Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Veils

Tonight after Mass I was accosted but in order for you to understand the tale of happenstance I must back up approximately 2 hours to the time allotted for Reconciliation at our parish.

****DISCLAIMER**** - I am not "anti-city people".  I was one once.  For the sake of understanding this post please note that I attend a "small by your standards" Norvus Ordo parish that's 45 miles from the next priest available.  On a "good Sunday" we have approximately 150 people in attendance.  There's only 1 Mass per day, 2 to fulfill Sunday obligation.  This story occurs on a Saturday Vigil Mass when I usually attend since I'm too lazy to wake up early enough to attend the "early in the morning to me" Mass with the nearly 1 hour commute to get there.  I veil - I began the practice before I was even Catholic.  I often tie my veil under my hair so it isn't as noticeable as well as to prevent toddler hands from taking off with it. ****END DISCLAIMER****

My son's Mass clothes were in the car so after he changed I ran the ones he wore to town outside while he was spending some time recanting to Father one half of the tale he would inevitably hear about our family that evening.  When I came back in an elderly gentleman who appeared to be of "city origins" was standing in the back of the parish floundering around a bit.  He saw me and came over and quietly asked where the confessions were being held.  I pointed to the door behind me (unmarked, no lights, could be a broom closet for all he knew) and told him they were there.  Full of anxiety he asked me of there was a screen and I told him our parish's "set up" (a chair and a place to kneel with a small curtain and a short wall and then you can walk around and sit/kneel with Father and a 6 ft. crucifix if you prefer).  He went and sat down and I thought we were done.

I knelt down behind the last pew and started my own examination of conscience and a few minutes later he came and tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could bother me.  Of course I stopped for a minute and agreed.  He asked how he would know it was time to go in.  I told him when the door is open, you can enter.  The next person out would be my son and he was more than welcome to go next, I needed more time anyway.  He thanked me and went back to his seat.

I didn't see him again afterwards due to "the usual mommy things" and trying to get in some spare prayer time so when I noticed him at the end of Mass still in his pew after I finished my prayers I thought I might have a chance to make sure all was well and wish him safe travels on the way home.  I ended up walking out silently near this gentleman and a lady in a veil who appeared to be his wife.  

As we walked out she reached up and removed her veil and I took off the long scarf I was wearing in lieu of a veil that week.  She immediately turned as she saw the flash of blue to the side of her and realized what I'd done.  Halting in her tracks she spins on one heel and says "OH!  You wear one too!"  I gently started to explain I tie it under my hair due to the toddler but quickly ran out of breath as I was squished half to death by this tiny woman in glee.  She turns to me and says, "You know, there are more of us" as if she is imparting some kind of massive secret. 

I smiled and told her I knew and we began to part ways, her recounting the encounter of the strange woman who actually veils at the N.O. parish in the middle of nowhere to her husband and I began to gather wool in my head about what a delight it was to meet her and the "Sisterhood of Veils" that exists across the world. 

Whatever your veil is made of, be it the finest French or Spanish lace as hers was or the far more humble $5 Walmart clearance polyester scarf I had on my head know that it's about so much more than you.  Your veil is your connection to Mary and to God but it's also your connection to hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of women who veil around the world in humble grace and awe of His Divine Presence.

And if anyone knows who this delightful little woman was, please tell her she brought a huge smile and one of the best hugs I've had in months to this "strange woman who actually veils at the N.O. parish in the middle of nowhere".  I've never gotten a hug at church before other than my toddler.  It was a refreshing experience.  May the Lord bless her and her husband and their travels and may they reach wherever home is safely.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Today the Lord gifted me with some spare time for reflecting on things.  I am always grateful when those moments come - to see how far we have gone and what we have accomplished; to see the ways, both miniscule and ginormous, that God has been working in my life.

It's been 13 months since my husband was taken out of work due to the worsening of his disability.  Some things haven't changed one bit.  We still live in the same home, go to the same church, drive the same car, homeschool, etc. In fact on the exterior I don't think many people have noticed much of a change, if any.

At times, much to my fury, other things that have not changed: his disability is *still* not improving enough for him to return to work and the therapists say it could take 3-5 years.  Despite this information the VA refuses to up his disability rating because "there's a chance at recovery".  *sigh*  Great.  What about NOW?

It's the interior of our lives that has changed so much.  I pray more.  I've learned to trust God more.  I've spent more time with my family than I've ever been blessed with in 12 years of marriage. I've been given the distinct opportunity from God to fall in love with my husband all over again.  I've had the chance to see more of the state of Montana than ever before thanks to a wide variety of doctor's appointments all over the state.

My oldest son has gone from being a Cub Scout to a Boy Scout.  He is now dual enrolled in 2 troops and so busy I can barely keep him where he needs to be.  Our youngest has passed his second birthday and discovered the word "spaz", much to his delight and our chagrin.

My husband has gone through many phases: exhausted from trying to keep up a charade of health to scrambling to try and fix his health to where he sits now, the proud owner of his own business who is working on his dreams. He has grown so much, especially as a father.  He has time for the boys now and they can't imagine a world where that goes away again.

Friends have come and gone and come again.  These are the moments in your life when you find out where people truly stand.  Do they *really* have your back or are they just more fair-weather friends who bail out of the ship the very moment things don't go their way?  I am grateful for the new ones in my life but I am even more grateful God gave me yet another opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff.

To those who have prayed: Know that God has heard you and that we could not possibly be more thankful for His new plans for our life. 

To those who have left: Thank you for getting out of the way so God prepare us for even greater things.

To those who have stayed: Thank you for sojourning on with us.

So often in my life I find myself reflecting back to works of literature I have read and seeing how the meanings morph and shift as I grow older.  This particular poem is one we have all heard but many do not know the actual story behind it.

From 1912 to 1915 Robert Frost traveled to England where he developed a friendship with another writer named Edward Thomas.  The two frequently took long walks together and Edward's frequent issues with indecision on which way to travel further led to Mr. Frost penning this now famous poem with tongue in cheek about his friend's difficulty when they came to a crossroads. 

Mr. Thomas took the poem far more seriously than it was intended as did the rest of America, much to Mr. Frost's chagrin.  It became his final push of inspiration to join the British Army in World War I.  Two short years later, shortly after arriving in France, he was killed on April 9, 1917 in the Battle of Arras.

Much like Mr. Thomas, this poem has meant so much more to me than a jest between friends.  I apologize to Mr. Frost for not taking his words at face value but sometimes the Lord gives us the ability to write something that is truly meant to mean something very different for others.  Every songwriter in the world can attest to this happening to them, yours truly included.

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
(first published in 1916 in the collection Mountain Interval)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Big Week!

The big week has come.  The plants have been selected and are all paired nicely with their companions.  We tilled this weekend and are all set to start turning in some extra nutrients (I like manure, peat moss, and compost personally) during the week and then Thursday through the weekend we'll be putting the seeds and seedlings into the ground.  I promise to share pictures. :D

How are your gardens going?  I know many of you have a jump start on me but I'm ecstatic to be sharing with all of you. :) 

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Apparently I have yet again missed the "gravy train" parents ranting on both sides of the fence about food allergies, food sensitivities, and anything else that might cause them to have to think twice (or would rather NOT have to think twice) about what they are serving someone else.

I'm the mom of 2 boys - neither has severe food allergies (thank God) although one does have some very minor apple sensitivity issues.  I have NEVER in all the years I have worked with children (now 20+) had a problem with a child and their dietary needs.  EVER.  If you're one of my Scout Moms, CCD Moms, Homeschool Party Moms, then you already know that I care DEEPLY about these things and your child's safety because I would pray that if the tables were turned you would care as much about MY child.

I am HONORED to have the chance to work with your children.  I am BLESSED to have the opportunity to spend time with them and have them help change MY life - yeah, that's right - MY life.  Your kids make ME a better person and I am grateful.  Food allergies, medical issues, and all.  Your children give me the gift of seeing the world through their beautiful, intelligent eyes and I am the better for it each and every day.

I've been the person who has gone to a party and not been able to eat ANYTHING I was served.  I've been the girl who had to quietly push food into a napkin so she didn't offend anyone.  I've flushed chili down a toilet to keep a host from being embarrassed.  Attending food events is often a nightmare for me because of my food allergies and my desperate attempts to keep anyone else from having to deal with them. I have even ended up in Confession LYING to get out of attending these events to save myself and hostesses from embarrassment that I inevitably know would ensue.

My own experiences are why I never mind helping my kids.  I even *gasp* don't allow them to have "substitute treats".  What's good enough for one is good enough for all.  Scout Campout?  Make sure everyone can eat what is on the menu and pick food using the democratic process.  CCD Snacks, yup - I'm the Mom sending carrots and dip or fruit kabobs.

You know what the funny thing is?  I've NEVER had a child complain.  Not in 20+ years of doing this.  Maybe it's because I try very hard to make certain all is still "yummy" but more than likely it's because I don't allow them to play favorites.  I've had gluten free, dairy free, food coloring free, vegetarian, vegan, soy free, diabetic, etc etc etc.  Never a problem - not once!  Sure, sometimes we had to get rather creative, but we made it work!  And the kids are BETTER for it because they're learning to work together and actually CARE about other human beings!  *I* am better for it because I get to use my creativity to create new and exciting things in the world of food!

Stop the whining - ALL OF YOU.  I get that it stinks on both sides of the fence.  Telling a kid "no" is NOT the end of the world - on BOTH SIDES.  If ALL of us could be just a little more compassionate maybe our children can focus on solving world peace rather than arguing over whether or not cupcakes are an acceptable snack.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My New 4 Letter Word

There is no secret that my world focuses extensively on my 2 beautiful boys and my amazing husband.  Yesterday while running errands I had a few minutes to think on words and what I would like to eliminate from my vocabulary.  One word in particular came to the surface.  I've used it quite often and when I really thought about it, it's been used 99% of the time as a pretty white lie:

One 4 Letter Word that crushes imaginations, disappoints, and creates chaos in my life.  When am I TRULY too "busy" for the people I love?  I went through and counted up the things I'd been "too busy" to do in the past week.
  • I was "too busy" to check on Netflix for a neighbor who was looking for a recommendation of survival shows to watch. 
  • I was "too busy" to let my son help me make dinner at least half the nights in the past week. 
  • I was "too busy" too many times to count because I was on my computer researching or doing something *I* wanted to be doing instead of playing with my children. 
  • I was "too busy" to properly clean the house and work on the things my husband asked me to do.
  • I was "too busy" to cuddle with the toddler.
  • I was "too busy" to help my son put up his tent in the yard. 
  • I was "too busy" to take the kids to the park. 
  • I was "too busy" to leave for Mass on time so we were late. 
I'm "too busy" too often for all the things that should matter the most.  100% of the "too busy" above can be described in one sinful, loathing word:

Or as the Church calls it in the 7 Deadly Sins, Sloth.

So for all of you out there who are "too busy", I invite you to join me.  For the next month - until June 15, I will be banishing "too busy" from my vocabulary.  I will either explain why I was not able to do something with what I was doing that prevented the activity OR I will....get this...DO what someone is asking of me.

Join me - we could change the "too busy" world we live in, one mind at a time. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Minor Nightmare and a Gallant Rescue

I love camping.  I absolutely 110% LOVE camping.  There is nothing like getting away from being plugged in and taking the kids out to the middle of nowhere and getting lost in God and everything He has made.

I'd like to introduce you to my tent.  Actually, this isn't a pic of MY tent, but the current model available for sale at Kmart.

It's HUGE.  I nicknamed it the "Chalet".  It's actually 3 "rooms" in there. GINORMOUS tent.  There's even built in closets!  I'm not joking!!!  STOP LAUGHING AT ME!!!!!!

Last summer my gorgeous tent went to camp with my husband.  Unfortunately in their haste to take it down the last morning, they forgot to make certain it was dry.  They were CONVINCED it was 100% dry.  I never checked (bad Mommy).

Yup - mildew and mold.  In places that are well over the top of my head (it's about 7 feet tall at the peak!).  This is NOT good.

I sat there inside the tent with the box that had just arrived and wanted to cry.  My beautiful tent was being eaten by mildew and cleaning it was going to make me sick and possibly blind (bleach overhead is NEVER a good idea).  I looked at the box and I wondered....what if I used the essential oils inside to clean it?  COULD they do the job?  Were they CAPABLE of this feat?!?!?!

I went inside and got to work doing what I do best on Google.  I checked my favorite sites, a few recipe places I'd bookmarked, a book I'd purchased, and came to the conclusion.  I think I can do this.

My favorite site, Learning About Essential Oils provided the Basic Bathroom Spray I was going to base this on.  I <3 Lea's site.  She's a fellow homeschooler and a REALLY neat lady.

That said, I also knew that tent was going to have a toddler inside so adjustments needed to be made.  I substituted the Peppermint in the recipe for Fir Needle, a similar oil in terms of performance but safe for little guys to inhale while Mom is scrubbing over the top of her head.  I also needed to use Cinnamon Leaf instead of Cinnamon Bark due to little lungs.

I also didn't have a ton of vinegar on hand and the only spray bottle I had to use was 2 oz.  More adjustments necessary.  So I decided to mix up the oil magic and then dilute just enough for my little bottle.  I made the full recipe of oils in a 5 ml empty bottle (always have these on hand!!!) and then divided the total number of drops (120 for inquiring minds) by 3 (because 6/2=3) which equaled 40.

I put 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 drop of dish detergent, and 30 drops of the oil in the bottle (I figured I could add more if needed).  Swish swish.  Topped it off with H20, sealed, and swished again.  Armed with a damp sponge, I went to work.

100% of the spots have faded at least 50%.  About 50% of the spots are completely gone.  On 9 month old mildew!!!!

Even better news, the combined properties of these essential oils area antifungal (Cinnamon Bark, Tea Tree, and Lemon), anti-microbial (Cinnamon Bark), antibacterial (Cinnamon Bark and Lemon), and act as a natural deodorizer (Fir Needle).

Oh, and I still have my sight.  That's a biggie. :D

Friday, April 25, 2014

Packing for Travel

The sun is shining, the warm breezes are beginning to blow, and rainy season is almost through!  It's time to start looking at travel plans for your spring/summer adventures!

The very thought of going "on the road" brings on sheer panic for Moms across the country.  Our family is used to living out of suitcases and recently some of you asked me to share the packing lists I use for my children.

2 Night
Week Long
Camping Weekend
Camping Week Long

I print these lists out and then laminate them with glossy laminating pages.  Each child has their own color card stock the original list was written on so they know it's "theirs" and a dry erase marker.  When we're getting ready for a trip a use a WET erase marker and draw a line through anything they do not need to bring.  Then use the same marker to write in anything in the blank spots they need that is not on the list.

For younger children, have them lay their items out on the bed for you to check before they put them in the suitcase.  This is also helpful for older children who may try to "sneak in" questionable clothing leaving you with no option other than wrapping them in a blanket for the entire vacation.  For these children I mark off their list as they put the items into the suitcase (or vice versa).  For children that are capable of packing themselves have them mark off their items from the list and pack their suitcase.  Once it's all checked off we leave the suitcase open with the list sitting on top for Mom or Dad to check along with their marker.

Once the suitcases are checked, they are IMMEDIATELY locked with a luggage lock.  Why?  Because little kids will undo your packing and older children with modesty issues might try to swap out clothes.  For security reasons, all luggage is locked in our family.  Problem solved. :)  That luggage is then moved to the central packing area which is usually our dining room or mudroom depending on how many suitcases and how long until we leave.

Voila!  No more left behind socks and no bringing 50 shirts to choose from for teenage girls.  No more emergency runs to the Walmart for the child who brought 10 toy cars but no pants.  All the arguing is abrogated because everyone has the same list and the same amount of space.

When you're packing up to come back home, out come the lists again.  Have the kids check off the items as they repack their suitcases.  No more left behind favorite shirts that have to be shipped later!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

For the RIGHT Reasons

After nearly 600,000 Jews had been deported/murdered from the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland to either death camps, forced labor camps, or the Treblinka Killing Center from July 22, 1942 to September 12, 1942, the Ghetto's population was to be "held" at 35,000.  An additional 20,000 men and women were in hiding in the ghetto.  In response, the Jewish Combat Organiztion (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa; ZOB) and the Jewish Military Union (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy; ZZW) joined forces to protect the lives of those they loved and lived with.  In preparation they began to make homemade STEN guns and grenades out of any metals they could find in the basements of the ghetto.

The Polish STEN.  Often the ones used in the Ghetto Uprising were not automatic, but rather single shot which were then reloaded and fired again, similar to the way a black powder musket would have worked but requiring less material to build, less powder to charge, and a lighter, more deadly round to deliver.

The initial quest of the uprising began when Heinrich Himler decided to liquidate the ghetto in October 1942.  The first attempt at mass deportation to forced labor camps on January 18, 1943 was met with enough chaos from the dissidents in the ZOB and ZZW that only 5,000-6,000 were able to be deported before the SS had to stop their mission.

When they returned on April 19, 1943 they were met with a resistance they could never have surmised coming from the ghetto's residence.  On the eve of Passover, 1943 Nazi troops arrived to find the streets deserted and were picked off and isolated by ZOB and ZZW units around the ghetto.  For 20 days the Uprising fought for their lives until their command bunker was captured on May 8.

The Warsaw Ghetto after the Uprising had ended.
Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

While nearly 100% of those in the Warsaw ghetto were murdered for their efforts and the ghetto itself was reduced to ruin, the spirit of what they had accomplished lived on and rumors of their successes spread across Europe.  In the ultimate cry of "We're not going to take it anymore!" they rose up and fought for their freedom when they had no choice left.

Ultimately the Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion was the largest rebellion by the Jewish population and the first urban uprising against the Nazis.  They are the ones that inspired thousands to fight for their own freedom and turn the tide against the Germans in formal resistance movements.

May the Lord bless those who have risen up against tyranny and those who came to their aid.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." ~ Matthew 5:9

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Children's "Television"

Okay, I know there is a LOT of debate out there about how much screen time and if children should have any screen time, should they only have tv vs. computers vs. tablets etc. but allow me to deviate and not discuss ANY of that today.  Today I want to focus on something that had somehow escaped me until this morning.

We're visiting family right now and we're having a lovely time.  When we're at home, our television is usually on our favorite news in the AM and the kids often watch with us.  If we aren't watching that it's usually off.  I don't have "children's television" on 99% of the time when the tv is on.  This morning I was busy and my oldest turned on the tv to occupy himself and his little brother.  They were enjoying it as I ran in and out of the room attending to laundry, breakfast, and a host of other things until the inevitable BAD thing happened.

I noticed Sesame Street was on.  I honestly didn't think a thing of it.  The Count was receiving the Noble Peace Prize for Counting.  Okay.  Then via the segment they explained what an imposter was.  Alright.  Later on as I sat at the dining room table I giggled as a segment began with the music of Les Miserables in which Cookie Monster plays Jean Valjean and the other players covet his cookies.

And now they have my attention.  I was a music major in college and this is one of my FAVORITE shows.  I'm ready to giggle as we watch a Sesame Street adaptation of a modern classic.

Except it wasn't.  Jean Valjean encounters Fantine and basically tells her to take a long walk off a short bridge.  He refuses Cosette's pleas for help as well with a "well, I know how you feel but get your own cookies and then you'll feel better".  WHAT?!?!?!?!?

Then as the French Resistance forms they are planning to attack....get this...Valjean because he won't share his cookies with anyone.

Wait....WHAT!?!?!?!?  Valjean is not the villian of the play.  Not even close!!!!!

So out of fear Valjean capitulates and decides he should share his cookies and then they're all happy.


Fortunately shortly after that tirade the "new" version of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood".  100% animated and hosted by Daniel Tiger, an animated tiger child who during this particular episode was throwing tantrums and having difficulty using his words.


Mr. Rogers is NOT able to be replace by a child Tiger who can't get his act together.  NO.  That's where I hit my limit.  What I LOVED about Mr Rogers as a child was not just that he was "on tv".  He was real.  It was a REAL world that also went into "make believe" with a pointed difference when it was done.  He did REAL things.  He showed the world kindness, love, compassion, and heart.  He gave real life examples of manners, not as the "point" of one show but consistently through EVERY show.

I blew up.  I hopped on Amazon Prime and pulled out the vintage Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood episodes from when I was a child.  They watched him come in and take off his suit coat, zip on his cardigan, and put on his sneakers to hang out with them for 30 minutes.  Today Mr. Rogers went to buy shoes back in 1982.  They didn't have the original kind he wanted but had another pair that fit far better.  Then he went home and hung out with all the other characters for awhile. I'm currently curled up with my boys watching Mr. Rogers sing the ending song.

"It's such a good feeling, a very good feeling the feeling you know that I'll be back when the day is new and I'll have more ideas for you and you'll have things you'll want to talk about.  I will too."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dancing in the Rain

Back in my Protestant days I had a wonderful pastor who taught me many things, but 2 have really stuck with me and brought me closer to God.

1. You have two choices.  You can do it God's way now or you can do it God's way later.
2. When you are not going the right way, God will smack you upside the head with it and tell you to get back on track.

Today was a #2 day.  I used to be a "fun mom".  I was the mom that would just drop everything to go and have fun.  Impromtu field trips, uninhibited giggle with me was always fun.  The work got done, but the fun was always part of it.

For the past year life has not been very fun.  Life has been an endless run of doctor's appointments, tension, and crazy juggling of entirely too much stress.  Money's been tight and burden has been overwhelming. Somewhere in there I forgot the fun.  I've been so worried about everything that I haven't just gone and done something full of joy in months.  That's not me.  That's not the Mom I want my kids to remember. 

Soon we will be leaving on a work trip that will take us 3 days to reach.  I will find a way to put in fun.  I will stop begin a grumpy mom who is consumed with all the "have to do"s and none of the "want to do"s.  I will stop breaking promises I never intended to break.  I will be the mom I had instead of the mom I am becoming.

God is calling me on my current condition.  It's no wonder that I don't know who I am anymore - any remnants of who I was have been eroded over the past year.  My children deserve to have the best life with me I can give them - and that includes spontaneity and sparks of life as well as love.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gardening 101-3: Companion Planting

Okay, so we didn't make this all in 1 week but I wanted to get to this before any of you actually started putting plants in the ground!

Now that we've selected our plants, we can move on to how we are going to plant them.  Sure, you can just toss them in however floats your boat but plants, like people, get along better with some plants than others.  Other plants act like Great Aunt Martha and tend to discourage the growth and fruitfulness of certain other plants.  Still others, when they are placed together will actually improve production and health of the plants.

(Sorry - I usually write much better than this but there just aren't many synonyms for a generic word for "plant".)

There are many ways to find out which plants are "best friends" and which are "mortal enemies".  My personal favorite is where people have already done most of the work for me.  These Companion Planting Charts are just some examples of the W-I-D-E variety available on the internet. 

Courtesy of Hines Farm Blog

Courtesy of Hines Farm Blog

Courtesy of EDC and Prepping Blog

Courtesy of Fantastic Farms
Depending on how you learn and process one may speak to you more than the others.  Companion planting does more than just encourage growth, it can reduce the amount of pesticides needed and create better soil conditions.

For example, let's say you want to grow corn, beans, and squash.  You have limited space in your garden.  You can plant the corn with the pole beans right next to it and the squash intermingled among it.  The pole beans will actually train and trellis up the stalks of corn and the squash as it grows and vines will help prevent weeds at the base of the corn and bean plants.

But wait, it gets even better!  The beans actually put nitrogen into the soil as part of their "waste product" as a plant.  The corn and squash need that nitrogen to grow!  These plants actually form a symbiotic relationship with each other and thrive because of their relationship.  These 3 plants together are known as the Three Sisters Garden. 

Courtesy of GardenWeb

The Three Sisters Garden is an example of an advanced kind of companion planting called "interplanting".  There are many more examples available if you're interested from The National Gardening Association.  Sometimes the Three Sisters are even used to create architectural design in a garden designed for viewing pleasure as well as edible yumminess adding vertical height and a neat, full presentation of greenery.

Courtesy of American Indian Health and Diet Project


I often write about my new found Catholic faith but tonight I was waxing poetic in my mind and felt the need to share it with you.

Back in my youth **** years ago I used to attend a dual denomination Protestant Church - United Methodist and United Church of Christ to be exact.  I was confirmed there and then became very involved in the youth group and choir. I led an active faith life because of the choir and fought to be allowed in much younger than was "normally acceptable".  I was a "regular Sunday attendee" because I had to be, not necessarily because I wanted to be.  We were an important part of the service and therefore the expectation was that you would be there providing you weren't pushing up daisies.

Howard was an elderly gentleman and our token Baptist after the Baptists kicked him out for being too zealous or whatever reason.  There were many stories about Howard.  He was a kind soul and a bit lost but nonetheless he was ours.  After something he really liked, a rolling hymn, a rousing choir song, a sermon with gusto, Howard would occasionally stand up and yell in true Baptist fashion "AMEN!" and there would be a smattering of giggles, suppressed murmurs, and quiet smiles.

For those attending, particularly those of us who sang in the choir or served otherwise in what Catholics would call "liturgical ministries", it was a sign of a job well done and of sending a message home in a particularly good effort.  "AMEN!" meant we'd done our job well that week - a little pat on the head straight from God spoken through this odd little 5'4" 80 year old Baptist in the third pew.

There are days when I miss Howard and his "AMEN!".  When I am feeling low and sad, that "AMEN!" meant the world to me.  When I really nailed my first solo in the parish which was a very bluesy gutsy kind of number with all kinds of slides and swoops, Howard said, "AMEN!"  When I told the story about what it was like to be the wife of a disabled veteran and to go through getting "the call", Howard said "AMEN!".  I worked hard for that "AMEN!", that sign of instant approval that what I was doing was right.

Catholics have a harder road in this way.  Of course if my church hadn't had Howard there wouldn't have been any acknowledgement either other than people congratulating you after the service which I have always hated.  My voice and talents are for the glory of God, not man.  I am never comfortable when someone compliments me but to rouse Howard out of pew meant more to me than all the other praises.  I was never embarrassed by the "AMEN!".  That was the point. ;)

We do not always get a sign of instant approval in this life.  Indeed, the "AMEN!" moments we may have are often rare indeed - especially when we are looking for gratification from the exterior world instead of the interior.  No one jumps up and applauds you for doing the dishes.  I've yet to see someone leap for joy at a freshly vacuumed carpet.  I have occasionally danced because someone helped take out the trash and am also somewhat known for praising the Lord for clean laundry, especially WARM clean laundry.

Doing the things we need to do in this world can be dull indeed - instant gratification is our society's primary vice.  We are told to "offer it up" and to "pray the day" - I believe in that with all of my heart but sometimes the performer in me runs off with my brain and I miss the old days of Howard.

Catholicism is not a religion of instant gratification.  We are here to sacrifice, to serve.  We are here for much more than "Alleluia" and "AMEN!".  In many ways we are here to pay the penance not only for our own sin, but for the rampant sinning of others.  We get the short end of the stick and the crummy dry bits on the edge of the casserole dish on this side of the world.

Oh the Glory you will know...that beautiful wonderful day that shall come when you feel in your heart that what you are doing is pleasing to the Lord.  When you're doing dishes and look out the window to see your children playing Mass in the yard, when you sit down quietly to pray and your children gather around you and join, when you least expect it and most need it there will be that "good Mama" pat on the head from Him.

Sojourn on and just know that somewhere out there, even in the darkest of moments when you are fighting through the day that you are doing what you can in this world to make it a better place.  "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends."  I propose "Greater love hath no mother than to lay down her life for her family."

And Howard said, "AMEN!".

Monday, January 6, 2014

Gardening 101-2 - Choosing Plants

Today's step is not for the faint-hearted.  If you're going to be growing plants that are already seedlings or even tiny actual plants (or sometimes large ones - our local nursery is well known for tomato plants that are 1 foot or taller!) this is a step that may need to be held in place until you are about to buy your plants because you will be basing your choices on the options available.  If you're a "seed family" or purchase "offers" of plants from online wholesalers, this is where you need to start your process.

All sellers of seeds/offers/starters/bulbs are not equal.  Many will do their best to entice you in with offers of sales.  Others will have fancy schmancy websites designed to make you drool over the lovely produce that can be yours for the bargain price of only $19.95!  Another favorite is the "This plant is an exclusive of Company XYZ!"

To choose your plants you need to develop your own "plant requirements".  No different than choosing a curriculum, a recipe book, or anything else you would purchase for your family you need to know the following at a bare minimum.

1. Will your family eat what this plant bears?
2. Can you grow it where you live?
3. Does it have special growing requirements and can you meet those needs?
4. Is it a GMO seed/starter/bulb?
5. Can I preserve what this plant will yield?

Let's dissect these one by one.

1.  Will your family eat what this plant bears?

Chances are if you're already feeding your family on a regular basis, you already know what they will and will not eat.  There is no point in growing broccoli if no one in your family will eat it unless you are planning to grow it for barter/sale.  If you have a local farmer's market that doesn't require certification to sell or you have friends/family willing to purchase from you and/or trade work for veggies, planting a few things you don't want can be lucrative!.  Plan in advance what you're going to do with that plant.  Start thinking in terms of "I buy X bags of potatoes per month that weigh Y."  You're going to need this information for Day 4!

2. Can you grow it where you live?

Some plants just do not grow well near where you live.  A perfect example of this is that I absolutely love pears but there is not a pear tree on the planet that will survive where I live outdoors.  -40 winters make for interesting growing seasons.  Other plants, such as blueberries, don't like extreme heat.  Learn about the plant you wish to grow and do some homework, especially if you are planting to grow perennials or things that will bear fruit year after year.

The way you can tell if a plant is able to be grown in your neck of the woods is to find out what Hardiness Zone you live in.  The USDA provides you with an excellent Zone Finder on their website.  Just punch in your zip code and find out what zone you live in.  Alternately you can look at the map below and take your best "guess".  If you live near an edge, please go use the zone finder and don't gamble with your planting. Your Hardiness Zone is based on how cold it gets where you live in the winter.  You can "bump" the zone of some plants but we'll get into that far later down the road.  I recommend first time gardeners plant 1 zone colder (lower number) than where they live if you're in a cold region whenever possible.  I grew up in zone 5b and without fail plants that could go into zone 4 always performed exceptionally well.  Now I live in zone 3b and honestly, it's a push quite often without running a special needs camp for plants!

One of the best ways to do that homework is to start talking to locals who have gardens.  We are blessed that the pastor of the church that hosts our Boy Scout Troop also has a small orchard and is willing to share all his tips and tricks with us.  Start networking with the locals and become friendly with Google.  You'll be amazed what you can learn.  Gardeners love to find other gardeners.  We're rather passionate about our hobby.

3. Does it have special growing requirements and can you meet those needs?

Plants are like people.  Some will just go with the flow and be happy where they land such as strawberries and peppermint.  In your area these are likely to be the kind of plants you can find when you go for a walk through nature.  Others are rather picky.  They may need a certain kind of soil.  They may want some shade or need full light.  Look at where you're planning to plant and then think about what will work in there.  Most fruit bearing plants like full sun places.  They want lots of sun to get lots of energy to bear lots of fruit.  Take a look into what your plant likes before you commit to attempting to grow it.  As you develop more time gardening you will be able to make more adaptations to your accommodate more "difficult" plants but until you know but if this is year one, this is not the time.  For more advanced gardeners or those wanting to attempt to make some minor adaptations, we will be addressing those in the upcoming weeks.

4. Is it a GMO seed/starter/bulb?

I cannot emphasize enough how much this is a very personal choice for each family.  Some families live in areas where GMOs are especially helpful because they have a short growing season and/or other difficult conditions to overcome.  Other families vehemently do not want GMO plants in their gardens.  Whatever your choice is, be ready to move forward with your family's goals in mind.  If you're a non-GMO family get ready to make more adaptations to accommodate those plants.

Plants aren't going to be running around with a "I'm a GMO!!" tag on them.  You really have 2 options.  You can weed through more traditional seed markets and look for taglines such as "heirloom", "organic" (be careful - not always *really* organic!), and "wild harvested".  Some taglines to avoid: "exclusive", "hybrid", "modified", "adapted", and "improved yield".

If you're willing to purchase your seeds/starters/bulbs online and/or are planning to purchase in person and want non-GMO products, please refer to the Council for Responsible Genetics Safe Seed Pledge List.  This is the most comprehensive list of companies that promise to only supply non-GMO products and purchase from non-GMO sources.

5. Can I preserve what this plant will yield?

 Ah, the ultimate question.  Do I have the skills necessary to finish the job?  Sure, I can start it, grow it, and harvest it but can I actually manage to eat it?  Think about how you eat the plant that you wish to grow.

Let's talk carrots.  Carrots are fairly friendly in terms of a plant to grow and they're really a marvelous "starter" root vegetable.  Our family eats carrots fresh, steamed, and in stew.

How can you purchase carrots in the market?  Usually they're in bags.  You have the "baby carrot" option (not really that great for you - do your homework!).  The other "major" choice for carrots would be the frozen and canned sections.  So, carrots can be kept fresh for a period of time in bags, canned or frozen. 

I'm going to get a bit ahead of myself and give you some figures.  In #1 I told you to start collecting these and you're about to see why.  Our family eats approximately 1.5 5 pound bags of carrots a month. That means we eat about 7.5 pounds of carrots a month.  Times 12 is 90 pounds of carrots a year.  I don't know about you, but I can't fit 90 lbs. of carrots in my freezer.  There simply isn't enough space to accommodate them all!  I could can 90 lbs. of carrots, but I'm not a fan of canned carrots and we like to eat about half of our yield raw so that really won't work for me anyway.

So how does one keep 90 lbs. of carrots?

First off, I don't need to keep 90 lbs. of carrots.  I know that carrots take about 2 months to grow so for the months that I can have a garden growing starting at 2 months in I can start pulling carrots.  Carrots are first sewn 2-3 weeks before the last frost of the year so I can have fresh carrots to eat straight out of my garden beginning in June. The end of my natural growing season usually sometime in late August.  I might, if I'm lucky, eek out a week of September before the temperatures begin to plummet.  That gives me about 3 months (or 22 lbs.) of carrots I don't need to preserve.

But carrots are magical little plants.  They don't mind a bit of cold, especially if you loan them a blanket.  By putting a frost cover (blanket) on my carrots, I will be able to pull them well after the first frost.  In fact, the variety of carrots I harvest can actually stay in the ground...ready for this?...ALL WINTER LONG.

That's right.  I don't have to preserve a single of my 90 lbs. of carrots as long as my soil is loose enough to continue pulling them after it freezes (it is here).  In fact, if you leave carrots in the ground through the winter, they get sweeter over time!  I just have to dig through the snow to get to them occasionally so I keep them in a part of my garden that is easy to access throughout the winter.

Now, not everyone wants to grow carrots and certainly not all plants can do this, but it gives you an idea of what can be done to preserve your produce now with a bit of creativity and some planning. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Planning a Garden 101 - Episode 1

It has come to my attention that many of my friends are planning to start and/or expand gardens during 2014.  Laudable goals my friends!  Excited to have you joining us on the journey!  That said, it appears from speaking to many of you that you are lacking in experience and/or knowledge that might be helpful to you.  Based on these observations I come bearing good news.

This year, our family will be growing a large garden entirely from seeds, bulbs and a handful of starters (potatoes and strawberries primarily).  Purchasing the plants at stores has yielded little to no positive results in the past with the exception of tomatoes so we're going rogue this year and thought we would invite you on the journey.  Over and above that most plants offered in stores are GMO based and will not yield seed that can be harvested for the following year.  I have been "playing" with seeds for quite some time and am looking forward to helping you turn your shopping experience in a store into one that takes place 100% under your control. 

This also becomes a GIANT homeschool project for any family.  Not a homeschooler?  We could care less.  As far as we're concerned if you're an active parent in the lives of your children we're very happy to have you on board as a "part time homeschooler". You'll realize you're one of us soon enough.  You are, as I call them, a "homeschooler who just happens to send their children to school". 

Before we start this journey of purchasing and planting, we must begin with plotting.  One must plot a garden or the garden will never succeed.  For the next week, I am going to show you how I plot my gardens and the steps I take to do so as I am doing them.  The good news is while you can follow me now, this series really isn't meant to be acted on immediately unless you also live in the great frozen tundra like me (Montana, but close enough! LOL).  This week's gardening posts will be:

1. Choosing Plants: Some plants are superior to others, learn how to figure out what is best for your family.

2. Companion Planting: Some plants are itching to go on dates with each other.  Others would rather fling rotten tomatoes.  Avoid mistakes in your garden's placement now!

3. How Much to Plant: Calculating how much product you need based on the average yield of a plant.

4.  Planting Plans: How to develop them and the most effective ways to implement them.

5. Plotting a Garden: How to make the first 4 posts work together to create the perfect garden!

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Favorite 4-Letter Word

I will admit that unfortunately I occasionally use 4-Letter Words.  You know - the ones we're not supposed to use.  I try very hard not to use them, but occasionally one just flies out and I have to do my very best to reign in back in and apologize to those in my presence.

I have noticed, however, that money seems to be the cause of many 4-Letter Words - particularly the lack of money.  Forgetting one's wallet, unexpected expenses, and other "oops" moments tend to lead to the use of 4-Letter Words, often many of them and strung together.

Today I was talking with a friend who is beginning to write a Science Curriculum about money, curriculum, and the homeschool market and she stumbled upon my very favorite 4-Letter Word.  You know, the one that begins with an "F".


Okay, maybe it's not my very favorite, but it's definitely in the top 10.  Love would probably outrank it along with Hope, but it's definitely up there.

FREE - Every homeschooler's favorite word.  We love "free" but as we all know there is an innate problem with this particular 4-Letter Word than can lead to the use of other, less desirable 4-Letter Words.  As my father always likes to remind me, "Honey, you get what you pay for."

Often I've found the inverse to be true, especially with some extra effort on my part.  Using old textbooks on Gutenberg Press would be one example - what a treasure trove!!!  Hand me down curricula from friends has enriched not only my library but also my own mind.  Random books found at libraries that were ready to toss them in dumpsters round out some more of my 4-Letter Word collection.

This year, as you're beginning to sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly, take a look at some good 4-Letter Word options - for your homeschooling, your faith, and even your home!  Some of my favorite projects are compiled completely from 4-Letter Word supplies! 

In 2014, let us embrace the 4-Letter Word!!!!