she’s a bad penny

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I drafted this a couple of weeks ago, and never finished or published it. Insomnia and I haven’t run into each other again yet, but I’m sure she’ll turn up eventually, bad penny that she is.

I heard the rooster crow, and made my way from the couch to the kitchen to check the time. It was still too dark to see the wall clock, so the digital numbers on the stove display would have to do. 4:12am. Well, I reasoned, if Pocket says it’s morning, so be it. 

Insomnia doesn’t often catch me; I am too tired from working and mothering and gardening and housekeeping and on and on. When she does manage to snag me, she is cruel. I’ve been awake since two, settling onto the couch just as J was shutting down his game console and heading upstairs. Passing in the night, literally.

What does catch me is indecision. Doubt. Anxiety and uncertainty. We’ve been bumping into each other a lot lately, like that ex-boyfriend you’d rather not see. Did we make the right choice? Why didn’t we do that years ago? I wish we’d known then what we know now. 

And when those strange bedfellows decide to party with Insomnia? It’s a wild ride down the rabbit hole. Makes for a long night.

I’ve learned that if I don’t win the battle quickly, it’s best to take control of the situation by getting up and being productive. I emptied the dishwasher and scrubbed the pots in the sink. Began a load of laundry and got some bread out of the freezer. Made a To Do list of steps toward abolishing the horrors of the rabbit hole. And now I’m on the balcony, drinking coffee and watching a porcupine trundle through the orchard. Quiet, solitary. Deep breaths.

 

yes, it does.

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I didn’t know how long it had been since I’d written in this space. I was almost afraid to look. But of course I did look (spoiler: six months). And then I read through my last couple of posts, and smiled while remembering the happenings I’d written about. I’ve been told that we seem to live a charmed life here, and I know that I consciously use this blog to help me see the joy in our days, but it struck even me how happily I presented our adventures, how lively our days had seemed.

Why did I stop writing?

Six months ago, J was in his last term of nursing school. He was gone more than he was here, and was preparing for the single biggest exam of his life. Six months ago, we pulled Beans out of the public pre-K program she was attending and sent her back to her nursery school. We added a 30 minute drive, each way, to our schedules, three days a week, and felt like total deviants for withdrawing her from school – even though we had already departed the beaten path by homeschooling her sister. Six months ago, I took on new responsibilities in my own job, and the other tasks I’d been managing didn’t transfer off of my plate immediately. My new roles are far more in line with my skill set and with what I want to do, but there was still a learning curve in terms of new programs and systems and deadlines.

It was a lot, and something had to give. Sadly, it was my writing that went the way of the buffalo.

I’m breathing deeply again these days. Last weekend, we drank coffee until almost 10am, ate snacks when we got hungry, and wandered around the yard looking at puddles and branches and things turning green. There was no plan or schedule, and I finally relaxed. I’ve been sick for over a month now, rallying for a day or two and then crashing again, and I can’t help but feel that I simply cashed in all my chips over the last six months and my immune system is digging its heels into the mud, refusing to run at that pace any longer. Fair enough; I can take the hint.

J is working full-time as a registered nurse in the Critical Care Unit. Beans is thriving in a loving and supportive school environment. I’m beginning to see the possibilities around us again. I won’t set any crazy blogging goals – let’s just take it one day at a time, shall we? I think that’s best. But it does feel good to be back in this space. Yes, it does.

 

 

goodnight, garden

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The garden is empty now, save six lone Brussels sprout plants. They are hunkered down, waiting for Thanksgiving. I’ve read that you can leave them in the ground until you’re ready to use them, and that a bite of frost even mellows their flavor, but the way the weather has taken this hairpin turn, I’m a little nervous to risk them. I’ll have to do some more research.

We spent several hours outside last weekend, the girls and I, pulling plants and narrating elaborate games of make-believe. My mother’s birthday was a few days before, and I had hoped to have the girls pick a bouquet for her as the zinnias were still vibrant and strong. About an hour before Gramma was set to arrive for cake and presents, I sent Sweebee and Beans out with a pair of clippers and their Uncle T-Rex, and they sadly discovered that all but the most hardy blooms had succumbed to the black kiss of Jack Frost.

So we stacked bunches of marigolds on piles of zinnias on massive stalks of cosmos, all outside the fence in semi-tidy heaps to be carted off at a later date. Happily, that later date came quickly, and I poked my head out of my office earlier this week to see that T-Rex and the girls had cleaned everything up, including the pile of rocks we picked. Because somehow there are still rocks surfacing. Our neighbor rode the tiller down the hill on Monday night for us to borrow, and by Tuesday, we had freshly turned dirt, ready for amendment. As of this afternoon, the space has a year’s worth of composted chicken manure and pine shavings raked across the top. I’m hoping to do some additional layering before the snow covers things up. We don’t have enough cardboard saved to cover the whole plot, and we certainly don’t have the rotting apples like last year, but might have a line on some free cow manure. To be continued…

In the meantime, I have a lot of squash to manage. There are pumpkins to roast and to carve into faces. Not pictured are the baskets and buckets of apples in my bathroom that we’re hoping to press. Also not pictured are my children’s Halloween costumes. Because they’re not started. Oops. I suppose it will all get accomplished sooner or later!

How are you putting your garden to rest this year? Got any tried-and-true methods for me?

so much for my apple empire

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Last year was our first fall on the property. It was a season of possibility as we explored our land and watched our orchard produce more than we could ever have eaten. I filled the freezer with jars of applesauce and bags of pie filling. We invited everyone we knew to come pick, and pressed gallons of cider with neighbors. We scooped huge handfuls of dropped fruit, filling two 55 gallon drums, and umpteen buckets for the pigs our friends raise, leaving behind plenty for the deer and bear. We spread apples on our new garden plot and covered them with chicken manure and cardboard to try and enrich the soil over winter. And still apples remained – on the ground and on the branches, long into the winter. I had dreams of pruning, and spraying organically, and supplementing our income with apple sales.

And this year? Goodness, it’s dismal out there.

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Four of our trees didn’t produce a single apple, including the two that were most prolific last year. And we’re down a tree, having lost a big one in the storm last October. Half of what’s on the remaining trees is already nibbled, and there isn’t a single fruit on the ground. That’s not an exaggeration. I walked the orchard today with a mid-sized kitchen trash can, looking for anything I could collect for the pigs. I found little more than poop, both deer and bear. We’ve seen a doe with two fawns in the orchard several times recently, once with a young buck. Thankfully I haven’t seen the bear. Nature’s cleanup crew seems particularly efficient right now.

Through local conversation, I’ve gleaned several theories about the situation. It was the second dry summer in a row, so apple harvests all over Maine are suffering. Fruit trees alternate years, so this is just an off year for our trees. The overabundance of acorns last year led to a squirrel population boom, and those silly tree rats decimated the immature apples early in the season. When you stack all three ideas, it doesn’t bode well for orchards, and I am grateful that our livelihood does not depend on those trees.

I’m bummed for several reasons, and not just that I was unable to enter the apple industry. We had really hoped to feed healthy, fresh produce to our pig for lean, flavorful meat. And expanding on that, our apples would have lowered our friends’ grain expenses, which would have lowered our own payment for the finished pig. It’s a very small but certain example of how everything is connected in a small, local system.

shifting

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The weather is shifting. Our mornings are cooler, and heavy with dew. I’ve begun to throw on an extra layer to visit the chickens, and though last Tuesday was uncomfortably toasty, we won’t break seventy degrees again in the foreseeable future. I’m wearing flannel today, and am really quite happy about it.

The firewood has been cut and split, seasoned and stacked in the basement. In true homesteading fashion, however, there has been a snafu. We hired a local company to inspect and clean our chimney, thinking it only prudent after gumming up the works with our clumsy first attempts. I’m glad we did. The clay tiles lining the main flue are missing some masonry between them, and we shouldn’t use the stove until everything is  repaired. That recommendation came with an estimate of almost $2000 – ouch. We did not plan for that level of investment. They can’t get us in until the end of October, so while I am relishing the cooler temps, I’m also hoping they hold steady until we get the all clear.

I’ve pulled the tomatoes, so the jungle is no more. I loaded up all of the vines in the wheelbarrow, and trucked them down to “the edge,” as we call it – a rock outcropping below the shed, with a drop-off, sort of a natural dump that the previous owners tossed all manner of things into for burning, but that we use only for natural waste materials. Stuff that won’t/can’t go in my compost bin: rocks, big woody plants, rocks, loads of dirt, more rocks, etc. With the vines cleared, I tried to scoop up all of the fallen fruits for the chickens, hopefully avoiding volunteers in the spring, but I’m sure I missed some. There were a lot on the ground. And the basil had completely gone to flower between the “rows.” Lesson learned: space tomatoes further, install cages at planting time.

I think the beans are pretty much done as well. They didn’t produce nearly the way I had hoped – really, it was only the Rattlesnake plants that amounted to anything. We had beans with dinner four or five times, and that was it. Nothing canned, nothing frozen. Disappointing, really. I’ve left a couple of pods on the poles to mature and dry for seed, but I think I’ll also pick up some bush varieties to try next year.

Next up is apples. They still had that “chalky” flavor last week when we walked around testing them, so I’m guessing we’ll be out there next week or the one after. It’s a small crop this year. Several of the most prolific trees last fall are completely bare, and the rest are more sparse – though that’s in line with what we’ve heard about fruit trees alternating. And we learned at the Fair this past weekend that it’s been a poor apple year all around Maine after two consecutive summers of drought. I think we’ll still have plenty for our own use, and to share. And that’s enough, for sure.

 

to the fair

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Gramma came and spent the day with our little girls on Sunday so that we could go to the Fair solo – just the two of us. Our 9th wedding anniversary was last week, and we had hoped to make an overnight trip to Acadia National Park, but we just had too much life happen, and were happy to even get out for the day together and enjoy the sunshine and the animals, the food and the plants.

This was our fourth time as fair-goers. Our first experience was filled with awe and wonder at being surrounded by like-minded people, at actually attending this fair I’d read and dreamed so much about. I totally geeked out. The second year, we knew a little more what to expect, but had the children with us and couldn’t dig into anything, really. Last year, we had just spent the first summer in our new home with our own land, and decided to make the most of the talks and lectures. We took it all in sans children, and were so excited to think big and make plans.

And this year? It was still wonderful, in so many ways. But I think we’re in a weird space this fall. We’ve taken so many baby steps toward the life we’re pursuing that we’re not wide-eyed beginners. We’re not experts – we really only know enough to be dangerous – but we’re not in a position to push forward yet with any major plans. So while we listened and absorbed, we didn’t dive quite as far in as perhaps we would have liked.

Still. You can’t beat a day outside with good food and in good company. It was a good day at the fair.

our lighthouse reading list

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When we spent the day in Portland last month, we fit in a trip to the Portland Head Light – and I couldn’t believe how interested Sweebee was. She pulled us through the museum to look at everything, asking about the models and the photographs, marveling at the original Fresnel lens on display. I was amazed and pleased because now I had an idea for the first week of our new homeschool year.

There was a lot of interest in our studies, so I thought I’d post our reading list for this unit. I do a fair bit of research when we choose a new topic, looking for the great picture books that will coincide with our efforts, which I then put on reserve through our library. Usually, reading lists compiled by others are fairly easy to find – seasons, bugs, specific animals. The lighthouse lists were few and far between, but perhaps because we live in the beautiful coastal state of Maine, our library had plenty to choose from on the shelves. These were our favorites, and the top four were requested repeatedly.

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Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie  by Connie Roop

The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo

Ghost Cat by Eve Bunting

Lighthouse Seeds by Pamela Love

Comet’s Nine Lives by Jan Brett

Lighthouse Lullaby by Kelly Paul Briggs

Beacons of Light by Gail Gibbons

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Which have you read? Which others would you add to this list?