Yard Tour Part 1

When we moved into our current home, we inherited a yard full of potential. It has been a fun, but slow journey and this year we are seeing some big results! I never dreamed that I'd enjoy yard work as much as I do, but find myself knowing every plant and fussing over them like so many children.  I thought  it would be fun to show some of our progress and projects. 

The big improvement of Spring 2012 has been The Gazebo. We inherited a firepit from the previous residents that we fiddled with and worked on, but always hoped to do more. You can see in the above image (from the bleak midwinter) what the firepit area looked like. There were some foundational stones and two variegated privets we'd planted last season and not much more. 
At least the fire was delightful. Note the juxtaposition of iced tea and a fire--so southern.

Then in the case of one thing leading to another to another. T built a trail at camp with the help of some Boy Scouts and needed to construct some bridges. A stand of black locust trees on our family's property provided the perfect lumber for the bridge and got T thinking.

Black locust is a phenomenal wood. Often used for fence posts, it is sustainable, reproduces quickly, becomes so hard when dry that it can be a challenge to drive a nail into! My grandfather planted a stand behind our barn for supplying fence posts and there is plenty to be had. In fact, the day T went to cut a tree for the bridge project, dad called to say two trees had fallen overnight--a hot providence, I must say!

So the blessed abundance of access to black locust trees combine with some internet searching and my dad's need to clear some of the stand led to the discovery of a type of gazebo built with a reciprocating roof that requires no center supports, etc, etc. I don't really get it, but for someone with an engineer's brain it was too much for T to resist. He made a plan, cleared the sight and headed to the farm with a trailer and a chainsaw.

Here is the former firepit area, cleared and ready. It was incredibly wet and spongy in that area, so T brought in several tractor loads of mulch and worked a good bit to level and prepare ground.

How convenient to have a front end loader at camp! Also, how convenient to have a wife who can operate the front end loader and drive the tractor--making it so much easier to unload the logs. Nothing quite like a pregnant lady operating the John Deere.

The logs were shaved to remove the bark and over several days, T put the posts in the ground. They were sunk with concrete.

I read online that dried black locust is twice as strong as concrete!

I don't have good pictures of this, but two former staff guys gave us a hard days work to help finish off the gazebo. (Thanks Justin and Justin!)

You can see from this picture of the finished project the inside of the gazebo and some of the wondrous reciprocating roof.

We were really fortunate with this project to not only get the wood for free, but also the tin roof! It came from a barn original to the property (before it was the camp, even!). The barn was torn down a few years ago and the tin was unused. I love the history behind the roof.

All we had to buy was the Quickcrete. Even the sandstone and mulch came from the property. A recent timber cut turned over a lot of rocks--which we love for edging beds.

One view of the gazebo. The not-dried wood is a bit Tiki, but should weather down.  We were gifted with some lovely plants that I'll share about later. But I wanted to talk about the left side of the area first--since we seem to be on a thrifty, recycled  good-stewardship kick!

Folks tend to approach the gazebo from the left if they aren't coming from the house, so T made some log steps flanked by two garden beds.

We've planted clematis on each of the trees that border the area in hopes that they'll make a loverly entrance one day. The bark shavings from the locust trees provide a sort of paving for the trail. In the mean time, this is really a utilitarian side of our yard. There is a trail for the kids that runs alongside the gazebo and off into the woods. On the left are two of our favorite parts of the yard!

This is T's fish cleaning station! I'm sure he could describe it's wondrous features in greater detail, but being all engineer-like, he really thought this thing through. A water hose clamps on the back for rinsing and the top is sloped so the water runs away from the cleaner. Unseen, a bucket hangs off the back of the table behind the cutting board to catch the guts (it has holes to drain the water). Nails cleverly hold the cutting board in one place and the tin (from the same barn) keeps the fish cleaner from being splashed with guts. Always a nice thing, I'm sure. I have no clue what the big bucket on the front does,

Last of all, but precious to me, is our compost pile! I've wanted one for a long time and would just toss things hither and yon, but finally decided to pick a spot and a natural hole in our yard seemed like a good location, which providentially worked out to be just the right spot.
It is not at all scientific, but I appreciate Felder Rushing's advice to just go for it and so I toss it all in and every now and then add some leaves. The cinder blocks came first from construction leftovers, and then from the former firepit. It's been fun to see the decomposition process working. A friends daughter thought it was an animal's nest!

So that's our yard! Part of it at least. This digging and planning and pruning and dead-heading sure gets into one's blood! I never thought we'd be yard people, but here we are and loving it. It's neat to see how all these things came together in a thrifty, reusable and lovely kind of way.


Happy Birthday to the Ground (I mean, to my husband)!

Today my beloved husband turns 32! Happy birthday, babe! I'm going to indulge in naming a few of the gazillion reasons I'm crazy about and thankful for my spouse:

1. He is tender and compassionate, patient and long-suffering (I'm sure this is why we're still married 'cause I tend to go the opposite directions).

2. He has a servant's heart and considers nothing beneath him as he labors for me, the kids and the Lord.

3. He is content to serve and not get the glory.

4. He does not hold grudges.

5. He has integrity, hates injustice and is not content in his struggles with sin.

6. He listens to me when I give advice and has the wisdom to not follow the bad counsel I so frequently offer. : )

7. He listens to me in general--a big deal cause I say a lot!

8. He is amazingly gifted mechanically--he can build, rig or fix just about anything he sets his mind on, be it furniture, gazebos, bellies of the large fish . . . .

9. The man can cook--he can fry, grill, broil, concoct--his abilities make me swoon and of course he LOVES meat--note the above picture. : )

10. There is no one else I'd rather hang out with, work alongside with, bicker with, laugh with, tease, pester or love than this manly man--Happy Birthday, T!


Year in Review

We are so close to finishing the school year that I can barely contain myself! Not that it's been tiresome, boring or awful by any means, but camp is close (and the baby!) and there are so many projects and fun things I want to accomplish before camp life sets in.

I can't believe we're almost done with our official first real year of homeschooling. Two math lessons, some reading, worksheets and a test remain. The lessons will be done tomorrow and the last reading by early next week.

It has been a great year. We averaged three days a week of school at home, one morning in the homeschool room while I had Bible Study and Friday's at a homeschool enrichment program.

I can't say enough about the quality of the programs we used this year:

Saxon Math K was gentle and fun for the kids. There was no "paper" work, but the entire program was manipulative based and systematic. I loved how the calendar is part of each lesson and how these bigger math concepts are being introduced through "play." The calendar portion did get tedious at times (J opened the book and began drilling me on the usual questions today!), but the repetition was so helpful. Miss A did every lesson with us. I don't know if she'll be up for Math 1 next year, but we are going to let her go along for as long as she can handle it. She's four, so next year will not be her kindergarten year.

Sing, Spell, Read and Write: Oh, how I've loved this program!! It gives the student the tools to read. Mr. J can read even new words by himself (up to the level we're at). We used the first grade books this year and are halfway through the second book. He needs oral testing on spelling (where he dictates to me otherwise we'd never finish a test), but I'm so pleased with his progress. I could have waited to do it all next year, but I'm glad we went ahead with the program. Miss A will do the first book next year and she knows most of it already--the trickle down effect has been fun to watch, as she has picked up on a lot of things. There is plenty of writing and spelling, too. I appreciate that it is sort of all-inclusive program.

Rod and Staff Preschool: As we got further into the school year, I realized Miss A wanted and needed something to do with us. These preschool workbooks were fantastic and affordable! The plain-jane appearance is deceiving--she really enjoyed the pages. The curriculum is written by Mennonites and I just know the author is a melancholy type-A person--it's very "follow the directions exactly, color in the lines the colors you are told to," however it worked just fine with this type-B free-spirited mom and daughter. Miss A stayed busy cutting, coloring, pasting, following directions and writing numbers. We have only used up two of the five workbooks, so they will keep us busy next year. She took a lot of pride in her school. : )

Susan Hunt's ABC Bible Verses: This was our morning devotion during school. It has been a joy to memorize these verses with the kids, to read the devotions and call the verses to mind at the appropriate time. She emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in obedience which has been so encouraging to me. We combined this with the catechism.

Reading Aloud. We didn't do as much as I wanted, but we've read a bit and Tuan reads with the kids every night. They've gone through several Bible "story" (I don't like that word) books and are in the Jesus Storybook Bible right now. He also reads books to them. I think they've gone through the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Complete Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, most of the Hobbit and are on the Dawn Treader right now. I'm honestly so done in by the time bedtime rolls around that I happily delegate to T. My goal is to seize more opportunities to read aloud with the kids in the mornings next year.

One of the biggest challenges to our school year (apart from pregnancy!) has been dear, dear Mr. O. He dropped his morning nap not long into the school year which left me with an 18-24 month year old who is insanely busy, scary smart, doesn't sit still and found coloring and table activities for the birds. It was quite the year with Mr. O! I spent a lot of time teaching him to play in the pack-n-play near us. It has paid off as he has learned to sit and focus and play and just in these last weeks we've been able to keep him with us at the table for longer periods of time--he cuts and colors and does play-doh and aqua doodle and I-know-not-what. I'm hoping by next year he will be more trust-worthy to play in his room and with A when I'm working with J. He knows the first catechism question which cracks me up.

Despite the fact that I majored in art, I'm terrible in the intentional crafting department. Deplorable, really. The kids have lots of free access to cut and color and paste, but this mama is a Pinterest-Inspired-Crafting-Failure--and I'm okay with that! Thankfully, the homeschool program J participated in more than made up for it. We were so, so pleased with what J learned, got to do and the friends he made on Fridays. Every Friday I picked up a happy boy with projects dangling from all arms and a backpack of papers. He brought home a "portfolio" of other art projects that we have not looked through and the entire school did a musical program last week. It was a treat!

One of the best parts of homeschooling was the freedom and flexibility for our family. Sometimes we did school on Saturdays because T was working and then we'd take off when he was off. It was great to let our little ones sleep in four out of three mornings a week and deal with well-rested kids. Seeing them play together and just being near to instruct and teach and train (as much as I failed) was a joy. Teaching them to know and love God was priceless. I love our family culture and the mostly slow pace that we live. I love that we ate breakfast, lunch and supper together almost every day (and often with T) and that our kiddos have such funny conversations with each other.

Lest I paint a too-rosy picture, there were many days when I longed for lunch alone, coffee with friends and in my sinfulness deeply resented my friends who had preschool, mothers morning out and were able to run errands ALONE. Many times I wished that there were not THREE meals a day to plan and cook and clean up after, but generally I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am so, so grateful that this is what the Lord has called me to do and that he has provided for me to stay at home with my babies--even if it means driving a minivan that resembles an eggplant--ha!

This summer we'll keep up some reading and writing and crafting, but school will be VERY minimal with camp going on. There's a lot to do this summer and in preparation for the new one.

Next year is going to be crazy! New baby, first grade (adding in history and science), and T is having ACL surgery sometime after the baby arrives. I may really be longing for some MMO or pre-school then. : ) At the very least, the budget may be stretching for some housekeeping. Whatever comes, the Lord is faithful and true and he directs our every step. He is good!