Mischief Makers: The Trick

Glitter was not happy with Nim.

First, he made a giant mess with bits of paper on her first night on assignment.

Then, he dumped red and green sprinkles all over her and the gingerbread village she put together for the boys.

What would he do next? How long would it take for the big guy to hear about Nim’s behavior and her failure to keep him in line?

Something had to be done.


“Nim,” she began innocently. “Did you have a plan for tonight?”

Nim yawned and stretched.

“Not really,” he said. “I thought we might decorate the tree a bit more and hide in the branches.”

“Oh,” she said, surprised. “That sounds–“.

“There is plenty of toilet paper we can use as tinsel.”

“Oh,” she said, not-so-surprised.

Nim started for the bathroom.

“I know! Let’s use Legos to write a message to the boys!” called Glitter frantically, stopping him mid-flight.

Nim, suddenly full of energy, zipped to the Lego table.

“That’s a great idea Glitter! We can sprinkle a trail of Legos from their room to the Lego table!”

“Wait!” she called as he started to do just that. “Let’s write the message first.”

Nim fluttered back to the Lego table to help.

“You build their names and I’ll build the message,” said Glitter.



Nim was so focused on building the boys’ names that he didn’t notice that Glitter wasn’t building a message at all.

“Nim, can you come over here for a minute?” Glitter asked a few moments later.

Nim zoomed to where she was standing.

“Wow, what a great box! Is the message inside?”

“Yes,” she smiled. “Yes, it is.”

Without seeing the gleam of triumph in her eyes, Nim zipped into the box.

“I don’t see a mess–Hey!”

“Ha!” Glitter exclaimed. “Got you now!”


Nim’s reaction was not what she expected. She was prepared for anger, not hysterical laughter.

“Oh Glitter! What a funny trick!”

Glitter was surprised to feel a small glow pleasure at Nim’s compliment.

She was funny? Really?

“Oh. Well, I-I’m glad you aren’t upset at my little trick.”

“Upset? Why on earth would I be upset!” Nim grinned. “There’s hope for you yet!”


Glitter smiled. Nim had already completed the kindness task they were leaving for the boys.


Maybe there was hope for him yet!

Nim’s Joke

Why are Christmas trees very bad at knitting?

Because they always drop their needles!


Mischief Makers: The Gingerbread Village

“Glitter! What a fun and Christmas-y name!” giggled Nim.

They’d just returned from the North Pole where they had reported on their first day with the boys.

Nim giggled again.

“What’s so funny?” said Glitter the Reindeer. “I like my name.”

“Oh I like it too,” said Nim.

“Then why are you laughing?”

“No reason,” Nim said, eyes twinkling with mischief.


Glitter decided to ignore him and focus on the night’s task. She was determined to present the next Kindness Card without a mess.

“So,” said Nim. “What do you have planned for tonight?”

Glitter smiled. “I have a gingerbread village for the kids to decorate.”

Nim was shocked. “I thought you didn’t want to make a mess?!”

“I don’t. They will be strictly supervised by their parents. There will be plenty of napkins for clean-up and they will be required to take a break every 2 minutes to pick-up any sprinkles, candy or icing that falls outside the designated building area. I have it all right here on a note card.”


Nim gaped.

“I know,” she said proudly. “I’ve thought of everything.”

Nim shook his head and tried to hide a smile.

Glitter looked at him through narrowed eyes.

“What are you up to?” she asked suspiciously.

“Oh nothing. Nothing at all.”

“Hmmm…well, let’s get started, shall we?”

Nim and Glitter pulled out all the pieces for the little gingerbread village.

“I’ll just make up the icing,” said Nim.

“No, no! I’ll do that. You can organize the bags of candy. But, please, do not open them.”

Nim was done with his task in a twinkle, so he wandered over to the pantry and pulled a few bottles of sprinkles out.


When the last house was put together, Glitter stood back to look at her handiwork.

“Now these will just need to dry all night and they’ll be ready for the boys to decorate in the morning…under supervision of course. What do you think Nim?”


Nim’s answer was a joyful squeal as glittery red and green sprinkles rained down all over Glitter the Reindeer.

“Glitter! You’ve been glittered!”

Glitter glared at Nim, too shocked to speak.


“Now, now,” said Nim. “Don’t be mad. Remember the Kindness Card…’Smile at everyone you see today’.”


Not waiting for a response, Nim flew to the light and settled in to watch the boys’ reaction in the morning.


Nim’s Joke

What do you call Frosty when he mows the lawn?

Frosty the Mow-man!






Mischief Makers: The New Gal

Nim and his new partner landed with a thud on the windowsill of a quiet house in the country.

“Here we are!” said Nim.

His new partner was a small reindeer with a fur collar and a determined glint in her large brown eyes. She stood stiffly on the edge of the window sill.

“Yes. Well. Here we are,” she said looking at Nim expectantly.


Nim smiled his brightest, most winning elfin smile and led the way inside.

The reindeer pranced slowly around the kitchen counter, taking in the splendor of the tree and lights decorating the house.

“This is nice,” she said finally.

“Yep, real nice! Such Christmas spirit! Such joy!” agreed Nim. “Now, for tonight I thought we could get out all of the Christmas sprinkles and spill them out on the counter and write our–”

“No!” she shouted in alarm. “Santa sent us reindeer to keep you elves from doing mischief and that is just what I intend to do.”


Nim, not one to back down easily, narrowed his eyes at her.

“Ok,” he said slowly. “How about we write a welcome message for them. An “I’m back and here’s my new partner.’ note for them to read.”

“That sounds like a great idea!” she said primly. “I just know we will get along great if you just follow all the rules.

Nim looked at her doubtfully.

“Let’s see here,” she said calmly. “We need a paper and pen to write the message. We should set it up somewhere out of the way so the parents aren’t inconvenienced in any way and then–what are you doing?!”

While she was talking, Nim had pulled piles of notecards out of the desk drawer and was busy putting them up all over the sliding glass door.

“I’m writing our message of course!”


The poor, shocked reindeer stared open-mouthed at Nim as he busily scribbled the welcome message…one word on each scrap of paper.

I’m back with a partner!
She comes with a book
So sit down, get comfy
And then take a look

You’ll both have to name her
You’ll have to agree
She’s here to make magic
And fun, just like me!

Cuddle this reindeer
Squeeze her and play
Yes, you can touch her
She won’t go away

She’ll be here all season
To keep us line
Until Christmas eve
Then she’s all mine!

“Well, what do you think?”

“You-you…made a mess! Such a big mess!” she spluttered.

Nim looked around the room. Bits of paper were scattered all over the table and floor.


“Well, I guess the first day of the Kindness Calendar should be to ‘Pick up a mess that you didn’t make,’ right?” Nim said with a smile.

The reindeer glared at Nim. “This is my first assignment out of Reindeer School. It has to be perfect. PERFECT! I have to do a good job and follow ALL the rules. Do you understand?”

Nim finished putting the last word up before answering her.

“Of course I understand,” he said in what was meant to be a soothing voice. “You can come up with tomorrow night’s message, ok?”

The reindeer had no time to disagree. The sun was coming up over the horizon and they had to get to their places.


“Oh, I almost forgot!” said Nim, zipping down to the table to put a small note next to the new book.

“What is that?”

“A knock-knock joke for the boys,” said Nim.

“Oh, I don’t think–”

“Knock, knock.”

“Er…who’s there?”


“Yule who?”

Yule never know!”

Nim laughed hysterically as he flew to his place. The reindeer looked at Nim nervously, wondering how she was going to make a good impression on Santa with such a mischievous and silly partner.

Mischief Makers: The Announcement

(Note: This is the third year for the Mischief Makers stories. In the first year, we met Nim and Lil’ Lil, two rascally and mischievous elves sent to watch over four kids and report bad and good behavior to Santa. In the second year, Nim and Lil became Pen Pals and their hijinks continued. This year, Nim gets a new partner.)

**The Teaser** 

“I have a surprise for all of you this year,” said Santa to a sea of red and white clad elves.

Nim and Lil’s jolly red hats jiggled as they shared a giggle. Everyone grew quiet, eager to hear about the surprise Santa had planned for the new Christmas season.

“You each have been assigned a partner for the season.”

An excited buzz rippled through the room.

“A partner?”


“How fun!”

“And,” boomed Santa. “You all have a new assignment. This year you will create a Kindness Calendar.”

A small elf raised her hand. “What is a Kindness calendar, Santa?”

Santa smiled.

“Each day in December, you will ask your charges to do an act of kindness for another. This will get everyone into the Christmas spirit…and keep you elves from causing too much mischief.”

A loud cheer erupted from the sea of scout elves. Santa chuckled and held up his hands for quiet.

“It’s time!”

All of the elves skipped, scampered and skittered to the launch pad to meet their new partners and take off for the season.

“Ho-ho-ho off you go!”











Winter Prep

In Winter, most of the garden chores involve cleaning up to prepare for the Spring. Even though the chickens are doing most of that work for us, we still have a few tasks to make sure the soil is soft and ready for planting.

We moved the chickens over yesterday. The girls had done their job tearing up the soil, destroying pests like cabbage worms and squash bugs and fertilizing their first stop in the kitchen garden.


We covered the spot with a thick layer of straw to keep the soil warm. The ground will freeze, but when the Spring thaw starts, we want to retain as much moisture as we can to keep our soil healthy.


Since my winter sowing project did not work out well last year, I’m going to try direct sowing the cool season and a few root veggies now.


If anything comes up before the cold really sets in, I’ll use the upside down milk jug tops I have to insulate the seedlings against the cold.

I also plan to give winter sowing in milk jugs another go this year. Although, with this unseasonably warm December I may have the same problems I had last year.

Other winter chores include pruning and cleaning up weeds around the trees and insulating the perennials against the cold.

We have not had a hard freeze yet, but it is coming soon. In the next few days, I’ll get the rest of this done and sit back and wait for my seed catalogs to start rolling in so I can start planning for 2017.

I’ll plant my winter garden
I’ll hope for it to grow
I’ll watch for little seedlings
Protect them from the snow

I hope the cold won’t kill them
I hope I will succeed
I hope my winter garden
Suppresses summer weeds


Sparkling in the sunlight
The frosty, glittering ground
The chickens now are ready
For cold and wind to sound

They moved into the garden
To do their very best
They scratch and shuffle all around
Eating weeds and pests


They’re now outside our window
And each and every morn
Pecky has confused our light
And crows before the dawn

The cats both like their new spot
As guardians of the flock
They bask in warm, soft sunlight
Ignoring ruffled bawks


The sky is bright and blue now
But soon it will be gray
And snow will fall so softly
Crisp winter’s here to stay

Winter Fertilizer

The cold weather approaches and it is just about time to move the chickens closer to the house to keep them out of the bitter winter winds that rip through our small homestead.

We’ve let the plants go to seed so that our girls will have a nice treat during the long winter. We will have moved them all over the garden so that by Spring our soil will be rich and crawling with squiggly worms.


Perhaps telling the boys that it was time to “destroy the garden” was a little short sighted; but it was worth it to see how much fun they had chopping, pulling and stomping all over the kitchen garden.


Since it has been warm, the borage and lovage are confused. They think they still have time to multiply and grow.


Borage. It’s all over the garden and some is even in the yard.


Lovage – smells like celery.

We found a ton of cherry tomatoes on the vine. They are so sweet! We fed some to the chickens and snacked on some ourselves. Most of the broccoli had gone to seed so we gave that to the chickens too.


I ran around front to see if the strawberries were confused as well…no such luck. I did find a few roses blooming though.


The chickens “accidentally” got loose so the boys spent an hour or so chasing them around, catching them, letting them go and catching them again.


Pecky stood guard over the coop while this was happening. He was reluctant to get involved in the shenanigans.


I think the girls may be picking on him a little bit. He has a few feathers missing on his rear and a few raw spots as well. A couple of the hens have missing feathers on their heads too. I guess chickens must have cat fights too.

The boys are both very gentle with the chickens. They can catch them much easier than Ray or I can. The hens seem almost docile with them.

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We had a beautiful day working outside. I like all seasons, but I sure am going to miss these nice weather days when we are cooped up.

Snow is on its way
Winter days are coming fast
Autumn falls away

Energy Redirection

Winter is coming.

Even in this beautifully mild November weather, the boys are already showing signs of cabin fever.


They woke up this morning full of energy. They must have had a good night’s sleep, because they were bouncing off the walls…literally.

I’d planned a few reading activities and games for the morning, but I scrapped those plans as soon as I saw the gleam of mischief in their eyes.

They were full of energy and, if I didn’t redirect it, our day would be full of frustration and tears.

They sat long enough to eat a good breakfast. Then we headed out the door to burn off the crazy amount of energy they’d stored up overnight.

“Where should we go today?”

“The zoo!” shouted Jake.

“The Nature Center!” shouted Joe.

“Ok,” I said. “We’ll try for both.”

And we did.

First we went to the zoo. Many animals are much more active in this cooler weather. There are also not as many people there since school started so we pretty much had the run of the place.


“Pick an animal. We’ll learn three new facts about it and draw a picture of it.”

The both picked a tiger and wanted to learn why they eat meat, how the meat “goes through their body” and how they survive the winter.


When they’d had their fill at the zoo, we ate a quick lunch and headed to the Nature Center.

“Pick something you want to learn about at the Nature Center.”

“A cardinal!” said Joe.

“Yeah, a cardinal!” said Jake.

When we got to the Nature Center, we asked a guide about cardinals. They wanted to learn how they survive the winter, what they eat and what kind of nest they build.

We searched and searched but did not find one. Joe drew a picture anyway.


After about an hour at the Nature Center, all the fresh air and exercise was starting to take it’s toll on poor Jake.

He was exhausted.


While we drove home, I asked the boys about what we had seen on our field trips.

Tigers, lions, giraffes. Trees, birds, deer beds.

They didn’t remember everything, but a few facts stuck and they had a great time discovering while burning off almost all their energy.


(Don’t) Be Specific

Childhood is magical. I watch my boys look at the world with wonder and excitement. There is such joy in their eyes at the simplest discoveries.

For them, finding a caterpillar is the most exciting thing in the world and learning a new song is the most thrilling accomplishment.

The world is full of wonders for them. They are invincible. Nothing can stop them.


As we grow to adulthood, we wonder where it went….that intangible something that made childhood so special.

That magical ‘thing’ is the imagination without boundaries.

Creativity without direction.

Learning without specifics. 

Specificity, when taken too far, stifles creativity, kills the imagination and takes all the fun out of learning.

When we decided to homeschool, I wanted to get the right curriculum and follow all the rules. I wanted to have specific instructions on how to teach each grade.

In Kindergarten, the boys would master x, y and z. In first grade they would learn a, b and c. I was determined to get on the right path and make sure the boys kept up with everyone else their age.

As you’ve guessed and I’ve confessed, that plan did not last long. In fact, it bombed and, instead of being excited and hopeful, I felt frustrated, worried and tearful.

Our journey through education changes constantly.

My plans for the day, more often than not, get derailed.

We improvise and switch directions on the fly. When the boys aren’t interested in the way I’m teaching the day’s lesson, I do not push them to do it that way.

I’ve made that mistake. It ended with all of us angry, in tears and extremely frustrated with each other.

Instead, I try to keep the instructions minimal. I don’t give specifics unless requested.

We learn quite a bit through games, activities and songs, so I found a sight word activity on Pinterest.


The instructions were simple:

  1. Draw a sight word card.
  2. Correctly identify the word.
  3. Find it on the whiteboard and put an ‘X’ through it.

I explained the steps to Joe, but he had other ideas.

Rather than read the card first, he drew an arrow to a word and said it out loud.

Rather than draw an ‘X’ through the word, he drew monsters or smashers to chomp the words.


The part of me that learned to follow directions, stay inside the lines, do things the right way…shuddered. My instinct was to redirect him to follow the instructions I’d given.

I ruthlessly squashed that instinct.

He had found his own, creative way to learn. He had made it a completely different game with different rules, but with the same end: learning sight words.

I’m not saying that specificity has no place in learning…of course it does.

But, had I been unwilling to let Joe bend the rules to fit the way he wanted to learn, I never have witnessed his imagination at work.

I never would have seen him draw sight word smashing machines and make sound effects while scribbling the words out.

I never would have seen him draw a venus fly trap to chomp the “this fly”.

And that would have been a true loss.

Specificity has its place, but we should be very careful when using it.









Nature’s Nurses

Ray and the boys each picked a handful of Autumn olives yesterday and went for a walk in the swales.


It was twilight and gorgeous. I walked along with them snapping pictures and enjoying breeze, the warmth, the sun and the peace.


They munched on the berries as they walked and spit the seeds out between the trees we’d planted.

“What are you doing Joe?”

“We are planting trees!”


Planting trees by spitting seeds may sound crazy…perhaps it is. But how do trees grow in a forest with no one to dig holes and plant?

Seeds drop to the ground. Birds and beasts spread them around.

Sure, some of them grow and some of them don’t, but no shovel is needed to grow a tree.


Why would we want Autumn olives to grow willy-nilly in the swales?

One, they grow fast and spread even faster. We are slowly trying to cover the berms with plants and shrubs we can use for three purposes: food to eat, nutrients for the other trees and protection from erosion.

Two, they are packed with nitrogen and will enrich the soil. The roots fix nitrogen feeding other trees and shrubs nearby. We are working to nurse the soil on our property, to restore this disturbed soil to a rich and fertile landscape, perfect for growing food for our family.

Three, they taste great and are packed with nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E. They have more lycopene than tomatoes. Roughly 15 times more in fact. Lycopene has been associated with preventing certain diseases such as breast, prostate and skin cancer.

We aren’t just planting autumn olives. We’ve also transplanted seaberries and raspberries. We’ve planted comfrey and mint and plan to throw down more borage in the spring.

We are building our food forest one seed at a time.


Nature’s nurses planted
All throughout our land
Maybe they’ll grow tall and spread
And nurse our soil back from the dead

We’ve started the process
To repair and restore
We’re giving it our very best
And letting Nature do the rest