Move Over, October

Although it doesn’t feel necessary at all yet, we are battening down the hatches here despite the August-like feel in the middle of the days. In landlocked, rural PA, that means clearing out the gardens, planting garlic, digging sweet potatoes, maybe nurturing some lettuce in homemade cold frames.  The pigs have been set to plowing the garden, where they clearly enjoy their privileges among the dried bean stalks and tired zinnias. The black pig, Petunia, is supposed to “piggle” as we jokingly call it, but she just doesn’t have babies. I am thinking she is even looking slimmer recently, so who knows? Maybe her relationship with Brutus is platonic.


The zinnia blooms that persist are still a-flit with monarch butterflies that should be hurrying south. We all feel a little confused by fall this year. There is no color. It’s still green here, folks. The leaves that have dropped are tan, brown, or speckled with a tinge of orange, but no brilliance. It’s an odd result of a very wet summer/abundant chlorophyll and unseasonably warm temperatures, the experts say.

This fall for the first time ever we wound our way through a corn maze, shot small pumpkins with a sling-shot, played corn hole and pumpkin checkers, and had fun in general.


I feel the urge to clear out all the spider webs in my house, but it is a futile effort because the spiders keep diligently moving in. They aren’t fooled by unseasonable warmth. Also the stink bugs– I don’t even know if they have another more formal name, but they don’t deserve it if they do. I vacuumed 17 of them off my bedroom curtain one day. They seemed surprised and emanated their cilantro stench so strongly I smelled them every time I vacuumed for a long time afterward.

The vacuum cleaner smells like moth ball crystals at the moment. “What’s that sweet stink?” Rita asked. Upon investigation, I found that someone had spilled them in the closet after they did their sweet-stink duty in keeping yellow jackets away from our applesauce production out on the deck.

We live in deep apple territory. It’s amazing! We go to the orchard and walk along the apple crates on the porch, sometimes with as many as ten varieties of irregulars that are so cheap you can’t let them there. Then I remember what a friend who lived in the orchards said about the sprays, so I soak the apples in a white vinegar/water solution before cooking them. Whether this actually works to remove all the pesticides is open to debate, but it makes me feel better. I did the math this year to see if applesauce making is worth the effort. At Aldi, a pint of applesauce was 1.29. That’s 2.60 per quart. We did 55 quarts this fall. That’s $143 at Aldi. The apples cost us $45. Okay, so we saved $100 with just four hours of mildly strenuous effort. Even with overhead costs, a concept I just explained to Gregory this morning in his math lesson, I know it’s worth making applesauce. Also it counts as a school day, so we’re definitely in the clear here.

I am waiting for the Granny Smiths to be picked so that I can make real apple dumplings. Have you ever had them? The combination of mouth-puckering sour with flaky pastry and buttery syrup? Ohh, I sigh with delight at the thought. Once, and only once, I used whole wheat pie and pastry flour to healthify them. It was a fail that I will not repeat. If you need to healthify your apples, just eat them raw.

The boys have been working on painting the barn doors, which ended being constructed of raw wood after someone stole a pile of weathered red siding boards that would have become doors. The boys have also been making it their mission to get rid of the rats that have moved into the barn. (Shut your ears if you are squeamish.) Gregory has a string stretched between two small trees where he hangs his trophies by the tail. The count is holding at three, but there is a really big one they call Templeton that defies all their ingenious traps and steals the corn anyway.

In other news, we just finished our first quarter of school. Shew! One day at a time, they say, and they are right. The days pile up like sand in an hour glass and one day they will be all filtered through and we will understand percentages and fractions and phonics rules and it will be spring!

Gabriel is now exactly 6/11 of the way to his bachelor’s degree. He perseveres on through much trudging and some very boring assignments, to my way of thinking.

Our read-aloud book at the moment is Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary’s memoir which was printed at least 20 years ago, but has seen a renewed circulation since she celebrated her 100th birthday. We love Beverly Cleary with her Klickitat Street, Henry and Ribsy, Beezus and Ramona, and a host of other unforgettable characters. The book is written about her childhood with an adult viewpoint, so there are occasional passages I edit for my small children’s sake. Our favorite line so far is her description of fourth grade: “one long quest to find the lowest common denominator.”

There isn’t a good way to conclude this kind of post, so I leave you with Addy’s Quote of the Day, after she was reprimanded by a sibling for her loud singing in the car.

“When I grow up, I am going to hum for people. For a living.”


Top 5 Reasons Why We Camp in State Parks

I know you all want to hear about our winter camping adventure. Here it is, February, so I can finally tell you about it. I have been saving it up. Actually, I have been doing laundry and washing road salt off Rubbermaid totes and spending three days in the company of a whiny stomach bug. Also I have been teaching cursive E and hosting company and reading aloud every day. I have been learning to stop abusing the ellipses. I badly wanted to insert one there, but Grammarly rapped my knuckles.

When I told my friend Amy that we are going camping in January, she said, “That’s not vacation!” I think she may have been referring to the facilities, or lack of them. Here is why we camp in state parks despite that objection, in 5 handy-dandy reasons:

  1. We get rejuvenated in nature. I ask no better form of relaxation than a stroll on a well-maintained, well-marked trail through unspoiled woods. This is something Gabe and I want to pass on to our children: “Alone with God” and all that. Stuff doesn’t scream so loudly, troubles tend to assume more manageable proportions, there is no wi-fi and little cell service, and if you go during off-peak seasons there are no other people.
  2. We appreciate camping cabins. Tents are fine for some seasons, but actual bunks with mattresses, hooks to hang up jackets, shelves for each child’s treasures are fine for other seasons. I don’t sneeze about electric heaters either, and light switches to hit when things go bump. At one time I would have sneered at the poshness of it, but I have opened my mind a bit. The lack of plumbing tends to off set the poshness anyway.
  3. We like affordable things. We just have to face it, the beach is too far away from central Pennsylvania for us to trot there every time we feel like it. (Also, people don’t walk around naked in state parks, a small consideration, surely.) On this recent trip, we spent less than $400 on fuel and lodging for 7 people (3 nights) and it was built to accommodate 12. That is not including the tote full of special foods to cook on sticks (just kidding, we had a stove and fridge) and the tote full of fun activities for middle of January camping, of course.
  4. We value learning about things, any things, all things. State parks have calendars crammed full of educational and low-budget fun. Many of their programs are free, paid by our hard-earned tax dollars, of course. The activities were a little sparse in mid-winter, but there was a snowshoeing class and a large ice rink cleared on the ice for skating. There was geo-caching all around the park, even though the caches were hard to find under snow. But the great thing? Those vacation days totally count as school days because we learned stuff while we were just hanging out with each other.
  5. We like being around nice people. By that I mean family-friendly people who understand that a little boy hatcheting firewood is as natural as breathing. I cannot remember ever meeting a creepy person or even an especially grouchy person at a state park and I watch for them ever since I read The Shack. I did see in the news that a criminal was hiding out in a local campground, but people ratted on him. Apparently all the fresh air and exercise keep campers alert and they look out for each other. 🙂

There you have it, my nice, attention grabbing title and a list. Is there anything you would like to add?

There is also this image, poached off the internet, of the dam at Parker Dam State Park, although when we were there the water was quite frozen and the entire 20 acre lake would have been fine for skating.



See you tomorrow!

Wise Buys

You probably know that I try hard to be thrifty in my buying choices. We are raising our family on one income, and the older the children get, the more I understand why many people say, “But that is impossible these days!” It isn’t, but it requires carefulness, especially if you have a desire to be debt-free.

Enter second-hand stores, yard sales, discount groceries, coupons, and clearance racks. The stereotype of tight-wad plain people may actually have something to do with the necessity to provide for larger than average families, although I know many of them are quite wealthy, yet quickly scarf up free stuff that others need much more than they do, so… Whoa. Major bunny trail there.

Yesterday I had to go to the city to order next year’s school books at an exhibit put on by ABeka publishers. I guess it is probably to their advantage to have early orders, but it always comes at a time when I would rather not think about next year’s school for, oh, maybe about a year. 🙂 They lure us in early with free shipping and discounts, and it works!

I took my Rita-girl along, since she is sturdy enough to skip nap time. We had some extra time to walk in the mall, checking out the clearance racks. I took five articles of clothing into a fitting room, left them all on the rack, and felt very disgruntled. I hate fitting rooms. But I did buy myself a pair of white Nordic-track leggings for next winter. We had checked them out and blanched at the prices this past ski season, so as tired as I am of snow and cold, if I see high-quality, 35-dollar, moisture-wicking, heat-retaining leggings reduced to 5 dollars, I will buy them. When you have a skiing kind of man, you need to be prepared to go along. 🙂

The bookstore was a lot more fun. In less than a month we hope to be celebrating the completion of this school term, which calls for gifts all around, traditionally books. I was so pleased with the ones I found for the little girls. Since Olivia learned to read, her gift will her very own Bible. The only one I found that had large print for small people was a pink Precious Moments one. I don’t even like P.M. stuff, but she would be so thrilled with the pinkness. So I got it. I just won’t look at the illustrations of Abraham and Sarah with large tear-drop eyes.

After I ordered our school books, we took a pass through Aldi’s, where the most thrilling purchase was pineapples, on sale for 1.49. I won’t sneeze at the Cadbury Mini Eggs, either, which is the only Easter candy I would truly miss if I were deprived of it. (Well, I have to admit, I like Peeps, too, but that is not a very adult thing to say.)

When we got home, I put away the groceries, smuggled the gift books into hiding, and proudly showed Gabe my leggings.  Wait, they looked sort of big. I examined the package. “Hon, you will never guess… I just bought myself Men’s size large leggings. Maybe you can wear them.” He laughed. I took them out of the package and they looked really large. I examined the tag. “What? these are not large. These are XXlarge men’s leggings. But what were they doing in the ladies’ clearance section with the CuddlDuds and fuzzy socks? And why were they in this package?”  I tried them on. It was not funny. Not even a little bit.

I felt quite cross and decided to go for a walk. What a washout of a shopping trip! Add to that the fact that I had hurried home to make a meal for friends who, for the second time, were not home when we wanted to take the food to their house. About 1/2 mile down the road it suddenly struck me funny that I (unwittingly) bought (men’s) leggings for myself on the extreme opposite end of the size scale from what my husband wears. Then I had an idea. I wonder how many people would want them if I had a giveaway? It was a deserted stretch of road, so I just laughed out loud for a while. It felt really good. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it just doesn’t quite…