wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

State of Affairs

  • State of the blog: So I suddenly realize that it isn’t June anymore. Actually, I noticed that it is past mid-July and I haven’t written anything besides a daily sentence or two in my diary. If it weren’t for that, in future one might assume we went dormant for a month in the year of twenty-sixteen.
  • State of the homeschool: Last year we had our first day of school on July 16. I am a duck out of water here, okay, but not totally okay, if you know what I mean. I cannot scrape up even a modicum of enthusiasm for the pond that is school and books, even though it is simmering in the back of my mind that I really must dive in very soon. I bought paint for the schoolroom and I organized the new books on shelves. That is all. We don’t have a single new pencil in the house. All of them are ground down to little nubs and the copier paper is gone, down to a teeny stack in the printer. All this means back to school sales and stocking up, which is actually fun. I will take the troops and roust out the deals and then we will sharpen new Ticonderogas and feel the sap of learning rising.
  • State of the garden: Gasping with gratefulness for the thunderstorm that settled the powdery dry dust last night and greened up all the wilty things. We are in a lull currently. Nothing but Swiss chard, cucumbers, (for fresh eating only. I no longer make pickles. I don’t enjoy it and we hardly eat enough to bother, so I gave myself a permission to skip it.) And we are awash in raspberries. It is a very good kind of flood. I am flash freezing them on cookie sheets and putting them in gallon bags, literally. We are fondly waiting for the first vine-ripened tomatoes and when that happens, we will be at the pinnacle of summer. Oh yeah, I forgot zucchini.
  • State of the house: You don’t really want to know, but in the interest of humble honesty, it’s not so great. We live outside and trail dirty bare feet across the floors and all the places could use a scrub, especially the windows. The little girls’ room did get a facelift last week because someone who likes to pick at things had peeled a huge circle of paint off the wall. They have wanted purple for a long time. I tried to gently steer them to more neutral colors in the paint chips aisle, but finally caved and bought “lilac bouquet”. After I started rolling it on, I wasn’t sure I could handle it so I decided to do an accent wall with yellow to break it up and my sister-in-law helped me paint bubbles on the yellow wall in exchange for a bucket of raspberries. We added some wall stickers from good old Wally World and their floral/polka dot bedspreads work just fine, seeing as we have all the colors going on anyway. yellow wallwalmart decalscurtainI let my inner child loose on the curtain and warned the girls that any picking of yellow bobbles or new paint will be prosecuted. I might just mention that I did not Pinterest this room project. I winged it. That might explain a few things, but my girls are thrilled and they thank me every day for their purple room. So, as Ma Ingalls said, “All’s well that ends well.”
  • State of the schedule: Normal. Busy is normal, yes? Events stacked up, picnics, impromptu swimming parties, VBS for the children, inspirational mom-webinars that get shared with friends over iced coffee. I completely lose track of what day of the week it is pretty often. I am pretty sure today was Sunday although not like normal people’s Sunday since my husband had to work. That means tomorrow will be Monday, and that means laundry, but from there on I am not sure. I have to consult my calendar. Seriously. But it is fine because:
  • State of the body: Healthy. Blessed. Two teeth fixed and no more dentist appointments for a year. Stouter than strictly necessary, but not going to let that ruin my day. (Anybody want some homemade ice cream with those raspberries?)
  • State of my mom’s health: Lots of you know my mom and will rejoice that she is improving daily. It was pretty much six solid weeks of infirmity and debilitating pain before she started to gain ground. She is puttering in her house and kitchen again and looking as positively as she can at the long haul of recovery from Lyme disease, which ended up being the dastardly culprit behind all the neurological symptoms. We thank God for healing, and for healthcare professionals who pour out themselves to help along the healing.
  • State of the soul: Wanting to get fatter, but definitely not as lean as earlier this summer. It is a known fact that feeding the souls of others, specifically my children, requires reserves in my own soul. I learn slowly, but I do learn. I think. And Grace is so… kind. I feel keenly the kindness of God, the “daily loading of benefits”. I want to share them. I don’t want to keep them all in my own cellar. Here, children, have some goodness today, and you are welcome.
  • State of the bookshelf: Well, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on audio is hard going. I have been working on it for a very long time and am only halfway through the 50 plus hours of narration, at the point where Germany is bullying Poland around. I only get the high points. It is a tedious history with very many footnotes and quotes. But there are some striking impressions. I didn’t know that the German people voted Hitler into power. He promised to make their country great again, to bring back economic prosperity at all costs. Enough people had this as a top priority, so that he came into his position as dictator at least sort of legally. There was plenty of weirdness going on behind the scenes, but the people did really want what he was promoting. Unless they were Jews, of course. And the propaganda fed to the public was just ridiculous. It is interesting to draw comparisons in an election year in America. :/ To offset this heaviness, I just finished reading the Princess Bride which is definitely  the most amusing thing I have read in a long time. The author is extremely clever. It is fantasy, so if you don’t like when things don’t totally make sense, this is not the book for you. To offset the frivolity, I have been reading Philippians again and again. “Finally.” I have been looking up all the times Paul said that in his letters. He seemed to condense his last bits of advice at the end, kind of like mothers say, “Now be good and don’t forget to thank the hostess for the food and help with any chores they have,” as their children go out the door for an afternoon at a friend’s house. The Philippians “finally” is so simple and profound.

 Philippians 4:8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This week I want the God of Peace with me.

 

QOTD: I leave you with a quote from one little girl at VBS, leaning over to my little girl and whispering conspiratorially while the teacher is reading the story, “Shall we pick our scabs?”

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Easy Peasy Peas

The title is misleading, since anyone who has ever grown peas knows there is nothing that easy about either growing or processing them. If you have planted a substantial amount of them, and you have picked the rows, you stand up with a genuine case of pea-picker’s back and make your annual vow not to do this again. Ever. But you said it last year too. What is it that brings us back for more punishment every year?

It’s the flavor, the sweet, bursting orbs of brilliant green that you simply cannot get any other way than by putting in the work yourself. Well, if you happen to live near Amish country, you might be able to buy a few bushels that someone else raised and picked. If this is the case, you should never ever make them feel bad for the price they are asking. But I digress.

The easy peasy processing that I grew up with is a mystery to many of my friends. Since I love you all, I will share with you a detailed step-by-step to help you out. Of course, there may not be anyone else out there that wants to improve on the pea experience, but on the odd chance, I will give it a shot.

You start with the pods you just picked, obviously. After you have rubbed your back and had your tardy cup of coffee and sustained yourself with a little something, of course. (disclaimer: many unedited cell phone pics coming up)

bushel of peas

That black holey kettle is a steamer basket, which you fill to the top of the holes with peas. Hopefully you have a responsible big boy who started the steamer kettle boiling a half hour ago so that you do not have to wait for it. But if not, you can have another cup of coffee.

steamer

When the water rolls like that, you are ready to gently lower the steamer basket into it. Don’t plop it in or you will have overflow and a stained stovetop to contend with when you are done. And yes, this water has blanched a few batches already, hence that interesting browny-green color. But you use the same water for the whole batch, only topping it off with some fresh water when it boils low.

Set your timer for exactly four minutes. At two minutes you select a long-handled spoon and give the pods a stir. If you don’t do this, the bottom ones in the basket will hog all the hot water and the top ones won’t blanch properly.

stir halfway through blanching

Bonus points if your spoon matches exactly.

When the timer goes off, slowly lift out the steamer and dump the blanched pods into a cold water bath to shock them into submission. I mean, so they stop cooking and don’t get squishy. Once they are cooled down, (and depending on how cold your water is, you may need to drain and repeat) drain off the water and start shelling.

Now I have no quarrel with traditional shelling, but what I don’t like is this: pea blossoms

See that vast countertop? But what I want to show you is the blossom ends on the pods. When you shell them dry, they fall into the shelled peas and you get to pick and pick and pick and wash and wash and sort and sort them out. And then you still have to blanch the peas and cool them before you put them into the freezer. If you blanch the whole pod, they float off into either the boiling water or the cooling water. You eliminate that whole fussy step of cleaning the peas. And you don’t have to blanch them. They are ready to go once popped out of the pods.

I do mean popped out. There are several methods. I prefer a twist, which my son and I had fun trying to catch on camera. It sort of looks like you take a pod by either end and twist it into an S.

how to pop peas

It’s a law of science: you apply pressure and something has to give. Only it takes just a teeny amount of pressure, since the pods are pliable. Here is a tip: you want to make sure the thinner edge of the pod is pointing down into your bowl, unless you want a faceful.

Children find it easier to just slide their fingers along the pod and strip all the peas out the end. It’s really fun!

Addy shelling

You will want to have a good audiobook that engages the attention of all while you do the shelling. We like Winnie the Pooh, narrated so incredibly well by Peter Dennis. “Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, about last Friday…”

The last step is to corral a charming little girl whose mother did not comb her hair before the operation began, tie an enormous kerchief around the wispy curls, and give her a measuring cup to fill your freezer containers.

Liv with peas

I am quite certain that this step-by-step will not convince anyone that peas are actually easy-peasy. But for those who already raise them, give it a shot. I am guessing you will thank me. 🙂

Happy Saturday!

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May to Date

What in the world have I been doing, I asked myself when the children wanted to know the date for the Sunday school lesson to study. I couldn’t quite believe it’s May 22, but there it was, on my phone which doesn’t lie. I made a list, just for clarification that I haven’t been dawdling. *Insert sounds of guffaws*

 

  • We started with this line-up on May Day. It looked pretty promising.

spring florals, May 1

  • I employed myself to a program of outdoor maintenance at my dad’s decking/vinyl railing business. This included about 4 trips to the greenhouse to get everything looking gorgeous for their annual open house. Then it rained most of the day and people didn’t even walk around the grounds. And then we had a surprise frost that nipped the pretties right back to square one.
  • I turned 39. Yep, I did. That morning I determined to make myself a luscious London Fog cake but I forgot to take it out of the oven and I left for a solitary stroll at a nearby park. Halfway around the lakeside trail, I remembered and sent a frantic text home, but the vanilla cake was quite dry and sawdusty by then. When you are 39, you should know better than that, but at least you have learned not to give up too easily. I already had the Earl Grey infused cream for the icing, so I mixed another batch of batter and made cupcakes after I got home.   I also picked up pizza for supper. With spinach and sriracha sauce because it was my birthday, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it!

Burnt cakebirthday cupcake

 

  • I got to visit with our friends, Motz and Paige, he being a sort of unofficial little brother from way back when. At the same time, my actual little brother and his family were in the area, so we had a grand catching up time. Unfortunately it was an evening that Gabe had to work, so he missed out on the reminiscing. (Thank a nurse today.)
  • I celebrated Mother’s Day with five of the most dearling  (Addy’s new word) children, again a day when their father had to work, and yes, I feel a tad bitter about nurse shifts on these occasions. (Thank a nurse’s spouse today.) However, I do not believe that it is in anyone’s best interests to marinate in the inconveniences of hospital employ, so we went on a hike that day and found a bunch of wildflowers. (Don’t they look like little rascals? But I wouldn’t trade them for anything!)

Mother's day, 2016

  • We all 7 had dentist appointments in one forenoon, with one orthodontist appointment to make, 2 follow-ups for fillings and 1 in six months for sealing of molars. I could happily forgo dental appointments all my life, for real. I HATE it. The hygienist always compliments me that I have no plaque, but I end up being the one who needs fillings. I blame it on gestating and lactating and freely offering up my calcium to others for all those years. It can’t be eating gummy candies, in any case.
  • There was a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh; I took three little girls along for the ride on west to Ohio to my sister’s house where a gorgeous tea awaited us on arrival. I had carefully selected my favorite scented jar candle from my stash because Rachel had told me that she always ends up giving away as gifts the ones she likes best. When I handed my hostess gift to her, she got a funny look and said, “I gave you that candle at Christmas.” I thought I remembered picking it out at TJ Maxx, but who knows who is right? After all, she is pregnant and I am 39. At any rate, we each gave our best. 🙂 The ride to Ohio included picking up freezer beef for us. Have you ever driven four hours with styrofoam coolers squeaking against each other at every bump in the road? It does help to listen to “The Boxcar Children” on audio really loudly, but I don’t recommend it.
  • I prepared, if I calculated correctly, about 462 individual meals, plus a few extra on the day that Gabe had friends over to help him with a barn raising project. It was my pleasure, and especially once I had a freezer full of beef to work with. Approximately every 3 days a meal includes asparagus, which is of itself an item of great cheer. Just occasionally I would give up my French press for an in-house cook though.

Barn raising

  • I got to try my hand at messing with clay on a real potter’s wheel, compliments of my sister-in-law Ruby, who set up a training session for my birthday. It took us two hours to drive to the studio, but we had so much fun and I have been dreaming of a way to set up my own operation. Rather many $$$ would be involved. And a lot of time and more strength than I had any idea. It looks so effortless when you watch an artist draw that pot out of the lump of clay, but my shoulders were sore for days. Here is another sister-in-law, Rhonda, who will be having a birthday soon too, and who also had fun because someday her luck with finding pottery at thrift stores may run out and this would be a valuable skill. (I might add here that I went through three towels on my lap and still had clay water smeared down my skirt. The other two came out fresh as daisies. How do they do that?)

pottery making

  • Last, but definitely not least, we finished school, as in all wrapped up, portfolios, achievement tests, evaluations, and a party with the pretty dishes on the lace tablecloth! A field trip to the Lincoln Caverns and a very soggy picnic later, we are done!

I feel a bit like someone put me into a salad spinner and wrung all the moisture out, and that is why I intend to actually dawdle as much as I can in the next week.

Here is one final photo of the barn project as it stands, startling me when I look out the kitchen window because I am not used to it yet. Isn’t the timber framing elegant? One of these days I will look out and be startled by sunshine instead of this grey sky. I believe it! Oh yeah, and one of these days I will be picking 12 rows of peas. Dawdling will be a distant memory. Also one of these days the front of the garden will be bordered by callas and dahlias and zinnias. I can hardly wait!

barn skeleton

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Rabbits Like Bananas, and Other Who Knew? Moments

Queen, the lop-eared rabbit with the patchy springtime fur, was a little surprised when Rita offered her, instead of the daily pile of dandelions, a very overripe banana. It was a “let’s see if the rabbit will eat this” experiment. She delighted us by chowing down the peelings, leaving the fruit until last. Queen is lonely. She eats dandelions endlessly, just for the pleasure of company outside the cage. We plan to find her a boyfriend so she can belong to a family.

Last week I bleached all my baby broccoli plants in a sincere attempt at protecting them from the elements. Folks, it got cold as anything so I lovingly set buckets and quart jars over all the plants. Apparently the sun was bright enough to heat it up to cooking temps inside the jars and that was the end of the windowsill starters.  I went to the green house this morning and at first I thought my old-order Mennonite greenhouse lady was sold out of broccoli. All I could find was purple cabbages and cauliflower. Score on purple cabbage. I love it.But not cooked. It looks sicky grayish then. Anyway, I stumbled upon some really little broccoli plants being coddled in a corner and brought them home with me because the lady sells out of broccoli every year, and I think to myself, “Why wouldn’t you learn that you need twice as much?” Of course, I don’t say it, because she has been greenhousing for 25 years and if she wants to run out of plants, that is her business. This morning she was telling me her new scheme of lining her planters with Depends under the soil to keep them from drying out. It’s brilliant, wouldn’t you say?

Addy in bike helmet

Our baby learned to ride her bike solo tonight. As you can see, she felt mighty pleased with the accomplishment. Someone dug an old helmet out of a muddy spot and she wore it with pride. If you would like to see a short video of her efforts, with an amused mother giggling in the background, click here.  After her first successful wobble across the lawn, she rushed to her sister with a mighty hug and said, “Tell all my friends I can ride a bike, will you? Tell Anicia and Kiersten and Gretchen and Jenna and Allison.” I might mention that the child will definitely be needing a proper helmet. She is as accident prone as anyone I have ever seen, sporting bandaids and bruises year round.

Today is my dad’s birthday. Every day we have discussions about how soon Rita will be 7 and what about Addy turning 5 and what shall we give Doddy for his birthday. After a small tiff this afternoon, Rita said, “I know what. Let’s give Addy to Doddy for his birthday and then we can babysit her when he goes to Florida.” Addy thought that would be fun. She was seeing an endless vista of marshmallow peeps and Tom and Jerry episodes. But Rita changed her mind, “That would be giving away the present God gave us and that wouldn’t be right.” I thought that put it rather well.

This forenoon I was working on assignments for the last 10 days of school. After lunch I took a break, looked around at my house and realized in a sudden fit of depression that every single room feels grubby and tired from much occupation over winter. I was standing in the kitchen, looking up at the ceiling, wishing for Mary Poppins someone to just tell me where to start when I saw the cobwebs above the curtains. So there I was, and there was the thing to do, and I just did it. After I scrubbed down the walls and shined the windows, I looked around and felt real good. One room down, five to go. I wonder if I can pull it off- get my house shined up before we finish school so that I can do my annual Week of Loafing without any guilt. I aim to try!

How about you? Have you made any interesting discoveries lately?

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Jaunting About

Jaunt: v.

  1. an excursion undertaken especially for pleasure

  2. archaic :  a tiring trip

We are jaunting about like everything these days and it is so much fun. It is a fast way to wear out, but it is great way “to blow through life without a budget,” as Rachel Jancovik says.

I am taking walks every day except when it rains, just noticing how things bud and burst open and it changes in every 24 hour stretch. I applaud the skunk cabbages along the roadside ditches from the first purple spears to the brilliant unfolding green leaves. I cheer the forsythias across the road, now very nearly at their peak of screaming hilarious yellow. And I got out the vases because my children are bringing me any and all blooms they find. There are no more daffodils or hyacinths outside because they all came into my kitchen.  I have plum blossoms and pansies on the window sill and baby broccoli too.

Yesterday I couldn’t resist and pulled out two baby evergreens that were growing beside the road on a deserted stretch. I wanted to plant them by the pond, and rationalized that the road crew comes along and whacks everything off for visibility purposes anyway. Gabe thinks I poached them off someone’s property, so now I feel conflicted about my baby trees, even though the state owns the road frontage: 20 feet from the middle of the road puts state property boundaries right at the edge of our front porch. So my trees come from state property, which they routinely deface with chain saws and whackers of various sorts. (I am making excuses here, I know! A preacher I know stops and picks up nice rocks beside the road to build chimneys. Is this different? :/ ) I did plant my tiny trees. If they die, I will know I shouldn’t have pulled them. My defense in court would be, “Spring made me do it.”

Last week I spent a sunny afternoon digging dandelions out of the asparagus bed. It was very satisfying. They are the most persistent things! Every year I do this, and every year they gird up their roots and try again. Now I am willing the asparagus to appear!

Spring means lemony desserts to me. I just got done lovingly assembling a Greek Yogurt Cream Cheese Lemon Cake for guests. It is a rite of April. I am pretty sure I posted about this before, but for your benefit, this is what it looks like:

Greek-Yogurt-Cream-Cheese-Lemon-Coffe-Cake-7

And here is my recommendation that you go show Lovely Little Kitchen some love and make this cake today.

Grating lemon peel always makes me feel happy. This morning I was busily mixing and pouring and was surprised to find myself feeling annoyed. It certainly wasn’t the gorgeous citrusy aroma or the cream cheese. I isolated the cause to a Pandora music station that I had playing with popular worship songs. I had chosen it because I wanted to hear one song in particular and here I was, listening to the next ones in the queue and getting really irritated. This is not to minimize anyone’s taste in music, but as a lover of language, after the 47th time of “I could sing of your love forever…” I want to say, “USE YOUR WORDS, HONEY!”

I was raised with the grand hymns of the church and am well aware of the “outmoded, outdated, outgrown” arguments concerning church music of the past. However, after something truly beautiful like:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

I simply can’t get into the modern worship songs with their overwhelming emphasis on how I feel and the music that croons to God like I used to croon to my babies. I love the substance of the old hymns, the descriptions, the grasping to know a glorious God who is so amazing that our best language cannot describe Him. I need music to remind me that God is so much bigger than I am.

*that creaking sound of a person gingerly stepping off a soapbox*

Anyway, the cake is now baked to perfection and the house awaits the weekly clearing away of stuff that didn’t get put into its proper home this week. I scored a great victory last week. I actually threw away the sweater vest from the ’90’s. And I replaced the beloved pair of shoes I bought when I was expecting Gregory (He is 11. You can do the math.) and couldn’t fit my swollen feet into any of my regular ones. I loved those shoes, even though they flopped when I wasn’t pregnant, but it was time to let them go.

I have a goal this spring that I am almost afraid to verbalize. I want to assign everything a place in this house, and if it doesn’t have one, it needs to go. This could be both cathartic and painful! My small treasure hoarders will need to be out of the house when I do their room, but they have a whole playhouse where they have free rein and can decorate their little hearts out. Now that it is warm, I am shooing them out there every afternoon after school. They have beds with old blankets and books and a plastic table with squatty little plastic chairs. It’s the perfect way to learn cause and effect in housekeeping. 🙂

Gabe has PTO for 8 days! We are working on building the critter barn and sandwiching in a field trip to DC with my big brother and his family. More jaunting. Hurray!

 

 

 

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Winners and Celebrating, in Season and out of Season

I did the drawing for the winner of my giveaway. My method was convoluted and random, just like March weather, which has turned a little stinky cold, by the way. Still, this morning I awoke to only a dusting of snow instead of the three inches predicted for the first day of spring, so hope is alive and well.

Oh, wait, the winner. I looked at the entries and picked my favorite person. Actually, no, March might be that capricious, but I would never be. I love all of you who told me your favorite places and I wanted you all to win. I felt like you all deserved some books; I was really interested in how many of my friends are perfectly happy at home with their families. I did think that someone might mention the bathtub as their favorite place. Anyway, thanks for weighing in with your opinions.

usborne giveaway

The random drawing falls on the lovely Hillarey who commented:

“My favorite place in “de whole wide world” is : snuggled up with my man at the end of the day, kiddos fast asleep. It’s where I feel the safest and most loved.

My Alexei-who-is-three says, “I want dat train book!” I unabashedly hope to win! And now I must go corral the Alexei-who-is-three because he is helping himself to a snack.

PS- Your kids are charming!”

I am glad that Alexei-who-is-three gets his wish, aren’t you? I will put in an unabashed plug for my Usborne business here, saying that I can facilitate lots of free books for you with a successful Facebook or in-home book show. And no, I had no intentions at all of putting in an ad when I decided to do the giveaway. That just slipped in for your amusement. 😛 And books. I always give away books. It’s the loving thing to do.

Resurrection Garden

In other news, I have daffodils blooming in a vase on my kitchen windowsill and baby broccolis and tomatoes sprouting and 12 rows of wrinkly little pea seeds in the soft dirt of the kitchen garden. We also have a resurrection garden with green moss growing over the little flower pot tomb. We put a flat round stone in front of the tomb’s opening, ready to roll it away so we can put a lighted tealight inside on Easter. I was firmly under the impression that Easter was yesterday. At church I was so bugged that we didn’t sing a single resurrection song when it should be such a glorious celebration. Then we had some friends over for lunch and they said, “But it’s not Easter today!” So I rest my case that I am losing my mind. You may note that I am not “loosing” my mind, therefore all is not lost.

Our church choir gave a special program last night and I sat there with tears dripping down  my cheeks as I let it sink in again, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us. How about you? Do you have special Easter celebrations that point to the empty tomb?

 

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7 Spring-Madnesses to Try

I just amused myself with a lame click-bait title. Hardy-har. Yesterday my Facebook feed offered me the worst one yet: 15 Reasons You Should Give Your Dog Coconut Oil. I am sorry, but this is just preposterous on so many levels. Who has time to research and write about the urgent health benefits of coconut oil for dogs? Who has money to spend on coconut oil for dogs?? What’s next? 5 steps to teach your dog oil pulling? There was a photo of a dog licking out of a squat little container of the really pricey stuff and I just giggled and did NOT click on it.

March has been gorgeous, gorgeous, warm and balmy! This is my season. I roll around in it, figuratively speaking, of course. My children do it quite literally and when they are done in the bathtub, there is a layer of silt on the bottom. I get back energy that I forgot about, and no, I didn’t start drinking Plexus recently. It’s my built in solar panel booting up the systems for an all-outdoors bash. I did a few things in the last week that made me feel really alive again.

  1. I sat in brilliant sunshine to eat lunch. Outside. In bare feet. And I had chocolate covered strawberries too.
  2. I saw a Craftsy project that I really wanted to do, but I didn’t want to spend $20 on their kit, so I bought a whole bunch of gorgeous fabric and trims and buttons for $16 and made it myself, trial and error.
  3. I sewed more than one project with the fabric: a petal-skirt dress for my smallest flower, and some pretties I will show you tomorrow. And then I will give one away to one of you.
  4. I pruned the grapevines and raspberries, pulling all the weeds that had flourished and died out over the winter. Then I asked Facebook if anyone local wants the extra raspberry plants and the first ones to reply were from North Carolina and Ohio and Georgia. I may need to do an instructive post on the meaning of “local”.
  5. I treated those plants to composted horse poo and I enjoyed doing it. I thought to myself, “Goodness, I am turning into my mother!” when I remembered how she would haul barrows full of poo from the barnyard to the flower beds while we children went EWWW.
  6. I trimmed my lavender hedge that lines the stone walkway to the backyard. A lavender hedge is romantic and lovely when abloom, but requires rather more maintenance than I knew before I planted it. Have you ever spent a therapeutic hour plucking maple leaves out of twiggy stems? At least it is fragrant work.
  7. I tilled down the cover crop in the kitchen garden, so that I can plant peas by St. Patty’s Day. That is my hope. I could have planted yesterday already by the condition of the soil. We are Zone 6, folks! It would definitely have been an early record for me, but I remembered the fiasco last year, how our peas didn’t germinate because we hadn’t killed the cover crop first.

I told you it has been amazing and warm. That is some of the reason why I dropped off the face of blogdom again this March. Also, after I have scratched out 28 posts in February, I feel a bit dry, so I just sink into it for a while and get all private. One thing that perplexes me and even makes me feel a little queasy is this: who am I actually writing to? Who is my target audience? Am I writing to homeschoolers? Maybe to their children, who I have been told read my stuff. What about the men? Yikes. I am suppressing all my birth stories for their sakes. Well, not quite. What if I write something insensitive to someone who is hurting? What if I write something unflattering about someone and they recognize themselves? What if I want to write a childhood story about a girl at church who had halitosis and she ends up reading it? It’s just this bit of paralysis that strikes occasionally and I realize I am taking this way, way too seriously. But I gave myself a break.

I will tell you a secret. When I get stuck like that, I write to Becca, my sister-in-law who was first my friend before she married my brother. She is the one who kept telling me to blog and she “gets” me and encourages me, so I just told her my 7 Spring-Madnesses to Try and I am saving a bunch of raspberry roots for her, even if she lives in North Carolina.

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What Have I Been Doing?

I looked at the calendar recently and thought, “What have I been doing?” I can tell you what I haven’t been doing pretty easily. I haven’t been sitting around reading a lot and I haven’t been writing. I can honestly say that I missed the writing bit pretty much every day. One sentence in a diary doesn’t scratch the itch at all. I sat around just enough so that I wouldn’t miss it too severly. Haha.

We had days and days and days of rain in late September. It was cold and the dog stank and there was mud in our classroom every day. I started burning candles and plugged in air fresheners.

During the long wet I sewed dresses for the little girls so that we could coordinate somewhat for a family photo shoot. Then I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out what I would wear to coordinate with everybody else. Shall I just admit that I got three sweaters at Boscov’s so that Gabe could help me figure out which one to wear because I really just don’t have a good sense for that sort of thing? And that, of course, I wore the simplest, most unassuming one and took the other two back? At the last minute I decided not to wear the charcoal skirt after all, but the grey dress. Why was that decision so hard to make in the store? I did not consult Pinterest, which is what other people do when they can’t figure out what to wear, because I don’t get along well on Pinterest. ‘Nough said.

We had an anniversary, our 14th, and it was the first sunny day after all that drear. I dug out our love letters and we read a bunch of them, laughing a bit at ourselves, reminiscing and agreeing that 14 years has taught us a few things about loving each other, even though sometimes we lose track and forget to appreciate the one we love. Which is why we took a day off and went biking Rails to Trails without the children. No eavesdroppers in the vehicle! And just for a day it was nice not to have to settle any fights or wait for the slow ones. We ended the day with dressing up for a fancy meal out, then descended gratefully back into normal life. After all, back in the day when we had dates every weekend, we yearned to live normal life together, more than anything. And here we are, doing it!

Gabe has lived with me long enough to know the kinds of books I love. For our anniversary he got me blink (you have no idea how hard it is for me to write a book title with a lower case letter) by Malcolm Gladwell, subtitled “The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”. It is packed with insights into what makes people decide things: those split second impressions that affect our choices. For the first week or so after he gave me the book I only had time to stroke the cover, but by now I have read enough to know it is just as interesting as The Tipping Point, which I discovered a few years ago.

Once the weather turned clement (is that right? the opposite of inclement?) our friend Michelle Fisher took the photos. I knew she had lots of experience in posing children because she has nine of them and they always end up with really sweet family pictures. Want to see a few? I think you will agree that she did a good job on them. When these were taken, the children were 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4. This only lasted for one month, but it was kind of fun to say. 🙂 The 10 turned 11 yesterday.

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My friend Caroline and I spent a forenoon together, picking up a large meat order about an hour’s drive away. Either one of us could have gone alone, but it just so worked out that we could team up. I was supposed to be the navigator, since we didn’t have GPS. Even with a Google Maps printout, I stink at navigating. Let’s just say we saw a lot of beautiful countryside and enjoyed our extra time to visit. It was nice to be with someone who didn’t get uptight about the unmarked roads and was game to try routes that appeared to go in the right direction. Not to mention someone who didn’t run out of interesting topics of conversation, especially with no eavesdroppers in the van. 😀

The next day I texted her that I had just been running some errands in a nearby town and had to turn around three times, so I think I do need a GPS because of all the stuff in my head that isn’t down on the earth. She replied, “Well, I just read, ‘Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.’ With that mindset you might lose your way driving every now and then.” She is witty like that. The thing is, I am pretty sure I was thinking about that meat we hauled home and how it needed to be canned, as well as these apples I am picking up and how they also need to be canned.

I have 2 1/2 bushels of apples still sitting on the front porch and some frozen tomatoes that I have to process and after that I put my foot down. No more! Today I tilled the gardens one final time and sowed a cover crop of rye. I love summer so much, but at this point it is only sensible to move on, wouldn’t you say? For the first time we put in a bed of garlic. Some bulbs in and some bulbs, like the dahlias, out. Gardening is endlessly fascinating. And time consuming. I hope to have more time to write now that the outside stuff is getting wrapped up.

Last, but not least, I have been industriously starting a small book selling business. I signed up to become an Usborne consultant and am still learning the ropes. So far the most rewarding thing has been to be able to send really nice books to refugee children in Iraq. I also was thrilled to get our church school a lot of free merchandise through a book show.  I genuinely like connecting anybody to a source of educational books like these. Someday I will do a whole post on this topic. I have been having a blast with this, especially when the boxes of books come and I can sort out orders and stroke the covers (I know. I have a problem. But it isn’t a bad problem.) But there. The final and biggest reason why I have not been writing. I am still figuring out how to fit this business, not into every crack of spare time, but into reasonable hours. My children don’t mind. They drool over the catalog and revel in all the new books! I am systematically turning them all into bibliophiles (That’s not a bad thing either. After the dishes are done.).

Gabe is back on an evening schedule, which means he will be home around midnight. It has been a pleasure chatting with you kind folks while I wait up for him.

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Pumpkin Pots and Paint

We are walking in fresh sunlight these days. I do not take it for granted. I marvel at it and try to store it up. An art book we are reading describes warm colors as orange and red, and cold colors as blue and green. I have been working on a game plan for winter, because I know it is coming and I dread the chill and dark already. Our basement rooms have been the same color for 11 years. We drywalled and painted it grey just before Gregory was born. It’s a nice neutral color, but back then I couldn’t even imagine doing school down there with 5 children and a dog who thinks she is a child. I didn’t dream how much time I would spend in my laundry room.

I decided to liven things up a little, and I am glad I did it every time I walk into the laundry/bath room. Less than $20 dollars worth of paint (because I got one on the mistints shelf…I am cheap like that.) really made a difference. This room was off-white for 14 years. May I present to you Sunbaked Orange with the light off and with the light on. Hey, I saw you blinking. Isn’t it cheerful? This was not the mistint. I deliberately chose it while in my right mind. And yes, that space between the washer and the laundry sink is really small. When I was pregnant, it was uncomfortable. But I like my large sink for scrubbing things and rinsing bits of our property off small children, so I put up with the crack.

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(I did this painting while Gabe and the boys spent a week up north helping his dad dismantle a huge old barn. When they first talked about doing this, I weighed my options. I could sit and drink tea and read and write in a space of small appetites and little noise and bazillion paper snibbles, or I could tackle some projects on my list that I had despaired of ever getting done. I chose the latter and worked like a crazy woman. When Gabe got home, I had just finished showering off the last of the projects.)

The other room I painted Tavistock Green. I know. It’s not really a warm color, but it is a different color, and that is what I needed.

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I don’t have a clear photo, so this will have to do. Maybe you think this is still grey, but you should see the difference beside the grey wall. It just occurred to me that, being a mistint, this color swatch is not entirely accurate. I think the paint mixer person dribbled a little extra bright green into my gallon, because mine seems to be fresher on the walls.

This is one of my favorite colors in the world, and I picked it up when I saw it on clearance because you never know when you will want to paint something Tavistock Green. That was five years ago. See, I was right!

I did not go yard saling, even though it was Labor Day weekend and the roadsides were just littered with signs. I did not go shopping in Altoona, like I had hoped to do. But I did go up to Rome for 2 days to help out with cooking and whatever I could while the guys were so busily tearing down the barn. That was 8 hours of driving. And Olivia and I did our fall trek to Pittsburgh to see her specialist, so that was another 5 hours of driving after I counted in the detours and the missed exit and the bridge out at a very crucial point. One day I went to a party an hour away and back again for another 2 hours driving total. And I went to pick grapes 1/2 hour up the mountain, so I figure I put in at least 16 hours on the road in my “week off”. I also got pulled over by an officer for the first time in my life. Not that I never deserved it before, but this time seemed mild. I was just at the edge of a small town, speeding up now that I was through it, only I wasn’t through it. I was already past the “End 35” sign when I got pulled over for going 52. Bummer. There went that record. I got off with a warning because I looked harmless  wasn’t local.

The girls and I picked all our pumpkins. I wanted pie pumpkins when I bought the plants, planning to sell the extras out beside the road. This usually works out as a nice little cash crop for the boys. But this was the year for funny mistakes. Remember how the tomatoes turned out to be cherry-sized? Well, the pumpkins turned out to be Jack Be Littles. Ever so cute and decorative and… little. I roasted a bunch of them for pies and lattes, scooping out the minuscule bits of soft flesh and blending it. Then I made this one night:

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It was the prettiest dinner I made in a long time and I spent a good part of it coaxing the children to eat. What is with that?

I think I will spray paint a few of them for decor and give the rest away.

You haven’t heard the end of our mistaken identities in the garden. This was entirely my own fault. I wanted mini bell peppers because I heard that they turn colors quicker than the big ones and it always seems to take so long to grow a beautiful sweet red pepper and then it frosts on them. I bought plants labelled Cherry Bomb because the picture looked exactly like Mini Bells. When we cut into the first brilliant red baby pepper, it nearly blew us away with its heat. My mom said, “What were you thinking? Bombs? That should have been a clue!” And she was right. But they sure are pretty. My yellow Bells are ticked off about something, but the red ones have finally started turning sweet. Those are the bombs at the bottom of the photo.

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I turned a whole bunch of them into pepper poppers and they were fine, indeed. Then I called my sister-in-law Ruby for her hot sauce recipe. One bottle of Tabasco typically lasts us about 8 years, but last year Ruby gave us a pint of her homemade hot sauce, something I had never even thought of making. We are down to the last of it, in one year. It is that good. I used the Cherry Bombs for hot sauce, and in my humble opinion, I think it is even better than the stuff made with Habaneros. Still, we will need to convince the kids to join in if we want to consume 8 jars of it.

The garden is down to a straggle of late tomatoes and green beans, a total failure of a broccoli crop, some really slow pole limas, and lots and lots of sweet red peppers. And weeds. Unbelievable trees of weeds that helped themselves when we got all that rain in August and we couldn’t keep up with them. But in September we do not pull weeds. We mow them off. It is really fun.

Are you getting bored yet? Just one more quick story about this cabbage that Alex kept until it started to split. It was 18 pounds with three babies attached around the bottom. We sliced it up and packed it with salt where it is happily fermenting into sauerkraut, amassing healthful probiotics by the millions. The children don’t like kraut either, but Gabe and I don’t really care. That’s more for us. Hopefully if they see how much we enjoy the stuff, they can get past the stink. 😀

That is about all the creativity I could handle the last few weeks. We are hitting the books with renewed vigor, finishing out 25 days this week. Ahh. It’s a long road is a school term. Rita misses her carefree outdoor existence. “Do you mean I have to do this for twelve years?” she wept one morning when the flashcards overwhelmed her. Because she just turned six this summer, I am letting her off with half days, taking it slowly, letting her go pet her bunnies and look for caterpillars. She can read, and surely she will know her facts by the time those twelve years are over.

Addy, on the other hand, feels left out because she is the only one without real school books. I bought her some wipe-clean preschool materials and that helps, but still is hardly official enough for her. Yesterday she sighed gustily, “I am so tired of this ‘yong, yong’ week! Because I am still not five!” The child talks in italics. Really. Talk about drama. It is just hard being the smallest, especially when you are dead serious about something and the other people at the table smirk. And especially if you still can’t say your l’s.

Well, look at that. I have managed to stay up until my husband gets off work. Thanks for listening!

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Tomato Peights

Tomatoes. All kinds of tomatoes. Big ones, little ones, red ones, pink ones, yellow ones. If it’s true that, “you are what you eat,” the Peights are by and large tomatoes. The Peights have a predilection for tomatoes— a predilection that some would say borders an obsession.

As I was growing up on the farm at home in rural Pennsylvania, there were always tomatoes in one form or another about the house. Since our cravings were not seasonal, tomatoes claimed a dominant place in our garden and on the shelves in our cool, damp cellar. We canned tomato soup, spicy tomato juice, and tomato sauce in prodigious quantities. Other tomatoes we cut into large chunks and canned. With all these resources, we were able to regularly incorporate tomatoes into our diet throughout the year. Whenever we had fresh tomatoes, we ate them on our toast for breakfast and on fresh, homemade bread for lunch. Tomato slices with a layer of creamy Hellman’s mayonnaise and diced hard-boiled egg on top was a favorite salad dish for dinner. For a snack at bedtime or after church on Wednesday nights, we ate canned tomato chunks poured over a piece of bread and drank tall glasses of iced tomato juice.

This universal passion for tomatoes in my family was actually not original with us. My dad’s family was perhaps even more obsessed with tomatoes than we were. Dad came from a family of thirteen boys and two girls. To help feed a family of this size, they raised over a hundred tomato plants each year. The first ripening tomatoes of the season never made it to maturity. With so many tomato-lovers about it was entirely too risky to let them on the plant until they were completely ripe—they had to be grabbed while the grabbing was good!

Grandmother canned four hundred quarts of tomato juice and five hundred quarts of tomato chunks in “family size” two-quart Mason jars. In the wintertime, my uncles’ school lunches consisted of canned tomato chunks over homemade bread topped with sweet onion and course pepper. To drink, there was tomato juice. The story goes that on one occasion they had the normal— tomato chunks, and tomato juice—and, for a special treat, fresh tomatoes. In the summertime it was not unusual to have a single-course dinner of tomato sandwiches. One enormous stainless steel bowl of tomato slices was set at each end of the kitchen table along with a few loaves of fresh white bread. The highlight of the meal was the fight over the juice in the bottoms of the bowls. Again, every man was on his own. The timid got none.

Dad made a wise choice when he married Mom because she was able to support Dad’s well-established tomato habit in a very special way. Her family raised a pink, non-acid tomato that was handed down from her grandmother. Seeds from the best tomatoes were preserved every year to be planted the following year. These heirloom tomatoes became know as “Mother’s” tomatoes. Today, the “Mother’s” tomato crop defines the success of the summer.

For me a tomato is more than just a vegetable that adds color to a tossed salad. Tomatoes add color to my identity as a Peight. Every year as I now nurture my own tomato plants with my children, I am flooded with happy memories of my childhood as a tomato Peight.

-guest post, essay written by my husband Gabriel

And a photo of one small Peight enjoying her heritage

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