Seven Good Things

It’s Sunday afternoon and I decide to go for a walk. All by myself. While the rest of my family plays a board game. I know, crazy isn’t it–going off on my own instead of spending quality time with my husband and children? But it gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view). I head to 7-11 and attempt to purchase a few chocolate bars before realizing I’d scooped up Mexican pesos from our change box. Because I don’t have enough Canadian currency for all the bars, I buy only one. The one I like best. On my way home I nibble slowly, face towards the sun, crunching on peanuts and sucking on caramel. I walk back and forth on my own block just so I can finish it before reaching home to dispose of the evidence. While the wrapper floats to the bottom of our garbage bin I slip in the back door and try to keep from smiling suspiciously.

***

The woman ahead of me in line watches while I nose my full cart into the cashier’s lane. It doesn’t take long before she meets my eye and launches into conversation.

“Did you hear about the baby that almost drowned? It was a car crash and the mother died but they found the baby, still strapped into its seat.”

I told her I hadn’t heard the story until now. Then she added, “It was alive,” as an afterthought. “How old is your baby?”

“Seven months.”

“Mmm… babies. So many things to worry about. Terrible things. The accidents that could happen… And then, when they get bigger–”

I’m not sure I want to hear more but I say, “It must get even harder as they get older.” I sense she’s just trying to make conversation, even though she sounds like a church bell ringing the death toll, because people do that. We say weird things, even offensive things, just because we’re clumsy at connecting.

Then the man in front of her jumps in and the next moment we’re not talking about tragedy anymore, but curling. The cashier gives her opinion on the Brier and the conversation veers again while the gentleman tells us exactly what he thinks about “those Albertans.” By the time I have my bags packed I feel like I’ve been at a local coffee shop. In the parking lot I see the man who was ahead of me in line and he waves and nods. Friendly places are like this, I think, where goodbyes are needed after standing in line with strangers at the grocery store.

***

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***

The meeting is getting long and there are no windows in the room. I’m wondering if the sun will still be shining by the time we leave when a man gets up to speak. At first I lean forward to pay attention and then I realize he’s not like “us”. Not normal. I try to appear engaged but inwardly I lose interest. His gestures are getting bigger now and he’s repeating his spiel for the fourth time. I look around the room and see some smiling patronizingly; others are starting to fidget. How long will they let this guy keep going? Who has the nerve to interrupt him? His words tumble out fast, like a train building momentum–unable to stop itself even if it wanted to. Then someone else clears his throat and without pausing starts speaking over the first guy. Immediately I feel uncomfortable, dreading the public awkwardness sure to follow. But it doesn’t. The new speaker directs his words to the one he just interrupted and they come like a long, cold drink of water. What you are saying is important. I understand you. We appreciate hearing this. Thank you for sharing. Everyone relaxes. Then we are clapping. A bit of grace.

***

These books:

  1. The Story-If you think the Bible is just for little girls in pretty dresses to carry under their arm on their way to Sunday School, read this. It’s all about bloodbaths, cowardly men and woman, feuding tribes, supernatural powers, and the ancient culture that still informs the lives of millions of us today. As I’ve read I’ve laughed aloud, cringed, and most of all, wanted to know more. Was Ruth’s heart pounding when she sneaked in to wake Boaz on the threshing floor? What exactly was Saul thinking while he cowered in the supplies closet to hide from those who wanted to crown him as king?
  2. Animal Dialogues-Beautiful essays that will make you want to trek in the wilderness for days on end.
  3. Bread of Angels-More Christian stuff that’s well-written enough you might enjoy it even if you’re not Christian. I’m reading it slowly, hoping I don’t reach the end of the book.

***

Before the girls leave for school they get the birthday chair ready for their dad. Presents are wrapped, balloons inflated, and seats are lined up so the audience can watch Stan’s expression as he opens each gift. He does not disappoint. The mushroom farm elicits smiles and curiosity; the pair of chopsticks, a bear hug; the four Coffee Crisps, many lavish thank-yous. It was just what they hoped for.

***

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A pleasant moment during a photo session in which I managed to bring at least two of my children to tears.

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Be well,

Tricia

 

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Caramel Corn Recipe, DIY Fiddle hooks, and Susie

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Susanna (far right) with her classmates at her birthday party

Sometimes I think Susanna might be auditioning for the lead role in a play titled, When Children Push the Limits. Last week her acting was spot on, with fantastic physicality and larger-than-life facial expressions. In the end, she blew past all other contenders because of her impressive vocal strength and stamina. There were times during these “auditions” (aka altercations) when I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. Between deep breaths (in effort to control my own unpleasant, visceral impulses) I actually had to suppress a laugh or two, because of the hyperbole in her script.

Of course, we talked so she could listen and listened so she could talk* but she was on such a roll, nothing could distract her from her stage… until she decided she was going to step away from the bright lights, all on her own. When things settled, and she decided to withdraw her name from the casting list (for now) we discussed who the true Susanna really is. She is a girl with a thousand nick names and a belly laugh; a cuddler with sweet breath and soft cheeks; a curious observer of small details (she makes her daddy proud); a baby lover and animal avoider; a cupcake baker and mushroom hater; a favourite with the elderly and her teachers; a speedy reader; and a sucker for silliness.

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Five different families in this bunch, and at least 6 different languages!

A rare moment going through the corn maze: an adult (Stan) at the front of the pack of kids

A rare moment going through the corn maze: an adult (Stan) at the front of the pack of kids

Our best Susanna makes life so much more liveable around here. We can rely on her to drop whatever she’s doing (if she’s not in one of her aforementioned auditions) whenever I start reading a book out loud, or playing my violin. In the latter case, all I have to do is sound a few notes and she’ll leave her dolls, or conversation, mid-sentence and move towards her fiddle, reaching for it as if in a trance. This works particularly well with a rousing jig, although classical Minuets still do the trick. A quick way to get her really wound up is to listen to the Orange Blossom Special, or a tickle session with her Grandpa in Indiana.

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No more tripping over instruments around here! Stan made these innovative hooks to hang our fiddles from our bar. He attached two more to the sides of our piano for the guitars.

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A few days ago, Susie (or Shoshanna, Shoshie, Shoshapaloze, Zanzabar, Suza) turned seven. And, I have to admit, with all the acting around here, I wasn’t sure the real Susanna was going to show up for the party. Much to our relief, she did, and we all had a great time running through corn stalks, burning marshmallows, and getting lost. One of the highlights, for Susanna, was doling out the treat bags. (Yes, our best Susanna was in the house!) She’d made the most buttery, perfectly sweet, caramel corn–with a little help from the rest of us. So if you’ve read through all our family details just to get to this recipe, you’ve arrived. Here it is:

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Caramel Popcorn for Fall Parties (adapted from my Auntie Millie’s recipe)

  • a bunch of popped popcorn (2 cups unpopped kernels)
  • some peanuts (optional)
  • 2 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 c light corn syrup
  • 1 1/4-ish cups butter
  • 1/2 or 3/4 tsp tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Pop the corn, add peanuts, and place dry mix in two large bowls. Melt butter, syrup and sugar on low heat, and let boil for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove caramel from heat and add soda and vanilla. Pour over popcorn/peanuts, stirring for good coverage. Spread popcorn onto a couple baking sheets and let dry before packing into treat bags.

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All this drama could get me good and worried about my little girl. Does she have a chemical imbalance? Has something terrible happened to her in a dark closet that I don’t know about? What can I expect in ten years from now if we’re struggling already? But then I remember that she was just 6 last week, and now she’s learning how to be 7. And being the best person you can be, at 7, takes work. I guess it’s about as hard as it is for some thirty-six year olds I know.**

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Enjoy the rest of your week,

Tricia

*Have you read the book? Why don’t these strategies actually work when you need them?

**This weekend we decided our whole family needs to memorize this verse from the Bible: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I suggested each one of us pick a “fruit” to concentrate on for the following week. “Why don’t we all share the one we want to work on so we can encourage each other?” I said.

Both Stan and I noticed Susanna’s finger tracking the first few attributes and I interrupted her as she was about to announce her choice, “I think you’ve got love covered, and certainly, joy. How about…”

Self-control?” she finished, to our relief.

“Yes, that’s a great choice, Susanna. I’ll pick patience,” I said.

Belén remarked pointedly, “I was hoping you’d say that, Mom.”

Mmm… it appears we all need help with something.

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What do energy consumption, a school classroom, and fiddle camp have in common?

Isn’t it weird when you hear the same message from several different sources? Like when every book you read seems to point to a similar truth, or random people talk to you about a certain issue. Lately it’s been that way for me as I learn about the power people have over other people–otherwise known as community. In the last month, I’ve heard the same message from a behavioural scientist, an elementary school teacher, and a fiddle intsructor: positive change and growth happens with other people. I guess it’s not that earth shattering–I learned about peer pressure in junior high health class and we know, intuitively, that humans are social creatures–but it still fascinates me.DSCN5850_

Alex Laskey shares (on TEDtalks) about the best way to encourage homeowners to consume less energy. He’s found that residents don’t respond to moral pleas (help save our planet) or even financial incentives (energy efficient fixtures save you money). What really works is social pressure; letting people know how much energy they use compared to their neighbours. Once people find out the Jones’ energy bill is a fraction of their own, only then are they motivated to make lifestyle changes.

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Belén, at a the nightly circle jam where 80 musicians sat in a big circle and played/improvised the same tune. Instruction in fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo and keyboard was offered during the day.

During the last month of school I visited my friend’s fifth grade classroom to observe how she motivates her students. The moment I stepped through the doorway I recognized one of her top priorities: to foster a community of readers. There were couches, chairs, even a fireplace! and baskets of books everywhere. When it was time for individual reading the students scuttled away with their books like cockroaches, trying to find a corner to settle into. Later, my friend gathered the students into a circle to talk about what they’d been reading and make recommendations for the summer. From the tone of their voices I might have thought they were discussing their summer plans or a vacation at Disneyland, when they were actually suggesting the next title their friends should get their hands on.

The atmosphere in the classroom didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t a random phenomenon. My teacher friend is passionate about turning ho-hum readers into voracious consumers of literature, and she does this through community; intentionally making her classroom a place where every student ups the ante, talking about the books they love and hate. By the end of the year they all experience the explosive nature of community… and they’ve all read more books than they would’ve imagined possible.

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This was after a day of workshops. I was really tired and intended to take a nap, but then Susanna started playing “Pelican Reel” and I had to pick up my fiddle to learn it.

As you can tell from the pictures, we were making music last week… in community.

I heard Susanna’s instructor, Gordon Stobbe, comment, “The fiddle is a social instrument… you don’t play it alone in your basement to get better. It comes alive with other instruments.” And after a week of playing with other people, I think he’s right. In four days we learned more tunes and technique than months of weekly lessons/practise.

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Susanna’s class. They had Gordon Stobbe all to themselves for the week!

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Susanna, at age six, was the second youngest camper, but she wasn’t in the beginners class. In her place, was a seventy-four-year-old man who wanted to learn how to play the violin. When I congratulated him on taking the initiative to come to camp, he grinned and said, “Aw, I shoulda’ started thirty years ago.”

“But you’re here now,” I reminded him. “I hope I remember you when I’m seventy-four and think it’s too late to learn something new.”

Most evenings there were square dances and also old-time dances. There’s something about do-si-doing with teenagers and octogenarians that makes the world seem like a better place.

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My mom came along for part of the week. She didn’t take any classes but joined in on the dancing, food, and concerts.

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… she also joined us in our cozy tent.

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Street signs around town are named after popular fiddle tunes.

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one of the workshop venues: an old orthodox church

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playing inside the church

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Saying goodbye to new friends…

One of the best resources for tapping into growth and transformation is all around us: the people we connect with. They can reduce our energy consumption, turn us into readers and make our fiddles sing!

Wishing you great connections today,

Tricia

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Warning: Read on if you are in the mood for something more “downbeat” than upbeat.

To set the ambience for this post, let me share a picture with you.  Remember the fresh herbs from the community garden I was so poetic about here?  Well, take a look at them now.

decaying dill in fetid water

I just discovered them again in the basement.  I took the picture, wrote about them in my blog, and then forgot about the herbs until now–five weeks later.

Lesson #1: Not every picture you see in a blog shows the end of the story.

Moving on then…  a dear friend of mine emailed me last week.  She wrote about how she enjoys reading my blog and then she wrote this:

“It seems like you post a lot–even with your teaching job!  I don’t know how you do it (and still cook, can, harvest rosehips, garden, etc., etc., etc.  You’re unbelievable.)

I wasn’t going to include the last sentence here–the unbelievable part–but then I realized it illustrates my point exactly.  Unbelievable.

Instead of responding personally to my friend, the only honourable thing to do is write my answer here.

For starters, I’m not sure why I keep up with the posting.  There are always so many other things I should  be doing, but I can’t seem to keep from scribbling the scenarios/thoughts down in my writing notebook I want to flesh out here, in this space.  When I look at the time and see that an hour (yikes!!) has passed while I’ve been uploading photos and drafting a post, I often shudder.  My practical side chides me for wasting time that was so full of promise and production while my creative side breathes deeply with relief.  Releasing the churning, mixed up words inside of me and bringing them onto the screen, all dancing in line, is too rewarding to pass up.  I like to compare this process of writing to vomiting or diarrhea; it is hard to endure while it is happening, but the feeling of relief and overall ease afterward is worth it.

Lesson #2: Writing about life does not save you time; it saves you the discomfort of keeping the words inside.

Let’s dissect the next part: “even with your teaching job.”

Picture a newly born foal, all wobbly and shaky.  That is exactly how confident and capable I feel managing my family, community involvement, house, and work at the same time.  Because I am so used to being at home full time, I feel the difference in our current situation sharply.  I yell more, and touch the kids less.  Fresh produce rots in the fridge, and I buy more packaged goods.  I spend more time on my own appearance, and less on the girls’.

Me: Wow, your hair is so knotty Susanna!  We need to give you a bath, we just have to!  (More muttering to myself while I try to collect it into a ponytail.)

Susanna: No, I’ll just bath right before my birthday so I’ll be aaalll clean!

You might think this is humourous–her birthday is more than half a month away–but to me it is more terrifying than anything.  I know the probability of this happening is greater than I wish to disclose.

Lesson #3: Nobody is doing it all.

Now the part about keeping up with cooking, gardening, cleaning… although she didn’t write “cleaning”, I think it belongs in the mix.  The picture below is actually of a table, only you can’t see the table.  It is covered with the odds and ends of our life; some important, like bank statements waiting to be filed, and others not so important, like the yarn that rolls through one winter to the next without ever becoming a scarf.

Lesson #4: Yes, it is the same as #3.  Nobody is doing it all; certainly not I.

There are many more pictures that could be added to this post, and even more admissions to make.  Instead of viewing more shots of dusty, hairball-filled corners or my languishing garden, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Perhaps the little I have shared is somewhat comforting for those of you whose lives are not so different from mine.

Thank you, dear friend, for letting me use your email as a writing prompt.  And finally, thanks to the rest of you for reading my long-winded confession.

Go honestly into the week!

Fair Trade and One Small, Inconsistent Decision

We are studying West Africa in grade six right now.  The text book chapter we read described its natural resources, climate, and geography–the usual things that text books cover.  There was one sentence alluding to fact that farmers often get paid very little for their produce while large companies reap most of the profits.  I took that line and ran with it.  My pace quickened and I could hear my voice getting higher:

“Who knows what fair trade is?”

Hands shoot up and fingers wiggle in the air.

The first two eager students are wildly off the mark.

I produce a fair trade chocolate bar from my desk, unwrap it, and pop a square in my mouth.

“Mmm… this is sooo good.  I wish you knew what fair trade meant…”

More hands shoot up.

More wrong answers.

Finally I give in and share my understanding of the idea, along with a short video featuring child slaves harvesting cacao in Ghana; none of whom have ever tasted chocolate.

The room goes silent, then erupts with students wanting to talk about it.  Everyone who responds gets a sliver of chocolate.

Fast forward to one day later...

Just before going to school I check the birthday calendar and see Sam for September 7.  I remember the teacher I am filling in for always brings the birthday person an ice cream bar on their special day, so I plan to swing by the store quickly and pick up a box of bars before class.  On my way to the store, I also remember something else.  Ice cream bars are made with chocolate and sugar; two risky ingredients to buy if I am concerned about fair trade.

Now what do I do?  I don’t want to spend $3.50 on each kid for a fair trade chocolate bar–there are thirty of them, so that would cost me more than a hundred bucks if I did it for all of them!

I arrive at the classroom empty handed, with nothing more than an apology for Sam.  I explain to the whole class that I was on my way to the store when I remembered why I couldn’t purchase the ice cream bar.

Fast forward to today…

The crazy thing is, none of this makes sense or is really consistent with the way I live.  In a few days time I will probably reach for the tin of cheap hot chocolate mix in my cupboard, and think nothing of it while I make myself a cup.  I shudder to think of the percentage of goods in my house that were produced in inhumane or unfair conditions.  And yet, on Friday, I knew I couldn’t buy the stinkin’ ice cream bars.

So, today I will be giving Sam a fairly traded chocolate bar.  I’m 3 days late for his birthday, and it’s not terribly logical–how much difference can one chocolate bar really make?–but perhaps one right choice is better than none at all.

*****

This weekend I was in a fit of overwhelm, anxiety, and insecurity.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  I don’t know how all you seasoned veterans out there manage, but I’m struggling to balance home with work.  Saturday morning my mind was churning with bad equations:  hanging clothes to dry on the line + cooking from scratch + harvesting food form the garden …. +…. + work EQUALS happy mama.

Then, I went to the school to prep for a few hours and came home to this:

While I was away Stan had gotten groceries, mowed the lawn, taken the clothes off the line, and made Sushi with the girls.  I was grateful and the tiniest bit chagrined (why does he have to make it look so easy!), but mostly grateful.  By the way, have you every tried prosciutto, cream cheese and arugula in sushi rolls?  (Yes, we were fridge-diving at that point.)  They sure go down easy.

the prosciutto and arugula rolls

Happy New Year

September, more than January, always feels like a new beginning.

Tomorrow is our first day of grade one (Susanna), grade three (Belén), and grade six (me!).

I imagine Susanna will be trying to decipher what her teacher is saying; this is her first year of French immersion.  Belén will be engaged in high-stakes deals, negotiating who is going to play with who, and I’ll be trying to pretend I’m a teacher.  (Note: if you are a future employer of mine, I’m just kidding.  I’m really very confident and competent, and never have sweaty armpits when dealing with 28 ‘tweens).

Last week I was offered a short-term position in a grade six classroom and I took it.

But, since that’s all happening tomorrow, let’s talk about summer before it evaporates.

I’ve heard winter associated with imagery of cocooning and rest.  Well, I think summer has been that way for us.

We didn’t see friends from school, or our community, much at all.  Mostly we were with relatives, or practically relatives, and our own little family; people who really know us.  It was like a two month “love shelter” before entering back into classrooms full of kids, schedules, and new beginnings.  It bolsters the confidence… maybe even too much… Last week, my eldest ran out the front door and down the sidewalk before she realized she wasn’t wearing a top!

cousins

Don’t let the previous paragraph fool you into thinking we’ve just come out of one long group hug.  We’ve all been enraged, whiny, violent, self-centered cry babies (I’m speaking for at least 3 out of the four of us) intermittently, and needed time outs from each other; though you won’t see any pictures of that.  It’s hard to grab the camera and take a shot for the blog while you’re gripping your child just a wee bit harder than you should, sputtering threats through clenched teeth.  Sand art is so much more photogenic than a mother over the edge, or insolent children.

Besides the relational hazards of being together all the time,  we’ve been coming and going so much that the days we have been at home were usually a scramble to un-pack,  and then pack up again.  And, when we were just at home it seemed we were ALWAYS cleaning.  When I read this line in my favourite blog* last week  – “…the dishes in our sink are like one of those trick candles that you can’t ever blow out”, I was pleased to imagine how I’ll look at my own Mount Rushmore kitchen counter the next time.  I’ll sigh, and then think of birthday cake and trick candles, and feel a tiny bit comforted.

But, despite the mess and fights, July and August have been a retreat.  A reprieve from some of the stresses of normal life.  I’m hoping we’re all a little stronger for it and ready to face the growth and changes that lie ahead.

With Grandma at the dunes

*********

I finally got my butt in gear and tackled the apples in our basement.  I have a formula I use when it comes to evaluating how, and if, I want to process something:  (taste ) / (mess + time),  or something like that.  I think the apple sauce and dried apple pieces come out about even on that one.  Dehydrated apples are probably a little quicker and less messy, but that apple sauce is so… saucy.

Apple sauce, hot off the press. I couldn’t keep the girls, or the wasps, away.

I dehydrated the apples in the back of our vehicle.  We have a dehydrator but I only use it when I have to.  It seems a little silly to be plugging in an apparatus, adding more heat to our un-conditioned home, when the sun is already merrily beating down for free.

I read somewhere that the apples slices are done when they have a raisin-like consistency.  We forgot about ours while we were off lounging at a spray park and the poor things nearly petrified.  Ours are definitely past the raisin stage but both girls thought they were good enough to shovel in by the fist-full.  It could have had something to do with nearing 6 pm and no supper on the horizon.

******

Last week I took the girls shopping for their first-day-of-school outfit.  We happened to be walking near my *favourite store* when Susanna asked optimistically, “Can we get new clothes, Mom?”

“Of course you can, my goodness, what kind of mother do you think I am … but since we’re so close… shall we just check it out?”

Belén thought it was a good idea,  Susanna wasn’t so sure.  Minutes later, we were deep in the heart of my *favourite store* and both girls’ arms were draped with dresses,shirts, and pants and there was this kind of gleeful, celebratory look in our eyes.  But, I was ready to leave it all, if that is what they wanted.

“Are you girls sure you want to stay here, and buy these clothes instead of looking elsewhere?”

“Stay, stay, stay,” they both chimed, especially Susanna.

Twenty minutes later we walked out the doors of my *favourite store* with two bags full and all our clothes shopping done.

‘Turns out I’m the kind of mother who will put up with kids who don’t need new clothes, just pretty ones.

Susanna, hanging her first-day-of-school dress to dry, after coming home from my favourite store

Wishing you courage, enthusiasm and peace as you jump into your “new year”…

*Rachel Turiel is the author of the only “stranger” blog I follow.  I call her my Colorado girl.  Stan always finds it weird that I am looking at pictures of this family I’ve never met.
“It’s her writing,” I tell him.  When I read her posts it’s like eating those candies that pop and fizz around in your mouth, her words are so vivid they trigger little picture explosions in my head.

Sharing the booty

A lot of things have gone wrong at the community garden this year; we started out disorganized, there was way too much rain, seeds rotted, plants withered, and we were left with a lot of empty spaces for weeds to fill.

Yesterday I was the only one who showed up at 5 pm, (the time we get together as a group to look after the donation part of the garden).  I grabbed a hoe and started chopping away at the weeds towering over my puny potato plants.

Nadia startled me.  She appeared out of nowhere, pulled the hoe out of my hands and spewed out a long string of words.  I answered her back, explaining what I was doing and then questioned what we should do next.  She shook the hoe, almost violently, and I started to move away slowly, suggesting we harvest some green beans.

Nadia moved to Canada this year.  She doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak a lick of Ukrainian.

As we moved through the garden together I stopped at some basil plants, picked a sprig and motioned for her to put it in her pocket and go home.  She looked at me quizzically and then, talking a mile a minute, marched to her patch and bent down low.  Methodically, she selected some parsley and fresh dill, then thrust them towards me.

Somehow, after that point we agreed to harvest the cucumbers, then we went our separate ways; she to her plot, and I back to mine.

Finally, just as I was about to leave it dawned on me.  She was trying to tell me earlier that she had sharpened the hoe.  She didn’t want to do combat with me in the potatoes after all.

Before I left, I raised my hand, clutching the herbs, and shouted a thank-you.

“Dah,” she called back.

I think we understood each other and I consider the exchange one thing gone right in the garden.

Nadia’s dill and parsley

************

Yesterday we stripped an apple tree.  I have no idea who the tree belonged to.

Aren’t harvest share programs wonderful?  People call in to register their fruit trees (laden with fruit they won’t use) and volunteers like us get to take home the booty.  Our local organization also donates a portion of the food back.

The girls decided they were going to decorate “apple cakes” this morning.

If you want to get in on this where you live, google your town name with something like harvest/fruit/share to find a local organization.  Even small towns are starting programs like the ones in Winnipeg or Toronto.   Happy picking!