Thursday, May 8, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

The quality called “motherly instinct” did not come to me until I held my firstborn in my arms. Throughout my pregnancy, I worried that I wouldn’t be a good mother. I was inexperienced with babies and children, and what seemed to come so naturally to my parenting peers did not seem natural to me at all. But in those seconds of that first fresh holding, mothering took up residence in my heart with such a comfortable finality that suddenly I could not even imagine or remember how life had felt without it, only twenty minutes before. It was a sharp corner I turned. But since the night of June 2, 1980, I have never looked back to wish for or long for the time “before kids.”

When I look at my children - all adults now and taller than me - I see them through the lens of a lifetime of memories. I recall each of their births distinctly and clearly, as if they happened in slow motion so each detail would be etched in my mind as permanently as children’s handprints in concrete. I remember the first time I felt Nathan, my oldest, kick in the womb, Karen’s maturity and leadership when she was yet in elementary school, John’s metamorphosis from boy to man during a summer of work with my Dad. I remember their spiritual crises, their first cars, their weddings, their first homes, new jobs, the births of their children . . . and I remember all the moments in between. My heart swells and my breath catches at the joy I feel in my sons and my daughter. They make my eyes light up and my soul feel satisfied. Oh kids, you are loved beyond imagination. I am honored that I get to be your mother.

Their own eyes shine when their daughters walk into the room, and their faces break into smiles as they scoop up their little ones for a hug and a kiss. They listen with amusement and adoration to kindergarten jokes and made up stories, and they applaud at impromptu dances, cheers, and gymnastics. They grieve at nightmares and sorrows felt in young hearts.  I catch them in the act of loving their children unconditionally, abandoning their hearts to chubby toddler fingers, delicate fairy-princess curls, and long-legged pre-teens, and see a mirror image of my own love for three children born in 1980, 1981, and 1988. I know in a few years they will also love their teenagers and their young adults with the same pathos, wringing their hands and their hearts as they whisper:  Please God, let them be safe.

Sometimes when I look back on my childhood, I dwell most on the angst of my teen years and the ways I intentionally or unintentionally caused my mother pain. But I understand now:  it was not the tension and conflict that weighed more in Mama’s thinking. Rather, she looked at me with my lifetime of memories shining behind her eyes, her mind etched, from my Day 1, with things special, precious, unique, her heart swelling, her breath catching at her joy and pride in me. Oh Mama I understand, I get it -- I was loved beyond imagination, and I thank you.

It is indeed a good day to be a happy mother. And without reservation, I am.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Just By Being You

A dog adopted us. Last week during one of the nights of bitter cold, she came to the back door and looked in longingly, and whined. We thought she had somehow gotten into the back yard and could not exit, so we opened the back gate, called her out, closed the gate, and then went to bed.

I awoke early the next morning to find her there again, sitting in the snowdrift against the door, shivering. We could tell she had been well cared for and hoped her true owner would drive by any minute and find her; I tried to ignore her throughout the morning.

By late morning I could not take it anymore and opened the back door and asked her in. She wagged her tail and gratefully laid down on the warm cushion I had prepared for her. Later in the day I went to the store and bought some dog food. The following Saturday I posted a "Found: Shepherd/Heeler Mix" ad on Craigslist with my phone number.

She is a great dog! She can sit, down, and stay, sort of. It's as if she's been to puppy school and obeys about seventy percent of the time. She does not like potato chips or salted nuts (what?!) and will mostly just eat meat or cheese. She's more attached to me than to Pancho, and likes to sleep near my side of the bed. Only once have we heard her bark, a deep, strong, confident bark, when one day he came home from work and she must have thought he was an intruder.

The granddaughters love her. She is animated when they're here and races around them in wide circles, then narrows in, trying to herd their excited affection into a little grouping.

She does not know how to play fetch, and does not know how to heel in a walk. She is used to being inside and is calm in the house, but she likes to jump up on the beds or furniture to sleep. The house appears to be in disarray as we try to hinder this inclination of hers. All the beds are barricaded by closed doors, all the chairs and sofa covered by hard objects like books or picture frames.

I have called her Sunny, because she brought sunny happiness to those cold, glum, snow-bound days we kept having. Like our other dogs, she approaches me for a morning greeting, head to head, and even if she is comfortable on her mat, wags her tail and comes to me if she sees I am gazing at her.

This morning I awoke to a text message from someone who saw my ad on Craigslist. They sent me their own picture of her, claiming her. So today, likely, our fostering situation will end and her true owner will come pick her up.

Opening your arms in welcome to some living thing opens your heart and love flows out. But the outflow does not empty you. It nourishes and replenishes, and grows stronger. It is like Elijah's magic on the cruse of oil and jar of flour belonging to the Widow of Zarephath: it is poured out and used, but never diminished.

Opening your arms in release of some living thing opens your heart, too, and love still pours out, but is mingled with grief. Perhaps in some cases the grief is so acute and enormous it appears to overcome the love, to scar over a wound or staunch the pain. But love is stronger, stronger than separation, stronger than grief, than scars, and will find a new way to flow from a heart freely and jubilantly, welcoming and releasing yet again, but still never diminished.

Sunny, I opened my door one day and asked you in. I open again today to release you. There is indeed grief in separation, but right now, I hallow the moments I enjoy with you: the little, short life that is thoroughly delightful, the brief days with which we are gifted. And until your true owner arrives to take you home, I take every opportunity to honor the living thing you are, and gratefully accept the joy you bring me just by being you.



Monday, April 16, 2012

A Weekend Grilled Meal


Daddy and Bianca had given us a whole sheepshead which had been taking up space in our freezer. Its eyeballs stared at me when I opened the door. Its tail hung out of its freezer bag. I was intimidated by it, but Internet research convinced me not to be afraid of cooking an entire fish. I decided to get Pancho involved in the entire process by grilling it.

I am usually responsible for planning and cooking the food we eat unless it involves the grill, in which case Pancho will don his apron and gather his cooking utensils, adjusting the heat and nurturing the food until it is perfection. Kitchen relief is just one of the many reasons I love grilled food.

Pancho seasoned the sheepshead inside and out with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.   


He grilled it about 7 minutes on each side, occasionally squeezing fresh lemon juice over it. A sheepshead is a saltwater fish with teeth like a sheep, made for gnawing and eating its favorite foods:  barnacles and shellfish. Because of its bony skeleton, it's difficult to filet. It has mildly flavored white meat. The perfect fish for grilling whole.   

He grilled a few tomatoes and a jalapeƱo until the skins were charred.

After removing the skins, I roughly chopped it all, adding olive oil, a few capers, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, salt, and pepper, for a delicious warm tomato relish. 

Asparagus and portobello mushroom caps rounded out the meal.

It plated up beautifully. The evening was perfect for eating outside. Thank you, Pancho dear! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Harvest Undeserved

Today's harvest



Beginning last April, I maintained a vegetable garden. I spent time throughout the summer weeding, watering, and fertilizing. With abundant daily harvests, I froze some of the bounty and gave some away, yet still had enough to preserve jars of pickles, jalapenos, and salsa.

The pleasure was not only in the harvest, but also in the tending. Hours might pass while I pruned tomato plants or spaded in more compost. Pulling out deep-rooted, pernicious Bermuda grass was especially satisfying. 

About mid August my work schedule stepped up, and evenings as well as days were consumed with interviews and reports. Garden maintenance suffered. High winds knocked down the 5’ tomato cages, and I couldn’t replant them properly. So by late September, the garden was not only weed-ridden, but the once-tall tomato plants were twisted askew with unpruned tomato stems and shoots growing through the wire cages at all angles. It was depressing. I quit spending time on it entirely and simply went out to harvest every week. Or two. Or three.

Today the garden caught my eye. I examined the tomato vines, an inseparable, crazy tangle, and spied ripe tomatoes and numerous blooms. I looked at the parsley, basil, thyme, and rosemary. Is it possible these plants reseeded and matured again? For there, undaunted by the crowding Bermuda, grew healthy herbs. Parting the weeds, I saw red and green jalapenos and sweet peppers cheerfully hanging from sturdy stems, as if I’d been taking care of them all along.

In spite of my lack of attention, my good plants have carried on. As I harvested peppers and tomatoes, I felt grateful to a God who continues to be good to me even if I am neglectful; and who continues to bless, even though I am undeserving.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hauling Hay

Since summer began, we here in Oklahoma have had thirty-five days of searing temperatures over 100 degrees. Our pasture grass first thinned, then browned, and is now crunchy and scorched. Without green pasture, the horses have been eating hay since early June.

But hay is hard to come by in these here parts. Farmers say their hay fields yielded only a third of what they cut last year. Demand is high and prices have soared. The farmers we bought from last year were sold out by the time we called in our order.

Fortunately, earlier this year our son-in-law had purchased property in Stilwell that included a hay meadow. When we learned he was baling his hay, we asked to buy 12 bales.

I think since we let him marry our daughter, he felt obligated to sell to us without inflating the price.

 On Saturday, we left before dawn for the 80-mile drive to Stilwell in order to meet Tom and his eldest, Wil, at the farm to haul some bales home.  

 Tom and Wil attach the hayfork to the tractor. 

Tom loads a round bale onto the tractor. 

Are you thinking, “There’s no way that big round bale will fit into that horse trailer”?

 Well, think again. Not only one, but two bales fit.

Are you thinking, “There’s no way that big round bale will fit into the bed of that pick-up”?

It fits.

Two more bales load onto Tom’s utility trailer.

The tractor gets put back to bed.

Pancho, Tom, and Wil secure tarps over the hay for the long drive home.

Uh-oh.

Tarnation. The spare was flat, too. It turns out the stem was brittle and had popped off. Tom drove into the next town to get it fixed. This good-looking cowboy relaxes until his dad returns.

In no time at all, the tire was replaced.

Pancho and I drove to town to fix the stems of the remaining tires, which were all brittle and about to come off, so said the repairman. While there, a man approached us and asked where we bought our hay, calling it "a prize." Another man patted the bale respectfully as he walked by the trailer. I felt like we'd won the lottery.

Once home, the horses helped themselves before we even turned off the truck. They are happy now. 

Thank you, Daughter Karen, for marrying a man who has a hay meadow. Thank you, Tom, for selling to us cheap. And though we are very grateful, may we take this opportunity to remind you that because she is so incredible and wonderful, um, you probably still owe us. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Garden Progress

One of my goals this year was to rework the vegetable garden. We didn't like the original design we created two years ago. Last year, since we didn't garden at all, the raised beds were an eyesore. 


 So we began the process of tear-down.


We torched the dead weeds and grass,


 expanded the borders with concrete blocks, 


 and hauled in a load of dirt, along with bucket after bucket of composted horse manure. I did lots of spading, roto-tilling, and weeding. I planted seeds and plants during tax time -- mid-April. 


 Today, it looks like this.


 I have two cucumber plants -- and one great cucumber so far.



Several types of peppers.


 Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. And also oregano, chives, cilantro, and basil. 


 Neat pathways.


 Onions, scallions, and shallots.


 Radishes. No one in my family likes radishes all that much, but I have to plant them for the short-term gratification. I have started eating radish sandwiches:  good brown bread, sweet butter, thinly sliced, cold radishes, and fleur-de-sol. . . yum. If you'd like to try one, I have some lovely radishes I could give you.



Tomatoes! BIG tomatoes! 


Plenty of tomatoes!