Thursday, May 30, 2019

Piano lesson x 3, a few final anniversary musings, much needed family retreat day and wrapping up soccer!

That's a long title! Any chance I can actually touch on all of those things in the hour or so before we need to leave for the girls' final soccer practices of the season? Wish me luck! I also have a cheddar going "in the background" and had the wild dream of finishing cleaning the house and making a large pot of mint tea before our departure. I will likely have to scale back my wish list, since the pre-departure essentials include getting 3 kids snacked, pottied, changed and in the car. BUT newsflash: we have just had some major excitement around here - due to a major downpour bringing in Jason from his bean seed planting we got the carseat swap-outs done and the two younger ones have moved up in the ranks of booster seats, etc... Terah and Alida will be riding in different seats on the way to practice (thanks to Jason's ability to not only clean up the ones from the attic but also install them). I wasn't sure we were going to get the girls out of the car since they were so excited to try sitting in them - it's a good thing we needed to go somewhere this evening. We probably should have done it right before a really long trip as I fear the novelty will wear off sooner than I wish for it to.
I can't believe I'm about to type this but I'm finding that I'm feeling a tad remorseful that the last week of soccer is here. I won't miss the fuller schedule, but it's been delightful in so many ways to watch Kali and Alida really enjoy this season while also being challenged. Now, whether I'm ready to add Terah to the mix with Minikickers starting this fall, time will tell!

Terah is loving the signs in her life that she is growing up - and I'm loving many of them too. There still seems to be no indication of her actually making the move to her bed in the girls' bedroom but she is excellent at stripping oregano off their stems. And today she was our little gopher, returning the laundry basket upstairs and doing any mini-tasks I could think of that she was capable of. That is, when she wasn't practicing piano and trying to master remembering which is her right hand and which is her left - part of her first piano lesson homework. 

Today was our first time heading to JUST piano lessons (no secret music practice this time), but it was still a longer time away from home because this time Terah, Alida and Kali each had a lesson. Terah's was 10 minutes, Alida's 20 and Kali had her normal 30 minute lesson. I'm not sure who had the most fun but Terah's body language was the best - her whole body was wiggling and her little legs kicking most of the time. I could have just stood at the doorway and watched! It feels like such a gift to have someone so skilled and kind for the girls to take lessons with; someone they feel completely comfortable around. At the end of this post, you can catch two tiny clips of the younger girls' first lesson!
It definitely felt really nice to be able to tell Jason exactly where we were going and do what I said we were going to do. I happy to be leading one honest and transparent life again! While I had quite the little dip and period of re-acclimating to "normal" life after our anniversary week, I'm mostly recovered from that and back in whatever kind of groove I'm normally in. :) It's been fun to look at pictures and video clips and listen to the songs and continue to think of snippets of things to fill Jason in on from the last year. But for the most part we are living in the present and looking to the future and feeling rather swamped with homestead tasks at present!

I did get another set of pictures from a neighbor friend today and so thought I'd share a few here with a few final reflections and thank you's! It will be entirely incomplete in the short amount of time I'm going to devote to it, but hopefully enough for the "scrapbook." It really did, in many ways, feel like a wedding: I planned for about 11 months and then in a few hours it was all over. Only this time, it was only me feeling the "planning for 11 months" and Jason was just absorbing the "few hours." So our experience of the whole thing was very different, and not something I necessarily hope or plan to do very often! 

It goes without saying but should be said again: I could not have done it alone, that's for sure! I had so many people that helped out. Here's the few thanks I offered at the end of the concert: "I’m grateful for those of you that helped to nurture and encourage this idea, to my walking buddies who helped me stay sane in keeping the secret all this time. To our wonderful friends and co-conspirator musicians who were willing to join forces with me. For my mom for baking our wedding cake 20 years ago and again for this occasion. I must also mention my dad who was great at trying to reassure me how what I felt were outright lies were maybe just reframing of mostly true things – I didn’t know he was so good at that skill! A shout out to those of you who offered to take photos and especially Mark, our brother-in-law, for filming the event. Thanks to Greg for running sound, for those of you who came early to help with parking or with hosting and serving food and drinks. And for my sister-in-law Emily who did some early brainstorming with me and helped me choose this amazing location for the celebration, as well as lots of last minute details. I must also mention our three girls - I could not have done it without them and they each did a fabulous job keeping this a secret for months and months now, coming to practices, brainstorming cover-ups to slips along the way, telling me when something was leaked when I wasn’t around, etc…" 
So here's a smattering of photos from the evening - ending with one of the highlights of the concert which was having our parents with us and all our siblings. I was reminded that that also happened at Nora's memorial service about a decade ago. It felt meaningful to have our families with us for the occasion - as well as so many close friends who in many ways are also family to us! 
With the concert over, I've been shifting my attention to the next events on the horizon - a blood drive next Tuesday in honor or Nora (on the 11th anniversary of her death) and a house concert with the Clymer Kurtz band - all welcome to both! In the meantime, we had a few long anticipated fun things to look forward to! We all finally got to visit the beautiful spot that our friends Meg and Kurt call home! In addition to great conversation, flower picking, eating delicious foods and looking at all the growing things, I again caught the "honey bee" bug - we'll see if it ever goes beyond a dream but on the hour drive home we were talking about putting bee hives up on our wood shed roof (would that keep the bears away?). We could have lingered by the fire for a long time - if our youngest was not about to fall apart. She and Alida were asleep before we were back on the highway - which was probably a good thing since we saw some of the most incredible lightening ever on our way home!
Well, as mentioned, it was wishful thinking. Rather than getting this post done I'm going to have to deal with Terah's mammoth meltdown and try to get to soccer on time. Terah is SO tired these days - I think she really needs an afternoon nap again (more than she did a few months ago) but we are now very much out of the routine. Makes for some tough evenings. More later...

...Terah is REALLY cute in braids for the first time but was NOT cute screaming about everything and anything in the lead up to leaving for soccer. I'll go ahead and admit that I was not all that cute either in my response. But we made it to practice with a minute to spare and Terah and I "repaired" things between us on the sidelines. Kali got through just over her half of practice before lightening made continuing impossible (the rain and thunder had been going for awhile). So we are home rather than at Alida's practice and the peace in this household is rather tenuous - as I type Alida and Terah are attempting to play soccer in the house and are both screeching at each other! Sigh!! Jason is headed out with his sister for a music jam session and I have a feeling some of us will be zonked out before the sun goes down.

So before things completely break down here, let me mention our quarterly family retreat day. If I miss mentioning it Alida likely won't let me hear the end of it - she continues to make her way through the printed blog books, giving me regular doses of inspiration to keep this up.

For weeks Terah had been mentioning that she wanted to hike to the ridge. I really don't know if she knew exactly what she was requesting but we decided to incorporate it into our spring retreat day. It was nearly noon by the time we had the chores done, breakfast in all of us, and ourselves ready to hike. I will admit that the first half of the day hadn't exactly felt all that retreat-like (but for our girls, who we did chores for so we could leave before mid-afternoon, it was a nice easy start to the day).

We ventured out and down Happy Valley Road to the first mountain entrance where we walked through the open gate with the "Please Keep Gate Closed" sign. With map in hand we headed off into the shaded woods trails as soon as possible and were soon making progress towards the desired ridge.
All spirits were high and Terah kept asking "is this the ridge?" or talking about what a good hiker she was and that she was doing climbing lessons. All was great until we realized we had gotten off the trail we wanted to be on and would need to back track. This did not suit Alida so well. Moments ago we had been running down hills and back up saying "whee....." but now all was bad, her legs were too tired, and frumping commenced and continued until we were once again making progress towards the top and she had been able to shift her outlook on life. I sure wish I could credit Jason's genes with this attribute in our middle daughter, but it wasn't a day later when our day took an "unpleasant detour" and I struggled (must I admit, for hours) to shift my attitude and regain perspective. Sigh!
It turned out to be a lovely afternoon - warm but pleasant enough in the shade. And the predicted thunderstorms did not pan out thankfully. There was so much to see - interesting ferns and lichens and mosses and fungus and flowers. It is always so interesting to see how the topography changes as we get up higher and higher - there was even some mountain laurel still blooming!
Long story short (or long hike...), we made it! And we didn't take any wrong turns on the way down. After a stop at a large rock for a picnic snack, Terah sacked out in the ergo on my back until the driveway. She had earned that nap and Alida was wishing there was an ergo she could fit in to do the same. I think it may have been her longest hike ever (using her own two feet anyway - the last time we got that high up, Jason had carried her in the backpack and almost didn't make it!). When we got home, we all got showers and in comfy clothes and turned our attention to some indoor entertainment - a game of Upwords of course! Everyone's mood was fine at the end since I won - but it is becoming apparent that shortly I will have to work very hard to not only beat Jason but also Kali (who was in second place). We munched on popcorn and enjoyed fruit smoothies while we played.

Once the day cooled, we headed outside for a game of croquet before the sun set. Alida was victorious in that one, also meaning everyone was happy at the end of it.

And now it is time to draw this day to a close! Terah is finishing up her bowl of vanilla pudding with strawberries and then off we'll go to snuggle and read stories - probably putting me to sleep before her!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Can you believe it? 20 years!


Obviously there has been a lot of preparation going on these past months of which I, Jason, was oblivious! Janelle certainly outdid herself this time, which took some doing.

Apparently last June she had started thinking about a 20th anniversary gathering for this spring, originally thinking it would be combined with a Martin House reunion gathering that our dedicated readers (BOTH of them) will remember having happened in March. The events got split out from each other when it became apparent some Martin Housers wouldn't be able to travel here in May. This means Janelle's spring 2019 planning docket contained: said reunion, CJP graduation (academics and ceremony), the surprise concert I'll soon describe, a decoy event earlier in the week, and a blood drive and a house concert coming up in June. And these are just the events for which she's had primary responsibility. She is pretty worn down, but she should be laid out flat! Not her, not yet.

Over the months I had gotten wind of two things, and two things only (I'd had other clues but totally missed them). First, at Thanksgiving last year I had stumbled across a lyric sheet for the Keith Whitley/Allison Krauss classic song, "When You Say Nothing At All," where it was tucked in Janelle's datebook. Later Janelle couldn't disguise her need to hide some of her activities, so she confessed that something was happening that required me never looking at her computer without permission. About a week before it was to happen, Janelle informed me that I was scheduled for a "date" out with her somewhere, for something, and it was insinuated that this was the big thing she'd been planning for (False! Decoy Event!). She blindfolded me and drove me to and across Harrisonburg. I was a willing participant and allowed myself to not keep track of turns, so by the time we'd gotten to Gray Jay Provisions (an excellent local gourmet soup and sandwich shop owned and run by friends of ours), I thought that might be where we were, but I was certainly not sure. I had suspected that could be where we ended up since Janelle had said I would need my appetite and there are few other area restaurants able to serve multi-course meals from which bellyfuls of food would feel celebratory to us, and I remembered our interest in partaking in one of their "Pop-up" dinners. I was thrown off just a bit, however, by the feel of the car entering the parking lot, since I'm used to approaching the rear of the building to pick up kitchen trimmings for the pigs. When the door opened, though, and the clean and spicy aromas hit my nose, I knew where we were, and this time for the GOOD STUFF! 

I was not prepared, however, for the sight of a gaggle of our closest friends (not all of them, but an excellent representation) smiling from their conversation clumps, drinks and hors d'ouvre (featuring Janelle's splendid cheddar made from fine pasture-produced Jersey milk from friends and neighbors John and Corinne Welsh of Belvoir Dairy) in hand. Prepared or not, that's the friendly sight that greeted me at the removal of the bandanna blindfold. With Janelle and I now joined to the group, we all made short work of the appetizer course and the fantastic drinks mixed in the moment by our dear friends from Red Root and Co. Then we took seats and turned our attention to three musician friends who were sidling up to Janelle--with guitars and voices tuned to celebration--where she stood waiting. That she wanted to sing "When You Say Nothing At All" to me in public did not surprise me, given the earlier clue. That they had clearly prepared for this moment substantially together and sounded GREAT was a pleasant treat indeed to discover! Once the little show was over, we settled in for the soup course: a warmly flavored, creamy-textured butternut/potato bisque with pesto dressing drizzle. As good as it sounds. Accompanying the soup was a round of introductions amongst the 29 of us, with the idea of giving everyone a notion of how each other had known us through the years. This turned into an appreciation fest with us as the grateful, slightly-embarrassed-at-times subjects of the loving commentary. The circle sharing time will surely prove to be one of the truly bolstering moments in our lives. We've been in spaces before where each of us as individuals have been affirmed and thanked, but never so clearly as a couple. Thank you. You know who you are. And now, we have a better idea of who we are, too, and what you and we mean to each other.
Next came salad with boiled eggs, served on the plate with the main course: Shepherd's Pie. But these were not just any boiled eggs; no, these were Tangly Woods eggs boiled by genius chef Seth Amsden to the perfect point where the yolk was just gelled, still clarified in appearance. Pickled radish pods lain across the split halves for a few minutes before and during serving imparted their salty, vinegary, mustardy goodness to the eggs...the best I've had! An excellent pairing with mixed organic salad greens from our dear friends Dave and Lee of Radical Roots farm, who were present in the room. Shepherd's Pie, as Janelle well knows, is the dish I claim as my favorite when pressed, and this version made the top two of shepherd's pies I've eaten: Tangly Woods ground pork cooked with peas and Seth's magic spices, and a layer of nicely mashed potatoes topped with Janelle's cheddar; all this baked in individual-sized ceramic crocks. A fine thing to plunge a utensil into.

As if this weren't enough, it was all followed by a sour cherry-rhubarb pie course, prepared as individual "hand pies" (essentially a gourmet flaky-crusted hot pocket...uh-huh) served with Fair Trade decaf. 
I ended the evening just the perfect amount of full, in many senses of the word. It was a celebration of our partnership, but since Janelle planned it as a surprise for me, many of my favorite foods and my love of music were highlighted. And I may have been the person who enjoyed all of that the most exquisitely, but I dare say our guests enjoyed it pretty well, too! Janelle providing some ingredients to Gray Jay allowed them to offer the dinner at a discounted rate, still we were honored that so many great people were willing to take the time and spend the money to enjoy this celebratory meal together. The use of ingredients and meal components from other local friends lent a warm, baked-in feel to the whole thing. As we talked over the event on the way home and lying in bed that night (the kids slept over upstairs at Grandma and Grandpa's!), as well as on the leisurely hike to Hensley's Pond we were able to enjoy on our actual anniversary the next morning (this involved coffee, leftover hand pies, and me presenting Janelle with my own surprise--20 poems about our love and relationship) Janelle filled me in on some of her secrets kept over the past while. She'd been shuttling ingredients to Gray Jay, meeting with them and the musicians, and practicing the song whenever I was out gardening and she was in. I commented that she must be feeling so relieved that it was all over. Little did I know...
WOW! I was, first off, taken almost totally by surprise by the concert. The whopper Janelle had told to throw me off the trail of that event was that the girls--especially Alida--felt a little left out of the "surprising Daddy" fun and wanted to do another special family-level surprise outing. So Friday evening I good-naturedly got myself clean and semi-fancy and once again donned the bandanna blindfold. This time it was too close to throw me off directionally, so I knew we were at the Old Massanutten Lodge, but that seemed reasonable since my sister knows the owners and has held a small birthday party for her husband and maybe other events there. As Janelle opened the door I heard a baby or toddler making noise, which fit the idea in my head, since her daughter is 2. Then the blindfold came off. I did not remember this from the live action, but in the videos I clearly tottered a bit, keeling over into Janelle before regaining my balance. How would YOU react to the clear majority of the people most important to you suddenly appearing in front of you with smiling faces and shouting "Surprise!" all at once?
After a moment of taking in the crowd (of about 120) assembled to celebrate our partnership, Janelle wisely steered this introvert towards a side galley room containing refreshments, which allowed me to reappear at my leisure with a plate of food and a mug of decaf coffee to hide behind. I thoroughly enjoyed mingling then with the precious gathered. After we'd all mingled enough and consumed our fill of re-created wedding cake (pineapple nut carrot w/cream cheese frosting...still delish!), we settled our celebrating selves into seats while the musicians took the stage. 

Well, o.k., most of the adults settled into seats...the young children, of which there were many, largely tore around the place together having a splendid time and a few adults were occupied with keeping tabs on them. I was still reeling with surprise and delight as Janelle got up to perform the WHOLE set of songs she'd been practicing these many months. She was backed up by more dear friends: Christopher and Maria Clymer Kurtz of Clymer Kurtz Band notoriety, and CJP student Jim Cole of Jim Cole notoriety. She sang "When You Say Nothing At All"  again, but this time also "Saints and Angels" (Sara Evans), and "A Few Good Things Remain" (Kathy Mattea). Lovely! I'd sit for that set anytime. After her tour de force was finished, she joined me on the couch facing the stage area and Jim played four: "Ain't no Sunshine When She's Gone," "Fire and Rain" (James Taylor), "Humble Yourself as a Child" (his own, written with his daughter) and another he wrote for a friend's wedding years ago. Next Christopher and Maria brought us six, selected from a list Janelle had provided of some favorites, spiced with one or two they wanted to include. They also performed a song I have written, which was a special kind of treat for me...certainly a first. The Clymer Kurtz list is: "Two of a Kind Working on a Full House" (Garth Brooks), "The Power of Two" (Indigo Girls), "The Language of Birds" (Jason Myers-Benner), "Give Yourself to Love" (which I sang at Emily and Jonas' wedding 6 years prior), "Looking in the Eyes of Love" (which Janelle and I sang together at Karen and Sue's wedding), and "The Thought of You" (The Proclaimers). Twice Janelle also had me come up and read out poems from the collection I had just generated for her, and the performance portion of the evening was capped off with "Gulf Coast Highway" (Nancy Griffith), which she called me up for also, since that is a song we often sing together, so she knew I could wing it. I only messed up the words and harmonies a few times... 

After that, we transitioned to a viewing of the old PBS special movie "Frog." Among my family and a few of our friends this is a cult classic, and some kids might have needed a little wind-down time. Also it was a good excuse to serve everyone some Tangly Woods red popcorn. By the time that was over, the crowd had mostly dispersed (some of them enjoying an incredible sunset, that we missed entirely, as they left). We did some tear-down and put-away, loaded up cars, and headed home to another kid sleepover at the Grandparents'. This time, Janelle assured me, there really were no secrets left, and she is mighty relieved to go back to our usual policy of transparent honesty with each other!

I am still left pondering the dual amazements of: 1) The deceitful double life those around me have been living all this time, including Terah, who at three years of age kept a big secret from me for 10 months! The world is not the way I thought it was. 2) The wonderful blessing of so many friends and family coming together to affirm and celebrate our partnership. 
What a wonderful, satisfying celebration it has been. Janelle planned such meaningful and high-quality events that celebrated our 20 years (20 years!) together so appropriately. And such a good, full twenty years it's been. We are truly fortunate people, and we know it.  I'll end this by dropping in the two poems (in current form) that Janelle had me read out during the concert. Caution: they are in draft form, and as such are too long and can take a while to get going. Still she chose these to read since they represented our life and love as accurately (according to us) as any in the cycle. Here they are:

When We Let Ourselves Forget

Of words and images
                that would instruct us
how to love and live there
                seems no end. The
human tendency to fit, to
                blend into the background
made of crowds: this will
                not leave us. It has
served us humans well, I’m sure:
                The one who finds their
self at odds could be cast
                out! That pain is real.
It matters, but in times
                when such conformity
is formula for brazen, rash
                destruction of our spirits,
not to mention of our chance
                to hand our children a
baton of love expressed in
                life-sustaining soils, trees,
and waterways well-cared for,
                you and I have found
that we must turn away.
                We have to train our
eyes on things our culture
                is ignoring, and ignore
our culture’s training. And
                it’s hard: Each day
another set of choices looms.
                The ever-present pull
of what’s expected, what’s
                enjoyed, and who is
offering security or status:
                I can feel it even in
my sleep! But what’s to
                lose? What’s to lose by
stepping off the bus that’s          
                bound for candy-coated
Hell? Give us a quiet
                moment, let us hear the
sparrow sing, let us pull aside
                the weeds and introduce a
seed and it will all make
sense again: the choice
to work long hours here on
                this green slope, backs to
the sun; the shunning of
                the ever-bigger car; the
absence of a television; lack
                of glossy magazines with
airbrushed photographs of
                painted women selling chemicals
and clever shapes of plastic, or
                a credit card account…what
have you…stare too long at those
                and we’ll forget the beauty
all around us: It will fade into
                a cheery wallpaper that
stands behind our hip selections
                from the catalog and really
makes them pop. This morning
                as I stroked my scythe
along the contours of the land
                and laid the thigh-high
grasses on their sides in rows
                I thought and thought
about this: We have not been
                ones to read from all the
best books we could find on
                farming, synthesize a plan that
suits us and proceed to make
                it so upon the land. Instead
we’ve asked ourselves, “What do
                we like to eat, and what
is this place ready to produce? What
does the soil need? What will
our children want?”
                At times when folks who
know their stuff come by and
                look around I second-guess it.
Certainly we would have better
                standing – maybe even land a
spot as speakers at a conference –
                if we’d pursue a path of
excellent, professional design and
                implement it with aplomb. Alas!
That life is someone else’s. This
                is ours and when we
let ourselves forget – when we
                have turned away from lies and
ego long enough – that’s when the
                land can speak its truth and
be a finer teacher than the
                most iconic books. And
Then there’s us: you claim I’m
                sexiest behind the wheel
hoe, tending crops. You’ll never
                find the likes of me in ads
for aftershave! And as for you,
                no model’s body crammed
into impossible ideals holds a
                candle to the beauty of
your naked sides and waistline
                curving in the moonlight. What
have they to say to us? Ignore
                them! Let them croon their
perky desperation into other ears.
                My sweet love, we are we, and
we are here; our hands made
                rough and firm by duty,
we’re the stuff and terms of beauty,
                wonderstruck and open-eyed
disciples of the wisdom we’ve
                found living in the land.


                When we get to the
end of our journey together –
                however it ends – may
we be found looking back
                fondly over a landscape
full of all the varied forms
                and arrangements of
life, a footpath thread
                running through it
just wide enough for two.
                “See?,” we can say, “That’s
where we’ve been.” May we hold each
other and remember the
losses, the loves, the hollows
                we couldn’t see out of, the
ridges we never wanted to
                leave. I can’t imagine being
ready for this journey with
                you to be over. I just know
I can only imagine walking
                the path –wherever it leads –
side by side with you.