Gregory’s List

Things to do in Winter

  • Make snow globes
  • Make snow man
  • Make snow flakes (paper ones)
  • Make snow cream

Maybe you also see a pattern emerging here? 😉 On the reverse side of the list, he had this title:

Things to do in Summer

  • Make a spear
  • Make a bow
  • Buy a wagon
  • Make a tree house

I just love finding his lists. I wish mine were that uncomplicated. 🙂 It is, indeed, a happy thought that we are now approaching spear making weather.

Resurrection Morn!

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

That is John 20, the part of the resurrection story that is especially real to me this spring. I think of Mary, her eyes flooded with tears, heart torn with grief, soul bereft of hope. All she was wanting to do was take care of the body of Jesus, to make sure that He was properly buried so that she could somehow move on, back into the life she lived before Jesus. And then… Then came that personal touch: “Mary.” And she knew, without a doubt, that He was alive and all would be well!

I can’t really describe what this does to me, this personal touch. I have been there, tear-blinded, sure that hope was dead, that situations were beyond redemption, that I was somehow forgotten. I just wanted to bury the dead body and forget. But because Jesus was alive, alive in me, despite how I felt about the impossible present… in the moment of greatest need I heard Him speak to me and I knew that He was alive and all would be well.

We Need a Reset. How About You?

So… it snowed again last night and is thawing again today, for the fourth day in a row. Fresh snow in March means fresh mud. It has been three days of fresh mud, and I am going to go out way, way on a limb here, and suggest that the air in the house may be getting a little stale. Unless we want to live in mud, however, we have no choice but to live in our house. Probably for me the itchy feeling is amplified, because Gabe had to be in Pittsburgh for the first three days this week, doing a critical care course.

I think one of the main perks of homeschooling is that you get to spend life with your children. I also think one of the main downsides could be that you spend all of life with your children. 🙂 After so much rubbing shoulders, of chairs pushing after you wherever you go in the kitchen, of people everywhere, with pressing questions about their math lesson when you are in the bathroom…well, ordinary things just start to chafe.

It is my firm conviction that our need to be liked is just as strong as our need to be loved. They aren’t exactly the same, you know. Love is the abstract idea to a child… my parents will take care of me and look out for me, even at great personal cost. (Well, they don’t seem to have much conception of parental sacrifices, but you get what I mean.) “Like” is when a child knows that my parents enjoy spending time with me. They take pleasure in who I am. They notice me.

So here is where I am going with this: Days and days together where the “like” is getting thin. The atmosphere definitely needs an airing out.

So it is time to hit the reset button. It has really helped me to concentrate on what I like about my children, especially the one who has been in a lot of trouble lately. :-/ Sometimes I have to go back a little while to think of something 😉 but it is important that it is something specific. Then I call the child to me, get onto their level, smile into their eyes.  “Do you know how glad I am that you are my son? I just really appreciate (insert appropriate praise).” It just restores fellowship immediately, and we like each other again.

For the occasions where a little child has been failing repeatedly and cannot seem to break out of the pattern of naughtiness, I say, “You know what? I have loved you from the minute you were born and I saw your little red face, all scrunched up.” And I launch into a story about when they were a baby. All of my children love this retelling of funny things they did or said. My parents did this for us a lot. It made me feel that they liked me, that they noticed me, and remembered the interesting things I did. I am sure that is why this works as a reset button for a little tyke. They get their mind off their obsession with pulling all the folded clothes out of their drawers and onto a better track. That is not to say that they don’t sometimes wander off into more mischief, but they tend to be more tractable when they feel liked.

Here are a few more things we do when we all feel crabby and housebound:

  • have an impromptu tea with the China cups and a couple of candles lit
  • bake cookies, chocolate chip cookies, to be specific
  • assign everyone to a personal space on the couches, with no touching rules enforced, and listen to an audiobook
  • clean up, each person picking up ten things, then rewarding ourselves with candy 😉
  • comb hair and wash faces… my mom often said, “Go comb your hair. You will feel better.” It’s true.

I asked Gregory for three suggestions of what to do today, and here is his list:

  • have a cleaning bee
  • reeurange (sic) the house
  • be lazy after work

I am sure some of you have excellent ideas for cheering the space where you live, cheering the people you live with. I would love to hear them!


The Prayer of the Teacher

In my one-year-Bible reading plan, I just went through Deuteronomy, and I was struck by this beautiful prayer of Moses in chapter 32.

  “May my teaching drop as the rain,

my speech distill as the dew,

like gentle rain upon the tender grass,

and like showers upon the herb.

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;

ascribe greatness to our God!”

This was the introduction to Moses’ song, his swan song, just before God instructed him to go up to Mount Nebo to look at the Promised Land before he died. Moses told the people that he was well aware of their rebellious tendencies. He knew they were going to walk away from God after he died. He also knew that because of the provoking, constant murmuring of the people, he himself had lost it, lost the privilege of entering Canaan with them.

If anyone ever had a reason to be aggravated beyond all endurance, Moses did. And yet that was how he wished to teach.

I think of my life… of the daily temptations to drop words like icy pellets of sleet instead of “gentle rain on tender grass”. The very repetition of child training tends to make me think that maybe if I repeat my admonishments a little louder, the children will catch on. Thus “Close the door,” becomes “HOW MANY TIMES have I told you to SHUT THE DOOR when you go out?”

I tell you, I am so convicted of excusing my sin and impatience as somehow inevitable because “when will they ever learn?” .

I believe that the power of Jesus within me is more than sufficient to exercise kindness in the face of the most exasperating circumstances. My children know when they have messed up. Sometimes I catch that expression in their eyes, “Oh, no, now I have really done it. I wonder what Mama is going to say.” It stops me in my tracks as I think of the tender grass. It helps me to stop, breathe, pray, then calmly deal with the toilet bowl full of potatoes or the broken China teacups (yes, plural) or the fight over the favorite library book.  I wish I could say that I always remember. I am making Moses’ prayer my own, and it is helping!

I love the part where he says, “I… will ascribe greatness to our God.” When my child knows he has done something dreadfully annoying, and his mama doesn’t yell, but uses the law of kindness... that is ascribing greatness to God! Children are smart enough to know when there is something supernatural going on in Mom’s life.

I am not suggesting that we become weak kneed, feeble parents who do not discipline or instruct our children. Here is an example of a recent little issue in our home.

I found myself increasingly frustrated with needing to remind my sons, daily, to fix their beds and hang up their PJ’s. Now I know the Bible says, “Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little…” but this seemed a bit much. They are plenty big enough to have this as a habit that doesn’t need reminding. I realized that I had trained them to depend on my nagging reminders whenever I walked through their room to do laundry in the basement. The unpleasantness was not their fault.

I prayed for inspiration on how to deal with this in a redemptive way. You know, with “speech distilled like dew”. Doesn’t that just sound like such a calm and peaceful way to teach a child? 🙂 I think God gave me some rather good ideas. One was a reward at the end of the week if they remembered to tidy their room every single day. The other was a consequence of no snack at our daily break time if they forgot that morning. I really could hardly believe how well this worked. Both of them made it to the big reward at the end of the week. (A dollar is a big reward to a small boy. 🙂 )

I can certainly appreciate living without being scoldy, my speech seasoned with grace instead. I find that habits of speech are extremely hard to break. It has to be a purposeful dependance on Someone much bigger than I am. Anybody with me in praying the Prayer of the Teacher?

A Bit of Perspective

Today I could sit and gaze at this photo for a long time.


Found here  at Room Envy… oh the irony! (I googled. I did not go on Pinterest to find this image. 🙂 )

I want to be there, sitting by the fire with my tea and a good book. I want to forget that it is March and it is snowing outside again. I want to forget that I have free lanced my housekeeping all week while we concentrated on school and laundry and cooking vast amounts of food that we ate so that here we are, at Friday, with an empty fridge and this:


This photo was taken yesterday. We clean up every day, I tell you, but this seems to recur on a 25-bits-of-rubble per hour basis. Today, I cannot sit and gaze with longing at what I do not have. Today, I will gird up my loins and clean out the junk behind the couch. I will be grateful that we have real people living in this house. I will praise God that I get to serve these people and I get to teach them how to keep chaos at bay with the daily rituals of order and cleanliness that we strive to attain. Today I will keep things in perspective, because only an “accident of birth” keeps me from living in this:


Found here at Rising From the Rubble. (I did not go on Pinterest to find this image either.)

I don’t remember where I read this quote, but it has profoundly changed how I look at the negatives in life.

My problems would be someone else’s dream.

Why I Don’t Pin my Interests (Much)

The simple truth is, I can’t handle Pinterest. That takes some courage to admit, since everyone knows that you consult Pinterest to find out what is going on, you know, to see what the latest in trends are.

When I start sniffing around Pinterest, I become gripped in a strangle hold of fascination. All the beautiful people with their beautiful ideas and beautiful lives in beautiful pictures. Suddenly I realize that I must be the world’s most un-creative person ever.

For starters, my house is all wrong. Not only is my decorating sooo 20th century, but my house isn’t big enough and the windows aren’t big enough, and all the furniture is arranged around the walls. In fact, it isn’t even the right house.

I move on to the food pins, and find that I can no longer cook. I thought I nourished my family fairly well until now, but I am paralyzed by this vista of foods I never even heard of. Apparently my life will always be incomplete until I have mastered the art of sushi. I humbly acknowledge that I am in culinary preschool.

Neither am I a good mother anymore. I haven’t ever made a lollipop bouquet. I just hand out the lollipops. There are days and days worth of fun activities to do with my children. What is wrong with me that I never thought of this stuff? Boring old Peek Around the Corner and I Spy, that’s what we do.

The photo shoots… well, suffice it to say that my photography skills stink. I really should learn to edit my pictures so that we would have beautiful memories too. Yes?

I don’t repurpose old tee shirts, except as rags. Who knew that you could do so many different things with them? And my fashion sense? Well, let’s just say I feel fairly confident that I can tell when an outfit works versus when it looks tried, but my style is pretty understated and I don’t tend to wear orange stripes with purple plaid and a green scarf.

I emerge from the dark hole that swallowed me and realize that I just swallowed a bunch of lies. I have not been able to scoot around Pinterest without comparing myself and my life with all the other lives. The Apostle Paul has something to say about that. He says it is not wise. Then there is the indisputable fact that, having been given 5 precious children, I am called to be a keeper at home. I cannot afford the time it takes to gallivant through everyone else’s houses every day. Nor can I indulge myself in the twin sins of ungratefulness and covetousness. When I have a specific thing to research, like a birthday cake for a small boy, or what to cook with kale, then Pinterest is a great tool. Otherwise, it is better for me to stay out.

I found this bit of meaningful advice for people like me. It is the counter balance on the Pinterest scale for me.

“Learn to like what doesn’t cost much.
Learn to like reading, conversation, music.
Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.
Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.
Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different…different from you.
Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction doing your job as well as it can be done.
Learn to like the song of birds, the companionship of dogs.
Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.
Learn to keep your wants simple and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”
-Lowell C. Bennion

A Bit of Mavenly Advice

If you don’t know what a maven is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either until I read The Tipping Point. I discovered that I am, in fact, what Malcolm Gladwell calls a maven: a person who likes to pass on what they know about things. Ha ha. Apparently merchants appreciate such folks, with the free advertising they do, telling all their friends about this or that superior product.

Today my mavenly heart brings to you some good news. There do exist, in this fallen world, some very excellent eraser caps. In my Valentine’s Day post, I alluded to my utter frustration with insufficient, unbelievably inadequate erasers. We tried literally every kind of erasers that were readily available out there, from the cheap ones at Walmart during the back to school sale to the professional quality Helix brand from the art store. It isn’t that my children make so many mistakes on their school work, but that the baby has found the rubbery feel of erasers to be the perfect teething relief. We could sharpen ten new pencils and in one unguarded hour, she would have all the erasers chewed off and swallowed, just like that. The caps we put on went the same direction, until we learned to put the pencil jar up on a high shelf. Still, they broke and twisted off and  smeared the boys’ papers and just made me mad in general. All those brilliantly colored promises to erase cleanly? Empty, I tell you.

I dredged up from my childhood a memory of pink eraser caps in school, very sturdy and long lasting and clean. After a bit of time on google, I found them. To save you time, I bring to you the perfect eraser, heartily endorsed by our entire family. The Arrowhead, from Papermate, packaged in substantial amounts for accident prone humans who like to remove all traces of their mistakes. I asked my boys to describe them for you. “They are pick-resistant; your kids will not be able to dig into them with fingernails. They are stiff, and don’t come off the pencil. (The baby doesn’t like this kind so much.) And they actually erase.” There you have it! “Oh, and say that you don’t know how you have lived without them.” 🙂 I think my boys are mavens, too.

I was pleased to see that buying a box of 144 makes these erasers very cheap, about 4 cents each. The “professional quality” ones that irritated us the worst cost over 25 cents each. So there you go, just a bit of advice to make the life of all my teacherly friends much easier.

Things My Children Play With

(It isn’t toys.)

  • buttons… I bought a bucket o’ buttons at the start of the school year with fond plans for little girls sitting quietly, stringing them while we have math class with the bigs. Surprise. They don’t string them, but they use them for currency, or hatch them like eggs, or carry them around like rare treasure in the toes of clean socks.
  • socks… All of my children hate to wear socks. We have radiant heat in our floors, so the house is cozy and we go bare footed all winter. Somehow, the short people decided that socks are playthings. For the boys, they make perfect missiles, lumped up in balls. When they can’t find a pair for going away, we look for the balls under the basement steps and unlump them. The girls use their socks for wallets, knotting their pennies or little doll shoes or special hair bands into them. The only thing worse than unlumping socks is unknotting them after a few days of being dragged around, tied to a little girl’s belt.
  • cardboard boxes. This is the confession of a weary mother, I suppose:  I quickly double up and plunge empty cereal boxes deep into the trash can. There are only so many short lived crafts one can be called on to bear reasonably. The sturdier boxes become everything from masks to swords and shields to doll houses, all taped or stapled within an inch of being real construction materials.
  • tape… Prodigious amounts of tape. Duck tape, packaging tape, scotch tape, electrical tape. To be fair, they ask before they start dispensing any of it except scotch tape. I might as well get a regular Amazon subscribe and save shipment of scotch tape.
  • paper and scissors. We have at least two pairs of adult scissors, two pairs of juniors, two pairs for fat hands, and two pairs of Strictly Off Limits Fabric Scissors. Today we needed to cut something, and found only one rickety pair from when I was in school, no kidding. It is a little unhandy when you really, really need them, but lost scissors sure do cut down on the insane amount of snibbled paper that results from one simple little dinosaur construction. Yeah, Greg. I can always find him by the trail of paper.
  • blankets… Blankets are nests waiting to happen. They are tents and mountains and saddles and spy blinds. The boys went through a streak this winter where they would climb quietly up the stairs in their blankets, then inch along the hall way like little lumps of unfolded laundry, very subtly spying on the household activities. This activity was greatly enhanced once they had enough money saved to buy a set of walkie talkies.
  • shoes… It isn’t enough to cache treasures in socks. Sometimes you need a few shoes as well. It is a fairly common proceeding at our house to dump shiny pebbles or bits of chalk out of shoes before donning them.
  • which brings us to rocks… free and plentiful and the bane of a housewife. Oh dear, how I try to be patient with rock collections, but I really detest stepping on a sharp bit of limestone when I am least expecting it.
  • sticks… These are such versatile playthings. You can gather a whole bunch and build a little fire, saving out the long straight ones for roasting marshmallows. We have various teetering teepees on our property, built out of humble sticks. Of course, our boys constantly, and I mean constantly, use them for guns and pistols and bows and arrows. Does anybody know what is with that?
  • string and rope… My stash of bits of yarn is pretty much in constant demand. Occasionally I buy a roll of jute or some cheap string for projects, but when that runs out, lo and behold, I start seeing odds and ends out of my ribbon box. And that… does not make me happy! One morning this week Gregory was humming happily, creating some odd bit, when I noticed a strange bulge down the front of his britches. Then I saw that he was dispensing green yarn out of the front of his pants, where he had put the ball of yarn so that it wouldn’t roll away every time he needed it. At least that is what he said, but I think he may have deluded himself that his mother wouldn’t notice.

That is a start. We are definitely not top customers at Toys R Us, if you see what I mean. With the minimalist position we have taken on the toybox, there are still times I actually wish they would all just pick out a nice one-piece toy and play with it for one hour. And oh, I can hardly wait for the best play place of all to open up to us all: our backyard!


Edit: Right after I posted this, I found such a fascinating photo journey of children with their favorite toys. I look at the faces of the little Africans who have one stuffed monkey, and compare them to the children with a broad array of beautiful stuff… It isn’t in the amount of things, but in the richness of the imagination, that is what I say.

How to Become Brave

My Rita-child is a very plucky little girl, as you may have deduced from previous posts. But she does have some chinks in her walls where she is vulnerable. One of them is dreams. She has learned what to do about it. I hear the thudding of her feet as she stumbles through the dark house to our bedroom. “Mama, something roared at me. I think you need to pray for me.” I lay my hand on her head and pray, “Jesus, protect Rita from scary dreams. Help her to forget them and relax. Give her sweet sleep and beautiful dreams. Amen.” That is all it takes for her to regain courage and pad back to her nest of covers in her bed. There is no snivelling, because she now knows that all will be well.

Another thing that reduces her to tears is getting hurt. She just frankly opens her face and howls. Unfortunately, right now she seems to be in an accident prone stage. Today I took stock of her current “owies”. There is a yellowish goose egg on her forehead, a sore on her nose, a cat scratch on her cheek, a sizable patch of skin scraped off her knee, and an inflamed toe. I am not making this up! She goes through more band aids than all the rest of the children put together. I don’t run quite as fast as I used to when I hear her siren call, because it is usually some scrape or other that is not all that serious. Still, she is totally demoralized by blood oozing out of her own body. “I need a band aid,” she will blubber, “and pray for me.” So I put some salve on her band aid, stick it on, and pray for Jesus to heal her hurt. She shuts right up, squares her little shoulders, and goes out to face the world again. “Sometimes Jesus heals me right away, and sometimes it takes a while,” she informed me the other day.

This is such a powerful lesson for me when I do not feel brave. I do not have to deal alone with the disturbing thing that is causing me distress. All I need to do is go to Someone bigger and pray. Then I can move on and know that He is taking care of the scary stuff.

Visiting the Neighbors

A few days ago Gregory made some really extra delicious chocolate chip cookies, just the right kind of cookies to share. I told him he can take some up to our elderly neighbor, and suddenly there was a clamor of others who wanted to go along too. Okay, since Eva has been begging me to let the children come visit, I said the older three can go if they promised to come home right away when Alex, who has a watch, said that their 15 minutes were up. After they had gone on their mission, here came Rita, puffing up the basement steps with her coat and boots, sad to have missed the action. She promised that she would definitely just sit quietly on the couch and visit and obey Alex and all that, so I sent her out the door to join the others. I stayed home with the littlest tot who has been having stomach upsets for a week, not wanting to spread her virus to our elderly friend.

After a bit the children came straggling home, full of enthusiasm from their sharing mission, each clutching a quarter. But wait a minute, where is Rita? They didn’t know. She never came. We speedily cased the backyard and all areas of the house. No Rita. Just as I was feeling a little panicky, we noticed her tracks across the snow to the neighbors two houses over, a family from our church. And there she came, tromping along home. 

What were you doing? Why did you go over there instead of to Eva’s house where the other children were? “Well, I just knocked on the door, and Jake answered and I went in to look for Livvy,” she said. 

As it turned out, that was a bit of a yarn. When I asked Jake about her visit, he said he got home from work, saw some little pink boots on the porch, and figured his wife was babysitting. Except his wife wasn’t there. When he got into the house, Rita came wandering out of their toyroom, where she had made herself entirely at home. She told him she was looking for Livvy, so he obligingly helped her look. Just when he was ready to call me to see if I was missing a little girl, she decided to put on her coat and run home. She was totally unfazed by her expedition into the wrong house. My doughty little daughter, unruffled by an upset mother, just said, “Well, where does Eva live anyway?”