wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

One Day

It started kind of early, in the wee smalls when a sweaty little girl appeared at my bedside complaining that she couldn’t sleep. I reminded her that it might have something to do with wrapping herself into her favorite fleece blanket, but she thought the couch would be better. As we walked into the living room, the heat was oppressive, even though it is the one room that has an air conditioning unit. Upon inspection, I found that the AC was sighing gently rather than AC ing, so I unplugged it and the little girl went back to her bedroom fan while I opened every window in the living area.

I reached for my phone to check the temperature, only to discover that our internet connection was down, so I went to my bedroom fan and tried to sleep. One of the blades in the window fan started screeching recently, so the flow of air was a little stagnant. It was about 3 AM, which is the worst time to be waked up, because then you start thinking of all the things you want to do the next day and soon the alarm will sound and you need to quickly sleep before it does. Eventually you get into deep sleep again, just before the alarm shrills, and that is that.

I started the day officially by brewing coffee and packing my husband’s lunch. He had a 14 hour day ahead, so I included power snacks, like cashews and Greek yogurt and cheese sticks. Hopefully he had a few minutes to eat them, instead of waiting until the drive home, which happens oftener than I wish.

As soon as he was off, I got the crew assembled for breakfast and made sure everyone was presentable. This should not be a big deal with the ages we are around here, but my idea of presentable does not include holey Crocs or torn favorite shirts. There were a few rounds of “Go find something decent” because I just care about that. They don’t have to look ready for formal portraits; we are just shooting for neat and clean. I think people already notice a small tribe of children with one mother out shopping, and it might be better if the children look well cared for. I know, happy faces and all, and clothes are totally surface, etc. It’s just one of the battles I pick. Our mission was new bike helmets, courtesy of Gabe’s employer, UPMC, and Kohl’s. It’s a great program, with the hopeful outcome of fewer head injuries. We joined a queue in the brilliant sunshine outside Kohl’s and all five got shiny new helmets, properly fitted.

I had a moment of desire to check out the junior clearance racks so we all wandered around inside Kohl’s, but the funny thing was there were so many other things, like backpacks and sunglasses and waterbottles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gregory pick up a pricey porcelain serving plate shaped like a fish, swoop it through the imaginary water in front of him. GASP! “But you know I would never drop it, Mom!”

I had five people helping me pick out a wallet. Everybody had ideas as to which was the best and I just wanted something that holds all my store loyalty cards and zips shut around my phone, with a wristlet strap. Shew, but it got complicated.

The next stop was Home Depot where I was hoping to replace the gimpy window fan. I had a library audio book for the children to listen to while I ran in and out of stores. Edward Tulane, the beloved China rabbit, got pitched overboard from the ship’s deck when I went into the store and sorry, they don’t have any window fans. On to Lowe’s, while Edward got fished out of the bottom of the sea in a fisherman’s net. There I did find just the fan I needed, swallowed hard and paid the price. It’s still much more economical that an AC unit. I forgot to mention, the livingroom unit worked again this morning. It must have just been a little exhausted from days of non-stop running.

On the half hour drive home Edward Tulane found a new hobo friend and there we left him while we collectively worked on a list that took up every line on the notepad. Sometimes we do that and the children proudly cross off each thing as it is accomplished. They each had about 4 tasks and I had about 10, including keeping everybody motivated and on the straight and narrow. This does not include a 10 minute break with the Gilbreths, my small son hiding in a corner of the couch. He has probably read Cheaper by the Dozen at least 10 times, so don’t feel too sorry for him.

I picked the blackberries and it was Hot. Then Rita helped me turn a box of peaches into slush for the freezer. We sliced them thinly with an old fashioned egg slicer, then to an 8 quart bowl of peaches we added a can of orange concentrate and a little over a cup of sugar. We serve this just shy of thawed, when the peaches are slushy and cold. If I had some crushed pineapple to add, I could have reduced the sugar drastically, but I didn’t.

After lunch I read Addy’s favorite chapter story to her, where some little boys in an African village try to build a modern home out of blocks and cement. I may have skipped a few paragraphs because I was falling asleep.

The list included cleaning jobs. The girls did their best while I worked on catching up with correspondence and deskwork. It appears Rita could use some coaching in the bathroom cleaning department. They were wanting to try out the new helmets on a bike ride. Alex packed a picnic supper and supervised the loading of bikes and swimming clothes. We folded all the laundry and put it away before we left for the park because we didn’t want to trundle in the doors at bedtime and still have a ton of stuff to do.

It was still hot: 95 degrees at 5:30. The trail around the lake was mostly shaded and there was a nice breeze. Everybody zipped along happily except Rita, who was hot and miserable and didn’t want to wear that shiny new helmet. I rode behind her and prodded her on with promises of a swim at the beach area if there weren’t too many people. Gregory gazed across the water, “Hmmm, from here I can’t really tell the flesh from the sand.” Happily there were only a few people out braving the heat wave.

kids on bikes

At the halfway point to where I had parked, Rita was finished, weeping from a bike wreck into the side of the bridge. Addy was chipper but wavering, which was understandable considering how fast she has to peddle to keep up with the bigger bikes. I left them by the swings with strict instructions to stay right there with my big boy babysitter and biked speedily the rest of the way to the Suburban. I brought it over close to the swimming area and the children sprinted for the water. We stayed until the sun went down and the moon came up and all the other people went home. The picnic got eaten in dribbling shifts, whenever somebody got hungry. At last I called everybody out of the water at 8:30. The boys begged for a quick wash in the shower house. The girls moaned and dragged their towels in the dirt, pushing their bikes up the hill to our parking spot. I took turns giving them boosts while balancing a loaded laundry basket full of wet stuff and the picnic remains. While we waited for the boys I was astounded to see three young men walking along the sand, very dressed up in dark pants and long-sleeved, button-down shirts. It was almost dark, yet they waded into the water fully clothed and had themselves a grand time swimming.🙂 After I got over my surprise, I applauded them for finding a way, despite obvious obstacles, to have a little fun.

It was very quiet on the ride home. Always after this sort of excursion there is a bit of weeping about the actual walk into the house and the process of getting into bed can be so unbelievably complicated. “I just need you to stand upright in the shower for five minutes,” I told the girls. “Can you do that?” They found within themselves the grit for that great effort and went to bed with a few parting paragraphs where Edward Tulane got nailed to a garden fence for a scarecrow.

I cleared up the picnic mess, gathered together the dirty laundry, vacuumed the living room and that’s it. The evening and the morning were one day.

(Shucks. I forgot to put my clean sheets on the bed.)

 

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State of Affairs

  • State of the blog: So I suddenly realize that it isn’t June anymore. Actually, I noticed that it is past mid-July and I haven’t written anything besides a daily sentence or two in my diary. If it weren’t for that, in future one might assume we went dormant for a month in the year of twenty-sixteen.
  • State of the homeschool: Last year we had our first day of school on July 16. I am a duck out of water here, okay, but not totally okay, if you know what I mean. I cannot scrape up even a modicum of enthusiasm for the pond that is school and books, even though it is simmering in the back of my mind that I really must dive in very soon. I bought paint for the schoolroom and I organized the new books on shelves. That is all. We don’t have a single new pencil in the house. All of them are ground down to little nubs and the copier paper is gone, down to a teeny stack in the printer. All this means back to school sales and stocking up, which is actually fun. I will take the troops and roust out the deals and then we will sharpen new Ticonderogas and feel the sap of learning rising.
  • State of the garden: Gasping with gratefulness for the thunderstorm that settled the powdery dry dust last night and greened up all the wilty things. We are in a lull currently. Nothing but Swiss chard, cucumbers, (for fresh eating only. I no longer make pickles. I don’t enjoy it and we hardly eat enough to bother, so I gave myself a permission to skip it.) And we are awash in raspberries. It is a very good kind of flood. I am flash freezing them on cookie sheets and putting them in gallon bags, literally. We are fondly waiting for the first vine-ripened tomatoes and when that happens, we will be at the pinnacle of summer. Oh yeah, I forgot zucchini.
  • State of the house: You don’t really want to know, but in the interest of humble honesty, it’s not so great. We live outside and trail dirty bare feet across the floors and all the places could use a scrub, especially the windows. The little girls’ room did get a facelift last week because someone who likes to pick at things had peeled a huge circle of paint off the wall. They have wanted purple for a long time. I tried to gently steer them to more neutral colors in the paint chips aisle, but finally caved and bought “lilac bouquet”. After I started rolling it on, I wasn’t sure I could handle it so I decided to do an accent wall with yellow to break it up and my sister-in-law helped me paint bubbles on the yellow wall in exchange for a bucket of raspberries. We added some wall stickers from good old Wally World and their floral/polka dot bedspreads work just fine, seeing as we have all the colors going on anyway. yellow wallwalmart decalscurtainI let my inner child loose on the curtain and warned the girls that any picking of yellow bobbles or new paint will be prosecuted. I might just mention that I did not Pinterest this room project. I winged it. That might explain a few things, but my girls are thrilled and they thank me every day for their purple room. So, as Ma Ingalls said, “All’s well that ends well.”
  • State of the schedule: Normal. Busy is normal, yes? Events stacked up, picnics, impromptu swimming parties, VBS for the children, inspirational mom-webinars that get shared with friends over iced coffee. I completely lose track of what day of the week it is pretty often. I am pretty sure today was Sunday although not like normal people’s Sunday since my husband had to work. That means tomorrow will be Monday, and that means laundry, but from there on I am not sure. I have to consult my calendar. Seriously. But it is fine because:
  • State of the body: Healthy. Blessed. Two teeth fixed and no more dentist appointments for a year. Stouter than strictly necessary, but not going to let that ruin my day. (Anybody want some homemade ice cream with those raspberries?)
  • State of my mom’s health: Lots of you know my mom and will rejoice that she is improving daily. It was pretty much six solid weeks of infirmity and debilitating pain before she started to gain ground. She is puttering in her house and kitchen again and looking as positively as she can at the long haul of recovery from Lyme disease, which ended up being the dastardly culprit behind all the neurological symptoms. We thank God for healing, and for healthcare professionals who pour out themselves to help along the healing.
  • State of the soul: Wanting to get fatter, but definitely not as lean as earlier this summer. It is a known fact that feeding the souls of others, specifically my children, requires reserves in my own soul. I learn slowly, but I do learn. I think. And Grace is so… kind. I feel keenly the kindness of God, the “daily loading of benefits”. I want to share them. I don’t want to keep them all in my own cellar. Here, children, have some goodness today, and you are welcome.
  • State of the bookshelf: Well, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on audio is hard going. I have been working on it for a very long time and am only halfway through the 50 plus hours of narration, at the point where Germany is bullying Poland around. I only get the high points. It is a tedious history with very many footnotes and quotes. But there are some striking impressions. I didn’t know that the German people voted Hitler into power. He promised to make their country great again, to bring back economic prosperity at all costs. Enough people had this as a top priority, so that he came into his position as dictator at least sort of legally. There was plenty of weirdness going on behind the scenes, but the people did really want what he was promoting. Unless they were Jews, of course. And the propaganda fed to the public was just ridiculous. It is interesting to draw comparisons in an election year in America.:/ To offset this heaviness, I just finished reading the Princess Bride which is definitely  the most amusing thing I have read in a long time. The author is extremely clever. It is fantasy, so if you don’t like when things don’t totally make sense, this is not the book for you. To offset the frivolity, I have been reading Philippians again and again. “Finally.” I have been looking up all the times Paul said that in his letters. He seemed to condense his last bits of advice at the end, kind of like mothers say, “Now be good and don’t forget to thank the hostess for the food and help with any chores they have,” as their children go out the door for an afternoon at a friend’s house. The Philippians “finally” is so simple and profound.

 Philippians 4:8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This week I want the God of Peace with me.

 

QOTD: I leave you with a quote from one little girl at VBS, leaning over to my little girl and whispering conspiratorially while the teacher is reading the story, “Shall we pick our scabs?”

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The Only Way a Towel Can Kill You

At the advent of swimming season this year I considered my options for sanity and decided that one way I could save on a lot of laundry would be to buy each child a vastly different print of beach towel so that there can be no question of whose is whose. If you are wrapped in the one with gaudy pineapples and it belongs to your sister, you are out of line. Yours has palm trees. Even the most absent minded can remember that, even though you apparently cannot remember that white bath sheets do not ever go to the pond bank, not even when Mama isn’t looking. What’s more, I can tell at a glance who hasn’t hung up their towel to dry because there are no hibiscus flowers on the line.

There was a day of intermittent showers and sunshine, the kind of day where raindrops just squirted out of the sky with little warning. The children had a blast dancing through the puddles and wiping out in the grass. I looked on indulgently because this is a rite of childhood, after all.

Suddenly everybody was chilly. The beach towels, one for each child, their assigned towel to take care of and hang up to dry after every wet episode… Well, they were all either hanging on the clothesline or sprawled across our canoe trailer from the swim in the lake the night before. Five bath towels got handed out and everybody dried off. I failed to make sure that all these towels got hung on hooks. They didn’t. After all, we have plenty of floor for towel disposal and I, the mother, was retreating for an hour to read and relax behind a locked door.

There was a knock on the door. “It quit raining! May we go swimming in the pond? It’s really warm. We checked. Please???” All five scampered off, little ones dragging life jackets and what was that I saw draped around their necks? MORE TOWELS? Clean bathroom towels for drying off from the pond? But the beach towels, one for each child, their assigned towel to take care of and hang up to dry… They were undeniably wet from hanging on the line during the rain.

I sighed and gave it up. The only way this can kill you, lady, is if you knuckle under and let it smother you, after all. I saw myself, one feeble arm reaching out from a mountain of soggy terry cloth. “Help!”

No, I am tougher than that. I would remain chill about it.

An hour later they all trooped up on the deck. “We’re cold! Can we have baths?”

towels

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The Feeling of Daddy

 

She was a very little girl in a great big world. Her mama had told her she could walk out to the farrowing barn where her daddy was working. Peeking in the barn door, past the rows of brood sows, she saw him beckoning her to join him. That meant there was probably a new litter of piglets that she could look at. But the aisle between the two rows of pens for the sows looked a mile long, and the pens themselves were higher than she was. Should she dare it? Walk between those rows of snuffling grunts all by herself?

“Come on, you want to see this,” he called, so she plucked up her small courage and started walking down the long trail to where he was standing. There were little peep-holes in the pens, where she could glimpse hairy backs and sometimes a beady pig eyeing her as she sidled past.

Then there was a cranky sow who was having a bad day and objected to short people walking through the barn. Just as the little girl was walking by, she reared up and scrabbled her hooves on the edge of the pen, woofing her pig breath out in a terrifying series of snorts. Panic-stricken, the child froze in place, not sure whether to retreat or fly past to the safety of her daddy. The sow woofed again and there was nothing for it but to abandon all dignity and wail for help.

Her daddy came running to the rescue, put his hands under her arms, and lifted her up, way up to his shoulders. She was far above where any old pig could reach. He comforted his little girl, wiped her face, and said, “Would you like to go see some new little pigs?” She sniffled, “Yes,” and looked down from her vantage point at a whole row of little pink bodies lined up beside their mama. She stayed there out of harm’s way on her daddy’s shoulders until they were out of the barn, away from all the scary things.

It was one of her earliest memories. She never forgot that feeling for the rest of her life. It was the feeling of daddy, and it was safe.

***************

This is what I wrote for my dad instead of a card today. Because I forgot to buy the card in the busy rushing of the past week. I post it here for all the dads who are present, who care, who work and provide for their families day after day. You are the unsung heroes, but today is your day and we thank you!

 

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Easy Peasy Peas

The title is misleading, since anyone who has ever grown peas knows there is nothing that easy about either growing or processing them. If you have planted a substantial amount of them, and you have picked the rows, you stand up with a genuine case of pea-picker’s back and make your annual vow not to do this again. Ever. But you said it last year too. What is it that brings us back for more punishment every year?

It’s the flavor, the sweet, bursting orbs of brilliant green that you simply cannot get any other way than by putting in the work yourself. Well, if you happen to live near Amish country, you might be able to buy a few bushels that someone else raised and picked. If this is the case, you should never ever make them feel bad for the price they are asking. But I digress.

The easy peasy processing that I grew up with is a mystery to many of my friends. Since I love you all, I will share with you a detailed step-by-step to help you out. Of course, there may not be anyone else out there that wants to improve on the pea experience, but on the odd chance, I will give it a shot.

You start with the pods you just picked, obviously. After you have rubbed your back and had your tardy cup of coffee and sustained yourself with a little something, of course. (disclaimer: many unedited cell phone pics coming up)

bushel of peas

That black holey kettle is a steamer basket, which you fill to the top of the holes with peas. Hopefully you have a responsible big boy who started the steamer kettle boiling a half hour ago so that you do not have to wait for it. But if not, you can have another cup of coffee.

steamer

When the water rolls like that, you are ready to gently lower the steamer basket into it. Don’t plop it in or you will have overflow and a stained stovetop to contend with when you are done. And yes, this water has blanched a few batches already, hence that interesting browny-green color. But you use the same water for the whole batch, only topping it off with some fresh water when it boils low.

Set your timer for exactly four minutes. At two minutes you select a long-handled spoon and give the pods a stir. If you don’t do this, the bottom ones in the basket will hog all the hot water and the top ones won’t blanch properly.

stir halfway through blanching

Bonus points if your spoon matches exactly.

When the timer goes off, slowly lift out the steamer and dump the blanched pods into a cold water bath to shock them into submission. I mean, so they stop cooking and don’t get squishy. Once they are cooled down, (and depending on how cold your water is, you may need to drain and repeat) drain off the water and start shelling.

Now I have no quarrel with traditional shelling, but what I don’t like is this: pea blossoms

See that vast countertop? But what I want to show you is the blossom ends on the pods. When you shell them dry, they fall into the shelled peas and you get to pick and pick and pick and wash and wash and sort and sort them out. And then you still have to blanch the peas and cool them before you put them into the freezer. If you blanch the whole pod, they float off into either the boiling water or the cooling water. You eliminate that whole fussy step of cleaning the peas. And you don’t have to blanch them. They are ready to go once popped out of the pods.

I do mean popped out. There are several methods. I prefer a twist, which my son and I had fun trying to catch on camera. It sort of looks like you take a pod by either end and twist it into an S.

how to pop peas

It’s a law of science: you apply pressure and something has to give. Only it takes just a teeny amount of pressure, since the pods are pliable. Here is a tip: you want to make sure the thinner edge of the pod is pointing down into your bowl, unless you want a faceful.

Children find it easier to just slide their fingers along the pod and strip all the peas out the end. It’s really fun!

Addy shelling

You will want to have a good audiobook that engages the attention of all while you do the shelling. We like Winnie the Pooh, narrated so incredibly well by Peter Dennis. “Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, about last Friday…”

The last step is to corral a charming little girl whose mother did not comb her hair before the operation began, tie an enormous kerchief around the wispy curls, and give her a measuring cup to fill your freezer containers.

Liv with peas

I am quite certain that this step-by-step will not convince anyone that peas are actually easy-peasy. But for those who already raise them, give it a shot. I am guessing you will thank me.🙂

Happy Saturday!

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Convoluted Thoughts about Love and Keeping On

I am sitting at my parents’ house, on call to help my dear mother if she needs anything in the night. The last month has been more than trying for her. First she suffered through the painful weakness of a shingles case. Just as that was starting to heal, there came a severe double sciatic inflammation and now she has a case of Bell’s Palsy on top of it all.

Yesterday I taught the preschool Sunday school class about Job and his steadfast trust. I suppose my mom and dad will never know if there were conversations between the devil and God concerning their faith, but it has certainly been sorely tried. I have watched my dad with something like awe as he took on the role of patient and kindly nurse. I didn’t even know he had it in him, and there he is, day after day, night after night, helping Mom get comfortable and praying for her when she simply cannot be comfortable. If you have some space on your prayer list, put them on it, please?

It’s June! Have you noticed? Here in central PA that means just about perfect weather. It means strawberries and peas and cherries. June is wonderful! The thing that happens is the constant busyness and running, running. It takes a conscious effort not to parch one’s soul in the host of good things to do.

A few weeks ago we had an especially crazy stretch of days and a sweet friend asked me after church, “So what has the Lord been teaching you this week?” I had been gulping small sips of “Streams in the Desert” and running along for days, and all I could say was, “Well, I am experiencing the fact that the cares of life choke out the Word.” (Mark 4:19) Just venturing a guess here that I am not the only one who has experienced the unfruitfulness that comes from lack of water. It reaches into creativity as well. When I am running dry, I just do what I have to do and there is nothing left to make something fresh. So maybe this is what happens when there are weeks of no writing. Or maybe my mom is sick and I am spending time at her house.

Gabe and I had an engagement anniversary (15 years) last week. I already told you the story of when he proposed. We were thrilled that we would get to change the world together! The week before our wedding, we were praying one evening and we both got a really strong sense that our marriage was meant to be about much more than two happy people. (Hello! I know this is basic, but it is quite easy to forget when you are young and in love.) There was this odd feeling that we were going to face hard times, not in spite of, but because we were casting in our lot together. This is a bit of a jolt when you only ever want to live together forever. We stopped praying and looked at each other. Did you get that too? Is this worth the risk? But of course. We were in love and we would be together and all would have to be well.

There is a quote by Jimmy Meacher that I have always liked:

“A wife is a spiky, complex creature brought into conjunction with another spiky, complex creature. For the rest of their lives they will be working out how to fit into the small world of marriage without damaging each other.”

Super-cute-2pcs-a-pair-18cm-cartoon-mini-nici-sweet-lover-hedgehog-plush-hold-doll-hold

(you can buy these hedgies here)

My friend Joy, who just celebrated 5 years of marriage, wrote a very wise post about the perfect marriage recently. You should read it, especially if you are realistic enough to know that love is kind of hard sometimes, you know, in the middle of the plush hearts and chocolates.

This morning we got up early and picked peas as the sun was coming up. Gabe set up a speaker and we listened to love songs while we picked. It was so ordinary and such a funny way to change the world. My opinions about middle-aged people have altered, obviously, since I am quite close to that category myself. I still don’t think that it is okay to live solely for the pleasure of a cute little family and all the stuff that can be accumulated to make it happy. But I think that middle-aged people who do the next thing, the right thing, the unselfish thing, might just be the fabric that holds society together. What if everybody was always traveling, keeping up with fashion, eating sushi in every city, and not having children because they are too much trouble and expense? While I do not begrudge these experiences (in moderation🙂 ) to those who are unfettered by responsibilities, I see the potential extermination of the human race right there.

I am listening to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich  when I pull weeds in the garden or have to do anything kind of unpleasant, like mending. It’s great, because it makes me mad and that gives me energy. At the same time I have been learning a bit about Winston Churchill and how he was consumed with concern for the welfare of others, even though his forceful personality and way of showing his care often made people dislike him. Talk about prickly! He had a saying when he was tired of it all and wishing to throw in the towel, “We have to just KBO.” His family and all his staff knew that this meant, “Keep Buggering On,” that he wasn’t giving up. I am sort of adopting this as a life motto. There are verse fragments that mean the same thing, “Don’t be weary in well-doing,” etc. but KBO is so easy to say and it makes me laugh at myself.

So, the cares of life, they are real and the worries that attend them. It’s not just the children anymore. In this stage of life it’s the parents too. It’s all part of the responsibility and the circle of life. And here we stand in the middle with all this stuff to do. That is why we have to focus so specifically on the things that really matter. My husband just did a study at church on meditation and it has encouraged me to stay hydrated.

  1. Soak yourself in the water of the Word of God!
  2. Bear fruit that nourishes others.
  3. Give freely.

(Fruitfulness is not just about having babies.)

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Ice Cream from Heaven

The young boy sat outside the country store on a bench. He was supposed to wait there while his mom ran inside to buy ice. She said he couldn’t come in because it was Memorial Day weekend and the store was jam-packed. Plus, he was wearing muddy rubber boots and jeans with big holes in the knees. He didn’t think anybody would care about that, but his mother objected to the overall urchinly look, and it was his own fault that he had lost his sandals and now traveled in rubber boots. It would be just a minute to buy ice.

He sat there beside the window where the ice cream cones were ordered. It was bright and sunny, kind of hot. He wished, oh, how he wished for a nice big cone. He was pretty sure his mother wouldn’t buy one because they were in a hurry. Also, all four of his siblings would cry foul if he came home with ice cream and they didn’t have any. But he decided to pray for ice cream. It never hurts to ask.

Only a few seconds later an elderly gentleman sat down on the bench beside him and asked, “So, what is your favorite ice cream flavor?” The little boy’s heart beat fast, because he knew that his prayer was going to be answered right then. Being a modest little boy, he shrugged and said, “Oh, I just like them all.” And then that elderly gentleman got up and ordered a raspberry cone and handed it to him. The little boy’s freckled face beamed, “You don’t have to do that, but thanks!” His new friend said, “Tell your mom it just fell from the sky,” as he walked to his vehicle.

When his mom came out of the store, she was a little surprised to see her boy licking a huge ice cream cone with the most delighted look in his eyes. “Where did you get that?” she asked. “From the sky,” he replied. “Well, actually, from a kind old man,” and he proceeded to tell his mother how he had prayed for ice cream. “Are you sure he was a real man,” his mom asked, “or maybe he was an angel?”

“Well, he had a wife and a car. That ice cream just made my day, Mama.”

 

 

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May to Date

What in the world have I been doing, I asked myself when the children wanted to know the date for the Sunday school lesson to study. I couldn’t quite believe it’s May 22, but there it was, on my phone which doesn’t lie. I made a list, just for clarification that I haven’t been dawdling. *Insert sounds of guffaws*

 

  • We started with this line-up on May Day. It looked pretty promising.

spring florals, May 1

  • I employed myself to a program of outdoor maintenance at my dad’s decking/vinyl railing business. This included about 4 trips to the greenhouse to get everything looking gorgeous for their annual open house. Then it rained most of the day and people didn’t even walk around the grounds. And then we had a surprise frost that nipped the pretties right back to square one.
  • I turned 39. Yep, I did. That morning I determined to make myself a luscious London Fog cake but I forgot to take it out of the oven and I left for a solitary stroll at a nearby park. Halfway around the lakeside trail, I remembered and sent a frantic text home, but the vanilla cake was quite dry and sawdusty by then. When you are 39, you should know better than that, but at least you have learned not to give up too easily. I already had the Earl Grey infused cream for the icing, so I mixed another batch of batter and made cupcakes after I got home.   I also picked up pizza for supper. With spinach and sriracha sauce because it was my birthday, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it!

Burnt cakebirthday cupcake

 

  • I got to visit with our friends, Motz and Paige, he being a sort of unofficial little brother from way back when. At the same time, my actual little brother and his family were in the area, so we had a grand catching up time. Unfortunately it was an evening that Gabe had to work, so he missed out on the reminiscing. (Thank a nurse today.)
  • I celebrated Mother’s Day with five of the most dearling  (Addy’s new word) children, again a day when their father had to work, and yes, I feel a tad bitter about nurse shifts on these occasions. (Thank a nurse’s spouse today.) However, I do not believe that it is in anyone’s best interests to marinate in the inconveniences of hospital employ, so we went on a hike that day and found a bunch of wildflowers. (Don’t they look like little rascals? But I wouldn’t trade them for anything!)

Mother's day, 2016

  • We all 7 had dentist appointments in one forenoon, with one orthodontist appointment to make, 2 follow-ups for fillings and 1 in six months for sealing of molars. I could happily forgo dental appointments all my life, for real. I HATE it. The hygienist always compliments me that I have no plaque, but I end up being the one who needs fillings. I blame it on gestating and lactating and freely offering up my calcium to others for all those years. It can’t be eating gummy candies, in any case.
  • There was a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh; I took three little girls along for the ride on west to Ohio to my sister’s house where a gorgeous tea awaited us on arrival. I had carefully selected my favorite scented jar candle from my stash because Rachel had told me that she always ends up giving away as gifts the ones she likes best. When I handed my hostess gift to her, she got a funny look and said, “I gave you that candle at Christmas.” I thought I remembered picking it out at TJ Maxx, but who knows who is right? After all, she is pregnant and I am 39. At any rate, we each gave our best.🙂 The ride to Ohio included picking up freezer beef for us. Have you ever driven four hours with styrofoam coolers squeaking against each other at every bump in the road? It does help to listen to “The Boxcar Children” on audio really loudly, but I don’t recommend it.
  • I prepared, if I calculated correctly, about 462 individual meals, plus a few extra on the day that Gabe had friends over to help him with a barn raising project. It was my pleasure, and especially once I had a freezer full of beef to work with. Approximately every 3 days a meal includes asparagus, which is of itself an item of great cheer. Just occasionally I would give up my French press for an in-house cook though.

Barn raising

  • I got to try my hand at messing with clay on a real potter’s wheel, compliments of my sister-in-law Ruby, who set up a training session for my birthday. It took us two hours to drive to the studio, but we had so much fun and I have been dreaming of a way to set up my own operation. Rather many $$$ would be involved. And a lot of time and more strength than I had any idea. It looks so effortless when you watch an artist draw that pot out of the lump of clay, but my shoulders were sore for days. Here is another sister-in-law, Rhonda, who will be having a birthday soon too, and who also had fun because someday her luck with finding pottery at thrift stores may run out and this would be a valuable skill. (I might add here that I went through three towels on my lap and still had clay water smeared down my skirt. The other two came out fresh as daisies. How do they do that?)

pottery making

  • Last, but definitely not least, we finished school, as in all wrapped up, portfolios, achievement tests, evaluations, and a party with the pretty dishes on the lace tablecloth! A field trip to the Lincoln Caverns and a very soggy picnic later, we are done!

I feel a bit like someone put me into a salad spinner and wrung all the moisture out, and that is why I intend to actually dawdle as much as I can in the next week.

Here is one final photo of the barn project as it stands, startling me when I look out the kitchen window because I am not used to it yet. Isn’t the timber framing elegant? One of these days I will look out and be startled by sunshine instead of this grey sky. I believe it! Oh yeah, and one of these days I will be picking 12 rows of peas. Dawdling will be a distant memory. Also one of these days the front of the garden will be bordered by callas and dahlias and zinnias. I can hardly wait!

barn skeleton

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Senses

“Hmmm,” he mused as he sipped the tea he had just poured from the puddle left over in the teapot early this morning. “It tastes a little like Earl Grey or Vanilla Caramel, but with a sort of fruit flavor.” I looked at Gregory, my jaw dropping. He had no way of knowing that Gabe had adulterated our pot of Earl Grey last night with some butter rum and green apple flavor. I knew he messed with the tea, but I didn’t know what he had done. It was experimental, a joke on me, because I will never live down a funny mistake I made soon after our marriage.

Some of Gabe’s aunts and their families had gotten together for a picnic, bringing their specialty dishes to share. They are all fabulous cooks, and the fare was topped with homemade ice cream that had traveled 1 1/2 hours packed in ice. Everyone was having conniptions about the ice cream, so even though I was avoiding sugar because I was pregnant, I had to have some. It was smooth, creamy, better than anything Ben and Jerry’s produces. It was a light brown. I savored a dainty bite, then turned to ask the ice cream making aunt, “Wow, how do you get the caramel flavor? Do you use brown sugar?” She looked at me blankly, then chirped, “It’s COFFEE!”

Later that night I related the story to Gabe and we howled at the newly-wed niece making polite and clueless conversation with the artist-in-the-kitchen aunt. To this day, Gabe likes to fix flavored coffees at the gas station, then get me to guess the flavors. I have been around long enough to know his is creme brulee and mine is preferably French vanilla, but he thinks it is so fun to mix it up and stump me. Then I say, “It’s COFFEE!” And I am always right.

I can’t differentiate smells so well, either. He has about five favorite scents that he wears, and while they are all “my man” to me, I can’t tell which is which. If I guess right, it’s just because I got lucky. I don’t wear perfume unless I want to sneeze all day. There was a time, though, when I smelled an electrical fire and he didn’t. I insisted something stank. Sure enough, the hot water heater was putting out an awful fume of burnt elements down in the basement. At least I know if something stinks or smells good.

In blink, Malcolm Gladwell describes the work that professional tasters put into their craft. They spend years and years honing their expertise so that they can break down an Oreo cookie into ninety attributes of flavor, texture, and appearance. They can tell the Nabisco company exactly what happens when they change their cookie recipe. What’s more, they are so highly skilled that their assessments appear to be nearly effortless, like first impressions.

While I find that fascinating, I don’t aspire to anything more than tasty food, the right amount of salt, no lumps in the gravy, cookies that don’t crumble all over the floor, etc.

I have other senses, though. There’s a finely tuned sense of humor. Sometimes it gives me giggles at a funeral, which is highly inappropriate, but stress relieving. I can have the worst day and lie in bed in tears, when suddenly I find myself laughing because all the craziness in the day piling up is just too funny for words. I would rather be able to laugh at myself than taste 45 differences between Coke and Pepsi.

I can tell when a child has a burdened conscience or a wounded spirit. Sometimes I just know and carry the burden and pray for clarity so that they don’t have to live under a cloud. It’s a sense I want to hone, especially with teens in the house. I would love some input into the process, because I am really green here.

I can sense when people don’t like me. That sounds childish, but I mean it in an objective way. It’s something I read in their faces, some micro-expression that can’t be masked by a smile. Recently we changed to a different family practice because the doctors and nurses were so snobbish and unhelpful at the one where we were taking our children. Whether or not they liked us, they didn’t act that way. And I didn’t like them talking to me as if I could barely understand English, much less why we should give our children every vaccination that was ever developed. It’s easy in that sort of situation. You can quietly move on. Most cases where I feel someone doesn’t like me, it is best just to assume they do, but try to stay a little out of their space. As an oversharing someone who likes (almost) everyone, this is hard to do sometimes. I don’t take this sense too seriously, but I have it, no doubt about it. Probably most people do.

There is one more thing that I would like discussion on. I love conversation. With anybody. Exploring ideas and cultures is so much fun; everybody has a story to tell and I would genuinely like to hear it, especially if it has an accent. It bugs me when I am trying to be friendly to someone and they just drop the ball repeatedly. I know conversation is a sort of learned art, much easier for some than others. Listening is the same way. When I ask someone, “So how was your day?” I am making a sincere effort to hone my listening sense. If they say, “Good,” and stand there waiting for me to ask the next question, I start to feel scrambled and like they really wish I would just bug off. Can someone, preferably an introvert, tell me what is best in this situation? Does this mean, “I don’t want to talk to you; leave me alone.” Or maybe it means, “Please find the topic that sets me going. Then I will tell you all.”

Last night at our annual widow’s dinner I sat opposite a sprightly little lady with a gorgeous silver pompadour. I had never met her and made small talk about where she lives, whether she has family nearby, etc. She answered with a bare minimum of syllables and I soon decided she didn’t want to converse, leaving her in peace during the main course. About dessert time, something she said to her friend about reading on her patio gave me an idea. “So what books do you like to read?” It was like I pushed the button that lights her up and for the rest of the evening she talked and talked and talked. She told me all about her book collection and a lot of family history as well as her philosophy on cooking and housework. As we were leaving, I told her how beautiful her hair was and she said, “I hope I sit opposite you again next year.”

That just warmed my heart to the cockles and goes to show that the “doesn’t like me” vibe can be very wrong.

And now, my windowsill on this glorious May 1. I have no words, only a heart of thanks for every single bloom.

spring florals, May 1

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Rabbits Like Bananas, and Other Who Knew? Moments

Queen, the lop-eared rabbit with the patchy springtime fur, was a little surprised when Rita offered her, instead of the daily pile of dandelions, a very overripe banana. It was a “let’s see if the rabbit will eat this” experiment. She delighted us by chowing down the peelings, leaving the fruit until last. Queen is lonely. She eats dandelions endlessly, just for the pleasure of company outside the cage. We plan to find her a boyfriend so she can belong to a family.

Last week I bleached all my baby broccoli plants in a sincere attempt at protecting them from the elements. Folks, it got cold as anything so I lovingly set buckets and quart jars over all the plants. Apparently the sun was bright enough to heat it up to cooking temps inside the jars and that was the end of the windowsill starters.  I went to the green house this morning and at first I thought my old-order Mennonite greenhouse lady was sold out of broccoli. All I could find was purple cabbages and cauliflower. Score on purple cabbage. I love it.But not cooked. It looks sicky grayish then. Anyway, I stumbled upon some really little broccoli plants being coddled in a corner and brought them home with me because the lady sells out of broccoli every year, and I think to myself, “Why wouldn’t you learn that you need twice as much?” Of course, I don’t say it, because she has been greenhousing for 25 years and if she wants to run out of plants, that is her business. This morning she was telling me her new scheme of lining her planters with Depends under the soil to keep them from drying out. It’s brilliant, wouldn’t you say?

Addy in bike helmet

Our baby learned to ride her bike solo tonight. As you can see, she felt mighty pleased with the accomplishment. Someone dug an old helmet out of a muddy spot and she wore it with pride. If you would like to see a short video of her efforts, with an amused mother giggling in the background, click here.  After her first successful wobble across the lawn, she rushed to her sister with a mighty hug and said, “Tell all my friends I can ride a bike, will you? Tell Anicia and Kiersten and Gretchen and Jenna and Allison.” I might mention that the child will definitely be needing a proper helmet. She is as accident prone as anyone I have ever seen, sporting bandaids and bruises year round.

Today is my dad’s birthday. Every day we have discussions about how soon Rita will be 7 and what about Addy turning 5 and what shall we give Doddy for his birthday. After a small tiff this afternoon, Rita said, “I know what. Let’s give Addy to Doddy for his birthday and then we can babysit her when he goes to Florida.” Addy thought that would be fun. She was seeing an endless vista of marshmallow peeps and Tom and Jerry episodes. But Rita changed her mind, “That would be giving away the present God gave us and that wouldn’t be right.” I thought that put it rather well.

This forenoon I was working on assignments for the last 10 days of school. After lunch I took a break, looked around at my house and realized in a sudden fit of depression that every single room feels grubby and tired from much occupation over winter. I was standing in the kitchen, looking up at the ceiling, wishing for Mary Poppins someone to just tell me where to start when I saw the cobwebs above the curtains. So there I was, and there was the thing to do, and I just did it. After I scrubbed down the walls and shined the windows, I looked around and felt real good. One room down, five to go. I wonder if I can pull it off- get my house shined up before we finish school so that I can do my annual Week of Loafing without any guilt. I aim to try!

How about you? Have you made any interesting discoveries lately?

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