wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

March Potpourri

It’s spring now and the sap of life is rising. It gurgles to the surface: life that has been there all along, just frozen. Even though our winter was a joke to people like my husband who wanted Serious Snow, I rejoice and feel myself full of ideas thawing and ready to go!

Rita and I went on a soggy walk one day when she was feeling blue. She is cut out of the same cloth I am and we both cheered up when we found twigs with leaf babies to bring inside.

We had our First Day of Spring Party today. It being Monday, I thought maybe I could wait until tomorrow, but the children were not having it. “We have to have a tea party today! It is important.” So we decorated with a pastel piece of fabric and paper doilies, then set out the China and prettied up the food. Frilly toothpicks stuck through ham and cheese chunks cut out with flower-shaped cookie cutters, a simple chicken broth with alphabet pasta, crackers and party mints in pretty bowls, and we were set. Dessert was vanilla crepes with raspberry sauce. Oh, and tea, of course. Mint tea.

Last weekend I got to attend a conference for mothers where Sally Clarkson was speaking to us from her years of wisdom. It was one long, refreshing drink, one that I needed to give me courage. Here is what it looked like in NC on my way to the conference. I pulled off the road and put on my flipflops.

Sally mentioned that typically women in their twenties have a few babies and spend a lot of time establishing ideals. In the thirties they start to feel the burn and it sinks in that this is for the long haul, no short cuts or selfishness allowed. By their forties most mothers are tired. The crowd of godly mothers thins out a bit as one by one they quit, saying, “Let these children figure out their own way now. I am done with this mothering thing. It’s too hard, all this eye-rolling and investments that aren’t valued anyway.”

I have felt it: I am in the tired spot and needed some pep talking. Sometimes I don’t know how weary I am until I hold still for a while.

Here are a few more Sallyisms that I am phrasing as I remember them. Listening to her gentle humor in person was much better, but I know that some of you read her books and will enjoy this.

You are called to live your own story. Nobody else’s. That is your place to be faithful. It’s like a puzzle, and all you have to do is fit your own pieces into your own puzzle. Nobody else’s. Your puzzle will look different from every other puzzle when it is finished.

If God gives you a vision when you are young and idealistic, don’t just chuck it when it gets hard. Everybody in the world will give you permission to compromise. If He says something is valuable, it is!

Read stories of hope and faith to give you courage. Read them to your children. Fill them with stories of beautiful, true, honorable things. Give them a solid framework in a twisted world.

ABIDE. This is not formula or fear. It is not control. It is just a state of being.

If you make mistakes, repent and get over it. God is a Redeemer. Your difficulties are where your children see a walk with God modeled. The hard things you go through are the platform where you gain influence.

I had registered for this conference 5 months ago, and it was so strengthening. Sally speaks hard truths in the kindest way possible. Not least of the enjoyment was sharing the experience with two of my sisters-in-law. We talked long and late, ate chocolate and drank coffee, found common ground and encouraged each other.

I can unequivocally recommend a few books that Sally has written for moms. If you need to hear from someone who has walked the long road and been tested, but stayed steadfast, listen to her admonitions in print. She will not give you permission to slack and feel sorry for yourself; you will be blessed.

In the spirit of making a lifegiving home, I have been working at my March decluttering. So far I have taken out a bag of mismatched plastic containers and lids that I do not seem to be able to chuck into the trash when the sour cream is empty. I passed on a box of boys’ clothes and a bag of girl clothes. The boys were bribed with a dollar per trash bag filled in their room. It took them 30 minutes to fill 4! (I was so proud of them, but not especially proud of myself.) There were a few children’s coats and snowpants that were ripped beyond repair, with zippers broken, etc. that I burned when they weren’t looking.

One painful day I cleaned out my fabric stash and was quite severe with what I allowed myself to keep. I went through my closet and took out all the stuff that I never wear (too small/makes me look fat/bad color/what was I thinking? 😦 ). I donated the Clarks shoes that pinched my heels to Goodwill, as well as a pile of books that were taking up more space than they were worth. Most recently I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards and threw out the chipped and broken things that I had stashed for a Super glue session. Seriously, do I really like this dish that much? No. I do not.

I cleaned out my fridge and fed the pigs. It is oddly satisfying to toss a rotting cucumber to a grateful hog who then turns it into bacon. It makes me feel less wasteful that I forgot the cuke in the salad drawer for too long. The best project in terms of satisfaction was replacing a set of lace curtains that I have had for 15 years! I bought them at the Dollar General soon after we were married and thought they looked all right, but one day I looked at them and said, “So 2000.” I made simple window toppers with a vintage French print and now I can look at them and say, “So ’70’s.” Haha. I need this sort of  illogical hilarity in my life.

I still have the bathroom to sort through and the entire basement, but there is no point in deep cleaning the school room until we finish the term.

Olivia mastered the straight seams on a dress that she has been longing for ever since my mom gave her fabric for her birthday. She made a matching ensemble for her rag doll and learned the fine art of running a seam ripper. No scrapbooking has happened, but I am hopeful. I just need to get in the zone for one more child, then I plan to go digital. All the older children have a lovingly crafted photo book from birth to five years. I never waited until they were 5 to get started, but that is what Addy will get.

Gardening seems a long way off with everything outdoors squishy. I have my seeds, though, just waiting. On Saturday I spent hours making paper flowers for a garland to replace the pine swag I had above the sink instead of cleaning the bathroom. The children gasped when they saw me tearing pages out of an old book, but they soon got into the spirit of the project and helped shape flowers. It is spring, after all!

What have you been doing with yourself?

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from these links, you will not be charged anything extra, but I receive a small commission from the sale. Feel free to buy all the books. 😀

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10 Activities That Won’t Rot Your Brain

  1. Read a book just for fun, like Ribsy or Farmer Boy. Laugh out loud at the funny bits so that your family is curious and you can tell them about how Lucy got the taffy stuck in her mouth.
  2. Take a walk in the park and learn to identify wildlife tracks. Make plaster of paris molds, even if it is just lame stuff like birds or deer for starters. Someday you might get lucky with a bear or a mountain lion.
  3. Ride a bike for miles on old railroad beds. Just be sure to carry a water bottle so you don’t perish before you get home again. Some granola bars in your pockets would not be a bad idea either.
  4. Figure out how to fit a survival kit into a backpack or bugout bag. Do the research and collect items as you save enough money for them. Pack and repack obsessively and keep it ready to grab at a moment’s notice. Or even just when your family goes to the lake.
  5. Take music lessons and keep practicing until you master that instrument. Or you could watch John Ross painting videos and try your hand at landscapes. If you like poetry, try writing some.
  6. Collect things. Rocks or bottle caps or stickers or fabric scraps or bird feathers. Be savvy about storage or your parents will likely make you pare your collections down to tragical proportions. Just for your information, nut collections in your underwear drawer will probably hatch out disgusting worms, so that’s not the best idea.
  7. Learn to crochet or embroider or knit or knot paracord bracelets. This latter could turn into a small industry for you, so make sure your parents buy about 1000 feet of cord at a time. Mess with your projects while you listen to audiobooks.
  8. Ask your mom to teach you how to prepare your favorite meal. She will never turn down an offer to cook dinner and you can have spaghetti and meatballs really often.
  9. Think of something you are interested in and wipe out that subject on the library shelves. Research it and talk to everybody about it until they are tired of you. Then pick another subject and do it all over.
  10. Play Settlers of Catan or Qwirkle. Learn to watch for subtle cues on other people’s faces so you know what move to make for the win. Figure out your strategy and have fun with it.
  11. Go fishing, then clean your fish and fry them over a campfire. Or alternately you could gig bullfrogs since they are easier to skin and roast. Just don’t forget the salt.
  12. Just do something. Don’t be boring and bowed low over a screen. Swim, paddle your own canoe, build a clubhouse, sleep in the backyard, clean out the fridge for your mom, sew slippers out of upholstery fabric, rollerskate, ski, write to a friend, teach your dog new tricks, solve the mystery of the missing socks, bake cookies with a secret recipe, be happy.

Oops, sorry, that turned out to be more than ten, but it’s my blog and I am allowed to do that.

What did I miss? When my children say they are bored, I give them jobs to do. It helps a lot, but it still happens at times and we would all be glad for fresh ideas.

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A Material Post

That’s not fabric, for any who may feel concern. I am embracing my maven side to share with you some of my favorite products, specifically those acquired during the last year. Ever hear the term, “You vote with your dollars”? That’s what I am talking about. Certainly money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy stuff that puts sparkles on the happiness you already have. Let me just take a spin around the house and show you a few products, how about it?

I start with office supplies. Always I have felt that a skipping, scratchy pen is the worst implement. It depresses me worse than a rubber spatula that has gotten knicked in the blender, and that is saying something. It deserves to die. These days businesses give out decent pens all the time. These are the ones you put in a cup beside the phone for all comers to use. The pen you use for writing a letter or drafting an essay or journaling… that is another pen entirely. The right one makes the words flow like silken threads and even the ruthless edits feel slightly elegant. My personal favorites in this genre are the gel ink untra-fine tip Uni-ball style. You can buy them in a range of colors and sizes at any store that has a good stationery section. I just bought a year’s supply for $7 at a Staples sale, and I have to admit, they make me happy. In the year 2000 a friend introduced me to Bible journaling and the suitable pens for it. It marked the new millenium for this girl! I have been loyal to the brand ever since. They do not bleed through the pages and you can write super-small and legibly right in the text if you want. These are the Sakura  micron pens; the 005 size is the one I recommend for Bible marking. The links I am providing are just for the visual, or what comes up first when I google them. I buy them when they are on sale at Christian Book Distributors (also a great source for journaling Bibles) or in craft stores. In this day you may not ever use a pen for writing, but I feel a little sorry for you if you have never experienced the pleasure of a pen that is a friend. I leave you to your own opinions about keyboards.

I decided to get the older children quality mechanical when school started this year. Each has a different color and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well they keep track of them. I did tell them that if they lose them, that’s it until next year. Aren’t I the sweetest mama? 😀 My idea was to remove the ultimate school child stall of grinding away at the pencil sharpener. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way because it turns out there are about 15 ways to mess with lead and run out of lead and twist or break the nifty erasers. For times when they feel a need for a stroll, they can dredge up more dull colored pencils than you would believe possible that simply must be sharpened for map skills study. At least we don’t have horribly smudgy homework done with a stumpy Dixon No. 2.

How about we trek to the laundry room? This year I did my laundry with Norwex detergent, just to see if it was what is was cracked up to be. The very worst aisle in any store for me was the detergent one. I would nip in quickly, grab my unscented Purex or whatever, and leave before I sneezed my head off.  I had a very expensive and frustrating washer repair where the expert said I am using too much detergent and it gunked up my HE machine. Allrighty then. When I compared prices, I discovered that Norwex compares to Tide for price per load, which I sometimes resorted to when things started looking dingy from the lower priced soaps. I am very happy to put this little bitty scoop of detergent into a ginormous load and have it emerge smelling, not like Irish Spring or somesuch, but just like nice, clean clothes. And it doesn’t make me sneeze.

Then I thought, what about those dryer balls? Everyone is supposed to know how toxic fabric softeners are, even the unscented ones. The wool balls have been a really good investment. They really do cut down on drying time. If I do 4 loads in a day and it takes 10 minutes less per load, that’s a whole 40 minutes saved, or 25%, just like the company says. I no longer use fabric softener for anything except stuff that doesn’t go through the dryer, because I cannot stand static in winter and I haven’t found another solution. I can even hook you up with the best little Norwex consultant you ever want to meet. 🙂 Hi, Rose!

A kind friend gave me a wonderful tool for hair time. Sometimes after baths I look at the mass of tangled heads and wonder about dreadlocks. Well, not really. But my girls have the tangliest hair. Enter the Wet Brush to the rescue. You have to feel it to believe the difference! They panic when I pick up the old brush, and actually manage to get most of the snarls out by themselves. Thanks, Ellen.

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“Work smarter, not harder,” the successful people say. In my quest for household fluidity, (is that even a thing? maybe it is just an elusive quest…) I noticed that my old vacuum cleaner was ready to put to pasture. I had used my mother-in-law’s rollerball vacuum cleaner and liked it so much that I started watching eBay for a replacement. I endured months of email notifications and Facebook ads before I found an affordable deal on Black Friday for the Dyson Ball Animal cleaner. We chose that one because we have animals and we have children who love animals. I feel like a clean freak when I vacuum my house and empty out the dirt canister. It’s a novel feeling and it makes me more than a little happy. Was I happy before? Absolutely. But you have to clean your floors, whether you like it or not. This is just a different layer of happy, a fascinated thrill that the dirt is no longer in the carpet.

Our favorite property investment this past year is our barn, representing days and days of sweat and splinters. It swallowed up our spare time for the year and taught us a lot of skills, some we never hope to need again. (Like putting on the ridge cap.) Sometime I will do a start-to-finish post on that project, but here it is: the view from my kitchen window this morning. We feel actual affection for that structure!

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My husband is a master of repurposing, wouldn’t you say? But wait until you see what we put in the bottom story!

The little girls are thrilled! They love all creatures, but especially furry or feathered ones. First thing in the morning, before she has even rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, Addy asks to gather the eggs. She doesn’t care if it’s cold and nasty outside. Sometimes it takes her so long that I worry she may have gotten hurt, but when I check on her, she is just holding a chicken or petting the piglets. There are 25 pretty red laying hens and they all look the same to me, but they can easily recognize the favorite. One day they came in breathlessly excited, “Mama! We can ride our goats and they don’t even sag!” I thought surely the thrill will diminish, but it has been months and they are as enamored as ever, completely undeterred by yucky stuff on their boots and multiple baths. Expense and extra work aside, the animals have been a good investment. The three goats are all very pregnant, so the thrills continue!

In the photos of Addy you can see her favorite accessory of the year, the very popular puffer vest. One of the cousins had one, and then we found 4 of them at Goodwill! Alex is still waiting for one in his size, but he is a hoodie kind of guy anyway. Our children hate to play in coats, unless of course, there is snow. With Pennsylvania winters turning mild, this is just the ticket for outdoor play. Don’t be too shocked. Children in Siberia run into the snow to play in their undies for a few minutes every day in order to build up their immunities. This is a much discussed fact around here, and at least the vests are a little warmer than that. 😛

Well, I seem to have meandered outside and my time is up. As a career SAHM, I send you cheer and my best recommendations for some stuff that may make your life easier. This is a pretty rough career I would say, but one I am happy to pour my life into. Blessings on the new year! May your pens never sputter and your Goodwill trips be fruitful! May your laundry smell fresh, no matter how you do it. May all the tangles in your household hair come from healthy activities and may God be the Sun you crave upon your face.

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Fallish

I found my photo card with pictures of our jaunt through the White Mountains. It was very cloudy the day we drove the road that loops through the best views, so the views were shortened, but so were the crowds of leaf peepers. This suited us fine. Without further ado, let me show you a glimpse.

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We would drive around the bends in the road, thinking surely each one would be pinnacle of color. It was a feast for the eyes and soul, a worship experience.img_4478

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Entire mountain flanks, covered in flaming deciduous trees with creases of evergreens in the ravines: this is what we saw for hours. Our cabin was in Maine, just one mile over the NH border, but in a very different landscape. The lane in to our little lake looked promisingly secluded, although you would not believe how many tiny cabins are tucked away in these woods. I only saw one other person out and about in the four days we were here. He was a deaf gardener at one of the fancier places where the shrubs were manicured, and he shouted at me that he liked my shoelaces after I smiled and remarked inanely about the beautiful day.

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This was our Air B&B glamping cabin. It was a compromise between posh accommodations and primitive camping, a sparely furnished place with a fridge, heat, and hot water. It was perfect. We went out to Portland one day, where we saw the harbor and the way they used to make their living compared to how they make their living now. I know the tourists are the bread and butter of many of the shops and restaurants in the area, but it makes me sad to see all the manufacturing places abandoned, the railroads grown up in weeds. I would have liked to see this harbor when it was bustling with commerce. We ate our lobster rolls and crab cakes at a small shack on the pier where there was a faint smell of rot and fish, so that seemed nice and authentic.

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We love the way New Englanders have so practically built their barns and garages in attached L’s to their houses. How smart is that when the snow is piled up? And we like how they drag the rocks out of their pastures and build fences. It’s such a sensible solution.

We came home to this crew with renewed contentment to just be us: our family. Gabe had to get back to work that weekend and I had a long Sunday afternoon with a bunch of kiddos who had forgotten a little how to be siblings and listen to their Mom. (Somebody invent an emoji for that. It’s too hard to describe.) I couldn’t think of anything better to do than wear everybody out on the nearby mountain. 🙂 It was cheering to see what the fresh air and romping did for everybody’s spirits. When the littlest girl whined about being cold, her brother shared his jacket and when she whined about being tired, he carried her, which was more than I was prepared to do.

After stuffing our pockets with treasures and building a small fire to warm up, (never underestimate a young boy with a flint and steel in his pack) we were rejuvenated and all the people who had fussed about hiking in the drizzle retracted their fussing and felt mellow and sweet for the rest of the evening. Even me. I was still in “curl up undisturbed with a book” mode, which wasn’t working anyway. Nature is such an amazing panacea for grumpiness of spirit! Wow, look at that! God is good! The world is a lot bigger than I am! I need other people. Solidarity and kindness restored: all is well.

It has been a good fall, quite possibly the busiest season of our lives to date. I doubt we could have gotten much more done if we tried. I hit November with thankfulness, which is appropriate, of course. But ordinarily I dislike November intensely. This year it is still balmy. My petunias still look like this with a few more maple leaves sifted through them:

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I am grateful for every spot of color that is left.

And I got to finally go see my sister, who had a baby and only lives four hours away and here he was, a month old before I saw him! It’s an odd feeling of going back in time to see Rachel with four little children and to realize that three of hers are younger than my baby. It brings back the days of endless wiping and sippy cups and the bleary-eyed wearying joy that is babies. We were blessed with bare-foot weather and the children spent the entire time outside, leaving us to sip coffee and cuddle little Zachary.

It was a good time. I look forward to the rest of fall. In an effort to be totally candid here, I have to confess that last week I finally took down a swag of (fake) forsythia that I had twined around a sign in my living room back in May. It says, “Home is where your story begins.” I decided to be daring and twine a bit of fall foliage around it. Hopefully I won’t forget to switch it out with holly. I figure some day my children will mention that their story definitely did not begin with a perfectly appointed house, but if they remember the times their mother dragged them outside of themselves and onto a trail to somewhere else, I will be glad.

How about you?  How are you savoring the season? Double points if it doesn’t include pumpkin lattes.

 

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One Day

It started kind of early, in the wee smalls when a sweaty little girl appeared at my bedside complaining that she couldn’t sleep. I reminded her that it might have something to do with wrapping herself into her favorite fleece blanket, but she thought the couch would be better. As we walked into the living room, the heat was oppressive, even though it is the one room that has an air conditioning unit. Upon inspection, I found that the AC was sighing gently rather than AC ing, so I unplugged it and the little girl went back to her bedroom fan while I opened every window in the living area.

I reached for my phone to check the temperature, only to discover that our internet connection was down, so I went to my bedroom fan and tried to sleep. One of the blades in the window fan started screeching recently, so the flow of air was a little stagnant. It was about 3 AM, which is the worst time to be waked up, because then you start thinking of all the things you want to do the next day and soon the alarm will sound and you need to quickly sleep before it does. Eventually you get into deep sleep again, just before the alarm shrills, and that is that.

I started the day officially by brewing coffee and packing my husband’s lunch. He had a 14 hour day ahead, so I included power snacks, like cashews and Greek yogurt and cheese sticks. Hopefully he had a few minutes to eat them, instead of waiting until the drive home, which happens oftener than I wish.

As soon as he was off, I got the crew assembled for breakfast and made sure everyone was presentable. This should not be a big deal with the ages we are around here, but my idea of presentable does not include holey Crocs or torn favorite shirts. There were a few rounds of “Go find something decent” because I just care about that. They don’t have to look ready for formal portraits; we are just shooting for neat and clean. I think people already notice a small tribe of children with one mother out shopping, and it might be better if the children look well cared for. I know, happy faces and all, and clothes are totally surface, etc. It’s just one of the battles I pick. Our mission was new bike helmets, courtesy of Gabe’s employer, UPMC, and Kohl’s. It’s a great program, with the hopeful outcome of fewer head injuries. We joined a queue in the brilliant sunshine outside Kohl’s and all five got shiny new helmets, properly fitted.

I had a moment of desire to check out the junior clearance racks so we all wandered around inside Kohl’s, but the funny thing was there were so many other things, like backpacks and sunglasses and waterbottles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gregory pick up a pricey porcelain serving plate shaped like a fish, swoop it through the imaginary water in front of him. GASP! “But you know I would never drop it, Mom!”

I had five people helping me pick out a wallet. Everybody had ideas as to which was the best and I just wanted something that holds all my store loyalty cards and zips shut around my phone, with a wristlet strap. Shew, but it got complicated.

The next stop was Home Depot where I was hoping to replace the gimpy window fan. I had a library audio book for the children to listen to while I ran in and out of stores. Edward Tulane, the beloved China rabbit, got pitched overboard from the ship’s deck when I went into the store and sorry, they don’t have any window fans. On to Lowe’s, while Edward got fished out of the bottom of the sea in a fisherman’s net. There I did find just the fan I needed, swallowed hard and paid the price. It’s still much more economical that an AC unit. I forgot to mention, the livingroom unit worked again this morning. It must have just been a little exhausted from days of non-stop running.

On the half hour drive home Edward Tulane found a new hobo friend and there we left him while we collectively worked on a list that took up every line on the notepad. Sometimes we do that and the children proudly cross off each thing as it is accomplished. They each had about 4 tasks and I had about 10, including keeping everybody motivated and on the straight and narrow. This does not include a 10 minute break with the Gilbreths, my small son hiding in a corner of the couch. He has probably read Cheaper by the Dozen at least 10 times, so don’t feel too sorry for him.

I picked the blackberries and it was Hot. Then Rita helped me turn a box of peaches into slush for the freezer. We sliced them thinly with an old fashioned egg slicer, then to an 8 quart bowl of peaches we added a can of orange concentrate and a little over a cup of sugar. We serve this just shy of thawed, when the peaches are slushy and cold. If I had some crushed pineapple to add, I could have reduced the sugar drastically, but I didn’t.

After lunch I read Addy’s favorite chapter story to her, where some little boys in an African village try to build a modern home out of blocks and cement. I may have skipped a few paragraphs because I was falling asleep.

The list included cleaning jobs. The girls did their best while I worked on catching up with correspondence and deskwork. It appears Rita could use some coaching in the bathroom cleaning department. They were wanting to try out the new helmets on a bike ride. Alex packed a picnic supper and supervised the loading of bikes and swimming clothes. We folded all the laundry and put it away before we left for the park because we didn’t want to trundle in the doors at bedtime and still have a ton of stuff to do.

It was still hot: 95 degrees at 5:30. The trail around the lake was mostly shaded and there was a nice breeze. Everybody zipped along happily except Rita, who was hot and miserable and didn’t want to wear that shiny new helmet. I rode behind her and prodded her on with promises of a swim at the beach area if there weren’t too many people. Gregory gazed across the water, “Hmmm, from here I can’t really tell the flesh from the sand.” Happily there were only a few people out braving the heat wave.

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At the halfway point to where I had parked, Rita was finished, weeping from a bike wreck into the side of the bridge. Addy was chipper but wavering, which was understandable considering how fast she has to peddle to keep up with the bigger bikes. I left them by the swings with strict instructions to stay right there with my big boy babysitter and biked speedily the rest of the way to the Suburban. I brought it over close to the swimming area and the children sprinted for the water. We stayed until the sun went down and the moon came up and all the other people went home. The picnic got eaten in dribbling shifts, whenever somebody got hungry. At last I called everybody out of the water at 8:30. The boys begged for a quick wash in the shower house. The girls moaned and dragged their towels in the dirt, pushing their bikes up the hill to our parking spot. I took turns giving them boosts while balancing a loaded laundry basket full of wet stuff and the picnic remains. While we waited for the boys I was astounded to see three young men walking along the sand, very dressed up in dark pants and long-sleeved, button-down shirts. It was almost dark, yet they waded into the water fully clothed and had themselves a grand time swimming. 🙂 After I got over my surprise, I applauded them for finding a way, despite obvious obstacles, to have a little fun.

It was very quiet on the ride home. Always after this sort of excursion there is a bit of weeping about the actual walk into the house and the process of getting into bed can be so unbelievably complicated. “I just need you to stand upright in the shower for five minutes,” I told the girls. “Can you do that?” They found within themselves the grit for that great effort and went to bed with a few parting paragraphs where Edward Tulane got nailed to a garden fence for a scarecrow.

I cleared up the picnic mess, gathered together the dirty laundry, vacuumed the living room and that’s it. The evening and the morning were one day.

(Shucks. I forgot to put my clean sheets on the bed.)

 

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State of Affairs

  • State of the blog: So I suddenly realize that it isn’t June anymore. Actually, I noticed that it is past mid-July and I haven’t written anything besides a daily sentence or two in my diary. If it weren’t for that, in future one might assume we went dormant for a month in the year of twenty-sixteen.
  • State of the homeschool: Last year we had our first day of school on July 16. I am a duck out of water here, okay, but not totally okay, if you know what I mean. I cannot scrape up even a modicum of enthusiasm for the pond that is school and books, even though it is simmering in the back of my mind that I really must dive in very soon. I bought paint for the schoolroom and I organized the new books on shelves. That is all. We don’t have a single new pencil in the house. All of them are ground down to little nubs and the copier paper is gone, down to a teeny stack in the printer. All this means back to school sales and stocking up, which is actually fun. I will take the troops and roust out the deals and then we will sharpen new Ticonderogas and feel the sap of learning rising.
  • State of the garden: Gasping with gratefulness for the thunderstorm that settled the powdery dry dust last night and greened up all the wilty things. We are in a lull currently. Nothing but Swiss chard, cucumbers, (for fresh eating only. I no longer make pickles. I don’t enjoy it and we hardly eat enough to bother, so I gave myself a permission to skip it.) And we are awash in raspberries. It is a very good kind of flood. I am flash freezing them on cookie sheets and putting them in gallon bags, literally. We are fondly waiting for the first vine-ripened tomatoes and when that happens, we will be at the pinnacle of summer. Oh yeah, I forgot zucchini.
  • State of the house: You don’t really want to know, but in the interest of humble honesty, it’s not so great. We live outside and trail dirty bare feet across the floors and all the places could use a scrub, especially the windows. The little girls’ room did get a facelift last week because someone who likes to pick at things had peeled a huge circle of paint off the wall. They have wanted purple for a long time. I tried to gently steer them to more neutral colors in the paint chips aisle, but finally caved and bought “lilac bouquet”. After I started rolling it on, I wasn’t sure I could handle it so I decided to do an accent wall with yellow to break it up and my sister-in-law helped me paint bubbles on the yellow wall in exchange for a bucket of raspberries. We added some wall stickers from good old Wally World and their floral/polka dot bedspreads work just fine, seeing as we have all the colors going on anyway. yellow wallwalmart decalscurtainI let my inner child loose on the curtain and warned the girls that any picking of yellow bobbles or new paint will be prosecuted. I might just mention that I did not Pinterest this room project. I winged it. That might explain a few things, but my girls are thrilled and they thank me every day for their purple room. So, as Ma Ingalls said, “All’s well that ends well.”
  • State of the schedule: Normal. Busy is normal, yes? Events stacked up, picnics, impromptu swimming parties, VBS for the children, inspirational mom-webinars that get shared with friends over iced coffee. I completely lose track of what day of the week it is pretty often. I am pretty sure today was Sunday although not like normal people’s Sunday since my husband had to work. That means tomorrow will be Monday, and that means laundry, but from there on I am not sure. I have to consult my calendar. Seriously. But it is fine because:
  • State of the body: Healthy. Blessed. Two teeth fixed and no more dentist appointments for a year. Stouter than strictly necessary, but not going to let that ruin my day. (Anybody want some homemade ice cream with those raspberries?)
  • State of my mom’s health: Lots of you know my mom and will rejoice that she is improving daily. It was pretty much six solid weeks of infirmity and debilitating pain before she started to gain ground. She is puttering in her house and kitchen again and looking as positively as she can at the long haul of recovery from Lyme disease, which ended up being the dastardly culprit behind all the neurological symptoms. We thank God for healing, and for healthcare professionals who pour out themselves to help along the healing.
  • State of the soul: Wanting to get fatter, but definitely not as lean as earlier this summer. It is a known fact that feeding the souls of others, specifically my children, requires reserves in my own soul. I learn slowly, but I do learn. I think. And Grace is so… kind. I feel keenly the kindness of God, the “daily loading of benefits”. I want to share them. I don’t want to keep them all in my own cellar. Here, children, have some goodness today, and you are welcome.
  • State of the bookshelf: Well, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on audio is hard going. I have been working on it for a very long time and am only halfway through the 50 plus hours of narration, at the point where Germany is bullying Poland around. I only get the high points. It is a tedious history with very many footnotes and quotes. But there are some striking impressions. I didn’t know that the German people voted Hitler into power. He promised to make their country great again, to bring back economic prosperity at all costs. Enough people had this as a top priority, so that he came into his position as dictator at least sort of legally. There was plenty of weirdness going on behind the scenes, but the people did really want what he was promoting. Unless they were Jews, of course. And the propaganda fed to the public was just ridiculous. It is interesting to draw comparisons in an election year in America. :/ To offset this heaviness, I just finished reading the Princess Bride which is definitely  the most amusing thing I have read in a long time. The author is extremely clever. It is fantasy, so if you don’t like when things don’t totally make sense, this is not the book for you. To offset the frivolity, I have been reading Philippians again and again. “Finally.” I have been looking up all the times Paul said that in his letters. He seemed to condense his last bits of advice at the end, kind of like mothers say, “Now be good and don’t forget to thank the hostess for the food and help with any chores they have,” as their children go out the door for an afternoon at a friend’s house. The Philippians “finally” is so simple and profound.

 Philippians 4:8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This week I want the God of Peace with me.

 

QOTD: I leave you with a quote from one little girl at VBS, leaning over to my little girl and whispering conspiratorially while the teacher is reading the story, “Shall we pick our scabs?”

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May to Date

What in the world have I been doing, I asked myself when the children wanted to know the date for the Sunday school lesson to study. I couldn’t quite believe it’s May 22, but there it was, on my phone which doesn’t lie. I made a list, just for clarification that I haven’t been dawdling. *Insert sounds of guffaws*

 

  • We started with this line-up on May Day. It looked pretty promising.

spring florals, May 1

  • I employed myself to a program of outdoor maintenance at my dad’s decking/vinyl railing business. This included about 4 trips to the greenhouse to get everything looking gorgeous for their annual open house. Then it rained most of the day and people didn’t even walk around the grounds. And then we had a surprise frost that nipped the pretties right back to square one.
  • I turned 39. Yep, I did. That morning I determined to make myself a luscious London Fog cake but I forgot to take it out of the oven and I left for a solitary stroll at a nearby park. Halfway around the lakeside trail, I remembered and sent a frantic text home, but the vanilla cake was quite dry and sawdusty by then. When you are 39, you should know better than that, but at least you have learned not to give up too easily. I already had the Earl Grey infused cream for the icing, so I mixed another batch of batter and made cupcakes after I got home.   I also picked up pizza for supper. With spinach and sriracha sauce because it was my birthday, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it!

Burnt cakebirthday cupcake

 

  • I got to visit with our friends, Motz and Paige, he being a sort of unofficial little brother from way back when. At the same time, my actual little brother and his family were in the area, so we had a grand catching up time. Unfortunately it was an evening that Gabe had to work, so he missed out on the reminiscing. (Thank a nurse today.)
  • I celebrated Mother’s Day with five of the most dearling  (Addy’s new word) children, again a day when their father had to work, and yes, I feel a tad bitter about nurse shifts on these occasions. (Thank a nurse’s spouse today.) However, I do not believe that it is in anyone’s best interests to marinate in the inconveniences of hospital employ, so we went on a hike that day and found a bunch of wildflowers. (Don’t they look like little rascals? But I wouldn’t trade them for anything!)

Mother's day, 2016

  • We all 7 had dentist appointments in one forenoon, with one orthodontist appointment to make, 2 follow-ups for fillings and 1 in six months for sealing of molars. I could happily forgo dental appointments all my life, for real. I HATE it. The hygienist always compliments me that I have no plaque, but I end up being the one who needs fillings. I blame it on gestating and lactating and freely offering up my calcium to others for all those years. It can’t be eating gummy candies, in any case.
  • There was a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh; I took three little girls along for the ride on west to Ohio to my sister’s house where a gorgeous tea awaited us on arrival. I had carefully selected my favorite scented jar candle from my stash because Rachel had told me that she always ends up giving away as gifts the ones she likes best. When I handed my hostess gift to her, she got a funny look and said, “I gave you that candle at Christmas.” I thought I remembered picking it out at TJ Maxx, but who knows who is right? After all, she is pregnant and I am 39. At any rate, we each gave our best. 🙂 The ride to Ohio included picking up freezer beef for us. Have you ever driven four hours with styrofoam coolers squeaking against each other at every bump in the road? It does help to listen to “The Boxcar Children” on audio really loudly, but I don’t recommend it.
  • I prepared, if I calculated correctly, about 462 individual meals, plus a few extra on the day that Gabe had friends over to help him with a barn raising project. It was my pleasure, and especially once I had a freezer full of beef to work with. Approximately every 3 days a meal includes asparagus, which is of itself an item of great cheer. Just occasionally I would give up my French press for an in-house cook though.

Barn raising

  • I got to try my hand at messing with clay on a real potter’s wheel, compliments of my sister-in-law Ruby, who set up a training session for my birthday. It took us two hours to drive to the studio, but we had so much fun and I have been dreaming of a way to set up my own operation. Rather many $$$ would be involved. And a lot of time and more strength than I had any idea. It looks so effortless when you watch an artist draw that pot out of the lump of clay, but my shoulders were sore for days. Here is another sister-in-law, Rhonda, who will be having a birthday soon too, and who also had fun because someday her luck with finding pottery at thrift stores may run out and this would be a valuable skill. (I might add here that I went through three towels on my lap and still had clay water smeared down my skirt. The other two came out fresh as daisies. How do they do that?)

pottery making

  • Last, but definitely not least, we finished school, as in all wrapped up, portfolios, achievement tests, evaluations, and a party with the pretty dishes on the lace tablecloth! A field trip to the Lincoln Caverns and a very soggy picnic later, we are done!

I feel a bit like someone put me into a salad spinner and wrung all the moisture out, and that is why I intend to actually dawdle as much as I can in the next week.

Here is one final photo of the barn project as it stands, startling me when I look out the kitchen window because I am not used to it yet. Isn’t the timber framing elegant? One of these days I will look out and be startled by sunshine instead of this grey sky. I believe it! Oh yeah, and one of these days I will be picking 12 rows of peas. Dawdling will be a distant memory. Also one of these days the front of the garden will be bordered by callas and dahlias and zinnias. I can hardly wait!

barn skeleton

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Rabbits Like Bananas, and Other Who Knew? Moments

Queen, the lop-eared rabbit with the patchy springtime fur, was a little surprised when Rita offered her, instead of the daily pile of dandelions, a very overripe banana. It was a “let’s see if the rabbit will eat this” experiment. She delighted us by chowing down the peelings, leaving the fruit until last. Queen is lonely. She eats dandelions endlessly, just for the pleasure of company outside the cage. We plan to find her a boyfriend so she can belong to a family.

Last week I bleached all my baby broccoli plants in a sincere attempt at protecting them from the elements. Folks, it got cold as anything so I lovingly set buckets and quart jars over all the plants. Apparently the sun was bright enough to heat it up to cooking temps inside the jars and that was the end of the windowsill starters.  I went to the green house this morning and at first I thought my old-order Mennonite greenhouse lady was sold out of broccoli. All I could find was purple cabbages and cauliflower. Score on purple cabbage. I love it.But not cooked. It looks sicky grayish then. Anyway, I stumbled upon some really little broccoli plants being coddled in a corner and brought them home with me because the lady sells out of broccoli every year, and I think to myself, “Why wouldn’t you learn that you need twice as much?” Of course, I don’t say it, because she has been greenhousing for 25 years and if she wants to run out of plants, that is her business. This morning she was telling me her new scheme of lining her planters with Depends under the soil to keep them from drying out. It’s brilliant, wouldn’t you say?

Addy in bike helmet

Our baby learned to ride her bike solo tonight. As you can see, she felt mighty pleased with the accomplishment. Someone dug an old helmet out of a muddy spot and she wore it with pride. If you would like to see a short video of her efforts, with an amused mother giggling in the background, click here.  After her first successful wobble across the lawn, she rushed to her sister with a mighty hug and said, “Tell all my friends I can ride a bike, will you? Tell Anicia and Kiersten and Gretchen and Jenna and Allison.” I might mention that the child will definitely be needing a proper helmet. She is as accident prone as anyone I have ever seen, sporting bandaids and bruises year round.

Today is my dad’s birthday. Every day we have discussions about how soon Rita will be 7 and what about Addy turning 5 and what shall we give Doddy for his birthday. After a small tiff this afternoon, Rita said, “I know what. Let’s give Addy to Doddy for his birthday and then we can babysit her when he goes to Florida.” Addy thought that would be fun. She was seeing an endless vista of marshmallow peeps and Tom and Jerry episodes. But Rita changed her mind, “That would be giving away the present God gave us and that wouldn’t be right.” I thought that put it rather well.

This forenoon I was working on assignments for the last 10 days of school. After lunch I took a break, looked around at my house and realized in a sudden fit of depression that every single room feels grubby and tired from much occupation over winter. I was standing in the kitchen, looking up at the ceiling, wishing for Mary Poppins someone to just tell me where to start when I saw the cobwebs above the curtains. So there I was, and there was the thing to do, and I just did it. After I scrubbed down the walls and shined the windows, I looked around and felt real good. One room down, five to go. I wonder if I can pull it off- get my house shined up before we finish school so that I can do my annual Week of Loafing without any guilt. I aim to try!

How about you? Have you made any interesting discoveries lately?

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Jaunting About

Jaunt: v.

  1. an excursion undertaken especially for pleasure

  2. archaic :  a tiring trip

We are jaunting about like everything these days and it is so much fun. It is a fast way to wear out, but it is great way “to blow through life without a budget,” as Rachel Jancovik says.

I am taking walks every day except when it rains, just noticing how things bud and burst open and it changes in every 24 hour stretch. I applaud the skunk cabbages along the roadside ditches from the first purple spears to the brilliant unfolding green leaves. I cheer the forsythias across the road, now very nearly at their peak of screaming hilarious yellow. And I got out the vases because my children are bringing me any and all blooms they find. There are no more daffodils or hyacinths outside because they all came into my kitchen.  I have plum blossoms and pansies on the window sill and baby broccoli too.

Yesterday I couldn’t resist and pulled out two baby evergreens that were growing beside the road on a deserted stretch. I wanted to plant them by the pond, and rationalized that the road crew comes along and whacks everything off for visibility purposes anyway. Gabe thinks I poached them off someone’s property, so now I feel conflicted about my baby trees, even though the state owns the road frontage: 20 feet from the middle of the road puts state property boundaries right at the edge of our front porch. So my trees come from state property, which they routinely deface with chain saws and whackers of various sorts. (I am making excuses here, I know! A preacher I know stops and picks up nice rocks beside the road to build chimneys. Is this different? :/ ) I did plant my tiny trees. If they die, I will know I shouldn’t have pulled them. My defense in court would be, “Spring made me do it.”

Last week I spent a sunny afternoon digging dandelions out of the asparagus bed. It was very satisfying. They are the most persistent things! Every year I do this, and every year they gird up their roots and try again. Now I am willing the asparagus to appear!

Spring means lemony desserts to me. I just got done lovingly assembling a Greek Yogurt Cream Cheese Lemon Cake for guests. It is a rite of April. I am pretty sure I posted about this before, but for your benefit, this is what it looks like:

Greek-Yogurt-Cream-Cheese-Lemon-Coffe-Cake-7

And here is my recommendation that you go show Lovely Little Kitchen some love and make this cake today.

Grating lemon peel always makes me feel happy. This morning I was busily mixing and pouring and was surprised to find myself feeling annoyed. It certainly wasn’t the gorgeous citrusy aroma or the cream cheese. I isolated the cause to a Pandora music station that I had playing with popular worship songs. I had chosen it because I wanted to hear one song in particular and here I was, listening to the next ones in the queue and getting really irritated. This is not to minimize anyone’s taste in music, but as a lover of language, after the 47th time of “I could sing of your love forever…” I want to say, “USE YOUR WORDS, HONEY!”

I was raised with the grand hymns of the church and am well aware of the “outmoded, outdated, outgrown” arguments concerning church music of the past. However, after something truly beautiful like:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

I simply can’t get into the modern worship songs with their overwhelming emphasis on how I feel and the music that croons to God like I used to croon to my babies. I love the substance of the old hymns, the descriptions, the grasping to know a glorious God who is so amazing that our best language cannot describe Him. I need music to remind me that God is so much bigger than I am.

*that creaking sound of a person gingerly stepping off a soapbox*

Anyway, the cake is now baked to perfection and the house awaits the weekly clearing away of stuff that didn’t get put into its proper home this week. I scored a great victory last week. I actually threw away the sweater vest from the ’90’s. And I replaced the beloved pair of shoes I bought when I was expecting Gregory (He is 11. You can do the math.) and couldn’t fit my swollen feet into any of my regular ones. I loved those shoes, even though they flopped when I wasn’t pregnant, but it was time to let them go.

I have a goal this spring that I am almost afraid to verbalize. I want to assign everything a place in this house, and if it doesn’t have one, it needs to go. This could be both cathartic and painful! My small treasure hoarders will need to be out of the house when I do their room, but they have a whole playhouse where they have free rein and can decorate their little hearts out. Now that it is warm, I am shooing them out there every afternoon after school. They have beds with old blankets and books and a plastic table with squatty little plastic chairs. It’s the perfect way to learn cause and effect in housekeeping. 🙂

Gabe has PTO for 8 days! We are working on building the critter barn and sandwiching in a field trip to DC with my big brother and his family. More jaunting. Hurray!

 

 

 

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7 Spring-Madnesses to Try

I just amused myself with a lame click-bait title. Hardy-har. Yesterday my Facebook feed offered me the worst one yet: 15 Reasons You Should Give Your Dog Coconut Oil. I am sorry, but this is just preposterous on so many levels. Who has time to research and write about the urgent health benefits of coconut oil for dogs? Who has money to spend on coconut oil for dogs?? What’s next? 5 steps to teach your dog oil pulling? There was a photo of a dog licking out of a squat little container of the really pricey stuff and I just giggled and did NOT click on it.

March has been gorgeous, gorgeous, warm and balmy! This is my season. I roll around in it, figuratively speaking, of course. My children do it quite literally and when they are done in the bathtub, there is a layer of silt on the bottom. I get back energy that I forgot about, and no, I didn’t start drinking Plexus recently. It’s my built in solar panel booting up the systems for an all-outdoors bash. I did a few things in the last week that made me feel really alive again.

  1. I sat in brilliant sunshine to eat lunch. Outside. In bare feet. And I had chocolate covered strawberries too.
  2. I saw a Craftsy project that I really wanted to do, but I didn’t want to spend $20 on their kit, so I bought a whole bunch of gorgeous fabric and trims and buttons for $16 and made it myself, trial and error.
  3. I sewed more than one project with the fabric: a petal-skirt dress for my smallest flower, and some pretties I will show you tomorrow. And then I will give one away to one of you.
  4. I pruned the grapevines and raspberries, pulling all the weeds that had flourished and died out over the winter. Then I asked Facebook if anyone local wants the extra raspberry plants and the first ones to reply were from North Carolina and Ohio and Georgia. I may need to do an instructive post on the meaning of “local”.
  5. I treated those plants to composted horse poo and I enjoyed doing it. I thought to myself, “Goodness, I am turning into my mother!” when I remembered how she would haul barrows full of poo from the barnyard to the flower beds while we children went EWWW.
  6. I trimmed my lavender hedge that lines the stone walkway to the backyard. A lavender hedge is romantic and lovely when abloom, but requires rather more maintenance than I knew before I planted it. Have you ever spent a therapeutic hour plucking maple leaves out of twiggy stems? At least it is fragrant work.
  7. I tilled down the cover crop in the kitchen garden, so that I can plant peas by St. Patty’s Day. That is my hope. I could have planted yesterday already by the condition of the soil. We are Zone 6, folks! It would definitely have been an early record for me, but I remembered the fiasco last year, how our peas didn’t germinate because we hadn’t killed the cover crop first.

I told you it has been amazing and warm. That is some of the reason why I dropped off the face of blogdom again this March. Also, after I have scratched out 28 posts in February, I feel a bit dry, so I just sink into it for a while and get all private. One thing that perplexes me and even makes me feel a little queasy is this: who am I actually writing to? Who is my target audience? Am I writing to homeschoolers? Maybe to their children, who I have been told read my stuff. What about the men? Yikes. I am suppressing all my birth stories for their sakes. Well, not quite. What if I write something insensitive to someone who is hurting? What if I write something unflattering about someone and they recognize themselves? What if I want to write a childhood story about a girl at church who had halitosis and she ends up reading it? It’s just this bit of paralysis that strikes occasionally and I realize I am taking this way, way too seriously. But I gave myself a break.

I will tell you a secret. When I get stuck like that, I write to Becca, my sister-in-law who was first my friend before she married my brother. She is the one who kept telling me to blog and she “gets” me and encourages me, so I just told her my 7 Spring-Madnesses to Try and I am saving a bunch of raspberry roots for her, even if she lives in North Carolina.

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