Use the five senses to make this autumn amazing

The five senses: sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch.

We most fully experience a thing when we can engage the senses. How do we do it in our home?

Beatus Autumnus banner
Please note: we got our Latin wrong

First, sight.

When fall officially begins, I bring out a string of handmade bunting from orange linen-look fabric purchased at Rainbow Fabrics at 751 N Golden State Blvd in Turlock. I cut the fabric into triangles, did a simple stitch with a sewing machine along the edges so it would not fray past a certain point and used graphite paper and computer print outs to trace the world “Beatus Autumnus,” Latin words for “Blessed Autumn.” I colored the letters in with permanent marker and hot glued the letters to a stretch of baking twice. It’s an official moment in the house when the banner comes out.

I also add a piece of art and replace a piece of artwork with “Halloween Ride” by Patricia Palmerino and “Marshmallows and ghost stories” by Katherine Blower. We purchased the first at the Farmer’s Market in Alexandria, VA, when attending it was part of life lived in Virginia and the second on Society6. 

Autumnal blankets in tans, indigo blues and oranges come out, along with new pillow colors in the same autumnal hues. I filled my Heath Ceramics vases, purchased online, with tied bunches dried straw flowers, thistle, bunny tails ornament grass, and dried yarrow, and set them on the fireplace mantle. 

Dried flowers with Heath Ceramics vases

Second, smell.

I recently returned to my adolescent love of scented candles. Buy them and burn them. I’m starting with Apple Harvest from Trader Joe’s first and will move to “Manhattan” from Crate and Barrel and then settle on the warm scents of candles purchased at Vintage Market at 210 East Main Street in Turlock.

Third, taste.

You know it. I know it. So I’ll just admit it. It’s pumpkin spice. Pumpkin spice in homemade lattes, pumpkin spice sprinkles on apples picked at a neighbor’s orchard in a red casserole dish. Apple crisp, apply crumble, apple pie. In one month my children will be so tired of apples, but they do not know that now. The baking provides the fall aroma, the baskets and compotes filled with apples around the kitchen and dining room offer one more visual aid. I was one day too early to purchase Trader Joe’s Spiced Apple Cider but it is 100% worth it. If you are a cocktail drinker, try this mixed with Fireball and Brandy for a drink we call a “Hot Autumn Evening.”

Green apples in a wire basket

Fourth, sound.

It goes simply for us. The children and I sing the song from Disney’s “Johnny Appleseed” and a German folk song, “Autumn Leaves are a-falling”. I haven’t a set playlist, but I am certainly working on one for All Soul’s Day and the rest of November. 

And lastly, touch.

The cozy textures, wearing long sleeves and long pants and long pajamas, wrapping up in a robe or blanket early in the morning, cross legged on the couch, shivering against the breeze blowing through the open windows. 

Thirfted blanket, handmade pillow and West Elm velvet pillow

Wherever activities fall in this lineup of sensory experiences, they probably capture it all.

We hope to wander a corn maze, pick more apples, drink apple cider, read The Pumpkin Runner, The Ox-Cart Man, Room on a Broom, Too Many Pumpkins, and A Thanksgiving Story.

My husband and I watch the 1930s horror movie classics like Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We may sprinkle in some Hitchcock and new films like Coraline and Corpse Bride. The kids will make it through “It’s the Great Pumpkin Halloween.”

We serve a dinner with pork chops, butternut squash soup, homemade bread, with apple cobbler and acorn squash ice cream for dessert. We listen to music outdoors and enjoy the cool evenings we thought never would come. 

It’s the littlest moments and littlest touches that make this season something wonderful in our household. We engage the senses. They are thirteen years in the making. New traditions emerge, old traditions adapt, some years a particular one is skipped altogether. But no matter, they still make fall what it is for us, a thing of beauty, gratitude for the harvest and delight. 

Where are you, Orange Pear Apple Bear?

Orange Pear Apple Bear book cover for a child

“We have ‘Orange Pear Apple Bear’!” a child shouted from behind the green easy chair where the books pile up at the foot of the little bookcase overflowing with picture books. By accident, it was not returned in the last batch of library books, despite child-driven reports to the contrary. Excitedly, I called my son over to sit and read. We sounded the words out. I explained a little, I nudged a little, I urged a little.

So, technically, he read it.

But I tried to force the moment. I grew so excited about how this was a momentous occasion with all my children that I was determined it would be so for him.

Ever been there before?

All in their own good time. Fruit, children, wildflowers. They all bloom in their own good time. And we have to wait. With bitter, gnawing patience, we have to wait.

As a mother, as a homeschooling mother, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of forgetting to give them space, to let their little personalities and brains develop according to their particular path and timeline. We want to have control. We want to make a plan. The beauty of these opportunities comes in the perennial reminder that we have less control than we imagine and oftentimes, that’s okay.

To move our bodies during this latest blistering heatwave, we made a mid-morning swim outing. That event was not the perfect success I imagined. If we finished a handful of subjects, left at 10 a.m. swam for an hour, returned at 11 a.m., ate lunch, showered, had a break, then resumed school at 1 p.m., that would work so well. But as you can see that plan with four children was doomed from the start, if only for the reason that it did not account for seat-belt buckling and transportation times.

We returned at the time when they usually sit down for their lunches and the toddler usually naps. Hungry and tired, I trudged in, while those little ones came bounding behind me, delighted with the event. It was outside my control

So then what?

I can let it rattle my bones, bug me to no end, and seethe in irritation because I came back hungry, and tired, and we still had more school work today.

Or I can let it go. Do what I need to do, in this case, eat and hydrate myself, and move on. I know to stop myself from talking too much when I’m hungry or tired, although I am not always successful.

It is amazing how the little things can irk us.

Can you identify those things that make you particularly more irritable? That is my project for the week. Tiredness, hunger, and being altogether too focused on what I want to get done later that I am impatient with what I must do now. I started to wonder if social media scrolling might be affecting me as well. Studies show, yadda yadda yadda.

I identified a lack of focus in myself, usually due to scrolling. So it’s time to work on that.

This is the project. We fall back into bad habits, realize we’ve fallen back, consider what went wrong, identify what we need, and take steps to make it better. If we are alert enough to engage in this project of growing, we circle upward along those stages of change, each time growing a little more. Little things or big things. Growth in the little things trains for will for the big things.

So onward!

After the gushing reflections on educational glories, I’m back to my humble position of knowing it is more for me to help usher the child forward than make the victory happen. I can and I will marvel at what he does, but only if I cool it enough to pay attention. Another lesson for the books.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

The End of Summer Has Come

The summer days peaked and climbed to their highest degrees yet.

With my right hand, I pull the curtain across the cheap metal rod and turn a hand-tied macrame loop around it to fix it in place. My eyes travel across the story of my garden stopping first at the pitiful Café Au Lait dahlia I did not cut back, weeping, drying, no longer moving from bud to bloom. Is its tuber rotting away under the too frequent watering the zinnias love so much? Has a gopher eaten its way across the tubal base, destroying its source of life? Its bright emerald green takes on a dullish hue. Moving to the left, I survey the healthy growth on the dahlias I cut back. These are still alive. These have not been eaten. The new leaves betray a deep pine vibrancy so surprising in these August days. As I look closer, the plants still stretching upward carry the same contrast, new growth reaching out and up amongst the old.

The Mulberry tree leaves are dry and dusty, but not so much as our van is now or will be after a few more days of harvest. The air itself is a little cloudy today, the sunset is a little more radiant.

As the activities wind down, the most passionate of my children shudder at the thought of missing the last practice, the last class, the last opportunity for summer fun. Even a canceled cabin trip fails to elicit disappointment in them to match my own because this means they can see friends one more time at the folklore practice at the church leading up to the festa days.

We attend a Portuguese parish.

We are not Portuguese by birth or family or heritage, yet by finding a home here we are somewhat, adopted Portuguese. Without awkwardness, my children join in the folklore. They sign up to lead games. I will be a chauffeur and experience the festa through my camera lens for the newspaper, which although technically a form of work, helps me to see and experience the event in a deeper way than I might otherwise do. It offers a place for me to set all my reflections.

Last year I began to learn about these traditions. This year I commit them to print. I have these hopes but time will tell.

Whatever the festa will mean culturally or spiritually, for us it marks the end of summer as Labor Day marks the end of summer for fashion and home decor magazines. The almonds will be harvested, the gardens change their tune. What began in abundance will wear out from tiredness. It dries out. It dies. And with some sweet relief, one day in autumn, the cool days return, only long after we gave up on summer and began to pretend we have more distinct seasons here in Central California.

This is a unique place and a beautiful place.

I pick up an old novel by John Steinbeck, the same edition I sold long ago, and poke through its pages, hating and loving it at the same time. The best of the moments is the understanding of the soil in California. There is life here, although quite different than anything else in the world. It is a unique place and a strange place.

In my newspaper writing, I celebrate the community and church activities as efforts that work to continue traditions and connect people. Tonight I met a man who knew me, from high school or church, he could not place me either. Slowly a picture of a young, scrawny high schooler with curly black hair sitting at a drum set came to mind, but only slowly. He moved here after leaving 14 years ago. I expressed my wonder as most people seem to be saying goodbye to this state. “Moving here from Orange County,” he said, “is kind of like moving out of California.”

How very true.

I lived in Minnesota for a time and I lived in Virginia for a time. There, summer gives way to a burst of firelight in the trees before dropping to the ground in the sleep of winter snow. Here we have late summer, that stretched into most of those months we call fall. Here, some of us long for winter and cold and sweaters, but we wait.

It’s the world where birds fly to in the winter. It’s the bread basket.

It’s home.

painting of our home in summer
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Make Space for Unscheduled Activities

Activities.

Everything seems activities based. It feels as though everything exists as a class or a workshop. Free time has become a precious commodity. Physical activity is now scheduled through organized sports or gym memberships. Music classes begin for toddlers as Mommy-and-me style events. Art class workshops fill the void for those less athletically inclined. I’ve taken them myself and loved them.

We’ve gone from a generational or neighborhood way of learning these things to something wholly organized, packaged up, purchased, paid for and delivered. The home arts are now a consumer item for consumption. We attend paint nights because painting socially is fun; we’re pleased with what we produce; and we could not otherwise have produced it.

Or perhaps because we otherwise would not have tried.

These continuing education opportunities may also give us a chance to try something we never would have otherwise encountered.

The growth in organized and paid activities for children has many causes, but I suspect one cause probably comes from the realization that this model works for us adults to get them there. More and more we must schedule it and pay for it to make sure it happens. Otherwise, we may neglect it. Something more important or more profitable will come up to fill in the free time that belongs to the adult. We spend our leisure time shopping and enjoying the goods we purchased. These days, we have more time than ever, just like advertisers said we would if we bought this or that gadget. So we filled in the void with more running around. We rarely know how to just be, even after two years of semi-lockdown.

So then, since the culture measures worth by how much money it brings me or how much money I put into it, if I require myself to learn this skill or attend this paint session because I paid for it, I’m more likely to do it.

Ballet for children, a common activity
Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

Children are so different.

They would do it on their own without us. They would kick the can, run the relay, shoot hoops without adults telling them the proper technique. They would do it for the sake of the thing if they could be left long enough to be bored.

It is a matter of intrinsic value verses extrinsic value.

When we find something intrinsically valuable, we do it for the sake of the thing. When it is extrinsically valuable, we do it for the sake of some external reward. A child naturally draws because it delights him. We push the time card for the paycheck.

We live in a society that undervalues things that are intrinsically valuable. This is because the external reward, money, becomes the center of how we decide what is worth doing. If it cost this much, I will apply myself. If I earn this much, I will apply myself. We seem to need the structure to help us do it, the commitment of some financial resources. And it helps us ensure it for our kids, too.

I know these are blanket statements and not always the case, but allow me to explore this thought a little more.

Time commitments are taxing, running from one thing to another, having to be on time, prepped with a full water bottle and the correct shoes.

I have to think there is a tax we pay to do it like this.

How strange and different for us adults to stop and simply, draw a picture because you feel like it, and, only after, go wash the dishes. Or to play a sport in the wrong kind of attire.

It’s easy for it all to become so rigid and compartmentalized that we lose some of the beauty of spontaneity.

Isn’t that what makes vacations and holidays so delicious? I read about these sudden games of basketball, going out to fish, or play cards, or pick a random restaurant to eat at. It sounds so free and creative, curious and willing to explore and try new things. How wonderful.

The people are coming back from vacation. They are coming back and returning to their potentially overscheduled days.

Is there a way to bring the good of both lives together just a little bit more?

Do we even need to?

Of course it’s case by case, family by family, season by season. But as we enter into the new season, the change of schedule is an opportunity to assess. Will we protect the down time, leisure time, unstructured time to allow for the possibility of spontaneous creativity or conversation? Will we make space in our lives and our children’s lives for the intrinsically rewarding things?

Do we think it matters?

child painting
Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

Make Children Essential

The biggest thing to happen around here this week to my children is wood chips. 

This is the time of year when my garden begins to look sad, tired, and dried out. Last year I learned that when this happens, this is the time to cut back. Literally, cut the plants back, keep on watering, don’t give up and, here in California, we will be rewarded with another flush of growth when the temperatures cool ever so slightly in the fall.

California perennial garden in summer

The past two years were focused on the growth of a cut flower garden, flower stand building and bouquet arranging for roadside sales. This year, writing took precedence and the focus of the flowers transitioned to cultivating the landscape and the pleasure of the place in which we live. 

Monty Don and his book, “The Complete Gardener” are my inspiration. As is @blossomandbranchfarm on Instagram and her regenerative growing practices. 

As I pull an endless series of wild grasses from my garden beds, I think of the lessons I’ve learned. The soil is poor. The wind blows away the topsoil. I rant at the land left fallow because of water restrictions and erosion it causes. The soil must be improved around my home. 

I posted the question on a local moms’ group requesting recommendations on how to get wood chips. Chipdrop.com, one mother responded. I went online and filled out the form. The next day I had a truckload of wood chips. 

“Let it sit a couple of days,” Andrew from The Tree Guys, Inc., explained, “to kill the bugs or any seeds that might be in there.” That was Friday. 

On Tuesday it was time.

I prepped my husband and my children. Wear your farm clothes, all shirts should already be stained, gather your work gloves, and get some buckets. This is a family project.

Therein lies the focus. A family project means it is for the whole family, it will be taxing, and focused, and there will be treats after. 

The plan must accommodate different age levels. Some parties will push wheelbarrows, some will fill buckets, and others will empty buckets in garden spots where wheelbarrows cannot go. One child will make a special request to our neighbor to borrow his wheelbarrow so we can maximize the time of the man shoveling woodchips. 

My husband said, “I feel like the sugar bowl in ‘The Sword and the Stone’” as he tossed shovelful after shovelful in a rotating series of wheelbarrows.

Energy waned.

We took water breaks. Slowly but surely we finished off the third garden bed. Time to stop for the day.

The kids were sent inside to shower, eat snacks and then finish a movie they asked after each day. It is hard, especially in a world where it’s easy not to ask too much of children. How far away the days of “Little House on the Prairie” seem when, as the family or farm grew larger, children were essential to running a household and farm. It builds muscle, character and a strong work ethic. For our home, the most important part is to tell our children, “we need you.”

Flower Girl Zinnias in a cut flower garden. The children dumped buckets of woodchips around the base of the plants.

And so they learn to step up.

When we finished the last wheelbarrow load, we chatted with the UPS driver, whose delivery drop-spot is conveniently located near the wood chip pile. He asked the kids questions about the garden and as he climbed back into his truck said, “listen to your parents, kids, they know what’s up.”

Cafe au Lait dahlias in a cut flower garden with wood chips set out by my children

It was a little moment of affirmation that I needed to hear. Not every adult supports the idea of children working hard. As a child, I most definitely did not work hard, as my parents will attest. 

I want our children to know the value of it all. I hope that they grow up being able to look back and say, “Things weren’t always easy. It was hard, but they needed us.”

I hope they grow up and understand that we are a family. We are here for each other. We need each other. We cannot do it without them.

They are irreplaceable.

Marionberry milkshake dahlia

Choosing to Trust

Learning to trust at Kennedy Meadows

After asking for directions twice, we found the pack station where horses were lined up, saddled and ready. Beyond it in the corral were many more horses, altogether 200, we learned, lived at Kennedy Meadows during the open season. After the guides paired riders with their horses, beginning with the littlest rider and the biggest horse, we started our walk. At the sign “Emigrant Wilderness” the guide, Sarah from Louisiana, greeted the group and gave minimal instruction. “Y’all, if we stay in a single file line, we’re gonna have a great time today!”

The road at first was dusty. We walked beside a pond and a meadow of all different greens and the wildflowers that have since died out at lower altitudes. The ground before us grew rockier and rockier until we began to ascend stone steps. From trees and meadows, the surroundings changed to granite builders. We neared the river rushing with snow melt rapids.

Across the bridge, we walked our horses, or rather our horses walked us, across as we gazed in amazement at the waterfall, the blue sky, the pine trees and bright pink flowers along the mountain. I gasped at the sight of it.

We continued on, marching up stone steps, with the granite face to our right and a steep drop into the river to our life.

Trust your horse

“Trust your horse,” was the message shared from rider to rider at this time. “Lean forward when your horse goes uphill, lean back when he goes downhill.” The other adult and I knew what goes up must come down and we anticipated the difficulty.

At the top, we stopped at a clearing, in sight of the lake, the dam, where Sarah took us on food after lunch to “see a real pretty sight,” of a little creek running across colorful stones. The children explored farther and found its only minimal, magical waterfall. The sort of place wood fairies are so found of.

Lake at Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station

After the hour break of eating and geological musings, it was time to make our descent. The trail guides checked saddles, cinches, and such. We mounted and after some confusion over our line order, we began. The horses knew the way. They were ready to get back to their paddocks and picked up their pace.

“Trust your horse,” we said to ourselves. As we neared the stone steps, the guides reminded everyone, “loosen your rains, lean back, and let your horse decide where to step.”

I told myself, “the horse doesn’t want to die either,” and tried to trust but I wavered more than once. My left hand gripped the pommel of the saddle like a greenhorn, trying to take in the beauty around me rather than focus on the fear inside me as the other adult chatted away.

When we landed back in the dust, with the meadow stretching out to our left and fishermen casting out across the pond, and again at the depot where we hobbled away from the horses who worked so hard to go up and down the mountain, we asked the children, “did you feel scared at all?”

Eight out of the ten said, “no,” an emphatic, definite “no.”

How can this be?

Trust your horse. Trust.

Some of us fixate on the potential outcomes and forget to try to reassure ourselves. We tell ourselves, intellectually, why the potential outcomes are unlikely. But still, we are afraid.

But not the children. They were told to trust the horse and so they trusted the horse, open-heartedly. With loose reins and loose feet, they journeyed down the mountain.

And off the trail

Back at home, on flat land and in the wide valley of Central California, a friend told me of her attempt to reconcile with an old friend. She said the thing that had been bothering her, how the thing came across and asked if the friend could explain. “Instead of trusting me,” my friend said, the other reacted, “how can you think I’d think that?” Instead of trusting—past experiences colored the perspective, the filter through which words were interpreted.

Instead of trusting that she wanted to know the truth, that she believed in the friend enough to not simply interpret words the way they seemed, but to be open to an explanation. Because of her background, my friend said, her friend could not do it.

For adults who have fallen or been hurt by others, perhaps misshapen at an early age, the step to trust is complicated and sometimes painful.

We have to allow ourselves to quiet the assessment of potential outcomes inside us, and open our hearts and trust. Experiences tell us we should not, but if we never choose to trust, we will miss out on the lifelong friendships, the mountains, the trees and the woodland fairy waterfalls waiting for us when we do.

Horse being led by trail guide during trail ride at Kennedy Meadows
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Summer Living

Can it really only be the beginning of July?

It is remarkable when I consider an entire month remains plus two weeks for our summer vacation.

Our summer break began early in May. As a homeschooling family, we can end as soon as the syllabi are completed. Their education is not confined to set hours of the day or a set building but I utilize the experiences of life to augment what they learn at their desks. As summer begins extracurriculars fill the calendar.

Baking class

That they may all have a level of comfort in the kitchen. Teaching them a recipe at this stage will not mean they know that recipe five years from now, or a year from now, but they will know they can look at a recipe card, follow it, and see something turn out.

Sewing class

That they may all feel it is possible to sew, create, and mend. Many of these home arts are lost on my generation because we feel we lack the competence. It is the work of professionals. We will screw it up. And it hurts us when our daily duties call on us to master these arts.

Soccer class

For those not in organized sports, that they may learn how to pick up a game with friends whenever the opportunity arises. I’m thinking of adding a class, aka playdate, of old-time games: kick-the-can, red light-green light, red rover, and so on. It’s amazing what a generation can take for granted when they grow up in a neighborhood of kids and then when those kids take those games into their careers as teachers.

Horseback riding

For physical education that involves navigating the personality of an animal and teaching multiple skills in one lesson.

Art class

Like the home arts, that they may know these are skills that are within their reach. Beyond the organized craft project, we bring in an artist to walk them through. My favorite approach is to have the students bring an object or pick a flower and paint from life, learning the skills of observation. Science and art in one.

Then, there are the outings.

The Hughson Arboretum, extended visits to the library, the local historical museums, and blueberry picking.

Less locally, finally, a trip to the coast. We spent two hours on the beach, then two hours in the redwoods then two hours with family, who also live in the redwoods. To see the children’s pure joy among the waves, all bickering and squabbles left behind, nothing but excitement remained. In the redwoods, the marvel of their height, the joy at seeing a deer, approaching a squirrel, identifying birds. A half-day trail ride in the Sierra Nevada came next at Kennedy Meadows.

Next, we go to Southern California to reconnect with a family of friends, stay with a cousin and wonder how different are the worlds between southern and northern California.

I took a writer’s retreat and came back with a contract for a third book. My husband will attend a conference on sacred liturgy next week. And that’s only June.

Now comes July with more classes, more outings, and more adventures.

We’ll switch from Westerns to Adventure films like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Up,” and “Jason and the Argonauts,” only more and more it seems we have little time to watch them. There’s a camp for the girls, our wedding anniversary, birthdays, and the Stanislaus County Fair.

We’re making memories with events capsulated in a season.

Summer Vacation

The school year was hard, but vacation is sweet, like life. My work punctuates all these events with set hours Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for the newspaper but publicity and bookwork pour into the cracks of a brimming-over day-to-day. It’s wonderful. It’s joyful and free and, surprisingly, still structured with chores and the things we must do to maintain a home and little farm.

We have all we need in the beauty and joy and tiredness of summer.

Sacrifices are made to make this possible. We cannot live a high life. We cannot travel abroad. We cannot buy prepackaged snacks. We gratefully glean from neighbors’ crops with permission to supply our children with produce. But those sacrifices which make life simpler so that we are essentially a single-income household, enable us to make life fuller, according to our preferences, values, and our family’s needs.

It is a good life and I am grateful to live it.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Three Years on the Farm

We are a small-scale farm, very amateur operation, and learning as we go. Our primary lesson is patience. After that first lesson, we learn about flowers, animals, and the soil that sustains them both. This is where we stand, at the beginning of our third year, here on the farm.

When we moved here

wild geranium and sting nettle filled the yards to the brim. Chain-link fencing, irrigation pipe, and black widows occupied the barns. The walls of the workshop brimmed over with mold. Pesticides laid the field low. Yet, the house waited for us. This house, so well-known to the community, seemed ready for us and we were ready for it.

The roof needed replacing. The windows were falling shut. The driveway flooded, waters flowing up into the workshop, higher and higher.

Little by little, we mowed and tilled.

We planted a fruit grove towards the back of the field, imagining the day when all the produce we needed would be right here, and a day much later, when our lives are quieter and we have more than we need, able to bless others with that abundance, as others bless us now. Blossoms punctuate the fruit grove. I sent the children to make scientific observations on the differences between fruit trees and I wonder if we perhaps pruned the trees too hard this last winter.

I see the blackberries and raspberries coming back to life and remember we need to string additional wire to support them.

The chicken coop and our little flock of chickens came next, hauled over with my father’s tractor. The chicken yard expanded as these three years marched on, as did the flock. We replaced the feeder and nesting boxes with products from DuncansFarmStore on Etsy. What a difference it made. That plus the patience of waiting for chicks to age, we now collect an average of 10 eggs a day for the six eaters in the house.

eggs from the farm

In December, a friend offered me two lambs to test our budding interest in raising sheep. Sheep milk can be used for consumption, yogurt and cheese production, all products my children consume in bulk. Each morning I rose at 6:30 a.m. to mix their formula. My three eldest children went out in the wee hours to feed their lambs. The lambs grew, challenging our construction skills until they were ready for the wide-open world. My husband set up their pasture, or lamb yard, as we call it. Now their baaing drives him crazy whenever he is outdoors. They knew where their food comes from.

Inside the yard

the wild geranium and nettle made way for a perennial flower garden, a cut flower garden, a dahlia garden and a fairy garden. I am determined to let the fairy garden’s flowers bloom at their own pace and never cut them. This one shall be for the delight of our eyes. All the rest for my fingers to pick and arrange and share with the town through the little flower stand I began last year.

New rose bushes arrived this year, complementing the collection we inherited from past tenants. After the removal of two problematic trees, I must reassess the water need of the plants facing the road.

The interior of the home became ours quickly with coats of paints, art and antiques, a quick change in one bathroom from a bulky vanity to wall mount cast iron sink from Miss Potts Attic. The second bathroom had its remodel when we replaced our kitchen countertops. A new counter and new tiles make the room, preserving the old we can keep and replacing with new when called for.

It comes step by step.

We made mistakes in these past three years, but understand them as lessons rather than errors.

Better than all of it is the sight of my barefoot children, my son’s vitamin D levels, my two-year-old swinging herself as she sings, my daughter’s iris garden on the brink of blooming, my child’s treasure map, and the holes the bunch of them are digging to China. It is a golden childhood, and we are so grateful to give it to them.

We are but tenants ourselves.

panting of our little farm house

If we steward our resources well, this house will live on past us, to receive the patter of little feet and nurture little souls.

Step by step, little by little, and with lots of patience.

For the Love of Books

Valentine Davies writes in the book, Miracle on 34th Street:

‘Do you know what the imagination is, Susan?’ The child nodded sagely. ‘That’s when you see things that aren’t really there.’

“’Well, not exactly,’ said Kris with a smile. ‘No — to me the imagination is a place all by itself. A very wonderful country. You’ve heard of the British Nation and the French Nation?’ Susan nodded again. ‘Well, this is the Imagination. And once you get there you can do almost anything you want.’

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith writes:

‘What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?’

“’The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret.’

For the love of books, bore the brains out of your children

Rows of books
Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

In our goals of giving our children the best of what we had in our past, with the guardrails of what our generation learned, my husband and I seek to create something of a boring atmosphere for our children. Our one television stands in our bedroom moved out to the living room and positioned on the 1×12 inch board we place across the school desks for family movie nights. There are audiobooks only occasionally, usually when we travel. The movie habits were limited to selected films until the Magnolia network came on the scene and our viewing admittedly expanded on Saturdays and Sundays to include more run-on, what’s next, style viewing, a habit I once avoided better than now.

We have an outdoor space where they can run, dig and explore.

We have multiple kids so the child who wants to be alone can escape and there is always someone else to play with.

And we have books. That wonderful world of books.

My father and I stood in the remodeled barn looking at the 12 foot long, doubled-sided bookcase. He showed my antique books in Greek, in German, the History of the World, my mother’s textbooks, his old comic books. Those books, he collected and loved the books he collected. They were prized possessions even if I never saw him reading them.

The man took me to Borders and Barnes and Noble, but we loved Yesterday’s Books best. He drove me to poetry readings and gifted me an ancient computer before the days of the world wide web on which to type out the stories in my mind.

All my days in the house I remember shelves full of books: “Come to the Meadow,” signed by the author, Anne Grossnickle Himes and addressed to my sister; The Living Bible; The Saddle Club books. Eventually, these gave way to Austen, Bronte and Dickens.

My poor husband carted boxes and boxes of books from this side of the country to the other, and back again. Each week I go the library to pick up or drop off. Once a month I lumber out the exit with sixty books in my bag, blessing my children with the new month’s theme.

My husband reads one book, The Lord of the Rings, but he reads it over and over again, perennially, if you will. I keep a mental list of the “classics,” the books that influenced and shaped the culture, the books that more than a few people thought worth reading two hundred years later. I think there must be something to that.

We are readers. We are book bugs.

If we spend too much time in the digital world, it is noticeably harder to focus on print. So we make an effort and it pays off. Because the world of books, the world of literature, is a rich world, a bold world, a world worth visiting regularly.

During Lent, we instituted Reading Nights in place of Friday movies nights. We lit the fire, popped popcorn, pour tea, and sat quietly while we read individually, alone together. And it was beautiful.

Books were my companions in lonely childhood, they were my respite during times of crisis, they were my avenue to intellectual growth in the doldrums of motherhood, and I hope and pray, that I can pass that comfort onto my children, so that no matter where they may be, whatever they may endure, they will know there is a bit of rest, of joy, of escape in a book.

Child reading
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Lemons: An Answer to Life’s Troubles

I inherited my Kitchen-aid mixer when my husband and I married and my mother upgraded to a larger size to accommodate her enormous baking habit. With it, she gave several attachments, including a juicer.

It may have been five years ago. That sounds about right. About five years ago, dear friends who knew me as a child invited us to pick fruit in their front yard. Now, every year, either we ask or they remind us, the fruit is there. Come and get it.

The aged trees are laden with lemons, grapefruit, and oranges.

I used to accompany my husband until our little babes outnumbered us. This year, he took two of our daughters.

What could a family do with three gallons of lemon juice?

“When life gives you lemons,” they say.

We make lemonade.

The lemonade serves special occasions. It serves for playdates, parties, for summer art classes. It serves.

The orange juice comes out when illness strikes and we need to be more proactive than our usual nutrition. We need a boost, and all the better if it can be tasty. It also comes out for Mother Day mimosas.

The grapefruit, one year, was condensed down to a simple syrup and added to Italian sodas as part of our Italian booth at a church festival. Last year, we experimented with grapefruitade.

I moved the mixer across the kitchen

and set it on an old bath towel.

The juicing attachment goes on. I place a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup underneath. We bring in two five-gallon buckets to collect the rinds. Empty half-gallon jars build a formation around the mixer.

We have to be more careful this year because citrus will etch the of the marble work surface that replaced the broken tile. We lay out two cookie sheets, two cutting boards and two knives. A quick assessment determined the decision to gate off the kitchen from the two-year-old.

And we get to work.

One capable and well-trained child cuts the citrus, filling the tray. We switch the empty for the full tray and I begin juicing. She fills the next tray. Once filled, the bucket needs to be emptied. She carts it across the field to the grove of baby fruit trees. It takes her a while to come back. By the time she does, I am ready for her to cut more.

We work in rhythm with each other. The man of the house reenters the kitchen with labeled gallon-size freezer bags. He blends the admittedly pulpy juice and fills the bags, carrying a batch of four or five to the outside freezer.

Little girl juicing lemons at a Kitchen-aid mixer to make lemonade.

After many bags of citrus, bucketfuls of rinds and two days later, the job is done. A thorough clean-up reveals a little etching on the marble. That makes my husband and me even since he etched the opposite since of the counter. This one was my doing. It is good to have equality in marriage.

There are so many things we are powerless to stop in this world.

There is so much heartache, so much bad news, so many things that never should have been.

So when it’s time to harvest the fruit, and it must be harvested before it is too late; and when it is time to juice all that citrus, and it must be juiced before it rots on my countertops, we allow ourselves to be beholden to something that is good, natural, rewarding, and, well, sweet.

We allow ourselves to join in a bigger world, a world of neighbors sharing with neighbors, which we pay forward in our homeschooling co-op and hospitality. We teach our children about family projects that take multiple hands.

The reward is the juice that comes from it.

You have to work to get there, but it’s better than anything packaged and sold in a store.

Jars of grapefruit juice.

We freeze the juice in those gallon bags and take it out throughout the year to make strawberry lemonade, lavender lemonade, Palomas, and smoothies. Bigger than that, we make memories and receive the generosity of others.

“The man and woman who let us pick their trees, they must be really wonderful,” the hardworking child gushes.

In a world that is hurting or disconnected, it is good to return to the land, to the ideas of farming in which neighbors work together to bless each other.

And it is very, very sweet.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.