The Pig That Forgot it Was Sunday

I left church early that day with a headache. I planned on a nap as soon as I had fed the children leftovers for lunch.  As we walked in the door, a note fluttered to the floor.

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Well, that was that. Maybe it was impaired thinking due to the ache in my head, but I didn’t change out of my church attire or require Gregory to change. Alex and Gabe weren’t home, so we did what they would have done. After all, Petunia has channelled her Guinea hog ancestors before and gone on long ambles through the countryside. Always she amiably followed a bucket of corn back to her pen, no problem. Gregory fetched a scoop of cracked corn from the barn and reported that Petunia had gotten out through the wooden gate, tipped over the barrel, and eaten about half of the corn. This should have been a warning: Petunia was not even remotely hungry.

We drove down the road, looking in all the back yards. Finally at the bottom of the hill we saw a cluster of neighbors in the woods. Sure enough, they were trying to entice a portly black pig into their barnyard with some grain. Petunia appeared to be enjoying the attention, leisurely chewing and swinging her head around from person to person. Gregory waved his scoop of grain under her nose and she began to follow him through the briars at the edge of the woods. When he got to the road, she veered and scuttled back into the woods, Gregory hard on her heels, rattling his corn scoop and trying to persuade her back out to civilization. The neighbors watched, amused, and offered to fetch a rope. I thought maybe a leash would work better and drove home quickly to fetch one, as well as to pick up Rita, our best animal catcher. She had boots on, but I still didn’t think about changing out of my slip-ins from church. Back I went in my long navy blue dress, not intending to be involved in any way except to encourage the young fry.

Greg is the most defeatist of all the children when it comes to animal husbandry, and this was no exception: This will never work. She isn’t hungry. There is no way we will ever get her to follow me all the way home. Can’t we just shoot her?

At this point I should have listened to him. The corn was all in a little pile beside the road where Petunia obliged us by trying to eat a bit, but as soon as the leash got close to her head, she scooted for the briars. Unlike us, she didn’t give a patooie about the prickles and poison ivy. I looked down at my brown flex-soles, sighed, and resigned myself to a long , arduous chase. Only you don’t chase pigs. They will not be herded and any gap in a string of people trying to do so is the first place they will spy. As portly as the average adult pig is, they are amazingly agile. “Just stay with her, keep her in your sight!” I hollered to Greg. The undergrowth was so thick I couldn’t see either of them, but I heard him reply, “She’s in their pasture!”

These neighbors have a horse pasture with one strand of shocking wire at waist height. It had no meaning to Petunia, but at least she was in an open area where we could see her. Gregory and Rita joined her to try to persuade her toward the open barn doors near the horse corral. Meanwhile the horses went nuts, galloping round and round, snorting in agitation at their porcine visitor, who gave every evidence of thick-headed enjoyment of the situation. I ran down their lane, hoping to direct her between a swamp and the house. Petunia took one suspicious look at the dark barn doorway and slithered neatly between all the people into hog heaven, the gooshiest, pooey-est barnyard in the vicinity. She was not interested in giving up her Sunday afternoon field trip, keeping right on course, due west toward a much deeper woods where I had no hope of ever finding her again.

I looked at that barnyard and stepped in on a hummock of grass, figuring if I stayed on the more stable looking tufts, I could stay reasonably clean. The second hummock betrayed me and I lost my shoe. It was ridiculous anyway. Why not be ridiculous barefooted in ankle deep poo? I tossed my shoes and the girls tossed their boots and Gregory tossed his sneakers. We were getting just a little bit miffed, but we had learned a few things from Petunia, and we acted like we also were on an unconcerned, although thinly-veiled-anxiety-ridden stroll westward. She changed course and came back toward the barn.

“There’s pellets in that barrel inside the barn doors,” the lady of the house bellowed down the hill. I squelched into the dim interior, moved the whiskey bottle off the top of the barrel and opened it. Down at the bottom was a small layer of pellets for horses, sure enough. It was such a vast barrel and I am a short woman. I barely managed to keep one foot on the ground as I dived down to scoop up the food. As I attempted to entice my pig into the barn again with the scoop of pellets, she took a sniff, disdainfully turned up her snout, and trotted up toward their house. Incongruously, just then we were joined by a spotted fawn frisking around. We only lacked a clown on an elephant to make the circus complete.

There was a small stand of trees and bushes up there where Petunia decided to go for a break from pesky humans. “Hey,” Gregory said, “I think we could pen her in there if we had a portable fence.” I was considering driving home for ours when the elderly neighbor suggested using the chain link fence that was precariously draped around a small garden. He cut the twines that held it upright against some aged posts and we proceeded to drag it out of the weeds. Chain link fence is much heavier than one might expect and I was afraid he would drop with a heart attack. The girls kept vigil close to Petunia while Gregory and I helped to haul the fence up the hill.

The bushes were planted next to an antique tractor, a snow plow, some assorted children’s swing set parts, etc. etc. We managed to get the fence upright and tightly joined together at the seams with red baler twine. Where there was a gap I set a folding table that was leaning against the tractor wheel, apparently there for lack of storage in the house. Petunia now had shade, grass to nibble when she felt like it was time for a little something, and a playground. I doubted it would keep her in for long, but maybe it would work until Alex got home. The back up plan was to take the trailer down and attempt to load her onto it, but there was no way my crew of children and I were going to try it on our own. We were hungry, muddy, and frankly, we were making sausage in our minds. We promised the neighbor some if we ever butcher the troublemaker.

I kept apologizing for infringing on their Sunday afternoon relaxation and they assured us that they had nothing better to do, it was no problem, etc. etc.

Retrieving all our poo-caked footwear, we went home and cleaned up. I made lunch, and when I had time to think about it, the headache had not improved with so much fresh air and exercise. I had that nap and was brought back to earth by excited shouts at the next door neighbors a few hours later. “Your pig is in our backyard!” they called.

I looked where they were pointing. There was Petunia, belly swaying gracefully, heading due east toward her pen. Maybe she missed the security, or maybe she missed her husband, but she was coming home. Gregory opened the gate and she trotted straight to her wallow, easing into it with the exact familiarity of any weary human coming home to the recliner at night.

I drove down the road to her makeshift chainlink pen at the other neighbor’s house. There was the spot where she had easily nosed  up a hole big enough to squeeze under. The only fence a pig respects is shocking wire, so I wasn’t surprised, but my neighbor was. We visited for a while, making small talk. I was glad, because I had never connected with these folks except to wave as I walked past. Before I left, the lady of the house dug out a volunteer Rose of Sharon bush for me. I have never especially liked those bushes, but I planted it in a corner where it should do well and serve to remind me of surprising friendships in unlikely circumstances.

But I still want sausage.

Want to see the culprit?

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My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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

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One Way to “Git ‘er Done”

“Oh, you horrid dog,” I exclaimed when she grabbed every weed in midair as I tossed it toward a compost pile. I looked at the yard, strewn with twiggy lavender branches and gigantic dandelions. Now we would have to rake it yet. “UGH! Gregory, go put Lady on the deck!” I ordered in exasperation.

“What did she even do?” he wanted to know. He’s always a softie when the dog is in trouble. I pointed wordlessly at the mess and he said, “You sure can’t take much, can you?”

That, from the child who was born by emergency C-section after his mother (me) had experienced 2 hours of exhausting and fruitless pushing and a transport to the nearest hospital because he (Gregory) was star-gazing in utero. I did not point out to him that his birth nearly killed me, but I thought it.

We were working on mulching the perennial beds. I had prepared these borders for mulch weeks ago, freeing them of weeds and waiting for an opportune time such as a day when my husband has off work with nothing better to do. Today I looked at the recurring carpet of fine weeds coming up, then I looked at the weather forecast, which is rainy, cloudy, rainy, rainy, rainy, for about as far ahead as can be seen. It was pay now or pay later, and I dislike carpets of weeds, so we (Gregory and I) hitched up the trailer and went for three scoops of mulch.

All my life we pronounced it “mulsh” like it was from some special pronunciation group. Then one day I heard yet another person say “mulch” with a “ch” at the end, and I got out the trusty dictionary. What do you know? They were right and I was wrong. I have been correcting my habit ever since, but my children think it sounds so affected and wrong. I said it as often as I could today, just to make Gregory splutter and to pay him back for laughing at me when I couldn’t back the trailer as well as I should have. “Mulch, mulch, mulch,” I said under my breath, just loudly enough for him to hear.

Before we mulched, I told Gregory to cut off the tulip leaves just because it looks so much cleaner. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but I do it every year and so far they have always forgiven me and bloomed again. Daffodils aren’t quite so gracious, so we just doubled their leaves down and mulched on top. I transplanted some volunteer pink petunias and brought purple coneflower volunteers up from the edge of the garden.

Would you like to know what we did about that carpet of teeny weeds coming up? We have been saving up our empty cereal boxes for months for the purpose of  putting them under the mulch. Gregory and I decided that it lends a sort of nobility to eating cereal at breakfast, what with the repurposing and all. We made sure the words were on the bottom so that if the mulch happens to shift, you can’t see how many Marshmallow Mateys we have eaten.

Every year I have trouble with plants dying out in my perennial border. A friend suggested that it may be because it is right along the picket fence by the road where the snow plows throw in the salt. It makes sense to me. I just keep experimenting with different things to see what can tolerate those conditions. So far purple coneflower has done well, but all the black-eyed susans croaked. The daylilies are okay and the yarrow is spreading out of all reason. My favorite peonies are flourishing, but the peppermint tea at the end is not happy at all. Not to worry, it’s what I love about gardening… so much scope for imagination! Gabe thinks it is weird how I like to move plants around. Why not plant it where you want it and then leave it there for always? I don’t know why not; it’s just not how I roll when I garden. It is so much fun to dig up a clump of roots, divide it, and rearrange the environment.

After a few hours of steady off-loading with a scoop shovel, I was pretty hungry. Olivia brought me a baked sweet potato with a sprinkling of cinnamon on it. I ate it without taking off my gardening gloves, peppering it with some tiny bits of mulch. Gregory felt the tug of all the cereal boxes and disappeared for the space of a bowl of Chex.

At seven o’clock the predicted rain started to sprinkle down on us. We had one-fourth of our load on the trailer yet. I speeded up and the jokes stopped. Gregory pushed the last mulch into a pile and put away the shovels while I drove the Suburban down the hill to park the trailer beside the barn. Right then I decided I couldn’t face turning, backing, turning, backing, nearly jack-knifing, etc. As he came to help me unhook the trailer, I told him we are just going to let it sit until tomorrow, and I plodded up to the house in the drizzle.

“Are you seriously that beat?” he asked. This, from the boy who took bathroom breaks and snack breaks and cardboard-shield-making breaks while I plodded doggedly along.

“I am just about dead,” I admitted. But guess what? It is raining steadily and I am feeling pretty good. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the ibuprofen has taken hold.

 

And for one parting shot: This is Mother’s Day, in the evening, when I suddenly remembered that we had not taken our annual photo because we left for a choir program at 6 AM. A Hallmark photo it is not, but it reminds me that a mother’s best defense against the erosions of time and reason is maintaining a sense of humor. Seriously.

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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…?)

Tuesday in the Life

Strictly speaking, today started where yesterday ended, at midnight. Gabe and I had  a President’s Day coupon code for unlimited pages in a printed photo book. We entered the code at checkout at 11:59 and held our breath(s) (Do married people hold their breath or breaths, seeing as two are one? I don’t like quandaries like that in writing.) to see if we would indeed get unlimited pages. We had been working together on this massive project of compiling a book of the adventures of 2017, and at a crucial point my text boxes did not get saved when he was adding pictures on another computer, so we were pushing it really tight to the deadline. The coupon worked. We went to bed this morning at 12:15.

It was a shorter night than one could have wished, but the morning was so balmy and promising that even the sleepiest among us sat up and ate the scrambled eggs.

The girls hustled with school because they knew it was ladies’ sewing day at church and they wanted to go. Addy and I read the story where little Tim had fun in the tub and when he got out, he did sob. Mom got him a top. Little Tim hid the top under the cot and did nap on the cot.

Sometimes her stories are so unexpected, we have to giggle at the conclusions. If you have never taught a child to read and gotten to watch them when the lights go on, you should try it.

Our arrival at the sewing was fashionably late, in time to do a little work before we had lunch. For a lover of fabrics and yarns, knotting comfort tops to send to relief agencies is a lot of fun. The ladies in our sewing committee have streamlined the art of comfort knotting so that often they get close to ten done in a day, maybe more. It may be a small thing, but it really is a good feeling to think of someone in dire straits receiving a beautiful warm blanket. Blankets are love, so we pray for the people who are on the receiving end to feel the love we are sending.

I made a little detour on the way home to pick up milkshakes for the boys who were assigned to clean out the animal poo in the barn after their school was done. This is the worst job on the farm, really… worse than picking rocks or pulling weeds, because it has accumulated all winter and requires muscles and pitchforks. It was 73 degrees, absolutely delightful outside, which was why they had to do this job because the weather has to permit. Was it ever permitting today! They wanted to save the chicken poo for tomorrow because it is supposed to stay warm, but I didn’t let them. They admitted to being grateful when it was done, to not have half the job hanging over their heads. Sometimes in parenting you just are right and you know it.

The girls spent hours playing house in the backyard, erecting little booth shelters with sticks and draping a pashmina or a grass mat over top. I went for a walk in flip flops. Oh, lovely February, please stay this way and forgive us for ever saying anything ugly about you.

The sun streaming in my windows gave me an urge to clean the worst one, which was in our bedroom where the stink bugs hover. They seem to wait to relieve themselves until they make a great big spot, almost like the tobacco stains that grasshoppers leave. Every week my white trim gets besmirched, and sometimes my white down comforter. They like white toilets. :/  It’s beyond annoying, especially when it seems I cannot ever get them all with the vacuum cleaner. We had reached a sort of uneasy truce, where I let them go if they stayed on the outside of the window sash. I spent almost an hour cleaning that window, an hour that I multitasked by talking on the phone with my sister, so it wasn’t unpleasant. Still, I went in search of some nasty chemical spray that we had for the spiders in the basement. Sure enough, it is supposed to work for stink bugs too. No more truce. The battle line has been sprayed onto the outside edges of the window sashes. I expect only to see casualties from now on.

Supper was picnic food, sandwiches and mandarin oranges. The girls ate outside while I practiced songs for choir. Our group practice usually takes about 2 hours on a Tuesday night, so when I got home I tucked in my children, cleaned up some rubble, and ate 4 spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle with roasted pecans, fudge chips, and a salted chocolate ganache. If I eat more than that, Gabe will notice, so don’t tell him. I bought this special for him when he hits a rough patch while he is studying, but it sits there in the freezer and taunts me. It’s the salt in the sweet. To be honest, I thought it said salted caramel when I bought it, and we all know it wouldn’t be 4 spoonfuls if that were the case; I need an intervention when it comes to that combination. By the way, Gabe wouldn’t reproach me, but I would reproach myself and then I would have to go buy more for him.

Well, it feels like time to say, “Good night!”

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in the Barn

It’s already a week late, but since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I want to share ours with you.

I impulsively suggested that we host Gabe’s family at our house this year, hoping the weather would permit us to use the top story of the barn for long tables. Every week I checked the 10 day forecast until I was reasonably sure that we could keep it warm up there, cracks and holes in the siding boards and all. I didn’t have a very good back-up plan, but as it turned out, I didn’t need one.

We haven’t done much up there except some woodworking projects. Gabe and the boys packed all their project stuff into one area that I curtained off with a big piece of muslin. Here is a pic of Wednesday night, as we tweaked this and that to try to cozy up such a huge space.

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My dad went out of his way to help us scrounge up propane and kerosene heaters, four of which we borrowed from him. The kids rollerbladed gleefully around and around the cleared areas. My mom went out of her way to give me pumpkin pie lessons. Everything looked great until the cracks appeared. This has never, ever happened for her, so I tell you, it’s me. (I opened the oven door to slide in some pie shells while the pumpkin pies were baking.) Now I know exactly what to do and what not to do. I was overthinking it, apparently.

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Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, dawned with brilliant sunshine. We were so grateful for a warm day that made it easy to stay comfortable with our limited heating options.

This photo of Rita, who is 8, and Chloe, who is almost 3, could be labelled “Kindred Spirits.” I never expected to meet another Rita, but there she is! When I listen to Chloe’s mother telling of her accomplishments and exploits, I simply have to grin at all the fun she has signed up for, mothering a child with such a rich inner life.

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Everybody chipped in with food prep, and it was fabulous! We had the traditional North American turkey and dressing meal at lunchtime. In the evening I tried to keep the menu more authentic to the first Thanksgiving. We had crab dip (not that the Pilgrims were likely to mix their shellfish with cream cheese and mayo…) with sourdough and cheese spread, pear butter, popcorn, venison jerky, veggies, Gabe’s mom’s apple snitz moon pies, and lots of hot drinks.

My sister-in-law Ruby was determined to master the art of sourdough bread. Master it she did! Look at those beautiful loaves!

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I love this photo because the evening was my favorite time, with close fellowship around the propane fireplace. Photo credits go to my husband. I was much too occupied to remember to take pictures. Top of my thankful list was the joy of having a space to entertain a lot of people! Next was having a husband who designed and built that space. And family… we are so rich with roots all the way to the twiggy newest branches, connections to the past and promise for the future!

And the evening and the morning were Thanksgiving Day, and it was a good one.

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Move Over, October

Although it doesn’t feel necessary at all yet, we are battening down the hatches here despite the August-like feel in the middle of the days. In landlocked, rural PA, that means clearing out the gardens, planting garlic, digging sweet potatoes, maybe nurturing some lettuce in homemade cold frames.  The pigs have been set to plowing the garden, where they clearly enjoy their privileges among the dried bean stalks and tired zinnias. The black pig, Petunia, is supposed to “piggle” as we jokingly call it, but she just doesn’t have babies. I am thinking she is even looking slimmer recently, so who knows? Maybe her relationship with Brutus is platonic.

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The zinnia blooms that persist are still a-flit with monarch butterflies that should be hurrying south. We all feel a little confused by fall this year. There is no color. It’s still green here, folks. The leaves that have dropped are tan, brown, or speckled with a tinge of orange, but no brilliance. It’s an odd result of a very wet summer/abundant chlorophyll and unseasonably warm temperatures, the experts say.

This fall for the first time ever we wound our way through a corn maze, shot small pumpkins with a sling-shot, played corn hole and pumpkin checkers, and had fun in general.

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I feel the urge to clear out all the spider webs in my house, but it is a futile effort because the spiders keep diligently moving in. They aren’t fooled by unseasonable warmth. Also the stink bugs– I don’t even know if they have another more formal name, but they don’t deserve it if they do. I vacuumed 17 of them off my bedroom curtain one day. They seemed surprised and emanated their cilantro stench so strongly I smelled them every time I vacuumed for a long time afterward.

The vacuum cleaner smells like moth ball crystals at the moment. “What’s that sweet stink?” Rita asked. Upon investigation, I found that someone had spilled them in the closet after they did their sweet-stink duty in keeping yellow jackets away from our applesauce production out on the deck.

We live in deep apple territory. It’s amazing! We go to the orchard and walk along the apple crates on the porch, sometimes with as many as ten varieties of irregulars that are so cheap you can’t let them there. Then I remember what a friend who lived in the orchards said about the sprays, so I soak the apples in a white vinegar/water solution before cooking them. Whether this actually works to remove all the pesticides is open to debate, but it makes me feel better. I did the math this year to see if applesauce making is worth the effort. At Aldi, a pint of applesauce was 1.29. That’s 2.60 per quart. We did 55 quarts this fall. That’s $143 at Aldi. The apples cost us $45. Okay, so we saved $100 with just four hours of mildly strenuous effort. Even with overhead costs, a concept I just explained to Gregory this morning in his math lesson, I know it’s worth making applesauce. Also it counts as a school day, so we’re definitely in the clear here.

I am waiting for the Granny Smiths to be picked so that I can make real apple dumplings. Have you ever had them? The combination of mouth-puckering sour with flaky pastry and buttery syrup? Ohh, I sigh with delight at the thought. Once, and only once, I used whole wheat pie and pastry flour to healthify them. It was a fail that I will not repeat. If you need to healthify your apples, just eat them raw.

The boys have been working on painting the barn doors, which ended being constructed of raw wood after someone stole a pile of weathered red siding boards that would have become doors. The boys have also been making it their mission to get rid of the rats that have moved into the barn. (Shut your ears if you are squeamish.) Gregory has a string stretched between two small trees where he hangs his trophies by the tail. The count is holding at three, but there is a really big one they call Templeton that defies all their ingenious traps and steals the corn anyway.

In other news, we just finished our first quarter of school. Shew! One day at a time, they say, and they are right. The days pile up like sand in an hour glass and one day they will be all filtered through and we will understand percentages and fractions and phonics rules and it will be spring!

Gabriel is now exactly 6/11 of the way to his bachelor’s degree. He perseveres on through much trudging and some very boring assignments, to my way of thinking.

Our read-aloud book at the moment is Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary’s memoir which was printed at least 20 years ago, but has seen a renewed circulation since she celebrated her 100th birthday. We love Beverly Cleary with her Klickitat Street, Henry and Ribsy, Beezus and Ramona, and a host of other unforgettable characters. The book is written about her childhood with an adult viewpoint, so there are occasional passages I edit for my small children’s sake. Our favorite line so far is her description of fourth grade: “one long quest to find the lowest common denominator.”

There isn’t a good way to conclude this kind of post, so I leave you with Addy’s Quote of the Day, after she was reprimanded by a sibling for her loud singing in the car.

“When I grow up, I am going to hum for people. For a living.”

 

Midsummer

I realized suddenly that it’s summer solstice, hence it’s 9 PM and still semi-light outside. My children swam until 8:30 last night, then came up to the house for second baths, having already had first baths at 4 in the afternoon after the first dip in the pond. All the swimming clothes got draped on the deck railing and the towels got lumped in piles in the laundry room after second swimming because they were muddy.

Today was a repeat exactly of yesterday’s schedule, only they had scrounged up other assorted odd bathing costumes, walking past the row of sun-baked trunks on the deck, and then neatly adding today’s soppy stuff beside the others. First baths were at 6:00, while Gregory made quesadillas for supper. I went out to till the garden and the girls hopped into the goat fence and played Heidi until they were hot and the goats were bothered.

It was 8:00. “May we go swimming again? We got dirty and stuff. Please???” I said, “No,” which just goes to show that I am not always very much fun. But after everybody washed up and got into pjs, I served them pink lemonade slushies, the ones with beetroot in them to make it pink. Just kidding, it was red 40, which just goes to show that I am not always very health minded.

We have fresh peas at last! A lot of my first planting didn’t come up, so I just get nice, manageable amounts. Yesterday the girls and I sat in the air conditioned  living room and watched the Great British Baking Show while we shelled them. They thought that was pretty cool. Hehe. Last year I wrote about the easy peasy way to do large amounts of peas by blanching them in the pod.  This year so far we have only had a few buckets full, so we shelled them dry out of the pods. I discovered a better way to get rid of the blossom ends that have such a maddening habit of sticking to your hands when you try to wash them.  I set up a fan and slowly poured the peas through the blowing air into a large bowl to winnow out the lightweight blossoms. After three pours, the peas were clear of the wispy greyish blobs and I was happy to proceed with the blanching.

The only other garden produce right now is butter crunch lettuce, which is so delectable that I could eat it at every meal, and the last bits of strawberries from our own patch. It’s a tired strawberry patch, plus I neglected to cover it when we got a hard frost during blooming time, so the yield was only about half what we usually get.

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Last week we picked the cherries on our Carmine Jewel tree and made pie filling. It’s a process that I do purely out of love for my husband, because I do not especially enjoy cherry pies. Pitting those tiny little fruits makes me feel just a little bothered every time, which just goes to show I am not overwhelmingly loving yet. Nevertheless, the pie cherries are ready to be picked like clockwork every June. I have started a Father’s Day tradition of cherry-something dessert. According to my diary, this is the third year in a row that Gabe had to work on Father’s Day, which really stinks when you think about it. But at least he took some cherry pies along to work with him.

We did a lot of wandering around the first two weeks in June. The first trip was to a reunion with childhood friends and former neighbors, the John Weaver family in North Carolina. Our weekend of connecting and watching our children become friends was a lot of fun. I will limit myself to one story which will probably be a highlight that both parents and children will remember.

On Saturday evening when we were sitting around a campfire swapping stories, someone was alert enough to notice that 4 children were missing. It was a crew of 12 year olds who had hiked up the mountain to watch the sunset, but the sun had long gone and it was pitch black. Not totally reassuring was the story of a grown-up getting lost up on that mountain in broad daylight. All the mothers had been on a walk when the hike commenced, but siblings reported that they had survival packs, flashlights, water bottles and a book with them. Well. That put a little different slant to the matter. Both Gregory and his cousin Patrick are expert fire builders and we were sure they would have the smarts to stay together. My sister-in-law Carma whistled her signature drop-everything-and-come-to-mom whistle that carries astoundingly far, and John shot into the air a few times so that the children could follow the sound. A few of the guys drove the Gator up a trail as far as it would go, then called, and sure enough, there came some wavering flashlight beams. They insisted that they were not lost, just not totally sure where the trail was. When they heard the whistle, they promptly set about extinguishing their fire so that they could come home. Apparently they lost track of time because they were taking turns reading out loud for the benefit of the group. I wasn’t sure whether to feel proud or a little annoyed.

I looked on both my and Gabe’s cells and neither of us took a single photo of the reunion weekend. We were quite unplugged, I guess.

Here is one of Gregory on top of a different mountain on Hawksbill Trail in Pisgah National Forest. Of all our children, he is the most passionate outdoors lover. Every time we drive through a city he remarks about how hard it would be to live there. Bless you, little man. May you make many more campfires in your life. Just try to tell Mama where you are going next time.

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It was a shiny day. We all made it to the top, even the forty-year-old (ahem), even a little niece in an Ergo carrier, even the dog.

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We spent a few days in western North Carolina where the scenery is hard to beat, the company is fine, and where both of my brothers and one of Gabe’s brothers live. It was a cousinly-packed trip, so exhaustingly much fun. Gabe decided he prefers driving home through the night and we heard not a peep from the crew in the back seats, except when we stopped for gas at 2AM and Addy wailed the whole way in to the gas station bathroom and out again. We got home at 7 on a Wednesday morning, everybody stumbled into the house and crashed until noon.

On Thursday evening we packed up again and headed north to where Gabe’s parents live. The guys have a work-sharing thing going on with their various projects, then on Sunday Gabe’s youngest brother was baptized. All the rest of the cousins were together that weekend. They run in packs and I hardly see my children except when they get hungry. Gabe took the older boys camping on the banks of the Susquehanna one night. They wanted to give their gear a tryout for an epic camping trip in the wild later on, freeze dried food cooked on teeny rocket stoves and all that.

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I got most of the photos for this post off his phone. So, photo creds and all that… thanks, Hon.

We saw every single member of both our families within one week. It was lovely, and then I was ready to stay home for a very long time. We had three appointments and a car break-down in the first week after we got home, but things are looking like a lull now.

Wait. It’s summer. It might be a while until the lull, but the ride is glorious in summer!

May Retrospect

I take my pen in hand and end the month by telling you a tale of five itchy children, scratching, scratching their respective cases of poison ivy.  We as a family have never risen to such heights of togetherness in our misery. We tried pretty much everything over-the-counter that the pharmacy offers for itch relief; we have used up 8 pounds of baking soda for baths (and now have the most alkaline septic system east of Pittsburgh); three of the worst cases are on prednisone, so I think we are on the way to recovery. Addy, ever the drama queen, asked the ageless question, “Why is there poison ivy in the world anyway? It makes me cross.” It does, for real.

Last week we cultivated the pasture that the pigs had plowed with their snouts. It was infested with poison vines, but nothing seemed to be growing out after the porkers had eaten the roots. Unknown to us, there were still plenty of roots with oils seeping out and the kiddos simply wallowed in the dirt that day, hence extreme reactions. The good news is, we will have real pasture soon! Just as soon as we pick up tons of rocks and get it seeded, that is.

Today I told the offspring that each one needs to make three piles of rocks for when it dries out enough to drive the tractor in to haul them out of the pasture. Some of us made piles. I noticed others sitting quite inert. “I will have to fine you if you just sit around,” I warned. “But we aren’t just sitting. We are making cities,” they protested. It took a long time for the artsy children to get three piles, but they had more fun than the rest of us.

We got our four friendly pigs processed into sausage and bacon, and sold all the meat except one. I put some videos of the girls riding the pigs (before they became late, of course) on youtube in the interest of spreading good cheer. This happened on a day when I couldn’t even talk after a dental procedure, but I found that giggling and wheezing out in the open air soon lifted my spirits.  Each link takes you to a different clip, just in case you wondered. You are welcome.

One day we tackled the art of making scrapple (essentially cornmeal mush with ground meat in it) in a big iron kettle in the backyard. Both Gabe and I have done this many times with our families, but this was our first solo flight. For the cornmeal to thicken the scrapple, we ground the red ears of corn that we grew last year in our garden. It gave the finished product an unusual color and a delectable fresh flavor. We even rendered the fat into lard and it came out snow-white and un-rancid. How smart and homesteaderish can you feel? It’s a feeling we keep exploring, along with the more obvious farmish moments when the neighbors ask if we are missing a large black pig, because it is eating grass in their backyard. Alex was dispatched with a bucket of feed and Petunia (the newest porcine edition, a singularly ugly Guinea sow) docilely followed him home without protest while the neighbors videoed the proceedings with their cell phones. There are also the flustered moments as we attempt to install woven electric fencing in the woods, through a thicket of greenbriars that would daunt any prince on a steed. On the bright side, the goats are eating those briars like dessert.

And then there is the price we pay for luscious free-range eggs. We did not know this: Chickens simply cannot stand the sight of a pile of mulch. They systematically scatter it and peck through it, clucking excitedly when they find juicy bugs and running ADHD all over the property. It is amusing and most annoying. I have noticed that we are not pulling ticks off the children nearly as often since the poultry is out roaming. There seem to be fewer asparagus beetles, and if they would limit themselves to the slugs in the strawberry patch instead of treating their greedy selves to the berries, all would be more harmonious. Observe what once was a stand of lush hostas, and the ruin of the careful edging my husband did all along our borders. I have raked those chips back in oftener than I wish to remember.

I think of symbiosis often. “The living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism; a relationship between two species of organisms in which both benefit from the association,” says the online dictionary. If you are a rhino with pesky bugs on your hide, you will be glad for the little birds that come and sit on your back to eat them. However, you have to endure their scritchy little claws hopping over your skin. If you are the bird, you need to be okay with getting your meal off a temperamental juggernaut who might take off charging at any moment. Either creature has to pay for his benefits with inconveniences. Sounds so similar to other situations in life wholly unrelated to the animal kingdom.

Last week we had our school evaluations and now are officially finished. It’s nice to get a tidy document saying we did all right in those hours and hours of diligence and hard work and perseverance, etc. etc. Learning is supposed to be fun! they said. Homeschooling is a much more efficient way to learn, they also said. You can observe your child’s strengths and help them with their weaknesses and they don’t ever have to compare themselves or rate at a certain level in a classroom, they said. They just forgot to mention how dog-tired you will be at the end of a year and you will be so far behind, in everything else that it would hardly register on a scale of behind-ness. But you jolly well did it again!

I cleared out the disaster that was our classroom and did some furniture switching. For a very long time I have been looking for second-hand replacements for our broken-down couch and love-seat. I went to every consignment furniture store within a 50 mile radius and eventually found just what I was looking for, a sturdy couch in neutral tone and wingback chairs to set companionably together with a lamp on a stand between them. I saw it in my head for so long that I could hardly believe it when I brought the chairs home and actually sat in them. If you feel revolted at the thought of used furniture, I will just feel happy all by myself that I only spent $320 for three quality pieces, which amount of money would not buy half of a cheaply built couch.

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The boys also got some new furnishings in their bedroom, thanks to a local flea market with a vendor who sells metal cabinets. They said this would definitely be the decisive game changer for the clutter  treasures in their room… a place to put them.  These discussions never seem to foster peace and goodwill between us. Sigh. I made a bargain with them: keep your room clean and clear for 30 days and I will buy you a nice bean bag chair. One of them did superb. The other did not. After losing 15 days to the untidiness, all the fault of hoarder-boy, I changed the rules. The tidy boy gets dibs on the bean bag until the untidy boy has made up his deficit of messy days. This appears to be more effective than than the original proposition. Still, tonight I threw out the bucket of pork ribs soaking in vinegar to make them limber. I just didn’t feel like they deserved to take up space in the house anymore.

Ahh, parenting, the ability to about-face gracefully while in mid-stride, all the while juggling eggs  egos and coaching the rest of the performers. We took a bike ride on Sunday to take our minds off the poison ivy, and I made sure to check the weather forecast. No rain was predicted for 3 hours. As we got to the point where Rita refused to peddle anymore (one hour), “Because I simply can’t; my bottom feels like a wedge shaped seat,” and no amount of coaxing about how close we are to home made any difference… just then it started to rain. Diplomatic Gregory switched bikes with Rita so she could change gears and stand to peddle, but we still had a mile to go when it started to pour in earnest. We sheltered under a pavilion at a local ball field until our lovely neighbor brought our Suburban to the rescue.

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It took hot tea and “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” to give us some perspective on our adventure. 🙂

I find it difficult to remember the high spots of the month with this seldom posting deal, so I turn to my cell phone for pictures. We had a tremendous storm with twister-like damage on May 1, and we lost at least 7 trees. I loved them all, and it was unbelievable to see the damage that 15 minutes did.

I just remembered that I turned 40. Yes, I did. It’s fine on this side. I feel quite undaunted, thanks for your concern. My family did a fun celebration, my siblings gave me a pile of cash to buy replacement trees for the ones that crashed down in a recent storm, my sister made this cheesecake worthy to stand tall among all the cheesecakes ever, and my husband took me out for the night, so all in all it was a pretty grand day.

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And I got to go out for brunch recently with a friend I sincerely admire: Michelle, who is also turning 40 in a few days.

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We canoed, we picnicked, we designed swim-dresses for the girls, we swam, we fished, we planted flowers on the deck, we picked strawberries, we watched chicks hatch, we cleaned and cooked and ate and washed. My husband helped a friend build a wood strip canoe, he tilled gardens, he pruned raspberries, he cleaned up the downed trees, he mulched endlessly, he helped patiently with my furniture search, and he worked on assignments for his BSN in every spare minute. Other than that, we probably slept.

So many minutes crammed into a day, but strung out mercifully, one by one, so that we only have to focus on one at a time when things get crazy. (If I am quoting Jennifer Worth, it isn’t intentional. 🙂 ) This minute- my tone of voice when I discover that someone happened to break my French press… This minute- my attitude about my husband’s schedule… This minute- my faithfulness in cooking eggs for breakfast… This minute- the text I feel compelled to send to a friend under stress… One thing at a time is not so hard. By grace I can live this minute and live it well. By grace I can repent and step a different direction when I feel the nudge of the Spirit saying, “That’s not the right way, dear.”

I took my mom to a funeral of a family friend/relative who died very suddenly. I did not know Dayle Ann well, but when I heard that she died, my first thought was, “She was always so glad to see me.” She was my mom’s maid when Mom had four babies under five, back in the Kentucky days.  Whenever we ran into each other, she seemed genuinely delighted at our meeting. How many women counted her as their best friend? And how did that come to be? I ask myself this, and I know she was beloved by all because she was so selfless.

Life can be a big and scary thing. I try to remember that I only need to live this minute well. I will end with one more photo of the most serene moments of this day. There weren’t so many of them, so this one stood out as a bonus at the end. 🙂

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Life on the Farmlet

It’s been balmy and sunshiny, so I went outside on Saturday to check on the children who had been out from underfoot   outside for hours. At five PM it was still 65 degrees. Here is what was going on, as seen by cell phone camera.

The boots were abandoned in the grass, the dog was tearing around, hoping against hope to get her mouth on the softball, and paper planes, fleets of them, were flying across the backyard.

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This is the girls’ playground in warm weather. The goat girls and pig girls and chicken girls too. It’s a mess. Lumber scraps, extra boards from the barn build, no pasture grass, a compost pile where the pigs play king of the mountain, and one scrawny pine tree where the goats reach up as high as they can to nibble needles. (There is a fence around the pond so that none of the critters can get into it, if you want to know.)

They don’t play with their stuffed animals and dolls much anymore. I am thinking we could majorly clear out toys and they wouldn’t even care. The babies are Valentine, Ted, Daisy, and Stubbs. My human girls get a lot of baths, if you want to know that too. I don’t especially care for goat smell. And Lord, have mercy, the laundry. But it’s all good. We have plenty of soap and water.

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And there, for your perusal, is a photo of Pennsylvania February With Tilted Barn. The barn is quite upright, I assure you. I took the picture from the orchard, inside the woven wire fence. I cannot tell you how upset I will be if these critters breech the fence and ruin our plantings, but for now all is harmonious. The pasture has been diligently plowed by the porkers. We can only hope that what they are so happily digging out and eating is the poison ivy roots that infested that area for years. We plan to seed proper seeds once we get growing weather. Meanwhile the chickens peck over the places that the pigs opened up.

Our farm is turning into the symbiosis that we hoped. (Except for the day the cutest kid died, and the day the pigs ate a chicken. Those were dark days.) We have less than five acres, but if you read enough Mother Earth News articles, you start to believe that a lot can be done with only a little. 🙂 A few years ago Gabe and I looked at each other and asked, “Do we really want to make that much work for ourselves?” Neither of us are animal lovers. I never voluntarily picked up a goat or a chicken in my life. But we looked at our sturdy tribe and we looked at the digital addictions that are ruining children for all practical purposes. We made a conscious decision. Let’s do this!

The gardens were the first and easiest step. Our land was crud: wet, heavy clay. Nothing grew well for the longest time. We have composted and dunged and amended the soil until at last we are getting decent yields. Then along came a dog and some rabbits. Draining the boggy meadow with ditches and tiles to dig a pond was the next huge project. Two garden sheds gave us post-and-beam building experience, but the barn…  That barn and the animals have been by far our favorite upgrade. Every child has a special prodigy that they love. Nobody loves the guineas,  but we hope they reduce the tick population and earn our respect at least. I feel sorry for anybody who would think they can sneak into the barn past their wretched watchdog racket.

So that was what was going on in our land on Saturday. When it came time to write the post, I was so miserable with a sinus/head cold thing that I simply collapsed into bed in fumes of Vicks and peppermint oil and throat drops, with plenty of tissues nearby.

On Sunday night after we had a party for my mom’s birthday, my husband said, “No way. You are not going to write tonight.” I listen to my husband, if you want to know.

So, here we are, all nicely caught up again. Happy Monday and the rest of the week!