Archives for the month of: July, 2009

There’s a daily chore chart to keep the kids on task without nagging, but once a week we all work together to get the house clean.

On Sundays we gather around the bingo cage, each with a little scrap of paper to list our jobs, and a bowl to hold the number ball until the chore is done and OK’ed. The randomness factor has made this much more fun, and there’s one red “wild card” ball that you can use to swap any of your chores for one of anyone else’s. There’s always wheeling and dealing after the balls are selected, as we all have preferred jobs and most hated jobs.



1.)    Clean front room. Box any seasonal items for the attic.

2.)    Organize and vacuum living room

3.)    Bag recycling and put in van

4.)    Vacuum hallway  (take any waiting items up to attic)

5.)    Sweep and mop kitchen floor

6.)    Clean and vacuum kids closet

7.)    Sweep and swiffer bathroom floors

8.)    Clean and vacuum den

9.)    Clean toilets, inside and out

10.) Clean bathroom sinks and countertops

11.) Straighten and sweep sunroom and steps

12.) Empty wastebaskets to driveway trash, put in clean bags

13.) Sweep porches

14.) Feed and water windowboxes, pull weeds

15.) Organize kitchen computer area and floor

16.) Wash pans, clean and shine sink

17.) Feed and water houseplants

18.) Sweep basement steps and clean cat waterer

19.) Windex stove and dishwasher

20.) Yankee chore exchange

21.) Windex mirrors


Personal chores: Every Sunday

Put away any clean clothes in appropriate spaces

All dirty clothes down chute (check closet, under beds, etc) and change your sheets

Donate one item (front room) —  clothes that don’t fit or toys you don’t use

Finished library books to library box (front room)

Clean animal cages (plus mom- hen house, dad- litter box)

Harvest garden (ask mom what to pick) or pull weeds, 20 minutes

Clean and vacuum your own bedroom (use hose along mopboards)

Half hour of exercise or family bike ride (20 m)


I had the jitters today… nerves a bit jangled, frustrations circling my head like angry guard bees. A neighbor’s disaster, a snarky email, reality-lag from vacation, anger over my stolen ipod (they caught the guy) and ever present economic worries have likely combined with a hormonal low tide to produce kind of an irritating background whine — the emotional equivalent of a bad flourescent light. 

So I prescribed myself my favorite therapy: finding something to do with my hands that reconnects me to my primal brain.

Jeff and I picked raspberries.  It’s a remarkably calming experience, one in which it’s easy to “be present” — cool, green, leafy, with bright red treasures rolling into your palms like unwarranted blessings.

I worked with the bees. I moved my smallest, wimpiest swarm into the stoneware hive I made, so that we can teach each other how bee design works.  I think it has unpredictable flaws — traffic flow? Ventilation? Condensation? — but I remind myself that bees will live in a hollow tree just fine without my engineering, and might well be OK. These were “freebees” — the last, smallest swarm I captured — and I have three more productive hives.

I gave each hive a new super today — (the box stacked on top of the other boxes as an attic to store extra honey). I intend to exact a honey tax from each hive, once honey flow is done for the year.  I am fascinated with the different personality (bee-ality?) of each, wild and domestic, calm and pissy.  I cultivate a frame of mind, at an open hive, that’s almost a meditation, talking calmly to the guard bees who hover and watch me (or at the wild hive, bounce off my face netting.)

Jeff worked in the garage/shop building a base for my clay hive, and the little bantam hen (Jennecita) came in as always, chattign with him as she tried out each of the cubbyholes in his workbench, looking for a place to lay an egg. This is a familiar routine. He picks her up, explaining to her kindly that the cubbies are for tools and not chickens, and he carries her back to  the yard.  She pops through the fence pickets and comes back to his workbench, resuming her search and talkign the whole time. If the studio door is open she’ll go in and lay an egg on a shelf between pots, in a giant bisque bowl, or in a basket by the woodstove. She’s quite selective, and will try several spots before selecting one, chatting the whole time.

Jeff and I got the kids and an old bedsheet, and we stood under the mulberry tree with it spread wide, shaking the branches. It rains big purple juicy berries into the sheet, and onto our heads and shoulders, leaving red juicy spots. Lightning bugs and earwigs always tumble into the sheet and down our necks — it’s part of the adventure, and my compatriots will be rewarded with pie before bedtime.

This is the kind of activity that wakes up some part of my brain evolved over tens of thousands of years. Kneading a loaf, watching a campfire, working my fingers around dirt or wood or clay.  Rocking a baby. Weaving on a loom, making a basket — all calming and right, remembered, somehow, as worthwhile work in a world of cell phone, keyboard, alarm clock and paperwork.

I opened the pop-up camper to clean and air, and set everything right. Unlike my house, it’s small enough to actually be done at some point: bandaids replenished in the first aid kit, food stores tucked away, cords coiled, kitchen wiped down, camping gear stowed — and then the whole thing cranks down into a little box on wheels, home in a rolling suitcase that hooks to a bumper hitch and pulls like a dream.  If it was mine alone — (maybe when the kids are grown) — it would be curtained in batiks and India prints, fat cushions, oriental rug, tassels and bright paint instead of fake wood grain and linoleum… but it’s a vehicle, not a destination, and other projects beckon first.

Now I want to plant spinach in the cool before dark, in the place where my hoop house will be come the frost. And I need to make a big lid, for a soup tureen so big you could bathe a baby in. Jeff wants handmade plates for our table… by best stuff has always gone to market, to market… but this seems important, money be damned.

This summer has been a delicious reassurance that I was not meant for Texas: cool, rainy, green, breezy, blue, cloudy, verdant, fertile, damp and generous.

Connor is waiting the weeks it requires before he can release his white roller pigeons and have them return home.  Hopefully my broken camera will be shipped to me by then.  Watching pigeons circle and land every night at dinnertime is a joy. Last night he went into the dovecote and put a bright band on each of their legs.  They have been named Jupiter and Opal, Pilot and Blanca.  May they be fruitful and multiply, and dodge the winter hawks.

OK… back to work — deliberately, calmly, and trying my best to be here now.

We spent a week traveling with the little pop-up camper, visiting relatives near DC and in Wilmington, NC — museums and monuments, beaches and fun. It made good memories for the kids, and vacation from an endless list of projects for Jeff and I.

Now we are home, and it’s like picking up a book when you’ve lost your page. I am out of synch with my cycle of beginnings and endings: which projects half started, done, ready to start again?  Pots made to bisque, bisqued to glaze?   Last column submitted, next one due?  Bills to mail, bees to tend, raspberries to pick, jam to make.  All those repetitive tasks that are completed and restarted: sourdough starter, family house clean, garbage out, what day is it? Scout meetings, guild classes, kefir and kombucha batches fermented and recultured. I hardly know where to begin or where I left off.

Usually I make optimistic, coffee-inspired morning TTD lists, but it felt really good to vacation away from the constant drive to Get Something Done… so while I  jotted a few reminders on my chalkboard-painted kitchen cupboards today about bills and pressing issues, I let myself wander an erratic path, easing back up to speed and letting my inner ADD kid out to play.

I slept late, and drank my coffee slowly with a cat in my lap. I picked sweet pea blooms, and the last of the gooseberries. I caught up on facebook scrabble games. I rode my bike with Jeff to the produce market to buy asparagus, redskin potatoes and those marvelously cheap bing cherries. I halfheartedly loaded a kiln, wandered off and did a little unpacking, worked on making top bars for my stoneware hive.

After dinner, when it was cool, I went out to stand in my veggie garden. It’s a lovely garden, really… despite a certain, er, freeform approach.  My mid-March seed catalog optimism means plastic keg cups still stand in random corners of the garden, holding withered stems of seedling I simply had no room to plant.  Names markered on the cups identify the corpses: Ruby chard. Georgia collard. Bloody butcher tomato.

A lot got planted, though.  Snow peas and green beans are climbing the sides of the garden gate, and four kinds of melon are scaling the weathered pickets of the fence, offering up blossoms to the bees.  The tomatoes are ripening in organized rows; much of the garden  looks like it should, tidy with rolled fabric mulch under shredded cypress.

Then there’s the rest of the garden. An arched metal framework stands in one corner. My hoop-house offered the first greens of the season by March, but is now lost to a green, growing chaos: lettuce bolted and flowering, weedy wild cucumber climbing arched rib poles, pig weed, lambsquarters and blue eyed grass sprouting out of cold frames, and a few tomatoes fighting last year’s six foot, blooming leek plants for sunlight.  In a bed nearby, the basil and garlic had to make room for all the surprise potato plants — I apparently missed quite a few spuds when I dug the bed’s crop last fall.  And the red raspberries sent runners under the fence along the back.

I once chastized myself for such vegetable anarchies.  I used to chart my garden to scale on graph paper, and carried a notebook of which crop should be rotated where, soil tests, succession planting dates, interplanting compatibilites and plants-per-square-foot gardening rules. Every year I meant to have the perfect, organized garden, and then every September I looked out over the snarl of sprawling pumpkin vines, weedy patches and forgotten dates, and felt like I had failed.

Failed? How could I have overlooked fat pumpkins, red tomatoes, burgeoning eggplant hiding between the weeds?  That’s not failure, it’s nature. It’s a treasure hunt, with the last squash often being outed by the first hard frost.

Little by little it sinks in that my life will never march in lock step with a clock or a list, and that’s OK. 

I planned our homeschool year every fall, and we’d start out great with art museum day, history day and the timeline down our hall, microscope thursdays and math-games on fridays… but then something would happen, something golden, and we’d let it be.  Tadpoles would hatch, or Connor would decide to train his pigeons to come to a whistle; we’d get lost in a library for all day, or drive to the country after an unexpected call to watch lambs being born. Tyler would decide he needed to learn the hobbit shire song on the sax,  or we’d go to the farmers market and then make pickles together. Somehow it all got done, and they aced their exams and lived happily ever after-so-far… but I learned to let things go, when they went. They always went somewhere interesting.

So when I stood in my garden today and looked at the ten by ten patch of dirt I had turned but never planted, I didn’t get discouraged. In fact, looking closely at the well watered weeds, I found four small volunteer tomato plants, three little eggplants, a dill and two chamomiles.  I transplanted them to the margins, because I like surprises, and I like to encourage natural selection in favor of a little hardy spunk. (My wild captured bees may not be as organized or productive as my purchased ones with the hand selected queen, but they are mean as hell and build comb with speed and flair — ya gotta respect that.)

So the “volunteers” have been replanted, the weeds turned under to enrich the soil one shovelful at a time, and tomorrow I will dig into my seed stash and find spinach for cool fall days, salad crops, carrots to winter over. I am finding my place again in the cycle of projects begun and ended and begun again.  July in Ohio is the  rich season where the smallest work brings harvest. Mulberries shaken into an old bedsheet make rich purple pies. Pots lifted warm from the  kiln and line shelves, round and shiny as fat berries. Lettuce gathered into a bowl is lunch, with yellow squash, cherry tomatoes and chives. Bees distill the clover blossoms in my lawn into jars of amber honey, and the chickens graze the same clover to give me four eggs a day: two big brown ones, two tiny white ones.

With such open-handed generosity, and treasures at every turn, even my winding, circuitous path takes me where I need to go. I can move from one thing to the next, clay to garden to computer to child, kitchen to guild, bed to studio — like my bees, sampling this and then that, and still getting the job done by day’s end. 

So my day is like my garden, organized in spots, gone to weed in others. Those fertile margins where nothing has been decided, the free space where I can wait and see what happens, are the comfort, inspiration and unpredictability I need –as an artist, a mom, a highly distractable human, a woman, a worker.

So if I can look at a half-planned garden without sighing over how it was supposed to be, maybe I can learn to look back on a day without being disappointed about stuff I didn’t get done. I come from a long line of “good workers”, but maybe in days spent racing the things-to-do list, trying to meet to some improbable goal, I am missing the small gifts: the volunteer chamomile to nurture for autumn tea, the puddle full of tadpoles that will fill a mason jar and an afternoon.

My friend once sent me a proverb:

“Hop fast”, said the rabbit.

“Walk slow”, said the tortoise.

“Pace yourself”, said the cheetah. “It’s a long run.”

I want to paint that on my studio wall. Tomorrow. Or maybe the next day…

(The casserole I made for my mom for mother's day)
(The casserole I made for my mom for mother’s day)

Jeff and the kids headed for the lake yesterday, but I had to teach at the guild last night. I’m rattling around the house today beginning projects, trying to stick to my list, hoping to get to the lake by suppertime.

Today’s synchronicity appears to have a poetry theme. In the mailbox this morning I found a book of Theodore Roethke’s poetry from my Aunt Ruth in Saginaw, and the 50th year issue of Midwest Quarterly — which republished my poem, “A Gatherer’s Love” from 1990. Yow!

I took time this morning to pick gooseberries for jam. Funny to think that the bees harvested the gooseberry blossoms, which I will harvest again at honey time… and I am harvesting the berries, while the mosquitos are harvesting me.

I seem to be on kind of a working binge, up in the morning making lists and surrendering long after midnight, determined to hit it again in the morning. I take a perverse pleasure in the open-endedness of my tasks, as there are no deadlines and nothing is every really “done” for good. I am painting offices for $$ when time allows, remodeling my studio toward teaching in summer and fall, nurturing a big veggie garden, chickens, and beehives, uncluttering the house, teaching at the guild and making  inventory to open an Etsy store.  Meanwhile I am determined to give my kids as many hands-on life skills as possible this summer, fixing, baking, tending, shopping, cooking, planning.  We’re using scout merit badge books as inspiration, and Molly’s vest is already so covered in badges there is oplace to sew the new ones.

I made 50 jars of strawberry jam, a few dozen of backyard cherry, and I’m starting soon on gooseberry currant. Raspberries will be ripe any day.

In the studio I am experimenting with screenprinting on clay slabs, and I threw an enormous stoneware beehive in multiple sections… I’ll post a photo when the kiln cools.

Molly, my littlest,  will be 11 on Monday and her girl scouts are coming for a combination party and work day.  Our troop has a beehive, built by the girls and covered with kid art,  and we’re making a model to go with a jar of our honey for the Ohio State Fair.

Jeff got a “No thank you”  from Audubon society, his latest interview.  He gets discouraged but the truth is, it’s wonderful to have him home.  He is more himself than he was before, as his job had been really stressful and unrewarding this last year or so.  He’s funny and relaxed, getting tons of projects done around the house,  building scale model trebouchets with the boys, organizing family bike rides, cooking great meals, and generally completing the circle of family.  I wish we were medieval peasant farmers or had some family business, and it could stay this way forever. Of course, medieval peasant farmers didn’t worry about health insurance, or orthodonture…

I am looking forward to a weekend at the lake, and should just kick back and relax, but I packed my potter’s wheel (grandma likes to watch me throw) and a sewing machine to make curtains for the pop up camper.

Jeff just called and they stopped just now at a roadside farm, and Connor bought four fancy white pigeons, “tumblers” — two mated pairs.  I have to go find them a cage to bring to the lake…