Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's the Great Pumpkin Competition

So much for getting photos of peoples pumpkins for display. Thanks Mom for sending me yours!! I guess my example photo scared everyone away. But anyway the pumpkins we carved for Halloween include:

No. 1: I think I should have quit with the smaller fake eye lashes and used a little more tooth whitener.

No 2: Patriotic Pumpkin-Good ole stars and zigzags (?)

No. 3: Mrs. Packman's Revenge

No. 4: Half-pint

No. 5: When all else fails just smile

No. 6: Simply Creepy

No. 7: Who is holding Who (Witch Holding a Pumpkin)

Vote for your favorite in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mike's Tractor Rampage

A few nights ago Mike took the Kubota tractor out for a random rototilling in the garden with Ella on board. I am not sure what he was really trying to accomplish other than recreate. Obviously, my husband also has a certain penchant for the Kubota, or slightly more fondness for tractors than the average farm raised kid. He has been around tractors since a child and likely was taught to drive by his Mom and Dad as soon as he could be trusted, which would have been later not sooner on the sliding scale of childhood since he was the most pesky of his siblings. Everyone in his family was required to operate the tractors on their farm since they grew something like 100 acres of oat hay and raised all kinds of livestock.

The tractor represents a few things in life for Mike, such as: man concurs land, man partners with machine, and man relaxing. Additionally, much like Sunday football for normal men, the Kubota is a form of mostly passive entertainment for my husband. Mike can mindlessly drone about the property and say he is putting in his part for grounds upkeep with minimum physical effort on his behalf. Also driving the tractor probably provides his much needed mental escape from daily job related chaos. I guess if I really had to choose I would rather Mike drive the tractor around than watch TV.

Often times our son accompanies daddy Mike on his mindless tractor rampages around the property perimeters and the interior fence lines.
Wearing his protective ear muffs, Wyatt stoically sits on Mikes lap watching the scenery go by. I like looking out the window and spotting the pair of them buzzing the tall weeds on the back fence line. Mike in his sunglasses and wide brimmed camouflage hat and the little blond boy with what looks like big black beetles eating away at his ears.

Mike likes rototilling and mowing with our Kubota. And I do mean everything. When he fires up the tractor and says he is going to do some work with it I sigh and wonder what he will destroy on this joyful day. Victims of his tractorizing include tennis balls, large bouncy balls, golf balls, plastic shovels, small metal Tonka toys, and more linear feet of drip line and garden hoses than I care to measure. I have come to the realization that basically anything on the ground is fair game. I can’t discern if he really does not see what lies in front of him or he is a mercenary intentionally running the things down. He has been known to say with a smile, “I want it all baby…” when I point out the carnage that results from his mowing. From time to time Mike will offer up a disclosure on what he has broken with the Kubota. “Uh… your drip line on the south fence was not in line with the trees, so it got hit… ” At these special moments, I think his kindness to me knows no end.

After the motor dies down and the likelihood that I will get hit by a stray rock or other flying debris is eliminated, I go to assess the damages that have been accrued in my irrigation system. Most often I discover the lacerated black tubing in my orchard and the shredded green garden hose on the back lawn. Add in the bonus items like the filleted yellow tennis ball torn into three pieces next to the sand pile, its inner rubber core exposed to the curious, and the carnage is complete. This path of destruction is not limited to the Kubota, but extends to the John Deere riding lawn mower as well; and with Mike at the helm, it executes things in its path with the same deadly precision as the tractor.

Me and sister-in-law Suzi both know that when Mike gets ready to mow, it is time to dash out and retrieve anything of value from the premises since there is a good chance it will not survive to see another day if left to defend it self. We console ourselves with the fact that the weeds get mowed, and thus one more task does not fall upon us. Mikes eccentricities aside, it is nice to having someone else take responsibility for something without having to ask.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rough Sea to Dreams

For the most part, it is very quiet where I live in rural California. The silence at night is only broken by the occasional car driving down our two-lane country road, and given this sea of quietude I should drift to a blissful slumber without impediment, but I don't. Falling to sleep is one of the illusive and fleeting moments in time which I strive to capture on a regular basis. It has been likely over five years since I have slept a continuous eight hours, due to a combination of two pregnancies and the resultant babies, all too frequent childhood viruses, and night time potty trips which all make for rough waters in my sea of dreams. Other nights, my husband's arrival home in the wee hours of the morning due to his erratic work schedule wakes me up. While I do get between seven and eight hours of sleep at night, it is too often fragmented by various awakenings and my own body, which does not know how to sleep for long durations any more. It is amazing how only a few moments of awakening in the night will fracture the quality of sleep. I don't take much comfort or solace in the fact that I am not alone since this is the plight of women everywhere. It just shows how much women sacrifice with little kids.

I am a huge fan of Dr. Weissbluth's, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and after disciplined sleep training, both my kids fall to sleep most excellently. I have attempted to apply his general principles to my own sleep habits as well as to my children. I would not call myself a good sleeper to begin with, but now I sleep with ear plugs in to muffle errant noises. Also, I will forcibly put myself to bed before ten on most nights.

Being the bed time Nazi for my kids has been a necessary evil so they get the sleep that they deserve. Also I won't schedule any activities at nap time to protect their schedules. Wyatt, at four years of age, sleeps about ten hours an night and takes a two hour nap still. Ella, approaching two, sleeps about 11 hours at night with a two hour nap. Luckily, Wyatt can mostly take him self to the bathroom in the middle of the night now. My biggest problem remains the illnesses which generally ruin Ella's sleep patterns with fevers and runny noses. Unavoidable but frustrating for Mom's everywhere, I am sure.

Overall, I feel like I have given them the gift of sleep, a present that I don't think they will ever know the true value. I realize that living rurally allows them to expend their energies outside in a physical way that readies their bodies for sleep. I am often sincerely thankful that we don't live in a subdivision, though a 800 square foot house is our sacrifice. The outdoor living space we have gives our kids square footage to play in the dirt, pet the horses, check the chicken boxes for eggs, and dig in the sand pile throughout the day.

There seems to be a window of opportunity for my falling asleep, which if interrupted makes it more difficult to attain the mystic sleep state. Also there is the time period between eight and about ten where falling asleep becomes almost impossible. Often, when I lay down during this time zone my mind swims, and I wish there was a switch to turn off the engine within my brain. I think that if you don't learn this early as a child it is increasingly difficult as an adult. When I was a little kid I spent many nights up too late in my room, unable to fall asleep quickly, so I know this just does not go away by growing up. I think that if your brain's sleep wiring doesn't get installed at an early age sleeping will always be somewhat problematic.

Since I am coming off about 12 days of illness between my son, myself, and my daughter, I feel pretty much sleep deprived. It is times like this that I long for my single days when I only had to throw the cat out the door before I went to bed and I would be guaranteed a good nights sleep. For now I will try to dream about it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank God for Modern Medicine

With what felt like fire in my lungs and throat, and a discernible wheeze with each breath, I was once again faced with my human mortality and fragility. And this description lacks the literary embellishment that I may use when writing a normal essay. For the most part, I am a robust individual with a strong physique, but the fact that these qualities do not translate into a superior immune system is painfully obvious. After reading the nap time stories to my children on Monday it was apparent something more was wrong with me beside a simple virus, since with each sentence I had to make a protracted effort to suck air into my lungs. At this point I think the armies of bacteria begin to set up their encampment in my lungs to battle me to the death. Bronchitis is miserable, thank God for antibiotics.

Also, I wanted to give a shout out to my husband who asked me in the midst of all my misery, "Why do you get so sick?" This posed as if I was intentionally trying to harm myself. The only appropriate reply is, "I get sick on purpose. I lick shopping carts and pay phones so I can bring some nasty viral scourge into our household." (credit for quote to Suzi)

Every time I need antibiotics, I remind myself that the infection that I harbor could put me in the grave. When I was in high school, my AP Comp teacher put this into perspective for the class when she asked,

1. Who has broken a bone?,

2. Who has needed antibiotics?, and

3. Who has been in the hospital for a few days?

After all the hands in the air were tallied only 10 of 30 were unmarked by an uncertain early death. All the things above would have or could have led to the death of the individual without modern treatment. And as I qualified in two of three categories I could have been dead twice by high school. Since then, add a couple more nasty sinus infections and a breach baby and I could be dead six times or more.

I am not one to run to the doctor at the first sign of illness. But I asked the doctor last time I got a bad sinus infection what would happen if I did not treat it. She said the bacteria can drain into your throat and lungs and cause bronchitis and then pneumonia. Not being a huge risk taker in this area, I generally do not want to try to find out if my body can battle bacteria on such a massive front. Antibiotics have been way over used during the past 15 years but sometimes there is a need. My respect and admiration goes out to the incremental advances in medical treatment and the scientist who work for the sake of healing people.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sick of Being Sick

As I am in the grips of a virus that has fully taken possession of my body I am not up to normal pros for the week. It feels like someone took a hoof rasp and scraped it up and down my throat. Thus, nothing spectacular from the compound this week other than the life and death battle between me and a couple thousand body snatchers.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Battle of the Table

I am almost certain that the unique genetic recombination that resulted in the creation of my two children, has spawned offspring who are nearly incapable of sitting through a meal at my kitchen table. Blame my husband Mike, since he is spastic at best, or blame me since I am known to be a smidge active; either way our poor kids are pretty much fated by hereditary to be in constant motion.

Maybe I have not seen enough young children eating at home, maybe I have too high expectations, or maybe I am experiencing normal, age appropriate behavior from my children. All guesses could be right, all guesses could be wrong. All I know is their antics drive me to reach for a beer about half way through dinner, and I know this must be what drives some parents to drink. The table is my personal Armageddon three times a day and each meal becomes exponentially worse than the previous one. Breakfast is generally OK, lunch somewhat manageable, and dinner is mostly a 20 minute nightmare. This cycle is repeated day after day after day... and put away that miniature fiddle that you are playing on my behalf.

Since both of my children appear to have fleas or ants crawling all over their bodies when asked to sit still, various tactics have been employed to control their sphere of influence. We used a booster seat with a strap to restrain Wyatt until he turned 3 and had to abandon this system since he nearly flipped him self over in his chair on several occasions by pushing with his feet on the edge of the table. Then he graduated to the bench seat where in theory he can do less damage to himself, but it opens the door to unlimited motion during the mealtime proceedings. Ella is still in a booster seat with a strap; without the strap latched, she shimmies down her chair in about 12.8 seconds.

So I have made the appropriate motherly efforts to physically restrain my children through their dinning experiences, much to their distain and dislike. By the way my kids gyrate one would think they have an acute case of poison oak or maybe hemorrhoids. Sitting through a meal is akin to water torture for them. I think they would rather lick their food off the floor then eat at the table.

At breakfast, Wyatt mostly eats his food with only leaving the table about twice. I am lucky that three times a week Wyatt eats his lunch in his car seat as Aunt Suzi brings him home from preschool. Since he is strapped in a car seat he eats great and I have contemplated bringing it in for meals. At the battle royale, otherwise known as dinner, Wyatt sits for about two bites then, goes into flight mode. He and I spend the rest of the time in a mortal combat where I may have to retrieve him four to six times and physically return him to his seat. Other times it can be much, much worse. After the third or forth time he drops his fork, I can feel a red hot irritation spread through my nervous system and I go to a quiet place in my mind so that I don't pummel the child.

At any given meal, Ella strapped in her booster will take between three and five bites then say repeatedly "awl done, awl done, awl done." I make her stay there for at least five minutes or until it looks like she has eaten a portion of her food, then I relent and unsnap her lap belt. She has developed quite a throwing arm and can side arm pitch a chunk of potato 10 feet across our kitchen. When she was in a high chair, she invented a clever cleaning method for the tray. By emulating the back and forth action of a windshield wiper, one of her short toddler arms can efficiently clear the entire contents of her tray/table in about two swipes. Wyatt's howling laughter at his sisters lovely and endearing table time antics brings a beaming smile to her face. Then there is the peeking under the table at each other coupled with the fits of giggles.

Going out to eat presents it's own logistical difficulties as Mike and I have to each take one of the children in to our physical custody in order to keep them from crawling under the table or climbing over the bench seats. Denny's is about the only place we can go were I don't feel guilty about the kids behaviour, but the food is just not worth the effort. How is it that every time we go out to eat, I see a lovely family with a quiet and mostly motionless child who sits in their highchair without fighting. Where do these children come from? What do the parents do them at home to create such results?

So the only up side to the lack of classy table manners at my home is that the kids eat vegetables and a variety of food preparations. Wyatt eats broccoli, green beans, cucumbers and an occasional carrot and is acquiring a taste for other less desirable fodder through my unrepentant use of bribery. Ella, the more cosmopolitan eater since the introduction of the first jars of baby food, will try almost everything. She will happily chew on a piece of bell pepper or cucumber and eats entrees just as well. Ella also has a penchant for Lima beans which she intentionally picks first to eat from the mixed vegetables. They both like mac and cheese but do not require it for their subsistence. Even though the kids resemble a pair of circus freaks while dining, they manage to get food into their bellies. I hope as they learn to control the electrical impulses that surge through their bodies that they will eventually be able to sit at the table like normal kids. For now, I will endeavor to train them as tedious and mind numbing as it can be. :)

Afterward: Last night both kids sat for an unprecedented 10 minutes before starting to squirm. There is hope yet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wyatt Almost Crashes the Kubota

My son's latest attempt to drive the tractor by himself almost resulted in the total destruction of a couple fuel tanks, the storage shed they were in, and of course himself. The day before this almost fatal event, Mike and Wyatt were picking up weeds together after doing some mowing around the property. Mike had spent some considerable time with the boy doing clean up and driving the Kubota everywhere. Mike had carefully instructed Wyatt on moving the shifter back and forth and raising and lowering the bucket accordingly. Since Wyatt is too short to use the gas pedal he uses an accelerator attached to the steering column to make the tractor go faster or slower when in gear. There is a cute little turtle and rabbit on the handle that he understands perfectly well.

I was undeniably happy to see the two of them working together since Mike is gone at work alot of the week during the summer and Wyatt misses his Dada alot. They had a great time doing male bonding stuff that they're supposed to. The final issuance from father to son was an emphatic directive that Wyatt could not drive the tractor without Dad or Mom.

But after having a total "tractor day" with Daddy, Wyatt was convinced he was now a fully qualified operating engineer. We should know better to believe that the most critical instruction actually sunk into his brain's receptors that acknowledge information. Like his Dad, there are moments when his eyes glaze over and my words float above him drifting off into the atmosphere like a freed balloon. And there are the pure rebellious streaks when his eyebrows knit together, much like my own, and our directives bounce off his forehead like he is some super hero defecting weapons of mass destruction. The reality is that Wyatt does not hear what he does not want to.

Thusly instructed by his Dad, he still insisted on telling me in private later that day that he could drive the tractor by himself. I really did not think much of his declaration since I get this type of statement from Wyatt regularly, as his assessment of his skills and his true abilities are often exaggerated by his mouth. What 3 and a half year old wouldn't think they could drive a tractor solo?

The next morning I told Wyatt we were going to drag the arena and he excitedly ran off toward the front door, slamming it as he exited the house. I was getting Ella ready with shoes inside and really thought nothing of it. As I walked outside about a minute and half later, I witnessed the tractor backing slowly out of the barn. A cold sweat of panic is all I felt as put Ella down to gallop to rescue Wyatt from certain disaster. The tractor gets parked in a narrow lean-to and there are tanks and storage areas directly behind it. The creeping orange machine was inching toward no uncertain mayhem.

In the drivers seat Wyatt resembled the Wizard from Oz in miniature form, with his arms moving frantically back and forth, pulling this and that, in effort to do something. His tiny pivoting head was looking to the front and then quickly to the back of the tractor and I knew he did not know what to do. The metal tractor bucket was still on the ground and was scratching a chalk board symphony on top of the base rock. Additionally, the box scraper was planted at the rear of the Kubota and was grinding rocks and kicking up dust as the tractor slowly jerked backward.

I know that while I was running, I was screaming at Wyatt to turn the Kubota off. The dash between the house and the shop is only 10 seconds, maybe 15 on a slow day, but I could not get there fast enough. When I got close enough to see Wyatt's face, his expression was of fear since he clearly knew he got himself in to more than he expected. By the time I got to Kubota he had finally flipped the shifter into Neutral and the tractor had stopped. The only damage that resulted was some minor scraping to the ladders that led up to the fuel tanks. Had the tractor crept backward another five feet it would have brought down the storage shed that housed them.

In retrospect, I think that in his mind, Wyatt was driving the tractor with me, even though I was still at the house. But I could not let his interpretation of the events get saved in his hard drive. What surprises me most is that after a spanking, a good ass chewing, and some time in his room, Wyatt still had the confidence and bravado to tell his nanny a few hours later, "Rose, I can drive the tractor by myself." I think I am doomed.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rain and Fire

We were blessed with the first real rain of the year and for me it was not at all too soon. In fact I could use more. We need to summon the rain gods to grant us a little more water, so let the rain dances begin. Our property has resembled a Midwestern dust bowl for the past three months, complete with dry, powdery soils and blowing dirt particles when dust devils twirl through our yard. After the gentle rain last week, the grounds were softly dampened, suppressing the dust just enough to satisfy me for a while.

Along with the first rainfall we celebrated the opening season for bonfires at our house. Fires are basically banned all summer long since all the lands surrounding us will catch ablaze if you so much as glance at the grasses the wrong way. So with wetted vegetation on the hillsides and valley, we can once again enjoy the return of glowing embers in the fire pit which symbolically marks the resurgence of a primeval ritual that has worked its way into our lives.

In preparation for the lighting of our campfire, Mike took all the kids to the wood pile and filled the bucket of the Kubota with "recycled" pieces of wood from a construction job. Lots of short pieces of 2x4 and other wooden undesirables get used for burning instead of going to the land fill. Once the gathering of wood is complete, the older kids get a free ride in the tractor bucket back to the fire pit. After unloading their fodder, they get busy placing the logs strategically for optimal burning.

Then with Mike in possession of gasoline, the true ignition source, the blaze flairs up instantly and spectacularly. Some day I will suggest they get out the stick and string and try the old fashioned way, when I think they need to prove themselves, but for now instant gratification is O.K.. I think this sudden display of fire triggers early evolutionary cues within their bodies harkening them back to the dawning of mankind. Add a couple grunts and exclaimations from the pack of males and imagine them with fur wraps and the picture would be complete.

I am a believer that the men in our family are really only semi-civilized. The boys, ages 7, 6, 5, and 4, all stand in amazement for a few moments, their eyes brightly shining while looking upon the red, orange, and blue colors that leap to heights taller than they stand. They can't help staring, they are men. In each child an eagerness is visible in their expression, but self restraint is applied since they have seen this before and know what it is like to get accidentally burned. The fire is anticipation, the fire is excitement, the fire is patience, and the fire is comfort. Many things are tied up in that fire for our little cavemen.

After the initial blaze dampers down and the fire is approachable, the boys get sticks and start to poke at the fire and its embers. Meanwhile, the adults set up a circle of chairs around the fire as the last light of day fades over the hills to the west. Cousin Adam takes his stick out of the fire, and since it is lit like a torch, waves it over his head until an adult tells him otherwise. Then Trevor gains the short-handled axe and goes to work chopping slivers off a large chunk of wood. He is very determined and is visibly concentrating with such commitment that I don't worry about him handling what is a potential weapon. This exercise is honing his hand eye coordination for sure, but why can't he do this with his school work?

Then someone then reveals a bag of marshmallows and the real festivities begin. Each kid has a long steel wire, made for just for toasting the sugar-loaded puffs. I hate to think what the ingredients are in the round, white, rather unnatural-looking treat, but I comfort myself knowing that we might finish but two bags a year. The little cave boys don't think twice about it. They each try their hand at toasting, burning, dropping and eating a few marshmallows; even little Ella gets a chance to cook her dessert with my help and ultimately ends up with streaks of sticky marshmallow on her face and in her hair. Aaagghhhh!!

Then as the fire settles to glowing embers and blackened wood remains alive with hot edges, we start to think about going inside. The chill of the night descends upon us and even with the fire, I think it is better in my house. However, with their inner caveman awakened, the boys fight to stay outside, and only reluctantly acquiesce. Sometimes there are tears as the adults drag the kids inside for baths. And at the end of a battle my son, Wyatt always asks me, "Mom, can we have a fire again tomorrow?"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rows of Corn

Simply stated, my husband Mike has an obsession with growing corn. This past time begun as a few meagre rows and has now enlarged to over 15 looming rows that occupy the area about twice the size of an average track home backyard. To say he is compulsive about the success of his corn is not saying much, but we all sigh and attempt to graciously forebear his corn growing neurosis.

Mike's, corn growing hobby began after sister-in-law, Suzi, had attempted four years in succession to grow corn as a normal part of her garden. Suzi started out with a few rows and planted per the instructions on the package, but did not have much success, since her corn would fall over when it got tall or did not produce the quality of vegetable that was desired by the "Men."

So Suzi was deemed a failure in the eyes of the corn master, Mike and for all intents and purposes in the eyes of her husband, Jeff (Mike's brother). Mind you neither of said "Men" put in effort to grow, tend or otherwise care for the corn but they were eager to provide their bountiful commentary and suggestions. Every year unsolicited advice was given such as, "Wait until the corn is wilty and curling before watering," "Plant the corn seeds deeper in the ground," "Don't water too much," and "Don't water too often." Throw in an occasional, "You're not watering enough," and it was enough to make poor Suzi's head spin round resembling the the little girl in the exorcist. This hazing was often provided by both Jeff and Mike as a team and by each independently and was a special joy that Suzi looked forward to hearing on an annual basis. Such sage and wise advice is hard to come by, so after four attempts and four failures, Suzi abandoned the quest for home grown corn.

Who better to pick up the torch but Mike, avid advice solicitor and little doer. Well the first year under his sole directive, Mike attacked the project with "Manly" tools. The rototiller was attached to the Kubota and the swath of ground on which the corn was to be planted was deeply turned and churned and mauled, until it was deemed ready. More manly tools of science were purchased which included a hand-push seeder to systematically plant each corn kernel in a row. I was even called to go forth and purchase corn seed in mass quantities, because Mike was going to show us "Women" how to grow corn correctly. Rows were planted for every two weeks until there was enough. Clearly, women are not capable knowing how much is enough or of growing corn alone under this scenario.

But there is still more. Oh no, you say. After the planting of the corn was completed, the watering process began. I can still hear the "spritz, spritz, spritz" of the rotating sprinkler head that ran night after night until the ground was wet enough to ensure germination. If one of the kids accidentally stepped into the corn area they sunk up to their waist and had to be craned out by an adult since the sticky soils sucked them in deeper when they tried to escape. After corn seed germinating and the drying of the bog, the rows were carefully mounded to support the corn seedlings. Side note: I think this was the missing component to Suzi's effort. Mike hoed soil around the base of the corn to supported it and thus no falling occurred over when the corn cobs were ripening. I think the correct farming terminology for this process is "furrowing," but I am still just a city girl living in the country and am not really qualified to make this assertion. After this point in the growing process things tend to calm down.

I think my favorite part of this whole process occurs when the corn flowers bloom. It is at this time, when the corn is about five feet tall, you can stand at the end of the rows and gaze down the tops of the tassels. As you look carefully you see the bees, our friends the bees. Hundreds of bees show up, from where I don't know, but they arrive to do the work that no "Man" can do. The steady humming sound that fills my ears when standing quietly in the afternoon sunshine is truly beautiful and awe inspiring. This is the sound of countless little wings flapping faster than the eye can see. From here on the corn is gold within a few weeks and ready to eat.

The next question to pose is: How does one eat this much corn???

Answer: You don't.

Fortunately, we have chickens and horses who are more than happy to indulge in the sweet yellow kernels. We eat fresh picked corn every day for about three weeks in a row then it turns starchy and we leave it to dry for the animals.

With the corn turning brown and the season of growing summer vegetables over, I must admit with reservation that this years corn was the not the most flavorful, since last years varieties were slightly better. However, this years total volume of corn cobs was unsurpassed by previous years growth. Mike has successfully grown corn for three seasons now and his methods while annoying do work. The final word is that the happiness Mike gets from seeing little corn sprouts grow to tall burgeoning stalks is worth all of his efforts.

The Day the Swallows Came Home

The tree swallows are here already.  They arrived January 30 much to my dismay.  Swooping and calling and chirping their merry song over my ...