Posted in family life

a little bit of normal life: gardens, dirt, and popsicles

Well, our sweet potato growing experiment failed.

I know some varieties of sweet potato can grow in Arizona, but the microclimate of our backyard is warmer than average due to heat radiating off the walls, and the copious amounts of water we gave the plants just barely managed to keep them from dying for the past couple months. Compared to how sweet potatoes should look after that much growing time, they were small and sickly. And all the purple ones died after a particularly hot and dry week in July.

However, we took advantage of the garden being empty of plant life to completely rebuild the frame for the raised bed, since the old one had succumbed to weather damage and splintered apart. My husband did an awesome job with it, and found an environmentally-friendly water sealant to protect the frame so it should last for a while – and the boys have been loving the chance to play in the dirt before it’s time for our fall planting.

Rondel prefers to sit outside the bed and use his construction trucks to dig; Limerick had more fun climbing right in and burrowing into the dirt with his hands.

Since the soil hadn’t been watered for a few days in preparation for moving it out of the old frame and back into the new one, it was blowing all over us like dust – so I turned the hose on to a trickle and added it to the fun 🙂

Limerick was incredibly focused on the dirt/mud. I don’t think he smiled once… he was too busy investigating the different sensations of dusty soil, wet soil, and puddles in the soil. It amazes me how dirty he can get when he’s intent on experiencing or exploring something! I had to spray him down before we went outside and it was surprisingly difficult to get all of the dirt off of him. But it was worth it – if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know what a fan I am of messy/sensory play!

And then (true mom confession) I fed them homemade peach popsicles for dinner with the excuse that we were all too hot from being outside to eat anything warmer 😛

Posted in musings

gardening our hearts

When my husband and I started our backyard garden a few years ago, we overestimated the quality of our soil (well, I overestimated it) and made our garden soil mix with 50% native soil, 30% compost, 10% peat moss, and 10% vermiculite. I had actually found this percent mix recommended for particularly poor native soil and so thought it would work for our adobe clay.

I wasn’t entirely wrong, but quite a few seasons of plants have now struggled to grow deep roots through the hard earth, and been small and stunted as a result. I have only to compare the growth of the plants in my garden to those in my mom’s garden to realize the significant impact made by the poor soil.

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my oregano – a decent plant, but spindly compared to the massive bush in my mom’s garden, that has to be sheared back dramatically every few weeks to keep it from taking over

Each growing season, as we add more compost to the soil, it improves a little bit more, and eventually it may be as rich and soft and fertile as the soil in my mom’s garden was to begin with – but that process is going to take time, patience, and effort.

I think it is the same way with my heart – with all of our hearts, probably. We all start out in different places; some of us are more naturally inclined to virtue than others, some of us more easily bear the fruit of our beliefs, and some of us just need a lot more work before our actions take on the robust and fruitful nature of a plant in abundant health. We can all have the same seeds planted in us through books, experiences, relationships, and so on; we can all water those seeds in appropriate amounts through continued learning and the building of spiritual habits; but some of us will bear fruit in certain areas far more quickly and beautifully than others. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are trying harder – just that we had better starting material in that area.

For example, when it comes to sex, I started out with really good soil. I have no natural inclination toward sexual sins, and significant appreciation of the spiritual and physical mysteries of the marital act. It has always been an area that leads me to meditate on the incredible love of Christ for His Church, instead of an area of struggle and temptation. On the other hand, I have extremely poor soil when it comes to emotional regulation. My moods swing like a pendulum, and the negative emotions (anger, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, depression, and so on) linger and build up within me like a storm of darkness ready to break upon those closest to me. It damages my relationships, preventing me from becoming truly close to anyone, and wounds the people I love the most. So I can put in hours of prayer and concerted effort towards managing my emotional reactions and redirecting my thoughts and attitudes toward Christ, and still appear to have weak and scraggly plants in that part of my garden – but I can put almost no effort in to resisting sexual temptation and still enjoy healthy and thriving plants in that area. And these areas of strength and weakness are different for every person.

We can and ought to put in the time and effort to improve the soil in those struggling areas, and not just focus on improving the short-term health of the plants therein. How do we do this? By making everything we do be about Christ, centered on Christ, living in Christ, knowing Christ, loving Christ; by immersing ourselves in His word, by constantly coming to Him in prayer, by unifying ourselves to Him and to His people. If He is first, if He is all, everything else will find meaning and beauty in Him. If He is in us, He will be transforming us, mixing the rich compost of His life into the hard clay soil of our hearts, making us more like Him.

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – mostly sweet potatoes

I got some pictures of our baby sweet potatoes in the garden!

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One of the little slips didn’t make it – I think it was just too small to be transplanted – but I kept one of the purple potatoes and both orange potatoes in their jars anyway, so I’ll be able to replant in that location when the more sluggish slips have reached a better size.

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Right now, they look like they’re doing rather well! Even the orange potatoes, which have been slower to root, have a few slips with both good little leaves and decent-sized roots, so maybe I will plant them sometime this upcoming week.

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Of course, the difficulty with having those tiny new plants in the garden is that the boys have to show some caution now when digging in the dirt. Rondel is pretty good at understanding the idea of being gentle with the baby plants, but Limerick seems a bit more oblivious… I just hope they will learn and that the sweet potatoes will survive!

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{funny}

Apart from the garden, Rondel’s sense of humor has been growing all the time. Last night he came running out of the bathroom with an extra pair of underwear asking to wear both. When we told him that only one pair would fit on his bottom at a time, he decided the other pair should go on his head! And he found another hat to top off the ensemble:

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I think the laughter he brings just might make up for the sleep deprivation he causes…

What’s been going on in your world? Head on over to the link up at Like Mother, Like Daughter to share with everyone else!

Posted in musings

fighting for joy

In gardening news, Rondel and I planted most of the purple sweet potato slips this weekend! Some were a lot bigger than others, so we’ll see if they all make it or not… the orange ones will need to grow a bit more in their jars first, but we left some space for them.

In other news, I was thinking this week about how joy can’t be taken for granted but must be fought for, sometimes by tooth and nail. I can’t just assume that relationships and circumstances will happily accommodate me, nor can I assume that my response to adverse situations will be one of cheerfulness and contentment. If I want to have joy, I have to do the hard work of maintaining it in my heart.

Practically, I know that there are a few specific things that consistently impair my ability to be joyful: issues with my husband, a lack of prayer, and sleep deprivation. (Hormones also play a role but there’s less I can actively do about that!) So when the morning starts off with a misunderstanding or argument with my husband, it tends to color my whole day in blacks and grays; by default, I either become sad and depressed or bitter and resentful. If joy really matters to me, I have to be willing to swallow my pride, bury my anger, and actively seek reconciliation and understanding again. Sometimes it’s as simple as a “sorry for what happened – I love you” sort of text – and yet, while it may be simple, it sometimes seems like an impossible task.

But it all comes down to whether or not I really want to live with joy. I don’t believe that I will always be able to have joy, no matter how hard I strive for it, but I do believe that it is a very different thing to be overwhelmed by my emotions and sinful tendencies but to still be fighting with all my strength for hope and peace and joy, than to raise the white flag to the general progression of discontent and stress and insecurity without a second thought. And after all, our joy is directly commanded by God. It is not a trivial or selfish thing to fight for it, but something that pleases Him and blesses everyone around us – so it is very much worth the effort that it takes.

In the emptiness of bleak despair, He is my fullness and hope.

In the piercing pain of loneliness, He is my comforter and my companion.

In the gnawing fear of inadequacy and rejection, He is my helper and the lover of my soul.

In the storm of brokenness and sin (my own and others’) that threatens to capsize me, He is the source and sustainer of my joy, and it is under His flag that I fight when I fight for joy.

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – working in the garden

For the first time in my desert gardening adventure, I’m going to be attempting a crop over the summer. Our scorching days not being particularly friendly to most plants, I’ve avoided the summer so far – but this year, we’re going to be planting sweet potatoes! I’ll have to take another picture of the slips I started soon, because they’re really starting to take off, especially the purple potatoes, which have the most beautiful red-veined leaves.

Anyway, to grow sweet potatoes we needed to seriously amend our soil, because the native soil where we live is the kind of clay you can build with – dense, compacted, hard, and thick: pretty much the opposite of what root vegetables need! So we spent Saturday mixing in two huge sacks full of compost from a local farm into our raised bed, and the boys, particularly Rondel, had a wonderful time exploring the dirt and helping with the work.

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He was so focused and engaged with the task at hand! He first helped me water the mint and oregano, which we had to transplant to the trench garden from the raised bed to make room for the sweet potatoes, and the continued to water the dirt in the raised bed as we mixed in the compost. We had the kiddie pool filled up in case anyone needed to cool off, since Saturday was pretty warm, and it provided Rondel with a way to fill up the watering can on his own.

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In addition to wanting to help with the tasks of preparing the garden, Rondel couldn’t resist sticking his hands in the dirt and discovering what it felt like at various stages of wetness, from completely dry all the way to soggy mud.

The garden has always been his happy place, where he pushes his sensory boundaries and lets his imagination run wild, and I absolutely love seeing him get dirty and sweaty and so incredibly captivated by natural things. This is our little piece of nature in the midst of the city, and something about it speaks to his heart.

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Limerick also wanted to use the watering can, once Rondel put it down, and after a while he kind of got the hang of it – but at first he just turned it upside down like a bucket:

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Aside from the watering can diversion, however, Limerick was not thrilled about our family time in the garden. He was tired and hungry and generally grumpy, and constantly demanded bubbles.

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have you tried taking pictures of bubbles as you’re blowing them? it’s more luck than anything that one of these bubbles managed to be in focus…

And it’s so hard to say no to him because I always wonder if I’m just saying no because of my own selfishness and laziness instead of for a legitimate reason, and because he sometimes gets very fixated on things and has a lot of trouble moving on to something else when I say no. It’s hard not to pull out the bubbles when your baby is crying for them and it’s not a difficult activity to share with him – but on the other hand, I don’t want him to think that he can get whatever he wants by crying for it. Right now I’m trying to be firm with boundaries that I care more about and just caving on the bubbles… I do love bubbles myself anyways…

Head on over to the linkup at Like Mother, Like Daughter today to share some more everyday joy and contentment!

Posted in musings

orange blossoms in the spring

The orange blossoms are beginning to open.

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The scent of them in the air – spicy, sweet, alluring, richly complex yet somewhat warm and light – is one of my favorite things in the whole world. I can’t think of another smell quite so wonderful (although the smells of yeast bread rising and new babies snuggling come pretty close).

In the sunshine, in the middle of the day, in the backyard or kitchen just feet away from our tree, the smell makes me want to bask in the sunlight, dance with my boys, overflow with hugs and kind words – it elevates the positive, surrounds me with energy, fills my heart with simple joy.

In the twilight, caught on the edge of the cooling breezes, it makes me think of balconied rooms hung with muted orange, lit with candles, where a woman awaits her lover as the curtains rustle over the open window. It is the seductive, entrancing scent of the blossom that hints at love as it breathes in on the wind.

(I told my husband these thoughts and his eyebrows shot pretty far up… he brings me back to earth pretty quickly sometimes 🙂 )

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The bees are loving the blossoms as well. Our tree has more blossoms than any other tree I’ve seen around town, so there isn’t much out there to draw the bees away from us yet. But so far they ignore the babies, and the babies notice them just enough to say “bumblebee! buzz buzz buzz” and then move on 🙂 Hopefully we’ll make it through the spring without any stings! If not, I suppose bee stings are a part of life.

What is blooming near you all?

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – thankful for the things I do have

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We may not have much space, especially outdoor space, but we have room for the beauty of green growing things:

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I’m not confident we’ll get any harvest, but at least the corn is pretty while it’s growing…

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We may not have lots of space to run around, or big places to explore and build forts and play games, but we have the security to play with carefree happiness in the space we do have:

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{funny}

We might not have space for me to back up enough to capture the whole of our tiny yard in a picture, but we have space for the boys to play together where I can capture them both at once like Rondel asked me to:

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Limerick splashing Rondel, who is really learning to put up with a lot.
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Parallel play – and the impossibility of getting them to look at the camera, or at me!

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We may not have woods and grassy hills and flowers so they can touch and see and smell the wonders of nature, but at least we have a garden so they can feel the dirt on their hands… and taste it in their mouths! The realities of toddlers!

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There’s dirt in his mouth, on his face, and on his hand!
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No clue why he’s eating the pot… I don’t ask anymore

To be real with you, it makes me happy deep in my heart to see Rondel with dirt in his mouth and on his hands like that. The garden is one of the few places where he’ll relax enough to get truly messy: he’ll use his whole hand to dig in the soil instead of using one finger or a scoop/tool like he prefers to do with sand or play dough. (He won’t even touch gooey or slippery things, like cornstarch slime or Jello…) I know that letting him get dirty and become comfortable with his hands and body in the soil will have huge payoffs for his sensory processing skills, and since he really hates getting messy at other times (even with food) this is our stepping stone to improving his tactile processing skills. For me, even if nothing in the garden bears fruit, it’s worth it just to see my boy getting dirty without being bothered or wanting to be cleaned up instantly.

Go visit LMLD for the rest of the link-up! I hope you had a wonderful week as well 🙂

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – enjoying the end of summer

The garden is starting to take off! I think this is one of my favorite times of year, when I get to watch the new life springing up out of the ground. We’ll see if they make it to an actual harvest though 🙂 I don’t have the greenest thumb in the world!

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And of course it is still warm enough here to play at the splash pad in the afternoons (and probably in the mornings too, to be honest – our highs are just beginning to flirt with the 90’s when storm fronts come through, and then they jump back up to triple digits). Rather than mourn the lack of any significant autumnal season, we’re choosing to enjoy the summer fun as long as we can. Honestly, too, those late summer storms make this one of my favorite times of year: the nights are sometimes cool enough to leave the windows open, the mornings are fresh and clean-feeling, the days are softly warm and perfect for water play, and in the evenings the great dark clouds roll in with thunder and pouring rain.

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Rondel’s developing his own will, figuring out how social dynamics work, and beginning to test some boundaries (not much, though – he’s a pretty compliant child). I’m actually really enjoying seeing his own preferences and opinions grow, and watching him learn how to express them in appropriate ways! A funny side effect of it is this little fake pouty face that he makes when he wants someone to do something in a very specific way, and he knows that it’s a kind of ridiculous want, so he tries to pout when he doesn’t get it but can’t quite keep a straight face.

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{real}

When do babies normally start holding their own bottles? Limerick can’t seem to coordinate his. Sometimes he’ll try to pick it up by the nipple and then stuff the nipple in his mouth (sort of in the same way that he’d pick up a bit of food and stuff it in his mouth), and a couple times he’s managed to get his hands around the bottle part and lift it up, but then he doesn’t seem quite sure how to get the right part into his mouth. So in the meantime we hold it for him when he gets thirsty.

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(That’s my hand holding the bottle… his are passively at his side. Sigh.)

I hope all of you in other parts of the country are enjoying your beautiful fall weather! Join me at the LMLD link up today!

”round