Sylvia's birthday was relatively uneventful. Kate was grateful for that. For one day to outshine a year of change, growth and transition would be overwhelming to the extreme. But Sylvia's birthday was uneventful also because of the down to earth reality of the day.
It was Sunday and hot. The day before, they discovered that their car, the mostly indomitable White Rabbit refused to start. Something was up with the igniter. And the hood didn't close all the way. As unlikely as it seemed, the first thing Kate thought of was that someone had tampered with the car. At any rate, they weren't going to walk a mile to church in 90 degrees. And poor Sylvia had a nasty cold, anyway. To inaugurate the beginning of her second year of life, she contracted her first bad cold and also her first case of nasty diaper rash. She was a sloppy, goopy mess, oozing out of both ends.
And yet, with some tylenol, baby powder, and Gouda (which makes everyone happier), Sylvia was her usual cheerful and slightly demanding self. She wanted to walk so badly, and only the day before had taken her first steps all on her own. Kate and Mister sat on the floor and let her walk back and forth between them. Step, step, step, poof. A small cloud of baby powder rose in the air every time she sat down.
When she wasn't walking, she wanted to be held and read to. Her particular favorites at the moment were all the "color" books. Sylvia requested Brown Bear, Brown Bear so often that Kate made various adaptations to keep her brain from disintegrating.
"Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?"
"Uh-oh. Brown bear wants to eat the red bird!"
"Red bird, red bird, where will you go?"
"Tweet tweet....(red bird has a friend, the yellow duck. He's got connections. Quack.)"
Teddy enjoyed the books (and variations) as well. Sometimes they disagreed over which book to read, and the ensuing brawl of book whacking often sent Kate hiding behind a barrier of pillows. But on the whole, Kate was pleased to see that both her kids had an approximately equal interest and attention span for books. And even when it wasn't books, they often played well together--though Teddy had the predictable problem of possessiveness.
Kate thought back and realized that he had come a long way in the last year. When Sylvia was only days old, and Teddy began to investigate the new creature that had invaded his territory, he quickly lost interest when he discovered that he couldn't chew on her, or sit on her, or whack her with his characteristic enthusiastic arm swings. Gradually, as Sylvia started interacting more--smiling, vocalizing, and grabbing things--Teddy wanted to interact with her too. Kate had been surprised at how easily he learned to be gentle, and she was completely charmed every time he would run up to her after getting up from his nap and put his forehead against hers, or lean over and softly pat her downy head.
Now, they tried to chase each other, shared food and water bottles, try to wear each other's clothes (usually around their neck), and of course, fight over toys and books. The non-sharing season would be tough, Kate knew. But every once in a while she saw beautiful glimpses of the fun in store. Sometimes she heard raucous laughter when they woke up from their naps and were entertaining each other. Sometimes they sat close to each other, ignoring the pile of toys around them, babbling back and forth and chuckling. Sometimes they even took themselves away to the play room upstairs, where they would play happily (but not quietly) for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Then Sylvia would get bored and scream to be carried down the stairs. She could go down the stairs on her own. But there were many of them, and Sylvia was timid about falling or bonking into things.
Oh, Sylvia was fearless when it came to climbing. But going down was a different matter. Once, when she realized she wanted to get off the couch, Kate watched her creep to the edge, then gradually maneuver around on her stomach so she could swing her legs down first. In the process, Sylvia slipped and then caught herself. She didn't fall, and she didn't bonk into anything. She was on the couch where she had started. But Kate watched her think and when Sylvia realized how close she had been to falling, her face melted and the tears flowed.
In spite of this, Sylvia loved to walk (with help) since she was about 9 months old. Only extreme tiredness would keep her from accepting a proffered hand for a jaunt around the living room. She was even fairly good at cruising along the coffee table, bookcases, or couches, walking along with one hand stabilizing on the furniture.
The coffee table was invaluable. It was a great height for both kids, perfect for snacks, toys and games, lessons in coloring, and (if you were a Teddy) standing on to look out the window or running along to jump onto a couch. One day, Kate gave them a usual snack of cheerios scatter along the outside of the coffee table. And Teddy, who wanted to play with them by making piles, didn't want to share. He sat in the middle of the table, while Sylvia cruised along the outside. Just as fast as he could gather up the cheerios and move them to another side of the table, Sylvia marched around and snatched a couple. Teddy gave dismayed squeals as she appropriated "his" cheerios, and with a dramatic flare, would follow her hand with his own all the way to her mouth, in the hopes of retrieving his stolen property. When the cheerio disappeared between those impenetrable doors, he hung his head and whimpered as if to say, "lost, lost, all is lost." It's hard to say if Sylvia noticed any of Teddy's drama. If so, they didn't phase her a whit. But that wouldn't have been surprising either, since stubbornness and single-minded purpose were already obvious facets of her character.
There was no doubt she was her mother's daughter, Kate and Mister agreed. Even from a few weeks old, they could tell she was a baby of extremes. When she was happy, she was very happy. When sad, very sad. When impatient...so impatient that she hardly realized when her request had been granted. Even her face was extreme. It was cute, certainly, but so are most babies. Sylvia's was a special cuteness--she was a beautiful baby, like a doll, with deep, shiny, jewel-like blue eyes. (Such phrases characterized the compliments of everyone who saw her.) And then she would open her mouth and say, "Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma" in a deep, throaty gremlin growl. Even after almost a year, Kate was still surprised by the contrast of such a growl coming out of such a face.
And Kate had no doubts. There were many more surprises ahead.
Even before moving, Kate and Mister had agreed that one good way to try to learn about New Jersey and New York City would be to have weekly outings--either into the city or some other notable excursion. Before they left on their travels, they had time for two such outings, which were to Central Park (a visually overwhelming experience) and the Staten Island Ferry (busy, but fun--especially chancing upon a jazz band in a park on the way home.) The entire first week they were home after their trip soared into the upper 90s, and both Kate and Mister agreed that it would be a good opportunity to investigate the beaches nearby.
There were a number of beaches, but there was one about an hour away that sounded nice, and Kate and Mister made plans to go in a couple days, on Thursday. First thing in the morning, they gathered everything they could think of--umbrella stroller, parasol, towels and blanket, camp chairs, food and milk, sunglasses, and of course sunblock. Even so, before they reached the end of the first block, they thought of something else they had forgotten. Mister drove around the block (they lived on a one way street), and Kate ran inside to get a book to read aloud on the drive.
In spite of some audible discontent in the backseat, the drive south was smooth. Instead of going to the state park, they decided to park off a side street for free and walk up to the beach. Sylvia was in the stroller with an absurd number of bags hanging from the handles and swinging around on either side of her. Kate and Mister each carried more bags, and Kate chased after Teddy, who was eager to run into the middle of the road. It wasn't until they made it to the boardwalk that Kate realized it must have been too easy...free parking place, easy beach access...must be too good to be true. They approached a ramp over to the beach, but at the entrance sat a bored teenager with a flawless tan. There was an entrance fee--$10 each. What! Kate scoffed in her mind. But then she looked down. Teddy was wriggling. Her bags were sliding down her arms to her wrists, Sylvia's stroller was so laden down, they could barely steer. She sighed. Expediency was definitely becoming more valuable--yet another evidence of her old age......err....maturity.
The beach was lovely and clean. And in spite of the heat, the water still felt quite cool. There was also a terrific breeze, which kept you cool and gave the ultimate sandy experience. Kate and Mister spread out a blanket and dropped a bag on each corner. In five minutes (or less) there was sand in their hair and diapers, at the bottom of bags, covering snacks and bottles, and also the proper place--between their toes.
For the next 2 hours, the kids played in the sand and the water, running back and forth and digging and getting their feet wet. (Sylvia would walk as far as anyone would help her!) Then they took turns returning to home base for a sandy snack, a sandy bottle of milk, and a quiet rest time buckled into the stroller. Kate fashioned an ingenious (and invaluable!) little shelter from the wind by hooking her little parasol around the back of the stroller. They didn't actually take naps, but were certainly better for having a short rest and were ready to go again for another hour after they were done. In spite of the obvious lack of naps, the sand, and the wind, Teddy and Sylvia clearly had a fabulous time. There was no crying or complaining. Even the seagulls were entertaining when they crept up within kicking distance in order to steal some abandoned crackers.
Finally, Kate and Mister decided it was time to head home. They packed everything up, dragged everything through the sand back to the boardwalk, changed babies, got fresh bottles, and loaded up the car. All in all, Kate felt like it had been a very successful trip--though it still rankled her that they had paid $20 to go to a beach which had half a zillion lifeguards and no bathroom!
In the coming days and weeks, Mister was less enthusiastic about their "successful" trip to the beach. He had put sunscreen on his shoulders, but in the flurry of taking care of the kids, he had forgotten to ask Kate to cover the middle of his back. Twenty minutes after they got home, he approached Kate with a sheepish grin, "Do you know if we have any aloe vera gel?" Kate looked at his back and was horrified--truly, a lobster red; the worst burn that she had ever seen made an interesting map-like design across the middle of his back. A week later, when the worst of the itchiness was finally subsiding, Kate tried to remind Mister that it actually had been a good and fun trip to the beach.
"Remember how the kids didn't complain at all? And they slept so hard and so long that night?"
With a noncommittal grunt, Mister assented that the kids had a good time, but there was a meaningful silence afterward.
Kate drained the water from a huge pot of boiled potatoes. It was 9:30 at night. The kids were in bed, Mister was at the men's retreat, and Kate's mother had just gone into the basement to get ready for bed. Surely, Kate was tired. But she vigorously chopped a red onion and put it in salt water. Perfect time to get something done! she thought. This is one church potluck that I WILL contribute to! Somehow she always managed to forget when they were. Or she and Mister didn't plan on staying for the potluck after the service...and then changed their minds. She thought about the other ingredients: olives in the pantry, capers in the fridge, olive oil-pantry... she looked at the clock. 10 PM. All of a sudden, she felt a strange wet trickle down her legs.
Ugh. What IS that? she thought to herself. I wonder if my water is breaking. Does that happen before labor? With Teddy, her water hadn't broken until long after she was at the hospital and had been in labor for hours. For Kate now, labor still appeared to be days away.
She grabbed some rags and went to ask Laurie's opinion. They weren't completely positive, but water-breaking seemed the only reasonable explanation.
"I guess I should call the doctor?" Kate mused.
"Well, do you have any contractions?"
"No. That's just it though. I'm definitely not in labor, but the pamphlet said that if I tested positive for Strep B (which I did), that I needed to call in if my water broke."
"I guess you'd better call then."
The doctor on call managed to convey that Kate and her baby could be in a life-threatening situation if she didn't make it to the hospital in the next ten minutes. The hospital was fifteen minutes away.
Kate hung up and sat for five minutes in a daze, wondering what she should do. She called the number that Mister had given her, and left a message. Then she called a friend to see about a ride to the hospital. No response. Who can I call? Who can I call? she mused. She absolutely refused to wake Teddy up to go to the hospital, and obviously it was impractical to drive herself. Though I probably could, Kate grumbled to herself, 'Come in right away' my foot. This baby's not coming anytime soon.
Her phone rang and startled her. It was from her pastor. Wait. He's at the men's retreat too...what goes on, anyway?
A happy, energetic voice called out on the other side of the line, "Kate? How are you? Everything ok? Look, can we do anything for you?"
Kate shrugged. The men's retreat was two hours away. What could they do? "Well," she said, "I need a ride to the hospital."
"DONE! My wife will call you in two minutes."
Kate couldn't help but laugh. "Ok. Thank you."
Less than two minutes later, Kate got the call. A large group of ladies was having a pow-wow at the pastor's house, and after a query, one lady jumped in her car and started West. The pastor's wife got Kate's address and texted it to the friend on the road.
About half an hour later, Kate let Dee in the door. She was quivering with excitement.
"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "You're standing. Are you okay? Do I need to get a wheelchair? I've never done anything like this!!!" She sounded terrified and thrilled and a little crazy all at the same time. "I thought maybe I should call the police...do you need a police escort?"
Kate chuckled. Dee was more excited than she was! "No. I'm quite alright." Then she thought about the last hour. The half dozen or more phone calls just to get her to the hospital. This delivery was turning into a church production. (Their friend, John, later said, "It's a surprisingly freeing feeling...tossing one's keys to a man whose wife is about to have a baby. Not something you get to do every day.")
Kate laughed again. "This is quite a circus," she said.
Dee's eyes widened. "Oh my goodness! A circus! Is the baby coming?!"
"Oh. Well, goodness sakes, girl, let's get this circus to the hospital before she comes!"
It had taken so long to find a ride and actually get to the hospital that Mister joined her only five minutes later, a little after midnight, as she was giving her information to the nurse. This was so much easier than with Teddy, when the contractions were rolling close together and the nurse was asking her social security number. Kate still had enough mental capacity to be irked though. "Honestly," she complained to Mister when the nurse left, "they already have all of this information. What's the point of filling out the pre-admission form if you just have to answer all the questions again when you get here?"
"I don't know, dear."
"Can't they keep anything straight?"
"I don't know..."
Kate looked at Mister and smiled. "Sorry. You must be tired."
Actually, Mister was beyond exhausted. It had been a full day of basketball and swimming, and food, and worship, and then a two hour drive in a friend's car while wondering if his daughter was being born. Even so, Mister agreed to walk the halls with Kate in an attempt to start labor naturally. They talked about their days--what a long day it had been since their breakfast date that morning! They talked about family and travel and traditions. It was 2AM.
Finally, they agreed to start some pitosin. Kate had heard that the contraction-inducing drug could make for a horrible labor. But no labor meant no baby and probably no sleep. The next three hours were horrible. Contractions and the pain with them increased, but Kate still had a long way to go before being ready to deliver. And she and Mister were both so tired. Kate requested an epidural--she wanted to hold off "as long as she could", since she didn't like being immobile, but it ended up being a little too close to "longer than she could."
But rest settled in around 5AM. She was relaxed on her back, reading Julia Child's My Life in France. Mister slept next to her on the pull-out chair. The rest of the night was peaceful. At 7AM she was around 7cm. At 10AM, the nurse called the doctor and told Kate that the baby's head was showing and it was time to push. Kate got into position and starting pushing.
"Stop pushing!" The nurse yelled. "Stop pushing. She's going to come out. Wait until the doctor comes."
A few moments later, the doctor came, Kate pushed, and the baby came. She was a beautiful baby girl with eyes open and almost perfect coloring.
"Sylvia." Kate whispered in wonder. Here was a new person. Living and breathing on her own. Kate had nourished her and sustained her for nine months, but there was no effort, no planning behind it. Kate had never said, "Now, little baby inside me, let's make your bones" or, "Time to make your eyes" or "Keep beating, little heart. Remember, twice as fast as mine. Keep beating." Who knew how to do those things? Who could make a baby come from cells and be born a living, breathing being? This was a miracle of God.
"That's a little miracle baby, right there" said the doctor as he handed her to Kate.
Kate instantly agreed. But later, weeks later, she wondered. And she asked him why he had said it just that way. The doctor explained. "The placenta had already partially detached before she was born. That's where all the blood came from. If you had had to push longer, or she had taken longer to come out, or...well, if anything had been different, you would have had an emergency C-section, and your baby might have had serious complications."
And Kate sat still, in awe before the Lord. The Lord God, who knew to a moment when and how things should happen; this was a God to whom she could entrust her children. In the coming weeks and months, Kate would watch her daughter grow and change. Sylvia would learn things, things that Kate had no power to teach. And sometimes she felt breathless with gratitude, knowing that God was teaching her baby how to grasp and chew and swallow and making her grow and keeping her heart beating on time.
Sometimes she felt that it was unfair. How a parent has all the responsibility to raise a child, but no capability to make a child grow and learn. But at the same time she felt humbled. No other place in life, she felt, was it so obvious how God was daily involved in their lives. She had a front row seat to view God's incredible power to sustain her family...and the rest of the world.
The first couple weeks of August, Kate frantically tried to finish everything on her many lists. One day, after spending Teddy's entire nap time cropping pictures and slapping them in a scrapbook, she declared to Mister, "I've got to get this done now! After this baby comes, I'm not going to be able to do anything. ever. again!"
Mister just laughed, "That's what you said last year, remember?"
"Yes, I know. But this time it's true!"
But soon, Kate was running out of projects. She had finished her wedding scrapbook. She finished Teddy's first year scrapbook--as far as she could, at any rate. She had organized the baby clothes and resorted them multiple times. She rearranged the babies' room. And her own room. And probably would have done the living room and basement as well if Mister hadn't had that skeptical you're-just-going-to-make-me-move-it-back-again look. She had been working on learning to make Indian food and pizza. There were 25 freezer meals in the chest freezer. And one day, three weeks before her due date, she found herself wondering what she should do.
All this free time--Kate just had to come up with a way to use it before the baby came and she wouldn't ever have another chance! She thought about a new list of projects to work on. Cleaning and organizing...they always went on the list first, and never seemed to come off. Her regular scrapbook of their life together was woefully behind. She could work on that. And she could work on her writing and journaling. She looked lovingly at the baby quilts she had made and considered.
"Mister," she asked when he walked by, "What do you think about me making a big one of these for our bed?"
He gave her a blank stare. Was it a trick question? "Uhm," he said, with the sort of caution that instantly told Kate what he thought. "wouldn't that be kind of a big undertaking?"
"Yes, I suppose it would." Kate felt deflated, their bed suddenly denuded of its pending glory.
"And you were trying to cut back or finish up big projects, right?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"And you were trying to clean things up and not make more scraps and messes?"
"Welllll," she said, sensing some logical flaw in what she was about to say, "it could be a kind of roundabout way of picking up. If I make something with the fabric, I don't have to put it away or store it!"
"Hmmmm." Mister wasn't buying it. "And how long would this project take?"
Kate was stuck there. "Probably a few years? It could be for our tenth anniversary!" (They were coming up on their fifth.)
Mister just laughed. "How about," he said, offering his own suggestion, "you go for a walk, and then read or lie down for a little while before making dinner?"
Kate sighed. "Yes, I suppose that would be better..." She just felt so antsy, wanting to start and finish things. To make lists and more lists and accomplish them. Not a day too soon, Kate's mother, Laurie, arrived on the 19th, just in time to provide some extra company and balance and save the Miller household from a major overhaul.
Laurie helped keep Teddy in line, helped Kate at the grocery store, helped with the dishes, and generally...helped. She distracted Kate by reading Peter Wimsey novels aloud, and dreaming up extravagant plans for future girl-dates.
"Just think!" She would say, "Little Susie will stay home with us and drink cocoa and knit while Teddy goes hunting with Papa!" (She never seemed to run out of "S" names to guess, ever since Kate and Mister had revealed that the initials they had chosen were S.A.M.--in part an homage to their Best Man and Maid of Honor, who were both named Sam.)
Kate would ignore the stream of names unless her mother pointedly asked (as she often did), "Is it Susie?"
"No," Kate would reply almost instantly.
"How about Stephanie?"
Kate paused. "Yes, that's it."
Laurie looked up, but saw only Kate knitting away on her latest project. "Really? You're just teasing me!" She accused.
Kate laughed, "No, you actually guessed it. I admit, I didn't think you would..."
"I guessed it! I guessed it!" Laurie crowed. She was supremely pleased with herself. "And Sylvia! What a beautiful name! Oh, I'm so excited. I can't believe I guessed it!"
Friday morning, the weekend before the due date, Mister took Kate out for brunch at a stellar new breakfast place they had discovered. It was perfect, and delightful, and they couldn't help but talk about children the whole time! They even talked about talking about children. It was especially nice to get a date in, since Mister had once again planned to be gone the weekend before the due date. Last year, he went to Atlanta to be in a wedding. This year was not so extreme--he was driving an hour away for the church's men's retreat. Kate didn't expect any problems. After all, last year, she delivered Teddy a week after the due date.
That afternoon, Kate got a call from a strange number. It was Mister.
"My phone doesn't have service out here," he said. "I just wanted to give you this number, in case you need to call. Are you feeling okay?"
"Just fine. I'll let you know if anything happens, but otherwise I'll just see you tomorrow evening. I hope you have a good time!"
Almost daily, I look around our house and think to myself, "Is that a trinket of frivolous utility?"
Being married to an economist (and an Adam Smith scholar to boot) does come with some advantages, one of which is a fountain of fantastic and useful phrases from Smith's incredibly eloquent writings. It interested me that Smith's category of "trinkets of frivolous utility" includes many things that people spend their whole lives pursuing--large houses that they then have to maintain, expensive or gas guzzling cars that are more trouble than they're worth, he even goes so far as to say that "wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility." The lifestyles of the rich and famous...they ever fail to give fulfillment.
So I have found myself, as we prepare to move this summer, gradually packing up boxes and wondering how many things in my house are trinkets of frivolous utility.
Trinkets, I've decided, are things of small ultimate value. So something might be expensive in dollars that is not truly and ultimately valuable. Likewise, something might cost very little, but be immeasurably valuable to me. In fact, some things, the most valuable things cannot even be considered in terms of money--money then, is surely not the best gauge of value. ('Utility', by the way, is the economist's word for an individual's reckoning of 'value'.) I am reminded of the passage in Isaiah 55: "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price." How valuable is this water? Or this wine and milk? There is no price, and there is no money... how then do we decide?
I have come up with a list of questions based off of what we value as a family in order to help me determine what is not a trinket...and the rest are generally assumed to be frivolous. Here are a few of the questions: What does it remind me of? Is there a special memory in this thing--one that is worth remembering? Does this thing make me thing about God, and his glory, and does it engender gratitude and thankfulness in my heart? Is the thing useful for our family, helping us maintain order and peace at home and to be hospitable? Is it a thing of beauty that never fails to delight me? Is there a high cost to storing or keeping such a thing?
There is an astonishing, appalling number of things in our house that are both cheapandfrivolous and have storage costs! (By which I mean that they take up valuable space and crowd my brainwaves with their clutter.) I've found (and since disposed of) heavy paperweights that I've never used and never thought particularly beautiful or meaningful! I've found books that I've half read and didn't like, but kept because I categorically like books. I've found clothes that I got for free in college and never fit me very well, and I've worn once in the past eight years. But not everything has such an obvious answer. There are things I'm still undecided about--what about the basket of seashells we got from Paul's grandparents in Florida? They remind me of them and their house. They are beautiful in and of themselves. And yet they take up space and get dusty, while there are other things that remind me of our grandparents. I have a small trophy from winning an honorable mention in a piano competition in high school--only a couple years after I starting taking piano lessons. Is it worth keeping?
For these last examples, there are both pros and cons to keeping them. For both, I can think of what God has done or given me, and his steadfast love and faithfulness, and be grateful. And yet I might say that they don't cause that train of thought instantly, when I look at them. (Do I look at them? Good question to ask...) I am still unsure of how valuable certain memories are...they are certainly not all equal in value!
But it is a helpful question to keep asking: "Is it a trinket?" Because even if I am not sure of the answer now, if I keep asking, then either I will someday see the thing as very valuable and rejoice over it; or I will finally acknowledge that it has served a purpose and now is not worth keeping. I hope (and expect) that I will continue asking this question as we move into a new place, as our family grows and changes, as our eyes become more and more fixed on our Heavenly home. This is the goal. That which draws my eyes toward Heaven, and firms my resolve in trusting the One that will bring me there safely, will also show me more and more clearly the trinkets of this world for what they are. Such are the things worth keeping.
Over the summer Teddy gradually started eating more and more solid foods. His first experience with blueberries was a gigantic success (almost as big as the stain.) His first encounter with broccoli was an equally gigantic failure. On the whole though, Kate was pleased to find that he enjoyed trying new things and usually liked them--if not the first time, then the second or third time. (He did eventually start loving even broccoli!) He at bread and cheerios and crackers like a machine; he adored any kind of fruit; even veggies were good--especially tomatoes. She felt a little bad, taking Teddy to a church potluck. He was still pretty limited by texture, and there was a veggie tray with cherry tomatoes...and over the course of the meal, she was sure that she took almost all of them for Teddy. (And all the while, felt like Kathleen Kelly would appear over her shoulder, scoop them back onto the tray, and say "That caviar is a garnish!")
With only a month or two left before their little girl appeared, Kate wanted to accomplish a couple more projects--in the kitchen this time. She had long since wanted to learn about Indian cuisine. And now she had the perfect opportunity! When a friend moved away, she gave Kate three of her Indian cookbooks, and since being back home, Kate had been diligently reading them. She studied the introductions and made an extensive list of spices to stock in her pantry. One book had a list of Indian stores in each state across America. For the state of Virginia, there was only one listed...and it just happened to be right next to her OB doctor's office!
The first time she went, she loaded up on $40 worth of spices. And she got her money's worth or more--the spices filled up two large grocery bags! The boy at the counter in the store (a family business) chatted with her and asked what she was going to make first.
pakoras with mint raita
"I don't know." Kate said, suddenly feeling self-conscious about her lack of knowledge. "Probably an appetizer, like pakoras."
The boy nodded, "Pakoras are good...so are samosas." He said the word with longing. "My mom just went out to get some more because we ran out."
That evening, true to her word, Kate fished out her recipe book and found the page for pakoras. They are a fried concoction made of chopped veggies (onion, pepper, potato, and eggplant) mixed with water, chickpea flour, and spices. Kate had already studied this recipe several times a day for the last week. Normally, she didn't even use recipes! But this was how she learned a new style...this was a satisfying way to cook: being able to make something that she would order in a restaurant. She imagined herself back in the kitchen of a cozy family restaurant and she dexterously chopped and mixed and went the extra step of making some spicy Mint Raita for dipping. Having no idea of what she was doing, she scooped a blob of the mixture into the hot oil and it instantly started sizzling and turning brown. Ha! she thought. It looks just like in the book! This is FUN! she congratulated herself with a smug smile and took a bite of the first one after she pulled it out and let it cool. Mmmm...Indian food, here we come!
one of many chicken dishes
The true delight of the evening, however, was Teddy's response. Even though the pakoras were spicy, he held his arms and legs out and waved them around in his characteristic gesture of approval (and begging for more.) Pakoras were followed by a number of chicken dishes with exotic combinations of spices that Kate would grind or roast herself. Each was delicious and wonderful, and Kate made plans to stock up on her spices before moving away.
Teddy with the pepperoni log
Another cooking milestone that Kate wanted to achieve was pizza--completely homemade pizza. Kate and Mister had a favorite restaurant in Fairfax where they always went to get the Greek Pizza. Oh, it was glorious! She must have had it at least a dozen times, and she never got tired of it. It was both inspiring and daunting. Anyone can put toppings on a bit of bread dough, Kate considered. But I want to make my crust like this. Airy, flavorful, with enough crunch and stiffness to be able to pick it up. There was nothing to do but try. When they were in Williamsburg at the beginning of July, Mrs. Mortte gave her a recipe for pizza dough--but it was a bread machine recipe. Kate used it nonetheless, she combined the ingredients using Tess Kiros's method (author of Falling Cloudberries) and found that it worked well. Week after week, every Tuesday night, Kate made pizza. She gradually learned. Each week she found something that made it a little better: letting the dough rise just so, baking at 400 to get the stiffness in the bottom of the crust, sprinkling garlic over the dough instead of mixing it into the tomato sauce, the magical chemistry between red peppers and peppe roni, and eventually she put the pepperoni partly on top of the cheese and found an extra roasted flavor that it didn't attain underneath.
Most weeks, they would have someone over to share the pizza with them. And every week, the partakers would have to pay the "Teddy tax"--a portion of crust donated to feeding the hungry...baby.
In the midst of all this eating and cooking and grocery shopping, Kate would often look around a store and marvel at the shear magnitude of available food. Canned goods, baked goods, produce, and meats, not to mention other household items. Wall to wall, products ready to make meals varied and interesting, and to make life functional, easy, and relatively clean. The same sense of wonder would come over her as she made her meal plans or sat down to eat. A typical week would include salmon, pizza, Indian, stir-fry, and soup. She had an almost endless variety and supply of spices, produce from every part of the world was available to her, and she couldn't help but be awed by the fact that, on a grad-student's funding, they could eat better than kings did in ages gone by. It was ineffably humbling.
Thank you, Lord, she prayed time and again. Thank you that we don't have to eat rice every day, meal after meal. Thank you for fruit and for meat and for spices and colors and flavors. For refrigerators to store things. For freezers to preserve things. For stoves and ovens to cook things. Thank you that you not only sustain us with food everyday, but that everyday food can bring such delight and interest. Thank you for such a strong daily reminder of how creative you are and how well you provide for us in all ways. Thank you for your variety and abundance of blessings, they truly are too numerous to count.
On July 4, Teddy turned 10 months old. Kate and Mister were staying in Williamsburg for a few days with their dear friends, the Mortte's. It wastruly their home away from home. The house and furniture were familiar. Kate helped around the kitchen, scrapbooked a little, took naps when she could, tried to take some walks and played the piano. She felt enormous, and the baby kicked often. She found herself grateful that Teddy was starting to walk. She knew it wouldn't take long for him to be zooming around and getting into things, but she felt that would be easier to deal with than having to carryhim everywhere!
The Mortte's invited Kate, Mister, and Teddy to join them for the fireworks and concert in Colonial Williamsburg in the evening. At first, Kate was skeptical. She remembered their first July 4 in Virginia--2010, it was. They had walked over to the big hill by the Netherland's Carillon which provided a good view of the National Mall...they and about ten thousand other people. It was 9:30 PM, nearly 90 degrees out, zillions of people everywhere. Horrible. That's what it was. It was all she could think of now, people everywhere, hot temperatures, being stuck and pregnant! But her almost bottomless love of fireworks won out in the end, and the whole crew drove over early to the lawn in front of the Governor's Palace in CW. The found a spot (barely!) squished between blankets and chairs and set up their own modest accouterments.
Kate watched with tired eyes as Teddy instantly started investigating their neighbors. To the right was a family with a couple teens playing Dutch Blitz. Teddy watched in awe as they picked up and slapped down their colored cards. She tensed as he scootched closer and closer... until Mister scooped him up. Kate closed her eyes briefly. She should be enjoying this. Of course she was enjoying this. The weather was, in fact, absolutely perfect. The sun was up, the air graciously cool. Her son was adorably cute, and her husband was doing all the running after him that needed to be done. Nevertheless, she had a vision of her life a few months ahead, and it made her feel tired, maybe even incompetent. No! she insisted, Ineedto enjoy this. This, the beautiful life that God had given her, was meant to be loved and appreciated. She would seek the joy, and she was confident that somehow, God would grant it even in the midst of tiredness. After all, she reasoned, one CAN be tired and joyful at the same time...even if it's not ideal.
In front of their carved out territory, sat a pair of stout over-tanned grandparents. They cooed at Teddy as soon as they saw him, and exclaimed over his beautiful blue eyes. He obligingly batted his lashes, grinned up at them, and patted the grandmother with his hand. Kate tensed again as she reached over and picked him up. Should she object? It felt awkward having strangers pick up her baby. She felt instinctively that she was being silly--after all, she was sitting close enough to grab him away without even getting up! And of course it was fine--the lady bounced Teddy expertly and talked about her own grandson, and Kate was relieved that there were so many child-friendly people around her (another element lacking in their first Virginian July 4 experience!)
They talked and waited and watched Teddy play and then the concert started. There was a concert before the fireworks! American music, of course...the best of Copland, John Williams, Sousa, and a few folk songs thrown in. Kate sat in a blissful trance as the family melodies rolled over her and the sun sank lower and the faces around her began to be shrouded in twilight. Then, at the final chords of "Stars and Stripes Forever", the first fireworks exploded in the sky.
Watching Teddy was almost as fun as watching the fireworks themselves. It was well past his bedtime, and the music had almost put him to sleep; but at the first crack, he was completely entranced. Each subsequent explosion was better than the last. Kate's favorites were the starbursts that left long golden tails as each bright dot drifted toward earth. But they were all wonderful--each many-colored sparkle burning brightly for just an instant against the black sky. Motherhood had given Kate a heightened sense of symbolism. These are the joys of my life, she thought. Bright, brief, coming in quick succession, and always changing. I must not be wishing for the ones I had before. I need to focus on what's now, in front of me, and is completely delightful.
Two more months of an aching back and stiff joints and being kicked in the middle of the night didn't sound completely delightful. But on the other hand, the kicking was special in its own way. Teddy, of course, was special in every way, growing and changing so fast. And Mister...well, he was incomparable. In this difficult season, he was always serving and loving faithfully. And God gave her this blessing to share adventures with him, side by side! Well, she amended her previous insight, I suppose not ALL my joys are changing. Mister was always there, dependable and steadfast, a bright explosion of dust all over her life.