a bit of this and that

Fall is in full swing and I’m so grateful. It is the best time of year, the very best weather with the happiest seasons ahead of harvest, Thanksgiving, a slew of children’s birthdays (in this house) and Christmas. This year I planted a few fall plants in the garden, but the energy and sense of urgency is so different for me in the fall. I’ve hardly tended to them and I’m not sure that they’ll do much. I planted a variety of greens (arugula, spinach, mustard greens, collards), some turnips, beets, and butternut squash. I planted more Bachelor’s buttons, too. I have some bulbs I need to get in the ground, snowdrop and crocus. I’m already looking forward to seeing them come up in early spring. The zinnias are on their last leg, but I’m still cutting blooms. The marigolds are finally really producing and I’ve been collecting and drying them, Philippa helping to string them into a garland (inspired by Ginny Sheller). I’m in the mood to dye some yarn but not sure that I’ll actually get around to it these busy days.

Our old oven died this summer. Thankfully, we have a home warranty to help replace appliances but it was quite a long time before we had a working oven again. If there was ever a good time for the oven to go out, it would be in the middle of summer but still it was a huge inconvenience for a family that eats pretty much 100% from home. I’m so happy with the one we chose and can’t believe the difference after working with a very, very old oven for so long. The kids were mostly excited about the box from the oven and it brought hours of play. A win for all, I suppose. Actually, once I was able to bake cookies, bread, and pizza again they were all very happy with the new appliance, too.

Rainy October afternoons have been filled with things like painting, reading books, playing lots of chess and checkers, making forts with all the pillows. While they’re busy making messes, I’m busy trying to bring some order to our days. Did you see those nice homeschool shelves neatly tidied? I’m too tired to hunt for a “before” picture, but I promise you it’s a great improvement. I’ve also managed to finally reorganize Phoebe and Philippa’s bedroom, tidying toys on shelves that Brandon built and condensing their two dressers down into one. Sometimes you have to shop your house and look for solutions to small space organizing, and in this case I think it worked out well. The girls now have my dresser and I have Phoebe’s. I plan to sell Philippa’s along with the crib that matches it (which Wren is more than ready to move out of). Noah and Wren’s room needs some de-cluttering next.

We’ve been really enjoying having my brother and his wife and son in town for a few weeks (staying with my parents nearby). We went last week to our favorite nursery with a real pumpkin patch to get some pumpkins. I wanted some fun pink, green, and white pumpkins to decorate our front porch. Of course the tractors were a big attraction for our crew. We went to this same patch last year but there seemed to be less pumpkins to cut in the patch this time. No matter, it’s just fun to let the kids run around and explore and hunt for one good pumpkin to carve. I love walking through the nursery, so we found what we needed there, and the kids did cut their own carving pumpkin from the patch. I’m settling into the season with all the beauty, crispness, and refreshing it seems to bring. Tomorrow we leave to go out of town for a few days and I’m so looking forward to enjoying the turning leaves and some quiet respite from our home and busy routines. I love this season of being home and busy raising these four little people, I love the rhythms and even the busy full days. But time away is so rare and so needed, this year more than ever.

september orchards

It’s hard to believe I took these photos weeks ago now and have been meaning to share them here. Are our little days really so busy? But they are. Each new school year brings longer school days it seems, and more activities in the afternoons. Although I’m happy with the schedule and rhythm we have set up, it is a challenge making time to get on here and blog. Day’s end finds me exhausted as I crawl into bed, however a good and satisfied kind of tired it is.

Anyway, back to the belated photos. A few weeks ago Brandon’s parents came for the weekend to visit and we decided to take everyone to a local orchard. It was one of the first chilly days and we (happily!) pulled out our sweaters. We live in the heart of apple country with many orchards to choose from (though we wish there were more organic options). Hoping to avoid the crowds, we kept to the rows picking fruit rather than doing the other activities the orchard offers. It was a sweet time together, everyone becoming like children again hunting for apples without blemishes and filling up boxes and wagons with their finds. Walking amongst rows spiced with that particular sweet, musky scent of fallen and decomposing apple, everyone on a treasure hunt for hidden red and green baubles, one can’t help but feel rejuvenated and refreshed. We took home one small box and a few days later I washed and peeled them and made a delicious batch of applesauce, about the easiest thing you can do with fresh apples. Sweet memories were made and fall feelings began to warm our hearts . ❤

golden hour

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Rain is gently pattering on the metal roof on the sunroom adjacent to where I type and isn’t supposed to let up all day.  One can hardly complain with the state of the west coast and how needed rain is there.  Children are quietly (and not so quietly) working on the day’s schoolwork.  Now they are off playing a game of hide and seek and screaming throughout the house.  We are into our fifth week of school, hard to believe how quickly these first weeks have flown by.  Overall it has gone very well so far, better than I expected.  I began a more structured school day schedule for us last year and I’ve adapted it and solidified it more this year, and I think that’s really been essential for us.  It’s good to be back in the flow.  Be that as it may, there’s always a level of chaos amidst all the flurry of activity in the school room as I bounce between different children offering help.  It does feel busier though with more on our plates, and even getting on the computer to share a blog post feels harder to do.

In the midst of all this constant rain, I’m looking back on the photos for this post.  Labor day weekend we went for a picnic to Mt. Mitchell, which is relatively close to us and is the highest peak East of the Mississippi.   I do so crave getting up high and seeing a beautiful view.  We hiked the Deep Gap trailhead at Mt. Mitchell over to the first peak, Mount Craig, and enjoyed the stunning views from there.  Wren would have hiked the whole way if we let her, such a little one but so strong and determined to keep up with everyone else.  I think the last time I hiked to that peak was when Brandon and I went backpacking for a few days for our tenth anniversary.  Then it was May: stormy, icy and with freezing wind.  This time it was open, sunny, warm, and green.  We were with my parents and brother’s family.  After the brief hike we had our picnic dinner and watched the sunset.  As you can see, the sunset and views and colors were just spectacular.  Simple beauty, these old blue rolling mountains.

Then back home, back to the regular work of the week and of the season.  The weather has cooled here ever so slightly, but I’m not sure the hot days are entirely behind us.  I’m enjoying every bit of the cool weather that I can, however.  Recently, I finished knitting a hansel hap with a kit of yarn Brandon and the kids gifted me for Mother’s Day last year.  The yarn was Little Meadows yarn from Ginny Sheller + extra special and squishy.  It was a relatively quick knit and so, so enjoyable.  I modified the pattern just a bit, adding an extra repeat or so to make it bigger.  I thought it may cause me to run out of yarn but I had plenty, and I’m so glad I did it as the size is perfect.  I’ve already been reaching often for it on these early cool nearly-fall days.

Most days are just ordinary, mundane and full of the work that must be done.  Then there are days where you escape to the mountain tops, picnic and spend time gathered with family.  There are days when you harvest armfuls of zinnias and marvel that you grew these and then you trim them down to brighten up your September table.  There are days you finish knitting a beautiful shawl with a bit of yarn you hoarded for as long as you could stand it.  One foggy September morning you can finally wrap up in that cheerful woolly shawl.  All so unexpected sometimes, the glory and the hardship, the peaks and the valleys, though they shouldn’t be.  I’m grateful for the way the beautiful moments carry us through and feed our souls in a way, bright spots for bleaker days.

pickles, flowers, birds, and a schoolroom update

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It never fails to surprise me how quickly the summer weeks go by.  It seems we barely have anything going on, this year especially, and yet somehow it feels full and busy.  Then all of a sudden it’s August and we are nearly ready to begin another school year.  It may have something to do with the fact that I put off a lot of bigger projects until the bigger breaks (Christmas and summer) and then suddenly I feel like I have a small window to get a lot of things done.  I want to clean and tidy and reorganize all the chaos that has spilled out over the last several months, but attempting to do so with four children underfoot is challenging and feels like an exercise in futility.  I realized this summer that since we will be adding another student this fall (yay, Philippa!) I need a bigger work space to gather children around and sit by them to assist.  I have been cramming myself into a kiddie chair at a very small kiddie table for the last year when I’ve worked with Noah and it finally dawned on me that this wasn’t going to work any longer.  Praise the Lord.  Environment does make such a difference.

So with some moving around of furniture that we already had and buying a few new items to spruce up our school room, we’ve slowly been making changes over the summer.  After three years of living in this house and the prior owners leaving the wood windows half painted in the schoolroom, we finally painted them and the laundry room door also.  It is amazing how something so small makes such a nice difference!  It just looks tidier.  We were given a couple of old hutches and I decided to use one in the school room as a homeschool cabinet.  I will probably paint it in the future, but I do like the original wood.  We’ve been filling the glass top part of it with nature finds that we’ve been saving.  The bottom part will hold puzzles, manipulatives, books, and whatever else we need to keep organized in there.  Brandon put better lighting in also (can lights) because this room is the darkest in the house and that doesn’t make for a great school space.  It has been fun to focus on just one room and make it suited to our needs.  It’s amazing how the kids are drawn more to this space now and I think it is going to work better for us this school year.  I used to spread out and do school at the kitchen table or in the living room, and we still do that for some subjects.  But it has made a big difference for us to work in a dedicated space and keep all of our supplies handy.  It makes it easier for me to grab what we need and helps everyone’s attention spans.

Meanwhile, the garden has been growing, growing.  I’ve neglected weeding it for the past couple of weeks with the high heat, humidity, and the more pressing projects in the house sorting curriculum, planning, and reorganizing.  It’s a bit wild out there now as one can only expect it to be come August.  Our cucumbers continue to abound so I made a batch of refrigerator pickles using this recipe.  (I didn’t use as much sugar and used more peppercorn and mustard seed.)  So good and easy.  We are able to share a lot of what we grow with others and that is always a joy.  I’m thankful for all the flowers, enjoying watching them bloom and cutting some to bring indoors.  Noah has been obsessed with drawing birds from this atlas, he has done at least twenty different drawings by now and they’re really good.  He told me tonight that he wants to set up a stand tomorrow by the road and sell them.

The kids seem relatively happy but I wonder how all of these changes in our world are affecting them.  Noah said at dinner tonight that he wondered when the virus would be over and all the stores could open up again.  I realize we forget to tell them some of the updates happening, that many places are open again but there are still restrictions in place.  Still, it doesn’t feel “normal” to them yet and it’s uncertain for all of us what normal will be from here on out.  Our homeschool co-op will begin in a few weeks, it is a very small group and we are able to continue meeting.  Hopefully that will restore a bit of normalcy for them, but who knows what this fall and winter season will hold?

Some “before” shots of our school room:

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In progress:

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Current iteration:

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I will share a few more photos maybe as I finish up in there.  I am still organizing the shelves and my desk area.  Little bits of work in little chunks of time.  I hope in the next few weeks we are well prepared for a new and maybe altogether different school year.  I’m beginning to feel excited about it.

 

 

 

a different Easter

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Beautiful, sunny warm Saturday was filled with productivity and work.  Early morning grocery shopping, lawn care, cleaning floors and bathrooms, all the house work tended to so we could enjoy a restful Sunday.  We thought about doing an egg hunt on Saturday while it was sunny out, knowing Easter Sunday was slated to be rainy, but it just didn’t feel like Easter.  We finished that day with dinner outside under the budding Crepe Myrtle and with a large bonfire.  I made gluten-free cinnamon rolls that evening to bake on Easter morning.

I think we all fought some sorrow on Easter due to the fact that celebrations are overshadowed somewhat by the corona virus.  How we miss gathering!  But our hearts fought for joy, also.  We were thankful for the simple graces of family life: the warm smell of cinnamon rolls as children colored in early light.  Squeals of children’s laughter and screams of delight as they dodged raindrops and hunted for eggs in the yard.  Morning worship that was so very sweet with our church family via the internet.  Then a restful afternoon amidst pouring rain.  An Easter feast with lamb my parents had given to us, the scriptures read over us by Brandon.

We rejoice now more than ever in the hope we have in Jesus, the Savior who conquered death  and took away all need for fear.  Sending you lots of love in these sometimes dismal days, hoping you are all well, body and soul.

beside still waters

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Hello friends.  How are you all doing?  I hope you’re ok, not just in body but also in mind and soul.  We’ve been ok.  We are all healthy and for that I’m grateful.  These are challenging times for us all, and I have felt quite overwhelmed.  All of our usual extra curricular activities have been cancelled and we have been home for many days.  I’m thankful for a big yard and sunny days when they come, it lifts the heaviness and helps us not to feel so cooped up.

However, in anticipation of a “shelter-in-place” ordinance, we decided to get out on the parkway this last weekend for a proper hike.  The more popular areas were packed with cars and we decided to avoid those. We found a trail we haven’t hiked before that ended up being so beautiful and peaceful, and we really only saw a handful of other hikers.   There are few things that are as restorative as the wilderness for us.

At the beginning of the “social distancing”, my pastor shared this quote from C. S. Lewis with us and it has stuck with me throughout these past two weeks.  Lewis was writing this as they lived under threat of the atomic bomb:

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

C.S. Lewis, On Living in an Atomic Age

I admit that in these last many days, it has been challenging for me to keep to the basic activities of being human.  I’ve had to be intentional in still lighting the candles at dinner, snapping photos of sweet moments and pretty things, folding the laundry, scrubbing the bathrooms, reading good stories, setting out the next day’s schoolwork in the evenings.  Sometimes these things feel so meaningless when facing such imminent health and economic threat.  Yet I have also been anchored by these same human activities; kept from endless scrolling of headlines, worrying and fretting.  The activities of being human help me to continue on being human.  And it is essential in times like these that we don’t lose our humanity.

Being outside in the sun, having moments of stillness, carrying on with normal work as much as possible, knitting, music, connecting with friends virtually, reading scripture–these are some of the anchors.

Be well, friends.  It may be quieter here on the blog, it may not be, I’m not sure.  I hope you are well, I hope you are finding the things that anchor you, too.  A song we sing often at church is this one, and it feels more appropriate now than ever before.  Sending you warm hugs, friends.

xo
Martha

 

 

touring the grounds

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I have an annual pass to the Biltmore Estate that expires soon, so last weekend we planned to go for a Sunday afternoon visit.  I had a couple of vouchers for free tickets as well, so Brandon was able to get in for free as well as my dad (my mom has a pass, also).  Originally we thought we would do a quick tour of the house with the kids, but now all the tours are scheduled and we hadn’t planned much in advance so we decided just to enjoy the grounds instead.  I’m so glad we did.  There is just so much space and trails that we haven’t really explored much, and it was soul-filling to be out in the beautiful weather.  We stopped in at a cafe on the grounds to get some water and coffee, and seeing the swarms and crowds of people made me realize being outside on the grounds was probably better anyway considering all the sickness spreading lately.  I grew up in Asheville and have seen the house interior many times, and the children have visited before also.  I did request however that we make a stop to the gardens and greenhouse, and it was so lovely.  I could have spent a lot more time in there, but little ones were ready to move on.  We did end our trip with a visit to the stables and barn because of course Phoebe insisted we do just that.  It was just a beautiful and nice day together and with my parents.  I hope you enjoyed this little virtual tour as well. ❤

a bunny turns 2

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Little wren-wren,

It’s hard to believe you are two.

Up early before the sun, with everyone rushing you to wake.  You are at the happy stage where you sort of understand birthdays after celebrating all of your siblings birthdays in the last few months, and yet you are easy and happy-go-lucky without any expectations.  Except that you definitely wanted us to sing happy birthday to you. 🙂   You were practicing for days ahead of time.

Everyone else couldn’t wait for you to open your gifts so they could play with them see what they were.  It is a joy to watch you so carefully open each thing and enjoy it for a few minutes without rushing onto the next gift.

We gave you a Poppy and the Orchestra book since you have loved Philippa’s Poppy/musical book so much.  You were delighted!  Bunny also wanted to give you a gift that had a bit of an ulterior motive: she bought you a basket for your bike so that you can carry her along on all of your adventures.  Boy, have you both loved this new addition to your favorite toy.

Mommy + Daddy gifted you a kitchen all your own with a few new food items, pots and pans, and a lovely little enamel pot that matches your older sister’s tin tea set.  I think you really love this, but your older siblings definitely do.  Thank you for sharing it so kindly with them.  Mommy knit you a happy yellow sweater, but it is much too big and so we will tuck it away until you are three.  I’m so glad though that when you opened it you put it right on.  Sweet girl.  Now mommy has to get busy making you something that WILL fit. 🙂  Also, you got a sweet birthday dress which you really love and looks so, so sweet on you.

After all the morning fun, we carried on with a regular old school day for the older kids (which they were quite disgruntled about) but we had a surprise visitor mid-morning, your BFF Liam (and Rainey).

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He brought you a sweet gift and stayed for a little bit to play and have a birthday lunch together.  So sweet.  Bunny was very tired at this point and had to have a nap, so you went with her.  After nap, the sun came out (it had been a very rainy morning) and bunny couldn’t wait to try out her new bike basket.  What fun!  It was just right.  Meanwhile, Mommy baked a carrot cake, the same one I made for your first birthday and I had fun making it simple and pretty.  We Facetimed with far-away family.  Then Rainey + Grandpa came over for one of your favorite dinners, spaghetti.  You were so happy to see your birthday cake and have everyone sing to you, and you clapped with glee when it was all done.

We all adore you, sweet baby Wren.  Maybe not so much a baby anymore, but still you will always be our little baby.  I am so proud of the way you are growing and learning.  You are a delight to us all, my sweet girl.  Happy birthday and always remember how much your momma and daddy adore you, how God adores you even more than that.

Love always,

Mommy

 

snow day at the museum

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Last week we did a field trip with a few friends from our homeschool co-op to the Asheville Art museum.  In our co-op art segment we’ve been studying about the Impressionists and our local art museum happened to have some American impressionist art on display, so it dovetailed nicely with our studies.  I dropped Wren off with my mom for the morning knowing that it would probably not be fun for her to be quiet, listen, and not be able to touch all of the art displays.  The snow was falling heavily all day, which meant a lot of the roads were quiet as people stayed home.  It also made for a really cozy time to visit the museum.  We did an hour guided tour focused on the impressionists, then the children had an hour of studio time.  The guide taught us how to do block printing, and the kids really enjoyed designing a cityscape much like we were seeing out of the museum windows.  Each child designed a building and then made prints of it onto their paper.  They also had the option to switch buildings with someone else and it was really fun to see everyone’s various creations.  After our fun morning, the kids were eager to get out in the accumulating snow once back home, building snow men and sledding.  I’m thankful for every bit of snow we’ve had this winter!  Although it makes for a lot of muddy drippy mess at my door, it is usually short-lived and makes a new playground out of our yard.

Meanwhile, we’ve still been at it with the puzzles.  Yes, I am completely inspired by (copying?) Ginny of Small Things with the puzzle craze.  The first one pictured I mainly worked on myself as the pieces were quite small and it was very challenging.  It was really fun but I think frustrating for the kids who couldn’t really help much with it.  So I got this set of 12 mini puzzles and put each puzzle in a little bag as a fun thing to pull out for the younger children while the older two are busy with school.  Philippa and Noah have been especially into them.  I also got the 300-piece puzzle of the sea planes with the kiddos in mind and we put it together super quickly.  It is one they can do on their own which they love.  I think I’m enjoying these puzzles so much because the scenes in them are so beautiful.  I want to visit and live in each one.

a february birthday

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Brandon’s birthday fell on a Monday this year, so we planned for him to do some fun things over the weekend to celebrate.  He did a long trail run in nearby Dupont Forest for most of the day on Saturday.  Sunday he took Noah fishing on a nearby river for the day.  I was happy for him to get out and have lots of time doing the things he loves outside.  Monday we had a very full and busy day planned but I woke up that morning to a spinning world.  Every once in a while I have vertigo and it hasn’t happened in a couple of years but it hit me that Monday.  I was so bummed because not only did we have a full day of homeschool co-op and piano lessons, but it was also Brandon’s birthday.  My mom came to help for the day as I couldn’t get out of bed/sit up without everything spinning.  I didn’t think to take dramamine until a little later, and it did seem to help (though my mom picked up a “natural” kind which was just straight ginger root).  Thank goodness for moms, right?!  Anyway, in the early afternoon I managed to pull myself out of bed to try to make Brandon’s cheesecake as I knew it would have to sit for a few hours before serving.  As I began to move around the vertigo slowly lifted.  Usually it lasts for a few hours for me so this was a longer day of it, but I was just grateful it lifted.  It’s amazing what a blessing normal functioning is!

The children were so happy to see me up and able to move around and Phoebe helped to make daddy’s birthday cake.  He loves cherry pie but my kids don’t really like pie and Brandon isn’t really picky, so we made a cheesecake instead with my own cherry topping.  For the topping I basically used a bag of frozen cherries, juice from half a lemon, about a 1/2 c. of honey, 1 c. water, and a couple teaspoons of arrowroot powder as a thickener.  It was really delicious, even Phoebe liked it and she is my pickiest.

Philippa asked to decorate the table for daddy’s birthday which was very helpful as I felt still so brain-foggy.  She did a lovely job.  Brandon was truly surprised to see his hand knit sweater and I think it fits just right (though when I gave it to him I hadn’t had time to block it yet).  The “children” gave him a jigsaw which he was very happy with.  I have in mind an item or two he could make for me now that he has it. 🙂  Noah gave him a little notebook/journal he had kept with notes and drawings in it while they had been out fishing.  Phoebe gave him a little woven item.  All in all, I think he was quite spoiled this birthday which we well-deserves.

We had a little bit more snow this past weekend and so enjoyed it.  I’m grateful for any wintry weather!  I convinced Brandon to let me get a couple pictures of him in the sweater, which did take some convincing since he doesn’t love being in front of the camera.  (He’s also wearing a hat I knit for him awhile ago.)