No Clouds in Sight Today

It was the first thing I noticed when I got up. The sky was still pale grey, but there were the high honks of geese flying northward, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Rita saw it too, and sighed with pleasure. Here is what my indoor grass looks like by now. About time to get out the mower, I think.

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The breakfast preparer for this week dragged out of bed too late to cook anything, so he got “promoted” to lunch and supper clean-up. It was cereal for the kiddos, protein shake for me. Gabe was still sleeping off a late night. When I picked up the French press, it felt full, and sure enough it was. A taste revealed rather bitter coffee, and Gregory said he made it, but he forgot to let it bloom. I tasted it again and asked him if he used the ground McCafe coffee that was in the cupboard (for cold brew purposes). He had. I assured him that blooming it would not have made it better, so we tried again with fresh ground beans. Yes. That’s what we were going for.

The sunny outdoors spurred the children to really stay diligent with school. Rita finished first, much too fast. I discovered a story she wrote that consisted of a title and nothing more. She got discouraged because she couldn’t write as fast as she could think, so I let her dictate and the thoughts rolled out just fine. Addy was on a roll too, finishing a book and doing the test, all in one. She gets a dollar for hundreds on tests, but today her haste got her in trouble. She kept getting her “k” and “c” spelling mixed up. Too bad.

The little girls got inspired to make lollipop cookies when they saw a recipe in a Paula Dean cookbook for children. Rita, with her characteristic serenity, mixed up the recipe all by herself. I was in the basement and she had never mixed cookies before, but that doesn’t faze Rita. The dough turned out really crumbly, so she did ask me to help her troubleshoot. Turned out she missed the shortening and used banty eggs, which are only about half the size of regular ones. Once we fixed the problem, the rest wasn’t hard at all, and yielded just the results they wanted. We did discover that the cookies have to cool completely before you can pick them up with the stick.

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Alex cooked scrambled eggs and toast for lunch. I walked away from the table for a bit, and when I came back everyone had abandoned ship, leaving only empty plates behind.

I took a short rest while the house was completely still. When I got outside, the girls had cleared out the junk out of their playhouse, moved a bunch of stuff into it and set up housekeeping. That makes me so happy, every time it happens. It means fewer treasures in their bedroom and a lot of creative play. The dolls needed fresh air, so I tied them onto the girls’ backs. First, though, we had to put their own hair up in a bobble so it didn’t get mixed up with the tresses of the babies or knotted into the baby wrap.

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I coaxed Gabe out of his study by starting some pruning. I had only done the grapevines and the dwarf cherry tree, and when I mentioned that I should do the espaliered apples, he came out and helped. The trees are his specialty, but last year we muddled through without really doing anything because of school. They all grew a little wild. The espaliered apples were shooting off in all directions, but he brought the branches into neat order again, crisscrossing them over each other. I am guessing he took about half of them off. It is a little hard to see the design, but when they start leafing out, they are really pretty.

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I hauled cuttings to the stick pile, and moved my rhubarb plants so that I do not have to till around them. I am on the lookout for someone local who has rhubarb that has red stalks. Mine is a greenish-pink variety, extremely hardy and with huge stalks. I have so much extra that I dug out three clumps of roots for friends with quite a bit more in the garden. If anybody with red wants to swap with some green, I would be happy!

The sun was benevolent all day. I soaked and soaked it in while we worked. The steps leading to the backyard got some drastic help, especially the unkempt lavender hedge. As much as I love a border of lavender, it takes some work to maintain the plants once they turn woody. They still smelled good when I trimmed them, even in the deadness of winter. At the top of the steps I noticed lots of bulbs pushing their way through the leaves and silver mound artemisia. I pulled out all the lambs’ ears. Again. Back when I brought it home, I had no idea how it could take over a flower border. For three years I have been pulling volunteers, and still it comes back. In the spring it looks magical, with fuzzy silver ears for leaves, but then it spreads, some of the leaves die out, and these unimpressive flower stalks pop up. I do have it in the rock garden slope, where it is perfect. Here are the before and after photos.

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I should mention that the huge grass Gregory is trimming was planted there intentionally to hide the unsightly electric meter. It has flourished and is now so large that the meter reader has to sidle behind it to get his numbers. Except for the few months in early spring when the new shoots are still small, he really has to earn his pay at our house. I feel really sorry for him when the dog springs out of her hiding place under that hemlock tree and does the startle-bark she saves for unsuspecting delivery guys or other visitors. I would look for another job after one such encounter.

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It looks blah, but I feel the stirring underneath the dirt. There is so much going on that we can’t see!

All the twigs and dead grass made for a perfect campfire. Addy wanted so badly to make what the children call “tortillas” on the fire. It is really more like bannock, with a dough made of just flour and water, fried in a cast iron pan and eaten with some salt or plain. She and Rita nursed their smoldering fire until they actually had some embers to cook on.

At five, when Gabe was working on the brambles and our larger orchard, I put away my rakes and came inside to make supper. The first thing I did was clear away the flour/water mess that Addy made when she mixed up her bannocks. Later I saw by errant blobs of gluey flour that she had taken her operation to the bathroom sink, probably because it is easier to reach. I could have called her in to clean it up, but at this point she struggles not to make a bigger mess when cleaning things that can puff or run.

Supper was quick: grilled hotdogs and sausages, herb-buttered pasta, peppers ‘n onions and some fried sweet potatoes.

I just squeaked in a few swipes with a comb and a toothbrush before it was time to go to choir practice. When I got home, Gabe was studying, Olivia was putting away folded laundry, Rita was knotting something out of fabric strips and paracord, and Addy was dancing around in her nightie.

That’s about it for today.

(You folks do realize that tomorrow will be the last day in February…?)

How to Beat the Flu: Elderberry Syrup

It’s my repost day, and I would like to make a public service announcement:  The flu is really bad this year. Have you noticed? My husband keeps telling me what an awful strain of flu this year is packing. This is not to be confused with stomach bugs, which are bad enough. It is the aching, please-let-me-just-die-now flu, and sadly, many immuno-compromised people are dying. By the grace of God our family has not experienced anything worse than common colds this entire winter. We have two people who are supposed to be extra susceptible to germs in our house. Aside from trying to stay away from germy situations, I keep waiting for it with my weapon that I stock in my fridge all winter long. I often get asked for this recipe, and I suppose you could always search for it in the archives where I posted it four years ago, but here it is, with love and a few edits.

(edit: My husband is extremely skeptical of potions, home-remedy-cure-alls, etc, but he swigs elderberry syrup as soon as he feels a little bit ill. He works with sick people all the time, and he has not had to take a sick day in five years. We credit the mercy of God above all, these amazing little berries that are a part of His mercies too, and maybe the fact that those in healthcare have mandatory flu shots. You can pick your chin off the floor now. )

 

Here’s our recipe for Elderberry Syrup

  • 1 Cup fresh elderberries or 1/2 cup dried
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • Bring first 5 ingredients to boil in a saucepan: simmer until reduced to half, about 20 minutes. Squash berries and strain mixture. Add honey to strained liquid: pour in a glass jar and store in refrigerator. Take 1 tsp or more when cold or flu symptoms start, up to 3 Tbsp a day. This is safe for children, but because of bacteria concerns in the raw honey, it is not recommended for children under 1 year of age.

There it is! My go-to potion when anybody in our house sneezes or sniffles/pukes or flus. I got this recipe from my sister-in-law, Rhonda, who got it from a friend… I don’t know who really gets credit for the original, but it is really good. I tweaked it a bit, and sometimes I stir in 1 TBS of bee pollen. The ginger soothes upset stomach, and we find it too cloying with over-much honey, even though raw honey has many healing properties. It also preserves the syrup for a long time in the fridge. I have seen other recipes where people add lemon juice, and the product you buy from Beeyoutiful contains apple cider vinegar. My children struggle a bit with the sourness of the flavor, so I haven’t added it. Yet. As you can see, the recipe is quite open to interpretation, made as pleasant or unpleasant as you like.

Edit: The cloves are the spice cloves, whole ones. Somebody I love dearly thought it was garlic cloves, which probably would also help the immune system, just not too tastefully in this preparation. She was ready to cook her concoction when it dawned on her that something was not quite right.

The star is elderberry, lovely elderberry.

Elderberries are effective against both bacteria and viruses, and act to prevent viruses from entering cells. Taking elderberry syrup, extract or juice can lessen the duration of flu symptoms. Elderberries contain anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Anthocyanins also boost the immune system by inducing the production of cytokines, small proteins that play a role in regulating immune response.

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Photo credits here, along with another informative article on flu-fighting elderberry studies. Listen to what they say, “A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine…found that elderberry decreased the symptoms of influenza (including fever) within 2 days and achieved a cure of influenza in 2 days in 90% of the group receiving elderberry, compared to 6 days with placebo.  The most interesting thing about this study is that it was looking at Influenza type B – a type of influenza that Tamiflu and Amantadine are not effective in treating.” I would so prefer to feed my family a medicinal berry made by God than a drug with dubious side effects, which might make you feel even worse than you did before you took it.

I want an elderberry bush. Actually, I would like a whole thicket of elderberries, so I could share with all my friends. I bought my freeze dried berries at Sunburst Superfoods. The price for one pound is less than the price for one (smallish) bottle of elderberry syrup, already prepared, which is why I bought them, of course.

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edit: I now have two elderberry bushes. The dog loves to chew on the stems, for some odd reason, and the birds have a way of robbing all the berries before they are quite ripe. Also, they are very tiny and labor intensive; the stems are toxic; it takes a lot of berries to make a pound of dried ones! It made me feel good to try raising them, but my best sources are still the bulk herb stores.

There is a source for already made syrup, which is what I always bought before I started making my own. I can heartily endorse the products from Beeyoutiful. See link above.

Does this actually work? Yes, it really does. I stay on the ball with dosing someone who is starting with flu like symptoms, and we rarely have any sickness that lasts longer than 2 days. I keep them dosed every couple of hours. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Stay well, my friends!

July On the Farmlet

It’s really good, July is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back at the farmlet…

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

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

Still, it’s mostly sunshine.

So much happy, yellow sunshine.

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

Catch you up later!

 

 

Scattered Glitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”

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!

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

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?

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!

 

 

 

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?