Making marriage work

So apparently, a reddit user recently asked what makes a successful marriage. I thought that was easy.

Stubborness.

It’s why every year, something takes out my garden, be it weather or weeds or my geese. Every year it is something, and yet every year I plant it again.

It’s why every year I start tomatoes and peppers from seeds and every year I end up going to the nursery to buy tomatoes and peppers because something happened, be it weather or negligence or my herbicidal cat. But every year, I try it again.

It’s why every year I lose chicks or ducklings or goslings to the fickleness of made-in-China heat lamps and cold spring weather, but every spring, I try it again.

And it’s why after over 18 years, I’m still married to the same man.

That and an ability to keep it all in perspective with a touch of humor to make it all worthwhie.

Like when our local nursery had sweet potatoes. Up until the very moment I found out, I had not considered planting sweet potatoes. I had actually decided that was a future maybe-if-I-ever-get-to-it project after my cow ate all I had planted the year before. And then I mistook the Japanese knotweed for a few survivors and dutifully nurtured and weeded my bed of knotweed until it was well-estabished and sent out its little runners into everything without producing a single sweet potato.

So anyway, we went down to buy sweet potatoes. They had like twenty each of two different varieties. I was inclined to take them all, because who can have too many sweet potatoes? My husband had to be all rational. Did I really need them? And I thought need? What’s need? What does anyone really need? At 79 cents a pound, sweet potatoes start looking pretty cheap at the end of a summer of weeding, especially when all you have to show for it is a bed of Japanese knotweed that the internet says you will never ever in a million years get rid of.

So no, I didn’t need it.

“What will you give up for it?”

There I was beaten. It’s hard to stake a potential harvest when my history with gardening is sketchy at best. So I relented and only bought 20 plants. And while I paid, he got to ride on their mower.

Their SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLAR mower.

And I coud see in his eyes that gleam that says, “I want this. I must have this.” And it also says to me to run and hide the checkbook and the credit cards.

Instead, I decided to share some of his wisdom with him.

“What are you willing to give up for that?”

And you know what he said to me? This man who would begrudge me 20 sweet potato plants?

“Your hobbies.”

And there you have it.

What do you think makes a successful marriage?

Posted in family, humor | Leave a comment

On saving frostbitten potatoes. And hope after loss.

So I finally got to taking some pictures of my property. Nice pictures showing cute little calves.

The goslings our mama goose hatched out.

And the progress in the garden.

I had planned a post on the excitement of spring. The hope found in new life. And the feeling of finally seeing the rewards of years of working at this with little to show for it other than “experience.” And more things that don’t quite work.

But then we were hit with a late frost before I even got to decide which pictures to use for the post I never wrote. And for awhile, I felt like I was right back in that onion patch I planted the spring after Tiggy died.

What is the point of trying again and again and again when the only option is failure? It’s too much. It’s too hard. I don’t know how to do this.

But I also don’t know quite how to give up.

So I bought the rest of the heirloom tomatoes available at a local farm and filled out my selection with a variety of hybrids that looked interesting. I bought twice as many peppers as I had before. I took the rest of their onions even though my onion patch was unphased by the frost.

And then my garden had a little surprise for me. Four jalapenos and three tomatoes had survived. Under all the dead leaves was a lot of healthy green coming up in the potato patch. My garden wasn’t quite as dead as it looked.

I read that potato plants can frequently survive a freeze so long as there is healthy growth underneath, so I set to pruning back the dead leaves. And with the dead pruned away, there was room for life to stretch toward the sun.

And in the time it took me to prune all 280 square feet of potatoes, six of my “dead” tomato plants sent up new shoots.

Sometimes, the challenges of life knock us back. They kill our dreams, strangle our hopes and tear down our growth. But when our roots are healthy, life continues in the shadows, waiting for the chaff to be pruned away so it can again stretch toward the light.

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.

~Psalm 31:24

Posted in faith, Gardening, Grief | Leave a comment

In which I run screaming down the road. Because of a honeybee.

I thought someone stole my beehive. Driving by on my way to town, I noticed it just wasn’t there. As I put my car into reverse to double check, I imagined someone cruising down the highway as my bees attacked.

photo by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel

It didn’t help.

I’ve put too much time and effort into these bees. I’ve been trying to start a colony for three years, but I just can’t seem to carry a hive through winter. And here after failure after failure after failure, April and the dandelion bloom are in sight. One of my students in my nature study class found a dandelion bud and I beamed as I told them the importance of early spring flowers.

And now someone is going to up and steal my beehive?

I wanted to cry.

And then I spotted the beehive upside down in the windbreak.

It’s maybe been a touch on the windy side these last few days. I didn’t even have that happen when the tornado went through that pushed our neighbor’s outbuildings off the foundation.

So anyway, I was a little too relieved to really think through what I should do. I just put the car in park right there in the road, grabbed my daughter and ran over. I was happy to see a few bees buzzing about and hear the whole hive buzzing.

The angry “you better not mess with us” buzz. After all, what colony of anything likes lying on its back, exposed like that? It didn’t really occur to me that they might blame me for their misfortune. I had nothing to do with it. I was rescuing them. And it was cold out. Bees really don’t fly around much when it is below forty.

So my daughter grabbed one side, I grabbed the other and we gently rolled the hive over and backed away quickly.

“Yay! Success!”

Or so I thought. I figured it best to leave the hive alone for awhile. Let the bees calm down, I thought. Besides, I wasn’t sure my daughter and I actually would be able to lift it anyway. So we went back to the car and continued on our way.

I made it all the way to the stop sign at the bottom of our road before I felt a buzzing down my back.

And this is the weird thing. I’ve been stung before. It’s not that bad. It isn’t fun. I’d rather it not happen again. But you get over it. Especially if you have bindweed because if you chew the flower and smack that glob of goo on the sting, the pain goes away almost immediately.

Getting stung isn’t so bad. But knowing you’re about to get stung is enough to send you into a panic. Or at least it is enough to send me into a panic.

And this after I oh so calmly explained to someone on facebook how easy it is to lose your fear of working the bees. How calming it is, in fact. I failed to mention that it’s still scary as anything to have a bee fly into your clothing and start that angry buzz.

So, yeah. I slammed on the brakes and tried to get out of the car. The door was locked. Put the car in park. Swung open the door and jumped out while trying to extricate myself from my jacket while trying not to let my shirt tighten across my back.

“Mouse! Help me!” I cried out as I ran around the front of car. (Good thing it was in park. Oh how fun it would have been to try to explain how I ran over myself while running from a bee that was stuck in my shirt!)

I’m not sure she entirely knew what was going on, but she dutifully grabbed my sleeve and pulled my arm out as I spun. I had my shirt half off . . . right there in the middle of the road on a 35 degree day . . . when I felt the bee crawl up my back and into my hair.

I screamed. I screamed and ran, flipping my hair over my head and spinning for no real reason while my daughter yelled, “I see it! I see it!”

That’s when I ran right into the open car door. The one I had left open as I made my dramatic exit from the car.

And that’s when the bee flew off.

And when my daughter and I started laughing so hard, I couldn’t drive.

And once again, I found myself incredibly thankful we don’t have neighbors.

Because what would you do if you pulled up on someone half dressed and frantically screaming as they spun in circles around their car?

 

Posted in Beekeeping, humor, Rural life | 6 Comments

Announcing our litter of English Shepherd puppies!

On February 3 and 4, Faithfull delivered her litter of ten in the whelping box my husband and children had made for her just the day before. Nothing like cutting it close! This is her not quite sure she likes her set up.

whelping box

The mattress is there because Mouse sleeps with her beloved Faithfull until she starts delivering. Last year, Faithfull woke her up by laying a newly born puppy on her! As soon as things got started, the mattress moved out so Faithfull and her puppies could have plenty of room.

And it didn’t take long at all before puppy number one came along.

first English Shepherd puppy

And number two.

And number three.

And numbers four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and finally ten!

English Shepherd puppies

And for all that work, mama defnitely deserved a little nap with her newborns.

English Shepherd nursing puppies

Marley, the papa of the litter, so wanted to know what was going on in that box. Everyone was paying so much attention to those squirmy, squeaky things, he knew it had to be something special.

English Shepher puppies

But alas, Faithfull is a good mama and not quite ready to share her litter. Her people are allowed to touch. And to fall in love.

English Shepherd puppy

But for now, Papa has to wait.

English Shepher eyes

I will post more about English Shepherds and how we raise our puppies later, but for those who are interested in more information, this is a link to our puppy blog that covers her last litter, including what we do to help make housebreaking easier and provide them with a stimulating environment to make their transition to their new homes easier. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me and I will answer as soon as I can!

Posted in English Shepherds | 1 Comment

Aquaponics in winter

OK, so last spring, we started on this aquaponics adventure. It was sort of my husband’s thing, but I like projects. Especially ones that involve ways to grow food. And it felt good to be able to turn an old IBC into something so . . . cool. And it really worked. Nutrient rich water pumped to the gravel bed, the natural biofilter provided the plants with food and clean water was returned to the tank for the fish.

herbs i aquaponics

It took a bit to get the system working. We lost a lot of fish. We set this up in the garage and it took a bit to get the lighting right for the plants. And the plants right for the lighting.

But it did work.

And we went into fall optimistic that we were past the first year bumps and this coming year might actually bring a successful harvest.Especially after discovering that one of the cold hardy lettuces we planted survived the first arctic blast and it was December before we harvested the last of the lettuce.

Then one crisp morning I walked into the garage and found several inches of frozen slush on the garage floor and a tank with fish flopping around in what little water was left. Thinking a tank had cracked in the cold, we got a livestock water heater, moved all the fish to one tank and shut down everything else. We eventually wanted heaters for all the tanks, anyway, but the cracked tank bothered me. That was a lot of work, and I didn’t think it should have happened.

But it didn’t actually crack. After I calmed down and the mess was cleaned up, we realized what the actual problem was. The water in the grow bed had frozen solid, covering the holes that allowed the water to drain back into the tank. So the pump had spent the night pumping water up to the top, where it overflowed, spilling partly into the tank and partly onto the garage floor.

So now we have one tank out there up and running, full of all the fish from five tanks. Four are frozen solid. But the heater is doing its job and keeping the water and the filtration flowing and the fish seem happy.

There’s even some leftover parsley hanging on to life, thanks to the warmed water that floods its growbed twice every hour.

parsley in aquaponics

And on a whim, I stuck the cut off base of some celery and leeks in the grow bed. I had read that you can regrow them if you soak them in water. An aquaponics tank seemed the perfect place for the experiment.

Except the fact it was below zero and all. Nothing grows all that well in single digit temperatures.

But I did it anyway. And this is what the celery looks like a month later.

celery in aquaponics

And even the leeks are showing some growth.

leeks in aquaponics

And I am getting really excited for spring.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

An answer to prayer

I sit, holding Asa, watching him sleep. Mookie leans over to give him a kiss. I smile . . . then shudder.

For it occurs to me that this is how old Mookie was when his big brother died.

And I remember a moment a few days before that. I was sitting on the couch takinng off Mookie’s wallaby blanket in order to change his little diaper. The kids were running all over. Tiggy had a cold. The house was a mess. And I was overwhelmed.

I didn’t know how to get everything done, but mostly I was scared of getting pregnant again. I didn’t know how to take care of seven children. It didn’t make sense even then, but I remember praying for some help, some relief, some peace.

And on windy nights when I held a squirming Mookie too close through my tears I would think of that prayer and feel pangs of guilt. As if I had somehow asked for this because for one moment I was overcome by all the responsibilities before me. And it was hard to admit even to myself how much I wanted another child. And how difficult it was to go to the doctor and find out that the issues I was having didn’t really need treatment but would affect the likelihood of having another child. But I couldn’t really talk about that with anyone because who fights back tears over not being able to have a seventh child?

I knew my motives were mixed. I knew another child wouldn’t fill that hole Tiggy left. Nor would it take away an evening of feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a seventh. But feelings are what they are and mine longed for one more child to hold and to count and to raise.

And now here he is. Number seven. In my arms, asleep and showered with kisses by his big brother.

I lean over and whisper in his ear. “You are an answer to prayer, little Angel.” Because I want him to know that even as number seven, he wasn’t an accident. He wasn’t an after thought. He is our little “healer.” Our little reminder of “victory.” In Christ, over death and through new life.

Posted in family, Grief, parenting, Tiggy | 2 Comments

Frozen gifts

So, on New Year’s Eve, the kids and I drove all the way out to Creston, IA to watch Frozen with my husband. It’s about the beautiful princess Elsa who has the weird (and somewhat useless) power to freeze things. Once I got over that, I enjoyed the movie. And the poor princess locked away in her room as her powers grew got me thinking about how we treat giftedness in this country.

Sheer numbers alone force teachers to “teach to the middle.” Students who perform significantly above or below average are difficult to deal with in the classroom environment. Thanks to testing requirements, there are a number of services available to lower performing students. And while gifted and talented programs available at many schools may provide some much needed enrichment, gifted students often have a difficult time fitting in.

Some eventually drop out.

But then, you don’t even need to be gifted to feel locked away in a classroom. I have nothing against the idea of public school. I went to public school. I did well. I went on to become a public school teacher. But it seems that over the years, school has been taking over more and more of our children’s lives. There is increasing pressure to increase instructional time through lengthened school days and more of them. Recess is being taken away. More focus is being put on math and reading in the early grades to the detriment of everything else. And to prepare for the all important testing, more and more homework is being handed out.

And I wonder how much time the average student has to really notice the world around them. To explore. To think. To daydream. To get bored enough to come up with something to do . . . and to start recognizing his own interests and talents.

How many are frozen by the expectations of a single standardized test given to all students as a measure of academic achievement?

And it isn’t just our schools. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I joined a Christian homeschool support forum and made a comment about my daughter’s budding leadership abilities and not being sure how to direct that. A number of women jumped on the thread warning me to “nip that in the bud.” Strong girls, I learned, are a parenting challenge. Not because you have to guide them with any particular skill, but because you have to break that strength. Apparently, submission and strength are mutually exclusive concepts.

And with all the strong women of the Bible . . . and all the strong women leaders of the Bible . . . the discussion mostly left me wondering if we all read the same book.

And it left me concerned for these girls whose God-given gifts and talents were frozen by an ideology that allowed only for a very narrow view of what it meant to be a woman.

Conceal, don’t feel, never let them know . . .

How many of our children can relate to Elsa’s song? And how many will feel driven off into the cold before they can finally let it go?

Posted in culture, education, faith | 7 Comments

My one resolution

A new year, a clean slate. A time when we seem driven to declare the things about ourselves we don’t like and want to improve. Make steps toward our dreams. And otherwise do what we have failed to do year after year until we find ways to side step around it.

And decide not to set any resolutions.

Or to set goals.

Or choose a word.

The discussion I’ve been reading on facebook regarding making resolutions vs. setting goals doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Probably because I’m weird. But to me, a goal is sort of a wishy washy starting point. It is a destination. A place I want to be. But resolution is the thing I need to get me there.

It’s that iron will to keep going despite what is happening around me, to do what I don’t want to do.

To me, it is much more like that biblical “purpose in your heart”. And I think that is why we so often fail at whatever resolutions we make. It’s because they weren’t really resolutions from the start. They were just dreams, expressions of qualities we wish we had. And on January 1, we don’t count the costs.

Now, I’ve never been “into” the whole resolution thing. I don’t really remember ever coming up with any beyond whatever popped into my head when someone asked.

But this year, I do have one. Sort of. It isn’t measurable and can’t be broken down into actionable steps. In fact, it isn’t really something I can “do” at all. And I’m certain to fail because I’m not likely to succeed every day. Even if I am only resolving to remember one little thing I already know: Today counts for eternity.

Posted in faith | Leave a comment

The highs, lows and constancy of Christmas

And now . . . a guest post from my husband.

The First Christmas

My first Christmas memory comes before age six. The anticipation for myself and the other two foster children, they were to be adopted by the family, had been building for weeks. The tree was a beautiful dark green with sparkling lights, tinsel, ornaments and a sea of colorfully wrapped presents. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning.

Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. Soon the lights were turned off and the family moved on to other festivities leaving a solitary figure behind. Dawning upon this child was the fact that he had received nothing! Alone for hours this first Christmas memory would leave a lasting hurt.

Not Always So

The next Christmas memory came after my adoption. Beautiful tree, rows of gifts but no anticipation, no building excitement. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning. Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. The question on my lips, ‘is this really mine?’ Yes, my parents exclaimed, though I didn’t quite believe it. Astounded for such goodness had never come my way.

The Lost Christmas

Fast forward 30 or so years. For the first time in ages a Christmas tree stood in my home. The decorations slowly making their way to the top of the tree because of the busyness of a not yet two year old. Thirteen days before Christmas his little mischievous ways would be taken from us forever. That Christmas was shrouded in sorrow and barely celebrated. We were hanging on by threads.

The Best Christmas

One year later came the best Christmas. One carefully sought out gift for each child, scripture reading, hymns, good food and family. The height of the storm had passed and we could see clearly what Christmas actually symbolizes. The birth and fulfillment of hope leading us to….

The Constancy of Christmas

Christmas has much to teach. Firstly, the un-adopted son receives nothing, no good gift; while the adopted son receives many great and free gifts. The ability to, and the reason for overcoming the pain and suffering of our lives was once wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Thirdly, whether a tree stands in your home or not; what is raised or taken down in the town square, Christ’s birth cannot not be overturned or quieted for it is truth. Fourthly, the greatest truth of all is that one cannot separate Christmas from Easter:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord….Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. (Luke 2:11; 1 Peter 1:3)”

Good tidings to all, and a Merry Christmas to you.

Posted in faith, family, holidays | 4 Comments

Nursing memories

3 AM. I sit on the corner of my bed, nursing my newborn baby boy. The moonlight reflecting off the snow casts just enough light to make out the outline of his cheek and the line of his little arm clasped tightly against his chest. I can tell his eyes are open, but all else is lost in the shadows of the night.

I want to remember these moments.

His breathy excitement as I get ready to nurse him.

The way his mouth opens in a perfect little oval and his whole head follows his lips as they search first to the right and then to the left, back and forth until he’s finally nursing.

The little fist he finds and latches onto while he kicks his little legs because he just can’t wait any longer.

The slow rhythmic suckling, with one arm held tight against his chest.

I look at him and memorize him, trying to hold this moment in my heart.

Three years ago, I sat in this very spot, nursing Micah and staring out the same window at the mini Coupe left on the side of the hill where Tiggy had last played with it.

I sat there and tried to remember nursing Tiggy. But in a busy family, nursing a baby happens by the wayside. It happens while half asleep in the wee hours of the morning. It happens while talking on the phone. It happens while reading to other children. It happens while going over school work. It happens while making grocery lists and menu plans.

But to remember, you have to let go of the busyness, clear your mind of the clutter of managing a household, and simply be there. In that moment. Letting everything else fall into the background.

Tiggy was number five. That didn’t happen very often.

And I also worried what my grief would do to Micah. How would he turn out, growing up in the shadow of his brother’s death?

Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for the gift we had in Micah. His name proved almost prophetic: Micah Jair, “Who is like God? He shines.” And he did shine in the darkness of those days. My thoughts may not have been on him as he nursed night after night. Sometimes, I held him too tightly so that he squirmed while I shook with wave after wave of tears. Sometimes, I held him loosely while my thoughts were distant and disattached. But when he cried, I had to step out of that cloud of grief enough to hold him and that was enough to go forward a little bit more each day.

But I had precious few days to hold him and rejoice in him because he was only six weeks old when his brother died.

And now I sit holding little Asa as I think on all these things. He lets go and begins to cry. I try to burp him. Change his diaper. Hold him against my shoulder. Try to rock him. Try to nurse him once again. Nothing is working. So I stretch him out before me so I can see his face by the light of the moon and sing bits and pieces of songs I’ve mostly forgotten, strung together with verses I make up as I go along.

Each moment is a treasure. And this, too, I want to remember.

Posted in family, Grief | 2 Comments