wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

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.”

 

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Bits and Bobs of Summer

August 30: I dreamed a post, brilliantly funny and true. I thought I should probably get up and write it down, but I didn’t because it was 2 AM. The title was the best part, something like “August Hits Back”, only it must not have been that because that is pretty odd. I settled instead for a title with one of my favorite British expressions, second only to “I was just chuffed to bits!” I can’t remember a single thing from the dream post except that it had something about pumping gas. There you are- you can’t trust your impressions in dreams.

I have been having so much fun! (Just chuffed!) Yes, I just said that about the craziest time of the year. It is so gorgeous in south-central Pennsylvania this year! We have not had one week of crunchy grass, hardly any sticky-hot days, and the tomatoes are out of this world! Granted, there is an element of panic about summer’s ending, for me at least. When those fall insects start droning, I squeeze a little harder to get the joy out of the days. My friend Violet called it my annual tragedy. Meanwhile Gabe gets more and more excited with every chilly, foggy morning because winter is coming! We are quite elemental here, with very strong emotions dictated by the seasons. It makes life interesting, which I think is exactly what God intended when He created a temperate zone.

We started our school classes in the first full week of August. I mentioned before that I am reclaiming my classroom this year. It felt just a little scary, because DVD instruction did help me out of a tight place where I wasn’t reaching around with the drills and flashcards, and especially the checking.  However, it was so thorough that it nearly killed me. That may be just a smidge dramatic, but I am loving having the freedom to order the school morning to my life instead of having it order me around. This is the best thing about homeschool and I have it back!

Here’s how we do it currently, with the schedule subject to tweaking as things come up: Breakfast at 8-ish, although this morning the steel-cut oats are not cooked yet, so a little later. We do Bible memory work at the breakfast table, then take about 15-30 minutes to knock out some morning chores. It often looks like this: husband either packs his lunch for work or goes to study room to work on his latest writing assignment, one boy goes to the barn to feed and water the critters, one boy starts the laundry cycle going, two girls take care of dishes, smallest girl struggles to decide what to wear and cleans up the stuff in her bedroom, one mom referees and tries not to spill her coffee.

At 9 o’clock I start our read-aloud chapter and if you dawdled with your chores, you might just miss it. It has been a great motivator for the kiddos around here that could use starting fluid in the mornings. We just finished “The Winged Watchman“, a compelling story set in WW2 Netherlands. There is a conflict between the organized resistance and loving the enemies which prompts some great conversation with children. I would hope to be the one hiding a Jewish child as part of my family, but lying about the child’s identity is a harder question. I had never read it before, so it was as fun for me as for the youngsters. When they begged for another chapter, I wanted it just as much as they did. This is what the children do while I read aloud:

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Yes, some of them do perch on those stools, because they prefer them to padded folding chairs. They wiggle and lean back and forth on one leg of the stool when the concentration is hard. Sometimes they fall off when they can’t reach a dropped pencil-  the same sort of comic relief as any school kid. Addy gets to go play for a while after reading. Her school fits in the cracks of the day, which works great because she is a child who needs concentrated bursts of mother.

We do Spelling Power first thing. I spend five minutes with each child on that, and then they spend five minutes practicing the words they missed. I love this concept; it makes spelling much less deadly for the children who struggle. Thanks to my friend Naomi for the recommendation.

The forenoon continues with a meld of arithmetic, language arts and reading practice. The two middles have arithmetic instruction that we stream, so I am still not doing fact drills. I wouldn’t mind not giving another set of flashcards, ever, but of course I will do whatever I need to do.

At this point it is usually lunchtime and everybody is clocking out because you can’t possibly retain knowledge when something as insistent as a stomach is growling. (Told you we are a bit elemental here.)

If I have been foresightful and provident, there is something in the fridge we can warm up for lunch. If not, I cook omelettes faster than I ever knew was possible, or I make a very simple pot of chicken noodle with most likely some swiss chard floating in it because we cannot seem to eat the stuff faster than it grows. Plus it is sooo pretty. Sometimes lunch is hotdogs and smoothies. Not gourmet, unless you count dicing Bell peppers for the quesadillas or serving balsamic vinegar ketchup as a condiment.

I buy huge packs of paper plates so that most times lunch is served on disposables. I don’t know what is worse, wasting trees or soap and water and energy, so I take the liberty to choose the one that makes it easier for me, like a true consumer. The same goes with grocery shopping. Taking in account all the money I save by teaching our children, not buying entire wardrobes for school, not spending on gas to transport them, I do not feel embarrassed to buy convenience foods. The thrifty side of me still protests at times, “You know, you could make bread much cheaper and better. Hey, remember that the Pioneer Woman has a great tortilla recipe? Why buy shredded cheese if you can save 20 cents a pound on the chunk? Cereal? That’s a horrible choice with all those eggs you have. Blah-blah.” I have learned to smile and wave cheerfully to that little money-saving voice and then I put the chicken nuggets in my cart.

What is most lethal? GMO’s, mechanically separated meat, a bit of food coloring, or a mom harried out of her mind with sprouting wheat and butchering organic chickens and no time to enjoy her babies? I wish I could do it all right and perfectly, find some magic bullet to seamlessly incorporate it all into the best life ever. I admire women who do this, and I hope to learn and get better at it, but I still buy microwave popcorn packs at the discount store sometimes. Just so you know.

Another thing I might mention: I really really like our principal. It’s so nice to be able to take time to discuss issues that come up, get a wider perspective when I have tunnel vision, show him the latest achievements of a child, and even flirt shamelessly sometimes.

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After lunch the middle schoolers finish up science and history assignments. They often do this during quiet time so that they can roar outside to play as soon as the noise ban is lifted.

Well. It’s September 3 now. Gabe had lunch with us before going to work, then I took a long (think 3 hour) nap this afternoon. First I read a book to Addy about where our food comes from (her choice, not mine). After the page about growing rice and before the page about dairy products, I yawned and told her I couldn’t stay awake. Now, post-coffee at suppertime, I am wide awake. We had our Sunday evening popcorn and what is also becoming tradition: homemade ice cream. (I have the easiest no-cook recipe ever. Maybe I can tell you about it someday.) Then we had bike rides and that wonderful decompressed feeling after a long day of relaxation. I am grateful for the stillness and quiet, for the renewal of rest.

I will conclude my post with cell phone photos from August, with apologies to real bloggers out there who do pretty pictures. I read this somewhere: the best camera is the one you have with you. I am afraid I wouldn’t document very much if it weren’t for the handy camera feature on my phone. I hope you can overlook the quality and enjoy the story in the captions.

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My little brother Kenny and his 3 oldest children went with us to Ag Progress Days in State College. Along one of the streets we spotted a sign that my Dad made with his fancy router machine for this landscaping company. Mom painted the letters, so we had to pose to show them how nice it looks.

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We spent eclipse day at the park with cousin-friends. This was taken when the sun was shiny again, after the weird twilight was past. We had a welding helmet and some of those NASA cereal box pinhole viewers too, so we got to see the partial eclipse.

Here we have the amount of corn the boys found when they went through the patch to pick stragglers, and then the amount I found when I went through the patch to look for stragglers they missed. They were a little miffed, but the evidence was undeniable. The last pic is Addy’s offering to me. “Here, Mama, you can share my trail mix,” she said generously. Um, yeah. I see what you did there, little girl.

 

This is an epic tea party with all the little critters and the latest doll that Olivia made. Grandma gave them each a tea set. It makes me so happy when my girls play like this. On a side note, they have a stuffed animal love that defies explanation. In recent years I have allowed them to add only miniatures to their collection, which is why you see all the tiny animals.

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This is the best book of the summer: my latest very long novel by Michael D. O’Brien. It took me months to get through it, but this book deserves its own post, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, you may notice our deck space, with chairs to lounge in while I read with my peasant feet up on a side table. We have extra chairs for friends, just so you know, and we will put drinks on the table instead of feet, should you happen to stop by.

A pleasant fall to all of you!

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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!

 

 

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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?

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Writing Assignments

You know those writing assignments in the school language textbooks? The ones where you are supposed to choose one of the topics on the list, develop it into a paragraph or essay or report? I don’t know how else textbooks would teach writing, but there is something about an assignment to write that causes the brain to glaze over.

I remember this distinctly from my own school days. I wrote pages and pages of descriptions to my best friend every week, then came the chapter on composition in the grammar book, “Using only three expressive sentences, describe a place and see if your classmates can guess what you are talking about.” And we would sit there and stare into space for fifteen minutes, just trying to come up with a place that could be described suitably.

Flash forward. I make my children do writing assignments. Books reports? You betcha. Paragraphs? Poems? Yup and yup. I don’t really worry about how long they stare into space in despair. Maybe this is totally the wrong approach, what with delight driven learning and all. I just have a hunch that doing stuff that feels hard is actually kind of good for us.

Last week my third grader was supposed to write about camels at an oasis, just a simple imaginary story. She did not feel like it. I mean, camels are so boring.  She stewed and fretted and looked at her sister’s story about a ladybug with three spots.

“Please, may I write about ladybugs instead of camels? That would be a lot more fun.” Here I perceived a bit of irrationality.

“No, honey, I think you should push through and do the assignment. You can write two stories if you want.” (Note to mean-mom haters: I do not apologize. It’s just the sort of person I am. You can be your sort of parent.) I calmly continued my work at my desk and when I stole a side long glance at my little girl, she was resigned, writing diligently at her desk. It went from the required paragraph to another and another. I was duly impressed.

Here is what she wrote.

Ladybug Adventures

What can I say? My daughter is a diplomat. But so am I. I followed my own delight-driven path, fixed 37 misspellings for her, and typed it up nicely. We both won.

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Thursday in the Life…

…of a gardener/wife/teacher/mom. At our tax appointment the accountant asked for my occupation. I really would have enjoyed blowing him away with all my hats, but didn’t think that would be modest. Haaha.

I didn’t set an alarm because we were up late last night and it was my husband’s day off. At seven I heard a knock on the door and knew instantly that it was one of the teachers from the local school, come to pick up the book order that I had just sorted through yesterday. Thankfully she knows me well and didn’t object to me being quite sleepy and a bit underdressed.

Breakfast was corn meal mush, served as porridge, with sausage patties. Half of the crew went “Ewww,” and half went “Yumm,” so I knew I hit it just about right.

It was so warm that I opened kitchen windows to let the frying smells out. All day while we were doing school and laundry, we kept looking out and determining to get into the fresh air as soon as possible. The clouds were sailing along and all would be blue sky for a while, then it would get darker again as they clumped together, obscuring the sun. But it was so soothingly warm that the cloudiness didn’t dampen our spirits at all.

My mom brought cookies over just before lunch and we had a chat about some sewing she is doing. I washed the eggs while we talked and sent her home with 2 dozen which was good, because my fridge can’t hold them all.  All the children had cookies, so there was no complaining about hunger. I helped Rita finish her math sheets, then realized that it was 1 PM and I didn’t have any plan to feed people.

A scrounge around the fridge yielded hotdogs and grapes. I cooked a kettle full of mac and cheese the favorite way around here (milk, Velveeta, salt, pepper) and called it lunch. They all said “Yumm,” so I knew I hit it right.

Gabe was drooping from a very late night, so he went for a nap before resuming his current graduate studies assignment. I thought about a nap, then I thought about the laundry I wanted to hang out, just because it was so gorgeous outside, and I did that (yeah, I know that’s a little late in the day). I made big plans for the boys when they got done with their assignments.

Addy came to me with a very pronounced wilt in her usually chipper parade. “I hurt all over and I need to go to bed,” she said. Uh-oh. I dosed her with Tylenol for her fever and elderberry syrup for an immune booster. She fell asleep in minutes.

As soon as Alex finished his algebra, we went to pick up some old produce for the pigs, generously provided by our favorite local store. We have discovered that they do not like potatoes raw, but they hogged down grapes with astounding swiftness. The goats first ate all the cabbage leaves, then delicately took bites out of the potatoes, and the chickens pecked at it all. It’s so entertaining, this animal business.

We coordinated our outdoor jobs so that they could do their chores while I watched out of the corner of my eye, even though I was raking leaves out of the flower beds. Long ago I figured out that boys will be much more willing if their work can somehow involve a power tool or a blazing fire. That is why they cut off the dead ornamental grasses with a small chain saw today. 🙂 Instead of wheelbarrows, they used a lawn tractor and trailer to haul composted manure and mulch to the asparagus bed. The grasses made an impressive blaze that was much better than putting them on a compost pile.

Under the dead leaves I uncovered some ambitious daffodils shoots with fat buds. Whenever I clear dead stuff out of flowerbeds, I think of sour little Mary Lennox in her Secret Garden, and the therapeutic thrill she got when she found fresh sprouts coming up. This is very early for our region, but I suppose we might as well embrace the warming trend, with its attendant mud and bugs. I shall hover a little over the plants that are likely to get the shock of the year in March, but who knows? Maybe this will last.

I took some time to throw potatoes into the oven to bake, then went back out and wandered around the pond with Gabe. There was a pair of mallards on the water, and you can feel the gurgles of new life pushing up all around. There were even bursts of real birdsong, not just the chirping of the winter but the warbles of spring.

The children were playing at roping heifers (each other) in the back yard. Addy felt well enough to romp around for a while until her drugs wore off. I never have to guess with her. Either she has her bounce or she doesn’t.

Once more it was time to eat, and I cannot even imagine how life would be if we wouldn’t be required to do that. It is the aspect of nurturing that I feel most guilty about not really loving. What I am shooting for is faithfulness here, and maybe one day it will come and hit me between the eyes that I actually love to cook. 🙂  I heated up canned beef and made gravy for the potatoes. There were green beans and applesauce, and everybody seemed happy with it, so I knew it was not stellar, but OK.

We girls cleaned up the dishes, Gregory folded laundry, and Alex did the barn chores. The movie for tonight was on PBS, titled Spy in the Wild: Animal Intelligence. Addy chortled with glee when the monkeys kept trying to crack their nuts with rocks, so I know she was feeling better. Nevertheless, it is the couch for her tonight. It’s a secondary gain that makes feeling peaky almost worth it.

And that’s that. The end of another Thursday.

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10 Activities That Won’t Rot Your Brain

  1. Read a book just for fun, like Ribsy or Farmer Boy. Laugh out loud at the funny bits so that your family is curious and you can tell them about how Lucy got the taffy stuck in her mouth.
  2. Take a walk in the park and learn to identify wildlife tracks. Make plaster of paris molds, even if it is just lame stuff like birds or deer for starters. Someday you might get lucky with a bear or a mountain lion.
  3. Ride a bike for miles on old railroad beds. Just be sure to carry a water bottle so you don’t perish before you get home again. Some granola bars in your pockets would not be a bad idea either.
  4. Figure out how to fit a survival kit into a backpack or bugout bag. Do the research and collect items as you save enough money for them. Pack and repack obsessively and keep it ready to grab at a moment’s notice. Or even just when your family goes to the lake.
  5. Take music lessons and keep practicing until you master that instrument. Or you could watch John Ross painting videos and try your hand at landscapes. If you like poetry, try writing some.
  6. Collect things. Rocks or bottle caps or stickers or fabric scraps or bird feathers. Be savvy about storage or your parents will likely make you pare your collections down to tragical proportions. Just for your information, nut collections in your underwear drawer will probably hatch out disgusting worms, so that’s not the best idea.
  7. Learn to crochet or embroider or knit or knot paracord bracelets. This latter could turn into a small industry for you, so make sure your parents buy about 1000 feet of cord at a time. Mess with your projects while you listen to audiobooks.
  8. Ask your mom to teach you how to prepare your favorite meal. She will never turn down an offer to cook dinner and you can have spaghetti and meatballs really often.
  9. Think of something you are interested in and wipe out that subject on the library shelves. Research it and talk to everybody about it until they are tired of you. Then pick another subject and do it all over.
  10. Play Settlers of Catan or Qwirkle. Learn to watch for subtle cues on other people’s faces so you know what move to make for the win. Figure out your strategy and have fun with it.
  11. Go fishing, then clean your fish and fry them over a campfire. Or alternately you could gig bullfrogs since they are easier to skin and roast. Just don’t forget the salt.
  12. Just do something. Don’t be boring and bowed low over a screen. Swim, paddle your own canoe, build a clubhouse, sleep in the backyard, clean out the fridge for your mom, sew slippers out of upholstery fabric, rollerskate, ski, write to a friend, teach your dog new tricks, solve the mystery of the missing socks, bake cookies with a secret recipe, be happy.

Oops, sorry, that turned out to be more than ten, but it’s my blog and I am allowed to do that.

What did I miss? When my children say they are bored, I give them jobs to do. It helps a lot, but it still happens at times and we would all be glad for fresh ideas.

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Sprite

a poem about going to bed and the vice of drinking too much carbonated beverage, by Gregory

“Why? Why? Why?”

said little Billy Fie.

“Why must I be in bed by 8:00 at night…

when I could be up

drinking lots and lots of Sprite?”

“Because, dear,” said the maid Mrs. Piper,

“Sprite would make you hyper.”

But late one night Billy

drank 3 gallons of Sprite

and as he was straining to get the last drop,

Poor Billy went POP!

But it’s Friday night, so we are going to party and stay up late! What about you?

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Thursday in the Life of an Uzzie

You have been waiting for this one, right? 😉

I awoke at three, mind in high gear for some reason. There were about five things I knew I simply could not forget if I wanted to have a successful morning. I could either lie there and run them in a loop in my head, or get up and make lists. All right. Fifteen things. Maybe twenty, if I counted the children’s lessons and chore lists.

I went back to bed once I had it all squared away on paper and I slept a few more hours. Gabe had an early school board meeting, so I fed the children cereal. I knew I had about a 75 minute drive to a book party and decided to leave early since it was snowing fuzzily. Addy was going along. The rest got careful instructions as to lessons and jobs that I expected them to be responsible for. Suddenly it was time to leave, and Addy couldn’t find her furry boots. I asked Alex, who is my right hand in so many ways, to help her find them. He had loaded my boxes and supplies earlier, but in the mornings he is just not speedy.

He couldn’t find the boots either and sat down resignedly on the recliner. “Just get other shoes. And socks.” Addy was fussing because she didn’t like his selection and I saw that he had one purple sock and one blue. “Not those socks! And you have got to notch it up a bit!” I did not say it kindly. We got out the door, put our destination into google maps, and it said 1 hour, 40 minutes. Whoa. What? I was going to be late for that 10:30 party. And the snow… But we were excited to be going together, Addy and I. I get into my happy place when I get to show books.

We weren’t driving long until I felt the sting of regret for my hastiness to my son who had, after all, been helping me. Sigh. I will have to apologize when I get back. I practiced my book speech on the way, and Addy said, “Mama, I don’t think anyone is listening.”

A few minutes before 10, my hostess called and wondered if I had trouble finding her house. Suddenly it washed over me. The party was supposed to start at 10! I made all those lists and still got the crucial information wrong in my head. Thankfully we discovered that the GPS was taking me to the wrong spot, and I was only 2 miles out. Some of her guests were already there when I spread my purple tablecloth and arranged the two boxes of books that I had along. They all knew each other and were happy to chat while they waited on me.

The thing I like the most about doing book parties is getting to meet new friends, hearing about their children, helping them find just the books they need for their families. I get a high from it. For real. 😀

We concluded the party with a snack. I packed up my stuff and set it outside on the patio, then collected Addy who had been having a grand time with the other little preschool girls who were there. Just as I was driving away the hostess came and motioned to me that I had left my boxes of books on her patio. Whatever other impressions she may have gotten of the Usborne Lady, “methodical and coordinated” did not likely enter her thoughts.

We drove close by my sister-in-law’s house, so we detoured a few miles and dropped off a late birthday package for her. I hugged the sweet little nieces, ruffled the nephew’s hair, had a cup of tea called Joy, looked at my talented sister-in-law’s latest projects, pulled Addy away from her Indian play (she was Squanto), and headed home.

It was early afternoon. The Bigs (what I call the older 3) had done all their lessons and were sitting around reading. My husband was working on a writing assignment. The living room was in good shape, except for K’nex scattered to the four corners, and they had cleaned up the kitchen as well as they could with dirty grey water backing up alarmingly from the drain. I had a session with Drano, but it is still not quite fixed. Someone whose identity I shall withhold poured grease down the drain yesterday. “I didn’t know!” was the wailing confession.

Addy and I had a lie-down and a story by Patricia Maclachlan. She was soon snoring, because she was definitely not tired. I got up and fried 6 pounds of hamburger to make chili soup for the school’s open house tomorrow. It was what was for supper as well. Times like this I am so happy for my quart jars of tomato juice and black beans.

I remembered my apology to Alex for my hurry this morning, and all was forgiven. The boys finished up cleaning the basement after supper and the little girls again did the dishes as well as they could. It requires a bit more finesse when the sink isn’t functional.

I entered the books into the online order form and contacted my hostess with the amount for her rewards. That is also a lot of fun! I like when companies funnel their advertising dollars into programs that encourage word of mouth recommendations. 🙂 You don’t need commercials and billboards if you have enough very happy customers. And these books make people, especially children, very happy. So that’s why I do it. That’s what I like about being an Usborne lady (she said for the tenth time). It is also good to get out every once in a while.

This being Thursday, it was movie night for the children. We watched Paper Planes and enjoyed the neat Aussie accents. It is rare that we hit a happy medium with something that interests both the Bigs and the Littles, but this one worked for ours.

Well, my husband just submitted his writing assignment. Time to call it a day. A day in the life of a part-time Uzzie.

And here, for your edification, is one more parting shot.

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A Chilly Story

Bob the Penguin

 

Bob the penguin lived on the ice. He was happy except for one thing. He only ate icicles, chopped icicles for breakfast, raw icicles for lunch, and minced icicles for supper.

Bob was tired of icicles. So he went to the sea. He looked into the water. Sudenly  he saw something flash past then he saw it agian. After a while he jumped in and swam after it untill he caught it he then eat it. Because all the swiming made him huggry. And to his surprise it tasted good.

So for the rest of his life he eat fish.

-written by Olivia on a cold and blustery day

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(pexel free photo)

 

(Can you tell where she got tired of checking her spelling? 😉 )

(Also, Olivia hates fish. I find that doubly amusing.)

 

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