Signs of the Times

You might be almost middle-aged…

… if your new glasses prescription includes invisible bifocals so you don’t have to hold your song book at arms length in order to read it in church.

… if you buy a ginormous box of plastic wrap on Amazon, because you now have plenty of dishes that require wider than standard width plastic wrap.

… if you double most recipes so that you have leftovers or extra food for the freezer because the food is always evaporating and the people are always hungry and you have become philosophical about this situation.

…if you become excited about a few hours of lawn mowing to relax and think quiet thoughts in a loud place, and you no longer have to worry about little people spilling milk while you’re mowing.

… if you find yourself debating conundrums such as, ” Why are the Dutch blitz cards on the dryer?” And you can’t figure out why nobody seems to put their things away in the right place, while stumbling over your own shoes at the door.

… If you have bad dreams about looking into a mirror and seeing that you are growing so many chin hairs you could call it a beard.

… if you play a game of softball with the cousins at the family reunion, and every other person either has to have a pinch hitter because of shoulder issues, or a runner because their knees are rickety.

… if you take great pleasure in feeding birds and quietly watching gardens grow and looking at other people’s landscaping.

… if you can’t sleep unless you have the right pillow, not one like the right pillow, but the exact one.

… If you honestly do not get what your children are talking about, and they wonder what century you were born in, and you laugh because it certainly wasn’t this century.

But…If you have learned to squeeze the hilarity out of the weird aches and idiosyncrasies that you used to think went with being old, and you know you’re not actually old yet, that’s kind of funny.

It’s oddly fun to know that you know stuff because you’ve lived it, but you don’t really feel like everybody else has to know it the same way.

It’s liberating to accept your limitations, be comfortable in your own skin, and walk on cheerfully even when you have peasant feet that aren’t cute in flip flops.

It’s wonderful to dust off a dormant dream, and trot it out into the light now that you have a bit of time to pursue it.

It’s nice to relax a little about getting everything done, because you finally understand that you won’t get everything done and it’s more restful this way, doing the next thing and stopping when it’s time to sleep.

It is easier to be faithful with what is right in front of you when you give up the burden of taking care of the whole world.

It is good to use your gifts and no longer care if nobody notices, because you understand a little how insignificant you are in the whole scheme of things, and yet you know that you are required to endure to the end, so you keep going and commit the end results to God.

I like this season. Really.

It’s just a season, but it’s a good one. Mostly.

I could live without the chin hairs.

Tiny Gardeners

The girls were 4, 6, and 8 that year when I got out my stash of seeds and they started begging for their own garden plots. I had been giving them space to plant tiny rows of vegetables and flowers, but I had never let them plot their own gardens because they seemed too little.

Why? I asked myself. Why did I think they couldn’t garden? Because they would crowd their plants, would neglect to pull their weeds, and run out of steam to pick their harvests? Why indeed? So I agreed to give them their very own space to plant whatever they wanted with the leftover seeds just as soon as I had my garden planted. I wasn’t so righteous, after all, because this was a garden that was out of sight, down by the orchard. I wouldn’t have to see it all the time when it went to ruin, which I thought it surely would do.

They were ecstatic and immediately scrounged boards to create borders between their plots. I figured I should help them understand how to give plants room, and not to shade little plants with big ones, etc., but I was out of stamina by the time I had my own rows planted. I shut up my inner critic and handed them the box of leftover seeds. Then I went to sit in the shade, determined not to interfere unless they asked for help. It was surprising what all they had picked up in their short years of helping me plant. They already knew about making rows and planting big seeds deeper than tiny seeds.

I look back and see that they really were babies.
Oh, dear. Mushy, sentimental Mom alert…

We had a set of child-sized tools that flashed cheerful primary colors as they hoed and raked. Zinnias and beans and watermelons all got sowed with abandon. Rita had a greenhouse pepper and some broccolis set within 6 inches of each other. The pepper got transplanted so often that summer as she lovingly scoped out better growing spots for it in the hope that it would produce bigger peppers. It never did bear fruit, and she learned about letting things root.

The best crop they got was the zinnias. I showed them how to save seeds, and they got excited at the thought of trying again the next year. Did they have weeds? Yes, forests of them. Did it hurt anybody? No, it did not. Did they supplement our food income? No, aside from snacks in the wild, they did not. But in their little hearts they were gardeners, and that was what I hoped would happen.

These little girls are teens now except for Addy who is ten, going on thirteen. They have been promoted to drooling over seed catalogs and circling the stuff they want to order. In March when we all have spring fever, we go look at the seed racks in stores, and we pick whatever pleases us. It’s a small price to pay for the hope that the world will warm again. I let them try anything, like strawberry popcorn, and millet for the birds and whatever flowers strike their fancy.

This year Rita and Addy made garden plans at the same time that I did, and they assured me that they did not have nearly enough space last year. So I extended their garden and mine.

I am doing no-till experiments, and they do their own trials. Addy has been mulching with grass clippings and fertilizing with composted horse poo. Rita believes that she will get good results with lots of hoeing and miracle-gro, but next year she’ll change her ways if Addy gets better results. I smile and listen to them talk and I love all of it.

They have a resident toad that lives under a board and eats bugs. They also have flower borders just for pretty and for pollination. Rita’s cherry tomatoes are almost ready to eat, but Addy’s lettuce and carrots are doing better. It’s endless scope for imagination for them.

Addy’s 2022 garden is flourishing.

So many of my successful parenting endeavors are results of ideas I stumbled upon without a clear idea where we were going. That’s how this gardening venture happened for us. They got bit by the bug, and I doubt they will ever recover. If I didn’t enjoy it so much myself, I could probably sit on the sidelines and let them grow the stuff. But I have my own delight trails to follow. I have a new little hoe and it is fantastic! I mean, really, really fantastic. (If you love someone who gardens, and you want to give them something, get this.)

I’m just going out to clear the old strawberry row.

Greg’s Graduation

People are often curious how a homeschool graduation works. First things first, they are not one size fits all, so I can only speak for how our family has been doing this. Our evaluator works with Erie County Home Schoolers Diploma Association, a group that has been giving accredited diplomas since 1993. They offer general, academic, or honors diplomas. You can see the requirements for them here. Our sons have both earned over twenty credits for academic diplomas, squeezing in an extra English credit in 11th grade so that they could graduate a year early. The evaluator prepares a transcript of their high school studies and submits it to the diploma association, where they review the transcript and send the official diploma to the parents to sign and date. The parents can then either present it to their child or choose to attend the graduation ceremony in Erie to present it.

When Alex graduated in 2020, we did not live up here close to Erie, we were in the middle of house renovations/ packing to move, and my dad was in the hospital with Covid. As with so many other things in that not so brilliant year, we had to makeshift to celebrate. We ended up with an outdoor party at a state park in July. It rained torrents so there could be no games outside the pavilion. We all felt limp because we were saying good-bye to friends and loading our household goods the next day.

With Gregory’s graduation we opted for the cap and gown ceremony, especially when we discovered that his friend Sean will also be graduating. Gregory didn’t think a ceremony was necessary, but I am pretty sure he liked it.

Of the two hundred grads that graduated with ECHSDA this year, only twenty made the trip to the ceremony. There was some music, the commencement address, and then the parents each introduced their graduate and gave a short speech of blessing as they presented them with their diploma.

I started our speech to Gregory, and Gabe finished with the last half.

“In thinking back over your school years, I decided to zone in on reading, since that was the part we liked the most. It didn’t start so well, because even though you loved books, you wanted me to do the reading.  I remember a lot of tears over those impossible reading lessons. I would let you run and play after phonics drills, and I would wonder how we would get past this hurdle.

It was in the second grade that reading clicked for you and after that you never quit- in the car, in the bathroom, behind the couch when it was time to do dishes, in bed with a flashlight…

It seemed that a crucial part of my job as your teacher was to supply you with reading material and keep track of the library books.

We went through many stages. There was the total absorption in the world of Redwall, when our backyard was littered with wooden swords and homemade capes. Then there was the Mysterious Benedict Society, when you started carrying a tin bucket of essential tools. After that you read The Hatchet and went into survival mode with your gear expanding into an enormous backpack.

****************

Through the years you amused and annoyed the family with endless streams of fun facts that you gleaned from books of trivia. The trivia became more sophisticated when you discovered Malcolm Gladwell and Randall Monroe.

It has always been our goal for you to enjoy learning new things. We considered your education to be effective when we saw you explore new interests and teach yourself skills with DIY manuals, learning ancient arts such as blacksmithing and greenwood carving.

In the past two years, you have faced bigger obstacles than we ever could have imagined. By the grace of God you adapted and rose to the challenge with dual enrollment in Laurel Technical Institute. You worked long and late, occasionally submitting assignments with only minutes to spare before the deadline, and pulling hair in frustration sometimes. But you finished the year with plenty of credits to spare for graduation!

We are proud of you and excited to see where God will use your talents in life.”

The Rose for Teacher Mom.

For various reasons, this past year was a great challenge for Gregory and me. He struggled to focus because of the anti-convulsant drugs that he is taking to control the epilepsy. I mourned the loss of his razor-sharp concentration as I watched him struggle, but we persevered and he made it, even through Chemistry!

Hallelujah!

We celebrated this past weekend with Sean’s family here at our house. We have a long history with these friends (Bob and Shirley Kauffman), and there is nothing quite like that for good times! There was Chinese food for Saturday supper, frozen custard from the stand at the end of our road, tent sleeping for the boys and sunporch sleeping for the girls. We had lots of great conversation around the fire pit, an excess of snacks and drinks, and it was just lovely!

Four Reasons

why you should grow a garden.

How about we start hot and heavy with the indisputable: God is a gardener. It’s cliche, but He did plant the Garden of Eden, and He told Adam how to take care of it. What I wouldn’t give to hear that advice on pruning! Imagine how different gardening would be without weeds and pests! I guess we will wait for the new creation for that reality. The therapy of gardening, for me, is the keeping of my garden. I spend hours just puttering, tying up vines with bits of string, clipping suckers off the tomatoes, checking on the broccoli plants to see if they have any dreaded cabbage worms, and yes, talking to my plants.

There is a term that has come up recently, called grounding. It is the description of the health benefits that are a result of being in contact with the pulses of the earth. There is some sketchy stuff out there about grounding, but I get what they are saying. In a world of virtual reality, we are not healthy in our spirits when we are involved in phone worship and removed from the realities of creation and the Creator. When warmth returns to the land there is no substitute for walking barefooted across the lawn to dig a hole to plant raspberries. It’s why my feet get tough and country. I have a hunch that hard times are coming for our food supply, and that in future the wisest people will be the ones who don’t care about flawless pedicures.

Check out the Instagram account of this photographer in Ukraine. She posts a lot of photos of bombed towns, of the elderly who choose to stay in their homes, of their gardens blooming in the foreground. Gardens are hope and resilience. Things continue to grow in some of the grimmest places. I remember many years ago when I went to Ukraine on a short term mission trip to distribute seeds. This was soon after communism fell, and the economy was shot. People were looking forward to planting their seeds. They were growing potatoes in the median strips between highway lanes. They were hanging onto hope, and that’s what they are doing now.

Gardening is a smart use of space. Doesn’t it make more sense to grow vegetables beside your house than to pay $5 a gallon on gas to mow the whole lawn? Maybe you don’t have much lawn, but that isn’t a good excuse. We have friends who have turned a tiny backyard in the city into a haven with plantings all around. They have a strawberry patch, a big variety of veggies, and sometimes they even grow sweet corn beside the privacy fence. They plant intensively and enjoy harvests from their hard work. Have you ever tasted the difference between a limp green bean from the grocery store and one picked fresh from the plant? How about a sun-warmed tomato versus the sorry shelf-stable ones we buy all winter? Or a cucumber that wasn’t wrapped in plastic? Gardens turn us into fruit and vegetable snobs, but not too snobby because we are grounded. Ha. That was a fun one.

At our recent family reunion I was talking with my aunt who has the greenest thumb of anybody I ever met. She is in her 60’s and still planting enough garden to feed a family of ten, according to my cousins. Last year she made a thousand dollars selling strawberries, and then she went out and bought a new stove for her kitchen. She was telling me that after she helps her husband with the milking, she relaxes in her garden, just pulling weeds and picking things. She is not afraid of food shortages because she knows what to do with a pack of seeds. Also, she has cows, but that’s another subject.

Granted, it can be discouraging when you have poor yields and outright crop failures, but if you chalk it up to learning, you’ll be smarter next season. I have a series of posts coming up on this subject, so if you’re not interested, prepare to be bored.

I should have posted this about a month ago, but late in the season is actually a great time to buy plants at discounts. If you bring home a spindly pepper and lovingly dig it a hole with space to expand, it will race to make up for lost time. How about you go out to the local greenhouse and find you some stuff that needs a bit of earth? Then tell me how it works out for you!

This morning.

The less grim things

…my children teach me.

I thought about that word “grim” and decided that it encapsulates how it feels to die to myself, which was mostly what my Mother’s Day post was about. How about we hit a few of the high spots?

Children are born as little hope capsules. They are the best motivation for people to make the world a better place, to work to level the rough places, and to protect what is worth protecting in our world. In Sunday school we read Jeremiah 32, about a time when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army, and Jeremiah was confined in the royal palace. He heard a word from God that instructed him to buy a field and to make sure the deed was securely sealed in a clay pot so that it wouldn’t disintegrate. “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah was showing his people that it was worth investing in the future, no matter how hopeless their current situation may look. It’s not always going to be this way, friends.

This is the reason we plant fruit trees and build homes and write books and donate to cancer research. Our children or maybe our grandchildren will reap the benefits, even if we don’t. Hope.

Children sense what is real and what is fake. “She is a spoiled brat,” they say frankly. “You’re not listening to me, Mom,” they insist. “He is kind to everybody,” they notice. We call it “having no filter,” but in a child it is usually just honesty. There is no point in pretending that you love a child, then spend your entire life reminding them that they aren’t good enough, quiet enough, clean enough, grown-up enough, etc. They know intuitively what real feels like, whether they can express it or not. Even if they submit to the browbeating, they will know, “Mom never let us have screen time, but she watched Netflix for hours in her room.”

What’s more, they have a built-in bologna detector that gets honed to razor sharpness by the time they are teens. When the children were little, I found out very quickly that I can’t pretend I’m eating carrots when it’s actually chocolate. They can smell it. Busted. Now that they are older, it’s on to higher stakes, bigger inconsistencies. You can’t tell your children that you should love your enemies, then in the next breath mutter road-ragey threats about the idiot who pulled in front of you. They hear and they will call you on it.

These are good things! Death to hypocrisy!

Children have grand ideas, often impractical, but exciting! They want to sleep in a treehouse, on the trampoline, in a hammock, on the sunporch… basically anywhere but in their own comfortable beds. They want to feed hummingbirds and orioles sugar water, plant ornamental gourds, grow strawberry popcorn. They see complicated patterns for colonial costumes and have very specific ideas for appropriate fabric to make them. They need a thousand feet of paracord to make bull whips and another thousand feet of cotton rope for all the macrame things. They assemble bug-out bags and spend their money on lighters and Life-straws from Amazon. And the fishing gear. Oh, Lord, preserve us from more fishing gear.

You know as well as I do that those are good and hopeful things. I’m guessing you also know about the resulting clutter. It has been one of the longest running, most sanctifying works of my life to stop being precious about a tidy house.

“Your place looks like the sort of place where things happen,” a friend said to me. It was meant as a compliment and I accepted it. A place where things happen is not a showplace with no dead leaves on the ferns or stains on the carpets. It’s more like a barn factory where important stuff is going on. You get out the pushbroom at the end of the shift, but you deal with it in its own time.

Our children teach me to laugh, good old belly-laughs. We have inside jokes and then they have inner, inside jokes that I don’t get because I can’t remember all the random stuff they quote. Sometimes they are irreverent and I get flash-backs to my childhood when the witty remarks were flying and my mother was protesting, “Where do you learn this stuff? Is nothing sacred anymore?” My standard advice in this situation? “You can talk like that at home, but it is not appropriate outside the family.” I’m probably not doing too well with this, because I have dubious tastes in what I find funny, and they know it.

I suppose one of the biggest lessons my children continue to teach me is that it’s not about me. That is sort of a circle back to the original “dying to self” motif, but it is also extremely liberating and helpful. Getting over my own self-importance is a life work that I welcome. (Wince.) I am still, as always, learning to offer my work to Jesus and letting it be His business what He does with the investment. So many of the pitfalls of parenting (and life) involve how it makes me look. It becomes impossible to have a pure and quiet heart when appearances become the important thing.

“God gives grace to the humble,” it says in James 4:6. This is a good word for parents to stand on. We don’t know everything, but we know who does.

And there they are, those beloved pieces of my heart, running around outside my body.

Life with the Birds

Nature held back and held back until hope had been deferred sufficiently, and then she said, “NOW.” Just like that, we get a week of brilliant sunshine after about 6 months of cold and wet (my family says I exaggerate about this) and the green explodes electrically. That may not be a thing where you live, but it is here. Every day I feel more alive, and just when you thought I wasn’t going to do one of those ecstatic spring posts, you’re getting it.

There’s a Carolina wren that hangs out just outside our bedroom door that opens to a smoker’s deck, only we don’t smoke there. I suppose we could call it our coffee deck, or our tea deck in the evening. This summer I am going to flood it with my house plants and pretty stuff to make it even more pleasant. It has a roof made of clear plastic sheets that need to have the moss pressure washed off them, and there is a persistent Virginia creeper that runs along the house wall. The wren seems to like this atmosphere, because she wants to nest somewhere right close by and sing her liquid song of pure joy. I have no objections.

She’s a little behind the robins who have already raised a brood in the bush that climbs up the railing. They regretted their choice of home site as soon as our children realized there was a nest at eye level, and checked on the babies quietly but with much diligence. Yesterday the babies flew away, and the robins are having to decide whether to risk a second brood in the same spot or to rebuild in a quieter neighborhood.

Gregory installed three nesting boxes for bluebirds when we started to notice them in the yard. I keep seeing them flitting about over the garden, their personal smorgasbord. Then they flit right over the privacy fence and go to the neighbor’s bluebird boxes to feed their babies. It seems a little disloyal, but one can forgive a bluebird almost anything.

There’s a Baltimore oriole who occasionally flaunts his brilliant feathers from the tops of the high oaks down to the arbor. He is so beautiful it takes my breath away. I keep scanning the high tree tops where they like to weave their swinging nests, and since the leaves are only starting to blossom out, I can see that he hasn’t built yet. I wouldn’t choose the shagbark hickory, though it’s so high and breezy, because those branches break off so easily and I have to pick them up all the time before I mow. I’m guessing he’ll try for the tallest cherry tree or maybe the oak once his shy wife shows up to show her approval.

Whenever I hear an especially beautiful bird song, I scan until I can find the artist. Last week I located the mockingbird pair, and I’m so glad they’re sticking around to serenade us while they rejoice over their babies.

(Just as an aside… Have you noticed the ecstacy and wonder of the birds rejoicing over their young, over their domestic triumph? When I see people doing the same, I know it’s right and good. There is glory in it, oh yes! Also a lot of insistent, persistent mouths to feed. But it goes with the glory. There’s your little homily for the day, if you’re an exhausted parent. )

When I was mowing with our z-turn mower that has two levers you have to keep level or you veer off course, I was taking a tight circle under a bush and instinctively reached up to free my hair from a branch. Of course, that instantly turned the circle tightly into the bush, and out fluttered an outraged mourning dove. Sorry friend, I won’t do it again. Go back quickly and give your squabs their pigeon milk.

The cardinals absolutely love all the prickly stuff around here. Because they can fly in such a tight, dipping pattern, they can nest in the most inaccessible places. We have enough multiflora roses for a colony of cardinals, and it’s one of the reasons we aren’t clearing them.

The hummingbirds are back and I really need to get some petunias planted for them. I would rather cultivate the flowers that give them their nectar then try to make sure that their feeder is clean and full all summer. But the girls are begging for a feeder, so we’ll probably do both.

Last but not least, the phoebe that has returned to her nest under the awning at the corner of the sun porch has raised another successful brood. Last year there was a lot of stuff piled in that corner, so that she had a decent sense of privacy right outside the window. I cleared all that stuff away this spring, and it was still very cold when she was sitting on her eggs. As soon as it got warm enough for us to start using the sun porch, she felt the intrusion. But she’s a diligent one and look at her! I haven’t noticed her trying to raise another brood yet, so I hope she’s having a little vacation. That was a lot of bugs being stuffed into mouths.

We have crows, and starlings, and lowly sparrows, and even occasional bald eagles floating on the thermals. There are red winged blackbirds and gold finches and so many more. All of them are just doing what they’re supposed to do day after day. To repeat my little homily, there is glory in that. Bless your heart, and go do what you’re supposed to do today.

Me? I’m supposed to clean my house today, get rid of some loose feathers and tuck in the sticks that aren’t settled quite right. I’m also supposed to make some food, and the nestlings need to learn to make some new recipes, so I’ll be doing a bit of coaching.

What about you?

The things my children teach me…

…in no particular order.

I identify as a mother, haven’t even tried to not look like one or act like one for many years. I am comfortable with this space. All the mom stereotypes… I don’t really care. They are hilarious and strange and okay by me.

From my children have come some of my greatest moments of exhilaration and also my deepest moments of anguish. It is the price of love, a fiercer love than any other I have experienced. Nothing will change that, not distance or changes or decisions they make. As my friend Tina said this morning, “They will always be your babies, no matter how old they get.”

I can expand much further and rebound better than I thought I could. My husband showed me a meme today with a series of circles, the largest being 10 cm across. It simply said, “This is what 10 cm dilation looks like. Buy your mom something nice today.” I have accepted the fact that my body had to change and stretch drastically to give birth to my babies, and I waste no time pining for my teenaged shape. Sometimes I would like to return to the wide-eyed hopefulness of my first baby shower and just tell that girl, “This is going to stretch your very soul until you think you will die, but you won’t. You will become bigger, more, and it will be a beautiful thing that you have been so mercilessly expanded.”

I am a nurturer, and though I mostly practice my skills on the ones in my house, the nurturing includes people who are not my birth-children. In the Mother’s Day message at church, it was mentioned that you do not need to give birth in order to be a fruitful woman. In my own thoughts, the heart of femininity is bearing fruit to hand it out for the feeding of others. How ridiculous to turn all my grapes into shriveled raisins for storage in case I get hungry someday. To offer freely what I have, with no strings attached- it sounds noble, but oh, it is hard!

I read about a mother who coached her little ones that if they are ever lost, like at the zoo or in the store, they should look for a woman who has children with her to ask for help. I aspire to be one of those safe persons in our society, the ones who have time for another’s drama. It is the essence of motherhood.

I have had to face my humanity and brokenness repeatedly in the last twenty years of mothering. This is the best thing that my children have taught me, and it’s not because they are so horrible. It is because they came into the world needing quite a bit more than food, and as it turns out, I do not have all the resources they need. There is an elderly lady who comes to church, probably in her late 90’s, and she is full the of the fire of God. She declared, “You won’t do everything right in your parenting. God won’t let you.” It’s true. He wants to teach me about His resources. I have learned that I can come boldly to the throne of grace behind a locked bathroom door or flat on my face beside the bed, a beggar.

I find myself in over my head. And yet I embrace this. I signed up for it.

What do your children teach you?

April On My Mind

When I made the lesson assignments for the girls this week, I got so happy that I just went ahead and did next week’s as well, and that was the last lessons in the books. They got so happy when they saw how close they are to done, and now they are speeding along, doing two lessons a day. They might as well, since it is once more snowing and blowing. I cannot decide how one ever figures out that the time is now right for stowing winter gear. I packed away hats and gloves yesterday, even though I knew… oh yes, I knew.

The magnolia in the front yard tentatively opened one glorious rosy bloom yesterday. Today it wishes it were a few degrees south. I do too.

There are bluebirds flitting about, though, and the raspberries are growing great promising leaves, shooting up sidewise out of their roots with more energy than discretion. I planted Purple Passion asparagus roots yesterday, too, with a loving layer of rabbit poo pellets, and I have Plans, oh do I ever!

This spring I keep running into tutorials for making your own planters: a mix of portland cement, peat moss, and perlite, called hypertufa. Apparently Martha Stewart has been making them for over a decade, and there are endless varieties online. I love the look of a planter that may have been unearthed in an archeological dig in the backyard, so I have been hypertufa-ing like anything. The first planters were too ambitious, as in too large, molded in a five gallon bucket with a smaller bucket inserted to make the plant’s space. Unfortunately, I forgot to unmold them until they were pretty dry, and I had to break the plastic buckets to get the planter loose. They were a fail. Holes in the bottom, cracks in the side- that sort of fail. Now if a little old lady can do it, so can I. I watched more tutorials and I tried again. The second set of planters is curing, and they please me inordinately with their craggy concreteness. In this whole family, only Addy likes how they look, so we two stoutly stick together. Just wait until they have flowers spilling over their concrete sides! I have enough perlite to make two more batches, and I plan to sprinkle them throughout the garden. Once it gets warm, that is.

This is the time of year when I squirrel away books for our end of the year bash. Often I buy used books at library sales or from Thrift-books, but this year we are feeling extra celebratory. Gregory is graduating and we have survived an unusually brutal winter, both actually and metaphorically. This year I am buying new, beautiful books, hardcovers, lovely illustrations, the like. This year, the books are worth wrapping nicely, and I can hardly wait to give them to the children! I bought quite a few from The Rabbit Room Store, where they are running a good sale for Mother’s Day right now. I also like Lost Art Press for simply beautiful books on lost arts… what else. I only ordered one book on Amazon this year, and for that I feel accomplished. Each child gets two, a storybook and a nonfiction, how-to, or poetry book. I even got myself what my little heart desired, which this year was Poems to See By. It is the high point of the school year, a tradition we all love.

I think I mentioned that I am taking a writing course from The Habit, and currently we are reading/discussing All Creatures Great and Small. I have no idea how Herriot came to be such a stellar writer, but I’m guessing it was with a lot of practice. In an encouraging email to the Habit membership, Jonathan Rogers said,

“I find it helpful to think of writing as a way of continuing a conversation I didn’t start. It relieves a lot of pressure to remember, My job here is not to say something utterly original, but to add something to an ongoing conversation. It may seem counterintuitive, but giving up on “utter originality” may be the first step in producing something that feels original to the reader—something that continues the conversation in an interesting way.”

That produced an “aha” moment for me, because of how often I flounder without anything utterly original to say, or even worse, fear that I am subconsciously quoting what I read somewhere else. One recent assignment was to write about expectations, and then describe what really happened. Here is my contribution. Some details may have been changed just a tad, but it did happen. Enjoy. 🙂

It was an era in our lives where the high point of the month was plunking a little extra onto our mortgage payment. We were in love, two children deep into our marriage, and my husband was working his teaching job, studying nights and weekends for EMS training. Time was in as short supply as funds, but our house was small and we really needed a night out, just the two of us. 

I saw the poster, “David Copperfield, Reimagined,” and I thought it would be perfect. We were avid Dickens fans, a little old-fashioned in our tastes.  My husband would quote his favorite passages, chuckling and marveling at the genius who penned these worlds. “Reimagined” was a great idea for a play. In those innocent, pre-smartphone days, we planned to simply show up at the venue and buy our tickets. Having arranged childcare, we dressed carefully for a date night in the city.

We were running a bit late, and the crowd that teemed at the door was young, hip, and decidedly casual. “Wow,” I enthused to the girl in the line beside me, “who would have thought this would be such a sell-out? We just love Dickens!” She didn’t bother to reply, and her sidelong glance seemed to register a bit of pity. I figured she could sense the deep country air around us, and let it go with a shrug. I was here to enjoy this evening. 

When we finally found our seats it was time for the show to start. Neon lights strobed across the curtain as it rose in a flourish of music that was anything but 1800s. “Reimagined,” I reminded myself as we settled in to enjoy the show. David Copperfield himself showed up in a red sports car, stopping center stage in an ear-splitting roar. Dressed in a gauzy black suit, he produced a flamboyant silk from his pocket and threw it over his car.  The car disappeared in a swirl of foggy smoke and I looked at my husband, who was as bewildered as I was. Try as we might, we couldn’t discern a  hint of our beloved Copperfield in any of it. It was when he pulled underwear out of the pockets of ladies in the audience that I took time to read the handbill we had been given in our rushed entrance. “David Copperfield: Reimagined” and underneath that in lilting cursive was the subtitle, “The Magic Show.”

Welp. ( Just a little trivia: welp has just been introduced into the Webster’s dictionary, an official word. I liked it better before, but it has become habit, so I shall continue to use it.)

Welp. That concludes the April post. If it’s still snowing where you live, maybe go buy a few poetry books?

In which I played with a bit of mud and some spring came out of my fingers.

I Now Have a Power Cord

For various reasons due to the circuitous nature of life, I was not able to charge my laptop for quite a while. I bought it used for hundred dollars years ago and it is very aged, but it is full of my personal stuff: documents and photos and things I write so it feels Very Important. When the charging issues began, we made plans to hit a Best Buy to see whether the fault is in the cord or the computer. (Have you looked at the prices of Apple charging cords recently?) We can either drive 45 minutes north or 45 minutes south for this service, neither of which is a good option these days of inflated gas prices. It transpired that we had a trip back to our familiar stomping grounds and we were going to drive right past a Best Buy. Enroute we stopped for a few hours with Gabe’s sister and her family, so we did not run our computer diagnostic errand. We’ll hit it on the way home, we thought. As it happened, friends asked us to stop in and have sushi with them (you can’t pass up such an offer) so we did, and we didn’t start home until all the helpful blue-shirted minions of the Geek Squad were clocked out and in their pj’s.

I gave it a rest with a small sigh of resignation. It would wait. I do NOT like tech stores, and I didn’t want to go on my own. Two weeks later Gabe and I planned to go north, just do it, make it a date, etc. That morning I awoke with a ridiculous head cold, barely able to keep my eyes open, sneezing violently. My husband took one look at me and suggested kindly that we wait until another day. Then he had four work shifts out of town, so that put us into the next week. We made plans again for a date. When we looked out our windows that morning, it was blizzarding royally outside. Are you kidding? We decided to go anyway.

We drove through white-outs and gusts that threatened to blow us off our northward course, but we made it to Best Buy at last. The Geek Squad had about seventeen Gen Z’s and one aging Millennial on staff. I know because he had grey hair in his ponytail and no acne on his face. Also he made a speedy diagnosis without using any terms I didn’t understand. It was simple. I needed a new charging cord. We searched the shelves for the exact model I needed, and a blue shirt magically appeared to help us (Gen Z this time.) He peered earnestly at labels and boxes, and he peered at his phone; they didn’t have one in stock. Then he shuffled his feet sadly and suggested that we try Amazon for a cheaper option. I bet he’s not supposed to do that. At least we knew what we needed.

We found a Thai restaurant and ate spicy food and drank green tea while the snow swirled. Then we went home and ordered a charger cord. In those weeks of un-computer time I wrote a bunch in my head, but obviously those articles are gone. One of them was really clever, but I can’t remember it. I can do a fast recap, though.

We had a weekend back in Bedford County, since my parents were home from Florida. We spent time with Alex, connected with friends at church, hugged everybody, admired new babies, marvelled at how tall all the children are growing. We made sushi with friends, then sat at a long table and ate it while we visited.

I babysat my sister’s children for three days while she and her husband celebrated their 15th anniversary. It was six extra bodies, but they fit right in with our crew, all but one of them younger than mine. It has been a long time since I wiped so many noses on repeat and read the same favorite picture book six times in a day. Some aspects of little tots’ care are less charming than others, but I do miss having a resident three year old. I did nothing except nourish and clothe bodies and wash the things associated with those activities. It was a reminder again of the full-time work it is to care well for little people. (Hats off to you, mothers of young children. You are doing amazingly busy, hard work, and it is good work.)

These days I do a lot of facilitating, helping my children reach for things, develop skills, gather resources. They mostly do their own cleanup, hallelujah! Last week I took Gregory to get a fishing license. We smelled the rotisserie chicken at the deli and suffered immediate hunger pangs. Supper had come to us. I smiled at the deli lady and said with excessive politeness, “Thank you greatly.” Then Greg looked at me with wonder, “What did you just say?” And we walked away quickly before bursting into laughter. And that’s how quickly you go from hiding your amusement when they are funny to them making no effort whatsoever to hide their amusement when you are funny. I don’t mind though. The most distressing people I have ever spent time with are the ones with no sense of humor. I consider it my duty as a mother to help my children learn to laugh at themselves, and I figure I need to model it.

This was a week ago, with sunshine streaming in the south window and a fresh layer of precipitation outside.

Spring has faded in and out, in and out, that Pennsylvania season that teases us alternately between boots and flip-flops on a day-to-day basis. Today we dug holes for support posts in my raspberry and blackberry beds. I am lengthening both of them with volunteers that shot up at the edges. Gabriel used a measuring tape and squared off the garden with the privacy fence. It had been raggedy edged, a result of the neighbor eying it from his tractor seat when he was tilling. We are widening the area where we will plant corn. And we are putting in an asparagus bed. I wish I had done that two years ago, but here we are.

I have another dream and a place for it. Beehives. Pollinators. Honey. When I was showing Gregory where I would put them, he made a weak objection about the adjoining grass, and I segued smoothly into my plan for chickens. It was gloriously warm. Anything was possible. The daffodils finally dared to open, and the birds were singing riotously. Let’s see what all we can do before it snows again on Saturday.

Saturday in the Life…

I awakened to that blissful feeling of a whole Saturday to just do whatever I felt like doing, which for a mother means Whatever Yells Loudest. I got out of bed just about the time Gabriel got home and got into bed. He was the only nurse for the entire 12 hour shift last night in the emergency department. Weary is not even the right word to describe it, but it will have to suffice.

There was a blustery blizzard going on, and I’ll admit, I was not especially pleased about it. It seemed like a good day to wear my robin egg blue sweater and drink lots of coffee.

Two days ago it was raining so hard that I kept checking the basement to see if the dehumidifier and drains were keeping up with the trickle of water coming in from excessive snowmelt. A bunch of old towels made temporary dams, but this morning we had to address the situation in the basement, now that the precipitation is solid again. I picked up the sodden towels, then we sorted through the big bags of snow clothes from last Saturday when they were skiing and put them away. Gasp. A whole week later!

There has been a stack of boxes in the basement that were never unpacked since we moved. Cringe. Eighteen months later. I found that the threat of a possible flood gave me the nudge I needed to get rid of the cardboard boxes. One was full of framed family pictures from newborn portraits to recent, and I repacked them in a plastic tote to take to the attic. The rest of the boxes contained stuff that we shouldn’t have moved. We haven’t used or missed that stuff in 18 months. Salvation Army, here we come. We had a small bonfire as well, and I feel better.

I mentioned the girls’ play corner downstairs. We curtained off about 10×10 feet for them to set up as their playhouse. Sometimes it feels like it is completely out-of-hand, spilling into the entire basement, but I think it is worth every square foot we ceded to them. They cook on an induction burner, make tea for their friends and serve it in pretty dishes. Then they wash the dishes and use an antique washboard in a bucket to wash their tea towels. Occasionally they sleep down there on the floor with its patchwork of area rugs, surrounded by hodge podge furniture we don’t want anywhere else in the house. They reign there in a miniature scale they can manage.

This morning I saw that the girls had a bunch of my pottery towels in their play corner in the basement. They were clean, but stained, and looked ugly. I told them they need to make some tablecloths and runners out of fabric pieces. When those were hemmed, they needed to be ironed, which reminded them of the tiny iron I got for them. They promptly decided to make an ironing board to match. I heard a lot of hammering and drilling, and what do you know! They have an ironing board for their linens.

Gregory and Olivia are doing a history course together this year: Ancient Civilizations and the Bible from Answers in Genesis. It’s a different approach to history than we have done in the past. Gregory likes the freestyle idea of reading supplemental books, following trails that interest him, picking a research topic for each unit, and then procrastinating until the very last minute to write the report after I have twisted his arm. Olivia does not like the freestyling at all. She prefers a history course where you memorize dates and timelines and do normal tests. Her reports are masterpieces of conscientious research that she is sure are not good enough, and they are done before the deadline. Children, children. (To be honest, this history course is stretching me too. Rather more library books to chase down than strictly necessary.)

Anyway, all week I wanted to make baklava to finish up the chapter on Greece. Today we had time to do such fiddly things. Olivia brushed butter on twenty sheets of phyllo dough and Greg chopped up the nuts and mixed the honey/spice drizzle. It was a golden brown triumph of pastry to enjoy with our tea.

Eventually the sun shone on our world in that aloof way it has in winter. I took a walk outside, slipping barefooted into my fur-lined boots, which is about as edgy as I care to be in 17 degree weather. Lady and I checked out the creek, which was flowing brimful in midweek as it drained away the snowmelt. Today it was a normal size again, with little dangly icicles left behind as the water level went down. I heard birds singing, but there are no rose hips or other edible berries left along the edges of the trail. There was a brilliant flash of a cardinal digging seeds or bugs out of the now-brown seed heads on the sumac. Other than that, the world was monochrome. I noticed that the woodpecker’s ash tree broke off right at their biggest bug mining hole, crashing across the picnic spot in the woods, and I fantasized about getting out there with the small chain saw and cleaning up. I have Plans for Paths and all manner of projects in the backyard just as soon as the snow melts and the mud dries. I cannot wait to mow lawn again!

Bev Doolittle would be proud.

We planted some seeds this week. Rita started a lettuce garden and I sowed grass seeds in containers, an idea I picked up from my sister. It should be lush and green by Easter. I also planted some little bulbs, crocuses I think. Last year we grew paperwhites, but honestly, we could not stand the scent. It was just too much, and I had to throw them out.

See my tropical grass on the windowsill up there? Last fall I had a piece of ginger that was very wrinkly and old. We stuck it in a pot of dirt to see what would happen. After a long time, a shoot emerged, then another and another. It is now a grass stalk about 3 feet tall by my kitchen sink. We love it, and can’t bear to check if it has made more ginger roots in the pots. Maybe once we have green outside we can sacrifice it. I have a coleus on the windowsill, saved from my outdoor planter, and it will be the mother of many babies for my window boxes and planters. Then there are the fiddle leaf fig leaves that we hope will eventually get roots. Do you notice a theme emerging here?

Tonight I took Rita along to Walmart to help me load up bags of salt for the water softener. She is strong and useful for such errands. “Just essentials,” I said as we picked up milk and eggs. Somehow the two of us also came home with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, lettuce, cucumber, avocados, and a coconut. Isn’t it wonderful that we have access to so much bounty? I am very very grateful.

How we live these days. It was 50 degrees at the time.