Tuesday, April 21, 2009

$85 a Month, Rain or Shine

The kids and Joe had left for school and work, Anchovy the Cat had commandeered the dog's crate for a nap, Roscoe was snoozing on his back-up bed a few feet away, and I was nearby tackling the dishes when the lawnmower growled to life outside the kitchen bay window. A good five minutes passed before Roscoe roused himself, jumping on the window bench to view the two men outside with curiosity. He glanced over his spotted shoulder at me with ears pricked and eyebrows raised as if to inquire,

"Hey, Mom, did you know there were people in our front yard?"

Yeah, Killer. Go back to sleep.

Every other Tuesday Saul and his crew of one arrive to mow and blow our mini-estate into order. One week Saul and I fell to talking, as we sometimes do, about my health, our children. This was nearly a year ago when people were just starting to suffer the fallout of ill-conceived mortgage loans. Saul confided that he was about to lose his home. All that could be done had been done. The bank was not returning calls. The program then in place to help homeowners was nearly as worthless as the lenders. All Saul and his family could do was hand over the keys and walk away. This, for a man who owned his own business and worked in a back-breaking, sometimes hazardous field without sick leave or health insurance.

I remember checking in with him after learning the news. He told me that after speaking to me he realized that perhaps other clients could help. (I told him I'd seek financing information from a network I belong to and pass on our recommendations of his work to another local group of homeowners. Small help.) He decided to be honest about his foreclosure situation. Within a week, two clients called and cancelled their service. Saul was shocked. I was sickened.

Saul did lose his home. He is renting another home not far from the first and his kids are able to stay in the same elementary school. We refer friends and neighbors to him whenever possible. It doesn't seem like much and of course, it isn't.

When we look at things to cut from our budget the monthly yard service is an obvious target. Cutting back has a face, though. Balancing personal needs with the belief that we have a real, moral obligation to support one another is a big concept that can be distilled down to this: there is a man named Saul working in my family's yard to support his family.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How to Bury a Goldfish

There is an art to arranging a goldfish funeral. The bereft must choose the burial site, perhaps under a newly planted daisy bush. Only the senior family members may dig the plot, and they should do so several moments before the funeral begins. The deceased is transported gently from tank to garden in a sea bag and released into the ground in one fluid movement. Words are spoken, solemn and from the heart, thanking the fish for joy given. The one who claims the most grief over the fish raises the plastic cylinder of Goldfish Flakes, reaches in and removes a final pinch of food for the journey home. Today, the sister in her Easter dress provided live instrumental music during the service: delicate notes of "Cumbaya, My Lord" floated in the April sunshine as her brother covered his pet's body with dirt. His mother helped him place small stones on top to mark the grave. When all was down, he placed a white daisy on top. Tears dropped hard and fast on the dirt where he crouched.

The sadness a little boy feels when his 3-year-old goldfish dies is larger than the animal. He needs to be held in his mother's arms as he cries about losing an orange fish named Mail Truck. He has to explain how small that fish was when he came home that first day, and how big he grew — almost 4 inches from nose to tail. He must tell how sometimes he would sit in his wooden chair and look at the fish swim, and always he would watch him from his bed as he tried to get to sleep at night.

In a day or two, when he tells me he's ready, we'll take the tank down and put it away.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

LIttle MIracles

Goldfish emergencies occur whenever I am out of town or expecting my own health news. Really, I've tracked this phenomenon. Yesterday the goldfish in question was Mail Truck, a sturdy Comet and sole survivor of an unfortunate overfeeding incident that took the lives of his tank companions Garbage Truck and Truck two years ago. Mail Truck has been Danny's pet for over three years and, with the exception of the feeding catastrophe at the beginning of their relationship, the only remarkable event has been watching the fish grow too big for his tank. Until yesterday.

Danny's yell echoed down the hallway before school. "Mommmmmmmm, come here. It's Mail Truck!" Nothing makes me run faster than the naked pain in my children's voices. Reaching his room I saw the cause: Mail Truck was flopped in mid-tank, supporting himself on the filter shaft so as not to drift. He was alert, breathing but it didn't look good. Danny was in tears.

"Help him, Mom."

Oh, geez. Fish saving is one of those mom jobs I'm not really qualified to hold. Okay, though, I knew enough to perform a little first aid. I gathered the fish bucket, gravel cleaner, two gallons of tank-ready water, fresh filter and a few water conditioners and started working while explaining to Dan how fragile fish were. What we had going for us was Mail Truck's toughness and his spirit.

"Look at his eyes, Danny. See how he's looking around? He hasn't given up, and we can't either. Go to school and I'll do the best I can."

When I showed up to volunteer at computer lab the first thing he asked was, "How's Mail Truck?" I replied that he was still with us. Danny shared the news with his best friend who then told him we should bang the fish's head against a rock so he wouldn't suffer. Ugh. Danny had the presence of grace to tell his friend that Mail Truck wasn't ready yet, and we weren't giving up on him.

All afternoon Danny checked on the fish, pronouncing his chances at "10%" and then "5%" of surviving. All I could do was tell him to give it time, not give up, and know that if his pet was going to die we were giving him respect and a peaceful way to go.

About 8:30 that night, as he was changing into his pajamas, Danny yelled, "Mail Truck! Buddy! I knew you could do it!"

In he ran to tell me that Mail Truck was swimming "95%" normally and acting like himself. "He's going to make it, Mom. We were right to believe in him."

I believe in the power of little boys, a goldfish with a will to live, and acceptance. Sometimes everything does work out at the end of the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

They Don't Need to Know

Somewhere along the road of marriage, miscarriage, fragile pregnancies, too many pets and little babes with peculiar tastebuds I misplaced my meager culinary skills. Three years ago, when I veered off on the Cancer Detour, I abandoned all hope of recovering those skills or even acquiring new ones. Poor, hungry kidlets. Woeful, starving father of kidlets. And what about the recovering Cancer Mom, who tossed aside the AI-treatments in favor of nutrition and exercise? Coffee and laundry aren't on the "recurrence prevention" list.

With no room in the budget for a personal chef, dream though I may of such a luxury, I peruse my library of cookbooks. Considering I don't cook I have an amazing collection. The Sneaky Chef is one I've been meaning to study. Between appointments I sit in the van, check out possible recipes, list the ingredients and head into Trader Joe's. Knowing it will have to be a two-grocery-store trip (I so hate grocery shopping) I even purchase a $6.99 thermal bag at TJ's to keep the cold stuff cold. Run to Safeway, grab the rest of the items, and make it home in time to unload before picking up Round 1 of the kids. (Round 2 comes 20 minutes later.)

The first item I hoped would appeal to Danny who loves turkey tacos: a turkey meatloaf. The secret disguised ingredients, though, involve pureed veggies and beans, wheat germ, and a few other things Danny hasn't eaten in years. Did I mention that Danny doesn't eat vegetables? Well, surprisingly, he refused to touch it but dear Gracie, my flexitarian, did agree to taste it and loved it! A success! She needs protein and iron in her diet; this was an incredible triumph. Danny did eat green salad and bread.

The next day I made Peanut Butter Muffins that were really sneaky. While they suspected the meatloaf originated from the "sneaky" cookbook, the kids did not know the muffins came from the "sneaky" book, too, and that's why Danny tried them. That and the fact that I added milk chocolate chips to the mix. The muffins were made with whole wheat flour, wheat germ, pureed veggies (I used organic BABY FOOD: sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, spinach!!!), organic peanut butter, brown sugar. Here's the kicker: Danny not only loved them, he ate three. Gracie had two. Joe tried the ones with strawberry preserves in the middle and liked them. Wow, I'm on to something here.

Food has become a power struggle for us, and an area of worry for me. Many days I just don't want to bother with eating, especially since the effort is often met with uninterested kids or whiney battles. But, I can't afford to abandon the act of nurturing my children or myself. What we eat matters, it really is life and death for our bodies and spirits. This may seem like a small thing and yet it could be the bridge that allows us to start having more variety in our diets, more complex food choices. Who knows, what starts out as sneaky may progress to a bowl of sweet potatoes or a bean salad or ...