Sunday, July 31, 2016

My (Not-So) Hidden (Not-Much) Talent

I recently pulled my old Gibson guitar out to try out a song for Vacation Bible School.  My children were stunned.  They had no idea I could play the guitar.  

In reality, I was terrible. I was rusty and the steel strings were killing my fingertips.

But they thought I was a total rockstar.  Finn told friends at the pool later that week "my mother has a hidden talent....she plays guitar so well!" 

This guitar is one of my prized possessions. I own three, but this is my favorite.  My father purchased it in the early 1970s in Harvard Square (he attended college in Boston).  He passed it along to me when I was in college and taking lessons, and my nylon-stringed Sigma wasn't cutting it for the jazz guitar class.  It's such a treasure to me!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bright Morning Fog

Mornings are my favorite: the world is quiet, the day is new, breakfast is the best meal of the day, and I love my freshly-ground coffee or my tea. 

And sometimes I peek outside and see wonderful things, like the morning the fog was all lit and glowing. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Clouds in the Valley

We really have some gorgeous clouds roll through our little valley.  This whopper was worth remembering!

And this was one of the strangest things I have ever seen!  This may be the experience that forces me to fix my Nikon, because I could not capture it with the sad little phone camera.  The glowing pink thing was a tremendous cloud. I was arrested by it and stood staring for a few minutes.

And then, for true life (as Annie says), *bolts of lightning* came out of it!

Try as I might, I could not capture the cloud or the lightning with any accuracy, but believe me: it was glorious. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Typical July Harvest

Zucchini, squash, mint, basil, cucumbers.  

I'm also harvesting sage, but that's not pictured here!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Painting the Coop

Mr. Polly and Finn are building a chicken coop.  This is a lot of work for some little feathered creatures! Last weekend the children and I spent all day Saturday putting three coats of paint on the coop, the doors, the nesting was a hot day, but the patio is shaded!

This week my husband put the roof on, secured a batch of shingles to use, hired a lad to clear the weedy corner of the garden where the coop will go, and built the super-heavy base. 

At every stage he says "now it's starting to look like something!!"

Friday, July 22, 2016

Porch Pillows

A couple of weeks ago I sewed two accent pillows for our porch. I've had the fabric and the (thrifted) pillow forms forever, but just didn't get around to it until now.  I used thrifted zippers, too, that I bought last year for .25 each.  

The fun part of this was making a pillow cover for the cat's little wicker bed.  The bare pillow that had been there before was not only dirty, it was ugly.  I assessed it and decided not to even try to wash it, so I cut the cover off.  The fluffy stuff inside was, to my surprise, in perfect condition!

So.  I first sewed a new "permanent" cover.  I found old white fabric that had been the lining of our former bedroom curtains (silk panels that eventually got worn to shreds--I have salvaged pieces for Halloween costumes).  I used the cotton lining to make a new pillow cover, and just sewed it shut--I can wash it without a problem. 

Then, for the *nice* cover, I used scraps from the accent pillows. I had to piece the front. I used our old shower curtain for the back (it was a dropcloth).  I used the last of the velcro for the closure, because I didn't want to waste a zipper on a cat's pillow.  

Annie and I furiously washed the porch and then put everything back.  The porch itself is shabby and in need of restoration (or total replacement), but it's clean and cute now! With its evening shade, it's the perfect place to settle down on a hot evening to watch the fireflies and enjoy the flowers. 

Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's July

Last week the enormous far hay field was cut and baled.  The weather was sweltering.  The result was beautiful.  Baling hay is hot, hard work.  I love the visual reminder that our hard work yields beautiful (and nourishing) results. 

High summer: Queen Anne's lace is out, and the pasture is full of chicory.  We recently discovered, thanks to this poem, that chicory is the same thing as cornflower. I guess if I were writing this poem, I would include a stanza about hayfields!

*        *         *  


When the scarlet cardinal tells
Her dream to the dragonfly,
And the lazy breeze makes a nest in the trees,
And murmurs a lullaby, 
It's July. 

When the tangled cobweb pulls 
The cornflower's cap awry,
And the lilies tall lean over the wall
To bow to the butterfly, 
It's July.

When the heat like a mist veil floats,
And poppies flame in the rye,
And the silver note in the streamlet's thrat
Has softened almost to a sigh,
It's July.

When the hours are so still that time
Forgets them, and lets them lie
Underneath petals pink till the night stars wink
At the sunset in the sky, 
It's July. 

--Susan Hartley Swett

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Making the Best of It

"....there is no such thing as the perfect environment in which a child can play.  If we try to organize perfection, we fail the child. Part of life is to learn to accept the limitations of any given situation.  We do our children a lifelong service if we help them to make the best of where they lie and who they are.  Children are great adaptors.  They will often make the best of the less-than-perfect situation."

--For the Children's Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Substitute phrases about the child or the children with "ourselves" or "we" and feel revitalized.  I did!

Creating a Sabbath (and a Gluten-Free Sunday Morning Breakfast Casserole)

Our culture does not value Sabbath Rest.  A few years ago my husband and I decided that even if our culture doesn't value it, we do!  And we take the Sabbath seriously now. 

For a mother with young children, there's really no total rest day, so it's really about making the day as easy as possible.  This starts on Saturday. (It took me years to fully comprehend that obvious truth.)

On Saturday:
*do enough laundry to get you through Sunday and Monday, at least!
*choose church clothes for everyone and make sure they're presentable
*make breakfast! for years I tried to throw together a breakfast on Sunday morning--often something "nice" like pancakes and sausage or eggs, but cooking on Sunday is just not restful for me, and then there are the dishes, and the rush to leave the house on my solution is my gluten-free Sunday Morning Breakfast Casserole, which I make on Saturday night, bake on Sunday morning, and which is hearty enough to make my children survive until Sunday lunch (which is usually between 1:00-1:30 at our house).
*make sure there are sufficient leftovers for dinner tomorrow night
*grind the coffee and fill the electric kettle!
*set the table for breakfast 
*make sure all needed items for church are in a tote bag (Bibles, journal, water bottles, etc.)

On Sunday morning:
*coffee, coffee, coffee (especially if my husband and I have stayed up late--it's the one night a week he can stay up past about 9pm!)
*pop the casserole in the oven
*mix up a fast batch of chocolate gingerbread and pop that in the oven 
(husband usually makes tuna salad for the children for lunch at this point)
*enjoy a relaxed and delicious breakfast, with minimal cleanup (casserole container goes in fridge, gingerbread gets covered, dishes go in the dishwasher)
*shower, dress, get the children dressed, and go to church

On Sunday afternoon:
*serve kids tuna and potato chips and fruit--their junky Sunday tradition!  My husband and I usually have salads. Some people do a big Sunday midday dinner. I love that concept, but for me that's not relaxing during this stage of life. I'd rather have my nice breakfast!
*send the kids to quiet time in their rooms and then we settle in for a Sunday luxurious. My husband is a Real Napper but I only nap for about 20-30 minutes. 
*after nap, we putter around, maybe take a walk--sometimes I leave the house for a couple of hours, etc. 
*dinner: leftovers
*after dinner: in winter, we like to watch episodes of Planet Earth or Cosmos; in summer, catch lightning bugs, take walks, and talk; any time of year we like to play Skip-Bo!
*get to bed early-ish because Monday morning comes whether we're ready or not!

*                      *                     * 

Sunday Morning Breakfast Casserole

On Saturday night, grease a 9x13 glass pan. 

Cook a pound of sausage (you could use bacon!).

Line the glass pan with a thin layer of frozen shredded potatoes, then top with sausage.  

Beat 12-14 eggs with a splash of milk (about half a cup, at most).  I like to add some Crazy Salt or Herbamere.  Pour this over the sausage/potatoes in pan. 

Grate enough cheese to lightly cover the egg.  My children love green onion cheese, so that's what I use! You can use any kind you like. 

Cover with foil and place in the refrigerator overnight.

On Sunday morning, put into the oven and bake at 350 degrees until the eggs are cooked. I think this takes about half an hour in my oven, which runs hot. 

We like this with a side of hot gingerbread topped with whipped cream or Greek yogurt (decadent), and for me--lots of coffee.  

Happy resting!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Summery Corn Chowder

What possessed me to make corn chowder when the thermostat read 101 degrees this morning?

Finding last year's corn in the freezer...the morning after I got fresh corn from my uncle. This is really a soup for winter time, when you want to taste corn and basil...

Simmer for 15 minutes in a pot:

*3-4 small potatoes  (I bought some for .20/lb this weekend!), diced
*half an onion, diced
*1/2 a carrot, diced
*1/2 cup of water
*1/2 cup of stock (I used chicken)
*I also gave a nice grind of pepper, a shake or two of salt, and later I think I shook in some Herbamere.

When the potatoes are fairly soft, add:

*2 c. corn (fresh or frozen--I like to run mine through a food processor to mash it up a bit)

Simmer for 5-10 more minutes, then add:

*1 1/2 cups milk 

Cook for a few minutes until everything is warm. At the end I added in an ice cube of frozen basil, let that melt, and blended it all very well with my stick blender. (If it's summertime, you can add fresh basil!) If the soup were for me only, I wouldn't do this, but I have a child with Texture Issues. 

I served this to the children for lunch with cheese slices and "banana boats" (half or a fourth of a banana, sliced lengthwise, with a bit of peanut butter and a tiny sprinkling of mini dark chocolate chips on top). My children added Crazy Salt to the soup at the table.  Yum!

I splurged (I don't eat white potatoes or corn) and had a small bowl myself--topped with avocado.  It was creamy and so satisfying, but will be even better on a winter night.

I also made a batch of blueberry popsicles and a loaf of zucchini bread....plowing through the freezer now!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sunset: Be There

Beautiful sunsets! I never tire of them. I can tell when it's happening because the deck turns pink.  I run outside with the dish towel draped over my shoulder and my hands still wet, and I just smile. They are always different. The beauty of God's creation changes unendingly. 

Glorious light!

And five minutes later. 

" and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."  (Annie Dillard) 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Removing Hard Water Spots from Shower Doors

For most of my adult life, glass shower doors have been the bane of my domestic existence.  We live in an area with very hard water, and we have a water softener, but if the salt runs out, the water runs hard.  I also don't think the water softener does its job all the way.  I can remove soap scum from the glass shower doors, but the little bitty hard water drops (you know what I mean, if you struggle with this) were impenetrable by even the most obnoxious cleaner--Scrubbing Bubbles.  I always try to use homemade and nontoxic cleaners, but nothing seemed to touch my shower doors.

Recently I saw a recommendation for dawn + vinegar, so I tried it yesterday. It works! I used an entire quart jar of homemade cleaner on our basement shower doors (I just poured, splashed, and scrubbed it on) but now that I know this works, I'm going to invest in a high-quality spray bottle for this stuff.  Next time I won't use an entire batch, either--this will be a great maintenance cleaner. 

Here's the method:

*Heat 2 c. vinegar in a microwave-safe container (or you can heat it on the stovetop). I heated it for about 2 minutes. 

*Pour this into a jar, spray bottle, or squirt bottle, and then add 1 c. blue Dawn dish soap. (Some recipes call for a 1:1 ratio, but you don't need that much!)

*Shake.  Then spray/pour/squirt onto your shower doors. I let the solution sit there for a few minutes while I did other things, and then I went back to start rinsing and wiping it off.  

It worked great! I had to scrub a bit here and there (the worst spots were at the bottom of the doors), but many of them just sort of disappeared without any scrubbing at all.  I had to do a lot of rinsing with clean water because the Dawn makes things very sudsy and slippery--I just used a clean bucket of water and a cup to pour all over the shower doors.  It was messy but I was working with what I had! 

And now I go into the bathroom to look at the doors whereas before I avoided that bathroom because of the doors.  So, there you go! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Let Freedom Ring

My favorite patriotic song is "America the Beautiful."  It is a sure-fire tear-jerker for me every time I sing or hear it. But yesterday we also sang "My Country 'Tis of Three" and the end of the third stanza hit me profoundly:

Let mortal tongues awake; 
Let all the breathe partake; 
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

The idea of freedom awaking mortal tongues and breaking the silence of rocks is powerful. Under our Constitution, Americans have the freedom to worship as we see fit, to speak our minds as we wish, to enjoy privacy in our home lives, to vote our conscience, to receive due process, to never be owned by another human being. It is a privilege to live in a place where these are our basic human rights, the things we expect from our birth. 

On this Independence Day, may mortal tongues awake, and may we use our freedoms to bear light into the dark corners of the world.  To whom much is given, much will be required. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Homemade Deodorant

You're thinking hippies, right?  Hippies who don't smell very fresh?*  You're thinking overpriced "natural" deodorants that don't work, right?  

I have never had good luck with natural deodorants.  The only one I found that actually worked cost about $20 for 2 ounces.  And it required a lot of re-application to make me feel secure.  Everything else has been a bust. 

My life is forever changed!!  I waited over a month to post this because I wanted to engage in plenty of tests. I have tested it at church.  At the pool.  On a hot day of gardening.  On a walk.  I have recruited a friend and my husband to corroborate my testimony that I am not odorous. It works AND it's cheap!

I used this recipe as written, except that I do not have patchouli oil--I just used a bit of extra lavender oil.  The interesting thing is that the coconut oil seems to make this soak into the skin, so I really think it sort of protects even after it should have "worn off."  I love this deodorant and it's simple and easy to make. The recipe makes enough to perfectly fill a 4-oz jar, and I've been using mine daily for a month, and I'm not even halfway through it.  

If you are trying to save money and/or avoid conventional deodorant, I highly recommend trying this coconut oil-lavender concoction!

*If you're a hippie, don't take offense. I bet you smell fresh. I was talking about the other hippies.