The Christmas tree is down and no festive baubles dangle from the buffalo horns above the fireplace. The rain that cooled all of November and December to give us a reason to drink cocoa and enjoy, even more, a warm oven full of baking cookies, has burned off, or packed itself away with the stockings.
We bought a “forever” tree this year, and it was a wonderful thing to decorate it with the ornaments that have survived our many moves, and to remember the many trees along the way. Oh, tiny tree propped in a paint-tin filled with rocks from the garden, and decorated with sweaty love in Pemba’s hottest month – we even loved you! Maybe, in a way, most of all.
We did not have much flexibility for taking much time away from school, but we stole a few days for Christmas, before and after. The cousins are a small herd, moving constantly back and forth (our direct neighbors by about 50 yards,) and they materialize in an instant to jump in on life here, or there.
Cookies are just a part, of course – but no matter how bone-weary you may be, cookies demand a few moments of an unfolding Christmas. If you’re lucky, they even get you through the wrapping-up-again… if only the stale, iced crumbs rattling at the bottom of the tin. They work December magic.
I don’t know why it has been so hard to sit down to a computer lately, but I have a colorful bit of life I’ve slowly edited down to these few frames, and now their context is so far in the past that it’s maybe only that it would leave a yamning gap that I bother to stitch in the patch now. They were splendid things… nice memories now with photos as footnotes.
First was my very first thanksgiving in this home for which I daily give at least a conscious pinch of thanks (and somedays, TRUCKloads, when I’m overcome by dinner on the table and my loves gathered ’round, or a child wrapped in a blanket on a cold morning, or the sun setting just so.) I hosted a good crowd of family, friends, friends of family, and friends of friends. And lots of kids, as always.
Cate and Jon are MOVING to Kenya, and so for this too we gave a boisterous “hoorah!” of thanks.
My camera still has a broken focus. For this I gave a little thanks (because, I still HAVE a camera, afterall. Focus or no.)
It was perfection. Delicious and warm.
And the following night, Reid and I left the chicken wings with my inlaws, and we couldn’t really believe we were heading off alone for five days in Dubai. We spent one night away together for our 10th anniversary, a 20 minute flight from Pemba to Zanzibar – but other than that this was our first trip alone together in 12 years.
In the commercial capital of the world we saw PF Changs and Tim Horton’s and Pizza Hut and Cheesecake Factory, and Shake Shack and McDonalds and Cinnabon and Chili’s, and and and… It felt like a highly polished, highly curated commercial showcase, from the FUTURE. Everything shone, as we were passed by Lambourghinis and Ferraris and Maseratis and Porches… The wealth is really something. We rented a “Spark,” :)
Besides shopping for Christmas and to get my growing bean-poles into some clothes that fit after a year in Kenya, we ate delicious food, mostly avoiding the lure of western familiarity for (instead) delicious hummus and pita and paratha and labna and tiny pieces of fried meats. We also drove out to Abu Dhabi to see Reid’s Aunt Esther Ruth and Uncle Cam, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer and is retiring after 25 years as a pastor of an international church there. It was so special to see them and their unbelievable city, and Esther Ruth served us spiced, stewed fruit over plain yogurt and good coffee, and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We enjoyed each other, and knew the kids were having an awesome time. It was my inlaws’ mission conference, and Reid’s mom was running the kids program and had offered to bring the kids along. It was only once we’d realized we’d be childless for 5 days that we thought of taking a trip, just we two. What a delight.
The loft has been up for a long while, though the railings completed it this week. Really, I’ve been working up there for months, and spent the longest time I ever have spent on a painting on THIS one (the first big one from my ‘studio’ – 6ft. x 2ft.):
I remember that last year, when throwing a little Fall celebration was a little daunting – being in yet another transitional home, Reid away for month-long stretches and trying to build a home and teach a year of school out of suitcases, someone asked me, “Why is it so important to you to do that?”
The simple answer is that the kids love it! We’ve also done a lot of moving as a family, and if we didn’t/don’t MAKE our traditions happen, we would have none.
Griffen was trying to remember when he last carved a pumpkin, and as he had trouble remembering, we helped him figure it was at age 5. 6 years since we carved pumpkins together. Maybe carving is a new part of our Americans-in-Africa Halloween tradition. If we’re going to trash ANY home with pumpkin guts, it’ll be OURS. Even if the pumpkins are green. Not sure I’ve seen an orange one in Africa yet.
We make do with paper and however the dress-up bin can help out to make everyone’s costume dreams come to fruition. The results are a grab-bag, but pumpkin donuts and spiced cupcakes and rice-crispy treats and sweets make up for the places where costumes lack.
Clues led Indian princesses and pirates and pokemons on a hunt all over the property for their candy loot… 100 shillings to the fastest team. Sweaty, red-faced little kids straggling in with bags full showed they took the race seriously. Galilee and Maddie won with a genius shortcut that mystified the boys and sealed the victory.
If you’ve ever moved into 12 (I can count 15, 16, 17 if I count a few short-er term unpackings) different homes in 10 years, you will know how delicious it is to settle into your own place, finally, to fully dust off and shake out your old traditions, and to spread out the edges of crisp new ones, with the promises of enjoying them, just this way, for a long time. Ahh.
**It seems to be par-for-the-course lately, but this post was written a week ago. Now, it’s Wednesday, and Reid is about to take off on another short trip… so read these words as past and future, because they are likely pertinent as we head into another short stint of single-parenting.
Reid comes home after 8 days away tomorrow, and we are ready. Every night, after school and dinner and read-aloud and a teeth-brushing-throw-down with someone trying to monopolize the bathroom for a bowel movement just as everyone needs toothbrush\sink access – I think ‘I would enjoy uploading some photos and maybe writing something nice about the past few weeks.’
I listened to the This American Life podcast this week, and one of the acts tied into our lesson, and so I decided to let the kids have a listen. It was about a woman who was attacked by a rabid raccoon near her home while out for a walk. Rabies was the topic from lessons, and the story went into great detail about how ferociously the unprovoked creature was tearing into this woman who was far from home and from help. I started to worry that it might scare Max.
The woman’s husband does eventually come, with a tire-iron, and with the help of his son to pin down the super-charged, snarling raccoon, he tries to kill it. Because of the heightened strength and desensitization to pain of the rabid raccoon, they describe the effort to kill it being very intense; many blows before it was finally done.
Max looked over at me while he listened and asked, “Are you going to cry?” his own eyes shining with tears.
I really wasn’t going to cry, as they had thus far described the animal as being a completely crazed and ferocious DEMON (they used the word demon,) but I loved that my sweetie couldn’t feel anything but sadness that even such a creature had to die. Love him.
On our way to church I drove quickly down our dirt road, and we had our own game drive along the way: zebras, a warthog, 7 or 8 elands, a big herd of impalla, lots of guinea fowl and camels… all on our way to church and back.
There was a herd of 50 buffalo on the lower yard this week.
I was reaming out all four kids yesterday at the start of school about always fighting over who made whatever mess I am asking them to help with, trying to shunt the blame onto someone else, and trying to get out of having to help me… “Except for Ian. Ian is such a great helper and never has to blame anyone else to get out of it. Like this morning when I asked him to pick up all the spilled Legos in the loft. Do you think he made that mess all by himself? I don’t even think he made that mess at ALL! But he just said, ‘Sure, Mom.’ And cleaned them all up without another word!”
Ian:”Um actually, Mom, I didn’t. Remember, you were going to Hovings and I wanted to come, and so I forgot to clean them up… But I can do it now!”
Let’s pause there to send heaps of love to my mom, who spent a pretty penny to send me a true, Upstate AUTUMN in the mail. Oh my goodness – when I opened that package it smelled like heaven, and with a candle lit pretty much since then, I have made it laaaaaast. Thank you, Marmie. I love you to the moon.
Having your husband gone for any amount of time (me,) and having your dad gone for any amount of time (them,) is a huge drag, but the kids and I both make the most of it by sitting down and planning out a to-die-for kid-menu for the days he’s away. Bagel sandwiches. Lots of pizza in various forms. Donuts for dinner? Yeah, we do.
We did alright. We do alright. And we will do it again. We have mozzerella stocked for more pizza and plan to ride horses this weekend. I will let little people climb into my bed, and we will light candles and fires and drink mint-flavored hot-cocoa that came all the way from an orange and brown and red NY. With a little effort, we have our own autumn in Malewa (and the way that smells makes just about everything better!) xo
I recently finished reading One-Hundred Years of Solitude. It took me almost 100 years (or rather, it took me one crazy year plus, finally, one week-long vacation on the ocean,) to get through it. But speed of consumption should in no way be mistaken for a lack of engagement. I was captivated, just busy. Anyhow – the narrator at one point says something about how children must never know that, for us, their parents, every moment is a constant bereavement; a moment grown out of, never to be lived again. That their very growth, so much the goal, is a sort of dying a little, all the time. And they must never know that we feel this way, because, of course, it would make them sad to know as much. It was something like that. It would have taken me 100 years to find the quote, and the internet was, just now, of no immediate help. Point is – there is just a little bit of truth there.
I’m not sure how Monday will find me writing “Week 6” under the date on our little white-board, but somehow, we have put a first full month of school behind us, and then some.
Have you ever gone somewhere SO lovely, with a view so inexpressably gorgeous, that it actually makes you sad?
Or is that just me? I have felt it many times. It’s like it’s too big to make it yours, and too fleeting to trap. You know you’ll have to go home eventually. (It has made vacations just a wee bit melancholy all my life. Most every walk in the woods, too.)
Watching my kids grow is just a bit like that. You can feel that it wouldn’t be wise to sit in this one spot for the rest of all time… but that doesn’t make you stop wishing that, somehow, if you wanted to, you could. And the knowledge that there is absolutely no way, despite the wishing, demands that some part of you (of me) pays the respect of bereavement. A beauty passed, now only to be remembered.
But why dwell there?! I won’t. While a small (let’s give me credit–) – MINISCULE part of my mind does it’s perpetual work of mourning, the remaining bulk of my brain is positively lit up with the joy of children growing tall and fine. Even if I have a “tween” now, who stands in front of me, his nose to mine, several times a day to show me that he’s only an inch or two shorter than His Mother, and growing every nano-second, with mood-swings to match (ugh!) I still will see each moment as part of a story that can’t be written without their passing.
We have continued to celebrate the end of each week with Fridayfunday – golfing, rock climbing and riding horses. We live on the sprawling Lake Naivasha, whose South Lake is a long string of hotels and restaurants we’ve never tried before, so we’ve decided that Fridays should include some restaurant reviews and a little taste-testing. Mostly swings and misses so far, but it’s fun to know what (randomness!) our hometown has to offer beyond our few faves.
The Rocky Resort. Good Pepper Steak and Reid enjoyed the Southlake Special Burger (complete with a fried egg, which I assume is what makes it so special:)
We finish school at 4:00pm almost every day, and if I don’t use the quiet hour thereafter to paint in my “studio” (eeee!) then I cook – because that can be gorgeous, too. Even a bucket of plump berries from the neighbors can inspire of pang of longing, knowing they are too pretty to lose, but not for the keeping.
Except as jam, dark as rubies, and jar upon jar to remember berries by.
Last week, after church, Reid and his dad took the kids down to the river to swim, and a hippo was in our swimming hole. It drove the dogs wild, and now Cabo makes villains of even hippo-ish logs whenever we try to swim, ever since.
This moment? This you want to put in your pocket, but you can’t. Don’t blame me if the happiest moments are the ones that hurt.
My climbers will graduate from this training wall to Hells Gate soon. Maybe we don’t have town league and flute lessons… but we have other things, and they are good.Edit
Edit Now donuts, on the other hand…. donuts are forever. Pumpkin donuts, every Fall or every Saturday – or everytime you want to remember your littles just as they were and look forward to every way they will be.
Sad and deeeeeeply happy do not have to be mutually exclusive.