Tuesday, July 24:

extract from a letter home:

Dear Mom and Dad,

We got back on Wednesday afternoon, arriving with a much-appreciated thunderstorm.  We had such a nice trip and enjoyed every minute of our time with you and all the boys’ families.  It was especially nice to see how sweet Jenny’s children are, and what a good mother she is turning out to be.  Our time out at the farm and at Brian’s place gave us the shot of the Southwest we need to keep us going another year.

When we left Beth’s sister’s on Wednesday morning it occurred to us that S-1 and wife might be already on their way, and even on the same highway we were travelling, so we called them to ask where they were, and they were already in Ohio!  They had left on Monday and driven right through, arriving at the house on Tuesday night and finding the boys alone.  We got in about four in the afternoon  Wednesday, and never even parked the car before we were out checking the status of things.

The boys were out back rebuilding the woodshed, which they had decided must be shortened in length and lengthened in height before they would have room for a summer kitchen.  The back garden was full of bark from the locust poles they had skinned out there, so I began cleaning up the lettuce bed and weeding before I even got inside.  The house was deceptively neat, but basically dirty, just as you would expect, and it was obvious that some mice had been  made welcome, so once I did get in I spent a couple of hours just washing and wiping.  S-6 went around setting mousetraps for me.  Shawn probably never made it to the house until dinner time, being outside inspecting and lending a hand.

Since we got home there has been almost three inches of rain, much appreciated.  It isn’t enough to get the stock water spring flowing again, but made a difference to the gardens.  The heat and drought have killed big patches of the grass in the yard, and what is there is scraggy and twiggy, but it is greening up a little.  The boys put the two milk cows in the barnlot on hay when the pasture got thin, to keep them from grazing it down too far, but we were able to move them back out to pasture after a couple of days, on big paddocks.  With only two of them, they are not competitive enough to feel like they have to eat all the weeds or miss out, and they will overgraze the good grass if we aren’t careful.  The three little steers are in the small pasture west of the house, and don’t eat enough to do any harm, which is more than we can say for Bridget, the girls’ miniature horse.  She is a nice pet, cheap to keep, and almost as satisfying to them as a full-sized horse; she is safe, and cute, and they love her, but she definitely eats the grass down farther than the cows, so in summer she gets the poorer pasture on the west hill, and she gets a little lonely.  She is glad when we turn her in with the calves so she has someone to bully; fortunately she’s not really mean and not big enough to hurt them.

The gardens look good in places, in places less good.  The first planting of corn is very tall, and tasselling, but has hardly any silks; the second planting is stunted but has ears almost ready to pick.  Maybe Dad knows why, but I don’t.  I guess maybe the second planting, which was struggling from the very beginning, tries to put on ears as fast as possible to make sure it sets seed.  What we want to know is whether the first planting is going to make ears at all, because if not we would like to feed it to the cows and pigs while it is still green and palatable.  We are getting tomatoes now – the little orange ones are so good we eat them straight out of the bowl on the counter without bothering to make a salad.  There aren’t quite enough romas to make sauce yet, at least not for canning, but, God willing, there should be lots later.

The garlic is in the white barn drying, and needs to be braided, but the weather is so damp I’m afraid of mold, so we’re waiting.  The onions are the best we’ve ever grown, and you wouldn’t believe how big they are; like supermarket slicing onions, some of them.  They are all Copras, because they are supposed to keep the best.  The tops are just starting to fall over; I think we are supposed to wait until half of them are fallen over and then step over the rest, isn’t that right?  Then leave them in the garden to cure for a week or so before braiding them?  I can remember growing them out on the farm and I think that’s what we did.

We have about eighty row feet of okra, because it’s so easy to freeze and we  love it, but it hasn’t begun flowering yet.  It looks really good, dark green and about two and a half feet tall, and you can see the buds where it will flower soon.  The winter squash looks good, but it looked good this time last year, too, right before the squash bugs annihilated it.  Last year we pulled it all up and burned it, burning as many bugs with it as we could, and the immature squash actually stored pretty well.  We peeled, seeded, and sliced it the way we used to do with overlarge zucchini, and fried it with onions, and it was very good, so last year’s squash was not a complete loss, but I really would like to get some good baking squash this year.  We planted Waltham butternut, which does well around here and is supposed to be  somewhat resistant to squashy complaints.  The cucumber beetles are bad this year, and they go for the squash too; I have had to pull any number of vines, cucumber and squash, because they wilted, and I think that’s from the cucumber beetles, or at least that’s what the gardening books say.  There haven’t been enough squash bugs yet to have killed them, and only one had squash vine borers in it.

S-1 and family are sleeping in the pop-up down by the creek at night.  We are enjoying them thoroughly.  The house at the monastery will be empty in about two weeks, and then they will move up there through October, and maybe longer.  S-1 is already hard at work up there, planting beans and sugar beets (for the pigs) in the places made empty as we dig the potatoes; he is going to keep at least two pigs in a pen here, to sell as halves or quarters.  He has also ordered one hundred fifty broilers to raise for sale, pasturing them in sliding pens that are moved to fresh grass daily.  Around here such birds are selling for thirteen dollars apiece, which is about two dollars a pound, usually.  Can you believe it?  And the farmers we know who are selling them are just raising a few as a sideline to beef or pork, so the market is far from full.

We put Papa on a plane to D.C. yesterday, and the house feels kind of empty.  S-6 cried in the car on the way home, and asked probing questions about God and death!  He cheered up at the grocery store when we bought nacho cheese chips; so much for pondering mortality.  I am worried we will forget something without Shawn here to keep us up to the mark, but so far, so good; we remembered to put out the trash this morning.

(many affectionate requests that parents move in with us)

Much, much love from all of us –