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.

 

May Days and 3 AM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with all due respect to December. Slowly things are loosening up a little in PA. Our county is still encouraged to stay home, but the world is so glorious, we can’t possibly stay inside the houses. Except on the days it snows. But even those days seem a tinge greener than the ones before them.

I heard a heartbreaking story today, of a state penitentiary (an hour north of us) that is afflicted with a Covid-19 outbreak. Their ventilator cases are coming to the city hospital where Gabe works, and the others who are ill have been put into a large makeshift infirmary in a former storage area at the jail. Anyone who is well has to stay in their cell on complete lockdown. I got a crawly, claustrophobic feeling just thinking about it. I thought I was going to hyperventilate, just wearing a mandated mask at the Dollar General last week. It’s one thing to make the masks tightly fitting, out of double layers of tightly woven quilter’s cotton as recommended. It’s another thing to try to breathe through them for extended periods of time.  As much as I dislike them, I listen to my husband who says we have no reason to disobey our civil authorities on this matter. I don’t really like it, but at least I am not in a cell all by myself. To see smiles, I have to make eye contact. This is not a bad thing, and when I am in public I smile at everybody.  It is pretty interesting to see what people come up with in their efforts at compliance. I saw a lady doing all her shopping with her head tucked down into her hoodie. And there was a young man who had obviously cut strategic holes into a tee shirt so he could hook it over his ears. Aside from the fact that it looked odd, I envied him because he could certainly breathe better than I could. I am glad I made us all a mask early on when there was still elastic available.

Gregory worked at our local bulk food store for a few days last week, helping to carry boxes to customers’ cars. He had plenty of hilarious descriptions of attempted masks. One lady wore a face shield of the variety that you usually see when someone is weed-whacking. Another had a rubber band around her head, stretched just under her eyes, with a tea towel tucked into it and flapping freely down to her chest, and one crafty, but slightly clueless soul had a crocheted mask with big holes in it. Many people opted for bandanas tucked around their faces bandit style. In the end, we are flattening the curve like anything.

I was surprised at the visceral reaction I felt when a lot of Pennsylvania counties were given the coveted “yellow” status to reopen and our county was not. Wait a minute! We only have a quarter of the cases that some of the reopened counties have. How are they even making these decisions? Even though we are doing fine one day at a time, another week of stay-at-home seemed an unreasonable burden. How long, Lord, how long?

That’s the thing. Historically it has always taken a number of years for the fury of a pandemic to die out. The Black Death cycled its deadly way through London roughly every 20 years for nearly 3 centuries. When Jenner started developing his smallpox vaccine, he hoped to completely eradicate this deadly disease. It took nearly 2 centuries, and in the meantime it wiped out the vast majority of the native populations in the New World. With Covid19 we have a crashing, killer wave of unpredictability just hanging over us.

At this point, me being no expert, it feels like the uncertainty and rabid safety-first idea is a bigger threat than the disease. Those who work with critically ill patients, who see the way it actually does kill seemingly healthy people, cannot afford to have such a cavalier attitude about it. Sometimes I hear of Christians who are blatantly disregarding what they are instructed to do and spreading insurrection on social media. I wonder about this.

What if our experts had told us all along, “Just keep doing life as usual.  There’s nothing we can do about it, and we want you to get herd immunity for the good of all. Not only that, we cannot afford to make our economy suffer. Money is definitely more important than grandpa. If you perish, you perish.” In this imaginary scenario the numbers of cases are exactly the same and the death rates are the same. There is still no cure.  Nothing is different except what those in authority said. Yet, if that were what our medical scientists and political leaders had said, we would be vigorously crucifying them and posting about it with great satisfaction because they didn’t take measures to protect us all. We would be clamoring for the media to tell us what is happening and we would be sure it is a cover-up of mass proportions. We might even be staying home because we think it is a good idea. We might wear masks. At least it would have been our own ideas and not some other person who has no business telling us what to do.

I say that not to say that there is nothing shady going on. Human nature has always been shady. I don’t know what is true some days. It appears that even Christians who say they believe what God says in His Word do not actually believe that He is able to keep us when bad things happen.

Friends, we know the One who can calm the chaos with a spoken word. I think that I trust Him implicitly, but this is the sort of situation that shows me leaks in my vessel, where I haven’t been all that trusting and the patches of my own making give way. I haven’t a prayer of survival without Jesus who sustains all things by the word of his power. 

“That is enough for me,” I say, and then I waken at 3 AM. It’s that time of the day to hit the worst-case scenario jackpot. It only takes five minutes of imagination for me to be burying a loved one, facing the withering aftermath of grief. I think about people I love, everyone fighting their personal battles, sometimes heart-wrenchingly lonely battles. There is so little I can do to support others or change circumstances.  What if it really is true that we are never going to get our freedoms back? At 3 AM I am tempted to wonder why God isn’t managing as well as I think He should. Whatever can He be thinking? His purposes are very inscrutable in the middle of the night. It is hard to think straight when I am still tired, the night is dark, and my husband is either sleeping or at work.

I know of only one way to fight this slimy pit of  “What if?” It is with the well-worn truths of the ages. “I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again… that where I am, you may be also.” I hold them like pebbles in my mind, rolling them around and around, examining them again and finding them true. “…Whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with him…”  I think of the amazement that I not only have access to this God, but that He wants me to draw near to Himself.  I do not have to control my world or anyone else’s world.  Like so many other disciplines, this is one I have to repeat very often, but it is a good thing. I feel some flabby spiritual muscles strengthening. This is a good time to bulk up for whatever lies ahead.

In other news***************  I heard that sigh of relief! 🙂

The girls finished school last week. We didn’t waste any time boxing up the teacher’s guides and clearing out some hidey holes where a ridiculous amount of stuff was sheltering. I found a few good intentions in the form of books I had planned to do with the children. Tsk, tsk. In general they did very well. I can now safely say it was our best school year yet. We hit a stride that was sustainable, and that really blessed me. Some years have felt like I was correcting our gait and compensating for a bumpy ride all year long.

Olivia and I got a bunch of yarn from a friend at church who has connections to a hoard in an old farmhouse. In our shopping-starved state, we wanted all of it, but I made her stick with blues and I stuck with purples. Mostly. Now if I could just figure out how to knit. Olivia is practicing clicking her needles together like Babs in Chicken Run. She informed me that the actual term for that pile of loosely wound yarn you pull from the center of a skein is “yarn barf.” Well. Her dolls got new wardrobes during quarantine.

I finally finished a small re-upholstery project. My only experience with this was a hilarious day recovering a child’s rocking chair with my sister. I have memories of my mom tackling a tough old hide-a-bed sofa with her friends Sue and Sadie. I knew that you have to take off the old upholstery for patterns. I remembered that Mom had reused the piping on the old sofa and sewn fitted seat covers with long zippers, exactly the way the original had been. My project involved no tricky armrests. These are wooden and just had to be removed. After taking a family vote, I did not put a pleated ruffle around the bottom. In fact, I finished off the bottom with hot glue. Please don’t tell the experts.

The original chair was a vintage yellow. It was my grandma’s chair, and I really liked it just the way it was, but it was impossibly stained. This picture was taken after I had removed the ruffle. I took pictures of every pleat/seam as I took it apart so that I would have a reference when I couldn’t get it back together. That helped! The decorator fabric I used was from Walmart, for those who are interested.

 

We have been having alternate days of freezing and balmy weather. I planted three azaleas last year, and they were primed to be a stunning coral color. Then it got so cold that they wilted into a washed-out pale pink with no energy to open further. That’s how the frigidity affected me too. I couldn’t get up the willpower to do much, so I have been sorting through closets in that age-old spring cleaning ritual.

This year my clearing-out is more serious because we are contemplating a move this summer. It has been really weird to try to buy a place in a pandemic. We were looking at properties close to Erie, where Gabriel is hoping to get into a nurse anesthetist training program in the future. The first one we found was sold before we even called the realtor. In early March we went and looked at a number of places and decided to make an offer on a fixer-upper. Just as we were ready to sign papers, real estate locked down. We have been hanging loose ever since, waiting. It seems likely that the closing will go through, but there are no guarantees. If it does, our summer will involve driving three hours to the new property whenever Gabriel has a stretch of days off work. He can build anything, and he can do wiring and plumbing, etc. These things do take time, though, and it is anybody’s guess how much time.

This is us on Mother’s Day, just before I told the children to go make lunch. We took a whole series of pictures, and in every one someone is laughing or talking. Story of my life. They used to cry during pictures, back when the littlest one actually fit on my lap. This stage is easier and a lot harder too.

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So, this is me, just trying to think ahead and not having a clue what is really up there around the bend. “One day at a time” is a good idea these days.

How is your spring going?

Mood(s)

I get up, get dressed, see that the bathroom counter needs to be wiped clean. There’s a Norwex microfiber cloth hanging in the bathroom for this purpose, and I go the extra yard, washing the light switch and the door knob. I change the hand towel. There are stunning purple tulips and fuzzy lamb’s ears in a clear drinking glass on the counter. The towels and dirty clothes are in the hamper. All is well.

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I feel a vague dissatisfaction, exactly like the feeling I get after an illness that affects my tastebuds. I am hungry for something, but it isn’t in the house. It is out of my reach. I cannot figure out what it is.

In the kitchen, I pour water into the teakettle for coffee, grind the beans, wait a few minutes for the important process of French pressing my morning brew. I go to the fridge for the cream in its chipped white pitcher, pick my favorite mug, listen to my Bible app reading from Ezekiel. The coffee is amazing and smooth. I savor it in the quietness of early morning. Life really is beautiful.

Wow. Ezekiel. He says it like it is. My mind struggles to pay attention because that was so long ago beside the Chebar Canal. I think of friends in Tennessee who have been experiencing what seems like the worst piled upon the absolute worst in this pandemic time. They did not deserve this any more than others. What even is going on? I let the weight of sadness settle, pray for sustaining grace for them, try to think of what I am supposed to do today.

Slowly the children trickle out of their bedrooms. We have adapted to a looser morning routine, with read-aloud stories before school. Gabe comes home from work while we are hanging out in the living room. He is tired, but not overworked and stressed. Some kind person gave all the nurses a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, and a container of chicken noodle soup when they changed shift. People have been so thoughtful in this crazy time. He hardly ever needs a lunch at work these days, because of all the food donations for frontline workers. “Do you feel like a hero?” I ask him. “Not particularly,” he replies. We sit on the couch, visit for a while, talk over plans for renovating a house we hope to buy. We are cautiously optimistic.

He shows me the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook. I do not want to see it, and insert my head gently back into the sand. There is no doubt that there are very concerning things happening. Lies are told, people are abusing power, fear is tormenting many. In the light of this, I have been making careful choices. The phrases of truth run through my mind, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you… These light, momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

I choose to lay my burdens and questions down. What is right in front of me is what I need to be engaged in right now. I go pick more tulips for the table, mail a package to cheer a friend, read an extra chapter to the children, give out spelling lists, do a load of laundry. The sunshine comes and goes like a moody teenager, but those are actually just temporary clouds. I hang sheets on the line for the scent, even if I have to finish drying them inside.

I think about lunch, decide to try that toasted peanut butter and jelly that people are talking about. On sourdough it is really delicious. I like learning tricky new things like that. Served with milk, we are sated and chipper for our afternoon activities.

The girls clean up the kitchen, run outside to the trampoline, play horses and vets with British accents. I hear James Herriot quotes floating through my backyard. They play and play together in this social-distancing time. “What would they ever do without each other?” I wonder, and remember how overwhelmed I felt those times I did pregnancy tests and they were always turning up positive. “Positive,” I think, “I had no idea how wonderfully positive! All I could think was how I was going to take care of 3 babies.” I can’t see very far ahead now either. Maybe as far as the next meal, and an indistinct idea of the next day. “The Lord willing,” that is what will be next. I have never understood that quite like I do now.

Gabe sleeps, days and nights switched for work. He hangs a dark towel in the window to block out the light, puts earplugs in his ears and conks out. I tamp down loud thumpings and excessive arguments, but he doesn’t waken easily. These days I send people out of the house, willy-nilly. Anybody bored? Out, out! Can’t get along with each other? Out, out! Go pull weeds together, sort the recycle bin, clean out the car. Out of the house! Go catch a fish! Play croquet!

I get shrill and impatient with my son when he teases the life out of his little sisters. After I take myself out of the house for a long walk, I apologize. He grins, “It’s ok. I was being dumb too.” I cannot disagree. We all have our peculiar temptations to be “dumb” these days. They are heightened because we don’t have as many distractions as usual. I try to be proactive about this, identify the temptations, and keep us all busy.

I get out the lawnmower and relish the therapy of walking round upon round in the yard, catching the lush clippings to throw to the chickens. They come running every time I walk around the barn. I am the dispenser of potato peelings and apple cores, and I do not allow any food waste to go into the trashcan. There are any number of animals that are pleased to scarf down the slops and weeds. It gives me a peculiar happiness to think of eggs and sausage being produced by dried-up macaronis from the back of the fridge or dandelion roots from the asparagus bed.

The sun is out again. I bring some wooden chair arms out to the deck to paint them white. Today marks a week since I started a simple reupholstery project that I have been wanting to do for at least 5 years. This was my grandma’s chair, and the vintage yellow upholstery has gotten too stained with years of use to be salvaged. I bought the fabric for pandemic time, I guess. At least now I am working on it in fits and starts. I had to order upholstery tacks and they are not considered essential, so shipping is delayed. The varnish stripping and painting is done, at least. I wish I could show my mom how good this chair is looking. I guess I’ll take a picture.

My phone has been on its last legs for months. Now it is on it’s last toe. Sometimes it charges, sometimes it doesn’t. If the battery runs down, I have to remove the back cover and fiddle with a loose connection in its innards. Sometimes it boots back up, sometimes it doesn’t. I ordered a new phone last week, because it feels like a lifeline right now. It is not essential either they say, and maybe won’t be here until May 10. I mull over a theory I have about those grim-faced pioneer women in front of their dugouts in the photos of the 1800’s. I think their bodies were worn with toil, but I think maybe their spirits were beaten by loneliness. What if they could have sent their mom a picture of how their gingham curtains turned out? What if they could have chatted with a friend on another prairie about the way the children were eating up all the sourdough every day and does she have any tips for keeping the bugs out of the flour bag?

I go to check on the drying pots in my shed. They need to be trimmed and handled before they dry much more. I spray them with a mist of water to hold them in the right stage for another few hours. It is approaching suppertime and food needs to appear again. My mind runs in a rutted track of starch/vegetable/protein/BUT WHAT? I struggle to bring it to a more vibrant space and decide to grill steaks and make buttered potatoes. We have green beans sautéd in olive oil with garlic. The meal is amazing. Everybody says so. The best part is the leftovers for another day.

Two people who like to eat must now work on dishes. Two others must fold laundry. I must put handles on mugs and I do not wish to do it. There are only 20, I have been getting better at it, I’ll be fast. Well, I am not fast. I attach and pull off messed-up handles repeatedly. During this process, my little girl comes and whines about doing dishes with her sister, “Would you like to know one simple thing that would make my life so much better?” She doesn’t wait for me to guess. “If you would come into the house!” I am distracted, smoothing a join with a wet finger, trying to achieve the exact curve I like to feel in a mug handle. When I suggest that she bring her story book out to read to me, she says, “Sometimes I think mugs are more important than I am.” This is her special little temptation in quarantine, being extra needy and manipulative. I haven’t made mugs in the last 3 weeks. I have nurtured her all day, body and soul, and I do not feel sorry for her. She snaps out of her attitude with remarkable fortitude when she is given no choice.

*****************************

This is the ebb and flow of the whole day, of the whole week, of the whole month. Goodness. Badness. Beauty. Sadness.

I don’t know how you feel about the choices you have in front of you, or the ones you have been making. I am certainly not proud of all of mine. It is a daily challenge for me. When was the last time I had to be so deliberate to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ? Sometimes I realize that the wretchedness I feel is a direct result of an unlovely world that has been taking up too much of my time. Other times it is only hormones. Occasionally I feel miserable because I have been lazy and neglectful of what is clearly there in front of me. The cure is the same for every one of them. Stop, look up, lift your eyes, revel in what is Always the Same, Always Faithful. Do not look at the waves. Worship. Do the next thing.

I know this post is loaded with quotes and phrases that I have picked up from Jesus and the people who love Him, like Elisabeth Elliot or John Piper or Paul the Apostle. I lean hard on the experiences of others who have triumphed in life. It helps me. How are you doing? Do you feel the ebb and flow too?

 

A Little Boring, and Some Vigorous Opinions

You know quarantine is running a little flat when your child asks if they may take before and after pictures of their teeth brushing routine. Privately I laughed until I had tears. Like my daughter, I am over it now. The honeymoon of inactivity and no pressure is getting boring, but here we are, still doing it.

I am not complaining (much), but my bored teens are complaining. They have little frame of reference for their restlessness and it just seems so unreasonable to not be able to go out and see friends. I thought of the Jewish teenagers hidden in attics for months and years during WWII, and how they would occasionally burst into song at their own peril because any action seemed better than nothing.

We had a surprise snow last weekend, but it didn’t last long. That was the day I unloaded my trust mugs from the kiln.

And this is the quality of sunshine and skies we’ve been having whenever it isn’t raining or snowing.

So far I have not hit any big stores since April 1st. This is possible because of my bulk buying of many pantry staples, and because I have a source of eggs right here on the farm-let, and a farmer friend who gives us milk on donation basis. (Yes, we pay more than he gets from the milk distributors. (No, they don’t want more friends like me. (Sorry.)) ) Speaking of milk, we are consuming almost a gallon a day. I get 6 or 7 gallons for a week, but I am making yogurt, smoothies, and the occasional cream pie. The term “cooking from scratch” should have the emphasis on “scratch”, because I am seriously scratching bottom some days. This is probably in my head because I usually cook from scratch. At any rate, with everybody here for 3 meals a day, it feels endless. There are no short cuts, no running the 3 miles to my beloved local bulk food store for last minute ingredients. I have to guard the last cup of yogurt so that I have starter for the next batch. When I made a perfect circle of dinner rolls to give to my parents for Easter lunch, I warned everybody, “Do NOT eat these rolls! I will make ours fresh in the morning.” An hour later I came into the kitchen and there was Gabe, buttering one of the rolls, completely oblivious to my distress at my ruined circle because he hadn’t heard me.

Snacks are running low. For a special treat I hid a bag of peanut butter cups in a bottom cupboard behind the pots and pans. No one will ever see them there, I thought foolishly. Only a few hours later Addy got a sudden urge to straighten all the pots and their lids, and she was pretty astonished at her find. She is small enough to be honored when I tell her conspiratorially that we are keeping them secret for another day. I feel like a squirrel with an especially delectable stash of acorns saved for a rainy day.

It is not deprivation to have cream pie without whipped cream on top, just not quite as delicious as usual. (And 100 fewer calories per serving.) I wanted ham for Easter, and thought about our friends who sell meats they raise on their farm. Sure enough, I could get a ham roast from them and we had a lovely Easter meal. When my imagination can keep up, we are eating quite well. When it goes blank, we have soup and biscuits.

A few days ago I ran out of spring water for my sourdough and used about 1/4 cup of chlorinated water from our tap to feed it. It subsequently flattened out and became very shy. I have been coaxing it back to happiness ever since.

(Hang on. This is where the vigorous part starts.)

This morning I came to a scientific conclusion in about 5 minutes flat: “If this is what chlorinated water does to sensitive bacteria in my sourdough starter, what do you think it is doing to the sensitive stomachs of your children?” I would have made a meme about it if I hadn’t been afraid it would be copied and shared as an authoritative source. I could have made it pretty convincing, coolly ignoring the fact that chlorine in safe quantities has removed typhoid, cholera, and dysentery from drinking water supplies for a hundred years and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It would have presented a great chance to share about how I distrust the government to make decisions about our drinking water and why you too should join the march against chlorinated water. With no more qualification than a few facts and ideas, I too could be an expert.

Friends, this is exactly the sort of “science” that is going viral online. All it takes is a person with a flair for words, a few half-truths mixed in with a bunch of suppositions, and you have a prize-winning meme. If you tend to spend a lot of time in fearful anticipation for whatever horrible worm will be grubbed up next, let me tell you, you do not have to live there. If you read a fearful thing, and your first impulse is, “I must share this nasty tidbit with all my friends on social media,” before you do some fact-checking or exercise some healthy skepticism, maybe you need a break from the muck and roll in some good, honest truth for a while.

In times like these, I am attracted to restful people who are at peace with God and their fellow-man. I like being in the company of those who not only trust God implicitly with their own affairs, but also with the running of the whole universe. This is not to say that they do not care about rampant evil or sin in the camp, etc. etc. Rather they are faithful in what they are personally called to do, lifting the burdens of their neighbors, leveling the crooked paths locally, living in a fellowship with the Almighty that keeps them serene in the upsets in humanity. How do they get to that place of inner quietness during a storm?

I think it is the same process today as it was in the day of Daniel‘s proclamation during a time of national crisis. This was serious! He was going to die if none of the wise men could figure out the king’s dream. I get a sense of calm and prudence when I read how Daniel logically brought his great need for mercy to the God of heaven and was given the answer to his problem in a dream. This is the resulting praise and shows us what Daniel believed:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:20-23)

It’s obvious that Daniel was used by God to save many lives, but it wasn’t up to him to figure out the darkness or to dethrone the evil king. I think we would all like to hear a man like Daniel right now in Corona-time. This healthcare crisis is not a surprise to God, and even if all the conspiracy theories are fact, what is the point of being all wadded up in my spirit?

There is a command in Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” I don’t personally experience a flood of peace ruling my heart when I marinate in the dastardly goings on in the world, and for sure not if I click all the bait of questionable news sites. It takes effort to filter out the things that aren’t true, excellent, commendable, etc. as per Philippians 4. Note that there are plenty of practical disciplines for us to do in this chapter. It isn’t difficult to find things to fill the time in profitable ways, and of course, there is that peace of God again, “guarding your hearts and minds in Christ.”

Okay, I think that may be enough vigorous truth for this post. Wanna hear some really neat news? They have figured out a way to recycle used coffee grounds into a biodegradable plastic. How amazing is that? I wouldn’t mind never drinking out of a paper straw ever again.

Also, there are blooms popping out everywhere here in central Pennsylvania. Every day I bring in fresh ones. I found my first violet today, and after I sniffed it appreciatively, I chewed it slowly for that delicate flavor of spring that is purple and fresh. One year I picked enough of them to make a batch of violet jelly. It was a lovely shade of lavender and tasted exactly like sugar. I would like to try again with a better recipe.

Our supper is smelling really wonderful. Would you like a quick run-down of what I have been feeding the fam? I’ll start with last week. Be inspired. 😄

Friday morning: scrambled eggs and sausage patties

Friday lunch: taco dip with black beans, applesauce

Friday supper: baked chicken drumsticks (the last in the freezer), parmesan and herbed potato fries baked in the oven, green beans

Saturday morning: sourdough pancakes and maple syrup, leftover sausage patties

No lunch, go ahead and scrounge, kids. And just like that the last cheese sticks were gone and most of the sourdough baguettes I had made as an experiment.

Saturday supper: fruit/yogurt smoothies, apple dumplings, and probably something else that I can’t remember. All I remember is that I cooked most of the afternoon on Saturday, but that was for the next day.

Sunday morning: coffee, tea, sourdough toast. Brilliant.

Sunday lunch: ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, mixed vegetables, sourdough dinner rolls, spring salad with balsamic vinaigrette that only I appreciated properly, chocolate cake. Very exciting meal, especially the peeps decorating the cake.

Sunday evening: popcorn, trail bologna that we made when we butchered, cheese slices, cream pies. It was an Easter to remember.

Monday morning: cereal and milk, leftover cake (hey, they were going to eat it sometime).

Monday lunch: leftovers from the fridge, including chicken drumsticks and mixed vegetables

Monday supper: pizza, canned peaches and yogurt (and my husband said, “Yay! just what I was hungry for.” I love that man.)

Tuesday morning: anything from cereal to yogurt to buttered bread.

Tuesday lunch: sourdough crepes with herbs and cheese in the first course, yogurt and raspberries in the second course, cucumber slices, tea (fancy dishes because it was Tuesday)

Tuesday supper: chicken cordon bleu casserole with substitutions for about 4 ingredients. But not the chicken; that was the real deal. And I never buy cream soups anymore, so that wasn’t a hard stretch. I even incorporated the whey from the yogurt I strained (to make it more like Greek yogurt consistency.) Creamed corn. Garden salad with fresh spring greens, sourdough bread with jam for a touch of sweet.

Do you see any patterns? Yup, the spring of social distancing and streams of yogurt and endless sourdough. Seriously, get yourself some starter for both of those and get yourself out of many a culinary pinch. You can feel like you are nourishing your family when you feed them toast and yogurt. You know, for those days when you cannot seem to rise to any greater heights.

Some days you have it, some days you don’t, but they can all be good days.

How are you filling your time?

Long Days Of Goodness

It was an amazing day here, a gift of sunshine and rest, food for the soul, and of course, food for the bodies. I am rather surprised at how much time we normally spend getting ready to go places. This morning I had time for a cinnamon roll and coffee at breakfast, and many Sunday mornings I don’t take time to eat more than a few bites in between combing the girls’ hair or prepping for lunch. So there was that amazing start. When Gabriel got home from his shift, I gingerly dropped his scrubs straight into the washer from the plastic bag he carried them home in. He showers at work and disinfects before he leaves the unit.

I listened to hymns on Youtube, read the first part of Jeremiah, collected the children to watch The Biggest Story  for their Sunday School ( it is free to stream right now on Crossway) and then we listened to a message online. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and I strolled in the sunshine, ending up in the hammock with a new book. I fell fast asleep, awakened at 1 PM, and thought about feeding the crew.

When it’s Gabriel’s weekend to work, we usually eat rather whatever-ish. Alex grilled burgers, Olivia made boxed mac n cheese, we cooked some green beans, and that was that. Dessert was an experiment: Sourdough Apple Fritters.  (I suppose our children will remember the quarantine time as a time when Mama tried all the sourdough things. Usually I wake up my starter from its fridge life, feed it a few times, and put it back into cold storage after I make a batch of bread. These days I keep it on the countertop and feed it tenderly as a pet. Because what else do I have to do? It has gotten happier and happier as the days go by. Obviously something must be done. I mentioned cinnamon rolls. Those were Saturday’s batch. On Friday we had coffee cake. Fortunately for us, most recipes are on the small side and with this many people around the house all the time, we can share the calorie load.) The thing is, the fritters were actually quite healthy if you overlook the frying in lard part. There is no sugar in the recipe except for a dusting of powdered sugar on top. It took less than 10 minutes to peel the apples and mix up the dough.  If you have happy sourdough starter, you need to try these. It uses one cup of starter, and the recipe was ample for our family of seven. The only thing I would change is add more cinnamon.

I roped in the non-cooking children to do dishes, as per our Sunday tradition. This works fine for me, because I get off scot-free after lunch. I edited an article, then hit the hammock again. It was so bright that I needed sunglasses to look up through the lace of the maple twigs with their fuzzy little blooms that will soon be seed helicopters. Everything is so incredibly beautiful and right and there is this looming cloud of weirdness. I can’t seem to reconcile it in my mind, so I purposely focus on the one and leave the other to the Lord. I don’t really know how else to do this. It isn’t denial, because the first thing that enters my mind every morning is “I cannot believe how strange the world is. And we haven’t gotten it yet. So let’s live well today.”

I keep seeing memes on Instagram stories saying, “It’s ok to cry.” When I sit around and think about it, I miss singing with a group. I miss finding fun stuff at thrift stores and chatting with people in casual ways. I miss having friends here for tea and going to the library. I even miss Quilted Northern a little bit. But I would be embarrassed to sit and have a pity party about these things. How would that possibly make life better or add to the value of the day? My heart is heavy for others who really do have things to cry about. As I mentioned, I am reading through Jeremiah, the prophet of lament. There were some verses in chapter 9 that arrested my attention.

Death has climbed in through our windows
and has entered our fortresses;
it has removed the children from the streets
and the young men from the public squares.”

Wow. That’s verse 21, and it surely sounds like a pandemic to me. Look at what God says two verses later.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

This is our chance to learn to know the Lord in ways we never have before. I put a quote from Jim Elliot on my letter-board last week. “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”  (I only had space for the italicized part up there. Too many “l’s” which is always a problem with letterboards.) 

I don’t want to look back at this time of my life and think of how much I sniffled in entitled agonies of self-pity. Nor do I want to think about how much time I wasted sitting on devices. I don’t want my children to remember a mom who didn’t wash her hair or rise above slovenliness, who fed them Ramen noodles and hotdogs every day because she didn’t feel like making any effort to cook. For me this means feeding my sourdough and pottering like nobody’s business, and breaking out the Norwex cloths and sorting in the attic. It feels like as long as I stay productive and kind, I am making an offering to hold the chaos in the world at bay, even if it is only my small corner of chaos. I feed my soul and nourish my children, I share my love and do my work faithfully. You do yours, and collectively we weave a fabric that cannot be torn even by a virus that creeps in through windows.

Anyhow… Back to the long day of rest that I enjoyed. I joined a WhatsApp call with my mom and my sister, which was a lot of fun. We haven’t ever done that before, but now we know what’s possible. I got to see the luscious cheeks of the baby nephew and chat with my pretty little nieces.

The children and I played a few rousing games of Croquet in the backyard and I even won one game. It was a very unfamiliar sensation for me, because my chief skill in croquet is to amuse my sons with my lack of finesse.

Gabriel got up around 4 o’clock. He doesn’t usually hear our household activities because he wears earplugs, but it is still hard to switch days and nights completely. We do our catching up conversations in the hour before he heads back to work. I have been packing his lunches (his midnights?) but he said not to bother. People have been so generous in donating food and snacks for the ICU staff. They are eating quite well, and so far have not been swamped with patients. I kind of wish that my husband had a different job right now, to be honest. But this is what he is trained for and so I hug him a little longer than usual when he leaves and pray that his care is a comfort to the loneliness of patients who aren’t allowed any visitors. I do not think I have ever seen him this concerned about a public health threat. Usually it is me who gets grossed out by things like water fountains and buffet lines in restaurants. “Just stay home,” he says, and I listen.

They say it will be a rough week for our nation. I don’t look forward to the climbing numbers and the prevailing winds of sadness. Perhaps along with the offering of faithfully doing what is right in front of me, I can also carry some of the weight of the world’s suffering by holding it up to Jesus who understands the words when I don’t have any.

Let’s take courage, friends! The days will continue to be long and heavy for a while, but there is Great Faithfulness at work all around us. We just have to open our eyes to see it.

 

 

Confined to Five Acres

There’s a monopoly game in play at the kitchen table, in which I will not participate even if they bribe me with Easter candy. Not like there is any Easter candy in the house. I haven’t shopped for about 2 weeks, and frivolous items tend to disappear faster than something like oatmeal does. I have clamped down on snacking, having become more aware of how often these children think they are hungry. One day I came inside from the shed and one of them actually had cooked a small kettle full of pearled barley for a snack. No objections there!

Tonight Addy found a bag of very sticky marshmallows and roasted them over a small fire she had in the back yard. Little by little we are using up some odd foodstuffs around here.

On Saturday I read a lyrical description of how it feels to get a humongous cookie all to yourself. I decided to be foolish and go for it with this recipe. This was a first and my family was a little surprised. I said, “Okay kids, I am tired of baking cookies. This is your ration for the next 2 weeks.” I have to say, they were pretty good, since the dough was not as sweet as typical cookie dough. I made 7 cookies instead of the 6 the recipe prescribed. Also, it would never have worked to leave them in a round ball of 1/2 cup of dough to spread out as it baked. I flattened them like hamburger patties, which was just about right.I make noodles with our eggs and a lot of bread too. This is turning my family into pasta and bread snobs, but it is a labor of love that I quite enjoy since I got my grandma’s pasta machine and learned a few of the tricks of sourdough. Naturally I was running low on flour right at the worst time of the panic buying in the stores. Since I always buy flour in fifty pound bags in this season of my life, I was trying to think how I could do that without looking like a hoarder. Happily I found that a friend with a small discount grocery store was also selling large bags of unbleached flour. Perfect. Nobody even saw me haul it out because I was her only customer.

It is weird, but if everybody else is grabbing packs of toilet paper, I hold off on purpose to prove that I am not like that. This does pose a problem when we actually run low. I also buy this sort of item in very large quantity, so I am again faced with looking like a hoarder unless there is nothing but tiny four-packs in the store (limit 1).I intend to find out in the morning. A question I have: if one has an immuno-compromised person in the house, is it okay to shop the special hours, or will that also look like a slimy way to stay ahead of everybody else? Sometimes it is hard to figure out this sort of ethical dilemma.

I spent so little on household expenses this month that I have decided to lay in a stock of yarn to make baskets and some upholstery fabric for a little chair that needs help. When would be a better time, I ask myself? I found really neat basket patterns . These are simple enough that my girls could make them. What are the chances Walmart will have suitable yarn? Thank the Lord for shipping options! I do bless all delivery drivers in this day and age.WWe’ve been continuing our winter tradition that we learned from the cousins- having tea and poetry once a week. This morning we listened to Great Poems for Children on Audible Stories. (Have you discovered this free resource for children for the duration of the school closure?) Here is our favorite poem from the reading.

The Camel’s Hump

The Camel’s hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the Zoo;
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do.Kiddies and grown-ups too-oo-oo,
If we haven’t enough to do-oo-oo,
We get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!We climb out of bed with a frouzly head,
And a snarly-yarly voice.
We shiver and scowl and we grunt and we growl
At our bath and our boots and our toys;And there ought to be a corner for me(And I know’ there is one for you)
When we get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!The cure for this ill is not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire;And then you will find that the sun and the wind,
And the Djinn of the Garden too,
Have lifted the hump—
The horrible hump—
The hump that is black and blue!I get it as well as you-oo-oo
If I haven’t enough to do-oo-oo!
We all get hump—
Cameelious hump—
Kiddies and grown-ups too!

I enjoyed that poem immensely, and the children were all going, “Oh yeah, you sure believe in digging until we gently perspire!” Certainly I am not going to let people go to seed here just because we aren’t going anywhere or seeing other people. This is a unique temptation right now: to just live in pj’s and not bother with trying too hard to do anything. That might be fun vacation mode for a week, but it has a peculiar eroding effect on one’s morale. Never was there a better opportunity to get the trash picked up and the house thoroughly cleansed as this spring. Gabe saw a meme that made us laugh, “If you drive past our place and see the children crying and picking weeds outside, just wave and keep driving. They are on a field trip.”

I wonder, does anyone else actually find this social distancing a bit relaxing? I do love people and would give a lot to have an ordinary Sunday church service where I can sing with a group and hug my friends after the message, and see their faces while we talk. Still, we are so connected and it is truly a blessing. I have to get past the crawly feeling of how long the isolation could go on, but I am enjoying the slower pace of the days. I predict that social media will have a huge falling-off once we can all get out and be with people in our community.On Sunday we made the children get dressed nicely, hair presentable, while we listened to hymns and a message online. It felt good to delineate the day somewhat. In the afternoon we decided to try a state gamelands trail that meandered to the top of the Sproul Mountain and along an old railroad grade we had no idea was up there. I have lived in this county 34 years and never hiked that trail. It was fun to poke around the old buildings and imagine the liveliness of the place a hundred years ago. Rita and Addy were delighted that the garter snakes were out sunning after the winter. They caught a few of them, but we advised them to leave them on the mountain where they will surely be happier.IMG_20200329_165458962_HDRThe photo above is a branch of ornamental plum that burst open within hours after Gregory brought it inside for me. The pear branch is slower, but ready to bloom as well. We’re relishing all the blooms as they come.Gabriel has had a week off work, after a marathon of nine consecutive night shifts. Today he was called in for some training with the “moon-suits” he will be wearing at work, since his unit in the hospital is the COVID19 unit. Last week there was one patient awaiting the results of the test. This week there are a few confirmed and a number waiting on results. It is amping up slowly, a huge blessing. The hospital is prepared, with ample PPE for their staff at this point. If you doubt that social distancing is effective, wait for two weeks before you fuss too loudly. Our counties in the middle of Pennsylvania have the lowest numbers in the state, probably due to not having many crowded cities and also having fewer travelers. Here’s to being homebodies! I vacillate between thinking surely it won’t reach us, to waking up from a nightmare that I am not able to go to the hospital with my child.

I read this story about a 101 year-old Italian man who was born during the Spanish flu pandemic and has just recovered from this corona-virus. It was oddly comforting to realize again that our times -all of ours- are in God’s hands.This is our ultimate defense- knowing without a doubt that He is with us, whether we feel it or not- and our strong place to stand. I have another source for free printable verse cards from Crossway. They are truly beautiful and inspiring. We printed a few sets on card stock to share with others as well as to remind ourselves of what it real and just out of our short-sighted view.

I was making mugs with a dragonfly flitting across a clay cookie and decided to make them limited-edition mugs with a Corona-spring message. They’re drying, ready to glaze in a week or so. “Trust.”

On a Different Note

I took a walk in the woods on Thursday evening. At the top of the ridge behind our house, I sat on a stump. My mind was racing and I had to tell myself firmly to sit still inside, just quietly listen and absorb the damp smell of leaf mold and fresh growth. It was the first time I actually sat down that day in body or spirit. The frantic tone of the world does tend to wear one down. I had taken a brief stroll on facebook and once more decided that I am not sanctified enough to manage it. The irony of being angry about the media whipping the public into panic while simultaneously feeding all one’s  friends with one’s own version of conspiracy theories seems obvious, at least to me. At any rate, there I was in the woods, and God was still faithfully bringing about the miracle that is swelling buds and courting spring peepers and lo, the winter is past!

We did lots of normal things this past week. Of course, school is normal. I do feel like this enforced homeschool will probably reinforce the opinions of those who already think we h-sers never get out of our cloistered lives. This isn’t true, of course. We had to reschedule our dentist appointments. (Haha.) Also, we missed piano lessons, library visits, a normal shopping trip to Goodwill, and a day when all in the house clamored to get together with the cousins.

I am not chafing or feeling like our liberties are threatened. At a time like this, I feel like the law of Christ, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the highest authority. We can do this in any situation, and the test comes when it inconveniences us. I have read extensively about communist regimes and war-time constraints on the people of God, and never has there been a time when the Light of Jesus’ love could not blaze gloriously through the haze of humanistic thought. This is our time to shine!

Okay, I wasn’t going there again, but I just did. Back to the week in review. It was warm, with real balm in the breezes. Even the rain was kind of warm. We spent a whole afternoon pruning fruit trees, clearing debris out of borders, edging with shovels, and even hauling old bedding out of the barn to mulch the asparagus beds, etc. I planted lettuce and larkspur in the garden and bought seed potatoes and onion sets for the day it dries out a bit. We have our place on the market, so this may be a foolish notion, but I must garden, whether I get the fruits or not. I get high on the scent of freshly turned earth. Ask my family; they will say it is true.

One afternoon the children and I took rakes and hoes to work on our switchback trail to the top of the ridge. It is steep and difficult to climb with all the wet leaves, but when we level the trail and cut the overhanging vines and branches, it becomes a magical place to walk, with a sense of privacy even with all the traffic noise on the road.

Alex helped me cut down a huge trumpet vine that was crawling under the shingles on the porch. Every year I tried to prune it but it was simply becoming unmanageable. There was a thick enough trunk on the vine that it required a saw to cut it. I like these vines for the hummingbird attraction they are, but they are better in a tree formation in an open spot where they cannot pull things apart with their incredible tendrils that form roots.

The girls are working on propagating succulent babies for their fairy gardens and we have grass seeded in a flower pot for an Easter centerpiece. Rita dug through my box of garden seeds and planted an egg carton full of various seeds. They rewarded her by springing right up. Today she dug up a whole bunch of wild carrots in the orchards and washed them. She wants to dry them, for some reason, so they are on cookie sheets in the oven, filling the house with a pungent carroty aroma. This is for her emergency stash of food in the playhouse. I guess she plans to rehydrate them in soups over her campfire. Recently I amended my cavalier attitude about quantities of flour and oatmeal zipping outside whenever they want to cook because I found some large doughy patties in the yard that even the dog wouldn’t eat. (We just cannot waste even 50 cents worth of flour right now, children.) They are cast back on foraging in the fields. Also, apples and they don’t even have to ask permission. I got a half bushel of them at the orchard because they are still open and “an apple a day” you know.  It is weird how much thought I have been putting into food and provisions in general. My children are always hungry, it seems. I found myself lecturing them on not snacking, and “those might be the last peppers and cucumbers we have in the house for a very long time, etc.”  Never mind that they are perishable and have to be eaten anyway.

All week I wanted to go to the shed and throw pots, but between spelling lessons and a strange compulsion to bake a lot of bread, I didn’t get out there until today. The act of centering the clay on the wheel has a centering effect on me as well. I have a goal to throw 70 pieces by the end of March. I am at 20, so there is a little room for hustle, wouldn’t you say? I have a joke to share with you. My elusive quest for the perfect set of nesting bowls continues to flit out of reach like a will o’ the wisp. I thought I had really done it last month. They looked great, but when I unloaded the glaze kiln, I couldn’t find the largest bowl. I thought I must have forgotten it in a storage tote somewhere but it was nowhere. At last I realized that I had glazed it merlot instead of batik blue, and there the mystery was solved. Sigh. Two bowls do not really count as a nesting set. Would you like to see? (insert facepalm emoji here.)

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Last weekend Alex drove with friends to a Young Adult Patroller’s Ski Camp in Burlington, Vermont, only to learn that the event was cancelled. It was 12 hours driving, 12 hours in Vermont, and 12 hours home. He still got in one practice day at the slopes here in Pennsylvania, but now the ski gear is all stored away. (I whisper a hallelujah!) We’ve been storing the gloves/hats/coats in the attic this week, washing a load at a time. It seems like every spring when we do this, we have an unseasonal snow, but I think not this year. We used our ice skates for exactly one hour in December. It was a disappointing season for the winter lovers among us, but all of us are delighted to be right here at the spring equinox.

Even our last pig, Poppy, is regaining her spirits. After we butchered her five siblings a few weeks ago, she mourned for days, refusing to eat or drink. It made me sad just to look at her little piggy eyes and drooping tail. Today when we walked past her, she ran along the fence hoping for slops, so I hope she has forgotten her trauma. She needs a boyfriend, I think.

The one stray female cat at our house has three boyfriends. I haven’t gotten her spayed because 1. she was a stray 2. she seemed kind of little yet. Famous last words of those overwhelmed by kitten deluge.

Addy is keeping track of our school countdown. I think we are now at 35 days, which is 7 weeks, friends! We always amend our last weeks with lots of field trips and fun stuff. (I wonder if they would think it is fun to make masks for the hospital ER. It’s definitely a thing we will be working on, if only to ensure that Gabriel has adequate supplies. ) The year end bash might be a little challenging this year so I put in a big Thriftbooks order today. They all wanted at least two books, but I cut it down to one each and a few read-alouds. The wish list will hold for awhile. (That’s an affiliate link up there, and if you are a first time buyer, you get a 15% off coupon and I get some points. Also, shipping is free with any order over $10. 🙂 )

In other news, I am a little crippled without a reliable phone. While Alex was changing the battery for me -the battery that didn’t fit even though it was supposed to be for the exact make and model of my phone- I accidentally spilled the tiny screws and springs that he had laid aside to reassemble it. As I was down on the floor with a magnet, trying to pull them out of the rug, I took off my glasses so I could see better at close range. Then I sat on my glasses. I am a little squint-eyed in an old pair with a different prescription, but guess who isn’t going to push for a vision appointment? If anyone tries in vain to reach me by phone, I am sorry. The situation is under review, but nothing is speedy these days. Try snail mail. It’s still working, judging by the speed with which my children communicate with their cousins. Postage stamps are a hot commodity around here. Of course, there is always email and messenger. It feels symbolic to actually be disconnected for reals. Uncomfortable, too. I like to stay in touch.

Meanwhile I’ll just be here waiting to hear how your days are going. Love to every one of you!