Ten Down, Two to Go

Not that I’ve been wishing for the year to hurry… October was a magical month. We felt the usual harvest urgency, without the high stakes that attended harvest time for centuries past. It doesn’t seem fair that we can grow things just for fun, and if we have a crop failure we won’t starve.

We have tucked in the garden with a heavy blanket of chopped leaves from our lawn and pine straw from our neighbor’s trees. My strategy was to blow or mow as much as we could into piles, then run over the piles with the small mower and a bagger attachment. A few teens in this household thought that was a weird and unnecessary way to clean up leaves, but I persisted. That is, I persisted in asking them to do it my way because the leaves break down better if they are chopped, especially our tough oak and hickory leaves.

We obliterated all the corn stalks and sunflower trunks through our BCS chipper attachment, a task that required two persons because a lot of the organic matter was soft from rain. I loaded them into the hopper and Gabriel tamped down the dead plants with a sturdy tree branch, and cleared the chopper blades when they became clogged. Once everything was chopped up, we spread it out to compost right on top of the soil.

The only plants left are the fall crop broccoli and cabbage, the slowly fattening Brussels sprouts, and a brilliant row of kale. It would be noble to be like a brassica, bowing under the hard frosts of life, but standing cheerfully upright again repeatedly until you die. Unfortunately this is just not a homily that inspires me. I do not want to be likened to broccoli, much as I admire it.

While we were cleaning up the outdoors, the field mice were claiming the indoors. I knew we had a problem, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I offered Rita a dollar for every mouse she catches. She is at 9 currently, and the last three were all caught on the same raisin. This little venture is turning out to be quite profitable for her, what with such a low overhead on bait for her traps. I do not begrudge her one penny of those dollars though.

I had a big pile of wood chips dropped off here by the power line workers this summer. We set up the chicken fence around it and let the girls out of their chicken tractor once they were about half grown. Immediately they did their henny-penny things, completely leveling the pile in their constant scratching quest for bugs. For a foolish minute I thought that I would let them free range once the garden was dead. How far could they go? It took them less than 10 minutes to be all the way at the house, digging great holes in the flower beds as they sampled all the dust bath options on the property. Okay then, that’ll be a no, chickens.

We are at last getting plenty of eggs from our flock. It seemed to take forever for them to start laying, but now I feel smug every time I walk past the egg section in the grocery store and see the prices. We have added a thin layer of food independence to our lives.

(If you are curious about the way to homesteader land, chickens are the foot in the door. Owning a small flock makes you a fledgling homesteader just like that. )

There is only one Ameraucana in our small flock of buffs and reds, a silly hen the girls named Susie. She navigates life with the idea that she is special, slipping out of any crack in the fence, roosting in weird places like the entitled lady she is, getting extremely ticked off if you open the nesting box lid when she is sitting in it, and not so much cackling as bellowing her triumph of the day: another blue egg. She could be more humble about her accomplishments, seeing as she only lays about three eggs a week. We forgive her arrogance because we are fascinated with the processes of a bird who eats worms and corn and somehow produces blue pigment that permeates her egg shell.

We are on track for homemade pasta, custards that are yellow instead of beige, and eggnog with that special flair because it didn’t have to travel far to the blender. I even bought whole nutmegs to celebrate this goodness, only to run into the small problem of not owning a nutmeg grinder. I ordered one because we don’t care for knuckle skin in our nutmeg.

I have done my annual sort-fest through the winter gear, giving away things that are too small and donating the snow pants with Steelers logos. Now I know exactly what we have and what we need. I like to do this to Be Prepared. While I was sorting, Addy persistently flitted around, reminding me that her ice skates are too small or broken or something, and it was seventy degrees outside and there was such a ridiculous amount of gear all mixed together. I felt the old panic start to rise: the premonition that I will be swallowed alive by winter, inundated by mittens and hats, my withered skeleton emerging from a mound of boots and puffer coats when spring comes again. And then I laughed because I remembered two things. My children can take care of their own clothes now, and also it is impossible to wither with a mug of something hot in hand. I’ll make it.

Last week we planted tulip bulbs and a large bed of garlic, sticking them in to wait quietly for the right time to show up. I feel myself turning into a tiresome philosopher when I draw parallels from my garden, so I will trust your intelligence to figure out what that could mean.

Addy just asked me a rhetorical question, “Why do we never have dessert?” I serenely ignored her lack of logic and told her that she can make dessert if she wants some. That’s why there is the aroma of cookies baking right now. That is my baby, and here I am sitting on a chair, writing about an October just past.

To welcome in a new month yesterday, we had our Tuesday Tea at a coffee shop where they sell Boba tea. The girls all fell for that, naturally, and I had a chai latte. Here’s to November!

A Little Linky Love

When we took our long trip out west last fall, we made sure to have a goodly supply of audiobooks along. We have been collecting them for quite a while, and if you watch what you are doing, you can actually get a lot of them free. We have been favorably impressed with the quality of the recordings on Audible. You get a free month trial right now, which would put you right into March and springtime. How is that for a deal? My highest recommendation from Audible is God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew. It is almost 9 hours long, and all of them are worthwhile hours.

We also like Christian audio, which has a free book featured every month. Sometimes they feature biographies, like Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. We have bought books at both of these places, and have no complaints. Some of the books are on both sites, but this is two ways of getting free ones and deciding whether you want to buy more. 😉

And finally, I have a link for episodes of Adventures in Odyssey. The ones on this site are free samples from their CDs. (Thank-you so much, P.D. and Leeny, for telling us about this. 🙂 ) Our children have listened for hours this winter, and they never tire of them. I want to buy them some of the CDs in time, but for now they are happy with the partial stories.

The time to listen to audios is… anytime. We do it while we cook or while we fold clothes or even while we pick up the stuff around the living room. If the work slows down too much because of how absorbing the story is, I just pause it and everybody jolts right back to reality quickly so that Mama starts the story again. Happy listening!


Reliving my Babies

I have never put together any sort of photo album for the two smallest girls. Olivia’s is done up to 18 months, with about three years to go. Each of my children get one personal hand-scrapbooked album, which usually fills up at about 4 years old. When Rita was 3 months, we had a computer crash that wiped out years of photos, then we had camera fiascos and I lost the memory card in the bowels of the CD reader one dark night. You could say it hasn’t been the most fortunate set of circumstances. For a long time I held out hope that my brother could retrieve our files off the crashed computer, but alas, it was not to be. Eventually friends and Facebook albums provided me with some of her as a newborn, so I have cobbled together a file of about 300 photos that I am getting developed to put into their books. That is about 295 more pictures than I have from the first four years of my life, so I think they will be fine. 🙂

Anyway, I have been looking at our photo archives, and every now and then I would say, “Gabe, come look at this! Remember this expression? Can you believe how little they were when Addy was born?” And so on and so forth with the stuff parents say and then resolve to enjoy the moment more. I will spare you, but just share a few snapshots that make me smile.


Four years ago, the happiest, jolliest baby ever.


She’s a Tomato Peight. (Someday I will post my husband’s essay on the subject.)


The child has a surprising aptitude with scissors.


And here we are four years later. Next thing I know her dad will be walking her down the aisle.

Snow Day, 2


My children asked me, “What’s a snow day?” And I had the startling revelation that they really don’t know. We used to sing a song at school, “Whatever the weather, we’ll make it together,” but we should have added a quick clause: “Except when it snows and sleets and freezes too much.” Homeschoolers, however, do the whatever the weather thing. It’s the time of year when too much study drags down little people but we have to keep on going. So we think up excuses to have tea parties. We always make a party for the beginning of school, the half-way point, and the grand finale at the end. We have tea parties on birthdays and holidays and as rewards when the house is all cleaned up. Even the boys love it! We just eat our ordinary food, except we pretty it up with garnishes and cut teeny squares of bars to serve on glass plates and everybody gets a little candy favor.

I have no glass-fronted hutch to display my pretty dishes, so unless I use them, I never see them. We keep watch at second-hand stores to replace the teacups that happen to get broken. None of them are heirlooms or priceless, but it is so much more fun to drink out of teacups with dainty handles.

Now I decided that we will also party for snow days. Because snow days should be fun! While the boys were finishing up with their history classes, the girls dressed in pretty dresses with flowers in their hair. We spread the lace table cloth and got out the brand new tea party dishes! (Goodwill, 2.99 🙂 ) It took us about an hour to prepare and then it was time for fun! It was a Snow Day!






Snow Day, 1

You saw this coming, didn’t you? The not-very-prefessional photos of sticky snow on everything… the only kind of snow pictures I take. I love our back yard. My husband has worked long and extremely hard on the slope of gravel and weeds we got when we bought the place. When snow  clings to everything, it feels like I got transported to the enchantment of a gingerbread village. That’s why I went outside yesterday, early, with my bright-eyed, chirpy little girl who always gets up first.

We did a little backyard tour, then we topped it off with saucer rides down the playhouse hill, short, but very steep and speedy. When we got back into the house, the rest of the crew was just groggily starting to stir, but we had already seen this:


Window Boxes


Garden Bench


Grapes and Raspberries




Blueberry Bush

Image The Swimming Hole


Meditation Spot on the Deck, with Flower Pots

ImageMarshmallow Roasting Fire Pit




Cherry Tree (in foreground) Ornamental Plum (background)


Garden Shed Designed by my Husband


Ornamental Apple Tree that Blooms Profusely

I doubt you saw all the things that I saw, but I saw them, and they are real under all that fluff.

Are We There Yet?

The paved roads only brought us close, but the last 8 miles were graded tan Michigan dirt under a tunnel of golden yellow trees. It is off-peak season in the  Upper Peninsula, mostly deserted and calm around the lakes and waterways. We have been blessed with weather 20 degrees warmer than is typical for October. It feels like Utopia… With wifi. 🙂 Our cabin is 110 years old, furnished with a charming disregard to modern ways, lights all operated with pulls and strings tied to various parts of the walls. There is an indoor toilet and a tiny mention of a shower.

Currently the boys are out in a rowboat on the lake, fishing and mostly rowing around. The little girls cheered when they heard that they can wash the supper soup mugs in the teeny sink. So here I sit, soaking in the ambiance of a perfect autumn evening. There are trails, there are meandering mazes of roads through the state forest land, and there are no. other. people. I brought four books to read, and a duffel bag with children’s books, toys, and games, in the event that we should hit a rainy day. Three days of blissful quiet before we resume the journey to South Dakota.

We decided to split up the travel time a bit, seeing we haven’t road tripped any further than 4 hours in the last 3 years. Even so, we were hardly driving for an hour before Rita said, “I think I just wanna stay home. I didn’t know it was going to take so long.”

What We Didn’t Know

Yesterday was our 12th anniversary. See, here we are, after about 8 hours of just the two of us. It’s still there – that magic my friend, the preacher’s daughter, called “the glue when Dad puts their hands together in marriage”.


Twelve years ago we could not have imagined awakening on our anniversary to conspiratorial whispers and clinks of crockery in the kitchen as our children made a surprise breakfast. We pretended to sleep while someone slipped loudly into our room with a lighted candle which he set directly under the lampshade, which I hastily rescued. The little sister got sent in at least three times to check if we are awake yet, seeing as the eggs were getting cold. The waiters brought in plates with pancakes and eggs, excellently cooked. My pancake was a teddy bear, Gabe’s was a penguin with its feet chewed off. Then came the crowning touch of a breakfast tray with steaming mugs of tea, a bowl of sugar and a pitcher of syrup, along with a funny little music box tinkling out a merry tune.

The children had gone to the neighbor’s yard sale the day before and picked out some anniversary presents. One was the holder for the lighted candle. Twelve years ago I wouldn’t have thought that I would ever cherish a rather unusual porcelain bird/flower candle holder painted in various astonishing, pearly colors. Another gift was a small pot with a lid that clasps, “for special things”. (Why do I think of Pooh?) I love it! And the music box… which someone made it their business to wind and rewind the entire time we ate our breakfast, because everyone knows there should be romantic music on an anniversary. On our honeymoon, we would have laughed at the idea of having an audience of five watching us eat our breakfast in bed, but we didn’t have the heart to send them away, seeing as they were so exceedingly pleased with themselves. It was actually quite romantic, when you consider that out of our love sprang these dear little people sprinkled all around us.

Twelve years ago we would not have been thinking in terms of going on a date in a rather large Suburban with very high miles, seeing as the tiny red Mazda was working just great for us. In fact, I believe we made merciless jokes about those family vehicles. Now we are poster children for those jokes. Guess what, we don’t even care! Neither would we have known how rejuvenating it is to a marriage to just spend time with each other, even if you are grocery shopping or ambling through the mall, hand-in-hand, checking out the clearance racks.

Sometimes we look back and laugh at those kids that got married, with all their ideas and plans. We hadn’t a clue that there were career switches for Gabe, from deck builder to teacher to nurse. We hoped for children, but we didn’t know. Sometimes through the years we would look at each other and say, “What do we think we are doing? We don’t even know what we are doing!” When the questions get too big, we have learned to just leave them to Providence and say, “At any rate, I’m with you.”

Favorite Things

Sometimes my children really surprise me. Most days they make me laugh a good belly laugh at least once. And occasionally the surprise and laugh are together, like the day I was reading Gregory’s writing assignment titled, “All About Me”. He began with the usual 3rd grade stats about size, age, and looks, then: “My favorite food is cellry.” This from the child who has only recently been able to eat salad without gagging. Who loves all things pale and pasta but struggles mightily with beans and broccoli… who mostly likes peanut butter in his celery. I don’t know if he was trying to impress the teacher or if it was just another of his little jokes, but I did enjoy the moment.

If I were to ask Rita which are her favorite clothes, she would probably give me a blank look, indicating that she has no time for such frivolous questions. She does, however, come up with some eye-bending combinations. You can see one of them in the previous post… the teal shirt and the light green skirt. She had another set that seemed to make her feel especially elegant. The skirt was rust colored with golden brown embroidery and trim. I thought it was kind of cute, but she consistently wore it with a purple plaid shirt. The effect was unbelievable. Her feelings were rather wounded when I just couldn’t stand it and made her go change. One day Gabe kindly informed me that he never really liked that skirt, so I dropped it into the trash can in a private moment. I don’t make a big deal out of mismatched stuff for play clothes, but I have decided that there is no point in hanging onto ugly stuff just because… 🙂

We finally found a suitable upgrade for the family Caravan. We prayed that it would keep running at least until Gabe was done with school, and it was still going strong, just rather rusty and repeatedly needing power steering fluid. Oh, yes, the AC hasn’t worked for years, one of the windows wouldn’t close, the cruise wasn’t dependable, and the exhaust system needed to be replaced. And it was due to be inspected in September. Last Saturday Gabe traded it in for a Suburban. I had made an appointment a month earlier to take the kittens to a pet shop in hopes that customers would want to adopt them, so I couldn’t go along on the vehicle swap down VA way. Instead, Greg and Livvy went along. As Gabe was filling out paperwork, he noticed that our tender hearted little girl was suddenly catching the drift that they were going to leave the van. They had to take a little walk and get ahold of the sobs. That tickled me and touched me both. There is no accounting for taste when it comes to favorites.

Addy has caught onto the thing of laying claim to certain toys or books and guarding them diligently from the clutches of any other child. I never can understand how a doll can lay unclothed and uncared for for days, and then suddenly it becomes the very most precious, sought after toy to fight about and defend and sob about at night when another child has it in their bed. She has a “peshial” book, blanket, doll, even “peshial” shoes and jacket. Don’t get me started on the rose fork and the pointy spoon and the pink bowl!

My own favorite thing right now is fresh tomatoes, sun warmed and mellow.  I like to imitate Gordon Ramsey and tell the children to go out to the garden to find me “one. stunning. organic. beeeautiful. tomato.” for my salad. 🙂

This next bit is more like unfavorite stuff, but I need to tell you the latest kitten story. We had that appointment at the pet shop. We got there early, but sorry, someone else already had a litter there and they only take one litter at a time and they don’t have my name anywhere despite the fact that one month earlier the girl on the phone clearly reserved this spot for me. So I didn’t ride along to VA with my husband on his day off… all for nothing? I guess the pet shop lady felt a little sorry for me, since she told me that I can bring the kittens again on Labor Day. Sigh. Okay. The good news is, one got adopted. If you wanted the pretty orange one, sorry, but you missed your chance.

I have now suffered the ultimate humiliation in finding homes for these kittens. On Labor Day afternoon we loaded up the crate at the pet shop with 6 kittens still very much homeless. Something desperate in me snapped. Why not try cold calling? Okay, kids, we are gonna stop at all the farms and see if we can find someone who has a spot for them. By the fifth farm I was so traumatized by rejection that I was going to drive right past, but Alex begged me to let him try. He started out by saying, “My mom is too embarrassed to ask you this, but we have some kitties…”

(I will never be unkind to the steak salesman again.)

I Can’t Keep Up!

But that is okay, as long as I sort of keep up, you know… like make sure my people are fed and clean and have fat souls. It’s the date that gives me trouble. Tonight we were writing letters to prison inmates, a ministry our church tries to help with about once a month. I dated my first letter August 19, which I discovered was just a few days wrong.

August 19 was actually the day we started back to school in this household. Just like that, the days are chock-full, the summer “over” in the sense of carefree, go-swimming-any-old-time, sleep-late-if-you-wish, etc. I am actually grateful for the more disciplined schedule. With Gabe’s work schedule being all over the place, days and nights all mixed up from week to week, it felt like we were all just flying by the seat of our collective pants this summer. I can handle that for a while, but I like it better to have some firmly established routines. Nothing like school to sober us all up at bedtime and getting up time.

We always do a party when we start back up in the fall, but this past Monday found me totally unprepared, so I told the children we will shoot for more of a Grand Opening party, like stores do when they have the kinks worked out of a new system. The DVDs are working all right for the boys. I like to hear them doing math drills while I am teaching Olivia. I have never met a homeschool mom who loved doing math drills. It is a bit of a problem when you don’t have the competition of a class to force you into being speedy. Gregory was in tears the first morning because he couldn’t keep up with his class. I still spend the entire morning with the students, monitoring, checking, fielding questions, teaching Livvy, keeping the little girls busy, etc. I won’t be twiddling my thumbs anytime soon! And when I do, I will know what else I could be doing.

Last week was crammed, the chief  event a delightful campout at a nearby park with my brother and his family. It was so relaxing, after all the frantic packing lists and hauling of ice chests and setting up campsites, to sit and watch a fire and let the kids get thoroughly acquainted with the local variety of dirt.

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Nate and Becca. I made them lean in like teenagers do, but you can see, they aren’t quite young enough to pull it off.


“I can do it myself!” Addy’s favorite phrase these days. Here Gabe is rescuing her from her independent efforts to swim.


Funny title to read when camping, huh? They couldn’t all see, so I was interrupted about seventeen times as they shifted heads and bodies and craned necks, complaining.


Cousins, making a book of baby animals. These two stuck together like cheese and crackers.


Gabe and I attempted a selfie. Something we are, apparently, also a little too old to do well. At least, I don’t think it is particularly flattering. But I like the hilarity of the picture, as it captures the general air of relaxation and togetherness of those camping days.

I did laundry for two days, solid, when we got home again. On Friday I turned 1/2 bushel of tomatoes into sauce and the next day I froze 23 quarts of corn, then the next day I took the children to church without Gabe because he had to work. That afternoon I spent hours catching up with a little girl I used to babysit. Only now she is all grown up and going into nursing school. (Somebody pinch me.) Which brought me to Monday morning, school starting and no party. The children were very understanding. We hope to do our Grand Opening on Friday. Because this… this choice to do school at home is a bit engrossing. Everything changes for 9 months. I think we deserve a party.

Treasure Hunt


I spent a happy hour at a book sale today, a sale benefitting the local hospital. If the books donated are any indication of what the general population is reading, it appears that my taste is rather counter-culture. Or maybe folks donate their Sillouette paperbacks because they are vaguely aware that they are so much junk? At any rate, the hunt is a thrill when I find something like a pristine copy of Andrew Henry’s Meadow. I had briefly considered buying one as a gift for one of my boys a while ago, until I saw that they are all listed at upwards of 20 dollars. Today the price was one dollar for as many books as you could stuff into a plastic bag. Then they made an announcement that the books were free, it being the end of the day and all. Donations accepted. I paid 5 dollars for a big box of books and games, including Andrew Henry’s Meadow, and it makes me happy. By the way, Andrew Henry is exactly like my boys, always making things.  🙂