wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Seasoned Advice

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… not my seasoned advice this time. I hoped the photo from Pexel might be a subtle hint about that, seeing as I have not quite amassed enough wrinkles to be called wise on this subject.

Having now reached the age in life where I am often reminded of how little I know, I made it a point this summer to listen carefully to some older women who have raised families and are watching their grandchildren grow up. While it sometimes seems to me that raising a family 40 years ago would be much simpler than in our current day, some things remain the same through the centuries, and these are the things I want to pass on to you from what they told me.

Let’s hear from two women who each raised 13 children. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of their advice overlapped.

  • Do what it takes to keep yourself productive. Drink coffee if you need it. Eat chocolate. Take walks.
  • Take care of your soul. You really have to do that. Pray while you work. Write verses on post-its and stick them where you often see them.
  • Keep a song in your home. Get everybody to sing together when things start feeling out of control or when the attitudes get stinky.
  • Read lots and lots of stories. ( ❤ ❤ )
  • Play with your children. Do things on their level, even if you aren’t really interested in what they want to do. Have fun together.
  • Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. You really don’t have time for that.
  • Let things go. You will not be able to do everything that you think should be done. You will have to prioritize whether you value your children or your house more.

See why I listened to them? Their advice is so homely and real. They have made it through more spilled milk and sibling squabbles and teen issues than most people can imagine and they are beautiful women, strong in faith. They have things to say that I need to hear.

We recently had a panel of older women who answered questions and shared from their life experiences for the ladies at church. The questions ranged from home/family, to keeping an eternal perspective, to making friendships that are meaningful. The one that interested me the most was this, in my own words: What do you think is the reason for younger women getting “burned out” or “stressed” and needing “me-time”? How did you deal with overwhelming seasons in life?

So… what do you think they said?

Apparently me-time is a fairly modern invention. Going to the spa or to the coffee shop with friends, getting away from the kids, taking a vacation with just your husband… all these things were not commonplace for our mothers and grandmothers. It wasn’t that they didn’t have pressures and problems. Nobody can pretend that having lots of  children in the home with hungry bodies and thirsty spirits is going to be a walk in the park. I am sure I was just as needy as a child as any of my children are. But when confronted with this question, the ladies on the panel said, “We didn’t have me-time. We did the next thing, and then the next. We learned to love having our children around us.” (Again, my own words, from my impressions of the conversation.)

I got the feeling that they leaned into the harness and learned to love the work. If you love what you are doing, you do not need to be rescued from it.

There is another thing they shared that I think honesty will compel us to cringingly nod our heads in agreement. They said they didn’t have the distractions of internet and the pressures of social media. In other words, they didn’t have all their friends and all the ideas trotting through their lives every day, distracting them from their main purpose. I am still mulling over this one, because I love people and the connections that are made possible by the web. Not going to lie, it would be hard for me to give up. This is a big one that everybody has to mull through on their own, but it isn’t one we should just shrug off.

 

Speaking for myself here: I live in this century. It’s a hyper-connected world, with so much potential to touch others’ lives and my obligations extend past my home. Learning how to live restfully is so important if I am going to have any influence for good in the world. Exhaustion is a thing, and needing me-time, as much as I cringe at that term, is a thing.

I hope to have a conversation here about things that breathe life into our weariness, so if you could please start thinking about that?

 

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In Defense of Humble Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Coming soon: What is glory in the humble arts?

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Move Over, October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Milk of Human Kindness

I thought about beauty quite a bit recently, seeing as this is a subject that interests us all. I may have implied in my post that I disdain all fashion, and I have to confess, that is not true. My ideas of what is attractive are very influenced by what I have been taught as a Mennonite, I know that. But I don’t live under a rock, and like all of us, I like to feel pulled together, not frumpy and straggly. That latter feeling makes it very hard to be pleasant. It is on the opposite end of the modesty spectrum, so far out as to be highly noticeable. So yes, I do care about how I look and I notice how other people look. I have a little story to illustrate what I was trying to say:

At a recent event, I noticed a lady in front of me who was strikingly beautiful. She had long, flowing, silver hair and flawless skin without even crow’s feet around the eyes. Although she looked to be 55 or 60, there was no trace of extra chin or flappy arms. She wasn’t skinny or unnatural, just exceedingly well preserved and as poised as royalty. When her husband showed up with two water bottles and a soft pretzel, I watched her reaction and observed with sudden clarity that no crow’s feet= no sense of humor. He gave her the water, but she seemed only to see the pretzel and narrowed her eyes with the merest hint of disapproval. He chuckled a bit nervously and made excuses for his lack of appropriate food choices. She said nothing, just looked at him without any expression except mild scorn. He offered her some pretzel and she turned away. At this point I wanted to say, “But he brought you nice, cold, bottled water! You could at least thank him.” Of course, I didn’t. I looked at that lovely profile and I didn’t think it was beautiful anymore. Her husband ate his pretzel with the nonchalance of a naughty little boy, then got up and left. I didn’t blame him.

So here’s the thing. If you had everything you wanted, could people stand you? I have a theory that very beautiful people tend to get away with more brattiness in life because somehow we excuse them for bad behavior. It’s called the “halo effect”. I googled it and found it quite interesting. It’s why pretty little simpletons get married to rich men with hardly any skills other than giggling. (edit: the rich men don’t giggle. That’s the girl’s job.) It’s also why overly-confident, handsome boys get hired for jobs that they are not even competent at. Gah. The injustice! So anyway, here’s to looking deeper than skin.

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Here’s story two. I heard such an inspiring thought this morning. “If you are raising a family, you are doing building work, and your home should resemble a construction zone. Don’t even try for a museum.”

Wow! That’s so true, I thought. I won’t forget that one. Then the day happened. Before supper I asked the girls to clean up the living room, since obviously they needed something to do because they were not outside in the gorgeousness that is our September. They did, and I rewarded them with tiny bits of food for a doll party on the deck before I set to pulling weeds. All day I have had a terribly painful sore on my tongue that seems to have started from eating too many tomato slices a few days ago. I could hardly talk and even drinking water made my eyes smart. Pain can make one feel ugly too, so I removed myself from society and went to the garden to set my little strawberry plants free from their weedy competition until it got too dark to see.

When I returned to the house, there they were, listening to “Little Men” on audio and the house in shambles. Again. There was a teetering pile of folded laundry that just hadn’t made it to drawers, mixed with every kind of project five active little bodies can think up, including a freshly painted plastic bucket and some sticky apple schnitzes on the computer desk. And the dishes weren’t done. I did not even once think about the museum/construction zone quote. “You guys have got. to. own. your. messes!” I said emphatically. It was bad, on the scale of messes about at Rubble but not yet at Disaster. In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse when I considered the tube of super glue on the floor, as well as a cider jug that seemed to have been the refreshment of choice. They sheepishly looked around and said, “What do you mean? You didn’t give us any instructions,” but they knew quite well and scurried around picking perler beads out of the frizzies of the carpet and putting paper snibbles into the trashcan and dishes into the dishwasher. It was probably a good thing that my tongue was too sore to say much. As I cleaned the dirt out of my fingernails (without benefit of a nailbrush, which is AWOL, probably being used on a dolly’s mop) and washed my sweaty hair, I thought about the construction zone and my fuss.

The Proverbs 31 woman speaks with “the law of kindness”. I do so aspire to be like her and it seems God is very interested in giving me lots of practice. I need to learn as much as my children to own my messes, so we had a quieter, kinder talk, and thus ended the day.

It’s still a good quote. I shall repeat it as my watchword when I work through Saturday. Anybody joining me?

Here it is again, so you don’t have to scroll back up.

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Bits and Bobs of Summer

August 30: I dreamed a post, brilliantly funny and true. I thought I should probably get up and write it down, but I didn’t because it was 2 AM. The title was the best part, something like “August Hits Back”, only it must not have been that because that is pretty odd. I settled instead for a title with one of my favorite British expressions, second only to “I was just chuffed to bits!” I can’t remember a single thing from the dream post except that it had something about pumping gas. There you are- you can’t trust your impressions in dreams.

I have been having so much fun! (Just chuffed!) Yes, I just said that about the craziest time of the year. It is so gorgeous in south-central Pennsylvania this year! We have not had one week of crunchy grass, hardly any sticky-hot days, and the tomatoes are out of this world! Granted, there is an element of panic about summer’s ending, for me at least. When those fall insects start droning, I squeeze a little harder to get the joy out of the days. My friend Violet called it my annual tragedy. Meanwhile Gabe gets more and more excited with every chilly, foggy morning because winter is coming! We are quite elemental here, with very strong emotions dictated by the seasons. It makes life interesting, which I think is exactly what God intended when He created a temperate zone.

We started our school classes in the first full week of August. I mentioned before that I am reclaiming my classroom this year. It felt just a little scary, because DVD instruction did help me out of a tight place where I wasn’t reaching around with the drills and flashcards, and especially the checking.  However, it was so thorough that it nearly killed me. That may be just a smidge dramatic, but I am loving having the freedom to order the school morning to my life instead of having it order me around. This is the best thing about homeschool and I have it back!

Here’s how we do it currently, with the schedule subject to tweaking as things come up: Breakfast at 8-ish, although this morning the steel-cut oats are not cooked yet, so a little later. We do Bible memory work at the breakfast table, then take about 15-30 minutes to knock out some morning chores. It often looks like this: husband either packs his lunch for work or goes to study room to work on his latest writing assignment, one boy goes to the barn to feed and water the critters, one boy starts the laundry cycle going, two girls take care of dishes, smallest girl struggles to decide what to wear and cleans up the stuff in her bedroom, one mom referees and tries not to spill her coffee.

At 9 o’clock I start our read-aloud chapter and if you dawdled with your chores, you might just miss it. It has been a great motivator for the kiddos around here that could use starting fluid in the mornings. We just finished “The Winged Watchman“, a compelling story set in WW2 Netherlands. There is a conflict between the organized resistance and loving the enemies which prompts some great conversation with children. I would hope to be the one hiding a Jewish child as part of my family, but lying about the child’s identity is a harder question. I had never read it before, so it was as fun for me as for the youngsters. When they begged for another chapter, I wanted it just as much as they did. This is what the children do while I read aloud:

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Yes, some of them do perch on those stools, because they prefer them to padded folding chairs. They wiggle and lean back and forth on one leg of the stool when the concentration is hard. Sometimes they fall off when they can’t reach a dropped pencil-  the same sort of comic relief as any school kid. Addy gets to go play for a while after reading. Her school fits in the cracks of the day, which works great because she is a child who needs concentrated bursts of mother.

We do Spelling Power first thing. I spend five minutes with each child on that, and then they spend five minutes practicing the words they missed. I love this concept; it makes spelling much less deadly for the children who struggle. Thanks to my friend Naomi for the recommendation.

The forenoon continues with a meld of arithmetic, language arts and reading practice. The two middles have arithmetic instruction that we stream, so I am still not doing fact drills. I wouldn’t mind not giving another set of flashcards, ever, but of course I will do whatever I need to do.

At this point it is usually lunchtime and everybody is clocking out because you can’t possibly retain knowledge when something as insistent as a stomach is growling. (Told you we are a bit elemental here.)

If I have been foresightful and provident, there is something in the fridge we can warm up for lunch. If not, I cook omelettes faster than I ever knew was possible, or I make a very simple pot of chicken noodle with most likely some swiss chard floating in it because we cannot seem to eat the stuff faster than it grows. Plus it is sooo pretty. Sometimes lunch is hotdogs and smoothies. Not gourmet, unless you count dicing Bell peppers for the quesadillas or serving balsamic vinegar ketchup as a condiment.

I buy huge packs of paper plates so that most times lunch is served on disposables. I don’t know what is worse, wasting trees or soap and water and energy, so I take the liberty to choose the one that makes it easier for me, like a true consumer. The same goes with grocery shopping. Taking in account all the money I save by teaching our children, not buying entire wardrobes for school, not spending on gas to transport them, I do not feel embarrassed to buy convenience foods. The thrifty side of me still protests at times, “You know, you could make bread much cheaper and better. Hey, remember that the Pioneer Woman has a great tortilla recipe? Why buy shredded cheese if you can save 20 cents a pound on the chunk? Cereal? That’s a horrible choice with all those eggs you have. Blah-blah.” I have learned to smile and wave cheerfully to that little money-saving voice and then I put the chicken nuggets in my cart.

What is most lethal? GMO’s, mechanically separated meat, a bit of food coloring, or a mom harried out of her mind with sprouting wheat and butchering organic chickens and no time to enjoy her babies? I wish I could do it all right and perfectly, find some magic bullet to seamlessly incorporate it all into the best life ever. I admire women who do this, and I hope to learn and get better at it, but I still buy microwave popcorn packs at the discount store sometimes. Just so you know.

Another thing I might mention: I really really like our principal. It’s so nice to be able to take time to discuss issues that come up, get a wider perspective when I have tunnel vision, show him the latest achievements of a child, and even flirt shamelessly sometimes.

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After lunch the middle schoolers finish up science and history assignments. They often do this during quiet time so that they can roar outside to play as soon as the noise ban is lifted.

Well. It’s September 3 now. Gabe had lunch with us before going to work, then I took a long (think 3 hour) nap this afternoon. First I read a book to Addy about where our food comes from (her choice, not mine). After the page about growing rice and before the page about dairy products, I yawned and told her I couldn’t stay awake. Now, post-coffee at suppertime, I am wide awake. We had our Sunday evening popcorn and what is also becoming tradition: homemade ice cream. (I have the easiest no-cook recipe ever. Maybe I can tell you about it someday.) Then we had bike rides and that wonderful decompressed feeling after a long day of relaxation. I am grateful for the stillness and quiet, for the renewal of rest.

I will conclude my post with cell phone photos from August, with apologies to real bloggers out there who do pretty pictures. I read this somewhere: the best camera is the one you have with you. I am afraid I wouldn’t document very much if it weren’t for the handy camera feature on my phone. I hope you can overlook the quality and enjoy the story in the captions.

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My little brother Kenny and his 3 oldest children went with us to Ag Progress Days in State College. Along one of the streets we spotted a sign that my Dad made with his fancy router machine for this landscaping company. Mom painted the letters, so we had to pose to show them how nice it looks.

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We spent eclipse day at the park with cousin-friends. This was taken when the sun was shiny again, after the weird twilight was past. We had a welding helmet and some of those NASA cereal box pinhole viewers too, so we got to see the partial eclipse.

Here we have the amount of corn the boys found when they went through the patch to pick stragglers, and then the amount I found when I went through the patch to look for stragglers they missed. They were a little miffed, but the evidence was undeniable. The last pic is Addy’s offering to me. “Here, Mama, you can share my trail mix,” she said generously. Um, yeah. I see what you did there, little girl.

 

This is an epic tea party with all the little critters and the latest doll that Olivia made. Grandma gave them each a tea set. It makes me so happy when my girls play like this. On a side note, they have a stuffed animal love that defies explanation. In recent years I have allowed them to add only miniatures to their collection, which is why you see all the tiny animals.

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This is the best book of the summer: my latest very long novel by Michael D. O’Brien. It took me months to get through it, but this book deserves its own post, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, you may notice our deck space, with chairs to lounge in while I read with my peasant feet up on a side table. We have extra chairs for friends, just so you know, and we will put drinks on the table instead of feet, should you happen to stop by.

A pleasant fall to all of you!

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July On the Farmlet

It’s really good, July is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back at the farmlet…

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

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

Still, it’s mostly sunshine.

So much happy, yellow sunshine.

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

Catch you up later!

 

 

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May Retrospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scattered Glitter

“Oh, I am going to have to clean this up,” I heard her say with consternation in her voice. It was my accident-prone little girl in the bathroom, so there was cause for concern. I stayed in the kitchen, mixing bread dough, waiting for further developments. It wouldn’t be long. I heard her get her small brush and dustpan, the ones decorated with plastic flowers that had caught her fancy at the store. “For cleaning up messes!” she had insisted, and it was actually a good idea. The brushing sounds stopped and then there was water running in the sink. The mess was escalating. I could hear it in her muttered sighs, the way the step stool was being shoved around. Wait for it… and sure enough, it came, “MAAMAAA!”

I went to her aid and caught my breath. There was golden glitter and it was Everywhere. “What happened?” I asked calmly as she looked up in frustration and told me how the glitter can jumped out of the crafts box and dumped onto the floor when she was just trying to get paint for her popsicle stick project. (That last sentence contains 2 other distinct recipes for disaster, but let’s just stick with the glitter, shall we?)

There were towels with glitter in their folds, sprinkling out into the hamper. The floor was awash in floating specks where she had vainly tried to wash it up with a small flood. The brush and dust pan were abandoned in favor of the vacuum cleaner as we worked together to corral the flyaway stuff. I dismissed the little girl, commending her for trying so hard, then finished up on my own. This is days later and we still find golden glitter in odd places.

It is exactly how I feel this spring. There is so much sparkle and joy that it just scatters into everything, and sooner or later it usually comes back to “MAMA!” It is okay, since this is my favorite season, and I can handle a good deal of chaos if the sun shines and lilacs are blooming. I do spend a lot of time with damage control in spring.

We have two gardens, five varieties of berries, and some flower borders that I relish all summer. I cannot enjoy them if they are overrun with weeds. I would rather not have any flowers than have thistles and those nasty wild rhubarbs growing beside the peonies. Right now all the stuff needs attention at once. One day when I was feeling a little mad at life in general, (Don’t ask. I can’t remember.) I went out with a dandelion digger and got ahead of the weeds in the borders and asparagus beds. Then I pleaded with my husband to set aside a block of time to help me mulch them. I thought it might take a morning. Bless his heart, he had about ten other things to do, but he edged and mulched and lent his strength to the outdoor mess for a whole day.

That was one big mess to get under control, and I am so grateful that we can sigh and move on to other things. For Gabe it is school assignments. Always, in the back of his mind he knows he has a deadline for an essay, report, evaluation, etc. He is working toward his bachelor’s in nursing, cramming in whenever he can with the hope of finishing next spring. We knew exactly what we were signing up for when he started class in January, and we both dreaded it a little. I have to pick up more loose ends; the boys are learning animal husbandry; all of us are on home stretch for the school year. I made all their assignments to finish the requirements for the state, and this is the week! Rita already completed her books, preferring to spend her spare hours outside catching toads and holding her silky chickens.

Speaking of animals: this week our friendly piggies are going to market, err, the butcher shop. They have cleaned out the poison ivy roots in the pasture and eaten garbage along with a good deal of pig food from the mill. In the process, they have developed some impressive hams. It’s funny how something that would have seemed so awful and stinky at one time, like my little girls scratching a pig on it’s back and tenderly feeding it weeds, is now an ordinary part of a day. I am glad we opted not to do the butchering ourselves.

Yesterday I was helping Gregory move the woven electric fence for the goats so that they could have a fresh smorgasbord of greenbriars and multiflora roses on the ridge. We had moved them to the pasture where all the kids promptly slipped under the fence and ran for the fruit trees while their moms bleated up a storm, mostly because they wanted pear leaves too, and couldn’t reach them. I called the girls to guard duty while we pulled up the fence and relocated it. It is not heavy or difficult to move at all. Unless, of course, you are working in greenbriars and multiflora roses on a steep ridge. At one point Gregory had his roll of fence stuck on a snag and I had my end tangled in thorns and we both needed each other. We were hot and bothered and it was just hilarious. I thought of the patience of Job, but I am guessing Job had servants to do the grunt work while his children had tea parties with private tutors standing around to supervise their manners.

Speaking of manners: I have noticed a funny thing. One of my children has a thing about washing hands and pronounces anyone with dirty hands a slob. Another brings the nail clipper when he sees a sibling with “revolting claws”, although he regularly forgets to wash his hands. One child is a neat-nik with a repulsion for rude noises, but likes to let her nails grow until they are much too long. There is one who brushes and brushes her hair a couple times a day, but could care less if it smells like a goat. And then there is the one who likes to lotion my feet when I am tired, but regularly howls bloody murder when she stubs her toe. At least she tries to clean up when she spills glitter. It occurs to me that if I could roll all the good habits into one person, I would have a model child on my hands. How boring would that be?

So, that’s my round up of the month of April. All the joy and glistening days of spring madness, mixed with a little funny and quite a lot of mud. Some times we hit pay dirt and sometimes the sparkle is just mica. My brain is simply teaming with projects and ambition, because that’s what I do in spring. This week I turn forty; I am waiting for life to begin, like they say it will. If it gets more lively, I am not sure how I will stand it!

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**I feel sorry for you folks who check back to see what’s been happening. For the for-see-able future I plan to weigh in once a month, just to keep the record going. If I get a block of time or a sudden urge to publish, it will be a bonus. I just really need to focus on first things first for a season. Thank you for understanding.

***Your turn: make my day. 🙂 Tell me what’s been glittering in your life recently?

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March Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you been doing with yourself?

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

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The 28th

Just like that, we are done with the short month. I can hardly believe how quickly it whizzed by and Wow! do I have hopeful plans for March. I doubt we can squeeze in all that I aspire to, but I want to clear out the house, make great strides toward the finish of the school year, paint a few things, plant early veggies in the garden, take some jaunts out of state, finish a scrap book that I started three years ago, and help my daughter with a simple pattern she is learning to sew for herself.

And now, a photo that came up when I searched for “waving goodbye” on Pexel. Isn’t it wonderful?

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Goodbye, February.

 

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