Straight on to Summer

We have had a beautiful spring that lasted about 11 days, and now we’re smack dab in summer. There hasn’t been any rain for almost 2 weeks, and with temperatures in the ’80s, we’re doing a lot of watering already. I was told by many people that northwestern PA is extremely wet, especially in spring. I did not expect to need drip hoses in my garden or watering cans on the daily for my potted plants. I am very grateful that we have plenty of water in our well and a creek where we can fill buckets for the baby apple trees we planted this spring.

I determined to finish planting every single thing by June 1st. At 6:00 tonight I was staring down the calla lilies my neighbor brought me, and the pink petunias I bought for the hummingbirds, and three packs of parsley, basil, and celery. I asked Rita, “Why did you let me buy this stuff?” I must stay away from greenhouses now, because I have an incurable urge to reach out and pick up plants when I see something new that I would like to try.

Happily I can say that I pushed through and 2 hours later I was watering and cleaning up. The garden is chock full, and the only seeds I didn’t plant were a few sunflowers that I decided we can live without this year. At this point I think I have planted every bit of space, but it remains to be seen what comes up. I can’t quite get used to waiting until after Memorial Day for a frost free date, but I learned my lesson last week when I got up one morning and saw actual ice crystals in my garden. I had to replant most of my tomatoes and peppers that I hadn’t covered because the forecast was a low of 40.

I repotted my house plants that are root bound and put them on the porches for the summertime. I like how it makes the house feel cleared out and the porches feel cozy.

I feel like I can take some deep breaths, just watch things grow, and pick herbs, and put bouquets in the house. It’s my favorite!

Rita has been mothering a baby robin that fell out of a nest very high in the tree. It had a small wound above its wing, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be able to fly. She has been very dedicated, feeding it worms and ground turkey and bits of bread (when she wants to give it a treat) every half hour for a week. Thankfully it sleeps all night, but it wakes up bright and chipper at 6:00 AM, gaping its little beak and begging for breakfast.

Tomorrow this girl turns 14, and she really wanted a parakeet. It has been over a year since hers died, and the pet shop in town didn’t have any when we checked for a replacement. Today when we stopped in, she found the yellow budgie of her dreams. I made a deal: the robin now lives on a low branch in the tree, not in the birdcage in the house. Everybody’s happy: me, the girl, the parakeet, even the robin.

This past week I saw a blurb someone had written about parenting. “My baby is growing so fast, we ought to get a one month leave from work every 6 months just so we can figure out how to parent for the next half year.” I understand what he was saying, but we don’t get to do that. I hate to break it to you, man, but you’re going to have to figure this out on the fly and that’s not all bad. I think about the bright little Amish children I see helping with their parents’ cottage industries, whole lines of them stair stepping. I can see how important they feel because they are helping the family and they know how to do things. It is a different sort of importance from what a child feels when his parents arrange their entire lives around his wishes and hopes. Pardon me, but I know which kind of child I prefer to spend time with.

I am at that stage of parenting where I am praying for grace to cover what I missed when my children were little, even as I continue to rely on grace for wisdom as they grow more independent. It’s all flying by and some day soon I’ll say, “It feels like it was about 11 days and then we hit another season.”


I want to remember this season, of dependent yet independent children.

I want to remember how the girls sleep in their camper playhouse, or in the sun porch, or in tents, just anywhere is preferable to their bed in this freedom that is warm nights and no school schedule.

I want to remember them sitting at the table having a tea party with friends all proper, then running outside to the woods and cooking crayfish and snake steak over their fire for a snack.

I want to remember how it felt to have a yard sale and there were three cashiers that were not me, and yet they were still cute enough to sell iced tea and brownies.

I want to remember the lists I make for all this energy to be put to good purposes, and then the library runs, the reading breaks, and the easy, restful days because we have been diligent and the laundry is done and the dishes are washed and the floors are clean.

I want to remember and watch and be like Mary and keep things in my heart, and hope all things for them as they grow.

It feels a lot like gardening, and Jesus, please send rain.

Trying to Keep it Together

I have a soft spot in my heart for older gentlemen who wear both suspenders and a belt. Whatever else may be falling apart, they will endeavor to keep their trousers up, and I appreciate that code of honor.

This week the girls are finishing up all their school lessons. When I made their last fifteen assignments, they got a gleam in their eyes and started working like mad to finish up long before the three weeks in which they were assigned. I didn’t care at all, but found myself caught short with the customary celebrations. We have been homeschooling for fifteen years, and I have never before forgotten to order books for each child to unwrap at our end-of-school party, but this year somebody hinted and I looked foolish for a minute before I admitted that I forgot the party too.

The girls were chill about it, but a little disappointed, so I quickly opened Amazon and got on the ball. Addy wanted a detailed coloring book, and she actually got to choose her own. Olivia wanted books to read, of course. Rita was more desirous of a new hot plate for her cooking experiments in the playhouse. I worry about what this world of two-day shipping gratification will do to our children, but I also appreciate it. The ease and endless resources on the internets fuel a constant tension: help or hindrance?

I read an article this morning called “Social Media is Attention Alcohol” and it gave me lots of food for thought and a prick of conscience about wasted time. I kissed Facebook good-bye years ago, although I haven’t closed out my account because I want to be able to look back at my timeline for reference and photos. I am sure there are many who use this platform for good, but it no longer blessed me, so it wasn’t that hard.

However, I love Instagram. I unfollow any accounts that start to smell fake, although realistically we probably all put our best foot forward on this platform. I refuse filters and try hard to keep myself sternly real. And I sell my pottery mostly to my Instagram following (Black Oak Ceramics (speaking of which: I promised to let you all know when I do an Etsy shop update and I plan to do that this weekend, in time for Mother’s Day) ). So Instagram is a free and simple marketing tool for me. Not only that, but I get a lot of creative ideas from following others. For a self-taught potter, inspiration often comes from seeing what is possible if I work long and hard, but it can also plunge me into despair because of how little I know.

I ask myself if this is an attention hog in my life, and yes, it is on some days. It feels exactly the same as falling into story grip with a book, not all bad until the undisciplined ways catch up with me and interfere with healthy life and relationships.

I have hinted at the wacky hormonal issues of mid-life that nobody really wants to know about, but these issues have a way of bossing me around that was unfathomable to my young and well-regulated self. (There, was that ambiguous enough?) Anyway, I found myself at the beginning of the year with a quality of life that really cramped my style. I was lethargic, anemic, sleeping poorly, and not able to take a flight of stairs without feeling short of breath. I wasn’t sure I would be able to garden or take hikes, etc. come summertime, and I needed help! The doctor had nothing for me except, “It’s to be expected and it will probably last for years.” Cold comfort. “Maybe take iron or eat organ meats, and go on birth control to regulate your hormones.” Eww. I always hated how iron upset my stomach when I was pregnant, and so I started drinking spinach smoothies and trying to summon the strength to eat liver and onions.

About this time my sister told me about a product she saw on social media. (Imagine that!) It’s a freeze-dried beef liver supplement that is much easier on the queasy than the fried version. I was desperate, and hopeful and skeptical all at the same time. If you read reviews, you know how confusing that can be. Well, I have been taking these little liver bits in capsules daily for three months, and it seems to have been exactly what I needed. I am so very grateful to have energy and stamina again, and a normal life. I wouldn’t have heard about this or had any idea where to buy beef liver capsules without the internet. Nor could I have shared with you out of the love in my heart to spread good things. If I read the delicate references in the comments correctly, I am not alone in my quest for equilibrium in this season. 😉

Meanwhile, if you feel a bit beleaguered by the ordinary troubles that beset you despite your best efforts, consider this cardinal mother-to-be. She built her nest in the lilac bush, snugly under the awning. In the last week the leaves have opened and in the days and days of rain, they weigh down the branch enough to swing it out into the weather, just where the rain drips off the awning without relief. I feel so sorry for her, but she is steadfast, unmovable, abounding in the work the Lord has given her. The nest is tipped at an awkward angle, but her 21 days are almost up and there will be babies soon. I wish I could tell her that tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine.

I am letting nature preach to me, loud and clear. This is what she says:

Keep on with the good work. Get that party planned for your children. Pull on your suspenders or take your beef liver capsules, whatever it takes. The world won’t stop turning if you cop out, but there will be glory missing that is supposed to be there.


I started the day with the book of Daniel and a cup of Dandy Blend, trying to convince myself that it’s as good as coffee. My self could tell that I was spinning it a yarn.

Gabriel went out the door with his lunch and the real coffee I fixed lovingly for him, with collagen and raw sugar and cream, about the time that my babysittee came for the day. (I will call her Bee here.) She sat on my lap and chattered while I drank my pretend coffee. It’s our ritual so that she doesn’t insist on “making something” or playing hide and seek or some other fascinating pursuit that requires too much energy first thing in the morning. 

Today Bee had a sketchbook full of line upon line of serious squiggles with occasional wild bursts of scrawls that represented sunshine and a ballerina skirt. You have to admire the confidence of the young in their creative outlets. They don’t apologize for what they make. In fact, they give their sketches away with all the poise of those who know they have made something from their hearts, and why wouldn’t the world be happy with it? Why indeed?

I am not doing so well with the daily writing habit that I aspire to, but I am slowly working through The Story of my Life journal that I bought at Walmart. If you like writing even a little, it is worth your money for the fantastic prompts. Today’s writing prompt: “Describe your parents’ parenting style. Tell a story that shows how much (or how little) freedom you had.”

My mind went back to last week when we four siblings surprised my dad for his 70th birthday. We truly did surprise him, and what fun that was! We all went without any kids or spouses so it was just the immediate family group when we went on a drive in the van to look at our old haunts. Out of the floods of childhood memories, this story surfaced from when we moved to a summer cottage turned house beside a good-sized creek. The boxes weren’t even all unpacked before we children were wading, fishing, swimming in the frigid water. I do not remember any parental shepherding, but probably there were some ground rules given. We crossed to the island in the center of the creek by leaning into the current of the rapids and feeling for sure footing with bare feet on the algae covered rocks. Just upstream there was an eight foot deep pool where the water ran still and mysterious. That’s where we taught ourselves to swim, first by paddling about on anything that floated and held us up. Eventually we started to wade out to chest depth, then turned around and swam to shore. As we got more confident, we went out deeper until we were all decent swimmers, and thank the Lord, nobody drowned. Somehow my parents gave us the freedom and confidence to try new things without hovering too much. I do remember a lot of admonishing and rules that were intended to keep us safe, but not a lot of on-site coaching. (Granted, this was the era when nobody bothered with seat belts, car seats, bike helmets, or safety nets on trampolines.)

After our morning rituals of just sitting, writing, etc., Little Bee and I checked on the chickens and watched the flock tiptoe around a very easily ruffled mother hen and her excitable offspring. This hen is an example of 100% concentrated devotion to motherhood. She spends her entire day keeping track of her babies, scratching up choice morsels for them, showing them how to tip their heads back to trickle water down their throats, and calling them to herself to sit under her wings for a warm-up when it’s chilly. We are enchanted.

When it was time to go inside, Bee evidenced some hanger. She is always cheered when I let her make her own scrambled eggs with the little pink spatula that’s just her size. Every. single. day. she wants applesauce to eat too. If I were asked what the most common food of my childhood was, I would have to say applesauce. Little me got tired of it. Little Bee thinks it is the best treat ever. When it was time for a nap, she wasn’t one bit sleepy and her feet stomped to emphasize it. I have noticed that a small child will fall asleep much quicker if you tell them they do not have to sleep if they can’t. How about having some quiet time, just lie down on the bed and read some books? I wasn’t even through the second story before there was a gentle whiffling snore beside me. I drifted off myself. Maybe it was Just the Thing for Geraldine that did it.

I woke up an hour later, with exactly 20 minutes before Olivia’s dental cleaning appointment, and it was going to take us 15 minutes to get there. I left the sleeping tot with Rita and we skedaddled faster than we have in a long time We made it with one minute to spare. It was a relief to sit in the lobby and just read my new book about soil. Except for one granny with a magazine, every other soul there was on their phone. The granny and I virtue-signaled like everything, but it didn’t make a difference.

Since Olivia got braces, her sisters complain about how she holds up the bathroom, cleaning her teeth all the time. Apparently it is paying off. Her hygienist said she has never seen cleaner braces and Olivia feels rewarded for her virtue.

On our way home, we stopped for groceries. I estimated that the cart, half full, would probably be 150 bucks, but I was ten dollars too high. Should I feel smug at my estimating abilities, or dismayed that I am getting used to the inflation of the times? (I no longer need to buy grocery store flowers to cheer my household, so that may be where the savings are.)

It is a delight that never palls for me: walking outside, just casually picking some blooms for the table. Today it was grape hyacinths and on the mantle we have branches with wrinkly crimson leaves that are opening fast in the warm house.

Tonight Addy was hungry for escalloped potatoes like we had in Florida. I found my favorite recipe with “top milk” as an ingredient, presumably the creamy milk at the top of the jar before the cream is skimmed off. I showed her how to slice the potatoes thinly on the mandolin, then I practiced the same sort of parenting style I grew up with and went outside to mow lawn (after I warned her sufficiently to use the guard if she still wants all her fingertips). When I came back inside, she was ready for the seasonings and cheese and cream.

When Addy and I cook, unforeseen things tend to happen. We are both”schusslich”, only I have learned many lessons over time to avoid epic cleanups. This evening she accidentally pushed my binder of recipes onto the floor. It was so stuffed that it popped open and the pages fanned out over the kitchen floor. She was chagrined, but I saw an opportunity to do something I should have done long ago. The old binder is getting a thorough edit. There are recipes in it that I clipped out of magazines twenty years ago and only made once. I am culling them down to the favorites and the ones handed down from loved ones. It will take a while.

The potatoes were ridiculously good, by the way.

Thanks for joining me on my meander through the day. We didn’t go far, but we covered a lot of ground.

These Wonder Full Days

This week the first tulip opened in a patch of bulbs I planted last fall, a brilliant red with oval petals that spread completely flat in the hot sunshine. It looks like a crimson star floating above the bark mulch. I was sure that I planted pink tulips, but surprise! the first one was red.

Our grey world is springing into color, just tinges of it at the beginning, but promises for more all around. The daffodils at the edges of the woods are waving bits of sunshine, and there are twice as many as there were last year. I love that they multiply and naturalize, and critters don’t like them. When you drive the countryside, you can see marks of old homesteads long gone to ruin with saplings grown up in the foundations and drifts of daffodils where some homemaker dropped bulbs beside her doorstep years ago.

Last fall I donated to a kickstarter for a book titled A Little More Beautiful by Sarah Mackenzie. It came in the mail recently, and it is as charming as any illustrated children’s story I have seen. How can I make the world a little more beautiful each day? Hmmm. How about planting a bunch of flowers and sharing them?

I am not a die-hard spring cleaning lady, but I am in the mood to wash all the things in the house and hang them on the line to dry. As I type this, the rugs for the front door are swishing in the washer, and the living room curtains will be next. When the sun shines in such benevolence, I feel that the windows should sparkle and the curtains should be worthy.

Gabriel is using the chain saw and the tractor to clear the briars and trash accumulated in the back yard for many years. The girls are helping to collect the branches for burning, and I overheard a mild protest, “Can’t he pick another mid-life crisis, just anything else?” For some reason our children think ambitious clean-up projects are a sign of middle age, yet we have tackled these sorts of things many times in their lifetimes. Maybe it’s because they are now strong enough to be a real help, and it is sinking in that this is work, not just a bonfire for roasting hotdogs later.

I have been edging the three beds close to the house. The thing I never thought about when I was being so smart and unrolling old hay bales on top of my long rectangular gardens was that there would be miles of edges with grass borders. I don’t hate the job, but it takes a long time to clear the grasses and weeds that creep into the beds. It also requires a tape measure to get the lines straight, and it is my own problem that I cannot bear to look out the window and see a bulging border. I was trying to fix a few problem spots, and asked my husband, who is much better at free-handing this sort of thing, if it looked all right. “It looks perfect,” he said, and quickly escaped before I could request that he fix what was apparently perfect already. (If I could find a good edging material (that isn’t plastic) it would be worth installing. Please speak up if you have any advice for me on this matter.)

It is astonishing how much more motivated I feel when it is warm outside. Our heat is off this week, and the sunshine has been a daily grace. We had friends here for an outdoor supper around the fire with the whine of mosquitoes and the trilling of spring peepers serenading us. We have gone straight from winter to summer, is what it feels like, and nature is kicking up her heels. I don’t mind. I have no doubt that we will still get some hard frosts, but just for now we are basking.

I have a very broody hen that got a bad case of spring fever. She wanted chicks so badly that she just sat in the nesting box day in and day out, even though we took the eggs away from her every day. We moved her to an empty bunny hutch so that her intense longing for motherhood wouldn’t affect the rest of the flock. I found a source of fertilized eggs and stuck a dozen under her so that she can do her setting with some fruit for all her effort. She has four more days to go until they are due to hatch out. I will be so relieved for her, because she hardly eats or drinks anything, just sits and waits and waits. Rita feeds her worms and bugs that she finds, and watches over her solicitously.

With this season there has been an explosion of birdsong. All around they flirt, warble, and spill their sheer joy into the air. There is a phoebe building her mud and moss nest in the corner of the porch awning, a cardinal shaping a pretty twig nest in the lilac bush right outside the window, a robin once more making herself a home in the shrubbery beside our back deck, and there are sparrows in all the bluebird boxes.

I am reminded that God is the Creator of LIFE! New life springing out of barren, frozen wastelands. It is His delight to resurrect what has died, to bring fruit out of the seed that dies. If I would remember the utter faithfulness of His character when I feel panic because something dear to me is dying, it would save me a lot of flapping about. Every year this same truth hits me between the eyes, and I wonder why it is that I forget it every winter.

I made a list of as many hopes, dreams, ambitions, I could think of in my entire life that I have at some point given up, allowed to die. I was thrilled to see how many things He has brought back to life and better than I had hoped for. Not everything. There are seeds that lie buried in the the ground for a very long time. I can’t pretend that I understand God’s timing, but I believe that He knows what to do with the seeds that we bury.

Well, that concludes my springtime homily. I hope it’s a beautiful day where you are.

So Much Goodness

We spent just a bit over a week in Florida, that land of abundant sunshine and generous breezes.

We were welcomed by my parents, hugs all around, supper ready for us, and my uncle’s house (which used to be my grandma’s house) prepared for our stay.

We looked at the weather forecast and tried to make plans, tried not to be dismayed at five days of rain forecast during our stay.

We went to the fruit market and bought grapefruit and oranges and strawberries and honeydew and tomatoes and avocados and key limes and lemons and cabbage and lettuce and peppers and one enormous watermelon, all of them dead ripe and local.

We walked on the beach and some of us swam, even though nobody else considered the water warm enough; it was fine once you got wet.

We found treasures, so many shells, and one day a local showed me where to stand in water up to my waist so that I could feel with my feet where the conchs washed in and were not broken yet by the surf.

We basked in the healing rays of the sun, under layers of sunscreen because one time we got second degree sunburns and that was enough for one lifetime.

We wore flip-flops every day, although Gabe didn’t have any and wore shoes and socks, but he felt that it was chilly a lot of the time anyway, so that was okay.

We rented bikes and rode seven miles down the Legacy Trail toward Venice.

We got to see the backyards of the average Floridian living along the trail, and then just as we were getting to the state park section, we ran out of juice and turned around.

We were starving hungry and ate our lunch at Der Dutchman when we got back at 3 PM.

We watched an otter mother fish for water snakes and catfish along the banks of the Myakka River while her babies romped on the bank, waiting for lunch.

We kept vigilant eyes on lazy alligators that slid into the water to swim to our side of the river when we caught tilapia that they wanted for themselves.

We made fish tacos with the tilapia and bass and bluegills that we caught, and they were fantastic.

We watched tiny lizards skitter and fed fish-bait shrimp to an intrepid egret and an opportunistic heron that kept hanging around.

We marveled at the odd plants, the “houseplants” growing everywhere as landscaping details and just wild along the trails.

We took pictures of all the interesting things so we can sketch them in nature journals when we get home because we forgot to take our nature journals, but we never did get a parrot on camera.

We walked along an osprey trail in virgin Florida pine forest that was mostly scrubby palmetto and not very tall pines because they are just different there.

We saw the osprey nests all along in the taller dead trees, and on the ground we found a nervous gopher tortoise who scurried tortoise-fashion along the trail as though he was late for something.

We took the pelican trail back to the car and the sand was so hot it hurt our feet, and we didn’t see one pelican on the trail.

We ladies poked around in thrift stores with my mom while the guys went fishing with my dad on the one day that it rained.

We were grateful every day that it didn’t rain, except sometimes we would hear it in the night and then we were happy for the locals who wanted rain as badly as we didn’t want rain.

We ate dinner with my parents on a sunset ride around Sarasota Bay on the night before they headed north and home.

We played games in the evenings: Cover Your Assets with two decks and teams.

We made new friends who treated us to great pizza and shared their home with us.

We cleaned our house and did all the laundry, turned in our rental vehicle full of sand, and boarded a plane that got us back to Pennsylvania in two hours.

We drove home from Pittsburgh in a steady rain, and it kept raining the whole next day, and it is raining again today, but we are not going to complain, because we hope the sun will come again for us too.

We are happy to be home!

I am allowed…

… to eat marshmallow peeps at Easter because I like them.

… to have a flip flop collection, and to wear them in the snow when I get the mail. If there is any snow, that is.

… to hang a hammock in February and lie in it on every sunny day.

… to sleep on my husband’s side of the bed when he’s on night shift, just because it feels different than my side of the bed.

… to paint any room I want to paint.

… to throw away clothes that make me feel ugly.

… to dote on my chickens and buy them treats.

… to keep buying children’s books even though my children are not little anymore.

… to put as much cream in my decaf coffee as I want.

… to rearrange the furniture in my house when I need a fresh look, even if it’s the same furniture and the same house and other people think that’s funny.

… to decline politely when I don’t want to play a board game, specifically Monopoly or Life.

… to be a word nerd and make lists of good words and think about ways to put them together.

… to spend money on a writing course and take time to practice what I’m learning.

… to plant flowers everywhere in the garden, even in the vegetable rows.

… to laugh at my wobbly shopping cart wheel and show others how hilarious it is.

… to cry when I’m reading a book that touches my heart or singing a song that expresses my longings.

…to hide the Cadbury mini eggs and dole them out bit by bit so that they last for a while, because the Easter season has the best candy.

… to walk the two miles to the garage to pick up a vehicle that has now been fixed for the very last time, I hope.

My walking buddy

Last night one of our writing prompts was “I am allowed,” and that’s where my thoughts went. Are there things you’re allowed?..

The Short Month Recap

Obviously, I did not post every day in February (despite doing a lot more writing practice than usual) like I used to in the good old days when I had five little kids and stayed home all the time. Now I have five big kids, one coming for visits occasionally, four of them hanging about daily with ideas and plans and schedules. They help me with the housework, and yet I do not have the time or mental space I used to have for blogging. I also tend to pick up projects and volunteer for things because it seems I should easily be able to get them done with all my helpers. I ask myself what in the world I was thinking, but then I just up and do the thing or assign it to the girls. I actually really like this stage in life, flagging energy levels or no.

I just made the tenth run in two weeks to pick up a vehicle at the garage. Our aging Suburban has been having glitches with the four-wheel drive, and we didn’t want to go into winter with a helpless whale of a vehicle. Here we are on a 61° day in March, and the four-wheel drive is still not fixed, and the part that hopefully will fix it is on order. For the third time. We’ve also had Gregory’s car in and out, working on bits of restoration. We’re dealing with three different garages, all within 2 miles of our house. They’re great people. They do what they can, test it out, refer us to someone else who can maybe fix it, who then orders parts and we pick up the vehicle until the part comes, then take it back. And that’s what happens when you have old cars. Thankfully it still runs fine, just occasionally in four-wheel with no option of switching it when you don’t need it.

I laugh every time we drive out our lane that is lined with reflective posts to show where the snow plow should drive. That is, if we even had any snow. Last year we kept getting snowed under deep enough that it was just our best guess where Gabriel should plow the lane. We weren’t going to let that happen this year! Hilarious, how we manage or try to manage, and then there you are, with the muddiest, rainiest four months of winter you can imagine. (And you really cannot even imagine the mud unless you live it.)

We have decided that we absolutely must do something about the lane, which is sinking into elongated potholes along all the wheel tracks. No amount of surface fixing will suffice. Last spring after all the gravel we had spread on our lane had disappeared below the surface of the earth, I enlisted the troops in bringing up creek gravel by the bucketfuls in the trailer we pull behind the lawn tractor. We have endless supplies of that, and I hoped some large pebbles would firm up the situation somewhat. It was a fail. The pebbles went the way of the 2B limestone before it.

The little girl I babysit loves the Henry and Mudge story called Puddle Trouble. She thinks our lane is puddle trouble and she isn’t wrong. I’m guessing by the time we get it fixed, we’ll hit a winter with Sub-Zero temperatures and rock hard surfaces for months.

The daily question. Which will it be? It was 71 degrees the day before I took this picture.
( And yes, our front porch is that dirty. And yes, I care, but it is what it is. When you come, feel free to wipe your feet on the welcome mat.)

The girls set up the trampoline again, and we have two hammocks strung in the yard. That way we can enjoy the every-other-day warmth, and on the in-between times we can make a fire in our fireplace. Have I mentioned, it is hilarious. My children think it’s the lamest winter they’ve ever heard of, and my cousins who moved up from Kentucky to Pennsylvania say winter here is either bipolar or menopausal. They aren’t wrong either.

I did something new this week, that I couldn’t believe I was doing. It wasn’t even on my bucket list of being a chicken owner. I found myself with a hen who was having problems. Have you ever heard of vent gleet? I’m not surprised, I hadn’t either. As per internet instructions, I found myself tenderly soaking a chicken’s bottom in warm water, cleaning her off, and putting ointment on her sore (you guessed it) vent. I am happy to say the treatment worked, and she’s doing much better.

Last week the girls helped me deep clean the kitchen: cabinets, pantry, and the netherworld behind the stove. I told them if they find something we haven’t used in the last year, they should set it aside so that I can decide on it’s usefulness. This is a very different process from deciding if things “spark joy,” more like seeing if they deserve lebensraum. A few things went to the storage room in the basement, but in general I was pleased that the worst we encountered was crumbs and dust. Well, I don’t want to talk about the space under the stove.

I decided not to start my own garden plants inside the house this year. We plant to do some traveling, and it would be unnecessarily complicated to keep them alive. There are some very deserving greenhouse owners close by who will get my patronage. That said, I have been resorting to looking at pictures of the garden to bolster my hope that green will soon come to the land. The photo on the left was July. The one on the right is today.

The present colorless landscape requires all the fortitude my soul can summon, and a lot of supernatural work in my spirit, too. When we have blue skies, my heart expands. I can feel it. Things become possible. Green really will return. Meanwhile, how about some more tea?

Sunday Rest

I built a cremation pyre for a chicken today, and I’m very concerned that it could have succumbed to bird flu. When I took scraps out to the hens after lunch, there she was, a motionless pile of buff feathers while all her sisters crowded around urgently for their treats.

I’ve never thought about chicken health much. We had a flock of thirty at one time, and it wasn’t a big deal if one bit the dust. Now I only have eight hens and I take their health seriously. My pets that give me eggs are not supposed to die. (So actually now I only have seven.) I inspected them carefully, saw absolutely no signs of illness. Gabriel says it was probably just a fluke, but I’ll be holding my breath for a few days. I cremated Buffy under a big pile of wood scraps to keep her from being food for scavengers.

Usually Sundays are lovely days. In the smallish space where we gather to worship, the singing lifted the roof this morning. We had a Sunday school lesson about The End Times and how we aren’t born to be earth dwellers. I love this! In the end, we citizens of heaven win. The message was a thought provoking one on Forgiveness.

Today I thought about how wonderful it is to not feel so much like a stranger anymore after church. I have found it to be really hard to uproot, get to know new people, and figure out where I fit. There are nuances within nuances within a community, and until you have a bit of context, it’s just awkward. (Do you hug people you hardly know? What if you’re really happy to see them, but they aren’t the hugging type? How do you have a conversation with a person you see every weekend, but don’t know?) I hate feeling awkward, and it has taken me two years to get over it and just get on with the process.

The girls did all manner of switching: going home with friends, bringing friends home this afternoon. I had put a whole roasting hen in the oven before church, and a bunch of scrubbed potatoes, so the food was ready, except for some hasty salad chopping. When it’s a day Gabriel has to work, we eat pizza or leftovers out of the fridge, but not this day. It’s a celebration and that requires some effort. Addy even lit the candles on the table.

After the chicken carcass burning episode, I decided on a nap. I just woke myself up with a snore, a most disconcerting thing. Was that noise actually me? Gabriel assured me that it was. I think it’s time for a walk in the brilliant sunshine, see what Addy and her little friend are doing.

What about you? How do you rest on Sundays?

Little Things

We have a ritual of going together to feed the chickens and check for eggs when she is being babysat here. There’s a tiny basket for her to carry the eggs back to the house after we have petted the tame hens and fed them dry bread crusts.

The mud was so spectacular that it splashed when we crossed the lane, but there was warmth in the air and she wanted to stay out for a long time. Since her sparkly pink boots had layers of mud and chicken poo on them, I figured it couldn’t get worse. She joined me for a meander down the trails and we took time to look at little things. Minnows in shallow water, shiny pebbles that got stashed in coat pockets, holes in the ground where creatures dig and live. We stopped for a while and listened to a bird singing, and decided that it was probably so happy because it found a worm in the mud.

When it was time to go inside, we tracked back and forth in a melting snowbank to try to clean our boots. We scrambled some eggs for our lunch, and she wanted to run the spatula and the salt shaker both. She’s not quite three, and I am reminded how much I have always loved this stage. Loved it for the simplicity and the bright ideas and the budding personality.

Yesterday she had a total meltdown, the mother of meltdowns, and I thought about how I would have handled this in my own babies, but it’s different when it’s someone else’s child. I held her until it subsided, then we read a story while the hiccups turned to sniffles. When all was calm I looked into that dear little face and told her firmly that she will not get what she wants when she pitches a fit at my house. She nodded solemnly.

Today we had a few differences of opinion, especially when I was not inclined to go back outside or to play hide and seek at nap time. The foot lifted to start stomping, but I was the authority in this situation and I reminded her that we do not kick and scream at our house. She remembered. She is very smart.

I had flashbacks to taking walks with all five of my children, toiling up the steep ridge on our switchback trails, hauling the littlest one on my back and letting the others grab onto my skirt. I did it for refreshment back then, to get out into the air, to look at another world outside our walls. Sometimes we even found mushrooms we could eat as a bonus.

I think I had a vague hope that my children would learn to go to the outdoors for recreation, and I feel so gratified that they often do that without prompting. (Not everything I strive to teach has taken hold, I must say.) They observe the sky and tell me about the hawk they saw catching a starling. They go fishing, and build ever more sophisticated shelters out of sticks and tarps. They climb cliffs and hike with their friends, and ski when we have snow (which isn’t so much this winter).

I do not regret one minute of that time, not the cockle burrs stuck in the sweaters, or the nuts stashed in my pockets, or the water bottles that were always empty when the thirst was the most desperate. The muddy boot smears on my jacket from carrying a tired tot don’t matter. The rock collections that I thought might sink me did not in fact sink me, nor did the pet snakes. That was a close one, though. And of all things, the four walls stayed put, as did any chores we left undone while we were outside.

Today I was really tired when the little girl went home. I thought about what has changed in my life, and what hasn’t changed. I still need recreation outdoors. So today I hung a hammock and lay in the sun with a quilt to keep me warm, and I was as happy as the bird that maybe found a worm.

Walking in Sunshine

I lay in bed this morning, watching the sunrise, listening to an essay titled The Beautiful Institution. We often have a streak of brilliance to the east until the sun rises above the mushroom cloud that is our special birthright by location close to the lake. This morning it kept rising and rising into clear cerulean atmosphere. When I got up, Olivia had already staked out the sunny corner of the couch to ease into her morning reading. It didn’t take long for the more northerly windows to light up too, spreading a palpable benevolence into the room.

After I had gotten the girls started with school, and seared a pork butt to slow roast with chipotle peppers for our supper, and cleaned up the kitchen, it was time to go check on my hens. Fellow sunshine lovers, they were milling in a beseeching crowd at the door of the coop. When I take them table scraps, they think they are getting treats. It feels a little cheap to me, considering what they give in return. Today there were bits of pork fat mixed in with banana peels and stale crackers. The bossiest among them grabbed a sizable piece and dashed for a private spot behind the tree, with two others in hot pursuit. They came to their senses pretty quickly, mashed on the brakes, and tore back to the smorgasbord where there were plenty of good bits for everybody. Whenever I watch my chickens snatching and refusing to share, I do not admire their character. Pecking order is a very sorry way to rise to importance. But this morning there were five eggs, beautiful pearly things, nice and clean because the mud is frozen.

The Most Entitled One With the Cheeks and The One Who Thinks She is Boss

I put the eggs into the capacious pockets of the old blue Columbia coat that I got at the thrift store because it was actually made with capacious pockets and a hood and large enough sleeves to wear a sweater layer. Sure, the lightweight down puffer coats retain heat so well that you don’t need the sweater, but what about when you get where you are going and want to take your coat off and then you don’t have your sweater? Or what about when you take your dog on a walk through the jaggerbushes to see what the creek is doing these days and you snag the fragile fabric on a multiflora rose that is reaching out over the trail? And where are you supposed to stow the eggs in those tiny pockets?

Lady found her ball and laid it at my feet in supplication. I don’t pick up drooly balls, but if she places it right where I will trip over it, I will kick the ball obligingly and she will retrieve it with unbelievable energy, once more nudging it at my feet. We played this game for a while with a fun variation as the ball bounced in unexpected directions on the frozen ground.

I took the garbage out to the shop and then we did our inspection of the property. The trail down to the creek was crossed and recrossed with rabbit trails. All these prickly bushes are perfect for them when they want to evade predators, although we have little evidence of any except hawks and occasional foxes moving through. On the other side of the creek is where the wild things are, where we hear the coyote chorus and occasionally see signs of mink or bear.

Lady switched to a stick instead of her ball. I took it from her and threw it immediately, my gloved hand contacting the stick about three seconds, and yet she found it without fail, even when I accidentally threw it into a thicket of similar sticks. I wonder how distracting life would be if I had that capacity for scent. This dog is speedy! I can’t throw the stick far enough to keep her occupied for more than the time it takes to walk a few paces. We made our slow way down to the water: throw stick, walk ten steps, throw stick, walk another ten steps.

The creek was chuckling clear and fast, but low enough to cross if your boots are watertight. I didn’t risk it, not relishing the feeling of ice trickling down to my feet if I misstep. Lady was not deterred in the least and splashed in willy-nilly if she thought there might be something interesting in the water. At the edges the bushes that trail twiggy branches had icicles accumulated in fantastic crystal bobbles. They dipped in and out, in and out of the water under their own weight, reflecting the brilliant sunshine like magical chandeliers.

I followed a rabbit trail to the spot where the Japanese privet has volunteered into an untrimmed hedge. I like these bushes, even if they aren’t native. They are bare, straight shoots now, but in spring they will bloom white, with bright waxy leaves, and I can hardly wait! I use the leaves for foliage in bouquets all summer, and then in fall they turn rosy, purple and rust all on one stem, with deep blue berries. The berries are all gone now, harvested by birds who do their best to spread the seeds. I don’t mind these mildly invasive bushes. They aren’t prickly or ugly or stinky, so I won’t be destroying them like I would Japanese barberry or Bradford pear.

It’s no wonder the birds are so diligent at the feeder these days. As I walked back to the house, I saw that the rosehips are gone and I doubt there is much left in the sumac seedpods after all that diligent mining the chickadees have done. There was a Carolina wren on the back porch, and I marveled at the persistence of such a tiny creature that prefers to eat insects to survive. Where do they find their food? Not only that, they roost in pairs to keep one another warm, which means if one dies, the other will have a very difficult time to make it to spring.

Just before I went back inside the house, I took a picture of a young sycamore with a cluster of fantastical seed pods against the blue sky. This is definitely a day when I will force my girls to go outside for recess, no matter how they may demur!