The couch; my seat of power

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I’m sitting on our red velour couch, reading a novel aloud to my daughters. Susanna’s shoulder is nestled underneath my arm and I can feel Belén’s lanky legs touching me along the length of my own. I don’t read books to my daughters (Stan is our designated reader) or cuddle with them as much as I used to, so it feels nice to be here, body next to body, feeling their rib cages pressing into mine. Just when I’m about to turn the page, the phone rings. As soon as I answer it I wish I hadn’t. It’s a representative from the Saskatchewan Party who wants to discuss our up-coming election. I respond to a few preliminary questions and get off the phone as quickly as I can.

“Who was it?” Susanna asks while I flop between them again, nudging their hips to get as comfortable as before.

“Oh, just some politicians who wanted to talk about the provincial election.” I scan the page to see where I left off when I add, “Saskatchewan is going to vote for a premier. You know, like a leader. The big boss of the province.”

I take a breath and start reading when Susanna interrupts me.

“Do they want you?” she asks seriously. “Do they think you should be premier?”

I throw back my head and laugh. Loudly. Even though the idea is preposterous, I am happy for her confidence. I would relish it for a moment longer but Belén is impatient. Bouncing her legs, she says, “Okay, let’s read,” for the third time. I get back to work, back to my powerful position of staggering influence, other wise known as mother.

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Photos taken by Amanda Buhler, September 2014

Different

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Lamb’s quarters

If you have jumpy little black bugs in your garden, and if the arugula you planted has holes in it one day, is shriveled the next, and totally gone the third day, you might have flea beetles. I love arugula, especially with feta cheese, toasted pecans and cranberries, so I plant it every year. This year I planted it twice–both times the seedlings succumbed to flea beetles resulting in my sixth consecutive arugula crop failure. Which of course doesn’t matter one whit when I consider real crop failure and livelihoods on the line, but in my little world it is something to take note of. Don’t plant arugula…will not survive flea beetle.

Besides the arugula fiasco, I’ve taken note of something else. Just about the same time my second planting of arugula went down, lamb’s quarters started elbowing out the Orca beans. I always have these weeds in my garden, and I often munch on them before pulling them, but today I had an idea. Why don’t I let a few of these silver-powdered plants reach maturity, harvest their seed, and dedicate a whole plot to them next season? It’s a nutritional powerhouse, doesn’t cower to the flea beetle, and best of all, grows like a weed!

Once upon a time, lamb’s quarters greens received more respect. Their ancient name was “all good,” and all good they are. They contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach.  According to Joan Richardson’s Wild Edible Plants of New England, lamb’s quarters “even outclasses spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A, not to mention all the minerals pulled out of the earth by its strong taproot.” (from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)

What makes arugula so much better than lamb’s quarters anyway? I did a taste test with the greens I harvested from my garden today (butter crunch lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach, and lamb’s quarters) and enjoyed the young lamb’s quarters as much as the rest, if not more. The nutty flavour is not as bitter as the lettuce and will go fine with pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve read the seeds are also edible and can be ground into flour or cooked whole (like quinoa), but will update you further when I have some more first-hand information!

***

Our annual skip-school day is a sacred tradition the girls talk about months beforehand. This year I send them ahead with Shelly while I stay home for Vivian’s first nap, hoping she will be well-rested and ready for the dunes just like her big sisters. While she sleeps, I ready the back-pack carrier and envision walking for miles along the shore, like always. I grab wieners and anticipate roasting a perfectly salty hot dog. Like always. I fold my towel and look forward to laying in the sun, water evaporating off my freshly cooled skin. Like always.

When we arrive at the dunes the sun is high. It’s just past noon and Vivian is starting to get hungry. Should I feed her now or put sunscreen on her or try to build a lean-to shelter for shade? I set her down to look for baby food–which I forgot to bring, while she cries and eats sand. There are tent caterpillars everywhere; on our blankets, our water bottles, our sandals, and our legs. I flick one out of Vivi’s hand and try to cover her up from the sun with my long-sleeve cotton shirt. It doesn’t work. She crawls forward and bungles her knees in the fabric, the sun beats hard, and I’m wondering if it’s okay for her to eat chips all day. I’m also wondering how long we can last.

This isn’t like I planned and doesn’t match my memories of visiting with the other moms, laughing while kids vault off sandy cliffs, and joking with them about what “all the children in school are doing”. I haven’t taken one picture of the girls jumping off the dunes or heard any of the conversation around me, much less contributed to it. I am too worried about Vivi, the worms, the wind, getting her to sleep again and why this feels so different than last year. After nursing her awhile with her fleshy white legs jutting out from my sweaty belly, I know we need shade. I walk down the beach while the wind pushes hard against me and dig my heels into the sand. Towel whipping in the wind and cooler tugging on my shoulder, I yell back to my mom trudging behind, “The ambiance isn’t quite like I’d hoped!”

It’s true, the ambiance is different with a ten-month-old. My mom and I whisper about it while Vivi snoozes on the blanket beside us; how this summer will be hard and so will the next, and then maybe, by the time she’s three, things will go back to normal. How relaxing at the beach really means multitasking: conversations that ebb and flow while chasing a little one, filling up buckets of sand, monitoring liquid intake and readjusting sun hats.

When I worked as a liaison with high school exchange students, their orientation manual included a section on making judgements and how things don’t have to be “better” or “worse”.  Sometimes they are just different. Now, like the exchange students, I am learning about my new landscape; calibrating expectations so my internal gauge reads different instead of worse. Instead of leisurely roasting my own hotdog like I imagined, I go without until Belén finds us in our new spot. She comes back shortly, kicking up sand and running with a sizzling wiener at the end of her stick, cooked just for me. Later, Susanna and I count to three and dive under the water. It feels like freedom and I manage a few strokes before my Vivi radar turns on. I look back to see her with my mom at the water’s edge. They are just fine.

Back on shore, the day stretches into its finest hours–the wind dies down and the sunshine sweetens into a gentle heat. Belén is dangling her feet from the dinghy and Ainsly floats beside while they make up terrible jokes in a secret language. Susanna is throwing a football with Jack, and Shelly sits nearby in the sun. I watch water droplets disappear from her tanned shoulders, instead of my own, while sitting with Vivi under the shade of a poplar. Vivian is bare-bummed (sure to pee any minute), her mouth is mustached with grit, and I just gave her another potato chip, but she is quiet. Perfectly still. This is when I decide we can stay just a few minutes longer. Everything is going to be okay.

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My mom and Vivian

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Tricia

PS. Here’s a quote I forgot to add to my last post. It’s one of many I highlighted in Ueland’s book:

“Art is infection. The artist has a feeling and he expresses it and at once this feeling infects other people and they have it too. When I read this in Tolstoy it seemed like a great flashing discovery. But perhaps I would not have been so struck by it if it had not been for my class. I saw in their writing how whenever a sentence came from the true self and was felt, it was good, alive, it infected one no matter what the words were, no matter how ungrammatical or badly arranged they were. But when the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection.”

 

 

Poetry and Sauerkraut

Have I mentioned our library before?

Oh.

Well please humour me some more then.

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They advertised a book spine poetry contest which we eagerly participated in and then promptly missed the submission date. The girls were awfully proud of their free verse creations but didn’t seem too upset when I told them I’d forgotten to send them in. But that’s how it is with writing. The thrill is in the doing or just finished doing, not what might come next. Then again, I’m not a very reliable source; I’ve never won any literary accolades so I’m only supposing how unfulfilling it all might be. 🙂 Belén composed two of these and Susanna the other. Can you guess who wrote what?

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On the home front, we’ve settled into a comfortable routine this fall. With only one music lesson to get to each week there isn’t a lot of running around. My days, too, are simplified. I’ve decided to pass on all the baby enrichment activities–baby yoga, baby music, baby swim classes, etc.–and keep my schedule open. I’ve been surprised how each day passes quickly, often with an impromptu visit or walk with a friend, and it’s reminded me how doing less can lead to more. When people ask me when I’m available I get to say, “Now. And anytime after that”. It’s really quite nice having no life.

Another reason we’re opting out of music classes is that Vivian seems to get enough of it at home. She is Belén and Susanna’s fan base. (You add the word “base” to fan and it doesn’t sound so singular–a lesson learned from The Flight of the Conchords). Of course, now they not only fight about where each gets to practise, but who gets Vivi during practise time. Today I divided her attention between the two; fifteen minutes of Vivi salivating, gurgling, and grinning along with Belen’s finger-picking, then fifteen minutes of her staring up at Susanna’s flashing bow. Everyone was happy.

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This morning a stranger peered into my stroller and asked me kindly if she was a “good” baby. Years ago when I was up to my neck in parenting books, I read that every baby is good, only some are more spirited and sensitive than others. This comforted me a little, I knew my babies weren’t bad just because of their nocturnal screaming habits, but it still wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes I felt like there was nothing “good” about babies at all. This time around it feels different. It makes me wonder if we should invent a larger vocabulary for motherhood, like the Inuit and all their words for snow. What I call being a mom, and your experience of it, may be the difference between wet slush and dry flakes.

By now I’ve stopped waking up to check on Vivi at night and only thank her, God, and my lucky stars that she seems to like uninterrupted sleep as much as I do. I never had a chance to worry about SIDS with my other girls, or check if they were still breathing, because they were always awake. By the time they would finally stop crying I’d be practically unconscious. But this one? She sleeps. And guess what? I’m doing it all wrong! I don’t care how many times I feed her, when I feed her, or what side I feed her on. I don’t care when she sleeps or if she does it on her back or side or belly. (See, I told you I’m doing it all wrong.) But… she is a stinkin’ good baby. I tell you this just in case you are like I was ten years ago, heavy-lidded and nearly hopeless. If you are wondering what you’re doing wrong, I can’t say for sure, but I bet it’s nothing. Babies are different and they call for different measures. I’m doing the same “wrong” things I did a decade ago that made me think I was incompetent, only now they make me feel like a pro. What works for one kid will fail with another. Amazing isn’t it? How we as a society, and even individuals like myself, have a hard time grasping that one.

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By now you must be itching to get to the sauerkraut part of the post. Well, you’ve arrived. Though it’s the first stop on most people’s journey with ferments, I had never tried sauerkraut, until now. A jar-full of cabbage always seemed far less interesting than, say, fermented salsa or even yoghurt, but my prerequisites have changed. Easy is more important than interesting these days and sauerkraut definitely fits the bill. In fact, I’ve thrown out my kefir crystals, dumped my kombucha, misplaced my buttermilk cultures, and retired my sourdough. You do what you gotta do. I probably wouldn’t have started with sauerkraut except that Stan is in charge of the groceries now and he keeps buying cabbage after cabbage. What’s a woman to do with it all? Leave it on her counter, of course. Whew. Crisis averted with a little chopping, salt and patience. It’s that easy.

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The sauerkraut was ready last night. It took two weeks on our counter to get there. My sister says it takes only 4 days at her house, so if you try this keep tasting and testing as you go.

Have a great weekend,

Tricia

Ps. Thanking you for reading my lament in the last post, for commenting, and praying. My friend, Shelly, amazes me; in the midst of everything she invites us over to carve pumpkins and roasts the seeds while hooking up the feeding tube, she never forgets to ask me how we’re doing, and still manages to make every conversation funnier when she’s a part of it. If they cross your mind, please continue to pray.