Sunday Bookends: Trying a little crime fiction, garden progress, and spending time outside

I decided to break up some of my light fiction this week with crime fiction suggested by my husband (after I asked for a recommendation.) I needed something different than what I usually read. So I’m trying Earl Stanley Gardner’s The Knife Slipped and so far I like it. I love his character descriptions. Here is one of my favorites:

“Her face was the color of a tropical sunset with rouge over the cheeks, and crimson lipstick trying to turn the upper lip into a cupid’s bow. The thing must have been weird enough so far as the average spectator is concerned, but to a detective who trains himself to look closely and see plenty of details, it looked like an oil painting done by Aunt Kate or Cousin Edith, the kind that are hung in a dark corner in the dining room where the open kitchen door will hide ’em during mealtimes.”

I also loved this dialogue:

“To hell with that stuff. I’m objective, Donald. I have no more feeling than the bullet that leaves a rifle barrel. If it’s a charging elephant that’s in front of it, the bullet smears him. If it’s a poor little deer, nursing a fawn, the slug tears through her vitals just the same. I’m like that Donald. I’m paid to deliver results, my love, and by God, I deliver ’em.”

I’m still reading my daughter Paddington books at night and right now we are re-reading Paddington Abroad, which is one of our favorites. I’m also finishing up Sweet On You by Becky Wade.

We are loving our new house and the children are too, especially Little Miss who wants to spend just about all day outside as long as it isn’t hot. I love that she loves to be outside, even though sometimes I need a break to do things inside. She was never outside this much at the old house, which had a smaller yard, was in town, and where we always felt uncomfortable because people drove and walked by and watched us (or maybe that was only in our heads.)

There was a lot of concrete and asphalt there and it wasn’t as friendly. Here we have neighbors who love to pet our dog (one of our neighbors up there did love our dog), welcome us to the neighborhood with hanging plants; wildlife to watch (I caught a toad the other day for my daughter who promptly decided it was her pet and she didn’t want to let it go), we also have bunnies hopping through the backyard, a space for a garden, and all kinds of plants and flowers popping up all over. And for my son, the best thing is that we are 5.3 miles away from his best friend’s house.

We have discovered peonies on one side of the house, which delighted me because I had peonies at the house I lived in when I was a child and they were over 100 years old. I’m so excited for them to bloom I just want to sit next to the bush and wait. My mom says they usually bloom around my brother’s birthday which is June 9. She said when they did bloom they would bother her asthma and a friend told her to have them pulled up so they would stop coming back each year.

“I can’t have them pulled up!” she cried. “They’re over 100 years old!”

I think there was some story about my great-grandfather being very sick one time and when he woke up and was healthy enough to leave the house, the first thing he saw was the peonies. It was some relative anyhow. Later this week I will have an interesting story involving my great-grandfather and his sister Mollie. (I know. You’re just on the edge of your seat waiting to read it, aren’t you? Ha. 😉 But it has to be better than the news these days.)

We spent a lot of time outside on Memorial Day weekend too. It’s a family tradition to visit the cemetery down the road from my parents behind a 150-year-old (or so) church where my ancestors and sister are buried. My mom gave birth to my sister prematurely four years before I was born and she did not survive.

My daughter seemed oblivious to the fact she was dancing on the final resting places of her ancestors as she ran around, twirled, jumped and sang Frozen songs and occasionally helped my dad plant flowers. My son told her she needed to stop but I told him if the dead people could see my daughter they’d probably be delighted to watch her with all her en


We found a pigeon when were there and my daughter loves all animals so I thought she was going to try to take it home, especially when she saw it was injured. It couldn’t fly at all. Instead it would try to walk, limp and then fall forward on it’s face. We decided to let it go it’s own way since we weren’t sure what was wrong with it, but it was very sad to see. I wish we could have helped it but I think it was sick and not only injured.

My son thought he was funny to lean on the gravestone of his namesake (his great-great-great grandfather who was a Civil War veteran) and call him a “boomer” but then realized he shouldn’t joke since without the man he wouldn’t even be here. I agreed and that’s when I launched into a Biblical-type lineage speech.

“Yes, son, because John begot J. Eben who begot Ula, who begot Ronnie, who begot me, who then begot you.”

My son didn’t find me humorous. Why would he? He is a teenager now. (Don’t let the smile here fool you…his laughter was at his own joke, not mine.)

I finally finished planting our garden after my dad, son, and husband finished building the fence around the raised garden beds my son and Dad built. I have one more plant to . . . er. . . plant. Broccoli I almost forgot it. I’m really not sure what is going to grow and what isn’t at this point but the green beans and some of the lettuce are already sprouting. My dad finally found us some summer squash. The garden centers around here were wiped out. Summer squash was what I really wanted in the garden because that was the one plant that survived at the other house and actually produced a veggie I could use.



I’ve also planted tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, and potatoes. We will see if any of them come up or not. It will be fun to watch.

So that’s about it for me here this week. How about all of you? What have you been reading, watching or doing this past week? Let me know in the comments.

The Surprise Turns Five

A lot about my daughter, my youngest child, was a surprise.

Her surprise conception came three months after a blighted ovum loss, which was also a surprise. I had accepted our son would probably be our only child before and after that loss. I felt amazing during my pregnancy with Little Miss. I had tons of energy and my mind was clearer than it had been in a long time. I credit the rise in progesterone for that amazing energy and mental focus because prior to my pregnancy I was being treated for access estrogen.  That treatment may be why I became pregnant in the first place.

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I was sick for about a month of my pregnancy, so I don’t mean to make it sound like it was a complete blissful walk in the tulips, but the rest of the pregnancy was great. Telling our son he was having a sibling, and later a sister, was probably the most exciting moment we’d ever experienced, especially after the first heartbreak of the early miscarriage. He was at both ultrasounds – one at about nine weeks when we saw her moving around like a little chubby gummy bear and the other at around 21 weeks when we found out her sex. After the first ultrasound we went home and he sat on his dad’s chair and said “I’m going to be a big btother!” Then he paused for a moment and said, “No! I’m already a big brother because there is already a baby in there!”

When she grew larger, I would lay with him at night and he and I would feel her kicking together. He couldn’t believe how strong her kicks were, but I could because his kicks had been just as hard, if not harder. One thing he did, that she didn’t, was turn in my belly, using my ribs as leverage to complete the full twist. It was so uncomfortable and I can still feel the sensation if I think about it. He was also pushed in my belly diagonal somehow and I could feel his feet on my side and back. The midwife told me this was pretty crazy and impossible until they started to deliver him and literally felt his tiny feet around my side and back.  The poor child slept diagonally for several months after his birth.

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While JG came two weeks late (about), Little Miss came about two weeks early. She also came much faster than my son, who took his good old time coming out, in terms of the actual delivery. My son’s delivery was 23 1/2 hours long and Little Miss arrived in about 10 hours. I had actually asked the nurse for an epidural and the anesthesiologist had even rolled his cart into the room, but to my disappointment, there was no time for any pain relief or rest.

“It’s time to push,” my nurse said. “No time for an epidural!”

I didn’t even believe her at first. I probably pushed for 15 minutes and then there was Little Miss G, out of the womb and into the cruel, hard world.

The doctor arrived with his intern just in time to watch the intern catch the baby and the nurse handed her to me, all squished and messy. Honestly, I’m not sure what good that doctor was. One time I told him Little Miss felt like she was vibrating in my body and asked if it was normal.

“I don’t know. Is it normal for your baby?”

No idea what kind of answer that was.

Another time I had walked upstairs out of the church basement and sun glinted off the hood my car and triggered what I now know to be an ocular migraine. Flashing lights blinded me for twenty minutes while family walked around me cleaning up after the baby shower (which two people came to – I should have known then many of my friends were not real friends) and acted like nothing was happening. I thought I was having a stroke. I told the doctor at my next appointment and he asked why I was staring into the sun.

He was a real winner, as you can tell. I don’t plan to have anymore children but if I did I would not be going to him, even if he was still in the area.

My husband said he counted our little girl’s fingers and toes when she was delivered, but I actually only looked at her face to meet the tiny person who had been kicking me incessantly for the last nine months.

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So today we celebrate this little surprise who is full of surprises, still, usually caused by what comes out of her mouth (like when she opened my parents’ gift this past weekend and asked “Why are there just clothes in here?” We held a small birthday party for her at my parents on Sunday with a couple of friends and her favorite (er..only uncle) and today it will just be family, some cupcakes, and of course her coveted toy for her birthday – a creepy looking Unicorn Surprise.

 

 

 

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Next to the girl and her dog

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I posted this photo of my daughter and our dog on Facebook recently and my dad commented the following under it:

Next to the girl collecting Easter eggs with her dog stands a pair of sawhorses that belonged to her great great grandfather. Just to the left of them is a gnarly maple with different bark than the other maples. Behind her is a beautiful tall always liked ash. It is yellowed pale and almost dead now from the ash tree bores that have destroyed most all of Pennsylvania’s ash. To the right just out of focus is a large stone over the grave of one of her mother’s cats.

There is also a small dogwood tree planted by her grandfather nearby. Beyond that are some rotted boards of the dog house he built when nine years of age or so he claims.  A shag-bark hickory stood near there and fifty yards above that spot stood a balsa tree, the largest tree in the lot. Seventy-five feet behind the girl is a hand dug well that is now covered with heavy steel plates. This well gravity fed the house and chicken coops. Another well hidden just over the stone wall property line has a large stone covering it.

Just beyond the fence once stood one chicken coop. Water would be hand carried to that one as it was not downhill enough for gravity feed. Hid in the brush 100 feet to the left of the sawhorse is the foundation remains of the spring-cooled milk house. Also, the corn crib was near there. The granary still remains in that spot. A week later as this is being written the buds are opening to vivid green leaves, the forsythia flowers are bright yellow and life goes on.

How many directions can a mom stretch before she breaks?

Originally published on Today.com Parent Contributors


The 4-year old wants to have a tea party and a play date, but the oldest needs to have his lessons given to him and lunch needs to be cooked.

The dog just had surgery so she needs extra attention.

The cat is out of food and lets me know.

The oldest is now hungry and is asking for dinner

The husband is home and needs to share about his day and I want to hear about it.

I want to be everything to everyone all at once.

I’m trying to listen to the podcast of a psychologist who is trying to advise me on how to manage a mental crisis and she’s yammering on about a box – some box that you have to place your thoughts in to get through a moment or put people in a box or I don’t even know what the bloody hell she is saying about the box because all I can hear is the emotional blackmail of a 4-year old asking me why I’m not playing with her while I hold a piece of raw chicken and a knife in my hand and am standing by the stove.

Gasp.

Breathe.

“Slow your breathing. Freak out in the love zone.”

The South African accent of the neuroscientist, the psychologist, whatever she is, is supposed to be soothing but all I want to do is fling the knife at her and tell her to freak out in her own love zone, whatever a love zone is.

There are days I simply can’t keep up. It’s all moving so fast but at the same time going nowhere.

I thought I’d be so much further in life by now. But at the same time, I’m shocked with all I have. I am a twisted mess of contradiction.

Some days I am completely contented where I am in life – a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother who rambles on her blog and take photographs of her life.

Other days I mourn what I thought I’d be – a well-known writer or photojournalist traveling the world.

With the hours my husband works, I rarely find guilt-free time to write or take photos. When I’d rather be writing I should be folding laundry, or loading a dishwasher or cooking a meal. When I’d like to go to a park or travel somewhere to use my camera to interpret what I see, I should, instead, be planning my son’s assignments for the week or playing with my preschooler.

It isn’t that my husband makes me feel this way. It isn’t that my children make me feel this way. It isn’t that I resent them for my own feelings. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an extreme feminist hit piece. It’s just where my feelings are some days.

I feel stretched thin, some days.

I feel pulled ten different directions, some days.

I feel splayed apart like a dead frog in a science experiment (if they even do such things anymore), some days. But, I also feel complete, some days.

Complete and whole. Whole in that my family is whole, mostly healthy and held in the hands of an all-seeing, all-knowing, always loving God.  We all get stretched too thin, pulled too much, pressed down and poured out.

I’m stubborn and weak and whiny and I don’t always do what I know I should; let Him pour back in, stretch gently for growth, pull softly in the right directions and press down only for our own good and progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I have gray hair – reason no. 30

I heard it before I saw it and knew at that moment I’d made a mistake letting my 4-year old jump from the couch to the metal barstool we’d never actually used at a bar since we didn’t have one. I saw her hanging over the bottom rungs of the chair, now on its’ side, like a limp rag doll, and yelled for my son to help because I figured that in his youth he could move faster. He wasn’t there, though, and by the time I got to her she had lifted herself up and was standing with her hair in her face and her mouth open while she tried to scream, but no sound would come out.

A bright red river of blood was streaming a path from her nose to her mouth and I wasn’t sure if she had ripped her nose or her lip open.

Always cool under pressure, I started to scream “Help me! Help me!” over and over, yelling for my son to call his dad at work. He, having been upstairs for what he’d hoped to be a relaxing visit to the bathroom, was a frazzled mess and stumbled to find one of our phones.

“Grace. Face bleeding.” He shouted into the phone and hung up.

Somehow I had mentally slapped myself out of my hysteria and asked for a box of tissues, snatched one and held it against my daughter’s nose, noting I had smeared blood above her eyebrow as I’d pulled her close for a hug and examination.

knew that in order for her to calm down that I had to calm down and suddenly I went into robot mode. Wipe face. Hold nose, ask what hurt and what she had hit. She said her nose and her ear so I examined both appendages and saw blood caked along the edge of the nose and the tip of it swelled some, but otherwise it seemed fine. The ear didn’t have the gash I worried I would see. 

My husband burst through the door a few minutes later and we checked her out together while she cried. A popsicle and a cartoon helped her calm down.

A half an hour later she was in the kitchen twirling in circles next to the counter, an inch from smashing her face in again.

“Excuse me. We’ve already had one bloody nose. Are you trying to get another one?” I asked.

And that’s when I felt it – another gray hair pop up on top of my head.

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Carrying the star

This year there was no snow to make the truck slide but there was mud so the star was walked up the hill, instead of driven, to the end of the field and edge of the woods, by the father and son while the grandfather prepared to make the Star bright. This year there were new light strands on the same wood, the same star he built many years before, replacing the old lights that had burned out.

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They carried it up the steep hill and then the pulley was looped around the trunk of the tree and the ladder was climbed. Down below I took on the role of Grandma (Mom), since she can’t walk the hill, by saying things like:

“Someone hold the ladder.”

“Be careful.”

“Don’t lean out too far.”

“Don’t go up there on your own. Someone should be here to hold the ladder.”

“The ladder is tied to the tree,” Dad said, looking down at me with the expression parents give children when they know more than them.

“Oh. Well… still…”

So they pulled the star up to a place on the tree where drivers from the main road can see it, where people who need a sign of hope can find it.

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DSC_0711I thought of the post I wrote about this annual tradition last year and thought I’d share it again:

The star

They carried the star up the steep, snow-covered hill because the truck’s tires spun and sent the hunk of metal skittering sideways toward the old dirt road. In the end they left the truck in the field and slid the star, made of wood and strands of Christmas lights off the roof. Their breath steamed patterns out in front of them as they walked and the sun, a misleading sign of the outside temperature, cast long shadows onto the untouched surface of the snow that fell the day before.

Ropes were looped and tied and hooked on a pulley, the ladder was climbed and the star was hoisted with a couple reminders from father-in-law to son-in-law to “be careful of the lights! You’re hitting the lights on the tree!” But finally it was high enough and nails were hammered in to hold it in place.

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Dad built the star several years ago and put it at the edge of the woods, at the top of the field and where people driving by on Route 220, across the Valley could see it. It has become a beacon, you could say. A beacon of good will, or peace, or joy or whatever it represents for each person who sees it.

It can mean a lot of things for a lot of people but for Dad it is a sign of hope and the real reason behind Christmas. After all – isn’t that what the birth of Jesus was all about? Bringing hope to a hurting, fallen world?

So on this little hill, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania my dad hangs his homemade, 50-some pound star, and with it hangs a little bit of hope – hope for health, for peace, for love for all, hope for the broken, the weary, the shattered souls.

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The Garden

Rain fell steady just like the weather app said it would and I felt a twinge of disappointment. I knew it would mean a couple more days of waiting to plant the garden my son and I have wanted for a couple of years now.

I had always dismissed the idea of a garden because we live in town on a busy, noisy street and somehow, for this country girl, gardens are meant for quiet, out of the way yards where they can be admired on a warm summer evening in golden hour light. 

I had wanted to wait until we actually moved to the country to create a garden but since that doesn’t seem to be remotely close to reality at the moment, we started planning what we wanted to plant and where, early in the spring.

Pumpkins, squash and various herbs for him.

Cucumbers, carrots, green beans, peas, and potatoes for me.

Strawberries and watermelon for her.

What makes this year different is that for the first time in 13 years we don’t have a dog to consider and worry about digging up the plants. This lack of a puppy has me fairly heartbroken and I sat next to the garden space one day this week and cried from the grief of missing our Copper.

My dad brought his rototiller up to “the big city” and made the space for our garden. My son helped to break up the dirt and smooth it out and his sister worked next to him, most likely negating all the work he had already done.

Dad was only supposed to drop the rototiller off but instead he broke the ground for us. He then gave advice on what to plant and where.

There are days that living in town has its advantages, like when an old friend is driving to her daughter’s band concert at the school across the street and sees you standing outside. The friend, who I have barely seen in several years walked across the lawn with a sun-infused smile (or some might say Son-infused), her hair as blond now at 39 as I remember it at 19. Looking at her has always made me think of the “got milk” commercials, partly because of her sparkling white teeth and smooth skin but also because her family are diary farmers about ten miles from us.

Standing out with the sun pouring across the lawn and the kids, and Dad and potential, catching up on our families made a busy week seem less busy and more manageable. 

It was dark by the time the garden was done and Dad reminded my son that when the dirt crumbles in your hand it’s the best time to plant.

The kids had dirt in their finger nails like I had at their age. My legs and arms were bit up by mosquitoes because apparently they love my blood. My head was full of ideas but also of thoughts the Father, Son and Holy Spirit after Dad brought me a file of thoughts he had gathered about healing, Christ, and souls on fire.

He stood there as the sun set and pondered people who have prophetic dreams and people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, but don’t understand it. Pondering God and  how He works and why He works the way he does is something he’s done all my life. Though not a big reader of fiction, he’d often sit at his desk (now his computer) and pour over books on theology, blessing, curses, and God’s role in our lives.

I called Mom when he pulled out, a tradition, and told her he was on his way home, since he often is out late helping others, or if not, wandering aimlessly in Lowe’s admiring planks of wood and nuts and bolts to add to his collection, and forgets to update her on where he is.

Baths were late.

Bedtime was late.

But lungs were filled with fresh air, bonding time was spent, hard work was done, and deep, well earned slumber followed.

Waiting for Spring

Spring is finally showing up and it’s welcome in this family, even though our entire family deals with the allergies that come with it, my son the worst. This year we seem to be doing well as the trees and flowers bloom, however. And the nice weather helps make it all better.

Winter seemed long in some ways, and not in others. Some health issues for me, the passing of our 13 year old dog, and the normal depression I seem to deal with each year when we receive less sunlight made the last part of winter a blur.  Then  there was that winter snow storm that came just when we thought spring was about to arrive.

Miss G is growing fast physically and mentally. She’s full of spunk and makes us laugh and pull our hair out at the same time most days. 

During a trip to the playground the other day she pushed me out of her way to get to the ladder for the slide and shouted “Get out of my way!”

I corrected her and said “we say, excuse me, not, ‘get out of my way.'”

She didn’t look at me but instead shoved at me again, gently, and said “excuse me, get out of my way!!”

 

J.G. is growing more mentally than physically, as he’s still small for his age, just like I was and his grandfather was. We’re not a family of giants, on either side.

 

We added a family member to the house before our Copper passed away, but she and he didn’t get a long and we had to return her to where she’d been living, outside my friend’s house, where someone had dropped her off.

After Copper passed away we welcomed her back to try to fill some of the void from Copper’s loss. It worked in some ways, and didn’t in many others. The first week here she followed us to bed each night, just as Copper had, and curled up at the foot of my son’s bed, just as Copper had, as we listened to a comedian before bed.

She’s a crazy addition and spends part of the night knocking my son’s Legos, pen lids, and pretty much anything she can find across our laminate.

Her tendency to try to crawl all over me and eat my hair at night has led me to close our bedroom door at night and then listen to her scream outside in the morning to be let in.

Despite some of her annoying behavior, it’s nice to listen to Pixel (the name we bestowed on the rescue kitten) purr when she curls up next to us on the rare occasions she lays down or stops trying to tackle our 18 year old cat, who has been glaring at us since we brought Pixel home.

Pixel likes to sit on the edge of the tub when the kids' bathe, but one day she's going to end up in there when Miss G pulls her in.
Pixel likes to sit on the edge of the tub when the kids’ bathe, but one day she’s going to end up in there when Miss G pulls her in.

Some day we will probably add another dog to this chaos that is our life, but for now, the house is Ok without one. It’s quiet. The old cat is enjoying her golden years, the kitten is getting used to life in a home with a family, and our hearts are still warm with the memories of our little Copper.

 

 

Exploring the ‘cricks’ of New York

I took the kids to a local park last week and we were disappointed when we got there to see the waterfall was only trickling, which is how it usually looks when we visit there. I’ve heard water actually pours from it at other times, but I’ve only seen that once in the 14 years I’ve lived in the area. Apparently I just have horrible timing.

Because there was hardly any water in the waterfall, this also meant there was almost no water in the creek, or as I call it, for some reason, “the crick.”

No matter how “creek”  is said, the children enjoyed playing in the little bit of water that was in the creek bed, looking for minnows, throwing rocks, throwing and digging in dirt and looking at fossils of creatures that had been left in the rocks. They loved simply getting dirty and playing the same way I did as a child – exploring nature without direction and more importantly, without technology.