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.

Easter Break, Windmill project.

A co-worker casually mentioned this week that I was “well-suited for life in the sixties”—meaning, I am sure, the 1960s and not actually me being sixty years old.
I don’t know what brought on the comment, but as much as I hate screen-time and teenaged zombies and phone addiction (ask someone who is sober how they feel about their past), I do agree. (But I’m pretty sure she was calling me a hippy because her words landed after I gifted the first flowers from Honey Creek for the P.E. teacher’s wedding shower.)

We have arrived, blessedly, at Easter break. Our Spring break was long overdue and we won’t get a full week like most everyone else. No matter, I have one more Spring concert behind me as of today and one more to go before summer break. The kids rightly butchered a couple partner songs and I led them astray on Here Comes the Sun. I do blame it on no rehearsals since last week, but that’s just how my schedule worked. I couldn’t have done anything to fix it. (Frankly, I am still shocked that I can speak into a microphone in front of hundreds of people without passing out. There are small and large miracles.)

After neglecting laundry folding and cooking for after school allergy shots and hand x-rays (the school nurse said, “have you looked at his hand?” I did—in passing in the hallway. It looked puffy was all. It was when she added, “lesser things have broken a hand in gym class,” that I took him to urgent care) I am ready to catch up on spring cleaning beginning tomorrow.

We did not blow away in our latest spring storms. The tornadoes went south and north of us even while the winds threatened to damage things. Our trampoline was already down last month so I was hoping we wouldn’t lose a tree or more than a barn door. The door that fell off a couple weeks ago will have to be rebuilt and we’re waiting on some Amish folks to cut us some thick wide planks with their saw mill.

I spray painted an old wind mill we found in the weeds. It will be the first colors in my back garden before the real stuff pops up. Joe picked sunflower colors (I probably would’ve picked pink or blue but I don’t argue with folks who run to Tractor Supply so I can stay home). For a couple days my spray finger muscles hurt.

I have in mind to write quite a bit this long weekend since I’ve been busier with school stuff than I’d like. If I could write I could think out the school issues better—I have a finish line in sight, something like 25 days left of instruction—but I don’t want to wait till the food gets cold, so to speak. So many thoughts on teaching, kids, attitudes, commonly held beliefs, culture. I gather all the opinions I can find and then I gnaw on the big chunks and piece together what I believe to be the best and worst of the experience.

Today was better than yesterday: yesterday I was looking up alternatives. All the things I’ve said unflinchingly like, “I’ll never do that” or “a person who cares should be willing to do this”—well, I waver, you know. And on top of this burden, I keep seeing all the schools in the state that also have position openings for elementary teachers…and it’s so critical. Kids are getting the short end and kids are our future. But then I know I can’t save all the kids and at this point I’m barely staying afloat for the ones I’ve got.

Wouldn’t it just be so simple to stay home and spray paint things and fiddle in the garden? And isn’t that what everyone wants and shoots for yet also murmurs flat “must be nice” sentiments if I were to be a stay-at-homer again?
In my current teaching world it’s fraught with strong feelings that no one keeps to themself even as some strive to make money (a pittance) and spend it on seasonal screen-printed t-shirts, manicures, spray tans and eating out. Yet this more boring existence (privileged, some call it, though I’ve never myself bought the t-shirts or had a spray tan or mani) is what turns out solid kids, I think—the moms and dads who are home, again and again, doing the mundane and meticulous parenting.

Veering into Average Pearl material here…I’ll save it for tomorrow.

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.

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!

Where the tomatoes are good.

It never fails we are sick over Thanksgiving—at least some of us, if not all of us. I actually appreciate this foreknowledge because it goes right along with my approach to life: don’t plan things. Planned things tend to pack their bags with expectations, all of them quite lofty. We are better off when pleasantly surprised rather than outrageously disappointed. Once I planned a trip to Hawaii and within weeks of our flight, Covid-19 happened. Never again! I am convinced now that my planning must be conservative and only ever whispered, if ever born.

But. I am planning to have a thousand tulips pop up in April, something dependable on Honey Creek. The effort of planting is minimal and the effect is so maximal. I see it more as an investment. I am deciding on the top flowers I love (not roses or things that are woody, thorny or burr-y) and only putting those in the ground. Things that burst up and out in hoards. GK and I need more flowers. More!

I am slowly cleaning up the garden—much easier after it all dies, freezes and thaws a couple times. The hugelkultur system we made with mounding the beds worked like a dream this past growing season, but we need to add some nutrients rather than letting it all sit. I’d bought straw bales last February or March with the intention of planting in them. They were not quite broken down enough to do really well—I got tomatoes and cucumbers to grow in straw bales, but it wasn’t a smashing success. If I had let them sit for a whole year before planting, it would’ve been better.

Straw bale growing was developed more for folks who don’t have great soil or space or lack other resources. (In some countries, poor farmers are encouraged to urinate on the straw bales to add nitrogen!) We first saw people growing successfully in bales (not urinating on them, btw) when we lived in southwest Colorado. I wanted to give it a go just to experiment, but our soil and climate is so suited for growing that there’s really no reason to rely on it.

So I’ve been forking the partly-decomposed straw bales over the hugelkultur mounds, layering it with leaves and newspaper. Our resident 5th grader gets the local paper at school and usually brings me home three or four copies a week (“I know how much you love to read the newspaper, Mom,” lol). We will see how this lasagna method works for composting and enriching the soil. It should break down quickly.
*This gardener, who freely bashes every method of gardening, is resentfully tolerant, so it’s a go for me.

The most beautiful people live where the tomatoes taste good. I have thought about this for much time. I am telling you, it is the only philosophy. Vivi dove i pomodori sono buoni… once you have learned this, you cannot go back. It is the ultimate truth.

A Waiter in Paris, Edward Chisholm (2022)

Youtubers, Outliers, Fall Cleanup

Thank goodness for high school girls’ softball—today we get a day off school because our champs are headed to the final four—first time in school history. I pulled my boots over my sweatpants and dug up some dahlia roots in the garden and put them in the barn to dry, felled the okra “trees”, and tossed out tomatoes.
They say tomatoes really deplete soil nutrients, so I’m thinking of filling the beds with tulips for spring. I’ve probably got a hundred bulbs, I just need to get them discreetly in the ground before Minnie thinks she can help.

We really needed a break. Last week was the end of first quarter, with parent teacher conferences. A few of us teachers also caught a stomach bug rounded out with a head cold. I soldiered through because we all know what a mess it is to do sub plans. At our school the Title teachers end up subbing specials (art, music, P.E., library), which means the sub plans are hardly followed. To toss another wrench into the mix, all of my classes have been split into half hour periods instead of one-hour chunks, so I see double the kids each day. There are pros and cons—it makes for more efficient lesson delivery, but it also adds a lot of chaos and planning.

I’m trying to see all the benefits. This week I had some epic rap battles with my 5th and 6th graders. I only teach recorder to fourth graders for a blissful 30 minutes (they are mostly terrible listeners so even playing “The Annoying Siren Song”—look it up, a Mr. Henry fave—is torture when it should be fun) and my 2nd and 3rd graders will do anything to get to play with boomwhackers. First grade is working on a music video to go along with I Was Born (Hanson for the win) and kindergarten is practicing a song for the Veteran’s Day assembly. Whenever I get worn out from the incessant talking (both mine and theirs), I do read-aloud books.
I fly so so so under the radar and I need to be more thankful for it. No one is putting pressure on me to turn out outstanding musicians, no one is breathing down my neck or adding stuff to my schedule. My planning period is in the morning and the only grades I give out are quarterly pass/fail.

I read a Malcom Gladwell book this week, Outliers: The Story of Success, and he remarks,

[These] three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us…
Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful.

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

When I think of working at school, I’ve got to admit all these requirements for meaningful work are met, especially the connection between reward and effort. The kids (mostly) love me and I (mostly) love them. They are all learning, they are all growing, and that makes my effort well worth it. But I also found my life pre-teaching to be meaningful. I love a Friday off where I can can cook good food and clean my house and pull up my garden in the sunshine. And I always have a hundred things on my to-do list that don’t involve teaching. Would it be more meaningful? Maybe, but maybe not. It might require more of the on-the-radar presence—the kind the hermit part of me really doesn’t like.

But speaking of being on the radar, last Friday I was changing my mandolin strings with Jubal and we accidentally did something dumb which made the bridge fly off. So we YouTubed the situation and a channel with a guy named Jerry popped up. He had a ton of videos that skirted around the issue of fixing the bridge, but he obviously was an expert. Jubal looked the guy up and it turned out he didn’t live too far away, so we called his shop and asked if we could come down.

Next thing we knew, we were visiting with Mr. Jerry and learning all about intonation and bridge placement and strings. Then he asked if Jubal could play it for him for his Youtube channel. Ha!

When I told my kids at school the next day, they couldn’t believe it, because getting to meet a “real Youtuber” is like meeting Michael Jordan. And getting to be featured on a “real Youtuber’s” channel is like getting drafted in the NFL.

In Outliers, Gladwell concludes that success isn’t like winning the lottery, but more about finding yourself in the right place at the right time and seizing the opportunities offered then and there. I chuckle sometimes when I think about the opportunities we have totally missed out on and all our poor timing. In hindsight, a lot that has happened in our family’s life seems to be bad luck. Like how we left the southwest right when our kids were getting old enough to handle adventures. Or how Jubal’s cello teacher for two years in Denver was a mandolin player (what in the world). How we paid off our debt and then bought an old money-sucker of a farmhouse. How we have some super bright kiddos and we pulled them out of GT magnet schools to end up in the sticks where there aren’t enrichment programs. How Joe has a career now where he has lots of freedom and traveling and we could go with him except now I’m teaching at a public school. How I have property to cultivate and yet I’ve committed myself to a job where I’m never at home.

But missed opportunities and poor timing are muddled together with a wonderful life. Every time I’ve left something behind, a new something pops up.

mother’s day and allium.

I have been lying when I’ve said we were growing ranunculus. I planted them the same time as the allium. Therefore I’ve confused my brain into thinking allium leaves were the beginnings of ranunculus–anything a pro gardener (or even amateur gardener with google skills and the desire to use them would know)–THEY ARE NOT. My little ranunculus roots must be rotting in the earth, accidentally planted upside-down or too early. Or something. Allium was a fun surprise. In the spirit of dahlias, I even pinched one bud off early to “make for more blooms”. Ha. Ha ha ha! Joke’s on me, allium. You are nothing like ranunculus or dahlias, you are a glorified, inedible garlic. Who knew?

These must be white double late peony tulips that came in my mixed bag from Walmart. Not bad for a white flower!

Yesterday my little girl hopped off the bus and ran up the driveway to meet me. She opened her sticky hand and beamed.
“For you, Mama!”

She knows they’re my favorite so she held it in her hand all the way home.

I wrote a post on my other blog for Mother’s Day last year that I thought I’d link to here.

We sang some mama songs together last night and stitched them together for fun, since Daddy’s out of town. Listen and try not to laugh and cry–JJ Heller has written one of the two* songs in the world that make me cry every.single.time I hear them (I tossed in some Merle Haggard and Paul Simon to lighten it up. And a timely ode to the Judds, RIP Naomi).
My own mother really truly did
-give us our own junk drawer (actually whole closets and didn’t even question our bedroom status but let things roll)
-give me a room with a view of the yard (while she moved her own bedroom to the living room so us kids–5 in a small house–could have our own space)

She also makes the best macaroni (and everything else) and is my best friend. Did you also win the mom lottery? Be sure she knows it this Mother’s Day.

*the other song is Nickel Creek, The Hand Song.