Consecration Acres

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy."


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End of an era

This Thursday, Elijah left for his first day of full-time employment.  Moms get misty watching their 5 and 6-year-olds toddle off with lunchboxes and backpacks for their first day of school, I admit to mist as I watched my 17 ½ year old leave the house with his giant insulated lunch pack (he is 17, after all) and drive away.  I feel remarkably blessed to have spent nearly every day of those years nearby, to have been able to guide and to witness the spectrum of his transformation from a little round baby boy, to a young man ready to take on adulthood.  It has been an honor and a joy.

I remember being a young mom and going to the extra effort to drop my husband off at work in the early morning so that I could attend a La Leche League meeting.  I was feeling a little isolated at home and was hoping to meet like-minded women and enjoy some adult conversation.  I found the meeting place and apologetically squeezed myself and Elijah into the only (and very slim) remaining spot on a couch in the leader’s living room.  The mini-lesson lasted about 45 minutes and then the leader opened the remaining time for socializing or one-on-one questions.  I hate small-talk with a passion, but recognize that it is typically a necessary evil to get to the meatier stuff on the other side, so I probably prepared my face with a smile and my mind for fluffy exchanges, but even that was not to be.  The woman on my right turned to the women on her right, the woman on my left to the women on her left and they started talking to eachother immediately.  I looked around the room, still smiling and hoping to catch someone’s eye, but it was the same everywhere—everyone appeared to be engaged with someone else and it was all appearing pretty hopeless—until I looked down.  Elijah was sitting on my knees, facing me.  He must have picked up on my expression, because he was looking up at me with his eyes wide open and a bright, expectant smile on his face.  I bent down, smiled back at him, and we un-wedged ourselves and went home.  Home is a pretty great place when there are such great people in it.

Garden news—we appear to have baby lettuces and some peas coming up, I am not sure about anything else as there are a lot of weeds in the mix as well.  Bethel and I put in one bed of strawberries on Friday.  They were not labelled so I am not sure if they are the June-bearing or Everbearing variety—anyhow, I am hoping to get the other batch in early this week.  I also planted our third garden bed yesterday with radishes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and chard.  My layout is silly and planning is next to zero, but we are in the phase of just throwing things in and hoping something will work out.  Next year, or maybe even the fall garden will be better.  Right now I am really wishing that we had irrigation down there.  The rain is a little inconsistent for seedlings and the canals probably won’t have water until the end of the month!

We also really need to figure out fencing.  We will really miss having Elijah around for that project.  Isaiah and Bethel will just have to burly-up.

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Checking in

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year.

I had a gut feeling that this move would be a hard one, and it has been.  I keep thinking of that “peace that passeth all understanding”, peace in the midst of not-peaceful things.  This move has been sure-ness in the midst of things making us unsure.  Many steps along the way have been longer and more difficult than we expected.

Our house sold fairly quickly.  We decided to be flexible on the price as our realtor was recommending some pretty major upgrades in order to get it to sell and we felt better about a bird in the hand than the two in the bush.  It was nice to finally stop hemorrhaging money on that end.  We made multiple offers on multiple properties here, but kept being unable to settle on a price.  We also kept finding houses that either I liked, or my husband liked but that we couldn’t agree on.  We were almost ready to commit to the extensive timeline of building our own, when a house that we had looked at before dropped in price and we decided to take a second look.  We figured out what the necessary updates would cost and made the owners an offer.  After a bit of back and forth we settled on a price.  Our closing date was about 2 1/2 weeks before the rental period on our house was up, so we decided to spend that time getting as many of the updates done as we could before we had to move and live in drywall dust.  The kids enjoyed running around the yard, climbing the trees and digging in the good-sized pasture.  The olders and I framed a wall, fished wire, installed outlets and removed a sliding door.  While we were removing the door, we discovered rotten wood underneath and around the bottom (doesn’t one always).  I scraped out everything that was soggy and removed the deck board immediately in front of the door as it was too far gone to save.  I then framed the opening to prepare it for a window.  A friend came over to help us with the installation–he held the window in place from the inside while I screwed it into the frame.  As I had not yet replaced the deck board and the top of the window was out of my reach, I had to be really careful about how I placed the feet of my stepstool in order to keep all four on a solid surface.  Apparently, I bumped it with my leg that last time.  I climbed up, lifted my drill to begin working and then fell sideways and backwards, landing on the deck steps on the right side of my tailbone.  My head also hit the deck quite hard and I quickly felt rather nauseated, but whether I was dealing with nausea as a concussion symptom or as a result of pain, I couldn’t yet tell.  But I also felt a deep sense of calm and that the Lord was aware of me–this was my first clue that this was going to be a big deal. After a couple of minutes, I felt like I could hobble into the house.  I went into the bathroom to assess my injuries.  No broken skin, really painful tailbone, really tender head and I was having a hard time not passing out.  It took me several tries to get out of the bathroom and onto my bedroom floor.  For the next couple of hours I took a lot of herbs and homeopathics to reduce bruising and to keep me conscious.  Eventually the pain and shockiness wore off enough to tell that I was really uncomfortable on the floor and I got one of the boys to set up a mattress and find me some blankets and after I checked my pupil response (fine) I fell asleep.

I’ll stop with the boring and painful details.  My tailbone was broken.  Initial hopes that I’d be up after a couple of days did not materialize.  My mom came into town shortly afterwards, but the work was just too much for her and the kids so we ended up calling in an army of women from our church to finish packing up and cleaning the rental.  It was pretty awful just having to lie there while everyone was working so hard, but that was really all I could do.  It was a bit of a relief when they finally moved me and my bed over to the other house so that at least I didn’t have to watch.  Everyone was so willing and kind and we made the deadline.

Since then it has been a process of gradually adjusting our plans to the reality of our situation.  We hired out some of the work to make the house liveable, we chucked out plans to get a big garden in and animals and the garage converted this summer.  We had boarded our goats with our neighbor goat lady back in CA in hopes of bringing them out, but with no barn or near prospects of building one, it became apparent that we would need to sell our goats.  Unfortunately, Ella and Penny are ADGA registered dairy goats and I could not find the paperwork to transfer ownership.  We finally found these last week, SO now that we have no goats, we are finally ADGA members so that I can register Margot, Flower, Blossom and Margot’s new, beautiful, pure white doeling (born on Memorial Day if I remember right) so that we can sell them all to pay the feed bills for the last several months!  It’s rather a depressing business, honestly…and wildly complex. The procedure follows:

In order to register and transfer dairy goats, one has to be a member with a membership name and have a member number.  This is $35 and good for 15 months if one purchases in September, but only good for 4 months if one purchases in August.  Go figure.  One also needs to request a tattoo to permanently mark one’s goats with a unique series of four letters and numbers to designate the herd of birth.  Think branding, except it’s in the ear with ink rather than on the rump with a hot iron.  It’s actually not even visible unless you take the goat into a fairly dark room and shine a flashlight through their ear, and this is about as much fun as it sounds like it would be.  Both of these can be applied for online.  One also needs a PIN, which is assigned at random by ADGA and a signature authorization form so that they have records of the signatures that can be accepted for goat transfers.  Both of these must be sent by snail mail, but have no fee associated.  Next, in order to give your goats registerable names, you must have a herd name.  This must be unique and costs $15 to register.  Unfortunately, they do not publish “taken” herd names online, but, I hear, some day they may send them to me in the mail for my perusal.  As this did not fit my timeline, I poked around and found an online forum where someone had the same question.  Turns out, you can’t look up registered herd names, but you can look up registered goat names, AND as the herd name is the first part of each goat’s name, you can kind of figure out what’s available.  Nothing came up when I typed in “consecration acres”, so I went ahead and applied for that.  Here’s the website if anyone should need it: http://adgagenetics.org/ .  I am just hoping I will not need it again, as I am still waiting for approval.  All right, now once I have a herd name, then I can finally fill out registration forms for our goats.  These require Sire and Dam names, Dam’s breed date, the goat’s birth date, physical description and name.  The name consists of herd name + whatever else, limited to 30 characters.  There is also a fairly nominal goat registration fee.  Once I receive their registration papers I can then pay another nominal fee to transfer ownership and then I am finally goat-less.  Sigh.  I am considering it just the next class in Goat School.  (And excuse my mid-stream switch from “one” to “I”–I am not going to go back and make it uniform.)

So that’s it for homesteading–lots of heel-cooling going on.  Elijah planted a few things and we have eaten them.  I am glad to see things growing out there, even if it’s small for now.  I read a blog recently where someone had mulched her garden with hay and nothing would grow.  Apparently, the field the hay came from had been treated with a persistent broadleaf herbicide that killed all of her garden plants off.  As our pasture/future garden and orchard had been used for horses before I wondered if we’d find any major issues, but so far so good.

That’s it for now.  Perhaps next time I’ll write about what I’ve been doing to while away the hours of broken tailbone-dom.


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Wild weeks

There’s no other way to put it—these last two weeks have been unlike any other. Combining our household with that of the family evacuated by the fire was hugely challenging. I think if it had just been adults, it would not have been a big deal, but I vastly underestimated the kid issues. Our house is big, but very open and a challenge, under normal circumstances, for those of my family who need quiet and privacy to recharge! A couple times I just packed up my kids and took them off for the day, regardless of chores. The house got messier, but I think it was probably good for our family and theirs. On the flip side, we enjoyed far-too-late-night conversations with the couple and are really happy that we were in a position to help out. Their new baby boy was born this Thursday night, after about three days of on-again off-again labor. Issues with the birth and the baby caused them to decide to take mom and baby to the hospital about two hours after he was born. When it became evident that it would be a longer stay than the couple of hours they had hoped for, they decided to move the kids to a relative’s apartment near the hospital and that they would then move directly home again after all the medical issues were resolved. And so most of their stuff was moved out on Friday night—the rest will go when they move back home. Anyhow, after spending two weeks with them all, even in the midst of enjoying a little more space, privacy and quiet, I find myself wondering and worrying about them a lot and feeling like something is missing. Throughout this experience, a scripture kept running through my head, “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all…” When I teach this to my kids I emphasize the connection between familiar and family and that we are to treat everyone as if they were family. Perhaps these feelings are evidence of having approached that end.

And now to the mundane records and details of these weeks.

Joseph got along with their boys for about three days and then decided that he’d had enough, so we always had to have someone watching him closely, often holding him, and sometimes in an entirely different room from the others—which is extremely challenging with an open floor plan (an awful design for a house that is nearly always occupied by a large family, in my most humble opinion). The baby gate was often used to keep kids away from each other instead of out of rooms where they shouldn’t be. Anyways, with a Fall garden not yet planted and a little boy who could no longer play nicely, I decided to try to plant with him. It went okayish. I think he mangled my rows of Chioggia beets—I will either have gaps or crazy spacing in one section, and he fell and whacked his head on a planter box at one point—a lovely shade of green today, but for the most part he enjoyed being outside, digging in the dirt and eating tomatoes straight off the plants and I managed to get carrots, beets, radishes and the rest of the leeks (leek seed is only good for one year, so I figured it would be better to get tiny baby leeks than no leeks at all) planted. I still need to label and mulch the rest of the beets, but that’s one bed down, two more to go!

I harvested 28 more lbs of eggplant just two weeks after I harvested that other 25! I made two large, eggplant-heavy meals (Moussaka and Ratatouille) for this giant household and then sliced and dehydrated the rest. Between everything I have frozen, pickled, makdoused and now dehydrated, when the world all comes crashing down, we will surely be eating eggplant. And I think we need to revisit the number of eggplant plants we put in next year.

The jalapeno peppers are also coming on thick and fast. Elijah’s promises to keep up all swimming in salsa haven’t yet materialized, so I started two pints of peppers fermenting this week. I was going to try a whey ferment, but after talking to the mom of the family staying with us about her whey fermenting experience I decided just to brine them. For my future records, I used one scant Tablespoon of salt per pint of sliced peppers (perhaps eight peppers to a jar?). I messed up on the second jar and initially filled it with instant hot water instead of filtered water. I dumped it out and re-filled and salted the jar, but if one is softer and perhaps saltier than the other, that may be the reason behind it. I believe I started them on Wednesday, the 23rd, so they’ll need to be checked this Wednesday….not sure how I’m going to do that… As we have approximately a million more coming ripe, I think drying is next.

I am also drying the rest of our not-very sweet corn. After about the third time of being disappointed by the corn, I could no longer get anyone to go out and pick and husk it anymore, so a bunch of it has been drying on the stalk. I pulled the last of it off, gave a couple damaged ears to the chickens and pulled back the husks of the others to finish drying. Right now I wish I had exposed beams in my kitchen ceiling from which I could hang all my dried and drying foods.

Finally, I think we missed the potato harvest time (newbies). It appears that the potatoes are re-sprouting. Yay. We’ll try to catch it this next time around.

And I canned a second batch of pears. It was one of my worst canning sessions in a while. Two jars broke and one failed to seal. I either offended the capricious gods of canning, or else missed something because I was really tired that morning, I don’t know. If it is the former, I hope that they are happy with the toll they exacted and will allow me to can applesauce in peace come October.

And the last of the news is that Bud’s castration was only half successful (woohoo) and so we are desperately trying to sell him while he can either still be wethered (I’m definitely not up to doing such a big goat) or eaten before he starts getting smelly. Of course, if someone wants a buck, he is a purebred Nubian, he seems very much interested in buck-ish duties (we have had to separate him from the ladies) and he is a great price. We are hoping someone will be able to benefit in some way from our mistake so we will not have to feel quite so embarrassed by it.


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A canning week

The week turned out to be moderately productive. I have this idea that if I can go full-speed for one day, I should be able to go full-speed all week long. This is not the case. I think I might have gotten more done if I’d taken it easier on Tuesday and hit Wednesday a little fresher. Oh well. Jars were filled.

First thing Monday we got up and tackled those 88 lbs of nectarines. I assigned each of the three olders eight full jars each (about 11-13 lbs) and Bethel and Jordan (who was not assigned anything but turned out to be a pretty swell canner) did a few more than that each. By lunch we had only a half box remaining uncut and the processing was all done by about 4:30. One jar lid popped off when I was removing it from the canner, and so I know that they turned out well. For my future reference: one gallon water, ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup SteviaPlus, 3/8 tsp citric acid for the canning liquid was great—sufficiently sweet with a slight acid tang. I had the thought as we were working that there are probably not too many children who can and that ours might stand a good chance of placing if they entered the county fair.  We’ll see if they are interested when fair season comes around again.

On Wednesday I made sweet pickles (these only have to brine for 3-4 hours) and then started a batch of marinara sauce with the tomatoes that were on sale last week. It is the middle of tomato season and they all ought to be at their peak, but the seeds are still bitter. I’m afraid I’m going to have to give in and remove them. Bummer. Even bigger bummer that we have two long rows of tomato plants outside and that between irrigation issues, heatwaves and voles, we have only gotten a small handful of tomatoes.

I have another batch of pickles to make this week and then some peaches, bananas and pineapples to dry and then I’ve got to get to some non-kitchen stuff around here, such as getting back out to the garden and doing some midsummer sucker pruning in the orchard. A drop in daytime temperatures would help in tackling these activities as well. We should have returned to the mid-90s by Thursday. Mmm, nice and cool…

In the barnyard: The meat flock has hit that weird phase when they start to look like full-grown birds, but they still peep like babies. And they continue to eat like horses. Whoever coined “eat like a bird” was not trying to raise 50 chickens to butcher weight. Also, it’s a bit past time to start tracking goats’ heat cycles. I sure love the milk, but the whole caprine ob/gyn /fertility specialist gets to be a little insane some times. I’m also trying to detangle the whole goat registration thing. Registering the does with ADGA will enable us to sell them for much higher prices than we would otherwise, but Ella’s ear tattoo (a permanent identifier like a brand on cattle) was a duplicate of another goat’s…thus, a mess in need of detangling.

Joseph eats at the table now and makes an unbelievable mess at every meal. At least once a day I strip everything off of him, sit him cross-legged in my bathroom sink, turn on the hot and cold water taps and clean him off. He sits with his back to me, so I have to clean him off mainly by touch, working my way through crusty and sticky and greasy till I finally hit soft baby skin. He is convinced that his hair is a napkin, so that takes a good deal of time as well and he has just discovered that he can get food into his ears and nose as well—also a good cleaning challenge. So, I scrub and I scrub until I find Joseph beneath all the mess and then I take him out and he yells and cries because he LOVES taking a bath in the sink. I wrestle him into clean clothes and he sobs on my shoulder and usually wants to nurse, because nursing makes everything better, even the end of bathtime. Being a mother to a toddler is such a funny thing. They are such cute and crazy little beings—smart, observant and capable enough to be either infuriating or hilarious, depending on how you look at it. What an utterly exhausting pleasure it all has been.


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June’s conclusion

I can hardly believe the month is almost over, but I am glad that we are headed for later mornings, if not yet cooler temperatures (the second week of August is our usual turn-around for temps, bleagh). Joseph doesn’t care overmuch about darkness (he will still occasionally awaken around 3am, ready to start the day), but it does seem to make early mornings a bit more of a given for everyone else. The combination, this past week, of relentlessly early mornings, an incredible heat wave and an out-of-town husband left me mostly non-functioning by Friday, but I managed to hack away at a few things during my functional moments prior to that time.

We ended the week with almost as much zucchini as we began it with, but we did not end with twice as much, and that is a great victory. I used 4 cups in zucchini bread, shredded and froze 20 more cups, cooked a bunch up into Ratatouille (along with eggplant and beans from our garden!) and then Isaiah made veggie melts (homemade sourdough bread spread with mayo, topped with a slice of fresh tomato, sautéed onion, shredded zucchini and sliced mushrooms and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and homemade mozzarella cheese). As I said, the box is full again, but there is nothing rotting or going to the chickens, so I am happy. All our zucchini foods have been delicious. Jordan was pretty repulsed by the idea of zucchini bread initially, but changed her tune upon smelling it baking and then tasting it. She had promised me that I could eat all of her pieces. She did not keep her word.

About half of the milk in the fridge had gone bad and I ended up tossing it, but the other half made fantastic mozzarella—perhaps the best batch I have made, in terms of texture. As always, there was plenty of gasping, jumping up and running to the kitchen when I remembered that I was making cheese in addition to everything else going on, but it’s nice to be familiar enough with the process to know where I can let it slide (waiting for it to curdle and the stretching) and where I have to be really on top of it (not letting the temperature get too high). Bethel helped me stretch it this time. I’ll probably start teaching her the rest of the process on the next batch.

The garden marches on. We pulled the pea plants out. It was a little dismaying to see how many were missed in harvesting. I collected a bit over a pound of “free” seed from my favorite variety—which turns out to be Green Arrow and not Thomas Laxton as I had originally thought—and the goats happily slurped up the others, vines and all. Nothing is ever truly wasted, I suppose.

We also pulled most of the parsnips and the big beets. The sugar beets still await that mythological gap in my schedule when I can squeeze in trying something new.

It looks like we have enough cucumbers for a batch of pickles. We have had some that have been so sweet that we ate them without salt, and a couple so bitter that no amount of salt could make them edible. I think I will just need to taste a slice of each as I go to make sure we end up with good pickles. I may try my mom’s German pickles this time as we still have both dills and sweets from the random Winter cucumber sales this year.

We also harvested our first couple of not-quite-ripe melons (we may lack a little patience around here) and 2 nearly ripe PUMPKINS. Pumpkins? In June? What does one do with pumpkins in June?

And it appears that we have an issue with those irrigation hoses that I was liking. I still don’t know whether it is a defect in the design or young user error (I am afraid that my pleas to adjust the water pressure to “just enough” fell on deaf ears), but we have now lost two and are throwing in the towel and converting to a system like this one. I am trying not to fret over the money wasted and just count it as part of the cost of taking Gardening 101. The funny thing about Gardening 101 is that you think that you are signed up for certain courses, say, Vegetable Varieties that Grow Well in Your Yard, but then the class is going along and you discover that you are actually in Irrigation Systems: Trial and Error or Plant Markers that Don’t Wash off in the Rain or Intro to Cabbage Loopers. The course descriptions need some work…

After a year of thinking about it, I am finally trying to make my own bone meal. The instructions say to fully clean the meat and connective tissues off the bones. After fiddling with it for fifteen minutes I decided the best way to clean the bones off was to boil them, i.e. make stock, but I left out the vinegar that I usually use to pull calcium into the broth as that seemed a little counter-productive. Any guesses as to how many Tablespoons of meal I’ll end up with from two chickens? Our soil is so calcium-poor that we should perhaps be raising something larger and denser-boned for this purpose.

After my old dehydrator died and took all those pineapples down with it, I was excited to see pineapple on sale again this week. Eight pineapples barely filled half of my new dehydrator. They turned out fine, except that the bottom tray was a little softer than the rest. It looks like I might need to do a little tray rotating, but at least this dehydrator does not have a track record of catching fire! Overall, I am pleased with it. I am planning to use the trays from my old one to build a solar dehydrator. We may as well get some benefit from the miserable afternoon temps on our SW-facing black deck.

I am knocking on wood that we are, again mouse-less. Apparently, our barn cats fell down on the job and allowed rodents to access the house at some point and we were seeing droppings and occasional flashes of movement in the kitchen and pantry. I set two traps and we caught one that first night. The other was empty that morning, but when I went to go put it away later on I found it occupied as well. Visions of a large family of mice residing and reproducing in my house filled my mind, so I dutifully peanut-buttered two more traps that night. One of them sprung when Isaiah bounced a basketball in the house, but the other is still set and empty. I pray that it remains so and that my cats are a little more diligent in the future.

And, in yet more vermin news…Isaiah was bitten on the top of the foot by something while he slept and, over the course of the next day, the bite became extremely swollen and uncomfortable. Our usual remedies didn’t touch it and by the following morning he had some edema all across his forefoot (he said it felt sloshy when he shook his foot) and this weird, lacy pattern was developing around the bite. My niece had been bitten by a poisonous spider a few years ago on a trip and they were advised to poultice it with damp tobacco and she recovered quickly with no scarring. We decided to try it out that second night and by the next morning, it was noticeably better. He has continued to heal well, even without reapplying the tobacco. Amazing how something that can be so destructive to bodies when abused can be such a powerful healer when used correctly.

“And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.”


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Slow week

Slow it was and the weather was cool and perfect for gardening, etc. More the shame, but sometimes one can’t do exactly what one would wish. It seems the more ones are involved, the greater the likelihood of this occurring. I imagine, though, that it is good for me to set my preferences aside and that the One who set up this whole system, will take care of the garden and trees in my absence.

The kids and I went up to the orchard where we bought all those oranges for a sort-of picnic just before our dentist appointments. We decided to eat our lunch at home, as Chickpea Curry would have been a mess with a bunch of kids on a blanket, but we bought oranges and apples there. We held our morning devotional on their lovely lawn and then nearly finished our book before we had to leave. I wish we had not been so rushed—it was so, so beautiful. When I look out over our little orchard, beginning garden and bare/weedy yard, I see this place in my mind’s eye. Mature fruit trees producing an abundance of food, and a clean, beautiful and orderly place to live, work and enjoy. Some day! Truly! I just have to hope that if I keep hacking away at it, eventually I’ll get there.

I finally got the front porch cleaned off. The kids had let cardboard and packing materials accumulate and between that, the potted blueberries (which are now all planted except one) that had been repeatedly de-mulched by the cats, and the handiwork of thousands of spiders, it was looking pretty awful. Now it looks bare, but clean. I’d really like to get the door painted and the planters refilled with something heat and shade-loving and preferably useful for food or medicine. Searching…

I’ve also been cleaning and organizing our bonus room. We had stashed the low-priority boxes up there when we first moved so we could deal with the more urgent things. Unfortunately, the kids got into them and broke, lost and scattered their contents all over the room. For anyone wondering, having a big house definitely has some disadvantages. A-number-one is that you can be blithely living your life in one end of it, thinking that all is well, while the house and its contents are being destroyed at the other and you have no idea until it is too late. Anyhow, a couple of giant cardboard bonfires and six or so weeks of slightly overstuffing our trash can and we’ll see the end of the trash. Then I’ll just have kids’ clothing, camping supplies, old paper files and three memorabilia boxes to sort. I’ll just keep remembering how impossible it once seemed to fill up all my canning jars…

Speaking of canning jars, I bought another box so I could try out some strawberry-pear butter. Directions so I can replicate or tweak next time: 7-quart slow cooker filled with pear puree, cooked down to 2/3rds, added 2 lbs of strawberries, cooked down to about ½ full, added a few dashes of salt, a couple Tablespoons of vanilla, ½ lemon, 1/3 cup sugar and then finally immersion-blended in another pound of fresh strawberries as things just weren’t coming together. It turned out fine, but apple seems the way to go if you want to stretch strawberries.

I need to spend some time building cardboard lids and dividers for jars so I can get them out of my kitchen. Once upon a time canning jars boxes kept your jars clean and from rattling into eachother. No more. So, I build my own out of the abundance of cardboard we always seem to have. They are sturdy and protective by the time I’m done, but I hate taking the time out of my day to do it. I wish these weren’t so expensive!

The garden and orchard are great right now. Thing are sprouting and blooming, fruitlets are forming and bees and butterflies are everywhere. Grace always wants to come with me when I go out to work. I always put on grubby clothes and take my little soft-side toolbag that has my gardening things in it. On Monday, Grace came out with me wearing a pink dress with a ruffled hem, her blue “straw” hat with a flower, and a little princess purse. When we got to the garden, she unzipped her purse and got out her pink, flowered gardening gloves. I thought we made quite the pair.

Our second bed if built and mostly filled. It just needs fertilizing and mixing now, and just in time! Our seed potatoes are still waiting and our sweet potatoes are very aware that it’s Spring and are growing in earnest. I finally broke off some of the longer sprouts to root in water and discovered that one already had an abundance of roots. We need to plant soon. Oh, and the one sweet potato that hadn’t grown anything yet, finally sprouted leaves…underwater of course. I think they are mocking me.

And we finish up the week sick again (just colds), looking forward to General Conference and with rain forecast. Pray, pray, pray. We still have only about 1/3 of what we need to keep from deepening the drought.


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Planting, caring for plants and learning about Motherhood

We have had our first 80 degree day now and the land shows it. The grass is growing thick and high, the blossoms are now beginning to drop and leaves are bursting out everywhere. This is really the prettiest couple of months we have here and I am trying to enjoy it. Summer appears long, hot and dry in the not-too-distant future.

The fruit trees are also leafing out. As they do so, I see my pruning errors in stark-er relief. I also realize that entirely skipping pruning the pomegranates was probably a bad idea. They looked so small, but they are up and at this whole growing thing and could use a little clarifying. I am hoping they will not be past remedy come next winter. I may need to research summer pruning of pomegranates. We fertilized all the trees, got the moldy hay spread around their bases and topped it with some bark mulch as well. I really wanted radial hardwood chips, but could only do so much. I have found permanent tree labels that should work—time to get them ordered.

We did a lot of work on the berry rows this week. The raspberries, blackberries and kiwi are all in, so we just need to plant grapes this year and put in the supports. We are using t-posts and wire as per this method. I have read that there is a type of wire called berry wire. It is supposed to be “softer”. I am not sure what soft wire might be like…  I need to research and determine whether it is worth the price. I am trying to keep my OCD side from having conniptions right now. When the boys heeled in the plants, they took the blackberries out of their containers, so now I don’t know what is what and, of course, I could not plant varieties together. Another issue, of course, is that my plant guarantees are pretty much useless since I won’t know what something is if it happens to die. Also, the rows are not straight. Aaaaaaaaaah!

Grace and Jordan helped pick rocks from the holes before we planted. Grace exclaimed “It’s a rock!” every time she found one, and Jordan expressed doubt that it really was a rock whenever she found one. Elijah and I just had a good laugh as we worked.

Bethel, Jordan and I spread compost and straw on the strawberry beds. The chickens had gotten into the beds and done a little “thinning” while looking for bugs and trying to find an adequate dust bath spot. They made kind of a mess, but I wonder if it might help a bit. The beds have been quite crowded (between not feeling well and “when to do dormant-period maintenance if one’s strawberry bed never goes dormant?” inaction) and I could see this sparser arrangement being better for them. Even if the rows are not straight.   Aaaaaaaaaaaah! There are a good number of blossoms and developing berries. I am hoping for a good harvest.

The blueberries have gotten their 1st helping of cottonseed meal and are awaiting their mulch. I am thinking about planting these potted ones out with their new compatriots. We have a spot that should get some afternoon shade and that has been acidified by a nearby pine tree. I will probably still need to figure out shade cloth for the hottest months, but I think they all have a reasonable chance of success and happiness over there. I am also planting a variety of serviceberry over there that is supposed to do well in our zone. We shall see!

In the kitchen this week—a batch of dill pickles and three more quarts of marinara sauce. The marinara has never been as good as the first time. I think it is just due to the tomatoes, but I am considering using my mom’s recipe next round. It should be about the same processing time in the canner.

And we have only one in diapers now! Woohoo!! With the other kids, potty training has ended up waiting until the child gets sick of diapers and does it themselves. When I wanted them out of diapers it was just an endless parade of tears, tantrums and accidents, but as soon as they decided, it was over and done with. But just to throw a monkey wrench into my expectations and modus operandi, Grace is an extremely patient child, including being patient with yucky pants. Attempts at encouragement and having her try to go on a schedule were completely unsuccessful and so, this week, we just took off her diaper. She was a little sad at first, but settled down to being patient again. A few issues, but she’s doing great and handled her class at Church today (1st time out of the house) like a champ. Tomorrow we’ll attempt a short road trip as we go to pick up a food order.

I received some rather bad news about a friend of mine this week. She is my age, a mom of twelve children (the youngest just turned one in January) and has just been diagnosed with a cancer that modern medicine hasn’t really been able to get a hold on. We are praying for a miracle. I met her and another mom-of-many back when I had three children and was unsure how much longer I should/could keep going with having babies. The two of them had much in common and would sometimes sit and talk about their experiences and insights while I listened and tried to pretend that I had a clue. The things I learned from them changed how I looked at motherhood.

  • I learned that they didn’t have children because it was easy for them to do so, but because they were obeying the promptings of the Spirit. Upon learning that my friend was pregnant (again?!), one rude young relative asked my friend, “Was this planned?” My friend answered, “This is part of His plan.”
  • I learned from them that each child brings both blessings and challenges essential for the growth and perfecting of the mother. My other friend said that as each child made her a bit better, she figured Heavenly Father would need to send her 100 in order for her to become perfect.
  • I learned that we don’t necessarily see what is missing before a baby is born, but their importance is plainly evident after birth. When rude people would assert that my friend had too many children, my friend would ask, “Which one should I not have? Look at my children and tell me, which one would we be better off without?”
  • And after hearing their stories of how hard it was to announce their pregnancies to family and friends, I learned that a pregnancy, no matter how inconvenient, how quick on the heels of the last, no matter which number, no matter the age or circumstances of the mother is always a reason to rejoice and congratulate. Yielding your life to God is never an easy thing, no matter how many times you have done it in the past and being given the stewardship of one of His children is no small matter.

By the end of a couple years of being friends with them I had decided that these wonderful women were not so odd, that they had clear vision and good reasons for the choices they made, and that their reasons could be mine as well. I pray that my friend will recover so that she can continue to share her love and wisdom with her family and others whose lives could be changed by her influence.

What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.