Wednesday, September 28, 2011

not for the faint of heart

When we arrived at the farm a couple of weeks ago, we had the warmest of greetings: two children jumping up and down with hurrahs! and come see! This was the fine weaver they wanted to show us...
Beautiful, isn't she? The day was gorgeous - the beginning strains of fall - the colors, the change in the air, the clear swept skies.
These fellows were following us everywhere, but when they settled down I couldn't help but snap their portrait.  Such prehistoric-looking oddities.
This is the farm that supplies all of our eggs (and we eat a lot of eggs). This is the farm that gives the hens a happy, safe life and they in turn lay beautiful eggs.  Dan and I were both vegetarians for many years - something like 15 for me, even longer for him - but when our kids got into early childhood we realized that they were eating meat at every opportunity they were given (I remember going to a birthday party and when I couldn't find Eliza someone suggested looking in the kitchen where they'd seen her parked next to the platter of "dragon's feet" otherwise known as chicken wings. That's indeed where I found her.), we started looking into offering meat once in a while at home.
When we moved here to Athens, three years ago, we found several farmers at the Farmer's Market who were selling what I would consider "clean meat": free-range, well-fed (organic or close to it feed, plus all the goodies included in a free-range diet), humanely treated  animals.  While we still don't eat meat as a central part of our week's diet, it has certainly made our re-entry into eating meat easier to have these local options available.
So, I should probably mention about now that this post is about something that has many euphemistic names, but around here is called a slaughter. It is a brutal word for something that is carried out as humanely as possible, but it also says it like it is. As a vegetarian starting to eat meat, I have felt as though I maybe wanted to help with a slaughter. You know, confront my meat-eating with the baldness of what that means: another being is dying so that I can have nourishment. It is a heavy deal.
Eliza has always been the kid to think about and question what she is eating - does she want to eat meat? Why do people choose to be vegan? This girl loves to eat meat. And she loves animals. They talk to her. She is the girl who notices the differences between the turkey vultures who fly over the parks we frequent, and calls to them by name. When we visited family in Ithaca last November she spent one tortured afternoon processing whether or not she was going to eat meatballs that night for dinner, knowing they were being prepared for us as guests, but not sure whether she was all right with eating cow. After drawing several pictures of cows and talking about it for a few hours, she decided to try the meatballs. She loved them.
She is also pretty much a "yes" girl, and adventurer - she is curious and will try just about anything.  Her friend Osha, at eight, is the person in charge of feeding and watering the chickens. He is also heavily involved in the slaughter and is comfortable with every step of it.  Eliza asked if she could help with one of his usual jobs - catching and carrying the birds. It turned out that they were able to process double the birds with the help of her and Osha! She carried 15-some birds that afternoon.
They worked for three hours straight, trading 10-minute lunch breaks at some point in there.  Eliza was so proud of herself, felt really good about working so hard, and felt so all right with the whole process. She asked M. questions about every step, inspected various chicken parts, inside and out.  I had intended to help, but honestly, it was not for me. I'll maybe try again at some point, but I found that I could not participate that day.
Instead, I learned some hula hooping moves and made the chicken Eliza earned that day into some yummy soup. Grateful for the learning that happened, for the opportunity for Eliza to participate in valuable work - she kept saying, "I'm feeding my family!"- what a powerful experience for her.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


When we are all a little stir-crazy and just need a little walk to restart our brains or spirits, we have a bikepath we can walk to that will take us to our garden or, in the other direction, across the river and to the farm.  It is lovely, tree-covered, leaf-littered - sometimes we see deer, usually we see dogs, and the occasional snake or toad. But this isn't about the path, it's about getting home. 

There is a large hill in the way.  It is a beautiful stretch of the walk, covered overhead with conifers, but still. It's a hill. On the way home.

One day, when it was just the two of us, I was trying to coax Ani up the hill. She has finally gotten too big for me to carry far, and the hill is out of the question, so...we hold hands. We tell jokes. We pause for a little hug of encouragement. On this particular day none of this was really working, so in a flash of inspiration, our own version of "leapfrog" was born!! 
It starts when one (crazy) person runs up-hill a piece, then stops and gives forth with their best amphibious call.
Ani, "doing" the eastern spadefoot
Now, we're not talking your run-of-the-mill "ribbet". We're talking eastern spadefoot toad. Wood frog.  Green frog.  Peepers. The real deal. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! MAAAAAaaaaaaaaw. MAAAAAaaaaaaaaw. P-doing! P-doing!  meep,meep,meep,meep...
The other person echoes the call back to them, both pausing to croak for a few seconds. Then the second person, the one lower on the hill, runs up and past the first person a good distance, and stops, giving their very best call. And on and on, repeated until the summit is reached and both participants have laughed their way up the hill without even noticing the work involved.
Genius, no?

Monday, September 26, 2011

solitude and celebration

 There aren't many hours of solitude as a homeschooling parent or as the parent of a young child. You learn not to expect them, but it doesn't mean you don't sometimes long for them. After my post the other day, about the melancholy of this season, I was able to carve some long moments for myself that were so restorative.   The melancholy serves a creative, juicy purpose, if you have time to lend to it, and it doesn't take much.  While Dan was putting the girls to bed, I washed the dishes, staring at a cluttered and musty windowsill altar space that hadn't been consciously tended to for a couple of seasons at least. In the time it took me to clear the sill, wash it, dust its inhabitants, and carefully select a few things to put back up, my mind cleared, my heart lifted. I followed that with a long look at some old photo albums that actually made me laugh out loud (me as a girl scout, making doll-head tissue box holders with fake fur for hair for the lucky residents of the local nursing home.  me dressed for Halloween as frog eggs. a terrified me riding a pony, accompanied by my little peanut of a sister, who is doubled over laughing at my terror, as my feet almost reach the ground, yet I am hanging on for dear life. for starters.)  Restorative. I was ready for another day of Life!

Good thing, as the next day was my birthday! And since it was my birthday, this is how I got to spend it...
Ha ha!! Can you BELIEVE it?! I was giddy.
We spent most of the day with our friends-in-the-woods, who joked that they had "spored" the woods for me, in celebration of my birthday. The "golf course" was blanketed...HOLY WAH!!!!
 More of my beloved earth stars! Dozens of them! So tiny, and perfect...
 I was in good company. Maybe it was 'cause it was my birthday, but my love of the fungus was much indulged...Imagine me, chortling, eyes gleaming, prancing about s-l-o-w-l-y, trying not to step on anything but not wanting to miss a one! Hee hee!! Ha ha!!
dear E
Can you think of a more auspicious start of a new year for me? The reminder that with the rain comes great bounty? That just when you've imagined yourself into a corner, there are explosions of color and variety just waiting for you to shift your perspective and really look.
We celebrated mushrooms. We celebrated friendship with good food and wine and belly laughs.  My family loved me from morning till night - starting with a good cup of coffee in bed, through the gift of Mushrooms Demystified, through a walk and snuggles and my husband cooking up a storm, which he isn't always around to do with was a lovely, lovely birthday. Forty-two.
Pretty awesome.

Friday, September 23, 2011

school pictures - must be fall

 I opened the front door the other day to see all the school children from across the street assembling for a school-wide picture.  They filed in, class by class, and raised little American flags for the snap. The girls just watched...I asked if they'd like me to snap their photo...
Little beauties. Yes, school pictures and all, it feels like fall here this week.  Today is the equinox, and Eliza jokingly asked me if we had plans to go swimming again this year?  The cool rain we're having suits me, gives me a pocket to sit in with my thoughts and quiet mood. (I'm laughing at myself for using the word "quiet"; the girls' friend E. is over today, while her mama works, and there is little that is quiet about their play! I think some combination of the three just got married in the next room...) In any case, their play gives me some moments to myself, after a week of a lot of chatter and closeness from Ani (lovely on good days, overwhelming on not-so-good days).
 Fall holds such rich images of life and death for me, and it vibrates through me in a way the newness of spring does not.  On the good days it sets creativity coursing through me; on the not-so-good days it brings me a heavy coat of melancholy to wear.  This is the anniversary of my gramma's passing, the year we got married.  I remember the last time we spoke on the phone as if it weren't already eleven years in the past, and feel willing to hold the sadness of that for a little bit.  It is also the anniversary of some of our dearest friends' wedding on a beautiful day in the San Juan Islands (is there such a thing as a not beautiful day in the San Juans?).  Life and death.
 I read a version of the story of Persephone descending into the underworld to the girls last night, by flashlight, all of us on the bed under E's little fort.  In this telling of the story (from Circle Round), Persephone is not abducted into Hades' underground kingdom - she is a strong and curious young woman who courageously journeys into an opening in the ground, wanting to see where the beauty and life of the spring's seeds comes from. When she wedges herself further and further into the cave, she finds herself stuck, unable to turn around. After wandering around with some spirits for a while, she encounters Hades, who falls in love with her and offers her a queendom. Gradually (and with the help of six pomegranate seeds) Persephone starts to feel the power and the beauty of the underground world, and embraces her role as Queen of Fire.
 I loved this version for the power Persephone holds, even in the "undesirable" realm of the underworld. She is not a victim of death; she embodies the unseen side of the growth and beauty of her mother's bountiful spring and summer.  She finds where the seeds of that growth and beauty come from.
 It would be easy to give my power to the melancholy. To withdraw. To disconnect. I am looking for more fruitful ways to retreat, to live in that space without disappearing, to work with the richness that exists in these beautiful darkening days.