Why I Care About a Mouse Tail

The moon is a small sliver and the sky is overcast tonight. Stan is trying to back our small Saturn, and trailer, down a narrow alley that borders a park at the edge of the city. The trailer hitch is short so it’s incredibly hard to back up at the best of times, never-mind doing it in pitch darkness with soft snow ready to swallow the tires. He gets stuck so I get in the driver seat while he pushes. Then we try again; I call out directions while he maneuvers the trailer back towards the fresh snow. (This is the second night of shoveling so we’ve already cleaned off the stuff that is easy to access.) Finally we make it to our destination and I start pushing up piles with the snow scoop while Stan hefts it into the trailer.

I notice a home owner peek his head out of his garage to find out what the commotion is about. He stares for awhile and then retreats and I wonder if he will tell his wife about the crazy people shoveling snow off public land. I also wonder if we actually are a tiny bit crazy.

Sweat starts to trickle down my back–under my tank-top, tee-shirt, sweatshirt and winter parka. I can hear Stan grunting while he heaves snow at his usual frenzied pace. “I wonder,” I call through my scarf that is frozen stiff, “if we’ll be nostalgic about this when we are in the old folks home. Can you imagine sitting around and talking about the days when we used to steal snow for sculpting?”

When the trailer is piled high we lumber down the block-and-a-half to our front yard and half-empty wooden box. About 3 loads later, it’s finally full to the top and ready to sit for a few days while we wait for the snow particles to bond.

About a week later, after Stan has taken the wood form apart and finished 95% of the carving, we spend a couple evenings taking care of the last details. He’s working on the mouse’s nose and teeth and I’m on a step ladder, shaping the feet.  It’s dark and quiet enough to hear the scraping sounds our tools make against the snow. “Just so you know,” I tell my husband, “I would never be doing this if I hadn’t married you.” I’m not unhappy, or even complaining about the -30 temps, I’m just stating the obvious. How marriage affects us in ways we never would have known when standing at the altar. The next night this truth becomes even more apparent.

We’re laying in bed, and just before falling asleep Stan comments, “I think the tail is too wide for the body. It would look less reptilian if we narrowed it.” I agree and roll over. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I awake for no reason. I toss and turn and think about all kinds of stuff, including the mouse’s tail. Suddenly it’s all I can think about: how I’ll need to get the saw out in the morning and shave off the sides, how the mouse’s hind legs are curved, and how the buttocks should partly cover the tail. And then I think, why on earth do I care about a mouse’s butt at stinkin’ four o’clock in the morning?

But I do care. I care because we’ve invested so much time in it already. Because snow is a beautiful thing to work with. Because people like to drive by slow and crane their necks and take pictures. Because my girls look forward to the sculpture on their yard every year. Because creating something–anything at all, even a mouse’s tail–is the opposite of apathy; it affirms that there is meaning and that we have a reason to care. And I care because I married Stan, of course. Which is the main reason why I’m worried about how a mouse’s tail comes out of its butt.

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Stan cuts off a lot of snow blocks when he starts carving–they girls love to use these in their snow forts

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Saron and Free help us pack the snow

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Your Marriage is Like a Fingerprint

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Year 3 of marriage–taken in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

I’m watching my girls at the pool when I start eavesdropping on the couple sitting next to me.They’re laughing and talking about their day, people they know, what they did last weekend… and it all seems terribly interesting. To them. Both are engaged in the conversation and instead of long silences or nagging questions, their conversation is injected with with laughter, eye contact and affirmation.

I’m so impressed with this husband and wife team and their animated communication, I decide to compliment them–it’s not often I see middle-aged partners exerting so much effort to connect–but before I voice my appreciation, they leave. The next week I find out I was wrong: the bubbly woman is divorced and the man whom I’d assumed to be her husband, the one who was so eager to hear what she had to say, was a new romantic interest. Of course they’re not married, I told myself, surprised I’d been duped, that’s not the way spouses act… as if they’re actually interested in each other.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the thick of anniversary season right now. A couple weeks ago Stan and I completed thirteen committed, sacrificial blissful years years together. Tolstoy wrote that “happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, but he was wrong. Happy or unhappy, every relationship is unique. The problems Stan and I have might be easily recognized by millions of other couples, but the details, the slivers that get under our skin, are wholly ours. Fortunately, it’s the same at the other end of the spectrum. What makes our marriage work might be summarized in a few lines, but the joy in our marriage also comes from the subtleties in our relationship that are as individual as our fingerprints. Sometimes these particulars make me shake my head, or grit my teeth in frustration, but they often produce a sense of gratitude and awe that make me say, “I can’t believe I found you.”

Although Stan and I don’t usually exhibit the keen interest the couple at the pool had in each other, I’m perpetually amazed by my husband because he is so, well, interesting. Who else makes their own home brew, prays passionately for their children, designs jewellery, pretends to be a luthier–and pulls it off, never leaves home without tools, likes hunting and musicals, has a heart for social justice, can sew, sing and scale mountains?

Just last week, Stan rushed to Canadian Tire at 9 pm to buy a security camera. He’d spotted a robin’s nest in one of our trees and wanted to stream a live video of the mama bird tending her eggs so our girls could keep tabs on her. While he shimmied up the tree in the dark, securing wires, I knew it was just as much for him as it was for our daughters. And it made me feel lucky. When I watch him strumming his guitar alongside Belén, coaching her on rhythm while belting out Let it Go or Katy Perry’s Roar (these two titles pretty much exhaust our pop-culture knowledge of the new millennium) and then, in the next moment, try to explain the concept of thermodynamics to Susanna, it makes me smile. I’m reminded, too, that because I married Stan, because I got him–with all his quirks, talents, and passions, my life will never be boring.

Maybe interesting isn’t how you would describe your spouse. Maybe he’s as dull as a doorknob, but gentle and patient when it comes to your screaming children. Or maybe she’s charming, charismatic and knows how to work a crowd when you’d rather shrink into the wallpaper. Likely, what makes you weak in the knees isn’t the same as what works in your best friend’s marriage. And, like the rest of life, any energy you spend comparing your relationship is probably a waste of time.

This is easier said than done. While I listened to the couple beside me at the pool I wished Stan and I were like them, with endless enthusiasm for daily conversation, broaching each new topic with  more excitement than the last. But we’re not. Admitting this doesn’t mean I don’t feel lucky. In fact, sometimes I feel sorry for other woman, knowing there’s only one Stan, and he’s already taken. He’s no chatter bug, but after thirteen years I’m still fascinated by the man I married, and this amazement makes for a deep contour in the fingerprint of our marriage.

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October, 2013

What is your marriage-print like?

Wishing you eyes to see the details that belong to the two of you,

Tricia

Herbal Salt Recipe and Marriage-bolstering Potatoes

Well, it came. Yep. The ground is dusted with snow and both girls have already downed at least one icicle “lollipop”. This means the garden season is officially over for me, as I harvested the last of my herbs this weekend to make herbal salt. Though I haven’t collected any scientific data on this, I think combining fresh herbs with salt preserves flavour better than drying them alone.

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rescued rosemary

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After removing the rosemary leaves from their stalks, I chopped them in my food processor. Knives work too.

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I think I’ll add more salt to this pan of rosemary salt–it looks a little green,

One day I’d like to make an un-recipe book filled with dishes that are too flexible to fit the recipe format. Herbal salts would definitely fit the criteria; you can use any combination of fresh herbs, with almost any ratio of salt. If you prefer, you can substitute salt with sugar (with lemon balm, lavender, etc)–I haven’t done this because I don’t use sugar in the same quantity I do salt.

To Make Herbal Salt:

  • finely chop fresh herbs (I do this with my food processor and add a little bit of salt to help with the grinding)
  • mix herbs with coarse salt
  • spread on a cookie sheet to dry, cover with tea towel, and stir every day or two
  • after a couple days? weeks? (when it’s dry!) store salt in your cupboard. I like to use jars with wide mouths so I can get my fingers inside them. You definitely want to touch this salt as you apply it.
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I made this batch earlier this summer. It contains sage, oregano, thyme, and as an after-thought, a few dried nasturtium petals to give it zip and colour.

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You can use the salt with fresh veggies, meat, or pasta, but it really shines on oven-roasted potatoes. (Toss cubed potatoes with plenty of olive oil and salt. Roast in a hot oven until crispy.)

Thankfully, it looks like we’ll have enough potatoes around here, to eat with our salt, for quite awhile. Stan stepped out this weekend to buy some spuds and came back with eighty pounds! Fortunately for me, I think Stan feels some sort of responsibility for preparing them since he shouldered them into our basement. He made French fries for about ten people on Friday, and scalloped potatoes for thirty-five, on Sunday. Both days he served four. Our little family. Of four.

I’m not complaining about the potatoes though. I’m actually grateful because they helped us through a slump of sorts. It wasn’t a food shortage–thank God for that–but a shortage of warmth and patience between Stan and myself. Last week was one of those weeks where we started off on the wrong foot and then hobbled our way through every day, a little more defensive and irritated than the last. Don’t you hate those kind of slumps? It wasn’t terrible, violent, or dramatic, but more like wearing a sweater with an itchy tag, all week long. By Saturday I’d almost lost track of what, precisely, was the main issue, because I was too busy noticing all the other little things that were wrong with Stan.

*Enter the potatoes*

Just as I was finishing with a Saturday-afternoon project, Stan started slicing up potatoes. At 7 o’clock he lit the barbeque. I looked out the window and saw it was sleeting. He came back in for the potatoes and carried them to a pot heating on the side element of the bbq. I watched him as he dumped the raw potatoes into the sizzling oil while slushy snow collected on the rim of his bowl and on his hair. The girls jumped around him, hopping with the excitement of cooking french fries in the damp, snowy dark. And then, something slid out from under my tenacious mental grip. Maybe it was the how I’m hard done by card I’d been holding on to all week.

Stan came in the house to hand me a bucket of crispy fries and went out to cook another batch. And another. And another. The fries were hot and salty and gluten free and better than all the McDonald’s fries I’ve ever had.

Life is not an Amelia Bedelia story; food does not always solve the problem, but honestly, it really helped this time. Or maybe it was just the tipping point that led me to a healthier perspective. (Yes, I think I’ll go with that, it sounds more sophisticated than the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.) It probably didn’t hurt, either, that I’d picked up a book with a chapter titled “Incompatibility is Grounds for Marriage” earlier in the day. And let’s not forget I’m talking about Stan, here; he’s one of the most penitent people I’ve ever met, even if he doesn’t have anything to be penitent about.

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By the end of the evening, with our bellies full of simple carbs, we were ready to face another week together. This time, with our best foot forward.

How do you get through slumpy, bumpy, itchy weeks?

What’s your favourite potato dish?

Tricia

PS. IMPORTANT! YOU DON”T WANT TO MISS THIS!

Announcing…. my first ever blog give-away contest. Instead of leaving a comment, all you have to do is show up at my backdoor to claim your prize (a hearty serving of scalloped potatoes ready to go!) …This is not a joke.

Growing Noses, Ears and Marriages

Dave tunes his guitar while his sisters, their children, and their children’s children, shuffle between lawn chairs to form a scruffy choir. He looks up, hands still twisting the shiny pegs, and nods to his parents, “You’ve probably figured out we’re going to sing you a song,” he says. Without further introduction, Dave–about as pretentious as your favourite slippers–starts picking the melody.

the choir getting ready (august 2013)

Dave, with his parents

He wrote the ballad to honour his parents’ ninetieth birthdays. (Months before the family got together to celebrate, his sisters, nephews and nieces began sending him memories to incorporate into the song. About twenty-four hours before they performed it, he began to write it. Creativity soars with a little pressure under it’s wings.)

By the time the rest of the family joins him in the chorus, Ruth’s lip is trembling and her eyes glisten. Abe leans back in his chair, arm stretched out to hold the lyrics at just the right angle, and an amused smile pulls at his lips. A smile that hasn’t worn out after decades of wry humour.

Abe and Ruth, visiting with their daughter, Carol

The song is funny and throat-swelling at the same time. In this moment I’m almost convinced that couples who happened to choose well—ten, fifteen, or sixty years ago—are the lucky ones. Like kittens who fall into the cream, it seems these are the couples who lap up marital blessings for the rest of their lives. But after the cicadas quiet down, the guitar is put away, and our cozy bonfire turns cold, I remember that happy couples don’t always stay happy. All of us can probably recall wedding speeches that now ring hollow. Fortunately the opposite is also true; I’ve seen partnerships crash and burn, then watched the individuals stumble from the wreckage and reach to tend each other’s wounds.

Couple-hood isn’t a freezer where participants remain they same as they went in; marriage is a hothouse where change and growth are inevitable. The growth might be unwieldy, or even moldy, but with conditions resulting from two human variables, nothing is static. I’m guessing even Abe and Ruth, after decades of breathing on each other’s pillows, washing each other’s underwear, and listening to the same old stories, are still learning what it means to be “Abe and Ruth”.

This summer my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. I don’t think I’ll blow too many family secrets, (or surprise any other long-time couples out there) if I disclose that they still fight. In a way, it’s kind of disheartening to imagine Stan and me going at it, fifty years from now—only flabbier and shorter, with bigger ears and noses. On the other hand, it means we won’t be finished with each other, or our relationship, yet. As our nose and ears keep growing, so will our marriage expand into who we are together.

My mom and dad, looking jubilant, after 40 years together. As you can see, I wasn’t referring to them in the image of the last paragraph.

Maybe this doesn’t mean bickering less. I was at the doctor’s office recently when I saw an older couple waiting together. The nurse called the white-haired gentlemen several times, then once quite loudly, before he got up to follow her. Noticing the wife, still sitting in the waiting room, the nurse asked if she would like to accompany her husband.

“He says he can hear just fine, so let him hear on his own!” she sniffed.

I have a feeling this particular couple, dealing with old-age and hearing loss, is much different than the one who sat in the backseat of a car with tin cans dragging behind them, many years ago.

Even in our relatively short history (14 years), Stan and I have moved through different phases that have marked us. We have fought, not only with each other, but to understand how to love each other through sleeping on cement floors and training horse teams; through emergency room trips and boring Saturdays where nothing gets accomplished; through sleepless nights and colicky babies; through tropical vacations and one-hundred-hour work weeks; through spontaneous decisions and drawn-out, premeditated resolutions. And here we are, still trying to figure out who “Stan and Tric” is in the nitty-gritty, Who will make supper tonight, or wash the car? When is it okay to go to bed early, and when do we stay up for each other?, and in the big picture, What will our family look like five years from now? Whose career dictates where we will live?

Despite our challenges, I know I chose well. Marrying Stan certainly stacked the odds in favour of marital success, but I don’t think they stayed neatly stacked for very long. (In fact, by the time the honeymoon was over, I’m pretty sure some of our odds had slipped from the pile.) I also know wanna see his smiling face forty-five years from now as a different wife than I am today. I hope our relationship evolves through each new struggle we face together.

Abe and Ruth with their great-grandchildren

Abe and Ruth with their great-grandchildren

So, if your great-grandchildren ever gather to sing a tribute to you and your spouse—whether well-chosen or not—and you realize you’re still trying to figure out your marriage, I’m betting you won’t be alone. Even the kitten-in-the-cream types have to work at adapting along the way.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving,
Tricia

A good man

Stan and I fight.

About big things–like how to raise our children, and little things–like the shoes we trip over in our tiny back entrance.

I get frustrated. He get’s frustrated. And in the end, everyone’s unhappy.

It gets messy.

Anger, selfishness, and pride lurk around our place and get under our skin.

But not all the time.

Curiosity, humour, creativity, and generosity, take up residence here, too. Thank goodness for that.

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Stan, Belén and Susanna kneading dough for cinnamon rolls. The girls rarely see glutinous dough and they were blown away by it. So stretchy! So shiny! So workable! Gluten is amazing.

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Stan harvesting stinging nettle for me.

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Stan, making a rack to store canoes, 2 by 4’s, and other miscellany from our garage.

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Male mosquito antenae under a microscope. Stan bought the microscope so he and the girls could check things out: hair, bugs, skin, kefir grains…

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Stan, making a roof rack for our vehicle out of reclaimed metal.

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Remember how I wanted to write on my walls? Stan made me this chalkboard to put in our entrance.

Even though we don’t agree on everything around here, we do know one thing. We’ve got a good man. In fact, it’s a pity I don’t recall “how good I’ve got it” (something I relish informing Stan about his wife) more often; like every time the tensions seeps in between the cracks of loveliness in our home.

Have a great weekend honouring the good men around you…

Tricia