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Homeschooling is always full of surprises. This morning after breakfast, the kids had a little bit of free time before lessons, while they were waiting for me to finish something I was doing on the computer. While most of the kids were playing with the baby or dragging out every blanket in the house, Andrew, our oldest at age 11, decided to write some poetry.

I was quite surprised, since I never taught him to write poetry. In fact, we don’t really do any type of formal grammar lessons at all, except for the little bit that is included in his Latin lessons; we instead focus mainly on reading good literature, both aloud and each child on their own. We do plan to get to the more formal grammar lessons someday, lest you should think that I just don’t care about grammar at all, but, with several children to teach I have chosen to put off some of the more detailed lessons until more of the children are old enough to grasp them.

I was even more surprised after I read the poem. I thought that it was fairly good for a first venture. So, for anyone who is interested, here are the verses.

The Apple and the Blueberry
by Andrew H. Meng

How do you do Mr. Blueberry, Mr. Blueberry
How do you do in these days?
How do you do when the fruit grows ripe and
the harvest is near?
How do you do when the river is clear and
the garden is fair?

I do very well Mr. Apple, Mr. Apple
I do very well in these days.
I do very well when the fruit grows ripe and
the harvest is near.
I do very well when the river is clear and
the garden is fair.

He was definitely paying attention when we read all of those nursery rhymes when he was little.

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This is just a quick post to share with you my method of preparing herbal teas in a bulk form versus one cup at a time. I find this useful when my son is having allergy problems and I know he will need to be drinking his tea for a few days, or when I have multiple sick ones in the house. I begin by getting out the necessary dry herbs that I will be using, which will vary depending on the cause for use of the herbs. Next, I place the desired herbs into a mixing bowl or other large vessel making sure to use enough herbs to make a whole pitcher.

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Then I boil my water using a full teapot. While the water is boiling, I get out the pitcher that will hold the herbs after they have steeped. I place a large strainer over the mouth of the pitcher to catch the herbs so that only the tea ends up in the pitcher. When the water is ready, pour contents of teapot into mixing bowl with the herb mixture in it. Let steep for the necessary amount of time and then pour contents of mixing bowl into the prepared pitcher.

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Next, you would add some sweetening agent if desired. We usually add a little honey or stevia since sugar tends to slow down the immune system. Then whenever a cup is needed, simply pour into a cup and enjoy!

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We canned the first phase of our grape harvest, because the green variety can well, but for our sweet Canadice, we prefer to freeze what we cannot manage to eat fresh. Freezing is much easier than canning. We simply rinse the grapes in hot water — use hot to kill spiders and earwigs — then stem them and put them into sandwich size Ziploc bags and freeze. They are very good this way, retaining their sweetness and juiciness.

 

We also have more green beans then we can use fresh, and freeze those as well. Immediately after picking, I trim the ends, cut the beans, blanch them in boiling water for three minutes, drain, and freeze in Ziploc bags. It’s all a very pleasant evening project, and probably looks much more industrious than it really is. The picking is the most fun, except for the spiders.

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My husband has the gift of canning. His gift flows from physical strength and family tradition. My gifts tend more toward looking out the window and sitting, occasionally, at poolsides with a book. The latter gift goes largely unutilized.

 

Our extravagantly beautiful summer bowed and bolted; fall arrived, and the first phase of our grapes, more than 20 pounds, ripened overnight. Rain split our thin-skinned varieties; especially hard-hit was the Sweet seduction, and mold set in quickly throughout much of the vine. The Interlaken held up well, and my husband picked 23 pounds from our vines. The Canadice, the sweetest and best of all, also held up well, and remains firm enough to go another week before picking. The Campbell’s Early, a Concord type, has never been true to its name, and probably has another week or two before it ripens. With plums and apples also in sight of ripening, canning will likely continue for the next three weekends. It makes for a homey time.

 

My husband canned about 17 pounds of Interlakens, juiced another couple of pounds, and refrigerated enough for us to enjoy fresh for the week. He does the canning outdoors on the deck on a propane stove. He has the method simplified to stemming the grapes, placing them in jars, adding water but no sugar, and placing them in the pressure canner for about ten minutes. The green grapes lose their vibrant color, and look rather like large canned peas, but they are very good, and we enjoy them through the winter.

 

I know that some women appreciate the sight of a linen closet stocked with neatly folded towels and sheets. I appreciate a well-stocked pantry with rows of mason jars containing the fruits of our own backyard. There is something inherently wonderful about growing and canning things, not from necessity, but from a love for the ability of the land to yield and the ability of the hand to work. Of course we can buy grapes the year round, but we would rather do it ourselves. Or at least, I would rather watch my husband do it.

I’m now the proud mother of a dozen little chicks (aka diddles or widdies depending on where you live)! The tractor supply store  had a shipment of chicks that came in today at 10 a.m. We wanted to try a couple different kinds of chicks.  We got 6 New Hampshire pullets ( red), 3 Speckled Sussex pullets (brown), and 3 Buff Orpington (yellow), which might all be roosters. We wanted to have a rooster so if the hens go broody we can raise some chicks.  With the waterer, feed dish,  starter feed, heat lamp bulb, and chick grit, and my ten dollar off coupon,  it came to the grand total of 47.12.  We’re hoping to have our own eggs by fall.  I’m keeping them in my bathtub in a cardboard box under a heatlamp until it is warmer outside and then we’ll put them in our old rabbit pen with the heatlamp.

We used to keep  chickens, goats for milk and and sometimes  we kept a pig or a calf  for meat, raised on the goat milk.  I had to use a cream separater to get the cream and made butter. I also made a soft ricotta like cheese out of whole milk.  We had a pig two summers ago and loved having all that pork.  We gave her pig chop and scraps from the table.  She loved the Brandywine tomatoes  the best. The pig manure was a great fertilizer. It also gave us some volunteer Brandywine tomato plants last year.  We’re wanting to raise a bigger garden this year and the chickens will supply us with eggs and some good composted manure for the garden.

This is my one and only teapot, a wedding gift from Lauren. I know this violates the important law of using your best china, clothes, manners, etc. on your husband/family, but when I begin to entertain (formidable thought), I will use the pot for its intended purpose. For now, we are microwave-to-cup sort of people with regard to tea. Besides, the pot makes a wonderful container for my husband’s favorite (and for a while now, only) breakfast: cream of wheat. As such it can be a functional and elegant counter decoration, cheering me up everytime I reach for it in the morning hours as my coffee is brewing and my husband’s milk is heating for his breakfast. (Aside: he jokes that we ought to fool our children into thinking that “breakfast” means only “cream of wheat,” so that they never expect anything more extravagant; and when they order “breakfast, please” at their first restaurant outing, we’ll all have a good laugh at the ensuing confusion. I like the idea for the economic benefits, for sure. . .)

And this is a gift from Heidi, an antique milk glass dish. I have no idea what milk glass dishes were primarily used for, but I like to use it for storing produce, which contrasts with the immaculate white of the glass. These are lovely striped tomatoes (heirloom, maybe?) from the local farmers market. Cook’s Illustrated did an experiment to test this claim, and proved it true: if you store tomatoes (that are off the vine) with their stem end down, they tend to last a little longer—something about the stem end being an entry point for bacteria that speed the fruit’s spoilage.

I don’t know about you guys, but our water bill seems to be steadily climbing these days.  I don’t know if it is the growing laundry piles and sinks full of dishes due to a growing family or if we are doing something wrong.  Does anyone have any suggestions for conserving water?  We do have a pond that needs to be filled up from time to time, especially in the summer, and chickens and rabbits that need their water containers filled a few times a week.  And, there is always the fish tank in the house that needs to be refilled sometimes. Not to mention the occasional garden watering. But, the water that the animals, fish and pond take up are really very minimal.  Is anyone else having this problem?  Maybe it is just the bad economy carry over to the water prices.  Any thoughts?

Making good on a not-so-recently delivered promise, here’s a fantastic, cheap recipe for homemade bird suet. I got it from a Master Gardeners website, where the person who submitted the recipe demonstrated that the suet cakes cost about $.66 each, versus $1-$3 and more per storebought cakes. Apparently the birds preferred the homemade over the storebought in a home experiment anyway. It is smart to use these in cooler weather so that they won’t go rancid; but then they could be wildly popular and gobbled up before that point. Also, my bird-watching friend says that if you have feeders out in the cooler seasons (from fall to spring migration), you’ll see birds you don’t usually see.

Melt 1 cup of lard (rendered beef or pork fat, not vegetable shortening) over low heat in a large sauce pan.

Take off heat and add 1 cup of peanut butter (smooth or chunky)

Add 2 cups of oatmeal (old fashioned), 2 cups of corn meal, 1 cup of flour, and 1/4 cup of sugar

Add 1 cup of raisins or peanuts

Mix well and pour/spoon into a 9×13 dish lined with aluminum foil

*Store in refrigerator until firm (at least 2 hours). When cold, dump the suet from the dish onto waxed paper or newspaper. Remove foil from the suet and cut into pieces. Store pieces in refrigerator in zip-lock bags until ready to use.

So often, the scratches and bruises I sustain are the only visible evidence that I have been working in the garden. The rhubarb grew four feet high this year and produced yucca-like blooms at the tops of its broad stalks. I waited for the curiosity to die and then cut it down with a machete. Gathering the stalks and brown fronds for disposal, I wondered how many North Americans cut their rhubarb with a machete. We aren’t fond of rhubarb; I can eat it with a lot of sugar, but I can’t eat a lot of sugar, so it’s a weed to us, another remnant of the “inherited garden” that came with our house.

I have a very good friend who’s solidly Reformed in her theology and a self-confessed tomboy. Don’t let her fool you; she has a feminine heart that melts on contact with the atmosphere, and she’s a beautiful woman. But she’s a knock-out in a Stetson hat, too. She loves to give gifts, and she’s given me a wonderful volume of Puritan theology and a gold Guess change pouch in the same birthday load. But she always, always includes an embroidered handkerchief in the gift bag. I carry a small pack of tissues in my backpack because public restrooms sometimes are out of toilet paper. I’m not a hankie person. It doesn’t matter. I have a drawer full of embroidered handkerchiefs from my friend who’s been trying for years to make a lady of me.

The handkerchiefs remind me of pruning roses. The roses send forth beautiful blooms and they send forth useless, long, gangly shoots, called suckers. The trick is to encourage blooms and discourage suckers that will not produce buds but will suck energy from the plant and deter buds from receiving nourishment. A friend who used to work for a florist showed me the proper way to prune roses once the bloom has faded, clipping it down the stem at a group of five leaves. I have no idea what the advantage is, but I do it because my friend said to. I suppose the goal is to make the roses comport to trim efficiency and beauty–to make them ladylike, in a way. But roses have no natural inclination to be beautiful; they have to be pruned constantly, even though blooming produces seeds, the plant’s mechanism of survival.

I wonder at this; I’m surprised it did not perplex Agur.

I spent some time in the backyard Sunday to maintain a garden area the dear old lady who lived here before me must have planted with great care. Our house was built in the 30s and the backyard comes alive every spring with flowers and bushes and plants… bigger and brighter every year. I’m attempting to grow a green thumb… hoping it’s an acquired interest. My mother in law gave me great help this Sunday. I learned about ground coverings (I dislike the plant/mulch/plant look) and transplanting lilies. Here are some pictures.

My wild irish rose… bushes. I have four like this throughout my back yard. This is my only red rose bush and they always make me smile. They will not be tamed to grow in any orderly fashion, and I love them for it.

Begonias and impatiens spread well in the shade, as well as these viney ground coverings… There was also room in the arrangement for one gerber daisy, right in front of the tree. Hopefully all this will grow in quite nicely and the transplanted lilies will stop looking so weary from their journey. What you can’t see in the picture (because it’s looming over me) is a giant lilac tree that is so full this year it’s almost touching the ground. it creates a little cove, but of course not much can really grow in a cove. We’ll see if the impatiens can stick it out. :)

The moral of the story is, if you need help with your flower garden, don’t ask me… water my budding green thumb with your knowledge. :) I’m interested to hear about your flower gardens or vegetable gardens as well… what you enjoy planting most. I have found I greatly enjoy digging in the dirt… quite therapeutic. It’s also nice to think of taking care to preserve something of what this dear old lady left behind, a bit of her joy becoming mine.

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