Currently, a Long Time Ago, with a Look at the Future

I just spent a few post-supper hours in my pottery shed. I shut the door, turned on the fan, briefly mourned the smashed pitcher that a well-meaning child dropped before it was fired, and got down to business with a fresh box of clay. That was especially nice, since I have been only working with reclaimed clay from pieces that seemed good at one time, but lost their appeal as I got slightly more advanced in my skills. Yesterday I made a really nice serving bowl, only to fish a piece of plastic bag out of it when I was doing the final trimming. Bummer.

Tonight I cut my fresh clay into equal 200 g portions to try my hand at making small matching bowls. I wanted snack bowls, the sort of thing you put your child’s apple slices into. I had only three successes and at least six squashes. Apparently it was the night to make every rookie mistake and I may have invented a few extra ones.

We are sitting on the deck with the Tiki torches lit to fend off the mosquitoes on this perfect summer evening. Addy practiced “reading” a story that she has pretty much memorized while Rita played with her miniscule Sculpey clay figures. She made a squirrel family for her fairy garden, and one mischievous fox that slinks around. The people turned out the same size as the squirrels, and their couches would work for either the humans or animals.

We had humid sunshine this week. Every time I check the gardens, the cucumbers and tomatoes have leaped higher. I am so pleased that finally I have cucumber plants growing up a trellis. They never cooperated in other years, but these are flourishing. I keep an eye on developments, but every time I need a cuke for a salad, a small Peight girl has already had it for snack. I have six plants; surely they won’t be able to keep up! Sadly, my seed potatoes and a lot of my dahlias rotted in the weeks of unrelenting wet after I planted.

The lawn is leaping too! Our grass isn’t thick, so we can get by with only once a week mowing, which is good because I run out of dollars for the mower-children. Most of their jobs are unpaid except by thanks and hopefully a good feeling at being a useful part of society. Lawn mowing, weed-eating, window-washing, and car cleaning are paid work. I have wondered what the children of the future will do to earn spending money once all the tasks are taken by robots.

I am deeply suspicious of robots. Every time we go anywhere local, we drive past a neighbor with a robotic lawnmower. It drives me nuts. The children say, “Mom. Mom… don’t look.” But of course I have to look. It is always out, questing around for a stray blade of grass, leaving the worst zig-zag tracks you ever saw! When we had a snow shower in late April, it was out tracking in the snow. That was when it clicked for me. Ever since I read “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Literature class in school with its mechanical cleaning mice that darted out of the walls to clean up crumbs and dirt, I have felt that robots are creepy. (You can listen to Ray Bradbury’s short story here.  (disclaimer: It’s very sad when the dog dies.) )

I do not intend ever to have an Amazon Echo in my house. Nope, nopety-nope. It’s too much like August 5, 2026. And a goat would be a huge improvement on that ridiculous mower!

And just because a post is more interesting with a picture, here’s the view from my deck on a gorgeous morning last week.

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The children and I are doing a summer Bible reading challenge, during which we are reading the New Testament. This past week we read Revelation. It is breathtaking and terrifying- all those apocalyptic descriptions where John seems to be grasping at words wholly inadequate for what he saw. The scene that touches me the most is the one where all nations, kindreds, and tongues fall before the throne of the Lamb. All our temptations toward me-centeredness will be gone for good! The popular theology that makes God and irresistible me besties that hang out together is a flippant view that makes me cringe every time I hear it. I know that I am loved with an Everlasting Love and that knowing is the sort of thing that prompts falling on my face before God in worship.

I have to include a bit of my personal drama, not because it is so important, but because I am living in a haze of gratefulness these days. About 10 days ago I was on my hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. I twisted to the side to reach as far as I could when I felt my knee do the crazy strain/pain that I have had before. I broke out in a cold sweat, trying to push past the pain to straighten out my leg. Thankfully, Gabe was home so that he could help me up off the floor. I thought if I held really still, the pain might go away, but when the tears squeezed out of my eyes uninvited, and the children stared in horror, my husband said, “We’re going to get this checked out.” An Xray showed no bone damage. It was the weekend. I came home with an immobilizing splint and crutches. If I kept my leg completely straight and held perfectly still, I could deal with it. If I tried any funny business like ordinary life, I got extremely unhappy messages from my knee.

It was 5 days before I could get in to an orthopedic surgeon and I was told that I just have to take it easy, wait a week for an opening to get an MRI to assess the damage to my meniscus (hypothetically). I hobbled out to the Suburban, did my awkward stiff-legged climb in with the driver’s seat all the way back so I could get my foot past the e-brake, and I sat there in a parking lot and cried great salty tears of self-pity. I felt that my summer was shot. The doc had said there was always a chance that whatever was torn would unfold itself and give me relief. Meanwhile… pain meds and splints.

I had been begging God to fix me the entire week. As I sat there in the Suburban, mopping my face with a scratchy paper towel, I knew that this was a test. I say He is always good. So what if (worst case scenario) happens… Do I believe that He is good? Yes. Yes, I do. Am I so special that I should never have any hard things in my life? No. No, I am not. Is there grace for this problem, for this looming summer of inactivity? Yes, of course. God graciously poured His truth over me and I stowed my paper towel and drove home.

The next day I was stiffer than ever. I was scooting along the edge of the porch to try to pull some weeds that were growing there, but it wasn’t going very well. “Please, Lord, help me bend this knee,” I muttered under my breath. Impulsively I used my hands to haul on it, and tried for a 45 degree angle. There was no pain! I pulled on that knee until it was bent to the full normal range of motion. Hardly believing it, I walked to the mailbox. It was a creaky walk, but with every step I felt it getting more limber. I was too cautious to leap and dance, but I sure did praise God! For some reason He allowed that handicap to last for 6 days, and then He gave me relief.

It isn’t healed totally. My knee is gimpy, buckling without warning a few times a day. I didn’t cancel the MRI. But I am so thankful for the ability to go up and down steps to do laundry, for being able to sit at my wheel and throw pots, for the capacity to lie on my side in the bed, for the privilege to serve my family instead of them serving me.

Meanwhile I will be using a mop.

A Quick Note

For those of you who subscribe through email and read the posts without clicking through to the browser, this is just an alert that I accidentally posted my Six Ways blog before I had finished and before I realized that I only had Five Organic Ways. You can’t call a weed eater and a mower organic, can you?

Anyway, do click through and read the finished bit if you feel like it doesn’t make sense. Good night!

Five Organic Ways to Take Dominion over Weeds

Nothing quite brings the country dweller down from their Back to Eden aspirations like a flourishing crop of weeds running wild over the land that they fondly slated for productive growth. We went away for 5 days after school was done and when we got back the jungle was encroaching. It has been raining buckets this spring, meaning we didn’t get our gardens planted until last week. The lawn went to seed for a while before we made hay, and the goats cannot possibly keep up with their pastures, even with their nonstop chewing.

We made a plan to bring the rank growth into submission. Using all the weapons in our arsenal, we have been making slow progress. It’s times like this that we are glad our property is limited to less than five acres. I will not mention the options that rhyme with keed-willer or pound-sup since they are bad, bad, and we try to be good with our weed control methods. That is not to say that we never resort to desperate measures, but I will list our favorite methods.

  1. Salt. Nothing fancy, certainly not Epsom salts, which will actually enhance the root systems of vegetables. Just buy ordinary table salt. This works well for fence rows, in sidewalk cracks, along walkways, and to my astonishment, on asparagus beds! My in-laws taught me this trick. They suggest salting the bed once a year, then mulching heavily on top. It works like a charm! Somehow the asparagus continues to thrive while the weeds do not. In other areas, salt will produce more of a scorched earth look, so be careful where you dribble it.
  2. Boiling water. When I do water bath canning, I pour the scalding hot water on weeds in the driveway. Nice and easy, except for the part where I haul a huge kettle full of boiling water through the house, trying to hold it at arm’s length. An easier method is to fill the tea kettle and then pour the boiling contents onto such things as pesky wild rhubarbs or evil start-up vines of poison ivy. I try to hit some of the leaves, but especially the roots right by the stem.
  3. Garden gloves and old-fashioned bending over to pull weeds. You can walk through your grounds daily, nipping things in the bud as they come up. This is not terribly effective if you have too much garden to keep up with. I almost cannot walk past a weed when I get in this mode. It’s terribly distracting. I just wanted to cut a head of lettuce, and here I am, halfway down the onion rows, pulling red-roots.
  4. A sharp hoe. Some people hoe a section every day. I will never forget the sight of African farmers working patiently through vast plots with short-handled hoes. It’s a good practice, very effective if you are into bodily exercise that profits much.
  5. Cardboard with mulch on top. This gets my top vote, because of the way it builds up the soil and retains moisture in the warmer months. There are lots of options. I will dedicate the rest of the post to this idea. (Apologies. This is an edit to what accidentally got published with a title of six ways when I really only have five. I would have made up more if I could have thought of them. Maybe you can help a girl out.)

We have a grass catcher on our mower, so every time we mow, we pile the clippings around garden plants. This works, but it gets weirdly slippery.

Old hay or straw is great mulch for keeping the soil moist, but it is not so great for weed control because the seeds in the bales will abundantly compensate for every weed that is smothered. Maybe you will be fortunate and get very clean hay. It’s a risk I prefer not to take after one year when I had wheat growing all over my garden on top of the mulch.

Composted manure with straw or sawdust is a wonderful option. Sourcing this requires becoming buddies with a farmer who is willing to let valuable by-products leave the farm for other places. We tackled the problem by becoming the farmer. It required building a barn, then building fences, then buying a menagerie that obligingly ate what we fed it and turned out bushels of poo mixed with their bedding so that now we have a fairly steady supply of mulch for the gardens. Since the chickens have already scratched through the compost, there are very few seeds left to cause trouble and the plants fairly leap into the air when they receive rain water filtered through fertilizing mulch.

We also mulch with wood chips, especially around the base of the fruit trees and berries. I don’t recommend twisters, but if you have a storm that takes out a bunch of your trees, you might as well dry your tears, cut the firewood, and run the branches through a chipper. Wait a year and the pile of chips will be fine mulch. Alternately you can take up spoon carving and collect the chips. We have a number of failed kuksas  and spoon blanks scattered around the blueberry bushes.

The easiest, least economic way involves carting loads of mulch home from a distributor and spreading it. If you mulch as heavily as you should, about 4 to 6 inches deep, you’re going to run into a bit of money.

However- no weeds! (Unless the chickens get out and scatter it into the lawn.)

Last week my greenhouse friend and I were fantasizing about gardening in heaven. Everything peak season, always bearing fruit, no pests, and no weeds! It’s a tantalizing thought. We just aren’t there yet, so we deal with it.

One Way to “Git ‘er Done”

“Oh, you horrid dog,” I exclaimed when she grabbed every weed in midair as I tossed it toward a compost pile. I looked at the yard, strewn with twiggy lavender branches and gigantic dandelions. Now we would have to rake it yet. “UGH! Gregory, go put Lady on the deck!” I ordered in exasperation.

“What did she even do?” he wanted to know. He’s always a softie when the dog is in trouble. I pointed wordlessly at the mess and he said, “You sure can’t take much, can you?”

That, from the child who was born by emergency C-section after his mother (me) had experienced 2 hours of exhausting and fruitless pushing and a transport to the nearest hospital because he (Gregory) was star-gazing in utero. I did not point out to him that his birth nearly killed me, but I thought it.

We were working on mulching the perennial beds. I had prepared these borders for mulch weeks ago, freeing them of weeds and waiting for an opportune time such as a day when my husband has off work with nothing better to do. Today I looked at the recurring carpet of fine weeds coming up, then I looked at the weather forecast, which is rainy, cloudy, rainy, rainy, rainy, for about as far ahead as can be seen. It was pay now or pay later, and I dislike carpets of weeds, so we (Gregory and I) hitched up the trailer and went for three scoops of mulch.

All my life we pronounced it “mulsh” like it was from some special pronunciation group. Then one day I heard yet another person say “mulch” with a “ch” at the end, and I got out the trusty dictionary. What do you know? They were right and I was wrong. I have been correcting my habit ever since, but my children think it sounds so affected and wrong. I said it as often as I could today, just to make Gregory splutter and to pay him back for laughing at me when I couldn’t back the trailer as well as I should have. “Mulch, mulch, mulch,” I said under my breath, just loudly enough for him to hear.

Before we mulched, I told Gregory to cut off the tulip leaves just because it looks so much cleaner. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but I do it every year and so far they have always forgiven me and bloomed again. Daffodils aren’t quite so gracious, so we just doubled their leaves down and mulched on top. I transplanted some volunteer pink petunias and brought purple coneflower volunteers up from the edge of the garden.

Would you like to know what we did about that carpet of teeny weeds coming up? We have been saving up our empty cereal boxes for months for the purpose of  putting them under the mulch. Gregory and I decided that it lends a sort of nobility to eating cereal at breakfast, what with the repurposing and all. We made sure the words were on the bottom so that if the mulch happens to shift, you can’t see how many Marshmallow Mateys we have eaten.

Every year I have trouble with plants dying out in my perennial border. A friend suggested that it may be because it is right along the picket fence by the road where the snow plows throw in the salt. It makes sense to me. I just keep experimenting with different things to see what can tolerate those conditions. So far purple coneflower has done well, but all the black-eyed susans croaked. The daylilies are okay and the yarrow is spreading out of all reason. My favorite peonies are flourishing, but the peppermint tea at the end is not happy at all. Not to worry, it’s what I love about gardening… so much scope for imagination! Gabe thinks it is weird how I like to move plants around. Why not plant it where you want it and then leave it there for always? I don’t know why not; it’s just not how I roll when I garden. It is so much fun to dig up a clump of roots, divide it, and rearrange the environment.

After a few hours of steady off-loading with a scoop shovel, I was pretty hungry. Olivia brought me a baked sweet potato with a sprinkling of cinnamon on it. I ate it without taking off my gardening gloves, peppering it with some tiny bits of mulch. Gregory felt the tug of all the cereal boxes and disappeared for the space of a bowl of Chex.

At seven o’clock the predicted rain started to sprinkle down on us. We had one-fourth of our load on the trailer yet. I speeded up and the jokes stopped. Gregory pushed the last mulch into a pile and put away the shovels while I drove the Suburban down the hill to park the trailer beside the barn. Right then I decided I couldn’t face turning, backing, turning, backing, nearly jack-knifing, etc. As he came to help me unhook the trailer, I told him we are just going to let it sit until tomorrow, and I plodded up to the house in the drizzle.

“Are you seriously that beat?” he asked. This, from the boy who took bathroom breaks and snack breaks and cardboard-shield-making breaks while I plodded doggedly along.

“I am just about dead,” I admitted. But guess what? It is raining steadily and I am feeling pretty good. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the ibuprofen has taken hold.

 

And for one parting shot: This is Mother’s Day, in the evening, when I suddenly remembered that we had not taken our annual photo because we left for a choir program at 6 AM. A Hallmark photo it is not, but it reminds me that a mother’s best defense against the erosions of time and reason is maintaining a sense of humor. Seriously.

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Glorious May

What could be better than sitting in a clean house while a rain-shower patters down outside? Try adding a piece of chocolate with salted caramel bits, a bird singing outside the window, a son planning supper around his freshly caught fish which he filleted himself, and an hour to write. Bliss.

You may wonder why my house is all clean on a random Thursday. Let me tell you, I nearly killed myself with mopping and clearing away of chaos this forenoon. This, because the insurance adjusters were scheduled to come take a look around. The last time we had a property assessment, I was unprepared and embarrassed to the core as they walked through every room, taking pictures and ignoring the mess with cheerful grace. Every time they opened a door, there was a child doing school in an odd place, or playing something incredibly messy on an unmade bed. Gabe told me that from his years of experience with replacing windows, this is nothing. Well, it feels dreadful to me, so I was going to be prepared today. We got lunch cleared away and the children’s faces washed before they showed up.

Turns out we don’t have wood heat, so they didn’t even have to step inside. I felt a little cheated. Why can’t someone take pictures of my house when it is like this?

This next scene is right outside the window. My long-cherished dream of throwing pots of clay in that little barn is about to come to pass. We had a grand clearing out and reassigned the stuff in there to other storage places. Plans are for a corner for carving for the man and the place where the lower windows are will be the pottery section. Can’t you see us in there, companionably creative? Only problem is, I still can’t concentrate with people around and I certainly can’t hold a conversation while trying for just the right wall thinness on a clay bowl. About the time I start to talk, my precious piece suddenly feels gravity in a new way and settles gently downward. I have never had so much fun being terrible at something.

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Check out the green fuzz on the ridge, which we have been waiting for for a long time. Suddenly it is popping, almost too fast. It takes the breath away. This morning the lawn looked like this, but in about 2 days we will have abundant dandelion chain supplies again.

 

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I used to spend hours with the older children outside, looking for signs of spring, weaving flower chains and playing in the fresh grass. One day when Addy was grizzling and bored, I realized that I don’t do that very much with her. So I took her little paw in mine and we meandered around the pond, discussing things that interest her life. I braided her a coronet of gold and she had a heart change.

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The children are all but done with school books for this term. There are a few random tests yet, but other than that, we’re done. One of the cousins told them about DIY tutorials on Youtube for making tiny doll furnishings or clothing. From there they have moved to all sorts of  projects, resulting in sketchy looking lip balms made with raspberry juice and coconut oil or odd hot air balloons where the tissue paper tends to flame up suddenly on liftoff. My personal favorite was when Rita said, “Did you know that you can fix nail holes in the wall by putting toothpaste into them?” I told them to take a break from creativity, so we are back on the more familiar ground of a pet snake in the terrarium and some pillbugs in a plastic container. “May we google, ‘What do pillbugs eat?’.”

This next photo represents a triumphant moment for us all, but especially for Gabriel. He had been hankering for a motorcycle ride all spring, saying if he didn’t have this assignment to finish, he would just break out and go riding. The thing about unrelenting assignments to study is that Jack feels like a dull boy, ready to bust out and do something different! One day I was gone for a while, and when I got home he was at the neighbor’s house, borrowing his bike.

“Did you finish your course while I was gone?” I asked at first opportunity, not believing it could be possible. He just grinned and nodded. He had the last two assignments to work on when I left that morning, but in a spurt of determined perseverance, he had actually submitted them both in one day! I didn’t begrudge him a long ride through the countryside in the least! (For the concerned folks out there, the child did not ride with him. Prop only for a spin in the lawn. 🙂 )

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It occurred to me that some of you may be interested in my container gardening tips. I can’t grow houseplants worth squat, but I do seem to have success with my containers on the deck. I will use last year’s pictures for this DIY session. 🙂

  1. Find a friendly greenhouse proprietor who knows their stuff. You need to consider the light where your container will be. Is it full sun or partial shade? Ask your new friend what grows well in your conditions. You do not want to mix a shade plant with a full sun needer, or you will be conflicted all summer as to who gets what they need. (If at all possible, do not buy your plants at the big name stores. They ship them from who-knows-where, so the plants are stressed and sad from the start. You local greenhouse people deserve your business. Have you ever thought about how hard they work?)
  2. Look for a grass or spike plant to give you a visual high point. These plants usually are very tolerant of almost any condition. Last year I found these neat “Prince Tut” grasses, which look like a scepter with a sunburst at the end. I haven’t seen them anywhere yet this year, but I did find curly pink grasses. That’s the fun… mixing it up.
  3. Your next requirement is for a showy leaf. Some good ones are sweet potato vines which come in endless varieties ranging from bright lime green to purple. Those trail beautifully. More upright plants with dramatic foliage are dusty miller or coleus.
  4. The third category in a mixed planter is the blooming plant. We enjoy things that attract hummingbirds, so anything with a trumpet-like flower makes us happy. Million bells, those tiny petunias that never have to be deadheaded, are great for show and easy to please. I don’t hold back much on color combinations, but I do try not to put orange and pink together, etc. Really, there are no rules. If you love your flowers, they will love you back.
  5. My fourth category is something with big blooms. You see Gerbera daisies in these photos, but I am officially done with mixing them in planters with other flowers. They don’t like sharing my space, for some reason. Also, my greenhouse friend told me they hate fertilizer, and literally everything else loves it. So they are out this year. Geraniums work, especially the vining ones that aren’t stuck on one upright shape. I have fallen in love with large begonias as well. They are a little picky about water. Not too much, or they rot.
  6. The next step is funny. Line your planters with adult diapers. This trick comes to you courtesy of my friend who is caring for her elderly mother. She was given some Depends that would have wrapped twice around her mother, so she changed up their use, figuring they would hold moisture in her planters during the hot July days. It works like a charm. Also, your big planters can be filled with empty milk jugs or soda bottles at the bottom. You really only need dirt in the top 12 inches and it makes them much easier to move.
  7. Use good potting soil. Trust me, it is worth 5 or 10 dollars extra to buy a good brand versus cheap, generic stuff. I like Miracle Gro potting soil with fertilizer in the mix.
  8. Arrange your plants until you like the configuration in the pot. I like mine full and energetic, but they do tend to take up whatever space they have. Just don’t be stingy. You can always repot something if it takes too much space.
  9. Plant them. Pull the roots apart gently at the bottoms. They are almost always root bound in the greenhouse pots. Set your planters in a sheltered area for a few days so they can get used to the big outdoors.
  10. Remember that the plants are used to a lot of fertilizer. It’s what greenhouses do to get that luxurious growth that makes you want to buy the whole place. If you never feed your plants, you will see them taper off and look sickly for a while. I have one word for you. Miracle Gro. Seriously. At least once a week. If you feed them oftener, make the solution weaker. Pinch back the aggressive plants, and have fun!

These (below) are my planters last year, at the end of July. See how sickly/nonexistent those Gerberas are in there? I stuck some houseplants in last year, as well. Sometimes I include perennials from my flower beds. Hosta is a good one, as are coral bells. I also do herb planters. They do not have the eye catching appeal of florals, but it is really fun to step outside the door and pinch off some basil. Bonus points for anyone who spots the flourishing plantain weed in one of these arrangements.

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Is it worth the money? I heard that. For us it is. For about a hundred dollars, it turns our outside space into a haven. We may live right beside the road with traffic noise, but we have months of enjoyment out of this investment. I know a man who says he will wait for heaven to have flowers, but I don’t want to wait that long. God gave them to us here. If you source carefully, or wait until the greenhouses are getting rid of inventory, or propagate your own plants, you can grow astounding variety right at your house.

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Well, that concludes my writing hour. I ate a piece of excellently prepared catfish while I sat here, and now I must leave you to go find a greenhouse.

So here we are. May is glorious any way you look at it. And it is triumphant this spring, flush with accomplishment, ready for the next good thing. We feel mellow, delighted with the endless possibilities, despite the normal adult things that weigh down on us. The weariness is passing, the catch-up time is here.

Alive Again

It is finally here. Benevolent sunshine. A few tentative blooms. Newborn lambs. Jubilant spring peepers. Dancing children.

Okay, I will try not to rhapsodize to the point of boring you. It’s the season I wait for all year, so it’s a pretty big deal to me. This year it has been taking it’s sweet time in showing up. There came a point where the best I could do when it snowed again was to avoid looking out the windows and just light all the candles. My soul felt chilled into lethargy that had forgotten how to rejoice, plodding through the daily activities with as much grace as plodding normally brings to mind. Not so pretty, but useful for staying alive. Barely.

A friend asked me, “Are you just being dramatic, or do you really feel that way about winter/spring?” (What? Me, dramatic? I am enjoying a moment of private amusement here. But I do not exaggerate my feelings. They are quite real, as they say, and this winter was a humdinger.)

Toward the end of March, we had the opportunity to travel south to sunshine and white sands beaches. We had just gotten the biggest snowfall of the winter, and seemed locked in endless days of grey. It was wonderful to pack up and leave the dirty snow piles behind. Of course, before we could actually leave, we had to make arrangements for the animals. The dog went to a friend, the lamb went to a sheep-raising friend, the goldfish went to Grandma’s house, and all the rabbits and pigs and goats and chickens and cats stayed in the barn to be tended by a friend.

We knew it was a lot of traveling, something we don’t do much when Gabe is in school. Our children are not used to hours in the car, so to ease the pain, I let each one pack a backpack with books and things to amuse them. The boys took survival gear in anticipation for a weekend with cousins. One of them took two inflatable pillows, in addition to a normal one, just in case he needed to pad himself somewhere. The girls, whose packs were small, crammed an astounding array of goodies into them, One took a doll and accessories to keep it happy, as well as books and a crochet project. Another took a menagerie of little stuffed animals, a sewing kit, and her most special mini figures to play with. The third took coloring supplies, loads of picture books, an extra pillow, a portable DVD player and some DVDs. You know what happens when you overstuff a backpack, every time you try to pull something out? Yeah, a lot of the treasures ended up on the floor, temporarily lost, the cause of weeping. So… now we know what doesn’t work to pass the time. More mom-involvement in the packs would have been helpful. Shew. More than once I thought of discreetly dropping some treasures into a service station garbage can.

The first leg of the trip was to Savannah, Georgia, a city I have long had a fascinated desire to see. The city was designed with broad streets and garden squares up on a bluff above the riverfront. When Sherman marched through the South on his destructive rampage, he was so impressed by the charm of Savannah that he couldn’t destroy it. Instead he telegrammed Abraham Lincoln, offering the city to him as a Christmas present. It really is that beautiful. We only scratched the surface with a chilly walking tour. The azaleas were blooming, the Spanish moss was doing it’s lovely drooping thing, the birds were singing. Of course, there was a reluctant walker with a sore foot who loitered behind, sighing. But I saw enough to make me want to go back for a week.

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(Photo credits to my husband and his cell phone. The steps are one flight of many leading from the riverfront up to the residential area. And can you guess whose feet were hurting? )

Our first sight of the ocean was on Jekyll Island, where we enjoyed the astounding scenery of Driftwood Beach. The island is eroding from the north end, where the trees die and become nature’s sculptures. It was relatively cold and windy; I saw people in wool coats and caps, and there were our kids, scampering barefooted on the beach, wading delightedly. IMG_20180327_145302168

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The shell collection started. Addy’s pockets were sagging low with her loot when we left the beach to resume our drive south to Florida. We had a few minutes of hilarity, trying to wash the sand off the bare feet with water bottles. A few people had to be changed entirely due to wading with more abandon than wisdom. There were no public hydrants or changing rooms where we were parked, so that was interesting.

My parents have a trailer in Sarasota which they kindly offered to us for lodging. They weren’t there anymore, but it was a great landing strip for us. With the exception of ice cream at Big Olaf’s and some shuffleboard games while Gabe worked on an assignment, we did none of the other typical Pinecraft activities. Actually, I did get in a visit with my Uncle Leroy and Aunt Betty. There were not a lot of people around. We spent our time out on the barrier islands.

The first day we woke to brilliant sunshine, a cool breeze blowing off the water, just a bit chilly. We were pale as potato sprouts, and promptly burned ourselves crisp. Gabe had made sure to stock up on some really good sunscreen and he told the children, “Don’t forget to put some on the tops of your feet and on the back of your neck.” Whereupon they all diligently applied sunscreen in those places and not a lot else. I wasn’t watching closely. It was a little like the backpacks, I thought they are big enough to take care of themselves. Alex thought he would tough it out, keep a shirt on and apply it later if he started feeling a burn. Gregory did a pretty good slathering job on his exposed skin, then he took off his shirt and swam for 3 hours. He had a perfectly inverted farmer’s sunburn. Olivia didn’t want to get sunscreen in her eyes or mouth, so her burn was confined to a circle around her face and on her knees. Rita somehow skipped her entire face and her fair skin is the most prone to burning of all of us. She swelled up with blisters, poor child. I did take care of Addy’s skin myself, but even she got a dose of burn. We just plumb weren’t prepared for those direct rays, but oh, it was heavenly. And our necks and the tops of our feet were in great shape, whatever the rest of our assorted sore places were screaming.

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This (above) was our favorite beach, on Longboat Key. We had to drive the entire length of the island before we found a very small public parking lot with beach access down a slender trail. There was no life guard and very few people on it, but the shells! The big ones were all in pieces, which did not deter the girls in the least. And then there was the sunset over the Gulf, with a sailboat on the horizon and my son gazing out at the birds swooping and diving for fish. This is my favorite picture of our time in Florida.

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That was our first day, and when we got back to our spot for the night, we were all exhausted and touchy. You couldn’t even brush against another person without them yelping at the pain you probably intentionally caused them by accident. We went through copious amounts of aloe vera after-sun and took ibuprofen. Our sun-fest cost us. There was no way the boys were going to be able to paddleboard or kayak in the mangroves when every movement that caused their skin to wrinkle was agonizing. We drove around Anna Maria Island the next day, looking for a fishing pier that would rent gear. No joy. We had some of those anti-climactic vacation moments, “What happened to feeling close and loving while happily exploring a new place together? This was supposed to be fun.”

On the upside, the weather was made to order, perfection for our hibernation-starved senses. It was worth all the digging through the attic in March to find our swimming clothes, snorkels, flip-flops, and short-sleeved shirts. And it was worth the aloe vera gel and broad brimmed hats we bought too late. It was worth the sand in the vehicle and the snack papers littered throughout and way too many pillows for the amount of bodies.

On our way north again we spent time with old friends and our siblings in North Carolina. It was cousin city for the children. There is never enough time to spend satisfactorily with everyone so we condense and cram in as much as we can in the time we have. We decided to drive the last stretch home in the night. At 1 AM, after a few hours of sleep, Gabe and I roused the kids and packed them in with their zillions of pillows. We spelled each other with driving, switching every 2 hours. It was a much more efficient way to go places. No snacks necessary for the conked out tribe in the back seats. One potty stop where we forced people to go whether they had to or not. We actually made it home in the time Google Maps had predicted.

I thought up a blog post titled “An Irreverent Look at a Sacred Idea: the Family Vacation.” But I didn’t write it, because if I had to choose six people to be stuck with me in a tiny trailer and then again in a vehicle for hours and hours, I would choose the ones I was with. When you have teenagers who are advanced beyond little kid interests, it becomes more challenging “when we all play together, how happy we’ll be…” Oh, the things we learn from living in close proximity with the fallible humans we call family.

It was raining hard, cold, sleety stuff that day we came home. This was a test especially made for me because of how annoyed I have been in the past when someone posts tons of tropical vacation pictures on Instagram in the dead of winter, then they come home and belly ache about wishing to go back. And then we had three weeks of mostly frigid temperatures and snow bits and flurries and just plain old winter. There were a few balmy days in the mix, enough to give our faith glimpses of sight. Mostly it was walking by faith for me, and living what I believe… that it is displeasing to God when I whine.

I think it is over now, for real. The forsythia hedge is doing this:

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Three years ago it looked like this:

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I would like to point out a thing that causes me pain. Road maintenance crews responsible for trimming trees and hedges in this area are brutally going about murdering beauty with their ridiculous long-necked bush hogs. First they sprayed the bottom half of the forsythias across the road, the entire length of them, not just the corner by the intersection. Then this winter they came and spent at least an hour going back and forth with their machine that chaws trees and branches. I could have done a much better job with a chain saw. This is now all that is left from a once glorious forsythia hedge. I know it’s not so much in the whole scheme of tragedies, but I mourn the hedge that was so ineptly and ignorantly shorn of its glory.

Still it blooms! The cardinals flit in and out of it on nest building errands as though nothing happened. That is the marvel of spring. It’s all new and hopeful around here! Gabe and I have been sagging with the weight of the last year. He is working on his last class for his bachelor’s degree, more specifically on the fourth to last assignment. There were about 40 assignments total in these 18 months, which will give you an idea of how tantalizingly close we are to that degree. I say “we” because I have been travailing with him and we are equally weary. Some days he looks at me and says, “Do you have any idea how little I feel like studying all day?” and I say, “But you are so close. Please, just quickly get it done!” This is not the most empathic thing to say, but I hope if I accompany it with a nice latte and some chocolate, it is an okay form of encouragement. The thought of free time makes us giddy.

We made it through the long dark! We are alive and well! Oh joy!

 

 

 

 

Spring Cleaning a Different Way

There are no doubt a hundred and one ways to clean your house. It is about as far from my favorite thing as it is possible, and yet I find myself squaring off with the need to clean. all. the. time. My title says a different way, because I have a hot tip for you. I cleaned the entire mess with 1 main tool… a microfiber cloth. Make that four cloths, liberally given into the hands of helpful children.  And water, of course. If you would look under my kitchen sink, you would find that I no longer own Top Job or Mr. Clean or Windex. I have not bought these products for years. Let me give you a little backstory.

It started during my second pregnancy with out of control sneezing. I sneezed explosively for days. (One sneeze or even three sneezes, can feel really good. But try it for days and see if you don’t start to feel whiplashed.) Then the itchy, watering eyes started, and the nose running like a leaky faucet. It was miserable. We thought it seemed like dust irritated whatever allergies I had going on, so my husband bought a Dyson with a HEPA filter. It had a clear canister, which made it fascinating to see all the dust collecting in there, out of range and incapable of harm. If you do not understand getting excited about dust collection, sorry, not sorry. I vacuumed the furniture every week during that pregnancy, and things seemed to settle down, at least at home where I had a bit of control over the dust and its mites.

About this time my mom gave me two Norwex microfiber cloths for my birthday, which in retrospect I see as a most loving gift. I was deeply suspicious about the idea of cleaning surfaces with only water. The cloths seemed a little finicky, what with getting gunked up if you use soaps or fabric softener. I gave them a try, though, and then I used them and used them and used them. Occasionally I panicked a little because I was afraid I had abused them too much, but the care directions said either to wash them in Norwex detergent or just to boil them for ten minutes and there we were! Back in business! Those two cloths were the only Norwex ones I had for 4 years. I didn’t even know that there was a special window polishing cloth available, so I washed my windows with one cloth wet and dried them with the other one. I dumped out all my ammonia and PineSol. Judging by how often I was switching out dirty for clean water in my bucket, I was getting more dirt off my house than ever before. Of course, the people in the house were growing too.

The next place of problems was my laundry room, where the scents from normal detergents would set me off. For a while I used pods, but the smells lingered on the clothes. I started buying everything unscented, but I would rather take my cart full of children through the toy aisle than hang out in the detergents. Just a quick duck in and out to grab my unscented Purex made me feel sick.

In my quest for better options, I stumbled upon Norwex laundry detergent, called Ultra Power Plus. Again, I was deeply suspicious. How could a Tablespoon of powdered detergent clean a load of laundry? (That was early days. I use less than that now unless it’s a mega load.) Again, I was hooked. It worked. It didn’t make me sneeze. It was biodegradable, so my tons of gray water were not killing the environment.

You know what I did next, don’t you? I became a regular. I won’t bore you with my trail of amazing Norwex discoveries, but today when I got an email about a flash sale that Norwex is doing, I thought of all my friends out there who are making a career out of homemaking. I thought of how we sometimes need to work smarter instead of harder. Then I thought it would not be loving to keep to myself a really great deal. There is a flash sale from now through 5 PM Central Time on March 25th. Here is what is on sale and it will bless your socks off:

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Wouldn’t it be neat if the gorgeous dishes and the succulent came with it? But it’s the dusting mitt and the envirocloth we want to look at. We use our dusting mitt for dusting, of course, but what I really love it for is to wet it and run it over the window screens. My old technique was to lay the screens on the deck, spray them with a hose, squirt soap onto them, then brush them with a scrub brush to get the dust and “fan circles” (from window fans) off them. My smarter method is to wet the mitt. I wipe first one side, then the other and the thick microfiber picks up everything. I rinse it out, wring it out, and move to the next window. It’s laughably easy.

The enviro-cloth is my top favorite product from this company. It has no rivals, in my opinion. When you wash up a mess on the floor, like a dropped egg, you will feel that you got every little bit of it cleaned up. When you use it to wash your windows, it will clear away grime like nobody’s business. When you clean the toilets… okay, ‘nough said. I will not suggest you slice a tomato on the lid, like someone did.

Alternately there is what is called the Basic Package, which contains the two cloths that you need to clean by far the most of your home. I can assure you that you will never look at window cleaning quite the same way. This is why my children can wash our windows and do a good enough job to pass my inspection. No streaks!

People sometimes gasp and get sticker shock. I understand that completely. When I considered that I used my original 2 cloths for 4 years before buying more, and I started thinking about how I didn’t buy any chemical cleaners in that time… well, it just made sense to continue my patronage. I have crunched the numbers on the laundry detergent as well, and it comes out to the same per load as Tide. Go ahead, do your research, try out an envirocloth, if nothing else.

It’s kind of like having a virtuous charwoman to help you clean. You will start to feel affectionate and protective toward it. You may even want to name your cloths. Of course, if you get your kicks from smelling Irish Spring for weeks, I cannot offer that. I used to love to smell cleaning agents until the sneezing began. Oh, wait. Did I mention that before?

Happy cleaning, however you may do it!

 

The In Between

I looked back through old photos to see just how much documentation I have on the first day of spring. Here we are three years ago, when my baby was still a baby.

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From two years ago, I only have a photo of our resurrection garden. That was the year I lit the candle in the tomb on a Sunday morning before church, then I was so bugged because the sermon was not a resurrection sermon at all. Only later did I figure out that I was a week early.

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From last year, I have our “Back to Spring” party and I remember planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day for the first time ever in my life. Notice my Crocs flip flops on the floor? That is a good sign. And the spring wreath comes out every year. For about 12 years I used a forsythia wreath, then I decided to mix it up with dogwood.

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(I just left the office with my laptop because my husband is working on an assignment with music playing in the background and I cannot think. He can study, listen to music, and text at the same time. He says it’s because he is a Millennial and I am GenX. Haha. I say he is late GenX, so there. Depends who you ask.)

This year we have the snow again. Snow and snow and snow. It is still flurrying lazily as I sit here. We stuck a ruler upright on the picnic table for handy reference yesterday. That is just the barest tip sticking out at 12 inches. Addy and I found it hilarious.

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It’s funny and out of control and not funny and not out of control; may whatever you can get out of that cryptic statement bless you. The small people completely forgot about our annual party. I did too. Shh.

I knew I would be tempted to complain when I saw the weather forecast 2 weeks ago. It’s the time of the year when I am just so over cold and dreariness. I start feeling teary dismay at seeing 5 gloves on the register and 7 on the floor amid mud clumps from the boots. The coat situation, coupled with the jacket situation for the warmer days…It all becomes too much. The dog smells wet  stinks even with bathing and everything is disorganized and cluttered.

So. I know it is not pleasing to God when I complain. I needed a plan or the complaints were going to squeeze out.

I prayed about it one morning and unveiled my brilliant answer to the children at breakfast. Since it was supposed to snow every day for nearly a week, with frigidity prevailing throughout, we would stay very busy, deep cleaning this house one room a day. The responses were not overly enthusiastic, but nobody contested that God answered Mama’s prayer, especially when I explained a plan for bonuses in the allowance per room done well.

We started in the living room. I was super organized for this one. (And I spelled people wrong.) It took us 2 1/2 hours, minus putting up the curtains because they were still in the washer. My children like lists because they can see the end in sight as they check off the tasks.

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The boys had a lot of ideas on the rearrangement of furniture. I kept vetoing their ideas until they were getting offended, so I gave them free rein with the understanding that I can change it up after about a week. We are still sitting in a row along the outer wall after 10 days, so I think it is about my turn to have a go at giving the room the right feel. But the curtains are up now.

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When Addy cleaned out the cracks of the couch, she found Gregory’s Opinel pocket knife that was lost since September. He was one happy boy! Then he promptly lost it again a few days later. I found it in the crack of the love-seat in the schoolroom. Do we see a pattern here?

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We did the bedrooms over a 3 day span. The girls’ room is small and crammed full of treasures. It is really difficult for me to know what to cull and what they may keep, but we eventually managed to make everybody happy. Addy’s outgrown dresses and sweaters got passed on to younger friends. All the wall stickers and coloring pages were removed, and one small dresser got moved into the closet for sweaters and shoes.

The marvel of this house is the closets in every room! They are wonderful. I stash a lot of stuff in them, which is a grace and a problem both. I think it takes as long to clean a closet as it does to wash the walls of an entire room.

My own bedroom was fun to do. It was mostly dust bunnies and an eclectic assortment of books on my bedside stand. I cleared out a bag of clothes that we never wear, and that was that. Easy peasy. There is no question of rearranging the furniture, so that makes it very simple. Some day we will have a headboard on the bed, but as of now, we wouldn’t be able to walk along the closet wall if we had more than a Hollywood frame. I also left the curtains off in this room for the extra sunshine. This is the south side of the house, so in wintertime the light streams in onto the bed.

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I neglected to take photos of the kitchen. Alex is a great organizer and he was working alongside me in the cupboards. It was good to hear his frank perspective on my treasures, for a change. I am not going to tell you about the obscure spice bottles I had since we got married or the vitamins that were outdated in 2013. Nor do you want to know about the broken candy thermometer or the grody stuff under the stove. The thing is, I clean out my cupboards pretty often. How do I miss this? Alex just shook his head, exactly the way I do in his bedroom. He totally revamped my silverware and small containers drawer, so that I could never find what I needed on the first try. It did fit better the way he had it done, but I just didn’t have the patience to learn new tricks, so he returned it to the original configuration after a few days.

Our grand finale was the bathroom. We were definitely out of steam. It was a freezing day. We did not open the window to wash it. Some of the cupboard innards were passed over in a sweep of tolerance. Still. We finished the main floor in 8 days!

I think to myself…if I can just maintain this order. The cleanliness is not an idol to me, because we really must live here. I think I am more tempted to sin along the lines of resenting the clutter. The stuff taken to Goodwill is out. The white space is lovely. I don’t wan the girls to pin cherished coloring pages onto their walls again. I don’t want Calico Critter houses made of dominoes on their dressers. The stuffed animals look cuter in their basket. And seven watercolors of flowers are great for the present. Can we just wind the yarn neatly and put it away? I hear myself fussing about the projects and the messes and I try to stop. I really do. What does it matter? They are big enough to clean it up themselves, and they will after a while. Step over it. Look at it. Admire the crocheted bed made for the beany baby. Pin up another watercolor in the schoolroom. Breathe. Water the grass on the windowsill. Shovel the snow on the deck one more time. Dig out the dogwood wreath and smile at its jaunty incongruity.

Spring is coming, after all. No, spring is here.

 

 

Going out with a Giveaway

I am so delighted at how fast this month flew by. I entered it with the dolorous viewpoint that I struggle with in wintertime, as you no doubt noticed. One of my coping mechanisms is to push myself to do something creative every day, whether I feel like it or not. Writing about a Day in the Life makes me notice the little things that are not dismal. Publishing posts about what I believe about God helps me to be accountable. Am I living like I believe what I said I believe? Or not? What would my children say about that, considering that my words and actions are statements of what I really believe, everyday…

Maybe you think it is almost fashionable to get depressed in wintertime. Let me assure you, nobody, not even a pessimist, would choose to walk through valleys of depression, whether it’s baby blues, hormonal upsets, or even the SADness resulting from lack of sunshine. It is not fun to feel like all happiness has fled, maybe forever, and howling wilderness is all that is left. It is even worse when your brain gets confused and cannot muster the strength to override the feelings like you have trained it to do. I told my husband one day, “I have a strong place in my mind, but I keep falling off it.”

I love the beautiful attitudes in Matthew 5. In my own words, these are the attitudes of the people Jesus gave assurance of his blessing.

  • I need help (poor in spirit).
  • I am incomplete; I am missing something; I am broken (those who mourn shall be comforted).
  • I cannot do what I am called to do; with His help I can (meek, inherit the earth).
  • I have empty places only He can satisfy; I am desperately parched (those who hunger and thirst).
  • I am here to be kind, whether others deserve it or not (merciful).
  • I cannot live separated from God, therefore I cannot excuse my sin (pure in heart shall see God).
  • I love harmony more than strife and being the top dog (peacemakers).
  • I am willing to die for love of the Righteous One (persecuted for righteousness’ sake).
  • I will not waver from the way of Christ, even though it goes against popular opinions and I am ridiculed (reviled falsely) for my loyalty.

 

The list itself doesn’t sound giddy with happiness and #blessedness, does it? Yet, the passage concludes with “Rejoice! Your reward is in heaven!” I think we seldom have a proper concept of being broken in a broken world. There is truth that Jesus makes us whole, but there is also the living that goes on in our imperfect situations, with our deceitful hearts that tend to stray away from wholeness. Jesus made it clear that we are in a good place, what the Amplified Bible calls “happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous –with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”, when we are bowed down in utter poverty, begging Him for what we need. It’s a paradox of the Kingdom that is hard to describe, but if you have been there, you know it.

The beautiful attitudes have given me courage. They are not feel-good attitudes. They are attitudes that line up with what cannot be shaken, and so they are blessed. There may be months of frozen wilderness, but I know that there is a Faithful One directing the affairs of the whole Earth, and one small person’s wasteland is so amply provided for by the resources of heaven. Maybe you, like I do at times, feel that the flowers must bloom again or you will die. (I speak metaphorically, of course.) They will. Believe it.

Jeremiah, the prophet who wept his entire career, wrote the one of the most beautiful verses in the middle of his Lamentations:

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You can hear him shoring up his soul on those verities. I, too, am staking it all on that!

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And now, for the giveaway, I have a different idea from the normal giveaway. You already won when you left your comment during this past month. Because I was cheered and blessed by your voice, telling me what you thought, how you are doing, etc, I have something to give you. Remember my dahlia row in the garden? I have some bulbs to share with every one of you lovely commenters. I just need your mailing address sent to my email: dorcasp8 at gmail and I will send you a wrinkled, ugly looking tuber that will give you great bouquets of glory this summer. It is an allegory, okay? 🙂 I cannot tell for sure which bulbs are the ones like the photo, and which are solid crimson, so it will have to be a surprise for you.

(Thanks for walking February with me. Please don’t forget to email me your address. I think there are 25 of you. )

 

No Clouds in Sight Today

It was the first thing I noticed when I got up. The sky was still pale grey, but there were the high honks of geese flying northward, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Rita saw it too, and sighed with pleasure. Here is what my indoor grass looks like by now. About time to get out the mower, I think.

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The breakfast preparer for this week dragged out of bed too late to cook anything, so he got “promoted” to lunch and supper clean-up. It was cereal for the kiddos, protein shake for me. Gabe was still sleeping off a late night. When I picked up the French press, it felt full, and sure enough it was. A taste revealed rather bitter coffee, and Gregory said he made it, but he forgot to let it bloom. I tasted it again and asked him if he used the ground McCafe coffee that was in the cupboard (for cold brew purposes). He had. I assured him that blooming it would not have made it better, so we tried again with fresh ground beans. Yes. That’s what we were going for.

The sunny outdoors spurred the children to really stay diligent with school. Rita finished first, much too fast. I discovered a story she wrote that consisted of a title and nothing more. She got discouraged because she couldn’t write as fast as she could think, so I let her dictate and the thoughts rolled out just fine. Addy was on a roll too, finishing a book and doing the test, all in one. She gets a dollar for hundreds on tests, but today her haste got her in trouble. She kept getting her “k” and “c” spelling mixed up. Too bad.

The little girls got inspired to make lollipop cookies when they saw a recipe in a Paula Dean cookbook for children. Rita, with her characteristic serenity, mixed up the recipe all by herself. I was in the basement and she had never mixed cookies before, but that doesn’t faze Rita. The dough turned out really crumbly, so she did ask me to help her troubleshoot. Turned out she missed the shortening and used banty eggs, which are only about half the size of regular ones. Once we fixed the problem, the rest wasn’t hard at all, and yielded just the results they wanted. We did discover that the cookies have to cool completely before you can pick them up with the stick.

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Alex cooked scrambled eggs and toast for lunch. I walked away from the table for a bit, and when I came back everyone had abandoned ship, leaving only empty plates behind.

I took a short rest while the house was completely still. When I got outside, the girls had cleared out the junk out of their playhouse, moved a bunch of stuff into it and set up housekeeping. That makes me so happy, every time it happens. It means fewer treasures in their bedroom and a lot of creative play. The dolls needed fresh air, so I tied them onto the girls’ backs. First, though, we had to put their own hair up in a bobble so it didn’t get mixed up with the tresses of the babies or knotted into the baby wrap.

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I coaxed Gabe out of his study by starting some pruning. I had only done the grapevines and the dwarf cherry tree, and when I mentioned that I should do the espaliered apples, he came out and helped. The trees are his specialty, but last year we muddled through without really doing anything because of school. They all grew a little wild. The espaliered apples were shooting off in all directions, but he brought the branches into neat order again, crisscrossing them over each other. I am guessing he took about half of them off. It is a little hard to see the design, but when they start leafing out, they are really pretty.

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I hauled cuttings to the stick pile, and moved my rhubarb plants so that I do not have to till around them. I am on the lookout for someone local who has rhubarb that has red stalks. Mine is a greenish-pink variety, extremely hardy and with huge stalks. I have so much extra that I dug out three clumps of roots for friends with quite a bit more in the garden. If anybody with red wants to swap with some green, I would be happy!

The sun was benevolent all day. I soaked and soaked it in while we worked. The steps leading to the backyard got some drastic help, especially the unkempt lavender hedge. As much as I love a border of lavender, it takes some work to maintain the plants once they turn woody. They still smelled good when I trimmed them, even in the deadness of winter. At the top of the steps I noticed lots of bulbs pushing their way through the leaves and silver mound artemisia. I pulled out all the lambs’ ears. Again. Back when I brought it home, I had no idea how it could take over a flower border. For three years I have been pulling volunteers, and still it comes back. In the spring it looks magical, with fuzzy silver ears for leaves, but then it spreads, some of the leaves die out, and these unimpressive flower stalks pop up. I do have it in the rock garden slope, where it is perfect. Here are the before and after photos.

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I should mention that the huge grass Gregory is trimming was planted there intentionally to hide the unsightly electric meter. It has flourished and is now so large that the meter reader has to sidle behind it to get his numbers. Except for the few months in early spring when the new shoots are still small, he really has to earn his pay at our house. I feel really sorry for him when the dog springs out of her hiding place under that hemlock tree and does the startle-bark she saves for unsuspecting delivery guys or other visitors. I would look for another job after one such encounter.

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It looks blah, but I feel the stirring underneath the dirt. There is so much going on that we can’t see!

All the twigs and dead grass made for a perfect campfire. Addy wanted so badly to make what the children call “tortillas” on the fire. It is really more like bannock, with a dough made of just flour and water, fried in a cast iron pan and eaten with some salt or plain. She and Rita nursed their smoldering fire until they actually had some embers to cook on.

At five, when Gabe was working on the brambles and our larger orchard, I put away my rakes and came inside to make supper. The first thing I did was clear away the flour/water mess that Addy made when she mixed up her bannocks. Later I saw by errant blobs of gluey flour that she had taken her operation to the bathroom sink, probably because it is easier to reach. I could have called her in to clean it up, but at this point she struggles not to make a bigger mess when cleaning things that can puff or run.

Supper was quick: grilled hotdogs and sausages, herb-buttered pasta, peppers ‘n onions and some fried sweet potatoes.

I just squeaked in a few swipes with a comb and a toothbrush before it was time to go to choir practice. When I got home, Gabe was studying, Olivia was putting away folded laundry, Rita was knotting something out of fabric strips and paracord, and Addy was dancing around in her nightie.

That’s about it for today.

(You folks do realize that tomorrow will be the last day in February…?)