Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lasts and Firsts

Tonight is the last night Patrick sleeps under my roof as a kid who lives here.

In the morning we will groggily throw the rest of the stuff into the back of the truck and head to Central Texas.

I offered to make a gourmet feast for Patrick's friends, whomever he chose.

His pals are going their different ways. His choice was a handful of his high school teachers: Mrs. Keith, geometry, Coach Keith, history, economics, cross country and track, Mrs. Fox, history and history fair, Mrs. Donaghey-literature and writing and Mr. Fox- FFA, welding,etc.

Even though they are in the middle of get ready to start school weeds, they took the time to spend several hours in our home, visiting, eating and drinking, remembering, sharing stories, laughing with us as we prepare to launch Patrick into his new chapter.

Is it a new chapter? A new book?

I found myself a bit tense the other day. Somewhat short with a couple of the girls. I paused to ask myself where these feelings were coming from. What did it feel like?

It felt like grief.

When I named it I began to sob.

Guess I found the ticket.

I apologized to the girls and told them I was feeling a bit grieved about the fact that Patrick will no longer be a part of our daily life. I told them I was so proud and happy about his transition, but that it left me feeling a bit bereft. I told them it was no excuse to be short with them, and I hoped they would forgive me. And of course they did.

A couple of days ago I decided that I had had enough of painting on the rent house I purchased this past winter. I found a green I liked and set to task painting my new kitchen. Ahhh. lovely.

And then the next day decided that I couldn't live with the grubby laundry room any longer and went to buy a nice creamy yellow. Patrick came home from work, yet again to see me, hair askew, ripped up t-shirt and shorts, covered in paint, perched on a chair, transforming another room.

The next day I tended chores, worked on bakery odds and ends. Made phone calls. Cleaned. And at 6:45pm, after supper, ran to TruValue and purchased yet more paint. The dining room. I couldn't live with it another day.

Granted, we have not ever painted since we moved in three years ago this month. But, three days in a row?

Patrick walked in from work and asked if it was a sickness... We laughed. I painted on.

This morning I finished painting a nice glossy white over the primed 1970's dark paneling in the dining room. Then raced, dirty clothes and painted face, to Sul Ross State University Meat Lab to purchase some locally grown and harvested beef for our farewell dinner.

I felt a bit manic. Slightly hard around the edges.

Grief.

So happy to launch this amazing progeny out of the nest and into the great big blue sky up there in Austin.

And yet.

So many people try to steer my little feelings of grief into happy thoughts, reminding me of the positive.

Well, truth be told, I am thrilled to see Patrick go forward. I would feel rather sad and worried and irritated to have him want to stick around home another few years! That said, I am a realist. I know that for us, and for him, this leaving is a definite end. He is packing up his room to make ready for a sister to move in. His treasures are going into boxes for a time when he has more space and can take them onto his own property. Old swords, a tinder bag he crafted out of old blue jean denim for his fire starting adventures, stuff. Things too precious to discard, but moving into the shed. He will take his scant little pile of clothes. Stacks of books. Camping gear.

When he returns it will be for a visit.

How can it be that one day, this little child is smiling at me with happy teeth, playing with a GI Joe with his brother, laughing heartily, cuddling sweetly and now speaks of economics and world issues and knows how to take a book and annotate and discuss and verbally parry swords; annoyingly argumentative, beautifully inquisitive, sweetly sensitive?

We dined at a lovely, candlelit table. Bouquets of zinnias and coral vines. A silver obi with orange design. As close to UT colors as I could get! We made toasts. Said prayers. Enjoyed food and more food and then chocolate cake. Our friends said their most gracious goodbyes, and let me tell you-I know we are blessed. Lucky. How could it be that we moved to the edge of the earth and had these teachers bestowed upon us???

I set upon the piles of dishes and couldn't help but think of the many dinner parties back in the good ole days, when the guests would depart and Philip and I would find ourselves in the kitchen, laughing over the memories of different conversations, drinking the last bits of wine from the bottle, snagging one more bite of cake as we scrubbed and washed and dried.

I found myself talking to his memory, comparing notes, remembering the baby days, marveling over the growing up days. I thought how proud he would be of his son. How he would have loved sitting down to table with those lovely educators. How we never would be here had he not died. What a weird world we live in, a maze, twists and turns, never knowing what awaits, but somehow certain that not only will it be bearable, it will probably be beautiful...

Can't say I have figured out how to be thrilled about single parenting. Haven't figured out how to not feel sad.

Am pretty thankful to be able feel such a spectrum of emotions. It is rich.

Just like a tasty French meat dish. It starts out with a nice hunk of meat. Many different ingredients. Celery, onion, garlic,carrots, anchovies, bay leaf,red wine, beef broth, some thyme. Peppercorns, sea salt. A few sprigs of parsley and rosemary. It looks watery. Not so special. But several hours later, the meat is tender, the juices thick and savory.

Best eaten with friends. And candle light. Red wine. Lots of veggies. Some fresh, crusty peasant bread, kneaded by loving hands, salted with a few tears.

So my dear son Thomas lives down the street. Patrick will soon live in a giant dorm. The house is exploding with feminine energy. And we are doing well.

And the library is just itching for a nice coat of paint!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summertime Riches or Ginger Figgy Tarts

We have two fig trees in our backyard. I hope to propagate two or three more trees from suckers off of our existing tree. We sheet composted a big pile of chicken litter over by the west side of the yard in preparation for my fall hopefullness.

My favorite way to eat figs is warm, in hand, right off the tree. In fact, I often feel a bit greedy and selfish when in the backyard, surreptitiously nabbing the mouthfuls of rich, decadent delights, looking one way and the other to make sure no one sees me consume all I can pick in one setting.

The thing is, we had a really hard freeze back in May when the first crop of figs had set. We lost them all. The summer has been pleasant, with enough erratic rains to keep the trees going. We made sure to feed them well with compost. They are loaded, but with tiny, second crop, not quite ripe figs. We are impatient. Five or ten ripe figs a day are just not enough!

Imagine my delight when my sister brought me two and a half gallon ziploc bags filled with washed figs from her tree in Austin!

They went into the freezer and my mind went into overdrive, trying to think of a recipe worthy of such a gift. Figgy oatmeal tarts seemed like the thing. I boiled a gallon bag of the figs with two cups of sucanat, a pinch of sugar, minced fresh ginger, perhaps three tablespoons worth?, zest of one organic lemon, juice of two, a cup of water to keep the mixture from burning as it started to boil. I stirred and stirred as the mixture bubbled away. When it was thick as preserves, I took it off the burner and worked on a recipe for the tart.

Yum. This stuff tasted great!

I dug out the cute little pampered chef tart pans and set them aside. Turned on the big bakery oven and got to work. Keep in mind this is a process that took a couple of weeks. First week I made a batch, I didn't have any fresh ginger. They were delicious, but missing something. The addition of ginger gave it a nip and texture that was just perfect. And besides, who is the baker making these treats anyway?

The tart shells were pretty basic. A mixture of coconut oil, sucanat, vanilla and freshly milled spelt. I pressed the dough into the cute little pans and baked it for 15 minutes or so in a 350 degree oven. When they were just turning brown, I pulled them, and generously filled the pans with the fig mixture. Topped with a mixture of spelt flour, sucanat, coconut oil, oats, almond extract, pinch of salt and crushed almonds. The first go around I made the topping without almonds and it was lovely, but the nutty crunch was a perfect counterpoint to the ginger in the figs. The oatmeal topping went on top of the figs and into the oven they went. The week before I drizzled the tarts with honey brought to me by a friend from his bee hives. It was a great touch. I forgot to do that this past week, and noticed the difference. The figs are sweet enough, but there is something about a tiny drizzle of raw honey that adds a bit of depth to the whole thing. Can you tell this is a work in progress?

Oh, another little detail: coconut oil. It is a magical, wonderful ingredient, and if you have done any research the last few years, you will know it is no longer one of the bad guys. It has to do with how the body metabolizes the fat globules in the coconut oil. I love the stuff. I use two varieties. There is the first press, cold press coconut oil which has a decidedly coconutty smell and taste. And then the second press, which has all the benefits, but none of the smell and taste. The first press is extremely expensive, but worth the cost in certain recipes. This is one of them!

Oh dear. These treats are so delicious, so decadent, I couldn't make enough. My customers want them year round. I need some friends with abundant figs! Will trade bread for figs! Perhaps we need to enjoy them now, knowing that to everything there is a season. A season for figs. A season to dream of figs. A season to fondly remember what we had, and to hope for what will be again...

Here's the recipe, scaled down from bakery version. I hope you will try it! And if you are not into the many steps, or only have access to a few figs, then try my all-time, second favorite way to enjoy them: still warm from the tree, place on a plate with some chevre, through on a handful of almonds, drizzle with honey and feast, preferably under the dappled shade of a tree, with warm sunshine and a friend.

2 cups whole figs
1/4 cup sucanat
one knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, minced
pinch of salt
1/4 c water

place in heavy saucepan over high heat, bring to a boil while constantly stirring. The figs will soften and burst. The juices will thicken. This mixture is wonderful spread over buttered toast if you have leftovers. Or served with roasted pork tenderloin. Or spread over goat cheese. It will store in the fridge nicely.

Tart crust:
1/2 c. coconut oil
1/4 c. sucanat
1/4 tsp vanilla
1- 1 1/4 c. spelt flour

Mix well and press into pans. Bake for 15 minutes in 350 oven.

Spread figgy jam into tart pans, and top with oatmeal topping:

1/4 c. rolled oats, i prefer a thick roll
1/4 c. spelt flour
3 TBSP coconut oil
1/4 c. chopped almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract

Drizzle a tiny bit of honey over the oatmeal topping.

Bake tarts in 350 degree oven until top is lightly browned and figgy mixture is bubbly. Try to let the tarts cool before you eat them so you don't get burned!

Enjoy. If you wish to be really fancy, garnish the lovely things with a piece of lemon zest curl, a halved fresh fig and an almond.




Monday, July 21, 2014

All is Well

Corn.

I remember drives through Pennsylvania in August. Farmstand in NJ in the summertime. Visits to my Aunt and Uncle in Arkansas, sticky hot, but giant platters or stockpots filled to overflowing with the glorious richness of the season, and me glad to have full use of my teeth to chomp down on thoroughly buttered, heavily salted and peppered, tender, sweet, crunchy like nothing else corn on the cob. How many times, sitting outside with family, grownups visiting, all of us shucking. Piles of sticky silken threads, scratchy dark green leaves.

When it was not just normal but expected that everyone would eat at least 2 or 3 or more cobs, all by themselves.

I eat mine typewriter style. I find it hard to set the cob down between bites. In fact, I rather like to devour the whole thing, and then get around to eating whatever is left on the plate.

There have been occasions we have purchased corn from the grocery store. Those are times I can somehow manage to stop at one ear.

But, oh, when the corn goes straight from the garden, less than an hour before supper, and directly into the pot, or microwave, or wherever. Well. That is the time that merits a poem.

Instead of a poem, while I wait for the six minutes to pass before I pull the corn out of the pot and call the kids to table, I will chronicle the outcome of our experiment. We had plenty for Sunday dinner yesterday. And enough more for everyone to eat to their heart's content tonight. And that is all.

A tiny plot and a tiny outcome. But the ears are well formed and the taste is just what one wishes to enjoy on a hot July evening.

With all the hard stuff, the stressful stuff, the worrisome stuff, I give thanks for corn on the cob. Harvested from our tiny little scrap of a garden. I'm going to take it as a sign and an omen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

By the Way, a recipe

The other day we enjoyed a most delicious soup of leftovers.

I boiled the carcass of our homegrown roast chicken with carrots, garlic, celery and onions. A pinch of salt.

When the broth was nice and aromatic, after three hours or so, I strained out the odds and ends. Added cumin, some crushed tomatoes, a can of corn, a cup of quinoa, salt, pepper, a can of green chilis (I know, I know, wouldn't you like the false idea that we only eat foods harvested from our little small town backyard, but fact is, I work many hours, and sometimes, cans are a girls best friend),and half a jar of leftover salsa, and a large zucchini grown in my BFF's backyard. Nothing fancy, but quite good for leftover scraps.

If I had a bunch, I would have thrown in a handful or two of chopped cilantro. But my first crop has gone to seed, and the second bunch is still tiny. If I had had a bit more energy, I would have harvested some oregano and chives and thrown in for good measure.

But this recipe is to remind us all that sometimes what we have is plenty good enough.

PS we have harvested a dozen and a half little eggs from our teenage flock of hens. They are so precious to me. Isn't it crazy that a bunch of messy chickens can give me so much joy?

Monsoon Season in the Desert Southwest

Each afternoon these days, the skies darken. Black blue clouds promise cool breezes and electric flashes. Mounds of masterpiece cumulus surround our little town. We hope. We hang our clothes on the line. We water the garden. We leave a couple of car windows open. We threaten to do silly, crazy things, like dance naked in the streets. But I suppose nobody has done so, because the clouds scurry away, the sun comes out, and the laundry dries thoroughly.

But I have faith. My buckets and tubs are poised, ready to catch the spillage of our forecasted showers.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

time flies...

Patrick graduated third in his class last Friday. He has worked very hard these past four years. I am so proud of him. He set a bunch of long distance records in cross country and track in our high school. He went to the state level in history fair, twice. He was in FFA leadership, FCA leadership. He volunteered in a variety of local efforts. He competed and went to district and regional UIL competitions, in literary criticism, current events and social studies. He has boxes of medals and awards. Was homecoming king and prom king.

He will be going to the University of Texas in austin this fall. A campus of over fifty thousand students. He received a very nice academic scholarship and with financial aid should do alright. I took him out to lunch yesterday. As he ate his sandwich and I my bowl of soup, watching the boiling clouds to the east, I asked him if he were nervous. Of course he is. But excited, too. I reminisced about my transition from high school to college. We talked about his dad and admitted that the weekend stirred up some moments of intense grief we didn't quite anticipate.

This summer he will continue to help me with this and that and work at his job with a local cleaning company. Yes, the king scrubs
toilets and washes windows. And knows how to butcher chickens, milk cows and haul hay. He is loyal, faithful and true. I have no doubt that he will contribute mightily to his world. Future educator? Writer? Counselor? Politician, scientist, minister, journalist? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am bowed down in gratitude for the amazing influences he has had in his life.the loss of his dad was most traumatic. But it would take longer than I have to write right now to list the folks who have been instrumental in getting him on, and keeping him on his path. Friends in the Daleville farmers market who took him under their wing when I would drop him and bread and other farm goods when he was much too young to be left alone! Brett Roach, his youth leader at church of the holy spirit who was more than a leader. Our many other CHS friends and Quigg who loved on him. The Thomas's and their little Boone who taught Patrick to be a mentor. "Sean and other friends who let him chase after them. Max and James who dreamed and built and created worlds. The other parents who fed him and hauled him. The family who provided the undergirding
The siblings who gave him his positioning. How about some of the most amazing educators and encouragers out there, Coach Keith, Caroline and Doug Fox,Ms. Donaghey, Mr. Saunders, and many others who are slipping my mind right now. Taylar, his sweetheart for the last four yearss and friend for even longer.

Patrick, it is a joy to think about the life ahead of you. I will miss you. Please don't leave quite yet! I have a few more heavy things I need you to get for me. A a few more trips for you to run to the grocery store. Glad Maggie all.most has her driver's license!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Our Very First Egg in Alpine

A pale blue surprise
Tucked in a little corner.
Ameracauna!

I was rewarded for doing chicken chores this evening. I thought we had another two months to go before we needed to build the nesting boxes. I gathered some old discarded deep kitchen drawers, a pile of hay, some boards a hammer, nails and a piece of hardy panel. It isn't very pretty, but I think it will do for the now.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Welcome back, little friends. How was your journey?

Yesterday afternoon I saw two medium size black butterflies, three yellow dots, give or take, dipping, swirling around the lantana bush at the bottom of the carport. The flowers are tiny, pink and yellow. Just the color a little girl or a couple of butterflies might like. I used some in a bouquet for our supper table.

Isn't if funny how one day the butterflies are not around and you don't even notice their absence, and then all of a sudden, there they are again and you greet them like a lost friend.

PS supper was a roasted chicken grown in house, stuffed with fresh sage leaves and thyme from the garden. Judy brought snow peas which we flashed in the pan for just a handful of seconds, and I made my favorite beet salad, dressed in a lime and honey vinegarette flavored by fresh dill and chives I grabbed out of the garden. For someone who used to hate beets until a few years ago, this side dish is divine!!!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Muscle Memory

It is Monday.

The sun has gone down and the air is fresh. A gentle breeze is stirring in the trees.

I had it in me to cook the kids a nice dinner of one of our chickens, roasted, with Brussels sprouts and red peppers, a salad and toast.

We ate on the gazebo in the backyard. They all ran off their separate ways; karate, a run, work, a friend, the tv. I let the chickens out of their fenced-in yard so they could cruise around for fresh grass. Free range chickens and gardens equal tears and curse words. Unless garden grower works in garden whilst encouraging chickens to range elsewhere.

So I worked in the garden even though I was momentarily tempted by Netflix.

I planted some silver queen corn in the area where we had our compost last year. A tiny little plot, but we shall see. An experiment? Planted some green beans, cucumbers, yellow squash. A bit more okra. (the chickens ate part of the last bit I planted earlier this season.)

Pandora played on my IPhone. The Fernando Ortega channel.

Something about Fernando Ortega's music soothes me. Stirs me into worship and quiet contemplation. So I sang and planted and moved the sprinkler around and tossed stones at the errant chickens.

After a pretty painful weekend, I felt soothed. Balm of Gilead kind of soothing.

On Friday I drove to pick up Thomas from school in Roswell, NM. He has a month break. On the advice of a friend I drove the long way to Roswell, via Marfa, Valentine, Van Horn, Guadalupe National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and then up through Artesia and into Roswell.

What good advice well taken. It took me 45 minutes longer. Which I admit is pretty costly. But instead of crazy lunatic oil well truck drivers (yes, I know that most oil well truck drivers are not crazy, neither are they lunatic, but there are a few on that road who drive quite a bit over the speed limit, crowd their lanes, and are pretty dangerous) there were great big open skies, mountains, an antelope, some wildflowers, an occasional tourist, and lots of 70's rock and folk music.

After quite a long list of big city errands, Thomas and I got back home Saturday evening. On May 10th.

Which is just another day for everyone else, but for us, no matter what we do, no matter how full, or satisfying or busy the day, it still ends up being May the 10th, the birthday of Philip James Hillery, who was born on that date in 1958.

I have been told a time or two or three that we oughtn't think about Philip so much. That making such a big deal out of these days just stirs up more grief than necessary, and that we are making it harder on ourselves than it has to be. They have told me that if I would just leave well enough alone, move forward, let the past be past, etc etc etc etc etc. we would be better off.

Well.

I could say a few words about that kind of advice, but I guess it wouldn't be very gentle or kind or Christlike, would it?

No matter what, we all get a weird, raw feeling on that day. I remember the advice of Martha, our grief support counselor, who told us it was better to name it, than to stuff it. That we wouldn't get over the death of our dear loved one. We would learn to adjust and live and love our lives, but differently.

And here we are, still adjusting.

We got home and a few chores had been done. The grill was started and I gathered makings for burgers. In Carlsbad I stopped to buy one of those helium balloon tanks, because the last three years the kids have asked to release balloons as we remember Philip, and, who knew? there is a world-wide helium shortage, since helium is now being used in lots of different areas, like MRIs, aeronautics, and billions of kids' birthday parties. Helium balloons are not available in Alpine, but I had a vague inkling that my nemesis, Wal Mart, would carry the blasted stuff.

Sure enough, it was available.

The things we do for family cohesiveness.

I asked the kids to fill up some balloons.

"Mom, what?!? Do you want us to kill a bunch of birds and other wild life??? You know helium balloons are bad..." a sensitive child shouted.

"I am NOT going to sit down at the table with him/her. Do you know what he/she said to me this afternoon?"

"oh. hamburgers. I guess you forgot I hate them."

It wasn't a lovely evening. I was exhausted. Had a horrible neck and back ache from the drive. Stacks of work that were piling up, since I was out of town for a day. The house was dirty, our expectations were bouncing around all over the place, and all I wanted was some peace and family love.

I finally yelled, sent guilt inducing text messages to kids inside the house, and miraculously everyone ended up around the table in the gazebo. Burgers were grilled and grimacing (internally bleeding) people sat down and I prayed. Thanked God for the food. For our family. I begged God to meet us in the middle of the raw. And then thanked God for Philip, and for the gift of his life and influence. We talked a bit about how he loved to make us laugh. How he would suck the helium out of balloons and talk in a cartoon voice just to make us laugh. He was so easy to please. All he wanted for his birthday was a big platter of cheeseburgers to share with the kids, and then a hot date with me.

We talked about human statues and his work and about how sad it is that not all the kids have the same memories because they didn't have the same amount of time. So one child's grief is different from the others, depending on if they are grieving the actual memories, or the memories they didn't get to make.

We talked about God's grace and how Jesus did not come to earth because we were so good and deserved him.

Jesus is all about the real us. The sad, mean, mad, broken, hurting real us. The real us that needs compassion, and forgiveness and redemption.

Philip was all about all of that.

So we tried, we huddled. We all cried. Then we took our balloons out to the middle of the yard, spent a couple of moments silent, saying our personal, private words to our dear one who is no longer here in the flesh. Then let the silly balloons fly up to the sky.

It was actually pretty powerful.

Then everyone went back to bickering, to texting, to instagraming, to watching tv. We tried putting helium into the balloons with LED lights, but the light mechanism made them too heavy to float. Not too heavy to bounce around with kids on the trampoline.

So they bounced. We stayed up too late for a Sunday. Kids went to bed and I couldn't force myself to be inside so I took a blanket and my pillow to the trampoline and settled in there for a sleep. Sobbed over all the lost things. Sobbed and heaved. Then watched the stars and listened to the wind.

Whew.

By the way, Mother's Day was pretty awesome. And kind of hard, too, because of all the energy spent the day before. But the kids were each amazing, and I will try to write about that loveliness later. Because it is noteworthy. And I haven't even mentioned you, Mom, but everyone knows that if it weren't for you, I would not still be standing. You gave me the example of a strong woman who could manage to maintain tenderness. You gave me the example of the importance of beauty. Of quiet. Of music. You taught me that it was okay to ask, not only ask, but to require time of solitude.

You deserve a million pages in a million books. But here it is, almost ten o'clock and kids are still up and I need to get them and me to bed!!!

So more later.

Good night.




Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dust to dust

After getting a big part of the garden planted yesterday afternoon, the sky turned dark, the winds howled, and a mega dust storm blew through Alpine. We quickly shut doors and windows, trying to keep the dirt outside instead of inside. Where did it come from? Africa? Kansas? Mexico? Arizona? I didn't pay attention to the weather or to the direction of the wind. Just the menacing sight of dark taupe moving slowly, predatorily creeping down the side of the mountains, making its way stealthily through the passes.

Yes, I have a vivid imagination.

It felt a bit Lord of the Rings-like.

We had to be some place at 6, so hurried with our supper. I let Maggie and Rose drive home from the event and walked the near two miles home because something drastic had taken place in the atmosphere. A cool breeze blew, the air had been cleaned, and dramatic clouds captured the bending light of the setting sun.

It felt rather magical, the quick transformation. When the air was thickened and darkened by dust, I felt as if we might be doomed forever! The crack of a well hit baseball and cheer of parents in the little league field, the sound of dogs yipping in the distance, the sight of couples on their evening walk seemed like a picture of the gospel.