The Short Month Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gardener Attempts to Manage Peas, Occasionally Failing

And they do require managing. Peas are probably the most labor intensive thing I grow, but the vegetable we look forward to the most. “Plant as many as you want, Mom,” they say. “We’ll help you pick them.” Of course, this is a bit of a joke because I don’t let the children pick peas without supervision. The plants are too finicky and it’s hard to tell when they are ready.

You have seen this photo before, of my over-achieving pea vines, over five feet high. If I had planted them 3 weeks earlier, I feel confident that the yield would have been better. Honestly… 6 quarts in the freezer and a few quarts eaten fresh is not a stellar outcome. Next year I will shoot for planting in mid-April instead of early May. They should not be this yellow while still bearing pods. My bad.

I did three different versions of plantings in my mulched section. Row 1: we raked the old hay aside and let the ground dry a bit before tilling up that strip and planting a double row. We did not re-mulch until the peas were up. Row 2: we raked the hay aside, but did not till the row. Instead we made a shallow row with a hoe and planted a double row. Row 3: we used a string stretched from one end to the other as a guide, and simply poked holes in the soft soil to drop the peas into, leaving the old hay/mulch just as it was. The last method seemed to work the best, maybe because we had an uncharacteristically dry spring. Those peas came up more quickly and climbed up the support fence we put in between the rows. The other two methods caught up, but obviously the tilling and hoeing were not necessary.

We had three double rows, 25 feet each, 150 feet of peas total. The reason for this is that the fencing we use for support comes in 25 or 50 foot lengths. Cutting them in half makes the rolls easier to manage and store. There is psychology involved as well. A 25 foot row is not nearly as daunting to pick as a 150 foot row.

Peas need support to grow, unless you want to bend over to pick until your back is screaming to buy Del Monte mushiness in a can rather than try to grow your own peas. It’s a valid option, but not one we choose.

As you can see in the photo below, we have a variety of fencing materials. The bottom, PVC coated wire, was some we had on hand from our farm days, probably to keep ducks where they ought to be. It is sturdy and would be fine except it is only 2 feet high. The peas didn’t have enough support and doubled over the top. The black plastic chicken wire seemed like a good idea, but even with the fence zip-tied to holes drilled in the wooden posts, it sagged under the weight. We will still use it, but it will require twice the amount of posts. All the way at the top is the priciest option, 3 foot high, PVC coated wire mesh. We have had that fence for years. It was a good choice and I wish we hadn’t wavered when we saw the price difference this spring when we needed more.

I pulled the vines yesterday and before I threw them onto the compost pile, I had a lightbulb moment. Aha! I can chop them up and let them compost right in the spot where they were growing. It worked too! The lawnmower coughed and choked a little, but in the end we prevailed. I had laid down a fresh layer of cardboard before I dumped the chopped peas back into the garden. That should smother any opportunistic weeds that were growing alongside the peas.

I want to plant some more fall broccoli/cabbages in that spot. The other pea row got replanted with more green beans and a hopeful seeding of sugar peas for fall consumption. I don’t know how well that will work, but I had old seeds that needed to be used, so I threw them in. I covered them with old hay, no bare spots. Low stakes, so we shall see.

Recently I read an article that stated this: “Whenever the soil is tilled, the subterranean community of lifeforms within it is hit with a hurricane. All the bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, and fungi that sustain and support plant growth are thrown into chaos, season after season. Weeds often help to bring them back to balance, like aid workers after a disaster. The way that creation keeps the soil healthy, building it generation after generation, is by always keeping it covered.”

That is why I am so fascinated with my no-till experiments. If you ever noticed how quickly nature covers up bare soil with plants, you will know what I mean. I do not like having an unsightly, weedy garden. With the traditional methods of tilling, it meant getting out the rototiller at regular intervals, and hoeing the rows as well. Keeping the soil covered with mulch or cover crops, while not truly “no-work”, is certainly less work. For me, the secret to enjoying gardening is to keep it to manageable proportions. I use anything that decomposes cleanly for layers of mulch: cardboard, newspaper, old pine straw, wood chips, chopped vegetable stalks, dead leaves, etc. Any slimy peelings or kitchen scraps get thrown onto a compost pile that I neglect shamelessly. I hope it eventually turns into useful compost, but until then I just keep adding to the top.

I get lots of good ideas from the experts, but I do whatever I jolly please in my own bit of earth.

That means planting flowers with the vegetables, filling in the cracks with last minute delights such as broom corn or black beans that bloom purple or spaghetti squash that may or may not take over the space entirely. I don’t play by the rules, and that is why I have so much fun. ūüôā

I want to conclude with a funny story. Mennonites love iced mint tea. We call it meadow tea, garden tea, fuzzy mint, spearmint, etc. Awhile ago our elderly neighbor came over for a visit, I offered him a glass of chilled spearmint tea, explaining what it was as I handed it to him. He took a tentative sip and murmured, “Hmm, kind of piney.”

How about we raise a glass of iced mint tea to happy gardeners everywhere!

Five Organic Ways to Take Dominion over Weeds

Nothing quite brings the country dweller down from their Back to Eden aspirations like a flourishing crop of weeds running wild over the land that they fondly slated for productive growth. We went away for 5 days after school was done and when we got back the jungle was encroaching. It has been raining buckets this spring, meaning we didn’t get our gardens planted until last week. The lawn went to seed for a while before we made hay, and the goats cannot possibly keep up with their pastures, even with their nonstop chewing.

We made a plan to bring the rank growth into submission. Using all the weapons in our arsenal, we have been making slow progress. It’s times like this that we are glad our property is limited to less than five acres. I will not mention the options that rhyme with keed-willer or pound-sup since they are bad, bad, and we try to be good with our weed control methods. That is not to say that we never resort to desperate measures, but I will list our favorite methods.

  1. Salt. Nothing fancy, certainly not Epsom salts, which will actually enhance the root systems of vegetables. Just buy ordinary table salt. This works well for fence rows, in sidewalk cracks, along walkways, and to my astonishment, on asparagus beds! My in-laws taught me this trick. They suggest salting the bed once a year, then mulching heavily on top. It works like a charm! Somehow the asparagus continues to thrive while the weeds do not. In other areas, salt will produce more of a scorched earth look, so be careful where you dribble it.
  2. Boiling water. When I do water bath canning, I pour the scalding hot water on weeds in the driveway. Nice and easy, except for the part where I haul a huge kettle full of boiling water through the house, trying to hold it at arm’s length. An easier method is to fill the tea kettle and then pour the boiling contents onto such things as pesky wild rhubarbs or evil start-up vines of poison ivy. I try to hit some of the leaves, but especially the roots right by the stem.
  3. Garden gloves and old-fashioned bending over to pull weeds. You can walk through your grounds daily, nipping things in the bud as they come up. This is not terribly effective if you have too much garden to keep up with. I almost cannot walk past a weed when I get in this mode. It’s terribly distracting. I just wanted to cut a head of lettuce, and here I am, halfway down the onion rows, pulling red-roots.
  4. A sharp hoe. Some people hoe a section every day. I will never forget the sight of African farmers working patiently through vast plots with short-handled hoes. It’s a good practice, very effective if you are into bodily exercise that profits much.
  5. Cardboard with mulch on top. This gets my top vote, because of the way it builds up the soil and retains moisture in the warmer months. There are lots of options. I will dedicate the rest of the post to this idea. (Apologies. This is an edit to what accidentally got published with a title of six ways when I really only have five. I would have made up more if I could have thought of them. Maybe you can help a girl out.)

We have a grass catcher on our mower, so every time we mow, we pile the clippings around garden plants. This works, but it gets weirdly slippery.

Old hay or straw is great mulch for keeping the soil moist, but it is not so great for weed control because the seeds in the bales will abundantly compensate for every weed that is smothered. Maybe you will be fortunate and get very clean hay. It’s a risk I prefer not to take after one year when I had wheat growing all over my garden on top of the mulch.

Composted manure with straw or sawdust is a wonderful option. Sourcing this requires becoming buddies with a farmer who is willing to let valuable by-products leave the farm for other places. We tackled the problem by becoming the farmer. It required building a barn, then building fences, then buying a menagerie that obligingly ate what we fed it and turned out bushels of poo mixed with their bedding so that now we have a fairly steady supply of mulch for the gardens. Since the chickens have already scratched through the compost, there are very few seeds left to cause trouble and the plants fairly leap into the air when they receive rain water filtered through fertilizing mulch.

We also mulch with wood chips, especially around the base of the fruit trees and berries. I don’t recommend twisters, but if you have a storm that takes out a bunch of your trees, you might as well dry your tears, cut the firewood, and run the branches through a chipper. Wait a year and the pile of chips will be fine mulch. Alternately you can take up spoon carving and collect the chips. We have a number of failed kuksas¬† and spoon blanks scattered around the blueberry bushes.

The easiest, least economic way involves carting loads of mulch home from a distributor and spreading it. If you mulch as heavily as you should, about 4 to 6 inches deep, you’re going to run into a bit of money.

However- no weeds! (Unless the chickens get out and scatter it into the lawn.)

Last week my greenhouse friend and I were fantasizing about gardening in heaven. Everything peak season, always bearing fruit, no pests, and no weeds! It’s a tantalizing thought. We just aren’t there yet, so we deal with it.

Spring Cleaning a Different Way

There are no doubt a hundred and one ways to clean your house. It is about as far from my favorite thing as it is possible, and yet I find myself squaring off with the need to clean. all. the. time. My title says a different way, because I have a hot tip for you. I cleaned the entire mess with 1 main tool… a microfiber cloth. Make that four cloths, liberally given into the hands of helpful children.¬† And water, of course. If you would look under my kitchen sink, you would find that I no longer own Top Job or Mr. Clean or Windex. I have not bought these products for years. Let me give you a little backstory.

It started during my second pregnancy with out of control sneezing. I sneezed explosively for days. (One sneeze or even three sneezes, can feel really good. But try it for days and see if you don’t start to feel whiplashed.) Then the itchy, watering eyes started, and the nose running like a leaky faucet. It was miserable. We thought it seemed like dust irritated whatever allergies I had going on, so my husband bought a Dyson with a HEPA filter. It had a clear canister, which made it fascinating to see all the dust collecting in there, out of range and incapable of harm. If you do not understand getting excited about dust collection, sorry, not sorry. I vacuumed the furniture every week during that pregnancy, and things seemed to settle down, at least at home where I had a bit of control over the dust and its mites.

About this time my mom gave me two Norwex microfiber cloths for my birthday, which in retrospect I see as a most loving gift. I was deeply suspicious about the idea of cleaning surfaces with only water. The cloths seemed a little finicky, what with getting gunked up if you use soaps or fabric softener. I gave them a try, though, and then I used them and used them and used them. Occasionally I panicked a little because I was afraid I had abused them too much, but the care directions said either to wash them in Norwex detergent or just to boil them for ten minutes and there we were! Back in business! Those two cloths were the only Norwex ones I had for 4 years. I didn’t even know that there was a special window polishing cloth available, so I washed my windows with one cloth wet and dried them with the other one. I dumped out all my ammonia and PineSol. Judging by how often I was switching out dirty for clean water in my bucket, I was getting more dirt off my house than ever before. Of course, the people in the house were growing too.

The next place of problems was my laundry room, where the scents from normal detergents would set me off. For a while I used pods, but the smells lingered on the clothes. I started buying everything unscented, but I would rather take my cart full of children through the toy aisle than hang out in the detergents. Just a quick duck in and out to grab my unscented Purex made me feel sick.

In my quest for better options, I stumbled upon Norwex laundry detergent, called Ultra Power Plus. Again, I was deeply suspicious. How could a Tablespoon of powdered detergent clean a load of laundry? (That was early days. I use less than that now unless it’s a mega load.) Again, I was hooked. It worked. It didn’t make me sneeze. It was biodegradable, so my tons of gray water were not killing the environment.

You know what I did next, don’t you? I became a regular. I won’t bore you with my trail of amazing Norwex discoveries, but today when I got an email about a flash sale that Norwex is doing, I thought of all my friends out there who are making a career out of homemaking. I thought of how we sometimes need to work smarter instead of harder. Then I thought it would not be loving to keep to myself a really great deal. There is a flash sale from now through 5 PM Central Time on March 25th. Here is what is on sale and it will bless your socks off:


Wouldn’t it be neat if the gorgeous dishes and the succulent came with it? But it’s the dusting mitt and the envirocloth we want to look at. We use our dusting mitt for dusting, of course, but what I really love it for is to wet it and run it over the window screens. My old technique was to lay the screens on the deck, spray them with a hose, squirt soap onto them, then brush them with a scrub brush to get the dust and “fan circles” (from window fans) off them. My smarter method is to wet the mitt. I wipe first one side, then the other and the thick microfiber picks up everything. I rinse it out, wring it out, and move to the next window. It’s laughably easy.

The enviro-cloth is my top favorite product from this company. It has no rivals, in my opinion. When you wash up a mess on the floor, like a dropped egg, you will feel that you got every little bit of it cleaned up. When you use it to wash your windows, it will clear away grime like nobody’s business. When you clean the toilets… okay, ‘nough said. I will not suggest you slice a tomato on the lid, like someone did.

Alternately there is what is called the Basic Package, which contains the two cloths that you need to clean by far the most of your home. I can assure you that you will never look at window cleaning quite the same way. This is why my children can wash our windows and do a good enough job to pass my inspection. No streaks!

People sometimes gasp and get sticker shock. I understand that completely. When I considered that I used my original 2 cloths for 4 years before buying more, and I started thinking about how I didn’t buy any chemical cleaners in that time… well, it just made sense to continue my patronage. I have crunched the numbers on the laundry detergent as well, and it comes out to the same per load as Tide. Go ahead, do your research, try out an envirocloth, if nothing else.

It’s kind of like having a virtuous charwoman to help you clean. You will start to feel affectionate and protective toward it. You may even want to name your cloths. Of course, if you get your kicks from smelling Irish Spring for weeks, I cannot offer that. I used to love to smell cleaning agents until the sneezing began. Oh, wait. Did I mention that before?

Happy cleaning, however you may do it!


In Defense of Humble Arts

Wanna know what I did yesterday? I felt like I spent the day with either a rag, hanky, dishcloth, tea towel, washcloth, paper towel, Norwex microfiber, you-know-what-I-am-saying, in my hand. It’s what I did. I cleaned up and wiped. I did other things, too, but for the purposes of this post, here is a listing:

I swiped bread crumbs off the table before the day barely started. There was a great honey smear that got missed by the junior kitchen cleaners.

After breakfast I comforted the heartbroken little girl whose kitty got hit on the road, wiping her tears and mine on her pink hoodie while we put flowers on the grave and talked about what a glorious kitty Nimbus was.

There was a grave stone painting operation that spread acrylic paints from the craft table to the fridge door to the little girl’s cheeks, all of which I washed off before it became permanent.

A while later I discovered more acrylic blobs in the bathroom sink from the paintbrush cleanup, mingled with stray wispy hair. Of course, I owned that mess too.

At lunchtime there were bits of mac and cheese on the stovetop. There was a dribble mark of milk under the pitcher and quite a few drips.

During quiet time, while I was messing with clay in the basement, someone unwisely brought a hunk upstairs to sculpt. After their cleanup, there were still smears on all horizontal surfaces, which is where the microfiber cloth saved the day. Meanwhile downstairs the children were now attempting to throw pots on the wheel. After a while, I checked on their operations and discovered a vast, spreading puddle of grey water and a young man corralling it with towels. I have to say that was a mess I turned and slunk away from and he did eventually get it all under control.

I brushed and cleaned out the sandy crud in the laundry sink.

There was the egg cleaning job where I inspected the child’s work and wiped the stray bits of straw off the eggs before putting them into cartons.

Someone cut apples at the table for a snack, cleared away all the snitzes, but forgot the sticky. I cannot stand sticky; it gives me shivers.

After supper, there was the countertop and table again, then the hot chocolate drips from the bedtime snack.

After the children were in bed, I sat down on my chair and looked up at the ceiling, noticing again that the light fixtures were incredibly dirty. My husband was still working on a paper, so I got up and I washed four glass light shades because I didn’t feel like ever seeing them again looking so crummy.

And then I went to bed. It was a good day. None of these activities were remarkable or noble, but as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought, “Well, and how would life be if I quit wiping things?”

There would be glory missing from the world, that’s what.



Coming soon: What is glory in the humble arts?

About Trash and Stuff

I almost missed seeing the turkeys in the sloping meadow ¬†because I was so busy feeling outraged at the litter¬†in the ditch. It’s a real problem here in rural areas where people feel like nobody will see them or report them. My husband picked up a fridge in a wooded area just close to here. Now that is some serious trash! In 1 mile of walking I counted 142 bottles and cans. From my exhaustive survey, (errhrmm) I conclude that beer drinkers (102 beer cans) have less class than soda drinkers (approximately 15 soda cans). There were two coffee cups, 3 fountain drink cups with straws still in them at one of the curves, and in another spot the water drinker (10 water bottles) seems to do her littering. I made another sweeping assumption that this is likely about 5 to 7 different frequent flyers along the road with trash flinging habits, since all the fast food cups were in the same vicinity and the water bottles too. The beer bottles tended to be clumped up at the intersections, which happens to be right outside our picket fence. It is highly annoying.

I was reminded of a walk I took early one morning with my Grandpa about 20 years ago, when he was still vigorous in health. I knew he took a daily constitutional, but when he said 6 AM I thought it was a little plenty early. I managed to get up in time, but politely declined a swig of Jogging in a Jug that he offered before we started. Then he stuffed a plastic grocery bag into his jacket pocket and we set out. I was astounded at the swiftness of the pace he set, and more than a little relieved when he would pause to pick up trash beside the road. He told me that he did this every time he walked, and there were always more beer cans. Being of a frugal mind, he thought they might as well be recycled as in the ditch, so he picked them up. We filled the plastic bag and gave the cans to Uncle Tim to crush in his homemade pop can smasher. When he got enough, they would be recycled and Tim got to keep the money.

I guess there is no point in fuming at the thoughtlessness of others. I might as well follow Grandpa’s example and start picking up trash. My children have this protest pretty often when they are asked to clean up a mess someone else made. “But I didn’t do it, Mom!” While I try to be fair, sometimes I purposely set them up with opportunities to serve a sibling. I decided today that taking the crew on a roadside cleanup would probably be one of the best ways to impress on them to never be the careless flingers of garbage that sullies other people’s lives. I had a school teacher that did Adopt-a-highway with the class every year. I never forgot those lessons and to this day cannot toss even a gum wrapper out of the car window.

Maybe the broken windows theory will take hold right here in our beer-drinking, litter-flinging neighborhood. (Look it up. It is a fascinating social phenomenon that when a neighborhood cleans up it’s surfaces, less crime happens.) ¬†Surely if there are no cans in the ditch already, a slightly inebriated driver would think twice before chucking stuff out the window. Or maybe I should just be pragmatic, like Grandpa, and make money off the trash.


Life on the Farmlet

It’s been balmy and sunshiny, so I went outside on Saturday to check on the children who had been out from underfoot ¬† outside for hours. At five PM it was still 65 degrees. Here is what was going on, as seen by cell phone camera.

The boots were abandoned in the grass, the dog was tearing around, hoping against hope to get her mouth on the softball, and paper planes, fleets of them, were flying across the backyard.


This is the girls’ playground in warm weather. The goat girls and pig girls and chicken girls too. It’s a mess. Lumber scraps, extra boards from the barn build, no pasture grass, a compost pile where the pigs play king of the mountain, and one scrawny pine tree where the goats reach up as high as they can to nibble needles. (There is a fence around the pond so that none of the critters can get into it, if you want to know.)

They don’t play with their stuffed animals and dolls much anymore. I am thinking we could majorly clear out toys and they wouldn’t even care. The babies are Valentine, Ted, Daisy, and Stubbs. My human girls get a lot of baths, if you want to know that too. I don’t especially care for goat smell. And Lord, have mercy, the laundry. But it’s all good. We have plenty of soap and water.


And there, for your perusal, is a photo of Pennsylvania February With Tilted Barn. The barn is quite upright, I assure you. I took the picture from the orchard, inside the woven wire fence. I cannot tell you how upset I will be if these critters breech the fence and ruin our plantings, but for now all is harmonious. The pasture has been diligently plowed by the porkers. We can only hope that what they are so happily digging out and eating is the poison ivy roots that infested that area for years. We plan to seed proper seeds once we get growing weather. Meanwhile the chickens peck over the places that the pigs opened up.

Our farm is turning into the symbiosis that we hoped. (Except for the day the cutest kid died, and the day the pigs ate a chicken. Those were dark days.) We have less than five acres, but if you read enough Mother Earth News articles, you start to believe that a lot can be done with only a little. ūüôā A few years ago Gabe and I looked at each other and asked, “Do we really want to make that much work for ourselves?” Neither of us are animal lovers. I never voluntarily picked up a goat or a chicken in my life. But¬†we looked at our sturdy tribe and we looked at the digital addictions that are ruining children for all practical purposes. We made a conscious decision. Let’s do this!

The gardens were the first and easiest step. Our land was crud: wet, heavy clay. Nothing grew well for the longest time. We have composted and dunged and amended the soil until at last we are getting decent yields. Then along came a dog and some rabbits. Draining the boggy meadow with ditches and tiles to dig a pond was the next huge project. Two garden sheds gave us post-and-beam building experience, but¬†the barn… ¬†That barn and the animals have¬†been by far our favorite upgrade. Every child has a special prodigy that they love. Nobody loves the guineas, ¬†but we hope they reduce the tick population and earn our respect at least. I feel sorry for anybody who would think they can sneak into the barn past their wretched watchdog racket.

So that was what was going on in our land on Saturday. When it came time to write the post, I was so miserable with a sinus/head cold thing that I simply collapsed into bed in fumes of Vicks and peppermint oil and throat drops, with plenty of tissues nearby.

On Sunday night after we had a party for my mom’s birthday, my husband said, “No way. You are not going to write tonight.” I listen to my husband, if you want to know.

So, here we are, all nicely caught up again. Happy Monday and the rest of the week!



Rabbits Like Bananas, and Other Who Knew? Moments

Queen, the lop-eared rabbit with the patchy springtime fur, was a little surprised when Rita offered her, instead of the daily pile of dandelions, a very overripe banana. It was a “let’s see if the rabbit will eat this” experiment. She delighted us by chowing down the peelings, leaving the fruit until last. Queen is lonely. She eats dandelions endlessly, just for the pleasure of company outside the cage. We plan to find her a boyfriend so she can belong to a family.

Last week I bleached all my baby broccoli plants in a sincere attempt at protecting them from the elements. Folks, it got cold as anything so I lovingly set buckets and quart jars over all the plants. Apparently the sun was bright enough to heat it up to cooking temps inside the jars and that was the end of the windowsill starters.¬†¬†I went to the green house this morning¬†and at first I thought my old-order Mennonite greenhouse lady was sold out of broccoli. All I could find was purple cabbages and cauliflower. Score on purple cabbage. I love it.But not cooked. It looks sicky grayish then. Anyway, I stumbled upon some really little broccoli plants being coddled in a corner and brought them home with me because the lady sells out of broccoli every year, and I think to myself, “Why wouldn’t you learn that you need twice as much?” Of course, I don’t say it, because she has been greenhousing for 25 years and if she wants to run out of plants, that is her business. This morning she was telling me her new scheme of lining her planters with Depends under the soil to keep them from drying out. It’s brilliant, wouldn’t you say?

Addy in bike helmet

Our baby learned to ride her bike solo tonight. As you can see, she felt mighty pleased with the accomplishment. Someone dug an old helmet out of a muddy spot and she wore it with pride.¬†If you would like to see a short video of her efforts, with an amused mother giggling in the background, click here.¬† After her first successful wobble across the lawn, she rushed to her sister with a mighty hug and said, “Tell all my friends I can ride a bike, will you? Tell Anicia and Kiersten and Gretchen and Jenna and Allison.”¬†I might mention that the child will definitely be needing a proper helmet. She is as accident prone as anyone I have ever seen, sporting bandaids and bruises year round.

Today is my dad’s birthday. Every day we have discussions about how soon Rita will be 7 and what about Addy turning 5 and what shall we give Doddy for his birthday. After a small tiff this afternoon, Rita said, “I know what. Let’s give Addy to Doddy for his birthday and then we can babysit her when he goes to Florida.” Addy thought that would be fun. She was seeing an endless vista of marshmallow peeps and Tom and Jerry episodes. But Rita changed her mind, “That would be giving away the present God gave us and that wouldn’t be right.” I thought that put it rather well.

This forenoon I was working on assignments for the last 10 days of school. After lunch I took a break, looked around at my house and realized in a sudden fit of depression that every single room feels grubby and tired from much occupation over winter. I was standing in the kitchen, looking up at the ceiling, wishing for Mary Poppins someone to just tell me where to start when I saw the cobwebs above the curtains. So there I was, and there was the thing to do, and I just did it. After I scrubbed down the walls and shined the windows, I looked around and felt real good. One room down, five to go. I wonder if I can pull it off- get my house shined up before we finish school so that I can do my annual Week of Loafing without any guilt. I aim to try!

How about you? Have you made any interesting discoveries lately?

How to Clean Your House in One Hour

cats cleaning, color(source)

The house was a wreck. I am hardened to mess, but this? It was what my mom would have called a Royal Mess. The sun was shining outside and I knew I needed to harness the man-power before it disappeared out the door. My strategy was a simple cleaning blitz, which is what we do when somebody calls and says they would like to stop by in a little while. It’s all hands on deck swooshing away toys and marching shoes to closets. It’s fast and looks great, though not totally thorough, if you know what I mean.

We had six rooms on the main floor to contend with and six people to be contenders. I divided us into three teams. Alex got the little sister who adores him unequivocally. I got the little girl who tends to sit and sigh despairingly at the sheer scope of what she is being asked to do. The two middles got each other and a kitchen with a lot of problems.

“Okay, guys, we have one hour before the sanitation officer comes! Let’s be done by then.” Dividing the huge chunk of picking up and putting away is the best motivation I know for staving off disheartenment. Even so my helper kept languishing and had to be encouraged with itty bitty jobs, one at a time. The middles very diplomatically divided the kitchen work and churned through it in record time. Alex’s team was done first, sitting on the couch with books long before the rest of us were ready for inspection.

Each person then got to inspect one room and the persons responsible for any problem spots had to accept the critique without fuss and fix the issue. I liked this way, because I always end up being the impossibly picky sanitation officer and now they got a chance to do it. They were quite detailed in their inspections. Even one of my rooms didn’t pass.

Lest you think it was all peaches and cream, I should mention the child weeping because her teammate made the bed with wrinkles and he walked off in disgust because she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. The team that was done first had toys stashed in corners and coloring pages behind the couch. And some of the things went into drawers and cupboards where they definitely do not belong. Also, you shouldn’t go down to the basement. But that is one way to do it-clean your house in one hour.


Capitulate: Yield, Concede Defeat

Yesterday  I described myself as a sort of free-range parent, by which I mean that my children have the freedom to explore and make stuff and figure out how things work after school is done. But yesterday the boys and I ranged right down to their room with a carpet shampooer after school was done. On the surface things were dusty and disorganized, but not too bad. We hauled all the small bits out, dusting and washing walls as we progressed in the emptying out.

Alex was in a great mood for cleaning, “Mama, do you think I should just pitch this?” My answer was always, “Yes! YES!” Over the years we have had many “discussions” about his treasures. As a two year old he always found a stick or a rock he wanted to keep in the time it took to get from the vehicle to the door. ¬†The treasures changed with age, but there were just too many of them. It felt like a breakthrough in our mother/son relationship yesterday as we chucked out the broken wooden guns, the ancient hummingbird nest, the empty shell casings, the used albuterol inhalers. When I saw those inhalers, about 10 of them, I knew we have a throwback. My grandpa kept empty insulin bottles for decades. We filled a trash bag and put some outgrown things on a Goodwill stack. This is a breathless achievement for a packrat¬† saving person.¬†The happiest moment for Gregory was finding 9 long lost dollars that he had hidden in a hard cover book and completely forgotten.

After the carpets were cleaned, it was time to reassemble. I had an idea of how I wanted the room to look and they had ideas of how they wanted the room to look, and ne’er the twain did meet. Have you ever seen those Ikea clips, where they do room makeovers and everything just looks so amazing? That was what I would have liked. They wanted a lot of floor space to dump the Knex and wrestle and sprawl.

A memory from childhood surfaced, of how my mom would coach us in getting our space sparkling clean, then leave us to put it back together with never a word about how we had to do it. It was such a thrill to rearrange furniture and we could figure out on our own if having a bed sticking out by the door was impractical. I decided to defer to the boys yesterday, but I wasn’t very gracious about it because¬†I kept making suggestions. I can tell you though, their room now has flavor,¬†with dressers and shelves marching around the walls and the bed stuck tightly into a corner like an afterthought. Every flat surface is adorned with Lego creations and dinosaurs and there is this enormous crane that towers on a nightstand.

But it is clean. All of it. I win.