wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Things I Don’t Know About

I love a great pun. Reading a children’s book with the line, “I love you doggedly, like a flea,” just delights me. Clever words tickle my ears and I absolutely love that my four year old describes herself “rushing across the backyard” instead of the conventional running. So why, I ask, do I groan every time I see a church sign that is so punny?

Last night I drove past two different churches and both gave me a pause and an inner wailing noooo-just-please-nooo. The first said, “Son screen prevents sin burn.” A few miles down the road there was another, “Gardening with God brings peas of mind… Lettuce be kind. Squash gossip. Turnip for church.” I wonder who invented church signs, anyway? And could we stick with profound and simple instead of brain twisting word play? question_2

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Summertime here is synonymous with lost shoes. Every time we want to go away, someone ends up weeping that they can’t find anything to wear on their feet. Each little girl has sandals, crocs and flip-flops. You would think at least one complete pair would be in their shoe box, but we end up doing the rounds of the sand box, play house, Suburban, etc until everyone is properly shod. We met out-of-state friends on Monday night to visit for a while. When we left it was dark and I didn’t think to check for the girls’ sandals. We left not one pair, but two. A few days later, while I was driving to retrieve the missing shoes, I got a text from my mom: Girls left their flip flops here–Will drop them off later.

I feel like Little Bear’s mother, who kept making him more and more clothes to stay warm, but finally he stripped down to just his own little bearskin and was perfectly happy without any other clothes. What a relief that was! Having said that, I have to admit that bare feet are not always good, as Rita discovered when she was picking wild raspberries and cut a deep gash in her foot that required stitches. And I am certainly not suggesting letting our children run around in just their little skins, but hey, it was the first plan in Eden! Still. Imagine how much time we would save if we weren’t constantly washing things in a ceaseless effort to stay clean. ???

My boys are on a camouflage kick this summer. They wear their camo shirts and pants day after day, until I insist strenuously that they have to change. It seems to be the last word in tween boy fashion and it sure does save on laundry, but it’s a little monotonous. I wonder how long this stage will last?

I myself have been losing things the last few days. I couldn’t find my glasses one morning, searching until I had a headache. So I got out my spare pair with black plastic frames, very modern and hot they are (as in, they make my face feel hot), but at least I could see without strain. It was days before someone pulled my favorite pair out of a crack in the couch and how they got there, I have no idea.

I have been reading this lady’s story of how she went minimalist and sold and sold stuff and got rid of everything that wasn’t nailed down or made her truly happy, like her children. They pulled out the shrubbery so they wouldn’t have to waste time trimming it. She keeps saying, “You can always buy another [insert material good here] if you find you need one.” And she got rid of almost all her clothes and went and bought what she calls a “capsule wardrobe” which is just about fourteen pieces of clothing that pair well with each other in endless combinations. I think it sounds fascinating, but I have concluded that this is sort of a first world thing to do. If you are not wealthy, you don’t go buy all new clothes from name brand stores so that you can always look pulled together and your closet looks coughed out of Pinterest. No, you go to Goodwill and enjoy the treasure hunt. So your grill isn’t the last name in sophistication. The hamburgers taste great and you know you will not be replacing it just because it doesn’t quite make you as happy as that other one on the market. Except in the quite unlikely event that you find one at a yard sale. Or unless you have plenty of money. So there is this disconnect with simplicity and lifestyle that bugs me. And if we got rid of our two freezers that hound energy and hog space, where would we put our green beans? I just don’t want to live in a Tiny House, thank you very much.

Speaking of beans, has anyone ever experimented to see if green beans will keep making baby beans forever if you don’t pull them out? I am just curious. We knew we planted extra and have sold about 3 bushels of them, just because we really want some other stuff in our freezer too.

It’s August. I cannot believe it, but my ears insist it is true. The fall insects are in full cry outside my window, serenading the waning blue moon. I saw some bright red leaves beside the road, so naturally I just ate a bowl of ice cream with fresh raspberry sauce to reassure myself.

The children wanted me to join them in the pond today. I had 17 things to do, but I chucked them all and went and floated in the sunshine. The wash is ever with me and I can scrub the fly specks off the windows tomorrow. Addy keeps asking me if we can blow up balloons, if we can buy ice cream, if we can have friends over, if we can roast marshmallows… I have a habit of absent-mindedly murmuring, “Oh, maybe.” She had enough of it and asked in exasperation, “What does maybe mean?”

I hope your summer is just as amazing and cheerful as ours!

Next up: a guest post from my husband!

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Five Things You May Not Know About Nurses

Tonight my husband came home 8 hours later than we had expected. The relief nurse didn’t show up and there were emergencies and problems tying him up. Other people’s problems. That’s the thing about nurses: they spend their entire day caring about problems when people are in the most susceptible places. I didn’t like that he couldn’t come home at lunchtime, but it was okay. Four o’clock wouldn’t be so bad. Then I got the text that he was going to be detained until 7:00 and that meant not going to church tonight. When he told me that he got to help stabilize a critically ill child, I was really glad I hadn’t spent any energy being mad about the hours. Sometimes I do that, you know.

A while ago I wrote this list and was reminded of it tonight. I would make a horrible nurse. It isn’t my gift. But I have observed my husband as he exercises his gift and I feel some recognition is due. So here you go,

Five Things You May Not Know About Nurses

  1. Nurses work extremely hard. They routinely take more than the 10,000 steps recommended for daily fitness. That is five miles, by the way. They lift tons of people and I mean that literally. They do this in 12 hour shifts with about 1/2 hour break if they are lucky. They work at night and on holidays and on weekends when everybody else is out camping. One time another lady and I were discussing packing lunches for our husbands and she mentioned that I probably don’t have to pack as much food as if he were working hard. Well. I didn’t tell her how often he didn’t even have time to eat the stuff I packed because other people’s needs were more important than his own. Nurses are knackered when they get home. They need food and drink. They deserve to use the bathroom in peace, take a long hot shower. It is best to wash off all traces of MRSA.
  2. Nurses really do enjoy sticking in IV’s but nobody wants to hit that vein the first time more than they do. That is why they like to stroke your arms, looking for good veins. It’s a funny way to show affection and practice their craft at the same time. If you have great veins, you will occupy a special little place in their hearts. If you don’t have good veins, you represent a challenge, and they can think of lots of places to try next while you shiver in horror. Probably I wouldn’t need to mention this, but I have an extreme aversion to needles.
  3. Nurses have an unorthodox sense of humor. “Hey Hon, come check out this neat Youtube clip,” instantly raises suspicion after just one look at “World’s Biggest Booger” or “Boil Popping on Back of Neck”. I mean, ewwwww. One can never un-see these things. It is my opinion that this dark humor is a way to cope with all the yuck and gore, a chance to laugh at things that are even stranger than the stuff they dealt with that day.
  4. Nurses have vast repertoires of interesting stories, most of which you will never hear because of patient confidentiality. They might tell you about the patient who was crawling with bugs or the man who had no idea who he was, but you have a much better chance of finding out on Facebook that your friend was in the hospital than from that friend’s nurse. And that fear that women have, that somehow the nurses will leak how much they weigh? Not even a chance. They value their jobs and the patient’s dignity much more than that. As a nurse’s spouse, I really don’t find out much about his work unless I listen to the stories when a bunch of nurses get together. That is when the tales come forth that would make a stoic sniffle. Or a maggot gag. It just depends on what is being discussed. You can’t really shock a nurse, and they aren’t afraid to talk about anything when with their own kind.
  5. Nurses are not in it for the money. This is a myth that I would like to dispel. The vast majority of people wouldn’t even touch this work without a lot more pay. It may be a cliche, but it’s true: Nurses are kind souls. They are trained to cheerfully respond to the irritating person who is constantly ringing the bell for attention. They change diapers on adults. They have to be able to care about their patients, yet expect little thanks. Many times they provide care for those who are dying and carefully explain what is happening to distraught family members. These are not really things one does for money. When a patient returns to the hospital, healthy and full of gratefulness, thanking their health care providers for attending their needs in a vulnerable time, it makes a nurse’s day. That is why they do what they do. They really like to help people.

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This is my favorite nurse. I am so grateful that he is using his gift to help bring healing and comfort to the world. (The schedule does stink, though, but that is just my personal opinion.)

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Schlabach Family Camping

I guess it wasn’t actually camping. Since my siblings have all procreated fairly steadily in the last decade, we have given up on rough camping. We found a cabin large enough to accommodate our needs and converged there. This post will be mainly pictures, for those of you who know my family and are interested. Apologies to anyone else.

Here we have my parents, affectionately known as Pops and Mama. We are so glad they fell in love a long long time ago. We are even more glad that they kept on loving and raised us in a happy home.

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Here is a line up of the offspring. It appears that we have now exceeded the bounds of one photo frame, so I have it in two. You can splice them in your mind right there by the little blue boy. There are five boys and twelve girls. Lots of drama in this family!

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I remember doing photo shoots like that when I was little. It was never as much fun for the children as the grownups. Oldest in our family is my brother Nate, who is turning 40 this year! Hi Nate! He and his wife are raising four lovely daughters.

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That’s Gabe and I with our crew in the second photo. Kenny is third in the line. We had the honor of meeting Jenica, the youngest of the entire crew, for the first time on this trip.

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Last, but certainly not least, there is Rachel and her family. She is turning 35 this year. Yup, that’s right. My Mama had four babies in less than five years. It was probably a lot of work for her, but it sure was a blast for us. For some reason Nate and I used to refer to Kenny and Rachel as “the little children” despite the fact that they were right on our heels. Probably that is why Rachel resented it so much when we called her the baby of the family.

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I have one photo that deserves a spot as the most delectable meal I have eaten in a long time. Kenny’s wife Carma served us this plate full of flavors that were just delightful. I can’t remember what it was called, but it involved chicken and mangoes and cilantro, among other ingredients. Isn’t it so purrrty?

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It was great to get away for a few days and just visit and eat and eat and visit. You know how it goes. It is also quite a bit more relaxing now that the most of the children play nicely together. The older ones found a game that kept them occupied for hours and hours. And the little girls… well they just kind of trolled around being mostly sweet.

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We are so blessed!

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Living it Up In the Garden

Our family had a weekend with the in-laws in Rome, unplugged by necessity, but actually it is a relief to be unreachable. Well, they do have land lines, but you have to take a walk up the hill for cell service and while you are doing that you feel the ridiculousness of constantly glancing at the bars on your phone when there is a panorama of rare beauty in the Endless Mountains.

I got up this morning with one thing on my mind: laundry. We had some full hampers when we left, so there was plenty of it! Then I opened the washer lid to see the load of towels and washcloths I had put in so they wouldn’t get stinky while we were gone. Alas, they had not gotten transferred to the dryer and were just plain… searching for a word here…. putrid. Wow, I thought to myself. What a great start!

Then I took a walk outside, checking on the gardens. I noticed that the weeds grew about 18 inches while we were away. Seriously, if you take your eyes off those things… As I strolled further, I saw that the tomatoes are in full bloom. And the row of Amish Pastes that I planted for sauces, they appear to be cherry tomatoes. Wow, I thought to myself, that little green house lady just messed with my summer. We can never keep up with just one cherry tomato plant. How about a whole row of them??? Gabe said hopefully they will get bigger, like develop into Amish Pastes after all. I am not holding my breath. Oh, the drama that can attend gardening.

We have whopping big broccoli heads ready to harvest, and the constant flow of green beans. But the best of all are the raspberries right now. We eat all we want, enough to make us sick, and still there are more. It is lovely. Wanna see the new variety Gabe planted?

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Aren’t they amazing? Five berries filled the palm of my hand. I am so grateful that Gabe takes care of the pruning and staking. Picking is more fun.

I also brought in our first cucumbers and sliced them up to eat with our breakfast eggs. They are so delightfully fresh that I think I will just throw out the store bought ones in the crisper drawer of the fridge.

On my way back into the house I noticed that the portulaca planted in the window boxes is nearly bursting itself with effort these days. My grandma liked these flowers, so in her memory I planted some this year. I had forgotten how sprightly and durable it is. I forget to water the window boxes too many days, yet it thrives. And every time I look at these flowers, I think of my grandma’s cement walkway scuffed by manurey chore boots going to the back door, yet bordered the whole length with a cheerful row of portulacas. That’s how my grandma was, and it makes me happy to think of her.

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I just read recently that the purslane that is the bane of my garden is a relative of portulaca and it is edible. I bet my grandma knew that too. I remember when she showed me a cheese plant with its diminutive seed pod that looks like a tiny wheel of Swiss. She urged me to eat it, and after that the play with the cousins included some foraging for snacks in the weeds. If you like edible wild plants, check this out. Here is how it looks.

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Now that the lettuce in the garden has bolted, I am considering a salad of purslane and mallow (cheese plant) with a generous side of freshly sliced cucumber. We could kill two birds with one stone, pull weeds and harvest lunch in one fell swoop. Sorry. It’s late and the idioms do tend to get out of the bag.

I LOVE this season even more than reading and writing. Maybe you noticed? I think heaven will be like May and June weather with the harvests of July and there won’t be weeds. I think heaven will be walking with my grandma through gardens that have no Japanese beetles endlessly chewing and making out in the raspberries. I think heaven will have plenty of zucchini for everyone but not too much.

What is your favorite thing about summer?

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June Recap

Wow. Two whole posts in June so far. I have missed this creative outlet, but not enough to stop washing lettuce and picking daisies. I want a whole year of May and June sometime. Oh wait, that would be heaven, yes? So I will get it someday. Minus the weeds, but flooded with berries.

Speaking of berries, I promised some people a recipe. Every time I make strawberry jam, I feel shocked at the quantities of sugar. It just seems wrong to use more sugar than berries. Technically that should be labelled “sugar jam” in the freezer. One day a few years ago I got to chatting with my favorite greenhouse ladies over in the Cove. (The same ones who served me rhubarb punch this spring… What can I say, we like each other.) The one with 8 children told me she was making strawberry jam that morning, and when she got back into the house her children had eaten most of it with spoons. She seemed very jolly about it, but my eyes must have betrayed my shock, because she hastily reassured me, “It’s the kind with hardly any sugar! Have you tried that?”

I hadn’t even heard of it, so she filled me in.

Crush or chop berries in the blender until you have 4 cups.

Mix 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup thermoflo, (the bulk food variation of clearjel that is formulated for canning and freezing)

Mix all together in saucepan and cook until thickened. I always add a splash of lemon juice as well.

It sounded too easy not to try, so I went home and did it. My children love it! I think that is mainly because nobody polices how much jam they put on their toast when they are eating “Kid Jam”. I took this jam along to the school hot lunch. One of the boys sheepishly admitted to eating six bread rolls, just for the jam. And he wanted the recipe. That was the first time ever that a 7th grade boy asked me how I made something. :D Gabe doesn’t care for the texture, almost like a very thick strawberry danish, but I use it to sweeten his Greek yogurt in his lunch, and for that it is great. So I usually try to make normal jam too, for him. We go through a lot of kid jam in a year though. This year we bought cheap berries at Aldi’s for the jam, since we would be cooking them anyway. It isn’t as bright red as usual, but here you are, visual proof in the form of grainy cell phone photos:

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Now that berry season is almost over, I helpfully give you the recipe for Kid Jam. Maybe you can try it on the overflow berries at the supermarket, too.

In the past few weeks so many things have happened that could distress one. The White House spotlighted in rainbow colors, ISIS atrocities, church people mown down with a gun in prayer meeting. More locally, my parents’ neighbor was tied down to a chair with wire ties by a person desperate for drugs. She sat there in her house, alone, for 2 days before her daughter found her. And now the news that my cousins’ Amish grandpa was brutally murdered in his home and his wife beaten severely.

The world is going mad. People are crazy, hopeless, dangerous. I hate the news.

God gave me this in Psalm 33:8-11, 20-22.

  Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
 For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.

 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.

 Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

We just sang “Shout for Joy” in choir this spring, so this Psalm means more to me than before. I read it and hear the music in my soul. That part about the plans of His heart for all generations, that is the intimate hand of God over the unwitting, stubborn people of all nations. He hasn’t lost track of anybody, even the ones who seem to have lost their minds. My hope is in the steadfast love of the Lord!

I wish I could see the big picture, like, what? is going on here? But since I can’t, I rest in the assurance that God always has the final word.

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You Can Tell a Lot About a Woman By Her Purse

I like a great mystery story, you know the way Sherlock Holmes deduces a life story from the callouses on a finger of the left hand. I really enjoy observing people. I love forming long hypothetical nonsense in my head about things I see. Not that that puts me anywhere near Sherlock Holmes, but my inner sociologist likes to deduce things too. :)

So I am here to suggest that the woman who shoulders the purse tends to the needs of the world. I used to wonder what in creation ladies kept in those cavernous bags, back in the day when I carried a pack of tissues, gum, and a wallet in something like this:

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I graduated to a small backpack in my traveling days, one in which I could safely carry passport, water bottle, facial cleansing wipes, a crossword puzzle book, journal, pens, granola bars, and extra cash.

Then I became a mother and I resisted the siren call of enormous bags bristling with pockets inside and out for as long as I could. I shuddered at those vinyl totes with pastel elephants and lions, settling instead for a green Eddie Bauer bag that I thought looked at least a little bit smart. After a while I couldn’t fit the stuff in, you know, all those wipes and extra clothes and teething gels and fat cardboard books with somewhere down in the bottom a lone credit card case rattling around. By the fourth child I succumbed. It still wasn’t technically a diaper bag, but it was definitely a Bag to Schlepp Things Around. It was washable, humble canvas, and it expanded beautifully. Like this.

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Then my babies all got potty trained and I quit giving them lollipops in the car unless we were almost home, and just like that I didn’t need to have a box of wipes with me in the quite likely event of emergencies. I have actually downsized. To this:

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I love this bag. When I bought it in a fit of color-starved spring madness, I loved it. Two years later I still do. It has pockets all over, deflates nicely when I am out on my own, is big enough to accommodate a hard cover book and a whole pile of staple mom-purse stuff. I told you I would show you what is in it, just for fun. Now I am squirming a bit, but you can laugh at me if you wish. I can even squirrel away an entire bag of Cadbury mini eggs in it. When I dumped it out on my bed, I counted over 50 things. Missing here are my phone, hand lotion and band aids. After a church service, I get the Bibles, Sunday school books, used tissues and candy wrappers from the visits with the Smartie Man.

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It’s how I roll. Maybe it runs in the family. A cousin of mine once discovered a screw driver in her handbag just as she was about to go through airport security. These days I think she carries duct tape. :O

Now that I have been around the block a few times in the purse carrying department, I have an idea that the svelte wallet carriers either have plenty of money to buy at any time what they can’t carry or else they don’t have people depending on them to produce mosquito repellent, spare undies, extra socks, glasses fix-it kits, phone chargers, or Tylenol. The alternate theory is that they prefer not to visit a chiropractor after jaunts on the town.

At any rate, if you are a woman who routinely has in your bag just what the people need, I say you should carry it with pride!

*These opinions are entirely my own and subject to grave error.*

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Odd Stuff and Owning Your Life

There are a number of quirky things in my life right now. I sort of like anomalies. They keep things interesting. And weird. Of all the things I wrote in my head in the weeks, the two I actually typed to post disappeared in unexplained computer glitches. Isn’t that hilarious?

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One of the library books we checked out in February was missing. We renewed it repeatedly and scoured this house, even going so far as deep cleaning the boys’ room. Finally today I called the library and told them we give up. I will pay for the book, but could they just check their shelves to be sure it wasn’t there. It was. They had missed it when they scanned the returned books. I did all that cleaning and digging and offering of reward money for a book that wasn’t even in the house.

We planted rye in our garden last fall to enrich the soil this spring. It felt so good to till that green manure under this spring and plant our peas nice and early. Until Gabe’s dad, the greenest thumb we know, told us that you have to wait a while to plant after you till the rye under, because it messes with the germination of seeds. I kept hoping he was wrong, but those peas did not come up and he was right. Two weeks later we replanted without that smug glow of earliness. At least it is supposed to be a cool, wet June, so the peas should still feel happy.

Then there was the wonderful feeling that the month of May was deliciously empty of assignments, yet I somehow managed to drag out portfolio finishing and homeschool evaluations until the last week of the month. I did it just because I had the luxury of time, but then it hung over my head the whole time. Silly me.

I am also interested in the fact that we made it through the entire winter, all seven of us, with only one episode of puking, and that with my husband working daily with sick people in the ER. And yet. Here we are, on the 10th day of a vicious stomach bug that is working its way through our family one person at a time. Yesterday I thought we were finally home free until I heard the familiar, “My belly hurts,” in my deepest sleep early this morning. Do you know how fast a mother can spring out of bed with fight or flight coursing through her veins as she grabs a bucket to shove under her child’s nose? It is very speedy indeed.

Most amusing of all is my perusal of  Own Your Life, by Sally Clarkson, in just about the most disorganized weeks ever. I did really enjoy the book. Here is why.

I like organization. I like the idea of having order and purpose to life. I like to have a clear vision of my role and a plan to fulfill it. However the reality is that I am a “fly by the seat of your pants” person deep inside. With discipline issues. :/  Recently I had an aha moment when I thought of what would happen to the wife of a nurse with weird working hours if she was incapable of dealing with irregularity, and I embraced my spontaneity a little more. Yet I liked Sally Clarkson’s book with it’s emphasis on calm and sanity.

In chapter one she talks about basic training in our lives: the soul stretching, mind numbing, mundane sameness of faithfulness. In our youthful dreams we don’t think about sagging curtains or ugly carpet or fighting children. We don’t assume that there will be illness or peevishness or cabbage worms. Our dreams are noble, full of greatness, which goes to show that we are meant to rise above the grittiness in life and flourish. Sally is an older woman now, recounting a moment when she realized that she had unhappily succumbed to a life of monotonous drudgery. This became her prayer, (page 9)

“No matter what happens…

 I will be as obedient as I can to

bring joy into this place,

create beauty in this wilderness,

exercise generous love,

persevere with patience.

I will choose to believe that wherever You are my faithful Companion

is the place where Your blessing will be upon me.”

I relate wholeheartedly with that prayer, with embracing the seasons of life, with deciding to like God’s will for me. Anybody out there with me?

I was challenged to identify the things that drain me, sources of life-noise and chaos that produce “sawdust souls”, as Sally describes it.

Chapter seven is titled “Allowing God’s Spirit to Breathe in You”. This, really, is where it’s at if I want abundant life instead of living constricted by human inabilities. When I keep tryst with the Lover of my Soul, I flourish; when I live in my own strength, I become impoverished nigh to death. This is a simple fact. I know what happens with constant activity, becoming preoccupied with all that needs to be done, where pressures cause harsh reactions to the people I love, all for lack of refueling my exhausted soul.

I think that the defining statement of the book is this: “Home is the stage where the play of your life is delivered. As you clarify your vision, accept your limitations, and cultivate grace, you are laying the foundations that will build influence and legacy… Own your home life, right where you are.” (page 201)

So that’s where I am right now, hugging life with all it’s rare oddness and boring sameness combined.

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What’s Up

So I wrote the purse post nine days ago, left it for some finishing touches, came back this morning and it is gone. I forgot to save it. In the meantime, my husband took some paid time off and had ten. consecutive. days. at. home. I say this for all of you kind souls who pity me on the weekends that he has to work: there are perks to the job. :) We filled and filled and filled our quality time love tanks. Wouldn’t it be nice to have overflow tanks to save up for those mandatory call-in days out ahead?

I have been doing random normal things like

  • pulling weeds and mulching
  • convincing my boys that civilized people sleep with sheets on the mattress
  • washing pond water stained swimming clothes every day
  • arbitrating arguments about who has the whitest armpits
  • deep cleaning my boys’ bedroom (whimper)
  • pulling ticks off little people (Tick Twister, folks. That’s what you want.)
  • finishing up my scholars’ portfolios and report cards for evaluations
  • chopping rhubarb and washing fresh lettuce
  • baking the perfect asparagus quiche
  • wearing flip flops
  • singing in choir programs every weekend
  • sewing replacement button eyes onto the most beloved stuffed puppy
  • being mad at the dog for destroying three! pairs of crocs in one day
  • cleaning and painting a house for my brother-in-law’s family to move into
  • learning how to use a French press
  • praying for a quiet heart

That is what happened to the purse post. Time for another go at it. Next time. :) Thanks for being so sweet about my very erratic schedule.

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Meandering Thoughts

Consider yourself warned. With a title like that, this post is going to toddle any which way.

I will start by telling you about my birthday, a day my husband only had a four hour shift. We planned to make a double celebration at the park, one facet being birthday cake and the other being all kinds of junk food for the children’s end-of-school party. They only get cheesy balls, cream soda, and gummy sharks after a Tremendous Effort: an entire term of studying culminated in a wonderful bash of cheetle fingers and sticky pop.

We had loaded our trailer with bikes and fishing gear and chairs. I had my new book, the one I bought as a present to the teacher of the children. And I had their year-end presents, always books. Fresh ones, of course. It is the highlight of our year. I put a lot of time into choosing stories they will enjoy. Maybe sometime I can post the list of this year’s picks. They were an exceptional success, according to the boys.

Gabe and the boys fished for hours. I am astounded at the patience that surrounds the art of fishing. While they stayed at one spot, the girls and I went on a walk, then we went to the bathroom. Twice. I took pictures. We rifled through the picnic basket for more snacks. The girls biked and colored and found wild flowers. And the guys just. Fished. Then Rita got into it as well. Gregory was immersed in his book, only surfacing every 10 minutes to ask about when we are going to eat the cake. As long as there are written words and sugary carbs in his life, he is perfectly contented.

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I slipped away by myself for a meditating sort of walk, which was lovely. The trees were madly abloom, and riotous with birdsong. I started out feeling kind of complicated. It is bewildering to find that the years between 28 and 38, which feels like very little time at all, have slipped away. How did this happen? This amazingly convoluted life with its intricacies of relationships and making a living and keeping life graceful? Part of being a wife/mother is losing yourself for the sake of other people, and in the shuffle of it all it is easy to become impoverished in soul.

I struggle with the term “me-time” for various reasons, but it is an undeniable fact that life flows much more sweetly when I maintain a quiet heart, whatever it takes to do that. Lakeside reading helps. :)

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As I was walking, I noticed the Baltimore orioles swaying and drinking nectar out of the blooming trees, then flying to the tip-top to sing their hearts out. There were cardinals doing their dip-dip-dip flight beside the path and bluebirds flashing brilliant blue from bush to bush. I saw herons flapping along and Canada geese bossing everybody who got close. Every one of them was going about the business of family making. The longer I thought about how they just catch their bugs and find the right twigs to reinforce the nest and stand guard over their babies, the more I got the parallels. It appears to be a charmed life, very uncomplicated. I doubt any mother bird goes to bed cogitating about how she got to be 38. She is just grateful to still be alive, wouldn’t you say, as she busily sorts the worms into the right beaks. Gabe thought I may have taken the allegory a little far, but Jesus did tell us to consider the fowls of the air. So I did. :) And it didn’t feel so complicated anymore. Bird-brained. I suggest we begin to use that term for blithesome trust.

I have spent so much time outside in the sun this week that my skin feels crackly. Today I planted ornamentals in the pots on the deck and herbs in my plot in the garden. The baby basil was so little that I will have to coddle it, but it smelled amazing. I can taste Caprese salad already. To my annoyance, the dog deliberately plodded over my parsley plants, but it looks like it will survive. If not, there is a pot of it on the deck, as well as one of mint, lemon balm and yarrow. This is the first year I had the bright idea to fill out my planters with bits of perennials that I already have in my flower beds. I dug out hosta plugs and used the ivy I had kept in the house over winter. All winter my mom babied our geraniums from last year in her sunny windows, so I only needed a few things to round out the containers. Whenever the children get bored this summer I will automatically say, “Go water the plants on the deck.”

They have been swimming in the pond for a week now, these brave little tykes of mine. “It’s not cold! Come on! Join us!” they say. I politely decline and sit on the bank. There are too many fish in there, and too much squishy mud on the bottom.

Yesterday Gabe brought home a beautiful bouquet of cut flowers for an early Mother’s Day, since he is obliged to work tomorrow. The children have industriously followed his lead. Rita practically climbed a tree to break off dogwood branches. She brought me so many that I had to use the juice pitcher for a vase. Gregory found a scarlet trillium and a white one, as well as some pink mallows and other wildflowers that I can’t name. I have lilacs in our bedroom, tulips here and there, a huge jar full of yellow daisies, also gathered by Rita in the woods. I read this progressive article about Mother’s Day, where it was suggested that flowers may not be the most appropriate expression of esteem for a mother. “Here, let me just cut off the reproductive parts of lots of plants and give them to you,” the author stated sarcastically. I am still rolling my inner eyes, but if she prefers chocolate she can have it.

Let me show you what our ornamental tree looks like right now. And of course, that dreamy garden shed that my husband designed and built.

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And now.

I have a trivia question for you. Take a guess as to how many things you carry in your purse/hand bag/diaper bag/Thirty-one tote if that is how you roll. Then count and see how many items you actually had. I promise I will show you the contents of mine just for fun.

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Growing Up

The conversation at the supper table was all about what we want to be when we grow up. Of course, the children have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, since they hold the erroneous assumption that I have now reached what I want to be and it’s all downhill from here.

Gregory likes art and books, so he may be looking at a life as a librarian or a teacher. Olivia wants to be a nurse and Rita is dithering between being a doctor or an artist, presumably once one side of her brain gets precedence over the other side. Alex isn’t saying, because he is old enough to know that he will change his mind, most likely. The other children say he will be an engineer or a preacher or an inventor or something leaderish. :) As for Addy, she is earnestly anticipating a career as a peaceful Indian. She also has grand delusions about all the amazing presents she will give us all once she grows up, chests of gold and jewels for the ladies, cars for the boys, anything they want. Given her current circumstances, she had better look for lost pirate hoards when she gets big.

I was struck by something. In my somewhat sheltered childhood, I never mentioned any of the things they said they want to be, because it simply wasn’t done. (Actually, I do remember the librarian dream, because I couldn’t imagine any happier place than surrounded by books.) Higher education wasn’t done. People stayed close to their roots and happily raised families very similar to how they themselves were raised. I think the simplicity tended to an almost idyllic peacefulness. Sometimes I wonder what I would have chosen to study if I would have had the option of going to college. But I was much too conventional to push for anything that would have rocked the boat. It was part of the culture and I didn’t really consider venturing outside of the safety of our world.

Did you ever have a moment when you wondered, “This? This… hard work… is what I spent all that effort growing up for?” And you want to tell the children to just slow down and enjoy their Ranger Rick and Legos and being told what to do and when to go to bed. Not to sound negative, or anything, but there are times when I wish to run from responsibilities, to stop being the tired middle-aged person with all this stuff on her mind and this back log of things that need to be done, the passel of grubby children needing attention.

At those times, I hear this voice in my head, (It might be Elisabeth Elliot or Sally Clarkson or Rachel Jankovic or even Marabel Morgan…) “Stop whining,” it says. “This is life, all this stuff that needs to be done today is life, and you get to live it. What did you want? A useful sojourn in a coffee shop, scrolling through social media and posting gorgeous pictures of your outfit and your new sunglasses?” If I don’t feel sufficiently chastened by this inner voice, I want to be sassy and say, “No, but I would take a cook and a maid so I can at least be lazy over coffee and finish this book.” Then I laugh at myself and set myself to the task of learning to enjoy the things that need to be done. I make it a practice to look into my children’s faces, wash the grime off tenderly, feel the different bone structures, sense the miracle of these little people. And I look for things to laugh about.

Last week our blueberries came, the ones Gabe ordered for containers on the deck. Tophat blueberries, they are called in the catalogs. I called him, excited, and said, “The ‘tow-fat’ blueberries are here!” He was quiet in a Huh? kind of way, then kindly said, “Honey. Those are top-hat blueberries.” The resulting fit of giggles grew into near hysteria. It was precisely what I needed to release some of the stresses I was having a hard time dealing with.

Maybe someday I will be grown up enough that it all comes effortlessly. I hope that when I get big, serving others joyfully will have become my default mode. Raising a family certainly should give us enough practice, not?

I mentioned that I am reading Sally Clarkson’s new book, Own Your Life. I am being challenged to identify sources of chaos in my life, things that divide my heart and make me unthankful, interruptions that I bring upon myself. For this season, it is a very convicting read for me. I am taking it chapter by chapter, searching my heart and letting God’s Spirit speak to me. When I am done with the book, I will do a review. :)

Chin up, my friends. The best is yet to come! Oh yes, it is!

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and now, just for fun… artist unknown.

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