Every Morning Mercies New

Thank you so much to all of you who reached out with kind words but especially with your heartfelt prayers for my dad. My last post was mirthless and heavy because that is what we were feeling. We have been getting more positive updates the last two days. He is being turned prone and then unproned in cycles to see how his lungs can tolerate lying on his back. So far he has done well with them flipping him back and forth. I asked my nurse husband what the point is of doing this flipping and he said that keeping a patient on their stomach does help their lungs to expand but it brings up other problems such as skin breakdown or bed sores which is why they constantly work on getting them to tolerate lying on their back again. Along with this is a daily weaning trial so they don’t become too dependent on the ventilator. That’s where Dad is at this point. He’s still heavily sedated to keep him comfortable.

We know that things could take a turn at any moment but it does feel like we’ve been given some breathing space. Mom came out of quarantine yesterday, and her sisters came to visit her for a few days. I decided to join Gabriel at our Northwest Pennsylvania house, and even though I came to work hard, it felt like a vacation. This morning I slept past 4:30 a.m. for the first time in weeks. On an air mattress. In a dirty camping situation. The mental exhaustion went deeper than I realized.

I also want to assure you that I still believe that humor is one of the best ways to cope with life. I know that it is hilariously anticlimactic for some when they get the dreaded Rona and it’s literally a slap on the wrist after all this drama for months. It is the most confusing virus I have ever seen. So I’ll just say go ahead and cheer for the weird mercies that attend the pandemic. Like my friend Stephanie wrote to me, “I have been tossed to and fro with my feelings…and while I am guilty of laughing sometimes at the jokes and calamities the virus created, I do not scorn it.  I decided this is something that I do not want to have to eat my words.  I too have reminded myself that those that face death will be forever traumatized by it.”

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I wanted to make sure that I explained that this is Northwest Pennsylvania because in an earlier post I see that I wrote Northeast. Confession: I have always had problems with West/East and left/right unless I gave it consideration.  I do know North/ South though.

Have a great day. I’ll just be here, helping to demo a bathroom, and I won’t be sorry to see it go, especially the leaky toilet and the plastic vanity.

The Thing About This Coronavirus

For starters, I am so tired of this coronavirus, I want to hurl it into the Pit. I have had a deep respect for it all along, because I heard what my husband kept saying and I believed him over the scoffers on the inter-webs. But it was an abstract, “I’m so sorry people are suffering” kind of distant respect. Now it has become perilously personal. I debated whether to even write anything, because what we are experiencing is what hundreds of thousands of families everywhere have already experienced this year. For some reason, I have this self-published platform and the inexplicable honor that people keep reading what I write. If our story can convince some naysayers to be more cautious about the virus, I will speak up.

For my mom, quarantine is much worse than the virus. She had a low-grade fever for about 3 days, some coughing, and fatigue. She stayed home, stayed hydrated, stayed active, recovered. My dad isn’t aware of quarantine anymore because he is sedated, on a ventilator, fighting the worst virus of his life. In classic Covid19 style, we live a roller coaster of ups and downs every day when we get updates after rounds at the hospital. Not only that, we are limited to supporting Mom from a distance, across the porch, laying her supplies on the picnic table for her to pick up, comforting her the best we can. It really, really stinks.

It’s been 2 weeks for Dad, and there has been very little improvement. We wait and hope and send out prayer requests. The first four days in the ICU he was communicating with us, telling jokes, responding well to his treatment. He kept saying, “I think I’m over the hump.” Then one evening we got one cryptic text, “I’m going to be intubated tonight. Maybe then I can rest.” What? This was not supposed to happen! Many people have asked, “Was that really necessary? What would have happened if they wouldn’t have intubated him?” The short answer is that he would have died a slow and painful death with acute respiratory distress or organ failure due to lack of oxygen.

This is four days later, and we have been jerked back and forth every day. “He’s doing well,” they say. “He is responding so well to the Remdesivir that we won’t be using the donor plasma at this point. However his blood pressure is high.” And then, “We’ve weaned his vent settings to 50%. His blood pressure has stabilized.” Then twelve hours later we get this message, “He did not do well in the night. His kidney function is deteriorating somewhat and the renal doctor is monitoring it closely. We will be giving him a paralytic and proning (turning him onto his stomach to help his lungs expand) him today.” Last night was more positive, “He handled the proning very well and the vent is now only at 40%.” In a few hours we will hear how the night went. My mom will be sitting with her phone in her hand, her heart in her throat, praying for good news.

My parents were careful; they wore masks in stores; they used sanitizer. They also travelled to another state to take my grandma home after she attended a large wedding on the family home-place. Mom and Dad didn’t go to the wedding. They didn’t hug or shake hands. Nobody was sick on the day they got to my aunt’s house. The only thing we have to be mad about is that they travelled across state lines, and that is pointless. It is what it is now, and we are here, waiting to see what God will do with this situation.

Mom’s quarantine is almost done. She is learning healthy ways to cope with this long drawn-out affair. The first week, when she was sick and worrying about Dad, watching him get worse, trying every immune booster and natural antibiotic known to the home-remedies community (plus a few), keeping him hydrated, checking his blood sugar levels, panicking when he got severe chills that shook his chair despite layers of blankets… that was a week of desperation. His doctor was on vacation that week, and the locum gave them the standard advice to treat at home and go to the ER if he got worse. So that is what they did, and here we are.

Dad is in the ICU where Gabe works. As it happens, he was admitted the day our “vacation” started. Gabe has off for 10 days and will not be going back to work until this weekend, unless he picks up some overtime. It is very helpful, though, to have connections and get the inside scoop on his condition. Gabe will rattle off a list of stats and I look at him blankly, “What does that even mean?” I don’t know what we would do without his translation.

Our hope is in God, and in His ability to give the health professionals wisdom. We wait for Him in a dependance that we haven’t experienced on this level, ever. This is not a bad thing. He is holding the whole situation, and we know it. In that there is peace.

In general we have experienced so much kindness and care. Many people have reached out and asked how to support Mom. Here are a few things:

  • Messages of faith and courage, with no expectation that the person has to reply back.
  • Links to songs that lift the spirit.
  • Local support, in the form of a face on the porch, a bit of fresh fruit, etc.
  • Phone calls only if you are a close acquaintance.
  • Compassion, not pity…and there is a difference. “We are walking with you,” is much more bracing than “You poor dear! How are you surviving this horrible ordeal?”
  • Pray. Pray. Pray.

 

This is the reality of coronavirus for some. If you think it’s about funny memes on Facebook, how somebody sneezed and now they tested positive and the whole world has to wear a mask, I’m here to tell you that you should stop. I pray it never touches you, or that you are one of the many who sail through recovery with little scarring. If you think hand sanitizer is for wimps and the CDC doesn’t know nearly as much as you do about staying well, all right. That’s up to you, but please don’t scorn those who do not see things quite the same way.

 

I sat in my recliner this morning and succumbed to bewilderment. I couldn’t think what to do next so I took a nap. That was a clarifying exercise and when I woke up I knew immediately what I needed to do. Occasionally I would recommend this exercise.

Our house closing at our new property suddenly went through and last week we found ourselves the happy owners of four and a half acres of partially wooded land 3 hours north and east. This includes a large lawn, two workshops, and a sturdy craftsman-style house built in the 30’s. We decided to camp at the place and start work immediately. My parents have a motor home that they generously allowed us to use, but we ended up mostly in the house. All the appliances were there and the former owners had cleaned up majorly, which made for much easier camping for us.

Our first day at the new place was spent making hay on the huge lawn, cutting down saplings that were growing up in the flower beds, making plans for how we want to rearrange the walls in the house, and in general being charmed by the location that we made an offer on in faith when everything was brown and ugly in March. For the children the best part is the little creek that meanders through the woods.

Buying a house that is very dated presents some challenges. Our realtor told us that the carpet is so vintage we could probably sell it on eBay. Or maybe we could just shampoo it and be really in style. There is a slight problem of a musty smell that doesn’t seem likely to come out after 30 years of use. We have noticed that the former owners certainly did not use any cheap materials in the house. It may have dark wood paneling on every wall, but it’s high quality paneling without any buckles, and should be simple to paint. Upright shiplap!  Every closet and the entire laundry room were cedar-lined. Even the attics are tiled, cedar-lined, with their own light switches for every cubbyhole. The master bedroom has 10 outlets and the kitchen counters are lined with them. I don’t think we’ll need these extension cords we have in our house currently.

Probably the most interesting feature of the house was an enormous spiral staircase to get upstairs and a tiny spiral staircase to get to the basement. If we had done a democratic vote, the children would have carried the decision to keep the staircases. Aside from the fact that the one going upstairs was too big for the size of the house, we also needed that space for a laundry room. We’re switching it out for a conventional staircase, one side going up and the other side going down. How very boring and practical.

Our second day at the house was demolition day. The biggest part of the project is rearranging the interior walls. We need to carve out an extra bedroom and bathroom, as well as open up the kitchen. Everyone chipped in that day with a good will. The girls and I worked on pulling nails out of paneling sheets and wall studs. We could almost keep up with the guys if we stayed diligent. Every couple hours I noticed a pattern of waning energy, odd little arguments, and unreasonably sensitive feelings. It helped to feed the people regularly, and most issues smoothed out with an hour’s play in the creek after a meal. It was super handy to have the kitchen gadgets all there, ready to fry up pancakes or bake a pizza. img_20200522_095946

By the end of the third day we were cleaning up a massive mess of insulation that dropped from the kitchen ceiling.  The last big job was removing the spiral staircase. Gabe studied it from all angles, worked at it for a few hours, screwed boards in strategic places to keep it from bucking out suddenly, and rigged a lever system that eventually dug it out of its setting on a beam and gently eased it out of the top story ceiling. It was much too heavy for us to carry out on our own, so we laid it on the living room floor for another day when we go back.

We could not have asked for better weather when we were up there. I have been skeptical of moving close to Lake Erie because of how famous it is for producing leaden skies. We ended up with brilliant sunshine and clouds sailing high, a rarity for that area we were told.

I decided to start a garden of sorts by using heavy mulch on tilled pieces of lawn. One day I went to the neighbors up the road and asked if I could have some of the old  hay that was rotting in the field. They were delighted to load it onto our trailer for me and refused to take anything for their trouble. I tilled up the width of a round hay bale, then I rolled out the bale and planted a bunch of herbs and tomatoes. Another bed got planted with berries, perennial herbs, cabbages, and peppers. I hope that this gives the freshly tilled sod what it needs to loosen up.

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We came home on Wednesday and immediately mowed the yard here. I brought in lettuce from the garden and pulled weeds around the onions and snapped off a bunch of asparagus spears. The girls discovered that the stray cat we took in had one kitten under the deck while we were gone. Everything is so brilliant right now and nature feels so hopeful. I’m not sure why I couldn’t think what to do this morning?

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The Bossy Veggies

First up: a disclaimer. There are many, many rules about gardening that are completely unnecessary depending on your climate or soil or water situation. Potatoes can be grown in rows and hilled in the traditional manner, or grown in black trash bags, or even just thrown on the ground and covered with mulch, as I have just learned from Ruth Stout’s highly amusing tales in her book No Work Garden. (Thanks to my friend Linda for recommending it to me.) I have been planting potatoes in a diamond grid for a few years now, and mulching them heavily so they do not need to be hilled. It saves space and since I don’t find potatoes very pretty once the stalks start to die, I confine them to a space of about 15 feet x 5 feet along an edge. Then I plant flowers in front of them and don’t really look at them until they are ready to dig.

However, my anecdotes are not rules. The best fun in gardening is breaking the rules or problem solving around them. My husband plans things on graph paper before he plants them out. Every thing is symmetrical and orderly and I do love this about him. I walk around with a spade and consider the angles, then dig a hole. I move things around all the time. He doesn’t get how much fun that is, but I think he probably loves this about me.

So, plants that have bossed me around:

  • Potatoes. I’ll start there, because they were a dismal failure in our hard clay soil. I tried for a few years and every time I dug them up, they were gnarly little lumps that would give cooks nightmares to peel. Not only that, I was plagued with nasty white worms the crawled just under the skin. I threw away a few of those crops and didn’t try again for years. As the soil loosened up with loving attention, I tried again, as described above, and have been getting abundant yields. The only problem now is storage. If they do get wrinkly and sprouted before they get used up, you can simply plant them in the spring when the ground warms up a little. Please don’t throw a wrinkly potato into the garbage disposal!
  • Carrots. Same story as above. They like very loamy soil. But if you do have that, they can almost be grown year round. Not quite, but they can be stored in the ground for much of the winter. Google it. And they taste so much better than the ones in the produce section.
  • Sweet potatoes. The only issue I had was that they vined all over the garden. I kept trying to pile the vines back onto themselves, and they kept crawling over the tomato cages. These did very well for me long before I grew regular potatoes. In fact, they grew so huge, I struggled to know how to cut them up. One potato was much more than I needed for a meal. It became one of the children’s favorite things to harvest, digging up these massive submarines in the fall.
  • Sweet corn. One basic problem is space. I planted corn in double rows, about 8 inches apart. Then I left a normal sized space (so I could walk through to pick it) before the next double row. This meant that I could almost double the amount of corn I had space for in the garden. Corn is tall and shouldn’t be planted where it will shade other plants for a large part of the day. Also wildlife loves it. When we fenced our orchard, we tilled up a large section to grow corn and melons. Occasionally a deer would hop the fence and stroll through, wreaking havoc as it went. I really do not like that.
  • Zucchini. Okay, this is super-easy to grow, but in my experience, it dies super-easy. Many times I have battled squash beetles and powdered mildew on the leaves. A plant can go from luscious and huge one day to a sad and dispirited pile of wilt the next. It is dramatic and sad. But the good news is, zucchini grows fast and is easy to start just by dropping seeds on a mound in the garden. Then there is a small, but not insurmountable problem of too much fruit to keep up with. One thing I learned from my neighbor is to leave one lunker of a zucchini on the plant and it will slow down the growth of the new ones, space them out a little, so to speak. If your plants do flourish, you could feed a small army. My children start looking suspiciously at casseroles and soups and even desserts when zucchini season is going strong.
  • Peppers. My only problem with these lovely veggies is that it always takes too long until they are ready to pick. Occasionally I have a season where they don’t set fruits until late summer. The little girls watch anxiously and harvest peppers the instant they deem them big enough to eat. I plant a lot of them, because why not?
  • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower. One word: pests. I cannot stand those green worms that hatch once the white cabbage butterflies start flitting over the garden. I have fed broccoli crowns to the chickens when I couldn’t stomach how many worms were dropping out in a the salt water soak, because I know how easy it is to miss some and then they drop out in the kettle. Shivers. If I were starving, I wouldn’t quibble, but so far I am avoiding eating worms. This is the one exception I make to spraying poison on my plants. I confess that I have a spray bottle of Sevin for my cruciferous vegetables. It seems like fall crops are not plagued quite as much with pests, so I often wait until July to plant cruciferous vegetables. They can handle the chill of fall, and even survive light frosts.
  • Melons. They are space hogs. They have no concept of social distancing, you might say. I have tried growing them at the edge of the garden where they can go wild down over a steep bank. It wasn’t very successful. Also I struggle to know whether they are ripe enough to pick, even with the “watch the tendrils” rule. But if you do raise even a few melons off one vine, you will feel very accomplished. Consider that a large watermelon can cost $6, and your plant may have cost $1. What is there to lose? Besides your dignity, of course, if you cut your prize open and it is still disappointingly pink inside. (On the other hand, gourds have the same vining tendencies without the risk of harvesting at the wrong time. When our boys were 5 and 7, they made $40 one fall by selling decorative gourds in a wheelbarrow set beside the road.)
  • Peas. You knew this was coming, right? I love peas: the shelled variety, bursting sweet orbs of fresh flavor, but they are labor intensive. They can be grown on the ground in single rows. A friend of mine gets very impressive yields this way. Her rows are long and lush. Every year we discuss our crops and hers is always amazing, but I notice her wincing and rubbing her back as we speak about it. Picking peas is backbreaking work. If you have wire fences for them to grow on, it isn’t nearly as bad. Make a double row, install the fence in the middle so they share their support system. Then get ready to pick through the jungle to find the treasures. Totally worth it. I think. My mother-in-law has a neat trick. She plants her peas in double rows, but then she leaves the space of a row empty for other plants before she puts in another double row. This way the later plants can grow and fill in the garden when the peas come out in late June. My own strategy has been to pull the peas for the goats or till them back into the soil, then plant green beans or broccoli for a fall crop. Our season here is long enough to do that if the peas go in early.

That’s what pops up to the top when I think of bossy (as in, treat me right or I won’t produce) vegetables. I’m sure there are many other fascinating ones that you have grown or would like to try to grow.

(Zinnias, distracting the eye from the weeds, covering for the less comely plants, attracting the flittering butterflies, and providing endless bouquets for us all. Do plant zinnias.)

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The Easiest Foods You Can Grow

We have been showing our farm to lots of folks who are interested in growing a bit of food, raising some animals for meat, fishing some fish for the frying pan, etc.

I hear the same story repeatedly: we don’t want to live so dependent on the grocery stores. We want to learn how to do stuff ourselves. It is a day brightener every time. One young man said, “I am not going to raise my children like I was raised, with unlimited and unsupervised screentime.” He was about 26 years old, with two adorable sons and a supportive little wife who nodded and agreed. He went on to say, “My grandparents knew all this stuff, but my parents didn’t do any of it, and now I am clueless. But we bought a Backyard Gardening book and we are going for it!”

I cheer for all of these plucky people. This is a revolution that needed to happen! Pretty often I get questions from ladies who know I love to garden, and although I am no expert, I do give it all I’ve got because I love it like anything. It doesn’t take a large plot to grow some vegetables for your family. We started with a small terraced raised bed on the south side of the house. The next year my father-in-law, who was our landlord, brought us a dump truck load of topsoil that we spread out in the backyard on top of the exceedingly awful fill-dirt that hardly grew grass. It was about 25 feet square. Obviously, I couldn’t plant space hogs like sweetcorn, but I grew ample vegetables for the freezer and to eat fresh all summer and fall. I used a lot of organic matter, planted tightly, rotated crops, and made things like sunflowers share space with squash that could climb up their strong stalks if they wanted to. As our family grew, we kept tilling up more of the lawn each year, amending the soil, until now the hard clay is soft and fertile. I mention this just to say that you do not have to start a huge, overwhelming farm of a garden to experience the fun of growing vegetables. This first picture is our start-up garden the first year we were married. It got hot and dry and didn’t do too well, but we learned a lot and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The second photo is of the espaliered apple trees we planted where the raised beds were. And last comes our garden from last year, so abundant and yielding enough vegetables to feed our family for the winter.

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If I were going back to the basics, I would grow salad stuff for starters: lettuce (already started in the greenhouse gives you a major head start, especially since lettuce does not like hot weather and might not even germinate in late spring), radishes, sweet peppers, cucumbers (you can grow bush cucumbers that do not require much space, but my favorite space saver is tying them to a trellis), tomatoes (sharing the cucumber trellis or getting their own personal space). A word on tomatoes: if you like cherry tomatoes, you probably only need one plant, because they tend to go crazy. You can easily grow them in a pot on a sunny deck.

I would also grow herbs because they are super-easy. In fact, some of them discourage predatory insects, and they all attract beneficial insects. They can be mingled in a small space and not only do they taste amazing in your dishes, they look pretty too. Herbs flower for a long time and make beautiful fillers in summer bouquets. The ones I prefer to grow are basil (purple is my favorite), Italian (flat-leaved) parsley, chives, lavender, sage (I don’t use it, but it is pretty), mints, etc. Onions and garlic are very easy to grow too. In the spring, garlic puts out long curly scapes that can be cut off and used to season things long before the garlic bulbs are ready to harvest. I have grown herbs in containers right outside my kitchen door, which was super-handy.

What about food to preserve for winter? This is why I wrote this whole post, because I am so blessed by the simplicity. One word: beans. Of course, there are green beans, and they are wonderful, easy to grow, etc. They do require numerous pickings and you have to blanch them before you can freeze them. However, shell beans are as simple as it gets. You plant them in the ground and wait to harvest until the stalks are quite dead. They are easy to shell out of the dry pods, and the beans simply need to be stored somewhere dry so they don’t sprout before you cook them.

Years ago someone gave me a handful of the small red beans so common in Central America. I planted them and got a bumper crop at harvest- so many beans, in fact, that I didn’t plant them again for a few years. This spring I was looking for my seeds and decided that I must have forgotten to save some. I did an experiment, bought a bag of black and a bag of red beans. Then I spread some on a paper towel on a plate, wet them, and covered them with another paper towel. All of this got a plastic wrap over it, and I set it on top of the fridge where it is warm to check whether they would germinate.

They did! It took only 5 days for these roots to crack out. Where we live it is safe to plant beans now. Because they grow so fast, you want to make sure there is no danger of frost, because they won’t survive a freeze. I plant them fairly close, then thin them to 8 or 10 inches apart. They grow pretty bushy, so they do require a bit more space. And they are homely. I am sure there are climbing varieties available if you want to go vertical. But the good news is, you don’t even have to go buy seeds. You probably have some in your cupboard. You can try that germination test on anything dry you have, to see if it will grow.

Also, plant marigolds anywhere you want. They discourage pests. A vegetable bed doesn’t have to look utilitarian. Neither does a flower bed have to be purely ornamental. You can mix up all throughout them and have lots of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, etc. If you get your hands on a bunch of cheap mulch, pile it on. Otherwise, swallow your frugality and buy some mushroom mulch. You won’t need to do much weeding or watering, and certainly no tilling with an expensive bit of equipment that cuts into all the money you are saving by growing your own beans. (Although we do now own a lovely tiller, we made out ok without one for many years.)

There is an amazing thing about the internet. Pretty much any question or conundrum you face in gardening is answered by an expert or an armchair gardener out there somewhere. Google “Why is my asparagus coming up crooked?” and you will soon have an idea. People love to share this sort of homespun knowledge. Poor grandma gave up on her children in the 60’s, but you can make her day by asking her questions now.

Here’s a quick and easy bullet list of easy care veg.

  • lettuces
  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • tomatoes (a little picky if you get blight)
  • herbs
  • onions
  • garlic
  • beans, snap and shell

Tell me what you would grow first if you were starting up a veggie patch.

Also, coming soon…  a post on the pickiest/bossiest/hardest veggies I have tried to grow.

Sometimes

Sometimes at 3 a.m. the Lord convicts me about a thing I wrote. When I said that it appears that Christians do not believe what they say they believe, I was talking about myself as well. These are times that try our souls- there is no doubt about it. The tests are different for everyone, and we can be tempted to feel like the enemy is lobbing grenades of random evils at us from an unkind universe. The unknown, the capacity for lies from people we wish to trust, the conflicting opinions- all of these wear us down. What is even real?

For me the test of what I believe comes when I see my husband go to work and I know that with every shift he is walking straight into the contagion. For others the test is having no work. Some are struggling in their souls with the task of overseeing their children’s education. And some are grieving losses made more lonely with the world turned upside down. There is no doubt about it, we are all facing tests we’ve never faced before. How can we even conquer them? Is it possible to overcome?

I think of a scene from Pilgrim’s Progress when he was in the House of the Interpreter. There was a fire on the hearth and a person who was constantly throwing water on the fire, yet it burned higher and hotter. Then Interpreter took him behind the fireplace where there was a person secretly pouring oil in to feed the fire. Pilgrim wondered what this meant.

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually with the Oil of His Grace maintains the work already begun in the heart: By the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that you saw, that the Man stood behind the wall to maintain the Fire; this is to teach you, That it is hard for the Tempted to see how this Work of Grace is maintained in the soul.

I find great hope in that little story. Add to this the Scriptures that assure us that we do not have to be in control (behold the birds of the air), that our tests come to us carefully curated by a loving Father (who does not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear), that we are never alone (I will never leave you nor forsake you).

Growing pains are terribly inconvenient. I would always prefer the easier way, not facing up to the awkwardness of my soul’s stretching into a larger place. It is so much more comfortable when things are going well. But of course I don’t want to stay stunted.

We are all together, being given a chance to grow. The oil of grace is there for us, so that we can burn higher and hotter. I want to live like I believe it.

 

May Days and 3 AM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with all due respect to December. Slowly things are loosening up a little in PA. Our county is still encouraged to stay home, but the world is so glorious, we can’t possibly stay inside the houses. Except on the days it snows. But even those days seem a tinge greener than the ones before them.

I heard a heartbreaking story today, of a state penitentiary (an hour north of us) that is afflicted with a Covid-19 outbreak. Their ventilator cases are coming to the city hospital where Gabe works, and the others who are ill have been put into a large makeshift infirmary in a former storage area at the jail. Anyone who is well has to stay in their cell on complete lockdown. I got a crawly, claustrophobic feeling just thinking about it. I thought I was going to hyperventilate, just wearing a mandated mask at the Dollar General last week. It’s one thing to make the masks tightly fitting, out of double layers of tightly woven quilter’s cotton as recommended. It’s another thing to try to breathe through them for extended periods of time.  As much as I dislike them, I listen to my husband who says we have no reason to disobey our civil authorities on this matter. I don’t really like it, but at least I am not in a cell all by myself. To see smiles, I have to make eye contact. This is not a bad thing, and when I am in public I smile at everybody.  It is pretty interesting to see what people come up with in their efforts at compliance. I saw a lady doing all her shopping with her head tucked down into her hoodie. And there was a young man who had obviously cut strategic holes into a tee shirt so he could hook it over his ears. Aside from the fact that it looked odd, I envied him because he could certainly breathe better than I could. I am glad I made us all a mask early on when there was still elastic available.

Gregory worked at our local bulk food store for a few days last week, helping to carry boxes to customers’ cars. He had plenty of hilarious descriptions of attempted masks. One lady wore a face shield of the variety that you usually see when someone is weed-whacking. Another had a rubber band around her head, stretched just under her eyes, with a tea towel tucked into it and flapping freely down to her chest, and one crafty, but slightly clueless soul had a crocheted mask with big holes in it. Many people opted for bandanas tucked around their faces bandit style. In the end, we are flattening the curve like anything.

I was surprised at the visceral reaction I felt when a lot of Pennsylvania counties were given the coveted “yellow” status to reopen and our county was not. Wait a minute! We only have a quarter of the cases that some of the reopened counties have. How are they even making these decisions? Even though we are doing fine one day at a time, another week of stay-at-home seemed an unreasonable burden. How long, Lord, how long?

That’s the thing. Historically it has always taken a number of years for the fury of a pandemic to die out. The Black Death cycled its deadly way through London roughly every 20 years for nearly 3 centuries. When Jenner started developing his smallpox vaccine, he hoped to completely eradicate this deadly disease. It took nearly 2 centuries, and in the meantime it wiped out the vast majority of the native populations in the New World. With Covid19 we have a crashing, killer wave of unpredictability just hanging over us.

At this point, me being no expert, it feels like the uncertainty and rabid safety-first idea is a bigger threat than the disease. Those who work with critically ill patients, who see the way it actually does kill seemingly healthy people, cannot afford to have such a cavalier attitude about it. Sometimes I hear of Christians who are blatantly disregarding what they are instructed to do and spreading insurrection on social media. I wonder about this.

What if our experts had told us all along, “Just keep doing life as usual.  There’s nothing we can do about it, and we want you to get herd immunity for the good of all. Not only that, we cannot afford to make our economy suffer. Money is definitely more important than grandpa. If you perish, you perish.” In this imaginary scenario the numbers of cases are exactly the same and the death rates are the same. There is still no cure.  Nothing is different except what those in authority said. Yet, if that were what our medical scientists and political leaders had said, we would be vigorously crucifying them and posting about it with great satisfaction because they didn’t take measures to protect us all. We would be clamoring for the media to tell us what is happening and we would be sure it is a cover-up of mass proportions. We might even be staying home because we think it is a good idea. We might wear masks. At least it would have been our own ideas and not some other person who has no business telling us what to do.

I say that not to say that there is nothing shady going on. Human nature has always been shady. I don’t know what is true some days. It appears that even Christians who say they believe what God says in His Word do not actually believe that He is able to keep us when bad things happen.

Friends, we know the One who can calm the chaos with a spoken word. I think that I trust Him implicitly, but this is the sort of situation that shows me leaks in my vessel, where I haven’t been all that trusting and the patches of my own making give way. I haven’t a prayer of survival without Jesus who sustains all things by the word of his power. 

“That is enough for me,” I say, and then I waken at 3 AM. It’s that time of the day to hit the worst-case scenario jackpot. It only takes five minutes of imagination for me to be burying a loved one, facing the withering aftermath of grief. I think about people I love, everyone fighting their personal battles, sometimes heart-wrenchingly lonely battles. There is so little I can do to support others or change circumstances.  What if it really is true that we are never going to get our freedoms back? At 3 AM I am tempted to wonder why God isn’t managing as well as I think He should. Whatever can He be thinking? His purposes are very inscrutable in the middle of the night. It is hard to think straight when I am still tired, the night is dark, and my husband is either sleeping or at work.

I know of only one way to fight this slimy pit of  “What if?” It is with the well-worn truths of the ages. “I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again… that where I am, you may be also.” I hold them like pebbles in my mind, rolling them around and around, examining them again and finding them true. “…Whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with him…”  I think of the amazement that I not only have access to this God, but that He wants me to draw near to Himself.  I do not have to control my world or anyone else’s world.  Like so many other disciplines, this is one I have to repeat very often, but it is a good thing. I feel some flabby spiritual muscles strengthening. This is a good time to bulk up for whatever lies ahead.

In other news***************  I heard that sigh of relief! 🙂

The girls finished school last week. We didn’t waste any time boxing up the teacher’s guides and clearing out some hidey holes where a ridiculous amount of stuff was sheltering. I found a few good intentions in the form of books I had planned to do with the children. Tsk, tsk. In general they did very well. I can now safely say it was our best school year yet. We hit a stride that was sustainable, and that really blessed me. Some years have felt like I was correcting our gait and compensating for a bumpy ride all year long.

Olivia and I got a bunch of yarn from a friend at church who has connections to a hoard in an old farmhouse. In our shopping-starved state, we wanted all of it, but I made her stick with blues and I stuck with purples. Mostly. Now if I could just figure out how to knit. Olivia is practicing clicking her needles together like Babs in Chicken Run. She informed me that the actual term for that pile of loosely wound yarn you pull from the center of a skein is “yarn barf.” Well. Her dolls got new wardrobes during quarantine.

I finally finished a small re-upholstery project. My only experience with this was a hilarious day recovering a child’s rocking chair with my sister. I have memories of my mom tackling a tough old hide-a-bed sofa with her friends Sue and Sadie. I knew that you have to take off the old upholstery for patterns. I remembered that Mom had reused the piping on the old sofa and sewn fitted seat covers with long zippers, exactly the way the original had been. My project involved no tricky armrests. These are wooden and just had to be removed. After taking a family vote, I did not put a pleated ruffle around the bottom. In fact, I finished off the bottom with hot glue. Please don’t tell the experts.

The original chair was a vintage yellow. It was my grandma’s chair, and I really liked it just the way it was, but it was impossibly stained. This picture was taken after I had removed the ruffle. I took pictures of every pleat/seam as I took it apart so that I would have a reference when I couldn’t get it back together. That helped! The decorator fabric I used was from Walmart, for those who are interested.

 

We have been having alternate days of freezing and balmy weather. I planted three azaleas last year, and they were primed to be a stunning coral color. Then it got so cold that they wilted into a washed-out pale pink with no energy to open further. That’s how the frigidity affected me too. I couldn’t get up the willpower to do much, so I have been sorting through closets in that age-old spring cleaning ritual.

This year my clearing-out is more serious because we are contemplating a move this summer. It has been really weird to try to buy a place in a pandemic. We were looking at properties close to Erie, where Gabriel is hoping to get into a nurse anesthetist training program in the future. The first one we found was sold before we even called the realtor. In early March we went and looked at a number of places and decided to make an offer on a fixer-upper. Just as we were ready to sign papers, real estate locked down. We have been hanging loose ever since, waiting. It seems likely that the closing will go through, but there are no guarantees. If it does, our summer will involve driving three hours to the new property whenever Gabriel has a stretch of days off work. He can build anything, and he can do wiring and plumbing, etc. These things do take time, though, and it is anybody’s guess how much time.

This is us on Mother’s Day, just before I told the children to go make lunch. We took a whole series of pictures, and in every one someone is laughing or talking. Story of my life. They used to cry during pictures, back when the littlest one actually fit on my lap. This stage is easier and a lot harder too.

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So, this is me, just trying to think ahead and not having a clue what is really up there around the bend. “One day at a time” is a good idea these days.

How is your spring going?

Mood(s)

I get up, get dressed, see that the bathroom counter needs to be wiped clean. There’s a Norwex microfiber cloth hanging in the bathroom for this purpose, and I go the extra yard, washing the light switch and the door knob. I change the hand towel. There are stunning purple tulips and fuzzy lamb’s ears in a clear drinking glass on the counter. The towels and dirty clothes are in the hamper. All is well.

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I feel a vague dissatisfaction, exactly like the feeling I get after an illness that affects my tastebuds. I am hungry for something, but it isn’t in the house. It is out of my reach. I cannot figure out what it is.

In the kitchen, I pour water into the teakettle for coffee, grind the beans, wait a few minutes for the important process of French pressing my morning brew. I go to the fridge for the cream in its chipped white pitcher, pick my favorite mug, listen to my Bible app reading from Ezekiel. The coffee is amazing and smooth. I savor it in the quietness of early morning. Life really is beautiful.

Wow. Ezekiel. He says it like it is. My mind struggles to pay attention because that was so long ago beside the Chebar Canal. I think of friends in Tennessee who have been experiencing what seems like the worst piled upon the absolute worst in this pandemic time. They did not deserve this any more than others. What even is going on? I let the weight of sadness settle, pray for sustaining grace for them, try to think of what I am supposed to do today.

Slowly the children trickle out of their bedrooms. We have adapted to a looser morning routine, with read-aloud stories before school. Gabe comes home from work while we are hanging out in the living room. He is tired, but not overworked and stressed. Some kind person gave all the nurses a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, and a container of chicken noodle soup when they changed shift. People have been so thoughtful in this crazy time. He hardly ever needs a lunch at work these days, because of all the food donations for frontline workers. “Do you feel like a hero?” I ask him. “Not particularly,” he replies. We sit on the couch, visit for a while, talk over plans for renovating a house we hope to buy. We are cautiously optimistic.

He shows me the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook. I do not want to see it, and insert my head gently back into the sand. There is no doubt that there are very concerning things happening. Lies are told, people are abusing power, fear is tormenting many. In the light of this, I have been making careful choices. The phrases of truth run through my mind, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you… These light, momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

I choose to lay my burdens and questions down. What is right in front of me is what I need to be engaged in right now. I go pick more tulips for the table, mail a package to cheer a friend, read an extra chapter to the children, give out spelling lists, do a load of laundry. The sunshine comes and goes like a moody teenager, but those are actually just temporary clouds. I hang sheets on the line for the scent, even if I have to finish drying them inside.

I think about lunch, decide to try that toasted peanut butter and jelly that people are talking about. On sourdough it is really delicious. I like learning tricky new things like that. Served with milk, we are sated and chipper for our afternoon activities.

The girls clean up the kitchen, run outside to the trampoline, play horses and vets with British accents. I hear James Herriot quotes floating through my backyard. They play and play together in this social-distancing time. “What would they ever do without each other?” I wonder, and remember how overwhelmed I felt those times I did pregnancy tests and they were always turning up positive. “Positive,” I think, “I had no idea how wonderfully positive! All I could think was how I was going to take care of 3 babies.” I can’t see very far ahead now either. Maybe as far as the next meal, and an indistinct idea of the next day. “The Lord willing,” that is what will be next. I have never understood that quite like I do now.

Gabe sleeps, days and nights switched for work. He hangs a dark towel in the window to block out the light, puts earplugs in his ears and conks out. I tamp down loud thumpings and excessive arguments, but he doesn’t waken easily. These days I send people out of the house, willy-nilly. Anybody bored? Out, out! Can’t get along with each other? Out, out! Go pull weeds together, sort the recycle bin, clean out the car. Out of the house! Go catch a fish! Play croquet!

I get shrill and impatient with my son when he teases the life out of his little sisters. After I take myself out of the house for a long walk, I apologize. He grins, “It’s ok. I was being dumb too.” I cannot disagree. We all have our peculiar temptations to be “dumb” these days. They are heightened because we don’t have as many distractions as usual. I try to be proactive about this, identify the temptations, and keep us all busy.

I get out the lawnmower and relish the therapy of walking round upon round in the yard, catching the lush clippings to throw to the chickens. They come running every time I walk around the barn. I am the dispenser of potato peelings and apple cores, and I do not allow any food waste to go into the trashcan. There are any number of animals that are pleased to scarf down the slops and weeds. It gives me a peculiar happiness to think of eggs and sausage being produced by dried-up macaronis from the back of the fridge or dandelion roots from the asparagus bed.

The sun is out again. I bring some wooden chair arms out to the deck to paint them white. Today marks a week since I started a simple reupholstery project that I have been wanting to do for at least 5 years. This was my grandma’s chair, and the vintage yellow upholstery has gotten too stained with years of use to be salvaged. I bought the fabric for pandemic time, I guess. At least now I am working on it in fits and starts. I had to order upholstery tacks and they are not considered essential, so shipping is delayed. The varnish stripping and painting is done, at least. I wish I could show my mom how good this chair is looking. I guess I’ll take a picture.

My phone has been on its last legs for months. Now it is on it’s last toe. Sometimes it charges, sometimes it doesn’t. If the battery runs down, I have to remove the back cover and fiddle with a loose connection in its innards. Sometimes it boots back up, sometimes it doesn’t. I ordered a new phone last week, because it feels like a lifeline right now. It is not essential either they say, and maybe won’t be here until May 10. I mull over a theory I have about those grim-faced pioneer women in front of their dugouts in the photos of the 1800’s. I think their bodies were worn with toil, but I think maybe their spirits were beaten by loneliness. What if they could have sent their mom a picture of how their gingham curtains turned out? What if they could have chatted with a friend on another prairie about the way the children were eating up all the sourdough every day and does she have any tips for keeping the bugs out of the flour bag?

I go to check on the drying pots in my shed. They need to be trimmed and handled before they dry much more. I spray them with a mist of water to hold them in the right stage for another few hours. It is approaching suppertime and food needs to appear again. My mind runs in a rutted track of starch/vegetable/protein/BUT WHAT? I struggle to bring it to a more vibrant space and decide to grill steaks and make buttered potatoes. We have green beans sautéd in olive oil with garlic. The meal is amazing. Everybody says so. The best part is the leftovers for another day.

Two people who like to eat must now work on dishes. Two others must fold laundry. I must put handles on mugs and I do not wish to do it. There are only 20, I have been getting better at it, I’ll be fast. Well, I am not fast. I attach and pull off messed-up handles repeatedly. During this process, my little girl comes and whines about doing dishes with her sister, “Would you like to know one simple thing that would make my life so much better?” She doesn’t wait for me to guess. “If you would come into the house!” I am distracted, smoothing a join with a wet finger, trying to achieve the exact curve I like to feel in a mug handle. When I suggest that she bring her story book out to read to me, she says, “Sometimes I think mugs are more important than I am.” This is her special little temptation in quarantine, being extra needy and manipulative. I haven’t made mugs in the last 3 weeks. I have nurtured her all day, body and soul, and I do not feel sorry for her. She snaps out of her attitude with remarkable fortitude when she is given no choice.

*****************************

This is the ebb and flow of the whole day, of the whole week, of the whole month. Goodness. Badness. Beauty. Sadness.

I don’t know how you feel about the choices you have in front of you, or the ones you have been making. I am certainly not proud of all of mine. It is a daily challenge for me. When was the last time I had to be so deliberate to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ? Sometimes I realize that the wretchedness I feel is a direct result of an unlovely world that has been taking up too much of my time. Other times it is only hormones. Occasionally I feel miserable because I have been lazy and neglectful of what is clearly there in front of me. The cure is the same for every one of them. Stop, look up, lift your eyes, revel in what is Always the Same, Always Faithful. Do not look at the waves. Worship. Do the next thing.

I know this post is loaded with quotes and phrases that I have picked up from Jesus and the people who love Him, like Elisabeth Elliot or John Piper or Paul the Apostle. I lean hard on the experiences of others who have triumphed in life. It helps me. How are you doing? Do you feel the ebb and flow too?

 

A Little Boring, and Some Vigorous Opinions

You know quarantine is running a little flat when your child asks if they may take before and after pictures of their teeth brushing routine. Privately I laughed until I had tears. Like my daughter, I am over it now. The honeymoon of inactivity and no pressure is getting boring, but here we are, still doing it.

I am not complaining (much), but my bored teens are complaining. They have little frame of reference for their restlessness and it just seems so unreasonable to not be able to go out and see friends. I thought of the Jewish teenagers hidden in attics for months and years during WWII, and how they would occasionally burst into song at their own peril because any action seemed better than nothing.

We had a surprise snow last weekend, but it didn’t last long. That was the day I unloaded my trust mugs from the kiln.

And this is the quality of sunshine and skies we’ve been having whenever it isn’t raining or snowing.

So far I have not hit any big stores since April 1st. This is possible because of my bulk buying of many pantry staples, and because I have a source of eggs right here on the farm-let, and a farmer friend who gives us milk on donation basis. (Yes, we pay more than he gets from the milk distributors. (No, they don’t want more friends like me. (Sorry.)) ) Speaking of milk, we are consuming almost a gallon a day. I get 6 or 7 gallons for a week, but I am making yogurt, smoothies, and the occasional cream pie. The term “cooking from scratch” should have the emphasis on “scratch”, because I am seriously scratching bottom some days. This is probably in my head because I usually cook from scratch. At any rate, with everybody here for 3 meals a day, it feels endless. There are no short cuts, no running the 3 miles to my beloved local bulk food store for last minute ingredients. I have to guard the last cup of yogurt so that I have starter for the next batch. When I made a perfect circle of dinner rolls to give to my parents for Easter lunch, I warned everybody, “Do NOT eat these rolls! I will make ours fresh in the morning.” An hour later I came into the kitchen and there was Gabe, buttering one of the rolls, completely oblivious to my distress at my ruined circle because he hadn’t heard me.

Snacks are running low. For a special treat I hid a bag of peanut butter cups in a bottom cupboard behind the pots and pans. No one will ever see them there, I thought foolishly. Only a few hours later Addy got a sudden urge to straighten all the pots and their lids, and she was pretty astonished at her find. She is small enough to be honored when I tell her conspiratorially that we are keeping them secret for another day. I feel like a squirrel with an especially delectable stash of acorns saved for a rainy day.

It is not deprivation to have cream pie without whipped cream on top, just not quite as delicious as usual. (And 100 fewer calories per serving.) I wanted ham for Easter, and thought about our friends who sell meats they raise on their farm. Sure enough, I could get a ham roast from them and we had a lovely Easter meal. When my imagination can keep up, we are eating quite well. When it goes blank, we have soup and biscuits.

A few days ago I ran out of spring water for my sourdough and used about 1/4 cup of chlorinated water from our tap to feed it. It subsequently flattened out and became very shy. I have been coaxing it back to happiness ever since.

(Hang on. This is where the vigorous part starts.)

This morning I came to a scientific conclusion in about 5 minutes flat: “If this is what chlorinated water does to sensitive bacteria in my sourdough starter, what do you think it is doing to the sensitive stomachs of your children?” I would have made a meme about it if I hadn’t been afraid it would be copied and shared as an authoritative source. I could have made it pretty convincing, coolly ignoring the fact that chlorine in safe quantities has removed typhoid, cholera, and dysentery from drinking water supplies for a hundred years and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It would have presented a great chance to share about how I distrust the government to make decisions about our drinking water and why you too should join the march against chlorinated water. With no more qualification than a few facts and ideas, I too could be an expert.

Friends, this is exactly the sort of “science” that is going viral online. All it takes is a person with a flair for words, a few half-truths mixed in with a bunch of suppositions, and you have a prize-winning meme. If you tend to spend a lot of time in fearful anticipation for whatever horrible worm will be grubbed up next, let me tell you, you do not have to live there. If you read a fearful thing, and your first impulse is, “I must share this nasty tidbit with all my friends on social media,” before you do some fact-checking or exercise some healthy skepticism, maybe you need a break from the muck and roll in some good, honest truth for a while.

In times like these, I am attracted to restful people who are at peace with God and their fellow-man. I like being in the company of those who not only trust God implicitly with their own affairs, but also with the running of the whole universe. This is not to say that they do not care about rampant evil or sin in the camp, etc. etc. Rather they are faithful in what they are personally called to do, lifting the burdens of their neighbors, leveling the crooked paths locally, living in a fellowship with the Almighty that keeps them serene in the upsets in humanity. How do they get to that place of inner quietness during a storm?

I think it is the same process today as it was in the day of Daniel‘s proclamation during a time of national crisis. This was serious! He was going to die if none of the wise men could figure out the king’s dream. I get a sense of calm and prudence when I read how Daniel logically brought his great need for mercy to the God of heaven and was given the answer to his problem in a dream. This is the resulting praise and shows us what Daniel believed:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:20-23)

It’s obvious that Daniel was used by God to save many lives, but it wasn’t up to him to figure out the darkness or to dethrone the evil king. I think we would all like to hear a man like Daniel right now in Corona-time. This healthcare crisis is not a surprise to God, and even if all the conspiracy theories are fact, what is the point of being all wadded up in my spirit?

There is a command in Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” I don’t personally experience a flood of peace ruling my heart when I marinate in the dastardly goings on in the world, and for sure not if I click all the bait of questionable news sites. It takes effort to filter out the things that aren’t true, excellent, commendable, etc. as per Philippians 4. Note that there are plenty of practical disciplines for us to do in this chapter. It isn’t difficult to find things to fill the time in profitable ways, and of course, there is that peace of God again, “guarding your hearts and minds in Christ.”

Okay, I think that may be enough vigorous truth for this post. Wanna hear some really neat news? They have figured out a way to recycle used coffee grounds into a biodegradable plastic. How amazing is that? I wouldn’t mind never drinking out of a paper straw ever again.

Also, there are blooms popping out everywhere here in central Pennsylvania. Every day I bring in fresh ones. I found my first violet today, and after I sniffed it appreciatively, I chewed it slowly for that delicate flavor of spring that is purple and fresh. One year I picked enough of them to make a batch of violet jelly. It was a lovely shade of lavender and tasted exactly like sugar. I would like to try again with a better recipe.

Our supper is smelling really wonderful. Would you like a quick run-down of what I have been feeding the fam? I’ll start with last week. Be inspired. 😄

Friday morning: scrambled eggs and sausage patties

Friday lunch: taco dip with black beans, applesauce

Friday supper: baked chicken drumsticks (the last in the freezer), parmesan and herbed potato fries baked in the oven, green beans

Saturday morning: sourdough pancakes and maple syrup, leftover sausage patties

No lunch, go ahead and scrounge, kids. And just like that the last cheese sticks were gone and most of the sourdough baguettes I had made as an experiment.

Saturday supper: fruit/yogurt smoothies, apple dumplings, and probably something else that I can’t remember. All I remember is that I cooked most of the afternoon on Saturday, but that was for the next day.

Sunday morning: coffee, tea, sourdough toast. Brilliant.

Sunday lunch: ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, mixed vegetables, sourdough dinner rolls, spring salad with balsamic vinaigrette that only I appreciated properly, chocolate cake. Very exciting meal, especially the peeps decorating the cake.

Sunday evening: popcorn, trail bologna that we made when we butchered, cheese slices, cream pies. It was an Easter to remember.

Monday morning: cereal and milk, leftover cake (hey, they were going to eat it sometime).

Monday lunch: leftovers from the fridge, including chicken drumsticks and mixed vegetables

Monday supper: pizza, canned peaches and yogurt (and my husband said, “Yay! just what I was hungry for.” I love that man.)

Tuesday morning: anything from cereal to yogurt to buttered bread.

Tuesday lunch: sourdough crepes with herbs and cheese in the first course, yogurt and raspberries in the second course, cucumber slices, tea (fancy dishes because it was Tuesday)

Tuesday supper: chicken cordon bleu casserole with substitutions for about 4 ingredients. But not the chicken; that was the real deal. And I never buy cream soups anymore, so that wasn’t a hard stretch. I even incorporated the whey from the yogurt I strained (to make it more like Greek yogurt consistency.) Creamed corn. Garden salad with fresh spring greens, sourdough bread with jam for a touch of sweet.

Do you see any patterns? Yup, the spring of social distancing and streams of yogurt and endless sourdough. Seriously, get yourself some starter for both of those and get yourself out of many a culinary pinch. You can feel like you are nourishing your family when you feed them toast and yogurt. You know, for those days when you cannot seem to rise to any greater heights.

Some days you have it, some days you don’t, but they can all be good days.

How are you filling your time?

Long Days Of Goodness

It was an amazing day here, a gift of sunshine and rest, food for the soul, and of course, food for the bodies. I am rather surprised at how much time we normally spend getting ready to go places. This morning I had time for a cinnamon roll and coffee at breakfast, and many Sunday mornings I don’t take time to eat more than a few bites in between combing the girls’ hair or prepping for lunch. So there was that amazing start. When Gabriel got home from his shift, I gingerly dropped his scrubs straight into the washer from the plastic bag he carried them home in. He showers at work and disinfects before he leaves the unit.

I listened to hymns on Youtube, read the first part of Jeremiah, collected the children to watch The Biggest Story  for their Sunday School ( it is free to stream right now on Crossway) and then we listened to a message online. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and I strolled in the sunshine, ending up in the hammock with a new book. I fell fast asleep, awakened at 1 PM, and thought about feeding the crew.

When it’s Gabriel’s weekend to work, we usually eat rather whatever-ish. Alex grilled burgers, Olivia made boxed mac n cheese, we cooked some green beans, and that was that. Dessert was an experiment: Sourdough Apple Fritters.  (I suppose our children will remember the quarantine time as a time when Mama tried all the sourdough things. Usually I wake up my starter from its fridge life, feed it a few times, and put it back into cold storage after I make a batch of bread. These days I keep it on the countertop and feed it tenderly as a pet. Because what else do I have to do? It has gotten happier and happier as the days go by. Obviously something must be done. I mentioned cinnamon rolls. Those were Saturday’s batch. On Friday we had coffee cake. Fortunately for us, most recipes are on the small side and with this many people around the house all the time, we can share the calorie load.) The thing is, the fritters were actually quite healthy if you overlook the frying in lard part. There is no sugar in the recipe except for a dusting of powdered sugar on top. It took less than 10 minutes to peel the apples and mix up the dough.  If you have happy sourdough starter, you need to try these. It uses one cup of starter, and the recipe was ample for our family of seven. The only thing I would change is add more cinnamon.

I roped in the non-cooking children to do dishes, as per our Sunday tradition. This works fine for me, because I get off scot-free after lunch. I edited an article, then hit the hammock again. It was so bright that I needed sunglasses to look up through the lace of the maple twigs with their fuzzy little blooms that will soon be seed helicopters. Everything is so incredibly beautiful and right and there is this looming cloud of weirdness. I can’t seem to reconcile it in my mind, so I purposely focus on the one and leave the other to the Lord. I don’t really know how else to do this. It isn’t denial, because the first thing that enters my mind every morning is “I cannot believe how strange the world is. And we haven’t gotten it yet. So let’s live well today.”

I keep seeing memes on Instagram stories saying, “It’s ok to cry.” When I sit around and think about it, I miss singing with a group. I miss finding fun stuff at thrift stores and chatting with people in casual ways. I miss having friends here for tea and going to the library. I even miss Quilted Northern a little bit. But I would be embarrassed to sit and have a pity party about these things. How would that possibly make life better or add to the value of the day? My heart is heavy for others who really do have things to cry about. As I mentioned, I am reading through Jeremiah, the prophet of lament. There were some verses in chapter 9 that arrested my attention.

Death has climbed in through our windows
and has entered our fortresses;
it has removed the children from the streets
and the young men from the public squares.”

Wow. That’s verse 21, and it surely sounds like a pandemic to me. Look at what God says two verses later.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

This is our chance to learn to know the Lord in ways we never have before. I put a quote from Jim Elliot on my letter-board last week. “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”  (I only had space for the italicized part up there. Too many “l’s” which is always a problem with letterboards.) 

I don’t want to look back at this time of my life and think of how much I sniffled in entitled agonies of self-pity. Nor do I want to think about how much time I wasted sitting on devices. I don’t want my children to remember a mom who didn’t wash her hair or rise above slovenliness, who fed them Ramen noodles and hotdogs every day because she didn’t feel like making any effort to cook. For me this means feeding my sourdough and pottering like nobody’s business, and breaking out the Norwex cloths and sorting in the attic. It feels like as long as I stay productive and kind, I am making an offering to hold the chaos in the world at bay, even if it is only my small corner of chaos. I feed my soul and nourish my children, I share my love and do my work faithfully. You do yours, and collectively we weave a fabric that cannot be torn even by a virus that creeps in through windows.

Anyhow… Back to the long day of rest that I enjoyed. I joined a WhatsApp call with my mom and my sister, which was a lot of fun. We haven’t ever done that before, but now we know what’s possible. I got to see the luscious cheeks of the baby nephew and chat with my pretty little nieces.

The children and I played a few rousing games of Croquet in the backyard and I even won one game. It was a very unfamiliar sensation for me, because my chief skill in croquet is to amuse my sons with my lack of finesse.

Gabriel got up around 4 o’clock. He doesn’t usually hear our household activities because he wears earplugs, but it is still hard to switch days and nights completely. We do our catching up conversations in the hour before he heads back to work. I have been packing his lunches (his midnights?) but he said not to bother. People have been so generous in donating food and snacks for the ICU staff. They are eating quite well, and so far have not been swamped with patients. I kind of wish that my husband had a different job right now, to be honest. But this is what he is trained for and so I hug him a little longer than usual when he leaves and pray that his care is a comfort to the loneliness of patients who aren’t allowed any visitors. I do not think I have ever seen him this concerned about a public health threat. Usually it is me who gets grossed out by things like water fountains and buffet lines in restaurants. “Just stay home,” he says, and I listen.

They say it will be a rough week for our nation. I don’t look forward to the climbing numbers and the prevailing winds of sadness. Perhaps along with the offering of faithfully doing what is right in front of me, I can also carry some of the weight of the world’s suffering by holding it up to Jesus who understands the words when I don’t have any.

Let’s take courage, friends! The days will continue to be long and heavy for a while, but there is Great Faithfulness at work all around us. We just have to open our eyes to see it.