Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.

***

Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.

Onward.

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The Amateur Farm Hour series

A few weeks back, I told you how I realized that sometimes, the only way to start is to START. Meanwhile, I’ve had an idea in my head for a couple of months now. I’ve waffled over the best platform for it, and have learned a couple of things along the way. 1. I belong in the blogging-for-dummies camp, technically speaking. I can talk a little talk, but when it comes to SEO and monetizing and GIMPing up my pictures, I’m too busy sniffing out the culprit of that mysterious stench upstairs (you don’t want to know) and scrubbing crayon off the kitchen floor. And 2. I have about thiiiiiiiiiiiis much time to focus on developing new ideas. See #1.

That was a long, roundabout way to tell you that for now, we’re simply starting a new series around here called Amateur Farm Hour. 

Yep.

Amateur Farm Hour. Because let’s be real.

What I’m doing is all amateur. I’m not trendily clad in buffalo plaid and shooties when I’m cleaning the chicken coop. (Okay. Shooties might not even be a thing anymore. I’m that behind.) I’m wielding a shovel that’s actually dirty, and a pair of worn out garden gloves that barely keep crud off.

My children aren’t always instagram-ready. Half the time, my eldest is in some sort of off brand pajamas. Ponytails are wonky, pants are too short. Shoes are a crap shoot.

What I put on the table is 50% awesome, and 50% overcooked/underdone/fallen/substituted/unpinteresting fare.

And pictures. Let’s talk about pictures. Because you know there’s the crop tool. The lightening, brightening, color temperature filtering options. Yes, good pictures tell a story. But rarely is it the whole truth.

The whole truth is that I could sell you on my attempts at a sustainable family lifestyle. I could talk blithely about our free-range chickens and their glorious golden-yolked eggs. I could probably manage some stunning shots of our heirloom Wealthy and Honeycrisp apple trees. I could show you my freezer full of labeled bags of garden veggie sauce from our raised-bed garden. Hashtag. Hashtag. Hashtag.

Meanwhile, you might think I have it all together, and follow this series because it’s a pretty place to find funny farm stories and fall recipes and to see cute kids.

And we’d both miss the point.

***

Yesterday, I grabbed an extra gallon of milk from the store. (For the record, that made four gallons of milk in my cart. Apparently we need a cow.) My goal was to make yogurt since the girls have been on another one of their crazes, and the new mantra/chant at breakfast is now MORE. BIG. YOGURT. PWEEEEESE.

We got home, and somewhere in the middle of the chaos, I pulled the soup kettle out of the cupboard, dumped a gallon of milk in it, plopped it on a lit burner, and put the lid on. Homemade yogurt is a multi-step process, and since it was already 4:00 pm, I needed to get moving.

And then I glanced out the door. The girls were rolling down the hill in the front yard, busting out peals of laughter.

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My oldest called out for me to come and join them, and it took all of three seconds to abandon kitchen ship, grab my camera, and run outside for the next hour.

We finally all piled back in the door around 6:00 pm, red-faced and covered in grass. I issued an immediate bath edict, but my nose was already starting to smell something else: the odd, semi-sweet fragrance of boiling milk. Boiling. Crap. 

Boiling means the milk is at least twenty degrees over the 180 degree desired warming point. Which means I’d basically annihilated my chance at having the yogurt culture.

Double crap.

I should have dumped the pot and moved on. A trained chef would not have thought twice about starting over. Unfortunately for me (and everyone around me), I’m not a trained chef. I’m a product of frugal parents and depression-era grandparents, and if there’s one thing that irks me, it’s waste.

After all, I could make…. a lot of hot cocoa with that milk. *gulp*

Which is why I added the yogurt starter, agave nectar and vanilla anyway. You know, because instead of wasting one item, it’d be better to waste four. Brilliant, I know.

Three hours into incubation, the yogurt refused to set.

I had also reached max capacity for any task involving real energy (mombie zone) so I haphazardly rearranged a fridge shelf, shoved the entire soup pot of warm yogurt-not-yogurt in, and went to bed kicking myself for ruining the batch.

_20150926_065517The next morning, I opened the fridge and stared at the pot. It was time to start getting creative. What could I use sweet, yogurt-laced milk for? Right. Muffins of some sort. I pulled out the mixer and got started. I made it halfway through the recipe before I took the lid off the pot to grab a cup of milk.

Miracle of small miracles, it had cultured.

I practically danced it to the counter. The yogurt wasn’t thick, but it was rich, creamy, and sweet. And aside from my failure to tend it properly, it still made something good. It was allowed to become something good because I didn’t give up. I waited for another angle. A new idea.

Maybe that’s how it goes in your kitchen, or in your office, or at your table too. Great ideas, good intentions, and then wham. Distraction. Need. Real life headbutts creative life and suddenly everyone’s knocked out on the floor.

Please don’t let that stop you.

Don’t throw away your messes, your failures, your imperfect attempts. You are not defined by these things. I believe you are fluid, and your definition rests in the cupped hands of God – God the creator, God the author, God the perfecter and finisher.

He doesn’t give up on you. He doesn’t see you as failed yogurt. He does not see your bad day at work or your temper with loved ones as who you ARE.

He understands amateur.

He knows sometimes, it’s the best show in town because those folks are having fun. They may not be doing everything right, but they have a good time trying.

That’s what we’re doing around here. Having a good time trying. It’s not always picture perfect or hipster-worthy, and that’s okay.

It’s amateur farm hour. And you’re invited.

In between posts, you can laugh along at my #amateurfarmhour pics on Instagram (@rachelriebe). Like how this series is starting off? Share it with a friend! See you next week!

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Because fashion blogging is slightly hilarious to me… tank top – past season Gap outlet. Pants – worn out Athleta jeggings. Little girl hairband/wrist bracelet – Walmart. Blade of grass kazoo – sustainable product of Riebe Farms.