And for once I was SuperMom

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

It's the end of the year, time to look back on the year, time to think about what went great and what didn't. And most of all time to make New Year's Resolutions. If you're not me. I don't make New Year's Resolutions. I did it a few times back when I was younger and foolisher. They lasted till about January 15th and then they dropped, like a 92 year old man at a Polar Bear Swim. This year I will not be making resolutions. I won't do it.
I also don't have a lot of time for myself, it's almost all I can do to snatch a moment to write this. (It's 9:56pm and I would rather be in bed, but my creative monkey is on my back, so I type.) Self improvement is far from my mind, mostly I run after Emma and try to keep on top of chores so that we are well fed and live in not a pig sty. (Earlier today I thought 'there will be a point in my life when I am not whipping everything out of harm's way from Emma, it will come.')
I used to sit in church and hold my mom's hand and run my fingers over her nails. She wears long acrylic nails. I loved them, they were shiny, like drops of water frozen in time. I think that I thought I would get acrylic nails when I was a kid. I don't, they would be a waste on me. But I always thought those nails of hers were so magical.
I wonder what it is about me that Emma will find magical. What part of what I just do naturally will make her feel most loved? What part of what I do will make her think that I am beautiful? What part of me will she just be amazed by? I don't ever think that I should pursue that, but as kids growing up there were parts of our parent's that we just admired. I wonder what those will be.
I think that for this year I am good enough. Judging by the way my baby face lights up when she sees me, or that she eagerly toddles towards me, or reaches for me, I must be doing something right. This year I chose to rest on my laurels focus on my kid and trust that something about me is amazing. I may not know it's there or even think it's worth mentioning, but it's there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Great Expectations

I have three mothers. The woman who gave birth to me, the woman who married my father, and the woman who gave birth to my husband. My mom and stepmom live in California and I live in the basement apartment of my mother-in-law's log home in Colorado. A lot of you know that, some of you don't.
When most people find out that I live with my mother in law, they lower their eyes, look at me, and say, 'How is that going?'
I usually shrug and say, 'As perfect as that situation can be.' Largely I feel like the person asking wants me to go off on how horrible it is, quite frankly I won't slander my mother in law. She's a great lady and I love her. I face life much the same way she does which is probably why my husband married me.
I'm in California right now, making the multi-city journey from and to parent's houses and friend's houses. Coming home is always a journey that I take with some trepidation. I haven't lived in California for about five years. And I have changed a bit. I'm skinnier, wiser, tolerate cold better, more educated, and not to mention that I am married and have a kid. Just a few changes. Oh and I've lived in Africa. That too. So here we come, put the baby in the car and drive across Colorado, Utah and Nevada to wind up in Southern California.
How does it feel to see this expanse? First of all I am flabbergasted at how many more people live here. The eight lane street that bisects my home town is four times the size of the one that runs through Buena Vista. We went to church on Christmas and I was reminded that people in California actually look like the people in the magazines. Skinny and stylish. There's a lot of thin in Colorado but that is just because EVERYBODY runs, mountain bikes, hikes, etc. And I mean EVERYBODY. Since most of my clothes were ruined in Kenya, and I am two sizes smaller than I used to be my wardrobe is limping along. In BV that's not a problem, at all. I think there's a little limping in everyone's wardrobe, and no one really cares. So I sat there in the service looking at my Keen ballet flats that didn't quite match my grey tunic and felt a little less than. This is a feeling that I haven't felt in a long time. My life experiences have brought me to a place where I feel pretty good about myself. I heard this phrase once, 'At twenty you have the face that God gave you and at fifty you have that you have earned.' Appearance wise I am starting to feel that I have what I have earned. All the miles that I have run, weights I have lifted, mountains I have climbed have shown up on my body. And of course the baby that I have nursed, but a good bra can take care of that....I usually feel pretty good about the way I look. As for the rest of my life I feel pretty good about that too, good marriage, beautiful baby, world experience, and an education. But at that moment in that church the girl behind me wearing Laboutins and Dolce & Gabbana made me feel schleppy.
As I live with one of my moms I often caught in what the expectations of me are in that household and as I go to my other mom's houses I feel tangled in the expectations that each house has of me and who I am. I have started to realize that the expectations I feel are really often placed on my own head. Probably they all just want me to be happy and fulfilled and at the core I am. If they do have expectations of me that I am not filling I can't do much about it, I just wash dishes when I can, cook when they let me, and try to clean up after myself and my own. I know that even in the most well running relationships that there are bumps and expectations not met, but in the end I hope we all give each other grace and know that we love each other. And ladies I do love you.
Coming home to California makes me think about how I keep moving forward in life and am always trying to slough off who I used to be, the scared child or the awkward teenager. Going back to the church I grew up in reminds of that girl and how I wanted to show off for her and everyone else that I have turned out amazing. I got so caught up in making the outside look good that I forgot that the inside looks pretty good. I realized that the only person who's expectations that I can truly live up to are my own. Quite frankly I think I am doing pretty good.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Last year at about this time Emma was only two months old. I remember sitting in church thinking about being Mary; giving birth in a barn. No one helping you but your shell-shocked husband, who thought about divorcing you because you're knocked up with someone else's kid. By the way, you're giving birth in a barn after fleeing for your life. But think about that, a barn. A nasty barn, on straw, with livestock by you. A far cry from our sterile and beautiful birthing rooms. Then lying my new precious baby in a manger, which is a feeding trough. Can you even think of putting your new born baby in a horse's feeding trough? I can't.
Another Christmas carol struck me this year, 'no crying he makes.' I thought, 'how sad that the writer of this carol thought that the perfect baby doesn't cry.' That's a baby's only way of communicating is to cry. Well taken care of baby's usually don't cry, because their needs are all met. I hope that Mary and Joseph were able to meet Jesus' needs and care for him. But they weren't perfect. I can't even imagine how traumatic that birth would be and I'm pretty sure that had I given birth in those conditions that Emma would've cried terribly. In fact considering the way that my birth went I'm sure that Emma wouldn't have lived and I might not have either. SO praise God for modern medicine and C-sections that save lives. So praise God for healthy children that cry and let you know how they feel. So praise God that we can set aside all the presents and wrapping paper and focus on what is important. So praise God for this day where we all take a moment and regardless of what we believe spend it with family. So Merry Christmas and to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Black Eye

The week before Halloween I had a shiner. A big black eye. Not in preparation for my costume. My husband put our child down on my goes a little like this:
At about 4:45-ish Emma woke up crying. We had been up most of the night with her, I say to Scott,
"Just bring her in here," so wailing her bring our daughter into the bedroom. I curl up in a ball on the edge of my pillow. He sets Emma down right on my head. Right on the curve of bone above my eye. Didn't drop or toss just set down. Her wailing reached a new pitch, he picked her back up off my face. I lay there fingering my eye thinking,
"Wow, that really hurt, wow, that actually really hurts, I am really kinda in pain here, wait why is she the one wailing? Don't I get to wail here?" The answer is no. I lie back down, Scott puts Emma in between on the bed. More wailing, still not my own, after a few minutes of this I say,
"Okay the magic is over," roll out of bed, find an ice cube and sit on the couch holding an ice cube to my eye. I don't know what your patience is like at five in the morning, but mine is a little short. So the ice cube situation only lasted a few minutes. In this time Scott had managed to quiet Emma down and get her back to bed. I threw the ice in the sink and slumped off to bed.
Later that morning after showering and getting myself ready my brother's girlfriend saw me and thought that I had made an interesting eyeshadow choice. It seems that the baby to the face manuever had given me a black eye that exactly mimicked poorly blended purple eyeshadow. So here she is thinking that either I was trying to be creative or mentally debating if she should tell me that I needed to smudge and blot more. Funny how personal injuries can place people in awkward situations. For about a week after I sported a one eyed faux makeup job, it actually didn't look that bad. Maybe I should see if Revlon sells a 'bruise' or 'shiner' eyeshadow palette.
This is the first time that motherhood has actually injured me, aside from childbirth...but that's a whole different story. So this makes me ask when have you ever actually been bruised by your child? By happenstance, accident, or maybe even on purpose?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Making Magic

We had a fake Christmas tree when I was a kid. I never thought it was strange, that was just what my family did. I think my mom said we had it because she was allergic to pine. Maybe she did it because Christmas trees are so completely expensive, whatever the reason that was what we did. And you know I loved it. Why? Because my mom made it special each year. We would get sparkling apple cider, assemble the tree, Brett (my oldest brother) always got to put the top on the tree, until one year when I was finally tall enought to do it. A red letter year I can assure you. Then we would decorate it. We each had our own box of ornaments. My mom made ornaments each year and we each got to choose one. I remember them being magical, these special decorations that my mother lovingly made for us. We now have all these ornaments, my mom gave us our boxes when we moved out. As a result of my childhood tastes I now have an inordinate amount of pink sparkly Christmas tree ornaments. One she actually made out of my favorite necklace that broke. A redemption of a true sadness, I still can remember the exact moment when those pink opalescent heart beads scattered over the bathroom floor.
This year we took part in a tradition that is almost the complete opposite of assembling a fake tree we actually got to pick out our own tree in the forest and cut it down. A family that owns a fairly large piece of property a little outside our town, for ten bucks, you can cut down your own tree. We called and made arrangements, she told us to bring a saw. We ran errands in town, ans realised we forgot a saw. We called and were assured that there would be a saw to borrow. After a long drive up and up past lots for trailheads farther into the forest we came to their property gate. We parked at their house, the mom came out and directed us to follow her husband and son up into their property. We got out of the car, wind whipped around us blowing snow and chilling us to the bone. I tucked Emma into the sling. I saw one tree, it was about the right height. Standing next to it I saw a hollow spot. Nope. We hiked in a bit more I saw a tree that seemed perfect. I stood next to it and called out to Scott. It was a bit tall, but the sons of the family told us that they could cut it shorter. Within minutes the eldest son was carrying the tree over his shoulder. Scott and the son jammed it into our car and we were on our way back to the house for hot chocolate and to pay for our tree. As we drove home and a tree branch was poking me in the neck I looked at Scott,
"Did we just forget twine or rope?"
"I wasn't sure how do it yourself it was,"
"Neither was I," looks like we had a few things to learn about cutting down our own tree.
At home mounted in the corner of the living room the tree still seems perfect. The cold that forced me to decisive seems to be a good thing.
Now that we have a baby it's our turn to create traditions. To make magic for her. To turn putting together a plastic pine tree into a thing of memories. To make a child's piece of jewelry into a Christmas decoration that she will have for the rest of her life. Luckily she won't remember riding home with a pine tree in her face, so maybe next year we'll wear heavier coats and remember the rope..

Friday, December 10, 2010

Walking on water

When Emma was about nine months old she was looking like she was ready to start walking. She has seemed to be a child that is always interested in going, an active participant in life. My stepmother suggested that I give her two hard boiled eggs and that would give her the balance she needed to start walking. I was hesitant to do this because I didn't want to start down that long dark hallway towards pushing my child to succeed. I never want to be the parent that pressures her into performing in sports or academics. I don't want to start by pressuring her into walking before she's ready. I also didn't want to get my hopes that this magical moment would happen when I handed her these eggs and then have her just plop back on her bottom and start mouthing the eggshell. I hope that in life I can just open up experiences to her and allow her to decide whether or not she's ready or whether or not she wants to pursue them. I think some people percieved my hesitancy to give her the eggs as my desire to keep her a baby, that wasn't my desire at all, I really just want her to walk when she's ready and not when I think she should start.

When she hit a year old and still wasn't walking, I did start thinking about those eggs. She hit thirteen months this month and I really thought about hard boiling some eggs. Emma would get involved in examining some object and stand for several minutes without even realising what she was doing. I would offer the new push toy that she had been given for her birthday and sometimes she would push it and sometimes she would cry and drop back down on her bum and crawl away. I would take her by the hand and try to walk her down the hall rather than carrying her and depending on her mood she would turn and grip my pantlegs and I would give up and carry her.

I usually have chapstick in my pocket. Always. It's been a habit since, gosh, as long as I can remember. I have the most observant child in the world. In the past week every time she sees a chapstick she begs for it, tries to take the top of off it and put it on and then she tries to put it on me. Then she spends quite awhile ruminating on how to get the cap back on and off the lip balm. I have such mixed feelings watching her imitate a habit of mine. I love it, on one hand, because it means she is looking up to me and does want to do the things I do. On the other hand, some would argue, my attachment to lip balm isn't the best thing to emulate. So she will see all of me, flaws and perfections and might not chose the best parts of me to copy.

On Thursday Emma was examining the base of the lip balm and the cap and, tongue out in concentration, was trying to put the pieces back together. She was standing, and I was sitting a few feet away. She looked up at me and then took about five steps toward me. I was enthralled! She walked! She was able to forget her fear and actually walk. I cheered for her and scooped her up and smothered her sweet smooth cheeks in kisses. I felt a deep heart soaking satisfaction in watching her achieve such a big milestone. She giggled and squirmed and then didn't do it again all day.
Today she did the same, while holding her sippy cup and focusing on getting the cat she walked about five steps. She did it twice.

She needed to have that moment where she was so focused on what she wanted that she forgot her fear of falling and just took those steps. I couldn't force her to do it. I couldn't cajole her into doing it. All I could do was give her the space to do it in and then just let her do it in her own time. I didn't use hard boiled eggs, she choose chapstick instead.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Phone Book Death

This is my mom's response to the blog 'Kleenex Death.'
Hi, I just read your description of Emma demolishing a box of Kleenex.

Just for the record, I let Brett do pretty much the same thing to a phone book for pretty much the same reason. I wasn't getting dressed, I was trying to fix dinner; same issue. I rationalized it by deciding that he was learning about hand-eye coordination. I'm good at that, if you ever need help, just whistle, I can always think of something they're learning that's good.

Here are some other axioms I learned. Quiet is better that clean, usually. Quiet is better than almost anything. Junk food is better than crying, always-especially in the car or on planes. French fries were invented by God for keeping bored children in cars from ruining their parents mental health. Never take a hungry child and coupons on the same grocery shopping trip. Never take a hungry child anywhere, for that matter. Never put siblings in seat belts close enough so they can actually reach each other. Never ask a child if they want to eat a given food; just tell them this is what we're having. You have 2 choices; take it or leave it. Never go anywhere with out food and an activity for your child and a soft snuggly, as well.

Gotta go, I'm actually at work and I should do some.

Love, Mom

Timeless advice, I actually did laugh out loud and actually did read this aloud to my mother-in-love and my husband.
Here are some that I've learned:
1. You want good customer service? Plop that baby on the counter, look frazzled, and smile.
2. Kids freaking out? Change the scenery, go outside, go in another room, go take a walk, or just wander around a store.
3. A little Disney Channel never hurt anyone.
4. Making memories is more important than a clean house or a fantastically organized birthday party.
Since Emma is only one year old that's all I got. Please write in with your hilarious or just completely true axioms!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Please, don't hurry down the chimney tonight...

This afternoon I made some cookies; a holiday twist on the classic chocolate chip, I replaced some of the four with cocoa, used white chocolate chips, and then added about a cup of crushed candy canes. As I was smashing the candy canes in a plastic bag the Christmas carols that my father-in-law had playing on satellite radio only increased my will to crush.
I don't particularly like Christmas carols. Sometimes when I have said this I'm pretty sure that the listener doubted my salvation. I love Jesus, I just don't like quite a bit of the music that we play around his birthday. And I don't hate all Christmas carols, some are quite lovely, these are the ones that drive my candy cane crushing:
1. Anything with onomonopeia (sp?); i.e. pa-rump-pa-pum, jingle jangle, clip clop, etc.
2. Anything with references to how much loot Santa is going to bring you.
3. Anything by Manheim Steamroller.
4. Anything with a refrain of 'ho ho ho'
5. Anything with a reference to a bowl full of jelly.
6. Anything sexually implicating Santa.
As I read this list I see Santa appearing a lot. Maybe I just hate Santa. Oh no, this is where my inner therapist crosses his hands in his lap looks at me over his glasses and asks me if I have any unfulfilled Christmas wishes. Oh, wow, I feel the beginning of a Hallmark Christmas specail coming on..I confess I never got that pony and dissolve into tears. Throughout the movie I resolve my issues, meet the man of my dreams, who is great with my kid (because in the movie I'm a single mom, because aren't they all in movies?), and at the end I discover that there really is a Santa, and what does he bring me? That pony I've always wanted.
So where does this tradition of Santa come from? Apparently it's Dutch. St. Nicholas used to bless poor children with coins in their wooden shoes overnight. What did we turn it into? An overweight man who fulfills your gross material desires. But only if you're nice, if you're not? BAM. Coal. Sorry kid maybe your parents will put you on Ritalin and next year you'll get that bike.
So many of the songs are actually just about winter and not actually about Jesus. When I was teaching elementary school in Kenya it was very hard to extricate the cold from Christmastime art lessons. We did a lot of stars and angels. One of the first grade teachers had her students make snow flakes and i pointed out that I was struggling with that, most of these kids have never even seen snow. Her shoulders slumped, 'I know it was in the curriculum and I was running out of ideas,' i laughed. Been there, done that.
Growing up in San Diego, do you know how I felt listening to 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland?' That's right, left out. Oh no, I do have Christmas issues...where's my therapist, is this breakthrough part of the movie?
I do actually have some Christmas carol damage, I used to work at Starbucks and I used to work the opening shift. That means at five am i was stocking a pastry case. Some of you have seen what I look like in the morning, it ain't pretty. I can tell you right now I have never been so angry at scones in all my life. Now throw in a co-worker who cranks on the Christmas CD, which included 'Santa Baby,' (see above requirements for hatred of a song, this one fits most of them) and then sings along with them in her Ukrainian accented English. Had she not been slightly scary I might have started whipping scones at her head.
Anyway all of this curmudgeonly-ness aside, I do actually love Christmas. A dialed down Christmas without all the pressure to have a perfect house or give amazing gifts. One where we focus on time with family, Jesus, and maybe some magic for the children. Or the children inside of us...oh, shoot, maybe my therapist is Santa...
Oh, and those cookies? Turned out flat, bah-humbug.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Name is Memory

I recently just raed the book My Name is Memory, a romance story based around the religious belief of reincarnation. The underlining premise is that we are all reincarnated, but we forget each former life. The protagonist is cursed or blessed with the ability to remember each life. He remembers the woman that he loves and in each life finds her, and whether or not he gets her is left to fate. I don't believe in reincarnation but the story sounded incredibly interesting, I'm not the type of person to eschew a book just because it espouses a belief that i don't have.
My daughter has night terrors. Something that I don't completely understand. She awakes at night screaming, and when i go in there her eyes are squeezed shut, her arms are flailing, and she has usually squirmed herself into a corner of the crib. It's terrifying for a mother or father to see their child in such ununderstandable psychological pain. We have no idea why she gets them, i have been with her almost every moment of her life, nothing has harmed her, for the first year of her life she has had no trauma. Why would she have nightmares?
After reading this book it was the first time that I could understand why someone would believe in reincarnation. The theory that our soul lasts throughout many lifetimes and keeps coming back seems less implausible to me after reading this tale. Take Emma's night terrors, if you believe in reincarnation she is just experiencing a psychic watermark from her last lifetime. In the Christian tradition the only explanation for night terrors seems to be demonic interference. Now, which makes me more comfortable? I definitely prefer the reincarnation explanation.
As for the book the author, Ann Brashares, the path her tale takes is a convoluted. She include a more dramatic path about a 'brother' that really distracts from what could be an amazing exploration of reincarnation and the nature of romance. She works through reincarnation and how it would affect memory in a beautiful way that makes me rethink all the jokes that I have made about coming back as a dung beetle. I am not sure how much research she did and how much was just her conjecture, but I like the romance and I really liked the premise.
All in all it was a good read, but I wished Brashares had been thoughtful and just explored reincarnation and character development, instead she got caught up in a sensationalistic rabbit trail.
But hey, maybe I'm just an old soul...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Elk Roast

Today was my first foray into cooking the elk that we helped process. Our friends gave us a cut of the backstrap (steak), a rump roast, and a package of stew meat. Since we've had a lot of soup lately, and the backstrap should be saved for a special occasion, so a roast it would be.
I had heard that to reduce the 'gamey-ness' of a wild piece of meat you should soak it in milk. I don't know why that works, maybe it's an urban myth, who knows? After defrosting the roast I dumped about 3 cups of milk over it and walked away for a few hours. I had a recipe for elk roast taht had very specific instructions like 'sear at high heat in an oven for about a 1/2 hour, then turn to moderate heat and cook for two to three hours.' Knowing that Emma had an afternoon appointment and i wouldn't be around to hover over our oven and baste this low fat piece of meat in butter, I decided to pot roast it.
Here is a miraculous moment, I don't like pot roast. I am usually bored by it, just meat and potatoes? Really? And for a long time I didn't really like cooked carrots. Three strikes, you're out. I also don't like meat loaf, when discussing this with my husband he lowered a finger at me and proclaimed, 'You just don't like it because you think it's plebian.' So? Call me food elitist, I can take it. Anyway the lure of the crock pot won over my distaste for plebian fare. At around 2pm, when Emma was safely stowed in her crib for nap time, I rubbed the elk roast in garlic, and covered it in pepper, slapped bacon across it, surrounded it with shallots, sunk it into three inches of vegetable broth, flipped it on low and walked away.
At five it looked at bit raw, up to high and again i walked away. I do love a crockpot. Did I ever tell you what I did to the one I had in Nairobi, why that's a whole 'nother blog.
I served it with winter vegetable bake and sauted greens, local and seasonable. Quite smugly I may add. And it worked, it was good. We happily ate and talked and there was only enough left for a sandwich the next day.
So my first foray into roadkill eating was successful, but then I covered it in bacon and garlic, how could I really fail?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Friday after Thanksgiving we were all set to settle down into post holiday comas, to watch football (Scott), and to sit and patiently cuddle Emma while she suffered from post cousing withdrawal (me). But right before lunch a friend called and invited us over to help process an elk. With the offertory of free beer and a new experience we decided to go.
We ate lunch first. Then I showered, wondering why I was bothering if I was going to go handle large amounts of bloody meat. Picturing some controlled form of carnage I decided to wear black and bring an apron.
When we got to their house David ushered us into the garage, the animal hung from the rafters with a hook through it's back legs, and it's front hooves touched the ground. David showed us where it had been hit by a car and had broken it's leg. Apparently the game warden found it, and put it out of it's misery, like a horse.
Technically this was roadkill.
Big roadkill.
The head had been removed and David had already pulled the skin halfway down the body of the animal. David offered us beer, um yeah, I think I'll drink. Within moments Scott's hands were in the skin, forcing it down while David ran his uber sharp knife around the fold cutting the skin away from the meat. Janel and I retreated inside and sharpened knives, while I tried to convince Emma that playing with their daughter (who wanted very much to hold her) was a really good idea. Back out in the garage, with the skin a pile on the floor, Janel showed me the different muscles and cuts of meat.
Soon David had cut away the backstrap and rump roasts and Janel showed me how to clean it. We needed to cut away the fascia, a slippery iridescent transluscent skin that coats each muscle, and remove any parts of the meat that looked to damaged (read: black and bruised). I would flip each piece of meat over and over not really knowing where to start. I was pleasantly surprised at how non-carnagey the experience was, much like trimming a steak. The animal was partially frozen and it was a cold day, so there was no stink and not much blood. Except for the sheer volume what needed to be done it wasn't that terrible a task.
I liked this. After thinking through the fact that for roadkill this animal didn't look so bad, I was happy to help David and Janel feed their family with it and happy to recieve the cuts of meat that they sent home with us. Normally this animal would have just rotted in the forest, now it's feeding a family of six for the winter. I liked that I knew where it came from, free range and organic. Knowing that American meat often comes from sad farms in gross conditions it was reassuring to know that this was a good healthy animal. You know how much the final 125-150 lbs of elk meat cost? Free, and an afternoon of work. So what? You say. Why would I want elk, what's elk meat like anyway? Beef, people, beef. The most costly meat you can buy. Organic, free range, grass fed beef.
This experience also was a very real illustration of where meat comes from. What if every time you ate a turkey sandwich or eat a steak you had to kill and process the bird? That means plucking feathers...I am thinking that the amount of recent disgust that I have heard over pulling giblets out of a turkey if most American families had to cut apart an entire cow, there would be a lot more beans showing up in family dinners. Which might actually be a good thing, considering that all you need for protein is a piece of meat the size of the palm of your hand, and how many of us eat meat for two meals a day?
On Thursday night I will be making my first elk roast, so we will see how this experiment in eating roadkill ends...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks-doing II

This year instead of just going around and saying what we were thankful for we wrote it down on our place cards, picked them from a hat and then guessed who wrote what. It was adorable, and I loved it. We got to show who well we knew each other as a family and respect our gratitude all at the same time. Scott and I listed the same things, in the same order; each other, our baby, and the hospitality of our parents.
Knowing full well that I set myself up for failure by talking about acting thankful rather than just saying I am thankful, I don't know how well I did on the exact day. I did my requisite showing up in the kitchen and peeling and chopping. I hope that shows that I am thankful by helping rather than just recieving.
My first 'thing' that I was grateful for was my husband. Who do I show him that I am thankful for him? Today Emma woke up from her nap way too early. Scott went down to get her and then didn't show up for quite awhile. I snuck down the stairs to find him sitting on the couch watching football with Emma asleep in his lap. Knowing she needed the sleep to recover from the happy onslaught of cousins I let them be. Returning to the computer I noticed Scott's lunch was sitting uneaten next to the computer. I hate that, countless meals I have left to tend to Emma and then lose my appetite for them later. By the time I took them down to him he was on his way up with woken up baby in his arms. Oh well, maybe I'll get it to him next time...
How do I show Emma that I am thankful for her...I interrupt this blog to go play with my kid. As I was pushing her around the living room in a toy grocery cart that clearly states on the bottom, 'THIS IS A TOY NOT INTENDED TO CARRY CHILDREN,' I realised it reminded me of baby-sitting, when I actually played with the kids. Maybe I should play with her more...
As for my parents? I will keep helping where they ask and let me and hope that actions speak louder than words.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks doing

This week Scott's oldest sister with her four children descended upon us. Her children get the whole week of school off so they came out from Chicago to spend a weekend in the mountains for Thanksgiving.
Usually on holidays I like to reflect a bit, but it seems the older I get the more the crush of the holidays overtakes my time. I get caught up in the swirl of turkeys and cranberries and as my time gets swallowed and I am sitting before a turkey dkinner not knowing why. Often after the whirl of preparations we stand before dinner holding hands and talk about what we are thankful for, I come up with something socailly appropriate but true and then we pray and dig in.
What if we actually took the time to think about this tradition, and we remember that is founded on the saving grace of a local people for new immigrants. We pause on this day to be gracious that they fed us instead of slaughtering us. (My family did actually come over on the Mayflower, so if it weren't for the kindness of those Native Americans I might not be here.)
What if instead of just standing around and saying what we are thankful for we did it. What if instead of saying that I am thankful for my family I went out of my to serve them? What if instead of saying that I am thankful for a healthy daughter I gave a donation to a children's hospital? Maybe made it so that someone else could be thankful for a healthy daughter as well. Instead of just saying that I am thankful for good friends I went out of my way to encourage a friend that is struggling?
So now that I write this a day before Thanksgiving maybe tomorrow instead of stressing about getting grandma's stuffing recipe right I can go out of my way to show someone that I am thankful for them. Since I can't premeditate something more grand...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kleenex Death

While I was pregnant I read everything about the development of the fetus that I could get my hands on, I wanted to know what my little bean was doing, even though I couldn’t see her. In my last trimester I began to read about babies and how I would actually take care of this little bean once she emerged. For the first six months of her life I kept track of how she was doing compared to what the books said she should be doing. This was pretty helpful, but there were tugs of anxiety as she was doing some things that the books said she should be doing but not doing all of the things that the books said she might be doing.
She has always been robust and healthy, good color, good muscle tone, no excessive crying or frightening other health concerns. So I mostly tried to push things out of my head. Trying not to stress out about whether or not she could roll over, and just being happy that she was healthy, she will roll in her own time. If other babies were bigger or sitting before or crawling before Emma I tried not to think about it. From about six to eight months we were traveling and I really didn’t have time to stress out about Emma’s development. I stopped reading the books.
I haven’t picked them back up.
And it’s been great.
The other day I had plunked her down on my bedroom floor so I could get dressed. I looked over and she had a Kleenex box in between her chubby baby legs and was gleefully ripping the poor tissues limb from limb. I stopped, watched the carnage ensue and thought about whether or not I should stop her,
“Eh, what the heck, atleast she’s busy and happy,” while I hate to see the wasting of good tissue (hey, that stuff costs money) I had the chance to get my pants on without her crying and trying to crawl up my leg. (With this image you ask, ‘how does one get pants on with a baby crawling up your leg?’ All I can say is that it ain’t pretty.)
I guess what I am trying to say is that every now and then parenthood has forced me to let go. Instead of comparing Emma to every baby around her and making sure she came out on top, making me a better mother, of course, I have chosen to let her do things at her own pace and just be happy when she does them. Instead of wrenching the box of tissue away from her and saying ‘no,’ I let her rip away. She’s a baby after all, to her that’s just plain fun. She got to explore a new texture and I got to get dressed without feeling guilty for my selfish need to wear clothing. (That’s right, people, motherhood makes you feel guilty about wearing clothing. How? You ask. When you put the child down to get dressed and she starts screaming as if you have abandoned her to gypsies, then you’ll know.)
I still managed to get in my resourcefulness and almost compulsive need to recycle, for the next few days I kept the pile of Kleenex carnage in my room and would plunk her down in front of it whenever I needed to do anything in my room. It was great.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Please don't poop on me

This blog might be kind of touchy and may hit a dischordant note with a few, I hope I come across as diplomatic as possible.
The other day I was in the grocery store and I called Emma by her nickname, ‘bug.’ This was a nickname for her that I knew would be hers while she was in the womb, I am not sure why, it just made sense to me. An older lady turned to me when she heard me call Emma that and said,
“She’s not bugging you,” and I completely ignored her. I didn’t have the emotional energy to turn to this woman and tell her that bug was my loving nickname for my sweet little girl. When I say bug I think of ladybugs, cute bugs, not cockroaches or locusts. I did not feel the need to make my nickname for my own daughter okay for this completely random stranger. Obviously she’s not bugging me; well she wasn’t at that moment. If any mother tells me that her children never bug her, she’s a liar. We all have our moments, and they all have theirs. And honestly it really hurt that this woman would think that I was calling my one year child a hurtful name.
I am pretty sure that I can say with all confidence that this woman was probably insecure. Correcting strangers on their parenting seems to be an action of insecurity. Which is why I didn’t engage in conversation with her; her insecurities are not my problem. I know that I am parenting my child well; she is a bright and well-adjusted baby. (Now here is where the insecure women jumps in and tells me that’s not my fault and I am just lucky to have a good baby. Sigh.)
I supposed that I am tired of getting pooped on by women that are older than me. Most women my own age seem to be wading through parenting knowing that we are all doing the best we can. The women that correct me are always significantly older than me, say my mother’s generation. I feel that every time I am talking to a woman that could be my mother I am carefully choosing my words to prove that I have the right attitude, that I cherish my child appropriately, that I have the patience of a saint (I don’t), and I understand babies and think they are great. Or that when I am really positive about Emma, there’s some backhanded, ‘just you wait,’ comment coming. Maybe that’s due to selective memory; only remembering the temper tantrums or only remembering the sweet moments of cuddling and giggling.
I guess I am asking why some women can’t respect that younger women aren’t completely stupid. I understand my child and I love her. I spend a lot of time with her, I know her. And I guess that I am saying that it really hurts me when people accuse me of being incompetent or hurtful towards my own child. When you get right down to the marrow of the issue.
I guess what I am just trying to say is that if you have advice to offer to a ‘young’ mom, that you think may be needing it, do just that: offer it. Don’t assume that she doesn’t know what she is doing and come down hard on her head.
I know that parenting is touchy, we all understand the gravity of raising a human life. When we see someone that may be doing something that is damaging to a child we want to say something. Or when our own insecurities pop up when we see a woman that is not having as hard time as we are we want to push her down. It’s just human nature and it’s dirty.
Moms, now grandmothers, maybe you can trust that you raised us and we may not be doing such a bad job after all. Just maybe?

PS: Both my mother-in-law and mother have been doing a pretty good job of ‘offering’ or just trusting me. Thanks ladies.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sister Wives

Since coming back to the US I hav ebeen surprised at how much I haven't wanted to watch TV. In Kenya we would pop in a DVD of a television series and spend several episodes steeped int he entertainment of our home nation. Now with all manner of media readily available I am surprised at how many nights that screen stays black. One thing I have always strived for is to not watch television just because it's there. Not to watch some harmful drivel just because I have nothing more creative to do.
Some such drivel that I have allowed to drip into my mind was the TLC show Sister Wives, a reality show about a man and his four wives. Why of all the quality programming available would I chose this train wreck?
At dinner we started we talking about it. And we kept coming back to it over and over again. Miriam and I mostly drove the conversation. We were both equally disturbed and fascinated by this show.
I can't speak for Miriam but I know that not only is polygamy disturbing to the western female mind for the reasons of jealousy and the sheer grossness of sharing your husband with another woman but I think that polygamy strikes at fear in the core of every woman's heart. That no matter what we are or how strong our marriage that we are never enough. That in a culture where a woman like Sandra Bullock or Elin Woods cannot keep the fascination of her husband how can a plainer woman ever expect to survive? When music videos show faceless and flawless females off as commodities to be trading, what is to keep our husband's from finding the next best thing? When we become old and tired from bearing their children and men are touted as having insatiable sexual appetites how can one normal woman expect to satisfy him?
Even though we may be four years in or forty years into a healthy marriage there is that insecure piece in a woman's soul that doubts that we are ever enough. That if given the opportunity our husband's woudl go find another skinnier, prettier, less-complicated woman. That the true love we think we have is a fallacy and it all boils down to physical attraction.
At one point in the show the new wife turns to the camera and sighs and says that Kody, the husband, is her 'soul mate.' I threw up a bit in my mouth and thought, 'and hers, and hers, and hers?'
I read the 19th Wife about a year ago. I would read a few chapters look over at my husband and ask some inane and completely insecure question, and he would respond that polygamy does not interest him in the slightest. He seems mostly scared by the drama it would cause. But that's not what I wanted to hear, I wanted to hear that I am enough and that he would never want someone else. That he is indeed in love with me, my soul and my personhood. So I kept pressing until I got the answer I wanted.
The show has done that to me again. I turn to him and tentatively dance around the question until I can say, 'So, no, you wouldn't ever want to do that? It is not the desire of every man's heart to have multiple women at his beck and call?' I'm pretty sure he never wants me to watch this show again...
I know that polygamy has served it's place in certain cultures by protecting women. In places where women are nothing if they are not defined in relation to a man. Being a second wife is better than not being a wife. But in America, we don't need that. I don't need definition through a man. I make my own definition. So every time I watch these women or read about them I know what I would do, I would leave. After he ripped my heart out I would go. I would take my baby and go. I just can't understand why they don't.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I have always struggled with Sundays as a day of rest. I watch my husband settle down in to a comfy chair with a book or a football game. And I spin. What should I do with this time? How best should I use this time? Can I actually rest? Is it restful to just sit and read or is it more restful or paint? Last Sunday I did laundry because it was actually restful for me to get it done with Scott home, so my baby wasn’t crawling up my leg as I am trying to load the dryer.
This last Sunday was not much of a day of rest. We planned Emma’s first birthday party right after, I felt a little insecure to demand someone’s time on a Saturday. We have also joined a small group that meets on Sunday night at 5:30. So I had a few moments to rest from about four o’clock to five o’clock.
After scrubbing dishes I gave up on the pot that I burnt the bottom of, and escaped downstairs. I found myself on the couch sitting next to my husband, who was reading our small group book and watching football. Near moments after my butt hit the couch Emma woke up, so I spent a good chunk of that time snuggling with Emma while she drank her wake-up bottle. Girl wakes up slow. Once she woke up enough to turn her loose, Scott relinquished the small group book, I decided I needed to read the book so I would have something relevant to say tonight. My eyes grazed over the words absorbing nothing, I knew that all I really wanted to do was paint my nails and watch the rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV.
Now I don’t paint my nails often. I think the last time I did they were wrecked by that evening. The one load of dishes that I washed left the polish cracked and jagged. For whatever reason this Sunday I wanted to paint them. So I gave myself a break from my ever swirling obligations and painted. Of course Emma crawled back in front of the couch crying for the bottles of polish. As I am pretty sure that nail polish is not non-toxic, and most definitely stain-able she didn’t get them. I ran my newly dark red nails under my hair dryer to set them.
Let’s just say that within five minutes of finishing all but one nail was biffed. The left index finger was completely scraped off, I don’t know where the polish ended up. My suspicion is that a spot on my sock drawer now looks like it has been stabbed. What nail survived? You ask. The right middle finger. As if my very nails are flipping off my very attempts to self-indulge. It was then that I knew that I no longer have a half hour or so to sit and do nothing and let my nails dry.
You know when you are at the very last of the tube of toothpaste, and you turn the v’ed edges inwards, demonstrating immense digital strength, just to get that last bit out? I feel like I am always doing that with my hours. Even the times I am sitting in front of the TV I am doing something, squeezing that last ounce of usefulness out of the day.
My in-laws have a book that sits on their shelf, When I Relax I Feel Guilty. Maybe I should give it a whirl? If I can find the time…

Friday, November 5, 2010


What does one do with all this local food? Here are two recipes that I came up with:

2 cups cooked kidney and pinto beans (i cook my own from dried, instead of using canned, so I do a mixture of the two beans)
2 cups frozen tomatoes
1 lb ground beef or 2 cups black beans
1 red pepper chopped
8 oz frozen roasted green chilies
1-2 carrots chopped
1 cup frozen or fresh olathe/sweet corn
1 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
cumin, salt, pepper, and chili powder to taste

If using beef brown it beforehand with onion. Throw it all in the crock pot, set on low, and walk away until dinner time. Serve with regular chili trappings; sour cream, cheese, cilantro, etc. A dish that uses summer ingredients but is really best eaten in the winter.

Peach Glazed Rosemary Chicken

1 1/2 lbs chicken
1/2 - 3/4 cup peach jam
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp lemon zest or squirt in some lemon juice
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 clove garlic minced (go easy on garlic, it can overpower the other flavors)

Arrange chicken in 9x13 baking dish. Melt all other ingredients on the stove in small saucepan, until flavors are mingled. Pour pach jam over chicken and bake until done.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


About three years when we were last living in BV I was reading about the locavore movement; eating only foods grown locally (in 100 miles of your house). Scott and I started talking about it, the writer lived in Kentucky. It was January. I looked out our window at the cold desolate land that our Colorado landscape offered us and thought, 'What could possibly grow here?' I jumped up from my warm spot on the couch and dug through our pantry, refridgerator, and freezer to find what we had that had been produced locally. What did I find; elk and honey. Everything was from somewhere faraway. Bread from Ohio, coffee from Sumatra (via Seattle), sugar from Hawaii, etc.
This week we are working our way through a loaf of Eco-friendly wheat bread, as it is called on the package. What does eco-friendly mean? I flipped it over and began reading, this bread was made with wheat that was grown using sustainable methods in Idaho. Sounds good, but what was the address on the package? This bread apparently hailed from Wisconsin. Does that mean that wheat was shipped from Idaho to Wisconsin? Or does the company just come out of Wisconsin? Or was the plastic bag made in Wisconsin? Either way standing in my Colorado kitchen that loaf had done a lot of traveling before it became my toast. I stand there feeling defeated. But, it was on special, i say to myself. And it's eco-friendly. Whatever that means.
We moved back here in late July, knowing the long winter ahead and the soon coming inavailability of local produce I went pioneer woman and 'put some food up.' A friend hooked me up with a deal on peaches, we now have peach jam for Christmas presents. I froze a box of tomatoes, so we don't need to buy canned tomatoes probably until January. I did the same with a box of roasted chilies. This same friend told me about a farmer who would sell me his seconds for pretty cheap, I was thinking apples. But the last week that the farmer's market ran I was too tired to think about it.
Am I a locavore? I don't know. If we truly chose to live that way, we give up flour, sugar, tea, coffee, and a host of other things. If you want grains you needs to move to the midwest, if you want fruit you need to move to California, if you want coffee you need to move to Indonesia, and the list goes on. Last week I stood in the produce section and stared at the peppers, some where from Canada (What business does Canada have growing peppers?) and some were from Mexico. Which is closer? I went for Mexico, because they were cheaper, and to get to Mexico I only have to drive through half of CO and New Mexico and to get to Canada I have to drive through the other half of CO, Wyoming and then Montana. And who knows what part of Canada they are from, Saskatchwen or British Columbia? You could say, 'just don't buy the peppers.' But I was making chili from all the tomatoes and chilies I put up....
So what if I do switch to all local all the time? What happens to that Ecuadorian farmer who is dependent on my purchasing of his bananas to feed his family? Not to mention that in this climate I will probably have scurvy by March.
I think the call is to be conscious. Buy local when I can, when it doesn't shoot an impossible hole in my pocketbook. Maybe instead of supporting Starbucks I can support the local roastery. Maybe I can choose products that are only one state away instead of several?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Emma's 1st Birthday

Today is Emma’s first birthday. I can’t believe that a full year has passed. I can’t believe that sweet little lump of a baby is a walking and talking (kind of) toddler. Of course moments like these lead to reflection.
Yesterday we dropped my brother off at the Denver airport driving home as our little aqua RAV4 climbed into the mountains, the sun slanting in through the windshield I asked my husband,
“So, Emma is one year old, so what do you think you have learned this year?”
“You mean about parenthood or just our year in general?” he asks for specification.
“Well, you know, like all of it…” I love it when I am articulate.
He launches into a rambling journey of observations about how much he valued community. Our friends back in Nairobi that brought us dinners after Emma was born, our friends here in BV who have received her so well and love on her. Our family who treat her like the treasure she is. He talked in and through these thoughts, and then we fell silent.
“You haven’t answered your own question.”
“What have you learned this past year?” I had already thought through this question, so I forgot to reciprocate. I perched my sunglasses back on my head as the sun disappeared behind a snow dusted mountain. I launched into the thoughts I had scrawled in a notebook the night before.
“I think for me it’s really been knowledge. I understand more how life works. More how human life works.” Having felt life grow in my womb and knowing the undeniable connection that I have with my very own daughter my understanding of humanity has been expanded like an exploding nova. I now have something in common with more women than I did before, we are all mothers. I feel more in touch with my own body than I ever have before, I know have this deep understanding of what it is capable of doing.
“And just the plain knowledge of a development of a baby,” how over the year a three month can probably sit up, with pillows, a six month old can do supermans on their tummy, a nine month old is probably crawling…we had watched the documentary Babies the night before…
“A year ago I wouldn’t have wanted to watch that documentary, nor would I have thought those babies were all that cute.” I confessed with a shrug. Scott smiled,
“I had that thought.” I hate it when he knows me better than I do. Or do I love it?
I think I understand sacrificial more than ever. What it means to give up what you want to do for the health and happiness of this little person. What it means to give up the way your body looks for a baby. What it means to give up sleep…
At the beginning of this year I was in shock over all the life changes that having a baby brought. Now I have adjusted to the new ebb and flow of life. The lack of sleep, the fact that just when you think you know what to do with your baby she changes on you, the daily emotional swings from joy and laughter at her new discoveries to burning aggravation when she crawls up my leg when I am trying to DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT. I fall more in love with her every day. I can’t wait to see what kind of person she becomes, but yet I love the baby she is.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

TwovYears Later...

A good friend of mine just lost her first pregnancy. When I told my husband and in-laws (who know her) a deep horrified sadness filled their eyes. My father-in-law said, ‘You’re well prepared to comfort her,’ and my mother-in-law cried. Nothing prepares you for the sadness and desperation of losing an unborn child. Nothing compares to that pain. As Christians and Americans we are taught to remake our pain, to make it okay, to say that this tragedy happened so that this good could happen. Losing a child, however, cannot be made okay. Not only do you lose the child, if it’s your first, you lose the promise of becoming a parent and you enter into the fear that there is something wrong with you, something wrong with your intrinsic human ability to bring life into the world.
Emma’s due date was the exact day that we lost that first pregnancy. Emma came two days before that day, but it felt like a promise. With that first baby I was in doubt of that pregnancy the whole time, with Emma I had no doubt that she would come into this world healthy and beautiful. Not that Emma replaced that first baby, not at all. You can’t replace one human with another. But her conception and entry into this world was redemptive, I remember sitting in church with her on my lap and resting my chin on her head and asking myself, ‘how can I still be angry when this one is so perfect?’
During my pregnancy with Emma I never prayed that she would receive specific characteristics from Scott or me, I certainly wanted her to inherit some aspects of us that I loved. Scott’s big eyes, and his easily tanned skin, my dark eyes and blonde curly hair. I won’t ask for it though because you get what you get and you love that baby. She seems to have inherited everything that I wanted for her, she seems to be exactly what I wanted. If I had carried that baby to term I wouldn’t have Emma. I would have that baby. I would love that child, but I am so thoroughly overjoyed at what I was given in this baby that is crawling on my floor right now.
Then I get crazy on myself and wonder if the desires I had for this feature and that feature caused that baby to be aborted, if that baby wasn’t what I wanted so it failed. Crazy, but I thought it, and then let the little dwarves that live in my head run angrily over that thought and stamp it out. There is no way that thoughts can cause miscarriages. Atleast that's what I tell myself.
Almost two years later from losing that one I think these thoughts. My friend’s pain brings mine back up, those horrible few dark days, the months after. Wondering if I would ever stop thinking about it. Talking to other mothers who had lost children ten years prior, who would fall into tears when they heard my story and then told their own. This grief is one that cannot be explained or shrugged off or one that can be ignored. You must just walk until it doesn’t hurt all the time. And i don't hurt all the time, but when I think about those days I remember the hurt and confusion, and it's not all okay or gone, but I have a child and I lvoe her and she's perfect.
I think I'll go kiss her now.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Art of Crazy

A few years ago I was at a bridal shower, I knew the bride fairly well and I knew she would soon be traveling to China to live. So for her present I bought a card and threw a twenty in it, because she can take the money back to China and buy what she needs. I sat there stewing in non-housewifely embarrassment as she opened gift after gift and homemade card after homemade card. Eventually someone cooed,
“I think cards are the new art of the twentieth century,” I recoiled at this. Art? Card making is not art. It is a craft. A craft, not art. A craft is something anyone can do follwing a step by step process, using pre-fabricated items to make an item that give the semblance of homemade, but isn’t really. Almost like using a cake mix and comparing it to a homemade cake.
Last night I sat there sticking craft foam stickers on a wet wipes box, and of all of a sudden it occurred to me, I’ve fallen into the trap. The crafting trap.
I am creative person, and when ideas get in my head, they get the better of me. They haul around my brain whipping me into a frenzy, like a drunken man on a mechanical bull. I egg the idea on, like the drunken friend who just keeps putting quarters in the machine, even though the drunk man is crying out to get off, yelling, ‘It’s not worth it, it’s not worth it.’ But the idea goes and goes, until the friend runs out of quarters, and the bartender talks some sense into both of them and takes away their keys. Sometimes the idea wins, and sometimes the drunken friend with way too many quarters wins.
Emma is having her first birthday in a few weeks. I call her my little bug so the thought to do a ladybug theme emerged. And the idea came, and like the mechanical bull it began to whip around my brain. I could make ladybug cupcakes, and I could make up a ladybug craft (remember I don’t like crafts) and I could make a ladybug scavenger hunt; where I make ladybugs and hide them around the yard and give out prizes….right now I want to claw the mechanical bull out of my head and throw it against the wall. So what did I decide on doing? I scaled it back a bit, just a bit. No craft. Just the ladybug scavenger hunt, and the cupcakes are going to become abstract suggestions of lady bugs rather than each one an individual creation.
Last night I sat there and painted rocks into the aforementioned bugs while watching TV and thought again, ‘why am I doing this?’ Earlier in the night I was decorating baby wipes boxes with craft foam for a baby shower gift. Having been the guest that brought a gift card and felt the sting of feminine competitive guilt I didn ‘t want to be the cause of someone else feeling less than adequate just because I have a creativity problem. As I was piddling about with the craft foam I thought, ‘Really? Am I doing this? I have a master’s degree I should be writing pieces on the effect of American pop culture on overseas workers, not making useless decorative items.’
Sometimes I think magazines like Better Homes and Gardens are created to keep women distracted, to guilt us into make our own picture frames and table runners, rather than taking over the world. My mother in law started talking about kids parties and the effort we had gone through for our own children and what our mothers had done for us. The only cake I can remember from my childhood was one for my brothers pool party. My mother had gone and had it specifically made and when she picked it up she had found that they had put a woman in a bikini in a hot tub on top, not exactly appropriate for a boy’s pool party. She couldn’t remember anything from her parties either.
Last night she walked by my basin of newly painted ladybugs,
“You know if you wanted to make them shiny I have some polyurethane,’ she offered, adding to my Better Homes and Gardening myself.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!” she laughed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I hate October. Okay, scratch that, I hate what Americans have done to October. I like fall; the leaves are beautiful, I love the magic of the warm fronts and cold fronts clashing together, and I love the food (cider, pumpkin bread). Maybe it's because growing up in San Diego fall is really all in your mind, you can drink cider and snuggle down in a blanket but, really, it's still seventy degrees outside. No protests people reading this back home, it ain't cold, it really ain't.
So what do I hate about October? Number one: breast cancer awareness month. What? You say? You insensitive pig. I'm not insensitive. Here's why I hate this, more women die every year of heart disease, why don't we have a heart disease month? Because a woman's heart doesn't look good in a C cup. More women die every year of malaria. Why don't we have a malaria month, because those women are dying in Africa and Asia and we don't care about them. We could eradicate malaria, but we haven't. Why not? Because it's not in the US anymore, it's not our problem. Yes, you read that correctly, anymore, the U.S. used to have malaria. Once we got our water systems under control it went away. Industrialization eradicated the disease.
And to top it off there is a very high incidence of breast cancer in my family, so all month long I feel like the death toll is ringing.
Number two: Halloween. That's right, I HATE Halloween. Trick or Treating is great, let kids dress up and get free candy, that part is awesome. I hate the whole horror movie, 'c'mon let's celebrate evil,' thing. I used to watch horror movies, but now I can't. I don't understand the value of creating depictions of evil when there is already so much real evil in the world. Maybe it's because I seen too many abused children, too many starving children, too many fat corrupt politicians living off money that should be feeding their constituency. Just too many. So why create a movie about a man who locks people in rooms and makes them kill each other in diabolical ways?
All month long I am assaulted by commercials that tell me that zombies are going to eat my brain and that most likely my boobies are gonna be surgically removed. It's enough to make a woman not leave the house and turn off the TV...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Priority Check II

When Emma was first born I remember countless meals that I could not eat because the moment I lifted that first forkful to mouth she would cry for her own dinner. I never mastered breastfeeding while eating, or really doing much else, so I would leave the table and feed her while friends and family chatted and ate. I resented it. Intensely. Every time I had to run away to take the half hour to rock her to sleep or go sit in the nursery and nurse for forty five minutes I would burn in frustration. My thoughts would bounce back and forth between what I was missing and what I wanted to do. The conversations I couldn’t participate in, or the paintings I could be working on.
This weekend Scott was invited to speak at a conference. We purchased his ticket and then debated for several days on whether or not I would go. He was told in his confirmation email to bring a sleeping bag. We figured that meant rustic accommodations, and most likely sharing a bunk house with lots of other people. If I signed on to go would we be given our own cabin or would they throw us in with every body else? I hemmed and hawed, on one hand I pictured a sweet retreat where I could sit peacefully with a book and all my journals while Emma slept soundly in the room next door. On the other hand I pictured a miserable situation where I sit in the dark in the same room while she napped and went to bed early. Emma also doesn’t really sleep well if she knows that you are in the room or even really in close proximity. She will cry hoping you will rescue her from her solitude. This turns in to tortured wails if you are actually in the room with her and she knows it. Eventually she will sleep, but by the time silence settles into the room your nerves have pulled your neck muscles into suspension cables holding your shoulders tight and you feel like the biggest ass that ever walked the earth.
We decided that I would go. When we arrived our friend Amy, who was in charge of the conference, happily showed us our own cabin on the map. We marched over, hopes high. Once the door swung open and we saw the single room with a double bed and empty bunk beds our hearts sank. We sat on the bed and debated what to do. I stood up and said,
“I’ll go and talk to Amy and see if she can put us in a two room cabin,” I marched off. I found Amy and explained that the cabin is great but Emma doesn’t really sleep if we are in the same room with her and that I will largely end up sitting in the dark.
“Oh, let me talk to our host and see what he can do,” we waited in a calm sort of limbo. Our host showed up I overheard some discussion and he soon ushered us to the ‘Sheriff’s Office.’ The ‘Sheriff’s Office’ turned out to be a rec room filled with couches with a bedroom attached. The bedroom had a double bed. Perfect.
After dinner I shuffled off to our ‘Sheriff’s Office,’ ready to put Emma down and ease into a nice book. As I let my back sink into one of the couches I realized how funny my present attitude was, I was completely content to be left alone in a cabin with a book while my husband went off to the evening meeting. I didn’t even care that I was missing out. For the rest of the conference I wouldn’t be able to attend most of the workshops. The first was at nine in the morning and the second was at eleven. Emma naps from about ten to eleven thirty, smack in the middle of everything. I was more than happy to have the time away from email, my long to do list, and the pull of all the things a mother feels that she must do. So for three days I didn’t check Facebook or Gmail. I didn’t even crack my laptop. I only used my phone for a time telling device. I wasn’t able to attend fun workshops on wilderness leadership, and I didn’t care.
Funny how priorities and perspective changes…

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Food Fight

When Emma started showing interest in solid foods around five months old, I was actually pretty excited, a new milestone, more freedom from me. I whipped open one of my many baby books and read about what to introduce first. I was a little afraid because so far all she had to eat was pure breastmilk, clean, sanitized, perfect nutrition. I was a little scared about what would pass through my child's untainted lips. I bought the recommended rice cereal, mixed it up and offered it to her open mouth. Refused. I would try again a few days later, and still, refused. I talked to another mom about this, she said, 'They all hate rice cereal, it has no flavor.' So back to the store, I bought teething biscuits, the box suggested crushing them up and adding breastmilk or formula to make a cereal. I thought it was worht a shot, but I used apple juice instead because it's non-allergenic and Emma won't take formula and breastmilk is a pretty precious commodity. She loved it. Then we moved and they don't sell that type of teething biscuit in the US.
Over the next six months I have made her baby food. I read instructions for baby food, where they tell you not to boil it, or add water, or add fats or salt or sugar to it. And I thought, 'how in the world am I supposed to puree this if I can't add anything to it.' So I ignored the clinical advice, I boiled it, mashed it, added some of the cooking water when it needed it, threw in a little salt, maybe some butter to smooth it out. And guess what she loved it. She refused the store bought baby food and chomped mine down. One point for mommy.
Pretty soon she started refusing baby food and wanted what we had on our plates. This is a good transition, but she only has two teeth and we eat spicy food, a lot. Can she really handle what we eat? At first, no. After a few choking moments, I became a little gun shy and backed off the food. That's why children have daddies...
And grandparents. I think most moms have this view of being very careful about the first foods that they introduce to their children, slowly trying one thing at a time. Veggies first, so you have a little angel that loves their spinach. Certainly no sugar until that first birthday, when you give them a piece of their birthday cake and cameras poised, let 'er rip.
The other day while we were eating dessert I looked up and my father-in-law had his spoon outstretched to Emma,
"Emma, would you like some ice cream? Yeah," he nodded as she eagerly slurped off his spoon. Oh, jeez. Some things in life stick in your head so clearly that they remain with you throughout. I had a friend in grad school that had just had her first child, she was very all-natural. One day in class she was complaining that her mother-in-law kept giving her kid sweets and she didn't know how to handle it. After class one of the 'older' ladies in class very gently struck up a conversation with my friend, all I heard was,
"The relationship with your mother-in-law is more important than the lollipop," she did it so gently and kindly that it stuck in my memory.
This is what I thought as my father-in-law was giving my child her first taste of ice cream. I cringed inwardly and let him do it. Later that week he looked at me while holding a piece of french toast and asked,
"Can I give her a piece?"
"I would prefer you didn't just because it has eggs in it,and thank you, very much, for asking," he nodded and put it down. Goes both ways, eh?
I had also thought when he gave her ice cream, you know he raised five kids, he knows what he's doing. Later my mother-in-law reacted very strongly when Emma fell and bonked her head, a surprise from a woman I'm sure told her own children to walk it off. Later I looked at her, the one eye sideways squint,
"Would you have reacted that way with your own kids?" She looked off to the side, for a pensive moment,
"Probably not," it seems that grandparents have different rules than parents.
I watch as my little girl crawls all over the house, collecting bites of pumpkin from her grandma, bites of my peanut butter toast, and bites of whatever off the floor. Sigh, her sweet mouth is no longer untainted. I didn't stick to a regimen of introducing non-allergenic foods. She apparently seems to have survived it so far...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Rules are changing

Today for lunch I filled Emma's high chair full of a smorgasbord of toddler eats (did I just call my baby a toddler?), cheerios, grape tomatoes, sliced turkey, and peices of pasta from last night's dinner. (Yes, she is capable of eating all that stuff at eleven months old, crazy, I know) And she whined. She pointed at my bowl of salad and whined. She pointed at the cupboard and whined. I thought to myself,
'She really just needs to eat what I gave her.'
So here's a thought after a year of just meeting their needs outright, whenever they cry you are there. Instantly with a lilt of their voice they are fed, rocked, changed and cooed over. Babies start to feel comfortable that when they have a need they are taken care of, they ask for food, drink, cuddles, toys, and they get it all. Then we completely change the game on them. When they start to assert their desires that aren't so much needs and more wants we get all, like, 'Eat it anyway, kid.'
For instance: usually when she's playing with other kids she just picks up whatever and starts playing with it. Most of my friends have kids about a year to a year and half old, for this age someone just picking up their toys and playing with them is NOT okay. Quite frequently me or the other mom is taking toys away from the other child and handing them back to Emma, because she's little and doesn't know any better. Right? SO yesterday Emma is playing on the floor of our friend's house and their daughter, Penny, who is about a year and a half, is 'sharing' her toys with Emma. I look over and Emma had reached out and grabbed a toy right out of Penny's hands. Uh, well, no more hapless victim. I took it away from Emma and handing it back to Penny.
So I'm sitting there thinking about all this, eating my salad, while my child is continuing to ignore the food on her plate and whine for something else. So, sucker that I am, I start picking the peas and nice black grapes out of my salad and putting them on her plate. They are GONE, almost instantly. I continue the dance of taking more peas and grapes out and putting them on her plate, she continues to gobble until there are two grape halves left right in front of her. I pick one up and offer it to her, she turns her head away. I look at her and say,
"All done?" While waving my outstretched palms in a circular pattern. She looks back waves her hands and for the first time goes,
"All done." I guess she's growing up.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mt. Harvard

Yesterday was Emma’s eleven month birthday, so to celebrate we left her with her grandmother and climbed Mt. Harvard. I guess I’m not really a helicopter parent.
The trailhead to Mt. Harvard is about a ten minute drive from our house. After a night of multiple wake-ups, including a two hour fiasco, we kissed Emma good bye, hopped in the car and started a six mile approach. The trail leads you up through Horn Fork Basin, what the guide book describes as a ‘beautiful alpine valley,’ and it’s right. For about the first four miles you are in western pine forest and the last two you are above the tree line in a valley, with the peak of Mt. Columbia to your right, Birthday Peak to your right and the peak of Mt. Harvard directly in front of you. Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia are connected by a pointy saddle, full of castle shaped rock formations. It’s this saddle that kept Columbia from being declared it’s own mountain for several years.
We started out talking about an upcoming job opportunity that Scott has, we talked excitedly about what we would do with our money, this portion here, and that portion there. The first time in our marriage where one of us would be making a solid salary has made us giddy with the possibilities. At one point Scott reached out and took my hand and we hiked holding hands. We have gotten out of the habit of holding hands (something we used to do all the time) because in Kenya if you hold hands with someone it means you are having an illicit affair. Which I thought was hysterical when I was pregnant. As he took my hand, inwardly my heart leapt a little, with a girlish inside giggle, I thought, ‘he still really likes me.’
Once we were out of the tree line and looking at the peak of Harvard we debated on what was actually the peak. There was a knob to the southernmost part of the top and several humps afterwards. As we got closer I kept thinking the third hump down was the peak, from where we were it looked the tallest. I steeled myself and saved my energy, I put one foot in front of the other, slowly, stalwart, tortoise like. When were probably about a quarter mile from the first hump over from the knob, the one I thought, ‘was not the peak,’ and Scott said,
“I think this is the peak, the guys on top are acting like it’s the peak.” Sure enough the men on top had stripped off their shirts and were doing hand stands. Not something you do on top of a false summit; usually a false summit gets an angry curse word and a deflowering of your hopes. The next hikers that came down I asked, is this it? Or is it that one? They smiled and said,
“It’s this one.” My spirits soared, suddenly I had so much energy I felt like jogging to the top. Not really, but I think I could have. Knowing that the peak was right in front of me rather than another mile or so to the right made me rush with renewed energy. We were at the top of Mt. Harvard within moments.
And that’s why I climb mountains, the top. The conquer and the view. The challenge, the success and then sitting at the peak of the world and seeing a view that few people have the privilege of seeing. We could look all the way down the tips of the Sawatch Range. The dark blue and purple tips of Princeton, Antero, Shavano, and Tabaguache poked the sky and reminded us of our small-ness.
After a few celebratory handfuls of trail mix and the discovery that my husband doesn’t really like pretzels, we started down. I hate down. Peering over the edge of the rocks that you just took in stride, realizing that you have to turn yourself around and traverse that all without falling flat on your face. I mostly go down on my butt. I know it’s not cool, but when in doubt use the largest part of your body, which for most women is our bottom.
For the remaining five or six miles of descent, we marched. We were eager to get home to our awaiting shower, and beer. Our post-hike tradition. This time I felt another strong pull on my nose to home, the pull to see my little girl. I did miss her, missed holding her and hearing her precious giggle. We strode along in silence this time, thinking about things to return to.
We called my mother in love on the way home from the trail, she was waiting outside for us, with Emma on her hip. Even though couldn’t hear her we knew that she was pointing to the car and telling her that Mommy and Daddy were coming home. Emma’s face turned from one of baby hopefulness and confusion to all smiles when she could recognize us through the windshield. As mom shuffle-ran up to the car we could hear her peals of baby giggles. I do love the mountains, but it’s good to be home.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tomato Fire

Grocery shopping in Kenya, as one would expect, was a completely different experience from shopping in the states. For produce we had three options, a green grocer shop called Zucchini’s, our local produce stand, and the grocery store, Nakumatt. Zucchini’s was usually the best deal, they had the best selection, it was pretty fresh, and it wasn’t that expensive. The local produce stand was by far the cheapest and it always felt really good to support the ladies who ran it, Miriam and Lucy, they knew our car and watched my belly grow and cooed over Emma when she was born. But, they didn’t have a large selection and they were out of the way. Nakumatt was the worst, it was older, and much more expensive. So you think problem solved, right? Yes and no. The same vegetables and fruit were available all the time, it never changed. I could never get a handle on what was in season and you had no idea where any of it came from. Most likely it all came from local farms which is good and most likely it was pretty close to organic. There was that one apple that tasted like paint, though…
I was looking forward to coming home and eating seasonally and being able to buy produce with an informed attitude. Scott got me a copy of the cookbook Simply in Season for my birthday, so that I could actually know what is in season right now. As the leaves have started to change I have eagerly dived into the Autumn section planning my meals around pumpkin, squash, chard, and apples. I have been uber-pleased to see that our local grocery store offers Colorado grown produce and at cheaper prices than the imported produce.
Knowing that the winter is long here and that the quality of produce will actually drop I have been trying to purchase large quantities of produce and ‘put them up’ for the winter. That’s right, like the good farm wife that I am. It’s a tricky process because it’s really only worth the time and work if you get a really good deal on the produce. So far I have bought a 25lb box of peaches for $12, a 25lb box of tomatoes for $15, and a box of roasted green chiles for $15. The peaches became jam and peach ginger chutney, the tomatoes got skinned and are frozen, and the chiles got skinned, chopped and frozen. I would say that the peaches were by far the best deal, I now have Christmas presents for quite a few people. I have chiles coming out of my eyeballs, because you really only use about 4 ounces per recipe (if you are reading this and you have green chile recipes, please send them my way). The tomatoes may not have been the best deal, but I have ‘canned’ tomatoes that will probably last me through the winter and after doing the math I think it will actually save money.
Earlier this week I was at the grocery store and realized that enchilada sauce costs $3.59 a can. I sat there and thought that I had most of the components at home that needed to be used up, tomatoes, garlic, onions, chiles, etc. So I thought, hey I can do that. I threw 36oz of my frozen tomatoes, an onion, four cloves of garlic, cumin, oregano, and four chipotle chilies packed in adobo in the crock pot and let her rip. Okay, those chipotle suckers are not kidding around. I made a vat of hot sauce. I added a sweet bell pepper, hoping that sugar and more bulk would break up the heat. Still fire. I added some fire roasted bell pepper, hoping to keep the chipotle flavor but soak up beat. Still fire. I added a can of fire-roasted tomatoes. Still fire. I added another precious freezer jar of my tomatoes. Well, it didn’t burn my esophagus this time around…
I tell myself that it’s still worth it because I am controlling the amount of processed foods that we are eating. Less preservatives and fake sugars and fats are always good, right? I didn’t do the math to see how much I ended up plunking into the crock pot to make three 16 oz freezer jars of enchilada fire. Pretty sure it cost more than $3.59…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lessons from Blue People

For my birthday this past weekend Scott and I went into Denver to treat me to a shopping trip at an art’s supply store, and dinner and a movie. on our way in we stopped at Copper Mountain for a cup of coffee and a potty break, I kind of laughed to myself as I noticed that I was all dressed for my trip into the big city and all the other people in the coffee shop were all dressed down for their time in the country.
As we pulled up to the Interquest 14 Theatre, located in the new growth of shiny shopping malls and six land wide streets on the south side of town, I almost said to Scott,
“Okay, I’ll run in and you can watch the baby,” and then realized we could both go in at the same time because we had left her with Scott’s Mom. As I walked into the movie theatre I was a bit disgusted at the size of the preceding atrium. My head swiveled around the colossal domed structure and marveled at the amount of money that had been spent on just the entryway. After the entryway I was greeted by two escalators and a set of staircases that took me down to the ticket window, maybe the theatre company figured that if you made the walk to the counter about a mile you’d be hungry and would buy some popcorn. We bought our tickets and debated about which of the eight doors we would use to enter the theatre. I was thirsty so thought that I would cruise on up and grab a soda before the movie. Used to Nairobi prices I thought I would just get a small or a bottle for about a dollar. Or the small soda cost $4.25. I decided to stay thirsty.
We had previously seen Avatar in Nairobi on a pirated disc, something which I shouldn’t admit, but when that is all that is available you get desperate. Of course, because there is karma, it didn’t have the last twenty minutes on the disc, so we needed to see it again and wanted to do it in 3D. (That’s not the only time that the last portion of a movie was missing on a pirated disc, I’m guessing it’s because the Chinese have put cops in their theatres and they flush out the guy holding up his camcorder.)
It began, and BAM, I was completely engrossed. I could not believe the difference that 3D made. The amount of detail that was there that I had missed practically gave me goose bumps. After we had watched it the first time we both were kind of unimpressed, I really just felt like it was just a movie about blue people. This time, I cried, a couple of times. The immense amount of visual stimuli sucked me in so much more that I cared and felt way more than I did when it was just a slightly pixilated image on a 21 inch TV.
As I was watching the scenes of the ostentatious flying machines destroying bucolic trees and blue people I kept thinking, ‘surely we are more evolved than this and wouldn’t do this.’ But I knew it was wrong. We’ve done this in America, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and those are just the English speaking colonies. Over and over again we have infiltrated other people’s lands and because we wanted it and we took it. No one is complicit on this, that’s the basis of tribal warfare as well. I sat there with a pit in my stomach thinking and hoping that we have learned our lesson and that if we ever reach a point where we are going to other planets that we won’t just blow up the natives because they are sitting on things we want.
In the movie there was intimation that the humans had destroyed out own world, I don’t know if that will happen. The ozone layer healed itself after we stopped pumping CFC’s into it. More people are switching to cloth diapers. I know many people who are growing their own food, and starting to rethink how much meat they eat. Other countries are doing much better than we are, smaller cars and more electric ones and alternative sources of fuel. For us to change gas needs to get expensive, that’s only way to change Americans, hit us in the pocketbook.
I was a bit jealous thinking about the fictional biological connection that the Na’vi had with their world. I was struck thinking that some of it was true, of course much borrowed from Native American beliefs, but so many things in our world move in cycles. Time. The nitrogen cycle (which we are part of, by the way, ashes to ashes, dust to dust). The water cycle. An animal or plant dies, and we eat it so that we can live. We actually are connected to our world. If nothing else backpacking and hiking has taught me thatI have gotten back in touch my innate sense of direction. I have discovered that nature calms me and brings me back to what matters. Having my daughter has taught me how connected we are, the fact that my body still nourishes her while she is well on her way to becoming a separate entity.
I was also left thinking about the implications of the depiction of Jake Scully as a successful cross-cultural plant. He had nothing to lose, and he was fearless. He also entered into the situation with the intention to learn and not the intention to teach. A mistake that is commonly made by almost all cross-cultural workers. Which makes me wonder if going overseas to teach is ever a good idea.
WHile one may just view Avatar as a summer blockbuster made to produce millions and only that, there are undeniable mythic truths depicted in the story line. I was a bit surprised by how affected I was by the movie. Even to the point of tears.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Defecacious Day

One of the things I have realized about living in a tourist town is that often instead of taking your own vacation you are facilitating other people’s vacations. Which I do thoroughly enjoy, in fact Scott and I have made a point of doing certain hikes all around town so that we can take guests. So my Dad, my stepmom, and her mom were out this weekend. Really they were less out to see Colorado and more out to see us, which is lovely.
And tiring. After a weekend of lots of driving, sitting back and watching my parent’s love on my kid, more driving, and a late night driving in from Denver and few wake-ups from my child, where in I was so tired that I was woozy, I woke up feeling like I was dragging my rear end about ten feet behind me. After a foggy morning I threw on yoga pants and a long sleeve top, put Emma in the new REI baby backpack we just got and thought I’d take her for a long walk, to get my blood flowing and to keep her awake until her nap time. About twenty minutes into the walk, I felt a lack of the usual squirming and peered over my shoulder to only see the top of her wee forehead. Damn, sleeping. She slept for the rest of the walk therefore shooting a big hole in her morning nap.
Upon arrival at home I saw that her sweet little forehead had worn a rug burn on it from resting on the front of the backpack. My baby’s first real booboo. I dipped my toe into the mommy guilt pool, but wouldn’t let myself dive in, because how was I supposed to know? Inspection of the backpack gave no answers because it’s all soft and completely padded. My daughter’s uber-sensitive skin strikes again.
My mother-in-law did my a huge favor and watched her while I showered, so I got a quiet shower instead of her crawling around the floor of the bathroom, ignoring all the cute toys I just gave her and crying uncontrollably until I give up on shampooing my hair and jump out and hold her. I got clean and dressed in peaceful silence. As I was putting on a white shirt I thought, ‘is this really the best choice today?’
Speaking of my child’s sensitive skin, she has developed the most terrifying diaper rash over the weekend. The second you whip off her diaper she remember her rash, starts crying and her little hands go inching down there to start scratching. Normally that wouldn’t bother me except that there’s poo, the most insidious of substances. Every diaper change turns into a battle royale. I am batting her hands out of the way, telling her no, wiping poo off her bottom, wiping poo off her hands, exchanging the diaper, and attempting to apply rash cream. This was a pre-nap diaper so she started rubbing her eyes in the midst of all this. She got diaper rash cream on her forehead. I am pretty sure there are microscopic bits of poo flung all over the nursery.
Added to all that trauma of getting your drawers forcibly changed, and being reminded of the open sore on your butt she got her hands washed. She hates this. I opted not to dress her and just her put her down for her nap in her diaper. I then looked down at my own shirt. A strange orange spot the size of a dime on my left shoulder, blood from her head wound perhaps? More orange spots right underneath my collar, tomato, maybe? And a non-descript beige quarter size beige spot on the sleeve right above the elbow, poo? But it didn’t smell. I left it on. Emma was already on her third outfit of the day, I didn’t want to go for a record myself.
Later in the day while changing out the crib sheet that she had peed on and holding my leaky child I felt a warm spot on my side. Sure enough, pee on me. I changed her diaper (see above), and started to put new clothes on her and then thought,
“Nope, you’ve lost that privilege, no more clothes for you,” until bed time she cruised around in her diaper, and I changed into a green shirt. I think I’ll stop buying white until she’s in high school.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rafting 101

The east side of Buena Vista is cut right through with the Arkansas River. A big cold river that starts a bit north in Leadville and goes all the way to the state of Arkansas. During the summer the forty rafting companies throughout the Arkansas Valley crowd the river with big rafts full of people looking for a bit of adventure. I’ve not had a chance to go down the river; last summer the river was so high and so cold that there were several deaths. Makes you think twice.
Someone had offered my mother-in-law Miriam a free trip; she wasn’t too interested so passed the favor on to us. We were to go down to River Runners at 3:30 and ask for Dan.
We got there on time and met up with the other people that would be on the raft with us, folks that had regularly volunteered at Miriam’s church. Every Monday through the summer Miriam’s church offers a free dinner to all the rafting guides in the community, many of the guides are college students who come out and camp all summer long, so the church gives away a hot meal and has had hot showers installed in the church building so they can have some trappings of civilization. Dan is probably the oldest guide on the river and he offers a free trip to those who have fed him all summer long.
After a bit of waiting Dan, a man that has most likely past the half-century mark in age, lumbers up and ushers us down to the edge of the river. His deep tan, and calm craggy face remind me of coaches that I have had in the past, men healthier than many men half their age, calm with the joy of doing something they love, and comfortable in their complete knowledge of that subject. Without explaining himself Dan produced life jackets from the shed, quickly assessed our sizes, handed them out and then came up and adjusted them to actually fit our torsos. We gathered around the raft that was parked on the shore and he explained how to sit, how to paddle, and what to do if you fell out. His explanations were simple, plain, and not frightening.
“Just get on your belly and swim back to the boat or the shore.” That was all, no descriptions of hypothermia, or rocks bashing our heads. You fall out, get back in or get out of the water. I appreciated that.
We got in, shoved our feet into the cracks of the raft and he pushed us out into the Arkansas. The next few minutes he gave us instructions on how to help him steer the raft, mainly how to turn left. We rotated around a few times and in an easy manner he teased us until we got it right. And we were off.
It was like being taken down the river by Garrison Keiller, Dan, had a mellow voice sauced with just enough off a slow American drawl to make you want to listen to him. He seasoned his stories with easy wisdom and slow humor. He gave the teenage girl, Hannah, in our group a hard time by shouting, ‘so help me, Hannah,’ a phrase he swore that a friend used to use. He told the young people on the raft they should try to make it to twenty-five without any major emotional scars or physical scars, because when the doctor pointed at his knee and said, “‘That’ll never work right again,’ well, that was kinda disappointing.” He would flip the raft around in a leisurely circle, ‘see that rock up there on top of that ridge? Looks like Winnie the Pooh.’ And, yep, it sure did. Or he would say, ‘I like that tree right there,’ or ‘I like that rock right there.’ And sure enough they were pretty remarkable trees and rocks.
We did a quick unsanctioned cliff jump. Dan went first, as Scott and I stood next to him he pointed into the swirling water and said,
“See that rock?”
“Don’t jump there. See that rock over there?”
“Don’t jump there. Look up and look at that fence post right there, jump towards that and you’ll land in the right spot.” And off he went. I’ve cliff jumped before, but it’s still fun every time. There’s always the ‘will I or won’t I’ question as I look at the cliff. Usually I do. Then there’s the dread as you climb up the hill, avoiding rocks in your sandals, the heart cleaning adrenaline as you stand at the top, the pulse as you leap, the frightening shock and gasp as you hit the water, and then the final water crawl as you swim up and out (all the while squinting and pushing at your eye as you make sure you haven’t lost your right contact).
When my shirt turned out to be not as quick-dry as I thought it would be, he pulled over the raft and gave a few of the colder rafters splash jackets. When he saw that my shirt was soaked he offered an extra fleece he had. Being no longer a young fool when it comes to warmth I eagerly accepted his shirt and his help as he showed me how to strap up the sleeves of the jacket. He commented,
“Unh, you grabbed a large,”
“Should I get a smaller one?”
“That’s okay, you’re large,” meaning large of spirit I suppose.
Nearing the end of the trip he did another signature 180 of the raft and pointed out a huge beautiful house perched on the edge of Brown’s Canyon. We oohed and aahed, and remarked that it must have had a great view and how expensive it must be.
“What if we all had a house on Brown’s Canyon?” Dan asked. I smirked, a gently veiled conservation comment. For the last few moments of the trip he pointed out the green and silver color of the water and told us that this was a special time to see the river, the sun was just sliding down the western side of the peaks of the collegiate range. I was able to relax from my shivering for a moment and see a deer hiding in the trees of the bank, and to see greenish gold light drip over the Sangra de Cristo’s. Dan talked about he loved the river and hoped that by taking people down it he helped them to love the river as well. I was thankful to see our valley from another perspective and I know that I learned something from that trip as well.