On putting things to bed.

The rain is falling outside for the first time in weeks; it’s a sound I love.  It’s also surprisingly cold, and the leaves are suddenly coming down faster, and it makes me realize that this weekend, or maybe next is peak leaf weekend.  And then we’re heading downhill fast toward the dead of winter.

I try not to think this way, most of the time.  I try to stay more centered in where I am and what is beautiful there.  And so I’m supporting those habits by spending a lot more time appreciating the rituals of fall, especially since this is the first year in a while I’ve had that luxury.  (Babies do not permit a great deal of house-and-garden time, at least not mine.)  So here’s what that looks like:

1. Mums on the steps, orange, white, and maroon.  A daily reminder of what’s lovely and right, even when we’re barreling past them with arms full of squealing, squirming kids en route to or from some hideous ordeal like the grocery store.

2. PUMPKINS on the steps.  This is totally new to me, since I’m one of those freak shows who sees the pumpkin primarily as a foodstuff rather than an item of decor.  But today at the farmers’ market, as I’m asking Ezra if we should buy one pumpkin “to look at and then to eat,” our farmer Trent Emery (of Emery Farms; love them a lot) points out that he has sacks of ten pumpkins for ten bucks.  Sugar pumpkins.  In great shape.  Decorate and then devour.  That’s right.  Who am I to say no to a sack of pumpkins?

3. Leaves actually getting raked.  Since it’s been so dry, they’ve been incredibly easy to manage, and it’s become my little twenty-minute workout to whisk them into the driveway and then on down the slope to our Massive Epic Leaf Pile at the bottom.  The kids are doing a banner job of breaking them down into the leaf-crumbs that I like to put all through my garden beds, so this is a win-win-win.

4. Finally doing some serious weeding of the garden and, eventually, harvesting the last of things.  But if the weather is mild, we can harvest kale without protection through early December.  Putting the garden to bed isn’t quite as finite and rhythmic a process as one might imagine.

5. Mulching the perennial beds.  Poor things, they straggle through the summer without the moisture they need because I’m cheap and water-conscious (okay, and lazy), and then fall comes and they get an inch of mulch and suddenly revive.  Makes me realize what lovely gardens I’d have if I, you know, tended them.

All this settling in, tending to, quieting down has made me think more about the kids’ bedtimes, and ours, too.  After all, we’re organisms in need of rest as well.  I’ve tended to focus on the obvious: the stories, the sips of water, the schedules and routines.  But I find the outside gives me new perspective on the insides, too.  My understanding of the value of blankets shifts after watching the plants respond to the mulch: it’s not just about keeping out the cold, but about snuggling, protection, nests.  My imagination of my children’s needs shifts after thinking through the garden soil and its many forms of symbiosis: no organism stands alone, and sometimes we want company and stories together, and sometimes we just need the nurture of one primary caregiver.  Sometimes we need water, sometimes mama milk, sometimes a snuggle-animal, sometimes light, sometimes dark.  We probably meet the needs anyway, since that’s pretty much our job, but there’s a difference between scattering fertilizer and layering compost.  There’s a difference between rushing through a story and giving the characters their full voices.  I save the singing for the crib-time, after the nursing, just as I save the compost for the spring, just as I rarely water.  But why?  My garden survives on this rhythm, but it could do better.  Listening and watching and smelling and being THERE can help us understand the whole range of organic needs that our people and plants profess, including the need to thrive, to blossom, to yield fruit, to be the whole and stunning miracles they can be.

On survival, of a sort

I’ve been tired a lot today, and I was trying to decide why.  Was it:

a) the three days I’ve been solo-parenting two sick kids?

b) the inordinate amounts of prep I’m trying to squeeze in for this new course I’m teaching?

c) the fact that I, too, am probably coming down with this obnoxious cold?

d) my anxiety about my elder son’s imminent surgery finally coming home to roost?

or e) the fact that Len is back in the state and therefore my systemic adrenaline levels are dropping as I anticipate succor and rest?

Yeah, all of the above.  Nothing dramatic here, just ordinary life, but boy can it wail on you when it wants to.

Today featured some fabulous new snot-stains on the couch; a respectable number of poops in the potty, much admired by all and handled by none; an over-the-shoulder broccoli-tossing event at dinner; two miserable, overtired boys who refused to sit in the tub and were instead rinsed as they stood sobbing, huddled together.  There was one hearty shove onto the tiled floor; one mighty swat to the face (resulting in glasses needing repair before future wearing); a wide range of kicking-type strategies implemented with varying degrees of subtlety.  There was a whole lot of nursing; some experimentation with cheap plastic lacrosse sets; one illicit sprint across a newly-refinished deck.  There were many conversations with a contractor: why does yellow, even a yellow I love, make me feel oppressed in my kitchen?  It’s like forced cheerfulness.  Screw that.  There was one conversation with a pre-school teacher: it’s not just at home that E sets EVERY ANIMAL IN

Animals on the move.  As usual.

Animals on the move. As usual.

THE ROOM in a massive herd, facing the same direction, like some kind of exodus.  We all chuckle and reflect upon the fine line between obsessive tendency and full-blown neurosis.  There was one article proposal accepted; one complex childcare-during-brother’s-surgery strategy worked out; many bills paid.  Non-stop nose-wiping.  It was, in short, a day.

And how was yours?

Resurfacing

You know how when you get sick and worn down, nothing seems significant anymore?  And that which does is mostly depressing?  Yeah.  That’s been the past week.  But we’re all starting to get better now, which gave rise to a fit of afternoon food production around here: lentil-sausage-pesto soup and citrus olive-oil cake and even some bread dough.  Recipes are offered below.  But I just wanted to register not only this fine achievement but also an important realization: when we’re low and off-kilter and sick, we consume.  When we’re grounded and whole and healthy, we produce.  Perhaps this is not the most important thing I’ve ever noticed, but then again, perhaps it is.  Resurfacing does more than let us gasp for air — it reminds us how to swim.

Recipes:

Lentil Soup: from Smitten Kitchen (scroll down the page some to find the actual recipe amid all the hoopla and enthusiasm), but I like it best with garlic sausage instead of sweet italian; kale instead of chard; and a cup or so of pesto to keep things lively.  It’s gorgeous.  Oh, and the garlic oil they rave about?  I haven’t tried it.  I’m sure it’s brilliant.  But who has time?  This is quick, healthy, and totally delicious.

Citrus Olive-Oil Cake: sorry I can’t share it.  It’s from Rustic Fruit Desserts, about which I often rave, and I probably need permission.  Pester me if you want me to look into it.  I will mention that we used only grapefruit and orange rind and substituted lemon extract — which makes me wonder if you could use all extracts in a pinch? — and it was terrific.  I used a pretty fruity olive oil and next time will go milder.  I mean, the cake itself is GORGEOUS, but with such a strong oil, you end up with a bit of aftertaste and -feel.

Bread: this one cracks me up.  I’ve been flirting with bread-baking for, oh, fifteen years or so.  I mostly spend a lot of time to make something kind of mediocre and so I bail.  I think I really need to get a sourdough starter and try again.  But this was a last-ditch effort at ordinary yeasty hearth bread, and I tried it because it’s no-knead.  So a lot less time.  I figured it would suck, but whatever.  Here’s the thing: it’s really good! It is, so far, hands-down the best bread I’ve ever made.  The coolest part is that you make the dough, let it sit out for two hours, and then refrigerate it for as long as you want.  You cut off a chunk to make a loaf (my dough will make about three loaves, I think), shape it and set it out to rise for about 40 minutes, and then you bake it on a pizza stone.  Absolutely delicious, and with a better crumb and texture than anything else I’ve made.  Maybe bread is like garden soil: we all think we have to maul it for best results, but if we can get out of the way and let it do its own thing, it’s brilliant.  Recipe is here.