A Little of This...and a Little of That

We're entering the final stretch, where any day could be the day, where my phone calls are answered with an excited "Are you in labor?".

I'm anxious to meet our little one, anxious to find out if baby V is a he baby or she baby, and at the same time nervous.  Scared of the unknown, of the way the shift from a family of three to a family of four will change the dynamic of our little home and the routine we've grown comfortable with.  Worried I will feel less connected to Milani, that I won't be able to cuddle during her naps anymore or unwind for bedtime, just the two of us, curled up with books the way we do now.   I don't want to disappoint my girl, and yet I'm simultaneously afraid I won't feel the same wild bond with my new darling that I have with Milani.  I worry that the little jolt our life is about to receive might leave us all unsettled for good, unable to find our way back to a place of balance and familiarity.  And from my heart I can hear the faint whisper of the truth reassuring me that these fears have no ground to stand on.  I know they will dissolve and seem irrationally absurd in hindsight, but I guess I have to feel them and face them, to recognize them and live them in order for them to eventually fade into retrospection.

In the meantime Milani and I have been dividing our time between doing a lot of things and doing a lot of nothing, usually settling somewhere in between.

I don't remember this tree really producing many leaves in years past, and raking crispy leaves into a heaping pile and diving in head first hadn't really occurred to me since I was thirteen or so, but it's these little things that Milani opens my eyes to, that she brings into focus and gives meaning to. 

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She reminds me of the simple pleasures that keep us kids at heart, that fade into the background if left unnoticed.  We spent more than one afternoon in the backyard piling up the leaves and thrashing through and rolling in them.

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My girl is an amazing little helper, quick to grab the rake and drag it around, and eager to pile handful after handful of leaves into our compost box. 

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Over the summer we managed to grow a random surprise vine that sprang from a seed in last years compost.  It took us a while to figure out what the vine was, we debated whether it was squash, or watermelon, finally determining that they were pumpkins.  We managed to score four pumpkins from our surprise vine, they'll make fantastic pie.

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Milani spent one last afternoon running her fingers through the soil in the garden, selecting little chunks of dirt and tossing them to watch them crumble as they hit the ground.  One last afternoon with dirt caked to the booty of her pants and black fingernails until the return of spring.

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We spent an afternoon exploring the Children's Library with Grandma Andrea.  Whimsical clouds, Mary Poppins, an airplane, and NASA rocket all soared overhead, captivating my girl's attention and imagination.

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Milani arranged and rearranged magnetic letters, and played with a train table. 

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She climbed atop Thomas the Tank Engine and perused picture books. 

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She even took her place on stage, the character that she is.  Her world is her stage.

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We stopped to play with the electric trains, watching them circle their tracks, touring their tiny village,

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And of course had to visit with a donkey on our way to the car.

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For as much as I anticipate the fall, and rant and rave about how much I love it, I never really get too disappointed when I realize that all of the trees have become completely barren and the view out the window in the morning reveals a dusting of pearlescent frost.  By the time I realize that autumn has passed my attention is already captivated by the twinkling lights and fresh evergreens of the holidays.  Since Thanksgiving, the radio in the kitchen has streamed a continuous flow of Christmas Carols and our Elf friend has returned from the North Pole to keep watch of our nest.  We will be getting our Christmas tree soon, and I can't wait for the heavenly scent of pine to infiltrate every corner of our home and to see it's lights reflected in the enchanted eyes of my curious girl.

And of course, I can hardly wait to hold in my arms the most blessed gift we will receive this Christmas.

Catching up With the Calendar

Somehow, in the midst of September's doctor appointments and ultrasounds, summer managed to slip quietly out the back door without my even noticing.  The seasons have shifted and the page of the calendar has turned to a new month, and I find myself desperately needing to catch up with it all.  To recognize the adventures we've had during those final weeks of summer that managed to get tossed aside and left behind in the craziness.


Fair Season

One of the first hints that summer is near its end and autumn lies closer than I even realize, is the arrival of the Harford Fair. Each year Jon's company sets up a stand, and on the days that Jon has fair duty I tag along to keep him company.  The tent sits directly across from the bingo hall, and all afternoon we hear "B4, that's B4...N15, that's N15"  Bingo letters and numbers float around in my dreams on the nights after I spend an afternoon at the fair.

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Last year Milani was only three months old, and she slept for most of the afternoon on a quilt in the corner of the tent, but this year she wanted to go, go, go.  We walked and walked, checking out the rides, and greasy food stands, the tractors and farm animals.  As we were toddling steadily along the walkway, Milani did an abrupt 180 and hightailed it in the opposite direction.  It took me a minute to figure out what caused the about-face when I noticed a yellow balloon in the sea of people ahead, bobbing along behind a little boy.  Sister had her sights set, and she was closing in, fast!  We asked the boy's mother where they got their balloon, then marched straight to the People's National Bank stand to score our own.

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Milani could entertain herself for hours with a balloon.  She talks to it, strings it along like a close friend, and tugs on the string to reel it in for a hug.  With balloon by her side she climbed bravely up the stairs of the empty grandstand.

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We also visited the Wyoming County Fair, where Milani fostered an instant attraction to the carousel.  She stood in awe, pointing and squealing at the horses as they bobbed past.  Oddly enough she was most interested in the only non-horse, weird rabbit creature on the entire ride.  She would search it out and point to it, making sure I saw, every time it passed.  So we got her little hand stamped, and she and Jon went for some rides.

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We stayed until the sun sank well below the horizon and the sky deepened to a rich navy.  The rides cast a glow that could be seen for miles as we drove toward home on winding roads with an exhausted, sleeping baby in the back seat.

The Butterfly House

With the Mom's Group, Milani and I took a trip to visit the Creekside Gardens Butterfly House.  The house, a wooden frame covered in netting and filled with butterflies and gorgeous flowering perennials, was nestled in the gardening center surrounded by eclectic planted urns and hanging baskets.

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Inside the house, we learned about the life cycle of the butterflies, and the kids got a sugar stick to attempt to attract and feed a butterfly.  Milani was content to stick close to my side and watch the butterflies eat watermelon.  Every now and then she would trow a peek back in my direction, looking for feedback as to whether she should be excited or entirely wigged out by the butterflies.

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After leaving the butterfly house, we spent some time in the children's garden, surrounded by eclectic, colorfully whimsical welded creatures, and some bubbling stone fountains.  Milani loaded truck after truck full of pebbles from the pebble garden.  Scattered throughout the ordinary, gray pebbles were pretty, colorful, polished rocks.  Stumbling upon one was like discovering hidden treasure and made all the digging and hauling of rock even more rewarding.

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Creekside Gardens hosted a butterfly release event at the end of September, and all the little butterflies began their long, fall migration south to Mexico.  We will definitely be visiting the butterflies, and the children's garden again next year.


Right about the time my inner world was erupting into turmoil, bubbling over with the fear and anxiety of my pregnancy issues, when ultrasound after ultrasound were dumping entirely too much emotional weight for me to process, the skies dumped entirely too much water for the river to handle.  My inner turbulence was eerily reflected in the rising, brown, angry water that spilled over the banks.  So many neighbors, people living within walking distance from my house, found their homes or businesses flooded, completely destroyed.


My heart breaks as I drive through these areas and see the piles on the curbs of damaged belongings that used to be parts of the homes, and see people courageously and desperately working to regain their footing, and their lives.  It makes me wonder why these things happen, why disastrous and heartbreaking circumstances surface in our lives.  I really can't come up with the why but I have come to believe the truth in the fact that what doesn't kill us does indeed make us stronger. 

Maybe when we struggle through a pregnancy, or loss, or flood we are actually being given a precious opportunity to rise up and overcome.  To unite with one another and become stronger individually and as a community.  To arrive at a place with more wisdom and richness and a greater reverence for life than the place we left behind. 

 Sunny September Sunday

The last Sunday in September was gorgeous.  The skies were powder blue with gorgeous white clouds, and the sun was warm on our skin.  We spent the afternoon enjoying the fresh air at the playground. 

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Milani is fearless at the playground, climbing rock walls and crossing wobbly bridges, and while the swings are still her favorite the slide is quickly gaining ground.  It doesn't matter how steep or fast, she flies down with an open mouth grin.

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At home, we spent the rest of the day in the yard and the garden.  It's always a little sad to see the end of the season drawing close, knowing that all the planting, and weeding, and harvesting is about to end.  To watch the tomato plants slowly turn brown, and to know that we might only get a handful more cucumbers and peppers before the first frost.  

Usually Milani just wanders around the garden popping green cherry tomatoes off the plants and into her mouth, trampling anything in her path.  This time she took a sincere interest in the soil.  She found a spade and cultivator and meticulously moved dirt from one spot to the next, her concentration unwavering.  

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It's so heartwarming to watch her gain interest in the things that I find rewarding.  I will always give her to space to nurture her own individual interests, but won't mind if she digs barefoot in the dirt next to me every summer.

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The crispness on the breeze and changing leaves are unmistakable, autumn is in full swing and I can't say that I'm disappointed by summer's end.  I certainly love the hot, sunny summer days and all the fun we've had this year, but for some reason I am most optimistic, happy, and at peace in the fall.  I love the colors, and the weather, and anything that tastes like pumpkin, and I am ready to embrace this new season.

Sweet Summertime

This post wins the award for longest post ever, but summer has taken over and we've been drinking it in heartily.  So I'm going to play catchup on just a few of the sunny adventures from the last couple weeks.



For the better part of the long, gray, northeastern winter I anticipate summer.  I dog ear pages in seed catalogs.  I daydream grand plans for our yard and our garden.  I imagine biting into a warm ripe tomato straight off the vine.  Opening day of the farmer's market has an affect on me similar to that of Christmas on a six year old.  In April and May I grow a little antsy as the sun gets warmer, and trees and flowers begin to blossom.  The spectacular display seems a little like a tease.  I wait anxiously for the goods, for the opportunity to reap what I sow, and enjoy Mother Earth's generous bounty.  And look out when I get word that Pallman's Farm has opened for the strawberry picking season.

We gathered our buckets and bowls, and headed to the strawberry patch.  The sun warmed our shoulders and enormous white clouds drifted above.  The leaves of the strawberry bush were still cradling tiny puddles of rain from the downpour that passed.  Strawberry after strawberry plunked into our bucket, but you know the ripest and sweetest of the berries didn't make it into the bucket.  Milani wandered up and down the row, sometimes popping a berry off the bush, other times sneaking one out of the bowl.

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The evidence was smeared across her crimson face, framing her content grin.

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Sister already knows that nothing compares to a berry plucked right from the bush and popped into your mouth.  We abandoned our post only when the bowls and buckets grew heavy with berries.

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Some of our berries got frozen.  Many of our berries were gobbled up.  And the rest of our berries were turned into sweet strawberry jam and preserved in glass jars to last us until we pick again next June.

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I can look forward to popping the lid off of a jar of jam on some bitter January day, and I know that out of that jar I will get so much more than strawberry jam.  I will get the sweet memory of picking berries with people I love.  I will picture Milani's face streaked with strawberry juice.  I will get the goodness of fresh, ripe local produce, picked with my own hands, and turned into jam on a warm Saturday morning.  It will be packed with the life, and love of Mother Nature and the satisfaction of making something delicious in my own kitchen.   No jar from a grocery store shelf can even begin to rival the rewards of canning my own jam.  So much so that I've decided, this summer, to can and preserve as much of this sweet summertime as I can.  Blueberry preserves, peaches, peach butter, dilly beans, tomato sauce, salsa, applesauce...Oh my plans are grand indeed.


Our Garden
I was flipping the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine this morning.  It wasn't any Martha Stewart Living magazine however, it was the Special Gardening Issue from March 2008 given to me by Andrea.  As I studied each page, I have to admit I was turning green with garden envy.  I'm aware that it is absolutely absurd to be jealous of Martha's massive plot, because I'm sure the woman has an entire team dedicated to its planning and planting, maintenance and upkeep.  But oh my goodness is it spectacular.

Every year we start our seeds in early spring with high hopes and good intentions.  Remember, I've been planning this garden in my daydreams since the first frost.  Yet somehow life gets away from us and our execution ends up somewhat mediocre.  Flower beds get overrun with weeds.  Seedlings are left to wither.  Seeds are sown four weeks later than they should, leaving us with measly cucumber and squash plants.  So I'll probably flip through those shiny pages for the sixth time, and soak in every tip, trick, and detail.  And maybe Milani and I will take a walk to the library and pick out a gardening book.  There is so much to learn, it's almost overwhelming.

But the point of our garden isn't to feed an army or outdo Martha, and the fact is, we've already pulled out a fair amount of peas, and our tomato plants have taken on a life of their own.  We will make salads with our lettuce, and soup with our leeks, and enjoy every bite of the things we harvest.  Each year we will strive to execute it a little bit better, learn a little bit more, and harvest a bigger crop, but in reality the current view from our garden rail isn't all too shabby.  Our gardening journey is off to a pretty good start and we'll only get better from here.

This year's bounty is slowly emerging.

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leeks                                                                                                                           snow peas   
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some of the sweetest grape tomatoes
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bees pollinating the funky flowers that bloomed atop the onions and leeks
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It's starting with snow peas and sugar snap peas, though we seriously underestimated how many vines we needed to plant.  We only get to pick a pathetic handful of pods every couple days.  We anxiously watch for each pod to ripen before we pluck it and devour it right in the backyard.  Lulu knows when she sees me scouring the vines, and she toddles her booty over to the garden fence and demands her share of the snap peas with those massive brown eyes and toothy grin.  How can I resist!?  I love that my girl loves the things we grow in our own soil.  I love that she gobbles down the sweet green peas, and then insists on chewing on the pod until all the sugar is sucked out.

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If she thinks the pod peas are good, wait 'till she gets a glimpse of the massive amount of grape tomatoes we're about to be assaulted with.


At the Lake

Many of my fondest childhood memories are set against the backdrop of Lake Wallenpaupack.  I remember playing with cap guns around the camp site, saddling up on one of my imaginary horses and riding through the brush.  I remember long days spent bobbing atop the waves, anchored in our cove, making up water games, and reading magazines in the sun.  We sucked down fresh squeezed lemonade, and boxes of Yoo Hoo.  Spit cherry pits from the side of the boat and watched as they plunked into the water.  Man, there are so so many good times tucked away in my memory from our days at that lake.

Which is why its so amazing and emotional for me to watch Milani splash and play in the cool early summer water at Lake Winola.  My girl didn't hesitate as the chilly water lapped at her toes.  She loves to be in the water, I think it's in her genes.

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She scooped up buckets of cool water and shiny pebbles and dumped them enthusiastically back into the small waves.  She watched her cousins play with squirt guns.

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It won't be long before she's asking to go tubing, or taking her first stab at waterskiing.  Maybe her memories of days spent at the lake will be some of her fondest.


Stay tuned for more summer adventures, we're only getting started!  Happy Thursday!

Springtime Symphony

I'm not sure what it is about the first warm sunny weekends of the spring that leave such a vivid impression on me.  There are certain characteristics that are present every year, a consistent set of ingredients that produce this springtime symphony.  The blue sky, and warm sun.  A coolness to the breeze that reminds me that it isn't quite summer yet.  The birds chirping and lawnmowers humming together in a flowing chorus.  The occasional throaty rumble of a motorcycle, and eclectic playlist compiled from each passing car's stereo.  And that amazing barbecue smell that drifts on the breeze when everyone realizes it's the perfect day to grill.
I can remember weekends like this from when I was young, and my father would be tilling the soil, and planting the garden.  He would work hard and long until his skin was dusted with dirt and beads of sweat were gathered on his brow.  I was eager enough to help, but never accomplished much before my attention wandered and I was on to the next thing.  I don't think I ever really understood why he worked so hard on what looked like a whole mess of trouble just so that we could have a garden.

Now I get it.  Sure, the sugar snap peas, cucumbers, and endless tomatoes are reason enough.  But they aren't the reason.  There's a certain satisfaction to a day spent sowing seeds and moving earth.  To feeling your muscles work and stretch, and working up a sweat.  When you step back to survey at the end of an afternoon of weeding and confirm that every last weed has been evicted and your little plot has never looked better.  It's all therapeutic, cathartic, even meditative.
Maybe someday Milani will want to help.  Maybe her attention span will only last three minutes before she's off on the next adventure.  Just to be able to look up and find her playing in the yard is lovely enough. 
To observe as she goes from one ball to the next;
And then on to the fence;
To hanging with dad;
And back to watching me.  Her spirit is radiant and her presence invigorating.
And after a weekend spent both working and playing hard, nothing feels better than collapsing into a cozy nap.
Now our weekend is over, and the sun is hidden, but the traces of dirt still under my fingernails are evidence of the afternoons spent in the yard.  We will survive the coming string of chilly wet days by anticipating our next weekend in the sun.

Happy Monday!

Liquid Gold

Today the sun is tucked away behind a blanket of matte gray clouds.  Every crevice in the sidewalk is collecting pools of rain.  Little clear beads are clinging to the edge of the gutter.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Because just this weekend we nestled our first tender seedlings in the newly tilled soil. I love beautiful sunny days and pristine blue skies as much as anyone, but I know those little green babes are basking in the light spring rain. 

Saturday, however, was anything but gray.  The breeze was warm, the sun was golden, and the grass felt cool against our feet.
It was Milani's first chance to really explore the great outdoors and she wasted no time uncovering buried treasure and tasting fingers-full of dirt.  She scooted toward every corner of the yard and earned her first pair of dirt and grass stained knees.
We offered our fondest moral support as Jon tilled the soil and found homes for our first batch of seedlings.
And Milani kept a meticulous watch on the kids playing next door.  Paying close attention to their games and memorizing the rules because as soon as she's walking, baby, she is definitely going to want in.
 So today I'm ok with sitting indoors watching the rain stream down the windows, because I know that the sun will be busting out before long and coaxing our little crop skyward.  I look forward to many hazy days spent weeding in the garden.  To wiping the sweat from my brow with the back of a dirt covered hand.  To watching Milani find her own corner to burrow in the dirt.  Oh yes it's going to be amazing, so fall gently sweet rain - the garden is thirsty.