Sunday, October 16, 2011

Expanding our Family....Sorta

I've hesitated to post about all of this for myriad reasons - it involves other people who may not prefer to be blogged about, it might sound like I'm tooting my own horn, and it's not something I'm without mixed feelings about at times.  

But it seemed like a big thing to leave off the blog, and a good opportunity to plug a good charity, so here goes.

I seem to have acquired 4 kids over the last year.   Well, two, and then perhaps another two on the side.  And before you ask, no, we're not adopting or having quadruplets. 

In January of last year, one of the gentlemen that attends our church showed up one day with a new family.  A father, and 2 daughters, recently arrived from a refugee camp in Kenya by way of Ethiopia (at least for the father, the girls were born in the camp).  Now, just for a frame of reference, they got here in a period of record snowfall - there was about 5 feet on the ground on our lawn.  And they arrived with no winter gear, and light sneakers that wouldn't stand up to a single slush puddle.

Turns out Jim heads up the board of directors of R-I-M, the Refugee Immigration Ministry, and these were houseguests until an apartment could be found.  

So, I asked what winter  gear they needed, and Sander and I got them boots and winter hats, and the girls some clothes.  And then got a thank you note from their father.  And then we babysat the girls the day of the adorable one's 2nd birthday party so that their father could move them into their new apartment.

And the girls and my daughter fell head over for one another and were inseparable after that.
So we went from winter boots to almost extended family in a matter of months.   A little odd, even for me.  And that's saying something.

Then almost immediately after they moved into their own place, Jim took on another family - this time asylum seekers - a young mother, father, 2 year old daughter, and a baby on the way.

And of course, the 2 year old had nothing that fit, and since the Mom's maternity appointments were in Boston near where I work, I started providing rides home and a loan of maternity clothes.   And of course, the adorable one decided that their daughter and she should be BFFs.  Let it be noted that she doesn't take no for an answer, my child.  I don't quite know where she got that.  ;)

And then the baby was born, and there you have it.  Since the younger family is intact, they need mostly friendship and clothes for the kids.  The other family is a bit more complex -  and they have somehow become much more wrapped up in our lives, and we in theirs.  And they may become extended family in a truer sense - my sister the farmer needs a farm caretaker, and Dawit has both the veterinary and construction skills that fit.  He needs a home for his daughters, and some stability.  We're working through the details, and the adorable one and I recently took them out for a visit to NY.

Both families have lost everything in terrible ways.   The younger family fled for their lives during the civil war in Congo, and experienced horrible things - being human trafficked, spending last Christmas in a mexican jail, a 6-day march down a river - in the river- for 12 hours a day, holding their toddler daughter up on their shoulders to keep her from drowning.

The older girls lost their mother when she was beaten to death.  The younger one was 7 months old.   Their father has lost and lost again, almost too many things to list.  

It's always a mixed bag when you expand your lives to accommodate newcomers.  And here, there's culture and language and power issues.    There's a lot to bridge in a relationship like the ones we're engaging in - our inability to begin to comprehend what their lives have been like, the simplistic view of everyone in America as 'rich', the struggle to navigate a culture so dissimilar from their own, and the difficulty in starting over as adults in a place where their experience, education and frame of reference are seen as valueless.

We've made a commitment though, to help these 2 families through to success - to make sure that the kids stay clothed and shod, to help their parents get ahead.  Somehow, some winter boots have turned into much more than that.

It's not without mixed feelings, this commitment we've made to intertwine our lives - even at a distance - with people so different from us.   When you choose to do it with people who have similar frames of reference, it's easy.  This is a bit more complex, and it's called out to me that while it's easy to give, it's not always easy to give in ways that are meaningful to others but not to yourself.  And that we all sometimes need to be made a bit uncomfortable in order to personally grow.

I think everything happens for a reason.   Maybe that's trite, but I do.  This year we acquired some extended family, and we are better people for it.  That doesn't mean it's easy.

There's more to this story, and I will tell it.  But later.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cooking Season

The fact that it is 84 degrees in the front yard today hides the fact that it is autumn here.   We're having some unseasonable warm, dry weather after September's deluge, and it has revived all our spirits.  

The blast of warmth allowed the tomatillos and ground cherries to flourish, and both are now dropping off the vines.  

In the summer, we fire up the grill most of the time, and slice up vegetables and some mozzerella drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar for a salad.  It's simple, quick, tasty, and keeps the kitchen from heating up.  Aside from our weekly bread making, the oven rarely turns on from June-September.

But this week, despite the heat, it is back in action - roasting tomatillos so that I can make salsa verde, turning some apples that developed soft spots into an old school recipe I found for boiled cider pie (I'll let you know how that one goes, but it smells wonderful), and dinner tonight is Congo Chicken Moambe, a recipe I tracked down when I hosted some recent refugees from the Congo for dinner, that has now entered our regular rotation of meals.  It's simple and delicious.

It's a pleasure to be in the kitchen, although I have taken several opportunities to go outside today and enjoy the sun, but since Sander and a friend are helping take down branches and small trees around the property, the adorable one and I have been shooed inside for a good chunk of the day.  The Topsfield Fair is still going on, which makes it a pain in the arse to go anywhere (at least, to get to the park, or most local farms, which are the only places we might want to go), and after a few busy weekends, I'm not exactly sad at being stuck in the house.

There's another reason that I'm cooking as much as I am today - we have an overnight guest tonight, as a very old friend is the Blacksmith at the fair, Carl having ditched IT work for something that makes him infinitely happier.  As he's been pulling 12 and 13-hour days at the fairground, we've offered crash space, and we all know that pie at 11 pm followed by croissants at 8 am are just the thing when you are blacksmithing all day.  Or at least, that's my theory.  

I love this time of year.  Besides the occasional batch of green salsa, the preserving of food work has dropped off significantly.   We have to keep a close eye on all the food we do have - potatoes, onions, and squashes don't last forever, so we have to check daily and use up carefully - but aside from the general chores that all of us have in life, such as cooking, laundry, cleaning up the house, and my least favorite, ironing, we are able to kick back, have friends over more often, and even sleep in.

Pretty soon we'll have our cord of wood delivered, and can start enjoying nightly fires. I'm ready for fall and winter - for the end of yard work, and for putting the garden to sleep finally, until the seedlings get started in the dark of late February.  I like all the seasons, to be honest- I think that gardening helps me like even the months that aren't all that pretty.  March is ugly, but it's seedling time.   April is wet, but the flowers start to come up, and we can plant peas.  January and February are good for hibernating and catching up with friends.  

But now it's cooking season, and the pie is ready.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Postcript to the Garden

It's raining.  Again. We're expecting a bit more than a 1/2 inch of rain.  And it's going to rain on and off for much of the week.  It's not that I mind rain, I'm a fan.  It's just that we've had something like 15 inches of rain over the last month, and I prefer not to live in a perpetual bog.

But hey, at least the lawn isn't brown.

It's also been really warm.  With the exception of 1 cold snap a couple weeks ago, the weather has hovered around 80 most days.  Today is cooler, and that's good - I'm ready for a frost.  It will protect the garlic I just planted - garlic is planted in fall, then harvested in summer - and kill all the bugs.  I'm really sick of mosquitos, so a frost would be nice.

We lost all the remaining tomatoes in the mold.  The rain, coupled with lack of sun (the two seem to go together, oddly enough) and the inability to dry out has molded every single tomato on the vine.  While it's normal to be done with tomatoes now, typically I lose them to cold.  The mold thing was a little disturbing.   We pulled a few green ones out last week that have been left to ripen in a paper bag, but even then - anything not in the fridge is molding in the kitchen.  Even the hubbard squash, which should have lasted well into the winter, being an, um, winter keeper squash, developed a soft spot, and had to be hacked up, baked, and frozen.

In addition, my lawn is growing mushrooms.  Lots of them. That's how wet it's been.  

On the upside, it's been a good year for mushrooms.  There's this sweet old italian guy that occasionally drives by and harvests mushrooms at the edge of our property, and as thanks brought us back a jar of them preserved with onions and zucchini.   I don't know enough to know what mushrooms are safe to forage for and which ones are poisonous, but I'm baking him some cookies, and maybe he'll show me.

I should be grateful though - at least there's been no flooding.  Last weekend's trip out to my sister's farm included a drive through of the nearby town of Schoharie, which was under 9 feet of water following Hurricane Irene last month.  It looked like a third world country, with boards covering stores and windows, and heaps of furniture and trash out on the street.  Some areas had leaks of oil and sewage, so the cleanup will be huge.  And they had a couple hours warning -another town nearby, also in the Schoharie Valley had about 8 minutes warning to run for their lives. 

Makes complaining about rain and mushrooms sound a tad whiney, eh? It definitely shook me  to see.  

Despite that, some of the farms on higher ground survived, so we still came home with red peppers (1/2 bushel) a bushel of onions, another 1/2 bushel of butternut squash, and 1/2 bushel of potatoes, all of which are keeping cool in the basement.  We'll need to check on them daily to make sure they aren't impacted by the damp, but if all goes well we should be able to make them last until December or January.

Even though the peppers seem to be withstanding the rot, and the 1 pumpkin we harvested is hanging in, garden season is effectively over.  We're still expecting 2 more cold-hardy cherry trees to be planted this month, and I need to order some flower bulbs to plant in the newly-redesigned back yard, but until the seed catalogs show up in December, we're done.

As for chickens, in 2 weeks there's a livestock auction, following the fair in our town.  We haven't decided if we'll get chicks then or wait until spring, but we're at least going to go check it out. 

Despite everything, this was our most successful and productive garden year yet. The containers of homemade sauce in the freezer, plus all the produce we ate are a testament to our increasing success on the home front.  Next year it will be even better.  

That's the thing about gardening - there's always next year.