Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wedding season is coming...

I have several friends who are professional photographers and I am in a group because I am working on my own skills which still leave a great deal to be desired, but I digress. The point was that one of them was saying that people really needed to think about what they wanted before they decided on using a relative or friend for wedding photographs. If you want homey candid shots and are not worried about the slick, glossy photo albums, then use that relative with the new point and shoot. If you want good photography and it means a lot to you, then use a real photographer. She had a point, really. Sometimes we want those beautiful shots where everyone is beautiful and flatteringly shot and edited so that the white balance is clean.

Then someone mentioned that she thought that the old school wedding with homemade food and high school cafe-gym-ria "venues" and simple dresses had a simplicity and glory of their own. It made the event less about the day and more about the community coming together to help this couple start their lives. There is something to that. I had a wedding like that.

When Ben and I were married, we were young and in school and our parents were footing the bill. We went cheapo for everything. We set out scores of disposable cameras and asked Ben's sister to take the pre-ceremony shots. We told our wedding party to wear what they wanted to and told my grandmother's sister that she could make whatever silk (read: Walmart artificial) flower arrangements that she wanted. Only the wedding party had flowers and we bought nothing for the church. Ben wore a suit from his closet and I wore a plain white dress with no lace and I made my own veil. Ben's sister's best friend from high school was recently married and her husband dreamed of starting his own DJ business. Sure, we need a DJ, so come do ours. We did have an exquisite professional cake. I am and have always been a food snob and this was important to me. This was before my best friend went to culinary school, and my sister was in high school still, so we needed to find someone else.

Matching bride's maid dresses? Meh.
French baking technique? Now you have my attention!

I took my grandmother's advice, advice I give young brides all the time, I did not get a single bridal magazine. People gave me a few but other than that, I spent less time thinking about what was "in" and what other people were doing or what the dress should look like. The priest who married us told us repeatedly that he though all weddings should be like this. I thought that was strange. Like what? Now I see what he was thinking about.

Weddings become "events" taking place at "venues" and become all about this strange business of pretending we are celebrities, living like movie stars and popularizing "lifestyle" choices. When did weddings become productions? I thought that they were supposed to be about the marriage? It is a moment and it is gone so quickly. I can't taste the food that I had at my wedding. I can't wear the dress anymore. I did wear the shoes again, repeatedly, but they have long since worn out.There is nothing left from that party other than the goofy disposable camera photos and they are terrible. Nobody looks good and half of everyone is plagued by red-eye but I am okay with that. I am more than okay with that, honestly. We are happy. I wish we had done it sooner. We wanted to get married about five months sooner and every talked us out of it.

Some very sweet friends back in Colorado are getting married in April and we are not able to go. I really wish we could but there is a lot of miles that divides us and until I learn how to fold space and time, I am limited in my ability to be where I want. I told the bride that I am sorry that we will miss it, that the kids really wish that they could be there, but we will send a gift. (It is an awesome gift but I can't tell you because might be listening!) I told her that her wedding day will be only one day, an amazing day, but only one. The marriage will be forever and we will certainly be there for at least some of it and able to share that with them.

I am not knocking weddings, really. Mine was amazing. I remember standing there with Ben and holding his hands and looking at him. I could see and feel him watching me and it felt like we were the only people in the world, that if there was anything in the world that I have done right, it was this moment when all time and space stopped for us. I will never forget that day and not because of the dancing, or the food, or my dress, or even the cake (which I loved, loved, loved) but because of that moment. The truly incredible thing about that moment is that I still have it because I still have Ben, my sweet, shy, brilliant husband. No dress or venue could have made him any better or that moment any better. I have everything I need.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dinner and a movie...

Today was a whirlwind day. It feels like it never started but also like it never stopped. I had to run the oldest girl into town to her preschool teaching job because our usual carpool had connection had life today. Then rush home, feed kids, command math, fold four loads of laundry, grab snacky lunch, load up brood, run to town to meet Maria at the library. After we were all booked out, then we ran to Walmart (not my fave store but I live in the middle of nowhere), dropped off the garbage, then we ran to the suh-weet Mennonite shop (my girls call them the Amoeba-nites because is hard).

Then I got my new router in the mail so I got to install it when I got home. It seems to be working pretty well in that the desktop and Kindles and my phone are running fine but the laptop can't connect which is an issue. Tomorrow's issue. I am so not touching that thing anymore tonight. I am so done with that nonsense.

Do you ever feel like you run and run and really you are running in circles because things aren't getting done? I can't be alone in that. I think it is because I have some extra projects on my plate and this means that I am stretched a little bit further and a little bit more. This means that I am deciding to cut myself some slack. I am going to fill in the corners with some fun things, things like dinner and a movie.

So we are watching all the Great Courses that we can get from the library as well as all the documentaries on and Netflix and calling it science and history and, whatever. They are pretty educational and the kids are loving it. Then all the books from the library follow the theme of the movies we are watching. They are still doing spelling and math and grammar but pretty much the rest of school is just awesome. By awesome, I mean we make dinner and have a picnic around the computer. Sometimes popcorn is on the menu. Okay, a lot of the time it is popcorn and dinner.

Here is the best of what we have been watching:

How the States Got their Shapes, available on Netflix
Brain Games, the link is Canadian, can you see it? Also on Netflix
How We Got to Now, available to stream on PBS
All Things Nova, also on PBS

PBS is a bit difficult because things expire and go away so the kids get all panicky about it. They will literally lie awake at night because they are worried that the series THEY are watching will EXPIRE while their brother finishes his series. I would freaking pay to reserve it for later. Hear that, PBS?

But we are also listening to a lot of books. My kids are hooked on audio books. They can clean their rooms, wash dishes, fold laundry, or whatever while listening to a book. We have to drive long distances to get places here (it's more than 100 miles to Target or Lowe's and almost 150 to Home Depot) so we always have an audio book for the car. I had never thought to get them for the kids to have at home but they love them. Right now the middle school boys have Redwall to listen to before bed and they all just finished (and LOVED) The Wayside School series. I try to alternate between something that is geared towards the older kids and things geared towards the younger kids. We have been through the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit multiple times as well as Wrinkle in Time and Chronicles of Narnia. The youngest girls just got Winnie the Poo and I am not sure what we will get for the car next. The teens have been through My Antonia, one of my favorite books of all time, and I am not sure what they might want to listen to next. I can download the audio files from the library onto the Kindle Fire and we can link it to the bluetooth speaker to listen as a family, or they can listen with headphones, or we can plug it into the van and listen through the speakers. 

What are your favorite docs and audios? What are your favorite books? I am serious, I really want to to know because I am looking for my kids. I am especially looking for my teen girl who doesn't read popular fiction like Twilight and who loves mysteries but not racy ones or ones with badly behaved kids. She is a good kid and wants to read about good kids, you know?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Growing patience...

I took this last week. Look! There is a garden in that snow!
I always get myself in trouble this time of year. I start looking through the seed catalogs and through the seed packets I keep in a drawer in the farm cupboard. I start thinking about how much I really want a fresh tomato or some fresh produce of any kind that does not come from the store. I have been bookmarking all kinds of gardening things for my son who is aching to get outside and do something other than move snow. Ben and I both get this craving to start plants and buy seedlings and put together flower pots for the porch. Every year we start too soon but not this year. There are lots of reasons to wait but the most important being that the snow is not yet gone and more is coming.

Friday night on the way home from church the snow was so thick that I could barely see in the dark. It was the kind of snow that makes it impossible to turn on the brights because then it just looks like a Star Wars hyperspeed jump or whatever they call it. Good thing the ground was relatively warm (it had been in the lows 30s all day) so it didn't build up too much. First day of spring and we had a healthy little snow storm. After some glorious 40F degree days, the temps have dipped lower into the teens and twenties for highs and now we are expecting more snow this week. It is not like real winter has come back but more like it is keeping spring on its toes.

"Don't get too comfortable because I am coming right back and I want my seat back."

I was telling somebody just today about how I really wanted to grow tomatoes. I just wanted fresh, fat tomatoes and good chiles and I have had no luck here. Summer temps are not that warm here and I think that is part of it. Our average temperature last July was 64F which means that sometimes it was less than that. In July. This woman told me that I cannot put tomatoes seedlings out until Flag Day. Seriously. You cannot put them in the ground until mid June. No wonder I never have tomatoes!

I also took this last week. That
is the canal. Yep. Frozen.
At least we get apples, more apples than we know what to do with, really. We are coming to the time when we will want to get out there and look at the orchard and see how they are faring. Some of the smaller trees were literally buried under the snow until recently. Once it melts, it is time to see how the branches fared. I know there are some that did not cope well. There is one tree fairly close to the house that might need to go. It was planted by my husband's great-grandfather but last winter it split badly. Ben patched it up and it limped along and even produced last year. This year there are some very large branches that are cracked and there is a bad spot in the trunk. We will see what we can do but there might not be much that can be done.

Last year we had a cinder block garden with kale in it. Ben dug up dirt near the thimbleberry plants and by fall, we started to see the thimbleberry shoots coming up out of the soil. I did stomp out and the top of that garden is clear right now. The wind is strong over there and it scrapes down the snow so it can dump it over by the driveway, you know, where it gives us something to do. We also planted a large spot with raspberries and we have not stomped out to look at that. Ben started it hoping that it will just take over the spot and that someday there will be a thick patch of berries there. It is close enough to the house that I could reasonably go and check it out but I haven't. It really isn't spring yet no matter what the calendar says.The plants are still buried under the snow, though it is not too deep right now, but it will just get buried again this week. It is really to be expected, that is just what the Keweenaw is like.

You mean, you don't have dog sled rides
at your town festivals? Really? Hmm.
But in the end, that is okay. It is not always dog sled season. Summer will come and it is going to be amazing. Amazing with sliced fresh tomatoes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why you need this book....

I keep telling people in my life about this book and I realized that I have probably not done a good enough job of singing its praises if I have not mentioned it here. This is the book for anyone who is naturally messy and just trying to find a way to get their act together. This is the book for anyone who lives with someone who is naturally messy and they are trying to find a way to get their collective act together. This is the book for people trying to raise kids to not be messy. This is the book for people who still have messy houses despite the fact that the kids have moved out and on with the lives. This is pretty much the best organizing book ever. I can't think of anyone who does not need this book. Well...intense atheists probably won't like it so much because the author is a Christian and doesn't hide it. But she has a broad approach so it doesn't really matter what your creed, which means that she is pretty accessible. I love much as a complete stranger can love an author whom she has never met. *Ahem* Moving on.

The author, Mindy Starns Clark, was a born messy type who struggled to get it together. She was writing a clean mystery series (clean as in no swearing or love scenes) about a housekeeping-tip newspaper columnist. Mindy, as I like to call her even though she doesn't know me, found herself researching all kinds of tips so that she could incorporate them into the book as a part of the main character's blog and newspaper column. Mindy had a stacks and stacks of handy home hints and found herself unable to use them. I think that a lot of people find themselves in this position. How many people buy magazine and books and subscribe to email lists with the intention of finally getting their act together and still fail? A lot. Some of it is motivation which can be admittedly hard to come by but I think that a lot of it is a sense of no idea what to do with things. Some people open their closets and have no idea what to do with everything that is in there. How does one organize anything and everything? Mindy starts by evaluating the problem. Mindy's approach is to teach you how to find the problem and them solve it so that you can apply it to whatever your situation is. You don't have the same house and storage needs anyone else, you have your house and your storage needs and your personality. If you set up your home so that you can deal with clutter as you come across it in the way that you need to process it, then you will finally be a success.

What if it is not about you and your systems but the people in your family? My girl, Mindy, got yo' back. Here is a big hint: you are not going to change the people in your family. You need to change the system. This was the light bulb moment for me. I realized that not everyone in my family is like me. Some of the kids certainly are A-type, put things in files and label them, kind of kids like me. Heck, I have labels that hang off the spiral bound school books so that I do not have to take things off the labeled shelves to see which book is which and some of the kids just get me. Some of the kids are like my husband who leave a trail of belongings behind them as if they were leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so that they could find their way back out the door later. Some of the kids have heaps and heaps books on their beds and no sheets because they have fallen off on the side that faces the wall. These kids have skills and talents and profound value even if they can never find their church shoes and me flipping out all the time is bad for our relationship.Setting things up to make it easier for them and their personality type means that I have to be more flexible but it also means that the house is in better condition. If I had to choose, I think I would chose that pretty much anytime of the day but especially when my in-laws are coming over.

This book changed my life.

Maybe that is a bit melodramatic but, it is a pretty sweet book. Here is the thing, I moved from the city to a house that is 40% smaller in a climate that is like 5,000% harsher. There is no such thing as three season porch here. There is no such things a two season porch. I am pretty lucky to have a one season porch. The average temperature here in August was 62F which means that sometimes, even in the summer, it was colder than that. Being inside more and home schooling all these kids, means that we are always using every inch of this house and finding a way to keep it organized was killing me. I realized that I needed to figure some things out. What this book did for me was help me realize just how wrong the systems were I was implementing which doomed them to failure. I needed to rethink everything I had ever done before. Little houses full of big families with little kids means extra effort and I finally had the skillz to make it not be stroke inducing. It also helped me to stop yelling about boots and books and train tracks which means that this is good for the kids, too.

Does this mean that my house is always picture perfect? 

Of course it is! Ha! No. Just kidding. There are times when people come over and the kids wet snow clothes are everywhere and the little people's Brio train track is covering the living room and I am in the kitchen making dinner. There are times when I have had to run a kid to dance or music or an odd job and I left a giant mess behind, but those things are the exception and not the norm. This is good for my sense of well being and my relationship with the kids. That is pretty good, good enough for me anyway.

Sooo....long story short, you need this book. Above it an affiliate link and I would love it if you use it but you don't have to do that. But you do need to get this book. Then you can read it, get your glamorous life all together and come back and tell me how awesome it is to be you. Sound like deal? Good.

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Keweenaw baby is two...

She was born in Colorado but we moved here when she was only nine weeks old so this is really the place that she knows best. Claudia is very much a baby Finn who is seemingly oblivious to cold, loves to play in snow (which is over her head), and revels in being outside. It is so funny to me that for me and the older children, this is all a strange new world but for the youngest two, this is just what they know. They don't remember anything else. This is really all they know and they are happy here.

My oldest daughter, Maria, spent a good part of the afternoon making handmade fondant decorations for the cupcakes. She made flowers and butterflies and one bumblebee which was for the birthday girl. Claudia is inexplicably drawn to the color yellow, although she does call it pink. She loves it. Anytime she offered something, she scans the color choices and grabs the yellow and screams, "Pink!" She might just think that it is the word for "awesome" given the way two of her sisters feel about pink. The bumblebee suffered from a whole lot of loving and was not so good to photograph. I did for the sake of my oldest but those are the Facebook ready photos are the ones I will send to her godmother back home in Colorado. By the way, before I forget, the cupcakes were made from scratch by her brother who will be 12 in a few weeks. He asked and I let him just go for it. I made the ganache, it is a vegan one because it is Lent. I am shocked at how good it looks but I do wish it would set up faster.

Today she chatted on the phone and sometimes listened and responded when her godmother and her grandmother called to talk. She played with her toys including one of those wooden ducks on a stick with the flappy feet. I think that is definitely her all time favorite toy. I might have to hide it for a bit tomorrow. The flapping of the feet on the maple floors gets old after a bit. Well, for me anyway. I don't think Claudia will ever be tired of it. As far as she is concerned, it is the most amazing thing that anyone ever had in the entire history of the world.

Claudia was born just before Easter and I remember going into the hospital without a jacket and then leaving in the snow. I think that is the history of her whole life. Her first experience of the outdoors was of snow and she must have just known that she was meant for it. She loves the snow and I imagine that she always will. When I think about her and her birth, I remember the snow falling on is as we went outside and how my mother worried about the baby but my mother-in-law, whose children were born here, didn't give it a second thought. Finns believe in "airing the baby" that is, letting the baby nap outside. Seriously, in bitter cold. Read more about that HERE. Claudia is just a bit more Finnish than me (not surprising since I am not Finn) and she fits right in here.

The other thing I find myself thinking about is my father. On the same day as Claudia's ten day well baby check up, my father learned that he had lung cancer despite being a nonsmoker. He was told that it was fatal and that he would not beat it. He was sick when she was born but no one knew what it was so he did not see her until after the diagnosis. After three months of phantom illness there was finally an answer. We thought it was pneumonia but it was something far more serious. So on this day when I think about my daughter and her coming into the world, I also find myself thinking about my father and his going out of the world. He died on June 1st of last year after battling cancer for just a year and a half. Today as I flipped through the news on my Wash Post app, I found this article about another father who died of lung cancer. His well crafted words struck me as profound and prescient. I think I needed to read them today. If you have not read the article, stop by and see it HERE. In fact, you really need to stop by and read the words he left behind for his daughter. My father saw my daughter before he died and I am profoundly grateful for this.

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.
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