A Broad Range of Conversations


We had another of those What I Want to Be When I Grow Up conversations last week. Gregory has a good plan, “I know what I want to do when I grow up…” I waited for him to sort it out and tell me more. “The only problem is that I keep forgetting what it is. I know it’s a really good thing but I can never remember for more than a few days. The next time I think of it, I am going to write it down!” 


Rita confided to me that when she grows up and has children, she will spank them when they are naughty. I raised my eyebrows, a little surprised that this aspect of child rearing held such importance to her. “I will do it because I love them and don’t want them to be brats. And they will probably ask me if I am Amish. I will tell them, ‘No, but I have Amish blood. From my mom!'”


There are various projects going on currently in our immediate family. Gabe and his brother Thaddaeus are both building small barns and Grandpa is always making something. Olivia had an astute observation for us, “The thing about Peight men is they all like to dream.” I believe some would call it visionary, and she is right. They all do have that quality.


My teen friend from the Old-order Mennonite community was telling me about their disappointment in the lack of serious winter weather. “I don’t care about snow,” she explained, “so long as it chust gives ice for hockey.”


Recently I did some babysitting for a friend. It was breakfast time and the children were hungry. “My mama makes the best pancakes!” the little girl said. I told her we were having eggs, which she thought was a good idea, with just a small variation. “Sometimes my mama makes eggs and pancakes! She makes the best pancakes!” I grinned and asked if she is disappointed about not having pancakes. “Oh no!” she hastened to say, “this is fine.” I poured water into cups for each child. “My mama sometimes gives us milk to drink,” she said politely. “And she makes the best pancakes.” I think I need to ask my friend for her recipe. 🙂


The original idea for Gabe’s week of vacation from work was to travel somewhere where the sun actually shines. (Here? It has been grey for about 93% of the days this winter, with only occasional patches of brilliance. We have had lots of warm days, though, even balmy, so I cannot complain, even though the children pray daily for snow and ice.) But then we thought about spending two of those vacation days traveling, and we came up with a different plan. Something about driving long distances with children just changes one’s perspective on travel.

Have you ever tried winter camping? We haven’t either, but we hope to. In a state park’s log cabin, with heat, with a kitchen, with bunks. Just one small thing: without a bathroom. This is just a minor glitch, no problem. But January. Little girls who need to go potty in the night. I envisioned us bundling up in coats in the pitch darkness, making sure anybody who remotely may need the facilities wakes up to trek along a flashlighted path through the bushes to the toilets. I actually lost a little sleep, thinking about solving this problem. A little research brought up lots of ideas, the most portable being a luggable loo seat that snaps onto a standard 5 gallon bucket. I ordered it from wonderful Amazon at 3AM on Friday morning.

When Gabe got up, I did that thing I do sometimes, assuming that he knows the whole backstory in my head. I started telling him how I ordered a luggable loo seat because there is no way I want to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He looked at me in shocked disbelief. “Hon, it’s all of ten feet from the bed to the bathroom.” After my own shock wore off, I understood that he thought I was planning to install it in our bedroom at home.

Communication. It’s pretty important, folks. Also listening. Context helps, too.

And, just for funny:


Here’s my personal challenge for this week: Put down your phone. Look at people when they talk to you. Really hear the words your children say. Write it down if it is delightful or wise. And don’t forget to actually visit. It wouldn’t hurt to make great pancakes some morning, too.

I Just Wanted to Hang up the Coats

Back when we first thought the weather might turn cold, I surveyed the coat storage situation and divided the amount of space by the number of people in the household, coming up short every time. It’s just that the children’s coats keep getting bigger, we don’t have a closet for them, and I prefer them off the floor. Hallways are wasted space, in my opinion, so I used to have a picture gallery in mine. Then I got tired of dusting the frames, took all of them down and hung a row of hooks on white boards. Like this:


Nothing fancy, but they did the trick. And now I found myself without space for the “fat coats”. Needing another hook rail, I zipped off to Amazon, found what I needed, and two days later it was at my door. It was a ridiculously large box with an ominous rattle. I opened it to find a rail with two hooks attached, one rolling around loose like, and one missing altogether. Ugh. I checked my options, decided I didn’t have time in the near future to run to the UPS drop off store 7 miles away. So I checked off “Buy postage, get reimbursed up to $7.50” and trundled to the post office 1 mile away. When the nice lady behind the counter cheerfully announced $12 something, something, I said, “No, thanks, I guess I will take it to the UPS store, but thank you anyway,” and got out of there.

Amazon had immediately processed my return, and two days later another ridiculously large box sailed onto the front porch. This time the hook rail was swathed in bubble wrap and intact. They gave me a month to return the messed up one. I forgot about it for a long time (about 27 days), then my conscience smote me one day and I made a point of going to the UPS store. But I forgot to print out the prepaid return label. No big deal; how much could it really be? When the nice lady behind the counter cheerfully announced $16 and something, I exhaled slowly and said, “Thanks, but no thanks. I will come back once I have the prepaid label,” and I felt so cheap that I bought a really nice mug in her gift shop before I left.

I came home and immediately printed out the label, put that plaguey box right beside the door where I couldn’t forget it. Two days later, a ridiculously large box came sailing onto my front porch with yet another hook rail, this time swathed in bubble wrap and filled all around with airpacs. “No!” I wailed. Amazon had told me if I didn’t return the damaged goods within a month, I would be charged for two items. I only needed one. But I had already printed out the label for the messed up one. I know what will happen two days later if I return the third one.

I looked in vain for a number or email account to square with them about my order. It was a little like that time I couldn’t find the matches at Walmart. It wasn’t there. Nobody was there.

I decided to honor my original plan. Today. My glasses were in, ready for pick up and the kids had Book-it coupons for Pizza Hut, so I would be driving right past the UPS store from point A to point B. I loaded up everybody except the dog. It was raining and cold and I felt a little grouchy about my errands. But pizza. No supper cooking. It was 3:00 when I rolled up to the UPS store. The nice lady was not behind the counter. They are closed on Saturday.

The children were chomping pizza. No hair off their chinny chins. At 3:10 I parked across from Wise Eyes. They closed at 2 PM on Saturdays.

I went to Walmart and got toothpaste and shampoo. I forgot the matches.

Alex and I installed the extra hooks in my reading room, behind the door. I can hang my purse there. I am past caring. All I wanted was to hang up some coats.




Things to Do

Guess what was the first thing I did in the new year, right after supervising the gun-shooting boys in the backyard? It wasn’t drinking bubbly or eating cheesecake, not by a far shot! Oh well, you will never guess. The first thing I did in the year of 2016, 12:01 AM? I helped clean up a puddle in the basement made by a very excited dog who couldn’t hold her bladder in the blasting excitement of the shotgun. I am not superstitious, but it did irritate me a little.

It’s all fresh this morning. It is snowing! At last, at last the precipitation is coming down in acceptable form. We had omelettes for breakfast and French vanilla tea and coffee from Honduras. The dishes are cleared away, the husband went to work, the dog is outside, wistfully looking in, the children get the day off school, and I have a witty memoir to read. All is well.

I have no plans for complicated anything today. I may need to settle some fights and feed a few people and I do hope to clear out the boxes that are stacked in my reading room where the chair is supposed to be. Nine. Nine! Boxes of books for the refugee children. Not to crow, or anything, but you folks who so generously supported my fundraising dream deserve to see what we have done together. There are beginning English flashcards and ABC wipe-cleans and First Hundred Words in English and First Thousand Words in English. There are Thing to Spot and Mazes and sticker books and story books. There are dot to dots and doodle books and lots and lots of science readers full of bright pictures. I took them all out of the boxes and stroked them lovingly. I prayed over those books, and now I am sending them along up the chain. I have no idea what will happen with them all, but thank-you, thank-you, all who shared!

refugee books

There are a few things I want to do this year. Topmost among my goals, of course, is being a keeper of our home. Keepers (think zookeepers) feed and water and clean out stinky stuff and make habitats that are welcoming. I see this as a life work, with no apologies to anybody who thinks it is impossibly restricted and limiting. It is harder than you think. Can I hear an amen from the mothers present? Yesterday my little girls drew pictures for me:

This is how they see life right now and it makes me very glad. I am not raising my children in a bubble of happy, where nothing nasty ever happens. I show them sad pictures in the news and we pray for homeless people and broken situations. They know that these things are possibilities. But I am fighting fiercely for their innocence, for their purity, for their emotional stability. I am working toward kindness and honesty and no name-calling.

Recently we had a discussion about secret sins, Gabe explaining to the children that this is when we do things that we think nobody will find out. Like cheat on homework, or sneak someone else’s chocolate, or poach things out of the fridge when Mama isn’t looking. We all looked at Rita and grinned and she said, “Oh, yeah, I have secret sins. I mean, no, I just have secrets! Plans and stuff.” Those plans do include my sewing scissors oftener than I like. There is still much to do this year!

I want to write more. When I started selling Usborne books in August, my writing and reading took a hit, which is kind of ironic. I missed it. And I didn’t even read to the children as much anymore because I was busily getting books into other children’s hands. I love selling the books, but I am setting up some parameters for myself, having established the fact that we will never get rich from what I am doing, judging by the numbers at year’s end. It’s a part time job for me, one I love, with a steadily accumulating stash of wonderful books in my reading room. But I am not willing to let other creative outlets be stifled, so I signed up for two things to aid all of us in the house.

The children are doing a 31 day Read Aloud Challenge in January. It’s not too strenuous, but we will probably take some extra trips to the library. They are fondly hoping to win a Kindle, or at least a $20 Amazon gift card.

I signed myself up for a WordPress writing challenge in February, which coincides nicely with my annual daily posts in the short month. I am also continuing my daily diary entries. I actually made it without skipping one day last year, although sometimes I had to catch up a week at a time. Most of the days were not brilliant, but they got a record anyway.

That is life, isn’t it? I think the past is like a compost heap: The bumper crops are represented by piles of husks and peelings. The weeds that got pulled out are thrown in there too, all decaying together into something that becomes very useful indeed when applied to the gardening efforts of the present. It all matters when we recycle the past and learn from what went right and what went wrong. The future will be richer and wiser, the crops better for the organic matter gained by experience. With that inspiring analogy, I will add just one funny story.

I was at Goodwill with Livvy, standing at check-out behind an elderly grandmotherly sort of lady. They were running a special, an extra 20% off for anyone over 55.  The cashier asked, “So, do you qualify for our sale today?” Obviously, yes, I thought. Then it was my turn. “So, do you qualify for our sale today?” I couldn’t help it. I laughed in her face. No. Obviously, no. But I am getting there as fast as I can!