Battles With Quinoa And Librarians

My daughter had a late birthday party this weekend.

She’s a winter baby.

February to be exact.

She was born in the deep, cold winter that gets its arms around Northerners.

The kind of cold that burns it way down into your lungs when you first step outside.

She was born in Evanston, Illinois 12 years ago.

Evanston is the first northern suburb that butts up against the last northern neighborhood in Chicago.  We were residents of that last northern neighborhood in 2005. It’s called East Rogers Park.  East because there is indeed a West Rogers Park.  East Rogers Park has nestled itself up against Lake Michigan.  The beach is beautiful in this northernmost Chicago neighborhood.  Not too crowded.  Very dog friendly.  And very cold in the winter.

It gets hard to celebrate your birthday when you are a kid when you have a winter birthday.  And it gets hard for mom to think of things to do with friends during the winter.  We have already had *these are all that I can remember right now…

a dance party (where she takes dance class)

an indoor mini waterpark party

an arty party at the local arts council

and an indoor rock climbing party that involves climbing up 65 feet in a converted grain silo.  And we drove through an actual blizzard for an hour to get to this silo with 5 of her friends.

zoesilo

So, I’m both running out of ideas and I’m running out of patience with winter birthday planning.

The same day we drove through that blizzard to climb 65 feet up, Zoe’s former tutor (back from her days with cancer) and her entire family of 5 got into a head on collision.  All survived thankfully.  But you can NEVER predict winter weather and so therefore, it’s hard to plan birthday gatherings.

So, this past February we skipped a party with her friends.

And opted to wait until it was summer to plan a pool party at our house.

So, that’s what happened this weekend.  Three kids couldn’t make it because they were all out of town for vacation.  Bummer.  But we had a good group for a “It’s Not My Birthday Today, But Let’s Celebrate My 12th Year Of Life Today!” party.  It was about 104 degrees and our pool sits in full sun during the peak of the day.

And no, we still haven’t gotten our air conditioning fixed in the house.

It’s been a steamy 90 degrees in my living room this past week.

I feel like I’m both losing weight and I’m building stronger character.

And my winter baby had a great afternoon with her friends.

pool party


Why is quinoa still a thing?

I thought it would be passé now, like kale.

Oh wait, I think there’s still a kale bandwagon.

Can’t they both hop on the next out-of-town bus to Nowheresville?

I have tried using quinoa, but it was a disaster for me.

The little bubbly balls kept sticking to everything.

It felt like I was working with Styrofoam peanuts when I was trying my chef skills out on it last year during an adventure with it and some peanuts to make some sort of salad.

I got a “what in tarnation is this?” reaction from my family when I sat it on the dining room table.

“It’s quinoa.  It’s supposed to be good for us” I said, trying to sound upbeat.

We all hated it.

As much as we all hated kale when we tried that.

Maybe the chia seeds I recently bought will be the clincher for us.

The new health food that we actually like.

Or

Maybe not.


On another food note, let me throw this out to you…

Nutella spread and pizza.

Have you tried it?

Not separately, but together.

In one monstrous bite.

My kids have combined these two very different tastes during a few casual dinners at home where pepperoni pizza was involved.

This concoction is not something that they came up with on their own.

As with all strange things that they do these days, the world wide web has been their accomplice.

The chocolate hazelnut spread has become a staple on our dining room table along with parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, French dressing, and Sriracha sauce (we do love our condiments).

And only recently did Man-Farmer and I relent and try some on our pizza slice.

And there was a lovely sensation in my mouth when the spice of the tomato sauce and the salty zing of the pepperoni hit the sweet and nutty dash of the Nutella.

It was good.

Much better than we both expected.

Way better than that time we ate quinoa.

pizza

pizza2


Zoe has her own library card.

Both of my kids do.

We frequent the BIG public library regularly and it’s one of our favorite places to go.

But we live in the country.

According to our address anyway.

And we have to get our library cards at the SMALL library in the small town where Zoe goes to school.

But, we don’t normally check anything out there because it’s both small, therefore not full of the books we like to read, and staffed with rude librarians.

Every single time we have been in there we have not been greeted with smiles and witty banter, but instead with scowls and judgements.

The BIG library is the exact opposite of this small town library, but since they are in the same library system we are able to check out books at the BIG-full of good cheer library.

One of the first times we went to the SMALL library where are cards were granted to us, the librarian gruffly told me to make sure “that kid picks up every toy she gets out!”  Gigi was maybe 4 years old and was playing with some puppets and puzzles they had in a corner.

Zoe has started to scooch out of the selections available in the second floor children’s section of the BIG library and has ventured into the first floor Young Adult section.  But, her library card has restrictions on it because she’s a kid and so she can’t use her card to check out some of the books that she wants to read.  So, I have to do it with my card.  Since she’s an independent young gal, she wants to check her own books out herself.  So, she asked me to have them change her card restrictions.  I asked at the check out desk at the BIG library (after the librarian and I had finished chatting about the latest episode of the British Baking Show on PBS) and she said, “oh, you have to go to your issuing library to have them change that since they are the ones that set this card up.”

Damn.

Last week after Gigi’s tumbling class, which is in the little town where the SMALL library is, I said “let’s go change the restrictions on your library card.”

When I got to the front counter and told the librarian what I wanted to happen, she looked at me with a glazed look and it was almost as if I was asking her for round trip tickets on the next moon flight.

She did some tapping on her computer keyboard and asked a few times what Zoe’s age was.

“Twelve” I said.

“Hmmmm, we usually have restrictions for young adult books until the age of thirteen” she stated trying to issue some authority over the situation.

Then she got out a big book full of papers that I have NO IDEA what it was for and pretended to look for something important that she could use in her defense.  Then she went back to her computer, typed a bit more and said yet again “she’s only twelve though.”

I then responded with the boldest and most important thing that this conversation was going to end with…

“I’m her mother”

Zoe was at that point standing next to me and our resemblance is not one of child and babysitter, but of DNA that shouts MOM AND DAUGHTER.

She tried to say something else about “most young girls just come in here wanting their card levels changed so that they can check out Fifty Shades of Grey”

But when I threw out the whole “I’m her mother and I’m asking you to change it”, I heard a snicker coming from my right.

That’s when I saw an older woman who also was working at the branch reshelving the large print novels smiling at me.

She knew.

She knew the Mom Card trumps all others.

And I had thrown my Mom Card down onto the counter to win this hand.

She changed the restrictions on Zoe’s card.

And if my daughter wants to check out books at the BIG library that are in the general fiction section, the section where Hemingway, Tan, and Kingsolver reside, then it will be MY decision if she’s ready for these books.

Because I hold the winning hand…

I get to be Zoe’s mom.

zoeskye

 

 

 

 

The Japanese Flag

I had been looking for Grandpa for more than 5 minutes before I finally found him.

Grandma had asked me to “go outside and find your Grandfather to tell him lunch is ready.”  Being the obedient young Granddaughter that I was, I went outside to look for him.  I knew it would take a while.  He could be anywhere.

In the barn.
In his garden behind the house.
In the garden that was south of the barn where the sweet corn grew.
Mowing the path in the woods that ended behind my Great Uncle Howard’s house.

I smelled the cigarette smoke before I saw the man and found Grandpa behind the barn cutting up the rhubarb to bring up to the house for Grandma.
“Grandma says lunch is ready” I told him.

He was crouched over, wearing his tan work pants and an old brown factory work shirt that had his name sewn onto the front over the pocket that held his cigarettes and whatever else had made it’s way in there that day.  He looked up, peeking our from under the brim of his baseball hat and responded with a smile and a quick “yep” and went back to his task.

I ran back up to the house, with my job being done, so that I could get my lunch of potato chips, an RC Cola, and a cheese toastie sandwich.

Grandpa eventually made his way into the kitchen.

He ate his lunch while saying just a few words about the weather and then headed back outside.  He needed to weed the garden and to set up the radio with a new electrical cord.  The one that he kept on to scare the raccoons and deer away from his cabbages and tomatoes.

My Grandpa never said much.

grandpa and us

My Grandpa with his Grandkids, me and my brother.

He was more of a do-er.  Always keeping himself busy from the moment he woke up until the moment the sun started to go down.  Only then would he set himself up in his recliner to watch television with grandma and throw popcorn to his dog that sat in front of him, staring him down until he got his nightly snack quota.

My Grandpa worked until he was 86 years old.  He had retired from his factory job for the first time in 1978, but (since he was a do-er) he kept on working at another shop on the factory property, pretending to run the joint much to the chagrin of the regular employees, until his second retirement in 2003.

His given name was William Verneil, but the family called him Vern.

His work family called him Bill.

And one year he had the name Bern stitched onto his work shirts as a compromise of sorts.  The same work shirts that he wore whether he was at the factory or at the farm.

He would wear a nice button-up short sleeved shirt whenever he went out to dinner, though.  Grandma insisted on that, I think.

My Grandfather Vern passed away nine years ago.  He was 91 years old.  He smoked cigarettes all day long and had bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning.  He was as thin as a rail and in the summer, was as tanned as a leather strap.

He was also a World War II veteran.

A veteran who came home, and like many other men who managed to make it back to their homelands, came back with memories that they rarely shared with anyone.

And this story is about the memories that my Grandfather kept to himself, never divulging a second of his thoughts to anyone about what happened when he got the flag.

The flag, known as a Yosegaki Hinomaru, was his battlefield souvenir.  The owner of the flag was killed in battle while he, my Grandfather, was alive to see another day.

And another battle.

We don’t know exactly where my Grandpa fought during the war.  He entered the ranks as a 24 year old. He was with the 129th Infantry out of Illinois and they were sent to fight in the South Pacific and the Phillippines.   From what I can ascertain from my own research, he most probably fought at the Battle of Luzon.  Luzon was the largest Phillippines island that the Japanese had taken control of and the Allied forces, under the command of General MacArthur, were going to get it back.  Many battles were fought to get the Phillippine Islands out from under the control of the Japanese and since Grandpa never talked much about it, we may never know exactly.

I do know that he had to leave the area for a while.
He contracted malaria, but was sent back after he got treatment.
All I ever heard him really say about the war was “I got shot by a Jap in the leg” and we knew he had some shrapnel in that leg.

And he had the flag.

But, we never saw it removed from the bamboo case it was held in.

bamboo flag holder

He also brought home an artillery shell and a grenade.

Oh, the things you used to be able to stash in your carry on bag!

It wasn’t until many decades later, when he was living alone because Grandma had died, that my dad felt it was okay to remove some things from the house (the house that my family now lives in) and one of those things was the flag that came back from the war.

We would remove the flag from the bamboo holder and spread it out onto my parents’ dining room table.  Unable to decipher anything that’s written on it, but marveling at the beauty of it.  The foreignness of the characters written on it’s fluid, white surface.  The small, worn leather tabs on one side that signify the direction to fly it.

The Yosegaki Hinomaru is a Good Luck or Prayer Flag.

Given to a Japanese soldier during World War II from friends and family wishing their soldier a safe return home from battle.  It’s filled with the signatures and hopeful sayings of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, cousins and aunties, neighbors and friends.  All to give the soldier that they are sending off to fight a reason to come home safely.
Many flags also contain the name of the village that the soldier departed from.  Young men, some just boys, sent off to fight for their country.  Just as my Grandfather did for his country.

The soldier that had this particular Good Luck Flag did not come home.

He died in battle.

Or starved to death in the Philippines.

Far from home.

Where even his Prayer Flag couldn’t keep him safe.

And Vern picked up that bamboo tube.

Found the flag.

Put it around his waist.

A trophy from the battlefield.

He was still alive.

And he was coming home.

grandpa vern

World War II

 


 

My Grandmother, Dorothy, was married before she was married to my Grandfather.

Dorothy had married Harry.

Her hometown love.

And he went to fight in the war.

But, he didn’t come home.

This is another thing that we don’t know much about.

She didn’t talk about her life before Grandpa too much.

She did stay very close with her sister-in-law, Ida, from her first marriage.

These two ladies were almost like sisters.

And our family, as it grew through the years, did many things with her first family.

We made candy together at Christmas time, we had cookouts,  we shared many experiences full of laughter together.

I even went on a car trip out west with my Grandparents and Ida.  Just a 10 year old and three 60 year olds in a tan four-door sedan driving to New Mexico from Illinois during the Fall of 1981.  It’s a trip I still remember fondly.

When Harry didn’t come back from the war (I’m not even sure where he was fighting or how she came to know that he had died) Dorothy somehow carried on and eventually met someone new.

Someone new named Vern.

And they got married three years after the war ended.

They had one son.

And they had a fabulous life together.

grandmaandgrandpa

Dorothy and Vern

But, she always put flowers on the grave of Harry every Memorial Day.

I can’t imagine her sorrow the day she learned Harry was gone.

I carry on for Grandma and put a flower and a flag on his grave every year.

I’ve told my daughters who he is and that one day, it will be their job to remember Harry.

I’m not even sure if Harry himself came back from the war.

Many men didn’t.

Their graves are empty and for the Japanese, the Yosegaki Hinomaru holds extra significance.

When a family receives a Yosegaki Hinomaru, it’s as if that soldier-that man-that boy, has come home to rest.

My Grandfather Vern came home.

Lived a long and fulfilling life here in America.

Saw his two Grandchildren grow up and was fortunate enough to meet three of his Great Grandchildren before he died.

The flag, the souvenir that he brought back from the war…

it’s time for it to go home.


 

My dad alerted me last year about a segment that was to air on CBS Sunday Morning.

They were going to air a story about the Obon Society.

The Obon Society is run by Keiko and Rex Ziak.  They run the non-profit in Oregon state and accept Prayer Flags from World War II soldiers.  They research the writings on the flags that they receive and look for clues such as village names and family surnames.  If they can find who the flag belongs to, the flag is delivered back to the family in Japan.

A soldier is returned home.

My dad and I did discuss that we had the flag that Grandpa had brought back with him.  We discussed how Grandpa had never talked about the flag.  How we didn’t know where he was when got it.  How we knew that he would not have wanted us to send this flag back to Japan while he was still alive.  His spoils of war were his only.  We weren’t to question why he had it and what he should do with it.

But, we both knew that it needed to go back.

And the Obon Society seemed to be the way to go for us.

bamboo holder


I have a friend from high school, who currently lives in Texas, that lived in Japan for 3 years.  She has a good friend who lives in Japan who was willing to look at the flag through photos that I took.

She tried to decipher the writing and could make out a few names, but the script was an older one and she had trouble herself with some of the characters.

My brother came over last week and I showed him the CBS Sunday Morning segment and he also agreed that the flag needs to go home.

dadandtheflag

My dad, Bob, with the flag today.

We are hopeful that the volunteers with the Obon Society will have better luck reading the names on the flag.

We are hopeful that the flag still has family members alive to accept the flag.

Or a village, where the family lived, can accept it.

I am putting the flag in the mail this week.

In hopes that it can bring peace to someone.

In Japan, Obon is a festival that honors the spirits of ancestors.

We want the spirit of the soldier who was given the Yosegaki Hinomaru to return home.

To finally rest.

We want peace for his family and it will bring closure for our family.

Closure for a time in history that me, my brother, and my parents never saw. We merely live with the stories we never heard.  Ghosts from 70 years ago.  Trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do.

The flag doesn’t belong in Illinois in my kitchen anymore.

It needs to return home.

For Harry.

For Dorothy.

For Vern.

For peace that stretches across an ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAN…

Can you get poison ivy in your eyes by mowing over A LOT of poison ivy plants and the dust and dirt goes a’flyin’ around you and your coughing and spitting and getting shit on your face?

Cause that just happened to me.


Can we PLEASE stop making television shows featuring kids cooking?

KIDS BBQ CHAMPIONSHIP!
KIDS BAKING CHALLENGE!
KIDS VEGAN CASSEROLE CHALLENGE!
I made that last one up, but it may be in the works at some studio in crazy LA LA Land.

My kids won’t even put a poptart in the toaster most days.

Wait…Gigi does like to bake.  But she has a very hard time following recipes because
“I WANT TO DO IT MY WAY DAMN IT!”  hinders her from properly following a baking recipe and so we have to eat cookies with 88 pounds of sugar in them and we can actually feel our teeth melting out of our heads.

With that said, there’s no way in HELL they’ll l be creating their own baby back rib rub, marinating some chicken for 12 hours…my god, my oldest gets freaked out by the heat that comes out of the oven when I ask her to take the Ore-Ida fries out.

These TV  kids shows can’t be real kids, right?!

They are like some pod-people.  Or just the offspring of parents who really want their own cooking show, but they can’t get the TV execs to go with their ideas (or they are just really ugly and not TV material) and so they make their kids do it.

I don’t get it.  I don’t like it.

Where’s Julia Child?


Can you tweak your back playing Wii bowling and forever be impaired?

I like to do fancy leg lifts with my free leg when doing Wii bowling (or regular bowling at an alley, I’m not afraid to shine) and a few months ago…you read that right…I was doing fancy Wii bowling in my living room and later on could feel some pain on the left side of my lower back.

And it still hurts.

It hurts when I lay wrong in bed…I’m not even sure what that means…can you lay wrong?

What is the right way to lay and what could therefore be the wrong way to lay?

I dunno.

It hurts when I roll over in bed.

But only if I roll over wrong (?).

Yesterday I got up and the OTHER side of my back hurt.

COME ON!

I sat around most of the day with a heating pad on it and I must say that today, it feels fine.

Until I guess I lay wrong again.


Can someone please tell me how on earth I am supposed to live on this planet and thrive and become a better person and all that good stuff if some goofy old men in Washington DC can sit in a room and make decisions for the entire United States of Good Ol’ America without consulting with EVERYONE else that works with them?

Why do MEN always get to make decisions about women’s issues?

Why do people keep electing these men to office?

Why don’t women have more of a say so in what’s good for them?

It’s as if a reversal of the earth has taken place…you know when Superman had to save Lois Lane from dying and so he reversed time by spinning the planet Earth backwards?

Did this actually happen?

Because I feel like I’m living in the past.

When MEN can hole themselves up in a room and write a proposal that eliminates maternity care and pediatric visioncare and pap smears at Planned Parenthood from our healthcare policies…I feel like the country I live in has gone back to a time that women already fought through.

It’s a hard task to raise daughters in a land that doesn’t still fully respect them.

Yes, they can drive and vote and work and yet…they are still a minority.

Women are still not as powerful in this country as the men are.
There’s still not full equality.

As Pat Benatar once sang…”let’s put up our dukes, let’s get down to it”

Ladies, it’s round 2 3 4 5 6 for us.

Time to fight for our rights…again.

window

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Summer

Well, I’m doing a whole lot of nothing.

Which is fine with me.

The school year can get very busy when you have kids.

As another mom and I were discussing this week as we sat waiting for volleyball camp to end for the day, the school year gets HECTIC and for her, her summer seems just as hectic.

Not mine.

I haven’t signed my kids up for too many activities.

Now, last summer I didn’t sign them up for anything.

Nothing.

Nada.

Mistake.

They drove me crazy by the end of June.

They like structure.

They like school.

But, in the summer without the structure of a school day, they get lazy and cranky and they start to bother one another just by glancing in the others direction and then I get bothered by the cranky, lazy girls in my house.

And mama doesn’t like to be bothered.

So, this summer Gigi is doing tumbling and had a three-day volleyball camp (where she was the only third grader to receive a medal on the last day-BOOYAH!), and in July she starts swimming lessons.

The girl can swim, but there’s ALWAYS room for improvement and learning actual swimming strokes and safety is very important to us as we have a large pool in our backyard.

Zoe has had nothing to do in June, but is going to start the Junior Lifeguard program in July.

She’s a very good swimmer (we tried to get her to join the local swim team a few years ago, but she declined as she didn’t want to have to race other people…whatevs…) and I think she would be a great lifeguard when she’s a bit older.

And lifeguards are needed everywhere…in every town…in every city.

She will be golden when she goes to college, right?!

zoe flower

Neither kid would allow themselves to be signed up for the summer reading program at the library this year.

And neither kid is doing much reading even though their parents are…I just finished a great book about Paris and now I’m reading Andy Cohen’s latest bio (I love him and think we should be friends) while Man-Farmer is reading some story about a witch and before that he was reading Salem’s Lot from Stephen King.

But, these kids seem to have forgotten how to read and instead are watching YouTube videos on our television where this girl Miranda who has TOO MUCH red lipstick on and her bestie Joey are eating flavored toothpaste.

I have learned to fight my battles.

This is not one of them.

I just hope they don’t start eating our toothpaste.

Tomorrow they leave for a week.

They are off to summer camp!

“YAY FOR SUMMER CAMP!” screamed the parents.

Oh, I mean…”YAY FOR SUMMER CAMP!” screamed the sisters.

They will be gone all week and they will NOT be watching TV, but instead will be canoeing, zip lining, swimming, baking cupcakes, making rock earrings, and getting completely filthy.

One year, Zoe wore the same pair of shorts all week.

Even though her suitcase had 8 other pairs in it.

I have reminded her every year since to “PLEASE change your clothes every day, girl!”

Before we know it, August will be here and we will be registering for school again.

Third and Seventh grade.

Soon I will be at Target buying more notebooks and folders with cats on them and Gigi will probably need a new backpack as she broke two last year.

How does a child who only weighs 66 pounds destroy two backpacks in one school year?

Sigh…

Zoe has broken two pairs of flip-flops in the last two days.

See, she needs a job already.

To buy herself more shoes.

While they are away at camp, I will go through the bedroom that they share throwing away things that they don’t even remember that they own.

I’ll think about which day will be the best to go to the trampoline place to jump around when they get back in July.

The first week of July will be our busiest week of the summer I think…

-We are having a Fourth of July party with family which will end with some crazy fireworks that my dad buys in Missouri.

-Gigi has an appointment for new ear plugs as she gets swimmers ear if she doesn’t wear custom plugs and I don’t think the plugs she has right now are fitting anymore.  And I know this because Man-Farmer had to take her to urgent care last weekend because she has swimmer’s ear for the first time in three years.

-Zoe has an echocardiogram scheduled.  Leukemia and the effects of the treatments she received still enter our lives on occasion.  We need to make sure her heart is in working order and hasn’t been damaged from some of the drugs she was given.

-Zoe starts attending a creative writing class at the local community college.  She writes regularly on her laptop with her friend Avril…they write stories together at the same time from their respective homes.  Technology is pretty neat.

-And we are attending the Antiques Roadshow!

Man-Farmer FINALLY won tickets in their lottery.  He’s been trying for three years and was so disgusted last year when he didn’t get any tickets that he boycotted watching the show on PBS.

But, this is the year!  We will be attending the roadshow in St. Louis.  We can take four things with us and it’s been hard to decide what to take.  We have settled on three seemingly old artifacts for sure, but can’t decide on the fourth item.  We live in a house with a lot of old stuff.

Having a free schedule allows us to enjoy our lives.

We can swim in our pool.

Or go to a local zoo.

We can eat yogurt with endless toppings for lunch if we chose.

Or we can host Zoe’s birthday party in July with a few of her friends.

Her birthday was in February, but she wanted a pool party.

A belated party is better than no party, I say.

And what better way to spend a summer day than laughing with your friends in your pool while your dad cooks hamburgers on the grill for you.

Summer is meant to be less stressful than the rest of the year.

The heat makes doing much of anything, besides licking ice cream cones or sipping on cold bottles of beer, fairly unbearable.

Our air conditioner still isn’t working.

We have had a few days where the heat in the house gets stuffy and everyone is walking around practically nude.

But, we are coping.

For me, summer means warm days and watermelon.

Flowers are in bloom, the ducks are swimming, and the black raspberries are ripe.

raspberries

Summer brings us beautiful sunsets full of every color under the rainbow.

prairie sunset

It means my family is all together all day long.

It feels like the coolness of a museum or a library when it’s just too hot to be outside anymore.

It sounds like tunes blaring from a speaker that you can hear from any room in the house.

It means fireflies and bats at sunset and kids falling asleep on the living room couch.

Summer – what does it mean for you?

I hope you’re having a good one…

yogurtandgigi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Peace In The Heat

The heat of summer has struck early this year.

The temperature has been in the 90s with that “real feel” feeling of *surface of the sun.

There has been a lovely breeze that has been gusting up to about 20+MPH and that has helped tremendously.

And when I mean it has helped, I mean that our A/C has gone out and the breeze has made living life in the heat bearable.

Our air conditioning unit is ancient.

It’s literally falling apart…like the wire screening that surrounds the unit is shedding away.

The fan has stopped working.

The expense of fixing it isn’t worth it.

We just need to purchase a new unit.

Thankfully we have a large vat of water in the backyard to help us cool down.

And we are surrounded by trees and grass instead of concrete and asphalt.

I’m trying to look on the bright side of things.

I could bitch and complain and huff and puff about the fact that the A/C has gone out.

I could scrunch my face into a grimace and yell from the top of my barn “I’M HOT!” because we don’t have the money to replace the unit.

…yes, we have looked into programs to help us cover the cost of getting a new unit and it’s (of course) not going as smoothly as it should be going…

So, I have plugged in the fans.

I have told everyone to wear tank tops.

Gigi usually only wears her unders when she’s in the house so she’s not really fazed.

duck pool

The heat has made the chickens grumpy.

The flies are attacking the horse relentlessly.

I have been baking a few things in the oven, but we are trying to use the grill as much as possible.

This is the perfect situation in which I can find my zen.

And pass it along to my kids.

And to remind them to stay calm.

To remind them that there are more pressing matters at hand in the world.

That our home, that’s not in the desert or in a third-world slum, will still be habitable even if we don’t have air conditioning this summer.

That our situation is not that dire in terms of the big picture.

The big picture being our overall place on this earth.

Food—check

Cool water—check

Clean clothes—check

Love—check

Health—check, check, check, check

Happiness—check

Laughter—check infinity…

The air conditioning may get fixed this year.

It may have to wait until next year.

We may wait longer to get it fixed.

I would rather take a vacation to The Grand Canyon via New Mexico next summer than have a new A/C unit right now.

We only need the cold air 4 months out of the year.

But a vacation…that happiness lasts forever.

pool with cat

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading

I have a friend who can read multiple books at one time.

I can’t do that.

Now, I am darn good at multitasking…

Bake a cake

Throw in a load of laundry

Run these leftover veggie scraps to the barnyard

Reading multiple novels at the same time…I can’t keep different stories from different authors clear in my brain.

There’s not one book in the living room and one in the bedroom and one in the car.

Nope, it’s one book at a time for this gal.

One book that sits on my bedside table next to my deodorant, alarm clock, and my lip gloss.

This is what I’ve read in the last few months and I’ve included some things that I would like to read eventually…

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I have a few chapters left in this book.  It’s a true story about a boy kidnapped in India and adopted by an American couple.  I really like true stories/historical fiction and this book caught my attention sitting on a shelf at the library.  I thought it was the story behind the movie Lion with Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel that was out last year (which I didn’t see, but really want to!) and so I was intrigued.  It’s not that story, but it’s really good.  Can’t put it down (I usually read at night before going to sleep and this has had me up past my normal bedtime!) and it seems that maybe adoptions like this aren’t that uncommon in India?

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This book is written by a South American author about a woman from Poland and her longtime love who is Japanese.  Three different ideals wrapped up beautifully together makes this novel hard to put down.  There are different time eras that the author moves through to tell her story.  The ending really put a smile on my face.

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I grabbed this book at the library because the cover intrigued me.  I do that often.  I see a cover that catches my eye, I read the synopsis on the inside cover, and then read the first line in the novel.  If nothing bores me…I take it home.  This book looked fun and suspenseful and reminded me of “The Girl On The Train” and “Gone Girl.”  It was okay.  There’s a girl.  And she gets on a boat.  And she drinks too much.  And she has a boyfriend who is not on the boat.  And there’s a mystery.  The ending didn’t really do it for me.  Seemed rushed.  But I would try reading her other novel that’s mentioned on the cover “In A Dark, Dark Wood.”

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This was a really fun book.  I had just watched a PBS program, a historical drama, about the Bronte sisters and this novel was about the last remaining ancestors of the Brontes and the struggles they have.  There is love and mystery and history in this story.  All of my favorite things.  I really enjoyed this book.

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I’ve read several Alice Hoffman novels.  She definitely has a way of pulling you into her words and making you want more.  This was not one of my favorites that I’ve read, but I wanted to see what would happen at the end.  Two friends.  A tragedy.  Overcoming loss.  Love (of course) and redemption.

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I REALLY liked this one.  It’s by a Korean author and it translated beautifully into a story that anyone can relate to.  It’s a generational story of a family that travels through time to tell a loving story about our relationships that we have with one another.  Mother/child bonds run deep.  And they can be confusing.  This is one of those novels that reminds me that families, no matter where you are on this planet, are all the same.

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Every once in a while I like to read a book about real life.  Non-fiction.  I am very anti-gun.  I don’t like guns.  We don’t own guns.  I think America is way too obsessed with these things that serve absolutely no other purpose than to kill someone, be it animal or human being.  This book written beautifully by Gary Younge (the man can write!) is a journal, written by a great journalist, about ten random lives cut down in America by a gun shot.  All of the children (all under the age of 18) are remembered with love by their families and it proved to me (once again) that bullets don’t care about their target.  They serve but one purpose.  And they do their job very well.

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I’ve read many of Barbara Kingsolver’s fiction novels.  I have had this book in my home library for years.  I tried reading it before, but for some reason it didn’t do IT for me.  I tried it again and this time, it did IT for me.  IT being it made me think…could I do this?  Could I live only off of what we could grow in a single year?  Could I only eat locally and could I make more food from scratch instead of buying pre-made things?  I don’t think I could do all of it, but I already do some of this.  I try to make desserts and bread myself.  I am not very good at gardening, but man-oh-man, do I wish I had a greener thumb.  This book is so full of rich detail about where the author and her family live and what they grow and how they eat it…that alone was worth reading about.

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This book was quite different.  I did enjoy it, but you must be in the right state of mind to get through it.  It’s dark and thoughtful and did I mention that it was dark?  It’s set in Asia and…side-note coming…I really enjoy reading books about Asian women written by Asian authors.  I have no idea why.  I don’t have a desire to visit Asia.  I have never wanted to travel to China or Japan or Korea.  I don’t have an insatiable desire to learn about Vietnam or Laos.  But, there’s something that I find really, really interesting about women from these countries.  Women from decades past and present day Asia.  I am a really big fan of Amy Tam and all that she writes.  I think that’s where my love for reading about this part of the world through a woman’s eyes began.  Okay, side-note over…it has an ethereal feeling about it even though the subject matter is deep and foreboding.  Yet there’s such a strong sense of togetherness and family that I couldn’t tear myself away.

On my TO READ list, I have two fiction and two non-fiction to share with you…

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The words on the cover intrigued me enough to put this on my to-read list on Goodreads..  The synopsis that I read says that if you are a fan of Liane Moriarty (Big, Little, Lies and The Husband’s Secret) then you will like this.  Well, I am a fan of hers and the story looks pretty suspenseful.  This line hooked me…”for a family held together by lies, the truth will come at a devastating price.”

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This novel is about Paris.  I love Paris.  I love all things French.  I am a true Francophile.  Man-Farmer and I went to Paris for a week before we were parents and before he was labeled Man-Farmer.  We both fell in love with the city and hope to one day go there with our children.  I won’t pass up a book about a Parisian.  This one line from Goodreads says it all for me…

“Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved.”

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I heard about this book from National Public Radio.  It’s the true story of women who were working with the new “wonder” substance radium during World War I.  The women were told that the radium that they were painting onto watch faces, so that the dials would glow, was perfectly safe.  They began to glow as brightly as the watches they were working on.  And they also started getting ill.  Historical books like this always interest me.  The struggles and the deception that people pull over on one another all in the name of “advancements” for society…the women who suffer the most are the most inspiring.  The women who stand up against the injustice for the mighty dollar.  This is going to be both a sad and a powerful book.

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I read a book a few years ago about a man who had escaped from North Korea and made it to the United States.  Fascinating.  There’s no other word to use than Fascinating to describe what he said about life in North Korea.  It’s such a secluded place that none of us really know anything about.  The brainwashing that goes on and the innate will needed to survive.  This book is told through the eyes of 6 ordinary citizens living with the extreme conditions that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il push down onto them.  I’m always fascinated that people can “live” through this kind of thing.  Their hope outshines all.

Awards

This week my family and I headed out to our daughter’s middle school for the End Of The School Year Awards Ceremony.

We were sent a real life letter in the mail (so we knew it was a big deal!) a week ago stating that Zoe would be getting recognition for something she’s done this school year.

She’s had all As in her first year of middle school.

Not too shabby for a kid who had radiation to her brain when she was 7 years old, huh?!

So, I knew she would be getting a certificate for her 4.0 GPA.

She came away with seven award certificates.

One for every subject, including physical education.

And the girl does not like to run.

awards

Things have certainly changed since I was in the 6th grade.

For me, 6th grade was still considered a part of elementary school.

Middle school consisted of only 7th and 8th grade.

So, in 6th grade I was not given a locker combination to memorize.

I still participated in daily recess.

I was still using my fingers to try to add large sums of numbers together ( I still do this…)

I was not given a laptop computer to take home each night (computahwhat?)

I was not traipsing through the hallways giggling with my classmates as we went from Hour 1 Accelerated Math to Geography where we were finishing up our Diwali Festival of Lights in India projects.

Much was not expected of me in 6th grade.

But, much is expected from my daughter who is finishing 6th grade.

I started my 6th grade year in 1982.

Plenty has happened in the 35 years between my 6th grade experience and my daughter’s.

Even starting in kindergarten, children of the 21st century are expected to know a lot more than we ever were.

The expectations are mind-boggling really.

And it’s no wonder that kids have more anxiety, more inner turmoil, more daunting pressure.

Thursday evening, my daughter received many accolades for her hard work this school year.

In my 6th grade year I also received an award.

Awards at my school were handed out during the school day while our parents were all at work.

A bunch of kids…

wearing pin-striped jeans and oversized tortoiseshell-framed eyeglasses

whose hair had been permed the weekend before by grandma in her kitchen from the boxed set she had bought at the A&P

sat in the very hot auditorium sliding up and down on the hard wooden fold down seats anxiously waiting to hear if their name would be called.

No one got “Most Improved Student” or “Highest GPA In The History Of Our School District.”

No one received an award for “Most Reading Points Because You Have Read Every Book In The School Library Twice” or “Best Ability To Multitask While You Study 6 Core Subjects, Participate In Drama Club,  And Do Track-Volleyball-Basketball.”

Shhhhhhhhh….

What?  WAIT!

Did I just hear my name called?

There ARE five other Jennifer’s in my class…are you sure it was me?!

Up I jumped from my seat to get my award!

I ran to the stage in my Dr. Scholl’s tan sandals with my hand outstretched to receive my prize…

MOST FRECKLES – GIRL!

(…and I think I received the perfect attendance award like EVERYONE else because back in the Carter/Reagan eras, our parents always made us go to school no matter what was wrong with us…)

I think other awards presented included…

Best Michael Jackson Moves

Highest Jump From A Swing At Recess

Most Pizza Eaten In One Sitting At Lunch In The Cafegymnasium (or was it the Gymateria?)

I think I gave a speech where I thanked my Irish redheaded and freckled great-grandmother Stella for the genes.

A guy named Jeff got awarded for having the most freckles of the male variety.

He did have a lot, he deserved it.

We didn’t have much pressure put on us in 6th grade.

Kids today are pressured to:

Do More

Be The Best

Over Achieve

Competition is everywhere at school.

Zoe is given fake money as a reward for doing well on tests.

The fake money is going to be spent at a school auction next week where she may come home with a television or an iPad.

For turning in her homework on time.

For being polite.

It really starts in kindergarten now, though.

My children are rewarded while they are away from home and in their educational environments with food, toys, parties.

School has totally become a reality competition comparable to Survivor and America’s Got Talent.

It’s no wonder that my niece, who is in college, is totally stressed out and in need of anti-anxiety meds.

I sometimes feel like I may need to get my own prescription for myself as my daughters get older and more is expected of them in school.

Zoe seems to be doing fine with what’s expected of her.

She was in kindergarten when she fought for her life with a leukemia diagnosis.

We pushed her hard because we knew her brain was literally being inundated with poisons.

She had leukemia cells in her spinal fluid, which meant it was probably in her brain.

Cranial radiation and spinal-infused chemotherapy were part of her treatments.

It’s been 5 years since her hard-core treatments ended, but we really pushed her to get good grades early on because we knew she had much to overcome and we didn’t want her to slack.

Recently she came home with a C on a test.

I don’t even remember what subject the test was is.

What I remember is that she started crying when she told me.

Because she knew we expected more from her.

I told her it was okay.

It wasn’t the end of the world and she could make it up with studying harder for the next test.

And then I asked her “are we pushing you too hard?”

Through her tears she looked at me and said “no, you aren’t”

I’m a very laid back mom.

I don’t get on my kids if their bedroom (that they share) is too messy.

I don’t yell at them if they curse too much at home.

I don’t get too annoyed with them if they refuse to eat vegetables.

But, I’ve always wondered if we expect too much from them.

School is their job right now.

My husband and I are expected to be on top of our game and to get the job done correctly at our own jobs.

So, I do expect them to get good grades.

I want learning to be something that they enjoy.

I want them to be inspired by things that they see, by music that they listen to, by ideas that emerge as they wander around in a museum.

Expectations are challenging.

For both a parent and a child.

I mean, I never expected to get that award in the 6th grade.

But, I knew I had it in me.

Maybe that award isn’t out of Zoe’s reach either…

 

freckles

Excessive Coconut

We’ve been struck with a spring malady at the farm.

The whole–April Showers Bring May Flowers–baloney that happens in the spring has turned into–Well It’s May And The Damn Rain Needs To Stop!–because it causes a problem in my kitchen.

Ants.

Little ants start making their way into my kitchen EVERY YEAR in the early spring.

Heebie Jeebies sprout up under my skin.

And my head starts to itch.

I try spraying the little buggers and the surrounding areas with non-toxic lemon juices and vinegar/water sprays that I put into an old children’s hair detangling bottle.

I see an ant…BAM!

Spray it dead!

I also currently have chili powder covering the backsplash behind the toaster and my kitchen-aid mixer because I saw Betty doing it at the bagel shop she supervises for my husband.

Because you know…ants do like Asiago bagels and blueberry muffins with extra crumble topping.

Well, it was raining a lot a few weeks ago and I seemed to have the ant situation under control.

And now, well, it’s been sunny for a week.

Nice and warm and breezy.

Sunday I woke up to an active trail of ants heading right into the kitchen cabinet that’s full of… EVERYTHING SWEET.

The peanut butter.

The Nutella.

The marshmallow fluff.

The raisins.

The sugar.

THE SUGAR!

NO!

It’s not raining!

Why are the ants in the sugar?!

Damn!

I had to clean all of the stuff out of the cabinet and throw some things away and I had to drop down under the kitchen sink to get the poison.

I hate using toxic things in the kitchen.

But, I also hate having ants in my Nutella.

I cleaned out the very top shelf which contains all of my baking goods.

Chocolate chips.

Brown sugar.

Baking powder.

Confectionary sugar.

Coconut.

Coconut?

Why do I have coconut?

The most important question is really…

Why do I have five bags of coconut?

coconut

I don’t even like coconut!

I have had this thing happen to me lately where I buy double.

Sometimes in triplicate.

I go to the store to do my grocery shopping and, while I do usually travel with a list pre-typed onto my iPhone, I get to a certain product and think…is this on my list?

As I stare at the bottles of canola oil and check my list and see that it’s NOT on the list, I find myself with riddled with doubt.

I think I need more canola oil, but it’s not on my list.

Do I need it?

Why do I think I need it?

Didn’t I see any empty bottle on the kitchen counter that Man-Farmer had set there after making me a batch of stovetop popcorn?

I better buy it because I think we are out.

I get home and open the pantry and SHIT!

I already have canola oil!

In fact I already have two unopened bottles of it!

I once had three large boxes of kosher salt.

Because I kept buying it when I thought we were out.

I don’t like to buy in bulk because my kitchen storage area is NOT a grandiose area at all.

I don’t do Costco.

I don’t go to Sam’s Club.

I’m not a Big-Boxer.

So, I do not need three boxes of kosher salt, or two boxes of saltines, or even two boxes of ice cream cones, both sugar and waffle cones.

And I certainly don’t need five bags of coconut.

I guess I have used the coconut, because none of the bags that I have are entirely full.

I have both sweetened and unsweetened.

One bag barely has anything in it.

Why did I keep this miniscule bag of unsweetened coconut?

coconut bag

I guess because it looks so much like parmesan cheese.

And I can never let go of an extra bit of parmesan cheese.

What have I made with this tropical nut shredding?

I’m all out of answers.

I know what I want to do, though…

coconut shrimp

I loves me some coconut shrimp.

Okay, I think I was a bit excited earlier when I said I didn’t like coconut.

I kind-of, sort-of like it.

But, only when it’s toasted.

And only when it’s toasted and in some granola.

Or toasted in a cookie.

Or toasted on the outside of a big ol’ fat shrimp.

I could never eat a cake covered in it.

I do love the look of a white coconut cake, but my taste buds do not agree with my eyes.

I’ve begun living my adult life with a “when life gives you lemons…make a giant gallon of lemonade” motto.

It all began when Zoe got sick.

We could have quit.

We could have given up.

We could have felt sorry for ourselves.

But, we didn’t.

We pushed forward.

We lived in the sunlight.

We took the bad that was handed to us and made it as good as we possibly could.

And while shredded coconut and cancer in a child can’t compare to one another, I have learned to make delicious lemonade.

It’s easier to see the best within a situation instead of focusing on the unsavory aspects set before you.

It’s never easy, especially when it involves more than extra pantry ingredients.

Especially when it brings death closer to your heart than you dare dreamed about.

Soon, I’ll be whipping up a batch of golden, toasty, coconut covered shrimp.

And hopefully the ants will stay away until next spring…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass Half Full

I met up with some old friends last weekend.

These are ladies I met in college and a few of us even went to high school together.

That’s 28 PLUS years of friendship in those faces above.

We have been together through college final exams, boyfriend hookups and breakups, vacation shenanigans, weddings, the births of our children, my daughter’s cancer diagnosis, the death of a child, and now we are facing ailing parents together.

We may not always see 100% on everything at all times, but when the shit hits the fan, we are reliable and we are there.

Sometimes I dislike the faces in the photos above, but I love them all dearly.

Time budges us forward, pushing us whether we want to move or not.

It’s hard to keep friendships strong for this long.

And it’s something that must be done thoughtfully.

You must WANT to keep relationships vibrant and alive if you seek a future with people.

As I’ve written about before, my best and oldest friend Kelly lives 750 miles away from me.

But, we communicate weekly and visit one another often.

We WANT to keep our relationship strong.

We know it takes work and are willing to dig deep within ourselves to sustain the line that ties us together.

She went to college with the women in the group I saw last weekend, too.

She and I were roommates freshman year when we met most of these people.

But, she didn’t return sophomore year as she decided that college wasn’t her thing.

With 8 people in our group, I think we’ve done pretty good keeping in touch with everyone all of these years.

It does help that we all live in the same state.

And most of us lived together at some point AFTER college.

Chicago is the home base for Laura, Sue and Heather, with a few peeps ( T and Siobhan) living in the northern suburbs.

T and Siobhan actually live in the same suburb and their kids (3 each!) go to the same school.

Krista calls Omaha home, and I live three hours south of Chicago on a farm.

One college pal, Rosaleen, lives very far away, but we all still see her as much as we can.

Ireland is an ocean away, but her mom still lives in Chicago and many of us have traveled to the Emerald Isle to visit her and her brood of 5 kids (I am coming someday Rose!).

Friendships this old aren’t perfect by any means.

I can’t stress this enough!

It’s HARD!

I get angry with them.

They become equally pissed with me.

Some of us are closer with one another than others.

We have shared intimate things with only certain people and yes, there are secrets amongst us.

I get annoyed with them.

Like when I send an email and get zero responses from the group.

Yet, others do the same thing and there’s a litany of responses within 4 minutes time.

Women are catty.

And this group is no different from any other female grouping.

But, there’s something there that keeps us together.

Even if I roll my eyes as I’m complaining to my husband about so-and-so, there’s history.

There’s a deep knowledge that these old friendships will continue to renew themselves.

When I returned from my weekend with the ladies (someone dubbed the three-day event as Roomiepalooza), my dad popped over with some hostas.

His neighbor Larry was dividing his plants and my dad brought three bunches over.

We looked around for a shady spot to transplant them and I remembered how my grandmother had ferns growing under the dining room window when I was growing up.

Ferns and hostas thrive in shade and so my dad started digging.

hostas

He dug up bricks as he created four holes along the floor of the used area of earth.

“A porch used to be here” he said.

More holes, more crumbling bricks.

With one shovel full of dirt he unearthed a small treasure.

Hidden in the brown soil was a juice glass.

Entirely filled with dirt, a worm, and some spindly green weeds.

juiceglassdirt

I cleaned it out (that’s when I found the worm) and it was perfectly intact.

Not a chip or a crack anywhere.

“Must have fallen off of the porch at some point” my dad said.

We laughed and he noticed that he didn’t recognize the pattern on the glass.

It has green leaves and a small green dot where, upon very close inspection, you can see very pale white flower petals surrounding the green dots.  A petite flowered juice glass was literally unearthed on Monday.

It may be before my father’s time in this house.

His great-uncle lived here and this juice glass may be his.

I took it into the kitchen after I carefully extracted the contents outside.

I scrubbed it and rinsed it and poured some Aldi orange juice into it.

juiceglass

It’s in my kitchen cabinet now.

Ready to renew its job as a morning vessel for Vitamin C.

It’s old and it’s still useful.

It has been revived.

Which is what happens when my girlfriends and I get together.

We renew our friendships.

We revive the relationships that we all need.

We laugh until we cry (or pee!)

We become uncomplicated ears and hearts for those in the group that need it.

Roles shift and we all become busy in our own personal day-to-day routines.

But, when we dig down real deep…

We remember that we are useful to one another.

 

64 Duck Eggs

Spring has sprung at the farm!

It’s 82 degrees today!  Woot Woot!

Easter is tomorrow and, as we aren’t religious, we will partake in the day by eating a big ol’ ham and a blueberry lemon cake and talking about a large bunny that came in the night and hid the 64 duck eggs we colored yesterday.

When you have laying poultry in your backyard, as we do, and there are only three people in the house who eat eggs (as one has decided to be egg intolerant…thanks Gigi) we have a lot of extra duck eggs around.

So, we colored 64 duck eggs this year and one chicken egg.

eggs1

I don’t know why only one chicken egg made it into my boiling pots this year.

The duck eggs we have are a pale green and white.

We have two different types of ducks in our barnyard.

We have Daffy who is an Indian Runner Duck and Patty who is a Khaki Campbell breed.

ducks

Daffy is the small white duck on the right and Patty is standing in front of her.

Daffy lays the white eggs and Patty lays the pale green eggs.

Our chickens, we are down to four hens as Tallulah died last week, all lay brown eggs.

Our hens are New Hampshire Reds and Light Brahmas.

hens

Yesterday we dyed our eggs and ended up with some big, beautiful globes and some fingers that don’t look as fancy.

egg baths

We dye our eggs by just dipping our hands into the dye baths to retrieve our art pieces.

It’s all a part of my “who gives a shit” philosophy of life.

Hands wash.

It’s fine.

Gigi made a beautiful egg with a beautiful sentiment.

It reassures me that I’m doing the right thing with my daughters when I see things like this…

gigi egg

Love Yourself

 

easter eggs1

easter eggs2

easter eggs3

All of the color inside the house inspired me to go outside the house and find color in nature.

I love warm weather.

And do wish I lived somewhere that didn’t have such cold seasons.

But, it may be why I (and all other Northerners) cherish the arrival of spring each year with just a bit more verve.

tulipsphlox

purpletree