Hands Full, Part 3

“I don’t think I like the adult world,” I said pretty often in my twenties. All you need is some church squabble to make you see just how juvenile (other (ahem))people can be. I said it when we had tough decisions to make. And I even said it when there were relationship difficulties. Like maybe if I didn’t like it, I could just bow out and pretend that there isn’t this issue that I need to face. Once I gave birth to a child, it turned into, “Ohhh, I don’t want to be the mother today.” The early rising baby who was hungry must have had it in for me, the sleep loving, definitely-not-morning-person. I kept track of the hours I didn’t get to sleep, and I kind of resented them. I even admit one day figuring out how many snaps I had done in his little diaper-filling lifetime. Silly, isn’t it? I didn’t want to be the mother either when there were sibling squabbles a few children later, and I certainly didn’t want to be the mother when the worst grape juice spill in history occurred in my house.

Gradually it dawned on me how ridiculous this little inner protest was. Just grow up, already! My children have been mightily used by God to help me not be quite so self centered, although I still can’t believe the depths of selfishness in my heart some days. It just so happens that for me, having my hands full consists of  childcare. For some it is the seniors in the care home, for others it is a hospital full of patients, or a classroom full of students. Some have employees depending on them for a paycheck, or customers who are always right, or needy neighbors, or hurting church members. I am sure I missed a few. 🙂

All of us have situations where we have to rise to the challenges and pick up the slack and do more than our share. Let me just break it to you, nice and easy… That’s how it’s supposed to be. There really is no point in trying to avoid it, unless we want to “stagnate”, as the psychologists say. It doesn’t even always feel noble. Sometimes it feels unappreciated, unnoticed, taken-advantage-of, just burying the contents of the toilet bucket.

What to do when life gets so much bigger than I anticipated? Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Mt.5:3  I think these are the people who recognize their own abysmal lack of skills for the task at hand. They see their own poverty and inability to meet the needs, and they come to God, begging for the supply they need. Then they put their two pennies into the offering and believe that He will use them. And they find all the resources of the kingdom of heaven at their disposal!

I think the poor in spirit have their hands full, yes, but they don’t fight it as a state too constricting, too sacrificial. They accept the summons to lose their lives for others and in the end they find their lives again, much richer and fuller than they imagined they could be.

(Just a little postscript: I hate that my links show up light blue. I can’t seem to figure out how to change it. Also, I have no choice of fonts on this template, so I resort to bold italics to make a point. 😛 )

“You Have Your Hands Full” Part 2

When Gabe was doing a Human Growth and Development course, he got me one from Stratford so that we could discuss it (so that I would get what he was telling me about the course 🙂 .) I found it fascinating, especially when the professor was discussing the life stages as expressed in the questions that motivate us.

Apparently adolescence is the stage of asking, “Who am I? What can I do?” Well, yes, I have certainly been there, immersed in that all-consuming query. Young adulthood asks, “Can I love?” Haha. I have been there too! And yes, I can love, to my great relief. The real indication of adulthood is when I start asking, “What can I do for others? How can I make a difference?”

That really started me thinking. I sat on it for at least a half-year before I wrote this. 🙂 While some psychology is a lot of baloney, I think this explains the age-old frustrations of youth with the soberness of adults.

Hear me, young people. We are busy because this is the time we are supposed to be busy. It is our time to get to work, to help shoulder the weight of the world, to have children and teach them how to live in the next generation.

We have not lost our passion for living, but we have awakened to the fact that we are here in the world for a much bigger cause than ourselves. We are tired, yes, and we sometimes lose the luster of life in the daily struggle. That is where we need you to come along with your brightness and fresh ideas. We need you to join in and help lift the burdens in our full hands. I am honored to know many youngsters who already start to grasp this “What can I do for others?” in their teens. Others still haven’t caught on at 35. It is a sorry sight: a sad, stunted specimen of stagnation, the person who lives for nobody but himself.

This is why I think the American Dream is counter-Christianity/maturity. It fosters a grabby mentality, “What is mine is mine, and I intend to keep it.”

Jesus said that the poor widow who dropped two pennies into the offering box gave more than the rich men with their clinking sacks of gold. “For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living..” Get that? Living- the essence of herself. She needed those pennies badly, and she gave them away because she cared more about sharing the load than about having more bread for herself.

“Having your hands full” is an adult situation. This is how you are supposed to live when you start asking, “What can I do for you?”

And now I need to be an adult and go make lunch for my handful. 😉 I am wordy on this subject, so stayed tuned. And do let me know if you think I am all wet here.

Off Line and On Again

A week ago, we conspired with my mom to “kidnap” my dad for his birthday weekend. She put an address in the GPS and told him just to drive. The final destination was a large rental cabin in Ohio, where all of us were waiting for them, waving down from the porch. “All of us” being me and my three siblings, our spouses and offspring. Twenty four in all, with number 25, a nephew just about finished in the incubator.

edit: My mom says there are 23 of us, with number 24 in the incubator. She’s right! Sorry about the misinformation.


We have procreated quite well, if I do say so myself. The little cousins are getting old enough to play games and entertain themselves pretty well, with only minor squabbles now and then. My sister suggested that each family be in charge of an activity to occupy the little guys constructively. Here the girls are making flower hair clips and the boys are painting and assembling slightly-more-complicated-than-they-look aircraft.

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On Saturday my brother in law, Leon, smoked and grilled a birthday pig for my dad’s sixtieth celebration. Our kids were fascinated and a bit appalled that that is where ham comes from. It was a bit less civilized than the packaged stuff from the deli.

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My dad suddenly disappeared on an urgent run to Walmart “to buy milk”. We may have been off the grid in our cabin in the woods, but there was a Walmart just three miles away. 🙂 Always he keeps a supply of fun stuff for the little guys, but this time caught him unprepared. It certainly wasn’t just milk in the bags he hauled in after bedtime. There was enough sugary stuff in the bowl he is holding up to fuel the little guys for the entire weekend.

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The song service looks quite calm, doesn’t it? I laughed when I watched my video clips. There were so many varieties of wiggling going on in the middle of some very hearty singing. The last photo is of some of us, just as we were preparing to leave after a wonderful weekend. If you don’t know my family, these are my parents, my brothers, with the little pregnant wife missing, my little sister and her hubby, and my Gabe.

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This is the kind of camping for us… a pond nearby to catch frogs, a woods to explore, a long lane away from the public, no internet or schedules,  a nice, solid roof over our heads and a long, long table where everybody has a spot.

Yes, I Have My Hands Full. Any Other Unsolicited Comments?

As soon as there is more than one child in a family, it becomes a stretch for a mother to reach around to all the needs. Every new baby increases the mother/child ratio, obviously. You can take a row of perfectly well-behaved children on an outing and just bet on getting chuckles and outright stares.

Recently we took the entire family along shopping (for men’s clothes… the purse gawking happened on this trip) for the first time ever since Addy was born. Since Gabe was busy looking at menswear, I sort of herded the children around, trying to keep them together and not too bored. There was one point where two big ones were tussling over who gets to sit in the funny little department store stroller, while the baby trotted laps around us all and the rest were digging for mints in my bag. Gabe and I were discussing the merits and demerits of a particular pair of pants, when we got that, “You really have your hands full,” from a wrinkly, little, curious lady. At least I thought she must have been curious, the way she just stood there and watched the circus. I still haven’t come up with a really good reply to this statement. Sometimes I would like to respond with a sarcastic, “Obviously.”  I decided to try out a recommended  answer, “That’s how we like it.”

What?” she asked.

That’s how we like it!” I again informed the entire menswear department. By that time she had forgotten her original question and meandered on with a confused look. I thought to myself that I was not entirely honest. I love having lots of little children around, but I don’t always like the sensation of full-handedness. What I mean is, it is a little uncomfortable to the flesh. Just fifty years ago it was entirely normal to have at least five children. Now it gets you stares and comments like: How do you ever do it? It starts making you feel like maybe this really is pretty hard.

Sometimes you even wonder what in the world made you ever think you could swing this mother stuff. I wrote the following bit about a year ago. It makes me laugh now, which is the difference that a year can make. I thought I would post it as an encouragement for anybody out there who feels like she may not have enough arms for the job.

I spent the bedtime-settling-down hour in a ridiculous round of settling down one child after another. Later as I was sitting in the tub, feeling my woeful inadequacy to reach around, I started worrying about missing some vital nurturing element. I was thinking about books and movies where the parents sit on the child’s bed in a calm pool of light from the lamp, reading story after story, snuggling, tickling, kissing, tucking in, singing their child to sleep. Then I thought about me, (man at work), reading one all-purpose story while feeding the baby, taking breaks to call a child gone AWOL, bedtime prayers interrupted by a boy doing tricks with a hanky and a penny. I recalled the admonishments to brush teeth without fuss, the dispensing of chewable vitamins and drinks and blankets, the arbitrating a quarrel over a Popular Mechanics that they couldn’t read anyway after lights-out. There was the medicine loving child with a “belly-ache”, the one with a sore bottom that needed powder, the one who was still hungry and the one who heard strange noises. Of course, I couldn’t forget the one who needed to go potty again. I am not kidding: it was not a warm and fuzzy bedtime.

I was discouraged. Then I had a sudden enlightening thought.

Since we are all born thinking it’s all about ME, and since that attitude is the single most difficult thing to lay down at the cross… Since this ME-ness is at the root of ugly selfishness and relationship disasters, maybe having a largish (Five is not very many. Gabe’s dad was one of 14 boys and 2 girls) family is a really good way for our children to learn about deferring to others.

Maybe letting someone else have a drink first and sleep with the purple teddy bear tonight is life training. Maybe not having a whole hour alone with Mama at bedtime won’t scar them for life. Suppose it actually helps my child to be more thoughtful of others’ needs if they are not the only one who needs to use the bathroom? Maybe they won’t be damaged by listening to another little kid story for the sake of their siblings. Maybe when they share a laugh with me about the three year old who has so little regard for money as to shred her dollar bill, they are connecting just as much as they would if I had all the time in the world to run investigate that noise.

Lord, please let it be that having my hands full will ultimately help my children to learn that important life lesson of laying down their life for their brother.

My Dad is Turning Sixty!

I don’t think he would mind me making that announcement. 🙂 Hi Pops!
Today my little girl and I went grocery and birthday present shopping. We looked at flip flops in all the stores, while we wandered around waiting for inspiration to hit us about the birthday present. Here’s a true fact: by the time a man is 60, he has probably accumulated pretty much whatever he really needs, at least the kind of stuff that is “present-able”. I don’t think we can afford a dinghy for his pond this year. We bought flip flops and groceries, and we laughed and laughed at birthday cards. Inspiration did hit us in Target, (pun intended) but of course, I can’t tell what we bought!
It is actually really fun to not try to be practical and get something somebody needs. (That is usually what I do when I look for a gift. When Gabe was still in school, the children got one fun thing and the rest practical stuff for their birthdays/Christmas. You know you can’t just give snow boots or gloves…)
The thing about my dad is that he is always giving gifts. Neat little handpainted souvenirs from Haiti, funny gummy candies shaped like fast foods, pink stuffed dolls with binkies in their mouths, sippy cups and juice when the kids are sick, etc, etc. He is the essence of generous grandpa to our children and many others.
Just a shout out to those who know him… My dad is turning sixty on Sunday!

Two Questions

There are two things people ask me sometimes.

When do you find time to write?

The answer is, I don’t find time. I make time. I write when sensible women go to bed. Because Gabe’s work has him doing frequent night shifts, I stay up after I have the children tucked in and then I have adult conversation with you, my kind reader. 🙂 When there are daily posts, that is what is going on- nightly staying up late. When there are long gaps, those are probably the days my man is home, and I am lapping up the time with him. I am trying to adapt graciously to the sporadic, strange, unpredictable nursing job schedule. The Boss is this person I never met: UPMC. He gives my man 40 hours a week, very consistently, and for that I am truly grateful. He is faceless to me, and Gabe’s job is sort of strange and curious to me as well, for I have yet to shadow him to work. 🙂 It’s not quite like standing by to watch my man build a deck or teach a class. Anyway, the weird schedule gives me evenings to write, which was the point of all that.

To be honest, I also write when I should be washing my kitchen floor sometimes. Pretty often I should be checking the day’s school papers when I am at the computer. And occasionally I check for your comments while little girls pull at my skirts and whine that they are hungry.

Doesn’t it make you nervous to write about your private life in such a public way?

Yup, it sure does. I have made lists of the pros and cons of blogging. Number one on the list of cons is the fear of being misunderstood. With that is the fear of hurting someone’s feelings, all unwittingly. Number 2 is the fear of taking myself too seriously, of losing the joy of just writing. Then there is the whole arena of being so public with things that normal people just quietly keep to themselves. 😛 Believe it or not, I have a wide streak of play-it-safe in my psyche.  Sometimes I write vulnerable posts just to counteract that tendency.

The pros list includes the fact that I just like this creative outlet. I really enjoy word-crafting, and I have concluded that it is an outlet that is good. Number 2 on the list is my husband’s encouragement. Just to clarify a point here, I don’t post personal stuff about him without his permission/blessing.  Also on this list is the fact that being real can bless others, even when real is messy. If I can share about the amazing Redeemer who rescues me daily from myself, I want to do that. Oddly, that is the one where I get stuck with taking this too seriously… like every post should be meaningful, or I have wasted your time.

Summary: I write because I like it, and I am honored that you read it.

Send the Flu Packing: Homemade Elderberry Syrup

It’s my repost day, and I would like to make a public service announcement:  The flu is really bad this year. Have you noticed? My husband keeps telling me what an awful strain of flu this year is packing. This is not to be confused with stomach bugs, which are bad enough. It is the aching, please-let-me-just-die-now flu, and a lot of people are dying. By the grace of God we have not experienced anything worse than common colds this entire winter. I have a weapon that I keep in my fridge all winter long. I think this may be the blog post I am asked about more than any other. You could always search for it in the archives where I posted it four years ago, but here it is, with love and a few edits.

(My husband is extremely skeptical of potions, home-remedy-cure-alls, etc, but he swigs elderberry syrup as soon as he feels a little bit ill. He works with sick people all the time, and he has not had to take a sick day in five years. We credit the mercy of God above all, and these amazing little berries are a part of His mercies too!)


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

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

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

The star is elderberry, lovely elderberry.

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


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

I want an elderberry bush. Actually, I would like a whole thicket of elderberries, so I could share with all my friends. I bought my freeze dried berries at Sunburst Superfoods. The price for one pound is less than the price for one (smallish) bottle of elderberry syrup, already prepared, which is why I bought them, of course. (edit: I have two elderberry bushes. The dog loves to chew on the stems, for some odd reason, and the birds have a way of robbing all the berries before I get to them. It made me feel good to try raising them, but my best sources are still the bulk herb stores.)

Does this actually work? Yes, it really does. I stay on the ball with dosing someone who is starting with flu like symptoms, and we rarely have any sickness that lasts longer than 2 days. I keep them dosed every couple of hours. This is really important to me, because I have a child with a compromised immune system. Flu is our biggest enemy, the doctors say. She has not yet ever needed to go to the emergency room for rehydration, thank God! Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Stay well, my friends!

DIY Butterfly Net

A few years ago my children had a burning desire to possess nets for catching bugs, one apiece. I started doing some research and found none that looked as if they would survive longer than a week at our house. And the prices of the better brands were ridiculous. So I started brainstorming and looking for mesh sport shirts at second hand venues. It wasn’t long until we found 2 at a yard sale for 50 cents each.

Here I have a photo of the boys, holding the shirts and some wire loops that Gabe helped them shape. We sewed the shirts into a net shape, trimming off the sleeve holes and necklines, and leaving the bottom hem of the shirt intact to thread the wire through. I think this was about the weight of wire we used for fencing.


Gabe then helped them find sturdy little saplings for handles, the longer the better, they thought. He used his pocket knife to cut a kind of channel for the wire to fit into along the handle, then used these fasteners to hold the whole works together.


These are some nets that hold up, let me tell you! Two years later, they still work just fine, although a bit the worse for wear in looks. I would use the green part of the shirt next time, instead of the white lining that we used for Alex’s net. I would guess that they cost us less than a dollar each, using stuff we already had on hand. I don’t think they ever caught a butterfly in their nets, but they have caught tame rabbits and cats and dragonflies and crayfishes.

And now, let me just look a bit at how much my little boys have changed and sprung up somehow in two years. It is positively scary! I might also mention that neither one of them sees any sense in “blue and green should never be seen.” They flat out don’t care, so I decided I don’t need to either. I apologize for the pain to your eyes. Normally they don’t stand still long enough that it is noticeable.


In Which I Purchase Some Pizzazz

Wanna guess what is the best purchase I have made in a long time? I will give you a few hints. There is a little color-starved worm in my brain every year when March rolls around. It is a sad little worm that is so done with grey and taupe and brown and grey. So I gaze in awe at the lovely Easter displays, and one of the reasons I love Easter candy so much is because of the fresh pastels it is wrapped in. Well, it is also usually chocolate. When I was younger, my sister and I would get spring fever and head to the closest source of fabric to buy our annual, terribly impractical pale green or light blue or lavender cotton yardage for summer dresses. I remember feeling like my life was complete when I could finally wear peach and pink. 🙂

Anyway, I did buy some fabric for myself this spring. White, with a coral sweater to go with it. A bit of brilliance, but not my most brilliant purchase.

Has anyone else noticed the purses for sale this year? Maybe it is because I did about as little shopping as it is possible and still be a woman in the last three years, but this spring I just looked and looked at the purses, aisles and aisles of them. I fought the impulse, but gradually my black leather one from Goodwill just seemed too small and… black. One day I took yet another walk through the purses and I fell hard for a pink leather purse, just the color of the tulips that are not blooming yet. It makes me happy, which makes me feel just a little shallow, but I do believe the Lord understands. He made color, after all.

Still, the smartest purchase is none of those. I walked past the display of Sloggers at the local hardware store, and I decided the time had come to invest in some for myself. My children call them puddle boots, and they each have their own pair. When it rains and sogs, they head outside anyway, but I was always lacking the proper footwear. No more! I passed over the paisleys and the zebra print and the polka dots. Here is the color I bought.


Already I have fought a grass fire (accidental) while wearing them, and I have cleared brush with my husband while wearing them. Then he showed me how to run the chain saw, so I grinned down at my boots and cut down a nasty old thorn tree after he went to work. I slopped through our pasture and climbed the dirt piles in pursuit of a stranded tot. No more gingerly picking my way through the mud in old tennis shoes. I have every intention to go puddling with the children just as soon as I get a chance. And that makes me very happy indeed!