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

Round about the farm

So this is a bit of a hobby farm. In that we have a lot of animals and plants most people would consider crops, even if they don’t produce anything. These are a few of the main characters. You can tell because we took enough pictures of them that a few of them actually turned out!

This here is Candy in her characteristic Candy pose. She has looked at me like this since she was a calf and, according to the breeder, her mama did it, too. Can’t help but wonder if her little calf at her side will do the same! We milk her every morning and then turn her out with her beautiful baby for the day.

This is Scout. At 15 and a half hands, he’s a big boy. Mouse’s pride and joy. And the horse I wish I wanted to ride? I was looking for something in the neighborhood of 14 hands and older. Maybe a retired trail horse. I thought that sounded like a good first “real” horse for my daughter, but this boy had been through quite a bit of training and was almost the perfect horse, even if he was only 8 when we got him and quite a bit taller than I had in mind.

My saskatoons. I have no idea why I was so excited to get these from the Nemaha Resource District. We planted a whole hedge of berries I had never tried before. Good thing they were delicious!

And more first fruits from our dreams. Blackberries! We’ve harvested a couple handfuls so far this year and hoping for maybe one more. For a family of eight, that doesn’t last long. Tradition here is to share the the first fruits a plant produces. You know how much fun it was to divide up our first two cherries? The single peach was the best though. I’ve never eaten something so delicious.

One of my honeybees. Drinking from the aquaponics tank. One of the many benefits of aquaponics: no more dead bees floating in livestock waterers!

And finally, evidence that we take compassion even on garden pests. Maybe it has something to do with how beautiful the butterflies are. Or that we homeschool. But rather than disposing of these devourers of dill, we took cuttings, brought them inside and named them Bob and Crystal. Unfortunately, they escaped rather than building a chrysallis like a good caterpillar under observation.

Well, out of close to 200 pictures, that’s all that seemed worth sharing. And why I don’t share pictures all that often. It’s just too much work!

Posted in Gardening, Rural life | 2 Comments

Ten Things I Would Like to Learn How to Do

So, now that I’ve written on my blog for five whole days in a row, I suddenly have actual readers. To introduce myself, I thought I’d share a few things I would like to learn how to do. Plus, it almost fits with the challenge’s prompt for today.

1.  How to sew. Pretty much anything. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard, but sewing machines and I just don’t seem to get along. I can’t make it go in a straight line which pretty much makes any project impossible.

2.  How to garden. I’m finally to the point that the garden produces enough to pay for itself, but its biggest product remains weeds. To look at it now, you wouldn’t know there was anything else. I’m over the whole mulching thing. Next year, it’s straight rows with enough space for the tiller to go through. Please no one else send me any links to that Back to Eden guy. Apparently, I’m not him. Mulching my garden results in nothing but grass that I can’t weed because the hoe doesn’t go through the straw, and I only have so much patience for crawling around on my hands and knees through 3000 square feet of garden. The rows in between where the tiller goes are nice and clear, though.

3.  How to make soap. I got as far as ordering everything I needed to start. A general lack of time combined with the fear of dumping an entire pot of lye on myself has kept it all neatly in the box it all came in, however.

4.  Ride the horse. We’ve had him for a year. I’ve been on him twice. Actually, maybe I really just wish I wanted to ride the horse. He scares me. Not because he’s naughty or anything. It’s the way he just stands there, waiting for me to tell him what to do. It’s not like being on a trail horse that goes where it goes and stops when it gets home. The only hard part is getting them to move in the first place. Scout isn’t like that. He stands there, alert and ready to go and I feel all this power and energy under the saddle and I’m pretty sure that I’ll kill us both.

5.  Drive the tractor. It’s sort of silly that I have to wait for my husband to get home to till and plow. Even my daughter knows how to drive the tractor, she just isn’t allowed to till or plow, yet.

6.  How to play an instrument. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited that my daughter was able to learn guitar, that my son is learning saxophone and that my two younger daughters are learning to read music with their recorders. I played trumpet for awhile in school, but I never really liked it. And I don’t even remember how to read music.

7.  How to use my E600 without getting glue all over my fingers. This is like the most popular glue in jewelry making so it has to be me, but I always get more on me than in the little end caps for my bracelets.

8.  How to knit. I have a box full of knitting needles. I have several books of directions with simple patterns. I even tried to make a baby blanket, once. It was not the peaceful, grandmotherly experience I would have liked it to be. It looked less like a contented old woman rocking in her rocking chair while knitting booties for every one she knew and more like a neurotic crazy woman doing battle against harmless cotton yarn with flimsy aluminum spikes. I finished it and it looked OK . . . except for the fact that the end shape was more trapezoidal than rectangular.

9.  How to quilt. Unfortunately, being able to sew is kind of a prerequisite.

10.  How to take pictures. I have a decent enough camera that takes decent enough pictures. I’m not going for anything fancy with SLR lenses or anything. Just clear shots of the few things I try to take pictures of. “They” tell me that blogs are more inviting with nice images. Y’all are pretty much stuck with my word pictures because I write far better than I photopraph.

So, what would you like to learn? Please share! And visit Blogher’s round up of posts for more about their theme, “Know.”

Posted in education | 13 Comments

On giving advice to the grieving

I’ve been given a lot of advice over the past few years. Most of it amounts to how I should be feeling, how I should be parenting and how I should be looking to Jesus since the death of my son.

Most of it is annoying. I am left with a vague desire to say something. Because, really, there ae just some things you shouldn’t say.

Like, I’m sorry you lost your dog. Really, I am. But it’s a dog.

I’m sure your great Aunt was a wonderful woman and I’d like to try her pie, too. In fact, we could sit down to a piece and you could tell me all about her . . . just don’t tell me you know just how I feel because you loved her and now she’s gone.

Don’t tell me it’s time to stop grieving. That started ONE WEEK after the funeral. Apparently, Christianity is a single emotion religion because if I really had faith, I’d know he was in a better place and I would rejoice. But then, the Bible says it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting and that sorrow is better than laughter. (Ecc 7:1-4).

“Keep your eyes on Jesus” is a great idea. But it is usally said in a manner that implies I’m not. As if, “Keeping my eyes on Jesus” would eliminate the pain. I’m not sure most people realized that, particularly in those early months, everything else had been stripped away. Jesus was all that was left. He was the only light in a very dark and terrifying world. That didn’t make me happy. It just made each day possible.

Interestingly, people who have lost a child don’t give a lot of advice. At least not directly about how to deal with the grief itself.  They don’t tell me that I’m doing it wrong, or that I should be “over it” or that if I “give it to God” somehow all this pain will be lifted from me.

Instead, they say things like, “The pain never goes away. It just doesn’t. It gets easier. It gets less overwhelming. But it never goes away.”

And they tell me about the time they stood screaming at some random object that had nothing to do with anything but for some reason, that was the point that brought all the anger to the surface and they just screamed.

And they tell me that in time, you learn who you can talk to and who you can’t. Most people mean well, but there comes a point when it is better to say you’re doing OK than to get into another discussion that will only upset you anyway.

And they talk about the “new normal.” It’s like a code word for waking up in this alternate universe where everything –EVERYTHING–has changed.

And they say call me. Email me. Write me. Even though they are complete strangers I know for only one, terrible reason. And when they say it, for some reason, I actually believe the invitation is genuine. And that they know exactly what that call, email, letter will look like and they ask for it anyway.

So do I prefer advice from strangers or from those closest to me? I don’t think it really matters. I think what matters is whether or not the person giving the advice has a personal and direct connection to the issue.

Because good advice comes out of the wisdom only experience can bring. Most people mean well. But very few people have any idea what it is like to lose a child. If someone close to you is wrestling with this grief, the best advice I can give is to just be there for them. Listen to them. Pray for them. It is a lonely road and they need all the support they can get.



Posted in faith, Grief | 18 Comments

To know a thing

For the first time since Tiggy died, I am actually looking forward to this school year. It was such a long time before I could even look forward to anything that I remember the moment. The time I said, “I’m looking forward to . . . ” and meant it. Even though it was followed by a wave of grief.

The first year, I think, my plans were based on just getting through the day. The next fifteen minutes, even. Then it was on healing. And finally, consistency. That sense of wonder and adventure and curiosity about the world had been lost.

But I have some of my energy back. Some of my vision. And I want some piece of that enthusiasm back in our day to day approach to learning, so I’ve been reflecting on why we homeschool to begin with. What is knowledge? How do children learn? How do you come to know a thing? Especially deeply?

And as is so often the case, I stumbled across the answer while looking for something else. It was even something I wrote about encouraging wonder in my children.

To know a thing, we must first observe it. Patiently, frequently, thoughtfully.

~ Me, Dana Hanley, because who doesn’t want to quote themselves?

It was a bit of a jolt to see that written there. My own words, showing how far we have drifted in these tumultuous seas of grief.

But it’s a new year, and I’m looking forward to getting some of that back.

How do you instill wonder in your own children or students?

(I am participating in BlogHer’s challenge to blog every day in August. It’s not too late to join! If you got here expecting me to talk about being an expert, I wrote about that Saturday. Because I’m a rebel like that. Or directionally challenged.)

Posted in education | 6 Comments

The Treasure of Experience

(I’m participating in BlogHer’s challenge to post every day in August. This is a repost from a series a did about Building a Reflective Homeschool. Because I fell asleep last night, but it seemed relevant to the topic and related to what I posted yesterday on not being an expert.)

It seems to me, we have packaged up and bubble wrapped the world. I remember hours spent outdoors, playing in a wooded area near our house, splashing in an old creek and playing with the tubifex worms which lived there. Since these can be a sign of extreme pollution, it probably wasn’t a creek we should have been playing in. There are real concerns with turning a child out until the street lights come on, but there is a cost to that measure of safety as well.

I tend to plan experiences for my children which meet my educational objectives and do not always appreciate the time they spend on their own. Last week, we learned about emus. We read about them, listened to a song about them and watched some video of them. We’ve watched the emu at the zoo pace along the fence, occasionally bellowing out her call that is more felt than heard. We know about emus.

fox kitWe don’t know as much about fox kits, however. We haven’t studied them, haven’t seen too many shows about them and there aren’t any at the zoo. But last summer, we watched three kits emerge from a den along the side of the road. They were small, a bit awkward and curious. Having lived all their lives along the side of the road, they were not the least bit concerned about the traffic. The blaring of the train horn did not phase them. Rolling down my window did.

It was only a moment. But my children were captivated. All of their senses were activated, including that one sense that cannot be activated according to plan: the sense of wonder. Every time we drove by, they would strain against their seat belts to try to catch another glimpse. We wondered where the parents were, and whether they ever ambled through our yard. We don’t know much about fox kits, but we know them. They grew up near us.

There is a subtle but important difference between knowing about a thing and knowing a thing. Knowing about it relies on facts and perhaps some objective analysis. It happens in the brain and is distant and removed from the self.

To know a thing, on the other hand, invokes the senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch work together to introduce you to the subject. It is deeply personal.

I cannot create such experiences in my children. They are about as easy to plan as those “teachable moments.” But I can learn to recognize their importance and place appropriate value on them when they occur. While a good homeschool mom might have taken more advantage of our experience with the fox kits to study more about them, I also know that there was value in that moment that cannot be replaced by an encyclopedia of information about foxes.

And I look forward to seeing their impressions of Cinnabar when we get to reading that later in the year.

To Know a Thing
by Eleanore Kosydar

look closely:
what do you see?

green fronds unfolding,
the way they curl? do you hear
the green unfolding? see sun vibrate
in greenness, Van Gogh vibrations unfurl?

We know a thing best by loving it:

Tiny worlds framed in dew drops; sunlight
refracted by rain…tender new ferns
coiling sweetly; echoes of dawn
in shiny droplets of dew.

Look closer.
What do you see?

Posted in education | Leave a comment