Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Dana and the Cookie

 "Are you eating a cookie for breakfast?" Mother asked as Dana sat back down at the table. She raised a disapproving brow at him.
Cookie in hand, a hint of guilt flashed across Dana's expression before he masked it with a very unconvincing smile of innocence. He tucked the cookie behind a napkin out of sight of mother... but not out of sight of the children. While Dana was distracted petting Gypsy with one hand under the table, Ellie waltzed in with a question on her lips. Her thoughts immediately shifted gears when she spied the goody.
  "Can I have a cookie!"
  "No, dear." Mother shooed her away and gave Dana a meaningful look.
  Dana looked suitably chastened, took a bite, and lowered his cooking to the bench between he and I where it was well out of sight of any random children that might pass by.
  Several children did indeed make their way in and out of the dining room, and when there was a break, Dana reached for his cookie.
  "Hey!" He pat the bench searchingly on both sides. "Where's my cookie?"
  I raised my hands to show them empty when he gave me a pointed look. To be fair, I had pulled stunts like that in the past, so his unspoken accusation wasn't completely unfounded.
  However, in the brief quiet that followed, a distinct crunching sound came from under the table. My first thought was that one of the children had snuck back in, but none of them were masters of stealth and I would have seen them.
  "Um," I realized out loud. "I think the dog ate your cookie."
  And so she had. Dana sighed and propped his chin on his hand in defeat.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

5 Degrees But Feels Like Negative 23

"It's freezing in here," I sat down on the couch beside Dana. "Winter is making up for forgetting to snow on Christmas. How cold is it outside?"
Dana whipped out his phone. "Let's see, shall we?"
I peered over his shoulder as he flipped to his favored weather app.
"Five degrees outside," He read aloud. "But it feels like negative 23."
"Wind chill."
I flopped onto my back and moaned. "I hate winter."


So what do the Orchards do in the winter?
School. Lots of school.
And, you know, there are still chickens to be fed and watered. Every morning Kate Orchard bundles up and troops outside to feed and water the chickens in each of the three coops, and every evening she bundles up and does it again.
Every Monday morning Rosie, Pippin, and myself drive out to the farm to have music lessons with Teacher. Kate and Rosie take turns at the piano, and then Rachie, Sarah, and I join them and we all sing. We sing hymns in three parts, and duets, and trios, and all sorts. It's great fun.
The other day while Rosie was at piano, Kate wondered if I would help her transfer a chicken.
"I walked into the coop earlier and found it lying there with a big bloody spot on it's back," She explained. "I don't know if it will live, but I need to move it to the other coop."
I grabbed my jacket. "Sure, I'll help."
"She can borrow my winter boots!" Rachie called from the kitchen.
I was glad for this, because all I'd brought were Pippin's boots, which were primarily made for cloth and did more for looks than warmth. They were better than my flats, but still.
Kate and I pulled on our coats in the garage, and I shoved my feet into heavy snow boots. The laces were far too long, and I did my best not to step on them as I followed Kate out into the cold.
Thankfully, this was not one of those 'feels like 23 below' days, but it was still pretty chilly. I shoved the laces of my shoes haphazardly into the tops of my boots and tromped over the well worn path towards the barn. Kate and I's breath puffed into the air.
Now, the Orchard Family doors are very interesting things. Quite unique. Their front door, which has a latch type handle instead of a knob, takes mammoth amounts of strength to open. The door leading from the house into the garage requires one to shove against it with one's shoulder before it will click shut, and the door leading from the garage to the outside has to be yanked shut forcefully. The barn door, which is more relevant to our current tale, has to be turned the wrong direction to open it. I had all these doors memorized before, and was quite pleased with myself when I remembered to twist the knob the wrong way. There were many times before that I'd been duped. It'd become a mission of mine to commit to habit the correct reactions to each of these doors to avoid embarrassing -- and sometimes painful -- mishaps. So, score for me, these habits stuck with me through the winter.

Inside, the barn smelled like straw. First we carried an old dog crate out the barn, around to the back, and into the coop there, where we placed it in the corner. The air in the coop was warm; heavy with the scent of, well, chickens. They clucked at us, and made halfhearted attempts to sneak out while the door was open, but I guessed it was simply too cold for them to really want to escape. A bump in the side with the toe of my boot sent them clucking away in a flap of indignant wings.

Then we returned to the barn. Kate led the way to a box right outside the corner coop, inside which resided the injured chicken in question. She lay there, clearly alive, but rather immobile, and Kate gently lifted her out. I could see the patch of raw skin where the feathers had been torn away, and wondered what could have caused that. Only a few days ago Rachie had told us that one of the roosters, Klink, had been decapitated by a coon. There were also incidents where chickens were simply trampled to death by their coop mates. Unintentionally, of course. Chickens are not the brightest creatures God ever created.

Once again I booted the potential escapees back into the coop as we opened the door. I watched Kate carefully place the injured creature into the kennel. Such a kind hearted girl, Kate is. Considering how much work and hassle chickens cause, and the fact that there will be absolutely no gratitude from the animal for her caretaking, she still did what she could to help it, concerned for its well being. It seemed to me a suddenly lovely thing. There in the middle of a smelly chicken coop, with a chicken who had probably gotten hurt because of something dumb it did to itself, I saw simple and dutiful kindness. Matter of fact and quickly past.

We went back inside after that, smiling and chatting about what the day held, and sang hymns with our sisters and cousins about gifts and journeys.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bugs in the Berry Patch

  "Watch out for bees," Kate said. "They love the raspberries."
  I jerked my hand back from a berry out of which two large bees crawled free and flew off. "I noticed. Well."
  Kate chuckled. All through the patch, the hum of honeybee wings created a steady drone. They were everywhere. Now, I'm not one to be afraid of bugs, but there were quite a few bugs present that day.
  There were the honeybees, of course. Fuzzy little things with orange abdomens and black stripes and, of course, painful stingers.
  And then there were the Japanese Beetles. Their hard shells were dark but decorated with a rainbow of color, as if the light of a prism had fallen across their back and stuck there.
  And the Picnic Beetles. Teeny tiny bugs with black shells bearing an orange stripe across it. Now these ones I have a particular dislike towards, due to the fact (and I recount this story often) that one of them bit me on the tongue as I was trying to eat a raspberry. How was I to know the poor fellow was in there? It wasn't my fault.
  Last but not least was the new scourge to the Orchard Family Farm. Asian Beetles. See, they're tricky, because while they look very much like ladybugs, their shells are tainted rust orange instead of red. And they bite. What else do they do? Well, they eat crops.
  Like raspberries.
  The sun shone down on Kate and I and the bugs with nary a cloud in the sky to hamper the warmth. This, at least, made up for the bug infested raspberry patch. Ah, sunshine...
  The reason the patch was so bug infested in the first place was mostly due to the high tunnel. The berries in there were the biggest, juiciest, most amazing raspberries you've ever tasted. Beautiful! There were so many, too! Handfuls and handfuls of them, like delicious pink jewels hiding amidst the leaves.
  Unfortunately, because of this bounty, the high tunnel took priority. And since there are only so many workers on the Orchard Family Farm, the patch just outside the high tunnel did not get picked nearly as often as it used to. So when Kate and I grabbed a handful of halfpint containers and started our safari through the canes, we found many of the berries either overripe, or overeaten.
  However, that warm Almost-Autumn day, after a couple hours dilligent scouring, we still came away with several full halfpints of lovely berries rescued from the clutches of various types of mandibles, and not a single sting to show for it.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Tomato Named George and What Befell Him

The whole kitchen smelled like tomatoes. Real tomatoes. And not just red ones. In a bowl next to a pot of boiling water on the stove were yellow tomatoes, orange tomatoes, purple (yes, purple) tomatoes, big ones, little ones, medium ones. Rosie grabbed them with the tongs and dropped them into the water, one by one. Then she put the lid on.

Five minutes. Then off came the lid, out came the steaming tomatoes, and Rosie dropped them into a bowl of ice cold water sitting in the sink. Immediately the hot skins started curling away from the flesh of the tomato. With the help of Rosie's friend, Tru, I peeled off the skins piece by piece. Soon I held a completely naked tomato in my hand. It dripped with water, slimy against my fingers. And not all the tomatoes Tru and I peeled stayed together, so sometimes we ended up with shapeless globs of tomato flesh plopped onto the tray next to the sink. Most of them did stay together, however, and lay exposed on the tray waiting to be crushed and poured into various bags for freezing.

Pippin, who was in charge of retrieving and emptying the tray so we could fill it up again, also brought over the unboiled, unpeeled tomatoes and set them in the bowl for Rosie.

"That one's George," She said, pointing to a particularly round, red-orange tomato. "Be nice to him."

Taking the tray away, she left us blinking at each other in confusion. We all peered at poor George the unlucky tomato, but figured that, being a tomato, it was his chief end to either rot in the field or end up in a pot. Ending up in a pot seemed a far nicer fate, all things considered. So in he went.

George did squeal a little more than the other tomatoes in the hot water. And his skin was a little bit harder to get off. He had to go into the boiling pot twice before he finally relented let us peel him. Then he sat in the corner with his unnamed brothers to await his fate.

We all accepted calling the silly thing George. He seemed to have earned a name, sitting there in sulky defiance of his ultimate fate. The rest seemed more or less accepting of their destiny. (Whether more, or less, is hard to tell. Being deprived of their skins would presumably make it difficult to manage any sort of significant expression to indicate their thoughts on the matter.)

Regardless, however, he still ended up in a ziploc bag in the freezer just like all the other tomatoes. All together the messy, repetitive assembly line of tomato processing took us five girls (and Mom) two hours to complete the whole bushel. Now we have a freezer full of fresh frozen tomatoes we can add to chili, spaghetti, lasagna, and whatever else suits our fancy. Our food tasted wondrously better because of it. You see, farm grown tomatoes have much richer flavors than canned tomatoes from the store. It's very distinct, and although a touch unusual at first, it quickly becomes acceptable. And for us, far more desirable.

I think in the end George was okay with that.

Friday, July 18, 2014


I have a dog. Her name is Gypsy. She's black and white; a Border Collie-Black Lab mix. Essentially, a mutt.

I love her to pieces.

She's a bit high strung, and only as intelligent as a dog can be while still being a dog, and she loves Dana more than she loves me. Me who raised her from a puppy and taught her all she knows. But I don't mind that much.

I'd wanted a dog since I was eight. I finally got one when I was eighteen. Gypsy. The Orchards know a lot of people, so when they heard one of their farmer friends' dog had puppies, they alerted us. We went over there a few days later to take a look.

Choosing Gypsy four years ago.
Momma dog watched over a litter of squirming little rascals inside a small fenced in area. As we walked up to say hi, my Momma commented,

"Wow, that's a lot of kids."

Then we counted them. There were nine. Momma laughed.

She and I visited several times before I finally picked the one I liked. She was one of the smaller ones, content to waddle around the outskirts of her many siblings and chew on a piece of red twine she had claimed as her own. She was a little round fuzzball when I got her. She wailed the whooooooollleeee way home. And then wailed some more into the night.

I put her into a routine. Eat, wake, sleep. It worked pretty well. She was house trained in no time, learned her boundaries quickly, and slept a LOT. I made her a little bed out of an old blanket and stuck it in the corner for her to sleep on, but somehow or another, she always managed to wriggle off of it before her nap was over. Completely in her sleep.

Then she grew. Sort of. All the wrong parts of her grew first. Her ears, her tail, her paws. She looked hilarious. One ear stuck straight up like a radar tower, while the other, try as she might, simply wouldn't stay erect. She was a lop eared mutt.

She discovered many things. She discovered that her toy squeaked, now that her mouth had grown large and strong enough to chomp down on it. She discovered a strange dog in the mirror that copied her every move. She discovered it was a very bad idea to bother the cats. They had claws, and were quite willing to use them. Especially on her tender, curious nose.

And boy did she have energy. She got so wound up that she would tear circles around the couch for minutes straight. Eyes wild, tongue hanging out, tail flopping everywhere in an attempt to keep her balance. Usually these events ocurred right when I was trying to get her to do something else. She seemed to think "chase Gypsy" was a wonderful game. I didn't share this opinion. At all. It took some time to convince her such games weren't worth it.

She grew some more. We moved to Florida and discovered she hated travelling. My health took a downward turn, and so did hers. That was an interesting year. We were both a mess. There came a time when we considered that we might have to give her away. I cried very hard, even though it was I who had brought it up. You see, Gypsy is a one person dog. She doesn't care for small children much. And I have a lot of  young siblings. Especially then.

I told her one night, "You're not exactly the best dog in the world, Gypsy."

As soon as I said it I knew I didn't mean it.

"Yes you are." Tears filled my eyes. "I love you so much."

Determined to do my best, I not only worked with Gypsy even more, I worked with myself. No more laziness. Time to push through. With the help of a wonderful dog trainer, and my Mother's steadfast encouragement, both I and my puppy came out of our slump.

I took her for walks in the sunshine. I couldn't walk for as along as I do now, still being somewhat weak, but there was a three mile trail right by our house, and I would take Gypsy nearly every day on that trail. One time we even got rained on. Completely drenched within thirty seconds. But then, that's Florida for you.

Another move, back up to IL. Gypsy did much better this time.

Now she's four. She's more settled, and I'm more active. We have a forest preserve right near our house, and I take her for walks there often. She still loves Dana more than me. I think it may have something to do with the fact that he's willing to throw her raggedy, slobbery yellow tennis ball over and over and over, and I'm not. She really, REALLY likes her ball. Goodness.

But I love her just the same. And I always will.

Dogs aren't sentient. They're not children, they're not friends. They don't understand what you're saying, what you're feeling, what you're thinking. Nevertheless they are something special. They are the most loyal of companions.

You give so much. You look after them so diligently and then one day you look down at where they're standing steadfast by your side, and realize they're looking after you, now, too.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Globbusters In The Berry Patch

"Look at this Globbuster!" Little David Orchard held a sizeable, bright red strawberry two inches from my nose. This made it difficult to see, but I agreed with him, anyway.
  "Wow!" I exclaimed. "That is huge!"
  Pleased with this reply, David dropped the berry into my orange bucket.
  Across from me, Kate Orchard chuckled at her little brother. She and I sat on opposite sides of the long row, crouching or kneeling in odd positions on the hay that covered the damp ground between the rows in the strawberry patch. The sun shone over us and highlighted the winks of red amidst the tangles of leaves and stems. I rustled through the strawberry plants to grab them, inspecting the berries with my fingers to ensure they were perfect before dropping them in my bucket. Only the best went to the customers.
  "Another one!" Further down the row, David exclaimed again.
  Kate smiled and shook her head as David rushed up again to display his prize. It was indeed an impressively sized strawberry.
  "This one is a real Globbuster." He informed me. "Do you know who came up with that name?"
  I feigned ignorance. "No, who?"
  "Guess." He insisted.
  "Hm." I frowned in thought. "Was it.... Kate?"
  David's eyes widened in surprise. "Wow, you're a good guesser!" Then off he ran again.
  Kate and I exchanged a glance. Her blue eyes sparkled with laughter, and I grinned.
  A few more handfuls of berries, and my little orange bucket was full. Kate had the big green bucket on her side, so I unfolded myself like an accordion as I stood, letting my muscles stretch out after having been hunched over the ground for the past fifteen minutes.
  It was a strawberry day. With the threat of wet weather in the next few days, the berries had to be gotten off the ground and into quarts, or they would be washed away like last year. So everyone was out here today.
  One row over, Jonny and Seph laughed loudly as they picked together. Sarah picked a couple rows over on the other side of us, and Dana frowned over his row at the bottom of the patch, rifling through the leaves in search of hidden berries.
  It was sort of like treasure hunting, I thought. Searching long and hard in the hot sun for every ripe ruby and stashing them away in buckets to be carried inside, sorted, and then stored in the vault like cooler in the barn.
  Sneaking a berry as I passed my bucket to Kate, I chomped on it and let the sun-warmed flavor flood my mouth. I very much liked this kind of treasure hunting.

Friday, May 30, 2014

An Introduction to the Animals

As May draws to a close, we are now about to enter summer. After a grueling winter, summer seems to be welcomed by even the snow-lovers in the state. Of which I am not one. I'm a summer girl, through and through. A bit of snow around Christmas and maybe in January, but after that I'm ready for the sun to come back.

This first post could be a lot more formal, but as I'm sure you'll discover, I am not a formal person. I also don't do well with schedules, so I'm only going to post here when I can.

Now for pictures! Since I don't have good pictures of the Orchard Family themselves just yet, I'll introduce you to some of the animals.

Bobbin, one of the more assertive cats.

The Cats -- A complicated family, with members that more or less tolerate each other in an aloof existence that mainly revolves around the barn. The only thing they have in common is their dislike of the dog.

A few noteable members of the Cat Regime are Nancy, Bobbin, and Lucy.

Caleb, the Orchard Family dog.

The Dog -- Caleb. Which means dog in Hebrew, I think. Caleb is a French Spaniel and absolutely gorgeous. He's a medium size, quite stocky, and spends most of his time bounding about in search of adventure.

I think this is Romeo. Correct me if I'm wrong.

The Chickens  -- There are over a hundred of them, now, and have separated themselves into three different factions, comprising of a passel of hens ruled over by a rooster. There's Romeo, Higgins, and the most recent addition, Colonel Klink. Tensions are brewing between these three factions, however, since the problems with outside invaders (foxes and weasel barbarians) have been dealt with.