wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

The Farmer’s Wife Says, “Enough”

The farmer’s wife wanted to make noodles: long, straight, eggy noodles. But she found that her kitchen was too small for the long noodles and she was exasperated as she went in search of the farmer. “Dear,” he sighed, running his calloused hands through the sparse hair on the back of his head, “you know we don’t have the funds to enlarge the kitchen.”

“It’s the whole house,” she shrilled. “I can hardly move in the bedroom either, and you know how it is when your cousin comes over with his wife and ten children! People sitting on the floor!”

“I will go see Neighbor Wiseman today,” he promised wearily. Neighbor Wiseman was old enough to have seen most any trouble you could bring to him, so old that he usually suggested startlingly simple solutions. There was nothing complicated or expensive about his advice and the farmer trusted him. After unloading his problem he waited patiently while Neighbor Wiseman stared at the clouds.

“Errhrmm,” Wiseman cleared his throat and looked around vaguely for the farmer. “What you need to do is bring the chickens inside.” The farmer was a little surprised but he remembered how well he had been served by Neighbor Wiseman’s insights in the past.

The chickens pecked under the table, messed a few times, even laid surprise eggs, but his wife was still unhappy. The old man kept suggesting that they bring more animals inside until there was a goat eating the curtains, a dog napping on the bed, and a cow parked smack in the doorway looking out over the porch.

The farmer had to crawl out of a window to get out. “This is terrible advice! Our house is too small for all these animals and it is not helping!”

Neighbor Wiseman smiled and suggested one more change, “Ask your cousin and his family over for dinner.”

“We would love to,” the farmer said, “but they wouldn’t even be able to get inside the door!”

“You are ready to take out the animals,” Wiseman observed sagely. So they did. They pushed that lazy cow off the porch, banished the curtain-eating goat, woke the annoying dog, and shooed the constantly scratching chickens out to the yard. The farmer’s wife looked around her home and and smiled.

“I never knew how big our house is! And look at all these eggs!” Singing a cheerful little ditty, she got out her mixing bowl and some flour and started to make noodles.

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So that is my paraphrase of a story I read with Olivia. It spoke to me in an every-day-ish way. I am currently the farmer’s wife sorting out the superfluous things that are crowding my house. It is one of my February goals, along with writing every day, so you can be quite sure you will hear more about it.

I have now removed several cattle from the boys’ bedroom and the traces of an annoying dog who spent time in the school room. Yesterday the flock of chickens in my reading room went to their proper roosts and now it is a restful room again.

Today? I will probably just make noodles.

 

 

 

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Capitulate: Yield, Concede Defeat

Yesterday  I described myself as a sort of free-range parent, by which I mean that my children have the freedom to explore and make stuff and figure out how things work after school is done. But yesterday the boys and I ranged right down to their room with a carpet shampooer after school was done. On the surface things were dusty and disorganized, but not too bad. We hauled all the small bits out, dusting and washing walls as we progressed in the emptying out.

Alex was in a great mood for cleaning, “Mama, do you think I should just pitch this?” My answer was always, “Yes! YES!” Over the years we have had many “discussions” about his treasures. As a two year old he always found a stick or a rock he wanted to keep in the time it took to get from the vehicle to the door.  The treasures changed with age, but there were just too many of them. It felt like a breakthrough in our mother/son relationship yesterday as we chucked out the broken wooden guns, the ancient hummingbird nest, the empty shell casings, the used albuterol inhalers. When I saw those inhalers, about 10 of them, I knew we have a throwback. My grandpa kept empty insulin bottles for decades. We filled a trash bag and put some outgrown things on a Goodwill stack. This is a breathless achievement for a packrat  saving person. The happiest moment for Gregory was finding 9 long lost dollars that he had hidden in a hard cover book and completely forgotten.

After the carpets were cleaned, it was time to reassemble. I had an idea of how I wanted the room to look and they had ideas of how they wanted the room to look, and ne’er the twain did meet. Have you ever seen those Ikea clips, where they do room makeovers and everything just looks so amazing? That was what I would have liked. They wanted a lot of floor space to dump the Knex and wrestle and sprawl.

A memory from childhood surfaced, of how my mom would coach us in getting our space sparkling clean, then leave us to put it back together with never a word about how we had to do it. It was such a thrill to rearrange furniture and we could figure out on our own if having a bed sticking out by the door was impractical. I decided to defer to the boys yesterday, but I wasn’t very gracious about it because I kept making suggestions. I can tell you though, their room now has flavor, with dressers and shelves marching around the walls and the bed stuck tightly into a corner like an afterthought. Every flat surface is adorned with Lego creations and dinosaurs and there is this enormous crane that towers on a nightstand.

But it is clean. All of it. I win.

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Anybody Can Do It

Over the years we have learned a few coping strategies for squeezing all the fun out of a family camping trip. That could be taken two ways, I suppose. The year we were in tents in a deluge that lasted for days? No fun. At all. The ancient cabin on a lake in the UP? Charmed, every minute of the time. If you do your strategizing ahead of time, even the dreaded unpacking is not so bad.

Strategy number 1. Pack a camping/picnic tote that stays packed in storage whenever you are not out. This has been a game changer for me. A few years ago I bought a large, sturdy, lifetime-guarantee tote with a lid that locks down tightly. In it I packed all the things I always ended up packing every time we went for a day at the lake or on overnight jaunts.

  • dishpan, ratty tea-towels and dishcloths, bottle of Palmolive
  • paper towels, roll of trash bags, ice cream bucket
  • clothesline and clothespins, firestarters
  • mosquito spray, hand sanitizer in a pump, matches
  • aluminum foil and assorted aluminum pans, gallon ziploc bags, coffeepot
  • flexible cutting mat, old cooking utensils that I won’t stress over losing
  • mugs, (we hate drinking out of styrofoam) plastic cups labelled with each person’s name, plastic spoons and forks sturdy enough to be washed

I customize the cookware stuff before each outing. Sometimes we just need roasting sticks, or a stockpot, or maybe a frying pan. We eat off paper plates, but the rest gets washed. Labelling the water cups eliminates a lot of washing. I went so minimalist this time that we didn’t have enough drinking cups when we got company. :/ We pull a trailer behind our Suburban, usually for the bikes and fishing gear, but this time I packed everything except clothes in totes. They were in categories and labelled clearly: towels and sheets, games and activities, food stuff, snowpants, etc. etc. I liked how shipshape this kept the cabin. Well, sort of shipshape. One tote, emptied, became the hamper. This made homecoming and laundry sorting really easy. Do you have any idea how many dirty clothes can fit in a tote?

Strategy number 2. Let the children each pack one backpack/duffle bag. This is for clothes and treasures and it is ample. If they protest, I tell them that I once did a 6 week international trip with just a carry-on bag. What doesn’t fit doesn’t go along. If you think you can’t live without the stuffed puppy, you are going to have to leave something else behind. It’s helpful to make a list of how many outfits for how many days, and just chill with their choices. The more camo, the better. Pj’s can be worn day and night. Nobody cares. Camping is not a fashion show. Once they think they have everything they need, a parent does a cursory luggage check. Each child is responsible for his own luggage the entire time. Load it, unload it, keep it out of harm’s way, put your stuff back in it, zip it up. You people with small children, just wait. It’s coming soon! I helped my little girls pack their clothes, but they did the rest.

Strategy number 3. Provide some activities for rainy days. It will happen, especially if you are depending entirely on sticks and rocks and sand to entertain the children. While we are pretty free-range in our parenting style, (if you tell me you are bored, I will find something for you to do and it might not be fun) we try to remember that camping is not just for adult relaxation. It’s a great chance to bond and play together for hours away from pressures and technology.

Strategy number 4: Keep it simple. Remember my food menu? :) Keep it local. Try to become well acquainted with the area you are camping in and milk it for all it’s worth: trails, geo-caches, nature programs, scenic overlooks, birdwatch areas, swimming, boating, whatever. If you think your people need theme parks and ice cream to be happy, fine. But remember that if you go out and about you are going to have to shower the people and hope to goodness they packed a decent outfit.

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Strategy number 5: Do not complain about lack of comforts. Just do something about it. My brother once installed an air conditioner in his tent’s doggy door. Take what you need to feel prepared, but if you miss something obvious, it’s best not to articulate it.  I tell you, if you voice unhappiness, every short person will pick it up and join you in the chorus, loud and clear. I was deeply disturbed when I thought of an unheated outhouse, modern or not, in 20 degree weather in pitch dark, on a trail in the creepy bushes. It was not something that I was going to be able to cope with well. That Luggable Loo seat saved the nights. Installed on a trash-bag-lined 5 gallon bucket, with a layer of Feeline Pine kitty litter in the bottom to absorb moisture, it worked like a charm and I have to say, I felt quite proud of my foresight. Gabe and I no longer enjoy sleeping on the ground, so we camp in cabins with bunks. We like sites with electricity and running water. If there is something you dislike about camping, there is probably a solution for you. (Have you seen those folding recliners?) It just depends on what you are willing to schlepp along.

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Easy Peasy Camp Food

When we camp it seems that much activity centers around the food. The Pinterest search I did for great camp food brought up grills and skewers and lots of men standing around drooling while meat juices drip. I veered off on a completely different tack, since I had no desire to coddle a charcoal grill in 20 degree weather. I could have happily lived with cereal or protein bars for the duration, but I don’t like when people talk about how much their stomachs are groaning (Addy’s words) and it is equally disturbing when the polite child sidles up and whispers,  “Is there anything to eat?”

My game plan for this trip was to make a menu of Sustaining Foods, carefully think of portions, cook the dishes ahead of time, and not have any leftovers to bring home. At the last minute I threw in a bag of tater tots and a few packs of hotdogs with a bottle of ketchup just for a bit of  a buffer.  This turned out to be a smart move, because there were no restaurants close to the park and we were much too eager to get to our rental to spend time casting around for one. So the arrival banquet was just that. Hotdogs and tater tots. Yummy.

Here’s my Easy Peasy Camping Menu:

  • Breakfast One- Pancakes (just add water, thanks to Aunt Jemima) with some extra toppings like nutella and peanut butter, sausage patties, hot chocolate or coffee (Gabe cooked this meal. Gregory did the dishes. Win for me.)
  • Supper One- Baked potatoes with hamburger topping, lettuce, sour cream, fresh veggies-plain, because I forgot the Ranch dip. (I cooked. I mean I wrapped the potatoes in foil. The rest was precooked at home. Alex washed the dishes.) For a dessert/bedtime snack we made monkey bread, very dry because I forgot the extra sugar sauce, but tolerable when dipped in hot chocolate.
  • Breakfast Two- Scrambled eggs with cheese, cinnamon raisin toast, coffee, oranges
  • Supper Two- Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, assorted store-bought confections for dessert. (Is a double-stuffed oreo a confection?)
  • Breakfast Three- cereal and milk so that cleanup would be quick and easy before we had to check out.
  • Supper Three- a restaurant on the way home.

Maybe someone is interested in the snack list. Because we all know what happens with growing children. (What? You can’t be. We JUST ATE.) To minimize this frustration I took along a bag of apples, a bag of clementines, a jar of peanut butter, a hunk of cheese, some lunchmeat, extra bread and butter, and a few packs of Ramen. After we made the pretzel cabins, there were those to nibble on as well. If you didn’t like the selection, you weren’t hungry, and I heartlessly stuck to that.

This plan worked pretty well. I didn’t have to take any seasonings except salt and pepper because I had taste-tested everything in my home kitchen. Even so it seemed that we ended up with a ridiculous pile of supplies. There were just a few leftovers in the fridge after each meal, enough to drop into the cracks of the hungriest children. :) Gabe thought to casually mention to me during our drive that he had invited his sister and her family for Friday night. She would bring extra food he said. That was great, only there was no cell service unless you hiked a few miles, so Ruby and I were not in touch. She brought whatever worked for her, and I heated the leftover potatoes and toppings and then she cooked our Saturday breakfast so that we were fortified with more than cereal on the drive home.

The drive home ended up being through Jonas the Storm. The restaurant meal plan was flawed, alas. “Oh well,” I told the children, “we won’t starve. We still have our cheeks.”

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And that is how it ended, our vehicle just barely off the road and a snowed-in weekend. :)

I have one more camping post, all about ways to make it doable with a family. Until tomorrow!

 

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Winter Camping: Stuff to Do

It was fun! But we expected that. We took ourselves, the family circus, along. ;) Sorry to be so conceited, but there was a point in our wedded life where we figured out that we don’t need a lot of other people to have a good time. There is a time and place for parties and crowds and there is a time and place to regroup with quiet simplicity. The two are rarely synonomous. Of course, dreaming of reading a book by the fire for hours means a woman must plan ahead wisely concerning activities for the plentiful energies of the offspring.

I did a bit of sleuthing online and discovered the duct tape craze that has been around for quite a while, apparently. The rolls of fancy duct tape are kind of small, but I chose a variety of colors and patterns at Walmart and hid them deep in the bowels of my bedroom. This is necessary when you live with the sorts of creative people who find a fresh roll of tape a sort of siren call to make and do. I also packed some craft knives and a cutting mat. (Just before we left home I let Alex watch youtube videos of people crafting with duct tape and he took it from there. Hours, people, hours of wallet making and duct tape flowers, etc. Worth every penny.)

The children looked longingly through a shipment of Usborne coloring books recently. “Nope, nope, nope,” I told them. “Don’t even think of starting in one of those.” But I secretly stuck a few detailed coloring books and my best gel pens and felt-tipped markers into my activities tote. (Hours, hours, of creative fun. Even Gabe got into it.)

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We never go anywhere without books. January was Read-Aloud-Challenge month, so I tried to pack books that everybody would enjoy listening to, as well as easier chapter books for the girls. Cheaper by the Dozen is always a good choice. “Sometimes I wish I was an only child,” someone was heard to mutter and we all laughed and said, “You are just quoting Ernestine.” It totally took the wind out of his sails. Another series we have been working through in fits and starts is The Mysterious Benedict Society. You know you have a winner when a blase’ teenager can’t help but read with all the voices and expressions and every time he quits the little girls demand, “READ.”

For myself I took Forgiventhe book written by Terri Roberts describing the terrible journey of hurt and healing after her son shot the little girls in the Nickel Mines school. I did read beside the fire with a flashlight after the children were in bed.

I am not really good at the gingerbread houses at Christmas time thing, but I like the idea. Once again I found the web to be an inspiration and amassed a few bags of various pretzels, some fanciful candies and a batch of royal icing. It seemed an appropriate thing to do while camping. I helped Addy, of course. Gabe helped Olivia. But nobody helps Rita. I loved her claim shanty with its animal paddock. She was serenely unbothered by its unorthodox look.

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The rest of the space in the activities tote was games: Settler’s of Catan, Canasta, Boggle, Chess, Monopoly, etc. Oh, yes, and in a crack went a portable DVD player and Where the Red Fern Grows, although I was skeptical that the girls could handle the sad parts. They duck around a corner when the scenes get too tear-jerking.

We were just delighted with the 8 sided Tyler cabin. I include the second pic so you can see our totes and firewood on the trailer.

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Everybody in the family thinks Lady could just live with us, in our space and stuff. All but me. There I put my foot firmly DOWN. But she did like to be with us in the cabin, toenails clicking on the wood floor as she did laps, looking for someone to throw her toy.

We spent a good bit of time outside, naturally. The trails ran right past the cabin, so it was great for strolling through a few inches of powdery snow. Just up the road was the frozen lake where we rented skates for all and bought hot chocolate at the commissary. There were about 6 other people on the ice. No worries about getting into anybody’s way. These two spent most of the first hour sprawling and hauling each other back upright. I was surprised with their cheerfulness over losing their feet repeatedly. Until the sun went down and they got cold, that is.

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Yup, it was fun.

Coming tomorrow: Easy Peasy Camp Food

(and I promise I will get to the Luggable Loo one day)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Top 5 Reasons Why We Camp in State Parks

I know you all want to hear about our winter camping adventure. Here it is, February, so I can finally tell you about it. I have been saving it up. Actually, I have been doing laundry and washing road salt off Rubbermaid totes and spending three days in the company of a whiny stomach bug. Also I have been teaching cursive E and hosting company and reading aloud every day. I have been learning to stop abusing the ellipses. I badly wanted to insert one there, but Grammarly rapped my knuckles.

When I told my friend Amy that we are going camping in January, she said, “That’s not vacation!” I think she may have been referring to the facilities, or lack of them. Here is why we camp in state parks despite that objection, in 5 handy-dandy reasons:

  1. We get rejuvenated in nature. I ask no better form of relaxation than a stroll on a well-maintained, well-marked trail through unspoiled woods. This is something Gabe and I want to pass on to our children: “Alone with God” and all that. Stuff doesn’t scream so loudly, troubles tend to assume more manageable proportions, there is no wi-fi and little cell service, and if you go during off-peak seasons there are no other people.
  2. We appreciate camping cabins. Tents are fine for some seasons, but actual bunks with mattresses, hooks to hang up jackets, shelves for each child’s treasures are fine for other seasons. I don’t sneeze about electric heaters either, and light switches to hit when things go bump. At one time I would have sneered at the poshness of it, but I have opened my mind a bit. The lack of plumbing tends to off set the poshness anyway.
  3. We like affordable things. We just have to face it, the beach is too far away from central Pennsylvania for us to trot there every time we feel like it. (Also, people don’t walk around naked in state parks, a small consideration, surely.) On this recent trip, we spent less than $400 on fuel and lodging for 7 people (3 nights) and it was built to accommodate 12. That is not including the tote full of special foods to cook on sticks (just kidding, we had a stove and fridge) and the tote full of fun activities for middle of January camping, of course.
  4. We value learning about things, any things, all things. State parks have calendars crammed full of educational and low-budget fun. Many of their programs are free, paid by our hard-earned tax dollars, of course. The activities were a little sparse in mid-winter, but there was a snowshoeing class and a large ice rink cleared on the ice for skating. There was geo-caching all around the park, even though the caches were hard to find under snow. But the great thing? Those vacation days totally count as school days because we learned stuff while we were just hanging out with each other.
  5. We like being around nice people. By that I mean family-friendly people who understand that a little boy hatcheting firewood is as natural as breathing. I cannot remember ever meeting a creepy person or even an especially grouchy person at a state park and I watch for them ever since I read The Shack. I did see in the news that a criminal was hiding out in a local campground, but people ratted on him. Apparently all the fresh air and exercise keep campers alert and they look out for each other. :)

There you have it, my nice, attention grabbing title and a list. Is there anything you would like to add?

There is also this image, poached off the internet, of the dam at Parker Dam State Park, although when we were there the water was quite frozen and the entire 20 acre lake would have been fine for skating.

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See you tomorrow!

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A Broad Range of Conversations

 

We had another of those What I Want to Be When I Grow Up conversations last week. Gregory has a good plan, “I know what I want to do when I grow up…” I waited for him to sort it out and tell me more. “The only problem is that I keep forgetting what it is. I know it’s a really good thing but I can never remember for more than a few days. The next time I think of it, I am going to write it down!” 

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Rita confided to me that when she grows up and has children, she will spank them when they are naughty. I raised my eyebrows, a little surprised that this aspect of child rearing held such importance to her. “I will do it because I love them and don’t want them to be brats. And they will probably ask me if I am Amish. I will tell them, ‘No, but I have Amish blood. From my mom!'”

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There are various projects going on currently in our immediate family. Gabe and his brother Thaddaeus are both building small barns and Grandpa is always making something. Olivia had an astute observation for us, “The thing about Peight men is they all like to dream.” I believe some would call it visionary, and she is right. They all do have that quality.

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My teen friend from the Old-order Mennonite community was telling me about their disappointment in the lack of serious winter weather. “I don’t care about snow,” she explained, “so long as it chust gives ice for hockey.”

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Recently I did some babysitting for a friend. It was breakfast time and the children were hungry. “My mama makes the best pancakes!” the little girl said. I told her we were having eggs, which she thought was a good idea, with just a small variation. “Sometimes my mama makes eggs and pancakes! She makes the best pancakes!” I grinned and asked if she is disappointed about not having pancakes. “Oh no!” she hastened to say, “this is fine.” I poured water into cups for each child. “My mama sometimes gives us milk to drink,” she said politely. “And she makes the best pancakes.” I think I need to ask my friend for her recipe. :)

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The original idea for Gabe’s week of vacation from work was to travel somewhere where the sun actually shines. (Here? It has been grey for about 93% of the days this winter, with only occasional patches of brilliance. We have had lots of warm days, though, even balmy, so I cannot complain, even though the children pray daily for snow and ice.) But then we thought about spending two of those vacation days traveling, and we came up with a different plan. Something about driving long distances with children just changes one’s perspective on travel.

Have you ever tried winter camping? We haven’t either, but we hope to. In a state park’s log cabin, with heat, with a kitchen, with bunks. Just one small thing: without a bathroom. This is just a minor glitch, no problem. But January. Little girls who need to go potty in the night. I envisioned us bundling up in coats in the pitch darkness, making sure anybody who remotely may need the facilities wakes up to trek along a flashlighted path through the bushes to the toilets. I actually lost a little sleep, thinking about solving this problem. A little research brought up lots of ideas, the most portable being a luggable loo seat that snaps onto a standard 5 gallon bucket. I ordered it from wonderful Amazon at 3AM on Friday morning.

When Gabe got up, I did that thing I do sometimes, assuming that he knows the whole backstory in my head. I started telling him how I ordered a luggable loo seat because there is no way I want to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He looked at me in shocked disbelief. “Hon, it’s all of ten feet from the bed to the bathroom.” After my own shock wore off, I understood that he thought I was planning to install it in our bedroom at home.

Communication. It’s pretty important, folks. Also listening. Context helps, too.

And, just for funny:

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Here’s my personal challenge for this week: Put down your phone. Look at people when they talk to you. Really hear the words your children say. Write it down if it is delightful or wise. And don’t forget to actually visit. It wouldn’t hurt to make great pancakes some morning, too.

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I Just Wanted to Hang up the Coats

Back when we first thought the weather might turn cold, I surveyed the coat storage situation and divided the amount of space by the number of people in the household, coming up short every time. It’s just that the children’s coats keep getting bigger, we don’t have a closet for them, and I prefer them off the floor. Hallways are wasted space, in my opinion, so I used to have a picture gallery in mine. Then I got tired of dusting the frames, took all of them down and hung a row of hooks on white boards. Like this:

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Nothing fancy, but they did the trick. And now I found myself without space for the “fat coats”. Needing another hook rail, I zipped off to Amazon, found what I needed, and two days later it was at my door. It was a ridiculously large box with an ominous rattle. I opened it to find a rail with two hooks attached, one rolling around loose like, and one missing altogether. Ugh. I checked my options, decided I didn’t have time in the near future to run to the UPS drop off store 7 miles away. So I checked off “Buy postage, get reimbursed up to $7.50” and trundled to the post office 1 mile away. When the nice lady behind the counter cheerfully announced $12 something, something, I said, “No, thanks, I guess I will take it to the UPS store, but thank you anyway,” and got out of there.

Amazon had immediately processed my return, and two days later another ridiculously large box sailed onto the front porch. This time the hook rail was swathed in bubble wrap and intact. They gave me a month to return the messed up one. I forgot about it for a long time (about 27 days), then my conscience smote me one day and I made a point of going to the UPS store. But I forgot to print out the prepaid return label. No big deal; how much could it really be? When the nice lady behind the counter cheerfully announced $16 and something, I exhaled slowly and said, “Thanks, but no thanks. I will come back once I have the prepaid label,” and I felt so cheap that I bought a really nice mug in her gift shop before I left.

I came home and immediately printed out the label, put that plaguey box right beside the door where I couldn’t forget it. Two days later, a ridiculously large box came sailing onto my front porch with yet another hook rail, this time swathed in bubble wrap and filled all around with airpacs. “No!” I wailed. Amazon had told me if I didn’t return the damaged goods within a month, I would be charged for two items. I only needed one. But I had already printed out the label for the messed up one. I know what will happen two days later if I return the third one.

I looked in vain for a number or email account to square with them about my order. It was a little like that time I couldn’t find the matches at Walmart. It wasn’t there. Nobody was there.

I decided to honor my original plan. Today. My glasses were in, ready for pick up and the kids had Book-it coupons for Pizza Hut, so I would be driving right past the UPS store from point A to point B. I loaded up everybody except the dog. It was raining and cold and I felt a little grouchy about my errands. But pizza. No supper cooking. It was 3:00 when I rolled up to the UPS store. The nice lady was not behind the counter. They are closed on Saturday.

The children were chomping pizza. No hair off their chinny chins. At 3:10 I parked across from Wise Eyes. They closed at 2 PM on Saturdays.

I went to Walmart and got toothpaste and shampoo. I forgot the matches.

Alex and I installed the extra hooks in my reading room, behind the door. I can hang my purse there. I am past caring. All I wanted was to hang up some coats.

 

 

 

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Things to Do

Guess what was the first thing I did in the new year, right after supervising the gun-shooting boys in the backyard? It wasn’t drinking bubbly or eating cheesecake, not by a far shot! Oh well, you will never guess. The first thing I did in the year of 2016, 12:01 AM? I helped clean up a puddle in the basement made by a very excited dog who couldn’t hold her bladder in the blasting excitement of the shotgun. I am not superstitious, but it did irritate me a little.

It’s all fresh this morning. It is snowing! At last, at last the precipitation is coming down in acceptable form. We had omelettes for breakfast and French vanilla tea and coffee from Honduras. The dishes are cleared away, the husband went to work, the dog is outside, wistfully looking in, the children get the day off school, and I have a witty memoir to read. All is well.

I have no plans for complicated anything today. I may need to settle some fights and feed a few people and I do hope to clear out the boxes that are stacked in my reading room where the chair is supposed to be. Nine. Nine! Boxes of books for the refugee children. Not to crow, or anything, but you folks who so generously supported my fundraising dream deserve to see what we have done together. There are beginning English flashcards and ABC wipe-cleans and First Hundred Words in English and First Thousand Words in English. There are Thing to Spot and Mazes and sticker books and story books. There are dot to dots and doodle books and lots and lots of science readers full of bright pictures. I took them all out of the boxes and stroked them lovingly. I prayed over those books, and now I am sending them along up the chain. I have no idea what will happen with them all, but thank-you, thank-you, all who shared!

refugee books

There are a few things I want to do this year. Topmost among my goals, of course, is being a keeper of our home. Keepers (think zookeepers) feed and water and clean out stinky stuff and make habitats that are welcoming. I see this as a life work, with no apologies to anybody who thinks it is impossibly restricted and limiting. It is harder than you think. Can I hear an amen from the mothers present? Yesterday my little girls drew pictures for me:

This is how they see life right now and it makes me very glad. I am not raising my children in a bubble of happy, where nothing nasty ever happens. I show them sad pictures in the news and we pray for homeless people and broken situations. They know that these things are possibilities. But I am fighting fiercely for their innocence, for their purity, for their emotional stability. I am working toward kindness and honesty and no name-calling.

Recently we had a discussion about secret sins, Gabe explaining to the children that this is when we do things that we think nobody will find out. Like cheat on homework, or sneak someone else’s chocolate, or poach things out of the fridge when Mama isn’t looking. We all looked at Rita and grinned and she said, “Oh, yeah, I have secret sins. I mean, no, I just have secrets! Plans and stuff.” Those plans do include my sewing scissors oftener than I like. There is still much to do this year!

I want to write more. When I started selling Usborne books in August, my writing and reading took a hit, which is kind of ironic. I missed it. And I didn’t even read to the children as much anymore because I was busily getting books into other children’s hands. I love selling the books, but I am setting up some parameters for myself, having established the fact that we will never get rich from what I am doing, judging by the numbers at year’s end. It’s a part time job for me, one I love, with a steadily accumulating stash of wonderful books in my reading room. But I am not willing to let other creative outlets be stifled, so I signed up for two things to aid all of us in the house.

The children are doing a 31 day Read Aloud Challenge in January. It’s not too strenuous, but we will probably take some extra trips to the library. They are fondly hoping to win a Kindle, or at least a $20 Amazon gift card.

I signed myself up for a WordPress writing challenge in February, which coincides nicely with my annual daily posts in the short month. I am also continuing my daily diary entries. I actually made it without skipping one day last year, although sometimes I had to catch up a week at a time. Most of the days were not brilliant, but they got a record anyway.

That is life, isn’t it? I think the past is like a compost heap: The bumper crops are represented by piles of husks and peelings. The weeds that got pulled out are thrown in there too, all decaying together into something that becomes very useful indeed when applied to the gardening efforts of the present. It all matters when we recycle the past and learn from what went right and what went wrong. The future will be richer and wiser, the crops better for the organic matter gained by experience. With that inspiring analogy, I will add just one funny story.

I was at Goodwill with Livvy, standing at check-out behind an elderly grandmotherly sort of lady. They were running a special, an extra 20% off for anyone over 55.  The cashier asked, “So, do you qualify for our sale today?” Obviously, yes, I thought. Then it was my turn. “So, do you qualify for our sale today?” I couldn’t help it. I laughed in her face. No. Obviously, no. But I am getting there as fast as I can!

 

 

 

 

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Retrospection, Anticipation

I dislike clunky titles, but that is what I am writing of: retrospection of the year past, grey, smudgy, tired and finished. Oh yes, muddy too, here in south central PA. The new year coming, hopefully with snow to cover the homeliness of winter, people getting married, long-anticipated babies due, students hoping to graduate with honors and others making sure they wear red undies on New Year’s Eve to give them better chances of finding true love in the next year. Do you notice that the things we anticipate are all good, happy, peace and prosperity?

I hate bad news, funerals, ugliness and mean-spirited gossip. I unfollow people who habitually depress me on Facebook. It verges on simple “head in the sand”. A few years ago when there was genocide in Rwanda, I avoided the news like the plague. I couldn’t deal with it. This year I forced myself to look at the excruciating realities that are everyday life for so many people. I committed to carrying the burdens of others where I can. Sometimes I really don’t even like the world we live in. 

Recently the boys and I watched Inside Einstein’s Mind on PBS, a documentary that explores his thought processes as Einstein worked for years on his theory of  relativity and his elegant mathematical equation explaining how the universe works. Physicists have not ever come up with a better explanation for spacetime. It boggles my mind that time bends with gravity and velocity, but what really intrigues me is the time travel dreamers. I know it’s nonsense, that we can’t get this year over again, etc. etc. I don’t want to. Well, I wouldn’t mind going back to November and planting a whole bunch of lettuce, seeing as it would still be growing this oddly warm year.

But if we could travel in time, where would we go? I like things safe and peaceful. I ask myself, which century? Is there even a decade untroubled by strife and sorrow, by epidemics and evil? Is there any utopia, a selfless paradise, anywhere? In the history of the whole world? There are lots of spaces in history I would like to visit, but to live in that era my whole life? I don’t think so. I am not trying to be depressing, but jumping ahead in time doesn’t look too appealing either.

The fact of the matter is that I know in my soul I am made for a different home.”But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13) That is just being realistic. “You are here for such a time as this” was not just for Esther in ancient Persia. It is for me and for you. This little stretch of time, bend as it will with gravity, is still our time and the only time we are given.

I have been reading the Revelation of John over and over in the last month. It is about as fantastic writing as anything I have ever attempted to understand. I believe it; I read a chapter again; I feel awed by the One who is Faithful and True. My inability to really get it does not hamper my faith that it is for real. For years if I didn’t understand something, I couldn’t believe it. Stumbling in mazes of doubt, I implored God for faith. Slowly, slowly, I learned to anchor my soul on eternal truths because He was trustworthy and if He said it, it was true. So here is what I got out of Revelation for the new year, a safe place to build upon in the slippery shiftiness of time.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new… Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’.”

Revelation 21:3-5, ESV

 

 

He is with us, present day. He will be with us, future forever. The best is yet to come, my friends!

the-with-us-god

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