Yet Another Tuesday in the Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was your day?

Tuesday in the Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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a Slightly Imperfect Day in the Life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow and Steady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The End Cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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

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Glorious May

What could be better than sitting in a clean house while a rain-shower patters down outside? Try adding a piece of chocolate with salted caramel bits, a bird singing outside the window, a son planning supper around his freshly caught fish which he filleted himself, and an hour to write. Bliss.

You may wonder why my house is all clean on a random Thursday. Let me tell you, I nearly killed myself with mopping and clearing away of chaos this forenoon. This, because the insurance adjusters were scheduled to come take a look around. The last time we had a property assessment, I was unprepared and embarrassed to the core as they walked through every room, taking pictures and ignoring the mess with cheerful grace. Every time they opened a door, there was a child doing school in an odd place, or playing something incredibly messy on an unmade bed. Gabe told me that from his years of experience with replacing windows, this is nothing. Well, it feels dreadful to me, so I was going to be prepared today. We got lunch cleared away and the children’s faces washed before they showed up.

Turns out we don’t have wood heat, so they didn’t even have to step inside. I felt a little cheated. Why can’t someone take pictures of my house when it is like this?

This next scene is right outside the window. My long-cherished dream of throwing pots of clay in that little barn is about to come to pass. We had a grand clearing out and reassigned the stuff in there to other storage places. Plans are for a corner for carving for the man and the place where the lower windows are will be the pottery section. Can’t you see us in there, companionably creative? Only problem is, I still can’t concentrate with people around and I certainly can’t hold a conversation while trying for just the right wall thinness on a clay bowl. About the time I start to talk, my precious piece suddenly feels gravity in a new way and settles gently downward. I have never had so much fun being terrible at something.

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Check out the green fuzz on the ridge, which we have been waiting for for a long time. Suddenly it is popping, almost too fast. It takes the breath away. This morning the lawn looked like this, but in about 2 days we will have abundant dandelion chain supplies again.

 

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I used to spend hours with the older children outside, looking for signs of spring, weaving flower chains and playing in the fresh grass. One day when Addy was grizzling and bored, I realized that I don’t do that very much with her. So I took her little paw in mine and we meandered around the pond, discussing things that interest her life. I braided her a coronet of gold and she had a heart change.

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The children are all but done with school books for this term. There are a few random tests yet, but other than that, we’re done. One of the cousins told them about DIY tutorials on Youtube for making tiny doll furnishings or clothing. From there they have moved to all sorts of  projects, resulting in sketchy looking lip balms made with raspberry juice and coconut oil or odd hot air balloons where the tissue paper tends to flame up suddenly on liftoff. My personal favorite was when Rita said, “Did you know that you can fix nail holes in the wall by putting toothpaste into them?” I told them to take a break from creativity, so we are back on the more familiar ground of a pet snake in the terrarium and some pillbugs in a plastic container. “May we google, ‘What do pillbugs eat?’.”

This next photo represents a triumphant moment for us all, but especially for Gabriel. He had been hankering for a motorcycle ride all spring, saying if he didn’t have this assignment to finish, he would just break out and go riding. The thing about unrelenting assignments to study is that Jack feels like a dull boy, ready to bust out and do something different! One day I was gone for a while, and when I got home he was at the neighbor’s house, borrowing his bike.

“Did you finish your course while I was gone?” I asked at first opportunity, not believing it could be possible. He just grinned and nodded. He had the last two assignments to work on when I left that morning, but in a spurt of determined perseverance, he had actually submitted them both in one day! I didn’t begrudge him a long ride through the countryside in the least! (For the concerned folks out there, the child did not ride with him. Prop only for a spin in the lawn. 🙂 )

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It occurred to me that some of you may be interested in my container gardening tips. I can’t grow houseplants worth squat, but I do seem to have success with my containers on the deck. I will use last year’s pictures for this DIY session. 🙂

  1. Find a friendly greenhouse proprietor who knows their stuff. You need to consider the light where your container will be. Is it full sun or partial shade? Ask your new friend what grows well in your conditions. You do not want to mix a shade plant with a full sun needer, or you will be conflicted all summer as to who gets what they need. (If at all possible, do not buy your plants at the big name stores. They ship them from who-knows-where, so the plants are stressed and sad from the start. You local greenhouse people deserve your business. Have you ever thought about how hard they work?)
  2. Look for a grass or spike plant to give you a visual high point. These plants usually are very tolerant of almost any condition. Last year I found these neat “Prince Tut” grasses, which look like a scepter with a sunburst at the end. I haven’t seen them anywhere yet this year, but I did find curly pink grasses. That’s the fun… mixing it up.
  3. Your next requirement is for a showy leaf. Some good ones are sweet potato vines which come in endless varieties ranging from bright lime green to purple. Those trail beautifully. More upright plants with dramatic foliage are dusty miller or coleus.
  4. The third category in a mixed planter is the blooming plant. We enjoy things that attract hummingbirds, so anything with a trumpet-like flower makes us happy. Million bells, those tiny petunias that never have to be deadheaded, are great for show and easy to please. I don’t hold back much on color combinations, but I do try not to put orange and pink together, etc. Really, there are no rules. If you love your flowers, they will love you back.
  5. My fourth category is something with big blooms. You see Gerbera daisies in these photos, but I am officially done with mixing them in planters with other flowers. They don’t like sharing my space, for some reason. Also, my greenhouse friend told me they hate fertilizer, and literally everything else loves it. So they are out this year. Geraniums work, especially the vining ones that aren’t stuck on one upright shape. I have fallen in love with large begonias as well. They are a little picky about water. Not too much, or they rot.
  6. The next step is funny. Line your planters with adult diapers. This trick comes to you courtesy of my friend who is caring for her elderly mother. She was given some Depends that would have wrapped twice around her mother, so she changed up their use, figuring they would hold moisture in her planters during the hot July days. It works like a charm. Also, your big planters can be filled with empty milk jugs or soda bottles at the bottom. You really only need dirt in the top 12 inches and it makes them much easier to move.
  7. Use good potting soil. Trust me, it is worth 5 or 10 dollars extra to buy a good brand versus cheap, generic stuff. I like Miracle Gro potting soil with fertilizer in the mix.
  8. Arrange your plants until you like the configuration in the pot. I like mine full and energetic, but they do tend to take up whatever space they have. Just don’t be stingy. You can always repot something if it takes too much space.
  9. Plant them. Pull the roots apart gently at the bottoms. They are almost always root bound in the greenhouse pots. Set your planters in a sheltered area for a few days so they can get used to the big outdoors.
  10. Remember that the plants are used to a lot of fertilizer. It’s what greenhouses do to get that luxurious growth that makes you want to buy the whole place. If you never feed your plants, you will see them taper off and look sickly for a while. I have one word for you. Miracle Gro. Seriously. At least once a week. If you feed them oftener, make the solution weaker. Pinch back the aggressive plants, and have fun!

These (below) are my planters last year, at the end of July. See how sickly/nonexistent those Gerberas are in there? I stuck some houseplants in last year, as well. Sometimes I include perennials from my flower beds. Hosta is a good one, as are coral bells. I also do herb planters. They do not have the eye catching appeal of florals, but it is really fun to step outside the door and pinch off some basil. Bonus points for anyone who spots the flourishing plantain weed in one of these arrangements.

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Is it worth the money? I heard that. For us it is. For about a hundred dollars, it turns our outside space into a haven. We may live right beside the road with traffic noise, but we have months of enjoyment out of this investment. I know a man who says he will wait for heaven to have flowers, but I don’t want to wait that long. God gave them to us here. If you source carefully, or wait until the greenhouses are getting rid of inventory, or propagate your own plants, you can grow astounding variety right at your house.

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Well, that concludes my writing hour. I ate a piece of excellently prepared catfish while I sat here, and now I must leave you to go find a greenhouse.

So here we are. May is glorious any way you look at it. And it is triumphant this spring, flush with accomplishment, ready for the next good thing. We feel mellow, delighted with the endless possibilities, despite the normal adult things that weigh down on us. The weariness is passing, the catch-up time is here.

The In Between

I looked back through old photos to see just how much documentation I have on the first day of spring. Here we are three years ago, when my baby was still a baby.

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From two years ago, I only have a photo of our resurrection garden. That was the year I lit the candle in the tomb on a Sunday morning before church, then I was so bugged because the sermon was not a resurrection sermon at all. Only later did I figure out that I was a week early.

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From last year, I have our “Back to Spring” party and I remember planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day for the first time ever in my life. Notice my Crocs flip flops on the floor? That is a good sign. And the spring wreath comes out every year. For about 12 years I used a forsythia wreath, then I decided to mix it up with dogwood.

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(I just left the office with my laptop because my husband is working on an assignment with music playing in the background and I cannot think. He can study, listen to music, and text at the same time. He says it’s because he is a Millennial and I am GenX. Haha. I say he is late GenX, so there. Depends who you ask.)

This year we have the snow again. Snow and snow and snow. It is still flurrying lazily as I sit here. We stuck a ruler upright on the picnic table for handy reference yesterday. That is just the barest tip sticking out at 12 inches. Addy and I found it hilarious.

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It’s funny and out of control and not funny and not out of control; may whatever you can get out of that cryptic statement bless you. The small people completely forgot about our annual party. I did too. Shh.

I knew I would be tempted to complain when I saw the weather forecast 2 weeks ago. It’s the time of the year when I am just so over cold and dreariness. I start feeling teary dismay at seeing 5 gloves on the register and 7 on the floor amid mud clumps from the boots. The coat situation, coupled with the jacket situation for the warmer days…It all becomes too much. The dog smells wet  stinks even with bathing and everything is disorganized and cluttered.

So. I know it is not pleasing to God when I complain. I needed a plan or the complaints were going to squeeze out.

I prayed about it one morning and unveiled my brilliant answer to the children at breakfast. Since it was supposed to snow every day for nearly a week, with frigidity prevailing throughout, we would stay very busy, deep cleaning this house one room a day. The responses were not overly enthusiastic, but nobody contested that God answered Mama’s prayer, especially when I explained a plan for bonuses in the allowance per room done well.

We started in the living room. I was super organized for this one. (And I spelled people wrong.) It took us 2 1/2 hours, minus putting up the curtains because they were still in the washer. My children like lists because they can see the end in sight as they check off the tasks.

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The boys had a lot of ideas on the rearrangement of furniture. I kept vetoing their ideas until they were getting offended, so I gave them free rein with the understanding that I can change it up after about a week. We are still sitting in a row along the outer wall after 10 days, so I think it is about my turn to have a go at giving the room the right feel. But the curtains are up now.

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When Addy cleaned out the cracks of the couch, she found Gregory’s Opinel pocket knife that was lost since September. He was one happy boy! Then he promptly lost it again a few days later. I found it in the crack of the love-seat in the schoolroom. Do we see a pattern here?

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We did the bedrooms over a 3 day span. The girls’ room is small and crammed full of treasures. It is really difficult for me to know what to cull and what they may keep, but we eventually managed to make everybody happy. Addy’s outgrown dresses and sweaters got passed on to younger friends. All the wall stickers and coloring pages were removed, and one small dresser got moved into the closet for sweaters and shoes.

The marvel of this house is the closets in every room! They are wonderful. I stash a lot of stuff in them, which is a grace and a problem both. I think it takes as long to clean a closet as it does to wash the walls of an entire room.

My own bedroom was fun to do. It was mostly dust bunnies and an eclectic assortment of books on my bedside stand. I cleared out a bag of clothes that we never wear, and that was that. Easy peasy. There is no question of rearranging the furniture, so that makes it very simple. Some day we will have a headboard on the bed, but as of now, we wouldn’t be able to walk along the closet wall if we had more than a Hollywood frame. I also left the curtains off in this room for the extra sunshine. This is the south side of the house, so in wintertime the light streams in onto the bed.

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I neglected to take photos of the kitchen. Alex is a great organizer and he was working alongside me in the cupboards. It was good to hear his frank perspective on my treasures, for a change. I am not going to tell you about the obscure spice bottles I had since we got married or the vitamins that were outdated in 2013. Nor do you want to know about the broken candy thermometer or the grody stuff under the stove. The thing is, I clean out my cupboards pretty often. How do I miss this? Alex just shook his head, exactly the way I do in his bedroom. He totally revamped my silverware and small containers drawer, so that I could never find what I needed on the first try. It did fit better the way he had it done, but I just didn’t have the patience to learn new tricks, so he returned it to the original configuration after a few days.

Our grand finale was the bathroom. We were definitely out of steam. It was a freezing day. We did not open the window to wash it. Some of the cupboard innards were passed over in a sweep of tolerance. Still. We finished the main floor in 8 days!

I think to myself…if I can just maintain this order. The cleanliness is not an idol to me, because we really must live here. I think I am more tempted to sin along the lines of resenting the clutter. The stuff taken to Goodwill is out. The white space is lovely. I don’t wan the girls to pin cherished coloring pages onto their walls again. I don’t want Calico Critter houses made of dominoes on their dressers. The stuffed animals look cuter in their basket. And seven watercolors of flowers are great for the present. Can we just wind the yarn neatly and put it away? I hear myself fussing about the projects and the messes and I try to stop. I really do. What does it matter? They are big enough to clean it up themselves, and they will after a while. Step over it. Look at it. Admire the crocheted bed made for the beany baby. Pin up another watercolor in the schoolroom. Breathe. Water the grass on the windowsill. Shovel the snow on the deck one more time. Dig out the dogwood wreath and smile at its jaunty incongruity.

Spring is coming, after all. No, spring is here.

 

 

Solutions from the A—-n

Once there was a deliriously happy couple who moved into a cute rental house, and they called it the Dovecote, because it was grey and small like Meg and John’s house in (edit: Did I really just post a book title without caps? ) Little Women. It had a few quirks, like a lazy susan that would only turn with strong persuasion and no closet to hang the coats and boots. There was also the matter of no convenient place to hang a roll of toilet paper. It wasn’t long until there was a coat tree for the winter-wear, and a person could get the knack of making the lazy susan revolve, but the toilet paper roll got set on the tank of the toilet for years. And years. It fell off about once a day. Sometimes there were a few renegade rolls behind the throne until someone got on hands and knees and fished them out of a tight corner. The children who came along kept accidentally dropping the paper into the bathtub or the trash can.

One day, after 16 years, the lady of the house had enough of the toilet paper situation. She thought of the freestanding toilet paper holders that she had seen occasionally and she looked… At Walmart…meh. Living in a small rural town meant there was only Dollar General for variety, and of course, the mighty Amazon. A very short surfing trip turned up the exact thing she was looking for, and since it was not chrome or gold-plated or flimsy (at least she hoped it wasn’t), she gladly forked out the cash.

The giraffe has been holding up the rolls proudly for almost a year, and nobody misses leaning sideways and backward for an errant roll behind the tank. Sometimes it is tucked in by the trash can, or on the mat beside the tub. Sometimes a child decorates the neck and ears with tufts of artfully arranged tissue. Sometimes it gets set on the window ledge while the floor is being cleaned, but it is always within reach and that is the important thing! There is a small matter of heavy cast iron for stubbing toes upon, and it cannot sit on bath puddles because it causes a rust ring, but other than that, I don’t think twenty-one dollars has been more wisely spent at this house. Being cast iron, there is a good chance it will become a family heirloom.

“And to think,” Gregory said, “we put up with that for 16 years and there was such an easy solution!”

I couldn’t have said it better. Have you ever had one of those fed-up moments that booted you to figure out a fix?