summer’s pace

I visited northern California last month for a refueling four days with my two best friends. I met Lindsay when we were 11. We were barefoot in bikinis and our dads’ jobs had brought both of us to suburban Atlanta. Neither of us liked it there and we liked each other a whole lot. She stepped on a giant frog moments after our introduction and we squealed and laughed and that pretty much set the tone for the next 25 years.

I met Paige in my college dorm bathroom when I dyed my hair red. We held hands through our freshman year, drinking too much beer, thinking too much about boys and not enough about school. In a tower of young women vying for sorority placement, we connected over environmental activism, a love of art and desire to travel. Turns out two fish out of water learn to breathe together.

Some of my daughters’ friends will be lifelong friends. They will remember things shared and lost. They will remember firsts and finals. They will grow up and move away. They will save airline miles to travel to their childhood friends’ homes.

But, first, now, they are small and mighty children whose only thoughts on the future involve dangly earrings and ability to bike to the creek without grown ups.

Margot finished kindergarten a few weeks ago. It feels altogether soft and right that we will have a first grader. And it feels altogether impossible. Wasn’t my girl with four giant teeth, a gusto for monkey bars and a constellation of nose freckles learning to sign for milk just a bit ago?

Yes, she was. And now she is this person who walks in her own direction with sparkly band aids on both knees, my blood traveling her veins.

Ruby is done with her first year of preschool. I want to chew on the last bits of her mispronounced words. I say yes to uppey! even when I don’t want to carry my non-baby baby.

Do you still a’member when I was in your belly mama? she asks with her palm flat on my sternum.

Yes.

And I kicked a lot? And when I was born you didn’t know my name for a long time? And Margot called me sister born? A’member that?

Yes.

If I could preserve one thing from their childhood forever it would be how they frog their legs up and around my middle. Margot promised me she will do it until she is 19.

We are in the thick of summer hosting around here, our seventh houseguest in three weeks arriving tonight. We love company and feel lucky to live in a place our beloveds visit and pass through on their way to elsewhere. And somewhere in between and around changing sheets and making large dinners and squeezing my work into small corners of the day, I am leaning into summer with my daughters. The freedom of nothing and everything to do. 

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affirmations on a hike

After swim lessons this morning, I suggested a walk. Without plan or expectation our saunter turned into a hike.

My daughters motored up the switchbacks and I was reminded of how grown and capable they are. Ruby whined only once that she was exhausted and, as always, it was about 12 steps into our walk. And, as always, her recovery came as quickly as her agony had set in.

At the fourth switchback, Margot announced the people below us were surely evil pirates trying to get our treasure and that we best hurry to the M. The hike turned into a game and they ran the rest of the way, pausing to cast spells and take nibbles of a snack. Sticks were wands, rocks were hot lava, grass seeds were fairy dust.

On yesterday’s walk I was a witch. On today’s I was simply a grownup who wasn’t allowed to pass children and had to carry the water and croissant.

We made it to the top ahead of the evil pirates, just in time to claim our treasure: two shooting star wands.

Thoughts:

1. Spontaneous adventure is a luxury. When we free ourselves from forecasting what comes next, all weather is perfect.

2. Hike in whatever shoes you’ve got. Our journey does not depend on gear.

3. Eagerly suggest to take a picture of strangers. The offer will warm their hearts and the documentation will be greatly appreciated.

4. Imagination is a powerful tool. We can flip our perspective from tired to energized, from anxious to empowered, from sad to hopeful – simply by imagining how we want to feel and creating a scenario that supports it.

5. Begin. Rest. Keep Going.

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17 years: welcome to the jungle

Our lawn mower wouldn’t start this spring. I waited until the grass was shin high to even try and, by then, every shop in town had a two week wait.

With this home, we inherited a neighborhood chore. We mow 1/3 of the public land out back. Mowing is my job. I love to mow. Andy is very allergic to flying particals of grass and weed. Our house came with a tractor but I prefer the push mower. I like the exercise, the hands-on, the rhythm. The tractor wouldn’t start either.

We turned to YouTube, as we do with things like this. Andy drained and replaced the gas and oil. No start. The next day he replaced the air filter. No start. That same day he took the whole thing apart and got groovy with every piece and place. No start. The grass was growing by the minute, I swear. He was fired up. Man vs. Lawn Mower.

He stopped only to go for a bike ride, at my urging. That adrenaline needed to go somewhere, I winked. When he got home, he stood in the driveway with his hands on hips and rounded shoulders. That day, he would accept defeat and have a gin beverage on the deck.

Sunday morning he was back at it. Alternating between YouTube videos. saying swears at the lawn mower and jumping on the trampoline with the kids. I had stopped suggesting we get on the wait list to take it in. He was committed.

I admire my husband’s steady determination. He really can do anything. Nothing is ever a mystery or too hard. He gets there. And when frustration sets in, my role is humor and making hearty, healthy snacks. He stays well-nourished and even when he doesn’t laugh I know he thinks I am funny.

It’s the spark plug, he announced as he took off for the hardware store again.

Our daughters were cheerfully invested by now. They knew it was a duel that had been going on for several days. They knew they wanted their dada to win. Their support came in hula hooping while singing Let It Go. Their support came in sidewalk chalk drawings around the sad mower and thousands of questions.

We were making bread in the kitchen when we heard the engine start up. I don’t think the sound of Santa’s sleigh bells could have beat the sound of that mower. Margot and Ruby tumbled off their stools and ran, shrieking and barefoot to the driveway, where Andy stood with one hand on the lawn mower and his modestly proud close-lipped grin. He believed in their enthusiasm and gave into a celebration of kid tosses in the tall grass. They know he hung the moon.

Andy announced he’d mow for a bit. He triumphantly pushed that beast through the waving green blades while sneezing and sneezing and smiling and sneezing.

I watched my man’s 36 year-old body walk behind the mower and had this moment of understanding time, of appreciating my time with him. Our daughters danced circles in his periphery. He moves just like he did when he was 11. Quiet, confident, long strides. He still has that thick, wild hair that barely fits under a hat. I am still charmed by the same things: his creativity, smarts, adventure, humility and kindness.

This day, 17 years ago, Andy and I had our first date. We went rock climbing in East Rosebud. We kissed by the creek and ate peanut butter and jelly on stale bagels. We sped home, around those sunny corners and over those green hills, trying to be on time returning his mom’s car to Red Lodge. We were late and newly in love. 

While Andy mowed, I grabbed my camera and army crawled in the grass taking pictures, bugs flying all around my head. Babe, he laughed. What are you doing?! What if a rock kicks out from the mower? But he knew I’d keep taking photos. Just like I knew he’d get that mower to work. We know. Through broken things and fixed things. I enjoy manicured landscape, but I like our unruly jungle even better.

 

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heirloom kitchen 03 > clean yo sink

Both our kitchen and bathroom sinks are old cast iron behemoths. We chose them because we love them. Because they are white and cast iron, they get easily marked up. And since we’ve added these sinks to our home, one of my most frequently asked housey questions is about these sinks: how do you clean them? I learned from my friend Melanie.

A little over a year ago I went to a baby shower. We had all pitched in on several weeks worth of house cleaning. The gift was presented and our very pregnant friend was amazed and thankful. And then she said she didn’t know who to hire. A chorus broke out, singing the praises of their house cleaning fairies. They cheersed their margaritas to the bliss of knowing their tub would be scrubbed every other week. I raised my glass in solidarity.

I felt a palm press into my thigh as my friend seated next to me said, YOU have a lady?! Am I the only one? What the hell. I need to get on this train. 

We do have a cleaning lady. Although I really don’t dig calling her that. She is our Sparkling Goddess or something divinely similar. As things in my town go, she was a friend of a friend who quickly became our friend. We hired her for a spell when Margot was a baby. When we were both working outside the home full time. And then it felt extravagant to me. I talked myself out of it. I left that job. We had another baby. We moved. I worked from home and felt like I ought to keep up with the pet hair and toilets just fine. I didn’t.

A few years passed; Andy and I had a conversation over exhausted late-night beans and rice where he said, ok I think we need to either hire childcare or hire another employee for your business. We were tired. It felt too hard. We dissected our days and hypothesized on how to make it all better, easier, gentler.

During that chat, our current scenario sharpened in my brain. We need help. We need to hire someone to either care for our kids, do some of my work or…do some of our chores and free up time for us to spend with kids and on work. TA DA.

Hiring someone to clean our home wasn’t extravagant. It was brilliant. We called Melanie again. Her schedule was booked so we waited. And now we see her every other Monday for two hours when she casts sweet-smelling spells on our everyday funk.

Melanie is charming and efficient, a friend and a great help. She uses totally non-toxic supplies. Our kids, our bathtub and our marriage adore her. I am thrilled to bring Melanie into this space as our first Heirloom Kitchen contributor. Because, among her many skills (milking goats, raising kids, making body products, knitting, running a farm, always cheerful) she can make our sinks sparkle white without the use of anything toxic.

 

In Melanie’s words:

Most of my cleaning techniques have been handed down from my grandma, Shirley. As a kid, when we visited and as a young adult when I lived with her, she made sure I wasn’t sitting around too much. There were always chores to do.

She was very particular about how things got done. I’m not nearly as exact, but I have many of her little secrets that I keep in my pocket.

For sinks of all kinds, my go to product is Bon Ami cleanser. It is the only thing I will use. It doesn’t scratch and is tough enough to get dirt and most stains up easily. Especially on ceramic or cast iron sinks like Nici’s, you shouldn’t use a lot of force to your scrub. Easy gentle circles are all you need. On those stains that cleanser just won’t touch, cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide poured full strength and left to sit usually does the trick. If you need it to sit a while, saturate a paper towel and leave it right on the stain.

Something everyone should use, in my opinion, is my homemade all-purpose cleaner that I use for shower walls, countertops, walls…pretty much everything.
in a spray bottle mix:
1/4 vinegar
3/4 water
1 tablespoon or so of Biokleen All Purpose Cleaner.

Melanie is a busy-hands kind of gal with too many projects and businesses going at any one time. Gardener’s Tiny Farm is where she shows off a few. Thank you, Melanie!

And, thank you to our friends at Earlywood Designs, sponsor of Heirloom Kitchen. Use code DIGTHISWOOD to get 10% off your purchases.

post details:
* both sinks found on craigslist
* repurposed bathroom lockers, beetle kill pine counters and ceramic light fixtures found at Home Resource
* Earlywood tools pictured: large flat saute, ironwood cutting board, long server, trifecta
* Sculpture above our kitchen sink by Kensuke Yamada. And, a sweet story about it. We have long loved his work and in 2007 I emailed him to inquire about some small pots I’d seen, hoping to save up for a gift for Andy. Months later he just gave this to me, left it at the front desk of my old work place with a note that read “Hi Nici, I’ve been in my studio in Seattle and I made this small piece for you. Hope you like it. Sorry I did not have small piece last time you called me. This is a gift. Hope you like it. Sincerely, Kensuke Yamada.” So we display our sculpture sitting atop the note.

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now

Ruby
wardrobe change
bare feet, something sparkly
hi, Daffodil!
kisses and hugs, always
tall, green grass
frames my small, bright girl
her name means inextinguishable flame
vibrant, passionate, protective
shhh shhh shhh shhh
pressing her cheek to Daffodil’s
hair falling into the chick,
into the light
into my heart
I got you, honey, she coos. Mama’s here.

Margot
chipped blue nail polish
thick palm callouses
practical, stretchy clothes
because she likes to run fast
because she like to be upside down
hanging, bending
flipping, swinging
if I squint and blur her silhouette,
I see a young, strong woman
confident and content
tongue pressed to freckled cheek
hair wild, an accessory to speed
watch this mama!

Together
she reads her books and ties her shoes
she combs her hair and buttons her dress
hits and then holding hands
annoyance and then acceptance
they bring out the best in each other;
they bring out each other’s truest selves
like dandelion tufts
there and then somewhere else
roots remain
sisters

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