Sunday, August 10, 2014

Girls' Day Out.

It's perfect writing weather. Sunday afternoon, and dark. Very dark. The rain is pounding on the roof and running in wide liquid rivers down the window panes. Thunder breaks now and then with commanding force.

The natives who are here are subdued. The ones who are not went abroad to play disc golf, they and the Chief and an assortment of natives from other settlements, or at least other wigwams. Where the settlements begin and end is a bit nebulous.
What they are actually doing, I do not know. I think it is safe to say they are not doing what they set out to do.

I think I will tell you about our Girls' Day Out. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I just wrote, it's just that it is perfect writing weather and I need a subject.

Regan and I had been planning one for a long time, a Girls' Day Out. Weeks, at least, and perhaps months. We had some things we wanted to do, she and I, and some things we needed to buy in town. The last several times we had gone shopping the littlest natives, in spite of being gung ho at the outset, were burnt out after roughly one store's-worth of shopping. This burn-out might have been accentuated, ultimately, by vehicular woes, I don't know, because we had had a few, frankly, ranging from blown tires to pegged temperature gauges, and....other things....

We have old vehicles with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. They add dimension and interest and surprises to life.

But I digress. Anyone who knows anything about the joys of shopping, knows that shopping with someone who doesn't want to be shopping robs it of every joy...whether that person be a squalling baby, or a very patient grown-up. If they don't want to be there, you might as well go home. This is one of the Universal Truths of shopping.

But the littlest natives are pretty much ever-present, and how we were to dispense of them for a half a day or more was unclear, so we kept our eyes open and bode our time.

It came one day when Becky's school teacher called and asked if Becky would like to come help her do some prep work at school sorting tests and quizzes along with some other girls. Becky was, of course, thrilled.
"You can drop her off about 9:30 and pick her up about 2", her teacher said.

Perfect. That would be long enough to get in some great shopping! Just about right.

I sought out Regan and told her about the breakthrough in our search. "I'll see if Dad can take Todd to work with him." I said. I knew he would if he could.

"Do you know what you're doing Friday?" I asked The Chief that evening.
He didn't, but he as much as promised to take him, regardless. So we were good to go. The rest of our week was planned with shopping in view.

Friday dawned. It felt like vacation. It WAS vacation! A whole day shopping, just Regan and me, with no non-shoppers asking, #1,when we could go home, and #2, when we could eat, feigning utter exhaustion one minute and engaging in games of hide-and seek among the clothing displays the next, which of course would have to be stopped by the Wicked Squaw of the South and further impress upon them the rank miseries of shopping, and drive them back to asking questions #1 and #2.

I woke to a quiet house. Brewed my coffee and surveyed the day. It looked so tidy and nice. The school was in the opposite direction of the city we intended to patronize by 30 minutes. The wigwam lies between the two.
We would take Becky to the school, and then drop Todd off at the job-site which was, by an unusual stroke of happenstance, assuming happenstances come in strokes, just a mile or three beyond the school. And then we would head north, just Regan and I, and a clear day, and a shopping list. It would be blissful.

I was just about to wake the natives when the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. "Would you be interested in some steak?" She asked. "Our freezer quit running and a bunch of the stuff is thawed. It's still good and cold but we need a place to put it. We have a bunch of steak in there. Would you be interested in grilling it for us in exchange for maybe half of it? It needs to be kept cold though. Would you have room in your fridge if I would bring it over after awhile?"

That sounded like a super deal, mostly. Except that it would eat into our shopping day.  I mentally tabulated the space in my refrigerator. Thanks to a collection of irregular occurrences I also had roughly six gallons of iced tea to keep cold, and fridge space was becoming a bit precious. I arranged to pick up the steak on the way to deliver the non-shopping natives to their respective destinations. We'd bring it back home and put it in the fridge. Somehow. It wouldn't eat into our day. Much.

So off we went. Just before we made it for the steak-stop, our vehicle quit running. I started it again, and off we went. We pulled in, and it stopped again. Oh well, we were here. We packed in a laundry basket of steaks. Good steaks. T-bones, rib-eyes, flank steaks, in abundant measure. Wow. How cool was this? We never eat steak.

And off we went to deliver Becky to school. The vehicle cut off again. Once. Twice. I looked at Regan. This seemed a bit iffy. I delivered Todd to the job site, and we wended our way hand-in-hand among the various work crews till we located the Chief.

"The Expedition keeps cutting off." I said. "Do you think we should take it or had we better take the Saturn?"

"I think you ought to take the Saturn." he said. It was not a big deal. We were taking the steak home anyway.

At home we miraculously found place for the laundry basket-worth of steaks among the many gallons of tea.
We then transferred our stuff from the Expedition to the Saturn.

We rolled down the windows. The Saturn has no air-conditioning.

The last time we had taken the Saturn to town, the natives and I, steam had rolled from under the hood, and we had sat in the blasting Georgia heat waiting for help to come in the form of the Chief. I was sure I had fried the motor, but I hadn't. Skippety-do-dah! It looked bone dry, but The Chief put water in it and we were good to go. The natives had been driving it ever since with no trouble.

We situated ourselves, Regan and I, a little later than we had planned, but it was okay. I started it up, pushed her into first gear. She had her issues, this little car, but she was fun to drive. I kinda liked the windows down anyway.

"I'm a little nervous." Regan said.

"I'm not," I said blithely. "It's been working fine."

We pulled out onto the road and headed down the road for the second time that morning, past familiar houses, through the pecan trees...

"One thing about your dad," I said. "he will drop whatever he is doing and come rescue us, if we need it. He's a good man. I'll take a good man over a rich man any day of the year." Not that they are mutually exclusive necessarily, but if you have to choose....

We caught the next road and we were on our way. It wasn't too hot. It was just nice.

"Can we go to Goodwill?" Regan asked. "O. wants me to see if the sequels to her books are there. She saw them the other day when she bought the ones she has but she didn't realize they were sequels."

Of course we could. We could do anything we wanted. It was Girls' Day Out. Also, I had some stuff in my trunk to donate to somebody. I would dispose of it here.
We searched with partial success for the books, met a couple friends, who were also shopping, and stopped and talked to them.

And then we were off again, to the other side of town, which was congested as usual with traffic, but more-so than sometimes because it was nearing lunch hour.  From traffic light to traffic light we waited through several revolutions because the intersections were clogged beyond remedy. I looked down at my temperature gauge, just in case. It was as far to the right as it could go.

"Oh no." I said, "it's running hot again. Here, turn on the heat." We turned on the heater full blast. I checked my rear view mirror to see if there was room in the through lane for me to be. There was. I merged into that traffic, which was at least moving, unlike the left turn lane, and we were off. "I have to find water!" I said, feeling a little desperate. Where was water?? Should I just keep moving or should I stop if I couldn't find any? I tried to call the Chief. No answer. I came to Washington Rd and took a right, keeping one eye out for water, and another eye out for red traffic lights that might impede our movement. Oh no. A red light. I dove into the nearest shopping center, traveled the perimeter of it and caught a side street. These were not my stomping grounds. I had no idea where I was going. Where was water? We scouted for gas stations, and spotted one up ahead, I pulled in and circled it. No water hose. No spigot that we could see. I barreled out on the road again flowing with traffic and blessing every green light with fervency.

Where was water? I was killing this car. I knew I was. I killed the last one. And I was killing this one. The temperature gauge was dropping. Whew. But what did that mean? Where was The Chief? Why didn't he answer his phone? We were being blasted with intense heat. I barreled across a major highway and it soon became apparent we were heading deep into the land of neighborhoods and subdivisions. There were no convenience stores in sight. The speed limits were low.
I had no idea where I was.
"If we have to stop here I won't have any idea how to tell  Dad to find us!" I said. I chose a subdivision  entrance and we started winding deep and deeper into some unknown neighborhood."

"We don't want to be back here!" Regan protested.

"I know!" I said, "but I have to keep moving. It'll come out somewhere. It has too!"
It didn't really matter where; I was totally lost, regardless.

So far, I had been turning right when I turned at all, just because turning left generally meant waiting for lights and/or traffic to cooperate, but after we had explored the depths of that subdivision and once again found ourselves at the entrance we decided to try turning left because there were clearly no convenience stores to the right. Also, I thought, it would be really nice to be able to tell The Chief where we were when the time came that he answered his phone, and the car died. Or maybe it would be other way around.

The gauge continued to stay down some, but I had no faith in it. Heater still running full blast we caught the next road.

The phone rang. It was the Chief. He has talked to me before in this same situation. He always says the same thing. "Try to get to water and get water into it as quick as you can. Be careful not to burn yourself.  I think if you're careful you'll be okay, it's an overflow tank. Do you have a rag of some kind to put over the lid when you open it?" He says the same thing every time, but I have to hear him saying it again anyway.

"I can't find water anywhere!" I said barreling down the street. Which street, I didn't know.

There is only so much you can do for your wife on the phone. He knew, and I knew, he had done what he could. We had walked this road before. "Call me back if you need me." he said. I hung up.
I saw a road I recognized and took it. Familiar territory again! And there was a gas station! Hope! We swung in. Heat blasting. Windows down. Eyes peeled.

No water.

We pulled out again into the parking lot that fed into it. I took mental inventory of the places along this road. There were no more convenience stores anywhere near that did not lie beyond great blocks of traffic that had come to a stand-still. I knew this because we had come full circle. That will happen if all you do is take right turns.

The phone rang. They were done at the school a little earlier than they had planned. We could come pick Becky up. Regan and I looked at each other. There was NO WAY we could go pick Becky up. I called The Chief. "Don't worry about it, I'll go get her. She can be with me" he said. I hung up.

Should we take to the road again? It seemed futile.

"I'm stopping", I said to Regan "I might kill it, but we have no way of knowing where there will be water. As long as we're moving the gauge stays reasonably low, I'm going to pull across this parking lot here and buy some water at Walmart."

And so we did. I parked off at a distance, quite a ways from Walmart. I didn't want anyone to ask us if we needed help. I didn't want anyone to look at me. Trouble, in my opinion, is most easily handled in private. I can handle large doses of trouble as long as it's not public trouble. Private trouble is the way to go.

So I parked way out. And cut it off. Whew. We were here at least. Off the road, in a place I had been before. No more being blasted with manufactured heat on top of the regular Georgia heat.

"Do you want to go in for it?" I asked Regan. I was feeling a bit, well....tired. I wondered if I had ruined another vehicle.

"No." She said. "I'd rather stay with the car."

I started across the long parking lot. We weren't really parked in front of Walmart at all, it was a ways away. I called The Chief again, and told him what I was doing. "Do you think 2 gallons will be enough?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "that should be enough."

I bought three gallons.

I felt a vague urgency to get back to the car and put water in it. I didn't know if at this point all hope was lost or not, but it seemed like it would be wise to get it in there. Who knew? Not me, for sure. But just in case....

The lady in front of me was slow. She was an old lady. She had with her a grown man. Her son, I presumed. He was mentally handicapped and was rifling through her bags while she was trying to pay, hunting something. She tried to get him to stop, but he was clearly a handful. She had had him all his life, I guessed. She loved him, no doubt. There was also no doubt that he would have been a tremendous responsibility for a woman her age.

My three gallons of water were getting a bit heavy, She and her son moved on. I made my purchase and headed for the door. In the doorway ahead of me another woman leaned on her cane and crept along. She was large. There was no polite way to pass. I slowed down, and adjusted my load.

"I have no troubles at all." I thought to myself, "compared to these women. I can walk without pain. My daughter sits, with sound mind, in the car, waiting for me to come back."

Once out of the store I headed across the parking lot. I had parked a long way out. Three gallons of water...I felt my arms lengthen a few inches. Private problems are best. I walked on.

There was Regan, waiting patiently. I opened the driver's door and pulled the hood release. It was probably already fried. But I would do what I could. I went around to the front, found the little latch, and propped the hood open with the thingie they make for that purpose.

I opened one gallon of water and perched it near me, then I carefully opened the lid to the over flow tank, and peered inside.

It was full.

It was full of water all the way to the fill line. I stared at it with my gallon of water in my hand.

I called the Chief. "It's not out of water. I said. The tank is full."

"Well, I don't know what's the matter with it." he said. "Maybe it's a fan that's not working. You'll probably be okay, if you  keep it moving. If you want, you can try to go on out to Kohl's as far as I'm concerned."

"I am not going to Kohl's." I said. I wanted food. I wanted drink. I wanted to go home.

Regan and I were of the same mind. We had had enough excitement for one day. We discussed our options, and decided in the name of Girl's Day Out redemption we would stop for a caramel frappe and Buffalo Chicken fingers at Burger King. It was a wild extravagance under normal circumstances. We shared a frappe, and savored our chicken fingers, absorbing the luxury of air conditioning and just being together.

And then we came home. With our three gallons of water, we came home. And walked into an empty house.
We had marked off this day on the calendar. We had nothing else planned. Regan took a book and curled up in the recliner.

I repaired to our bedroom with the book I have been reading "Swallows and Amazons."

Silence fell.

At length, I wandered back out to the living room. Regan looked up from her reading and rearranged herself.

"It's been a good day," she said.
"It sure has," I replied.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Deliverance

I haven't even looked at this blog for a long time, but I thought of something awhile ago. It's just a little something, but I am going to put it here.
It relates to this song, a spiritual, and the question raised in it:

"Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel
Deliver Daniel. Deliver Daniel
Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel
Then why not every man?"

It proceeds in verse number two...

"He delivered Daniel from the lions' den
Jonah from the belly of the whale
The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace
Then why not every man?.."

I can imagine the slaves singing it as they hoed to its rhythm, asking with heavy hearts that ached for freedom and the dear homes from which they had been so rudely ripped, the question it posed. "Why not every man?"

And I have pondered it too. I have. And once while I was thinking on it, something occurred to me.
God did indeed deliver Daniel from the lions' den, but He did not deliver him from slavery. He was pulled unharmed from a pit full of ravenous lions to continue living life as an exile in a strange land.

And Jonah, after the "whale" saved him from a watery grave and disposed of him properly on dry land, did God hand him a beach towel and a pina colada and steer him to the shade of the nearest palm? Nope, He sent him to preach damnation to Ninevah, that great and wicked city, same as He had sent him before.  And Jonah did it.
 It would not be pleasant having to do that down Main Street in Bible-belt-burg, never mind Ninevah, where they already hated him and he hated them, and maybe had a good dose of fear of them as well. But that's what Jonah faced after his "deliverance".

The three Hebrew children emerged from the fiery furnace without as much as a whiff of smoke about them to continue the life of slavery they had known before, just as Daniel did.

But these things they knew:  God saw them. God loved them. God had his hand on them. God was in control.

We too have our Babylons; we have our Ninevahs. We have circumstances from which we cannot escape, and responsibilities from which God does not rescue us.

But we also have our moments of deliverance, where we can see His tender and powerful hand touching our lives in extraordinary ways.
He tucks in miracles amid the madness.
Sunbeams now and then, dance in the shadows.

And we too can know that God sees. He loves us. His hand is on our lives. And He is in control.

That is true for every man. And enough for any man.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rituals of Summers Past and Present

Yesterday I arose, by the dawn's early light, feeling better than I had for some time. I looked out the window at the day breaking across the world, and thought, "Blackberries! We should go pick blackberries."

I knew where there were blackberries. They were growing all along the pecan orchard path where I like to take my morning walks, I haven't walked there for a few weeks now, but when I last did they were blooming lavishly, which could only mean one thing.

I slipped into the hall and called the natives from their beds, "Get up, y'all. Let's go pick blackberries!"
They stirred, lazily, luxuriously, clearly in summer vacation mode. And presently emerged, one by one, barefoot, groggy, mildly interested in the promise of a variation in the routine.

We collected our vessels and piled in the car, anxious to beat the sun.

Blackberry picking is a rite of summer. When I was quite young and our family lived in the tidewater region of North Carolina, we would leave the little yellow cinder block house we called home one summer morning a year to go pick blackberries. My siblings and I would line up on the tailgate of the old green Wagoneer, legs dangling, and Mother would drive. We'd each have our container for picking into and a stick to drag on the road behind us to make patterns in the deep, fine, black, Carolina dirt. We younger ones would have the arm of an older one around us to keep us where we belonged, and off we'd go in search of blackberries. I can remember the happy excitement swirling all through me as if it were yesterday. I am sure the arm around me was just exactly necessary.

We would pick enough for one pie, I remember my mother saying. They were not that plentiful apparently. But we all picked until we had enough, there along the roadside above the canal, under the punishing southern sun and then we'd pile back onto the tailgate, in like fashion as we had arrived, and head back home, trailing our sticks in the dirt road, in anticipation of the matchless pie. Mother could make a pie, I tell you.

The Chief has his blackberry picking memories too. And they include quite a few more blackberries than mine do. Subsequently, his memories are a lot hotter and sweatier I suspect...but still, at this distance at least, they are apparently quite sweet. He picked two gallons of them himself at one time. He and his siblings sold them to their parents for 25 cents a quart, he thinks.
"I still like to pick blackberries" He said this morning in fond revery.

There is something about it. It is an entirely uncomfortable and miserable endeavor. And altogether addicting. The natives and I eased from the blacktop into the dappled morning shade that the orchard trees provide. Windows down, eyes peeled.

"There's some!" I said.
"But there are more farther down." Regan replied.
She knew. They had picked here before, she and her fellow natives. So we rolled slowly on in.
Most of them were still red, but here and there were patches of ebony orbs. We stopped at a promising looking place and she and I commenced to picking. The littlest natives ran further down the trail in search of  "better spots".

The morning was so sweet, the promise of the heat to come lay just beyond, but right now it was perfect.  Blackberries dropped, "boink", "boink", "boink", until the bottoms of our containers were covered, and then there was no more noise as layer was added to glistening layer.

The sun rose higher. The briers tore at our limbs and clothes. Now and then one would lodge and remain and we'd stop to extract it. Bees buzzed. We sidestepped gigantic fire ant hills.
The sun rose higher. Sweat dripped. And on we picked, moving along the road slowly, forever tantalized by the berry beyond.

We'd eye our accumulation now and then, and figure how many pies we could make, or cobblers or muffins. The sun rose higher still,  and there was nothing fun about it anymore. The littlest brave spilled his twice and was fast losing enthusiasm.

But there were always just a few more. And always just a little more space in the container to fit another one, and another. And then another. But at some point they started falling off as much as they stayed on and it became apparent that it was time to quit. So we picked one more. And then that one...

That's the way it is with blackberries.

And then we piled into the car, crawled out the orchard  lane and eased onto the blacktop. Hot. Tired. Scratched. Happy.

We went up to the store for a Powerade. The natives waited in the car while I went in and chose one out of the case. Melon. And we all shared it. And shared it again.

I suppose the cashier thought I looked a little bedraggled for that time of the morning, but I didn't really care.
We had blackberries.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Poverty of Loneliness

It's Vacation Bible School week. The Chief and two thirds of the natives go every night, either as instructors or instructees. Our Vacation Bible School is staffed by volunteers, and since we have a wedding looming large and it helps in minimizing the chaos to have one person keeping the home fires burning (bad analogy for Georgia in summer, I know) I only volunteered to take refreshments one night.

So I am home, with dishes in my sink and Becky's happy parting words ringing in my ears, "Good-bye Mom! I hope you don't get lonely!!"

Ahh. So sweet of her to care for my emotional well-being in this fashion.
But I wonder why she said that.
I wonder if she gets lonely. This the child who will go off and read for hours at a time with zero human interaction...wandering alone outside, collecting seeds from flowers, sitting in a tree, or painstakingly making "leaf cards" by pinning small interesting objects to large leaves with tiny twigs, who can just sit quietly for long lengths of time with her knees to her chin, observing her own toes. I don't see her as a person given to loneliness.

Neither am I. For I am a little like her.
Or she like me.
I can hardly remember feeling lonely, though I have been before.
I like being alone. It gives me time to think. And there is no end to the interesting thoughts there are to be thunk. And issues to ponder. And projects to plan. And dreams to dream. And memories to relive. And prayers to be prayed. And books to read.
There are so many nice things you can do when you are alone that do not work well when there are people around.
Most of my life is lived with people in close proximity. The wigwam is small and the natives numerous and getting bigger. And that is nice too. I love them all. I like them, too. And the happy noise and commotion of living is a joy of its own description. But it is a different brand of joy than aloneness joy, and I crave the latter if the former goes on for too long.

Jean Paul Sartre once said, "If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company."
I think there is sometimes truth to that. But I think there is often more to it as well. But what? Why are some people lonely when they are alone and others not?

People speak of being lonely in a crowd. Clearly it in not solely an issue of solitude. My guess is it is not really an issue of solitude at all. It is feeling unknown or unloved. Those two factors, either together or separate, make us feel very lonely.
Vincent van Gogh once said, "A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.

You can hear the loneliness in his voice. The wistful wishing that somebody would notice. Would see. And stop. And enjoy his fire. Explore it. Find it fascinating. And pleasant. That someone would pull their chair to it for a long while. And then again, and again.

"The loneliness you feel with another person, the wrong person, is the loneliest of all." I don't know who made this observation, but it is so true. And the reason is, is because there is no knowing. No connecting. No loving. No liking.

But the connection you feel when you are with someone, even if it is just one or two someones, if it is pure and strong and good and real, that connection fills your heart always, whether you are with that person or not, whether you are in a crowd or whether you are alone. And you are not nearly as prone to loneliness, if you know you are both known and loved by someone somewhere.

Is that right? I think maybe it is. Maybe too simplistic?
I don't know for sure...and that is all the time I have to think right now because the dishes are still in my sink and the sound of car doors slamming will soon reach my ears.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Penance Post

I have been sorely neglecting breakfast prep of late. I am lousy at making myself get up when the guilt level for staying in bed is moderate. It shouldn't be moderate, I know. It should be off the charts. But it's summer now, here in Georgia it is. Summer vacation. And the working men pull out at 6:05AM roughly, the first shift does. The first shift consists of The Chief and two native sons, which means I have to get up at an objectionable hour in order to have breakfast ready for consumption some time before six.

But guilt, however moderate and vigorously justified, tends to have a cumulative effect. This morning the build-up was sufficient to propel me out of bed. That, and the groggy awareness that there was not enough milk for them to eat cereal.

The first shift got fried eggs and toast. I made it in my sleep, largely. The second shift emerged immediately after, and got fried eggs, toast, and bacon, because I was nearly conscious by then, having sipped the first layer of coffee from my rooster mug. (Don't tell the first shift.)

So....I have this load of breakfast guilt that I have been shouldering for a week or so and in looking for ways to assuage it I lit upon this inspired solution: I could write a blog!!

This may seem an unlikely cure to you, but if you knew how regularly The Chief has been pestering me to pen another blog entry you would recognize it for the bit of brilliance that it is...counterbalancing the breakfast guilt and nullifying the blog guilt in one brief sitting.

There is one small problem, I don't really have anything to write about.

Everyday life is just so dreadfully everyday, but it's all I have to work with so we'll have go with that, I guess, however inadvisable, like Christian, of John Bunyan fame, driven to escape his burden.
Well, maybe not quite like that.

This Spring began like most other Springs, with the world desperately attempting to wrench itself from Winter's clutches. It was a bitter and ugly battle this year, but Spring sprang, jubilant and joyful at long last.

In one way, Spring at the Wigwam was very different. The first-born native asked his lady, fair and true, to be his for always. And she said "yes".

I don't quite know how this can be. I still feel the pains of labor, and the aroma of Johnson's Baby Lotion still lingers fresh and sweet in my memory. But it is.

"What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James said that. And he was right...the mist is rising, rising. So beautiful, so real.... and so elusive.

In some ways Spring was very much the same. The stuff that accumulates in my greenhouse over winter had accumulated there just like it always does. The Chief eventually cleaned it out, as he is wont to do.

I cut open the little gold or white packets of seeds, mostly from Park's Seed Co, and tucked hundreds of little seeds into their little potting soil beds as ever before.
"I don't want to plant garden too early." I told the Chief. "And I don't want to plant a whole lot, because I still have pretty much in the freezer, and it's going to be crazy busy with this wedding. We won't have time to put up piles of stuff."

I would have time if I loved to do it.  But I don't. I don't like canning and freezing the fruits of our labors.
I love to plant seeds in the gentle warmth of  my greenhouse when the world outside is dead and cold. I love to watch those first little arches push their way through the earth. I love to mix the blue fertilizer with water in the old galvanized watering can and shower their thirsty little selves with nutrients.

I love to plant garden with Kent and the natives in the evening hours, him making the rows, because he can make lovely, straight rows, and the natives and I dropping in the little seeds at regular intervals, with cool soil between our toes and the air laden with the sounds and smells of spring. It's one of the best things ever.

I love to watch them thrive. I love hearing the chicka-chicka-chick of the sprinklers out the windows when the sunny days are many and the rainy days are few. I like to watch the miniature beans emerge from their blossoms and slowly lengthen to glistening clusters of green goodness. And the tomatoes turn from green to pinkish, and then at long, long last, to red. I like to search for hidden cucumbers beneath the shade of leafy vines and snip prickly okra with kitchen shears from their stalks. I love digging beneath the thick mulch and robbing the potatoes of their first fruits.  And gathering fresh herbs to add to whatever I am fixing for supper. I especially love eating all of that backyard bounty.

But I don't like setting up canning and freezing operations in a steaming summer kitchen, and putting food up for the year... Bleh. 


Triple bleh.

This is another huge source of guilt. Bigger than breakfast guilt. Bigger than blog guilt.
I can hear my mother saying sagely, "Don't consult your feelings."
Every Mennonite housewife worth her salt embraces this aspect of living with roughly the same attitude as she embraces breathing.

I haven't quite figured out how to assuage this guilt yet. I don't think I can do it with a blog. But the guilt does not dissuade me from looking for ways to get out of it. A wedding in June was the perfect excuse. So I told the Chief, "Let's plant a small garden."

He listened, I am sure. But he did not hear. We have 30 tomato plants growing in three majestic rows. And 46 pepper plants. One pepper died. There had been 47.
It's my fault, partly, since I planted the seeds. But what was I to do, when there are all these seeds in the packets and all these varieties we wished to try??

And then there are the flowers. The ones I planted. Plus the ones I bought. Plus. the ones donated by dear friends. The flowers are my department from beginning to end, generally, though the Chief will make the beds for me if I need new ones. I bit off more than I can chew this year. I still have a  long way to go planting flowers, and my parts are already protesting mightily. I have dropped into bed more than one night altogether spent. Admittedly, I am not the hardiest person, so the results of my labor are not as impressive as I wish.

My mind keeps scouting around for legitimate ways to get the Chief involved in flower planting to save me from myself. Sometimes he does. Sometimes he sees the fate of the foolish and steps in to save the day, or the night, as the case may be. But mostly, I am on my own.

Next year I will remember, and acquire a more moderate collection of plants.
And next year I will rise before dawn every morning and make lovely breakfasts.
And I will for sure put up copious amounts of produce; with a smile on my face I will do it.
Next year, I will live guilt-free.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

LUCY YODER HACKMAN was the winner of the diary/journal giveaway contest! Congratulations, Lucy!
Happy memory-keeping! A big THANK YOU to all of you who entered!
And another sincere thank you to each of you who read my blog. Seriously.   ~Rhonda

P. S.
If you didn't win one, go order one! :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Knowing What to Throw Away and Knowing What to Keep

The other day I stood outside my closet looking in and said to myself, "This is pathetic".  And it was. Our closet is the biggest one in the house. The other two are small. Very small. You would think having the biggest closet would be a tremendous blessing.

Actually it's just a tremendous job.

This is why: There is no room in anyone else's closet. This is the indisputable truth. So everything that has to go anywhere, of course, goes in ours.

 "Where should I put this, Mom?", they say. And I look at "this" thoughtfully, and say. "Put it in my closet, I guess."

They never ever argue with this answer. That is the one upside of this scenario. The natives are completely happy with everything going in my closet.

But the results, after multiple months of this, are not pretty.

So I stood there looking at all the Stuff and I said to myself,  "This is ridiculous. There is no way we need all this Stuff." I labeled trash bags. "Goodwill" "Give to somebody" "Pitch" And I started hauling stuff out of there.

In the process I pulled out a sizable container filled nearly to the brim with letters and diaries. The letters were the ones the Chief and I exchanged when we were dating. We lived hundreds of miles apart. Calling long distance was expensive. Cell phones and e-mail hadn't emerged on the landscape. These were the olden days. We were lucky we weren't confined to sending smoke signals.

And my diaries! Dear and blessed repository for the overflow of my teenage heart.
I pulled the container out and pushed it in a vacant spot on the floor beside the dresser. My closet called.

But the diaries called louder.

I opened one and started reading. Cobwebs draped so many of those memories. Some of them lay entirely dormant, and I strained to remember people and activities that at the time they were penned had needed no introduction or explanation. Other times, good old friends and old familiar places came back to life.

I read how Mother and I played tennis in the mornings before we each went to work, she, to teach school, me, to my job at a publishing company. She nearly always beat me despite being 44 years my senior. The skills she had developed as the tennis single's champion in college trounced any agility edge I may have had. What fun we had!

I read about Dixie who disappeared into thin air, and magically reappeared on Christmas eve.
About my sister Kristin, who has always been the more industrious of the two of us, making deals with me that in essence extracted more work out of me than I would have otherwise produced. She was good for me. She still is.
I read about the stream of friends who called, and dropped by. The girl-friend drama. The boys who figured in somehow.

And the one who hung the evening star in my sky and upon whom the sun rose and set. From one diary to the next, year after year, he was featured heavily, if not in reality, in my dreams.

Suddenly, I was 17 again. There was no closet.

The Chief came home and he started reading them. He has always, since his first night-long diary-reading marathon a few days before our wedding, been a great fan of me keeping a diary. He settled himself against the headboard of our bed and began reading, a perpetual smile in his eyes. "You were already nuts at 17." he said presently. And a little while later..."I am certainly glad I didn't meet you after you were already married."

He must not have gotten to the place where I had, after much anguish of heart, determined to be available as long as he was.

Not long hence, after spending the long New Year's Eve drinking Pepsi and playing Settlers of Catan, we welcomed the New Year with open arms and sanguine hopes. (We're giving it the benefit of every doubt.) And then, like a Normal Person, I went to bed. To sleep. The Chief went to bed too. But not to sleep. He sat against the head-board again and read diaries.  Every ninety seconds or so he would start to laugh, and read me excerpts. At one point his tone was laced with perplexity, "My name doesn't even show up in this one till about half-way through." He said.
"Well!" I replied. "You never made any moves." Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.
"If I had had any idea!" he said. "If you had given me the least glimmer of a smile, even once, I would've had something to go on."

"Do you realize it's quarter of two??" I asked from the recesses of my feather pillow. He laughed and kept reading.

I quit keeping a diary when the natives were young. It's hard, when you're a young mom, to retain enough internal resources till the end of the day to be able to commit the day's events to paper. At that stage of your life it's a supreme victory to have kept everyone clothed and fed, and reasonably happy. If you've done it, you understand. If you haven't, you never will entirely.

Life is crazy when the natives are little. Unpredictable. Fun. Unexpected. Disastrous. Hilarious. But crazy.

I would call my mother on any given day to tell her the latest thing, and she would laugh in the most rewarding fashion, and say, "RHON! You better be writing this stuff down!"

I should have. But I didn't. I wish I had. Because if it's not written down, you forget. You really do. Maybe not the big things. But a million priceless little things; they are lost forever.

Today communication opportunities explode on the horizon like fireworks against a night sky. Facebook. Twitter. Texting. E-mails...we type out the details of our lives and share them with the people we know, and many we don't. But in 25 years, where will they be? What will we have? In the end, they are as fleeting as smoke signals.

This year, I will keep a diary again. I will.  There is no point in mourning the lost years. They are gone. But I have this day. This year. These wonderfully everyday life experiences. This stuff, unlike most of the Stuff that accumulates in my closet, becomes dearer with the passing of time. These are the treasures of tomorrow.

And maybe....someday....they will wheel my chair adjacent to the Chief's and he will read to me again. About how on New Year's Eve, 2013, we played Settlers of Catan till midnight, and how he read to me from my diaries till nearly 2 AM while I tried in vain to sleep. And he will laugh. And I will too. And after awhile I will say, "Babe, do you realize it's 8 o'clock? It's way past time for your medication".

And he will laugh again. And keep reading.

                          *       *       *       *       *       *

My sister, Kristin, the industrious one, designed an extra nice journal. Actually, she designed a journal, a one-year diary and a three-year diary. Vision Publishers published them for her and they did a lovely job, as they do with everything. In addition to having beautiful hard covers, and an inspirational scripture verse at the bottom of each page, they have thoughtful features inside. There's an appendix in the back to record the page numbers of significant events so you can locate them quickly. There are also sections headed "Family, Home, Friends", "Church, School", "Work, Hobbies, Miscellaneous" where you can record special events themselves, both for ease of retrieval and so you can expand upon a noteworthy occasion without overwhelming the confines of your daily entry allowance.
                                                                                                                                                                 


The one-year diary provides you with one full page per day, and keeps a year's events neatly contained to one book.

  

The three-year diary gives you 1/3 of a page per day. This works well for persons who like to touch the highlights and enjoy quickly comparing what happened on this years's date with last year's.
                                                                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                         
 The journal is undivided by date, allowing you to write as much or as little per day as you please, or to skip days, if you tend toward writing only occasionally. Or if you prefer a book for recording your thoughts, more than life events, a journal is perfect.

I have the journal. I can seldom stuff one-day's-worth of life onto one page. And I skip days sometimes, even when I am keeping one regularly.

 I love my journal! It doesn't have a whole lot in it yet, but at the end of the year, it will be brimming with life and memories...for our own enjoyment, and for the enjoyment of our children, and maybe theirs'... if it doesn't get lost in someone's closet.

Don't you want one too?  Yes! I know you do! So enter to win a free one! My sister is giving away a diary or journal, to whomever wins this snazzy easy-to-enter contest! So enter! Just leave a comment below. Any comment! And if you would like one and don't win one, you can order one here.

 Keep one yourself. And maybe give one as a gift to a child or teen in your life. A diary is a safe place to unload your heart, hone writing skills, and record your life events, unlike some of the current options out there.
And it will become more valuable with time. I promise.             

This contest will end at noon on Monday, February 10, 2014 EST. If you wish to enter and have trouble doing so, e-mail me and I will gladly enter for you! rjstrite@gmail.com