Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One-Two-Three, That's Enough For Me

We had another showing tonight. Did it go well, you ask? Well, I've come to learn one thing: People typically don't tell you they hate your home to your face. In the broader scheme of life, it's good, this politeness thing. But the whole rigamarole only ensures an entire evening of the following conversation, on repeat:

FPFG: So, do you think they liked the house?
CMB: I'm sure they did, Honey.
FPFG: But, I mean, how much do you think they liked it? Enough to buy it?
CMB: I don't know. Maybe.
FPFG: But did they give you any clues as to how they were leaning?
CMB: Well, when you asked me the same question 15 minutes ago, my answer was no. My answer is still no.
FPFG: I just thought maybe I could jog your memory...maybe you forgot to tell me a critical piece of information.
CMB: Nope.
FPFG: So, do you think they'll call again?

Don't you feel sorry for me? I mean, I'm just trying to process what's going on here. I'm doing us all a favor, really! Cute Maintenance Boy could use a little help when it comes to intuiting the deepest desires of complete strangers, that's for sure.

But speaking of this whole move thing - my excitement grows exponentially with each passing day. I'm just going to come out with it - I'm pumped to decorate a new house. And I'm even more pumped over the idea of doing it on a budget that will be more limited than ever. I'm ready to stretch my creativity.

And by "stretch my creativity", what I mean is that I'm eager to shamelessly steal the best darn idea I've ever tripped over in blogland, Somali pirate-style (the zany, peacekeeping variety who ask permission first, of course).

Behold, the indoor drinking fountain.

Can I get a witness?

Am I the only girl wondering why these don't come standard in new construction and why they aren't required additions to old homes? If ever a new government regulation was called for, it is now.

For the love of water, people. For the grade-school nostalgia. For the endless little-people fascination.

I have already commenced an exhaustive search for an inexpensive, vintage model.

The genius behind my new obsession is my blog friend, Sara, of August Fields. She is twelve different kinds of maple syrup sweet and brimming with style. Go have a look at her brand spanking new home. Start with this. I dare you not to drool.

But this girl, she's more than a pretty home. She's the real deal. So go on, bake a loaf of zucchini bread (zukes are on the house) and meet your newest neighbor.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Truth Comes Out

Here's a true confession for you: I have come to the conclusion that I mostly garden for the beauty. And maybe a little for the challenge that it poses, along with the resulting triumph.

But the food? Eh.

I mean, I love the food. Well, most of it I love. Some of it I just like. I can appreciate it, that's for sure. But the eating of the food is not my top motivator. The gazing upon the lovely of the food is.

Weird, huh?

I was almost embarrassed to realize the truth of it all. But when you pick two zucchinis in two days with no real intention of eating them, reality has come a'calling.

Not to worry, though. I am and forevermore will remain 75% herbivore/25% carnivore. I'm not about to forsake my greens.

I wouldn't even be in this predicament if vegetation wasn't so blisteringly beautiful.

So yes, these are the kinds of thoughts that consume me daily.

Especially when Calvin and Ruby are in Ohio for No Parents Allowed week.

You didn't get the memo?

I had it in my head that Silas had the High Maintenance title locked down, but as it turns out, it has been quite a placid and relaxing day.

I've had moments of quiet which afforded me the opportunity to ponder the degree of my love for red leaf lettuce and the like.

I took a nap.

I swept the floor and only one set of little feet trampled the dirt pile. (And Lordy, are his feet ever cute. His toes appear to be part amphibious, and no, that is not a veiled Darwin shout-out.)

For the next 2 days I will putter around, practicing with the real camera in low light -- because I'm that relaxed, doggone it.

I may even read a little.

Calvin and Ruby will call from the safety that temporary out-of-state residence affords them and giggle as they tell me about all of the candy they have eaten and how late they stayed up.

I'll pretend to be aghast and dismayed, then I'll tell them that I love them, but I will not tell them that I miss them, even though I do.

Missing is contagious, you know.

I am so thankful for this 100% Cotton, extra-breathable Summer. There is time for scurrying around and overexertion, but if I know anything at all, I know this is not it.

Church.

We went to church on Sunday. That is typically the plan, you know. Get up late, tornado all five of us through the house, then talk to our friends and sit in our pew and feel good-good-good about it all.

I'm a big believer in church. Years ago, I went through my cynical "What's really the point?" phase. But I reemerged committed to a community of a people who know what I know to be true, who bring me grilled chicken and homemade mashed potatoes and cakes from a box when the need arises, who huddle around me and fortify me.

We need each other. It's how it's supposed to be.

This Sunday found us having church across the street, in a little apartment complex that I have never once given a moment's thought. I never bothered myself with who lived there or what their stories might be.

We pitched-in a picnic lunch spread - dogs, burgers, potato salad, baked beans, fresh fruit, veggies, chips and an entire table of nothing but desserts. We had the 3 requisite yellow coolers topped off with lemonade, water and iced tea.

The residents had been invited to come and eat with us - no strings attached.

Grey skies loomed large, the grill wouldn't light. Our kids were all haywire, having been sprung from Sunday School on a lark. Oh me of little faith decided that if no one showed up, we would still have a great time - our little community.

And then, fifty people came.

Most were "Seniors", so I admired costume jewelry and took mental notes for future girl names. Harriet! Why not. Some had rouged cheeks that made my chest ache and some needed a bath. Some accepted help and others should have, but surely had their reasons for going it alone.

I ate my hot dog with a younger lady who took one bite of Dora's strawberry dessert and proclaimed, "This tastes just like heaven! I really think I just died and went to heaven!" This one, she has a hard life. It was written all over her face. She let it slip that her daughter is about to leave for college and I made my face extra bright, so sure that she must be over-the-moon proud. And I think she probably is. But I also think that when life bears down on you, every day, every day, you start to view opportunity as bondage. You see the world through mud-tinged glasses.

As we talked, I found room on my plate for dessert and went straight for her suggestion. She said to me, "I never eat food this good. Never. I almost feel guilty eating so good! I don't deserve this."

We were eating hot dogs and potato chips from a bag, and yes, the girls in my community can cook up a mean streak, but this was a picnic.

My heavenly dessert caught momentarily in my throat and I knew for sure - this was church. Our little community extending beyond what we are comfortable with and pulling others into warmth and understanding and tables filled with nothing but desserts.

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ashley English Book Reviews & (gasp!) a Giveaway

Summertime meant many things to me as a child. It meant sleeping in. It meant muggy afternoons in a lounge-style lawn chair with a stack of Sweet Valley High books at my side. It meant futile attempts at fashioning a poor-man's Slip-N-Slide out of an enticing roll of Visqueen my Dad kept in the barn. It meant eating chicken patty sandwiches with mustard and dill pickle slices for dinner at 9 p.m. It meant no AC and a teeny, tiny black and white TV with knobs that had to be cranked extra hard to move from one station to either of the other two.

My Summers were lazy bliss. We hardly ever went anywhere, save late-night trips to Kroger (where we lingered in the frozen foods aisle) and Sunday church.

And every Summer, my Mama canned. My aunts canned. My Grandma canned.

I didn't really help, mind you. I was too busy trying to establish a defining mental image to distinguish Elizabeth Wakefield from Jessica Wakefield. (Of course, in the end, I made bratty Jessica slightly less beautiful and called it a day.)

As is prone to happening, at least for me, I look back now and regret that didn't stick around long enough to actually learn something. Alas, in lieu of usable knowledge, I have worrisome flashbacks of tomatoes going through the grinder. I also have one very clear and precious memory of washing peaches in a metal tub out in the barnyard with my Grandma, Betty Jane. She told me how important it was to wash them well and I listened to all that she had to say, because her canned peaches were nothing short of magical.

Years later, these farmgirl things pull at the very roots of my heart. They take me back. I want to make up for lost time and learn them and when I do, I will force Ruby to help. It's for her own good, after all.

For those of you who share my urge to open a jar of home-canned spaghetti sauce in the middle of January, have a look:

If ever a how-to manual on canning could be captivating, this would be it. Ashley English, in all of her quirky-chic farmgirl glory, provides the required litany of necessary nuts-and-bolts tips along with full-color photographs that are day-in-the-country, tie-on-a-vintage-apron gorgeous. She understands and conveys well the sense of community that permeates these old-school pursuits. But best of all, she leaves readers - urban, suburban and rural alike - with the belief that they can do it.

And while we're at it, you may recall my recent fondness for the idea of keeping chickens. I put most of the blame squarely on her. Call me crazy, but I've been sucked in by the charms of those feathery broads. And I've been wondering if I might need a few of my own.

Enter this:

For all of you maybe-wannabe-chicken tenders, consider this required reading. I know it's Summer vacation and all, but today I'm the boss and I'm giving you homework.

Ms. English's beautiful hen tome is the go-to source for learning the ins and outs of keeping chickens happy, healthy, safe and fruitful, so to speak.

In her signature style, which I adored for 1) her fearless and forthright use of the word "poop" and 2) her commitment to telling the whole truth, she paints a very clear picture of both the fanciful fun and the muck-boots work that coop keeping entails.

As for me? After reading this informative and engaging book front-to-back, I think I'm satisfied to continue my theoretical pining for some ruffly girls while I mentally prepare myself for hen poop and early morning feedings.

And while I contemplate my place in the chicken world, I will pull beets and ready them for pickling. I'll troll the web for the best canned spaghetti sauce recipe around. And I'll take notes, so that I can be sure to report back.


For the love of Pete, I nearly forgot! As luck would have it, I have an extra copy of both Canning & Preserving and Keeping Chickens burning holes in my pockets. For your chance to win the double-stacked farmgirl primer, just leave me a comment. Contest ends on Friday, July 2nd, 12 Noon, EST. I'll announce the winner later that evening.*

For another chance to win, head on over to BeachBrights!

*Contest only open to U.S. residents, please!

{All photos on this post used with permission from Canning & Preserving and Keeping Chickens.}

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Weekend Happies

Have you ever seen a Happier sight? I stumbled upon Barbie kicking it free-style up on Lambie Pie. At least she had the good sense to fasten her safety belt/long, flexible, magnetic thingamajig. But seriously, Babs, put some clothes on!

Have I ever told you about my Ranuncular adventure? I need to...
For now, I will say only that they have made me really Happy.

This makes me Happy, friends and countrymen. Truly.
Let's get this show on the road!!

You know what else is Happy? It's Happy when you discover that a random fitted sheet you bought at TJ Maxx nearly 10 years ago looks positively swell with polka-dots.

Oh, and a stack of fresh reads on the little table. My kind of Happy.

(PS - Making Toast. Heard of it? Well, it's getting raves, even from my favorite author. I'm here to tell you not to believe the hype. I made it half-way through, but I kept sighing and rolling my eyes and Cory finally told me to just. stop. reading it. The subject matter is sad, but that's not what bugged me. What bugged me was the style of the book -- the utter refusal to connect one thought to the next. And maybe he does teach writing at Harvard and maybe he is heaped to the brim with literary accolades, and I'm sure he's a wonderful man and I'm very sorry for his loss, but I have no choice but to dub his book Unhappy.)

Two kinds of Happy:

1. Calvin came to Cory on Sunday after quiet time with a down-cast face, saying, "Daddy I'm sorry I didn't get you anything for Father's Day. Wait a minute! I'll be right back!" He ran to his desk and returned with this, about 20 seconds later.

2. Cory taped it to his side of the bed and it's still there.

Self-explanatory Happy.

$1 avocados = Happy.

1 vat of guacamole to share with friends = Even Happier.

Final Happy? Spending Friday evening and all of Saturday at some friends' pond. Ruby has sand braided into her hair, Silas drank his weight in pond water, and Calvin staved off a potential water-brawl by shouting at a big kid, "No, I did NOT spit water on you, Young Man!"

My cheeks feel tight, my hair is in pigtails and I smell like a campfire. I'm at home for a couple of quiet hours, while Silas is purportedly winding down for a nap. I baked up some cookies while he performed a Broadway musical through the monitor, and the split second nap-time is over, we're outta here.

Happy - Happy - Happy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Haiku


I relish the heft.
Aqua blooms stitched together.
A gift from the heart.


PS 1 - I keep meaning to tell you that I am working on a Big Ol' Adoption post, with a list of FAQs. I love nothing more than hearing so many of you say that you have a heart for adoption. I tell people all of the time, unwarranted, that they should adopt. I can be very bossy and nosy in that way. But truly, it warms my heart right up. I'm sorry that I haven't gotten back to some of you yet with answers to your questions, but sit tight, wee doves. Sit tight...

PS 2 - Our first house showing is in the books!!

PS 3 - I'm well aware that my half-asleep haiku does not live up the yesterday's hype. What can I say? Sometimes I like to create false anticipation.

PS 4 - Did you know today is National Italics Day?

PS 5 - OK, that's a lie. Good night.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'll Tell You A Story. I'll Tell it Twice.

What they say is true, there's a first time for everything.

You don't believe me?

Well, last Friday night, after the wedding rehearsal, the raging thunderstorm that somehow left all but two chairs standing, after driving over downed power lines, after the fun rehearsal dinner, I returned home to find an almond-eyed sweetie pie in my bed. I didn't have the heart to stir him, so I bunked on the couch. But Lord have mercy, was I ever tired. I was T to the I to the RED. And I was happy as a cat in nip.

So what did I do?

I did what everyone does. I wrote a haiku in my mind while I drifted off to sleep.

You've never done that?

Years ago, hand to heart, I would frequently dream lines of the nonexistent first chapter from an unwritten, unthought about book. But I never wrote them down. I pulled a Paul Kinsey - minus the vodka.

Back to reason for this party - My girl Sarah gave me the best gift for being in her wedding. It is something I have asked her repeatedly to bequeath to me, should she kick the bucket.

Best friends are allowed to do that.

She played coy for all of these years - never committing to inking the gig on her will. And then...

I regret to say that it is entirely possible that I did not look this utterly exhilerated when Cory gave me my engagement ring. Not that I didn't love it! Oh, did I ever love it. Do love it.

But it is potentially possible that I wasn't quite this happy. Maybe just a hair less is all.

And who can blame me, really?

Clearly, Tianna blames me a little.

And Holly noted the fact that I commenced holding it like a newborn baby.

*Just in case you wondered, those are not my hands. My hands are very small and delicate and beautiful. They are not claw-like and freakishly large and dramatically veined. The craziest thing - a WNBA player ran up behind me at the last second and tricked me!

I didn't mind. She was wearing a super cute bracelet.

Plus, hello, I was holding an adorable, tiny baby! I barely even noticed she was back there.

It is worth mentioning that this gift came on the heels of a surprise birthday luncheon that Sarah threw for me earlier the same day (my birthday!), which, for those of you playing along at home, also happened to be the day before her wedding.

What???

Yup. She did it. And hallelujhah, was I ever surprised. I have never had a surprise party before, and this one rocked my flip-flops off. Surrounded by many of the girls I love best, steak salad with blue cheese and off-the-charts balsamic vinaigrette - alfresco!, fountain Coke, chocolate cake, cards and words that made me misty-eyed behind my sunglasses, sweet gifties.

I soaked up love.

Then I trucked off with the bridesmaids for a mani/pedi. I have had 3 manis in all the sum total of my days, and maybe two pedis? But never both at the same time. The pumice made me alternately giggly and irritated. I chose white for my toes and dark grey for my fingers. The other girls chose normal, pretty colors.

Now who's edgy?

Then I dashed to Meijer for an ill-fitting strapless bra, waterproof mascara, emergency mini muffins and a large terracotta pot.

I drove home like a house a'fire, washed and combed Ruby's hair with my eyes closed, got dressed with one hand tied behind my back, coaxed the flower girl up the aisle, made it under the tent just in time, listened to Calvin forecast the weather, (It's really, really severe-ing over in this orange place!) and finally made it safely to the best cheeseburger I've had in a good long while.

Hold the phone - have I just talked in two complete circles? Wasn't I already at the rehearsal dinner and now I'm back again?

Well, all of that to say - I got my blanket. I cradled it in my arms. I cozied up beneath it on the couch. I wrote a haiku, in its honor.

And I'll share it with you tomorrow.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Home

All my life, I've wanted to live in a white farmy house

with a cool, old barn.

I wanted acreage. Just enough for the kids to roam free and for my mind to wander.

Years ticked by and I wanted it more. We moved to a sketchy apartment in DC and I spent weekends tearing out inspiration and snapping it into a binder.

The move back to Indiana was blessing enough and we settled into a pretty, white house on a brick street - a corner lot. It was more than enough.

Our family grew and we pined for a long lane and bedrooms we could fill and the opportunity to feed barn cats in our bathrobes.

Then we were swept up into a whirlwind and when we landed, we were here. It is one of the moments in our life where God directed our path with neon arrows and took our hands to pull our blind faith along.

This house was and is a gift.

We knew for sure that God lavished upon us something that was rooted deeply in our hearts.

We have labored here and we have loved it.

We nudged what was faded toward new life.

I became a farmgirl here, and Cory a real, true worker guy.

We washed sippy cups here, deciphered baby-talk here, watched toddlers turn into kids.

Then we watched in wonder as those kids learned to explore with freedom.

Our hearts grew here.

We were finally home.

Back in February, before Silas, before job loss one and job loss two, I curled up beneath the blankets one night and whispered a truth I knew in my heart, but feared giving life to. "I keep thinking we might be selling our house..." My words hung in the air for a moment, then Cory reached out and grabbed them.

"I keep thinking the same thing."

My heart dropped and tiny tears formed and I wished to high heaven that I hadn't even said it, that it wasn't the truth.

But God has a clever way of making Himself clear. Even more, He has a way of making the unthinkable exiting.

Our house is officially on the market. We are simplifying, not out of necessity, but out of obedience, which is probably the most necessary thing I can imagine.

We believe that we will land somewhere near, but we are learning not to conjure up big ideas of our own. We believe that we will land in town, in a home where our kids will bunk together and where we will watch a new kind of joy and contentment bloom before our very eyes.

God has given us so many of the desires of our hearts, and now He's giving us a new one - one so new that we didn't even know it was in there in the first place.

I have moments of worry and sadness, but here is something I know for sure: There is a purpose. There are purposes. I don't know all of them, but I do know that this will give Cory the freedom to choose his next career step without factoring in the salary. And I know that this will give us additional wiggle room in our finances and in our time, both of which God has plans for. But mostly, this will give us front-row seats as we walk away from the very thing we always wanted and walk towards a life that is so much better.

Yours 'Til Niagara Falls,
Flower Patch Towngirl*


*I will not actually be changing my name. I am only exercising my intermittent flair for the dramatic. Farmgirl is, after all, a condition of the heart.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sarah's Wedding

Sarah is hitched.

We hitched her up, but good.

Today I have experienced a very particular variety of exhaustion. It's been a long week, but lawsie lou, it's been a fun one.

(Speaking of "long week", it may take you roughly 5-7 days to make your way through these photos.)

Most of the decor came straight from Sarah's childhood barn, in Ohio. Her beloved Dad Larry had an eye for what's cool way before it was cool at all. He passed away years ago, but his spirit was ever alive on this loveliest of days. I cannot count how many times I thought of Larry and how much he would have adored what we came up with - with his help. I remember looking out at the crowd during the ceremony and seeing Sarah's mama sitting with an empty chair beside her. It was one of many moments that made me weepy. Then I looked around, and I saw him in the chipped up paint and the rusty gates and especially in his beautiful girl. He was with us there.

The rehearsal on Friday night ended with hurricane-force winds and torrential downpours. We were a bit jittery about the Big Day weather, and with good reason.

But in the end, blue skies.

Now. A word about the photos.

My honey took all of the photos on this post. Scrolling through them today, we realized that out of the 300+ pictures he took, he somehow managed to not capture a single shot that included the ceremony site with both chairs and flowers.

We have this.

And then we have this.

This.

And this.

To say that I was perplexed would be true. To say that I was frustrated would not be untrue.

So, I emailed fellow bridesmaid Tianna for back-up...only to find her in the exact same situation, which cracked me straight up.

In fairness, flowers were put out at the last moment and chairs were quickly ushered into the reception tent, leaving little time for overlap. And Cory was in charge of parking and Silas patrol. And, did I mention that he built the entire ceremony set-up? The morning of the ceremony?

Single ladies: Do not rest until you secure for yourself a Cute Maintenance Boy.

Miss River was the smoochiest flower girl evah.

Rehearsal was sketchy. She marched down the aisle scowling at everyone and repeating "I. Don't. Want. To."

But when it mattered most, she hit it out the park. True, she got a last-second case of the shies and compensated by holding her little basket up in front of her face, but she did it!

Have I ever told you how much I adored our dresses? Ya'lls, they had pockets. For most of the day, I had two copies of vows, crib notes for my toast, two tissues and a compact in my pockets. I am immeasurably comforted by pockets. I am relaxed by the very word "pockets".

Pockets.

Wait, did someone say "toast"? Oh dear.

I will not be showing pics of the bride, because she's picky. And persnickety. And her trust in me wavered ever-so-slightly after the infamous Ozzy post.

But mostly, I want to wait until the official photos come back from Lyle, the slam-dunk photographer. He cracked us up the whole day through. I can't wait to share some of his good stuff. All in time, my pretties.

I do have pies, though!

But no food. Holly Molly, was that food ever divine. Cory was clearly too busy stuffing his face to consider your feelings.

He did shoot this through the wavy glass of the arched windows. That's worth something, right?

We had so much fun on this day and the days leading up to it. Sarah is loved by so many fantastic people and as luck has it, she shares many of them with me.

Bride and Groom were both smiley and relaxed. Sarah's vows made me want to sob. Rick's made me laugh. It was such a pleasure to host this day. It was an honor to be a part of it and to bear witness to the true start of their life together.

That Sarah, she knows how to throw a party. She had the dancers dancing and I'll be darned if she didn't emcee most of her reception. (The lady's dangerous with a microphone.)

Mrs. Hughes, I hope the day was every beautiful thing that you hoped for.