Yard Work Day

June 30, 2017

Yard Work Day

Today was a yard work day.

I love yard work day because I love to mow grass.  With our push mower, it’s a walking workout where you can sing your lungs out and no one can hear you.  Today I was interviewing Ethan while I mowed instead of singing.

The girls love yard work day because after we spend hours yanking stumps and sticks and dead wood out of the ground (this yard was Florida brushland 8 months ago, so it was loaded with hidden spikes where bush stumps stick out of the ground), we can burn them in our fire pit (8 concrete blocks set in the dirt off the backyard in the middle of the dirt pit – I like to pretend that’s the summer kitchen; it might be, someday).

The dogs love yard work day.  Primrose likes it because she gets to be outside with us.  Sheba gets the whole house to herself – and we’ll come in to find her stretched out on top of the couch with a nest made out of her blanket.

But the critters who make the absolute best of yard work day are the chickens.  They follow the mower like rats following the Pied Piper, each hoping to snatch more dislodged bugs and fresh, juicy greens than every other chicken.  They race to whoever is raking and scratch the hay all over finding bugs. (10 adult chickens can smooth a leaf pile flat in less than a minute!)  They spy a child toting the full hay bucket toward their henhouse – Crow Cackle Cackle! – they call all other foraging chickens as they race back to the henhouse to inspect and rearrange their new hay immediately.  Soft grass cuttings make hay.  Thicker, brush-type cuttings make the hen yard mulch.  We fill this “hen yard mulch” about 6 to 10 inches deep and the chickens continually scratch and add nitrogen to it for a few weeks.  We use this finished, fertilizer-infiltrated, shredded indigestible plant material to mulch our bulb beds and for our future garden.

The bonus of yard work day is that everyone feels like we’ve accomplished much, we all clean up, eat dinner, and sleep.  The children all go to sleep as soon as they are out of the bath.  Even Mom is tired, but after the last outside chore (herding the reluctant chicken flock back into the hen yard for the night), I breathe in the sweet smell of cut grass, fresh earth, and wood smoke.  And we finish our yard work day with sticky, gooey roasted marshmallows over the dying fire’s embers.

Working outside always relaxes me.  I totally love how when God made us and put us in the perfect environment; perfection was a garden!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Mythical Horses

June 27, 2017

Mythical Horses

They say that in fiction, we don’t really create anything new, we draw on our memory of things we have seen to create something new: Like the Sevokloi in Web of Deception – they are like squids with reptile bodies (leather) adapted for a desert terrain and having two steadying legs like an overgrown insect.  I love creating creatures that don’t really exist.  I also like to pretend (in my stories) that other mythical creatures are real: like unicorns and pegasi. (The people of my world call them “skyhorses”.)

In our house, each of us have different theories on how the stories of mythical creatures like flying horses (pegasi) and horned horses (unicorns) came about.

My personal theory is that someone in ancient times came across a skeleton of a horse with a bone spear stuck through its skull.  Since it was bone, they thought it was part of the skeleton (maybe they’d never seen a horse!) and voila, stories spread of a horned horse!

For pegasi, maybe there were some pre-Ionian shepherds out when Elijah rose up to heaven (it says “there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire… and Elijah went up by whirlwind to heaven”) and those shepherds said “Look Joe!  Flying horses of fire driving a chariot of fire!”  (tada, pegasi!) Then Joe says “maybe that’s how the sun goes across the sky.”  Boom!  Now there’s the Greek story of Helios driving flying horses in his flaming chariot.

Rebeccah thinks that flying horses and horned horses were mutants of the horse kind.  An isolated, now extinct, species of horse in ancient times used an overgrown tooth to dig the ground like cracker cows and wild hogs looking for food.  These were unicorns.  A few, eohippus sized members of the horse kind, flew-hopped about like archaeopteryx with tiny wings.  These ended up being called pegasi!

However you explain the origin of mythical creatures in fantasy stories, they do make the stories far more interesting.  (They also let us know that the story world we are entering is not real – so we can expect many strange things.)

I love mythical creatures.  I like pretending to create something new.  And it’s fun to theorize about how people created them.

Thanks for reading!

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~Nancy Tart


Capturing Places

June 24, 2017

Captured Places

Have you ever walked through a place you loved so much you drew scale drawings of it and built models?  I love architecture.  I plan each building and area – in most of my stories, even down to the plants and what color flowers are in season!

Once, I walked through a house with my parents.  This house was three levels with huge seat windows in every upstairs bedroom – the architecture of its large, open, bright rooms inspired the castle rooms in The Princess and the Swans.

The drab gray stone buildings in the K’vell training complex in Web of Deception came straight from a series of compact, functional, barracks-style buildings on an old property we explored once.

The Ann, Mary, and Susan Mysteries take place in my second-favorite childhood home.  The inside of that house is exactly as it is in real life – including the wrap-around second-floor deck and the loft-lookout bedroom on the third floor.  I added the aviaries, fields, and barn the way I wanted them (the only real-life outdoor structures in the stories are the dilapidated pool and the little next-door house) but even most of the bushes the girls hide in are on the real-life property.

In the Adventures of Long Tail, the chicken yard is exactly as we had it in the house Kimberly and Lucas were born in. (But the time stamped in those books is just before Jaquline was born.) Even the hen house is set up exactly as we had ours with the 4-level biddie brooder and incubator on top.

For me, it helps to visually see places in my worlds.  Lego bricks are great for scale buildings!  I even make maps and blueprints for most worlds and buildings so I never mess up my directions as I bounce from one storyland to another.  Continuity is very important to me (my perfectionist nature, I guess, but seriously… if Long Tail’s hen house was different each time, or if Ethan went down a different corridor each time to get to the Observation Deck, wouldn’t that be odd?)

Writing also helps me capture the best of places I remember (or dream up).  If I love a house, shed, barn, park, or yard layout, it will be in a book someday!

Thanks for reading!

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~Nancy Tart

Butterfly Dryer

June 22, 2017

Butterfly Dryer

My Dad calls them “butterflies.”

Little coincidences that God orchestrates just so.

It’s almost like God says “I know you need this, here you go.”  It can be something simple like a kind word or a child’s smile, something amazing like trust, belief, or healing, or something material like as awesome book, a home, a bonus, or a ride.

The latest for me was a dryer.

I do love to hang-dry clothes.  I love being outside, I love the fresh smell the clothes have, and I love having time to meditate (because hanging clothes is something I could do blindfolded).  The only thing I don’t like about it is the time it takes from other things.

Yesterday, I thought I was keeping up on everything; I would clean the house, go out to hang a load of clothes, come back in, and a new tornado had spun through.  We’d clean up again, work on school as the washer did its magic, and I’d gather the younglings and go back out to take off clothes and hang out new ones.  This cycle continued – between answering calls and hanging clothes, it appeared there was time for little else. (Of course, there was cleaning, cooking, and school work also done.)

Lucas bumped his head while I was outside getting the last load (the girls had him inside to escape the mosquitoes) and he spent about 30 minutes screaming “NO ICE!” at the height of his vocal strength while we sang “1, 2, buckle my shoe” to distract him while applying ice; so an hour later, in total frustration over this days’ craziness, I announced I needed a dryer to have more time.  As I was saying this (and running down the hall after Lucas to make sure he didn’t fall in the potty), I missed a call from my Mom.  She wanted to know if we wanted her dryer.  (I hadn’t told anyone else I needed a dryer, but several knew we didn’t have one.)

I laughed as I thought of my silliness.  Call it a coincidence, butterfly, or whatever – actually it felt like a hug from God.  As if He were telling me, “I see your frustration; don’t let a little thing like this bother you, I love you.”

It isn’t really the dryer so much as it was God’s impeccable timing.  He already knew these events would go as they did and knew me well enough to know I would be frustrated at my lack of time management (I sometimes wish for a 30 hour day, but I’d fill that up too).  The perfectly timed phone call was just a reminder that nothing is out of God’s sight.  I need to trust a little more and worry (or be frustrated!) a lot less.  I’m not perfect, but I know who is.  And I get to call him Abba (Daddy, Father).

Thanks for reading!

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~Nancy Tart

Baby Mode

June 20, 2017

Baby Mode

Babies have several levels; there is no-sleep level, walker level, mobile level, and want-to-be independent level.  Then they graduate into toddler level and you’re off to the races.  Really, off to the races begins with baby’s birth.  When you hear Momma yell: “It’s time!” the race is well underway.  There are endless modes baby can choose from as well.

Random strangers say “Oh, your baby is so sweet!” but as soon as they turn the corner “Angelic Mode” shifts into “Cranky Mode with supersize red food dye on top.”

My personal favorite is “Grandma Mode” – this is characterized by sweet, innocent faces and nuzzling into lots of adoring hugs and kisses.  It makes everyone go “Awww how sweet!” then it’s time to go.  “Tell Grandma bye bye,” – cutest little wave and shy away ever!  But as soon as you drive off, “leaving fun mode” comes on and it’s ferociously scream “I want Grandma!” at the top of his lungs.  (This is related to “Auntie Mode,” “Bestest Uncle Mode,” and “Cousin Mode”)

“Snuggle Mode” is nice.  This always turns on when mom, dad, or big sister has something vital to do (like make food, do schoolwork, or remove the insect that is causing the dog to break the sound barrier).  Baby enters snuggle mode and the world stops until he is really asleep.  Don’t ever try to lay him down while in “Half-Sleep Mode” (this is where your stemware shatters with the ear-piercing squeal announcing that he had not received enough snuggle time)

“Goofy Mode” is the most wonderful of baby modes – and this mode continues into teenagerhood.  This is when anything and everything from “Boo” faces to tummy tickles to doggies kissing sister’s feet makes baby laugh.  Not just a little chuckle, but a deep belly laugh that makes everyone else in the house laugh too.

Laughter is Baby’s superpower.

Sometimes even in “Total Demolition Mode” laughter emerges.  Mom can be cleaning up one mess as baby is making two more yet when she sees the marker masked bandit excited to show her his masterpiece of tape and sequins decorating the couch, Mom just can’t help but laugh.  (Maybe a bit of insanity laughter, but still laughter.)  Of course, those stories make everyone at the family reunions laugh (or the lady’s group, church, PTA, etc.)  This is because anyone who has experienced baby knows the memories are what you carry with you.

God has entrusted us with His little angels (they are His first) for a short time.  18 years goes by so quickly.  Before you are done cleaning up messes, your baby has toddled off to school and instead of screaming because he’s hungry and can’t express it, he is asking for the car keys.

Enjoy the baby levels, different modes, and ages of life.  Remember that laughter can turn any situation into a happy memory. Who knows?  An artistic mess might be framed and remain part of the wall to show your Grandchildren, “see, this is what your daddy did to my wall when he was your age.”

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Home School Doggies

June 19, 2017

Home School Doggies

Many dogs have lived with us for various amounts of time (we’ve fostered quite a few).  Each one leaves their unique pawprints on our hearts.  Since dogs tend to single out one person to bond with, each one “belongs” to one of the girls for their stay.  They sometimes refer to our dogs as “home school doggies” because they are part of our “home school family.”

Rebeccah had a cute Black Mouth Cur named Lady.  Lady loved the girls so much that when they were doing school, she would wiggle around their feet and periodically whine.  We’d say, “Lady, hush!  They’ll come play in a bit.”  She would wag her tail (which wagged her entire body in waves) and give us “the puppy look.”  Lady weighed about eighty pounds and was still less than a year old!  One of our neighbors said she looked like a deer! (She jumped like a deer too; dead stop with a 5-foot fence in front of her? Boing! She cleared it no problem.)  She was friendly and loved everyone – especially other puppies smaller than she. (Since she was bigger than most of the children, I’m sure she considered them puppies.)

Sheba thinks she is the queen (our family dog who was 7) so she just slept on the couch during school work time.

Lady would climb in Rebeccah’s chair.  She thought she was human.  Rebeccah would occasionally dress Lady up.  One day I hear “Mom!  Come look at your newest student!”

Around the corner from the kitchen I spy our big human-sized dog standing with her back feet on the floor, left paw on the table, and right paw in Rebeccah’s hand with a pencil between her toes.  (The DOG IS ON MY TABLE!  But I laugh instead, because that look is hilarious – and yes, we caught it on camera!)

“Mom, Lady is doing my schoolwork today.”  Rebeccah says. “I hope she’s good at fractions!”

I love the fact that happy interruptions (like an impromptu photography session, discussion of dog’s feet and toes and how different they are from human digits, or recess to rub their dog’s belly) can pop up and get included in their day.

By the way, we were doing “bookwork” after dark (about 7 in winter) because the day was just too pretty to stay inside. (We’re in Florida; winter = 60 degrees at noon) There is so much to be learned from events in our daily lives.  We watched different Florida birds that morning and the explorers stumbled upon the deer thicket in the wild deep brush behind our house.  So we looked up birds for identification and researched deer. (Surprisingly, the movie Bambi has a lot of truth about deer in it.)

One stretch we had bookwork “paused” while we spent extra time loving on a litter of puppies and their momma until each found their “fur-ever” home.  The girls named and loved every one of those pups.  They researched and learned a lot about life from those little sweeties.

Today, our two family dogs observe “bookwork” each in their own way (none as active a participant as Lady was):

Prim (one month shy of 3 years old) curls at Christina’s feet, yipping if her master’s bookwork takes too long.

Sheba still sits like a queen (she’s 10) on the couch, pretending she’s old and weak. (But open the gate and she’ll rejuvenate to 10-month-old-puppy and sprint outside so quickly that only Daddy or Kimberly can grab her!)

I’m so thankful for the “home school doggies” God puts with us to learn from and smother with love.

Thanks for reading!

Type at you later…

~Nancy Tart

Question For Inspiration

June 17, 2017

Question for Inspiration

We were all snuggled up, sprawled across the big fluffy bed in our pajamas, about to start reading the third bedtime story on the cool winter night.

“What will it be?” Begs Jaquline for the umpteenth time.

“Patience!” Sighs Kimberly.

“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” Christina laughed, repeating something her grandmothers and some aunts had occasionally said.

“Why?” Jaquline asked.

Everything stopped.

“Why do you say curiosity killed the cat?” Jaquline clarified.

“Mom, why do you and grandma say that?” Rebeccah asked.

I was stopped on the bed.  I had a storybook in my hand.  This time, I didn’t know why.  I’d never heard of any fable, story, or family tale which had that saying, even as a line somewhere.   So, I invented one.  I told them why the birds say, “Curiosity Killed the Cat.”  They liked it!  The girls insisted I write it into a real story. (Type it, actually) Christina drew the illustration and colored it.

This fable-style story owes its existence to a question asked by a little girl.  For me, inspiration often comes from the simplest of things!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time,

~Nancy Tart

Bulk Canning

June 16, 2017

Bulk Canning

Four hours of simmering marinara and the house smells like Italian spices!  Oregano, sweet basil, flowery parsley, smooth garlic, marjoram, sage, thyme, onion, and rosemary flavors blend together with a yummy tomato base to make five gallons of nearly meatless red sauce (nearly, because we use one pound of finely ground meat for flavor).  This is a family cupboard staple.  We use our marinara for lasagna, in soup, for rice dishes, and our favorite way – as spaghetti sauce!

One pound of any noodle + one quart of marinara + a handful of meatballs = yummy spaghetti!

This cooks in the time it takes to boil noodles (usually 15 minutes) so it’s a fast meal.

We started making our healthy bulk marinara about 15 years ago.  First we experimented with small batches for taste.  When we got taste down, we started making full canning-pot batches. (Our canning pot holds 5.5 gallons, but we leave space for stirring, so each “batch” is 5 gallons.)

We spend about 4 or 5 hours canning and processing for one batch of chili or marinara.  But after one batch, we have jars for 10 to 20 meals.  They are perfect for any busy day.  (Like when I’m trying to finish writing but everyone, including my tummy, is hungry!)

This helps on time and on budget!

Each 32 ounce jar of marinara costs us approximately $0.80 to make.  Our chili is about $2.40 per quart jar.  It is easy on the budget, it’s a taste we love, and we know what’s in it!

Now we bulk cook and process (can) many things: chili (our fully organic, vegetable packed, vitamin-loaded spicy soup), broths from our chickens, grapefruit juice, garden vegetables, and soups.  This gives us healthier options with fast cook times!  Since we can adjust the recipe to our liking, we develop bulk recipes that we love.  (There are a few ratio rules to research and remember when attempting to process soups with heavy starches like rice, corn, and other grains – I keep a booklet with notes.)

Canning can sometimes create funny stories.  For example: once, a little helper scooped out 4 tablespoons of crushed red pepper instead of 4 teaspoons and accidentally created “Dragon-Fire Chili,” which she and Louis loved (however, that has not been duplicated on purpose!).

Canned food is also easy to share!  We once had truckloads of fresh grapefruit.  It took us days to juice the excesses we couldn’t eat.  We canned the juice and had fresh grapefruit juice for almost two years. (And so did most of our family!)  We love to buy mountain apples by the bushel when they are in season and anything not immediately eaten turns into homemade applesauce – one of our favorites!  Overly ripe peaches in the soup-stuff box at the local produce market?  This becomes awesome peach preserves!  Any overage of garden vegetables (like 12 bushels of beets) becomes canned away for a rainy day. (Actually, it was separated into beet greens and beet roots, processed, and opened as a side dish with at least three weekly meals until we ran out!)

Canning also saves us freezer space (we buy whole local beef & pork and save freezer space for Unca ChaCha’s occasional gift of venison).

As with any type of cooking, all the instruments must be clean, food fresh, and preparer(s) maintain a clean working environment.  If you take these precautions and take it slow (plan an entire afternoon or whole day) the first few times, you just may discover that you enjoy this “old way” of processing and storing food.   I love it!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Cousin Train

June 15, 2017

Cousin Train

Some days you just need to laugh!  When cousins are over, that laughter is always bouncing off the walls.

The big girls raced by each pushing a tomato box across the wooden floor.  Mandy squealed from Jaquline’s box (“faster!”).  Isaac peered up from behind his pacifier, eyes pleading with me to save him from Kimberly’s driving (but he wouldn’t get out).  Lucas grinned, (he was in the “real car” – a toy bin) “Rrrrr”ing as Jillian puffed behind him, racing to keep up with her longer-legged sisters.

“Mom!  We’re a train!”  Yelled Kimberly.

“A cousin train!” Jaquline squealed.

This was followed by two or three ear-shattering “WOO WOO” howls (impersonations of imaginary trains).

Then they lined up one box behind the other and wanted a “cousin train” picture.  Kimberly and Jillian kept running in and out of the picture (if we could bottle their energy, we could make a mint) but we captured everyone else!

Our tomato boxes end up being shelves, clothes sorting bins, storage units, temporary nest boxes, or toys.  Once, they became a chalk-covered space ship to Aunt Katy’s house!  Another time, they became lifeboats tied together in an ocean.  This fun day, they were racecars that morphed into a cousin train (which ended up with six cars and one Christina-and-Rebeccah engine!)

I love their imagination! It makes me smile and opens doors for teaching moments.  It also inspires many characters in my books like Jilly and Luke in The Skating Pony.

The cousins love playing together.  Mandy is crafty and creative like her Mommy (hmm, crafty…) so the girls always find something fun to do.  Lucas and Isaac are only separated by 9 days, so many people have asked if they are twins.  They love playing with anything that has wheels.

I wonder where the cousin train will take them next.

Thanks for reading!

Type at you later…

~Nancy Tart

Hair Day

June 14, 2017

Hair Day

Yesterday was a misty day with the sun desperately attempting to peek through, but the clouds kept winning.  Louis decided it was time for a haircut.  We usually cut hair outside so I trimmed his hair while Kimberly watched.  Kimberly wanted to know how it was done.  Lucas was outside too, occasionally peeking at us from his mud-pie play spot.

When I finished with Louis’ hair, Lucas ran up to the stool, climbed up and gave me the biggest pleading grin, “my Daddy hair, please Mommy?”

Well, I had to smile.  Lucas just turned two years old two weeks ago.  He’s embarking on this “like Daddy” stage.  “Big boy panties like Daddy,” (I’m trying to get him to say “pants” but with six females in the house constantly saying “panties” it may be a while.) “me drive my car like Daddy,” (Grandma surprised him with a motorized ride-on car, and you should have seen his amazed face!) “me Daddy food,” (means he wants whatever Daddy is eating) and anything else that he sees Daddy do, he wants to do.

I LOVE his baby curls!  Lucas’ hair is dirty blonde and naturally curly.  I combed it a bit, wondering if I really was ready to do his first haircut.  His hair was between four and seven inches long!  It was so thick and curled into perfect ringlets!  He repeated with excited eyes, “me Daddy hair, please, Mommy!”

So yes, he got a “big boy” haircut.  He giggled when I took a picture to show him his hair.  He ran to my bedroom to the mirror and touched his reflection, “me Daddy hair!”  He danced around waiting for Daddy to get out of the shower to show him.

Kimberly thought this was the perfect opportunity to do her “Nancy Drew” haircut – I keep asking her, is she sure? But since “you have the scissors and I really want Nancy Drew hair” we did that too.  Add Rebeccah’s trim.  Rebeccah has beautiful thick brown hair and usually decides to cut it short in the summer.

It usually takes me a few days (or sometimes weeks!) to get used to the kids’ new haircuts, but they are so happy with them.  Lucas got up from his nap to run in the bathroom, potty, and climb up on the counter to touch his reflection and giggle – the entire house heard him shout: “Me Daddy hair!”

Thanks for reading!

Type at you later,

~Nancy Tart