Saturday, February 19, 2011
I decided to make breakfast for the family before we headed to the White Mountains for a day of errands, hoping full tummies upon leaving would stave off the inevitable requests for drive-thru "dining," if you can call it that.
Upon entering the kitchen, it became fast apparent that breakfast would be a challenge - we were out of milk and eggs. And bread. And bacon. I was at a loss. Then I figured, "Well, what the heck? Who says breakfast has to be breakfast food?"
So, I set about making herb fried chicken and fried potatoes and onions. (In case you didn't know, if the chicken is fried but not breaded, it's not actually worthy of the label "fried chicken." Especially if it's "fried" in olive oil. How about we just think of this as "breakfast chicken," and go on, so as not to offend my Southern readers. Or family.) I resisted the urge to make spinach, too, because as much as I wanted to redeem my good mother badge by rounding out that greasy meal with something green, I didn't know if anyone would be up for morning spinach that wasn't baked in a quiche or folded in an omelet.
While the chicken was frying, at circa 7 a.m., my Dad gave me a call. I don't get many calls from Dad because he lives in town and I see him pretty often and Mom is usually the communications manager for that duo. So, I was treated to a rare call from Dad. He asked, so I told him what I was doing, and he immediately was smitten with the idea of morning fried chicken. He started talking about fried chicken and potatoes and pan gravy (which I did not attempt) and somehow that led to a story about his childhood in Kentucky with his 11 brothers and sisters. When I walked into the kitchen with the phone to my ear to turn the chicken in the pan, he stopped his story and said, "Ahh, I can hear it. Man, that sounds good," then picked right back up on his thread, and went on to talk with me about the book he's been wanting to put together for Mom for years, full of his songs and snapshots from their 44+ years together.
I tried to talk as little as possible during our call because this was one of those rare occasions when I could hear Dad's heritage in his voice. I don't always pick up his soft, Southern drawl because, well, he's my Dad and I don't think we often notice our parents' accents. Sometimes, though, especially when I'm hearing his disembodied voice through a phone line, I hear it. He doesn't have a heavy accent - we're not talking West Virginia or Georgia here (which are some great accents, I'll tell you what.) No, his roots are in the gentle wooded hills of Kentucky, and his voice is low and gentle, too.
I love when I can hear the echoes of his childhood in his voice. At these moments, I'm reminded that he's part of this big, good family full of men and women who speak with the same gentle accent. Who treat each other kindly, but still rib each other and grin in triumph when they bring up some long ago moment that the other person would gladly forget. His Southern voice reminds me of my Aunt Doris and Uncle Hay, who still live down on Grandpa's farm in Kentucky, where the creek runs through the front yard and the expanse of natural lawn (you don't water grass in this part of Kentucky) runs right up to the wooded hills that we know will mean a "check for ticks" if we venture into them.
It was down in Kentucky where I sat on the porch with Grandpa as a little girl and swatted flies; where the attic has that dusty old smell; where Lynda and I would move the crawfish upstream when we feared the creek was too low to keep them alive; where Aunt Doris would serve "dinner" in the middle of the day, complete with real fried chicken, corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy and blackberry pie. Where the floors creaked and Aunt Doris, with her never-cut, salt & pepper hair piled high on her head, would tell stories of "Mommy," my Grandma who died while Dad was still a teenager; where I'd see my Dad play basketball for the first time with his brothers, using the old hoop nailed to the side of the barn; and where, in the evenings, Mom and Uncle Hay would challenge each other to some serious crossword puzzle competitions.
All this I hear in those moments when something as simple as frying breakfast chicken gets Dad to remembering that even out here in the high desert of Arizona, he is a Kentucky boy, through and through. These rare occasions are precious to me.
Dad's that guy who commands more attention the quieter he speaks. He's the one who let's you know he's worried about you by calling up, talking first about general, safe subjects, then finding just the right pause in conversation to give you that one, succinct piece of advice that you realize was the whole purpose of his phone call.
On September 11, after I had phoned my Mom a few times, frantic with the news of the towers, and the Pentagon and the still unaccounted for plane that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania, I got a call from Dad. We spoke about things for a few minutes, then he said, "Honey, you need to turn off the TV for awhile and just go take care of those kids." I replied, "Daddy, I'm scared." And he simply said, real low, "I know." And with those two words I knew he really did know how frightened I was, how I hated that Adam was a whole mile away from me at his elementary school and that Mike was across the Valley working, and that I have always been afraid of war, and that I felt helpless and vulnerable. He really knew.
When we'd had a particularly uncertain patch with Tanner and tensions had been high and I'd been talking to Mom a lot, and could tell she was worried about whether I was as OK as I tried to pretend to be, I got that phone call from Dad. We talked about nonsense stuff for a few minutes, then he gracefully segued into a place in the conversation where he said, "Now, you know you've got to take care of you, too." He didn't say it, but I knew this was short for, "Your Mom's told me all the things you're contending with Tanner, the uncertainty and fear, the garden, the dang animals, the other 3 kids, financial concerns, Mike working so hard, and the fact that you're not feeling good either, but you aren't saying so to anyone. I know you have a lot on your plate and we're worried about you, and we don't want you to get lost in all this. You need to take care of you and pay attention to your health because there are a lot of people depending on you, but also because we think you're pretty important." I knew that all of that was woven into his 11 words.
These brief little one line directives are always followed by another unrelated comment or anecdote that inevitably elicits a chuckle, then he reaffirms his advice with a simple, "I mean it, now," which I know without him saying refers back to the directive or advice, to which I respond, "I will, Dad, I promise. I love you." And real low he responds, "Love you," and then we're done.
These conversations last about 5 minutes on average, and we don't do a lot of talking in between, even when we're in the same room. But, somehow, there is a whole lot left unspoken that we still hear and it's enough for us.
Dad understands me in ways we've never, ever discussed. I don't talk much about him and Mom, or my sister Lynda, because they are so much of me, and I don't know where to start or stop. But, I cherish them beyond anything I can express. I talk with Mom and Lyn all the time and derive such joy and strength and grounding from them. But it's hearing that low, slow Kentucky drawl over the phone line that will keep me going for weeks.
Dad and I talked the other morning, over chicken, about getting together and writing some silly, over-the-top skits and considering making the kids perform them, like Lyn and I did when we were girls. We promised we'd carve out some time in March, maybe go somewhere pretty to just sit and work out a plan. And get going on Mom's book. And I told him that I'd like to record some oral histories of his life growing up with his family, who are good people, every one of them. What I really want, though, is just to have recordings of that amazing voice that I can play back whenever we go too long between one of our talks.
There really is something about a Southern voice.
Love from the farm,
Friday, February 18, 2011
The fuzzy, disapproving person in the indistinct dream chamber was not impressed. Then, while still dreaming, I realized how truly lame it was that I was defending a May disassembly. "Who," I wondered to myself, "DOES this? Who leaves their tree up until May or June?" I was thoroughly distressed, stomach churning.
See, I think that was the real problem. I was asleep and my stomach was churning, causing discomfort, and it triggered the fretful dream.
The stomach churning woke me up and I had that lingering distress you sometimes have upon waking from an upsetting dream, until I lay there in the dark and reassured myself that it was only February, that the tree had come down in early January, that I would not eat after 9 p.m. anymore, and that I would never use a fake tree again.
I cannot be trusted with a fake tree. Fake trees can stand forever; they withstand any fluctuation in temperature and humidity; they hold real still, blending into the background so you don't even see them some days. Real trees cannot physically withstand towering dry and decaying in the home for months on end. Real trees are beautiful and not easy to overlook. Real trees can be cut in a snowy forest, with the whole family in tow, bundled up, cupping steaming mugs of hot cocoa and singing carols.
Real trees don't haunt your dreams.
Next year, it will be a real tree. And no eating after 9 p.m.
Now, I'm just waiting for my tummy to settle down from our homemade pizza fest tonight, then I'll tuck myself in to bed.
Love from the farm,
(P.S. Valentine's is over, no one except school teachers and bar owners actually decorate for St. Patrick's Day, so I get to leap frog to Easter decorations. It's happening. I'm going to do it. And I will not be ashamed.)
We live outside a really small town, encircled for a 50-mile radius by other small towns, but if we extend the radius by another 25 miles or so, we hit Flagstaff, and that's a lovely little city. (I know it's technically a metropolis, but you'd never guess by visiting. Thank heavens. I love that Flagstaff doesn't feel big.) Being surrounded by smallness, which we really do love, also means having very limited date night options. Yes, we could drive across the high desert and find a dark quiet place to stare at the stars, but it's windy, it's cold and let's face it, I have trouble climbing up on a hood these days. We'll save stargazing for another warmer night, with lawn chairs; for now, warm, warmly lit interiors are better date destinations. Flagstaff is really the closest place with such places.
But here's the deal, Mike had to get up for work this morning at 4 a.m. so a trip to Flagstaff wasn't on the agenda for a date last night. Actually, a date wasn't really on the agenda. Here's one of the secrets of having several kids: you catch as catch can. Since I had to do a WalMart run, and Mike was game for going along: Presto! Date night!
So, off we went to WalMart, two towns over, where we browsed for a few hours. Yes, you read that right. And yes, I know most of us dread WalMart day and get in and out as fast as we can. But that was before we lived outside of a very small town. Now, WalMart is occasionally an adventure to be savored - we won't just beeline it to the aisles containing the items on my itemized list. No, it's date night - we'll wander the aisles a bit. Venture into places we don't normally explore together.
Only thing is, you wander out of your regular route and you sometimes come upon some unfamiliar and upsetting things. Like this for instance.
There I was perusing some girlie things, when Mike came at me with a bottle of this stuff. For those who aren't Spanish speakers, let me let you in on a little secret. "Moco" isn't a nice warm, rich beverage. No, that's "mocha." I understand your confusion. "Moco" means snot. Yep, what we have here is a bottle of Gorilla Snot, playfully called "Squizz." Don't believe me? Look at the picture.
Here's the cherry on top. This is a hair product. It is meant for people to buy on purpose and willingly put on their hair.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the proverbial straw atop the camel. No longer will I refer to time at WalMart as date time. Because I can't feel romantic feelings in a place that I know encourages people to be standing nearby with a bucket when a primate decides to hock a loogie. Or wants you to think they encourage such a practice.
So, Mike and I can go to WalMart, and we can go together, but we cannot ever, ever, ever refer to it as a date. Ever again.
Now, just one more thing, while I'm making rules.
Mike, honey, remember that bag of Dubble Bubble you let me buy? That 1 pound bag, which the label clearly states has about 72 pieces of gum in it? Please don't ever let me buy one again. Or, at least don't leave me alone with it. We got home after 10 p.m., it's about 10:30 a.m. now, and the bag is gone. It is all gone. Every last piece. In just over 12 hours, 6 of which I was sleeping through.
You know I have a bubble gum problem. You know this. Why did you leave me alone with the Dubble Bubble? Don't you know me at all? You know what this means? We need to spend more time together, continue to get to really know each other's finer details.
Maybe we should go on a date.
Love from the farm,
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
At some point a few years back, I realized all that soap gunk that gooes up the cap on your bottle of Dawn dish soap, and grosses you out every time you see it, is precisely enough to fill your sink with suds.
I was delighted the first time I started filling my sink with hot water and used the hard spray to blast that gunk right off the cap of the Dawn bottle. I felt this little triumphant glee when I had a clean cap AND a sink full of suds.
I felt smug. I felt like I had pulled something off. I feel that way every, single time I come upon a gunky lid and "get" to be the one to fill a sink with it.
I am a complete and total dork.
And, I invite you to be a dork, too. Seriously, go check under your sink and experience the thrill for yourself. Then, know you are one step closer to earning your thrifty & frugal wings.
Next week, repurposing your dryer lint. Oh, you get it all when you stop by here.
Love from the farm,
Thursday, February 10, 2011
My family and friends know about my kitchen obsession, which is why they have gifted me with some of my favorite little food-related things. Like this gorgeous wooden bowl that my Aunt Carol gave me for my birthday 2 years ago. I've had it stashed in a cupboard because I didn't want it ruined. (My kids ruin my things. It's a dead certainty. I've learned to hide things.)
I've taken the bowl out every so often to look at it and feel its incredible smoothness, then tucked it back away. Today I figured enough was enough and put it to use - you'll see how in a second.
See those darling pitchfork and spade salad servers? Mike's sister gave them to us at Christmastime. Love them! (By the way, the cool basket holding the butternut squash? Also from Aunt Carol. It will figure largely in the Easter centerpiece, I think.)
This mortar and pestle came from Aunt Carol, too. (Are you seeing a pattern here? Her generosity extends way beyond kitchen gadgets. There are handmade quilts, lap blankets, doilies, Christening gowns and more, along with the most beautiful handcrafted cards you ever saw. Then there are the hysterical long chats, taking my kids to the movies, and crafting classes together. We love our time with Aunt Carol. And no, you can't have her. She's ours.)
Back to the mortar and pestle. The rosemary and peppercorns weren't just for the purpose of staging this photo. They're part of one of the kids' and my culinary projects today. But before we move away from this handy little rustic tool, let me point out the remnants pressed into the interior of the bowl. Adam and I were remarking that we like how whenever we use this to grind something, we always get a little bit of whatever we made before, and somehow that works out just fine.
The kids and I spent a few hours in the kitchen today, and had a very productive, fun day.
We ground the peppercorn and rosemary and added it, along with some crushed oregano, to olive oil to make an infusion that eventually will be wonderful as a base for pasta sauce, or a marinade for chicken or pork. We'll let it sit in the fridge a few weeks, then give it a try.
We also put together a garlic, red pepper flake infusion, which is fantastic over pasta and as a cooking oil for chicken to be used in pasta.
We heated the oil mixture until you could smell the garlic, then brought it back to room temperature, twisted a lid on and put it in the fridge as well.
While we were working in the kitchen, we decided to throw together these amazing beans again, since Adam hadn't tried them yet. We added a bit of edamame for variation, which was a great addition, but I think I like the original better. Next time, I'll use sesame oil to cook the beans, thin the sauce some and serve it as a stir fry over rice.
It's been a long time since I've made homemade bread, so today was the day. While I typically grind my wheat and make 5 loaves at a time of whole wheat bread sweetened with honey, today we tried a molasses oatmeal bread, because Mike tried a similar bread awhile back that he raved about so I thought I'd surprise him.
Remember that beautiful quinoa recipe I mentioned last time? Well, we tried it today and it was amazing. Adam and I were over the moon, while everyone else liked it but weren't sure about the texture of the quinoa. I told them they'd have plenty of time to get used to it, because we were going to start having lots of quinoa around these parts. Unlike some rices and most pastas, quinoa doesn't take on the flavor of surrounding ingredients, it brings its own nutty, distinctive flavor to the dish. So good. We were going to provide pictures of the beautiful ingredients and the finished product but the limitations of Adam's snazzy phone camera proved too much, so regrettably, we had to go without. Trust me - it was all beautiful!
Topping off our fun day, my sister Lynda came by with Valentines for the kids. She's the amazingly crafty one in our family, and the girls loved their mailboxes. Two of these are for my girls, the others are for Lyn's daughter Ellie and her little friend. So cute.
Lyn gave the boys Valentines, too, but we completely spaced taking photos and by the time we remembered, we were too pooped to do it. So, take my word. They were cute.
(By the way, yes that's some seriously retro linoleum counter top that we are so going to replace - as soon as we get the tile in and replace the windows. Gold-veined counters are only one of the joys of owning a house that was initiated in 1927 and "improved" in odd little ways over the decades.)
Tomorrow, Adam and I will make an olive loaf, for which we started the dough today. We're branching out in all sorts of culinary directions. Hopefully we'll be healthier - not plumper - for our efforts.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Upon reading this, Adam proclaimed that I misspelled "ragu" up there at the top. In fact, it should have been spelled "ragout." He's right, of course, but still my answer to him is, "Spell room and board, buddy!" And that's how I reward my children's attempts to assert their intellect.
Love from the farm,
Sunday, February 6, 2011
I am looking forward to making this scrumptious dish tomorrow from the maker of the Thai soup above:
See what I mean? We haven't quite refined our recipe picks, as asparagus isn't in season yet. But, they had some at Safeway yesterday, so I figured all's fair in love and food. (Plus, it's seasonal eating in Australia, right?!?) I'll let you know how this quinoa dish is received. The roasted walnuts and carmelized onions alone have my mouth watering. To be true to the seasonal eating goal, we could trade the asparagus for a roasted root veggie and probably have the same blessed savory experience.
Somehow, that's such a soft way of saying it - for us. For those of us who didn't "lose" our baby...we say this word because it is so much less stark than saying "Her baby died."
But the reality is stark.
There is starkness in an empty nursery that once seemed so warm and glowing with expectation. There's the car seat that never was taken from the box in the garage. The carefully folded up pink and lavender gift bags from the shower a few weeks before. The milk that came in so painfully the day after she was born, that hurts as warm compresses are applied rather than being relieved by a searching, snuffling newborn. The recovery from nine months of growing and changing to accommodate that little creature for whom you'd eagerly made room within the safety of your own body. The returning to "normal" after birth without anything being normal anymore.
I think of my friend who has retreated to cope and heal from birth, but who must wonder if this is a hurt that will really ever heal. Who, in the time between the birth and the funeral, had to return to the hospital to hold her baby because she couldn't bear the thought of her being alone or cold. I wish for the right words that might bring some measure of relief or comfort, and feel inadequate to the task.
I ache for her loss. Especially because her baby isn't lost; my friend knows exactly where Brenna is. She just can't reach her. And I can't think of anything more stark than a mother who can't reach her child.
I may not have anything else I can give that will help a mother in such distress, but maybe it will at least matter that I get it that this isn't something she just needs time to "get over." And why do we require that someone get over the death of a child? Should we really ask that of someone? What does getting over a child entail? Forgetting? Not noticing the empty spaces that child was meant to fill?
My friend will likely never get over Brenna nor do I expect she wants to; she'll just find a way to keep living. And she will need to know that those of us in her life will always remember that she has two children: one precious, bright little guy who is witty and endearing, and a sweet little girl that we didn't get the chance to know.
I'm so sorry, my sweet friend. Take your time.
Love from the farm,
Friday, February 4, 2011
The chickens struggle a bit with their ear muffs, since they're still caught up in the debate over whether chickens actually have ears, but nobody's complaining about their brightly patterned scarves. In fact, I caught the girls clucking merrily in the chicken yard, comparing the stitchery of each other's scarves. There may have been a little bit of preening going on.
Gertie the Goat won't sit still long enough for us to properly fit her pea coat, but she's always been a bit high maintenance.
Anyway, didn't want you to worry about the farm critters. They're getting through the cold nights OK.
(In actuality, we threw lots of extra insulating straw into the pigs' bed area and turned the heat lamp on in the chicken coop. Let's face it, we can't go putting legwarmers on the chickens. That'd be weird. Still, everyone's staying warm. That's what counts.)
Love from the farm,
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
...and I just remembered I'd never finished this riveting post. So I did finish it. But for some reason when I posted it, it posted it to the original draft date, which means Blogger won't send subscribers an email letting them know the post is new and available. And I really want feedback on this post, so I'm putting this post on here so Blogger will send subscribers a note and maybe you'll go ahead and take a look at this post after all.
Love from the farm...and bootless (if you'll read this post that will make sense),
(By the way, same thing happened to this other post several months ago and I don't think anyone read it. Seriously, there were crickets chirping and tumbleweeds rolling around that one last time I checked. If you have time, take a look at it, too. But take your umbrella. And you might need boots, too, which brings us back to the post I was talking about up there.)
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
- We were in short sleeves for several days in a row. Today awoke grey and blustery. It's now less than 10 degrees. I'm wearing socks and my toes are still cold. I'm not sure our wood pile is going to outlast the cold this year.
- Three of my kids are presently gathered around the table reading animal trivia to each other in some contrived little game, with Adam as the moderator, beeping out the key words that would give away the answer. What will these kids do without Adam when he leaves us in the very near future for 2 whole years?
- Adam will be leaving us in the very near future for 2 whole years. In just days we will learn where in the world he will be serving his mission for the LDS church. Those clean-cut boys in white shirts and ties, always smiling, riding bikes, and knocking on doors? And having doors slammed in their faces? Yep, he'll be one of those.
- I'm hoping my good karma will shower down on him during his mission. See, one day, we were driving down the road on our way to somewhere that we had to be by a certain time, when I saw 2 young missionaries riding their bike down the sidewalk. Did I mention it was 112 degrees in the middle of the afternoon in the Valley of the Sun? And that those boys were sweltering? I asked Mike to please pull over at the next Circle K so we could grab some cold water for the boys, then turn around and find them 1/2 mile back down the road and hand it off to them in the middle of what was typical crazy, impatient metropolitan traffic. Mike was just a tad irritated with my pleading for him to undertake this little project until I said, "That's going to be Adam in five years. I have to hope someone would do it for our son when he's out there on the street five years from now."
- It's already been 5 years. How could it already be 5 years?
- Right now, my littlest girl is tackling a big, messy kitchen all by herself, because she needs to learn a lesson. I hate when they need to learn a lesson. I can't stand that awful feeling inside when you want to jump in and say, "Never mind, never mind, it's OK. You can stop. I forgive you, we'll start again tomorrow." But instead, you have to stand firm so the lesson is really and truly learned. And you hate it, hate it, hate it. Because you love them so much more than they can possibly know and you never like to see them well and truly upset, but you know it really is an important lesson and their characters need shoring up, but it just feels awful. This part of parenting is no fun. No fun at all. And she'll be fine, and she knows I love her. But I don't think she'll ever know how much I want to go pull her out of the kitchen and snuggle on the couch and watch a movie and kiss her forehead over and over and over, and let the dishes get a little crustier over night. Oh my, this mom thing can be the pits in these little, ordinary ways.
- Earlier this evening I finished a huge project that's been weighing on me, literally, for years. I have carried fear and worry over this looming project for a very long time. I'm looking forward to waking up tomorrow with it off my shoulders and seeing how my days will progress without that anvil I've been dragging around for far too long shadowing my plans and coloring my joy in the day.
- Hey, my sweet girl just walked in with a big grin and laid the following on me: "Mom, I've made a pledge to finish the kitchen tonight. And if I do, can I stay up all night playing on the computer and just fall asleep in the morning when everyone else is waking up?" I made a bargain that while I wouldn't let her stay up all night, I would let her have the computer when she wakes up for a whole hour. She left with her grin firmly in place.
- As much of a relief as it is to have that monstrous project off my back, the relief I feel at seeing that spunky little grin heading back into the kitchen is far greater. Ahhh, bliss.
Love from the farm,