Saturday, September 29, 2018

hey-hey, look who's here!

Straight from Puerto Rico, it's Chiro, Lery, and Demeric!!!

For two whole weeks, they are here, in OUR house, whoo-hoooooo!

They first got the idea for the trip (I think) one night when they were bustling around getting the pinchos ready for the volunteers and I said, “You know, these would be great for the relief sale.” (We’d already told them about the sale and how we make thousands of donuts each year, so they knew what I was talking about.) Without batting an eye, Chiro said, How many do you need? A thousand? and Lery said, We both still have vacation days. What are the dates?

Realizing they were dead serious — they would just drop everything and fly to the states to volunteer for a sale they’d never been to — I backpedaled real quick, explaining that it wasn’t my place to invite them and that I’d need to talk to the board first.

But then one thing led to another and now here they are!

They spent the first few days in Pennsylvania, visiting Kenton and Co and attending meetings at MDS headquarters (their status as long-term, on-the-ground leadership volunteers is now official, whoop!), and their last few days will be dedicated to making hundreds of pinchos for the relief sale, but the two-week space in the middle is dedicated to a whole lotta R & R.

Saturday night they arrived at our place and we’ve been going strong ever since.

Everything is an adventure — feeding calves, lighting fires in the woodstove, green beans eaten hot (not cold out of the can, as is their custom), vegetable stands selling food on a trust basis, attics and basements (their first time in each), bathroom doors without locks (horrors!), buying a 50-pound sack of popcorn direct from the farmer, borrowing/stealing potatoes from neighbors, purchasing produce from an Old Order Mennonite farm, etc.

making my birthday supper: guiso de pollo, rice, tostones

I love hearing their reflections: It’s so quiet here! What views! The weather changes so fast and so dramatically! There’s so much green! Lery told me, I knew you lived in the country, but now I’m here and I see how TOTALLY different it is — how in the world did you survive in Ponce for four months?!

Friends from church loaned the a car (thank you, friends!), and I’ve been charged with managing their social calendar. They've sat in on the kids’ choir rehearsal, visited the rescue squad with my son, stopped in at the barn where my daughter works, and fallen in love with Gift and Thrift. They’ve been meeting different people for lunch, and going out for coffee with friends, and visiting the university. They come home utterly exhausted from speaking English all day long, and we nod knowingly and then laugh, Now you know how we felt ALL SUMMER LONG.

Last night we hosted a potluck party for all the local people (and their families) who volunteered in Ponce over the summer.

I grilled dozens of hot dogs (and scorched the last grill-load black, oops), and everyone brought food and lawn chairs. We sat outside in the yard, soaking up the last rays of sunshine — after a week of rain, the sun and blue skies were the best part of the whole event  while the kids raced around kicking a soccer ball and jumping on the trampoline and playing with Coco and the calves.

Our older son set off a fireball (of course), and then, once it got dark, we set up an outdoor projector. Nilda and Norleene had sent a video clip for us to share with the group, though I didn’t know about it until their faces appeared on the big screen/bedsheet: What a treat to see the two of them sitting side by side in their new home, sending their love to all of us!

 And then we showed the video that Rolando had made for our despedida. The whole situation felt extraordinary, really: All these people had helped at different stages over the course of the summer and now here they were, standing together in the dark in a semicircle in our yard, watching the project in its entirety — from clips of Maria ravaging the island, to shots of Nilda sifting through the rubble, to the empty lot, and then — oh joy! — to the many, many people working together and a new house rising.

P.S. After everyone left, we crashed in the living room to process the evening's events, and then just when I was thinking it was time to call it a night — everyone was so chatty, shouldn’t they be exhausted? — Rolando walked in the door. 

In our house???

We were completely stunned and disoriented. We knew he’d been in meetings in Canada, but he’d never said a word about coming to Virginia! (Chiro and Lery knew he was planning to surprise us — thus the reason that they were, we learned later, trying to keep us from going to bed, ha!) Once things settled down, they set up a bed for Rolando in the guestroom, and John and I fell asleep to the distant hum of their chatter drifting up through the floorboards from below.

And so the party continues!

This same time, years previous: you're invited!, welcome home to the circus, the myth of the hungry teen, the quotidian (9.29.14), the run around, 37.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

evening feeding

We’ve been feeding the calves three times a day: at seven in the morning, one in the afternoon, and seven in the evening.

It's my older daughter's job to feed them, but sometimes, like one evening last week, we all chip in, some more happily than others.

That evening the feeding process was complicated by the one calf that had scours. It takes a good deal of coaxing — and a lot of time — to get the milk down, and extra hands to help fend off the rest of the calves. Also, another calf looked like he might be getting scours (he did), and there was a deworming injection for all four beasts.

The calves are gradually earning their names. We now have a Charlie and a Sebastian (though I'm not sure which is which). Half of us want to call the heifer Daisy and the other half are staging a revolt. The fourth calf remains nameless, mainly because he might die.

The scours thing has been a real bugger. One of the calves got so weak that we'd have to lift him into a standing position, and then he'd topple right over, his legs splayed in all directions. Feeding times took forever, and it was so discouraging. But then a vet tech friend popped in with antibiotic injections and advice on the proper electrolytes to use, and the next morning all four calves were on their feet, lined up at the door ready to eat.

There have been relapses (and just yesterday we had to give another electrolyte feeding), but over all the calves are eating well, charging to the bottles and slurping the milk down at breakneck speeds.

So maybe we've turned the corner?

This same time, years previous: grape pie, the quotidian (9.26.16), stop and sink, better than cake, test your movies, baking with teachers, the quotidian (9.24.12), when the relatives came, painting my belly.

Friday, September 21, 2018

a bunch of things

A heifer was born over the weekend, so we picked her up — literally, in my daughter’s case — and added her to the pack.

She’s a little thing, wiry and independant. During the day, she likes to go lay down in the tall grass, far away from the boys.

It’s still up for grabs whether or not we will keep her for a milk cow — and it’d be a bit overwhelming since she’d give way more milk than we could use — but we’ll figure that out later. In the meantime, I get such a kick out of her. When she drinks her bottle her tail curls up.

One of the boys has scours, but so far we’re managing it with electrolytes. He’s still eating, and still able to get up and around, so fingers crossed he makes it!


Ever since getting home, running has been pure agony. I’m running the same distances I did before we went to Puerto Rico, but it used to be I often felt energized after a run, like I was hardly even breathing heavy, but now it’s all I can do to keep myself going. I figured it would take me a few runs to whip myself back into shape, but yesterday morning, after going on yet another run in which my legs felt excruciatingly weak and sore, it finally occurred to me: I hurt because I’m building muscle!

Four months of running on level ground, and all my leg muscles practically shriveled up, apparently, so now that I’m going up and down hills and trying to keep up with my super speedy sister-in-law, it makes sense that I’m kind of dying.

I’ll keep plugging away and in a couple more weeks I’ll hopefully feel stronger. (If you hate running but kind of want to not hate it, this inspiring post is just for you.)


The whole time we were in Puerto Rico, I felt slightly puffy and bloated, like I was retaining water. Which I probably was. In hot weather, my one ankle puffs up, and my fingers swell, too. Which made me wonder: in hot climates, does everyone weigh an additional five pounds, thanks to water retention?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that within days of coming home, I’d peed a whole bunch and de-puffed accordingly.


A bunch of you wondered about my reasons for wanting Coco (and the other dogs) to stay outside, so here you go:

*I’m sensitive to animal smells and even the sweetest smelling animals have a funk.
*Dirty paws, poopy butts, fleas and ticks, ick.
*Potty accidents.
*Allergies. A couple of us are allergic to cats and dogs, and while our symptoms are mostly managed, some houseguests might be more vulnerable.
*Additional bodies = increased activity = more chaos.
*Their garden protection services are needed outside, where the garden is.

Summary: I have principles, dammit!

P.S. Coco is sleeping in my daughter’s bed at night.


Earlier this week I nearly suffered death by laundry. After days of rain, I was about bonkers.

The air was so damp that nothing would dry. We hung clothes up in the downstairs bedroom and they just molded. It was reminiscent of our time in Guatemala (and there we got a dryer). The floors felt sticky, the bed sheets soggy. Wood swelled so doors wouldn’t shut and drawers wouldn’t close.

I gave up on even trying to do laundry, and the rancid piles just grew higher and higher. At the peak, the dirty laundry in the upstairs bathroom topped out at waist level.

Weirdly, I felt slightly proud.

I ran out of dish towels. The kids ran out of underwear. Just when we were reaching desperation levels and I was considering a trip to the laundromat, the sun came out. Over the course of the last 48 hours, I’ve probably done at least 18 loads of laundry.

Each time I wake up during the night, I sleepily stroke the sheets, reveling in their sun-dried, crispy-smooth freshness, ahhhh.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.18.17), historical fun, the quotidian (9.21.15). the big bad wolf, baking with teachers, candid camera, the potluck solution, we love Fred, vacationing till it hurts.

Monday, September 17, 2018

the quotidian (9.17.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Is it better to dry English walnuts before or after shelling?


Irritated at the never ending problems; grateful he's able to fix them.

Making something, most likely a mess.

Keeping the jungle at bay.

Prepping for the hurricane that never came.

These days the sun is such a novelty that it's become photoworthy.

Coaxing is no longer necessary; now they come running.

No worries, we all still have eyebrows. 

This same time, years previous: the brothers buzz, cast iron skillet steak, black bean and veggie salad, nectarine bourbon pie, in defense of battered kitchen utensils, the quotidian (9.17.12), goodbye summer, hello fall.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

bottle calves

We’ve been wanting to get a couple steers to raise for meat again, so last week when a friend told us about a local dairy farm that was selling off a bunch of calves, I jumped.

Originally we thought we’d get two calves, but then my husband pointed out that if we were already bottle feeding two, what was two more? We could sell the extra steers after a few months. But then we learned that the farm occasionally sells heifer calves and a few of us thought it might be fun, a couple years from now, to experience death by milk, glug-glug. However, when we got to the farm, they didn’t have any available heifer calves, so, thinking we’d get a heifer calf later, we got only three males.

Though now that we’re home and up to our eyeballs in calf poop and milk bottles, I’m thinking three calves might be plenty enough right now?

On the other hand, maybe we should go back for a heifer calf? We’re kind of leap first, look later people, so this is probably the only way we’d ever actually take on a milk cow. Besides, it’s not like we’d have to breed and milk her. We’d have two years to think it over, and we could always change our minds, right? Right?

Sidenote: At the farm, the owner took a good look at my daughter and said, "You look familiar. Do I know you?" We puzzled over possible connections for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me: the relief sale! Our daughter is the poster child for the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, and her face is plastered everywhere.

Anyway, moving along....

The calves are crosses between Brown Swiss and Holstein. With their long, spindly legs and high rumps, they’re a lot bigger than I thought they’d be, and they’re encouragingly active. Heavy, too.

Even though we checked to make sure each of the calves had a good suck at the farm, once we got them home, we had trouble getting them to take the bottle. Only one kept at it, sucking and sucking and sucking, but without taking in hardly any milk. Then my daughter enlarged the nipple holes with a knife and — schlurp — down went the milk. Suddenly they were buzzing all over the shed, chewing on our pant legs and butting us in the butts. It was like they'd just had a shot of caffeine.

I bought enough frozen colostrum for two feedings per calf, but then later I read that calves are only capable of absorbing the antibodies up to 36 hours after birth, so, since two of the three calves were two days old — and since at the farm, they’d already given them each three quarts of the colostrum — buying the stuff was probably a waste of money.

But on the bright side: when pouring the colostrum into the kettle to heat it up, I spilled an alarming amount, sending a bunch of the thick, creamy liquid cascading down between the counter and the stove, so we had to pull the stove out from the wall and scrub everything down so now my kitchen is just that much cleaner, yay.

We’re all a little paranoid about the calves getting scours (i.e. deadly diarrhea), so we’re obsessively watching their poos. We’ve read up on home remedies (doses of pectin mixed with water, adding a raw egg to their milk, etc), and my daughter gave them vitamin injections and is keeping their shed clean and dry, but really, we have no idea what we’re doing. We’re just winging it.

Wish us luck!

This same time, years previous: lemony mashed potato salad, what they talked about, the quotidian (9.14.15), the quotidian (9.16.13), cinnamon sugar breadsticks, whole wheat jammies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Meet Coco, my younger daughter's new puppy.

Over the last few months, my younger daughter continued to grieve Alice's death, and my own sadness lingered, too. Finally, as we neared the end of our time in Puerto Rico, my husband and I decided it was time to give her permission to get another dog.

When you're ready, we said.
I'm ready! she said.

And within a day or two of returning home, we were looking at Craigslist together.

Last Wednesday we found a potential puppy. Both parents (the mother a Border Collie and English Setter mix, and the father a smallish purebred German Shepherd) were, according to the owner, good with kids and loyal, and— what I was most concerned about — not inclined to run off. By the time my husband and kids arrived on site, only two of the seven-week-old puppies were left. My daughter selected — and paid for — the one remaining female.

Since I'm being very strict about the no-dogs-in-the-house rule this time around (wish me luck!), my daughter has been sleeping out on the porch with her new pup to keep her from crying all night long. She reports that Coco curls up so close to her that sometimes she's practically sleeping on her face.

I’m still trying to figure out Coco’s personality. Much of the time, she’s squirrely and squirmy and hates being held, but if she suddenly finds herself separated from her people — by a flight of stairs or a gate or a chair — she immediately starts caterwauling.

She’s playful and bright (I think?), and smells delicious. And when she's sleepy, she's wonderfully cuddly.

It feels good to have a puppy underfoot once again.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.11.17), the quotidian (9.12.16), ketchup, two ways, blasted cake, hot chocolate.