Sunday, July 31, 2011

eating out of the garden

Well, the tomatoes haven't ripened yet, except for the cherry ones and the corn is just approaching the height of my shoulders, but we are starting to be inundated with produce. Julia Ellen and I sit on the front porch every afternoon shelling peas and throwing the empty pods onto the front lawn. Tim and I are eating salad every day because I planted whole packets of Buttercrunch and Romaine. I'm contemplating taking some heads to the pool and Mass this week just so I don't feel pressured to eat it all ourselves. Today I wanted to see how the carrots were doing, so I pulled up a few and marveled at how big they were. I planted 2 rows so we could treat the horses after riding lessons, but they looked so juicy I declared that we would have some ourselves.

After perusing Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer, I decided to make carrot cake, but the recipe I found was too difficult with no mixer so I improvised with one of my favorite recipes Applesauce Cake and substituted grated carrot for the applesauce. Even though the kids knew it contained a vegetable they scarfed down the entire pan, asked for thirds, and begged me to make it again soon. Since the labor in this recipe is the prep, Timmy and I went out after the supper dishes were cleaned up and harvested a few dozen carrots, washed them, cut off the tops, and grated them by hand. I put them in a freezer bag so that in a few days I can whip up a delicious dessert using veggies we grew ourselves.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

another cool, humid race day

This morning I headed over to Bucksport for a 8am 5K race. I'm beginning to see the same faces and have some other ladies to hang out with afterwards. I didn't come home with a prize, but I did get a pretty good time: 23:06. Right now my running seems to be all mental, my body can run faster, but my mind keeps saying, "Stop! You are too old, have too many kids to do this. Just stop and walk." But I don't want to be a back-of-the pack runner, at least not until I'm pushing 65. Perhaps when we get back from Virginia and all our household goods are settled and I can resume a good running schedule I will get my mojo back, but I haven't felt that flying feeling that occurs when I'm in perfect form.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

am I a sadist?

My pathetic orchard consists of 6 fruit trees that were neglected almost to the point of death when we bought our land. I have weeded, mulched, and fed the little trees, pruned their branches, and been rewarded with a harvest of exactly 2 Golden Delicious apples in 3 years. Only 2 of the trees have set any fruit, I am hopeful that the others will bear once they have another variety to help pollinate the blossoms and will give me some peaches and pears.

In the meantime I attempt every summer to keep the Japanese Beetles from devouring the leaves with traps and manually dropping each bug into a jar filled with oily water. This method has its flaws as many of the beetles fly away in the day and fall to the grass during the evening round if the branches are jostled. Last night at dusk the baby and I ambled down past the swingset with our jar and a new weapon: a flat white bed sheet. I spread it under the tree and shook the trunk a bit to see over 30 beetles fall onto the fabric. Julia Ellen and I picked them up and plopped them into the jar with more than an appropriate amount of glee. "Yucky bugs!" the baby chirped as she scooped them up. By the time we shook each tree, our little container was full of dozens and dozens of dead beetles. I don't know if our efforts violate the 5th Commandment, but I do know with certainty that no one will consider me the next St. Francis.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

all together again

Last week Tim wore his uniform for the last time so yesterday we picked him up from the airport. The years of being separated for months at a time are over. Technically he is on leave and we must all drive down to Virginia in 2 weeks to supervise the packing and moving of all our household goods one last time. I'm not looking forward to the 14 hour drive, having to camp out in a hotel with 6 kids, feeding movers for 3 days, driving back to Maine, and having to organize our boxes and furniture into 3 destinations: farm house, house in southern Maine, and farm apartment, organize yet another move for our stuff going to the new house, and begin stocking our home with all the pets (2 mice for Mary and 2 kitty cats for the little boys) the children have been promised for several years now.

However,  once this logistical nightmare is completed then I can sit back and take a long sip of lemonade on the porch and enjoy the rest of my summer. Until then my life is going to be a little frantic so I need to keep my mind focused on the end result: our family all in Maine, the beautiful and now much cooler Vacationland.

Friday, July 22, 2011

first harvest

The garden is coming along very nicely, as I like to go out in the evening when it is a bit cooler and weed, water, and check on the status of the plants. We haven't had any animals come to nibble except the ravens eating melon in the compost bin, in the morning I find the rinds stripped of any fruit and flung about on the grass. Julia Ellen is more damaging, yesterday she ripped up one basil plant, knocked over 3 corn stalks, and stomped on 2 onion plants.

With some of the pumpkins not sprouting, we had lots of empty ground so I let the kids loose with all the leftover seeds and they have been hoeing out the weeds, planting, and labeling markers. Who knows if any of their efforts will bear, I have the feeling that everything is planted on top of each other and they might forget in a few days to keep watering. I think next year I will give each child their own plot to do as they like, buying veggies that they might find interesting such as purple carrots, pole beans grown in a teepee (I did start these a little late, but you see, they are mine and it is NOT the same for the kids as ones they planted in their own patch), miniature corn, tiny white pumpkins. Who knows? We might discover some great new veggies and gardening techniques in the process. 

But as for my established vegetables, the cherry tomatoes are ripening and Julia Ellen and I are eating salad twice a day. My routine is to take a basket and paring knife out, thinning the romaine and buttercrunch by cutting off the tops where the plants are too closely planted, washing them off, spinning the leaves, and ripping them up before tossing them with a little Marzetti salad dressing. Time from harvest to savoring the tender leaves? Less than 10 minutes.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

going 90 mph all the time

Summer is supposed to be fun right? Picnicking with friends by the pond, reading a book on the porch, canoeing on the lake are typical Maine summer activities. I am squeezing in those things, but my typical day looks more like this:

  • awaken at 5am with a toddler kicking my fanny because she crawled in at 2am and likes to sleep sideways

  • go out to the garden to dump the compost bucket and enjoy the quiet and the birds

  • sneak down to the furnace room for a little time reading email and my favorite blogs

  • fix 7 breakfasts, empty dishwasher, fill dishwasher, clean up counters and table

  • direct older children to practice the piano and finish up those last stubborn school subjects (Mary is down to spelling, Charlie has 3 stories left, and Will has vocabulary, spelling, and reading left)

  • wash, dry, and fold 3 loads of laundry

  • make lunch and clean up

  • run 7 miles

  • recharge the riding mower after some little kid drained the battery, direct Will to mow the grass

  • get on the big tractor and mow around the edges of the fields

  • sweep all the floors in the house except the kid's bedrooms and bathrooms

  • mop the entire 1st floor after Julia Ellen spills red Koolaid

    • sit on the front porch with a cold bottle of beer, enjoying the view

    • decide what to have for supper and make it, clean up afterwards and run another load of dishes
    • go out into the garden to escape the children, only to have the little ones follow to help and peer into the compost bin
    • trudge inside at dusk to bathe the 3 younger children, brush teeth, and harass the older ones into showering make sure all the garage and barn doors are shut
    •  read aloud on the sofa
    • put the baby and little boys to bed
    • crawl into bed and read until my eyelids droop shut
    • turn off the downstairs lights so the big kids will go to bed
    • fall asleep at about 10:30pm
    rise and shine ready for a slight variation the next day , and the next, and the next...

    I do realize that my life is a bit easier now than it was with a newborn or infant, but I know that lazing around eating bon-bons on the sofa while watching TV is not going to be a major part of my daily routine for many, many years to come.  

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    parenting as a spectator sport

    I don't think the suggestion of taking fat kids out of their homes and putting them in foster care is what Hillary Clinton had in mind when she declared that "it takes a village to raise a child."
    It seems, judging from the recent news stories I have come across and their accompanying comments that the parents are simply doing the best they can and "the village" is a mob of critics standing around screaming "Unfit! Incompetent! Should be made sterile!" every time the parents does something not deemed perfect.

    Take the horrific story of the 8 year old Hasidic Jewish boy who walked home last week and was kidnapped and found dismembered. "See, you should never let your child out of your sight until they are 43," the critics scream. Who knows what they would think of me for letting my 3 oldest children ride their bikes to piano lessons, a whole 4 miles away.  

    Also last week up here in Maine a mom of 2 was arrested for leaving her kids in the car when she ran inside the grocery store. Instead of standing by the car and patiently waiting for the obviously frazzled mom to arrive, keeping an eye on the kids, some busy-body decided to call the police pronto. Now that 30 year old mom could have her kids taken away, will be hounded by the social service Nazis for the rest of her life, and has to admit on every job application that she was arrested. She will never be able to care for a foster child, never be able to adopt, and likely never be able to teach in a public school. But the 200+ comments following the article rant on and on about how it is so dangerous to leave a child in a car because the brakes might spontaneously fail or the engine might explode, in addition to all the premonitions of death due to heat and child molesters prowling the parking lots in small towns in coastal Maine. Today when I left 4 of my kids in the car while I ran into the gas station minimart to go potty, I was almost expecting when I emerged from the building to see a cruiser with flashing lights parked behind my van. This is the way I felt when we lived in Washington, DC, with cameras on every stoplight, a lawyer with a cellphone in every car, and police on almost every corner.

    Another local incident this past week was a 911 call after a 2 year old fell down a shallow open well. The dad quickly rescued the child and followed directions from the dispatcher over the phone to revive her. But the commentors on the Bangor Daily News website started pointing fingers as soon as the story was posted, "No fit parent should let their child fall down a well, why were they not watching her..." Do these folks not eat, shower, read, look at the internet, cook, take care of another child, or even sleep until their offspring is 18? Obviously the adults were watching as they quickly hauled her out.  

    Whatever did happen to the genteel habits of minding your own business and saving judgement until you know all the facts? It is as if real life is some form of reality TV where viewers have 20/20 hindsight and criticise, slander, or call the police as a fun game of gotcha. When was the last time any of these people offered to help a struggling mom and actually followed through? My bet is never, because actually watching a child for an hour so an overwhelmed mom could grocery shop alone doesn't give them the same jollies as seeing their name in print condemning another human being.   

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    busting through the wall

    Charlie only has 6 stories left in his last Faith and Freedom reader to finish up the 1st grade. The stories began with very simple tales in very large print, but have progressed in difficulty over the 3 book set. As recent as last week it was taking 20 minutes per 5 page story to slowly sound out each word, including ones that he has read hundreds of times such as "said" and "the." The whole experience was painful to him, leading to his constant wriggling and sliding down the pillows of my bed until he was almost lying flat, unable to see the book. I also dreaded "reading time" because I knew that inevitably the other children would act up and I would be trapped with my finger stuck under each word, waiting for him to put together the sounds.

    But in the past few days Charlie has been reading faster, speeding up so my finger is darting forward rather than resting still until I have to almost restrain myself from reading it aloud. I know that his reading skills will only improve even faster now and soon he will be picking up picture books to test his reading independence and before I know it, he will be reading all 13 books in the Lemony Snickett series, much to his mother's dismay over fluff books.       

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    no vocations?

    About 3 weeks ago during the announcements during Mass the priest asked parents to fill out a survey as to why in the past 10 years the CCD programs has gone from 1000+ children to under 450 children participating. I didn't bother to fill out the survey since we aren't members of the parish, but even if we were I know that I wouldn't send my children to CCD. Why? Because after the dumbing-down of the curriculum and contrary-to-the-Faith teaching I have seen and heard about over the years, I don't trust the instructors. My kids have only attended CCD at St. Benedict's in Chesapeake, VA because I know how pious the teachers are, know that they use the Baltimore Catechism, and know that the other students are kids who come from good Catholic homes. When we go to the Novus Ordo Mass in Maine I am usually the only woman wearing a hat, my kids are the only ones not wearing shorts and flip flops, and we are certainly the only ones who receive Communion on the tongue. I know that these outward signs are not a indicator of holiness because I certainly sin more than I should, and the lack of these things are not a direct correlation to sinfulness, some of the parish families could be praying the rosary every night. But in general, those who take their religion seriously tend to be a bit more orthodox in their Mass attire and attitude toward the Blessed Sacrament.

    That said, it didn't surprise me too much when just before the recessional yesterday morning, the priest at St. John's in Bangor made an announcement, "Father Tony (the Indian priest on loan to the diocese) will not be returning. With only 2 priests then covering 5 churches in the cluster parish, we cannot have 12 masses per weekend so some things are going to have to change."  

    The diocese of Portland, Maine has been headed by 2 very liberal bishops in the past 15 years. The leadership of liberal bishops leads to an increase in happy-clappy liturgy and a suppression of orthodoxy, such as the Traditional Latin Mass. Vocations do not occur in an environment where it is evident from all outward signs that the lay people do not take their faith seriously. Only when the liturgy, preaching, and the priest's attitude all convey a sense of love for God, a deep meaning of Him in our daily lives, and a cause for sacrifice are there genuine vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That is why our little parish in Virginia with all of 175 families has 4 men currently studying for the priesthood and the diocese of Portland, Maine has 69 priests stretched to the limit serving 139 parishes. My suggestion to increase vocations? Turn the priest around to face the Tabernacle, restrict servers to boys only, start preaching some serious homilies about sin and the need for holiness, ask the FSSP to send priests to say the TLM, and throw away all the fluff books used in CCD. Start from the ground up and teach people the Catholic Faith, encourage them to love Our Lord in recognizable Catholic practices, and challenge them to be more holy and I promise that Maine will see an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

    Friday, July 08, 2011

    where do they all go?

    The children's shoes, that is? When I packed clothing and toiletries for the children back in May, I laid out 1 pair of tennies, 1 pair of church shoes, and all the complete pairs of Crocs I could in a duffel bag and put it in the back of the van. Along the edge of our new porch was decreed "Croc, rubber boot, and boat shoe zone" while tennies went in the mud room. Since then we have misplaced at least 5 pairs of rubber shoes, even after replacing 3-4 pairs from Goodwill. My lone pair of light blue Crocs that I bought 2 years ago are sitting on the porch, damp from an early morning walk around the garden, but I could only count 4 pairs of children's shoes. Timmy had to wear his sister's pink shoes to dinner last night after searching the car and not being able to find the mate to the ones he swore were in the van. When we pulled back in the driveway I spotted the missing shoe where it had fallen out in the mad scramble to pick up Will and Mary from sailing, drop off Will, Mary, and Maggie at swimming, and go to Dysarts, our favorite truck stop restaurant for supper.

    This mystery of the missing shoes is perplexing. The kids don't come home with only 1 shoe most days, I don't find them in the grass when we mow, and I don't think the wild animals eat them. But perhaps I am mistaken, just maybe there is a critter stalking around the house at night, waiting for his chance to snatch a brightly colored Croc and drag it back to his den. There is the slightest possibility that my children are not to be blamed for misplacing their shoes on an almost-daily basis, but that we will spy a nest in the trees constructed of rubber strips of their footwear.

    Yeah right.

    Thursday, July 07, 2011

    a 34 year old in a 40 year old body

    Monday morning I dressed the kids all in patriotic red shirts for Independence Day. Will had changed his mind about running 2 miles, so we negotiated that he stay home with the little ones and play with them. The rest of us headed up to Brewer for "Maine's fastest road race," a 3K 4th of July run. The course actually is really fun, as the pre-parade entertainment, thousands of folks line the route to cheer us on. I told the kids that the fastest child of mine to finish would get a special treat from the candy aisle at the grocery and that I would see them at the finish. I ran across the bridge and spiraled around downtown Bangor in a time of 12:19, Mary crossed the finish line soon after, followed by Charlie, and then Maggie. Due to a fluke in age brackets (Charlie was competing against 10 year old boys and the girl that won Mary's age group was at least 12" taller), Maggie was the only children's medal winner with a 2nd place finish. Yet again, I won my age group, even though I felt sort of off the whole race, likely due to the fact that I didn't know I was going to run until that morning.
    We stayed to watch the parade and then hiked the 2 miles back uphill back to the car. A cool frosty drink in hand helped mitigate the cranky whining from my hot and sweaty crew. The runners rightly didn't receive as much applause as the veterans who marched and rode down Main Street, but the kids liked being able to celebrate our nation's birthday by both being "in" the parade and being able to watch it as well.   

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    my longest day of the summer

    Yesterday I actually retrieved the alarm clock from the barn and set it for 6am so I would be sure not to oversleep on the first day of sailing lessons. I probably needed it more this morning to recover from the day's scheduling and activities. Needless to say, I did not get a long slow run in to clear my head.

    7am: get children up, pack gear, slather up Maggie and Charlie with sunscreen. Make list of schoolwork for Will and Mary to complete at home.
    8am: leave house to drive 15 miles to harbor and fill out umpteen forms.
    9am: drive 2o miles to Julia Ellen's "Mom and Tot" swimming lesson.
    10:30am: swing by grocery store for nappies, milk, and fruit.
    11am: pull in driveway at farm to unload groceries, feed 4 children, pack another bag of sailing gear, slather up Will and Mary with sunscreen, explain to my husband that now is not a good time to chat.
    11:30am: strap tired toddler back in her car seat for the 15 mile trip back to the harbor.
    12 noon: sign out 2 younger children, drop off 2 older children, head home to feed Maggie and Charlie lunch and do school with him. Throw a load or 4 of wet towels and bathing suits in the wash and call Tim back. Negotiate offer on 2nd choice house with realtor.   
    3:30pm: drive 15 miles back to harbor to pick up Will and Mary with the idea of dinner out, but Will begged to stay for racing until 7pm.
    4pm: attempt to drive like a fiend back to pool for Charlie and Timmy's swimming lessons, but get stuck behind jerk who drives under the speed limit on the 2 lane portions, while speeding up to 70 where the road widens to allow for a passing lane. 10 minutes late to swimming.
    5:30pm: back to grocery store to pick up items for potluck supper after sailboat races.
    6:30pm: after a quick stop at home to make salad, put items in cooler, and grab jackets, the final trip back to the harbor (a check of my gas gauge shows a fillup is needed soon) to sit down, relax, chat with friends, and watch the children race around playing.
    9pm: finally lie down after baths and turning off all the lights.

    My reward?

    10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. 

    Monday, July 04, 2011

    thanks Obama

    You know those tacky shirts that say, "My grandma went to Jamaica and all I got was this lousy t-shirt"? Well, I feel the same way right now. Our president and the Democrats have spent trillions of dollars on bailouts for public sector union jobs, cash for clunkers, bank bailouts, shovel ready projects that weren't quite so shovel ready, dozens of exotic vacations for themselves on corporate jets, an illegal campaign ad, and thousands of other sleazy things. 

    Last week I researched internet options for our farm. I was tired of hoofing it to the library to check my email and with no TV either, I was completely clueless about what was going on in the world. Our phone company only offers dial-up for us country folk and when I called the cable company, they sent someone to estimate our hookup cost. "Due to the distance of 950 feet from the nearest road and with only 2 residences on the property, you do not qualify for a subdivision rate. The cost for running the cable to your home will cost approximately $3200. Please call us if you would like to proceed with service installation." Uh, no, thank you. Then I pulled out a year-old postcard from the satellite company and called them. "Due to the federal stimulus and reinvestment act, you are eligible to receive free installation and dish for internet access." 

    So, 3+ trillion dollars later, I got a little gray dish stuck on the back of my house and am surfing the net in my furnace room. Apparently the big bucks from Obama only cover the modem coming in to one location and the cord is only 12 inches long. So until the electrician comes to connect a splitter and install a special plug upstairs, I'm the epitome of a basement-dwelling blogger typing away in her jammies.      

    Saturday, July 02, 2011

    grow, veggies, grow!

    Last year we had a fabulous garden. We harvested green beans, tomatoes, carrots, enough pumpkins to make pies and bread all winter, more squash than a family of 8 could possibly eat (especially since only 2 of us actually eat squash), lettuce, a few melons, and at least one bushel of corn. This spring we arrived in Maine and got the garden tilled and planted earlier than before, but the weather and seeds haven't been as cooperative. A few days have been hot and sunny, but I'm still wearing my jacket over a tshirt most mornings and perhaps buying $1 packets last year out of Johnny's bargain bins wasn't such a great idea. I've replanted the pumpkin after the crows ripped out the seedlings and only 1/2 the corn and peas sprouted at all. On the other hand, the potatoes I bought on a whim at the local hardware store are a lush dark green and Maggie and I have hilled them several times. If I can keep the wild turkeys out of the lettuce then I will have a bumper crop (they took a dust bath in my leaf lettuce last year) and the broccoli is growing like gangbusters. Here is a view of the patch from the boy's bedroom window a few weeks back and today: