dandelion wine

When I was 18 I was living in my first apartment above a coffee shop/ recenter thing. The rent was cheap and it showed. Rain came in through the ceiling, a hole in the floor let a little squirrel in, and the light bulbs hung bare like deflated balloons. It was dank, dingy, and damp. And yet, all of these things were miraculously overlooked by the wonderful gift of my youth, which covers so many horrors life deals us.

One day I was reading an underground magazine I had subscribed to from California, called Arthur Mag. It went out of print before the end of the fall, but on this day it was spring. I lay on my twin bed reading the articles. Mostly stoner-hippie type stuff about music and Bush and the war. Sometimes they sent mix tapes with the magazine, which I usually enjoyed. Bands like BrightBlack Morning Light, Minus the Bear, etc. I had just gotten home from my nanny job and was exhausted. I laid down, lit a cigarette starting an article about wine making.

The picture of the contributing author was puzzling to me. I could not make out if the person was a man or woman. Feathers tied to leather hung from long greyish thin hair, an open button up shirt revealed a necklace of unknown animal tooth. I decided on man. He discussed a trip to the Amana colonies, which are pretty close to where I was living at the time. Well, they were closer than California. On the expedition, he encountered dandelion wine that friend had given him, and included a recipe in the side bar. I was transfixed. The thought of creating your own wine from dandelions was fascinating to me. The next day I bought two gallon sized glass candy jars. I began to collect the two gallons of dandelions needed in little sacks after work. It was very relaxing, but as I am allergic to bees I had to be quite careful.

A friend that frequented the coffee shop below was very familiar with the process when I described my plan to him. He was curious as to why I was carrying a sack of dandelions almost constantly. To my surprise, his father was an expert at making home made wines, making almost everything he drank from wild plants. He told me to add some oranges and raisins to each gallon. I did just so to the jars that sat on top the broken box wall heater in my kitchen and let the good times begin.

Over the next month, I chatted to my then boyfriend now husband over the phone nightly. He was living in Texas and I was in good ole Missouri. He was curious as to my plans for the wine once it was completed, as my expert friend had mentioned it could be quite potent, upwards of about 30% alcohol. I didn’t really have a plan, I said. I looked at the jars and thought. I guess I will take it slow, I said, looking at the jars. The dandelion heads were floating up and down up and down in the amber colored liquid. If dandelions were milk, this color was their cream. It was gorgeous. I waited with anticipation.

And then another emotion came upon me: fear. My boyfriend later hesitantly mentioned that it could be dangerous to ingest something that was made in my scrappy little apartment, especially since that something was essentially bathtub gin. I had not considered this, as little 18 year old me rarely considered much of anything. I began to grow suspicious of my little project. I did not want to end up like Seymour, and be eaten up. It looked so beautiful, it had to be harmless, but I remained slightly wary.

When the day came, I poured some into my thrift store mushroom mugs which matched my 1970s mushroom kitchen theme, all of which had been acquired at the same moldy smelling thrift store in town. I looked down into the cup. It smelled like the most lovely meadow. I took a sip. It was not dry, but definitely not sweet, and it was effervescent. I remained intrigued. Another sip. Good, I think. Elated, I ladled out half a mugs worth and drank it. Underage kids are idiots, I thought. We could be making all the alcohol we want in our own bedrooms. No more messing around trying to find a buyer, or convince an older brother to help us out. Much easier.

But, yet, I had no way to strain it out. I searched for cheese cloth for a week. Finally, finding some at Amish store. I strained it, and put it back in the glass jar. Every once in a while I would have a few sips and fall asleep reading. I was hardly enjoying the fruits of my labor. I was leery of drinking too much and getting sick.  And then one day, tragedy. It had gone off. I hadn’t known to refrigerate it, (read: 18 year old living alone) and so it had expired into sour must. Down the sink it went and I haven’t made dandelion wine since.

And now it has been ten years, and here I am remembering. When I get to PA, I want to make some as an elixir and remember that summer.

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moving, packing, yet avoiding progress

 

I’m trying very hard to be optimistic, an essay.

 

Normally I am not forced to try, I have optimism as I have eyes, spirit and thought. It is part of me as God gave it to me. But for this, I resist. I fear it.

Last night, again I was unable to sooth myself into sleep. I had been at a fancy women only dinner part with my mom, a gift to her due to my parting. (Again, normally, this would never occur. I hate women, dislike dinner parties, and my mom and I…well, it’s not easy) I ate dessert, and I don’t eat sugar, normally, so here we are again. Shoulder burning from my refusing to move until sleep comes. I close my eyes and thoughts begin to heat up on the stove of my mind. The still water forms tiny bubbles until a full boil rises. I’m in a pond, at the sides, and little fish, I think they are trout, are swimming by. I can see their babies floating in the water, an inch long, putrid, decaying. I feel their bodies swirl around my legs. I am with my mother’s father, but I want to be with my father’s father, a Frenchman who could catch trout like it was he job (it was his job when he was growing up, he took nuns out to catch fish and they paid him, but that is another essay). He is teaching me to cast my fly and I keep messing up, the lure is a trout egg thing, he says they can’t resist. How would you know? I wonder. I want my Grandpa Herman… Then I slide into the pond completely and my waders fill up. A girl is drowning in front me, I struggle to stand up to get to her, to help her. She floats on her back, thrashing her arms to stay up, blood drifting out from between her legs, mixing with the cool clean water of the pond. She reaches down to touch her skirt, and feel where to blood emerges. She holds her hand to her face and rubs the fresh satin of her blood between her middle, fore, and thumb fingers. With realization she her eyes expand.  She begins to panic. “My babies! My babies!” she scream cries to me, and I too begin to panic.  “My babies are dying! My babies are dead!” What has happened? I wonder in fear. I try to support her under her back and look at her in complete terror. My grandpa is smiling and waves to me “These are wonderful lures,” he says. “We’re sure to get the big one today!” She continues to cry and scream. I look at her. It is me. Or rather, the interior of me, how I see myself.  I look down at her as she weeps, feel her lessened weight from the density of water causing this artificial lightness. I hold her until she gives in, gives up, crumples, and sinks slowly down. The fish envelope the space she was, and her white face shines momentarily before it is murkily shadowed by the water’s darkness. My grandpa waves again, “That looked like a big one!” I lean backwards on the ponds edge and crab crawl back onto the bank. I collapse and look at the sky. I close my eyes. I awaken. I sigh and say, I miss you Grandpa Herman, I miss you…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Night of the Soul

Late last night I woke up from a dream. I was thinking about my school and how teaching is so hard. And it is so, so hard. A non-teacher simply cannot understand. I know I didn’t. Or I would have changed my major.

We recently had a student make some startling threats. The kind that involve repercussions, that are irrevocable for life. How did I get here? I wondered as I read the emails. I’ve made a terrible decision in my job of choice. I had imagined teaching children color theory, not stress dreams.

I woke anxious and rapidly. I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. My face was white and smooth. I look into my deep set eyes, my only resemblance to my mother, and I see myself. What if trails around my head and squirms out my eyes. I look at the sink. I look at my phone, 12:08. I stumble back to my cave and lay down. My husband makes the faintest sounds of sleep. Comfort and dread fill me. In six months time, three men my husband loved have died unexpectedly and without goodbyes. I reply a thank you to God as my husband found some deserved rest.

In the first chapter of first Peter, we find his claim for hope. I am guaranteed a future in Heaven with my Christ, and that is my reassurance, I explain to myself as I naively wait for sleep to come. Regardless of the circumstances of my life, I have that as a promise.

I am consistently told that my profession is the only savior for the children in its hull. But like most social norms, it is fundamentally wrong. It isn’t possible. I have no faith in the education system. I watch children destroy their futures for the sake of their mobile phones and six month long relationships. There is little you can do to prevent their choices, as I have tried and failed at every turn, as have my colleagues. It is so exceptionally rare that a student set on the path of chosen apathy will change. It is so rare that would call it the Condor of the classroom, probably only forty of them exist in system at any one given time.

What I have seen proven is much less complex and much more natural. It is parenting that makes children into successful adults. As it is in the wild, so it is with us. Observing this hundreds of times, it has given me pause. The children with loving and supportive parents are those who thrive, regardless of what learning style or pedagogical theory I utilize in my teaching.

I listen to my fan humm along and ponder calling into work in the morning. Why do we put pressure on teachers, when the true savior of children is their parents? Why do we blame teachers when the students fail, when their parents won’t make them go to bed, do their homework, or provide them proper nutrition? “I didn’t get my homework done because my dad made me stay at his girlfriend’s house, and none of my stuff is there” and “I can’t pay attention because I had to get my siblings dressed so I couldn’t eat breakfast” and “I got a job at the gas station so I can buy a car and get away from this place, so I won’t be able to come to tutoring anymore.” These are statements I heard just this week. It is Wednesday, by the way. There will be more over the next two days.

My reflections turn inward, remembering my own choices to skip class to see my forbidden boyfriend. I suffered consequences for choices my brain wasn’t capable of understanding, and yet I “made” it, as they say. Because my mama dragged me kicking and screaming. (Thank you mama, I say silently, as my husband turns over)

Yesterday, I heard a parent say “This school did nothing for my daughter.” I remember her. Vaguely. I never had her in class. But I know her family, and I am not surprised she dropped out, when neither parent works. She has/had no example of a successful adult in her family. Why is it the school’s fault when a child who has zero support at home fails?

It’s not fair, I whisper to God. I am risking my life for children, some of whom hate me, and they will never change because they don’t have true family. I toss.

To love those easiest to love is nothing, to love those hard to love is divine. I feel my shoulder go numb against my pillow. If I just lay here long enough, I will eventually fall asleep, I say. It’s science. I don’t want to become numb, to grow a shell. To calcify and turn stony. I need a spine of steel to have soft exterior. It all seems to much.

Am I being too callous? Am I placing blame where it shouldn’t be? My logical mind and instincts tell me that I am not. I eventually give in and sleep overcomes me.

PCOS, my mask of the red death

I was told I had PCOS on my 6th wedding anniversary, 2013. I was 24 years old.

I went to the doctor because my cycle was so late and we were sure we were pregnant.    I felt off.

The sweet doctor, who is a friend, look at me and said, “it looks to me like you have PCOS.”  “That means I can’t have kids right?”

“That means it could be harder to have kids.”

Then a lot of shit went down, to put it lightly.

*

Today is April 11th, 2018. It has been 4 years, 6 months, 0 days. Or 1643 days. However you prefer to categorize hell is up to you. 🙂

In May 2015 I had Nexplanon, a progestin based birth control implanted into my arm to stop my intense mood swings. I took it out a year later.

Since May 21st, 2016 we have been trying to get pregnant. It has been 687 days.            Or 1 year, 10 months, 18 days. Again, your preference.

The stages of grief are strange. It is not a straight line progression.

Some days I drift on clouds of hope. The Lord lifts me up, I feel his face, he cradles my depression and despair. He weeps with me. I know he is sad for me, with me.

Some days the Lord gives me dreams of my future children. He gives me a twig of hope. I turn it around and look at it. I smile in my sleep, and when I wake, and every time I see the little face in my arms. I carry my little twig under my left breast and take it out when suicide seems like a better option than the current situation. Which has been often lately. I hate to admit my weaknesses, but they are too great to ignore.They pour out of me, press against the walls and break the glass. I can’t breathe for the force they create. I am desperate woman, in a desperate situation. More so than ever before, I can see.

Some days I get intensely angry. I scream at things, myself included. I regard myself in the mirror and pick apart my reflection.

Some days I feel nothing. Those are the worst days of all.

*

*

*

Today I feel all of them at once. But mostly, and most often, I feel tired.

I am 28 years old. My husband is 35. The hallway we are in is closing around us. But I am so tired I can’t move my feet. My husband tries to carry me occasionally, but his own grief oozes out of him and sticks the floor entrapping his strength.

Some things don’t work out like they should.

I know that.

I have lost family members to tragic accidents. I have seem people beat the odds. But usually I see things gradually degrade. Death is subtle on average.

I recently started a new diet, to help me ovulate more regularly and produce healthier eggs. So far I’ve lost 10 pounds. But I have a long way to go. I would like to lose about 90. Mount doom looms over Mordor.

Sometimes, the devil talks to me too. And he stood there and said “It will never matter what you do. The ultimate truth is that you will never be a mother.”

I feel like this might be true, if I give up and listen to him. I hear his velvet voice, and regard his face. Seduction, death has it all, doesn’t it? I could lie down and die here, my husband with me. We’re both pretty broke up about it. We are both exhausted. We could just lie down and hold each other until the ash cloud causes blood to fill our lungs. It is tempting. It smells sweet, a poppy field. To go meet my God, and then be afforded the opportunity to ask WHY?

Why my God, why? 

And yet, . . .

The road goes ever, ever on.

I keep sticking to this diet. Even though it seems and counter intuitive. I’m holding onto my twigs. My dreams. My visions. My prayers. My belief that my God loves me, even though I may not be a mother. His love won’t change, he has always loved me the same amount. But I can’t seem to love myself. I can’t seem to love myself enough to let myself hope.

My prayers this week were for endurance, the gift of hope, and the strength to continue. Lord, please finish this work, I beg. Let it be finished Lord. I am broken. The weight of this grief has crushed me so deeply, I feel I may never be mended again. I am the dust I was made from. Please God, release the weight, I cry. Please.

I sit in the garden and ask him to change his will. If there could be a way, let it be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I dream of (Mennonite) genies

Yesterday and today it snowed in our little patch of prairie. Extreme weather made more so with ever growing climate change. Hmph.

But that is another story all together, when I have more tea and less time. Today I am feeling nostalgic and melancholy and hopeful. I’ve only got eight small little weeks left here. I’ve tucked them into the palm of my hand and squeeze down tight, like little gold coins. I’m sad to pay my rent each week.

As the snow was pushing itself down, making cozy with the little star shaped flowers in our scrap of yard, I was thinking, again, about Pennsylvania. I have asked the Lord to change my spirit’s attitude multiple times and I think He has. I’ve listened to Him talk to me about adventure and enjoying the wandering. Let me feet follow and immerse myself in the process. Day dream about apple orchards, fermented foods in glass jars, walking down the lane to get the mail, and raising babies on a little farmhouse, hid and obscured by the roaring pines. (This is quite a romantic notion, I am well aware, but I like to consider myself quite romantic, so. . .)

I am a very day dreamy type person. I often get lost in my thoughts, forget what I’m doing and run into stuff.

I think about the color of Pennsylvania. The color is hard to describe, it is many. I look at the mountains and see viridian, nightshade leaf purple, and grassy blue. And redbud pink. It is breathing life, there is so much variety.

I remember walking with my husband through ancient pine groves, listening to water, and finding the source: a spring coming out the mountain side, erupting into a magnificent waterfall. We look at it for a while, and look at each other, and breathe in the clean mountain air.  We walk back to his truck holding hands. I slip and get my butt wet. A perfect Saturday morning date.

I remember making a pot of tea and warming up by the coal stove (which I had never seen before, and had to be shown how to operate without killing us) while reading geriatric Mennonite cook books. Don’t even get me started on the pretzels. I will gain weight just from my imagings.

I remember walking around a lake with my best friend in the whole wild world, Bridget, who happens to reside in PA. We walk and walk and walk for miles a day, trying to conform our bodies to our personal ideal, and acquire some much needed stress relief. We are both teachers, therefore no explanation necessary.

I didn’t meet her until Ben took me to meet his family. It was June. I was 18. We had so much fun together. I told her stories about my life in Missouri, and she just listened. She is so good at that.  Lately I have really needed a friend like Bridget. It is easy for me to cry just thinking about her and how much I miss being with her. We text and send cards, but it is not the same as drinking tea and chatting everyday.

*

Yesterday it snowed on our little patch of prairie. My mother turned to me and asks “What is your plan?” In Pennsylvania, she implies.

“To be loved, and dearly love” I say.

For that is what it truly means to me to be in PA.

safari

 

In October, my lovely husband asked me to stay home after this year. “I want to support you, and I want you to stay home.” He says with such candor, such eloquence, I am enraptured by his gaze. He, alligator and I,wildebeest. My mom screams from behind me, “As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again!” in currents of red, violet, and brown the river gushes in front of me as I lean in for a drink. I hug him and walk away. “That’s sweet,” I reply from the kitchen. Blinking away my terror. I sponge off the miso paste from the mixing bowl. He is an animal of few words, and slinks back to the murky depths below. I have escaped this day.

I mention this conversation to mom on a walk the next week. She turns white and slams her fist. No daughter is a slave. Every woman free. We have overcame.

I sigh.

I look at my husband sleeping. He looks harmless now. But his mind is full of barbs and exploding hooks,  I think. It is is trap.

 

When 3rd grade is coloring I contemplate my existence as the ephemeral phantom, stay at home wife. None of them are very clean, their slightly sticky and warm hands stuff themselves into the marker bin to find the perfect seafoam green. A bacteria colony forms, the smell of the room is atrocious. A boy with a pustule on his face asks me for a ruler. Baking pies and watching Oprah is looking pretty inviting. At least, this is how I imagine their lives to be, for that is what my childhood friend, Meg, mother did. Oprah got cancelled I guess.

Then a girl colors a border reading “faith hope love” repeated over and over, around and around the edge of the page. I cry silently in the bathroom. I don’t want to leave the little heathens.

Another little boy tells me he wants to create memes for his job and draws me in one, in  cruel unflattering way.

Decisions, decisions.

……

 

You fulfill your promises to the ones you love

It is raining here today, my convertible seems unable to cope with the culture shock.

On my way to work I often listen to the radio but today I turned it down so I could hear the wipers slowly drag themselves against the glass. It was so soothing. I was late, I needed soothing. I am usually late. My husband has to make my Sencha in the morning and my berry brown rice smoothie, or I would never make it to work. He wakes me up to. Mornings are not my best feature. I feel so raw and venerable. I am a earth worm drowning in the pond at 6am. My husband gentle picks me up, a member of the Save the Worms Club, and places me on the moss to dry so I can breathe out of my skin again. I am blind, but I see his love in my skin as he touches my body and places me down. Oh thank you, great Creator, El, for your love, I say as I relax into the moss and drink my tea. Thank you for Ben, my love, my helper, my thoughtful gift.

Last night he said we should drive through Arkansas and then over to Florida before driving the Pennsylvania. I smiled and said Okay, let’s stay four days. One he says. Two, I say. Split the difference. Neither one of us has staying in Arkansas before so I am excited to explore. Today I am going to do some research and decide what campground we are staying in, but I am leaning towards Devil’s Den because it sounds so enigmatic. And it has waterfalls.

I think our convertible will be grateful for blue skies once more. In like a Lion they say, but I always want a lamb.