of trees and children and growing things…

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There is this oak tree about mid-way on our morning walk. Each morning, Josiah and Ellianna ask “take a picture! take a picture?” And I have. It is a visual timeline of them, this last year, and you can see how they’ve grown and changed in a little increments across the days. It is striking to note just when Ellianna started the downward spiral into illness- it is written all over her face, getting worse and then better. I am reminded again how much each day counts with these little ones. Like so many other things, there are days that I did not want to stop, so annoyed with their request, “can’t you see it is raining cats and dogs?” Some days I remembered to stop and they wanted to keep on going. It’s a larger metaphor for my parenting, I know. I am so grateful for their quirky request- getting to see them grow day by day has been a much needed reminder each day how I should invest my time.

the year the garden went bust…

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Oh, it is time to own it, fair and square. The garden was a complete and utter failure. I have kept a garden since 2006, when we bought our first house. To whit, they have all been square foot gardens. Some years, just one four foot box; other years, eight, except for the one year we dug a ‘proper’ garden, had it tilled and all, forty feet long and twenty feet wide, so completely over-run by pests and blight that it seemed utterly ridiculous. Even then we made a passing crop of it, enough to enliven the dinner meals for a month or two. Not this year. No sir. Our only takings were a measly head of lettuce early in the season, and a bare handful of spinach.

There were a couple of things at play this year. The medical issues, for one, probably left me more distracted than I would have liked, and I’m sure that played a part. More likely however, is the big honkin’ tree in our backyard. There are spots throughout our yard that stay in full sun, but they shift over the day. We fabricated a square foot garden on wheels this time, that could be shifted across the yard with the sun. If we remembered to move it. I’m afraid our efforts in that regard were quite poor. We’d do fine for a few days and then forget for the next eight. The biggest culprit, suprisingly, though, was the stinkin’ squirrels. They kept eating the buds off of everything! When I caught them mid-way through the summer I was rather flumoxed. I’ve never seen squirrels be so greedy or so magnanimous in their tastes. I also happen to know that the house directly behind our own has six square foot gardens and hers is still going strong, un-trammled by squirrels. It is a total mystery to me why they would prey upon mine and not hers. I plan to slip over there soon and learn of her secrets.

Our other plan went bust, too. The way our house is arranged, there is no place to put a proper fence without blocking off our tiny driveway. Worse still, the neighbors to our left can look straight in to our back porch and yard when they leave their own. The privacy of it all is a wee bit lacking. I guess it wasn’t a total bust, exactly. My husband fabricated some kid-friendly fencing that runs from our back porch door to the side of our garage from shipping pallets. It wouldn’t keep a pet in, but it certainly serves its’ purpose as a visual and physical barrier to my children while playing. I had a thought to run planters along the top length, in which I planted mosquito-averting lemongrass, lavender, and cat-mint, all of which would grow up and out at least another foot or two, granting a visual screen. It never, ever got past the original germination. I don’t know how much of it was the tree above- the fence line itself stays in full sun all day. I am going to have to re-think my plan of attack for next year because I would really, really desire more of a screen there, and green growing anything is always good in urbania.

We are going to attempt some cool- weather crops with a cold-frame of sorts (which would also serve to disturb the squirrel’s efforts). I’m hoping it improves the situation. Regardless, I have a lot of studying and researching for next year’s plans. I am sure there is a solution that will have us back in more zucchini that we know what to do with.


Fast and pretty storage…

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We have been using essential oils as a part of our health care regimen for about a year now. I compare essential oils to really good coffee: once you try it, you will never settle for the crappy stuff again. It obviously is just a part of our family apothecary, but I think it’s our favorite part. We go through lavender like nobodies business. Alas, all that time, my oils have lived in their delivery box. I know, I know, it’s pretty and all, and somewhat practical, but unwieldy. You can buy a divided box from one of the companies for about fifteen dollars, but I knew I could do better. I found the box at Michael’s for about $3, and it was pretty on its own, but I’m in a “washi all the things!” mood lately! And when I get bored, swap it out. Simple, pretty, beautiful, practical.  I’ll take that any day of the week.

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This Week in My Kitchen (Sept. 21)

Joining Heather in sharing a love of whole foods and the kitchen arts.


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I forgot to pick the camera up often this week. Or maybe my hands were constantly wet. I’m not sure. If there is anything that has changed drastically in the last two weeks, it is both time in the kitchen and time spent cleaning the dishes from the meal before. I’ve always been a clean as you go cook but even with my best efforts it seems like there is always a pile or two left as the meal is cooking. I think I have a touch of a cold this week- I’ve felt a bit under par and I’ve been pretty weary by the time dinner is done for the day, so the kitchen tasks have felt a lot harder this week. My meal plan definitely reflects that this week- most of it is simple or slow cooker. Even for that I think I am finding a rhythm with prep, and I can see a time when it won’t feel like I spend the whole day in the kitchen.

I’ve had an unexpected helper and companion this week. I’ll be honest, I tend to shoo the children out of the kitchen. With so many small feet and hands and such a small kitchen it is nigh on disastrous if one gets underfoot. Isaiah (10) has asked pretty insistently to come help in the kitchen, and this week I finally took him up on the offer. I wish I had done so much sooner! He has been an excellent sous chef for me, washing vegetables as I cut them, stirring pots, bringing me items and putting them away, measuring out things, and helping to read recipes aloud. He’s mighty funny too. It is making the dinner prep, at least, much smoother and much brighter. I like getting to spend this one on one time with him, too. Sometimes I forget just how intelligent the kid is. Nothing slips past his notice, and his math skills rival my own. We were talking just last night about how much math is involved in cooking- and why fractions really are important to know when you have to double and triple recipes like we do, and how baking gluten-free is as much science as it is art. It’s just been such a lovely discovery this week. I’m glad he kept asking me.

Our breakfast and lunch menus didn’t really change, except for the fact that I made Pumpkin Pie Granola this week. Which is fabulous. Don’t even try to just make a single batch. Just double it. And then you’ll wish you had tripled it. Trust me.

Here is our dinner menu for the week:

(Again, make sure you read labels and make appropriate substitutions for Gluten Free and other allergies!)

Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Stew

Italian Chicken

Taco Salad

–  Spaghetti

– GF Chicken Nuggets (Home-made) and Quinoa Mac N Cheese

– Shepherd’s Pie


Joining Heather.


Yarn Along

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As the weather cools, I find myself picking up my knitting again. I am still working on the cowl I began towards the end of winter last year. I don’t think it’ll take very long to finish, and then I’ll have a lovely accompaniment just about the time the weather gets frigid!

There was an interesting thread running through the books I’ve been reading this week. I finished This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone first, then Ender’s Game, and I’ve barely begun to get through Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World.

This Life is In Your Hands is the memoir of a girl who was born into a homesteading/back to the land family in Maine. Her parents’ marriage shatters after the drowning death of her younger sister. Through out it all she takes a very nuanced look at where idealism and reality collide, and what it does to a family and a community. What struck me while reading her story was that it wasn’t so much the idea of homesteading that was the issue, it was unflinching idealism that refused to accept the world as it was- and it called to mind the homeschooling community to me. I’ve watched families self-destruct in very similar fashion over homeschooling ideals. It is troubling and the whole book gave me much to think about. It is beautifully written, lovely book, for all the hard things that must be faced throughout. She is a gentle companion in those tough questions.

Enders Game was a huge departure for me. It’s not that I’m against science fiction, exactly, but most of it is so badly written that I never get past the first few chapters. I have been spoiled by Peter David and David Mack in that regard. I caught the movie a few weeks back while either Josiah or Ellianna was in the hospital (I’m not sure which). The hospital has a few movies on loop, so I caught the movie middle first, beginning second, and end last, over a period of about two days. The movie was really well done and intriguing, and I told myself I had to go read the book and find out the rest of the story. It is very very good. Very well done. I hate to say that it is good because it is truly and utterly dystopian, which is super-unbelievably depressing and ain’t no body got time for that. (I kid.) Enders takes idealism to a level few of us would ever fathom on our own, and the wreckage it causes is utterly profound. Reading it so immediately after This Life, the connections came quickly- what happens if we so obsess over being right that we lose our moral center? What then? I did not like the places Orson Scott Wells took me, but I needed to go there all the same.

What that means, however, is that I’m approaching Home Grown from the completely opposite direction than I normally would. I don’t need to be sold on the idea of homeschooling. I know it works, I know what amazing things can happen when we let children fly free.  What I desire to see is a more nuanced conversation about what a homeschooling life can and should be, that openly faces the challenges and pitfalls that homeschooling parents might run into. As I’ve not read very far, I can’t say anything one way or the other, but I’ve heard so many rave reviews about this one that I am truly curious to hear what he has to say. I really don’t want more idealism. I want realism.

Sharing with Ginny.

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