Friday, 30 August 2013

Histories and Blogging

Everyone has a story. Everyone. Some of us are better at telling our stories, but the secret to that is actually practise. I write well because I write often. It is a craft. Being good at the craft doesn't mean that I am the only one with a story worth telling.

Everyone has a story that is valuable. From a historical perspective, what we blog and facebook will be the diary and memoir records of daily life. It will be where historians go to find our how people reacted to events of cultural and political importance. It doesn't matter if you don't have millions of readers, your reactions and observations matter historically.

They also matter personally. Your children and family could have a record of who you were and what you thought. I think about that when I write about my children, if something were to happen to me, have I told them all my stories? All the folklore and family history that I know and make up our collective family origin stories? Will they remember how much I loved them or how much I worried over them or the joy they brought me everyday? No one is promised a tomorrow, am I making enough of my today? Are you?

Do not worry about grammar or perfect expression. Just write like you would talk. This is not a magazine or a book, it is a diary. The only folks who are held to perfect writing on blogs are those of us who are academics and professors and the only folks holding us to that are not usually very kind to begin with. Just write. You'll get better at it with practise and you can always go back and revise.

When my grandmother Mel died, I had a chance to look at her diaries. They were mostly newspaper clippings and random horoscopes and weather reports. It was very much like facebook is, things she found interesting. Little notes here and there. Collectively they said a lot about who she was in those last 20 years of her life. Scraps in a notebook.

I would have loved her to write more and in more detail. I love reading the memoirs of folks who lived through historical events, especially those who were like me- mothers, wives, farmers, just everyday folks not celebrities and politicians. I find these stories matter more to me as a mother and as a historian. I love reading essays about everyday life and relationships.

Too many times really interesting people dismiss their own stories as being too boring or mundane to share. Who would want to read them?

Me. I do.

So, write for me. All of you wonderful folks, write your stories and I will read them. I will value your thoughts on things. I won't judge your grammar or style, I will just love that you are telling your histories, for prosperity.

Writing publicly has its downside. Those critics are never far, chattering their negativity and pointing out flaws, trying to undermine us all and silence anyone else who dares write. Don't be fooled and bullied. Write anyway. Dare to dream. If you need, to make your blog private or anonymous, or journal on Google docs. It is still important. Do it for long enough and you will find your voice.

I know I have. Now that I found it, I am giving it a work out and will not be hushed or put down. Too long did I let those external critics voices become the ones in my own inner dialogue and determine the worth of my thoughts. My thoughts now? If you don't like what I write, don't read it. If you do, yay! I love readers and making people think! If something I have written sticks with you, let me know. If you need encouragement to write, I'll be here for you. Everyday.

This is what I thought about as the miles sped by on rural Missouri highways today, as I drove an 8 hour round trip to fetch new pigs. Each abandoned farm house sighed at me as I passed, whispered that the stories of those who lived there are all lost and gone, washed away with the years and the rain and the snow and the wind. Gone.

Don't let yours disappear like that. Write them all down: what you ate, what games you played, what your thoughts on Syria or Miley's VMA performance are, what the weather was like, what books you read and liked, what beauty you found, acts of kindness you witnessed, your everyday happiness and sorrow- they all have value.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

22k(ilograms) for 22q - a Challenge I am Struggling With

Running. I have a long and complicated, even stormy relationship with running. I often joke that if you ever see me running, don't ask questions, just you start running too because something horrible is chasing me.

I loathe it.
I think that may even be a kind way to put it. Just reading about my wonderful friends joyously 5k running or mapping their energy boosting jogs makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Not because they love it, but because the idea of running for fun make me feel ill and like punching someone all at the same time.

I love walking. I love swimming (in clean water free of man eating giant prehistoric shark turtles). I love cooking, dancing, swinging in the trees, soccer, even riding a bike now and then. But running elicits the fevered terror of gym class, reminds me of being the last one to walk around the track, being yelled at because the class won't meet its goal if I don't MOVE faster, and walking in the hot sun anyway. Forgetting how many laps I had already made and being forced to go one more time. It reminds me of humiliation of the locker rooms, shower checks, being locked in my locker as a joke. It brings back being mocked for not being physically able to meet the goals of gym class. I was healthy enough, but I was physically small. I am a midget, a dwarf. My legs are shorter. I have less muscle mass. I also did not enjoy the aggressive competition.

I remember doing really well at badminton, something I played at home for fun. I made it to the final round, against the class athletic star. The longer our game went, the angrier she got. She grunted something about not letting this girl beat her. She said it with such ferocity that I immediately let my game go to crap. I stopped playing. If I beat her, she would later beat the crap out of me. That is the scenario that comes into my head when I think of exercising or athletic work of any kind.

So how do I stay fit? I dance while cleaning. I walk with my kids. I farm. I do any number of things that also completes a needed productive task. Hauling buckets, carrying produce and freezer inventory, moving laundry baskets are all things I do near daily with ease. Sure sometimes I also run, chasing pigs back to the pen or out of the way and over the fence when Blizzard the ram gets to remembering that he hates me. I can move fast under those circumstances. I have to.

Still, as a child I loved sports. I actually competed in a regional free throw competition and won at age 9.  I never played on a team though. Now I use my near magical shot to slam dunk dirty diapers into the laundry pail or toss apples from a tree into a bucket. Useful. I have athletic ability and I am capable.

My sister was the team sports player, but even then, she fought to play baseball instead of softball and lost when we moved to Iowa. The unfairness of that hurt me too. The gender bias in sports is still something that makes me bitter and hold me back from enjoying recreational sports watching.

So why am I sharing this?

Because I am going to run.

Because my son has 22q deletion syndrome.

Because this is bigger than even that. I need to stop running from all the awful I associate with everything and recover from everything I have been through.

My friend and fellow 22q mom Samantha Block has posted a challenge:
Some of you may have heard of the International 22q Foundation's 22k for 22q event.  The idea is that you run, walk, bike, or swim 22 kilometres to spread awareness and fundraise for 22q.  It's a great idea!  Sign up for a couple local races, or form a team and sign up for just 1 local race then add your kilometres together.  Wear a 22q shirt and get some pledges from friends and family. 
I thought I'd do a spin on that.  22 *kilograms* for 22q.  What do I mean?  I mean let's all band together and support each other while we work towards making ourselves healthier.  In doing so, we make ourselves better equipped to face the challenges of raising a 22q child.  22 kilograms is about 48.5lbs.  I would love for a couple dedicated followers to join me in pledging to lose a combined 22 kilograms in the month of September.  If I get 10 people to do it, we only need to lose about 4.8lbs each!  Totally doable!  If you all spread the word and we get more people joining us, I might just get to add a zero to that number and make it 220 kilograms for 22q!  Wouldn't that be awesome?!
All day long I thought about Sam's challenge. I grumped and grumbled. I listed all the reasons that I can't do it. I can't run. I won't run. I hate running.

I am running away from running? How ridiculous is that? So, I'm in. I am doing this. My posts about this will have the labels chasing normal and 22 deletion syndrome so they will end up under the top bar tab. I hope all of you will cheer me on as I do this crazy amazing thing for Isaac and for all the 22q kids out there.

Because I need to do it my way and make it mine, I will be running while doing things at the farm. It may look more like a pastured run. The sheep can verify my progress. I won't do things like public races, because I am not there emotionally and I will not torture myself with that yet. I will do that when I am ready. First I have to stop hating the idea of running and that means gaining ground on my own turf. I bought the shoes. I broke them in. Now I need to step on the ground and just do it.

Also, there will be pie. There will always be pie. I am doing this my way, after all.

I will run so I can be even healthier and be that much better at what I do as a mom and farmer. I will help others with recipes and encouragement. I will be a part of this team (and no one will beat me up afterwards, right?). I can and I will do this. Every single step Isaac takes on the ground has come to him with three times the work as it did for his sisters, 22q has done that to him, a big boy trapped in a baby's body. Yet, every single day he wakes up laughing and gets up, works hard until the end of the day, and earns his good sleep. If he can do it, I can too, for Isaac and one step at a time.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Heat Wave

We have had a lot hot days here at the farm. This summer has been exceptionally lovely, warm enough in the day and cool at night. Usually July is hot and humid and that heat lasts into August. We have to set up window air conditioning to cut the humidity and make our house safe to live in. Our upstairs has central air, but the downstairs and the kitchen do not. This summer has been so cool at night though, that the window units stayed in storage.

This week though, the heat finally arrived. We've not had much rain the last month either, so the wallows for the pigs are dried up. The downstairs of the house is hot, but not humid (drought) so we figured we could wait out the heat and save on the electric bill. So far so good.

The weather isn't just dangerous for humans though, it can also be deadly for the animals. We moved the sheep to the pasture with the deepest shade and the taller grass, made sure the pigs were set up with shade too. We check the waters each day.

Yesterday the cow was spooked out of her pen. Luckily she found the duck pool and got water from there.

Then we discovered the pigs were out. We still h ave no idea how that happened, all the gates were tethered shut and there were no breeches in the fence large enough for a 400 lb sow or two to escape. None. Yet, we found one pig in heat stroke and the others missing.

It was 100 degrees out. The sun was blaring down. No humidity.

I heard Chad yelling for help when he found the pig (she was ok, btw, once she got water) and I set the kids up with netflix and walked out. Walked. Running in this heat is not an option, it would be deadly stupid.

The dog was out too. Zim helped me track the missing pigs while Chad secured the fencing and set up bait. Chad was frustrated and mad at that point, also in the heat and harsh sun. I was not about to argue, but I did anyway. I flushed out three pigs, one of the big sows went back in easily.

I stayed slow and calm and made careful progress. Still it was dangerously hot. I got caught up in the bramble and scratched and scraped and my boot laces tangled. Chad and I got separated and couldn't hear each other. It was a mess. Even though I flushed out both the remaining pigs, they didn't go where we set up and they ran in two different directions.

I was too hot and headed back to the farmhouse. Chad got mad and frustrated and kept at it. I was mad and frustrated too. I was also loud and probably could give the FCC a run for their money if it had been a live broadcast. Oh my. Not my proudest moment.

My approach was to think through while I got hydrated. Chad took a different approach and thought that staying with the pigs was the better option.

In the end, the pigs were all rounded up and penned back up, given fresh water and food. All the sheep were accounted for. The llama was healthy and well. The cow was put back on her plot and her fence checked.

The people however were overheated and exhausted and flushed from being frustrated and angry. I made a light dinner and we headed to bed. Days like this are how we earn our farmer cred, though I wish we had fewer of them.

Dinner was simple: 
Elbow macaroni boiled and strained
Crushed tomatoes from the garden, simmered with granulated garlic
Italian sausage and onion browned and added to the tomato
Mix all together and serve hot

It all came together in about 15 minutes (while the noodles boiled, I cooked the meat and the tomatoes).

We ate, showered, and went to bed early.

We still have no idea how the pigs escaped and the worry that they will get out again is lingering like this heat. I am really looking forward to the cold front predicted for Sunday night and the bit of rain that might come too.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Mrs. Amelia Davis, 5th grade class, Thank You.

A recent conversation with a very sweet friend got me thinking about my first day of 5th grade. On one hand it was the most horrific day of my young life up to that point. My mother curled my short hair and it ended up like a clown wig, we had pulled up in the moving truck the day before and the only clothes I had were the jeans and t-shirt I wore on the drive from Colorado to eastern Illinois and my farm sneakers. It was raining. I had never ridden a bus before. The bus was late, I got lost in the building, the entire class was dressed in their Sunday best, right down to shiny black shoes and ties. Late, I was offered a seat at a desk in a sea of strangers and the chair broke from under me.

I wish I was kidding. I sat there, being stared, in a we muddy pile of mortified farm girl, for what seemed like an hour while someone got a new chair from a different classroom. I cried silently and on the inside.

My teacher though was the most jarring of the picture. She was black. I had never seen a person with black skin. My classmates were a rage of colours too. Sure I had seen the Cosby's and Michael Jackson, but being from rural Colorado, I honestly, at age ten, thought that they were Hispanic. That was my range of experience. I had Hispanic classmates, but never any teachers. I don't think I had interacted with any adults who were not white before that day.

Yet, here was this very dark skinned black woman standing at the head of the class. I have no idea what she thought of me. Oh, she was gorgeous and fierce. She didn't bat an eye, or roll them like the students did, when I presented my report on the "real" Thanksgiving feast, massacre and all. That was my first foray into the untold histories and making sure someone educated my classmates. I also wrote about Peabody Coal Company. She presented me with Black History Month and a goldmine of history that I had never read, people standing up to oppression and hatred. Those became role models to my tiny framed white farm girl mind. Heroes.

Mrs. Davis kept me in at lunch recess. It was probably for losing my homework. Though, I loved it. I caught up. She gave me more things to read. She encouraged my writing, both journalistic and poetry. I worked hard at both. I felt heard.

I never forgot her.

My friend said she didn't remember our teacher as the description I provided, stunning and beautiful. Then again, I also see that friend in the same way and I am quite sure that's not how she'd describe herself either. Sometimes, children and the adults they grow into, do not factor things like extra flesh into an assessment of character. To me, Mrs. Davis remains in my memory the captain of a very stormy ship in my childhood. Without that experience, I would not have set my foot on this journey.

The rest of the year, and quite honestly the rest of my time spent in Kankakee school district, was painful and horrible. Bullied and mocked daily, I dog paddled in shark infested waters, retreating at lunch to the library and escaping into books and writing stories and poetry. I knew recess could be calm and nourishing from those 5th grade afternoons spent with Mrs. Davis. Quite frankly, sometimes I would pretend to have lost my homework just to stay in.

So, wherever you are Amelia Davis, thank you. Thank you so much.

Girls, Public Breakdowns, and Rape Culture

Many of my friends have asked my opinion on the VMA performance that Miley Cyrus gave. Probably because I have opinions, little girls, and have taught American women's history, my thoughts on this pique curiosity.

Interestingly enough, I do have thoughts, but not the standard ones I am seeing floating around. My thoughts are not about the appropriation and even propping of black people and culture, not about the objectification of child stars or women in general, not about the artistic horribleness that surely was not her idea. All of those things are being discussed and rightfully so. Still that was not my reaction.

My gut reaction when I watched this train wreck was the same one I had when I watched footage of the public mental break of Britney Spears.....that girl was raped. Clearly I don't know that for sure. But when the Britney Spears drama was happening I started searching for smaller blogs, articles, and references from the months just before it all went so publicly downhill and I found this. I don't necessarily find this a credible source per se, but it was exactly what I was looking for.

Every single woman I know that has had a breakdown like these women, public and self destructive, began their downward spiral by an incident of rape or sexual violence, myself included. (Though, for the record, not every rape victim reacts this way.)

So when I watched Miley, once a sweet girl with a very lyrical voice and so much talent, on stage doing what she was doing, all I could see was a replay of my own history. I was not raped, but I witnessed a violent sexual assault and it forever changed me. I set myself up to be in the same set of situations over and over again until I could gain control, relive it until I could win the game. Instead I fell hard and had a wonderful support system of friends that kept my head above water. These girls on television don't seem to have that, they have folks making money off them instead.

I see a troubled girl, trying to reclaim a sexuality through regaining the power of it, publicly and distastefully. Any names we call her, her actions on stage warrant them. That's power. Her choices on stage are being targeted, but that's her choice. It screams out to me that she has recently been powerless and these choices are her way to regain a sense of control over her own body and sexuality.

The fact that the performance segwayed into a duet thing with that gender bashing summer song Blurred Lines and her costuming reflected the degrading video that goes with it, was affirmation for me. As Miley participated in the degradation she was taking back that power of choice. She is also asking for us to call her out, call her the names that she calls herself. Making that narrative true, but not because of what may have happened to her, because of things she is choosing to do.

It is messed up, but that is how I have seen it play out over and over again. Historically women who work in the sex industry have a significantly higher likely hood of having been raped or abused, prior to working in the industry. That is interesting considering these statistics and these too and these. Let's not kid ourselves, the music industry, when it puts on productions like what we all got to see at the VMA, is just a sub genre of crappy porn.

I hope that I am wrong. I also hope that if I am right, she gets the help and love and support she needs to get through the pain and terror that never goes away, just becomes more manageable with time.

As far as this goes down in the cultural history of women in music, as far as a lot of music in the last three years goes, I am quite sure we will all look back on it with collective shame at how degrading to women and to human beings so much of it is. That is the legacy of this, that our culture of rape is being danced to and sung aloud by children who hear it on the radio. Art is the propaganda of our culture and this is what it is teaching us. It makes my stomach turn. Think. Think before you call that child any more names. Think about the untold history that is unfolding publicly and that we may just be seeing the edges of the storm.

Those are my thoughts.

National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1.800.656.HOPE

Monday, 26 August 2013

Ribs and African Peanut Sauce

I have this recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book that I go to whenever I feel nostalgic for my early days of eating.

It took about 4 years for my taste buds to start working again after a major health change. I started to actually taste food. Cheesecake. Curry. Coke in a glass bottle. Bacon. I fell in love with food. There were some things though that I could not get used to, like meat on a bone. Meat had to be breaded and boneless like bread. Yet, Chad insisted on buying a whole pig and then cooking it.

The first time I ever had ribs was this recipe. Of course I have changed it slightly, if you have the book you can find the original one easily. I embarrassed myself the first time I ate them. It was very cave lady like. Oh, and the sauce! I made the sauce for dipping egg rolls and pork chops in too, it is so very good. I never looked back. That is when the real change happened for me in how I looked at my food. Eating became enjoyable, I had reason to think cooking might someday too.

Place a rack of pork ribs bone side up and cook at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, flip and cover in sauce, cook for another 30-45 minutes. Serve with extra sauce for dipping.

Sauce Recipe:

1 cup of peanut butter
1 cup of hot water
2 T lemon juice
1 t of Berbere seasoning from Pensey's or another curry type seasoning. Add more if you like.
Stir on low heat until smooth.

Mmmmm. Ribs. The kids gnawed on the bones after giving me a standing ovation. Every bone was licked clean. Even Isaac wanted more and more. I ate them with the same wild abandon as I did that first meal.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Just a Little Crabby Apple.....

Chad and Lily were walking in the woods and found.....CRAB APPLES! 

I put them in a paper bag for a week to ripen them and get them nice an pink. The flavour of these beauties is fantastic, sweet and sour all at once. I wanted jam but I didn't want to ruin the perfect sweet with too much sugar. I started with an apple butter recipe and added sugar until the taste was perfect. I canned according to the butter recipe, 15 minutes hot water boiling. It turned out PERFECT.

No spices, just cook crab apples simmered in half as much water until they break down, sugar added and cook down some more.

What is more interesting to me than this simple canning recipe is that these fruits were in our back yard and we never even noticed. Folks had told us about the hidden apple tree back there, but the last 3 years weather has been strange. We have plums this year ripening too. Chokecherries. Wild grape. Elderberry. Mulberry. Wild raspberry. Gooseberry. All right here.

I don't strip the plants down though. I leave enough for the wildlife and for reseeding. That equates to harvesting maybe 1/3 at most of what is there, if even that. Because of the strange weather, there hasn't been a lot of fruit which means there hasn't been food for animals and birds and the plant couldn't reseed. Not a lot of folks talk about that aspect, just the flowering and the bees. We are trying to maintain a real balance here, as well as feed our family, be good stewards of the land and animals we care for. That is a complex system that involves plants, soil, animals, ground water, insects, and us. We have 40 acres here and we raise meat animals. Creating a balance is difficult, but not impossible.

From the fruits of our labour, we dine on crab apple butter/jam.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Today in the Kitchen

More peaches. Today we skinned and sliced, tomorrow they'll get canned. Then for dinner I pulled out one of the last Poulet Rouge chickens out of the freezer. Isaac saw it and clapped and screamed excitedly! He signed chicken and wanted to eat right away. Sorry kiddo, it takes 2 hours to table. :)

I pulled out my red French Oven, a cast iron enamelled lovely pot. In it went halved mushrooms, a chopped leek, a yellow onion, celery, and red bell pepper. I placed the chicken on top of that, smeared it with Irish butter and Tickle a spice from The Spice Shed, sprinkled with course salt and then tiny potatoes from our garden tucked in around it.

I first broiled the chicken on high for 10 minutes and then turned the heat down to 350 degrees F. to cook the rest of the way. It took about 2 hours, but I don't trust timers. I always take the internal temperature with a meat thermometer.

Oh, this chicken was fantastic. The mushrooms and leek and the spices were just perfect and the carcass and leftover veggies are now back in pot with some carrots, more celery, and water filled to the top. That will simmer in the oven, covered, at 225 degrees over night. That is how I do stock in the summer, in the winter it sits covered on the wood burning stove.

I was really happy with how this turned out. 10 minutes of chopping prep is so very easy. We'll get three meals or more from this one bird.  I love our farm chicken so much.

Making a meal like this isn't actually hard. For my whole life I thought it was some magical feat to make nourishing food and that it would take all day to make it. Years of attempting and failing left me discouraged.

It wasn't until I stumbled on some historical fiction about French peasant women baking bread and soup that I realized that for centuries people made good food with only what was in their region, usually in season. Sometimes only with one pot, did they accomplish hearty meals. I started paying attention to food in historical accounts, living history museums, simple recipes.

That's where the change came, the heart of it. I studied the chemistry and the layering of ingredients and recipe equations, but the heart of food isn't the math and science..... it is something else. The joy I have in my simple kitchen, the fresh food from my farm, the joy on my child's face when he sees me pull out the red pot and chicken. It is the thankful gratitude my children share at the beginning our our meal together. The random exclamation in the middle of the day or the overheard conversation where they declare that I am the best at making food and it is always yummy, my husband sharing his delight at a simple meal with friends on social media, the intensity of centerdness that I get with my spoon swirling broth in the pot, breathing in the aroma of herbs and fresh meat are the heart of my kitchen. That isn't something in a book or a classroom that can be taught, it is something you experience in the moment. It is something that only simple food has given me.

Recipe for Summer French Pot Chicken:

1 leek, chopped
1 pint of mushrooms, chopped into bite size
1 yellow onion
1 red bell pepper
1 cup of chopped celery
seasoning and salt
handful of potatoes
1 run of the farm raised 3-4 lb chicken
4 T. grass fed butter

Broil for 10 minutes
350 until internal temperature reaches the safe temp for poultry

For the Bone Broth/Stock

Throw the bones back in after the meal, fill the pot with water, leftover veg, add carrots, bay leaf (optional), apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, and simmer for 12-48 hours. Yup. 48 hours.

Ps....peaches are still in the making. They are so perfectly ripe that they are spoiling and we are focused on canning and freezing. The dessert posts are on their way, very soon.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Not Back To School Picnic!

Another year, not back to school! Another celebration at the park with a great group of homeschooling families. Three kids covered in peach juice sticky glory and sand, pine sap in their hair, grinning ear to ear. Queen Lily and Super Hero Holly and Zippy Zap (Isaac) had the best day ever and I heard all about it in detail, with a small break at Grampa and Nana's, until bedtime.

Me? These social gatherings take a lot out of me. I am not someone that moves easily in social situations without a lot of hard work and paying attention to social cues, and that is exhausting. Sometimes I space out in the middle of a conversation or get distracted, which is very rude and not intentional, so I have to work very hard to stay focused and on task.

Yet, I do this to teach my children that it is good to be around people and enjoy the social interaction. My children are naturals, I actually have learned a lot from them. Many of you, maybe even the moms I met today, probably have no idea how difficult the gatherings are for me. I am an introvert. I am at my best completely alone, at a picnic bench at my farm, with the stars and the crickets as company. That is what recharges me. That is where I am centered.

These past few years though, I am getting better at being around people. I am actually seeking out people to get to know. I am even enjoying it. The last 3 months I have met so many amazing people, all who have cheered me on, all who have stories to share too. That got me thinking about blogging and what role it has historically, what role all of this social media has. I have a lot of thoughts on that I am still working out, but for framing this, the social aspect of facebook and twitter has allowed a lot of the pressure and anxiety to be worked out for me. I know who will be there at an event, mostly, I can get familiar with the location, and I get to know people through their pages and groups we are in before hand so there is not that scary factor of not knowing who I am talking to. It is mostly public who is friends with who and who is not, so most of the time I can avoid being drawn into drama that I am not a part of if I pay attention.

People also know where I stand on issues, so there are very few conversations that turn awkward which is a huge blessing. Working on the relationship part, understanding different perspectives, is a lot easier when that part is out of the way. No one likes to invest in a conversation where one of the people drops a huge unexpected poo bomb of awkward political belief one way or another, social media allows us to get to know each other and filter for that ahead of time. Oh, trust me, it still happens, but it is certainly less frequent. Let me tell you how valuable this is in the homeschooling community. Not that people with polarising beliefs don't end up friends, they do, and that can be a very rewarding friendship, but now I know generally what topics to avoid in discussion and what jokes not to make. This alone has helped me so much be able to just talk to folks. That alone is so taken for granted, because just small talk comes so naturally to most people.

So today was a smashing success, not just for my lively and bright children, but for their painfully un-social quirky nerd of a mother.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Thoughts on Love

When Chad saw the farm for the first time we was smitten. I had seen it 2 days prior, I am the one who found the listing online and drove down 65 miles into muddy Southern Iowa to see the house. After getting the car stuck on a grade B road, 2 feet sunk down in the mud, hauled out by a neighbor and the realtor, walking the pasture in the rain, and touring the house (by then soaked to the bone, wet clothes, cranky babies) I had decided that the collapsing roof and flooded basement were too much for us and we'd keep looking. I sent the pictures to Chad to convince him. All he saw was this:

And he was in love.

I argued that the commute was too long.
I argued that the house was too much work.
I worried about small town living, shopping, bleeding to death while stuck in a giant slurping mud hole. Rodents of unusual size. Fire swamp.

He said to me, quietly, "Do you think you could make this our home?"

Quietly he looked at me with intent and I knew, as I always have, that home is whenever I am with him. Wherever. Whenever. Always.

That was that. Here we are. Home.

I am blessed to have a love like ours.

A few years back I shared our love story here on the blog: Love Story.

I think though, it doesn't do the real thing justice. We've been together 17 years now, married for almost 15. 2 apartments, 3 houses, pregnancies and births, 3 babyhoods, starting a business together, farming, 20 sheep, 3 cows, 100's of pigs and chickens, a llama ect, and constantly growing and learning and figuring it all out: together.

Not to say we don't fight. We do. Sometimes it is loud and horrible, but that is rare. Sometimes the silence that falls between us is worse. That passes too. Sometimes I make cream soup for dinner because I am pissed at him. It happens. Yet, through it all, I can count on him to come when I yell out in the dark with a fevering kid or when the window fell in during a storm and I somehow caught it with one hand while nursing Isaac, but the rain and wind and how I was sitting had me trapped- all I had to do was yell out, Help! and there he was. He reads my blog. He reads and comments on my social media pages. He encourages me and knows me. I try to keep up with his social media as well, we co-admin a couple groups, but as much as I veer toward creative mothering he is interested in agri-politics and I cannot keep up. Try as I might, I prefer poetry and babies to cowboys arguing over manure and corn. Yet, somehow we come together everyday, share what we are grateful for (sometimes even over creamy soup), and make it another day.

17 years ago, I looked up at the August sky and saw my first falling star. I made a single wish, To be loved. That night I stood on the edge of Saylorville Lake and watched my 11 year old sister get cranky with Chad and lose half of his fishing gear in the rocky waters, probably on purpose. He was calm and patient. My wish was not specific. At that point my heart was so broken that I did not believe that I could ever love again. That was why my wish was not for me to love, but to be loved. I did not care who or when, but I was tired of being used and resented and disliked. I was tired of fighting so hard to be seen as a person and not some midget freak show, not as a body with boobs, not as a nuisance, but as a person. My heart was broken in a way that took years to grind away and not even Chad could love it back to whole. He led me there though. He prayed with me. He was gentle. He saw me me struggle and was patient.

And it was from that that I grew to love him. He's upstairs sleeping now. When I came home he was holding Isaac who was thrashing in his sleep. Chad has wrangled kids while I caught up on work in the afternoon so that I could be finished at a decent time and maybe have time to write. As I was listing my three things I am thankful for today via Project Happy, I realised that the basis of all of them are the foundation of my family. Love. This love. That even though my proclamation that I would marry the DJ on the radio back in 1994 came true and that makes a fantastic story to tell the kids, the truth of it is that our love is so much more than that. I can count on him to come when I yell help. I can count on him  to hold the baby and rock away the thrashing nightmares. I can count on him in the darkness to lift the brokeness off me in the storm. Always. While the storm rages on outside, he tucks the warm dry quilt around me and the children and re-secures the windows.

When Holly asked me if I really believed in star wishing magic, this is what swirled up out of my memories. Oh yes, Holly, yes I really do.

Monday, 19 August 2013

That One Time I Called My Child a "Stinker"

Isaac is adorable. It is his super power. He doesn't throw tantrums. He begs sweetly instead and no one in this house can resist his signs please and sweet puppy eyes. He recently learned where we keep the free access snack and fruit. One morning he pushed a chair up and got out three bananas.

I exclaimed, "Oh my, you little stinker!" I did not do it in a scolding voice. Rather admiration. He melted. He just melted into a pile of silent and brokenhearted sadness. Holly ran to him, looked me in the eyes and scolded, "Mama, he is NOT a stinker. You should not call him names!" He looked up at me, tears rolling down his cheeks, and my heart broke a million times. I scooped him up and we sobbed together.

Children do not understand name calling as an affectionate exclamation. They only see it as someone they love is calling them something that is a bad thing.

That is when I stopped calling him my little stinker and Holly my sweet monkey butt and Lily so very impossible.

Now Isaac is my little super hero! Holly is sweet ballet dancer! and Lily is the impossible astronaut! (Her idea.) It is just as easy to use a positive name in the situation as it is to use a derogatory one.

Holly later explained to me that Isaac is a big boy trapped in a baby's body and he is so invisible sometimes that we forget how big he is inside. She's spot on. That's pretty much sums up Isaac. He is so sweet and silent too that it is easy to forget that he has these HUGE emotions going on, like all almost 3 year olds do.

I want my children to know by my words that I love them, to know by my hands that they are loved, to know by my voice that they are heard, and that they will come to know how much I love them by my writing. Someday they will find this, maybe I will be there and maybe I won't. Life is like that. I want these daily exercises in recording our activities and my thoughts to be my love letters to them. This writing can't be that if I call my children lazy or stubborn or fat or any other words out of frustration with them. They may have moments when they are tired and refusing to participate in what we are doing, but that is human. They may have breakdowns or bad days, but don't we all? I do. Less and less though the more I model for them centering myself and gaining control over my own words and actions because they see that, they hear that- not empty words but the action of my being. I am their mother after all.

So if I seem overly adoring of them, this is why, I love them so very much. I want them to know me and know that. I would not want their future employers to read this and say, "Wow, no way and I hiring that lazy brat who refused to do their spelling worksheets and take out the trash! No way!" Not that we do spelling worksheets like that. You know, unschooling. Ha!

No, this is a record of sorts, as are my public facebook pages, for all to see into our lives. Sometimes it isn't pretty, but it won't be ugly like that. It will be brilliant and sparkly and three kinds of awesome.

Holly's Grateful Today.....

Was That I Spent Time in the Fort House With Her....

We played with collected cicada carcasses, sang itsy bitsy spider and twinkle little bat, and snuggles while wishing on summer breezes. Today was good. Get Mugged made a fantastic cuppa with added caramel and whipped cream, a friend brought me some house plants (which Lily claimed for her own), and dinner was good. Today had some frustrating phone time, but overall, a perfect summer day. There seem to be a lot of these lately. Can't say I have a problem with that. :)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Comparing Blessings

Which one is more full? Can you tell by looking?  Nope. 

One of the things I found myself doing as a new mom when Lily was born was I compared her to everyone elses' babies.  Her cry was distinctive. She could talk very early. She crawled late, walked a little later, she was gorgeous and funny. Potty trained herself at around 13 months old. Was I happy enough? Was she happy enough? Did she make friends easily (I do not)? Was she eating enough, often enough.....she was a clothes size over her age sometimes 2!

Holly came along and was the quiet one, but she crawled early. She then walked late. She refused to talk until she was two. She refused to potty train. Refused. We cloth diapered. We wore her. We gave her watermelon. Constantly measuring her progress against my peers kids and the child development books. Also a HUGE baby and child. (No one panic, she is now 5 and uses the potty.....) I slowly learned that each kid is their own person, their own timelines apply, and I would just need to roll with that.

Then Isaac was born. I knew from Holly's babyhood that sometimes kids just take their time. As it became more and more apparent that Isaac was falling behind in milestones and growth, he stayed in premie clothes and then in newborn, 3-6 month sized at a year old. He was diagnosed with 22q deletion syndrome at age 5 months. As a baby it is easier to pass at the playground. Everyone we don't know just assumes he's actually a newborn. As he got older, even crawling, the playground introduction is always followed by, "How old is he?" and the answer is greeted with politeness, but the shock or realisation on their faces says enough to make my gut drop out and make me want to throw up. At that point I usually blurt out his dx and start making excuses, explaining hypotonia.....but it makes me feel ill. It does. Random strangers don't have a right to his medical information. His life should not be his mother making excuses for him. Eventually, he'll begin to understand what that means and it isn't good.

Still when my friends were posting pictures of their 9 month olds walking, cheering with joy at these first steps, I held back tears and my own fears as Isaac was still just crawling at 28 months. I would sob at night. I would question the decisions I made for his therapies. It would consume me at times and block out all other joy in my life.

I stopped doing that. Isaac started walking and I've been too busy trying to keep up. That day was so full of wonder and happy that I thought I would have a heart attack and my face would fall off from smiling.

It got me thinking about my own internal dialogue though. Stop comparing to other "healthy" kids. That part was easy, all I had to do was embrace and rejoice in how adorable Isaac is and how amazing each and every milestone and every day is full of love and happy. Isaac IS healthy, he is making progress, he is amazing.

What is harder is to stop comparing to other special needs children. This goes two ways actually. I found my heart reeling with fear when another kid, a full year younger, with a more severe diagnosis was walking when Isaac was just still struggling to crawl.

Then we'd meet a non mobile 14 year old on a ventilator and I would feel relieved about our situation. Then I would feel guilty for feeling better about ours by comparing to someone else's struggles. How horrible of a person could I be? Then I would get whirled up into fundraisers and fanpages of kids with Isaac's diagnosis who were actually very sick. I felt out of place. How could I offer our story to the collective support groups when Isaac, while slow on physical and verbal milestones, has never had a single surgery and never been hospitalised with an illness, not even RSV even though he had it last winter (just an ER visit). I'd do my part offering prayers, all the time guilting myself into sleeplessness because my kid is healthy. Compared. Someone would get another diagnosis or hospitalization that would send me into another guilt spiral. Why them and not us? Why do we keep escaping the symptoms of Isaac's diagnosis?

I'd read books about special needs families, hoping that folks that I don't know in real life might offer me a more objective perspective, a 22q adult narrative, a therapy book. I kept coming back to comparing what we do, what options there are, Isaac's current health state. Comparing statistics, comparing politics.


That's the snare. I don't want my joy to be stolen by guilt and every time I compare in either direction I am racked with guilt and horrible feelings.  There will always be kids healthier than Isaac and there will always be kids sicker with greater struggles than us. We will slide between, walking the line and stumbling, slipping like it is wet sloppy mud. Just like Holly and Lily fighting over who has the most orange juice in their lunch cup, the fighting stops when I assure them that if they drink all they have, they will get more as they each need. Their needs will be met to the best that I can provide. They can relax and settle into saying what they are thankful for and eat and play. Their jealousies forgotten. I can meet my families needs and prepare so if they get worse we can be ready, hopefully.

Since being in this much better place in my own mind, I have found a depth of relationship I had never known with other families. I have found my voice.

That doesn't mean our struggle isn't real and it doesn't mean our joy isn't also a blessing. I used to think it was this grey area we fall into, this fog of in between, but that's not it at all. The world is not black and white with shades of grey and no one is promised perfect health always. We all have our own stories and our own struggles and we do the best we can to make the best life we can manage. Isaac is not a fog of grey, he is orange monkeys, and sea glass green, and bright neon pink Dora sock puppets, yellow bananas, melting raspberry Popsicles, summer peaches, and bright sparkling silver trumpets, and delicious blue skies thick with fluffy clouds laughing as he swings too high on the tire swing! This is the life!

Through my children I have learned  to stop comparing and be with them in that sparkling moment, their fleeting childhood, that magical place where their mother's love is enough and then some.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Pictures and Stuff from August

Iowa State Fair, Peaches, Beyonce and Anastasia the peahens, Jessica teaching Isaac about the wonders of the cordless power drill (his is Holly's toy), and Isaac walking up the slide and posing a smile that I think makes him look like Wil Wheaton. I can totally see Isaac saying, "Don't be a dick." It is a good law that more people should embrace, especially online. Sportsmanship, y'all.