When Life Hands You a Puffball…‏

Written October 7, 2013.

If I look out in the sheep pasture and see something strange on the ground, generally speaking, “maybe we could eat that” isn’t the first thought that comes to mind.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. Last Saturday happened to be one of those exceptions.

Freckles the sheep helps show off the puff ball discovery in the pasture.  (When did sheep and puff balls enter my life?!)

Freckles the sheep helps show off the puff ball discovery in the pasture. (When did sheep and puff balls enter my life?!)

We originally set out for the Great Apple Harvest of 2013. With four long-established apples trees on the back corner of our land, I had happy visions of bags full of apples. I would bake them into all sorts of things that would fill our house with the aroma of fall and make everyone swoon with homey contentment.

As it turned out, the apple harvest was pretty much just that: AN apple. Okay, realistically we maybe found 30. And, they certainly were, um, “organic.” Of the 30 apples, Asian beetles and bees inhabited at least half. I could almost hear the bugs drooling in sheer ecstasy, “Oh…I’m living in a house made of food…nom nom nom….”

A few weeks ago, my husband mentioned it was time to pick the apples. At that point, I really was in denial about fall setting in, and I told him I just wasn’t ready for apple picking. Funny thing, apple picking isn’t really like making a dentist appointment, where you pick the time that works for you, and maybe put it off for a month if things just don’t fit in the schedule.

By the time we moseyed back to pick our apples, we found most of them on the ground, already turning into compost. I had visions of apple sauce, apple butter, apple pies… Compost is all well and good, but nobody comes into a house and says “ooh, is that compost you’re making ?” and if they do, it’s probably not a compliment.

After strike one on the wimpy apple harvest, I thought “Hey, we’ll just add the last of the rhubarb, and make apple rhubarb pie!”

A few weeks ago, we discovered that the rhubarb rejuvenated itself and we had a whole new crop of crisp stalks ready for the picking. When I saw it that day, I just wasn’t ready to tackle a pile of rhubarb, and figured I’d come back another day. (Are you noticing a theme?)

And…strike two, rhubarb. Thank you to the goats and/or sheep who escaped and munched off my last good batch of rhubarb for the season. All we found were a few trampled stalks and some telling raisin-like droppings. Why, goats and sheep, why?

They didn’t even add brown sugar or oatmeal. It couldn’t have tasted good. It’s also apparently slightly toxic for them, according to the internet. I never noticed any animals with ill effects, so they must have all eaten just a little, sharing nicely. Polite sheep and goats. That’s the silver lining.

The other silver lining? Tomatoes! With no killing frost, our tomato plants are troupers. They are out there in the weed patch garden, just making tomatoes like crazy. My husband and a collection of kids picked off the last of the tomato bounty. It is a beautiful sight to behold.

Tomatoes, glorious tomatoes!  Doesn't it look so farm-y with the barn in the background?

Tomatoes, glorious tomatoes! To me it looks like a little slice of country heaven with the barn in the background…

Our best harvest of all, though, happened to be the one thing we had no plans of finding. A day or two ago, looking out across the yard, I thought an ice cream pail must have blown into the sheep’s pasture. On closer inspection, I discovered a volleyball-sized mushroom that I swear just showed up overnight. A puffball!

Way back in the recesses of my mind is a memory of one time coming home from the Fall Festival at St. Aloysius with a giant puffball mushroom that my mom then fried and we ate. It was such an oddity that it stuck in my head.

Heading online once again, I checked various websites to find out about our amazing pasture fungal growth. Turns out, if the inside is creamy white and uniformly smooth with no gills, it is indeed edible.

Oh yes, we are in puffball heaven. We hunted down five puffballs total. That makes four more puffballs than we could ever really consume in a reasonable amount of time.

The Great Puff Ball Harvest of 2013.  Holy puff balls!

The Great Puff Ball Harvest of 2013. Holy puff balls!

And that’s kind of how it is in life. Sometimes, you think it’s apples that you’re going to find, but it’s really puffballs. And puffballs aren’t apples, but they are pretty amazing.

Puffball pie, anyone? Just kidding. We did eat them sauteed with onions in plenty of butter. On top of our Saturday night pot roast they tasted utterly delicious. (That’s just how Martha Stewart would say it.)

And for dessert, we did manage to whip up a fabulous apple rhubarb crumb pie with the last pickings of the season.

Pot roast with wild mushroom and apple rhubarb crumb pie. Not bad for some stuff we found laying in the yard.

A side note:
Completely unrelated to anything about puffballs, on Sunday all of my sisters and I attended Les Miserables at Rochester Civic Theater. Ordinarily, sisters getting together isn’t that big of a deal, but there are six of us, so it does become a big deal. By our best count, it’s been 18 years since we last did anything together with just the six of us sisters together. That makes this newest photo of the six of us all the more special.

The six sisters together: Karen, Deb, Mel, Kathy, Vicki and Sues.  For the record, I also have seven brothers. : )

The six sisters together: Karen, Deb, Mel, Kathy, Vicki and Sues. For the record, I also have seven brothers. : )

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Written September 3, 2013.

Have you seen those containers of parched, bedraggled flowers baking on the sidewalks outside of stores?  Sometimes I feel a little like that.

At the beginning of summer, the flowers looked bright and fresh, ready for sunshine.  And now, they just look a little shriveled and tired.  I get it.

I don’t want to be dumped into the garbage after the first hard frost, but I am ready for a bit of a change.

Just another peaceful summer day on the porch, leisurely petting the cats.

Just another peaceful summer day on the porch, leisurely petting the cats.

This summer’s been a roller coaster of fun intermixed with losses in our family.  It’s been so much more and so much less than what I anticipated our summer might be.  It was the summer that I wrote thank you notes for memorials for my brother and laid rubber on Grandma’s driveway with the kids’ princess bike on the same day.

Traditionally, people sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” around Christmas, but right now, I think I’ll sing those words for the big yellow bus pulling into the yard on the first day of school.

First day of school, 2012.

First day of school, 2012.

I’m ready for a little more quiet, a little more routine, and a little less heat.  (Yes, I realize that a school bus will not reduce the outside temperature.)  I’m ready for a little less cooking.  I’m ready for earlier bedtimes for kids.  I’m ready for a little less free ranging and a little more order.

This year, my four-year-old will head to preschool a few mornings a week.  On those mornings, I’ll have my three “big” kids, 7,6 and 4, all climbing on the bus. And that means I’ll only have my two-year-old daughter at home on those mornings.

What is the sound of one child playing?  (Isn’t that how the Zen question goes?)

I really can’t even imagine it.  It sounds really fun to just hang out with my little two-year-old sidekick for a little while.  And it also sounds so lonely.  What will she do when all of her favorite playmates climb on the bus?  She’s never been the only child in the house, ever.  And then as soon as I think of that, I just want to take back saying that I’m so excited for school to start again.

One of my very favorite parts of motherhood is watching the ways in which my kids interact.  I love watching the games they invent together.  All of a sudden, they are building a fort or a pirate ship or playing family.  Then someone’s pulling someone else on a makeshift trailer behind the trike.  Then it’s beauty shop time.  Then they are all kitties.

And then, of course, they fight.  Then they annoy each other, followed by bickering over insignificant things.  They are real, live kids after all.  It’s definitely not all Mary Poppins life around here, but we did have some triumphs and successes in the course of the summer:

-Potty Training #4.  For the first time in seven years, diapers and pull-ups are only worn during sleep.  Hallelujah.

-Growth.  I love seeing how much kids grow in the summertime, except when none of the pants in their dressers fit anymore.  My four-year-old son ate two eggs with cheese and a bowl of oatmeal on some mornings.  I can only imagine what I’ll have to cook when they are all teenagers.

Four cousins on a beautiful night at the fair.  (Always take pictures early on at the fair, while the kids are still smiling.)

Four cousins on a beautiful night at the fair. (Always take pictures early on at the fair, while the kids are still smiling.)

-Bountiful Tomatoes and Zucchini.  The rest of the garden is a big weedy mess.  It’s awful.  We planted a massive garden, and then in the midst of everything, it sat unattended.  Our tomatoes and zucchini are amazing, though.  I’m not really sure what else is in there and still alive at this point.  But hey, we have great tomatoes!  And zucchini!

Garden tomatoes

Garden tomatoes

-Homegrown Chicken in the Freezer.  For a first time project, we had great success raising chickens for meat.  And by next spring, we’ll should have over 50 laying hens making eggs for us.  Wow.  Uh, anyone have any empty egg cartons?

-Family Time.  More than anything, the best thing we did this summer is hang out with our family…a lot.  Bonfires, pool time, days at the Mississippi, a trip to Jellystone, Sunday meals, sleepovers, and impromptu gatherings of all sorts filled many of our summer days. In the midst of hard times, there is safety in numbers.  There is also plenty of laughter.

My sisters, Karen Davis and Sue Kramer, taking the mini golf world by storm this summer.

My sisters, Karen Davis and Sue Kramer, on the Fuchsia and Black Team.  Taking the mini golf world by storm during our vacation at Jellystone.

-Acting in a Movie.  Speaking of laughter, my daughter and I have our “big” movie debut in “Cinderella” is coming up soon!  “Silent Movies in the Park After Dark” is on September 14th and 15th at dusk at the city park in Lanesboro.  Just to refresh your memory, ordinary locals star in these locally produced family-friendly films, and the event has free admission.  Just bring a lawn chair and blanket if it’s chilly.

Happy back-to-school season, everyone!  Thanks for watching out for children as you drive the roads.

Neglect: The Latest Innovation in Gardening

Written June 3, 2013.

My kids are highly innovative horticulturists, despite a lack of any formal training.

Last week I wrote about a few of my researched plans for the garden this year, but who needs to read books or chit chat with gardening pros when you have kids around?  This week I learned a new planting technique from my kids that’s sure to take the gardening world by storm.

Regretfully, I do not have any photos of my wonderful sprouted seed packets in the plastic bag.  I was so moved that I forgot to grab my camera to record the amazing new gardening technique.  My daughter, however, is quite happy to apply her advanced gardening techniques to a variety of plants.

Regretfully, I do not have any photos of my wonderful sprouted seed packets in the plastic bag. I was so moved that I forgot to grab my camera to record the amazing new gardening technique. My daughter, however, is quite happy to apply her advanced gardening techniques to a variety of plants.

I call our new technique “sprouting in the seed packet.”  And if you are one of those people that sees something about gardening and just groans because you have absolutely no interest, you can still read this, I assure you.

Step One: Plant a few rows of seeds just before bedtime.  Crucial procedure: Lay plastic grocery bag containing 6-8 seed packets on the grass next to the garden.   Then, when it’s time to go in, ask kids to “bring the stuff in.”  Do not verify completion of assigned task.

Immediately engage your mind with a million other projects that need attention.  A few distraction options: a sink full of dishes, a cracker smashed onto the living room carpet, a pile of dirt left on the floor in the bathroom, four wild and tired kids upstairs dancing on the extra bed instead of putting on pajamas.

Step Two: Apply rain, lots of rain.  Repeated rainfall intermixed with cold and wind for seemingly weeks on end works best.  Forlornly look at garden from living room window.

Step Three: Realize June arrived and the garden really needs to be planted.  Realize also that the plastic bag of full of seed packets disappeared.  Wander over to check out the garden and discover the plastic bag laying in the grass near the garden.  (It will be in the exact location where you left it weeks before.)

Step Four: Cautiously peer into bag.  Observe mass of congealed paper seed packets, adhered together in an amorphous mix of paper goo, melting ink, and myriad sprouting seeds of several varieties.  (Hanging head in gardening shame is appropriate at this point.)

Step Five: Haul bag of sprouting seed packets and paper goo to porch.  Set bag on porch with good intentions for something, but you are not sure quite what.  Let bag rest on porch for 1-2 days.

Step Six: Relocate said bag to kitchen window where it is sure to get some “proper attention.”  Allow to mature here for an additional 2-3 days.

Step Seven:  After supper, when the wind picks up and it’s sure to storm again, it’s cold, and it’s nearly bedtime, you have found the optimal time to care for the sprouted seeds.

Step Eight: Sift through sprouted seedlings and shredded packets, separating plant species, more or less.  Dig haphazard holes and rows to plant seeds.

Step Nine:  Allow children to plant seedlings.  What lacks in care will be made up for with zeal and enthusiasm.

Step Ten:  Rest.  Tomorrow is another day, with more plants to kill (oops) I mean grow.

While this technique of sprouting seeds while still in the packet may seem laborious and cumbersome, in actuality, it is quite carefree.  The technique presents several advantages over conventional seed planting:

1.  Easy Open Packets.  How many times have you fumbled with the pesky paper seed packet, trying to open it ever so carefully?  When seeds are allowed to germinate while still in the seed packet, the spouted seeds will actually burst open the packet for you.  Now that’s convenient, very convenient.

2.  Eliminates Gardeners’ Biggest Question: Will it Grow?  With the “sprout in the packet” technique, you know the answer is YES!  You most assuredly chose hardy seed stock.  When left in the rain for a few weeks, seeds can germinate in the seed packet, even while in a plastic bag.  Now carefully peel away the gooey paper, pick up those delicate little seedlings with teeny fragile roots, and plant with confidence! You are growing things already!  Germinating seeds in dirt is so old-fashioned.

3.  Companion Planting is a Breeze.  Master gardeners devote entire books to companion plantings, sharing which plant thrives best when planted near another.  The sprout in the packet technique, however, allows for spontaneous combinations of plant species.  No more stressing over “proper” companion plantings, it’s already been done right there in the bag!  Spinach mixed with radishes will surely be a garden hit.  They’re already growing together in the bag, right?

While “sprouting in the seed packet” is our most innovative gardening technique this year, I can assure you that my children do not rest after that sort of success.

Truly, I could go on and on about innovative gardening methods generated by my children, but I’d hate to brag too much.  I didn’t even tell you about the merits of removing pepper plants from their plastic containers, digging a shallow grave for them in the flower bed, stacking the plants in a pig pile, and then allowing the roots to “sun” for a few days.  The results are nothing short of spectacular.

My Garden Plan of Attack: G.R.O.W.

Last year around August, if you drove past our ambitiously large garden, you probably said to yourself, “My goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a nicer looking crop of…weeds.” I love gardens and watching things grow, but I don’t have much interest in spending time painstakingly plucking every single undesirable out of our garden. Can’t we just throw seeds in the ground and then magically harvest them later? No? Okay, fine.

They say stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. With that in mind, we’re changing our garden game plan a little this year.

First of all, let’s set one thing straight. I still have no desire to do any weeding.

I also don’t want to dump bucket loads of weed killer on food that I’m feeding my family. But I do have a secret plan to grow less weeds while growing better vegetables. My plan of attack for the garden is G.R.O.W. (And I must say, I feel rather clever for coming up with this acronym at 6 AM before my morning coffee.)

garden seeds

We have big hopes for these little seed packets. We’re making a preemptive strike on weeds this year with newspaper and grass clippings.

G.R.O.W.
G: Grass Clippings. One thing we have in glorious abundance around here is grass clippings. We don’t live in town, so we don’t have any neighbors peeking out of the windows from across the street and shaking their heads in disgust when our grass gets over three inches tall.

By the time we got around to mowing the lawn for the first time, the grass clippings piled in windrows that looked big enough to bale. Honestly, I looked at the piles of grass and thought, isn’t it a shame that they don’t make a little tiny baler that could hook onto a lawn mower?

Perhaps mowing was a little past due.

Then I remembered our gardening guru friend Becky from Montana. She always puts grass clippings between her garden rows. It keeps the weeds at bay and also holds in the moisture, something vital for growing in dry land Montana. A ha! Yes, of course, we NEEDED grass clippings in abundance. It’s for the good of the garden. The grass is free mulch.

Which brings me to my next plan of attack:

R: Recycle, as in Newspapers. Old newspapers will get new life blocking weeds. Our full plan to keep the weeds at bay between rows: Place a layer of 6-10 sheets of newspaper on the ground (no shiny paper), wet them down so they don’t blow away, and then place a layer of grass clippings on top. Newspaper plus grass clippings create an all natural weed barrier and also block sunlight, further deterring weed growth. It’s a garden win/win: inhospitable for weeds, and when grass and newspaper decompose, they enhance the soil.

Any weeds that manage to sneak through will be puny and wimpy. I can kill puny and wimpy.

O: Organic fertilizer. Right next to our garden is our shed that the chickens call home. Everyone knows that feed goes in a chicken, and eggs come out. The other fine thing from that end of the chicken is loads of free fertilizer. Yes, today, I’ll call it “fertilizer.” When it’s stuck on my shoe, I call it something else.

After a little internet research, I confirmed I can’t simply clean out the coop and dump it right on this year’s garden. The manure would burn the plants. I’ll let the pile of straw and chicken manure from this winter sit behind the shed and age for a year. Next spring, we’ll have magnificent fertilizer for our garden. Thanks, chickens.

W: Wide rows. This is a concept I just recently learned about, but one that’s really growing on me (pun intended). Wide rows mean planting seeds in a wide band, resulting in a thicker row of plants with fewer paths between. There are several advantages to this method over the traditional single long row:

-Faster Planting: Simply broadcast the seeds over a wide band, eliminating the time spent making perfectly precise single rows.

-Less Weeding: Several plants close together create a sort of living mulch, blocking out the light and creating a natural barrier to weed growth. More veggies, less weeds. Perfect.

-Save Space: Wider bands of plants mean more space is devoted to food and less space is devoted to empty dirt walkways.

-Faster Harvesting and Weeding: With a wide row, a person can reach more plants from one spot. This means less bending, stooping, and moving to harvest that row of radishes or weed the row of lettuce.

I found the information about wide row planting on the National Gardening Association’s website. I have to say, I’m sold. I love getting more with less work. We’re going wide this year!

So, that’s my new plan of attack for the garden: grass clippings, newspaper, chicken poop, and wide rows. Less weeds, better veggies. A little more work in the spring mulching, and less work weeding in the heat of August.

As I write this, it’s chilly and rainy and most of the seeds still sit in paper packets. If I can find the time to make the plans in my head become a reality in the garden, I’m sure it will be marvelous. I’m also sure my four young kids will be extremely helpful. Optimism is easy in the spring.

Here’s to getting some warm sunshine to help the crops and gardens grow!

Putting a Little Spring in our Step

I do believe it takes living with -30 wind chills and knee deep snow to fully appreciate the first 70 degree days of spring. Minnesotans get it.

Our Saturday of soaking in 70 degrees prompted the biggest flurry of outdoor projects we’ve had in a long time, and made what was quite possibly, our favorite day this year. Sometimes, days slip by and I wonder what I accomplished, but then there are days like last Saturday, where we suck every last drop out of the day and knock out more projects than ever seemed possible.

It all started a few nights before. I woke up at 2 AM, not able to sleep with a long list of spring projects in my head. Of course, it made me mad to be awake. No kids are up crying or puking, so why am I awake thinking about putting the sleds away? Finally, I just got out of bed wrote down a spring to-do list. The stupid sleds then stopped plaguing me, and I got back to sleep.

Saturday morning, with sunny skies and a predicted high in the 70s, felt like the perfect time to start checking things off that list. It also helped that we had a pressing project to complete: the day before we picked up 55 shrubs and trees from the Soil & Water Conservation District.

The first project of the day was a chicken run. Our chickens spent the winter in the shed across from our house, and judging by their impatient squawking, they were quite ready to have a little more room to stretch out their wings. Our shed already had a little hinged chicken door, so my husband spent the morning using some old fence panels to build a little access route from their contained pen to the chicken door. By lunchtime, a rooster and his harem strolled around the yard snatching up shoots of green grass and and a few bugs.

I think I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again because it still takes me by surprise: I completely love watching chickens wander around in the yard. I never imagined having any interest in chickens, but I’m becoming quite taken with them. There is something hypnotic and soothing about watching them go about their industrious business of hunting bugs and grass shoots. Sitting on the porch and seeing chickens wander in the yard just gives me that feeling that all is well. I rank it up there with watching bonfires and snow falls. I can’t quite explain it, but I do like those buggers, and their eggs.

Chicken access to outside? Check.

Our chickens enjoyed their new freedom outside.

Our chickens enjoyed their new freedom outside.

Before lunch, my birthday boy (who turned six on Saturday), cleared our sleds off of the porch making room for our summer porch table. Sleds away? Check.

He then helped haul the table legs upstairs from the basement, and by lunchtime, we had our first outside lunch of the season on our porch. That table is a freebie find from the curb during Citywide Clean-up last year, and it provided countless outdoor meals and project space last summer. After a winter packed away, seeing the table again made our porch feel like it’s open for summer business. Porch table set up? Check.

Our 6-year-old celebrated his birthday playing outside with his little brother.  He later helped set up our table in this spot.

Our 6-year-old celebrated his birthday playing outside with his little brother. He later helped set up our table in this spot.

We ate our first watermelon of the season outside on the porch at lunchtime. Granted, we needed jackets on in the breeze, but as Minnesotans with cabin fever, we felt completely happy to finally be outside.

After lunch, our three-year-old with glazed eyes and our inconsolable two-year-old both told me they weren’t at all tired. I went against their, uh, logic and tucked them in for a nap. That gave me three hours to work outside. That, my friends, is a little slice of heaven.

My husband, my oldest daughter and I spent the afternoon putting 25 June berry shrubs in the ground, along with 30 spruce trees.

To the untrained eye, those little spruce trees just look like an ordinary line of saplings, but they are in fact our Christmas Tree Farm. Some day when our kids are teenagers, we’ll go tree hunting right in our yard at Christmas time. Our kids will saw the tree down and drag it into the living room, leaving needles everywhere.

Then we’ll say to our oldest son, “Remember when we planted those trees on your sixth birthday? Look how big they are now!” And then we’ll repeat that again the next year and the next. It’s a long term plan, but I’m excited already. Who wouldn’t like to have their very own tree farm?

Someday, these little saplings will be Christmas trees in our living room.

Someday, these little saplings will be Christmas trees in our living room.

Working outside on a gorgeous day, doing something completely out of the usual routine…I had a blast. Maybe it felt fun because I didn’t do the hole-digging part, but best of all is the excitement of imagining what eventually will become of our afternoon’s labor. Someday we’ll have Christmas trees, and some day we’ll gobble up June berries by the handful. I can’t wait. Berry bushes and spruce trees planted? Check. Check.

Just before supper, we whipped up two pumpkin pies for my son’s special request birthday meal. My six-year-old birthday boy shaped and crimped one pie crust all by himself, and his big sister did the other one. While we accomplished a lot outside, our kitchen looked like we’d had a bomb go off. Ignoring the mess for the short term, we headed back outside to cap off the afternoon with supper on the porch.

And for birthday dessert, we ate warm pie topped with ice cream. Birthday supper? Check.

Our three-year-old told us the day was the best birthday of his whole life.

I laughed. No, it was not his birthday. It was his brother’s. But I had to agree, it was one of the best birthdays ever.

Happy spring, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed last weekend’s sunshine as much as we did.

Lessons Learned from Gardening‏: Letting Kids Plant is (Mostly) Wonderful

I really need to get out more often.  Sometimes show tunes from Oklahoma pop into my head for no apparent reason, especially if I don’t get enough sleep at night.  Looking out at the end of the summer garden from our porch on a lovely fall day, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” popped into my head.  I resisted the urge to spin around grandly like Julie Andrews atop a mountain meadow (since that’s the wrong musical), but since nobody else was around, I started singing it, but then I had to fix the lyrics, since our corn really didn’t do much this year.

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow, there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.  The corn is as high as only my thigh, and the weeds look like they’re climbing clear up to the sky…oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a pretty strong feeling, sometimes things don’t go my way.

Anyway, the garden is on my mind today.  Anyone driving past from the road probably takes a gander and thinks, “Man, those folks should just mow down that weed patch,”  or maybe at best, “Look, I see a few sunflowers in that big pile of weeds.”

All in all, if ample opportunities for learning equate success, then I’d say our first garden “on the farm” is a success.  Perhaps the garden is not a success by traditional standards, but I’m all for learning and didn’t have delusions of weed-free grandeur, anyway.  Without further ado, here are my Lessons Learned from Gardening:

1.  Letting Kids Plant is Wonderful.  Planting days with kids playing in the freshly tilled black goodness rank among my favorite days this year.  I love letting kids feel ownership about our garden.  They planted in a fairly free-form manner, with creative rows and non-specific marking techniques, a very fun experience.  This leads me to number two…

2. Marking the Rows is Even Better.   The downfall of casually marked rows is that weeds overtake the whole darn garden by the time seedlings grow big enough to identify.  This isn’t any great epiphany I’ve revealed, but some things you just have to learn by experience.

3. String and Sticks: Cheap, Yet Priceless.    Mark my words! Next year, sticks and strings will mark the rows!  And if I forget this over the winter, please remind me so we can keep the weed population a little more in check.

4.  Sunflowers are Awesome.  Nothing gratifies kids and adults alike like planting a seed and seeing phenomenal growth.  Our sunflowers blew past the weeds, shot up during the July drought, and just give us a grand sense of awe everytime we stand near them.  It really is a little bit of magic to see something dwarf even the tall neighboring field corn.  I can’t wait to have sword fights with the gigantic dried stalks.  I know I can out-joust a five-year-old.

5.  Eggplants and Swiss Chard Thrive in Hot and Dry Weather.  We have boatloads of both in the garden.

6. We Don’t Really Like Eggplants and Swiss Chard.  At least, not in the quantities they proliferated in our dirt.

7. Mulch = Good.   It really works.  I spread several inches of straw around our cucumber and muskmelon plants, and the areas remained fairly weed-free all summer.  The sad irony: the cucumbers and muskmelon plants all died.  But hey, at least they weren’t weedy, right?

8. Bugs =  Bad.  We didn’t use any sort of chemical herbicide or pesticide on our garden, and apparently, that made it look like a bright, shining beacon to every insect in the county.  It’s hard being the organic island in the sea of treated corn fields.   Bugs saw our garden patch and thought we were saying, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  They huddled and breathed free all over our garden, and ate our lettuce, cabbage, an entire zucchini plant, and on and on…  We had a grasshopper infestation of biblical proportions, and being so well-fed in our garden, I’m sure they’ll return nice and strong next year, too.  Yay.

9.  Not Pickin’ a Bale o’ Cotton.  My husband found a packet of cotton seeds in the novelty seeds section in a hardware store in Montana.  We took them here to Minnesota, and I had grand visions of my children toiling under hot sun, learning the trade of picking cotton.  The image of Sally Field, crawling on hands and knees with bloody bandaged hands, harvesting the last puffs of her cotton crop in that movie Places in the Heart came to mind.  Or more likely, a home-grown cotton ball fight would’ve been a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Either way, cotton didn’t show up.  It probably didn’t help that this Minnesota farm girl had no clue about cotton seedling identification.  Never really weeding that part of the garden probably didn’t help, either.

10.  Amish Tomatoes Rock.  We bought our tomato plants from the Amish Auction, and those buggers produced like champions.  Before the plants flopped over from weight of tomatoes and kid trampling, some were as tall as me (5 feet 7 inches, if you’re curious).  My one-year-old daughter loves the deep burgundy-colored cherry tomatoes that grow on those plants, and frequently has tomato seeds stuck to her chin, her hair, and behind her ears.  Among several failures, those tomatoes are a shining success.  Hallelujah!

Our tomato-lover, chowing down with a cherry tomato in each hand.

11. Operation Bean Tent = Success.  Thankfully, our bean tent worked just as planned.  The custom-engineered maple pole frame survived every windstorm, and the beans climbed up and produced just as promised on the seed package (which is more than I can say for some other seeds).  Yep, those tree-trimming scrap branches and that $1 packet of bean seeds produced bucket loads of enjoyment this summer.   Our tomato-eating baby girl is also now a bean-picking machine.

Standing in front of the towering sunflowers, happy to discover more string beans.

12. Our Soil is Par Excellence.  One neighbor told us that the soil in our neck of the prairie tests as the most fertile anywhere, even better than the soil in Iowa, where people feel quite lofty about their soil quality.  This makes me puff up my chest a little bit, even though I have absolutely zero influence on the innate soil quality of the area, and it was pure luck to stumble upon such nice land.  Just the same, with my lackadaisical weeding practices, I fully believe in the quality of our soil.  We grew weeds more resplendent than any I have ever seen before.

Finally, a few garden notices…

AWOL: Potatoes, peas, and carrots.  If any of you know the whereabouts of these vegetables, please contact us.  Our potatoes went AWOL after a promising beginning, and the peas and carrots never really reported for duty.

RIP:  Cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, zucchini, watermelon, and muskmelon. (Or do you call it cantaloupe?  I never know what to call it.)  Whether it was the bugs or the over spray from the helicopter crop dusting the nearby corn field, either way, you died before your time.  You looked so promising, and so many unfulfilled dreams lay in your wake.  You are missed.  Thankfully, we can just resurrect you next year in our new-and-improved garden.  See you then.

Chores, Chicken Memorials, and Children: Our First Summer in the Country

A summer that was both bursting at the seams with fullness, and at the same time all too short… I think that’s how it’s supposed to be, though.  Life should always leave you wanting to come back for more.

As I write this, we are on the last day of “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” summer vacation.  I know the calendar says September, but I’d really like another August.  Jumping on the trampoline until 9PM and then heading in for a rhubarb crisp night cap is all done.  Up and at ’em breakfasts and a big yellow school bus in our yard, bright and early, will be taking its place.

Two of my kids will be climbing up the big steps of the bus, leaving only two kids at home.  I’m feeling the usual ambivalence about school starting and summer ending.  I don’t know whether I want to cry or jump up and down with excitement.  Currently, it’s the former.  Over and over everyone tells new parents, “They grow up so fast,” and yet it still comes as an overwhelming surprise.  How do I have already have a first grader and a kindergartener?  Didn’t I just have our first baby just a few years ago?  Oh yeah, that’s all it takes.

Whether I like it or not, school is here.  Last week we headed to the school open house, where my daughter’s first grade teacher asked the customary ice breaker, “What did you do over summer vacation?” My daughter’s first response?  “CHORES.” At home my daughter later commented that she couldn’t wait for school again, because school is EASY, but the summertime means kids have to work ALL THE TIME.  The poor girl.  I didn’t realize I ran a slave labor camp over the summer.  I did allow the inmates to go swimming, play at parks, and get ice cream, though, on several occasions.  (Time off for good behavior, then back to the trenches.)

While at “summer work camp” our kids didn’t slave away making our new MN license plates, but they did proudly install them with the impact wrench.

Actually, this whole summer’s been a series of firsts for us, as the first summer in our new home and our first summer as a family in Minnesota.  We filled the last three months with new little discoveries, I watched our kids grow and develop, and we immersed ourselves in life in the country.

I’ve always loved exploring new places and discovering things I didn’t know were there.  In elementary school, I’d spend my Saturdays exploring the woods in the “back 40” of our farm, in the valleys that connect to the North Branch of the Whitewater River.

This summer had that same sort of exciting feeling of discovery.  We happily discovered the rhubarb patch behind the chicken house, discovered black cap raspberries in abundance on our land, discovered  the chicken house actually has a cement floor (and someday, we will scrape the floor clean to reveal it all), in the cement under the water hydrant we discovered the name of the little boy who used to live here, and we took in a kitten discovered in the windbreak.  On the bigger scale, we are in the midst of meeting a whole new social circle and getting to know the area around our new hometown, as well.

More than anything, though, what we did this summer was just soak in our first summer living life in the country.

We ate meal after meal on our new outside table, which I love all the more because it was free and comes with a great story.

Back in May, I prowled St. Charles during the City-Wide Clean Up with my kids (my always-willing bargain hunting companions).  That sunny afternoon we picked up ice cream from the Oasis and drove around in the van, licking cones and scoping out the cast-offs.  “Eeew!  Look at that old couch!  I bet a dog barfed on it.”  Such colorful children I have.

I then spotted a nice table out on a sidewalk.  I pulled over to take a look, wondering how many children I’d have to abandon to get the table in my van.

Almost instantly, two guys from across the street asked me if I wanted it.  Before I knew what was happening, they hoisted the table up, and carried it back across the street to where my van was parked.  And as I pulled the double stroller out of the back of the van to rearrange things, those two guys flipped the table over and grabbed tools out of a pickup to take off the table legs.  In no time flat, they had the table legs removed, and they were jockeying the table top and legs into my van.  Did I mention that these guys weren’t even the owners of the table, just people from across the street?

Within five minutes, I had a table for six tucked into my van, along with a double stroller and four kids.  It was an Indy 500 Pit Stop of the bargain-hunting world.  I pulled away after thanking them, absolutely dumbstruck and giggling to myself.  That’s small town life at its best, when two strangers willingly drop what they’re doing and help a mom load a table into her van for no other reason than to just be friendly.  Thank you again for the help, whoever you were.

That table, combined with some new wicker furniture from a Craig’s List find, combined to make a porch that’s seen some heavy-duty lounging this summer.  Sitting out on the porch with a blanket and watching rain pour down in a thunderstorm became a new favorite for our kids.  And I just realized the other day that I never even once sipped iced tea out there on a hot day.  I really need another summer to get that straightened out.

Life in the country wasn’t all about lounging this summer, though.  We also had a few real life lessons about animals. Over by the back fence, we have a homemade cemetery where the kids buried three chickens and the kitten.  They discovered first hand that little animals are fragile, and can’t take being squeezed too hard or accidentally locked out from water and shelter on a hot day.  Life is precious, fragile, and once its gone, it doesn’t come back.  When the first chick died, our kids learned the routine for a proper burial, digging a hole, placing the chick in the ground, and my six-year-old took it upon herself to deliver a lengthy eulogy and prayer.  We lost those animals all in July, and by the end of the month, they knew the routine, and even our three-year-old insisted on delivering a special prayer for the kitten.    

A happy day, when the baby chicks first arrived.

As valuable as those lessons about life and death are, I’m especially happy that we haven’t had any more “learning opportunities” since July.

On happier notes of farm life, we watched so many things grow and thrive this summer.  Our chickens that arrived as tiny little fluff balls earlier in the summer are now sassy teenagers of the chicken world.  Our sunflowers in the garden are triple the height of our amazed kids, towering over the nearby cornfield, and most importantly, towering over even the most ambitious garden weeds.

And of course, our kids all grew like crazy this summer.  No surprise to any parent, all the pants that sat dormant all summer are now worthless for the fall.  I watched grow spurts where a single small child ate a bratwurst and a half for supper and three eggs plus cereal for breakfast.  I saw our baby’s chubby thighs stretch out into longer legs and her feet jump a shoe size in two months.

Our baby enjoyed a lovely dog bowl foot soak while Spot got a drink on a hot summer day.

Taking it all in, from chores to chicken memorials to children, we had a summer that was both bursting at the seams with fullness, and at the same time all too short.  I think that’s how it’s supposed to be, though.  Life should always leave you wanting to come back for more.

Operation Garden: Full Speed Ahead‏

Little hearts filled with dirt and sunshine and the promise of amazing things that would someday soon be growing in the garden.    

The dirt’s been flying at our place lately (sometimes even in a productive direction), and aside from another 15 minutes of daylight to throw a few more seed packets into the ground, the garden is planted!  And like a garden probably should be, the whole thing has been a community effort.

This whole garden process started before we even moved in, when we had conversations about the best spot to make our garden in our new yard.  It wasn’t until we actually moved in that we discovered there already was a garden plot, and a massive 5,000 sq. ft. one at that.

It’s funny, but it never dawned on us at first or second or even third glance that the giant weed patch north of our chicken coup, the one full of forbidding-looking adult-sized weed stalks, was the garden.  After being left to its own devices last summer while the house sat empty, it looked like the kind of place where a kid and dog wander in, and then they emerge somehow three years older.

We set out to reclaim it.  My husband, Jarred, knocked down the dead stalks and then we burned the entire garden to get rid of it all.  On the night of the burn, we lit the garden on fire a little before sunset when the wind died down to the right amount.  Our five-year-old boy didn’t come into the house until well after dark, hands streaked with black ash and a grin glued on his face, happily helping out on a job that involved hanging out with Dad and lighting things on fire.

Then, a few weeks later, we had a neighbor chisel plow the whole thing for us, as a trade for use of some shop space.  Plowing doesn’t make the soil as smooth as tilling the garden, but we knew it would get the job done, so a few days later, we started planting with our pumpkins.  The day we started planting the garden was one of those days that I could happily take repeated all summer long: clear blue sky and sunshine, warm but not too hot or humid, and calm.

Sometimes pesky balls of dirt get stuck between pudgy little toes. Remove said pesky dirt balls, and eat them.

As we were out there in the sunshine, another set of neighbors noticed us as they drove past our place, and later they pulled into our yard and offered to bring a tractor and their tiller, and turn it all into that smooth, crumbly black goodness that’s so great to plant in.  We could hardly believe that our neighbors were offering to till up our garden for us, not exactly a small undertaking.

We accepted their offer, and half an hour later, just as I was pulling the ol’ pot roast out of the oven for supper, sure enough, there was a tractor in our yard, tilling up the garden and carefully avoiding the far end where we already put in pumpkins.  Sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief that we’ve stumbled into an area with such friendly, helpful neighbors, and we only hope that over the years we can return the kindnesses, as well.

With the garden now tilled, I put some meat in the bellies of our four ravenous little kids, and then we turned them loose on the garden.  I don’t think any of them have memories of what a freshly tilled garden is like, so tearing into that pristine, gigantic, smooth pile of blackness was brand new and pure ecstasy for all of them.

They tore all over the garden, leaving little sunken foot print trails on our big black tabula rasa.  Then our oldest two, setting the proper example, began digging like dogs.  Heads down, using their hands to burrow some holes, they sent rivers of dirt flying up between their legs, and took turns digging and flinging the dirt piles on each other.

When digging in a freshly tilled garden, it’s important to fling dirt with optimal height and distance. Always thoroughly cover your sibling with the dirt spray.

Meanwhile, our two-year-old made dirt fountains that launched up over his head, and our baby took her bow-legged just-learned-to-walk steps across the soil, frequently landing on her back side, which made convenient opportunities to stop and sift the dirt in her pudgy fingers and sample enough to leave a dirt goatee around her mouth.

Then, of course, it was time for business.  The kids got out the shovels and hoes, argued over who got to run what, and dug up all sorts of vitally important random holes in the garden.

During planting, we added a few kid-friendly features to the garden.  We trimmed our smaller maple trees earlier that day, and the cast off branches became the interwoven stakes for what is going to be a bean tent, once the beans grow in and wind themselves up the stakes.  Right now it’s still fun as a maple-tree-branch-tent, and it’s been strong enough to withstand a few raging thunderstorms unscathed.  (That’s what happens when an engineer whips up a little 5-minute branch tent for his kids.)

Four kids hanging out in the shade of what is going to be the Bean Tent.

We also took our package of mammoth sunflower seeds and planted them in a large square, so that when those 10-foot buggers grow in, the kids can tuck themselves inside and have a secret hiding space, which of course, is extremely important.  One can never have enough secret hiding places.  Our kids officially named it the Sunflower Garage, because it’s next to the Bean Tent.  It’s also important that secret hiding places have names.

In the midst of our playing, Jarred managed to actually plant several things and I got some seeds in the ground, too.  For the record, and for Jarred’s mom’s benefit, I must state that Jarred did the majority of the planting.  His mom told me on several occasions that back in high school, when she asked him to help with planting potatoes, there was an extreme amount of protest about gardening from her son.  But this year, he was planter-in-chief.

By the time our kids finished their garden free-for-all, they had just enough energy to help sprinkle a few seeds, and then I decided bath time was the next order of business.  A fine powder of black dirt coated their ears and stuck to all of their scalps, not to mention their clothes.

The dirt river heading to the drain after they’d all been cycled through our claw foot tub was nothing short of impressive.  We were all happy that night as I sent them off to bed nice and clean, their little hearts filled with dirt and sunshine and the promise of amazing things that would someday soon be growing in the garden.

Written June 4, 2012.
© 2012

Our Summer Sand Pail List

In the course of unpacking some boxes, I came across a “Bucket List” that I’d made in high school, back before Bucket Lists were called Bucket Lists.  The movie by that name hadn’t come out yet, so my list was just “Things I’d Like to Do” (with the implication “before I die,” but at 17, who wants to write “die” on an inspiration list).  Anyway, of the 45 things I thought of that day, I’m happy that I can now put a little “x” next to 16 of those things.  I’ve gone skydiving, but I haven’t been to Australia.  Yet.  Seeing that old list makes me think that it’s time for me to update my Bucket List with some new life goals.

In the short term, though, summer is on my mind.  Judging by the weather, it’s definitely time for summer vacation to start.  And strangely enough, it’s not my kids that are itching for summer vacation, it’s me. I’m sick of putting the kids to bed when there’s still plenty of daylight.  The responsible parent in me says “get the kids in bed, they’ve got school tomorrow and need some good sleep,” and the irresponsible kid in me says, “but I don’t want them to go to bed yet.  We’re having too much fun playing outside.”

This is our first summer living in our new place in Minnesota, and that opens a whole new world of fun possibilities.  There is a freshness and excitement that comes with living in a new place and having new things to discover.  And even though I grew up in St. Charles, our new house 15 miles away is just far enough to be a new territory for me to explore.  With all these possibilities swirling around in my mind, I decided to take the suggestion I found in some magazine, and create a “Sand Pail List,” the summer equivalent of the Bucket List.  None of the things on my list are particularly earth-shattering or profoundly life-changing, but they all add up to living the kind of life that I want for myself and for our family.  It’s easy to forget the big picture in the sea of diapers to change and cereal bowls to wash, so this is my start on making sure we fully take advantage of the joys of summer.

12 Things to Do in the Summer of 2012 

1.  Less Screens–My smart phone is my vice.  I way too frequently grab it, and suddenly 20 minutes disappears, and then I’m mad at myself.  I gave up facebook for Lent, and I want to do something similar with my smart phone in general for the summer.  Our television also might go on vacation for at least part of the summer.

2. Lots O’ Gardening–This year marks our first time planting our very own family garden, and we’re all so excited to play in the dirt and see what we can grow and eat from our own  piece of land.

3. More Books–In the mess of moving, I got sidetracked from reading nap and bedtime stories, and I plan to go back to that.  Reading to our kids is one of my very favorite things, and I plan to make regular trips to see Grandma at the library to keep a fresh supply of books around.  We’ve got two emerging readers in our house, and it thrills me to see them learning new words.

4.  Streamlined for Summer–I want “less is more” for summer.  We’re still living in moving clutter, and I want all the extra clothes, toys, and stuff put away so we have more room and time to breathe, play, and create.  The last thing I want to do is hang out inside the house cleaning when there are so many fun projects outside to tackle.

5.  BBQs and Bonfires–Yes, lots of these.  Gazing into flames is a satisfying caveman television, and wood smoke smells like good times.

Our curly-haired boy gazes into the bonfire well past his usual bedtime. Item #5 on our Sand Pail List: Check.

6.  “Mom Cave”–We have a sun room upstairs currently filled with moving boxes.  At some point, the grand master scheme is to make it into a laundry/guest/sewing room, my “Mom Cave.”  We need room for friends and family to come and stay, and I finally have a spot where my sewing machine can live relatively undisturbed.  It’s been over a year since I’ve sewn a thing, and I want to teach my kids how to sew, just like my mom did for me.

7.  Playing Farm–Growing up, I loved living in the country, but my contribution to help on the farm was pretty much zero (my siblings will confirm this).  But now on our own place, playing farm sounds fun.  We’ve got the neighbor’s sheep munching away weeds in our pasture, and we’ve got plans for chickens and who knows what else once we get more settled.  We really just need more hours in the day to execute all our schemes and dreams with our new land.

8.  Porch Swing–My life will be complete once we have a big ol’ porch swing for our porch.  I’ve fantasized about porch swings my whole life.

9.  Date Nights–As far as I can remember, we last went out for a date night over a year ago.  Our last date night included a two-week old baby along for our anniversary dinner and movie, but I think this summer we just might actually get a babysitter for all of them and go out, all by ourselves.  I can hardly wait to eat my food while it’s still warm.

10. Kayaking–For whatever reason, kayaking is on my mind.  I’ve gone canoeing, but I’ve never been in a kayak, and it’s high time that I took that plunge.  I want to feel like a waterbug gliding through the water, and now that we live pretty close to the Root River, I think this summer is the time.

11. Run Baby Run–Somehow, between moving out and moving in and driving cross country time and time again, I just haven’t had time to go running lately.  Before kids, I ran a few times a week, then it went to maybe once a week, but lately it’s been more like once every month.  This summer I want to get back to running once or twice a week, and do a few local races.  Running for me is a colossal stress reliever and now with four kids, it’s one of the few times that I ever have complete solitude.  That is priceless.

12. Learning by Doing–If the school year is the time for desks, papers, and pencils, summer is the time for hands-on learning by doing.  I want my kids to garden, build stuff out of wood, get confident enough on their bikes that I get nervous, start learning to swim, and be active, busy little creatures figuring things out for themselves.

Another item on the summer list: share cold treats with friends. Enjoying Hawaiian shaved ice in Lanesboro, MN on Memorial Day weekend.

If at the end of the summer I see lots of dirty feet, scabby knees, no propane left in the BBQ, permanently dead grass under the fire pit, fines racked up at the library from stacks of books getting checked out, piles of grass to sweep off the floor at night, and counter tops buried in garden bounty, I will definitely call Summer 2012 a success.

Written May 28, 2012.

© 2012

Spring is Keeping Me Awake at Night

Written April 9, 2012.

It’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the full moon. Maybe it’s the mediocre cup of instant Folgers I brewed and drank at 10 PM. Maybe it’s the fact that my husband, Jarred, will be here tomorrow after spending the last two weeks back in Montana working on loose ends. Maybe it’s the landscaping plants sitting outside the Rushford Hardware Hank that beckoned me on the way into the store this evening, and now leave me laying in bed making landscaping schemes and dreams.

Maybe it’s that my 2-year-old keeps getting out of his bed to come and snuggle up next to me for reassurance in this new house, with his giant hard plastic hippo flashlight in tow. Maybe it’s that all the creaking in the hallway from late night foot traffic is waking up the baby, making her cry and then keeping me awake. Maybe I can’t sleep because there are two people sleeping in our king size bed right now, and neither one is my husband nor me…and even though neither one is waist high, the whole bed seems to be occupied.

I don’t know what it is, but I can swear can feel an energized humming all around. The florescent lights under the kitchen cabinets make a soft, slightly annoying hum, but I don’t think that’s it. I think the humming is coming up from the ground. I think it’s spring. It’s soft grass, crabapple trees in full blooming pink, tractors industriously crisscrossing up and down our road, and leaf buds opening on trees, practically glowing in the fresh green.

All of it makes me just too excited to sleep. Living in a rental house for the past year felt a little like suspended animation. We spent a big part of that year in a holding pattern, wondering where and how were going to land. But now, we’ve landed.

Our kids were thrilled to discover a gigantic evergreen in our windbreak, perfect for climbing and complete with an existing tree fort.

And best of all, it’s spring. It’s my favorite time of the year. It’s easy to fall in love in spring. Eleven years ago I remember hanging out on the roof of Jarred’s house in college, sitting up there with him in the week before finals. The excitement of freedom from school in sight, and looking out from the rooftop vantage point at the town of Bozeman, Montana, where every apple tree was in full pink bloom, and the sun was shining warm in the clear blue sky, made the whole world seem lovable. I was smitten with life and engaged in three months. That’s what spring, and of course the right guy, can do.

The feeling is much the same here at our new home. There’s just so much energy, promise, and new opportunity all around. Coming from dryland Eastern Montana, where our annual rainfall was just 13 inches, I feel like I’ve now been unleashed in Minnesota at the all-you-can-grow buffet. Looking at plants and seeds, I have to rein myself in and practice portion control. I just want all of it. I want to gorge myself on plants and grow everything, until I feel gluttonous on flowers.

Part of me feels like a kid getting to play farmhouse. I get to have my house and yard in the country that is all ours, and stare out at rolling fields of rich, black dirt and have all the fun of seeing big tractors in the field and watching crops grow. And like a kid, watching the farming all around me is just pure fun. I fully realize farming involves the reality of equipment breaks, bankers, ever-changing federal farm programs, uncertain crop prices, and so much more. And that makes me all the more content to simply be an enthusiastic fan on the sidelines of farming.

While I’m just a spectator to the fields all around us, in our own house and yard, we can get our hands dirty with several years’ worth of projects. I look around and I’m just itching to give some attention to countless little projects that need some paint, a little repair, some love, and a little sprucing up. Doing them on our own time, the progress will be little by little. In my head, though, I can run it all at fast forward speed, and see the end product like it’s one of those movie montages.

If life was a Hollywood movie, we’d have this whole place looking pretty as a picture in about three minutes.

You know the kind, the Happy Hollywood Fixing up the Farmhouse Montage. If life was a Hollywood movie, I’d wear overalls and a red handkerchief on my head, the standard “working hard in the country” movie costume. In the background, a happy, hoedown-y song would be playing as you’d see the progress of improvements on our farm. I say farm, because in Hollywood, our 7.6 acres is most definitely a farm because we have a farmhouse, silo, barn, chicken coup, and sheds. Farm, right? No tillable acreage aside from the garden? Eh, details.

Visualize, then, some happy music as the backdrop of the “hard work” montage. I’d have a paint roller in my hand, painting up the outside of the house, and 10 seconds later the house will look all spiffy and new. Then I’d work up a sweat in the garden, wipe my brow with the back of my hand and leave a dirt streak there (you know you’ve seen this before). Next, Jarred and I saw logs with one of those two handled saws (firing up a more practical Stihl chainsaw just isn’t as romantic). Add in some zany hijinks where our kids are chasing chickens, and then the chickens chase the kids.

Then we’d wash the rounded fenders of our 1940’s pickup truck (because that’s what all movie farmers drive). I’d accidentally splash someone else with the garden house, and then a crazy, silly waterfight would break out. By now, the end of the hoedowny song comes, and we collapse on our backs onto the green grass with our arms stretched out, with that satisfied, hard-work-feels-good smile on our faces as we sigh.

And ba-da-bing, the camera pans across the farmyard, where everything is neat and trim and freshly painted, and all the flowers are growing perfectly under the wraparound porch. In the next shot, we sip our lemonades on the porch swing, gazing upon the sunset (even though the porch actually faces east, but that doesn’t matter for Hollywood purposes). All of the improvements would be done in the course of a song.

In real life I’d love to just grab a paintbrush and some perennials and be left to my own devices for days at a time. But if you’ve read any previous weeks of this column, you know my reality is four little kids to take care of, and you can probably guess that making “good progress” on anything often involves either losing sleep or leaving the kids to their own devices for too long, and then picking up the pieces (often literally) of whatever they’ve gotten into.

Our two-year-old was definitely less than thrilled to discover a burdock for the first time.

It’s late. I really should be in bed. Tomorrow morning, I will regret being up for an extra few hours tonight. I’ll feel crabby and groggy and just want to sleep when the kids are clamoring for a bowl of cereal. But yes, I am excited. Spring is in the air. It’s new life, new beginnings, new opportunities, endless possibilities. I can feel it all around me, and I want to go play.

 © 2012