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This one Little Tykes slide has been the source of many hours of entertainment and new games over the years. Thank you Little Tykes for making something so durable. 
First ripe cherry tomato!
My cats are regularly enjoying the catnip that I planted in the garden. I wanted the cats to WANT to hang out in the garden to make sure that we did not have any trouble with voles in the sweet potatoes again.  Catnip attracts them like nothing else... though I am not sure they are in a state to catch voles after they eat it.
For people, catnip is effective as an herbal remedy for intestinal issues and is a calming sleep-aid gentle enough for children. It is an ingredient in some herbal colic remedies. For cats on the other hand, it makes them a little crazy rolling about and needing to be petted.
 The kids wrote and acted out a play for us last week.  It was about a shark who attacks unicorns.
 It had musical accompaniment from A and M. 
 It had a happy ending where they all worked out their differences.
 We took the kids to see "The Other Side of Heaven 2" this weekend.
It was not quite as good as the first one. Great funny parts, lovely spiritual message, and I felt, their was a great message of acting in solidarity with good people of other faiths. 
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Tiger 2 is so lovable and fat and lazy.  He gets lots of attention and looks a bit like Garfield.  I have seen him catch a few things and eat them so I guess he is earning his keep. 

Peas for dinner. Peas for snack. The kids love making little picnics with the peas and blueberries. Sometimes I get them to help shell them for dinner.
So many chickens... two more friends brought us their chickens since they are moving away. That means we are up to about 60+ now (2 x 20 incubator babies, some broody mama hatchlings, and about 20 from friends moving).  We will keep them over the summer, pick our 12 favs and sell the rest to the halal folks as winter rolls in.
This has been a good garden year so far. I am enjoying the ease of the Amish style long rows.  They are all mulched and not too bad for weeding. 
  There are 2 x 70ft rows of various tomatoes.  I made myself leave plenty of space between the plants this time. So far so good.  We are going to have a big tidal wave of romas in a couple weeks. The big beef, cherry, carbon, and moskvich are all putting on decent amounts of fruit already too.
Onions and carrots in one long row just like last year.  I have been using the thinnings in soups and salads.  Fresh carrot greens smell so wonderful.
 New asparagus patch with some late beans along the fence line.
I have been working on creating beds around the edges of the garden. I am filling them with perennial herbs and flowers... as much as possible.
 Feverfew and valerian:
 Chinese forget-me-nots are annuals, but they are so pretty and are supposed to self sow.  It was easy enough to start a big plug tray of them and then I had 50 little starts to add color all around the yard.
 Getting these Calendulas started was quite a struggle. I started them directly in the ground (per packet instructions) but then I had to fence them until they were big enough to stand the chickens scratching around them.
This year's compost-in-place aka. weed & manure pile is almost ready for growing melons.  
 Purple sage.
 Gomphrena -- trying these out as a flower for dried arrangements.
And in my spare time, I am making slow and steady progress on the new front garden beds. On the right side are (starting at the back corner) rows of: parsley, cilantro/coriander, papalo, horehound, holy basil, german chamomile, Saint John's Wort, summer savory, and thyme... with a few johnny jumps thrown in. 


 Nettle and purslane (with a couple bee balms in the center) in big planters. I love eating nettle, but I definitely don't want it to start growing all over the yard.
On the lefts side are various types of basil, chives, german chamomile, a few leeks, evening primrose, cranesbill (perennial) geraniums. Catmint is running along the log. The big pots have a bay laurel and a rau ram plant.
Everyone who comes to our house asks me about the water bottles.  Why are they there? Turns out that my dogs (and to a lesser extent the chickens) LOVE to dig and lay in freshly dug soil. It's hot. The soil is cooler. I get it. But oh my does it make me mad when they ruin a newly planted area.  The water bottles are my solution to that problem.  I station them around each newly planted area or single plant to make it less appealing for digging.  It is working well so far.

In the orchard the elderberries are coming in well. 
The comfrey patch has passed its prime, but it was gorgeous with all its purple blossoms. 
 The area where I first planted comfrey is completely filled in now.  I have 50 more starts sprouting under the grow lights.  I will put those around my other fruit trees.  In the foreground is my new strawberry patch for next year.
 Putting all those leaves around my fig worked!  It is already fruiting! We will finally have a fig crop.
 The newly transplanted old blueberry bushes look happy in their new sunnier location.
 Wild raspberries are growing all around the edge of the yard.
 I have also been adding a few shade plants to the part of the front landscaping that I am calling my "woodland garden".  Too many English cottage gardening books, I know.  Lots more to do on that area.
 The paw paw trees. 

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Saturday was a perfect day for playing at the beach and combing through the sand for fossils and shark teeth.  
  Here is a little information about the cliffs from their website:
The massive cliffs, from which Calvert Cliffs State Park was named, dominate the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay for roughly 24 miles in Calvert County. They were formed over 10 to 20 million years ago when all of Southern Maryland was covered by a warm, shallow sea. When the sea receded the cliffs were exposed and began eroding. Today these cliffs reveal the remains of prehistoric species Including sharks, whales, rays, and seabirds that were the size of small airplanes. 
 We went prepared with sifters and shovels.

 
 My future oceanographer was in heaven.
 
 
Success! We found tons of interesting shells and coral and 3 shark teeth.
 Then we headed down to Georgetown to meet up with some of hubby's old friends who were in town sightseeing D.C.   We saw this funny sign for anyone familiar with Studio C. If you have not seen it, check out this episode.
 We had tacos and then ice cream.  Big sister A practiced her new skill and made balloon animals for the kiddos. 


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Cousins O and JJ share a birthday.  We celebrated with cake and pizza at a local park.
 
 The bubble machine makes kids go wild.


 
 
 

The next day we had brother M's Un-birthday party.  He wanted to have a bug theme for his party, so we postponed the party from winter to summer. A people were arriving we gave them bug catchers and they ran around looking for bugs. Then we brought them inside to examine with magnifying glasses and try to identify them.
 We looked at smaller specimens under the microscope.
 We made drawings and paintings of our favorite bugs.

 We had most of the animals penned up so that they wouldn't scare the visitors, but then the poor ducks and guineas who were out got chased by some of the boys.
 We had three games set-up: outdoor skee ball-

 
A fill up the bucket relay race for 2 teams-
 

 And another relay passing water balloons without using your hands -- so funny



Pizza and presents.

The "cake" was cups of dirt (chocolate pudding and oreo crumbs) with gummie bugs on top. 

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 This was a happy and busy week. Brother M and S's best buddy came back from Utah on a business trip with his dad.  They have been anxiously looking forward to F's visit ever since it was planned. We had a lot of good ideas for activities. In the weeks leading up to this visit many sentences started with, "When our buddy F comes we should do..."
 Play with legos and calico critters was high on the list. F arrived the night of a cub scout camp out so they did that together too.
 Tuesday we drove out to State College area to go to Penn's cave.
 Although I grew-up only a a few hours away, I just learned about the existence of Penn's cave a couple months ago. It sounded like a tour that I did in Ninh Binh, Vietnam. I was so excited to take the kids to see something that I hoped would be similar.
  It was amazing. And very hard to photograph. Sorry!
  Our guide did a wonderful job explaining the geology of the cave and the history as far as we know.
  Here is one quick excerpt from their website:
Penn’s Cave is located in the topographic region of Pennsylvania known as the Ridge and Valley section of the Appalachian Highlands; within this section, the cavern is located in the physiographic division known as the Ridge and Valley Province. The Penn’s Cave area is a typical karst terrain, which is characterized by a large number of caves, springs, sinkholes, and surface streams that disappear underground. 
Find out more on their website.





  The cave stream feeds into a lake. We exited there and then turned around and came back through the other side.

 My kiddos were a little nervous when we got into the boat, but they all made it! And our buddy F and his dad too.  I am so glad we went. It was incredible.
And one more thing...
 Experiencing a sink hole first hand.
 This sink hole is over one section of the cave.


 The wildlife park had bison and a bunch of other animals that we elected to skip visiting officially, but caught glimpses of as we were walking around the cave area.

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After a morning of swimming lessons we set out on a hot afternoon to pick strawberries. 
 While we were there they turned on the sprinklers in the field on the other side of the path.
 It was just too tempting.
 Perfect way to cool off. The mist was being blown over to the cash register area so I got cooled off too.   We went home and made 18 pints of low sugar strawberry rhubarb jam. Tastes like rhubarb pie in a jar, but the set is a bit softer than our old fully sugared recipe. I heard that is normal for the low sugar pectin.

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My friend, the farm vet, broke her leg a week ago. She had to have surgery and has rods in her leg now. They think it will be a 6 month recovery. She has a big farm and homeschools her kids too. I can't imagine how frustrating that must be. We went over to their house and picked up a truckload of composted horse manure and helped rake some alpaca manure for the selfish purpose of bringing it home to our garden. She doesn't garden because her goats would just eat it all. While we were there we set up a play date.
Her boys came over all day on Friday. They had an epic board game party while we waited for it to get up to 80 degrees outside.
 Then they played in the sprinkler and with water guns.
 They invented a game in which one team was the water people and the other team was the dry people. The dry team tried to get towels on people and the water team tried to get people wet.
 All went well until their was a double cross and G switched sides. Then their were calls of "traitor" and dramatic sulks.
  I heard all of this going on because I was on the deck grooming the dogs for more than an hour.  They just started blowing their coats again.  I filled up a 5 gallon bucket with fur!

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After 35 long days of sitting Perry hatched 3 ducklings.  I think I let her sit on too many eggs.  I candled them around day 10 and took out the dead ones, but she still had about 15 or so under her. I knew it would be impossible for a small gal like her to keep that many warm, but it was hard to choose which ones to discard since I knew they were all alive. 


We had some hail last week. I was worried that it would damage my plants, but it didn't. The shower was brief and the stones not too big.

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Our local tractor supply had a little parking lot market last weekend and I brought my remaining tomato plants to sell (sold about 60 plants).  It went really well being that they did not advertise at all and it was just the Saturday store traffic. I also brought some newly weaned rabbits (sold 1 right then and 3 later that week). My favorite part was talking to the other sellers.  This older couple were on one side of my booth. She said that he has been selling his puzzles at flea markets and such since 1948! And they looked like they could be a pair of santa's elves. 

 A mennonite family were selling baked goods on the other side of me. I had a lovely time talking to them about their gardens and our families. I was surprised that we have a mennonite church and school only about 20 minutes away. They sold out of their bread and pies!

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Breakfast in bed for me!
 They had to get up pretty early to make this happen before I needed to leave for ward council meetings. Yummy and sweet.

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