Thursday, August 30, 2007

So This Guy Walks into a Bar....

I love jokes, but I can never remember them. I laugh my fool-head off when someone tells a good one and can't wait to spread the joy by telling it to my husband or kids or whomever, but gol-darned if the thing doesn't fly out the back of my head by the time I get around to the opportunity.

It's really a strange thing how I can categorize some things in my head but not others. I can remember certain phone #s for life after using them just once, but I can't recall many of my own former phone #s, even ones I had for a few years. I can remember directions to places I haven't been in years, decades even, but I can't necessarily recall any of the street names or addresses. I can recite all the nursery rhymes, sing the entire Muppet theme song, and recite the Japanese alphabet after taking one semester my freshman year of college, but I can't tell a d*mn joke.

I had a friend named Dean in high school who could tell joke upon joke upon joke for hours and hours and hours. He'd entertain us at parties and keep us in stitches, laughing at his own jokes the entire time. It was a hoot - and a highpower-given talent, I now believe. I recall something about a koala bear with the punchline of "Eats bush, shoots, and leaves".... (classy)... but... well.. no, of course I don't remember the set-up.

Another time I flew the red-eye alone into Denver for a family reunion. I'd never met many of these particular family members, and after 36 hours with no sleep, it may not have been an extraordinary feat for a long-lost cousin to have me laughing until tears poured down my cheeks for a couple hours straight, but it was entertaining nonetheless. There was one about a bug on a windshield that had us busting a gut... but... nah, I don't remember it.

Even my mom can tell a better joke than me, although she's got my
father's habit of having only a few and telling them over and over. One of her infamous jokes, which I'm sure she'll be thrilled to hear I'm sharing, is the one about the Big-Mouth Frog. All I'm gonna say is you need a big mouth to tell that joke effectively. (Who loves ya, Mom?)

And I was taken back to the good old days when another familiar joke appeared in my email inbox today. It was from mom and it's an "oldie but goodie." She told this joke many, many times, and somehow had a way of telling it that had us all groaning and giggling.

Before I forget how it goes, here it is:

An Italian, an Irishman, and a Chinese fellow are hired at a construction site. The foreman points to a huge pile of sand and says to the Italian guy, "You're in charge of sweeping."

To the Irishman he says, "You're in charge of shoveling."

To the Chinese guy, "You're in charge of supplies."

He then says, "Now, I have to leave for a little while. I expect you guys to make a dent in that there pile." So the foreman goes away for a couple hours, but when he returns the pile of sand is untouched.

He says to the Italian, "Why didn't you sweep any of it?"

The Italian replies in a heavy accent, "I no gotta broom, an' you tella me da Chinese-a guy supposa ta bringa da supplies, but he disappear and I no finda him."

So the foreman turns to the Irishman and asks why he didn't shovel. "Didn't I tell you to shovel it?"

The Irishman replies in his heavy brogue, "Aye, that ye did, but I couldn't get meself a shovel. Ye left the Chinese fella in charge of supplies, but I coulden find 'im."

The foreman is really angry now, and storms off looking for the Chinese guy. He can't find him anywhere and is getting angrier by the minute.

Just then, the Chinese guy springs out from behind the pile of sand and yells...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Willow 2007


Willow is over, once again. It was a wonderful gathering! We had all the makings of a fantabulous time with many of our favorite friends....

We had drumming.

Oh, how I adore an intoxicating drum beat in the background of any Willow gathering. That afternoon, I followed the rhythm and found Eric and Jordan having a jam session in the front room. I started slapping my leg and dancing around like a drugged-out hippie, so they pretended not to see me.

We had camping. Several of us camped in Dan and Joan's yard, seen here. But some of us retreated to the Duff-compound just down the road where we had quiet and stillness, and a breath-taking view, and coffee and quiche for breakfast, and newspaper reading on the new screened-in porch. We want to move in, we liked it so much. 'K, Duffs? You don't mind, do you? We take our coffee at 7:00.

We had henna and mehndi.

I found Becca, a friend of Brit's (who couldn't be with us this year - boohoo), and invited her to join us. She brought along her henna and I found her and Kenz painting each other's legs, with a gaggle of kids watching them. I begged mercilessly for her to do me first, shoving small children out of my way as I budged in line.

Ain't it purty?

There was willow wreath-making.

Last year, some of our kids made willow wreaths ahead of time for all of us. But this year, they didn't - the spoil sports. No matter, the next generation of willow wreath makers have arrived! Maya made a lovely one for me and even asked which flowers I wanted and exactly how many. Then she decided she liked it a whole lot and kept it for herself.

And instead she gave me this willow headdress. I felt like royalty in it, even though some people said I had weeds in my hair. Harrumph... such disrespect for a Willow goddess will not be tolerated.

We had porch time.

This is the perfect spot to be - for conversation, for a lounge on the porch swing, for a cool breeze, for a nap with music in the background. For admiring the wittiness of your son, like Pat is doing. Isn't that what you were doing, Pat?

We had volunteering.

Dale and Diane have family involved in the Willow church so they sign up to help. Then Diane rounds up our children and makes them do her shift for her. Cuz she's bossy like that. Thankfully, our kids always have a fun time working the soda tent. Here, several take a break over a game of cards while three others take their turn running the stand. At least we think someone is running the stand. I see the cashbox there - wait, are they playing poker with the soda tent money?

We had communal cooking.

There's Dan (the master of Willow), Laurie and me. We stripped basil leaves for a lovely tomato salad as Joan barked, "No, not like that you ignorant fools!" (She gets a little saucy when she's supervising a bunch of lulus in her kitchen.)

The finished salad masterpiece:

And the kitchen goddess was at the top of her game, as usual. Joan, you never fail to amaze us with your creations - this year, turkey mole with all the trimmings, caponata on thick grilled bread, and an array of garden salads had us all moaning in pleasure. Deeeelish. I channel you each time I enter my kitchen, and always hope I can bring home some Willow magic and inspiration. So please stop yelling at me.

And of course we had music.

Here's Doug playing his mandolin, in preparation for his big Willow debut. You rock, Doug! And we salute you. (flicking lighter)

We had garden walks.

Several garden walks. Dan and Joan's gardens were exquisite yet again, and yet again I was sent to pick herbs for the kitchen. This time, 3 kinds of basil.

We plucked cherry tomatoes off the vine and ate more than made it to the kitchen.We drank coffee amid the squash plants and took pictures of gigantic tomatoes. We started our weekend there and ended our Sunday there.Such beauty...

And of course, we had singing.

Dan led all the kids in several songs, and here, Pat and her daughter, college-bound-MacKenzie, sang some of their favorite Willow tunes as Dan accompanied them on guitar. Don't they look lovely up there? (Evan - pay attention. Yer family's singin', boy!)

Finally it was time to leave. The kitchen was empty, the haybales stacked. The guitars were put away and the energy started to wane. We savored our last meal together and took coffee to the garden for a sunset stroll.

And another Willow is over. *sigh*

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Messin' With Mom

Sometimes a situation's ripe for exploiting. I found myself in such a situation the other day and my inner "little shit" took advantage.

It had already been an odd county fair experience for several reasons (not the least of which was my stint as a
canned goods judge) but on Friday night we went back to the fair with plans to meet up with family and friends. Brady took off with the neighbor, Jonathan hooked up with a couple buddies, and Rob had an appointment to do business with a concession stand owner.

Well, you know what they say... Nothing like topping off a day at the county fair with a little insurance quoting! Or... something like that. So I tagged along.

We went to the man's first concession, the elephant ear stand, and asked to see the owner. He wasn't there, "probably at his other stand," we were told - clear across the fairgrounds, of course.

We went to the man's second concession, another elephant ear stand, and asked again to see him. He wasn't there. "Probably at his home," we were told.

Well, that's that, I thought, no business tonight, when the vendor started pointing us in the direction of the trailers that house the carnival folks. "Just go on over there and knock on the door."

We weren't sure if that was prudent, but Rob told the man he'd stop in so we carried on. The owner and his wife invited us in and offered us sodas, and we hit it off famously. We talked business and elephant ear flavors and capital gains taxes and kids for a while, and then I noticed we'd missed a cell phone call. Explaining I need to be available to the kids, I excused myself. The call was from my mother, who was to meet up with us. And this is when inspiration struck. I called her back.

ring ring

Me: Hi Mom!

Mom: Hi honey,
Where are you?

Me: In a trailer. With a carnie.


Mom: Wait... what? You're where?

I'm pretty sure that ranks somewhere high on the list of "Things a Mother Doesn't Want to Hear her Daughter Say." So naturally, I just couldn't resist.

The elephant ear vendor insisted our kids have free elephant ears so he offered us a ride to find them. We hopped onto his golf cart and got a motorized escort through the fairgrounds. As we parted the red sea crowd of fair-goers, I asked if he had a tiara I could wear? Or perhaps a sash that reads "Miss Canned Goods 2007"? He did teach me how to do the beauty queen wave to the passersby. "Never above the crown," he instructed.

People we know would see us, stop and stare, and shake their heads with that look of "What in the world are you doing now?" Ah you know us, always gotta be attracting attention. (This was actually the second golf cart ride for us during the fair. A fair official gave the kids a ride after explaining the ticket booth we were waiting for wasn't going to open anytime soon, but he'd be happy to take us to another booth.)

We found Jonathan and pal, who were quite happy to oblige the vendor with his elephant ear offer.

And later, when we hooked up with mom and the rest of the family, she just shook her head and said, "I got off the phone and said to Jackie, Your Sister!!....."

But I kindly pointed out, "Hey, better to hear it now than when I was, say, sixteen, right?"


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We've Got da Moves

I've wanted to take ballroom dancing lessons for a LONG time, and I finally talked Rob into it. We've gotten pretty good, and we're pretty jazzed that there's a family wedding coming up where we can show off our moves.

We've been working really hard and I'm proud of us. Rob has been pretty nervous about the whole thing, but he finally let me videotape us dancing.

Not to brag, but I think we look d*mn good. Let me know what you think!

Star in Your Own JibJab! It's Free!

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's Back

We interrupt this newly-fun-loving blog to bring you this update.

Enough with the wise cracks, I feel like I have a little 'splaining to do.

It's been raining for 3 solid days here. Every time I woke up last night (which was often) it was raining, a different intensity each time. But when I finally rose this morning there was a wee break in the deluge and I was able to squeeze in a fast bike ride. I made it just in time... there's now a downpour outside my window.... but I really needed the ride this morning. I probably could've ridden twice as long, seeing as it wasn't nearly long enough to
melt my emotional build-up.

grieving process over the past year and a half was so incredibly difficult and draining and all-encompassing, I was actually pretty relieved when my smart *ss side returned. It felt good to crack jokes and laugh at how stupid I can be, make sarcastic comments and talk about silly stuff, normal stuff, regular life - shoe shopping. And if you've been with me for a while, you may have noticed the radical detour from the original writings on my blog. I'm sure some are relieved and others are wondering just which one is the real me. I'm sure - I'm hoping - the answer is somewhere in the middle.

I was relieved to actually grow tired of feeling like a wet blanket all the time, but that had to happen in its own good time. I remember I even researched the stages of grief because I always felt the same - heavy, detached, incredibly sad, and very lethargic about life. Where was the denial? I had many moments of say-it-isn't-so but the loss was very present. Where was the resentment? I recall only a flash or two. Where was the anger?

I actually recognized my own impending
pattern of crash-and-burn this time, which is a curious thing. All of a sudden (on a bike ride, of course) I realized all my writing was heavy on the sarcasm and light on the paradigm-shifts, and noticed I was starting to feel a bit manic. It doesn't help that it's been raining for almost two-weeks straight; or that our crazy soccer schedule has kicked in; or that my hayfever leaves me with the undesirable choice between having a drippy face or suffering med-induced sleepless nights; or that we just learned of another sudden, senseless, accidental death. And people keep asking me when Brady starts school and how that's going and are we excited and will it be difficult. And oddly, I've been fine about the whole thing. Juuusssst fine.

There's another Dad-like quality of mine - I go along juuust fine, and I don't notice the tension building as it's masked by busyness, biting humor, and increasingly intense bike rides. And then bam - I crack wide open.

I remember discussing the book
The Artist's Way with an acquaintance once. I was going on about how difficult this or that was for me, how I'd like to feel more confident about certain things, how I was working on it and whatnot, and the woman looked at me with mouth hanging open. "You?!" she said? "But you always seem so... so... confident, and secure, and happy. I always assumed you had it all figured out." That surprised me in so many ways, but especially because that meant I'm quite adept at showing the strong side and hiding the weak underbelly.

Writing about my grief was the first time some folks saw that other side of me - the side who delves into my own sh*t, wrangles with it for a while, stays in the fray until something good comes from it or I learn something about myself, and then emerges anew. My social side just shows the end product - the newly evolved me - or even just a slick advertisement of myself, keeping things light but together. Blogging about my journey through grief was simply sharing more of the process of how I get from a bad place to a (hopefully) better place. Not to mention it was the only person I could be at that time.

And then when I was feeling stronger, I didn't want to be so heavy anymore. I was ready to move on.

So I pondered my latest rising angst and finally saw what is going on - I'm in total denial about the pain of Brady going to school. In one week. One freakin' week.

The anger has arrived. It started a few days after I learned of the latest senseless young death (46). I could feel it rise in my throat and I wanted to shake my fists at the universe and scream "WHAT THE F*CK!" It visited when I was conflicted about attending a golf outing in my father's memory because the associated heaviness was interfering with my joy at rushing off to Willow. It's here as I wrestle with the helpless feeling of launching my first child into school after eight years of unschooling, a new process which has brought out both the best and the worst in me. (Thankfully, these days my 'worst' is better than it used to be.)

And when I get p*ssed off, the tears follow right quick.
Gawd I'm so bloody tired of crying.

School folks, go ahead and roll your eyes (or think back to the first day of your child's kindergarten perhaps), but this really hurts. I'm excited for him, hopeful that it'll be a wonderful transition for him, and eager, even, for all of us - that we might be entering a wonderful new phase and adding a wonderful new community to our lives. But we've been together for so long, and it's been such a beautiful thing to grow together and work through the hard spots and savor the good spots and know each other in a way that only comes from such intense togetherness... I just can't believe that's going to change. I fully support and honor him in this process - but the good of every change is also tempered by grief about what gets left behind.

I remember when my kids were young it seemed like the teen years were so far away. People say it goes by quickly, and it does, but I don't know that there's any way to prepare for such parting, just as there's no good way to prepare for any loss. You just muddle through it and put one foot in front of the other.

My intuitive Pisces grrrlpal
Sharon knew it was coming and called to check in on my emotional well-being. I told her I was handling it surprisingly well as I rambled in hyper-drive about other stuff. She knows, though, she knows. (And now she knows why I couldn't return her phone calls for over a week - I wasn't ready to crack open.)

But now it's here, and I'm out of time, and the emotion is spilling whether I'm ready for it or not. And it's ok. It's a let-down, and I'll come out the other side again, in time, and be wiser and stronger and calmer. But in the meantime I'll need to retreat and be quiet and sift through it in my own messy way, and spend our last week together celebrating my son, his transition, and our ever-evolving life.

The next few blog posts were penned yesterday in "rising angst mode", so keep that in mind, laugh a little, send me some positive energy and light, and I'll catch y'all on the other side.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Yo Lupita, What Up Now?

Our Willow hosts, Dan & Joan, have a dog named Lupita. She's part Chihuahua and part, um, something else. Really, she's Joan's dog, as anyone would know if they spent any time at all there. Lupita shadows Joan like a dutiful little cocklebur.

Lupita also happens to be the only dog my Duchess (who shadows me nearly as closely) will play with. Duchess is a dog-loner. She loves me, she usually loves Brady and Jonathan, and she occasionally loves Rob (the 'occasional' thing is quite mutual), but she most decidedly does not love any other dogs, especially if they pay any attention to her at all. She's a solo operator, a snob, prejudiced against her own kind. She likes to be in control. She looks down her snout at other dogs, yawns a "yeah, yer not all that", then looks up at me as if to say, "Um, please pick me up?"

Her limited and very particular play with Lupita, then, is defined by a very strict relationship. Duchess chases Lupita and Lupita allows herself to be chased. Round and around the yard they go, making identical zig-zag patterns in the yard. They don't wrassle or tangle, and when one stops, the other stops and freezes. There's the occasional sniffing, but otherwise only parallel play and very little contact.

They're fond of leaping into my flower beds - first Lupita, then Duchess - making quick football player-like cuts, kicking up soil and seedlings as they go. (Dratted furry little rascals.... why I oughtta.... )

Photo: Duchess guarding an unwell Jonathan

Lupita made herself pretty scarce at Willow, but as Sunday was winding down and the last few folks were tending the grill for the evening meal, Lupita ventured out, enticed no doubt by the scent of sizzling meat. When she begged for morsels - which she did very politely, she's quite the little lady - Dan took the opportunity to get all "my dog knows cool tricks" on us, and proceeded to have Lupita perform a trick where she did a turn on her hind legs. It was pretty cute, I guess. I mean, it was a hard trick, I suppose. For Lupita, maybe.

The other night I was making dinner and Duchess was begging, and I thought, let's show that prima donna Lupita what you can do, huh, Duchie?

Duchess says, "Yo, Lupita - check this, grrrlfriend... "

Ohhhh, snap.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Help Me, Please

Hi, my name is Laura, and I'm a shoe-aholic.

I've got it bad, reeeeal bad. I can't stop buying shoes.

I try... I really do.

I try to enter a store on the opposite end from the shoe department, but it beckons. It calls. "C'mon Laura... you can just try some on... there's no harm in that...." like a slick dealer offering me a free fix...

I try to resist. I do some deep breathing. I tie my laces in hundreds of knots so they can't be easily removed. I cover my ears with my hands and whine "no no NO" at the shoe-devil voices inside my head. I throw myself to the ground and cling to the nearest clothing rack, fighting the shoe department's gravitational pull.

It doesn't work.

I've got shoes everywhere. In the van. In the garage. In boxes in the back of my closet, in the laundry room, on the stairs, and near every entry.

There are lots of conversations with my kids that go something like this:

Brady: Don't you have, like, a couple pair of black shoes already?

Me: Yea, but not exactly like this pair.

Brady: (rolls eyes, shakes head) Mom, I don't get you....

My addiction gets all creepy and co-dependent when I mask the craving with a good deed. Like taking my nieces shoe shopping. Rob actually praised me for shoe shopping that day. That's when I knew I was on to something, and asked my nieces if they'd like to shop for shoes, say, every Tuesday and Thursday. (They've stopped taking my calls.)

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I'll even buy used shoes. And that's pretty crazy, considering I don't like other people's feet. I've always had an aversion to feet, even though I sometimes have to stare at them in that can't-help-it sort of way. You know, the way you can't take your eyes off a boil on someone's neck, or Aunt Penelope's nose hair, or the roofer's *ss-crack as he's hanging shingles on your front porch.

I'm the Imelda Marcos of the cornfields. I'm the Carrie Bradshaw of Cornfield Country.

This is my closet this morning, after sorting through my closet shoe pile, dusting them off, sorting them by color and style, and having a shoe fashion show in my room while dancing to Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back."

And that's after I piled several pair (ok, more than several - like a dozen or so) into a bag for Goodwill. Where I'll drop them off out back, then head around front, willing myself not to go in. But I will, and I'll shop, and I'll try on shoes, and I'll probably bring home a pair, and I'll hide them from Rob, and try them on with various outfits, and it'll be fun, oh-so-fun. Oh so indulgently, toe-wigglingly fun.

If you know of a cure, please forward it along. I'm out of closet space.

"What's wrong with shoes? I collected them because it was like a symbol of thanksgiving and love?" --Imelda Marcos

"The fact is, sometimes it's really hard to walk in a single woman's shoes. That's why we need really special ones now and then, to make the walk a little more fun." --Carrie Bradshaw

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just Call Me Betty

Crocker, that is. You know Betty, of the gingham-covered cookbook? I'm sorry, what?

Hold on a sec, would you? (It's not? Oh geez....)

I was just informed that it's the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that's gingham, not the Betty Crocker cookbook. (Sheesh.) Well, that'll just help me make my point. Guess what I just did?

No, I didn't run ten miles (my thighs wish). No, I didn't spot Matt Damon at the local cafe (*I* wish). No, I didn't shave my head (nobody wishes - except maybe Rob's ex-grrlfriend).

I judged canned items at the county fair.

That's alright, take your time. I'll wait for you to stop laughing. (cue "muzak")

I know it's funny. I know it's hilarious. I even know it's completely out of left-field, completely out of character, and completely astonishing that I'd do that. Or that they'd ask me to do that. Or that they'd ask me, I'd say yes, and get paid to do it.

Yea, see - now you're looking indignant. Yessiree, they paid me to look at the canned items in each category and assign first, second, and third places.

I was actually a wee bit nervous. I mean, who'm I to think I'm some sort of canning goddess? And because I was indeed doubting my own qualifications, naturally I had a run-in with Farmer Bill on my way there (which didn't help my confidence any, as you can imagine). Rob must've told him what I was up to, because as I jogged to my van (running late is a sure-fire Farmer-Bill-attracting activity) he yelled, "Have you ever even canned a g*d-d*mned thing in your life?!"

Yes! I can garden food every summer!

"You DO?! Well, I didn't know that."

Aunt Nancy said that hearing I'm a judge ruins her faith in the county fair.

"You can say that again."

Ya gotta love family.

Funny thing, though, is I had a blast. And I DO indeedy know a thing-er-two about canning. Like you're supposed to leave 1/2 inch of headspace, which one person repeatedly did not - and entered about a dozen things. (Tsk, tsk.) And you're supposed to cover the food with the liquid, which several entries conspicuously lacked. (One was canned beef - Ew.) And color matters. And uniformity, and consistency, and appearance. And yes, taste, although we weren't advised to open jars unless we really needed to. (My aunt wisely pointed out I'd risk botulism if someone didn't know how to properly can. One might assume all fair entrants would be canning goddesses (or, ok, gods), but perhaps not, and I'm not especially fond of difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, or muscle paralysis.)

When I was finished judging the canned items I was asked to help with the baked goods. Now that sounds like a delicious task, I agree, but tasting several dozen bakery items starts getting the ol' gut churning. Especially for a GID-gal like m'self. (GID being one of our new favorite Willow-inspired terms, standing for "Gastro-Intestinal Distress." As in, I've got the GIDs. Or, that was a mean case of the GIDs this morning. Or, that goopy-looking row of cookies is gonna give me the GIDs.)

And when you think of the county fair, don't you conjure up images of all the best cooks this side of the Mississippi? A bunch of Betty Crockers with gingham aprons on (she wore a gingham apron at least, didn't she?) and mixing bowls in arm, with strong right biceps from stirring enough batter to keep fresh-baked cookies on hand at all times? Round-bellied kitchen goddesses who whack you with a wooden spoon if you dip a finger into the bowl? Pies cooling on windowsills, flour-sack towels freshly stacked in drawers, and a creaky screen door leading out back?

Well, my friends, times are a'changing. Who woulda thought I could taste 11 peanut butter cookies and not find one that made my eyes roll back in peanut-butter-ecstasy? Believe me - it happens.

And sometimes the sorriest-looking entries taste the best, and the perfectly displayed ones taste like styrofoam. One child entered the most pathetic looking cookies ever baked (trust me) but we laughed it was probably the most honest entry there. Despite my apprehension I did taste them. Aw, well, (choke), how sweet.

Judging is both a dream come true and my worst nightmare. (Note: Slight exaggeration.) I loved analyzing each entry, admiring the handwriting styles, reading the sometimes overly honest detailing of some. (One requirement was to specify the canning method - one entrant shared that her jelly didn't set the first time so she added more pectin and retried. Points for honesty.) I checked for seals and headspace. I opened a few when they didn't look like what they were supposed to be. I lined them up in order of best to worst. I made notes of what was wrong when something didn't get chosen.

But I also felt terrible that some didn't win. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into it, especially when I notice the same entrants (identified only by number) submitted food in several different categories. Any person who goes to the trouble of picking and preserving 6 different kinds of jelly deserves a medal of honor in my book. Her family should kneel at her feet in praise every time they spread a spoonful on their toast.

I was really wishing I had a pile of toast handy when judging the jellies and jams. Nothing like a jar of homemade jelly to make you think all is right with the world.

The baked goods were a little trickier. I did the junior department and that can be a little worrisome. I remember when I was teaching and students would bring me homemade goodies. Depending upon the giver, I'd sometimes have to toss a whole tin-full of baked goods. I didn't want to, but when a kid comes to school every day covered in dog hair and smelling like pee and old socks, well, I'm not going to eat their food. Sorry. (Wait, no I'm not. I waited until they were gone to throw them away. I'm not entirely heartless.)

I've come a long way in the fair community, from washing steer butts to judging canned goods. I used to bake my muffins the morning of the fair without having practiced even once. I used to dig out old drawings and smooth them out instead of drawing something special to enter. I was what you might call a "last minute find an entry" kinda grrl. I even entered a parakeet one year, and it won grand champion. Who knows why. I didn't know a thing about parakeets. We had one in a cage, I entered it. My dad's friend made fun of me by asking if it was hard to handle the parakeet as I walked it around the judging ring. I cried. (I still run into him on occasion, and I still cry. I wonder if his ears ring when his name comes up in my therapy sessions.)

Photo: Me with my assistant, the lovely and incredibly helpful Brittany, who asked many questions, fetched water and paper towels, and shuttled jars back and forth. I think the little stinker is aiming for my job.

But the kitchen goddesses are chuckling now that I'm a judge. Me, who resisted any and all attempts by mom to foster interest in cooking and gardening. Me, who made a huge, whiny fuss about being in 4-H (until fair time, when I got to live there for a week straight). Me, who had not a lick of interest in becoming a wife, or a mother, or a stay-at-home mother, or a homeschooling-stay-at-home mother, or a cooking-gardening-cornfield-living-homeschooling-stay-at-home-wife-and-mother.

Me - a fair judge. Go figure.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Howdy Do in Corn Country

Our neighbor ran over our mailbox today, but we don't mind. We don't get our skirts in a twist about such things and besides, our mailbox has been through h*ll and back over the past ten years. It seems to have a sign that says "Hit me" on it. Or, "snowplow me over" or "cream me with a bat" or "Attention mice - cheap rent and free bedding."

We've hit it with our car. Strangers have hit it with their cars. The snowplow guy and I are on a first name basis since he's sheepishly handed me my mailbox at the front door about 5 times. This past winter it was propped in a snowdrift for the better part of 3 months because the ground was too frozen to reset the thing for the gazillionth time. When the snow would melt back, we'd just sink it further into the ditch. (Our mailman loves us, we're sure.)

Our neighbor is having a bad week so Rob worked hard to convince her it is no big deal. He had her calmed down and was assuring her there was nothing to worry about when my cousin, Farmer Bill, pulled up. And then the conversation went downhill fast, as they seem to do whenever a farmer is around.

Farmers in these parts are - well - blunt. Blunt as a pitchfork. They don't mince words. They say what's on their minds with no care for the blush it'll bring to your cheeks or the hot water it'll get you in with your parents or the embarrassment it'll bring in front of your new boyfriend. City folks, when they have the rare opportunity to witness a conversation with a farmer 'round these parts, often need to have their eyebrows surgically removed from their hairlines afterward.

One time a city friend was visiting when Farmer Bill drove by, leaned out his window, and yelled, "Hey Laura! Get to work!" at the top of his lungs. I'm always working! I hollered back. "You're NEVER working!" he screamed as he slowly drove away.

I didn't think much of it until I saw the look on my friend's face. "Who was that?!" she asked, timidly, "Do your neighbors always scream out their truck windows at you?!?"

Oh, that's just Bill. Ya, it's better if he just screams from his truck window - if he stops, that's when it really gets interestin'.

When Farmer Bill stops, it's usually to ask me a question. And the question is usually along the lines of, "What the hell are you doing that for?" or "Why did you put that there?" or "And just what do you think you're doing now?" We call him the mayor of Irish Grove. You can bet if you're doing anything even remotely unusual in your yard - like, say, digging a pond - it'll trigger his radar and he'll be pulling in.

The other day my mother ran into an old farmer in the parking lot of the local grocer's. He's elderly now and was waiting for his wife in his truck. My mom walked up to the truck window.

Mom: Hi Martin, how are you?

Martin: Who the hell are you?

Mom: I'm Marcia. John's wife? You remember John?

Martin: Oh ya, I remember him.

Mom: And I used to be your neighbor, growing up. Do you remember me now?

Martin: Oh ya, I remember you now. You were a lot prettier back then.

So today, when Farmer Bill showed up, the mailbox situation got a little stickier.

Farmer Bill: What the hell'd you do?

Rob: (Mr. Nice Guy) Oh, it's no big deal.

Farmer Bill: No big deal? Your mailbox is busted!

Rob: (Mr. Smooth-it-Over) No it's not busted, it'll be fine.

(Neighbor is looking more worried now.)

Farmer Bill: No it won't - that 4x4 is all cracked, you'll need a new one.

Rob: (wishing he had telepathic abilities) Nah, I can just fix it.

Farmer Bill: Fix it? How the helleryou gonna fix it? And the box is cracked too.

Rob: (resorting to lies) Oh no, it was like that before.

(Neighbor is looking like a deer caught in headlights.)

And so on. Rob called me later, laughing his fool head off, to tell me the story. We could write a book with all the stories like that.

Photo: Brady and friends, breaking down the haybale seating at Willow

But one time, it was my Brady - a farmer-at-heart perhaps? - who used the blunt end of the pitchfork in a conversation. He was about four or five, and was riding around with my father in the farm truck when they stopped in the road to talk with a neighbor, a farm hand, who was stopped in his truck. This particular neighbor... well.... he's missing a lot of teeth. A whole lotta teeth. He's missing so many teeth he's probably gotta gum his dinner.

The whole time my dad is talking to this farm hand, Brady is tugging at his shirt sleeve.

"Papa," Brady whispered. Hold on, Brady.

"Papa!" Tug tug tug. Hang on, honey, you're interrupting.

"But Papa, I have a question!" Alright, what do you need...

Nice and loud, he asks... "Why doesn't that man have any teeth?!"

Well now, it's a good thing that old farm hand is well versed in the speakin' ways of farmers.

Making a List is Useful

Jonathan has been doing a lot of cooking lately. Mostly at night. Late at night. His current list of likely career choices includes Chef and he delights in practicing.

Inspiration for late-night cooking is one part honing-of-craft, three parts sating-of-hunger; either way, his cooking muse likes to visit after dark.

Last night the urge to cook struck again. It was growing late. We were tired. We'd just gotten home from our weekend Willow binge and finally unloaded the van and settled down to zone out a wee bit before dragging our tired selves to bed, when Jonathan asked, "Can I cook something?"

Um - ((yawn)) - sure.

He decided on macaroni. He asked his brother if he wanted some so he'd know how much to make. That sounds very brotherly-love and all, but it's actually the result of some very intense arguing and heavy resolution work. Jonathan always took strong ownership of his culinary creations and didn't like to share it with the rest of us. Big brother got regularly steamed about it, and after some serious negotiation and a promise from me to keep enough supplies around, Jonathan now consults his brother to see if he will be partaking. Last night was a resounding yes after a weekend of non-stop gallivanting with a posse of friends.

Jonathan was surprisingly chipper and alert last night, considering our weekend, and he was chatty while cooking.

"Mom, knowing how to cook really comes in useful. It's a really useful skill. I'm so glad I know how to do it!" he chirped as he stirred his pasta.

Yep, it is useful.

"What other skills are useful, Mom? Let's make a list."

Ok, a list. I'm growing more bone-tired by the minute, but I guess I can add to a list. Um, driving - knowing how to drive is very useful.

"And exercise! It's useful to know how to work-out," he says, as he sets the timer for the pasta, turns on the theme song from Rocky Balboa, and starts doing push-ups in the living room. (I am not making this up. I'm ready to start drooling on myself and he's multi-tasking.)

Yes, working-out is useful. Can you turn down the music a bit? I think my sinuses are clogging up.

"What else, Mom?" huff, huff, huff. He is counting sit-ups as we list.

Well, writing. I like to write. Um, your macaroni is boiling.

"Thanks Mom! Thanks for telling me!" He tends to be really gracious late at night. I smile. He skips to the kitchen - skips to the kitchen.

"Typing! I'm so glad I can type! Now I can do it fast, faster than other kids," he states, as he stirs the pot.

The macaroni is finished, and after some frowning about the white cheese of the organic brand, he calls his brother and father in for pasta.

I think he added a few more things to the useful list, but my head is wobbling on my neck at this point and my vision is starting to blur.

Cleaning. Knowing how to clean a kitchen is useful, I suggest, hoping he'll agree.

But he doesn't hear me. He's already off, jogging down the stairs to the basement, macaroni in hand, and soon I hear the new drum set and he's heavy into a practice session.

Knowing how to play music is useful, I think. So is knowing when to go to bed.

Who gave him an energy drink? Did those garden tomatoes have caffeine in them? Is Willow magic that strong?

I shoveled down a small bowl of organic mac-n-cheese, infused with Jonathan's cheery energy, and trudged off to bed. As I lay happily spent in bed, on fresh clean percale sheets, a box-fan-breeze carrying away a weekend's worth of heat accumulation, I heard clanging and banging in the kitchen... and I smiled.... Life is Good.

What's on your useful list?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Willow Time

It's Willow Time!

An annual weekend of frolic and fun and festival'ing and food and... um... oh ya, folk music!

Photo: Dan, Martha, Pat, and friend performing at Willow last year

Our friends moved into an old farm house in the middle of cornfield-country many years ago, and being a wee bit out of place and all, they were quite surprised to find a hippy-dippy folk festival takes place every August in their side yard. It's a fundraiser for the Methodist church next door and attracts hundreds of music-lovers, but I'm convinced Dan and Joan command just as much attendance as the festival itself.

Photo: Friends gathered at Dan and Joan's

Many of our friends sign up to perform and we gather around to take in their lovely voices and instruments. Sometimes we are moved to dance, and the grrrls all wear pretty skirts and flowers in our hair.
Photo: Diane, Pat, me

Dan and Joan graciously open their yard to friends for a weekend of music, extraordinary communal meals, garden walks, and late night drumming on the porch. We've enjoyed many Willows, and have many amazing memories.

Photo: Gemma, Joan, me (and Brendan with camera)

This year is special for us because it's the first soccer-free Willow weekend in several years. Usually we have to juggle our time between Willow and games and neither event gets full attention.

Photo: Dan, Taylor, Rob, Chris and little Maya

And one of the highlights is spending time in their gardens. These pictures don't do the place justice - their yard is a magical wonderland, every corner a work of art. We take long strolls there, and the kids chase each other through the paths. We are sent to pick fresh herbs and vegetables for our meals and retreat there when we need a quiet moment.

So tonight I'm busy cooking a weekend's worth of food - marinated vegetables, black bean salsa, zucchini bread, pesto pasta, with quiche and granola and yogurt for breakfast. We're packing our clothes and yard games and tents, and the camera batteries are recharged - we're heading to Willow!