Aug 29, 2005

Husband Away, Wife will Play

John had a "Leadership Challenge" this past weekend for his graduate program. They had to listen to various dull presentations. A librarian droned on and on about the many ways you could do research without actually "having to" go to the library. An IS guy told them about how to use the university's computer system. A business writer talked about his vacation in Australia and the starlets he met, and a little bit about how paragraphs are nifty things to use, and he gave them all copies of Strunk and White. They were most helpfully instructed to "pull the reader in." Then after lunch, the ropes course. John's knee got a bit sore, but he was otherwise unscathed. At 42, he is by far the oldest member of his cohort. They did give them beer, but Bass was the best they could come up with.

They all had to spend the night, so that meant I was alone after the boys went to bed. You must understand that John almost never travels anywhere for his job. I allowed myself to go wild by eating some Breyer's mint chocolate chip ice cream and watching Seinfeld episodes. Then I slept with--I know, I'm a wild woman--all the windows all the way open. Wu-hoo!

Nine days until Will goes to school. Fourteen days until Jack goes to school. And John is already back, two nights a week. Anyone want to found the National Project for the Synchronizing of School Schedules with me?

Aug 20, 2005

Barefoot Amish Mother of Ten Seems Happy

Well, I couldn't resist adding blueberries to the peach crisp I made, and they colored the whole thing blue, oh well. It was delicious, and was duly devoured my our fellow CSA members.

We met the Stoltzfus family and their ten children, ages 17 down to 4 months. All of 'em barefoot and quiet. Henry, age 8, was willing to speak when some of them took us on a tour of the barn to see the animals. Their mother, also barefoot, is a cheerful plump woman in her late thirties. Her "Pennsylvania Dutch" accent sounded almost like it had an Irish lilt to it, and when she was taking us down the endless rows of squash I was wondering about that, and also remembering the nearby town of Colerain and a "Derry Road," (also towns in the North of Ireland) and speculating idly about the early Anglo-Irish settlers mixing with the Amish. People asked questions like "What do you do about Japanese beetles?" and "When will the spaghetti squash be ready,?"and I wanted to ask her, "Was there ever another life you envisioned?" "Is this life enough for you?" "Is it too much for you?" The questions I want to ask are huge, unwieldy, impossible.

I'm as fascinated by the Amish as the next person, but I find their rural life of endless physical labor and pragmatic chores horrifying to contemplate in too much detail, especially the women's. Sewing, cooking, washing clothes, cleaning everything including the walls constantly, having babies the "natural" way every year and a half over and over and over and over and over. (I had to have C-sections so I guess I would just be dead a few times over.) The same everything over and over and over. And no way to leave the system without being shunned.

Last summer John and I read a romance novel of his mother's about an "English" design student who develops a crush on an Amish hottie and ends up converting to be Amish and marrying him. It was a howl. She was studying Amish design in school, which is strange because I don't think there's a respectable art school in the country that would consider traditional Amish quilts, for example, to be "designed." The quilts are all very predictable, symmetrical, programmatic patterns with formulaic use of color, aren't they? One of the students at the art school I used to work at told me that her art history instructor called Amish quilt design "mundane." Maybe it's no surprise that a contemporary art history scholar would decry an aesthetic that does not value innovation, period. It's simply not about that and never has been. Amishness is about tradition in the most repetitive sense. And when I was listening to Saloma, the mother, I was thinking, she doesn't have to invent herself. The blueprint for her life is there. She follows it. She fulfills a destiny she has always known, not a personal destiny, but a small role in the destiny of her people, who believe they are following God.

We said goodbye, took our only two children, shod in new sneakers and not quiet at all, and traveled back to the suburbs in the minivan. Saloma and Henry and their children will pick more fruit and vegetables for us in the months ahead. Maybe Saloma will have three or four more children in the next decade. Her whole world supports that, expects it, is leaning toward it. She doesn't need to pick and choose among parenting styles, choose preschools or wardrobes. It's been predetermined, proclaimed by the elders long ago. She doesn't need to stand out, make a statement, be the best mother, have the most brilliant children. She is merely a square on the quilt, helping to form a larger pattern that may not be visible for generations to come.

Aug 19, 2005

Fie on Root Rot, Crabgrass, and Blog Spam

Into June, John and I could be found looking at the giant tulip poplar by the back fence, willing it to live, and exclaiming, "Oh, there's a bud, up there! At the top!" "Aren't the smaller branches looking a teensy bit greenish?" When another month had gone by, and no leaves yet, we had to admit the truth. We called the tree service, and learned that our massive tree had died of root rot. The roots had probably had this for years, and then suddenly the tree was just not getting enough nourishment. It seemed fine last year . . . Because the root rot may cause instability, they need to bring in a crane instead of just having people cut off branches while standing in it. That's why it will cost $4,000. Sigh. At least Jack and Will will have something fun to watch.

Finally it has been less hot, so the other morning Will and Jack and I (emphasis on "I") weeded half our side garden, which had been woefully neglected for at least a month. I wonder why crabgrass finds it necessary to amass such a giant root system, if it isn't even going to grow that big? Why can't it be like that extremely tall thick weed with practically no roots?

Another really noxious weed, blog spam, has appeared on my blog twice in the last five days. I've never had any before, in all nine months of its existence, and so this seems like an ominous development. I limited my comments only to registered Bloggers, but that didn't help, as the next comment did technically come from a registered Blogger. GRRRR!

And now for something completely pleasant . . . . We have an extra share of peaches this week from the CSA, due to someone accidentally taking too many shares and then redistributing them incorrectly. But instead of hogging them all for ourselves I'm going to make a big peachy something for our potluck out at the farm tomorrow. The farmers are Amish, so this is a really special treat. We're not allowed to take pictures, of course. The children, of which no doubt there are many, will take us for a tour of the barn. Everyone is making a different dish. Then we taste brie from an Amish cheesemaker and can buy Amish stuff. That reminds me that I have a whole blog entry in my head about the romanticization of the Amish and the Amish aesthetic. I have a feeling it will be born after Saturday. So stay tuned.

Aug 10, 2005

Big-Box Shopping and the Integration of the Self

Great title for a conference paper, eh? I was telling my friend W. the other day about how I've decided to do a lot of my shopping and errands in Media, because I like the energy of a downtown and try to use independent merchants whenever it seems reasonable. (And Swarthmore is great if you need earrings, sandwiches, or a haircut.) She said, "Oh, no, it's big-box shopping for me until the kids are older!" I could tell she wasn't really taking in my recommendation for Deal's, an old-fashioned general store with very good prices. W. continued, "I try to do everything on my list, and when it's all done for the week, then I do what I want or shop where I want."

It's that work/leisure split again, surfacing in the life of a stay-at-home mom, for whom the split, I would think, is pretty difficult to sustain. It's easier when you work for a paycheck during the week and go off sailing on the weekend. Her life strategy certainly is more efficient than mine. But I couldn't do what she does because it doesn't feel quite right to split life into the Obligatory and the Fun, two dreary and soulless categories (to say nothing of Obligatory Fun). The way I figure is that everyday life is full of blessings if we are ready to see them. Take the endless project of food shopping. Supermarkets are usually boring and that music drives me nuts. So I go to farmer's markets, Trader Joe's, an independent butcher, a great fish market, the Swarthmore Co-op, depending on what I'm getting. It takes time but I feel better about my choices and I've enjoyed the transactions much more. And while I'm in the neighborhood I'll pick something up at the place next door. I like to feel I'm in a place.

I choose to shape the "have-to's" into something joyous whenever possible, instead of trying to get them over with. Does that make sense?

Aug 9, 2005

Down East Days

Back from the cool and breezy and into the hot and sticky. A bumpy transition yesterday, what with Will's loud whining and wailing in Trader Joe's, and his pushing a lady's cart in front of her, and the lady muttering "Jesus!" and Will refusing to apologize until she was too far away to hear. And the gorgeous yellow and green bowl I got at Isleford pottery was broken by the cat today, still in its box and wrapped in a bag. And John saying "You shouldn't have left it on the counter." So I now realize I've got to write up something about the Maine trip before it becomes completely erased by the dog days of a Pennsylvania August, and its attendant grumpiness and whininess. And no camp or school.

Our cottage was near Southwest Harbor on Mt. Desert Island. We could take a little path down to a rocky beach, where the boys loved to pick up crab claws and shells that had been dropped by seagulls. In the distance we could see several islands and a couple other harbors of Mt. Desert. Great Cranberry Island was the closest. (Isn't that a great Roald Dahl kind of name?) We heard the distant clinking of buoys, the occastional hum of a motorboat, gulls arguing as they wheeled close by, and a dog barking across the bay. We smelled the brininess of the sea, but also a fresh wind blowing through the wild roses by the shore. At low tide we could wade a little in a tiny bit of sand.

We went to Sand Beach and were amazed that some people were actually swimming in the 50-degree water. We did swim a little in Echo Lake, though, and Jack and Will dug the biggest hole in the sand ever with some French children. We ate at several lobster pounds, a restaurant at the Atlantic Brewery, and a couple other places with great food that didn't mind kids around. (No fast food on the island, and no chains of any sort. How do they do that?) We rented bikes and rode around Eagle Lake and Witch Hole. Jack was on a trailer bike and Will on a child seat that he was a little too big for. Another day we took the passenger "ferry," just a small boat really, to Little Cranberry Island, which was peaceful and quiet. Children sold us lemonade and cookies out of a wagon. I got some napkin rings at an artists' co-op there, and the ill-fated bowl.

It's not a Maine cottage without a quirky collection of books. For children, Burgess's Animal Stories, E. B. White's Trumpet of the Swan, Franklin's Secret Club (which we had to read to Will about four times a day). For adults, a book on raising pigs, the Foxfire books, a bunch of thrillers, and a book called Gay-Neck, an Indian story about a pidgeon. Really. There was even a Victrola, but no records, and it made excruciating shrieking sounds when you turned it on or off.