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 Staga 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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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: Book Review

I drew a total blank on which book to review today, until I remembered an audio that we listened to this winter. I asked Gregory to fill me in on the details of the audiobook. My brain, being typically crowded with details, latched on to the big ideas but I was vague on the details. Some of this is because I usually do some work while we listen to audios. The children just sit (quiet time, anyone?) but now that Gregory has filled me in, I am thinking I should have quiet time with them. When I used an Audible credit for An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield, everybody moaned and thought it looked boring, but it wasn’t long until the silence descended that means an absorbing story is being narrated.

This isn’t a typical memoir, with a baby being born, and what happened next and next. It is more a memoir grouped around life lessons. Mr. Hadfield, who is Canadian, recounts stories from childhood right along with lessons he learned in his rigorous training. The tales of life in Russia, training with cosmonauts for the ISS are fascinating, as well as the stories about living in space and coming down to Earth again.

Here are the highlights my son helped me to remember.

  • Most of life is ordinary hard work. The months in space took a lifetime of training and discipline.
  • Being willing to be a zero is very important. If you try and try to be viewed as a plus 1, people will think you are a show-off. If you really are a plus-1, they will know it. You don’t have to tell them.
  •  A zero is helpful, willing to do the tasks that nobody wants to do. Good leaders are willing to be zeros. If you aim to be a zero, you will most likely soon be viewed as a plus-1.
  • The best way to neutralize your fears is to face them. It isn’t good to just ignore your fears. There is a reason for fear, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive. Prepare for the things you fear; if you are trained for the things that could possibly happen, you will know what to do if it comes to pass.
  • If your biggest dreams are not fulfilled, as in the case of an astronaut who trains for years and is not chosen for space flight, you do not have to be known as “the person who almost went to space.” You can decide not to mope and be a victim of your circumstances. You do not have to be defined by your losses and mistakes.

That is just a sampling of down-to-earth (get it?) advice, seasoned by life experiences that few of us will ever have, yet it is easy to relate to what the author is saying. He writes (and narrates) humbly.

I love memoir as a genre, but often there are adult themes that are not safe for little ears. This is one that is clean, without bad language, just wholesome. I think you would like it.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Today’s book review is one for the children, but I can assure you that adult readers will enjoy it as well. We read it aloud in the evenings. It was one of those books where you “could hear a pin drop” and brought up a lot of good conversations with our children. I often feel unsure how to impress on them that they are in a very privileged class of people: stable home, meals 3 times a day, their longings and desires taken into consideration when the adults in their lives make decisions, choices- so many choices which are really luxuries. This is the sort of book that helps them to understand this in a way that is not preachy at all, although it does include starving children in Africa. I personally liked the bits that described the utter happiness of a child who didn’t have toys, so he made toys, who didn’t feel a lack of stuff nearly as keenly as the loss of friends.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is William Kamkwamba’s personal story of a childhood in Malawi as the son of a farmer. William describes the games the children play all across Africa, weaving in stories of the folklore and some of the darkness that is so prevalent in the superstitions of the simple people. He feared the magic of the witchdoctors, screaming, a terrified small boy in the night, until his father told him that with God on his side the dark powers of the wizard could not harm him. William’s family was doing all right until a terrible drought hit their entire region and wiped out any buffer they had for survival. The misery and desperation of the food shortage was so widespread, it was hard for anyone to outrun it.

William had to drop out of school because of an inability to pay the fees, but he did not waste his time. With a remarkable degree of determination, he found a loophole into getting books out of the library, teaching himself how to read and make sense of the English language science books in particular. He scrounged endlessly on junk piles for parts for his many inventions. Each one became more sophisticated, closer to his dream of generating electricity, of pumping water out of wells right in the village.

We savored the triumph with William as he described how it felt to be no longer the “crazy boy” when he got his first windmill to produce enough electricity to light a 40 watt bulb.

This is a good book for young tinker-scientist boys. (Mine don’t like the “mad scientist” label, but they do tinker like mad. :D)

You get two for one today. I have a recommendation that pairs well with this book: A Long Walk to Water.  For eleven dollars, you can buy the two together, and watch your children’s minds open up in admiration for the resourcefulness of someone they cannot just dismiss as some poor soul in some forsaken country. Teach them compassion for the tremendous obstacles that so many others face with no greater difference than the geographical region of their birth. If you aren’t a book collector, ask your children’s librarian to get them for the shelves. These are books that all American children should read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more bonus: You can watch William Kamkwamba’s TED talk for yourself.

Book Review: The Clouds Ye So Much Dread

I preordered this book when I got the email from Canon Press announcing a publishing date. At the time, I was fed-up with privileged “God is good” gushiness. You know, the kind  involving beautiful coffees, new cars, house remodels, dreamy vacations, and perfect children. (#blessed.) I understand that many of these #blessings are sincerely expressed from #grateful hearts. The trouble comes when we measure God’s goodness by the blessings. In my own desert place where things were not so well watered, I needed more than a great latte (although that helps) to reassure me that God is good.

The Clouds Ye So Much Dread,  highlights God’s faithful presence through the crises of life, when we are not doing well or feeling especially blessed. Yes, life doles out some really nasty stuff, and no, our prayers are not always answered the way we wish. Where can a person be safe and secure? Where can we fly in the helplessness and lack of control over the details in our lives?

There’s a chapter on fears and one on fear mongering – the unknown, our inadequacies, the obvious perils, as well as the things that come winging out of nowhere. There are a lot of references to the author’s son who battled childhood leukemia. She shares how she started seeing the clouds and the landscapes while she was driving her son to his oncology appointments, stopping to photograph and notice details during this stressful time in her life. “If there’s one thing that a period of testing can do for us, it’s to make us feel the weight of glory in all the things we once brushed off so lightly.”

Mrs. Greiser also addresses the fact that we must face our mortality and humanity- that most of life will not be amazing and “instagrammable”, that becoming entangled in food guilt, lifestyle snobbery, hoarding stuff, etc… really, these are not worries to waste inordinate amounts of energy on.

When we immerse ourselves in the fact of the Father’s faithfulness, when we remember His promises to the sparrows and the lilies, when we refuse to give in to the insidious lies that He has forgotten because “this” happened to me… that is when we start to see the mercies that come out of those clouds we dreaded so much.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

“When God calls us to duties as sacrifices, or trials like cancer, that turn our paths away from the goals we had set for ourselves, it’s easy to fear that our gifts are simply being wasted. When we follow God’s call and not our own, have we truly wasted our potential- throwing it out like trash? Or have we laid it down and planted it where our heavenly Father will raise and transform it into glorious resurrection fruit?”

“Why is it so easy to forget how great God’s kindness is to His children? For us who know Him, it’s almost always a failure of memory that has led to a failure of nerve.”

And here’s the grand old hymn by William Cowper:

Strangers and Sojourners

Michael O’Brien’s Strangers and Sojourners spans the lifetime of a lady named Anne Delaney during the twentieth century. As you might expect, it is a long book, a tome of 546 pages, but it was well worth the time to read, even though it took me a few months to finish.

The story is built around Anne’s emigration from a highly educated, refined life in England to live as a frontier schoolteacher in a bush town in Canada. She eventually marries a reclusive backwoodsman farmer, a man of deep faith, while Anne battles intensely with doubt and self-recrimination. She faces the narrowing of her abilities into one small sphere, keeping her home. She senses the death of her personal grandiose dreams as she cooks the porridge and weeds the kitchen garden. Her children grow strong and stand upright, mostly unaware of the lifeblood their mother is pouring out for them. Her husband remains a bit of an enigma to her, a man who has great respect for dung and dirt, “Out of it comes the garden and the pasture and our lives.” But Anne hates it and the fact that their life is far from clean and neat. She wishes only to be able to cleanse away every trace of repulsive stink, despite the gentle reminder that Jesus was born where the smells were not polite.

Eventually Anne does get to pursue some of her dreams, among them editing a provincial newspaper. She continues to be haunted with questions as to the meaning of life and all man’s striving. Toward the end of her own life, when cancer is eating away at her vitals, it all narrows down to what really mattered all along. At death’s door, Anne receives clarity and grace. The struggle and fear are replaced with triumphant courage. She sees that God was at work all along, making something out of her nothing. As her husband sits beside her bed, watching her life drain slowly away, he sees…

“…that she had already laid down a large portion of her life long ago. Piece by piece she had given it away as she wrestled with existence, as her self was absorbed as nourishment into his life and the life of the children and the community. And laid down most piercingly, as she abandoned, one by one, the shapes of the dreams she had planned. Only to take them up in other forms.”

(excerpt from page 546)

O’Brien wrote this book in the third person omniscient point of view, giving us details from the heart of each main character, their thoughts and intents. While this can be tedious, he does it well, illustrating how attitudes and actions can affect an entire life, an entire family, even an entire community. I was inspired by Anne’s life, encouraged that the things I do today are long term investments. Though they may be small things, such as deboning a chicken or folding some towels, the world is nurtured through the countless small kindnesses of those who are willing to lay down their lives for others.

Move Over, October

Although it doesn’t feel necessary at all yet, we are battening down the hatches here despite the August-like feel in the middle of the days. In landlocked, rural PA, that means clearing out the gardens, planting garlic, digging sweet potatoes, maybe nurturing some lettuce in homemade cold frames.  The pigs have been set to plowing the garden, where they clearly enjoy their privileges among the dried bean stalks and tired zinnias. The black pig, Petunia, is supposed to “piggle” as we jokingly call it, but she just doesn’t have babies. I am thinking she is even looking slimmer recently, so who knows? Maybe her relationship with Brutus is platonic.

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The zinnia blooms that persist are still a-flit with monarch butterflies that should be hurrying south. We all feel a little confused by fall this year. There is no color. It’s still green here, folks. The leaves that have dropped are tan, brown, or speckled with a tinge of orange, but no brilliance. It’s an odd result of a very wet summer/abundant chlorophyll and unseasonably warm temperatures, the experts say.

This fall for the first time ever we wound our way through a corn maze, shot small pumpkins with a sling-shot, played corn hole and pumpkin checkers, and had fun in general.

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I feel the urge to clear out all the spider webs in my house, but it is a futile effort because the spiders keep diligently moving in. They aren’t fooled by unseasonable warmth. Also the stink bugs– I don’t even know if they have another more formal name, but they don’t deserve it if they do. I vacuumed 17 of them off my bedroom curtain one day. They seemed surprised and emanated their cilantro stench so strongly I smelled them every time I vacuumed for a long time afterward.

The vacuum cleaner smells like moth ball crystals at the moment. “What’s that sweet stink?” Rita asked. Upon investigation, I found that someone had spilled them in the closet after they did their sweet-stink duty in keeping yellow jackets away from our applesauce production out on the deck.

We live in deep apple territory. It’s amazing! We go to the orchard and walk along the apple crates on the porch, sometimes with as many as ten varieties of irregulars that are so cheap you can’t let them there. Then I remember what a friend who lived in the orchards said about the sprays, so I soak the apples in a white vinegar/water solution before cooking them. Whether this actually works to remove all the pesticides is open to debate, but it makes me feel better. I did the math this year to see if applesauce making is worth the effort. At Aldi, a pint of applesauce was 1.29. That’s 2.60 per quart. We did 55 quarts this fall. That’s $143 at Aldi. The apples cost us $45. Okay, so we saved $100 with just four hours of mildly strenuous effort. Even with overhead costs, a concept I just explained to Gregory this morning in his math lesson, I know it’s worth making applesauce. Also it counts as a school day, so we’re definitely in the clear here.

I am waiting for the Granny Smiths to be picked so that I can make real apple dumplings. Have you ever had them? The combination of mouth-puckering sour with flaky pastry and buttery syrup? Ohh, I sigh with delight at the thought. Once, and only once, I used whole wheat pie and pastry flour to healthify them. It was a fail that I will not repeat. If you need to healthify your apples, just eat them raw.

The boys have been working on painting the barn doors, which ended being constructed of raw wood after someone stole a pile of weathered red siding boards that would have become doors. The boys have also been making it their mission to get rid of the rats that have moved into the barn. (Shut your ears if you are squeamish.) Gregory has a string stretched between two small trees where he hangs his trophies by the tail. The count is holding at three, but there is a really big one they call Templeton that defies all their ingenious traps and steals the corn anyway.

In other news, we just finished our first quarter of school. Shew! One day at a time, they say, and they are right. The days pile up like sand in an hour glass and one day they will be all filtered through and we will understand percentages and fractions and phonics rules and it will be spring!

Gabriel is now exactly 6/11 of the way to his bachelor’s degree. He perseveres on through much trudging and some very boring assignments, to my way of thinking.

Our read-aloud book at the moment is Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary’s memoir which was printed at least 20 years ago, but has seen a renewed circulation since she celebrated her 100th birthday. We love Beverly Cleary with her Klickitat Street, Henry and Ribsy, Beezus and Ramona, and a host of other unforgettable characters. The book is written about her childhood with an adult viewpoint, so there are occasional passages I edit for my small children’s sake. Our favorite line so far is her description of fourth grade: “one long quest to find the lowest common denominator.”

There isn’t a good way to conclude this kind of post, so I leave you with Addy’s Quote of the Day, after she was reprimanded by a sibling for her loud singing in the car.

“When I grow up, I am going to hum for people. For a living.”

 

Quite Likely Events

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. They are such fascinating studies of human behaviors, what makes people tick when they are not even aware of it, how trends take hold, why the small people sometimes inexplicably roust the huge ones, etc.

These are the ones I have read or listened to:




I know some people hate his studies. They think he oversimplifies things, puts them into neat boxes when there really are no boxes. But there are! There are categories and predictable behaviors, but there are also boxes for the totally unexpected, and those are the best ones of all.  I like this quote:  The point isn’t necessarily to accept his conclusions, but to be jolted – even if via the improbable medium of ketchup – into seeing the whole world afresh. This galls some critics, who’d prefer it if Gladwell made smaller, more cautious, less dazzling claims.

We listened to Gladwell’s Ted talk on David and Goliath this summer, and you should too. If you don’t agree with his ideas, at least it will take your mind for a little spin of possibilities. The entire book is comprised of anecdotal evidence that giants are not as powerful as they seem. The chapter on how difficult it is to parent well when you are rich was quite affirming. Studies have shown that over 75K in annual income will make it significantly harder to raise well-adjusted children than when your income falls in a lower bracket. Whew! At least we are safe on that score!

My favorite is still The Tipping Point, probably because of my fascination with people’s behavior. When I got to spend a day at the Mother Earth News Fair, I had just as much fun watching people as I did checking out the vendors and listening to the keynote speakers. That is where I saw the impeccably flawless lady who seemed to be having a bad day. Remember her from my last post? I didn’t actually interview her, so I cannot know for sure why she was giving her husband such sour looks.

Maybe she had a sore in her mouth that was causing her to see the world as grey and hopeless and even drinking water hurt. She couldn’t eat any pretzel if she wanted to. (Ouch! the salt!)

Maybe her favorite granddaughter had just dropped out of med school in favor of joining a band of farmers living communally off the soil in the hinterlands, and she came to the fair to try to understand what her granddaughter was thinking!

Maybe her husband had an autoimmune disease that caused him agonies every time he ate gluten, and she knew he would be moaning to her all evening after he ate that pretzel.

Maybe he wasn’t even her husband, just some nettlesome guy who knew her back in highschool and still thought she was pretty.

Okay, that is getting a little far out, but you really never do know and it is just a smidge arrogant to assume that the other person’s behavior is uncomplicated. I still lean toward my first impression that she was just being catty.  At any rate, it’s interesting, which is why I suggest you give the Gladwell books a try. Check them out at the library if you feel doubtful. Tell me what you think. 🙂

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Getting Home Safely

I have been reading stories from the book of Daniel to my little girls at bedtime this week. Last night we covered the bit in chapter 7 where Daniel has a terrifying vision of four great beasts coming out of the sea. Fantastical creatures: lion with eagle’s wings, bear with an unsteady gait and three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four heads and wings, and lastly a terrible monster that crashed and gnashed about with iron teeth and bronze claws and ten horns. Pretty scary stuff!

After a while their dominion was taken away. Here is Daniel 7:9, 10.

“As I looked,

thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.

A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.”

He goes on to describe how the beasts had their dominion taken away and the Great Beast was killed and his body thrown into the fire to be burned. The ultimate victory thrills me, as does the descriptive language of these passages. Daniel himself said, “The visions of my head alarmed me.” When he asked about the great beast which had so terrified him, the interpretation was that it was a kingdom unlike others, “devouring the earth, breaking it down, and stamping on the pieces”.  This would be a kingdom that blasphemes the Most High, wears out the saints, and imagines itself more powerful than times and laws.

It all comes to an end, up-side-down gets turned upright and righteousness reigns in the earth. We looked for a long time at an artist’s imaginative painting of the New Earth and knew that even in our wildest dreams we have so little idea what God has prepared for those who love Him. (Go read Daniel if you want to have your mind stretched and your faith strengthened. It is more fantastic than many of the modern fantasies/allegories that I have read. )

Why read this stuff to my children? Maybe I should just stick with the lion’s den? Actually, my reasoning wasn’t complex. This story came next in the Bible storybook, and they really wanted to hear about the beasts. As it turned out, it coincided with a lot of things I had been thinking about recently due to what I was reading.

A yearning for “happily ever after” is in our DNA. My girls like good endings to stories. I hope and pray that they will see how even sad stories can be happy endings because there is life beyond the now. I fully expect us to face suffering for our faith that is more than the ridicule that we currently get. I want them to have strong faith that what is seen with our eyes is only the tiniest part of Reality.

Here’s another book recommendation for you, written to people under severe trial in approximately A.D. 67: the book of Hebrews. When I studied it as a bracing message to Christians who were faltering under the weight of discipline and the struggle of endurance, it opened to me as a beautiful narrative of hope. Chapter eleven alone is enough to make one’s heart burn with courage. That long line of the faithful who were obedient to what they knew God wanted for them, and so they pleased Him. It brings tears when I read how they were looking for a city that was prepared for them, looking for the reward, the better life. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13)

It may sound shallow to look for the reward, but it’s what motivates us, isn’t it? How else would anyone have fortitude to stay faithful while being sawn in half as part of a torture session?

My third book recommendation is Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn. The author contrasts the life of an all-American businessman with the life of a Chinese friend and former roommate from college. As you follow the story, you get this knot of sadness, knowing that it isn’t going to end well for everybody. It’s not easy, light reading, even if it is classified as a novel. In fact, I cried for a good portion of the book.

I will tell you that the tears at the end were tears of overwhelmed joy because the end was not the end. Death had lost its sting.

My friend Heidi, who has a little girl in heaven, has recommended Randy Alcorn’s book titled Heaven to me. She describes it as thought-provoking study from the Bible as to what heaven may be like. From her description, I think Mr. Alcorn modeled his novel on his theological studies on heaven.

Maybe you, like me, feel oppressed with the brokenness that seems to whack and crush people down. It doesn’t seem right and it’s not OK. We feel in our souls that we ought to fix things, pray them away, not let bad things ever happen to anybody. This is an intrinsic part of a person who loves righteousness- the compulsion to right wrongs and do something about injustice. In fact, the Hebrews heroes of faith “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, quenched flames, were valiant in battle… the dead were raised to life.”

Then there were others who were tortured, facing jeers and flogging, and when they weren’t in jail, they were living in holes in the ground. “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.” I don’t think that mess felt okay to them. Yet the world was not worthy of them. And why?  Their faith. The rule of the beast would not last forever and they knew it in their souls.

We have to live in hope, my friends. The best is not yet.

 

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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?

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10 Delightful Books for Girls

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Although this is a story about an entire school, mostly boys, it was Lina who asked the important question, “Why do the storks no longer come to Shora?” It was Lina, too, who had an epiphany while staring into her wooden shoe. I love this delightful story, and so will your children.

Jean Fritz has a genius for writing compelling historical fiction. This is a tale of a girl whose family has moved further west in Pennsylvania’s frontier days. Ann misses her friends, but soon finds life exciting in the wilds.

This is a beautiful true story of faith in a terrible time, with a little girl lost in the woods, and God’s provision for her survival. Your children will never forget Sarah Whitcher’s Story.

Another true tale of a small girl in the wilderness. “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble,” her mother admonished her when she bade her farewell. Sarah and her father went ahead of the rest of the family to build a home in the wilderness. I almost cannot bear the bravery of this child, but if you are looking for a book that teaches about courage in the face of fear, look no further.

Cynthia Rylant wrote this story about the years that Laura Ingalls Wilder skipped in her book series. Rylant did a lot of research and tried to mesh the book with Laura’s writing style. She produced an excellent book that lovers of the Wilder family will thoroughly enjoy.

I pick up any of Caroline Haywood’s books that I find. They are 50’s books, so there are pretty many out there in the library discard piles, with the charming illustrations of the 50’s. Betsy is just one of her irrepressible characters. Go read the reviews and see for yourself. 🙂

This is such a fun family story. “All-of-a-kind” refers to a Jewish immigrant family of girls and their escapades in turn-of-the-century New York City. The author based the books on her own childhood, which is probably why it feels so real.

I read this when I was young and only recently saw it again. It is the story of strong family ties in the middle of a very difficult time. Janey Larkin holds on to hope (and her blue willow plate) through it all.

This is another book that I read and reread as a child. I felt so sorry for Elaine, and so grateful for her sake when she buried her misery in the mysterious little garden she found. This is a story of redemption and grace.

This is quite possibly my favorite book about a little girl. Elizabeth Ann is dismayed to find that she has to move to the farm of the country cousins, the Putneys. Her life has been sheltered with a pinched ladylikeness, but the first thing that changes is her name. Betsy discovers that she has a lot of strengths and it is fun to exercise them. The link is for a Kindle edition because apparently the book is out of print.

Enjoy!