Friday, December 12, 2008

O Tannenbaum (or, Have Yourself a Sappy Little Christmas)

You guys asked for pictures, so here's a picture of our resident tree expert choosing our Christmas tree. Yes, he makes his decision based on smell, and no, no one questions his judgement.

Is there anything more intoxicatingly festive than having a tree, an actual green, sap-dripping, pine-smelling tree, in your living room? Forget the lights and the ornaments and the bingle balls and who-foo fluff (uh oh, someone's been watching too much Dr. Seuss already), the smell of it alone is enough to make me joyful and triumphant.

But then, because it's Christmas, and because I do have a tender and unyielding love of all things shiny and glittery, we trimmed that tree like nobody's business. We oohed and aahhed over the ornaments: the hand made ones, the picture frames, the various farm animals, the big red ball. The kids hung theirs all together in a little clump, like they do, but didn't notice when I quietly rearranged them later. We listened to the same Christmas songs we listen to every year, and they were touching and magical all over again.
It was one tiny little day of our lives. And not even a holiday or milestone kind of day. Just a day to spend together, loving up our perfectly perfect tree.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On thanks and giving

I had the most wonderful of Thanksgiving weekends, the kind that goes by really slowly, and you have time to savor all the friends and family and treats and trimmings. The kind that allows for playing games with the kids, and catching up with your sister over a beer (or several beers, and then some chips and dip), and even laying on an ice pack when one false move re-invigorates last winter's once forgotten back injury. We revelled in the children's art projects and gratitude ("I am thankful for the erf and the trees and my family, " read the feathers on the paper turkey.) We relished the fruits of the numerous feasts. Farming gives one a deeper appreciation of food, even when it isn't something we produced ourselves. That turkey from the supermarket was still once a proud, gobbling creature, those veggies tiny, hopeful seeds. We even started distributing holiday gifts- mostly of the "self-produced" nature. And I don't mean egg-carton ornaments. I mean food. Hard earned food.

My dear husband, who is generous to a fault, surprisingly hates Christmas. It's not the giving, of course, or the travelling (although he'd like to let you believe that), it's the big fat ugly head of commercialism, which tries to disguise itself as a jolly old sweet elf, and shoves itself down our throats from early November through the end of the year. It is tv ads which portray husbands giving their wives BMWs and diamond tiaras. It is the relentless toy companies, sneaking their products into magical scenes, conditioning us to think that "happy" = "stuff".

It's not that we're Holy Rollers, who want everyone to remember to keep the Christ in Christmas. If anything, we're sort of privately Pagan, and would actually change the name of the holiday in our family, if we didn't think it would confuse our kids so much. "No, honey, it just looks like a Christmas tree, but this is actually a 'Solstice tree'... " Anyway, we're basically anti-"stuff", and are trying hard to raise kids who don't measure their worth by the size of the present pile.

Did I mention we are also both allergic to malls?

So, our survivalist, farming, food-hoarding ways really help us out in our endeavor to redefine Christmas. The aforementioned husband, who has been known to return from November scalloping, soaking wet and bordering on hypothermic, and declare, "I'm not giving ANY of these away. To ANYONE!", gleefully stuffs coolers with said bivalves, along with pork and venison and yes, even elk. How easily he fills gift bags with the highly coveted jams and jellies and pickled string beans. He is the very picture of merry dimples and twinkling eyes while distributing these gifts. And I know how he feels. He isn't "giving away stuff", he is presenting those near and dear with a tiny little piece of himself for them to savor. Perhaps with a little lemon and butter, or a red wine reduction.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You are the reason I've been waiting all these years

Oh, what is it about the transition into Fall that makes me feel so lost? Literally and figuratively, I spent much of the weekend without a clue as to where I was. It started when a mob of Japanese tourists got between me and my beautiful, sunbleached, ice cream-eating children and started snapping pictures with wild abandon. I understood the atttraction and the adorableness of the scene, I really did. But still...

And then trying to find the church in which our dear friends were getting married- at that very moment- we were lost again. I couldn't help feeling we were partly lost on "accidentally on purpose", what with our aversion to the Catholic mass sit-kneel-stand hullabaloo. Once inside, we still weren't safe from the feeling of being in the wrong place. We were like a couple of 10 year olds, giggling and rolling our eyes in the back pew. It didn't help that the priest's speech impediment made him sound ever-so-slightly like the priest in The Princess Bride.

And even this morning, there was the normal Monday Morning pre-schoolbus rush, multiplied by the suitcases in various stages of unpackedness, the papers that never managed to make their way out of the backpack all weekend, and some escaped sheep (guess they got lost, too). I was finally sitting down to my much-anticipated bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and walnuts, and a cup of hot coffee, I suddenly realized my son had missed the bus. Where did those 10 minutes go? They were just... lost.

Friday, September 12, 2008

All the clouds blew away

Yesterday was one of those perfect late summer days, clear and warm and breezy and delicious. It was a perfect picnic and playground kind of day. A living in the moment kind of day. So (of course) we left all of our farm chores until after dark, when everyone was cranky and hungry and on the verge of falling apart. Like ya do.
So after I've put everyone back together, to the best of my farm wifely ability, I am left here pondering the whole idea of living in the moment. I've often found myself to be too good at staying in the present. Sunshine on bare skin, the juicy crunch of a freshly picked apple, the weight of my friend's brand new baby on my chest- it's as if these sensations conspire to distract me from the activities of responsible adult life. Like keeping my blog updated, par example. And yet, this is the thing I am most often yelling at the kids for. "Stop splashing in the tub." "Quit playing in the sink and just brush your teeth!" "That's a pitchfork, not a light saber!!!" Yes, I know it is my job to keep them safe and nourished and healthy, of course I have to guide them. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the jumble of dragon-mama emotions that feeds the stream of parenting catch phrases. It's not only lazy and kind of self-indulgent and, well, tacky, but it's also ultimately hypocritical. And if there's one thing I have a hard time justifying, it's hypocrisy.
So tonight, as I watched those little boys sleeping, two tangles of stuffed creatures and legos and impossibly long limbs (how did they get so BIG?), I vowed for millionth time that tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow I will let them collect the eggs in a knight's helmet, and protect themselves from Chickenzilla with a light saber, or whatever else they feel they need. Tomorrow I won't put a time limit on teeth brushing, and if someone misses the bus... well, then I'll have 10 extra minutes to spend with him while I drive him to school. And I know I can't create a perfect utopian life, or even day, but maybe we'll have a few moments, in which we are all fully present, and, you know, together.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Limping Amok

It seems my obsession with Word Challenge on Facebook has come between me and my blog, and for this I apologize. You know, to all three of my fans.

I suppose I am stuck in the goldeny twilight zone between summer and fall. After a summer of parties and death-defying tractor rides and pyrotechnic idiocy, September was bound to be an adjustment. The kids have returned to school, the house guests have all flown back from whence they came, and suddenly I have all this... quiet. Isn't that what an aspiring blogger is supposed to want? And yet... RunAmok seems so empty. Chickenzilla's lonely crow echoes across the farm. The sheep keep breaking out of their pens, searching for someone at whom to baa. The pigs snort and grunt as they remember the endless supply of watermelon rinds, the audience they always had at feeding time. They stare wistfully at the empty pig-viewing chairs. They don't even know who they are anymore.

So maybe I'm projecting a little bit. But I can't stop myself from missing all the friends and family and, well, let's admit it, willing farmhands I had all summer. Especially now, with this lingering ankle injury. Pretty much every time I summon up the energy to hobble down to the chicken coops, I slip in chicken shit, or the grain bin bangs down unexpectedly on my head, or Chickenzilla decides to pick on me. Yeah, it's mostly funny, but less so, when there's no one there to point out said humor. I am grateful for all these boys I live with- my protectors, my fence fixers, my sheep chasers. I am so lucky they pick up where I slack off, and endure my hum-drum and ho-hum. Soon I will settle into bread and soup season and tackle those abandoned knitting projects. But for now, I just miss you all so much. So, I'll sit on the couch with my laptop, propping up and icing down my ankle, and kicking serious Word Challenge ass.

Friday, August 29, 2008

i'm in love with how you feel

It's a steamy August night, the kind that inspires smoothies for dinner, sipped languidly, floating in the pool. Because it's summer on Martha's Vineyard, our tiny house is crammed with friends, both local and of the off-island variety. We're pressing sweaty beers to our foreheads, barely mustering up enough rowdiness to hear each other over the hum of the fans and the cicadas. All of us, that is, except for you.

You are a whirling dervish of activity in front of the Vulcan stove. You've got three burners going at full force- sterilizing jars, blanching snap beans, and jelling wineberries. There is an obvious rhythm in your madness, you are neither flustered nor confused, you are simply fully present. You are not worried about getting the kids to bed, about how best to adjust their sleeping schedule to accomodate the impending start of school. You don't fret over the frizz in your hair. You aren't afraid someone will snap an unflattering picture of you and post it on their Facebook page. As a matter of fact, I don't think you are afraid of anything.

Except, maybe, not having enough jam and pickled snap beans.

I could speculate on the source of your ever-present drive, your constant motion, your preoccupation with preparation. But not tonight. Tonight, I will simply admire your sultry culinary manuevering, you worker ant-ness to my grasshopperly ways. And if I can't stay completely in this moment, then I will look forward to winter mornings, when our house will seem too big and empty. But we won't be lonely at all. We will savor our wineberry jam on freshly baked bread, and each other, over a friendly game of scrabble.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The processing of chickens

Last weekend I had to decline an invitation to an off-island birthday party, due to the impending "harvest" of our meat chickens. Yes, that is a euphemism for slaughter, and yes, I stole the term from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's just a nicer word, though, isn't it? And it really is similar to harvesting veggies in many ways. Aside from, you know, the blood and stuff. Anyway, my mainland friend bestowed upon me the Most Unusual Excuse Award, and is looking forward to a visit to the farm in the near future. Although, I suspect she's happy to have the chicken harvest over and done with before she arrives.

Which leads us to the real question at hand: why the heck did I want to be a part of this so-called "chicken harvest"? Okay, so I didn't exactly do the deed myself. We arranged for the Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) to come by and handle things for us. I know many people prefer not to think about the journey their meat has taken before they come across it, neatly shrink-wrapped in their local market, so I'll spare you the most gruesome details. But I have to say, the details weren't really all that gruesome. I was present through the whole process, as were my kids, and even my mother-in-law -who likes to think that big steaks start out as baby steaks, born in the back room of the supermarket. Not one of us was traumatized, or even grossed out. The MPPU crew members have done this so many times, that the "moment of truth" is quick, and free from the chaos and drama traditionally associated with chicken beheading. In a matter of minutes, the birds were being shrink-wrapped in their own neat packages, worthy of any supermarket meat case.

In all fairness, I very well could have attended the party, for all the work I did (read: didn't do) in preparing for, carrying out, and cleaning up after the harvest. But at least I was there. Is it weird that I wanted to be there? Sometimes I get the feeling people think we're a little weird. I suppose we are. But even if I'm too much of a chicken (sorry, I couldn't resist) to actually do the harvesting myself, I want to be there, expressing my gratitude on some level. Showing respect, I guess.

Yup, I sound like a freak. I guess I haven't figured it all out yet. There are a lot of grey areas for me, having come into this farming thing as adult, and only a few years ago at that. I just know that I'd rather eat an animal that has had a happy life, whether it was on my farm or running around in the Chilmark woods or flying over the plains of North Dakota, than one produced in a factory farm. And if some part of that animal's life (or death) is too gory or disgusting or upsetting for me to witness, well, maybe I shouldn't be eating it.