Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Bees' Knees

It's time to gather in harvests. I'm canning tomatoes every day and hauling spent plants out of the garden. What was the cucumber and sunflower bed is now ready to prep for another crop -- time to haul out the plans and wish I'd sown more winter plants this summer.

One patch of sunflowers was too occupied to pull. Some bees had more pollen on them than others:

This worker's head was almost completely powdered -- I wondered how she's able to smell.

Even on a six inch square set of real estate, you're never alone here:

Proof that they can fly, even heavily burdened. I'm glad to see them storing pollen for winter, and reminded that I have to harvest -- soon!

Hope you're all enjoying harvests now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Once upon a time, a mother who was committed to homeschooling thought to herself, "Enough. I have had enough." Fortunately for this mother, and for her two elementary-aged children, there was a good school in the area, and off those two children went for a year of public school.

At this school, the fourth grade seemed to have a little more than its share of dramatic girls. It was like a sitcom sometimes -- the mother would go to pick up her children (which she mentally added to the millions of reasons homeschooling was at times easier) and find the girls from this particular grade falling about and weeping. Someone would have felt left out, and because the school emphasized sharing feelings and process, they would have talked themselves into a hormonal stew. One storm was set off when two girls were equally committed to the company of a third, during incompatible games -- house and doing gymnastics. Tears aplenty.

Alas for this mother, it wasn't limited to group dynamics either. No, her very own precious daughter sometimes tended toward the overwrought.

One day, the lovely and very patient fourth grade teacher took the mother aside. She gently told the mother that her child had had "a rough time" at lunch, and had spent forty-five minutes in tears talking to her.

Had this mother not long since gotten over any "my precious snowflake" reactions, she might have thought her child had been harmed, perhaps bullied, or had felt badly about underperforming in an academic sense. But no. This mother merely sighed and asked what had happened.

The teacher gently explained that this child, this hand-raised, home birthed, lovely and talented, much loved daughter and sister, felt embarrassed because her lunches, brought in zero-waste tiffin boxes, consisted of things like sandwiches made with homemade bread, often with the added insult of homemade jam, occasionally even with homemade peanut butter! The child had raved and hyperventilated. No premade snacks! No juice boxes! She would be a pariah! Why was her mother so strange, so bizarre, so rigid?

All that was great, as far as the parent was concerned. But then the teacher said the one thing that she shouldn't have. "I told her," she said, "That I would ask you to think of one compromise, like storebought jam or breakfast cereal."

"No you don't," thought the mother, but thanked the very nice teacher, and went to gather up her progeny.

Over the course of that year, Ellie and I had many talks about why we ate the way we did/do, why I insisted on making lunches out of real food, what it cost to feed a large family, why I was irritated with her teacher's well-meant suggestion, and that she would someday look back at this and it wouldn't bother her. In fact, I suggested, she would laugh.

She didn't believe me then.

But she does now. In addition, we both agree that she has made huge strides in maturity. First, she finds the story funny (and I have her permission to write about it) and secondly, because she's looking forward to bringing a variety of homemade foods to school with her when she once again goes to public school next week.

She and I share some excitement about one goody, fruit roll ups. Following in many many blogger's footsteps, I discoverd a use for my too-runny jam.

It's helpful if your oven has a low temperature setting:

If, on Christmas morning, to gift-wrapped rolls of restaurant-sized parchment paper waited, I'd squeal like one of those fourth-grade girls. I love the stuff. Love it. To make roll-ups, line a sheet with parchment paper sprayed with oil.

Pour in your fruit puree, or runny jam, and shake it around.

This jam had lumpy berries in it, so I mashed them with a fork. Then I put the pan in the oven.

As it heated, the surface started looking glassy, like a skating rink after the Zamboni rolls through.

After evaporating for a week and a half a longish time, the puree was leathery and ready.

Rolled up

And cut in pieces with kitchen shears. Next time, I'll oil the shears, probably.

I'm thinking of getting stone fruit from the farmer's market and berry foraging in order to keep up the lunchbox supply. They're resting in the freezer until their debut.

Because we all know there probably won't be any drama in middle school.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Should you wish to leave your garden for, say, ten days or so to watch your children catch

And run

And throw,

And don't make provisions for your garden beyond the bare minimum, there are some crops that do well.

Dry beans on the vine:

Peppers waiting to ripen to red or orange or, in this case, yellow.

Popcorn drying on the stalk.

Hard-shelled winter squash, now ready to be made into pies or custard or pancakes. . .

But summer squash? Well, not so happy, as it turned out. The chickens liked this 30" monster just fine, though. I'm torn between ripping out the plant and waiting to see if I can coax out just one or two more reasonable squashes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ups and Downs

On the up side, I ran three miles in a good time for me today. All the time I was running, I was thinking about watching my children play the day before, and how hard they worked. I kept saying, "If they can do it, I can do it."

I also remembered that all pain is temporary, and that I wasn't running on my legs, really, or my lungs, or my gut (all places where my body complains); I was running on my brain. And my brain wasn't going to slow down.

Of course, fast for me isn't very. Really. I'm somewhere between 9 and 9 1/2 minutes a mile, which is practically plodding.  But it's a whole minute faster than I ran about sixteen weeks ago, and if I made it a goal, I bet I could go faster yet.

The kids played their hearts out for two games today, and got into the semifinals. That was the end of their run, though, and they ended up fourth out of eight. I haven't done the images yet, so I don't know if any of the amazing plays were recorded. Both of the girls got "layout Ds," which means they flung themselves headlong and smacked a moving Frisbee away from the waiting receiver. It's pretty impressive. Amazing catches were made, mistakes were made, and they were exemplary in attitude and effort.

Now I sit in a marginally packed hotel room, contemplating how to sprint across the country in four days. Miles City, Montana, a mere eleven hours away. Then on to Lewiston, Idaho, in eleven and a half. A day with stops, adding up to about eleven more hours to Eugene, Oregon. Then all the way home in nine hours.

Think we can do it? We'll see!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This is what we came for. . .

Every time we sing that part of the chant while running at boot camp, I think, "No it isn't. . .  well, okay, it is. Sort of. . . how much longer?" and by then, the run is nearing an end.

But today -- this really is why I did this crazy cross-country thing:

The team was outplayed by a good number of the other teams. If you go here, you can see the brackets, and poking around on the site will give you rosters. The team our team lost to by one point on a hotly contested call had primarily 17 and 18 year olds.

I only wish I had a series of pictures of my 12 year old on the series where she either threw a key point or caught it. Her coach tackled her in joy on the field. Twelve years old and playing her heart out and making a contribution. I love this sport.

In fact, it was hard for me to watch BMX racing as an Olympic event last night without muttering about an unfair world. . .

Friday, August 10, 2012

Object Permanence

Our van's top raises on a slant. Toes go in the small end, heads go in the larger end, and it can be. . . disconcerting. Turning over is sometimes difficult, and getting two adult-sized people in bed can take some contorting. Thus, when Sarafina saw this van, she remarked a little wistfully that that pop top would be pretty comfortable.

She has been a trouper and not too much of a blanket hog.

Every morning so far, she's had tea with me, made on a camping stove I've had for at least a dozen years, if not more.

I think this tea kettle came home from an Irish honeymoon with me and Eric.

These tiffin boxes are the babies of the objects, being only a couple of years old. They aren't made as well as some of the other things.

I replaced the broken plastic handle on the three-layer box almost immediately after getting it, and Kevin made a much more sophisticated handle for the four-layer one just before our trip.

These have been the perfect solution for the kind of not-really cooking a cross-country sprint needed. Just cereal or oatmeal in the morning, sandwiches for lunch, and soup from a can or pouched Indian food for dinner.

We're a little tired of non-cooked food. The homeschooling camping trips have really spoiled us, as groups almost compete to make the most gourmet kind of meals. 

So many of the things that come through my household are, despite my best efforts, either junky throwaway or end up being discarded for all kinds of reasons. I'm torn between wanting to hold stuff lightly, and wanting to honor my way of living by not having a lot of disposable stuff around. Because, it's stuff. And we all know that one of the first lessons anyone has to learn to be fully human is that people are not objects.

These little people, in one of my favorite objects, who use (and it must be admitted) destroy many objects, are more important than even the mostest favorite objects.

It's easier sometimes to remember that when we haven't been together in a relatively small van for days and days.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Distance blogging

Why are the Grand Tetons blue? (Or is that Glacier Peak? I can't tell at 75 mph.) The blue is from taking pictures through the side tinted window of the car while you're on an enforced road trip with all of your siblings and your crazy mother.

In other words, I'm not so up on what the garden is doing because I'm halfway across the country taking the kids to a Frisbee tournament. And seeing lots of neat stuff, but not really having enough time to make it a "doing things" road trip. In fact, Eldest Child is trying very hard to veto a stop at the Corn Palace. She clearly doesn't appreciate Americana.

I've been up early each morning and managed to work out almost every day. I don't want to get horribly out of shape and then try to keep up with the crew in boot camp when I get home. The fires in the Dakotas and other stuff have made for interesting sunrises and sunsets -- especially when we've had to pull a long day's drive and gotten on the road at 5am. Yawn.

One other fun thing? We ended up intersecting the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally traffic. Nowhere to stay, a new friend made us dinner and then arranged a special camping spot. I have a soft spot for tattooed bikers, and cutie pie biker chicks in stunning chaps and vulgar t-shirts, but there are Too Many Motorcycles on the highway for my taste. Scary scary driving interspersed with fun sights. This Border Collie mix was wearing goggles.

It may be my age or motherhood, but the woman with the lovely deep tan riding pillion in a leopard-print bikini top, short cutoffs and flip flops just gave me the willies. All I could think about was how she would be a head-to-toe scab. Guess it wouldn't matter, because unlike the rare riders in the photo above, she and her pilot weren't wearing helmets. I get the free choice crap, but if someone has to pick up the tab for your profound brain injury care, you don't get to make that choice.

Apparently I am a little crabby.

The children are much, much less crabby with internet and texting capacity. Fortunately, the Mitchell, SD KOA has both.

They also have a lovely pool, and a perfectly adequate for the purposes mini golf course. As a reward for our horrible 18 hour day on Tuesday, we scheduled two five hour days for the final part of the first half of the tour, so swimming could be on the agenda.

Of course the temperatures have dropped 20 degrees. We're running in front of a storm front.

She's doing great driving, and I'm learning to breathe very very deeply and try not to infect her with my tension. It's all a process, no?

Updates later; time to pack it in for the night.

Friday, August 3, 2012


The fruit trees are all beset with water sprouts and branches reaching where they shouldn't. My lack of fall spraying means that they have come through (or into, in the case of the apples) a fruiting season with more burdens on them than they really need. Aphids and whiteflies have left sooty residue, cutting down on light transmission. I'm sure they haven't gotten the water they need, and yet they have been generous. Their shapes aren't quite right.

Time to get out the clippers and hack off some growth! Maybe the end of summer is why the whole family has had some version of this urge.

Although I'm not really expert at it, I find pruning enjoyable. The plants respond with renewed vigor, even if they wait for a distant season to show it. Should they bear again, I will also be able to reach the fruit! Short trees for real people, that should be my rallying cry.

One of the reasons I haven't done the garden work I need to is that my energy has been focused on a couple of other things. The old posts from my other blog are now live on this one. They can be accessed through the calendar list on the sidebar. Seeing the kids go from little larvae to big people was kind of shocking as I moved them.

The big mental energy expense has been the upcoming trip to the Youth Conference Championship for USAUltimate.

Sarafina was on the winning team last year, and this year both she and Ellie will be on the U19 team. They aren't as competitive, they think, but it should be a fantastic experience.

We'll see how the cross-country drive goes.

I used to worry when I crossed the San Mateo Bridge with the kids because it's a long bridge, right on the water of the Bay, and it was so easy, really so so easy, to imagine one second that would change everything.

Just one car braking the wrong way, or a tire popping, and I felt, almost, the van bouncing off a car on our left and scraping along the K-rail until the forward motion is translated into flight and we roll, gracefully, over the barrier and down into the water so close below.

When I would have these worries, I would imagine me shouting (I shout so much, really) at the older ones to unbuckle as I frantically made my way to the backwards-facing car seat and the forward-facing toddler seat to grab my babies who couldn't swim yet. I imagined us all in the bubble of air as the van tipped, and trying to get them out and realizing even as I did it, that there was no way, no way at all, that I could do it.

I wouldn't be able to save them all. There were too many, and they were too young, and even the older ones wouldn't be able to make it long in that cold water even if they could kick their way up to the air. I wouldn't be able to hold a baby and a big toddler or young child. I would, really, lose some, if not all of them. Worse, I might have to choose which ones to try to save. Imagining that was enough to send me the long way 'round the Peninsula.

As they got older and out of the carseats, the fear faded some. They are older, and more competent, and repetition helps. I still drive as far away from the water's edge as I can, though.

Why, now, why am I revisiting this old fear, this scenario that still speeds my heart rate up as I write it?

Well, I'm not the only one driving all the way to Minnesota.