The In Between

I looked back through old photos to see just how much documentation I have on the first day of spring. Here we are three years ago, when my baby was still a baby.

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From two years ago, I only have a photo of our resurrection garden. That was the year I lit the candle in the tomb on a Sunday morning before church, then I was so bugged because the sermon was not a resurrection sermon at all. Only later did I figure out that I was a week early.

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From last year, I have our “Back to Spring” party and I remember planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day for the first time ever in my life. Notice my Crocs flip flops on the floor? That is a good sign. And the spring wreath comes out every year. For about 12 years I used a forsythia wreath, then I decided to mix it up with dogwood.

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(I just left the office with my laptop because my husband is working on an assignment with music playing in the background and I cannot think. He can study, listen to music, and text at the same time. He says it’s because he is a Millennial and I am GenX. Haha. I say he is late GenX, so there. Depends who you ask.)

This year we have the snow again. Snow and snow and snow. It is still flurrying lazily as I sit here. We stuck a ruler upright on the picnic table for handy reference yesterday. That is just the barest tip sticking out at 12 inches. Addy and I found it hilarious.

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It’s funny and out of control and not funny and not out of control; may whatever you can get out of that cryptic statement bless you. The small people completely forgot about our annual party. I did too. Shh.

I knew I would be tempted to complain when I saw the weather forecast 2 weeks ago. It’s the time of the year when I am just so over cold and dreariness. I start feeling teary dismay at seeing 5 gloves on the register and 7 on the floor amid mud clumps from the boots. The coat situation, coupled with the jacket situation for the warmer days…It all becomes too much. The dog smells wet  stinks even with bathing and everything is disorganized and cluttered.

So. I know it is not pleasing to God when I complain. I needed a plan or the complaints were going to squeeze out.

I prayed about it one morning and unveiled my brilliant answer to the children at breakfast. Since it was supposed to snow every day for nearly a week, with frigidity prevailing throughout, we would stay very busy, deep cleaning this house one room a day. The responses were not overly enthusiastic, but nobody contested that God answered Mama’s prayer, especially when I explained a plan for bonuses in the allowance per room done well.

We started in the living room. I was super organized for this one. (And I spelled people wrong.) It took us 2 1/2 hours, minus putting up the curtains because they were still in the washer. My children like lists because they can see the end in sight as they check off the tasks.

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The boys had a lot of ideas on the rearrangement of furniture. I kept vetoing their ideas until they were getting offended, so I gave them free rein with the understanding that I can change it up after about a week. We are still sitting in a row along the outer wall after 10 days, so I think it is about my turn to have a go at giving the room the right feel. But the curtains are up now.

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When Addy cleaned out the cracks of the couch, she found Gregory’s Opinel pocket knife that was lost since September. He was one happy boy! Then he promptly lost it again a few days later. I found it in the crack of the love-seat in the schoolroom. Do we see a pattern here?

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We did the bedrooms over a 3 day span. The girls’ room is small and crammed full of treasures. It is really difficult for me to know what to cull and what they may keep, but we eventually managed to make everybody happy. Addy’s outgrown dresses and sweaters got passed on to younger friends. All the wall stickers and coloring pages were removed, and one small dresser got moved into the closet for sweaters and shoes.

The marvel of this house is the closets in every room! They are wonderful. I stash a lot of stuff in them, which is a grace and a problem both. I think it takes as long to clean a closet as it does to wash the walls of an entire room.

My own bedroom was fun to do. It was mostly dust bunnies and an eclectic assortment of books on my bedside stand. I cleared out a bag of clothes that we never wear, and that was that. Easy peasy. There is no question of rearranging the furniture, so that makes it very simple. Some day we will have a headboard on the bed, but as of now, we wouldn’t be able to walk along the closet wall if we had more than a Hollywood frame. I also left the curtains off in this room for the extra sunshine. This is the south side of the house, so in wintertime the light streams in onto the bed.

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I neglected to take photos of the kitchen. Alex is a great organizer and he was working alongside me in the cupboards. It was good to hear his frank perspective on my treasures, for a change. I am not going to tell you about the obscure spice bottles I had since we got married or the vitamins that were outdated in 2013. Nor do you want to know about the broken candy thermometer or the grody stuff under the stove. The thing is, I clean out my cupboards pretty often. How do I miss this? Alex just shook his head, exactly the way I do in his bedroom. He totally revamped my silverware and small containers drawer, so that I could never find what I needed on the first try. It did fit better the way he had it done, but I just didn’t have the patience to learn new tricks, so he returned it to the original configuration after a few days.

Our grand finale was the bathroom. We were definitely out of steam. It was a freezing day. We did not open the window to wash it. Some of the cupboard innards were passed over in a sweep of tolerance. Still. We finished the main floor in 8 days!

I think to myself…if I can just maintain this order. The cleanliness is not an idol to me, because we really must live here. I think I am more tempted to sin along the lines of resenting the clutter. The stuff taken to Goodwill is out. The white space is lovely. I don’t wan the girls to pin cherished coloring pages onto their walls again. I don’t want Calico Critter houses made of dominoes on their dressers. The stuffed animals look cuter in their basket. And seven watercolors of flowers are great for the present. Can we just wind the yarn neatly and put it away? I hear myself fussing about the projects and the messes and I try to stop. I really do. What does it matter? They are big enough to clean it up themselves, and they will after a while. Step over it. Look at it. Admire the crocheted bed made for the beany baby. Pin up another watercolor in the schoolroom. Breathe. Water the grass on the windowsill. Shovel the snow on the deck one more time. Dig out the dogwood wreath and smile at its jaunty incongruity.

Spring is coming, after all. No, spring is here.

 

 

Solutions from the A—-n

Once there was a deliriously happy couple who moved into a cute rental house, and they called it the Dovecote, because it was grey and small like Meg and John’s house in (edit: Did I really just post a book title without caps? ) Little Women. It had a few quirks, like a lazy susan that would only turn with strong persuasion and no closet to hang the coats and boots. There was also the matter of no convenient place to hang a roll of toilet paper. It wasn’t long until there was a coat tree for the winter-wear, and a person could get the knack of making the lazy susan revolve, but the toilet paper roll got set on the tank of the toilet for years. And years. It fell off about once a day. Sometimes there were a few renegade rolls behind the throne until someone got on hands and knees and fished them out of a tight corner. The children who came along kept accidentally dropping the paper into the bathtub or the trash can.

One day, after 16 years, the lady of the house had enough of the toilet paper situation. She thought of the freestanding toilet paper holders that she had seen occasionally and she looked… At Walmart…meh. Living in a small rural town meant there was only Dollar General for variety, and of course, the mighty Amazon. A very short surfing trip turned up the exact thing she was looking for, and since it was not chrome or gold-plated or flimsy (at least she hoped it wasn’t), she gladly forked out the cash.

The giraffe has been holding up the rolls proudly for almost a year, and nobody misses leaning sideways and backward for an errant roll behind the tank. Sometimes it is tucked in by the trash can, or on the mat beside the tub. Sometimes a child decorates the neck and ears with tufts of artfully arranged tissue. Sometimes it gets set on the window ledge while the floor is being cleaned, but it is always within reach and that is the important thing! There is a small matter of heavy cast iron for stubbing toes upon, and it cannot sit on bath puddles because it causes a rust ring, but other than that, I don’t think twenty-one dollars has been more wisely spent at this house. Being cast iron, there is a good chance it will become a family heirloom.

“And to think,” Gregory said, “we put up with that for 16 years and there was such an easy solution!”

I couldn’t have said it better. Have you ever had one of those fed-up moments that booted you to figure out a fix?

 

A Good, Good Day

This day started in the best way I can imagine, with a child wanting to talk with us, coming to our bed and whispering a need, “I want to become a Christian.” How happy we were to leap out of the covers, get dressed, and pray with our second son as he gave his life to Jesus. Some things are too sacred to describe. It is awesome, how Jesus meets every sincere person who comes to Him, whether with impossibly complicated messes or with simple childhood faith.

I looked out the window and saw the leaden, dripping skies starting to lighten, and this day it did not affect my spirits at all.

We had our farm fresh eggs for breakfast. Rita decided to go on a hunger strike because eggs make her gag and the toast was too grainy. Addy said, “Eggs? Oh good. I thought you said oatmeal and I felt a shudder going up my spine.”

School got started early, because we had an afternoon of activity planned. Addy and I learned the letter “y”. She is the first child that I put through CLE’s K5 curriculum before beginning the Learning to Read series. It seems to have helped her to zip along with the harder concepts, but I guess I wouldn’t know how she would do without that K5 work, especially considering how determined she is to do everything the other children do. She has picked up on reading the fastest of all the children, but she still needs me to read her chapter books, of course. When she finishes her reading lesson, she settles with an audio book and her coloring pencils and book, usually in a private place where she doesn’t annoy the others. I cannot even estimate how often she has listened through The Boxcar Children.

When the middle girls were finished with Language lessons, I went down the steps to check on my seventh grader, grade math tests and quizzes from oh, probably 3 or 4 weeks up to now, and file the quantities of artwork the girls want to save. Whew! I shouldn’t ever let it pile up. My high schooler and I had a long discussion about our differing views in getting things done. He is largely self-directed this year, with a strong bent to procrastination. I am largely a scheduled teacher, with a strong bent to intolerance of skipped work. He is planning to get it done soon. I want it done last week. We work out this impasse one slow step at a time.

Lunch was late, after 3 different people reminded me that it was time to eat. We pulled out leftovers. I got the chicken soup, Alex ate sloppy joes, and the others finished the bean dip with chips. It was good to clear out the fridge before we headed to the grocery store.

Rita was in a stitching mood again today. Someone gave her patterns for beanie babies. She hand-sewed this little guy, then needed beans to stuff him. I gave her corn, which makes him a corny baby. She affectionately calls him Blobby. On his birth certificate, she listed his favorite activity as fetching. “What? Fetching curls?” Addy asked.

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That’s our red dent corn in the cookie sheet. When I got out the huge bag of shelled corn, it had a few holes, so I decided to roast some and get it ground instead of forgetting it.

Addy and I read a story, and had a short rest while Alex finished up his assignments. We pulled together all the library books, and surprisingly, they were all in the living room or on the designated library book shelf. I switched out some laundry loads quickly, then we loaded up and headed for the city.

Today’s haul was 15 books returned, 24 books checked out. We used my large 31 tote and I have to say, I love that thing. Our favorite grocery store is only a mile from the library. There is just one sad thing: no Ibotta rebates. Olivia wanted to push the cart for me, but the rest stayed in the Suburban with their books. I asked myself, “When did grocery shopping with the whole crew get so easy?” I used to get a splitting headache every time. It was just so taxing, keeping track of everybody. I do haul much bigger loads of groceries home these days! I remembered to get plenty of flour to feed my sourdough starter pet. Butter was cheap, and our favorite tortellinis were on sale, so we got piles of that too. Olivia got hungry for fruit pizza when she saw strawberries and kiwis, so we got some. I am guessing that the strawberries will rot before these rock hard kiwis are ready to eat. (Any tips on how to get them to ripen faster?) The back of the Suburban was pretty full when we loaded up, and Addy said, “WHAT TOOK SO LONG?”

I doled out nacho chips, and chocolate milk. Yes, total junk food. In the vehicle. I offered them some baby carrots, veggie straws, and banana chips, too. It was a nice gesture. No doubt my head needed to be examined, but nothing catastrophic happened, so I feel bolder about the next time. We also hit a drive-through for some fries for the girls and a chicken sandwich for the boy with the hollow leg when I realized it was going to get pretty late. Also, the next stop was a fabric store. Sometimes you take preemptive action by taking care of potentially hangry people first. Again the boys wanted to stay outside and read. The girls browsed the knick-knacks while I ordered fabric for the dresses for the choir. They only had enough for 2/3 of us ladies, so I will need to go back for more. It took so long that the boys came into the store. Gregory suddenly recalled a burning need for camouflage knit and Rita needed penny-sticks, one for each child, which she paid for herself. Olivia looked at all the pretty stuff and decided it was too expensive and that is why she always has more spending money than any of the others. Addy said, “Please, please, please, may I get pick-up sticks? May I get this dot-to-dot book? Please would you buy me this candy slime with a frog in it?” When I held firmly to a kind no, having warned her ahead of time that this was a fabric only, no knick-knacks trip, she wept large tears, but quietly. That was a huge victory for both of us.

It was dark and raining by the time we were done with our business in the store. I opened the back to put the fabric on top of the groceries, not knowing that someone had piled empty gallon jugs back there. Out they crashed, but only one broke into smithereens on the asphalt. The boys had a flashlight to help them pick up the pieces, and then we headed to the farm to pick up milk.

I should mention that we listened to a G.A. Henty audio dramatization about the Reign of Terror while we were on the road. Just as we drove into our lane, the two aristocrats and their noble protector were safely crossing the English channel. It was such a relief that they didn’t lose their heads after so many narrow escapes.

You know what is the hardest thing about hauling home groceries? Yeah, putting them away. It’s a silly thing, but often this is where it unravels for me. Some of the people drift off, having lost interest in the commonplace stowing of goods. There is always someone who wants to open packages prematurely. When we refill the flour and sugar canisters, powder puffs and granules dribble. The produce doesn’t quite all fit into the crisper drawers, ever. We are that blessed! I have tried and tried to figure out ways to streamline this process, including involving all the troops. It seems to be the sort of thing you just have to do, like going on a bear hunt. Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, have to go through it. I am so grateful for loaded pantry shelves again, and a refrigerator stuffed with all we need to eat healthfully and well. And I am glad it is all put away.

In the interest of keeping it real, this is my living room tonight.

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I decided to turn out the lights, put the girls to bed, and leave it for another day. Gabe is working all night, so I don’t have to worry about him tripping over rubble. There are  two baskets of laundry saved up for folding. Plenty of time for that tomorrow too.

I just brewed a cup of tea in a mug made by my talented friend Allison at White Hill Pottery. Often I look at this mug and aspire to achieving such graceful dimensions on my pieces. (Even just successfully attaching a handle would be okay with me.) It’s probably a few years down the road, but it sure is nice to drink tea and dream.

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That’s it. Quitting time. It was a wonderful day! How about yours?

Tuesday in the Life

Strictly speaking, today started where yesterday ended, at midnight. Gabe and I had  a President’s Day coupon code for unlimited pages in a printed photo book. We entered the code at checkout at 11:59 and held our breath(s) (Do married people hold their breath or breaths, seeing as two are one? I don’t like quandaries like that in writing.) to see if we would indeed get unlimited pages. We had been working together on this massive project of compiling a book of the adventures of 2017, and at a crucial point my text boxes did not get saved when he was adding pictures on another computer, so we were pushing it really tight to the deadline. The coupon worked. We went to bed this morning at 12:15.

It was a shorter night than one could have wished, but the morning was so balmy and promising that even the sleepiest among us sat up and ate the scrambled eggs.

The girls hustled with school because they knew it was ladies’ sewing day at church and they wanted to go. Addy and I read the story where little Tim had fun in the tub and when he got out, he did sob. Mom got him a top. Little Tim hid the top under the cot and did nap on the cot.

Sometimes her stories are so unexpected, we have to giggle at the conclusions. If you have never taught a child to read and gotten to watch them when the lights go on, you should try it.

Our arrival at the sewing was fashionably late, in time to do a little work before we had lunch. For a lover of fabrics and yarns, knotting comfort tops to send to relief agencies is a lot of fun. The ladies in our sewing committee have streamlined the art of comfort knotting so that often they get close to ten done in a day, maybe more. It may be a small thing, but it really is a good feeling to think of someone in dire straits receiving a beautiful warm blanket. Blankets are love, so we pray for the people who are on the receiving end to feel the love we are sending.

I made a little detour on the way home to pick up milkshakes for the boys who were assigned to clean out the animal poo in the barn after their school was done. This is the worst job on the farm, really… worse than picking rocks or pulling weeds, because it has accumulated all winter and requires muscles and pitchforks. It was 73 degrees, absolutely delightful outside, which was why they had to do this job because the weather has to permit. Was it ever permitting today! They wanted to save the chicken poo for tomorrow because it is supposed to stay warm, but I didn’t let them. They admitted to being grateful when it was done, to not have half the job hanging over their heads. Sometimes in parenting you just are right and you know it.

The girls spent hours playing house in the backyard, erecting little booth shelters with sticks and draping a pashmina or a grass mat over top. I went for a walk in flip flops. Oh, lovely February, please stay this way and forgive us for ever saying anything ugly about you.

The sun streaming in my windows gave me an urge to clean the worst one, which was in our bedroom where the stink bugs hover. They seem to wait to relieve themselves until they make a great big spot, almost like the tobacco stains that grasshoppers leave. Every week my white trim gets besmirched, and sometimes my white down comforter. They like white toilets. :/  It’s beyond annoying, especially when it seems I cannot ever get them all with the vacuum cleaner. We had reached a sort of uneasy truce, where I let them go if they stayed on the outside of the window sash. I spent almost an hour cleaning that window, an hour that I multitasked by talking on the phone with my sister, so it wasn’t unpleasant. Still, I went in search of some nasty chemical spray that we had for the spiders in the basement. Sure enough, it is supposed to work for stink bugs too. No more truce. The battle line has been sprayed onto the outside edges of the window sashes. I expect only to see casualties from now on.

Supper was picnic food, sandwiches and mandarin oranges. The girls ate outside while I practiced songs for choir. Our group practice usually takes about 2 hours on a Tuesday night, so when I got home I tucked in my children, cleaned up some rubble, and ate 4 spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle with roasted pecans, fudge chips, and a salted chocolate ganache. If I eat more than that, Gabe will notice, so don’t tell him. I bought this special for him when he hits a rough patch while he is studying, but it sits there in the freezer and taunts me. It’s the salt in the sweet. To be honest, I thought it said salted caramel when I bought it, and we all know it wouldn’t be 4 spoonfuls if that were the case; I need an intervention when it comes to that combination. By the way, Gabe wouldn’t reproach me, but I would reproach myself and then I would have to go buy more for him.

Well, it feels like time to say, “Good night!”

 

 

 

 

Friday in the life…

…of a working mother.

Our accountant has a way of keeping up a running commentary of inane statements that mildly annoy me. When he said to Gabe, “Let’s see. You work, and she doesn’t work…” I couldn’t just sit there and smile beatifically.

“Wait a minute,” I qualified. “I work; I work hard. I just don’t get a paycheck.” He looked at me blankly, (she speaks?) then moved on and so did I, having set the record straight.

Friday is supposed to be a long exhale, right? I love wrapping up the school week, stowing the books, clearing away clutter, getting ready for rest. On the weekends that Gabe goes to work, I am often tempted not to make any special effort. There’s a little insidious neediness that lurks and says, “You deserve a break. Let the children forage, the rubble pile high, and the laundry accumulate until another day.” But I dislike how I feel when I am lazy and don’t maintain the house or invest in the children. It’s a subtle message that they aren’t really worth the bother. On a practical note, my children can eat their way through shocking amounts of snacky foods and then they are still hungry, so it’s not worth the indulgence of not cooking, not like it used to be when we could live on yogurt and toast.

To combat the blah feeling of wishing to just quit, be done working already, I did something different this afternoon. When our school was finished, we shelved it all away, then I gave myself an hour to read. I dozed off in the chair, but the idea was nice. Then I spent an hour clearing out some of the corners that just pile up stuff. It’s my pet peeve and it makes no sense to curate the clutter until we decide it is time to put things away. I repeat myself so often to the children, “Just 20 more seconds gets the laundry into the drawer. Don’t stack it on top of your dresser!” Sometimes my spaces become just as disastrous as theirs do. I don’t know why it happens… That little pile of hairbands and the brush outside the bathroom door, the empty jars at the top of the steps, the pile of socks that didn’t have mates, the library books on end tables, the shoes stacked beside the door… gah! We cleared them all away. I have started getting rid of things that don’t have anywhere to belong. I put some books into the attic today and found a round hatbox for the embroidery projects to be stowed in. That made me feel much better, and I took another hour to relax. The accountant would have felt vindicated with his assessment if he had looked in just then.

We ate leftover chicken and rice for supper, then I went to the basement to play with my clay. One mug, one bowl, and three mash-ups later, I washed up, directed the children on a final clean sweep, and here we are, ready for the weekend.

Long exhale…

…and a little gratuitous pep talk that I need myself to hear.

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Tuesday in the Life…

All was very quiet and a bit dark yet when I got up. The boys were out cold from a late night of skiing and the girls must have been worn out from their embroidery marathon last night, because it stayed quiet for an hour.

I picked up my phone, read a blog post in my email feed, then mentally slapped my hand and put it down. It is hard to break bad habits, you know? I am training myself for better phone usage and I need so many reminders. Check the weather, see a notification, fall headlong into an interesting wormhole on the internet, and there went the precious first part of the day.

This month I am reading through the book of Jeremiah. It is doleful reading, all those dire predictions and the rudeness of people who decided to dig a pit and drop the messenger into it rather than listen to his message. These are the same people who traded their treasures and heritage for high places of sin and a life of slavery. And yet, through it all is the relentless pursuing of a God who is jealous of their loyalty and wants nothing more than to restore them to righteousness and justice in the land.

I had just finished chapter 23, where Jeremiah prophesied about a Righteous Branch who would be coming in the future when Gregory showed up with his mug of tea. Time for breakfast. He and Olivia are on kitchen duty this week. Normally they are the early risers who make pancakes or creamed eggs or something ambitious, but this morning they pulled out cold cereal because the family was late to bed and late to rise. I fixed a protein shake for myself because I didn’t want the cereal shakes at ten o’clock.

The girls wore their new matchies today, thanks to $1 clearance at Walmart. I suggested that any grumpiness would be terribly inappropriate in these shirts.

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While the children cleared the table and gathered up the laundry baskets, I lovingly crafted the coffee for us. I do mean lovingly, because those fresh beans from Honduras are worth the full attention of the coffee brewer.

Olivia and I spent some time compiling a photo collage of places she has visited in our state, and a page of places she would like to visit. Then we stumbled across this picture and drooled about stepping out on the deck, but there was a little too much snow for our fantasy.

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After she had her Spelling Power words done, I got her started with her Arithmetic lesson on the computer, knotted Addy’s embroidery thread for her, and went to the basement to check on the boys.

Oh, yes, that’s when I started the laundry humming along. Normally we do all our laundry on Monday with Tuesday as our day off, but we had an optometrist run yesterday, so we saved the washing for today. I like to do the weekend sorting because I don’t like when dress clothes get mixed in with a load of blue jeans, accidentally like. The children can take it from there with some oversight, although today I did the loading and unloading and loading and unloading… Let’s see, something like 9 times. All permanent press clothes got hung on hangers while still damp, and the folding of the rest is looming over the young fry by the basket full. I love folding laundry, but I crucify my desires because I want my children to learn responsibility. That is a true story, believe it or not.

Gregory is now learning about differentiating adverb and adjective phrases and is irritated at my enthusiasm for these lessons. “The fields and gardens beyond this mountain must be irrigated.” He thought that phrase tells “where”, therefore it is an adverb phrase and I insisted it modifies the subject, thus it is an adjective phrase. So that brings up the burning question of 13 year-old boys everywhere, “What does it matter?” I am not sure what to say to that, but I do think it matters, so just do it for me, son, okay?

At eleven o’clock I suddenly considered that the rest of the family would be getting the cereal shakes quite soon, not being fortified as I was, so I got out some frozen hamburger with plans for taco stacks at lunchtime. At last I settled in to write out lesson plans for Gregory’s February, with him on my left and Rita at her desk on the right, doing her spelling words and language lesson. Addy decided to come downstairs to practice cursive writing just because it is better to breathe the air where everybody else is if you are Addy. Alex was working independently on his lessons after having done the critter chores in the barn.

“What’s for lunch?” he asked, out of the blue. “Hmm, I will make tacos when it’s time,” I replied. “But it is lunchtime,” he pointed out. And it was. It was 12:02. The thing about having a hungry teen around is that they will be glad to shred cheese, open chip bags, and set the table while you fry ground beef and make your main course.

Gabe was home today, working on the bills and the taxes. I admired his work and slunk away quickly, grateful that he just submitted an assignment last night and the next course isn’t available yet.

After lunch the middles did dishes while I read a story to Addy and nearly fell asleep. Most days she does fall asleep, but not today. When we got up, we found that Olivia and Rita had set up handmade dollhouses on the kitchen table, with clothespin dolls inhabiting them. Nevermind that they went to the attic for boxes, walking past 3 other dollhouses, one wooden, one cardboard, and one punched out of heavy cardstock.

I spent an hour practicing songs for choir, then another hour advising Gregory on places to look for his history textbook. He loses books, on average, about 4 times a week, but in the case of a textbook, the rule is No Free Time Until Found. Eventually we all felt sorry for him, wandering around flashing a light into corners where no history book would go, so we started helping him look. “Oh,” Addy suddenly leaped to life, “is it this one? I put it in here last night when we cleaned up.” And there it was in the yarn bag. Gregory, for once, had not lost his book. But neither had he put it away. He was very grateful, at any rate, to have permission to watch his TED talk on ignoble prizes, now that business was taken care of.

In other news, today I noticed a sales flyer from the local grocery store advertising these special filled doughnuts for Fat Tuesday. What? So I looked it up and found that the day before Ash Wednesday is Fat Tuesday. Apparently one stuffs in order to survive all the fasting and sacrifice during Lent. In all my life I have not heard of this day before. I haven’t observed the season of Lent, either. Hmm. I wonder whether I should give up something as a discipline until Easter… Have you ever done this?

I will wrap up the day, even though it is not over, because tonight will be choir practice for Alex and me and right now it is time to make supper. Rita wrote a true story about me yesterday. “I love Mama becase she is vary, vary, vary nice. She makes all our melles! I love Mama.”

It is good to be loved.

Catching Up

It's Feb! wreath

 

If you were to sit at my house, in one of those dusty folds in the curtains the stink bugs like so much, you would see us pegging away at school day after day. Sometimes we are inspired and sometimes we just do it because it is the thing that must be done.

Gregory wallowed in adjective clauses for a while, but then he started to recognize the relatives in sentences, and he pulled ahead strong and steady again. I love language so much that it is just fun to refresh my own memory from grammar lessons of long ago. Olivia was very distressed to discover that she has to do a course in Pennsylvania history this winter, but now she has learned to search Google and how to print photos and even how to draw little illustrative maps of the state’s industries. It has turned out to be fun, the thing she does first in the day. I say this as a homily for myself: just getting started is kind of important. I also decided the time was right for my Addy to start 1st grade curriculum, and she has powered through 3 units in 2 weeks, sharpening her colored pencils obsessively so that she can use them for her lessons. None of the others had this need to achieve. It’s her drive to catch up, which isn’t going to happen for a while, but I don’t discourage her.

Gabe asked me why I didn’t post at all in January, now suddenly I am doing every day for a month, and I laughed, a little embarrassed to admit that it’s just how I work. I have actually written lots, and dredged up past writing too, in anticipation of this month. For the first time in my history, I have planned out my posts, so you may see a sort of outline as we go along.

  • Sunday and Thursday: preaching to myself posts/ inspirations
  • Monday: something bigger than my world
  • Tuesday and Friday: life around the house
  • Wednesday: miscellany/ reposts
  • Saturday: book reviews

I think you will see a theme, too, which seems to squeeze out in most of the stuff I write currently, even in the books I recommend.. I dislike hobby horses, as a general rule, but I have one. I will see who guesses it first.

I have not regretted taking a Facebook break this month. Occasionally I dip in for a minute or two to check on something, and I find myself fighting to pull back out. It’s not like my life is impoverished without all the extra knowledge of what the rest of the people are up to, but it is just so interesting and there went a half hour, zing! I have spent the extra time reading, crocheting hats, checking math lessons, making slightly lop sided pottery, etc. Nothing profound has happened, but I do feel lighter when I am not loaded down with all the noise. I haven’t been keeping  up with the news either, except just the weather forecast, which is extremely head-in-the-sand. There is no lack of drama in my life, even so. I am learning to enjoy this centering process, back to b-a-s-i-c-s.

My husband has now studied hard, HARD, for a year. He has three months to go before his fast track BSN is completed. Both of us are feely antsy and just want the pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel to open up wide into fresh air and some leisure time. It’s only been a year, I know. Fast-tracking a degree means the pain is shorter, but more acute. That’s all I have to say about that.

I am on the fence about keeping my Wocketinmypocket page on Facebook. I know it is nice for those who depend on that platform to get notifications of posts.  I vastly prefer the dialog to happen in comments on the blog instead of Facebook, where a quick “like”, although a friendly wave in passing, is an unsatisfactory form of feedback for me as a writer. I will not be posting this month’s stuff on Facebook, but there is a handy share button at the bottom of the webpage, where you can feel free to share all you want. You can also subscribe by email if you wish for updates in your inbox.

Here’s to February, friends!

 

Seasoned Advice

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… not my seasoned advice this time. I hoped the photo from Pexel might be a subtle hint about that, seeing as I have not quite amassed enough wrinkles to be called wise on this subject.

Having now reached the age in life where I am often reminded of how little I know, I made it a point this summer to listen carefully to some older women who have raised families and are watching their grandchildren grow up. While it sometimes seems to me that raising a family 40 years ago would be much simpler than in our current day, some things remain the same through the centuries, and these are the things I want to pass on to you from what they told me.

Let’s hear from two women who each raised 13 children. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of their advice overlapped.

  • Do what it takes to keep yourself productive. Drink coffee if you need it. Eat chocolate. Take walks.
  • Take care of your soul. You really have to do that. Pray while you work. Write verses on post-its and stick them where you often see them.
  • Keep a song in your home. Get everybody to sing together when things start feeling out of control or when the attitudes get stinky.
  • Read lots and lots of stories. ( ❤ ❤ )
  • Play with your children. Do things on their level, even if you aren’t really interested in what they want to do. Have fun together.
  • Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. You really don’t have time for that.
  • Let things go. You will not be able to do everything that you think should be done. You will have to prioritize whether you value your children or your house more.

See why I listened to them? Their advice is so homely and real. They have made it through more spilled milk and sibling squabbles and teen issues than most people can imagine and they are beautiful women, strong in faith. They have things to say that I need to hear.

We recently had a panel of older women who answered questions and shared from their life experiences for the ladies at church. The questions ranged from home/family, to keeping an eternal perspective, to making friendships that are meaningful. The one that interested me the most was this, in my own words: What do you think is the reason for younger women getting “burned out” or “stressed” and needing “me-time”? How did you deal with overwhelming seasons in life?

So… what do you think they said?

Apparently me-time is a fairly modern invention. Going to the spa or to the coffee shop with friends, getting away from the kids, taking a vacation with just your husband… all these things were not commonplace for our mothers and grandmothers. It wasn’t that they didn’t have pressures and problems. Nobody can pretend that having lots of  children in the home with hungry bodies and thirsty spirits is going to be a walk in the park. I am sure I was just as needy as a child as any of my children are. But when confronted with this question, the ladies on the panel said, “We didn’t have me-time. We did the next thing, and then the next. We learned to love having our children around us.” (Again, my own words, from my impressions of the conversation.)

I got the feeling that they leaned into the harness and learned to love the work. If you love what you are doing, you do not need to be rescued from it.

There is another thing they shared that I think honesty will compel us to cringingly nod our heads in agreement. They said they didn’t have the distractions of internet and the pressures of social media. In other words, they didn’t have all their friends and all the ideas trotting through their lives every day, distracting them from their main purpose. I am still mulling over this one, because I love people and the connections that are made possible by the web. Not going to lie, it would be hard for me to give up. This is a big one that everybody has to mull through on their own, but it isn’t one we should just shrug off.

 

Speaking for myself here: I live in this century. It’s a hyper-connected world, with so much potential to touch others’ lives and my obligations extend past my home. Learning how to live restfully is so important if I am going to have any influence for good in the world. Exhaustion is a thing, and needing me-time, as much as I cringe at that term, is a thing.

I hope to have a conversation here about things that breathe life into our weariness, so if you could please start thinking about that?

 

In Defense of Humble Arts

Wanna know what I did yesterday? I felt like I spent the day with either a rag, hanky, dishcloth, tea towel, washcloth, paper towel, Norwex microfiber, you-know-what-I-am-saying, in my hand. It’s what I did. I cleaned up and wiped. I did other things, too, but for the purposes of this post, here is a listing:

I swiped bread crumbs off the table before the day barely started. There was a great honey smear that got missed by the junior kitchen cleaners.

After breakfast I comforted the heartbroken little girl whose kitty got hit on the road, wiping her tears and mine on her pink hoodie while we put flowers on the grave and talked about what a glorious kitty Nimbus was.

There was a grave stone painting operation that spread acrylic paints from the craft table to the fridge door to the little girl’s cheeks, all of which I washed off before it became permanent.

A while later I discovered more acrylic blobs in the bathroom sink from the paintbrush cleanup, mingled with stray wispy hair. Of course, I owned that mess too.

At lunchtime there were bits of mac and cheese on the stovetop. There was a dribble mark of milk under the pitcher and quite a few drips.

During quiet time, while I was messing with clay in the basement, someone unwisely brought a hunk upstairs to sculpt. After their cleanup, there were still smears on all horizontal surfaces, which is where the microfiber cloth saved the day. Meanwhile downstairs the children were now attempting to throw pots on the wheel. After a while, I checked on their operations and discovered a vast, spreading puddle of grey water and a young man corralling it with towels. I have to say that was a mess I turned and slunk away from and he did eventually get it all under control.

I brushed and cleaned out the sandy crud in the laundry sink.

There was the egg cleaning job where I inspected the child’s work and wiped the stray bits of straw off the eggs before putting them into cartons.

Someone cut apples at the table for a snack, cleared away all the snitzes, but forgot the sticky. I cannot stand sticky; it gives me shivers.

After supper, there was the countertop and table again, then the hot chocolate drips from the bedtime snack.

After the children were in bed, I sat down on my chair and looked up at the ceiling, noticing again that the light fixtures were incredibly dirty. My husband was still working on a paper, so I got up and I washed four glass light shades because I didn’t feel like ever seeing them again looking so crummy.

And then I went to bed. It was a good day. None of these activities were remarkable or noble, but as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought, “Well, and how would life be if I quit wiping things?”

There would be glory missing from the world, that’s what.

 

 

Coming soon: What is glory in the humble arts?

Move Over, October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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