Readathon Monday

It started when the girls were protesting a few years ago about never taking off school on snow days. There isn’t really a point to taking a snow day when you’re at home anyway, but we devised a plan for an annual reading fest.

This morning was our day. The snow was sifting down lightly, blanketing the earth that was bared by yesterday’s warmth and rain. It was so fine that you couldn’t see it unless you looked toward the dark pines, and it accumulated very slowly, just enough to compel the salt trucks and plows to make regular passes on the road.

Rita’s bird feeder was a place of constant motion, little birds all puffed up, flitting from the poplars down to the black oil sunflower seed buffet whenever there was even a small gap in the traffic. There’s a big cardinal population, the startling red flashes all around in the jaggerbushes which is northwestern PA speak for briars. These cardinals are supposed to be territorial, unless there is so much food that they don’t need to fight each other for it. One day we counted twelve at the feeder, so I guess there’s plenty of food around here.

Addy built a fire in the fireplace, stacking up scraps of 2x4s and wetter wood on top. She’s an accomplished little fire-maker, and the crackling was so loud that I hardly noticed when the teapot burbled its boiling sound.

The one rule of our readathon day is that the reading is for pleasure, which means chatty people must be quiet. We settled in with cups of tea and our favorite current books. Olivia has been reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series, and could not find the fourth one at the library. I noticed that she succumbed to reading the fifth one today, though it pains her orderly self to read them out of order. Rita is reading through the Mysterious Benedict Society, in a story grip that I rarely see in her. Her choice of reading tends to be nonfiction, nature guides, and survival manuals, but I guess these stories could count as survival tales. Addy’s following right behind her, reading the first big book in the series, and woe be to us if she catches up. The scrapping over shared books can be bewildering at best. (That’s my bookmark and she moved it!)

Addy settled into her chair with an entire pot of peppermint tea on the stand beside her, pouring cup after cup, sipping with a satisfaction that caused the older girls to roll their eyes at me. But they stayed quiet, except for occasional shoving matches to establish territories on the couch.

The parakeets chirped and the pillar candles on the mantle sputtered, giving off a delicate sugar cookie scent. I bought them on clearance without checking them properly, but the scent is almost vanilla, so we could bear it. Periodically I threw some large logs onto the fire to keep it going, resettled into the recliner with my feet toward the fire. I could read a page in my book, feel the warmth on my feet, and look out the window at intervals. It was the best of all the worlds.

Rita broke the silence with occasional monologues about things like how annoyed she gets when people say, “Shake your head yes.” Addy snitched my seat when I went outside to feed the chickens and she wiggled on the squeaky leather chair. A lot. The only noise Olivia made was page turning and nose blowing, and “Be quiet! I want to read!”

And that is how the day went. It was utterly delicious. My aunt and I have been having some dialog in past comments about enjoying winter properly. I think she would approve of this day. ☺️

Buy the Tulips, a List for Winter

I’ve been thinking a lot about surviving during the long, dark days of winter, even thriving. I have a short list of things that do NOT help, and the top of the list is

  • Aimlessness
  • Accumulated dirt
  • Staying housebound
  • Disorganized snow gear
  • Too much screen time
  • Strict dieting
  • Overwhelming projects
  • Navel-gazing about all the things that are wrong in my life
  • PollyAnna chirping, “I’m so glad I’m not being exposed to harmful UV rays”
  • At the end of the day, the weariness of winter is a thing, the brain fog is a thing, and the temptation to sin with my attitudes is a thing. Facing the challenge and admitting it is not a sin, however. When my mom gave me a stack of notepads from my Grandma’s stash, I found one with this poem on the back:
Grandma lived in Wisconsin and every year she faced this battle.

My list for coping skills is long and detailed, because I have given it much thought over the years, and probably written about it before. I have tried to condense it so I don’t fatigue you with my lofty thoughts.

  • Keep rhythms, but let them be slow
  • Plan fun things like tea parties and game nights
  • Put lights everywhere, twinklies, candles, full-spectrum bulbs
  • Eat sensibly; embrace comfort foods and bright flavors
  • Buy fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits
  • Go to the library often
  • Make gardening plans and order seeds
  • Have spots of color around your house: quilts, throw pillows, pretty dishes
  • Wear cheerful clothes
  • Buy proper gear so that you can
  • Get out of the house every day and
  • Go skating or sledding or just walking in the fresh air
  • Simmer potpourri
  • Play upbeat music
  • Collect houseplants for your windowsills
  • Feed the birds, learn to identify them, keep lists
  • Make things with beautiful yarn or paints
  • Take supplements for the vitamins and minerals you lack
  • Spend unhurried time with friends
  • Bring home some tulips from the grocery store
  • Accept: this is a season and it will pass

That list is what rises to the top when I think about leaning into wintertime. It’s customized to our household. Not everybody is blessed by quilts and bright yellow teapots. I’m sure you have your own coping skills.

Often I don’t realize that my hands are hanging down and my knees are feeble until the slump has gotten hold of me (about the 75th cloudy day in January). It becomes a spiritual battle; I spread it before the Lord, and He graces me with ideas and resources to deal with what is here, this very day, in this place I am called to be. As a keeper of my home, I have choices. I can ooze into the mud or look for the light. And slowly the days get longer and hope rises.

Buy the tulips, my friends.

Noticing: From the Window

Our neighbor is just leaving for work in his white van with a ladder on top. He sidles out of his driveway, past the garbage workers who are dumping the contents of his trash can into the maw of their truck. Unless the snowplows push it into the ditch first, the empty can will sit there at the end of the driveway until their son comes home from school to trundle it back up the lane.

The truck turns at the end of the street, passes again to clean up the right side of the road. “Think Green. Think Clean.” I wish they would bend their rules and pick up the two enormous TV’s that another neighbor set out beside the road before Christmas. We have not subscribed to garbage pickup here. All our recyclables collect in bins in the shop, and once they are spilling over suitably, we bag them up for the recycling place. Cardboard gets saved for my mulching purposes, and the rest we burn. It’s shocking how much garbage our family produces even with all those green-ish things we do.

This office window looks out through the sunporch to the front yard and the road. Right now the window is very dirty. It must have been overlooked when the sunporch windows were last cleaned. In the summertime the bushes outside make a complete screen of Rose of Sharon and lilac bushes, and in winter there is no sun, so there is rarely any reason to sit in the sunporch. I hanker to take off the awnings all around, but Gabriel thinks it might get too hot without them. Also, they protect the very old single panes out there. Thirteen windows, and four of them have an old fashioned hinge to open wide to the breezes. We hung strings of lights out there and installed a stained glass light fixture we found at a thrift store. There is an old sofa along the wall where Addy likes to sit all wrapped in blankets and listen to her audiobooks. Rita keeps her broom corn in a loose shock in the corner. She has not made the brooms she planned, but her rabbit loves the broom corn, eating his way all along the stalk, out to the sweet grains at the end. Dessert after all his vegetable fiber.

There are hooks for jackets, and a tray for boots, but we don’t use that entrance much. Somehow it seems easier to track snow and mud in through the kitchen. We do store firewood on the porch, and today would be a great day to use some of it in the fireplace. The snow is fuzzing down, and I am so blessed by the whiteness blanketing the world. When the ground is pristine, the spirits lift around here.

The view would be improved if I stowed the Christmas decor in that tote on the table outside this window. I used dried hydrangeas and other seed pods to decorate this year, painting some of them with silver and white spray paints. I was pleased with the result, but my family snickered politely about my “sad beige” decorations. “What’s wrong with holly and pine and berries?” they wanted to know. The big idea was to decorate with what is available around here, and then throw it away, but I can’t bear to pitch the hydrangeas so there they still are in my sunporch.

My twenty minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing is up, thank goodness. This window doesn’t have an ample view. Something happens, though, when I really zoom in on a smallish spot in the house; I notice things that I could do to improve things, which is always a housekeeping triumph when the brain is sluggish. That tote will be taken to the attic, even if I haven’t wrapped up the strings of LED lights yet.

Slow Start: Noticing

I sit here, thinking about the day. Always the weather forecast. Snow, then rain.

This tiny cup of regular coffee, the last 4 ounces in the French Press, is really pretty great. I don’t feel well on coffee, so I limit my habit to decaf or miniscule amounts. I picked the smallest mug in our cupboard, the pink one with glaze drips and a heart on the front.

I am in my office. My son is clomping through the kitchen in his leather boots, opening doors. “Thanks for making me a sandwich, Mom,” he calls.

I see the neighbor’s kid dawdling at the end of their lane, hands stuffed in pockets, beanie pulled down tightly, waiting for the bus.

My own school-kids are still sleeping. I hope Olivia’s cold is better this morning. The other two are cocooned in sleeping bags in their camper/playhouse. They were going to cook soup on the hot plate for their bedtime snack last night, and I feel certain they took enough provisions for breakfast too.

Oh, there’s the bus. How our lives would have to skitter into high gear if we needed to catch a bus! I savor the calm: only the whoosh of the furnace forcing hot air through the ductwork, and my felt-tipped pen making tiny scritchings.

This office is a mess. Everybody stows homeless things in here and shuts the door. Somebody really should do something about it. That Christmas wrapping paper- is it worth storing for a year? There is a stack of thrifted books, titles we love and some we never read but they have familiar authors. The shelves are full, but for a quarter a piece I have no resistance. There’s also a pile of Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman, because we have had short visitors recently. Then there is the yarn basket, shoved in here for safekeeping from the short visitors, and the completed tests that need to be filed, and the hamper full of extra blankets from overnight company in December. Really, somebody should do something about this stuff.

In my office there is not one pen I do not like. I fire them into the trash can if they so much as falter or sputter. I burn nice candles in here, not too highly scented because the room is small.

On the walls I display my children’s art- the detailed zentangles my oldest son gave me and the block prints the girls made in art class. There’s the cellophane-wrapped watercolor Gabriel brought me from Puerto Rice, with that brilliant tropical street, and the acrylic painting I attempted at a ladies’ activity. It’s not that good, but it’s the nostalgic view I had out my kitchen window in Osterburg for years, my garden and Gabriel’s barn.

I should organize and declutter in this room. It is the least-finished of all our remodel projects, but it’s my spot and the pens are good.

I pick up my empty coffee mug, slip out, and shut the door.

Noticing

I am in the middle of doing a writing course by Rachel Devenish Ford called Write From the Heart. Right now we are practicing noticing, and jotting it down. All those tiny sights and sounds around us, as well as the big ones. They all make up life, and I decided it might be fun to do it here. It’s not going to be profound, but it is a good thing for me to do in these days when my default mode is creeping about with a cup of tea, trying to look productive. Here’s yesterday’s twenty minutes of observing.

First thing I look at the forecast, and it is too dismal for my soul to bear. Ten solid days of clouds. I know in my head that it can change daily, but my heart is dismayed.

I arrange a bright quilt on the back of a chair, fill the teakettle, light candles all through the house, and sit down to write, far away from my phone.

A spoon scrapes a cereal bowl, and pages turn as the breakfast eater reads while she eats Life.

My son reads quotes from a Babylon Bee article and mutters that this leftover coffee tastes like old tires, but he drinks it anyway.

The parakeets chirp shrill good mornings as the first bit of light filters into the schoolroom upstairs.

Tires crunch on the lane as my son heads off to work; the tracks on the lane are frozen this morning, an improvement on the squelching mud of the past week.

I glance out the window, see the chickens in the slight glow of the light in their coop, scratching, scratching through the straw. I am hopeful that the fake daylight will urge them to greater egg production.

The world outside is lightening slowly, but monochrome. Trees hold their undressed limbs to the sky, and I can tell by their bones that this one is an oak and that one is a cherry, and the other one is a walnut.

Only the tin signs on my husband’s shop reflect any color: “Pepsi, the taste that beats the others cold,” and “Atlantic Motor Oil,” and the neon yellow “No Outlet.”

My candy cane tea is brewed just right. I pair it with a spiced raisin cookie, iced on top. I smell the cardamom that I ground in my daughter’s mortar and pestle. A morsel of sweet.

Broth and Citrus

That is always what I wish to eat in this week when we are sated with cheese and chocolates, only this year we did it backwards forwards (literal translation from Dutch) and had our broth and citrus in the weeks before Christmas and our chocolate and cheese after. As did many others, we picked up a nasty little bug that laid us low, one by one. Only Gabriel and Gregory escaped unscathed. In the middle of that drama, I also had a troublesome tooth extracted, but that is all behind us now, and we are back to feeling well, although not quite as robust as we would wish.

I woke up a week before Christmas and thought about the fact that there was not one cookie or piece of candy in the house, and then I rolled over and didn’t care about it at all. We had the ingredients, and I figured eventually one of us would muster some effort. I knew Gabriel had to work anyway, and as it turned out, church was cancelled due to extreme cold and we just stayed home and played games.

One of my most beloved holiday traditions has been to attend a Handel’s Messiah concert every year. I only missed two or three in twenty years, even taking Alex when he was two weeks old. Over the years Gabe and I took turns singing in the choir and those glorious pieces run through my head as music whenever I read them in Isaiah. Twenty-twenty tanked our small town concert in Bedford and they have decided to fold for good, more’s the pity.

Last night I dreamed that I was finally able to attend a Handel’s Messiah concert in Pittsburgh. The venue was decorated with the Steelers colors, but I didn’t mind. It was bliss until the bass soloist started ad libbing during “The People That Walked in Darkness.” He just made up whatever words he wanted. It is one of my favorite pieces, and I was flummoxed, then outraged. When he walked off the stage in confusion, the orchestra and the choir gave up and followed him. I thought surely they would pull it together, but when I looked around me, the audience had all gone home. The only ones left were my children, and they were throwing bounce balls in the concert hall to see if they could hit the stage. That’s when I woke up and gave it up. No live performance of Messiah this year for me, not even in my dreams.

This week we went to my sister’s house on Monday, and my parents and Alex joined us there for celebrations and cheer. My parents made up for our lack of Christmas chocolates and Rachel made an epic cheese fondue and the kids played in the snow for hours while the guys carved. Things may have turned out a little topsy turvy, but we were most grateful that we got our flu bug out of the way before the holidays.

I can’t wrap my head around the fact that this is truly the end of the year. I should probably make some resolutions, or at least some plans. I know I have to do the taxes for the pottery biz, and that is the looming frog of my life every year. I might as well eat that frog first and then the year can only get better. It helps that my husband is a numbers whiz and could easily be my accountant, but I am determined to figure it out. It also doesn’t help that the accountant is my exceedingly patient husband, if you know what I mean. I do not know how it is possible to snarl the numbers the way I do, even with the invoicing software and apps I use, but there it is and there I am feeling stupid, even though I know I am not stupid. I keep trying, but I expect to go to heaven long before I get proficient with tax stuff.

I also need to take a long look at the second half of our school year, make sure we are on track to get where we want to be. Spelling. I don’t know how to instill/teach it, and that would be a good place to start. On a test I checked today, the child who shall remain unnamed had written, “Britton, Britten, Brittin. However you spell Britton.” Clearly, she knew none of them looked right, but it wasn’t coming to her either and she moved on to more important things.

It doesn’t feel like a neatly wrapped year, even though it has been a good year on the whole. There are always private sorrows mixed in with the surprising joys, burdens to carry with courage along with the lighter duties of ordinary life, and people who are hard to understand even though you love them.

It helps me to accept that this is a design feature of life, not a fatal flaw because I am somehow missing the mysterious component that makes it all better and pretty. This life is always going to feel to some degree like a garment that doesn’t quite fit right. You don’t always know if it needs alteration, or if you need to gain some muscle here, lose some weight there, but the coat isn’t tailored perfectly. When I am troubled by a split seam, it doesn’t mean that I am not casting all my cares on him. It means that this is a broken world, and still I can live in the kindness of the Father. I absolutely love that passage in 1Peter 5: 6-11. There is no safer place than “humble, under the mighty hand of God.” There is no brighter promise than “after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

A friend asked me why I make mugs with “The Best is Yet to Come” on them. That is why. I believe it with all my heart, and I’ll swing into the new year on that.

Blessings on your new year!

Sadly, we couldn’t coordinate a photographer with a weekend when Alex was here, but this is us, missing him.

Errands for the Birds

We’ve run into a small snag with our poultry operation. We finally got the temperatures that we expect in November, which is to say frigid, which also means that every morning the water is frozen in the chicken tractor. Addy lovingly takes warm water out for the flock and by evening it’s frozen solid again. So this morning I decided to slog the weary (two) miles to the Farm and Home store. Across the street I would have the option of a Tractor Supply, and if I go one mile further I can go to the Ace Hardware.

I asked my son to start my vehicle when he went outside, and a half hour later I looked out the window and noticed little puffs of exhaust coming from my Suburban. Oh. It would now be toasty warm, although outside it was 25° with a brisk wind, but I was dressed for it. When I parked at the Farm and Home, the guy in the car next to me got out and strolled nonchalantly by, Carhartt unzipped, munching on a Klondike bar. Granted, he had a beard impressive enough to cover the space where his coat didn’t close. I shivered in my down puffer and fur lined boots and dashed inside.

There was another lady in the poultry aisle, and we did some quick bonding over which heated waterer would be the best in my situation. I was grateful for her help and we shared a laugh over the pumpkin spice supplement blocks for chickens. Then I did the hilarious thing and bought one. Shouldn’t my hens have Thanksgiving too?

As I breezed past the bird seeds, I snagged a large bag of sunflower seeds. At home Addy hung the feeder on a branch where we can see the activity from our living room windows. Winter can now commence. We are officially ready.

And that’s how one spends eighty-nine dollars for the birds. 🫣

Of Groceries and Recipes

It’s comfort food season, roasted vegetables, slow-cooked stews, etc. When I watch recipe tutorials, the gorgeous photography alone inspires me, especially if it involves getting out a heavy cast-iron pan first, and then picking some herbs half-way through, and finishing off with a grating of cheese.

There is one thing that always catches me unaware, and that is when the cook flourishes seasonings in such a grand and generous manner that they fly all over the place. As a cook who cleans up her work space compulsively, I feel an urge to hand them a Norwex kitchen cloth to clean it up quickly, but how photogenic would that be? Another thing is when they have melted butter or softened cream cheese in a bowl and they only give it a cursory swipe with a rubber spatula, then leave gobs of it still in the bowl and proceed cooking merrily without it. I remember the earliest days of baking with my mom, waiting to lick the beaters or the mixing bowl, but when she had finished with the “scraper” there was hardly anything left. Sometimes she would have pity and leave some gleanings on purpose for us, but never ever would she have put great pools of butter into the dirty dishes pile like the Pioneer Woman does.

I have a website for you, This Mom Cooks, where my husband’s cousin’s son’s wife 😀 blogs about cooking and posts wonderful recipes: a variety of Amish staples, chocolate whoopie pies, crock pot meals, creamy soups, etc. (Hi, Marilyn. :)) One of the things I appreciate about her recipes is the simplicity of the ingredients.

I have gone on a Half-baked Harvest spree recently, and even made the Creamy Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash Pasta for fellowship meal. It flew like a lead balloon, largely because the color was suspect, my husband said. It didn’t look like cheese sauce, since there was ricotta, gouda, and parmesan mixed with the butternut. I loved it, but there is only so much leftover squash pasta one person can eat, so I treated the chickens to a gourmet feast one day.

Another butternut recipe that I have loved is from Well-plated by Erin. Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash comes out tasting better than a roasted sweet potato, in my opinion. Maybe it’s the convection roast setting on my oven, but those buttery cubes with their slightly blackened edges are well worth the icky feeling on my hands from peeling the squash and the strenuous work with the chef’s knife to carve it up into manageable bits.

As you may be able to tell, I have a lot of squash. I even baked pumpkin pies last weekend, and my family thought it was a foretaste of glory, or at the very least, mom got converted from her non-pie baking ways. I actually have, a little bit. I have decided to give up the excuses and work on that pastry until I get it. The only way I like pie is if the pastry is very well-baked and flakey. I find that difficult to pull off, but practice might actually help!

Today I wrote out my Thanksgiving menu, and I am really looking forward to cooking a feast for my favorite holiday. Gabriel has to work on Thanksgiving Day, so we will have our company and luscious food on Friday. The children and I plan to make bread bowls and soup to eat by the fireplace on Thursday, and then we hope to make chocolate candy and drink copious amounts of tea while we play games. We get two days to celebrate, if you look at it with a squint and a good attitude.

I got the groceries today, hauling home copious amounts of cheeses and cranberries and oranges and sugar and flour and butter. I am thankful, very, very thankful for the privilege of buying what we need and much of what we want. I am also grateful for the harvest that is in my basement in jars and freezers, for the good soil that produced so much bounty, and for the mother who taught me how to preserve it.

Winter is here now. The leaves have all lost their grip and the naked trees lift their profiles to the sky. Gabriel stuck markers along the driveway so that we can see where to plow. We’ve had our first snow, with more coming soon. It is time to fill the birdfeeder. I left the spiky seedpods of the coneflowers in my flower borders, but they have already been cleaned of seeds by the finches so that only stems remain. One day last week a fleet of bluebirds swarmed the Virginia creeper on the chimney and cleared out all the berries. There are plenty of rose hips available yet for the songbirds, and the chickens still find great rewards on the compost heap. I feel a little sorry for them, and what they do not know about winter, but it’s all a part of growing up, I guess.

They’ll be just fine, especially if I keep trying new recipes that aren’t quite what we hoped.

Ten Down, Two to Go

Not that I’ve been wishing for the year to hurry… October was a magical month. We felt the usual harvest urgency, without the high stakes that attended harvest time for centuries past. It doesn’t seem fair that we can grow things just for fun, and if we have a crop failure we won’t starve.

We have tucked in the garden with a heavy blanket of chopped leaves from our lawn and pine straw from our neighbor’s trees. My strategy was to blow or mow as much as we could into piles, then run over the piles with the small mower and a bagger attachment. A few teens in this household thought that was a weird and unnecessary way to clean up leaves, but I persisted. That is, I persisted in asking them to do it my way because the leaves break down better if they are chopped, especially our tough oak and hickory leaves.

We obliterated all the corn stalks and sunflower trunks through our BCS chipper attachment, a task that required two persons because a lot of the organic matter was soft from rain. I loaded them into the hopper and Gabriel tamped down the dead plants with a sturdy tree branch, and cleared the chopper blades when they became clogged. Once everything was chopped up, we spread it out to compost right on top of the soil.

The only plants left are the fall crop broccoli and cabbage, the slowly fattening Brussels sprouts, and a brilliant row of kale. It would be noble to be like a brassica, bowing under the hard frosts of life, but standing cheerfully upright again repeatedly until you die. Unfortunately this is just not a homily that inspires me. I do not want to be likened to broccoli, much as I admire it.

While we were cleaning up the outdoors, the field mice were claiming the indoors. I knew we had a problem, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I offered Rita a dollar for every mouse she catches. She is at 9 currently, and the last three were all caught on the same raisin. This little venture is turning out to be quite profitable for her, what with such a low overhead on bait for her traps. I do not begrudge her one penny of those dollars though.

I had a big pile of wood chips dropped off here by the power line workers this summer. We set up the chicken fence around it and let the girls out of their chicken tractor once they were about half grown. Immediately they did their henny-penny things, completely leveling the pile in their constant scratching quest for bugs. For a foolish minute I thought that I would let them free range once the garden was dead. How far could they go? It took them less than 10 minutes to be all the way at the house, digging great holes in the flower beds as they sampled all the dust bath options on the property. Okay then, that’ll be a no, chickens.

We are at last getting plenty of eggs from our flock. It seemed to take forever for them to start laying, but now I feel smug every time I walk past the egg section in the grocery store and see the prices. We have added a thin layer of food independence to our lives.

(If you are curious about the way to homesteader land, chickens are the foot in the door. Owning a small flock makes you a fledgling homesteader just like that. )

There is only one Ameraucana in our small flock of buffs and reds, a silly hen the girls named Susie. She navigates life with the idea that she is special, slipping out of any crack in the fence, roosting in weird places like the entitled lady she is, getting extremely ticked off if you open the nesting box lid when she is sitting in it, and not so much cackling as bellowing her triumph of the day: another blue egg. She could be more humble about her accomplishments, seeing as she only lays about three eggs a week. We forgive her arrogance because we are fascinated with the processes of a bird who eats worms and corn and somehow produces blue pigment that permeates her egg shell.

We are on track for homemade pasta, custards that are yellow instead of beige, and eggnog with that special flair because it didn’t have to travel far to the blender. I even bought whole nutmegs to celebrate this goodness, only to run into the small problem of not owning a nutmeg grinder. I ordered one because we don’t care for knuckle skin in our nutmeg.

I have done my annual sort-fest through the winter gear, giving away things that are too small and donating the snow pants with Steelers logos. Now I know exactly what we have and what we need. I like to do this to Be Prepared. While I was sorting, Addy persistently flitted around, reminding me that her ice skates are too small or broken or something, and it was seventy degrees outside and there was such a ridiculous amount of gear all mixed together. I felt the old panic start to rise: the premonition that I will be swallowed alive by winter, inundated by mittens and hats, my withered skeleton emerging from a mound of boots and puffer coats when spring comes again. And then I laughed because I remembered two things. My children can take care of their own clothes now, and also it is impossible to wither with a mug of something hot in hand. I’ll make it.

Last week we planted tulip bulbs and a large bed of garlic, sticking them in to wait quietly for the right time to show up. I feel myself turning into a tiresome philosopher when I draw parallels from my garden, so I will trust your intelligence to figure out what that could mean.

Addy just asked me a rhetorical question, “Why do we never have dessert?” I serenely ignored her lack of logic and told her that she can make dessert if she wants some. That’s why there is the aroma of cookies baking right now. That is my baby, and here I am sitting on a chair, writing about an October just past.

To welcome in a new month yesterday, we had our Tuesday Tea at a coffee shop where they sell Boba tea. The girls all fell for that, naturally, and I had a chai latte. Here’s to November!

Signs of the Times

At the close of a perfect day, weather-wise, I sit in the hammock and think about the season. There is a definite feeling in the air, almost we are ready to batten down the hatches, just one last push to finish the harvests.

Because it was so beautiful outside, I decided to bring in some of the garden that has been neglected. I grew celery for fun, celery that decided to be really bushy and brilliant, but didn’t plump out like the stuff from California. I am okay with that, since I mostly use it to flavor soups and stews in the winter time. I decided to dry the leaves and chop the stems really fine to dehydrate them. If I put them into the freezer, I tend to lose track of where my baggies of celery are and end of having an inglorious rummage when I want to make soup. This year I’ll go for a glass jar of dried veggies in the pantry.

Foraging for herbs to flavor the soup

I am quite fed up with tomatoes, but I picked ten pounds of stragglers today, and who would have thought I would ever be tired of them when I was watching them so closely in July? I’ll turn them into salsa with my secret recipe, one I hardly dare to mention among serious salsa makers for fear of losing all my canning cred. (It’s one I get from Mrs. Wages. Shh. Because I dislike chopping that many peppers and onions.) Some of the tomatoes I picked today were going bad, so I lobbed them toward the chicken fence. My throwing arm isn’t all that good and they kept falling short. Lady, our springer spaniel who lives to retrieve anything one throws, dashed after the tomatoes as I threw them. She ate them all. Weird.

I grew jalapeño peppers for making poppers, but I had enough for an experimental batch of cowboy candy. This is completely new to me, but I’ll try anything once. No, actually I won’t. Not candied onions.

Awhile ago I did the “turn the largish zucchini into mock pineapple” thing with a few blimps we didn’t pick in time. The children groaned with anticipatory delight. (Ha.) I tasted them. They have the mouth feel of a peach, not mushy, and taste exactly like pineapple. Not bad at all. Was it worth buying four bucks worth of pineapple juice to can nine pints of mock pineapple? I don’t know, but now I know I can can it if I want to.

We have harvested our black beans, dried on the plant, easy peasy. I love this gathering of the last bits and pieces feeling. My inner forager feels that we are nearly ready for the cold months, as if Super Wally and Aldi were not two miles up the road. The less I have to go there, the better. I don’t know how it has been for you recently, but for us (not changing anything in our spending habits for the household) the cost of groceries has increased almost a hundred and fifty dollars a month. It may not seem like that much, but it’s close to two thousand per year that we would normally use for other things. I figure anything we can grow is a good thing.

In that spirit I have been saving seeds. The Romaine lettuce bolted and made some pretty flowers that turned into daintily dried seed heads which I picked today. I dried spaghetti squash seeds and will do the same with the butternuts and Roma tomatoes. The simplest way I know to do this is to smear the seeds onto a paper towel when I cut the veggies, label the towel with a sharpie, and let them dry before I store them in a bag in the freezer for the next growing season.

Moving on from the food preservation, I observe the first brilliant maple in the woods. We only have a few young maple trees, easily overlooked until they show off in the fall. The Virginia creeper on the chimney is deeply scarlet, as is the poison ivy at the edge of the trail.

On Sunday a few of us ladies discussed our varying feelings about autumn. Many say it is their favorite season, but some of us feel the sadness of all the dying. One suggested that all the color is a brave thing in the midst of the shutting down, and a fellow gardener said the dormant season feels restful to her, not dead. So there are all these ways of looking at fall, and I think that maybe I can learn to have a healthier view of all the dying. I am listening to some of Michael Perry’s essays and he said this about autumn: “The land is at ease with the idea of mortality.”

One thing we all agreed on, pumpkin spice lattes are overrated. It’s a bit of a rebel thing. I am sorry if this hurts your feelings, but if I need a latte with a vegetable in it, I’ll make my own without a quarter cup of sugar. I have done this, and they aren’t bad, especially with pumpkin pie spice sprinkled on top.

This week I strolled through TJ Maxx, a thing I love to do. It’s such a mash-up of brilliant and terrible ideas. I saw pumpkin spice scented dog wash, all the candles, and mugs with admonitions like fall into autumn. The pinnacle of fall decor had to be the stuffed gnome with a chef’s hat printed with leaves and pumpkins. He was holding a tiny go-cup and wearing an apron printed with pumpkin spice and everything nice. Olivia and I stood in that aisle and marveled at the genius that managed to put all those different elements into one piece of decor. I hoped someone would appreciate him enough to take him home, but we decided to pass.

Be blessed as merrily as I was. 😀

Go, fall into autumn, or whatever it is that you need to do to flourish this season!