Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Seasons. The Calendar. Mile Posts. Row Fourteen. I love you, beautiful world!

Late morning, the sun came out and the skies became blue again. For a moment. All of a sudden, I turned around, and an ominous, almost frightening gray mist stealthily poured over the hills and into the vineyard and orchard where I worked yesterday and today. The wind gave it a boost, and it felt cold. Cold-blooded. Definitely not trustworthy.

I pulled out the agribon to cover the garden beds filled with tender peas, radishes, lettuces, turnips, spinach, beets and chard. I go out two or three days a week to manage the vines, weeding, mulching, whatever they need. I tend a few veggie beds. Today I was worried about the fruit trees in the orchard. Yesterday I noticed they were covered in blossoms and buzzing honey bees. The forecast predicts the low to be 30. Up there, in the little saddle, at one mile elevation, 30 in town means 23 or lower. Not good for the fruit.

You might have laughed to see me struggle with the giant sheets of protection, hoping for the wind to work with me. She did not care about my predicament. Not one bit. I tossed, wrapped, contorted, using metal poles to push and shove. Had hot tea for lunch, then went back to the vineyard.

It is a small, privately owned little vineyard, fourteen fifty yard rows. Seems small until you walk out to row one with a hoe. And see how far you have to go.

After one row, I wondered if I should go ahead and quit. It seemed rather unlikely I could ever manage to get to the end. Especially when I hit the Johnson Grass.

Today I finished one side of row 14 and am partway down the other side. I can see the finish line. Sometimes I dream about the rhizomes of the johnson grass, entangled among the roots of the grapevines, at times they are so stubborn, they choke and strangle. Sometimes they untangle like magic.

Definitely different from bakery work, but maybe not so different after all. Just as I have a very living and breathing relationship with the grains and honey and milk and seeds I use in my bread, I also feel an intimate relationship with those vines. And the rocks and grass and weeds. When I walk into the vineyard I say hello to everyone, and ask them to let me know if there is anything in particular they need on that day. Sometimes they ask me to weed a bit larger circle around the plant. Sometimes they ask me to go a bit deeper. Sometimes they merely tell me they love me, and I tell them I love them back. And let them know even though it might take a couple of years before they bear a nice harvest of grapes, they are worth the effort right here and right now.

So much work to bring about a delicious glass of red wine. Is it any wonder the scriptures are so full of stories and metaphors regarding wine and vineyards? Can you imagine what it would be like to tend your vines so diligently for years, only to have robbers come and steal the grapes right at the time of harvest?

I have worked in the sun, peeling off layers, toasting my skin. I have worked in cold, hat and sweatshirt, coat and extra socks. The sun and clouds and Mt. Ord down the way provide the most interesting entertainment. The sound of the birds and the sight of thousands of ladybugs gives me delight. There is not a time when I do not leave grateful for my job.

Grateful yes. But those vines have been witness to more tears than about anybody I know has ever seen. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Fears. Major breakthroughs. Grief. Sometimes I sob out loud, and I guess that sounds scary. Of course I might be laughing again in about ten minutes. Because allowing myself to feel, to be still enough to recognize what I am feeling, to allow it, to examine with compassion, to nurture myself and offer compassion to the hurt places, seems to allow more room for joy.

I have been wishing to laugh more. So I let the tears flow out, instead of shove them inside. A paradox, isn't it? I remind myself that those who sow in tears will reap in joy. Perhaps I should paraphrase and say that those who weed in tears will reap in joy? I let the wave flow over me, and tell myself that I might be sad but that is a temporary emotion. Legitimate. And worthwhile. The work is medicinal.

Can you believe that this week will mark the sixth anniversary of my husband's death? That we will now embark on the sevens? The seventh birthday without Philip. The seventh Easter. The seventh mother's day, the seventh Father's day. The sevens. How can it be? Nora has almost lived more life without her father than with her father. Definitely more life without than she and Rose can remember with him alive.

We have had three of five kids walk the stage and graduate with all sorts of honors.

When Philip died, the grief support counselor would repeatedly tell us you don't get over the death of a loved one. You adjust. You adapt. You move forward. But the loss and pain doesn't disappear after an appointed time. In fact, it can often pop up at the most inopportune time.

We often laugh about Philip memories. I smile and remind the kids how proud their dad would be of them. I smile and remind myself how he adored me. How he would woo me and make the kids laugh and help us be ever so secure in our awareness of his love. Even in the most annoying moments.

The other day I had a dream. In it, Philip came to me and said it was about time for him to say goodbye. That it was time for me to move ahead, and that he was leaving and wouldn't be able to communicate with me anymore. He said it would help me to move forward.

Ever since that dream I have been washed over with pain and grief. I have been working to let him go since I had a dream he would die. Two months before he died.

We are surviving here in Alpine, and not just surviving, but thriving. We have purpose. Joy. I can't imagine wishing for much to be different. I love our home, our little backyard farm, our bakery, the kids and their friends. It is hard to imagine I could have any type of work I could find as satisfactory as the work I have now. Truly, I feel like I am one lucky gal. And after six years, recognize that this wave of pain will pass. Again. And the misty gray will be washed away, the sun will come out, and spring will rise again on the horizon.

I just needed to write about it. Surely there might be someone else out there who knows what I am talking about?

PS I should mention that over the Christmas holidays Maggie and Patrick came out the vineyard and helped me get past the middle when I thought I might never make it. And they work so much faster than me! What a boost. They would be proud to see me at the end! Now to mulch. And to remove rocks. And to fix the drip water system. And to prune the vines.......And start weeding all over again!!!! Hello, Row One! I missed your shining faces!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Thomas James Hillery

February 17th, 1993, I was a mere child myself, haha! And here came Thomas into the world.

He came. And everything changed.

I know that being a parent is not the end all or be all. But for me, when he came to join our family, I became more of who I was meant to be.

It was hard. I had no clue what to do! But certain things came instinctively, like, if baby cries, check him! He might be hungry, sleepy, need a hug and change, or a change of scenery. Thomas liked to hear me sing. He appreciated books from early on. Bike rides in the basket, trips around the country and the world. Easy to please. Happy to go on adventures.

Not too into hiking and camping, but definitely into travels and food, movies and theater. And video games and computer stuff.

He loves to cook. Not too into dishes, but washes them for me quite frequently.

Sometimes he chats my ear off, sometimes he won't speak for days. Being on the autism spectrum has been a challenge for him sometimes, as the world can feel so noisy and bright and overstimulating. Sometimes the words are hard to come by, when he has a physical challenge, he might not know how to articulate his symptoms. But oh, the things he has taught the few who take time to get to know him. He is a great bowler for the special olympics team and makes his gang laugh a lot.

I love that kid. I love him a lot. We drive each other crazy, over silly things, like bathing, and apartment cleaning, and tv choices! Well, I drive him crazy. But we laugh a lot. He occasionally lets me give him a hug. We know we love each other so very much. And that's what it is all about, right?

Okay, I Admit It. I See Things.

This past weekend all the kids had plans.

I had none.

I considered doing some household organizing, some yard cleanup.

I gave a half a second thought to working on tax prep for home and bakery and rent house.

For a fourth of a second I considered heading out to a nearby musical event where there would be hundreds of acquaintances and dancing.

Then I called a couple of friends for bunny, chicken, dog and cat backup, made up a big pot of venison curry, half for me, half for Thomas who would come over and check things for me, threw my pillows, a sleeping bag, thermarests, propane camp stove, french press coffee pot, a bit of food and hiking boots and gleefully headed down south to Big Bend National Park.

First stop, Panther Junction, to renew my yearly membership pass and seek a permit for a backcountry camping site. First time ever, I was told by the Ranger that there were no sites available in the national park. None. Even 4 wheel drive access sites were taken. But should I wish to stay, I could try zone camping.

Definitely wishing to stay, after the 108 mile one way trip and effort, I said, "Sure!" with animated voice, but heart filled with trepidation.

Driving back towards one of our favorite hikes, quite a few miles off road, I looked at my stuff and looked at the hills and gullies and cat claw and lechugilla and almost berated myself for not bringing a big backpack! But remembered that I am not that much into backpacking, pulled up my bootstraps and started the adventure of seeking out a sleeping zone a half mile from road and hundred yards from the trail and definitely out of sight.

When I mentioned I was going camping over Valentine's Day weekend without the kids, folks asked if I were to have a companion. I mentioned Rumi. And Mary Oliver. Well, in my imagination I mentioned the poets, as I had a couple of books of their poetry. But no, no human companion. I was hungry for solitude. Hungry to think my own thoughts for a few hours. Hungry to sit for an hour and look at the same pile of rocks.

No agenda. No work. No vision casting, or spiritual expectations. Just openness to be in the moment and enjoy.

I sat and ate my supper, noticing in depth, for the first time, the interesting ridge opposite the Pine Canyon parking area. As the sun went down into late afternoon, I laughed as the rocks transformed before my very eyes into a recumbent nude, lying on her belly, hand resting on cheek, rubenesque rump, roundly rising into the sky, and the other hand, finger pointing coyly, seemed to say,"I see!"

My warm venison and cauliflower curry tasted heavenly. The warm, pre-springtime desert air felt like dessert. Even though I was tempted to pick up a book and read, I kept reminding myself to be here. To be now.

A quarter hour later, the ridge transformed. Now a gigantic toddler, perhaps four year old, lay on her belly, wearing little overalls, feet entangled in the air, face looking down, as if watching a line of ants. Where did the model go?

I put away my cook gear, made some herbal tea, and sat to watch my ridge. The sun was almost behind the Chisos mountains behind me. The rocks were warm and alive with color. Now the ridge morphed into a woman, lying sweetly with resting face tucked into her arm. And as I looked at the other rocks, even more figures appeared in the shadows. It was delightful.

Camping for me is magical. Camping in silence offers room for a different magic to arise.

I did see a fleeting meteor. I heard the wind as she came to greet me. Sleeping bag spread under canopy of stars, the waxing moon cruising the sky, a mysterious band of cloud that was pushed through the sky by occasional cool breaths of breeze. It was weird. Sometimes the wind whispered down the gully, and I felt nothing but stillness. Sometimes she would silently touch my cheek.

Each evening, each morning I ended and began with poetry. The words were so tender, so rich, at times I wept. They made me feel human. Alive. Hopeful. Rich beyond measure.

I had all intentions of writing. I did none. But I hiked around. Sat still. Meditated. Drank lots of coffee with heavy cream. Made and ate amazing food. Read much poetry, two books, watched stars and felt wind be gentle and still. Wished for about two weeks more, and never felt lonely, knowing that my kids and work awaited me when I returned.

Somehow I think the camping trip was the perfect choice for this year's valentine's day celebration! Should I offer you my stew recipe? Well, here it is!

Camper's Fish Stew
one piece of bacon or a tablespoon of oil
Frozen Cod or catfish or any other kind of fish you have frozen, 1/2 to 1 lb
celery, chopped
onion, chopped
garlic, two or three cloves, minced
fresh ginger, one knob, chopped
one or two jalapenos or mild green pepper
sm. can green chilis
tomato paste, two tablespoons or two fresh tomatoes
bunch of cilantro
bunch of fresh spinach
can of coconut milk, full fat
a bit of curry powder if you happen to remember

In a medium to large sauce pan, fry up bacon until it releases the fat. Add celery, onion, and saute until almost tender. Add garlic, ginger and peppers. When they begin to release their aroma, stir in the curry powder if you have it. Add the fish, the tomato, the coconut milk and some water if you need, and bring to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and several twists of freshly ground pepper. Cover, continue to simmer for twenty minutes or so, while you sit and watch the rocks as the sun begins to set. Remove the lid, stir the stew. When the fish begins to break apart, add the spinach and cilantro. Taste for seasoning. Cook for another fifteen or twenty minutes without a lid to meld the flavors and reduce the liquid so the stew is thick and creamy. I prefer to use whole cream coconut milk because it gives such a creamy mouthfeel. A bit of canned corn might be nice if you like. Or some potatoes. I kept mine scant on the starchy side, you know, the whole low carb thing, and it was rich and beyond delicious! I even ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day!

Friday, February 12, 2016

My friend and teacher, the moon.

Last night after I wrapped up bakery hours, helped Rose and her friends practice for their history fair project, enlisted Thomas's help with dishes, oversaw Nora as she prepared for a weekend trip with a church group, I kind of wanted to fall into bed or collapse in front of a glowing screen.

But the day was so beautiful and my body needed to move in the evening air.

Somehow I managed to find the wherewithal to put on a jacket and go for a 2 mile stroll. The early evening pastels slid down into the west and the blues and grays of evening took over. The moon hung in the sky, a happy smile glowing in the sky. Almost tilted grin, and I couldn't help but look at her most of the way around the loop. I paused, for just a moment, and said, "Okay! Okay! I get it! Smile!" And made my face into a silly mask, mimicking her, and then found the silly face manifest into a real and genuine, tender smile.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

History Lesson

The other night I was having dinner with a friend, recounting the difficulty I had in gathering the kids around the table these days.

I had made a roast chicken dinner, with one of our big fat chickens, baby turnips from the garden, a few other delicious vegetables. Set the table.

And then there was only Thomas, Rose and myself.

It felt awkward. Like we had forgotten how to sit still around the table. Like we had forgotten how to make conversation on a Sunday afternoon. Just the three of us. When you have a family of five kids, plus many assorted friends and family, the table is often filled with ten, twelve plates. Not just holidays.

And then Philip died. And then we left the farm and interns and friends. And made a bunch of new friends. But then kids started graduating and moving away.

It is weird, adapting to new and different. Instead of homeschool and farm life, the kids public school and are involved in running and karate. Instead of homeschool and farm life, I am a single mom with several different off-site jobs, including the running of the little mill and bakery here.

Sometimes we gather in the kitchen at different times, grabbing whatever there is to grab, quesadillas and beans, and omelet, venison and a cream sauce, practically eaten out of the pan.

There is so much to be experienced around a supper table. And when one kid has a practice that ends at 5:45 and the other begins shortly after six and I get home exhausted and dirty, it is hard to make it happen.

So, I got rather teary eyed with said friend, and with the tears, made an intention in my heart. An intention to diligently work to make supper time happen more regularly in our house. Even if it means being a bit creative. And included in the intention was a great desire to read to the kids again, even if there are only two of them home these days and they are busy being a teenager and a preteen.

The world is hard. Their time left at home is short. I desire greatly for them to know attachment and emotional connection, and living off the farm makes that aspiration a lot more difficult.

But not impossible!

Yesterday we enjoyed gyoza and fried tofu and cabbage, in honor of the Asian New Year! And had young friends join us, and we all ate with chopsticks. We made our New Moon wishes. The other day we read a couple of chapters of our book, My Side of the Mountain, while the girls ate bowls of potato soup and I enjoyed broth from that Sunday dinner chicken. Tonight Nora made mac and cheese for herself and Rose and I ate leftover cabbage. Then we looked over the new edition of the Big Bend Gazette and I showed them this month's food column, written by their world famous mom (HA!). Rose and I enjoyed remembering last week's Asian Slaw recipe made with farmer's market kohlrabi and beets. And Nora suggested I write a book.

One thing led to another, and next thing you know, the girls and I are sitting on the edge of my bed, scrolling through this blog, looking up early February posts, from every year since February 2008.


I read out loud. They listened and murmured and laughed. Nora gave me the best compliment a writer could ever receive, telling me that she loved my writing, and that it was interesting and she liked to read it, and thought that other people would enjoy a book written by me. And she should know, since she reads good books all the time, every day! I didn't tell them the posts were unedited, and grammatically rough, and that it was primarily therapy, and that they and about eight other people are the only ones who really care to read these silly musings! (that would include you, mom!)

We scrolled through history, them reading over my shoulder, listening as I read the words with my voice. I couldn't help choking up as we remembered Zackie, our cat. We shivered a bit as we remembered the snow and the cold of the farm. It was hard to believe I had little Rose out there learning to milk when she was how old??? We remembered Julie, the fairy godmother, taking the kids to DC. We remembered my post written in Gopalpur, India. We remembered baby goats and GGGRACE with growly moms who are cold and tired of winter. Crepes in the backyard. Scorpions at campsites.

Yesterday was the new moon. On new moons these days I like to make my wishes as we enter a new phase of the calendar. One of my wishes was that we would know contentment in our family. That we would have emotional connections. That we would remember who we were and grow into the bigger who we are.

I feel rich beyond description, and more grateful than I could ever write for the life I have. Setting that intention has brought us back to some sweetness we truly needed. How lucky I am. I love my jobs. I love my kids. I see miracles most every day, in one weird form or another.

Oh, and we have bunnies, in the backyard, in a hutch behind the chicken coop. Petunia has pulled her fur to make a fluffy lining for her little nest box. Black Beauty has not, but maybe tomorrow? The Amerecaunas keep flying over the chicken yard fence and ate the new broccoli and brussel sprouts I set out. Nothing new there, since that seems to happen most years for the last seven or eight years! The Johnson grass in the vineyard continues to be my guru, and I wonder if maybe this week? Next month? I will try the puff pastry recipe Holly gave me on Facebook the other day. The sun is clear and bright, and with the troubles that come our way, the heartbreaks and the loneliness, we are given such a sweet cup.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Sunlit, Windy, Blowing Dust

Yes, the temperature is in the 70's. But the wind is stirring up a dusty haze that blurs the mountains. Stirring up allergies as pollen is blown hither and thither. I believe the wind is blowing in a cold front. Which is normal this time of year. We greet each other in the store, at the post office and grouse about the wind. We crinkle our foreheads, frown, peer at the haze. It seems to be a cultural ritual, this need to complain about the unpleasantness!

So. To be grateful.

I am grateful for the interesting way the wind has of changing up the day. I love the wind in that it is so easy to personify her. Sometimes mild, at times temperate or flirty. A gentle tease, a blasting hurricane force with which to reckon.

She is grumpy right now. That's okay.

I still love her! Before you know it, she will have done her work, and will be ready to settle down into a much more gentle dance. But how would the rains ever come, or the cold be blown away if she never did her job?

That said, today's meditation will definitely take place INSIDE my house and not on a dusty, blowy mountain top.