Xiaoguo took a broom and a rag and cleaned up the entire house.
Actually, there wasn’t much cleaning that had to be done. It was all thanks to Xiaoguo’s diligent cleaning on most days.
She moved Zhuang Zhuang’s study desk and placed it against the dining table. The two tables were the same height so this would create more seating space for everyone.
Xiaoguo returned to the kitchen and pulled out the chairs that she hadn’t used in a long time.
As the chairs had not been utilized for some time and were kept in the kitchen, there was a lot of grime and dust gathered on them. Xiaoguo managed to clean them up after scrubbing them with a lot of soap.
She moved the chairs outdoors to sun them. Without taking a break, she brought out the stove and wiped away the dust gathered on it. This would be used for grilling the mutton kebabs. Xiaoguo placed it outside together with the chairs.
Xiaoguo liked to prepare everything in advance so that she would not be so flustered when tomorrow comes.
Before the sun set, Xiaoguo carried the blanket and pillows into the room.
The blanket was made by Mrs. Qin when Xiaoguo got married. It was a very thick and big blanket.
Mrs. Qin had stitched it up bit by bit. She used the little money she had left to buy the fabric needed for the blanket. The cotton filling was given as payment to Mr. Qin and Qin Anming for their labor on the farms.
The previous owner had never used it. It was kept in the cabinet.
Fortunately, she had this blanket. Otherwise, she would have to buy one. Cotton is so expensive these days.
She folded the blanket and placed it in Qin Anming’s room. She will move it into her own room tomorrow. Otherwise, Zhuang Zhuang and herself would have no bed space tonight.
After the sour plum soup had cooled down, Xiaoguo tasted it. It had just the right amount of sweet and sour flavors. She poured the soup into a jar and traveled to the other space. She opened the fridge and tried to put it in.
However, the fridge was basically filled with skewers. Xiaoguo had no choice but to rearrange the contents of the fridge to make room for the jar.
After storing it in the fridge, Xiaoguo came out of the space and bumped into Zhuang Zhuang, who was looking for her.
“Mother, I’m hungry.”
Zhuang Zhuang appeared pitifully in the kitchen, waiting eagerly for Xiaoguo to feed him.
There was nothing left for Xiaoguo to clean up. It was time to make dinner.
It had been a long day. She should make some soup to replenish her energy.
There might be some bones in the fridge, Xiaoguo thought to herself.
Xiaoguo loved soup, Zhuang Zhuang had picked up his love for soup from her. She had bought a lot of bones to make soup the last time she was in the county, but she hadn’t bought any recently. She wondered if there were any left in the fridge.
After coaxing Zhuang Zhuang to leave the kitchen, Xiaoguo went into the space and rummaged through the fridge and managed to find a few leg bones.
Xiaoguo took them out and placed them in some water to defrost. Zhuang Zhuang just returned from outside, so Xiaoguo called him over.
Zhuang Zhuang put down the firewood and sat on the stool to start the fire. Xiaoguo poured the bones into the pot with water and blanched them.
Another small stove was set up, and a claypot of water was placed on top. The pork bones in the pot were starting to boil. Xiaoguo washed off the scum from the bones and placed the bones into the claypot. Some dang shen and goji berries1 were added, and after adding a pinch of salt, the lid was covered and the soup was left to stew for an hour.
On the other corner of the kitchen, Xiaoguo kneaded some dough to make steamed buns. She would be making more so that they could toast some of the buns when everyone was here tomorrow.
She stir-fried another plate of vegetables. One dish and one soup were just enough for the two of them.
After dinner, Zhuang Zhuang washed the dishes. Xiaoguo added firewood to the stove and boiled a large pot of hot water.
Tomorrow will be a festive event after all. Besides, there will be guests tomorrow. They should definitely wash up.
She dragged Zhuang Zhuang to wash up first and rubbed his body vigorously to get the dirt off.
“Mother, it hurts.”
Zhuang Zhuang’s back was facing Xiaoguo. Her slender hands were rubbing his back forcefully.
Zhuang Zhuang was almost in tears. With her thin arms and small hands, he wondered where she got her strength from.
Xiaoguo didn’t feel like she was exerting much strength but she still tried to be gentle with her movements.
Zhuang Zhuang didn’t feel any pain after that. To be honest, just a while ago, it felt like the skin on his back was tearing. All the things falling off his back must be his skin, and not dirt.
Xiaoguo proceeded to wash Zhuang Zhuang’s body gently. She also washed his hair with soap.
She wrapped him up with a towel and carried him to the bed.
Xiaoguo carefully dried Zhuang Zhuang’s damp hair with a clean towel. When his hair was completely dry, she got up and told the boy to lie down and wait for her. She would find him some clothes to wear when she returns.
Zhuang Zhuang acknowledged her words. Then, he wrapped himself tightly in the blanket, revealing only his little head as he nodded at Xiaoguo.
Xiaoguo grabbed her clothes from the cupboard and went to the kitchen.
She could only wash up from a big basin in the kitchen. And this was after she had boiled some water and transferred it into the large basin.
Xiaoguo rubbed her body and thought about buying a big bathtub in future. How wonderful it would be to soak inside a tub.
However, it was not convenient to take a bath in the kitchen. It seemed that she should first build a small bathroom before she buys a bathtub.
Xiaoguo made a mental note to look for someone to build a bathroom.
Afraid of catching a cold, Xiaoguo quickly washed up and put on her clothes. After drying her hair in the kitchen, she returned to the house.
She could fall sick if there was a draft.
When she returned to the house, she saw that Zhuang Zhuang was still lying obediently under the blanket. Xiaoguo opened the cupboard door and searched for a set of underwear that she had made for him.
Zhuang Zhuang climbed out of bed and got dressed with Xiaguo’s help.
After Xiaoguo was done tidying up, she got up and blew out the candles. It was a busy day—she had better get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning.
Xiaoguo got out of bed and left Zhuang Zhuang to sleep in while she went to prepare breakfast.
As she didn’t know what time Qin Anming and the others would arrive in the afternoon, Xiaoguo began to tidy up the house after breakfast. She arranged the blankets in every room according to the number of people who are going to stay over.
Ruyi and the others had to prepare some ingredients for the shop in the morning. These are preparations in advance for the days after the festival. They mentioned that they would arrive in the afternoon, but they did not specify the exact time.
Xiaoguo and Zhuang Zhuang had a light lunch. They will save their appetite for dinner.
The sun was high and bright in the afternoon, but the weather was cool. Xiaoguo brought out the skewers and sour plum soup from the fridge in advance, to prepare for the guests’ arrival.
She came to the door and looked in the direction of the village entrance. She thought that it was odd.
“They should be here by now, but why haven’t they arrived yet? Could there have been an accident?”
Xiaoguo frowned, and her heart was pounding. Qin Anming and Ruyi were not people who would stand her up. They would definitely come if they agreed. If they did not come, it must be for some reason.
The worst-case scenario was an accident on the road.
Xiaoguo could only wait anxiously. Zhuang Zhuang came out of the house and looked at his mother, who was pacing at the door.
“Mother? When are Uncle and the others coming?”
Xiaoguo didn’t know either, but she didn’t want to dampen his spirits, so she lied and said that they would arrive soon.
When Zhuang Zhuang heard this, he was very happy. He wanted to wait at the door with Xiaoguo, but she wouldn’t let him.
After thinking for a while, she decided to drive out to take a look. She told Zhuang Zhuang that she was going to welcome them and asked him to wait at home.
When Zhuang Zhuang heard this, he wanted to tag along. Xiaoguo did not agree and let him guard the door. She turned around and went back to the courtyard to fetch the donkey.
“Mother! Mother! Uncle and the others are here!”
Zhuang Zhuang’s excited voice came from the door.
Xiaoguo’s hands stopped moving. Her face lit up and she ran to the door.
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