Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Of Dreams and Syrian Refugees

Gregory has discovered a way to wake up when his dream is not to his taste. He says he figured this out one night when he was riding a motorcycle extremely slowly back and forth until he was so bored that he looked for a ravine to plunge into so that he would wake up and quit the dumb dream. I thought it was a good idea, right up there with how I figured out as a child that if I wanted to keep on with a good dream, I could concentrate really hard on falling asleep again and make it play out how I wanted it. :)

Last week I had a nightmare that haunted me for a long time. I don’t usually pay much attention to my dreams, because I have so many of them, and they are mainly bizarre. But this one was so real that I woke up exhausted, like I had been fighting all night instead of sleeping. It seemed, in my dream, that I was fleeing through hostile territory with my children. My husband had died and we were alone, without a safe place to hide. Over and over evil men would approach us and try to snatch one of the children. I cried out repeatedly for help in Jesus’ name, and we would be left alone for a while in our endless wandering. If I could have found a ravine to drive into to make it stop, I would have. In the end we were all chucked over Niagara Falls because we wouldn’t deny our faith.

I struggle to make sense of this sort of thing. Without over-spiritualizing things, I felt like God was saying, “This is really how life is, and this is the fight you put up for your children against evil principalities and powers. You don’t need to be afraid, because you have the power of Jesus, but you need to be aware.”

A few days later I read an article about the struggle and privations that Syrian women refugees endure in their enforced homelessness in Turkey. It was like someone described my nightmare, complete with husbandlessness and evil men snatching the children. Maybe it was a dream to give me empathy so that I pray more. A few days after that I started a book set during the Spanish Inquisition. I am having a major case of story grip. But what is with this sense of deja vu?

Do you take dreams seriously?

Maybe you can tell me about that Niagara Falls bit? :)


In Which We Take an Excess of Cell Phone Pics on the First Day of Spring

March is adolescent, I think. She doesn’t know yet what she wants to be, so she tries out winter and spring by turns, without any apparent reason. However, she charms us with her possibilities, and we love her. After all, seasons are amazing. The turn of a season has to be a little dramatic to make us properly thankful. I have been switching out snow boots and rubber boots the whole month, depending on the caprices of the weather. Last Monday Olivia and I took our first bike ride of the season, wearing just light jackets. The boys were begging to take the first dip of the year in the pond. That evening they went skiing up at the Knob. For weeks we have been planning to have a First Day of Spring party, only they call it “Back to Spring” which cracks me up.

Addy confided her not-so-secret aspirations to have lemon cake with tulips on top. She had to make sure we all knew since she is “too low” to do it herself. Yesterday Alex spent a few hours in the kitchen, baking goodies. We cleaned the windows and hung our happy flappies.


Then this morning we awoke to this:


We decided to make our own sunshine, since clearly, it was the first day of spring on the calendar. First we did school and started the laundry, of course. Always. (Or not.) Then we spent an hour making these, and it was fun, fun.


As usual, I had a plan that I quickly scrapped and just let them loose with paper and stapler and glue gun. These are not true-to-tutorial  flowers, but I like them anyway.

Of course, everybody was hungry before we got our decor done. I have long ago scrapped exotic food for parties. Instead we just use ordinary stuff and pretty it up, use our fun dishes, and light some candles. Gregory helped me with the food this time. It was the spring party of our dreams, all but the tulips part, but Addy was okay with candies on her cupcakes instead of yellow tulips. :) The little pepper flower in a cucumber pot was her consolation prize.

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And yes, I ate one of those cupcakes. Solidarity is so important in family life, wouldn’t you agree?


See out the window there? That is snow fuzzing down at an astonishing rate. But it won’t last long. That’s our mantra. This is my favorite kind of snow, the sticky, fairy-world kind. We dug the snow pants out of the box where I had tentatively stored them last week, and we went out to play in it.

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IMG_20150320_132008630_HDR This may be the result of too much Calvin and Hobbes.

Come what may, we know what we know about the calendar, and the dogwood wreath is staying on the door. (But the skis are going to the attic.)



I Blinked

And here we are at March 12. I am not sure how that happened, but it is a month of life happening at amazing speeds. I love when things start livening up, when the sun puts out actual rays of warmth, and all the water outside turns liquid and starts to trickle to other places. On the last day of snow the children wanted one more sledding party before the great melt began. I did this (on a Saturday morning!!!)

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while they did this.

The thaw… It is such a glorious gift, disguised in a whole lot of mud, of course.

That is what I have been doing, I think. I have been taking care of mud. On the floors, on the coats, the snow boots, the insulated pants, the gloves, the… Well, I don’t mean to bore you. You are doing the same, no doubt. Just yesterday we were planning a little outing to Gabe’s sister’s house while he attended an Emergency Nurses Association meeting. The girls wanted to wear the new butterfly dresses. Rita’s got muddy before lunchtime when she took a little foray into the backyard. She ended up with a full scrub down in the tub, and I found a jumper with tulips on it for her. When it was time to load up the Suburban, the little girls took another (unauthorized) jaunt into the backyard. Addy fell, her dress and sweater became a ruin of brown smear and her face full of remorseful tears. When we got to my sister-in-law’s house, their over-eager puppy jumped up on everybody with muddy paws, so there we were again, but at least we tried.

I have been cleaning the mud on the dog here, too. She still has her crate in the basement to sleep. You know what dogs with silky medium length hair do when they come out of the wet, don’t you? “Oh, oh, oh,” said Jane. “Funny, funny Spot.” Only it isn’t funny when you are responsible to keep a semblance of order and cleanliness.

Speaking of the dog… Remember that research report that my son was laboring over? Well, she snitched it out of his desk and shredded it in an unguarded moment. That was a small earthquake in our household history! I did feel very sorry, seeing as he was on the third draft, with illustrations in his folder and everything neatly compiled, ready for the last draft. I felt so sorry that I told him he wouldn’t have to do it over, on one condition: he wasn’t allowed to storm about it anymore. That brought instant peace to the situation. We won’t have it to impress the evaluator this spring, but the dog ate it and that is that.

Another momentous occasion in recent local history was the felling of the backyard trees. A lot of our trees, both in the yard and the woods, are ash trees, and they are all dying. I am not so tree huggerish when I start seeing limbs falling after every storm and I see the leaves dropping already in July. Disgusting little ash borers. Gabe talked to different experts who all said the same thing. The ash trees will not recover. So. We cut them down. I mourn their 40 to 50 years of growth, all gone to smash in a five minute encounter with a  chain saw.  But. “You have to let them go, Sally Jane.” (And that quote is from Letting Swift River Go, not Dick and Jane. It is a great children’s story that deals with losses and changes.)

So the trees are down and what a tangle that made in the backyard! Rita built nests of sticks and blankets and lived out there for hours in the sunshine. She even got a little sun kissed on her nose. I washed all the blankets and little sleeping bags, and the next day she was at it again, only with a bigger stick pile to hold her off the ground better. I wish I had something she could hatch.

Gabe and the boys spent an entire day hauling firewood and brush out of the yard. While they were at it, the power line guy stopped in to talk about the trees and brush along the road, directly under the power lines. The last time they cleared that out I cried because that was my privacy fence. That was 12 years ago, and I guess I must have grown a bit since then, because I philosophically accepted the inevitable. “You have to let them go.” This one was a silver maple, leaning perilously toward the house in its declining years. I held my breath and prayed while he was sawing it down, but all went according to plan and the deck remained unsmashed.

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And this is how the sky looks, so I am happy.


To My Friend with the Sweet Smile

You are a very brave person. Life has not been easy for you. In fact, you have faced staggering personal losses. There is often a lingering feeling of abandonment in the face of it all. You don’t understand the how and the why, and privately you ask God because it would be really nice to know.

And yet. Every morning you get up, and you choose to hope and to believe that the best is yet to come. You arm yourself with the fact that Love, though it is inscrutable, is there, holding you, healing you. Then you go out and face the day, smiling. You do things for other people that you have no obligation to do. You choose not to wallow in your right to be miserable, and so you bring cheer and comfort to others.

That smile. I love to see it on your face. But I know that it comes with a very steep price. You show us the reality that things which die will live again, that seeds may be buried in dirt, but they swell with promise and come up alive.

This day I want to honor you and to tell you that I know you are brave. May the sun shine warm on your face today.

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February Recap

It has been fun, and it has gone fast!

It has been bloomin’ cold, and it can’t really go too fast.

I read two books by Alexander McCall Smith, namely “The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection” and “The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.” These are the Ladies’ Detective Agency series, set in Botswana. Not only do I love the African-ness of them, I enjoy the author’s insight into human nature.

We put in 20 days of school, four weeks of five days each, which was about all this little month could hold. (I was looking at the calendar and remarked, “Well, look at that. February has exactly four weeks in it this year.” Some people in the house thought it a rather blonde comment, but hey, it started on Sunday and ends on Saturday, all tucked in and tidy.) My son in seventh grade is struggling to find the relevance of a research report to his life. He hasn’t connected it yet, but it is coming along, probably about the time the third draft is done.

There are four pots of soil with hopeful seeds in them on my sunniest window sill. We covered them with plastic wrap to make little green houses. Cress, Mother’s tomatoes, Forget-me-nots, and Italian parsley. How is that for an eclectic mix?

We have had lots of skating parties and consumed gallons of tea and hot chocolate.

Yesterday I made my little girls butterfly print dresses. Things are looking brighter.

It has been a good month! Thanks for sharing it with me.


A Tale of a Little Girl

When we found out we were expecting Rita, whom I call Daisy or Maggie or MARGARITE ELISE by turns, I wasn’t sure I could possibly manage another child. I had still not recovered from the neediness of the first six months of a medically fragile child. Another one? I couldn’t face the prospect. Oh, please, please, please, God, I want a baby, just let her be healthy and happy, please, please, please. I did that for the whole pregnancy.

Rita slid into the world tranquilly, pink and round and undemanding. I fed her on schedule, changed her diaper, she fell serenely asleep on her own, asking for nothing until it was time for her next feeding. I could not get over the marvel of it. She was the perfect baby.


About the time she became mobile, we realized that God did not give us  just a healthy child; He smiled and gave us the most cheerfully self-reliant little girl He could dream up. When she was two, people actually pitied me. Life got a lot better for me and her both once I settled it in my mind that she was not trying to make things harder for me. She was trying to save me work by doing everything by herself. This included pouring her own milk and spilling the whole gallon. More than once. Then she helped mop the floor and spilled the bucket full of water too. She rarely whined about being hungry. Instead she learned to pry open the refrigerator, get a pack of hotdogs, then slit them open with a knife so she could have a snack. She ate the top tier of a birthday cake in construction and more hidden bars of chocolate than I could keep track of. She walked to the garden and casually picked a pepper for midday gnoshing.

One busy day before she was two, I found her sitting on the big potty. She had decided it was time to be done with diaper nonsense. There was nothing but disdain in her mind for the baby potty, even though she nearly fell into the toilet more than once. She thought she could run her own bath water and wash her own hair with quantities of shampoo. And she most certainly could get dressed by herself! When we told her she was too old for a binky, she sturdily threw it into the trash can and didn’t bother about it anymore.

She visited the neighbors all by herself when she was three, and scared the wits out of me when she put on her life vest and went swimming in the pond. When her hair bothered her, she cut it off, and if the cuffs on her dress were too snug, she cut them off too. She found the Sharpies and drew a bunch of pictures, also decorating my Bible. The child hadn’t heard of limits. Everything I never thought of making rules about, she discovered. More than once I prayed for God to help me keep her alive. It was not malicious, all that busyness, yet I am fairly certain that the majority of my white hairs are courtesy of Rita Who Was Three. The only safe course was to keep her right with me. Out of sight was trouble. But she was unfailingly cheerful and played for hours and hours with sticks and grasses and all the blooms off my rose bush and every single peony bud. To my knowledge, she has never complained of being bored.

When she turned five, she kicked the training wheels on her bike and persistently rode and crashed until she mastered it. She nurtured her own little garden plot and transplanted and watered her flowers to death. Her most favorite creative outlet is fabric scraps and threads. (You should see the unspeakable havoc of my embroidery flosses and my button box.)  “Look what I made,” she grinned, and showed me a pocket she had constructed with calico scraps, threading her needle and knotting it on her own. I never showed her how to sew a seam, but there it was, marching unsteadily up and down.

This morning it was time to clothe the pet ostrich. It has handy dandy wing slits, but she is embarrassed at how the hat turned out. I took a picture anyway because I thought it uncommonly clever.



The moral of this story… well, there isn’t really a moral. But if you have a little child who is unceasingly, unbelievable busy, running circles around you -the concerned parent- just give it a few years. They will actually make your life easier sooner than you think. Those same clever little fingers getting into every pie will become cleverly useful. She can now wash windows and fold laundry and sweep floors when the right mood hits her. I expect to retire in a few years and let her run the house.

(She likes “Daisy” best.)



Wind in my Sails

It was a Monday morning after a really crazy weekend, this past Monday was. I had been away for two days, came home in time for church, fellowship meal and a Sunday afternoon where I did nothing more constructive than work on a puzzle.

Monday morning was an ocean of things to do, but Gabe was home, so it was less intimidating than it could have been. We hauled hampers full of laundry downstairs so that I could work on that while I wrote out the boys’ assignments for the week. I had to check the work they did while I was gone, so it took all forenoon, with Olivia trotting down to ask questions about her school every quarter hour or so. The little girls cleared the clean dishes out of the dishwasher, but they are no good at loading, so the stack of dirty dishes remained on the counter until lunchtime.

There were leftovers in the fridge, thankfully, but I felt like I was swimming in molasses when it came to making actual progress. Gabe had a lot of errands to run and work at his desk. The house was a wreck.

Then the mail came, and in it was a fat package from a friend that I know mostly from cyberspace.  It contained a lovely, cheerful bag “for putting things in” and a note of equal cheer.

It lifted me right out of the sticky swimming and put me into a boat with wind in my sails.

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Thank you, Carol!


If a Butterfly Flaps its Wings

The boys and I had one of those conversations at the lunch table today. So, if a butterfly flaps its wings, could the result be a tornado on the other side of the world? I have always felt like this sort of stuff is over my head. Alex’s seventh grade science is dealing with the variables that cause weather and life to be unpredictable beyond a certain point.

Months ago I picked up some of Madeleine L’Engle’s books at a library sale and today I was proofreading “A Swiftly Tilting Planet.” I am not quite done with it, but what I got so far is the main character time traveling to mend “Might Have Beens” in the past where people made catastrophic mistakes that snowballed through the ages. I suppose it is a cautionary tale of what can happen when one makes bad choices, the evil and woe that affects entire generations. I am not sure the book will go on the shelf, because I don’t really respect the author’s use of a unicorn to time travel, but it has given me a lot to think about. Sure, God is not limited to time, but the way I see it, He uses redemption to clear up horrible mistakes. We don’t have the luxuries of “do-overs”, no matter how earnestly we wish we did.

On the same subject, did you ever wonder what significance you really hold in the world? The little dot that is you in the Universe; the blip that is your life? Does it really matter whether you flap your wings or not? I read a wonderful article on Desiring God that I think you will enjoy too. God’s Glory in Your Extraordinary Story starts like this:

“Statistically speaking, you should not exist.

Think about it for a moment. How unlikely was it that your parents ever met? And even when they came together, you were just a bad mood or argument or headache or television show or phone call away from never being conceived.

Take a generational step back, and ponder your grandparents’ stories. What were the twists and turns and near misses in their experiences and relationships — any of which, had there been even a minor change, would have resulted in your non-being?”


“And your extraordinary life is continually shaping, and being shaped by, many other lives, human and non-human, as you move through time. In ways both witting and unwitting, your words and actions are influencing the course of other lives. Your choice of a parking spot or your seat on a plane could have a life-altering affect on someone else. Your choice of church, school, and workplace certainly will…” -Jon Bloom


It helped to cement in my heart again that the choices I make today, the words I say, the little, seemingly inconsequential things in life… all make ripples that effect others. It seems a little scary, but I truly believe that all are divinely ordered and organized to fulfill God’s purposes. I stand amazed. (I also like that all three of these separate “conversations” occurred almost simultaneously. :) )

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Yogurt, Simplified

Like way, way simplified. A while ago I posted a recipe that I used to make yogurt. Then I had a couple more children and life got more hectic and I didn’t have time to mess with gelatin and powdered milk. I learned a way to make it that takes one ingredient. Milk. Well, that and a starter culture from the last batch of yogurt.

When my husband was sick about three years ago, we briefly tried the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which he hated, but at any rate, I learned the only-milk method of making yogurt. (It had to be fermented/incubated 24 hours, after which the yogurt bacilli supposedly had devoured the milk sugars and left behind a product very gut healthy.)

Anyhow, here is what I do. I start with a gallon of milk, heating it slowly in a large kettle over low heat. I like to do this while I am working in the kitchen anyway, so that I can give it a stir every couple minutes. You do not want the milk to scorch.

I heat the milk to 180 degrees, F. This changes the milk proteins so they don’t curdle in the fermentation process. Then I set it aside to cool, giving it an occasional stir. A gallon of milk takes a while to cool. You want it to be about 115 degrees F. so that it doesn’t kill the yogurt culture.

If I don’t have any plain yogurt in the fridge from the last batch I made, I buy a good quality plain yogurt, making sure it contains live cultures (look on the label) and added acidophilus is even better. Once the milk reaches 115 degrees, I whisk 1 to 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt into an equal amount of milk. This helps to thin it so that it mixes easily with the rest of the milk.

I pour the mixture into quart jars, screw on lids, and set them into the oven with the light on overnight. (Shut the oven door, of course. This keeps the oven at a nice cozy temperature, just right for fermentation.) Usually after 12 hours the yogurt has thickened nicely. Plain yogurt, easy, peasy.


Greek yogurt… that pricey stuff… is just one step away. Turns out it is more expensive because it is only half of what gets made into yogurt, and all you have to do is drain the whey to get the same result.

IMG_20150224_093457187_HDR    I set a colander on a bowl, line it with a  thin cotton cloth (in my kitchen, this is the yogurt napkin, used only for this purpose :) ) and pour the yogurt in to drain. If you leave it exactly four hours in the fridge, the yogurt will now be very, very pluggy. Less time will mean slightly more sour yogurt, more time will mean you need to stir some whey back in so you don’t have to cut your yogurt with a knife. :O

I lift the napkin and gently coax the yogurt into a bowl. It peels right off, usually half of what I had before it was drained. The other half is the whey, which you can use for whatever pleases you.



The last step is whisking the drained yogurt until it is smooth and happy. It only takes a minute, but makes your end product look really much like the Fage or Oikos that you buy at the grocery store. This gives me 2 quarts of yogurt from a gallon of milk at 2 dollars a gallon. Those little 6 ounce pots cost a dollar on sale. You do the math. :)

This is what my children think of the matter. With honey and peaches, of course.


(I have no idea why some of my photos turned out so small. I am choosing to think of it as a little mystery, and leaving for choir practice now.)


How I Do It

My friend, Luci, who leaves me entertaining and encouraging comments, asked how it is that I carve out time to write when there is so much busy. I made this February goal to keep my mind off the crawly feeling that winter is getting into my innards. Something creative, something I have to think about and work on, that is what I need. Last year I overreached and tried to do a scrapbook, a diet, and a daily post. It was a little too much. But this month has been a humdinger so far, and I have enjoyed the outlet of writing and hearing from many of you.

Granted, I could be very creative and clean my floors and wash the toilets and iron the wrinkly accumulation down in my laundry room, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. The floors I have always with me. :) That is how I carve out time for the things I love. I just let some other thing go for another hour or day. I stifle a little hysterical giggle any time someone asks me how I do everything. Because I don’t. I am perfectly happy that way until something falls onto my head from a closet or until I can’t find the rain boots. Then it will suddenly be clearing out time.

My children have been learning to do embroidery. I thread needles and tie a lot of knots and adjust hoops quite often on those days when they get on a roll. I don’t enjoy embroidery much myself, but they discovered a tin of brightly colored floss and there we were. Something to do. :) Did you ever try to read a book in between sessions of fixing lumpy thread? I recommend it.

A few times this month we did extra big meals so that we don’t have to cook every day. That helps with leisure time, too. And when everybody was feeling gross, all they ate was jello with milk to drink. I have also heard a comment or two along the lines of “not soup again!”.

The main other thing I wanted to do this month was to celebrate my mom, which we did accomplish. Of course, there was Valentine’s Day, too. But now, I am about ready to move on.

Do you have creative things that keep you from going nutsy?




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