Going to Seed, Among Other Things

It is that time of the year where I find that the best approach to gardening is just to slowly back away, hands in the air, saying, “Uncle.” The promise of bounty isn’t shiny and fresh anymore, but hanging down sad, withered, eaten by bugs and surrounded by weeds. I tell myself every year that I won’t let that happen again, and for some reason, every year it does. I still have an interest in a rather large broccoli crop and late green beans, but the rest may slowly rot back into the soil, I am so tired of it.

Still, there are some bright spots. We have three enormous volunteer sunflowers, all different colors. Gabe wanted to pull them out when they started showing up, but I love volunteers. They are so brave and unexpected: random reminders of undeserved graces in obscure places. There is also a gigantic watermelon on a blighted vine that I have no idea how to tell when I should pick it. And we have our first concord grapes this year. We are blessed, indeed. So what about the weeds. ?Right?

I decided this morning that homeschooling and canning at the same time is for the birds. Or maybe for crazy people. No wonder the house goes to seed. And I asked myself honestly, “Are these peaches worth the stickiness and the fuzzy fingers and carpal tunnel? Really, am I just doing this because my line have always canned peaches back to just after the cave days when someone discovered glass? And I daresay none of my ancestors tutored a math lesson and checked quizzes on peach canning day. So why am I doing this again?” Sometimes it is best not to overthink these things, especially in the middle of a mess. I decided to just keep calmly on peeling and eventually we were done, school was done, we cleaned up and we held real still for a while. ūüôā

At the book fair a few weeks ago, I picked up a book that was an obvious attempt at a Jan Karon look-alike, just a different author. I thought I would give this one a try. Set in the Midwest, the book opens in springtime with an orchard in bloom, bees humming busily in the blossoms. A few days later the main character takes a drive to the neighbors who happen to have a thriving home business of making fruit sauces. That day they were processing pears. It just irritates me terribly. Maybe they shipped the pears from Chile or China, but still… Also the orchard lady had carried along a few boxes of fruit for the sauce making people, also presumably shipped from far afield. Boo, I say.

If I ever write anything more serious than a blog, I hope to goodness that I remember to stick with what I know. Feel free to tap me on the shoulder anytime and say, “Hey, that doesn’t make sense.”

I Can’t Keep Up!

But that is okay, as long as I sort of keep up, you know… like make sure my people are fed and clean and have fat souls. It’s the date that gives me trouble. Tonight we were writing letters to prison inmates, a ministry our church tries to help with about once a month. I dated my first letter August 19, which I discovered was just a few days wrong.

August 19 was actually the day we started back to school in this household. Just like that, the days are chock-full, the summer “over” in the sense of carefree, go-swimming-any-old-time, sleep-late-if-you-wish, etc. I am actually grateful for the more disciplined schedule. With Gabe’s work schedule being all over the place, days and nights all mixed up from week to week, it felt like we were all just flying by the seat of our collective pants this summer. I can handle that for a while, but I like it better to have some firmly established routines. Nothing like school to sober us all up at bedtime and getting up time.

We always do a party when we start back up in the fall, but this past Monday found me totally unprepared, so I told the children we will shoot for more of a Grand Opening party, like stores do when they have the kinks worked out of a new system. The DVDs are working all right for the boys. I like to hear them doing math drills while I am teaching Olivia. I have never met a homeschool mom who loved doing math drills. It is a bit of a problem when you don’t have the competition of a class to force you into being speedy. Gregory was in tears the first morning because he couldn’t keep up with his class. I still spend the entire morning with the students, monitoring, checking, fielding questions, teaching Livvy, keeping the little girls busy, etc. I won’t be twiddling my thumbs anytime soon! And when I do, I will know what else I could be doing.

Last week was crammed, the chief  event a delightful campout at a nearby park with my brother and his family. It was so relaxing, after all the frantic packing lists and hauling of ice chests and setting up campsites, to sit and watch a fire and let the kids get thoroughly acquainted with the local variety of dirt.

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Nate and Becca. I made them lean in like teenagers do, but you can see, they aren’t quite young enough to pull it off.


“I can do it myself!” Addy’s favorite phrase these days. Here Gabe is rescuing her from her independent efforts to swim.


Funny title to read when camping, huh? They couldn’t all see, so I was interrupted about seventeen times as they shifted heads and bodies and craned necks, complaining.


Cousins, making a book of baby animals. These two stuck together like cheese and crackers.


Gabe and I attempted a selfie. Something we are, apparently, also a little too old to do well. At least, I don’t think it is particularly flattering. But I like the hilarity of the picture, as it captures the general air of relaxation and togetherness of those camping days.

I did laundry for two days, solid, when we got home again. On Friday I turned 1/2 bushel of tomatoes into sauce and the next day I froze 23 quarts of corn, then the next day I took the children to church without Gabe because he had to work. That afternoon I spent hours catching up with a little girl I used to babysit. Only now she is all grown up and going into nursing school. (Somebody pinch me.) Which brought me to Monday morning, school starting and no party. The children were very understanding. We hope to do our Grand Opening on Friday. Because this… this choice to do school at home is a bit engrossing. Everything changes for 9 months. I think we deserve a party.

Treasure Hunt


I spent a happy hour at a book sale today, a sale benefitting the local hospital. If the books donated are any indication of what the general population is reading, it appears that my taste is rather counter-culture. Or maybe folks donate their Sillouette paperbacks because they are vaguely aware that they are so much junk? At any rate, the hunt is a thrill when I find something like a pristine copy of Andrew Henry’s Meadow. I had briefly considered buying one as a gift for one of my boys a while ago, until I saw that they are all listed at upwards of 20 dollars. Today the price was one dollar for as many books as you could stuff into a plastic bag. Then they made an announcement that the books were free, it being the end of the day and all. Donations accepted. I paid 5 dollars for a big box of books and games, including Andrew Henry’s Meadow, and it makes me happy. By the way, Andrew Henry is exactly like my boys, always making things. ¬†ūüôā

External Vexations Vs. Eternal Verities

Sorry about the ponderous title. It was fun to extract it word-by-word from the Thesaurus, especially now that it sounds like some sort of article from the 1800’s . ¬†ūüôā

I wouldn’t really say it was a good day. But it wasn’t a bad day, exactly. I sometimes think I am getting more skilled at rolling with the punches, but occasionally the punches come more fast and furious than usual. It leaves me feeling, at the end of the day, like I have not lived it very well.

I was thinking about this in the shower, and suddenly I just burst out laughing. Gabe has a week of night shift, so I shall tell you about the day.

It started last night with a late iced coffee, and it was so good, so very effective at wiring me that I stayed up until 1 AM catching up with Facebook  posting our checking account and credit card data in our budget program. At that hour I even entertained a brief notion of surprising the boys with a day of school today! Haha. We have all our supplies, all our books, shiny new desks that Gabe made. Everything is ready except the teacher. I decided to wait another week or two, make tomato sauce instead.

We all had breakfast together before my hubby needed to go sleep. Then it was daily chores, little girls getting dressed in whatever picturesque outfit tickled their fancy, boys cutting up tomatoes. Everything went just fine, except for the fact that doing food preserving in a small kitchen, where every time you turn around you stumble over a fresh configuration of the chairs and people, becomes a little wearing. Also there was a small matter of literally sticking to the floor when I walked. I am trying hard to break the habit of saying, “That gets on my nerves,” ¬†because my children repeat it. But I will just tell you, in confidence, a sticky floor really gets on my nerves.¬†

Lunch was very dry sandwiches lovingly prepared by the little boy who hates mayo. And a bit of chocolate on the sly for me. Then I shooed them all out while I washed up all those dishes and the sauce simmered on the stove and burned slightly on the bottom for lack of stirring. About then the littlest tot complained, “I NEEDS to go to bed!” Me too, tot, me too! Not an option, of course, but a nice thought.

We needed to go pick up milk from our friendly farmer. Even though Gabe was fast asleep, I took just one person with me. The van didn’t start, but the car worked. All but the AC. While we were over in horse and buggy country anyway, I had some kind of lapse and thought we should maybe do some sweet corn for the freezer yet today, the floor being already sticky and all… But God was merciful and the produce stand was sold out of corn. When we got home, I discovered¬†the food coloring/homemade paint project crossed with cleanup involving a new white towel.

The house was hot and reeked of garlic and tomatoes. Unfortunately, our AC unit fried. All the females around here had a bad hair day due to the humidity. I found it mildly depressing to know that I looked exactly the same sort of hoodlum as my girls. ūüôā Then it rained and poured.¬†Somehow there were two carseats out in the lane that got soaked. The little girls listened to the same story CD for the tenth time and I was feeling ready to write a scathing letter to the producers. The kiddos ran in and out, let the flies in. It was just drip, drip, drip. On and on and on my nerves. Oops.

Two hours after lunch everybody was hungry again. The tot bit chunks out of all the plums. The self sufficient little girl found a lunch box, filled it with an apple and pretzels. Then she poured milk and cleaned up her drips with a tea towel.

They were bored. They were housebound. They dragged folding chairs into their bunk beds. So I set them on the couch and they howled mirthfully at  Dennis the Menace until a very uninspired supper of spiral pasta and fresh tomato sauce. But the sauce was really good!

I sent my man off again with a lunch packed for his midnight snack. One boy took out the trash and folded the laundry while the other washed the kitchen floor. He missed a few spots, but it was a definite improvement.

Someone emptied a can of shaving cream into the tub. The baby deliberately puddled onto the floor. And they were all hungry again after our bedtime story. The tot got out of her bed five times. The girls were hot with their hair on their necks and giggled while I made them really high pony tails.

Downstairs there were dehumidifiers to empty and reset, some last instructions about the proper placement of dirty clothes, and NO, you may not wear that shirt again tomorrow, even if it is your favorite. And then…

There was the kitten under the blankets. That was the last, the final drip that turned it all from just driving me nuts to hilarious.

What was that I read just this morning? It sounded so ideal, so peaceful… I just found it again in Isaiah 54:13.

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;

and great shall be the peace of thy children…”

I ask myself, in this very ordinary, hilarious, sometimes frustrating life…when at times I am ashamed to hear my voice, provoked to high pitchedness about food coloring on a white towel and chairs in my way… how does He turn my very flawed efforts into children “taught of the Lord…”?

I asked God the same question, and this is what He said, “My grace is sufficient for you… really. Not just sufficient in the middle of a hard place, but sufficient, too, at the end of the day, when you have messed up and been impatient and irritated. My grace is sufficient for you… and your children!”

Here are some more of the verses in Isaiah 54. They make a very fine resting place, even a reason to laugh in the shower!

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper;

and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”

Joy Wins

Isn’t it sweet that the winner of my book giveaway is a lady who I used to clutch onto my nine year old, not-so-ample hip and carry all over the strawberry patch where her mother and big sister were busily picking? That the person I used to make sit still while I attempted to put wobbly pigtails in her blonde wisps is now a squeaky new mother who won “Keep a Quiet Heart” just tickles me. Congratulations, Joy!

On Being Safe

Some of you heard about this story and have asked me to retell it. I have a difficult time verbalizing it all, mostly because of the recurring nightmares and repeated trips back to trusting a kind, oh, such a Kind Providence for what may happen or what might have been.

I think I have known for a long time that life is a gift, meant to be lived freely, offered back imageswith open palms to the One who gives it. I have said that the surest way to live impoverished is to live with clenched hands, keeping everything for oneself, holding tightly to control.

I have known these things in my head, but I never experienced anything like the raw terror and scrabbling to hold onto life like I did this past week. (edit: I wrote this a month ago.)

Any parent or child care giver knows that sense of responsibility that comes with wanting to keep our beloved little people safe from harm. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them. We would gladly shield them from struggle and heartbreak if we could. And especially, we want to keep them safe.

July 4th… It was the best weather and the best water for a canoe trip with friends, the river just thunderstorm-swollen enough to keep the canoes from scraping constantly on rocks. We arranged for babysitters for the smallest children and took the older ones along to the drop off point. Five children from two families and one mama, waiting with the canoes while the canoe trailer was hauled to the take out point, 12 miles downstream. It took a while. The children got bored, started splashing in the shallows of a small stream that ¬†joined the larger river just there. The water was about knee deep, and there was a rope swing on the far bank, where they were having fun swinging over the little creek.

Just as I was heading down the bank to keep a closer eye on their play, I saw the smallest girl, the daughter of our friends, swept off her feet in the current. I yelled for the others to help her up. Her big sister who can swim a bit, grabbed for her, but to my horror, I saw them both sweep out to the dark, still water of the river. The little girl was climbing up onto her big sister in sheer desperation, pushing her under. I tore into that water, swimming as hard as I could. It was deep, much deeper than I expected, and before I got out to them, they had both gone under the surface twice. The little one popped up right in front of me and grabbed me in a strangle hold around my neck.

I am not a strong swimmer, more of a doggy paddler. I have never swum with a dead weight hanging onto me. And I couldn’t find her sister. I yelled and yelled for help, frantically sweeping around me with my arms and legs, trying to decide what to do. Should I take little sister to shore, then try to dive for the other girl? Oh Lord, I can’t dive. Oh, Jesus, these girls are supposed to go camping with all their cousins this weekend. Jesus, help! In those moments, I thought that their parents would come back to find that I had allowed their daughter to drown.

Just then, she slowly floated up beside me, holding perfectly still, eyes wide open, just under the surface. She was too tired or too panicked to make any effort to swim. I grabbed her hand, but I didn’t have the strength to lift her head above the water, so I started the struggle back to shore, towing her under water. My son ran for the life jackets, tossed, missed, ran for another, tossed again, and somehow we caught it and she pulled herself up, gasping the sweet air. When we all staggered out onto the bank, I could hardly believe that the birds were still singing, the river was still sparkling, the children were all still breathing, alive.

We huddled in the brilliant sunlight, wrapped in towels, praising God for life, for breath.

I cannot shake the feeling of that near tragedy. I know my capabilities as a swimmer are not the reason we all got out safely. I don’t understand how that child could hold her breath that long, yet I don’t know how long it was… just long enough to hold all the terrors I ever felt. It was, pure and simple, not the day of death, but of life.¬†

“I won’t die until it is my time to die,” as a teenager I said it glibly to my mom when she was concerned about my safety in traveling to third world countries. I know this in my head, but I have always struggled with the question, “What about tragedies? accidents? freak circumstances?”

Over and over this week I have heard the calm words of David from Psalm 31, when he was running for his life.

Fear is on every side;
While they take counsel together against me,
They scheme to take away my life.

 But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;

I say, ‚ÄúYou¬†are¬†my God.‚ÄĚ
My times are in Your hand;

I have realized how tight my grip is, how invested I am, maybe not so much in my own safety, but in the safety of my children. I have felt how tightly my fists can clench onto life. I mean, one minute they can be laughing, splashing in shallows and the next they can be drowning. It haunts me. I have beaten myself up again and again for not being more aware of how deep the water was. I have realized, too, that life is full of terrors, of danger, of fearful things. I can live in fear and try endlessly to cover all the bases to make sure my children are okay. Or I can relinquish control and trust God to cover the bases that I am sure to miss.

I wish I could say it was an easy thing to learn, but it was not, and it continues, every day.  Join me in giving our babies, all our dear ones, to the safekeeping of the only real safe place, the arms of the Father. And thank God with me, yes?