wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Something I Can Do

I appreciated hearing from some of you after my last post, that yes, you make yourself look and care, too. Even when it haunts your dreams and you carry the weight with you throughout the day and the only thing you can do is pray. Look at the little children squeezed in those masses, caught up in a chaos where innocence and routines are shattered.


Refugee children

See them carrying burdens too heavy for them. Burdens too heavy even for the adults in their lives who are worried every day. And yet. Look at them. Still little children.

Iraqi children

There are makeshift schools going on in the camps in northern Iraq, a sad reminder that life in the dispossessed world of the tents in the wilderness is indefinite. On the bright side, the children are learning and have something to do during the day. There are volunteers teaching English classes. Many of these households average 8 children. So much potential and energy!

One day while this was heavy on my mind, a thought flitted through. “You know, you could do a fund raiser and send those children books.” It startled me a little, because I hadn’t really thought about being able to DO something. Usually that is my default mentality: I just want to be able to do something to make things better. And I hate feeling like I am powerless, so sometimes I rush in when I should stay out, you know.  I decided to wait a good little while to make sure this was not an impulse I had just cooked up on my own.

Meanwhile. A small stash of savings that I was cherishing hopes to use on a bit of unnecessary spending got delegated to another need. I have to be honest, I really struggled with this. I just wanted to buy what I wanted this time. Also meanwhile I kept seeing so many GoFundMe’s and St. Jude’s Hospital at the checkout, and Salvation Army bell ringers. I realised again that the causes dear to my heart are not always the causes that others feel drawn to support. With a little spanking from God about my uncheerful attitudes and the reminder that there are many ways to care for the world, I decided to ask my husband what he thinks of the fundraising idea.

He said sure, go for it. I contacted Plain Compassion about shipping the books. They said they like the idea and will be glad to arrange shipping. They said it’s fine to use their name in the fundraiser, as well. I certified with Usborne Books to do fundraisers, and here we are.

My ambitious goal is to ship a whole skid of books to the refugee camps in northern Iraq. I want to send them phonics readers with bright illustrations, beginner science readers with easy text, picture books, even coloring books and activity books of all sorts.

Of course, I share all this with you, my kindly readers. :) In doing this as a fundraiser, I am using the Literacy for a Lifetime provision, which matches all sales or donations with a 50% grant.

If you feel a tinge of desire to share in this endeavour, here is how it works. I set up my Usborne sales page so that all sales will benefit refugees (not me :) ) by 50%. You can buy books, really nice books at this site, for the children in your life and the refugees will get half the amount in books with Usborne’s matching grant money. Or if you want, you could donate here and your donation would be matched 50%. All this to say that $10 will stretch to $15.

I am hoping and praying that many of us can do a little bit each and send a great big pallet of educational supplies and story books to these precious little children. Everybody should have a bedtime story.


We Have to Look

Is there anyone else out there who can hardly bear to read the international news these days? Something about the plight of homelessness in winter strikes me as unbearable hardship. Add to that the loss of loved ones, the gouging of life savings by unprincipled men taking advantage of desperate people, the mud and the trekking in the cold and the uncertainty of when life will ever get better and it is just more than I can stand. I look at the photos of refugees huddled around small fires built out of bits of scrounged trash, the chapped lips, the bloodshot eyes with a film of hopelessness and I can’t stand it, but I can’t look away. Because it could be me. By some accident of grace (is there such a thing?) it isn’t me, but it could be.

All last week Gabe and I were fighting off a cold/cough that kept sitting hard on our chests every morning with that ugly feeling that it was settling in to stay for a while. We fought it with all the stuff in our cupboard: the Vicks rub, the eucylyptus oil, the Emergen-C, the echinacea by the handful, the Immunotea with raw honey, the elderberry syrup, the grapefruit seed crush to gargle for sore throat. And we won. It never did get a chance to settle in. Every time I fixed another cup of soothing tea, I thought of those refugees shuffling miserably through the mud, wiping a runny nose on a coat sleeve, hoping for asylum only to come up against a barbed wire fence. No comfort and no hope. I can’t stand it , but I can’t look away.

I keep reading opinion bits here and there on the interweb about short term missions and how ineffective they are. “It should have been sold and given to the poor,” Judas said about the priceless ointment Mary used to bathe Jesus’ feet. That is what some folks say about youth group missions trips. All that money spent on tickets for 6 weeks in a foreign country. It’s a waste. You could feed hundreds of people with that money. It’s not a good use of funds. They go, take a bunch of pictures of themselves being the angel of mercy to post on their social media, and they go home again and feel good about having done their bit, and then they buy the next generation phone. I suppose there is some truth to that, and the funds may be wasted sometimes.

But. What if that youth can never be the same? What if she is impacted profoundly by the dignity of a lady singing as she bends to her twig broom, sweeping her packed-dirt courtyard outside of her mud hut.. what if she thinks about this countless times when she wants to grouse about the state of her kitchen floor? What about the pastor who is spending his entire life in evangelism, living by faith, cheerfully serving the youth team cooked spaghetti noodles and fruit compote and they bless the food and are truly grateful… what if she remembers this when she serves bread and soup to her visitors and she doesn’t apologize because hospitality is not just food and she learned this in a village in Ukraine? What if she thinks about the mile walk to the well for water and the small amounts allocated to washing and general cleanliness because it is just really far to that well… and she cannot find judgement in her heart for the dirty begger standing by the intersection because without easy access to water, who can be clean? What if she met someone who literally never had a chance and she learned to care about the family that is all across the world? What if she learned an entirely new and perfectly acceptable way to peel a banana and got thoroughly embarrassed by her own condescending ideas of how things ought to be done? What if that short term missions trip changed the way she lived her whole life, made her see how much she has been freely given? What if she could never just not look because the people are all God’s people?

I don’t even know what this post is about. You are allowed to do that on a blog, I have heard. Maybe it’s about investing in a plane ticket, or exposure to the miseries and inequities in the world, about stripping away the insulation that keeps us self-centered and absorbed in our entitlement to more and better stuff. Maybe it is just plumb stream of consciousness. But we have to look. We have to see around us. What can we even do about it? As much as I would like to be there at the barbed wire, handing out hot coffee to the refugees, I am here and my children want popcorn.

Still. What if we all look at the brokenness and let it settle on us and know that there is only one solution, so we lift it up with groaning and pleading. What if all our collective whispers and petitions rise and God moves to change the affairs of nations? What if we don’t look away and we see what is coming with eyes of faith, so that we start investing in a better place “where righteousness dwells” instead of busily attempting to make heaven on earth?

As hard as it is, I really think we have to look.


Underfoot or Out of Sight?

I sighed a private little gust of weariness when I saw those bags of apples on the front porch, still sitting there, getting riper and sweeter by the day. I mean, I don’t even like applesauce myself. Except maybe frozen/chunky/with cinnamon, and then only when I have pizza or casserole. I ate so much applesauce as a child, I completely filled my life-quota before I turned 16.

But my children love them some applesauce and it is about as cheap and easy a side dish as you can imagine. Not to mention “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and all that.

So there I was, walking past those apples every day and pushing them to the back of my mind because we needed to do school or we had to fold laundry or it was raining or the leaves needed raked or the seasonal clothes swap was more important or the canner was full of tomato chunks in the freezer.

This year, for the first time ever, I needed to do 3 bushels, because we had been out of applesauce for months, except for occasional batches of chunky stuff we made fresh. So yesterday I was out of stalling material, except that two of the children were mopey with sore throats and headaches. We decided to just get ‘er done anyway.

Friends, we cranked out 60 quarts in less than 5 hours. That included washing the dishes, even the nasty, sticky food mill and the canners. Just me and the kiddos. I couldn’t quite believe we were done at 3:30, but there it was. And I had flashbacks to about 10 years ago when I only did 2 bags of apples and had a 1 year old and a 3 year old who were constantly pushing chairs across the kitchen and taking bites out of random apples and sticking their fingers into the sugar. I remembered how I would be cleaning up the mess at supper time and feeling as exhausted as if I had been attempting to employ a lively flock of gophers all day.

I also recalled how tempting it was to shoo them away, the little ones who pushed chairs around me, everywhere I went for at least ten years. There were just always these chairs to trip over. The floor in front of the sink became a lake by the time the apples were washed. They wanted knives to chop and I had a special set of really dull ones with bright handles for them. They wanted cutting boards. They dropped apple snitzes on the linoleum with such regularity that I quit picking them up until we were all done and then just salvaged the whole lot of them. They insisted that they were big enough to crank the food mill, then strained and panted as they slowly turned the handle and watched, fascinated, as the applesauce squished out.

It just took really long back in those days. I am not going to pretend that I was always sweet about that. We all know better. It is a special sort of therapy for adults with an agenda to include little children in their work. If you have ever tried it, you know how all the squirminess inside you has to simply slow down and just chill, you know, because it will be all right and we have plenty of towels to sop up the mess.

Here is the thing I can’t quite get over. It only took a few years and now they can actually really help. If I had sent my oldest son out to play or sat him down with a movie every time I did a project, then yesterday he would not have known how to assemble the food mill and exactly which picnic table bench we always use to attach it to and why we do it. If I had never bought those brightly colored dull knives for them, my middle boy may never have graduated to whacking skillfully with my chef’s knife like he did yesterday. If I had never let anybody mess with water, then my girls could not have washed those apples like a boss (sorry, I just like that phrase) yesterday,  and without even needing to change clothes when they were done! I shouldn’t forget to mention that they hauled all 60 empty jars upstairs. Divided by 5, it’s not so bad!

This is an aspect that I didn’t really consider back when it was a trial to let the children help. I think I mainly involved them in what I was doing because then I could be sure they weren’t getting into trouble somewhere else. Honestly, I had no lofty goals about teaching my 3 year-old life skills. But that is how it works, and when I think back, I know that is how my mom taught me things. I have known how to make applesauce ever since I can remember because… we all had age-appropriate jobs when we made applesauce. The chicken butchering didn’t quite catch hold in the same way, no matter how much Mom said every girl should know how to butcher one before she gets married. :/

All this is just to say, you young mamas with your hands full and your long chore lists that you have to accomplish single-handedly and your small fry hovering around and breathing your air… Do you wanna work yourself out of a job? Don’t just hand them a device all the time and tell them to bug off. Let them “help”. Let them feel the importance of making a contribution in the household effort. One day you will pinch yourself when you realize that they are, indeed, making your life a lot easier and there is no need to dread applesauce day anymore.


(Love, love The Family Circus)


What Have I Been Doing?

I looked at the calendar recently and thought, “What have I been doing?” I can tell you what I haven’t been doing pretty easily. I haven’t been sitting around reading a lot and I haven’t been writing. I can honestly say that I missed the writing bit pretty much every day. One sentence in a diary doesn’t scratch the itch at all. I sat around just enough so that I wouldn’t miss it too severly. Haha.

We had days and days and days of rain in late September. It was cold and the dog stank and there was mud in our classroom every day. I started burning candles and plugged in air fresheners.

During the long wet I sewed dresses for the little girls so that we could coordinate somewhat for a family photo shoot. Then I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out what I would wear to coordinate with everybody else. Shall I just admit that I got three sweaters at Boscov’s so that Gabe could help me figure out which one to wear because I really just don’t have a good sense for that sort of thing? And that, of course, I wore the simplest, most unassuming one and took the other two back? At the last minute I decided not to wear the charcoal skirt after all, but the grey dress. Why was that decision so hard to make in the store? I did not consult Pinterest, which is what other people do when they can’t figure out what to wear, because I don’t get along well on Pinterest. ‘Nough said.

We had an anniversary, our 14th, and it was the first sunny day after all that drear. I dug out our love letters and we read a bunch of them, laughing a bit at ourselves, reminiscing and agreeing that 14 years has taught us a few things about loving each other, even though sometimes we lose track and forget to appreciate the one we love. Which is why we took a day off and went biking Rails to Trails without the children. No eavesdroppers in the vehicle! And just for a day it was nice not to have to settle any fights or wait for the slow ones. We ended the day with dressing up for a fancy meal out, then descended gratefully back into normal life. After all, back in the day when we had dates every weekend, we yearned to live normal life together, more than anything. And here we are, doing it!

Gabe has lived with me long enough to know the kinds of books I love. For our anniversary he got me blink (you have no idea how hard it is for me to write a book title with a lower case letter) by Malcolm Gladwell, subtitled “The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”. It is packed with insights into what makes people decide things: those split second impressions that affect our choices. For the first week or so after he gave me the book I only had time to stroke the cover, but by now I have read enough to know it is just as interesting as The Tipping Point, which I discovered a few years ago.

Once the weather turned clement (is that right? the opposite of inclement?) our friend Michelle Fisher took the photos. I knew she had lots of experience in posing children because she has nine of them and they always end up with really sweet family pictures. Want to see a few? I think you will agree that she did a good job on them. When these were taken, the children were 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4. This only lasted for one month, but it was kind of fun to say. :) The 10 turned 11 yesterday.

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My friend Caroline and I spent a forenoon together, picking up a large meat order about an hour’s drive away. Either one of us could have gone alone, but it just so worked out that we could team up. I was supposed to be the navigator, since we didn’t have GPS. Even with a Google Maps printout, I stink at navigating. Let’s just say we saw a lot of beautiful countryside and enjoyed our extra time to visit. It was nice to be with someone who didn’t get uptight about the unmarked roads and was game to try routes that appeared to go in the right direction. Not to mention someone who didn’t run out of interesting topics of conversation, especially with no eavesdroppers in the van. :D

The next day I texted her that I had just been running some errands in a nearby town and had to turn around three times, so I think I do need a GPS because of all the stuff in my head that isn’t down on the earth. She replied, “Well, I just read, ‘Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.’ With that mindset you might lose your way driving every now and then.” She is witty like that. The thing is, I am pretty sure I was thinking about that meat we hauled home and how it needed to be canned, as well as these apples I am picking up and how they also need to be canned.

I have 2 1/2 bushels of apples still sitting on the front porch and some frozen tomatoes that I have to process and after that I put my foot down. No more! Today I tilled the gardens one final time and sowed a cover crop of rye. I love summer so much, but at this point it is only sensible to move on, wouldn’t you say? For the first time we put in a bed of garlic. Some bulbs in and some bulbs, like the dahlias, out. Gardening is endlessly fascinating. And time consuming. I hope to have more time to write now that the outside stuff is getting wrapped up.

Last, but not least, I have been industriously starting a small book selling business. I signed up to become an Usborne consultant and am still learning the ropes. So far the most rewarding thing has been to be able to send really nice books to refugee children in Iraq. I also was thrilled to get our church school a lot of free merchandise through a book show.  I genuinely like connecting anybody to a source of educational books like these. Someday I will do a whole post on this topic. I have been having a blast with this, especially when the boxes of books come and I can sort out orders and stroke the covers (I know. I have a problem. But it isn’t a bad problem.) But there. The final and biggest reason why I have not been writing. I am still figuring out how to fit this business, not into every crack of spare time, but into reasonable hours. My children don’t mind. They drool over the catalog and revel in all the new books! I am systematically turning them all into bibliophiles (That’s not a bad thing either. After the dishes are done.).

Gabe is back on an evening schedule, which means he will be home around midnight. It has been a pleasure chatting with you kind folks while I wait up for him.


The Country Mice Go to a Resort

Last weekend we combined two events and made a family field trip out of the entire works. Family field trips are so much fun, starting with “Are we about there?” every five minutes enroute to “Make her stop singing!” and “I am starving hungry. Did we pack any snacks?” Then you finally get there.

“Does anybody need to go to the bathroom? Where is Rita? Yes, we will eat just soon! Everybody stay together. We don’t want to lose you!” And so on. But it is fun, really. “Please don’t touch! Maybe you will have to save your money for the next 20 years so you can buy that. Yes, I know this display is boring for big boys, but humor us for a little. Where is Rita? Wow, that is a really neat knife with that bone handle, but we don’t have 45 dollars hanging loose right now. Where is Rita? Here, you hold tightly to my hand for a while. Yes, I know you are hungry. Shall we get some popcorn?” We did have fun. This is just my running dialog of the stuff that makes me feel like I am developing a twitch.

Wanna know what we did? Every year Gabe has to take an Outdoor Emergency Care refresher course in order to stay certified as a ski patroller in order to get a free family pass at the slopes. The course itself is interesting for him: what to do with a patient in shock from whacking headfirst into a tree, how to splint that broken-up person for the trip up or down the mountain to an ambulance, or how to assess why that person is coughing blood. It gives me the willies, just looking through the course handbook.

Fortunately for us, there was another event held at Seven Springs that weekend. The Mother Earth News is a magazine that we subscribe to for ideas to develop our small acerage. They hold various fairs across the country, and this one happened to be at the same resort as the OEC refresher course. We bought a pass online and a room for the night, making it a two day affair. A real field trip for our underprivileged homeschooled kids. ;)


The fair was held mostly outside on the hotel grounds from the bottoms of the ski lifts to the outdoor courtyard, but it meandered through conference rooms and hallways as well. There were hundreds and hundreds of vendors, the nicest people you will ever meet. If you are country and going to a resort with a family, this is the time to do it. Earth-mother types like children and they don’t really dress up that much. I saw a lot more turbans and hippie skirts and Ugly Shoes than I have ever seen before in one spot. In the middle of all the herbs and chicken butchering equipment and log splitters there was one lonely booth for flu shots. I nearly laughed out loud. What? I would have hated to be that salesperson.

There were about eight stages with different breakout sessions, all the way from Keeping a Family Cow to Worm Composting. We split up so that we could cover more information.

I took

  • Growing a Sustainable Diet (Very interesting talk by a woman wearing a linen vest she grew, spun, wove and crafted)
  • Eating the Whole Plant (Meh. You can eat carrot tops and beet tops… Don’t throw them away! There were two men in the session who were unabashedly snoozing in the A/C. Also my girls were down to the crumbs in the maple-syrup-popcorn bag and they needed to go potty and get drinks.)
  •  One Hour Cheeses (the most fun, as the children were watching How to Pack a Llama for a Hike and I could actually follow. It was fascinating. I bought her book.)

From various friendly vendors we got open pollinator seeds and useful information about saving seeds from one year to the next.. One woman bought corn seeds for meal 25 years ago and has saved them for her annual crop ever since. Another kindly dread-locked lady didn’t have the sweet pepper seeds we wanted, but she did have a few of the peppers and offered us one to save our own seeds. I turned around for a few seconds and looked at Rita just in time to see her eating the last of the pepper, ready to throw away the core with all those lovely seeds attached.

They showed us how and why we should grow mushrooms and explained the science of herbal remedies. I bought teas and tinctures that I usually pay lots of shipping on. My favorite vendors were the good folks from Beeyoutiful. They served the girls and I freshly brewed Immunotea and I bought my winter’s vitamin C supply for the children and essential oils called ProMiSe Blend. Some of you will get that. :)

The boys gravitated to the wilderness survival supply booths and the alternate power sessions. Alex has a list of supplies he needs to make an electric motor bike. Gregory now has a Life Straw for his bug-out bag. The girls got batik-patterned head bands and a tiny succulant plant for their windowsill. By the end of the day we were all funned out except for one more thing: the indoor pool. We went during the supper hour when it was deserted except for a few little boys. Alex cannonballed right in, just like at the pond, putting the lifeguard on high alert. So did Addy, only she didn’t have her lifejacket on and was too short even for the shallow end of the pool and had to be fished out. I realized that our children have hardly ever gone swimming in anything but creeks and ponds. They thought the clear water was a blast. By 8:30 they were all asleep and Gabe and I could sit on the balcony to compare notes and make a game plan for the next day.

That included me taking the children for breakfast at the hotel restaurant while he did his refresher course, then meeting somewhere at the fair around lunchtime. The kids were up bright and early, bickering and giggling by turns. I made sure everybody was shiny and well aware of ettiquette at a breakfast bar. The dining area was decked out with white tablecloths and goblets, buffet lines with polished silver serving covers on every dish. I was the only adult with that many children. A buffet line with a child in tow is never easy. Too many choices, they can’t see what is up there, they want to touch stuff that they won’t eat, and the plates are too heavy for the little ones to safely manage without spills. Add in heavy lids on everything and you have a true white hair producing situation. Add in crowds of adults who only want to get their bacon already and don’t know that your kid is counting the strips he is getting because that is what he has to do at home when we have bacon and then you know where the twitch comes from. Here is the dining room, only this web image has flowers and chair covers for a wedding.

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Imagine my little country mice, freshly rested and full of ginger, there, around that table.

It did turn out to be a great breakfast. The only Where is Rita? moment was when she had ducked underneath the tablecloth for some privacy. They were very careful to only drink decaf coffee and choose their doughnuts wisely. I was proud of them. :)

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We spent a good while in the hotel’s backyard, a rock garden area with a fountain and trails. The twitch had almost worn off  when the acorn wars started. All this happened while many other guests were still blissfully sleeping and I could just imagine an errant acorn clattering against somebody’s window. I decided our best option was to hang around the animal tent. The little girls plucked up grass to feed the sheep and the boys examined all the rabbit options and chickens and pigs.

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When Gabe’s course was done, we wandered around for a while before heading home with our heads just packed with information.

I have been inspired to learn more about foraging for edibles in the wild and growing interesting foods. Next year we want to have a plot for broom corn and zuka gourds. I have been a little obsessed with the One Hour Cheese book, garnishing my end product with flower petals and herbs. I did feel ridiculously happy with that.

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We went on a hike yesterday and brought home some turkeytail lichens to make a tea in which “clever prodding helps us keep our systems on their toes, invigorating us in the process.” (Click on the link for an almost lyrical description of the benefits of the humble little turkeytail.)

I don’t buy into the theory that everything will kill you unless you do it the natural way, because I have noticed that everybody eventually dies, one way or another. Hopefully the weekend did open up some fresh neural pathways, possibly staving off alzheimer’s for a few years. Last week I had a vivid dream about an edible caterpillar foraging session that the boys and I were taking, complete with taste testing. I had to brush my teeth when I got up, just to get the taste out of my mouth. We aren’t quite that far gone, but I suppose if you see me coming around in clothes died with geranium petals and walnut hulls, subsisting on fermented vegetables and venison jerky, you may have cause for concern. :)


Pumpkin Pots and Paint

We are walking in fresh sunlight these days. I do not take it for granted. I marvel at it and try to store it up. An art book we are reading describes warm colors as orange and red, and cold colors as blue and green. I have been working on a game plan for winter, because I know it is coming and I dread the chill and dark already. Our basement rooms have been the same color for 11 years. We drywalled and painted it grey just before Gregory was born. It’s a nice neutral color, but back then I couldn’t even imagine doing school down there with 5 children and a dog who thinks she is a child. I didn’t dream how much time I would spend in my laundry room.

I decided to liven things up a little, and I am glad I did it every time I walk into the laundry/bath room. Less than $20 dollars worth of paint (because I got one on the mistints shelf…I am cheap like that.) really made a difference. This room was off-white for 14 years. May I present to you Sunbaked Orange with the light off and with the light on. Hey, I saw you blinking. Isn’t it cheerful? This was not the mistint. I deliberately chose it while in my right mind. And yes, that space between the washer and the laundry sink is really small. When I was pregnant, it was uncomfortable. But I like my large sink for scrubbing things and rinsing bits of our property off small children, so I put up with the crack.



(I did this painting while Gabe and the boys spent a week up north helping his dad dismantle a huge old barn. When they first talked about doing this, I weighed my options. I could sit and drink tea and read and write in a space of small appetites and little noise and bazillion paper snibbles, or I could tackle some projects on my list that I had despaired of ever getting done. I chose the latter and worked like a crazy woman. When Gabe got home, I had just finished showering off the last of the projects.)

The other room I painted Tavistock Green. I know. It’s not really a warm color, but it is a different color, and that is what I needed.


I don’t have a clear photo, so this will have to do. Maybe you think this is still grey, but you should see the difference beside the grey wall. It just occurred to me that, being a mistint, this color swatch is not entirely accurate. I think the paint mixer person dribbled a little extra bright green into my gallon, because mine seems to be fresher on the walls.

This is one of my favorite colors in the world, and I picked it up when I saw it on clearance because you never know when you will want to paint something Tavistock Green. That was five years ago. See, I was right!

I did not go yard saling, even though it was Labor Day weekend and the roadsides were just littered with signs. I did not go shopping in Altoona, like I had hoped to do. But I did go up to Rome for 2 days to help out with cooking and whatever I could while the guys were so busily tearing down the barn. That was 8 hours of driving. And Olivia and I did our fall trek to Pittsburgh to see her specialist, so that was another 5 hours of driving after I counted in the detours and the missed exit and the bridge out at a very crucial point. One day I went to a party an hour away and back again for another 2 hours driving total. And I went to pick grapes 1/2 hour up the mountain, so I figure I put in at least 16 hours on the road in my “week off”. I also got pulled over by an officer for the first time in my life. Not that I never deserved it before, but this time seemed mild. I was just at the edge of a small town, speeding up now that I was through it, only I wasn’t through it. I was already past the “End 35” sign when I got pulled over for going 52. Bummer. There went that record. I got off with a warning because I looked harmless  wasn’t local.

The girls and I picked all our pumpkins. I wanted pie pumpkins when I bought the plants, planning to sell the extras out beside the road. This usually works out as a nice little cash crop for the boys. But this was the year for funny mistakes. Remember how the tomatoes turned out to be cherry-sized? Well, the pumpkins turned out to be Jack Be Littles. Ever so cute and decorative and… little. I roasted a bunch of them for pies and lattes, scooping out the minuscule bits of soft flesh and blending it. Then I made this one night:


It was the prettiest dinner I made in a long time and I spent a good part of it coaxing the children to eat. What is with that?

I think I will spray paint a few of them for decor and give the rest away.

You haven’t heard the end of our mistaken identities in the garden. This was entirely my own fault. I wanted mini bell peppers because I heard that they turn colors quicker than the big ones and it always seems to take so long to grow a beautiful sweet red pepper and then it frosts on them. I bought plants labelled Cherry Bomb because the picture looked exactly like Mini Bells. When we cut into the first brilliant red baby pepper, it nearly blew us away with its heat. My mom said, “What were you thinking? Bombs? That should have been a clue!” And she was right. But they sure are pretty. My yellow Bells are ticked off about something, but the red ones have finally started turning sweet. Those are the bombs at the bottom of the photo.


I turned a whole bunch of them into pepper poppers and they were fine, indeed. Then I called my sister-in-law Ruby for her hot sauce recipe. One bottle of Tabasco typically lasts us about 8 years, but last year Ruby gave us a pint of her homemade hot sauce, something I had never even thought of making. We are down to the last of it, in one year. It is that good. I used the Cherry Bombs for hot sauce, and in my humble opinion, I think it is even better than the stuff made with Habaneros. Still, we will need to convince the kids to join in if we want to consume 8 jars of it.

The garden is down to a straggle of late tomatoes and green beans, a total failure of a broccoli crop, some really slow pole limas, and lots and lots of sweet red peppers. And weeds. Unbelievable trees of weeds that helped themselves when we got all that rain in August and we couldn’t keep up with them. But in September we do not pull weeds. We mow them off. It is really fun.

Are you getting bored yet? Just one more quick story about this cabbage that Alex kept until it started to split. It was 18 pounds with three babies attached around the bottom. We sliced it up and packed it with salt where it is happily fermenting into sauerkraut, amassing healthful probiotics by the millions. The children don’t like kraut either, but Gabe and I don’t really care. That’s more for us. Hopefully if they see how much we enjoy the stuff, they can get past the stink. :D

That is about all the creativity I could handle the last few weeks. We are hitting the books with renewed vigor, finishing out 25 days this week. Ahh. It’s a long road is a school term. Rita misses her carefree outdoor existence. “Do you mean I have to do this for twelve years?” she wept one morning when the flashcards overwhelmed her. Because she just turned six this summer, I am letting her off with half days, taking it slowly, letting her go pet her bunnies and look for caterpillars. She can read, and surely she will know her facts by the time those twelve years are over.

Addy, on the other hand, feels left out because she is the only one without real school books. I bought her some wipe-clean preschool materials and that helps, but still is hardly official enough for her. Yesterday she sighed gustily, “I am so tired of this ‘yong, yong’ week! Because I am still not five!” The child talks in italics. Really. Talk about drama. It is just hard being the smallest, especially when you are dead serious about something and the other people at the table smirk. And especially if you still can’t say your l’s.

Well, look at that. I have managed to stay up until my husband gets off work. Thanks for listening!


Tyranny of the Urgent

So August is over and I have to admit to being a little relieved. August yells too much.

Everything yells. Back to School! Get on board! Buy your supplies! Come on, get excited! And yet.

The garden yells. I am ready! Eat me before I rot! Pick me! Pickle me! Can me! I am going to fall off and waste away if you don’t!

My flowers yell. Water! Then they subside into wilting gasps. Water please. Please. Please…. And even with loving ministrations that only forget them once in a while, they fade away.

My house yells. I have dirt everywhere! There’s fly poop on the windows! There are spider webs in the curtains! There is fur on the fans!

There are picnics and family reunions and a frenzy of things to do. Now! While the weather is nice!

The insects even yell. Have you heard them? Its like they have to get in all their decibels really quickly before the Long Cold.

My children yell in sheer barefoot delight, and that is the only yelling I don’t find wearing. As long as it is outside.

It’s just too much yelling. I find it hard to stay serene with so much racket. My diary reads like a sprint through August. I am not sure whose fault it is, but it’s time to slow down a little before I have heat stroke. How about you?

My friend has a wedding anniversary in August. They have been married 25 years, I think she said, and hardly ever can they manage to celebrate until later when life slows down, and how her mother consented to an August wedding, she has no idea.

Still. There was a day when I was doing bushels of tomatoes and it felt so surreal because I knew my sister-in-law was at her mom’s bedside in the hospital, watching her suffer in acute pain while she waited for a diagnoses. Cancer.

Sometimes something yells so loudly that all the rest seems relatively quiet.

I do have some defenses when life gets so urgent. I fix my coffee exactly how I like it, and if I am fortunate if I got up early enough, I get to drink the whole cup in quietness while I shore up my soul for the day. Some days I have to reheat a couple times, and it is still in the cup at lunchtime. I just try not to think about it.

I go on walks by myself whenever I can. Even a half hour is rejuvenating. Sometimes it is the only time in a day that I can think an entire thought to myself and I spend the first 15 minutes just trying to get used to the sensation.

I stop what I am doing every day after lunch and read my little people a story. I need it as much as they do. Sometimes I even fall asleep. One day I woke up at 4 o’clock and felt oddly gratified that nothing yelled that entire time. That was the day Gabe took the boys along to Ag Progress.

We are not supposed to let the urgent dominate and squish out the really important things. I struggle with that. We had a speaker at church recently who talked about about redeeming the time. It comes down to priorities and soul care, first of all. Everything else flows or gets stopped up there. He suggested that the best question is: What does God want me to do right now?

It might not be the house or the tomatoes. What is going to keep my head above water, cleaning the ceiling fan or taking a breather to quiet my heart? Being a self-confessed Martha, I know what yells loudest, and I know what He wants me to do right now, too.

Here’s to a Serene September!


Impeccable Logic

I reproved my ten year old son tonight when he was stuffing his face with popcorn, both fists employed busily. “Hey, Borg,” I said, “we don’t eat popcorn that way! You need to be civilized and take only what you can with one finger and thumb at a time.”

“Seriously, Mama!” That being the standard phrase to express incredulity or just plain disagreement. “I am conserving Therbligs, you know. This is much more efficient.” It was my turn to be unenlightened. My thirty-eight year old brain couldn’t come up with a definition for “Therbligs” or even a reference to them. “What?” I asked the obvious, “are Therbligs?”

He was ready for me. “They are the 18 motions that the Cheaper by the Dozen people studied when they did their efficiency evaluations in factories. It’s Gilbreth, spelled backwards. See, when I eat popcorn like this, I am conserving motions. It’s more efficient this way.” He was really on a roll now, and I knew that he had just finished reading “Cheaper by the Dozen” for the third time last week because I found it out under the tree that he climbs to become invisible while he is reading. I settled in to listen.

“There is even a Therblig for thinking about things and often if you do that first, you can save a lot of the other steps. That’s why I think so much.” I wondered if he was thinking about the most efficient popcorn eating method when I asked him to bring the bag of 5 dozen eggs in to the house and he let them sit in the hot Suburban all afternoon. But I digress. After he had made his case for eating popcorn in great gobbling fistfuls, I made my case.

“Someday,” I said. He sighed gustily and settled in to listen. “Someday you will be sitting with your girlfriend, eating popcorn, and when she sees you stuffing it in like that, she will tell you good-bye politely and you won’t ever see her again.” He was not convinced. Because obviously a ten year old boy will never have a girlfriend and it only makes sense to eat popcorn like a caveman to stave off that awful calamity.

“Are you saying I may not ever eat this way? Ever?”

“Only on the far side of the moon, when you are all by yourself.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “Only where not even astronauts can see me.”

We called it a truce.



Tomato Peights

Tomatoes. All kinds of tomatoes. Big ones, little ones, red ones, pink ones, yellow ones. If it’s true that, “you are what you eat,” the Peights are by and large tomatoes. The Peights have a predilection for tomatoes— a predilection that some would say borders an obsession.

As I was growing up on the farm at home in rural Pennsylvania, there were always tomatoes in one form or another about the house. Since our cravings were not seasonal, tomatoes claimed a dominant place in our garden and on the shelves in our cool, damp cellar. We canned tomato soup, spicy tomato juice, and tomato sauce in prodigious quantities. Other tomatoes we cut into large chunks and canned. With all these resources, we were able to regularly incorporate tomatoes into our diet throughout the year. Whenever we had fresh tomatoes, we ate them on our toast for breakfast and on fresh, homemade bread for lunch. Tomato slices with a layer of creamy Hellman’s mayonnaise and diced hard-boiled egg on top was a favorite salad dish for dinner. For a snack at bedtime or after church on Wednesday nights, we ate canned tomato chunks poured over a piece of bread and drank tall glasses of iced tomato juice.

This universal passion for tomatoes in my family was actually not original with us. My dad’s family was perhaps even more obsessed with tomatoes than we were. Dad came from a family of thirteen boys and two girls. To help feed a family of this size, they raised over a hundred tomato plants each year. The first ripening tomatoes of the season never made it to maturity. With so many tomato-lovers about it was entirely too risky to let them on the plant until they were completely ripe—they had to be grabbed while the grabbing was good!

Grandmother canned four hundred quarts of tomato juice and five hundred quarts of tomato chunks in “family size” two-quart Mason jars. In the wintertime, my uncles’ school lunches consisted of canned tomato chunks over homemade bread topped with sweet onion and course pepper. To drink, there was tomato juice. The story goes that on one occasion they had the normal— tomato chunks, and tomato juice—and, for a special treat, fresh tomatoes. In the summertime it was not unusual to have a single-course dinner of tomato sandwiches. One enormous stainless steel bowl of tomato slices was set at each end of the kitchen table along with a few loaves of fresh white bread. The highlight of the meal was the fight over the juice in the bottoms of the bowls. Again, every man was on his own. The timid got none.

Dad made a wise choice when he married Mom because she was able to support Dad’s well-established tomato habit in a very special way. Her family raised a pink, non-acid tomato that was handed down from her grandmother. Seeds from the best tomatoes were preserved every year to be planted the following year. These heirloom tomatoes became know as “Mother’s” tomatoes. Today, the “Mother’s” tomato crop defines the success of the summer.

For me a tomato is more than just a vegetable that adds color to a tossed salad. Tomatoes add color to my identity as a Peight. Every year as I now nurture my own tomato plants with my children, I am flooded with happy memories of my childhood as a tomato Peight.

-guest post, essay written by my husband Gabriel

And a photo of one small Peight enjoying her heritage



Things I Don’t Know About

I love a great pun. Reading a children’s book with the line, “I love you doggedly, like a flea,” just delights me. Clever words tickle my ears and I absolutely love that my four year old describes herself “rushing across the backyard” instead of the conventional running. So why, I ask, do I groan every time I see a church sign that is so punny?

Last night I drove past two different churches and both gave me a pause and an inner wailing noooo-just-please-nooo. The first said, “Son screen prevents sin burn.” A few miles down the road there was another, “Gardening with God brings peas of mind… Lettuce be kind. Squash gossip. Turnip for church.” I wonder who invented church signs, anyway? And could we stick with profound and simple instead of brain twisting word play? question_2


Summertime here is synonymous with lost shoes. Every time we want to go away, someone ends up weeping that they can’t find anything to wear on their feet. Each little girl has sandals, crocs and flip-flops. You would think at least one complete pair would be in their shoe box, but we end up doing the rounds of the sand box, play house, Suburban, etc until everyone is properly shod. We met out-of-state friends on Monday night to visit for a while. When we left it was dark and I didn’t think to check for the girls’ sandals. We left not one pair, but two. A few days later, while I was driving to retrieve the missing shoes, I got a text from my mom: Girls left their flip flops here–Will drop them off later.

I feel like Little Bear’s mother, who kept making him more and more clothes to stay warm, but finally he stripped down to just his own little bearskin and was perfectly happy without any other clothes. What a relief that was! Having said that, I have to admit that bare feet are not always good, as Rita discovered when she was picking wild raspberries and cut a deep gash in her foot that required stitches. And I am certainly not suggesting letting our children run around in just their little skins, but hey, it was the first plan in Eden! Still. Imagine how much time we would save if we weren’t constantly washing things in a ceaseless effort to stay clean. ???

My boys are on a camouflage kick this summer. They wear their camo shirts and pants day after day, until I insist strenuously that they have to change. It seems to be the last word in tween boy fashion and it sure does save on laundry, but it’s a little monotonous. I wonder how long this stage will last?

I myself have been losing things the last few days. I couldn’t find my glasses one morning, searching until I had a headache. So I got out my spare pair with black plastic frames, very modern and hot they are (as in, they make my face feel hot), but at least I could see without strain. It was days before someone pulled my favorite pair out of a crack in the couch and how they got there, I have no idea.

I have been reading this lady’s story of how she went minimalist and sold and sold stuff and got rid of everything that wasn’t nailed down or made her truly happy, like her children. They pulled out the shrubbery so they wouldn’t have to waste time trimming it. She keeps saying, “You can always buy another [insert material good here] if you find you need one.” And she got rid of almost all her clothes and went and bought what she calls a “capsule wardrobe” which is just about fourteen pieces of clothing that pair well with each other in endless combinations. I think it sounds fascinating, but I have concluded that this is sort of a first world thing to do. If you are not wealthy, you don’t go buy all new clothes from name brand stores so that you can always look pulled together and your closet looks coughed out of Pinterest. No, you go to Goodwill and enjoy the treasure hunt. So your grill isn’t the last name in sophistication. The hamburgers taste great and you know you will not be replacing it just because it doesn’t quite make you as happy as that other one on the market. Except in the quite unlikely event that you find one at a yard sale. Or unless you have plenty of money. So there is this disconnect with simplicity and lifestyle that bugs me. And if we got rid of our two freezers that hound energy and hog space, where would we put our green beans? I just don’t want to live in a Tiny House, thank you very much.

Speaking of beans, has anyone ever experimented to see if green beans will keep making baby beans forever if you don’t pull them out? I am just curious. We knew we planted extra and have sold about 3 bushels of them, just because we really want some other stuff in our freezer too.

It’s August. I cannot believe it, but my ears insist it is true. The fall insects are in full cry outside my window, serenading the waning blue moon. I saw some bright red leaves beside the road, so naturally I just ate a bowl of ice cream with fresh raspberry sauce to reassure myself.

The children wanted me to join them in the pond today. I had 17 things to do, but I chucked them all and went and floated in the sunshine. The wash is ever with me and I can scrub the fly specks off the windows tomorrow. Addy keeps asking me if we can blow up balloons, if we can buy ice cream, if we can have friends over, if we can roast marshmallows… I have a habit of absent-mindedly murmuring, “Oh, maybe.” She had enough of it and asked in exasperation, “What does maybe mean?”

I hope your summer is just as amazing and cheerful as ours!

Next up: a guest post from my husband!



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