The rhythm of mornings on the Ridge

(I am spending two and a half months living on my parents’ place in the mountains in rural Eastern Oregon with my two preschool-age children. Shaye, who is five, insists on going to kindergarten, even during our short stay. This is a vivid slice of life.)

I rise out of deep sleep with the trill of my cell phone, which has been demoted to a glorified alarm clock out in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon with no signal.

First I inhale deeply before my eyes open. There is the pungent fragrance of the pellets that feed the little stove and the undertone of snow. My eyes open to the flickering light of the little orange flame at the foot of the big bed.

I reach over and fumble to turn off the alarm, so it doesn’t wake up Marik. Then I reluctantly role myself out of the froth of white blankets that cover the bed. I wish I had this nice of a bed at home in our little house near Prague in the Czech Republic. So much for roughing it in the mountains.

I stumble the few feet to the creaky ladder that leads to the loft and blink hard to clear the sleep from my head as I climb in the warm semi-darkness, lit only by the stove. Above is the tiny loft, mostly crammed with boxes my mother is storing. There is a small space that has been cleared for two pallets on the floor and my children sleep there – four-year-old Marik and five… almost six-year-old Shaye. I squeeze into the opening between a cabinet and the railing to reach Shaye.

I gently stroke her cheek in an attempt to wake her gently but she doesn’t stir. I can’t fit entirely into their tiny space without causing a fair amount of noise, so I resort to reaching down and lifting her by both arms as she sleeps. She wakes up as she is pulled out of her blankets but she doesn’t cry. She’s used to it and she loves kindergarten.

At first, her legs don’t hold her but I put her hands on the railing and guide her quietly through the little space. I have to hold her from behind as we slide down the ladder because she isn’t awake enough to be reliable.  Back down on the floor of the tiny one-room cabin, we dress silently by firelight. Shaye is usually done first, despite the fact that I have laid out our clothes the night before. My head is still full of fluff.

She opens the door as I get my boots on and the icy air of the still-dark morning blasts against my nose. It must be more than ten below again. We step outside onto the frozen path. There isn’t much snow this morning, just a powdery dusting. I close the door quietly. Marik is still fast asleep. Shaye and I make our way toward the big house  

I put my hand on her shoulder and let her bob against my legs as we walk. The moon is waning but still fat and bright, hanging among the pines that tower above us on the western slope. An owl hoots up there in the trees. Then another answers from down in the woodlot in the hollow far below. Something else cries out in the predawn, an animal I don’t recognize.

We step quickly toward the house. A light has been left on for us but otherwise it is still dark and silent. We bustle inside, shedding boots and coats. I put water on for tea, while Shaye snuggles with the two dogs and one cat that greet us. In thirty five minutes, I get Shaye through hair brushing and a small bowl of cereal, sometimes half a cup of warm fruit tea and a few minutes of reading. Sometimes I can salvage the coals of last night’s fire in the big hearth. But sometimes I have to build it up from scratch.

When my watch says exactly 6:45, we have to start putting boots and coats on in earnest. At 6:50, Shaye stands outside while I lace up my high tops and mash my hat into place. Both dogs barrel out of the door, growling and nipping at each other playfully.

“I hear the bus,” Shaye yells and we start down the steep quarter-mile mud track that serves as our driveway. I can see the lights of the bus far below, making its way up the road beyond our property. In three minutes, we drop down to the county road that runs through the bottom of the hollow. The sky is barely starting to get light but the morning as clear as the perfect note of a penny whistle.

We’re the furthest out on this school bus route. The driver, a sweet lady named Cindy, has to drive another mile up the road to find a place to turn around. Then, she comes back down the hill and picks Shaye up on her way back. That way we have the five-minute warning to get us down the hill and we rarely have to wait long.

When we hear the bus approach again and see the warmth of its flashing lights in the distance, Shaye burrows against me, suddenly demanding of comfort and multiple hugs. I hug her and put the required kisses on her face as the bus slows and the doors open.

“‘Morning!” Cindy calls.

“‘Morning,”  I reply, as Shaye bounds up the steps and disappears into the darkened bus alone.

I stand and wave, even though I can’t see her behind the glass or at that distance. The one time I forgot to pretend to exchange waves with her, she gave me a hard time about it for days. So, I wave and smile and pretend that I can see her as the bus pulls away. One of the absurdities of being a legally blind mother.

In a moment the morning is as still and peaceful as that clear note of music. The sky has lightened a little along the horizon, though it will be a half an hour yet before the sun peeks up.  The only sound is the yipping of the dogs as they chace each other out in the neighbor’s pasture. I turn back up the road and hike to the stop, pausing a few times just to admire the morning. The brightening skyline and the pink-hued clouds are blurry to me but still beautiful, something like an impressionist painting.

I take the grassier path back up the ridge. That one ends back at the little cabin where Marik is still asleep. I slip in as silently as I can and sit in the rocking chair reading for a few minutes as the sun comes up and slowly illuminates my mother’s paintings which hang close together on the walls. This is normally her art studio, when we aren’t here. I can’t actually see the paintings unless I stand on the bed and put my face a few inches from them, but the amorphous blobs of them on the wall are comforting.

At about 7:30, Marik snuffles awake and calls out to see if I have returned from the bus yet. Then he pads over to the ladder and climbs down. He sits in my lap for awhile and I read one of the new stories I’ve ordered online. I tuck our latest addition into one of the big duffle bags I’m packing for the long trip back to the Czech Republic, a land of limited English-language children’s books, and we head back into the house.

Most mornings we are alone. My mom and my brother stay overnight in town more often than not. So, Marik and I make a more substantial breakfast, carry a load of wood down a long flight of narrow stairs to stoke the fire, wash the dishes and try to call Papa on Skype. Then it is time to find something useful to do with the four-year-old-oriented part of the day. Sometimes we just go for a walk to visit a neighbor or one of the huge trees on top of the ridge. Other days we cook or make cookies for the holidays. About once every two weeks, we can finagle a ride into town to visit the library.

Such is the rhythm of our mornings on Pumpkin Ridge. There is peace to it along with hard work.

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My new book is published!

I am glad to announce that my first book The Soul and the Seed has been published and is now available on Kindle. For the next two days the book will be just $2.99. So now’s the time to get it.

“This one grabs you!” –Ember Smith

Click here to buy the book.

If you don’t have a Kindle, click here to get a free Kindle app on your computer, phone or tablet. (See the P.S. for other formats.)

TSatS Cover small

The Story

Aranka is a moderately normal teenager in a small Oregon town until she unintentionally upsets those who hold true power in today’s world.

The commonly accepted image of the modern world is an illusion. A massive force controls the wills of the powerful, whether in high school cliques or in international politics. Those who won’t conform must be crushed to preserve the appearance of free will.

Aranka and a few others stand in the way, not because they are rebels, just because of the fluke in their genes. Those with power will stop at nothing to protect their supremacy. Aranka is kidnapped and forced to watch as her fellow prisoners are killed one by one. It’s only a matter of time before it is her turn to die.

A small band of outlaws from every corner of the globe fight to free those in peril and to preserve their own inner freedom. Kenyen, a young doctor, ventures into the heart of oppression but he can’t stop the terror. He just wants to save one life. In the process he uncovers “the Seed,” the first flicker of hope in a thousand years.

This is the first book in The Kyrennei Series – the tale of how the contemporary world IS the dystopia that so many fear.

Read and review so I can keep writing for you 

If you and lots more readers like this book, I will be able to spend more time writing and less time working at other jobs. Your review is crucial in making this a reality. Especially early on, every review makes a big difference in promoting a book.

There are three simple yet truly powerful things you can do. 

  1. Write a review of this book on Amazon as soon as possible.A few early reviews will go a long way in persuading the Amazon computers to recommend this book to other readers. (If you’re a direct relative of the author with the same last name, Amazon might not allow your review. See step two.)
  2. Sign up forGoodreads, a great place to find books you’ll really like based on what you’ve liked before (including things you didn’t buy on Amazon), and write a review of this book there. Short is fine. (Goodreads doesn’t care if you’re related to the author. They just want to know what is honestly good.)
  3. Tell your friends onFacebookTwitter and in the regular ol’ world about this book.

Thank you so much for your support. Letting more readers know about this book is the single most important thing you can do to make sure there will be more. 🙂

Best wishes!
Arie Farnam

P.S. This book will be available for print on demand as well as in other digital formats within a few months. In the meantime as a special offer to my subscribers on this list, I will make epub or pdf versions available to you myself. If you can’t use the Kindle apps for any reason, buy a copy of the book on Amazon anyway. Then write to me and tell me that you would like an epub or pdf version. You can print out a pdf version, if you really don’t want to read on a device. I only ask that you don’t indiscriminately share it. The price isn’t high and it really is what allows me to have time to write rather than work more day jobs. Writers’ kids like to eat too (and generally a lot). 🙂

One morning in the Eastern Ukraine

The other day I was sitting at a campfire someplace in West Bohemia with a bunch of Czechs and Bulgarians, as well as a German and a smattering of Ukrainians thrown in for variety. One Ukrainian guy, Dima, was regaling me with stories about his difficult neighbors in Prague.

 

“These city people,” he said. “They never want to know their neighbors.”

Before I thought, it slipped out. “I know. But we did have some wonderful neighbors when we lived in Prague. They lived just around the corner. Ukrainians actually. Like you. From Kharkov.”

Dead silence.

Oops.

I’m a little rusty when it comes to Eastern European war zones. Kids and a few years of placid suburban homesteading will do that to you.

Not Ukrainians like him, well not anymore apparently. My good, dear neighbors were actually Ukrainian Russians and better folks could not be found anywhere. They ran an underground safe house for refugees out of everywhere from Nepal to Belarus. (They will be honored in Book Three of The Kyrennei Series with a fictional version of their quiet generosity and courage.)

One of them is dead now, killed in a fire in Belgium more than ten years ago. The other disappeared into the immigrant underworld of Dublin before the days of Facebook and is now lost to me as well. Damn any war that would prohibit me from speaking of good friends!

But I do know why Dima and the others are upset by my mention of Kharkov. The West is quick to judge and most Americans would not really understand their situation. So, I sit down next to Dima and tell him – in detail – that I do really get it. It takes until midnight, but we’re friends again. 

“It hurts,” he says. “We could almost get on our feet. The Russians have always wanted to control us.”

“I know.”

Damn! What it must be like to be a child growing up in the Eastern Ukraine these days. Bleak enough before there was war. The children in one village ran out to the road when we walked up with our heavy packs and our expensive journalistic equipment. “Potatoes!” they cried with joyous, sooty faces. “We’re going to have potatoes!” They were so thin. Their bluish, pale skin was almost translucent.

“And do you have any lard to put on them?”

“Ah, no, but we’ll bake them in the coals.” Hungry eyes.

They sent these children down into the defunct coal mines – nine, ten, eleven years old – to carry sacks of coal that weighed almost as much as they did out through the treacherous half-collapsed shafts. This was not the Middle Ages. And this was not the Third World. This was 2002 in Europe. Technically Europe at least but it might as well have been the setting for a post-apocalyptic Hollywood thriller.

In the nearby town a mafia boss had threatened to kill my photographer and me. Just like that, in a friendly tone, in a cafe. The woman we were with, the daughter of another boss, fended him off and smuggled us out of town hidden in the back of a car driven by a maniac local journalist.

These are the things real people do for truth. I can’t count the times people risked their lives to help me get a story of desperation out to the world when I worked as a journalist. People on the brink want the world to at least notice.

We walked through the mist outside town into a stand of endless straight aspens. Finally, we came to the village near the mines. An old man took us in. He had potatoes too. He even had a bit of lard. He fried them up and fed them to us. Possibly the last food around for a long time, but he wouldn’t hear of our refusal and by then our stomachs were gnawing at our backbones. 

He showed us the mines, guided us for a day and a night through his devastated world. And he showed us the picture of Josef Stalin that he had hung in his cabinet. “Stalin was our hero. He saved my father from starvation,” he said. “My pa came from the far north. There was nothing there. Stalin sent him here to work in the mines. We had food. We had life. Now everything is gone. People can’t even have children anymore. My granddaughter is the only child left in this village.”

These are the Ukrainian Russians. Yes, Dima was right. They were interlopers. They came to the Ukraine and they took Ukrainian land. Stalin sent them. First, Stalin cleared the land by killing a third of the Ukrainian nation through starvation. That’s why my host’s father could settle that land. That’s why it was empty. But he didn’t know that. He had never read a foreign newspaper, rarely – if ever – spoken to a Ukrainian from the western part of the country, never spoken to a foreigner before me.

At five o’clock in the morning, he shook me awake, his eyes filled with fear. “Get up. You have to run!” His hands trembled.

Brilliant sunlight streamed through the windows of the tiny house. We jumped up, threw on our packs and raced up a wooded slope behind the house.

“Who? Why?”

The old man turned to look at me with ghostly eyes. “I don’t know exactly. Mafia, police… It doesn’t really matter. Same thing mostly. They said, if you are here when they come, it will go badly with all of us. They don’t want anyone to know the truth about the mines, the conditions, the children…”

A short run with our hearts in our throats, the creak of our packs and the rattle of Kurt’s camera equipment the only sound in the silent morning forest. Then a narrow, potholed road. A bus came along shortly. 

“Get on. Good luck. Don’t come back.”

We waved as he scurried back into the trees.

“Dima, I know how hard it is. Hard and not fair and hopeless. And yet, I’ve always loved the Ukrainians and the Russians too. Ukrainian food is fantastic. You can do things with milk that most of the world can’t possibly imagine. And the stamina of such people. The kindness… But the Russian Ukrainians too. Believe me on that please. I’m not saying there aren’t some idiots with guns out there causing a war and maybe some of them think Josef Stalin was a hero. But that maniac journalist who smuggled us out of town a step ahead of the mob, his name was Dima too.”

And when Igor and Natasha had the safe house on Na Spojce street in Prague, there were Russians and Ukrainians and Belorussians. They were all artists… musicians, painters, night-pub cooks with a creative streak, whatever. Such good people, always ready to share whatever they had.  They were usually running from one tyrannical regime or another.

The authorities out there haven’t been good in generations, if they ever were. You can admit that, can’t you? I wouldn’t trust either side with a long-range missile, especially if vodka is involved. But give me a fire and a few Ukrainians or Russians or both any evening. 

Our American wars are no better. No war is. No reason good enough. May you find shelter and peace.

Inspiration porn or unfit parent

I have been so overwhelmed with getting in and putting upp the fall vegetable, fruit and herb harvest, while homeschooling to young kids and teaching 11 hours a week, that I was proud but inattentive when Shaye and Marik remarked on trash littering the little street leading up to the train station and expressed outrage at those who throw such litter on the earth.

“Mama, people can’t throw trash on the ground. It makes the earth sad. It is yucky for us, “Shaye, age 4, said.

Marik, who just turned 3 added, “Yucky trash. Pick up trash. I want gloves, Mama.”

They bugged me for gloves and a trash bag. Once last spring, when we did our homeschooling earth and ecology unit, we actually got out and cleaned up trash around the neighborhood and particularly on “our” trails through the overgrown empty land between us and the train station and preschool. You have to pay a fair amount for garbage service in our town and a lot of the part-timers, people who have weekend cottages here and normally live in the city, don’t bother with it. They simply fill a grocery sack with their garbage and dump it in the brush on the way to the train station. The bags burst and there is trash everywhere. There are places in among the trees that we couldn’t clean up because years of such dumping has resulted in a tangle of brush and thorns over a heavy mat of decomposing leaves and garbage. We have even found large items like TVs and toilets on the little dirt track behind our house.

Since we did the clean up in the spring, the trails have been much better. There is a psychological law that holds that if people, especially kids, see litter, they are much more likely to throw out litter. Many children use these same paths to walk to school and when they see the bags of trash thrown out by the part-timers, they toss soda cans, gum wrappers and snack packaging down right on the path. After Dusan, the kids and I cleaned up the major dumps in the vacant, overgrown areas, they largely stopped doing that, but there is still a lot of litter on the road right below the train station.

I kept telling the kids that if they reminded me, I would get us a garbage sack and gloves and we could pick up a few things the next time we went. I mostly meant it but, realistically, we are almost always in a hurry, running to catch the train or make it on time for the English class I teach at the preschool. But then, Shaye and I were invited to the birthday party of a boy in her international preschool choir in Prague. So, the two of us set out last Saturday and actually managed to get going a few minutes early, and Shaye remembered to remind me about the bag and gloves. I was proud of her and more than happy to make it happen.

We picked up the bits and pieces of litter on the trails and then concentrated most of our attention on the litter on the road below the train station. I mostly held the bag open, balancing my white cane in my elbow, while Shaye found the trash, but at one point I had to drop everything to climb over a railing to retrieve discarded paint cans and plastic bottles, at Shaye’s insistence. I heard one family on the road out in their yard and noticed a group of teenagers walking down the road but I didn’t pay any attention to them, even when I vaguely sensed them all fall oddly silent.

After we had left the people behind and started to climb the long steep stairway to the train station, Shaye said, “Mama, why were all those people staring at us with their mouths open?”

And it hit me that the big demonstrative silence had been about everyone staring at us, more specifically me, holding the garbage bag and a white cane while a little kid picks up litter. I’ve had Czechs tell me outright that it is irresponsible of me to have children. This past summer, I experienced two family members (independently of each other) spread the idea that I am not to be trusted with the safety of children because I can’t see well enough, despite the fact that I have never had a serious safety breach with my kids or the kids I teach. My Czech in-laws don’t see me with a cane generally and I doubt they really have a clue how badly I see, which is probably a good thing now that I see what can happen even in the States. So, I’m not really sure what is going through the minds of the people staring at Shaye and me picking up the litter.

Are they thinking “Oh, how amazing, a disabled person doing something to help the town. How inspiring. Or is it that she is being paid by some charity to do it?” or are they thinking, “How sick! There’s this blind lady forcing a little kid to hang out with her and even pick up garbage. Surely, she isn’t allowed to have children.”

So basically, I hate to break it to you, little daughter, but people are staring at your mother because of the combination of this white stick and a garbage bag. Yes, the world is very strange. You’ll understand when you’re older… or not.

I finished my year-long writing project…

… such as it is.

Homeschooling: Shaye and Marik practicing being mail carriers and learning about the postal system

Homeschooling: Shaye and Marik practicing being mail carriers and learning about the postal system

Homeschooling: make your own fire fighter hat, hose and fire. Then, put it out.

Homeschooling: make your own fire fighter hat, hose and fire. Then, put it out.

Well, I succeeded in writing about all the traditional Pagan holidays for a year, recording what we did in one form or another. Sometimes I managed pictures and/or a detailed account of what we cooked and the songs of the season and so forth. Sometimes I managed to post something before the fact, so that others could try out some of our ideas this year. But sometimes it was all I could do to scratch out a few lines a few weeks after the fact. That was primarily in the summer when internet access was sketchy and life was more chaotic, living temporarily with my family in Oregon.

You can see my final post, including photos, and all the other previous posts on the “Wheel of the Year” page: https://ariefarnam.wordpress.com/the-wheel-of-the-year/

We’ve been back in Europe for almost two months and I am only now do I feel moderately caught up with the gardening, the harvesting, my tutoring jobs and the homeschooling plans. So, I though I would post a couple of the best photos that got left out over the past few months because of our chaotic lives.

Homeschooling: Showing off professions posters and Imbolc crowns

Homeschooling: Showing off professions posters and Imbolc crowns

Homeschooling:  Sure this is educational somehow

Homeschooling: Sure this is educational somehow

Playing at a wild park with friends in Vienna

Playing at a wild park with friends in Vienna

Really wild and really fun friends

Really wild and really fun friends

Beautiful dancers at the Romani festival at Cerveny Kamen

Beautiful dancers at the Romani festival at Cerveny Kamen

Romani men dance too. And how!

Romani men dance too. And how!

Water fun at the end of summer is a little chilly.

Water fun at the end of summer is a little chilly.

But so educational. Here's Shaye working with various types of pumps and water wheels at the Family Park south of Vienna.

But so educational. Here’s Shaye working with various types of pumps and water wheels at the Family Park south of Vienna.

The Festival of Spring

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Our little family seems to be growing tentatively. Here is a picture of Ember, holding Marik, with Ember’s boyfriend Tomas and his 11-year-old sister Eliska, standing in front of me. We are standing under our Maypole which we are getting ready to dance around. We had a wonderful Beltane celebration, which you can see more pictures from on my special Wheel of the Year writing project page:

https://ariefarnam.wordpress.com/the-wheel-of-the-year/

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A video of the winter celebrations

I’ve updated the Wheel of the Year page again to include an Ostara update and Beltane plans: https://ariefarnam.wordpress.com/the-wheel-of-the-year/

But I also wanted to make sure this video didn’t get lost in the shuffle for those who are interested. I made a video of our celebrations of the rhythms of the earth over the past half year. The video was originally meant for a presentation I’m giving at a conference in May but it is a fun look at some of the highlights of the past half year.

I would like to note that I have often felt intimidated by videos online showing perfect families and children doing wonderful crafts and activities. I generally feel a sinking feeling and think, “How wonderful for them but that could never be done with my children.” But then I made this video, piecing together the calm bits and pieces of our activities that made sense. I had to do it that way. The video is for a conference, not just for kicks. And presto! The video makes it look as if our children always do as they are asked and cooperate delightfully in every celebration. The truth is that if you pick out the nice, calm ten or twenty seconds of various scenes and piece them together to make sense, you can make almost any chaos look calm.

So, enjoy and keep your perspective:

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