Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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a Slightly Imperfect Day in the Life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday in February

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

I will start with a quote from Paul David Tripp.

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

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

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

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

His Will¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†———–¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† My Will

Be conformed to His image                          Be personally fulfilled

Love without strings attached                     Feel valued and cherished by others

Use talents for others                                     Creativity for attention

Die daily                                                            Live a happy life

Become holy                                                     Become better

Be led by the Spirit                                          Forge my own destiny

Walk a narrow, difficult way                        Find the easy path

Freely give                                                        Somebody serve me

Endurance                                                         Ease

Eternal rewards                                               Payment now

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

All, all of it.

Anybody with me?

Have a wonderful day!

 

 

 

 

Slow and Steady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The End Cap

I did not get a Christmas letter written this year, nor did I send cards, except to my mom and my grandma, so this is an attempt at a summary. Condensing a gift that is 365 days big is a difficult assignment. Thinking back over this year makes me think of elastic. The Year of Elastic? Not really the sound of wonder and music, or the kind of word one chooses for a theme for a year, but more the sound of stretching and rebounding, maybe sometimes even bungee jumping. I cannot even tell you how far down on my un-bucket list bungee jumping is, but there are other versions of plummeting and rising that give one’s innards a jolt. When all quiets down a bit, you know you might have had the courage to try this stunt when you were 20, but you probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to stick it out and learn from it. And at 60 it might kill you, so this is the time!

For us this is the time to parent people who are finding themselves and spending a good bit of their own time beating around in the bushes beside the trail to see if there is a better trail and sometimes there is and you concede the point as graciously as you can. This is the age of also parenting people who still require a bit of training not to yell and hit when they are mad, or throw their cursive practice page into the trash can when they get frustrated. Then there is the teaching about doing random acts of kindness for someone who does not even deserve it and doing dishes when it isn’t your turn. This is also the age of vigilance to notice when the quiet people are being steamrolled and those who are less needy should be given a timely love pat on the back for work well done.

I have made a career of wifing/mothering ever since I got married and had my first baby. Granted, there were varying degrees of dedication, yet always it has been my conviction that this is my life-work because God gave me children. Let me tell you, there is a lot of scope for the imagination and plenty of use for any talent if you get over not being noticed all the time for your good work. There is just so much to keep track of and grow and learn, and anybody who thinks being a stay at home mom is boring has not leaned into it hard enough…ahem.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought in the toddler years, if I just felt sure I knew what I was doing? Well. Here I still am, thinking that would be nice. Still learning.

This year our last booster seat left the car and our first child turned 16. We are squarely in a season that is strange and fun and did I mention stretching? Everybody can buckle their own seat belts for the ride, but they don’t all want to go to the zoo with equal passion. Dad is driving the car, making sure the correct address is in the Google Maps so they can actually get to the zoo, navigating the traffic and the gas tank. Mom is up there in the passenger seat, passing out snacks and untangling arguments about whose water bottle the green one is, saying it’ll be fun! Just stop pestering each other and have fun… and thinking secretly that the zoo is always with her.

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Gabriel finished his bachelor’s degree in nursing this spring. He is still working in the Emergency Department in the trauma center in Altoona, although he also got his paramedic’s certification in case he ever decides to join a flight nursing team. He loves his work, but there are nights when the shift is so crammed with patients that he finds it hard to care about people anymore. One of the best stress relievers for him has been to start collecting antique woodworking tools, crafting workbenches, carving spoons, shaving curls of hardwood off planks in the methodical old ways with block planes. I have an impressive collection of wooden utensils in my kitchen, all carefully hollowed out of greenwood with spoon knives. We joke about buying stock in¬† Band-Aid and there have been a few suturing episodes, but the more the guys work with their sharp instruments, the less they cut themselves. Here’s a photo of his workshop in the barn loft, a happy place until the weather turns freezing.

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Aside from my usual homemaking stuff this year, I spent most of my spare hours with my hands in the clay. Slowly I have gotten to feel confident with making mugs and smaller pots on the wheel. I have endless ideas to try in the new year, but I think I will work at one new thing per month. My sister gave me a gorgeous planner where I can even write out what I want to learn each month. Shall it be teapots in February and plates in March? Hmm? It is wonderful to have my heated shed where I can work for a few hours, leave the mess, pick it up again the next day. For the duration of the winter, Gabriel has his antique tools in half of the shed, so our dream of working companionably in the same space has come true.

Over the Christmas hustle when I was trying to stock my Etsy shop, I would go outside after the girls’ bedtime story and work until Gabriel got home from work at midnight. One can only keep that up so long, though, and I am taking a goodly break. (For those who want to know: my Etsy shop is HomesteadHighlights because we all make stuff around here, so there will be listings that are not pottery related. I also have an Instagram page under (lame name alert, because I cannot pin down a name I love)¬†deep8_ceramics where I chat about the process of learning to make pottery. I don’t know anything except what someone taught me, mostly from Youtube, but it’s fun to figure it out as I go.)

What I have not done much is read and write. I am going to have to figure out a way to juggle better. My soul shrivels when I don’t read, and I feel like I am dropping chunks of life when I don’t write. Maybe that planner… Every new year I feel hopeful about my abilities to be organized and start strong with one. I love the feel of chipping at my goals and checking off lists, then I start winging it again when life gets too busy to pick up a pen and jot a list. I have learned to keep my shopping list in GoogleKeep. It works great because I am less likely to forget my phone than my list. I can’t decide whether I should just embrace this idiosyncrasy or continue to fight it. Maybe I could develop a planner that spans January to June for people like me. It would be half the normal price and they would not have to feel guilty about the wasted blank pages at the end of the year.

This year I discovered the app Libby by Overdrive, which gives me access to library audiobooks. My favorites list of podcasts is growing as well. This is what I do to stimulate my mind while I do mug handles. Last January I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. I find that I do not miss anything except the sorts of things that everybody knows because they saw it on Facebook and I am totally clueless. It’s not really that bad. I have found plenty of things to fill those scrolling distracted minutes. Ask me how I control my Instagram habits? It takes carefulness, no matter what, to avoid falling into wormholes that have nothing to do with what God wants me to do right now.

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Alex is working on his last high school credits. With only 7 to go, he is hoping to graduate in the spring. This fall he spent a few weeks helping an uncle with a house renovation project in South Dakota. It was his first flight out of the nest for that long and we really missed him. He also did an Outdoor Emergency Course in preparation to do ski patrol with his dad. It was a fairly rigorous course, with quizzes or tests every weekend. I was amused to see how much more seriously he took those deadlines than the ones I give him for his lessons. Now that it’s time to study for a driver’s permit, he is out of ambition and taking his good old time. That’s all right by me, although I will be glad when he can drive himself to work. I keep being startled by this tall child of mine when I see him out of the corner of my eye. Most times this happens when I’m working in the kitchen and he sidles past the fridge to see if anything jumped in there since he last checked it a few minutes ago. It is a very handy thing to have such a strong young man hanging around when furniture needs to be moved, or feed bags have been hauled home from the store, or stacks of boxes need to go to the post office.

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Gregory has spent hours, days, doing research on forging methods and drooling over blacksmithing tools. The obsession lasted so long that Gabriel decided to build him a forge and buy hims some sacks of coal for his 14th birthday. He has been hammering out hooks and key rings from old porch railings. My favorite is a plant stake that looks just like a heron. His favorite is a knife he forged out of an old door hinge, then carved the handle and epoxied the two together. I hear him whistling to the tune of the hammer blows and tease him that he should start a business called Great Guns. Since Alex has a job, Gregory is our barn worker. He feeds the animals and takes care of the egg gathering/washing. It has done more to teach him focus than any other daily chore. A hungry creature doesn’t care how interesting your book is. It just wants to be fed. On time. And watered. Every day.

I try hard not to hover and be solicitous with these boy-men. I try to be suitably impressed by their accomplishments but not too gushy (aw, it’s not a big deal, Mom, nothing to it). I try not to get discouraged that they still mercilessly tease their sisters and I try to think instead about how they generously buy Pringles and candy corn to share with everybody.¬† I admit to bewilderment with what to do when the adult is right there around the corner, just about fully fledged, and yet the child is cavorting around in full sight. One thing I have been learning: one cannot hitch one’s wagon to the feelings and whimsies of one’s growing-up children. It just ain’t a good practice.

The girls are easier to understand. Olivia is domestic and reliable in the house. She is a peacemaker at her core, and usually asks if anyone else wants the last cookie before she takes it herself. When it’s clean-up time, it is easy for her little sisters to dawdle while she scurries around putting things away.¬† Occasionally I am happy to see spunk in her that won’t be taken advantage of. (See steamrolled reference above. Actually, if Gabe and I ever had a child who had no opinions, we would worry it was a foundling.) This year Olivia sewed about a dozen dolls with big ideas of selling them. Every time she has a fresh batch, she decides to give them away. The latest ones have hip-length yarn hair that can be styled, so she wants to keep them all. She struggles to keep them all decently clothed out of fabric scrap dresses.

Rita is sailing blithely through 3rd grade and I am so grateful that I waited until she was seven before she started first grade books. She is plenty smart, but not bookish at all. Her best learning comes from making stuff and observing closely what is around her. She knows the habits of individual chickens and how to make a village with acorn caps and some good ways to make soup when you feel like you might want a little something to eat. The day before Christmas I found her in the basement, stripping dried cattail fluff into a bag to stuff a pillow for our trip to Ohio. That’s Rita in a nutshell. Need a pillow? Make one. Why bother somebody else? Just use the stuff at hand. Any stuff. There is a slight conflict in that last philosophy that the discerning among you might understand.

Addy is now 7, and learning to come to terms with always being the little one. It doesn’t matter that it makes more sense for her to have the bottom dresser drawers. “It’s just because I am the shortest” and she is prepared to take offense at that. Her huge store of affection gets lavished on people and pets alike. She likes things to be fair and getting dibs on the top bunk has been her latest great happiness. Recently we were baking cookies together and I made an accidental flour mushroom that showered gently over the counter. Addy had an epiphany: “I get it from you, Mama! You make messes too!” I grinned at her and said, “Yes, you do get it from me! But we get a lot done in life, you and I.” We embraced our idiosyncrasy together and just had a good time with our cookies while I told her about my own days of scraped knees and skinned hands.

I suppose the year was fairly ordinary, but the days were full of struggle and triumph and occasional headers into mud, quite literally. Normally our area gets about 40 inches of precipitation a year and this year we had 60 inches by mid-December. It seems fitting that we had a downpour all day on this last scrap of 2018. If this keeps up, I’ll be looking toward Arizona.

Looking ahead, I know there is a lot of potential for character development and opportunities for repentance involved in daily interaction with needy humans. I don’t have any profound aspirations other than to start new every morning with coffee and those mercies that rebound daily and keep the strains of life from completely fraying me into a frazzled, useless mess. It’s a good life, after all.

How about you? Would you like another year like the one you just had, or are you grateful to move on to a fresh one?

 

 

The Annual List of Slightly Strange Things

For Which I am Thankful

  • I don’t remember when I have ever written so little, nor had the well of word-love run so low, but it is for a good reason. I have been learning to influence clay instead of wrestling with it. The absorption has been nearly complete some days. My sister-in-law thought I must have a lot of spare time these days and if you want to know the truth, it’s often the time between children’s bedtime and when my husband gets home at midnight that I am using for this pursuit. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t really, really badly want it. More than sleep. More than words and books for a while. I have a warm place to work, light-filled windows, a space outside the house. I am truly grateful.
  • Along with that, I am glad for an activity that keeps me humbled. “I am such small potatoes,” I kept muttering to myself when a rash of difficulties tempted me to quit trying and be normal again and sit down sometimes. I looked at my Instagram feed that ordinarily inspires me to try new things in the pottery realm and I saw all the beautiful perfection and my hardest work fell- not only short- but tipped over the edge into the trash can. It’s okay to feel small and inadequate, so here’s to the hard work of others that has brought them to excellence!
  • This has also been a summer, no, more like an entire year of more cloudy skies than sunny. Endless opportunities to rise above the feelings of apathy that threaten the spirit when there is so little that shines. This is a metaphor, of course. When I get bogged down I think of those words that it is my highest aspiration to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Lord.” There is no tunnel too long or hill too steep for that joy to break through in the end. I am grateful for how Light always triumphs over darkness in the end.
  • We have just come through a round of minor health issues, mostly colds and allergies. My son’s healthcare is paying for immunotherapy and my daughter’s inhaler gave her respite from the rasping wheeziness that was making her life miserable. Our sore throats were cured with hourly gargling with grapefruit seed extract (available here, free shipping today, you’re welcome) and our headaches soothed with peppermint oil. In the middle of the night when the croup cough barks out, I am glad I can plug in the nebulizer instead of boiling onion poultices. Our minor ailments remind me to be grateful every day for wellness and excellent healthcare.
  • The children and I made a startling discovery about living in our age versus when the settlers first came to America. We concluded that probably none of us would be alive anymore, with the possible exception of the first-born if he had made it through his earliest hours without oxygen and never suffered infections from cuts that required stitches, etc. My second son would definitely have died without an emergency C-section and his mother likely would have died at that time too. That would eliminate the girls’ chances to ever even be born, but if mother had lived, the first girl would not have made it past her adrenal crisis. That leaves us with father, whose life is fairly normal through careful treatment of an autoimmune disease that would have likely killed him 7 years ago when it flared really badly and required a bowel resection. Yes, we will all die someday; our times are in God’s hands. And we are grateful that we get to live! Maybe you think that a weird sort of gratefulness exercise, but you should try it.
  • I am glad these days for grammar rules and commas and language that makes sense. My children kick against the instruction, but I am adamant and they get no choice. We usually start and end our days with stories, with heroes and conquests and visions for higher things. They lap it up and then I tell them what they don’t like to hear: this pleasure of written words is why we have grammar, my children. The bulk of my reading in the last half year has been juvenile fiction. It is my favorite genre and I am over-the-top grateful to have a crew of little people who love it too. When I get too busy to read, they haul me back short with no exceptions. “But WE HAVE TO have story time!”
  • There is a craze of coloring going on around here. The small girl who never stops wiggling holds still to color. She spent her money on a set of fine-tipped sharpies and this is what she does during quiet time nearly every day while she listens to Henry Huggins or the Boxcar Children. I don’t know what this is doing in her brain, but it is a good and settling thing.
  • We have too many eggs again, every day 2 dozen of them to sell and to eat. It’s pretty nice not to ever have to haul them home from the grocery store. There is a barn full of chores for the teen son who needs things to do that take him outside pestering his sisters and moaning about grammar lessons. Aside from the tax break we receive from small scale farming, we do not come out ahead financially. We see our barn full of hungry critters as training in a skill set that may actually help our children survive some day, as well as teaching them responsibility. I remind myself to be grateful when I am going to the farm supply store for chicken feed, and it doesn’t take too much effort to feel it. Of course, there are exceptions like Sunday afternoons when we are chasing pigs instead of napping, but even those make great stories.
  • We have abundantly enough and I am thankful to report that I do not have any needs that require me to be out jostling through stores today for things I can’t afford otherwise. I may search for an online sale of really excellent sheets, but other than that, I don’t need anything. I can’t quite fathom the richness of that statement.
  • This is such an interesting season, which is what I say when it isn’t my favorite. We have stretches of days for light jackets and rubber boots, occasional flip-flop weather respites, and blitzing cold days when the children drag every warm thing they own out of totes in the attic and here we go again. But we have the gear, or we go buy it, and we stay warm. My ornamental cabbages still bloom, tenaciously happy in all weathers, and that is what I aspire to be.
  • My sons are into forging hooks out of scrap metal. For all those coats and snowpants, we now have an endless supply of hooks to hang them up. We hang towels on hooks in the bathroom. We put purses on hooks and mugs on hooks, and even our scissors have hooks where they are supposed to live when they are not under the sofa cushions. Here’s to the lowly inventions that enable us to stumble less.

That’s my slightly strange list. I compiled it hurriedly with care for your amusement and now it’s time to pack up for family thanksgiving a day late. My husband had to work yesterday, so we celebrate with turkey and all manner of good food today. Parents, siblings, fellowship, connections, support… they truly are the top of the list.

Happy thanksgiving!

The Pig That Forgot it Was Sunday

I left church early that day with a headache. I planned on a nap as soon as I had fed the children leftovers for lunch.  As we walked in the door, a note fluttered to the floor.

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Well, that was that. Maybe it was impaired thinking due to the ache in my head, but I didn’t change out of my church attire or require Gregory to change. Alex and Gabe weren’t home, so we did what they would have done. After all, Petunia has channelled her Guinea hog ancestors before and gone on long ambles through the countryside. Always she amiably followed a bucket of corn back to her pen, no problem. Gregory fetched a scoop of cracked corn from the barn and reported that Petunia had gotten out through the wooden gate, tipped over the barrel, and eaten about half of the corn. This should have been a warning: Petunia was not even remotely hungry.

We drove down the road, looking in all the back yards. Finally at the bottom of the hill we saw a cluster of neighbors in the woods. Sure enough, they were trying to entice a portly black pig into their barnyard with some grain. Petunia appeared to be enjoying the attention, leisurely chewing and swinging her head around from person to person. Gregory waved his scoop of grain under her nose and she began to follow him through the briars at the edge of the woods. When he got to the road, she veered and scuttled back into the woods, Gregory hard on her heels, rattling his corn scoop and trying to persuade her back out to civilization. The neighbors watched, amused, and offered to fetch a rope. I thought maybe a leash would work better and drove home quickly to fetch one, as well as to pick up Rita, our best animal catcher. She had boots on, but I still didn’t think about changing out of my slip-ins from church. Back I went in my long navy blue dress, not intending to be involved in any way except to encourage the young fry.

Greg is the most defeatist of all the children when it comes to animal husbandry, and this was no exception: This will never work. She isn’t hungry. There is no way we will ever get her to follow me all the way home. Can’t we just shoot her?

At this point I should have listened to him. The corn was all in a little pile beside the road where Petunia obliged us by trying to eat a bit, but as soon as the leash got close to her head, she scooted for the briars. Unlike us, she didn’t give a patooie about the prickles and poison ivy. I looked down at my brown flex-soles, sighed, and resigned myself to a long , arduous chase. Only you don’t chase pigs. They will not be herded and any gap in a string of people trying to do so is the first place they will spy. As portly as the average adult pig is, they are amazingly agile. “Just stay with her, keep her in your sight!” I hollered to Greg. The undergrowth was so thick I couldn’t see either of them, but I heard him reply, “She’s in their pasture!”

These neighbors have a horse pasture with one strand of shocking wire at waist height. It had no meaning to Petunia, but at least she was in an open area where we could see her. Gregory and Rita joined her to try to persuade her toward the open barn doors near the horse corral. Meanwhile the horses went nuts, galloping round and round, snorting in agitation at their porcine visitor, who gave every evidence of thick-headed enjoyment of the situation. I ran down their lane, hoping to direct her between a swamp and the house. Petunia took one suspicious look at the dark barn doorway and slithered neatly between all the people into hog heaven, the gooshiest, pooey-est barnyard in the vicinity. She was not interested in giving up her Sunday afternoon field trip, keeping right on course, due west toward a much deeper woods where I had no hope of ever finding her again.

I looked at that barnyard and stepped in on a hummock of grass, figuring if I stayed on the more stable looking tufts, I could stay reasonably clean. The second hummock betrayed me and I lost my shoe. It was ridiculous anyway. Why not be ridiculous barefooted in ankle deep poo? I tossed my shoes and the girls tossed their boots and Gregory tossed his sneakers. We were getting just a little bit miffed, but we had learned a few things from Petunia, and we acted like we also were on an unconcerned, although thinly-veiled-anxiety-ridden stroll westward. She changed course and came back toward the barn.

“There’s pellets in that barrel inside the barn doors,” the lady of the house bellowed down the hill. I squelched into the dim interior, moved the whiskey bottle off the top of the barrel and opened it. Down at the bottom was a small layer of pellets for horses, sure enough. It was such a vast barrel and I am a short woman. I barely managed to keep one foot on the ground as I dived down to scoop up the food. As I attempted to entice my pig into the barn again with the scoop of pellets, she took a sniff, disdainfully turned up her snout, and trotted up toward their house. Incongruously, just then we were joined by a spotted fawn frisking around. We only lacked a clown on an elephant to make the circus complete.

There was a small stand of trees and bushes up there where Petunia decided to go for a break from pesky humans. “Hey,” Gregory said, “I think we could pen her in there if we had a portable fence.” I was considering driving home for ours when the elderly neighbor suggested using the chain link fence that was precariously draped around a small garden. He cut the twines that held it upright against some aged posts and we proceeded to drag it out of the weeds. Chain link fence is much heavier than one might expect and I was afraid he would drop with a heart attack. The girls kept vigil close to Petunia while Gregory and I helped to haul the fence up the hill.

The bushes were planted next to an antique tractor, a snow plow, some assorted children’s swing set parts, etc. etc. We managed to get the fence upright and tightly joined together at the seams with red baler twine. Where there was a gap I set a folding table that was leaning against the tractor wheel, apparently there for lack of storage in the house. Petunia now had shade, grass to nibble when she felt like it was time for a little something, and a playground. I doubted it would keep her in for long, but maybe it would work until Alex got home. The back up plan was to take the trailer down and attempt to load her onto it, but there was no way my crew of children and I were going to try it on our own. We were hungry, muddy, and frankly, we were making sausage in our minds. We promised the neighbor some if we ever butcher the troublemaker.

I kept apologizing for infringing on their Sunday afternoon relaxation and they assured us that they had nothing better to do, it was no problem, etc. etc.

Retrieving all our poo-caked footwear, we went home and cleaned up. I made lunch, and when I had time to think about it, the headache had not improved with so much fresh air and exercise. I had that nap and was brought back to earth by excited shouts at the next door neighbors a few hours later. “Your pig is in our backyard!” they called.

I looked where they were pointing. There was Petunia, belly swaying gracefully, heading due east toward her pen. Maybe she missed the security, or maybe she missed her husband, but she was coming home. Gregory opened the gate and she trotted straight to her wallow, easing into it with the exact familiarity of any weary human coming home to the recliner at night.

I drove down the road to her makeshift chainlink pen at the other neighbor’s house. There was the spot where she had easily nosed¬† up a hole big enough to squeeze under. The only fence a pig respects is shocking wire, so I wasn’t surprised, but my neighbor was. We visited for a while, making small talk. I was glad, because I had never connected with these folks except to wave as I walked past. Before I left, the lady of the house dug out a volunteer Rose of Sharon bush for me. I have never especially liked those bushes, but I planted it in a corner where it should do well and serve to remind me of surprising friendships in unlikely circumstances.

But I still want sausage.

Want to see the culprit?

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Stream of Consciousness

Our outdoor activities were just interrupted by the 137th gulley washer of the year. The girls screeched and threw all their dolls and snacks and purses onto blankets and skittered into the house as the big drops began to splash. I was in the process of washing the algae off our white deck railing because with 136 rainstorms in the recent past we are growing moss in unusual places. My aunt said if I spray a solution of Norwex detergent onto the railings and wait five minutes, it will hose off like nothing. It’s true; it really does just wipe off. I sprayed a few sections of railing quickly before the storm, just in case it would rain hard enough to hose off the green. The boys yelled and stowed construction materials from the back yard into the shed.

As soon as the lightning subsided, the children whooped and danced in the rain as if they were welcoming a monsoon after a prolonged drought instead of getting themselves doused by the 137th rainstorm of the year. I wish I could be just a little more like that. Besides, when have we ever had so many rainbows in a year?

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Last week the little girls brought me enough ground cherries from their garden so that I could make a pie. Then they politely declined to eat it because I put raisins in the pie. Ordinarily they love raisins, but I suppose the rehydrated ones do look a bit odd.

I am happy that the end of the gardening season is here. We will gladly pay for fresh lettuce and cucumbers raised by someone else during the winter season. Modern shipping, while controversial in terms of effects on the ecosystem, is still a wonder I applaud. Oranges in winter? Yes, please! Tomatoes raised in the south with an astonishingly long shelf life? I won’t sneer at them either. I try to imagine how the “eat only local food or die” movement would look to the pioneers who survived on prairie chickens and salt pork for months at a time, with no option of fresh food shipped to their supermarkets. I suppose it is a modern luxury like tiny houses. Ma and Pa would probably shake their heads at the kids these days.

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We celebrated our 17th anniversary yesterday. By that I mean we didn’t forget it in a day full of normal things to do. Probably this would have seemed a tragedy of middle age when we were newly-wed. No roses? You forgot the card? What? Not even going out to eat? We did squeeze in a coffee shop stop on our way to Gabe’s dad’s birthday party. “Are we even any further ahead now than we were then?” was the rhetorical question as we were discussing our starry-eyed honeymoon love and now. The answer is, “Yes! Yes, indeed!” Neither of us feels like we know everything, but we would not prefer to go back and start over.

The hard-won lessons of living and loving have given us perspective and courage for the future. Sometimes that thing you just can’t see past or through, that just stands there in the path so that you face it down and figure it out? That is the thing that you might not even be able to remember what it was, but it stretched you and wisened you up in the processing of it. It’s kind of hard to explain to a newly-wed, but when you refuse to retreat from the impasses of marriage (what? are you saying you don’t just love to talk everything through while sipping fancy coffee and gazing into each other’s souls?) you come through feeling safer and stronger. You learn to like each other better, and you learn to like yourself more. Funny how that works.

We are dead opposites. It’s what makes life so hilariously interesting and undeniably annoying. He is careful and quiet. I am impulsive and chatty. We are both opinionated. Can you see how that could produce some jolly times? He is a perfectionist. I am a rip-into-it-and-see-what-happens person. When we talk about a project on the house, I am ready to do demo day tomorrow and he makes plans on paper for years.¬† He uses graphs to plan his trees and berry plots. I like volunteer sunflowers cropping up everywhere in the garden. When we shop, he never ever buys anything without fitting it on. I have been known to say, “I can always return it if it doesn’t fit.” He keeps our finances carefully, accounts always balanced, bills paid on time. I keep my receipts in my wallet and wait to enter them into our budget until I can’t ignore them anymore. He wears Converse and I like my Flex-soles.

We each have our systems, how we like to do things. Neither one of us is always right or better than the other. Both systems work pretty well by themselves; the great work of our marriage is blending them.

When it comes to the sanctifying that God wants to do in our lives through each other, there is no question that our opposite-ness is by design. I am learning to be more patient, do research, read the reviews, think ahead. He is learning that life can be pretty great even when it is messy and flinging us in circles. It’s really an amazing plan God had, and we look forward to figuring it out as we go for many more years.

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We have a project going on that is pretty exciting. I moved my pottery paraphernalia outside into what used to be a garden shed this spring. Raw clay cannot freeze, so we were trying to decide what to do about winter. My skills are tentative enough that I was afraid I would have to relearn everything if I took the whole winter off. The basement was not a good option, because we do so much living down there. Gabe decided that wiring, insulating, and heating the shed is a viable option. That’s what is going on now. This was his first post-and-beam construction project and I have always felt affectionate about the braces and rough wood. It’s too bad that the insulation will cover it up, but there are plans in motion to make it cute again once the wiring is complete. At least the outside will remain the same, including the rounded doors.

I am delighted with this upgrade! The broken window will be replaced and the wrens will no longer be able to squeeze in through knotholes in the siding. This should also fix the carpenter bees that dribbled sawdust onto my workbench every day, and possibly discourage the field-mouse family that remained unfazed even when the father drowned in my bucket of water.

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School has gotten off to a strong start. Alex is still working/doing school in the evenings and on weekends. The rest of us power through the basic lessons every day. I have learned that things just go more smoothly when I stay right there in the school space with the children, even when they know exactly what their assignments are. I don’t know how other people turn out conscientious little students who diligently do all their lessons without a hitch, but that just isn’t the reality here. I have figured out a strategy that works pretty well for the child who just can’t resist poking a sibling: disturb another intentionally and you get to do their next main task, which is likely to be dishes or laundry.

This year I am not letting my checking accumulate. Yet. And our daily read-aloud is a delight for us all. I say it again, this is So Much Easier without toddlers.

A friend of ours just sent her only child off to college, and then packed up totes and totes of craft supplies/ toys/ books for our children. It has been like Christmas for them! And it has been like mid-winter for me, with that choking feeling of being up to the neck in projects and not-always-successful results. The window clings that just went wrong?… I peeled them off and dropped them into the trash as soon as they were dry. But the fresh stack of woven potholders is great!

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Well, I see it’s time for my husband to return from work. I will save my best pig story of the summer for tomorrow. Have a nice night!

Something to Make

We are in rainy season here in south central PA, days and days of drenching with no sunshine in sight on the forecast for 10 days. It’s incredible, a little disconcerting, and cozy as midwinter. I turned on the heat today to cut through the damp and we sip hot drinks just like midwinter. There is muddy water streaming across the roads where the creeks can’t drain the mountains fast enough, and the happiest creatures on this farmlet are the ducks. The cats hate it, because they can’t sit outside the windows, looking in covetously. They are stuck in the barn. Maybe they will finally catch on that they should be catching rats.

M garden is reduced to some watermelons, a patch of broccoli and sweet potatoes, and small tomatoes that hang onto the blighted stems and ripen slowly in the cooler weather. Recently I had a bite of a stuffed tomato appetizer at a restaurant when a friend kindly shared hers. I became mildly obsessed with replicating that flavor at home, and googled for recipes, trying for the flavor until I think I nailed it pretty close. This is a mash-up of many different recipes and my own trial and error. If you want to hang on tenaciously to summer for a bit, to its tastes and textures, you will want to try Basil Stuffed Tomatoes. You need:

  • 8 to 10 small tomatoes
  • 8 ounces Neufchatel cheese
  • 3 T. pesto
  • 2 cups Italian bread crumbs
  • a few sprigs of fresh basil
  • 4 T. butter

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  1.  Cut out the core/stem area of the tomatoes and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and wetness from the center of each.
  2. Set them upside down to drain a bit more while you mix up the other ingredients.
  3. Soften the cream cheese in the microwave if you’re like me and forgot to get it out 2 hours ago. Mix in the pesto. This amount is variable. I could roll in basil everyday and feel happy with the flavor, but not everybody is like that. I add enough pesto to turn the cream cheese quite green.
  4. Melt the butter and toss it into 1 1/2  cups bread crumbs. Save 1/2 cup of crumbs out dry.
  5. Turn the tomatoes right side up in a baking dish and spoon about 2 tsp. of dry crumbs into each one. This is to help soak up the damp in the tomato.
  6. Spoon 1 T. of cream cheese mixture into each tomato, squooshing it down on top of the crumbs pretty solidly.
  7. Stick a layer of basil leaves on top. In fact you can put basil in layers wherever you please during this process.
  8. Top each tomato with buttered bread crumbs. I used a cookie scoop and pressed them down firmly, then topped them with a scoop of looser crumbs for a prettier presentation.
  9. Bake, uncovered, 350, for 30 minutes.

This may sound fiddly, but it is oh, so worth it! It made me feel so happy to figure it out. If you don’t have fancy bread crumbs, you can just blend some toasted rustic bread and add extra Italian spices or you can pulverize up salad croutons like I did one day. The parmesan garlic was really good! You can use regular cream cheese, of course, or even ricotta. I tried fresh mozzarella once, but it got too rubbery. At any rate, you owe it to summer to give it one last hurrah!

As I write, my girls are playing Great British Baking Show, accents and all. They are using Silly Slime for all their bakes, trying for the “perfect icing drip” on their cakes, sitting on the floor beside the “oven” while they wait for their bakes and having all the calm drama of any of the baking challenges. “I love that bubble on the side…”

I spent an hour writing out assignments for the middle schoolers this next week, and now that I have that handle on Monday morning, I feel like maybe another cup of tea would be in order.

Have a great week! And don’t neglect your tomatoes while you have them.

 

 

 

 

My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

“May I have an apple in bed?” Addy asked, since she knows that there isn’t much chance of me saying yes to anything that could rot her teeth after she brushed them, and apples are practically toothbrushes anyway. There were no apples in the fridge, so the next up was, “Or how about some pieces of dried chicken?” I was startled out of my absent-minded washing of yesterday’s dishes that had stayed on the counter all day because we got home late last night and went to church this morning. Sure enough, she had found a baggie of very dry chicken bits, saved from our roasting/canning operation of 20 old hens last week. “Maybe a pepper. I could eat a pepper,” she hedged when she saw that I wasn’t excited about her choices. My two little girls make up for any vegetable deficit in the older children. Same parents, same parenting style, only less “now eat your broccoli” fuss, and here they are, regular veggie devourers. It does make you wonder. This is Rita with a legit bedtime snack that makes her just as happy as milk and cookies.

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I wasn’t going to plant regular tomatoes this year because I have a good source where I can buy a couple boxes of Romas and make a big batch of sauce all in one day instead of having them trickle in over the course of a month. When my neighbor gave me plants he had nurtured in his sunny windows, I had to plant them, so I am hauling in a bumper crop all month. The vines are blighted and ugly, and still the babies swell and turn scarlet. It’s astounding! I planted some pineapple tomato plants that are luscious for sandwiches, and shiny purple “Dancing With Smurfs” cherry tomatoes that aren’t good until they turn red, which I think is a little bit of false advertising.

August is all about harvesting and preserving bushels of stuff for winter. Have you ever had tiny, tender green beans that you just picked an hour ago and lightly sauteed with a bit of garlic and olive oil? If you did, then you know why I garden. Or a slice of tomato so huge that it hangs out over your toast, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper? How about crisp cucumbers sliced into a vinaigrette? There is no farmer’s market that can yield that sort of freshness, although it’s better than vegetables shipped across the country, for sure! August turns me into a food snob, because I can. It’s when all the endless hovering and ministering to the plants yields fruit, and does it taste good! So that is what we are currently eating. (Too many melons, a funny problem to have.)

Tomorrow starts our third week of school. Olivia was looking at old pictures and said, “Mama, you used to play more.” It’s true. Somewhere things got too heavy and much. I quit going outside for recess and impromptu soccer games in favor of throwing some laundry into the washer or starting dinner. I am working to change that. We bought some new games and are back to starting each day with a read-aloud before we hit the math books. My Consumer Math guy is still working his summer job, so he is not included in this picture.

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I don’t buy reading curriculum. We just read and read and read. If you ever wonder who really funds the libraries, it’s people like me who suddenly realize that August 23 is past and I have a humongous pile of books overdue. Hey, at least it goes to a good cause. Each year the children also get books as gifts when school starts and again when we celebrate our finish. I buy them second hand, at library sales, on Thriftbooks, or Ollies. Making sure my children love to read is the ace up my sleeve for success in education.

Last week we finished Kate Seredy’s The White Stag,¬†a fascinating tale of the Huns in the days when they were sweeping across the world after their ancestor Nimrod died. It’s historical fiction/fantasy, so we did web searches and verified Gregory’s trivia bit about Attila the Hun dying of a nosebleed. The thing about reading aloud is that the children really don’t suspect that they are learning, but I am guessing they will always remember that choice bit.

Addy’s book, Poppy¬†is¬†by one of our favorite authors, Avi. It is the story of a very brave mouse. The book I got for Rita is one of Cynthia Rylant’s stories, Gooseberry Park.¬† It has been a great success because Rita is not an avid reader yet, and she says this is the best book ever. I personally have not found a Cynthia Rylant book I didn’t like. Of course, there are over a hundred of them, and I haven’t read them all. Olivia reads all the time, and fast. Thimble Summer didn’t last more then a few days before she was whining about not having anything to read. We agree that Elizabeth Enright’s stories about Gone Away Lake are actually better than this one, but she is another solid author.

The boys are more into non-fiction. Alex is reading Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.¬† I might just mention that the title describes the appeal of the book for him. I stood in Barnes and Noble, staring at the $25 price tag, then I looked up a used copy without a dust jacket on the web for 3.99 and left the store empty handed because I am cheap like that. Gregory received a copy of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.¬† He and I shared story grip on this book and had to keep swapping out turns to read it. Then we discovered all the youtube videos about Shackleton and were astonished anew. We are also working our way through the New Testament during the summer months. Our favorite way to do this is listening to Max McLean on audioBible. And that is what we are currently reading.

The animal population here on the farmlet thinned out briefly. We sold Lamb, who was now big enough for Mutton. Rita worked her charm on him and got him into a pet carrier for the ride to join a herd of other sheep going to market that day.

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We also hauled 20 chickens to the chop. They were old and no longer laying eggs except on good days, when they felt like it, if the light was mellow and the grain fine. I was grateful I didn’t have to butcher them; all I did was roast them, pick the meat from the bones for canning, and then make bone broth. I feel quite happily fortified for soups and stews this winter. Yes to collegen! No to leaky gut! (I just googled that.) We also sold a bunch of fat leetle rabbits, which makes me feel like my name should be Mrs. McGregor, because I know they get eaten, but at least not by me. I thought it was a good thing, emptying a few of the gobbling horde out of the barn, but my husband came home from the salebarn with a flock of ducks and my son bought different rabbits and more chickens.

My mom used to say I shouldn’t get married until I could butcher a chicken and bake a pie. I couldn’t do either when we set up housekeeping, but it seems to have worked out all right. I can bake a pie now, but I have to admit to a secret feeling that someone should commend me every time I do. “Come on,” I chide myself. “You’re a forty-something Mennonite housewife. You’re supposed to be able to bake a pie.” Here’s a really good thing to do with peaches, super easy, super un-fussy, without a ton of prep and dishes.

  • Buy or make a pie shell, with enough pastry to put a lid on it.
  • Peel peaches until you have 4-5 cups of slices.
  • Gently toss them with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 4 T minute tapioca.
  • Pour the peaches into the pie shell and top with pastry.
  • Seal the edges, cut a few decorative slits in the top, give it a wash with milk and then dust with sugar for a pretty sparkle.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

The tapioca does all the work of thickening the juices and holding the peach slices together when you cut the pie. It tastes fresher than cooked peach filling because it wasn’t cooked, obviously, until it went into the oven. Mom had minute tapioca variations for apple pies (2T tapioca and some cinnamon) and other fruits too. We children loved these the best of all the pies she made and that was a lot!

In my spare time, hahaha…. goes off in fits of giggles…

When I have some minutes or an hour, I play with clay. Since I have a kiln, I find my mind constantly veering toward what I could make next. My first firing was full of wobbly pieces that took me 6 months to accumulate. When I saw how the glazes made even lowly pinch pots pretty, I got down to it and filled the kiln again in a month. I had a few big bowls that made my heart sing proudly, but then I had some issues with firing too hot, too quickly and the moisture in the bowls shattered them into thousands of worthless shards. This sight was what greeted my eyes when I opened the lid. I learned a valuable lesson about patience in letting my pieces thoroughly dry out before doing the first firing, as well as double checking the switches when I turn on the kiln.

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This shattered mess happened the morning before I went to the funeral of a dear family friend, the person who actually first introduced me to a love of pottery. It felt like an underscoring of the sadness of losing Karen.

Thankfully most of the pieces were fine, but they were all small bowls and mugs. The next kiln load only took 2 weeks to fill. I must be getting better! Sometimes I watch potters on Instagram and see that they could easily throw enough pieces in a day to fill what looks to me like a cavernous kiln. Then I don’t know whether to power on or laugh at my struggle, so I do both. That would be the current events on the creative stage.

What I haven’t been doing is writing, and this bothers me. I feel the urge to not forget all this wonderful mix of stories in the mad whirl that is August, which is really too much and just right. One steamy day I got into the Suburban to run errands and was greeted by a rush of super-concentrated air. It was the weirdest blend, like dirty socks (there actually were some under the seat) and fishing tackle mingled with wool and a cloying overtone that I couldn’t place, like very ripe peaches. “Oh, that’s Rita’s air-freshener. She put clove oil on a tissue to smell good.” That’s August in a nutshell here.

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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Parting shot: I like my Gregory’s pinch pot better than most of my attempts at symmetry, but I do really like this mug. I get a lot more than coffee out of it. It feels exactly like a smooth egg in my hands, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to make another just like it. Yet.

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