Black Raspberry Goodness

It’s that time of year again… the black raspberries are ripe. This spring I was busy tearing apart the house so I didn’t get out there to cut down the invasive species surrounding the raspberry jungle. It is bad out there right now. Nettles. Poison ivy. Buckthorn. Russian olive. Lots of other weeds. (Does anyone else hear how necessary goats are out here??) But… those little black juicy morsels make it worth braving the jungle for. They started ripening last week. I’ve only done a bit of peripheral picking and introduced a couple cute nephews to the magic of black raspberries. The Hobbit couldn’t cram them into his mouth fast enough.

Monday night was my first time to go out prepared to take on the jungle. Long pants, shoes, socks, bug spray, long sleeves. I got half a German Park bucket full before it started raining. Black raspberry picking is slow. The very definition of slow food really. They are tiny. They are covered with pickers. They are in a jungle. And they are completely delicious. Sometimes we all need to slow down a bit and savor the goodness of summer.

I used the last of the rum in the cupboard to start some of them infusing. (Note to self: buy more rum).

Then I made cobbler which my cousin and I had for breakfast. I’m pretty sure I’ve shared this before but it bears repeating if you have any fresh berries of any kind sitting around. It is incredibly easy, not too sweet (because I’ve cut a lot of sugar from the original recipe) and buttery goodness in every bite. Believe me, you want some.

Fresh Berry Cobbler

  • 2 1/2 cups berries (I used mostly black raspberries with a few mulberries– but whatever you have will work)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I cut the sugar from the original recipe a lot! If you are using more tart berries, add more in)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 375. Mix berries and sugar together and let them sit while you put the rest of it together. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add milk and stir. Add melted butter and mix together.

Put the batter into an ungreased 8×8 pan (ish). Glop the berry/sugar mixture over the top (or just mix it together- I’ve done it both ways). Bake the big pan for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Top with ice cream if you like. Eat it for breakfast (it is practically a health food, right?? Something about antioxidants and organic, locally sourced berries). There’s no wrong way to eat it. Ready go.

Update: I bought more rum. Who wants to come over for black raspberry cocktails? 

Spring at the Little House

DSC_9333Sunday was gorgeous out and I spent the afternoon in the yard. I got the leaves blown off the strawberry bed and a couple of the flower beds. I started picking up sticks (there are SO many sticks down!) and marveled at the fact that I already need to mow — it is only April!!! I have a LOT of yard work to do.

6I pulled the outdoor furniture out of the barn but since my deck is hosting a lot of trash, I didn’t get it set up yet. I swept the barn, moved things around, cleaned up varmint poo and was hopeful that none of it looked fresh. Maybe the varmint has moved on? Dare I hope?? I didn’t dig too deeply in the shelves, just in case.

Sunday I took a little photo walk around the yard after doing some clean up and savored how gorgeous spring is. The crabapple trees, the quince, and the forsythia are blooming, the lilacs are getting ready, the tulips and hyacinths are blooming. The leaves are all popping. Spring. I love it. Somehow I think living through a winter makes a person appreciate and savor how wonderful spring is even more.DSC_9321

Simple Pleasures

Pulling an old draft from the archives – because it is still so applicable. 

This past week (back in May) was stressful on all fronts. I had been hoping to take a week off and go visit friends out of town and go to a friend’s ordination. Things at work are unraveling, too much work, too many deadlines, not enough reliable help. I can’t find a dog sitter. It is all just too much. So I sadly cancelled my travel plans and though I was super disappointed, I also realized that I get to choose how to respond. I can be bummed and let it ruin the next week for me, or I can embrace the hectic reality in my life and job right now and make the best of it. I choose the latter.

Of course in the midst of a lot of stress at work, two members of my parish died and were buried. The first, a mother of four young children, died of cancer. Her funeral was very moving. She was a woman of great faith and her funeral was gut wrenchingly sad and also full of hope. Seeing her family – her husband and kids- and thinking about the journey they are facing right now puts my own hardships into perspective. Seeing and hearing how she lived her life to the end gives me inspiration and fresh energy to look at what exactly Jesus is asking of me and to do it with renewed hope.

On Thursday night, a friend came over and we were just catching up and visiting. He asked if I was going to a soccer game and out afterward with a bunch of my (young and single) friends that weekend.

“Nope,” I heard myself say, “I’ve got a compost date with a friend.”

Which sounds like the lamest reason ever except that it isn’t. My friend and I had been planning on procuring a trailer load of compost to split between us for weeks and the stars had aligned and the trailer was available and by golly, I can’t think of a single thing I’d rather do on a gorgeous Friday evening than shovel dirt with one of my dearest friends.

Wow, I thought to myself, I am as old and boring as they come. … and strangely, I am completely at peace with that. I don’t need exciting outings and concerts and nights on the town. I am content with the simple (while complicated) life I’m building. Not to mention being thrilled to be sharing this journey with some of the best people I know. That is no small gift.

Saturday morning that same friend and I garage sale binged for the morning – finding some amazing deals on both of our lists (and something for my cousin and something for my brother from their lists). Booyah. It was a gorgeous morning to be out in the sunshine and with one of those people that just always makes my life better by her being in it. Again, glamorous? Nope. But absolutely delightful. Simple pleasures.

Sunday I went to my brother’s house after Mass. Had a lovely brunch and then changed into grubby clothes for some real fun. We installed the rose trellis for the climbing roses – my two year old nephew had the important job of handing me the screws “I tink you need another one!” He hands me a screw and then quickly backs up before I turn the scary drill on. We fixed a loose deck rail, and then we got to the real fun of the day — foundation repairs. Since neither of us had done it before, we checked out the problem, debated about the proper solution for awhile and then got started. We made a run to the Blue Store for supplies. My dad popped over and confirmed our solution was a good one (score!). And we spent the next couple hours hammering decaying cinder block pieces, mortaring new bricks into the holes, and chatting about life.

 You know what? I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Not because the work was particularly glamorous, but because the company was terrific. In my recent pondering about friendships and what intentional community looks like, I keep coming back to this: Intentional community is looking for ways to share in each other’s details. Fixing foundations, hauling compost, picking up sticks, being real about the struggles we face, and sharing a lot of life and laughter in between rather than bemoaning a life full of details and responsibility.

I am so thankful for the gift of sharing time with the people I love and I find that the more I embrace that, the more richly I am blessed in these simple pleasures.

 

House love

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I’ve been spending a lot of time outside and I have continually been barraged by the temptation to feel discontented with the millions of things that aren’t done at my house and in my yard. There is just so much to do. It is so easy to lose sight of the goodness when we’re caught up in the unfinished-ness of things. And then I stop for just a moment.

 

I sit on my rocking chair (which has a new clearance cushion) on my refinished deck for a moment and take a deep breath. I sip my coffee and watch Daisy running up and down along the fence with the neighbor dog, and then lapping the yard a dozen times, muscles rippling, tongue hanging out: she is one happy  pup. I watch Suzie napping in the shade, somehow keeping an eye on things at the same time. I hear the birds chirping, the pigeons cooing, the chickens clucking, the dogs panting, a neighbor mowing. I love this.

 

I love this house. I love this yard. I love the big shade trees. I have so many hopes and dreams of filling every nook and cranny of this huge yard with berries, fruit trees, flowers, vegetables, pets. I love the woods at the back. The kid’s forts. The barn. The ecosystems. I love everything about this humble little corner in the world. I suspect I even love the unfinishedness of it because in this crazy life of mine, sometimes I need to pour myself into a place that needs me. This place does and probably will always offer ample opportunity for that.

 

I recognize, once again, what a gift this place is to me. Is it everyone’s dream come true? No. Not at all. I imagine many people wonder what I see in this place at all. But for me, this place is a little glimpse of heaven. It is a gift for me. It is a balm for my tired soul. A joy, an inspiration, a place to breathe. It is a spot for endless hard work and creativity. For testing my limits and learning new things.
This humble little corner is home sweet home and I am profoundly grateful.

 

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Have a seat

Let’s talk chairs, shall we? I recently admitted to my sibs over some beverages that I have a serious chair problem. Now that they know, the interwebs is the next obvious place to say this. A chair problem? You ask. A chair problem.

Several years ago I had an old dining room set with tall chairs that weren’t really my style and they made the room seem smaller. Eventually the table needed refinishing and I realized I didn’t like it enough to spend the effort to re-do the set. So I sold it on Craigslist and started looking for replacements.

DSC_3135My elderly neighbor sold me two chairs for $5 each. I loved them the minute I saw them. They needed repainting but these things were solid, elegant, had nice legs. Mmmm chairs. I scoured garage sales, thrift stores, and craigslist for weeks looking for more chairs to finish out the set. I found three that were fine but I didn’t love, but at $5 a chair, they seemed to do the job. I actually ended up passing those on to a friend who bought a dining room set that matched them almost perfectly!

After weeks of searching, I finally found a set of four that DSC_3142I couldn’t walk away from. Well I did at first because I thought they were asking way too much for them. But then it got awkward when I stopped 4 or 5 times to check on my chairs. As luck would have it, they went on a half off sale and they came home with me! Silly me thought I was just putting together a new dining room set, not the beginnings of a serious problem. I painted all six of the gray and reupholstered the four with seat cushions. I love these chairs. I use them constantly and still absolutely love them.

Last summer I wanted to find a couple chairs for the sewing room, to use as overflow, and another one for the desk. My friend and I went to a large and wonderful neighborhood garage sale and I left with 4 chairs for $8. Not chairs that made me drool, one is going to be a project / barn chair, the other three I could repaint and use for the desk and sewing room. Good plan, right?

…… and then I saw three of these at a thrift store. DSC_3152Drool. These weren’t just “oh I guess we could sit on these and make them work” chairs. These were gorgeous, old, sturdy, and lovely chairs. Where have you been all my life???? Again, I visited the overpriced chairs twice and then they went on sale. You’re mine at last!! Because I may have a chair problem, but not an overpriced chair problem. Once they went on sale, these were the chairs. So the cheapo make do chairs in the barn will be repainted and sold off because hello gorgeous! These ones are staying with me.

DSC_3045Six weeks later, I came across these two at a garage sale for a steal of a deal. Be still my beating heart. Two for $15. These beauties are rock solid and the wood detail. Sigh. As I told the woman I was buying them, she said her husband really didn’t want to sell them. “I understand completely,” I said and promised to take good care of them. As I was walking out of the garage with them, the husband said wistfully “Take care of my girls.” I will sir, I will.

The heart loves what it loves. And apparently mine loves sturdy, old, nice legs, curved bottoms, and some kind of interesting old detail on the chair backs.

I am learning some important lessons: Never settle for chairs you don’t love. Because girl, you will find some you LOVE and can’t leave without. Save yourself the trouble and buy no more “meh” chairs.

I’m also putting myself on an official chair ban. I’m not allowed to buy any more chairs until I fix up and get rid of those spare chairs in the barn. #chairban2016

Perhaps this is where I should also mention I am a single woman who lives alone. It does seem that 11 dining room chairs is probably enough until I fill those ones up. It gives a whole new meaning to this song .  Maybe I just allow myself one more for an even dozen. That’s how many kids I want someday…

While I’m at it, I’m trying to figure out if I could make a living as a curator of beautiful chairs and petite china cabinets. Let me know if you hear of any openings– or if you need any chairs!!

And now you know.

I’m Reenie. I have a chair problem.

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Stick Day 2016

Stick day sort of happened naturally last year. My gang of eight nieces and nephews were coming for a sleep over. I had the idea to have a stick picking up contest – we split into two teams of 4 (boys vs girls), I gave each team a tarp and set a timer for 15 minutes and whichever team had the bigger stick pile on the tarp won. As it happens, the piles were too close to call so everyone got a dollar (because I hadn’t planned ahead and do have a big coin jar in the laundry).
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Now, I may have a “usual sleep over gang,” but there are also a lot of other awesome kids in my life who I certainly don’t want to exclude! So this year I planned Stick Day in advance and invited a few other little friends. I told them about the stick contest (which is a mere 15 minutes) and then told them the rest of the day they can just play. Monica (age 7) wanted to make sure if the losers got prizes, they would be smaller than the winner’s prizes. James was suspicious that it sounded like work. Avery nagged her mom about it for weeks and the week of Stick Day, in her list of awesome things in her life, Stick Day was up near the top. AJ practiced picking up sticks in his own yard just to be sure his skills were up to par.
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Stick Day was actually postponed because the original date ended up being 34 degrees and snowing. The rescheduled day was perfect! 72 and sunny. Absolutely amazing. The crowds began arriving… I divided the kids into teams – there were 9 kids in attendance for the stick contest part. Assigned team captains. And started the timer. We went to the back corner of the yard where there were a ton of sticks because I neglected it almost entirely last year. The kids barely had to move the tarps once they started because there were sticks and logs galore. I loved watching them try to move huge logs, and break off branches. And how they pulled together making new friends and picking up sticks furiously!
 And we had another tie! Everyone got to choose three mini chocolate bars.
One of my favorite things about this little corner of the world is how much joy it brings to the little people in my life. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but this place has it’s own kind of magic. As my niece Lucy told me this weekend, “I love this yard so much because there are all kind of ecosystems here! Pine forest, fields, regular woods… EVERYTHING!”  Yes, I imagine that’s what it is: all the ecosystems. Or something. I think about how rarely kids have hours on end to just roam around outside creating forts and games and tribes and messes. It was one of my favorite things about visiting friends in the country and growing up in the country. I love that I get to share that adventure with these darling people.

After everyone had chocolate and snacks, they scattered. Kitty made war paint using ashes from the fire pit and soon had almost everyone painted up. Maria and Avery and Monica had an elaborate mud pie making operation. Norah wanted me to release the “Cannonball” (Daisy) so she could “skitter up a tree”. There’s something about the thrill of an energetic puppy to escape. Michael ground corn into flour by smashing corn kernels between paper plates on a stump (Norah brought the corn and directed the operation). At one point, I was helping the little boys build a hide out and Michael found the perfect stick for a bow and wanted string. (Apparently I need more string). I apologized that I didn’t think I had any. Lucy swoops in “What do you need?” “String for this!” He holds up the perfectly curved stick that just HAD to become a bow. “Oh I always bring my emergency kit when I come here. I have string, yarn, this elastic string, rubber bands…”  The teepee had sticks added and a clothesline set up (the girl with the emergency fun kit may have been behind this). Tribes were formed. Signs were made. Poetry was read.

It was Benjamin’s (almost 4) first time to stay for a play day (without his mom) and he was thrilled. He is usually wary of dogs after having been bitten in the past (by other dogs), but he and Suzie were fast friends and he even made friends with the energetic Daisy. I tell you, there is magic afoot.  Of course Suzie could be a therapy dog for kids afraid of dogs. She LOVES her kids. She always runs to see them and then stands there so they will scratch them. Once the kids discover that it is the secret to calming her down and making her happy, she gets scratched pretty much non stop. What’s not to love about that? AJ said several times “Suzie loves me the most because I give her nice big hugs and I’m a really good scratcher.” True story.

Daisy did mostly fine. One small person got scratched because I was in helping another person pee on the potty and she got too rambunctious. She spent the day in and out of her crate. Mostly out with us, with some occasional breaks when she got too rambunctious. My tribe for the event consisted of the three little boys. We played with the dogs, clipped branches, built a boy’s hideout, climbed a fallen tree. All the good things in life.

At my house we have a few rules:
We are kind.
We are helpful.
We are inclusive.

Next time, I’ll add “We never sit on the couch.”  After the gang left, I found charcoal war paint all over my couch. Thank God it came off easily with a magic eraser.

By the time the parents arrived to pick up the troops, there was a crowd of the dirtiest kids I have seen in a long time. And absolutely happy from their wild day in the ecosystems. On the way out, a few kids asked “Can we come back next weekend?”

And that my dear readers, is the magic of Stick Day.
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Creative Moments

Over the winter, I’ve had some bigger projects going on (living room trim, sewing room, staying warm, etc) and I’ve made room for some little insignificant projects. I consider these my mental health projects. They help me decompress from stress and do something creative when life is too much. I will say that a couple dollars and a bit of creativity goes a long way toward saving my sanity sometimes.
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DSC_1578This lamp is a perfect example.
Purchased for 2.50 at thrift store (half off)
Painted with a couple coats of MMS milk paint in Luckett’s green with bonding agent (from my stash).
Stenciled the leaves on (stencil was a thrift store find $0.50) with MMS milk paint in Grain Sack.
Sanded to distress a few spots
Finished with Valspar chalk paint sealing wax
Lamp shade from Meijer $10
I got a cute lamp out of the deal for about $14 (if you factor in everything) and spent an hour doing something theraputically creative. Clearly a win. It looks a little short for the table I planned to use it on, so I’m going to use it in the bedroom where I need a bedside table. And it means I can scour the thrift stores for another Ugly Duckling to make over.
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Visiting my people and the sunshine

 

 

Ahhhhhh

Ahhhhhh

I spent this past weekend in Phoenix with my cousin and her husband and their four young kids. Last summer they talked me into visiting in February (the season I need to run away from in Michigan and a particularly lovely season in Arizona). Perfect. So I used some remaining frequent flier points I found from long ago and booked my visit.

My favorite pirate

My favorite pirate

It honestly could not have been better. Not a minute of it. A couple of times they asked if I needed anything, wanted to do anything particular. No. I am perfectly content. Truly. From the minute I stepped off the plane until I took off again, the visit was perfect.

 

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IMG_9868The weather was delightful – sunny, warm (high 80’s). The kids were hilarious and funny and snuggly and insane. The new baby is one of the sweetest little people I’ve ever met. And spending time with my cousin and her husband was just delightful. Jeremy humored me and let me go to Home Depot with him and the kids and we did some of the framing for a shed roof.  And they let me paint a dining room bench. (That’s right, projecting is my love language).

The kids and I played pirates, cowboys, doggies, and more. They are such an energetic, smart, questioning, and imaginative crowd – my favorite kind of people. Oh n15there were meltdowns and fights and broken hearts and scraped knees about every other minute- and it feels weird to say this- but that feels very much like real life. I am most comfortable and most myself in the midst of that kind of chaos. Watching my cousins as parents is also delightful. They do such a beautiful job of parenting – time outs, hugs, games, boundaries. Truly an inspiration. And then once the kids were in bed we talked work, politics, family, friends, community, church, and more.

IMG_9869On Sunday I went to the nearest Catholic Church which was a huge blessing. It was a large parish and the 11 am Mass was well attended, though not packed. I was struck by the diversity of the people there-  older people, middle aged, young people. Families, singles, men, women. The music was beautiful and the priest gave a wonderful homily about using Beauty to evangelize. That Beauty is one of the ways we can talk about God and a relationship with God with people who don’t understand it. We all experience Beauty and it leaves us with an ache. We don’t want to leave it or let it go. We want to stand in that beauty forever. And the gospel was the Transfiguration and he talked about Jesus allowing the apostles to see a glimpse of his glory and majesty to strengthen them for the journey ahead. So they would know and remember who he was. The whole homily left me wanting to just stand and cheer. Yes. Yes. YES!!  (You can listen to it yourself if you are interested: http://dev-staphx.org/podcasts/1LENT-02-14-2016-frb.mp3)

Little Clara might be the sweetest baby ever. I'm so in love.

Little Clara might be the sweetest baby ever. I’m so in love.

I’ve been intentionally looking for those moments of beauty in my life: encounters with people, the beauty of silence, beauty in nature. This parish was such a wonderful experience of an engaged congregation, wonderful music, and it felt like home. It helped that they sang the Mass parts in Latin, just like my home parish and even prayed the St. Michael prayer at the end of Mass. But more than that, I’ve noticed that the older I get and the more I travel, the more I am convicted of truly being home and among my people when I’m at Church. Jesus is there and He is our true Home, our origin and our destiny.

 

n14Spending time with Naomi and Jeremy and their little people was a constant experience of Beauty. In the chaos of living with young kids – the tears, the fights, the corrections, the mealtime messes, the time outs, the absolute insanity of it—there was just this overwhelming sense of being part of this beautiful mystery of family. Of embracing the joy in this moment and letting it change me, comfort me, and delight me.

I wish I could take them home with me

I wish I could take them home with me

The whole trip was just a balm to my tired self. I am so very grateful for the gift of family who are also such dear friends. As Anne of Green Gables would say, Naomi and Jeremy are kindred spirits. They are my kind of people and I enjoyed every minute I spent with them.

After asking a lot of questions about my dogs, they played "Suzie and Daisy" for the afternoon

After asking a lot of questions about my dogs, they played “Suzie and Daisy” for the afternoon

One of my favorite kid quotes from 4 year old Josiah, who is fascinated with the natural world. We were talking about my mom’s free range chickens, particularly the scary roosters that chased Abby last summer. I said my parents butchered two of them themselves to eat them (large fascinated eyes from Josiah) and that I thought the remaining roosters met their end with coyotes. Coyotes? I explained that if the roosters don’t go into the pen, and coyotes are hungry and walking around, they will help themselves to chicken for dinner.  Completely serious and engrossed he asked, “May you please say more about that?”

 

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Here Suzie has caught a ball and clearly something very disappointing happened

Here Suzie has caught a ball and clearly something very disappointing happened

Golden halo while Abby digs in the dirt

Golden halo while Abby digs in the dirt

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Homemade Christmas coming my way

Pardon while I brag about some of my favorite people… sometimes I can’t help myself.

1419My nephew Geno made me this awesome frame for Christmas. (Well, he bought the frame and then embellished it). He had the idea and gathered the pieces, but admitted that he had Lucy glue everything together because “she’s better with a glue gun.” Not surprising somehow. The frame came with a note in it saying it was for my best camping pictures (of the kids camping at my house). I sure love my camping gang! So I printed up this awesome picture of the camping gang on Stick Day last spring and it is now hanging in the newly painted sewing room. And yes, this was my favorite gift because it comes straight from the heart and crafty little people that I love. DSC_2321

I also got homemade Christmas fudge (ish). It tasted like chocolate chips melted with candy cane bits on top (from Lucy). And Jane made the pups their own baggies of homemade dog treats. Always a favorite at our house.

My other favorite gift was the wise men for my Willow Tree nativity. I LOVE IT. I mean yes, I put it on my Christmas list, but I’m super excited to have gotten it. Now I want to build a stable to go with the whole set… (#ifyougiveamouseacookie)

Irish Park 2.0

So last year we  tried this thing called Irish Park. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and have never been to German Park, you should totally go next year. I love it! Anyway, my brother Donal and his family and I decided to throw a partay for our friends called Irish Park. It’s no German Park, there’s no cover charge (although I ponder it for funding future kitchen upgrades). The food is decidedly free and not actually Irish (I hope we get points for that).

Anyway, so we set up lots of tables and chairs (some borrowed). We raked up some sticks and dog poo. We made hot dogs, pulled pork, and chicken salad. We got a keg. And everyone brought sides and desserts. The munchkins ran wild. The adults visited and drank beer. And Irish Park 2.0 was a complete success. I know I saw this all the time, but I am so blessed with amazing friends. And even though I barely got to visit with all my favorite people (simply because there are so many of them), it was the best possible way to kick off another year.

Irish Park 2.0: Worth the hype.

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