Sunday Serenity

I am sitting at home with a little girl who has been running a low grade fever for a few days. The rest of the folks are at church and the baby is playing in her crib. It is very, very quiet. πŸ™‚ I listened to a sermon online, threw a load of laundry into the dryer,Β  (Gasp.) and decided to attempt a bit of an update. Funny, how sometimes I can’t sleep until I write something, and other times I let it lapse for weeks on end. Methinks a bit of discipline would be good for me! I keep tossing around the idea of taking some online courses in writing, but how would I ever accomplish those kind of deadlines? Ha. I also keep tossing around the idea of committing to a post a day, or something like that. New year’s resolution, perhaps. For one month. Maybe. See what I mean about discipline?

It feels like we have been trying to get well for ever. It took about a week for us to dig out from underΒ  all the graduation hoopla. The primary emotion around here was weariness. For the children it was Crankiness, mingled with colds and a spot of flu. Thank God, there was no puking! I might have had a touch of Crankiness myself. Addy has had two solid weeks of the worst runny nose. How much snot can one small body produce? Apparently about its own weight, as evidenced by the prodigious amount of tissues and hankies we snorted through. I brewed up 3 batches of home made elderberry syrup and dosed everybody constantly with that and vitamin C. The thing with home remedies is I don’t know whether we would have gotten a lot more sick without them, or if they are a total waste of time… At least it makes me feel like I am doing something for the suffering one, apart from drugging them into a stupor. I feel pretty confident about my immune booster regimen, enough that the boys’ groans and protests don’t intimidate me at all.Β  I feel like Tom Sawyer’s aunt, mercilessly wielding an enormous spoonful of brew. Addy is the only one whose afflictions lasted more than two days. She got tired of the elderberry juice and hasn’t yet learned about No Spluttering Medicine.

So, then it was Christmas time. For the first time since we are married, we did not spend the day with extended family. I anticipated a quiet day, just making our own little traditions, although I have to admit, it felt a little flat. (Christmas has been growing exponentially louder with the years as the amount of children in the Schlabach family increased.) Gabe had worked 18 hours on Christmas Eve until 7 AM Christmas morning, so he opted out of the waffle breakfast the boys made and got some sleep in the forenoon. The littles and I lighted all the candles, watched the Jesus Film for children, then played outside in the gorgeous snow for a while. Gabe made a heroic effort to get up at noon and we spent the afternoon refining our game playing skills with our new Settlers of Catan, our collective family gift.

I was really surprised at how well the boys caught on to the nuances of the trading and developing of their lands. Gregory, unambitious and kind-hearted, was constantly making impractical trades with his resource cards.Β  Alex was a much more competitive player, specializing in getting the Longest Road. I have often looked at these games but thought they were too expensive. Obviously, I have revised my opinion. It is the most beautifully crafted board game of my acquaintance. We even like the tubby little wooden robber.

We took a break from Catan to get out the fine China and goblets for our ham and mashed potato dinner. I had made a tiramisu to eat at bedtime. And so the first Christmas with Just Us was fun and understated. I made one kind of candy this year, peanut butter buckeyes. That is all. Yesterday I gave the children permission to divide it out and eat it all up because I was so tired of their begging. πŸ˜‰ I decided one colossal sugar buzz would be better than five mini sugar buzzes. I know, I know, that made no sense when you consider all the elderberry syrup I have been feeding them.

Gabe is still working all kinds of crazy hours, since he can’t start working as an RN until he passes the nursing board exam. Because he is a PA resident and the school is in MD, his paperwork was not submitted for an exam date before the holidays. At the moment it looks like he won’t have the exam until the end of January. But he does have the job he wanted at the local emergency department as soon as that is done. Until then he continues to haul sick people to the E.D. and then often taking care of the very same people on the med/surg floor during his hospital shifts. Usually when he has a shift in EMS, he can sleep at least a few hours before night shift at the hospital. Then he will have 24 hours at home before the next marathon. It is kind of a weird lifestyle, but we are so grateful that he has a job!

Sometimes I think “normal” is so far out there that we have completely forgotten what it is. Ha. I have been assured that “normal” is greatly overrated. What say?

Graduation Recap

It has been a week since the whirlwind of events surrounding Gabe’s graduation from nursing school. It has been a bit of an anticlimactic week consisting of laundry, sick kids, broken glasses, the death of an old friend, and much drear and rain. Still, I felt kind of like I do after the birth of a baby, dazed with gratefulness at what has emerged from the hardness of the labor, as well as not a little relieved that the pain is over!

I thought the pinning ceremony for the nursing graduates was just beautiful: all about serving humanity in need, using their skills to comfort and cheer people in the most vulnerable of times. I did happen to miss the best speech, due to the fact that someone needed to go potty just then. But I was back in time to see my man get a special award for professionalism. I clapped until my hands were hoarse, so to speak.

Gabe’s family trickled in that evening, all but the far away ones in South Dakota. It was so wonderful to have them all around to celebrate with us. We squeezed as much quality time out as we could, catching up with each other’s distant lives and watching our children become reacquainted as friends.

The graduation ceremony was held in a packed out gym the night after pinning. The bleachers were narrow and there were knees poking into my back from the fellows sitting behind me. But I wasn’t going to let that get to me! We sat and waited for quite a while, and I was so glad I had passed off Addy to a friend. When two of my children urgently needed to go potty, I thought we would duck out quickly and be back in time for the commencement to commence. To my chagrin, I heard Pomp and Circumstance playing while we were in the bathroom. I urged them to speed up, but nevertheless, I missed seeing the graduates file out into their positions of honor. I was a little irritated, then I was just a little mad. Then I laughed! The story of my life in the last ten years has been punctuated with urgent potty breaks. It seemed fitting, in an odd sort of way.

In my opinion, all the academic bling my husband wore as he graduated summa cum laude was richly deserved. I wanted to woot and holler when he walked onto the stage to receive his degree, but I found my throat strangely constricted. I alone know how incredibly hard he worked for the right to go out and use his talents. I am so proud!

We partied the next day at a local gym with our friends and family. The whole weekend was long on celebration and short on sleep, and so we sort of crashed this past week. I have been feeding my crew prodigious amounts of immune system boosters. We didn’t get dreadfully sick, just miserably sick, but we are on the mend. It is the season to celebrate Immanuel, “God With Us”, and we are so blessed!

Let Us not Take This Too Far

I still have a lot of penny pinching things floating around. Sometimes I write whole posts in my head when I am in bed, but I am too lazy to get up and write them down, then in the morning I find that all the clever phrases have been lost in the night.

There are times, I have been thinking, when the habit of living frugally can actually make one selfish and miserly. “I can’t invest too much of myself into this person… It might require more resources than I have, and then what would I do?” Not being too lavish with the butter can translate into not being too lavish with the love and care for others. “This is ours. We need to preserve it for a time of famine. Why don’t you go stand in line for your own butter?”

Pouring myself out to the point of poverty for the sake of another, that isn’t exactly thrift, now, is it? Finding someone more needy than me and giving them what I really want to keep for myself, my time and energy, that isn’t all that frugal either.

The One who restores our souls is not an ungracious skinflint. In our best, or worst, penny pinching moments, we need to remember that this cannot become a habit that pinches our very existence into grubbing meanness. Let us live as though we really believe that the One who asks us to share and give is the One who has the most extravagant storehouse of all! I am not talking about money, if you take my meaning, although that is certainly included.

Gabe’s uncle tells us a story from their newly wed days, when they were flat broke. Down to the last dollar, they decided to walk to the convenience store to spend it. Recklessly flinging caution aside, they bought malted milk balls and Mountain Dew. The story always delights me, as I imagine a very young, very green Amish couple marching to the store, breezily spending their last dime on totally unnecessary stuff.

These days we are in celebration mode. Gabe is done with school!!! The nursing class has their pinning ceremony tonight and commencement tomorrow night! We have lots of family and friends who are celebrating with us. Away with the oatmeal and bring out the sparkly!

Worship and a Mom’s Life

Last week I had a refreshing chat with my friend, Carol, who also has 5 little children, as well as a sweet daughter waiting for her family in Haiti. As you can imagine, we had lots of common ground, the details of which would bore some of you. We talked about dressing our children for church and how, no matter how prepared you think you are, there is always that curve ball at the last minute… the lost shoe, the inside-out shirt discovered on a tot as he heads out the door, or the baby blow out that necessitates a complete change of clothing with tiny buttons and minuscule tights. As you walk in the door at church, people smile and hug you and think you are so pulled together, and they just have no idea the drama you went through just to get there: the tears during the very recent hair combing, and how the little girl went and rolled around on the couch right after you neatly french braided her wisps into some sort of submission. All that is just before the service.

Yesterday we went to church early, because my husband is responsible to print the bulletin. Then I remembered that we had forgotten some important papers that we needed to hand out, so I drove back home and picked them up. I got back just as the singing commenced and settled in for an interesting 3 hours of keeping 5 wiggly children peacefully quiet. About halfway through, a little girl wet her pants and the baby was mad because she didn’t have her favorite blanket. So I loaded them up and went home again to remedy the underwear problem and pick up the blanket. My husband is also superintendent, which means he spends about a half hour up front after Sunday School, during our sharing and prayer time. I just hoped the other three were behaving themselves while I was gone.

After that I spent most of the message time in the nursery with the baby who was no longer mad about the blanket, but now thought she needed sustenance that I no longer offer her. So… all that to say, some days it would be just a lot easier to stay home. In honor of all my friends, including you, Carol, I am reposting something I wrote almost four years ago.


Worship services just aren’t what they used to be…B.C. (before children) that is. In the old days, I sat up front where the singing was united and I didn’t have to miss any of the sermon because every third person around me had to go potty or needed a drink.

Last Sunday morning I had a serious brain lapse. In order to lure them into eating breakfast quickly, I got out the special treat I had been saving for them… Fruity Pebbles, that amazing mixture of food colorings and sugar. It took me about ten minutes in church to regret ever buying those things, even for 95 cents a box at the bent and dent store. The boy on my left was helpless to control his wiggles. Knowing he has to stay on the bench, his bottom stayed put, but the rest of him did serial squirming and twitching the whole morning. He made valiant efforts, after maternal prompting, to be a quiet mouse for 5 minutes, but it was just too much. I was seriously considering letting him do laps in the parking lot about then.

Meanwhile the other boy got tired of his book and was bored and wanted to write and needed a drink and was bored and hungry and tired. I understood that the message concerned our living hope, and I was blessed by the children’s lesson, but when the worship service was over, I didn’t feel like I had worshiped very much.

All of this is to explain why I was so inspired by A.W. Tozer’s thoughts on worship in “The Pursuit of God”. I quote, “We tend to divide our total life into two departments, unconsciously recognizing two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and assurance that they are pleasing to God…prayer, Bible reading, hymn singing, church attendance and other acts of faith. The secular acts include all the ordinary activities, such as eating, sleeping,working, looking after the needs of the body, and performing our dull and prosaic duties here on earth. These we often do reluctantly, apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength.”

He goes on to describe the frustration and lack of peace that comes from this false dilemma in the mind of the Christian. Jesus, while in a human body, did not have a divided life. He said, “I do always the things that please the Father.”

Most encouraging to me is the realization that for the born again believer, every act of our ordinary lives can bring glory to God. All of life becomes a sacrament, an external expression of inward grace. Our daily labor can be performed as acts of worship to God in Jesus Christ. This is presenting our bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…

I know all this in my head, and it brings an incredibly restful unity in my heart. Let there be no sacred/secular divide! Even in a service that is designed specifically for worship, and I find myself in the middle of child training!

Penny Pincher 4: Homemade Spray Cleaner

As you may have noticed, I helped my titles a little. These posts are in no special order. If this bothers you, I apologize, although I am not really all that sorry. I just meander through my day -actually, make that trot briskly- and think of stuff that I do that might save money. My ideas are all very home spun, as in not-sophisticated… humble, like the pennies they represent. But I am prone to think my ideas have helped us through 3 years of income so far below the poverty level that it seems almost miraculous that we survived. Maybe these posts will encourage someone out there who feels like saving in bits and pieces here and there doesn’t make enough difference to matter.

My lovely sister-in-law, Hilda, taught me how to make this eco-friendly, all purpose cleaner. I know, I just said if you use the Magic Cloth, you don’t need cleaning solutions. I find that there are occasions where I want something pleasantly scented, as well as antiseptic. I use this cleaner on spills that stain the carpet. (Disclaimer: Do not do this if you haven’t tested it in an obscure place first. Our carpet is old and I really don’t care if the cleaner fades it a bit. But I would feel really sad if you blamed me for ruining yours.) It is oddly therapeutic to spray, spray, spray, and rub a spot away. πŸ™‚ I also use it to wipe down walls and to clean surfaces in the bathroom.

So, here is what I do. I buy a large bottle of peroxide for 88 cents at —mart, pour it into an empty spray bottle, and add about 15 drops of lavender oil which is a natural disinfectant. Then I just shake it up and use it whenever I need it. Which is pretty often. Sometimes I also add a few drops of grape fruit seed extract, which supposedly fights off parasites, fungus, bacteria and viruses.

I am not sure of the start up cost in buying the oils. We got a bottle of lavender oil in each of our birth kits for the last three babies, so I have a nice stash. The links I provided are not necessarily the best prices. You will have to do your own homework on that. If you think it is too expensive, remember that one little bottle has hundreds of drops of oil in it. You can use the oils for lots of other things besides this cleaner. It will make you feel really Granola Woman and frugal, I promise!

Lizzie Jankovic Speaks Truth

” It is so easy for us as mothers to look at the work we do on behalf of our families and resent that it is free to them. Look at those kids, thinking that the clean clothes just appear magically. Look at these people, not valuing the cost of my work. Look at this ungrateful family who just takes the food and eats it. Like it was free! But it is very important that we see the damage that this kind of thinking brings with it.

When we want the cost to be shared by all, we are not imitating Christ. When we imitate Christ, we want to give what costs us much, and we want to give it freely. Of course we have short-term vision, and often we feel like when we freely give, we need to see right away that it is being used responsibly. We worry that our free sacrifice will make our children greedy takers.”

That is an excerpt from an article on Desiring God. Please go there and read the whole thing. It is so startlingly clear and true!

Penny Pincher 3: Raw Milk

If you can find a source for raw milk, it is an excellent way, indeed, to save a bit of money. That is, if you don’t live in NY City and have to pay the farmer to smuggle the milk over state lines. I think the debate over raw milk is ridiculous. But, anyhow…

Last night I got so hungry for real yogurt and homemade butter and actual sour cream that I decided to make the trek to my source, which wild horses cannot drag out of me, because I appreciate my source too much!

I brought home four gallons of fresh milky milk. Notice I did not say “creamy” milk because there was a fatal flaw, as I discovered this morning when I went to skim off a bit of coffee cream. There was
not even a drop of skimmable cream, only a dull little puddle of different colored milk on the top of the jar.

Friends, I brought home four gallons of skim milk. Apparently the agitator in the tank had not been run for quite a while, and that is that. So much for butter and sour cream, but the low fat yogurt option is still open.

Here is my yogurt recipe, which we think is fabulous. I got it from my friend, Naomi, who got it from some inspired aunt of hers. Just so you know who really should get the credit.

Homemade Vanilla Yogurt

8 cups raw milk
1 T plain gelatin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup powdered milk

Heat the milk to 180 degrees. Let it cool to 130 degrees. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and stir in gently. Let cool to 115 degrees, then add the rest of the ingredients. I was told that you do not have to add the powdered milk, but it results in a smoother, creamier end product. I think I will just go ahead and put it in, seeing as I am starting with skim. Of course, if you are not a vanilla sort of person, you can leave out that and the sugar, too, and you will have Plain Jane yogurt.

Pour the mixture into jars, and cover tightly with lids. To incubate my yogurt, I turn on the oven light, which keeps my oven perfectly at 100 degrees. I let it set in the oven overnight, for 8 to 12 hours, then refrigerate it for up to a month.

It never takes us that long to eat it, but it keeps for a long time. Hello smoothies… Healthy low fat smoothies! I have never had a flop with this recipe when I started with raw milk, and I sincerely hope it works as well for you!

Penny Pincher Tip 2: Magic Cloth

My sister gave me not one, but two Magic Cloths. At first glance I thought they looked like a sort of glorified paper towel. I was skeptical, but she said I would love them. And I do! I cannot tell you how amazing they are for cleaning windows and mirrors… any surfaces, really. You should just try it for yourself. If you come to my house, I will let you wash my windows just for the fun of it. πŸ™‚

You simply wet the cloth and wipe down the dirt. I use a dry cloth to wipe the water off the windows, but that is not strictly necessary. The surface is left sparkling, streak-less and lint-free. No more money spent on chemical cleaners (unless you really want to). The cloth is supposed to work for up to 5 years. Yesterday when my friend was here to help me with my very crummy basement windows, I handed her paper towels and window cleaner just because I thought it would be a little gross to have bugs and spiders swirling in a bucket full of water. There still are situations where disposable stuff may float your boat.

When I was looking for helpful links, I saw that this actually requires a bit of an investment. More than I knew, since mine were gifts. I think my sis bought hers at some obscure little Amish store without a website, but you could try here or here.

Depending on how industrious you are many windows you have in your house, the average price of 6 dollars per cloth defrayed over 5 years is not too bad, wouldn’t you say?

Penny Pincher Tip 1: Save the Towels!

I have a few little ideas about saving money, most of which are probably not startling or profound to my readers. All of them, however, will save you a few dollars, which in the long run is… a few dollars. πŸ™‚ I can just see my brothers rolling their eyes.

Today I was mulling over towels. This came about as I was cleaning my basement with the help of my lovely young friend, Michelle. I had observed to her that nearly all our towels were wedding gifts. They are looking a little shabby, but eleven years is, after all, a long time for a towel to last. (We do shower every day, I promise!) Back when we were given these splendid, thick, oversized towels, we decided it was not necessary to wash them after every single use. So we put up hooks, and we use our towels twice before we throw them into the hamper.

Right there is your penny pincher tip! Twice the wear on the towels, half the laundry detergent and water. I also have a hunch that line drying saves a lot of wear and tear on stuff. All that lint? It comes out of something. What do you think?

I offer this tip tentatively, knowing that this totally grosses some people. Let me qualify: We do try to get clean before we dry off, and we do stick to our own towel. πŸ˜‰