I am ready for the seasons to turn –to turn away from Winter and towards Spring. This week I have seen flowers blooming and watched baby bees making test flights and foragers bringing in pollen. I have started clearing up the garden spaces and fertilizing the fruit trees and roses. I have been edging my roads, clearing them of Winter’s mud and placing stones around fragile new plants popping their heads up after their Winter’s sleep in my meadows and gardens. I have been taking walks in my quiet pine forest and watching as the green of new life pushes up through the wet, dead leaves and pine needled. I have marveled at the strength of new growth. I watched a jonquil push a stone over in a week’s time with it’s mightiness! I cut vines to stop them choking my trees and made wreaths. I cut weed trees and added them to my huglekultur bed. I turned over wet, moss heavy bark and watched ants. I brushed my fingers along freshly bloomed violets and the fuzzy heads of pink Magnolias. I saw a moth with a huge comical proboscis drying his wings on a branch and I have seen pairs or birds, hawks, woodpeckers and kingfishers, together and noisily preparing for their futures. I have heard owls and raccoons down by the water and watched crows dive bombing hawks that have come too close to their territories. I feel things turning–slowly and quietly and I feel relieved. Winter has been hard and strange. I am ready for the brightness of spring. I am counting the days until the equinox when we will feast with friends and celebrate the move toward warmer, longer days.
So you’ve asked to hear about my TEDx experience. Hmm, well, it was a long day. There were moments when I felt I spoke a different language from almost everyone there. Everyone in the crowd talked of teams and systems, programs and organizations, credentials and goals. Many on stage talked about overcoming failures and hope. There was a definite buzz and the event was well organized. I respect the hosts and planners and speakers that pulled this thing together—but I felt like I was slogging through jello all day. I felt the urge to bolt through the glass doors in the lobby a couple of times so I could get out into the fresh air and breathe. I was aware that the members of the audience had been handpicked and were there to schmooze and network. It felt a bit like a singles mixer. Everyone had that hopeful twinkle in their eye and walked around seeking—something—new and different and better! I leaned against a column with a tepid cup of tea and watched most of the day, flashing back to high school where I also held up many a column during pep rallies and pageants and longed to run away. Everyone in the audience giggled over the idea of connection and flashed their giant name tags but, to be perfectly frank I have never felt more disconnected—from community and reality as I did yesterday. I know I could have escaped to the yoga and meditation room (Yes, there was a yoga and meditation room.) but I felt I needed to stick around and listen. I wanted to believe in the surprises they told me were around the corner.
Michelle Forman’s talk about the work she does with her documentarian students was good and inspired me to try harder to tell my stories well and sparked my interest. I want to hear those stories and learn more about her program now. I would have loved to watch one of those videos instead of the man with the Yo-yos during the break between speakers. Glenny Brock’s stories about the Lyric theater were funny and fascinating and also sparked my interest and my love for this city—and made me want to learn more and more and more about our history! Her tales spoke to my sense of place—my place and I was really glad I stuck around to hear her talk. Her red boots and sassy storytelling abilities were the most authentic and interesting part of my day. The other talks, especially the ones about education, left me cold though. Though I appreciate the devotion and enthusiasm out there to do for our children in Birmingham, I have moved so far from the places they are standing that it was hard to listen. I listened as I was told twaddly tricks for capturing students attention in a classroom so they will sit still in their seats and I squirmed while I was told how Mr. Potatohead could teach me how to read a map or do math. I was encouraged 2-3 times by people that need me to believe and pitch in to just walk through the doors of a Birmingham City School to show I care. (Good luck getting past the security checks at the front door or getting those teachers or students to listen to the loon that walked in off the street to get to know them. Ha!). I listened as they told us how our children deserve more and better and that our children are the foundation of our future, but I heard it from people who see education as a trick, something they have to force on the children who just don’t know that a “good education” is what they need or that have been in an administrative or fund raising position for so long that they have lost their perspective. I heard how we need to help our children get better at taking tests. Sigh. Still missing the mark after all of these years, I feel.
My husband is a public school teacher and he gives so much of his time to the children of Jefferson County. I know what it takes to be a public school teacher—the long hours and the endless meetings. I know it is a failing system that needs a huge overhaul to survive—for our children to survive and thrive. I also know that I still expect more for my children despite the hundreds of hard working teachers out there. The education paradigm has to shift and I heard nothing about that sort of things from these speakers. I heard talk about holding up an old system—enforcing a tired old scaffold. I was hoping for more. Sentimental stories about hopes and dreams weren’t enough. We were holding a pep rally for our growing city but I don’t feel like the game plan is strong enough to win the game—yet. There are holes in the plan, as far as I see it.
Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club talked about a sustainable food system for Alabama and though I am a firm believer that this could and should happen in our state, I didn’t feel he dug deep enough—or maybe it’s just that I don’t see enough people understanding what he is calling for. Giving us a little box that contained a seed (a pecan) and asking us to plant a tree for our grandchildren was clever but I need to know what to do next to make this dream happen. I have already bought the dream. I need details and a place to sign up. Shopping at Pepper Place Farmer’s Market or the Jones Valley Urban Farm isn’t enough to change the way the food system works. It’s just a new way to shop—which is a step in the right direction but I want to learn how to help the farmer grow the kale. I don’t want to be told about the 2-3 markets that sell Alabama kale. There need to be more and in order to get more, we need to talk to about the farmers. And where were the voices calling for changes in school cafeteria lunch programs that I know are here and loud and proud in Birmingham? Where was Jones Valley Urban Farm in this conversation? Chris Hastings mentioned them but I wanted to hear their voices! I wanted to see the children from the Seed to Plate programs. I wanted to see pictures of the Community gardens they are building in the city. I wanted to see the children that are working veggie stands and learning to grow their own food in Birmingham. I also wanted to hear from the brewers and the music venue managers and owners. I wanted to hear from the gallery owners and artists and makers in this city that are building up communities like Avondale and Eastlake and Woodlawn. What about showing the people whose sleeves are rolled up and making changes in the city!? What about the designers of the parks and ball field and greenways? What about the people working to preserve the wildlife and waterways in Alabama!? Where were the voices of the people caring for Ruffner Mountain?? Where was REV? Oh, man. This list could go on and on…
What I am trying to say is that even though I know their intentions were good, the crowd selected felt outdated and isolated, elite and separate from the world I live in. I wanted to hear from the movers and shakers that are making changes in our “Magic City”. I wanted to hear from the families that are trying to live in this city and how all of these magical changes we are so happy about are making their lives better. If our new buildings and programs and organizations are only for the affluent and educated then, we have not progressed as a city. I felt there was a definite absence of voices at this event. We talked of the need for better education and more arts but we didn’t talk to the families of the children in this city or the artists of this city. I challenge TEDx to step it up next year.
And what about the ARTS? Yes, there were performers at the event and I applaud them for getting what they do out there but there is some exciting stuff happening in the arts community in our city. I wanted to hear the voices of the people living and working as Artists. I enjoyed the talk given by Graham Boettcher. I can’t say anything bad about anyone encouraging us to love art and to go out and look for art in all of it’s forms and in unexpected places but there was a whiff of condescension when he suggested our appreciation for art in this city was when we were searching for treasures ala Antiques Road Show or asking for the fake Remington cowboys to be brought back out at the museum because obviously in Alabama, we don’t know much about art but we know what we like. Obviously collectors and curators are a huge part of the art community and a driving force but the voices of working artists were glaringly absent. I know there are curators and festival organizers that bring the arts to people in Birmingham that could have given brilliant talks. And where were the painters and writers and sculptors? If you want me to sit up in my seat and listen, you need to show me some art—not just the checkbook that pays for it. I need more than a call for funding in arts education, though it is greatly needed, I need you to show the people of this city what great art is being made in this city and by whom! Where was Space One Eleven? Scrollworks? DISCO? Day of the Dead? Art was spoken about as an abstraction or commodity. We have living art in this city. When I met people in the crowd as we were pushed into a big caffeine laced schmooze, people looked puzzled when I told them I was an artist. Ha! I was obviously in the minority at this gathering. I am not an educator and I am not a performer. I didn’t speak the language of consumerism or marketing. I talked about living and place and creativity and education and I was met with polite smiles and blank stares. If we want people to fund the arts in this city, shouldn’t they get to know the artists and stop marginalizing and romanticizing the artists? We are active members of this city’s culture and communities. Let us be more than decoration at an event like this. I know there are some strong voices in this community. I wish I could have heard some of them yesterday.
I will tell you now that I was not one of the select few that had to write an essay and send a CV and a $100 check and plead for an opportunity to sit in one of those seats yesterday. I won my tickets. I can assure you that I would not have been chosen had I asked to be added to the list of the elite few. I am a mom, a small time but long time working artist, a garden farmer, a beekeeper and chicken tender and my back and head hurt from working so hard to find a way to live a creative and holistic life in this city so my family can keep our heads above water AND connect with and encourage the growth of this city but I know these credentials wouldn’t have earned me a place at the Magic City Pep Rally yesterday. I move and shake in quiet ways—and some days on my own. Those aren’t the voices folks want to hear and sadly, I don’t think I am in the group that they are speaking to either. They want shiny idealistic dreamers and tellers of sentimental tales of hope. Frustration, anger and dirt probably has no place at a joyfest like they put on yesterday and I reek of frustration and leave muddy tracks behind me everywhere I go. Oh well. Such is life. I wanted to believe in the potential of this event. I wanted to believe that the voices might have truly been about change. I needed someone to make me sit up in my seat and get a little mad and to be honest, the only speaker that really did that for me was the one from South Central L.A.—the Guerrilla Gardner—that they screened for us in between speakers. I’ve seen that old talk on the TED site and though it’s a good one, I didn’t need to hear his voice again. I know there are voices in Birmingham that are just as passionate and they could get me just as excited about moving forward —but I didn’t hear them yesterday. Maybe next year they will ask those people to speak. I doubt I will rate a seat for those talks though. It’s an exclusive event and unless I win two more tickets through a social media site again, I won’t be seen as one of the people who could benefit from attending. Instead of nibbling goodies from Hot and Hot with lawyers and scientists and doctors, I will probably be sipping beer from a local brewery with folks somewhere as it streams live—or maybe I will just catch the edited videos on YouTube put out there for the rest of us to see—or maybe I won’t watch at all. I am not sure it will change the way I feel about our city. Either way, I am glad I got to sit on the front row yesterday. I sat there in my dirty boots and I listened to make sure I have been feeling mad about the right things, to make sure I am pushing for the right changes and you can bet I walked away from the event feeling charged up—but not because they tried to make me cry or opened my eyes to anything new. I certainly didn’t need them to tell me how magical our city could be if we just loved it a little more. I walked away feeling like I’d spent the day at a Chamber of Commerce conference and was a little disappointed. I felt scrappy and convinced that there is still some serious division in this city that needs tending and mending. I was also proud that I stepped up and listened. I didn’t run away when I felt the urge and this week I will go on doing what I can to make living in this city magical for my children.
This has been a curious winter. The last snow we had was just beautiful–but I am ready for spring. How about you?
The Ghost and I are still taking our walks together but I am a little tired of the mud and the snow on my boots.
I think the birds are ready too. They seem as winter weary as I feel. This guy was frustrated by the ice that held onto his dinner during the last ice storm.
But there is hope. Spring seems to be pushing in–slowly.
I came across this poem by Wendell Berry this morning, quite by accident. I spent yesterday making spirals and mandalas with the lovely students at my children’s school. I have been making spirals and circles from treasures I find down by the water this month. We have been studying the night sky, with particular attention to the moon. We have been surprised by amazing lights in the daytime sky. The Universe seems to be doing a good job of reminding me of the shape of things.
Circles of our Lives
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
Thursday before last I carried a projector and a copy of the documentary Rivers and Tides, about the artist Andy Goldsworthy, with me to the school my daughters attend and where I started sharing my art this year (I have not embraced the title of teacher yet). In the afternoon, as some of the children nibbled their lunches, we all gathered in the common room, sat on the floor and watched Mr. Goldsworthy make art with ice and leaves, twigs and flowers, mud and iron ore… This is one of my favorite films about an artist and I was thrilled to share it with my friends and students at the school as part of our art studies together. The practice of looking at the places we live is one that has already been cultivated brilliantly in this community so I wasn’t opening that door but by exposing the children to Goldsworthy’s work, I was hoping to encourage a different, but equally respectful level of interaction with these spaces that might heighten their awareness in new ways but also help them feel more connected to –more awake in our natural world.
The school has been reading Dr. George David Haskell’s wonderful book, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature together over the past year. He even came to our school to visit and read to us and walked us to the park near our school where he asked us to listen to the forest with him while we sat together under a beautiful old Blackjack oak tree. He spoke to us about the energy of the sun in everything around us. He talked to us about his studies and his connection to a chosen spot, a square meter in the Shakerag Hollow in Tennessee that he refers to as his mandala, and encouraged us to continue being as attentive and respectful as we have been to the spaces around us. It was such a delight to hear him speak and, for me, offered a sort of affirmation but also inspiration to continue doing what I have been doing here at My Wild Acres and here on this blog– but with a deeper level of commitment.
The students and staff already understand this concept and devote time to studying small, chosen spaces that they call their sit spots, where they observe and draw and write, over the length of a school year, about the changes that occur over the seasons. It is something I do here at home as well and have even started keeping a Calendar of Firsts like the students and teachers do and have revived my practice of keeping phenology wheels to help me catalog seasonal shifts, moon cycles, wildlife sightings etc. I even use social media to help me keep track of things and now photograph and catalog the seasons via twitter and Instagram and Flicker. It’s become an invaluable method for keeping track of what is going on in my beloved woods and makes it simple for me to compare, over time the similarities and differences over the years by comparing dates when birds migrate or when flowers bloom or when snow falls etc. just by looking at my photos and daily captions. I have even started using the Timehop app to send me notices each day, reminding me what I was looking at and studying on the same day over the previous years. It’s been incredible to look at my home in this way. Now this 5 acre stretch of land seems immense to me! I am starting to see how little I still know about this place–and I ache to know more–to know this space better–but I have to do it slowly and a little bit at a time. So much goes on in each part of this place from the treetops to the creek’s bottom to the dark shady places under the forest canopy and out in the open grassy meadow.There is so much to experience and document and so much I don’t know!! It is easy to miss things because I can only focus on small bits at a time and because of ,y limited knowledge base but through the practices of observation and documentation that I just mentioned, I have been able to notice so many things I’d never noticed before and connect on new levels –and appreciate more greatly the delicacy and richness of life going on all around me.
As an artist, it isn’t enough just to walk through my woods or wade through my creeks in awe and scribble down notes in my calendar and journal, though I certainly do these things. Though I have lived in Alabama my entire life, and these particular woods for the last decade, it is only recently that I have felt compelled to understand these wild places, my home, better –and my ways are usually more artistic than scientific in nature. I am, after all, not a scientist. I am an amateur Naturalist at best, constantly consulting field guides or asking more educated friends to help me label the treasures I encounter because the act of naming the trees and birds and rocks and clouds is something that has only come to me with any conviction over this past decade. I know so little but do have a familiarity with the land around my home and it has encouraged me to understand more. Though Dr. Haskell’s book is about a scientific exploration, his essays are poetic and artful and have inspired me to get to know the spaces around me the best way I know how and the tools I bring to the wild places are an artist’s tools. This is where my love for Andy Goldsworthy’s art comes in. This is what I want to share with my students.Though I am also compelled to research and learn everything I can about the natural spaces, to photograph and draw, touch and smell everything around me in order to properly comprehend and connect, I do not enter the woods at a disconnected observer. I enter knowing that I am a part of this place. I feel a tremendous need to cultivate this awareness each and every day by just being in my woods and meadows and by collecting images, courting and contemplating sensations–and sometimes by making art with the natural materials in this environment so I can know it better.
I have been a fan of Goldsworthy’s art for years and my girls and I have watched this film together several times. Every time, it inspires us to go out into our woods and spend time there with my eyes and hands looking to textures and colors and spaces in new ways — ways that help me connect with my home–my woods and meadows and creeks. It has become an annual winter ritual to pull out this film. The messages about truly being in one’s space and getting to know one’s home by interacting with it creatively, tug at my brain and soul.
I projected the film at home again the weekend before taking it to school to share and was once again inspired to head out to the woods with modified intention. Instead of just photographing the trees and water and grasses and sunrises and sunsets as a disconnected observer, I took a bucket and gathered stones, feathers, bits of lichen that had fallen from the trees, acorn tops, twigs etc. and made a mandala on the forest floor–my own sort of footprint in the woods–but one made from the materials found in this place–and not removed from this place–and then I photographed them before walking away from them allowing the wind and water and wildlife to have them back. When bitterly cold temperatures invaded this winter, I gathered ice and built ice towers and despite the fact that my fingers were hurting and my cheeks were chapped from being slapped by icy wind, I had a marvelous time. I have never paid so much attention to where water settles in this place as I have this winter. The puddles and icicles have educated me about the places water travels and lands on this place, something I thought I had been aware of as I have watched the water on this land as my interests in Permaculture have grown over the years–but obviously didn’t really understand quite so well as when winter slowed the process for me and showed me frozen pools and shards of water all around me. I loved being in the garden and the woods and down by the creek getting to know winter when everyone else was holed up in their warm houses. It has been so quiet and this place where I live showed itself to me in a new light and with the sounds of humans delightfully absent and leaves on the trees missing from the tree tops to muffle and shield, the woods and waters and skies have been full of sights and sounds that I would not have noticed sitting indoors by the fire with a book about nature. It’s been eye opening!
And so, last week, for the first time since watching the film, a small group of students gathered and we made mandalas together from bark and moss and berries and twigs, acorn tops and lichen, seed pods and shells… It was snowing outside and bitterly cold so we made our mandalas indoors while we watched the snow storm (the storm that crippled our city for 3 days) through the windows–but there was something magical about our first experiment. I think we will have many more together in the coming seasons…indoors and out.
The night before we gathered to make this art together, Pete Seeger passed away. Our school has a rich musical community and knows many Pete Seeger songs so we spent the morning listening to his music and drawing in our sketchbooks on that cold blustery morning. The song that really spoke to me as we prepared for an early departure from school due to the winter storm and the mandalas we created as we waited for parents to arrive for pick up was Turn, Turn, Turn. It seemed so appropriate to me to be making winter mandalas as a winter storm blew in while singing these words in honor of Mr. Seeger’s work and memory. I have this idea that we should make mandalas each season now from the treasures offered to us and at the end of the season, take them back down to the woods–or leave them where we gather and build for nature to take back in the way it sees fit, whether it washes or blows them away…it absorbs them and uses them for some new purpose.
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late
Despite the crazy cold weather we have been having, I can’t stay indoors. I am drawn to the winter woods. The sounds are so different this time of year. Without the cicadas and tree frogs, katydids and crickets, I can hear the rustling of chipmunks and thrashers in the underbrush and the fluttering of the wings of the birds overhead. I can hear the burbling of the creek and the snapping of twigs. Without the mosquitoes and ticks to worry me, I can sit under trees and poke around under fallen leaves where fungus grows.
At the bottom of the woods, just above the creek, there is a tangle of trees that have fallen or washed up during the horrible flash floods we had last year. I spent yesterday poking around looking at the the trees and the things growing on them. I studied the bark and looked at woodpecker holes. I ran my fingers over lichen and moss and avoided huge fuzzy poison ivy vines that had wound themselves around the trees before they fell. There is something so eerie and unsettling about walking around their horizontal bodies–but it’s also amazing. It’s strange to see the top of a giant tree that towered over me just months ago lying so brittle on the ground. The activity going on around the trees is interesting too. I found holes dug under trees where I assume some animal has made it’s winter habitat or hidden food. I saw a pile of woodpecker feathers where someone had obviously eaten him for dinner recently. While standing in the middle of the tangle of trees, a Red-shouldered Hawk landed on a low branch of a Bald Cypress nearby and watched me and my daughter as we stood still watching him. I wondered if that had been his dinner. I took the feathers and he flew away and then I walked away.
The bitter cold temperatures are due back tomorrow. I was hoping for a bit of snow. If we are going to have to have a real winter down in in Alabama, it would be nice if we could have a snow day. I would love to see this strange dark place all covered in light and white for a while.
Observe. Glean. Stitch.
Learning to be still and watch and listen. Learning to rest my hands and brain long enough to see beyond the end of my nose. Learning to hear the voices of others–to see their marks –and faces. Learning to just be and see what bits of life whirl and twirl past and through me. Allowing myself to do less. Allowing time for contemplation, appreciation of clouds and sunlight on my face. Learning to wait — to be patient, to take only what I need. Learning to think carefully about those needs and reaching carefully and thoughtfully toward them. Finding ways to use the small unnoticed bits, the un-treasured and under-appreciated parts of our world– this life and pulling and stitching them together through purposeful and loving activity and turning them into something new. These are my thoughts here at the beginning of a new year.
In autumn I feel invigorated. I hold the clearest image of self and purpose in my mind’s eye during the harvest season. Reaping and gleaning are acts I understand in my bones. I love the process of gathering, sorting and storing things grown. I am at my best when it comes time to clear the faded things, to gather seed, to compost or burn the dead and dying plants of the growing season. I can truly comprehend and appreciate the concept of cyclical and seasonal living during that time of year. I always see the fall season as the true end of a year–the time to feast and celebrate and prepare for a slower, quieter season of self-reflection and contemplation. A season rife with dreams and potential, I work hard on my emotional and spiritual stores as well as those in my kitchen pantry because after the winter solstice comes, I start to slow down and I need to feed on those stores to help me survive the dark days–which are always a little hard. This, the season we are in now, is the season when I feel pale and ghostly and there is a tremendous urge to disconnect and hibernate. I spend a lot of time walking in the winter just to keep my brain and body moving, since I am forced to interact with others (even though I rarely want to). I bundle up in the morning, when I am at my best, and I walk with The Ghost in my weird little urban forest and I look and listen and breathe. I visit the creek and I visit with trees and listen for wildlife–but I do it all very slowly and deliberately. I am a still a gleaner in the cold, muddy months and I love to come to the forest after the trees have thrown down all of their leaves and nuts and flowers and fruits and gather up the dregs to study–and maybe even a seed or two to plant. This is also the season I read lots of books and learn about this place I live–the place I am. I work to hone my observational skills, to strengthen my bond with the natural world and assess my role within it’s complex systems–and then, when the cold creeps in and the rest of the world wakes up and cranks up their heaters and computers and coffee pots, I come inside, light a fire, cover my knees with the afghan I am crocheting, or draw or read, or maybe pop on some music or an audio book or my favorite radio show and I flip through the seed catalog and dream of spring–of new beginnings…
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter. –Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
A choice made. The power bill was not paid in order to buy Christmas gifts. A box of heat and light given to loved ones. Now we sit wrapped in layers of flannel and grandmother’s quilt, drinking hot tea and cocoa boiled in a pot on a fire started with the newspaper circulars for stores we can’t afford that were thrown onto the lawn or crammed into the mailbox everyday since Thanksgiving. Yesterdays’s news and holiday ads were tied into Nantucket knots by the children, for fun, to start the fires kept going with branches gathered in the woods between rain showers last week. Several games were orchestrated to help with the gathering of that much needed wood. Wondering if the squirrels have eaten all the hickory nuts and walnuts out in the meadow above the house starts the planning of another round of games but we haven’t reached that low yet. I sit on that plan. It seems wrong to send the children out into the cold for a few nuts. Maybe when we need more wood, we can all take a look together for nuts. I doubt we will find many. I think the squirrels are having a rough time of it these days too.
Baked potatoes wrapped in twice used foil and canned soup cooked in the dutch oven for lunch and roasted marshmallows for a snack is the fare that sustains us on the first afternoon. The children barely noticed the house was dark. It’s the holiday season and it is really cold out right now, so this meal prep seemed like a game. We hope the candy and clementines from Christmas stockings and cupcakes leftover from an office party will hold the children until dinner when the last of the leftovers from the extended family holiday dinner will be pulled out of the warming fridge. It’s a shame the hens have quit laying for winter. It would sure be good to have some hot eggs. Lucky for the chickens that we don’t eat meat. They might end up on the grill otherwise! Next, cobbler from the last of the berries from summer that are starting to thaw then more potatoes and squash and carrots roasted with the melting butter and some garlic and onions for dinner. There isn’t much more in the fridge to spoil after that. That’s the silver lining on today’s dark cloud. The refrigerator hasn’t been running all that well anyway so we didn’t have much food in it to spoil. Tomorrow we will have drop biscuits and grits and… not sure what comes after that. Beans? Pancakes? Popcorn? Payday is 2 weeks away. We will have to get creative.
Art and some handicrafts have been put in my Etsy shop to try to make a few bucks. A commission check is due any day now for a painting sold weeks ago. I’m making a list of things that can be sold on Craigslist or maybe eBay… If we could get a few more dollars together, we can buy gas for the car and then maybe a few inexpensive staples at the grocery store to keep us in food. I am hoping the feed for our animals lasts until payday. I have been foraging in the meadow and woods for them too–and saving every single table scrap, although there aren’t many.
We tried a new kind of Christmas list this year to keep things simpler and less expensive in hopes of setting the children’s expectations a little lower. We made a game of it and we all wrote down 4 things on this list. 1. Something we want. 2. Something we need. 3. Something to wear. 4. Something to read. The girls played along but we knew they still expect more under the tree. When the girls were little we could get by with thrift store finds and bargain books for gifts but they are older now and in school with friends that go to Disneyland for holidays and carry iPhones and get new clothes for Christmas. Thrift store boots and coats and toys just won’t fly anymore. Christmas has gotten so big, so crass and commercial that I start dreading it in October when the Halloween decorations come out. I know what’s coming next and it makes me feel sick every year. Ugh. Looking to sales and handmade items to fill the gaps between a few nice items and lots of second hand books was our plan for this year but it still isn’t a great plan. “Nice gifts” cost so much money. Even simple little toys, clothes and books all cost a fortune new and braving outlet stores is just not an option, as if that would really make a difference. The commercial hubbub and the crap parking and the mall air and food is all just unbearable! And even when trying to be really frugal and giving up on exchanging gifts and cards and parties with friends and adult family members, so all spending is devoted to the children’s gifts in the family, it still means dipping into the bill money to make it work–because the alternative of calling off Christmas is never an option–though I consider it every year. It’s been years since I have experienced Christmas joy.
And so this year, despite poverty and broken appliances and bitter cold, We have decided to try to take back the joy–to return the shine to the seasonal holiday. It is greenery in the house from the pine trees and juniper bushes, candles and a big fire in the fireplace, a reading of a good story and board games, lots of hot tea and cocoa while all bundled up together under quilts, nibbling popcorn and playing Christmas carols and movies on digital devices we charge in the car. Cozy spots by the fire to play board games are sorted out–ironically the girls pick Monopoly and Life–and we laugh and make jokes and promises to try to do better next year. We make the house shine despite the hard times and we look to a new year that is always brighter in out imaginations. That is my gift to myself this year–my bright spot.
P.S. This is a fictional-ish essay. Times are indeed hard. We definitely worry about how we will get through this season, but we are not sitting in the dark eating baked potatoes by a newspaper and twig fire yet–so don’t worry about us (too much). I was just projecting a little–putting the worst case scenario imaginings out there to see what I could do with these worries that plague me this time of year. It takes a lot for me to feel jolly when money is so tight and everything around the house seems to be broken. I sing hard times songs, fight depression and self medicate with Christmas cookies and candies and hope that the power company or the water works folk don’t pull the plug before January 1st when my husband gets paid. I cheat and weedle and wangle and do what I can to keep the house running smoothly and to make a little holiday magic for my kids too so they will have a good holiday season despite our lack of funds. My main priority this year is to work hard NOT to get caught up in other people’s ideas of what this season is meant to be and to start working harder to establish some traditions here at home that will help make good memories for my children. That’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? That’s where the light shines the brightest, right!?
And in the words of Tiny Tim Crachit, God Bless us everyone.