Road trips with boys

So, over the weekend our 4H group went out to Kearney, Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration.

sandhill cranes

Somehow, I ended up with all the boys. ALL the boys.

Just let that sink in for a moment. One hundred sixty miles one way with ALL the boys from our 4H group.

Somewhere along the way, they decided to have a story telling competition. The goal was to tell the funniest story that made everyone laugh but everyone would just vote for their own stories. The only solution, it seemed, was to let Micah — my five year old — judge.

Thus it began. And they quickly discovered that any story involving poop or pee made him laugh. You can imagine what happened to the story telling from there. It went straight into the toilet.


After awhile, Asa, my two year old, decided he wanted to join in the fun. And, having gotten the main point of Every. Single. Story. for the last fifty miles, he began shouting.

Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee!

Given the sudden laughter that ensued, I say he won. Hands down.

Posted in birdwatching, humor | Leave a comment

A lullaby for the soul

Sitting in the rocking chair, holding little Asa. I trace the outline of his sleeping face, stroke his cheek and unwind from the day. A pang of sorrow for the pregnancy so recently lost and overwhelming thankfulness for the warmth of his cheek against my chest.

It is good to have a few moments to reflect. To cherish what is and miss what isn’t so it doesn’t get buried too deep.

Micah walks in and I’m annoyed. I don’t want to be disturbed from this moment. From this moment of bittersweet melancholy mixed with joy that seems to make up motherhood whenever I slow down enough to notice. And he’s supposed to be in bed.

“What do you need, sweetheart,” I try not to sound too annoyed.

“Me made up a song. Me want you to sing it.”

I just want to tell him to go back to bed. I don’t know what game this is that he’s playing with his bedtime, now, but I’m not in the mood. Still, there’s that twinkle in his eye like a child on Christmas morning so I try my best to set aside my irritation.

“How can I sing a song you made up in your head? I don’t even know the words?”

“Ok, me sing it.”

And he begins singing his lullaby in his sweet little voice to the tune of Jesus Loves Me.

Rock your baby back and forth,
If him falls then pick him up,
Nurse him nurse him ’til him full,
Love him love him, and kiss him cheek.

I smile. “I like that song,” I tell him. “That’s a very special lullaby and a very special gift.”

And I love how his eyes get that same twinkle every time he hears me sing his lullaby to little Asa. His gift to my soul.

Posted in family, Grief | 1 Comment

I had a miscarriage

A week before Christmas, we got quite the surprise. We found out we were pregnant again. It wasn’t planned. I was pretty sure little Asaroo was our last. But every life is a gift and I cherished the thought of the little surprise growing within me.

We talked about our little surprise, our little secret. And the kids just thought we were teasing them about their Christmas presents. But Christmas is a busy time of year and I really didn’t have time to think about it that much. A little tinge of nausea would remind me. I would smile and would it would pass.

For one whole week, I harbored a special little secret. And then it was gone.

When the bleeding first started, I was only a little concerned. It was just a little spotting, really. The second day there was nothing. I was actually told I was having a miscarriage in the ER with my first child in London based on the amount of blood and she’s 17 now. I know that a little blood doesn’t always mean the worst.

But as I waited for my appointment with the nurse, the spotting turned to bleeding, turned to heavy bleeding with clotting. And in the middle of the night, I started to wonder at exactly what point I should go to the ER. I was past the recommendations of the nurse, but it was the middle of the night. I didn’t want to wake the children up and scare them.

So I decided to wait and see if it got worse or better or if anything changed at all. And all the while there was no pain. No cramping. No aches of any kind. At first, I was thankful for that. And then it didn’t seem quite right that a life could pass from this world so quietly and with so little struggle.

In the morning, I was told what I already expected to hear. My hcg levels were actually where they were expected to be, but my progesterone was at 1.3. “Early miscarriage. Come back in two days.”

Now, she wasn’t as callous as that. She was actually quite a nice nurse. But that’s what my soul heard as I hung up the phone.

The waves of nausea started getting worse. What was just a tinge here and there before Christmas was beginning to take over the day. I got a package of snack sticks from the hog we recently had slaughtered because eating helped calm it. I felt more pregnant than I did before the miscarriage.

The return visit to the nurse wasn’t a whole lot of help. My numbers actually came up. “It can take awhile for your body to catch up with what is happening in your uterus. The morning sickness can last several days until the hormone levels start dropping.”

I knew that. In my head, anyway. The rest of me still felt pregnant. First the nausea and now I had to use the restroom. For the second time since arriving at the office.

Thirteen days after the first spot of blood, the bleeding finally stopped. But the nausea remained. No longer a reminder of life, however, it now seems like a cruel joke, dragging this on until I find out whether or not a D&C is needed or if the miscarriage completed on its own.

And as short as its little life was, my baby decided not to pass quite so quietly after all.

Posted in family, Grief | 17 Comments

My New Year’s Resolution Type Thing

Well, I wouldn’t call it a resolution, exactly. I’ve never been very good at those. It’s like an annual Set-Yourself-Up-For-Failure tradition that I just can’t get into. I could choose a word or a theme or whatever the trend is now, but as cool as they all sound, they all just boil down to one thing: me trying really hard not to be me until I slip into enough of my old habits to just be me again.

So this year, I’m choosing a focus. The last several years, my focus has been chosen for me by the unpredictable and demanding nature of grief. It went from just getting through the day, to just “the next thing,” to improving our animal husbandry in between everything else that goes along with homeschooling six children while running a small hobby farm.

My focus this year is going to be on the garden.

It has limped along since we first moved here, suffering from lack of weeding and lack of fertilizing and lack of any effective means of fighting the annual plague of the squash bug. Each year we make headway. We get a little more produce, but continue to be frustrated with how much more we could get if we had more time and resources to build the soil, tend the crops and keep up with the weeding.

And so far, my Don’t-Call-It-A-Resolution-But-A-Focus thing is going really well. I circled all the seeds I wanted in a seed catalog, made a plan for the garden and put in an order. I even made a colorful little garden map on the computer because then it is really official.

OK, so “up” is actually west on this little map, but it doesn’t really matter. The squares on the bottom represent the 4′ X 4′ raised beds we’re going to make this winter and fill with spent hay, straw, compost, manure and topsoil. I actually have enough room for nine if I leave two feet in between them, but nine didn’t look so tidy on my diagram and diagrams are all about the looks. The kids are each going to grow the salad veggies they like best in their boxes and I’m going to grow peppers in the rest.

In June, we’re supposed to be getting 40 broilers. Now, I don’t really have a good place to put 40 broilers. That’s a lot of chickens and they do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can’t roam. They do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can roam because they’re so big and lazy, they don’t generally roam even when they can. But that, combined with this lady, gave me the idea to just put their pen in one section of the garden. They can eat and drink and scratch and poo to their hearts’ content, occasionally catching a bug and devouring every green thing that dares pop up in the pen for the nine weeks we have them. They’ll leave it lightly tilled and heavily fertilized when they move to the freezer and I can follow them with a cover crop.

The next year, everything will move up (west) one section so the squash (the heaviest feeder) will always follow the chickens. In seven years, the entire garden will have benefited from having the fertilizing devotion of chickens for an entire growing season. And without even setting out to do so, that little section will get the seventh year rest mentioned in Leviticus.

OK, so I think that actually says to leave your entire land to rest, but we’re not exactly Torah observant here at Roscommon Acres.

The rest of the garden shall continue to receive the benefit of being cleaned up by the livestock at the end of the season and being covered with a layer of straw to be tilled in each spring. But I’m hoping to see measurable improvements to the soil fertility with the addition of chickens to our crop rotation.

The other part of my plan is the hard part. Weeding. Other than just simply to do it, my big plan this year is to space the garden sections so the tiller can pass between the rows. This may seem like a no-brainer, but . . . well . . . you may be dealing with people who aren’t exactly brainless, but do lack significant experience.

  • We tried a no-till method that the weeds really loved. They’ve been begging to go back to that.
  • We had it spaced for a tiller, but it broke down and the newer, hardier one that would actually sort of break through our hard clay in the summer was too wide for the rows we set.
  • Then we planned to make chicken runs in between the rows so they’d do a lot of the weeding except that we never made the runs and the space we left was too narrow for the tiller.

So this year, I’m just going to till. Till, till and more till. Also, I’m getting all bush varieties of plants so the dumb things stay in their sections and don’t overtake the paths. Because in theory, a big ol’ pumpkin plant can spread out every which way, shading out the weeds and taking care of itself. But in reality, it spreads out every which way, making it impossible to pass through and allowing all manner of weeds to spring up within the protection of its prickly fortress.

As far as the squash bugs . . . ahem. I really don’t know. Last year, my solution was to skip all things curcubit, but I miss them. I’m hoping that lessened their numbers, but I think my solution may include the judicial use of sevin dust. I’ve read that you can start a squash plant indoors and set it out in a pot and wait for them to attack. Then you smother it with sevin dust, wait and do it again. Then you can destroy the bait and plant your crop. It doesn’t sound that promising, but I might give it a try. Who knows? Without the pumpkin leaf forest, maybe picking off the eggs won’t be such an impossible task since I’ll only have bush varieties anyway.

So there we go. I drew up a plan and put it in writing. That makes me like ten times more likely to succeed, right?

Posted in Gardening | 2 Comments

Last minute card/gift idea to make with your little ones

Do you need a last minute Christmas craft or card idea? I happen to think these are the cutest little cards ever, probably mostly because they’re my two year old’s hand prints, but it was still a lot of fun and totally worth the mess.

So have yourself a “monkey” little Christmas . . .

and a Happy Narwahl!

Ok, so the narwahl looks a bit more like a bird, but you have to be a bit flexible with handprint art.

This actually came from an alphabet book we’re working on.

An idea we “borrowed” from the Red Ted Art blog which is like the best blog to follow if you have preschoolers. She does everything I wish I did. And I blame her for all the half finished projects we’ve started because I get all inspired, but my follow through isn’t all that great.

So anyway, “M” was for monkey and “N” was for narwahl. And that was all we needed to decide little handprint Christmas cards would be The. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

And then you can wish everyone A very monkey Christmas . . . and a Happy Narwahl!

And have this song stuck in your head for the rest of the season:

We wish you a monkey Christmas
We wish you a monkey Christmas
We wish you a monkey Christmas and a Happy Narwahl!

Good tidings we bring
To you and your zoo
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy Narwahl!

The steps are pretty obvious, but here they are, anyway.

1. Gather supplies. You’ll need brown paint, blue paint, white paint, a paint brush, blank cards or card stock and diaper wipes (the best cleaning supply ever).

2. Write “Have a very monkey Christmas” on the front of the card and “and a Happy Narwahl” on the inside.

3. Turn the card upside down to do the monkey. Older children will try to turn it right side up again so make sure you pay attention. Otherwise you get upside down monkeys. We have a lot of upside down elephants in our alphabet book for this reason.

4. Paint your child’s hand brown, encourage them to splay their fingers, and splat it down on the card, pressing firmly. Then a little paint on the finger should make a wiggly tail. Glue on googlie eyes and you’re done. Or you can get some green paint and let them make fingerprint leaves all over the outside of the card because paint is cool and why stop now?

5. The narwahl is a little more involved. Turn the card on its side. If you’re using the left hand, the bottom of the card should be on the left side.

6. Paint the thumb half of the hand blue (minus the thumb). Paint the other half white.

7. Encourage your child to squeeze their fingers together and press firmly on the page.

8. Paint a little stripe for the narwahl’s tusk and add googlie eyes.

9. You can be done here or let them cover the page with fingerprint water drops, because painting is fun and why stop now?

Also, watch out for the two year olds. After doing these, I held Asa’s little hand while I got a diaper wipe to clean his hands. But he REALLY wanted to see what that paint felt like on his face. So while I was occupied trying to free a wipey, he smooshed his face into his hand and rubbed paint all over his face. He was an adorable mess and I totally would have taken a picture except for the the fact that half my front room would have been painted by the time I got a picture.

And it really doesn’t take that long and makes a super cute last minute craft to occupy excited little ones or make some cute handprint Christmas greetings for someone special on your list!

Posted in family, holidays, homeschooling | Leave a comment

How I almost set my house on fire. And then walked out the door.

So, I guess it was just one of those nights. I mean, it’s not every night you set your house on fire on your way out the door. And almost don’t even notice.

It started with a toddler temper tantrum. And a frantic search for shoes because it was time to go and no one had any. And all the other typical little kid things that put me in a rushed frame of mind as I’m trying to leave the house.

And then I did it. See, we keep our keys and wallets in a little basket on top of the desk along with whatever other odds and ends get dropped in it now and again. It’s a good place to go for loose change. And it’s a good place to drop things I’ve taken from the baby that he shouldn’t have. So as we were on our way out the door, I grabbed the basket, took out my wallet and put the basket back on the desk.

It’s these little things you do every day that you just don’t think about. Little risks you take without a second thought. Little things that could lead to you stepping right out the door as your desk becomes engulfed in flames.

So anyway, then I turn to open the door and I smell smoke. I think, “Well, duh. We heat with wood.” But it just wasn’t quite right. It didn’t smell like smoldering wood smoke. It smelled like a freshly lit match and that first burst of warmth smell you get when you set a bunch of papers on fire on top of the wood in the stove.

This is the moment where the rush and the distraction could have led to me going right out the door.

But instead, I hesitated.

And I turned around, thinking it was all very odd. And suddenly became aware that there were flames shooting out of the basket I had just taken my wallet out of!

Fortunately, it was contained to a couple of papers sitting in the basket and all I had to do was pick them up, blow them out and toss them in the stove for good measure. And then stand there staring in what seemed like a perfectly harmless basket just moments before. Because normal baskets don’t just burst into flames when you take wallets out of them.

Then I saw it. A wee little burnt match wedged in the basket. Somehow, it had fallen out of a box of matches and taking the basket down and putting it back up on the desk was just enough to get it to strike. And set my papers on fire.

And had I just pulled the door closed behind me instead of turning around, it could have grown to take the basket, the papers around it, the desk and the whole house.

All because I grabbed my wallet as I rushed my children out the door.

Posted in family, humor | 5 Comments

Thank you, Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump (because Dear The Donald just sounds awkward),

I must thank you for being the first candidate to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time. It may, in fact, be the only one that really matters.

I feel strongly about this. I don’t usually talk politics on this blog. It is my happy place. It is my grieving place. It is about my little place in the country with all of its ups and downs. Politics hasn’t really found a home here. It’s just too . . . divisive. But sometimes you just have to stand up for what’s right and you, dear sir, are the first candidate to inspire me to take this humble little platform and do just that.

I must humbly confess that up to now, you have not been my favorite candidate. I just didn’t trust you. After all, you threw your support behind Hillary Clinton. I understand you’ve come clean on that. Something about being a man of business and knowing where your bread is buttered. And while I can see your point, I rather prefer a man of principle in office. A man who will back what’s right even to his own personal disadvantage. After all, John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies who stood the most to lose and he still staked his life on a few principles that guide our nation yet. I’m sure he could have paid off a few people and gone on in relative peace, his fortune largely untouched, but that is neither here nor there. After all, that was only the British Monarchy he was standing up against.

And you’ve always seemed to me like a caricature of conservative values. Like the face behind all those forwarded emails and facebook posts that no one ever checks out before sharing with everyone on their friends list. I just never quite trusted that you were real.

But thanks to your recent stance on the Starbucks coffee cup crisis, I now know you are the man to lead this country in the right direction.

“I have one of the most successful Starbucks, in Trump Tower. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. That’s the end of that lease, but who cares? If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you. That I can tell you.” ~ Donald Trump

Pure Presidential poetry.

Because no one should be forced to drink overpriced coffee in a plain red cup this time of year. It’s time to finally get rid of holiday trees and season’s greetings for good. I want Christ’s name slapped on all of my holiday excesses and co-opted pagan symbols. And anyone who believes otherwise can just turn in their citizenship and move to the Republik of Kalifornia.

Thank you, Mr. Trump. For taking a stand for all of us.

Roscommon Acres

Posted in culture, holidays, humor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Time slips by

Sometimes, I wish time could stand still. Slow down just a little bit. I feel like it races by. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months.

Mookie just had his fifth birthday. And it’s less than six weeks until his brother died.

And I know grammatically, that doesn’t make any sense. But it is how I feel in the stillness of the night when everyone is asleep and I’m left alone with the wind and the darkness and my own thoughts. Like it is something about to happen rather than something that happened almost five years ago.

I failed at my attempt to blog every day in August. I knew I would from the outset. August is not a good month for that. And after not writing for months, the likelihood of keeping it up in the best of months was not great. I didn’t expect to make it. But I did hope the challenge would bring me back to blogging . . . regularly. Ish.

But time slips by. September and October both just disappeared. I had plenty to write about. Thoughts and ideas and plans. But time just kept slipping by.


Posted in Grief | 4 Comments

Milestones in life and in grief

“He’s so cute. How old is he?”

“18 months. About. I think.”

I hesitate, but suddenly I don’t know. It seems like he’s been 18 months forever. I make a joke.

“With my oldest, I knew to the day. After seven, I know he’s one. And when he’ll be two. But I have to work out the months.”

And we laugh and the conversation goes on. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, it bothers me. He HAS been 18 months forever. Why does this month in particular seem so long?

In the morning, I take my seat on a bucket beside the cow to milk. Lately, I’ve been apathetic about the whole milking thing. I like the cows. I love the fresh milk. I love the fact that my daughter’s GI doctor used the word “pristine” to describe her recent lab results and is beginning to question whether the original diagnosis of ulcerative colitis is even accurate. And since there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence linking whole raw milk with the alleviation of gastrointestinal issues, you would think I would be more excited than ever about milking.

But I’m not. And it’s kind of weird. This is what we have worked for for so long. Through all the struggles getting started and all the frustration last year. I now have a trained milk cow. She knows what to do. I know what to do. Her calf knows what to do. And while I have never achieved that happy state of looking forward to these moments of relative peace and quiet while I’m alone in the barn, there is no stress involved in collecting our day’s milk.

So I rest my head against the side of the cow to reach her teats on the other side and it occurs to me that little Asa has been 18 months for an awfully long time. And for the first time since first having that thought, I start to do the math.

. . . in December he was 12 months . . . August is the 8th month . . . he should be 20 months . . .

And then it hits me. September 3, he’ll be 21 months. Tiggy was 21 months when he died.

These waves of grief seem to strike out of nowhere. Time doesn’t really weaken them. It just spaces them out more. Makes them more unpredictable. Makes them harder to talk about.

But next week, my little boy will be 21 months old. He’s a little bundle of energy, curiosity and joy. He brings so much joy . . . and fear. It sometimes makes it hard not to parent from that dark place that only sees 1,001 ways a child can die rather than the thrill of exploration and accomplishment. And I’m so thankful he’s a cuddler because right now, that’s all I really want to do, anyway.

Posted in family, Grief | 8 Comments

Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly

Anyone who has been around me here or on facebook for long knows that I love making floral jellies. There is something almost magical about harvesting the essence of the season and packaging up in a jar for later.

One of the first one’s I wanted to try was Queen Anne’s Lace jelly, but that was when I was just starting to read about foraging. And I read about this woman in Iowa who thought she was collecting Queen Anne’s Lace and made herself up a big batch of hemlock jelly.

And that made me nervous. Because what if all along, I’ve been collecting water hemlock to stick in jars of dyed water to show how water moves through a plant? And collecting water hemlock for spontaneous wildflower displays in my window? I mean, I grew up in the suburbs, harvesting food from the grocery aisle. What did I really know about foraging, and edible plants and deadly look alikes?

Except the more I read, the more I was convinced that hemlock didn’t look all that much like Queen Anne’s Lace. It doesn’t grow in the same places. And it stinks. And is irritating to the skin (though the green leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace can be, too!). But Queen Anne’s Lace just smells like carrot. It makes your hands smell like carrot. And it usually has a dark blossom right in the center. It’s sort of purplish. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. I had never looked closely enough at it until I was trying to make sure it wasn’t going to kill me.

I write all this to make sure that anyone who comes across this recipe is careful. Make sure you know what you’re harvesting. And don’t accidentally kill yourself and your whole family with a little forray into floral jellies.

So, Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly.

By the way, I’m kind of a sucker for natural. I don’t add artificial dyes to any of my jellies. Even lilac jelly which would be beautiful if it were a subtle shade of lavender. Feel free to add food coloring if that makes you happy!

Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly

(This recipe is for a double batch and will make about 8 half pint jars.)

4 cups Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms, green stems removed (I just snip with scissors. Don’t worry about separating each individual little blossom.)
4 cups boiling water
8 tablespoons lemon juice
2 packages liquid pectin
8 cups sugar

Rinse blossoms and place in a large glass or stainless steal container. Cover with boiling water, cover with a lid and let sit for 24 hours. This makes the infusion for the jelly. It doesn’t smell as nice as some of the other infusions but don’t worry about it.

Strain the blossoms, squeezing out the excess water, and discard. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the infusion and bring to a boil, stirring continually.

Once it reaches a rolling boil, add the pectin and stir for one minute, skimming off the foam as it forms.

Process like you would any other jelly. Here’s a great tutorial from Owlhaven.

And enjoy a teaspoonful of the summer sunshine on a piece of toast. Maybe it’s because it’s the first jelly I’ve made this year, but the flavor rivals any I’ve made before. It was that good.

I’m sure hemlock jelly wouldn’t have been nearly as tasty.

Other floral jellies I’ve made:

(If you actually read these, you’ll notice that the recipes are pretty much the same. You just substitute whatever EDIBLE blossom for what is in the recipe. I used to use powdered pectin but have switched to liquid because it is more forgiving of doubling the recipe. And all these recipes are doubled.)

Do you harvest any wild flowers or greens for the table? What recipes do you like best?

Posted in In the Kitchen, recipes | 4 Comments