Life with a Small Boy

In a few short weeks, I will begin a new folder in my electronic photo filing system as my son goes from age five to age six. At this point, this is the last photo of him as a five-year-old.

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His life is martial arts, Transformers, Voltron, playgrounds, TMNT, dancing, Legos, and scooters. He can’t wait to get back up to camp. He wants to do everything for himself. He continues to love animals and church and gardens and singing at the top of his lungs.

And life with him makes us wonder how we ever could have thought that our lives were complete before him.

On Garrulous Chipmunks, Belligerent Yellow Jackets, and Other Glories of Fall

japmaple02Somehow, it is October. This has really taken me by surprise. Most years, in September, I start getting out to the nature center or on the River Trail to take photos of the early hints of fall color. I get out in my yard and start trimming back spent perennials and vegetable plants. I pull out my warm clothes and closed-toe shoes.

But this September, one of the nicest I can remember weather-wise, was so very, very busy. I don’t quite know why. Perhaps it has to do with our big schedule changes at home with our son in school every day, karate and church stuff three nights a week, Sunday school preparation on Saturdays, research into my next book most nights…the list just seems to go on. Whatever the reason, I didn’t “feel” September this year. I missed it, somehow.

And so it’s October. The chipmunks are constantly chirping, for what reason I cannot tell. We’ve started a quarterly relationship with Terminix to rid our home of the yellow jackets we thought we could trust (who then perniciously invaded the sunroom) and ants and other such things. The bergamont and peonies are coming down with a serious case of powdery mildew. And any remaining tomatoes out there have been thoroughly taste-tested by squirrels, raccoons, and tiny black worms. The honeymoon’s officially over with this year’s garden and it’s time to do some pretty ruthless chopping and bagging.

Our attention is lifted from ground level as we start to notice the trees flirting with colors that have always been there beneath the chlorophyllic green. We buy the first jugs of apple cider. We start contemplating a nice color drive Up North. We remember to bring our camera with us everywhere just in case the mist and the sun should kiss in the morning over drifts of red sumac leaves. (Yes, some of us still use an actual camera rather than a phone.)

And we hope that we won’t miss October. Because this, the most beautiful of months, only comes once a year.

Measuring My Life in Woodpiles and Cucumbers

Despite the fact that our Midwestern home is kept warm in the cold months with a furnace that runs on natural gas, we are the happy beneficiaries of the many lovely aspects of a wood-burning fireplace. In the winter months, we often have a fire roaring and crackling away, with the whole family (animal members included) lolling around in the living room, basking in its warm glow. By the time spring came around this year, we’d burned through our woodpile and were on to the odious task of buying wood from grocery and hardware stores–wood that was never quite dry enough and since we burned it, it really did fell as though we were burning money.

This year, however, our fireplace fuel needs have been taken care of thanks to an enormous dead sugar maple that we finally decided to dispose of before it crushed our house during a windstorm. It’s a good thing we acted when we did, as the modern-day lumberjack who took it down informed us that about half the trunk was hollow (including the root system).

NovFirst2The guys cut the big branches down to fireplace log size and stacked them up on the driveway along the fence. And, as I requested, they left an enormous pile of smaller branches for me to break down into kindling, which is what has occupied a fair bit of my weekend already.

There is something so ancient-Anglo-Saxon-peasant about breaking up sticks and bunching them together in containers. Not that my Germanic and British ancestors would have used plastic flowerpots to store their kindling, but…you get the idea. As I cracked and hacked and sawed and snipped each branch into size and created my bouquets of branches, I felt I was doing good work. Work that had a practical application in life. Necessary work.

I took a break for a while to collect ripe tomatoes and cucumbers from the vegetable garden and thought about chopping them up along with some onion to make a cucumber salad, another act of breaking something down into useful parts.

I think about the apricot/plum and blueberry jam I just made, about the impending autumn chores of raking and cutting back the perennials, of the winter chores of shoveling snow and scraping the car. And I find myself very much looking forward to spending the cold months in my cozy house as we somehow cope with the fact that my son is now in kindergarten and we wait to see the tangible results of much time spent writing and editing.

Life marches inexorably on without our permission in some ways and cannot move fast enough to please us in others. So we practice contentment in all things and carry on with the tasks at hand.

Time to get back to my woodpile.

Why didn’t I think to describe someone as “mouldy?”

After a rather long hiatus, I have once again picked up Virginia Woolf’s abridged diary in the evenings. I’m absolutely enraptured with Woolf’s ability to use a few precise, often unexpected words to describe a person or a situation. Here are a few I’ve underlined.

“Roger is becoming one of the successes of the day as a painter of perfectly literal and very unpleasant portraits.”

“I doubt that anyone will say the interesting things but they can’t prevent their coming out.”

“Whether people see their own rooms with the devastating clearness that I see them, thus admitted once for an hour, I doubt. Chill superficial seemliness; but thin as a March glaze of ice on a pool.”

“Being an editor has drugged the remnants of ambition in him, and he is now content.”

“Sometimes everything gets into the same mood.”

“In my heart, too, I prefer the nondescript anonymous days of youth. I like youthful minds; and the sense that no one’s yet anybody.”

“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”

“It annoys me to be like other wives.”

“She has been working over these old stories so often, that they hold no likeness to the truth–they are stale, managed, pulled this way and that, as we used to knead and pull the crumb of bread, till it was a damp slab.”

“Ethel’s [tea] was a ghastly frizzly frying pan affair.”

“No I don’t trust him; I don’t trust any human being, however loud they bellow and roll their rs.”

“Such is human nature–and really I don’t like human nature unless all candied over with art.”

“I know why I am depressed: a bad habit of making up the review I should like before reading the review I get.”

“Here at the age of forty-five are Nessa and I growing little wings again after our lean years.”

“And now there’s the Femina prize to record–an affair of dull stupid horror.”

I’m happy to be once again immersed in the world of a very thoughtful writer who truly considered everything in her life and felt the compulsion to write about it–parties, visitors, scenes on London’s streets, the impact of a solar eclipse, books, homes, hairstyles, the subtle interplay between couples. Everything was literary. She inspires me to see all of life through the lens of what I might write about it.

Seeing Beyond Myself

We’ve recently had some lovely frosty, clear mornings in mid-Michigan and I’m glad I had my camera handy when I was dropping off my son at school.

Mornings and evenings in cold weather are what make the dark and dreary winter months more bearable, and may even lift them to a level more on par with the wonder of springtime.

There are so very many lovely things in this world, to be found in all seasons.

We woke up this morning to a beautiful dusting of light snow, though most of it is melted now. The trees are all bare, but for a few that keep their leaves rather tenaciously, like the oaks. Puts me in mind of a little poem I wrote last November I’ll share with you here.

I think that may be the last thing I painted, an entire year ago! I’ve been getting the itch to paint again, though my usual spot in the sunroom has been taken over by model trains for the winter.

The waning months of the year are when we start getting those “Top Whatever of 2012″ lists sprinkled across various media outlets, and before that silliness begins, I’m taking a moment to analyze my own year.

I’ve spent most of my free time in 2012 sewing clothes for myself, contributing to the Sew Weekly, and editing a novel. It’s been a very self-focused year. I was convicted of that this morning. As we near the beginning of Advent and the beginning of winter, I hope to turn my thoughts and efforts more toward others, which, as a writer who tends toward introversion and introspection, can sometimes be difficult to do.

I wonder if you’ve ever had the same epiphany, that your life, energy, and efforts were too focused on yourself. Assuming the world doesn’t end in a few weeks, what are you going to do differently in 2013? Where will you put your efforts? Will you spend your time entertaining yourself and thinking of ways you can further your goals? Or will you conscientiously look for ways to serve? I want to look beyond myself and I pray for the passion and focus to do so. I want to be one lone oak leaf that, in dying to self, can live in such a way that my efforts ripple outward and touch every corner of my pond.