First Heard

On Friday I had my first midwife appointment. We're in the middle of trying to set up a home birth, but the insurance company wants to dance a waltz or two before they'll cover it. Until the music stops, I'll be seeing the hospital midwife who signed me and a dark-haired babe out of the hospital five and a half years ago. I'm seventeen weeks along, so I hope paperwork speeds through.

No matter how many times I hear it, the sound of another rhythm inside me makes my eyes widen. The whoosh and rapid whumpita of a small heart, an allegro sound below my slow and steady beat, awes me every time. Knowledge of a baby doesn't always equal Knowing, but with that sound echoing in my ears, I find myself murmuring love to one whose previous place in my busy days was primarily that of a Very Chubby Belly. My knowing of this little one is heightened by the sudden movement that now catches me unawares, like hiccoughs in the night. There's such an intense strength bound up in the fragile forms of babies-- so restless and lively and new; their constant movement speaks it though they cannot.

Brand spankin' new.
In the truest sense of the word, it's an awesome thing.


We finished math for the day and had yet to begin phonics when I suddenly decided to take the girls for a walk. It was bitterly cold out, but since I've been cemented to the couch eating chocolate for the last three months, I'm adequately insulated against even arctic temps. The girls move regularly and lack the self-made protection of blubber, so I had to bundle them in lots of woolens. They were still cold.

We walked toward the river to find some new adventure, but once we reached an overflow pond, they stopped to play. Then, before we reached the river proper, Susannah decided that gaining frostbite on top of missing a nap wasn't worth the adventure and began wailing. So ends our adventure.

And because I hate to disappoint, here are some snapshots.

We crossed the railroad after a lengthy inspection of the rock pile (which necessitated dancing on top of and sliding down it a few times).

I carried Susannah in the sling for most of the walk, so she was gypped of the fun.

The One Less Traveled By

Two roads diverged, and they chose the left, which first brought us to skating-upon puddles

(Which were also falling-upon puddles.)

and then to a sitting-upon rock

and then to ice to smash with sticks and stomp with feet

as well as to other cold things that I took pictures of while Susannah squirmed.



Twigs and a snow doughnut

Ice at attention

Trunks coiled around

And a little imp who kept poking from behind bark.


I actually saw quite a few imps about, and since I knew no one would believe me, I prudently made sure I had proof. Observe-- snapshots.

We Fell Into a Black Hole

Somehow, it only sucked the colors out while leaving the images intact. Outer space is inexplicable.


I meant to be cautious and put a diaper on Susannah before we left, but I didn't remember until an hour and a half later when we got home. Two steps inside the door, she began the Potty Mantra, "'tinky, 'tinky, 'tinky!" and I took her upstairs to sit on the toilet. Since I still had the camera in my pocket, well...

I think I should make a practice of recurrent themes. I already have a canon of Laundromat Sessions and Crick Sessions; I think this may be the start of The Potty Sessions.

I post these in the order in which I snapped them. Don't you feel almost as if you're there yourself?

And then her last goofy, "Oooooh!" before she begins to seriously question my mental health. I know, you're doing the same. Told you it would feel like you were there...

It Is Right and Proper to Do So

It's only fitting to cap off a walk that nearly gave us frostbite with homemade hot chocolate on the couch. Liquid optional. Marshmallows required.

And I give a nearly identical snapshot because Susannah is indiscreetly fishing her last mallow from the chocolately marsh.


On the Labor of Heat

The drift of perfect snowflakes outside the window distracts me. Falling thick and languid by the thousands, they look soft enough to fill a pillow, but I'm too old and know better.

The house is still except for the intermittent rush of heat from our furnace, a loud and constant sound when it roars after giving preliminary creaks and clicks. It's strange to feel warmth pour through metal slats and have no idea how a fire was kindled to produce it, if in fact it was produced by a flame and not some baffling miasma of gas and magic.

Growing up, I rode the wood wagon with my family into the Big Woods to load it full of what would warm our limbs in the night. Sometimes in the dead of winter, oftentimes cheerful, sometimes surly, we would snack on saltine crackers and apples and take swigs from a milk jug filled with well-water, chilled so by the temperature outdoors that it seared our throats as it swooshed down. In autumn, the smell of leaves and diesel fuel and the growl and whine of the chainsaw were symbols of heat. In spring, we'd shed the wool hats and, with equal amounts of excitement and dread, face the prospect of getting stuck in the mud as the wagon slid and lurched behind the John Deere.

On school days, after we stepped off the bus and into the house, Mom would often greet us with cookies and the charge to bring in three loads of wood before supper. What constitutes a load? This question occupied wasteful amounts of energy and arguments as we trudged a path from wood stack to basement door with a wheelbarrow or sled or armful of wood, depending on the depth of snow. We'd fight to defend our honor or to assault another's-- Yes, it was a full armload!-- before piling back into the house to shake off the snow and make peace.

Even though Dad tended the chainsaw, older brothers split the majority of wood, and Mom fed the fire all the night long, I knew where that heat came from. And just now, sitting down to write a blog post, the sound of the mysterious gas furnace turned me entirely from the post I wanted to write into this soliloquy on heat. To end all things, I just heard a thump and Susannah's steps above my head, so this is what you get.

Thank you, Lord, for warm bones and snow falling and, most of all, for the footfalls of children to keep me new.

Plane Tickets in My Dish

Ever since I was a wee country lass, I've dreamed of traveling-- big, impractical dreams spawned in part, no doubt, by the National Geographic subscription that my Uncle Ray used to give our family for Christmas. Before I could pore over the magazines, Mom would edit the photos of any naked natives with permanent marker, creating exotic people of all shades of browns and tans and blacks who lived in desert places, humid jungles, and tropical islands, but who, strangely, chose to wear identically modest black bathing suits that smelled suspiciously of ink.

We laugh over this, but I'm certain that looking at those pictures of people living in joy and sorrow all over the world fed the wanderlust that still sits inside me. I had grand plans, perfectly set out in my romantic, little, old-maidenly head, of traveling to these places and people in the summer months before returning to the land and people that I knew and loved for the rest of the year. Well, instead, I married my best friend, and, through our joining, God blessed us with children-- little ones who swallow our hearts to leave them larger than they were before. This is very good. For all its small struggles and frustrations, I would have life no other way and am grateful that God set a path in front of me, one far better and more worthy than any I could have created.

This beautiful life, however, doesn't stop me from planning trips around the world when John and I are in our eighties, from poring over the wonder of creation and humanity in the stack of National Geographic magazines that my real-life, globetrotting friend Margaret so kindly mails me after she reads them, or from making dishes that were born in places I'll probably never set either of my feet.

So, after a lengthy introduction to what could have been a simple statement, head on over to buildabelly. I posted 20-odd recipes yesterday, and the first two are from our neighbor to the south. Mexico! (That should be jubilantly shouted with a Mexican accent.) After making chicken mole almost two months ago in response to a New Man's request, I post the recipe, along with a most delicious Mexican dish that one's heart should only process, at most, every few months.

As Promised, Tall Tales

The Littl'un

Susannah loves me lifting her to our fridge, which is wallpapered with photographs that have been sent us, to point out and name those people she knows. It makes sense that she points to her immediate family members most often, so it was with a bored eye that I searched out the source of her, "Papa! Papa!" and scanned all the known photographs of John on our fridge. She won me over, though, when I noticed that she was pointing with a smile toward a postcard John had picked up at the comic shop that featured an impressively green and bulging Hulk. Close, baby, but no cigar.

The Middlin'un

One of the last books Millie had to read for school was an extremely simplistic history of Pepin the Short. (I link here not to boast of my knowledge of this man, but because my knowledge is sorely lacking.) For those like me, Pepin the Short was the father of Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. He was also married to Bertha Bigfoot, a fact that pleased all of us. The day after Millie read the book to me and Annika, I heard Annika at the kitchen table shouting this mysterious encouragement: "Don't worry, Dorothy! Charlemagne will save you from the Wicked Witch! Charlemagne is comin'!" I walked out to see her playing with the Wizard of Oz dolls, with Dorothy and the Wicked Witch as themselves, and the Cowardly Lion masterfully filling Charlemagne's shoes.

Annika shows off her "finger puppet" (aka empty candy tube) and her baby, who has been christened since last week as "Split Pea Soup." It's the funniest thing to hear her run about the house in distress, crying "Where's Split Pea Soup? Split Pea Soup is lonely and 'wying! Split Pea Soup wants me!" For the space of one night, after reading this book, Split Pea Soup became "Wumstekilstee" or some similarly mangled version, and after I remarked that her baby's named changed a lot, I heard her upstairs calling out, "Changealot! Changealot! Where are you?" (Perhaps a friend of Lancelot's...) It seems that Split Pea Soup is back to stay, though-- for now.

Lastly, a few weeks ago, the girls and I were driving home and looking at the stars. Out of the dark, I heard Annika ask, "Mama, does God have a beard?" Not quite knowing how to answer, I stammered out, "I don't know, babe. We were made in His image, and men have beards, so He might... We'll only know for sure when He brings us to Him in heaven." After my voice trailed off, she continued, "Well, if you get to heaven before I do, later when I come, will you tell me?" Yes, my sweetling, I certainly will.

The Big'un

One of the girls' favorite winter games is to row around the world in their boat. This game, with daily variations on plot and theme, can amuse them for an hour or more. Since Debbie's been in London for the Honors Program, their most regular destination is Londonengland (one word), and it only takes Millie ten seconds to row there. When I questioned the speed at which she was able to travel to London, she gave me the look that only thickskulled adults must receive, and explained, "It doesn't take me long because I've taken a class on rowing for children my age, and now I know how to row extremely fast."
I'll say.

One thing the instructors of this class neglected to teach her is the proper way to call, "Aaaall aboard!" I hide a grin every time I hear her bellow, "On the board! Get on the board!" I especially refuse to correct her because her error sometimes results in Annika, after she's dramatically fallen off the boat and is floundering in the deep, crying out, "I fell offa board! I need to 'wim back to the boat!"

And to show you who's under the quilt as Millie rows to England (and sometimes, Wisconsin), here's this snapshot of Susannah and a Mystery Hand.

Finally, as I scrutinized my growing double chin in the mirror last week (oooh, yes, pictures will come), Millie poked her head in the bathroom and slammed me with this query, "Mama, are you being vanity?" I was being vanity, so, ashamed, I skulked from the bathroom.

January the Ninth, 2008

Something very strange happened to our seasons. First fall walked us by, and then spring decided to pay a neighborly visit in midwinter. It was in the sixties this day, and Annie quickly shed her boots and sweatshirt.

Tom took the opportunity of bare ground to construct a makeshift fort in the driveway.

And Millie ran her plucky, little heart out.

False Spring

Susannah allowed me to take these three pictures on our way to the park.

So Much Depends Upon A Red Shed

We walk past the red shed to reach the park.
Millie wanted to know what the long word was.

Oh, good! It doesn't forbid jump roping!

Notice the corncob doll in the rightmost sheep?

Walking the Line

They followed a thin strip of snow as far as they could. By the time we walked homeward, all the snow had melted, and we'd shed our outer layers.

Of a Crick and Water, Too

On this strange, warm day we soon found ourselves at the crick,

and we paddled our way to Mexico,

where we made funny faces at people.