Brave Girls of History: a Book List

First order of business: thank you for weighing in with your comments on my last post. How very cheering to hear from so many of you! I wasn’t sure if blogs were a thing of the past, especially rather lethargic blogs, but now I know there is a cloud of friends still out there. You all made my day!

After I posted a list of survival books for boys, I thought that I could have titled it “Survival Books for Anybody” because girls love learning these skills as well. My outdoor-lovers carry pocket knives and weave baskets out of grasses. They forage foods out of the woods and reference them with field guides. Rita loves to build a fire in the backyard to roast hotdogs, to stick potatoes in the coals, or to cook a bit of rice in a small kettle she bought at a yard sale. The girls pack their own version of survival kits, which usually include needles and thread, band-aids and chap-stick, some salt, and always a baggie of oatmeal. They eat oatmeal dry for snacking outside, and I have a suspicion that it is a result of reading lots of stories about brave girls in history and learning how important it is to have shelf-stable provisions.

Here are some of our favorite stories about girls who were survivors. The picture is the link that will take you to the Big A if you click on it.

On the tip-top of the list is the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Worth every penny just for the wonderful way they are written, these stories should be on every American family’s bookshelf for the historical significance. (all ages)

Elizabeth Yates is a solid author, one I trust for good content any time I see her name on a book cover. One of her wonderful stories for girls is Carolina’s Courage, a tale of a young girl who gives up her greatest treasure when her family settles in Indian Territory. (all ages)

Last winter we read Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is a fictional account of  a historical epidemic of fever in the city of Philadelphia. The main character is a girl from a fairly wealthy family who ends up having to perform menial tasks for the sake of her sick loved ones. As the fever rages across the city, it burns up her selfishness and teaches her what the most important things really are. (ages 8-14)

The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh, is a true frontier story from 1707. Young Sarah accompanies her father through the wilderness to keep house for him while he builds a cabin for his family. “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble,” her mother says in her parting advice to her little daughter. (ages 6-12)

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry is a story we have enjoyed on Audible many times. During World War II, the Germans began rounding up the Jews in Denmark as they did in all their conquered territory. Anne-Marie is a small girl in a family that is helping Jews escape. There are some heavy themes in the book, but they are told from the artless viewpoint of a young child, so they are not as graphic as many of the stories from this time frame. (ages 6-12)

Calico Captive and The Witch of Blackbird Pond are both by Elizabeth George Speare . Both are stories of colonial New England and both contain a slightly spoiled young lady who learns through difficult circumstances that frilly clothes and pretty baubles are shallow comfort in the face of real need. (Probably written for ages 10 and up… We have these on audio, so the younger girls listen to them even though they would not be up to this reading level.)
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Island of the Blue Dolphins is the challenging tale of the survival of a young girl who found herself all alone on an island off the coast of California. She lived there alone for nearly 20 years. Scott O’Dell wrote her story as a work of fiction, since nobody ever really understood this woman’s language when she was rescued.

Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a classic I have loved since childhood. This is another wonderful audiobook in our library. Betsy is a small girl who is beset by many fears due to her Aunt Francis’ careful tutelage that everything is scary. When her aunt becomes ill, Betsy is bustled away to a remote cousin’s farm in Vermont. The story is an amusing account of Betsy’s realization that she is actually quite brave.

Patricia St. John is another author I unequivocally endorse. She has written many beautiful books for children, all with themes of faith and redemption. In Rainbow Garden she describes a sad city girl who has to live with a foster family in the country. All the changes make her feel terribly lonely, but her misery slowly changes into joy as she tends a secret garden and discovers the love of God for all living things, including herself.

Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm,  by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is not exactly a survival story, but it is a fun read about a lively little girl who manages to live with a passel of dour elderly aunts.

 

Christian heroes biographies about Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, Darlene Diebler, Amy Carmichael, and many more. These are all role models of faith and great perseverance in hardships.

In reading these books, I have a goal to give my girls friends from other centuries, cultures, and customs who have faced similar circumstances in life and learned to be brave and work through them. It’s not just stories I am peddling to my children, and it’s definitely more than entertainment. These brave girls are their friends.

When you are afraid of taking the table scraps to the chickens after dark, it’s good to think of Betsy who faced down a dark night in a pit. When you feel like everybody around you is strange, you can remember Laura and Mary walking the gauntlet of eyes at a new school. When you face a crisis, the memory of plucky little Gladys praying her way into China will certainly help you to reach out for help from God.

Tell me of books I missed. We’re always on the lookout for more good friends around here.

 

Notes From an Untrendy Person

I seem to have been born with a bent to untrendiness. It’s somewhat about being clueless, and more about being stubbornly resistant to the things that are cool with the masses. But I am also forty now, which means I no longer spout meaningless opinions quite as readily as I used to, and hopefully am more open to the big idea.

However, I will part ways with caution and political correctness to spout some opinions. I have been getting one of those glossy magazines titled Flower for about a year and as I flip through it, looking at the showpieces that cannot possibly be actual homes as much as they are museums to designers, I see things that puzzle me. Every house seems to have these floral installations hanging from the chandelier. It confuses me. An amaryllis, upside down amidst some greenery and a few straggling vines. The glory of it is lost upon me. I have hung plenty of roses upside down to preserve their glory a little longer, but never straight from the florists as an installation. I puzzle, too, over brand-new mansions with antique farm implements polished on the walls beside electric fireplaces topped with scarred barn beam mantlepieces with preferably an animal skull adorning the room under a nature print of a dead rabbit beside a victorious fox. I find it all a bit alarming, like a city dweller has had an identity crisis and brought home Grandpa’s treasures instead of selling them at auction.

Then there are the houseplants. They are all good, and wonderful for the air of the home; it is simply fascinating to watch the trends from ficus to fern to fiddle leaf figs. If I had room, I would probably try them all. Except snake plant. I just can’t see it. My grandma always had them, and though she had a green thumb, her snake plant languished thinly with a few yellowing spears. In my Flower magazine I notice a lot of viney plants that straggle across everything from pianos to open shelving in kitchens, where you have to be careful not to disrupt it when you want to use the crockery. The thing is, the Amish ladies have been doing this for as long as I can remember, only they don’t have the open shelving. They use little hooks to hold up the vines on the wall, and I applaud their creativity. I used to say I dislike succulents because they are squishy, but wow! We have them on many of our windowsills for the winter and I really love them. I guess there is hope for a future snake plant.

On to coffee. I wouldn’t say it annoys me when people post pictures of fancy coffee on their Instagram stories. It doesn’t; they look wonderful and I want some too! It’s just the need to assure everyone that this happened! This coffee right here that is too beautiful to drink did, indeed, happen, and here is the proof that I have 5 extra dollars every day. Okay, sorry about that snark. I have a friend, a millennial who has insights into trends, who was laughing with me about this, and we decided to start a new thing: buying McDonald’s dollar coffee and posting pictures of it in all seriousness like it is the treat of the day. Honestly, I love their iced-French-vanilla-sugar-free. I took a picture of pumpkin spice that I brought home for my husband one day, but then I neglected to post it, so here’s the proof. Michelle, this is for you!

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(It wasn’t actually very good. Too sweet.)

Here’s another surprising thing from Flower: a super trendy jewel designer posted a picture of herself in a floral cotton dress with puffy sleeves. I would wear the dress myself, if I could get about a yard of extra fabric to fill in the neckline. On either side posed her adult daughters, one in calico and the other in a lavender gingham pinafore. My girls had almost the exact same pinafores when they were 1 and 3 years old. Isn’t it amazing? (If you wonder why I get this magazine… it was one of those $2 deals and I thought I was getting a gardening instructional. haha.)

I still can’t get into enneagrams. They make me feel dim-witted because I can’t remember what the letters are for. But that’s a personal problem. Last night I had a dream that was so vivid, I awoke from it feeling like I needed to make amends to the people who had been hurt by my actions. It took a few minutes of wakefulness to realize that I had not even done that awful thing that I was repenting of in the middle of the night. What letter is a dim-witted, apologetic person?

Here’s all I really am saying: go right ahead and buy that plant to beautify your house. Don’t mind me and I won’t mind you. Also, I do like some things. Wanna hear about them?

I do love emojis. I thought of a shruggy one right at the end of the last paragraph.

When it comes to household trends, it’s kind of a personality thing: I like cozy, easily maintained spaces. I tend to look for warm colors because white would have to be washed for ever more. I like things that work double duty, like a pretty hat box that doubles as storage for the card games. There is very little in our home that is strictly ornamental.  I readily admit that I am trendy-decorating challenged, and I feel humbled by the fact that there are pieces that have been hanging on our walls for 15 years. I do believe in rearranging the furniture. It truly sparks joy for me, and my girls light right up when I suggest that we figure out a new way to place the living room furnishings. The men in the house? Not so much. “But we just carried that heavy old thing downstairs last year!” I play this game with them every year when I deep-clean the places and shampoo the rugs and furniture. It’s really fun to make our small space work for us the best it can. That just naturally involves dragging things around.

On the clothing scene, I love polka dots. This was evident today when I wore my navy skirt with white polka dots, and my daughters ended up with teal/white dots, pink/white dots, and grey/white dots. Our bench at church was a merrily uncoordinated sight! There is another trend that I would like to encourage you to try if you are on the fence about it. I bought it at Wally the weekend my husband and I were going camping to celebrate our anniversary. In his words, “That is one impressive sweater!” meaning those below-the-knee chunky sweaters. My idea was that it would be great for running to the bath house in the middle of the night, etc. etc. I didn’t expect it to be so cozy. It’s literally like wearing a blanket, but much more acceptable in public than one of those snuggies from a few years ago.

I have a few pictures for you to prove that it really did happen: we did go camping all by ourselves, in a tent, for the first time in years. It was wonderful.

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We ate out. Every meal we ate out there. We stopped at Aldis on our way and bought easy stuff but yum!IMG_20191012_175123309

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The sweater adorns the folding sofa chair up there. It kept catching on the picnic table benches when I was cooking, but otherwise I wore it day and night.

And one more picture (below) taken on our actual anniversary. I get so tickled by the contrasts in this picture. My husband can pull off the millennial look very well, but we have agreed on no skinny jeans, ever. He doesn’t mind my conservative safeness, either, (no way Converse) so… match made in heaven.

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I know you want to know if I have bought a fanny pack yet. Nope. I still have one from the 90’s.

 

P. S. Small appeal here: please comment anything. I have been playing safe and not writing for various reasons. The Lord (ok, maybe it was people) prompted me to stop being afraid, so I plunged right off the cliff with a bunch of tongue-in-cheek to see if anyone is still out there.

 

Survival Books for Boys

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With one son camping with friends and another ready for a weekend course on Outdoor Emergency Care, I thought it would be appropriate to finish this post that I have been incubating for a while.

When we upgraded our book shelves, we categorized a lot better and I found a section of books that are specifically geared to survival. I didn’t even know this was a genre until I started buying books for my sons. They have been pretty absorbed with the idea, and it really escalated their interest when Gabe took them wilderness camping in the Adirondacks for a week. I would like to be with my husband/sons in the event of a disaster. Both of the boys have built primitive shelters in the woods with scrounged materials and have amassed impressive bug-out bags full of essential gear such as Lifestraws and flint strikers for building fires. Once Gabe bought a thousand foot roll of paracord for them and was astonished at how quickly they powered through the entire roll with their projects. I thought it was definitely worth the investment, since it kept them busy for days, seeing how many feet of cord they could weave into one survival bracelet. I will draw a merciful curtain on the pocket knife situation. I don’t pretend that our wild and free ideas of learning survival are for everyone, but if you’re interested in armchair learning, here are some book reviews from Greg.

Starting at the bottom of the pile up there, with Northeast Foraging, Greg says, “This is our best foraging guide because the author started foraging with her grandma and she gives good advice for how to prepare the food you find. Also, it is our region.”

  We have a Peterson’s Guide to Edible Plants as well, which is much more comprehensive, but not helpful when the plants don’t even grow in our area.

  Outdoor Life Ultimate Bushcraft  is Gregory’s favorite book on wilderness skills, “because it focuses on living in the wild. There are excellent illustrations and it is really interesting.” His other Outdoor Life Survival Manual includes natural disasters, wilderness skills, and urban dangers. Gregory hopes never to have to face urban dangers. He doesn’t even like driving through the city (no air! no space!)

The Boys’ Handy Book is a boy scout manual from the turn of the century -early 1900’s, that is- and has lots of illustrations of skills that are largely forgotten now. Gregory doesn’t like it for only one reason: some things are hard to source nowadays.

 My parent’s gave the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook for a birthday, along with a cast-iron Dutch oven.  “It’s nice because the recipes are formulated for cooking over a campfire, so it makes it easier than trying to adapt a regular recipe.” Our favorite so far was a campfire cobbler. To be honest, though, most of the things they cook over fires are bannock type breads, or rice with seasonings, or maybe potatoes cooked in the coals.

Usborne has a few good sources that I found on Amazon: True Stories of Survival, Survival (written in typical Usborne style with short, readable paragraphs and lots of good illustrations… my personal favorite), and a comic-book styled one titled Improve Your Survival Skills.

A lot of this excitement about learning survival skills comes from reading storybooks. Top of the top for us is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. It has all the elements of a toe curling gripper for boys: a raw greenhorn, alone in the wilderness with only a hatchet to help him after he survived the plane crash.

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The Cay is another classic tale of adventure at sea. Theodore Taylor has a gentle way of bringing huge topics such as racism and terrible loss into the story. My Side of the Mountain tells the story of a slightly bratty boy who discovers how wonderful his life really is when he takes off to try to live entirely off the land. 

Of course, all of the Ralph Moody books are great, especially for young teens. We have been accumulating them on audio, although I should caution that they contain some strong language.

I try to look ahead in faith for the next generation, but I feel in my gut that there are hard times ahead, possibly involving finding starchy roots to eat, or building fish traps for supplemental protein. But especially there will be trials of the soul. With this in mind, we have been buying more mature biographies and memoirs for our older children. Here are a few for older boys that tell a true story of survival, accompanied by many life lessons. All describe men who toiled through incredible hardships and came out stronger.

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Last, but not least, there is Evidence Not Seen, the story of very courageous woman who survived Japanese camps during World War II. It is our current read-aloud and I know I will need to edit some of the heaviest passages for the sake of the younger children, but I consider it on the same level as the books above.

That’s our list of favorite survival books, for your perusal. If you have any recommendations, we would love to hear them!

 

Sometimes the Beans Get too Fat

Would you like to know about the time the Lord gave me permission to not make pickles with my excess cucumber crop? It was in August and I felt that I really should not allow those cukes to go to waste. I looked at my shelves of jars in the basement and saw that I had about 10 pints of mushy bread-and-butter pickles from a previous harvest. They were no longer a blessing or a temptation to eat, so we didn’t eat them. I dumped them out for the chickens, washed the jars, and then I heard the voice of reason. “How many jars of pickles did you can last year? About 15? See, you’re not even really fond of pickles, so how does it make sense to cram a batch of them into an already hectic day so that you can dump half of them to the chickens in a few years? Maybe you could just throw the cucumbers to them now and buy a jar of pickles when you need it?”

A gardener tends to look at that sort of advice as from below, the lazy place, where people don’t manage very well. Having been raised with gardening my entire childhood, I value the lessons learned while pulling weeds and digging potatoes. Once we had enough green beans in the freezer for the year, my mom would sometimes let the last ones get fat so we could shell them and can them. It didn’t matter that none of us really enjoyed shell beans; we were not going to waste good food. I witnessed my aunts doing the same. When there was a glut of cantaloupe, one of them froze the excess in little chunks to eat as slush. It was actually a good idea, but I don’t need to tell you how small the window is for a bite of slushy cantaloupe versus a bite of disgusting slime. For a person from Amish culture, wasting something that could possibly be preserved, canned, frozen, dried, or fermented was unpardonable. I still find it really difficult to throw out food scraps unless they are going to compost or to feed an animal. And I do let the last green beans get fat, because I know our goats will love them.

I’m prioritizing hard this August, having added another layer of things to do with my pottery, which I like a lot better than canning pickles, by the way. I ask myself, “What does the Lord require of you?” and it is simply this: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.” There are a lot of choices available in those generalized instructions, but “do all to the glory of God” probably summarizes them all.

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We are back to school and I love the routine and the quieter pace that is a necessity of providing an education for our children. We do our basic household chores in the morning, then go to our schoolroom and look at the schedule for the day, taking it from there. This year I am planning out only one week at a time, with Gregory making his own goals and keeping his own logbook. Alex has to do one course that is mandatory to get his credits for graduation. With Addy reading pretty well, I feel like I’ve hit on a little pocket of homeschool bliss that I have been working toward for years. Feel free to ask me how it’s going when we hit February.

A few weeks ago, Gabriel took time to build me a wonderful set of bookshelves for our schoolroom. It has been exactly the inspiration I needed to get excited about getting back to the books. I just filed our papers and slunk outside this spring when we finished our term. Things were not pretty, so I sorted, culled, and got thoroughly happy as I arranged our library.

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That, right there, is the heart of our homeschool. Once my children love to read, they are driven to learn and they don’t even have a clue it’s happening. I am planning a series of book recommendations this fall. It should be a lot easier with everything categorized. The left half is non-fiction, biographies, and classics. The right half is series, readers, and storybooks.

Aside from not canning pickles, we are have been working toward a massive shift of bedrooms in the house. There is one large room downstairs with a bathroom/laundry room next to it. The boys were down there for years and the girls were upstairs in two little bedrooms. This meant that Olivia had her own room and she wasn’t even a teen yet, and they did not think that was quite fair. On Saturday the boys talked the girls into switching so that they are all three downstairs in the big bedroom and the boys each have a small bedroom. I was painting the downstairs room while they were doing negotiations, and was a little surprised that it was going so smoothly. Suddenly I noticed a sad little face and when I asked what was wrong, she crumpled into tears because “I don’t want to be selfish but I did so love to be by myself.” It was a situation that reminded me of a Dutch phrase my mom used to say (“Es chatshtah gebt uch.”) that translates loosely into “The most mature person gives up.” In many ways and on many days, my middle child is the most mature of them all. We talked about decorating and making sure she gets her quiet time without interruptions. Today we picked a blush colored paint for an accent wall behind her bed, and her school desk is beside a window where the sun shines in. It is very pleasant, and the smaller girls are being held strictly accountable for their messes. We are three days in and so far, so good.

If you want to know what a house looks like when a passel of children are sorting treasures and clothes, moving all the furniture, some into the attic and some out of the attic, emptying out the entire closet full of games and puzzles… well… It looked like all the bedrooms vomited into the living room and down the stairs and literally everywhere. Meanwhile Gregory had a burning desire to make gobs and they were spread on the table, waiting for icing. I finished painting and came to a kitchen that was liberally sprinkled with chocolate crumbs and abandoned cookie sheets. Then I remembered that I hadn’t finished my kettle full of spaghetti sauce on Friday night, and I was chopping fresh herbs for that while the paint was drying. That was when my parents dropped in, so you can ask them and they will tell you that it was bad.

Having big strong boys makes this sort of enterprise much easier than you would suppose. At 3 o’clock they started moving the bookshelves, because yeah, every child has their favorites in their bedroom so every bedroom has a bookshelf. The two little girls use most of their shelves for things like rock collections and pinecones and Calico Critters. Olivia has books, coloring supplies, and knitting projects in baskets. Most of the games from the closet got stashed on Greg’s shelves for now because they had to go somewhere. His closet is the biggest, so he is also stuck with a section of girls’ dresses. Alex’s books are in three tall stacks right inside his door. Like I said, we are in progress here.

Every dresser, chest of drawers, nightstand, mirror, and lamp moved up or down. The air conditioner unit and the window fans moved.

The bed situation was easier. Greg inherited the bunkbeds because that is his room. Only one twin bed had to be moved downstairs, but that left Alex without a mattress because his full-sized one doesn’t fit into his tiny room. Our Goodwill sells decent quality new mattresses and I bargained with him that if he got the things squared away by 6 PM, we’d go pick up a twin bed. Unfortunately the power steering on the Suburban gave out just a few miles from home, and we had to abort the mission. By the time I tucked in the girls that night, fed the dog and put her into her kennel, and made sure there were nightlights in all the right places, I felt like I had juggled paint rollers, fragile feelings, and homeless objects for hours. We might as well have moved, it was that drastic. I am not the tucked-in “don’t have stuff you don’t need person” that I thought I was, but now I know exactly what else needs to be worked on. And that is after a massive clearing out this fall, with yard sales and all. I don’t know where all this stuff comes from! (Help me, Carol!)

Greg is currently sleeping in a lavender room. I wanted to paint it anyway, but all in good time. Alex has a mattress now and no longer sleeps on the floor. The girls are getting along much better than I expected and can’t wait for the blush accent wall. And I am tired.

Home-making. It can be really absorbing and exhausting, but there is plenty of scope for imagination here. I have always liked rearranging furniture, figuring out how to freshen the house without spending a lot of money. I don’t like decorating at all if it means I am trying to achieve a certain look. It must be that I am not visual enough. But I do know how to go for a certain feel. That probably isn’t really a cool thing but it’s how I roll.

Speaking of feeling, four people have told me recently that I should read up on the Enneagrams. I am starting to feel ‘way behind the times. One of them gave me specific recommendations for websites, but I forgot them. Give me a link in the comments if you have a good source. I am very interested.

For one last bit of random, I leave you with an herb bouquet because it’s Abundant August and I can. Have a lovely day!

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Cloudy With a Chance of Chicken Broth

 

There was once a lady who noticed that soon there would be sufficient produce from her gardening efforts to require some blanching and freezing of vegetables.

As was her custom, this was the season to defrost the deep-freezer, when it was at its most depleted state. As she was lifting out the frozen hunks of meat and the containers of last year’s sweet corn, she happened upon a lot of chicken carcasses. This jogged her memory from the previous fall, when the chicken processing folks had cut up her hens and left the backbones for her to cook however she wanted. At the time she had gone into flat denial about this need and shoved them all into the freezer for another time. Twenty chicken carcasses just waiting to be made into broth for the nurturing of her family, but they had been out of sight, out of mind. Now here they were again, front and center and taking up space that was needed for green beans. She stuffed them into her biggest stockpot to defrost in the refrigerator. When the last two wouldn’t fit, they went to the nourishment of the pigs who were a little surprised to find icy chicken in their trough.

A few days later the lady went to her spare refrigerator and saw that the chicken was thawed and ready to cook. Her husband had outfitted her with a propane cooker for the deck so she could do projects like this outside. Nobody wanted to live in a house with a constant aroma of simmering bones. After a suitable time, the chicken was cooked soft and she picked it off the bones. There was enough meat and broth to can seven quarts of chicken bits and she was happy about that, but she was not done. Those bones still contained a lot of goodness and she really wanted bone broth. She threw the bones into the enormous stockpot with hunks of celery, onions, garlic, and even a few withered carrots from the bottom of the crisper drawer in her refrigerator, covered the whole works with water and a splash of vinegar, and set it to simmer. It simmered all day outside and the surrounding vicinity smelled like Grandma’s chicken soup.

At last it was time to strain out all the bits and pour the broth into jars for canning. Again she filled seven quarts to can and kept the rest for cooking noodles for supper. Although it was a labor-intensive process, she felt good about not wasting a thing and about this stockpile of excessively healthful bone broth.

Not owning a pressure cooker, because she was scared of them, she set the jars to water bath on the cooker outside. It was going to take three hours and she was so glad that she wouldn’t be heating up the kitchen with her canning. She got them rolling along merrily, set the timer for 3 hours, and lost herself in an absorbing pottery project in her shed. A half hour before the timer beeped, there was a tremendous boom and an alert observer reported a mushroom cloud of glass mingled with fragrant chicken stock rising above the deck. The lady herself only saw the aftereffects as she picked through the rubble of broken glass and twisted canning rings. Fortunately the canner lid was constructed of shatter-proof glass that rained down in harmless fragments, but the jar shards are still being discovered in odd parts of the lawn to this day. The lady was astonished to discover oily smears of chicken broth rained across the entire width of her house, which, while not very wide, was still quite impressive. She castigated herself for not checking the water level in the canner and moderating the amount of heat. Mostly she mourned the healthful broth, but there was nothing for it except to sweep up the glass, and order a new canner lid. The very next week she bought a pressure canner at her grandma’s auction.

The noodles they had at supper were simply delicious.

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

Of Popsicles and Weeds

It’s glorious summertime, with the solstice past and the year waning. How is that for jerking around your feelings in the first line? The ebb and flow of life is mostly wonderful in June. With a house full of tweens and teens, someone is constantly checking the cupboards or the fridge. My oldest son goes to work and he and my husband both pack a lunch, although Gabe eats his at midnight and Alex has his at the regular time. I pack one lunch in the morning and one in the evening. When I don’t do it in a timely manner, Alex packs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some chips and calls it enough. Gabe grabs a granola bar and some cheese and calls that enough. I make a point of staying ahead of them so that there is lettuce on the sandwich and nourishment in the snacks.

Meanwhile the garden is not quite producing what the little girls like to pack in their daily picnics. I let them pack whatever they want, provided it’s marginally healthy. (That means no, not popsicles,) and every time I want to make a salad, I hold my breath that the veggies are still there in the crisper drawers. I buy prodigious quantities of Ranch dressing which they pour into personal containers for dipping.  (I also buy saltines; those cheap ones for 98 cents a box are the preferred variety. As long as they have salt, the kids are happy.) I am excited to see the first peppers setting tiny fruits and the cucumbers are starting to put out blooms. This past week the girls have been grazing off the pea patch. Finally I told them they have to stop or we will never have enough for a meal. There are still a few strawberries ripening. The patch is old, so the berries were all small. I was thinking about how long it takes to cap such little fruits when I heard Rita gushing about how cute they are and how much fun it is to cap them. I did not disrupt their fun.

Last year with all the rain, most of Gabe’s raspberries gave up in a despairing shower of yellowing leaves. There is still one row that is producing berries this year, so I was walking along, deep in thought while I looked for them in the tangle of canes and weeds. I kept hearing a hissing, but couldn’t place it until I nearly stepped on a duck that is sitting on a huge nest full of eggs. She was flattened out in her effort to keep them all warm, and she meant business! I tiptoed away quickly. The girls informed me that there are two other expectant mother ducks in the field. It looks like the slugs and bugs had better beware this summer.

On the poultry side of things, there are a bunch of baby guineas sprouting feathers and attitudes in the barn. They were only 3 days old when we observed them fighting over food and running dizzily hither and yon. “Showing their true colors already,” Gregory observed sagely.

We’ve had a brilliant social life recently. Last week there was either an event involving our family, or we had visitors here at our house every day except one. It was a blast! I literally went for one day at a time. Actually, make that one meal at a time. One morning recently I went down to the laundry room to sort the hampers. Both my sons’ towels and entire wardrobe from the previous day were on the floor of their bathroom (which doubles as our laundry room) and there was one shirt in the hamper. It belonged to Gregory’s friend who had spent the day here. When I texted his mother that little story, she replied that when my son was at her house, he alone brought his mug to the kitchen after it was empty. I feel that an identity crisis would be in order: if they only do what they are supposed to do when mother isn’t there to remind them, what is a mother for? (I jest. I hope you know that. Recently I witnessed some incredible thick-headedness when a friend made tongue-in-cheek comments that left her back-peddling for dear life. It made me nervous!)

A few days ago the boys and their cousins were swimming in the pond and wishing the cousins didn’t have to use precious time to take showers before continuing their journey. One of my children said, “You’re plenty clean! You were just swimming!” He replied, “I must take a shower. Dad’s orders. But I only need 30 seconds for that, so let’s play until the very last minute.” I was not terribly surprised to find his swimming trunks and other sundries on the bathroom floor after they left, but he was as clean as 30 seconds under a stream of water could make him.

So many times, with teaching children line upon line, precept upon precept, you take the victories as they come. They really do wash their dirty hands. You can easily see that by the dirt smears on the hand towel. We have a rule around here about popsicles. If you don’t dispose of the wooden stick or the wrapper or the plastic tube, as the case may be, you don’t get a popsicle the next time. I have discovered a flaw in the rule. Short of forensic science, it is pretty difficult to isolate the trash-offender, especially if there have been non-family members around also eating popsicles.  It’s as if no one ever deliberately says, “Now I will toss this in the lawn so I can do other things.” So the rule is kind of useless unless I personally observe the offense. I amended it to “go pick up any trash in the lawn. If it is big enough to get hold of with your thumb and finger, it counts as trash. And no, it doesn’t matter if it was or wasn’t you.”

Addy whined a little today, “Why do I have to do dishes?” and my wise answer was, “Because you live here.” I noticed recently that the very thing that annoys me is often an indication of a great blessing. The refrigerator is needing repairs. Well, glory be, I don’t have to go to the spring house to keep the milk cold, although running downstairs to the egg fridge every time we need milk is probably the modern equivalent. And who has an egg fridge, anyway? People with so many extra eggs they can eat them every day and sell them too.

I have a few bits of advice for those who like to stay alert to potential problems.

  1. Never have a yard sale on a rainy day, even if you have it under a roof. People simply don’t believe the signs.
  2. Don’t throw things away. It may be exactly what the person who does stop at your yard sale was looking for, and they will feel so very happy about that. Also, the lace on the old curtain might be precisely what your daughter needs for edging on her colonial dress that she made out of an old sheet. See concluding picture below. (pattern bought at a yard sale.)
  3. Do throw away ratty stuffed animals. Nobody wants them. Sorry, Velveteen Rabbit.
  4. Don’t wear flip-flops to the doctor’s office if you expect to wait an hour in the refrigerated tomb that is an exam room. You will be so chilled by the time you actually see the doc that she might mistake you for a corpse and order a post-mortem.
  5. Don’t worry too much about preserving yourself. It’s not natural. I quote from The Last Battle: “Susan’s whole idea was to get to the silliest time of her life as quickly as she could and then to stay there as long as she could.” (Speaking of her absorption with lipstick and invitations.)
  6. {Edit} Weeds. I just looked at my title and remembered that I was going to mention that this is the weather where “weeds go mental,” in the words of a British gardener. Here is what you do: you pull them out, compost them, use what is nasty and messy for the benefit of all.

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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.