Thursday, October 30, 2008

Again With The Sunshine

I am going to break out into song any moment.

You wish you were here, because it's been as beautiful as any "Sound of Music" set in our neck of the woods. It may or may not be due to Grace and her self-fulfilling prophecies slash weather reports, but we're still basking in the autumn sunshine every blessed day.

Do I sound cranky about it?

Last year I was melancholy throughout late September and early October... I know this because my blog does not lie. If you asked me I'd say, nah, everything was great last year around this time. But the blog tells a different tale.


What kind of girl wishes for rain when she's got this kind of October:

A girl who loves to curl up by the fire with a good book and a cup of tea, that's who. Do we have any other takers?

I do love the outdoors. It's a good thing, too, because there's quite a bit of outdoor work to be done when you own a little "hobby farm." Whether it's for money (and trust me, it's not for the money) or for a "hobby," packing 50-pound sacks of grain, wrestling wily chickens, and scooping horse manure are not in the same hobby league as, say, building a model train yard.

Every time we step out the door, or look out the window, for that matter, there's a lot of work looking back at us. Raking, mucking, painting, plowing kind of work. Gasping for air kind of work. It's the antithesis of a peaceful retreat to the country, really.

Sarah heard my cry for coziness and a change of seasons:

She drew a city scene on the chalkboard (note super-cute chalkboard that I MADE) and then did a little performance art thing with banging the eraser on the rain "dots" of chalk, which caused chalk dust to billow out like snow over the rooftops of the chalk houses.

Okay, so then we all had asthma attacks. But it was funny.

Why am I so eager for a change of season? It's not just the draught-caused trickling well water, and it's not any sense of existential dissatisfaction with today. I love the summer, and I love the end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall activities we've been buzzing about. Canning applesauce (darn if Grace doesn't prefer the store-bought!), drying pears, making jam, planting bulbs, starting an orchard, picking winter squash and reading up on root cellars while we study traditional homesteading. I love that stuff.

I think what I'm really yearning for is not fall at all. It's not rain, or even chalk-snow; it's the peaceful easiness that comes over me when there's nothing to be done except sit with a good book and a cup of tea. I want to twiddle my thumbs for a minute and dig out the sewing machine because I can't very well dig in the soggy earth or walk up the hill in a monsoon. I want that decision to slow down made for me.

In reality, the stormy weather doesn't bring any more simplicity than I create.

And speaking of creations:

I had this brilliant (shush) idea to paint silhouettes of a rooster and chickens on the side of my chicken chalet.
But my rooster kind of looks like a squirrel.
To make up for it I swished around the foam craft brush into the vague shape of a roosting hen and then lettered the side with the words "Fresh Eggs."
It sounded really cute at the time.

I did finish the lettering, but it doesn't look any cuter. In fact, from the road, it looks a little like it says "Fish Eggs." I'm expecting some anglers to stop looking for bait any day now.

Do you see why I need something to read? Note to all of my blogging buddies: For the love of the chicken coop, could you post a little more often?
My ten-day spending hiatus is fast approaching (nearly as quickly as I'm losing my resolve), I'm all burned out on the food preservation effort, my kids have plenty of clothes so I don't need to sew... I don't know how to knit... we gave up television because we're cracked... and I don't have anything to read in the house (aside from literally thousands of books, but you know...).
So a little blog reading by the fire, with a cup of tea. That's what I'm looking for. I'll even settle on doing this slow-down with the sun shining outside. It doesn't have to rain in order for me to stop and smell the teabags.
And if you can't blog, would you at least email me?
Or comment?
(I may be going a little stir crazy in the country.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday Weather Girl

Alright already.

I go and pray for rain, and we get more beautiful sunshine.

It's been made clear (hah hah) how much my opinion matters in the arena of weather around the farmette.

In homeschooling news, we have given Grace Hannah a new job. She was feeling a little bit left out. Madeleine and Sarah have such big books and computer time and chess class and, you know, chores. When you're 4, those items can look glamorous. So Grace is the Weather Girl.

It's a catchy title that really doesn't begin to cover her duties as my helper. First thing in the morning she gets dressed while the "big girls" are getting dressed. Then, while they are out gathering eggs (yes! eggs!) and tossing hay toward hungry horses, she marches directly to the big bulletin board.

A couple of weeks ago, I scored a super-cute vintage church feltboard on casters. It's about five feet tall, and is made of wood that's painted robin's egg blue. I painted the back of the felt board area with blackboard paint and WALLAH (yeah, I know, it's "voila," but I like to say WALLAH like that) we have a bulletin board on one side and a chalkboard on the other. Wallah. Only not on the wall. I'm a little off the wall right now, aren't I?

Grace's bulletin board duties are to change the date and the weather report. She can choose from "sunny," "partly cloudy," "cloudy," "snow" and "rain."

If you were Grace, you might be tempted to look outside the windows before reporting the weather. We have six windows and full-glass double French doors in the great room. It's kinda hard to not look out the windows.

But, then again, you might just cock your little head to one side, consider all the choices, and choose "sunny."

Your mother might remind you to look outside, and then you'd see the early morning clouds, and with a determined face, pin up the "sunny" card.

So all the sun-lovers in Oregon can thank my daughter Grace. It's a big job, keeping that sun shining.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Today The Well Went Dry

We've been having the longest run of gorgeous, clear fall weather. We moved Seven to a nearby stable in September so she could have a stall and stay pretty for the 4H season, but it's been hardly necessary. In fact the perpetual sunshine has made it possible that she is "out to pasture" more than she's in the stall.

The barn pictured above is just a stone's throw away from us as well. Isn't it pretty in the autumn light?

At this point I'd prefer some stormy Oregon rainclouds. The fall foliage is getting on my nerves, frankly. All those leaves oughta be knocked down by some raindrops already.

Today we all suffered a little sore throat and general malaise. Don't you just look for a reason to use the term "general malaise" in everyday language? Yeah, me too.

So one of the best things about homeschooling is... no need to call the cranky school secretary and be made to feel all overprotective in the face of a mere head cold. I actually cannot count the impressive number of times I was hesitant to call to report my children were staying home. I felt naughty and reprimanded. I felt as though I ought to have more authority, as though I were asking permission to keep them home when they weren't feeling well.

Indeed, I felt pressured to make up better symptoms ala Ferris Bueller. I'm not saying I did. I'm just saying:

"No, Nurse CrankyPants, there's no fever. No, no diarrhea either. She's just not up to it. Yes'm, I understand she's allowed to come to school if it's just a runny nose. "

But when you're homeschooling? A sore throat with no other significant symptoms can mean spending all day setting up the Breyer horses in the den. A little painting, a little reading, let the chores go for a while and just play.

It's a good thing we didn't run the dishwasher or washing machine, as it turns out. Because when Sarah went to climb into the tub before bed, the water was a thin trickle.

I wish it would rain. It would be a good excuse for more indoor play days at the very least... and it would replenish our thirsty well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

So Yesterday I Went To Write

So, yesterday I went to write.

No, Dear Reader, I did not lose my petty loathing of a common grammar slip. This is not a "She went, 'blah blah blah,' and then He went, 'so and so' before she went wee wee in her pants from the shock of the news..." moment. It's not like that. And it's not that either.

Yesterday I actually went somewhere to write.

I packed up my trusty laptop in my beautimus bag (reclaimed leather 1930s briefcase from St. Vincent De Paul's... anyone?). I packed up my gem of a camera in its own non-reclaimed but still essential cordura case. I crammed my watercolor case in for good measure, then I packed my own self into the driver's seat of the Suburban with a mite of guilt over driving the Sub all by my lonesome.

Well, I did have to drop off ALL FOUR kids at Grandma's house on my way to "somewhere to write."

Yes, Dear Reader, you read correctly. I dropped off all of my children. Thank you, Mom. (Are you on the internet yet, Mom? I know Myrrh has been messing with, I mean fixing, your computer and connections for some time now.)

The car has a particular quiet when one can hear the road noise. Ah, the lovely shush-shush of the tires on asphalt. The crackle of the leaves as they pass over the windshield. Yeah, maybe that one's stretching it a little. But it was quiet.

I drove 25 minutes to find the Backstage Bakery where the tables are barely big enough for a laptop computer and a cup of coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of solitude. I stopped only once to take a picture of a decrepit barn. (Haven't uploaded it yet.) The anticipation of the writing time was nearly the most exciting thing I've done for weeks.

Did you ever feel Bohemian and spirited, right down to your marrow? Did you ever feel as though you were free of others' expectations and lucky enough to be conscious of that? Well, I did, yesterday. I know that a major component of my luckiness is the fact that I have tiny dependents who will still be expecting of me when I'm through with my four hours of solitude. It wouldn't be the same at all if I were lonely instead of blissfully alone.

The Backstage was closed for an Obama rally. Of about four people. They invited me in, but it messed with my alone-time fantasy. Cursed politics.

So I ended by typing furiously in the alley. I kid you not.

I wrote like a literary bandit in the alley behind a bakery. Yes, I wrote furiously. I pounded out words, clacked the keys in the uber-productive way that drives my husband crazy. I stopped not even once for tiny person requests. Did you know that I often inadvertently key in the words of my children to my journal? It will go along swimmingly upon reading, and then there's a random "peanut butter sandwich" in the middle of an otherwise normal sentence.

So yesterday I wrote like the wind.... I wrote a proposal for the asphalt paving and stormwater management design of a large school district's nine sites.


Yes, I did. I wrote a 27-page response to a "request for proposal." I wish I wrote a beautiful stanza or a perfect piece of prose.

But at the end of the day, I hit "save," sent the document in for review, and closed the laptop. I took a few pictures of the alley in the right-angle light. I capped off the day with a kid-free trip to a thrift shop, where I found a random glass light shade that will fit our ancient laundry room light fixture perfectly (hurray!).

So yesterday, I went to write. I remembered what it is to be alone. It felt good to come home to make loaded broccoli soup and cheesy biscuits. It felt good to read in the paper the quote of a much-published author and sometime writing teacher named Francine Prose. She said of the urge to write, "You have to have a particular kind of temperament... Oh, I think I'll spend the next three years completely by myself, working 14 hours a day, with no idea of whether it's any good or not, taking out commas, putting back commas..."

I think the "next three years" of my life, in four-hour increments, interrupted by peanut butter sandwiches, broccoli soup and horseback riding lessons, might take me a bit of time. Taking out commas, putting back commas.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Farewell Little Red

Yesterday "Little Red" died. The idea that living on a hobby farm will teach the facts of life to our children is not new. We have been witness to the birth of critters from fluffball chicks to gangly foals. The girls have listened in as we unfortunately learned that our dog Jake was the proud father of 11 puppies. The neighbor dog is okay after delivering them, thanks for asking. Seeds sprout, flowers bloom, eggs are hidden in dresser drawers in hopes they hatch.

The new life bits of hobby farm living are heartwarming, skin-tingling and joyful.

The death bits, not so much.

Little Red was not the first of our hens to cross the road. (Couldn't help myself there.)

We lost "Hairdo," a Polish Crested, to a raccoon nine months ago when we were at the hospital delivering Laura. (There's an irony, circle-of-life point in there somewhere. I think I'll leave it alone.) Sarah mourned Hairdo in theatrical passion, with black armbands and much wailing and gnashing of teeth. She flopped on her bed and soaked her pillow in tears. She scoured the photo files for a remembrance of her favorite chicken.

Hairdo was incredibly ugly. She was also so tame that we took her to school for show-and-tell in the "Mystery Box." Not one first grader guessed there was a live, crazy-topknot chicken in the box. When the girls would walk out to the coop in the mornings (this was pre-chalet), Hairdo would cluck her greeting and actually hop into Sarah's arms.

In January, when the EGE discovered Hairdo's date with fate had been met, he shuttered all the womankind of the farmette in the house and took care of traditional manly duties. I don't actually know what he did with the bird. This does not mean I have given up my farmgirl charter membership. It's merely based on my just having given birth.

But when Sarah discovered Little Red in eternal slumber yesterday, there was no trace of the broken-hearted girl of nine months ago. She calmly came in the house, autumn breath still steaming up from her lungs into the dawn frosty air of the kitchen nook. She announced that Little Red was dead. She asked to call Daddy at work.

One short sentence later, she turned to go back outside.

Of course I quickly called the EGE to ask what their conversation was. You know I did. He reported that he'd told her he would take care of it when he got home.

Who knows what motivated Sarah to single-handedly dig a hole under the biggest Maple tree. Who knows how she lifted that six-foot-tall shovel. Who knows why she pounded together two of the EGE's finish carpentry moldings into a (somewhat sacreligious) cross. This is one tough farmgirl. Oh, scratch that. She's a farmchick.

And in other deep pondering matters, did you notice Gracie's attire as she attended the brief chicken funeral? I had to be sneaky-like with the camera, because I was annoying the bejeebeez out of Sarah by thinking she was cute.

In other Suite news, I spent a long, long day driving across two counties for photos of completed survey and engineering projects.

I saw some cool stuff too:

They took an apple branch in for paint matching.

They painted to match the cow skulls and bleached-out wagon wheels.

The sun and shade painted this one.

Farewell, Little Red. There are other chickens waiting for the roost. It's a circle of life thing, and I'm learning it alongside the girls of Farm Suite. Of course I prefer the springtime excitement, but fall's okay too. We get tougher, we circle the wagons. We paint our houses cheerful colors. We challenge adversity with true grit.

If we only had the springtime, we wouldn't know how much we could grow into summer and how strong we could be to face fall's gusts of icy wind.

Of course I'm fully aware that "for everything there is a season." It's biblical, it's songworthy, it's so often quoted that it's nearly cliche. But right now, it's so true to me that I wish I could hang a placque.
For everything there is a season. There's even a season for learning from our children. I am impressed with Sarah's resolute action. I am impressed with how quickly she's matured. I want to be more like my kids. Is there a season for that?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Falling For Fettucini

Okay, we have a new favorite fall recipe at Farm Suite. Technically I'm the only one who really likes it, but, as with dark chocolate, it's okay to stand alone in liking this dish. All alone. No one else wants to eat it. Are you getting the idea that I could eat it all by myself?

If you drop by for a visit, I will offer you some, and if you like it, maybe I'll be glad to share.

Here's the recipe. I have to say thanks to Barb, who coined the term "concept cook." I, too, am a "concept" cook. I just didn't know what it was called before. (So if you're looking for a strict recipe, I'm not your blogger.)

But, manoman, this is good:

Fall Farm Fettucine

First you need the last of your homegrown tomatoes, three of four of them, diced into half-inch pieces. If necessary, buy some tomatoes at the farmer's market or "on the vine" at the grocery store. It will not be the same as picking them steps from the kitchen door, but it will not ruin the yumminess factor.

Second you want about a quarter to half pound of crumbled feta cheese. You can make it yourself with goat milk you bought from a neighbor, but this takes days and days to become chevre and another month to grow the feta culture. So I suggest buying this unless you're super-committed to trying the Fall Farm Fettucine without actually coming to visit me (this is an option, unless you're an internet crazy who leaves links to environs unknown in my comment section).

Two cups or so of baby spinach. We are still growing spinach even though we've had a light frost, and probably will until after Thanksgiving or whenever the deer get desperate again.

Garlic, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil, processed in the blender or food processor until it looks more or less like a half cup of pesto.

A large package of store-bought fettucine noodles. I used to have a beautiful hand-roly noodle press but I used it for a clay project at preschool and it got misborrowed. Man, I miss that thing.

A jar of good black olives. Not the mushy ones. Rough-chop.


Boil the noodles until al dente. Drain and toss with all the other ingredients. The hot noodles will wilt the spinach and steam the tomatoes a little. It will look unbelievably colorful. You may eat the entire thing by yourself. Unless you're visiting me.

A little wine, a little crusty french bread dredged in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Oh my goodness. Is the dinner bell ringing yet?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saving Up For Spring

The weekend roundup is fairly farmy from here. We stewed the last of the tomatoes and read a lot of homesteading literature. I learned a new homemade yogurt recipe -- and the bonus is that I get to use my vintage thermos collection in making the yogurt. Little things like using my collections and rolling up my aprons in a bushel basket make me happy. What can I say to defend myself in the face of this confession?

I can say this: The EGE worked a lot harder than I did this weekend. We started our orchard. It was all pretty much like manna from heaven, what with the fruit trees being available for one-tenth of the nursery price thanks to a woman I grew up with who just purchased a nursery down the road.

Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs in our area. It gives the root systems lots of time to develop before the tree has to do any other work. Because we lucked into dwarf trees that are already three to five years old, we may even have apples, pears and cherries next spring and summer.

The dog didn't help at all.

The sunflowers are all done.

Except they're not.
Madeleine decided to spend her weekend saving and sorting seeds. Cosmos, nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds. Then there are the herbs: parsley, cilantro, sage, thyme. She's sortingthem in tidy little bags and pricing them for sale. Little packages of springtime.

The EGE gave her, albeit temporarily, a corner of the "mancave." Every father of four girls needs a mancave, and his is sufficiently manly except when it's invaded by my extra oven/range at Thanksgiving. In his mancave (which is a finished corner of the shop building) he keeps a television for sports (no Angelina Ballerina shall defile the manliness factor), a radio for more sports, his tools and paints and stacks of rolled plat maps and, oh, man-type stuff. I think it is pretty fantastic of him to invite the fledgling seed business in for a season.

And here's a nonsequitur I couldn't resist:

She made that sign for Seven's stall door. Isn't it sweet?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spelling Bee Complex Conquered

There are some real estate bargains in our neck of the woods. I was stalking that ranch you see pictured above just this afternoon. It is for sale, but it's probably not one of the great deals vultures -- I mean investors -- are snatching up. I figured, if I had to ask, I couldn't afford it. At least it's confirmed I'm no vulture.

After torturing the girls by stopping at every autumnal photo op between chess class and home, I had to pull out the camera bag one more time as we pulled in to the big stables to feed Seven:

Seven is at the rear of that race to the barn. Willy is the grey in the lead. The pony is valiantly pounding hooves in second place.

Funny. I would have bet on Seven.

When I was growing up, I competed in a lot of spelling bees. You know in spelling bees there are a lot of wins in a row before, for most kids, a devastating loss. That's how it goes. You win time after time, in the classroom and then the district. The county and then state. Maybe you make it to regionals. But if you pull in second at regionals, and you're a funny little child from the boondocks....

If you're a funny little child with two brown braids and big green eyes and your best friend is a horse, second at regionals feels like humiliation and death. You think to yourself as you put on a brave face that Teri W. from District 4J (I STILL REMEMBER) must have been clued in to the 'onomatopoeia' finale. You think to yourself as you pose with the second-place trophy that her mother had cocoa with the committee. You don't really have a conspiracy theory (because you're 10) but you could spell it.

I'm trying to say: It's all relative. Or maybe I'm trying to say, for the past day or two, I've felt 10 years old. I've felt as though everyone else had the answers. I was memorizing the Spellex cover to cover even though the final word probably wasn't in it.

When you're in your late 30s, you should know by now that you win some and you lose some. Life's not a ladder, it's a meandering path. That occurred to me as I watched the fastest horse loping in to the barn in third place.
Yeah, I'm slow that way.

(There's Dewey to take your mind off my point about what winners we all are. Dewey's named after the "Dewdrop Inn," a long-shuttered stage stop a half mile from us. And he's never last for dinner.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Atypical Day

So the other day was my birthday, and on that day I had the pleasure of writing up our typical weekday.

But as all moms (oh, please, say I'm not alone) may recognize, the sweet serenity of a stay-home mother's life is often spiked with moments that cause her to mentally shriek, "serenity now!" Alternately, "Calgon, take me away." Also, "Can Mommy have a minute?" The list could go on.

I like to think the screaming mimi pictures are funny. But as I noticed when I first viewed the little ballerina portrait above, it sometimes takes a little distance before the hair-pulling craziness of a moment like that is fodder for giggles.

Today was a day like that. I had nary a quiet thought. We woke at the same time as usual, we had breakfast at the same time as usual. We had a school session and we ate lunch. The girls helped me clean the kitchen and shovel out the Suburban.

My sister visited and played with the baby. The autumn sun was thin but bright; the leaves are turning quite satisfactorily and the frost is on the pumpkins. I have a chicken in the crockpot and an acorn squash in the oven, smothered in butter and garlic. Dinner smells delicious and the chickens all offered us beautiful gifts this morning... that's seven eggs today!

So why did I feel all day like Gracie looks in that picture?

Sigh. Sometimes the poetic perspective on the mundane is elusive. Sometimes the everyday is just so every day. Sometimes my temper is too short and I wish I were kinder, more patient, and thinner. (Yes, I said thinner.)

Okay, whining aside, I must go look for my rose-colored glasses.

***MY WORD!***

Edited to add:

There is nothing wrong with me that a couple of Margaritas and a night out on the town with good friends wouldn't fix.

Here is how today went:

Oatmeal spilled on my slipper, the whole hot pot/Dog went to work with husband but neighbor says he's breaking into her back yard right now/Call from the insurance rep about something dire/Three diaper blowouts and a spitup in 20 minutes/Computer crash/Cut my own bangs ill advisedly (is there any other way to cut one's own hair?)/Satellite TV is off and I'm having HGTV withdrawals.

Don't you feel better knowing it's nothing serious?

Tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled hobby farm homeschool fun.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Typical Day

Mrs. G of Derfwad Manor has a lovely reader who asked Mrs. G to chronicle a typical day. Perhaps because she is a good share bear and perhaps because she wanted company, the great Mrs. G invited her readers to participate.

Aren't you fascinated by a peek into other peoples' lives? Doesn't it seem like a walk through a pretty neighborhood on a clear night, when all the dining room windows are lit with candles and the families are gathered around cheerful tables?

It's just exactly what blogs are good for: making us feel less alone in our journeys through the neighborhood of life.

So here goes a typical day in my life:

At 6;30 a.m. I wake to the sound of Laura babbling. She's nine months old and often ends up in our bed just after midnight. So this morning, for instance, I woke to her repeatedly asking for "Dada" and crawling on top of my head, pulling my hair as she reached for the ever-fascinating headboard.

We stay in bed until my husband is out of the shower. Then slacking is somehow unspokenly disallowed. I sit up so as to appear that I'm conscious. After 16 years of marriage, the EGE still plays along with this charade.

Before I can actually put feet to the floor, Grace (4) stumbles in, rubbing her eyes. Any noise will wake the child. Madeleine (almost 10) and Sarah (8) will sleep through a thunderstorm or fire trucks' sirens, but Grace is still afraid she might miss something good. I pull on jeans and a t-shirt, tying my Converse for the day.

So Grace and Laura and I make our way downstairs as the EGE is leaving the door at about 7. I walk through our ancient, frigid laundry room (because 120-year-old church buildings are built with my comfort in mind) into the kitchen, lighting the gas range as I pass. I fill the teakettle the night before so it doesn't take much cognitive functioning to start my hot water.

I change a diaper and make breakfast for Grace before the teakettle is steaming. Its scream might or might not wake the big girls. If we still had to rush out the door to school I would call for them, but I let them sleep.

When they do bumble into the kitchen, they are usually already dressed. Without many words Madeleine takes the back door to the tiny horse barn, Sarah to the chicken chalet. They do "chores." Most importantly, they bring the paper back when they come in. I serve them breakfast.

We talk about school. They open their books at the table and start spelling drills. Madeleine cross-references in her dictionary until it's snack time. I love this part of the day. Sarah and Madeleine both take turns on the computer for math. Grace sings her alphabet song until the big girls beg me to send her upstairs out of earshot. The baby crawls around in vain search of stickers or other choking hazards. My head starts to spin. We call it lunchtime.

If we're lucky, it's not Monday, because on Monday, the General Store is closed. Our general store is a deli, and is about a quarter-mile from our house. We like to walk there because the chicken soup is homemade without me making it. Also the "regulars" get a kick out of my gaggle of girls. One delightful elderly neighbor says each and every time we enter, "Why, you children are just too pretty to be boys." It makes him guffah. The girls laugh politely and get the crayons from a shelf by the kitchen.

I read the paper and make lists. Actually, I do this almost all day long. My lists are as ever-present as my half-cups of coffee.

After lunch we power walk up the hill to the big stables. I huff and puff while the girls float on tiny energy jets we can't see.

Back at home I do laundry and dishes until my head spins again. The girls are lost in their books or in their secret fairyland or in the barn while Laura naps. Sometimes I blog, sometimes I work on a letter, sometimes I take phone calls for my real estate brokerage. Not so often on that one anymore.

Quick! Before the baby wakes up! I remember to jump in the shower and wash my hair. Yes, I know it's 3:30 in the afternoon. Without fail a neighbor will stop by when my hair is wet. Can we help watch so-and-so while they get the hay in? Can we watch for their newspaper while they're gone? Do we have any honey? Have we noticed the bee population declining?

Madeleine and Sarah both like to cook. They want to help with dinner. I bargain with them: one can play with Laura and read to Grace while the other stirs the soup. Tomorrow we'll remember to switch duties. They all are distracted by Legos and I finish dinner.

The EGE calls to say whether he's working late. Usually, lately, yes.

We eat soup. We carry laundry upstairs. We find our books and read in bed. We love our life.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Worry Dolls And Seven-Bean-Barley Soup

image from Wikipedia

I have a new (tongue-firmly-in-cheek -- I think) project.

I want to ask everyone I know to spend a couple of hours making worry dolls to ship to Wall Street. It won't take you a moment. Worry dolls are cheap if you must buy them, but I think the love and cursing you put into each one as you wrap the tiny threads around toothpicks trying to approximate a listening ear friend that fits in a pocket or under a pillow ... well, I think a handmade one will be better. And it will be good practice for your spending hiatus.

All Wall Street traders, especially the brokers, need something to help deal with their worries these days.

For the rest of us, there's Seven-Bean-Barley Soup. Are you a soup fan? I am. Although I was raised vegetarian for most of my childhood, I married a dyed-in-the-steak meat-and-potatoes man. He once accused me, early in our marriage, of sneaking tofu and mushrooms into the spaghetti sauce on the sly. Who me? Sneaky?

Anywhat, after 16 years of blissful marriage to me, the EGE is now a big soup fan too. Yay Soup! Go Soup! It's comfort food and usually budget-friendly to boot. As our weather cools and the financial news is scarier and scarier, a hot bowl of soup is just what the Suite family needs.

You should know that I rarely, barely ever, use a recipe. This drives my engineer husband berserk. And recently I was for no reason emailing my pesto "recipe" to Barb, one of my favorite writers (go ahead and click; I don't know how to make it open in a new window, but she's worth clicking away for). When I sent her the "recipe" I just sorta threw the letters and words up on the screen in the same manner that I tend to throw veggies at a pot. Of course I forgot to include the garlic. Sheesh. It mighta mattered more except she wasn't even wanting a recipe, she just asked if I ever made it. What's wrong with me?

After all that buried caveat and digression, I will venture to give a loose recipe for Seven-Bean-Barley Soup. You cannot mess it up.

Seven-Bean-Barley Soup

1/4 Cup each dry beans: split pea, lentil, black-eyed pea, black bean, red bean, pinto bean, surprise me (hah! I call it "seven-bean" but I don't know what the seventh might be)

1/4 Cup dry barley

One Walla Walla onion

One quart stewed tomatoes (if you can your own, as I do, put your kitchen shears in the jar and snip them up so they're about half-inch or smaller pieces)

Two to four carrots, diced

Two to four celery stalks, diced

Chicken stock or bullion cubes


Salt & pepper, dried Italian spices

Soak the beans overnight in a bowl with water just to cover. Drain and rinse before you use them.

Brown the onions, garlic carrots and celery in olive oil in your deepest heavy pot. I use a cast iron Dutch Oven. Wish I had an enameled one that big.

Add the soaked and rinsed beans and the dry barley. Cover the whole thing with chicken stock (DON'T add tomatoes yet) until you have a couple of inches liquid over the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for approximately two to three hours.

After all the beans are soft, add the tomatoes and seasoning, then simmer for another half hour or so.

If you want to make this in the slow cooker, bring it to a boil first, then simmer in the crock pot on low all day. Add the tomatoes when you get home from work. If you put acidic foods in with cooking beans, they will not soften. It will be a bummer.

I think this recipe costs about $2 to make and serves 12 to 20 people. I serve it with homemade cornbread and real butter. Of course.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pumpkin Stew ... And A Date

First, my favorite fall recipe:

Pumpkin Stew

One medium sugar pumpkin
One pound ground sweet Italian sausage
One quart jar home-canned stewed tomatoes
Four medium zucchini
One red onion
Olive oil

Brown the sausage in olive oil with about three cloves minced garlic and the diced red onion. Cut the zucchini into appx one-inch pieces, throw them in the saute pan to soften with lid on, burner off.

Cut the top off of the sugar pumpkin(s), take out the seeds and gunk. Save the "lid." Throw the rest in the woods to the birds. If you put it in your compost heap you will probably end up with a lot of pumpkin volunteers next spring. Don't ask how I know.

If you are feeling creative, scratch a message or design into the outer layer of the pumpkin skin so the pale orange shows through. Don't go too deep or the pumpkin's jack-o-lantern face may end up looking like it's weeping. Don't ask how I know.

Place the hollowed, scratch-decorated pumpkin on a jelly roll pan or shallow baking pan.

Stir your tomatoes into the sausage mixture with some fresh basil if you've got it.

Pour it all into the pumpkin shell. Place the lid on top.

Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until the pumpkin starts to slump a little and the pumpkin flesh will scrape away from the shell very easily.

Let it cool for a bit, then carry it to the table in its baking dish. Very important: don't move it to a cuter dish for the table. Don't ask how I know.

As you serve the "stew" from the inside, scoop the pumpkin from the shell in with the other ingredients into deep bowls. Serve with fresh-baked crusty bread ... or call your husband to pick up a loaf if you forgot to put yours in the oven when the pumpkin collapsed and started weeping out of its carved eyes upon transfer. Don't ask how I know.

(This really is amazingly delicious. And the kids love the presentation.)


And in other Farm Suite news, my spending hiatus will commence November 1 and end November 10. I was going to dive right in yesterday, but I really do appreciate the comments that planning ahead would help more people be able to participate. At any level. From now until then, I'm going to put up a few garden-and-pantry recipes and continue in the traditional Suite manner.

Hope all is well in your corner of the fall.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Spending Hiatus, Take Three

It's not quite time for the annual spending hiatus... you know, my social experiment of one participant, that being me, in which I try to spend nothing but time for the period of 10 (painful, self-denying) days.

The fun part is that you get to watch me melt down, bloggishly, into a puddle of my former spending self. Historically it has caused some anxiety in the world, me going 10 days without a Dutch Brothers mocha. Will she explode or merely implode? Will she break days early, and buy a pair of boots for herself and herself alone? Will an unexpected bill count if she pays it? Will she stay true to her own self-imposed plan of poverty?

All these questions answered and more, over the next 10 days. Yes, it's an extra spending hiatus this year. I thought it was fitting, considering the state of the economy (personal and public).

Another way to think of this: I'm taking a short sabbatical from my job as procurement officer. We have plenty, more than we need. We are blessed beyond measure with lovely things (of course I'm still missing some of that beautiful Polish pottery). It's very easy to forget that others in the world lack refrigeration, let alone a stocked refrigerator and pantry. It's even possible to forget for minutes on end that the credit crisis is affecting my neighbors in our wealthy country. People who are losing their homes surely don't notice whether I've overspent at Powell's Books, but I do. It seems wrong, somehow.

For a week and a couple of days, what can I give up (again, besides the pottery)? I can give up Dutch Brothers (local coffee roaster extraordinaire). I can give up estate sales and shoe stores and (gasp) bookstores. In my experience, taking a break from all spending makes it really difficult later to fall back into thoughtless spending that is both bad for my budget and somewhat disrespectful to the world situation.

Once in a while a friend of mine will go on a "fast" in order to pray about something. The lack of food, even for one meal, is enough to cause one's thoughts to better focus on the "important" instead of the seemingly urgent. In this way fasting is often misunderstood. It's not about the food, I don't think. It's about the attention, the introspection. I want to use my spending hiatus this time around to pay attention to the slow things in life.

It doesn't take a moment to swipe the debit card, but it sure takes some thought to make a birthday gift rather than buy one. It doesn't take a second to hand over $3.25 for a mocha, but it sure takes some thought (and allows for some meditation) to steep a teabag or three in the pot, pour the honey, add the milk and finally sit down with a cup of something hot. How is that not better than driving around between big box stores with a 20-ounce, four-shot espresso drink?

If you'd like to join me in this spending hiatus, in any fashion, leave a comment and I'll link to you. It'll be fun!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Birthday Fairy?

I am not a Material Girl, but still. Have you seen these Polish pottery pieces with the tiny handpainted designs? Have you seen them? Coming soon to a kitchen near me.
In all seriousness, the stock market's roller coaster is in that deep pitched, scream-aloud plunge that might ordinarily cause me to shrug my shoulders and move on to the next project. As a recovering news junkie, I don't even turn the news on unless it's after all children are fed, dressed, played with, read to, fed and re-dressed, encouraged to play outside, fed again, taught a little, ordered to do their chores and then put to bed (whee). The news of late (the past six or seven years?) has been mostly depressing to me. I am afraid to get sucked back into old habits of checking the news wire every ten minutes, living and breathing the AP updates.
I find that sort of devotion to the news unhealthy, even if one is paid to behave so.
Lately I spend much more time "living in the moment," hanging laundry on the line and putting up jam, as it were. I've said here that the economic crisis boggles me. Then, the other night, I was easily pulled back over to the dark side by a late-night report on the evils of the subprime mortgage market and its secret sister who's been kept in the basement... the "swap." These swaps comprise trillions of dollars of insurance taken out in case the subprime market went south (nah, that'll never happen)... and now there's no regulation of the "swap" market, and no way to count how many dollars further in crisis we're plunging as a nation, no, as a WORLD.
Does anyone else just want to go back to baking pies?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Like Butter

We don't believe in margarine at Farm Suite. Say what you will about cholesterol and the size of my jeans, but we think butter is better. Especially when baking:

Over the weekend, Laura discovered herself in the mirror. Now she requires someone to hold her in front of it for minutes on end. Whoever said babies have short attention span didn't meet this girl and her reflection. The big girls don't mind amusing her because it gets them out of the kitchen:

One Suite sister who's not helping with the autumn food preservation effort is cute enough to get by with goofing off:

This one helps a lot. And like the Little Red Hen, she's prepared to share with those who were otherwise busy:

But Sarah may eat all the strawberry jam by herself. She labeled them "Sarah's Strawberry Jam." In case there was any doubt:
Next to tackle:

Gracie's Grape Jelly? It has a nice ring to it.

Sarah's Glasses (AGAIN), My Card Reader And A Book

This time we didn't even have to go anywhere to lose a small collection of important stuff.

We had a great hideaway hermit weekend at Farm Suite. Sarah made pints and pints of strawberry jam, Madeleine made yeasty, yummy egg bread and I made only the best pie crust to ever grace the Suite. (Just there? I almost took credit for the whole pie. But Madeleine peeled and cored and sliced the apples, so I would have been failing to properly attribute where it's due. Again.)

Speaking of AGAIN, Sarah's glasses are lost in the flotsam and jetsam of the weekend. I do believe we'll call this an unschooling day. The girls are deep in their books (Nancy Drew "Secret of the Lost Locket" and "Peter And the Starcatchers," a prequel to Peter Pan, written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Madeleine likes it very much, thank you.). Gracie is deep into her finger paints. I am deep into freaking out about my card reader.

We, and I do mean I, cleaned out my cubicle this weekend. You'd sorta have to see it to believe it. My office was originally a walk-in closet, or more likely a coat closet for the church back when folks bundled up for the wagon ride to Sunday services. The best thing I can say about it is: built-ins. It has massive bookcases and closets and cupboards which are duly crammed with fabric and papers and books and my cherished vintage typewriter collection. The rest of it is big enough for my vintage schoolteacher's desk and one cushy reading chair. Period.

The view out of my office window is lovely. I can see the B&B's red roof and their garden. I can, if I crank my neck around, see the chicken chalet off to the right. It's not the best view the house owns, but it's my view. And now I can spin around in my executive chair (hitting my knees on the desk drawer and then the reading chair) and see a much neater office behind the desk.

I spent the weekend organizing, deleting and re-organizing the office because, as things go around here, this closet-turned-cubicle is right off our dining room. And since the dining room is right off the front entrance, I'll let you take a wild guess behind which closed door we tend to do the dump-and-dash.

HOWEVER. I am now turning over a new leaf. My office is my sanctuary; it's the Mommy Zone. It's the place I take my time-outs when I've been naughty. (For a long time the girls took this literally. I crack myself up.) So if the office is all cleaned out (mostly), why-oh-why is my card reader missing?! I can't show you any of the sparkling jam photos. I can't show you Madeleine up to her elbows in dough. Sigh.

I hope the card reader turns up soon. And I hope Sarah's glasses aren't in a jar of jam. Oh, and the book I lost? I mean misplaced? It's "Why I'm Like This," by Cythia Kaplan. I feel awful about this since it's part of The Suburban Correspondent's book club. She finally mailed it to me, I'm halfway through it (very, very funny), and now it has vanished. I'll have to check the girls' bookshelves. Crikey.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

'Mells Like Lemons

Today I was collecting Grace Hannah at Grandma's house when she allowed us yet another glimpse into her extraordinarily unique world view. (Most things look different when you're three feet tall.)

It all started (today) with a little patented Grace Hannah-style stalling.

Slowly, slowly she gathered her shoes and socks and crown. You can't go home without your pipe cleaner crown. All of her entourage worked together to deliberately arrange her hairdo so the sequined fuzzy headpiece was perfectly perched.

She lined her shoes up, left on the right, right on the left. Which sock is the left one?

Then she raised her socks (both the left and the right) to her nose and inhaled deeply.

Ew. Sorry to gross you out here in the middle of a farm family blog.

"...'mells like lemons!" Grace exclaimed, her baby voice muffled by dirty sock. Yeah, I like that detergent too.

But wait. She took another whiff.

"Nope. 'mells like ... Walmart."