wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Putting August in the Freezer

Just in case you have been given a box of peaches, like I was, here is a wonderful way to put them away for winter that does not involve canners and jars.

One of my sisters-in-law introduced us to peach slush, which is basically sliced peaches frozen with some extra stuff for flavor. When you serve them, partially thawed but still icy, they taste just like a burst of sunshine in the wintertime.

I had a daughter running the camera and two daughters on rotation with the peach operation, so this post will treat you to some inexpert, but authentic photos of the process.

  1. Wash the peaches.
  2. Split and remove pits.
  3. Peel.
  4. Slice. If you use an egg slicer for this, it makes them nice and uniform.

 

 

5. Keep at it until you have about 6-8 quarts of slices

6. Add 1 can of crushed pineapple (You can add this right away, juice and all, and stir             occasionally while you peel. It keeps the peaches from turning brown.)  and 1/2 can           of thawed orange juice concentrate.

7. Stir gently and do a taste test to see if the peaches are sweet enough for your taste.             Ours were just a little too tart, so we added a cup of sugar.

8. Fill freezer bags or containers and tuck them away for the middle of winter when               you need a happy pick-up of summer flavor.

Serve these peaches while they are still slushy. That is when they are best.                   Sometimes when we have unexpected company, we stir up a brownie mix and serve plain brownies and peach slush for dessert. Easy peasy.

Any other good ideas out there for quick ways to store up August? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to put links in the comments.

 

 

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July On the Farmlet

It’s really good, July is.

Every day brilliant sunshine, and this year the rains have come at precise intervals to keep the greens vibrant. On the farmlet there is a bit of a lull as we take a moment to appreciate how having access to animal poo and straw has changed the gardening scene. There is very little hoeing and tilling going on because the weeds are stifled under mulch that the chickens have already sifted for all seeds. The entire garden has been fenced off so that they stay out of it. We wait for the tomatoes to redden and we pick the cucumbers as soon as they are sliceable. You may notice in the photo below that there is a trellis for the cucumbers, but they are not having it and sitting sulkily at the bottom. I don’t know what is up with them, but at least the Black-eyed Susan vine is flourishing. We have just enough produce to spruce up our meals with freshness. Along the front where my boys put up a picket fence with scraps of barn battens, the dahlias are just bursting open in crimson and pink and yellow. The girls bring in sturdy zinnias, gripped and wrenched off their tough stalks by small hands that never seem to have a scissors when they need it. The only harvesting I am doing is blackberry picking, but they are thornless and such a pleasure, dripping warm, dead ripe in the sunshine. The squash already succumbed to the enemy beetles. Oh yes, the green beans are just ramping up to do their abundant green bean thing. I did not replant the two rows that died with some inexplicable disease, and yet it looks like there will be plenty for the year’s supply in the freezer.

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In July we celebrate both Gabe and AddyMaddy (I call her this, because she is such a madcap child, but it really is an endearment). Addy is 6 now, and no longer “too low” to do all the things she wants so passionately to do. She got a kitty for her birthday, something that she can lavish her kindness on.

One weekend we went to a family reunion in Ohio where we sat around in limp lawn chair circles under relentless humidity. It was too hot for the crowd to eat baked beans, so I gave the leftovers from my crockpot to the pigs when we got home. On that journey, we spent a few days with my sister’s family. They built their house big enough to host a crowd; when we come it feels like it opens its arms and gathers us in. I would love to have that sort of hospitable space sometime, but I don’t know if I could keep up with the cleaning. We touristed in Holmes County with them one day, where we could taste over 40 varieties of cheese at Heini’s Cheese House and then we checked out an Amish petting zoo where my girlies acted just like all the other little tourists and begged for $5 horse rides around a ring. We also wandered the aisles in the wonderful Zincks of Berlin fabric store. Cheese and fabric. What else is there? Well, one could mention coffee.

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I worked at some huge household projects in the past month. The bathroom cupboards were my paint project guinea pigs, to see if I would have the stamina to tackle the kitchen cabinets. Someone said they would sell a kidney to hire a professional before they ever try painting cabinets again. After my experiment in the bathroom, I decided I won’t blow my whole summer with a paintbrush in hand, but I got a really fresh bathroom out of the deal. Sometimes I just go lock the door and stand in there when the rest of the house is a wreck. Actually, as all good mothers know, the bathroom is sanctuary. It’s perfectly acceptable to lock the door.

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The deck boards were about 2 years overdue for a sealing job and finally I just did it. Last year my husband was building a barn and this year he is studying for his BSN, so I knew it was not going to happen unless I Little Red Hen it. It was a trying sort of thing that took me a week from pressure-wash to finished trimming. I felt quite cross a few times, especially when a half gallon of stain slipped out of my hands and splatted straight down before arcing into the air to an amazing distance. If you have noticed the paint spills in Richard Scarry’s books, it’s true: it really does splatter like that. But the satisfaction when it was done was what I was going for.

I am not investing in any of my chicken-scratched flower borders this year. The only things that survive the dust bathing and incessant pecking are the perennials, volunteer gourds, and the weeds. Last week I did an Instagram photo collage of the contrast between the flowers I take care of and the ones I have abandoned. Then I looked closely at the state of things and went out and tore out the gourds and the tallest weeds. At least I can do that much. The flowers in pots are at their peak, happily slurping up their weekly Miracle-gro potions and rewarding me with much for little. We spend a lot of time out there on the deck. Currently the girls are setting up a tea party right outside the window and Addy is weeping noisily because someone didn’t let her pour the tea. Not to worry, she will be warbling happily in a minute.

In this last week of July the sensation of freedom from flash cards, essays, and spelling tests has been replaced with a nagging sense that it would be wise to thoroughly clean the classroom from last term’s mess, even though the large boxes of text books are still stacked away in a corner of denial. I haven’t even cracked open one teacher’s guide. We are making one big change. After 4 years of DVD school for the middle graders, I feel ready to take back the classroom. I really love to teach. It’s the strain of balancing all the other house stuff with school that I dislike. We still have arithmetic courses that we will stream for 2nd and 4th grades because learning math facts is a huge deal for homeschoolers and without competition, flashcards and drills are a d.r.a.g. Can I get an amen?  But I get to teach all the language arts. Yippee! Alex has a grade 10 Biology course with an instructor, because Biology and I are not on friendly terms. I prefer just to let it happen, not study it.

I can’t help but cringe a little about August coming up, when everything yells and comes out to get me. It makes me feel panicky, not sure if I will make it.

I need some checks and balances in my life, because there is an endless array of things to do/learn/accomplish and I have a habit of flying high, then fizzling out when I run out of fuel. This is why I still am debating about getting a potter’s wheel, even though it is a lifelong dream and I even got to go to my friend Allison’s studio and play with her clay and make all the mess I wanted. I haven’t written my book either, because just as I was sure that I was supposed to do it, I lost three years of writing, and if that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what it is.

I have had recent conversations with friends that gave rise to conversations in my head. “What would I do all day if (1.) I wouldn’t garden, (2.) I wouldn’t homeschool my children, (3.) I wouldn’t clean or cook?” It sounds really appealing to the weary part of me that wants to just sleep and read and have cold drinks served to me while I sit in an Adirondack chair in the shade. Notice how unselfish that sounds? Closely related to this question is the obvious, “How can I simplify my TMH (Typical Mennonite Homemaker, aren’t I clever? 😀 ) life so that I actually feel like I am living it, not just skating through, taking precarious corners as fast as I can without wiping out?”

One day when I was frustrated with the endless pile of stuff that I need to do and the bucket list of dreams that seemed to be receding, my husband said, “You just can’t be everything.” In that one pithy observation, he helped me to quiet down and focus. I plan on writing a post with the questions I ask myself when I am trying to decide what in the world to tackle first. At least I hope it bubbles up to the top of the pot insistently enough to write it soon. Not making any promises, because August comes tomorrow.

Meanwhile, back at the farmlet…

I look at the railings swathed with wet beach towels. We have flip-flop tan lines on our feet and farmer’s tan lines on our arms. Occasionally we take time to fish or hike or bike long distances. There are homemade popsicles in the freezer because I got so tired of wooden popsicle sticks and plastic pop-ice wrappers laying around. I want a magic bullet to train children to have the class to walk to a trash can without first offering me the privilege of holding their empty wrapper. We eat cold lunches, lettuce sandwiches, banana soup with graham crackers, lots and lots of peanut butter. I make cold-brew coffee by the gallon.

At dusk the mosquitos emerge and the swallows swoop over the pasture for bedtime snacks. There are abundant honeybees in the clover and occasional wails of grief when a barefooted child steps on one. Japanese beetles devour the blackberries, but we pick the beetles off and feed them to the fish. The rain showers are warm enough for children to dance through the gushing runoff of the downspouts.

Still, it’s mostly sunshine.

So much happy, yellow sunshine.

What have you been doing with yourself this summer? Did it make you happy? Do you think it is important to feel happy, by the way?

Catch you up later!

 

 

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Getting Home Safely

I have been reading stories from the book of Daniel to my little girls at bedtime this week. Last night we covered the bit in chapter 7 where Daniel has a terrifying vision of four great beasts coming out of the sea. Fantastical creatures: lion with eagle’s wings, bear with an unsteady gait and three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four heads and wings, and lastly a terrible monster that crashed and gnashed about with iron teeth and bronze claws and ten horns. Pretty scary stuff!

After a while their dominion was taken away. Here is Daniel 7:9, 10.

“As I looked,

thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.

A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.”

He goes on to describe how the beasts had their dominion taken away and the Great Beast was killed and his body thrown into the fire to be burned. The ultimate victory thrills me, as does the descriptive language of these passages. Daniel himself said, “The visions of my head alarmed me.” When he asked about the great beast which had so terrified him, the interpretation was that it was a kingdom unlike others, “devouring the earth, breaking it down, and stamping on the pieces”.  This would be a kingdom that blasphemes the Most High, wears out the saints, and imagines itself more powerful than times and laws.

It all comes to an end, up-side-down gets turned upright and righteousness reigns in the earth. We looked for a long time at an artist’s imaginative painting of the New Earth and knew that even in our wildest dreams we have so little idea what God has prepared for those who love Him. (Go read Daniel if you want to have your mind stretched and your faith strengthened. It is more fantastic than many of the modern fantasies/allegories that I have read. )

Why read this stuff to my children? Maybe I should just stick with the lion’s den? Actually, my reasoning wasn’t complex. This story came next in the Bible storybook, and they really wanted to hear about the beasts. As it turned out, it coincided with a lot of things I had been thinking about recently due to what I was reading.

A yearning for “happily ever after” is in our DNA. My girls like good endings to stories. I hope and pray that they will see how even sad stories can be happy endings because there is life beyond the now. I fully expect us to face suffering for our faith that is more than the ridicule that we currently get. I want them to have strong faith that what is seen with our eyes is only the tiniest part of Reality.

Here’s another book recommendation for you, written to people under severe trial in approximately A.D. 67: the book of Hebrews. When I studied it as a bracing message to Christians who were faltering under the weight of discipline and the struggle of endurance, it opened to me as a beautiful narrative of hope. Chapter eleven alone is enough to make one’s heart burn with courage. That long line of the faithful who were obedient to what they knew God wanted for them, and so they pleased Him. It brings tears when I read how they were looking for a city that was prepared for them, looking for the reward, the better life. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13)

It may sound shallow to look for the reward, but it’s what motivates us, isn’t it? How else would anyone have fortitude to stay faithful while being sawn in half as part of a torture session?

My third book recommendation is Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn. The author contrasts the life of an all-American businessman with the life of a Chinese friend and former roommate from college. As you follow the story, you get this knot of sadness, knowing that it isn’t going to end well for everybody. It’s not easy, light reading, even if it is classified as a novel. In fact, I cried for a good portion of the book.

I will tell you that the tears at the end were tears of overwhelmed joy because the end was not the end. Death had lost its sting.

My friend Heidi, who has a little girl in heaven, has recommended Randy Alcorn’s book titled Heaven to me. She describes it as thought-provoking study from the Bible as to what heaven may be like. From her description, I think Mr. Alcorn modeled his novel on his theological studies on heaven.

Maybe you, like me, feel oppressed with the brokenness that seems to whack and crush people down. It doesn’t seem right and it’s not OK. We feel in our souls that we ought to fix things, pray them away, not let bad things ever happen to anybody. This is an intrinsic part of a person who loves righteousness- the compulsion to right wrongs and do something about injustice. In fact, the Hebrews heroes of faith “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, quenched flames, were valiant in battle… the dead were raised to life.”

Then there were others who were tortured, facing jeers and flogging, and when they weren’t in jail, they were living in holes in the ground. “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.” I don’t think that mess felt okay to them. Yet the world was not worthy of them. And why?  Their faith. The rule of the beast would not last forever and they knew it in their souls.

We have to live in hope, my friends. The best is not yet.

 

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Midsummer

I realized suddenly that it’s summer solstice, hence it’s 9 PM and still semi-light outside. My children swam until 8:30 last night, then came up to the house for second baths, having already had first baths at 4 in the afternoon after the first dip in the pond. All the swimming clothes got draped on the deck railing and the towels got lumped in piles in the laundry room after second swimming because they were muddy.

Today was a repeat exactly of yesterday’s schedule, only they had scrounged up other assorted odd bathing costumes, walking past the row of sun-baked trunks on the deck, and then neatly adding today’s soppy stuff beside the others. First baths were at 6:00, while Gregory made quesadillas for supper. I went out to till the garden and the girls hopped into the goat fence and played Heidi until they were hot and the goats were bothered.

It was 8:00. “May we go swimming again? We got dirty and stuff. Please???” I said, “No,” which just goes to show that I am not always very much fun. But after everybody washed up and got into pjs, I served them pink lemonade slushies, the ones with beetroot in them to make it pink. Just kidding, it was red 40, which just goes to show that I am not always very health minded.

We have fresh peas at last! A lot of my first planting didn’t come up, so I just get nice, manageable amounts. Yesterday the girls and I sat in the air conditioned  living room and watched the Great British Baking Show while we shelled them. They thought that was pretty cool. Hehe. Last year I wrote about the easy peasy way to do large amounts of peas by blanching them in the pod.  This year so far we have only had a few buckets full, so we shelled them dry out of the pods. I discovered a better way to get rid of the blossom ends that have such a maddening habit of sticking to your hands when you try to wash them.  I set up a fan and slowly poured the peas through the blowing air into a large bowl to winnow out the lightweight blossoms. After three pours, the peas were clear of the wispy greyish blobs and I was happy to proceed with the blanching.

The only other garden produce right now is butter crunch lettuce, which is so delectable that I could eat it at every meal, and the last bits of strawberries from our own patch. It’s a tired strawberry patch, plus I neglected to cover it when we got a hard frost during blooming time, so the yield was only about half what we usually get.

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Last week we picked the cherries on our Carmine Jewel tree and made pie filling. It’s a process that I do purely out of love for my husband, because I do not especially enjoy cherry pies. Pitting those tiny little fruits makes me feel just a little bothered every time, which just goes to show I am not overwhelmingly loving yet. Nevertheless, the pie cherries are ready to be picked like clockwork every June. I have started a Father’s Day tradition of cherry-something dessert. According to my diary, this is the third year in a row that Gabe had to work on Father’s Day, which really stinks when you think about it. But at least he took some cherry pies along to work with him.

We did a lot of wandering around the first two weeks in June. The first trip was to a reunion with childhood friends and former neighbors, the John Weaver family in North Carolina. Our weekend of connecting and watching our children become friends was a lot of fun. I will limit myself to one story which will probably be a highlight that both parents and children will remember.

On Saturday evening when we were sitting around a campfire swapping stories, someone was alert enough to notice that 4 children were missing. It was a crew of 12 year olds who had hiked up the mountain to watch the sunset, but the sun had long gone and it was pitch black. Not totally reassuring was the story of a grown-up getting lost up on that mountain in broad daylight. All the mothers had been on a walk when the hike commenced, but siblings reported that they had survival packs, flashlights, water bottles and a book with them. Well. That put a little different slant to the matter. Both Gregory and his cousin Patrick are expert fire builders and we were sure they would have the smarts to stay together. My sister-in-law Carma whistled her signature drop-everything-and-come-to-mom whistle that carries astoundingly far, and John shot into the air a few times so that the children could follow the sound. A few of the guys drove the Gator up a trail as far as it would go, then called, and sure enough, there came some wavering flashlight beams. They insisted that they were not lost, just not totally sure where the trail was. When they heard the whistle, they promptly set about extinguishing their fire so that they could come home. Apparently they lost track of time because they were taking turns reading out loud for the benefit of the group. I wasn’t sure whether to feel proud or a little annoyed.

I looked on both my and Gabe’s cells and neither of us took a single photo of the reunion weekend. We were quite unplugged, I guess.

Here is one of Gregory on top of a different mountain on Hawksbill Trail in Pisgah National Forest. Of all our children, he is the most passionate outdoors lover. Every time we drive through a city he remarks about how hard it would be to live there. Bless you, little man. May you make many more campfires in your life. Just try to tell Mama where you are going next time.

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It was a shiny day. We all made it to the top, even the forty-year-old (ahem), even a little niece in an Ergo carrier, even the dog.

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We spent a few days in western North Carolina where the scenery is hard to beat, the company is fine, and where both of my brothers and one of Gabe’s brothers live. It was a cousinly-packed trip, so exhaustingly much fun. Gabe decided he prefers driving home through the night and we heard not a peep from the crew in the back seats, except when we stopped for gas at 2AM and Addy wailed the whole way in to the gas station bathroom and out again. We got home at 7 on a Wednesday morning, everybody stumbled into the house and crashed until noon.

On Thursday evening we packed up again and headed north to where Gabe’s parents live. The guys have a work-sharing thing going on with their various projects, then on Sunday Gabe’s youngest brother was baptized. All the rest of the cousins were together that weekend. They run in packs and I hardly see my children except when they get hungry. Gabe took the older boys camping on the banks of the Susquehanna one night. They wanted to give their gear a tryout for an epic camping trip in the wild later on, freeze dried food cooked on teeny rocket stoves and all that.

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I got most of the photos for this post off his phone. So, photo creds and all that… thanks, Hon.

We saw every single member of both our families within one week. It was lovely, and then I was ready to stay home for a very long time. We had three appointments and a car break-down in the first week after we got home, but things are looking like a lull now.

Wait. It’s summer. It might be a while until the lull, but the ride is glorious in summer!

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May Retrospect

I take my pen in hand and end the month by telling you a tale of five itchy children, scratching, scratching their respective cases of poison ivy.  We as a family have never risen to such heights of togetherness in our misery. We tried pretty much everything over-the-counter that the pharmacy offers for itch relief; we have used up 8 pounds of baking soda for baths (and now have the most alkaline septic system east of Pittsburgh); three of the worst cases are on prednisone, so I think we are on the way to recovery. Addy, ever the drama queen, asked the ageless question, “Why is there poison ivy in the world anyway? It makes me cross.” It does, for real.

Last week we cultivated the pasture that the pigs had plowed with their snouts. It was infested with poison vines, but nothing seemed to be growing out after the porkers had eaten the roots. Unknown to us, there were still plenty of roots with oils seeping out and the kiddos simply wallowed in the dirt that day, hence extreme reactions. The good news is, we will have real pasture soon! Just as soon as we pick up tons of rocks and get it seeded, that is.

Today I told the offspring that each one needs to make three piles of rocks for when it dries out enough to drive the tractor in to haul them out of the pasture. Some of us made piles. I noticed others sitting quite inert. “I will have to fine you if you just sit around,” I warned. “But we aren’t just sitting. We are making cities,” they protested. It took a long time for the artsy children to get three piles, but they had more fun than the rest of us.

We got our four friendly pigs processed into sausage and bacon, and sold all the meat except one. I put some videos of the girls riding the pigs (before they became late, of course) on youtube in the interest of spreading good cheer. This happened on a day when I couldn’t even talk after a dental procedure, but I found that giggling and wheezing out in the open air soon lifted my spirits.  Each link takes you to a different clip, just in case you wondered. You are welcome.

One day we tackled the art of making scrapple (essentially cornmeal mush with ground meat in it) in a big iron kettle in the backyard. Both Gabe and I have done this many times with our families, but this was our first solo flight. For the cornmeal to thicken the scrapple, we ground the red ears of corn that we grew last year in our garden. It gave the finished product an unusual color and a delectable fresh flavor. We even rendered the fat into lard and it came out snow-white and un-rancid. How smart and homesteaderish can you feel? It’s a feeling we keep exploring, along with the more obvious farmish moments when the neighbors ask if we are missing a large black pig, because it is eating grass in their backyard. Alex was dispatched with a bucket of feed and Petunia (the newest porcine edition, a singularly ugly Guinea sow) docilely followed him home without protest while the neighbors videoed the proceedings with their cell phones. There are also the flustered moments as we attempt to install woven electric fencing in the woods, through a thicket of greenbriars that would daunt any prince on a steed. On the bright side, the goats are eating those briars like dessert.

And then there is the price we pay for luscious free-range eggs. We did not know this: Chickens simply cannot stand the sight of a pile of mulch. They systematically scatter it and peck through it, clucking excitedly when they find juicy bugs and running ADHD all over the property. It is amusing and most annoying. I have noticed that we are not pulling ticks off the children nearly as often since the poultry is out roaming. There seem to be fewer asparagus beetles, and if they would limit themselves to the slugs in the strawberry patch instead of treating their greedy selves to the berries, all would be more harmonious. Observe what once was a stand of lush hostas, and the ruin of the careful edging my husband did all along our borders. I have raked those chips back in oftener than I wish to remember.

I think of symbiosis often. “The living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism; a relationship between two species of organisms in which both benefit from the association,” says the online dictionary. If you are a rhino with pesky bugs on your hide, you will be glad for the little birds that come and sit on your back to eat them. However, you have to endure their scritchy little claws hopping over your skin. If you are the bird, you need to be okay with getting your meal off a temperamental juggernaut who might take off charging at any moment. Either creature has to pay for his benefits with inconveniences. Sounds so similar to other situations in life wholly unrelated to the animal kingdom.

Last week we had our school evaluations and now are officially finished. It’s nice to get a tidy document saying we did all right in those hours and hours of diligence and hard work and perseverance, etc. etc. Learning is supposed to be fun! they said. Homeschooling is a much more efficient way to learn, they also said. You can observe your child’s strengths and help them with their weaknesses and they don’t ever have to compare themselves or rate at a certain level in a classroom, they said. They just forgot to mention how dog-tired you will be at the end of a year and you will be so far behind, in everything else that it would hardly register on a scale of behind-ness. But you jolly well did it again!

I cleared out the disaster that was our classroom and did some furniture switching. For a very long time I have been looking for second-hand replacements for our broken-down couch and love-seat. I went to every consignment furniture store within a 50 mile radius and eventually found just what I was looking for, a sturdy couch in neutral tone and wingback chairs to set companionably together with a lamp on a stand between them. I saw it in my head for so long that I could hardly believe it when I brought the chairs home and actually sat in them. If you feel revolted at the thought of used furniture, I will just feel happy all by myself that I only spent $320 for three quality pieces, which amount of money would not buy half of a cheaply built couch.

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The boys also got some new furnishings in their bedroom, thanks to a local flea market with a vendor who sells metal cabinets. They said this would definitely be the decisive game changer for the clutter  treasures in their room… a place to put them.  These discussions never seem to foster peace and goodwill between us. Sigh. I made a bargain with them: keep your room clean and clear for 30 days and I will buy you a nice bean bag chair. One of them did superb. The other did not. After losing 15 days to the untidiness, all the fault of hoarder-boy, I changed the rules. The tidy boy gets dibs on the bean bag until the untidy boy has made up his deficit of messy days. This appears to be more effective than than the original proposition. Still, tonight I threw out the bucket of pork ribs soaking in vinegar to make them limber. I just didn’t feel like they deserved to take up space in the house anymore.

Ahh, parenting, the ability to about-face gracefully while in mid-stride, all the while juggling eggs  egos and coaching the rest of the performers. We took a bike ride on Sunday to take our minds off the poison ivy, and I made sure to check the weather forecast. No rain was predicted for 3 hours. As we got to the point where Rita refused to peddle anymore (one hour), “Because I simply can’t; my bottom feels like a wedge shaped seat,” and no amount of coaxing about how close we are to home made any difference… just then it started to rain. Diplomatic Gregory switched bikes with Rita so she could change gears and stand to peddle, but we still had a mile to go when it started to pour in earnest. We sheltered under a pavilion at a local ball field until our lovely neighbor brought our Suburban to the rescue.

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It took hot tea and “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” to give us some perspective on our adventure. 🙂

I find it difficult to remember the high spots of the month with this seldom posting deal, so I turn to my cell phone for pictures. We had a tremendous storm with twister-like damage on May 1, and we lost at least 7 trees. I loved them all, and it was unbelievable to see the damage that 15 minutes did.

I just remembered that I turned 40. Yes, I did. It’s fine on this side. I feel quite undaunted, thanks for your concern. My family did a fun celebration, my siblings gave me a pile of cash to buy replacement trees for the ones that crashed down in a recent storm, my sister made this cheesecake worthy to stand tall among all the cheesecakes ever, and my husband took me out for the night, so all in all it was a pretty grand day.

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And I got to go out for brunch recently with a friend I sincerely admire: Michelle, who is also turning 40 in a few days.

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We canoed, we picnicked, we designed swim-dresses for the girls, we swam, we fished, we planted flowers on the deck, we picked strawberries, we watched chicks hatch, we cleaned and cooked and ate and washed. My husband helped a friend build a wood strip canoe, he tilled gardens, he pruned raspberries, he cleaned up the downed trees, he mulched endlessly, he helped patiently with my furniture search, and he worked on assignments for his BSN in every spare minute. Other than that, we probably slept.

So many minutes crammed into a day, but strung out mercifully, one by one, so that we only have to focus on one at a time when things get crazy. (If I am quoting Jennifer Worth, it isn’t intentional. 🙂 ) This minute- my tone of voice when I discover that someone happened to break my French press… This minute- my attitude about my husband’s schedule… This minute- my faithfulness in cooking eggs for breakfast… This minute- the text I feel compelled to send to a friend under stress… One thing at a time is not so hard. By grace I can live this minute and live it well. By grace I can repent and step a different direction when I feel the nudge of the Spirit saying, “That’s not the right way, dear.”

I took my mom to a funeral of a family friend/relative who died very suddenly. I did not know Dayle Ann well, but when I heard that she died, my first thought was, “She was always so glad to see me.” She was my mom’s maid when Mom had four babies under five, back in the Kentucky days.  Whenever we ran into each other, she seemed genuinely delighted at our meeting. How many women counted her as their best friend? And how did that come to be? I ask myself this, and I know she was beloved by all because she was so selfless.

Life can be a big and scary thing. I try to remember that I only need to live this minute well. I will end with one more photo of the most serene moments of this day. There weren’t so many of them, so this one stood out as a bonus at the end. 🙂

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Scattered Glitter

“Oh, I am going to have to clean this up,” I heard her say with consternation in her voice. It was my accident-prone little girl in the bathroom, so there was cause for concern. I stayed in the kitchen, mixing bread dough, waiting for further developments. It wouldn’t be long. I heard her get her small brush and dustpan, the ones decorated with plastic flowers that had caught her fancy at the store. “For cleaning up messes!” she had insisted, and it was actually a good idea. The brushing sounds stopped and then there was water running in the sink. The mess was escalating. I could hear it in her muttered sighs, the way the step stool was being shoved around. Wait for it… and sure enough, it came, “MAAMAAA!”

I went to her aid and caught my breath. There was golden glitter and it was Everywhere. “What happened?” I asked calmly as she looked up in frustration and told me how the glitter can jumped out of the crafts box and dumped onto the floor when she was just trying to get paint for her popsicle stick project. (That last sentence contains 2 other distinct recipes for disaster, but let’s just stick with the glitter, shall we?)

There were towels with glitter in their folds, sprinkling out into the hamper. The floor was awash in floating specks where she had vainly tried to wash it up with a small flood. The brush and dust pan were abandoned in favor of the vacuum cleaner as we worked together to corral the flyaway stuff. I dismissed the little girl, commending her for trying so hard, then finished up on my own. This is days later and we still find golden glitter in odd places.

It is exactly how I feel this spring. There is so much sparkle and joy that it just scatters into everything, and sooner or later it usually comes back to “MAMA!” It is okay, since this is my favorite season, and I can handle a good deal of chaos if the sun shines and lilacs are blooming. I do spend a lot of time with damage control in spring.

We have two gardens, five varieties of berries, and some flower borders that I relish all summer. I cannot enjoy them if they are overrun with weeds. I would rather not have any flowers than have thistles and those nasty wild rhubarbs growing beside the peonies. Right now all the stuff needs attention at once. One day when I was feeling a little mad at life in general, (Don’t ask. I can’t remember.) I went out with a dandelion digger and got ahead of the weeds in the borders and asparagus beds. Then I pleaded with my husband to set aside a block of time to help me mulch them. I thought it might take a morning. Bless his heart, he had about ten other things to do, but he edged and mulched and lent his strength to the outdoor mess for a whole day.

That was one big mess to get under control, and I am so grateful that we can sigh and move on to other things. For Gabe it is school assignments. Always, in the back of his mind he knows he has a deadline for an essay, report, evaluation, etc. He is working toward his bachelor’s in nursing, cramming in whenever he can with the hope of finishing next spring. We knew exactly what we were signing up for when he started class in January, and we both dreaded it a little. I have to pick up more loose ends; the boys are learning animal husbandry; all of us are on home stretch for the school year. I made all their assignments to finish the requirements for the state, and this is the week! Rita already completed her books, preferring to spend her spare hours outside catching toads and holding her silky chickens.

Speaking of animals: this week our friendly piggies are going to market, err, the butcher shop. They have cleaned out the poison ivy roots in the pasture and eaten garbage along with a good deal of pig food from the mill. In the process, they have developed some impressive hams. It’s funny how something that would have seemed so awful and stinky at one time, like my little girls scratching a pig on it’s back and tenderly feeding it weeds, is now an ordinary part of a day. I am glad we opted not to do the butchering ourselves.

Yesterday I was helping Gregory move the woven electric fence for the goats so that they could have a fresh smorgasbord of greenbriars and multiflora roses on the ridge. We had moved them to the pasture where all the kids promptly slipped under the fence and ran for the fruit trees while their moms bleated up a storm, mostly because they wanted pear leaves too, and couldn’t reach them. I called the girls to guard duty while we pulled up the fence and relocated it. It is not heavy or difficult to move at all. Unless, of course, you are working in greenbriars and multiflora roses on a steep ridge. At one point Gregory had his roll of fence stuck on a snag and I had my end tangled in thorns and we both needed each other. We were hot and bothered and it was just hilarious. I thought of the patience of Job, but I am guessing Job had servants to do the grunt work while his children had tea parties with private tutors standing around to supervise their manners.

Speaking of manners: I have noticed a funny thing. One of my children has a thing about washing hands and pronounces anyone with dirty hands a slob. Another brings the nail clipper when he sees a sibling with “revolting claws”, although he regularly forgets to wash his hands. One child is a neat-nik with a repulsion for rude noises, but likes to let her nails grow until they are much too long. There is one who brushes and brushes her hair a couple times a day, but could care less if it smells like a goat. And then there is the one who likes to lotion my feet when I am tired, but regularly howls bloody murder when she stubs her toe. At least she tries to clean up when she spills glitter. It occurs to me that if I could roll all the good habits into one person, I would have a model child on my hands. How boring would that be?

So, that’s my round up of the month of April. All the joy and glistening days of spring madness, mixed with a little funny and quite a lot of mud. Some times we hit pay dirt and sometimes the sparkle is just mica. My brain is simply teaming with projects and ambition, because that’s what I do in spring. This week I turn forty; I am waiting for life to begin, like they say it will. If it gets more lively, I am not sure how I will stand it!

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**I feel sorry for you folks who check back to see what’s been happening. For the for-see-able future I plan to weigh in once a month, just to keep the record going. If I get a block of time or a sudden urge to publish, it will be a bonus. I just really need to focus on first things first for a season. Thank you for understanding.

***Your turn: make my day. 🙂 Tell me what’s been glittering in your life recently?

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Writing Assignments

You know those writing assignments in the school language textbooks? The ones where you are supposed to choose one of the topics on the list, develop it into a paragraph or essay or report? I don’t know how else textbooks would teach writing, but there is something about an assignment to write that causes the brain to glaze over.

I remember this distinctly from my own school days. I wrote pages and pages of descriptions to my best friend every week, then came the chapter on composition in the grammar book, “Using only three expressive sentences, describe a place and see if your classmates can guess what you are talking about.” And we would sit there and stare into space for fifteen minutes, just trying to come up with a place that could be described suitably.

Flash forward. I make my children do writing assignments. Books reports? You betcha. Paragraphs? Poems? Yup and yup. I don’t really worry about how long they stare into space in despair. Maybe this is totally the wrong approach, what with delight driven learning and all. I just have a hunch that doing stuff that feels hard is actually kind of good for us.

Last week my third grader was supposed to write about camels at an oasis, just a simple imaginary story. She did not feel like it. I mean, camels are so boring.  She stewed and fretted and looked at her sister’s story about a ladybug with three spots.

“Please, may I write about ladybugs instead of camels? That would be a lot more fun.” Here I perceived a bit of irrationality.

“No, honey, I think you should push through and do the assignment. You can write two stories if you want.” (Note to mean-mom haters: I do not apologize. It’s just the sort of person I am. You can be your sort of parent.) I calmly continued my work at my desk and when I stole a side long glance at my little girl, she was resigned, writing diligently at her desk. It went from the required paragraph to another and another. I was duly impressed.

Here is what she wrote.

Ladybug Adventures

What can I say? My daughter is a diplomat. But so am I. I followed my own delight-driven path, fixed 37 misspellings for her, and typed it up nicely. We both won.

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You Can Make it Yourself

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Turns out a number of you would like to see how I made those paper flowers on the garland in my last post. I was a little surprised at that, considering the underwhelming photo I used to show what I had done. But they do please me every day, so I am glad I “wasted” my Saturday afternoon. Today, however, I got victory over my bathroom cleaning before I sat down to show you how I did the flowers. You start with a book, obviously. Not too brittle in the pages, but oldish looking is best. Even better would be an old songbook. I tore out seven pages at a time, because I am efficient like that.

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This spiral flower is what I started with last week, but it did not pop enough for my garland. The main problem was that my book pages were too small to make an exciting flower. So I set aside the ones I made and used them for the centers of the bigger, better flowers. I just freehanded this circle because templates are boring and too perfect.

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Starting at the end, you simply roll up the spiral between thumb and finger until you get to the center. You will want to have the hot glue ready to go, because those curls spin out on you (They are supposed to. Just not all the way back to the flat spiral.) and it helps to be able to squash them down onto the glue once you have the desired size. I rolled and rerolled my first few flowers until I got the hang of this step.

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I drew my petals onto the page in graduated sizes because templates are boring. Wait. I already said that. But really, your finished product looks better if you have some variation, unless you want to get out a level and ruler when you are gluing the petals. See my stack of seven pages? Just cut them all at once; save yourself a lot of hassle. And be sure to cut inside the pen lines so you don’t see them on the flower edges.

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The petals get a slit about halfway up through. And there sits the pretty little center, waiting. (Have you noticed my kitchen table yet? I keep planning half-heartedly to refinish it, but then I would have to hover when the children do projects, and now it is just so stress free. )

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Those two photos show the way you use school glue to overlap the petals slightly where you cut the slit. I do not recommend hot glue at this step because fingertips are important, and hot glue has no respect. If you want your flowers for hanging on a garland or on the wall, do not curve them much at all or they will hang almost upside down. I started with seven petals on the outside row, then six in the others. There are no rules here. Some of our flowers only had four outside petals and a center.

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The center does require hot glue to hold that much weight. For a garland, bend a paper clip and glue it to the center of the flower on the back. Use gross-grain (important… because the ribbed weave of gross-grain holds the flowers where you put them) ribbon to hang them by hooking the paper clip over it.

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These are other petal shapes we tried. I think the oval is my favorite, but it does make the garland more pleasing to have some variety. Below is another way to finish out the flower in the middle. You roll up the frill, and glue it to the middle, then spread out the frill like stamens. The more we worked at it, the more ideas we got. I did a brief foray on pinterest, then decided to wing it. Olivia, however, saw a tutorial for making hyacinths. She took off on that on her own. You can see her contributions in the last photo.

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And that, my friends, is what happens when you use pretty colors and cup the petals so that they sit on a ledge like a… water lily?

Those are our happy chickens, freeranging like anything around the blueberry bushes. You can’t see them, but the children are down on the dock, fishing. Unsuccessfully, I might add. And that is also my garden, just waiting to dry out.

Soon there will be rows of real flowers and butterflies flitting.

(If you try this, let me know. Or I will never do another tutorial. Well, maybe I will. )

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March Potpourri

It’s spring now and the sap of life is rising. It gurgles to the surface: life that has been there all along, just frozen. Even though our winter was a joke to people like my husband who wanted Serious Snow, I rejoice and feel myself full of ideas thawing and ready to go!

Rita and I went on a soggy walk one day when she was feeling blue. She is cut out of the same cloth I am and we both cheered up when we found twigs with leaf babies to bring inside.

We had our First Day of Spring Party today. It being Monday, I thought maybe I could wait until tomorrow, but the children were not having it. “We have to have a tea party today! It is important.” So we decorated with a pastel piece of fabric and paper doilies, then set out the China and prettied up the food. Frilly toothpicks stuck through ham and cheese chunks cut out with flower-shaped cookie cutters, a simple chicken broth with alphabet pasta, crackers and party mints in pretty bowls, and we were set. Dessert was vanilla crepes with raspberry sauce. Oh, and tea, of course. Mint tea.

Last weekend I got to attend a conference for mothers where Sally Clarkson was speaking to us from her years of wisdom. It was one long, refreshing drink, one that I needed to give me courage. Here is what it looked like in NC on my way to the conference. I pulled off the road and put on my flipflops.

Sally mentioned that typically women in their twenties have a few babies and spend a lot of time establishing ideals. In the thirties they start to feel the burn and it sinks in that this is for the long haul, no short cuts or selfishness allowed. By their forties most mothers are tired. The crowd of godly mothers thins out a bit as one by one they quit, saying, “Let these children figure out their own way now. I am done with this mothering thing. It’s too hard, all this eye-rolling and investments that aren’t valued anyway.”

I have felt it: I am in the tired spot and needed some pep talking. Sometimes I don’t know how weary I am until I hold still for a while.

Here are a few more Sallyisms that I am phrasing as I remember them. Listening to her gentle humor in person was much better, but I know that some of you read her books and will enjoy this.

You are called to live your own story. Nobody else’s. That is your place to be faithful. It’s like a puzzle, and all you have to do is fit your own pieces into your own puzzle. Nobody else’s. Your puzzle will look different from every other puzzle when it is finished.

If God gives you a vision when you are young and idealistic, don’t just chuck it when it gets hard. Everybody in the world will give you permission to compromise. If He says something is valuable, it is!

Read stories of hope and faith to give you courage. Read them to your children. Fill them with stories of beautiful, true, honorable things. Give them a solid framework in a twisted world.

ABIDE. This is not formula or fear. It is not control. It is just a state of being.

If you make mistakes, repent and get over it. God is a Redeemer. Your difficulties are where your children see a walk with God modeled. The hard things you go through are the platform where you gain influence.

I had registered for this conference 5 months ago, and it was so strengthening. Sally speaks hard truths in the kindest way possible. Not least of the enjoyment was sharing the experience with two of my sisters-in-law. We talked long and late, ate chocolate and drank coffee, found common ground and encouraged each other.

I can unequivocally recommend a few books that Sally has written for moms. If you need to hear from someone who has walked the long road and been tested, but stayed steadfast, listen to her admonitions in print. She will not give you permission to slack and feel sorry for yourself; you will be blessed.

In the spirit of making a lifegiving home, I have been working at my March decluttering. So far I have taken out a bag of mismatched plastic containers and lids that I do not seem to be able to chuck into the trash when the sour cream is empty. I passed on a box of boys’ clothes and a bag of girl clothes. The boys were bribed with a dollar per trash bag filled in their room. It took them 30 minutes to fill 4! (I was so proud of them, but not especially proud of myself.) There were a few children’s coats and snowpants that were ripped beyond repair, with zippers broken, etc. that I burned when they weren’t looking.

One painful day I cleaned out my fabric stash and was quite severe with what I allowed myself to keep. I went through my closet and took out all the stuff that I never wear (too small/makes me look fat/bad color/what was I thinking? 😦 ). I donated the Clarks shoes that pinched my heels to Goodwill, as well as a pile of books that were taking up more space than they were worth. Most recently I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards and threw out the chipped and broken things that I had stashed for a Super glue session. Seriously, do I really like this dish that much? No. I do not.

I cleaned out my fridge and fed the pigs. It is oddly satisfying to toss a rotting cucumber to a grateful hog who then turns it into bacon. It makes me feel less wasteful that I forgot the cuke in the salad drawer for too long. The best project in terms of satisfaction was replacing a set of lace curtains that I have had for 15 years! I bought them at the Dollar General soon after we were married and thought they looked all right, but one day I looked at them and said, “So 2000.” I made simple window toppers with a vintage French print and now I can look at them and say, “So ’70’s.” Haha. I need this sort of  illogical hilarity in my life.

I still have the bathroom to sort through and the entire basement, but there is no point in deep cleaning the school room until we finish the term.

Olivia mastered the straight seams on a dress that she has been longing for ever since my mom gave her fabric for her birthday. She made a matching ensemble for her rag doll and learned the fine art of running a seam ripper. No scrapbooking has happened, but I am hopeful. I just need to get in the zone for one more child, then I plan to go digital. All the older children have a lovingly crafted photo book from birth to five years. I never waited until they were 5 to get started, but that is what Addy will get.

Gardening seems a long way off with everything outdoors squishy. I have my seeds, though, just waiting. On Saturday I spent hours making paper flowers for a garland to replace the pine swag I had above the sink instead of cleaning the bathroom. The children gasped when they saw me tearing pages out of an old book, but they soon got into the spirit of the project and helped shape flowers. It is spring, after all!

What have you been doing with yourself?

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from these links, you will not be charged anything extra, but I receive a small commission from the sale. Feel free to buy all the books. 😀

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The 28th

Just like that, we are done with the short month. I can hardly believe how quickly it whizzed by and Wow! do I have hopeful plans for March. I doubt we can squeeze in all that I aspire to, but I want to clear out the house, make great strides toward the finish of the school year, paint a few things, plant early veggies in the garden, take some jaunts out of state, finish a scrap book that I started three years ago, and help my daughter with a simple pattern she is learning to sew for herself.

And now, a photo that came up when I searched for “waving goodbye” on Pexel. Isn’t it wonderful?

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Goodbye, February.

 

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