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!

A Peachy Tip

If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on some Red Haven peaches, you know that the skin simply pulls off when they’re ripe, and then all you have to do is pull that deep red pit out of the middle. I was not able to source Red Haven in this area, at least not for a price I wanted to pay. But I had some business back in orchard country where we come from, and I got a few bushels of peaches called Crest Haven. They also have a red pit, but if you let them ripen until the skins pull off, the peaches are mushy. So there we were a-peeling, not pulling and the girls were helping, but their peeling skills lack a little bit, and there were bits of good peach going to waste.

Actually, they wouldn’t be wasted, because glory be! I have chickens! But I digress. I decided to do a thing that makes me feel very frugal. We saved all the peach skins and pits and then when we were done we simmered them with water for a while, strained off the now-depleted skins. The result was a beautiful rosy peach juice that we use for jelly. My children are not Dutch speakers but they call this “poshing shawleh chelly”. A free years ago I heard my little girl explaining about our favorite jelly to a friend and being astonished that she had never heard of poshing shawlah chelly. This year I also canned some peach juice (nectar?) to flavor my water kefir. It’s rosy and pretty and will taste like summer, what’s not to love?

The chickens took a few interested looks at the remaining peels, brown and desiccated, and decided to see if something better comes along. That’s how I knew I really had wrung out all the goody from those peaches.

Water kefir making lots of baby probiotics in the back, and then the transformed pinkness in the bottles, getting fizzy. The quart jar is straight peach juice and the tiny jar is poshing shawleh chelly. Should I put on my crunchy mom hat now?

Just Do It

Our Sunday school lesson last week ended with, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4: 17 (ESV). I’d like to find a better translation that doesn’t kill the flesh quite like that. I looked at that verse in ten different translations, and what do you know? They all say it is sin to refuse to do what you know you’re supposed to do. The Message calls it “evil” but we can agree that’s still sin. I couldn’t find a loophole for saying no, I don’t want to. No, it’s somebody else’s turn. No, they don’t deserve it. No, I’m too tired for that drama. Not one place where it suggested that it’s more important to conserve my own resources than to freely spend them for another.

I know. This is not the American gospel. I have read the books and listened to the arguments and experienced the pinched sadness that comes from selfishness. It’s very easy to be a cocoon of carefulness in our world, and nobody calls us on it because it’s normal. Self-care is the holy Grail and there are 479 ways to do it without one person daring to say, “Wait, that looks a little selfish.”

It’s August, a great time to see how God built spending and being spent into the creation. Every single plant in my garden is doing its best to make seeds so that someone can eat next year. Even the measly kale that I rescued from the under-watered parking lot seller is struggling to grow quickly before winter. The garden is tired, purple coneflower petals dropping, potatoes sending their last energy down their stems as the tops die, stringy beans blooming to make another round just in case the first one wasn’t enough. The plants aren’t looking prime, and it doesn’t seem to be high priority. Being fruitful is where it’s at.

Presumably we Christians want to save our best efforts for spiritual work. The important things. But what if the thing right in front of me, the good that I know I should do, is my spiritual work? (My children would appreciate some breakfast, but I’m a little busy with the concordance here, kids. )

What really is my spiritual work? Surely not the dishes in the sink? Surely not finding another way to feed my family zucchini? Surely not mending a zipper? Surely not canning tomatoes? Surely not listening to my garrulous neighbor talking about groundhogs? Surely not putting gas in my husband’s car so he doesn’t have to leave early for work? Surely not the thing that inconveniences me???

I’ve given up making excuses for being lazy. I know over commitment is a thing and burn out is a thing. I know the world takes advantage of willing people. But I also know in my own heart when I am simply excusing myself from giving freely and living with an open hand.

I would just like to say, we’re not supposed to get to the end of the day and feel fresh as a daisy. We’re supposed to have been doing good work and getting tired. That’s the whole point. That’s what investing ourselves in the kingdom feels like. If we spend our days curating our efforts so that we’re not wasting ourselves on people who don’t deserve us, we’re sinning. This is not what we’re made for.

I’m not sure how it happened, or where you’re finding my blog, but I keep getting notifications of new followers since I started dropping the middle-aged word. I have no idea who you are, but it appears that there is a vast population of people who resonate with being tired and busy. You are welcome here in this place where we talk about duty and work. And gardening. 😊 I would love if you’d drop me a comment and tell me a little about yourself. It’s easier for me to write when I know my readers a bit. I know. Bloggers who ask for comments are annoying, but shouldn’t you do your duty? Feel free to be anonymous if you want. 😅

Here’s the burning question: How important is doing one’s duty? What if one does the duty without feeling any love for it? Does that even count?

I saw this tree, tenaciously hanging in there, about 30 feet up on a bluff above Erie. Making seeds for another year.

What to do with Your Stuff

We started our married life with big ideas about living minimalist. Stuff just seemed so immaterial. It was quite trendy to be disdainful of the status quo in the circles we socialized with. We weren’t going to buy a lot of furniture, which was an easy resolution, because we couldn’t afford it. A card table and some folding chairs it would be. Then a family friend gave us with a round oak dining table and chairs that she was planning to get rid of, so there we were. They were a bit rickety, but they worked.

The living room furnishings were sourced from a paper called The Traders Guide, with actual print ads, imagine that! There was no Facebook Marketplace, imagine THAT! I remember meeting a guy at a storage locker in the evening. It was dark, so we looked at his couch with flashlights and took it home with us.

My parents were raised with the tradition that you provide a bedroom suite for your daughters. Since our first house was tiny, we didn’t have space for one, but they bought us a good mattress and an antique dresser at an estate auction.

Ideally, I thought, our belongings should fit into a Conestoga wagon U-haul trailer, or less. We were not going to have a lot of stuff because that’s what everybody did and stuff weighs you down.

Welp. Here I am, twenty some years later, with a bigger house and it’s full of stuff from the attic to the basement. I’m the lady with four bedrooms furnished, admittedly mismatched, but functional. We are on the third table since the round table days, each one bigger than the last, and we have cycled through a number of couches. You do have to sit somewhere, we found, and it’s nicer if you don’t need to use a pry bar to get out of a broken sofa.

I’m the one with shelves in the basement to store the five gallon water cooler, the thirty cup coffee maker, and all the huge bowls. I have four big baking sheets, and ten bread pans, what? I have a large variety of measuring cups, and I was only going to have one set because why would you ever need more than that? I’m the lady with stacks of plates from the thrift store and enough tea cups to serve a small crowd, and how did I grow into not-a-maximalist, but pretty far from the girl who didn’t want a bridal shower?

It may have had something to do with giving birth to children. I am grateful that our minimalist goals did not extend to excluding little people, but you can’t avoid getting stuff when you have children. Also they break things and they want bikes.

A lot of our ideas were noble and good for that newlywed season. We didn’t want a load of debt and we wanted to invest in the Kingdom of God, not the American dream. We had not yet had much experience in laying down our lives for others. Surely it would be more high and holy than being one of those wage-earning, tax-paying, load-bearing citizens who own property and invite people home for Sunday lunch and loan their vehicles to people whose cars are broken and host crowds at the missions retreats.

Well.

To my minimalist self I would like to say: You’re going to need some stuff. Not ten crock pots, but maybe three. Because there may come a time when you have rice in the instant pot, and taco meat in the one with the broken handle, and cheese sauce in the little one. Because you are serving guests.

I would like to pat that idealist on the shoulder and reassure her. You know what stuff is for, right? It’s for other people. It’s for you to use to bless other people. You don’t need 10 bread pans to bless other people, but if you happen to be the kind of person who likes to make bread, then it isn’t wrong to have them. And yes, of course you can serve tea in styrofoam cups and that is better than saying, “I can’t have people at my house because I don’t have enough dishes.” But it actually is nicer to serve tea in cups if you have them.

The same goes for your house. It’s not just for you. Hospitality is a big deal for the children of God. When you welcome someone into your living space, you touch them in a way that nothing else does. You are saying that you really do want to get to know them, and that you care about them. You are sharing your best stuff, and maybe you’re letting them see your worst stuff.

That’s what your stuff is for: to use and bless. Human nature being what it is, there seem to be plenty of ways to be selfish. If you find yourself hoarding your good things in the closets so you don’t need to feel obligated to share, saving the butter for yourself and serving margarine to others, so to speak, well, then give the old heart a check.

If you can’t bear the idea of feet on your new carpet, scuffs on your baseboards, or smudges on your towels, prepare the old heart for a lonely existence.

If you find yourself mourning the things that break more than caring about how sad the person feels who accidentally broke them, then give the old heart another check. Teach it to hold things with an open hand.

If you have all the things in your kitchen that you need to cook lovely things, but you are too busy drool-scrolling through other people’s gorgeous kitchens, then just lay the old phone down and go bake some cookies to give away.

You can own lots of things. Just make sure you live generously with your things! Don’t bury them in a museum where they look nice and stay unchipped and unstained and worthless.

********

I had this in the drafts folder for a long time. Last week I took it out and dusted it, plumped it up and shined its face. That very day I had a conversation with a friend, and out of the blue she said many of the things I had just written, so I know there are at least two of us. Anybody else out there who can relate?

These are the July Days…

…When I have peas for breakfast, shelling them right beside the garden and thumbing them out of the pods into my hand. The dog stands beside me expectantly, catching and eating the pods as I chuck them to the ground. They are the very last hangers-on of the plants that have been yellowing, too hot for the last three weeks. They are still standing tall, freakishly tall, and trying to make peas. I have never picked peas at eye level before, and I have no idea why this happened, but it was fun for a change.

See. Yellow and tall. And in the foreground is our hope to feed the world, the humble zucchini. Also a border of potatoes, once known as the food of peasants. If you squint, you can see a row of kale trying to grow in front of its cabbage and broccoli cousins. My children sighed when I planted that kale, but they will enjoy it in Zuppa Toscana this winter.

These are the days to stroll casually past the red raspberries for a snack. They are just ripening with the intense flavors that are a result of very dry weather. Thankfully we have gotten enough rain in the last few days to plump out the berries. When we moved I bought 4 straggly Heritage Red plants at Walmart, which you know is not the best place to buy them, but I decided to give it a whirl. They shot up, multiplied beyond belief, strayed into the neighbor’s yard, and began to produce berries to make glad the heart of man.

These are the days we can have vine-ripened tomatoes, the peak of summer. I sneaked a cherry tomato from Rita’s prize plant this morning. I am afraid she rather neglects a lot of her other plantings, but her tomato is her pride and joy. She has been able to keep up with eating her tomatoes all by herself, no small feat if you are familiar with the prolific habits of cherry tomatoes. But she does share when we ask nicely.

These are the days of zucchini everything. I taught Addy to bake zucchini bread, even though she doesn’t like it herself. It is her current labor of love for the household, along with snapping beans while listening to audiobooks, “forever and a day” she says, referring to the beans. The older two girls are working at defrosting our chest freezer as I write. They will clear it out and remove the ice so that I can see what we have and organize it again before we fill it back up this summer. I like to use up most of the previous season’s produce before we add more, since our freezer isn’t very big and I don’t like eating old food that tastes like ice.

These are the days of thinking back-to-school. Before you get upset with me, remember that we finished the first week in May, which is nearly three months ago. Yesterday we ladies took the day to shop in Erie. I gave the girls each a twenty for the fun pens, scissors, rulers, notebooks, or whatever school supplies they wanted. My own list only had boring things like trash bags and folders. It turned out that we were disillusioned by the tie-dyed offerings and high prices at Target, but Marshalls was better, and Hobby Lobby had their entire perimeter stacked with clearanced spring and summer merchandise. Goodwill was a welcome change from Sally A, and we found plenty of treasures, such as a red polka-dot umbrella with metal ribs that seem like they might actually hold up, a big hula hoop, some books, Little House DVD’s, a few sweaters, and yet another Pashmina for the girls’ collection of scarves.

These are the hammock days, where the choice spot under the best shade gets used times three. The ladder is used only for the purpose of hanging the straps high on the tree. The top person gets in one hammock at a time, working his way upward. If it were me, I would find another tree, but young folks are not always known for their practicality. We have discovered that hammocks for camping are much more comfortable than sleeping bags on the ground. (One note of caution… you must be sure there are trees before presuming on this option.) There is some fine resting done in a hammock, with a book and a bottle of kefir. At our place we recommend mosquito spray or maybe a Thermocell, which is a completely new idea to us. Slightly pricey, but it works!..

These are the glorious summer days, when we savor the scents and flavors with a bit of panic in our hearts at how quickly it is passing. The light lingers long and strange in the garden before the thunderstorm, and we drink in the goodness with thankful hearts.

Signs of the Times

You might be almost middle-aged…

… if your new glasses prescription includes invisible bifocals so you don’t have to hold your song book at arms length in order to read it in church.

… if you buy a ginormous box of plastic wrap on Amazon, because you now have plenty of dishes that require wider than standard width plastic wrap.

… if you double most recipes so that you have leftovers or extra food for the freezer because the food is always evaporating and the people are always hungry and you have become philosophical about this situation.

…if you become excited about a few hours of lawn mowing to relax and think quiet thoughts in a loud place, and you no longer have to worry about little people spilling milk while you’re mowing.

… if you find yourself debating conundrums such as, ” Why are the Dutch blitz cards on the dryer?” And you can’t figure out why nobody seems to put their things away in the right place, while stumbling over your own shoes at the door.

… If you have bad dreams about looking into a mirror and seeing that you are growing so many chin hairs you could call it a beard.

… if you play a game of softball with the cousins at the family reunion, and every other person either has to have a pinch hitter because of shoulder issues, or a runner because their knees are rickety.

… if you take great pleasure in feeding birds and quietly watching gardens grow and looking at other people’s landscaping.

… if you can’t sleep unless you have the right pillow, not one like the right pillow, but the exact one.

… If you honestly do not get what your children are talking about, and they wonder what century you were born in, and you laugh because it certainly wasn’t this century.

But…If you have learned to squeeze the hilarity out of the weird aches and idiosyncrasies that you used to think went with being old, and you know you’re not actually old yet, that’s kind of funny.

It’s oddly fun to know that you know stuff because you’ve lived it, but you don’t really feel like everybody else has to know it the same way.

It’s liberating to accept your limitations, be comfortable in your own skin, and walk on cheerfully even when you have peasant feet that aren’t cute in flip flops.

It’s wonderful to dust off a dormant dream, and trot it out into the light now that you have a bit of time to pursue it.

It’s nice to relax a little about getting everything done, because you finally understand that you won’t get everything done and it’s more restful this way, doing the next thing and stopping when it’s time to sleep.

It is easier to be faithful with what is right in front of you when you give up the burden of taking care of the whole world.

It is good to use your gifts and no longer care if nobody notices, because you understand a little how insignificant you are in the whole scheme of things, and yet you know that you are required to endure to the end, so you keep going and commit the end results to God.

I like this season. Really.

It’s just a season, but it’s a good one. Mostly.

I could live without the chin hairs.

Tiny Gardeners

The girls were 4, 6, and 8 that year when I got out my stash of seeds and they started begging for their own garden plots. I had been giving them space to plant tiny rows of vegetables and flowers, but I had never let them plot their own gardens because they seemed too little.

Why? I asked myself. Why did I think they couldn’t garden? Because they would crowd their plants, would neglect to pull their weeds, and run out of steam to pick their harvests? Why indeed? So I agreed to give them their very own space to plant whatever they wanted with the leftover seeds just as soon as I had my garden planted. I wasn’t so righteous, after all, because this was a garden that was out of sight, down by the orchard. I wouldn’t have to see it all the time when it went to ruin, which I thought it surely would do.

They were ecstatic and immediately scrounged boards to create borders between their plots. I figured I should help them understand how to give plants room, and not to shade little plants with big ones, etc., but I was out of stamina by the time I had my own rows planted. I shut up my inner critic and handed them the box of leftover seeds. Then I went to sit in the shade, determined not to interfere unless they asked for help. It was surprising what all they had picked up in their short years of helping me plant. They already knew about making rows and planting big seeds deeper than tiny seeds.

I look back and see that they really were babies.
Oh, dear. Mushy, sentimental Mom alert…

We had a set of child-sized tools that flashed cheerful primary colors as they hoed and raked. Zinnias and beans and watermelons all got sowed with abandon. Rita had a greenhouse pepper and some broccolis set within 6 inches of each other. The pepper got transplanted so often that summer as she lovingly scoped out better growing spots for it in the hope that it would produce bigger peppers. It never did bear fruit, and she learned about letting things root.

The best crop they got was the zinnias. I showed them how to save seeds, and they got excited at the thought of trying again the next year. Did they have weeds? Yes, forests of them. Did it hurt anybody? No, it did not. Did they supplement our food income? No, aside from snacks in the wild, they did not. But in their little hearts they were gardeners, and that was what I hoped would happen.

These little girls are teens now except for Addy who is ten, going on thirteen. They have been promoted to drooling over seed catalogs and circling the stuff they want to order. In March when we all have spring fever, we go look at the seed racks in stores, and we pick whatever pleases us. It’s a small price to pay for the hope that the world will warm again. I let them try anything, like strawberry popcorn, and millet for the birds and whatever flowers strike their fancy.

This year Rita and Addy made garden plans at the same time that I did, and they assured me that they did not have nearly enough space last year. So I extended their garden and mine.

I am doing no-till experiments, and they do their own trials. Addy has been mulching with grass clippings and fertilizing with composted horse poo. Rita believes that she will get good results with lots of hoeing and miracle-gro, but next year she’ll change her ways if Addy gets better results. I smile and listen to them talk and I love all of it.

They have a resident toad that lives under a board and eats bugs. They also have flower borders just for pretty and for pollination. Rita’s cherry tomatoes are almost ready to eat, but Addy’s lettuce and carrots are doing better. It’s endless scope for imagination for them.

Addy’s 2022 garden is flourishing.

So many of my successful parenting endeavors are results of ideas I stumbled upon without a clear idea where we were going. That’s how this gardening venture happened for us. They got bit by the bug, and I doubt they will ever recover. If I didn’t enjoy it so much myself, I could probably sit on the sidelines and let them grow the stuff. But I have my own delight trails to follow. I have a new little hoe and it is fantastic! I mean, really, really fantastic. (If you love someone who gardens, and you want to give them something, get this.)

I’m just going out to clear the old strawberry row.