Monday, August 29, 2011

Menace to Society

I don't plant sunflowers anymore. I don't plant morning glories, either.

They are weeds.

Beautiful weeds.

I pull them out and pull them out and pull them out.  I let some grow.  A very few, select plants that happen to have decided to grow where, in theory, they won't interfere with the things I've planted.

And still, my garden is overrun with them.  The morning glories are growing up the fence and look lovely, but they're also entangling themselves around my cabbages and tomatoes and are hopelessly twisted up with the sweet potato vines.

Nathan hates this.

I... I don't really mind.  Yes, the garden is a tangled jungle that I can hardly walk through.  But it's August.  Isn't that how a garden is supposed to be in August?  Besides, the jungle nature is more due to my negligence (Weeds? What, those weeds?  All those weeds?  Can't see 'em.) and close planting in my small space.  The Teenage Mutant Flower Weeds are only a small part of the problem.

When I say "mutant", I'm not even kidding.  They've been breeding themselves into quite an interesting conglomeration over the years.

I've planted quite a few different varieties of sunflower in the past.  I had some "Giant Grey Stripe" one year that was very big and tall with a single flower head on top.  That was a utilitarian seed variety, but I've also had various ornamentals-- multi-heading cutting sunflowers bred for their pretty colors.  So the upshot is that now all the volunteers that I get are some combination of those.  Most of them are GIGANTIC plants covered in a half million small blooms. (Here's a little blast from the past for you: read about My Giant, the monster we grew a few years ago.)

There are also some that are ringed with red and brown:

And some with longer petals and yellow centers, instead of black like the others.

And then the true mutants, bizarre Siamese twin sunflowers:


So anyway, I had no choice today but to hack at 'em.  Some of my precious vegetables were just getting too much shade from these giants (12 feet high and 5 feet wide for one plant is just too much.)

So a select few got hacked, either taken out completely, or just thinned considerably.

The goats were overjoyed.

And in looking out at the garden, I can't even tell they're missing.   But there is definitely a little more light coming in where I need it.

The morning glories are a different story.  I have to pull them while they're small, or they get all tangled up and I can't remove them so well.  I've tried introducing other colors, but they always come back as these standard blue things, hardy as heck and very tenacious.  I can hardly get the other colors to grow, much less intermingle with the natives.

But oh well.  They sure are pretty.

(With apologies to my long-suffering husband.) 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mean Mommy

I am! Really.

Mean, that is.


I make my six-year-old do all the work.

Then I take pictures while my baby cries.

He can really throw a fit when he tries.  But doesn't he look like such a faker in that photo? 

And he's so cute, even when he's crying.

Aw, poor little snot-face.

I let them play, though, too.

Oh, boy, do I ever.  Nathan came home tonight and looked around and said, "Wow, looks like someone had a fun day today."  Between Evan's myriad messes, and Jonah's castle and our "ocean bottom depth sounding" project this afternoon, this place is a disaster.

This kid just goes from one mess to another all day long.  My house looks like a bomb went off in it.

Someone please tell me why I even have this basket of baby toys in the living room?  I should box it all up for Goodwill because seriously, it never even gets looked at.

Evan is just SO busy now.  He's becoming a toddler right before my eyes.  His favorite trick is "free-standing".  He thinks it's great and does it at every opportunity.  He took three steps by himself the other night, but hasn't attempted it since.  He always just sits down and crawls.  It's easier that way.  But I'm sure more steps are to come.

I think I forget that he's actually a toddler.  He's so little, and he can't walk, so he's a baby, right? But then he goes and writes all over Jonah's math book with a pen, or, you know, eats dishwasher soap, and I think, "Hey, babies don't do this kind of thing!" and then remember that he's getting past babyhood really, really fast.

The things he thinks of to do just crack me up.  He went into the mudroom today and started bringing shoes, one by one, into the living room.  Then he sat inside the door and threw them all back into the mudroom.  Then he brought me one of my sandals and put it on my foot, then off, then on, then off, for a solid five minutes.  When he tired of this, he put the sandal in my lap and climbed up and held the sandal.  When I threw it down, he got down with an air of great urgency and got the sandal again.  Tossed up the sandal and climbed up again.  I put it down and we did it all again.  Why?  I have no idea.  It's just so nonsensical.

I just love toddlers.  They may be trouble-makers, but I love them.

I'm like, totally the laziest blogger ever.  Here I am, sending you off to look at everyone elses Lodge blog posts, instead of writing more of my own.  They're so good, and really, what more could I say?  Well, I suppose I could surely think of something.  And perhaps I will.  But for now, check these out!

Mom: Photo Album

April: Pie Prep

Pioneer Woman: Good Friends, Good Pie

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's a Privilege

Jonah helped me pick a mountain of beans today.

Okay, so he picked a few handfuls, then chattered, asked questions, and made up knock-knock jokes while I picked beans.

He's learning.

We brought them in the house and piled them on the counter.  We ate lunch, then I said, "Hey!  If  you help me work on these beans, I'll let you do some math pages during Evan's nap!"


This is a trick I learned from my brilliant sister-in-law/dear friend who is a mother of six.  Make a potentially unpleasant thing desirable by making it a privilege.

"If you do you chores, I'll let you do some schoolwork!"

It works, too!

Ah, motivation.

Well, there was still plenty of reminding, whining, coercion, wandering away from the task at hand, etc.  But still, there was a reward at the end of this tedious job in the form of schoolwork!

We got about half of them done (jarred up and turning into lacto-fermented pickles, yum!) before Evan ate dishwasher soap and I had to call poison control.   (He's fine, apparently completely unaffected, praise God!)  That was right at naptime, which I had to delay a little in order to monitor the child who will eat anything.  But naptime did come, and the four pages of math was so! much! fun!  It helps that we're starting a new book, and it involves fun manipulatives.

Let's see how long we can sustain that level of enthusiasm...

I haven't had a chance to write more about out trip to Pioneer Woman's Lodge and the pie workshop there.  But if you're interested, my Mom wrote about Evan's experience, and April Phillips wrote about the horses.  Check out the posts!  I'll try to write more later.

Friday, August 19, 2011

This is Not My Life...

...but I'll take it!  For the weekend, anyway.

Not that I'd always want to ride in a limo...

...or change diapers on a cowhide.

But what a special treat! 

[Random aside:  is that a basketball under my shirt?  I mean... seriously.]

The delicious food!

Lovely accommodations!

We are having a great time and enjoying our time with each other so much!  It's so great to hang out with my Mom and my dear only sister, and we had a great visit with Ree (Pioneer Woman!) last night over supper.  Evan isn't really sure what has happened to him, but he's adapting.  It won't be all fun and lazing around, cuz there's work to do for the pie class tomorrow, but we'll have tons of fun with that, too!  Off to take pictures and help with prep! More to come, I'm sure...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Little (or big) Behind

I'm so behind on updating here!  I often have things I think of to post, and sometimes even the pictures to go with them, but I am always pulled away by something else.

Like this.

Ever seen what a busy 13 month-old can do to a kitchen?  It can be scary.  He loves to explore now, and it seems like my floor is a constant mine-field of stuff he's pulled out from somewhere.

And we've been doing lots of fun summer stuff, too.  Jonah's begging to officially "start school" (even though we've been doing some reading and phonics and math all summer), but for now, I'm soaking up summer.

So are the boys.


...and playing in the sand (or dirt, or mud, or whatever else presents itself, hopefully not chicken poop).

Eating watermelon...

...and sweet corn. LOTS of sweet corn.  (Ugh... can you imagine what his diapers have been looking like lately?  Nevermind.  Sorry.  I keep mentioning poop, don't I?)

And speaking of sweet corn... I think I am just going to give up on planting that stuff.  I love picking and eating our own corn, but we seem to have so much trouble with it (germination, mainly) and then our Amish neighbors have piles of it and share it so generously and I'm wondering why I bother with trying to grow it.  The Amish are amazing with corn.  They seem to know exactly when to plant it so that it grows well, and then they pick it at the perfect time and it's never over or under ripe.  And they even always give us the perfect number of ears for a meal or two.  I love it.  And my corn is... pitiful.

Anyway.  So that's something of what we're up to these days.

Oh, and then there's... this.

Yes, that's right. My Mom is doing a pie class at Pioneer Woman's lodge.  And... I GET TO GO, TOO!  Really!  Unbelievable, I know!   My favorite sister is going, too, and I'm taking Evan and we're all flying to Oklahoma and spending this coming weekend at The Lodge.  Squee!!!  I'm not so much looking forward to flying, 7 1/2 months pregnant, with a 13 month old in my lap, but hey, it'll be well worth it!  It's gonna be so much FUN!  And I have a direct flight, so it shouldn't be too big a deal. 

A vacation!!  I get a vacation!  With my Mom and sister!  With a fabulous place to stay, for free!  SQUEEEEEE!

And... we're leaving in three days!  Ack!  So much to do!  But it's a vacation!  Yay!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Too Much Yum

I just finished the most nearly-perfect batch of mozzarella cheese I have ever made.  And I've been making mozzarella for a couple years now.   The only thing that makes it less-than-perfect, I guess, would be the fact that it's made from goat's milk, as opposed to water-buffalo's milk.  So that means I can't technically call it "mozzarella" anyway.  Therefore, I deem this a perfect batch of "mozzarella-like".

I mean really, not to be tootin' my own horn or anything, or okay, maybe I am, but this cheese is pretty amazing.  This is after many, many, many, many batches of substandard or just plain horrid mozzarella.  This particular batch is creamy, mild, flavorful, stretchy, glossy, moist, tender.... mmmmmm...

So while it was still warm and stretchy, I layered globs of that perfect cheese with thick slices of juicy Yellow Oxheart tomato and Purple Ruffles basil (only some of which is actually purple or ruffly... most is just speckled, but still delicious and beautiful) and a sprinkle of fresh pepper.

Perfect summer treat.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Almost Can't Remember how Boredom Feels

I just read an interesting blog post about boredom and creativity.  It made me think a little... and mourn the loss, or temporary obscuring, hopefully, of my own boredom and creativity. 

The author says:

This lack of creativity is more than just a lack of time to be creative, however. Unlike God, we can’t make something out of nothing like He can, even though we are made in his image. We need something to work with: problems to solve, ideas to reimagine, skills to harness.

Doing this requires that which we also find (or call) boring: the patient, disciplined process of learning new things and practicing new skills. The time to do it is merely a luxury our culture neither provides nor praises. Even extra time will not help if we lack the understanding and tools to inform our imagination. Or the virtue. An undisciplined imagination in the service of ungodly desire is not much help in saving the world.
 All this time I've been blaming my creative recession on lack of time.  Obviously, that's not all there is to it.  I knew that, of course.  I feel like my days are just awash in keeping up with home, life, and needs.  I have no time to think, imagine, practice, or read.  And by "read", I mean read something edifying and thought-provoking, as opposed to random internet bits which seem to have taken over my reading capacity.  And that's just the problem, isn't it.  Not only is my daily work-life made up of small tasks, this and that, jumping from one thing to another, often several at once, just to get it all taken care of, but my thought-life is the same.  I take in bits of information, with great fascination, but don't digest them.  I add it to some collection in my mind, or not, and go about my day.

Before Jonah was born, and when he was very little, I had lots of boredom and I think I had many more creative activities.  A smaller domicile, only one child, much less work to do made time for art and music and other creative pursuits.  Also, and probably most telling, we had dial-up internet.  I spent way less time on the computer.  There was no Netflix in the evening on the couch with my husband, but rather only the occasional movie.  Certainly no Facebook to suck my time.

These things are blessings and curses, I must say.  I was reflecting the other day on how thankful I am for the internet--  I think we're able to live more frugally (I have saved A LOT of money on school supplies this year with the internet resources I have available, and there are many other areas of savings that are only possible with the internet) and able to have more connection with far-away family, all thanks to the internet (and it's high-speed nature!).  But I never have to be bored when I'm occupied with blogs and facebook and even so many interesting things to research and read and learn on the fascinating interwebs.

Not to say I have no creativity now --I have piles of ideas, sometimes!-- but I feel like that capacity is quite reduced.  I don't act on my ideas very often.  Or when I do, I feel woefully out of my depth.  I have trouble making things work, or getting to them at all.  I miss those things.

I guess I miss having a bit of boredom in my life.

 [As an aside, I don't feel so bad about letting Jonah be bored.  He always is looking to me for stimulation, and I simply can't provide it all the time, and that's okay.  Just now, we had planned to read aloud in our latest book for a while, but he's been so engrossed in his Lego creation that I can't --won't!-- drag him out of it, even to read to him while we have time.]

Friday, August 5, 2011

Strange Things Are Happnin to Me....

We eat a lot of yogurt in this house. A lot. A whole, hurkin' lot of yogurt.

We have lots of milk from the goats, see, and we all actually feel better (fantastic, even!) consuming this milk fermented (that's what yogurt is, you know, fermented milk) as opposed to fresh. I know all they say about fresh raw goat's milk being so digestible and good for you, but frankly it gives me a terrible stomach ache. And Evan screams during the night when he drinks it. Nathan and Jonah can have limited amounts, but not too much. And yet... we have goats. Hm. Let's not meditate on my logic in that, mkay?

My solution to this conundrum is to make things with it. It seems to be the lactose (milk sugar) that we react to. We all do just fine if that sugar is consumed by some friendly microbe that goes on to live and hopefully propagate happily in our guts. So I make cheese and yogurt. I used to make kefir, and I actually love kefir, but was having trouble keeping up with it, so it's currently residing in the back of the fridge, waiting for me to look benevolently on my beloved kefir babies and love them again. Someday.

All this to say that I try never to run out of yogurt in the house. I make litterally gallons of it every week. Evan lives on the stuff. I make it very sour, too (have to make sure all that lactose is used up!), and Jonah and I always put in a little maple syrup, but Evan and Nathan eat it straight. They're hardcore yogurt eaters. In fact, Evan happily ate lemons recently and never made a face. The sour just doesn't bother him.  I'm also sharing it with an Amish friend who is having some terrible digestive problems and this yogurt is one of the few things she can eat and feel well.

My yogurt-making system involves using a cooler full of warm water as an incubator for the warmed and inoculated milk.  I also do not pasteurize the milk before I make it into yogurt-- I keep the milk raw and just warm it and add the culture.

So.  You thought this post was all about telling you about my system for making delicious, raw, creamy, thick, sour, fresh, greek-style, goat milk yogurt. 


That was all preamble.

That was all just to lead up to showing you what I found in my yogurt cooler when I checked on it this morning, after starting a batch yesterday.

I love working with friendly microbes.  In fact, I consider it my food passion.  But sometimes.  Sometimes, you just never know. 

Proceed with caution.

(Apologies for the blown out photos-- I didn't think to take pictures while it was still in the house.)

This is what can happen when fermenting goes strangely awry. 

It looked fine when I checked it and warmed the water before I went to bed last night (just like I always do).  And this morning... wow.  Near as I can tell, some rogue wild yeast took off in there and went to town.  It actually didn't smell too bad.  Kinda good, actually... yeasty... interesting. 

It built up a lot of gas pressure in there and blew the lids off two of the jars.  The other two blew as soon as I started to unscrew them.  Thankfully, nothing broke.  But-- two gallons of milk, ruined.  The chickens has a feast of weird, plasticized cheese foam... stuff.  The liquid went on the garden. 

And I... cleaned up the mess and started over.  We're OUT of yogurt.  That is not good.  Dangerous, in fact.  What will we eat?  I'm panicking, just a little.

If all goes well, we'll be in the clear tomorrow.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

All Is Not Lost

...but all is not gained, either, so I'm sticking with what I said earlier.  However, I was delighted to pick these nice cabbages --buggy outside, but lovely and clean and tight inside-- which are currently being turned into spicy dill-pickle sauerkraut (chop cabbage, add fresh dill, mustard seed, garlic, some hot red chilis, ferment.  Yum!).

So there's that.

Yes, that is a caterpillar on a dill stalk on top of my basket.  These things must be observed.  We have not yet discovered what it is, or whether we want it to stay or be a chicken snack.

Wait, wait!  This just in-- Google informs me that our caterpillar is the larva of a black swallowtail butterfly!  And it likes dill (which I am more than happy to share!).  So there is a use for all that dill, afterall!  Glad I didn't feed that creepy-crawly to a chicken

And here, for some gratuitous cuteness, is what my own creepy-crawly-cutie looks like when he comes inside:

Monday, August 1, 2011


In which I will lament, cry, complain, and generally vent some serious frustration.  Because I am whiny.  Feel free not to proceed.  I just have to do this.

Why do I bother?  Why do I keep trying with things that never seem to succeed or bear fruit?  Oh, I'll just try again, and again, and again.  Nothing is working.

It looks like there's a lot going on in my garden, it's very lush and big and green, and even orderly, but I've come to the conclusion that it's all mostly sunflowers and morning glories and dill and weeds.  I keep thinking optimistically about it, but there sure doesn't seem to be much output for all that I (and Nathan!) have put into it.  And we've put a hurkin' lot of work and time and effort into it.  And yet... fizzle.

The potatoes came up great, but died early due to blight (I assume) so there are only two or maybe three potatoes under each plant.  And you know, it's pretty much the same every year.  This year we even tried spraying them all with raw milk as an antifungal (read lots of good things about that) but no luck.  They're dead.

My tomatoes got a nice early start and look beautiful-- great forage for those nasty tobacco hornworms that are decimating the plants. 

I picked a handful of ripe romas for supper last night-- and every one of them had blossom-end rot.

I can't even grow carrots and beets and kohlrabi and lettuce.  It rained so much all spring, then turned endlessly hot and dry so that nothing can germinate.  I keep planting them and... nothing.  I was laboriously nursing along a few carrots with much watering and shading, and yesterday a chicken scratched up what remained.  So much for carrots.

The winter squash barely came up but to be infested by those blasted vine borers-- immediate death.  There are two little plants that I'm nursing along by covering the stems with wet soil to encourage rooting, but they're so small that there is not time to set and mature fruit before frost now.  Last year I gave in and just bought some squash from a local farmer, but they all molded very quickly because the apparently weren't cured properly.

I should be eating zucchini, but it took three plantings to get them to grow, and now they're small and way behind.

The peas barely and sparsely came up, and now it's too hot for them to do anything.

The cucumbers are stunted from the lack of rain, and are finally blooming, but they always seem to die right after they start producing.  Bacterial wilt, or something.

The cabbage seem to be heading up nicely, but there are an awful lot of cabbage moths fluttering around out there and I found a couple worms on the broccoli, so... here goes.

The onions are all small.  The garlic are small.  The shallots went to seed.  They are out of time.

The sweet potatoes had a slow start, so I'm not getting my hopes up for them.

The three year old raspberry patch is lush, and the new canes come up prolifically, but for some reason they never bear fruit in their second year.  Disease?  I've never picked a single berry.

The strawberry patch is smothered in weeds.

The apple trees are bare.

The peach tree leaves are curled.

I've done no jam and very little fruit because it just hasn't been available to me from anywhere.

The chickens are making a mess of my herb bed.

And I'm doing well if I get three eggs per day.

I was so excited when 12 ducklings finally hatched a week or so ago.  The mama ducks are all on their second nests this year and this is the first time any have hatched so far.  Over the weekend, six of them have died of mysterious causes, and judging by the way they're going, I don't have much hope for the rest.

The other mama ducks are getting a little nuts from the unsuccessful nests.  They want nothing more that to have babies.

 We bought a big load of hay for the goats for the year, then found out that it's so stalky that the goats will hardly eat any of it.

The only thing I seem to have going great is the green beans.  They're happy and starting to produce (but lets not count chickens, shall we?).   And the goats are giving wonderful milk, so we have lots of yogurt and cheese when I'm not too busy wasting time in the garden to make it.

Why do I bother?  Why am I spending enormous amounts of time and energy on these things?  It's not just this year, though it seems to be worse this year.  Every year seems to go like this. 

I am beyond frustrated.

I'm ready to quit.

Is my time not blessed?  Am I not doing what I should be doing?  Is my focus wrong?  Am I prideful or complacent?  Do I just need to be brought down a few notches?

I try to put the work in, and leave the results up to God; praying for a harvest.  I used to garden because I loved to, and then economy became more important, and now my joy is sapped out of the whole thing.  I remind myself, over and over, that God (and certainly not I) provides amply for all our needs-- one way or another.

This just doesn't seem worth it.  So much work, so little result.

It doesn't matter anyway, right?  I'm having a baby, I don't have the energy for this.  It's probably just as well-- it would be hard to handle a big harvest this year, anyway.  So I should just let it go now, while I still have some energy to salvage.

I'm tired.  And discouraged.  And so sick of this struggle.

Is this just something that I want?  It's not what I've been given.  It's a want.  I want to be productive.  I want to contribute to the economy of my family without going out and earning money, but rather working at home in whatever way I can.  I love the work.  But it's just a want.

So maybe I should give up.  Focus on other things, like reading to Jonah and playing with Evan and cleaning my house (ugh) and sewing curtains.

Let the weeds grow and the tomatoes rot.  I'm over it.