Friday, November 30, 2012

bare bookshelf

I just realized that it is the end of the month, and so time for my monthly book review but... I have nothing! That's right, I didn't get a single book read this month. A sign of how unsettled and up in the air it has been. I have been doing quite a bit of magazine reading but for once, I didn't have the time or even the inclination to settle down to something more lengthy.

I can't blame the storm's effects alone. I was unable to post my October review because at that point, we had no internet service because we were still out of power. It wouldn't have made a difference however! I didn't manage to pull off any books in October either.

It's a shocking state of affairs for an inveterate bookworm!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

night sounds

As I go to call the dog in tonight, the night sounds capture my attention.

Cold wind whispering and geese barking away at each other in the dark, harvested corn fields. Sounds of cold and loneliness, of bitterness and tightness on the way.

Contrast to the peepers chirping away in the ditches and puddles in the spring... Sounds of hope and warmth and joy, of blossoming and bursting on the way.

Close the door, and be grateful for its presence.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

deeply felt

Moving slowly on with the rest of life... My LSH spent Friday doing demolition work in Union Beach, a working class community which was absolutely devastated by the storm. Over 90% of the housing was affected, and he said it was an absolute mess. No National Guard presence there—very striking, the difference between that community and my experiences in more well-heeled areas.

I had work to do and an appointment at home, plus we weren't sure that Terzo could safely be in that situation, so I stayed back. (The older two were at work.) With Pam's suggestions in mind, this will be a community that we return to in the future, however.

As a result of my hours at home, I am very happy to say that some of my work is now on display, in a nature-inspired gallery in our town. The little bird's nest wreaths were consigned there yesterday. I never imagined that anything I did would be suitable for gallery display.

On a related note: why does it sound so pretentious to call them "my work"? Probably because I have never viewed myself as an artist, but more of a crafts person. I didn't even take art class in high school. Hence the whole gallery thing feeling like it came straight out of left field.

It felt really good for me to focus on the farm work and creating things with my own hands, from our own sheep. It is something that is deep and soul-satisfying for me, very meditative and calming, and it was missed lately.

I had a craft show scheduled for today, so I finally turned to a project that has been in the works for a while. Remember the washed fleeces I sent out to a fiber mill in July? They came back about a month ago, but I haven't had time to deal with them. I have spent quite a bit of time admiring the felt sheets though. Five in total, and they are gorgeous!

Yes, those are from our wool! Each one is about 5 ft by 3 ft and a lovely thick cushy fabric. It was very difficult to put scissors to sheet and cut them up.

I was very careful to not waste one scrap! I ended up with the most beautiful insoles, in four different sizes. The craft show was a complete bust today, and was pretty miserable to boot as it was outside in blowy, chilly weather. I held on until 1 pm (it went until 4 pm) and then threw in the towel... The only thing I sold was a few pairs of insoles!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

thanks amid devastation

Thanksgiving is a particularly poignant this year, as many, many people in our state struggle to find things to be thankful for. They will struggle to have a thanksgiving at all, though efforts like these are food for the heart and soul:

It's not just today that brings on these emotions. Living around here, I am feeling them every day. We are just on the edge of the disaster, far enough that we don't see it on a regular basis, but close enough that my son goes to school with kids who lost their homes and my LSH is seeing displaced people in his practice. The stories are heart-wrenching, and they keep on coming, in wave after wave, seemingly insurmountable in their sheer volume. Much like the storm.

Help for me, in figuring out how not to feel completely powerless in the face of this unbelievable devastation, came from this blog. A lurker piped up to offer words of wisdom when I really needed them, and we have been writing back and forth as she kindly checks in on me.

Pam, who blogs at creativecrazygirl, has a particular understanding of this situation: she lost her home in the Nashville floods of 2010. She pinpointed, very accurately, part of my angst from the guilt of being spared when so many are affected. Her practical words, honed in the crucible of experience, were eye-opening and valuable. I asked her if she could guest blog (of a sort) by letting me share some of her thoughtful advice, and she graciously agreed. I am hopeful that it might help others. Her words:
I've thought of some other ideas that might make you feel better as you care for others affected by the storm.  Even things that seem very simple from the outside looking in are like a big hug to a family going through this.
#1 Food.  Many families will be out of their homes (and without their home kitchen) for months.  Food is always greatly appreciated.  We spent many, many days working at our house.  It was always so amazing when someone would stop by with food.  A few different times people would come to our door asking if we were hungry and offer us sandwiches (simple lunch meat), chips, bottled water, and apples or bananas.  You  wouldn't believe how much that would lift our spirits and help us time and money-wise because we didn't have to leave and go to the store to buy something from the deli for lunch.
#2 Money & Gift Cards.  Our experience was that Red Cross money was very difficult for a family to obtain.  You had to jump through lots of hoops & paperwork, wasting much time and emotional energy.  Many people (some that we didn't know) gave us money and gift cards to Home Depot, Lowe's, Target, and restaurants.  Some people wrote out checks and gifted us with money to help with our rebuild.  It was amazing how God orchestrated His people to provide all that we needed.  I'm still humbled and awed when I think of it. So if you know someone (or know of someone through your church or a friend) consider helping them directly.  That's what we do now where there is a disaster.  We skip donating to the big organizations and ask God to show us who to help.
#3 Creative Gifts.  Anything made by your hands will be loved by those that have lost much.  You might want to organize a scarf, hat, or afghan drive and give other crafty folks a place to send their gifts.  I collected quilts through a quilting website that I had at the time and my church helped distribute them. 
It's ok to take a bit of time on these fronts.  Those hit by the storm will get a lot of attention at first, but then it dwindles.  Consider helping after the media attention dies down.  A friend of mine brought a yummy, hot meal to us when we were moving back in and it was such a blessing!  I had never even thought about how a family actually has to move their belongings back in and get settled all over again after their home is put back together.

Before I close I want to say one more thing in an attempt to lift your guilt burden.  Going through that flood ended up being the most incredible time for our family.  We grew as a family and team.  We felt God's presence and provision EVERY single day!  Our marriage grew stronger....we became a strong united front as we pushed through together.  We now have lots of great (and even funny) memories of the flood.  Trust me, we never want to go through something like that again....but we know that God will see us through if we do.
I recently thought about how Jesus worked in His ministry.  Most of it was one person or a small group of people at a time.  We need to hold this idea close to our hearts.  Instead of being distraught and hopeless that we can't help "all those people", we can rejoice that God helped us to reach out and love even one person going through a crisis like this.

Her last point caused me to relate the experience that Primo and I had in Belmar two weeks ago, because it was such a perfect example. She urged me to share it publicly, so here goes.

Primo and I went expecting that we would be distributing donations, as the posting had specified. It didn't work out that way, but we went with the flow and ended up being assigned to a team to canvass the beachfront neighborhoods. We were equipped with official-looking clipboards and paperwork, assigned to determine what the residents needed (because the donations were piling up) and tell them where they could vote the following day. 

We had to trek about 10 blocks to get to our assigned street. Not too many people were there, but we found one older woman by herself and freezing in her non-heated, no electricity condo. Primo helped her clean out her refrigerator and haul the spoiled food to the curb. She was clearly hungry for companionship, and we spent some time talking to her about her experiences and difficulties thus far. She was very resistant to our offers of help, but mentioned that the one thing she really wanted was hot coffee. Of course, that was not on our official list. 

When our task was complete, we hiked back to the command post and were told our job was done. We couldn't leave it at that. They were serving hot food, so we picked up a clamshell of food and assortment of snacks. We found a little deli that, miraculously, was open and had somehow figured out a way to serve hot coffee without any electricity in the store. The entire town was without power at this point. Even the command post was operating on generator power. But this one little store had piping hot coffee in push-button carafes.

We walked the food and coffee back to her, carefully wrapping the coffee in a glove and trying not to spill too much on the way. She was surprised to see us, but definitely grateful for the coffee! As we trekked back, I remarked to Primo that we hadn't really gotten the opportunity to do that much. He pointed out that it was probably a lot for that one person.

After reading this story, Pam responded that she was pretty sure that God made the coffee! Reflecting upon the whole experience, I must say: I think she's right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

harvest time

Part of the slowdown in posts these past couple of weeks has been due to my general malaise, I admit. But a large chunk of it has been coordinating the harvest from our farm.

Our harvest is different from the corn or soybeans or cornucopia of fruit that springs to mind when you mention the word harvest, but it applies nonetheless. It is hard work for us to get our animals to the butcher at the right time on dates that are made months in advance—superstorm or no. (Luckily that was not our week, but even a week later wasn't too much better.)

This year, we had the pigs and the lambs to work out. It was a finely coordinated dance of "drop this off here and pick this up here"; of "we'll take this part now and come back for this part later"; of "put this in the freezer and take this out to deliver". It necessitated dealing with the horrible yucky skins so they could be transformed into beautiful pelts. It included wonderful, but all too short, visits with old friends, and meeting new and very excited customers.

Today was the perfect example. The skins were finally all cleaned and salted, so off to PA I went to drop them off at the tannery. Tonight, our freezer was emptied a little more as another happy person picked up their meat. The pieces fall into place.

The best part, by far, is when people call and e-mail us to rapture over the meat they are eating. It makes all that hard work worthwhile, knowing that people are nourished as a direct result of what we did. It is a satisfaction of the most basic sort, the most deeply soul-sustaining.

Friday, November 16, 2012

green ladies

I have been feeling pretty burned out about pretty much everything lately. Not depression, mind you, just a feeling of general blah-ness.

So what do our 4-H kids do at tonight's Awards Night?

After we finished presenting our awards to them, I was a little confused when the four current officers of the club stayed at the front of the room and took over the microphone.

They started out with some very nice words about how much they love the club, and how great it is and—I started to realize at this point that something big was going on—how much they realized that it wouldn't be the club it was without the effort of the leaders. They talked about how much they wanted to show their appreciation for us, and how hard they worked at coming up with just the right idea and keeping it a secret from us.

I was completely mystified, and turned to my LSH, who shrugged his shoulders. I couldn't figure out what they had done. Written a poem? Hired a singing telegram? One of the other leaders suspected they had booked us all in for a spa treatment.

It turned out we were way off base.

What they had done was buy us each a personalized 4-H corduroy jacket, with our names and "Club Leader" on the front pocket, and the name of the club and the 4-H emblem on the back. (Three of the four officers are FFA members, so they know all about the power of a corduroy jacket.)

Quite honestly, they blew us away.

Well, they blew three of us away. The fourth mom's son had put the charge (a substantial one) on his debit card, and she had seen the statement and promptly freaked out. He ended up having to 'fess up her, but she did a masterful job of not letting on to the rest of us.

We all agreed that our feet are right back in the fire. What choice do we have but to make the best club better, after such a gesture? They have us for the long haul!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

as if I need any help

I have been in a deep fug / fog / funk / call-it-what-you-will, ever since the hurricane hit. Life is slowly getting back to normal for us, but for so many so close, it is not. Every day brings a new tale of loss or hardship suffered. The road back will be a long one for this state. I feel bad even complaining about my little problems in comparison, but everyone I talk to has the same feeling of emotional exhaustion.

I have no idea why this should affect my personal motivation so greatly, but it has. I have even lost my will to knit: I think of working on a project, it overwhelms me, I stop thinking about it. This has pretty much been the pattern with anything that needs doing, including laundry, e-mail responses, bill payment, farm work, 4-H leadership, etc., so it is getting a bit chaotic around here.

With Primo finally back in school on Monday, I buckled down and forced myself to address certain pressing matters. Huge piles of paper on my desk were beaten back into more manageable mounds. Plans were made for coming weeks and months. Slowly but surely, I was feeling a little more in control.

Until last night, at my church's vestry meeting, when we got into a heated discussion about the correct date of the first Sunday of the month. Since I was acting secretary for the meeting, it somewhat mattered what date I put into the minutes. As I had just been staring at my calendar, working out my short-term life plan, I was quite sure that the first Sunday was December 1.

When I got home, I discovered the reason for my confusion. Behold my free artsy calendar from a Korean restaurant, that sits right behind my computer.

Need a closer look?

Yep. Not only did I get a calendar for free, I also got an extra day in November. Much as I could use one, it should not come at the price of my sanity. I have whited it out and braced myself to actually purchase a desk calendar for 2013. Now if I can only figure out how to buy some motivation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

bird's nest wreaths

One of our sheep, Jenny, is a problem child. She has been a problem child since the day we got her. She hates to be handled, refuses to be herded with the rest of the flock, pretends she has no idea what a halter is... You get the idea. She gets a free pass because she has excellent parasite resistance, great hooves and a wonderful mothering ability.

Last year, she also refused to wear a sheep coat. We'd put it on, she'd get it off or rip it to shreds or otherwise foil our efforts to keep her fleece clean. After a point, basically when I ran out of coats to put on her, we just gave up. As a result, her fleece was so full of hay chaff that it could not be sold for spinning. It wasn't even worth paying to have it processed, as the level of contamination was such that I knew it would still be unusable even after I paid all that money.

I washed up some of it, and it was gorgeous lovely curly locks—she is 25% Cotswold—but still full of hay chaff. No selling it for doll's hair or Santa's beards.

Argh. She got me again.

The cleaned fleece sat in the basement, repository for all problem fleeces, for quite a few months, but yesterday I saw something that gave me an idea. I poked around on the internet a bit, poked around the craft and dollar stores a bit, and came up with this:

A bird's nest wreath. It can be used inside or outside to decorate for the holidays, but come spring, it should be outside! The birds will be thrilled with a source of ready-made nesting materials; in addition to the sheep's fleece, I added bits of burlap thread cut in 3-6 inch pieces. Her curly-wurly fleece was perfect to wrap around and hold itself on the wreath.

My LSH thought it needed a bit more color, so I made another one with bits of red cotton yarn in addition to the burlap.

A bit more festive, but I think I prefer the natural colors. It will be interesting to see if the birds have a preference, though.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

scenes from the last few days

Lost internet again thanks to Winter Storm Athena (seriously, we are naming winter storms now? one more stupid thing for us to keep track of), and serious time due to many overcommitments and completely snafu situations around here... so I'll make it up quickly in pictures!

Wednesday night—it snowed like the dickens, in spite of everyone predicting that the storm was overhyped. We let the dog out and then kind of forgot about him when the power blew; when the generator kicked on we realized he had been out for a while. In our defense he is not the sharpest tool in the shed and forgets that he has the power of barking to remind us where he is.

Thursday morning—first thing, the sky was the most amazing shade of blue, even though the rest of it was a completely unwelcome sight.

Except for the sight of the downed tree covered in snow. It was a little bit scenic for a while instead of just sad.

Thursday about one hour later—we were reminded yet again that we have really good boys. Our little tractor plow is dead but they shoveled the entire driveway by hand so my LSH could open his office on time.

Thursday afternoon—they took advantage of the snow and the fact that they were out of school for yet another day... We will never make up all these missed days. They will still be in school in July at this rate.

The dog barked non-stop the entire time they played, proving that he can do it when he chooses to.

Friday—the younger two were back in school. In the morning I had to take care of getting pelts ready to be tanned, and trust me that you thank me for no pictures. In the afternoon the eldest helped me get ready for a pasta dinner with his cross country team. Eight very hungry high school runners can eat an amazing amount of food. Luckily I had enough! But no pictures, I was too busy feeding them.

Which brings us to Saturday—and the Trenton Double Cross Half Marathon, my first. I haven't said too much about running lately but I have been training, more or less (mostly less) for the last four months.

My LSH took this picture while I was running over the Trenton Makes/The World Takes Bridge, around mile 3.5 so I was still relatively happy. I was less happy as the miles went by but I did manage to finish in a great time thanks to this guy helping me set a good pace.

I think this is my favorite picture of them all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

thrice denied

As I mentioned, Primo was due to take his driving road test on his 17th birthday, last Tuesday.

As in, the day after Sandy came to town.

NJ rules require you to take the road test in a car with a center pull brake, or one in which the examiner has "unrestricted access to the foot brake." With the exception of a postal delivery truck, or the examiner sitting on your lap, I cannot really fathom how you can pull off the latter option. This means that if you are a family like ours, without a center pull brake in your car, then you are forced to hire one from a driving school. This was actually just fine by me, as it meant I didn't have to deal with a cranky over-anxious teen who felt like his whole life was on the line for one little piece of plastic.

The driving school called the weekend before Sandy hit, to give me the heads-up that Primo's road test was preemptively cancelled by the state. No road tests through Wednesday October 31st.

I went online as directed and found a little slot on Thursday November 1st. Of course, given the damage that the state suffered, this date turned out to be laughable. The driving school didn't have power, we didn't have power, I doubt that branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles had power.

Second strike.

We finally got a call from the driving school this past Monday. Since Primo is still out of school for the entire week, we were able to snag the last remaining slot for the next three weeks: yesterday at 3 pm.

As in, the day that Winter Storm Athena came to town.

The driving school instructor, savvy in such things, insisted it would be OK. He picked up Primo 10 minutes before the snow started. Somehow he convinced the DMV to take him a couple of hours early, and even in the driving snow, Primo passed.

He and the instructor went to go into the DMV to get his license... and the doors were locked. The governor had ordered them to shut down early for the day.

To say the kid was a little frustrated by this point would be putting it mildly. Teenage boys, within arms-reach of a ticket to freedom, can get mighty testy when they run into repeated roadblocks.

We managed to pull it all together today. DMV, open. Snow, off roads. Paperwork, in order. License, obtained.

His father's text upon hearing the news (yes, it was really this long):
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr Peter Venkmen: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr Ego Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanos!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria...
[Primo's father]: Hurricanes, nor-easters, power outages, Primo getting his license...
(Points for naming the reference!)

He didn't let such dire prognostications trouble him. Within 30 minutes of arriving home, he found a reason to drive to his friend's house. Alone.

Scary stuff indeed.

Monday, November 5, 2012

one week later

It's hard to know where to begin. My silence was due to the storm, of course. We came through OK but all of our connections to the outside world—electricity, cable, phone, internet—were gone on Monday. Even the landlines to my husband's office gave up the ghost on Thursday morning. The generator did work when needed, and we were infinitely thankful. We were even more thankful when the power came on yesterday, none more so than my husband, as it was just in time to watch the Giants game.

If Irene was all about the water, Sandy was all about the wind. The sound was unbelievable. We had to stage a bunny rescue late Monday afternoon, as he could not escape the driving wind and rain in his hutch. He weathered the rest of the storm in the basement. The sheep, of course, were perfectly fine.

The worst damage we suffered was downed trees. Monday night, when I was trying to capture the driving rain on camera (I failed), the scene just outside our front door to the right looked like this.

The next morning, it looked like this. Our beautiful blue spruce had been blown over. I feel a little tug every time I come up the driveway and see it down. Luckily it chose that direction to fall, avoiding the cars.

Same thing with my willow tree in the back, and missing the chicken coop. (The chickens were also just fine, though slightly perturbed.)

At least one willow down, and unsure if the one behind it will make it, there is so much damage. I say "my" because they were gifts from my husband and children, about six years ago. I know the sheep will miss them as well, they were a favorite summer shade spot and snack.

Both trees lie where they are because the tree crews are way too busy with more pressing matters, like trees on houses and cars and roads and wires, to deal with trees lying in a yard. Roads are still closed. Gas stations are still short on fuel and long on lines, though the situation is getting better. Many in our township are still without power, and thus water and heat, but that is also slowly improving.

We cannot complain though. We can't even really grumble. So many have it so much worse. Primo is out of school this entire week. Many of his school's student body lives in the eastern half of our county, which is on the ocean and thus profoundly affected by the storm. With power back on and the younger two back in school as of today, he and I decided to trek east, to Belmar, to see if we could help. 

I had my little camera with me, and snapped these shots as we did our job (canvassing residents within two blocks of the beach to see what assistance they needed). We were only allowed in the area, which is heavily guarded, by virtue of our volunteer identification. These are only a few snapshots. Unfortunately I missed the waterlogged car deposited in someone's front yard, and cannot convey the sound (or the smell) of all those generators running pumps to empty all those flooded houses.

Makeshift electrical outlet panel outside the Borough Hall, to charge phones and run laptops.
A few hours later, every outlet was full, and this is one of two panels.
The Hall is running on generator power.

Ocean Avenue at 13th Avenue (our assigned street) looking south.

Same vantage point, looking north.
Front loaders have cleaned up the mountains of sand that must have been in the streets,
but the front yards of the houses are essentially dunes at the moment.

What is left of the boardwalk.

Another boardwalk remnant.

Power crews everywhere (only 5% of the town currently has power)...

from everywhere. We also saw trucks from Indiana, Virginia, Michigan, Florida and Ohio.
All those lineman from all over the country, coming to help, really made me tear up.

An unbelievable amount of donations rolling in, but this was our favorite.
Waggin', get it?
FULL of pet food, litter, crates, you name it.

No one could say it better.