Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Our new house

Many members of my extended family gathered casually in Danville this weekend.  We celebrated my grandmother's 95th birthday (she still lives in her own house!), baptized a baby and had a pretty good picture in the same old spot we always have.

Many of them asked to see pictures of my house and I promised that as soon as it was clean, I'd take some.  The reality is that my entire family is focused on creating conditions in which I don't yell at the kids, so it's not going to be clean in the foreseeable future.  So, here it is in all its unedited glory.

We bought a house five minutes from my parents' house after living with them for 2.5 years in an intergenerational experiment.  They drop in here and let me drop off my kids there when they miss them or when I need some childcare.  When we were looking, Jacob and I took turns touring houses, leaving the kids in the car because of the snow.  I went first for this house and when I got back in the car, I hissed, "I want this house!" It's a little weird and reminds me of the houses I saw and visited when I lived on Orcas. 

So, walk in this front door with me. There's a closet immediately in front of it.  Judith stole the shoe rack to make a home for her stuffed animals so all the shoes are just jumbled together on the floor.  The door to the closet is usually open.

If you turn to your immediate left, you'll see the gallery.  The previous owners were artists and one was an electrician so the lighting is excellent for highlighting all of our storage and the children's craft supplies and works in progress.

This is always what it looks like.  Someday when the kids are older and we're allowed to have nice things again, this will double as our dining room.
If you turn to the right upon entering the front door, you will encounter our breakfast nook.  On the wall behind it are collages of all our professional photography sessions. They are the first things I put on the walls of our new house and I LOVE the story they tell.  Every birth ceremony, every large family get-together. I don't have to fill all of our experiences making my kids pose for pictures because I know that periodically, a professional will do a much better job than I do.  Worth every penny.

As you enter the breakfast nook and turn to the left, you face our kitchen.  It is just the right size for me.  The girls like sneaking up quickly between the knife I'm wielding and the produce I'm cutting. Akiva has a special drawer full of serving utensils that he frequents.

On your left, you'll see our make-shift pantry and the door to the basement.
 If you turn to the right, you'll enter our living room, which includes the sliding door out to the back yard.
As you can see, it has a swinging woodstove and tons of natural light.  The whole house is full of light, which was part of why I loved it.  My quilting studio takes up a third of the room.  I try to create a little every day to maintain spiritual balance. I could not accomplish this if my workspace was away from where the kids spend their time.

 This couch was a gift from a friend when the company sent them a brand-new couch to replace this one when it had a totally hidden marker stain, which triggered its warrantee. Could it be more perfect for the space?  That's one of my quilts hanging on the wall.

There's the rest of my studio and the pass-through window to the kitchen.  Those old Advent speaker towers make excellent end-tables or supporting columns for blanket forts.
Head out the sliding doors onto our patio and you can see the shed, as well.  There's all sorts of cool lighting. The previous owners lived here for almost 20 years with no kids, just updating it all the time.  Extras like the shed and the built-in benches contribute to my excitement and ability to "settle in" right away.
Beyond the patio is the pool.  It turns out that Esther is a mermaid and some days we swim twice a day.  My friend Ginny swam with her one day for two hours and she still complained when it was time to come in.  Akiva is remarkably proficient in his little puddle jumper but spends about 50% of pool time throwing objects into the pool from the deck.  It's only been the towels twice.  Judith can pretty much take it or leave it.
Behind the pool is the RV pad. Let us know if you'll be coming through town and you can stop over here.  There's also a compost pit to the far left and Jacob's garden.

If we head back to the kitchen and continue through the house, you'll find the hallway to the private rooms. Our bathroom on the right.

The tub is a favorite play area.  It takes SO much water for even a shallow bath.  We have an on-demand water heater, though, which is awesome.
There is a shower tucked in behind the door, with a good shower head.  Crucial, in my book. That hand towel is never actually hanging from the towel rack.  Notice anything missing? There are no other towel racks in this bathroom.  I'm totally puzzled regarding where the previous owners dried out their towels.  We use an old laundry rack in our giant bedroom and the doorknobs of the kids' rooms.  So weird.  We'll make a trip to IKEA eventually to fix this.
Across the hall from the bathroom is our humongous bedroom.  We have no idea what to do with all this space. We put in new carpeting when we moved in since the previous folks had a menagerie of animals. We have yet to fire up this woodstove but it sounds cool at night when it rains.
That's a huge closet over there. Super awesome.
Beyond our room is the room that Esther and Judith share. For some reason, their oldschool closet makes me the happiest of any feature in the house.  The high shelf set on 2 by 4s screwed into the wall.  The hardware for the bar, the louvered doors.  This is a Chicagoland house.
Total Felix and Oscar going on with their beds.  Judith is totally spare.  You can barely find Esther in hers.
 At the end of the hall is Akiva's room. It's decorating theme is #thirdchild.
My beloved closeout LayZBoy. And another closet that never gets closed.
 The kitchen truly is the heart of the house so if you head back to it, we'll re-oxygenate and head down to the basement.  We carpeted these stairs because, seriously, my kids fall down the stairs like it's their job.
Someday, my children will all sit in their respective therapist's office and say, "The main thing I remember is that my mom was always telling me to go downstairs."
There is another bathroom with a shower down there.  The electrician also did his own plumbing so beware the gurgling toilet. All trash cans and toilet paper are up high because Akiva is not to be trusted.
We got these nifty machines with the house. 
 Sometimes, I like to think kind thoughts about the woman who must have lived here in the 70s and this little office that she created for herself.  That light fixture and the phone jack are so bold and so pathetic at the same time.  We've come a long way, babies.
A mud room houses all the mechanicals and a SECOND utility sink.
 It connects to the garage.

 Check it out!  Someone used to paint motorcycles so it's got a heater and an exhaust system.
It's super-deep.  That's how much crap we can pile up and still house Jacob's Honda Fit.  The Fit if go!

So, there you have it friends.  Come over any time.  One of those couches in the basement is a comfortable pull-out and there's a 70% chance I'll pick up the toys down there with a 40% chance that I'll vacuum in anticipation of your arrival.

Most nights I lay in bed before sleep and bathe in a feeling of gratitude for this sanctuary that is ours. We are lucky, indeed.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Judith's Birth Story

A little before 9:00 in the morning on March 22, I was in the parking lot on my way into the office for a massage.  I felt a big cramp that wrapped around from my lower back and thought to myself, “Huh.”  Actually, I think I said that out loud.  In my head, I wondered if today was the day.
When I visited the bathroom in preparation of my massage (since I would never make it a full hour without that) I found that I was bleeding bright red.  I came back out into the waiting room and called my midwives.  They agreed with me that it was probably the bloody show, but that it didn’t mean that anything was necessarily imminent, so I should go ahead with the massage and call them again when I started having contractions.  After the massage, I discovered that my mucus plug had also exited the building.
I was staying at my mom’s house because my husband, Jacob, had been out of town until late the night before.  Our first child wasn’t born until I was 41.5 weeks along so it seemed reasonable for him to be traveling during my 38th week right up until I was laying in bed, unable to fall asleep because I kept problem-solving what I would do if I went into labor at that moment.  “And if she’s turned her phone off, who would I call then?  And if he tells me he can’t make it in less than an hour, who would I call?”  So, I went to stay with my mom so that I could just go wake her up if I went into labor in the middle of the night.
After my massage, I went back to Mom’s house and hung out with a friend and her daughter for a play date.  We have known each other for 15 years and laughed because she and I had been chatting the night she went into labor.  During this time, contractions were coming and going in loose waves just below the surface.  I was aware of them but they weren’t urgent.  I even made us lunch, if not too well.  My mom had to soak the pan I made the grilled cheese in.  
And although I could not tell you what changed, my sense of urgency turned a corner.  I wanted to get on the road into the city NOW.  So, I hustled Erika and Erin out the door, kissed my mom and my 21-month-old and headed toward home, where Jacob wa telecommuting.  I called him to let him know the situation (I hadn’t wanted to distract him from the post-business trip clean-up work before this) and also texted my best friend when I was stopped at a light.  She teaches middle school in a block schedule and sent her kids out for their bathroom break early to call me back.  The dialogue is worth recording.
Susan:  Murph, I don’t have my Go Bag packed.
Rebecca:  Susan!  Haven’t you been paying attention to all the Facebook statuses and emails where I’ve mentioned that I’ve been dreaming about going into labor earlier rather than later?
Susan: I don’t know what to tell you.  I don’t have my Go Bag packed.
Rebecca:  OK.  So school’s out in 45 minutes.  Go home, pack your Go Bag and get out here.
Susan:  All right, but I have to buy a car on my way out.
Rebecca: What?!?!
Susan: I’m supposed to pick it up tomorrow at 9:30!  Don’t worry: it’s all detailed and the paperwork is ready to go.  I just have to sign for it and drive it off the lot.
Rebecca: Fine.  But you be sure to tell them that your best friend is in labor and that you need to be there when the baby is born.
Susan: Got it.  I promise you I’ll be there around 7:00.
Rebecca:  Well, I guess if this baby comes before 7, then I really didn’t need your help anyway.
Luckily, she laughed, remembering that I credit her with getting my first baby out vaginally because she knew exactly how to coach me.
After notifying my two birth partners and driving for a little while, I realized that I had begun holding my breath while contractions came on because they were starting to hurt.  So, I began counting with my fingers on the steering wheel and checking the clock at the start of each one.  7 minutes apart and a minute long for the remaining 30 minutes that it took to get home.  This is where my last labor stalled for almost three days without progress but also without a break.  I had to take an Ambien to sleep through the pain.  But this didn't feel like the beginning of a fugue state.  This felt like a train getting started.
I got home, settled in and announced my plan to Jacob.  I wanted to pack his Go Bag, download a contraction timing app, go for a walk before the sun went down, fill out the admissions paperwork and something else that I don't now remember.  He was game but didn't take me literally. When I walked into our bedroom to find that he had added "fold the laundry" to the list, I flipped out a little, even though normally that would be an efficient use of time since most of his Go Bag was coming out of the dryer.
But we went for our walk, which was briskly cold but sunny at the end of March.  Our parents called but I waved off the phone and let Jacob talk to them.  I was starting to get tunnel vision, spiritually, and didn't need the outside distraction.  When we arrived back to our building, Jacob was still talking to my dad and I was leaning forward with my hands against the bricks, rocking my hips from side to side to get through a contraction.  A stoner kid was sitting 20 feet away on the other side of the wrout-iron fence, being stoned.  First, he asked if I was ok in a voice straight out of a Harold and Kumar movie.  I tersely told him I was fine and went back to my work.  Then, he asked a couple more times and the question shifted to asking for permission to sit where he was sitting on the public sidewalk "because I'm just soaking up the sun, man."  At that point, I tore him a new asshole about his intrusiveness and idiocy, which probably led Jacob to quickly finish the conversation with my father, unlock the front door and usher me inside.
And then we labored. It was around 5:30 at this point and from them until 11:00, we watched TV, ate and paused periodically for me to stand, brace myself and rock side to side through contractions, shouting out heir stating and ending if Jacob wasn't in the room, so he could record them on his phone.  Honestly, I don't remember much except standing at the dining room table for contractions.  Susan arrived around 8:00 to relieve Jacob, which he probably needed because I know I had a sharpness to me.
The reality is that we were going through a textbook labor and I had already transitioned into active labor, but since my first daughter's labor veered so far from normal by taking 3 days, we forgot everything we had studied in the class before her birth.  We all thought we were still in early labor.  My sharpness came a little from my internal despair that we had so much further to go.  Even once it was time to go to the hospital, we would have so much work to do there (I labored for 12 hours in the hospital the first time and then pushed for another 6). Even if this baby came faster, like everyone said she would.  Half of 3 days, 12 hours and 6 hours is still a shitload of time to be in as much pain as I was in.  I kept thinking about all of the birth stories I read when the heroine had a moment of clarity in which she realize she just needed to reach down into herself and find that extra bit of strength to move things along and I was so depressed that I wasn't having that epiphany. I was just enduring.
Jacob and Susan are the real heroes of Judith's story. I was just doing what my body pushed me to do: stand up, lean forward with my hands on the table, rock from side to side, moan if I needed to and collapse again when the contraction was over.  They would put pressure on my lower back to help.  Susan was knitting in between contractions and shocked my several times when she touched me.  I asked/accused her of working with unnatural fibers and snapped that she could discharge that static electricity before she got close and she knew that already, right? (Her patience is a huge part of why she's a hero.) The next contraction, she shocked me again and she and Jacob both giggled nervously because it turns out that she had sucked Jacob first but it hadn't worked to get rid of all the static.  The laughter infuriated me and I shouted that she had to f***ing put that acrylic shit away and that she could take a ball of wool out of my stash if she needed something to do with her hands. There was definitely an subtext of ugly elitism in my directives.
Jacob is a hero because he stopped letting me sit down between contractions and began making me walk the hallways. He walked backwards and I leaned on him as I shuffled.  I negotiated breaks because I was so tired but he never let me stop for too long.  I wasn't very nice about this either, but I think I was beginning to sound pathetic, too.
Finally, I moved to all fours on the couch but we were stalled at contractions every 3.5 minutes and the midwives had said not to come in until we were 3 minutes apart.  Similar to the corner I had turned at my mom's house, I began to feel an urgency to go to the hospital.  This did not make me feel more warmly toward my life and love partner who was tracking me with his phone and telling me it wasn't time to go yet. Also, you know how you have amazing ideas right before you fall asleep but all you can remember in the morning is that you had an idea, not the idea itself? This was happening to me in between contractions.  I was starting to realize that I was clenching my pelvis at the end of contractions and that this felt inappropriate somehow but the pain would come again and I'd forget.
So, when Jcob left the room for something and Susan whispered conspiratorially that if I wanted to go to the hospital, we could go whenever I was ready, it was like hearing the unthought known.  It was time.  We called the answering service and when we didn't hear back in 15 minutes, I insisted we call again.  A labor and delivery nurse called back immediately and asked to talk we me personally.  I was in the middle of a contraction, dropped an f-bomb and apologized at the conclusion.  (It's amazing how being in the presence of a woman who sounds like a middle-aged African-American makes me forget all my liberal beliefs about language and remember to be respectful.). She laughed and said that it sounded like I should come in.  I asked in a worried voice about waiting until the contractions got to 3 minutes and she told me not to worry about it.
With that, I had a plan. We got loaded into the cars and headed out. 20 minutes later, my husband dropped me at the front door and he and Susan went to park their cars in the lot.  At my hospital, you don't go throu the ER but to another door that is unmanned except for a buzzer.  As I waited in the darkened foyer for an elevator, a contraction started just as the doors opened and a custodian wheeled his cart out.  Poor guy.  I shrugged off his offer of help much more kindly than I did the stoner's, though.
No one came to meet me at the door to the delivery ward so I buzzed again and walked an interminable distance down a hall alone, stopping twice for contractions and recorded on Jacob's phone, which I had been clutching since we left the house. I had another as I checked in at the nurse's station.  They put us straight into a room, bypassing triage.  It seemed quiet on the floor, in general. However, the midwife on call was in another room assisting a delivery, so it was just the three of us settling in with the nurse that I had talked with on the phone.  Once I had changed into my own nightgown, she asked if I felt the need to push and I told her I didn't know what that felt like since I had a major epidural the first time.  Her description of the the biggest, most painful bowel movement of my life didn't resonate, so I said no.  They wanted me up on the bed to do a 20 minute fetal monitoring as part of the routine check-in and as she set up the equipment and tried to get the straps around me, Jacob was setting up my iPad and the speakers according to me instructions.  He asked how to set it on shuffle during one of my contractions and I growled that Apple was famous for intuitive user experience, couldn't he figure that out himself?  Like I said, I just did what my basest instincts led me to do.  Jacob and Susan conscientiously chose grace and forgiveness.  They are the heroes.  He also complained that I wanted the music too loud and couldn't he turns it down, which tarnishes his armor a little, but I'm willing to let that slide upon reflection.
The was trying to find the baby's heartbeat up near my belly button and getting nothing but silence.  It took me a little while to register that this should worry me so I asked Susan if I should be worried.  The nurse answered with reassurance.  It turns out that the heartbeat was all the way down by my mons and she had to painfully hold the monitor there amidst my bucking and rolling with the pain, which seemed to be slamming me.  I was clutching the rails of the bed, pushing my forehead into the grooves of the built-in TV speakers.  They wanted me to roll over to help them get a better angle on the monitoring and that was brutal but I made it and clutched the other side like someone who can't swim clutching the other side of a short flailing across the kiddie pool.  At this point, the nurse did a manual exam and things escalated quickly at that point.  I guess that baby was crowning and Jacob and Susan could see her head.  No one told me this, or I didn't hear them, and I was still profoundly sad because I knew we still had a lot of work ahead of us because we had only just gotten to the hospital.  Susan worked really hard at this point to pull me out of the pit of despair by saying things like, "This is happening now.  Look at how quickly they are setting out the instruments."  In my first delivery, I had pleaded with Susan to tell me how much longer I would have to push, knowing that she didn't know but needed an answer anyway.  We laugh remembering that when she said, "Seven more pushes," I shouted dramatically, "You lie!"
The only part of that story I remembered in my pain, with my eyes closed, was the lying.  So, even when she said, "Listen!  Do you hear them shouting down the hallway for the midwife?  This baby is coming now," I didn't believe her.  I was sure we had hours of pain ahead of us.
Finally, the urge to push liberated my clutchy pelvis and my water broke.  On the next contraction, I yelled, "I'm either pooping or pushing!" In a crescendo and they all ran to my side.  I still didn't quite believe as Susan told me she could see the baby's ear, but it did let some light begin to shine on my terrified soul and when she told me she could see the baby's face after the next push tore out of me, I asked in a tiny voice, "It's face?" This confirmed my realization that my vagina had created a visual image of a literal partial ring of fire behind my eyelids that time and I was finally able to take on some agency in this whole birth experience and agreed to actually push one more time to get the rest of the baby out.
And there she was.
My little Judith.
Less than a half hour after we had arrived, they were putting my baby on my chest and I was looking into my husband's eyes and laughing in bewilderment.  "It's still Friday," I said.  It had been 11:27 pm to be exact.  I got to push aside the umbilical cord and see that it was a girl.  Jacob hadn't gotten to catch her like he had her sister but this time he cut the cord once it was done pulsing and he managed not to accidentally nick her foot in the process.  I delivered the placenta in all of this with one more somewhat painful push, which was also a novel experience for me.  And then they left us alone.
It was probably only a couple of minutes but they had moved Esther to the warming table at this point in her delivery so I was stunned to just be sitting in my bed, holding my daughter and crying with my husband and best friend a little. Jacob asked me if her name was Judith and I agreed, asking in return if her middle name was Ruby, after my great-grandmother. I nuzzled her head and played with the word amniotical? ammoniacal? to describe the perfect, fecund smell of her.
They came in eventually to do the things they do with new babies.  She was 7 pounds and 3 ounces and had already successfully latched on both sides by that time.  I assume everyone else held her before they gave her back to me and the room emptied out again except for the four of us. I have such a sense of peace about that time while we were waiting to be transferred to a recovery room.  My favorite music was playing on shuffle, my favorite people were with me, my baby was a sweet, warm weight in my chest and I had accomplished something amazing almost as a surprise.  How awe-inspiring to have it proved that I was capable on that kind of work.  
Again, it contrasted so starkly to the denouement of Esther's birth in the middle of the afternoon, with the sunlight streaming in and most of my family in the waiting room, ready to storm the castle with cheer and congratulations as soon as anyone would let them.  This time was contentment and gently radiating love and music.  Both perfect for their respective experiences.
Just like my girls.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Happy yellow diaper

This is my younger daughter, Judith.  She is now 2 months old.  Isn't she gorgeous?

I haven't pushed aside the crumbs and the bristle blocks to introduce her to you because, well, two kids is not just one plus one, even when the older one is the awesomest creature on the planet.  Plus, Judith is a little extra work in that she is a projectile vomiter, doesn't like to be set down ever and is just overall pretty cranky.  Extra work but not at all less loved.

Also, I have a smidge of the post-partum depression.  It comes and goes but when it comes and I have to go a couple of rounds with it, that boxing takes any extra energy I have left.  Have you read Hyperbole and a Half's column on depression?  You should. Go now; I'll wait.

Mine is not anywhere near that in intensity or pervasiveness.  Mine shows up as emotional detachment in the face of being overwhelmed.  I just sit there staring sometimes, knowing that this is normal and not my fault and being disappointed in myself anyway because there is so much that I WANT to be doing, not to mention the things that need to be done.  Also, I get extremely irritable.    And sometimes I get very panicked and my adrenaline spikes and my body feels very scared that this is never going to be any better, even though there is a part of me somewhere that knows that I should take steps to ride out this particular endocrinological storm. usually there are tears.

I had one of the worst of those last kind of last bout on Friday.  They are particularly hard, because I know that I should call someone to come help me, but in that state, I feel like everyone I could call would just feel bad that I feel bad and I don't want to add to their burdens.  (I know this is ridiculous . . . and yet. . . )

Eventually, I called Jacob and he told me to go for a walk.  I decided that meant I should go for a walk to the Korean bakery, even though I know that my depression will only be solved in the short-term by food.  On our way into the bakery, a homeless man held the door for the stroller and I thanked him politely but breezed past him, which is my normal policy.  He then WALKED INTO THE STORE, which totally breaks my sense of propriety for panhandling. I shook my head, smiled, and said, "Not today," which is also procedure for me because it linguistically leaves the door open for God's nudge every once in awhile.

OF COURSE, in the moments after the guy left, God nudged.  I remembered that Anne Lamott and Glennon both counsel getting outside of yourself when depression hits.  So, I bought the raisin bread to serve in place of the challah that I was not going to get baked (not beating myself up, not beating myself up), bought a cookie for Esther and a ham and egg bun for the homeless guy.  I chose ham and egg since I can't bring it into my kosher home, which would force me not to bail on my intent to be kind to someone else.  I did NOT buy a sesame ball for myself.  (I just ate bits of Esther's cookie.)  Of course, original homeless dude was unavailable when I wrestled ourselves out the door but I trusted that in my neighborhood, God would send me someone else to serve and she did.

This is not a miracle story.  My sense of panic did not lift as soon as I handed the bag to the guy holding out the styrofoam cup from his wheelchair.  No, we went home, turned the TV back on and snuggled on the couch some more.  But it did dissipate eventually, as I knew it would, even if I didn't trust that confidence.

And a day later?  Apropos of nothing?  Esther turned to me (again on the couch while watching TV) and said declaratively, "Mama happy." What could I do but agree?  What grace God gave me that my daughter doesn't see my depression, just my happiness.  She quickly followed her statement by cheering, "Happy yellow diaper!"

I'm not sure how her favorite cloth diaper and my happiness are combined in that little pea brain of hers but it made me laugh and that's something.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What's ours is ours to share

Some of our closest friends came to stay with us this past weekend to help us wait for this baby who is due any day now.

Both Jacob and I mourned deeply and for a long time when they moved away from Chicago.  It is so rare to find another couple that has chit-chat chemistry, parallel boundaries of propriety and deeply shared values.

Actually, we are not on the same spot of the values spectrum and that makes things interesting.  As Jake once said: "If we're here [holding his hand at his waist], then you guys are here [holding his hand at his chest] and they are way up here [holding his hand as high above his head as it could get]."  Their location at the more extreme end of simple living and self-sacrifice serving others has been such a good demonstration of the values that Jacob and I value and helps us determine where we can make similar choices.

And where we can't.

The beauty of friendship, of truly loving someone and feeling truly loved, is that you don't need to feel insecure about making a different choice than they make.

This has been interesting to observe as we have ventured into parenting at the same time.  Their oldest child is almost exactly 10 months older than Esther and their younger child will be similarly spaced with our little-one-to-be-born.  I would say that as I have watched us all, their parenting style is complementary to but distinctively different than Jacob's and mine.  We're in the same color palette but different hues, if you will.

I was challenged this weekend by hearing my friend encourage her 2.5 year old daughter that "What is ours is ours to . . ." and to hear her daughter finish, "share."  She also told me that after reports of a Sunday in the nursery with some fights over toys, they have been having conversations about finding another toy to play with if another child wants the toy she has or has a toy she wants.  She had funny stories about when this lesson has not yet sunk in but my dear friend is nothing if not persistent.  I have no doubt that her little Tomato will be hearing the mantra when thinking about possessions for the rest of her life.

And the mantra, "What's ours is our to share," is 100% faithful to the theology that I believe.  I believe that everything I own (including intangible things like privilege) belongs to God and that until shalom has been restored to this world, I have an obligation to redistribute them to folks who didn't get as lucky as I did.  I fail most of the time, even though I keep trying.  My feelings about this haven't changed much since I wrote this essay and this other one 6 years ago. I don't beat myself up for it but I am constantly trying to do better because I believe I will be happier for it. Like Abraham was told by God, we are blessed with the intent that we will be a blessing to others.

So, like so many things that Jake and Jess do,  it should be a no-brainer to start on teaching this mantra to sweet Esther.  I mean, seriously, wouldn't it be awesome if she didn't have to unlearn a sense of entitlement, like I struggle to do all the time?  Wouldn't it be a huge gift to start her off understanding her reliance upon God so that she defaults to assuming that the good things in life are gifts to be savored rather than the first in a string of accomplishments to be achieved? 

And yet, I find myself pushing back internally.  I keep thinking that if I use this technique, I'll squash her little spirit.  If I teach her to be meek, won't I lose the fiesty little spark who makes me smile more over the course of the day than I have since I was her age?  I love watching her discover her power, whether it is over her own body as she jumps from the deep windowsill onto the bed a foot below or whether it is over language as she delights in being able to communicate more clearly every day.  If I teach her to always turn the other cheek, will she ever fully develop the vibrancy of personality that I see the seed of in her now?

If she rolls over for bullies in the nursery, will she be forever bullied?  Or worse, will she ever be able to defend or advocate for people who weren't born with the resources she was lucky enough to be born having access to?

I am awake past midnight writing this post because the verdict in the Steubenville rape case came down today.  This story has been haunting me for months because two young men carried an nearly unconscious young woman around to multiple parties and raped her for the entertainment of those present, who then gleefully posted about her pain on social media.  I am grateful that the men were found guilty but so sick at heart for them because they were raised to believe this was an OK thing to do to another human being and now that they have chosen to act out that belief, it will be even harder for them to accept that God loves them exactly like they are and loves them too much to let them stay that way.  My stomach also drops when I think about the other kids at the party.  They all have to figure out how to live with not having intervened or even actively encouraged the violation of this young woman's humanity.

If Esther had been at one of those parties, I would want her to risk her own safety or social reputation to stop those boys from hurting that girl - and themselves.

Without developing a sense of her own strength, how would she know she could do that?  What if little David had been taught non-violence from the moment he could first pick up a sling?  How would he have built the skills to defeat Goliath?

Yes, this is probably a false dichotomy that I'm setting up.  There is probably a middle path that I am not seeing.  There is probably a way of teaching spiritual power that has nothing to do with that favorite toddler word, "mine."  If I truly believe that everything that belongs to Esther is a gift from God to be shared, I should also trust that teaching her this from an early age won't hurt her.  Parenting is a crap-shoot.  Like my dad says, "We used to hope you kids wouldn't need a therapist; now we just pray that you find a good one."  Why should I overthink this one?

But I can't even imagine how I would do this.  Gah! This is where being a follower of Jesus is hard for me.  Jesus said nothing about what type of parent I should be.  I just have to extrapolate based on what type of human he said I should be and how I have seen God reflected in other people's parenting.  But I don't have another option than to overthink this or to go with my gut. When I stopped believing that Christianity was a list of do's and don'ts, I gave up the security of those same rules.  When I continued to self-identify as Christian, I gave up the security of getting to follow the rules of society at large.  But right now, my two sources of wisdom -gut and head- are in conflict.

I so often see God reflected in Jake and Jess's parenting.  In fact, I see God so clearly in this scenario.  I want to be able to trust their example.  I just fear that taken out of context and transplanted into the different environment of how Jacob and I parent, I will screw everything up for this amazing creature with whom I have been entrusted.  But what has all my angst been for if not to do better for my daughter than was done for me, like each generation hopes to do?

The only answer to that question that I can come up with is the cautionary tale of Daja Wangchuk Meston Greenberg, whose American mother placed his in a Tibetan monastery at age 6, explaining later, "'I know I haven't been a normal mother, providing you with a normal family life. But I wanted to give you the dharma, which I honestly thought was the best thing I could possibly do for you.' Dharma is the path to happiness and freedom from all suffering, she says."  I remember that quote periodically after reading it once 8 years ago.  But that same article from the Wall Street Journal reports that although he learned gentleness and compassion like his mother wanted him to, Daja was deeply unhappy: "But meals of thin soup left him hungry, he says. Tired from long days of study, he hid inside empty kerosene drums to nap, so as not to be caught by his teachers and punished. Other monks teased him because he was white, telling him he should coat himself in charcoal."  In 2010, he killed himself, leaving behind an infant daughter and wife.  This anecdote is terrifying when I consider overriding my gut instinct, which is to let my child discover herself with some guidance from me with my rational attraction to a good idea, which is to shape her more firmly in a way that seems to reflect my understanding of what God wants for her children, possible because it bucks what the rest of American society allows their children to learn.

If I believe that I am broken and that's OK, then I should hold my beliefs loosely because they are actually the product of a collection of learned coping mechanisms that I call my personality with only hints of truth known; then I should not fall in love with my own blocking, as an old speech coach once taught me; then molding my child in such a counter-cultural way from such a young age is dangerous lightning rod.  For who am I to know for certain that this interpretation of Christ's teaching is the right one?  What if in my earnest attempt to give her the dharma, I deny her something more important?

Like everything I have experienced with parenting so far, I will come up with something.  Hopefully, the effort of thinking it through and talking about it with other people will help me find a technique for teaching my child to value people more than possessions that is better than it would have been if I hadn't felt challenged by my good friends' technique.  But I could get it wrong.  What else can I do, though?

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I think I just spent what might have been one of the sweetest half hours of my life just now.  Remember the heady times of young romance when you pillowed your head in someone's lap and looked up, thinking that life couldn't get better?  It does.

At 19 months, Esther sought me out to cuddle with me on the couch.  She is right at this cusp of doing things intentionally and responding to internal needs instinctively and this moment was such an obvious blend of those two motivations. 

She jabbered to me and she repeatedly got down from the couch and climbed up again, plopping herself into the crook of my left arm and against the side of my gigantic belly each time that she reached the summit.  I kissed her head and sighed a little as I squeezed her or stroked her arm.  At one point, she reached out for my hand and used it to rub her own head, so I pulled down her hood and scratched her head.  She leaned into it like a dog, writhing a little in pleasure.  We had communicated perfectly and she got exactly what she wanted.

Eventually, she dragged over her bucket of yegos and began bringing them up to the couch with her on some of her visits.  We did not cuddle as much at this point but she chattered to me as she built a tower of four-squares, pointing to each one and counting, "two, two, two, two, two."  Eventually, she stayed at ground level and used the couch as a play surface, continuing to build with the yegos and retrieving her stacking blocks to puzzle with, as well.  I turned on my audiobook and picked up my hand stitching quilt project and we stayed together quietly.  We talked occasionally and I retrieved pieces that fell to the back of the couch cushions so she wouldn't have to climb for them because they were out of reach. 

Eventually, she had trouble stacking a block on top of the others, got frustrated and threw them all away in three or four bouts.  I asked her if she was getting tired and she said hopefully, "Blanket?"  I agreed and carried her to her room, thinking we would sit in the rocking chair and read books before I put her down for a nap.  She kept trying to trick me into letting her down with her "fier" to go back and play and was clearly uninterested in books.  So, I laid her down in her bed and she did not protest, asking for her kitteh and beginning her self-soothing rhythm of making a loop out of the silky binding of her blanket with one hand while poking her index finger of the other hand through the gap to feel the softness.  I told her that I loved her, her papa loved her and that God loved her.  I reassured her that I would be there when she woke up so she didn't need to worry about anything as I turned off the light and wished her "nigh-nigh," as I closed the door behind me.

Life with my indomitable toddler is rarely this quiet.  She is usually overbearingly curious about what is in my hands or insistent that I play with her actively.  More often lately she spontaneously asks for things I don't want to give her like the iPad, cookies or cake only to fall to the floor bonelessly with a howl when I tell her not now.  I think she is poking and exploring me to figure out a pattern for when she can and can't have treats.

But these moments of quiet retreat are becoming more common, as well.  She might be a charismatic introvert, like her mother.  She might have a different reason to need the respite.  I am grateful for the huge responsibility of being her foil, her mirror, her shaper and her haven.  She makes that mantle easy to assume.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Here's one of the women, Tony Jones

A few weeks ago, a guy in my dungeons and dragons group (who also happens to be a tenured religion professor at a university you might actually have heard of) encouraged me to read a recent post from Tony Jones, who is a fairly visible thinker in the emergent Christianity movement that I am a part of.

It seems that Tony had recently realized that most of his commenters are men and the statistics from Facebook were telling him that a significant majority of the people who "liked" his page were men. So, he asked, "Where are all the women?"

There were over three hundred comments and I read them all. An interesting narrative developed, with several sub-plots. What stands out to me most interestingly is that Tony seemed honestly surprised that people think the cause for women's absence is Tony. There is a fair amount of defensiveness on his part that reads very much like he is caught off-guard. I would think that if he started with the assumption that it was something about him, his writing style or the community that he fostered in the comments, he would have been able to respond a little more objectively. You know, the difference between calling responses "attacks" and thanking people for their perspective, even if one respectfully disagrees. He also used the classic defense of hyperbolizing his opponent when paraphrasing her, claiming that the commenter was requiring him "to change everything" about himself, even though she was just answering his question as to why she was uninterested in commenting, which did not instruct him to change anything and even if instruction was implied, it certainly wouldn't be everything that needed changing.

This makes me wonder what his original hypothesis was for where all the women were. Unless someone else can think of something and mention in these comments, I can only imagine that Tony believed that the problem was the women.

And certainly, some of the reasons were endemic to common female experiences. Many women cited busy-ness, which is backed up by all sorts of research that shows that on average, men have more leisure time for things like Internet commenting than women do. Relatedly, someone pointed out that men are the majority of pastors and seminary students, who have the time built into their workday for engaging in theology. Other women said that they are exhausted from "speaking up" to make their voice heard in the Church that still preferences men as spiritual leaders in their daily non-Internet lives that they were simply uninterested in doing so in the comments section of a blog.

(As a side note, since I was raised mainline Protestant with lots of female pastors at my church, I have never personally resonated with the struggles of evangelical women who were always told that their calling to teach and lead was not real. However, a commenter brought up the perspective that the Emergent dynamic often treats women thinkers, leaders and speakers as spectacle as response to the evangelical dynamic of women as invisible, and that is almost as off-putting. I HAVE experienced that over beers at theology pubs and I'm glad someone brought it up.)

The only other cause that could be argued was the responsibility of women was that the type of things he posts are just uninteresting to women. And, I don't know, ugh. That's like saying that women just aren't interested in sports and beer and stuff. It's just not the whole story. However, one commenter noted that Tony's lack of feminist awareness makes his perspective uninteresting. That, I could see as being a valid point for why women aren't attracted to his writing. Female theology nerds (theology nerds in general being a huge part of Tony's audience) do have a wide range of white dudes, dead and alive, from whom to choose for study. Without a new branch from which to speak regarding social politics, why choose him over voices with insight from female, queer, non-Western or racial minority communities?

But aside from those reasons, which fit the generic answer to anyone asking why women don't participate in something male-dominated, there were quite a few specific suggestions for how Tony himself is the reason why women don't comment. Lots of women said that the types of things Tony posts are declarative (Tony concurred) and therefore did not seem need response. Many people spoke of his patronizing tone, which my friend explains away as a symptom of their shared Princeton educations but others chalked it up to male privilege. As one commenter wrote, "I have not gone to seminary and I am a woman. Do my uneducated thoughts on theology really matter to you? I assume not because of the culture I grew up in…the culture I’m still a part of. You have not put that culture in place, but it’s still there. It will take A LOT of effort on your part to fight this and make us feel welcome to speak. That makes sense, right?" That lack of effort is definitely something Tony could take responsibility for.

In addition to a patronizing tone, many described a tone that was combative, rather than inclusive. I never got the sense that Tony ever really understood this point. He didn't really address it in his comments, nor did it come up in his response post the next day. A long comment by a man named John that is worth re-printing is representative of several people who tried to give specific examples of how his syntax could be slightly altered to change this tone.

"If one is truly interested in dialogue then challenges and
interrogations are not the means by which to promote it.

I’ve heard the tone accusation leveled against me by every woman who
has ever had a significant relationship with me, beginning with my
mother and continuing all the way through to my wife. I’ve also heard
it from a number of men I’ve known. Fortunately, about 10 years ago I
decided to listen instead of ask questions and discovered that if I
simply stopped for a moment and thought back to what I had been saying
up to that point rather than automatically demanding an example as
evidence that what they were telling me was factual the answer was
pretty obvious (and had been all along). The truth is that in many ways
it is about how you put things both verbally and non-verbally, and if
you have a diverse group of people telling you the same thing about how
you communicate in virtually the same language it’s probably time to
stop wondering why others don’t get you or your intent or your style or
your personality and listen for a bit, beginning with what’s issuing
from your mouth or fingertips, as the case may be. Confining things to
online interactions, allow me to offer an example of the difference
between dialogue and challenge/interrogation.

Blogger: This is something I’ve noticed, and I don’t understand why
it’s happening. Thoughts?

Commenter: When I read your posts, I notice that you tend to respond in
X fashion to certain issues/topics. It gives me the impression that you
believe Y.

Dialogue Response from Blogger: Hmm. I honestly hadn’t thought of that
before you brought it up. Can you maybe give me a few more details so I
can build a context for what you’re telling me? What you said kind of
caught me flat-footed so I’m going to need your help processing it.

Challenge/Interrogatory Response from Blogger: That’s not really how I
see what I do here. What makes you think I’m like that?

See the difference in the two? Both responses say substantially the
same thing–i.e., “That’s a new perspective for me. I need more
information.”–but each presents a different tone (as much as such
things can exist online) to the commenter as well as other readers. The
former invites the commenter into further dialogue with some degree of
assurance that her perspective is welcome and the blogger is genuinely
interested in learning from her. The latter asks for an explanation,
and it’s very much on a defensive footing.

If you’re looking to debate someone the latter is a somewhat
appropriate (albeit not necessarily productive) response. If you’re
looking to have a conversation with someone the former is really your
only choice. My impression is that most people are happy to have an
interesting conversation on a substantive issue, but they’re not
particularly interested in getting into a public urination competition
to determine the “right” answer. Simply put, if your goal is to be
right you’re not conversing, you’re arguing, and how many
well-adjusted, gainfully employed adults do you know who are willing to
out of their way for yet another argument in their lives?"

Two commenters made good points in Tony's "defense," pointing out that some folks who have been wounded by the Church need people like Tony to speak boldly to make space for their own healing and that he is an Enneagram 8 so his tone is just the way he communicates.

To the former point, I say "Hell yeah!" And if that's what Tony sees as his calling, it may not be necessary to pay attention to his audience. He is making that impact for folks and he should go on doing so.

However, the latter defense is a little bit of a cop out. We were all born with certain strengths and limitations and as we grew, those strengths and limitations cemented themselves into personalities that can be plotted in charts like the Enneagram. However, this does not mean that we're stuck with those strengths and limitations forever. We can deliberately develop new skills in order to achieve goals that were previously out of reach.

So, if attracting a balanced audience is a goal of Tony's and not just a thought experiment to discuss, he will be fully capable of changing his syntax like the commenters have been suggesting. It will take some time listening and reflecting how what he hears can be applied to his actions. This would be a break from asking questions in the conversation with his audience and would require a certain amount of vulnerability, both privately and publicly. But it is totally possible without necessarily changing "everything."

One of the other major sub-plots was an extended exchange spurred because one woman said that Tony's style and tone reminded her of Christian men who had abused her in the past. Other men vociferously came to his defense against that comment and over the course of the thread, it was interesting to see both sides both educate and relent, just like IRL reconciliation. The original commenter realized that the word, "abuser" is often a trigger word, like telling a women she is like a whore, and Tony and some of the men acknowledged the commenter's original point about tone.

But the boys club that emerged in that exchange was a very clear demonstration of the community of commenters that so many women found objectionable, describing them as argumentative and hostile in their "spirited" debates.

Also, I think exchanges like the "abuser" one illustrate Tony's blindness to his own position of privilege. In that particular relational discomfort, the fancy-educated white guy with the platform wins unless he deliberately humbles himself. And i never interpreted Tony's responses as humble. At one point Tony referenced Hitler as a snarky response to this thread and then he erased his knee-jerk comment rather than owning it. That is not a humble posture of someone who wants to be pastoral toward a commenter who was clearly hurting. It is definitely not a humble posture of someone who is interested in doing whatever it takes to get equality in the community he hosts.

And it may be that Tony decides that courting women to participate is not all that important. I hope, though, that he realizes how much he will be able to accomplish of behalf of marginalized folks if he begins down this path with his blog. (I have no idea how far down along that path he is in his face-to-face life). His understanding of the multiple aspects of God will increase as his discourse community's diversity increases. Changing his syntax and tone to be more collaborative and inclusive will allow other folks to share in the privilege that has been his birthright but that was never God's intent for Her children.

Tony responded throughout the comments and posted a follow-up post. I did not read the comments on that one. I thought the follow-up post didn't say much but interestingly, he put the onus on the commenters for creating unsafe space rather than taking it on himself to moderate comments and deliberately build a community, even though several commenters suggested that he had that responsibility as the host who sets the table for the banquet.

I only track Tony in my peripheral vision but I'll be interested to check in on him periodically to see if this experience has changed him at all. Despite his protestations, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. It is a baby boomer/gen x myth that I'm ok and you're ok and that it's the worst thing possible to suggest that someone needs to change in order to stop causing hurt, however unintentionally. We are not yet who God intends us to be and we should all be so lucky as to get the opportunity to have hundreds of people help us get there through their feedback.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Where's the window?

Last winter my brother called me after watching this video to say:

"F**k you, Rebecca."

He went on to remind me that when I was in my second trimester, he and I got into a huge fight because he suggested that I might want to stop working in order to be with Esther more and I was enraged that he would think I was that kind of woman.  He pointed out that if I were still working, I probably wouldn't have been able to capture that kind of footage of Esther dancing in her high chair.

I deserved every word of it.

I have mostly gotten comfortable with being a stay-at-home mom.    It was hard in the first few months to let go of my self-image as a professional person.  However, I really love the rhythms of my life and I love the benefits for my daughter and our marriage that come with having one person with the time to coordinate domestic stuff.  I am fascinated by Esther's development and so rarely miss the intellectual challenges of the work place.  It's like being in school all over again.

That being said, a couple of months ago, I really struggled with my decision to focus on the domestic part of my life.

I was struggling because - like during my second trimester with Esther - I'm clinging to an idea that is a product of my insecurity, rather than a product of how things really work.

The context was a wedding that I wasn't going to be able to attend because of a combination of terrible morning sickness and a sinus infection.  (I know, I know, this is no way to announce a pregnancy.  So, we'll pause for a moment to say, "Yay!  Baby!")

I have gotten to a point in my life where I'm mostly neutral about weddings.  When I'm there, I love them.  However, I know that my value to the marrying couple as a guest is actually quite low most of the time.  My presence contributes to volume, which helps a party and spiritual vibe and the event becomes a shared experience in a continuing relationship, but, really, if you miss it, one's relationship isn't going to be significantly altered in the long run.

However, I was looking forward to this wedding for more than just my relationship with the bride and groom. 

First and foremost, we were planning on leaving Esther with a babysitter and I wanted so much to dance with my husband, which I had not gotten to do at my best friend's wedding a month earlier.

Secondly, the invitation to this wedding had made me feel special.  Of the 5 weddings that the people in my study group from graduate school had hosted, this was only the second that I had been invited to.  I was gratified that my relationship with the groom had been built back up since graduation when we drifted apart, to be invited.  He's one of my favorite people on the planet and I'm glad that he wanted me as part of his spiritual and party vibe.

Finally, I really wanted to attend because it was a chance to see and be seen by other people from school who were also attending.

Maybe that seems a little shallow but here's where the part about regretting my choice to stay home comes in.  None of the other folks in my study group have children, except for one guy whose children are grown, and I feel like we're all in totally different worlds now.

Who knows if this is true, but I picture them all meeting for happy hours after work and bumping into each other at networking events.  Even if that's not happening, if they do see each other, they have work stuff to talk about.  Even if I went to the alumni events, who wants to hear about how Esther is an ace at stacking the rings on the spindle now?  Who would want to hire me in 5 years if that was the last conversation that we had?  I know that I could make more of an effort to keep up with current events and to organize happy hours (actually, 5:00 is a terrible time to try to get a babysitter) but I find that the rhythm of my days just doesn't allow for that easily.  The perceived value of being proactive like that doesn't usually seem worth the opportunity cost to the other things that I do with that energy.

So, we drift further apart.

And this makes me worry that I'm letting my most valuable professional asset atrophy.  I have a lot of professional skills that I can peddle to potential employers when I'm ready to go back to work.  But it certainly seems that in this economy, you need an edge to get a job that you want to do instead of just a job where someone will pay you to do something.  For most of my schoolmates, they have the quantitative analysis edge.  They can run regressions and process the data to make persuasive power points.

I cannot do these things.

I passed all the statistics and economics courses (which is pretty badass) but it would be lying to say I could run a regression to anyone's satisfaction.  And it seems like even in policy jobs where you don't have to do that, they want you to have put in the time having done that kind of data work as a prerequisite.

I have always comforted myself that what I do have to offer is established leadership skills in my work history and a robust network of people who will return my emails and possibly even have lunch with me.

But since a lot of my network is made up of the folks I went to school with and a lot of those folks are drifting away (and pulling ahead), I am growing much less confident in the robustness of my network.

Having to miss the wedding where I would be able to reconnect with many folks in my network because of my fertility and non-professional status (certainly I became pregnant again much more quickly than someone who was trying to be sensitive about the spacing of her maternity leaves) created a lot of despair in my feverish brain. 

Like every other anxiety and disappointment in life, I'm coming to terms with it.  We close doors when we make choices.  I do not regret for an instant my family planning choices and so I just have to get used to the little uff of frustration when I run into that door that I forgot that I closed or that I thought I had left half-open.

I also know that the exciting opportunities in my life have rarely come about because of my planning and preparation.  Most are dropped into my lap.When I'm ready to be professional again (or possibly even before I think I'm ready), there's a good chance that my career goals and policy passions will take a sharp turn from the direction I expected to go.

Still, I wanted to go to that wedding.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Interfaith Advent

I have had a brilliant parenting idea and I have never seen it anywhere else and it might be the only one I ever have that's worth sharing so here I go.

Amanda Soule has a box of holiday and winter books that she pulls out every December and puts away after the New Year to preserve the sense of special-ness and anticipation for these books.  (Actually, now that I went back and read the post, she speaks less deliberately about this so my idea must have been percolating even then based on how I altered the memory.)

My mother did something similar, except more intuitively and with fewer gorgeous pictures.  We had our favorite Christmas books that we looked forward to and she had a reason to collect beautiful books for the stack that sat by the fireplace.

I have been figuring out how to celebrate Advent in my little family and Advent calendars are part of my tradition.  But they make Christmas so long!  I know, I know, so do Christmas trees and music and special cookies and all the other things I do.  But calendars seem to completely obliterate Hanukkah altogether, since they take every single day of December as anticipation for Christmas. 

We believe in keeping our Christian and Jewish holidays separate and that works most of the time.  This is the only real situation I can think of where one spiritual practice excludes another spiritual practice, other than when Passover dietary restrictions preclude celebrating Easter through traditional foods.

I began thinking about holiday books and decided to take Soulemama's and my mother's tradition one step further.  I am going to wrap books like presents and number them 1-25 like an Advent calendar.  This way, 9 days of the season, the books can be Hanukkah books and 16 days they can be Christmas or winter-themed.  Now that I think of it, next year I'll make sure I have non-holiday specific paper for the winter books.

My hope is that in future years, the kids will anticipate their favorite books, guessing based on size and shape.  Reading the books together can spur conversations about both holidays and the thoughts they have about their inter-faithness.  If advent means "coming," like the candle-lighting ceremonies taught me, the Advent season can prepare us for both holidays.

On a related not, a few weeks ago, I bought Esther a Hanukkah book by Lemony Snicket called The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming, which is maybe the best Hanukkah book I've ever read.  Many pages required me to mock-scream as I read the titular latke's lines.  We read it once and then I put it away.  I got it out again now to wrap it and Esther pulled it out of the pile and went to read it to herself.  Apparently, my dramatic rendition made an impression because she began mock-screaming exactly as I had done.  Three weeks later.  This kid.  Seriously.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ginger jelly and ginger pear preserves

So, the suburbs may not be all that bad.  By my parents' house, there is a gigantic super-store of produce and international foods. In addition to other awesome things, they have this whole shelf of still-good produce being sold in packages that must be at least 5 pounds for $1.49 each.  I bought one of fresh ginger roots just for the sheer novelty of it.

One of our closest friends is a little nuts for ginger and we're seeing him on Friday so if I couldn't figure out what to do with it, we could just take it to him and he would.

But Tuesday morning, I woke up raring to go and wanting to make applesauce for Esther, the applesauce monster.  We had about 8 pounds of apples that turned out to be not-so-good and another 6 pounds that I bought and the super-store for about $3.50.

Since I had all of the canning equipment out anyway and the Pandora outlaw country station was helping with the all-around patriotic feeling in the house, I set out to do something with the ginger.  I didn't like any of the recipes I found, so I made up my own.  My neighbor actually knocked on the door to ask what smelled so good, then asked me for the recipe so she could make the jelly for gifts, once she had tasted it.

So, I figured I'd share it with the internets, since they have given me so many recipes over the years.  This is written for intelligent beginners.  I'll include links and encourage you to bone up on food safety when canning shelf-stable foods.  My recipe is a derivative of several out of the Ball canning book, so I'm fairly certain the ratio of sugar, acid and fruit are OK, but it certainly hasn't been approved by anyone but me.

Ginger pear preserves

4-6 big fresh ginger roots
6 cups water
1.5-2 cups peeled, diced pears marinating in 0.5 cups lemon or lime juice (to deter discoloration)
5 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

1.  Rough chop the ginger root into fairly small pieces.  There is no need to peel it first.
2.  Bring water and ginger to boil in large stock pot. 
3.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let it go for awhile.  At least 20 minutes?  When you take a spoonfull, blow on it and taste it, it should be HOT (spicy hot, not temperature hot).
4.  Pour ginger tisane into a receptacle, using a sieve to strain out the solid ginger.
5. Let cool for a few minutes while you measure the sugar and cut up the pear.  This is a good time to set up your canning materials, as well.  (Sterilize jars and lids, begin heating water in a bigger stock pot, find way to keep jars and lids warm until needed, set up stations, etc.)
6.  Measure 3 cups of the ginger tisane back into cool stock pot and whisk in pectin.  Do not turn on stove until after this step.
7.  Bring liquid to a boil, then add the sugar all at once.  Return to a boil, then turn off heat after 1 minute.  Skim the foam from the top.
8.  Stir in the fruit and juice.
9. Ladle into jars, leaving about 0.5 inches empty at the top.  Attach lid and band and deposit in canning pot.
10.  When pot is full, bring water to a rolling boil when covered and process for 10 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit for 5 more minutes.  Remove from water to sit undisturbed on a kitchen towel until cool.  You will know you have been successful at creating a vacuum when you hear all the little buttons on the lids pop as the jars cool.

Once the preserves are cool, don't worry if they seem a little runny.  Refrigerate before serving to harden the set.

An alternative is to leave out the fruit for a purer Ginger Jelly.  If you do this, stir in the lime or lemon juice when you stir in the pectin instead of after boiling.

Ginger Jelly

4.5 cups ginger tisane
0.5 cups lime or lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Both recipes should make approximately 8 half-pint jars and excellent presents.  The finished product can be served with a cheese spread or over cream cheese.  I love savory jelly PBJs on rye and when warmed, it can also be served over ice cream.  Do not hesitate to eat straight out of the jar instead of mediocre store-bought hard candy.