Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Looking for magic...

Behold, the golden hour light on the...hose reel.
I like to take pictures. I am not really a photographer, or even a hobby photographer. I have photographer friends and they read way more and take way more classes and they always have their cameras. I often don't and if I do, I feel awkward asking to take photos or worry about looking like an idiot as I pose my child against a brick wall in a public place and start snapping away. Their photos are amazing and it is probably a lot to do with the fact that they are so  much braver than I am.

I think I also have the handicap of making the perfect the enemy of the good. I (kind of?)  know someone in my photographer group who lives in Hawaii. Oh. Mah. Gosh. Not only is she an amazing photographer but her backdrop is stunning. I mean, freaking Hawaii, am I wrong? People tell me to shoot my own home and look for the magic there. This is generally not a bad idea given that this is where I live so these are the things that I can photograph without hopping a plane to a tantalizing destination but...often they have this idea about living on a farm. It is a cute idea...just not a realistic one. It is not all Elena Shumilova. Honestly, there is a lot of poop. So much poop. Because that is pretty much what animals do. They poop and we move it.

But you know, Russia is pretty modern place. I am sure she has to shoot around plastic Homer buckets and things like green plastic garden hose. Probably? Maybe?So I tell myself? So here I am, shooting this farm and either carefully editing the photos using cropping or just plain photoshopping out things or being really careful to set up my shots so that they look all cool and magical and I guess, Russian. Sometimes it works pretty well and I am not sure if that is a good idea. I mean, how much artifice do I need to put on things? That photo at the header of the post is the well head at golden hour after a good storm. The light was amazing and it softly lit the green garden hose. I suppose I could layer the shot with one of the kids so that it looked like a child out there and I just might do that, but then it isn't real. It might not be a problem to do sometimes but I think that do only do that would be just a bit sad.

The world that we live in is a real one and I think that the images that we see are largely not real. I worry that it makes us less happy with reality. I really like this shot of the farmhouse. It was taken the same evening as the first shot but it was taken first and the sun was a bit higher. The light just cut between the house and the lilac bush and highlighted the dandelions going to seed. By the way, that kills my husband, Ben. He just cannot.Not even a little.The yard means something to him that it doesn't to me. In this shot are some pieces of reality poking through, besides the crop of weeds to come. You might notice the satellite dish that belonged to the uncle who lived her previously and though we have never had service, we have yet to remove it. You might notice the white bucket on the chimney to the furnace. We are in the 50s today, twenty degrees cooler than yesterday, but sucking it up and not heating. The bucket keeps out the rain. I debated for a long time about whether to photoshop those to death. The siding would have been tricky for me but doable but not worth it. There is a bucket on the chimney and a stupid dish on the side of the house. The photo is pretty real.

Believe it or not, this is the woodshed. I cropped out
the gas powered wood splitter and the piles of wood.
I am not totally okay with that but that is my own character flaw. I think I am going to leave them there to just be a little bit of reality. As for the dandelions? Ben is taking them out. The belly PTO mower is on the tractor and he has vengeance on his mind. Those pretty little fluff balls are going down. Good thing I snapped a photo when I did.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Say peep...

Next week I will have a review up on a book to help children process death and the Orthodox services surrounding it. When I am thinking about such things because it is coming up on the second anniversary of my father's death. My father had a genetic blood clotting condition, which I inherited. It is the sort of thing that is not always a problem but decided to randomly rear its ugly head. It is a capricious little condition. Because of this when he developed cancer, it was not discovered immediately. The blood clots in his lungs just appeared to the kind that we are more susceptible to developing. But after a few months of developing more and more clots despite being on thinners, they discovered he had non-smoker's lung cancer. We children and he himself were almost grateful that it was cancer because we no longer had to worry so much about ourselves. I was pregnant at the time and my oncologist (because they are blood specialists not because I had cancer) was flipping out about keeping my blood very thin and doing constant checks. The day that my youngest daughter had her ten day well baby check up, my father discovered he had cancer. He did not want to tell me right away and I practically had to pry it out. But I knew. I could feel when I heard his voice. I just wanted to know that I was right. I knew I was, but I needed to hear it.

That said, while I miss my father a great deal, I have tremendous hope in God so I am not too sad at this anniversary. We plan to talk about the good times and the funny events like the time he tried to trick my Tita Rosa (my dear aunt Rose) in to eating a Gaines Burger. When my grandfather found out, he made my father eat it and more. There is a lot of good to remember and we have to keep it at the surface so that we don't only see the bad memories.

I realized that in our family, we like to tell stories. I think we get that from my mother's side. My mother is Cherokee. Legit. Like Indian basketball league, legit. They tell stories. They sit around and tell children stories that go backwards. They start with stories about when the child was a baby, and the when the parents were babies, and the back and and back and ever deeper. Some of the best times of my entire adult life were when my mother's parents stayed with us while my grandmother recovered from surgery for an infection in her bones. She needed to stay close the hospital and be cared for and I did it gratefully. At night while everyone else slept, my grandfather told stories I had never heard before. My husband and I and even my oldest son sat in rapt attention, barely breathing and certainly never interrupting. Those nights were golden.

In his late teens, he had hitchhiked across the country from Oklahoma to San Diego and was picked up by an ex-con and an AWOL sailor. At some point along the journey, my grandfather thought he was in over his head, took a powder, and ended up alone and stranded in the desert only to be rescued by this same duo again later. Along this trip, my grandfather learned from the ex-con how to use a string mop and janitorial chemicals to blow a safe. For reals. I will never forget those nights. I saw my grandfather in a new way. He is a tower of reliability and fortitude but he was once a crazy kid. Having been a dumb kid, I could relate. There is a book there, I know it. I want to write it. I have to find a way to string it all together and find the right narrative style. I need to do it before he leaves this place and goes where I can't hear his stories for a while. Ask me how it is going sometime. Keep me honest,

Anyway, my father's birthday was around Western Easter. He had this thing for Peeps. You know, the nasty little marshmallow things? He loved them. It is so weird and so not like him. My father was a foodie and a healthy freak. He was doing spirulina and chia cleanses before it was cool. They were his dirty secret and not many people knew. That and Slim Jims, which I have NEVER tried out of the fear that I have a genetic weakness for them, God forbid. My father would have one Slim Jim a year and then he would have a package of Peeps with cheap white wine, because how better to cut the cloying sweetness than with the aggressive acidity of flowery smelling Chardonnay? This was his birthday treat, eaten in secret. As he was dying, I gave him a case of Peeps and Slim Jims. Why not eat them now? He didn't finish them all and they were thrown away after he died but they were there when he needed them.

This Pascha, I started a new tradition. I want to keep the stories alive. I had a pretty pink peep and a glass of wine. It was good even though it wasn't really. I told the kids about my father's birthday treat. Every year I am going to do this and I am going to tell this story. This is how one's memory is eternal. That is really what it means. Memory eternal, Daddy.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Eating through the pain...

We had the usual things in our Pascha basket. You know, bacon, red eggs, salt, cheese, hrutka cheese, Pascha bread, wine, a butter lamb, and chocolate. Then we had some Colorado love. Well, actually New Mexico, but still like back home--so close enough. Abouna Moses from Holy Resurrection in Wisconsin had driven through New Mexico late last year and loaded up on a ridiculous amount of New Mexico green chile, something I miss profoundly since moving to the hinterlands of the north. Abouna is one of those people who instantly becomes everyone's friend and knows how to make them at home. He had me pegged from the first time that I met him. The way to my heart is always food and cooking. We saw him and Jessica from Every Home a Monastery in the last week of March, right after Western Easter, because our kids' school was on break. Since Ben teaches, we have to take advantage of these days off. God bless Abouna! When we went back home, we brought with us his homemade bacon, European butter, and chiles he had roasted himself.

I have a love affair with green chiles. When we first moved here, I was shopping and sending kids in all directions to fetch things in different parts of the store. I sent the oldest, then nineteen, to get green chiles, which is properly pronounced "chee-LAYS". When he couldn't find them, he asked a clerk. Three times Joseph tried to tell him what he wanted. Finally he took Joey to the shoe department, which kind of freaked him out a little bit. Once there, he showed Joey some green shoelaces. I am not even kidding! Joey laughed and thanked him and then found me. I didn't laugh long. No chiles. Like none. Now real, whole, raosted green chiles from home make me cry.

Growing up in Denver, I love the smell of chiles. The whole west side of the city smells like roasting chiles all August. the trucks come up from southern Colorado or New Mexico, full of glossy green chiles. The Mexicans and Mexican-Americans sell them all along Federal Boulevard. They have blow torches and giant metal spinning baskets that like the ones from the Bingo halls also all up and down Federal Boulevard. They ask how many bushels you want and then they are dropped into the basket and while it is spinning, they are roasted by the fire from a blow torch. I love this. I love the heat and the smell of chiles and sound of the skin crackling. I miss it so much that I literally weep for it in August. I miss it so much it is a painful stabbing feeling in my throat when I think about it.

I am so blessed to have so many beautiful friends that every fall, someone buys a large box and fills it with unroasted chiles (so they can be shipped). Getting a box like this makes home feel a little less far away. So I take my chiles outside and we fire up the grill with hardwoods from the trees here at the farm and we roast them over oak or maple. It is the strange fusion of here and there, of now and then, of my husband and of me.

At Pascha, we had chiles in the basket which confused the priest. I told him that even though these were Lenten, it represented something I missed profoundly, something my children miss profoundly, something that we needed. Last night I made deep fried chiles rellenos and a green chile sauce. Since one of my kids is allergic to tomatoes, I used whiskey soaked raisins instead and it was amazing. I will totally do that going forward. Father Alexander and Brother Anthony came over and we had plates piled high with rice, rellenos (plain cheese ones for the little people), green chile sauce, and sour cream. Father brought wine and we talked and laughed. These chiles were so hot that our faces were red, we were sweating, and our eyes were watering and had to pause between bites. It hurt a bit but in a good way. The best way, really. I was completely in the moment. I did not take even one picture, I did not even knit a single stitch. It was nice to put aside everything for a little while and just enjoy the food and the wine and the company while the little children ran in and out of the big farm kitchen.

 I think that is the Christian journey.
Eat through the pain.

Yesterday, some friends were chatting over Facebook about needing to introduce some veggies and fruits back in after a few days of feasting. One of them said the other option was to eat through the pain. That is pretty much what we did last night. We ate through the pain both literally and figuratively. I am not sure that the place I live could ever really be home to me but it certainly is the place God had put me. When I miss home, I bring it out in my kitchen, but in this kitchen here on the farm. Eating chiles for me is eating through the pain and I come out on the other side happier even if I cry up until that moment. In the end, I think that is the Christian journey. Eat through the pain. The other side is there, waiting, and it will be bliss even if every moment between then and now is bound up in the physical, a mixture of tears and joy.

And if you are experiencing any, um, slowed digestion because of all the cheese you have been eating, drop on by  my house. I have some leftover chile sauce. That'll clear that right up for you, Compadre.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Starting out..

This is my first post on my new blog. It is a bit frightening to think about starting out all over again since my other blog is six years old and well established but I outgrew it. My other blog focused mostly on food and while I occasionally wrote about my kids and my faith, it shaped my public perception and the kinds of writing I was able to do outside of it. It also boxed in the kinds of writing that I did within it because I risked losing readers and getting negative emails about staying on topic. I needed a new home for my writing.

That is not to say that everything is new.  I still am me, I still do the same things, I still care a great deal about real food and natural living but a new house comes with new rules. On this blog, I am just going to talk about whatever and not try to box in it so much. When I started writing, I shaped it around a platform, which is a solid way to start, but now I have been writing long enough that I no longer feel the need to have a platform. Now I am writing strictly for me.

About two years ago, I started to get the itch to write a book. From the friends of the library sale, I bought a book on getting a book published. I think I paid a quarter or two for it. Almost nothing, really. I had all sorts of ideas and I started some notes and outlines but they didn't really manifest themselves into a book. I think God was closing doors. I knew I felt the need to write but the book that I really wanted to write was not coming. Then I started getting suggestions for a cookbook on Lenten, fast friendly foods for families. So I started outlining and things fell into place. I finally found that door that God meant for me to open. I wrote queries that turned in to requests for proposals that turned into a solid contract to write a book. The writing flowed and the book came out. You can find the links to it in my sidebar.

It was the book I needed to write. I felt like it brought all the parts of my identity together. I have always loved cooking and I have been developing recipes for years for my blog and selling them to other sites and organizations. I have always loved God very much and sought him out, going to church alone as a child and teen because very few family members were observant. I love children and babies and families in general. All of a sudden, my writing felt very holistic. All of a sudden, my other writing felt much less satisfying. I started taking on fewer and fewer contracts and focused on my book and even considering writing others (if you have already emailed me about a follow up Lenten book, no fear, I am putting together an outline). It was at that point that I realized I needed more room to grow and to write. This is that home.

In case you don't know me, let me tell you more about me.I am a Colorado girl and I love everything about my hometown of Denver. My father was Mexican. He passed away two years ago from non-smokers lung cancer. My mother is Cherokee and she met my father in college. I am married to strapping Finlander and we have eleven Mexi-Finns, as he calls them. When Ben's father died, we made the crazy decision for him to quit his  job, sell our house, downsize to about half of our belongings, and leave the comfortable suburban life of professionals to live on his family's homestead from the 19th century on the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Cray-cray. That has been unbelievably difficult but we have seen God's hand in it all, even the ugly stuff. So. Hard.

We have a milk cow (that is a trick during the fasts because she still makes milk), a dairy steer, a dog, and a cat that likes to crawl under the blankets and sleep with us. We will be doing ducks for meat this spring as well as turkeys but they are not ordered yet. Then we are adding a couple of lambs. We have an apple orchard and sell apples locally. The kids have the run of 75 acres. I am still writing from home but Ben decided he needed a second career. He left behind finance to have this little hobby farm on the Canadian shield and teach school at our tiny country school with eleven students, five of whom are ours. More of the cray-cray.

I plan on writing about whatever pops in to my head. I am not boxing myself in this time but writing about the broad expanse of my life and experience. I have no idea where we are going, but I am excited to get there. You are welcome to come along for the ride.