All the Feels

“Life experience is not distracting you from your appointed task of writing. It is, rather, the roundabout blessing of giving you something to say.” So says Douglas Wilson in his book Wordsmithy. 

Well. The one thing I know is that I am getting life experience every day. Weird as it may be, I turn airy phrases while I am frying sausage, or while I am pulling weeds in my perennial border. I can’t help myself. But the thing I can help… that thing called pulling out the laptop or the paper, that is the where I weakly procrastinate.

I have a whole range of feelings to explore just now. Get ready!

Things That Make Me HAPPY

  • May, which is to say lilacs, grape hyacinths, creamy tulips with purple fringes, crabapple blooms outside my window, and all of these also in my house, in vases I made for them when the blooms were apparently dead and frozen.
  • Bubble tea, which I tried for the first time in a Thai restaurant with my sister, only we ordered bubble coffee. I googled it and found it is essentially pearl tapioca suspended in liquid. Yesterday I made my own and served it in iced cream tea. The family was less enthusiastic, so I get to have it all to myself. I love that slurp of fat tapioca flying up the straw. And I love not paying four dollars for a drink that only costs twenty cents.
  • The end of school, which is upon us. I look back at the beginning of the year and of the obstacles we have overcome by daily doing the next thing, the next lesson, the next big concept. My first grader can read all the knock-knock jokes in her book now, and I wish I had left it at the book sale. All the others groan and reject her hopeful “Knock-knock.” It is up to me to shore up her sense of hilarity and provide “Who’s there?” dialog. Rita has mastered long division with its accompanying checking, that milestone of third grade. Olivia has learned to diagram compound sentences and do spelling without tears.  I now have a newly-hatched high schooler who  loves history and remembers everything he ever read. The other high schooler won a hundred dollar prize in an essay contest. Sometimes I live my triumphs vicariously through theirs. I will not claim to be undaunted by the challenges of home schooling. It’s ridiculously hard some days, but here we are and we have grown and learned. Here’s our final exams day, and we couldn’t sit at desks one more day.
  • My children playing with ducks and chickens and bunnies. Outside. Or pitching a tent to sleep in the backyard, or hanging Rita’s hammock in the tree for a reading spot. In fact, there were so many “differences of opinion” with the hammock usage that I just ordered the second one. One easily fits two people, but not three, so that there was always an odd girly out.

Things That Make Me Sad or Mad

  • Accidentally freezing my tote full of dahlia tubers that were supposed to be planted the entire length of my garden. There was a stack of egg cartons in the basement closet where I usually over-winter the dahlias, and I had no other place to put them, so I took the tubers to the attic. Obviously, it got much too cold. I have a friend who has some that I gave her a few years ago, and she is returning the favor by giving me some back. I am so happy about that, because I have never seen this particular color of dahlia anywhere else.
  • Dropping a heavy casserole dish out of an upper cupboard onto a stack of soup bowls on the counter. You can imagine the carnage. But now I can make more.
  • Innumerable ants invading my house. One crumb in the middle of the living room carpet appeared to be moving one day, and sure enough, there they were. They especially love the smorgasbord of my kitchen floor.
  • Pigs eating poultry that is doing nothing more offensive than pecking at grains the pigs would rather keep for themselves. It’s just piggish. But we sold Brutus and Petunia now and their offspring are still too young to indulge in such habits.
  • Listening to a beautiful, well-educated person trot out all the reasons immigrants should go back where they came from. I just have one thing to say about that: America is ruining America. Not the immigrants.

Things That Give Me Hope

  • A change from ER to ICU for my husband. We hope for less stress for a season, much as he loves trauma nursing.
  • A strong son with a steady job, learning the manly art of getting up early, putting in hours of hard work. I sometimes glimpse the man the boy will become. It’s a strange feeling. I gave birth to this tall person with the deep voice and all the opinions about trucks and other things I never even think about? Wow.
  • Looking back at mercies. Recently the girls and I talked about near-misses, those almost-accidents that convince us of angels and we know that we are surrounded, else how would any of us still be alive?
  • A future not on this earth. I read Leif Enger’s  Peace Like a River this past weekend when Gabriel was working. I cannot shake that story. I cried my way through the beautiful chapter that described the moments after the narrator’s death and I cried that he had to come back. Sorry for the spoiler, but it was the most profound chapter for me. Hope. It’s a beautiful thing.

Things That Make Me Laugh

  • Addy, “I have a question, Mama. When you die, can I have that book you are reading aloud right now? Only, I’m afraid the others will take it first.”
  • The book I am reading aloud, The Family Nobody Wanted , makes me laugh every time and I am venturing a guess that I have read it at least a dozen times. It pleases me when I share a book I have loved for years with my children and then they love it so much that I will need to put it into my will to avoid squabbles.
  • Six fat porkers racing out of their puddle to the edge of their pen whenever they see me coming because they think maybe there will be kitchen scraps. Even though I may only be walking past, they come. It’s the very definition of cupboard love.
  • Addy’s latest pet chicken was named Pole Tree, and she tried hard to teach it to fly off its perch on her shoulder. She claims she can pick out her chicken from the whole flock of reddish hens, all of which look exactly the same.
  • Gregory, being sent into the store for a gallon of milk at the end of the “dumbest day ever” for both of us in which everything broke/went wrong, came out grinning sheepishly. “What did you buy that wasn’t milk?” I asked, and he produced a very expensive bar of Swiss chocolate. “I thought it might help make the day better,” he said. He was right. We ate it all right there before we even got on the road again.

 

Well, there, in no particular order, you get the feels that I have been feeling. How is the spring going for you?

 

 

 

The Goings On

I sense that in the sphere of lame titles, I have just hit the jackpot, but it does give you an idea as to the intent of this post. I have written many articles in my head this spring, but I never had a computer accessible to type it out. One daughter uses my laptop to stream her arithmetic instruction and the other daughter uses the desktop computer for her schoolwork. I also turned my beloved reading/writing room into an extra bedroom. The girls were having daily drama with 3 in the bunk beds and just simply too much stuff in one little room. I moved my desk and chair out and set up a single bed and dresser for Olivia. She is ecstatic to have a place where no one throws nighties on the floor willy-nilly every morning. Her orderly soul delights in fixing the bed every day, arranging the teddies just so, and having a place to read early in the morning.

I miss having a place where I can go to shut the door and think or read or write, and yes, extroverts have needs like this too. This winter I spent a lot of quiet time just making stuff in the pottery shed. Some of my experiments turned out hilariously funny (teapots), some are mildly disturbing (pedestal bowls that sagged just a little), and some were great triumphs (new glazes). It really did help me to be so absorbed in making stuff and doing glaze tests during the long dark of winter.

The biggest project so far this spring was a massive clean-up on our property, trash bags in hand. Living with so much road frontage and in a valley where the wind sweeps through, we end up with a lot of junk from the un-classy motorists who chuck beer cans and go-cups out the windows, as well as our own blown-away bits and pieces. We have also cleared out the playhouse, and I confess to burning a few things when the girls  weren’t looking. (Have you ever watched a massive, ratty teddy bear burn? One that was given generously at a yard sale after you told your child “no”…)

I have been washing and stowing snow clothes in the attic, one load at a time. My huge capacity HE washer started struggling with bulky loads again, so I was limited to smaller, normal clothing loads, no rugs or blankets or even heavy coats. Gabriel decided he was done fixing it. We did some research and found an appliance store with the Speed Queen of our dreams (simple dials, no computerized nonsense), but then we experienced sticker shock and went on Craigslist. To our delight, there was a listing for an even more advanced Speed Queen for almost half price of new and it was only a few minutes’ drive from a conference Gabriel was attending. Funny… the single lady who was selling due to a move just happened to work for the same employer Gabriel does. She hasn’t told her boss about the move yet, and didn’t want us to leak it, so don’t tell anybody! The poor appliance salesman went from licking his chops over a customer almost in the bag to admitting that we found a tremendous deal.

That nudged me into painting the laundry room white: ceiling, trim, and walls all the same. People Who Know are doing this. It makes for simple painting and makes my eyes feel a little skinned by the stark cleanliness every time I do a load of laundry. I do enjoy it. I’m sure it won’t stay so pristine for long. It took Alex and me an entire Saturday forenoon to do the painting. I trimmed, he rolled, and we listened to 99 Percent Invisible podcasts. Then he hooked up my new washer and I just want to say how handy it is to have a capable young adult hanging about with all sorts of muscle and skill. I look at him sometimes and think, “How?”

I ran 6 loads of laundry through that blessed machine in the time it used to take my very intelligent load-sensing washer to do two, (and even then it might have found an issue in its heart). I am not into low-water use situations in this season of many children covered in great dirt. And seriously, folks, this is the washer for the people with children. Yes, it is. How do I know? A lady with 12 of them told me so. She knows what she is talking about. Then my mother-in-law, who is the cleanest person I know, also said so. Now I have been using it for half a week, and I am sold. It is heavy, American-made, quality. I feel so blessed! I might even start washing everything in the house, now that spring is here.

I planted just a few starter garden things last week. Since we couldn’t start the tiller to prep for peas, (yes, peas! What can I say? I love them so much I am willing to do the work.) we spaded a corner for red potatoes. I also sowed some lettuces and radishes, and got basil going on my kitchen windowsills. The asparagus bed had an astonishing amount of hearty dandelions in it. When I saw the size of the roots, I decided that this is the year we try for dandelion coffee. It turned out to be delicious, in a non-coffee sort of way. Especially when we added cream and sugar. We have been drinking a lot of Dandy Blend, an herbal drink with no caffeine that is a great “iced coffee” for children. Also it is expensive. So now we know why it costs a lot. It took a good bit of time, scrubbing enough roots to cover a cookie sheet, chopping them up into half inch pieces,

roasting them in the oven for an hour, running them through the coffee grinder, doing one final roast, and the all-important taste test. We got about 1 cup of dandelion grounds/ersatz coffee for our trouble, but it only takes a teaspoon to make a cup. And it is good! Now we know we can do it, which was the whole point.

The general consensus: this is a drink that all of us enjoyed. We brewed it like coffee, with water. When we make Dandy Blend, we mix it in sweetened milk and drink it cold, sort of like a chocolate milk substitute. I did a taste test plain, beside black coffee. It tasted more earthy (surprise!) with hints of mushrooms. If we ever hit a time when we cannot buy coffee, you can expect to see me out in the yard with a weed digger for my substitute.

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Here we are a day later. I found me a block of quiet space and brewed a cup of Earl Grey. Looking out of the kitchen windows this morning, I see two bright yellow kayaks on the pond bank, a fleet of paper airplanes on the lawn, some ropes, and a goat cart that the girls rigged with better success pulling it themselves than hitching up Betsy or Horny. (Oh, yes, that is her name.) I also see bike ramps, a sagging teepee, a bunch of play dishes, an incongruous snow shovel, and some abandoned flip-flops . It does not look pretty, but it is a beautiful sight to me!

I haven’t told the children yet, but we’re taking the day off school. We are actually ahead of schedule, a rare feeling indeed! It’s a big week at Keystone Vinyl, my dad’s deck and fence business. The annual open house is coming up this weekend, so my job is to get things looking pretty outside. A local nursery has agreed to let us borrow plants and shrubs for curb appeal in exchange for free advertising. Alex and I will be hauling them in our Suburban, as many as we can cram in.

I live the high life with a student-driver chauffeur willing to take me anywhere I want. It’s pretty nice to sit back and read or check out the scenery while we go places.

Okay, the Peightlets are up, and I am off. Have a lovely day!

 

Tuesday in the Life, Installment 3

I hope I meet Asaph in heaven so I can tell him how much I loved his songs here on Earth. I don’t know… maybe Asaph was more than one person, but the chapters in the Psalms from 73 to 83 are some of my favorites. Reading through them with their sweeping big picture arrangements contrasting human frailties and divine kindness  never fails to inspire me to deeper trust. Consider this passage from Psalm 74: 16, 17.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;

you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;

you have made summer and winter.

I sometimes say things like, “Aghhh. I want winter to be over NOW! I want tulips!” Or maybe it sounds more like, “I am tired of all my clothes, and I want to go to the tropics!” Sometimes the pettiness comes out in a mutter under my breath about how every one is getting on my nerves and why are there so many boots in this life? 

When I read through these Psalms, I hear Asaph reminding his people again and again that everything is under control. There is a bigger purpose here than just what I want. I do want spring, unabashedly. I pine for it. But I can also wait patiently because it will be worth the waiting!

My sister-in-law Becca passed on a pearl of wisdom a few years ago. “If you don’t like something or if it just bugs you all the time, do something about it! Don’t just talk about it.” This is very good advice for the things that I can actually do something about, like training the children to line up the boots or setting aside some household funds to freshen up the house.

It’s that time of the year when I need to have a zero tolerance policy for grousing and yet have the courage to change the things I can. I may have said the line about being tired of my clothes this morning. My husband looked a bit blank, “Why?” So then I moved on to “I think I am going to buy a bunch of houseplants,” to which he replied, “Why not?” His reasonableness made me remember why not. I kill houseplants regularly. Also they tip over when we walk past them. I do have better success with tiny succulents but alas, this winter I had them on the sills of my pottery shed windows and they got nip-dead on that weekend of bitter below zero temps. A few also got drown-dead.

I don’t know what spying algorithms are at work, but Instagram regularly gives me ads for buying plants online, so I went on the Amazon this morning and used all my points on a variety pack of 20 teensy plants to replace the ones that froze. I also bought paperwhite bulbs to force in time for Easter blooms. I felt much better then. On my kitchen windowsill I do have some genuine geranium blooms that had no one to admire them in my mom’s basement while she is in Florida, so I clipped them and brought them home.

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Yet another brilliant project I am working on is a small pinwheel quilt kit I saw on the clearance rack at Joann’s. By the time I was informed at the register that I couldn’t use my coupon on clearance items, my heart was too invested to give it up, so I spent way too much for small pieces of coordinating fabric. I really do enjoy the therapy of brilliant calicos, although it is slow going.

On Mondays we catch up on laundry and I do school assignments in the notebooks for the week. Ideally that makes Tuesday the day for projects. I can easily dictate spelling words while I am sewing.

I recently found a vintage typewriter at a thrift store and debated for a long time about whether it would be worth the storage space required. Considering how much fun my girls have playing pretend with an old computer keyboard, I decided to bring it home. The ribbon was dried out, but they used it anyway while we waited for a replacement online. Today it came in the mail. The child done first with her school assignments (Olivia, of course)  got to be first with the typewriter. It was a great boot in the rear for the lagging ones when they saw how bright and fresh the words leaped onto the paper.

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They have been writing letters, pounding out stories, making little books, etc. etc. There are no cords, no batteries, and no backspace key! Addy is a fearless writer, with little regard for unnecessary details like spelling or chronological order. I find her scraps of stories around the house and enjoy them vastly. Here is a translation for you.

“My Family  Addy Rita Livy Greg Alex Papa Mama

Oh no. The boys are on the roof. Sally is in

side. Alex is sick so my mama went to the store

to get ginger ale. And that is the end of my story.”

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(The boys were not on the roof.) This simple machine has been well worth $20 already, just for the tricky way it has sparked joy in composing writing.

After lunch we had quiet time, all except the clacking of the typing keys. It’s not even half as annoying as the sounds of a computer game.

I spent a few hours in the pottery barn, glazing pieces that came out of the first firing yesterday. There are a lot of experiments in this kiln, including the teapots. I am waiting for some glazes I ordered before I can finish the load, but it was nice to be deliberate. Most of my mistakes/seconds happen in the glazing process. I am currently trying to wrap my head around the chemistry of glaze components as explained by a master. When I think back to learning the periodic table in school, my head is pretty much a blank. I must have memorized them long enough to pass the test, then gently released all that excess data to make space for more pressing items. It’s not like I have to learn about all the elements now, but I do need to understand the ones that make successful glazes unless I want to be stuck with only using commercially available ones. I muddle through and take notes but I honestly don’t know whether I have it in me.

At suppertime I came inside and cooked up a huge pot of creamy potato soup. My family cheers for soup, and I love cooking it. Tonight’s version included sweet onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, whole kernel corn, lots of parsley, ground turkey, and some cheddar. It was broth-based with a few cups of milk for creaminess and I used instant potatoes to thicken it just a bit. Served with saltines and pear butter, I am glad I can report a meal that was nourishing at the end of this Tuesday.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Sisterhood of Goodness

After a day of fellowship at church, I was thinking of how much I love the ladies I am blessed to know. There is a big variety, from wise older women who have raised families down to the little friends who tell me about their new baby brother.

Occasionally we have ladies’ meetings instead of midweek services, where we study issues directly related to our lives as women and split into small groups to pray for each other. It would feel nicer if all we had to share were triumphs, high points of victory, praises for how wonderful our jobs are. It would feel easier if we had plenty of money to spare, our children were always sweetly obedient, our marriages sailed along without stressors, and our faith stayed steady as a rock. It’s not that way. We all know it, and when we feel safe enough to be vulnerable, we pull our scary stories out from under the sofa cushions where we were hiding them. I headlined us and our prayer requests after I got home one night last year.

  • How Jesus Enlarges an Uptight Woman in a Small Space
  • Growing Jolly and Old in an Armchair: It’s no Picnic
  • A Nauseous Life in Pressure Hose
  • My Daughter Reminds Me of Myself
  • Stuck in the Middle of an Impossible Situation
  • Making Time for Relationships in a Crush of Bodies
  • Help! My Phone is Strangling Me

It’s all so different and all the same. Our need to be filled with the Spirit and to have our space beautified by God is universal.  How amazing that in each tailor-made circumstance where we look for Him, we find that He is there, waiting and ready with infinite kindness. I have seen Amazing Grace in many of my friends’ lives. The process involves years of patient courage and desperately hard work. Sometimes it is just getting out of bed and doing the next thing when it feels humanly impossible, as my widowed friend who raised ten children has told me.

Some of my friends have children in heaven or live with hearts sick with longing for a baby. There are a few  with chronic health issues and one who is currently fighting cancer. There are the crushing burdens of children who do not love Jesus and the equally heavy ones where children have challenges that bring out the mother bear fighting instinct.

Every one has a story and most of us have afflictions that we would never choose voluntarily. We are all united, no matter what our lifestyle or season, with a need to have something bigger, something much more powerful -SOMEONE- to infuse our individual lives and make them worthwhile. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be depressed, to despair at brokenness, to end marriages and to disown children. I know God is real when I see His help in the lives of His children so that they are living, supernatural examples of faith.

Sometimes, like today, it is good for me to simply notice the goodness of God in His ordinary people.

 

Yet Another Tuesday in the Life

I awoke this morning to the inspiring thought that I had better live well, since I want to write about the day. (Just kidding. Although I did realize to my surprise that it has been a whole week since I posted about the day we had bellyaches and multiple ginger remedies.)

I felt a need to make a nice breakfast this morning, largely due to telling the children to scrounge out of the fridge last night while I messed about in the pottery shed. I had intended to make some supper for myself as well, but it took kind of long to throw the last pots and then it was the girls’ storytime and I just sampled a brownie. I am not sure what the children ate while I was gone. Guilt is a good motivation for getting out of bed in time to cook a nourishing meal, if nothing else.

We have discovered that duck eggs (Remember that day we took extra animals to the sale barn and came home with a dozen ducks?) make excellent omelettes. There was a time when I thought that would be sort of gross, but in fact, they are quite delicious. They are enormous- it only took 5 eggs to make plenty of omelettes for our family- but extra fluffy. I think it’s the yolk/ white ratio that makes the difference. I also use them in baking when they are available, again because of the richness of the yolk. All that extra Omega-3 is just fine by me. If that makes you want to avoid my brownies at potluck, I am not offended.

When Gabriel left for work, we had to give him a push out of our ice-slick of a driveway. The sun was bright and shiny, but not making much impression on the 3 inches of melted snow turned to solid ice. It was downright treacherous outside.

The girls wanted to go to the ladies’ sewing today, but I said they had to do their schoolwork first. It is always astonishing how a bit of extra motivation can spur them on. They got cracking right after breakfast and we even had our spelling done by 11. I went to pick up some Ice Melt salt to try to dent the ice river in front of the house before we get more snow and rain. Gregory was in charge of that operation and when we girls left, he was happily strewing it about. Anything that saves motions and simplifies his life makes him feel jolly. Spreading rock salt certainly trumped chipping away inch by inch with a shovel.

Our sewing day consisted of helping to tie comforters with yarn. The girls love yarn and fabrics so much that any operation involving these materials makes them feel good. It is always a bonus when they are allowed to pick through the scrap fabrics and drag home a bag full for their own projects. We have carry-in lunch, camaraderie and cheer while we work together. The bulk of the blankets are shipped by Christian Aid Ministries to folks in need of warmth and care. One of my elderly friends spends a great deal of her spare time cutting up calico scraps and sewing them into cheerful comfort tops. I asked her today how many she has done. Thelma doesn’t keep track of them all, but one year she did 70, and she has been doing this for years! I can only imagine her rewards in heaven someday when Jesus looks at the tally of her labor of love. When she left today, I told her to be careful that she doesn’t fall. “We pray every day,” she said, “that we would be kept from falling physically and spiritually.”

 

When I got home, I took a quick survey of the pots I had thrown last night. I usually trim and finish them up within 12 hours of throwing them on the wheel, before they get too dry. It’s a variable that takes into consideration how much humidity is in the air, as well as temperature. I have had mugs get too dry to attach handles, and bowls that won’t trim smoothly. Today they were just right, because I had draped them with plastic to slow down the drying. Trimming is the most satisfying of all the processes, aside from unloading a glaze kiln. The piece is placed up-side-down on the wheel, centered, and secured with lumps of clay around the bottom, before being trimmed with a sharp tool to reduce the weight at the bottom of the piece. I have a few mugs in the house that I didn’t trim because they were too dry when I got around to it. I was too attached to them to throw them into the scrap bucket, so I glazed them anyway. Now whenever I use one of them,  I feel like I am lifting weights with my tea. It’s astonishing how much even 1/8 inch of clay weighs. I am practicing throwing the bottoms to just the right thickness so I don’t have to trim so much, but I still always clean them up.

I had a goal to learn to make teapots in February. So far I have made two, equally funny in their own different ways. The glazing remains to be done, and we cannot agree. The children say colorful and I say white. At least I now understand the process and am not scared of it anymore. I was told that making a teapot involves most of the basic skills. You throw it in three pieces: first a cylinder, pulling it in at the top, bellying it out in the middle, and making a gallery for the lid. Then you throw a bud vase to cut off diagonally for the spout. The third piece is a lid, and there are a lot of varieties, as I found when I asked Youtube. The main thing to worry about is that it fits the teapot’s gallery. I never used a calipers before in my life, but I appropriated one out of my husband’s antique tool chest and now it is mine. Once the three pieces are leather hard, they are assembled very carefully so as not to warp the still pliable clay. A handle is attached, taken off, reattached, pulled out at the bottom, no, that looks funny, scrapped, a new one attached, looped up so that it matches somewhat the shape of the spout, still not totally pleasing, but hey, it’s a handle!

I have a continuing love/hate relationship with handles, as you might be able to tell. The more I listen to experienced potters, the more I realize this is a common affliction. There is a thing called “handle envy” where another potter’s proficiency strikes you with admiration and smites you with jealousy all at once. One person admitted to making only handleless pieces for four years! If you see me stroking a mug handle thoughtfully, it is just my little weirdness, but I am okay otherwise.

There is a sort of handle that is pure fun: the knob. I want to show you the little knobs Gregory sculpted for me to use on canisters and a new honeypot. They are still raw, and will be much more charming when glazed, but they please me. The bee will get tiny wire antennae epoxied in after the firing.

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After I had the pieces finished up and shelved for drying, I brought my headache into the house and nursed it with a nap. The children were wanting to skate with friends, so they had to complete their chores first. I slept through any problems they might have had while doing their duties and awoke with a clear head when the Fishers showed up to play hockey.

We ladies opted for tea and a visit in the living room, chatting about stimulating things such as how to hone the skill of me admiring your clean windows while you admire my organized refrigerator, which is an allegory about women and life if you want to know. I don’t know why we get so threatened by each other’s strengths in this life, nor why we feel that we must excel in all points in order to be a worthy person, but by the time we hit 40 we know one thing for sure: We are never going to do it all just right. It’s hard to explain the grace of life that floods in with this realization, but it is the best thing about being -ahem- middle-aged. In the middle of all this manual labor that is life is the settled knowledge that nothing is going to count for anything unless the Grace of God fills in the cracks. And it does! This is why we don’t grow weary in well-doing. It is all going to matter someday, but we don’t get to quit.

We also discussed how to listen to our friends and care about them even when they talk about things like pottery all the time and we aren’t that interested, to be honest. Again, an allegory. Michelle and I have a friendship that spans 20 years. It is good to have friends like this!

When it got dark, the children abandoned the skating and opted for sliding down hills on the ice. It is quite simple if you can make it to the top of the hill. All you do is sit down and off you go! The girls have turned it into a mountain rescue play, where one pretends to be clinging onto a divot of ice for dear life while the others snake a rope downhill to fish them up to the top again.

Our supper was a healthful kind of chicken hotdog with no nitrates added, etc. etc. Also mac and cheese made with spiral noodles involving spinach and tomato and Queso de Blanco. Practically health food! I hope you enjoy my Tuesday menus, because I share them with no pride whatsoever, and only out of honesty. Dessert was orange slices.

We finished the Bushbaby story tonight. It was a satisfying ending, with all turning out well. The author’s note at the end stated that there was a real little girl named Jackie who loved a bushbaby as her pet while her family lived in Kenya. It is always more interesting when a person can write with the authority of knowing a place well.

After the girls went to bed, I washed up the last of the dishes, warmed up some leftover coffee, and here I am, just waiting for my husband to get home any minute.

Just another Tuesday! We’re primed for more snow and ice tomorrow and we have donuts in the forecast as well.

How was your day?

Tuesday in the Life

I was awakened quite early by a plaintive voice in my ear, “My belly hurts, Mama.” Oh, lovely words to pull one out of slumber. After I queried the little girl on whether she felt like throwing up and was relieved to hear it was just an ache, I gave her some chewable Tummy Tuneups and sent her back to bed. An hour later she was back, “My belly still hurts.” Allrighty then. We’re hoping to go see Grandpas tomorrow, but that could all be a little shaky. At breakfast another peaked face appeared and got even longer at the sight of pearly smooth Ultra Immune pills on every plate. Some of my children can swallow pills, no sweat, and others make it a scene of drama and despair every time. The two whose bellies were hurting were unfortunately the ones who can’t swallow pills. Not even when bribed, cajoled, coaxed, coached, or threatened.

Gabe did a noble thing when he decided to fix the dripping faucet in the kitchen sink before he went to work. It meant a run to the hardware store for some replacement parts and no water in the kitchen for a few hours, a situation I was happy to endure. Yesterday I set a large water bottle under the drip and tried hard to keep up with drinking the water as it filled up. I thought it would be a fun challenge and a good indication of just how much was being wasted. Let me tell you, one drip at a time adds up astonishingly! I was glad not to do that today.

I checked on my store of dried elderberries so I could brew up a huge batch of immune boosting syrup. My bottle in the fridge was down to about 3 tablespoons. I lacked fresh ginger to complete the recipe, and that was what we needed for the upset stomachs, so I gave the girls what was left in the fridge and got them settled on couches.

When Gregory went to do his chores in the barn, the girls ran along despite feeling under the weather. We had a huge surprise yesterday when Petunia, the Guinea hog with the wandering tendencies, finally piggled. We have had so many false alarms in the eighteen months since we own her that we were thinking of butchering her. But there she was with 6 squirming piglets in the straw! Farming has its moments, and baby animals are among the brightest of them. This picture does not do justice to the charm of the babies, because 1. Petunia is very protective and I had to zoom in on them and 2. Even if Petunia were not protective, I wouldn’t go into the pigpen. I wish you could hear the sort of lullabies she gurgles to them. I have never heard such a sound before.

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Addy came back in, reporting that all was well with the piggy milk bar. Then she drooped, rushed to the bathroom and threw up all the water she had drunk while trying to swallow her pill. Okay then…

After an hour of downtime, I brought a bit of schoolwork up to the stricken ladies on the couches. They did enough to call it a school day, rather milking their situation. Neither was as pathetic as they let on, but just “felt funny”. There were no more puke episodes.

I might mention that it spit snow and ice and then rain all day long. There was not a lot of accumulation, but it was sloppy and slippery. I noticed a lot of big trucks driving past our place and found out later that there was a commercial travel ban on I99 that runs parallel to our road. I guess there must have been a number of truckers who thought they would brave the two lane roads.

Just before noon a friend stopped in for some mugs. We had a nice chat and I took a bit of time to trim bottoms and attach handles to mugs I threw yesterday. There were only 7 because I kept messing them up. When the clay is cold, it acts funny or else I was just off my game.

I gave the girls saltine crackers for lunch. They had no desire for anything else, but I decided it was time to go on a quest for ginger. Gregory cleared the snow off the car for me, then I took him along to push me out of the ditch if need arose. Besides, he was deep into an audiobook on my phone. We went to the post office first, then to our local bulk food store. I found dried ginger there, coated in sugar so that it is more like candy but still fiery spiky in its normal gingery way. There were no fresh roots in the produce section, but there were jars of minced ginger in the THM section. Sounded fine to me. I also picked up tea and ginger ale. We should be set for the hurting bellies, yes? Of course, the girls only wanted the ginger ale.

I ran laundry through my machines all day and thanked God for labor saving devices such as dryers. Once everything was folded we packed our clothes in faith that we will feel well enough to go to Grandpas tomorrow. As usual, some felt that socks were an unnecessary item and others wanted to take all the favorite ratty clothes and some projects to boot. Wintertime travel is special. There is an entire tote just for snow clothes for the girls. The boys have their ski packs because they hope to go to the mountain with their uncles. I think I’ll just take a book and the most basic outerwear for myself. In case I have to go outside. It’s hibernation season, people.

Alex tried to tempt the saggy appetites with some chicken flavored Ramen for supper. It seemed to taste fine to them, so I started hoping we are on the mend. When I called Gregory for supper, he said, “I’m not very hungry.” Oh dear. More pills. And thankfully he is so good at swallowing them that he is the patient coach for the others.

I took a quick duck out to my shed to finish the mugs. They just needed to have some hedgehog carvings on them and a bit of a cleanup with a damp sponge. I have done so many of these, you would think they just jump right onto the clay, but for some reason I had uncooperative hedgehogs tonight and had to keep rubbing out and retrying. Maybe it was because I had the bright idea to do a live Instagram chat while I carved and it broke my concentration. They have to have pert noses and cutely rounded bellies, but not paunchy. Their hair has to be messy but not awful. And their feet cannot be too large or they look silly. So there you go… a recipe for acceptable hedgehogs.

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We cleaned up the house, did our final doses of vitamin C and some soothing lavender oil rubs and that is that. Even if it might not help anything, it makes us all feel better. I have no problem with placebos, especially in children.

So there you have it. One day in the life.

 

Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

Recently I made a statement that needs some qualification. I said that if you find staying home with your children to be boring, you haven’t leaned in hard enough. I believe this, but it sounds overly simplistic for someone who may be in the middle of the mundane daily-ness of life and unsure how to find joy with a flock of needy people who communicate in whines and drool all the time. It is a unique temptation to tally up all the sacrifices and hard things, like how many snaps I have done up in my lifetime, and how few hours of sleep I am getting. Ask me how I know that this mindset quickly and efficiently drains all the joy out of life and I will tell you that I have been there.

There is a Kingdom principle that says “Freely you have received, freely give….” Another one is “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” And then there is my favorite: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The call of God to mothers is intensely practical and spiritual all mixed together.

Of course, you can vigorously keep house and train children in right paths without really enjoying it, but what is the point? Wouldn’t you rather be all in, graceful and excited about your life-work instead of muttering in your spirit about what all you will do “once these kids grow up”? I remember the time when that hit me and I decided that I was going to stop trying to preserve my life and just dive in all the way to being a mother, sink or swim. It was a life-changing decision. Like anything else, I have been tested many times.

These are some practical ways I lean in to my work, ways I have observed other mothers  doing well without giving in to weariness, ways I have learned the hard way.

  1. Give your work to God every day. It might seem silly to pray, “I am giving you this drink, Jesus,” when you are serving your child orange juice in a sippy cup, but it is an effective way to change the way you think. “I am folding these clothes for your glory, Lord.” Eventually this attitude becomes second nature and you do not need the prompts so much.
  2. Bend down and look at your child. Really smile into his face and enjoy him. I am not talking so much about the adorable curls and dimply cheeks, delightful as they are to admire, as I am talking about noticing the person he is becoming. Watch the personality emerge. Share yourself by talking about life as though he is a real conversationalist. If you refrain from baby talk, you’ll have wonderfully stimulating conversations before you know it.
  3. Read up on your subject. When my husband was taking a course on child development during nursing school, he got me an audio course so I could follow along. Because it was what I was wading through at the time, it was fascinating stuff! Of course, these courses are written from a humanistic point of view and should be sieved through the Word of God, but it was so interesting to hear about what is happening in that two-year-old’s brain while she systematically explores every corner of her world.
  4. Write down the milestones. Take quick notes during the day so you can share with your husband what your children said or did that was so amusing that day. I look through pages of recorded conversations with my toddlers now and I know I would remember very few of them. Guess who else loves to read them? Yup, the children. Addy quotes stuff all the time that the boys said long before she was born. It all becomes part of the story tradition of a family.
  5. Keep a journal of prayers and visions for your children, even the despairing ones where you can’t see that they will ever learn. Some day you will look back at them and see that the child who was mean and grabbed toys has now learned to be generous. As the visions get bigger, you will need those reminders that it’s all a process of learning. This is going to take time, but you are in for the long haul.
  6. Learn to love great children’s literature. It is not boring to read “Make Way for Ducklings” every day once you notice how masterfully it is written and illustrated. I know it is claustrophobic to have a squash of bodies all around while you read out loud, but there is such joyfulness that springs out of sharing a hearty laugh around a story. When everything got chaotic, reading to the children for a while was one of the best resets in our day. (Naps worked great too!)
  7. Do things intentionally (that require extra effort) to delight your children. My sister told me she put whipped cream and sprinkles on her son’s pancakes one day just for fun, and he was terribly distressed by her effort because routine is a bigger deal to him than sprinkles. Obviously, you learn what is wonderful to your child by observing. Playing is always a good choice. To have Mom running around the yardplaying tag will elevate the game tremendously. If you find it trying to play Go Fish or Memory, it might become easier if you spend your energies marveling at how your child’s brain is working rather than mulling over how your own brain is floundering in boredom.
  8. Include your children in your work. My mom did this, so I had a great example, but I now know that many women do not like to let their children help them. It seems so much easier to hand the children a screen, then scurry around doing the work. Of course, there are times when they simply cannot help, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to not show them how to do things. If you give little children an hour of play while you do dishes and prep supper, you will likely have another hour of clean up looming in the rest of the house. What if they would have been drying dishes, chopping lettuce with a dull knife, learning to use a peeler on potatoes, etc. instead of clearing out the games closet? Maybe your kitchen time would be prolonged, but the children would have the sense of being welcome in your life, not to mention the sense of being useful.
  9. Stop rushing. If a recreational activity requires frantic tearing around to get out the door, (unless it is a soccer game in the backyard) you will feel frayed by the effort and the tone of your voice will tell on you. Did you ever notice how harried children can take longer to put on one sock than it should take to get dressed from top to toe? It’s like they are built in “Slow Down” signs along the path of life for grown-ups.
  10. Accept the fact that anything worth doing well is going to be hard. There are charming delights to parenting, the Instagram days. Then there are days when you really wouldn’t want anybody to step into your chaos and there were no funny stories to jot down for later. It all feels like a mess and it’s hard to get up and keep going. You’re tired and there is no end in sight. This is where you run to find Jesus in the chaos and you know that this is indeed what He has given you to do. As you lean in to it gladly, yoked with Him, you feel that somehow He is doing the carrying and your burden becomes light. It is a mystery that is hard to describe, but I have experienced it countless times.

I have a bonus one for you: Learn to laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your children when they tell a funny story. Laugh when your son wears mismatched socks to church and laugh when the milk is all gone and you have to eat toast or dry cereal for breakfast. It’s well-known that a happy person doesn’t get bogged down in the details that could actually be big stuff if they stewed around in it for a long time. The more you practice being joyful about your everyday life, the more you will find you actually love it.

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a Slightly Imperfect Day in the Life…

The day started with my husband’s alarm, due to his having an early shift. When we do get up at the same time, I enjoy the novelty of fixing the bed right away. 😀  I went through my coffee bean grinding ritual and this morning it was still early enough that the noise didn’t wake the girls. A quick sweep through the fridge and I had his lunch packed. The children wandered out of bedrooms, one by one. While they ate breakfast, I read them the conclusion of our most recent read-aloud, Sophie’s Tomby Dick King-Smith. It is a short story about a 6 year-old aspiring lady farmer, but it is written so masterfully that the older children and I enjoyed it just as much as Addy did. (Even though Sophie probably needed a spanking.)

After the dishes were cleared, the girls and I did a Bible lesson at the table, all together. I have been meaning to do this all year, using Route 66: A Trip Through the 66 Books of the Bible.  Somehow we only just got started. This is a course for middle schoolers with simpler text and an overview of who wrote the books of the Bible, key passages in each book, etc. Gregory will be working through Route 66: Travel Through the Bible, a course I myself did a number of years ago. I ordered it for him when I realized that the girls’ course is a little too simple for an 8th grader. The concepts in this study guide are not difficult or even especially theological, with the focus being more on the historical aspects of the books of the Bible.

When we got that cleared away, it was already 9:30 and high time to hit the arithmetic lessons. I dictated spelling words, found fact sheets, cleaned up the schoolroom floor, took a few minutes out to cast some burdens on Jesus, documented some pottery glaze tests, showed Olivia how to make a sentence outline, compounded interest with Gregory, and then it was lunch time.

If you ever want to know what homeschoolers eat… well, today was an inglorious one with fried bologna sandwiches for lunch. Fast, easy, cheap. Hmm. Sounds about right.

After dishes clean-up, I set the little girls loose to go play in the glorious 55 degree sunshine. They were not done with their assignments, but I figured they would be back inside in plenty of time to do them. Meanwhile Olivia and I worked in three loads of laundry and I packaged some pottery orders. Then there was a run to the post office and the bank. We live in rural hick-town, but we only have a mile to those two establishments, which is a great blessing. Last year a local chocolatier built a factory/warehouse just 1/4 mile from our place and I very nearly swung in today to check if they have any seconds or an outlet store in the building. Then I thought that might seem a little desperate, what with no signs or anything indicating a store. I did go to Fisher’s, our favorite local bulk food store, where I bought milk and lunchmeat because we nearly finished the bologna today. Haha. I was pleasantly surprised to find a book-selling gentleman set up in their empty greenhouse. A quick scan of his shelves revealed one of David McCullough’s books, 1776He is probably our favorite history writer, so of course, I needed to give it a home.

The little girls were still out playing Heidi with the goats, wearing only short sleeved shirts and their rubber boots, it was that warm. Oh well, school assignments would wait a little longer.

The day was creeping along, clouds covering the sun, making it urgent for me to get my daily constitutional. I usually walk 2 miles or 30 minutes, whichever comes first. I like to use the time to listen to audiobooks. Today I was in chapter 2 of Ravi Zacharias’  The Grand Weaver. I kept pausing, dictating notes to Google Keep, trying to absorb the soul-stirring truths. I am sure I looked like a weird woman who is nutso about her phone. But seriously, this is a book for every person who has ever grappled with the problem of pain and injustice and why God doesn’t just rescue all His children quickly.

I came home to chop celery and cook chicken noodle for supper. This morning Addy had begged to mix up some brownies “before the mix gets old and yucky” so that was dessert. The little girls were still out chasing ducks when supper was ready. The rest of us ate without them and I am afraid I must admit that we sat in the living room and just read quietly while we ate. Gabriel is working a double shift, so we do these odd things to compensate.

When the goat girls finally showed up, it was getting dark. I ushered them straight to the shower for hair washes and all. They were starved, so there was no quibbling about any of the food. That was when I trotted out their schoolwork that wasn’t finished. Addy’s was just a cursive practice page, but Rita needed to do her Language lesson.

At last all was wrapped up for the day and it was time for bedtime story. I started a new book tonight, The Bushbaby, an out-of-print book I picked up at a library sale. It started out promisingly enough, with the girls begging for more every time I got to the end of a chapter. I have honed the skill of rapid editing if I happen to run up against objectionable content in books I haven’t read before. Sometimes they ask me what I skipped, but if I am smooth enough, they don’t even notice. Only once have I been so awfully wrong about a children’s storybook that I chucked it into the trash before we finished it. We don’t use a reading curriculum in school, so that’s why all the books. It seems to be working out okay.

I thought all was wrapped up for the day, so I took my shower. When I got out, the two littles had set up a restaurant in the kitchen with the only thing on the menu being oranges, because that was all they were allowed to have for a bedtime snack.

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There was sticky juice on the counter, the floor, the table, themselves. I swiped a few swipes with a washcloth and sent them to bed. Tomorrow we’ll work on spelling.

Monday in February

***I have some brisk words to share with you, words I wrote two years ago and have needed to hear again and again throughout my life. If you prefer soft, cuddly messages from God, you will hate this. Consider yourself warned.

I will start with a quote from Paul David Tripp.

“You live your life in the utterly mundane. And if God doesn’t rule your mundane, he doesn’t rule you, because that’s where you live.

“Live with a ‘God’s Story’ mentality. Redeeming love is not just big-moment love. It reaches into the private recesses of your every day life.

“When you wake up in the morning, ask first, ‘How could it be that God would love me so much?’ and you will be free from the bondage of self-love.”

Whew. That would be enough for us all to reflect on for a day or five, wouldn’t it? P.D.Tripp gave me another phrase that I have not forgotten: The claustrophobic kingdom of one, versus the big-sky purposes of God. This perspective has been so helpful in sorting through my naturally selfish wants and feelings. I think we all sense when we are being unlovely and entitled, but we often lack the strength to call it what it is: sin. I have two columns that help me categorize my responses and reactions in life.

His Will           ———–          My Will

Be conformed to His image                          Be personally fulfilled

Love without strings attached                     Feel valued and cherished by others

Use talents for others                                     Creativity for attention

Die daily                                                            Live a happy life

Become holy                                                     Become better

Be led by the Spirit                                          Forge my own destiny

Walk a narrow, difficult way                        Find the easy path

Freely give                                                        Somebody serve me

Endurance                                                         Ease

Eternal rewards                                               Payment now

 

The conflict is at the cross. If I want my mundane life, my Monday morning in February, to be infused with anything more than drudgery, it has to be lived for a much greater purpose than my own “claustrophobic kingdom of one”. The key is (cringe) death to myself and the way to unlock the whole enormous world of working as a co-laborer with God is not in the nobility of what I am doing, but in my dying to my own grandiose ideas of what life should be.

How I hate dying. Here is the thing. Jesus doesn’t kill me. I give up; I kill me. He doesn’t force me; I have free choice.

He lures me with His great love; I follow, fascinated, consumed, entranced by the wonder of living large in my small place. He takes every space I give Him and He glorifies it with His beauty.

Today I accept His conditions for expansion out of my narrow little valley kingdom that keeps dipping into poverty and grubbiness into His story that is for His glory.

 

***Shew! It was true on January 4, 2017, and it’s still true today. I wrote a list then of things that needed to be infused with glory.

  • my home
  • my classroom
  • my parenting
  • my marriage
  • my writing
  • my friendships
  • my attitudes
  • my kitchen 🙂

All, all of it.

Anybody with me?

Have a wonderful day!

 

 

 

 

Slow and Steady

We have emerged from what was called a Polar Vortex into what felt like a spring chinook today, with more sunshine and warmth called for tomorrow. Those who do not know could assume that it isn’t necessary to go South this year, that maybe we are through with winter now. The groundhog said an early spring, whatever that may be worth. Some remnant of my ancient nomadic DNA kicks up at this and says, “No, no, you will freeze, starve, shrivel, die, if you do not follow the sun. You should have gone long ago! The seeds in the larder are running low!” Of course, my sensible Swiss ancestry cranks up the thermostat, brews more tea, settles in for the long haul and knows we’ll be just fine, thank the Lord. (P.S. I don’t know whether I have nomadic DNA, but I assume we all share it at some distance.)

I think I know why people quilt in the wintertime. It only requires tiny movements, small efforts that string together to make bedcoverings, where we all want to be on dark days of cold. It’s almost as good as hibernation. (Actually, I can’t stand quilting, for starters because it makes me antsy to hunch over and take small stitches, but also because you can’t do it with a mug in one hand. )

Writing is my version of small movements of creativity which is why I have a goal to do a lot of it this February again. Not every day, but more than I have been. I can set my mug beside me and take reviving sips when I need to think out a phrase. I am a little embarrassed at my coffee consumption these days. Since I trained myself, one painful day at a time, to drink it black, I no longer feel like the calories matter. I am even drinking my tea unsweetened and uncreamed. Early Grey is still better with embellishments, but the discipline has been good for me. I make exceptions for bitter coffee. If the first sip reveals an inferior pedigree, I happily cream it up. And please, I buy Aldi’s coffee beans, so it’s not like I am snobbish. Still, I thought this year I should maybe give up coffee for Lent. I am glad that Jesus has not asked that of me yet.

Like I mentioned, we tend to conserve our motions and lose a lot of our motivation these short days. Occasionally (like yesterday) we rally and do a great big thing like join in on a 4 hog butchering spree. There were five of us families working together, lots of children, babies, toddlers, camaraderie. Cutting the meat off the bones is always the speedy part, as well as grinding and seasoning sausage. About the time everybody is wishing to be done already, there are the more tedious aspects of rendering the lard, cooking the bones to make broth and picking off the cooked bone meat for scrapple. Just when everybody really really wants to call it quits, there are the greasy dishes to be washed and the tired children to round up for the ride home in a sausage scented car.

Last night when we fried sausage patties for a bedtime snack, we were glad we put in the effort. This morning my girls and I fried scrapple and were doubly happy with our work of yesterday. You can buy scrapple, but you don’t really know what’s in it. From all the reports, there’s some weirdness that goes on behind the scrapple making scene similar to the weirdness that goes into hotdogs. We don’t do weirdness in ours, so everybody’s happy.  (If you don’t know what scrapple is, I am sorry for you. Maybe google it. I didn’t have a clue until our family moved to Pennsylvania from Kentucky. Around here, it’s common fare.)

Hey! They tell me spring is right around the corner!! But right now isn’t so bad either. I want to show you a sprinkle of pictures from my phone. This first one is ice crystals that formed on cattail fluff blown across the surface of the pond one day. Gregory took the photo.

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The state of the ice is of consuming interest to the small fry. Once it was finally thick enough to be safe, they work to clear it whenever it snows so that we can have skating parties. My children have no notions of hibernation. They get this happy trait from their father. Also, he believes in good gear to stay warm and dry. It certainly helps!

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They love skiing so much. I love it too- the idea of it, that is. I love that they do this while Gabe and Alex are patrolling. I love that they get out and enjoy the mountain. I love staying home in the quietness, picking up the yarns and knitting needles, putting away the coloring/painting/snibbling projects, cooking up extra food, planning for the next week. I love that they will have developed better winter muscles as adults than I have because they have so much fun in it.

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I have no plan for my writing this month.  I could use a little help here to sharpen me up. Instagram has a questions feature that says, “Ask me anything.” This is your chance, if you would like to do that in the comments. Feel free to be anonymous if you want. I’ll see what I can dredge up.