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

Eggs of Giants

June 13, 2017

Eggs of Giants

One cool thing about keeping a flock of chickens (aside from the 5am alarms) is that they pop eggs out!

Before we had chickens, I thought all eggs were white and exactly the same size and shape.  With the first time our Buff Orpington hen announced to the world that she plopped a smooth, clean, egg in the nest box, my preconceived notions about eggs were shattered.

It was BROWN!

It was TINY!

This giant, beautiful 6 pound hen had laid an egg that may have weighed 3 grams (okay, maybe a little bigger than that).  It didn’t have a yolk!  Maybe our chickens were broken.  Of course, they weren’t broken.  Most heavy breeds lay brown eggs.  Buff Orpingtons are heavy breeds.  Most first eggs are small and even the most proficient layers occasionally have an egg without a yolk.  They never did lay what I previously thought of as “normal” eggs, instead they were huge eggs (extra-large) with the occasional super-giant egg containing two yolks.

Currently, we have a rainbow of large chickens in our flock.  Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Plymouth Barred Rocks lay various shades of brown eggs (actually, pale apricot to medium walnut brown) and some have speckles!  Our Easter Eggers lay green, pale pink, and occasionally spotted eggs.  We also ended up with some White Leghorns, who are smaller than the others, but lay extra-large white eggs.  Our Golden Phoenix (who is a mottled English walnut color with a ring of golden feathers around her neck and scattered about her dark head) lays a torpedo-shaped almost pink egg 6 of the 7 days in a week.  Just like each of us are unique, each hen lays an egg with her own distinct size, shape, and color!

Young pullets (a female chicken is a pullet until she starts steadily laying eggs) will sometimes start out producing small eggs for the first week or so.  In the picture, we had a new layer’s tiny, a “regular” sized, and a double-yolker from our White Leghorn.

Another fun thing about having chickens is observing the variety of egg colors and shades when packing our eggs in their cartons.  We have at least one white and one green in each dozen but most of our hens lay an assortment of pink-brown shades called “brown” eggs.  They say you can tell what color a chicken will lay by the bottoms of their feet! (In our experience, not exactly, but pretty close)  In our last batch of biddies, we had three with blackish green “soles” of their feet. The girls are hoping to find a dark olive egg or maybe even a purple egg!

Yes, the girls name our chickens.  These names (usually for attributes or specific colors) usually find themselves playing hens or pullets in the Adventures of Long Tail.  Sometimes their creative names end up inspiring an actual story character (like Jasmine Rose in The Devonians).

The girls’ favorite part of chickens is the raising challenge.  They enjoy plotting color mixes as they separate them for breeding, watching the incubator for 21 days and squealing “babies are coming soon,” tending new hatchlings, encouraging them to explore, helping them grow, and seeing their breeding experiment results as they become pullets and cockerels.  Then they usually say goodbye to newly laying pullets about 18 – 26 weeks or promising-looking cockerels about 10 – 14 weeks as they prefer to sell them when they are “past the danger stage.” (aka too big for most hawks and no longer needing brooder care)

I love their learning adventure (as Rebeccah says, breeding in chickens is more colorful than Mendel’s peas) and we all enjoy the rainbow of eggs in various sizes the happy hens provide.

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time,

~Nancy Tart

Sand

June 12, 2017

Sand

It was a busy, start-at-3am kind of day.  We’d planned on going to the beach but it was almost 6pm and I was still working.  Unpacked boxes stacked in precarious towers in what would be the music nook – if we ever got the piano, drums, guitar, bass, and other assorted nose-makers from storage.  The front room resembled tornado-aftermath footage; shoes without their organizer spilled from the single tomato box, book boxes sat about, awaiting the arrival of a bookshelf, folded clothes waited delivery on the couch, and the dogs, exhausted from barking at every neighborhood squirrel since noon, were sprawled out like black rugs.

I knew we’d been working all day, but while trying to conquer the nightly result of supper, a quick glance at the chaos that reigned was rather disheartening.  It seemed that mood of disappointment had rubbed off on everyone.  Toddlers and preschoolers generally act out when they are upset and the older ones appeared to feel like they’d worked all day for a vain goal (the beach).

The cool thing about Florida is that even an early April sunset is close to 7:30.  The neat thing about technology is that everything for my business can be done from one phone; even on a busy night.  A super thing about our crew is the ability to grab-and-go and pack the van in minutes.

We went to the beach.  We hadn’t been to this beach since the previous summer, after Matthew (for non-Floridians, that’s “Hurricane Matthew”) when our beach spot was covered in debris.  “Our spot is back!” Yelled Kimberly.  We parked at our little spot (not legally ours, just where we always try to park) and the beach was beautiful.  The beach is always beautiful here.  It felt like my soul was refreshed just by walking in the sand.  The water was Florida cold, but we’ll get in the ocean in mid-winter and love it.  Lucas and I didn’t go deeper than ankles, but that was because I was dispatching and the surf was rough.  (Lucas loves the rough surf when the water is warm, not a huge fan of it when it’s cold)

We spied fishing boats and Lucas showed everyone the stars as the brightest ones greeted the approaching night.  We took several relaxing pictures.  I realized I had been allowing the normal side-effects of moving to control my attitude.  I should be more like sand; it moves, being formed and shaped by outside forces (kid’s hands, animal feet, car tires) but returns to normal easily.  I should let God be the waves and smooth the roughness of my irritation and frustration away so I’m smooth and even again.

Smooth and even feels so much nicer than frustrated and irritated.  I love how God uses His creation to remind me to slow down and enjoy life!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you later,

~Nancy Tart