Homeschooler at Heart

My oldest is a first grader in public school.  I am as happy as I can imagine myself being with her school, and she is a very good student.  She is eager to please, a good reader, and generally obedient.  Sort of built to be a student.  The kind of child who most homeschooling parents will say can do well in school, but that their child needs special attention at home.  She is absolutely NOT gifted, merely bright. She has plenty of friends and gets along well with her teachers.  And yet…

She is gone from 8:30, when I drop her off, until 4:20 when she gets off the bus.  Two days a week she has an activity after school, either ballet or religious education.  On those days she gets home around 6.

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The hours that she is is home she drives me a little nuts.  I’m not sure if this is built up energy from being forced to sit all day, negative influences from her peers, or just her age, but even since she has started school I have noticed a huge drop in her behavior at home.  She is perfect for her teachers, and behaves well when bribed, but I see a lot of her natural goodness fading.

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She does occasionally not want to go to school, and will pretend to have an earache or stomachache to get out of it.  It makes me wonder if something is going on that she is not telling me about, which makes me wonder why I am sending her away all day to such a big unknown at such a young age.

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I have hinted somewhat at the idea of homeschooling to my husband, who is firmly against it.  He thinks it is important for her to have relationships outside the home, that she would be bored all day, that children need a regular influence outside of their mother.  And it is true, I suppose.  I suspect he is just afraid people would think he was weird and that both of our families would be horrified (which is also true).  If it were the norm, he would love it.

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And in a way, I believe in public schools.  I was very happy at mine, and appreciate the relationships I had with my elementary school teachers.  I wonder if it is different because I was at a magnet school that had the best teachers in the county.  I truly loved many of my teachers and remember things that they taught me to this day.  Also my parents are a little weird and I definitely needed some outside influences.  For many, many children, public school is their best and only chance at success.

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And still, my heart longs for slow mornings, for library time spent reading classics instead of Magic Animal Friends, for lunches at home, activities done during the day instead of some time around dinner and dark.  I would love to get the best of my children’s day, not just time to supervise dinner, homework, and bed.  I would love to have no questions about what goes on during eight hours of the day, and know that my daughter is being treated kindly and being kind herself.

I know what type of homeschooler I would be. (Charlotte Mason.)  And what math work books I would use (Singapore, and I torture the poor little tyke with it in the summer.)  This year would we would be studying Ancient Rome, because she is showing natural interest in it, and learning to use a telescope to observe planets and constellations.  She also likes the presidents, and learning about wars, so we could be learning Revolutionary War history.  We would have a big history timeline that was added to bit by bit (she has a small one now), and would spend a lot of time outside, and doing legos and puzzles, and have ballet during the day at the homeschool class.  And swim lessons during the day, and piano lessons during the day, no more rushed and horrible evenings of changing in a hurry, shoving a dinner down our throats.  Afternoons would be for reading, chores, and outside time.

It will never happen.  But I will always be a homeschooler at heart.


First Frost, and Family

It is necessary to have house guests a few times a year to get your husband to do projects that you have been fruitlessly asking for for months.  Our house is up on a steep hill, and to get to the gardens and play area you had to walk down a muddy hill.  Magically, the day before our Thanksgiving guests arrived…

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Steps!

(That wine barrel looks so authentic with the label still on it. And I guess I am growing kindling?)

I dug and stored the dahlias for the first time this year.  It was wonderfully thrilling pulling up the huge tubers, drying them, and storing them in shredded newspaper in the basement.  It felt so good to do what all the gardening articles say.  Perhaps next I will sharpen my tools and store them in oiled sand.

Hummingbird feeders have been cleaned and put away, and garlic planted where my old compost pile was.  A new pile has been started where it will be easier to turn with the tractor.

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The other thing I have been asking for, to no avail, since we moved in was something for our foyer.  And lo and behold…

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It was the most amazing moment of my life.  It came from a Pottery Barn outlet that just opened nearby.  And the rug came from upstairs.

Ellie loved having some new visitors for Thanksgiving

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And with their arrival came a lot of baking.

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(Sandwich rolls, molasses cookie dough for the freezer, bread for toast. Hole is from oven probe.)

And then more on Thanksgiving itself.

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(Butter horn rolls from Bread Machine Magic. Forgot to photograph the pies that I painstakingly latticed!)

I started Christmas decorating, just a little each day, taking up what I can carry each time I happen to to go down to the basement.  I have taken out my gingerbread and peppermint coffee syrups, put out pine scented candles, switched out hand towels and soap.  A lot of my artificial greenery looks tacky to me now, so it is still down there, but I will probably just give it away.  I will cut real greenery when we get closer.  I want to keep the last week of Advent, and Christmas itself, special.

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(All homes should have a Christmas village, obviously, and it must be the first thing to go up each year.)

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(Walmart canisters are beautiful in a group of three.)

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I made the velvet pillow covers.  They are envelope style backs with cording.  The fabric is Olive Green Cotton Velvet from fabric.com.  It shed everywhere while I was working with it, but it is very soft and perfect for a throw pillow cover.

The cross stitched one I made last year for the kids.

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An extra pillow to warm up a dining room chair.

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Christmas baby!

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And a couple treats for teachers, these are King Arthur’s Gingerbread Bundt Cake baked in their Bundt quartet pan.  We had enough batter for three, and ate one ourselves.  It was a delicious recipe!

And now a bit of a break.  There is still a long way to go!  I will focus on cozy and winter for a while, not Christmas quite yet!


Getting Ready for Winter at Home

I find that I am ready for each season as it comes.  Halloween is over, and I was ready to say goodbye to it.  Bats, scary crows, owl candle holders and rubber spiders are already packed away, and more restrained Thanksgiving decor reigns.

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I love getting cozy in the fall, and our weather has finally turned chilly.  Hats and mittens have been brought up to the mudroom, and beach towels, sunscreen, and bug spray packed away.

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Fires in the fireplace are such a big part of winter here.  It feels like such a luxury and yet it is an economy.  Just like homemade bread and flowers from the garden.  But with that dry, radiating, wonderful heat, comes a lot of work beforehand.

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I will help stack this, but Matt does all the work splitting.

The fireplace gloves and kindling have been brought out.

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I am on the hunt for the perfect dark olive green velvet to make pillow covers for our living room throw pillows, just something to make it a little more warm and cozy.  All of our throws and quilts have been washed and folded neatly by the couch for chilly mornings before the fire gets going again.

The view is changing out the windows and off the deck.

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The tea drawer has been organized.  I need to get a tea kettle.  Going to ask my parents for a copper (coated) one for Christmas.  I love the coziness they add to a kitchen, and I am tired of boiling water in a pot for my tea like some kind of lunatic.

And we still haven’t had our first frost, so I am still picking sunflowers and tomatoes.

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My parents are coming over for dinner tonight and I am making panini with ham, cheese, and caramelized onions.  We’ll have chicken tortilla soup on the side and pumpkin sheet cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert.

Stay cozy!

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Fixing What Bothers You

I love staying home and caring for kids and the house,  but sometimes I feel myself going a little nuts with small frustrations.  In some ways the kids get easier as they get older, and in some ways harder.   Everything become physically easier but a tougher battle of wills, as food pickiness, homework resistance, and laziness emerge.  You can no longer excuse their bad behavior with their age, and this makes them more frustrating.  You are expected to feed all members of the household and clean up after them when they are perfectly capable of doing it.  And yet… you are a housewife.  Isn’t that what you are here for?  And so on.  Small annoyances.  You can fix them.

I read somewhere to make a list of what bothers you and see if there aren’t solutions.  Think of what advice you would give a friend with these complaints.  It sounded like a very silly exercise, but I did it.

Here is my list.

  1.  Kids don’t clean up after themselves and waste art supplies and create piles of paper.
  2. The kids stain their clothes and are ruining them and they have to last for three girls.
  3. I hate making lunches when everyone is home.
  4. My husband piles his stuff up on the kitchen counter even though we have a mudroom.

So, on to the solutions.  They have an art cabinet in the breakfast room that was getting cleaned out and then messed up constantly.  I look everything out, labeled it, and told them everything must go in the correct box before they go up for baths.  They figured it out pretty quickly.  Having things labeled has made all the difference.  They produce a stack of art every day, and every  night I go through it, tossing most of it and keeping select pieces to go in their art folders that live in the drawer above this cabinet.

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To keep them from staining clothes, I put a bundle of already stained or torn clothing in the mudroom and they must change into this before playing outside.  Maddie has to change into an old shirt before eating because she is destroying all of her clothing with hot sauce.

To deal with lunches, I have started having more ready to eat foods available so people can help themselves on the weekends instead of asking me “what’s for lunch?” and driving me batty.  On kitchen days I cut up veggies and make a tuna or chicken salad, I boil eggs, make sandwich rolls to pop in the freezer, mix up salad dressing, and pre cook bacon so those of us on low carb diets can still eat something quick.

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For the age old kitchen counter piling problem.  This is a problem I need to work on on my end, having some patience with someone who has just come home from a long day at work.  I also added the basket on the very left to at least corral the papers.

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Then I got distracted and rearranged the open cabinet.  I am slowly realizing I despise color. There was a pretty red bowl in this shelf before but it was too… red.  It is a cabinet, and now everything is beige or white.

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So beige. So dusty.  I just dusted two days ago.

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So beige!  Is this an acceptable decorating style?  I want to add white.  Brightness but no color.

I have ONE burgundy sunflower plant still blooming.

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Colors are acceptable here.

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What a masterpiece!


Fall at Home

After a very sad week, I am back home and settling in for fall and the upcoming holidays.  I always crave baked goods and hot drinks this time of year, but have not had much of either this year since I am trying to lose the last of the baby weight.

Every time I lose five pounds I buy a small treat for myself.

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Some cleaning products and some twine.

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Is it sad how excited I was for these to arrive?

The children have been having plenty of sweet treats.

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And I whipped up a cute little pillow for the living room.

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The kids are in charge of all Halloween decorations this year.  My middle daughter saw a picture in a magazine of a “haunted porch” and is determined to recreate it.  They are slowly haunting up the place.

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I have only set out mums and pumpkins on the porch…

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And changed out the placemats for fall colored ones…  And left the rest of the decorating to the kids.

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I have been busy enjoying the company of a little friend.

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In a cozy spot for just the two us.

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Enjoying the fresh air while we can.

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A present before dying

I have a half brother who is dying of melanoma, who has been for years and years, and is in the final stages.  His organs are failing and his body is swelling.  He sent my father an email, the most bleak thing you have ever read, describing how he cant eat or drink without vomiting, can’t move his toes because they are so swollen, and is so exhausted he can only move a few steps at a time.  He is in the hospital now, getting a catheter to relieve the swelling, and then hopefully will go home to be comfortable.

I’ve been reading Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes, which bemoans the current state of America.  It cries out against cohabitation, childlessness, materialism, so much of what young people are today.  And while I read it I was nodding and feeling smug, a housewife with three children, preserving the “traditional” ways.  And now, knowing that my poor brother is one of those people, it just seems so full of hate.  He was not  raised to be religious, he is married but chose not to have children, and always enjoyed traveling, going out to eat, going out to bars, etc.  He is one of the friendliest, most generous people you could ever know.

His parents divorced when he was ten and his father married my mother.  We did not grow up together, so he is more like a cousin than a brother to me, and we were never that close.  He lives far away, there was a big age difference, we have nothing in common.  We have visited each other occasionally, and he has always been very nice to me.  He met my first child but none of the others, and we have not seen each other in five years.

So.  How to handle the fact that he will be gone soon?  Do I visit him?  Arrive on his doorstep with my three little kids and say “Hi, heard you are dying, we are here to visit you?”  Seems fake, and morbid, and insensitive.  But to not visit?  Is that worse?  I wish he lived closer so I could come clean his house from top to bottom, come by once a week to do his laundry and bring fresh flowers, cook whatever he thought he could eat that day.  And if he lived closer, we would not have such a distant relationship.  But if we lived in a society more attached to home, maybe his parents would still be married, and he never would have bought a boat and been out in the sun so much he got melanoma, and I would never have been born at all.

I am thinking I will send him a gift, so he knows I am thinking of him.  Slippers I think, or a blanket.  I wanted to do a teddy bear but I think that might be weird.  I wonder if it would be nice to include something religious.  As far as I know he is not a believer.  I would love to send a copy of Mere Christianity, but I doubt it he would read it.  I don’t want to be pushy.  I believe that there is a path to heaven for non believers.  But I wonder if faith, or stronger faith if he has some already, would comfort him.  I am a convert, and I feel like if someone sent me Bible verses before I was a believer I would find it annoying and absurd, like a nosy person telling me they will pray for me.  But C.S. Lewis… so intelligent, so convincing.   It might work.  It is not really my place, and then again it is.

Do you reach a point before dying where you are in such physical pain that you almost don’t mind?  Are you on painkillers and sleeping medications so much that you don’t fully grasp what is happening?  Maybe some of the time, but I imagine that there are long nights where you are alone with your thoughts, wondering what is next for you.  Would you be comforted to know that there is a God who made you and loves you, who is desperate for you to turn to him in your final days?  Would you want to be convinced of that in some way so you could have it to hold on to?  Or are you mad at God for allowing you to die young, for never being able to be a retired man on a cruise ship or a golf course, mad that you never had children and your old friends from restaurants and bars forgot you long ago?

I don’t know.  I am sending something on Monday.  Maybe I will look for passages in the book that I could highlight and mark with sticky notes.  And I will at least send the slippers.  And I will not tell him I will pray for him.  But I will still pray.


Planning a vegetable garden that makes sense

For years, and I mean years, I planted vegetable gardens that were complete nonsense.  I would look through seed catalogs, choose far too many plants, plant them too close together, and have tiny harvests of a million different vegetables.  Also I lived in the suburbs where there was too much shade and no bees.  Also I had my husband build raised beds, purchase soil, and generally spend so much on my hobby that there was no way I could come out ahead, even had I planned my garden well.

So it is now fall, the ending of gardening season, with nothing to dream of but next year.  I have improved in my planning a lot, but still find that this time of year is the best for planning.  What did I need more of? What was timed poorly?  How was my spacing and my aisle widths?  What did I end up giving away because there was too much?  And what varieties have earned a spot for next year?

So in the spirit of planning, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1.  Look at your grocery lists, not the seed catalog.

Plant what you eat.  Sounds obvious.  It is not.  Why are are there so many sample plans with rows of turnips and rutabagas? Why?  I am proud if you if you really eat these things, but if you don’t, please do not plant them.  I am tempted every year by beautiful summer squash, but… I think it is gross.  So does my family.  Same goes for Lima beans and sweet potatoes.  I remember once reading a book where a character makes a salad with beets on top and all the other characters like it.  I planted beets, we ate one, it was okay.  The others languished.  Look at what you pay for at the store! (For us this means lettuce, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes, extra tomatoes for canning, bell peppers, jalapeños, extra peppers for canning, sugar snap beans, green beans, corn, cucumbers, extra cucumber for pickles, spinach, cilantro, basil, and a lot of watermelon.  We buy our potatoes because they do not do well in our humidity and I have nowhere suitable to store a years supply.)

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     2. Plant enough of one thing to be self sufficient in it for the season.

This might means reducing the number of varieties in order to get a usable amount of one thing.  What will you do with twenty green beans a week?  Nothing.  Plant enough so that you do not buy any green beans for the season and you eat them as a side dish regularly.  For us this means a thirty foot row, half planted late April and half planted late June.   If you just want tomatoes for fresh eating, two or three plants should be plenty.   Some things will need to be planted in succession to avoid being unusable.  In the spring and fall, I plant small amounts of lettuce and spinach in trays every week.  They are something that I want a little of, bit by bit.  What would I do with thirty heads of romaine, all ready to eat in one day?  Pay careful attention to how much, and when, each plant will produce.  Plant enough so that you aren’t buying it at all; plant at the right time so you are actually eating it.

 

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3. Obey the seed packet

It truly tells you all you need to know.  Most gardening books have a first half of generic advice that boils down to “fertilize and weed your garden”, and then a second half with information of specific varieties.  The second half reads like pages of seed packets.  There  is so much information on those little envelopes, and you really should listen to it!  The most important thing is how far apart to plant your seeds and how to thin so that they have enough room to reach their full potential.  Planting things too close does NOT result in more to harvest.  EVER.  If the seed company, whose motivation is to have you use a lot of seeds, wants to you to space them 12 inches apart, trust me that 12 inches is the absolute minimum distance they should be.  Too much competition for water and nutrients will hurt all of them and you will wonder why nothing is turning out.  Take a ruler with you to the garden.  Also do not plant them 12 inches apart to start with, thinking you can skip thinning.  No.  Part of thinning is that you are selecting the strongest plants.  Just do what the packet says!

4.  Work in the garden every day

Water and plant in the mornings.  Weed and harvest in the afternoons.  Don’t touch it when it’s wet with dew or rain.  Just stay out of it.  If something is growing too slowly, feed it with some granular fertilizer worked in around the plant and then watered in.  Set yourself a schedule for weeding, one row every three days, or 100 weeds a day, or whatever you can see yourself sticking to.  It needs constant attention, but only a few minutes a day.  Take your older children to help you.  They can snack as they go.  Just get out there and keep an eye on things.

 

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5.  Make it beautiful

Keep things in nice tidy rows with wide and comfortable aisles.  Make it so that it were visible from the road, you would slow down and gaze at it in longing.  Plant flowers that will beautify your home and the garden itself.  If there is room for beautiful pumpkins, plant them.  (Keep your herbs out of there, by the way, and put them in containers or a separate herb garden.  Their variety makes things look messy, and it is nice to have them somewhere else, right outside your door.) Let your garden be a source of pride.  It will draw you to it by being pretty and you will love keeping it up.  Keep it as weed free as you can so that you feel accomplished, not defeated, when you see it.

 

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Making Laundry Day Work in Your House

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The concept of a designated “laundry day” is one I resisted for a while.  I generally did two loads a day, preferring to keep up with the laundry rather than letting it become a big chore.

There were two minor problems with this approach:

  1. The noise drives everyone crazy, as our machines are just off the kitchen and are super loud, so doing laundry on weekends was not ideal
  2. Sometimes I would find that I had a build up of laundry that needed to be tackled right away, and this always seemed to happen when I was busy with grocery shopping or getting ready for guests.

 

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So I started a laundry day and never looked back.  It solved these problems and freed up more time for other things during the week.  Here are some tips that have helped me.

1.  Choose the right day of the week for you

Monday is our laundry day.  I chose it because we have normally been out over the weekend, and staying home all day on Monday works for us.  Don’t choose a day where you will be out a lot.

2.  Lump in all your laundry-related chores

Ironing, mending, and cleaning the laundry room itself are also done on this day.  Thankfully I do very little ironing as I am terrible at it and my husband takes his shirts to be pressed at the cleaners.  Our laundry room is also our mudroom so it needs the scheduled weekly cleaning.  Clutter gets tossed, the machines are wiped down, the shelf of laundry products is organized, the boots and shoes and jackets are corralled.

3. Think about the order your loads need to go in

For us, we do sheets and towels first so they can be hung outside.  Then I do our (me and Matt’s) darks since they are the biggest pain in terms of folding and putting away.  After that comes baby laundry, kids clothes, our whites.

4.  Accept that there will be other laundry throughout the week

I still do a load a day Tuesday through Friday.  I normally do six on laundry day (master sheets, all white towels, kids sheets and guest sheets if needed, our darks, our whites, kids clothes).  This takes me though early afternoon and by then it is time to think about dinner and be done with laundry.  So kitchen towels are normally done on Tuesday, baby clothes and linens together on Wednesday, and by Thursday and Friday our darks and the kids clothes will be full again.  I also have a baby in cloth diapers so I do those every other day or so.

5. Simplify where you can

Less clothing =  less to wash.  Hang up church clothes to be worn again.  Kids clothes can be worn a few times unless they are actually dirty.  I strip the beds and then put the sheets right back on after they are washed.  No folding or storing of sheets necessary.  I hated washing our bathmat since it throws the machine off balance, so I threw it out.

We store our laundry baskets in bedroom closets.  Matt and I have two, one for lights, one for darks.  We get dressed and undressed in there so tossing it in is easy and it is sorted automatically.  The kids toss their clothes in before their bath.

My only laundry products are powdered Tide, Gain dryer sheets, Oxiclean, Resolve spray, and bleach.  I used to have a real collection but it just looked messy and I only used half of it.  Throw out what you don’t use.  Babies don’t need special detergent, just an extra rinse. And stop washing in cold water!  It is gross and forces you to use liquid detergent.

6.  Try a little gratitude

Try praying for the person whose laundry you are folding.  Or listening to the radio if that is not your thing.  All those dirty and grass stained clothes come children who are healthy and eating berries and playing outside.  Thank God for them, and for the job that your husband wears all those annoying pleated pants to.  There are people in the world who are not so lucky to have either thing in their life.  Pray for them, too.

 

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Lazy Garden Days

As summer winds down, Matt and Maddie are on a cross country road trip with Matt’s dad, so it is just me and the two littles.  Camilla’s favorite foods are yogurt and pasta, so without any big dinners to make we have had a lot of free time.

After church on Sunday I got her a new bag of play sand to cheer her up, and we enjoyed a nice sunny afternoon outside.  From now on I will make it a priority to have Sunday dinner prepped ahead of time so I can enjoy the afternoons too.

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She is easy to please.

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So sad to think we are buying school supplies this Thursday.

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Laughing as the cat stalks the chickens.  It has no desire to actually eat them, just watch them flap.

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Alas, they are doing a terrible job of guarding the garden.

 

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The poor tomatoes are self destructing anyway, which I am okay with.  No bushels of tomatoes waiting to be canned and stressing me out.

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(What even is this disease?)

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Still plenty of tomatoes for two tomato sandwiches a day.  That plus two Chobani flips per day is keeping me alive.

Our July planted carrots seem to be doing ok, we will start a new planting on Saturday for mid fall carrots.  Lately the grocery store ones have just been gross.

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Not sure what I did wrong with my celosia, or “the brain plant” as Maddie calls it, but it never really had stems long enough for cutting.  It is just gorgeous though, and I will do more next year.

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(Red velvet cake variety, from Burpee.  The seeds were slow to germinate but the color is beautiful.)

Any corn that is past its prime when it gets picked is tossed to the chickens.  A terrible idea, as they now think the garden is a living food land for them.  I am begging for a fence in the spring.

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Moving inside, all the laundry got caught up with on Monday (seven loads, and yes I still do one load a day as a daily chore, I just do extra on Mondays to stay ahead of it.)  Laundry day also means the laundry room itself gets cleaned.  Windows are cleaned, mudroom bench cleaned and organized, machines wiped down, etc.

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(Isn’t it funny how something can look so tidy in person and terrible in a photo?)

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And a sweet, sweet baby, growing too fast.

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Banana Muffins with Caramel Icing

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Maddie turned six this week, and instead of a party she wanted a day at Busch Gardens.  So she just had a special dinner of Chinese food and ice cream cake, two big purple and pink bouquets of flowers from the garden, and a beautifully decorated dining room designed by her cousin.

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She didn’t ask for anything except a fidget spinner, which her dad refuses to buy because they are ridiculous.  But she was happy with her surprises: books, a Moana lego set, and two new puzzles.

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(The fireplace hearth turned out to be the perfect spot; they fit fully assembled and can stay out a few days to be admired.)

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A good big sister, and mom to her own baby in the corner.

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(Don’t a few dahlias make every garden bouquet that much more special?)

She does not love sweets, and will eat very few treats that I bake.  She is the only person on earth who does not like chocolate chip cookies.  But this is one sweet she is always excited for, so I made it for her breakfast.  They are sweet, delicious, and quick.  They are good without the icing, but it is so simple that it is worth the effort, even in the morning.

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Banana Muffins with Caramel Icing:

For the muffins:

1/4 cup shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

1 egg

3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed

1 1/2 cups of  flour

1/4 t. salt

For the icing:

2 T. butter

1 T. milk

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup powdered sugar

  1.  Cream shortening and sugar in electric mixer until fluffy.  Beat in egg, bananas, and vanilla.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, adding to creamed mixture until just moistened.
  2. Fill paper lined muffin cups 3/4 full (should fill 12).  Bake at 350 for 22 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to cool on wire rack.
  3. To make icing, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Add brown sugar and milk, bring to a boil.  Cool slightly.   Whisk in confectioners sugar.  Drizzle over muffins.