My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

SunsetOverHaven

Fall Food

Fall is my favorite time to cook.  We have an abundance of high-quality, low-cost ingredients on-hand and I feel good about spending the time to actually putter around in the kitchen with them.  During the summer months, when our gardens are at peak production, we eat well…but without much time invested.  We harvest what’s ready and slice it, grill it, roast it or steam it and that’s pretty much the extent of things.  There’s very little baking, very little time actually spent making something out of all of those amazing ingredients.

Once most of the harvest has been frozen or shelved, though, things are different.  I can feel good about spending time on actual recipes, dishes that have multiple steps–making sauces, layering flavors, taking the extra time that has eluded me since April or May.  Plus, the temperatures are cooler and the heat from the oven doesn’t seem quite so insidious.  Instead, it beckons me with aromatic memories of crusty breads, hearty meatloaves, tender briskets and caramelized vegetables.  Sigh.

Today has been such a morning.  I’ve been turning out food left and right:  maple-glazed butternut squash, chili-rubbed sweet potato fries, sausage fajitas, oatmeal-jam bars, chunky applesauce.  Almost all of these things have major components that we raised right here on our little hobby farm, and it just feels really good.  Whether the food is staying here or being taken to folks with new babies, I feel like it has been a labor love.  Truly.

I confess that I did not feel so warm-and-fuzzy six weeks ago when I was sweaty and exhausted and sore and dirty almost all of the time.  There were many nights that I wished a pizza fairy would delivered a highly-processed-hot-and-ready pizza pie directly to my tailgate so that I could wolf it down without having to even leave the garden.  And, from past experience, I can tell you that I will not feel quite so rosy about our homegrown fare once March rolls around and we are down to the ever-present frozen corn, canned green beans and stewed tomatoes.  But, even then, it feels good to not have to think about what’s for supper.  It feels good to live well within our means.  Even then, when we sit down to vegetable soup or green beans, sausage and potatoes for the fourth time that month, I am thankful.  Ever-conscious of having so much more than so many others.  Ever-grateful for the land, the energy and the opportunity to grow good food for my family and friends.

Now, though, we feast with friends and we feast with family, sharing the beautiful, flavorful bounty of another abundant season.  Thank You, Lord.

Planting Potatoes

I am a month later than I would like to be, but our potatoes have officially been planted for the year.  It feels good to have another garden chore checked off the list.

Potatoes are one of my favorite things to plant because they’re so easy.  We don’t even actually put them in the ground.  We lay them on top of the ground and cover them with mulch or straw or composted manure.  To keep the rain from washing the mulch away and the dogs from digging the spuds up, we plant as many potatoes as we can inside old tires.  This method has been a relatively simple solution to the problem of clay-like soil that prevents us from easily planting potatoes the old-fashioned way.  (Yes, I know we’ll probably die from the chemicals leaching out of the tires into the potatoes.  It will taste better than dying from Big Macs and Funyons.)

I must confess that I had a lot of help with the planting.  My three kids were there with shovels and wheelbarrow on standby.  Two preschoolers we know and love were ready to help with trowels and fistfuls of dandelions.  A neighbor rode up on his lawnmower and put all of the tires on his property at our disposal.  Oh, and the puppies.  Our two 10-week-old puppies provided lots of moral support and comedy relief.  And exercise.

If the seed potato people are right, I can expect approximately 150 pounds of tasty potatoes from the six pounds of seed potatoes I planted.  Wouldn’t that beautiful?!  There’s not a single potato dish I couldn’t try with that kind of harvest!  It’ll probably be three months before the plants die back enough for a complete harvest, but I confess that I occasionally begin sneaking out new potatoes as soon as I see flowers forming.  There’s just something magical about gently feeling around in the mulch for enough small taters to roast for our supper before carefully tucking and patting everything back in as I prepare to head up to the house with potatoes in my apron pockets.

That’s garden glory right there.

I’ll be busy enough over the next few weeks with all of the other tilling, planting, weeding and watering that time will fly by.  Soon enough, there should be potatoes on the menu.

 

 

Spring for Sure?

Asparagus is coming up, and baby sugar snap peas are a couple of inches tall. Swiss chard and kale are peeking up from my big pots. The kids planted lots of beets, more greens, more peas some turnips, radishes and lettuce last night.
 
I’m wondering if our sour cherries made it through this month’s cold weather. Peach trees have just bloomed out in the past couple of days, hopefully still viable after the last round of freezing temps. Pear blooms are buzzing with honeybees, and we’re optimistic of a nice crop of pears. Strawberry plants are once again overrun with thistles.
 
Spring has sprung here at Country Haven, and my To Do List is growing by the hour…but I love it!

Deep Mulching

I have already shared that fall is my most favorite time of year.  And, one of the reasons is that the frenetic pace of a hobby farm during the growing season has come to an end.  In the fall, I can play more.  The garden doesn’t just represent a never-ending list of things to do.  Instead, it is a place where I can create and experiment and even do a little dreaming without feeling guilty about all of the things I should be doing.

After talking to a friend a couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to try some deep mulching/no till methods in our garden.  The problem is that my husband really likes to drive his tractor.  He likes to bush-hog, scrape, pull and till with that old John Deere 2010.  It’s kind of an addiction.

So, we have been at odds.  He wants to till, till, till.  I want to mulch, mulch, mulch.  After almost twenty years of marriage, I have learned to choose my battles.  I can sit in the wings and wait for just the right opportunity.

Sometimes.

After a season of very heavy rain and significant crop failure due to remarkable numbers of suffocating weeds, I saw a gleam of hope.  I approached Farmer Dave again about trying a little experiment in part of one of our gardens.  I did not phrase it as a request.  He did not say “no”.

We had reached an agreement!

Some neighbors of ours have a lot of mature trees that are losing their leaves like crazy right now, so my daughters and I headed over there with rakes in hand to see if perhaps our friends would share their bounty.  Both the husband and the wife heard our request for leaves and outright laughed out loud, telling us to take all we wanted.  We loaded up the truck bed in about 20 minutes–without making a noticeable dent in their surplus.

“Be sure to tell ’em where you got ’em!” yelled the husband as we thanked them and drove away.

Strategically waiting until the wind had died down and the light rain had begun, I drove the truck down to the garden and unloaded our weed barrier/moisture retainer directly onto the designated part of one of our gardens.

I then read that leaves should be shredded before piled onto the soil, because massive amounts of intact leaves can actually keep rain from penetrating into the soil.  Well, now I know.

I am a much better doer than researcher.  (Obviously.)

Regardless of this new bit of information, I am optimistic.  We have some old hay and some grass clippings that can be put on top of the layer of leaves, and perhaps I can move some of those leaves around with a rake to open things up a little bit.

I’m already daydreaming about how beautiful and prolific my part of one garden will be next year.  I figure that’s all I’ll get.  One season to prove the worthiness of my method.

Before the Tractor Man cometh.

Raised Beds

I love the idea of gardening in raised beds. Smaller spaces are a good thing for over-worked gardeners—unless the gardener is me.

We grow a lot of produce. I mean, a LOT of produce. My husband is obsessed with planting things. An increasing number of things. Dave does all of the seed ordering, seed starting, and young plant nurturing through the winter months. He also does a fair amount of the tilling and direct-sowing come April and May. (He knows that we will have very crooked rows if he does not oversee this operation, so he is incredibly helpful during the planting season.) Then, he conveniently disappears from the garden areas for months. (It’s uncanny, really, how many urgent matters materialize for him after Mother’s Day every year.) Then, once our seasonal bounty has been carefully and painstakingly preserved come October, he remarks that the growing season certainly did “fly by” this year. Whatever.

But I digress…

Raised beds. They seem like they should be easier than their massive alternatives for me, but they are not. I think the problem is that we do not plant staple crops in our raised beds. We plant things like strawberries, onions, garlic and lettuce. These crops have early or late harvests and a whole lot of “down time” in between. Plus, our family cannot subsist on the nutrients of any of them for very long. Therefore, our raised beds are often grossly neglected from season to season because I cannot justify neglecting our “bread and butter” crops for garlic. Or onions. And, there’s only so much lettuce one family can eat, and the kids devour the strawberries as soon as they’re ripe. On our little farm, it seems that SOMEthing must always be neglected, so the raised beds are often the obvious choice.

Every year I resolve that THIS will be the season in which I take better care of my raised beds. I want them to resemble the beautiful magazine photos that feature well-kept raised beds with an abundance of thriving produce neatly tucked side-by-side. This is not how mine look.

weeds

See what I mean?

But, I am resolving that I will do better next year. (heehee) The kids and I have already weeded (excavated, really) our three raised beds in order to start with a clean slate this fall. I filled one with garlic cloves, will put onions in another and am thinking about transplanting the strawberries out of the third one and filling it with something else. I just need to figure out what. Herbs? Marigolds? Leafy greens?

Hmmm.