About the House

February is the month when our longing for spring becomes palpable. Like Gregory said, “Just thinking about spring coming in one month makes me all shivery.” 🙂

I spent most of the night attending to the needs of a sick little girl. This is the first throwing-up sickness for all seven of us, all winter! I guess she decided to make up for lost time, because I lost count after 9 times of cleaning out the bucket and comforting the sick one. It became a sort of hazy routine: Mama, please may I have some water? Against better judgment, Mama has mercy. Sip, sip. Mama falls asleep. Olivia starts making those noises and scrabbles madly for the bucket. Mama drags off the couch and does what needs to be done.

School is plodding along. I find myself bribing using all sorts of incentives to keep the ball rolling. I would feel guilty, except I distinctly remember  using all sorts of things to prod my [bricksandmortar] students along pleasantly when we hit February. We are now the proud caretakers of an elderly encyclopedia set, which really pleases my trivia loving Greg. “These books are for getting information, not picture books,” he importantly informed his little sisters. I am constantly amused at the flights of fancy that trail out of the right side of his brain. How can someone give you ten random facts about the electric eels he drew, yet ask, “Is before after?” I thought he was joking and started laughing, but he was aggrieved. “If you thought like I do, you would know what I mean.” Ah, yes, that is the thing.

I think about my second grade self, trying to explain to an exceedingly busy teacher why it was that all my subtraction problems were wrong by one digit. I had some complicated reason, which she just didn’t get, so she brought me an abacus to help me out. I remember how insulted I was, and I try to afford my little boy the dignity of at least listening to his case as to why it is confusing that Monday comes after Sunday because he can’t remember the difference between after and before. I would be quite open to suggestions as to how to clear up the confusion. This also explains the recurring problem with prefixes and suffixes. I thought I was so very clear about where they are applied to the root word. I made charts. I illustrated! I told him over and over that “pre” is like “preschool”. You do it before you go to school. But now I understand that his frustration went a little deeper to the whole after/before issue. If you see us playing Follow the Leader around and around the back yard, chalk it up to learning!

Addy is delighting us with her growing language skills. She just hit the repeating stage, which gives the older children lots of amusement when they ask her to say long, funny words. She has chosen our large, illustrated dictionary as her favorite book. It is quite hilarious to see her hefting it onto her lap and paging through with such an important expression. I think it makes her feel big, like she is catching up with the rest of the crew. When you are fifth in line, catching up seems to be really important. She reminds us of Petunia, the silly goose, who carried a book around under her wing to make her wise.

Well, it is lunchtime. We have three kinds of soup left over in the fridge. Long live soup!

An Orchid Named Hope

An Orchid Named Hope

A year ago today, my husband staggered in the door after school, in such debilitating pain that I was fairly certain something was either blocked, twisted, or ruptured. We headed to the emergency department as fast as I could drive, where he ended up with bowel resection the next day. As he lay there in the hospital for five days, battling the pain and trying not to think about the fading dream of graduating from nursing school at the end of the year, I desperately wanted to bring him some symbol of hope and healing. It was the week after Valentine’s Day, and the garden center had only one small display of blooming flowers left over. I briefly considered a brilliantly flowering cactus, until a closer inspection revealed that the blooms were actually strawflowers hot-glued onto the cacti. No kidding. Not exactly the symbol I wanted, although the spiny cactus seemed apt enough.

Then I saw a tiny potted orchid lifting three fragile white blooms on a stem so slender it was hard to see how it could hold up its head so bravely. I bought it and carried it very carefully to the 14th floor, where it graced my husband’s bedside stand. Somehow, it got knocked to the floor, the ceramic pot splitting in two, carefully taped back together with surgical tape by the attending nurse. The blooms hung on gamely for a few weeks on our kitchen windowsill after we brought it home. The pot, split and taped together, seemed a little like my husband, healing slowly from that long gash stapled together on his abdomen.

By the grace of God and the kindness of his professors, my determined husband rejoined his classes after 3 weeks and passed the spring semester against all odds.

Eventually, I got around to replanting our orchid in a larger pot. It was the only living plant in my house at the time, so I actually remembered to take care of its weekly thirst for 3 ice cubes. If you knew my history with house plants, you would marvel with me at how Hope flourished and threw out feelers and roots. A new stem, much sturdier, grew straight up and pushed out fat buds. One week before Gabe’s graduation, the first bloom popped open, then another and another, enormous, vibrant and real. No hot glue! Hope has bloomed steadily for over 2 months now, and is still putting out buds.

Many times we look at those blooms and smile at the parallels. Gabe said, “You need to take a picture and write a blog post about this.” So I did. I suppose if we were to take a Conestoga wagon out West, I would want to carry Hope along with us.

Going and Coming in Rapid Succession

I figure that I spent almost exactly 23 hours of the last 46 hours on the road. Last night when I stopped for yet one more coffee at 2:30 AM, I found that I actually couldn’t drink it. My body seems to have a defense mechanism that pleads, “Do not kill me. I will not tolerate yet another artificial spike in energy that is totally unrelated to hours of sleep.” I decided, instead, to curl up in my blanket for a bit of refreshment in the brightly lit Sheetz parking lot. Unfortunately, that decision coincided with a blue Jeep hitting and running from a UPS truck, as well as an over zealous fire chief who blasted his fog-hornish siren for ten minutes. Sleep was out of the question and anyway, I was quite refreshed. Irritation, I discovered, was quite as stimulating as a cup of coffee. That was also about where the snow started, so I granny-drove the last stretch home, both hands on the wheel, concentrating on the dry tire tracks of the only others on the road, the big trucks. The homely Osterburg exit never looked so good as it did at 4:15 on this blitzing cold morning.

My aunt Ruth, who lived in KY, died this week. She of the faltering steps, inarticulate tongue and wistful smile. Aunt Ruth had a debilitating disease that wasted away her cerebellum over the years. Her condition was not diagnosed until it was in the later stages. Now it makes me sad that she didn’t get much respect in life because she baked bread with baking powder instead of yeast and made cherry delight with lime jello and canned pineapple. I wanted to show her at least the respect of going to her funeral, which of course, was a gesture I doubt she appreciated, but my dad and the other uncles and aunts did. So I drove 3 1/2 hours to a rendezvous with my sister and her baby. Enroute, I found out that my brothers were also traveling together to the funeral without their spouses, so there we were, all four grown kids and our mom and dad, back in the land of our birth. It was strange!

The best part of the funeral was imagining Aunt Ruth giggling at being free of her wheelchair and hospital bed, able to say exactly what she means with her new tongue, whole and full of vitality. My brain got pretty scrambled, trying to keep up with translating the mixture of German, PA Dutch and sprinkling of English words that comprise an Amish sermon. To my surprise, although I was only nine years old when our family left the Amish, I still knew the German words for “grace” and “peace”, etc. I sat beside my brother, and found it is probably better not to think about how much the row of solemn long-bearded preachers look like the seven dwarves in Snow White. As my brother pointed out, there was even a Sleepy.

We spent the night in the great big farmhouse that my grandpa built, the one that we children spent so many happy hours in, romping with the cousins. My grandpa built a number of houses, and all of them had a cubby hole under the stairway with doors and shelves inside for the toys. The “Spiel-Eck”, or Play-corner. Sorry, I don’t know how to spell in Dutch. This house also has a long, deep pantry, the mysterious place where Grandma stored the special toys out of reach, where our Aunt Ruth of healthier days would go fetch them for us, but only if we stayed at the kitchen table to play.

When we were ready to leave yesterday, I convinced my sister to drive me past the school and our house so I could take pictures to show my children as a point of reference for my stories. It is pretty astounding to them that their Mama used to ride to church in a horse drawn buggy and walk to school with a black bonnet on, just like Henner’s Lydia. I find the Amish heritage to be rich and exceedingly interesting, but I really am grateful that my parents decided to steer us down a different path.

In our hours of driving together, my sister and I unearthed our very different views on following a GPS to go and come. Let’s just say we uncovered both the triumphs and disadvantages of the system, and leave it at that. 🙂 At any rate, I am so very grateful to be in my own home again, safe and sound.

My Ten Cents on Love

It’s that day where half the world posts photos of their bouquets of roses on Facebook, and the other half of the world posts quasi-sarcastic links ridiculing Cupid and his victims. Well, here we go again, because I am just sure you want to hear my deeply realistic take on the subject.

You see, the roses and the chocolates are beautiful and heart warming, but Valentine’s Day is pretty sad when one has not loved well all year up to then. And loving another person well is not always as effortless as it would seem in the early days of infatuation. In fact, I am pretty sure it isn’t supposed to be easy! Real love, by definition, is to put the interests of the other person before my own, and that, my friends, just plain stinks sometimes. Sure, the perfume of the roses sweetens the deal considerably, but it still comes down to little choices that crop up every day.

If you really, really love someone, you may find yourself

  • frying “dippy” eggs through a haze of morning sickness, even though the very thought of eating them makes you want to hurl. Because, guess what! He likes his eggs dippy!
  • remembering to close that closet door that, hanging open, so bugs the other person.
  • being the parent that volunteers to change the sheets and wash the child who wet the bed.
  • never, ever throwing your wet towels into the hamper again, but hanging them up to dry because she can’t bear the musty smell.
  • moving the furniture around for the third time, since it still isn’t quite right. Even though you could care less, personally.
  • knowing just exactly how another person likes their tea/coffee fixed. This knowledge is both romance-ammunition and an ongoing obligation. 😉
  • listening politely while your significant other rants about the inefficiency of this or that brand of erasers, for goodness’ sakes!
  • buying rabbits and building hutches and feeding cats and other critters because another person thinks the children need pets to learn responsibility. And then you have to bury the cats that get killed on the road and catch the rabbits when they escape.
  • eating Chinese when you really crave Mexican.
  • cleaning up the attic, because she really cannot have that baby until the attic is organized. Seriously.
  • bringing ice packs and Exedrin to a migraine sufferer, and rubbing their shoulders while they moan ungratefully about how this unbearable headache is keeping them from sleeping.
  • trying not to show how totally gross that story about the chainsaw wound is.
  • disagreeing on such fundamental things as paint colors, or where the cherry tree should be planted. And then you find that capitulating graciously is a skill not so much built-in as learned.

Well, there is a little sampling. Some of them have been Gabe and some have been me, but every single one of them is real. Here is the thing, after eleven years of marriage, we both agree that we have a good thing going. Sure, it isn’t always as easy as we wish, and we do a lot of forgiving, but it is a good thing!

Tonight, because of the generosity of some young folks in our church, we have babysitter service, and we are going out! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Long live love!

Tentative Love…?

There was once a girl, raised in moderate circumstances, sheltered from much that was sordid and sad in the world. She loved Jesus and prayed earnestly to be able to touch the lives of those less fortunate than she.

After she got married, she found her next door neighbors to be an unusual, unhappy lot. Bitter, they were, and angry. Sometimes she made tentative gestures of friendship- took them some produce from her garden, perhaps a loaf of bread, ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs. When the old man died, she carried up her pumpkin pie and prayed for peace and comfort for the old lady.

One day she glanced out her window, noticed men in white moon suits swarming all over her neighbor’s property, carrying the bits and pieces of a confiscated meth lab to their van. There was an arrest, a grandson, who had been operating illegally right under his grandmother’s nose. She thought of that poor boy, huddled miserably, grieving in the garage the day his grandfather died.

For a long time, there was nobody home at the house across the street. Then one day the next generation moved in. He packed a not-so-concealed  weapon and wanted to help the pregnant Christian lady carry her groceries from the car into her house. “No thanks,” she said, “I can manage.” She was a little afraid of him. The other neighbors had distinct memories of teenage years. “Lock your doors,” they said. “He steals.”

The Christian lady who loved Jesus didn’t know how to love these new neighbors. Occasionally he had a job, but mostly he seemed to stay home and accrue guns. His wife worked at the factory, yelled at her sad little children, and went from church to church, bringing home cases of free stuff to add to her storage barn collection of other free stuff from churches. Starved for friends, she would stop in at the Christian lady’s home, her eyes never still, casing the place, just like the neighbors said. She kept offering to babysit the Christian lady’s kids. “In your dreams,” she thought, but she said, “Thanks, I will keep it in mind!”

The Christian lady’s husband cleared the snow out of their driveway and helped them fix the ruts in their lane and tilled their garden plot when they wanted to plant tomatoes. Occasionally there were exchanges of tools, and nothing ever went missing. Eight years went by, with a sort of hesitant friendship, no more, no less. Holiday baking exchanged, and hi-bye waves on the road did not seem like real neighborliness because there was always this inner distrust in the heart of the Christian lady.

One day the neighbors’ penchant for free stuff involved someone else’s credit card information, and that was the end of living in the country for a while. The state took their children while they cooled their heels. Their house burned a few months later and they had nowhere to go when they got out and sifted through the ashes. The Christian lady gave them a homemade comfort from her church and asked how she could help. Shell shocked, they said they didn’t know. Then they disappeared. The other neighbors thought, “Good riddance.”

The Christian lady was left wondering, “How does one love ‘the least of these’? The people that our society despises?” Because there they were, all those years, and now they are gone. She was left wondering, did they see Jesus living across the road?


Last week I had an unexpected chance to ride along with my dad on a business trip, leaving a few children with my mom and taking a few along to Ohio. I walked into the comfort of my sister’s house and realized that this is one of those houses that has welcoming arms. The coffee was fresh, the room was warm, and the toys were all new for my little girls. I pulled my feet up onto the softness of the couch and just soaked it in. It was lovely.

We looked at pictures, catching up with each other’s friends. We watched our little girls interact and helped them work out their occasional turf wars over books and dolls. We gave each other advice, and no, you probably don’t want to know what advice. We went on a walk and we made donuts and drank more coffee. A day and a night, basically, but such a reprieve from ordinary days in my little grey house.

I thought again about the marvel of connections, of being unconditionally loved without pretense, of having people. I feel so sad when Gabe talks about meeting people who are deathly sick, and they don’t have anyone. Nobody to hold your hand. Nobody to watch your back. Nobody to keep reminding God about you when you are needy. Nobody, even when things are going well, who lets you raid their fridge when you are hungry.

I simply cannot imagine. Yes, one has a certain claim on blood relatives, but I have so many others who are “my people”. While I might not put my feet on their furniture, I know that I am warmly welcomed into their lives. It is one of the most beautiful aspects of belonging to Jesus, belonging also to this vast family.

I think maybe this is why Jesus spoke the parables about inviting wayfarers to one’s banquet, extending gracious invitations to those who don’t belong. Imagine what would happen if all of His children would extend the arms of their homes to those who don’t have people of their own, offering the comfort of a hot, cheesy lasagna… and love. How could that be resisted?

Walking with my Boys

The sun came out today, finally! I decided to go on a walk for a dose of what we like to call Vitamin Sunshine. I invited my energetic male offspring to bike alongside me. Here is how the walk went from my boys’ view.

Before we ever started, “Go back inside for gloves and socks. It’s colder than it looks.”

“And zip your coat!”

Begin walk. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Skiiiiiiidddd. “Wow! Did you see that long skid mark I made?” Pedal, pedal, skiiiidddd. Pedal, skiiiddd.

“Watch out or I am gonna rear end you! I guess then I will just have to pay the damages.” Veer around Mama, pedal frantically, SSKKKKIIIIDDD. Mama is suitably impressed and laughs. SSSKKKIIIDDD.

Make rude noises at the neighbor’s chained dogs, including belches that Mama pretends not to hear.

“Watch out! Here comes a rocket!” Pedal, pedal, pedal, fantastic rocket sssskkkiiiddd.

Inspect tires and comment on how worn the back ones are. Ssskkkiiiddd. Explain to Mama why it is that the back tires wear out sooner.

Make interesting tracks in the snow that lingers in the ditches beside the road.

Turn around at the bottom of the hill and start puffing up, too tired to pedal. Scuff, scuff, scuff along in boots. Discuss Groundhog Day and what is the point and will we have spring soon.

Level off at the top of the hill, just where our lane hits the road. Hop back onto bikes. Pedal, pedal, pedal, sssskkkiiiddd into an abrupt, gravel rearranging stop in front of the porch.

That, my friends, is what going on a walk means to a little boy.

It’s Friday!

Friday puts me into a gala mood! It shouldn’t, because it is the day I have slated to catch up with housework that hasn’t gotten done all week. We finish up the school week on Saturday mornings. I have one full day to do other stuff! Here is what I want to do today:

  • Start my new book,Tears of the Giraffe  
  • Finish crocheting my lime green slouch beret
  • Sew up that lovely piece of fabric my sister sent me
  • Have another crack at mozzarella cheese
  • Play Settlers with the boys
  • Make granola, chock full of yummy stuff like coconut oil and sunflower seeds and chopped almonds
  • Play with my Cricut… cards for Valentine’s Day

Here is what I should do today:

  • Scrub my bathroom, top to bottom
  • Check yesterday’s school lessons
  • Wash the sticky prints off the kitchen windows
  • Change all the sheets
  • Remove the surface clutter from the horizontal surfaces
  • Dust those surfaces

Ughh. I think I will just stop there. Maybe I will light a few candles and sip some coffee while I think about my options. I never can figure out why my lists of want-to-dos and should-dos don’t merge better.