Saturday, September 19, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Things I Love About September

Linking up with Kelly over at her blog for another round of Quick Takes. Thanks, Kelly!

Since I was in a bit of a funk during my last QT, this time I decided to keep it light and share a few of my favorite things about this month.  September is not my favorite month of the year (because nothing beats May and October) but it is definitely in the top five.  This particular year, the September weather here has been beyond beautiful, with day after day of sun and low humidity and cool nights. All of which are pretty rare when you live in southern Appalachia, so I'll take it! The cloudy, damp, dark days of winter will be here too soon. So, in no particular order, here are some of the things in my proverbial backyard that I love most about this month.

It's apple harvest season and we are having a very, dare I say, fruitful year. All the apple trees in these parts are loaded and we, along with the deer and squirrels, are enjoying their bounty.  Since apples tend to produce only every couple of years, we're trying to stock up as much as we can for now.  So far, I've frozen apples, dried apples, and am considering canning some next.  We've been feasting on fried apples, apple cake, apple pancakes and applesauce. If you haven't visited your local orchard, do it soon.  They're never as good as they are right now.

The River
September (and October) are also usually very dry months around here.  That means the river waters get low and clear.  Combine that with the cool nights that keep the water temperatures down, and the river fishing starts to get good!  This photograph is one of my favorite spots along the river.  I spent many a September as a teenager wading the shallows of this spot and catching smallmouth bass. Now, I just love to sit on the rocks and watch my son splash in the puddles. Fishing can wait until he's a bit older.

Warm Season Grasses
When we lived in Missouri, I loved seeing the tall native prairie grasses this time of year.  Unlike the "cool season grasses", which are what most people have growing in their yard, the "warm season grasses" mature and bloom late in the summer, during the warm months.  They are very tolerant to drought and also make excellent wildlife habitat.  Plus, I think they are just gorgeous. The big bluestem, in particular, is always dramatic once it reaches its peak height of five or six feet in September.  Before all of the prairie region of the midwest was converted to cropland and fescue, these grasses once dominated, and it is said that a man riding a horse could not see over the top of them.  How I would've loved to have seen that!  This photo is a patch of native prairie grass that we established in our backyard when we lived in Missouri.  Every September, we'd find this patch of grass filled with migrating grosbeaks, buntings, wrens and finches.  It really came alive and the golden hues in the evening twilight were more beautiful to me than any patch of manicured lawn.  I really miss it.

Fall Wildflowers
This is also the time of year when the woods and fields are full of goldenrods, boneset, ironweed, joe-pye-weed, sunflowers, and asters.   I once tried to learn the names of the various asters that grow in our area, but I found it much too daunting. There are dozens of species, and I have a great admiration for botanists who can tell them apart. Like most people, however, I am happy to simply appreciate their delicate beauty and leave identification to the experts. Goldenrods are also some of my favorite wildflowers.  It's too bad goldenrod gets such a bad rap and blamed for seasonal allergies, because the pollen from these striking yellow flowers is not usually the culprit for everyone's sneezing. Instead, you can blame a lot of that on ragweed, which is prolific this time of year and has pollen that is transported by the wind, not by bees, as goldenrod pollen is.

Cool Mornings
I mentioned the cool nights but would be amiss to not add that the cool mornings of September are just as wonderful.   Finally, after three months of miserable sweating during my morning runs, I can enjoy a run that doesn't leave me looking like I just stepped out of the shower!   Add to that the fact that the morning sun is now lower in the sky and just starting to peek through the treetops as I do my warm-up, and you couldn't ask for a better month to do a little outdoor morning exercise.
Venus shining brightly in the east just before sunrise.

Finally, with the cooler weather, we can also grow things like lettuce and greens again!  Our fall garden isn't much, but if I have a bed of greens and lettuce, I really don't need much more.  I know a lot of folks love growing tomatoes, but for this gal, nothing beats some spinach and kale. If I could find a place where I could grow that year-round, I would seriously have to consider living there.

The End of Summer
I don't love winter, but I really don't love summer.   Maybe it is because I spent so many summers working in the woods and being a pin cushion for every critter that bites or stings.  Maybe it is because I don't like to sweat (who does?).  But mostly, I think it is because the long days of summer always leave me feeling exhausted.  As September comes to an end, I almost feel like I can take a sigh of relief.  The gardening is nearly over, soon the grass will not need to be mowed, and the kids are actually starting to fall asleep at their regular bedtime hour now that the nights are longer and they aren't being tempted by evening sunlight beaming through their window.  September feels like an in-between time during which we have a chance to gather our thoughts and shake off the dust from what is often a weary summer. The period of rest is ahead, and September reminds us of that ever so gently.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Lesson From A Rattlesnake

A couple of weeks ago, my son almost stepped on this rattlesnake. 

We were on a trail that I have hiked probably a hundred times.  And never during any of those times have I ever encountered a poisonous snake, let alone a rattlesnake.  Rattlesnakes here are rare, so rare that they have been considered for state listing status.   So, to have such a close call with one took me completely by surprise.  To see my son’s boot land within a couple of inches of it took my breath away. 

Thankfully, like most snakes, this one relied on its camouflage to protect it and it did not flinch when my son walked so closely to it.   After emphasizing to my son the danger the snake presented, and the respect that such danger demanded, we gingerly walked away from it and continued on our hike.  It had been a close call.

Since that moment, I have replayed the scene of that snake and my son’s foot landing so closely to it over and over in my head.  I know that I should have been in the lead.  We had started with me in the lead, but I had caved to my son’s incessant begging to let him walk in front.  He had only been in front for a few feet before he nearly stepped on the rattlesnake.   Had he stepped on it and been bitten, I would’ve never forgiven myself.   I should have been in front.

Like so many relationships in life, the parent-child relationship is a constant balancing of give and take.  It’s a one shot deal, raising kids, and I struggle daily with the boundaries needed in order to hopefully get it right.  “We need more free-range children” was a headline I saw to a story published this past week, and while I tend to agree with the premise, there is little advice available regarding how to achieve that without crossing the line between responsible and what many consider irresponsible parenting. 

My children have very few inhibitions.  They are adventurous, confident, brave children.  These are traits that I believe will serve them well one day, but I also worry that their strong-willed, fearless natures may also lead them astray. Once, I found them completely out of my sight, at the bottom of the hill, playing in the creek that they knew was there.  They had been told many times to never go to the creek alone, yet they couldn’t resist the lure of the small waterfall that they knew was there. When I found them, they were knee-deep in water, sliding joyfully down the rocks with no thought whatsoever of the fear and concern they’d caused in their dear mother.  Like most children, mine are constantly pushing the boundaries that their father and I put in place.

Of course, it’s not just children who like to push against boundaries.  It seems like lately, we as a society have been choosing to ignore or push against a lot of boundaries; boundaries that have been in place for millennia and that are part of the natural law, which of course, is also God’s law.  Most of the time, we get away with it with few consequences.  Like the rattlesnake in the leaves, the consequences remain well hidden, waiting only for us to get a little closer, and a little closer. In the meantime, we rejoice in the moment that we are splashing in the creek just above the waterfall, or skipping down the forest trail paying no heed to what lies ahead.

God is so merciful to us and our lives are riddled with dozens of second chances that He gives us every day.  Our guardian angels stand with us, always at the ready.  But even they can only do so much.  Like my son, if we are persistent enough, incessant enough, and determined to not let the wiser one lead, then I wonder if perhaps even our guardian angels and the Lord Himself might feel compelled to step aside.  Refusing to be obedient, we let our free will dominate and soon, we find ourselves walking with our guardians behind us, where they most likely cringe with every step we take.

My son had no idea of the danger he was in when he bounced down the trail.  He knew I was close by, within arms reach, and for him, that was close enough.   But he only thought it was close enough because he could not see what I could see.  He saw only the trail in front of him, beckoning him in the direction that he wanted to go, and he was in a hurry to go down it.  He did not see the danger lying on the trail’s edge, hidden, waiting.

It was a good lesson for the two of us.  When he heard me suddenly and unexpectedly shout “Stop!  Don’t move!”, he immediately responded to the authority and concern that he could hear in my voice.  As I focused his attention upon the rattlesnake that he had completely overlooked, he was genuinely surprised by his own carelessness.  Once he could see the danger for himself, and how closely he’d come to it, he finally understood why I had been telling him repeatedly that he should let me lead and at last, he obediently walked behind me down the rest of the trail.  

And as we walked along, I understood again how important it is that some boundaries not be relaxed, and how I must continue to encourage my children to stay within them, even when it would be so much easier to just let them walk in front.  And I thought about how, as God’s children, we like to push against His boundaries, so sure of ourselves and our own wisdom. Like my son, we want to keep God within arms reach, but we really do not like letting Him lead.  We see the trail in front of us that goes in the direction we want to go, but we do not always see what lies beside it.  As a result, we are all children in so many ways, walking among rattlesnakes.   

Saturday, September 12, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Ups and Downs

After a month already passing (wow, that was fast!) since I did my last quick takes, I thought it was time for another round.  I apologize in advance, however, if this one is a bit of a downer.  Not that my problems are huge because they aren't, but it has been one of those weeks, if you know what I mean. Feel free to click away now if you are looking for something a little more uplifting.  I won't blame you a bit!

Blogging has been taking a bit of a hiatus here as we slowly move out of summer. Any spare time in the past month went mostly towards digging potatoes, canning tomatoes and green beans and planting our fall garden.  Then, just as things began to slow down, I got hit with a bad case of food poisoning last week.  We hardly ever eat out, but I caved last Sunday and took the easy way out.  Man, did I pay for that decision. Thankfully, nobody ate the same meal that I ordered, and everyone else in the family was fine.  I'm thankful, too, for a husband who was at home (and not on a business trip) and able to pick up the pieces while I was out of commission for a few days. If there was a silver lining to this nasty episode, it was that I had him for backup. I think that is the last time I will eat fast food for a very long time.  It's never worth it.

Part of our new end-of-summer routine has included Joah starting preschool two days a week now and continuing with homeschooling for John.  John just finished up his pre-reading workbook today and was so proud of his certificate!  It took him 12 weeks to complete the workbook and he has done so well.  He is ready to start reading his first beginner book now.  He is growing up so fast, and I'm so glad I still get to spend my days with him rather than watching him go away to school every morning.  That day will come soon enough.

However, there is one part of homeschooling that I was completely unprepared for and that is the disapproval that so many people have towards homeschoolers. I've really had to grow another layer of skin this past month, and my tongue is getting numb from biting it. I had no idea so many people are against homeschooling! Most of the reactions have been elephant-in-the-room silence, but a few have been snide remarks and passive-aggressive comments.  It hurts considering this has been coming from close friends and family who I thought knew us well enough to trust our parenting decisions. Anyhow, I'm sure those of you reading this and who are experienced homeschoolers are not surprised, but for anyone who still may be considering it, just be ready for some backlash. Most of the time, I don't try to justify our decision.  I'm hoping that time will tell the tale and perhaps some of them will come around.  Thankfully, I've become quite accustomed to being the odd-duck and so this is not unfamiliar territory.

We got another potential adoption situation this past week, too.  And again, it slipped right through our fingers.  Not because we failed to respond.   We just failed to respond fast enough.   Five hours after we became aware of the situation and were asked if we wanted to present our profile to the birthmother, we were told by the agency that they were not taking any new profiles.  Five hours! That's how competitive the domestic adoption arena is, folks.  There were so many waiting families that responded to this one birthmother situation that within a few hours, no other families were being considered.  It is all done on a first come-first serve basis.  My husband and I didn't even have time to discuss the situation before our window closed.  This has happened to us more than once now.  And these are not perfect situations.  These are situations that have already been passed over by other waiting families and are presented to couples like my husband and I who are open to special needs, etc.  And even then, these babies are wanted by so many...desperately.   Of course, that's a good thing.   It's just hard to wait so long and miss even having a chance by a few hours.  Infant adoption should never have turned into such a competitive and expensive business in our country, but it has.

As time continues to pass by with no adoption possibilities playing out, I find myself often wondering if we should just throw in the towel.  Our home study will expire in three months, and this will be the third time it has done so.   During those three years, we've never even come close to being considered.  Part of that is our own fault, because we are not willing to adopt at any cost and do have certain ethical boundaries we do not want to cross.  Part of it is because we listed with agencies that do not promise birthmothers the moon, so to speak. And part of it is because of our age now, which certainly is not working to our advantage.  Our boys still ask often about when are they going to have a new baby sister or brother and now I tell them it may not happen, and that not everyone who wants a baby gets one. It breaks my heart each time. We have been so ready for so long.

On a lighter note, we celebrated the Blessed Mother's birthday this past week.  I made some cupcakes using this recipe, which I love because it is easy and the cupcakes are firm and not too crumbly, which is important when you have kids who insist on walking around while eating.  To keep it even simpler, I just dusted the cupcakes with powdered sugar and stuck a candle in each one.  The boys loved them! Joah called them sweet muffins. I also made frybread for supper for a special treat, as a nod to our Lady of Guadalupe.  A little honey on some frybread will bring out the happy in anyone, and I hope Our Lady smiled as she watched us.

That's about it from here.  One high point of this past week was discovering that a couple of photographs I submitted to a local photography contest made it to the finals.  They announced the winners last weekend and even though I wasn't one of them (not that I should have been...some of the other photos submitted were much better!), it was exciting to at least be considered.  Below are my two photos that made it to the finals.  One was of John when we went hiking this past spring, and the other is a very rare species of snail found in the forest here.  I hope the photos inspire you to get outside this weekend and enjoy what I hope for most of us is some beautiful early autumn weather!

Have a wonderful weekend, and don't forget to visit Kelly at her blog for more Quick Takes!