Figuring Things Out

Belén is putting on mascara and I’m standing behind her, looking at her new cross-country hoodie. The one with her name lettered on the back.

“I’m so glad they got the accent right! Isn’t your name beautiful, Belén?” I say to the back of my daughter’s head. She puts the wand back in the bottle and leans closer to the mirror.

“Like imagine if we had just kept calling you by your first name. Belén is different, Belén is Spanish and palm trees and the Southern Cross. Belén has a story behind it.”

“Mmm,” she says, continuing with her lashes.

Her response isn’t enthusiastic enough for me, so I keep going while I walk down the hall to wake up Vivi. “And no one else in your high school has that name!”

I turn on the light in Vivi’s room and she growls at the brightness. I back my way out and decide to make porridge instead. Besides, it will be easier to continue my conversation.

While I dump oats in the pot I twist my head towards the hall and Belén’s bedroom. “No one else in our whole town! There’s probably not even another Belén in our whole province!” I yell. (One of the advantages of a compact house is the ability to continue to talk, or argue, with someone at the opposite end.)

Belén runs past me and jams her feet into her boots. While she pulls on the heels she looks up. “Well, it would be even more awesome if people knew how pronounce it,” she says. I have to concede with her on this point. Despite explaining that it’s just like the French Hélène (eh-LEN), except with a B, people tend to come up with their own interpretations. “Belle-ZEEN”, “Bah-LANE” and “BEV-elynne” are a among our favourites. “It’s not that I hate my name,” she explains, “I’m just not as thrilled about it as you are.”

And that’s when I start laughing.

“Oh, I know… I get it now… I’m a four and you’re not!” I say, as if I’ve just remembered something as simple as my own name. “I’m motivated by the fear of being ordinary– being the same as everyone else–and you, you must be different than me.” I’m talking as it dawns on me. Of course I knew before that we weren’t identical, but all of a sudden it’s as plain as the sun rising across the street; she and I are wired differently.

I’m remembering the Enneagram graphic Katrina sent me a couple weeks earlier. The one I looked at for 90 seconds, then pegged myself as a number 4. Of all the motivating fears presented (anger, your own needs, failure, pain, uselessness, ordinariness, deviance, conflict, weakness), fear of being ordinary was the most relatable. Althought many of my friends have been talking about the Enneagram for the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve never looked into because there’s always something more pressing on my agenda. But let’s face it, the real reason is that everyone else is on this bandwagon so I’m certainly not jumping on because, of course, I want to be different.

My daughter looks at me strangely. “What are you talking about?” she asks as her backpack bangs against the frame of the kitchen doorway.

“Oh, I just figured this thing out. You and me? We’re different.”

Besides learning about the Enneagram (wait–is there a personality analysis that pegs people who write about the Enneagram without actually knowing anything about it?) there is more figuring out happening in our home. Figuring out how to throw a cup on the pottery wheel. Figuring out the right embouchure for the trombone. Figuring out how to spike and overhand serve a volleyball, figuring out which key words will award a grant for Wonderscape, figuring out how to purchase a new violin, figuring out how to play the cello, figuring out how to discuss the status of your relationship during a play-date and avoid you’re-not-my-best-friend-anymore antics, figuring out how to complete a paper route in record time, figuring out how to vent a fireplace, break up cement and move a bathroom.

Despite all the discovery happening around me, it’s not rubbing off in every area of my life. When it comes to hammer drills and busting concrete I have the opposite of a growth mindset.

My head is in the rafters as I hoist the heavy tool above me. Dust clouds my safety glasses and my shoulders vibrate as the metal bit attacks the concrete while I brace my body against the step-ladder. A tear rolls down my cheek. But I’m not sad, I’m mad. Mad it’s so hard. Mad I have to do this. Mad at the renovations. Mad I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be.

I release the trigger, pull off my ear-muffs and head to the workshop. On the way I rehearse my statement. Nothing too emotional or inflammatory. When I open the door Stan is bending over the vice. He looks up and raises his eyebrows.

“I’m not doing it,” I say as evenly as I can, trying to contain myself. “It’s too hard and too heavy. I’ll do grunt work, haul, carry, shovel, dig, but I will not use the hammer drill.”

I’m done with power tools. This is number three on my list of Things I Don’t Have To Do Anymore*. Because with all the improvement and learning going on around here there are still things I’m giving up on, things that make me throw up my hands and throw in the towel. This is where the learning-buck stops. For now, anyways.

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Belén has started learning cello (after being inspired by a very cool cello teacher at Kenosse Lake Kitchen Party)

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so many new sounds at our home…

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We’re hosting a pottery workshops at our place in exchange for some wheel instruction with Marea (of Freba Pottery)… This is the wheel Stan and his dad fabricated last Christmas. It works!

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*Things I don’t have to do anymore: 1. Drink alcohol (in spite the fact my husband brews beer, cider, wine, mead and schnapps) 2. Perform musically 3. Use power tools

Notes on Generosity, Writing and Change

I’m wearing gloves and wielding a knife. Jalapeños litter my cutting board and papery garlic skins float along the counter. My mom is dumping a bowl of green peppers into the food processor when the phone company technician opens our back door and sniffs.

“Mmm, smells good,” he says with an accent. Indian, maybe? He nods appreciatively and  heads down the basement stairs, pulling wires behind him.

“It’s a lot of garlic and onions,” I say. “We’re making salsa.”

Each trip he makes to his truck in the alley he inspects my yard with interest. When he comes back in he asks me about the raspberries, plums, grapes and other plants. Then, just before he leaves I hand him a plastic grocery bag, throwing it into the air to puff it out. “Here. Do you eat tomatoes? Hot peppers? Take all you want!”

I turn around and get back to work. For the next 15 minutes I’m in a dark corner of my basement, sorting through canning jars and looking for lids. At the same time he is stuffing the bag I gave him, harvesting every ripe and juicy tomato on the property. His shopping bag bulges to overflowing with produce. When I come upstairs with my load of jars he is gone.

“Well he certainly took your word for it. He grabbed as much as he wanted,” my mom comments while looking out the kitchen window at the garden.

The heirloom Brandywine tomatoes I was waiting for, heavy on the vine but not quite ready, are gone. As are the romas–the ones destined for another batch of sauce and the beefsteaks. “Mmm,” I respond at first, not too bothered. But then I start thinking of all the hours of labour, of starting seeds from scratch in my window, gingerly handling the transplants, mulching with last season’s leaves, of watering and tending. That’s when I get a little ornery. I had, after all, expected him to say “Oh thank you so much” and take a dozen or so back to his wife in Saskatoon. I had not expected him to ravage every last plant.

I’ve been reading Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer and loved her essay on generosity and gift economy. It gave me such warm fuzzy feelings in my armchair. I had murmured in agreement and savoured every word. Obviously, the philosophy of lavish generosity is easier for me to swallow than the practise.

The earth on the other hand, especially at this time of year, seems to stick to the “no holds barred” motto. We spin out honey, stuff moose sausage, make wine, dry garlic, catch fish and yet we still can’t keep up to her. Gifts spill over and around us.

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plums, melons and grapes are now in season on our lot

*

PREFACE- Six days. Three boats. Four adults. Six kids. Five portages. Three bears. Zero attacks.

On the way to meet my sister and her family for our adventure I say to the kids, “So there will be more portaging on this trip than we’ve ever done before but we’ll just enjoy the hiking. Maybe stop for snacks, you know, or sketch wildflowers…”

Stan shifts in his seat and reaches his hand to adjust the rear-view mirror. “Well, we don’t want it to be too easy do we? We still want it to be character-building.”

EPILOGUE – I lay in bed for 2 days after the trip. I thought I had maybe caught a bug–my whole body ached and my fingers felt arthritic. Turns out I was just recuperating from all the character-building portages.

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before the launch

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Tara and I paddled with 4 kids. Our canoe was dubbed the “voyageur school bus” or the “party canoe”.  The men and two other kids traveled with the gear.

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totally posed at the beginning of an arduous portage

In a few years those delicate bodies pictured above will be strapping young men and women able to shoulder most of our weight. What a day that will be! They owe us a canoe trip or two.

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Day 6

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*

Back to school. Back to routine. Back to sticking around our home. Summer is fast, furious and fleeting like the heat. “You can sleep in winter; we don’t have time for that in summer,” I tell the kids when they tire of our pack-go-unpack-repack routine. With all of this going it has been hard to squeeze in writing. I still want to find words for speaking at camp, kitchen parties and growing food but am not sure when it will happen. I have started an essay about canoe tripping and listening. I will submit it somewhere eventually, because that’s writers do.

That’s when a writer is successful–when she is submitting, not when her article is accepted, not when she’s long-listed for the CBC non-fiction prize (which I wasn’t, Kirsten) and not when an agent hunts her down. She is successful when she cracks open her laptop. When she punches out a jumbled paragraph, when she lands on a metaphor in the shower. A writer is successful when she’s writing.

Can you tell I’m getting ready for Wonderscape? And can you guess what the theme of the retreat is?

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Coming up in 10 days…

Success, Failure and YourCreative Journey(1)

Can’t wait to gather with strangers and friends from around the country. Every year it’s been magical. Hopeful this year will be the same. (There’s been a cancellation; check out this page for your last minute chance!)

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Change is a constant around here. Changing shoe sizes. Changing instruments (cello and trombone have been added to the mix). Changing heights. Changing accents. (Vivian has been experimenting with articulation, specifically her hard Rs. I try to remain non-chalant every time I hear it, but it’s about as sharp and conspicious as a machete.)

One thing that never seems to change is the big girls’ devotion to the little girl. I smile when I remember the well-meaning visitor who came to visit two days after Vivi was born. She watched Susanna and Belén flutter around the baby, sighed and commented knowingly, “This won’t last long. Give them two weeks and the novelty will wear off.”

Well, it’s been four years and here they are, fighting at the table, each older sister desperate to show Vivi how to draw an uppercase E at the same time. This is a kind of bickering for which I am entirely grateful.

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I’ve written so much. Thanks for reading.

T

 

 

…And then some things never change

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I will always be a mother. Even when we’re out of pink rubber boots and sparkles. Even when my kids are 43 and 51 and 53.

Stan heard this song on the radio, on his way home from work, and made the girls listen to it. They learned it a couple days before Mother’s day, and instead of breakfast-in-bed they sang it while I was still in my pajamas. I made them repeat it at least 4 times. I’ve since played Brandi Carlile’s video over and over, and requested they perform the song at an upcoming coffee house. Both of them think that would be weird, since they are 11 and 13 and neither are mothers. I told them it doesn’t matter and please sing it and play guitar and fiddle and harmonize and make me cry! They are not convinced.

Here’s the official video since you might never hear it from them.

The Mother
Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind
You’re tethered to another and you’re worried all the time
You always knew the melody but you never heard it rhyme
She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me
She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea
The New York streets are busy as they always used to be
But I am the mother of Evangeline
The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car
But none of that was ever who we are… (see video for more)
Songwriters: Brandi M. Carlile / Phillip John Hanseroth / Timothy Jay Hanseroth
Ps. This post is an addendum to the previous post, titled Change.

Change

I’m packing lunches at 7 am when Susanna picks up her violin and starts playing Air Tune. She’s practising for an upcoming recital, but even if there were no recital, this is the song she’d be playing. She’s been playing it for the last 5 months–ever since she started in the back of our van, fiddling her way through Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, on the way to Indiana for Christmas.

“Wait, wait, let me try the harmony,” I call from the kitchen while I butter bread for her sandwich. I grab my violin, sit on the piano stool and tune to Susanna’s instrument. Something’s not quite right, but I’m not sure what.

“You’re G is off,” says Susanna.

“Can you play yours again?” I say, plucking, tuning and plucking some more.

She doesn’t say anything, just leans over–fiddle under chin–turns my fine-tuner between her forefinger and thumb, then steps back. I pluck it again. It’s perfect. For nearly seven years I’ve been tuning her fiddle (even though she has better pitch than me) because that’s what moms do. Now she’s tuning mine.

We start playing the piece and I scramble to keep up. She stops mid-way through and looks at me. “I don’t think you should slide into that F,” she comments.

“But you do,” I say. “I love it when you slide into that note!”

“Yeah, well, you go too far,” she says grinning. “You have to stop right here before it gets too sharp.” She grabs my finger and places it on the finger board. Like a teacher with her beginner student.

*

We come home just before six, pull the barbeque chicken out of the grocery bag, and sit down at the table.

“When I’m in university I’m going to invite Belén over for bought chicken every Friday night,” announces Susanna.

“What if we don’t go to the same University? What if we’re not living in the same city?” Belén responds. A heated conversation ensues about who’s going where. “What if I want to go to Montreal? To study law at McGill?”

“Mmm,” I say, chewing my chicken, “that sounds nice.” I think of the concert we took the girls to on campus a few years ago and climbing Mont Royal…

“I just looked it up last week,” says Belén.

“You what?” I say, putting down my fork.

“I looked it up online,” she says, as if looking up universities is something we do in this house. As if university is a pressing concern or even something we talk about regularly.

Suddenly, I am no longer Tricia who toured through Europe, worked in the NWT or hitch-hiked in South America. I am my father.

“Montreal! It’s so far away. What’s wrong with Parkland College? You could live at home, save some money and get just about any degree you want!”

“Ah, mom, that wouldn’t be any fun,” says Belén.

“But you’ll marry some crazy French guy and never come home,” I say.

All I can think about is the Bible college on Hwy 83 on the outskirts of Swan River, where I grew up. The one with the green, corrugated metal siding, the one that seemed only to attract eastern Europeans who wore funny clothes, had funny hair and spoke a funny language when they walked around town together. My dad thought it was a perfect fit for me. You should go to Living Word, then settle here and marry a nice farmer he always suggested.

Now I know exactly what he meant.

*

Every time we go to the fishing spot something is different. Sometimes the water is high, other times we have a wide beach to build a bonfire. Sometimes we get 30 ticks each and sometimes there are none at all. Sometimes we catch only a handful of fish and sometimes we get enough to feed a hungry crowd.

I’m hooking a minnow through it’s eye and back, when I look up and scan the shore for Vivi. I see her holding a walking stick and hear her faint melody. She’s humming Jingle Bells and wandering alone. “You know, this is the first year I’ve been able to relax, and fish, in a long time,” I tell Stan and Shelly. It takes me about three years, after having a baby, until life gets back to normal–or a new normal. Which explains why this time feels different.

But it’s not the only change I notice. Of course, Jason’s not here, not fishing beside us. But we talk about him; we drive his truck and park it in the same place he always did; we fillet fish and reminisce about the time we caught 70 walleye and perch; we rig our lines with nuts the same way he used to. We remember.

And the fire. The fire is always the same, but the conversation is different. This time the kids are more chatty than the adults. They outnumber us tonight. We listen to them talk and laugh, and join in occasionally. The flame illuminates faces then flickers. Bright one moment; throwing shadows the next.

Always changing.

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Waiting and Watching; Advent 2017

It feels like we’ve been celebrating advent for awhile around here. The waiting part, that is. Susanna has been battling a lung infection for the last two weeks and we’ve all spent many hours rubbing her back, wiping her brow, giving her medicine, serving her orange juice, and waiting, waiting, waiting for her to get better.

A friend stopped by yesterday and when she saw Susie laying on the couch she exclaimed, “I knew something was wrong! I barely recognized her voice on the phone because it sounded so normal!” Instead of the usual fake accent and you’ve-reached-the-pizza-parlour, or some other crazy response, it was only a weak “Hello” that threw our friend off.

Waiting for Susanna to return to her exuberant self is a little like the waiting we do before Christmas. During advent we are waiting for Jesus, waiting for the Light to pierce the darkness, waiting for brokenness to be made whole, waiting for the restoration promised us by a baby born centuries ago. But advent (meaning a coming or approach)  is also about celebrating the arrival; that Divinity, indeed, has already come and is here with us.

I draw up a new chalkboard sign to remind me of all this, but I’m not sure it helps. I’m still trying to figure out presents and am worried I don’t have enough. I stress about coordinating holiday plans and dates and traveling. But I see a glimmer of hope. I don’t worry about the baking (we all know I’ve given up on that one) and I notice things. Like this…

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I’m washing dishes when I overhear Vivian playing “refugees” for a second time this week. I dry my hands on a towel and walk over to watch her where she can’t see me.

“We have to go. Pack up every-fing” she says herding plastic figurines into a toy van. Ernie, Bert, Polly-Pocket and a pony, or two, are fleeing together. “It’s a new country,” she murmurs to herself and her toys. “You’ll be safe here,” she reassures them.

*

I’ve had a bad day and feel like crying. I call Stan to see when he’ll be home and if I have time to go for a walk. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he says.  I decide to stay home so we can eat as soon as he arrives. A moment later he calls me back. “Don’t wait,” he says. “Go for a walk now. The sun is setting and you’ll like it.”

*

I take Belén home after a midnight pool party with the youth group. Instead of going straight to bed, we plug in the kettle and brew some tea. She looks at my literary magazine on the table, the one with the weird poetry that neither of us understand, and makes fun of it. Then she tells me about an image from her day that she wishes she could capture.

“Why don’t you write about it in your journal?” I suggest.

“Ugh! No way! That’s too much work. Besides, it’s frustrating. It’s like I’ve got all these words, but when I put them together they don’t hold anything. Like an empty box.”

“Mmm,” I say while sipping my tea, glad she’s not journaling after all. Glad she’s talking to me.

*

The Cree drummer and pow-wow singer invites everyone from the bleachers onto the gymnasium floor. He tells us to hold hands and dance in a circle. Slowly people get out of their seats and reach for other hands. The singer beats his drum and wails his foreign melody while we step in time. I see the Nigerian obstetrician, whose clinic is just down the street, and the Jamaican lady who works at McDonald’s. The politicians, who came to deliver their obligatory speeches, are now holding hands with mothers who have babies on their hips. The Indian dancers, dressed in white turbans and tunics, slide along beside old men with stiff legs and cowboy boots.

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I’m not sure how, or why, but in these moments I feel Advent. I feel His coming. These random, mostly-normal moments in my mostly-normal week are reminders for me. God is here… in my three-year-old’s empathy, in my husband’s prompt to watch the sunset, in late-night conversations with my teenager, in a round dance, and in the waiting for Susanna to get better.

Let’s keep waiting and watching together.

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Resources: We watched this 2-minute video in church this last week and it got me thinking about advent again. Also, this post by Rachel Held Evans gave me some ideas that we will use this season.

 

Seeing the Gifts

When I’m around my children all the time it’s hard to see them for who they are. I get so caught up in making them set the table, practise their instruments, harvest tomatoes, stop fighting with Saron, go to bed and get out of bed, that I lose perspective. Even though it’s all unfolding around me–a daily unwrapping of gifts, skills, intuitions and leanings–I’m too busy dealing with the riffraff at the party of our daily life to ooh and aah over any gifts. It takes a certain kind of distance to do this. Just like I can’t tell how my daughter is growing until I drop her off at school and notice the hem of her pants riding at mid-calf, I need to see things from a few metres, or years, away to get the whole picture.

But sometimes, like when I was in the concert theatre last night holding hands with both of them, I notice stuff. I watch Susanna’s eyes shine while she holds them fast on the fiddle-player; I lean over to Belén and we whisper about the show. These kind of moments make up approximately 2.5% of our family life, but they still happen. It all goes on right before my eyes. Amidst all the herding, huffing, feeding, mediating, nagging, and managing that I do, the gifts are being opened steadily and surely. Layer after layer…

This morning I get get up, eat breakfast, dress, and then flop back into bed. I’m moaning about my headache, plugged sinuses and stomach cramps when Belén follows me and sits on the bed beside me. I lay with my socks draped limply over my stomach while we talk about the day ahead. Mid-discussion, Belén reaches for the wool pair I’m clutching and without saying a word, takes them apart. She holds my right foot and slips the heavy sock over my toes then pulls it up so the heel slides into place. We’re talking about what to put in their lunches and the games we planned for youth-group tonight when she starts with my left foot. It is an act of service that almost feels like a foot-washing. I am warmed.

*

“Did you see the email your Susanna sent me?” Rebecca asks. When I tell her I don’t know what she’s talking about she goes on to explain the professional nature of Susanna’s correspondence regarding Saron’s fiddle lessons. As her self-appointed teacher, Susanna is taking Saron’s music education very seriously, developing detailed schedules and curriculum for her young protégé. Part of her motivation is her love of music, but a lot of it has to do with her love of simply making things happen. Anything at all. Whether it’s a show, garage sale, “committee meetings” with family, Christmas-gift shopping 10 months ahead of time, or announcements on our oral hygiene, if it requires CEO material, Susanna’s on it.

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When Belen comes home exhausted from a long day of cross-country, volleyball, guitar practise and baby-sitting (all of this besides school), Susanna dances around and questions her about the details. Her sister is overwhelmed and not in the mood to talk about any of it. Susanna sighs and says, “I wish I could be so busy. I keep trying to fill up my schedule but there’s never enough to do.”

*

It’s 4:30 pm and I am determined Susanna will put in a decent practise instead of flitting room to room with her violin, making up little ditties, as she usually does. She resists, at first, when I set her in front of the sheet music but soon she is playing Ashokan Farewell with the same timing and feeling as the old guy on YouTube. She has figured out most of the song by the time Stan arrives home from his hunting trip. He drops his backpacks and gun to the floor and comes into the kitchen without taking off his muddy boots. I can smell the wood smoke on his fluorescent orange toque and camo sweatshirt as he nears Susanna and me. It’s only been about 15 minutes since she started learning the tune but Stan says, “This is the kind of music that can bring you to tears.” Which is the same thing I was thinking.

*

Belén and I edge to the start line and take off once the clump of runners ahead of us begins to move. This is the first 5k race I’ve run in many years and I’ve practised for months. I tell my daughter, childishly, that she has to stick with me the whole time. She does. Until the very end when she starts to push hard. I push too but my legs don’t seem to work like hers. She sails past, like a horse heading towards the barn. I arrive at the finish line red-faced and unable to talk, hoping I don’t collapse or faint and cause a scene. Belén looks like she’s just getting started.

*

Before I leave all three daughters with my parents for the weekend I take Belén aside and tell her seriously, “I don’t want Grandma to have any extra work with Vivi, okay? You make sure you get her up on Sunday morning, brush her hair, dress her, wipe her face and get her out the door to church. She is entirely your responsibility.”

Belen looks confused during my last-minute pep-talk.

“What?” I ask. Is she overwhelmed by her task? Will she balk at the burden of caring for her younger sister?

“Mom,  I do that every week.”

I’m a bit stunned by the truth of it. I’m not sure whether to feel good (I’ve got such a helpful daughter) or bad (Why can’t I get myself together enough to look after my own children?), but she’s right. She’s always ready first. She gets us out the door, whether it’s packing sand toys for the beach, getting snacks or hauling suitcases to the car.

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Susanna was born with an itch to move a bow across strings, pound chords on the piano, dance and buy gifts for people. All of this is as effortless for her as it is for Belén to run 5k or braid Vivi’s hair. These gifts aren’t things I’ve taught them. They come free, along with a whole host of other miracles, including cell-division, starting with their stint in amniotic fluid. And although they haven’t worked for these inclinations and talents I hope they work with them to become something deeper and richer. But that is beside the point right now. Right now I’m concentrating on their gifts and what I can see from where I am today. I’m celebrating the seeds, impulses and soul-material that would show up no matter how I raised them.

What are you noticing in your family and friends? Imagine yourself in an entirely different world with those people. Which traits and gifts would show up in the ones you love? I guarantee, if we were living in a garbage dump without money for music lessons, Susanna would still be banging tin cans together. And Belén? She’d be organizing our hut, then getting us out there when the pickin’ was good.

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Susanna; canoe trip 2017

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Belén; canoe trip 2017

Happy belated 13th birthday Belén.

Cheers to your 11th Susanna!

Love Mom

 

Not about lacto-fermented carrots

I’ve read that successful bloggers always have something to offer their readers: a recipe, a bullet-point list on raising children, or step-by-step instructions for homemade deodorant. When I started this blog I anticipated doing the same but I don’t have nearly enough helpful hints as I thought. Take for example, my lacto-fermented carrots. I took pictures while chopping and prepping them, sure the process would be ideal blog material and today, three weeks later, when I should be uploading those photos all I want to write about is the November rain collecting like beads of glass on the plum tree, or the faint smell of smoke on my husband’s neck after he checks his honeybees. My inclination towards the poetic, instead of the practical, is partly due to the way my experiments usually turn out. Out of the six jars of pickled carrots, three are developing a furry cap of blue-green mold (more adventurous fermenters wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a little surface mold but I don’t need to eat carrots that bad). The other three jars turned out perfect, full of crunchy, zingy carrots marinating in probiotic goodness, but a success rate of 50% takes the wind out of my publishing sails. And even if I had loads of fail-proof DIY advice I’m too self-indulgent to dispense it. It’s more fun, and even addictive, to describe than prescribe. To relive a conversation or a scene that touched me, or made me laugh, or for some reason I don’t even understand won’t leave me alone. So today, all I have to offer are my eyes. It’s quite likely you’ll walk away empty-handed and for this I am sorry; you can scroll to the end of the post to find a link on fermenting carrots.

***

The line of vehicles outside my friend’s house surprises me. Could there be that many people here? I see the women through the lit-up kitchen window and her uncles and nephews in the driveway. A few of them are building a hunting blind and others are smoking in the garage. As soon as I step inside I’m offered a chair at the table and a drink. The baseball game plays on TV while one auntie snuggles her nephew in the recliner and another serves up beef on a bun. Grandma sits at the table, listening to her daughters and granddaughters make each other laugh. If a stranger walked in they wouldn’t guess anyone was sick here, but they’d be impressed by how much these people like each other. And they’d be right on the latter account. It reminds me of the velorios, or wakes, in the Bolivian village where I used to live–how the entire community would gather in the house of the bereaved family all night long, visiting, wailing, joking, playing drinking games and eating, but never leaving the family to face the dark alone.

***

The boy from down the street takes off his superhero mask when he comes to our door for treats. I hold Vivi with one arm while I drop chips and chocolate bars into his bag with the other. When they leave, Vivi starts barking (a breathy impression, vaguely reminiscent of the sound dogs make) and I know why. She’s trying to tell her daddy about the boy that just came to the door, the one we’ve seen once or twice with his new puppy.  We clap when we realize her message–she recognized the boy and made the connection! I tell her how smart she is. Stan says, “We’re so happy. You DO have a brain in there!”

One of our favourite things to talk about at the table is Vivian, and the barking incident is perfect content for our meal-time entertainment. The girls love it when I re-enact something that happened during the day and often beg for a re-telling as soon as I’ve finished my story. On Sunday it’s Stan’s turn. He recounts what happened on Saturday night after the girls left their Halloween candy unattended on the couch. How Vivi quietly unwrapped the foil from a ball of chocolate. How she licked her finger after touching the treat tentatively and then investigated further by scratching it with her fingernail, as if she were a scientist. And how she brought this small sample to her mouth for a second taste. While Stan watched from another room he could tell she’d reached the conclusion of her experiment by what came next: a high-pitched “Oooh… ringing with unexpected pleasure. Maybe this is just what babies do when they discover something all on their own, something brown that tastes of milk and sweetness, but we don’t think so. We think it’s another sign of her brilliance.

***

The church is solemn and quiet while the pastor begins the communion service. “It’s a celebration,” he tells us. “Just as Christ wanted his disciples to remember him every time they ate and drank together, we do likewise.”

Then I think the same thing I do every time. Why so little? Did Christ really want us to nibble squares of bread or stale crackers, as if we have appetites of small birds and enjoy awkward parties? Personally, I think Jesus was picturing something more natural, with real food, wine, maybe some music, and good conversation. The guy sitting in the row behind us must be thinking the same thing because he interrupts my thoughts in a loud voice.

“Hey Stan, I saw a documentary on TV this week.”

Maybe the guy isn’t thinking about communion after all.

Stan turns his head half-way around but doesn’t make an audible response. Soft music is playing. People are searching their souls and praying quietly.

“It was about wasps.” The man continues, detailing more fascinating facts.

I doubt anyone within 20 feet of us is praying anymore. They’re thinking about fatal wasp attacks. Stan nods slightly, as if to say I hear you but won’t be adding any more to this conversation. I turn around and see his wife’s sweet, God-bless-you smile shadowed by worry. She leans in on her husband and tries to cue him with her hands but he doesn’t notice. Or if he sees her, he doesn’t care. Her expression turns to a grimace and she whispers urgently. I feel sorry for her and wish I could tell her I don’t see her any differently, no matter how loud her husband’s interruptions, and that it’s too hard for any of us to hinge our identities on our husbands’ behaviour. At last he heeds his wife and quiets down.

Stan doesn’t say anything about it until we get home and he comments, “Well he certainly took the celebration part to heart, he sure seemed relaxed enough.”

***

Stan strums his guitar and shrugs his shoulders up and down to the beat. Belén sings an octave higher than her dad, matching the soul in his voice… I am a poor and wayfaring stranger… She concentrates on her finger, sheathed in a piece of steel conduit custom-made by her dad, skating along the frets while improvising a slide-guitar solo. Her face creases with a frown/smile as she experiments with the syncopated beat and searches for the right notes. The sound is wrong. And wrong again. Then it resolves itself and everything is right, even what I thought was wrong.

***

DSCN0894_

after our first snowfall last week…got more today

***

Here’s the lacto-fermented carrot recipe I loosely followed. I added garlic, dill and a grape leaf (the tanins maintain crunch)to each jar. The jars bubbled and got really foamy on the surface for about a week and now they look flat again. I think the bacteria have stabilized and should keep the carrots in good shape in my basement for a while. The taste is what I’d hoped it would be.