Notes from a construction zone

As you may know, we have moved our belongings but our house is not quite ready to live in aside from a camping situation. Our boxes are stacked in the shed, loosely categorized by the room that they are destined for. This means when I need a wire whisk I can usually find it after about a half hour of sleuthing through the stacks. The bedrooms are very nearly finished, but the main living area is still quite raw. I’ve been observing a few things that might be helpful for someone else. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Dirt. You might as well get very comfortable with it. The construction zone comes with invisible gremlins that puff out dirt when you’re not looking.
  • Children. Keep random children around and hand them the broom at any time of the day in any space. There will always be a gratifying amount of dirt to sweep up and it will keep the children out of trouble.
  • Expectations. Hold them very loosely. It will be happier in the house if you can roll with the tide a bit.
  • Food. Keep it simple, comforting, and easily cooked in one dish. Buy it already made if you need to. Do not allow people to get desperate with hunger if you wish to avoid mutters of mutiny.
  • Dishes. This is not a time to be squeamish about saving the Earth and never using disposables.
  • Drinks. It is surprising how much stamina a can of pop will produce in a child who is tired of working. Popsicles and ice cream novelties have the same effect.
  • Rest. It is pretty important, so it is worth the money to buy a good air mattress or to set up your familiar beds as soon as possible. However, it is not wise to get out the white bedding at this point.
  • Drama. Try to limit your fed-up texts to your husband while he’s at work. Chances are he’s just as tired of the chaos as you are.
  • Paint. It is a wonderful, transforming agent of relative cheapness, and you might as well be friends. After about 30 gallons of paint, you will feel quite well acquainted.
  • Painting accessories. Start with the best brush you can afford, and don’t buy a cheap roller. Use name brand masking tape. Get the little gizmo that clips onto a paint can so that it pours neatly without dribbling into the rim of the metal can. If you have 5 gallon buckets of paint, buy a screw-on spout. There are roller cleaners and metal combs that make cleaning brushes much easier. All of these nifty gadgets might cost $10 total. Just buy them.
  • Trash bags. You will need a lot of them. Big ones. Black ones. Clear ones. White ones. Stretchy ones. You get the idea.
  • Clothes. Live in your worn out clothes to work in, and have a spare set of nice clothes for going away. Don’t bother with trying to be impressive at this stage. You’ll only get paint on your best skirt.
  • Tools. If you are doing a family remodel project, make sure you have tools for all the people. A mini hammer in the hands of a 9-year-old is much better than having a bored 9-year-old hovering around your project.
  • Ibuprofen. You’re going to need it, and also that relaxing muscle rub in the box you can’t find, including all the supplements and prescription medications that you refilled just before you moved. Of all the boxes to lose, that one is the worst. Don’t be like us. Keep track of that box.
  • Friends. They really are of  inestimable value. Some bring you food, some help you install unwieldy bathtubs, some pitch in and clean, and others give good advice on sticky situations.
  • Vision. Keep pretending that you’re seeing things finished, and eventually it will happen. That’s what they said anyway. It’ll be fun they said.

My husband assures me that things will only get better from here. I make occasional pessimistic comments about having my kitchen done by Christmas, and sometimes the constant chaos gets into my head so that I cannot even. But I don’t believe that that’s a good place to park, so I recharge in any way I can and work at making spaces that are not messy and mixed up. It makes all the difference just to have a few familiar books on a shelf, and to be able to find my favorite pen when I’m writing in my planner.

Today I ordered the children’s school books, and we’re all looking forward to the routine that comes with our school schedule.

One day at a time, sweet Jesus.

Current Situation

Considering that it isn’t even 9:00 yet, I decided to use this very early evening to catch up a bit. When my husband asked me how I visualized moving day, I said wistfully, “I hope we have a little time to process all these changes.” His sage reply was, “You could spend the whole day and still not have it all processed.” Well wasn’t that the truth?

I spent this past Wednesday morning running so many errands so efficiently that I was feeling a little proud of my management. I even took a picture of how I dealt with a rolling, rattly stow away in the Suburban when I was driving.

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I can sprint for a pretty long time and stay relatively healthy in my spirit, but I know when I’m out of stamina for the sprint and that’s when I have to process. I just need to sit beside the road with a water bottle for a while and think about the philosophical underpinnings of the race.

I can assure you that is not what I had in mind when I was kneeling on the floor picking up trash two days ago, and packing the last bits in the girls room. I wasn’t trying for an underhanded little vacation during our moving weekend. I knew I should call the girls to come do the floor stuff but I felt sorry for them because they had  been working so much; a large percentage of the grunt work has been done by the children. Also it is much easier to discreetly dispose of unwanted items when there is no one around.

So there I was putting a few stray socks into the sock drawer when I felt the unhappy familiarity of my knee popping out of place. This has happened to me many times in my life and I usually just pull the kneecap back up and all is well. Occasionally I do a really bad one and it becomes inflamed with outrage. This was such an occasion, despite my begging the Lord and even instructing him that it’s not a good time for me to be hobbling painfully. One of the children retrieved my crutches from the yard sale pile, but even that didn’t go so well. I’m not saying I heard an actual voice, but the Lord instructed me to sit still for a while so that’s what I did. I got a little time to process.

My hope was that I could take a bunch of ibuprofen and sleep it off and I actually was able to bend a little the next day. It was our big packing day in the kitchen yesterday, with Alex’s graduation party scheduled for the evening.

I got around slowly and had lots of help from the ladies in Gabriel’s family. His dad and little brother were also here to help and they stacked most of the packed boxes in the truck on the day before moving day. Gabriel is the most amazing packer I have ever seen. If Tetris was a team sport I’d be on his team.

Last night was restless, both because of an overload of nighttime processing and an ever-present charley horse in my thigh. We woke to a beautiful morning with nary a coffee mug or a French press or a bean in the house. How could I be so unenlightened when we were packing? My mom came to the rescue by bringing us a vat of cold brew from Sheetz ,bless her heart. We dug some plastic cups out of the trash and washed them so that we could drink our coffee and all was well. The only things left in the house were the big pieces of furniture, and a number of guys from church showed up to help us load them. Also bless their hearts and I mean that with all my heart.

Some of my friends came to help clean the house as the rooms emptied. Also BLESS THEIR HEARTS! Things went so smoothly it was hard to believe. As we were eating lunch, Gabriel texted the prospective new owners about the time for their walkthrough, which is a courtesy that is always supposed to happen before you sign papers. We thought they were already in the area. Turned out they were traveling through Chicago at the moment. And that’s how it happened that I stayed back with my trailer load of canoes and bikes and my girls, and the guys took the household stuff and headed northwest. The plan is that I will meet them in the morning for the walkthrough.

I have hours of time in the comfortable guest quarters at my parents’ house to process, but I promise I didn’t try it. It’s just how it works out sometimes.

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Odd Bits

If I were superstitious person I might have thought that attempting to make coffee with whole beans in the French press was an omen for a rather lumpy day. But as it was I just told myself to get my head in the game and then I made my coffee properly and sat on the deck with Gregory to make a plan for the day. We decided to eat all our biggest frogs first which included cleaning out the grodiness under the appliances, sorting out our junk drawers, and deciding which weird bits under the sinks are worth keeping and which should be mercifully dumped. If you’re curious, the bag for drenching a calf went into the trash as did the little nipples for bottle feeding goats. The space under the basement sink thanks me.

I was astonished at the zeal the children showed in clearing out these areas, and Olivia showed her zeal by taking over an enormous pile of laundry. It was so hot and dry today that we actually filled the lines twice for drying the big stuff like denims and towels.

Another happy event was waking up my sourdough starter from the refrigerator. Sometimes it takes a few days for it to get happy again, but today it was so bubbly that I mixed up a batch of soft sourdough for my mom to bake at her house.

The children and I went over for a few hours and it was so nice to see both mom and dad there at the house. He came home on Friday with a walker and a wheelchair to help him with mobility. Mom had gotten him a lift recliner with money that people had kindly donated to them, but he is actually not using the lift very much because he’s trying to strengthen his core muscles when he stands. The dumbbells he ordered on Amazon came today and he’s been doing his therapy with Mom, including walking as much as possible in the house. He gets very winded with exercise, but his strength is slowly returning and Mom is expending a lot of energy in feeding him nutritious food.

We had to go pick up our lawn mower at the repair shop, which fortuitously took us right past the best soft ice cream in the area and I got the kids cones to celebrate having eaten all those frogs. I read one time that you’re not supposed to treat yourself with food when you have achieved a a difficult goal, but there are just times when you need to get the taste of frog out of your mouth.

Now I am having hummus and corn chips for supper. Also it’s too warm to cook, and we’re not very hungry after ice cream.

Our northwestern house is currently in the stage where we wait for the plumber and the drywaller to do their bit. Supposedly they were both working there today which is wonderful news. I have been longing to get the painting done for a few weeks, and primed as many  walls as I could. Last week I also painted the doors and frames that we are reusing, as well as the trim we salvaged.

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This is me, literally cross-eyed with boredom in the electrical aisle. I finally upended a bucket and sat down.
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He knows a great many things that I am totally ignorant about.

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When genius burns, one uses any canvas available. Sometimes when paper is scarce, an arm works, although I wondered if he would have to peel skin away to remove the sharpie marks before church. In other news, one of the children said, “Mom, there’s paint on your elbow!” when we were walking in to church.

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It’s kind of astonishing when your first baby is suddenly grown up and capable of helping his dad build things, lift heavy stuff, install bathtubs, etc.

Then there’s the last baby with a tender servant’s heart, who saw that I was whooped one evening and brought me a tray of refreshments to enjoy while she treated my feet. The drinks umbrella was something she found in the flowerbed and I sipped the ice water with sweet peas poking my face. 😌 It was lovely.

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This is how the attics are situated, and this is what the girls suggest we do with them.

 

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My daylilies are the happiest thing in the garden

That’s the odd bits today. How’s your summer going?

 

Here We Are

I just spent an hour looking at Sherwin Williams paint colors, then checking out rooms on Pinterest, then waffling with other paint colors. I guess I will take a break. This is not my happy space, even though I generally make speedy decisions and live with them just fine. We decided to use neutrals on the walls of our house remodel, but I do not want the beige I have had in this house for many years. Neither do I want the same grey tones that I used here about 6 years ago. But. Neither do I want to do what everybody else is doing. (Have you heard of greige? It’s such a sensible solution.) So. There we are and here we are.

I am currently at our home with the children. Gabe is working up at our house. At some point this house/home will switch; meanwhile it is a little weird. I clean out the fridge so nothing spoils, go work at the house a few days, haul home the towels and dirty laundry, mow lawn, take the children to appointments, sort through belongings, pack up the clean work clothes, go north to work at the house, etc. And then Alex who stays home most of the week for his job texts me, “There is nothing to eat in the fridge,” and I text him to go get milk and eggs and bread. For some reason there is no half and half in either fridge and I feel the sadness of this for a tiny minute before I laugh at my silly first world problems.

We have probably chosen the worst way to move. Having weighed our options, this did seem better than living in a house while trying to update it. So. There we are and here we are.

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My dad is at a rehab facility, working hard with respiratory and physical therapists to regain his mobility. He had a trach put in at the hospital so that he could get out of ICU and off the ventilator. It took him a week at rehab just to wake up, and then he wasn’t able to talk or move much for another week. He had another trip to the hospital because he was bleeding from his trach and running a fever. They let him try to eat a few pureed meals, but his epiglottis is not closing properly when he swallows, due to the tubes having been down there so long, holding it open for the vent. That would almost certainly result in pneumonia, so we have to be patient about the food issue.

Once he had two negative covid19 tests we could start visiting him, one person per day.  It had been 24 days with no visits. Last Monday when I was there, he was frustrated that he couldn’t even pick up his phone or move his head without using his hands to turn it from side to side. He was feeling discouraged at how long the recovery was taking, but the next morning he managed to text Mom. Every day he is determined to walk a little further, stand a few seconds longer, relearn more skills he lost during the weeks in bed. His trach was removed last week, and he is doing fine without oxygen. Now the battle is to regain muscle and get the swallowing thing going so he can eat properly. He has only one tube, the NG tube in his nose for feeding. In two days he is scheduled for a barium swallow test; you can join us in praying that he passes it!

Dad talks a lot about the visions he had while he was so sick. He saw Jesus smiling at him many times, and he has a new clarity about what really matters in life. He says repeatedly, “Don’t wait until you are sick to get right with God!” There is some confusion and memory loss, but that is improving as well. We have about 45 minutes to drive to rehab, although once he can eat, he will be moved to a rehab closer home.

It has been 7 weeks since he started coughing. There are many more weeks to go before he is strong and independent. But he is alive and we are grateful for the mercies of God!

This ordeal might be why the paint colors and the half and half seem kind of trivial. I often think of Paul Tripp’s phrase, “the big-sky purposes of God” versus my “claustrophobic kingdom of one.” Why, why is it so effortless to slide into worry and trouble? I recently listened to a podcast by Nancy Wilson titled “Fear and Anxiety,” and I suggest you just go listen to it now and let truth soak into your soul.

Blessings on your day!

P.S. I did this to the fireplace with stucco. By faith I can visualize sitting in front of it with a cup of tea. (The top row of bricks will be replaced with a wooden slab.)

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Also by faith I will sit here with a cup of tea one day. (I begin to suspect that deep inside I am a lazy person who prefers just to sit with a cup of tea. 😀 )

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Every Morning Mercies New

Thank you so much to all of you who reached out with kind words but especially with your heartfelt prayers for my dad. My last post was mirthless and heavy because that is what we were feeling. We have been getting more positive updates the last two days. He is being turned prone and then unproned in cycles to see how his lungs can tolerate lying on his back. So far he has done well with them flipping him back and forth. I asked my nurse husband what the point is of doing this flipping and he said that keeping a patient on their stomach does help their lungs to expand but it brings up other problems such as skin breakdown or bed sores which is why they constantly work on getting them to tolerate lying on their back again. Along with this is a daily weaning trial so they don’t become too dependent on the ventilator. That’s where Dad is at this point. He’s still heavily sedated to keep him comfortable.

We know that things could take a turn at any moment but it does feel like we’ve been given some breathing space. Mom came out of quarantine yesterday, and her sisters came to visit her for a few days. I decided to join Gabriel at our Northwest Pennsylvania house, and even though I came to work hard, it felt like a vacation. This morning I slept past 4:30 a.m. for the first time in weeks. On an air mattress. In a dirty camping situation. The mental exhaustion went deeper than I realized.

I also want to assure you that I still believe that humor is one of the best ways to cope with life. I know that it is hilariously anticlimactic for some when they get the dreaded Rona and it’s literally a slap on the wrist after all this drama for months. It is the most confusing virus I have ever seen. So I’ll just say go ahead and cheer for the weird mercies that attend the pandemic. Like my friend Stephanie wrote to me, “I have been tossed to and fro with my feelings…and while I am guilty of laughing sometimes at the jokes and calamities the virus created, I do not scorn it.  I decided this is something that I do not want to have to eat my words.  I too have reminded myself that those that face death will be forever traumatized by it.”

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I wanted to make sure that I explained that this is Northwest Pennsylvania because in an earlier post I see that I wrote Northeast. Confession: I have always had problems with West/East and left/right unless I gave it consideration.  I do know North/ South though.

Have a great day. I’ll just be here, helping to demo a bathroom, and I won’t be sorry to see it go, especially the leaky toilet and the plastic vanity.

The Thing About This Coronavirus

For starters, I am so tired of this coronavirus, I want to hurl it into the Pit. I have had a deep respect for it all along, because I heard what my husband kept saying and I believed him over the scoffers on the inter-webs. But it was an abstract, “I’m so sorry people are suffering” kind of distant respect. Now it has become perilously personal. I debated whether to even write anything, because what we are experiencing is what hundreds of thousands of families everywhere have already experienced this year. For some reason, I have this self-published platform and the inexplicable honor that people keep reading what I write. If our story can convince some naysayers to be more cautious about the virus, I will speak up.

For my mom, quarantine is much worse than the virus. She had a low-grade fever for about 3 days, some coughing, and fatigue. She stayed home, stayed hydrated, stayed active, recovered. My dad isn’t aware of quarantine anymore because he is sedated, on a ventilator, fighting the worst virus of his life. In classic Covid19 style, we live a roller coaster of ups and downs every day when we get updates after rounds at the hospital. Not only that, we are limited to supporting Mom from a distance, across the porch, laying her supplies on the picnic table for her to pick up, comforting her the best we can. It really, really stinks.

It’s been 2 weeks for Dad, and there has been very little improvement. We wait and hope and send out prayer requests. The first four days in the ICU he was communicating with us, telling jokes, responding well to his treatment. He kept saying, “I think I’m over the hump.” Then one evening we got one cryptic text, “I’m going to be intubated tonight. Maybe then I can rest.” What? This was not supposed to happen! Many people have asked, “Was that really necessary? What would have happened if they wouldn’t have intubated him?” The short answer is that he would have died a slow and painful death with acute respiratory distress or organ failure due to lack of oxygen.

This is four days later, and we have been jerked back and forth every day. “He’s doing well,” they say. “He is responding so well to the Remdesivir that we won’t be using the donor plasma at this point. However his blood pressure is high.” And then, “We’ve weaned his vent settings to 50%. His blood pressure has stabilized.” Then twelve hours later we get this message, “He did not do well in the night. His kidney function is deteriorating somewhat and the renal doctor is monitoring it closely. We will be giving him a paralytic and proning (turning him onto his stomach to help his lungs expand) him today.” Last night was more positive, “He handled the proning very well and the vent is now only at 40%.” In a few hours we will hear how the night went. My mom will be sitting with her phone in her hand, her heart in her throat, praying for good news.

My parents were careful; they wore masks in stores; they used sanitizer. They also travelled to another state to take my grandma home after she attended a large wedding on the family home-place. Mom and Dad didn’t go to the wedding. They didn’t hug or shake hands. Nobody was sick on the day they got to my aunt’s house. The only thing we have to be mad about is that they travelled across state lines, and that is pointless. It is what it is now, and we are here, waiting to see what God will do with this situation.

Mom’s quarantine is almost done. She is learning healthy ways to cope with this long drawn-out affair. The first week, when she was sick and worrying about Dad, watching him get worse, trying every immune booster and natural antibiotic known to the home-remedies community (plus a few), keeping him hydrated, checking his blood sugar levels, panicking when he got severe chills that shook his chair despite layers of blankets… that was a week of desperation. His doctor was on vacation that week, and the locum gave them the standard advice to treat at home and go to the ER if he got worse. So that is what they did, and here we are.

Dad is in the ICU where Gabe works. As it happens, he was admitted the day our “vacation” started. Gabe has off for 10 days and will not be going back to work until this weekend, unless he picks up some overtime. It is very helpful, though, to have connections and get the inside scoop on his condition. Gabe will rattle off a list of stats and I look at him blankly, “What does that even mean?” I don’t know what we would do without his translation.

Our hope is in God, and in His ability to give the health professionals wisdom. We wait for Him in a dependance that we haven’t experienced on this level, ever. This is not a bad thing. He is holding the whole situation, and we know it. In that there is peace.

In general we have experienced so much kindness and care. Many people have reached out and asked how to support Mom. Here are a few things:

  • Messages of faith and courage, with no expectation that the person has to reply back.
  • Links to songs that lift the spirit.
  • Local support, in the form of a face on the porch, a bit of fresh fruit, etc.
  • Phone calls only if you are a close acquaintance.
  • Compassion, not pity…and there is a difference. “We are walking with you,” is much more bracing than “You poor dear! How are you surviving this horrible ordeal?”
  • Pray. Pray. Pray.

 

This is the reality of coronavirus for some. If you think it’s about funny memes on Facebook, how somebody sneezed and now they tested positive and the whole world has to wear a mask, I’m here to tell you that you should stop. I pray it never touches you, or that you are one of the many who sail through recovery with little scarring. If you think hand sanitizer is for wimps and the CDC doesn’t know nearly as much as you do about staying well, all right. That’s up to you, but please don’t scorn those who do not see things quite the same way.

 

I sat in my recliner this morning and succumbed to bewilderment. I couldn’t think what to do next so I took a nap. That was a clarifying exercise and when I woke up I knew immediately what I needed to do. Occasionally I would recommend this exercise.

Our house closing at our new property suddenly went through and last week we found ourselves the happy owners of four and a half acres of partially wooded land 3 hours north and east. This includes a large lawn, two workshops, and a sturdy craftsman-style house built in the 30’s. We decided to camp at the place and start work immediately. My parents have a motor home that they generously allowed us to use, but we ended up mostly in the house. All the appliances were there and the former owners had cleaned up majorly, which made for much easier camping for us.

Our first day at the new place was spent making hay on the huge lawn, cutting down saplings that were growing up in the flower beds, making plans for how we want to rearrange the walls in the house, and in general being charmed by the location that we made an offer on in faith when everything was brown and ugly in March. For the children the best part is the little creek that meanders through the woods.

Buying a house that is very dated presents some challenges. Our realtor told us that the carpet is so vintage we could probably sell it on eBay. Or maybe we could just shampoo it and be really in style. There is a slight problem of a musty smell that doesn’t seem likely to come out after 30 years of use. We have noticed that the former owners certainly did not use any cheap materials in the house. It may have dark wood paneling on every wall, but it’s high quality paneling without any buckles, and should be simple to paint. Upright shiplap!  Every closet and the entire laundry room were cedar-lined. Even the attics are tiled, cedar-lined, with their own light switches for every cubbyhole. The master bedroom has 10 outlets and the kitchen counters are lined with them. I don’t think we’ll need these extension cords we have in our house currently.

Probably the most interesting feature of the house was an enormous spiral staircase to get upstairs and a tiny spiral staircase to get to the basement. If we had done a democratic vote, the children would have carried the decision to keep the staircases. Aside from the fact that the one going upstairs was too big for the size of the house, we also needed that space for a laundry room. We’re switching it out for a conventional staircase, one side going up and the other side going down. How very boring and practical.

Our second day at the house was demolition day. The biggest part of the project is rearranging the interior walls. We need to carve out an extra bedroom and bathroom, as well as open up the kitchen. Everyone chipped in that day with a good will. The girls and I worked on pulling nails out of paneling sheets and wall studs. We could almost keep up with the guys if we stayed diligent. Every couple hours I noticed a pattern of waning energy, odd little arguments, and unreasonably sensitive feelings. It helped to feed the people regularly, and most issues smoothed out with an hour’s play in the creek after a meal. It was super handy to have the kitchen gadgets all there, ready to fry up pancakes or bake a pizza. img_20200522_095946

By the end of the third day we were cleaning up a massive mess of insulation that dropped from the kitchen ceiling.  The last big job was removing the spiral staircase. Gabe studied it from all angles, worked at it for a few hours, screwed boards in strategic places to keep it from bucking out suddenly, and rigged a lever system that eventually dug it out of its setting on a beam and gently eased it out of the top story ceiling. It was much too heavy for us to carry out on our own, so we laid it on the living room floor for another day when we go back.

We could not have asked for better weather when we were up there. I have been skeptical of moving close to Lake Erie because of how famous it is for producing leaden skies. We ended up with brilliant sunshine and clouds sailing high, a rarity for that area we were told.

I decided to start a garden of sorts by using heavy mulch on tilled pieces of lawn. One day I went to the neighbors up the road and asked if I could have some of the old  hay that was rotting in the field. They were delighted to load it onto our trailer for me and refused to take anything for their trouble. I tilled up the width of a round hay bale, then I rolled out the bale and planted a bunch of herbs and tomatoes. Another bed got planted with berries, perennial herbs, cabbages, and peppers. I hope that this gives the freshly tilled sod what it needs to loosen up.

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We came home on Wednesday and immediately mowed the yard here. I brought in lettuce from the garden and pulled weeds around the onions and snapped off a bunch of asparagus spears. The girls discovered that the stray cat we took in had one kitten under the deck while we were gone. Everything is so brilliant right now and nature feels so hopeful. I’m not sure why I couldn’t think what to do this morning?

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The Bossy Veggies

First up: a disclaimer. There are many, many rules about gardening that are completely unnecessary depending on your climate or soil or water situation. Potatoes can be grown in rows and hilled in the traditional manner, or grown in black trash bags, or even just thrown on the ground and covered with mulch, as I have just learned from Ruth Stout’s highly amusing tales in her book No Work Garden. (Thanks to my friend Linda for recommending it to me.) I have been planting potatoes in a diamond grid for a few years now, and mulching them heavily so they do not need to be hilled. It saves space and since I don’t find potatoes very pretty once the stalks start to die, I confine them to a space of about 15 feet x 5 feet along an edge. Then I plant flowers in front of them and don’t really look at them until they are ready to dig.

However, my anecdotes are not rules. The best fun in gardening is breaking the rules or problem solving around them. My husband plans things on graph paper before he plants them out. Every thing is symmetrical and orderly and I do love this about him. I walk around with a spade and consider the angles, then dig a hole. I move things around all the time. He doesn’t get how much fun that is, but I think he probably loves this about me.

So, plants that have bossed me around:

  • Potatoes. I’ll start there, because they were a dismal failure in our hard clay soil. I tried for a few years and every time I dug them up, they were gnarly little lumps that would give cooks nightmares to peel. Not only that, I was plagued with nasty white worms the crawled just under the skin. I threw away a few of those crops and didn’t try again for years. As the soil loosened up with loving attention, I tried again, as described above, and have been getting abundant yields. The only problem now is storage. If they do get wrinkly and sprouted before they get used up, you can simply plant them in the spring when the ground warms up a little. Please don’t throw a wrinkly potato into the garbage disposal!
  • Carrots. Same story as above. They like very loamy soil. But if you do have that, they can almost be grown year round. Not quite, but they can be stored in the ground for much of the winter. Google it. And they taste so much better than the ones in the produce section.
  • Sweet potatoes. The only issue I had was that they vined all over the garden. I kept trying to pile the vines back onto themselves, and they kept crawling over the tomato cages. These did very well for me long before I grew regular potatoes. In fact, they grew so huge, I struggled to know how to cut them up. One potato was much more than I needed for a meal. It became one of the children’s favorite things to harvest, digging up these massive submarines in the fall.
  • Sweet corn. One basic problem is space. I planted corn in double rows, about 8 inches apart. Then I left a normal sized space (so I could walk through to pick it) before the next double row. This meant that I could almost double the amount of corn I had space for in the garden. Corn is tall and shouldn’t be planted where it will shade other plants for a large part of the day. Also wildlife loves it. When we fenced our orchard, we tilled up a large section to grow corn and melons. Occasionally a deer would hop the fence and stroll through, wreaking havoc as it went. I really do not like that.
  • Zucchini. Okay, this is super-easy to grow, but in my experience, it dies super-easy. Many times I have battled squash beetles and powdered mildew on the leaves. A plant can go from luscious and huge one day to a sad and dispirited pile of wilt the next. It is dramatic and sad. But the good news is, zucchini grows fast and is easy to start just by dropping seeds on a mound in the garden. Then there is a small, but not insurmountable problem of too much fruit to keep up with. One thing I learned from my neighbor is to leave one lunker of a zucchini on the plant and it will slow down the growth of the new ones, space them out a little, so to speak. If your plants do flourish, you could feed a small army. My children start looking suspiciously at casseroles and soups and even desserts when zucchini season is going strong.
  • Peppers. My only problem with these lovely veggies is that it always takes too long until they are ready to pick. Occasionally I have a season where they don’t set fruits until late summer. The little girls watch anxiously and harvest peppers the instant they deem them big enough to eat. I plant a lot of them, because why not?
  • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower. One word: pests. I cannot stand those green worms that hatch once the white cabbage butterflies start flitting over the garden. I have fed broccoli crowns to the chickens when I couldn’t stomach how many worms were dropping out in a the salt water soak, because I know how easy it is to miss some and then they drop out in the kettle. Shivers. If I were starving, I wouldn’t quibble, but so far I am avoiding eating worms. This is the one exception I make to spraying poison on my plants. I confess that I have a spray bottle of Sevin for my cruciferous vegetables. It seems like fall crops are not plagued quite as much with pests, so I often wait until July to plant cruciferous vegetables. They can handle the chill of fall, and even survive light frosts.
  • Melons. They are space hogs. They have no concept of social distancing, you might say. I have tried growing them at the edge of the garden where they can go wild down over a steep bank. It wasn’t very successful. Also I struggle to know whether they are ripe enough to pick, even with the “watch the tendrils” rule. But if you do raise even a few melons off one vine, you will feel very accomplished. Consider that a large watermelon can cost $6, and your plant may have cost $1. What is there to lose? Besides your dignity, of course, if you cut your prize open and it is still disappointingly pink inside. (On the other hand, gourds have the same vining tendencies without the risk of harvesting at the wrong time. When our boys were 5 and 7, they made $40 one fall by selling decorative gourds in a wheelbarrow set beside the road.)
  • Peas. You knew this was coming, right? I love peas: the shelled variety, bursting sweet orbs of fresh flavor, but they are labor intensive. They can be grown on the ground in single rows. A friend of mine gets very impressive yields this way. Her rows are long and lush. Every year we discuss our crops and hers is always amazing, but I notice her wincing and rubbing her back as we speak about it. Picking peas is backbreaking work. If you have wire fences for them to grow on, it isn’t nearly as bad. Make a double row, install the fence in the middle so they share their support system. Then get ready to pick through the jungle to find the treasures. Totally worth it. I think. My mother-in-law has a neat trick. She plants her peas in double rows, but then she leaves the space of a row empty for other plants before she puts in another double row. This way the later plants can grow and fill in the garden when the peas come out in late June. My own strategy has been to pull the peas for the goats or till them back into the soil, then plant green beans or broccoli for a fall crop. Our season here is long enough to do that if the peas go in early.

That’s what pops up to the top when I think of bossy (as in, treat me right or I won’t produce) vegetables. I’m sure there are many other fascinating ones that you have grown or would like to try to grow.

(Zinnias, distracting the eye from the weeds, covering for the less comely plants, attracting the flittering butterflies, and providing endless bouquets for us all. Do plant zinnias.)

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The Easiest Foods You Can Grow

We have been showing our farm to lots of folks who are interested in growing a bit of food, raising some animals for meat, fishing some fish for the frying pan, etc.

I hear the same story repeatedly: we don’t want to live so dependent on the grocery stores. We want to learn how to do stuff ourselves. It is a day brightener every time. One young man said, “I am not going to raise my children like I was raised, with unlimited and unsupervised screentime.” He was about 26 years old, with two adorable sons and a supportive little wife who nodded and agreed. He went on to say, “My grandparents knew all this stuff, but my parents didn’t do any of it, and now I am clueless. But we bought a Backyard Gardening book and we are going for it!”

I cheer for all of these plucky people. This is a revolution that needed to happen! Pretty often I get questions from ladies who know I love to garden, and although I am no expert, I do give it all I’ve got because I love it like anything. It doesn’t take a large plot to grow some vegetables for your family. We started with a small terraced raised bed on the south side of the house. The next year my father-in-law, who was our landlord, brought us a dump truck load of topsoil that we spread out in the backyard on top of the exceedingly awful fill-dirt that hardly grew grass. It was about 25 feet square. Obviously, I couldn’t plant space hogs like sweetcorn, but I grew ample vegetables for the freezer and to eat fresh all summer and fall. I used a lot of organic matter, planted tightly, rotated crops, and made things like sunflowers share space with squash that could climb up their strong stalks if they wanted to. As our family grew, we kept tilling up more of the lawn each year, amending the soil, until now the hard clay is soft and fertile. I mention this just to say that you do not have to start a huge, overwhelming farm of a garden to experience the fun of growing vegetables. This first picture is our start-up garden the first year we were married. It got hot and dry and didn’t do too well, but we learned a lot and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The second photo is of the espaliered apple trees we planted where the raised beds were. And last comes our garden from last year, so abundant and yielding enough vegetables to feed our family for the winter.

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If I were going back to the basics, I would grow salad stuff for starters: lettuce (already started in the greenhouse gives you a major head start, especially since lettuce does not like hot weather and might not even germinate in late spring), radishes, sweet peppers, cucumbers (you can grow bush cucumbers that do not require much space, but my favorite space saver is tying them to a trellis), tomatoes (sharing the cucumber trellis or getting their own personal space). A word on tomatoes: if you like cherry tomatoes, you probably only need one plant, because they tend to go crazy. You can easily grow them in a pot on a sunny deck.

I would also grow herbs because they are super-easy. In fact, some of them discourage predatory insects, and they all attract beneficial insects. They can be mingled in a small space and not only do they taste amazing in your dishes, they look pretty too. Herbs flower for a long time and make beautiful fillers in summer bouquets. The ones I prefer to grow are basil (purple is my favorite), Italian (flat-leaved) parsley, chives, lavender, sage (I don’t use it, but it is pretty), mints, etc. Onions and garlic are very easy to grow too. In the spring, garlic puts out long curly scapes that can be cut off and used to season things long before the garlic bulbs are ready to harvest. I have grown herbs in containers right outside my kitchen door, which was super-handy.

What about food to preserve for winter? This is why I wrote this whole post, because I am so blessed by the simplicity. One word: beans. Of course, there are green beans, and they are wonderful, easy to grow, etc. They do require numerous pickings and you have to blanch them before you can freeze them. However, shell beans are as simple as it gets. You plant them in the ground and wait to harvest until the stalks are quite dead. They are easy to shell out of the dry pods, and the beans simply need to be stored somewhere dry so they don’t sprout before you cook them.

Years ago someone gave me a handful of the small red beans so common in Central America. I planted them and got a bumper crop at harvest- so many beans, in fact, that I didn’t plant them again for a few years. This spring I was looking for my seeds and decided that I must have forgotten to save some. I did an experiment, bought a bag of black and a bag of red beans. Then I spread some on a paper towel on a plate, wet them, and covered them with another paper towel. All of this got a plastic wrap over it, and I set it on top of the fridge where it is warm to check whether they would germinate.

They did! It took only 5 days for these roots to crack out. Where we live it is safe to plant beans now. Because they grow so fast, you want to make sure there is no danger of frost, because they won’t survive a freeze. I plant them fairly close, then thin them to 8 or 10 inches apart. They grow pretty bushy, so they do require a bit more space. And they are homely. I am sure there are climbing varieties available if you want to go vertical. But the good news is, you don’t even have to go buy seeds. You probably have some in your cupboard. You can try that germination test on anything dry you have, to see if it will grow.

Also, plant marigolds anywhere you want. They discourage pests. A vegetable bed doesn’t have to look utilitarian. Neither does a flower bed have to be purely ornamental. You can mix up all throughout them and have lots of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, etc. If you get your hands on a bunch of cheap mulch, pile it on. Otherwise, swallow your frugality and buy some mushroom mulch. You won’t need to do much weeding or watering, and certainly no tilling with an expensive bit of equipment that cuts into all the money you are saving by growing your own beans. (Although we do now own a lovely tiller, we made out ok without one for many years.)

There is an amazing thing about the internet. Pretty much any question or conundrum you face in gardening is answered by an expert or an armchair gardener out there somewhere. Google “Why is my asparagus coming up crooked?” and you will soon have an idea. People love to share this sort of homespun knowledge. Poor grandma gave up on her children in the 60’s, but you can make her day by asking her questions now.

Here’s a quick and easy bullet list of easy care veg.

  • lettuces
  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • tomatoes (a little picky if you get blight)
  • herbs
  • onions
  • garlic
  • beans, snap and shell

Tell me what you would grow first if you were starting up a veggie patch.

Also, coming soon…  a post on the pickiest/bossiest/hardest veggies I have tried to grow.

Sometimes

Sometimes at 3 a.m. the Lord convicts me about a thing I wrote. When I said that it appears that Christians do not believe what they say they believe, I was talking about myself as well. These are times that try our souls- there is no doubt about it. The tests are different for everyone, and we can be tempted to feel like the enemy is lobbing grenades of random evils at us from an unkind universe. The unknown, the capacity for lies from people we wish to trust, the conflicting opinions- all of these wear us down. What is even real?

For me the test of what I believe comes when I see my husband go to work and I know that with every shift he is walking straight into the contagion. For others the test is having no work. Some are struggling in their souls with the task of overseeing their children’s education. And some are grieving losses made more lonely with the world turned upside down. There is no doubt about it, we are all facing tests we’ve never faced before. How can we even conquer them? Is it possible to overcome?

I think of a scene from Pilgrim’s Progress when he was in the House of the Interpreter. There was a fire on the hearth and a person who was constantly throwing water on the fire, yet it burned higher and hotter. Then Interpreter took him behind the fireplace where there was a person secretly pouring oil in to feed the fire. Pilgrim wondered what this meant.

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually with the Oil of His Grace maintains the work already begun in the heart: By the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that you saw, that the Man stood behind the wall to maintain the Fire; this is to teach you, That it is hard for the Tempted to see how this Work of Grace is maintained in the soul.

I find great hope in that little story. Add to this the Scriptures that assure us that we do not have to be in control (behold the birds of the air), that our tests come to us carefully curated by a loving Father (who does not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear), that we are never alone (I will never leave you nor forsake you).

Growing pains are terribly inconvenient. I would always prefer the easier way, not facing up to the awkwardness of my soul’s stretching into a larger place. It is so much more comfortable when things are going well. But of course I don’t want to stay stunted.

We are all together, being given a chance to grow. The oil of grace is there for us, so that we can burn higher and hotter. I want to live like I believe it.