The Country Mice Go to a Resort

Last weekend we combined two events and made a family field trip out of the entire works. Family field trips are so much fun, starting with “Are we about there?” every five minutes enroute to “Make her stop singing!” and “I am starving hungry. Did we pack any snacks?” Then you finally get there.

“Does anybody need to go to the bathroom? Where is Rita? Yes, we will eat just soon! Everybody stay together. We don’t want to lose you!” And so on. But it is fun, really. “Please don’t touch! Maybe you will have to save your money for the next 20 years so you can buy that. Yes, I know this display is boring for big boys, but humor us for a little. Where is Rita? Wow, that is a really neat knife with that bone handle, but we don’t have 45 dollars hanging loose right now. Where is Rita? Here, you hold tightly to my hand for a while. Yes, I know you are hungry. Shall we get some popcorn?” We did have fun. This is just my running dialog of the stuff that makes me feel like I am developing a twitch.

Wanna know what we did? Every year Gabe has to take an Outdoor Emergency Care refresher course in order to stay certified as a ski patroller in order to get a free family pass at the slopes. The course itself is interesting for him: what to do with a patient in shock from whacking headfirst into a tree, how to splint that broken-up person for the trip up or down the mountain to an ambulance, or how to assess why that person is coughing blood. It gives me the willies, just looking through the course handbook.

Fortunately for us, there was another event held at Seven Springs that weekend. The Mother Earth News is a magazine that we subscribe to for ideas to develop our small acerage. They hold various fairs across the country, and this one happened to be at the same resort as the OEC refresher course. We bought a pass online and a room for the night, making it a two day affair. A real field trip for our underprivileged homeschooled kids. 😉


The fair was held mostly outside on the hotel grounds from the bottoms of the ski lifts to the outdoor courtyard, but it meandered through conference rooms and hallways as well. There were hundreds and hundreds of vendors, the nicest people you will ever meet. If you are country and going to a resort with a family, this is the time to do it. Earth-mother types like children and they don’t really dress up that much. I saw a lot more turbans and hippie skirts and Ugly Shoes than I have ever seen before in one spot. In the middle of all the herbs and chicken butchering equipment and log splitters there was one lonely booth for flu shots. I nearly laughed out loud. What? I would have hated to be that salesperson.

There were about eight stages with different breakout sessions, all the way from Keeping a Family Cow to Worm Composting. We split up so that we could cover more information.

I took

  • Growing a Sustainable Diet (Very interesting talk by a woman wearing a linen vest she grew, spun, wove and crafted)
  • Eating the Whole Plant (Meh. You can eat carrot tops and beet tops… Don’t throw them away! There were two men in the session who were unabashedly snoozing in the A/C. Also my girls were down to the crumbs in the maple-syrup-popcorn bag and they needed to go potty and get drinks.)
  •  One Hour Cheeses (the most fun, as the children were watching How to Pack a Llama for a Hike and I could actually follow. It was fascinating. I bought her book.)

From various friendly vendors we got open pollinator seeds and useful information about saving seeds from one year to the next.. One woman bought corn seeds for meal 25 years ago and has saved them for her annual crop ever since. Another kindly dread-locked lady didn’t have the sweet pepper seeds we wanted, but she did have a few of the peppers and offered us one to save our own seeds. I turned around for a few seconds and looked at Rita just in time to see her eating the last of the pepper, ready to throw away the core with all those lovely seeds attached.

They showed us how and why we should grow mushrooms and explained the science of herbal remedies. I bought teas and tinctures that I usually pay lots of shipping on. My favorite vendors were the good folks from Beeyoutiful. They served the girls and I freshly brewed Immunotea and I bought my winter’s vitamin C supply for the children and essential oils called ProMiSe Blend. Some of you will get that. 🙂

The boys gravitated to the wilderness survival supply booths and the alternate power sessions. Alex has a list of supplies he needs to make an electric motor bike. Gregory now has a Life Straw for his bug-out bag. The girls got batik-patterned head bands and a tiny succulant plant for their windowsill. By the end of the day we were all funned out except for one more thing: the indoor pool. We went during the supper hour when it was deserted except for a few little boys. Alex cannonballed right in, just like at the pond, putting the lifeguard on high alert. So did Addy, only she didn’t have her lifejacket on and was too short even for the shallow end of the pool and had to be fished out. I realized that our children have hardly ever gone swimming in anything but creeks and ponds. They thought the clear water was a blast. By 8:30 they were all asleep and Gabe and I could sit on the balcony to compare notes and make a game plan for the next day.

That included me taking the children for breakfast at the hotel restaurant while he did his refresher course, then meeting somewhere at the fair around lunchtime. The kids were up bright and early, bickering and giggling by turns. I made sure everybody was shiny and well aware of ettiquette at a breakfast bar. The dining area was decked out with white tablecloths and goblets, buffet lines with polished silver serving covers on every dish. I was the only adult with that many children. A buffet line with a child in tow is never easy. Too many choices, they can’t see what is up there, they want to touch stuff that they won’t eat, and the plates are too heavy for the little ones to safely manage without spills. Add in heavy lids on everything and you have a true white hair producing situation. Add in crowds of adults who only want to get their bacon already and don’t know that your kid is counting the strips he is getting because that is what he has to do at home when we have bacon and then you know where the twitch comes from. Here is the dining room, only this web image has flowers and chair covers for a wedding.

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Imagine my little country mice, freshly rested and full of ginger, there, around that table.

It did turn out to be a great breakfast. The only Where is Rita? moment was when she had ducked underneath the tablecloth for some privacy. They were very careful to only drink decaf coffee and choose their doughnuts wisely. I was proud of them. 🙂

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We spent a good while in the hotel’s backyard, a rock garden area with a fountain and trails. The twitch had almost worn off  when the acorn wars started. All this happened while many other guests were still blissfully sleeping and I could just imagine an errant acorn clattering against somebody’s window. I decided our best option was to hang around the animal tent. The little girls plucked up grass to feed the sheep and the boys examined all the rabbit options and chickens and pigs.

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When Gabe’s course was done, we wandered around for a while before heading home with our heads just packed with information.

I have been inspired to learn more about foraging for edibles in the wild and growing interesting foods. Next year we want to have a plot for broom corn and zuka gourds. I have been a little obsessed with the One Hour Cheese book, garnishing my end product with flower petals and herbs. I did feel ridiculously happy with that.

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We went on a hike yesterday and brought home some turkeytail lichens to make a tea in which “clever prodding helps us keep our systems on their toes, invigorating us in the process.” (Click on the link for an almost lyrical description of the benefits of the humble little turkeytail.)

I don’t buy into the theory that everything will kill you unless you do it the natural way, because I have noticed that everybody eventually dies, one way or another. Hopefully the weekend did open up some fresh neural pathways, possibly staving off alzheimer’s for a few years. Last week I had a vivid dream about an edible caterpillar foraging session that the boys and I were taking, complete with taste testing. I had to brush my teeth when I got up, just to get the taste out of my mouth. We aren’t quite that far gone, but I suppose if you see me coming around in clothes died with geranium petals and walnut hulls, subsisting on fermented vegetables and venison jerky, you may have cause for concern. 🙂

Pumpkin Pots and Paint

We are walking in fresh sunlight these days. I do not take it for granted. I marvel at it and try to store it up. An art book we are reading describes warm colors as orange and red, and cold colors as blue and green. I have been working on a game plan for winter, because I know it is coming and I dread the chill and dark already. Our basement rooms have been the same color for 11 years. We drywalled and painted it grey just before Gregory was born. It’s a nice neutral color, but back then I couldn’t even imagine doing school down there with 5 children and a dog who thinks she is a child. I didn’t dream how much time I would spend in my laundry room.

I decided to liven things up a little, and I am glad I did it every time I walk into the laundry/bath room. Less than $20 dollars worth of paint (because I got one on the mistints shelf…I am cheap like that.) really made a difference. This room was off-white for 14 years. May I present to you Sunbaked Orange with the light off and with the light on. Hey, I saw you blinking. Isn’t it cheerful? This was not the mistint. I deliberately chose it while in my right mind. And yes, that space between the washer and the laundry sink is really small. When I was pregnant, it was uncomfortable. But I like my large sink for scrubbing things and rinsing bits of our property off small children, so I put up with the crack.



(I did this painting while Gabe and the boys spent a week up north helping his dad dismantle a huge old barn. When they first talked about doing this, I weighed my options. I could sit and drink tea and read and write in a space of small appetites and little noise and bazillion paper snibbles, or I could tackle some projects on my list that I had despaired of ever getting done. I chose the latter and worked like a crazy woman. When Gabe got home, I had just finished showering off the last of the projects.)

The other room I painted Tavistock Green. I know. It’s not really a warm color, but it is a different color, and that is what I needed.


I don’t have a clear photo, so this will have to do. Maybe you think this is still grey, but you should see the difference beside the grey wall. It just occurred to me that, being a mistint, this color swatch is not entirely accurate. I think the paint mixer person dribbled a little extra bright green into my gallon, because mine seems to be fresher on the walls.

This is one of my favorite colors in the world, and I picked it up when I saw it on clearance because you never know when you will want to paint something Tavistock Green. That was five years ago. See, I was right!

I did not go yard saling, even though it was Labor Day weekend and the roadsides were just littered with signs. I did not go shopping in Altoona, like I had hoped to do. But I did go up to Rome for 2 days to help out with cooking and whatever I could while the guys were so busily tearing down the barn. That was 8 hours of driving. And Olivia and I did our fall trek to Pittsburgh to see her specialist, so that was another 5 hours of driving after I counted in the detours and the missed exit and the bridge out at a very crucial point. One day I went to a party an hour away and back again for another 2 hours driving total. And I went to pick grapes 1/2 hour up the mountain, so I figure I put in at least 16 hours on the road in my “week off”. I also got pulled over by an officer for the first time in my life. Not that I never deserved it before, but this time seemed mild. I was just at the edge of a small town, speeding up now that I was through it, only I wasn’t through it. I was already past the “End 35” sign when I got pulled over for going 52. Bummer. There went that record. I got off with a warning because I looked harmless  wasn’t local.

The girls and I picked all our pumpkins. I wanted pie pumpkins when I bought the plants, planning to sell the extras out beside the road. This usually works out as a nice little cash crop for the boys. But this was the year for funny mistakes. Remember how the tomatoes turned out to be cherry-sized? Well, the pumpkins turned out to be Jack Be Littles. Ever so cute and decorative and… little. I roasted a bunch of them for pies and lattes, scooping out the minuscule bits of soft flesh and blending it. Then I made this one night:


It was the prettiest dinner I made in a long time and I spent a good part of it coaxing the children to eat. What is with that?

I think I will spray paint a few of them for decor and give the rest away.

You haven’t heard the end of our mistaken identities in the garden. This was entirely my own fault. I wanted mini bell peppers because I heard that they turn colors quicker than the big ones and it always seems to take so long to grow a beautiful sweet red pepper and then it frosts on them. I bought plants labelled Cherry Bomb because the picture looked exactly like Mini Bells. When we cut into the first brilliant red baby pepper, it nearly blew us away with its heat. My mom said, “What were you thinking? Bombs? That should have been a clue!” And she was right. But they sure are pretty. My yellow Bells are ticked off about something, but the red ones have finally started turning sweet. Those are the bombs at the bottom of the photo.


I turned a whole bunch of them into pepper poppers and they were fine, indeed. Then I called my sister-in-law Ruby for her hot sauce recipe. One bottle of Tabasco typically lasts us about 8 years, but last year Ruby gave us a pint of her homemade hot sauce, something I had never even thought of making. We are down to the last of it, in one year. It is that good. I used the Cherry Bombs for hot sauce, and in my humble opinion, I think it is even better than the stuff made with Habaneros. Still, we will need to convince the kids to join in if we want to consume 8 jars of it.

The garden is down to a straggle of late tomatoes and green beans, a total failure of a broccoli crop, some really slow pole limas, and lots and lots of sweet red peppers. And weeds. Unbelievable trees of weeds that helped themselves when we got all that rain in August and we couldn’t keep up with them. But in September we do not pull weeds. We mow them off. It is really fun.

Are you getting bored yet? Just one more quick story about this cabbage that Alex kept until it started to split. It was 18 pounds with three babies attached around the bottom. We sliced it up and packed it with salt where it is happily fermenting into sauerkraut, amassing healthful probiotics by the millions. The children don’t like kraut either, but Gabe and I don’t really care. That’s more for us. Hopefully if they see how much we enjoy the stuff, they can get past the stink. 😀

That is about all the creativity I could handle the last few weeks. We are hitting the books with renewed vigor, finishing out 25 days this week. Ahh. It’s a long road is a school term. Rita misses her carefree outdoor existence. “Do you mean I have to do this for twelve years?” she wept one morning when the flashcards overwhelmed her. Because she just turned six this summer, I am letting her off with half days, taking it slowly, letting her go pet her bunnies and look for caterpillars. She can read, and surely she will know her facts by the time those twelve years are over.

Addy, on the other hand, feels left out because she is the only one without real school books. I bought her some wipe-clean preschool materials and that helps, but still is hardly official enough for her. Yesterday she sighed gustily, “I am so tired of this ‘yong, yong’ week! Because I am still not five!” The child talks in italics. Really. Talk about drama. It is just hard being the smallest, especially when you are dead serious about something and the other people at the table smirk. And especially if you still can’t say your l’s.

Well, look at that. I have managed to stay up until my husband gets off work. Thanks for listening!

Tyranny of the Urgent

So August is over and I have to admit to being a little relieved. August yells too much.

Everything yells. Back to School! Get on board! Buy your supplies! Come on, get excited! And yet.

The garden yells. I am ready! Eat me before I rot! Pick me! Pickle me! Can me! I am going to fall off and waste away if you don’t!

My flowers yell. Water! Then they subside into wilting gasps. Water please. Please. Please…. And even with loving ministrations that only forget them once in a while, they fade away.

My house yells. I have dirt everywhere! There’s fly poop on the windows! There are spider webs in the curtains! There is fur on the fans!

There are picnics and family reunions and a frenzy of things to do. Now! While the weather is nice!

The insects even yell. Have you heard them? Its like they have to get in all their decibels really quickly before the Long Cold.

My children yell in sheer barefoot delight, and that is the only yelling I don’t find wearing. As long as it is outside.

It’s just too much yelling. I find it hard to stay serene with so much racket. My diary reads like a sprint through August. I am not sure whose fault it is, but it’s time to slow down a little before I have heat stroke. How about you?

My friend has a wedding anniversary in August. They have been married 25 years, I think she said, and hardly ever can they manage to celebrate until later when life slows down, and how her mother consented to an August wedding, she has no idea.

Still. There was a day when I was doing bushels of tomatoes and it felt so surreal because I knew my sister-in-law was at her mom’s bedside in the hospital, watching her suffer in acute pain while she waited for a diagnoses. Cancer.

Sometimes something yells so loudly that all the rest seems relatively quiet.

I do have some defenses when life gets so urgent. I fix my coffee exactly how I like it, and if I am fortunate if I got up early enough, I get to drink the whole cup in quietness while I shore up my soul for the day. Some days I have to reheat a couple times, and it is still in the cup at lunchtime. I just try not to think about it.

I go on walks by myself whenever I can. Even a half hour is rejuvenating. Sometimes it is the only time in a day that I can think an entire thought to myself and I spend the first 15 minutes just trying to get used to the sensation.

I stop what I am doing every day after lunch and read my little people a story. I need it as much as they do. Sometimes I even fall asleep. One day I woke up at 4 o’clock and felt oddly gratified that nothing yelled that entire time. That was the day Gabe took the boys along to Ag Progress.

We are not supposed to let the urgent dominate and squish out the really important things. I struggle with that. We had a speaker at church recently who talked about about redeeming the time. It comes down to priorities and soul care, first of all. Everything else flows or gets stopped up there. He suggested that the best question is: What does God want me to do right now?

It might not be the house or the tomatoes. What is going to keep my head above water, cleaning the ceiling fan or taking a breather to quiet my heart? Being a self-confessed Martha, I know what yells loudest, and I know what He wants me to do right now, too.

Here’s to a Serene September!