The Downside of Cool

Back when I was still knee-deep in needy newborns, it was hard to conceive of a day like today.  A day that loomed out there, somewhere in a future where children attended school all day and I would have hours upon hours of fulfilling self-reflection and silent contemplation.  Well, it’s here. Today is the first day in nine years that I loaded both of my big girls onto the school bus, not to return until 3:00pm.  Pass the bon-bons;  I’ve got six hours of silent bliss.  I will write a novel.  I will read all the editorials.  I will cook a meal the likes of which gourmets round the world will clamor to taste.

Or I’ll strip every bed and rip up the rugs and douse the entire house in bleach and lemon-scented spray stuff.  Anything that will increase my chances of breathing through my nose once again.

Don’t be fooled.  These are no ordinary allergies.  They laugh in the face of Benadryl, my trusted old friend that typically knocks me out faster than a blow to the head with a falling piano.  And the sneezes just keep coming.

My waking hours are spent buried in a box of tissues, and I haven’t slept in days.  I swear last night would have been better if someone filled my pillowcase with freshly cut grass and a bag of kittens and then wrapped their fluffy little tails around my eyes as a blindfold.

I have been so busy ooohing and aaahing over the delightfully cool weather and the extra dose of lush rain that I didn’t stop to consider the consequences.  Something new is growing out there, and it does not play well with me.

The doctor gave me an appointment for next week, and extracted my sincere promise not to step foot outdoors until then.  In the meantime to rid my house of lurking pollen  I am dousing every inch with a bottle or two of bleach.  Cleaning isn’t really my thing, but if it will buy me an hour or two of snot-free sleep, I’m in.  And since I’ve only got a few hours left in this precious gift of a day nine years in the making, I’d better run and dump more bleach into the laundry and see about some dust monsters under the couch.

Yes, these are tears in my eyes.  It’s all this sneezing, of course.  It’s purely coincidental that this morning I bid farewell to my little darlings as they set out for first and third grade, so big and so grown-up already.  Of course my eyes are itchy and red.  Allergies or not, that is the price I pay for watching my babies morph into real people right before my very eyes.

Grid, Shmid…We Can Do It All On Our Own

Thanks to Grandmother’s garden, we need never go hungry.  I have eaten more than my fill of salad greens and herbs and snap peas, though they have yet to convert me into a beet lover. (Yes, I know all about how delicious they are.  Now run along and enjoy them and leave me out of it.)  Despite reaping the rewards of a garden well-equipped to feed 976 vegetarians for twenty two years, we felt like we needed a little more.  Lucky for us Grandma’s sidekick was up to the task.

That’s a seven and a half pound fluke being hefted by Grandpa Mikey.  And yes, seven and a half pounds of fish is so big that it pushed all but Grandpa Mikey’s forearm from the frame.

There are a million ways to prepare fresh fish, but it really doesn’t get better than fried.  Here’s how we do it.  Even my kids beg for seconds, and they’re barely bigger than that fluke.

Fresh fish offers more than a great meal.  If you’ve got a retired surgeon on hand, you can use the carcass as a lovely stained glass window.

That’s Grandpa Mikey: world-class fillet master, and a talented boat builder to boot.  Last year he built an adorable little sailing dory for his grandchildren.  Dave took Kira and nephews MJ and Evan for a row around the bay sans mast.

This year Grandpa is trying his hand at kayak-building.  I may be biased, but I think he’s pretty darn good at it.

Grandpa also pulled some strings and entered the girls in a marine naturalist camp. They strolled the beaches, collected specimen, and learned all about life in, on and around the water.  If you have been wondering how to tell the difference between male and female fiddler crabs, Kira is your source (hint: she told me that the males have one big claw.)

All questions about hermit crabs or star fish should be directed to marine expert Acadia.

Fun fact of the day:  A baby oyster is called a spat.

Down at the Ole Watering Hole

Life was busy on the farm in North Carolina.  But after the horses were ridden and the eggs were collected, it was time to relax.  The kids grabbed their poles, hit the pond,

and terrorized the local teeny-tiny trout population.

After all of the baby fish had been caught and released, we left them to recover and joined the cows who had mosied south for fresher pastures in South Carolina.  Everyone was thrilled with the new digs, which were rustic, near the cows,

and close to the old watering hole.

The kids were as happy as cows grazing on organic grass.  While there may be no creature quite as content as frisky old Fernando, I’d wager that these heifers were just about as happy as, well, as happy as children playing for hours down at the watering hole.

The Proffitt farm is the source for grass-fed beef in the Charlotte, NC area.  And for the three days that we were lucky enough to count ourselves as locals, we partied like carnivores.  I’m not typically a meat-eater, but eating grass-fed beef is as much like eating conventional meat as a rain puddle is to the Pacific Ocean.  It’s a totally different experience, for the cows, for the carnivores, and for the earth.  Visit their site to learn more about the benefits of eating locally raised, sustainable grass-fed beef, some of which include lower fat content and higher omega-3.

It tastes a whole lot better too.

The Facts of Life, thanks to the farm

Just minutes after we were officially welcomed with a beautifully carved sign, mountain views and clean restrooms–

we got our REAL welcome to life on the farm–

There it is, the facts of life in your face.  You might be thinking, especially if you recall what happened over winter break, that I bring out the frisky in animals.  Perhaps I do.  Either way, it provided a fitting conclusion to the conversation that I recently had with the girls; THE conversation.  The one about eggs and sperm and making babies that, in retrospect, I might have left a little open-ended.  Thanks to Fernando and Bovina for the visual that effectively fielded any remaining questions.

Kira watched the action, observed the cow’s blase demeanor despite the considerably-sized bull behind her, and wanted to know “does she even know that he’s there?”  Take another look at that picture. Talk about your high expectations.

I can only assume that’s what these crazy kids discussed on their first date. Sure that’s my eight year old being driven around by a boy, but hey, life on the farm follows it’s own timeline.  And when he asked her join him on a jaunt to spread manure in the fields, Kira leaped at the chance.

While the eight year olds pondered life’s deeper questions, back at the barn…

Acadia got friendly with the horses,

and helped feed the chickens. They even convinced the hens to give up a bunch of eggs too. I’m starting to think that I haven’t been fulling utilizing the farming capabilities of these girls.

We frolicked with fish, moved the cows, and mucked the muckity-muck from the horse stalls.  But still, my heart belongs to the true wild child of the farm, Rasta Chicken.  I know looks aren’t everything, but try telling that to this fine looking lady —

Superior hair style not-withstanding, my little Rasta Hen isn’t getting her fair share of the lovin’.  Most of the time she sits alone in a corner, missing out on the hen-house gossip and the attention of the resident rooster.  I’m no farmer, but look at that gleam in her beady eye.

This lady knows her birds and bees. Just give her a chance to prove it.

Strawberry picking in the pouring rain

The hazy images dancing in my brain of what life on the farm, in particular, life with my family on the farm, looks like, may need a bit of adjusting.  Last year, everything went according to plan.  We set out for the farm to pick strawberries, and after a few glorious hours of basking in the sun and snacking on warm berries, the sunset bled down on my happy golden girls.

This year the scene was a little different.

It was chilly and wet, and there was a threat of a serious thunderstorm that we had to out-pick.  On the plus side, we were the only nutjobs people picking on this stormy 50 degree day.  And that waving wheat sure smelled sweet as the wind blew in before the rain (Oklahoma fans in the house?)

Our little farm hands were game and smiled, at least for a few minutes.  That’s about how long it took for the first drips of cold rain to trickle down their necks and into their shoes.  But we pressed on.  There was no time to stop and taste the berries; we had a box to fill before lightening put an end to all this farming fun.

Maybe I was a little tough on my pickers, what with fingers turning blue and lips chattering, but I had this idea in my head, this sunshiny, farm-freshy ideal to be lived up to.  Besides, I wanted those berries.   So no, that thunder clap was not too close.  And no, that cow is not mooing extra loud because he got hit by lightning.  Less questions, more picking.

Cold day aside, we were lucky for the chance to pick berries, albeit in the snow, up hill, both ways.  Just days after we picked, the farm got drenched with almost 3 inches of rain, decimating the berry patch and forcing other, less hearty CSA members to go strawberry-free.

Meanwhile, we lucky ones dried off, warmed up, and bellied up to a box filled with the delicious fruits of our labor.

Rain clouds, rhubarb and cowboy boots

On the plus side, the unexpected plethora of water falling from the sky has turned our arid yard into a backyard jungle.  It’s just been a bit unfortunate for my little swimmers, who have been turning blue with cold while dodging thunderstorms at practice.  Acadia addressed the issue by pairing her swim suit with cowboy boots. That girl isn’t just trendy, she’s practical as well.

Sure it’s muddy and chilly, but oh how the garden does grow.  Check out this rhubarb plant from the Cretaceous period–

It’s not really prehistoric, but I do think it was sizing up my children for its lunch.

That Brontosaurus rhubarb plant isn’t one of mine.  We admired it in the yard of artist Tiffany Koehn, who gave us a personal tutorial on glass blowing.  She makes gorgeous jewelry and lamps in outrageous colors like these–

She let the kids pick out colored glass to create their own charms,

and even gave them each a chance to take the blow torch for a spin.  No, Mom, I’m kidding. Tiffany kept a firm grasp on the torch while we watched from a safe distance.

Meanwhile, back at our ranch yard, the potatoes have been eagerly soaking up all the rain.

I can’t imagine what’s doing beneath the dirt, but a few more days of precipitation and we’ll be climbing those potato stalks to a castle in the sky.  Not far behind are the strawberries, which are still rock hard and green, but crazy plentiful this year.

I have told them that we’ll be hitting the road soon and I expect ripened berries within the week. Likewise with the raspberries, which are all abuzz with bees but remain curled up in small green nubs.  They also seem determined to ignore my schedule and start ripening just about the time we load up the car.

Come on garden.  I’m not asking for much.  Just a taste of your sweet fruit before we leave town, and a little bit of respect for my schedule.

Roly-poly pavilion now open!

On Saturday morning, while I was busy disengaging the wild raspberries from the strawberry patch and moving weeds to make room for rainbow chard seeds, my daughters had more pressing matters at hand.  The pine needle roof of the fairy home, constructed specifically to allow for shade and breezes, had blown over. At least now we had our answer as to what was keeping the winged nymphs from moving in.

The girls set right to work…but you know contractors.  No sooner had they promised to address the structural issues that had befallen the fairies then another job demanded their attention:  the roly-polies had arrived, and they needed a pavilion. Stat.

Ahhh the roly-poly, characterized by an ability to roll into a ball when disturbed.  Not that I am criticizing.  After all, I’ve got access to happy hour.  Who’s to say that without that half-priced vodka tonic I wouldn’t be curled up in a ball myself?

The girls whiled away the afternoon, attending to the myriad needs of the bugs of our backyard.  Girls will be girls, you know.  And for my girls, even the smallest moth deserves healthcare with respect. Which explains Kira’s rage at her father, who, as she reported to me during my absence, “refused to call an entomologist,” despite her beloved moth’s “near-death state.”

I know. I can hardly believe I’m married to such a cold-hearted snake.  Refused his children the right to see an entomologist?  What kind of monster indeed?

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s my fault for setting the bar too high when I phoned in for back-up from the Humane Society to help out with that baby bird last year.

Or maybe Daddies just don’t understand the special bond between a girl and her moth.

And pretty babes all in a row

According to the gardening gurus it’s time to plant potatoes, but all I’m doing is eating a whole lot of doughnuts.  Ahhh, the anti-healthy all-terrible non-nutritional terrific-tasting doughnut.  Nothing takes the sting out of stress like a deep friend treat dipped in chocolate.  And I’ve been a bit stressed lately, what with my eight year-old almost losing an eye and my newborn nephew pulling an extended stint in the hospital. So yes, I’ve been eating some doughnuts.

I did have bigger plans.  Plans of planting potatoes and nurturing newborns but then Kira caught the business end of a boomerang with her face and then it snowed, again, covering the garden and then there were stitches to be removed and airplanes to catch and a new nephew to be hovered over and so much for plans.  You can see how there was really little time for anything other than a doughnut.

So here I am in Boston where it is springtime in spades.  With everything so lush and bursting from the ground it’s impossible to believe that this gorgeous guy has to hang out and wait for his lungs to mature. I guess he spent his time in the womb working on his fancy hair-do.

Sure, plans of planting potatoes morphed into pacing in front of digital read-outs of oxygen levels, but that’s alright. I really don’t care. The numbers look terrific. And so does little Miles.

Anyways, plans are silly. Who needs them?  The potatoes can wait.  And so can I.

Especially when it comes to snuggly newborns.

And chocolate-covered doughnuts.

Woodpeckers are such total losers

Ok, maybe not all woodpeckers are losers.  But the one that’s been pounding on our gutters at the break of dawn for two weeks most certainly is.

Our loser is a northern flicker, described as having a black or red mustache extending from the beak to below the eyes.  If I were him, I’d blame the mustache for his failure to attract a female from this side of 1970, but what do I know?  Maybe he’s never seen himself.  Besides, my sole attempt at matchmaking in nature has been centered on the sex lives of squash.  Maybe our mustacheo-ed friend is more complex than your average gourd, dating-wise, that is.

Running on no sleep, fueled by a caffeine+sudafed buzz, I hit the internet.  Turns out that this particular ‘pecker was “drumming.” Drumming is a territorial act. It serves to warn other woodpeckers and also to attract a mate.  Because nothing says sex like the drum of a jackhammer at dawn…

Well, it wasn’t working.  No ladies appeared to convince Romeo to stop with the pounding and get to the pounding, if you know what I mean.   And since Romeo’s lack of success was causing severe distress amongst those of us on the receiving end of the metal clanging, action was required.

I found this nugget online–

Federal law protects woodpeckers, so killing them can be a difficult option.

Um, call me a pacifist, but shouldn’t killing always be a difficult option? The site continued:

…the US Fish & Wildlife Service can grant a permit for $25 for you to use lethal methods.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but aren’t all killing options lethal?  Perhaps they meant legal, but I don’t know. The idea of killing a guy just because he’s striking out with the ladies didn’t sit well with me.  There had to be a better way.

And there was: mirrors.  A mirror, I read, would challenge the territory of our feathered Romeo, and send him packing.  Either that, or it would afford him a nice long look at that mustache and convince him to make the necessary changes to become luckier at love.

And so it came to pass that Dave climbed to the roof and prepared for battle, armed with nothing more than a ball of twine and an old vanity mirror:

I write the happy conclusion of this little vignette fresh from 8 hours of sleep.  We are the champions, my friends.  With nothing more than smoke and mirrors, we triumphed over that little pecker.

And we all slept happily ever after.

I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger..once a week?

It appears that I have gotten myself into a bit of a spot.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled when something I write reverberates with a reader.  It’s just that this time, some of my readers have taken a suggestion I made a little too seriously.

Make that one reader in particular: my husband.

Seems he’s gone whole hog (pun intended) on this concept of dragging our family onto the meat-free bandwagon.  Damn.  Talk about your selective reading.  What happened? Did he miss the part about the climate change chocolate bars? Ten years of marriage and he still can’t sort through my pretty-sounding rhetoric to get at the solid (dark, chocolate) core of my argument?

Perhaps he’s forgotten about the youngest in our household?  Our little bacon-loving fiend will not take lightly to his proposed plan. Which, by the way, I think he’s calling Let Them Eat Tofu.

Ironically, I’m pondering his plan as I type away here at the kitchen table, draped in the aroma of Asian BBQ ribs that is wafting out from our crock-pot.  I don’t care what you say — no matter how long I steep the broccoli, it will never smell this good.

But I know, it’s bigger than that.   It’s one thing to have a quiet little tug-o-war with my conscience over doing right by my body.  But when it’s out here in the open, and the balance of our planet is at stake? Well, that makes it a little harder to garner support for the id side of my rope. (That’s the side that’s whining over the prospect of missing a tasty burger, not to mention the overwhelming challenge of coming up with week after week of meat-free dinners when I’m already maxed-out over what to feed my group every single day.)

That’s it, actually.  I despise the never-ending ritual of figuring out what to eat for dinner.  Taking the meat out of the meals makes that task all the more daunting. It’s intimidating….intimidating, yes, but wait a minute.  Surely this is not impossible for a multi-tasking, masters-degree wielding mama like myself.  What if I were to just tackle that bull broccoli by the horns right here, right now?  It only follows that my food-figuring fears will be put to rest.

Here it is then.  A sample week in the life of the Let Them Eat Tofu meal plan:

  1. Day One:  Spinach Lasagna.  So far so good. I love spinach lasagna. This is going to be a snap.
  2. Day Two: Eggplant Parmesan.  Tastes like chicken, right?
  3. Day Three: Pancakes. Meat-free recipe. No additional trip to the store. Everyone’s a winner.
  4. Day Four: Um. Hmm… Cake! Cake for dinner. Cake contains exactly no meat.
  5. Day Five:  Let them eat cake! Again! This is not bad at all. What was I worried about?
  6. Day Six:  Pass the syrup, pancake night is here again.
  7. Day Seven:  On the seventh day, I rest. Someone please order take-out.

Truth be told I didn’t review this menu with Dave before I posted it.  Just in case he finds fault with my weekly plan, maybe I can get him on board with meat as an occasional treat, presuming we go for the good stuff, locally raised, grass fed meat. It is a bit more pricey, but since we’ll only be eating it during the harvest moon and on alternative leap years, it’s well worth the splurge. Locally raised means a smaller carbon hoof-print for the earth, and grass fed beef is loads healthier for us people too.  It’s lower in fat and higher in omega 3, among other benefits.  Let’s see what Mr. No-need-for-chocolate-if-we-skip-the-meat has to say about that.

Speaking of chocolate, I’m still waiting for my climate change bars to come in.  Which means I’m back to figuring out what on earth to make for dinner tonight.

I think you know where I stand.  Let them eat cake.