Saturday, December 26, 2009

And to all a good night

Every year we leave Santa something like this:

And then he leaves something like this:

But the mess is okay because it's directly related to a lot of something like this:

And then the afternoon is quiet, like this:

Merry Christmas, my friends. May the peace and joy of the season of Christ's birth fill your home with all kinds of small but significant happinesses like this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The stockings were hung... finally

Our property is graced with about seven enormous big-leaf maples and thankfully just one massive old-growth fir tree. It's a community landmark and I'm just gonna guess about it's about 300 years old. (Yes, that's my highly scientific raised-by-forester-in-the-heart-of-timber-country estimate.) What I know for sure is that the big tree is the skyscraper of our village and it drops a lot of branches. Well, I should clarify to say that it drops too many branches for my meager decorating needs. Sometimes it "drops" branches that would qualify as full-size trees in an established suburban neighborhood. One time it dropped such a branch on my husband's shop. But that wasn't very Christmassy at all.
This year I gathered a few branches still holding on to their pretty little fir cones. Isn't it a miracle, the thousands of tree possibilities in those tiny cones?
We put those miracles, found free in my yard, on the mantle with a string of lights. Then we added some candles, for looking at only as Grace says, and hung the stockings.
I made our stockings, six of them, about seven years ago when our family was still just a cozy foursome and I still drove a Volkswagen. Cutting into those vintage holiday tablecloths (long-lived slight obsession with the vintage linens? check), I planned and thought of the biggest family with which we might someday be blessed. So now we have six stockings of faded turkey red, nearly pink with age, and soft sage green.
One stocking is ever so cleverly decorated with Sarah's four-year-old lettering in Sharpie marker. I'll never know how she found the permanent pen but what was unfortunate graffiti five years ago is now the sweetest little reminder of days when she couldn't string letters together for hundreds of words on end as she does today in stories so beautiful it makes both the mother and the writer in me incredibly and inexplicably proud. (Despite my own blogsome run-on sentence problems!)
Look what we've done, this family! Look at what a few years can bring. (Look how many stockings we can hang.) Not only are we a Suburban-filling family of six, we are blessed beyond measure. In just a few rings on an enormous tree's growth pattern, it seems we've grown more than those years would account for.
Sometimes, especially when mired in the mundane, I look back on where we were and marvel at how life's seemingly meandering path has moved us so far. Even if I'm "late" hanging the stockings and "late" finding the ornament bins in the shop. Even if I haven't mailed my Christmas cards and the gingerbread house is still plain and brown. For just a minute I realize: today's tiny miraculous finds and even today's disappointments, when viewed from tomorrow, will be as beautiful as yesterday is to me now.
We are decorated with the incomparable peace and love of this season. The mundane, the day-to-day, will surely pass. But we are steady as the tree out front, a landmark of our own lives growing so imperceptibly but surely in faith, and love, and beauty.
May your season be blessed as ours has. Even if you haven't mailed your cards yet! (See what I did there? Throwing in a little forgiveness? Oh yeah. Feel free to join my procrastination station.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

As I was doing my chores

We have three sick little girls in our house this week. I think all moms will understand when I say that this adds to my load more than a little: caregiving, laundry, chores, (worry). It also reminds me how blessed I am to have a safe and warm home for my babies.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A few of my favorite things

I love homeschool with all of my heart. I love being there when a certain light of understanding dawns. I love letting the girls spend as long as they want on the subjects they enjoy. I love being done with "school" by lunchtime and leaving the afternoons free for creating art, playing, reading, making up big science experiments and exploring outside.
But last year, in our first year of having school at home, I really, really missed the community Christmas program. I missed seeing all the children of our rural area perform with instruments and voices and big personalities.
So it is wonderful this year to be a part of the school's music program. Madeleine is learning clarinet and Sarah is playing flute. That's Madeleine in a solo (!) and I am so proud of both of them for taking on these instruments at ages 9 and just-turned-11.

And this year Grace is a Kindergartener who loves learning at home and visiting with her "school" friends on Mondays and Wednesdays for music. When we were getting dressed for the program (she was one of "nine ladies dancing") Gracie chattered on about how excited she was to see her sisters perform. When I mentioned that she would be on "stage" too, she went white and still despite two weeks of rehearsal. She hadn't realized she was in the show. Her stage fright lasted all the way until we arrived at the school gymnasium.

And then the dancing began. From the left, above: Clara, our Sarah, our Madeleine, Olivia with the smooth moves.

There's Madeleine helping Olivia up from the fall after the big dip. You can see Grace on the far right, spinning.

Laura enjoyed time with Grandpa and Grandma. She even shared the contents of her Santa treat bag.

Gracie was sure this wasn't the real Santa.

But she was sure that these are her real(ly adorable) friends Clara and Shelby. Aren't they sweet?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Beautiful to be home

Now there's a little girl who wants a tree house for Christmas. Not that she can (should) climb a ladder.

We are so content where we are, with our 1880s church-turned-farmhouse, our tiny classic Dutch Colonial one-stall barn, our little chicken chalet and huge deer-fenced garden. To continue our list of blessings: We are happy with our garage, shop, quiet country road that's perfect for ponies and bicycles. We are blessed with neighbors for chatting not to mention a church, Grange and community school just across the road so that village events always within distance for pulling the babies in the wagon.
This may be the first time in Suite family history that the grass over there, while very green indeed, isn't all that tempting.
Now if we can just get started on a tree house... since I don't anticipate our tight little barn exhibiting any charming tilt in the next 60 years or so.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Merry Monday

Our weekend plans:

Friday night birthday party of seven girls ages 9 through 11 (just!). Swim park, homemade individual pizzas, and a movie.

Saturday volleyball tournament of hundreds of girls and boys ages 10 through 12. Knee pads and wrist pads and concession stands.

Sunday of church and naps.

Our actual weekend:

Friday night ice storm. Four sad cancelations and one sweet neighbor (neighbor = within miles and directly related to four-wheel drive as country things go) girl to spend the icy night making pizzas into pepperoni-and-olive cheesy faces, watching movies and blanketing cold ponies. One visit to the local general store for hot chocolate with whipped cream. It's not the water park but it's a celebration in a mug, with a blazing woodstove as accompaniment.

Weather-canceled Saturday tournament then rescheduled in a hurry for 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Some victories, some defeats, some medals of honor for the wrist-weary players.

A Sunday afternoon family trip to the hardware store, the bookstore, the grocery store. (Don't go to the grocery store betwixt an ice storm and Christmas. At least with any plans of seeing your home again before dark. I'm just sayin'.)

It was good, and exhausting, and restorative... just the way I like my December weekends.

How about yours?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

She makes me a proud mommy

That's my girl.

Yesterday she was 10.

And today she's 11.

With her friends...
...and her sisters

... and her horses

She is one outstanding girl on the very brink of growing up.
[I have to use an aside to say why there are never pictures of the girls on horseback. After the big break(s), I just feel better without the camera when they're riding. More able to drop everything and respond. And incidentally, you should click on that post. She was so brave and so little!]

She's sure to rise to great heights.

Because she's always willing to work hard.

And she remembers where she came from.

She makes me so proud to be her mommy.
Happy Birthday, Madeleine.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More of that winter warmth

Reading this beautiful weblog this morning made me feel as though we're one community after all. City, country, farm, high-rise, we all face those days of flitting from project to project, homeschool to diapers to phone call to errands to -- eek -- what's for dinner. And then there's a funny perspective on taking a moment for the sake of our roots from another mom of four whose blog and life I admire. Oh! And I mustn't forget the inspiration of a kind and talented quilter and knitter who encourages little ol' scarf-stuck knitting me to move on already.

If ever you, like me, feel a little isolated or unfocused these wintry days, a little clicking around might be just the companionship called for. Plus you might find a recipe for dinner or at least for laundry soap.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Staying warm?

It's nine degrees outside in our little corner of Oregon. The chickens don't know what to do with themselves: They rush out of the heated henhouse into the frigid air and hop from foot to foot before hurtling over one another to get back inside. And then they repeat the troop movements minutes later. No one ever said chickens were the brightest of farm animals.

Our outside decorations consist of a few windfallen fir branches draped over the picket fence and tucked randomly into the basket of my vintage bicycle. Honestly, I am a weather wimp or something, because a little frost won't stop me but the sub-20s will.

Inside we've been baking. It's wonderful to warm up the kitchen with the scent of gingerbread. The big girls are studying and reading a lot and Laura... well, Laura's obsessed with her Little People. She knows them all by particular names and chooses her favorites each morning to carry in her pocket.

I've also been in deep, deep denial about Christmas gifts. I have a list. And that's as far as it's gone. Maybe a panic attack over that will help keep me warm?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Homemade baking mix... no hydrogenated fat!

So much cuter than Betty Crocker. And free of hydrogenated fats, too.

All cryptic flattery of my baby girl aside, I have to tell you ladies (And gentlemen? Any?) that I have SO MANY homesteading/homemaking adventures that I just never post about.

Sometimes it's because it's a big flop, like whole wheat-oatmeal bread on a humid day. Or a dress that's hemmed cattywampus and has to be hacked off to become a swing top. Or overplanting the green beans and ending up with a new resident crow flock that won't leave. I could go on, because, as I've said before, I would get voted off "Survivor: Homestead Edition" lickety-split.

So sometimes I don't write about my projects because they don't work. But more often I fail to share my experiments and day-to-day home projects because I'm a little intimidated by all the truly talented crafters, writers, bakers, photographers, seamstresses and so on in this lovely blogosphere.

You know who you are.

But I haven't seen anyone posting this particular take on a quick biscuit mix. And since I came up with it all on my own, and since it really works for us, I thought I'd share. (Despite my worries that someone will say, "sheesh, she's a little late to the party, hunh?" NOT that any of YOU would do that. No way.) So if all the cool kids are already on board with the homemade baking mixes, just humor me. Because you're gracious like that. And because it was a little breakthrough for me, so maybe it'll help someone else.

Enough with the backing into the lead already.

I give you:

Miriam's Homemade Hydrogenated-Fat-Free Quick Mix

8.5 Cups all-purpose flour (I use half whole wheat)
1 T baking powder
1 T salt
2 t cream of tartar
1 t baking soda
1.5 cups instant dry milk
2.25 cups coconut oil (this is found in the baking aisle next to the Crisco and is solid at room temp)

In my biggest mixing bowl I whisk together the dry ingredients. Then I cut in the coconut oil with a pastry thingamajig until all the pieces of coconut oil are smaller than the size of a pea and evenly distributed. You can use your food processor in smaller batches.

This mix works great one-f0r-one for whatever you'd use Bisquick for: waffles, pancakes, biscuits, muffins. It's convenient and of course free of hydrogenated fats.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Look out, Jack Frost

If you're feeling a little sorry for yourself, there's nothing like a morning of frozen fog to snap you out of it. Glittery and crisp, the fog settles on every surface, horizontal, vertical or otherwise. This is my highly scientific explanation: It's magic.
Some might prefer a white blanket of snow but I am much enamored of the fuzzy outlines of frozen fog, the thickest frost you'll ever see, weighing down each blade of grass in sparkly splendor, outlining the lawn furniture in a halo of white.

Am I going on too much about the frozen fog?

It did get me outside with the camera again, so I guess I'm a little grateful.

I realized a few days ago that my usual month of four thousand eight hundred and two photographs dwindled to a couple hundred in November. That was partly due to my (failed) attempt to complete National Novel Writing Month, partly due to rampant illness in our family (no one wants their picture taken with a red nose and handkerchief), partly due to an unnamable funk that I of course left in denial-land for, oh, 28 days of the month.

You know what else moved out of denial-land? My oh-so-naive belief that Laura, not quite 2 years old, would remain asleep while I tiptoed outside for these pictures. At the very least I was sure she'd wake one of her sisters if she woke up. Er, no.
In the space of eight minutes she did a little tiptoeing of her own and dismantled one clarinet and one art supply set.
Still it was worth it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Many hands waving wildly

Grace and her glue stick. Construction paper and a paper plate -- "the cheap kind, Mommy, with no pictures please" -- and oh to be five years old at the craft table for an entire afternoon.

I'm not sure who decided that small children have short attention spans. In my experience, with my four children, they have extraordinarily LONG attention spans. And they hate to have that concentration broken. (I mean, since we're trying to reduce the "H" word around here, they really, really dislike and don't prefer it.)

In fact three of my children still get so lost in their reading or craft activites that they often stick the very pink tips of their tongues out in the tiniest little nerdy genetic quirk that charms me to no end. I forbid Mr. Suite to say a word about this because I am so sure it will disappear upon mention just the way that Madeleine's personal "Melmo" turned into ordinary everday Sesame Street "Elmo" when some dumb bunny corrected her two-year-old pronunciation and broke my heart in one fell swoop. Yes, it was nearly nine years ago. Nope, not over it yet.

I think I find it so charming because I know their days are numbered, these hours of breathless focus and undivided absorption. Too soon they may have to enter the world of multitasking and multimedia.

For now construction paper and a glue stick or a fat book and a warm blanket: Hours of entertainment. If I sound wistful, it's because I am. Watching my girls concentrate is a little bit time travel and a little bit entertainment of my own. Come to think of it it's my own obsession for the moment, watching them in this time of unadulterated childhood when the play is all there is.

Gosh I'm lucky that way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Get on the bus

I'm wearing my seat belt. Are you?

Thanksgiving at our house was simple. And quiet. Other than the last-minute cancellation of our travel plans and a three-hour power outage on the morning of the big turkey, we enjoyed a peaceful candlelit day with all the trimmings. I made Mrs. G's "one fabulous" (trust me, it's that good) recipe of butternut squash, the girls' favorite cheesy broccoli (so traditionally Thanksgiving; I'm sure the pilgrims partook), an orange-stuffed bird, mashed potatoes. Madeleine made a lemon chiffon cake and Sarah the pumpkin pies. Gracie set the table with red transferware and turkey red taper candles. We missed our extended families but were grateful for everyone's health and safety.

Black Friday? What's that? Friday we stayed far away from malls or anything with a cash register. I sewed some more swing tops and nightgowns. The girls painted with watercolors and Mr. Suite puttered in his shop. Hah. Makes him sound about 80 years old. (Or just male. Anyway he had fun.)

We all spent considerable time reading over the weekend. Madeleine started A Wrinkle In Time so I had to re-visit my pre-teen Madeleine L'Engle favorites. Sarah's reading Sisters Grimm, a hilarious set of fairy tales from a sassy and girly perspective. Perfect. I finished a new favorite: Into the Beautiful North by Urrea. Talk about sassy -- three young Mexican women on a in illegal mission to return young men to their homeland. Coyotes and border patrol and love and hilarity. It was a good holiday weekend read.

But Monday was back to reality. Music lessons and packing the pumpkins and cornstalks to the compost pile. Unearthing the Christmas boxes. Listening to the first installment of the radio show "The Cinnamon Bear."

I'm on the bus called Christmas. I'm buckled in and prepared for some holiday magic. How 'bout y'all?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wild turkeys

This is a post about how grateful I am that I didn't marry any of the wild turkeys I dated before Mr. Suite came along.

Just kidding.

This is just a quick picture of the stinky wild turkeys that roam our rural area... and a quicker but most sincere wish that your Thanksgiving Day is blessed with many, many loved ones and even more beautiful moments.

Oh and, try not to burn yourself on the roasting pan. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A happier, fluffier time ... and there were more eggs

There were requests for pictures of my poor molting birds.

Frankly just looking at a motley group of wacked-out feathers and chicken skin got me a little depressed. So I first had to post some snaps of the younger girls in their full-feathered fluffy glory.
Ah, the foof and arrogance of youth.

The sneaking around after preening for the cocksure boys. Wait. Is that a rooster reference? 'Cause that's how I meant it.

But look. Look at the inevitable end of all that vanity.

Just look, willya?

I hope the requested molting pictures are what you wanted. I for one feel a little older, a little less fluffy and a whole lot less fertile.
What's up with that?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

People pocket dress

I got a little restless while waiting on some paperwork yesterday so I started cutting up Laura's t-shirts and some random flannel bits.

This dress is not the most seamstressy thing I've ever made, but it sure is the baby's favorite.
Because of the Little People pocket! An afterthought with an oversized button closure and a scrap of ricrac, it makes the perfect play dress accessory. I might have to add some Little People (Lego, Beanie Baby) pockets to more of her swing tops.
(Don't mind the mountain of toys in that snapshot. Please.)
What have you repurposed lately?

Friday, November 20, 2009

On those days

On those days, more frequent than we might like to admit, when it's difficult to leave the flannel sheets at 5 in the morning when no one remembered to program the coffee pot...

On those days, nearly every day lately, when we run the dishwasher at least three times and the laundry runs washer-dryer-fold-dresser-hamper-repeat, hamster-like in what can only be named a vicious cycle...

And on those days, don't tell a soul, when the forgiveness of an elastic waist skirt is all the mercy one receives...

On those days I am grateful for the smallest of victories and quietest of comforts. I am compelled to watch for the last holdouts of the falling leaves finally fluttering to a damp rest and to listen for the hum of the passing school bus as my children read at the table.

I dunno. It's just so everyday. Wake and change a diaper before dawn. Start the oatmeal, check the email, return the phones to their chargers. Feed some crowing and whinnying animals and get the hem of my pants wet with dew. Inventory the hay bales and calculate how long until more will be necessary. Remind myself again to list some of the junk overflowing the shop and barn on Craigslist.

It's just so everyday, and I've not yet had a cup of coffee. Some days I want to make scones instead of oatmeal and read the paper and some yummy blogs instead of email and lesson plans.

Mr. Suite has a hand-painted sign at his office that he keeps facing out from his desk for the benefit of subcontractors who might be tempted to complain. "No Whining" it proclaims in faded black on a waxy cream background.

I think I might need to borrow that sign back home for a while. For myself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

If you know what's good for you

This past week has seen my novel (sounds so grand, doesn't it?) fall far behind the word count goal. I'll catch up! I must!
It's not my fault, Ossifer, I have good alibi:
Three doctor appointments. Three volleyball practices. Two volleyball games. Two music lessons. A repeat of the ever-escaping pony drama.
Ooh. Let's lean on the pony drama.
On Saturday we were watching Madeleine serve it over the net and score on a small town near us where the players are all fed Miracle Gro or some such supplement so as to make our team look like miniature players on a full-size court. That was my view from the bleachers, at least in between serial battles to keep Laura from, er, borrowing extra team balls and hucking them into the field of play. I think she was trying to confuse the other team. Or get us some penalties. It's hard to tell; she's not yet 2.
Anyway between Games A and B I had to miss out on the ever-tempting concession stand lunch to run into town for my H1N1 immunization appointment.
This is when I abandoned my mother and Mr. Suite in our group efforts to corral Laura and cheer on the mighty Wildcats.
And while I was gone, my husband's cell phone rang. It was our next-door neighbors of the B&B, now for sale and looking oh-so-French-Country should anyone out there be interested.
So Mr. Suite answered. He didn't figure it was a social call. Never has been.
Dolly-the-danger-girl Shetland was out of her paddock, causing my elderly Arab much anxiety.
Dolly never ventures far, mind you. She just wants to taste the grass on the other side of the fence and it's a bonus if she can drive her pasture pal insane in the process. Just because he's not willing (or able) to commando crawl under the bottom wire. Gee whiz. It never occurs to gentlemanly Two Spot that he could leap the top wire with ease. He's just a law-abiding sort deeply offended by Dolly's disregard of the order of all things barnyard.
Anyway this escape caused the neighbor (did I mention their house is beautiful and for sale?) much consternation as he is not a "horse person" and his wife is allergic. (To horses, not him.)
Mr. Suite (otherwise known as my long-suffering non-horse-person husband who loves me despite my horse habit) was 30 minutes away from home and I was 45 minutes to an hour away. The hour existing in case I might have time to pull through Dutch Brothers for a mocha. Full disclosure. And, hey, I'd just had a SHOT. In the arm.
Recap, without parentheticals:
I'm in town. My husband's watching four children and a volleyball game three small villages away. One pony is out and one horse is pacing the fence and whinnying like a heart attack. The neighbor is worried about ... well, who can blame him? ... his lavender plants.
So Mr. Suite does the most expedient thing possible and gives the combination to our barn lock to the neighbor and explains the steps to capture said pony.
Oh, poor, poor neighbor. For a non-horse-loving person to be subjected to this: Open barn, step over feed sacks and assorted tack items, scoop out can of grain, call for unhaltered naughty pony, open gate in (schlocky deep) muddy paddock entrance, shoo away full-size panicked horse from open gate, maybe even step in the mud in order to lead stinky pony inside, close gate, re-lock barn against tack thieves... it's all too horsey for words.
Also I think this is why good fences makes good neighbors.
So I'm driving home like a maniac, sans mocha. Mr. Suite is driving home much more safely because he has Laura and Grace on board, having left Madeleine to finish game B and Sarah to keep Grandma company and further to beg for Taco Time on the way home.
I beat my husband and the babies home by a few minutes, long enough to watch Dolly look left and right, to simply step over the lower rail and duck under the middle rail to freedom. By this time Two Spot was bored of the drama. As might you be if you lived with Dolly.
I called to the naughty pony, opened the gate and she marched back in with her head held high.
Then Mr. Suite went to town and bought some solid field fencing. He and his dad spent a happy (okay, that part's maybe not true: it's a frigid 40 degrees out here in the evenings) afternoon fencing our lower paddock. The openings in the field wire are three and a half inches square. In fact it resembles a volleyball net, just a little, so that's bringing the themes together for you. Such service with the tangents.
Dolly has not figured out a way around (through, under) this. Yet.
Just like I haven't yet figured out how to catch up on my word count. 'Cause I've been too busy catching ponies. Yeah, that's it.