records upon the release latest Metallica album.

Prying up lath in spring was necessary. We saved the film for reuse. Every penny counted, and our labor time was cheaper than cash money. In the lath days, I wasn't sure what my time was worth. Nothing and everything.

Time. It was precious, irreplaceable and also filled with the rightful needs of our then toddler-aged son. Intact greenhouse film. Precious, too. Lath. Wet, grimy, slimy, cracking. Nails. Rusty, bent, cracked and bent heads.

My labor generated material results - seedlings to pot up and plants to sell. My labor created a hospitable growing environment - a greenhouse covered with film in the winter, or a greenhouse without film in the summer. Spring, that tricky hustle time, a hospitable environment is just enough film to protect our tender plants from frosty temperatures and from too hot conditions that cause trouble like leggy growth, insect pests, bolting and blooming before the retail sales season.

Our first greenhouse was small. It took days and days and friends and friends to assemble and erect. When we packed up our the contents of our moldy cottage to move to our own farm we packed up our rusty and muddy nursery, too. The greenhouse was disassembled by friends and friends. I marveled at how our friend, David yanked the lath up so quickly. "Years of carpentry work," he said simply.

We closed on the house in April - spring! Once we moved, we put up simple PVC shade houses for the growing season. We laid out groundcloth. Jared pounded 4' rebar into the rocky ground while I prepared and cemented PVC pipes together. With a PVC ridge pole zip tied in place, we stretched shade cloth over the structure. We moved our plants out of the Uhaul and into their temporary home.

Come fall, we needed greenhouses that could take a snow load. "I am never doing lath again," Jared declared. "We're getting wiggle wire." No arguments. The lath went to other projects and bonfires.

Our dear friend, Chris, and a mother and her homeschooling brood, heard our call to put up the greenhouse. Jared had already pounded the bars into the ground. This all ages crew put up the baseboard and erected the arches. Some of the kids came inside and played with Beren (who was getting sick) while I made lunch and rose hip syrup with one of the older girls.

Later, my mother and father helped. Together, we installed the wiggle wire track with metal-tapping screws. My father lay on the ground in his Carhartts with his cordless drill in hand. Jared did the same with his newly purchased cordless impact driver ("They have a warranty on the batteries," he told me). We pulled the film over the house and began to thread the wiggle wire into the track.

This process reminds me of stretching an immense silk screen except there is wind and dirt. There are no artists, nor art but there is skill. When the film is stretched out, goldenrod stalks threaten to stab holes into it. When the film is lofted over the arches, the wind starts. However, putting up greenhouse film a bit sloppy is more forgiving than a less than taut silk screen.

In the cold, the new wiggle wire punished our fingers, especially our thumbs. We wrestled the highly tensioned last inches of each four foot long piece of wire with pliers and small vice grips. Greenhouse up. Enter the cold weather. The only maintenance until spring is knocking off especially heavy snow loads, and lately, a mid-winter watering when the days are too warm and sunny.

In subsequent years, putting on the film has become easier. One year, I stretched a the shade cloth alone. The wiggle wire still tortures my fingers. Every year I have to choose to protect my fingers or not - gloves on and go slow, or gloves off and go fast.

"F*cking f*ck f*ck." Gloves off this year. My hands are red and dry, catching on synthetic fabrics. Soil is under my fingernails and cuticles. Tomorrow evening, I will joke with my kung fu teacher and classmates about my reverse French manicure. The last pieces of yesteryear's lath and on a cart parked next to the bonfire. All is well. We are ready for the solstice.

Clunky love letter

At times, my husband astounds me, in a good way. I am really lucky. I couldn't do it without him.

We are classic "do it the hard way" kind of people. Maybe if we hadn't met, our lives would less "Rocky Road" and more "Easy Street".

It is worth day dreaming about, now and then, a different life. (I so badly want to weave in a Nightmare on Elm Street reference next but that is real, real bad writing and wierd.) I have no regrets. I wince recalling an estimated dozen memories.

But regrets, nah, not really. I have a husband that can repair the steps and play guitar, and live in this messy house with me. We share so much: a recently pumped septic system, a kid with (finally) combed hair, an increasingly muddy pathway to our front door, and probably a few other things, too. Not too much to complain about.


A Mattress: Life in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

What is holding me back from replacing our sagging 15 year old mattress? Besides the boredom of shopping for one, the Giant Woopah Frog that likes to jump on it.

Parts of the box spring is in a landfill somewhere. I slashed and ripped off the fabric and then piece by piece I dismantled the metal frame until it could fit on our trash can. I removed the frame from the wooden slats by pulling the staples out, one by one. The wooden frame is now a nursery table.

An Argentinian told me that in decades past, the people of Argentina used old mattresses for grills. Not like the fancy ones used today by chef Francis Mallmann. No, the unrest, the poverty. No luxury. Just wood, a mattress, meat, and Argentinians. They just tossed the mattress upon the fire and burnt it until it became a grill.

Are you practicing tai chi?

"Are you practicing tai chi?" a fellow once asked me. "No, kung fu," I replied. He looked startled. I can only guess why he seemed surprised. Maybe because of one the following:

Women practice gentle, beautiful body/health sports.
I seem like a peaceable person.
Some misunderstanding about martial arts. 

Why do I practice a hard style martial arts rather than some other work out?

1.) The camaraderie. Jack, Jared, Walter, Brian, Andre, Juan Miguel, Gia, John, Ken. These are some of the people I have practiced with over the years. I remember them as clearly as close friends or family members. Ours is not a solitary, self-improvement practice. Anytime they improved, I did. We push each other. We practice together. We bow to each other.

2.) The yin and yang. Like all beings, I have yin and yang characteristics. At times, I have a lot of yin. Martial arts pushes me to develop my yang side.

3.) The conviviality. There is humor. There is absurdity in trying new physical challenges and complicated maneuvers. There is the laughter of spending time with people you know well within that space.

4.) The proximity. My fellow martial artists and I have spent time within each others' grips, arms, armpits, legs, and so on. One moment you are upright, the next your classmate is wringing your arm, wrist, elbow, fingers, or hand like a wet rag. Time to tap out.

5.) The gravity. I live in a mostly happy bubble. I like learning how to wringing an arm, wrist, elbow, fingers, or hand, or sweep a leg or ankle. I like asking myself, how will this work for me? I like when my classmates tell me my technique is not good. When they do, I can improve.

THIS THING MUST BE DONE IT MUST BE DONE FIRST.

Jin Ji Du Li - Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg. Funny, one of my high school classmates called me "Chicken Legs" in history class one fine day.


Lately, I have told myself whenever I feel like there is something I MUST DO, I try to exit the highway and do something I want to do. Sometimes, I can't break away.

THIS THING MUST BE DONE IT MUST BE DONE FIRST.

Ok, I will take care of you, Thing. But, know this, Thing, I am also thinking about what I want to do. Or, maybe I have no idea what I want to do, so I will reach for the doorknob and flee the house. Or, reach for a book and sink into the couch.

Got it, Thing? I have other Things to do!

Crooked Face, I am ok with you

Me by me and everyone that has come before me and by Cari Ellen Hermann, the photographer

In my happiest imaginings, in my brightest moments in the mirror, this is what I look like. Smart, direct, a little wild, natural, pretty, and beautiful, too. Am I allowed to say that? Real. Clear.

If you look closely, like I do and will again and again, you will see how I am crooked. Crooked eye. Crooked eyebrow. And this photograph reveals I also have a somewhat crooked nose. I never noticed that before. It is a slight crookedness, unlike my left eye which is much smaller than the other. And the smaller one is always the runt, always the one to bear the criticism. Sorry, my small, crooked eye. And, thank you, my small, crooked eye. You have served me my whole life.

Here, you cannot see my crooked neck which leads to my crooked back. Because I don't see them in the mirror so much, they do not carry the weight of the eye. It is my crooked eye that has ruined so many photographs.

It was only a high school photographer that admonished me to carry my backpack evenly lest I have a crooked neck my whole life! Alas, I already did! How I snapped back at her that I did not carry my backpack and neck that way all the time. How I felt her eyes on me later the afternoon when she saw me carrying my backpack and craning my neck that way! Alas, my neck was already crooked! A chiropractor's x-ray decades later would confirm the professional photographer's diagnosis of Spinus Crookedus.

F*ck you, stop looking at me. It is so hard to be looked at.

I have always liked my chin. I like to rub my chin and feel its characteristic dent. I have always liked my cheekbones that I believe I inherited from my paternal grandmother.

Notice how I go on and on about my crookedness? How little time I spend admiring myself? Why am I slave to insecurity and modesty? Why is it so hard to feel good?

I feel good when I look at this photograph. I feel like it is truly me. 
Last night, I went to bed about two hours earlier than usual. I was so tired. I'm going to bed, I told Jared. I'll miss you, he said. Later, Beren came upstairs and flopped down in the bed next to me. In the dark, he exhaled a loud sigh and gripped his forehead. Momma, he said seriously, I can't build anymore with Lego. No? I mumbled. I am out of all my good pieces, he said. 

It is nice to be so important to my menfolk.

What will happen to love?

Sitting at the kitchen island, snacking on corn chips, and Jared's delicious green salsa. Beren holds up a heart shaped chip. "I won't eat it," he says as he puts it back into the bag. "What will happen to love?" He asks. 

If I could tell the story many ways, I would write about how good Jared's salsa is, how well its texture survived freezing, how glad I am that he found the biggest chest freezer that could just fit through the basement door and around the corner, and that he could do the math to make it happen so we could defrost and enjoy his salsa all winter. And, that my Dad spent the day in the basement installing an outlet for the freezer, and that we all were upstairs, sick while he did it, and of course, he also installed two more bulb sockets because the basement was so dim, just because he thought it was a good idea, and he asked via my Mom how I liked the bulb over by my washing machine. And that, yes, of course, it is very nice to not use the clip lamp anymore to plumb the dark pit of the washer looking for one lost sock.

"What will happen to love?" the kid asks. "It will be inside you," I say. I think about how perfect life can be within little minutes.

But I will let someone else have the last word. "What will happen to love?"

Koko Taylor Speaks the Truth to Parents



Songs come unbidden to my head or lips at times. Uncanny, like a dream.

Last week, I picked up a copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish at the library. This is my third or so perusal through this classic book on family communication.

Each time I pick up this book, published thirty years ago, I feel like someone is giving me a hug and gift and a monumental task all at the same time. Most times, I skip ahead to the section I need the most, or thumb through book and read the cartoons scattered throughout.

With over 300 pages to potentially read, I am glad that someone figured out that pictures with dialogue are really helpful for busy parents. For the deeply hidden girly girl in me, the book includes questionnaires. Just like Seventeen magazine had when I was a girl!

I am not a big fan of self-help type books. Many seem like they could have saved a few plantations of pulpwood and simply been published as a pamphlet. Some seem too simply written and lack real blood and meat, so I skip the author's ponderous philosophy and (to me) dubious references/cited studies/experiential claims and read their client's case histories instead. There, I can get a dose of:
1.) Holy crap, is this book describing my family? And, I just can't see it? Or, can I see it? Are we this bad?!?!?
2.) Holy crap, are we headed this direction if we don't follow this self-help program?
3.) Holy crap, these people have problems.

Some self-help books are really aggravating, often because I find their premise or approach problematic. Other times, I find the book annoying because I stubbornly refuse to be put in a psychological box.

But, shoot, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, I like this one. Today, I leafed through the book, read a chapter introduction, a few cartoons, and a took a quiz or two. I snorted with laughter and accepted my hug from authors Adele and Elaine.

Yes, I choose to accept this mission of improved communication in the home. Ladies, please don't let this book self-destruct in five seconds*. Because remember way back at the beginning of this writing when I mentioned uncanny song lyrics popping into my head?

When I saw the copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, blues singer Koko Taylor howled this in my head:



"Save me, save me, save me, babe!"

"You must have learned something!"

"What did you learn in school today?"

Chart your feelings as I ask you this question. Remove the words "in school" if you must. Remember back when you were asked this question.

I do not remember anyone asking me this, but I bet someone, at least once, did. Awful question. Ranks with "Where were you last night?" (interrogator could be anyone from a romantic interest to a police officer) or "Do you know why I pulled you over? (might be ok from a romantic interest, definitely worrisome coming from a police officer).

As a child, my answer would probably begin with assuming a pigeon toe position, maybe biting my hangnails, and looking up and to the right, then left, then down, as I searched my rapidly firing brain. Someone interested in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) would  have studied my roller coaster eyes intently.

Uh... I don't know.

"You must have learned something!"

This Cat Ended this Writing Because He Needed to Be Let Out of the House


In addition to Alone Time and Change of Pace, there is something known as "Ceaseless Labors" in our  household. Ceaseless Labors is often prefaced by "Will there be an end to these". 

I have a fine recent example of Ceaseless Labors. After a round of tasks, I sat down to talk with my mother on the phone. My rear hit the seat, and the cat began to scratch at the door. "I just sat down," I said into the phone, "and the cat is scratching at the door." My mother laughed.

Ceaseless Labors carries a fertile seed of truth as found in the adage "A woman's work is never done." It is true. Didn't I just buy flea repellant for the cat? How could the supply be out already? Well, three months have passed. Oh my word, the premium for the insurance, the balance for the credit card, the electric, wifi, trash, or car loan bill is due TOMORROW and can I sneak in a payment? Beren has grown out of his socks, shoes, or winter coat...already? 

Ceaseless Labors is a way I (and Jared, and even Beren) can gripe about dull household tasks and business related ones, too (the dryer buzzer just went off. Will there be an end to these, well, you know). It is away for me to acknowledge my work on behalf of the household with a bit of humor and at times, an inevitable touch of bitterness. And depending on my mood, that touch of bitterness can be a big sloppy, dripping, glob of bitterness with a poisonous life of its own.

Ceaseless Labors also acknowledges the mother as martyr, another poisonous blob with a fertile seed of truth. The why do I have to do everything feeling, or maybe it is reality depending on the household. I don't see my husband retiring from glueing, hammering, or sharpening knives anytime soon. I bet he's not too happy about some of his own Ceaseless Labors, but this I can only sometimes guess. 

This is a good conversation for couples to have, I think. In the past, my bringing up of household chores was often met with defensiveness, which means two things and possibly more: I need to be more empathetic, more strategic, and more willing to ask for exactly the type of help I want. I really, really wanted to talk about my expectations, frustrations and boredom. I really wanted to be heard. 

If I could start with one request, it might be that chores be less ad hoc and more organized. To that end, our Nightly Clean Up has been a big household-wide success. Oh and another request...

***

A few weeks ago, Jared or I mentioned something about a mealtime task, and Beren exploded with a theatrical "Oh, no, not this again!" Either he's headed for an acting career or Ceaseless Labors martyrdom.

***

*Ceaseless Labors is both a singular and plural concept, therefore readers will find both the singular and plural verbs following Ceasless Labors.


Family Strategies: Alone Time and Change of Pace

Alone time

When Beren was an infant, Jared and I contrived "solo time". Solo time is exactly as it sounds. One adult alone, no others, and hopefully not even the sounds of others.

As Beren grew, we all came to need what is now known as "alone time", which is exactly as it sounds. Respectfully, if at our individual best, one can request alone time. Or, while in state of disequilibrium, one might be asked by another family member, "Do you need alone time?" Or, another family member might say more forcefully, "I think you need alone time."

All three of us are sick. As unkind as it may sound, I could use some alone time. I am closed up in the office writing. All that stands between me and another human being is a misaligned door that does not lock. It has no lock. Of our interior doors, only our attic door locks.

A locked door can still be knocked on or pounded on or talked through. Knocking, pounding or talking through a locked door may be as disruptive and opening and passing right through an unlockable door.

Nothing stands between me and the call and response of Beren and Jared's staccato coughs. I hear every note. Only the finest nuances of the coughs are blunted by the unlocking door and twelve inch circa 1850s walls that are packed with newspaper, horse hair, rock debris, plaster, and all manner of things I assume are in there and I hope to never meet firsthand.

Beren is in the room immediately adjacent. The woodstove room as we three call it, though Beren recently called it the Lego room. I hear him shuffling through his Legos. They clink together and slide across the floor. He may burst into the office at any moment to show me the latest creation he has made on behalf of Ice Queen, a frosty caped Lego figurine that recently acquired Bird Man's mask (our name not Lego's). Beren has decreed his entire Lego collection be mined for white and clear blocks for Ice Queen's own use. She now has an elaborate and lovely kingdom.

Jared's occupation is quieter. He is on the couch reading. He is covered by blankets. He has been rather sick. He even suggested to Beren that they two could learn a lesson (ha ha! see my previous day's writing) from how I handle a cold, by sleeping all day. He is often quite good about drinking teas and taking herbs, yet less good at slowing the heck down.

Earlier today, we discovered our weekly shopping had occurred eight days ago, and we had only beef and no vegetables for dinner. Or was it lunch? Time has no meaning when you are surviving on herbal teas, ramen, and pretzels and cannot breathe or swallow properly. In short, no one wanted beef.

We went to Bamboo House and ordered soup and noodles. "Still coughing?" the owner asked Beren. "Drink lots of water with honey and lemon." Beren and I had gone there for dinner Sunday night for our other family contrivance which we call "a change of pace"."A change of pace" is usually prefaced by "I need a" or "You could use a" or "We all need a".

"Alone time" and "a change of pace" are so very, so very helpful.

After Bamboo House, we shopped at Kimberton Whole Foods. I left the guys in the truck. When I returned to the truck with our groceries, I opened the door and found the backseat piled with crumpled used tissues. Something about that made me grumpy. Perhaps my alone time had not been long enough and the bleary eyed, mucus-y people that once again faced me did not offer a change of pace from the previous week.

I heard Beren ask for something. I thought I heard Jared say that Beren wanted something sweet to eat. I snapped, "What?!"

"Are you mad?" Jared asked. "No, just talk louder my ears are clogged with fluid from this cold," I grumped, half truthful, half liar.

"Oh, ok, Beren is just looking for something easy to eat," said Jared. "I got berries. I need to go back in and get tissues, if you load the groceries," I replied.

While waiting in line, the cashier remarked, "Back for tissues?" "When I got back to the truck with my groceries and saw my sick family, I realized I forgot to get them." The woman in well-worn Carhartt's in front of me chuckled. I sighed and smiled wistfully.

I have enjoyed this alone time in the office. I need more, and what I really need is a change of pace and for us all to get better.

Cough and Cold Season Begins Halloween 2017

Each one of us applied pur personal touch to being sick. I slept all of yesterday, from which my lesson is always "pause and/or slow down". 

Jared emptied out one tissue box and trailblazed by trying a netti pot which he used a few times long ago. Any lessons learned that I could jot down here would really be my own lessons, or more likely lessons that I wpuld hope Jared would learn one day.

Beren coughed, and groused. He refused to use the beige "nose rags" (cut up old sheets, about tissue sized) because they were ugly. As above on the lessons.

Jared declared that Beren gets sick at Hallowen each year, which means we all ge sick. He would mark the calendar and enforce proper dress on Halloween night 2018. I noted that most children were not dressed according to Hungarian grandparental standards (wool hat, gloves, boots, coat). I added that exposure to cold is not a "germ" in itself. Jared's response was to the affect that he was on his way to being a Hungarian grandparent in decades hence.


Making Orangeade from Oranges, Gnats from Gnatade


 There is no escape from Gnat Hell. Our neighbors recently had their barn painted. I overheard one painter sum it up this way to his co-worker, "F*cking gnats."

We woke to the sounds of a coughing child this morning. Jared and I had planned on spending morning time together. We looked at each other, "No sh*t," our eyes said to each other.

"I'm hungry," Beren said."There's oranges," I replied. "How about fruit salad?" he said.

I have beginning my mornings outside lately. Once the temperature tops 55 or 60 degrees, bloodthirsty gnats arise to bite exposed skin, especially the forehead and arms.

So today, one of my stops was the everbearing strawberry patch, which sounded like a sweet-tart and good addition to an autumn fruit salad. A balm for my scratchy throat. The patch never really bears in the autumn. No fruits today. Just one this entire fall.

A bit later, Jared made fruit salad with no strawberries. The fruit salad was good. Beren ate all the orange pieces out of it.

All the milky-colored specks are gnats