Sunday, May 30, 2010

turtles and songs...

I had a great time at Hippie Jack's with the Naughty Knots, the Black Lillies, Jay Clark, Jimmie Davis and entourage. I got to be in the entourage and that's fun. It rained a bunch but in a real refreshing way. I'm always grateful to Sarah for thinking to include me. I had told someone at the Farmers' Market on Saturday that I needed an emotional rain to settle things back down for me. This little 24 hour trip provided some emotional and physical rain. It was a bit of alkaline. I got to meet some really nice folks and hang a bit with some good friends and sleep in the Lilith Fair tent with Sarah and Griffin. I got to mostly be quiet and sit still. I got to stand in a field in the pitch black with a friend and watch lightning bugs. I got to eat a big breakfast made by women who know how to make it and fellas who made biscuits in a dutch oven. I got to listen to my friends sing and play music.
I get home in the late afternoon and it's time for mixing a little business with pleasure. Brian Wagner is awesome for agreeing to do a biscuit art photo for the art show. We don't have any photography so it'll be good to add it to the mix. I do have to make the biscuits and am going to go ahead and make dinner for us. It'll be fun and easy. I get back from camping and head to the store to get the biscuit stuff for him to shoot. I go to the very close Food City and drive around the back. Low and behold there's a big turtle right there in harms way. I get pretty mad and sad when I see a squashed turtle on the road and this looks to be a potentially bad situation. I stop the car and direct the light flow of traffic around the turtle and call Howie. Howie is a great neighbor and friend and he came right over to the back lot. Of course, he is not as excitable as me and recommended we call animal control. They say they are going to contact the wildlife people but they don't know when someone will come by. In the meantime, I surround the turtle with shopping carts and call a new friend who is a wildlife kind of professional of some sort. He tries to shame me into to picking up the turtle by it's tail or some irrational nonsense. He refused to come to the back lot at the Food City and I did not try to handle this turtle. After hanging up with new lame friend, a lady gets out of her truck with her son and states that she's from South Florida and her dad was an Alligator Relocation Specialist and laughs a little bit at our blank stares. She shows us her gold chain with her gold alligator pendant and lets us know this is actually an Alligator Snapping Turtle (which are endangered) and she can handle it for us. Miracle of miracles. Fabulous. She wraps the turtle up and carefully takes him back to the creek. Howie and I rejoice in our good fortune. Who in the world could have predicted the daughter of an Alligator Relocation Specialist would show up behind the Food City in North Knoxville?
The world is a gift and sometimes someone or something comes along with just what you need. Like a music festival. Like a the daughter of an Alligator Relocation Specialist. Like lightning bugs after the rain.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mayday...all day long

My life is a choice I’ve made. I think that I have spent some considerable time moving along with the perception that things happen to me. I don’t mean this in a way that I am a perpetual victim but that I sometimes assume that I am just floating in a sea of change without recognizing that I am the vehicle of this change. I keep complaining about transition. When will I get out of transition? Wah wah, wah wah wah, wah wah, wah wah. It’s like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Boring. When I break it down, I am mostly the changer, the vehicle of change. There are times that I can’t take credit for it and have to admit that something has happened beyond my control to create change. But mostly, I happen to things. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes this is bad. I’m not patient which is a problem. I have barreled through many things just for the sole purpose of getting to the other side. There’s this constant journey that I’ve been missing in order to get to the destination.

I’m in a place now where I will suddenly stop, like freeze tag, and try to assess my surroundings. I do emotional and practical assessments. Am I okay? Am I freaking out about anything? Are my daughters okay? Do I have time to mow the yard? Do I have enough money? Do I have to go to the grocery store again? Am I okay? Am I freaking out about anything? Are my daughters okay? Do I have to do laundry again? Am I okay? I suppose I have to do this because I’m moving so fast that I just don’t know how I am. I am barreling through but I’ve learned enough to at least do the assessment. I’m trying to do a better job of not having to ask these questions. I’m trying to work on the offensive instead of the defensive. I should just know how I am instead of asking how I am.

It’s interesting being a parent. I try to be a lot braver and calmer than I tried to be before I set these girls on earth. For example, I really try not to be afraid of snakes. We have lots of snakes in our backyard because we have a creek and we are cool like that. I could probably go out and find a couple of snakes right now, people. However, I’m terrified of snakes and will only act cool if the girls are around and sometimes there’s no cool available. I freaked out last summer when I wrapped my dear little irreplaceable fingers around a snake hiding under weed cloth. I made it into the house a good 30 seconds before the girls. Lucy Maye was furious and yelled at me. She yelled, “You’ve lived longer than us!” I had totally left them outside to fend for themselves as I ran into the house screaming. She still doesn’t find it amusing and rolls her eyes at me if I try to tell it like a funny story. I try to be okay with snakes around the girls because I don’t want them to inherit my fears, the residuals of my karma. I also just want them to think I’m cool and fearless. It’s disconcerting when there is no cool available. I try to keep the cool on tap like a Superhero Mom should.

In addition to trying to be cool with snakes, I try to be more Zen and brave about loss. I think this started during the divorce from their father. There was lots of talk about how everything is okay even though it’s different than what we’d expected. I do believe that but sometimes things just suck. It’s really hard to look your kids in their eyeballs and say “This just f-in’ sucks.” It’s almost impossible to fall apart when you are the mom. It can happen and those moms usually end up on the news. I only want to be on the news for a film premiere or a lottery win.

I’ve been talking Lucy Maye off the ledge a lot lately. Their dad and his wife have bought a house. It’s good but they are selling the old house that the girls came home to when they were born. Lucy Maye is very sentimental. Emma Jean doesn’t really care. Their stepmom was apologizing to them for not having their rooms set up the other day and Emma Jean told her to just get some waffles. Honestly, Emma Jean really just wants waffles and she doesn’t care where she eats them. She is easier this way. Lucy Maye will mourn every chip of paint. She and I are sitting in the same boat with that, except I have to be all Zen about it. This is because I am Superhero Mom. This house about to go on market was my dream house. I got engaged, married, and had babies in this house. I gardened and planned new bathrooms and an outdoor shower in this house. I dreamed of kitchen renovation and half moon shutters in this house. I watched both daughters take first steps in this house and I grieved my neighbor in this house. I left this house when I left my husband. I left all the potential that I just couldn’t make happen. I fretted as his new wife moved in and I asked him not to paint the naturally distressed front door. Even with my leaving, it still felt like my house. Now it’s going to be sold and I can’t be the one to buy it. I have to be careful about my loss. I can only tell Lucy Maye that it’s okay and we should welcome change no matter how hard it is to be in transition. My dog is buried in that yard.

The pre-school that belonged to my ex-husband’s family for more than 30 years closed on May 21. The actual building burned down last year and they’ve been in a temporary location ever since. It was just too much to try to rebuild or buy or lease and renovate so they’ve closed it. Lucy Maye wept a lot as we left for the last time. There goes her little school and all I can say is that it will be okay. It will be okay. Emma Jean didn’t miss a beat and just made sure I had phone numbers for all her friend’s moms. She’s resilient and is really looking forward to kindergarten anyway. The new wife has been running the pre-school because the former in-laws both had health problems. She essentially moved to town last year on a tsunami that hit her with in-laws with major health problems, a burned school, two little girls and me. She should have done some research before she signed the deal but I’m glad she didn’t. I like her. I got the new wife, whom I fondly referred to as my stepwife, a bottle of wine for the closing reception/school play, which was the day before the last day. I gave it to her and she said that I didn’t have to do that and I said that it was better her than me and she might as well have the wine. We high-fived. I went to a party. She went home with my family. Thursday is the night the girls spend at their dads. Everything turns out okay.

In my younger days, I embraced the idea that my life would eventually settle down. I’d check off this list and be able to relax into adulthood. I didn’t believe it when the old folks told me that youth was actually simpler. Now I know they were right. When I was young I just didn’t have the skills to see it that way. I looked to the future as a place of serenity and success. Maybe that success is the wisdom to know that it all comes out in the wash. You just have to make the best choices you can. Of course, I still make choices I know won’t work out. I am an optimist with a bad track record. I tend to believe people and I tend to think that the best-case scenario could happen. The best-case scenario does actually happen to some people and I’m standing in line for that. I keep getting back up on the horse for the best-case scenario.

May has been a little rough. I’m coming up on my 13th wedding anniversary. It’s still the anniversary of my wedding even though I’m not married any more. My ex-husband always sends me a sweet text on this day. I picture him hiding in the closet or something. I really don’t think that’s the case. My stepwife is cool and I can’t imagine that even in the most grandiose of imaginations, she could be jealous of me. This anniversary is something to celebrate if for no other reason than it’s an example of my belief in the best-case scenario. Of course, I have a bad track record. It has been May all month long.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grow Simple

As seen in the May 2010 issue of 180 Magazine...

I’ve got two daughters and we planted a garden this year. My oldest wanted to plant cucumbers and begonias. My youngest wanted macaroni and cheese. We settled on a mix of vegetables. We also planted flowers. Fortunately, pink flowers replaced the planting of pasta.

The need to plant has become more prevalent among folks I know. I think that both a growing awareness of sustainability and the high cost of decent produce play a part in the increasing number of gardens found in the back yards of neighbors this year. For my family, it’s a way to do something together that has positive impact on the way we live. I made the break and canceled cable after this long gray winter. There’s no way Hannah Montana is better for us than growing a garden and I’m tired of distractions as simple and effective as television. Since we couldn’t plant macaroni and cheese, I’m hoping to entice my youngest into eating a more varied selection of foods. My grandmother always had a garden when I was growing up. When I visited there was work to be done and it culminated in dinner. There were beehives for a while and this meant dessert. It was the non-fast food experience and I always looked forward to it.

My house is anticipating the start of farmers’ market season. The success and popularity of our local farmers’ markets is on the rise. Knox County has 4 active markets as listed with the state’s agriculture department on the Pick Tennessee Products website. There are several more in surrounding counties. Many local farmers that are selling goods at the various markets are also selling CSA’s. Community Supported Agriculture is essentially a weekly food subscription. With a CSA, you get a basket from the farmer full of what they’ve got. You don’t order a specific number of any certain vegetables. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. I got to snag a friend’s CSA when she was out of town last summer. You might get a bundle of vegetables you would have overlooked when making your own choices. It can challenge your palate and your culinary knowledge. It’s fun to rise to the occasion. I used everything in the basket. I thought about signing up for a CSA this year but we are growing a garden and I’m going to be optimistic about our fierce skills.

The farmers’ market we most frequent is the Market Square Farmers’ Market. In its 7th year of existence and with roughly 60 vendors during peak season, this market was voted 5th in the nation by Local Harvest, a national website dedicated to finding farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area. Last year I worked the Glowing Body/Magpies booth and it was a celebration of community. Of course we sold energy circles, cupcakes and what not, but the market is a social hub and there was always lots of news. Friends and friends of friends were stopping by to discuss produce and baked goods, parties, art, politics and the weather. My daughters actively played a part in the social scene. We were strategically placed in front of the fountains and the girls would wear bathing suits and go back and forth from our tent to the fountains finally ending in a Tomato Head lunch frenzy. They would each be given $5 to pick out produce for us to take home. There were times that they just wanted a treat instead. They became fans of the turtle lady, collecting several different clay turtles over the summer. We came home with all kinds of things, even a puppy. True story. I’m a sucker. Our downtown has had a visible resurrection over the past decade and the Market Square Farmers’ Market has definitely been an active participant in the vibrancy of community and lure of downtown residents.

Charlotte Tolley, Director of the Market Square Farmers’ Market, has been catalyst for the downtown market since its inception. She is also the first person to bring EBT/SNAP benefits to a seasonal farmers’ market, with a central location for vendors, in the state of Tennessee. EBT/SNAP is known to the general public as food stamps. In the day and age where film and television (Food, Inc., Fast Food Nation and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution) are slowly educating the public on the dangers of what basically inedible foods can do to your body and our planet, it’s refreshing to know that government assisted food buying can be done on a local level. Charlotte also serves as a board member on the Knoxville Knox County Food Policy Council and this council supports urban chickens. On May 7th, Remedy Coffeehouse in the Old City will be showing Mad City Chickens about urban life with backyard chickens. The Knoxville Urban Hen Coalition is teaming up with Three Rivers Market and the Parkridge Community Garden to screen Mad City Chickens as part of the effort to educate Knoxville on keeping hens in the city, and to build support for a proposed ordinance to allow domesticated chickens. No roosters allowed. If this ordinance passes, we are so getting chickens at our house.

It feels like there’s a movement in Knoxville to simplify and thereby improve the way we live. I’ve wondered if it’s just the company I keep that makes me feel this way. I’ve come to the conclusion that it has more to do with the economic climate. It’s forcing us to view spending as optional or rather to spend on ways we can be more self-sufficient. This is carrying over into the concept of impact, footprint, and what essentially makes us good world citizens. UT grad student Katie Reis has based her thesis on a concept she developed called Urban Land Scouts. Katie created badges that can be earned by being good stewards of the city landscape. Her thesis includes urban nature walks, seed swaps and compost discussions. It’s exciting and the badges are ridiculously cute.

I’ve been working to change my perception of what urban living means. We’ve got a sweet little house in a somewhat cramped but charming neighborhood. I sometimes daydream about having lots of land and a farmhouse and livestock and a big garden. I interrupt my daydream to remind myself that I actually have this in city limits. So far our livestock is domestic: dogs, cats, fish and a frog. We also have non-domestics in the backyard. I’ve seen two species of garden snakes, a variety of spiders, bats, and many birds. A heron visited the neck of our creek a few times last year. Hopefully we’ll be adding some hens to the mix before too long. That’s going to be hilarious. I don’t know if these things simplify our lives but it definitely improves the way we live.