Cathy's farm

My dear friend and midwife, Cathy, moved over to the other side of the mountains awhile ago. She had been only five minutes away, and we were so sad when she moved, but we were excited about her new place. We'd be nearly neighbors if it weren't for those mountains in between! But although it's a bit of a drive now, it is GORGEOUS out where she lives—rural and open and heavenly, and of course she makes anyplace feel like home. When we heard that she was getting a baby pig, it was the perfect excuse to go visit!
Here's Tillie, the pig. Isn't she cute? She was just getting used to things the day we were there, and she was very young—but she'd grown SO fast! This is what she'd looked like just a few weeks earlier:
(Midwife Sara took this picture)
Junie, who'd been hoping to scoop up and cuddle the baby pig, was instead a teeny bit nervous about Tillie, who was making enthusiastic oinking noises at her. But she was still very, very happy to be visiting a real pig!
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Salon

Last month, I made my biannual visit to the hair salon. The infrequency of my visits has less to do with any particular attachment to how my hair looks sans style, and more to do with the fact that the whole experience terrifies me. Through the years I have picked my cautious way through the wilds of personal grooming, learning to speak more or less casually of lowlights and brow pencils, but the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land has not abated.

This particular salon, which I visit only every two years or so, keeps drawing me back like an ill-groomed moth to a flame. It's an urban-chic, modern minimalist sort of place, with concrete countertops and light fixtures that look like sets of false teeth. The sneer factor of the receptionists is high (I would rather show up naked than without an appointment), and they always ask sullenly if I "want anything" when I come—to which question I am apparently supposed to have a ready answer. Brownies? Milk? I'm too embarrassed to ask for a complete catalog of what, exactly, is on offer, but since there is occasionally a bottle of Evian sitting on the desk, I usually ask apologetically for water—feeling somehow that already, I have let someone down.

Any salon has its horrors: the potential for mind-numbing catalogs of the stylist's boyfriend's latest offenses; the uncertainty about if or how much to tip; the moment when you are shown the finished haircut and are expected to formulate a suitably approving comment on the spot. But this particular salon is the type of place that carries exorbitantly-priced hair "product" (a bit of hairstyling jargon toward which I nurture an unreasonable hatred) with names like "Abyss" and "Manacle," and where the black-clad stylists saw angrily at the hair in front of them with razor blades. There is an unapologetic sign on the door banning children of any description, and the selection of photos on the wall follows a formula: square frames and large mats surrounding grainy black-and-white images of one bicycle wheel or half of a bleached jawbone. All the spine-stiffening, affirmative pep talks I give myself before I arrive, about how with age comes confidence and how fashion is more about pleasing oneself than flowing with the whims of society, melt away as the atmosphere of the place washes over me. 

The tragedy of it is that this salon's haircuts are invariably flattering. Perhaps I am simply fooled by the sense of relief as I emerge, but I always leave feeling stylish and able to face nearly anything. And so I continue, every so often, to return.

With the graceless self-absorption that I like to think I left behind in high school, I always assume that all the other customers (or "clients" as the salon refers to us, no doubt thinking it sounds more upscale) are regulars, setting up their next appointments for "the usual time" and calling the receptionists by name. The lady next to me on this visit reinforced this view. She was elderly and extravagantly blond, and her painfully-thin stylist (Zax, his nametag read) was asking in an over-emotive voice if her husband ("Frank") was an absolute terror to have around now that he was retired. The lady told an anecdote about said husband and his brother going out to lunch and then playing golf together. The stylist said, "Isn't that the truth," which is a phrase I had never before heard issuing from a non-actor's mouth.

I was so caught up in their conversation that when my own stylist appeared and asked what kind of style I was thinking of, I was taken by surprise and unable to manage the casual tone I'd been planning. I felt relieved that he had not asked me what "we" were wanting done today, but as he immediately began fingering and kneading my hair like someone choosing a watermelon, I was still not much at my ease. The discussion of the haircut and color is a delicate dance that must be handled with great finesse. Too jocular, and the stylist may come away with a disastrously inflated sense of your "up-for-anything"-ness. Too focused, and his artistic sensibilities may be wounded. I had rehearsed my speech in the car, but shaken by the continued sifting and hefting of my hair (now like someone hunting for rocks in a bowl of lentils), I stammered a bit on the part about how I no longer wanted to look like a college student with sun-kissed highlights. I managed to sound fairly firm about not wanting any style that would look half-baked if I didn't make it back to the salon for another two years. Then, gaining assurance, I told him casually that I liked my greys but I did wish there were something a little brighter around my face.

Letting my hair fall back down, the stylist narrowed his eyes.
"If I could have a blank…"
"Slate?" I put in helpfully, and immediately regretted it. 
"…canvas," he continued, austerely; "I would make you a redhead…"—pausing for effect—"…like that. But I don't think you'd be happy with the maintenance."

I made encouraging noises, distracted by the fact that I had also never in my life heard someone in real life say "like that" while snapping his fingers. It was a day of milestones.

After more discussion, the work ensued, and with it, the conversational purgatory one enters voluntarily at the salon. We skirted through our respective childhoods and I got through the "how many children" question with minimal upheaval—just a momentary faltering as the stylist stopped crackling the foil to say "Seven!" and I managed not to make a self-deprecating comment about how "crazy" it all was (something which, though true, I try to avoid saying, as it misrepresents the complex reality). My heart rate rose when he brought up politics, and when he remained undeterred by my repressive "Oh, I can't stand to think of it"—I really thought all was lost. It was clear from his first few sentences that we weren't going to continue without discomfort, but then he asked about what had influenced my views and I lit into Basic Economics with a vengeance. I suppose he could see the fervor in my eyes because he subsided and we fell again, blissfully, silent.

That just left the hair-washing to get through, which is a sort of torture chamber for a tender-headed person like myself. I tell my daughters all the time that girls have to be very brave, and I like to think that I am. At home I brush briskly and ruthlessly through my hair no matter how tangled it gets. But something about the vulnerable position of lying in the neck cut-out of the sink, as someone grimly massages your scalp with an air of "my manager said you must enjoy this for at least three minutes, so help me"—leaves me clenching my hands together and trying desperately to keep the tears from leaking out the corners of my eyes. But it eventually came to an end, and I sat up with the dignity of someone who has looked into the great deep, and come away unscathed. Later, I didn't even flinch when the stylist said "hopefully we can see you back a little sooner next time!" and showed me the back of my head in a hand mirror. "How lovely; thank you," I said airily, avoiding commitment.

I approached the front desk with such relief and joie de vivre coursing through my veins that I even responded to the receptionist's offer of "product" with a breezy "Why not?" Light, happy, and free, I almost flew out the doors to the car, glancing at my new shampoo bottle as I went.

It was called "Oblivion."
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Easter and Bunnies

Well, there's no way around it: this post is just going to be roughly six million pictures of babies and bunnies. They aren't strictly Easter pictures, having been taken the Sunday AFTER Easter (though, reliable sources inform me, that next Sunday actually IS still part of Easter in the liturgical calendar!)…but they will suffice. As I've said before, one of the best reasons for HAVING a bunny is to take pictures of him! The other good thing is that all the children WANT to have their pictures taken with Nutmeg, which balances out (somewhat!) their Natural, God-given desires to squirm and jab each other in the ribs and make faces and look anywhere but where the camera is. Any little bit helps.
I used the term "babies" rather loosely above. Some of them could more rightly be called Great Hulking Beasts.
Tall! So tall!
Aw. So snuggly. Who says teenagers aren't cute?!
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The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older

We've been having Easter Egg hunts at Grandma's house for years now. We always use real eggs (hard-boiled) and we always hide a yellow one in the forsythia, like this:
(that goes way back to when _I_ was a little girl finding eggs!).
It's oddly comforting to do the same thing, with the same cast of characters, so many times. There's always the bemused baby:
(He has some maraca eggs at home, so when he found this one he immediately started shaking it vigorously, thinking it would make noise. He seemed slightly disappointed that it didn't.)
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A bunch of Goldie

I have all these pictures of Marigold that I don't really have much to say about. Just that she's the sweetest. She loves her baby Fern (or Ferny, as she more often calls her) so much. She's funny and silly and smart all at once. What a great age almost-three is!—or maybe it's just Goldie herself that's so great. :)
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D is for Date

Our alphabet letter "D" was a brilliant idea, I must say. I don't know how I thought of it; it just came to me. I assigned each of the boys to take one of their sisters on a Date. Because our family has boys and girls divided so evenly, it worked out nicely, but I feel like you could make this work with a different set of siblings if you included mom and dad or paired the kids up differently.

Each brother had to plan his own date, taking into account what his sister would like best. Sam or I would drive them, but the rest was up to them. I said they couldn't all do the same thing (since I wanted each to be able to give one sister his undivided attention) and they had to stay fairly close by since we were going to have to fit all three dates into one Saturday. And I gave them each $6 to spend.

And it all turned out so awesome! I loved it so much. It was great for the girls to feel so focused-on and loved and pampered by their brothers, and it was great for the boys to feel so grown-up and responsible and adored by their sisters! After their dates were over the children all kept saying how fun it was and asking if we could please please do this again. Everyone was excited about the idea of the different things they would do if they were with a different sibling, so I think we'll do it again for sure, maybe with a higher or lower budget just for variety. $6 to spend and a time limit of 2 hours was just right for a sweet little brother–sister bonding time, though.
Sebastian took Marigold out to get pastries for breakfast, and then to Target to buy stickers (they had $1 left after their pastries) and then to a playground. It was THE SWEETEST how he kept asking her, "Is this fun, Goldie? Do you like this?" And he kept telling me to take pictures of them. "Did you get one of us on the swings? Here, take one of me holding Goldie." And needless to say, Goldie was in heaven. She chattered to Sebby like a little magpie. Oh, it was sweet. Afterwards Sebby said, "If we do this again, I want to take Goldie again." Who wouldn't?
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The Floppy Guy (or, Dreams that become Nightmares)

You know these guys? I don't know their real name, but we call them floppy guys. Inflatable…advertising…tube people? They are so strange and alarming. Anyway. I don't know how it happened, but Goldie fell in love with them. I think we drove by one once, and she was tiny and could hardly talk, but she started crying and saying "I want to see that guy again!" so we went back and she laughed and clapped in delight, and that did it. Now we all watch like hawks when we go anywhere, hoping to see a floppy guy we can point out to Goldie. 

She's always talking about them, too; about how when she grows up she's going to get her OWN floppy guy, and also a BABY floppy guy, and also a TURQUOISE floppy guy, and so forth. She draws pictures of them and reminisces about when we saw one last. 

So, you can imagine everyone's delight when a store just outside our own neighborhood got a floppy guy! Now we get to see him almost every time we go anywhere, and it's great, except when we drive by too quickly and Marigold starts crying, "I didn't say bye-bye to the floppy guy!" Sometimes he isn't outside, and Goldie says he's probably "having his nap."
One night we were parked in the vicinity, so we asked Goldie if she wanted to go see the floppy guy. Of course she did. But as we rounded the corner and made our approach, she started getting really nervous. The fan was loud, and the flopping movements made strange contorted shadows in the twilight. Goldie didn't seem to like the way her hero loomed over her. "I love that guy! He's too big!" she kept saying, edging away backwards. Sebby had to hold on to her tight to even keep her there long enough for a picture. She finally got brave enough to, while being held by me, touch the floppy guy with one finger. She squeaked and yanked her hand back.
Very, very pleased (and also terrified).
After a time we walked away, with Goldie murmuring, "I love that guy! He's so big!" in dubious tones.

The next day we drove by Floppy Guy again. He flopped toward us grotesquely. "Floppy Guy's not big anymore!" Goldie said happily, from her car seat. "I love him."
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