Trying to Keep it Together

I have a soft spot in my heart for older gentlemen who wear both suspenders and a belt. Whatever else may be falling apart, they will endeavor to keep their trousers up, and I appreciate that code of honor.

This week the girls are finishing up all their school lessons. When I made their last fifteen assignments, they got a gleam in their eyes and started working like mad to finish up long before the three weeks in which they were assigned. I didn’t care at all, but found myself caught short with the customary celebrations. We have been homeschooling for fifteen years, and I have never before forgotten to order books for each child to unwrap at our end-of-school party, but this year somebody hinted and I looked foolish for a minute before I admitted that I forgot the party too.

The girls were chill about it, but a little disappointed, so I quickly opened Amazon and got on the ball. Addy wanted a detailed coloring book, and she actually got to choose her own. Olivia wanted books to read, of course. Rita was more desirous of a new hot plate for her cooking experiments in the playhouse. I worry about what this world of two-day shipping gratification will do to our children, but I also appreciate it. The ease and endless resources on the internets fuel a constant tension: help or hindrance?

I read an article this morning called “Social Media is Attention Alcohol” and it gave me lots of food for thought and a prick of conscience about wasted time. I kissed Facebook good-bye years ago, although I haven’t closed out my account because I want to be able to look back at my timeline for reference and photos. I am sure there are many who use this platform for good, but it no longer blessed me, so it wasn’t that hard.

However, I love Instagram. I unfollow any accounts that start to smell fake, although realistically we probably all put our best foot forward on this platform. I refuse filters and try hard to keep myself sternly real. And I sell my pottery mostly to my Instagram following (Black Oak Ceramics (speaking of which: I promised to let you all know when I do an Etsy shop update and I plan to do that this weekend, in time for Mother’s Day) ). So Instagram is a free and simple marketing tool for me. Not only that, but I get a lot of creative ideas from following others. For a self-taught potter, inspiration often comes from seeing what is possible if I work long and hard, but it can also plunge me into despair because of how little I know.

I ask myself if this is an attention hog in my life, and yes, it is on some days. It feels exactly the same as falling into story grip with a book, not all bad until the undisciplined ways catch up with me and interfere with healthy life and relationships.

I have hinted at the wacky hormonal issues of mid-life that nobody really wants to know about, but these issues have a way of bossing me around that was unfathomable to my young and well-regulated self. (There, was that ambiguous enough?) Anyway, I found myself at the beginning of the year with a quality of life that really cramped my style. I was lethargic, anemic, sleeping poorly, and not able to take a flight of stairs without feeling short of breath. I wasn’t sure I would be able to garden or take hikes, etc. come summertime, and I needed help! The doctor had nothing for me except, “It’s to be expected and it will probably last for years.” Cold comfort. “Maybe take iron or eat organ meats, and go on birth control to regulate your hormones.” Eww. I always hated how iron upset my stomach when I was pregnant, and so I started drinking spinach smoothies and trying to summon the strength to eat liver and onions.

About this time my sister told me about a product she saw on social media. (Imagine that!) It’s a freeze-dried beef liver supplement that is much easier on the queasy than the fried version. I was desperate, and hopeful and skeptical all at the same time. If you read reviews, you know how confusing that can be. Well, I have been taking these little liver bits in capsules daily for three months, and it seems to have been exactly what I needed. I am so very grateful to have energy and stamina again, and a normal life. I wouldn’t have heard about this or had any idea where to buy beef liver capsules without the internet. Nor could I have shared with you out of the love in my heart to spread good things. If I read the delicate references in the comments correctly, I am not alone in my quest for equilibrium in this season. 😉

Meanwhile, if you feel a bit beleaguered by the ordinary troubles that beset you despite your best efforts, consider this cardinal mother-to-be. She built her nest in the lilac bush, snugly under the awning. In the last week the leaves have opened and in the days and days of rain, they weigh down the branch enough to swing it out into the weather, just where the rain drips off the awning without relief. I feel so sorry for her, but she is steadfast, unmovable, abounding in the work the Lord has given her. The nest is tipped at an awkward angle, but her 21 days are almost up and there will be babies soon. I wish I could tell her that tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine.

I am letting nature preach to me, loud and clear. This is what she says:

Keep on with the good work. Get that party planned for your children. Pull on your suspenders or take your beef liver capsules, whatever it takes. The world won’t stop turning if you cop out, but there will be glory missing that is supposed to be there.


I started the day with the book of Daniel and a cup of Dandy Blend, trying to convince myself that it’s as good as coffee. My self could tell that I was spinning it a yarn.

Gabriel went out the door with his lunch and the real coffee I fixed lovingly for him, with collagen and raw sugar and cream, about the time that my babysittee came for the day. (I will call her Bee here.) She sat on my lap and chattered while I drank my pretend coffee. It’s our ritual so that she doesn’t insist on “making something” or playing hide and seek or some other fascinating pursuit that requires too much energy first thing in the morning. 

Today Bee had a sketchbook full of line upon line of serious squiggles with occasional wild bursts of scrawls that represented sunshine and a ballerina skirt. You have to admire the confidence of the young in their creative outlets. They don’t apologize for what they make. In fact, they give their sketches away with all the poise of those who know they have made something from their hearts, and why wouldn’t the world be happy with it? Why indeed?

I am not doing so well with the daily writing habit that I aspire to, but I am slowly working through The Story of my Life journal that I bought at Walmart. If you like writing even a little, it is worth your money for the fantastic prompts. Today’s writing prompt: “Describe your parents’ parenting style. Tell a story that shows how much (or how little) freedom you had.”

My mind went back to last week when we four siblings surprised my dad for his 70th birthday. We truly did surprise him, and what fun that was! We all went without any kids or spouses so it was just the immediate family group when we went on a drive in the van to look at our old haunts. Out of the floods of childhood memories, this story surfaced from when we moved to a summer cottage turned house beside a good-sized creek. The boxes weren’t even all unpacked before we children were wading, fishing, swimming in the frigid water. I do not remember any parental shepherding, but probably there were some ground rules given. We crossed to the island in the center of the creek by leaning into the current of the rapids and feeling for sure footing with bare feet on the algae covered rocks. Just upstream there was an eight foot deep pool where the water ran still and mysterious. That’s where we taught ourselves to swim, first by paddling about on anything that floated and held us up. Eventually we started to wade out to chest depth, then turned around and swam to shore. As we got more confident, we went out deeper until we were all decent swimmers, and thank the Lord, nobody drowned. Somehow my parents gave us the freedom and confidence to try new things without hovering too much. I do remember a lot of admonishing and rules that were intended to keep us safe, but not a lot of on-site coaching. (Granted, this was the era when nobody bothered with seat belts, car seats, bike helmets, or safety nets on trampolines.)

After our morning rituals of just sitting, writing, etc., Little Bee and I checked on the chickens and watched the flock tiptoe around a very easily ruffled mother hen and her excitable offspring. This hen is an example of 100% concentrated devotion to motherhood. She spends her entire day keeping track of her babies, scratching up choice morsels for them, showing them how to tip their heads back to trickle water down their throats, and calling them to herself to sit under her wings for a warm-up when it’s chilly. We are enchanted.

When it was time to go inside, Bee evidenced some hanger. She is always cheered when I let her make her own scrambled eggs with the little pink spatula that’s just her size. Every. single. day. she wants applesauce to eat too. If I were asked what the most common food of my childhood was, I would have to say applesauce. Little me got tired of it. Little Bee thinks it is the best treat ever. When it was time for a nap, she wasn’t one bit sleepy and her feet stomped to emphasize it. I have noticed that a small child will fall asleep much quicker if you tell them they do not have to sleep if they can’t. How about having some quiet time, just lie down on the bed and read some books? I wasn’t even through the second story before there was a gentle whiffling snore beside me. I drifted off myself. Maybe it was Just the Thing for Geraldine that did it.

I woke up an hour later, with exactly 20 minutes before Olivia’s dental cleaning appointment, and it was going to take us 15 minutes to get there. I left the sleeping tot with Rita and we skedaddled faster than we have in a long time We made it with one minute to spare. It was a relief to sit in the lobby and just read my new book about soil. Except for one granny with a magazine, every other soul there was on their phone. The granny and I virtue-signaled like everything, but it didn’t make a difference.

Since Olivia got braces, her sisters complain about how she holds up the bathroom, cleaning her teeth all the time. Apparently it is paying off. Her hygienist said she has never seen cleaner braces and Olivia feels rewarded for her virtue.

On our way home, we stopped for groceries. I estimated that the cart, half full, would probably be 150 bucks, but I was ten dollars too high. Should I feel smug at my estimating abilities, or dismayed that I am getting used to the inflation of the times? (I no longer need to buy grocery store flowers to cheer my household, so that may be where the savings are.)

It is a delight that never palls for me: walking outside, just casually picking some blooms for the table. Today it was grape hyacinths and on the mantle we have branches with wrinkly crimson leaves that are opening fast in the warm house.

Tonight Addy was hungry for escalloped potatoes like we had in Florida. I found my favorite recipe with “top milk” as an ingredient, presumably the creamy milk at the top of the jar before the cream is skimmed off. I showed her how to slice the potatoes thinly on the mandolin, then I practiced the same sort of parenting style I grew up with and went outside to mow lawn (after I warned her sufficiently to use the guard if she still wants all her fingertips). When I came back inside, she was ready for the seasonings and cheese and cream.

When Addy and I cook, unforeseen things tend to happen. We are both”schusslich”, only I have learned many lessons over time to avoid epic cleanups. This evening she accidentally pushed my binder of recipes onto the floor. It was so stuffed that it popped open and the pages fanned out over the kitchen floor. She was chagrined, but I saw an opportunity to do something I should have done long ago. The old binder is getting a thorough edit. There are recipes in it that I clipped out of magazines twenty years ago and only made once. I am culling them down to the favorites and the ones handed down from loved ones. It will take a while.

The potatoes were ridiculously good, by the way.

Thanks for joining me on my meander through the day. We didn’t go far, but we covered a lot of ground.

These Wonder Full Days

This week the first tulip opened in a patch of bulbs I planted last fall, a brilliant red with oval petals that spread completely flat in the hot sunshine. It looks like a crimson star floating above the bark mulch. I was sure that I planted pink tulips, but surprise! the first one was red.

Our grey world is springing into color, just tinges of it at the beginning, but promises for more all around. The daffodils at the edges of the woods are waving bits of sunshine, and there are twice as many as there were last year. I love that they multiply and naturalize, and critters don’t like them. When you drive the countryside, you can see marks of old homesteads long gone to ruin with saplings grown up in the foundations and drifts of daffodils where some homemaker dropped bulbs beside her doorstep years ago.

Last fall I donated to a kickstarter for a book titled A Little More Beautiful by Sarah Mackenzie. It came in the mail recently, and it is as charming as any illustrated children’s story I have seen. How can I make the world a little more beautiful each day? Hmmm. How about planting a bunch of flowers and sharing them?

I am not a die-hard spring cleaning lady, but I am in the mood to wash all the things in the house and hang them on the line to dry. As I type this, the rugs for the front door are swishing in the washer, and the living room curtains will be next. When the sun shines in such benevolence, I feel that the windows should sparkle and the curtains should be worthy.

Gabriel is using the chain saw and the tractor to clear the briars and trash accumulated in the back yard for many years. The girls are helping to collect the branches for burning, and I overheard a mild protest, “Can’t he pick another mid-life crisis, just anything else?” For some reason our children think ambitious clean-up projects are a sign of middle age, yet we have tackled these sorts of things many times in their lifetimes. Maybe it’s because they are now strong enough to be a real help, and it is sinking in that this is work, not just a bonfire for roasting hotdogs later.

I have been edging the three beds close to the house. The thing I never thought about when I was being so smart and unrolling old hay bales on top of my long rectangular gardens was that there would be miles of edges with grass borders. I don’t hate the job, but it takes a long time to clear the grasses and weeds that creep into the beds. It also requires a tape measure to get the lines straight, and it is my own problem that I cannot bear to look out the window and see a bulging border. I was trying to fix a few problem spots, and asked my husband, who is much better at free-handing this sort of thing, if it looked all right. “It looks perfect,” he said, and quickly escaped before I could request that he fix what was apparently perfect already. (If I could find a good edging material (that isn’t plastic) it would be worth installing. Please speak up if you have any advice for me on this matter.)

It is astonishing how much more motivated I feel when it is warm outside. Our heat is off this week, and the sunshine has been a daily grace. We had friends here for an outdoor supper around the fire with the whine of mosquitoes and the trilling of spring peepers serenading us. We have gone straight from winter to summer, is what it feels like, and nature is kicking up her heels. I don’t mind. I have no doubt that we will still get some hard frosts, but just for now we are basking.

I have a very broody hen that got a bad case of spring fever. She wanted chicks so badly that she just sat in the nesting box day in and day out, even though we took the eggs away from her every day. We moved her to an empty bunny hutch so that her intense longing for motherhood wouldn’t affect the rest of the flock. I found a source of fertilized eggs and stuck a dozen under her so that she can do her setting with some fruit for all her effort. She has four more days to go until they are due to hatch out. I will be so relieved for her, because she hardly eats or drinks anything, just sits and waits and waits. Rita feeds her worms and bugs that she finds, and watches over her solicitously.

With this season there has been an explosion of birdsong. All around they flirt, warble, and spill their sheer joy into the air. There is a phoebe building her mud and moss nest in the corner of the porch awning, a cardinal shaping a pretty twig nest in the lilac bush right outside the window, a robin once more making herself a home in the shrubbery beside our back deck, and there are sparrows in all the bluebird boxes.

I am reminded that God is the Creator of LIFE! New life springing out of barren, frozen wastelands. It is His delight to resurrect what has died, to bring fruit out of the seed that dies. If I would remember the utter faithfulness of His character when I feel panic because something dear to me is dying, it would save me a lot of flapping about. Every year this same truth hits me between the eyes, and I wonder why it is that I forget it every winter.

I made a list of as many hopes, dreams, ambitions, I could think of in my entire life that I have at some point given up, allowed to die. I was thrilled to see how many things He has brought back to life and better than I had hoped for. Not everything. There are seeds that lie buried in the the ground for a very long time. I can’t pretend that I understand God’s timing, but I believe that He knows what to do with the seeds that we bury.

Well, that concludes my springtime homily. I hope it’s a beautiful day where you are.

So Much Goodness

We spent just a bit over a week in Florida, that land of abundant sunshine and generous breezes.

We were welcomed by my parents, hugs all around, supper ready for us, and my uncle’s house (which used to be my grandma’s house) prepared for our stay.

We looked at the weather forecast and tried to make plans, tried not to be dismayed at five days of rain forecast during our stay.

We went to the fruit market and bought grapefruit and oranges and strawberries and honeydew and tomatoes and avocados and key limes and lemons and cabbage and lettuce and peppers and one enormous watermelon, all of them dead ripe and local.

We walked on the beach and some of us swam, even though nobody else considered the water warm enough; it was fine once you got wet.

We found treasures, so many shells, and one day a local showed me where to stand in water up to my waist so that I could feel with my feet where the conchs washed in and were not broken yet by the surf.

We basked in the healing rays of the sun, under layers of sunscreen because one time we got second degree sunburns and that was enough for one lifetime.

We wore flip-flops every day, although Gabe didn’t have any and wore shoes and socks, but he felt that it was chilly a lot of the time anyway, so that was okay.

We rented bikes and rode seven miles down the Legacy Trail toward Venice.

We got to see the backyards of the average Floridian living along the trail, and then just as we were getting to the state park section, we ran out of juice and turned around.

We were starving hungry and ate our lunch at Der Dutchman when we got back at 3 PM.

We watched an otter mother fish for water snakes and catfish along the banks of the Myakka River while her babies romped on the bank, waiting for lunch.

We kept vigilant eyes on lazy alligators that slid into the water to swim to our side of the river when we caught tilapia that they wanted for themselves.

We made fish tacos with the tilapia and bass and bluegills that we caught, and they were fantastic.

We watched tiny lizards skitter and fed fish-bait shrimp to an intrepid egret and an opportunistic heron that kept hanging around.

We marveled at the odd plants, the “houseplants” growing everywhere as landscaping details and just wild along the trails.

We took pictures of all the interesting things so we can sketch them in nature journals when we get home because we forgot to take our nature journals, but we never did get a parrot on camera.

We walked along an osprey trail in virgin Florida pine forest that was mostly scrubby palmetto and not very tall pines because they are just different there.

We saw the osprey nests all along in the taller dead trees, and on the ground we found a nervous gopher tortoise who scurried tortoise-fashion along the trail as though he was late for something.

We took the pelican trail back to the car and the sand was so hot it hurt our feet, and we didn’t see one pelican on the trail.

We ladies poked around in thrift stores with my mom while the guys went fishing with my dad on the one day that it rained.

We were grateful every day that it didn’t rain, except sometimes we would hear it in the night and then we were happy for the locals who wanted rain as badly as we didn’t want rain.

We ate dinner with my parents on a sunset ride around Sarasota Bay on the night before they headed north and home.

We played games in the evenings: Cover Your Assets with two decks and teams.

We made new friends who treated us to great pizza and shared their home with us.

We cleaned our house and did all the laundry, turned in our rental vehicle full of sand, and boarded a plane that got us back to Pennsylvania in two hours.

We drove home from Pittsburgh in a steady rain, and it kept raining the whole next day, and it is raining again today, but we are not going to complain, because we hope the sun will come again for us too.

We are happy to be home!

I am allowed…

… to eat marshmallow peeps at Easter because I like them.

… to have a flip flop collection, and to wear them in the snow when I get the mail. If there is any snow, that is.

… to hang a hammock in February and lie in it on every sunny day.

… to sleep on my husband’s side of the bed when he’s on night shift, just because it feels different than my side of the bed.

… to paint any room I want to paint.

… to throw away clothes that make me feel ugly.

… to dote on my chickens and buy them treats.

… to keep buying children’s books even though my children are not little anymore.

… to put as much cream in my decaf coffee as I want.

… to rearrange the furniture in my house when I need a fresh look, even if it’s the same furniture and the same house and other people think that’s funny.

… to decline politely when I don’t want to play a board game, specifically Monopoly or Life.

… to be a word nerd and make lists of good words and think about ways to put them together.

… to spend money on a writing course and take time to practice what I’m learning.

… to plant flowers everywhere in the garden, even in the vegetable rows.

… to laugh at my wobbly shopping cart wheel and show others how hilarious it is.

… to cry when I’m reading a book that touches my heart or singing a song that expresses my longings.

…to hide the Cadbury mini eggs and dole them out bit by bit so that they last for a while, because the Easter season has the best candy.

… to walk the two miles to the garage to pick up a vehicle that has now been fixed for the very last time, I hope.

My walking buddy

Last night one of our writing prompts was “I am allowed,” and that’s where my thoughts went. Are there things you’re allowed?..

The Short Month Recap

Obviously, I did not post every day in February (despite doing a lot more writing practice than usual) like I used to in the good old days when I had five little kids and stayed home all the time. Now I have five big kids, one coming for visits occasionally, four of them hanging about daily with ideas and plans and schedules. They help me with the housework, and yet I do not have the time or mental space I used to have for blogging. I also tend to pick up projects and volunteer for things because it seems I should easily be able to get them done with all my helpers. I ask myself what in the world I was thinking, but then I just up and do the thing or assign it to the girls. I actually really like this stage in life, flagging energy levels or no.

I just made the tenth run in two weeks to pick up a vehicle at the garage. Our aging Suburban has been having glitches with the four-wheel drive, and we didn’t want to go into winter with a helpless whale of a vehicle. Here we are on a 61° day in March, and the four-wheel drive is still not fixed, and the part that hopefully will fix it is on order. For the third time. We’ve also had Gregory’s car in and out, working on bits of restoration. We’re dealing with three different garages, all within 2 miles of our house. They’re great people. They do what they can, test it out, refer us to someone else who can maybe fix it, who then orders parts and we pick up the vehicle until the part comes, then take it back. And that’s what happens when you have old cars. Thankfully it still runs fine, just occasionally in four-wheel with no option of switching it when you don’t need it.

I laugh every time we drive out our lane that is lined with reflective posts to show where the snow plow should drive. That is, if we even had any snow. Last year we kept getting snowed under deep enough that it was just our best guess where Gabriel should plow the lane. We weren’t going to let that happen this year! Hilarious, how we manage or try to manage, and then there you are, with the muddiest, rainiest four months of winter you can imagine. (And you really cannot even imagine the mud unless you live it.)

We have decided that we absolutely must do something about the lane, which is sinking into elongated potholes along all the wheel tracks. No amount of surface fixing will suffice. Last spring after all the gravel we had spread on our lane had disappeared below the surface of the earth, I enlisted the troops in bringing up creek gravel by the bucketfuls in the trailer we pull behind the lawn tractor. We have endless supplies of that, and I hoped some large pebbles would firm up the situation somewhat. It was a fail. The pebbles went the way of the 2B limestone before it.

The little girl I babysit loves the Henry and Mudge story called Puddle Trouble. She thinks our lane is puddle trouble and she isn’t wrong. I’m guessing by the time we get it fixed, we’ll hit a winter with Sub-Zero temperatures and rock hard surfaces for months.

The daily question. Which will it be? It was 71 degrees the day before I took this picture.
( And yes, our front porch is that dirty. And yes, I care, but it is what it is. When you come, feel free to wipe your feet on the welcome mat.)

The girls set up the trampoline again, and we have two hammocks strung in the yard. That way we can enjoy the every-other-day warmth, and on the in-between times we can make a fire in our fireplace. Have I mentioned, it is hilarious. My children think it’s the lamest winter they’ve ever heard of, and my cousins who moved up from Kentucky to Pennsylvania say winter here is either bipolar or menopausal. They aren’t wrong either.

I did something new this week, that I couldn’t believe I was doing. It wasn’t even on my bucket list of being a chicken owner. I found myself with a hen who was having problems. Have you ever heard of vent gleet? I’m not surprised, I hadn’t either. As per internet instructions, I found myself tenderly soaking a chicken’s bottom in warm water, cleaning her off, and putting ointment on her sore (you guessed it) vent. I am happy to say the treatment worked, and she’s doing much better.

Last week the girls helped me deep clean the kitchen: cabinets, pantry, and the netherworld behind the stove. I told them if they find something we haven’t used in the last year, they should set it aside so that I can decide on it’s usefulness. This is a very different process from deciding if things “spark joy,” more like seeing if they deserve lebensraum. A few things went to the storage room in the basement, but in general I was pleased that the worst we encountered was crumbs and dust. Well, I don’t want to talk about the space under the stove.

I decided not to start my own garden plants inside the house this year. We plant to do some traveling, and it would be unnecessarily complicated to keep them alive. There are some very deserving greenhouse owners close by who will get my patronage. That said, I have been resorting to looking at pictures of the garden to bolster my hope that green will soon come to the land. The photo on the left was July. The one on the right is today.

The present colorless landscape requires all the fortitude my soul can summon, and a lot of supernatural work in my spirit, too. When we have blue skies, my heart expands. I can feel it. Things become possible. Green really will return. Meanwhile, how about some more tea?

Sunday Rest

I built a cremation pyre for a chicken today, and I’m very concerned that it could have succumbed to bird flu. When I took scraps out to the hens after lunch, there she was, a motionless pile of buff feathers while all her sisters crowded around urgently for their treats.

I’ve never thought about chicken health much. We had a flock of thirty at one time, and it wasn’t a big deal if one bit the dust. Now I only have eight hens and I take their health seriously. My pets that give me eggs are not supposed to die. (So actually now I only have seven.) I inspected them carefully, saw absolutely no signs of illness. Gabriel says it was probably just a fluke, but I’ll be holding my breath for a few days. I cremated Buffy under a big pile of wood scraps to keep her from being food for scavengers.

Usually Sundays are lovely days. In the smallish space where we gather to worship, the singing lifted the roof this morning. We had a Sunday school lesson about The End Times and how we aren’t born to be earth dwellers. I love this! In the end, we citizens of heaven win. The message was a thought provoking one on Forgiveness.

Today I thought about how wonderful it is to not feel so much like a stranger anymore after church. I have found it to be really hard to uproot, get to know new people, and figure out where I fit. There are nuances within nuances within a community, and until you have a bit of context, it’s just awkward. (Do you hug people you hardly know? What if you’re really happy to see them, but they aren’t the hugging type? How do you have a conversation with a person you see every weekend, but don’t know?) I hate feeling awkward, and it has taken me two years to get over it and just get on with the process.

The girls did all manner of switching: going home with friends, bringing friends home this afternoon. I had put a whole roasting hen in the oven before church, and a bunch of scrubbed potatoes, so the food was ready, except for some hasty salad chopping. When it’s a day Gabriel has to work, we eat pizza or leftovers out of the fridge, but not this day. It’s a celebration and that requires some effort. Addy even lit the candles on the table.

After the chicken carcass burning episode, I decided on a nap. I just woke myself up with a snore, a most disconcerting thing. Was that noise actually me? Gabriel assured me that it was. I think it’s time for a walk in the brilliant sunshine, see what Addy and her little friend are doing.

What about you? How do you rest on Sundays?

Little Things

We have a ritual of going together to feed the chickens and check for eggs when she is being babysat here. There’s a tiny basket for her to carry the eggs back to the house after we have petted the tame hens and fed them dry bread crusts.

The mud was so spectacular that it splashed when we crossed the lane, but there was warmth in the air and she wanted to stay out for a long time. Since her sparkly pink boots had layers of mud and chicken poo on them, I figured it couldn’t get worse. She joined me for a meander down the trails and we took time to look at little things. Minnows in shallow water, shiny pebbles that got stashed in coat pockets, holes in the ground where creatures dig and live. We stopped for a while and listened to a bird singing, and decided that it was probably so happy because it found a worm in the mud.

When it was time to go inside, we tracked back and forth in a melting snowbank to try to clean our boots. We scrambled some eggs for our lunch, and she wanted to run the spatula and the salt shaker both. She’s not quite three, and I am reminded how much I have always loved this stage. Loved it for the simplicity and the bright ideas and the budding personality.

Yesterday she had a total meltdown, the mother of meltdowns, and I thought about how I would have handled this in my own babies, but it’s different when it’s someone else’s child. I held her until it subsided, then we read a story while the hiccups turned to sniffles. When all was calm I looked into that dear little face and told her firmly that she will not get what she wants when she pitches a fit at my house. She nodded solemnly.

Today we had a few differences of opinion, especially when I was not inclined to go back outside or to play hide and seek at nap time. The foot lifted to start stomping, but I was the authority in this situation and I reminded her that we do not kick and scream at our house. She remembered. She is very smart.

I had flashbacks to taking walks with all five of my children, toiling up the steep ridge on our switchback trails, hauling the littlest one on my back and letting the others grab onto my skirt. I did it for refreshment back then, to get out into the air, to look at another world outside our walls. Sometimes we even found mushrooms we could eat as a bonus.

I think I had a vague hope that my children would learn to go to the outdoors for recreation, and I feel so gratified that they often do that without prompting. (Not everything I strive to teach has taken hold, I must say.) They observe the sky and tell me about the hawk they saw catching a starling. They go fishing, and build ever more sophisticated shelters out of sticks and tarps. They climb cliffs and hike with their friends, and ski when we have snow (which isn’t so much this winter).

I do not regret one minute of that time, not the cockle burrs stuck in the sweaters, or the nuts stashed in my pockets, or the water bottles that were always empty when the thirst was the most desperate. The muddy boot smears on my jacket from carrying a tired tot don’t matter. The rock collections that I thought might sink me did not in fact sink me, nor did the pet snakes. That was a close one, though. And of all things, the four walls stayed put, as did any chores we left undone while we were outside.

Today I was really tired when the little girl went home. I thought about what has changed in my life, and what hasn’t changed. I still need recreation outdoors. So today I hung a hammock and lay in the sun with a quilt to keep me warm, and I was as happy as the bird that maybe found a worm.

Readathon Monday

It started when the girls were protesting a few years ago about never taking off school on snow days. There isn’t really a point to taking a snow day when you’re at home anyway, but we devised a plan for an annual reading fest.

This morning was our day. The snow was sifting down lightly, blanketing the earth that was bared by yesterday’s warmth and rain. It was so fine that you couldn’t see it unless you looked toward the dark pines, and it accumulated very slowly, just enough to compel the salt trucks and plows to make regular passes on the road.

Rita’s bird feeder was a place of constant motion, little birds all puffed up, flitting from the poplars down to the black oil sunflower seed buffet whenever there was even a small gap in the traffic. There’s a big cardinal population, the startling red flashes all around in the jaggerbushes which is northwestern PA speak for briars. These cardinals are supposed to be territorial, unless there is so much food that they don’t need to fight each other for it. One day we counted twelve at the feeder, so I guess there’s plenty of food around here.

Addy built a fire in the fireplace, stacking up scraps of 2x4s and wetter wood on top. She’s an accomplished little fire-maker, and the crackling was so loud that I hardly noticed when the teapot burbled its boiling sound.

The one rule of our readathon day is that the reading is for pleasure, which means chatty people must be quiet. We settled in with cups of tea and our favorite current books. Olivia has been reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series, and could not find the fourth one at the library. I noticed that she succumbed to reading the fifth one today, though it pains her orderly self to read them out of order. Rita is reading through the Mysterious Benedict Society, in a story grip that I rarely see in her. Her choice of reading tends to be nonfiction, nature guides, and survival manuals, but I guess these stories could count as survival tales. Addy’s following right behind her, reading the first big book in the series, and woe be to us if she catches up. The scrapping over shared books can be bewildering at best. (That’s my bookmark and she moved it!)

Addy settled into her chair with an entire pot of peppermint tea on the stand beside her, pouring cup after cup, sipping with a satisfaction that caused the older girls to roll their eyes at me. But they stayed quiet, except for occasional shoving matches to establish territories on the couch.

The parakeets chirped and the pillar candles on the mantle sputtered, giving off a delicate sugar cookie scent. I bought them on clearance without checking them properly, but the scent is almost vanilla, so we could bear it. Periodically I threw some large logs onto the fire to keep it going, resettled into the recliner with my feet toward the fire. I could read a page in my book, feel the warmth on my feet, and look out the window at intervals. It was the best of all the worlds.

Rita broke the silence with occasional monologues about things like how annoyed she gets when people say, “Shake your head yes.” Addy snitched my seat when I went outside to feed the chickens and she wiggled on the squeaky leather chair. A lot. The only noise Olivia made was page turning and nose blowing, and “Be quiet! I want to read!”

And that is how the day went. It was utterly delicious. My aunt and I have been having some dialog in past comments about enjoying winter properly. I think she would approve of this day. ☺️

Buy the Tulips, a List for Winter

I’ve been thinking a lot about surviving during the long, dark days of winter, even thriving. I have a short list of things that do NOT help, and the top of the list is

  • Aimlessness
  • Accumulated dirt
  • Staying housebound
  • Disorganized snow gear
  • Too much screen time
  • Strict dieting
  • Overwhelming projects
  • Navel-gazing about all the things that are wrong in my life
  • PollyAnna chirping, “I’m so glad I’m not being exposed to harmful UV rays”
  • At the end of the day, the weariness of winter is a thing, the brain fog is a thing, and the temptation to sin with my attitudes is a thing. Facing the challenge and admitting it is not a sin, however. When my mom gave me a stack of notepads from my Grandma’s stash, I found one with this poem on the back:
Grandma lived in Wisconsin and every year she faced this battle.

My list for coping skills is long and detailed, because I have given it much thought over the years, and probably written about it before. I have tried to condense it so I don’t fatigue you with my lofty thoughts.

  • Keep rhythms, but let them be slow
  • Plan fun things like tea parties and game nights
  • Put lights everywhere, twinklies, candles, full-spectrum bulbs
  • Eat sensibly; embrace comfort foods and bright flavors
  • Buy fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits
  • Go to the library often
  • Make gardening plans and order seeds
  • Have spots of color around your house: quilts, throw pillows, pretty dishes
  • Wear cheerful clothes
  • Buy proper gear so that you can
  • Get out of the house every day and
  • Go skating or sledding or just walking in the fresh air
  • Simmer potpourri
  • Play upbeat music
  • Collect houseplants for your windowsills
  • Feed the birds, learn to identify them, keep lists
  • Make things with beautiful yarn or paints
  • Take supplements for the vitamins and minerals you lack
  • Spend unhurried time with friends
  • Bring home some tulips from the grocery store
  • Accept: this is a season and it will pass

That list is what rises to the top when I think about leaning into wintertime. It’s customized to our household. Not everybody is blessed by quilts and bright yellow teapots. I’m sure you have your own coping skills.

Often I don’t realize that my hands are hanging down and my knees are feeble until the slump has gotten hold of me (about the 75th cloudy day in January). It becomes a spiritual battle; I spread it before the Lord, and He graces me with ideas and resources to deal with what is here, this very day, in this place I am called to be. As a keeper of my home, I have choices. I can ooze into the mud or look for the light. And slowly the days get longer and hope rises.

Buy the tulips, my friends.