Well, here we are leaping into March!  My children have these circular discussions about whether it would be cool to be born on leap day or not. Would you have four cakes and four presents from everybody to make up for lost time? Would you freeze some cake for the next year’s un-birthday? Could you really say you were only 20 for 4 years, then would you be 21 or 24? Would you pretend you were a day older or a day younger so you could have parties every year? It sure gets complicated; birthdays are serious stuff! I didn’t even tell them about the whole proposal thing yet.


Today was brilliantly sunny and bitterly cold in patches. I looked out the window and saw Rita, all bundled up but playing barefooted on a dirt pile. Later she had her boots on but no coat because the sun was unveiled by the clouds for just a little while. It has real warmth in it these days and we feel in our bones that we have survived.

Recently we watched a documentary called something like  A Year in the Life of a Moose, set in Jasper National Park.  “Boy, this is gonna be one long movie,” Alex said. It started out with calving time and the photographer literally shadowed the mother and baby pair for the entire year, camping and filming to try to see what is decimating the moose population.  We watched two mother/baby sets as they nibbled twigs and dove in lakes to eat water plants and then the snow fell and the danger descended. One day wolf tracks joined the moose tracks and you heard ravens calling and then the little pile of fur and bones that was left from the baby who couldn’t run fast enough to get away through the deep snow. We were all holding our breath. It was such a let down, because he had almost made it to the spring thaw.

Addy caught on that this was in Canada where the bloodthirsty wolves were. I had just read her a story where Anna Hibiscus is going to Canada to visit her grandmother. “Wow,” Addy asserted, “Anna Hibiscus had better be careful!

Speaking of survival, I just want to take a little time to thank the Lord for coffee and tea, gallons of it, laced with cream.  Then there are candles to light and those amazingly cozy microfiber throws that are for sale everywhere these days, even at Aldi’s. I thank Him for the vitamin D caps that I took regularly during the short grey days, absorbing the internal sunshine. I am grateful for the flowers from the grocery store, the little 88 cent pots of brilliant primroses blooming in a row on my windowsill. There is also this innovation called the heated seat, which removes the discomfort of traveling somewhere in subzero weather. There are books that take me far out of myself and my knotty little problems. Not the least of the things I thank God for is the crowd of friends and loved ones I have who rally around me and cheer me on. Even in February! The truth is that I am so surrounded by ways to keep the wolves at bay that I am embarrassed to complain about cold toes or pale skin.

Anyway, we made it! Thank God, we made it!

How to Raise a Reader

All my life I have been fortunate to have access to good books. I totally took it for granted when I was little. The daily story time with my mom when it was nap time, the sets of pricey Uncle Arthur’s Bible Stories and Bedtime Stories bought from the traveling salesman, where my mom and dad conferred in hushed tones about whether they were worth buying and we begged and they said, “O.K. We will take them.” Those are my earliest bookish memories.

My dad bought box lots of old books at estate auctions. He brought us library books too. We loved it, because he would bring huge tomes of photo journalists’ collections as well as Dr. Seuss stories or books on wildlife. In our mailbox we got Time, Family Life, Smithsonian, Wee Lambs, Highlights, National Geographic. (My mom would check through it first and use a Sharpie to draw clothes on any unsuitably naked Aborigines before we were allowed to read the magazine.) We got Guideposts and Reader’s Digest too. That’s where I collected my Drama in Real Life grizzly stories. There was always something interesting to read or something coming in the mail just any day.

This was the pattern for all of my dad’s family. My unmarried uncle gave us Ranger Rick subscriptions for Christmas and my Grandma sent us classics like Hans Brinker or Little Women. When the Schlabach’s got together they would all sit quietly around the living room with magazines and newspapers and if someone thought of something to say, they said it, politely taking turns.

That is the first thing that comes to mind when trying to raise a reader: the process of surrounding children with reading material. Sooner or later even the most resistant ones will find something that interests them if you give them choices. When I was about 10 years old my parents invested in a shiny new set of encyclopedias. They were expensive, with really good bindings and color pictures. We sat around for weeks, I am not kidding, reading those encyclopedias. Recently I inherited that same set for our homeschool room and now my children do the same. They are still endlessly fascinating. My brother Nate and I read the dictionary for fun too. I realize now how impossibly nerdy that is, but we turned out fairly normal after all.

There is another equally important factor in our childhood that turned us out to be readers. We didn’t have TV. We didn’t have radio. We didn’t have movies. We had books and audiobooks and and the outdoors when it was nice and games to play with each other when it was not nice outdoors. This is how all Amish and Mennonite children were raised. We were not an anomaly in our small world. If we went to the neighbors’ and they had Sesame Street turned on, we sat and enjoyed it for as long as our mom visited, but we didn’t feel the lack of those programs in our everyday life at all.

BiFE4P2CQAAWphG(image source)

Once when I was younger I had a conversation with a very educated lady about killdeer chicks and I used the word “precocious”. She said, “How do you know that word? I mean you only went to eighth grade, didn’t you?” I can’t remember for sure, but I might have told her I read the dictionary when I was bored. Haha.

As homeschoolers, our main strategy for teaching the children to love learning is to teach them to love reading. We want them to be lifelong learners, curious about things, actually looking them up in real paper books! In order to facilitate getting lots of really good nonfiction books on our shelves, I signed up to sell Usborne books last year. The educational experts recommend 100 books per child in the home, and updating them as they outgrow them. Last week I decided to do an inventory of the books on our shelves. I came up with 1,500 titles, over half of them children’s literature. I believe that is what some Uzzies would call shelf-righteous. Pardon me, but I am following my parents’ example and it is working. Ours are all turning out to be readers.

There are some stunning statistics that I will share for you to chew on. They are not just Usborne propaganda. You can look them up on many different websites and find the same numbers. I checked because I find it hard to believe.

Literacy statistics, 4th grade


literacy stats

Folks, this is scary. This is really scary. You know that quote up there about adults who think? This explains why so much senseless decision making is going on in our country. We don’t want to raise our children to be lemmings mindlessly running after what someone else is telling them. Let’s raise them to be readers and thinkers!


Why I Love Children’s Literature

We were on the road, running errands. The eldest son broke his glasses. Again. For the third time in a twelve-month. We needed to pick them up, deliver some books ordered at an Usborne party about 45 miles distant, visit the cousins, do a little shopping because the French press had a mishap in the dishwasher this morning, and then at last come home. It was about two hours of driving time on a cold afternoon, sitting bumper to bumper in the vehicle. What could have been really boring flew right by because we did it with Ribsy on audio, cavorting along, getting lost and found repeatedly. I laughed as heartily as the children when Ribsy chased the squirrel that came to school in a show-and-tell box. We all agreed that obviously, this author has a dog. She described in minute detail how dogs beg and grovel gratefully when they get attention. She even narrated what Mother says when Ribsy wants to ride in the new car with the family, “Don’t pay him any attention! Henry, don’t even look at him!” The children giggled gleefully and said, “That sounds like you, Mama!

When we read, my children don’t have any concept of gaining insight into human nature or relationships, but that is what happens in great fiction. I just read a study that indicates that people (including children) who read fiction score significantly higher on the empathetic scale because they are constantly walking in another’s shoes while they are reading. Conversely, children (and adults!) who have unlimited screen time score much lower in simple tests designed to identify another person’s emotions using facial cues. It’s not that they don’t care at all, but they simply haven’t been practicing while staring at a device. (That’s just my little Free Rant Bunny Trail for the day.)

The best children’s books are simple themes, with masterful descriptions that take you right to the scene and leave you breathless to figure out what will come next. There is a trend in modern children’s books that tends to dark and heavy topics. I hate it. Stories for young children should be wholesome, real, not burdening a child with a load they aren’t meant to carry. That will come soon enough.

I can still see Jimmy and the Jam Jars and that incredible mess he made when he was sneaking the fresh jam in the kitchen. I can recall holding my breath as Peter Rabbit ducked into a watering can to hide, of all places! and of course he had to sneeze! I can walk the trail with Little Bear when something went pit-pat, pit-pat behind him on the path. These are the books that are a delight to read aloud. Rarely do I read books to my children that bore me. If the illustrations are beautiful, I can manage it, but otherwise just go get another book, Sweetie.

This week we cracked open some brand new books. I got a set from Usborne titled  Anna Hibiscus. Olivia has been spending all her free time in Africa, amazing Africa, with Anna Hibiscus and her extended family that lives in a compound with goats nibbling outside the door and aunties sewing cool dresses and braiding everybody’s hair. The twin brothers, Double and Trouble, are doing what all toddlers do best, getting into constant mischief and Anna is supposed to watch them! These books are genius, and I do not say that lightly. Olivia doesn’t know that she is learning to love a culture that is vastly different from her own, but she knows that a little girl from rural Pennsylvania wants to go to Amazing Africa.


Here is another favorite from an author that delights without fail: Mr. Putter and Tabby, by Cynthia Rylant.

Mr. Putter has always wanted to write a book. He wakes up to the perfect book writing day, sits in his comfortable chair with his companionable cat and thinks of a title that fits his plot. It is strenuous going and he needs a snack to sustain him. The snack takes a few hours of time, after which he needs a nap. This goes on for days until he decides to just write a list instead of a book. I, a 38 year old woman, love this children’s story.  Wonder why?

That’s the thing: children’s literature is about life and all of us. It may be told from the vantage point of the beloved family dog or a tiny tugboat in an impossibly crowded harbor, but it is easy enough for anyone to understand and say, “Yes, that’s how it really is!”

Tomorrow I will tell you a little more about how my parents raised us to be readers.


Brain Dump

My assignment for today is to try to set up a plan for a regular feature on the blog. It’s a good idea, really, but I don’t have any idea how to narrow down the options. What if I don’t feel Wacky or Wordless on Wednesday? Suppose Thursday slips by without a Throwback? Maybe Sunday Salute won’t work every weekend.

That’s why they gave the assignment: impulse bloggers like me, who wait to write until the words swarm, are supposed to get a bit of structure and discipline so that people can count on a regular post. We are supposed to have posts ready ahead of time and scheduled to publish whether we are online or not. That’s what serious writers do as a courtesy to their audience. Sometimes I don’t even have a clue what will be for dinner on Wacky Wednesday and I just start stirring around in the fridge until something pops out. I could probably learn to do the same with writing if I had a little help. Here are some examples.

  1. Stream of Consciousness Saturday
  2. What’s Underneath?
  3. Sweet and Sappy Stories
  4. Making of a Mom
  5. Day in the Life… of someone..?
  6. Homeschool Highlights
  7. Routines for Rest
  8. Growing Goodness
  9. The Dish on Dieting
  10. Best Books to Buy

Okay, see my problem? I can’t think of anything catchy or clever enough to hit me between the eyes. Besides, I am running out of steam here. I feel like a chicken that has laid 24 eggs in rapid succession. That’s where your help comes in. Please, tell me what you would like to see as a regular feature. I will set out a list and you can give me votes or suggestions. I won’t make any promises, but it would help me. Don’t bother with number 9. It was a joke.

Wonderful Wordsday

I have been writing from my little girls’ vantage point, but there I will stop. It’s one thing to post an occasional humorous bit about adolescence and a whole other thing to write an entire post about it. 🙂 My oldest son has said, “Mama, please don’t write about me on your blog. Total strangers have come to me at church and said, ‘Hey, I recognize you from your mom’s blog!’ and that is embarrassing!”

As we all know if we have any memory at all, one’s entire early-teen life is fuel for embarrassment. Having “Happy birthday” sung at fellowship meal is enough to make one wish to disappear. I am striving to be respectful to my boys and there I draw the curtain. I level with them when I want to post potentially incriminating details before I hit publish. This idea of handing them the spotlight for a day would never pass their filters for what is okay to write.

Once I met the daughter of Dorcas Smucker from Life in the Shoe. I have read her blog for years, so of course, I recognized her daughter immediately when she visited a friend at our church. I said those infamous words, “Hey, I think I recognize you…” and she finished for me with a little sigh, “…oh yeah, you probably read my mom’s blog.” Mrs. Smucker says she paid her children for especially good stories that begged to be told. That’s an idea, and one I may try on my easily embarrassed offspring in the future.

Today’s prompt for a post was to pick out some great words that are not really common and tell why you think they are interesting. I learned a few new words recently. The first is “blego” which is a blogger’s sense of importance online. I squirm with the suggestion of narcissism implied by blego and think maybe I would be a lot better off being completely anonymous. I would have name assignments for my children like First Son and Third Daughter and I could call my husband Sig-Other or something slightly more original than Hubby Dear. That would spare us any repercussions from too much blego, don’t you think?

I also learned about “digital dieting” which is a necessity ever since there is documentation that internet addiction exists and complicates people’s lives. A digital diet is when people limit their screen time and go for long walks to reconnect with nature, or force themselves to eat out without taking a single foodie photo to post on Instagram.


Last on my list of wonderful new words is one we all know we have needed for a long time. After all, “okay” is so generic, so unsatisfactory to convey the subtleties of layers of meanings we need to convey. So I think I will just go to bed now, mmkay?

When You Are Eight


I am the big girl around this house, even though my brothers think I am really kind of little and weak. I have a mighty spirit though. So what if my arms are skinny and I need help pouring milk from a full gallon?  I am smack in the middle of the family. My brothers are much bigger than me and they think they know so much more than I do, but I show them pretty often that I am not ignorant at all! (Especially when I tell my mom that they were eating chocolate chips from the pantry.) When I was only 1 year old, I had a baby sister; when I was 3 I had another baby sister. So I learned pretty fast to do things like brushing my own hair and making beds and running errands.

My mom depends on me a lot. She says I inherited my grandma’s genius for cleaning up super fast. I don’t know why, but I just love to turn a really messy place into a neat and clean place. I can scurry around and surprise! I think it is more fun to live without a lot of rubble in the house. Sometimes when I have to clean up, I don’t feel like it, though. It’s kind of funny how that works, don’t you think? I doubt my grandma is like that.

The thing is, I share a room with two little sisters who are just so good at leaving clothes on the floor or dumping out all the doll clothes and then they run off and play. It just makes me despair sometimes! They expect me, the cleaner girl, to have fun picking up their messes, but there is a limit to how much a person can bear. I tell my mom how I feel about that: the little girls should clean their own messes!

I really love our dog Lady. She is sometimes a nuisance, but I defend her every time she is in trouble. I have a soft heart for anybody who is trouble, which is why I sometimes regret that I told my mom that the boys ate the chocolate chips. They call me a snitch and then I feel sorry for myself too, and I don’t feel so bad after all that they had to pay for the chocolate chips out of their allowance.

I think my favorite thing in the whole world is going out for breakfast with my dad after I have a lab draw. I get blood-work done every 3 months, then we have a date. I feel so special then that I don’t really mind the needles. The other children get jealous and want to do blood-work too, but this is something that is just mine and I don’t have to share it.

It’s kind of neat, being the middle child. Some days I have to be big and do every bit of my homework and stuff like that, and other days I can skip penmanship practice and have a tea party with my little sisters. I work really hard to get 100% on all my tests in school, because I get a dollar bonus for that.

It’s so hard to save money because every time we go past the stuffed animals in a store, I just feel like I have to get one. Sometimes my mom lets me pick out one at Goodwill, then we wash it in hot water and fluff it in the dryer. I can afford that better than the Valentine’s teddies at Walmart. Lady ripped up a whole bunch of our teddies, so now we don’t have too many anymore. My mom thought it was a mercy, but I didn’t know who to feel sorry for, the teddies that got trashed or Lady who knew she was bad.

I want to be good every day of my life. Sometimes I just do not know how to be peaceful with my siblings when they are so annoying, so I just go tell my mom. She doesn’t always like that, but when I feel bad, we pray and then I can go to sleep at night.  I love Jesus with all my heart, even though I am only a little girl who is 8.

Now We Are Six

“When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever. “

A. A. Milne

This is the best time of my life! I am much wiser than I was just a few years ago. My mom says I was the most mischievous of all the three year olds she has ever seen, but I was learning and exploring and I usually didn’t make the same mistake twice. Like I never went to visit the neighbors without permission again after that one time when my mom couldn’t find me. I know better than that now. And I won’t bring sugar packets home from the church kitchen in my shoes again either. I can’t believe all the things my mom sees.

I love being six and that is why my little sister is always wanting to catch up. I am the middle sister. I don’t have to work as much as the older one and I don’t have to take naps like the little one. Now you see why I like being me.

When school started last fall I got very discouraged about so many years- 12 in all!- until I am done with school. I was crying one day and my mom said I should go out to play with my kitty. That made me feel much better! I love my kitty so much that I go out in the freezingest weather to make sure she has food. Her name is White Nose and she rubs on my legs. I always check on the bunny too, even though that is not my responsibility. If the bunny gets out of her cage, I can catch her because she knows I like her.

Last year I learned to ride my bike without training wheels, then I started riding my big sister’s bike that is so high off the ground that I fall when I stop. I love rushing through the back yard with my hair flying behind me. My mom tries to make sure I wear socks and boots in the wintertime, but my very happiest thing is running barefooted. One time I was picking blackberries and I stepped right on a broken jar that cut my foot. I had to get six stitches and I didn’t even cry a little bit. Afterward I got ice cream with sprinkles.

I know how to build a little fire to roast things on. My mom likes when I ask first, just so she knows about it. For snacks I like marshmallows but sometimes we don’t have any, so we try roasting other things. Apples take kind of long. Most times when I want a snack, I peel a cucumber or cut up a pepper and share it with my little sister. My mom can always smell it on my breath and she says she can’t keep salad things in the fridge, but at least it is a good habit. The worst way to start my day is trying to eat an egg. It just makes me cry.

Soon it will be spring and that will be wonderful! I even found a wooly bear caterpillar today and put it in the terrarium. I have plans for a garden this summer. I want lots of vegetables in mine, but especially flowers to pick. I can save the seeds and have more flowers next year!

My best friend is my cousin and he is a boy! He is six too, and we can play in the woods together for hours. We are Indians! Really, we have a grandmother, lots and lots of greats ago, that was an Indian. We like to fish too. But my brothers don’t like when we use their poles and get the lines all tangled.

Guess what! I can read much better than I could when I was crying about school that day. I have been practicing and it isn’t quite so hard anymore. I just love stories. My mom is reading Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to us and I think it is so funny how she trains the children to do their jobs. I don’t really like to work very much. It’s so boring. But I don’t want the Not Picking up Toys Cure.

I don’t know what I will be when I get big. I am thinking about being an artist or a doctor. It’s hard to know when you are just six.



Right Now I am Four…

…but soon I will be 6 or even 25. I am the baby of my family and yesterday I asked my mom if I have to be the baby of the family always, like till I am 51? She laughed at me and said, “Yup, unless we have another baby or adopt one, you are stuck.” Well, today I met a man who is 48 and he said he is still the baby of his family and he even has 8 children, so it must be true.

This is the thing about being the baby: naps. I am the only one in the whole family who has to sleep every single day. My mom says I get too crabby if I don’t have a nap, but I am sure I would be fine if she would just give it a try. Sometimes my mom even says, “I can’t wait to put you to bed!” when I am fussing about how my brother is looking at me funny, or about not having enough peanut butter with my apple at lunch. I don’t know what that has to do with naps, but there I am, whoop-sloop-bloop, tucked in no matter what I say.

Here is the other thing: nobody takes me seriously. I was serious when I promised to eat all my cupcake as soon as I am thirteen. Right now I mostly like the icing, but I am trying, I really am.

Last year I traded my favorite blanket for a stuffed teddy at night. My mom said my blanket was too grubby for words and I need to grow up, so I did. Don’t you think naps are just not even fair when I am so grown up?

My brothers and sisters act like I am a baby too. They tell me I can’t hold the dog’s leash because I am not strong enough, then when Lady runs away and I fall and cry they say, “See, we told you that you are too little.” This really hurts my feelings. Also, they all do school in these big books with stories and problems. My mom got me some wipe-clean dot-to-dot books and said it’s my school. I like them, but you can’t really tell me that they are important or anything.

Today I found a nickel on the floor and put it in the offering at church. I think the church is pretty rich now. I wish I could be bigger and do big people stuff, but mostly what I can do now is be sweet when I don’t have enough peanut butter on my apple or when my sister picks a bedtime story that I don’t like. It doesn’t feel very important. If I would be bigger, I would go help the refugees. I feel really sad for them and I pray that they can find warm places to stay.

One thing that I have learned to do is match my own outfits so you see I am getting to be pretty big. I have this green sweater with tulips on it that I just love to wear. My mom says it doesn’t go with some of my dresses, but she usually just lets me wear it anyway. My favorite jammies have feet on them and this long zipper from the toe to the top. I was supposed to give them to my cousin who is smaller than me because my toes were all squished, but I was so sad about it that my mom cut off the tip of the jammie feet and now I can wear them until I am 6.

I cannot wait until I am 6. I know I have to get to 5 first and it takes really long! I have been trying to become 5 ever since my last birthday but it is just taking really long. I told my mom it isn’t fair that everybody else has birthdays and mine never comes. She tried to explain birthdays to me, but she just doesn’t know how it is to be trying so hard to catch up all the time.

I guess being four is okay, even the naps stuff if I can pick a story book every day just for myself and nobody else. Don’t tell my mom, but I always look for a really long one. She skips stuff sometimes when she is tired, but I know when she does it! People think I am a baby, but I really have a lot of big ideas. Someday I will show you.


How to Clean Your House in One Hour

cats cleaning, color(source)

The house was a wreck. I am hardened to mess, but this? It was what my mom would have called a Royal Mess. The sun was shining outside and I knew I needed to harness the man-power before it disappeared out the door. My strategy was a simple cleaning blitz, which is what we do when somebody calls and says they would like to stop by in a little while. It’s all hands on deck swooshing away toys and marching shoes to closets. It’s fast and looks great, though not totally thorough, if you know what I mean.

We had six rooms on the main floor to contend with and six people to be contenders. I divided us into three teams. Alex got the little sister who adores him unequivocally. I got the little girl who tends to sit and sigh despairingly at the sheer scope of what she is being asked to do. The two middles got each other and a kitchen with a lot of problems.

“Okay, guys, we have one hour before the sanitation officer comes! Let’s be done by then.” Dividing the huge chunk of picking up and putting away is the best motivation I know for staving off disheartenment. Even so my helper kept languishing and had to be encouraged with itty bitty jobs, one at a time. The middles very diplomatically divided the kitchen work and churned through it in record time. Alex’s team was done first, sitting on the couch with books long before the rest of us were ready for inspection.

Each person then got to inspect one room and the persons responsible for any problem spots had to accept the critique without fuss and fix the issue. I liked this way, because I always end up being the impossibly picky sanitation officer and now they got a chance to do it. They were quite detailed in their inspections. Even one of my rooms didn’t pass.

Lest you think it was all peaches and cream, I should mention the child weeping because her teammate made the bed with wrinkles and he walked off in disgust because she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. The team that was done first had toys stashed in corners and coloring pages behind the couch. And some of the things went into drawers and cupboards where they definitely do not belong. Also, you shouldn’t go down to the basement. But that is one way to do it-clean your house in one hour.