Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Leo: The Legend

The legendary Leo Vanoni - Grandpa Leo; Uncle Leo; our own Leo's namesake - passed away late in the afternoon today.  He was surrounded by many members of his family; he was able to say goodbye, and to slip out of this world, nestled in peace and comforted in love.

I am profoundly grateful that we were there 10 days ago to say our own goodbye.  I am grateful for the hours I spent holding his hand, smiling into his weary face, locking eyes with him, praying silently for him, bearing witness to the greatness of his life, the pain of leaving, the sorrow we felt, the memories and the laughter we shared.

I'm grateful for witnessing as Jeff became both practiced nurse and beloved grandson, competently fixing his oxygen tube, arranging his pillows, adjusting his hearing aids, putting us at ease with his skill, comforting us with his compassion.
I'm grateful that our children sensed the importance of our time with Grandpa Leo.  I watched as they stepped over the oxygen tubes snaking across the living room and snuggled close up next to Grandpa Leo. I heard them say, tenderly and repeatedly, "I love you, Grandpa."
56 years ago, Grandpa Leo (aka Uncle Leo) introduced "Uncle Leo's Barn" to the Ventura County Fair.... tomorrow, Uncle Leo's Barn will open its doors at the Fair for the 57th year.  Aunt Laurie observed wryly, "The fair starts tomorrow," she said.  "This was the only way he was going to be able to make it."  Indeed, though his stature was small, Leo's spirit is huge.  I have no doubt his presence will be felt, that "Ventura County Fair" and "Leo Vanoni" will remain synonymous for another generation.

99 years ago on this day, my own beloved grandmother, Jean Rae Seehaver, was born into this world.  99 years later, Leo Vanoni, the grandfather I claim as one of my own, left this earthly place.

I hope they meet tonight.  Grandma will offer him a gin martini; Grandpa will teach her how to select the perfectly ripe avocado....

Sunset over the Ranch
Life is beautiful.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Aaargh! The Pirates of Monticello

Last weekend (4th of July) was the much-anticipated Cousins Weekend, when my brother and nephews made the long haul from St. Louis to come and visit.  Aidan and Hugo seemed to pick up right where they left off, and Julian, Leo, and Pax bonded again over their shared love of jumping on air mattresses.

We had a lazy lake day the first day.... (not entirely lazy, what with the sea monsters and all)

...and then drove to a local brewery for a most unforgettable evening.  Weather, drinks, food, and temperaments all united.  What a great night!

On Friday (the 4th) the kids got this idea around lunchtime to make a Jolly Roger flag (also known as the Jolly Rancher, for boys who get these names easily confused).  Jeff pulled out the "Dangerous Book for Boys" and helped them sketch an outline of the Jolly Roger on an oversize piece of paper, then left them to finish out the details.  I don't know how this idea even began, but once it was launched, it grew into something so incredibly awesome, we couldn't have planned for anything so cool...

The end result was a truly impressive pirate flag.

Somehow, one good idea led to another, and the next thing we knew, the 10 of us decided to commandeer the pontoon boat as bona fide pirates, launching water balloons (with Dad's balloon slingshot) on unsuspecting landlubbers.  Shiver me timbers!  We started by preparing ammunition...

which led to a bit of mutiny.

We set sail.

And we launched our attack!!!  Water balloons were fired on many the unsuspecting landlubbers....
 ....to their absolute delight!  Everyone was such a good sport about our attacks, even the 4ish year old who was floating in a raft next to his dad.

Pirate Adam inspected the contents down the bung hole.  (Alas, me hearties, no ginger beer, but some fine IPA.)
 We flew the Jolly Rancher high after each successful... attempt.
We generally reveled in our pirate success.....

....until it was time for the fireworks that night.
 The pirate attack was, by far, the best and most memorable event of the Cousins Weekend.  However - all of our time together was pretty awesome.  On Saturday, my parents hosted a midday cookout for friends of Adam's who made the trek to the lake to see him, and us. It was a lovely afternoon, and Adam's visit provided the perfect excuse to catch up with longtime friends.

Another favorite memory was taking Hugo, Aidan, Leo, and Pax (via kayak) into the deepest and most secluded part of the lake where motor boats can't go.  We saw a heron, some turtles, and a whole bunch of fish.  The clear water in the marshy grass was exceedingly peaceful, ephemeral.  A hushed silence fell over the boys as they took it all in.... it was magical, transformative.

And because you know I like to keep it real here on the Lit Farm, I'll add that the only less-than-lovely memory I have of this weekend is that the Mysterious-yet-Vicious-Stomach Virus of 2014 (so dubbed by my brother) attacked 8 out of 10 of us in the ensuing week.  Mysterious in that it presented differently in each of us, vicious in that it was... vicious, at least amongst the Carter crew.  (Nothing like two kids simultaneously puking all over new hardwood floors, at midnight, to give you a little vaso-vagal jolt to the heart (plus a day in a half in bed, yourself, 48 hours later.)  All's well that ends well, and we'd never appreciate our health if it weren't for some judicious reminders of how awful one can feel every now and then.

Cousins Weekend:  For Better, For Worse, In Sickness, and in Health...  Ahoy!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Weighing the Cabbage

This morning, there was a Moment in the produce aisle that stopped me in my tracks, that was affirming and beautiful, one of those breathe-deep-and-drink-this-in moments.

Aidan has a new privilege and freedom this summer - staying home, alone, for short bits of time (i.e. grocery runs or trips to the gym).  All summer, he's chosen to stay home, but this morning, after dropping Leo off at camp, Aidan elected to join Pax and me at the store.  It's been awhile since he has shopped with me.  When we neared the end of the row of produce along the wall, Aidan looked at me and said in the sweetest voice, "Mom, shall we weigh the cabbage?"  That was it.  That was the moment that brought my distracted self to an instant halt, focusing entirely on this one beautiful memory that Aidan has, and was sharing with me again: all those mornings we spent shopping, year after year, pausing at each trip to weigh a half dozen heads of cabbage.

In that simple question, I realized that the memory of weighing the cabbage is Big.  It's bigger than the memories of the tantrums he threw, and the subsequent anger I felt at him in the store... bigger than the times I marched him out of the store so that he could pitch his fit away from disapproving glares... the cabbage is bigger than when I felt sad, or weary, or exhausted, or crabby, and trudged on with our cart...bigger than the mischief he caused in the aisles as he grew older, of the day I had to put his invisible friend, Boy, in time-out in the frozen food aisle because he refused to stop messing around with Aidan.  The cabbage is evidence, too, of my good reading training:  why it matters so much to talk to young children, to label, to help them experience even the most "mundane" of environments like the grocery store, to help them build a context and background knowledge for them to ground new ideas in the future.

Maybe, though, Aidan does remember all those other things that happened on our trips.  But what mattered to me in that moment was that he remembered weighing the cabbage.  It was the best part of his shopping trip, and mine, too.  And so I said to him, "Yes, why don't you weigh the cabbage?  Why don't you weigh the cabbage with Pax?"

And they did.  They weighed every last head on that stand.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

the greenest grass

At bedtime, Pax requested the marathon-length, definitively not lullabye, "And the Green Grass Grows All Around."  Nearing the end, as I layered together the song, (feather on the wing; wing on the bird; bird on the egg; egg in the nest; nest on the twig...) I thought of my own roots, my own tree, my own little nest and the happy birds inside it. Eleven years ago, we moved to this lake community in the hopes of planting deep roots; the grass here is mighty green, and summer, perhaps this summer in particular, showcases the very best of what this community offers us...

Our mail carrier is kind and attentive, thoughtful and sweet.  I love when a package needs to be delivered, because it provides an excuse to catch up with her on the front porch.  She knows each of my kids by name, knows their hobbies and interests.  Occasionally, she leaves them small gifts in the mailbox, like cute cardboard mail trucks filled with candy.  They were thrilled to discover that on her recent vacation, she sent them a postcard telling them all about her trip.  I was thrilled to be reminded of one more reason why I love this community - these people - so much.
These crocheted minion hats arrived in one such package, thanks to my crafty mother-in-law and our mail carrier who delivered it to these happy boys!
Leo and Aidan spent one week in a golf clinic here at the lake golf course.  It was for sure one of the best parts of their whole summer, and it happened in the second week in!

At the end of June, my dad and I took 6 high schoolers from our church  to Washington, D.C. for a week of service work in the city.  It was an incredible and important week for our youth and for our church.  The hardest part of the trip for me was leaving my family, but the care they received throughout the week - from my mom and Jeff; from friends; from the community as a whole - made me feel so well-cared for, loved, and supported.  Although pretty much everyone knew that I was gone, someone saw Aidan at the pool with a friend and asked him, "Where's your mom?"  He replied, "Answering prayers."
Aidan attended a video game animation camp at the end of June, and spent the week creating his very own video game.  It was intense, and a very different kind of creative outlet for him.  I was so happy for him and for the opportunity to engage in something so different.  I was also happy for him that he reconnected with a buddy during the week, and later enjoyed a sleepover at his house.
And Pax, although he's not quite old enough yet for camps or clinics or even swim team, is having a wonderful summer as well.  He's always been a bit of a fish in the water, but this year he is more confident - and capable - than ever before.  His year of preschool socialization shows in a big way; I've marveled at how easily and happily he plays with same-age peers during swim meets.  And speaking of meets - swim team continues to be a highlight of summer for all five of us, because of - you guessed it - our community of swimmers.

We've adventured to a local farm for strawberry picking, and we're looking forward to comparing East Coast Berries to West Coast Berries later in July when we go to the Vanoni Ranch.  (We know there's no contest - the Vanonis grow the best strawberries on any coast - but we feel we must be polite.)

And we're keeping a runny tally of the number of meals we eat outside. To date, we've enjoyed 10 breakfasts (even one on the boat!); 12 picnic lunches, including ones at Monticello Trail, playground and parks, the beach, and the pool; and 20 dinners on the deck (be that a pool deck or our house deck).  One picnic lunch even included treats from an ice cream truck (which thrilled me to no end.  The kids on the other hand? A bit nonplussed.)

With the memories of a wonderful 4th of July still fresh in my mind (and soon to be recorded), I find myself clinging to each of these summer days, wanting to get the most out of every single one - even the ones that require us to lay low, rest up, ease back.  As I often remind my sons, gently - all good things must come to an end.  But here, midway, as I take stock on what has been and what is to come, I am content and well-pleased.  May we find many more memories such as these.