Thursday, October 29, 2009

Common Pity

I must have looked a sight, standing there by the side of the road in the rain surveying the four ten-foot, 8-inch diameter locust logs (intended as posts for a tall garden fence) lying in the grassy margin with the little wood-decked trailer upside down on top of them. I have the nasty habit of trying to get too much hauling capacity out of my little trailer, but in this case it wasn’t the weight alone that did it in so much as that weight combined with rough terrain and a badly worn, partially dry-rotted tire. When it dawned on me that the tire was flat, I had pulled off the road, sighed bitterly, unloaded the logs, checked to be sure the tire was not serviceable, and then turned the trailer over onto the logs so the whole mess would be a bit more compact (yes, the trailer is small and light enough for a reasonably strong person to handle it that way, and, no, I should not attempt to haul these kinds of loads on it). I left a note with a phone number, and headed home to borrow a neighbor’s vehicle. Our neighbors on one side have a lovely trailer that is perfectly sized for the job, but a call to them produced the information that while the trailer was graciously available as always, it happened that the vehicle that pulls the trailer was predisposed, having taken one of them to work. When I neared home, I got confirmation that another neighbor (also my good friend and employer) had a small pickup truck available, which fact produced a minor bliss of relief.

Upon reaching home, I hurriedly got the checkbook and paced up the hill to procure the truck. A half-hour later I was loading up the other half of my fence-post order. When the proprietor of the lumber mill noticed the vehicle change and heard of my self-induced plight, he said he and his wife could go the long way to their daughter’s place that evening and help me load up when they came by; they would be there in fifteen minutes. I thanked him and said I’d do what I could with the logs and trailer in the meantime. As kind as his offer was, I hated to inconvenience him in that way and certainly intended to do my best to load it myself (though I was not at all sure I could do it) and prevent his needing to stop and help me with my pitiful mess.

As it turned out, I didn’t have a chance to try. No sooner had I removed the trailer from the stack and bent to lift the end of the first log than a man about my age in a white dress shirt with the cuffs turned up (very stylish…he looked like he was headed for a party) miraculously appeared at the other end. Before we could get the thing loaded, a man a little younger than myself, with compact build, close-cropped hair, a Virginia accent, and a wad of tobacco in his lower lip got his hands on it, too (he didn’t bother to ask if we needed help). By the time we had loaded that one and reached for the other, another youngish fellow with plain work clothes and old-fashioned hat (this is part of the dress code of at least one sect of the “Old Order” Mennonites in our area…maybe a fedora?) showed up to help. There was a moment on that second log when each of the four of us was bearing a portion of the burden. After that one, the partygoer mentioned that the rest of us seemed to have it under control. The Old Order guy noted kindly that, also, the rest of us weren’t wearing a white shirt, whereupon the stylish dude exited the scene to the sound of my thanks. The three of us spent a few minutes with the other two logs and then loaded the hapless trailer on top of the stack.

I chose not to embarrass us all by gushing, but my gratitude was heartfelt and I let them know. My mind was spinning with the rapidity of the events, and as they dissipated into the Dayton backdrop, I was too boggled to notice where they had gone so I could know where they had come from. I suddenly realized I also didn’t know any of their names. The Classic Virginian was the only one left within earshot, so I approached him, asked his name (which of course I have no hope of remembering), and shook his hand. After my thanking him the third time or so, he said something like, “Sure! You know, I hate to see a man…[he struggled to find words to sum up my situation]…like that.”

True enough. Don’t we all?! After I had gotten home and had a minute or two of relaxation to think about the event, I began to marvel. It’s not just the fact that four perfect strangers felt compassion for me and inconvenienced themselves on my behalf (this doesn’t even count the three or four extraneous verbal offers issued through open car windows at various points throughout the procedure), and it’s not just that they seemed, in my anxious state, to have materialized supernaturally and to have dissipated the same way. It’s also this: When was the last time you have seen or imagined a “Granola Cruncher”, an “Old Order”, a “Redneck”, and a “Dandy” cooperating on anything? This will be one of the healing memories for me of goodness and compassion rising spontaneously from the human heart and superseding our unconsciously enforced (yet carefully maintained) boundaries. It also contributes to my feeling of loving the valley where I live.

After I had secured the load, the lumber mill owner and his wife came trundling by in their buggy, pausing nearby. He called out, noting (gratefully, I am sure) that I must have gotten it loaded already. I let him know that three people had stopped to help me. “Well, good!” he said, waving goodbye as his wife flicked the reins to urge the horse onward. He did not seem surprised.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall days...

We enjoyed the first officially titled "family night" last night. The only goal was to love each other and have fun, avoid the "to do" list and be more of less unproductive (at least in the traditional sense of the word). This will be a skill this family will have to work on honing, with the exception of our 6 year old! We kicked it off around 4:45pm with a long and leisurely hike on the mountain, exploring new trails and all three agreeing that next time we need to leave in the morning and have LOTS of time to get "to the ridge" (that's Kali's goal, and we share it). About 30 pictures from our hike are online at but the colors in person are not comparable to what is captured by the camera.

The rest of the evening included banana splits, game playing and Jason playing guitar and singing for us (Kali and I's colds don't make us fit for much joining in, though Kali did get her drum out for the final numbers). It was a good way to start off this "vacation week" for me. Likely I would have taken a sick day today anyway to nurse this cold back to health but we all feel good enough to be enjoying more time together. It will be a week also packed with emotion as we think about the time surrounding Nora's birthday this Friday. Last night as Jason played the guitar and we were in the front room together, I found myself envisioning that space with a little toddler in our midst. It was a good, sweet, sad, hopeful, longing-for, missing it kind of feeling...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Encouraging gratefulness?

Kali and I spent last weekend in Mount Joy, PA visiting family and friends while Jason attended a Bioneers Conference and visited his sister in Pittsburgh, PA.

We spent a good part of the weekend with one of my closest girlfriends from growing up years and her family. We were helping them unpack from a recent move back to her home place, playing with her three children, and the two of us filling in every possible crack with our catching up! I could write a lot about how wonderful the weekend was for me, but I just want to share one snippet. It was a weekend that included some insightful moments for me as I spent more time noticing and playing with Kali and all the children around me.

Here's one story from the weekend:

The parenting discussion group we are a part of spent one night a few months back talking about manners. How do we encourage our children to act in ways that are socially acceptable in our culture? Should that even be a goal? What are appropriate ways to achieve that goal if you are attempting to model respectful parenting?

We talked a fair amount that evening about saying "thank you" and how to have our children show gratitude. It seemed that the consensus there was that modeling is much more important than requiring (which likely would involve some coercion) our children to say or do something particular to show they are grateful for a gift or kind gesture.

So I've been thinking about it and trying to practice. Well, Kali was having a lot of fun at E's house with a certain plastic caterpillar whose legs were the letters of the alphabet and which played all kinds of music. But we needed to get on the road and so she suggested that she could borrow the toy. It seemed impractical to borrow a toy in PA and take it to VA, but since I knew that E found this particular toy annoying, I told Kali I would go ask if it is was okay. E was happy to have us take it (likely for good!).

Kali was very excited when I shared this news with her. I then suggested that she might want to think of a way to express to E how she felt about this gift. She seemed to think that was a good idea but as we walked out to where E was, I asked if she wanted to say something to her and she quickly said to me "you tell her." This is where I'm often tempted to say something like, "No, it was a gift for you so you need to tell her" or "You are six years old and can talk" or "I want you to practice showing that you are thankful when people give you things..." None of those kinds of comments had been all that helpful in the past and our conversations with parents trying alternate ways of being with their children had made quite an impression on me. So I thought quick and responded, "What would you like me to tell E for you?" Kali didn't think long before piping up, "Just tell her whatever you were expecting me to say."

I laughed and inwardly groaned. It is so wonderful when children give such clear messages as this one - she hadn't been learning the benefit of being authentic and feeling thankful. Sadly instead it seemed she was learning that there was something she was "supposed" to say and then we would leave her alone... We had a very good conversation about it and in the end I communicated to E that Kali felt "good" having received the wonderful noise-making plastic caterpillar.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Viruses and adventures...

The past week was going along as planned and we were gearing up for another busy weekend made up of a trip to DC to see Jason's sister E, along with taking in the annual Green Festival and the DC Zoo. Friday was one of those days where the to do list was a bit longer than the hours allotted for the tasks. About half way through the day as I'm packing up and getting the house ready for friends who were going to be enjoying it in our absence, I realized that Kali had lost her spunk and was actually drooping considerably. Hardly any other symptoms worth noting - maybe one sneeze and a nose wipe needed and she complained of a sore throat. Beautiful timing - isn't it always?!!? We assumed/hoped it was just the cold we had been exposed to earlier in the week and since thus far it seemed pretty mild we proceeded with preparations to leave for DC that evening, only modifying the plans at the beginning of our trip to enjoy a meal with friends who recently had a baby. I ran the meal in, got a glimpse of the precious new little one and then had to flee before I left any germs there and because it was nearly impossible to be there and not hold him!!

I reaffirmed for myself in the following 3 hours that I can hardly stand driving into the city and that 495 is most definitely worse than traveling on 81!! We arrived safely there and Kali was asleep before too much time passed.

The three of us had a restless night upstairs. Kali began itching her hands incessantly. At one point I shined a light on her hands and noted that they were quite red, puffy and warm to the touch. We washed them off thinking maybe she was having some kind of allergic reaction to the scented hand sanitizer she had used. Good thought, but no...

It was one of those nights where I welcomed morning (just to have the night over with), but then discovered that Kali had a red rash over much of her body - creeping up her arms, on her feet and on her belly and back. She had no appetite to speak of, had a fever of 101.5 (which is actually low for her when she is sick) and was very sluggish. We managed to get some medicine in her to bring the fever down, assessed the situation, and called Grandma B for medical advice. SO THANKFUL for doctors in the family!!!! Kali perked up some with the help of Ibuprofen and we decided to take in the zoo and hope that she would be ready for the Green Festival by the next day.

She mostly rode in the jogger all day, but seemed to feel well enough to enjoy the many animals and the metro ride. And while at the zoo Grandma B called again to suggest that the likely culprit of these symptoms was Parvovirus. By the time we headed back to E's house for dinner, she was wilting and wilting fast. She sacked out on the couch minutes after we returned... Normally when Aunt E is anywhere closeby we can hardly hold a conversation with her because Kali is so eager to play, play, play! It felt strange to make dinner together in relative quiet and eat it without her chatter (which, as soon as it isn't there, I miss)

Now for the really "fun" night. Imagine us sleeping in an upstairs room. We are used to one floor living, so while I might occasionally carry Kali to the bathroom in the middle of the night there are never stairs involved. And I don't know that I've ever done it many times in one night. The rash must have caused some internal irritation too, making her feel like she needed to pee every 1/2-1 hour (or more if she was awake). So Jason and I took turns carting her down and up the stairs. And in between were keeping a cool wash cloth on the itchy spots, which helped a lot if we could keep awake enough to change it when it warmed up.

Around 2am I took her down to the bathroom. She felt warmer so I really wanted to get medicine in her, but she hadn't eaten anything for a long time. So she was working on a few grapes and then we crushed up the orange flavored medicine and tried to disguise it in some homemade blackberry jam (which had worked before). We almost got through the first pill before it, and a few other stomach contacts, landed in my hands (which were thankfully just big enough to contain it all). I was feeling tired and flustered and also trying to be quiet to let E and her housemate sleep in peace! Got that all cleaned up and tried pill number two - this time in some ice cream I located in the freezer. Well, in the meantime, I bumped the bowl with the grapes off the ledge of the tub and broke the bowl, which almost sent Kali into hysterics. Needless to say, the second pill didn't stay down either and after 1/2 hour or so of snowballing almost comical events (if I wasn't so tired), we headed back to bed with no medicine or food in her belly. Once again glad to see daylight come around!

Jason and E took off for the Green Festival and Kali and I stayed back at the house. A day away from home with not much to do. I journaled, curled up with Kali on the porch and enjoyed the weather and a short nap, read a children's atlas to her and thought about the weekend's events.

I have a hard time managing my worry and anxiety when Kali is sick. Of course it doesn't take long for me to be reminded of our caretaking with Nora, including the long nights and the wondering what was around the next corner. Thankfully it seems that this is another relatively minor childhood virus that she will be immune to after this one bout. But I still struggle with the "what if's." So Sunday found me stewing somewhat about that, and then also thinking about how different the weekend was than what I had planned and dreamed up in my mind.

And that is when I was taken back again to one of the most striking lessons of Nora's life. It came to me again how so much of life's disappointments are caused by our built up expectations, making plans that we expect to then be implemented as we arranged for them to be, and dreams that somehow we come to believe should be actualized. I found myself lounging in a comfy chair with Kali in my arms feeling a cool autumn breeze for an hour or two with no interruptions, no demands on my time, no one expecting anything of me. Those moments were beautiful and precious (as were so many we had with Nora), as long as I wasn't thinking about how I was "supposed to be" at the Green Festival, since that was what we had planned months ago to do this weekend!! I keep learning!

Kali is still very sluggish and the rash comes and go (along with the itchiness) but seems to do the opposite of what I remember doing when I was sick. I thought that normally one feels more perky in the beginning of the day and then fades at night. Our little night owl was lounging around all day and now seems to be perking up as darkness sets in and bedtime approaches. Go figure! :)

Overabundant creativity!

Kali inspires us many times a day, and makes us laugh when she gives us wonderful glimpses of how her little mind works. The other day, Jason heard her singing to herself:

"The eensy weensy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.
And the eensy weensy spider was never quite the same!"

So true!! And it solved for her the annoying rhyming of "rain" and "again."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Birthday Hike on September 29th


We’d walked up to this place
along the water, when an independent motion just
detectable across the rippled acre drew
our pleased attention.

First one, then two small, hardy forms there on
the surface--oops!--then under, passing minutes, long
and busy, wet, that they shared only with each
other and their little prey.

Neither can we know when they arrived
here on their southward flight, nor can we know how
long they’ll stay. But we can sense this from them: their economy
is measured in the speeds of winds, dark flickers under waves,
thick-vegetated shores, and sudden broad wing
shadows in the sky.

Now far from us, now closer to our shore. Now
paddling against the breeze, now blown along. Now
near each other, now apart. And always,
always free.

And we two, clothed and shod and munching
on our sandwiches, keep watching them and hoping
they’ll come near. From whence the wish to offer bread these
spacious souls would certainly eschew? They’ve come
in peace, and peace in kind is all
they need from us.

The hour had passed, we’d turned to head back down
the trail. Now telling me her thoughts, now silent, one hand
occupied by holding on her hat against the breeze, the other, warm,
in mine, I felt again the freedom of her love for me.

Jason Myers-Benner
October 5, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One mile challenge!

Yesterday we went into town to take part in/support the "one mile challenge." See for more information. It felt a little silly signing the pledge - which we did - knowing that other than occasional potlucks at Hidden Meadow Farm about a mile from us, there isn't a whole lot within that distance that we would even consider driving too. But there are in town times too where I can be encouraged to go by foot - like me making a mad dash (on my feet) to get to the bank before closing the other evening from my office about a mile from the bank. I'm also living with the idea of trying to ride bike to work... I'll need some more encouragement on that one and some confidence building bike riding time off road or close to home. And that time may come soon as KALI LEARNED TO RIDE HER BIKE!

It was actually quite amazing for Jason and I to watch. It seems she is at the age where a whole bunch of things are starting to click - like that letting Mommy's kisses soak in rather than be rubbed off is kind of nice and that reading opens up a whole world of possibilities and that good balance can be achieved rather quickly using a certain "German method" of learning to ride your bike. Those lessons included a rather novel idea - take the pedals off! They raised the seat of Kali's bike and took the pedals off. She practiced walking and then taking her feet off the ground and practicing her balance. When she was ready they put the pedals back on and she was off. She pretty much stuck with it for about 2 hours of riding the Farmer's Market pavilion downtown and by the time we left she was more or less a pro riding back and forth without stopping.

I'm wondering if this big splurge of growing up stuff is part of my general sappiness this evening! It's not a bad sappy feeling, but just kind of a full and overflowing with emotions feeling. Could be partly due to a day with wonderful friends, a hike to the lake and making dinner over the fire.