It’s not just a house I’m keeping here: a message for mothers

It has been a minute or two since I planned to post this, and then the holidays and a baby nephew in the hospital and a new year and trying to get our school back on track and looking at the books for the pottery biz and doing inventory, etc. I dictated this post when I was on a walk one day, and here I am at 3 AM, wide awake and trying to make sure I fix all the errors that talk-to-text is so prone to produce.

I remember the day a picture hit the media of a child’s body washing up on the seashore in Greece. I scrolled through the news with a knot of grief in my stomach. How can these things happen? What can I do about all this evil? This injustice?

My little girl came to me just then with the book she wanted me to read. She loved the Animally story that was filled with illustrations of animals and punny ways that I love her. “I love you cleverly like a fox. I love you powerfully like an ox.” My head struggled to wrap around the privilege of the little girl cocooned in her favorite blanket in my living room, compared to the too-wise faces of the refugee babies. But what can I do?

Recently we had a ladies’ discussion at church about reaching out beyond our world to those who are needy and some of the many, many ways to do this. Someone mentioned that Mennonite women tend to think that their ministry stops with their families. I’ve been mulling over this for a few weeks. What if one of the most powerful ways to change the world is actually our children?

What if I would have never read my child any more stories because life isn’t fair? What if I decided that the thing right in front of me, the grody bathroom, was not worth scrubbing anymore because there is much bigger work to be done in this world? What if I would have decided that pouring my energies into nourishing my children is not a big enough vocation and from now on they can eat lunchables so that I can spend my days fundraising online? Would there have been some fallout, maybe a bit of chaos in our home? Could this sort of neglect contribute to the endless cycle of soul-hunger in the world?

The goal in my mothering is not to raise entitled people who pitch fits when their perfect life is disturbed. The goal is to raise nourished souls, wholehearted people with a steady background of care and stability and mom being there with hot chocolate and everybody matters. The goal is to send these people into the wide world with a reservoir of fat in their souls, to give them resources as they spread the same love and kindness to everybody they meet. If I send my children out to live as adults with starved hearts because I resented the work they caused me, found a more worthy cause to work for (and I really didn’t even like them,) what have I accomplished?

The way to combat homelessness is not to all move out of our homes. The way to combat lovelessness is not to stop loving those who already have plenty of love. I do not believe that Paul is being a male chauvinist when he suggested that women who have families should keep their homes. I think Paul just saw God’s design as being a good design, like “This is how you bring glory to the world, you young ladies with a husband and children, and you older ladies need to show them how to do this. (And by the way, servants shouldn’t pilfer from their masters and young men should be self controlled and older men are called to be dignified,)” and all the rest of the stuff he was saying in Titus 2. All you have to do is look at the end of the chapter and you see the whole point of Paul’s instructions was not to cramp everybody’s style but to give them simple direction for living a good life that pleases God.

So if you find yourself bristling when someone brings up the keepers at home subject, dare to dig a little deeper into what it actually means. If God gave you a husband or if God gave you children, he gave you a big job worth pouring your life into. I’ve said before that if you’re bored in your work of raising a family, you haven’t leaned into it hard enough. Maybe you have been absorbing some feminist rubbish that is impoverishing your own soul. That may sound harsh, but I believe it.

Nobody can dispute that someone has to do the grunt work in this world and if it is true that everything becomes a mess when mama quits doing her work, isn’t it also true that there will be extra glory in the world when mama gives it everything she’s got?

If you are faithfully pouring your heart into raising a family, you shouldn’t bow to the pressure of feeling like you’re leading some second-class existence “as if God put you on a short tether to a tan sofa” like Rebecca Merkel says in her book Eve in Exile. (Go, read it.) Lift your chin up, offer your work to God and just be that career mom with all your heart. Think of the difference when all these little children swarm into the world with secure hearts and the love of Jesus and knowing how hard love works for others because they’ve watched you model it for years. “I love you bravely like an eagle. I love you freely like a seagull.” (Lynn Sutton, Animally again)

Go ahead, tell me what you think. Is it a struggle for you? How do you minister to the needs in the world around you?

How Should a King Come?

My husband reminded me of a song we sang years ago in choir. We looked it up and enjoyed both the lyrics and the music again.

Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry
and the crowds make way.

And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.
How should a King come?

Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!

Songwriters: Jimmy Owens / CAROL OWENS

Here’s the link for a beautiful recording on YouTube.

https://youtu.be/IWQV-Y9ZI-w

The sock situation and other things

::Just a quick note about orienting oneself after losing the way. Someone said they were not able to comment on that post and I thought maybe there were others who would have liked to give me a bit of pushback. I may have sounded simplistic and I want to say that the wilderness can be very long and when we’re in it we don’t know if it’s 10 more miles or a hundred more miles. What we do know is we don’t have to go in circles. That’s where I find it helpful to follow David’s pattern and orient myself by what is real. Gabe and I have had many discussions about what to do with prayers that do not get answered the way we wish. Ultimately it’s a question of having faith in our faith or faith in the great faithfulness of God. One way leads to striving and despair and the other way leads to rest and confidence. It is both helpful and difficult to remember that there is always so much more going on than we can see. In the season where we celebrate God coming down to be with us, my heart burns with this reality. He is here in all our happiness and our mess and He is redeeming our lives from destruction and He is able to keep doing this till the end of time. If I ever need something strong to stand on, that is it. ::

Today was a good day of fellowship at church and the miracle of changed lives and blended hearts struck me afresh. Our congregation is made up of ordinary, prone-to-wander people but they are our people and we belong. Here I go being simplistic again, but is there a deeper desire in the human heart than to not walk alone?

We’ve been concocting good things for the freezer, and yesterday the girls mixed up gingerbread. I feel a bit of shock when these sorts of projects take off without a lot of oversight by mama. I did mix the royal icing and help Addy with her tiny house.

The girls and I just made the browned butter/nutritional yeast popcorn that says Sunday night and Gabe left for his shift.

We have had a week of glittering ice and brilliant snow with sunny days that cheered our hearts. Ski patrol started this week and Alex and Gabe came alive in their special ski-weather ways. For me this translates to gear coming and going through the living room and occasionally being propped up in corners until I put my foot down a little crossly and they get the message and stow the stuff elsewhere. All the snowboots came out too. And the gloves and the hats and the insulated pants and the puffy coats and the scarves. I am grateful for all of it because it means we have a life in wintertime. I do think every house north of the Mason Dixon line should be built with a room for housing these clothes, however.

The laundry has changed seasons too. I usually lay everyone’s piles of clean clothes on the table from oldest to youngest when I’m folding. There are lots of deductions to be made from the stacks that result, but the socks are probably the most telling. I shamelessly compartmentalize my family by their socks. My husband and Alex always have the most because they actually wear socks everyday. Gabe likes nice ones with argyle patterns or polka dots. His are easy to match and fun to sort. Gregory usually has only one pair, the one he wears for church. When he does chores, he stores his socks in his boots as soon as he comes inside and they get washed when I deem it necessary. Olivia has carefully matched sets that also coordinate with her clothes. The little girls don’t wear any unless I insist and tell them they look like snipes with bare legs sticking out of boots. When we went for piano lessons last week, I asked Rita, “Did you remember to put on socks so you can take your boots off at Amy’s house?” Oh yes, she had. One was green and the other was orange, but it was a triumph of remembering for both of us. I had mine on too because I couldn’t wear flip flops that day.

It’s the season for games. We have one called Survival where you get a card with a disaster on it and a challenge for how to survive it. The children love this game, especially some of the zanier challenges. So what do you do if you’re stuck in the wilderness without chapstick? We thought about it awhile and decided on a solution. You use bear grease on your lips, but of course if the bear eats you first you will have died of chapped lips. Gregory and I saw a Monopoly for Millennials game at Walmart. The tagline said, “Forget real estate… you can’t afford it anyhow.” Gregory figured the go-to-jail card would probably say “the Wi-Fi’s down” or maybe “coffee crop failure.” Where does he get his ideas?

This year for Christmas I bought our family the Ticket to Ride game. I’m hoping that it gives us a break from Settlers which has been our go-to for a few years running. I only ever win when I’m lucky which means everything I do prospers despite absent-minded trades and lack of ambition. This really bugs the guys who always have cutthroat competition and delve deep into each other’s motives for why they played this or that. Over Thanksgiving we spent time with Gabe’s family and the Rook games were intense indeed. I told my sister-in-law that if you only met the brothers while they’re playing a game, you wouldn’t have any idea how nice they really are. 🤣 Still, they don’t hold grudges for long, so we still like them.

We’re looking forward to a slower week with lots of family time, lots of living close together, eating up everything that’s in the house, and staying kind. It’s going to be great and I mean it. It might be a bit of a challenge, of course, as pouring ourselves into making special times is always extra, but how can I object to giving my little bit to sweeten life for others when Jesus gave everything? I’ve had to bring a few attitudes to Jesus in this past week. I mean the kind that mutter, ” I just can’t even handle all this chaos.” (See paragraph on snow clothes above.) But He is bigger then hormonal panics and He can redeem flawed little spaces if we let Him.

I’ll tell you how I would prefer to spend the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s. I would like to “sit just quietly” Ferdinand-fashion and work on my backlog of reading and drink tea nonstop. I am sure there will be those moments, but what I’m asking for is Grace to give unsparing, like Jesus showed us. Tell me, please, how do you show your people love? How do you deal with the joyful chaos of holidays? (And do you ever wish you could celebrate without cooking and dishes? )

When you lose your bearings…

… and if you are human, sometimes this will happen. There will be times when it’s foggy and neither sun nor stars shine through the haze. There will be occasions of blinding, sideswiping forces that you never saw coming, and there you are with unfocused eyes and a head full of questions. There will be tempests with no land in sight for many days.

No one is exempt from the things which try our souls. We face our puny humanity, our complete lack of control, our personal blind spots suddenly illumined, our own sinful hearts betraying evidence that we are still in desperate need. It can be disconcerting, sometimes disorienting, and often profoundly discouraging.

When I’m in a situation like this there is a way to get my bearings back. It’s like pulling out a compass in a blizzard and realizing, “Oh, yes! there is a true north after all!” The solution is simple, really, requiring only that I crack my Bible open in the middle and start reading the Psalms. Someone has described them as “the practical theology of vivid human experience.”

I find the Psalms a cross-section of all the tumults and ecstasies of humanity and the over-arching Providence of God. While David did not write all of them, I’ve been reminded of his faith this week. I’m reading the historical accounts of David’s life in the book of Samuel in the Keep the Feast Bible reading challenge. Each day the selected reading concludes with the psalm David wrote in that particular time.

There was the time when he fled for his life from King Saul only to find himself in peril from suspicious enemies. After his escape by faking insanity, scratching at the gates and letting spittle run into his beard, David wrote Psalm 34. “I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Do you see how he had oriented himself again from the brink of insanity by simply looking to the Lord?

Psalm 57 is another example. “In you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” This after he was cornered in the back of a cave, praying not to be discovered by Saul and his men who were taking shelter in the cave’s mouth. Sometimes the best we can do is hunker down in a safe place until the storm passes and David knew where that safe place was.

Clearly David had also learned to orient himself by running to God for mercy when he fell deeply into sin. He could have wallowed in the depths of despair at his own wretchedness after he had a man killed so that he could take his wife. Certainly his repentance was genuine. Yet he knew where to run for mercy and he knew that he could be purged whiter than snow. The beautiful prayer of Psalm 51 has brought hope and restoration to sinners ever since he wrote it.

So when you find you’ve lost your bearings, know that you’re human and then go read David’s Psalms and find your orientation to the right course, to a safe place, to beautiful Hope. Even if all you can say is, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, oh my God!” (PS. 40:17) you have taken a step toward true north.

Photo source: pexel.com pixabay

Annual Slightly Strange List

  • Boots. I’m glad for boots. The only foot gear I really require is flip-flops or boots. I wear flip-flops when the weather is 50° or warmer and boots when it’s colder or wetter. So Simple.
  • Inside jokes. All my childhood, we siblings would snicker about things that other people didn’t get, and that was just fine. When I got married my husband and I explained each other’s family jokes to one another and crafted our own private line. Now I have a whole new range of inside jokes with my children. One of our favorites is making up new words for things. It’s surprising how often we come across “noddles” (small, sketchy-looking lumps).
  • The sky. I’m a skywatcher and I think I get it from my grandma who never writes a letter without mentioning the weather. Cerulean skies, puffy clouds, brilliant horizons, these all lift my heart. I call the children outside when the sun shines after a long gray spell, and we absorb sunshine on our shoulders. I think I would die in a cell without a window
  • Sheets. The pleasure of climbing into a bed with freshly line-dried sheets is difficult to describe. The only thing I want to buy in all this commercial craziness over the weekend is a superlative set of sheets on sale. That’s it. My needs are very simple. (I haven’t even scanned the sales yet to find them, but I will.)
  • Old things. When we were packing our clothes to go to Grandpa’s for Thanksgiving, I instructed the children not to pack anything ratty. One of my daughters objected, “But all my favorite clothes are ratty.” It’s true. The homely comforts are the best. My husband has been influencing me to appreciate the qualities of sturdily built objects from bygone centuries. He heartily objects to the wasteful, constantly-changing fashion world that is (Ikea 😳😳) home design. So now I like old things.
  • My hands. I never really liked my hands, but I have decided that that’s ridiculous. I am all grown up now and they’re not going to ever be the slender long-fingered hands with manicured nails that I so much admire. Every year I get more freckles on them, and they’re even starting to wrinkle, but they can do lots of things. I mean, they can soothe a sick child or swat an unruly goat or turn a lump of mud into a mug. So I’ve determined to be thankful.

I’ve been anti-social for an hour with my WordPress app, which I love, by the way, so I need to go rejoin the family. What about you? Do you have a list of slightly strange things that inspire you to be grateful?

Happy Thanksgiving!

You don’t get to quit

I am trying out the WordPress app on my phone and I discovered that it has a talk-to-text function. This might actually be a life-changer for my blogging since I’m often unable to access a computer at the time when I want to write down something quickly. Let’s see how it goes to add photos.

Well, that was easy!

So my sister and I were talking about the undeniable fact that parenting, with all its wonderful aspects, is utterly wearying. She is expecting her sixth baby any day and knows all about the adjustments to come with the beautiful little baby. She also knows how fleeting that squeaky newborn stage is and how quickly there will be a toddler making sure she doesn’t sit still too long. When we were discussing this she said something that I thought was profound, “When you feel sorry for yourself or depressed about how little time you have for yourself, the best thing to do is get up and do something for somebody else.”

This meshed with another conversation I had with a friend this week. She lost her husband in tragic circumstances a few months ago and is raising her family by herself. In the middle of her grief, she is refusing to pack her children off to school or daycare so she can indulge in “me time” even though many of her friends have counseled her to do that. Her focus is on serving her children and healing their sadness. She knows that God is with her in this daunting work that is in front of her. It is crushing and horrendous and He is with her and she will not sit down on the job.

I admire both my sister and my friend deeply for what they are modeling with their lives. In difficult circumstances we all tend to revert to a self-preserving, I-might-die-if- I-don’t-get-a-break, I-quit mentality. When I think of Jesus and now he never refused to give to another person from his resources, and I remember how he said, “When you have your hand on the plow, you don’t look back,” I feel the challenge. The field right there in front of you is your work. Get up and plow it. When I remember that He actually did die, I feel the puny weight of my measly problems.

I’ve done my share of private wishing for a live-in maid in my house. I’ve wasted time wondering what’s the point of beating back the chaos every day and is there even anything about cursive or geography or spelling that matters? I’ve fantasized about having a chef who will whip up nourishing meals for my children while I think about how to change the world. With this mindset, happiness is a slippery, unattainable thing and I know better than to indulge in it for long. In King James version, it’s time to “gird up the loins of your mind” when you’re in this place.

I suppose having a very practical personality might be helpful. I mean just get up and do something. I probably absorbed that advice with my mother’s milk, and I certainly heard it all my life as a child. Just get started with the glasses and the silver ware first. Just go comb your hair. Wash the windows so you can see outside. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.

Guess what?… it’s all true.

Newsflash: I am not here on this Earth to feel great about myself. In fact, the less I think about myself, the more likely I am to find the happiness I crave. Isn’t it weird how that works?

This is a principle of the kingdom of heaven that we get to model every day to our families and to the world around us. It’s deep and mysterious and very simple. Elisabeth Elliot would say, “Just do the next thing.” I am adding a little note to that, “You don’t get to quit.”

For your enjoyment I will include a recent essay my middle daughter wrote, but please do not mention that you read this on the blog. She is serenely unselfconscious and I’m confident that someday she will see the rich humor in her piece but probably not when she’s 10. You wouldn’t think that she spent an inordinate amount of time whining about her assignment by the matter of fact tone of her essay, but I’m afraid she did. She was supposed to write her own thoughts about a wise saying from years gone by.

“Benjamin Franklin once said ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think this means that many people want things that they don’t want to work for. You could wish all day that you had a cat, but if you don’t get up and buy one you won’t get one. If you want water get off your padooka and get some. If you want to learn how to speak Spanish, get someone to teach you. SIMPLE. Basically if you want something you have to work for it.”

(A bit of clarification may be necessary. “Padooka” is code in our family for rear end.)

Making Progress

I determined that I would not live through another week without cleaning the ceiling fan in the kitchen, as well as the furry vents in the bathroom fan. Yesterday was their day of reckoning. Gregory was conscripted to climb up onto the counters and vacuum the dust that had accumulated above the bathroom cabinets, although he repeatedly assured me that it never bothers him. How generous to be so reassuring, but I was not to be deterred.

Someone told me once that if your kitchen and bathroom are reasonably clean, you can get away with a lot in the rest of the house. After working my way through the place, eliminating the cobwebs of the enterprising spiders that moved in with cold weather, those two rooms still need the most attention in places not open to public view. I did put up the proper shower curtain in my bathroom again. I can’t even remember why I switched out the blue striped fabric one for the coral one that I bought at a discount store this spring. I think the blue curtain needed to be washed and we had company coming, but then I never got around to putting up the one that actually coordinated with the towels and here we were in November and suddenly I realized that the color scheme was a little weird in the bathroom. Harmony is now restored. I am untrendy, but I do know a little about decor when I take the time to think about it.

I would like to give a little tip here for others who may find themselves frustrated by how hard it is to undo the dinky little clasps on some shower curtain rings… a small thing, but important in the housekeeperly realm of streamlining cleaning. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall for those silly plastic rings that leave you sweating and fiddling while teetering with one foot on the edge of the bathtub and the other on the lid of the toilet, all the while groping for the next buttonhole on the shower curtain and trying to insert the plastic liner blindly on the backside. (Unless, of course, you want to live with grody showers.) They do make nifty metal ones that just hook on and that is where you want to spend your dollars. Look, you don’t even have to do the liner at the same time as the curtain. If you have glass shower doors, then I am sorry to have wasted your time. My sympathies with your own unique set of issues.

I have another tip for you. Get yourself a good hamper. You know those annoyingly flimsy hampers that do not hold up for more than a year? The ones that rhyme with tubber-laid? I have a whole row of them in the attic, storing stuff despite their cracked and broken condition because I hate to throw out such hunking blobs of plastic. After a brief try on the pretty fabric ones that collapse unless the children make a perfect basket every time they toss their dirty clothes, I finally did a thing that surprised myself and spent $75 on a hamper. Before you gasp too loudly, let me qualify: it’s a woven hamper made by an Amish family with significant health challenges that preclude the ordinary Amish livelihoods. Whatever they may not be able to do, they can weave a mean basket! It is capacious, with a sturdy wooden bottom and lid, and it is not like anything you can buy at TJMaxx or anywhere retail. I am just sorry I cannot link to their shop.

This week I indulged in my annual brief panic/depression about how I am going to make it through another cold, dark winter in confined spaces. Then I girded up my mind like a sensible German peasant and collected all the flip-flops and sandals to stow them in the attic in one of the reject hampers. While I was digging in the girls’ closet, I stumbled across a desiccated banana on top of a pile of clean pillowcases. Hmm. Nobody had any idea, but one more corner got cleaned. There is something to be said for the impetus of sheer necessity. I only wish I knew where the dead mouse stink is coming from. I like diffusers with essential oils, but there are limits to their odor-masking. Rita suggested we use cinnamon oil, and now the basement smells exactly like the entrance to JoAnn Fabrics when they get out their Christmas scented pinecones.

This week it got cold, so I took a clipper to the woods and collected long strands of bittersweet berries to make wreaths. They burst open after frost and are easy to spot once the bright orange berries pop out. I made two wreaths for the shed and one for the barn, using our own grapevines for a rounded base, then wiring the berries around it and tucking in some greenery.

The girls have started piano lessons, a long-time dream of theirs. It’s another run in the week, but we try to line up the errands. We take our recycling to a collection place on this route, pick up milk, get groceries and gas, maybe even a Walmart stop. This past Tuesday I had an unusually compact set of plans that included the library and brunch with a friend before the piano lesson. When I was standing on the porch of my friend’s house, I realized that I was there on the wrong day. “You were trying so hard to be efficient that you even mashed everything into one day in your mind,” Olivia said. And she was right.

We had some fuzzy snow flurries a few days ago, enough to make snow pants and ALL the other paraphernalia a necessity. For a few hours it transformed the muddy brown of November into something other-worldly. Addy grabbed one of my jackets, slipped into her rain boots and ran outside to dance through the swirling snow, the extra long sleeves flapping expressively as she twirled with the dog running circles around her. It reminded me of a quote by C. S. Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this?” I put it up on my letter-board as a reminder to focus on the sparkles this winter instead of the icky. The children read it and said, “Huh?” But they don’t need so many reminders to notice sparkly things. (I was one “f” short of being able to use the entire quote. It is an annoyance that’s common to letterboards. )

A few of our children really like routines, knowing what’s coming, no surprises, definitely not happy with flying by the seat of the pants. For a few years, I didn’t try hard enough to meet those needs. It seemed too much effort to incorporate traditions into our daily life that they will be upset if we cannot keep. This November we took our cue from homeschooling cousins and started a tradition of having Tea and Poetry Tuesdays. It is really just early lunch on pretty dishes with tea in cups instead of mugs. I read whatever poetry strikes my fancy, and we all love it. It’s definitely more fun than our tradition of Thursday Basement Cleaning.

I have been diligently filling my pottery orders for Christmas. Gabe and I had to look at our fledgling business long and hard before we could name it, but it does now have a name and a logo.

LogoMakr-8iiWLr-300dpi.png

We live on Black Oak Ridge and the ceramics is my part while slöyd is more the guys’ department, as well as the needle-crafting small girls around here. Slöyd is a common idea in Sweden, the art of making things with your hands and simple tools. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Educational slöyd’s purpose was formative in that it was thought that the benefits of handicrafts in general education built the character of the child, encouraging moral behavior, greater intelligence, and industriousness.” That fits our philosophy of education exactly. Many of the things we encourage our children to try (the copious amounts of paper, fabric, wood, yarn, paints, the endless messes) cost us money, yet they are cheap when measured by the skills they pick up and the confidence they learn from figuring out how to make things for themselves.

Eventually we hope to have variety in our shop besides pottery. As of now, it’s my pots. Here’s the link to the Etsy shop if you are interested. I do not always have time to stock it and there are lots of pieces in my pottery shed that have not gotten posted on Etsy, including those beautiful spoons Gabriel carved.

The little girls have heard me joking about my “mid-life crisis pottery.” Tonight Addy informed me confidentially that she and Rita were going out to the barn “to have a mid-life crisis together.” I said, “WHAT?” and Rita rushed to explain that they were starting a new kind of play where they are vets for the animals. Apparently any new venture is classified as a “mid-life crisis” in their minds.

This week we have consumed a lot of food and have drunk a lot of milk. Our clothes keep getting dirty and torn and sometimes even lost, so we wash and mend and replace the gloves. The cars need to be topped up with gas and the pigs are always hungry. Gabriel has been picking up overtime to pay the bills. As soon as one wheel gets grease, another starts whining. But we “keep buggering on” (Churchhill) and we make a bit of progress. I don’t know any other way, do you?

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!