Category Archives: Inch by Inch

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Hi folks.

I am going to be closing down this blog in the next several weeks. There are many reasons for this, but I won’t get into them now.

What I would like to do, however, is compile the most useful posts into categories and bind them under an e-cover for download in case really, really interested folks still want to read them, or share them with others.

This is the compromise I’ve come to between just shutting down OR leaving the blog archives sitting here forever.

What I would love from you is some nominations for posts you’d like to see preserved in e-book form. I will try to edit and/or update any posts that go into that format, so if your favorite one is old and needs some revision that’s okay too.

I have in mind a total of say, 100 posts.

Help? (Please leave your suggestions in the comments so people can see each others’ okay?)


P.S. I’m also taking some of the posts from this blog (mostly since 2009) and backfilling Muse of Fire with them. So much of the more recent material will still be on a blog.

Homeschool Update Spring 2013

Well, technically spring, anyway…


After a week or so, we got some sprouts. Those are yellow squash in the foreground.

It has been so cold for so long that I forgot to start the seedlings for this summer’s garden until two weeks ago. (Usually, I would start in late February or early March.) But while Cole was visiting her mother in Philadelphia for Spring Break, and Selina was with her, Nat and I got out the seedling trays and planted whatever we had left over from years past, including okra, yellow squash,cucumbers, sweet peas, mini sunflowers (called “teddy bear”), tomatoes (some kind of little ones–grape or cherry or something) and bok choi. I seriously doubt many of them will thrive after transplant. I usually end up at the garden center buying new starters after mine have failed. But I try every year anyway.

Working on the Winter Garden

Working on the Winter Garden

Whatever comes of our efforts, they won’t be as magnificent as our dreams. I started getting seed catalogues in January and rather than spend money on ordering anything, I handed them over to the kids, rolled out a big banner of plain paper and let them go crazy. We enjoyed our “winter garden” during the long, long, loooooong months of winter that stretched into…well, last week, actually. We had snow flurries all morning on 1 April. (It wasn’t funny.)

IMG_2758IMG_2764Both girls have really been wanting to take on big projects that require all kinds of planning and construction. Nat proposed making valentines for everybody at church and she and Selina both spent about a week of work-times (9-11:30 every morning) on this huge job.

Nat also spent quite a bit of time designing and making this sign for Josiah, after he had been away visiting friends in Brooklyn for about a month. There is a rumor that he burst into tears at the sight of it, upon his arrival home at about 5 in the morning:IMG_2785

A Page from one of Selina’s “Biscuit” Stories

Selina has been going gangbusters on her language these days. She would still much rather write than read, so she’s made another book of photos she took herself. She has also been enjoying copying pages out of some of her favorite books. I figure the good old nineteenth century “memorize, copy, recite” technique won’t hurt her–especially given that she’s the one who wants to learn that way.

Practicing Stacked Equations with Coins

Nat, on the other hand, has been enthusiastically working on Math ever since I gave her real money to work with. (She thinks this is a major coup.) We’ve been doing all kinds of things with concrete coins in the past couple of months that Nat has been reluctant to do in the abstract.

One of the best things about not going to school is that the girls (and I) have the time and energy to do a lot of what school would call “extracurricular” activities. Both girls are still taking dance classes on Saturday morning, but now Nat has added a mid-week private dance lesson with her adored teacher, Rosetta. The dance seems to be really helpful in developing her ability to focus and discipline herself to attend to instruction. Rosetta was kind of surprised to find that Nat knows all the stuff she’s been teaching in the beginning ballet class on Saturdays. Until she had Nat one-on-one she didn’t realize how much Nat knew, because in class, Nat is a distraction queen.

That’s pretty much what I’ve discovered in homeschooling too. Nat knows a lot of stuff, but it can be all but impossible for her to settle in and work if a social engagement is an option. Sometimes even having her sister just within hearing is too distracting for her. But when she can get a little peace and solitude, she will often get very deeply into what she’s working on. More and more these days, she comes up with her own projects too. Recently, she proposed making a list of words in her own best handwriting for her sister to copy. Both kids thought this was the coolest. thing. ever. And I was supermom for “letting” them do it. Ha!

This is a sweet retired pony who lives at our new favorite place.

Meanwhile, we’ve added another activity. There’s a down-to-earth horse ranch about 40 minutes away (by car) and we’ve started lessons there. They even offer a homeschool program in which the kids get riding lessons, then an hour of other horse-related learning and activities after the lesson.

I knew animal-loving Selina would have the time of her life with the horses, (and she did!) but I didn’t know for sure what Nat would think. Turns out Nat is hooked for life. The day after her first lesson, Nat sat down and journaled at great length about the experience. My favorite line from her account was, “My teacher told me that I had to trot my horse, but my horse trotted me instead.” Since that first day, every single night before bed, she counts the days left until the next riding lesson and tells me she loves “her” horse.

Yep. I remember all that.

In fact, I’ll be taking a lesson of my own while the kids are doing their non-horse activities. I used to ride a lot when I was a kid/teen and could use my spending money to pay for lessons. The older I got the less cash I had for it and the less I’ve been able to do it. So I’m thrilled to have an excuse to start earnest lessons again. Cole will be taking some beginner lessons with the girls when she has some time later this summer, too. I can’t wait to see my whole family on horseback!

On my Children, my Father, Life, Death and Vegetables

I wrote the following for my church’s weekly newletter. You can find the original here.

Train up a Cucumber

Nat Harvests Radishes in the SPR Garden

“They are like children!” said one of the garden ladies. “They will climb up, but you have to give them a little help and show them where to go.” She gently lifted a cucumber vine and twined it through the netting so it would climb.

My children have grown a bit this summer — more than a bit, perhaps, to judge by shortening dress hems and tightening shoes. But they have also grown in understanding.

This summer, they lost their grandfather after two years of watching him fight cancer. It is their first death, and they have taken it hard. As my older daughter said the week after the funeral, “I don’t want anyone who loves me to die!”

I sympathized and told her I felt the same way, but there was nothing we could do about it. One of the hardest things about losing my father has been losing some of my children’s confidence that I can make anything and everything better for them, if only I want to and am willing to try.

I could do nothing to save their Granddaddy, even though I really, really wanted to. So my kids learned the sad lesson that parents are fallible and that sometimes death wins.

But the SPR garden also has been a pastime for them this summer, in the weeks we have been home and able to get to church on a Sunday. It has been a reassuring counterpoint to the fact of death, and that is the very concrete, undeniable fact of life.

When my children ask me questions about God, I tend to tell them some version

My father loved this picture he took on a walk with my girls.

of this: “God is a very special mother who takes care of the whole world. God makes things be alive. She makes things grow.”

(As a result of this teaching, when my younger girl saw a landscaper doing some work recently, she said, “look, that man is helping God! He’s taking care of the world.”)

When things in a garden die, my children know that nature turns them into dirt again, like the compost in the buckets on our own patio garden at home. New things can grow from that next season.

A garden at church is the perfect object lesson for them to connect the sacred and mundane facts of life — that God makes life, makes things grow, turns death and decay into something new and beautiful and perhaps even delicious, like a cherry tomato picked right off the vine, warm from the sun.

But this comes at a cost — a cost of labor and time and sometimes the frustration of fending off rapacious beetles that would chew down your vine before it can blossom.

And some people, work as hard as they will, never can get that vine blossoming.

This summer, along with the sad fact of death, my kids also have begun to learn the sad fact that life is not fair. Some people have more than they need, while some don’t have enough. The good news is that those who have enough can share and even the score just a little bit, almost every day.

When we go to the grocery store each week, we have a list of “Things We Need” and a list of “Things We Want.” My older daughter carefully crosses things off our “need” list and adds the prices as we shop. We have a budget every week and we are never able to get everything on our “want” list. But “sharing food” for the basket at the church altar is on the “need” list.

We always have enough to add a can of beans or a package of cereal for someone who might be hungry, even if it means we can’t get a candy bar for ourselves. It’s a lesson the children take with all the faith in the world that what I’ve told them — sharing is part of being who we are — is a simple truth. They never quibble about this.

Granddaddy and Nat

Recently, my older daughter badly wanted to eat a fresh pepper harvested from the SPR garden. I told her no. She kept begging and cajoling and I kept saying no until the thought struck me to simply explain. “The garden vegetables are sharing food,” I told her. “Oh!” She put down the pepper gently. She has never asked me to eat food from the garden again.

But she loves the garden nonetheless for that. She is as happy as she can be, helping pick ripe veggies, pulling weeds, plucking beetles off the plants and asking the expert gardeners a thousand questions.

The morning after my father died, my younger daughter asked, “will God make Granddaddy again?” I explained that Granddaddy was one-of-a-kind and that God is just too creative to ever make the same thing twice.

But although it may sound odd at first, I’ve told the girls that Granddaddy is a little bit like the compost. For one thing, he donated his body to cancer research. So there is an obvious way in which his physical being has been used to renew life among those of us who are still here slogging along on the Earth. But in the end, my father’s body was just a body, and it has returned to dust, as every one of ours will someday.

My Father and Me

And yet, like the compost that gives so much vitality to a tomato plant, my father’s love for his children and grandchildren will become — has already become — a part of who they are.

My children are stronger, happier, more loving people for having known his love for them. The spirit of sharing that he demonstrated even after death, he passed down to me to pass on to my own children. If all goes well, someday they will pass it to theirs.

And SPR — both in the garden and elsewhere — is a place to nurture those seeds of generosity and kindness, of sharing and enjoying people from all over the world (or from just across the neighborhood at KAM Isaiah Israel!). People come and go — even the ones who love us.

But in the end, it’s that very love that really wins.


I know I just posted about the garden, but I can't help it.  I am loving this stage!  These are from yesterday, but some of these are already bigger and brighter even just one day later…





How the Garden Grows

Here's the squash I grew from seed.  The little squash are finally starting to look like they might be edible someday.  the biggest one is about the size of my little finger:


Tomatoes I bought as plants.  So far, they are exceptionally fecund.  I've lost count of how many tomatoes are there.  My chiropractor told me the squirrels won't be interested until they start to turn red, so I have my eye out for that.  If they get any, I'll harvest them half-ripe and let them sit in the kitchen window for a couple of days.  That's my father-in-law's strategy with his beefsteaks.  These are Romas and they are getting bigger than I expected them to. Thumbs up for the self-watering 24" pots:

I bought four sweet pepper plants when they were pretty little, after all the ones I started from seed up and died inexplicably.  These are three-color peppers.  I wasn't sure how big they would get and if the pot would work out okay (12").  They are doing really well.  I only have one pepper so far, but loads of blossoms.  And this one grew really fast!  In like a week or something, it went from a speck to a recognizable pepper:

I will never have a bumper crop of lima beans I'm afraid.  But they have rallied after being bitten down to stubs by squirrels.  I have two pots of them and will be lucky if I harvest enough for a single serving.  Probably won't bother next year.  (Those are chives in the edge of the pot–they are a bumper crop!):

Carrots!  Whoo-hoo!  I cannot wait to pull these up.  I pulled one up the other day and it was about a quarter inch long, so I'm sitting on my hands now.  I have this pot of quite mature ones, and a few smaller ones in two window boxes.  Oddly, the squirrels have left them alone and tried to dig up the basil planted in a pot next to this instead.  Basil???


This is one of my own tomatoes grown from seed.  It was about an inch tall 6 weeks ago, which is why I broke down and bought some plants.  I couldn't let my seedlings go, however, so I planted the two strongest looking ones.  It's looking pretty good now.  I doubt it will make it to fruiting stage, but I am using it as a sort of experiment.  Next year, I do think I'll do seeds again, but start super early, like in late January or early February.  I didn't really start these until about mid-April this year.  That's parsley planted around the tomato:

Finally, my prairie!  Here are some wildflowers I don't know at all.  But they are pretty.  You can't see the milk bottle when you look up at the urn they are planted in, but I couldn't take a picture of the sky without losing the detail in the flowers.  So pay no attention to the milk bottle:


How I Got My Kids to Eat Kale

I was gonna call it, "How To Get Your Kids To Eat Kale" but thought better of it.  Because kids–they're a mixed bunch.  You just never know.  Still, if you want your kids to eat kale and they don't eat it, you're welcome to try my technique.

Time was when Nat had leafy greens daily.  Remember Green Supper?  Ah the golden days of baby and toddlerhood!  These days, I sneak frozen spinach into mac and cheese, spaghetti sauce, under the cheese on the pizza–otherwise they'd never get greens at all.  (Selina might, but she suffers from second child syndrome and typically gets whatever Nat's getting, thus fewer greens than Nat got at her age.)

Anyway, I have some kale in one of my back porch window box planters.  It's a variety called "perpetual spinach" because it's mild and can be used as a substitute for spinach,but is easier to grow and just keeps going all season.

I have cut it, cooked it, served it raw–none of these things got a thumbs up from the kids (they did from Cole and me, though).  Instead, they'd chew it, spit it out, play with it, toss it on the floor and otherwise waste this awesome fresh green that should be in their little bodies fighting oxidants and making them super girls.

Until they were playing outside while I picked it.  "I want a leaf!" declared Nat.

"What?  This kale?" I asked.

"Yeah, the kale!" she said.  I gave her a baby leaf.  She gobbled it down.  "I want anther one!" she begged.

By now, Selina was at my ankles, whining "Me too!  Me too!" (her perpetual battle cry).
I stood there pulling them off one leaf at a time until my kale was cut back to the roots.  They ate it with gusto.  About every three days, I get enough mature leaves to repeat this and so far, they haven't caught on to the fact that this is the same thing they have rejected on a plate time and again.

Kale.  The new Ice Cream Truck.

Give it try with yours and let me know how it goes!

Garden Growing


  These are my squash.  It's difficult to see them, and yes, they are teensy, but there are four little squash on the vine so far.  This was taken two days ago and the "big" one here in the middle is already twice this size and the next biggest one is this big.

  My other squash died after being decimated by a sudden thunderstorm.  Its main stem broke and that was all she wrote.

  But I am somewhat surprised and definitely pleased by how well the remaining one is doing.  Next year, I'll probably plant four of these.
 This is the same plant, but I wanted you to see my nifty self-watering bottle.  It's a terra cotta stake that goes into the container and then you fill a bottle of water and stick it down in there.  These are mineral water bottles I painted to keep the light out so they wouldn't grow too much algae.

  Here's one of my tomatoes.  Except not really.  Fine, I broke down and bought two plants.  Both are doing well.  They had blossoms when I bought them, which I pruned off.  Soon they had more blossoms and now they have green tomatoes.  I have about four on each plant now.  My actual tomato seedlings are  still only about an inch tall.  What's up with that?  I started them in early April!  They are healthy, but only have four leaves each!

  Remember the silly milk bottle in the middle of this planter?  It's finally doing what I had planned and hiding under the wild flowers.  Some are getting buds, including the teddy bear sunflowers I put all around the outer rim.

The lettuce produced beautifully for a month and we had many delicious salads.  It's pretty much done now, so I planted carrots in that planter.  I also put carrots in the pots where the cucumbers bit it and in the space which held the short-lived and under-producing broccoli raab.

This has nothing to do with gardening.  It's Nat's picture of a guitar on her magnadoodle.  She was very proud and keen that I take a picture and preserve it forever.  I have to say, I am impressed.  It's pretty good for a magnadoodle, don't you think?  She drew it from life, copying her ukulele: