Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hiring a translator and rows of canned vegetables

It's been a hectic, but fruitful week.

Liv stayed home from school yesterday and I took the day off to get our canning and freezing done. We now have several lovely rows of canned tomatoes, salsa, peppers, yellow and green beans, pickles, black eyed peas, beets and carrots in our pantry and a freezer with several bags of okra and spinach. Nothing like our usual bounty, but considering the Summer from hell that has just passed, I think we did fairly well. There won't be any extras to hand out to the neighbors and none for Christmas gifts this year, but we have enough to eat all Winter without having to buy at the supermarket. And I have an abundance of rosemary, basil, thyme, Russian lavender and lemon verbena leaves drying on racks in the basement to be made into sachets or put into small herb jars. Those will serve as our Christmas gifts to the neighbors this year.

Plus, a bonus day spent working side by side with my daughter. She has become so adept at canning and freezing that she could easily do it without me now. That pleases me. Maybe she won't choose to have a garden or can or freeze, but if push comes to shove, she will have the skill. This has been passed on from Mother to Daughter for many generations in my family. Maybe it is time to hand it down to a Son the next time. I mentioned this to Liv and she smiled.

"Well, I want a large family," she said, "so, yes, that's a possibility."

How large? I was curious. She wiped her hands on a towel and thought for a while.

"I think five children," she finally said. "Boys or girls, no matter."

I was a little aghast. FIVE? Well, ok. I wondered out loud if this was because she was an only child. No, she said, absolutely not. She rather enjoyed having parents and rooms all to herself. But, she felt that a large family was in her future.

And a career too? I was even more curious.

She gave me one of her crooked smiles. "Of course!" she said. "But, I'd like to do what you did with me, if I'm able. I'd like to stay home with them for the first 5 years of their lives."

I pointed out, that with five children, that was um...let's see...25 years maybe?

She grinned sheepishly. "Well, obviously, I haven't thought this out well. Or maybe the key is to marry someone who can stay home while I work."

We didn't speak further of it. The future, I have found, is a tricky thing. I never saw myself as a single parent at 41. But, there I was. I never saw myself as a parent period. I NEVER wanted children or marriage when I was Liv's age. I wanted to teach high school English and be a spinster who devoted herself to books, to coming home from teaching school and treating myself to jam on bread and Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare's sonnets, sitting with my legs tucked up under me while I sat on a soft leather sofa and drank tea with my bread and paused to look out the window now and then.

As I said, the future is tricky.

But, now the garden is taken care of and we have lovely shining jars of produce on the pantry shelves in the basement and it smells delicious down there with the racks of drying herbs.

I felt productive all day.

It was a productive week, in fact. On Monday, our new translator started. His name is Fernando and he is....interesting.

I'm still not sure if we did the right thing in hiring him, but we shall see. He's in his late 50's and used to work for a law firm that specialized in immigration cases. He translated for them. He was married for 30 years to a lovely Irish girl named Irene. They had met when he came to America from Mexico and she was his English teacher. Within a year, they were married. She worked in the same building that our office is in, taught English as a second language. This Summer she died of leukemia. Fernando decided that he had no taste for his job anymore, wanted to be in the same building where his Irene had worked. So, he went to see if he could get hired on at her place of employment. No, they weren't hiring, they told him. But, there was an office on the fourth floor that they heard was looking for an interpreter....

And he came in to apply. I was impressed; we all were. But, I was also curious. He would be taking a rather large pay cut to work for us. He said he didn't need the money. His need was to be in the same building where his wife had worked so happily for so many years. And he wanted to help people, as she did. He liked the idea of helping to translate for families with children with special needs.

He wore a suit and tie. Believe me, that was something....considering that the previous applicant had worn shorts and a Grateful Dead tee shirt. He spoke with eloquence and knew the Guatemalan  dialects of Q'echi, C'anjiobal, Xinka and Itjaj. More and more, we are getting Guatemalan families with children with special needs and our previous translators had told me that translating the many dialects of Guatemala was not possible. Or, as Fernando explained to me: "Think of it as Chinese. That's how far it is from Spanish. But, I've picked a few dialects up here and there."

What concerns me is that he is still grieving for his wife. This became evident to me as the three of us passed him around for training. It was agreed that I would talk to him about office protocol and expected hours, etc. As we sat talking in our conference room, I told him that he was not required to wear a suit and tie every day, that business casual was okay with us unless we had to testify in a court case. He smiled and nodded and then said that he would probably wear his suit because it was where he kept his wife's old pink cell phone. He drew it out of his pocket and showed it to me and then promptly burst into tears.

Oh. Dear.

I am not good with tears. And I was very cognizant of the fact that we were in a conference room with the door closed. I did not want to do any sort of embracing of him, etc. So, I gently patted his hand once and then once again. Told him that I was so sorry for his loss.

He began talking, almost incoherently.

It's just that I got what I wanted, Miss Maria. I can FEEL my Irene in this building. I walk down the halls and I know that she worked on the floor above me and I can feel her presence everywhere. She LOVED her job. When she was so sick during those last few months, all she wanted to do was to visit her old co-workers, to say goodbye. I was able to do that for her, although they did visit her often in the hospital. I am just so....LONELY without her. She's been gone for almost three months and I feel like a marble in a shoe box in my house. The house used to smell of her, her scent and now, slowly, I am losing that. I feel so sad!

I asked him if he had children. No, he said, they hadn't been blessed. That it had been his fault, he was ashamed, a low sperm count, not manly at all! But, Irene had told him that it was no matter, that she had her children that she taught every day. That she had plenty of love around her.

I found a box of tissues and handed them to him. He took them and wiped at his sopping face. I was intensely uncomfortable and now pretty certain that we had made a big mistake in hiring Fernando. We could not risk him breaking down in front of our patients. As badly as I felt for him, this was a place of business and it was very obvious that he was not ready to be back in the working force. Not yet.

I tried to imagine what I would be like if Bing had been dead since June 20th, the day of his wife's death.

God, I would be a basket case! This poor man!

But, he rallied and then stood up and asked to be excused for a moment. I said of course. He returned ten minutes later with an apology and said that he would try not to let this happen again. I was gentle with him. I told him that I was sure it would happen again and that this was perfectly natural, but he would need to be sure not frighten the children that we see, etc. He agreed.

And he has proven to be fine every since. He is a formal man and that is hard to get used to but I kind of like it. Whenever I come into his office, he immediately stands. He stands when any woman enters. And since our office is ALL women, he does a lot of bobbing up and down all day. I have told him that it isn't necessary to stand but he does it anyway. He also does a lot of bowing to me, which is a little unnerving. He bows when I hand him paperwork to translate, thanks me for the opportunity to serve. So far, he seems to do fine translating for our families. It is obvious that he is not used to being around children, but he treats everyone around him with great respect.

This is very different from our previous translator who used to casually saunter in 45 minutes late, chew gum constantly, wear Nicki Minaj clothes and had fingernails that were so long and painted so garishly that she scared little children.

But, still...I dunno. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he shouldn't be working in our office since he is only here to feel his wife's presence. Even though, he IS doing a very good job so far.

What do YOU think?

So, now...we just need to hire a new office manager. The next hurdle. How to find someone to fill Betsy's shoes. A feat. No pun intended.

And tomorrow, Bing, Liv and I will put the garden officially to bed. We will dig and hoe, turning the soil over to rest over the Winter, hoping that next Summer will prove more fruitful.

We are always looking to the future, yes? Fernando looks toward the future, hoping for a release from his pain. Liv dreams about a future with a large family. I just want to BE here, full force, next Summer. Back to my old self. Stronger.

I look at my fading rose bushes. It is getting colder fast here on the prairie. Last night it got down to 39 degrees. We brought in all the house plants that have been living outside. Our house is again. But, I can't bring my roses in. Instead, I look at them sitting shell shocked on their branches. Shocked that the balmy Summer nights have suddenly slammed into cold, rainy, shivery ones.

But, they will be reborn when their cycle begins again.

The future just keeps coming. Hopefully, Fernando will be able to stop weeping, Liv will find a mate who wants a large family or is independently wealthy and can stay home while she works! And me? I just want to be strong enough to garden next Summer.

Hope is that thing with wings, right Emily?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Thanksgiving to give thanks for...

Tonight, I was sitting in the bleachers with our next door neighbor, Lindsay. She is the Mother of Sven. If you've kept up with my blog for a while, you know Sven. He was the kid who came in with his Mother to bring us brownies on our first night in the house.

He was 11. Liv was 1. He asked me if I had any kids with such a hopeful look on his face. I pointed to Liv in her playpen or baby jail as I called it back then since Liv HATED being in there and as soon as I started to set her down in it, would bunch her legs up, trying to get them around my waist to prevent this.

Sven took a look at her and then carefully put a finger inside the bars. Liv took it in her hands and drew it into her mouth for a long healthy bite. He winced and laughed and once he got free of her, said, "She'll do. What's her name?"

And a brother/sister relationship was forged. Sven helped to teach her to ride a bike, pushed her on her swing for hours at at time and swung her around holding her armpits, her legs arcing out in front of her.

He babysat her (usually with a girlfriend in tow) whenever we needed a night to ourselves when he was a teenager and when she got a new tree house when she was 6, Sven was the one who found the perfect flag to grace the top of it.

When he left for college on a football scholarship to the West Coast when Liv was 8, she burst into tears telling him goodbye and sat alone up in her tree house for hours after he left. For his first two years of college, she sent him letters and boxes of homemade cookies, pictures she drew. Stories she wrote.

And then the dark days came as Sven succumbed to drug addiction. He lost his scholarship and we lost him for many years. He has slowly come back with a few missteps and stumbles. He'd be stone cold sober for months and then succumb again to the lure of oxycontin and whiskey.

He's been sober for almost two years now. The longest ever. And very slowly, very cautiously, Liv has allowed him back into her life. He's had to earn her trust again after a few betrayals. She's still careful, loves him, but is not naive as she was the first two times that he went clean. She is watchful. Cautious.

They've been texting and emailing more than ever in the past few months. Tinton, Liv's Father, tells me this started over the Summer. That he noticed that she was sending lots of pics to him and texting daily and that he was answering.

I text him too. And email. I believe that he is clean. He and I share a love of this television show:

And Stephen King. We both ADORE Stephen King and can talk for hours comparing The Shining and The Stand. He says there is nothing to top the first one. I beg to differ. I think that The Stand is the best horror novel ever written.

Sven no longer tries to evade talking about his addiction. He speaks of it in the first person, refuses to act as if it no longer holds him. He knows that it will hold him forever, this craving for that drug, this drink. He just realizes that if he wants to be alive, he has to refuse to give into it. So, he attends step meetings but isn't what I call a stepper. He doesn't talk much of making amends or one day at a time. He just lives it, does it. His amending letter to me is in my box of keepsakes. Liv has one too. And Bing. Even Socks has one. Liv read it to him aloud and Socks listened and then forgot about it as if to say, "I'm a dog, dudes. I don't hold grudges." When Sven comes home now (which is only about once a year at best), Socks never remembers that Sven kicked him, he remembers that Sven gives good belly rubs.

Lindsay, Sven's Mother, has suffered the most. She is a nurse, works the 3-11 shift at the hospital as she always has. When Sven was younger, he would come to our house after school and a hired college student would pick him up at 5, make him dinner, help him with homework, make sure he got a shower,  and put him to bed.  When he was 13, he started staying home alone.

When he left for college, Lindsay said that she felt like her house echoed for months without his footsteps to clang through. When he started drifting away, she tried everything possible to help him until she finally realized that he didn't want her help. This was pretty much after he moved and didn't tell her where he was. She went for months not knowing if he was dead or alive. Always a slight woman, her face became more pinched, grayer by the day.

He came skulking home once when she was at work and went straight to her drawer where she kept her sock of saved money and stole every dime. On his way out the door, he ran into Bing and Socks who were out for a walk. Socks ran to him and Sven gave him a swift kick before jumping into the waiting cab. Bing and I had the heartbreaking task of calling Lindsay at work. She came home, found the missing money, but refused to call the police. She sat on her sofa with me next to her, trying to hug her stiff, aching body, anything to help her. She finally looked at me with so much pain in her face that I winced and said, "He's my SON, Maria! I can't turn him in. I just can't, okay?"

I said sure. Okay.

Years went by. Liv vowed never to forgive him.

He got sober and she relented. He relapsed and she stiffened her resolve.

This time, it has taken him many moons to get back into Liv's heart, back into all of our hearts except his Mothers. She could never turn him away.

And now, it looks as if he just may be okay. I say this with just a little bit of terror. I want it to be true more than anything.

Liv is jaded, but still somehow hopeful.

"We'll see," she has told him and us.

So, when Lindsay turned to me at Liv's game and said, with trepidation, "Sven is coming home for Thanksgiving this year. Says he will stay a week. Would you, Bing and Liv join us or do you have plans made already?", I immediately accepted. We had no huge plans other than to eat at my Sister's house as we always do and we always say on the way home that we really must find a different way to spend Thanksgiving every year.

So, this year...I say with great hope and deep tenderness that we will be bringing pumpkin pie to Lindsay's house for Thanksgiving dinner.

And we will see Sven. Our Sven. Our family.

We all have such hope.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Thank you, Utah and a memory

Okay...these came in the mail today:

Dark potato chips. A gift from my old pal from Utah. Who has witnessed me pilfering through potato chip bags looking for those perfect burned chips. Who knew? There's a company out there that makes bags full of them.

I ADORE you, Utah. And I owe you one. Or two. Because no kidding...there is only about half a bag left. My daughter is very much like her Mother. She also likes the burned ones best. We are both pigging out in very unladylike ways.

As we were eating, Liv challenged me:

Tell me a food memory from my childhood. Right now. No filtering. Just what pops into your head.

I immediately latched on to one.

I smiled at her.

"When you were about four, I was so ashamed because I took you to the doctor and you were underweight. You were ALWAYS on the slight end of the scale, but you'd never been underweight before. So, if you are ever a Mother, you will know that once you have a child, every single thing that goes wrong with them? You take it personally. It's all your fault.

I took it personally, even though, to this day you eat like a pig and are underweight. were four. One of the few breakfast foods that you really liked were eggs, bacon and toast. Or green eggs and ham. So, I bought dye and used to dye your eggs green about once a week and serve them up with a ham slice. I would stand at the end of the steps and call up to you in your bedroom:

Do you like green eggs and ham? And you would come thundering down the steps squealing, 'I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam I Am!' We loved that game. Would recite the whole book and then you'd taste the eggs and pretend to be enthralled.

You also liked soft boiled eggs. I would soft boil an egg and put it in your little egg cup that was shaped like a queen's head. Someone had brought it back for me from England as a gift and you loved that egg cup. I would let you tap, tap, tap on that egg shell gently and then help you peel the top of the egg shell off. And I would have bacon diced into tiny bits and strips of buttered toast ready and we would dunk the slice of toast into the egg and then scatter bits of bacon on top of it and you would pop it into your mouth. Breakfast would often take a very long time to get in you."

Liv smiled at me and shook her head. "You must have really loved me to take that much time..."

"I DID love you and to this day, I would make you those eggs if you were underweight again, God, I used to worry so much about your diet. You were the only kid at the park who didn't want to bring a baggie of cookies with you. No. You chose carrot sticks. You were SUCH a healthy eater!"

Liv sidles over to me, puts her cheek to mine. "What else did I do when I was little?"

She loves this shit....

I think briefly.

"By the time you could walk, you were trying to manipulate your way out of your crib, so I lowered the bars and just let you crawl out. You felt sneaky and you never got into anything when you'd wake up in the morning, you'd just come and get in bed with me. Actually, you'd stand in the doorway and'd take a running leap and catapult into the bed with me. Sometimes at 6 a.m...."

Liv grimaces. I laugh.

"I never really minded, Livvy. Being your Mother was what I was meant to do in this life. It's the one thing in my life that I am completely sure about. You. I was meant to have you."

For some reason, this chokes me up and I have to pretend to be very interested in a stray thread on my sweater.

When I am composed, I look up into Liv's eyes. She is looking at me dead on, serious as hell. Or heaven.

"And I was meant to have you," she says."My childhood was idyllic, Mama. Thank you."

I try to bring some humor in because it is what I do when things get too personal.

"Obviously, you don't remember the time that you took red food dye outside and shook it all over the snow and then called me and pretended to be hurt and when I came running outside scared out of my wits and FELL down the back steps and nearly broke my neck, you LAUGHED and I came this close to spanking you," I told her.

Liv laughs. "Oh, I remember that!" she says. "I think you scolded me for about an hour!"

"Closer to two," I correct.

Liv catches my eye again.  She takes a Sally Field pose. "You LIKE me! You really LIKE me!" she says dramatically. 

I shake my head.

No, I think. I freaking ADORE you.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

My daughter, the boy magnet

"Like Mother, like daughter," was Bing's comment when she saw him standing outside in our yard.

A boy. Holding a sign.


Liv standing at the front door smiling.

Running out to give him a hug for his courage. And to say yes.

I stood just inside the door as Liv dragged him in for a coke.

What the hell was THIS one's name? I smiled at him, said hello, but couldn't think of his name. Could this one drive? Was this the one who sent those roses? Or that cd full of mushy songs? Or those poems by William Carlos Williams?

Because, seriously....there is like a line. I kid you not. Somehow, my shy, studious, I want to be a mathematician when I grow up daughter has turned into this very sought after date.

Boys are flocking to magnets to our fridge.

And she's no cheerleader type. She's a softball, basketball dudette. She rarely wears makeup. She doesn't flirt, but she is really, really good at talking to boys and has absolutely no fear whatsoever around them.

Bing and I meet in the parlor to whisper.

"What the FUCK is this one's name and how old is he?" I ask.

"I think his name is Alan. He's the rich kid but his family is nice, not snooty. Plays hockey, football."

"Did he send the roses or the cd?"

"No. That was Ian and Will. Will was the one who kept calling her at all hours and you finally had to tell her no calls after 10.  And, yeah, this one can drive. He drove that jeep over here that's sitting halfway down the block."

I sighed. "I never thought she'd be this popular with boys," I say. I know I should be happier, but I find this alarming and not comforting at ALL.

Bing snorts. "Have you looked at her lately, Maria? Our daughter is a tall, leggy blonde with Carly Simon lips, is smart as a whip, an athlete and doesn't have any awkward bones in her body when it comes to talking to boys. She's a looker, like her mother was....I mean is."

I turned and smiled at her. "I never had boys waiting in line to date me."

"You grew up in a town of 3,000 people. Slim pickings," she retorted. "I was there when you were in college. Believe me, you had plenty of dates. I suffered through every damn one of them and you dated both boys and girls, so you were pretty damn booked up."

We split up so that I could go in the kitchen to say hello to Alan. He stood up from the stool he'd been lounging on when I entered the room. I notice things like that. I waved him to sit back down.

"Hi Alan"

"Hi Ms. Lastname."

"So, you're taking my daughter to homecoming."

"Well, she said yes, so I'm that lucky guy, yeah."

"The poster was a nice idea."

"Thanks. I wanted to set myself apart from the throng."

Is it bad that I like the fact that he knows how to use the word THRONG?

I notice that they are playing footsie. As soon as Liv sees that I'm looking she disentangles her foot from his. Socks, who is sitting at her feet, looks at me as if to say, I think we need to stop this nonsense right here. Before you know it, he'll be laying on the floor showing her his belly and wanting it rubbed."

Alan and Liv stop whatever conversation they were having and start talking about some musical group called The Bleachers or The Beachers or something and about how they like that song about wanting to do better.

I grab a pear and go into the living room to read. Socks comes in a few minutes later, disgusted at the lack of attention he is getting from them and settles next to me on the sofa, cuddling up as if to say You're the NICE one. I like you BEST.

He's easy, though. As soon as Alan leaves, all Liv will have to do is pat her lap and he'll go running to it.

How did we get here?, I think to myself as I try to read.

When did my daughter go from loving Harry Potter and wanting to be just like Hermione and maybe be a mathematician when she grows up to being the sort of girl who makes boy's heads whip around when she walks by?

She's still smart as hell, now is thinking of going into the field of green logistics. And she's no primper. She isn't into makeup although, like her Mother, she could pretty much buy out the store at Free People.

My daughter's a looker. She is truly one good looking teenager. And I have no idea when this happened. When she went from a sort of geeky girl with braces who thought that boys were kind of slow witted, to this..this...this girl with the bright pepsodent smile and fluttery blonde hair who can make even the most sure footed boy stutter a little.


WHEN did this happen?

My daughter is still in there, but the outside package has changed so much. She is not skinny anymore, she's slender and willowy. She doesn't lope when she runs, she's graceful and swanlike. Her eyes are sloe and her jack o lantern smile is now full lipped and sensual.

I heard the front door slam and then Liv came in to slide on to the sofa with me, tucking herself next to me, her head under my chin.

"Mama, can we have beans and wienies for dinner tonight?"

Ok...that's better.


Thursday, September 04, 2014

Failures in "keeping that love alive."

I was at a luncheon with several colleagues. There were about 8 of us. We all are in the same profession and all meet three times a year. We've been doing it for over a decade. I can't remember how it started, I think maybe all of us were at the same in-city seminar and we all got kind of disgusted with how the men in our profession monopolized the across table dialogue (and it seemed mostly just to metaphorically compare dicks), so we all made a pact to meet every four months at a restaurant for drinks, dinner and conversation.

I like these women. Well, most of them. There are a few that I'm not crazy about, but I respect their work. We're all in a demanding profession and it's good to throw around ideas, compare notes, share stories and then...just talk.

After we had exhausted work talk, the discussion moved to other topics. Kids. Hair. Politics. Vacations. Spouses or lack of.

One woman whom I don't know all that well told us that she and her husband went on a "blind date" the previous evening. We all kind of stared at her. Someone asked how one goes about going on a blind date with a man that you've been married to for ten years.

She smiled. "I wear a wig, dress up in a fuck me dress and pretend to be someone else. We meet at a bar and he picks me up."

Everyone laughed and wanted to hear more. She went on to say how sometimes having two kids under the age of 8 kind of wears and tears at their love life and that they both decided that they wanted to find a way to "keep that love alive."

I asked her if it had worked, this charade.

"I was dubious at first," she admitted. "But, then I have to admit that we both started to really get into it and now we do it about once a month and it really keeps things fresh," she said.

I nodded. I get it. I can see how that would work.

Well, for some couples. I just can't see this working with Bing and me.

For one, if you are a long time reader of my blog, you might remember my spectacular failure at phone sex when Bing was away in Africa for a Summer. If not, to make a long story short: Bing, who was missing me a lot at the time, tried to initiate phone sex by coyly asking me in a sexy voice what I wearing as we spoke over the phone. Me, being me, well...I was clueless. I wondered why her voice was so weird and then I looked down at myself and said something to the tune that I was wearing that old Gin Blossoms t-shirt of hers, the one with the spaghetti stain on it that we could never get out? And jean shorts.

Finally, she had to EXPLAIN to me that she had been trying to have phone sex with me and I tried to comply and failed miserably because I just can't say, "Oh, baby, I'm wearing my black teddy and sitting here missing you so much that I can hardly sit still...."

When I was in college, I acted in plays. You'd think I could've pulled this shit off. But, I just...couldn't. It felt forced and stupid to my own ears. I was this close to bursting out laughing because I felt so silly. And Bing and I admitted that perhaps I was just a poor candidate for this sort of thing.

We did have a wonderful time when she came home though. I showed her in spades how much I had missed her...

But then the next time she went on a trip, she and I were talking and she wistfully asked me if I still had that red bra and panty set that I used to wear all the time but now that we'd been together for a few years, never wore anymore. Nope. Just the plain white Hanes For Her.

I was dumbfounded. I could barely remember that set. Did I even have it anymore?

Yes, she said. Second drawer on the left, in the panties drawer at the very bottom.

So, um...I you go through my panty drawers?

She admitted that yes, sometimes she did. Sue her. She missed me wearing lacy underthings. I retorted that she NEVER wore lacy underthings.

"Hey, I'm the dykey one," she said. "I wear the jeans and t-shirts. You wear the swirly skirts and bangly earrings and bracelets."

Oh. SO. We were stereotypes then?

Well, she had admitted. That particular shoe did, in fact, fit.

It did.

But, we do buck the system a little. She's a better cook than I am, but I CAN cook. I just prefer not to if I can avoid it. And when Liv was little, I swear, I baked like a fiend with that kid. We baked birthday cakes nearly once a week for her imaginary lion friend, Charley. We also washed his mane when I washed Liv's hair in the kitchen sink. This was a time consuming process as he tended to bolt right when we got him all bubbled up and then we would run screaming through the house trying to catch him.

"He just ran in the kitchen!" Liv would yell. "Check behind the pantry door!" And I would almost have him but he'd stomp on my foot with his big paw and I'd squeal as he got past me and streaked in the living room to jump on the sofa and taunt us. Often, I would have to threaten no birthday cake to get him to settle down.

Now, you would think that if I could pull THIS shit off, I could manage phone sex, don't you?

Well, I dunno. I just can't.

It's like sex toys. I can't do them. I always start laughing. Once Bing brought a vibrator into the bed and when she turned it on, I swear it sounded like our mixer. Made me start giggling. And then, well....passion turned to silliness and the vibrator was tossed on the floor. I have no idea where it is now as she has never introduced it again.

I just can't see us on a blind date. I can't see me in some Ann Margret wig, tottering around in my red high heels and black cocktail dress with the red belt. And fishnet stockings. Deep red lipstick. I'd end up smiling at her with lipstick all over my teeth and she'd lose it completely.

We have no imagination. We have great sex still after all these years, but we don't do role playing or game playing, we just...fuck.

I guess I'll have to leave the blind dating in a marriage to those who can do it with a straight face.

Can you? Seriously, I'm curious. No judging. I would actually find it kind of interesting if you have a story.....

Anyone care to share? Or are you vanilla like me?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Maria makes amends to the rose garden

I knew that they would be less forgiving than my vegetable garden or the herb garden. The beets and cucumbers understood and forgave without thought. The rosemary just laughed and showed me how she had overrun nearly all the basil and thyme. Only the lemon verbena and lavender had fought her back. I had carefully weeded and pruned. Did what I could to cut the rosemary back, smiling as I realized that I would now have ample bottles of rosemary to hand out to everyone for Christmas this year. Rosemary chicken for everyone, all the time! I could sneak it into stews and knead it into breads. It would be my rosemary year.

But, the rose garden was less in the mood to forgive. The bushes sat hunched together, entwined and unhappy, scratching out at each other and anyone and anything that got in their way. They had bloomed beautifully in early June but without me there all Summer to deadhead and cut off the suckers, to infuse the soil around their bases with fragrant wood chips from the lumberyard mixed with our grass clippings, they had been without nutrients and protection for their tender roots and had faltered in some places and overgrown in others.

I slipped on my dreaded garden gloves after it became very clear that yes, those roses were just fine about scratching me. Hard. I hummed to them as I worked, and then when I ran out out of Irish lullabies, I just spoke in my softest, sweetest voice.

I am so sorry. I didn't mean to neglect you. It was just...I was so ill and unable to tend to you. I AM sorry. Very sorry. And Liv wasn't here to help, she was in North Carolina on a dig with her Father. And you know Bing, she tries. But, well....okay...she TRIES...but she doesn't really know what you need and she is a poor listener when I try to explain. The good news is that the bugs didn't get you! The bad news is that yes, I see. Too much water. And you haven't been mulched properly so your roots are not happy. Again, I'm sorry. Please. Let me fix this. I can fix this!

And I tried. So very hard.I clipped and deadheaded until I had a garbage can nearly filled. I saved all the usable rose petals. They could go into my sachet bags that I make every year filled with lavender and lemon verbena. Rose petals are also good in bath salts. As I got down to the underbellies of the other roses, I had to swallow hard and admit that I had been wrong about bugs. I started seeing holes in some of the roses and then yes...a spider mite. I crushed it with my good fingers.

And earwig. Several house crickets and what was THAT? I put the specimen in a bag to check online. I would find out that it was a hoplia beetle. I had never seen one before.

So, a trip inside to call Liv's Lakota grandmother, to ask how to deal with these bugs. She answered the phone immediately, as I knew she would. She always, always gets to the phone on the first ring and she only has her land line, so I have no idea how she seems to just know when a call is coming.  Although she consented to a computer for the SOLE purpose, she said, of staying in touch with Tinton and Liv, she has refused a cell phone. Sheer nuisance, is what she called it. So, she had answers. I knew she would. I got right to business. Ina, as she likes me to call her, does not suffer fools or wordy people well. She doesn't do small talk. She calls me takuya, calls Liv takoja and Liv calls her kunsi.
"Ina," I told her, "I am having trouble with my rose bushes. They have bugs."

"What kind of bugs?"

"Spider mites, earwigs, house crickets and what looks to be a hoplia beetle."

There was a small silence. I could hear her thinking. She finally spoke with assurance, as she nearly always does.

"For the spider mites, crickets and beetles of all kinds, cut up rosemary and sprinkle all over. Do you have rosemary in your garden?"

Why, yes, I told her, I just happen to have LOTS of it.

"And for the earwigs, do this: open a can of tuna and make some tuna salad for a nice lunch. In the empty can, pour some beer. Take this out to the garden and lay it at the feet of the roses. The earwigs will fall into the can during the night. Empty it and refill until they're gone. Earwigs love beer and the smell of fish entices them to jump.

I thanked her and also told her that the tea that she sent me all Summer had hit the spot and had been helpful with the finger swelling. Cherry bark and juniper and also thanked her for the pillow filled with ash tree buds to rest my finger on. And said that yes, we had all received the moccasins that she had made for us and LOVED them.

"I got your thank you notes," she said. " I'm sorry that you had to give up your finger. Payment for a misdeed of your ancestors. Thanks to your offering, they can now proceed to the sky. Your handwriting hasn't suffered. I'm glad of that. You have such pretty handwriting. Dainty. My takoja needs to work on hers, though. Hers looks like a chicken scratched it out!"

We laughed. We talked very briefly about my garden and hers. About her visit with Tinton before he went back to teach in Colorado, how he puts so much money in her bank account every month that she didn't want for anything in her snug cabin. As I said, she is not talkative, nor am I, so it was stilted, but we both got through it. And she cared for me so lovingly all Summer with my finger troubles. So many did. I asked her which ancestor had fucked messed up so badly that I had to sacrifice my finger. She didn't answer for a moment and then said, "It matters not." I shrugged my shoulders. I guessed not. Happy trails to them. We said our goodbyes after I asked her to come visit and she declined, as she always does and told me that she was working on a star quilt for Liv's Christmas gift this year and that she had been guided to some sassafras root on her walks lately in the early mornings and would be sending on some to be made into a nice hot tea when the days began to get colder. She said that she had enjoyed the blue cashmere shawl that I had sent to her but had given it away to another woman who had admired it. I sighed. It is almost pointless to give Ina gifts. She feels burdened by her snug home and ample money in the bank when others on her reservation have so little. Whenever anything is given to her, except for artwork that Liv has made for her and a small beaded necklace that Liv has made as well, are given away almost as soon as it is sent. We said our goodbyes after I promised that Liv would skype with her soon.

I went to the kitchen and gleefully emptied a tuna can and made some tuna salad and then texted Bing to bring home one bottle of beer for killing earwigs, please. She knows me, so no questions asked. Later, I would tiptoe out in the evening shade to deliver my gift to the earwigs. Sure enough, the day after there would be a can full of quite drunken earwigs for me to throw into the bag of lawn clippings to be hauled away. It would take four days, but on the fifth day, the can would be half empty and the sixth day, only one straggling earwig left.

The rose bushes are once again thriving, enjoying a soft blanket of mulchy oak shavings and the grass clippings from Bing's mowing, carefully tucked around their tender roots. They are bug free and pruned back so that they can stretch their thorny necks out without knocking into their sister branches. The white roses recovered first, followed in swift succession by the deep reds and pinks and lastly, the pale yellows began to recover.

Our moon flowers are at last blooming and suddenly, everywhere. Their soft green leaves are silent and tucked in during the day and then at night, seem to come to life before our eyes. One moment they are tender white curls swaying in the soft evening breeze and then....POOF...there they are big as my hand and letting their sweetness waft through the air, making us pause in front of the downstair's guest room as we pass. They intermingle with the calla lilies, so lovely in the moonlight that it makes me think of the supernatural. I half expect to see women in long flowing ball gowns waltzing through the yard with their Rhett Butler partners.

Liv and I have put our heads together, planning Bing's birthday dinner. Her birthday falls on Labor Day this year and she has requested what she always does for dinner: all vegetables and preferably, all from our garden. We've complied except for the corn (or as we prairie people call them: roastin' ears.) We'll cut thick slices of eggplant and lay them on the grill and then when they get just tender enough, lay slim slices of mozzarella cheese on top to melt prettily. We have some baby spinach leaves to make a salad and plenty of broccoli, carrots, and sugar peas to mix in. A small carafe filled with Dorothy Lynch dressing to drizzle over the top of it all.

Bing's Aunt from New Orleans has sent us her vegetarian kale soup recipe and I have all ingredients ready to throw in the crock pot to make a good hearty soup. I have the onions, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes and parsley that the recipe called for from my garden, but had to cheat and buy cannellini beans at the store. Otherwise, it's ALL natural from our produce.

There is one more jar of homemade pickles to bring up from the cellar. Liv and I have agreed to set aside September 12 as our day to harvest the garden and do all the canning and pickling of the garden, so there will be a few more jars to add to the cellar. Unfortunately, not enough to share with the neighbors and family this year; they'll have to make do with the rose petal, lemon verbena, lavender sachets and jars of pungent dried rosemary.

Lastly, instead of baking a cake, we have ordered one from one of the best bakeries in the world: Cupcake Island.

A vanilla almond cake with buttercream frosting.

I wish I had the words to describe how incredibly wonderful it feels to have my garden back. To slide my hands around in the soil and just breathe in the scent of my herbs, my vegetables, but most especially my flowers. My tender, difficult, persnickety roses.

Their lifeblood flows through my fingers and into my soul, quieting my angst, softening all of my hard edges and making me feel what my Da felt, what his Da felt and so on and so on. My Da always said that land means all to the Irish and he wasn't talking about owning it. You can't really own land. You bond with it, join your soul to it's soil and then something wonderful happens that can't be explained unless you are one of the tribe.

Today, there was a new visitor to our bird bath. Bing and I were sitting outside, drinking our morning coffee and she suddenly grew very still and whispered, "Look at the bird bath, darlin'. What kind of bird is that?" I looked and then stared and pondered but could not grasp a name. I toyed with taking its photo with my cell phone but was afraid to move for fear of startling it. It splashed around for several glorious seconds and then just as fast at it landed, it left.

Later, I found it on the internet.

A red beaked finch.

I feel as if I am coming back into my skin, my soul after a long Summer of being cooped up, chained up, stymied by pain. It's like I can't stop gulping this air.

At last. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Content in this rut

Life is settling down from the roller coaster ride of horrors that was this Summer. We did shut the air conditioner off yesterday, though. The temps have been holding in the low 80's.

It's still August on the prairie, though and Mother Nature does not let us forget that. It's been a wet, soupy Summer. Nice in that we haven't had to turn the automatic sprinklers on once and my garden has not needed extra moisture from my old hose that I stuck periodic holes in to create my own little sprinkler system. No need. Plenty of rain. Slow, steady mist of rain during the days and then loud, booming, crashing thunderstorms reeling through the city like a gang of drunks about twice a week. The kind of storms that make you sit bolt upright in your bed at night, scared half to death and no idea of what. Until the whole room lights up and seconds later, the thunder crashes down.

My doctor gave me the okay to go back to work in my garden ten days ago...provided that I wear garden gloves. That didn't set well with me, but I went and bought a pair of soft pink ones. I stuck them in my back pocket as I set out to see what the damage was.

It was pretty extensive. I sighed. Sat down, cross legged and just looked around and thought for a while. Planned it all out in my head. The potatoes were looking okay, happy underground. I pulled one or two out and peered closely. In good shape. Well formed. No mealy looking ones. Satisfied, I moved on to the green beans, which were pretty much done and gone, buried by some volunteer zucchini and eggplant. I hadn't planted any this year.

I yanked up several zucchini hiding under the big green leaves as big as dinner plates. Disgusted. Zucchini that is too big is practically useless. It is only really tasty if you catch it before it gets too big. These ones were like small baseball bats.

"Ok, guys," I muttered. "Where the FUCK did you come from?" They weren't answering. I grudgingly put them in my basket, deciding to take them to work one day where, hopefully, someone who knew nothing about zucchini would take them off my hands.

I never put on the gloves. I just couldn't. I can't garden in gloves. I have to feel the plants, the dirt between my fingers. And, instinctively, I knew that there would be no harm coming to my stump of a finger here. My garden was desperately reaching out to me, so pleased to finally see me again. Stems wound lovingly around my fingers, tomatoes practically split open with pleasure as I stroked their soft tender red, purple and orange skins. How they had ached for this tending!

I pulled out several cucumbers, just the right size for a nice salad tonight. Nothing tastes as good as cucumbers soaked in buttermilk with a little vinegar and lots of sharp black pepper. There were several baby cucumbers which would be ready to be made into pickles in a few weeks. I smiled happily. So there would not be the usual 30 jars of pickles this year. Maybe ten jars, if I were lucky. But, I was smiling, happy to see them alive.

The pumpkins were just starting to sprout up prettily. By mid October, they would be beauties. Liv would come out and pick several for us to make into jack o lanterns and then more to bake into pies and Indian pudding.

My onions and potatoes were nearly a bumper crop. Most of the other vegetables were pretty much gone from lack of pruning and weeding, but those onions and potatoes had evaded the weeds as had the tomatoes. My peppers were sad remnants, looked as if rabbits had feasted on most of them. Not one plant was fully intact.

Well, okay, I thought. I wouldn't have my bountiful garden, but it had survived a Summer of neglect. Not bad. Not bad at all.

And now, with everything weeded, it was looking tidy and loved. September is an elusive month on the prairie. Days of near 100 degree scorching days followed in short order by rainy, cool days of mid 50's. September takes a while to make up her mind when to leave the heat behind. I would can the second week of September.

I sat back on my heels and looked around me, pleased with myself. It had taken me the better part of an entire day, but my garden was back to being MINE. Maria's domain.

And life was back to the ritualistic hum that it takes on when school goes back in session.

Bing bought herself a new car. A Lincoln. She and I decided to give Liv her cherished Ford F-150 as an early Christmas gift. It kind of looks like this one, but is more of a golden color and it is almost TEN years old, so no fancy gadgets.

She can't drive it yet without one of us in it with her. But, that's okay. She'll learn to drive in it. Bing likes it because she can't pack friends in it. I like it because it has 4 wheel drive and will be good on snowy roads. Liv likes it because it is Smitty, the champagne colored little truck that she has always loved.

And Bing? She is all over the Lincoln, her first racy looking red car. With GADGETS galore. Seat warmers and coolers. A voice that warns her if something is behind her.

I am happy with my old yellow VW bug. I've had her for many moons and trust her. Bing keeps trying to get me to upgrade her. No way, Ray. She's Tidbit to Bing's Smoochy. She's yellow. She's small. She's me. She's staying.

We are now a three car family. Jeez...

Life is once again revolving around Liv's softball schedule. Practices on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. Games on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and sometimes Saturday mornings. So far, every single one of her games has been rained out at some point. We made it to inning four a few days ago.

Liv's growly because she didn't make varsity this year and she is only the backup pitcher on junior varsity. It is the combined opinion in our little family that she is being punished for leaving the team early last year (rotator cuff injury), but that's okay. This is life. It is called sometimes unfair. I just plan to sit back and wait. I have seen this child's left handed pitch and so has the coach. He wants to win. He's not one of those touchy feely this is a fun game and everyone gets to play coach. He is a we are going to win this thing! coach. He will let her hang to dry for a few games and then let her out of her cage (which is currently far left field.)

Me? I am just loving sitting in my lawn chair and taking deep sniffs of the playing field. The scent of the concession stand cooking hotdogs. The smell of the field, the dust that swirls around as the ump sweeps off home plate with his little broom.

And watching my daughter in her black and red uniform. Her hair pulled back in a tight braid down her back, her baseball cap on, cleated shoes digging deep into the dirt as she leans in lightly on her right leg, prepared to swing. And then...YES...a hard WHAPPPP to that ball as she sends it flailing out to right field and runs hard to first and then the slide...and YES! She is safe.

I come home from work in the evenings, tired...but as they say...a good tired. There is the smell of tuna casserole bubbling in the oven (Liv's turn to make dinner...tuna casserole is one of her go to preparations.) She sits on a chair by the oven, slicing a baguette of that good crusty french bread from

Bing stands at the counter slicing tomatoes freshly picked from our garden to eat with it.

They both look up and smile when I walk in. Socks comes running into the kitchen from the living room, skidding a little and then recovering his dignity, walking to me, tail wagging. I reach down to pet him, then set down my purse and go to my daughter and kiss her cheek, go to Bing and wrap my arms around her waist from behind, kissing her shoulder. She leans back into my hands, grinning.

A good dinner.

A hot shower before bed. A good book to read in bed for that last half hour before sleep.

This weekend will be busy. Tomorrow, we will all go to the first football game at Bing's school. Saturday morning, Liv has a game and then afterwards, we will rush home to let Liv take a shower and pack sandwiches to eat in the car and head off to the first Cornhusker game of the year.

Saturday night, Liv has a party to attend. This means that Bing and I will be nodding off on the sofa during SNL as we wait until she returns at her midnight curfew. A boy is picking her up and bringing her home, a new gentleman caller named Ivan.

We like him better than the others who came before. Ivan attends Bing's school and his family isn't dripping in wealth like Liv's previous suitor whose Father used to take them to and from activities in a BMW with vanity plates and stand at the door checking his Louis Moinet watch. Ivan and Liv met when Bing hired him to come over and trim our hedges and he took his time over it because Liv took him out a brownie and some milk and they ended up sitting on the front steps talking. And flirting.

But, Ivan is newly turned 16 and a junior and can that opens up a new can of worms for us. Liv has never went out with a boy who can DRIVE yet. This is worrisome and the poor kid, Bing has practically threatened him with expulsion if he so much as drives 2 miles over the speed limit.

And Liv and I had to have one of those talks. The ones that I hate. That we both hate. About sex. About not making out in cars with boys. Even though I know she will at some point even though she swears it hasn't happened yet.

"Mama," she said, looking at me, laughing. "MUST you keep calling my perspective dates gentleman callers? You sound like Amanda in The Glass Menagerie.

"Welllll," I retorted. "Excuse me for trying to be humorous. Let's just call them what Bing does: those PUNKS."

We both laughed. We had to. For me, it was all just too ridiculous. I couldn't believe that I was talking to my daughter about birth control and she was queasy with embarrassment. 

But, as we hicks here on the prairie will tell you, I didn't fall off that turnip truck yesterday. It's a comin.' It came for me. It will come for her. It comes for all of us. I just don't want it to come for her until she's 32.

So, we've had the talk about birth control. About how I do NOT want her to be having sex when she is in high school, but if she MUST, she needs to get on birth control and be vigilant about STDs. This talk was not enjoyable for either of us. Afterwards, I spent an hour on the phone with my bff, Harriet, spilling. So sure that I had totally fucked it up. I didn't want Liv to feel that I thought it was ok to be sexually active. I just didn't want her to go into it blind.

Harriet had snorted. "She's going to do it at some point, Sugar. Probably best that you have no idea when, but judging from her reaction, she's not ready yet. That is a good thing...."

Because, daughter had looked at me as if I told her not to eat cockroaches on her dates.

"Mama! I haven't even made out with anyone yet! I don't think you have anything to worry about!" she had said, her face as red as one of the tomatoes in my garden.

As I said, a matter of time.

So...then after Liv's party? A whole TWO days of nothing planned.

I can dive into my book. Maybe we can all go to a movie. It's my turn to cook on Sunday and I've already decided that we are doing Chinese take out.

Life is returning to our rut. Our family rut.

No more stinging, aching finger. It's gone and done with now.

No more restrictions on my activities. No more canes.

I am content in this rut.

Life is good. Being bored is a very good place to be, I've decided.

And best of all? Bing just came up to me and said, "Come outside. I want to show you something."

She led me to the window next to the guest bedroom.

"Look?" she said, pointing.

I looked. And laughed with sheer joy.

The moon flowers are blooming. FINALLY.

Yes, so happy in this rut.