Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fruits of our labors

In Which we have tomatoes

I know, I know. It's Wordless Wednesday. As in no words. But notice the produce picture above. I cannot let this pass unremarked:


Those tomatoes deserve a few words. After a cold wet spring in which we despaired for our sun-loving summer produce, and worried that we wouldn't see the sun until September, we've had delicious sunshine, warm weather, and just enough drizzle to remind us that we still live in Oregon.

This afternoon I was poking around the garden, pulling carrots and the last of the green onions--who knew my fine young gent and I would love fresh green onions for an afternoon treat??--the pretty red nasturtiums vining through the tomatoes caught my eye. I'd never seen nasturtiums such a vivid red. So I looked more closely. After two months of watching, despairing that the tomatoes would never blossom, worried that the blossoms would never fruit, anxious that the fruits would never ripen....Glorious bright red (and yellow) homegrown tomatoes.

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy,
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes.

(from "Homegrown Tomatoes" by Guy Clark)

If you need me, I'll be in the garden with a shaker of salt.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dear Mom....

Dear Mom.....

No, it wasn't raining.

No it wasn't winter.

Yes, you let me come in, and I think there really was a cookie in there somewhere. Probably a hug too.

I forgave you even before the hug, and now that I am a mom myself, I appreciate that not only did you teach me to love my children well, you also taught me to say I'm sorry when I make a mistake.

And you taught me that mommies are human too. That has made me a far far better parent than I would have been otherwise.

I love you. I want to be just like you when I grow up.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Birthday Girl

My lovely young lady is a teenager. Thirteen. It seems only a couple years ago that I was a new momma, terrified and smitten all at once. She's so grown-up and still such a child, all at once, just like most thirteen-year-olds. Yesterday I was bitten by the nostalgia bug, and the poor girl had to listen to stories of me holding her when she was brand-new, the story of her daddy falling head over heels the first time he held her hand, the story of the cradle in which she slept, the story about how she tickled my side with her tiny hand every time she nursed. "Moooo-ooom," she groaned, but I could tell she was secretly a little pleased. It helps to remember our big girls as little babies sometimes, knowing that precious tiny being is still cradled in all the layers of years. It reminds me to treasure who she is in her heart and mine as we navigate the stormy waters of adolescence.

Look at that smile.

She wanted to decorate her own cake, with the help of a friend. Her little brothers made birthday cards out of construction paper, decorated with stickers and crayon drawings. Then we sang and she tried to blow out her candles. She even graciously let her annoying little brother help.

One year ago today my baby was one day old, and we were still in the hospital. As I said above, I was terrifed and smitten all at once. Not sure what to do with this tiny little person. Wondering what the future held for us. She had difficulty nursing, and I was patiently trying and trying to get her latched on. The nurse came in and watched for a minute and I was finally successful. "You're going to be such a good mommy," she said. I cry when I remember her words. I still remember the nurse's name, Christine. I wish I could go back in time to tell Christine that her moment of kindness gave me a lifetime of courage, and I have needed every ounce of it.

A moment of kindness, of reaching out does not cost much. We can be angels on this earth for those around us, and we may never know the impact of courage offered, kindness spoken, love given to another.

Peace to you and yours.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where anything is professed and practised but the art of life;--to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month,--the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this--or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?"

From Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, July 24, 2008

From the CSA newsletter...

From the Food for Lane County Youth Farm page:
"Established in 1998, the Youth Farm is an innovative program combining hunger relief with youth services and education. The three-acre farm provides paying work, job training and education to at-risk teenagers throughout the spring and summer, and serves as an educational work site for local alternative schools and programs serving at-risk youth throughout the year."

"The core of the program is the summer Youth Farm Crew. Every year the Gardens hire 12-18 crew members, ages 14-17 years, from low-income backgrounds who have significant barriers to employment. Our youth crew plant, care for and harvest diverse vegetable crops, learning and growing while they work."

And from the weekly newsletter:
"At the Youth Farm teens love to eat the produce they grow. The most popular day at the farm is Wednesday, aka Harvest or CSA day. We spend all morning harvesting everything that is ripe and ready for your boxes, and by mid-morning break, the youth farmers are already planning what produce they want to bring home to share with their families. Last week zucchini was the all-around favorite, several of the youth farmers were going to take home the larger zukes that got away from us to make zucchini bread, usually with a mom or grandma. Bryn planned her evening salad of lettuce and cukes and radishes; Ryan was going to cook dinner for his foster family with produce from the farm. Justin admitted to me that he brought home kohlrabi the week before and he and his mom couldn't figure out what to do with it. At lunch, I shared some of my kohlrabi slaw with him and a recipe, and he couldn't wait to try it at home.

So much pride in the food they help to grow. May it nourish you and your families well."

Well. I'd add my own words, but I think that says it all. It's a privilege to participate in this program, nourishing to the body and to the spirit for all of us.

Peace to you.


The benefits of teaching history and cultural awareness:

This afternoon on the way home from an outing to the blueberry patch and the river, fine young middle gent found a grasshopper on his water bottle.

"Cool!" said his fine older brother. "Mom, it's a grasshopper! Can we roast it?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Keep jumping!!"

Tonight the gents were in high spirits, wrestling and jumping and running around the living room and oh, the noise, Noise, Noise, NOISE!!!!

So.....Oh, wait. before I start: Mom, you might want to skip this one. Go read one of the other posts about how cute your grandkids are, or about all of the things I'm canning and baking, and give yourself a great big hug and pat on the back from me because I had such a great role model for parenting and cooking.

The rest of you, picture this: I'm about eight years old. Tall, skinny, that awful hair, big seventies glasses. I was an active eight-year-old, by the way. Thank goodness we lived on several acres. I used just about every inch of those acres to run, crawl, jump, gallop, dig, climb, wade, roll. My busy little body just couldn't sit still even when I was sitting still.

I loved to jump. One of my favorite tricks was to jump and touch the top of the door frames. There were grimy little handprints at the top, I'm certain of it.

Jump, jump, jump. That was me.

One night, I guess I jumped one too many times. Mom said she'd told me and told me to stop. Honestly, I hadn't a thought in my head, I was just--oops--jumping. Again.

Remember what it was like when you were eight and Mom had told you in that voice something along the lines of fortheumpteenthtimestopbeforemyheadexplodes? It was always a little bewildering and well, you felt kind of bad because you knew that Mom was probably right but you'd just forgotten and you really didn't mean to because you loved your mom and you really wanted her to be happy, just didn't remember. (In the interests of keeping it oh, so real, I remember that look well because I've seen it on the faces of my own children from time to time.)

Mom, in that voice: "Go outside and jump until you can't jump any more. Right there outside where I can see you."

There I am in the near-dark, jumping a little half-heartedly. Surely Mom didn't really mean it. Jump a couple more times for show then stand there with a woebegone look on my face. Surely Mom will poke her head out the window and see how sorry I am, and comfort me and give me a cookie or some Koolaid.

Mom sticks her head out the kitchen window and yells, "Keep jumping!"

I tell this story not because I want you all to think bad things about Mom. I think it's a pretty funny story. I wasn't scarred for life, or even for fifteen minutes. Even at the time I realized that she was probably justified.

I tell the story because tonight I realized:

I. Know. Exactly. How. She. Felt.

That is all.

P.S. I know I said "That is all." But I have to add that I told the story to my own daughter as we cleaned the kitchen together, and we got a good giggle out of it.

I love you, Mom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Just a Bowl of Cherries

We have become friends with a new family, people we met at the park through a mutual friend. New Friend has a cherry tree, and invited us over to pick sour cherries. (Here's a really cool thing: My favorite cookbook says that sour cherries simply aren't available, except in Michigan, the Pacific Northwest, and pockets of New England. I am so lucky.) Lovely Lady the Elder gamely climbed a ladder and risked getting poked in the eye by a stick or falling off a ladder to help pick cherries. Not only that, but she accompanied us on what was really a playday for the gents without complaining once. She's a good egg.

I love cherries. Cherry trees are beautiful, and fresh-off-the-tree cherries are fabulous. I promised my kids a cherry pie, and we picked a rather large bucket of cherries. I glowed when I brought them home, revelling in my bounty.

Until I had to pit them. All of them. Is there a job more tedious than pitting cherries? I took them out into the back yard and pitted for what seemed like hours.

Tuesday Ten: Yesterday's Ten Random Thoughts While Pitting Cherries

1. "Life is just a bowl of cherries...."
You know me by now. Might as well get the song out of the way right from the start. Not a bad message, though. Leave it to me to turn an earworm into a life-affirming message, right? But seriously....

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don't take it serious; life's so mysterious.


The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you've never owned?


Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all.

I don't need to add another word.

2. "Thank you, bunny, I'd love help." (Thinking: "GAH!!")
The fine young gents are fascinated by the cherry pitter. We have one cherry pitter. The Mom dilemma: Do I chirp "Sure you can help, sweetheart!" and grit my teeth as the helper sloooooooowly pits the cherries and drops them in the grass and feeds them to the dog? Or do I say no and crush any hopes of raising helpful young gents?

3. Someone needs to weed the garden.
I've had that thought several times the past couple weeks. It works really well. Try it and see how fast the garden gets weeded. Heh.

Once the weather finally warmed up, the garden took off, and so did the weeds. Problem was, we took off too--to the park, to the pool, to visit friends. We just haven't been home, and while I'd kept up with the worst of the garden bed weeding, by this week there was a veritable carpet of dandelions and grass and mallow and those ones with the funny flat leaves between the boxes. So I'm sitting in the yard endlessly pitting cherries, looking at the weedy garden, thinking "Someone needs to weed the garden." The problem is that once it gets that bad, it seems like an overwhelming job, so I avoid tackling it. That works really well too.

Today I weeded the garden, by the way. It was cool and sprinkling for much of the day, perfect for garden work. I thought about taking a picture of the weed pile and posting that too, but I didn't want to run in for the camera. Not really. That's a lie. I run in for the camera to take pictures of my feet, and the weed pile is sure a lot more interesting than my long toe. But there's such a thing as keeping it too real. I don't want to destroy my, er,...your fantasies of me as a gardener extraordinaire.

As a matter of fact, let's just pretend I haven't said a word about those weeds. My garden is immaculate. No, really. My house too, while we're at it.

4. Whose idea was it to pick so many %$&*^$%& cherries?

5. Cherry pie? Cherry cobbler? Cherry pie? Cherry cobbler?
Loving husband makes the pie crust in this family. Loving husband was in California, and refused to come home to make pie crust. Even though I said I was making fresh cherry pie, and cherries are only in season this time of year. So I was stuck pondering the dilemma: Make a pie, or take the easy way out? Ooooo. Or what about cherry crumble? Crumble topping is even easier than biscuits for cobbler. What to do?

6. Praise.
Sitting in the back yard on a warm summer afternoon while the kids play in the sprinkler, after a lovely morning of swim lessons and visiting with is good. My heart was full. We live a blessed life in this wonderful world. I was content.

7. Well, sort of, because my next thought was.....

8. Whose idea was it to pick so many %$&*^$%& cherries?

9. I wonder if I should try drying these?
I did and they were fabulous.

10. This had better be worth it.
It was. We have canned pie filling for fine young pie-loving gent's November birthday pie, ate a spinach and pine nut salad with dried cherries for dinner this evening, and stored a small jar of dried cherries in the pantry.

As you can see, I made a pie. It was lovely, a beautiful pie. I made a beautiful pie. (Don't tell loving husband, or he'll expect me to make my own pie crust all the time.) I carved little cherry-shaped steam vents in the top, and they actually looked like cherries--with the little leaf at the top of the stem, even--after the pie was baked. We ate cherry pie with lunch today, and it was perfect.

Mmmmmmmm...............cherry pie. Warm cherry pie. Warm cherry pie with just a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Gotta go.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Blueberry Cobbler

It's that time of year again. I've been out in the berry patch, and my babies are still growing, and I am oh, so so grateful for this good life. (Originally posted August 2006)

We went blueberry picking this morning. The sun was shining, the blueberries were plump and sweet, and the fine young gents were happy. It was quiet except for the hum of contented conversations up and down the rows and the occasional plane overhead. "Oook! Oook!" shouted the youngest gent each time he saw an airplane. The older boys ran up and down the rows of berries while the baby helped me by dumping my blueberries into the big bucket and feeding me green blueberries. We saw an empty bee nest and a grasshopper. It was perfect.

Berries to freeze when we got home, strawberries from the farmer's market and blueberries from our outing. I picked through the blueberries to take out the stems and leaves and spiders. Now I've got a freezer full of berries for smoothies and pancakes and ice cream topping. A bit of sweet summer to brighten our winters.

I didn't freeze them all, as you can see. I tossed some berries in a bowl with some sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, dash of cinnamon and salt. I even had a few blackberries left to throw into the berry mix. A cobbler tip (recipe below): Cook the berry mixture first until the berries are bubbling hot. Plop the biscuit mix on top of the hot berries, raise the temp in the oven, and cook until the biscuits are brown on top. The berries get perfectly done and the biscuits are moist inside and crisp on the outside.

On the way back from the blueberry farm, my husband and I talked about choosing perfect days. Of course the berry field wasn't perfect in the sense that there were no flaws, or that every single thing was pleasant. The grass was itchy and made me break out in a rash. There were spiders, the baby kept getting in the way or trying to wander off, and the other young gents ate too many berries and cried when they fell down. I can't pretend the annoying stuff doesn't exist, as though I am a child plugging my ears and singing "Lalalalalala." The day is the same day, itchy grass and warm sun together. But when I come home I pick through the day to discard the stems and leaves and spiders, the itchy grass and little fusses of the day, and think instead about the sunny berry field and watching the planes and playing with my boys. I've finally realized that the stories that we tell about our lives help to define and create the lives we lead. I get to choose the parts of the story I want to make most real. When I retell the story of my day to myself,I can choose to let petty things go. I choose wonderful.

I didn't always know how to do that, how to let go of all of the little fusses. I nursed grudges and clung to grievances and complained about the itchy grass in my life. I still do, I'm not perfect. To be fair, thinking about the itchy grass in our lives can be useful: Next time I go berry picking I'll wear long pants or bring a blanket. And we can't live in the "perfect" every day. The days where the cat throws up and the gents fight and the lovely ladies burst into tears when I say "Good morning" and my husband grumps and I feel like I've yelled all day long. Not perfect. Flat tires and broken windows and dysfunctional relatives (um, not you guys, just those other relatives...yeah, the ones that don't read this blog...) and flooded toilets and stupid arguments happen, and far be it from me to tell anyone, myself included, "It's all good." But why did it take me so long to realize that I can't let those things take over the stories of my life?

Just lately I've realized how quickly the time flies by. The baby I rocked yesterday is tall and beautiful, dancing her way out of girlhood. Tomorrow I'll be rocking my grandbabies thinking "Where did my life go?" I wish I'd learned sooner to choose happiness over regrets, and to choose contentment over resentment. Today I will choose to remember the blueberries and sunshine. I will give the people I value the grace and love they deserve instead of grumping about their faults, and I will extend that grace to myself. I will treasure the wonderful moments of my life and theirs so that when I rock the babies of my babies my stories will be of picking blueberries and running through the sprinkler and reading good books and laughing in the hammock.

A little vanilla ice cream on top....Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Some things are perfect.

Perfect Berry Cobbler

(Adapted from The New Best Recipe from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl gently mix:

6-8 cups fresh berries

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon

Sprinkle of cinnamon and dash of salt

Pour the mixture into a square baking dish or a glass pie pan. (For a larger cobbler, double the recipe and use a deep 9x13 dish.) Put the dish onto a rimmed cookie sheet to catch drips, and put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the berries are hot and bubbling.

While the berries are baking, mix the biscuits. Whisk dry ingredients in one bowl:

1 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

.....And in a smaller bowl mix:

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) melted butter

1/3 cup buttermilk (I set aside an extra bit for when I mix the biscuits together, as sometimes I need an extra tiny splash.)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

When the berries are bubbly, mix the wet and dry biscuit ingredients, then take the berries out of the oven and drop spoonfuls of biscuit onto the hot berries. Turn up the oven temperature to 425 degrees, return the cobbler to the oven and bake until the biscuits are golden-brown, about 15+ minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream on top.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Daughters in China

Tuesday Ten: Ten Remarks On Our Recent Visitors

1. It is delightful sharing a home with visitors from another culture.

We hosted two girls, Cicy (Jia Yi) and Janet (Wen). Our neighbors were out of town for the first three nights, so we hosted their young ladies, Echo (Dongfang) and Anna, until they returned from vacation. The lovely ladies came to us from Zhengzhou, the capital of the Henan province.

During the weekdays, they had class, mornings for English practice and afternoons for outings and typical "American" activities: Mini-golf, bowling, a day trip to the beach, a bus trip to sing at Hayward Field during the Olympic track-and-field trials, an American birthday party, making pizza.

They were with us for only two weeks, and it was lovely. We all wished they could have stayed longer. More than wished. We didn't open just our home, we also opened our hearts, and we fell head over heels for those lovely young ladies, so far from home, so open to new experiences, so sweet and confident.

2. Why DO we sit on the curb on a hot day waiting for tractors to drive by?

Besides the candy thrown out of the windows of passing parade exhibits, that is.

We took Cicy and Janet to the Fourth of July parade in nearby Harrisburg. After all, not only is the parade a family tradition, it doesn't get much more American than a small-town parade on the Fourth of July. The girls took lots of pictures, especially of the tractors, the fire engines, the clowns and the horses.

Then home for a traditional backyard barbeque. An aside: The poor girls probably think Americans eat nothing but grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. We barbequed ribs their first day at home, had a hamburger-hot dog cookout for the Welcome Party, hamburgers and hot dogs again on the Fourth, and hamburgers and hot dogs at a swim party over the weekend.

Then back out to Harrisburg for the fireworks. Visitors often make us see things through new eyes. We've always done the fireworks. (Well, not always, but nearly...) It's tradition. This year I asked myself, Why? Why do we drive 40 minutes, sit for nearly two hours waiting for dark, watch a 45-minute show, then 40 minutes back home? Then I watched the kids playing together. Lovely lady ran into a friend she hadn't seen for a long time and spent time visiting. The bats swooped over the river, and the people chatted. That's why. The fireworks show is only part of the fun, the excuse for hanging out on the riverbank as the light fails.

3. Playtime
Two favorite activities: Playing in the back yard (backyard ball games, bubbles, water play) and playing card games. On their second day, we taught the girls to play Uno. I played three rounds with them, then went to make lunch. After lunch, they played for another hour, and they played off and on for the rest of their visit. They also enjoyed the Wii, especially Dance Dance Revolution. One night the five girls, our four visitors plus our own lovely lady, played DDR for two hours straight.

Cicy and Janet told us that they live at school, going home to visit their parents on Saturday mornings and returning to school Sunday afternoon. Classes start at 7 a.m. They have a two-hour lunch break and naptime, followed by classes until dinner, then homework and study until 10 p.m. Cicy and Janet and our winter visitors mentioned that they must study very hard because there are so many people in China.

The amount of leisure time we have must seem a fantasy, unreal.

4. Making new friends.
Second-grade gent made a new friend at the Welcome Barbeque for all of the students and host families. Turns out that his new friend is friends with the girl next door. The three of them got on famously at the Farewell Party, climbing on rocks, going through the potluck line together, playing games. I remember being that age and starting to run around independently with my friends at gatherings, oblivious to the adult world going on around me. What fun to play independently with friends.

And what fun for us to connect not only with lovely young ladies from an entirely different culture, but to meet other families in our community open to new experiences and willing to open their homes and share their families with these wonderful young people.

5. What's different.
The neighborhood: Houses instead of flats. Space. Trees, tall ones. Back yards. The girls told us that in China, only wealthy families have large back yards.

Picnics: Eating on a blanket on the ground was a new idea, as was wading in the river. The girls watched the rest of us with interest and seemed mildly amazed at the families swimming.

Siblings: On the way home on the car, I announced to the girls that they'd be meeting our family, my husband and the rest of our children-- Lovely lady, 15, who was already with us; lovely lady, 12; and three little boys. "Waah!" Amazement. They were interested in the boys' room, three young ones in the same room. Even more amazement a few days later when we introduced my sister's eight children. Later in the week, one of the girls mentioned that she was buying a gift for her brother, really her cousin. Apparently, many children now call their cousins "brother" or "sister." And these girls are close to the last of those who have cousins. Their children will likely have no cousins. Intellectually, I understand China's One-Child population control policies, but I find it difficult to imagine living a life without the richness of sibling relationships.

People and cars: Not nearly as many people. The city in which Cicy and Janet live has twice the population of our entire state, fit into an area not even twice the size of Lane County. But so many cars! They were amazed at how many cars we'd see parked at the mall. They usually ride their bikes, the bus, or the train to get where they need to go.

Activities: Swimming, for example. In the U.S. we start babies in Mommy and Me classes at six months. Most American children take swim lessons at some point, and swimming is a part of family life for most American families. We were told "People in China don't really swim. Swimming isn't a part of their culture." Which I took with a grain of salt, it's a little like saying that people in America eat hot dogs and hamburgers all the time....heh, heh. All four girls knew how to swim, but it was clear that they weren't as naturally comfortable in the water. Not because there are no opportunities to swim, it turns out. I asked, and they said that the pool in their town is very crowded. Eating ice cream was another. We took the girls on a family outing to Cold Stone. "People in China do not eat much ice cream," we were told. It was true for Cicy, who said she had eaten ice cream but did not eat it often; not true for Janet, who eats ice cream often and whose favorite flavors are chocolate and strawberry.

6. What's the same.

The two girls were sitting on the picnic blanket, chatting in Chinese.... jiggling their thighs and pinching their waists. I started laughing. Chinese or no, I probably could have repeated their conversation word-for-word. So could almost any woman who's ever been a teenager, I expect. Janet turned at my laugh, smiled, and said, "In China, I am fat." I shook my head, "Girls all over the world say the same thing. You are so young and beautiful." I'll bet their mothers say the same thing in China. Girls are girls, and mothers are mothers all over the world.

Also: Chinese teenage girls like to run in packs too. And the mall was one of their favorite places. No explanations necessary there, I don't think.

"1, 2, 3! In China, when we are little, we play this game with our parents."

And little boys. Middle fine young...well, not quite a gent at that point, let out a huge belch at the dinner table. And decided to repeat himself. I laughed and mock-scolded: "Tolly, Cicy will go back to China thinking that little American boys have no manners!" She said, "Little boys in China do the same thing. We know they are young." I expect that little boys are the same all over the world--farting and burping and pestering their sisters.

7. Free speech.
At the Olympic Trials and at the Saturday Market, the girls saw "Free Tibet" fliers and posters. The girls were visibly upset. When asked they told us that all they could say is that China has been very good to Tibet, and has treated the people of Tibet well. I certainly can't even pretend to have enough information on the China-Tibet issue to say whether they are right or wrong. I suspect it's not that simple. They are young girls, who love their country. How distressing it must be to know that the country you love is being torn apart.

But that led to a discussion about free speech. I asked if they had any questions that I could help with, and they asked good ones:

"How can people say such things?"

"What does free speech mean?"

"Does the American goverment try to make people hate China?"

I tried my best to answer fairly and honestly. But I don't speak Chinese, and though they speak English very well, our shared vocabulary limited the depth of our discussion. I hope they understood. I thanked them for their honesty and willingness to share.

And I came away with this: The idea, to them, that information comes not from the government but from the media, that people can say and print whatever they wish, that we have the right to stand on a street corner and rail about injustice or pass out fliers whether we are right or wrong, advocating for the powerless or just woefully misinformed.....completely foreign. As foreign as the idea, to me, of goverment as the source of information.

8. Food.
Foods that they liked: Chicken noodle soup. Spaghetti ("Delicious!"). Food from the Asian market. Oreos ("We have these in China!").

Rice was not a hit. It wasn't the right kind of rice. Nor was fresh salmon.

They said that in northern China they eat a lot of noodles for dinner; in the southern part of China people eat more rice.

The girls made us dinner: Instant noodles and fried rice and a cucumber vinegar salad. They confessed afterward that it was the first time they'd ever made a meal. Ever. I applauded and gave them pictures to take home to their mothers.

9. Fun.
Hiking, picnicking, ice cream, shopping, playing games, swimming, watching movies. We wore the girls out.

For a couple days after they left, we kept saying, "Oh! We should have...." or "Next time we'll have to go...." So many delightful opportunities. We live in a beautiful part of the world, and it is a treat to share.

10. Daughters in China.
Janet, charming and gracious. Cicy is pronounced "Sissy," which we say to mean "sister" in our family. Anna and Echo, our next-door friends.

We were their home away from home. I was Mom away from Mom. For two weeks they were sisters, daughters, friends. We fed them and hugged them and played with them and shared our life and family with them. We sent them away with Uno and Blink, photographs, and our hearts. I packed snacks for the bus ride because I was worried they'd get hungry.

I cried when we said goodbye, and so did they. We have good friends, sisters in China, lovely daughters of my heart. Dear, dear friends, you are always welcome in our home.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


The sun is shining. It's a hot summer day.

The basement smells like drying lavender, dill and rosemary. So do my hands. When it's cooler I'll pick another round of peas, and we'll have fresh peas for dinner.

The boys have been playing in the tent, set up in the back yard, all morning.

The dog is sleeping at my feet.

We've got corn and tomatoes and watermelon growing in the front yard, and more in the garden.

Yesterday I finally found a sun hat that I like, so I bought it. I wore it in the garden this morning.

I am going out to swing in the hammock. I won't be able to rest because I'll be joined by dirty little feet and bony elbows. And giggles.

I am blessed.

Life is good.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Before and After

My eyes got misty when my baby's curls fell on the floor.

No more shaggy hair. Just like that, my baby is simply not a baby any more. He's a big boy with "big boy hair."

I think my heart will break.

He is darling, and proud of his new 'do, and I am delighted that my littlest boy is growing up so sweet. "I am a good manners boy," he told me on the way out of the salon. And he is.

But my heart...not broken, but oh, these little ones. No one told me about this part of being Mom. The part where your throat gets tight and you have to pretend that there's something in your eye because it just wouldn't do to cry over a few curls on the floor right there in the haircut shop. The thing is, you'd think by now, by the fifth little one, I'd be used to this. Five firsts--steps, words, lost teeth, haircuts, riding bikes, tying shoes, reading, swimming. Each year five more birthdays to make me cry a little. Celebrating and mourning at the same time. Saying, "Go, little one, go!" and thinking, "Wait! I'm not ready!" when the first snip sends a drift of curls down.

I am so proud of my big boy. Of all of my little ones. They're growing up to be strong and beautiful and exactly who they are meant to be.

Hug your babies tight, the big and the small. Life is good.