Friday Night Insight: garlic paste and other things.

This evening we all sat around the table for supper for the first time in over a month. That’s because we moved the workbench out of the dining area and replaced it with our table that was in storage. Friends, this indicates how close we are to finished in the main living area. Our dining chairs were literally falling apart, so we decided there was no reason to give them space in the moving trailer. We are using various stools and benches that work okay, as long as no one objects to vast differences in the diners’ heights at the table.  Eventually we will find replacements, but for now we are making do. 

Olivia was longing for tater tot casserole, another challenge for us, since we removed the wall oven and are cooking only on the flat top that was installed in the counter. We have a tiny toaster oven, but that wasn’t going to work for a family sized casserole. In the end we made our hamburger/green bean/ chicken soup mixture in a wide kettle, fried tater tots in a griddle, than when they were hot and crispy we dumped them on top of a layer of melted cheese on the casserole. It was quite passable. If nothing else, I hope this summer teaches our children resilience and resourcefulness. 

current living room situation

I have my double burner propane camp stove set up on the porch for the few canning occasions that have arisen. This works great, and has been the best investment for my food preserving since I got my first large stockpot. This year with the shortage of canning lids, I am considering carefully what I will bother to preserve or not. I have grown all the herbs and tomatoes for sauce, so that is what I have been making. Today our neighbor stopped in and offered 2 bushels of tomatoes ripening next week. I accepted gladly, then I remembered that if I cannot source the lids, I will have to freeze my tomato products.

A few years ago my friend Caroline gave me some garlic bulbs to plant, along with instructions. I had no idea it was so easy, but I have been growing it ever since. I plant the cloves in the fall, mulch them heavily, and that is it. In the spring I cut off the scapes as they unfurl so that the plant doesn’t put energy into seeds, only into the bulbs. I had about 100 bulbs to harvest this past July. After the garlic was dry, I cut off the stems, cleaned up the bulbs, and stored them in mesh citrus bags that I saved. Hung in a cool, dry spot, this keeps garlic for months. 

When we were making pasta sauce, the girls pulled the bulbs apart, then we laid the unpeeled cloves in a pie plate, drizzled them with a little olive oil, and roasted them in our toaster oven. Normally I would do this step in the oven, roasting the onions with the garlic, but since I don’t have an oven yet, we just did the garlic. It took about a half hour at 350 for the bulbs to get soft and deliciously roasted. After they cooled a while, we used a kitchen scissors to snip off the bottom end where the roots attach to a hard little core, then simply squeezed out the garlic paste from the top pointed part downward. I gave it a whirl in the blender with some tomato juice before dumping it into the sauce. It was so incredibly much easier than peeling and chopping 50 cloves! I will never go back to that method. 

The girls had pulled apart too many bulbs for the sauce, but we roasted the extra ones anyway and put them in the freezer. Maybe I am the only one who dislikes fiddling with garlic every time I need some, but I look forward to pulling out a clove or two ready-to-go when I make soups this winter.

drizzled with olive oil and roasted until soft
snipping off the root end after roasting
ready for the freezer

Tonight the electricity cut out right after supper, so all of our projects stopped. We couldn’t replace the pressure tank in the basement, clean the bathrooms, do our online banking, or even wash the dishes. It was not a problem. We were in the garden, just breathing, when we noticed Lady picking a tomato and eating it. We thought surely we didn’t see right, but when Gabriel threw a tomato for her, she caught it and ate it with relish. We did it a few more times so that we could get a video clip of our dog who is more like a tomato-loving Peight than our children are. Then we sternly forbade her to pick any more tomatoes in a charming about-face that she seemed to understand. 

It’s 8:30 now, pitch dark, and we still don’t have electricity. There are a number of scented candles lit about the house, and the younger children took themselves to bed. If you can’t even read, what else would you do? My laptop has a good charge yet, which is why I am writing, but it is hard telling when I’ll actually get this posted. (4 days later, apparently..) I know one thing that needs to go on my list: flashlights. I bought a multi-pack of nightlights a few weeks ago because it is disconcerting to pick your way through an unfamiliar house when you need a drink after dark. A few of my children have inherited my tendency for violent toe-stubbing, but nightlights are only good for the modern life. 

This past week Gabriel made significant progress on house projects. First he laid the tile on our bathroom walls and on the fireplace hearth. Then he installed our up-cycled dresser/vanity in the master bathroom, and now we have a tub, toilet, and sink all in one room. It’s pretty wonderful! Addy loves baths, and after her first long soak in a month, she fairly sparkled with cleanliness. 

My projects of touch-up painting and sorting through the stuff have stalled in a major case of “Now I am tired of it and if we haven’t needed it yet, we might as well donate it.” We started school, which required focus that left no energy for finding scratched places needing paint. There are a lot of these places! It is beyond trying to leave a room pristine with fresh paint, then have odd construction projects like closet doors whacking into the walls. I have to swallow my “SERIOUSLY GUYS?” because I certainly can’t hang closet doors without making scrapes in walls. 

Four days later:

Our electricity was cut off until Saturday morning, when I packed up the girls and went to my sister’s house in Ohio for the weekend. I am 1 ¹/2 hours closer to her, and it seems much more doable to take a quick trip. My parents were there, too, so we had a mini reunion.

I was truly blessed to have a sister who contacted a cousin with connections to her sister in law who had a lot of extra green beans, which we picked up and snapped on Rachel’s porch. I feel much better about the state of my vegetable freezer now. It even contains bags of shredded zucchini so that when I do get an oven, I can make zucchini bread and cake. I don’t know if I’ve ever skipped that summertime rite of passage before.

About that oven: no doubt it’s a trick of human nature to crave what we cannot have. Why do I crave roasted vegetables so much? And cookies? I even find myself wishing to bake a pie, an unfamiliar yearning for me, indeed.

I wonder if anyone else out there feels a bit jaded like I do about the constant RAHRAHRAH that is the state of the world these days. I’m desperately parched for truth, absolutes, and peace that passes understanding. The other stuff has yelled so earsplitting nasty all year, and I’m just here with my ear open for a still small voice who speaks Life and Verity. It’s astonishing, but when I listen, I can hear it right through the din, and I am grateful.

Stuff I’ve Lost, Stuff I’ve Found

Before this summer, I wasn’t aware of how how much it means to me to be able to walk to a specific spot and find the very thing I am needing. Of course, I always knew it pushed unhappy buttons when the paper scissors was missing from its hook or when the birthday card I just bought at Hallmark for a special person went inexplicably AWOL. Having just done the biggest switcharoo of my life to date, I find myself constantly fighting the temptation to be super-annoyed by the things I cannot find. That school laptop charger cord, for instance- where could it possibly be? The cheese grater- who needs cheese anyway? (Me! Us!) That grey shirt I bought 2 weeks before we moved- I have no idea. I can’t even remember if I bought it here or there.

Years ago I often read a book to the children titled Letting Swift River Go. It is the story of a little girl whose home was in a spot where a reservoir was being constructed to supply the thirst in the big city nearby. All the familiar things in her life were removed, one by one, as a dam was constructed at the end of her valley. At one point she was catching fireflies in a jar, and after a few hours of enjoyment, her parents explained to her about fireflies. “You have to let them go, Sally Jane.” The end of the book is her grown-up self, riding in a boat over the drowned village where the fishes now swim, with fireflies winking on and off all around her. “You have to let them go, Sally Jane.”

I quote that to myself often this summer. Nothing on this earth is meant to be always accessible, always static. Well, maybe charger cords are meant to be there, but apparently they haven’t gotten the memo. It’s a happier life when you can let things go.

Doubtless my cheese grater is in one of the kitchen boxes that hasn’t been unpacked, but it was coming apart anyway, and a new one is in order. That’s another thing- as I sort out on this side of the move, I keep wondering, “Why did we bring this along?” There is a clarity that comes with having done without for a few months; one discovers what would truly be missed.

I was unpacking books and realized that the box with my favorites was not among the crowd. This was serious. I distinctly remembered packing them all together- the Michael O’Brien and Elizabeth Goudge ones- from their favored shelf. When I went out to the stack of boxes in the shop and shifted through things, I found not one, but five boxes of books. Oh dear. We’re shy a few shelves, and that’s saying it nicely. The hopeful plan is to have an office with floor to ceiling shelves, but currently that is Gregory’s bedroom. I could definitely live well with only a few woodworking books. I did pitch one that was completely in pieces, but Gregory fished it out of the trash and tenderly put it back together with tape. “Mom! How could you? This is a Drew Langsnor book!” Never mind that it was written in 1978 and has boring black and white photos.

I’ve lost my inhibitions in this move, too. Just kidding. I still have plenty. I know you don’t really believe me unless you know me, because how can you be a blogger and have a private life? Let me tell you about meeting the lovely Shari from “Confessions of a Woman Learning to Live.” When I told her that I love her blog, she said she reads mine. So we were already acquainted with each other, but both of us knew that we don’t really know each other, because we don’t actually tell all. We just explore in depth what we do tell. Haha. Moving from an area you have lived in for 34 years does require more courage than I previously suspected. I have found lots of nice people in northwestern PA, kind and welcoming people who are happy to make space for us here. Even the mailman is thoughtful, and the neighbor brought us fresh corn from his garden.

We are making steady progress on the house. You might say “slow and steady”, but it is progress. Alex did all the trim work while Gabriel was at work. When the little Kia he was driving this past year clunked, he and Gabe spent hours looking for a replacement online. They found one at a dealership nearby and Alex immediately started doing the normal teen-aged-boy routine of upgrades and tint for the windows, etc. I named his car “Squirrel” because it was such a distraction while he was supposed to be doing trim. It is in the shop for inspection and some maintenance currently, and the trim got finished.

Our master bathroom is the big project in the works right now. Gabriel is doing the tile, and then all we need is the vanity. Last night he was sitting at the table with his head in his hands, feeling depressed about all the stuff that should be done before winter. I told him it’s the problem of the DIYer who can do anything. He ends up doing everything, whether it’s practical or not. Then I told him I don’t care about closet doors very much and maybe he should go to bed. It’s what he does when I sit with my head in my hands. We help each other like that.

We’re back to school now. Last week I took the children to get their annual supplies. Experience has taught me that taking the whole tribe at once is overwhelming, so we went 2 at a time. They are freshly supplied with mechanical pencils and pretty notebooks and stickers. We don’t have to do the new wardrobe/shoes thing, but they love this tradition of being turned loose in the back-to-school section. Addy has already done 12 lessons in arithmetic because she was too excited to wait for the official start. The other children laughed at her, but she stoutly held her ground. Yesterday I sorted through the stuff, organized the books one final time, negotiated the spot for the communal pencil sharpener, and set up each child’s desk. School is mostly upstairs, with Olivia in the sunny dormer area of the girls’ room. Gregory will study in his bedroom, and the two younger ones will be under my eye in the actual schoolroom. This routine will be good for us all after the chaotic summer.

Here are a few pictures of finished spots in our home. While tools and supplies swirl around us, and boxes trip us underfoot, we work at making places that feel peaceful.

Admittedly, it’s only a few spaces, but they help us feel home.

Notes from a construction zone

As you may know, we have moved our belongings but our house is not quite ready to live in aside from a camping situation. Our boxes are stacked in the shed, loosely categorized by the room that they are destined for. This means when I need a wire whisk I can usually find it after about a half hour of sleuthing through the stacks. The bedrooms are very nearly finished, but the main living area is still quite raw. I’ve been observing a few things that might be helpful for someone else. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Dirt. You might as well get very comfortable with it. The construction zone comes with invisible gremlins that puff out dirt when you’re not looking.
  • Children. Keep random children around and hand them the broom at any time of the day in any space. There will always be a gratifying amount of dirt to sweep up and it will keep the children out of trouble.
  • Expectations. Hold them very loosely. It will be happier in the house if you can roll with the tide a bit.
  • Food. Keep it simple, comforting, and easily cooked in one dish. Buy it already made if you need to. Do not allow people to get desperate with hunger if you wish to avoid mutters of mutiny.
  • Dishes. This is not a time to be squeamish about saving the Earth and never using disposables.
  • Drinks. It is surprising how much stamina a can of pop will produce in a child who is tired of working. Popsicles and ice cream novelties have the same effect.
  • Rest. It is pretty important, so it is worth the money to buy a good air mattress or to set up your familiar beds as soon as possible. However, it is not wise to get out the white bedding at this point.
  • Drama. Try to limit your fed-up texts to your husband while he’s at work. Chances are he’s just as tired of the chaos as you are.
  • Paint. It is a wonderful, transforming agent of relative cheapness, and you might as well be friends. After about 30 gallons of paint, you will feel quite well acquainted.
  • Painting accessories. Start with the best brush you can afford, and don’t buy a cheap roller. Use name brand masking tape. Get the little gizmo that clips onto a paint can so that it pours neatly without dribbling into the rim of the metal can. If you have 5 gallon buckets of paint, buy a screw-on spout. There are roller cleaners and metal combs that make cleaning brushes much easier. All of these nifty gadgets might cost $10 total. Just buy them.
  • Trash bags. You will need a lot of them. Big ones. Black ones. Clear ones. White ones. Stretchy ones. You get the idea.
  • Clothes. Live in your worn out clothes to work in, and have a spare set of nice clothes for going away. Don’t bother with trying to be impressive at this stage. You’ll only get paint on your best skirt.
  • Tools. If you are doing a family remodel project, make sure you have tools for all the people. A mini hammer in the hands of a 9-year-old is much better than having a bored 9-year-old hovering around your project.
  • Ibuprofen. You’re going to need it, and also that relaxing muscle rub in the box you can’t find, including all the supplements and prescription medications that you refilled just before you moved. Of all the boxes to lose, that one is the worst. Don’t be like us. Keep track of that box.
  • Friends. They really are of  inestimable value. Some bring you food, some help you install unwieldy bathtubs, some pitch in and clean, and others give good advice on sticky situations.
  • Vision. Keep pretending that you’re seeing things finished, and eventually it will happen. That’s what they said anyway. It’ll be fun they said.

My husband assures me that things will only get better from here. I make occasional pessimistic comments about having my kitchen done by Christmas, and sometimes the constant chaos gets into my head so that I cannot even. But I don’t believe that that’s a good place to park, so I recharge in any way I can and work at making spaces that are not messy and mixed up. It makes all the difference just to have a few familiar books on a shelf, and to be able to find my favorite pen when I’m writing in my planner.

Today I ordered the children’s school books, and we’re all looking forward to the routine that comes with our school schedule.

One day at a time, sweet Jesus.

Current Situation

Considering that it isn’t even 9:00 yet, I decided to use this very early evening to catch up a bit. When my husband asked me how I visualized moving day, I said wistfully, “I hope we have a little time to process all these changes.” His sage reply was, “You could spend the whole day and still not have it all processed.” Well wasn’t that the truth?

I spent this past Wednesday morning running so many errands so efficiently that I was feeling a little proud of my management. I even took a picture of how I dealt with a rolling, rattly stow away in the Suburban when I was driving.

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I can sprint for a pretty long time and stay relatively healthy in my spirit, but I know when I’m out of stamina for the sprint and that’s when I have to process. I just need to sit beside the road with a water bottle for a while and think about the philosophical underpinnings of the race.

I can assure you that is not what I had in mind when I was kneeling on the floor picking up trash two days ago, and packing the last bits in the girls room. I wasn’t trying for an underhanded little vacation during our moving weekend. I knew I should call the girls to come do the floor stuff but I felt sorry for them because they had  been working so much; a large percentage of the grunt work has been done by the children. Also it is much easier to discreetly dispose of unwanted items when there is no one around.

So there I was putting a few stray socks into the sock drawer when I felt the unhappy familiarity of my knee popping out of place. This has happened to me many times in my life and I usually just pull the kneecap back up and all is well. Occasionally I do a really bad one and it becomes inflamed with outrage. This was such an occasion, despite my begging the Lord and even instructing him that it’s not a good time for me to be hobbling painfully. One of the children retrieved my crutches from the yard sale pile, but even that didn’t go so well. I’m not saying I heard an actual voice, but the Lord instructed me to sit still for a while so that’s what I did. I got a little time to process.

My hope was that I could take a bunch of ibuprofen and sleep it off and I actually was able to bend a little the next day. It was our big packing day in the kitchen yesterday, with Alex’s graduation party scheduled for the evening.

I got around slowly and had lots of help from the ladies in Gabriel’s family. His dad and little brother were also here to help and they stacked most of the packed boxes in the truck on the day before moving day. Gabriel is the most amazing packer I have ever seen. If Tetris was a team sport I’d be on his team.

Last night was restless, both because of an overload of nighttime processing and an ever-present charley horse in my thigh. We woke to a beautiful morning with nary a coffee mug or a French press or a bean in the house. How could I be so unenlightened when we were packing? My mom came to the rescue by bringing us a vat of cold brew from Sheetz ,bless her heart. We dug some plastic cups out of the trash and washed them so that we could drink our coffee and all was well. The only things left in the house were the big pieces of furniture, and a number of guys from church showed up to help us load them. Also bless their hearts and I mean that with all my heart.

Some of my friends came to help clean the house as the rooms emptied. Also BLESS THEIR HEARTS! Things went so smoothly it was hard to believe. As we were eating lunch, Gabriel texted the prospective new owners about the time for their walkthrough, which is a courtesy that is always supposed to happen before you sign papers. We thought they were already in the area. Turned out they were traveling through Chicago at the moment. And that’s how it happened that I stayed back with my trailer load of canoes and bikes and my girls, and the guys took the household stuff and headed northwest. The plan is that I will meet them in the morning for the walkthrough.

I have hours of time in the comfortable guest quarters at my parents’ house to process, but I promise I didn’t try it. It’s just how it works out sometimes.

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Odd Bits

If I were superstitious person I might have thought that attempting to make coffee with whole beans in the French press was an omen for a rather lumpy day. But as it was I just told myself to get my head in the game and then I made my coffee properly and sat on the deck with Gregory to make a plan for the day. We decided to eat all our biggest frogs first which included cleaning out the grodiness under the appliances, sorting out our junk drawers, and deciding which weird bits under the sinks are worth keeping and which should be mercifully dumped. If you’re curious, the bag for drenching a calf went into the trash as did the little nipples for bottle feeding goats. The space under the basement sink thanks me.

I was astonished at the zeal the children showed in clearing out these areas, and Olivia showed her zeal by taking over an enormous pile of laundry. It was so hot and dry today that we actually filled the lines twice for drying the big stuff like denims and towels.

Another happy event was waking up my sourdough starter from the refrigerator. Sometimes it takes a few days for it to get happy again, but today it was so bubbly that I mixed up a batch of soft sourdough for my mom to bake at her house.

The children and I went over for a few hours and it was so nice to see both mom and dad there at the house. He came home on Friday with a walker and a wheelchair to help him with mobility. Mom had gotten him a lift recliner with money that people had kindly donated to them, but he is actually not using the lift very much because he’s trying to strengthen his core muscles when he stands. The dumbbells he ordered on Amazon came today and he’s been doing his therapy with Mom, including walking as much as possible in the house. He gets very winded with exercise, but his strength is slowly returning and Mom is expending a lot of energy in feeding him nutritious food.

We had to go pick up our lawn mower at the repair shop, which fortuitously took us right past the best soft ice cream in the area and I got the kids cones to celebrate having eaten all those frogs. I read one time that you’re not supposed to treat yourself with food when you have achieved a a difficult goal, but there are just times when you need to get the taste of frog out of your mouth.

Now I am having hummus and corn chips for supper. Also it’s too warm to cook, and we’re not very hungry after ice cream.

Our northwestern house is currently in the stage where we wait for the plumber and the drywaller to do their bit. Supposedly they were both working there today which is wonderful news. I have been longing to get the painting done for a few weeks, and primed as many  walls as I could. Last week I also painted the doors and frames that we are reusing, as well as the trim we salvaged.

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This is me, literally cross-eyed with boredom in the electrical aisle. I finally upended a bucket and sat down.

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He knows a great many things that I am totally ignorant about.

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When genius burns, one uses any canvas available. Sometimes when paper is scarce, an arm works, although I wondered if he would have to peel skin away to remove the sharpie marks before church. In other news, one of the children said, “Mom, there’s paint on your elbow!” when we were walking in to church.

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It’s kind of astonishing when your first baby is suddenly grown up and capable of helping his dad build things, lift heavy stuff, install bathtubs, etc.

Then there’s the last baby with a tender servant’s heart, who saw that I was whooped one evening and brought me a tray of refreshments to enjoy while she treated my feet. The drinks umbrella was something she found in the flowerbed and I sipped the ice water with sweet peas poking my face. 😌 It was lovely.

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This is how the attics are situated, and this is what the girls suggest we do with them.

 

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My daylilies are the happiest thing in the garden

That’s the odd bits today. How’s your summer going?

 

Here We Are

I just spent an hour looking at Sherwin Williams paint colors, then checking out rooms on Pinterest, then waffling with other paint colors. I guess I will take a break. This is not my happy space, even though I generally make speedy decisions and live with them just fine. We decided to use neutrals on the walls of our house remodel, but I do not want the beige I have had in this house for many years. Neither do I want the same grey tones that I used here about 6 years ago. But. Neither do I want to do what everybody else is doing. (Have you heard of greige? It’s such a sensible solution.) So. There we are and here we are.

I am currently at our home with the children. Gabe is working up at our house. At some point this house/home will switch; meanwhile it is a little weird. I clean out the fridge so nothing spoils, go work at the house a few days, haul home the towels and dirty laundry, mow lawn, take the children to appointments, sort through belongings, pack up the clean work clothes, go north to work at the house, etc. And then Alex who stays home most of the week for his job texts me, “There is nothing to eat in the fridge,” and I text him to go get milk and eggs and bread. For some reason there is no half and half in either fridge and I feel the sadness of this for a tiny minute before I laugh at my silly first world problems.

We have probably chosen the worst way to move. Having weighed our options, this did seem better than living in a house while trying to update it. So. There we are and here we are.

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My dad is at a rehab facility, working hard with respiratory and physical therapists to regain his mobility. He had a trach put in at the hospital so that he could get out of ICU and off the ventilator. It took him a week at rehab just to wake up, and then he wasn’t able to talk or move much for another week. He had another trip to the hospital because he was bleeding from his trach and running a fever. They let him try to eat a few pureed meals, but his epiglottis is not closing properly when he swallows, due to the tubes having been down there so long, holding it open for the vent. That would almost certainly result in pneumonia, so we have to be patient about the food issue.

Once he had two negative covid19 tests we could start visiting him, one person per day.  It had been 24 days with no visits. Last Monday when I was there, he was frustrated that he couldn’t even pick up his phone or move his head without using his hands to turn it from side to side. He was feeling discouraged at how long the recovery was taking, but the next morning he managed to text Mom. Every day he is determined to walk a little further, stand a few seconds longer, relearn more skills he lost during the weeks in bed. His trach was removed last week, and he is doing fine without oxygen. Now the battle is to regain muscle and get the swallowing thing going so he can eat properly. He has only one tube, the NG tube in his nose for feeding. In two days he is scheduled for a barium swallow test; you can join us in praying that he passes it!

Dad talks a lot about the visions he had while he was so sick. He saw Jesus smiling at him many times, and he has a new clarity about what really matters in life. He says repeatedly, “Don’t wait until you are sick to get right with God!” There is some confusion and memory loss, but that is improving as well. We have about 45 minutes to drive to rehab, although once he can eat, he will be moved to a rehab closer home.

It has been 7 weeks since he started coughing. There are many more weeks to go before he is strong and independent. But he is alive and we are grateful for the mercies of God!

This ordeal might be why the paint colors and the half and half seem kind of trivial. I often think of Paul Tripp’s phrase, “the big-sky purposes of God” versus my “claustrophobic kingdom of one.” Why, why is it so effortless to slide into worry and trouble? I recently listened to a podcast by Nancy Wilson titled “Fear and Anxiety,” and I suggest you just go listen to it now and let truth soak into your soul.

Blessings on your day!

P.S. I did this to the fireplace with stucco. By faith I can visualize sitting in front of it with a cup of tea. (The top row of bricks will be replaced with a wooden slab.)

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Also by faith I will sit here with a cup of tea one day. (I begin to suspect that deep inside I am a lazy person who prefers just to sit with a cup of tea. 😀 )

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Every Morning Mercies New

Thank you so much to all of you who reached out with kind words but especially with your heartfelt prayers for my dad. My last post was mirthless and heavy because that is what we were feeling. We have been getting more positive updates the last two days. He is being turned prone and then unproned in cycles to see how his lungs can tolerate lying on his back. So far he has done well with them flipping him back and forth. I asked my nurse husband what the point is of doing this flipping and he said that keeping a patient on their stomach does help their lungs to expand but it brings up other problems such as skin breakdown or bed sores which is why they constantly work on getting them to tolerate lying on their back again. Along with this is a daily weaning trial so they don’t become too dependent on the ventilator. That’s where Dad is at this point. He’s still heavily sedated to keep him comfortable.

We know that things could take a turn at any moment but it does feel like we’ve been given some breathing space. Mom came out of quarantine yesterday, and her sisters came to visit her for a few days. I decided to join Gabriel at our Northwest Pennsylvania house, and even though I came to work hard, it felt like a vacation. This morning I slept past 4:30 a.m. for the first time in weeks. On an air mattress. In a dirty camping situation. The mental exhaustion went deeper than I realized.

I also want to assure you that I still believe that humor is one of the best ways to cope with life. I know that it is hilariously anticlimactic for some when they get the dreaded Rona and it’s literally a slap on the wrist after all this drama for months. It is the most confusing virus I have ever seen. So I’ll just say go ahead and cheer for the weird mercies that attend the pandemic. Like my friend Stephanie wrote to me, “I have been tossed to and fro with my feelings…and while I am guilty of laughing sometimes at the jokes and calamities the virus created, I do not scorn it.  I decided this is something that I do not want to have to eat my words.  I too have reminded myself that those that face death will be forever traumatized by it.”

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I wanted to make sure that I explained that this is Northwest Pennsylvania because in an earlier post I see that I wrote Northeast. Confession: I have always had problems with West/East and left/right unless I gave it consideration.  I do know North/ South though.

Have a great day. I’ll just be here, helping to demo a bathroom, and I won’t be sorry to see it go, especially the leaky toilet and the plastic vanity.

I sat in my recliner this morning and succumbed to bewilderment. I couldn’t think what to do next so I took a nap. That was a clarifying exercise and when I woke up I knew immediately what I needed to do. Occasionally I would recommend this exercise.

Our house closing at our new property suddenly went through and last week we found ourselves the happy owners of four and a half acres of partially wooded land 3 hours north and east. This includes a large lawn, two workshops, and a sturdy craftsman-style house built in the 30’s. We decided to camp at the place and start work immediately. My parents have a motor home that they generously allowed us to use, but we ended up mostly in the house. All the appliances were there and the former owners had cleaned up majorly, which made for much easier camping for us.

Our first day at the new place was spent making hay on the huge lawn, cutting down saplings that were growing up in the flower beds, making plans for how we want to rearrange the walls in the house, and in general being charmed by the location that we made an offer on in faith when everything was brown and ugly in March. For the children the best part is the little creek that meanders through the woods.

Buying a house that is very dated presents some challenges. Our realtor told us that the carpet is so vintage we could probably sell it on eBay. Or maybe we could just shampoo it and be really in style. There is a slight problem of a musty smell that doesn’t seem likely to come out after 30 years of use. We have noticed that the former owners certainly did not use any cheap materials in the house. It may have dark wood paneling on every wall, but it’s high quality paneling without any buckles, and should be simple to paint. Upright shiplap!  Every closet and the entire laundry room were cedar-lined. Even the attics are tiled, cedar-lined, with their own light switches for every cubbyhole. The master bedroom has 10 outlets and the kitchen counters are lined with them. I don’t think we’ll need these extension cords we have in our house currently.

Probably the most interesting feature of the house was an enormous spiral staircase to get upstairs and a tiny spiral staircase to get to the basement. If we had done a democratic vote, the children would have carried the decision to keep the staircases. Aside from the fact that the one going upstairs was too big for the size of the house, we also needed that space for a laundry room. We’re switching it out for a conventional staircase, one side going up and the other side going down. How very boring and practical.

Our second day at the house was demolition day. The biggest part of the project is rearranging the interior walls. We need to carve out an extra bedroom and bathroom, as well as open up the kitchen. Everyone chipped in that day with a good will. The girls and I worked on pulling nails out of paneling sheets and wall studs. We could almost keep up with the guys if we stayed diligent. Every couple hours I noticed a pattern of waning energy, odd little arguments, and unreasonably sensitive feelings. It helped to feed the people regularly, and most issues smoothed out with an hour’s play in the creek after a meal. It was super handy to have the kitchen gadgets all there, ready to fry up pancakes or bake a pizza. img_20200522_095946

By the end of the third day we were cleaning up a massive mess of insulation that dropped from the kitchen ceiling.  The last big job was removing the spiral staircase. Gabe studied it from all angles, worked at it for a few hours, screwed boards in strategic places to keep it from bucking out suddenly, and rigged a lever system that eventually dug it out of its setting on a beam and gently eased it out of the top story ceiling. It was much too heavy for us to carry out on our own, so we laid it on the living room floor for another day when we go back.

We could not have asked for better weather when we were up there. I have been skeptical of moving close to Lake Erie because of how famous it is for producing leaden skies. We ended up with brilliant sunshine and clouds sailing high, a rarity for that area we were told.

I decided to start a garden of sorts by using heavy mulch on tilled pieces of lawn. One day I went to the neighbors up the road and asked if I could have some of the old  hay that was rotting in the field. They were delighted to load it onto our trailer for me and refused to take anything for their trouble. I tilled up the width of a round hay bale, then I rolled out the bale and planted a bunch of herbs and tomatoes. Another bed got planted with berries, perennial herbs, cabbages, and peppers. I hope that this gives the freshly tilled sod what it needs to loosen up.

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We came home on Wednesday and immediately mowed the yard here. I brought in lettuce from the garden and pulled weeds around the onions and snapped off a bunch of asparagus spears. The girls discovered that the stray cat we took in had one kitten under the deck while we were gone. Everything is so brilliant right now and nature feels so hopeful. I’m not sure why I couldn’t think what to do this morning?

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The Easiest Foods You Can Grow

We have been showing our farm to lots of folks who are interested in growing a bit of food, raising some animals for meat, fishing some fish for the frying pan, etc.

I hear the same story repeatedly: we don’t want to live so dependent on the grocery stores. We want to learn how to do stuff ourselves. It is a day brightener every time. One young man said, “I am not going to raise my children like I was raised, with unlimited and unsupervised screentime.” He was about 26 years old, with two adorable sons and a supportive little wife who nodded and agreed. He went on to say, “My grandparents knew all this stuff, but my parents didn’t do any of it, and now I am clueless. But we bought a Backyard Gardening book and we are going for it!”

I cheer for all of these plucky people. This is a revolution that needed to happen! Pretty often I get questions from ladies who know I love to garden, and although I am no expert, I do give it all I’ve got because I love it like anything. It doesn’t take a large plot to grow some vegetables for your family. We started with a small terraced raised bed on the south side of the house. The next year my father-in-law, who was our landlord, brought us a dump truck load of topsoil that we spread out in the backyard on top of the exceedingly awful fill-dirt that hardly grew grass. It was about 25 feet square. Obviously, I couldn’t plant space hogs like sweetcorn, but I grew ample vegetables for the freezer and to eat fresh all summer and fall. I used a lot of organic matter, planted tightly, rotated crops, and made things like sunflowers share space with squash that could climb up their strong stalks if they wanted to. As our family grew, we kept tilling up more of the lawn each year, amending the soil, until now the hard clay is soft and fertile. I mention this just to say that you do not have to start a huge, overwhelming farm of a garden to experience the fun of growing vegetables. This first picture is our start-up garden the first year we were married. It got hot and dry and didn’t do too well, but we learned a lot and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The second photo is of the espaliered apple trees we planted where the raised beds were. And last comes our garden from last year, so abundant and yielding enough vegetables to feed our family for the winter.

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If I were going back to the basics, I would grow salad stuff for starters: lettuce (already started in the greenhouse gives you a major head start, especially since lettuce does not like hot weather and might not even germinate in late spring), radishes, sweet peppers, cucumbers (you can grow bush cucumbers that do not require much space, but my favorite space saver is tying them to a trellis), tomatoes (sharing the cucumber trellis or getting their own personal space). A word on tomatoes: if you like cherry tomatoes, you probably only need one plant, because they tend to go crazy. You can easily grow them in a pot on a sunny deck.

I would also grow herbs because they are super-easy. In fact, some of them discourage predatory insects, and they all attract beneficial insects. They can be mingled in a small space and not only do they taste amazing in your dishes, they look pretty too. Herbs flower for a long time and make beautiful fillers in summer bouquets. The ones I prefer to grow are basil (purple is my favorite), Italian (flat-leaved) parsley, chives, lavender, sage (I don’t use it, but it is pretty), mints, etc. Onions and garlic are very easy to grow too. In the spring, garlic puts out long curly scapes that can be cut off and used to season things long before the garlic bulbs are ready to harvest. I have grown herbs in containers right outside my kitchen door, which was super-handy.

What about food to preserve for winter? This is why I wrote this whole post, because I am so blessed by the simplicity. One word: beans. Of course, there are green beans, and they are wonderful, easy to grow, etc. They do require numerous pickings and you have to blanch them before you can freeze them. However, shell beans are as simple as it gets. You plant them in the ground and wait to harvest until the stalks are quite dead. They are easy to shell out of the dry pods, and the beans simply need to be stored somewhere dry so they don’t sprout before you cook them.

Years ago someone gave me a handful of the small red beans so common in Central America. I planted them and got a bumper crop at harvest- so many beans, in fact, that I didn’t plant them again for a few years. This spring I was looking for my seeds and decided that I must have forgotten to save some. I did an experiment, bought a bag of black and a bag of red beans. Then I spread some on a paper towel on a plate, wet them, and covered them with another paper towel. All of this got a plastic wrap over it, and I set it on top of the fridge where it is warm to check whether they would germinate.

They did! It took only 5 days for these roots to crack out. Where we live it is safe to plant beans now. Because they grow so fast, you want to make sure there is no danger of frost, because they won’t survive a freeze. I plant them fairly close, then thin them to 8 or 10 inches apart. They grow pretty bushy, so they do require a bit more space. And they are homely. I am sure there are climbing varieties available if you want to go vertical. But the good news is, you don’t even have to go buy seeds. You probably have some in your cupboard. You can try that germination test on anything dry you have, to see if it will grow.

Also, plant marigolds anywhere you want. They discourage pests. A vegetable bed doesn’t have to look utilitarian. Neither does a flower bed have to be purely ornamental. You can mix up all throughout them and have lots of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, etc. If you get your hands on a bunch of cheap mulch, pile it on. Otherwise, swallow your frugality and buy some mushroom mulch. You won’t need to do much weeding or watering, and certainly no tilling with an expensive bit of equipment that cuts into all the money you are saving by growing your own beans. (Although we do now own a lovely tiller, we made out ok without one for many years.)

There is an amazing thing about the internet. Pretty much any question or conundrum you face in gardening is answered by an expert or an armchair gardener out there somewhere. Google “Why is my asparagus coming up crooked?” and you will soon have an idea. People love to share this sort of homespun knowledge. Poor grandma gave up on her children in the 60’s, but you can make her day by asking her questions now.

Here’s a quick and easy bullet list of easy care veg.

  • lettuces
  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • tomatoes (a little picky if you get blight)
  • herbs
  • onions
  • garlic
  • beans, snap and shell

Tell me what you would grow first if you were starting up a veggie patch.

Also, coming soon…  a post on the pickiest/bossiest/hardest veggies I have tried to grow.

Sometimes

Sometimes at 3 a.m. the Lord convicts me about a thing I wrote. When I said that it appears that Christians do not believe what they say they believe, I was talking about myself as well. These are times that try our souls- there is no doubt about it. The tests are different for everyone, and we can be tempted to feel like the enemy is lobbing grenades of random evils at us from an unkind universe. The unknown, the capacity for lies from people we wish to trust, the conflicting opinions- all of these wear us down. What is even real?

For me the test of what I believe comes when I see my husband go to work and I know that with every shift he is walking straight into the contagion. For others the test is having no work. Some are struggling in their souls with the task of overseeing their children’s education. And some are grieving losses made more lonely with the world turned upside down. There is no doubt about it, we are all facing tests we’ve never faced before. How can we even conquer them? Is it possible to overcome?

I think of a scene from Pilgrim’s Progress when he was in the House of the Interpreter. There was a fire on the hearth and a person who was constantly throwing water on the fire, yet it burned higher and hotter. Then Interpreter took him behind the fireplace where there was a person secretly pouring oil in to feed the fire. Pilgrim wondered what this meant.

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually with the Oil of His Grace maintains the work already begun in the heart: By the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that you saw, that the Man stood behind the wall to maintain the Fire; this is to teach you, That it is hard for the Tempted to see how this Work of Grace is maintained in the soul.

I find great hope in that little story. Add to this the Scriptures that assure us that we do not have to be in control (behold the birds of the air), that our tests come to us carefully curated by a loving Father (who does not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear), that we are never alone (I will never leave you nor forsake you).

Growing pains are terribly inconvenient. I would always prefer the easier way, not facing up to the awkwardness of my soul’s stretching into a larger place. It is so much more comfortable when things are going well. But of course I don’t want to stay stunted.

We are all together, being given a chance to grow. The oil of grace is there for us, so that we can burn higher and hotter. I want to live like I believe it.