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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A Quick Note

For those of you who subscribe through email and read the posts without clicking through to the browser, this is just an alert that I accidentally posted my Six Ways blog before I had finished and before I realized that I only had Five Organic Ways. You can’t call a weed eater and a mower organic, can you?

Anyway, do click through and read the finished bit if you feel like it doesn’t make sense. Good night!

Glorious May

What could be better than sitting in a clean house while a rain-shower patters down outside? Try adding a piece of chocolate with salted caramel bits, a bird singing outside the window, a son planning supper around his freshly caught fish which he filleted himself, and an hour to write. Bliss.

You may wonder why my house is all clean on a random Thursday. Let me tell you, I nearly killed myself with mopping and clearing away of chaos this forenoon. This, because the insurance adjusters were scheduled to come take a look around. The last time we had a property assessment, I was unprepared and embarrassed to the core as they walked through every room, taking pictures and ignoring the mess with cheerful grace. Every time they opened a door, there was a child doing school in an odd place, or playing something incredibly messy on an unmade bed. Gabe told me that from his years of experience with replacing windows, this is nothing. Well, it feels dreadful to me, so I was going to be prepared today. We got lunch cleared away and the children’s faces washed before they showed up.

Turns out we don’t have wood heat, so they didn’t even have to step inside. I felt a little cheated. Why can’t someone take pictures of my house when it is like this?

This next scene is right outside the window. My long-cherished dream of throwing pots of clay in that little barn is about to come to pass. We had a grand clearing out and reassigned the stuff in there to other storage places. Plans are for a corner for carving for the man and the place where the lower windows are will be the pottery section. Can’t you see us in there, companionably creative? Only problem is, I still can’t concentrate with people around and I certainly can’t hold a conversation while trying for just the right wall thinness on a clay bowl. About the time I start to talk, my precious piece suddenly feels gravity in a new way and settles gently downward. I have never had so much fun being terrible at something.

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Check out the green fuzz on the ridge, which we have been waiting for for a long time. Suddenly it is popping, almost too fast. It takes the breath away. This morning the lawn looked like this, but in about 2 days we will have abundant dandelion chain supplies again.

 

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I used to spend hours with the older children outside, looking for signs of spring, weaving flower chains and playing in the fresh grass. One day when Addy was grizzling and bored, I realized that I don’t do that very much with her. So I took her little paw in mine and we meandered around the pond, discussing things that interest her life. I braided her a coronet of gold and she had a heart change.

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The children are all but done with school books for this term. There are a few random tests yet, but other than that, we’re done. One of the cousins told them about DIY tutorials on Youtube for making tiny doll furnishings or clothing. From there they have moved to all sorts of  projects, resulting in sketchy looking lip balms made with raspberry juice and coconut oil or odd hot air balloons where the tissue paper tends to flame up suddenly on liftoff. My personal favorite was when Rita said, “Did you know that you can fix nail holes in the wall by putting toothpaste into them?” I told them to take a break from creativity, so we are back on the more familiar ground of a pet snake in the terrarium and some pillbugs in a plastic container. “May we google, ‘What do pillbugs eat?’.”

This next photo represents a triumphant moment for us all, but especially for Gabriel. He had been hankering for a motorcycle ride all spring, saying if he didn’t have this assignment to finish, he would just break out and go riding. The thing about unrelenting assignments to study is that Jack feels like a dull boy, ready to bust out and do something different! One day I was gone for a while, and when I got home he was at the neighbor’s house, borrowing his bike.

“Did you finish your course while I was gone?” I asked at first opportunity, not believing it could be possible. He just grinned and nodded. He had the last two assignments to work on when I left that morning, but in a spurt of determined perseverance, he had actually submitted them both in one day! I didn’t begrudge him a long ride through the countryside in the least! (For the concerned folks out there, the child did not ride with him. Prop only for a spin in the lawn. 🙂 )

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It occurred to me that some of you may be interested in my container gardening tips. I can’t grow houseplants worth squat, but I do seem to have success with my containers on the deck. I will use last year’s pictures for this DIY session. 🙂

  1. Find a friendly greenhouse proprietor who knows their stuff. You need to consider the light where your container will be. Is it full sun or partial shade? Ask your new friend what grows well in your conditions. You do not want to mix a shade plant with a full sun needer, or you will be conflicted all summer as to who gets what they need. (If at all possible, do not buy your plants at the big name stores. They ship them from who-knows-where, so the plants are stressed and sad from the start. You local greenhouse people deserve your business. Have you ever thought about how hard they work?)
  2. Look for a grass or spike plant to give you a visual high point. These plants usually are very tolerant of almost any condition. Last year I found these neat “Prince Tut” grasses, which look like a scepter with a sunburst at the end. I haven’t seen them anywhere yet this year, but I did find curly pink grasses. That’s the fun… mixing it up.
  3. Your next requirement is for a showy leaf. Some good ones are sweet potato vines which come in endless varieties ranging from bright lime green to purple. Those trail beautifully. More upright plants with dramatic foliage are dusty miller or coleus.
  4. The third category in a mixed planter is the blooming plant. We enjoy things that attract hummingbirds, so anything with a trumpet-like flower makes us happy. Million bells, those tiny petunias that never have to be deadheaded, are great for show and easy to please. I don’t hold back much on color combinations, but I do try not to put orange and pink together, etc. Really, there are no rules. If you love your flowers, they will love you back.
  5. My fourth category is something with big blooms. You see Gerbera daisies in these photos, but I am officially done with mixing them in planters with other flowers. They don’t like sharing my space, for some reason. Also, my greenhouse friend told me they hate fertilizer, and literally everything else loves it. So they are out this year. Geraniums work, especially the vining ones that aren’t stuck on one upright shape. I have fallen in love with large begonias as well. They are a little picky about water. Not too much, or they rot.
  6. The next step is funny. Line your planters with adult diapers. This trick comes to you courtesy of my friend who is caring for her elderly mother. She was given some Depends that would have wrapped twice around her mother, so she changed up their use, figuring they would hold moisture in her planters during the hot July days. It works like a charm. Also, your big planters can be filled with empty milk jugs or soda bottles at the bottom. You really only need dirt in the top 12 inches and it makes them much easier to move.
  7. Use good potting soil. Trust me, it is worth 5 or 10 dollars extra to buy a good brand versus cheap, generic stuff. I like Miracle Gro potting soil with fertilizer in the mix.
  8. Arrange your plants until you like the configuration in the pot. I like mine full and energetic, but they do tend to take up whatever space they have. Just don’t be stingy. You can always repot something if it takes too much space.
  9. Plant them. Pull the roots apart gently at the bottoms. They are almost always root bound in the greenhouse pots. Set your planters in a sheltered area for a few days so they can get used to the big outdoors.
  10. Remember that the plants are used to a lot of fertilizer. It’s what greenhouses do to get that luxurious growth that makes you want to buy the whole place. If you never feed your plants, you will see them taper off and look sickly for a while. I have one word for you. Miracle Gro. Seriously. At least once a week. If you feed them oftener, make the solution weaker. Pinch back the aggressive plants, and have fun!

These (below) are my planters last year, at the end of July. See how sickly/nonexistent those Gerberas are in there? I stuck some houseplants in last year, as well. Sometimes I include perennials from my flower beds. Hosta is a good one, as are coral bells. I also do herb planters. They do not have the eye catching appeal of florals, but it is really fun to step outside the door and pinch off some basil. Bonus points for anyone who spots the flourishing plantain weed in one of these arrangements.

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Is it worth the money? I heard that. For us it is. For about a hundred dollars, it turns our outside space into a haven. We may live right beside the road with traffic noise, but we have months of enjoyment out of this investment. I know a man who says he will wait for heaven to have flowers, but I don’t want to wait that long. God gave them to us here. If you source carefully, or wait until the greenhouses are getting rid of inventory, or propagate your own plants, you can grow astounding variety right at your house.

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Well, that concludes my writing hour. I ate a piece of excellently prepared catfish while I sat here, and now I must leave you to go find a greenhouse.

So here we are. May is glorious any way you look at it. And it is triumphant this spring, flush with accomplishment, ready for the next good thing. We feel mellow, delighted with the endless possibilities, despite the normal adult things that weigh down on us. The weariness is passing, the catch-up time is here.

Tuesday in the Life…

All was very quiet and a bit dark yet when I got up. The boys were out cold from a late night of skiing and the girls must have been worn out from their embroidery marathon last night, because it stayed quiet for an hour.

I picked up my phone, read a blog post in my email feed, then mentally slapped my hand and put it down. It is hard to break bad habits, you know? I am training myself for better phone usage and I need so many reminders. Check the weather, see a notification, fall headlong into an interesting wormhole on the internet, and there went the precious first part of the day.

This month I am reading through the book of Jeremiah. It is doleful reading, all those dire predictions and the rudeness of people who decided to dig a pit and drop the messenger into it rather than listen to his message. These are the same people who traded their treasures and heritage for high places of sin and a life of slavery. And yet, through it all is the relentless pursuing of a God who is jealous of their loyalty and wants nothing more than to restore them to righteousness and justice in the land.

I had just finished chapter 23, where Jeremiah prophesied about a Righteous Branch who would be coming in the future when Gregory showed up with his mug of tea. Time for breakfast. He and Olivia are on kitchen duty this week. Normally they are the early risers who make pancakes or creamed eggs or something ambitious, but this morning they pulled out cold cereal because the family was late to bed and late to rise. I fixed a protein shake for myself because I didn’t want the cereal shakes at ten o’clock.

The girls wore their new matchies today, thanks to $1 clearance at Walmart. I suggested that any grumpiness would be terribly inappropriate in these shirts.

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While the children cleared the table and gathered up the laundry baskets, I lovingly crafted the coffee for us. I do mean lovingly, because those fresh beans from Honduras are worth the full attention of the coffee brewer.

Olivia and I spent some time compiling a photo collage of places she has visited in our state, and a page of places she would like to visit. Then we stumbled across this picture and drooled about stepping out on the deck, but there was a little too much snow for our fantasy.

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After she had her Spelling Power words done, I got her started with her Arithmetic lesson on the computer, knotted Addy’s embroidery thread for her, and went to the basement to check on the boys.

Oh, yes, that’s when I started the laundry humming along. Normally we do all our laundry on Monday with Tuesday as our day off, but we had an optometrist run yesterday, so we saved the washing for today. I like to do the weekend sorting because I don’t like when dress clothes get mixed in with a load of blue jeans, accidentally like. The children can take it from there with some oversight, although today I did the loading and unloading and loading and unloading… Let’s see, something like 9 times. All permanent press clothes got hung on hangers while still damp, and the folding of the rest is looming over the young fry by the basket full. I love folding laundry, but I crucify my desires because I want my children to learn responsibility. That is a true story, believe it or not.

Gregory is now learning about differentiating adverb and adjective phrases and is irritated at my enthusiasm for these lessons. “The fields and gardens beyond this mountain must be irrigated.” He thought that phrase tells “where”, therefore it is an adverb phrase and I insisted it modifies the subject, thus it is an adjective phrase. So that brings up the burning question of 13 year-old boys everywhere, “What does it matter?” I am not sure what to say to that, but I do think it matters, so just do it for me, son, okay?

At eleven o’clock I suddenly considered that the rest of the family would be getting the cereal shakes quite soon, not being fortified as I was, so I got out some frozen hamburger with plans for taco stacks at lunchtime. At last I settled in to write out lesson plans for Gregory’s February, with him on my left and Rita at her desk on the right, doing her spelling words and language lesson. Addy decided to come downstairs to practice cursive writing just because it is better to breathe the air where everybody else is if you are Addy. Alex was working independently on his lessons after having done the critter chores in the barn.

“What’s for lunch?” he asked, out of the blue. “Hmm, I will make tacos when it’s time,” I replied. “But it is lunchtime,” he pointed out. And it was. It was 12:02. The thing about having a hungry teen around is that they will be glad to shred cheese, open chip bags, and set the table while you fry ground beef and make your main course.

Gabe was home today, working on the bills and the taxes. I admired his work and slunk away quickly, grateful that he just submitted an assignment last night and the next course isn’t available yet.

After lunch the middles did dishes while I read a story to Addy and nearly fell asleep. Most days she does fall asleep, but not today. When we got up, we found that Olivia and Rita had set up handmade dollhouses on the kitchen table, with clothespin dolls inhabiting them. Nevermind that they went to the attic for boxes, walking past 3 other dollhouses, one wooden, one cardboard, and one punched out of heavy cardstock.

I spent an hour practicing songs for choir, then another hour advising Gregory on places to look for his history textbook. He loses books, on average, about 4 times a week, but in the case of a textbook, the rule is No Free Time Until Found. Eventually we all felt sorry for him, wandering around flashing a light into corners where no history book would go, so we started helping him look. “Oh,” Addy suddenly leaped to life, “is it this one? I put it in here last night when we cleaned up.” And there it was in the yarn bag. Gregory, for once, had not lost his book. But neither had he put it away. He was very grateful, at any rate, to have permission to watch his TED talk on ignoble prizes, now that business was taken care of.

In other news, today I noticed a sales flyer from the local grocery store advertising these special filled doughnuts for Fat Tuesday. What? So I looked it up and found that the day before Ash Wednesday is Fat Tuesday. Apparently one stuffs in order to survive all the fasting and sacrifice during Lent. In all my life I have not heard of this day before. I haven’t observed the season of Lent, either. Hmm. I wonder whether I should give up something as a discipline until Easter… Have you ever done this?

I will wrap up the day, even though it is not over, because tonight will be choir practice for Alex and me and right now it is time to make supper. Rita wrote a true story about me yesterday. “I love Mama becase she is vary, vary, vary nice. She makes all our melles! I love Mama.”

It is good to be loved.

Catching Up

It's Feb! wreath

 

If you were to sit at my house, in one of those dusty folds in the curtains the stink bugs like so much, you would see us pegging away at school day after day. Sometimes we are inspired and sometimes we just do it because it is the thing that must be done.

Gregory wallowed in adjective clauses for a while, but then he started to recognize the relatives in sentences, and he pulled ahead strong and steady again. I love language so much that it is just fun to refresh my own memory from grammar lessons of long ago. Olivia was very distressed to discover that she has to do a course in Pennsylvania history this winter, but now she has learned to search Google and how to print photos and even how to draw little illustrative maps of the state’s industries. It has turned out to be fun, the thing she does first in the day. I say this as a homily for myself: just getting started is kind of important. I also decided the time was right for my Addy to start 1st grade curriculum, and she has powered through 3 units in 2 weeks, sharpening her colored pencils obsessively so that she can use them for her lessons. None of the others had this need to achieve. It’s her drive to catch up, which isn’t going to happen for a while, but I don’t discourage her.

Gabe asked me why I didn’t post at all in January, now suddenly I am doing every day for a month, and I laughed, a little embarrassed to admit that it’s just how I work. I have actually written lots, and dredged up past writing too, in anticipation of this month. For the first time in my history, I have planned out my posts, so you may see a sort of outline as we go along.

  • Sunday and Thursday: preaching to myself posts/ inspirations
  • Monday: something bigger than my world
  • Tuesday and Friday: life around the house
  • Wednesday: miscellany/ reposts
  • Saturday: book reviews

I think you will see a theme, too, which seems to squeeze out in most of the stuff I write currently, even in the books I recommend.. I dislike hobby horses, as a general rule, but I have one. I will see who guesses it first.

I have not regretted taking a Facebook break this month. Occasionally I dip in for a minute or two to check on something, and I find myself fighting to pull back out. It’s not like my life is impoverished without all the extra knowledge of what the rest of the people are up to, but it is just so interesting and there went a half hour, zing! I have spent the extra time reading, crocheting hats, checking math lessons, making slightly lop sided pottery, etc. Nothing profound has happened, but I do feel lighter when I am not loaded down with all the noise. I haven’t been keeping  up with the news either, except just the weather forecast, which is extremely head-in-the-sand. There is no lack of drama in my life, even so. I am learning to enjoy this centering process, back to b-a-s-i-c-s.

My husband has now studied hard, HARD, for a year. He has three months to go before his fast track BSN is completed. Both of us are feely antsy and just want the pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel to open up wide into fresh air and some leisure time. It’s only been a year, I know. Fast-tracking a degree means the pain is shorter, but more acute. That’s all I have to say about that.

I am on the fence about keeping my Wocketinmypocket page on Facebook. I know it is nice for those who depend on that platform to get notifications of posts.  I vastly prefer the dialog to happen in comments on the blog instead of Facebook, where a quick “like”, although a friendly wave in passing, is an unsatisfactory form of feedback for me as a writer. I will not be posting this month’s stuff on Facebook, but there is a handy share button at the bottom of the webpage, where you can feel free to share all you want. You can also subscribe by email if you wish for updates in your inbox.

Here’s to February, friends!

 

A Wedged Bear

“Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”

So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh, and Rabbit hung his washing on the South end…”   A.A.Milne

When I read that recently, I thought, “That’s it! That’s the recap of life this year.” It’s not like it has been too much, but just more like it has been plenty and the wedging into tight places is a fairly regular challenge. Something usually gives eventually and, “POP! just as if a cork were coming out of a bottle…” Meanwhile there is always the washing to hang, and that is about as far as my little parallel will take us. It really has nothing to do with too much honey, or any of the other hilarities of the story. Unlike the Bible, we are free to take Pooh out of context.

With my husband busy studying, I have been trying to pare life down to what must happen, what must be bought, where we must go, how we can thrive in the tightness, and not a lot else. I didn’t mail out Christmas letters and photos this year, and that is why. I dislike narrow spaces and claustrophobia and panicky stuff, but one day at a time, one task at a time, we get to December and the hope that springs up in the darkness at the end of the year. It’s really amazing, how the celebration of Christ’s birth coincides with long stretches of twilight, cold, and tiredness.

In my very amateur efforts at making pottery, I have learned the great importance of the first step, called centering. It’s the process of the hunk of clay being aligned, perfectly balanced on the center of the wheel, and unless it is right, the finished product will be wobbly or might even fly off the wheel altogether. At this point I cannot center clay when someone is trying to hold a conversation with me. I have to be totally focused.

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This has become a loud sermon to me. There are wobbly places in my life that only dedicated focus will bring into alignment. I have decided to give the blog a rest for a few months until Gabe finishes his Bachelor’s in Nursing. I do plan to do a daily re-post in February, but I will not be putting them on my Facebook page, since that is one of the distractions that I will be giving a rest. I am going to miss the interaction, I know, but if you could pray for me? I could use some extra courage for the next year. I don’t mind being forty at all; in fact, I recommend it. It’s the season that comes with it, with so much responsibility and so little life-experience that’s wearing me down. It’s coming from all sides, and the only reasonable place to look is up.

The girls and I were listening to “Mary, Did You Know?” recently and were intrigued by the idea of “…when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.” My personal opinion is that Mary had the angel’s promise and the rest she took on faith. It may even have been a fairly ordinary-seeming life she nurtured in her home, since the townspeople were so ignorant of Jesus’ significance as a person. By the standards of the day, he was middle-aged before  his ministry began. It was 30 years for her to keep all these things and ponder them in her heart. That’s a rather long time!

I am so challenged because of my own impatience in waiting for miracles, answers to prayers, promises not yet fulfilled. But Hope rises in the darkness and we cling to that!

Have a blessed, awe-filled Christmas as you let it sink in that He is with us!

 

 

Soul Care

Some of us have a trump card that we try not to play very often, but we would like to mention that Grandma didn’t homeschool. (Thank-you for the prompt, you commenters from the last post. ) We keep this close because when somebody whines about something that is an obvious choice they made, people think, “Duh, you didn’t have to sign up for that.” However if you homeschool, you have chosen a challenging path and set yourself up for a lot of work! All the noble reasons for doing what you are doing will not make it easy.  The best thing about homeschooling is that our children are here all the time. The worst thing about it is that our children are here all. the. time. There is no substitute and very little wiggle-room, and it definitely has a way of turning your heart to your children! Unfortunately, it also tends to overload us with anxiety about our failures and their struggles. (You cannot outsource your relationships.) Sometimes you absolutely must get perspective, which means you have to step back, out, away, alone, and think, ponder, pray, cry, figure out how to make this work, how to get the white space you need to be healthy.

It’s not only mothers who have to do this. Nurses, teachers, nannies, cart-pushers, all of us, really… we all need to care for our souls. You know all those verses about fatness and leanness in the Bible? It may sound counter-intuitive, but you want a fat soul! A skinny one won’t be able to share anything nourishing with others.

Winter is coming. In this area that means staying inside most of the time. We end up with projects stacked on projects. As I write this in the living room, there is a Jenga blocks game on the floor, piles of books on the end tables, a Monopoly card game, assorted socks and shoes from church, and spilled popcorn on the floor. Someone was sculpting on the coffee table and there is a PBJ sandwich there as well. In the corner I just noticed a basket of clean blue jeans that got missed yesterday. I expect to feel rather famished by springtime when we can move outside again, but I also have some coping mechanisms that I sprinkle into my days.

  • Take walks alone, if at all possible. When the sun shines, I like to drop non-essentials and go out right then; I need the vitamin D. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook that is above the children’s heads. I pray about the things that trouble me, and once I astonished myself and managed to not think about anything at all for a bit. That is actually a thing- ask a guy! Even if I have to take everybody along, getting out of the house is therapy.
  • Learn to run to Jesus with everyday issues. If you need a little privacy, lock the bathroom door. Nothing is too small, nothing too complicated, nothing out of bounds to pray about. Sometimes I have no words other than a desperate, “Help me, Jesus.” He always hears.
  • Figure out your signature drink, the one that makes you feel like you are going to be all right. Craft it lovingly and drink it out of a great mug or one of those cute Pioneer Woman drinking jars.
  • Keep a secret stash. I don’t care if it’s chocolate covered almonds or tofu chips, it is vastly preferable to chew on something than to chew out somebody. Not like the two are mutually exclusive, but still… I might add that I have been known to hide my chocolate so well that I couldn’t remember where I put it.
  • Make time to read even if it is just a few paragraphs before falling asleep. I love to read the Bible in a different version and study the grand theme of Glory throughout the little lives of people. It helps me to step outside my world and think about other horizons, bigger pictures. (You think you have problems, lady?)
  • Take a touch time-out. We have a few members of the family who are sensitive to others in their space. In a family setting, this is inevitable. When things start going a little bonkers, I make them sit in separate places, no talking or touching each other while I read aloud. They may color or crochet or draw. Sometimes they listen to audiobooks or I read until I am hoarse. It has a way of putting us all on the same page and we forget about the way people were getting on our nerves.
  • Cultivate gratefulness. It will put pounds on your soul, and that is a good thing, remember? My personal challenge for this year is to be truly delighted with how cozy my house is. I will not dwell on the fact that we could easily use another 900 square feet. If you hear me grousing, call me out on it.
  • Teach the children to help with the housework. Few things trigger frustration faster than irresponsible people who will not own their messes or serve others. I am not supposed to do it all for everybody. That may seem spiritual, but in the end I am putting my children at a huge disadvantage by sending them into adulthood with that mentality.
  • Have a restful space that you can retreat to when you need a break. We do not allow our children to play in our bedroom. It’s simply off limits. Sometimes I go in there and lock the door and just breathe for a few minutes until I have lightened up and gotten over myself.
  • Learn to laugh; if you can’t see the humor in life, you might as well stuff yourself into a pickle jar. I have not quite learned to say, “That was a hilarious arc your milk made on its way to the floor,” but I look for belly laughs as often as possible. Recently I read a children’s story about a little African boy who wanted to make biogas from goat droppings. I pronounced it “by-OH-gus” and couldn’t figure out why I had never heard of this alternative fuel before. It has now become part of the hilarities in our family legend, I can assure you.
  • Try grocery shopping all by yourself. I have shopped at Walmart in the wee hours while the household slumbered. It is open 24 hours, after all. This can be very fun and relaxing.
  • Be as creative as you can. The act of making something with your hands is  extremely REcreational.  I have been having it out with pumpkin pie this fall. I grew up on my Mom’s version, where the pumpkin separates slightly from the milk/egg so that the layers are perfectly defined. I can use her recipe, but I can’t make her pie. It has become a duel: the perfect pumpkin pie against me… great recreational activity. My husband bought me a pottery wheel recently, so between that and the pie, I have plenty of scope for creativity.
  • Get help. I have a friend who is willing to come do large housecleaning projects with me. The last time she was here I worked in the kitchen, cooking, while she shampooed the carpets. I recommend getting help for the big stuff.
  • Schedule down-time. Sometimes my husband would notice a certain neediness and tell me to take a break, and sometimes he wouldn’t notice, so I have learned to ask. We try to schedule in a day every month where I can do whatever I need to catch up with schoolwork and shopping.
  • Plant flowers. The girls and I just dropped 150 tulips, 30 alliums, and 30 crocuses in the ground. It’s kind of long range planning, but the anticipation will give us happy thrills all winter. In the flowering season we take joy in regularly bringing in bouquets to lift our hearts.
  • Let go of perfection. It is an unattainable and fretful place to be.

There was once this lady named Martha who was doing all the stuff! She was really reaching around and serving, but she missed the most important thing that would have given her rest in her soul. Her sister just sat there and listened to Jesus. I have often puzzled over how to be both these gals, because the world needs to be fed, and some of that is my job. I feel a kinship with Martha, to be honest. My personal solution is to work hard and rest hard, if that makes sense. Someday you may drop in at my house and be a little shocked to see me messing with yarn and knitting needles while there is a general litter of life all around. It will just be me, tending to my soul.

Your turn. I would be so tickled if someone out there told me they go fishing or hunting. What refreshes you? How do you restore your soul when life gets too busy?

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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.”

 

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!

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!