Friday, September 23, 2011

A Season of Abundance

Today is the first day of autumn and my thoughts are settled around appreciating the richness of this season.

On our way out to preschool, I clipped a bundle of dried brown Echinacea flowers, their once-pink petals now straggly brown and picked away, their bristly cones now the star of the show. I've brought a bunch of them indoors to rest on what's becoming a Nature/Offering table, all of those brittle stems embraced in a vintage glass container which has become a vase in its second life. For balance, a thick bundle of purple sage I'd cut yesterday sits on that table as well, the green stems plunged into a small cobalt blue creamer. (If you want a nice, full bushy-looking arrangement, gather your herbs up tight together and put a rubber band around the bottom. This will keep them from getting floppy and messy. Use an opaque vase so no one sees the rubber band or rangy-looking stems.)

I've also cut some larger bundles of native golden currant for our home and the preschool. In spring, this green-leafed plant's dainty yellow-gold flowers with red centers delighted us with their spicy scent. Now autumn, the leaves have turned a glorious red with just a hint of pink in it, some leaves still have a bit of green. The red captures my heart; this is the color I want to paint the nook where we eat our meals, separated by the archway from the main part of the kitchen. I love this red, and a Mason jar of the currant clippings sits on the woodstove which we've yet to use this season. The blaze of color is delightful. (Note to self, get that big Miller paint 'deck' of paint chips out and match it up!)

Today the garden offers up more tomatoes and fall gold raspberries to pick and more work to be done, so in a minute I'll be putting on my gardening pants and taking the tools out to the soil. But a few more thoughts of richness:

Joe and I celebrated an anniversary last night. Ten years together as a couple. We ate great Italian food (I had cioppino, in case you were wondering.) and stopped at our local for a beer and good conversation. The time to talk to each other without any interruptions was such a treat-- Thank you, Lissa, for that gift. Things have been going so well for Joe; he's started a new, challenging job last year and on Monday he received a title promotion and raise, which seems like perfect timing since preschool has started. Last night, he suggested that we up Kiddo's preschool week to four days instead of the three. I know he was thinking of me.

Kiddo, however, is reveling in having a couple of 'down' days during the week where he can just enjoy himself and play how he likes. His play is becoming ever-more complex, and this is part of my picture of abundance too. Yesterday, he'd used our two ramps and some blocks to build a marble chute (the blocks were a guardrail, to keep the marbles from falling off the ramp) which led into a bag where the marbles were collected. He asked about finding something to drop the marbles into the chute, so we got out our marble run and stacked up supports until we could build a run tall enough to deliver the marble into the chute. Then, the plastic marble run became a support for a drum set, his "electric guitar" (which is a toy acoustic guitar with the large round metal lid from his Tinkertoys over the sound hole, an old kid's watch and a plastic scoop somehow hanging from the strings as well) and several containers plus the keyboard became his 'music band'. This is why I want to keep him home as much as reasonably possible, because he is able to create and play in a way that meets some unspeakable need within himself. I love how his play flows along so organically, taking its own twists and turns, constantly creative, learning what both I and preschool cannot teach; what he can only teach himself.

Gratitude and abundance is what I feel today. Grateful for the good life our family is experiencing, the richness of our world and what's around us. I write of these moments because I want to remember them later on, when winter creeps upon us with the gray skies and rain rain rain and the earth rests as all living things must rest. That's the promise of the seasons, that we keep moving forward, that nothing is permanent, and so we do best to appreciate the present, as it is, in this moment. To be present with our eyes and hearts open to the beauty around us.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Aboard the Job Train

Now that preschool has started, one of the nicest moments of my day is pick-up time. Over the last two weeks, Kiddo and I have settled into a sweet routine. I always bring a graham cracker with me, which is sort of a treat at our house, and we take our time walking home. Today, we noticed a toadstool growing in the shade and I was asked what a carbohydrate was. (It's "food that makes a sugar in your body", if you want the simple answer.) We generally hold off on playdates until our no-preschool days of the week, because it's been my longtime experience that many preschoolers are often tired from the work of playing with friends and need a little downtime.

We also have a helpful prop at home that I've created called a Job Train. I made this before, working as a nanny, when I had a child in care who went to preschool and was dropped off afterward. The Job Train is a paper engine and set of cars that live on the refrigerator via some adhesive magnets I stuck on the back. These cards help a child work through their after-school tasks with less adult instruction, because once a photo of the child is glued onto the engine, it is indeed the child who 'drives' the Job Train. Kiddo puts it together one or two cars at a time. Each car has a different task or two, both illustrated and printed in simple text on the car itself. "Boots" shows one card, which prompts him to 'make his shoes nice' (as he likes to say it); "Coat/Tote" indicate that these items need to be hung up; "Potty/Wash Hands", "Lunchbox/Snack (because kids big and small are often hungry after school),  and "Quiet Play Time" are the other cars on our train. When all of the train has been built--which means that these tasks are complete--then Kiddo's welcome to do with his time as he pleases. He may do most of these tasks in an open order which allows Kiddo some say-so in how he gets them done. Overall, though, this prop potentially eliminates the need for me to direct him through these responsibilities.

Sometimes, too, I get a moan or complaint. I simply remind him that he can go lie down if he's too tired to do the jobs, and then do them when he's ready.  If it's not tiredness but more obstinacy, I offer a pillow for him to sit on until he's ready to take care of his belongings and himself. These tasks are not beyond his abilities, and these are good habits for him to develop, because I do not relish living out the next 18 years doing every little thing for my son. It wouldn't be good for either of us. Neither am I expecting him to do all of this solo; today he was obviously tired and stated "I don't know what to do", wanting help. I gave gentle direction and the little cars were put together one by one.

I'm a big believer in downtime after preschool; by late afternoon, our kids are often maxed out. Because of this, I try to do most of the toy cleanup earlier, before I start dinner, when we're all better able to make this activity more pleasant. I try to have the shopping done before pick-up, or to schedule it after he's had a chunk of time to play independently. Again, it's my appreciation of the amount of work being in the intense social settings of preschool and primary grades that leads me to take this approach of "less is more".

So, our autumn has a rhythm of its own, at least on school days. On other days, I'm sensitive to Kiddo's need for routine and look for ways to support this. Heading out for an adventure around the same time as we leave for school can help; this time too, as I'd mentioned before, is perfect for playdates. We try to keep the same mealtimes as preschool, too, which really helps. While I do not feel a sense of total obligation to his preschool schedule, I understand that weekends can be harder when he's got less structure or feels 'thrown off' his routines, so these rhythms are optimally the backbone to our days together. So graham crackers, walks home through crunchy, turning leaves and our little Job Train all become little bits of the glue that holds our little guy's world together, one day at at time.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Packing up a Lunch

One of the great things about Kiddo's preschool is that we parents can pack a good, healthy lunch for our children to take to school. Stuff we know that they relatively like and will usually eat. Personally, I prefer this to having some kind of Lowest Common Denominator high-carb lunch that some daycares and preschools serve, and I also like knowing what it is he's eating (and needs to eat later) in order to ensure he's getting a balanced menu.

Kiddo's pretty sharp at making some good food choices, so I ask for his input. Sometimes, though, he has a lot of opinions about lunch. Like this morning.

Me: "Tell me one thing you would like for your lunch, within reason." ('Within reason' is mama-code for "not ice cream, not cookies, not yogurt"; I like this code phrase, as it eliminates bringing up those items.)

Kiddo: "Carrots!"

Me: "Awesome. We can do that."

Kiddo: "I want carrots and apples."

Isn't this great? We are in Dream Child mode right now. And then I go and fumble it. Pulling down the fruit bowl, I see a nectarine which is so wrinkled it should be collecting Social Security benefits.

Me: "Would you like a nectarine instead?"

Kiddo looks at Ol' Man Nectarine and makes a squinchy face. "NO." I, on the other hand, really feel like this nectarine should go away, so I offer it again. "You could take it cut up with a fork."


Okay, enough on the nectarine. I set it on the counter, thinking "Future Smoothie Ingredient", and get to work, peeling a perfectly-sized carrot (not too thick, not too spindly) and slicing up half an apple. I put cinnamon on the apple slices and place them into a container. Kiddo pushes his breakfast of scrambled eggs around on his plate, watching me, then inevitably announces~

"I want nectarine, not apple."

In my head, four words ring out: "Oh, no, you don't!"  My mouth, however, doesn't betray me or get into the fray, but changes the subject entirely. "No more talking, now. Be quiet and eat your food." I say this with a pleasant voice which hopefully conveys the underlying message of "I am not going there with you. This will not become a discussion. Your job is to eat your breakfast, so let's tend to that now."

I continue packing. Often, Kiddo complains that he doesn't want a sandwich, so today it's three Vinta crackers in a waxed paper bag with a handful of almonds tossed in, and a string cheese too for a good protein. The carrot is rolled up in Saran Wrap, the apples in their reusable container. I realize that I have used every possible method of wrapping food, aside from foil, in his lunch. Two napkins on top (one for a place mat, one for his lap, hopefully) and the Velcro flap is closed up.

Kiddo is looking out the window, both lunch and breakfast temporarily forgotten. What's going on, so interesting out there? Joe walks in, sees Kiddo, and breaks into a couple lines of Supertramp's "Dreamer". I laugh, then remind our little guy to eat the eggs before they grow cold. Joe kisses us goodbye; he's buying his lunch at the Food Carts today, as he's meeting a friend.

Me? I'm having a sandwich and some miso soup for lunch today. Cool and cloudy, it seems like that sort of a day. I'm grateful I only have to pack lunches three days a week, for one person only. I can't imagine doing this with multiple children: my hat is off to those mothers. I think I'd be looking for a different preschool program if that were the case. One that served those Lowest Common Denominator lunches.....

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Decadence!--An Hour of Bliss

Yesterday, Joe drove us downtown and gave me one of the best gifts I've been given in a while.  One that I've been hankering after for a long time. An hour of sweet bliss.

Lots of women have their own idea of an hour's worth of bliss. Some would love to have lavender-scented oil rubbed into their tired muscles. (So would I.) Some would prefer having their nails done with a girlfriend, or a glass of good wine and some sushi with that friend, or an hour with whoever the Hunk-O'-the-Month is over a candlelight dinner.

My bliss was simply a trip to my personal hallowed ground, the Central Library. One hour alone amongst those who would study on their day of rest, those who would sleep in the air-conditioning. Or in my case, those men who would geek out on the computers up in the Henry Failing music and arts library. In case you get the wrong idea, I wasn't up there to trawl for men-- already have my own sexy I.T. guy at home, thanks-- but to fondle and ogle the cds.

By myself. No sounds of "Mama, I want to go see the dinosaur books!" or "Honey, are you done?" Just lonesome me with a big tote bag.

One of the best (I was almost going to write "bestest", because there is not a "best" superlative enough to encompass the awesomeness of this) things about the library is that you don't have to spend a dime to have Whatever You Want. With the exception, of course, of reference materials and rare books, I could get just about any and all the cds I wanted within the limits, which are generous indeed. Check it out:

"You may borrow up to a total of 150 items at one time. However, you may check out 15 DVDs at one time. You may also check out 15 music CDs and 15 other CDs at one time."
--Multnomah County Library

Need I say more?

What richness there was to be had! I left with a stack of sweet discoveries to spin in the cd player, some rock, some jazz. Some ladies came home with me: Ella Fitzgerald, Ruth Brown, and the Andrews Sisters (with Glenn Miller). Some fellas came along as well: some contemporaries like Martin Sexton, Paul Weller, and David Byrne with Brian Eno; some older gentlemen too, like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis ("Birth of the Cool" --how can you go wrong?) and the Modern Jazz Ensemble. Treasures like Rufus Wainwright were collected up as well. Anyone who knows me well knows that I can be brought to my knees with really spot-on vocal harmonies. When I used to sing in a choir, those moments of group harmony were something beyond spiritual, it was like being in the midst of something so incredibly other, something pure and powerful and the pinnacle of what humanity could achieve together, all voices singing their parts as though they were creating a single being, a single moment of perfection. There are few moments in my life that have knocked my heart over in sheer joy, and seeing Rufus Wainwright in concert over ten years ago is still one of those 'glued-to-the-spot/I will explode with the enormity of this swirling vocal wonderfulness' moments I'll remember all my life, along with the groove and flow of seeing Medeski, Martin and Wood, when the whole house seemed to be all part of one incredible communion.

Music is something I don't get enough variety of, just because the more I listen and learn, the hungrier I am for it. Sunday, for me, was dining in style at an exquisite "all you can hear" banquet of bliss. I also found a three-disk rare gospel set, which I am very excited to listen to. I'm not a card-carrying member of any religion, but there is something so amazing about gospel to me. There are plenty of great songs celebrating the love of people for each other; there's something so indescribable to me about man's search and passion for God and the interplay of relationship between human and creator/deity. This, to me, rivals the power of any opera as the gospel singer seeks beyond the human realm and the self to reach out toward something beyond this world, the origin; the spark.

Of course, I picked up a few books, too. But it was the Henry Failing Music Library that really captured me yesterday. I've only just begun to explore these delights. Ruth Brown sung to me in the way of classic 50's rhythm and blues as I did the dishes today.  "Rockin' in Rhythm: The Best of Ruth Brown" (many of her hits were produced by Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun, by the way, and three cheers to you if you know who he is) features some great liner notes too, for those like me who want to learn a bit more about this amazing singer. Tomorrow I'll be kept company by Ella Fitzgerald, singing the songs of Harold Arlen, a famous songwriter from the 30s and 40s who brought us treats like "Stormy Weather", "That Old Black Magic", "Come Rain Come Shine" and "Over the Rainbow". And who better, really, than to sing it but Ella?

Next time, I'll be looking for some Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter, some Ron Sexsmith and a bit more from the underestimated musical genius of our time, Mr. Frank Zappa. (If you've only heard "Valley Girl", you are really missing out.) I don't know how long it will be until I get another hour up in the music library, but I'll be satisfied for now. Bliss, cranked up through the house and continuing to keep me happy. Thank you, Messrs Edison and Blumlein, inventors of the phonograph and stereo records respectively. Thank you for the rest of my life.

And thanks especially to Joe, for making yesterday happen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Sandman

"Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I've ever seen
Give him two lips like roses and clover
And tell him that his lonesome nights are over"

"Mr. Sandman" by the Chordettes*

Coming home from a preschool potluck picnic last night, Kiddo was covered in sand. Even taking off his shoes--without actually dumping out the shoes-- he was shedding sand everywhere. While I had gone with the thrifty (read: cheap-ass) choice of Home Depot sand for our sandbox, his preschool sandbox has Real Beach Sand, and it sticks to him like superfine baker's sugar, coating his arms. If it had been sugar, it might have been tempting to lick him clean. Being sand, however, a brush-off with a dry rag, a complete undressing at the front door, and then the bathtub were the only sane options.

We were already past bedtime, so we scooted through our night time routine. I was tired, Kiddo was wired and tired from all the fun, and so we got pajamas on (accidentally forgot to brush teeth-- oh well, thank goodness they get a second set later!) and lay down on his bed to read stories for nighttime. Books read, lights out, time to sing the bedtime song. I snuggled him into his bed.

And that's when I noticed the sand on his fitted sheet. Not just a few little grains, but half a desert's worth was in his bed. There was so much, you could actually see it. I hollered for Joe at this point for help. We always double up on bedding in case of accidents, so it was easy to pull of the first layer of fitted sheet and vinyl waterproof sheet, and Joe carried away the mini-Sahara to be shaken out while I finished up bedtime.

How on earth did so much sand get into his bed? I wondered for a few minutes, then remembered that I'd tossed Kiddo's shorts into the sink when I'd undressed him, because there was a whole inch of sand in each of his pockets. The Sand Man, that boy. He must have crawled under the covers during some point of his quiet time that day, and by doing so, dumped a bunch in bed. Another reason I never allow him to get into my bed when we watch a video upstairs in our room. I was concerned about a little dirt, but good grief!

After our lullaby rendition of "The Owl and the Pussycat", Kiddo held onto my arm. "Stay and hold me" he said. I did so for a few minutes, then told him I needed to take shower and that I'd leave the bathroom door open and the light on, so it wouldn't be so dark. Kissed him goodnight and then tended to my own freshening up. Because yesterday was gross-sweaty-hot, and stinky bed is just as bad as a sandy one. Kiddo was counting sheep when I got out of the shower. So, the Sandman did eventually visit last night. The right one, that is.

*If you think this lyric is a bit cutesy, consider what I had to choose from. The other "Sandman" song (from Metallica) features lyrics such as "Sleep with one eye open/Gripping your pillow tight." Sorry, but cutesy wins this round.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What a Woman Really Wants

This Monday found me going round and round Laurelhurst Park with a dear friend, both of us working up a sweat while trying to stay in the shade. Our conversation meandered over many pleasant topics as we walked, and then she asked me of my plans for autumn once Kiddo was in preschool. Here, I faltered. I've been wanting to write a book to help new parents, but lately have been stalled by a serious question that undermines my thoughts and confidence at times, namely: "Does the world really need another parenting book?" Would my take on the subject add a new facet to what was out there? How would the work of writing add to my life, both in meaning and--at the risk of sounding completely materialistic--in monetary terms?

At the beginning of summer, it seemed that my focus and direction were designated: I would stay home while Kiddo was in preschool and write. This would be my year to "do it", to work toward this longtime goal.

That said, over the summer I've had some sort of Pushmi-pullyu* living in my head. "You must organize yourself and your writing so that you can get published, get yourself on a schedule..." played tug of war with gnawing doubts and whispers in my head: "If you don't do this, all your friends are going to think you are being a serious flake." "You always talk about wanting to write a book but never seem to do it." Ugh. Not the kind of self-talk anyone wants in their head. Yet, I couldn't escape that feeling that I must be working at something. This is to be expected, really--up until I'd gotten pregnant, I'd been working more or less steadily for 20 years without more than a couple of weeks of vacation at any given time. Even when Kiddo was little, it seemed necessary to keep working while he was home: to continue doing after-preschool care with a former family I'd nannied with;  to start the preschool; and then to keep working, not only to pay for Kiddo's preschool, but also because I genuinely like that sort of work. Making the decision to close the school was a good one for our family, but lately I've felt uncertain of the structure of autumn. Where to start work on writing, when my feet didn't feel solid under me in this particular venture?   I shared these concerns with my friend.

As we headed through a patch of hot sunshine, I wished aloud for time to sew some linen pants and tops for next summer. I would do that this winter, I had promised myself.

"Now, that is what sounds right, Hazie" my friend spoke. "That's something solid, something that you believe in, something just gut-instinct and intuitive. That's what's worth spending time on."

"What?  The book?" I was confused.

No, she told me kindly. Not the book, but instead, taking care of myself. She was right; I have wanted these pants and tops for years, but haven't had the chance to sew them for years either. It suddenly put everything in proper context and contrast: how rewarding would writing a book feel if I was continually putting aside the long "honey-do" list I've had in my head for so long?

Still, I wasn't convinced. "But what about the book and the classes I've wanted to teach for parents?" I asked her. She smiled. "Those will wait until you are ready to do them. You said yourself you have doubts about the book. And even having thought about those things (the topics of the book) will make your work better. But what sounds right to me is for you to take care of yourself right now."

I'm not great at shifting gears, but walking home later, I felt like someone had handed me not just a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, but also a "And Go Have Marvelous Time Making Your Life Better--And Don't Feel Guilty About It" token to boot.

Explaining these new thoughts to Joe later, he was his usual wonderful, supportive self. The time Kiddo was at preschool wouldn't just afford me some sewing time, but also time to finish work on the kitchen walls and finally get them painted. The garden has been no small duty, and I have beds of bulbs to dig out and divide this autumn. The basement would produce an essay of worthwhile plans, so I shall spare you, but it was almost surprising to see that my twelve hours alone each week would be filled up with worthwhile work that would make our whole family's life better.

Just the fact that we could get the kitchen (mostly) done without Joe having to anticipate whole weekends of painting put a huge smile on his face.

So, the book still sits in bits and pieces in files on the computer. I've shared parts of it with friends, and hope to still set time aside to work at it in small chunks as ideas arise. The promise of having a house that feels usable and in order is a balm to my heart, because it has been a sore spot for so long. I love the idea that I won't hate how my kitchen looks forever, but can finish it perhaps before Kiddo's next summer break. There's lots of work to be done and Kiddo starts preschool tomorrow. I can't wait to get started.

Look out for the Lady in Linen next summer.

*In case you didn't know, the "pushmi-pullyu" is a two headed beast from Doctor Doolittle. It is a "gazelle-unicorn cross" and consequently, when it tries to move, the heads each go in opposite directions.  It makes a marvelous metaphor for those well-versed in children's books.