The Mouse House

The Mouse House

      I was in my garage cleaning out an old hutch when I found this little treasure of a mouse house. I’m sure the softly padded nest was woven by the tiny paws of some expectant mother with gray fur and a long tail. I imagine that Beatrix Potter would have loved to illustrate the escapades of the naughty mouse that carefully spun a home out of a red spool of Coats and Clark mercerized thread.

Two New Kids

Two New Kids

 

      The wee little goats have adjusted to life in the cold barn. Cherry gave birth to two boy goats last Thursday afternoon around 5 p.m. They’re adorable, waggly tails and all…

    Two years ago I looked for a home for the overflow of chickens that we had from the Lake County spring hatch. Calls to several homeschool families led me to a family near Rockford, Illinois who raised goats. Elizabeth wanted a goat badly and prayed at the New Year (2005) for one. Last fall out of the kindness of their hearts, the Beatty family gave us a beautiful Nubian female goat named Cherry and a young white goat named Flicka to keep her company over the winter. Goats are very social animals and need the companionship of another goat to keep them happy. As an added bonus, the Beattys mated Cherry, telling us she would give birth in the spring.

     I wasn’t really paying attention and haven’t had time to read very much of the goat book that they loaned to us. But when I realized that Cherry was probably due any time, my internal mommy alarm went off, and I started to panic. Robert called the Beattys and found out that Cherry was due on St. Patrick’s Day. We had one week to try and find out what having goat babies is all about.

     Being a firm believer in letting nature taking its course, I hoped that having baby goats wouldn’t be much different from having baby chicks. They peck though their shells and are eating and drinking in no time at all. But as I read the goat book it appeared that having baby goats was going to be a lot more complicated. In fact, the people who wrote the book didn’t let their babies nurse because of a disease that causes goat arthritis. They even went so far as to feed their babies pasteurized milk. I was not happy thinking about the inconvenience that baby goats might cause. Robert called the Beattys and said, “Lordy, lordy Miss Scarlet, I don’t know nothing about birthin’ no goat babies.” He talked to Mrs. Beatty for a few minutes and then our phone battery died from lack of charging. It was a few more days before we were able to talk to Beth (the Beatty’s daughter and the girl who is in charge of all the goats on their farm). She assured me that their goats were disease free and that we could let the kids nurse naturally.            

     Last Thursday was snowy and cold, about 30 degrees. I checked Cherry several times for signs of contractions. I thought I saw her have one, but after talking with Beth I decided that I mistakenly attributed human contractions with Cherry’s sides heaving in and out. Goats supposedly scrunch up their backs when they are having contractions.

     I was in my bedroom working on The Gift of Family Writing and I kept thinking, I’ll go and check Cherry as soon as I’m done. Just as I finished up Robert came running in the house yelling, “It’s twins, it’s twins. Cherry had her babies!” She decided to have her babies a day early after all.

     We all rushed out to the barn and there in the hay lay the cutest little brown babies with waggly tails that you ever saw. We rubbed them down with towels and just as we got them nice and dry, Cherry would lick them again. We all took turns helping one of the babies nurse for the first four days. He is a little smaller than his brother, but he is doing fine now.

    Today the girls let them outside into the poultry/goat pen for the first time. “Out into the wide, wide world,” as Anna put it.

    Robert said today, “What good are male goats anyway?”

   “Entertainment,” I said.

The little girls played half the day with their new babies and I’ll be expecting some journal entries real soon about the latest additions to our Pebbly Brook menagerie.

Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure

 

   The first flower to emerge out of last year’s curled and decayed leaves was a snowdrop. A single bud blossomed on the first day of spring and lingered for a couple of weeks like a miniature ambassador heralding the long-awaited season of rebirth and growth.

    As winter storms subsided and the sun began to warm the earth, we searched and waited. Would we be fortunate enough to see the delicate, paper-thin petals, or be disappointed – as in years past, when we had missed the unpretentious pageantry altogether?
   Then Elizabeth spied the green leaves sprouting among the silvery, weather-beaten remnants of last fall’s foliage. She ran into the house and announced that a snowdrop had finally arrived. “Is there more than one?” I asked, knowing how few there have been in the past. “No, there’s only one,” she said. One, I thought…well, thank you Lord for that one!  

     The little girls waited patiently over the long winter months for the warm days to return. And with every bud, flower, or bug they discover, they hurry to tell me about their new-found treasures, as if seeing them for the first time. The caress of the warm breeze on their cheeks, the soft grass under foot, and the promise of green growing things makes spring their favorite season. Once again they can run free, enjoying the simple pleasures of God’s creation, unencumbered by confining coats and mittens. They can breathe and feel—be a part of the world of nature around them as it is born anew.  

      I am reminded by the girls’ sheer delight in a humble snowdrop that I too can rejoice over the gifts that God gives daily—gifts that remain hidden from view if I let the child-like wonder for life stay buried underneath the remnants of old thought patterns and decayed thinking. Sometimes we adults have to force ourselves to push upward and out of the dirty soil of everyday routines to receive the gifts that our heavenly Father wants to give to us—hidden treasures He lavishes upon those who have eyes to behold the “One and only God” and whose delight is in Him.  

Sweet Memories

 

(I had to use an abbreviated version of the Salix discolor, because blog did not like the common name).

 

When the p.willows bloom in the Spring I think of my mother. I’m very fond of them, and I know it’s because she had many good memories associated with them from her childhood. After reading about her family’s summer home on Diamond Lake last week, I imagine that there must have been a bush growing on the property somewhere. I can just see my grandmother, Clara Konvalinka, taking 18-month-old “Baby June” by the hand and walking slowly down the hill toward the low lying part of the lawn where five huge weeping willows hung out over the lapping waves. There in the moist soil, a tall silvery p.willow was sure to blossom around the first day of spring, give or take a week depending on the weather. When I close my eyes, I see her reach up and snip off a single branch of catkins to rub against June’s cheeks. Surely that is when the first memory was made.
      There’s so much my mother didn’t tell us about her past or maybe I was too distracted as a child to hear. I feel as though she kept all of her childhood experiences stored – like hidden treasure – in her heart. We lived only blocks from Diamond Lake, and yet I didn’t realize just how special her childhood was there. Maybe those days became sweeter the older she grew. I know how she felt, because some of the things that meant so much to her – life’s simple pleasures like p.willows, are becoming more precious to me the older I grow as well.
My mother gave me an appreciation for the changing seasons–including rituals of discovery that we enjoyed together. In the springtime there was always a quest to find a spot where the p.willows were abundant and free for the taking. When we first came to live on this farm seven years ago, it was the middle of summer–very hot as I recall. Anna was three-months-old and I didn’t get to explore the property as much as I would have liked. As I was driving down the road the following spring, I saw a sign at a nursery that read, p.willows for sale $3.00 a bunch.” I bought some for myself and some for our landlady Mrs. Kraft. “Oh, are those from down at the end of the drive?” she asked. I was so surprised. I didn’t know any grew on the property. From that point on we made it a habit to take advantage of p.willows, “growing abundantly” and “free for the taking,” and every year…the memory becomes sweeter.

The Mourning Cloak – Winter’s Butterfly

 

I took a photo of this beautiful Mourning Cloak butterfly when we were talking with our neighbor Mrs. Kraft. I just happened to have my camera with me at the time when Elizabeth said, “Hey mom, look! There’s a butterfly.” It was about 20 feet above the ground in the large maple tree that we were sitting under. It’s really incredible that I was able to get a shot like this (including the proboscis) because I seemed so far away, but it lingered on the maple florets giving me the opportunity to snap about 25 pictures.   

     The Mourning Cloak is a fascinating butterfly. You can learn why it’s called winter’s butterfly at this site from Chicago Wilderness magazine.

http://chicagowildernessmag.org/issues/winter2002/mourning.html

Apple Blossom Time

 

  

    An apple tree bloomed near the hedgerow last week. “Mom, you have to go up and see the apple tree!” Elizabeth exclaimed.  “It’s all full of blossoms.” This same tree didn’t produce apples last year (a late frost nipped the life out of it), but this year the dark pink buds grew pale and slowly opened into paper-thin petals of white. As their light, sweet scent filled the air, I became spellbound. Sitting under the white and green branches, I pondered the short life of apple blossoms, only to realize that I cannot fully comprehend their fleeting beauty or the hand of the One who created such an exquisite tree. Some thoughts are too big for me.  

     If it remains cool and the blossoms linger, I will take my children to visit our apple tree friend often, to sit under its fragrant bower and contemplate the wonder of spring. We will memorize its splendor and revel in the sight and smell of hundreds of tender apple blossoms lifted to the sky. We will celebrate with cups of apple cinnamon spice tea and old-fashioned sour cream apple cake – our humble offering for the intrinsic loveliness we find there. We will read After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost and laugh at the poet’s ability to weave a yarn about two-pointed ladders, aching feet, and restless sleep. We’ll sigh because we know our words could never compare with his. Still, we will try to capture the memory of apple blossom time in our own verse.

    And when at last the paper-thin petals lie scattered upon the ground, we will gratefully remember the fellowship we shared with the tree and each other at the meadow’s edge. A place where words bloom like delicate pink buds – full of promise, heady and fragrant, reminding us that apple blossom time is not a mere dream, but comes only once, for a short time…in the spring. 

A Garden of Delight

 

    With the children’s help I was able to map out the garden this year. We measured three large plots, pounded stakes into the ground, and roped off each section with garden twine. The joy of laying straight rows in newly tilled soil was sharply contrasted with last year’s haphazard “throw them tomaters anywhere you can” kind of garden – a feeble attempt on my husband’s part to start a garden after my surgery last May. I can sympathize with senior citizens or anyone for that matter who has to give up gardening because of physical limitations. Still struggling with some of my own, I will never take the ability to plant a garden for granted again.

      My husband often reminds us that tending a garden is one of the first jobs that God gave man. Maybe that’s why I feel His presence there so strongly, either in the morning before the heat and humidity become unbearable or in the cool of the evening, when the large elms to the north cast long shadows across the oven baked earth. God, the Master Gardner, teaches us many lessons about life, ourselves, and our relationship with Him in the fertile soil of a garden.       

    My husband is a passionate gardener. To say that gardening brings him delight is a gross understatement. The man cannot stand to see any plant perish. It’s painful for him to thin out a row of broadcasted seedlings, and he has been known to let tomatoes re-seeded from last year’s crop, compete for space with this year’s cabbages.Years ago, while seeking direction for a new career, Robert took an aptitude test to assess his giftings. The categories he scored highest in were: teacher, manager, and plants (that’s how it was stated on his evaluation form – simply “plants”). They weren’t telling us anything we didn’t know. Robert was definitely born with a green thumb (and trowel in hand).

      A few years ago he built a four-sided structure with a pitched roof and appropriately named it “Cucumber Haus.” The walls are constructed of nylon netting, giving the delicate tendrils a place to anchor as they climb skyward. The searching vines, now loaded with bright yellow blossoms are slowly inching their way up the sides. Just a month ago, these same plants looked as though they would die under the sun’s hot rays, but as the roots took hold, dark green leaves seemed to multiply overnight. Isn’t that the miracle of gardening? We plant and water, but the Lord brings the increase. 

 

 

   Faithful to wield a hoe and rake, my husband diligently fights the never ending war on encroaching weeds. But the best part of gardening – the thing that brings him the greatest satisfaction is seeing the sweat of his labor bear fruit. By the end of August he is finally done pushing, pulling, pinching, and pampering. Generous to a fault, he leaves the harvesting to me.  

     Elizabeth and Anna wanted their own plots again this year, and although Robert oversees the whole garden, he asked for a bit of earth to call his own. I laughed at the request that seemed to come from the little boy within. “Robert,” I gently reminded him, “the whole garden is yours.” He just loves raising home grown tomatoes – 50 in all this year. I’m afraid we’ll be overloaded with produce, but I look forward to canning quart upon quart of delicious tomato-apple chutney, and making harvest baskets to give away to family and friends. 

    Besides three large plots, we have other beds filled with acorn squash, eggplant, zucchini, green and purple cabbage, sweet potatoes, green and yellow peppers, pole beans, bush beans, sweet peas, and corn. Elizabeth planted beats, carrots, tomatoes and green onions in her plot, and Robert sowed Swiss chard at the end of his.

      We also have a kitchen garden with globe basil, spicy basil, flat parsley, rosemary, dill, wooly thyme, lemon thyme, lavender, lettuce, and radishes mingled among the perennial flowers surrounding our house. 

    We’ve had the most beautiful weather for growing a garden this year. For several years now we’ve experienced drought conditions in June, but this year the garden has been watered almost daily by the Lord. It’s just one of those rare years, the kind that makes you want to grow a garden – every year and for a lifetime!