Spring Cleaning a Different Way

There are no doubt a hundred and one ways to clean your house. It is about as far from my favorite thing as it is possible, and yet I find myself squaring off with the need to clean. all. the. time. My title says a different way, because I have a hot tip for you. I cleaned the entire mess with 1 main tool… a microfiber cloth. Make that four cloths, liberally given into the hands of helpful children.  And water, of course. If you would look under my kitchen sink, you would find that I no longer own Top Job or Mr. Clean or Windex. I have not bought these products for years. Let me give you a little backstory.

It started during my second pregnancy with out of control sneezing. I sneezed explosively for days. (One sneeze or even three sneezes, can feel really good. But try it for days and see if you don’t start to feel whiplashed.) Then the itchy, watering eyes started, and the nose running like a leaky faucet. It was miserable. We thought it seemed like dust irritated whatever allergies I had going on, so my husband bought a Dyson with a HEPA filter. It had a clear canister, which made it fascinating to see all the dust collecting in there, out of range and incapable of harm. If you do not understand getting excited about dust collection, sorry, not sorry. I vacuumed the furniture every week during that pregnancy, and things seemed to settle down, at least at home where I had a bit of control over the dust and its mites.

About this time my mom gave me two Norwex microfiber cloths for my birthday, which in retrospect I see as a most loving gift. I was deeply suspicious about the idea of cleaning surfaces with only water. The cloths seemed a little finicky, what with getting gunked up if you use soaps or fabric softener. I gave them a try, though, and then I used them and used them and used them. Occasionally I panicked a little because I was afraid I had abused them too much, but the care directions said either to wash them in Norwex detergent or just to boil them for ten minutes and there we were! Back in business! Those two cloths were the only Norwex ones I had for 4 years. I didn’t even know that there was a special window polishing cloth available, so I washed my windows with one cloth wet and dried them with the other one. I dumped out all my ammonia and PineSol. Judging by how often I was switching out dirty for clean water in my bucket, I was getting more dirt off my house than ever before. Of course, the people in the house were growing too.

The next place of problems was my laundry room, where the scents from normal detergents would set me off. For a while I used pods, but the smells lingered on the clothes. I started buying everything unscented, but I would rather take my cart full of children through the toy aisle than hang out in the detergents. Just a quick duck in and out to grab my unscented Purex made me feel sick.

In my quest for better options, I stumbled upon Norwex laundry detergent, called Ultra Power Plus. Again, I was deeply suspicious. How could a Tablespoon of powdered detergent clean a load of laundry? (That was early days. I use less than that now unless it’s a mega load.) Again, I was hooked. It worked. It didn’t make me sneeze. It was biodegradable, so my tons of gray water were not killing the environment.

You know what I did next, don’t you? I became a regular. I won’t bore you with my trail of amazing Norwex discoveries, but today when I got an email about a flash sale that Norwex is doing, I thought of all my friends out there who are making a career out of homemaking. I thought of how we sometimes need to work smarter instead of harder. Then I thought it would not be loving to keep to myself a really great deal. There is a flash sale from now through 5 PM Central Time on March 25th. Here is what is on sale and it will bless your socks off:

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Wouldn’t it be neat if the gorgeous dishes and the succulent came with it? But it’s the dusting mitt and the envirocloth we want to look at. We use our dusting mitt for dusting, of course, but what I really love it for is to wet it and run it over the window screens. My old technique was to lay the screens on the deck, spray them with a hose, squirt soap onto them, then brush them with a scrub brush to get the dust and “fan circles” (from window fans) off them. My smarter method is to wet the mitt. I wipe first one side, then the other and the thick microfiber picks up everything. I rinse it out, wring it out, and move to the next window. It’s laughably easy.

The enviro-cloth is my top favorite product from this company. It has no rivals, in my opinion. When you wash up a mess on the floor, like a dropped egg, you will feel that you got every little bit of it cleaned up. When you use it to wash your windows, it will clear away grime like nobody’s business. When you clean the toilets… okay, ‘nough said. I will not suggest you slice a tomato on the lid, like someone did.

Alternately there is what is called the Basic Package, which contains the two cloths that you need to clean by far the most of your home. I can assure you that you will never look at window cleaning quite the same way. This is why my children can wash our windows and do a good enough job to pass my inspection. No streaks!

People sometimes gasp and get sticker shock. I understand that completely. When I considered that I used my original 2 cloths for 4 years before buying more, and I started thinking about how I didn’t buy any chemical cleaners in that time… well, it just made sense to continue my patronage. I have crunched the numbers on the laundry detergent as well, and it comes out to the same per load as Tide. Go ahead, do your research, try out an envirocloth, if nothing else.

It’s kind of like having a virtuous charwoman to help you clean. You will start to feel affectionate and protective toward it. You may even want to name your cloths. Of course, if you get your kicks from smelling Irish Spring for weeks, I cannot offer that. I used to love to smell cleaning agents until the sneezing began. Oh, wait. Did I mention that before?

Happy cleaning, however you may do it!

 

The In Between

I looked back through old photos to see just how much documentation I have on the first day of spring. Here we are three years ago, when my baby was still a baby.

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From two years ago, I only have a photo of our resurrection garden. That was the year I lit the candle in the tomb on a Sunday morning before church, then I was so bugged because the sermon was not a resurrection sermon at all. Only later did I figure out that I was a week early.

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From last year, I have our “Back to Spring” party and I remember planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day for the first time ever in my life. Notice my Crocs flip flops on the floor? That is a good sign. And the spring wreath comes out every year. For about 12 years I used a forsythia wreath, then I decided to mix it up with dogwood.

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(I just left the office with my laptop because my husband is working on an assignment with music playing in the background and I cannot think. He can study, listen to music, and text at the same time. He says it’s because he is a Millennial and I am GenX. Haha. I say he is late GenX, so there. Depends who you ask.)

This year we have the snow again. Snow and snow and snow. It is still flurrying lazily as I sit here. We stuck a ruler upright on the picnic table for handy reference yesterday. That is just the barest tip sticking out at 12 inches. Addy and I found it hilarious.

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It’s funny and out of control and not funny and not out of control; may whatever you can get out of that cryptic statement bless you. The small people completely forgot about our annual party. I did too. Shh.

I knew I would be tempted to complain when I saw the weather forecast 2 weeks ago. It’s the time of the year when I am just so over cold and dreariness. I start feeling teary dismay at seeing 5 gloves on the register and 7 on the floor amid mud clumps from the boots. The coat situation, coupled with the jacket situation for the warmer days…It all becomes too much. The dog smells wet  stinks even with bathing and everything is disorganized and cluttered.

So. I know it is not pleasing to God when I complain. I needed a plan or the complaints were going to squeeze out.

I prayed about it one morning and unveiled my brilliant answer to the children at breakfast. Since it was supposed to snow every day for nearly a week, with frigidity prevailing throughout, we would stay very busy, deep cleaning this house one room a day. The responses were not overly enthusiastic, but nobody contested that God answered Mama’s prayer, especially when I explained a plan for bonuses in the allowance per room done well.

We started in the living room. I was super organized for this one. (And I spelled people wrong.) It took us 2 1/2 hours, minus putting up the curtains because they were still in the washer. My children like lists because they can see the end in sight as they check off the tasks.

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The boys had a lot of ideas on the rearrangement of furniture. I kept vetoing their ideas until they were getting offended, so I gave them free rein with the understanding that I can change it up after about a week. We are still sitting in a row along the outer wall after 10 days, so I think it is about my turn to have a go at giving the room the right feel. But the curtains are up now.

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When Addy cleaned out the cracks of the couch, she found Gregory’s Opinel pocket knife that was lost since September. He was one happy boy! Then he promptly lost it again a few days later. I found it in the crack of the love-seat in the schoolroom. Do we see a pattern here?

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We did the bedrooms over a 3 day span. The girls’ room is small and crammed full of treasures. It is really difficult for me to know what to cull and what they may keep, but we eventually managed to make everybody happy. Addy’s outgrown dresses and sweaters got passed on to younger friends. All the wall stickers and coloring pages were removed, and one small dresser got moved into the closet for sweaters and shoes.

The marvel of this house is the closets in every room! They are wonderful. I stash a lot of stuff in them, which is a grace and a problem both. I think it takes as long to clean a closet as it does to wash the walls of an entire room.

My own bedroom was fun to do. It was mostly dust bunnies and an eclectic assortment of books on my bedside stand. I cleared out a bag of clothes that we never wear, and that was that. Easy peasy. There is no question of rearranging the furniture, so that makes it very simple. Some day we will have a headboard on the bed, but as of now, we wouldn’t be able to walk along the closet wall if we had more than a Hollywood frame. I also left the curtains off in this room for the extra sunshine. This is the south side of the house, so in wintertime the light streams in onto the bed.

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I neglected to take photos of the kitchen. Alex is a great organizer and he was working alongside me in the cupboards. It was good to hear his frank perspective on my treasures, for a change. I am not going to tell you about the obscure spice bottles I had since we got married or the vitamins that were outdated in 2013. Nor do you want to know about the broken candy thermometer or the grody stuff under the stove. The thing is, I clean out my cupboards pretty often. How do I miss this? Alex just shook his head, exactly the way I do in his bedroom. He totally revamped my silverware and small containers drawer, so that I could never find what I needed on the first try. It did fit better the way he had it done, but I just didn’t have the patience to learn new tricks, so he returned it to the original configuration after a few days.

Our grand finale was the bathroom. We were definitely out of steam. It was a freezing day. We did not open the window to wash it. Some of the cupboard innards were passed over in a sweep of tolerance. Still. We finished the main floor in 8 days!

I think to myself…if I can just maintain this order. The cleanliness is not an idol to me, because we really must live here. I think I am more tempted to sin along the lines of resenting the clutter. The stuff taken to Goodwill is out. The white space is lovely. I don’t wan the girls to pin cherished coloring pages onto their walls again. I don’t want Calico Critter houses made of dominoes on their dressers. The stuffed animals look cuter in their basket. And seven watercolors of flowers are great for the present. Can we just wind the yarn neatly and put it away? I hear myself fussing about the projects and the messes and I try to stop. I really do. What does it matter? They are big enough to clean it up themselves, and they will after a while. Step over it. Look at it. Admire the crocheted bed made for the beany baby. Pin up another watercolor in the schoolroom. Breathe. Water the grass on the windowsill. Shovel the snow on the deck one more time. Dig out the dogwood wreath and smile at its jaunty incongruity.

Spring is coming, after all. No, spring is here.

 

 

Going out with a Giveaway

I am so delighted at how fast this month flew by. I entered it with the dolorous viewpoint that I struggle with in wintertime, as you no doubt noticed. One of my coping mechanisms is to push myself to do something creative every day, whether I feel like it or not. Writing about a Day in the Life makes me notice the little things that are not dismal. Publishing posts about what I believe about God helps me to be accountable. Am I living like I believe what I said I believe? Or not? What would my children say about that, considering that my words and actions are statements of what I really believe, everyday…

Maybe you think it is almost fashionable to get depressed in wintertime. Let me assure you, nobody, not even a pessimist, would choose to walk through valleys of depression, whether it’s baby blues, hormonal upsets, or even the SADness resulting from lack of sunshine. It is not fun to feel like all happiness has fled, maybe forever, and howling wilderness is all that is left. It is even worse when your brain gets confused and cannot muster the strength to override the feelings like you have trained it to do. I told my husband one day, “I have a strong place in my mind, but I keep falling off it.”

I love the beautiful attitudes in Matthew 5. In my own words, these are the attitudes of the people Jesus gave assurance of his blessing.

  • I need help (poor in spirit).
  • I am incomplete; I am missing something; I am broken (those who mourn shall be comforted).
  • I cannot do what I am called to do; with His help I can (meek, inherit the earth).
  • I have empty places only He can satisfy; I am desperately parched (those who hunger and thirst).
  • I am here to be kind, whether others deserve it or not (merciful).
  • I cannot live separated from God, therefore I cannot excuse my sin (pure in heart shall see God).
  • I love harmony more than strife and being the top dog (peacemakers).
  • I am willing to die for love of the Righteous One (persecuted for righteousness’ sake).
  • I will not waver from the way of Christ, even though it goes against popular opinions and I am ridiculed (reviled falsely) for my loyalty.

 

The list itself doesn’t sound giddy with happiness and #blessedness, does it? Yet, the passage concludes with “Rejoice! Your reward is in heaven!” I think we seldom have a proper concept of being broken in a broken world. There is truth that Jesus makes us whole, but there is also the living that goes on in our imperfect situations, with our deceitful hearts that tend to stray away from wholeness. Jesus made it clear that we are in a good place, what the Amplified Bible calls “happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous –with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”, when we are bowed down in utter poverty, begging Him for what we need. It’s a paradox of the Kingdom that is hard to describe, but if you have been there, you know it.

The beautiful attitudes have given me courage. They are not feel-good attitudes. They are attitudes that line up with what cannot be shaken, and so they are blessed. There may be months of frozen wilderness, but I know that there is a Faithful One directing the affairs of the whole Earth, and one small person’s wasteland is so amply provided for by the resources of heaven. Maybe you, like I do at times, feel that the flowers must bloom again or you will die. (I speak metaphorically, of course.) They will. Believe it.

Jeremiah, the prophet who wept his entire career, wrote the one of the most beautiful verses in the middle of his Lamentations:

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You can hear him shoring up his soul on those verities. I, too, am staking it all on that!

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And now, for the giveaway, I have a different idea from the normal giveaway. You already won when you left your comment during this past month. Because I was cheered and blessed by your voice, telling me what you thought, how you are doing, etc, I have something to give you. Remember my dahlia row in the garden? I have some bulbs to share with every one of you lovely commenters. I just need your mailing address sent to my email: dorcasp8 at gmail and I will send you a wrinkled, ugly looking tuber that will give you great bouquets of glory this summer. It is an allegory, okay? 🙂 I cannot tell for sure which bulbs are the ones like the photo, and which are solid crimson, so it will have to be a surprise for you.

(Thanks for walking February with me. Please don’t forget to email me your address. I think there are 25 of you. )

 

No Clouds in Sight Today

It was the first thing I noticed when I got up. The sky was still pale grey, but there were the high honks of geese flying northward, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Rita saw it too, and sighed with pleasure. Here is what my indoor grass looks like by now. About time to get out the mower, I think.

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The breakfast preparer for this week dragged out of bed too late to cook anything, so he got “promoted” to lunch and supper clean-up. It was cereal for the kiddos, protein shake for me. Gabe was still sleeping off a late night. When I picked up the French press, it felt full, and sure enough it was. A taste revealed rather bitter coffee, and Gregory said he made it, but he forgot to let it bloom. I tasted it again and asked him if he used the ground McCafe coffee that was in the cupboard (for cold brew purposes). He had. I assured him that blooming it would not have made it better, so we tried again with fresh ground beans. Yes. That’s what we were going for.

The sunny outdoors spurred the children to really stay diligent with school. Rita finished first, much too fast. I discovered a story she wrote that consisted of a title and nothing more. She got discouraged because she couldn’t write as fast as she could think, so I let her dictate and the thoughts rolled out just fine. Addy was on a roll too, finishing a book and doing the test, all in one. She gets a dollar for hundreds on tests, but today her haste got her in trouble. She kept getting her “k” and “c” spelling mixed up. Too bad.

The little girls got inspired to make lollipop cookies when they saw a recipe in a Paula Dean cookbook for children. Rita, with her characteristic serenity, mixed up the recipe all by herself. I was in the basement and she had never mixed cookies before, but that doesn’t faze Rita. The dough turned out really crumbly, so she did ask me to help her troubleshoot. Turned out she missed the shortening and used banty eggs, which are only about half the size of regular ones. Once we fixed the problem, the rest wasn’t hard at all, and yielded just the results they wanted. We did discover that the cookies have to cool completely before you can pick them up with the stick.

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Alex cooked scrambled eggs and toast for lunch. I walked away from the table for a bit, and when I came back everyone had abandoned ship, leaving only empty plates behind.

I took a short rest while the house was completely still. When I got outside, the girls had cleared out the junk out of their playhouse, moved a bunch of stuff into it and set up housekeeping. That makes me so happy, every time it happens. It means fewer treasures in their bedroom and a lot of creative play. The dolls needed fresh air, so I tied them onto the girls’ backs. First, though, we had to put their own hair up in a bobble so it didn’t get mixed up with the tresses of the babies or knotted into the baby wrap.

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I coaxed Gabe out of his study by starting some pruning. I had only done the grapevines and the dwarf cherry tree, and when I mentioned that I should do the espaliered apples, he came out and helped. The trees are his specialty, but last year we muddled through without really doing anything because of school. They all grew a little wild. The espaliered apples were shooting off in all directions, but he brought the branches into neat order again, crisscrossing them over each other. I am guessing he took about half of them off. It is a little hard to see the design, but when they start leafing out, they are really pretty.

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I hauled cuttings to the stick pile, and moved my rhubarb plants so that I do not have to till around them. I am on the lookout for someone local who has rhubarb that has red stalks. Mine is a greenish-pink variety, extremely hardy and with huge stalks. I have so much extra that I dug out three clumps of roots for friends with quite a bit more in the garden. If anybody with red wants to swap with some green, I would be happy!

The sun was benevolent all day. I soaked and soaked it in while we worked. The steps leading to the backyard got some drastic help, especially the unkempt lavender hedge. As much as I love a border of lavender, it takes some work to maintain the plants once they turn woody. They still smelled good when I trimmed them, even in the deadness of winter. At the top of the steps I noticed lots of bulbs pushing their way through the leaves and silver mound artemisia. I pulled out all the lambs’ ears. Again. Back when I brought it home, I had no idea how it could take over a flower border. For three years I have been pulling volunteers, and still it comes back. In the spring it looks magical, with fuzzy silver ears for leaves, but then it spreads, some of the leaves die out, and these unimpressive flower stalks pop up. I do have it in the rock garden slope, where it is perfect. Here are the before and after photos.

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I should mention that the huge grass Gregory is trimming was planted there intentionally to hide the unsightly electric meter. It has flourished and is now so large that the meter reader has to sidle behind it to get his numbers. Except for the few months in early spring when the new shoots are still small, he really has to earn his pay at our house. I feel really sorry for him when the dog springs out of her hiding place under that hemlock tree and does the startle-bark she saves for unsuspecting delivery guys or other visitors. I would look for another job after one such encounter.

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It looks blah, but I feel the stirring underneath the dirt. There is so much going on that we can’t see!

All the twigs and dead grass made for a perfect campfire. Addy wanted so badly to make what the children call “tortillas” on the fire. It is really more like bannock, with a dough made of just flour and water, fried in a cast iron pan and eaten with some salt or plain. She and Rita nursed their smoldering fire until they actually had some embers to cook on.

At five, when Gabe was working on the brambles and our larger orchard, I put away my rakes and came inside to make supper. The first thing I did was clear away the flour/water mess that Addy made when she mixed up her bannocks. Later I saw by errant blobs of gluey flour that she had taken her operation to the bathroom sink, probably because it is easier to reach. I could have called her in to clean it up, but at this point she struggles not to make a bigger mess when cleaning things that can puff or run.

Supper was quick: grilled hotdogs and sausages, herb-buttered pasta, peppers ‘n onions and some fried sweet potatoes.

I just squeaked in a few swipes with a comb and a toothbrush before it was time to go to choir practice. When I got home, Gabe was studying, Olivia was putting away folded laundry, Rita was knotting something out of fabric strips and paracord, and Addy was dancing around in her nightie.

That’s about it for today.

(You folks do realize that tomorrow will be the last day in February…?)

Solutions from the A—-n

Once there was a deliriously happy couple who moved into a cute rental house, and they called it the Dovecote, because it was grey and small like Meg and John’s house in (edit: Did I really just post a book title without caps? ) Little Women. It had a few quirks, like a lazy susan that would only turn with strong persuasion and no closet to hang the coats and boots. There was also the matter of no convenient place to hang a roll of toilet paper. It wasn’t long until there was a coat tree for the winter-wear, and a person could get the knack of making the lazy susan revolve, but the toilet paper roll got set on the tank of the toilet for years. And years. It fell off about once a day. Sometimes there were a few renegade rolls behind the throne until someone got on hands and knees and fished them out of a tight corner. The children who came along kept accidentally dropping the paper into the bathtub or the trash can.

One day, after 16 years, the lady of the house had enough of the toilet paper situation. She thought of the freestanding toilet paper holders that she had seen occasionally and she looked… At Walmart…meh. Living in a small rural town meant there was only Dollar General for variety, and of course, the mighty Amazon. A very short surfing trip turned up the exact thing she was looking for, and since it was not chrome or gold-plated or flimsy (at least she hoped it wasn’t), she gladly forked out the cash.

The giraffe has been holding up the rolls proudly for almost a year, and nobody misses leaning sideways and backward for an errant roll behind the tank. Sometimes it is tucked in by the trash can, or on the mat beside the tub. Sometimes a child decorates the neck and ears with tufts of artfully arranged tissue. Sometimes it gets set on the window ledge while the floor is being cleaned, but it is always within reach and that is the important thing! There is a small matter of heavy cast iron for stubbing toes upon, and it cannot sit on bath puddles because it causes a rust ring, but other than that, I don’t think twenty-one dollars has been more wisely spent at this house. Being cast iron, there is a good chance it will become a family heirloom.

“And to think,” Gregory said, “we put up with that for 16 years and there was such an easy solution!”

I couldn’t have said it better. Have you ever had one of those fed-up moments that booted you to figure out a fix?

 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: Book Review

I drew a total blank on which book to review today, until I remembered an audio that we listened to this winter. I asked Gregory to fill me in on the details of the audiobook. My brain, being typically crowded with details, latched on to the big ideas but I was vague on the details. Some of this is because I usually do some work while we listen to audios. The children just sit (quiet time, anyone?) but now that Gregory has filled me in, I am thinking I should have quiet time with them. When I used an Audible credit for An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield, everybody moaned and thought it looked boring, but it wasn’t long until the silence descended that means an absorbing story is being narrated.

This isn’t a typical memoir, with a baby being born, and what happened next and next. It is more a memoir grouped around life lessons. Mr. Hadfield, who is Canadian, recounts stories from childhood right along with lessons he learned in his rigorous training. The tales of life in Russia, training with cosmonauts for the ISS are fascinating, as well as the stories about living in space and coming down to Earth again.

Here are the highlights my son helped me to remember.

  • Most of life is ordinary hard work. The months in space took a lifetime of training and discipline.
  • Being willing to be a zero is very important. If you try and try to be viewed as a plus 1, people will think you are a show-off. If you really are a plus-1, they will know it. You don’t have to tell them.
  •  A zero is helpful, willing to do the tasks that nobody wants to do. Good leaders are willing to be zeros. If you aim to be a zero, you will most likely soon be viewed as a plus-1.
  • The best way to neutralize your fears is to face them. It isn’t good to just ignore your fears. There is a reason for fear, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive. Prepare for the things you fear; if you are trained for the things that could possibly happen, you will know what to do if it comes to pass.
  • If your biggest dreams are not fulfilled, as in the case of an astronaut who trains for years and is not chosen for space flight, you do not have to be known as “the person who almost went to space.” You can decide not to mope and be a victim of your circumstances. You do not have to be defined by your losses and mistakes.

That is just a sampling of down-to-earth (get it?) advice, seasoned by life experiences that few of us will ever have, yet it is easy to relate to what the author is saying. He writes (and narrates) humbly.

I love memoir as a genre, but often there are adult themes that are not safe for little ears. This is one that is clean, without bad language, just wholesome. I think you would like it.

A Good, Good Day

This day started in the best way I can imagine, with a child wanting to talk with us, coming to our bed and whispering a need, “I want to become a Christian.” How happy we were to leap out of the covers, get dressed, and pray with our second son as he gave his life to Jesus. Some things are too sacred to describe. It is awesome, how Jesus meets every sincere person who comes to Him, whether with impossibly complicated messes or with simple childhood faith.

I looked out the window and saw the leaden, dripping skies starting to lighten, and this day it did not affect my spirits at all.

We had our farm fresh eggs for breakfast. Rita decided to go on a hunger strike because eggs make her gag and the toast was too grainy. Addy said, “Eggs? Oh good. I thought you said oatmeal and I felt a shudder going up my spine.”

School got started early, because we had an afternoon of activity planned. Addy and I learned the letter “y”. She is the first child that I put through CLE’s K5 curriculum before beginning the Learning to Read series. It seems to have helped her to zip along with the harder concepts, but I guess I wouldn’t know how she would do without that K5 work, especially considering how determined she is to do everything the other children do. She has picked up on reading the fastest of all the children, but she still needs me to read her chapter books, of course. When she finishes her reading lesson, she settles with an audio book and her coloring pencils and book, usually in a private place where she doesn’t annoy the others. I cannot even estimate how often she has listened through The Boxcar Children.

When the middle girls were finished with Language lessons, I went down the steps to check on my seventh grader, grade math tests and quizzes from oh, probably 3 or 4 weeks up to now, and file the quantities of artwork the girls want to save. Whew! I shouldn’t ever let it pile up. My high schooler and I had a long discussion about our differing views in getting things done. He is largely self-directed this year, with a strong bent to procrastination. I am largely a scheduled teacher, with a strong bent to intolerance of skipped work. He is planning to get it done soon. I want it done last week. We work out this impasse one slow step at a time.

Lunch was late, after 3 different people reminded me that it was time to eat. We pulled out leftovers. I got the chicken soup, Alex ate sloppy joes, and the others finished the bean dip with chips. It was good to clear out the fridge before we headed to the grocery store.

Rita was in a stitching mood again today. Someone gave her patterns for beanie babies. She hand-sewed this little guy, then needed beans to stuff him. I gave her corn, which makes him a corny baby. She affectionately calls him Blobby. On his birth certificate, she listed his favorite activity as fetching. “What? Fetching curls?” Addy asked.

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That’s our red dent corn in the cookie sheet. When I got out the huge bag of shelled corn, it had a few holes, so I decided to roast some and get it ground instead of forgetting it.

Addy and I read a story, and had a short rest while Alex finished up his assignments. We pulled together all the library books, and surprisingly, they were all in the living room or on the designated library book shelf. I switched out some laundry loads quickly, then we loaded up and headed for the city.

Today’s haul was 15 books returned, 24 books checked out. We used my large 31 tote and I have to say, I love that thing. Our favorite grocery store is only a mile from the library. There is just one sad thing: no Ibotta rebates. Olivia wanted to push the cart for me, but the rest stayed in the Suburban with their books. I asked myself, “When did grocery shopping with the whole crew get so easy?” I used to get a splitting headache every time. It was just so taxing, keeping track of everybody. I do haul much bigger loads of groceries home these days! I remembered to get plenty of flour to feed my sourdough starter pet. Butter was cheap, and our favorite tortellinis were on sale, so we got piles of that too. Olivia got hungry for fruit pizza when she saw strawberries and kiwis, so we got some. I am guessing that the strawberries will rot before these rock hard kiwis are ready to eat. (Any tips on how to get them to ripen faster?) The back of the Suburban was pretty full when we loaded up, and Addy said, “WHAT TOOK SO LONG?”

I doled out nacho chips, and chocolate milk. Yes, total junk food. In the vehicle. I offered them some baby carrots, veggie straws, and banana chips, too. It was a nice gesture. No doubt my head needed to be examined, but nothing catastrophic happened, so I feel bolder about the next time. We also hit a drive-through for some fries for the girls and a chicken sandwich for the boy with the hollow leg when I realized it was going to get pretty late. Also, the next stop was a fabric store. Sometimes you take preemptive action by taking care of potentially hangry people first. Again the boys wanted to stay outside and read. The girls browsed the knick-knacks while I ordered fabric for the dresses for the choir. They only had enough for 2/3 of us ladies, so I will need to go back for more. It took so long that the boys came into the store. Gregory suddenly recalled a burning need for camouflage knit and Rita needed penny-sticks, one for each child, which she paid for herself. Olivia looked at all the pretty stuff and decided it was too expensive and that is why she always has more spending money than any of the others. Addy said, “Please, please, please, may I get pick-up sticks? May I get this dot-to-dot book? Please would you buy me this candy slime with a frog in it?” When I held firmly to a kind no, having warned her ahead of time that this was a fabric only, no knick-knacks trip, she wept large tears, but quietly. That was a huge victory for both of us.

It was dark and raining by the time we were done with our business in the store. I opened the back to put the fabric on top of the groceries, not knowing that someone had piled empty gallon jugs back there. Out they crashed, but only one broke into smithereens on the asphalt. The boys had a flashlight to help them pick up the pieces, and then we headed to the farm to pick up milk.

I should mention that we listened to a G.A. Henty audio dramatization about the Reign of Terror while we were on the road. Just as we drove into our lane, the two aristocrats and their noble protector were safely crossing the English channel. It was such a relief that they didn’t lose their heads after so many narrow escapes.

You know what is the hardest thing about hauling home groceries? Yeah, putting them away. It’s a silly thing, but often this is where it unravels for me. Some of the people drift off, having lost interest in the commonplace stowing of goods. There is always someone who wants to open packages prematurely. When we refill the flour and sugar canisters, powder puffs and granules dribble. The produce doesn’t quite all fit into the crisper drawers, ever. We are that blessed! I have tried and tried to figure out ways to streamline this process, including involving all the troops. It seems to be the sort of thing you just have to do, like going on a bear hunt. Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, have to go through it. I am so grateful for loaded pantry shelves again, and a refrigerator stuffed with all we need to eat healthfully and well. And I am glad it is all put away.

In the interest of keeping it real, this is my living room tonight.

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I decided to turn out the lights, put the girls to bed, and leave it for another day. Gabe is working all night, so I don’t have to worry about him tripping over rubble. There are  two baskets of laundry saved up for folding. Plenty of time for that tomorrow too.

I just brewed a cup of tea in a mug made by my talented friend Allison at White Hill Pottery. Often I look at this mug and aspire to achieving such graceful dimensions on my pieces. (Even just successfully attaching a handle would be okay with me.) It’s probably a few years down the road, but it sure is nice to drink tea and dream.

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That’s it. Quitting time. It was a wonderful day! How about yours?

Parenting and Pink Sugar Donuts

I observed a particularly awful sort of well-meaning parenting yesterday.

There in the aisles of the discount store where I was checking out the salad spinners and area rugs, I noticed a tiny, imperious child. Little Curly Top was ruling with a heavy hand over her parents, dictating where they could shop or not shop, picking up things they told her to leave alone, begging for snacks that duly got placed in the cart. She was such a beautiful child with such a stinky attitude. It was astonishing, the contrast. Suddenly she took off running to the far side of the store. “COME BACK,” Mom said, but Curly Top had other ideas. “I AM PUTTING YOUR SNACK BACK ON THE SHELF. SE-E-E? WE ARENT BUYING THIS BECAUSE YOU AREN’T BEING GO-O-OD.” Dad hauled a kicking, crying  child back to the cart and the shopping continued. She saw a breach in the wall and dashed off again. Meanwhile the snack had once more gotten into the cart. Mom sighed, exasperated, to Dad, “Go get her. Tell her we won’t buy her a snack if she isn’t good.”

At this point I couldn’t watch anymore.  I felt so sorry for that child. The oddest thing is that this sort of circus is considered normal and totally acceptable in society, but a mother who is peacefully shopping with a crowd of happily obedient children around her is taking up too much space on the earth. Not only that, she is also seen as being suspect to all the ones who experience children to be cumbersome brats who will embarrass their parents with their desires loudly expressed at every occasion.
It’s the self esteem movement parents now attempting to be parents themselves, and finding their own training lacking somehow. I am the last one to cast judgement on someone who is having a rough time with a cranky toddler, but when I see them trying to wheedle a child into happiness instead of being in charge- you know, a firm little nonnegotiable nap or something equally corrective- then I am afraid I do cast a bit of judgement.

The thing about mothers is that their job is to nurture and take care of their people. However, we cannot let the world’s philosophy of “the chief end of man is to feel good” rule us here. Listen. You can do your job to the best of your abilities and with every dollar available and still never be able to keep your child happy all the time by trying to manipulate circumstances so they do not have anything but happy feelings. It’s a vicious, unending, impossible cycle. It is like being lashed through life by a tiny dictator with unstable emotions and a dubious worldview. “You want some juice? Sure, here is it with a nifty little straw? Oh, you don’t like that flavor? How thoughtless of Mommy to get apple instead of mango/strawberry. Wanna play trains now? What, that’s not a real Thomas? Don’t cry. Let’s go see what they have at ToysR Us. Have a donut on the way, honey.”

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Our role as a parent is not to make every moment of the day amazing. If you feel stuck in this cycle, you can actually let that expectation go. It’s not gonna happen. There are lots of sweet, happy instances in life, sure, but there are an equal amount of un-amazing kidney beans. In acceptance lies peace.

You might say, “But don’t you want your children to be happy?” Of course we love to have happy children! It is delightful to do things that make them shine with joy. Mine light up any time the chocolate gets passed around, but I would never feed them a steady diet of chocolate, even if chicken broth doesn’t bring out the sparklers. They don’t like to pick up toys and do dishes. Jobs like cleaning out the poo in the barn make them downright glum. We aren’t unreasonable; we give them milkshakes occasionally and they get more in allowance if they do a good job on it. The requirement is simple: push through and finish, or forfeit the pay. I say the same things my mom said to us, “Why shouldn’t you help with the work? You live here like everybody else. Now get busy.” Or even better is this one, “He who does not work should not eat.”

Our parenting goals should be bigger than happiness. What is the chief end of man? It’s about glorifying and enjoying God. That bliss comes from learning to live life unselfishly, and those lessons begin when we are still little tots without the ability to direct our own lives. A two year old cannot understand the deep doctrinal truths in verses like,

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” but they are extremely malleable and effortlessly pick up values as they go along. Guess what- They get their values from their parents.

In the late nineties, the self-esteem rhetoric exploded, but it took almost a generation to see the troubling patterns emerge. Even secular psychologists are calling it a bad parenting model now that the results are back. Many are sadly discovering that they were not handed any favors to face life when they were handed lollipops to make everything better, with Mom and Dad doing all the struggling. These people have a gut feeling that they were created for better things, but they really don’t have much sense of purpose in the world except to feel good. They were trained carefully along this track and told the whole time how amazing they are. The only problem is: they aren’t amazing. It is much easier to see when they are grown, totally unequipped for life.

I will tell you what is amazing. I personally am friends with many millennials who were raised by parents who didn’t buy all the nonsense. These young folks have embraced the mentality of the Kingdom of Heaven, that bit about living for others, it’s not all about me, etc. They are standing upright, fighting battles for others, starting businesses, teaching children in school, raising families, doing work that will not be paid in this life. They are the fruits of wise parenting and they are much too busy to obsess over whether they will get their pink sugar donut today. They know they can be happy without it.

 

How to Beat the Flu: Elderberry Syrup

It’s my repost day, and I would like to make a public service announcement:  The flu is really bad this year. Have you noticed? My husband keeps telling me what an awful strain of flu this year is packing. This is not to be confused with stomach bugs, which are bad enough. It is the aching, please-let-me-just-die-now flu, and sadly, many immuno-compromised people are dying. By the grace of God our family has not experienced anything worse than common colds this entire winter. We have two people who are supposed to be extra susceptible to germs in our house. Aside from trying to stay away from germy situations, I keep waiting for it with my weapon that I stock in my fridge all winter long. I often get asked for this recipe, and I suppose you could always search for it in the archives where I posted it four years ago, but here it is, with love and a few edits.

(edit: My husband is extremely skeptical of potions, home-remedy-cure-alls, etc, but he swigs elderberry syrup as soon as he feels a little bit ill. He works with sick people all the time, and he has not had to take a sick day in five years. We credit the mercy of God above all, these amazing little berries that are a part of His mercies too, and maybe the fact that those in healthcare have mandatory flu shots. You can pick your chin off the floor now. )

 

Here’s our recipe for Elderberry Syrup

  • 1 Cup fresh elderberries or 1/2 cup dried
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • Bring first 5 ingredients to boil in a saucepan: simmer until reduced to half, about 20 minutes. Squash berries and strain mixture. Add honey to strained liquid: pour in a glass jar and store in refrigerator. Take 1 tsp or more when cold or flu symptoms start, up to 3 Tbsp a day. This is safe for children, but because of bacteria concerns in the raw honey, it is not recommended for children under 1 year of age.

There it is! My go-to potion when anybody in our house sneezes or sniffles/pukes or flus. I got this recipe from my sister-in-law, Rhonda, who got it from a friend… I don’t know who really gets credit for the original, but it is really good. I tweaked it a bit, and sometimes I stir in 1 TBS of bee pollen. The ginger soothes upset stomach, and we find it too cloying with over-much honey, even though raw honey has many healing properties. It also preserves the syrup for a long time in the fridge. I have seen other recipes where people add lemon juice, and the product you buy from Beeyoutiful contains apple cider vinegar. My children struggle a bit with the sourness of the flavor, so I haven’t added it. Yet. As you can see, the recipe is quite open to interpretation, made as pleasant or unpleasant as you like.

Edit: The cloves are the spice cloves, whole ones. Somebody I love dearly thought it was garlic cloves, which probably would also help the immune system, just not too tastefully in this preparation. She was ready to cook her concoction when it dawned on her that something was not quite right.

The star is elderberry, lovely elderberry.

Elderberries are effective against both bacteria and viruses, and act to prevent viruses from entering cells. Taking elderberry syrup, extract or juice can lessen the duration of flu symptoms. Elderberries contain anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Anthocyanins also boost the immune system by inducing the production of cytokines, small proteins that play a role in regulating immune response.

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Photo credits here, along with another informative article on flu-fighting elderberry studies. Listen to what they say, “A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine…found that elderberry decreased the symptoms of influenza (including fever) within 2 days and achieved a cure of influenza in 2 days in 90% of the group receiving elderberry, compared to 6 days with placebo.  The most interesting thing about this study is that it was looking at Influenza type B – a type of influenza that Tamiflu and Amantadine are not effective in treating.” I would so prefer to feed my family a medicinal berry made by God than a drug with dubious side effects, which might make you feel even worse than you did before you took it.

I want an elderberry bush. Actually, I would like a whole thicket of elderberries, so I could share with all my friends. I bought my freeze dried berries at Sunburst Superfoods. The price for one pound is less than the price for one (smallish) bottle of elderberry syrup, already prepared, which is why I bought them, of course.

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edit: I now have two elderberry bushes. The dog loves to chew on the stems, for some odd reason, and the birds have a way of robbing all the berries before they are quite ripe. Also, they are very tiny and labor intensive; the stems are toxic; it takes a lot of berries to make a pound of dried ones! It made me feel good to try raising them, but my best sources are still the bulk herb stores.

There is a source for already made syrup, which is what I always bought before I started making my own. I can heartily endorse the products from Beeyoutiful. See link above.

Does this actually work? Yes, it really does. I stay on the ball with dosing someone who is starting with flu like symptoms, and we rarely have any sickness that lasts longer than 2 days. I keep them dosed every couple of hours. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Stay well, my friends!

Tuesday in the Life

Strictly speaking, today started where yesterday ended, at midnight. Gabe and I had  a President’s Day coupon code for unlimited pages in a printed photo book. We entered the code at checkout at 11:59 and held our breath(s) (Do married people hold their breath or breaths, seeing as two are one? I don’t like quandaries like that in writing.) to see if we would indeed get unlimited pages. We had been working together on this massive project of compiling a book of the adventures of 2017, and at a crucial point my text boxes did not get saved when he was adding pictures on another computer, so we were pushing it really tight to the deadline. The coupon worked. We went to bed this morning at 12:15.

It was a shorter night than one could have wished, but the morning was so balmy and promising that even the sleepiest among us sat up and ate the scrambled eggs.

The girls hustled with school because they knew it was ladies’ sewing day at church and they wanted to go. Addy and I read the story where little Tim had fun in the tub and when he got out, he did sob. Mom got him a top. Little Tim hid the top under the cot and did nap on the cot.

Sometimes her stories are so unexpected, we have to giggle at the conclusions. If you have never taught a child to read and gotten to watch them when the lights go on, you should try it.

Our arrival at the sewing was fashionably late, in time to do a little work before we had lunch. For a lover of fabrics and yarns, knotting comfort tops to send to relief agencies is a lot of fun. The ladies in our sewing committee have streamlined the art of comfort knotting so that often they get close to ten done in a day, maybe more. It may be a small thing, but it really is a good feeling to think of someone in dire straits receiving a beautiful warm blanket. Blankets are love, so we pray for the people who are on the receiving end to feel the love we are sending.

I made a little detour on the way home to pick up milkshakes for the boys who were assigned to clean out the animal poo in the barn after their school was done. This is the worst job on the farm, really… worse than picking rocks or pulling weeds, because it has accumulated all winter and requires muscles and pitchforks. It was 73 degrees, absolutely delightful outside, which was why they had to do this job because the weather has to permit. Was it ever permitting today! They wanted to save the chicken poo for tomorrow because it is supposed to stay warm, but I didn’t let them. They admitted to being grateful when it was done, to not have half the job hanging over their heads. Sometimes in parenting you just are right and you know it.

The girls spent hours playing house in the backyard, erecting little booth shelters with sticks and draping a pashmina or a grass mat over top. I went for a walk in flip flops. Oh, lovely February, please stay this way and forgive us for ever saying anything ugly about you.

The sun streaming in my windows gave me an urge to clean the worst one, which was in our bedroom where the stink bugs hover. They seem to wait to relieve themselves until they make a great big spot, almost like the tobacco stains that grasshoppers leave. Every week my white trim gets besmirched, and sometimes my white down comforter. They like white toilets. :/  It’s beyond annoying, especially when it seems I cannot ever get them all with the vacuum cleaner. We had reached a sort of uneasy truce, where I let them go if they stayed on the outside of the window sash. I spent almost an hour cleaning that window, an hour that I multitasked by talking on the phone with my sister, so it wasn’t unpleasant. Still, I went in search of some nasty chemical spray that we had for the spiders in the basement. Sure enough, it is supposed to work for stink bugs too. No more truce. The battle line has been sprayed onto the outside edges of the window sashes. I expect only to see casualties from now on.

Supper was picnic food, sandwiches and mandarin oranges. The girls ate outside while I practiced songs for choir. Our group practice usually takes about 2 hours on a Tuesday night, so when I got home I tucked in my children, cleaned up some rubble, and ate 4 spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle with roasted pecans, fudge chips, and a salted chocolate ganache. If I eat more than that, Gabe will notice, so don’t tell him. I bought this special for him when he hits a rough patch while he is studying, but it sits there in the freezer and taunts me. It’s the salt in the sweet. To be honest, I thought it said salted caramel when I bought it, and we all know it wouldn’t be 4 spoonfuls if that were the case; I need an intervention when it comes to that combination. By the way, Gabe wouldn’t reproach me, but I would reproach myself and then I would have to go buy more for him.

Well, it feels like time to say, “Good night!”