wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Fleeting Things

mother-bakes-cupcakes

And while you think on that, I would like to show you the art of David Zinn, who draws on sidewalks with chalk, knowing that it will wash away with the next rain. (If you have Instagram, go follow him. It’s a long gallery of fascination with what is obviously in front of me and what could be there, as well.) His townfolk of Ann Arbor starting noticing charming little creatures peeking at them from cracks in walls and the realistic “sky holes” he would sneakily draw underfoot. Now his work has become quite famous, due to social media and internet reports from people surprised by the unexpected, placed free, for their pleasure. From his website I quote:

“David’s temporary street art is composed entirely of chalk, charcoal and found objects, and is always improvised on location. ”

I love the impracticality of doing something enchanting just for the joy of doing it and bringing joy to others.

Leave a comment »

Love Is…

Today I needed to shuttle Olivia to a dentist appointment, so I took my Little A along too. I gave up on my audio book within a few minutes and just chattered with my girls. “I am SO GLAD that it’s not sloppy-floppy on Valentine’s Day,” Addy said. (She really does talk in CAPITALS.) We talked about love and marriage.

Olivia wants a house with a wraparound porch to entertain visitors, and a creek nearby for her children. That is, if she gets married, but maybe she will try a tiny house first because they are less work and everything is arranged so neatly.

Addy wants a humongous yellow house with pink shutters and golden doorknobs. Also ten horses, but if her husband isn’t rich, then just two horses would be fine. She kind of doubts that she will want to marry anybody, actually, when she really thinks about it. Besides, she is too little.

How can one girl and one boy fall in love and spawn 5 such opposite people? I thought opposites are just two things, like cold and warm, but it turns out that there are a lot more than two opposites when you start categorizing personalities. It can be a little disorienting to think you have a certain facet of parenting figured out, only to discover that you are back at base 1 with the next baby. But it’s never boring. Oh, no, never that.

I asked the children for help with a Love Is… list. I will start with Gregory (Alex was skiing, plus he wouldn’t have ventured a peep if he had gotten wind that I was gathering material for a blog post) and end with Addy, who spouted truisms faster than I could write them.

pexels-photo-264980

Love Is…

  • a penguin fasting for months while incubating an egg. -G
  • a chick nestled under its mother’s wing. -G
  • going on a date with Papa and eating pancakes every time. -O
  • when Mama gives me a cup of tea after my math lesson is done. -O
  • cleaning the bathroom. -O
  • throwing a stick over and over for your dog. -O
  • when a chicken lays an egg for your breakfast. -O
  • Mama showing me how to cook spaghetti and meatballs.  -O
  • a soft flannel quilt that you made for our bed. -R
  • helping me make a doll with fabric scraps. -R
  • my big sister making me a purse. -R
  • when we are allowed to play “rish-rosh” in the house.  -R
  •  a long story at nap time. -A
  • when Mama lets you light a candle by yourself. -A
  • kisses on your cheek. -A
  • when Papa takes me on a canoe ride. -A
  • being allowed to swim. -A
  • looking at the stars. -A
  • when I go along out to the barn to gather eggs. -A
  • Mama taking me on a special date (McDonald’s drive-through) while the other kids are on a field trip. -A
  • letting me pick my nose. -A
  • Papa tucking me in at bedtime and asking me if I had a good day. -A

My children appear to have very homely ideas about love. Houses, eggs, dogs, food, and being allowed to tear around or hone bad habits. And that flamboyant small one… Oh dear, but it is a thrilling ride to parent her!

Our Valentine’s Day was (mostly) that sort of loving. There was sunshine and bike rides in it! There was a supper that was a joint effort, with one person making salad and one setting the table and one cutting lemon wedges and spooning sour cream into a pretty dish, and one snitching bits, and one mother trying to keep her sanity and actually succeeding. We ended with stories and chocolate fondue for all. Also. A BIG ALSO, the man of the house is home this week, and I wish you could have heard how calmly bedtime went down.

Maybe we will get a date later this week, but at any rate we are happy to be doing life together, all of it, ordinary and thrilling alike.

4 Comments »

Stalling

We have always been sticklers for early bed for the children, but all the rituals must be properly attended to or disaster would surely befall before morning. In my mind it is Lame Excuse Time. It is not unusual for the huggy child to come to my bedside when I am drifting off and say, “I think we forgot the kiss and the hug,” even though I clearly recall her nearly strangling me earlier. Someone might have a scratchy throat and need a throat drop. The one who chews her fingernails gets painful hangnails that require bandaids so they don’t catch in the covers. Sometimes after bed is when the fear bogeys come out and we need to pray again. The boys are hungry again with frightening predictability. It feels like it can drag on for the longest time, and it makes me so much more tired than I already am.

We have friends who let their children stay up until they drop, then they put them into their beds. “You make it too hard for yourselves,” they say. “We just don’t pick that battle.” I don’t know how long ours would keep going if we let them make their own bedtime, but I value the feeling of everything squared away and everyone tucked in enough to push through the daily dose of small rituals that cannot be ignored.

Today was action packed, with warm sunshine that had the children out shooting targets with homemade bows and arrows, and tea-partying in their play house. They procrastinated on their chore lists because it was “too nice to work”. There were still a lot of things not scratched off the list when supper was over. I had resisted the urge to just do them quickly myself. Instead, I strolled along on Instagram for a while before I balanced the budget with the credit card statement. I too, have my stalling tactics. Then I cleaned the bathroom. The living room wasn’t vacuumed, but the person responsible insisted they would do it just as soon as it gets dark. I can make them feel guilty by picking up the slack, but again I resisted and just stayed in the kitchen, washing the big dishes that didn’t fit into the dishwasher.

After my shower tonight, I saw a text from my husband at work, saying that some friends have overripe produce for our pigs. I went to pick it up, but apparently it had already been cleared away, being so late and all, so I went to the gas station instead and filled up the tank on the Sub. When I got back the smaller boy still had not found his Sunday school book and the middle girl was still playing in the tub with her hair not washed and the small girl was weeping about everything because she was so exceeding tired.

We mired through drinks and teeth brushing and repeated trips to the potty, because “What if I pee myself in the night?” Unfortunately when it was time to crawl in, the bottom bunk needed a complete overhaul because Rita left her bunny on the bed for a few hours while she ran out to play. It is not house-trained and made an astonishingly large puddle that penetrated all the way to the waterproof mattress cover. I told them to strip it and tossed them a clean sheet, then  went to the kitchen to wash the eggs that the late chore-boy had brought in. He finally did his vacuuming, a little apologetically. Ten minutes later the sheet was still not on, because the “corners are impossible” and there were meltdown tears (not mine, theirs) and another potty break.

Tonight the nightlight wouldn’t work and the water bottle was empty and I did not let them listen to My Story Hour because it’s Saturday. The teddies were in the wrong beds and the favorite blankets were in the laundry basket and the hugs got kind of shortened. I wish I knew how to make it all sweetness and light. Sometimes I see those illustrations of a child falling asleep while the parent reads them a story in the serene lamplight and I wonder… Since I am often on my own at night, I could use some tips. Do you make it fun? Have time limits? Discipline dawdling? Please tell me how you do bedtime. I am genuinely interested.

At any rate, we will be delighted to see each other in the morning, all fresh and basking in the new mercies that we count on every day.

 

 

 

12 Comments »

Houses of my Childhood

3d068c91b49b270ec8e822b802acde0f

(painting by Grandma Moses)

 

When I was a tot, we lived in a tiny house that would probably be best described as a Kentucky shack. It was at the end of my grandparent’s lane and the only clear memory I have of that house, seeing we moved when I was about 2, is of my dad having to stoop a little when he came in the front door, and my mom washing dishes at the sink. All the people who really mattered in my life were right there.

The next house was an aging two story close to a rail road track, where my parents made their living with a barn full of brood sows. I have a few vivid memories of that house: the phone was a bright blue color with a long twisty cord. There was a dresser in the living room where I couldn’t reach my binky (Yes, you read that right. I remember my pacifier with fondness.) and I would stand there and beg at bedtime until my dad would get it for me. My older brother and I slept upstairs in a room that was small even for children. There was a heat register hole in the floor that chilled us with the possibility of a scary person we called Viola coming out to look at us while we slept. I remember that the wall paper was peeling and the floor boards were uneven. But my dad would pray with us and tuck us in, and all would be well. When the bottom fell out of the hog market in about ’81, we moved again. It had been so much fun to watch the trains go by. We missed that.

This time we lived in my grandparent’s basement for a while. I can still smell the damp of that basement and see the curtain-wall made out of an old blanket around our mattress. My brothers and I were big enough to bring the cows to the barn at milking time, but my uncles did all the other chores and we watched. When they sold out and relocated to Wisconsin, we moved upstairs into their house while my dad worked at a nearby pallet mill and built a new house just a mile up the road. My room upstairs was bright green, with matching curtains. My little sister’s crib was in my room, and she had a decal of a little sheep on the end of it. The attic steps were endlessly fascinating, the way they pulled out of a hole in the ceiling. Sometimes my mom would bring down a very special doll of hers out of the attic so that I could look at it and marvel at the beautiful clothes and shoes she still had for it, but it always had to go back up to the attic for safekeeping with the ladder folded and snapped shut. Right beside the carport there was a sprawling mimosa tree that I liked to sit in when it was fuzzy full of blooms. It was a good place to live, with mature shade trees all around.

It took a while for our new house to get built, since my dad did a lot of the work himself. It seemed palatial to my 7 year-old self when we moved in. There was a blue bedroom for the boys, a green bedroom for the girls, a lavender guest room, and the kitchen was a sunny yellow. It had an avocado green toilet, sink and tub in the one bathroom because a friend offered them at a discount. A local carpenter had made the cabinets, very simple and practical, with a bar at one end where I sat every day to have my hair braided while I fussed and winced about the pain. The floors were linoleum, a pattern with little rocks that was genius for hiding dirt. There was a walk-in pantry, which was the ultimate in kitchen luxury! Mom did the laundry in an attached wash house, in a wringer washer. We stored our canned goods in the basement, and once when I went down for a jar of applesauce, I stepped barefooted on a little frog and slipped sideways on the slick concrete. The dirt in our new garden was bright red clay and my mom struggled to get anything to grow well. We planted a row of little maple saplings, but the house stood alone on a little knoll. The best thing about it was the neighbors who had children our ages. We all walked to school together and hurried through our after-school chores so that we could play. Then they all moved away and our neighborhood felt lonely.

After two years, we moved too, this time all the way to Pennsylvania. It was a huge step for my parents, to leave the Amish community and step out in faith. What we children really wanted was a small farm, but our new “temporary” home was a summer cottage along a creek. The former owners had closed in a screened porch with walls of windows, at one end of which my brothers had a curtained corner, 8 feet by 8 feet. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to find a farm right away, my dad built a wall for their room. My sister and I had a bedroom with wooden louvers in the doors, and we had to be very careful about placing our furniture so that we could walk around the bed. The house had paneling with pictures of antiques in the dining area. The living room was just tan patterned panelling and the drapes were a novelty for us, with chains to pull them shut. There was a teeny kitchen with mirrored panels over the sink where normally there is a window. We made faces at ourselves while we washed dishes, until my mom pasted up an inspirational poster so that we could only see the edges of ourselves doing dishes. For the first time we had a microwave and we thought it the easiest way to make popcorn ever. We also had carpet, a luxury for folks fresh from the Amish. It was mottled brown and orange and smelled like dogs. My mom shampooed that carpet repeatedly before she let us lie on it. For some reason it didn’t occur to them to tear it out. When there was a huge flood that came within inches of flowing in our doors, my dad hired a man to jack up the house and lay blocks to put it out of flood plain. Dad built sturdy decks so that we could spend evenings outside and hang our wet swimming clothes on the railings.. We ended up living in that cottage 7 years until a farm needing a lot of TLC came on the market. It had been amazing to live right there by the water. Our spot was the kind of place where other people went on vacation.

We children were ecstatic at the prospect of each having a bedroom after renovations at the farmhouse, but that had to wait.We cleaned and painted and moved in. There was a wraparound porch with a few holes that needed to be patched, and then we hung a swing. The storm windows came out of storage with the cold weather, but even so the curtains would waft gently when the gales blew across the valley. When it was time to scrape old wallpaper and tear down walls, there was plenty of help, since all four of us were teenagers by then. We eventually all got our bedrooms and a new kitchen, this one designed by a professional cabinet maker. We had lots of room to have the entire youth group over, plus a cabin on the hill for cookouts or camping, or dates even. It is a place I remember with great fondness; it was the house where we came home to after short flights of independence. Things stayed the same there, our space was our own, and enough of it to share. I left for good when I got married at 24, and that was good too.

Tomorrow I will attempt to get to the point. 🙂 Hang in there.

 

 

12 Comments »

Thursday in the Life…

…of an ordinary woman who tries to be faithful in that which is least, but mostly it’s just stuff that has to be done so her people don’t starve or join the anarchists.

7:30-9:00

  • Wake up with a start and realize that the midnight chat with your husband after brothers’ meeting has you off to a late start already. That’s all good, because you signed up for this flexibility when you decided to educate the kids at home.
  • Get dressed, fill the teakettle with water for coffee, start the cream of wheat cooking because fewer people fuss about that than oatmeal.
  • Read your Bible at the kitchen counter while you wait for the water to boil. Discuss the parable of the rich man and Lazarus with your husband. Press the coffee.
  • Ahhhh. Coffee.
  • Call the children. Direct the kitchen helper to make toast and set the table.
  • Blend a protein berry shake and eat breakfast.
  • Hand out morning chores to the children and finish your coffee.
  • Brush and braid little girls’ hair.

9:00-10:00

  • Send the older three children down to their desks to start their assignments.
  • Jot a quick note to a friend.
  • Wander through the kitchen and do a quick tune-up of crumbs missed on the countertops.
  • Wander into bathroom to brush teeth. Brush with right hand and do a counter wipe with left hand.
  • Dig wash out of the hamper where the short people can’t reach.
  • Go downstairs and sort laundry; start a huge load washing.
  • Settle at your desk and field questions; coach dictionary skills for the 3rd grader.
  • Organize the first grader’s papers and call her away from her drawing. Admire her picture of a farm, complete with canary cages on top of the rabbit hutches.

10:00-11:00

  • Teach first grader her 12’s addition and subtraction family. Work on her arithmetic until she can power along on her own with her worksheets.
  • Do speed drills; coach cursive writing.
  • Help the dictionary child again. Tell her brother to stop volunteering how to spell words. She is supposed to look them up!
  • Admire the poem the boy wrote and feel secretly amused because of how often he has protested that he doesn’t need to study Language since he will never be a writer.
  • Talk on the phone with Mom for a while.

11:00-12:00

  • Clean up the sewing area, (which is handily situated right next to the classroom) where a pile of mending converges with scraps from canvas slippers, stuffed foxes, and embroidery projects. Only the mending is yours; pull children one by one to clean up their own messes and send them promptly back to school.
  • Sew the L shaped tear in the flannel sheet. Alter the little girl’s Goodwill dress with some elastic in the huge neckline. Iron a patch onto the khaki cargo pants that are too nice to pitch.
  • Change the laundry loads, out of washer, into dryer, another huge load into washer.
  • Do some quick swipes with the iron and put it away.

12:00-1:00

  • Dispatch the son on kitchen duty to make quesadillas. Serve them with leftover chef salad.
  • Enjoy the sensation of all sitting around the table at lunch, chatting about the day.
  • Assign cleanup to the girls, since it’s just paper plates and forks anyway.

1:00-2:00

  • Take the boys back to class to finish up assignments.
  • Take your daily dose of algebra instruction. Find yourself pleasantly surprised at how it is starting to all make sense. Pinch yourself a little.
  • Quiz the 6th grader for his geography bee.
  • Change out loads of laundry again.

2:00-3:00

  • Sweep the kitchen floor before your sister-in-law gets to your house.
  • Sit and drink tea with your sister-in-law for a while. Snuggle the sweet little baby and chat about anything and everything.

3:00-4:00

  • Mix up a custard and put it into the oven.
  • Dress warmly and head out for a 30 minute walk.
  • Listen to The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias while you bask in the sudden rays that burst from the clouds.
  • Watch the turkeys in the field and the hawk soaring above it.
  • Wave at the neighbors.
  • Get home just in time to take the custard out of the oven. Scour the fridge for supper. No joy. Oh well, you have a plan.

IMG_20170202_154744992_HDR.jpg

4:00-5:00

  • Remind your son that he has a guitar lesson tonight.
  • Briefly connect with your husband and feel grateful that he is home so you don’t have to haul everybody across the mountain to the lesson.
  • Load up the milk jugs to fill at a friend’s place.
  • Stop for cheap cereal at the little discount grocery store en-route.

5:00-6:00

  • Drop your son off at the teacher’s house.
  • Browse at a nearby fabric store for the happy feeling it supplies.
  • Buy a lovely piece of twill with some Christmas money. Also white thread and black thread since the children have used up every scrap of it for their projects, which you didn’t know until you went to do mending and had to use bobbins and hope they wouldn’t empty before you were done.
  • Impulse buy a rusty tin sign that says, “Life is beautiful.” Because Christmas money.
  • Yawn and yawn on the way home. Listen as your son explains how spies can tell if someone is watching them by faking a yawn.
  • Arrive home to a surprise. The little girls have folded their laundry and vacuumed the living room. Praise them extravagantly.

6:00-7:00

  • Serve cereal for supper. Yup. Cold. Plenty of milk, plenty of Kix, and even some “chocolate frosted sugar bombs”. Everybody loves you.
  • Do dishes while your husband and sons finish the chores in the barn.
  • Fold the laundry that was too challenging for the girls to do.
  • Read stories to the little girls and record their reading challenge times for the day. Olivia: 2 hours. Rita and Addy: 1/2 hour.

Call it a day.

7 Comments »

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.

rita

“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!

barn-in-winter

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.

12 Comments »

Efficiency Tips for Martha

We all need more white space to ponder and pray and take care of the really important things, right? And how, we ask, do we make this space to be like Mary? The stuff to do keeps coming at us and it isn’t going to quit anytime soon. I have compiled a list of things I have learned about keeping house. These are tips for homemakers, okay? Don’t laugh if you have never been one and maybe you think we just sit and drink tea. You. have. no. idea.

  • Never go up or down steps without checking if there is something that needs to be carried up or down. The same goes for room to room. Don’t step over the brush in the hallway 11 times. Scoop it up and put it into the bathroom while you are walking that direction anyway. It’s a lot easier than mounting a full scale search party when it’s time to brush your child’s hair before church.
  • Throw away ALL junk mail immediately. If it’s a company with a website, don’t keep the catalogs. If it’s a Lego or American Girl catalog, let the children look at it until it is soggy with drool, then immediately bury it deep under the eggshells in the trashcan.
  • If there’s a load of laundry, just do it. Don’t ever worry about running out of laundry. Keep your used towels and washcloths in a separate basket/hamper so you can do them often and avoid that stinky, musty smell.
  • Do not put stacks of folded laundry on beds or on top of dressers. It might take 20 seconds to open the drawers and put them away. The same 20 second rule applies to hanging up coats instead of draping them over the nearest chair. Buy hooks until every piece of outerwear has a place to hang out when you aren’t wearing it.
  • Do not store stuff you don’t need or have no sentimental attachment to. If your cupboards or closets are stuffed, sort through them and donate anything you haven’t used for a year to someone who will be grateful for it. (Or put it in storage out of sight.) Stuff can seriously bog you down, did you know that? If you have stuff that nobody would want, well… what are you doing with it?
  • Buy a tote for each child to store their sentimental keepsakes in. Help them decide what they want to keep when you are deep cleaning their room. (Within reason. Some children cannot seem to part with anything! But they probably won’t ever look at those Sunday school papers from 10 years of childhood. Sometimes you just have to disappear things. Unless, of course, you have access to unlimited space for totes.)
  • Keep your fridge organized. It is so much easier to find the ketchup if the ketchup has a spot to live in the fridge. This is not to say that the absent-minded child won’t stand there and gape for the longest time before they find the ketchup. Also, it is much easier to use up food before it spoils if it is visible in the fridge. Buy clear storage dishes. Odds are pretty high that leftovers stored in old cottage cheese containers will grow mold.
  • Avoid ironing clothes if at all possible. Learn how to tumble-dry the permanent press clothes and hang them on hangers while they are still damp. If you forget to get them out of the dryer and they get sadly wrinkly in there, just give them a quick rinse cycle and try again. Life is too short to spend hours ironing.
  • Mulch your garden heavily. And your flowerbeds. Mulch everything. Put newspapers under the mulch. Do not let those weeds come up and spread their noxious seeds.
  • Invest in cleaning tools that your children can use, preferably tools they fight for the privilege of using! That mop with the little water tank that squirts out when you press the trigger?.. Those microfiber window cleaning cloths?..The fun feather duster? Even the Lysol wipes… All these things will make your life much easier than just scrubbing away with a rag cut out of old shorts. Seriously.
  • Delegate. If a child can do it, then let them do it. See above. ^^^Learn to be okay with imperfection.
  • Have a pair of scissors/gluestick/tape roller/sharpie that is verboten to all but yourself. So many motions are wasted while we scurry hither and yon, tracking down the missing household item that someone carted off to make a kite in the garden. I know this.
  • Whenever it is practical, double up your meal prep and freeze the extra. If you are frying a pound of burger, you might as well fry 5 pounds and freeze 4 of them for later use. When you have chicken, make bone broth in the crock pot overnight and serve it with the leftover bits of chicken in a nourishing soup the next day. Make friends with one-dish meals.
  • Keep a schedule, as loose or tight as you need to feel happy. If you know that Thursday is downstairs cleaning day, you can calm down about the mess on Wednesday because you know it will get hit the next day.

Of course, these things do not mean you don’t have to work hard to keep your home free of chaos. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. Ever heard that one? You can then discover a little pool of white space and just enjoy it. Maybe you can find a piece of paper, or if you are artsy, you can get some paint and a board and make yourself a motto:

“Smile! It’s life and you’re living it!”

And now, do tell, what are the ways you have learned to simplify your homemaking?

15 Comments »

It’s Been a While

I have been waiting to post until I have time to upload photos and do a proper, pretty post about our long-anticipated anniversary trip to New England. The thing about going away for a week is it takes about 3 weeks to prepare and 3 weeks to catch up. I am not joking.

Pre-trip: Should we stay home and work on our barn before winter? (Probably, but scratch that. You don’t have a 15th anniversary every year.) Are we sufficiently on course with school to take off for 5 days? (Yes and no.) Is the broccoli crop going to burst into flower while we are gone, or should I process it now? (Yes.) Do the children have enough (presentable) underwear and socks? (No.) Is our Air B&B reservation all lined up? (Yes, after days of deliberations about which one we want.) Is our vehicle reliable? (Not without a bunch of oil fed to it every couple hundred miles.) Do we have a dog sitter? (Yes, at the last minute.) What about the mail and the packages that are coming? (Stop the mail.) Shall we take bikes? (Not this time, only to regret it every day.) What about food? (Buy it at Trader Joe’s close to our cabin for less hassle and kind of a lot more $.)

We don’t get out much, especially not without a lot of forethought and planning. It’s what happens with a family, animals, and a job that isn’t terribly flexible. At least, we don’t usually go far. But 15 years is 15 years and we haven’t had a  just-us-two trip for a very long time. We tried to balance the need for some down time with the responsibilities of parenting and decided that 5 days would probably about max out the children and their caregivers. (And their parents. 🙂

So that was the big deal in the beginning of October. Once I find the camera, I will endeavor to post some more photos, but here is a cell pic of the Portland Headlight for your enjoyment.


portland-headlight


We hit leaf peeper season square on target in the White Mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking, and so relaxed. If we were hungry, we ate. If we were tired, we slept. (We did that kind of a lot. Neither of us knew how bone-weary we were until we didn’t have any schedule yapping at our heels.) If it was nice outside, we went on walks. If it rained, we read by the fireplace or watched “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage”. We were so relaxed, in fact, that we lost track of which day we were scheduled to check out of our cabin until the cleaner showed up. I can assure you, after checking our email confirmation to see that we were indeed supposed to be cleared out by noon, we checked out faster than we ever have in our lives. It was feet first back into the real world, running. Somehow we had forgotten that we were planning to start south in the afternoon and get a motel before picking up our scattered crew at various grandparents and aunts and uncles the next day.

Post-trip has been all about battening down the hatches and sealing the leaks before winter. The goats needed to be moved, since their portable pen was on a piece of the neighbor’s property while we were gone and he wanted them off. The lawn needed to be mowed and the weeds whacked down one more time. We only have 5 acres, so it’s very manageable. When we stay home. The last of the plants in the garden kept putting out astounding goodness.


produce-fall


We hopped back into school as well. Alex is doing 9th grade algebra and I am finding myself doing the lessons right along with him most days. He was frustrated and bombing his lessons even after listening to the video teacher. I cannot tutor something I never mastered, and while Gabe is a terrific algebra teacher, he isn’t here all the time to help us out. I am actually enjoying the study and the orderly rows of equations after I have applied the distributive or commutative properties. Alex is not so much into it, but it boosts his morale to have me figuring it out right with him. I am hopeful that with enough practice, it will all become a little more elegant. Right now it’s just time consuming and occasionally it makes us both cross.

Elegant. What a laughable way to describe homeschooling. Somedays I think we all must be a little crazy. There has to be a better way to get an education, no? We are not die-hard homeschoolers, as in “It’s the only way to go, so help us, Lord.” We weigh our choices every year, trying to determine if this is the best fit for our family. So far it has always been the best fit, but elegant it is not. I would describe it more as a mash-up of lovely-learning-is-a-lifestyle with messy-who-let-the-monkeys-out?

Being away from the rush made us both aware that we really belong in the fray of everyday life. As exhausting as it may be, this is the life for us.

I have only one condensed observation to share about being married 15 years: As we were watching the marriage DVD’s we kept looking at each other and laughing, “We know this!” But we didn’t always know; it took a lot of years to figure some things out. (The last session is titled, “How to Stay Married Without Killing Anybody”.  :/ ) The point is, if you are committed to not just making your marriage work, but actually really enjoying it, the years cannot help but become better!


selfie-portland


 

5 Comments »

What Life is Like

We sat outside in the mellow air at 10 PM, talking over the day when Gabe got home from work. His patients had all been nice people, so that was a good day for him. I had done something that bothered me all summer: pressure washed the algae and road dirt off the deck and railings. It took me 5 hours. Then I came into the house and wished I could pressure wash it and just be done. The children had done a clean blitz and it was acceptable, but not optimal for going into the weekend. That was when I just turned around and walked back outside. There is just a limit and I had reached it. In grasping for a  description of how this feels, I told Gabe, “It’s like things just keep flying at you. Like one of those early electronic games we had where you had a bat to hit the balls that got pitched, and the faster you hit them, the faster they came flying. Finally you just die.” Gabe came up with an even better analogy, “No, it’s like Tetris, where you have to stack the blocks and you never know what shape is coming next.” I might add that the more efficiently you stack them, the faster they drop out of nowhere.

I am not sure whether to feel sad that life is like that, or to just KBO. Remember Churchill’s “KBO”? That’s what we have been doing. Like everything. I don’t know of any way to get out of it or I would, trust me.

About every ten years I have an epiphany that changes my life in some way. For example, at 10 I discovered that two people can have the very same name and be totally opposite people. One might be someone I can’t help loving and the other might be someone I didn’t really enjoy, but I couldn’t draw conclusions until I actually got to know them. At 20 I figured out (after those teen periods of agonizing embarrassment) that people really didn’t notice me and my mistakes that much. It was a great relief. Around 30 I made up my mind to make a joyful career of mothering instead of wishing I didn’t have to always be the adult. And now, just before I turn 40, I think I have had a sort of epiphany about more and more work and my relationship with it. It’s unavoidable. Might as well embrace it and take it down.

On a more spiritual note, I think of Matthew 25 and the Parable of the Talents. I used to read that and dream of the day when my “being faithful with a little” would turn into “being set over much”. I am not sure whether the much is referring to the present, or in the Future because they were “entering in to the joy of the Lord”. One point is clear, the slothful person who was afraid to do anything with what he was given was extremely displeasing to his lord.

This brings me to my writing goals and how they just don’t seem to happen. About five years ago I thought that I was supposed to compile a book. Then I accidentally lost three years worth of writing and I will admit, it took the stuffing out of me. I had brainstormed titles, chapters, outlines. All gone. So I just kept blogging and holding it there in my hands, loosely. Now I find I don’t even have time for that anymore. It makes me sad. There have been many days in the last months when I wrote in my head, but yeah. Not so much use in the long term. Add to this the fact that much of what is either tragic or hilarious in my  home life right now involves adolescents whose feelings I will not hurt by sharing confidences online. So I am in this holding pattern and I don’t know…could I eliminate some T-shaped blocks to make room for others? Am I being slothful/undisciplined? Or am I just supposed to wait for a different season to get serious about writing?

Sometimes my desk looks like this when I feel a sudden urge to write (I share in the interests of transparency)

desk

and I feel the creativity flee as I slink away for another time when I have a block of time to get the chaos under control.

Last but not least, I have been reading Calvin Miller and feeling like a very small tadpole in a shallow puddle beside an elegant dolphin who flings shining words about in the ocean. I suppose even a very small tadpole might have things to say, but it seems a little presumptuous. Still, I guess I just did that. It felt good. 🙂

Have a great week, my friends.

8 Comments »

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.

kids on bikes

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.)

 

6 Comments »