Sometimes the Beans Get too Fat

Would you like to know about the time the Lord gave me permission to not make pickles with my excess cucumber crop? It was in August and I felt that I really should not allow those cukes to go to waste. I looked at my shelves of jars in the basement and saw that I had about 10 pints of mushy bread-and-butter pickles from a previous harvest. They were no longer a blessing or a temptation to eat, so we didn’t eat them. I dumped them out for the chickens, washed the jars, and then I heard the voice of reason. “How many jars of pickles did you can last year? About 15? See, you’re not even really fond of pickles, so how does it make sense to cram a batch of them into an already hectic day so that you can dump half of them to the chickens in a few years? Maybe you could just throw the cucumbers to them now and buy a jar of pickles when you need it?”

A gardener tends to look at that sort of advice as from below, the lazy place, where people don’t manage very well. Having been raised with gardening my entire childhood, I value the lessons learned while pulling weeds and digging potatoes. Once we had enough green beans in the freezer for the year, my mom would sometimes let the last ones get fat so we could shell them and can them. It didn’t matter that none of us really enjoyed shell beans; we were not going to waste good food. I witnessed my aunts doing the same. When there was a glut of cantaloupe, one of them froze the excess in little chunks to eat as slush. It was actually a good idea, but I don’t need to tell you how small the window is for a bite of slushy cantaloupe versus a bite of disgusting slime. For a person from Amish culture, wasting something that could possibly be preserved, canned, frozen, dried, or fermented was unpardonable. I still find it really difficult to throw out food scraps unless they are going to compost or to feed an animal. And I do let the last green beans get fat, because I know our goats will love them.

I’m prioritizing hard this August, having added another layer of things to do with my pottery, which I like a lot better than canning pickles, by the way. I ask myself, “What does the Lord require of you?” and it is simply this: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.” There are a lot of choices available in those generalized instructions, but “do all to the glory of God” probably summarizes them all.

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We are back to school and I love the routine and the quieter pace that is a necessity of providing an education for our children. We do our basic household chores in the morning, then go to our schoolroom and look at the schedule for the day, taking it from there. This year I am planning out only one week at a time, with Gregory making his own goals and keeping his own logbook. Alex has to do one course that is mandatory to get his credits for graduation. With Addy reading pretty well, I feel like I’ve hit on a little pocket of homeschool bliss that I have been working toward for years. Feel free to ask me how it’s going when we hit February.

A few weeks ago, Gabriel took time to build me a wonderful set of bookshelves for our schoolroom. It has been exactly the inspiration I needed to get excited about getting back to the books. I just filed our papers and slunk outside this spring when we finished our term. Things were not pretty, so I sorted, culled, and got thoroughly happy as I arranged our library.

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That, right there, is the heart of our homeschool. Once my children love to read, they are driven to learn and they don’t even have a clue it’s happening. I am planning a series of book recommendations this fall. It should be a lot easier with everything categorized. The left half is non-fiction, biographies, and classics. The right half is series, readers, and storybooks.

Aside from not canning pickles, we are have been working toward a massive shift of bedrooms in the house. There is one large room downstairs with a bathroom/laundry room next to it. The boys were down there for years and the girls were upstairs in two little bedrooms. This meant that Olivia had her own room and she wasn’t even a teen yet, and they did not think that was quite fair. On Saturday the boys talked the girls into switching so that they are all three downstairs in the big bedroom and the boys each have a small bedroom. I was painting the downstairs room while they were doing negotiations, and was a little surprised that it was going so smoothly. Suddenly I noticed a sad little face and when I asked what was wrong, she crumpled into tears because “I don’t want to be selfish but I did so love to be by myself.” It was a situation that reminded me of a Dutch phrase my mom used to say (“Es chatshtah gebt uch.”) that translates loosely into “The most mature person gives up.” In many ways and on many days, my middle child is the most mature of them all. We talked about decorating and making sure she gets her quiet time without interruptions. Today we picked a blush colored paint for an accent wall behind her bed, and her school desk is beside a window where the sun shines in. It is very pleasant, and the smaller girls are being held strictly accountable for their messes. We are three days in and so far, so good.

If you want to know what a house looks like when a passel of children are sorting treasures and clothes, moving all the furniture, some into the attic and some out of the attic, emptying out the entire closet full of games and puzzles… well… It looked like all the bedrooms vomited into the living room and down the stairs and literally everywhere. Meanwhile Gregory had a burning desire to make gobs and they were spread on the table, waiting for icing. I finished painting and came to a kitchen that was liberally sprinkled with chocolate crumbs and abandoned cookie sheets. Then I remembered that I hadn’t finished my kettle full of spaghetti sauce on Friday night, and I was chopping fresh herbs for that while the paint was drying. That was when my parents dropped in, so you can ask them and they will tell you that it was bad.

Having big strong boys makes this sort of enterprise much easier than you would suppose. At 3 o’clock they started moving the bookshelves, because yeah, every child has their favorites in their bedroom so every bedroom has a bookshelf. The two little girls use most of their shelves for things like rock collections and pinecones and Calico Critters. Olivia has books, coloring supplies, and knitting projects in baskets. Most of the games from the closet got stashed on Greg’s shelves for now because they had to go somewhere. His closet is the biggest, so he is also stuck with a section of girls’ dresses. Alex’s books are in three tall stacks right inside his door. Like I said, we are in progress here.

Every dresser, chest of drawers, nightstand, mirror, and lamp moved up or down. The air conditioner unit and the window fans moved.

The bed situation was easier. Greg inherited the bunkbeds because that is his room. Only one twin bed had to be moved downstairs, but that left Alex without a mattress because his full-sized one doesn’t fit into his tiny room. Our Goodwill sells decent quality new mattresses and I bargained with him that if he got the things squared away by 6 PM, we’d go pick up a twin bed. Unfortunately the power steering on the Suburban gave out just a few miles from home, and we had to abort the mission. By the time I tucked in the girls that night, fed the dog and put her into her kennel, and made sure there were nightlights in all the right places, I felt like I had juggled paint rollers, fragile feelings, and homeless objects for hours. We might as well have moved, it was that drastic. I am not the tucked-in “don’t have stuff you don’t need person” that I thought I was, but now I know exactly what else needs to be worked on. And that is after a massive clearing out this fall, with yard sales and all. I don’t know where all this stuff comes from! (Help me, Carol!)

Greg is currently sleeping in a lavender room. I wanted to paint it anyway, but all in good time. Alex has a mattress now and no longer sleeps on the floor. The girls are getting along much better than I expected and can’t wait for the blush accent wall. And I am tired.

Home-making. It can be really absorbing and exhausting, but there is plenty of scope for imagination here. I have always liked rearranging furniture, figuring out how to freshen the house without spending a lot of money. I don’t like decorating at all if it means I am trying to achieve a certain look. It must be that I am not visual enough. But I do know how to go for a certain feel. That probably isn’t really a cool thing but it’s how I roll.

Speaking of feeling, four people have told me recently that I should read up on the Enneagrams. I am starting to feel ‘way behind the times. One of them gave me specific recommendations for websites, but I forgot them. Give me a link in the comments if you have a good source. I am very interested.

For one last bit of random, I leave you with an herb bouquet because it’s Abundant August and I can. Have a lovely day!

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All the Feels

“Life experience is not distracting you from your appointed task of writing. It is, rather, the roundabout blessing of giving you something to say.” So says Douglas Wilson in his book Wordsmithy. 

Well. The one thing I know is that I am getting life experience every day. Weird as it may be, I turn airy phrases while I am frying sausage, or while I am pulling weeds in my perennial border. I can’t help myself. But the thing I can help… that thing called pulling out the laptop or the paper, that is the where I weakly procrastinate.

I have a whole range of feelings to explore just now. Get ready!

Things That Make Me HAPPY

  • May, which is to say lilacs, grape hyacinths, creamy tulips with purple fringes, crabapple blooms outside my window, and all of these also in my house, in vases I made for them when the blooms were apparently dead and frozen.
  • Bubble tea, which I tried for the first time in a Thai restaurant with my sister, only we ordered bubble coffee. I googled it and found it is essentially pearl tapioca suspended in liquid. Yesterday I made my own and served it in iced cream tea. The family was less enthusiastic, so I get to have it all to myself. I love that slurp of fat tapioca flying up the straw. And I love not paying four dollars for a drink that only costs twenty cents.
  • The end of school, which is upon us. I look back at the beginning of the year and of the obstacles we have overcome by daily doing the next thing, the next lesson, the next big concept. My first grader can read all the knock-knock jokes in her book now, and I wish I had left it at the book sale. All the others groan and reject her hopeful “Knock-knock.” It is up to me to shore up her sense of hilarity and provide “Who’s there?” dialog. Rita has mastered long division with its accompanying checking, that milestone of third grade. Olivia has learned to diagram compound sentences and do spelling without tears.  I now have a newly-hatched high schooler who  loves history and remembers everything he ever read. The other high schooler won a hundred dollar prize in an essay contest. Sometimes I live my triumphs vicariously through theirs. I will not claim to be undaunted by the challenges of home schooling. It’s ridiculously hard some days, but here we are and we have grown and learned. Here’s our final exams day, and we couldn’t sit at desks one more day.
  • My children playing with ducks and chickens and bunnies. Outside. Or pitching a tent to sleep in the backyard, or hanging Rita’s hammock in the tree for a reading spot. In fact, there were so many “differences of opinion” with the hammock usage that I just ordered the second one. One easily fits two people, but not three, so that there was always an odd girly out.

Things That Make Me Sad or Mad

  • Accidentally freezing my tote full of dahlia tubers that were supposed to be planted the entire length of my garden. There was a stack of egg cartons in the basement closet where I usually over-winter the dahlias, and I had no other place to put them, so I took the tubers to the attic. Obviously, it got much too cold. I have a friend who has some that I gave her a few years ago, and she is returning the favor by giving me some back. I am so happy about that, because I have never seen this particular color of dahlia anywhere else.
  • Dropping a heavy casserole dish out of an upper cupboard onto a stack of soup bowls on the counter. You can imagine the carnage. But now I can make more.
  • Innumerable ants invading my house. One crumb in the middle of the living room carpet appeared to be moving one day, and sure enough, there they were. They especially love the smorgasbord of my kitchen floor.
  • Pigs eating poultry that is doing nothing more offensive than pecking at grains the pigs would rather keep for themselves. It’s just piggish. But we sold Brutus and Petunia now and their offspring are still too young to indulge in such habits.
  • Listening to a beautiful, well-educated person trot out all the reasons immigrants should go back where they came from. I just have one thing to say about that: America is ruining America. Not the immigrants.

Things That Give Me Hope

  • A change from ER to ICU for my husband. We hope for less stress for a season, much as he loves trauma nursing.
  • A strong son with a steady job, learning the manly art of getting up early, putting in hours of hard work. I sometimes glimpse the man the boy will become. It’s a strange feeling. I gave birth to this tall person with the deep voice and all the opinions about trucks and other things I never even think about? Wow.
  • Looking back at mercies. Recently the girls and I talked about near-misses, those almost-accidents that convince us of angels and we know that we are surrounded, else how would any of us still be alive?
  • A future not on this earth. I read Leif Enger’s  Peace Like a River this past weekend when Gabriel was working. I cannot shake that story. I cried my way through the beautiful chapter that described the moments after the narrator’s death and I cried that he had to come back. Sorry for the spoiler, but it was the most profound chapter for me. Hope. It’s a beautiful thing.

Things That Make Me Laugh

  • Addy, “I have a question, Mama. When you die, can I have that book you are reading aloud right now? Only, I’m afraid the others will take it first.”
  • The book I am reading aloud, The Family Nobody Wanted , makes me laugh every time and I am venturing a guess that I have read it at least a dozen times. It pleases me when I share a book I have loved for years with my children and then they love it so much that I will need to put it into my will to avoid squabbles.
  • Six fat porkers racing out of their puddle to the edge of their pen whenever they see me coming because they think maybe there will be kitchen scraps. Even though I may only be walking past, they come. It’s the very definition of cupboard love.
  • Addy’s latest pet chicken was named Pole Tree, and she tried hard to teach it to fly off its perch on her shoulder. She claims she can pick out her chicken from the whole flock of reddish hens, all of which look exactly the same.
  • Gregory, being sent into the store for a gallon of milk at the end of the “dumbest day ever” for both of us in which everything broke/went wrong, came out grinning sheepishly. “What did you buy that wasn’t milk?” I asked, and he produced a very expensive bar of Swiss chocolate. “I thought it might help make the day better,” he said. He was right. We ate it all right there before we even got on the road again.

 

Well, there, in no particular order, you get the feels that I have been feeling. How is the spring going for you?

 

 

 

Tuesday in the Life, Installment 3

I hope I meet Asaph in heaven so I can tell him how much I loved his songs here on Earth. I don’t know… maybe Asaph was more than one person, but the chapters in the Psalms from 73 to 83 are some of my favorites. Reading through them with their sweeping big picture arrangements contrasting human frailties and divine kindness  never fails to inspire me to deeper trust. Consider this passage from Psalm 74: 16, 17.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;

you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;

you have made summer and winter.

I sometimes say things like, “Aghhh. I want winter to be over NOW! I want tulips!” Or maybe it sounds more like, “I am tired of all my clothes, and I want to go to the tropics!” Sometimes the pettiness comes out in a mutter under my breath about how every one is getting on my nerves and why are there so many boots in this life? 

When I read through these Psalms, I hear Asaph reminding his people again and again that everything is under control. There is a bigger purpose here than just what I want. I do want spring, unabashedly. I pine for it. But I can also wait patiently because it will be worth the waiting!

My sister-in-law Becca passed on a pearl of wisdom a few years ago. “If you don’t like something or if it just bugs you all the time, do something about it! Don’t just talk about it.” This is very good advice for the things that I can actually do something about, like training the children to line up the boots or setting aside some household funds to freshen up the house.

It’s that time of the year when I need to have a zero tolerance policy for grousing and yet have the courage to change the things I can. I may have said the line about being tired of my clothes this morning. My husband looked a bit blank, “Why?” So then I moved on to “I think I am going to buy a bunch of houseplants,” to which he replied, “Why not?” His reasonableness made me remember why not. I kill houseplants regularly. Also they tip over when we walk past them. I do have better success with tiny succulents but alas, this winter I had them on the sills of my pottery shed windows and they got nip-dead on that weekend of bitter below zero temps. A few also got drown-dead.

I don’t know what spying algorithms are at work, but Instagram regularly gives me ads for buying plants online, so I went on the Amazon this morning and used all my points on a variety pack of 20 teensy plants to replace the ones that froze. I also bought paperwhite bulbs to force in time for Easter blooms. I felt much better then. On my kitchen windowsill I do have some genuine geranium blooms that had no one to admire them in my mom’s basement while she is in Florida, so I clipped them and brought them home.

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Yet another brilliant project I am working on is a small pinwheel quilt kit I saw on the clearance rack at Joann’s. By the time I was informed at the register that I couldn’t use my coupon on clearance items, my heart was too invested to give it up, so I spent way too much for small pieces of coordinating fabric. I really do enjoy the therapy of brilliant calicos, although it is slow going.

On Mondays we catch up on laundry and I do school assignments in the notebooks for the week. Ideally that makes Tuesday the day for projects. I can easily dictate spelling words while I am sewing.

I recently found a vintage typewriter at a thrift store and debated for a long time about whether it would be worth the storage space required. Considering how much fun my girls have playing pretend with an old computer keyboard, I decided to bring it home. The ribbon was dried out, but they used it anyway while we waited for a replacement online. Today it came in the mail. The child done first with her school assignments (Olivia, of course)  got to be first with the typewriter. It was a great boot in the rear for the lagging ones when they saw how bright and fresh the words leaped onto the paper.

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They have been writing letters, pounding out stories, making little books, etc. etc. There are no cords, no batteries, and no backspace key! Addy is a fearless writer, with little regard for unnecessary details like spelling or chronological order. I find her scraps of stories around the house and enjoy them vastly. Here is a translation for you.

“My Family  Addy Rita Livy Greg Alex Papa Mama

Oh no. The boys are on the roof. Sally is in

side. Alex is sick so my mama went to the store

to get ginger ale. And that is the end of my story.”

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(The boys were not on the roof.) This simple machine has been well worth $20 already, just for the tricky way it has sparked joy in composing writing.

After lunch we had quiet time, all except the clacking of the typing keys. It’s not even half as annoying as the sounds of a computer game.

I spent a few hours in the pottery barn, glazing pieces that came out of the first firing yesterday. There are a lot of experiments in this kiln, including the teapots. I am waiting for some glazes I ordered before I can finish the load, but it was nice to be deliberate. Most of my mistakes/seconds happen in the glazing process. I am currently trying to wrap my head around the chemistry of glaze components as explained by a master. When I think back to learning the periodic table in school, my head is pretty much a blank. I must have memorized them long enough to pass the test, then gently released all that excess data to make space for more pressing items. It’s not like I have to learn about all the elements now, but I do need to understand the ones that make successful glazes unless I want to be stuck with only using commercially available ones. I muddle through and take notes but I honestly don’t know whether I have it in me.

At suppertime I came inside and cooked up a huge pot of creamy potato soup. My family cheers for soup, and I love cooking it. Tonight’s version included sweet onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, whole kernel corn, lots of parsley, ground turkey, and some cheddar. It was broth-based with a few cups of milk for creaminess and I used instant potatoes to thicken it just a bit. Served with saltines and pear butter, I am glad I can report a meal that was nourishing at the end of this Tuesday.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Yet Another Tuesday in the Life

I awoke this morning to the inspiring thought that I had better live well, since I want to write about the day. (Just kidding. Although I did realize to my surprise that it has been a whole week since I posted about the day we had bellyaches and multiple ginger remedies.)

I felt a need to make a nice breakfast this morning, largely due to telling the children to scrounge out of the fridge last night while I messed about in the pottery shed. I had intended to make some supper for myself as well, but it took kind of long to throw the last pots and then it was the girls’ storytime and I just sampled a brownie. I am not sure what the children ate while I was gone. Guilt is a good motivation for getting out of bed in time to cook a nourishing meal, if nothing else.

We have discovered that duck eggs (Remember that day we took extra animals to the sale barn and came home with a dozen ducks?) make excellent omelettes. There was a time when I thought that would be sort of gross, but in fact, they are quite delicious. They are enormous- it only took 5 eggs to make plenty of omelettes for our family- but extra fluffy. I think it’s the yolk/ white ratio that makes the difference. I also use them in baking when they are available, again because of the richness of the yolk. All that extra Omega-3 is just fine by me. If that makes you want to avoid my brownies at potluck, I am not offended.

When Gabriel left for work, we had to give him a push out of our ice-slick of a driveway. The sun was bright and shiny, but not making much impression on the 3 inches of melted snow turned to solid ice. It was downright treacherous outside.

The girls wanted to go to the ladies’ sewing today, but I said they had to do their schoolwork first. It is always astonishing how a bit of extra motivation can spur them on. They got cracking right after breakfast and we even had our spelling done by 11. I went to pick up some Ice Melt salt to try to dent the ice river in front of the house before we get more snow and rain. Gregory was in charge of that operation and when we girls left, he was happily strewing it about. Anything that saves motions and simplifies his life makes him feel jolly. Spreading rock salt certainly trumped chipping away inch by inch with a shovel.

Our sewing day consisted of helping to tie comforters with yarn. The girls love yarn and fabrics so much that any operation involving these materials makes them feel good. It is always a bonus when they are allowed to pick through the scrap fabrics and drag home a bag full for their own projects. We have carry-in lunch, camaraderie and cheer while we work together. The bulk of the blankets are shipped by Christian Aid Ministries to folks in need of warmth and care. One of my elderly friends spends a great deal of her spare time cutting up calico scraps and sewing them into cheerful comfort tops. I asked her today how many she has done. Thelma doesn’t keep track of them all, but one year she did 70, and she has been doing this for years! I can only imagine her rewards in heaven someday when Jesus looks at the tally of her labor of love. When she left today, I told her to be careful that she doesn’t fall. “We pray every day,” she said, “that we would be kept from falling physically and spiritually.”

 

When I got home, I took a quick survey of the pots I had thrown last night. I usually trim and finish them up within 12 hours of throwing them on the wheel, before they get too dry. It’s a variable that takes into consideration how much humidity is in the air, as well as temperature. I have had mugs get too dry to attach handles, and bowls that won’t trim smoothly. Today they were just right, because I had draped them with plastic to slow down the drying. Trimming is the most satisfying of all the processes, aside from unloading a glaze kiln. The piece is placed up-side-down on the wheel, centered, and secured with lumps of clay around the bottom, before being trimmed with a sharp tool to reduce the weight at the bottom of the piece. I have a few mugs in the house that I didn’t trim because they were too dry when I got around to it. I was too attached to them to throw them into the scrap bucket, so I glazed them anyway. Now whenever I use one of them,  I feel like I am lifting weights with my tea. It’s astonishing how much even 1/8 inch of clay weighs. I am practicing throwing the bottoms to just the right thickness so I don’t have to trim so much, but I still always clean them up.

I had a goal to learn to make teapots in February. So far I have made two, equally funny in their own different ways. The glazing remains to be done, and we cannot agree. The children say colorful and I say white. At least I now understand the process and am not scared of it anymore. I was told that making a teapot involves most of the basic skills. You throw it in three pieces: first a cylinder, pulling it in at the top, bellying it out in the middle, and making a gallery for the lid. Then you throw a bud vase to cut off diagonally for the spout. The third piece is a lid, and there are a lot of varieties, as I found when I asked Youtube. The main thing to worry about is that it fits the teapot’s gallery. I never used a calipers before in my life, but I appropriated one out of my husband’s antique tool chest and now it is mine. Once the three pieces are leather hard, they are assembled very carefully so as not to warp the still pliable clay. A handle is attached, taken off, reattached, pulled out at the bottom, no, that looks funny, scrapped, a new one attached, looped up so that it matches somewhat the shape of the spout, still not totally pleasing, but hey, it’s a handle!

I have a continuing love/hate relationship with handles, as you might be able to tell. The more I listen to experienced potters, the more I realize this is a common affliction. There is a thing called “handle envy” where another potter’s proficiency strikes you with admiration and smites you with jealousy all at once. One person admitted to making only handleless pieces for four years! If you see me stroking a mug handle thoughtfully, it is just my little weirdness, but I am okay otherwise.

There is a sort of handle that is pure fun: the knob. I want to show you the little knobs Gregory sculpted for me to use on canisters and a new honeypot. They are still raw, and will be much more charming when glazed, but they please me. The bee will get tiny wire antennae epoxied in after the firing.

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After I had the pieces finished up and shelved for drying, I brought my headache into the house and nursed it with a nap. The children were wanting to skate with friends, so they had to complete their chores first. I slept through any problems they might have had while doing their duties and awoke with a clear head when the Fishers showed up to play hockey.

We ladies opted for tea and a visit in the living room, chatting about stimulating things such as how to hone the skill of me admiring your clean windows while you admire my organized refrigerator, which is an allegory about women and life if you want to know. I don’t know why we get so threatened by each other’s strengths in this life, nor why we feel that we must excel in all points in order to be a worthy person, but by the time we hit 40 we know one thing for sure: We are never going to do it all just right. It’s hard to explain the grace of life that floods in with this realization, but it is the best thing about being -ahem- middle-aged. In the middle of all this manual labor that is life is the settled knowledge that nothing is going to count for anything unless the Grace of God fills in the cracks. And it does! This is why we don’t grow weary in well-doing. It is all going to matter someday, but we don’t get to quit.

We also discussed how to listen to our friends and care about them even when they talk about things like pottery all the time and we aren’t that interested, to be honest. Again, an allegory. Michelle and I have a friendship that spans 20 years. It is good to have friends like this!

When it got dark, the children abandoned the skating and opted for sliding down hills on the ice. It is quite simple if you can make it to the top of the hill. All you do is sit down and off you go! The girls have turned it into a mountain rescue play, where one pretends to be clinging onto a divot of ice for dear life while the others snake a rope downhill to fish them up to the top again.

Our supper was a healthful kind of chicken hotdog with no nitrates added, etc. etc. Also mac and cheese made with spiral noodles involving spinach and tomato and Queso de Blanco. Practically health food! I hope you enjoy my Tuesday menus, because I share them with no pride whatsoever, and only out of honesty. Dessert was orange slices.

We finished the Bushbaby story tonight. It was a satisfying ending, with all turning out well. The author’s note at the end stated that there was a real little girl named Jackie who loved a bushbaby as her pet while her family lived in Kenya. It is always more interesting when a person can write with the authority of knowing a place well.

After the girls went to bed, I washed up the last of the dishes, warmed up some leftover coffee, and here I am, just waiting for my husband to get home any minute.

Just another Tuesday! We’re primed for more snow and ice tomorrow and we have donuts in the forecast as well.

How was your day?

Tuesday in the Life

I was awakened quite early by a plaintive voice in my ear, “My belly hurts, Mama.” Oh, lovely words to pull one out of slumber. After I queried the little girl on whether she felt like throwing up and was relieved to hear it was just an ache, I gave her some chewable Tummy Tuneups and sent her back to bed. An hour later she was back, “My belly still hurts.” Allrighty then. We’re hoping to go see Grandpas tomorrow, but that could all be a little shaky. At breakfast another peaked face appeared and got even longer at the sight of pearly smooth Ultra Immune pills on every plate. Some of my children can swallow pills, no sweat, and others make it a scene of drama and despair every time. The two whose bellies were hurting were unfortunately the ones who can’t swallow pills. Not even when bribed, cajoled, coaxed, coached, or threatened.

Gabe did a noble thing when he decided to fix the dripping faucet in the kitchen sink before he went to work. It meant a run to the hardware store for some replacement parts and no water in the kitchen for a few hours, a situation I was happy to endure. Yesterday I set a large water bottle under the drip and tried hard to keep up with drinking the water as it filled up. I thought it would be a fun challenge and a good indication of just how much was being wasted. Let me tell you, one drip at a time adds up astonishingly! I was glad not to do that today.

I checked on my store of dried elderberries so I could brew up a huge batch of immune boosting syrup. My bottle in the fridge was down to about 3 tablespoons. I lacked fresh ginger to complete the recipe, and that was what we needed for the upset stomachs, so I gave the girls what was left in the fridge and got them settled on couches.

When Gregory went to do his chores in the barn, the girls ran along despite feeling under the weather. We had a huge surprise yesterday when Petunia, the Guinea hog with the wandering tendencies, finally piggled. We have had so many false alarms in the eighteen months since we own her that we were thinking of butchering her. But there she was with 6 squirming piglets in the straw! Farming has its moments, and baby animals are among the brightest of them. This picture does not do justice to the charm of the babies, because 1. Petunia is very protective and I had to zoom in on them and 2. Even if Petunia were not protective, I wouldn’t go into the pigpen. I wish you could hear the sort of lullabies she gurgles to them. I have never heard such a sound before.

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Addy came back in, reporting that all was well with the piggy milk bar. Then she drooped, rushed to the bathroom and threw up all the water she had drunk while trying to swallow her pill. Okay then…

After an hour of downtime, I brought a bit of schoolwork up to the stricken ladies on the couches. They did enough to call it a school day, rather milking their situation. Neither was as pathetic as they let on, but just “felt funny”. There were no more puke episodes.

I might mention that it spit snow and ice and then rain all day long. There was not a lot of accumulation, but it was sloppy and slippery. I noticed a lot of big trucks driving past our place and found out later that there was a commercial travel ban on I99 that runs parallel to our road. I guess there must have been a number of truckers who thought they would brave the two lane roads.

Just before noon a friend stopped in for some mugs. We had a nice chat and I took a bit of time to trim bottoms and attach handles to mugs I threw yesterday. There were only 7 because I kept messing them up. When the clay is cold, it acts funny or else I was just off my game.

I gave the girls saltine crackers for lunch. They had no desire for anything else, but I decided it was time to go on a quest for ginger. Gregory cleared the snow off the car for me, then I took him along to push me out of the ditch if need arose. Besides, he was deep into an audiobook on my phone. We went to the post office first, then to our local bulk food store. I found dried ginger there, coated in sugar so that it is more like candy but still fiery spiky in its normal gingery way. There were no fresh roots in the produce section, but there were jars of minced ginger in the THM section. Sounded fine to me. I also picked up tea and ginger ale. We should be set for the hurting bellies, yes? Of course, the girls only wanted the ginger ale.

I ran laundry through my machines all day and thanked God for labor saving devices such as dryers. Once everything was folded we packed our clothes in faith that we will feel well enough to go to Grandpas tomorrow. As usual, some felt that socks were an unnecessary item and others wanted to take all the favorite ratty clothes and some projects to boot. Wintertime travel is special. There is an entire tote just for snow clothes for the girls. The boys have their ski packs because they hope to go to the mountain with their uncles. I think I’ll just take a book and the most basic outerwear for myself. In case I have to go outside. It’s hibernation season, people.

Alex tried to tempt the saggy appetites with some chicken flavored Ramen for supper. It seemed to taste fine to them, so I started hoping we are on the mend. When I called Gregory for supper, he said, “I’m not very hungry.” Oh dear. More pills. And thankfully he is so good at swallowing them that he is the patient coach for the others.

I took a quick duck out to my shed to finish the mugs. They just needed to have some hedgehog carvings on them and a bit of a cleanup with a damp sponge. I have done so many of these, you would think they just jump right onto the clay, but for some reason I had uncooperative hedgehogs tonight and had to keep rubbing out and retrying. Maybe it was because I had the bright idea to do a live Instagram chat while I carved and it broke my concentration. They have to have pert noses and cutely rounded bellies, but not paunchy. Their hair has to be messy but not awful. And their feet cannot be too large or they look silly. So there you go… a recipe for acceptable hedgehogs.

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We cleaned up the house, did our final doses of vitamin C and some soothing lavender oil rubs and that is that. Even if it might not help anything, it makes us all feel better. I have no problem with placebos, especially in children.

So there you have it. One day in the life.

 

Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

Recently I made a statement that needs some qualification. I said that if you find staying home with your children to be boring, you haven’t leaned in hard enough. I believe this, but it sounds overly simplistic for someone who may be in the middle of the mundane daily-ness of life and unsure how to find joy with a flock of needy people who communicate in whines and drool all the time. It is a unique temptation to tally up all the sacrifices and hard things, like how many snaps I have done up in my lifetime, and how few hours of sleep I am getting. Ask me how I know that this mindset quickly and efficiently drains all the joy out of life and I will tell you that I have been there.

There is a Kingdom principle that says “Freely you have received, freely give….” Another one is “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” And then there is my favorite: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The call of God to mothers is intensely practical and spiritual all mixed together.

Of course, you can vigorously keep house and train children in right paths without really enjoying it, but what is the point? Wouldn’t you rather be all in, graceful and excited about your life-work instead of muttering in your spirit about what all you will do “once these kids grow up”? I remember the time when that hit me and I decided that I was going to stop trying to preserve my life and just dive in all the way to being a mother, sink or swim. It was a life-changing decision. Like anything else, I have been tested many times.

These are some practical ways I lean in to my work, ways I have observed other mothers  doing well without giving in to weariness, ways I have learned the hard way.

  1. Give your work to God every day. It might seem silly to pray, “I am giving you this drink, Jesus,” when you are serving your child orange juice in a sippy cup, but it is an effective way to change the way you think. “I am folding these clothes for your glory, Lord.” Eventually this attitude becomes second nature and you do not need the prompts so much.
  2. Bend down and look at your child. Really smile into his face and enjoy him. I am not talking so much about the adorable curls and dimply cheeks, delightful as they are to admire, as I am talking about noticing the person he is becoming. Watch the personality emerge. Share yourself by talking about life as though he is a real conversationalist. If you refrain from baby talk, you’ll have wonderfully stimulating conversations before you know it.
  3. Read up on your subject. When my husband was taking a course on child development during nursing school, he got me an audio course so I could follow along. Because it was what I was wading through at the time, it was fascinating stuff! Of course, these courses are written from a humanistic point of view and should be sieved through the Word of God, but it was so interesting to hear about what is happening in that two-year-old’s brain while she systematically explores every corner of her world.
  4. Write down the milestones. Take quick notes during the day so you can share with your husband what your children said or did that was so amusing that day. I look through pages of recorded conversations with my toddlers now and I know I would remember very few of them. Guess who else loves to read them? Yup, the children. Addy quotes stuff all the time that the boys said long before she was born. It all becomes part of the story tradition of a family.
  5. Keep a journal of prayers and visions for your children, even the despairing ones where you can’t see that they will ever learn. Some day you will look back at them and see that the child who was mean and grabbed toys has now learned to be generous. As the visions get bigger, you will need those reminders that it’s all a process of learning. This is going to take time, but you are in for the long haul.
  6. Learn to love great children’s literature. It is not boring to read “Make Way for Ducklings” every day once you notice how masterfully it is written and illustrated. I know it is claustrophobic to have a squash of bodies all around while you read out loud, but there is such joyfulness that springs out of sharing a hearty laugh around a story. When everything got chaotic, reading to the children for a while was one of the best resets in our day. (Naps worked great too!)
  7. Do things intentionally (that require extra effort) to delight your children. My sister told me she put whipped cream and sprinkles on her son’s pancakes one day just for fun, and he was terribly distressed by her effort because routine is a bigger deal to him than sprinkles. Obviously, you learn what is wonderful to your child by observing. Playing is always a good choice. To have Mom running around the yardplaying tag will elevate the game tremendously. If you find it trying to play Go Fish or Memory, it might become easier if you spend your energies marveling at how your child’s brain is working rather than mulling over how your own brain is floundering in boredom.
  8. Include your children in your work. My mom did this, so I had a great example, but I now know that many women do not like to let their children help them. It seems so much easier to hand the children a screen, then scurry around doing the work. Of course, there are times when they simply cannot help, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to not show them how to do things. If you give little children an hour of play while you do dishes and prep supper, you will likely have another hour of clean up looming in the rest of the house. What if they would have been drying dishes, chopping lettuce with a dull knife, learning to use a peeler on potatoes, etc. instead of clearing out the games closet? Maybe your kitchen time would be prolonged, but the children would have the sense of being welcome in your life, not to mention the sense of being useful.
  9. Stop rushing. If a recreational activity requires frantic tearing around to get out the door, (unless it is a soccer game in the backyard) you will feel frayed by the effort and the tone of your voice will tell on you. Did you ever notice how harried children can take longer to put on one sock than it should take to get dressed from top to toe? It’s like they are built in “Slow Down” signs along the path of life for grown-ups.
  10. Accept the fact that anything worth doing well is going to be hard. There are charming delights to parenting, the Instagram days. Then there are days when you really wouldn’t want anybody to step into your chaos and there were no funny stories to jot down for later. It all feels like a mess and it’s hard to get up and keep going. You’re tired and there is no end in sight. This is where you run to find Jesus in the chaos and you know that this is indeed what He has given you to do. As you lean in to it gladly, yoked with Him, you feel that somehow He is doing the carrying and your burden becomes light. It is a mystery that is hard to describe, but I have experienced it countless times.

I have a bonus one for you: Learn to laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your children when they tell a funny story. Laugh when your son wears mismatched socks to church and laugh when the milk is all gone and you have to eat toast or dry cereal for breakfast. It’s well-known that a happy person doesn’t get bogged down in the details that could actually be big stuff if they stewed around in it for a long time. The more you practice being joyful about your everyday life, the more you will find you actually love it.

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a Slightly Imperfect Day in the Life…

The day started with my husband’s alarm, due to his having an early shift. When we do get up at the same time, I enjoy the novelty of fixing the bed right away. 😀  I went through my coffee bean grinding ritual and this morning it was still early enough that the noise didn’t wake the girls. A quick sweep through the fridge and I had his lunch packed. The children wandered out of bedrooms, one by one. While they ate breakfast, I read them the conclusion of our most recent read-aloud, Sophie’s Tomby Dick King-Smith. It is a short story about a 6 year-old aspiring lady farmer, but it is written so masterfully that the older children and I enjoyed it just as much as Addy did. (Even though Sophie probably needed a spanking.)

After the dishes were cleared, the girls and I did a Bible lesson at the table, all together. I have been meaning to do this all year, using Route 66: A Trip Through the 66 Books of the Bible.  Somehow we only just got started. This is a course for middle schoolers with simpler text and an overview of who wrote the books of the Bible, key passages in each book, etc. Gregory will be working through Route 66: Travel Through the Bible, a course I myself did a number of years ago. I ordered it for him when I realized that the girls’ course is a little too simple for an 8th grader. The concepts in this study guide are not difficult or even especially theological, with the focus being more on the historical aspects of the books of the Bible.

When we got that cleared away, it was already 9:30 and high time to hit the arithmetic lessons. I dictated spelling words, found fact sheets, cleaned up the schoolroom floor, took a few minutes out to cast some burdens on Jesus, documented some pottery glaze tests, showed Olivia how to make a sentence outline, compounded interest with Gregory, and then it was lunch time.

If you ever want to know what homeschoolers eat… well, today was an inglorious one with fried bologna sandwiches for lunch. Fast, easy, cheap. Hmm. Sounds about right.

After dishes clean-up, I set the little girls loose to go play in the glorious 55 degree sunshine. They were not done with their assignments, but I figured they would be back inside in plenty of time to do them. Meanwhile Olivia and I worked in three loads of laundry and I packaged some pottery orders. Then there was a run to the post office and the bank. We live in rural hick-town, but we only have a mile to those two establishments, which is a great blessing. Last year a local chocolatier built a factory/warehouse just 1/4 mile from our place and I very nearly swung in today to check if they have any seconds or an outlet store in the building. Then I thought that might seem a little desperate, what with no signs or anything indicating a store. I did go to Fisher’s, our favorite local bulk food store, where I bought milk and lunchmeat because we nearly finished the bologna today. Haha. I was pleasantly surprised to find a book-selling gentleman set up in their empty greenhouse. A quick scan of his shelves revealed one of David McCullough’s books, 1776He is probably our favorite history writer, so of course, I needed to give it a home.

The little girls were still out playing Heidi with the goats, wearing only short sleeved shirts and their rubber boots, it was that warm. Oh well, school assignments would wait a little longer.

The day was creeping along, clouds covering the sun, making it urgent for me to get my daily constitutional. I usually walk 2 miles or 30 minutes, whichever comes first. I like to use the time to listen to audiobooks. Today I was in chapter 2 of Ravi Zacharias’  The Grand Weaver. I kept pausing, dictating notes to Google Keep, trying to absorb the soul-stirring truths. I am sure I looked like a weird woman who is nutso about her phone. But seriously, this is a book for every person who has ever grappled with the problem of pain and injustice and why God doesn’t just rescue all His children quickly.

I came home to chop celery and cook chicken noodle for supper. This morning Addy had begged to mix up some brownies “before the mix gets old and yucky” so that was dessert. The little girls were still out chasing ducks when supper was ready. The rest of us ate without them and I am afraid I must admit that we sat in the living room and just read quietly while we ate. Gabriel is working a double shift, so we do these odd things to compensate.

When the goat girls finally showed up, it was getting dark. I ushered them straight to the shower for hair washes and all. They were starved, so there was no quibbling about any of the food. That was when I trotted out their schoolwork that wasn’t finished. Addy’s was just a cursive practice page, but Rita needed to do her Language lesson.

At last all was wrapped up for the day and it was time for bedtime story. I started a new book tonight, The Bushbaby, an out-of-print book I picked up at a library sale. It started out promisingly enough, with the girls begging for more every time I got to the end of a chapter. I have honed the skill of rapid editing if I happen to run up against objectionable content in books I haven’t read before. Sometimes they ask me what I skipped, but if I am smooth enough, they don’t even notice. Only once have I been so awfully wrong about a children’s storybook that I chucked it into the trash before we finished it. We don’t use a reading curriculum in school, so that’s why all the books. It seems to be working out okay.

I thought all was wrapped up for the day, so I took my shower. When I got out, the two littles had set up a restaurant in the kitchen with the only thing on the menu being oranges, because that was all they were allowed to have for a bedtime snack.

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There was sticky juice on the counter, the floor, the table, themselves. I swiped a few swipes with a washcloth and sent them to bed. Tomorrow we’ll work on spelling.

Slow and Steady

We have emerged from what was called a Polar Vortex into what felt like a spring chinook today, with more sunshine and warmth called for tomorrow. Those who do not know could assume that it isn’t necessary to go South this year, that maybe we are through with winter now. The groundhog said an early spring, whatever that may be worth. Some remnant of my ancient nomadic DNA kicks up at this and says, “No, no, you will freeze, starve, shrivel, die, if you do not follow the sun. You should have gone long ago! The seeds in the larder are running low!” Of course, my sensible Swiss ancestry cranks up the thermostat, brews more tea, settles in for the long haul and knows we’ll be just fine, thank the Lord. (P.S. I don’t know whether I have nomadic DNA, but I assume we all share it at some distance.)

I think I know why people quilt in the wintertime. It only requires tiny movements, small efforts that string together to make bedcoverings, where we all want to be on dark days of cold. It’s almost as good as hibernation. (Actually, I can’t stand quilting, for starters because it makes me antsy to hunch over and take small stitches, but also because you can’t do it with a mug in one hand. )

Writing is my version of small movements of creativity which is why I have a goal to do a lot of it this February again. Not every day, but more than I have been. I can set my mug beside me and take reviving sips when I need to think out a phrase. I am a little embarrassed at my coffee consumption these days. Since I trained myself, one painful day at a time, to drink it black, I no longer feel like the calories matter. I am even drinking my tea unsweetened and uncreamed. Early Grey is still better with embellishments, but the discipline has been good for me. I make exceptions for bitter coffee. If the first sip reveals an inferior pedigree, I happily cream it up. And please, I buy Aldi’s coffee beans, so it’s not like I am snobbish. Still, I thought this year I should maybe give up coffee for Lent. I am glad that Jesus has not asked that of me yet.

Like I mentioned, we tend to conserve our motions and lose a lot of our motivation these short days. Occasionally (like yesterday) we rally and do a great big thing like join in on a 4 hog butchering spree. There were five of us families working together, lots of children, babies, toddlers, camaraderie. Cutting the meat off the bones is always the speedy part, as well as grinding and seasoning sausage. About the time everybody is wishing to be done already, there are the more tedious aspects of rendering the lard, cooking the bones to make broth and picking off the cooked bone meat for scrapple. Just when everybody really really wants to call it quits, there are the greasy dishes to be washed and the tired children to round up for the ride home in a sausage scented car.

Last night when we fried sausage patties for a bedtime snack, we were glad we put in the effort. This morning my girls and I fried scrapple and were doubly happy with our work of yesterday. You can buy scrapple, but you don’t really know what’s in it. From all the reports, there’s some weirdness that goes on behind the scrapple making scene similar to the weirdness that goes into hotdogs. We don’t do weirdness in ours, so everybody’s happy.  (If you don’t know what scrapple is, I am sorry for you. Maybe google it. I didn’t have a clue until our family moved to Pennsylvania from Kentucky. Around here, it’s common fare.)

Hey! They tell me spring is right around the corner!! But right now isn’t so bad either. I want to show you a sprinkle of pictures from my phone. This first one is ice crystals that formed on cattail fluff blown across the surface of the pond one day. Gregory took the photo.

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The state of the ice is of consuming interest to the small fry. Once it was finally thick enough to be safe, they work to clear it whenever it snows so that we can have skating parties. My children have no notions of hibernation. They get this happy trait from their father. Also, he believes in good gear to stay warm and dry. It certainly helps!

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They love skiing so much. I love it too- the idea of it, that is. I love that they do this while Gabe and Alex are patrolling. I love that they get out and enjoy the mountain. I love staying home in the quietness, picking up the yarns and knitting needles, putting away the coloring/painting/snibbling projects, cooking up extra food, planning for the next week. I love that they will have developed better winter muscles as adults than I have because they have so much fun in it.

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I have no plan for my writing this month.  I could use a little help here to sharpen me up. Instagram has a questions feature that says, “Ask me anything.” This is your chance, if you would like to do that in the comments. Feel free to be anonymous if you want. I’ll see what I can dredge up.

 

The End Cap

I did not get a Christmas letter written this year, nor did I send cards, except to my mom and my grandma, so this is an attempt at a summary. Condensing a gift that is 365 days big is a difficult assignment. Thinking back over this year makes me think of elastic. The Year of Elastic? Not really the sound of wonder and music, or the kind of word one chooses for a theme for a year, but more the sound of stretching and rebounding, maybe sometimes even bungee jumping. I cannot even tell you how far down on my un-bucket list bungee jumping is, but there are other versions of plummeting and rising that give one’s innards a jolt. When all quiets down a bit, you know you might have had the courage to try this stunt when you were 20, but you probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to stick it out and learn from it. And at 60 it might kill you, so this is the time!

For us this is the time to parent people who are finding themselves and spending a good bit of their own time beating around in the bushes beside the trail to see if there is a better trail and sometimes there is and you concede the point as graciously as you can. This is the age of also parenting people who still require a bit of training not to yell and hit when they are mad, or throw their cursive practice page into the trash can when they get frustrated. Then there is the teaching about doing random acts of kindness for someone who does not even deserve it and doing dishes when it isn’t your turn. This is also the age of vigilance to notice when the quiet people are being steamrolled and those who are less needy should be given a timely love pat on the back for work well done.

I have made a career of wifing/mothering ever since I got married and had my first baby. Granted, there were varying degrees of dedication, yet always it has been my conviction that this is my life-work because God gave me children. Let me tell you, there is a lot of scope for the imagination and plenty of use for any talent if you get over not being noticed all the time for your good work. There is just so much to keep track of and grow and learn, and anybody who thinks being a stay at home mom is boring has not leaned into it hard enough…ahem.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought in the toddler years, if I just felt sure I knew what I was doing? Well. Here I still am, thinking that would be nice. Still learning.

This year our last booster seat left the car and our first child turned 16. We are squarely in a season that is strange and fun and did I mention stretching? Everybody can buckle their own seat belts for the ride, but they don’t all want to go to the zoo with equal passion. Dad is driving the car, making sure the correct address is in the Google Maps so they can actually get to the zoo, navigating the traffic and the gas tank. Mom is up there in the passenger seat, passing out snacks and untangling arguments about whose water bottle the green one is, saying it’ll be fun! Just stop pestering each other and have fun… and thinking secretly that the zoo is always with her.

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Gabriel finished his bachelor’s degree in nursing this spring. He is still working in the Emergency Department in the trauma center in Altoona, although he also got his paramedic’s certification in case he ever decides to join a flight nursing team. He loves his work, but there are nights when the shift is so crammed with patients that he finds it hard to care about people anymore. One of the best stress relievers for him has been to start collecting antique woodworking tools, crafting workbenches, carving spoons, shaving curls of hardwood off planks in the methodical old ways with block planes. I have an impressive collection of wooden utensils in my kitchen, all carefully hollowed out of greenwood with spoon knives. We joke about buying stock in  Band-Aid and there have been a few suturing episodes, but the more the guys work with their sharp instruments, the less they cut themselves. Here’s a photo of his workshop in the barn loft, a happy place until the weather turns freezing.

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Aside from my usual homemaking stuff this year, I spent most of my spare hours with my hands in the clay. Slowly I have gotten to feel confident with making mugs and smaller pots on the wheel. I have endless ideas to try in the new year, but I think I will work at one new thing per month. My sister gave me a gorgeous planner where I can even write out what I want to learn each month. Shall it be teapots in February and plates in March? Hmm? It is wonderful to have my heated shed where I can work for a few hours, leave the mess, pick it up again the next day. For the duration of the winter, Gabriel has his antique tools in half of the shed, so our dream of working companionably in the same space has come true.

Over the Christmas hustle when I was trying to stock my Etsy shop, I would go outside after the girls’ bedtime story and work until Gabriel got home from work at midnight. One can only keep that up so long, though, and I am taking a goodly break. (For those who want to know: my Etsy shop is HomesteadHighlights because we all make stuff around here, so there will be listings that are not pottery related. I also have an Instagram page under (lame name alert, because I cannot pin down a name I love) deep8_ceramics where I chat about the process of learning to make pottery. I don’t know anything except what someone taught me, mostly from Youtube, but it’s fun to figure it out as I go.)

What I have not done much is read and write. I am going to have to figure out a way to juggle better. My soul shrivels when I don’t read, and I feel like I am dropping chunks of life when I don’t write. Maybe that planner… Every new year I feel hopeful about my abilities to be organized and start strong with one. I love the feel of chipping at my goals and checking off lists, then I start winging it again when life gets too busy to pick up a pen and jot a list. I have learned to keep my shopping list in GoogleKeep. It works great because I am less likely to forget my phone than my list. I can’t decide whether I should just embrace this idiosyncrasy or continue to fight it. Maybe I could develop a planner that spans January to June for people like me. It would be half the normal price and they would not have to feel guilty about the wasted blank pages at the end of the year.

This year I discovered the app Libby by Overdrive, which gives me access to library audiobooks. My favorites list of podcasts is growing as well. This is what I do to stimulate my mind while I do mug handles. Last January I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. I find that I do not miss anything except the sorts of things that everybody knows because they saw it on Facebook and I am totally clueless. It’s not really that bad. I have found plenty of things to fill those scrolling distracted minutes. Ask me how I control my Instagram habits? It takes carefulness, no matter what, to avoid falling into wormholes that have nothing to do with what God wants me to do right now.

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Alex is working on his last high school credits. With only 7 to go, he is hoping to graduate in the spring. This fall he spent a few weeks helping an uncle with a house renovation project in South Dakota. It was his first flight out of the nest for that long and we really missed him. He also did an Outdoor Emergency Course in preparation to do ski patrol with his dad. It was a fairly rigorous course, with quizzes or tests every weekend. I was amused to see how much more seriously he took those deadlines than the ones I give him for his lessons. Now that it’s time to study for a driver’s permit, he is out of ambition and taking his good old time. That’s all right by me, although I will be glad when he can drive himself to work. I keep being startled by this tall child of mine when I see him out of the corner of my eye. Most times this happens when I’m working in the kitchen and he sidles past the fridge to see if anything jumped in there since he last checked it a few minutes ago. It is a very handy thing to have such a strong young man hanging around when furniture needs to be moved, or feed bags have been hauled home from the store, or stacks of boxes need to go to the post office.

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Gregory has spent hours, days, doing research on forging methods and drooling over blacksmithing tools. The obsession lasted so long that Gabriel decided to build him a forge and buy hims some sacks of coal for his 14th birthday. He has been hammering out hooks and key rings from old porch railings. My favorite is a plant stake that looks just like a heron. His favorite is a knife he forged out of an old door hinge, then carved the handle and epoxied the two together. I hear him whistling to the tune of the hammer blows and tease him that he should start a business called Great Guns. Since Alex has a job, Gregory is our barn worker. He feeds the animals and takes care of the egg gathering/washing. It has done more to teach him focus than any other daily chore. A hungry creature doesn’t care how interesting your book is. It just wants to be fed. On time. And watered. Every day.

I try hard not to hover and be solicitous with these boy-men. I try to be suitably impressed by their accomplishments but not too gushy (aw, it’s not a big deal, Mom, nothing to it). I try not to get discouraged that they still mercilessly tease their sisters and I try to think instead about how they generously buy Pringles and candy corn to share with everybody.  I admit to bewilderment with what to do when the adult is right there around the corner, just about fully fledged, and yet the child is cavorting around in full sight. One thing I have been learning: one cannot hitch one’s wagon to the feelings and whimsies of one’s growing-up children. It just ain’t a good practice.

The girls are easier to understand. Olivia is domestic and reliable in the house. She is a peacemaker at her core, and usually asks if anyone else wants the last cookie before she takes it herself. When it’s clean-up time, it is easy for her little sisters to dawdle while she scurries around putting things away.  Occasionally I am happy to see spunk in her that won’t be taken advantage of. (See steamrolled reference above. Actually, if Gabe and I ever had a child who had no opinions, we would worry it was a foundling.) This year Olivia sewed about a dozen dolls with big ideas of selling them. Every time she has a fresh batch, she decides to give them away. The latest ones have hip-length yarn hair that can be styled, so she wants to keep them all. She struggles to keep them all decently clothed out of fabric scrap dresses.

Rita is sailing blithely through 3rd grade and I am so grateful that I waited until she was seven before she started first grade books. She is plenty smart, but not bookish at all. Her best learning comes from making stuff and observing closely what is around her. She knows the habits of individual chickens and how to make a village with acorn caps and some good ways to make soup when you feel like you might want a little something to eat. The day before Christmas I found her in the basement, stripping dried cattail fluff into a bag to stuff a pillow for our trip to Ohio. That’s Rita in a nutshell. Need a pillow? Make one. Why bother somebody else? Just use the stuff at hand. Any stuff. There is a slight conflict in that last philosophy that the discerning among you might understand.

Addy is now 7, and learning to come to terms with always being the little one. It doesn’t matter that it makes more sense for her to have the bottom dresser drawers. “It’s just because I am the shortest” and she is prepared to take offense at that. Her huge store of affection gets lavished on people and pets alike. She likes things to be fair and getting dibs on the top bunk has been her latest great happiness. Recently we were baking cookies together and I made an accidental flour mushroom that showered gently over the counter. Addy had an epiphany: “I get it from you, Mama! You make messes too!” I grinned at her and said, “Yes, you do get it from me! But we get a lot done in life, you and I.” We embraced our idiosyncrasy together and just had a good time with our cookies while I told her about my own days of scraped knees and skinned hands.

I suppose the year was fairly ordinary, but the days were full of struggle and triumph and occasional headers into mud, quite literally. Normally our area gets about 40 inches of precipitation a year and this year we had 60 inches by mid-December. It seems fitting that we had a downpour all day on this last scrap of 2018. If this keeps up, I’ll be looking toward Arizona.

Looking ahead, I know there is a lot of potential for character development and opportunities for repentance involved in daily interaction with needy humans. I don’t have any profound aspirations other than to start new every morning with coffee and those mercies that rebound daily and keep the strains of life from completely fraying me into a frazzled, useless mess. It’s a good life, after all.

How about you? Would you like another year like the one you just had, or are you grateful to move on to a fresh one?

 

 

My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

“May I have an apple in bed?” Addy asked, since she knows that there isn’t much chance of me saying yes to anything that could rot her teeth after she brushed them, and apples are practically toothbrushes anyway. There were no apples in the fridge, so the next up was, “Or how about some pieces of dried chicken?” I was startled out of my absent-minded washing of yesterday’s dishes that had stayed on the counter all day because we got home late last night and went to church this morning. Sure enough, she had found a baggie of very dry chicken bits, saved from our roasting/canning operation of 20 old hens last week. “Maybe a pepper. I could eat a pepper,” she hedged when she saw that I wasn’t excited about her choices. My two little girls make up for any vegetable deficit in the older children. Same parents, same parenting style, only less “now eat your broccoli” fuss, and here they are, regular veggie devourers. It does make you wonder. This is Rita with a legit bedtime snack that makes her just as happy as milk and cookies.

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I wasn’t going to plant regular tomatoes this year because I have a good source where I can buy a couple boxes of Romas and make a big batch of sauce all in one day instead of having them trickle in over the course of a month. When my neighbor gave me plants he had nurtured in his sunny windows, I had to plant them, so I am hauling in a bumper crop all month. The vines are blighted and ugly, and still the babies swell and turn scarlet. It’s astounding! I planted some pineapple tomato plants that are luscious for sandwiches, and shiny purple “Dancing With Smurfs” cherry tomatoes that aren’t good until they turn red, which I think is a little bit of false advertising.

August is all about harvesting and preserving bushels of stuff for winter. Have you ever had tiny, tender green beans that you just picked an hour ago and lightly sauteed with a bit of garlic and olive oil? If you did, then you know why I garden. Or a slice of tomato so huge that it hangs out over your toast, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper? How about crisp cucumbers sliced into a vinaigrette? There is no farmer’s market that can yield that sort of freshness, although it’s better than vegetables shipped across the country, for sure! August turns me into a food snob, because I can. It’s when all the endless hovering and ministering to the plants yields fruit, and does it taste good! So that is what we are currently eating. (Too many melons, a funny problem to have.)

Tomorrow starts our third week of school. Olivia was looking at old pictures and said, “Mama, you used to play more.” It’s true. Somewhere things got too heavy and much. I quit going outside for recess and impromptu soccer games in favor of throwing some laundry into the washer or starting dinner. I am working to change that. We bought some new games and are back to starting each day with a read-aloud before we hit the math books. My Consumer Math guy is still working his summer job, so he is not included in this picture.

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I don’t buy reading curriculum. We just read and read and read. If you ever wonder who really funds the libraries, it’s people like me who suddenly realize that August 23 is past and I have a humongous pile of books overdue. Hey, at least it goes to a good cause. Each year the children also get books as gifts when school starts and again when we celebrate our finish. I buy them second hand, at library sales, on Thriftbooks, or Ollies. Making sure my children love to read is the ace up my sleeve for success in education.

Last week we finished Kate Seredy’s The White Staga fascinating tale of the Huns in the days when they were sweeping across the world after their ancestor Nimrod died. It’s historical fiction/fantasy, so we did web searches and verified Gregory’s trivia bit about Attila the Hun dying of a nosebleed. The thing about reading aloud is that the children really don’t suspect that they are learning, but I am guessing they will always remember that choice bit.

Addy’s book, Poppy is by one of our favorite authors, Avi. It is the story of a very brave mouse. The book I got for Rita is one of Cynthia Rylant’s stories, Gooseberry Park.  It has been a great success because Rita is not an avid reader yet, and she says this is the best book ever. I personally have not found a Cynthia Rylant book I didn’t like. Of course, there are over a hundred of them, and I haven’t read them all. Olivia reads all the time, and fast. Thimble Summer didn’t last more then a few days before she was whining about not having anything to read. We agree that Elizabeth Enright’s stories about Gone Away Lake are actually better than this one, but she is another solid author.

The boys are more into non-fiction. Alex is reading Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.  I might just mention that the title describes the appeal of the book for him. I stood in Barnes and Noble, staring at the $25 price tag, then I looked up a used copy without a dust jacket on the web for 3.99 and left the store empty handed because I am cheap like that. Gregory received a copy of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage He and I shared story grip on this book and had to keep swapping out turns to read it. Then we discovered all the youtube videos about Shackleton and were astonished anew. We are also working our way through the New Testament during the summer months. Our favorite way to do this is listening to Max McLean on audioBible. And that is what we are currently reading.

The animal population here on the farmlet thinned out briefly. We sold Lamb, who was now big enough for Mutton. Rita worked her charm on him and got him into a pet carrier for the ride to join a herd of other sheep going to market that day.

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We also hauled 20 chickens to the chop. They were old and no longer laying eggs except on good days, when they felt like it, if the light was mellow and the grain fine. I was grateful I didn’t have to butcher them; all I did was roast them, pick the meat from the bones for canning, and then make bone broth. I feel quite happily fortified for soups and stews this winter. Yes to collegen! No to leaky gut! (I just googled that.) We also sold a bunch of fat leetle rabbits, which makes me feel like my name should be Mrs. McGregor, because I know they get eaten, but at least not by me. I thought it was a good thing, emptying a few of the gobbling horde out of the barn, but my husband came home from the salebarn with a flock of ducks and my son bought different rabbits and more chickens.

My mom used to say I shouldn’t get married until I could butcher a chicken and bake a pie. I couldn’t do either when we set up housekeeping, but it seems to have worked out all right. I can bake a pie now, but I have to admit to a secret feeling that someone should commend me every time I do. “Come on,” I chide myself. “You’re a forty-something Mennonite housewife. You’re supposed to be able to bake a pie.” Here’s a really good thing to do with peaches, super easy, super un-fussy, without a ton of prep and dishes.

  • Buy or make a pie shell, with enough pastry to put a lid on it.
  • Peel peaches until you have 4-5 cups of slices.
  • Gently toss them with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 4 T minute tapioca.
  • Pour the peaches into the pie shell and top with pastry.
  • Seal the edges, cut a few decorative slits in the top, give it a wash with milk and then dust with sugar for a pretty sparkle.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

The tapioca does all the work of thickening the juices and holding the peach slices together when you cut the pie. It tastes fresher than cooked peach filling because it wasn’t cooked, obviously, until it went into the oven. Mom had minute tapioca variations for apple pies (2T tapioca and some cinnamon) and other fruits too. We children loved these the best of all the pies she made and that was a lot!

In my spare time, hahaha…. goes off in fits of giggles…

When I have some minutes or an hour, I play with clay. Since I have a kiln, I find my mind constantly veering toward what I could make next. My first firing was full of wobbly pieces that took me 6 months to accumulate. When I saw how the glazes made even lowly pinch pots pretty, I got down to it and filled the kiln again in a month. I had a few big bowls that made my heart sing proudly, but then I had some issues with firing too hot, too quickly and the moisture in the bowls shattered them into thousands of worthless shards. This sight was what greeted my eyes when I opened the lid. I learned a valuable lesson about patience in letting my pieces thoroughly dry out before doing the first firing, as well as double checking the switches when I turn on the kiln.

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This shattered mess happened the morning before I went to the funeral of a dear family friend, the person who actually first introduced me to a love of pottery. It felt like an underscoring of the sadness of losing Karen.

Thankfully most of the pieces were fine, but they were all small bowls and mugs. The next kiln load only took 2 weeks to fill. I must be getting better! Sometimes I watch potters on Instagram and see that they could easily throw enough pieces in a day to fill what looks to me like a cavernous kiln. Then I don’t know whether to power on or laugh at my struggle, so I do both. That would be the current events on the creative stage.

What I haven’t been doing is writing, and this bothers me. I feel the urge to not forget all this wonderful mix of stories in the mad whirl that is August, which is really too much and just right. One steamy day I got into the Suburban to run errands and was greeted by a rush of super-concentrated air. It was the weirdest blend, like dirty socks (there actually were some under the seat) and fishing tackle mingled with wool and a cloying overtone that I couldn’t place, like very ripe peaches. “Oh, that’s Rita’s air-freshener. She put clove oil on a tissue to smell good.” That’s August in a nutshell here.

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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Parting shot: I like my Gregory’s pinch pot better than most of my attempts at symmetry, but I do really like this mug. I get a lot more than coffee out of it. It feels exactly like a smooth egg in my hands, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to make another just like it. Yet.

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