Harvesting

Because the garden currently looks like this:

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And my cow had icicles on her fur and ears:

And because I devoured The Intelligent Gardner and Teaming With Microbes in 6 days. And because I can’t stop thinking and scheming about this year’s garden and my massive garden expansion plan. I realized it would be a good idea to take this downtime (between hog butcherings, chick acquisition, indoor seed starting, etc.) to finally get out a recap of our first gardening experience on our new homestead. [As a quick meandering tangent (oxymoronic, no?)…I’ve decided that the moniker “homestead” is indeed the most fitting for what we are building. Farm is too big and we aren’t (currently) selling anything, Garden doesn’t cover what a large part animals play in this thing. Farmstead would be an option but I prefer homestead and all that it implies. We have settled on an actual name too! That will be reveled later, but for now? Glad we got that sorted.]

Rather than drone on and on about the minutiae that doesn’t really interest anyone but me (even my husband is kindly polite when I get going on all things garden), I’m just going to show you some of my favorite pictures from the season. While there was a bit of a learning curve (Fungal disease from too much moisture was not something that happened in the desert. Ever.), growing stuff here is amazing. It gave me a glimpse into a world where I really could produce superior food for my family and make a substantial dent in our food bill. My previous successes were limited to “Hey, something grew! And it almost looks normal!”  No more, friends. We can garden for reals now.

Quick note: Morning Glories are weeds here. We had to work hard to grow some for Naomi in Vegas and even then only got a few. Best. Move. Ever.

The spider’s name is Quatro.

We probably got 20 lbs of pecans from our pecan tree that we didn’t even know we had until a few months ago. And there are still about 5 pounds on the ground because holidays commandeered my pecan harvesting time. I think only homemade bacon from my own pig has rivaled the joy and pride from serving pecan pie made from my own pecans on Thanksgiving Day.

I love canning. Do you love canning? If no, Can I can for you? Because I love it. I have an entire attic space that is now an attic pantry full to bursting with everything from bread and butter pickles to wild black berry jam to chicken pot pie filling. Happiness radiates, nay…exudes, out of there from under the door. Seriously, it looks like puffs of yellow glitter.

Final counts:

  • 44.5 lbs summer squash
  • 22 cantaloupes (averaging 4 lbs each)
  • 58 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 112.5 lbs cucumbers
  • 105 cups wild blackberries from our woods
  • 157 lbs. tomatoes
  • 6 lbs. peppers
  • 25 ears of corn
  • 6 watermelons
  • 5 big pumpkins
  •  9 lbs. green beans
  • a few small cabbages and cauliflowers
  • a ridiculous amount of arugula
  • 2 large acorn squashes
  • handful of small random squashes

 

 

 

 

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how we arrived at boudin noir

So boudin noir is the French take on the German blutwurst which is the corollary of the Spanish morcilla, but in England it’s pronounced blood pudding. Kind of. Something like that. No matter the ethnic nuance you start with, it’s basically pigs’ blood mixed with some spices and some other stuff then cooked and eaten. I also think it has the greatest ick factor of all the weird things I’ve done in the past two weeks. Bottom line, though? It’s tasty. Just like head cheese and fried kidneys are tasty. It’s commonly agreed upon that Pork as a food group is good eating, but these other things that our culture has left behind take eating pork to a whole new level. The catch, of course, is that it’s kind of vital to have crazy fresh and super clean ingredients and that, well, means raising and slaughtering and butchering the pig yourself. Or trading your first born to someone who did raise the pig. As I like our son, we chose the first option. I would like to share with you one of the coolest things I’ve done thus far as a homesteader.

***Graphic pictures ahead, because…well…the pig had to die to make a transition. He went from pushy, greedy garbage disposal (who also enjoyed basking in the sun, letting me scratch his ears, and snooting up the ground with his snout) into food for my family. I liked him and knew his personality. There is loss but it’s loss with a purpose, so there you go. Blood and cutting is part of that transition. You’ve been warned***

I’d love to write a whole post just on our experience at a Pig to Plate workshop we attended two weeks ago in Ohio. Realistically, with Christmas in 3 days I’m impressed I’m getting this post done. To condense: best money we’ve spent on educating ourselves and regaining a connection with our most complicated dietary aspect…meat. Quinn and Bill Veon of Reformation Acres hosted, Andy and Doug from Hand Hewn Farm taught. It was truly life changing and I’ll be forever grateful for that change. They will be hosting more workshops and if you are ever remotely interested in home hog production…get thee to a workshop!

It really doesn’t matter if someone warns you about leaving the hose out the night before you need it. Most likely it will be left out and you will be grateful that as the guys at the workshop related their personal experiences with such an oversight…they also joked about a solution. Hence we ended up with about 120 feet of garden hose in our bathtub at 9 am. Stranger things have happened.

I got back from dropping off kids to hang out with grandma for the afternoon. This wasn’t because I was worried about them seeing the process, but because I knew I needed to be able to work hard without chasing munchkins. Eventually (probably next year) they will stick around. Anyways, we went into the yard and the pig stood still and just stared at Neil. Big Man (you can’t feed something twice a day for 7 months and not give them some sort of name) was shot and down and bleeding out…and it went crazy fast. It’s weird how the mind messes with time perception in high adrenaline situations. We realized later that we didn’t get a great bleed, but even with that, the shot was good and our boy died quickly and peacefully. Well. To an outside observer it wouldn’t actually look peaceful. When an animal dies their body has an awful lot of energy still running through it and so most will thrash around for a bit and with a big animal it can seem pretty violent. (Although the first rooster we killed, scared us so much with how much he thrashed, we nearly second guessed this whole farm thing all together) Death Throes are a real thing.

We had some guys from church come to help and we got the pig on a tarp to carry a few yards to our set up for scalding and scraping.

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Getting an accurate weight was important to me so I can keep track year to year, and also to know our dress-out ratios.

Ok here’s what happens once you get the hog hooked onto the gambrel (back legs in the barrel first so you only have to flip once): it is dunked into warm water, 149ish degrees to be precise. This temperature allows the outermost layer of skin to loosen and the hair to start to loosen as well. It only takes a few minutes. Longer time or hotter temperature can actually set the hair, making scraping nearly impossible. I have it on good authority that shaving the whole carcass takes about 11 years.

After the proper dunk time you grab some back hair and see if it comes out easily. If it does, you hoist the pig out and start scraping. On our way home from Ohio we stopped at  Lehmans, a store that actually carries tools for this scraping. They are called Bell Scrapers or Hog Scrapers.  Unfortunately, they serve a large Amish community and it’s that time of year…they were out. We improvised with a coconut shell-er thing and a thing that was once a part of a lamp (I think) and it actually went really well. One advantage to our warmer southern winter…the dense winter hair hadn’t come in yet. The head and front trotters didn’t scald well so we didn’t use the trotters and Neil, being awesome, later poured boiling water over the head and cleaned it so that I could still use it. He is good stuff. Once the hair is scraped, you shave what ever is left, then blowtorch anything after that. Yeah, a working blowtorch would have been great…last minute Christmas gift to my husband?

Next is evisceration. Things to save and use/eat: small intestines (and large if you are feeling brave and masochistic), heart, liver, lungs, spleen, kidneys, and caul fat. Wait! What’s that? All that sounded familiar except the caul fat?

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This, my friends, is caul fat and it’s culinary potential is nigh unlimited.

After you save the good bits and bury the bad bits, you remove the head and split the carcass with a bone saw so it can thoroughly chill. The weather could not have been more perfect for us. It took us about 3 hours from shot to getting ready to split so I had to run and rescue grandma. The kids were equal parts fascinated and disgusted. They were so disappointed that while I did save the bladder to blow up like a ball…I didn’t put it in its own container and it ended up covered in bile. Ain’t nobody touching nothing that smells that weird! And there we called it a night.

Day #2: Break it down now. Leaf lard came out first (top left). This is the stuff pie crust dreams are made out of and so it is treated with respect. Then we cut one half into primals outside. A hog is divided into 4 quarters or primal cuts. Then each of these is broken down further. At the workshop we got to practice this process on someone else’s pig, which made doing it on our own sooooooo much easier. Not saying we couldn’t have YouTube-ed it…it just would have been a horrific mess if we had. We brought in one quarter at a time. Our babies helped for a while and then peacefully destroyed the house while the adults kept at it. This day was long, but we managed…and it feels so great to have a freezer full of beautiful white packages.

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Our work was not finished with all the fresh cuts being done…oh no.

Stock was made, lard was rendered, small intestines were turned into sausage casings which were in turn made into blood sausage (which i love, by the way).

During the next few days the madness continued.

Scrapple, Headcheese, Christmas Eve Ham put into brine, fried kidneys. And it all tastes so delicious.  Offal is my new favorite ingredient…I must have some sort of mineral imbalance. 20161219_090648

Nearly 40 lbs. of bacon is a strong argument for raising your own pork. We finished packing the ground pork today, it still will be turned into various typed of stuffed sausages. 20161221_081603

I’ll be happily  nibbling headcheese and rillettes for the next two weeks while we celebrate the holidays.

Final counts and thoughts:

  • Live weight – 365 lbs.
  • Hung weight – 281 lbs.
  • 124 lbs. fresh cuts including ribs
  • 38 lbs. bacon
  • 45 lbs. ground pork
  • 9.5 quarts lard
  • 4 gallons stock
  • 11 lbs. scrapple
  • 4-5 lbs. head cheese
  • 5 half pints rillettes
  • lots of lbs. of liver, kidneys, heart, and spleen. (all of which have been used)
  • 60 feet of sausage casings and caul fat (going to become Crepinettes on Christmas Eve and roast rabbit once I have rabbits in the freezer)
  • skin (not finished with this so don’t have a total. Doesn’t matter, we have enough to make cinnamon sugar pork rinds and change the world one mouth at a time)

It was an incredible experience and I wish I could write more. Oh wait I can! We are doing this whole thing again in a few months when we process our girl! There are big plans for her given our success this time round and I will probably write all about how my life and the life of my family has been changed forever by doing this. That sounds melodramatic, I know. But seriously, now that I’ve started to take more control over what I eat and had a taste of the satisfaction it brings…I’m not sure I could ever not being doing this. Don’t know that I have a choice anymore and that makes me happier than I can say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Huzzah!

Renaissance Faires are some of my favorite places ever to visit. Mostly its just great to have a time outside of Halloween to wear a fun costume and go see a ton of other geeky adults getting together to celebrate geekiness. (Quick aside: When did Halloween become “National dress like a hooker day”? It really bothers me. Oi.) Plus, I can call it school for the day, so winning all over the place. The Renaissance Faire in Las Vegas is a fairly respectable affair with all the jousting, turkey legs, and  craftiness one would expect. The one here in Charlotte is even better as it has a permanent location. That means buildings and a glass blowing kiln (I bought the coolest hand blown ornament for our Christmas tree!), and a set jousting arena. Open every weekend in October and November it also has the advantage of crowds spread over more than just 3 days. However, we choose to go on one of their “Education Days.” We went on a set Tuesday specifically geared towards elementary and middle school aged kids. Oh. My. Field Trips. Any crowd advantage was lost and next year we might just go on a weekend and maybe avoid some of the madness. But who knows? Maybe weekends are worse. We shall see next year, and in the mean time, even with hordes of munchkins running amok, it was still awesome.

He didn’t dress up but he happily came with us and that, as you know, makes every aspect of the outing infinitely better. Daddy is the favorite, after all.

Friends were made and pictures taken!

img_2394Low key Costume, but fun none the less. I made this bodice when I was in high school for my very first Ren Faire and I’m happy I can still sport it on occasion.

Lunch on the bleachers while we waited for jousting was simple: apples, cheese and meat, homemade bread and cookies (maybe I should call it “Authentic”) and it started to fill up with people right as we finished eating. Yelling and cheering and booing, it was cool to see the armor and horses and the competition…all my kids were fans of the whole thing.

The Falconry show was one of our favorite things that we watched. The birds were loose to fly to various perches around the audience and they mostly came back when called. Owls, falcons and Kookaburras, oh my! Before the birds, though, there was a super cool juggling show that we caught the tail end of.

This is definitely going to be new a fall tradition for our family. Especially since Garyn had the great fortune to win a Merkel. The girls are all hoping for one next year.

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That, my friend, is a Merkel. His name is Devin.

 

 

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dragons, and ghosts, and pigs, and fairies…oh my!

oI love Halloween, don’t you? Being a mom is what actually inspired this love. I stopped trick-or-treating when I was about 12 and being a rather awkward teenager I never really had much to do on Halloween and felt like the biggest loser because of that. But then a husband and kids came and all that mess changed. Now I’m a veritable rock star when I pull off costumes that impress and delight my children and I get to orchestrate fun lunches (mummy hot dogs) and Day of the Dead parties (complete with sugar skull sugar cookies!) This year was something of a wild card. Because of hurricane Matthew and our church’s commitment to help with the clean up effort, our normal trunk-or-treat was canceled. We happen to live just far enough into the country that I was fairly certain trick- or-treating was not going to happen in our neighborhood (“what? done after 3 houses? I guess we have hiked three miles…”). Luckily my brother and Sis-in-law graciously offered to share their neighborhood and they even fed us dinner before hand to build up the energy reserves for a thorough candy acquisition operation. Helps that their neighborhood is one of those where people give out full-size candy bars and a few couples even had a tent and were serving up hot dogs and hot chocolate! We know where we will be next year!

Unfortunately, when we kicked off the festivities with pumpkin carving, Neil wasn’t here. He is traveling back to Vegas for one week every month. Small price to pay for having him home 100% the rest of the time, but I’m pretty certain if his boss makes him travel over my birthday again, I’m going to refuse to drive Neil to the airport. Ever. This year was the first that both big kids did their pumpkins completely solo. Babies…Growing up…Sniff. And as an aside, as soon as the pumpkins started to cave in and get soft, Mei (our dairy cow) yummed them up for dinner. No waste on this farm!

Little Man is a fairly steady customer when it comes to costume requests. He knows months in advance what he will be and he sticks to it. This year he knew he was going to be “Steve” from Minecraft. About a month out, that changed to “a red dragon.” That was fine by me and it led to one of my favorite costume triumphs to date. Hi. I’m Lindsey, and I work in felt.

A study in contrasts. Layna, kind of out of no where informed me that she wanted to be a ghost (“Boo!”) and stuck with that for 2 months. Naomi went through this process: vampire witch, Princess Leia (until I semi insisted on a turtle neck dress…authenticity people!), mermaid, Pocahontas, and at last…Zarina the pirate fairy. I had a ton of fun with her costume too and learned how to shir. This made for a super comfy bodice that actually looked right. Plus she had a costume for Ren Faire! Win!

True to three year old form, Corra changed her mind daily for about 3 months. We were reading a magazine in which some kids went as pigs, and I reminded her we had the pig beanie (a white elephant gift from the work Christmas party years ago). She was sold, and double sold when I told her we would use Naomi’s old dance stuff to complete the ensemble. Win again! Also the full dragon costume. Yay for internet tutorials that made wings much simpler than what I was envisioning. How did people do things before the internet?

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Candy was acquired, fun was had, and life was good.

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The next night we had a Dia de los Muertos party for school, and later some friends came to dinner to help with decorating the cookies and eating the sugar skulls. These cookie cutters are giving my Ninja-Bread-Men cutters some stiff competition for my favorite baking thing.

Amazon also came through with these skull candy molds. So cool.

This was one of our better years for Halloween. For school the next day we did candy graphing and pumpkin measuring for math, and Halloween MadLibs for writing. This month we read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (the real one, and it was awesome!) and a book called “Little Witch“. It’s going to be tough to top this one, but challenge accepted for next year!

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big apples and seventh birthdays

Do you love New York City? I had never been before a few weeks ago when we went there on Naomi’s seventh Birthday. It was not a specific trip just for that, the timing just worked out as part of a larger excursion (next post will cover the rest of those good times!) As a farm girl and homeschool mom who relishes her space and crowd free life, I wasn’t sure how it would be spending a day in The City with my family in tow and no real plan. I needn’t have worried. Lessons were learned that day and seven years of life were celebrated in a way that was perfect for Miss Birthday Girl.

Not to sound finicky right off the bat, but I like London’s “Mind the Gap” better. More flair and style. Because I need flair and style…riiiight…We did love the trains though and I learned that people on trains are both nice and super tolerant of high pitch excited squeaks coming from my girls and my boy.

Crowds were no worse there than in Vegas so we were golden. I learned that it raises a place’s awesome factor if you can go from impromptu naked water play at a hidden park then go to a primer art gallery in 5 minutes and 100 yards. We were walking through Central Park (after an over-priced and under-quality hotdog on the grass) and we saw a park. That was a good solid hour of bliss for everyone. Bliss makes me brave and we attempted The Met.

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Three words. Bed Knobs and Broom sticks. Am I right? We hit ancient Egypt (Naomi’s request) and arms and armor for the boy. Samurais were imitated and Mummies were grimaced at. I learned my kids take on museums like champions.

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My mom said we had to get Mr. Softee soft serve ice cream. So I put it on the list. I asked at the museum and they said yeah the truck out front. Great, asked the guy in the truck and he said yes of course this right here (pointing to swirly ice cream cone picture) this is what you want. I learned that I’m a naïve tourist and you aren’t really in the club until you get hoodwinked by a local. Well. I’m in the club now. To be fair, it was still the best soft serve I’ve ever had.

There is a book called “Micawber” by John Lithgow. We love it and it’s the only reason I even knew that there was an old carousel in Central Park. Since Micawber, the art loving squirrel, lives in the top we had to go and check it out. I learned that kids do not even see crappy paint and hear awful carnival music. They truly experience things as they should be expierenced…no judgement, just joy in the moment. Pretty sure little man said this was the best thing he’d ever done. Like three times. The kid has been to Disneyland, but that didn’t matter in that moment. img_1694 Because we had just walked 8 millionty miles from The Met to the carousel, we crashed on the grass before embarking on more subway travel back up to Harlem for an IHOP dinner (birthday girl’s request of course). I learned that Central Park is stupid big. Like kicked my trash big. My poor sweet husband and children. They love me, even when I don’t deserve it.

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Her birthday was complete the next night with collective cake decorating, ice cream and presents. Everyone did a bit of decorating while Naomi consulted her sketch of the cake and bossed I mean managed the whole deal.

Munchkins have been missing their aunts and it was nice to cuddle and have some down time.

New York City was great. It was exhausting being a mom with 4 littles, no idea what I was doing, and a whole day to fill. But I had my husband who navigated all subway travel and overall we had a great time. Obviously, I know we only scratched the surface, but that just means we might have to go back some day.

This girl though. She pushes me and challenges me in ways no other human being on earth does. It’s good and bad and I’m sure someday she will have her own little Karma child to mold her into a better mother and person. I know the adventure is only just starting and I’m equal parts terrified and eager to see what else she brings to my life and the lessons she’ll teach me. Whew.

Next up the rest of our Ohio / New York trip!

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Mr. Bates

My fourth baby brought me so many life lessons, it almost killed me. Ok, not really [hyperbole back in its box]. But prior to her, I didn’t know what post partum depression felt like, I didn’t think nursing could possibly be any worse, and I had no idea how much I could need a child like I needed her.

After the ultrasound where we found out gender, I cried. I was so convinced we were having a boy and that would be mean God had given me permission that I could be done having kids and would not be a failure if I stopped at four. Don’t ask. I blame the hormones. That was three years ago and I can laugh about it now because I’m ok. The other thing we can laugh about is how I swore Corra looked like Mr. Bates from Downton Abby for the first month or two of her life. Exhibit A:

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that it is hardly fair to judge a person’s looks after they’ve been through a brutal journey where their face takes the brunt of the beating. But seriously.

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Even after photographic magic she looked like Mr. Bates. Truth be told that was a really rough time and nursing was, to put it mildly, horrific. Sparing you the details, I took her in to her pediatrician around 5 weeks and they put the words, “failure to thrive” on her record. Probably one of the most soul crushing moments of my life. And I don’t mean that in the way I normally use the term “soul crushing” (disappointing or frustrating). I mean I almost couldn’t breathe sitting there on that little plastic chair, mentally preparing myself to nurse there in the office because she was hungry and couldn’t make it home. After much drama, enough people gave me permission to stop nursing and life was beautiful again.

And oh my goodness. Three years later, could this girl be more beautiful? At three years old she loves puppies and trains and princesses and dinosaurs. We must be doing something right.

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Our current default show for the little girls to watch is Dinsosaur Train. Cute show, and educational so I’m cool with it. I made the engine from the show, complete with sugar paper printed characters.

As an aside, cardamom changed my life. I read somewhere about cardamom extract in baked goods. It so happened that I had some ground cardamom in my cupboard from a garam masala mix I made and so I put some in the cake batter. Never again will my cakes be sans cardamom. I can’t even describe it, so come over and I will feed you cake and then you too will know.

Three year olds are the best gift recipients ever, because every present is exactly what they had always been dying to get and they have no hang ups about gushing. Then they forget that gift entirely to be enraptured by the next. Perfect example to me of living in the moment.

Her big brother got her a toy train and graciously put it together for her. Something about gifts you give yourself? She also got a Russian stacking doll and she named her “Liddy.” I’m happy to report only two lids are broken and we are only missing one bottom. Sigh. Lessons, man. This kid is teaching me lessons.

Best part for me was having my grandma here. There was this moment of calm peacefulness while she read books to the kids that made me so grateful they moved across the country to be close to family. I hope to have my priorities as straight when I hit 80.

Corra continues to fill a hole in my heart that was put there for her. The good Lord knew exactly what I needed and sent me blue eyes and curls on a fairy princess who wants to be Cat Boy for Halloween.

 

 

 

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a decade.

He’s 10 now. So that means just over ten years ago, I became a mom. It also means that ten years ago I was as big as a whale and had no idea what the next decade had in store for me. And that was ok. And that is still ok. Because decades, man. Recently I heard a quote that said, “People grossly overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and vastly underestimate what they can accomplish in ten” (I think it was a second hand quote that oringinally came from Oliver DeMille). Garyn is now in the double digits age wise and I’m so amazed at what he is growing into…and lest I get all gushymommyteary, let’s just say that it is very good stuff indeed.

Confession: one of my deep rooted fears, a phobia straight from my childhood, is throwing a party and no one showing up. Some people are irrationally afraid of spiders, I’m irrationally afraid of this. Like lose sleep and have panic attacks afraid. When we moved here I was already stressing about his party. It was a year for a friend birthday party, but being in a new place our options for invitees were basically cub scouts, church, and neighborhood kids. Long story short I was terrified, stressed, and overall we had 17 kids come and play. It was perfect and I have had that phobia beaten back a bit.

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We settled on water games and a water theme since 1) it’s crazy hot and humid and 2) that is both super fun and super easy for me, the mom, to put together.

His request was for a camo cake inside shaped like a water sploosh. This is what I did.

Most of the party looked like the above. Lots of kids, screaming, sliding and water.

IMG_1044The plan was to eat a hot dog picnic lunch outside. But as I mentioned before it is hot and humid and kids were wanting A/C. We moved the kitchen table and improvised! It was actually kind of hilarious. Not only did my sister-in-law supply cousins to the party, she stayed and helped. Saved my sanity! As a completely random aside…I’m very grateful my brother married someone whom I genuinely like. It’s a helpful thing since we live close and our kids will grow up together. Anyways, she wins all the things for making the trek down to the party and making a huge difference in how it played out.

Back outside for presents and more playing. (Do you like our broken porch swing in the background? It held the presents admirably, albeit a bit slantwise).

Then there was cake and ice cream. Turns out a group of kids can put away impressive quantities of cake and ice cream…IMG_1058

…also chips. Pretty sure my little girls each ate their respective weights in chips. And lemonade.

The day ended with presents from family and more swimming. Since the pink pool hasn’t moved since the party two and a half weeks ago, I’m fairly certain the grass underneath it is dead. Small price to pay for the quiet hours of mommy time I’ve gleaned for myself while my babies entertain themselves happily outside.

Speaking of babies, mine turned 3 today. I have a backlog of posts that I’m going to be working through, but we are still in full out birthday mode up in this house. More to come on the Birthday du Jour as soon as I take a ton of pictures and wonder how she went from a scrawny Mr. Bates (from Downton Abby) doppleganger to my vivacious and funny little human being in miniature.

 

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