Monday, December 20, 2010

Halo repair

I discovered a new (to me) artist this morning: Brian Kershisnik. His work is whimsical, symbolic, colorful and... it moves me. His painting "Halo Repair" (which you can see here) in particular spoke to me, as I was sitting at the computer in my pink sock monkey slippers and blue waffle-weave bathrobe, getting a lazy start to my first day off from teaching home school.

It said, "This is what you need to do with the next two weeks."

Let's face it: my halo is tarnished, it hangs off center, and some mornings I forget to even take it out of my sock drawer and put it on. I've been running so fast over the last few months with school (while trying to squeeze in everything else), I haven't really stopped to refuel and now I'm down to fumes--oh, and I've been doing all that while trying to emerge from a lingering haze of grief which has only recently begun to lift.

My full but unglamorous life will go on for the next two weeks. I will continue washing and folding laundry, cleaning, cooking, changing diapers, mending, interceding in sibling disputes. For two golden weeks, however, I will have a few extra hours each day for reading the best books, searching words of scripture, writing a few new poems, and dusting off some old ones.

I plan to make the most of those hours, even if it happens to be while wearing my bathrobe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grateful

For the first time I can remember since this summer, I am finally feeling like all is right with my world. Not perfect, since my treadmill is still shutting down mid-workout after all my attempts to fix it, and just this morning our refrigerator threatened to go kaput (on the day before Thanksgiving, no less!), but still...

All is right.

I am myself again. I can write a poem--maybe a lousy poem, but I can write again. I can make my kids guffaw with terrible puns. I can pull out a screwdriver or vacuum cleaner to fix whatever breaks. I can be in the moment, whether it is sweet, stressful, or sad, and just be. I can breathe in and out. I can be happy, without fear that the other shoe will drop later this week, next month, or maybe even a year from now.

For this miracle, I give thanks.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Raking...


...is sometimes productive in unexpected ways.


Leaves

I used to revel in fall
to taste sweet amber light
to inhale life
with the crisp, smoky scent
of leaves spiraling down
in a thousand shades
of gold, crimson and brown

now each leaf
is gilded with lead
hurtling down

toward its inevitable decay

falling straight and hard
like a stone strikes the ground
like the hollow sound
of a heavy clapper clanging
the knell of death’s bell.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Día de los angelitos


I've mentioned in several previous posts that I have a thing for Día de los Muertos. Yesterday, the day after my baby would have been due, it was comforting to remember that November 1st is Día de los Angelitos, a day to honor children and infants who have died.


Día de los Angelitos

Yesterday
would have been the first day
for me to wrap you in a soft blanket
nuzzle you to my breast
stroke the down
in the warm hollow
at the nape of your neck.

Today
I pray if I cannot hold you
you are cradled instead
in the arms of heaven.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Preview of coming attractions




This morning our local library hosted a special Halloween story time, so Jimmy and Audrey had a dress rehearsal with their costumes. Other than a bit of screaming and yelling from Audrey about having her snarly hair pulled back into a ponytail, and the need for her to wear tights in the brisk autumn air, the operation was a resounding success. It was great to see that the costumes I've been working on all week fit well while being roomy enough to accommodate all the requisite Halloween capering.

By tomorrow evening, I'll have finished sewing my costume and Jim's, and our whole ensemble will be ready to debut at the annual trunk-or-treat...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

K-K-K-Katy


When I was twelve, I went to Detroit with my Nana. This trip was memorable for so many reasons, not the least of which was because it was my first time so far away from home without my parents. It was also my debut with pierced ears, pantyhose and high heels. We stayed at the RenCen with Auntie Joan (who was actually my mother's cousin) and Joan's daughter Virginia. And, most memorable of all, it was the first (and last) time I recall meeting my great-grandfather, Amos Earle Carle.

His health was poor, so our visit at his home wasn't long, but while we were there, he sang "K-K-K-Katy" to me. I had heard it before, over the phone, but hearing him sing it to me in person was so different. I can't remember why, but I happened to have a tape deck and recorded him. I still have the tape, tucked away in a box somewhere.

K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy,
You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore;
When the m-m-m-moon shines,
Over the cowshed,
I'll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.

It's an old World War I tune, written and composed by Geoffrey O'Hara. I'd never actually heard the entire song until tonight, when I googled it. Buddy Clark recorded this version in the 1930s:



Unfortunately, I also have a rather squicky memory of my middle school gym teacher Mr. Watson singing this song to me just a few years later. The same one who would look down the girls's shirts when we did our push-ups. Ewwww.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trippin'


Jim and Jimmy flew down to Austin, TX, last Thursday to visit with Jim's brother Jared and take in Austin City Limits.

I decided Audrey and I needed to do something fun, too--especially since they were going to be gone during my birthday--so we dropped the boys off at Seatac Airport and drove up to Anacortes. From there we took the ferry to Orcas Island, where my sister Dorothy lives. I had a great birthday: walking in the rain (which, believe it or not, I miss after five years in sunny central Washington), watching Audrey play on the beach, roller skating at the local school gymnasium, and eating the most delicious lunch ever, dungeness quesadillas at Chimayo in Eastsound.


Audrey had two firsts during the trip: riding a ferry and roller skating. Don't ask me what I was thinking, going roller skating for the first time in 20+ years to celebrate my 41st birthday. All I can do is marvel at the miracle that I didn't wipe out once--oh, and that Audrey was ready to stick a fork in it after two trips around the rink.

Salsa


Finally, finally I got to can something I grew myself!

The growing season here in Kittitas Valley was unusually short this year, but we still managed to get a few more tomatoes than we could eat from our plot in the community garden. I decided to put up some salsa so we could enjoy their sunny flavor during winter.

Tomatoes are one of those fruits (and yes, a tomato is a fruit) with a borderline acid content that makes it necessary to pressure can them for safe consumption unless you add acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, to the fruit before putting it in the jars and processing. I found an excellent booklet about canning salsa on WSU's website that explains the necessary proportions of tomatoes to acid to prevent botulism.

I used their Tomato/Green Chile Salsa recipe on page 11--with a few substitutions for seasoning and herbs. Instead of six cups of green chilis, I used a single jalapeño pepper (seeds and membrane removed). I also used a combination of lime and lemon juice in place of the vinegar, and added 1/4 cup minced garlic and a half a bunch of cilantro, finely chopped.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fourth time lucky

I've heard it said, "Third time's the charm" or "Third time lucky"--which is, apparently, an old Scottish proverb. However, I also remember from high school English that William Shakespeare always wrote his plays with misfortunes in threes, and used the rule of three extensively throughout his works (remember "Friends, Romans, countrymen..."? the three witches in MacBeth? and multiple uses of threes in Love's Labor Lost?--which, incidentally, has a title of three words that all start with L!)

But I digress... this post actually has nothing to do with Shakespeare, although it does have everything to do with bad luck coming in threes.

Back at the end of March, we bought a new (to us) minivan. It's a '93 Plymouth Voyager, but in spite of the age, it had been impeccably maintained and had a lot of nice extras. We checked it out carefully and everything seemed to be in great shape. We drove our new ride on our road trip to Zion National Park in April, and more than 2,100 miles later, it seemed to be running strong.

Then, over the Memorial Day weekend, we went for a Costco run to Yakima. Just over the crest of Manastash Ridge, barely ten miles into the trip, the transmission dropped. Fortunately, this particular model of minivan has a "limp home" mode. So, while the van wouldn't go above second gear, we were able to drive back to the 'burg (albeit at 35 mph with the hazard lights on) and a few days later, roll into the shop.

Shortly after Jim got back from Atlanta in mid-June, the van finished in the shop. They had replaced the transmission (we opted for a slightly less expensive refurbed option, which came with a warranty). We drove it for a few weeks, just around town, and everything seemed fine.

Then, at the beginning of August, I decided to take the van down to Yakima for another trip to Costco. I had Audrey with me, but Jim and Jimmy had gone down to Sunnyside to meet Jim's brother and pick up his Mariner's tickets. I hadn't even gotten two miles out of town when I noticed the van was running rough, sounding wrong, and wasn't shifting gears smoothly when I accelerated. I got off at the nearest exit, then pulled over to the side of the road. I called Jim to tell him what was going on, and let him know I was turning around and going home. But when I tried to restart the van, it seemed to be dead, so I called my sister-in-law to come pick us up.

After loading Audrey's car seat into Anna's van, I realized I had left my purse in my van and went back to get it. I noticed that the rear windows, which have automatic controls, were open and so I turned the key in the ignition to close them. To my surprise, the engine turned over and started. I told Anna I was going to try and drive the van home, so she kept Audrey in her van and followed me. My van died six times on the way home--pretty much every time I came to a complete stop--once, it was as I braked coming into an intersection. But I did make it home, and the next day, we limped the van into the shop (it died only three times on that trip).

A couple weeks later, the mechanics said they had fixed the problem and Jim went to pick the van up on his lunch break. When it died on his way home, he turned around and took it back.

About three weeks ago, we got the van back from the shop again, and decided to go on another Costco run to test out the tranny. We got all the way to Yakima, made several stops for various errands, but before we actually got to Costco, we started to have the old, by this time familiar, problem with shifting gears and running rough, although it wasn't continually, and we were able to drive home at normal freeway speeds. The next day the van was back to the shop. Again.

Finally, yesterday at lunch, Jim picked it up. The mechanics had replaced the transmission control module (a computer that tells the transmission to shift gears, for those of us who are mechanically disinclined) and Jim was optimistic we were finally at the end of our transmission odyssey.

Of course, we had to drive it to Costco last night for a test run. Not just because that has become the litmus test for the drivability of this particular vehicle, but also because my last set of contacts popped out in the shower yesterday morning, and I needed to pick up replacements. I'm pleased to say the trip was completely without incident, and on the drive home we realized we had actually forgotten to keep listening for any variations in the gears shifting.

The morals of this story? The Bard will be vindicated. Beware of trips to Costco. If at first you don't succeed, you'll need to try at least three more times.

Oh, and always, always spring for the few extra bucks for a warranty when you get major car repairs; we haven't had to pay for those last three visits to the shop.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Consider yourself warned

As Audrey was climbing up into her booster seat to eat lunch today, she announced, "Watch out! Here comes Audrey!"

Her father's remark was, "Now that's a life statement."

Considering the source, he couldn't be more right.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Yum


Go ahead and laugh; I would. Oatmeal is not one of those things you'd expect to inspire rave reviews, much less instant oatmeal. A couple weeks ago I bought a box of Oat Fit to put in my 72-hour kit. I had a few packets left over, so they've been sitting in my pantry.

Usually my standard breakfast is a slice of my homemade bread with some organic peanut butter and a glass of low-fat milk. Quick, but plenty of energy. I've been too busy to bake lately so I've been eating cereal for breakfast for a while. Yesterday morning I finished off the last of my only box of Grape Nuts. So when I got home from a walk in the rain this morning, and glanced around for something to warm me up, the oatmeal caught my eye.

While it was still cooking in the microwave, my mouth started to water because it smelled so good. What's truly amazing, is it tastes even better than it smells.

Did I mention it's sugar free? And no, I'm not getting paid for this post. It really tastes that good.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Three


More pictures here for those doting grandmas so far away...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quilt top done


Tonight after Audrey's in bed, I'll pin the top to the batting and backing. Since I'm tying the quilt instead of hand or machine quilting, and have cut the back slightly larger so I can fold it over to be self-binding, the assembly should go pretty quick!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Take me out to the ballgame




Back when Jim and I were dating and our relationship turned serious, I watched carefully for signs of sports obsession. I had gone out with a few guys who were rabid football or basketball fans, and it was a trait I disliked. Intensely. I asked some very pointed questions but as far as I could tell, he had little interest in professional sports, so I married him (not just because of that; he also makes the best brownies I've ever tasted).

Fast forward to seven years later, when I caught Jim watching a Mariners game on TV. I didn't worry too much, until it happened multiple times in one week, and then in overhearing him talk on the phone with his brother John about a recent game, I realized he knew the names of all the players. When I confronted him, he confessed he had played baseball in junior high and even managed his high school team when he didn't make the cut.

Rather than feeling betrayed by this latent love of baseball (which he had so successfully hidden from me during not just the critical courtship period, but the ensuing years as well) I tried to be open-minded. I tested the waters to see if it was something we could do together. I watched the next game with him, and found I actually enjoyed it.

We started following the Mariners on TV and going to a couple games a year, back when we still lived in Bellevue. We even took Jimmy once when he was very little, but we hadn't been to another game since we moved over the mountains.

Until last Saturday. Jim's brother John had tickets to some sweet seats (27 rows back behind the Mariners' dugout), but couldn't make the game due to other commitments, so he gave them to us.

When Jim asked Jimmy what his favorite thing was about going to the game, he said, "Everything." Pressed for specifics, he named (in this order) kettle corn, cotton candy and red vines. Asked the same question, Audrey--to my surprise--said, "Baseball."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Think tink


If Audrey had a kindred spirit, it would be Tinkerbell. She's got the same feisty, spunky, creative, slightly vindictive vibe going that I came to know and love watching Tink in "Peter Pan" when I was a kid. Given their similarities, it makes perfect sense to me that during the past six months, Audrey's affinity for all things Tink has reached full-blown infanity.

I've got a basket of Tink trinkets on the bathroom counter, which we use as potty training rewards for Audrey. She's got three different shirts with Tinkerbell, two pairs of Tink pajamas, not to mention books, movies and, well, you get the idea.

A couple weeks back I was cruising clearance racks at the local box store and came across a set of Tinkerbell bedsheets marked half off the clearance price of $24.99. They were for a full bed, but I knew I could cut them down to twin-size, re-sew them, and have some extra fabric left. I combed through the racks, found another set, and got them both, along with a king-size fitted sheet in a coordinating shade of pale lime green (also half-off the clearance price). I figured I could use as the lime green sheet as the backing for a quilt and the extra fabric from the twin sheets to piece a patchwork top.

When I got the sheets home and washed them, I discovered that the fabric of the Tink sheets was pretty flimsy and I wanted to make Audrey a sturdy quilt that could handle all the abuse she would undoubtedly put it through, as well as the requisite laundering. So I made a trip to JoAnn in Yakima and got several yards of calico fabric in shades of purple, magenta and green to match the sheets. I also picked up some lime-green cotton yarn to tie the quilt and some rick-rack to trim curtains and a bed skirt, which I'll make with the left-over fabric from cutting down the sheets.

Over the past few days, I've finished cutting the sheets down and re-sewing them, and just yesterday I finished cutting all the squares for the quilt top. Today's portion of the project will be cutting down the lime-green sheet to the right size for the quilt back, which I'll try and fit in somewhere between the four loads of laundry I need to do today.

Audrey is vaguely aware that I've got the sheets and all the other fabric in my room, but has no idea that her own bedroom is getting a makeover for her third birthday... mwah-ha-ha-ha!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Field trip report

Just like last year's report, this is copied and pasted directly from Jimmy's email to his advisory teacher. As before, he typed it himself.


Dear Miss Stevens,

here is my report about my field trip. my mom is going to some of the pictures of my field trip in this email.

have a nice summer

from Jimmy

:-)

On Friday July 9th I went on a field trip to the Pacific Science Center.

I learned three new things there. The first thing is bubbles always want to be round. That is because the air on the inside is pushing out in all directions. You can sometimes make bubbles a different shape by using a wire frame like a cube to make a cube-shaped bubble. Another thing I learned is liquid nitrogen is super cold. I watched Jeff a worker at the Science Center use liquid nitrogen to blast off a soda bottle rocket. I also learned about the owl butterfly which has markings on its wings that look like owl eyes to scare away birds that might eat it.

I saw three really cool things there. My favorite thing was the smell tests. They had bottles with smells inside like peppermint, vanilla, watermelon, pineapple, cherry, coconut and lemon. we had to guess which smell was which and my dad and I both got some wrong. My favorite smell was cinnamon. I also really liked the big white funnel with marbles that went around and around and around until they went into the hole. The last thing that I thought was really cool was the butterfly house. I liked it because there were lots and lots of butterflies. The most prettiest butterfly was the Blue Morpho. I also saw some butterflies in the pupa stage.

On Saturday July 10th I went to the Point Defiance zoo and aquarium.

My three favorite animals were the Lemon shark, budgies, and peacock. I liked the lemon shark because it was huge. Lemon sharks can be up to 10 feet long and can weigh as much as 200 pounds! Budgie is a nickname for the budgerigar parakeet. I got to feed birdseed on a popsicle stick to a blue budgie with a white head. I saw a big and colorful Indian peacock walking on the path in front of me. I took lots of pictures of it. The male peacock uses his fancy tail to attract females. One last cool thing I did was ride a dromedary. a dromedary is a camel with one hump.

I had so much fun and learned a lot on my field trip.







Friday, July 16, 2010

Missing the point

Yesterday, as I was cruising by MSN.com, I caught this segment of Meredith Viera interviewing Jennifer Senior, the author of last week's New York Magazine cover story, "I Love My Children; I Hate My Life".

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


For five seconds, I got rather indignant--until I slowed down, put the breaks on being judgmental (always my default), and asked myself why I felt that way.

What I came to is this: not surprisingly, indignation usually is my mask for feeling defensive. Upon closer examination, I found the "I hate my life" part a little too painfully close to how I felt until fairly recently. As was pointed out in the interview, many parents--myself included--are reluctant to admit the experience of child-rearing doesn't live up to their expectations. I would never have gotten pregnant if I had a sneak peek at what was waiting for me in the first three miserable months of sleep deprivation and breastfeeding agony after Jimmy was born--and that's before I even had to deal with him as a toddler. So to say it didn't live up to my expectations is a mild understatement.

Still, it's completely worth it. My experience has been that when I make my best effort to be a loving, compassionate parent, I always learn more from my children than I know I'm teaching them.

In many ways, waiting until I was in my 30s to have kids has made motherhood much easier for me: I was more emotionally mature and patient than I was in my 20s, and I had a chance to accomplish some educational and personal goals before raising a family. On the other hand, I also got more stubborn, more controlling, more entrenched in a self-centered way of life that was difficult for me to give up when the kids came along.

I reached a point where I knew the next logical step for my personal and spiritual growth was to have children--and that intellectual justification was coupled with a strong emotional and physiological desire for children, as well. I was committed to working through the challenges I knew would come, knowing I would be better for doing so, and also that I (hopefully) would be raising happy, healthy, kind, and productive children.

Even so, nothing prepared me for the reality of what motherhood is really like, how draining it is. As much as I thought I was mature and patient, having to devote so much energy, physically and emotionally, pushed all my buttons. Every last one of them. Only within the last two years have I acknowledged to myself and my husband the rather startling fear of having my kids suck the life out of me, and the tremendous guilt that comes with resenting them for it. Identifying this was a big breakthrough for me, and allowed me to finally move past both the fear and the resentment.

What I've learned as I've attempted to reconcile my fears of "losing myself" to my children's demands is this: control is an illusion. I can teach my children good manners, discipline them, and in so doing modify their behavior to a certain extent. What it all comes down to, though, is how I respond when my children exert their own wills in conflict with mine. Do I explode? Do I lecture? Do I yell? Do I lose my patience? Do I beat myself up for not doing a better job? Do I regret ever giving birth to them? Yes, at some point, any and all of those things.

Eventually, after I made all the mistakes I could think of, I started to learn what does and doesn't work for my kids and for me. I learned the only thing I can control is my own reaction, and I'm more happy when I choose to let go of being angry and resentful. I'm learning (still learning!) to choose my battles, to be patient, and to be calm. I'm also learning how to communicate with my partner, get support, and carve out time for myself to do those things that feed my soul and nurture my creativity.

More than anything, I'm learning the difference between "happy" and "rewarding". Life with kids can be happy, even euphoric, but much more often it is painful, tedious, smelly, embarrassing, frustrating, challenging, expensive and even sometimes tragic. Those experiences, though, are a necessary part of life, of being human, of the cosmic balance of opposition in all things. Life with both bitter and sweet is sometimes happy, but always, always, rewarding.

Looking back at the interview, I don't feel indignant anymore. I just think Ms. Senior and Ms. Viera missed the point. Yes, parenting is a challenge, but it's possible to transcend resentment and frustration by focusing on the intrinsic value of sacrifice and growth possible during the parenting experience.

What makes the struggle worthwhile for me is the opportunity to rise above myself and my hangups by being open to change and open to all the things parenting can teach me if I'm willing to learn.

That, and sloppy tucking-in-at-bedtime kisses.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What do you do...

...when you're at the grocery store and your kids start yelling and hitting each other because someone stole someone else's imaginary ice cream? C'mon kids, figure it out--I mean, what is the point of imaginary ice cream if you can't imagine that yours is magically impervious to poaching (and of course, freezer burn)?

It was tempting to leave them there, in the dairy aisle, to duke it out.

So tempting.

Monday, July 12, 2010

One month

Last Wednesday marked a month since the day I found out our baby died. Jim's parents were kind enough to give us a spot on the north edge of their property to bury him and we did it that evening, right before sunset. The grave is unmarked, except by a small Mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii).

My grandmother had a Mayflower viburnum in her yard, and now my mom has a couple, too. They're a sentimental favorite in our family because (I believe) my great-grandmother had them at her home on Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

Last night was one month since I delivered the baby. After the sense of closure I felt once we buried him, I was a little surprised at how raw my emotions were when I took time to reflect. I've been keeping busy, so I don't think about it as much as I did even a week ago, but it's all still there, so much intensity just below the surface.

It will take time, lots of time. That's okay; I'm going the distance.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Commissioned

Back in May, my mom approached me and asked me to write a poem for her. Not just any poem, but something for a specific event, with a specific audience. She's a nursing instructor at Highline Community College, just south of Seattle, and she wanted me to write a poem for her department's pinning ceremony.

My mother, aunt, and grandmother are all nurses. So, while I'm not one myself (ix-nay on the bodily fluids), I've always had a respect for them and the sense of calling my mom feels about what she does. I remember the end of my junior year in high school when she graduated with her RN, and all of us kids loaded into our station wagon to attend her pinning ceremony at SPU. There was something almost sacred about the lighting of the candles at the end, and I've never forgotten it.

For a few weeks before my miscarriage, I tried submitting the poem to several different nursing publications, and so I held off posting it here (I've gotten in trouble recently from one place in particular for trying submit work that I had published previously on my blog). I pretty much ran out of steam on trying to get it published, so here it is.

By the way, the reference to the "house of misery" in the first line of the fifth stanza is a nod to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about Florence Nightingale, "Santa Filomena".


The Keepers of the Lamp

We, the keepers of the lamp,
pass this gleaming flame of knowledge
from our practiced hands to yours.

May you see farther by it than we have,
lighting the way for those in your care
and one day kindling its glow in those you will teach.

May you always keep your lamp filled
with the pure oil of compassion,
which burns hot, clear and long.

May you care faithfully for your own vessel,
that in darkness you may bear light
without growing dim or going out.

May you tread softly in the house of misery,
for its beds are full and a careless footstep
can crush a mending spirit.

With hope and pride, we pass to you
this calling to listen, to care, to heal
for you are now, with us, the keepers of the lamp.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Cherry jam


One of Jimmy's favorite books
introduces the preposterous idea that it's possible to get tired of jam. Obviously, Frances' mother must have stocked her pantry with the store-bought variety, because as anyone who puts up their own preserves knows: there's no such thing as too much homemade jam.

Through Jim's folks, we got a great deal on Bing cherries; we bought 40 pounds at 50¢ a pound. We pitted and canned the first 25 pounds, which yielded 18 quarts. With the last 15 pounds, I made a quadruple batch of sugar-free cherry jam, and we still had a few pounds left over for eating fresh.

I used the same recipe from the pectin package as I did for the strawberry jam, but with a few additional modifications.

A single batch of cherry jam calls for three pounds of prepared fruit and the
equivalent of that is about one cup to one pound. Since cherries compress quite a bit when they are pitted and ground, I started with four heaping quarts of cherries--I measured them out in a big glass two-quart measuring cup, which I heaped as high as possible. Then I pitted the cherries before grinding them.

I fired up our KitchenAid stand mixer, used the food grinder attachment, and made a total of 12 cups of ground cherries. I simmered them down for about a half hour to thicken the consistency before adding the other ingredients.

Then I used half the amount of pectin called for, because when I cracked into a jar of my new strawberry jam on Sunday, I found that the texture was more like paste than jam--tasty paste to be sure, but a bit too thick for my liking. I also used less Splenda because I wanted to bring out the tart flavor of the cherries; I used 1 cup per batch.

The quadruple batch yielded 7 pints of jam, and I was very pleased with the results of my alterations to the recipe. The flavor was sweet but tangy, and the consistency was thick but not gelatinous. Ah, success!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Strawberry jam


Canning season has officially begun here at the Big Red House. On Thursday I picked up our order of Klicker strawberries from Winegar's, which sells them locally. The berries are a bit spendy (20 pounds set us back $50, but we did split the order with a friend, which helped)--though in hindsight, they were completely worth the cost because they arrived in a food-grade plastic bucket already hulled and sliced.

With all that prep work done, it only took me an hour to cook, can, and process my jam. This is the first year we've made strawberry jam, and I experimented with a sugar-free batch, while Jim made a batch of the fully-leaded variety.

I used the recipe from the "no sugar needed" pectin box, with a couple modifications. I doubled the recipe and added butter, which the pectin instructions recommended to reduce foaming. I also eliminated the cup of apple juice that was called for, and added lemon juice.

Sugar-free Strawberry Jam

4 cups prepared strawberries (hulled and sliced)
1 1.75-oz. package no sugar needed fruit pectin
1-1/2 cups artificial sweetener (I used Splenda)
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Prepare boiling water canner, jars, and lids.

2. Combine prepared berries in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan and mash gently to release juice. (The recipe didn't call for it, but I actually simmered my berries for 15 or 20 minutes while I was washing jars and getting the canning kettle boiling.) Gradually stir in pectin and lemon juice. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

3. Add artificial sweetener. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim if necessary.

4. Fill and seal jars. Process in water bath for ten minutes.

Yield: 4-6 half pints (doubling the recipe, I filled four pint jars)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hope




This morning I checked my blogroll and came across a link to this video on one of my favorite blogs.

I love Elder Holland because I remember him being the president at BYU when I went there so long ago, and he has always had such a gentle way with telling a good story. This made me cry, but for the first time in two weeks I cried with tears of hope.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flying solo, day #15

Jim's flight is in the air somewhere near the Georgia-Tennessee border. Only a few hours to go...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Flying solo, day #11

Today I loaded the kids up and we drove to Yakima for a Costco run. Grieving or not, we were out of cheese and lunch meat, and two sandwiches away from no more peanut butter. My first foray back into being in public was relatively pain-free, at least until I tried to lift a 45-pound bag of cat litter.

On the plus side, I used fewer Kleenexes today than yesterday--though I'm still trying to sort through whether it actually makes me feel worse that each day I am crying a little less, that in a few months I will no longer feel this keen sense of loss, that someday I may forget how much I loved this little person who was with me for such a short time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Flying solo, day #9

I went in for an ultrasound on Monday and we discovered that the baby had died. On Wednesday afternoon I was admitted to the hospital to induce delivery.

Friday night, just before 8 o'clock, I gave birth to a tiny baby boy. He weighed about 9 and a half ounces, and looked so much like Jim and Jimmy.

I got home from the hospital yesterday.

Physically, my recovery has gone smoothly--very quickly, compared to what I experienced after having Jimmy and Audrey by c-section--and that's something to be grateful for, as it's allowed my to channel my energy toward the much more arduous emotional recovery.

I've been surrounded by family and friends who have supported me, fed me, rubbed my feet, sat silently with me, held me while I sobbed, and left me alone when that was what I needed most.

Today I'll be spending a lot of time writing in my journal. I want to capture all this while it is still fresh in my mind, and before the kids return home later in the day.

All the wonderful thoughts, prayers and love being sent my way are very tangible to me, and I thank all of you. I'm getting through this, one minute at a time.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Flying solo, day #4

Yesterday I went in for my monthly prenatal exam, and we couldn't hear the heartbeat. My OB reassured me that often happens, for whatever reason--the location of the baby in my uterus, the placenta being in the way, etc. So he asked me to come in a couple hours later for an ultrasound, just to be sure everything was normal.

I brought Jimmy and Audrey along, thinking they'd be thrilled to get a sneak peek at their new sibling.

Right away, my doctor knew something was wrong: no movement, no heart beating. It was surreal in those first few moments, because I had felt the baby move, a gentle flutter, I thought, earlier that morning, and hadn't been worried even when the doppler didn't pick up the heartbeat.

Over the next few days I'll be undergoing a procedure to help me deliver the baby, and will probably be in the hospital for a couple days starting tomorrow afternoon. Already I've had so much support and help from family and friends, which has made this burden much more bearable. I'm so grateful to know that I'm not alone through this experience.

I also know that in the coming weeks as I sort through it all, that support will continue to be an anchor to me, as well as the deep faith inside me, which has actually grown stronger even in the last few hours. I don't know anything about how or why or what, but I know in time I'll be blessed with the grace to move forward, even not knowing.

If you call or email me and I don't pick up or respond, please know that I'm still grateful you're thinking of me--just in a very raw place right now--but no less grateful.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Flying solo, day #2

weeks of pregnancy: 19
time Audrey crawled into bed with me: 6 a.m.
minutes laid awake until alarm was supposed to go off: 90
minutes early to church: 10
dishes cooked Jim hates: 1
kids in this house who hate chicken divan: 2
kids in this house to be bathed before bedtime: 2
days till Jim gets home: 13

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Flying solo, day #1

Shepherd's pie. I love it. Jim hates it. With him gone, I jumped on the chance to cook it for dinner, which I haven't done since before we were married.

Jim will be pleased to know the kids side with him when it comes to shepherd's pie. Though Jimmy did ask me if there were more of the mashed potatoes with cheese melted on top, just by themselves.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cocoon

I had a glucose screen last week because my OB wants to stay ahead of the game if I develop gestational diabetes again. My test results came back borderline, so I had to do the more involved 3-hour screen on Monday, with a total of four blood draws.

Because I eat so little sugar any more (usually as a minor ingredient in things like bread or condiments), these tests really took it out of me. The rush of sugar made me so sick that I was tired and nauseated for 12 hours after. It was worth it, though; the results of the 3-hour test came back negative. So at least for a little while, I'll enjoy not having to poke myself four times a day. I do fully expect to wind up with gestational diabetes later on, though.

This week I realized I've been isolating myself a bit. Not on purpose, really; more out of self-preservation. I've been wrapped up in this tight little kid-centric cocoon: potty-training Audrey, powering through the final month of the school year with Jimmy (our last day of school is June 14), and bonding with baby #3, who I can finally feel flutter-kicking inside me.

It dawned on me yesterday that I need to start reaching out even if the urge to isolate continues, because at the beginning of June, I'm staring down the barrel of two weeks of flying solo while Jim does job-related training in Atlanta. No matter how much I feel like withdrawing now, I'm going to be starved for conversation and interaction with adults by the time Jim rolls back into town on June 19.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Abundant eternity

Reincarnation promises a certain
pleasing cosmic economy
in its efficient recycling
of the same few souls
working their way
across eternity’s furrowed field
one life at a time
in a world where none
are truly strangers
but are only meeting
for the first time
again
hoeing their rows
beside each other
again
and again.

I’m not sure why
but I can’t help chafing
at such a frugal
mean
careful
and spare universe.
I long to believe in an eternity
that is abundant
rich
generous
even extravagant
where I am
the only version of myself
a lavishly created single body
housing a single soul
that together
are
and always will be
me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

T-t-tuesday

Today we drove down to Yakima so Jimmy could have a lingual frenectomy. He's been tongue-tied since birth (a congenital anomaly that runs in Jim's family), which wreaked havoc with trying to breastfeed him until we had his pediatrician snip his frenulum to open it up a bit. At the time Jim was convinced that she didn't snip it enough, but I noticed such a dramatic improvement with nursing I didn't really pay much attention to his concerns.

Recently, though, it's started to impact Jimmy's speech. While the lisp is barely noticeable, we decided it should be addressed before he gets any older. Jimmy's dentist here in town couldn't do the procedure, so he referred us to a pediatric dentist down in Yakima. They had to put Jimmy under so he'd be completely still to prevent them from accidentally severing any nerves around the base of his tongue.

Jimmy, in spite of his usual reticence about dentists, and some real anxiety about this particular visit, performed like a champ. He didn't complain at all about not having anything to eat this morning (12 hours of no food or drink because of the general anesthesia), and when he got to the dentist, he didn't put up any resistance about taking the meds they gave him. Jim took the day off and stayed with him at the dentist's office.

Meanwhile, Audrey and I took a trip just down the road to Walmart in search of that holy grail of toilet training: big girl underpants. Did I mention we started toilet training this week? The prospect of having two in diapers is a big motivator to get it done earlier with Audrey than we did with Jimmy.

Not just any underpants would do, though—it had to be Tinkerbell underpants. The $7.75 pricetag for a seven-pack of panties (the exact same pack Macy's sells for $11.95) was enough to get me over any lingering qualms I have about the general PC-ness of shopping at Walmart. That, and for a buck apiece I will be able to dole out a pair of new panties every day she goes potty and make the magic last at least two whole weeks.

Of course, we also had to get the floppy-brimmed Tinkerbell sun-screen hat. And after picking up the boys, we stopped at Target to find sandals for Jimmy, and wound up with a pair of Tinkerbell flip-flops for Audrey while we were at it. So now she's kitted out in sparkly purple Tink, head-to-toe, inside and out.

Getting used to having a girly-girl is still an adjustment, after four solid years of snakes, snails and puppy-dog tails. I do find myself painting my toenails more often than I used to.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Secret life, revisited

I got an email last night from a guy who was at the Kim Stafford workshop. He runs Cave Moon Press, and is currently taking submissions for an anthology, the proceeds of which will benefit local food banks. He remembered my "Secret Life" poem from the workshop and asked if I'd want to include it in the anthology.

Uh, yes.

My only problem is the title, which, as he pointed out, is a bit redundant considering the text of the poem. So I asked my friends (via Facebook) to suggest some alternate titles, and brainstormed last night while I was working on another square of the anniversary quilt. I thought of "Undercover", "In the Interest of Full Disclosure" and "Domestic Disclosures". My friend Holly suggested "Preservation" and "Poem". But I really latched on to my friend Naomi's suggestion, "True Stories", which I spun off to come up with the title that I think I will stick with.


Four True Stories and Three Lies

My secret life is sealed
in a Mason jar with peaches and cinnamon
after a ten-minute bath in a boiling kettle.

My secret life is disintegrated
in my husband's front pocket
with a paycheck stub that went through the wash.

My secret life is congealed
in a pint carton of buttermilk
left in the spare fridge last summer.

My secret life is blooming
in the lilacs my daughter stops to smell
after I rush on by.

My secret life is folded
in the Mother's Day card
I was too busy to mail.

My secret life is eaten
in the strawberries my son steals off the vine
when he thinks I don't see.

My secret life is sewn
in the seams I stitch with black thread
because I ran out of navy blue.