Sweet William and some John Hartford.

There’s folks building homes as sweet as can be
They’re leveling their yards and planting their trees
But my little hut, I’ll just let it be
Lord Jesus is building a mansion for me

Mansions for Me, Bill Monroe

Joe has been planting trees and fruit brambles (does thornless also mean bramble-less?) and I finally have my garden planted. It was hot and dry and now it is cool and rainy. Maybe a false start to summer, but I am happy to be reminded I don’t get to be in charge of any of it. My little hut, I’ll just let it be…

My garden dirt is so happy though! I’ve never in my life had more crumbly, beautiful dirt. Between the topsoil last year on our no-till, cardboard beds, and the lovely compost from our wildflower nursery neighbors, it is excellent. I made a bunch of mounds to start melon seeds on and I’ll transplant the seedlings to the fence if they come out strong.

I tried to switch up the hugelkultur beds—if it had tomatoes last year, I moved in carrots and lettuce instead. Cabbage is with the onions; broccoli is minding its own business. I had done some lasagna method layering back in the fall with newspaper and straw and then I fluffed it all up last month. It didn’t break down completely but all the seeds I’ve tossed on top seem to quickly root and sprout up.

Over in the topsoil/compost area the beans look happy (they always do in the beginning) and I’ve got more hot peppers than I know what to do with—I think I was suckered in by the writing on the back of the package, pairs wonderfully with couscous! Dang you, Baker Creek heirloom seed marketing team.
I even planted corn for Joe in the best part of the garden—love is sacrifice, no? We will see how it grows.

May garden! Notice the cardboard along the edges.

I am stuffing bits of cardboard along the edge of my fencing to smother the weeds that want to join the fun. If I can just keep ahead of the weeds!

Last year I sprinkled a wild flower mix between the corn and sunflowers because we were going to set up our beehive by the garden. (This was idealistic, Colorado thinking at its best. Who in their right Midwest mind sprinkles glorified weeds in their vegetable garden?! In the mountains, it made sense.) Well, we ended up with the bees by the back barn but now the second year perennial flowers are popping up. I’ve got Sweet William and Siberian wallflowers and daisies—only one variety is worth keeping.

Sweet William. Before they bloomed I had no idea what they were because they have a really neat green tuft like a paintbrush!

I am so tickled to be out of school for summer. I was working my tail off and getting discouraged with the politics and educational misnomers. It is a breath of fresh air to make food and wash dishes and weed the garden. I stay up late and watch NBA finals with Jubal and read books out loud on the porch (Henry and Beezus).
Luke is channeling his inner John Hartford. Jubal is giving guitar lessons. FC turns on the Korg and will play all day if I don’t holler at him to turn it off. Gretty has been picking out Boil That Cabbage Down on her tiny fiddle. And if they do all the music and their chores I let them play Minecraft and Star Wars on the PS4. Maybe. (Ha.)

Ah, May!

Ranunculus notes!

Foy practices piano two hours everyday. This is a little idiosyncrasy that might slip through the cracks after having other musical little boys in my house. But Foy is different. He’s determined. He is persistent. He actually puts his mind to something and does it—not as an expression of natural talent, but grit. I love it about him! And he is sounding amazing.
(He was inspired by the last composition contest…He begins real lessons this summer. He’s already blown through one music book. We really cannot handle listening to Ode to Joy at 500mph anymore.)

The ranunculus I’ve been babying for five months now have bloomed as of this second week of May. The first to pop were the white ones in a container by my door. It’s been so hard not to cut every single one as they open because they are so gorgeous. I’ve taken a couple bunches in to school for teachers and two dozen makes a perfect bouquet.

Notes to self on ranunculus:

The bigger the corm, the bigger the flower. My tiny ranunculus are precious but for a nice stem with a good head you’ll have to start with a larger corm. If you just order a bag of mixed bulbs off Amazon you will probably get a handful of tiny little corms. And you’ll have to separate them all out and give them special treatment. (Joe did this and I haven’t had luck with a single corm from that batch.)

I sprouted all my corms in a damp tray of potting soil, allowing corms to touch. Even the tiniest sprout went in the ground in early Spring and has been successful. They love being in the cool ground.

I am glad I didn’t plant them last fall. In my area (6a), another gardener had her blooms overwinter in a covered flower bed and she did a lot of covering, uncovering, leaf-layering and eventually even installed some Christmas lights to keep them warm-ish. Hers came up a couple weeks before mine, but she sure went to a lot of work to keep the babies alive. I only put mine in the ground in January-February because I didn’t sprout them till after Christmas. And now it feels like the perfect time for them to bloom is beginning to middle of May. We’ve had some hot, dry days but they are doing beautifully. They are a nice bloom post-tulip season and pre-zinnia/aster/cosmo/summer flowers.

When I put them in the ground in Jan/Feb, I cozied them right up with mulch and covered them with black weed barrier until end of March. Then I tried to keep them uncovered as much as possible to keep them healthy and have sun exposure. I only had to recover once or twice overnight.

I planted ranunculus in the ground a good 8-12 inches apart, but I think I could get them much, much closer. I never once watered them and we had a super dry spring.
Last, they did great in a 5 gallon container! I was shocked because I don’t have great luck with containers.

Some are tecolote (cafe) and some are a mixed bag.

I’ve had so much fun with ranunculus! I wish I’d tried them in Colorado because I think they’d love the climate. Better late than never, I guess.

The chamomile in my veggie garden is popping back up and I’m debating whether to take it out. I love it so much but I hear it can kind of become a nuisance once it is established. But it’s good for insects, no? Kind of like a trap flower. Maybe I’ll just dry a ton of it for tea.

Very few April showers still resulted in May flowers! Turn that into a tune…

School is out! No one is happier than this teacher right here. I packed up the ukuleles and xylophones and loaded my car with all the junk I need to sort out. But for now we are watching Jeopardy and eating ice cream.

Fancy that—tulips and Maypole dances!

I’m following in my mother’s footsteps and picking up freebies of every sort from school as the year winds down and retiring teachers are clearing their rooms. I happened on some great versions of classics, one of the series being a graphic novel Sherlock Holmes.

So naturally GK—the six year old—has been reading mysteries on the sofa before bedtime. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Stone Soup at school in music class—I hand out percussion instruments and as ingredients are added to the soup in the story, I let students punctuate each vegetable with a beat on the drum, a scrape of the guiro, ding on the triangle, etc.—including sound effects. I had the kids purr, “oooh, fancy!” in a British accent each time I said the line, “Soup from a pot? Fancy that!”

Anyway, I laughed when at home one night while folding clothes, GK casually mentioned that “in Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock says, ‘Watson, I fancy we may employ ourselves better at home.’ What does ‘fancy’ mean?”
I feel like we have the most hilarious and entertaining crossover conversations in this house.

I’m seeing all my new tulip varieties pop up. The double late and ruffled parrot tulips are gorgeous and the slender yonina are elegant but I love the fringed orange tulips better. Even though the stems are almost too short for cutting, there is not a more stunning color. Look at me turning into a flower lady! I promised a friend I wouldn’t get old prematurely by falling for roses or irises (those being, in my mind, old lady flowers. It will happen, I am sure. Just not pre-40).

The kids at school can’t believe they’re even real, they keep coming up to the desk to touch and smell them.

I didn’t add columbine to the jars I gave to teachers because they are just too fragile. But I love having a prolific columbine plant just down the steps from the porch. It’s my little Colorado memento.

Monday I explained the tradition of May Day and the May pole and May Day baskets. I showed the students a clip of the dance from the opera La Fille Mal Gardee. I tied some tulle ribbon to the top of my old North Pole sign (worked perfect!), took a deep breath, and crossed my fingers it wouldn’t be a total disaster. For preschool and kindergarten, I just had kids skip in the same direction while I played music. For the middle grades we tried a bit of weaving but it was still almost too complicated for them to grasp. Only my sixth graders really got the hang of it (boys in and under to the left then over to the left while girls did the opposite moves to the right).

I was so proud! I daily feel like it is down to the wire planning sixth grade stuff and then I just have to go with my best idea and hope they don’t act like it’s completely dumb. Usually I preface sixth grade activities with, “I tried this with my younger kids and they didn’t really get it, so I was thinking we should try it…” At least it justifies me in case they hate it and think it super lame—hey, I can blame it on the little kids!

Six and a half days left in the whole school year! We’re going to play music Jeopardy! (This is Mrs. Stegner’s favorite ice cream flavor. What is cookies and cream?) and make a Venn diagram of theremin music versus synthesizer. (Beach boys will make an appearance!)

I cannot wait.

A thornless blackberry project and Spring concerts!

The double late tulips I planted in the front bed popped open the day after Easter. It looked like I had a Chiefs theme going on. I actually thought I’d get a mix of more pinks and reds than anything.

Other tulips are still grow, grow, growing. I’m so glad we pulled up that landscaping fabric to let it all breathe again. Remind me I said this when it’s finally summer and the weeds are everywhere. But hopefully the mulch will keep most of it down. For now, I have tons of ranunculus, columbine, and strawberries filling in the gaps.

We trekked over to a local nursery where they focus on native-to-our-area plants. The story goes that back in the day the old fella who runs it would dry plants for seeds in the barns on our property. His name is Mervin, and he not so fondly recalled climbing the vertical ladders to the barn loft with his bundles.
We chatted with him about supplying us some compost. He has his own metal barns now where he dries seed, but he was happy to help us after we told him where we lived.

Joe has decided he wants to grown thornless blackberries and raspberries. I am more on board with this project than other suggested projects like pigs, chickens, or cows, but I am no bramble expert.
The first step was to find the right spot and prep the soil. The compost Mervin gave us is an old mix of potting soil and other scraps from his native plan nursery. It isn’t exactly the cleanest compost, but it is healthy and robust (and cheap).

We decided the back side of the pond would be the ideal place to pick. Not too close to the house, no views blocked, a bit of an incline for drainage, room to spread. The blackberries will not produce fruit the first year, but the raspberries should.
(I’m a little scared of this endeavor…My friend, Brandy, has only four thornless blackberry bushes and said they go crazy and produce gallons and gallons of berries.)

Blackberries and tulips have been a welcome home distraction from the craziness of end-of-year music endeavors. I come home and grab a shovel if it is nice, move baby plants out into the sun, water, check on sprouts, mow. It doesn’t matter how hard the outside work, it is a welcome respite from a rough day at school.

We wrapped up the last Spring concert this week and I was having nightmares about it leading up to the day. Lots of behavior issues just make teaching so stinking difficult. I am waiting for summer to digest and write more. The most significant daily issues deal with kids that are consistently rude or argumentative. This coupled with an ever-shortening attention span and a device-fueled addiction to instant gratification—can you even imagine how hard it is to teach recorders and how to read music on a staff? How hard it is to walk down a long hallway to the auditorium, expect them to calmly enter and exit the stage, stand safely on risers, perform as expected, listen to directions, rehearse multiple times? Each day is a struggle.
To top it off, we have a handful of kids that sometimes show up on or off meds and exhibit violent and threatening behavior…Yikes. A book awaits. Let’s see if I can also make it sound funny and lighthearted like David Sedaris—that’s my summer challenge to myself.

I really am so proud of how much has been accomplished but this year was stress-filled on a 10 out of 10 scale. I have to remind myself that at the beginning of the year the older kids smirked when I told them we’d be singing.
And look at us on stage singing! And playing recorders! And Orff instruments! It’s enough to tempt a teacher to think she can do it again next fall (especially after a summer break).

Baker Seed and Laura Ingalls

It is tulip time and lovely weather and I’m in bed instead of my messy basement music room at school.

It is difficult to take a day off when sick, because I have the mom mentality of must-push-through. I am guilt-ridden even when sick because getting a substitute teacher is not exactly a promise. It’s more likely they split the classes and make the remaining teachers bear the load. So as I lay in bed I feel worse because my favorite art teacher will have 50% more of a class to teach, and might even have to toss her lesson plans out so she can manage the chaos.

It should not be like this at school. Chaos management should not be the goal.
Four weeks…I can do anything for four weeks!

What does one do with the lone asparagus stalk that pops up every spring? He is delicious raw. We do fight over him.

Isn’t incredible how there are such beautiful things still in this world even as people go from bad to worse (2 Tim. 3:13)? Isn’t it fantastic how flowers bloom even as creation is subjected to frustration and groans like it’s in childbirth (Romans 8)?

We just had tornadoes rip through the Midwest and all the ranunculus roots held fast? Brilliant.

I sprinkled poppy seeds in the garden by the peas, and dahlia and zinnia seeds around the tulips. We took a day trip to Mansfield to visit Baker Creek and the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum. I think I’m getting old because I trust internet shopping less and less. I’d rather drive two hours to buy seeds than order things to be delivered to my house.

But Baker’s Creek was worth the trip (of course) and would make me jealous of the work that goes on there…except! I know their work is back-breaking. They test and try hundreds of seeds. They don’t just grow and go. I am very interested in the only-sow-what-I-can-handle method.
Still, it’s beautiful and a great experience and if I had to recommend a what-to-do-in-Missouri trip, this would be top of the list.

Will there someday be a cardboard cutout of me in my kitchen? I sure hope not.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder museum is another thumbs up, but it is not free entrance. She was in her sixties when she began writing her embellished childhood memoirs. I would’ve meandered more, but we had ice cream to get to and seeds to bring home and plant.

Kodaly and how taunting helps kids sightread.

Over the long weekend I took a couple kids to the library’s used book sale. This is the first I’ve attempted, and I went for two reasons: I could get as many books as I wanted with my teaching ID and the middle boys are getting ready for a knowledge bowl tournament. It was a long, cold, dreary weather weekend and we had nothing better to do than study up. (Postscript: the kids each snagged medals, gold and silver. A success!)

Whenever I get weary of public school ways, I am consoled by the fact we read incessantly. I hope it covers a multitude. Our street smarts are definitely tuned up at public school but our k-bowl chops are home nursing books. Lu has been obsessed with Robinson Crusoe lately so I’ve had my eye out for other old goodies. He is strong where Jubal is not. They are really two halves to the same coin. Jubal memorizes the necessary trivia words (Pequod—Queequeg—Melville) but Lu internalizes the story. If you ask Lu for a brief synopsis of any book he will drone on about details till you politely distract him with a bag of potato chips. If anyone doubts, just mention the gae bolga or how he feels about Swiss Family Robinson novel versus the movie.
(Foy’s expertise is more in the mental math department and general war trivia. This doesn’t make for as good of a story.)

Anyway, I came across a Kodaly book and nabbed it because, though my music teaching days are short, I still am only sprinkle-immersed in this Hungarian-born approach to learning music.
I have tooled around on the Holy Names university folk song list but I didn’t completely understand where it came from or why it applies to anything elementary.

But the idea overall came, as I learned, from the pre-kinder work in Hungary in the early to mid 1900s. If educators could give children a brain inventory of hundreds of familiar folk tunes, they would be able to more easily transition to reading and sight reading music. Solfège—the idea of assigning a tone to a note (movable or non movable) would be accessible to kids who already chanted sing-song on the playground or jumped and clapped to rhythms.

The example that stuck out to me from this book was this:
Johnny is a sis-sy!

Also note: I am bigger than you are!

Ha! Right up my Kod-“alley” (can’t and won’t apologize). The method behind this music teaching madness is so basic, but the foundation relies on the simplest of refrains.
I’m not sure if the next music teacher will continue on with this sight reading training, but it’s been fun to watch the kiddos at school go from begrudgingly singing anything to playing solfège copycat games and singing in rounds. My first graders are especially great at it and are pretty good at hand signals, too.

March flowers: daffodils and grape hyacinth. There isn’t a happier pair.

I pulled out my big tub of dahlia tubers to see how they overwintered in the basement. Half had rotted; the other half were dry and peachy. I’d covered them with dry oak leaves and newspaper. I was pleasantly surprised they did ok overall. I’ve stuck the good tubers in some soil to see if I can get them to sprout early.

Some choppy thoughts—I look forward to the day when my brain isn’t overbooked and can wander more freely. We have a short Easter spring break and then one month left till school is out!

Leprechaun Habitats and Learning.

Last week as I led the kindergartners onto the stage for the first time, I expected them to be a little awestruck by the lights, the risers, the microphones. It was just a little rehearsal to get comfortable with the auditorium (and to learn the valuable lesson of not getting too close to the front of the stage).
I didn’t expect for a handful of them to gasp and offer, “it’s just like Papageno!”

They really loved that Mozart unit. We really went into the weeds when we studied it, lots of little rabbit trails over to Ben Franklin and his glass armonica and all the contemporary issues of the day; lice, hygiene, clean water, etc. We touched on Requiem and child prodigies, but we sank our teeth into the opera. It was Grieg, and now we have moved on to Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf) and Sant Saens (did I spell it right? Carnival of Animals). Dipping our toes here and there.

This is what makes me saddest about public school, if I’m being honest. Even the squirrelly kids are curious and have the desire, when little, to learn and love learning—that tangible, soak it up stuff. But we wean them right off of it by offering the tantalizing tablets and laptops and brain-chemistry-altering “tailored” education by way of standardized, computerized testing and diagnostics.

And then a whole new problem is created where a kid has an attention span of 0.4 seconds and must be “positively reinforced” by gaming tokens or cat stacking and insipid “brain breaks.” My six year old came home and told me they watch ASMR videos on YouTube to relax before they’re dismissed to the buses or car rider line. Are you kidding me?
No wonder classroom management is a joke and kids are ruder than ever. They’re used to calling the shots and are completely surprised when an adult erects boundaries, corrects them, or expects them to do anything that requires stamina or effort.

I do think the year I’ve spent teaching has been valuable to the students. Co-workers are asking why I am leaving and it makes me sad. I love the teaching part. In fact, to think I’ve gone to the work of meeting and making relationships with this many kids, let alone getting them to sing comfortably, simply by starting a song off (in the beginning they looked at me as if I had a third eyeball)—this is something I don’t want to shrivel up and die. But I cannot continue to teach at the level I’d like when the standards for behavior (parents included here) and the curricular approach are so opposed to what is natural.

Teachers who want to teach from their own fountain cannot follow the rules of school these days. We have to paint with a wider brush. We of the “painting” variety need time to plan and create and come up with our own flavor of passionate teaching.
Another way of saying this is: kids hate testing and aren’t learning better (I reckon it’s actually worse) by one-to-one devices.
Now that I’ve seen it from the inside and have the advantage of not being absolutely dependent on the job—I feel obligated to cross the bridge between teacher to administration and parent.

With the help (very little, come to think of it) of some sixth graders I made a leprechaun habitat/puppet stage for the little grades.

But first—St. Patrick’s Day! Ha. The kindergartners and first graders sang three songs (a One Bottle Pop/Fish and Chips/Don’t Chuck Your Muck round, Lucky Leprechaun, and All I Really Need—a Raffi classic) last Wednesday for a mini-concert during the day. I had no idea how difficult risers were to put up and take down. I’m already regretting I said I’d do another concert in April. But if we pull it off it will be epic. It’s a rain-themed bunch of songs and I’m hoping some high schoolers can accompany us for the CCR song.

High winds sent the trampoline into the woods. I think it’ll be our last tramp. We are lucky it got hurt before it hurt one of us. Many unsafe wrestling matches over the last seven years. RIP!

We are waiting out a freezing spell on Honey Creek. Flowers are covered; peas and beets and poppy seeds are at the mercy of the Creator. I’m not worried because it’s doubtful they germinated before the cold set in. We did get some seeds in the plastic trays. GK potted some flowers and tomatoes and put them in a recycled croissant container for a little bedroom greenhouse. I’m trying to force some ranunculus inside in a pot along with some allium and tulips just for kicks. The ranunculus love it; the other two are reluctant.

I love those packages that urge me to get a head start and sprout them inside 6-8 weeks before last frost. Even though I’m not the most faithful of indoor sowing and watering . It’s still nice to see something pop up.


We are on the cusp of spring. I am watching the two littlest play on the trampoline. It is incredible to see a little girl in a faux pink fur coat, rolling and tackling her big brother. If I weren’t a touch grossed out by girls competing in the sport of wrestling, I would give her a fair shot. She is as spicy as they come and not even one bit afraid of getting hurt.

We are past the one hundredth day of school. There have been high school basketball games and pep band and elementary after school choir practice. The middle boys are practicing for an upcoming knowledge bowl competition. I got to moderate my first high school quad, which is as nerdy and fun as it sounds.

I have put in my resignation as music teacher. It makes me sad because I love it so much and I’m getting better every single day. But it’s added too much to my plate (understatement) and I am truly under qualified for the position. If I stayed, the administration would eventually (and rightfully) require me to pass a music test. They need to go ahead and find someone who is trained for the spot. Two years have gone by now without a qualified music teacher. If I stay they would continue to be happy and unaware…I guess I’m trying to be responsible and force things to come to a head for the benefit of our students.

I started some ranunculus in the basement in January. Last year was such a ranunculus flop because I just soaked the corms and plopped them in the ground, basically setting them up to rot. Who knew it took such a gentle touch?
One of the kids remarked that as delicate as the process is, and if they can’t regenerate naturally, ranunculus ought to have died out a long time ago. I think I agree.
My Successful Gardening book doesn’t even list ranunculus as a corm, but a tuber. So I’m pretty much in the dark here…

As were my little corm friends. I soaked them and stuck them in a shallow tray of soil and popped them in the basement. After two and a half weeks, about half of them had sprouted or grown tender little roots. A quarter of them were moldy. Another quarter were dried out.

I planted the sprouted corms and covered them with the heavy black landscape material. Then I re-soaked the dry ones and patted them back into the dirt tray. Since then, a few more have sprouted. I didn’t even bother putting the trays back in the basement, but left them in the front entryway in full sun. They have done fine—I think it’s more important they just get a head start in cold, but not frozen, simulated ground.

Can you tell I love the pioneer style of figuring out plants instead of using science? Ha.

Snow day and Second Semester Expectations.

I was just about to get the kids up for the day when I plugged in my phone and saw school was cancelled for snow.
Yesterday a kindergarten teacher dropped her kids off at my classroom and mentioned in passing that we ought to be singing Let it Snow.
“Why?” I asked. The weather was springy and beautiful.
“Because there’s a chance we could get some and I really need a day off,” she laughed.
I told her I’d pray about it.

And look! Turns out I needed a day off, too.

The Colorado kids have been working on a snow fort all day. Four inches of wet packing snow go a long way in raising their spirits. I hear whispers of wishes that they could go skiing. But sledding, building stuff, and après-snow-activities hot chocolate and reading makes for a great Thursday.

Those days of locating mittens, hats, boots, and putting a thousand layers on little screamers are blissfully in my past. Everyone can find their own warm stuff, and everyone can take it off. I remember having hot flashes (I was always pregnant or nursing a baby) while dealing with snotty-noses, kids pooping inside layers of snow bunting. Bending over a big belly, about to burn up from stress-induced heat of wailing children. They wanted out; they wanted back in; they were tired; they fell in too-deep snow. They got snow inside their boot; their socks were suddenly wet. One was halfway down the mountain, another was inside crying, looking for a mitten. One was hungry. No one was ever ready all at the same time to go out. And it was worse convincing Jubal he needed to come back inside. Every outdoor adventure ended in wailing and gnashing of teeth. Such was my experience with little boys in snow.

It was not fun and it was not funny. I was so glad to get off that dang mountain.

Maybe I should’ve held on longer and waited for these days when everyone can manage themselves a little. But I’m not sorry we are having a wonderful snow day in the Midwest today (with the perfect amount of energy-burning and resting—no pressure to spend thousands of dollars on season ski passes and gear).

I got most of my tulips and the narcissus in the ground this week. I put some ranunculus in a tray to sprout in my basement. Last year when I tried ranunculus, they rotted in the ground. I had never planted corms before and didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve had such great luck with bulbs and tubers since our climate is so season-driven, but when it comes to dried corms and roots, I am at the mercy of whatever Google research pops up.

It’s an experiment every season!

Second semester at school is, likewise, experimental. I came back with every intention to do bucket drumming with the oldest grades. After a couple days of this, I remember I’m an idiot to think drumming on anything is anything but a headache?!
I also had the brilliant idea of putting on a square dance with 2nd and 3rd graders for Valentine’s Day. It is on the schedule, so say prayers.

I want my days to be productive and at the same time feel like they are flying by, but the thing I’ve learned is the importance of allocating my energy in these efforts.

First of all, I only have an hour a day to plan all my activities (duly noted that I very well could spend hours after school worrying about all the ins and outs, and I choose not to because I have a very full life at home)—if I wanted to give each grade equal planning time, it would work out to be 7.5 minutes for each level. Our school schedule is such that sometimes I will have three days in a row of the very same class before I even see the other classes in the grade—this means I have to remember who has done what so I can repeat the same lessons with each class and no one lags behind or gets too far ahead.

I don’t think I set myself up to fail except for the fact that I had no framework or music education training at all whatsoever. I had to just jump in the cold, cold water and start swimming at some point. I have to, on occasion, teach myself various things, like how to finger notes on the recorder and the difference between Mozart and Beethoven, but these are small compared to time/energy management and dealing with hoards of expectant children.

It is entirely unfeasible (infeasible?) to pull out and put away instruments for each 30 or 40 minute period. I thought I was going to do a ton of ukulele work, but I can either tune ukes every morning or plan something reasonable and non-string-instrument-related for my 9 classes. (It takes a good 20 minutes for students to tune their own ukuleles, and they fall out of tune within several minutes of strumming.)

This is fine and I accept it; I just have learned I cannot let myself become stressed over my circumstances. Instead, I have to lower expectations and give myself space to do a reasonable amount of work instead of trying to entertain the masses like some circus clown.

An example: if 4th grade recorders sucks it out of you (and, boy, does it ever), then lay off the bucket drumming during the other periods, and vice-versa. Right now I’ve got my 4th graders doing a unit on bluegrass and more recent, local music history while I let the 5th and 6th graders do drumming.
Grades 2 and 3 square dance (lots of me yelling out instructions and explaining allemonde and do si do to very loud, bouncy, excited children) while the lower grades work on less energy-sucking activities, like memorizing songs and reading folk stories.

This is the only way I can manage as many classes as I have with the expectations that they will perform at some point during each semester.

Praying that every music teacher gets at least one good snow day this January!

Removing landscape fabric and reusing red mulch.

Some folks are back to school today; we are not. Thank goodness. I am hyping myself up for the second semester and trying to plan a start to what I hope turns out to be promising, fulfilling fun for kids and teachers (me) alike.

See also: don’t over-plan or over-expect. I got an idea, a flash of brilliance, this morning as I took a shower; I remembered a substitute teacher or two that came in last semester and they were of the piano-playing, accompanying ilk. I could bring them on board and they could help me with rehearsals! Fingers crossed that I can drum up help.

Only a year or so ago I was too shy to call people up and ask for help, but now I see it more or less as an emergency phone call, not unlike 911. I don’t hesitate or worry about my awkward rambling questions—I just instinctively dial the number. I need to remember the chutzpah this job has demanded I acquire…I am sure it will serve me well in future endeavors.

We have been, overall, plagued with sickness throughout the entire Christmas break. There have only been two days where I was moderately confident we weren’t sick, and then we were back to hacking and fevers within hours. I keep assuring myself and the family it is good to get it all over with while we are not in school or working. But it’s been pretty awful.

On the other hand we’ve had a couple days of beautiful spring-ish weather where I tackled the flower bed on the west side of the house.

It isn’t a flower bed at all, actually. When we first bought the house, there was a big patch to the west side bordered by limestone bedrock, covered with red mulch. It was kind of weird, like the previous owners were trying to hide a big ugly spot so they just dumped landscaping mulch and spread it under the trellised pergola porch that held up a massive wisteria vine. After we bought the place and asked what was up with the bed, the owners told us it had been a sort of garden bed of Martha’s and she’d grown flowers and strawberries along the retaining wall that led down to the garage. After I expressed a teeny bit of disappointment, they apologized for covering it up with landscape material.

Original red mulch landscaping. Almost too bright to look at now!

As soon as we moved into the house we dug into the deep mulch (sometimes nearly a foot deep), cut a hole in the black landscape plastic, and hit some nice soil. We immediately planted celosia, tomatoes, okra, pumpkin and zucchini. It was a wonderful, weed-free situation, for the most part. But once in awhile I would cut down through the landscape fabric and hit a rock. Then I’d have to move, dig a foot of mulch out of the way, cut a random spot and hope I didn’t hit rock again. It was getting exhausting, the fabric now had holes, weeds were coming through, and more weeds were beginning to seed themselves in the mulch.
I needed to know what was under there.

Last year as I made the backyard garden I moved loads and loads of the red much to make walkways and dress vegetables. They say red mulch is no good for gardens because of the dye that leaches into the soil but after a year, ours was decomposing rapidly—it was practically soil at the bottom of the mulch near the black fabric—so I took my chances. Plus, moving the mulch was still cheaper than buying a new truckload. In the back garden it had been amazing for weed control around the veggies. I’m a big fan of red mulch now, and thankful the owners left if for me to manage.

First year, red mulch garden sown with pumpkins, zucchini, okra, and a pile of weeds to the left (which I mistakingly thought were an old marigold variety , ha!)

Later, as I had time and energy, I pulled back the old landscape material and put in strawberries, tulips, and eventually radishes, tomatoes, peas, etc. Everything was doing so fantastic I decided I needed to go ahead and excavate the rest of the red mulch, pull up the landscape fabric, and check out the soil situation so I could have a full-on flower garden, the likes of which Martha would be proud.

Under the new fabric the owners had placed was actually some older fabric, the “naturally disintegrating” kind that never disintegrates and looks like ripped shreds of a spectre of death costume as you pull it up.

So this has been our weekend project, pulling up the old fabric, moving the rest of the mulch to the original bed, and laying the fabric back down on top for now to dissuade Minnie from previously planted tulip bulbs (which have already been fooled into thinking it’s spring by this crazy back and forth weather) and to allow for more decomposition before I put in more corms or seeds or whatever suits my fancy.
I have had luck buying close out bulbs and seeds this time of year because most (smart) gardeners put their stuff in the ground to overwinter. However, it seems like we always get a good weekend or two in December or January where I can sneak in some bulbs who don’t know any better, nor do they care if they’ve been in the ground 20 weeks or ten. So I get them half price, sometimes discounted even lower. Risky business!

This weekend, we stumbled on several clumps of tulip bulbs and went ahead and separated and replanted them—just enough of a taste of spring in January to keep me and Gretty going! We also added some garlic with the hopes it will also make Minnie mind her own beeswax and maybe it’ll be a nice succession planting.

I’m sure I will have to order a new load of mulch to cover these spring flowers (and veggies) but I’m really thrilled I got by the last couple years, making the most of the original mulch and already-installed landscape fabric. I was looking online at buying fabric pre-cut with holes and a 50 yard roll is not cheap!

Here is an article on lasagna gardening that has been fun to read as we have begun a new worm bin with our January crop of worms (lots having babies in the west flower bed?!) and are debating whether or not to put plastic or tarp over the hugelkulturs in the back to speed up the decomposing. I hadn’t fully thought out the whys of green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) compost, but it makes complete sense, even in the worm bin and controlling the smell.

I love a taste of spring in January!