Bouktouf

I hate. Being sick. The only thing worse is when one of my children is sick. Gabriel has inherited my proclivity for the hacking smoker’s cough. Give him a couple days with your garden-variety cold and soon grocery clerks and librarians will be commenting on how terrible he sounds. Jonah developed a fear of the hospital by age three (stitches, broken teeth, SVT). Watching your child get wheeled into anesthesia, seeing him on a hospital bed in the ER attached to machines and sporting an IV is like to split your heart open.

I digress. There is, if not a silver, then a comforting grey lining (who wants sunshine when your head is pounding?) to the cloud that is the common cold. The slowness. The rather pleasant fog that makes it difficult to do anything except catch up on all the trashy TV I didn’t know I’d been missing (thanks Hulu). Sometimes there’s even an accompanying gratefulness along the lines of wow, I’m glad it doesn’t always feel like there’re razors in my throat when I swallow. When was it that I began taking the ability to breathe freely for granted?

And then there’s bouktouf (bouk, as in boutique; touf as in Tartuffe). An Algerian vegetarian soup made up of zucchini, onions, potatoes, lemon, and olive oil, bouktouf is one of those soups that seems too hard to make on a weeknight, but when I start dicing I think this isn’t so bad, and then I remember I have to put it all in the blender, which isn’t difficult or time-consuming, just messy, but by the time I realize this I’ve once again underestimated how long the crusty bread needs to bake to get crusty.

But we all needed this soup this evening. Only Jonah has resisted our first cold of the season—and even he, unbelievably, proclaimed, “This is so good. I like it very much. I would eat it every night.” This after taking one bite and insisting he’d had enough, followed by a trot to the freezer for ice cream.

The picture doesn’t really capture its glimmering quality (who wouldn’t glimmer with a full cup of olive oil under their belt?). How does the recipe put it? “The soup should shimmer in the ambient light.” Heck, I’d like to shimmer in the ambient light. Another favorite line: “When the potatoes are very soft, and the zucchini has given itself to the soup…” As you can see, the making of this soup is a religious experience.

But we all still feel like crap. I guess a bowl of soup can only take you so far. Thankfully, it was far enough for me. Tonight. (Postscript: click HERE to go straight to your own bowl of shimmering delight.)

who do not know, but are not lost

I’m just about through Kathleen Norris’ Acedia & me. And what I’m not through, I’ll just have to forgo, as I’ve rechecked it five times from the library and it’s due today. Dang it. But before I return it, I must reference a poem and a passage or two:

 

Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them.

— G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


The world is eaten up by boredom…You can’t see it all at once. It is like dust. You go about and never notice…But stand still for an instant and there it is, coating your face and hands. To shake off this drizzle of ashes you must be forever on the go. And so people are always “on the go.”

— Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest

 

…what the late poet William Stafford used to say about writer’s block. He claimed never to have experienced it, because as soon as he felt it coming on, he lowered his standards. Writing is like fishing, Stafford would say. A nibble will always come, but all too often we dismiss the little nudge as not worthy of the great works we vaingloriously imagine we will write. In a similar way, we block our spiritual progress. The message of salvation that begins as a whisper is easily missed in the noise of passions such as envy, pride, anger, and acedia…we must grasp in the darkness the divine help that cannot be felt or clearly seen.

— Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me

 

THE HIGHER ARITHMETIC

In heaven, I do not know that there are angels,
but I know there are numbers there, and light.
(Arithmetic and heaven are both uncountably
full of light.) Inaccessible cardinals, there,
will lord it over mere infinities;
the naturals will dance among the reals…

Apart from numbers, how little we know.

There is no largest prime. The Halting Problem
is formally undecidable. Every subset
of a well-ordered set is well-ordered itself.  

Such things are true, even easy to prove.
Are there uncountably more, unknowably other
true things about the world?

I had to go away. A woman I love
(and this it true, too) put an icon
of an archangel into the glove-compartment
of my car. I haven’t looked, but I know it is there,
as I know there is no largest prime.

                                                                 Raphael,
she said. His numberless wings cloak all of us
poor travellers who do not know, but are not lost.
The angel, she said, of happy meeting, after all. 

— David J. Dwyer

 

Found:

1) We’ll start with the list topper: raccoons. Not usually known for trouncing around mid-day, these ones. G, the dogs and I were making our customary morning rounds in the buggy, trekking down a new street, when I heard the most peculiar sound. Not a bird. Not a squirrel. I was getting my phone out to record the strangely concerned voice chattering from some nearby bushes when a monster mama raccoon sped out and up a gutter pipe with remarkable velocity. Velocity really is the word here—this mama looked to weigh a good 20-25 pounds. Good eats in the neighborhood. Anyway, I’d have had it on video, but Sophie and Lucy went apeshit (Sophie and Lucy being the reason, no doubt, we flushed out mama in the first place) and in their tangled jerking towards the gutter pipe lodged the leash around the wheel of G’s buggy, nearly dragging him along with them. Up the roof she went, and just as she neared the peak, out popped a smaller head from the adjoining incline. Ah, baby raccoon (actually, more like prepubescent)! Now the concerned chattering makes sense. The six of us spent about five minutes eyeing each other with wonder, appetite, and suspicion, according to our animal natures. I couldn’t get a decent picture for the life of me (though using a filter in Photoshop called “anisotropic diffuse” makes what I did get more interesting). G spent the rest of our walk pointing to roofs and vocalizing something along the lines of “Eh? Eh!”

2) Innocently admiring the neighbors’ Little Tikes playhouse (G points and grunts “Eh! Eh! Eh!” every time we pass) will sometimes illicit an entirely unprovoked, “You want it?” Boy, won’t Jonah be excited! Thank you Bob, kindly neighbor (who will, no doubt, be glad to reclaim a good section of his smallish backyard).

3) Tooth fairies sometimes lose their stash. It’s bound to happen. Our resident fairy (we’ll call him Carl) bought a two-pack of “dark” action figures. After depositing Dark Spiderman under J’s pillow in exchange for his first naturally-occurring lost tooth, Fairy Carl proceeded to hide Dark Wolverine in anticipation of number two. Not long after, number two was rather prematurely extracted by an excited and anticipatory J. Fairy Carl couldn’t for the life of him remember exactly where he’d hid Dark Wolverine. A late late night trip to Wal-Mart was executed, a suitable replacement found. Today I discovered missing Wolverine still housed in his plastic wrapping within a plastic bag inside of a coffee box that had fallen off the shelf in the laundry room. Those fairies and their hiding places. I suspect the presence of another mischievous imp somewhere on the grounds. John has, several times, suspected our home to be haunted. Whether the spirits are foul or fair, he will not say. We’ve been trying to get a priest over here for a year to flush them out.

LLAF or 1-5-3

“Simplicity is a consistency that resolves itself.”

I love this. It feels circular, but also like a road. I can’t tell you the origin, but the quote came from Bill Cunningham on one of his “On the Street” collages, prefaced by, “There’s a saying in the art world…”

Today I’m applying it to Jonah and his way of taking things in. Something about numbers and letters, of symbols as a whole, doesn’t absorb easily. Let him watch a video a couple of times, and he will quote you passages to near perfection. But it’s taken several years for him to recognize the letters in his name, and on some days still, it’s hit-or-miss. In many ways he’s just a late comer. The kid cried for a good percentage of the first nine months of his life. Looking back, we can recognize more clearly how his struggle with sensory integration made sleep and simple existence incredibly difficult, maybe even painful for him. So if you’re uncomfortable in your own body and your only form of communication is to yell about it, it makes sense that you’re not going to be taking in much of your environment. My theory—and it holds true in a variety of situations—is that Jonah is about nine months “behind” in regard to those benchmarks typical kids are supposed to meet. Of course, this is a generalization. In some ways he’s ahead; in others, even more delayed.

So for a good year now, his teachers and OT’s and intervention specialists have been doing intensive alphabet/number recognition work, incorporating writing by having him trace in sand or make letters with putty. Same as with his name, some days he can recognize five or six letters of the alphabet (other than the letters of his name), sometimes you’re lucky to get a “J” or an “O” or an “H”. Friday, unbidden, he started reading (from right to left) a hand-painted sign outside of his school: L, L, A, F. Three of those letters have nothing to do with his name! Yahoo! It helps that he’s been obsessing about when fall is going to come. And if it will still be fall at Halloween, and at Christmas.

Then there was a meltdown involving a castle he’d made out of poster board and toilet paper tubes and streamers that I had to jimmy into the buggy, which distressed him to no end because I was “RUINING IT!” We got through that by the promise of a lollipop on our arrival home. And no, I don’t feel guilty a bit about bribing my child with candy. But it does make me internally reference a post on We Go With Him, called The Eternal Autismland Conundrum.

J’s second triumph occurred a block from home. A neighbor had erected a new address marker, a stone carved with his house number. Unbidden, Jonah proceeded to point out (reading from bottom to top), “It’s 1 and 5 and 3.”

Maybe all that work with his teachers and helpers is paying off. And maybe it’s also organic, the way that anyone comes to understand things in their own time and way (the Montessorians call these intervals “sensitive periods”). It’s simple and it’s not, because it’s also mysterious. But maybe mystery isn’t as complicated as we think.

One more story: Jonah’s learned to ride his bike without training wheels (not so late comer here)—in very much the same way he started talking and peeing in the toilet. He just did it, without extensive training or much perceptible accumulation of skill. He spent a good part of today circling the three pine trees in our sidelot. “Can you hardly believe it?” he kept asking, and then repeated something he’d heard me say about John painting the hand railings on our porch: “Your dreams are coming true.”

Plums and Potatoes

While I was doing the dishes last night, it took me a few moments to realize there wasn’t a storm coming through but the night coming down. Morning breaks later. The wind’s picked up; and please don’t mention the leaves. My days will be full of raking soon enough. For whatever reason, I find myself staring out of windows and wanting to write poems. If I wasn’t so impatient, this post would have been a poem. But I need to pick up J from school and go to the bank and move the laundry to the drier. Not that that’s any kind of excuse. I mean, what’s more important than poetry?

Saturday, I bought a quart of plums for no other reason than the way they were piled up in a green paper carton. I was imagining what they’d look like in a white bowl when the woman at the fruit stand bagged them and asked for $2.78. Not bad, I thought. Even better when turned into gooey plum cobbler—the kind with big globs of golden biscuit. We ate half of it last night for dessert. I ate another quarter of it before bed. Gabriel and I proceeded to finish it off for breakfast.

Along these same lines, I was enthralled by some leftover potatoes I was frying up for lunch yesterday. When it comes to simple food, I don’t know what’s better than a good fried potato. All it takes is a little butter and strong heat. And see the blue ones!—like tiny planets sliced open, their marrow glistening. So I fried up Jupiter in a skillet. What’s luckier than that? I know how Jupiter tastes!