this moment

Leah, with Lijah in the ergo, by the pond in the setting sun

late summer beach fun

A moment from the week.

You have no chance to survive make your time.

I don't want to write about this right now because I'm not in a particularly complain-y mood. But I don't want to let it go. I feel like it's important. The most stressful day of the year came and went last week. The day I reapply for our SNAP benefits. It needn't be so horribly panic-inducing. Maybe if we keep talking about it, someday it won't be.

Every August I know it will arrive but I'm not exactly sure when. I have been saving up my paperwork in an easily-accessible yellow folder: pay stubs and tax bills and social security cards. I am as prepared as any person living at the poverty line can expected to be prepared. Yet the day the envelope arrives in the mail I immediately feel my stomach lurch as I launch into fight-or-flight.

"Your SNAP benefits are set to expire October 10th" the letter says.
"Your recertification paperwork must be completed by September 11th."
"In order to have enough time for our office to process your paperwork, you need to complete these forms and return the requested documents by August 27th."
It is August 22nd when I get this letter. It's a Friday. Mail processing within the DTA office takes at least two days. It is my responsibility to ensure my paperwork is in my caseworker's hands by the date she requests it.

All this means that if I get the paperwork to the post office by 8am on Saturday morning there MIGHT be a CHANCE it gets in on time.

More likely they'll send me a letter they're canceling my case. Last year they printed that letter before I even got the initial questionnaire in the mail.

I tell Dan he is in charge of the children and dinner. I tell him I'm not eating until I get this done. I haul up in the bedroom checking off boxes and making copies of documents. Good thing I have all the forms at the ready. Good thing we have a copy machine in house. Good thing we have a computer and an internet connection and a credit card so I can print a priority shipping label and give myself a fighting chance at meeting their criteria.

Of course, they could cancel my case anyway. I've been doing this for five years now, and that wouldn't surprise me. I've come to expect that after I do my secretarial best I still need to spend several hours on the phone advocating for me and my family.

I have wrote about it before and I don't want to waste my energy writing about it again. Here's me quoting me circa 2013:

To effectively deal with the DTA, or any government agency for that matter, you need skills only possessed by a few members of the human race who are advanced in both intelligence and maturity. You need a patient non-attachment; the realization that your government doesn't care about you personally and the self-confidence to accept that. You need the organizational skills of an executive secretary to save every piece of paper you receive all year and file it in a place that's easily retrievable. You need envelopes and stamps at the ready. It helps if you have a copy machine, printer, scanner, and internet access too. Is this what we expect of people who make under $20,000 a year?

We can look at this problem in two ways. One, we can say it's a gift horse and don't look in it's mouth. People like me should take the kind charity our society extends and not complain about the process we go through to get it. Whether that process be invasive or discriminating or stigmatizing or all of the above... don't utter a word that might smack of ingratitude.

Or two, we could say that an adequate food supply is the basic right of all members of our society. We could say that this is the least we can do to make up for the massive economic, social and environmental catastrophes foisted on our citizenry by business and government. In this light, we should do our best to ensure that this safety net, promised within the law, is actually accessible to those it's designed to help.

I have a friend living below the poverty line who didn't get SNAP benefits renewed because she had to go to her job instead of filing the paperwork in time. Another friend I know couldn't figure out how to prove he DIDN'T have a bank account. These are people with college degrees. I can't begin to imagine the countless others who don't feel confident even approaching the bureaucratic machine for reasons of language or education. It takes a certain mix of confidence and desperation to enter the machine and throw oneself on its grindstone. And another skill set altogether to actually come out the other end with flour.

I am not angry, I just want to face the facts together.

The fact is we live in a country where food benefits are provided and protected under law, and yet the procedures for providing those benefits subtly try to kick the poor off the roles every 6 months. These are the people with the least capacity to stand up for their rights. Mentally handicapped. Working poor. Mothers of small children. They deserve better. I deserve better. We as a society deserves better.


grace is many kinds of chicken

On a busy Saturday afternoon a week ago I took all three boys with me to run some errands. That was my first mistake. A one-hour trip quickly turned into three hours (Homegoods now has a TOYS AISLE), and by the end it was way too close to dinner time. I promised my children all kinds of comfort foods (noodles! chicken nuggets!) as I raced through my last errand, depositing a check in the ATM. They were both screaming that THEY wanted to put the check into the machine, and in my rush to get out of the shopping plaza I left my bank card behind. The ATM machine ate it, and I had to cancel that number and have a new card shipped. The result was I had a little enforced holiday from spending. I couldn't purchase anything online or with cash for 7 days.

Which, you know, should not be a big deal.

I had my SNAP card for groceries. There wasn't anything I thought I NEEDED immediately. I figured our pioneer ancestors went months without visiting a store. Surely I could go a week without a disposable coffee or anything from Amazon.

On Tuesday we got new baby chicks. I felt extra pioneer-ish.

a veteran at this now, but no less delighted

Then on Thursday morning the chicks' brooder light burned out. "Oh my God!" I screamed as I walked into the kitchen and noticed the absence of red light, "Help help help, the baby chicks are getting cold!!!" I tend to overreact a LITTLE BIT, but still we needed to get a replacement bulb.

We looked at Ace Hardware dot com and saw that they probably had one at the store down the street.

"Okay," I said to Dan, "how much cash can we scrounge in this house?"

From our wallets and the change jar we amassed $11. That was enough for the bulb we saw online. I zipped off with Lijah to Ace Hardware.

There was only one red heat lamp in the store. It cost $13.50

For the sake of our baby chicks I threw myself on the cashier's mercy.

"I lost my bank card. This is all the cash I have. We have baby chicks in a brooder at home, and their heat lamp just burned out. Can you just... make this cost eleven dollars?"

She looked at me. She looked at her computer screen. She looked at the line of people forming behind me.

She opened the till and took my quarters. "Because I love chickens," she said.

Apparently grace (in the order of magnitude of $2.50) still exists at Ace Hardware Bedford.


The next day I was out doing my grocery shopping at Whole Foods. I had my SNAP card, so I could buy up to my balance of actual food, but no non-food items or prepared food. Unbeknownst to me, Whole Foods was running a one-day-promotion on rotisserie chicken. Two whole cooked chickens for $10. The prepared-food section was stocked accordingly, with hot chickens piled to the sky.

Man, did I want a cooked chicken all of a sudden. It was almost lunch time too... But prepared food requires cash, so I would have to go home to a vegetarian lunch.

I ran into my friend Christie who is the goddess of one-day sales. "How many chickens are you buying?" she asked. "I'm on my way to an appointment but I had to stop and get the deal."

I agreed that it was a FANTASTIC sale but that I didn't have a bank card, and I explained about the ATM, and the limited scope of SNAP benefits, and I threw my yelling kids into the story to make me look like less of a white trash idiot. Or more, I don't know.

"Oh shut up, I'll buy you two chickens," Christie said. "Do you want teriyaki or barbecue?"

On my way to my car I reflected on the wellspring of human generosity I hadn't even noticed until I lost my bank card. Then I laughed that both these stories are about chickens, albeit in various stages of alive-ness. Maybe it's not me, maybe it's the chickens. Maybe our societal love for chickens, both alive and deliciously roasted, trumps currency.

Or maybe it is about me, about my ability to accept grace. Maybe I have to lose something to realize I'm deserving of human kindess regardless of my inability to pay.

A replacement bank card arrived in the mail late yesterday. Back to hard-headed self-reliance.


camping 2014: beach day

Harvey in his camping chair reading a Tintin book in the early morning sunlight

early reading

Harvey and I woke up early after our first night in the tent. He did some reading while I cleaned and organized; our late arrival meant that I left things in a pretty chaotic state when we went to bed. As other folks started to wake up the kids played together, and our friend Taya did a wonderful job of keeping Lijah happy.

Taya talking to Elijah as he sits outside in his baby seat

she's good with babies

Our friends wanted to stay in camp to cook breakfast over their new propane stove, but we persuaded them they had to give the Cafe a try. Ominously, Zion fell asleep in the car on the way there; and when he woke up he was not happy.

Zion crying in Mama's arms in the restaurant

poor sick baby

Harvey had been sick with a high fever a couple days before we left, and it was clear that Zion had come down with the same thing. Luckily he has a fantastic Mama, who took great loving care of him, even though doing so kept her from being able to eat any breakfast herself (but don't worry, she did have four cups of coffee). We figured Zion would do as well being pushed around in the stroller as anywhere else, so we decided on a little post-breakfast walk around town and harbor. Harvey embraced the touristy nature of Bar Harbor.

Harvey sitting in the lap of a big wooden lobster holding an ice cream cone (the lobster has the cone, not Harvey)

tourist lap

After a long bathroom stop and the purchase of some overpriced batteries to keep my picture-taking habit going, we took to the shore path. The big kids were happy to get off the crowded sidewalks.

Taya and Harvey walking hand-in-hand along the shore path

vacation friends

Everybody wanted to get as close to the water as possible, mostly to throw rocks, but also to take pictures.

Leah taking a video of herself holiding Elijah, standing on the cobbly beach

our vacations are well-documented

Zion recovered a little bit, and even ate a little bit of his take-out oatmeal, but he wasn't healthy enough to really enjoy the seaside (I tried to get him to reprise some previous rock pictures, but he wasn't having it).

Zion sitting on the cobbles with a rock and a serious expresion

not having too much fun

Our friends were eager to visit Sand Beach, one of the two most popular locations in Acadia National Park (along with the top of Cadillac) and one that we hadn't visited for years. With Zion not up for hiking we thought that sounded fine (it's also something that we can only do without Rascal along; no dogs allowed on the beach) so we bought our park pass and headed out that way. Unfortunately, so did everyone else on the island, so we had to park quite a ways away; and the rocky path beside the road wasn't exactly conducive to maneuvering a three-wheeled stroller. But we made it!

Harvey in the foreground, a thousand people on the beach in the background

a popular holiday destination

We found we didn't have cell phone service down in the cove, and we didn't find our friends, so we settled in to enjoy ourselves until the fates should bring our two parties together again. As its name suggests, Sand Beach is famous for being one of the very few sandy spots to swim north of Portland, so of course the Archibalds—contrary as we are—found a shady spot on the rocks to set up. Sick Zion needed to sleep and soon so did baby Lijah; Mama was just along for the ride.

Archibalds sleeping on a shady rock: Zion wrapped in towels, and Leah lying with Lijah in the Ergo

sleeping in the shade

Harvey and I enjoyed playing in the medium-sized waves (I stole all the good wave-playing from Leah), and he only got knocked down a couple times. As the tide went out the rocks and tidepools were beautiful in the clear water, but Harvey was less interested in them than he was in the excitement of the open beach.

Harvey looking at the seeweedy rocks revealed by the receding tide

littoral world

Eventually our friends, delayed by wrong turns, bathroom stops, and naps, made it to the beach, and thanks to the near-constant vigilance I was keeping on the stairs down from the parking lot I spotted them on the way in. The dads and oldest children played some more in the waves, then Harvey and Taya settled in for some focused digging.

Taya and Harvey playing in the sand

digging a well

Too soon we had to head out—on a longer vacation Sand Beach would definitely be a great place to spend a whole day. I was so tired I skipped the bumpy path and took the stroller on the road itself; the cars just had to go around.

We got back to the campsite at dinner time and started a fire. Harvey and Taya were once again great helpers.

Harvey and Taya feeding the campfire with twigs

fire helpers

In the past we've had a little competition about what we can cook on the campfire, with each couple trying to brings something a little more special; last year we saw campfire pizza, chicken pot pie, and pineapple upside-down cake (also something boring that we made). The friends who came up with us this year didn't know about that, but their hot dogs and baked beans were as tasty after our beach day as anything else could have been, and wonderfully abundant. Plus the leftover chili let me make one of my three hot dogs a chili cheese dog!

the picnic table with a skillet of hot dogs and a cut-up tomato. and Harvey


Then more smores provided a perfect ending to the meal. Well, perfect to everyone but Zion: after sleeping on the beach, in the car, and in the tent, he woke up feeling considerably better and looking for a hot dog, mere moments after the last one had been eaten. Happily he allowed himself to be consoled with marshmallows and chocolate-chip cookies. That's just what you need when you're getting over an illness, right? And it worked, because he slept fine that night, too!


camping 2014: the trip up

Zion and Harvey settled in to the back of the van

on the road

Camping this year was not an unmitigated success. I started off the trip by backing out of the driveway into our neighbor's car, denting the door and breaking a window. But our car was fine, so we were on our way! As pictured above the new van was delightfully cozy, though we were a little bit sad that we had decided not to bring Rascal with us to Maine: there would have been lots more room for him than there had been in the Suburu the last couple years. But needs must, and the boys settled in to their comfy setup as we made stops to drop Rascal off at his vacation spot (thanks Cindy!), pick up bagels, and get some new books from the library. Then it was time to hit the highway!

a view of the Fore River from Rt 295 in Portland

ocean crossing!

With Leah driving (I wasn't to be trusted after crashing in the first 15 seconds) I was free to enjoy the sights and take pictures out the window—for example the Fore River in Portland, as seen above. I could also text with our friends who were also on the way up, and crawl around the back of the van as needed getting the boys the food and entertainment they demanded. All three of them were great for the first two or three hours, and when Lijah started getting bored we were happy to stop in Yarmouth, where we found a pleasant little coffee shop to hang out in for half an hour.

Leah cuddling Lijah and the boys at a distance playing with toys

relaxation for everyone

One reason Harvey and Zion were such easy travelers was that they were watching The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe on the iPad, which was rubber-banded to the back of Lijah's seat. As we left the highway to head up Rt 1 I tried to draw their attention to the increasingly lovely scenery, but without much luck. I enjoyed it, though! They were happy enough to hop out of the car at our next stop, Payson Park in Warren.

Zion and Harvey playing on a yellow metal climbing structure

getting some energy out

Besides the playground, there's also a river (Oyster River, maybe?), and the boys and I enjoyed playing along its banks and throwing sticks and rocks. Unlike in past years we didn't mean to do any swimming there, but Zion did fall in enough to necessitate a complete change of clothes.

the boys playing in the creek by the playground

natural beauty

Next stop was the beach in Lincolnville, pictured previously. Though it had been hot back home when we left, and still pretty warm all the way up to Camden, north of Camden was noticeably cooler. Leah and the boys got their swimsuits on, but there wasn't a whole lot of actual swimming done. Still, they had fun playing in the little waves while I hung out with Lijah.

Elijah standing up supported on my knees, with Leah and the boys playing in the water way in the background

beach baby

And even beyond the water there was lots of fun to be had. Harvey collected snail shells and Zion really enjoyed playing in the sand.

zion lying on his stomach in the sand

I don't know why

All three boys were wearing Maine-themed shirts (we love being tourists!) and Harvey, in his Burt Dow tee, was delighted to pose by the Burt Dow-esque dory at the back of the beach.

Harvey, in his Burt Dow shirt, posing by a dory planted with flowers

no indian peas, though

We could have stayed lots longer, but I wanted to be sure we could get to the campground in time to set up the tent and make dinner for our friends, so we headed out. We didn't quite make it all the way there without another stop, but a dirt parking lot for baby-nursing and firewood-buying isn't really picture-worthy (though I did take one, just in case). When we did reach our site, the boys were a great help unloading the car and finding twigs to start the fire. Then they could relax and enjoy things.

Harvey and Zion sitting in their chairs at the campfire

warming up

Our supper of chilli, rice and cornbread was tasty, and toasting marshmallows was just the thing to make us all feel like we were really doing this camping thing right!