Alive Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three years ago it looked like this:

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: Book Review

I drew a total blank on which book to review today, until I remembered an audio that we listened to this winter. I asked Gregory to fill me in on the details of the audiobook. My brain, being typically crowded with details, latched on to the big ideas but I was vague on the details. Some of this is because I usually do some work while we listen to audios. The children just sit (quiet time, anyone?) but now that Gregory has filled me in, I am thinking I should have quiet time with them. When I used an Audible credit for An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield, everybody moaned and thought it looked boring, but it wasn’t long until the silence descended that means an absorbing story is being narrated.

This isn’t a typical memoir, with a baby being born, and what happened next and next. It is more a memoir grouped around life lessons. Mr. Hadfield, who is Canadian, recounts stories from childhood right along with lessons he learned in his rigorous training. The tales of life in Russia, training with cosmonauts for the ISS are fascinating, as well as the stories about living in space and coming down to Earth again.

Here are the highlights my son helped me to remember.

  • Most of life is ordinary hard work. The months in space took a lifetime of training and discipline.
  • Being willing to be a zero is very important. If you try and try to be viewed as a plus 1, people will think you are a show-off. If you really are a plus-1, they will know it. You don’t have to tell them.
  •  A zero is helpful, willing to do the tasks that nobody wants to do. Good leaders are willing to be zeros. If you aim to be a zero, you will most likely soon be viewed as a plus-1.
  • The best way to neutralize your fears is to face them. It isn’t good to just ignore your fears. There is a reason for fear, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive. Prepare for the things you fear; if you are trained for the things that could possibly happen, you will know what to do if it comes to pass.
  • If your biggest dreams are not fulfilled, as in the case of an astronaut who trains for years and is not chosen for space flight, you do not have to be known as “the person who almost went to space.” You can decide not to mope and be a victim of your circumstances. You do not have to be defined by your losses and mistakes.

That is just a sampling of down-to-earth (get it?) advice, seasoned by life experiences that few of us will ever have, yet it is easy to relate to what the author is saying. He writes (and narrates) humbly.

I love memoir as a genre, but often there are adult themes that are not safe for little ears. This is one that is clean, without bad language, just wholesome. I think you would like it.

July On the Farmlet

It’s really good, July is.

Every day brilliant sunshine, and this year the rains have come at precise intervals to keep the greens vibrant. On the farmlet there is a bit of a lull as we take a moment to appreciate how having access to animal poo and straw has changed the gardening scene. There is very little hoeing and tilling going on because the weeds are stifled under mulch that the chickens have already sifted for all seeds. The entire garden has been fenced off so that they stay out of it. We wait for the tomatoes to redden and we pick the cucumbers as soon as they are sliceable. You may notice in the photo below that there is a trellis for the cucumbers, but they are not having it and sitting sulkily at the bottom. I don’t know what is up with them, but at least the Black-eyed Susan vine is flourishing. We have just enough produce to spruce up our meals with freshness. Along the front where my boys put up a picket fence with scraps of barn battens, the dahlias are just bursting open in crimson and pink and yellow. The girls bring in sturdy zinnias, gripped and wrenched off their tough stalks by small hands that never seem to have a scissors when they need it. The only harvesting I am doing is blackberry picking, but they are thornless and such a pleasure, dripping warm, dead ripe in the sunshine. The squash already succumbed to the enemy beetles. Oh yes, the green beans are just ramping up to do their abundant green bean thing. I did not replant the two rows that died with some inexplicable disease, and yet it looks like there will be plenty for the year’s supply in the freezer.

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In July we celebrate both Gabe and AddyMaddy (I call her this, because she is such a madcap child, but it really is an endearment). Addy is 6 now, and no longer “too low” to do all the things she wants so passionately to do. She got a kitty for her birthday, something that she can lavish her kindness on.

One weekend we went to a family reunion in Ohio where we sat around in limp lawn chair circles under relentless humidity. It was too hot for the crowd to eat baked beans, so I gave the leftovers from my crockpot to the pigs when we got home. On that journey, we spent a few days with my sister’s family. They built their house big enough to host a crowd; when we come it feels like it opens its arms and gathers us in. I would love to have that sort of hospitable space sometime, but I don’t know if I could keep up with the cleaning. We touristed in Holmes County with them one day, where we could taste over 40 varieties of cheese at Heini’s Cheese House and then we checked out an Amish petting zoo where my girlies acted just like all the other little tourists and begged for $5 horse rides around a ring. We also wandered the aisles in the wonderful Zincks of Berlin fabric store. Cheese and fabric. What else is there? Well, one could mention coffee.

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I worked at some huge household projects in the past month. The bathroom cupboards were my paint project guinea pigs, to see if I would have the stamina to tackle the kitchen cabinets. Someone said they would sell a kidney to hire a professional before they ever try painting cabinets again. After my experiment in the bathroom, I decided I won’t blow my whole summer with a paintbrush in hand, but I got a really fresh bathroom out of the deal. Sometimes I just go lock the door and stand in there when the rest of the house is a wreck. Actually, as all good mothers know, the bathroom is sanctuary. It’s perfectly acceptable to lock the door.

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The deck boards were about 2 years overdue for a sealing job and finally I just did it. Last year my husband was building a barn and this year he is studying for his BSN, so I knew it was not going to happen unless I Little Red Hen it. It was a trying sort of thing that took me a week from pressure-wash to finished trimming. I felt quite cross a few times, especially when a half gallon of stain slipped out of my hands and splatted straight down before arcing into the air to an amazing distance. If you have noticed the paint spills in Richard Scarry’s books, it’s true: it really does splatter like that. But the satisfaction when it was done was what I was going for.

I am not investing in any of my chicken-scratched flower borders this year. The only things that survive the dust bathing and incessant pecking are the perennials, volunteer gourds, and the weeds. Last week I did an Instagram photo collage of the contrast between the flowers I take care of and the ones I have abandoned. Then I looked closely at the state of things and went out and tore out the gourds and the tallest weeds. At least I can do that much. The flowers in pots are at their peak, happily slurping up their weekly Miracle-gro potions and rewarding me with much for little. We spend a lot of time out there on the deck. Currently the girls are setting up a tea party right outside the window and Addy is weeping noisily because someone didn’t let her pour the tea. Not to worry, she will be warbling happily in a minute.

In this last week of July the sensation of freedom from flash cards, essays, and spelling tests has been replaced with a nagging sense that it would be wise to thoroughly clean the classroom from last term’s mess, even though the large boxes of text books are still stacked away in a corner of denial. I haven’t even cracked open one teacher’s guide. We are making one big change. After 4 years of DVD school for the middle graders, I feel ready to take back the classroom. I really love to teach. It’s the strain of balancing all the other house stuff with school that I dislike. We still have arithmetic courses that we will stream for 2nd and 4th grades because learning math facts is a huge deal for homeschoolers and without competition, flashcards and drills are a d.r.a.g. Can I get an amen?  But I get to teach all the language arts. Yippee! Alex has a grade 10 Biology course with an instructor, because Biology and I are not on friendly terms. I prefer just to let it happen, not study it.

I can’t help but cringe a little about August coming up, when everything yells and comes out to get me. It makes me feel panicky, not sure if I will make it.

I need some checks and balances in my life, because there is an endless array of things to do/learn/accomplish and I have a habit of flying high, then fizzling out when I run out of fuel. This is why I still am debating about getting a potter’s wheel, even though it is a lifelong dream and I even got to go to my friend Allison’s studio and play with her clay and make all the mess I wanted. I haven’t written my book either, because just as I was sure that I was supposed to do it, I lost three years of writing, and if that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what it is.

I have had recent conversations with friends that gave rise to conversations in my head. “What would I do all day if (1.) I wouldn’t garden, (2.) I wouldn’t homeschool my children, (3.) I wouldn’t clean or cook?” It sounds really appealing to the weary part of me that wants to just sleep and read and have cold drinks served to me while I sit in an Adirondack chair in the shade. Notice how unselfish that sounds? Closely related to this question is the obvious, “How can I simplify my TMH (Typical Mennonite Homemaker, aren’t I clever? 😀 ) life so that I actually feel like I am living it, not just skating through, taking precarious corners as fast as I can without wiping out?”

One day when I was frustrated with the endless pile of stuff that I need to do and the bucket list of dreams that seemed to be receding, my husband said, “You just can’t be everything.” In that one pithy observation, he helped me to quiet down and focus. I plan on writing a post with the questions I ask myself when I am trying to decide what in the world to tackle first. At least I hope it bubbles up to the top of the pot insistently enough to write it soon. Not making any promises, because August comes tomorrow.

Meanwhile, back at the farmlet…

I look at the railings swathed with wet beach towels. We have flip-flop tan lines on our feet and farmer’s tan lines on our arms. Occasionally we take time to fish or hike or bike long distances. There are homemade popsicles in the freezer because I got so tired of wooden popsicle sticks and plastic pop-ice wrappers laying around. I want a magic bullet to train children to have the class to walk to a trash can without first offering me the privilege of holding their empty wrapper. We eat cold lunches, lettuce sandwiches, banana soup with graham crackers, lots and lots of peanut butter. I make cold-brew coffee by the gallon.

At dusk the mosquitos emerge and the swallows swoop over the pasture for bedtime snacks. There are abundant honeybees in the clover and occasional wails of grief when a barefooted child steps on one. Japanese beetles devour the blackberries, but we pick the beetles off and feed them to the fish. The rain showers are warm enough for children to dance through the gushing runoff of the downspouts.

Still, it’s mostly sunshine.

So much happy, yellow sunshine.

What have you been doing with yourself this summer? Did it make you happy? Do you think it is important to feel happy, by the way?

Catch you up later!

 

 

Midsummer

I realized suddenly that it’s summer solstice, hence it’s 9 PM and still semi-light outside. My children swam until 8:30 last night, then came up to the house for second baths, having already had first baths at 4 in the afternoon after the first dip in the pond. All the swimming clothes got draped on the deck railing and the towels got lumped in piles in the laundry room after second swimming because they were muddy.

Today was a repeat exactly of yesterday’s schedule, only they had scrounged up other assorted odd bathing costumes, walking past the row of sun-baked trunks on the deck, and then neatly adding today’s soppy stuff beside the others. First baths were at 6:00, while Gregory made quesadillas for supper. I went out to till the garden and the girls hopped into the goat fence and played Heidi until they were hot and the goats were bothered.

It was 8:00. “May we go swimming again? We got dirty and stuff. Please???” I said, “No,” which just goes to show that I am not always very much fun. But after everybody washed up and got into pjs, I served them pink lemonade slushies, the ones with beetroot in them to make it pink. Just kidding, it was red 40, which just goes to show that I am not always very health minded.

We have fresh peas at last! A lot of my first planting didn’t come up, so I just get nice, manageable amounts. Yesterday the girls and I sat in the air conditioned  living room and watched the Great British Baking Show while we shelled them. They thought that was pretty cool. Hehe. Last year I wrote about the easy peasy way to do large amounts of peas by blanching them in the pod.  This year so far we have only had a few buckets full, so we shelled them dry out of the pods. I discovered a better way to get rid of the blossom ends that have such a maddening habit of sticking to your hands when you try to wash them.  I set up a fan and slowly poured the peas through the blowing air into a large bowl to winnow out the lightweight blossoms. After three pours, the peas were clear of the wispy greyish blobs and I was happy to proceed with the blanching.

The only other garden produce right now is butter crunch lettuce, which is so delectable that I could eat it at every meal, and the last bits of strawberries from our own patch. It’s a tired strawberry patch, plus I neglected to cover it when we got a hard frost during blooming time, so the yield was only about half what we usually get.

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Last week we picked the cherries on our Carmine Jewel tree and made pie filling. It’s a process that I do purely out of love for my husband, because I do not especially enjoy cherry pies. Pitting those tiny little fruits makes me feel just a little bothered every time, which just goes to show I am not overwhelmingly loving yet. Nevertheless, the pie cherries are ready to be picked like clockwork every June. I have started a Father’s Day tradition of cherry-something dessert. According to my diary, this is the third year in a row that Gabe had to work on Father’s Day, which really stinks when you think about it. But at least he took some cherry pies along to work with him.

We did a lot of wandering around the first two weeks in June. The first trip was to a reunion with childhood friends and former neighbors, the John Weaver family in North Carolina. Our weekend of connecting and watching our children become friends was a lot of fun. I will limit myself to one story which will probably be a highlight that both parents and children will remember.

On Saturday evening when we were sitting around a campfire swapping stories, someone was alert enough to notice that 4 children were missing. It was a crew of 12 year olds who had hiked up the mountain to watch the sunset, but the sun had long gone and it was pitch black. Not totally reassuring was the story of a grown-up getting lost up on that mountain in broad daylight. All the mothers had been on a walk when the hike commenced, but siblings reported that they had survival packs, flashlights, water bottles and a book with them. Well. That put a little different slant to the matter. Both Gregory and his cousin Patrick are expert fire builders and we were sure they would have the smarts to stay together. My sister-in-law Carma whistled her signature drop-everything-and-come-to-mom whistle that carries astoundingly far, and John shot into the air a few times so that the children could follow the sound. A few of the guys drove the Gator up a trail as far as it would go, then called, and sure enough, there came some wavering flashlight beams. They insisted that they were not lost, just not totally sure where the trail was. When they heard the whistle, they promptly set about extinguishing their fire so that they could come home. Apparently they lost track of time because they were taking turns reading out loud for the benefit of the group. I wasn’t sure whether to feel proud or a little annoyed.

I looked on both my and Gabe’s cells and neither of us took a single photo of the reunion weekend. We were quite unplugged, I guess.

Here is one of Gregory on top of a different mountain on Hawksbill Trail in Pisgah National Forest. Of all our children, he is the most passionate outdoors lover. Every time we drive through a city he remarks about how hard it would be to live there. Bless you, little man. May you make many more campfires in your life. Just try to tell Mama where you are going next time.

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It was a shiny day. We all made it to the top, even the forty-year-old (ahem), even a little niece in an Ergo carrier, even the dog.

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We spent a few days in western North Carolina where the scenery is hard to beat, the company is fine, and where both of my brothers and one of Gabe’s brothers live. It was a cousinly-packed trip, so exhaustingly much fun. Gabe decided he prefers driving home through the night and we heard not a peep from the crew in the back seats, except when we stopped for gas at 2AM and Addy wailed the whole way in to the gas station bathroom and out again. We got home at 7 on a Wednesday morning, everybody stumbled into the house and crashed until noon.

On Thursday evening we packed up again and headed north to where Gabe’s parents live. The guys have a work-sharing thing going on with their various projects, then on Sunday Gabe’s youngest brother was baptized. All the rest of the cousins were together that weekend. They run in packs and I hardly see my children except when they get hungry. Gabe took the older boys camping on the banks of the Susquehanna one night. They wanted to give their gear a tryout for an epic camping trip in the wild later on, freeze dried food cooked on teeny rocket stoves and all that.

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I got most of the photos for this post off his phone. So, photo creds and all that… thanks, Hon.

We saw every single member of both our families within one week. It was lovely, and then I was ready to stay home for a very long time. We had three appointments and a car break-down in the first week after we got home, but things are looking like a lull now.

Wait. It’s summer. It might be a while until the lull, but the ride is glorious in summer!

May Retrospect

I take my pen in hand and end the month by telling you a tale of five itchy children, scratching, scratching their respective cases of poison ivy.  We as a family have never risen to such heights of togetherness in our misery. We tried pretty much everything over-the-counter that the pharmacy offers for itch relief; we have used up 8 pounds of baking soda for baths (and now have the most alkaline septic system east of Pittsburgh); three of the worst cases are on prednisone, so I think we are on the way to recovery. Addy, ever the drama queen, asked the ageless question, “Why is there poison ivy in the world anyway? It makes me cross.” It does, for real.

Last week we cultivated the pasture that the pigs had plowed with their snouts. It was infested with poison vines, but nothing seemed to be growing out after the porkers had eaten the roots. Unknown to us, there were still plenty of roots with oils seeping out and the kiddos simply wallowed in the dirt that day, hence extreme reactions. The good news is, we will have real pasture soon! Just as soon as we pick up tons of rocks and get it seeded, that is.

Today I told the offspring that each one needs to make three piles of rocks for when it dries out enough to drive the tractor in to haul them out of the pasture. Some of us made piles. I noticed others sitting quite inert. “I will have to fine you if you just sit around,” I warned. “But we aren’t just sitting. We are making cities,” they protested. It took a long time for the artsy children to get three piles, but they had more fun than the rest of us.

We got our four friendly pigs processed into sausage and bacon, and sold all the meat except one. I put some videos of the girls riding the pigs (before they became late, of course) on youtube in the interest of spreading good cheer. This happened on a day when I couldn’t even talk after a dental procedure, but I found that giggling and wheezing out in the open air soon lifted my spirits.  Each link takes you to a different clip, just in case you wondered. You are welcome.

One day we tackled the art of making scrapple (essentially cornmeal mush with ground meat in it) in a big iron kettle in the backyard. Both Gabe and I have done this many times with our families, but this was our first solo flight. For the cornmeal to thicken the scrapple, we ground the red ears of corn that we grew last year in our garden. It gave the finished product an unusual color and a delectable fresh flavor. We even rendered the fat into lard and it came out snow-white and un-rancid. How smart and homesteaderish can you feel? It’s a feeling we keep exploring, along with the more obvious farmish moments when the neighbors ask if we are missing a large black pig, because it is eating grass in their backyard. Alex was dispatched with a bucket of feed and Petunia (the newest porcine edition, a singularly ugly Guinea sow) docilely followed him home without protest while the neighbors videoed the proceedings with their cell phones. There are also the flustered moments as we attempt to install woven electric fencing in the woods, through a thicket of greenbriars that would daunt any prince on a steed. On the bright side, the goats are eating those briars like dessert.

And then there is the price we pay for luscious free-range eggs. We did not know this: Chickens simply cannot stand the sight of a pile of mulch. They systematically scatter it and peck through it, clucking excitedly when they find juicy bugs and running ADHD all over the property. It is amusing and most annoying. I have noticed that we are not pulling ticks off the children nearly as often since the poultry is out roaming. There seem to be fewer asparagus beetles, and if they would limit themselves to the slugs in the strawberry patch instead of treating their greedy selves to the berries, all would be more harmonious. Observe what once was a stand of lush hostas, and the ruin of the careful edging my husband did all along our borders. I have raked those chips back in oftener than I wish to remember.

I think of symbiosis often. “The living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism; a relationship between two species of organisms in which both benefit from the association,” says the online dictionary. If you are a rhino with pesky bugs on your hide, you will be glad for the little birds that come and sit on your back to eat them. However, you have to endure their scritchy little claws hopping over your skin. If you are the bird, you need to be okay with getting your meal off a temperamental juggernaut who might take off charging at any moment. Either creature has to pay for his benefits with inconveniences. Sounds so similar to other situations in life wholly unrelated to the animal kingdom.

Last week we had our school evaluations and now are officially finished. It’s nice to get a tidy document saying we did all right in those hours and hours of diligence and hard work and perseverance, etc. etc. Learning is supposed to be fun! they said. Homeschooling is a much more efficient way to learn, they also said. You can observe your child’s strengths and help them with their weaknesses and they don’t ever have to compare themselves or rate at a certain level in a classroom, they said. They just forgot to mention how dog-tired you will be at the end of a year and you will be so far behind, in everything else that it would hardly register on a scale of behind-ness. But you jolly well did it again!

I cleared out the disaster that was our classroom and did some furniture switching. For a very long time I have been looking for second-hand replacements for our broken-down couch and love-seat. I went to every consignment furniture store within a 50 mile radius and eventually found just what I was looking for, a sturdy couch in neutral tone and wingback chairs to set companionably together with a lamp on a stand between them. I saw it in my head for so long that I could hardly believe it when I brought the chairs home and actually sat in them. If you feel revolted at the thought of used furniture, I will just feel happy all by myself that I only spent $320 for three quality pieces, which amount of money would not buy half of a cheaply built couch.

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The boys also got some new furnishings in their bedroom, thanks to a local flea market with a vendor who sells metal cabinets. They said this would definitely be the decisive game changer for the clutter  treasures in their room… a place to put them.  These discussions never seem to foster peace and goodwill between us. Sigh. I made a bargain with them: keep your room clean and clear for 30 days and I will buy you a nice bean bag chair. One of them did superb. The other did not. After losing 15 days to the untidiness, all the fault of hoarder-boy, I changed the rules. The tidy boy gets dibs on the bean bag until the untidy boy has made up his deficit of messy days. This appears to be more effective than than the original proposition. Still, tonight I threw out the bucket of pork ribs soaking in vinegar to make them limber. I just didn’t feel like they deserved to take up space in the house anymore.

Ahh, parenting, the ability to about-face gracefully while in mid-stride, all the while juggling eggs  egos and coaching the rest of the performers. We took a bike ride on Sunday to take our minds off the poison ivy, and I made sure to check the weather forecast. No rain was predicted for 3 hours. As we got to the point where Rita refused to peddle anymore (one hour), “Because I simply can’t; my bottom feels like a wedge shaped seat,” and no amount of coaxing about how close we are to home made any difference… just then it started to rain. Diplomatic Gregory switched bikes with Rita so she could change gears and stand to peddle, but we still had a mile to go when it started to pour in earnest. We sheltered under a pavilion at a local ball field until our lovely neighbor brought our Suburban to the rescue.

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It took hot tea and “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” to give us some perspective on our adventure. 🙂

I find it difficult to remember the high spots of the month with this seldom posting deal, so I turn to my cell phone for pictures. We had a tremendous storm with twister-like damage on May 1, and we lost at least 7 trees. I loved them all, and it was unbelievable to see the damage that 15 minutes did.

I just remembered that I turned 40. Yes, I did. It’s fine on this side. I feel quite undaunted, thanks for your concern. My family did a fun celebration, my siblings gave me a pile of cash to buy replacement trees for the ones that crashed down in a recent storm, my sister made this cheesecake worthy to stand tall among all the cheesecakes ever, and my husband took me out for the night, so all in all it was a pretty grand day.

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And I got to go out for brunch recently with a friend I sincerely admire: Michelle, who is also turning 40 in a few days.

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We canoed, we picnicked, we designed swim-dresses for the girls, we swam, we fished, we planted flowers on the deck, we picked strawberries, we watched chicks hatch, we cleaned and cooked and ate and washed. My husband helped a friend build a wood strip canoe, he tilled gardens, he pruned raspberries, he cleaned up the downed trees, he mulched endlessly, he helped patiently with my furniture search, and he worked on assignments for his BSN in every spare minute. Other than that, we probably slept.

So many minutes crammed into a day, but strung out mercifully, one by one, so that we only have to focus on one at a time when things get crazy. (If I am quoting Jennifer Worth, it isn’t intentional. 🙂 ) This minute- my tone of voice when I discover that someone happened to break my French press… This minute- my attitude about my husband’s schedule… This minute- my faithfulness in cooking eggs for breakfast… This minute- the text I feel compelled to send to a friend under stress… One thing at a time is not so hard. By grace I can live this minute and live it well. By grace I can repent and step a different direction when I feel the nudge of the Spirit saying, “That’s not the right way, dear.”

I took my mom to a funeral of a family friend/relative who died very suddenly. I did not know Dayle Ann well, but when I heard that she died, my first thought was, “She was always so glad to see me.” She was my mom’s maid when Mom had four babies under five, back in the Kentucky days.  Whenever we ran into each other, she seemed genuinely delighted at our meeting. How many women counted her as their best friend? And how did that come to be? I ask myself this, and I know she was beloved by all because she was so selfless.

Life can be a big and scary thing. I try to remember that I only need to live this minute well. I will end with one more photo of the most serene moments of this day. There weren’t so many of them, so this one stood out as a bonus at the end. 🙂

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March Potpourri

It’s spring now and the sap of life is rising. It gurgles to the surface: life that has been there all along, just frozen. Even though our winter was a joke to people like my husband who wanted Serious Snow, I rejoice and feel myself full of ideas thawing and ready to go!

Rita and I went on a soggy walk one day when she was feeling blue. She is cut out of the same cloth I am and we both cheered up when we found twigs with leaf babies to bring inside.

We had our First Day of Spring Party today. It being Monday, I thought maybe I could wait until tomorrow, but the children were not having it. “We have to have a tea party today! It is important.” So we decorated with a pastel piece of fabric and paper doilies, then set out the China and prettied up the food. Frilly toothpicks stuck through ham and cheese chunks cut out with flower-shaped cookie cutters, a simple chicken broth with alphabet pasta, crackers and party mints in pretty bowls, and we were set. Dessert was vanilla crepes with raspberry sauce. Oh, and tea, of course. Mint tea.

Last weekend I got to attend a conference for mothers where Sally Clarkson was speaking to us from her years of wisdom. It was one long, refreshing drink, one that I needed to give me courage. Here is what it looked like in NC on my way to the conference. I pulled off the road and put on my flipflops.

Sally mentioned that typically women in their twenties have a few babies and spend a lot of time establishing ideals. In the thirties they start to feel the burn and it sinks in that this is for the long haul, no short cuts or selfishness allowed. By their forties most mothers are tired. The crowd of godly mothers thins out a bit as one by one they quit, saying, “Let these children figure out their own way now. I am done with this mothering thing. It’s too hard, all this eye-rolling and investments that aren’t valued anyway.”

I have felt it: I am in the tired spot and needed some pep talking. Sometimes I don’t know how weary I am until I hold still for a while.

Here are a few more Sallyisms that I am phrasing as I remember them. Listening to her gentle humor in person was much better, but I know that some of you read her books and will enjoy this.

You are called to live your own story. Nobody else’s. That is your place to be faithful. It’s like a puzzle, and all you have to do is fit your own pieces into your own puzzle. Nobody else’s. Your puzzle will look different from every other puzzle when it is finished.

If God gives you a vision when you are young and idealistic, don’t just chuck it when it gets hard. Everybody in the world will give you permission to compromise. If He says something is valuable, it is!

Read stories of hope and faith to give you courage. Read them to your children. Fill them with stories of beautiful, true, honorable things. Give them a solid framework in a twisted world.

ABIDE. This is not formula or fear. It is not control. It is just a state of being.

If you make mistakes, repent and get over it. God is a Redeemer. Your difficulties are where your children see a walk with God modeled. The hard things you go through are the platform where you gain influence.

I had registered for this conference 5 months ago, and it was so strengthening. Sally speaks hard truths in the kindest way possible. Not least of the enjoyment was sharing the experience with two of my sisters-in-law. We talked long and late, ate chocolate and drank coffee, found common ground and encouraged each other.

I can unequivocally recommend a few books that Sally has written for moms. If you need to hear from someone who has walked the long road and been tested, but stayed steadfast, listen to her admonitions in print. She will not give you permission to slack and feel sorry for yourself; you will be blessed.

In the spirit of making a lifegiving home, I have been working at my March decluttering. So far I have taken out a bag of mismatched plastic containers and lids that I do not seem to be able to chuck into the trash when the sour cream is empty. I passed on a box of boys’ clothes and a bag of girl clothes. The boys were bribed with a dollar per trash bag filled in their room. It took them 30 minutes to fill 4! (I was so proud of them, but not especially proud of myself.) There were a few children’s coats and snowpants that were ripped beyond repair, with zippers broken, etc. that I burned when they weren’t looking.

One painful day I cleaned out my fabric stash and was quite severe with what I allowed myself to keep. I went through my closet and took out all the stuff that I never wear (too small/makes me look fat/bad color/what was I thinking? 😦 ). I donated the Clarks shoes that pinched my heels to Goodwill, as well as a pile of books that were taking up more space than they were worth. Most recently I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards and threw out the chipped and broken things that I had stashed for a Super glue session. Seriously, do I really like this dish that much? No. I do not.

I cleaned out my fridge and fed the pigs. It is oddly satisfying to toss a rotting cucumber to a grateful hog who then turns it into bacon. It makes me feel less wasteful that I forgot the cuke in the salad drawer for too long. The best project in terms of satisfaction was replacing a set of lace curtains that I have had for 15 years! I bought them at the Dollar General soon after we were married and thought they looked all right, but one day I looked at them and said, “So 2000.” I made simple window toppers with a vintage French print and now I can look at them and say, “So ’70’s.” Haha. I need this sort of  illogical hilarity in my life.

I still have the bathroom to sort through and the entire basement, but there is no point in deep cleaning the school room until we finish the term.

Olivia mastered the straight seams on a dress that she has been longing for ever since my mom gave her fabric for her birthday. She made a matching ensemble for her rag doll and learned the fine art of running a seam ripper. No scrapbooking has happened, but I am hopeful. I just need to get in the zone for one more child, then I plan to go digital. All the older children have a lovingly crafted photo book from birth to five years. I never waited until they were 5 to get started, but that is what Addy will get.

Gardening seems a long way off with everything outdoors squishy. I have my seeds, though, just waiting. On Saturday I spent hours making paper flowers for a garland to replace the pine swag I had above the sink instead of cleaning the bathroom. The children gasped when they saw me tearing pages out of an old book, but they soon got into the spirit of the project and helped shape flowers. It is spring, after all!

What have you been doing with yourself?

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from these links, you will not be charged anything extra, but I receive a small commission from the sale. Feel free to buy all the books. 😀

10 Activities That Won’t Rot Your Brain

  1. Read a book just for fun, like Ribsy or Farmer Boy. Laugh out loud at the funny bits so that your family is curious and you can tell them about how Lucy got the taffy stuck in her mouth.
  2. Take a walk in the park and learn to identify wildlife tracks. Make plaster of paris molds, even if it is just lame stuff like birds or deer for starters. Someday you might get lucky with a bear or a mountain lion.
  3. Ride a bike for miles on old railroad beds. Just be sure to carry a water bottle so you don’t perish before you get home again. Some granola bars in your pockets would not be a bad idea either.
  4. Figure out how to fit a survival kit into a backpack or bugout bag. Do the research and collect items as you save enough money for them. Pack and repack obsessively and keep it ready to grab at a moment’s notice. Or even just when your family goes to the lake.
  5. Take music lessons and keep practicing until you master that instrument. Or you could watch John Ross painting videos and try your hand at landscapes. If you like poetry, try writing some.
  6. Collect things. Rocks or bottle caps or stickers or fabric scraps or bird feathers. Be savvy about storage or your parents will likely make you pare your collections down to tragical proportions. Just for your information, nut collections in your underwear drawer will probably hatch out disgusting worms, so that’s not the best idea.
  7. Learn to crochet or embroider or knit or knot paracord bracelets. This latter could turn into a small industry for you, so make sure your parents buy about 1000 feet of cord at a time. Mess with your projects while you listen to audiobooks.
  8. Ask your mom to teach you how to prepare your favorite meal. She will never turn down an offer to cook dinner and you can have spaghetti and meatballs really often.
  9. Think of something you are interested in and wipe out that subject on the library shelves. Research it and talk to everybody about it until they are tired of you. Then pick another subject and do it all over.
  10. Play Settlers of Catan or Qwirkle. Learn to watch for subtle cues on other people’s faces so you know what move to make for the win. Figure out your strategy and have fun with it.
  11. Go fishing, then clean your fish and fry them over a campfire. Or alternately you could gig bullfrogs since they are easier to skin and roast. Just don’t forget the salt.
  12. Just do something. Don’t be boring and bowed low over a screen. Swim, paddle your own canoe, build a clubhouse, sleep in the backyard, clean out the fridge for your mom, sew slippers out of upholstery fabric, rollerskate, ski, write to a friend, teach your dog new tricks, solve the mystery of the missing socks, bake cookies with a secret recipe, be happy.

Oops, sorry, that turned out to be more than ten, but it’s my blog and I am allowed to do that.

What did I miss? When my children say they are bored, I give them jobs to do. It helps a lot, but it still happens at times and we would all be glad for fresh ideas.

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A Material Post

That’s not fabric, for any who may feel concern. I am embracing my maven side to share with you some of my favorite products, specifically those acquired during the last year. Ever hear the term, “You vote with your dollars”? That’s what I am talking about. Certainly money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy stuff that puts sparkles on the happiness you already have. Let me just take a spin around the house and show you a few products, how about it?

I start with office supplies. Always I have felt that a skipping, scratchy pen is the worst implement. It depresses me worse than a rubber spatula that has gotten knicked in the blender, and that is saying something. It deserves to die. These days businesses give out decent pens all the time. These are the ones you put in a cup beside the phone for all comers to use. The pen you use for writing a letter or drafting an essay or journaling… that is another pen entirely. The right one makes the words flow like silken threads and even the ruthless edits feel slightly elegant. My personal favorites in this genre are the gel ink untra-fine tip Uni-ball style. You can buy them in a range of colors and sizes at any store that has a good stationery section. I just bought a year’s supply for $7 at a Staples sale, and I have to admit, they make me happy. In the year 2000 a friend introduced me to Bible journaling and the suitable pens for it. It marked the new millenium for this girl! I have been loyal to the brand ever since. They do not bleed through the pages and you can write super-small and legibly right in the text if you want. These are the Sakura  micron pens; the 005 size is the one I recommend for Bible marking. The links I am providing are just for the visual, or what comes up first when I google them. I buy them when they are on sale at Christian Book Distributors (also a great source for journaling Bibles) or in craft stores. In this day you may not ever use a pen for writing, but I feel a little sorry for you if you have never experienced the pleasure of a pen that is a friend. I leave you to your own opinions about keyboards.

I decided to get the older children quality mechanical when school started this year. Each has a different color and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well they keep track of them. I did tell them that if they lose them, that’s it until next year. Aren’t I the sweetest mama? 😀 My idea was to remove the ultimate school child stall of grinding away at the pencil sharpener. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way because it turns out there are about 15 ways to mess with lead and run out of lead and twist or break the nifty erasers. For times when they feel a need for a stroll, they can dredge up more dull colored pencils than you would believe possible that simply must be sharpened for map skills study. At least we don’t have horribly smudgy homework done with a stumpy Dixon No. 2.

How about we trek to the laundry room? This year I did my laundry with Norwex detergent, just to see if it was what is was cracked up to be. The very worst aisle in any store for me was the detergent one. I would nip in quickly, grab my unscented Purex or whatever, and leave before I sneezed my head off.  I had a very expensive and frustrating washer repair where the expert said I am using too much detergent and it gunked up my HE machine. Allrighty then. When I compared prices, I discovered that Norwex compares to Tide for price per load, which I sometimes resorted to when things started looking dingy from the lower priced soaps. I am very happy to put this little bitty scoop of detergent into a ginormous load and have it emerge smelling, not like Irish Spring or somesuch, but just like nice, clean clothes. And it doesn’t make me sneeze.

Then I thought, what about those dryer balls? Everyone is supposed to know how toxic fabric softeners are, even the unscented ones. The wool balls have been a really good investment. They really do cut down on drying time. If I do 4 loads in a day and it takes 10 minutes less per load, that’s a whole 40 minutes saved, or 25%, just like the company says. I no longer use fabric softener for anything except stuff that doesn’t go through the dryer, because I cannot stand static in winter and I haven’t found another solution. I can even hook you up with the best little Norwex consultant you ever want to meet. 🙂 Hi, Rose!

A kind friend gave me a wonderful tool for hair time. Sometimes after baths I look at the mass of tangled heads and wonder about dreadlocks. Well, not really. But my girls have the tangliest hair. Enter the Wet Brush to the rescue. You have to feel it to believe the difference! They panic when I pick up the old brush, and actually manage to get most of the snarls out by themselves. Thanks, Ellen.

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“Work smarter, not harder,” the successful people say. In my quest for household fluidity, (is that even a thing? maybe it is just an elusive quest…) I noticed that my old vacuum cleaner was ready to put to pasture. I had used my mother-in-law’s rollerball vacuum cleaner and liked it so much that I started watching eBay for a replacement. I endured months of email notifications and Facebook ads before I found an affordable deal on Black Friday for the Dyson Ball Animal cleaner. We chose that one because we have animals and we have children who love animals. I feel like a clean freak when I vacuum my house and empty out the dirt canister. It’s a novel feeling and it makes me more than a little happy. Was I happy before? Absolutely. But you have to clean your floors, whether you like it or not. This is just a different layer of happy, a fascinated thrill that the dirt is no longer in the carpet.

Our favorite property investment this past year is our barn, representing days and days of sweat and splinters. It swallowed up our spare time for the year and taught us a lot of skills, some we never hope to need again. (Like putting on the ridge cap.) Sometime I will do a start-to-finish post on that project, but here it is: the view from my kitchen window this morning. We feel actual affection for that structure!

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My husband is a master of repurposing, wouldn’t you say? But wait until you see what we put in the bottom story!

The little girls are thrilled! They love all creatures, but especially furry or feathered ones. First thing in the morning, before she has even rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, Addy asks to gather the eggs. She doesn’t care if it’s cold and nasty outside. Sometimes it takes her so long that I worry she may have gotten hurt, but when I check on her, she is just holding a chicken or petting the piglets. There are 25 pretty red laying hens and they all look the same to me, but they can easily recognize the favorite. One day they came in breathlessly excited, “Mama! We can ride our goats and they don’t even sag!” I thought surely the thrill will diminish, but it has been months and they are as enamored as ever, completely undeterred by yucky stuff on their boots and multiple baths. Expense and extra work aside, the animals have been a good investment. The three goats are all very pregnant, so the thrills continue!

In the photos of Addy you can see her favorite accessory of the year, the very popular puffer vest. One of the cousins had one, and then we found 4 of them at Goodwill! Alex is still waiting for one in his size, but he is a hoodie kind of guy anyway. Our children hate to play in coats, unless of course, there is snow. With Pennsylvania winters turning mild, this is just the ticket for outdoor play. Don’t be too shocked. Children in Siberia run into the snow to play in their undies for a few minutes every day in order to build up their immunities. This is a much discussed fact around here, and at least the vests are a little warmer than that. 😛

Well, I seem to have meandered outside and my time is up. As a career SAHM, I send you cheer and my best recommendations for some stuff that may make your life easier. This is a pretty rough career I would say, but one I am happy to pour my life into. Blessings on the new year! May your pens never sputter and your Goodwill trips be fruitful! May your laundry smell fresh, no matter how you do it. May all the tangles in your household hair come from healthy activities and may God be the Sun you crave upon your face.

Fallish

I found my photo card with pictures of our jaunt through the White Mountains. It was very cloudy the day we drove the road that loops through the best views, so the views were shortened, but so were the crowds of leaf peepers. This suited us fine. Without further ado, let me show you a glimpse.

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We would drive around the bends in the road, thinking surely each one would be pinnacle of color. It was a feast for the eyes and soul, a worship experience.img_4478

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Entire mountain flanks, covered in flaming deciduous trees with creases of evergreens in the ravines: this is what we saw for hours. Our cabin was in Maine, just one mile over the NH border, but in a very different landscape. The lane in to our little lake looked promisingly secluded, although you would not believe how many tiny cabins are tucked away in these woods. I only saw one other person out and about in the four days we were here. He was a deaf gardener at one of the fancier places where the shrubs were manicured, and he shouted at me that he liked my shoelaces after I smiled and remarked inanely about the beautiful day.

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This was our Air B&B glamping cabin. It was a compromise between posh accommodations and primitive camping, a sparely furnished place with a fridge, heat, and hot water. It was perfect. We went out to Portland one day, where we saw the harbor and the way they used to make their living compared to how they make their living now. I know the tourists are the bread and butter of many of the shops and restaurants in the area, but it makes me sad to see all the manufacturing places abandoned, the railroads grown up in weeds. I would have liked to see this harbor when it was bustling with commerce. We ate our lobster rolls and crab cakes at a small shack on the pier where there was a faint smell of rot and fish, so that seemed nice and authentic.

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We love the way New Englanders have so practically built their barns and garages in attached L’s to their houses. How smart is that when the snow is piled up? And we like how they drag the rocks out of their pastures and build fences. It’s such a sensible solution.

We came home to this crew with renewed contentment to just be us: our family. Gabe had to get back to work that weekend and I had a long Sunday afternoon with a bunch of kiddos who had forgotten a little how to be siblings and listen to their Mom. (Somebody invent an emoji for that. It’s too hard to describe.) I couldn’t think of anything better to do than wear everybody out on the nearby mountain. 🙂 It was cheering to see what the fresh air and romping did for everybody’s spirits. When the littlest girl whined about being cold, her brother shared his jacket and when she whined about being tired, he carried her, which was more than I was prepared to do.

After stuffing our pockets with treasures and building a small fire to warm up, (never underestimate a young boy with a flint and steel in his pack) we were rejuvenated and all the people who had fussed about hiking in the drizzle retracted their fussing and felt mellow and sweet for the rest of the evening. Even me. I was still in “curl up undisturbed with a book” mode, which wasn’t working anyway. Nature is such an amazing panacea for grumpiness of spirit! Wow, look at that! God is good! The world is a lot bigger than I am! I need other people. Solidarity and kindness restored: all is well.

It has been a good fall, quite possibly the busiest season of our lives to date. I doubt we could have gotten much more done if we tried. I hit November with thankfulness, which is appropriate, of course. But ordinarily I dislike November intensely. This year it is still balmy. My petunias still look like this with a few more maple leaves sifted through them:

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I am grateful for every spot of color that is left.

And I got to finally go see my sister, who had a baby and only lives four hours away and here he was, a month old before I saw him! It’s an odd feeling of going back in time to see Rachel with four little children and to realize that three of hers are younger than my baby. It brings back the days of endless wiping and sippy cups and the bleary-eyed wearying joy that is babies. We were blessed with bare-foot weather and the children spent the entire time outside, leaving us to sip coffee and cuddle little Zachary.

It was a good time. I look forward to the rest of fall. In an effort to be totally candid here, I have to confess that last week I finally took down a swag of (fake) forsythia that I had twined around a sign in my living room back in May. It says, “Home is where your story begins.” I decided to be daring and twine a bit of fall foliage around it. Hopefully I won’t forget to switch it out with holly. I figure some day my children will mention that their story definitely did not begin with a perfectly appointed house, but if they remember the times their mother dragged them outside of themselves and onto a trail to somewhere else, I will be glad.

How about you?  How are you savoring the season? Double points if it doesn’t include pumpkin lattes.

 

One Day

It started kind of early, in the wee smalls when a sweaty little girl appeared at my bedside complaining that she couldn’t sleep. I reminded her that it might have something to do with wrapping herself into her favorite fleece blanket, but she thought the couch would be better. As we walked into the living room, the heat was oppressive, even though it is the one room that has an air conditioning unit. Upon inspection, I found that the AC was sighing gently rather than AC ing, so I unplugged it and the little girl went back to her bedroom fan while I opened every window in the living area.

I reached for my phone to check the temperature, only to discover that our internet connection was down, so I went to my bedroom fan and tried to sleep. One of the blades in the window fan started screeching recently, so the flow of air was a little stagnant. It was about 3 AM, which is the worst time to be waked up, because then you start thinking of all the things you want to do the next day and soon the alarm will sound and you need to quickly sleep before it does. Eventually you get into deep sleep again, just before the alarm shrills, and that is that.

I started the day officially by brewing coffee and packing my husband’s lunch. He had a 14 hour day ahead, so I included power snacks, like cashews and Greek yogurt and cheese sticks. Hopefully he had a few minutes to eat them, instead of waiting until the drive home, which happens oftener than I wish.

As soon as he was off, I got the crew assembled for breakfast and made sure everyone was presentable. This should not be a big deal with the ages we are around here, but my idea of presentable does not include holey Crocs or torn favorite shirts. There were a few rounds of “Go find something decent” because I just care about that. They don’t have to look ready for formal portraits; we are just shooting for neat and clean. I think people already notice a small tribe of children with one mother out shopping, and it might be better if the children look well cared for. I know, happy faces and all, and clothes are totally surface, etc. It’s just one of the battles I pick. Our mission was new bike helmets, courtesy of Gabe’s employer, UPMC, and Kohl’s. It’s a great program, with the hopeful outcome of fewer head injuries. We joined a queue in the brilliant sunshine outside Kohl’s and all five got shiny new helmets, properly fitted.

I had a moment of desire to check out the junior clearance racks so we all wandered around inside Kohl’s, but the funny thing was there were so many other things, like backpacks and sunglasses and waterbottles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gregory pick up a pricey porcelain serving plate shaped like a fish, swoop it through the imaginary water in front of him. GASP! “But you know I would never drop it, Mom!”

I had five people helping me pick out a wallet. Everybody had ideas as to which was the best and I just wanted something that holds all my store loyalty cards and zips shut around my phone, with a wristlet strap. Shew, but it got complicated.

The next stop was Home Depot where I was hoping to replace the gimpy window fan. I had a library audio book for the children to listen to while I ran in and out of stores. Edward Tulane, the beloved China rabbit, got pitched overboard from the ship’s deck when I went into the store and sorry, they don’t have any window fans. On to Lowe’s, while Edward got fished out of the bottom of the sea in a fisherman’s net. There I did find just the fan I needed, swallowed hard and paid the price. It’s still much more economical that an AC unit. I forgot to mention, the livingroom unit worked again this morning. It must have just been a little exhausted from days of non-stop running.

On the half hour drive home Edward Tulane found a new hobo friend and there we left him while we collectively worked on a list that took up every line on the notepad. Sometimes we do that and the children proudly cross off each thing as it is accomplished. They each had about 4 tasks and I had about 10, including keeping everybody motivated and on the straight and narrow. This does not include a 10 minute break with the Gilbreths, my small son hiding in a corner of the couch. He has probably read Cheaper by the Dozen at least 10 times, so don’t feel too sorry for him.

I picked the blackberries and it was Hot. Then Rita helped me turn a box of peaches into slush for the freezer. We sliced them thinly with an old fashioned egg slicer, then to an 8 quart bowl of peaches we added a can of orange concentrate and a little over a cup of sugar. We serve this just shy of thawed, when the peaches are slushy and cold. If I had some crushed pineapple to add, I could have reduced the sugar drastically, but I didn’t.

After lunch I read Addy’s favorite chapter story to her, where some little boys in an African village try to build a modern home out of blocks and cement. I may have skipped a few paragraphs because I was falling asleep.

The list included cleaning jobs. The girls did their best while I worked on catching up with correspondence and deskwork. It appears Rita could use some coaching in the bathroom cleaning department. They were wanting to try out the new helmets on a bike ride. Alex packed a picnic supper and supervised the loading of bikes and swimming clothes. We folded all the laundry and put it away before we left for the park because we didn’t want to trundle in the doors at bedtime and still have a ton of stuff to do.

It was still hot: 95 degrees at 5:30. The trail around the lake was mostly shaded and there was a nice breeze. Everybody zipped along happily except Rita, who was hot and miserable and didn’t want to wear that shiny new helmet. I rode behind her and prodded her on with promises of a swim at the beach area if there weren’t too many people. Gregory gazed across the water, “Hmmm, from here I can’t really tell the flesh from the sand.” Happily there were only a few people out braving the heat wave.

kids on bikes

At the halfway point to where I had parked, Rita was finished, weeping from a bike wreck into the side of the bridge. Addy was chipper but wavering, which was understandable considering how fast she has to peddle to keep up with the bigger bikes. I left them by the swings with strict instructions to stay right there with my big boy babysitter and biked speedily the rest of the way to the Suburban. I brought it over close to the swimming area and the children sprinted for the water. We stayed until the sun went down and the moon came up and all the other people went home. The picnic got eaten in dribbling shifts, whenever somebody got hungry. At last I called everybody out of the water at 8:30. The boys begged for a quick wash in the shower house. The girls moaned and dragged their towels in the dirt, pushing their bikes up the hill to our parking spot. I took turns giving them boosts while balancing a loaded laundry basket full of wet stuff and the picnic remains. While we waited for the boys I was astounded to see three young men walking along the sand, very dressed up in dark pants and long-sleeved, button-down shirts. It was almost dark, yet they waded into the water fully clothed and had themselves a grand time swimming. 🙂 After I got over my surprise, I applauded them for finding a way, despite obvious obstacles, to have a little fun.

It was very quiet on the ride home. Always after this sort of excursion there is a bit of weeping about the actual walk into the house and the process of getting into bed can be so unbelievably complicated. “I just need you to stand upright in the shower for five minutes,” I told the girls. “Can you do that?” They found within themselves the grit for that great effort and went to bed with a few parting paragraphs where Edward Tulane got nailed to a garden fence for a scarecrow.

I cleared up the picnic mess, gathered together the dirty laundry, vacuumed the living room and that’s it. The evening and the morning were one day.

(Shucks. I forgot to put my clean sheets on the bed.)