Saturday, June 30, 2012

Butterfly Hatch

Anybody remember this guy?


Well, he looks a lot different today.

He just kind of unfolded. He didn't need any help - he knew just what to do.

Having never seen this process before, I am awestruck. He is so beautiful!

I saw the chrysalis splitting this morning. When we checked back, he was fluttering around the bowl, ready to get out.

We did assist him by taking the top off the bowl and removing the stick he was climbing on so he could get onto our coneflowers (and hang upside down to dry his wings until he was ready to go).

I hung out in the flower bed for a long time, just watching him and taking pictures.

Believe it or not, I have a few other things to do today, but I wanted to share the photos with you first.

I know there are a thousand tiny miraculous things like this happening every single day that I don't see. I'm feeling really grateful that I got to be a part of this one.

*Our second chrysalis is twitching, so I bet before long, there will be a second butterfly.*

This was totally worth sacrificing the dill, by the way.
The Boy, removing the lid from the bowl.

another tiny garden friend - amazing what you see if you're looking.
Waiting to see what will happen next...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ode to the village

I was up tonight, pacing the floor with a very upset, teething Bug, trying everything to comfort her. She cried and cried, her body tense with pain and frustration. I rocked, patted, consoled, nursed, replaced pacifier, massaged gums, ended up giving her Tylenol...and while I was waiting for the Tylenol to take effect, I found myself holding her cradled in my arms, her body pressed into mine, sideways, just as I did when she was a newborn.

Suddenly, I realized my body had fallen into a familiar, forgotten rocking, stepping rhythm. Rock left, deep knee bend, right toe point...rock right, deep knee bend, left toe point...It came out of nowhere. Almost unconsciously, I started patting her bottom in time with the rocking. Her eyes widened, her crying stopped...and then her eyelids began to flutter as she rooted for her pacifier, started sucking, and began to breathe more evenly and deeply.

I kept up the rocking as a feeling of wonder swept over me. This same rocking step had comforted her countless times in her early days, weeks and months when nothing else would. She had been so tiny, so fussy...her tummy so irritable that she writhed with discomfort every time she was fed. She spit up everywhere and on everyone. Yet somehow, although she and I were nearly strangers, I knew how to move to help her, learned her dance and danced it with her over and over again, quieting her cries, helping her to sleep.

She's so different smiley, so cheerful, a bouncy, happy girl with shining eyes. Her once angular cheeks are downright chubby, and she has developed several chins.

Still rocking side to side and pointing my toes (a teensy bit less vigorously now that she was calming down), I smiled broadly, thinking of how many of my friends had learned this dance and had danced it with my little daughter. I pictured Kira, eyebrows raised as she watched me demonstrate, making a joke about Jazzercise before taking over the dance herself. Kristin, rocking with all her might, telling The Bug that her legs were not yet as toned as mine were and that she'd need a break. Megan, cooing softly to The Bug as she rocked. Cindy, who instinctively added the bottom patting motion and rocked back and forth with gusto, undeterred by The Bug's tiny size. Irina, rocking with authority, laughing about what level of intervention The Bug needed to resolve her crisis of the moment. Andi, who instructed another tentative would-be rocker, "She likes to MOVE. More than that." Lisa, who always told me (and continues to tell me) how much The Bug had filled out, how well she was growing, how good a job I was doing. How willing they all were to take my little girl into their arms and do whatever it took to help her, to help me.

How could I have made it this far without all of them? I'll never know, and I'm glad I don't have to. I'm not exactly sure how we got here, with these big 9 month old baby girls, but we did. I squinted, trying to make out The Bug's face in the dark, feeling the weight of her in my arms, thinking that she was getting heavy for this rocking. I didn't remember the last time we had done this little dance. It's funny how those everyday things that are so much a part of life for what feels like a very long time can just fade away...I had almost forgotten that I used to rock her this way. A lump rose in my throat as I realized that I probably won't do this dance with her too many more times. Suddenly, this moment together in the dark felt like a gift.

As The Bug's eyelids fluttered more and more slowly and her body began to relax, I reluctantly lowered her into her crib and stroked her head. She sighed, turned over on her side, went to sleep. I paused, looking at her, appreciating how much space she took up, remembering when she and her sister slept side by side across a single crib mattress.

My arms felt empty without her in them. I could just scoop her back up, hold her tight against me, not let her go.

Instead, I backed out into the hallway, closed the door gently behind me, smiled about my friends and decided to remind them about the dance.

We can't stop time. The girls are growing, and they won't be babies for much longer. My arms will be empty more and more.

But thanks to my friends, my heart will be full.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ice Planets - an activity turned snack.

It has been really, really hot here.

The Boy has been wanting to go outside all the time. We had some fun water play in our yard on Friday during a playdate with friends, but it's been so muggy and uncomfortable that I've been avoiding going out. Then, I happened upon a post at Play at Home Mom about making planets out of ice. Given The Boy's current fascination (obsession?) with all things planetary, it seemed like a natural fit. Also, it seemed easy. While I'm generally in awe of the amazing ideas that the Play at Home Moms pull off with their young ones, I'm also overwhelmed by my everyday life about 70% of the time...which means I can't necessarily construct a bubble in my living room in which to do blacklight activities (as completely incredible as that would be!). This one, though, seemed doable, even for me.

We had balloons left over from my birthday this week, so The Boy chose one for each planet, plus a few extras. We filled them with water at the sink. The Boy told me when to stop filling each one so they would be the desired size. We added drops of food coloring (I did this part, though he told me how many drops and which colors to put in each balloon). We put them in the freezer overnight.

(They might have frozen faster if he hadn't checked on them seven or eight times.)

Planets, fresh from the freezer and ready to be released from their balloons.

We took them outside, and I used scissors to cut open the balloons so The Boy could help me peel them off. The whole time we were getting them out, I was cranky and snapping at him when he grabbed at the scissors. My trouble with being a parent with a background in education is that I know what I really should be doing and saying to support his learning in a situation like this. Where was my scaffolding, my open-ended questions? I kept thinking that I was ruining his experience of this perfectly good activity...what good does it do to pull off something cool like this if Mama is going to be all crabby during the execution of it and mess it up for everyone?

In my defense, it was hot. It was late afternoon, just an hour or so before dinner. The babies were fussing. There were hundreds of gnats attacking us on the driveway. And also, he can be kind of irritating. He's 3 1/2.

(Don't worry - I know my limitations, and there are reasons I'm not planning to homeschool him.)

Once the ice spheres were all out of the balloons, The Boy lined them up in order on the driveway. He started with the Sun and went through all eight planets, then added Pluto ("I know it isn't a planet any more, but I still love it, so it gets to line up,") and Ceres ("It's a non-planetary object, which is the same as Pluto, so it gets to be in the line, too").

Can't argue with that logic, I guess.

More or less spherical, kind of to scale...the Sun is the biggest of all and Jupiter is bigger than the other planets. I think Venus and Neptune might be the same size, but that's probably not important...they still looked really cool!

They started melting immediately. It was, as I believe I mentioned, hot.

The Boy moved them all to the top of the driveway and started drawing their orbits with sidewalk chalk.

He stopped to check out his work.

Then, he ate them.

All of them, one at a time, saving the Sun for last.
"I am a black hole! That's why I'm eating planets! Neptune, you're next..."

You can't make this stuff up.

As he sat there, food coloring dripping down his hands and chin, he said, "This is so, so cool. I think we should do this again tomorrow."

And even in my grouchy state, I had to admit it had turned out pretty well.  He had fun, even though I wasn't doing a stellar job of interacting with him. I'd definitely do it again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thankful birthday.

Yesterday, it was my birthday. I spent it smiling and feeling thankful for the following things (among others):

1. I am not on bedrest. Last year, I spent my birthday in bed, unable to get up except to use the bathroom, fearful that if I moved any more than necessary, I might be endangering the lives of our twin girls. My birthday was day 2 of the twelve week bedrest. Yesterday, I got to go outside, ride in the car, walk with my family, chase my son on his tricycle and push him on the swing, sweep my kitchen floor, and do generally whatever I wanted to do. This morning, I went on a run with a friend. I am grateful for the freedom to move and to do.

2. My girls are alive and healthy. A year ago, we were afraid they might not make it, that they might be born too early, that they would have to struggle and fight for life. Today, they are blossoming, thriving, happy girls who smile, giggle, and do just what other babies their age do. They are 9 months old. I am grateful for their lives, which are so much easier than we thought they might be.

3. Our community of friends and family is strong and vibrant. You turned out for us when we needed support this past cooked meals, you helped care for our son, you cleaned our floors and washed our clothes and brought us groceries and mulched our flower beds. You sat with us when we were afraid of what was to come. You unpacked our boxes and hung our curtains. You loaned us movies and books, and you taught me to knit and crochet. You moved pianos for us. You prayed for us, called us, and sent us cards. You were here, and you still are here (even though we are all glad that we can function on our own a little more now!). The world is a better place when people are community for each other, and our world is so much brighter because of the light you bring into it. I am so, so grateful for each and every one of you and for your presence in our lives. Thank you.

I have every reason to be optimistic that this year will be easier in many ways than last year was. This will be welcome, because last year was one of the hardest of my life so far. I will always be grateful, however, for the things I learned last year, both about myself and about my friends. It is good to find out that you are stronger than you thought. It is better by far, though, to find out that when you are at your weakest, your friends and family love you enough to be strong for you and to help carry you until you can stand on your own again.

Thank you for everything you are and everything you have done.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Better gardening through social networking.

Last Saturday morning, as The Boy and I were watering the plants on the deck, we found this guy:

He had two friends with him. Three of them, munching away on the dill with little regard for the mist coming from our hose. We had no idea what it was. A pest? A friend? What to do?

Why, put it on Facebook, of course! I uploaded the little guy's picture and waited.

Within a few minutes, I had advice from wise gardeners across the country. I knew what the creature was (a black swallowtail butterfly waiting to happen) and what he liked to eat (parsley, dill, tomatoes) and that if we put him in a butterfly tent, we could watch his metamorphosis. Awesome.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Square Foot Gardening

This spring, I did something I have been wanting to do for ten years.

I planted a vegetable garden in my own yard.

While we were renting, we were limited to growing tomatoes in pots on the deck. Two years ago, I added some peppers. It was more for fun than for food. Space was at a premium.

Last year, I was stuck in bed and didn't get to grow vegetables. (I grew two people, though, so we'll call it a net gain.)

This year, I am so excited to get to garden again...sort of for the first time.

Since we weren't sure of the soil quality, I decided to go with a raised bed. We built it 4 x 4 feet, a small size that I felt sure I could handle with everything else that is on my plate. I wanted to be sure this project would feel fun and manageable.

A friend of mine who has gardened a lot suggested looking online for "intensive gardening" tips. Since we are using such a small space, we will not be growing things in traditional rows. I learned that intensive gardening is popular in urban areas and is just starting to really catch on in the United States (though it has been used in France for hundreds of years). Some advantages of intensive gardening are that it saves water and cuts down on weed growth. You can grow a lot more vegetables in a lot less space. Although we have plenty of space in the yard, I'm excited about using this technique and hope it will keep the garden feeling like a fun project instead of like one more thing on my to do list!

A specific type of intensive gardening is called square foot gardening. The plot is divided into 1 foot by 1 foot squares that are planted with one, four, nine, or sixteen plants (depending on the type of plant). I found a wealth of information on this site, My Square Foot Garden. Emily has so much advice based on her own experience, complete with photos and videos. The Square Foot Gardening Foundation (founded by Mel Bartholomew, who literally wrote the book on square foot gardening) has a lot of helpful information, as well.

The Boy helped me lay out the twine to mark our squares and write labels on popsicle sticks to mark the plants. He kept asking about the chicken wire fence we were putting up..."why do rabbits eat veggies, mama? What if rabbits eat our squash? What else do rabbits eat?" He seemed concerned that if we denied the rabbits access to the plants, they might get hungry. I think he'll be a great garden helper as long as I can convince him that we need the plants more than the rabbits do!

We missed the cold weather crops for spring, but we will try some in the fall. For now, we have planted tomatoes (bush variety and cherry tomatoes), cucumbers, squash, zucchini, basil, pole beans, bush beans, and orange, green and yellow peppers. Most of these were plants already started and transplanted into the garden, but we put a few seeds straight in the ground to see what happens.

So far, the garden work feels refreshing and I don't think this will add to the feeling that I'm doing too much. Besides, it will be so great for The Boy to be able to eat veggies that he helped to grow. Stay tuned for garden updates...

Friday, June 8, 2012


What makes it home, anyway?

We rented a tiny house (about 800 square feet). It was always supposed to be temporary while we awaited clarity about our next steps. We explored overseas mission positions and jobs in other states. We flew to various places and met with various people on various committees. There were interviews, rental cars, tours of houses and towns. There was shag carpeting and a bathroom with a washer in it. (No dryer.) We asked lists of questions about school systems and the availability of child care and whether it was safe to run through that park and if there was Indian takeout available.  We pictured ourselves in all of those places, and then when none of them turned out to be quite the right place, we kept searching, kept imagining ourselves in that right place and couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Somehow, temporary got longer and longer, until temporary was ten years and we realized that we actually were meant to stay right where we were. Here. Where we are.

Around the time we figured that out, we learned we were expecting another baby.

Right after that, we learned we were actually expecting two babies. And staying or not, we couldn't actually stay in the 800 square foot house.

Although the town eventually started feeling like home, the tiny house never quite did. Ten years, nine Christmases, countless meals cooked in the little blue kitchen without a dishwasher. Thanksgiving hosted the year we couldn't go home. Four foster children. Dinner parties on the deck. Swinging in the hammock. Washing cars and checking mail and a new heat pump. So many loads of laundry. Two cats. The birth of our first child, his first words, first steps. One cat. No cats. Fish, though. I lost count of those. The tiny house was never our house. It belonged to someone else- we just lived there.

The new house was also once someone else's house. Another family built it, lived in it, and lost it to foreclosure. They took everything - every appliance, every light fixture, every towel bar, every cabinet knob and shelf. We painted it (or George and our friends did - I was not allowed on ladders or around paint fumes). We packed our belongings and moved them the mile and a half between the two addresses. We put in knobs, appliances, shower curtain rods, beds and dishtowels and mirrors. The house became our house. I hoped once everything was unpacked, it would feel like my home.

Then, three weeks after we moved, I got put on bed rest until the twins were born. 12 weeks. I didn't get to finish unpacking or settling in. Friends and family came every day, unpacked boxes, brought meals, cared for my toddler, cleaned windows, hung curtains, arranged things. I didn't leave except for doctor's appointments.

It wasn't until after the girls were born and I was up and around that I could start to claim the space as my own, start putting things where I wanted them to be. I arranged and rearranged the furniture, hosted dinner parties, celebrated our son's third birthday. I bathed our three children, baked cookies, and mopped the beautiful hardwood floor in the kitchen. We saw what the house looked like with snow on the roof. We had our first Christmas here, hanging five stockings and a wreath on the door and setting up a new train set. I exploded a Pyrex casserole dish on the stovetop when I set it on a hot burner on Christmas Day.

As the babies got bigger and the weather got warmer and I started to come and go a bit more with the children, I realized that part of being at home in a place is being able to leave it and come back to it and have it still be there, just as you left it, waiting for you. The more I came and went, the more at home I felt.

And then it was spring, and things started blooming.

The previous owners left some lovely perennials in flowerbeds that go around the entire house. Butterfly bushes. Purple coneflowers. Daylilies. A spectacular lilac bush right beside the driveway that blooms about a week later than all the other lilacs in our town. There are poppies in the meadow out back and iris and lavender and a bunch of other stuff I can't identify yet. I had to get a friend to walk around the flowerbeds with me to tell me which plants were weeds. I just don't know this stuff yet.

It's been a year since we became homeowners. The plants blooming here now are not strangers- we met last year. There is a swing in the backyard now where I push The Boy and a smaller swing where I haven't yet pushed the girls. We have some history here- like when the wind picked up our umbrella and lifted our glass-topped patio table into the air, then dropped it with a crash, shattering the table with our Easter dinner on it. It was sad and kind of scary, but now it is part of the fabric of our family's story.

This house feels more and more like home...and I think home's a messy, complicated word...a collection of things and people and events that happen to have a family and a place in common. Home is where you put your groceries away and stash the plastic bags under the bathroom sinks to be trash can liners. Home is where you make pancakes on Saturdays (and in the evenings when you feel like eating pancakes even though it isn't breakfast time). Home is where you let your child draw all over the sidewalk and driveway with chalk. Home is where you plant things and watch to see if they grow or not. Home is where you have discussions about parenting and where you store your suitcases in between trips and where you watch things on Netflix. It's where you bring your babies when you finally get to take them out of the hospital. It's where you put up your holiday decorations and make play-dough and hang up pictures of people you love.

It's here where we are, and I'm very grateful.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Birthday muffins

I'm feeling so behind on so many things, although I am doing better at not taking on too much. Unfortunately, I was up to my neck already, so some loose ends are going to be flapping around until they are tied up. Hopefully soon, I will feel the pace slowing.

Today's my mom's birthday. We called and sang to her, but I wanted to do something special just for her. We will be seeing her tomorrow for The Boy's end-of-year preschool program. It seemed important to have a gift ready.

So I did two of my favorite things...I knitted and baked.

The dishcloth pattern is a Ravelry link called "Grandmother's Favorite." It looks exactly like what you'd expect if you've ever seen a knitted dishcloth! The colors will be great in my mom's kitchen. (Other items on the table include a baby bib with prunes and cereal on it, a post-it note with the babysitter's e-mail address so I can send her a reference letter, two random Lego blocks, and one of those whirly helicopter toys with a handle and a propeller that you spin in your hands to make it fly).

The muffin recipe was adapted from this one at How Sweet It Is. I added peanut butter, because my mom loves it. There were a dozen, of course...I had to eat part of one to make sure the peanut butter worked out okay (it did!). They have raw turbinado cane sugar on tasty...and they aren't too unhealthy, either, since they use whole wheat flour and just a little bit of brown sugar. Definitely better for you than most of the baking I've done recently!

I saved half of the sample for George, who was gigging tonight with his band (check them out here) and had to deal with a broken flute mic rig. It sounded less than ideal. The guy could use a muffin. Or half a muffin. Still, any muffin is better than no muffin at all, right?

Having seen the mild chaos that is my life right now, I hope that Mom will know these gifts were a labor of love. Happy birthday, Mom!