In Spirit

Three Sisters

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I love the light at this time of year.  Throughout the day, the acute angle of the sun bathes the trees and garden in a pinky-gold, giving even our contemporary cave an antique atmosphere.  I think it’s that sepia glow that always gets me wondering about the property’s previous caretakers.

Thing 1’s history project a couple of years ago put a new perspective on my wonderings by sparking an interest in genealogy.  We were looking for Revolutionary war figures to report on  and shaking the family tree a little helped a few ideas fall out.  I began tracing the rest of the family tree and soon found that the Big Guy’s – and our kids’ –  connection to Vermont went farther back with even more branches than we had anticipated.

The most intriguing and mysterious inquiry has been the search for a Native American great-grandmother’s (Alice Fox) roots.  We had pictures and family memorabilia to track some of her history.  Unfortunately, history and history of record-keeping make tracing Native American ancestors a unique challenge.  Even when we lose her trail, however, our collective curiosity about the area’s first people spur us to follow in her – or their – footsteps when and where we can.

Most of my garden is an evolving science project, often mimicking different early New England layout we’ve seen on one of our Saturday drives.   But even before I went looking for Alice, one of our trips introduced me to the Three Sister’s Gardens popular among the Iroquois and other tribes in this area.  Consisting of squash, beans, and corn, they provide a perfect balance for the soil and the humans it feeds, and it has been in use in this area since people first appeared here.

My Three Sisters gardens are practical – with few exceptions they are incredibly productive.  But they are also my way of being mindful of the people who were here and of the gifts they left us.  Now, as the pumpkins gleam in the golden light and the bean pods and corn stalks dry, I think about Alice’s trail yet again.  I don’t know how much of her history I can give my kids, but in honoring the memory and contributions of her branch of the tree, I hope I’m giving my kids a special connection to the land we will pass on to them one day.

Time Wasted

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My mom came to visit us in Germany when Thing1 was born.  Like most newly re-minted grandparents, she and my Dad were there to pitch in and weigh in with their years of experience, but the real reason for their visit became clear about 20 minutes after we go back from the hospital.

I had not willingly put the baby down for six days.  It had been anything but sweetness and light – we had a heck of a time getting started with nursing – but I simply could not bring myself to put him down.  I think I was secretly afraid he might disappear if I did, and the Big Guy practically had to fight me for a turn.

I could cuddle overtime in the hospital when there were nurses managing the logistics of life, but when we got home, responsibility greeted us at the door.  Fortunately, Grandma and Grandpa were only too happy to help with the slack – especially with the holding of the baby.  We all picked up, cooked, diapered, and competed for baby holding time, and that first week home, Thing 1 rarely saw the inside of his crib.  More than once my mom quipped, “You can waste a lot of time staring at a baby.”

That phrase has followed me for years – whether I was cuddling my own two little imps or wistfully staring at someone else’s newborn.  It still echoes in my head, and it always spurs the obvious question of why babies are so intriguing.  Love was the easy, automatic answer in the beginning.  But my babies are boys now, and, while I still marvel that they’re mine, Mom’s musing had been silent in my head for a while – until last night.

I was poring through my book of drawings in search of an image of a seated woman when I stumbled on a drawing done by a French artist, Timoleon Lobrichon, in the 1850s.  The image of a perfect, plump baby enjoying bath time caught my eye and my imagination, and I knew I had to copy it.  I put my search on hold and opened my pad.

I blocked the big shapes in and then started zoning in on the details.  As I stared at this curve or that shadow, I was struck by the immediacy of the original drawing.  Created at a time when home life was very private and most art still focused on battle scenes or exalted figures and subjects, this drawing was the work of a man who had spent hours staring at a baby.

Later I went through the book looking for more work by this same artist, and while he had covered many other themes, this drawing exuded with intimacy – an  not just with the subject.  Through his portrayal of innocence  and exploration, simple pleasure and even hope, this artist created an unusual kind of intimacy with the viewer.

And, as I viewed this baby one hundred fifty years after the message was drawn, I began to realize the time spent watching an often wriggling, crying, utterly dependent bundle of humanity is not wasted.  It’s a reminder of the hope and curiosity – and even innocence – that, while often disregarded, still lies in each of us and waits to be nurtured.

No Shame


Serenity for Imprfect Parents
Grant me the Serenity to accept the messes I can’t get to, the Courage to clean up the ones I can, and the Wisdom to remember that Picking My Battles is more important than picking up.

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You might think that because I write a blog dedicated to my failures as a housekeeper, I would have no angst about the unexpected guest.  I thought so  myself until Thing2 came home from school with a friend.

I knew the parents would come to pick up our tiny guest very soon.  However the work day was still in full gear. I realized that when these mystery parents came to get their offspring, our unkept house would play center stage.

Our guest’s father arrived and wanted a tour of our energy system (we’re off the grid),and I instantly began preparing him for what he was about to see.  He held up a  hand and assured me he had seen worse, and I suddenly decided it didn’t matter if he had or hadn’t.

The house will get clean sometime – not today, but someday.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to enjoy our house – clean or not – with no worries and, most of all, no shame.

Walk About

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Chuck, the cagier of our two black cats, often disappears into the forest for days, hunting and collecting its secrets.  He comes home acting like a long-lost lover, the king of all he surveys.  He’s loner when he wants to be, but nothing about his demeanor suggests loneliness.  And, as much as I love the loyalty of our little dog, in my heart I am a cagy black cat.

I work alone most days. I only see a few people when I drop off my kids at school, and I like the solitude.  Once, it bothered me that most days my only human contact is with my co-workers in a online chat room or other online venues.  I worried that my eager anticipation of the hours when the only sounds are the whispering trees and the wind chimes was anti-social, or that I was making my world smaller.

For a time, I tried to stave off what I saw as loneliness by working in cafes or libraries, but when our work model changed, working from home all afternoon became imperative.  Knowing my afternoons would now be spent at our kitchen table, I began running my errand in the morning.  Then I started walking the dog after dropping off the kids.  It evolved into a routine.  Now, every morning before I log on, I find a little adventure.  Sometimes it’s about a walk in the woods or a new sketch, other days it’s about a trip to the grocery store.  But ultimately, my daily Walk About is  about taking a cue from my cagey black cat, and discovering something different.  It makes the solitude all the more delicious.