Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sunday Dinner

Sunday morning this poor grouse flew into our living room window with a crack loud enough I thought a big piece of furniture fell over.

This happens about once a year. The first time, I took the victim down to the field to feed the wild animals, but the menfolk objected so strenuously that ever since we've dressed it out for dinner.

C demonstrated how you gut a grouse. I think that avoiding having to pull an animal's guts out by its legs is as good a reason as any to be a vegetarian. 

The carcass went out to the woods,

And the little heart-shaped breast went into the oven, with some onion, butter, sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper. The meat-eaters in the house declared it delicious, and wished that something bigger (like a turkey) would have flung itself into the windows.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kate Hopper's Ready For Air

Immediately after M was born, his heart rate spiked to more than 300 beats per minute. The nurses blew oxygen by his face as I held him, still wet and slippery, on my lap, until the pediatrician arrived and they whisked him away to the nursery for an EKG. He came back to me with electrodes stuck to his chest and an oxygen monitor clipped to his toe. Whenever the monitor slipped out of position, it set off a piercing alarm, which set M off screaming, which brought in the nurses to check to see if his heart rate had spiked again. 

Three days later, we left the hospital to head directly to the pediatric cardiologist for an echocardiogram. Before we left, the hospital gave us a cheap stethoscope, a prescription for digoxin, and instructions to keep a plastic baggie of ice cubes in the freezer. If M’s heart rate went up, we were to add water to the ice cubes and place the baggie over M’s face, to trigger his dive reflex, stopping his heart briefly to allow it to reset at a normal rate (we only had to do this once, and it was every bit as horrible as it sounds).

I did not know it at the time, sitting in the cardiologist’s office, still stiff and in pain from giving birth, wearing pajama pants and a shark t-shirt (I had not expected to go anywhere upon leaving the hospital), but this was my first introduction to the most profound truths of motherhood: you have no way of knowing how this is all going to turn out and, what’s more, you have no control. This is a lesson that continues to reassert itself with great urgency as my children careen toward the teenage years. 

Which brings me to today's post topic. I first “met” Kate Hopper about five or six years ago, when I took her Motherwords (now “Motherhood and Words”) class online. At the same time that she was midwifing her cyber-students’ stories, she was working on her own memoir, Ready for Air, and I remember her describing the theme of the book as “learning to live with uncertainty.” Which seems like it could be the theme of all of parenting.

Having read––in our class materials and discussions, as well as on her blog, and in her wonderful writing handbook Use Your Words––about the rigors of Kate’s writing and rewriting process and the challenges of getting the book published, I feel so very happy for her that Ready for Air is now out in the world, and so very honored to have been sent a copy to read write about here.

The book begins with Kate heavy, swollen, hot, and miserable. She thinks she’s just having a sucky pregnancy, but soon finds out that she’s suffering from pregnancy-induced hypertension, and events begin to cascade as she is admitted to the hospital, injected with magnesium sulfate, and, eventually, wheeled into the OR where daughter Stella is delivered by emergency caesarian two months early. What follows is Kate’s journey through coping with her baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, and then coming home, quarantined in the Minnesota winter, with her preemie.

I brought the book to the beach and to bed with me, and found myself unable to put it down, wanting to read “just one more chapter,” dying to know what would happen next.

One of the things that makes this book so readable is how very honest Kate is about herself and how funny she can be, even in the face of terror. Yet she doesn’t resort to that self-deprecating-yet-snarky tone I’ve noticed has popped up in so much writing in the last few years. I love that this woman, who is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, can have a fit that her husband brought home the wrong scent of soap. It makes her feel real, and makes me feel much better about the many fits I had when I spent my days at home with a crying baby (or two).

In her essay “Talking About Mothers” Sara Ruddick writes, “In writing as in living, it is difficult to describe the pleasures of motherhood without sentimentality, to discuss the inevitable pain without false pathos, to balance the grim and the satisfying aspects and to speak of each honestly.” Kate Hopper has hit that sweet spot in Ready for Air. As I read, Kate's love for Stella, her fear, her exhaustion, her frustration, all radiated off the page, and always felt completely genuine and not sentimental. Now I’m going to go back and read Ready for Air again, much more slowly this time, to try and see how she pulled it off.

As a part of her blog book tour, Kate would love to have readers suggest NICUs or Hospital Resource Centers that they think would benefit from a free copy of Ready for Air. Please  comment on this post on Kate's blog and include in your comment the name and address of the hospital, specifying whether it goes to the NICU or family resource center, etc. At the end of the tour, Kate will randomly pick 15 hospitals to receive signed copies of Ready for Air.

Kate Hopper is the author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. Kate holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and has been the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and a Sustainable Arts Grant. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals, including Brevity, Literary Mama, Poets & Writers, and The New York Times online. She is an editor at Literary Mama. She teaches online and at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. For more information about Kate’s writing and teaching, visit

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekend Things

I was pleased to come home Friday to a copy of Kindred in my mailbox, with my essay "This Good Field" in its pages. I've been enjoying the gorgeous photography in this issue, and reading bits and pieces of poems and stories here and there.

We spent a lot of the weekend recovering from our vacation––trying to catch up on laundry and housework and sleep.

I had been hoping for a go-nowhere weekend, but places to go  piled––Halloween parties and soccer awards parties.

I'm afraid my inner Halloween curmudgeon is rearing its head this year. I made a conscious decision to not even think about Halloween until we got back from Colorado, and then after we got back I still didn't want to think about it. So just before they headed off to their school party on Friday night, I sent E and Z up to the dress-up box to come up with some kind of costume. And then I did the same Saturday night before we headed off to a family party. Quite possibly the same thing will happen again Thursday night before we go trick-or-treating (I figure after 28 Halloween costumes I deserve a break, don't I?).

Sunday morning, I took a little photo tour of our yard and garden.

We still have lots of gorgeous Swiss chard (and calendula I never harvested...or ever will harvest),

And carrots. 

Later I clipped all those broccoli leaves and put them in this soup (substituting veggie sausage and broth) and they were surprisingly delicious (all their strong broccoli flavor cooked out, and left behind lovely-textured greens).

Z and I went on another 5K walk.

He opted to walk along with me this time (worn out, I think, by running around with brothers and dogs at Saturday night's Halloween party).

We stopped and peeked into this graveyard on our road that I've hardly ever even noticed before.

I don't know if it's the weather, or the transition to school, or we're all tired out from last week's vacation, or I'm just being cranky, but the boys have been driving me crazy lately. They fight constantly and are being really defiant.

(I actually said this to them Saturday. "You guys are driving me crazy!" And Z said, "Then why did you have three kids?" And I said, "I don't know!" And E yelled from another room, "You love us!" It provided a moment of comic relief, but only a moment).

M had a gig Sunday afternoon...performing with his buddy at a local bar. I have to say he really knocks my socks off. I know he's my kid and all, so I'm biased, but wow.

In the midst of it all, I'm trying to squeeze in some writing time. I have a few weeks left to finish my thesis. I've revised ten stories and run them by my mentor once. He says they're "good enough" for the thesis, but has provided a ton of suggestions for revisions to get them ready for publication. While I'm happy to be a "good enough" wife, mom, housekeeper, friend, employee, blogger, etc., I'd really like to incorporate as much of the revisions as possible before turning it in. I just need a magic time and energy spell.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Little Colorado Vacation

My cousin got married last week, which seemed like as good an excuse as any to take a trip to Colorado.

Since it was a holiday week, the boys and I only had to miss four days of school/work.

It turns out they don't celebrate Columbus day there, so the zoo on Monday was remarkably un-crowded.

(And while I appreciate the sentiment, I would not want to lose any of my holidays.)

In addition to the zoo,

we said "hello" to the Colorado river.

Spent a day at the hot springs (no photos of that, though, being all wet and all).

The boys found it a novelty to be swimming in almost (but not quite) snowing weather.

We ate lots of Mexican food.

And looked at lots of beautiful scenery.

We had hoped to go to the Great Sand Dunes or Dinosaur National Monument,

but they were both closed due to the shutdown (thanks a heap, congress).

We went on a couple of chilly picnics,

and did some low-key hiking.

Visited a historic site,

And got snowed on just a little.

Enjoyed gorgeous foliage,

And, of course, took the requisite Twin No. 1 

And Twin No 2 Cabin photos.

Two of us did a whole heck of a lot of make-up school work (and a whole heck of a lot of complaining about said work) and even more playing with Dr. Waffles Tragidonius, who didn't scratch anyone this time.

And, of course, the wedding (complete with break-dancing monk––what wedding doesn't have one of those?)

It was fun and exhausting, as all vacations spent visiting family are. Now we're all adjusting back to the Eastern timezone and school and work schedules.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

5K to Farm

After last month's run, Z had the idea of doing a 5K every weekend.

Conveniently, our house is located almost exactly a mile-and-a-half from each end of our road, so a trek down to one end of the road and back equals just about a 5K.

And they're both walks I have taken many a time over the years, pushing a stroller, and then a trike with a push bar, and then a double stroller, with a training-wheeled bike following along.

But it's been a while since that walk has been part of my routine. Something about no strollers to push, or the advent of both twins on bikes being way too crazy for me to deal with on the road (I did take them as far as the daycare center many times when they were on training wheels, but not three miles. Nowadays, the boys all ride their bikes all the way to the General Store with their dad).

So Z and I had decided to do a weekly 5K to the end of the road, but with one thing and another, hand't yet gotten around to it. 

Until last week he mentioned he'd like to visit the farm we pass at one end our road. So I suggested we do his 5K and visit the farm all in one trip.

Sunday morning he got up early (but not too early––I had persuaded him to not set his alarm clock), fixed us each a bagel with jam, and got geared up for the run.

He ran ahead, stopping to wait for me at each driveway (yes, I walked the whole thing--still don't believe in running, plus I needed to take pictures along the way).

He stopped now and then to collect maple leaves or observe great blue herons.

We got a tour of the farm––ducks, cows, sheep, goats, two adorable little farm girls, and all––despite having disturbed the farmers' breakfast.

Z failed to catch either a duck or a turkey, but braved petting the cows and goats.

And now he wants to make it a weekly adventure. 
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