May Days and 3 AM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with all due respect to December. Slowly things are loosening up a little in PA. Our county is still encouraged to stay home, but the world is so glorious, we can’t possibly stay inside the houses. Except on the days it snows. But even those days seem a tinge greener than the ones before them.

I heard a heartbreaking story today, of a state penitentiary (an hour north of us) that is afflicted with a Covid-19 outbreak. Their ventilator cases are coming to the city hospital where Gabe works, and the others who are ill have been put into a large makeshift infirmary in a former storage area at the jail. Anyone who is well has to stay in their cell on complete lockdown. I got a crawly, claustrophobic feeling just thinking about it. I thought I was going to hyperventilate, just wearing a mandated mask at the Dollar General last week. It’s one thing to make the masks tightly fitting, out of double layers of tightly woven quilter’s cotton as recommended. It’s another thing to try to breathe through them for extended periods of time.  As much as I dislike them, I listen to my husband who says we have no reason to disobey our civil authorities on this matter. I don’t really like it, but at least I am not in a cell all by myself. To see smiles, I have to make eye contact. This is not a bad thing, and when I am in public I smile at everybody.  It is pretty interesting to see what people come up with in their efforts at compliance. I saw a lady doing all her shopping with her head tucked down into her hoodie. And there was a young man who had obviously cut strategic holes into a tee shirt so he could hook it over his ears. Aside from the fact that it looked odd, I envied him because he could certainly breathe better than I could. I am glad I made us all a mask early on when there was still elastic available.

Gregory worked at our local bulk food store for a few days last week, helping to carry boxes to customers’ cars. He had plenty of hilarious descriptions of attempted masks. One lady wore a face shield of the variety that you usually see when someone is weed-whacking. Another had a rubber band around her head, stretched just under her eyes, with a tea towel tucked into it and flapping freely down to her chest, and one crafty, but slightly clueless soul had a crocheted mask with big holes in it. Many people opted for bandanas tucked around their faces bandit style. In the end, we are flattening the curve like anything.

I was surprised at the visceral reaction I felt when a lot of Pennsylvania counties were given the coveted “yellow” status to reopen and our county was not. Wait a minute! We only have a quarter of the cases that some of the reopened counties have. How are they even making these decisions? Even though we are doing fine one day at a time, another week of stay-at-home seemed an unreasonable burden. How long, Lord, how long?

That’s the thing. Historically it has always taken a number of years for the fury of a pandemic to die out. The Black Death cycled its deadly way through London roughly every 20 years for nearly 3 centuries. When Jenner started developing his smallpox vaccine, he hoped to completely eradicate this deadly disease. It took nearly 2 centuries, and in the meantime it wiped out the vast majority of the native populations in the New World. With Covid19 we have a crashing, killer wave of unpredictability just hanging over us.

At this point, me being no expert, it feels like the uncertainty and rabid safety-first idea is a bigger threat than the disease. Those who work with critically ill patients, who see the way it actually does kill seemingly healthy people, cannot afford to have such a cavalier attitude about it. Sometimes I hear of Christians who are blatantly disregarding what they are instructed to do and spreading insurrection on social media. I wonder about this.

What if our experts had told us all along, “Just keep doing life as usual.  There’s nothing we can do about it, and we want you to get herd immunity for the good of all. Not only that, we cannot afford to make our economy suffer. Money is definitely more important than grandpa. If you perish, you perish.” In this imaginary scenario the numbers of cases are exactly the same and the death rates are the same. There is still no cure.  Nothing is different except what those in authority said. Yet, if that were what our medical scientists and political leaders had said, we would be vigorously crucifying them and posting about it with great satisfaction because they didn’t take measures to protect us all. We would be clamoring for the media to tell us what is happening and we would be sure it is a cover-up of mass proportions. We might even be staying home because we think it is a good idea. We might wear masks. At least it would have been our own ideas and not some other person who has no business telling us what to do.

I say that not to say that there is nothing shady going on. Human nature has always been shady. I don’t know what is true some days. It appears that even Christians who say they believe what God says in His Word do not actually believe that He is able to keep us when bad things happen.

Friends, we know the One who can calm the chaos with a spoken word. I think that I trust Him implicitly, but this is the sort of situation that shows me leaks in my vessel, where I haven’t been all that trusting and the patches of my own making give way. I haven’t a prayer of survival without Jesus who sustains all things by the word of his power. 

“That is enough for me,” I say, and then I waken at 3 AM. It’s that time of the day to hit the worst-case scenario jackpot. It only takes five minutes of imagination for me to be burying a loved one, facing the withering aftermath of grief. I think about people I love, everyone fighting their personal battles, sometimes heart-wrenchingly lonely battles. There is so little I can do to support others or change circumstances.  What if it really is true that we are never going to get our freedoms back? At 3 AM I am tempted to wonder why God isn’t managing as well as I think He should. Whatever can He be thinking? His purposes are very inscrutable in the middle of the night. It is hard to think straight when I am still tired, the night is dark, and my husband is either sleeping or at work.

I know of only one way to fight this slimy pit of  “What if?” It is with the well-worn truths of the ages. “I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again… that where I am, you may be also.” I hold them like pebbles in my mind, rolling them around and around, examining them again and finding them true. “…Whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with him…”  I think of the amazement that I not only have access to this God, but that He wants me to draw near to Himself.  I do not have to control my world or anyone else’s world.  Like so many other disciplines, this is one I have to repeat very often, but it is a good thing. I feel some flabby spiritual muscles strengthening. This is a good time to bulk up for whatever lies ahead.

In other news***************  I heard that sigh of relief! 🙂

The girls finished school last week. We didn’t waste any time boxing up the teacher’s guides and clearing out some hidey holes where a ridiculous amount of stuff was sheltering. I found a few good intentions in the form of books I had planned to do with the children. Tsk, tsk. In general they did very well. I can now safely say it was our best school year yet. We hit a stride that was sustainable, and that really blessed me. Some years have felt like I was correcting our gait and compensating for a bumpy ride all year long.

Olivia and I got a bunch of yarn from a friend at church who has connections to a hoard in an old farmhouse. In our shopping-starved state, we wanted all of it, but I made her stick with blues and I stuck with purples. Mostly. Now if I could just figure out how to knit. Olivia is practicing clicking her needles together like Babs in Chicken Run. She informed me that the actual term for that pile of loosely wound yarn you pull from the center of a skein is “yarn barf.” Well. Her dolls got new wardrobes during quarantine.

I finally finished a small re-upholstery project. My only experience with this was a hilarious day recovering a child’s rocking chair with my sister. I have memories of my mom tackling a tough old hide-a-bed sofa with her friends Sue and Sadie. I knew that you have to take off the old upholstery for patterns. I remembered that Mom had reused the piping on the old sofa and sewn fitted seat covers with long zippers, exactly the way the original had been. My project involved no tricky armrests. These are wooden and just had to be removed. After taking a family vote, I did not put a pleated ruffle around the bottom. In fact, I finished off the bottom with hot glue. Please don’t tell the experts.

The original chair was a vintage yellow. It was my grandma’s chair, and I really liked it just the way it was, but it was impossibly stained. This picture was taken after I had removed the ruffle. I took pictures of every pleat/seam as I took it apart so that I would have a reference when I couldn’t get it back together. That helped! The decorator fabric I used was from Walmart, for those who are interested.

 

We have been having alternate days of freezing and balmy weather. I planted three azaleas last year, and they were primed to be a stunning coral color. Then it got so cold that they wilted into a washed-out pale pink with no energy to open further. That’s how the frigidity affected me too. I couldn’t get up the willpower to do much, so I have been sorting through closets in that age-old spring cleaning ritual.

This year my clearing-out is more serious because we are contemplating a move this summer. It has been really weird to try to buy a place in a pandemic. We were looking at properties close to Erie, where Gabriel is hoping to get into a nurse anesthetist training program in the future. The first one we found was sold before we even called the realtor. In early March we went and looked at a number of places and decided to make an offer on a fixer-upper. Just as we were ready to sign papers, real estate locked down. We have been hanging loose ever since, waiting. It seems likely that the closing will go through, but there are no guarantees. If it does, our summer will involve driving three hours to the new property whenever Gabriel has a stretch of days off work. He can build anything, and he can do wiring and plumbing, etc. These things do take time, though, and it is anybody’s guess how much time.

This is us on Mother’s Day, just before I told the children to go make lunch. We took a whole series of pictures, and in every one someone is laughing or talking. Story of my life. They used to cry during pictures, back when the littlest one actually fit on my lap. This stage is easier and a lot harder too.

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So, this is me, just trying to think ahead and not having a clue what is really up there around the bend. “One day at a time” is a good idea these days.

How is your spring going?

Mood(s)

I get up, get dressed, see that the bathroom counter needs to be wiped clean. There’s a Norwex microfiber cloth hanging in the bathroom for this purpose, and I go the extra yard, washing the light switch and the door knob. I change the hand towel. There are stunning purple tulips and fuzzy lamb’s ears in a clear drinking glass on the counter. The towels and dirty clothes are in the hamper. All is well.

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I feel a vague dissatisfaction, exactly like the feeling I get after an illness that affects my tastebuds. I am hungry for something, but it isn’t in the house. It is out of my reach. I cannot figure out what it is.

In the kitchen, I pour water into the teakettle for coffee, grind the beans, wait a few minutes for the important process of French pressing my morning brew. I go to the fridge for the cream in its chipped white pitcher, pick my favorite mug, listen to my Bible app reading from Ezekiel. The coffee is amazing and smooth. I savor it in the quietness of early morning. Life really is beautiful.

Wow. Ezekiel. He says it like it is. My mind struggles to pay attention because that was so long ago beside the Chebar Canal. I think of friends in Tennessee who have been experiencing what seems like the worst piled upon the absolute worst in this pandemic time. They did not deserve this any more than others. What even is going on? I let the weight of sadness settle, pray for sustaining grace for them, try to think of what I am supposed to do today.

Slowly the children trickle out of their bedrooms. We have adapted to a looser morning routine, with read-aloud stories before school. Gabe comes home from work while we are hanging out in the living room. He is tired, but not overworked and stressed. Some kind person gave all the nurses a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, and a container of chicken noodle soup when they changed shift. People have been so thoughtful in this crazy time. He hardly ever needs a lunch at work these days, because of all the food donations for frontline workers. “Do you feel like a hero?” I ask him. “Not particularly,” he replies. We sit on the couch, visit for a while, talk over plans for renovating a house we hope to buy. We are cautiously optimistic.

He shows me the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook. I do not want to see it, and insert my head gently back into the sand. There is no doubt that there are very concerning things happening. Lies are told, people are abusing power, fear is tormenting many. In the light of this, I have been making careful choices. The phrases of truth run through my mind, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you… These light, momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

I choose to lay my burdens and questions down. What is right in front of me is what I need to be engaged in right now. I go pick more tulips for the table, mail a package to cheer a friend, read an extra chapter to the children, give out spelling lists, do a load of laundry. The sunshine comes and goes like a moody teenager, but those are actually just temporary clouds. I hang sheets on the line for the scent, even if I have to finish drying them inside.

I think about lunch, decide to try that toasted peanut butter and jelly that people are talking about. On sourdough it is really delicious. I like learning tricky new things like that. Served with milk, we are sated and chipper for our afternoon activities.

The girls clean up the kitchen, run outside to the trampoline, play horses and vets with British accents. I hear James Herriot quotes floating through my backyard. They play and play together in this social-distancing time. “What would they ever do without each other?” I wonder, and remember how overwhelmed I felt those times I did pregnancy tests and they were always turning up positive. “Positive,” I think, “I had no idea how wonderfully positive! All I could think was how I was going to take care of 3 babies.” I can’t see very far ahead now either. Maybe as far as the next meal, and an indistinct idea of the next day. “The Lord willing,” that is what will be next. I have never understood that quite like I do now.

Gabe sleeps, days and nights switched for work. He hangs a dark towel in the window to block out the light, puts earplugs in his ears and conks out. I tamp down loud thumpings and excessive arguments, but he doesn’t waken easily. These days I send people out of the house, willy-nilly. Anybody bored? Out, out! Can’t get along with each other? Out, out! Go pull weeds together, sort the recycle bin, clean out the car. Out of the house! Go catch a fish! Play croquet!

I get shrill and impatient with my son when he teases the life out of his little sisters. After I take myself out of the house for a long walk, I apologize. He grins, “It’s ok. I was being dumb too.” I cannot disagree. We all have our peculiar temptations to be “dumb” these days. They are heightened because we don’t have as many distractions as usual. I try to be proactive about this, identify the temptations, and keep us all busy.

I get out the lawnmower and relish the therapy of walking round upon round in the yard, catching the lush clippings to throw to the chickens. They come running every time I walk around the barn. I am the dispenser of potato peelings and apple cores, and I do not allow any food waste to go into the trashcan. There are any number of animals that are pleased to scarf down the slops and weeds. It gives me a peculiar happiness to think of eggs and sausage being produced by dried-up macaronis from the back of the fridge or dandelion roots from the asparagus bed.

The sun is out again. I bring some wooden chair arms out to the deck to paint them white. Today marks a week since I started a simple reupholstery project that I have been wanting to do for at least 5 years. This was my grandma’s chair, and the vintage yellow upholstery has gotten too stained with years of use to be salvaged. I bought the fabric for pandemic time, I guess. At least now I am working on it in fits and starts. I had to order upholstery tacks and they are not considered essential, so shipping is delayed. The varnish stripping and painting is done, at least. I wish I could show my mom how good this chair is looking. I guess I’ll take a picture.

My phone has been on its last legs for months. Now it is on it’s last toe. Sometimes it charges, sometimes it doesn’t. If the battery runs down, I have to remove the back cover and fiddle with a loose connection in its innards. Sometimes it boots back up, sometimes it doesn’t. I ordered a new phone last week, because it feels like a lifeline right now. It is not essential either they say, and maybe won’t be here until May 10. I mull over a theory I have about those grim-faced pioneer women in front of their dugouts in the photos of the 1800’s. I think their bodies were worn with toil, but I think maybe their spirits were beaten by loneliness. What if they could have sent their mom a picture of how their gingham curtains turned out? What if they could have chatted with a friend on another prairie about the way the children were eating up all the sourdough every day and does she have any tips for keeping the bugs out of the flour bag?

I go to check on the drying pots in my shed. They need to be trimmed and handled before they dry much more. I spray them with a mist of water to hold them in the right stage for another few hours. It is approaching suppertime and food needs to appear again. My mind runs in a rutted track of starch/vegetable/protein/BUT WHAT? I struggle to bring it to a more vibrant space and decide to grill steaks and make buttered potatoes. We have green beans sautéd in olive oil with garlic. The meal is amazing. Everybody says so. The best part is the leftovers for another day.

Two people who like to eat must now work on dishes. Two others must fold laundry. I must put handles on mugs and I do not wish to do it. There are only 20, I have been getting better at it, I’ll be fast. Well, I am not fast. I attach and pull off messed-up handles repeatedly. During this process, my little girl comes and whines about doing dishes with her sister, “Would you like to know one simple thing that would make my life so much better?” She doesn’t wait for me to guess. “If you would come into the house!” I am distracted, smoothing a join with a wet finger, trying to achieve the exact curve I like to feel in a mug handle. When I suggest that she bring her story book out to read to me, she says, “Sometimes I think mugs are more important than I am.” This is her special little temptation in quarantine, being extra needy and manipulative. I haven’t made mugs in the last 3 weeks. I have nurtured her all day, body and soul, and I do not feel sorry for her. She snaps out of her attitude with remarkable fortitude when she is given no choice.

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This is the ebb and flow of the whole day, of the whole week, of the whole month. Goodness. Badness. Beauty. Sadness.

I don’t know how you feel about the choices you have in front of you, or the ones you have been making. I am certainly not proud of all of mine. It is a daily challenge for me. When was the last time I had to be so deliberate to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ? Sometimes I realize that the wretchedness I feel is a direct result of an unlovely world that has been taking up too much of my time. Other times it is only hormones. Occasionally I feel miserable because I have been lazy and neglectful of what is clearly there in front of me. The cure is the same for every one of them. Stop, look up, lift your eyes, revel in what is Always the Same, Always Faithful. Do not look at the waves. Worship. Do the next thing.

I know this post is loaded with quotes and phrases that I have picked up from Jesus and the people who love Him, like Elisabeth Elliot or John Piper or Paul the Apostle. I lean hard on the experiences of others who have triumphed in life. It helps me. How are you doing? Do you feel the ebb and flow too?

 

A Little Boring, and Some Vigorous Opinions

You know quarantine is running a little flat when your child asks if they may take before and after pictures of their teeth brushing routine. Privately I laughed until I had tears. Like my daughter, I am over it now. The honeymoon of inactivity and no pressure is getting boring, but here we are, still doing it.

I am not complaining (much), but my bored teens are complaining. They have little frame of reference for their restlessness and it just seems so unreasonable to not be able to go out and see friends. I thought of the Jewish teenagers hidden in attics for months and years during WWII, and how they would occasionally burst into song at their own peril because any action seemed better than nothing.

We had a surprise snow last weekend, but it didn’t last long. That was the day I unloaded my trust mugs from the kiln.

And this is the quality of sunshine and skies we’ve been having whenever it isn’t raining or snowing.

So far I have not hit any big stores since April 1st. This is possible because of my bulk buying of many pantry staples, and because I have a source of eggs right here on the farm-let, and a farmer friend who gives us milk on donation basis. (Yes, we pay more than he gets from the milk distributors. (No, they don’t want more friends like me. (Sorry.)) ) Speaking of milk, we are consuming almost a gallon a day. I get 6 or 7 gallons for a week, but I am making yogurt, smoothies, and the occasional cream pie. The term “cooking from scratch” should have the emphasis on “scratch”, because I am seriously scratching bottom some days. This is probably in my head because I usually cook from scratch. At any rate, with everybody here for 3 meals a day, it feels endless. There are no short cuts, no running the 3 miles to my beloved local bulk food store for last minute ingredients. I have to guard the last cup of yogurt so that I have starter for the next batch. When I made a perfect circle of dinner rolls to give to my parents for Easter lunch, I warned everybody, “Do NOT eat these rolls! I will make ours fresh in the morning.” An hour later I came into the kitchen and there was Gabe, buttering one of the rolls, completely oblivious to my distress at my ruined circle because he hadn’t heard me.

Snacks are running low. For a special treat I hid a bag of peanut butter cups in a bottom cupboard behind the pots and pans. No one will ever see them there, I thought foolishly. Only a few hours later Addy got a sudden urge to straighten all the pots and their lids, and she was pretty astonished at her find. She is small enough to be honored when I tell her conspiratorially that we are keeping them secret for another day. I feel like a squirrel with an especially delectable stash of acorns saved for a rainy day.

It is not deprivation to have cream pie without whipped cream on top, just not quite as delicious as usual. (And 100 fewer calories per serving.) I wanted ham for Easter, and thought about our friends who sell meats they raise on their farm. Sure enough, I could get a ham roast from them and we had a lovely Easter meal. When my imagination can keep up, we are eating quite well. When it goes blank, we have soup and biscuits.

A few days ago I ran out of spring water for my sourdough and used about 1/4 cup of chlorinated water from our tap to feed it. It subsequently flattened out and became very shy. I have been coaxing it back to happiness ever since.

(Hang on. This is where the vigorous part starts.)

This morning I came to a scientific conclusion in about 5 minutes flat: “If this is what chlorinated water does to sensitive bacteria in my sourdough starter, what do you think it is doing to the sensitive stomachs of your children?” I would have made a meme about it if I hadn’t been afraid it would be copied and shared as an authoritative source. I could have made it pretty convincing, coolly ignoring the fact that chlorine in safe quantities has removed typhoid, cholera, and dysentery from drinking water supplies for a hundred years and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It would have presented a great chance to share about how I distrust the government to make decisions about our drinking water and why you too should join the march against chlorinated water. With no more qualification than a few facts and ideas, I too could be an expert.

Friends, this is exactly the sort of “science” that is going viral online. All it takes is a person with a flair for words, a few half-truths mixed in with a bunch of suppositions, and you have a prize-winning meme. If you tend to spend a lot of time in fearful anticipation for whatever horrible worm will be grubbed up next, let me tell you, you do not have to live there. If you read a fearful thing, and your first impulse is, “I must share this nasty tidbit with all my friends on social media,” before you do some fact-checking or exercise some healthy skepticism, maybe you need a break from the muck and roll in some good, honest truth for a while.

In times like these, I am attracted to restful people who are at peace with God and their fellow-man. I like being in the company of those who not only trust God implicitly with their own affairs, but also with the running of the whole universe. This is not to say that they do not care about rampant evil or sin in the camp, etc. etc. Rather they are faithful in what they are personally called to do, lifting the burdens of their neighbors, leveling the crooked paths locally, living in a fellowship with the Almighty that keeps them serene in the upsets in humanity. How do they get to that place of inner quietness during a storm?

I think it is the same process today as it was in the day of Daniel‘s proclamation during a time of national crisis. This was serious! He was going to die if none of the wise men could figure out the king’s dream. I get a sense of calm and prudence when I read how Daniel logically brought his great need for mercy to the God of heaven and was given the answer to his problem in a dream. This is the resulting praise and shows us what Daniel believed:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:20-23)

It’s obvious that Daniel was used by God to save many lives, but it wasn’t up to him to figure out the darkness or to dethrone the evil king. I think we would all like to hear a man like Daniel right now in Corona-time. This healthcare crisis is not a surprise to God, and even if all the conspiracy theories are fact, what is the point of being all wadded up in my spirit?

There is a command in Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” I don’t personally experience a flood of peace ruling my heart when I marinate in the dastardly goings on in the world, and for sure not if I click all the bait of questionable news sites. It takes effort to filter out the things that aren’t true, excellent, commendable, etc. as per Philippians 4. Note that there are plenty of practical disciplines for us to do in this chapter. It isn’t difficult to find things to fill the time in profitable ways, and of course, there is that peace of God again, “guarding your hearts and minds in Christ.”

Okay, I think that may be enough vigorous truth for this post. Wanna hear some really neat news? They have figured out a way to recycle used coffee grounds into a biodegradable plastic. How amazing is that? I wouldn’t mind never drinking out of a paper straw ever again.

Also, there are blooms popping out everywhere here in central Pennsylvania. Every day I bring in fresh ones. I found my first violet today, and after I sniffed it appreciatively, I chewed it slowly for that delicate flavor of spring that is purple and fresh. One year I picked enough of them to make a batch of violet jelly. It was a lovely shade of lavender and tasted exactly like sugar. I would like to try again with a better recipe.

Our supper is smelling really wonderful. Would you like a quick run-down of what I have been feeding the fam? I’ll start with last week. Be inspired. 😄

Friday morning: scrambled eggs and sausage patties

Friday lunch: taco dip with black beans, applesauce

Friday supper: baked chicken drumsticks (the last in the freezer), parmesan and herbed potato fries baked in the oven, green beans

Saturday morning: sourdough pancakes and maple syrup, leftover sausage patties

No lunch, go ahead and scrounge, kids. And just like that the last cheese sticks were gone and most of the sourdough baguettes I had made as an experiment.

Saturday supper: fruit/yogurt smoothies, apple dumplings, and probably something else that I can’t remember. All I remember is that I cooked most of the afternoon on Saturday, but that was for the next day.

Sunday morning: coffee, tea, sourdough toast. Brilliant.

Sunday lunch: ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, mixed vegetables, sourdough dinner rolls, spring salad with balsamic vinaigrette that only I appreciated properly, chocolate cake. Very exciting meal, especially the peeps decorating the cake.

Sunday evening: popcorn, trail bologna that we made when we butchered, cheese slices, cream pies. It was an Easter to remember.

Monday morning: cereal and milk, leftover cake (hey, they were going to eat it sometime).

Monday lunch: leftovers from the fridge, including chicken drumsticks and mixed vegetables

Monday supper: pizza, canned peaches and yogurt (and my husband said, “Yay! just what I was hungry for.” I love that man.)

Tuesday morning: anything from cereal to yogurt to buttered bread.

Tuesday lunch: sourdough crepes with herbs and cheese in the first course, yogurt and raspberries in the second course, cucumber slices, tea (fancy dishes because it was Tuesday)

Tuesday supper: chicken cordon bleu casserole with substitutions for about 4 ingredients. But not the chicken; that was the real deal. And I never buy cream soups anymore, so that wasn’t a hard stretch. I even incorporated the whey from the yogurt I strained (to make it more like Greek yogurt consistency.) Creamed corn. Garden salad with fresh spring greens, sourdough bread with jam for a touch of sweet.

Do you see any patterns? Yup, the spring of social distancing and streams of yogurt and endless sourdough. Seriously, get yourself some starter for both of those and get yourself out of many a culinary pinch. You can feel like you are nourishing your family when you feed them toast and yogurt. You know, for those days when you cannot seem to rise to any greater heights.

Some days you have it, some days you don’t, but they can all be good days.

How are you filling your time?

Long Days Of Goodness

It was an amazing day here, a gift of sunshine and rest, food for the soul, and of course, food for the bodies. I am rather surprised at how much time we normally spend getting ready to go places. This morning I had time for a cinnamon roll and coffee at breakfast, and many Sunday mornings I don’t take time to eat more than a few bites in between combing the girls’ hair or prepping for lunch. So there was that amazing start. When Gabriel got home from his shift, I gingerly dropped his scrubs straight into the washer from the plastic bag he carried them home in. He showers at work and disinfects before he leaves the unit.

I listened to hymns on Youtube, read the first part of Jeremiah, collected the children to watch The Biggest Story  for their Sunday School ( it is free to stream right now on Crossway) and then we listened to a message online. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and I strolled in the sunshine, ending up in the hammock with a new book. I fell fast asleep, awakened at 1 PM, and thought about feeding the crew.

When it’s Gabriel’s weekend to work, we usually eat rather whatever-ish. Alex grilled burgers, Olivia made boxed mac n cheese, we cooked some green beans, and that was that. Dessert was an experiment: Sourdough Apple Fritters.  (I suppose our children will remember the quarantine time as a time when Mama tried all the sourdough things. Usually I wake up my starter from its fridge life, feed it a few times, and put it back into cold storage after I make a batch of bread. These days I keep it on the countertop and feed it tenderly as a pet. Because what else do I have to do? It has gotten happier and happier as the days go by. Obviously something must be done. I mentioned cinnamon rolls. Those were Saturday’s batch. On Friday we had coffee cake. Fortunately for us, most recipes are on the small side and with this many people around the house all the time, we can share the calorie load.) The thing is, the fritters were actually quite healthy if you overlook the frying in lard part. There is no sugar in the recipe except for a dusting of powdered sugar on top. It took less than 10 minutes to peel the apples and mix up the dough.  If you have happy sourdough starter, you need to try these. It uses one cup of starter, and the recipe was ample for our family of seven. The only thing I would change is add more cinnamon.

I roped in the non-cooking children to do dishes, as per our Sunday tradition. This works fine for me, because I get off scot-free after lunch. I edited an article, then hit the hammock again. It was so bright that I needed sunglasses to look up through the lace of the maple twigs with their fuzzy little blooms that will soon be seed helicopters. Everything is so incredibly beautiful and right and there is this looming cloud of weirdness. I can’t seem to reconcile it in my mind, so I purposely focus on the one and leave the other to the Lord. I don’t really know how else to do this. It isn’t denial, because the first thing that enters my mind every morning is “I cannot believe how strange the world is. And we haven’t gotten it yet. So let’s live well today.”

I keep seeing memes on Instagram stories saying, “It’s ok to cry.” When I sit around and think about it, I miss singing with a group. I miss finding fun stuff at thrift stores and chatting with people in casual ways. I miss having friends here for tea and going to the library. I even miss Quilted Northern a little bit. But I would be embarrassed to sit and have a pity party about these things. How would that possibly make life better or add to the value of the day? My heart is heavy for others who really do have things to cry about. As I mentioned, I am reading through Jeremiah, the prophet of lament. There were some verses in chapter 9 that arrested my attention.

Death has climbed in through our windows
and has entered our fortresses;
it has removed the children from the streets
and the young men from the public squares.”

Wow. That’s verse 21, and it surely sounds like a pandemic to me. Look at what God says two verses later.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

This is our chance to learn to know the Lord in ways we never have before. I put a quote from Jim Elliot on my letter-board last week. “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”  (I only had space for the italicized part up there. Too many “l’s” which is always a problem with letterboards.) 

I don’t want to look back at this time of my life and think of how much I sniffled in entitled agonies of self-pity. Nor do I want to think about how much time I wasted sitting on devices. I don’t want my children to remember a mom who didn’t wash her hair or rise above slovenliness, who fed them Ramen noodles and hotdogs every day because she didn’t feel like making any effort to cook. For me this means feeding my sourdough and pottering like nobody’s business, and breaking out the Norwex cloths and sorting in the attic. It feels like as long as I stay productive and kind, I am making an offering to hold the chaos in the world at bay, even if it is only my small corner of chaos. I feed my soul and nourish my children, I share my love and do my work faithfully. You do yours, and collectively we weave a fabric that cannot be torn even by a virus that creeps in through windows.

Anyhow… Back to the long day of rest that I enjoyed. I joined a WhatsApp call with my mom and my sister, which was a lot of fun. We haven’t ever done that before, but now we know what’s possible. I got to see the luscious cheeks of the baby nephew and chat with my pretty little nieces.

The children and I played a few rousing games of Croquet in the backyard and I even won one game. It was a very unfamiliar sensation for me, because my chief skill in croquet is to amuse my sons with my lack of finesse.

Gabriel got up around 4 o’clock. He doesn’t usually hear our household activities because he wears earplugs, but it is still hard to switch days and nights completely. We do our catching up conversations in the hour before he heads back to work. I have been packing his lunches (his midnights?) but he said not to bother. People have been so generous in donating food and snacks for the ICU staff. They are eating quite well, and so far have not been swamped with patients. I kind of wish that my husband had a different job right now, to be honest. But this is what he is trained for and so I hug him a little longer than usual when he leaves and pray that his care is a comfort to the loneliness of patients who aren’t allowed any visitors. I do not think I have ever seen him this concerned about a public health threat. Usually it is me who gets grossed out by things like water fountains and buffet lines in restaurants. “Just stay home,” he says, and I listen.

They say it will be a rough week for our nation. I don’t look forward to the climbing numbers and the prevailing winds of sadness. Perhaps along with the offering of faithfully doing what is right in front of me, I can also carry some of the weight of the world’s suffering by holding it up to Jesus who understands the words when I don’t have any.

Let’s take courage, friends! The days will continue to be long and heavy for a while, but there is Great Faithfulness at work all around us. We just have to open our eyes to see it.

 

 

Confined to Five Acres

There’s a monopoly game in play at the kitchen table, in which I will not participate even if they bribe me with Easter candy. Not like there is any Easter candy in the house. I haven’t shopped for about 2 weeks, and frivolous items tend to disappear faster than something like oatmeal does. I have clamped down on snacking, having become more aware of how often these children think they are hungry. One day I came inside from the shed and one of them actually had cooked a small kettle full of pearled barley for a snack. No objections there!

Tonight Addy found a bag of very sticky marshmallows and roasted them over a small fire she had in the back yard. Little by little we are using up some odd foodstuffs around here.

On Saturday I read a lyrical description of how it feels to get a humongous cookie all to yourself. I decided to be foolish and go for it with this recipe. This was a first and my family was a little surprised. I said, “Okay kids, I am tired of baking cookies. This is your ration for the next 2 weeks.” I have to say, they were pretty good, since the dough was not as sweet as typical cookie dough. I made 7 cookies instead of the 6 the recipe prescribed. Also, it would never have worked to leave them in a round ball of 1/2 cup of dough to spread out as it baked. I flattened them like hamburger patties, which was just about right.I make noodles with our eggs and a lot of bread too. This is turning my family into pasta and bread snobs, but it is a labor of love that I quite enjoy since I got my grandma’s pasta machine and learned a few of the tricks of sourdough. Naturally I was running low on flour right at the worst time of the panic buying in the stores. Since I always buy flour in fifty pound bags in this season of my life, I was trying to think how I could do that without looking like a hoarder. Happily I found that a friend with a small discount grocery store was also selling large bags of unbleached flour. Perfect. Nobody even saw me haul it out because I was her only customer.

It is weird, but if everybody else is grabbing packs of toilet paper, I hold off on purpose to prove that I am not like that. This does pose a problem when we actually run low. I also buy this sort of item in very large quantity, so I am again faced with looking like a hoarder unless there is nothing but tiny four-packs in the store (limit 1).I intend to find out in the morning. A question I have: if one has an immuno-compromised person in the house, is it okay to shop the special hours, or will that also look like a slimy way to stay ahead of everybody else? Sometimes it is hard to figure out this sort of ethical dilemma.

I spent so little on household expenses this month that I have decided to lay in a stock of yarn to make baskets and some upholstery fabric for a little chair that needs help. When would be a better time, I ask myself? I found really neat basket patterns . These are simple enough that my girls could make them. What are the chances Walmart will have suitable yarn? Thank the Lord for shipping options! I do bless all delivery drivers in this day and age.WWe’ve been continuing our winter tradition that we learned from the cousins- having tea and poetry once a week. This morning we listened to Great Poems for Children on Audible Stories. (Have you discovered this free resource for children for the duration of the school closure?) Here is our favorite poem from the reading.

The Camel’s Hump

The Camel’s hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the Zoo;
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do.Kiddies and grown-ups too-oo-oo,
If we haven’t enough to do-oo-oo,
We get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!We climb out of bed with a frouzly head,
And a snarly-yarly voice.
We shiver and scowl and we grunt and we growl
At our bath and our boots and our toys;And there ought to be a corner for me(And I know’ there is one for you)
When we get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!The cure for this ill is not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire;And then you will find that the sun and the wind,
And the Djinn of the Garden too,
Have lifted the hump—
The horrible hump—
The hump that is black and blue!I get it as well as you-oo-oo
If I haven’t enough to do-oo-oo!
We all get hump—
Cameelious hump—
Kiddies and grown-ups too!

I enjoyed that poem immensely, and the children were all going, “Oh yeah, you sure believe in digging until we gently perspire!” Certainly I am not going to let people go to seed here just because we aren’t going anywhere or seeing other people. This is a unique temptation right now: to just live in pj’s and not bother with trying too hard to do anything. That might be fun vacation mode for a week, but it has a peculiar eroding effect on one’s morale. Never was there a better opportunity to get the trash picked up and the house thoroughly cleansed as this spring. Gabe saw a meme that made us laugh, “If you drive past our place and see the children crying and picking weeds outside, just wave and keep driving. They are on a field trip.”

I wonder, does anyone else actually find this social distancing a bit relaxing? I do love people and would give a lot to have an ordinary Sunday church service where I can sing with a group and hug my friends after the message, and see their faces while we talk. Still, we are so connected and it is truly a blessing. I have to get past the crawly feeling of how long the isolation could go on, but I am enjoying the slower pace of the days. I predict that social media will have a huge falling-off once we can all get out and be with people in our community.On Sunday we made the children get dressed nicely, hair presentable, while we listened to hymns and a message online. It felt good to delineate the day somewhat. In the afternoon we decided to try a state gamelands trail that meandered to the top of the Sproul Mountain and along an old railroad grade we had no idea was up there. I have lived in this county 34 years and never hiked that trail. It was fun to poke around the old buildings and imagine the liveliness of the place a hundred years ago. Rita and Addy were delighted that the garter snakes were out sunning after the winter. They caught a few of them, but we advised them to leave them on the mountain where they will surely be happier.IMG_20200329_165458962_HDRThe photo above is a branch of ornamental plum that burst open within hours after Gregory brought it inside for me. The pear branch is slower, but ready to bloom as well. We’re relishing all the blooms as they come.Gabriel has had a week off work, after a marathon of nine consecutive night shifts. Today he was called in for some training with the “moon-suits” he will be wearing at work, since his unit in the hospital is the COVID19 unit. Last week there was one patient awaiting the results of the test. This week there are a few confirmed and a number waiting on results. It is amping up slowly, a huge blessing. The hospital is prepared, with ample PPE for their staff at this point. If you doubt that social distancing is effective, wait for two weeks before you fuss too loudly. Our counties in the middle of Pennsylvania have the lowest numbers in the state, probably due to not having many crowded cities and also having fewer travelers. Here’s to being homebodies! I vacillate between thinking surely it won’t reach us, to waking up from a nightmare that I am not able to go to the hospital with my child.

I read this story about a 101 year-old Italian man who was born during the Spanish flu pandemic and has just recovered from this corona-virus. It was oddly comforting to realize again that our times -all of ours- are in God’s hands.This is our ultimate defense- knowing without a doubt that He is with us, whether we feel it or not- and our strong place to stand. I have another source for free printable verse cards from Crossway. They are truly beautiful and inspiring. We printed a few sets on card stock to share with others as well as to remind ourselves of what it real and just out of our short-sighted view.

I was making mugs with a dragonfly flitting across a clay cookie and decided to make them limited-edition mugs with a Corona-spring message. They’re drying, ready to glaze in a week or so. “Trust.”

On a Different Note

I took a walk in the woods on Thursday evening. At the top of the ridge behind our house, I sat on a stump. My mind was racing and I had to tell myself firmly to sit still inside, just quietly listen and absorb the damp smell of leaf mold and fresh growth. It was the first time I actually sat down that day in body or spirit. The frantic tone of the world does tend to wear one down. I had taken a brief stroll on facebook and once more decided that I am not sanctified enough to manage it. The irony of being angry about the media whipping the public into panic while simultaneously feeding all one’s  friends with one’s own version of conspiracy theories seems obvious, at least to me. At any rate, there I was in the woods, and God was still faithfully bringing about the miracle that is swelling buds and courting spring peepers and lo, the winter is past!

We did lots of normal things this past week. Of course, school is normal. I do feel like this enforced homeschool will probably reinforce the opinions of those who already think we h-sers never get out of our cloistered lives. This isn’t true, of course. We had to reschedule our dentist appointments. (Haha.) Also, we missed piano lessons, library visits, a normal shopping trip to Goodwill, and a day when all in the house clamored to get together with the cousins.

I am not chafing or feeling like our liberties are threatened. At a time like this, I feel like the law of Christ, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the highest authority. We can do this in any situation, and the test comes when it inconveniences us. I have read extensively about communist regimes and war-time constraints on the people of God, and never has there been a time when the Light of Jesus’ love could not blaze gloriously through the haze of humanistic thought. This is our time to shine!

Okay, I wasn’t going there again, but I just did. Back to the week in review. It was warm, with real balm in the breezes. Even the rain was kind of warm. We spent a whole afternoon pruning fruit trees, clearing debris out of borders, edging with shovels, and even hauling old bedding out of the barn to mulch the asparagus beds, etc. I planted lettuce and larkspur in the garden and bought seed potatoes and onion sets for the day it dries out a bit. We have our place on the market, so this may be a foolish notion, but I must garden, whether I get the fruits or not. I get high on the scent of freshly turned earth. Ask my family; they will say it is true.

One afternoon the children and I took rakes and hoes to work on our switchback trail to the top of the ridge. It is steep and difficult to climb with all the wet leaves, but when we level the trail and cut the overhanging vines and branches, it becomes a magical place to walk, with a sense of privacy even with all the traffic noise on the road.

Alex helped me cut down a huge trumpet vine that was crawling under the shingles on the porch. Every year I tried to prune it but it was simply becoming unmanageable. There was a thick enough trunk on the vine that it required a saw to cut it. I like these vines for the hummingbird attraction they are, but they are better in a tree formation in an open spot where they cannot pull things apart with their incredible tendrils that form roots.

The girls are working on propagating succulent babies for their fairy gardens and we have grass seeded in a flower pot for an Easter centerpiece. Rita dug through my box of garden seeds and planted an egg carton full of various seeds. They rewarded her by springing right up. Today she dug up a whole bunch of wild carrots in the orchards and washed them. She wants to dry them, for some reason, so they are on cookie sheets in the oven, filling the house with a pungent carroty aroma. This is for her emergency stash of food in the playhouse. I guess she plans to rehydrate them in soups over her campfire. Recently I amended my cavalier attitude about quantities of flour and oatmeal zipping outside whenever they want to cook because I found some large doughy patties in the yard that even the dog wouldn’t eat. (We just cannot waste even 50 cents worth of flour right now, children.) They are cast back on foraging in the fields. Also, apples and they don’t even have to ask permission. I got a half bushel of them at the orchard because they are still open and “an apple a day” you know.  It is weird how much thought I have been putting into food and provisions in general. My children are always hungry, it seems. I found myself lecturing them on not snacking, and “those might be the last peppers and cucumbers we have in the house for a very long time, etc.”  Never mind that they are perishable and have to be eaten anyway.

All week I wanted to go to the shed and throw pots, but between spelling lessons and a strange compulsion to bake a lot of bread, I didn’t get out there until today. The act of centering the clay on the wheel has a centering effect on me as well. I have a goal to throw 70 pieces by the end of March. I am at 20, so there is a little room for hustle, wouldn’t you say? I have a joke to share with you. My elusive quest for the perfect set of nesting bowls continues to flit out of reach like a will o’ the wisp. I thought I had really done it last month. They looked great, but when I unloaded the glaze kiln, I couldn’t find the largest bowl. I thought I must have forgotten it in a storage tote somewhere but it was nowhere. At last I realized that I had glazed it merlot instead of batik blue, and there the mystery was solved. Sigh. Two bowls do not really count as a nesting set. Would you like to see? (insert facepalm emoji here.)

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Last weekend Alex drove with friends to a Young Adult Patroller’s Ski Camp in Burlington, Vermont, only to learn that the event was cancelled. It was 12 hours driving, 12 hours in Vermont, and 12 hours home. He still got in one practice day at the slopes here in Pennsylvania, but now the ski gear is all stored away. (I whisper a hallelujah!) We’ve been storing the gloves/hats/coats in the attic this week, washing a load at a time. It seems like every spring when we do this, we have an unseasonal snow, but I think not this year. We used our ice skates for exactly one hour in December. It was a disappointing season for the winter lovers among us, but all of us are delighted to be right here at the spring equinox.

Even our last pig, Poppy, is regaining her spirits. After we butchered her five siblings a few weeks ago, she mourned for days, refusing to eat or drink. It made me sad just to look at her little piggy eyes and drooping tail. Today when we walked past her, she ran along the fence hoping for slops, so I hope she has forgotten her trauma. She needs a boyfriend, I think.

The one stray female cat at our house has three boyfriends. I haven’t gotten her spayed because 1. she was a stray 2. she seemed kind of little yet. Famous last words of those overwhelmed by kitten deluge.

Addy is keeping track of our school countdown. I think we are now at 35 days, which is 7 weeks, friends! We always amend our last weeks with lots of field trips and fun stuff. (I wonder if they would think it is fun to make masks for the hospital ER. It’s definitely a thing we will be working on, if only to ensure that Gabriel has adequate supplies. ) The year end bash might be a little challenging this year so I put in a big Thriftbooks order today. They all wanted at least two books, but I cut it down to one each and a few read-alouds. The wish list will hold for awhile. (That’s an affiliate link up there, and if you are a first time buyer, you get a 15% off coupon and I get some points. Also, shipping is free with any order over $10. 🙂 )

In other news, I am a little crippled without a reliable phone. While Alex was changing the battery for me -the battery that didn’t fit even though it was supposed to be for the exact make and model of my phone- I accidentally spilled the tiny screws and springs that he had laid aside to reassemble it. As I was down on the floor with a magnet, trying to pull them out of the rug, I took off my glasses so I could see better at close range. Then I sat on my glasses. I am a little squint-eyed in an old pair with a different prescription, but guess who isn’t going to push for a vision appointment? If anyone tries in vain to reach me by phone, I am sorry. The situation is under review, but nothing is speedy these days. Try snail mail. It’s still working, judging by the speed with which my children communicate with their cousins. Postage stamps are a hot commodity around here. Of course, there is always email and messenger. It feels symbolic to actually be disconnected for reals. Uncomfortable, too. I like to stay in touch.

Meanwhile I’ll just be here waiting to hear how your days are going. Love to every one of you!

 

 

 

The Thing About Homeschooling

I think a lot about the mass-homeschooling that is being plopped into people’s laps these days. Every year that we make the decision to do it again -homeschool these children of ours- we have time to think about our decision, arrange a space with learning stations, buy supplemental books, invest in industrial strength pencil sharpeners, and in general make a plan. I feel a pang of sympathy for the willy-nilly way this has come up for many parents. We have only been homeschooling for 12 years and there are many who have better perspective than I do, but I have learned a few things that might be helpful.

  • Acceptance. Being upset about the way this is cramping your style is only going to raise a stinky cloud over your household and it won’t be long until you see little mad stink clouds hovering around your children. Your husband will come home from work and walk right into the unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better to just accept it and enjoy clear skies in your spirit for the duration.
  • Camaraderie. Staying in fellowship with your children, to borrow a term from Rachel Jankovic, is more important than doing the books. You may be surprised at how strong your feelings of dislike can be for your own offspring when you rub up against them constantly. Homeschooling is uniquely sanctifying in that you literally cannot get away from your own sin in relationships. Deal with your own heart first, then work at the sandpapery issue that is scraping at your relationship.
  • Humor. You have to be able to laugh. Looking into your child’s face and taking genuine pleasure in who they are, sharing a joke, singing a silly song: all these are excellent ways to take moments of joy in the day.
  • Creativity. There is a special happiness aura around a child who is absorbed in making something. Be warned. It will be messy! If you find yourself saying “no” to every project that messes up the house in favor of endless online entertainment, you will make yourself and your child the loser in the long journey of life. Let them cook, let them cut paper and sprinkle glitter, let them plant seeds in egg cartons for the windowsill, let them sew and carve and crumble playdough onto the floor. Then kindly teach them how to clean up after themselves.
  • Flexibility. Having run a fairly tight ship in traditional school, I tried hard for this vibe in homeschool. I hate to break it to you, but this is at best an exercise in frustration. Home is not school. While lessons need to be completed, it is fine to have trampoline breaks between Math and Spelling. There is nothing wrong with sipping tea or nibbling on apple slices while diagraming sentences. One of the finest aspects of homeschool, in my opinion, is the way learning becomes part of life. It doesn’t have its separate compartment. If we get interested in how an earthworm hangs on so hard when a robin is pulling it out, we take a detour and google it. Sometimes it drives me nuts. Can we just stay on track here?
  • Staying the course. That is a thing, despite how strongly I believe in following trails of wonder. In the end, there needs to be an authority who says, “All right, you have an hour for this math lesson. I will help you if you have questions, but you need to be diligent or you will (lose privilege of dessert, screen time, calling friend, etc.) “
  • Reset. What if it all just hits the fan? If you have little children in the house as well as older students, there is a pretty high likelihood that all will not go smoothly. There are ways to reset the whole crew. Quiet time, an hour of space for each individual with their own books or toys, has been a personal favorite. Sometimes we take walks in the woods, or bike rides on back roads. Occasionally the child with the biggest ‘tude is asked to make tea and set the table nicely for everybody. My personal favorite is to read aloud. The idea is to take a drastically different direction for a while, pray about the issues, talk them over frankly with your children, ask each other for forgiveness, and move on.
  • Presence. You are the one. This has been placed into your jurisdiction and your faithfulness will make all the difference. Don’t be discouraged if it feels hard. It is hard. If you do what is in front of you every day with the assurance that this is how you glorify God today, you will do well. Perfection is not required. Faithfulness is.
  • Grace. You may be surprised at how wonderful it is to stay home with your loved ones. Maybe you will discover that the disconnect you were feeling with a child is fading. Hopefully you will see afresh the amazing people your children are, with all these gifts and abilities. And you have access to all the Grace you need, you know. Blessings to all you “accidental homeschoolers” today. 🙂

I’ll conclude with a couple of phone photos from the last few weeks. Rita said she was tired of sourdough, so I taught her how to make bread with a simple recipe from Grandma. IMG_20200309_133436156_HDR

Addy, pegging away. She is keeping a countdown of the math lessons. On her whiteboard she wrote, “40 lessins won’t stop me!”

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Last but not least, some tiny creature sculptures that the girls made. They range from thumbnail size to about 2 1/2 inches and they make me happy.  Maybe now we won’t be so tempted in the miniatures aisle at Hobby Lobby. 😉

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Cheers everybody!

The Sap is Running

Sunday, March 8… 65 degrees and sunshine brings lots of people to the lake. I waited until 4 PM so I had a little time with my husband before he left for work, and then we loaded the bikes and the girls for our first round of Shawnee Park this year. Judging by the state of the parking lot, a lot of other people had the same idea, but it’s very quiet in our favorite spot by the dam. There are spring peepers and seagulls and soft rocks washed into roundness on the shore. The whole world is full of wonder, waking, opening petals to the sunshine. It’s the miracle we wait for every year, our hearts expanding with the joy of living.


March 13… We are nearly halfway through this month and it just keeps getting better and the world just keeps getting worse. I know many healthy people are scoffing about the fear-mongering that goes on with the coronavirus. I am not fearful about it, but I understand the fear. While I have a store room in my basement full of food we preserved and meat we butchered, I know that many do not have that to fall back on. Just putting myself in their shoes (a little imagination) helps me to be compassionate. It is a time to be kind and share, just like we always hoped we would be as Christ-followers in a time of mass panic.It is also a time to be kind and not share. Germs, that is. Before you shake your head and walk away, consider that your impulsive response may be from the privilege of a healthy person. I am far from a germaphobe: I let my children get extremely dirty and play with animals and do wild and free things. But I also take them home from places where people who are obviously sick are hanging out. I once sat behind a person at an event and she was streaming out of her eyes and nose with a cold, mopping it up with a roll of toilet paper. After she produced a few explosive sneezes, I quietly moved to a spot far away. I have taken my children home from church when it became obvious that there were sick people sitting there. This is not because we didn’t want to be in church, but because I know what that sickness can do to a medically fragile person and I’d rather not face that. If you shrug off your germs and cough with abandon in public places, or go to Walmart with your kids who have chickenpox, or refuse to miss a concert even when you have a stomach bug, it is probably because you live the life of the privileged healthy person. Those who live with medical conditions on a daily basis do not begrudge you your status, but it is really helpful when you consider them as you go about your robustly normal life. I know covid19 can be a fear-mongering fest, but before you fume and complain too much, try to remember that you are part of a whole. Few live so solitary that their actions affect nobody, and if they do, they are to be pitied. If you know anyone who is fighting cancer, or anyone who carries an inhaler for asthma, or anyone who has ever been hospitalized for “routine illness,” then you know someone who deserves your consideration. Elisabeth Elliot said that Christian courtesy is “my life for yours”.  It’s the pattern Jesus set, and it is the way of love. That’s all I have to say about that, I guess.

Slowly we shuffle on…

(… And sometimes we forget to hit the post button for a few days. This post was supposed to be sent out on the 13th, so here we are.) I can hardly believe we’re halfway through this month already. I don’t know how in the world I managed to post every day in February for the last few years. I suppose I have added a few things into my life since then, like a pottery business and piano lessons for the girls and all the assorted responsibilities that come with having teen and pre-teen children and being their teacher, etc. Our school is going well, but I don’t really find it less time consuming with three people in classes that still need me to oversee them a lot. Sometimes I wonder if we should do spelling all day every day for a while. Or maybe just parts of speech, or math facts. Mercy. My high schoolers are very self-directed, thank the Lord!

We seem to eat a lot of food these days. I will make a huge pot of soup or an enormous casserole and think, “Well that’s a few meals dusted and done,” but if they’re cheesy and delicious, as meals need to be in midwinter, we’re fortunate to have enough left for the next day’s lunch. I’ve started making 9 loaves of sourdough bread when I bake, and we easily go through a loaf a day. I’m pulling in the children on meal prep, since they enjoy eating and growing so much. It’s good for me and it’s good for them, to work together. For some reason I think I included my toddlers more with meal prep then I do my middle schoolers, likely because they got into trouble unless they were right beside me and the middle schoolers are happy to work on a project or practice piano while I’m making supper. Some of them have an uncanny ability to become very scarce when they sense work looming.

We made applesauce on the first Monday in February. It was such a warm day that we did all the work on the deck, odd as it was to do this in winter. They were the sweetest yellow delicious apples I have ever turned into sauce, having been stored in optimum conditions at the orchard since September. I should say that the children made applesauce. I coached them along but they did all the quartering and stirred the cooking pots and cranked it through the strainer and just like that my life got really easy. I did the cold packing of course, but they washed off the jars and hauled them to the basement and took the slop to the pigs and washed off the deck. It’s kind of weird to be in this stage of life, but I really like it.

When we were all done, they set up the trampoline and had a jolly time. Since that day we’ve had about one other sunshiny day. As I write this, I hear the rain sloshing down outside. The weather forecast has been really boring for pretty much the whole year. I bought a full spectrum lamp on Amazon one day after I checked the ten-day forecast, because I wasn’t sure I would live through all that cloudiness. I wanted to know if it actually helps with that draggy feeling that we get in winter. I have to say it cheers me up just to sit in that bright light, but my children unabashedly make fun of me. “Don’t you have enough things to make you happy?” they say and I reply, “Yes, you make me happy. Just stand still for a half hour so I can look at you. Now shine very brightly,” and they go off shaking their heads. I am a firm believer in keeping my children wondering…

I also bought some small twinkling light strings on Amazon to replace the Edison bulbs that weren’t working anymore in the dark corner of our living room. As it turned out these lights came with remote and eight different settings for blinking, dimming, and otherwise adjusting the mood of the room. It all depends on who gets their hands on the remote as to what the aura is in the living room these days.

I showed the girls some projects on Pinterest and they took off with coffee filters that we dyed pink in food coloring, then twisted into florals.

We sewed the filter flowers and paper leaves onto a green ribbon, then fluffed the filters into flowers.

When it was time to cut leaves, I got out our Cricut from Gabe’s school teaching days. I had never let them play with it, and had sort of forgotten that we own one. You’d think I handed them the moon on a stack of pretty paper. The snibbling party was delightful, with a steady stream of cutesy cards resulting. I told them I see no reason why I should ever buy stationery again.

I’m trying to keep my brain out of its habitual midwinter slogging, so I’m reading a lot of books on my wishlist and spending long hours reading aloud to the children. Last night we were so close to the end of our book and I kept falling asleep so I handed it off to Gregory to finish the chapter. I regret to say I totally missed the ending of the book but Addy filled me in.

I can tell I’m not thinking very sharply in the pottery shed. It is wonderful therapy for me to go out and throw a bunch of mugs. The only problem is that I need to think of what could all go wrong and be proactive. This is where apprenticing would be helpful, because I could learn from the mistakes of others, but as it is, I am learning things for myself one mess-up at a time. I had a fiasco kiln load of pieces that blistered because I had 3 switches on and only 1 off to start it, instead of 1-on-3-off, and blitzed it too fast and didn’t even think to check on it. Tsk tsk. That’s one way to see how low you can go. Last week I threw a bunch of beautiful baking dishes, and completely disregarded the low humidity and how fast things dry out in the winter time. The easy solution would have been to cover them in plastic so they take a long time to dry but I didn’t do that and a third of them developed huge cracks from drying too fast. Just off the wall stuff like that. Maybe I won’t ever do that again? I also spent a few weeks stressing over a proposed order, until my husband said, “Well you know you don’t have to do it,” and just like that my brain caught up and I said, “I’m sorry, but could you please find someone else to make that for you?” And they said, “Sure.” Shew, that was easier than I thought.

I have commissioned a bunch of bluebird sculptures from my resident sculptor, just to set on the windowsills this spring. Gregory hums and pats the clay and scratches around with a tool and out comes a bluebird. It’s totally fascinating to me to watch him because he doesn’t have to practice. The things I make come with much trial-and-error, smash ups, and literally months of hard discipline. This is why I don’t feel like a creative artist. I’m more the sort that’s determined enough to learn a thing that I’ll just keep trying.

We are doing other projects of absorbing interest, their chief value serving as a way forward through the long dark winter. We have been doing puzzles and playing Ticket to Ride or the deluxe Monopoly game that Greg found at Goodwill. The girls do not like Monopoly for the same reasons I don’t: It’s sordidly money-grubbing. Gregory has to beg and wheedle before they agree to a game. They’ll trade a Dutch Blitz round for a Monopoly round occasionally. This winter Olivia got an overwhelming desire to crochet a shawl and in typical fashion she crocheted with gusto until she ran out of yarn. We must hit the store for more. They have also been making new wigs for their dolls out of yarn and outfitting them with fresh clothes. I taught Olivia how to put in a zipper and make buttonholes, a process that had both of us a little on edge. She said, “I’m not promising that I’ll remember how to do this the next time.”

Today Rita sewed her first play-all-day dress. She zipped up the long seams with little regard for the finer details, then I did all the finishing touches and she found green buttons to embellish the front. Her sisters tell her she looks like a picnic tablecloth and she doesn’t even care. I have to say, she moves in a cheerful little cloud of promise of summer when she wears this dress. If I were an ant, I’d crawl right up and feel at home.

I haven’t needed the writing therapy this February. I’m over here, looking over shoulders, cheering on those who lag, doling out endless spelling power lessons, enabling creative brainstorms, and when the PRODIGIOUS MESSES get me a little crabby, I go sit with my happy lamp. (I jest. I’m never crabby.)

(Do you know how sanctifying messes can be? )

When your baby isn’t perfect…

This is a subject that is very close to my heart, and recently a thoughtful lady sent me some articles she wrote/compiled with the help of mothers who have special needs children. All the mothers were given anonymity so that they could be completely honest.

It is twelve years since we found out that our daughter would need lifelong medications, regular specialist visits, and careful monitoring when she’s sick, due to an adrenal insufficiency. If you would have told me then that life would be completely normal, my daughter would be fine, and those three daily doses of meds would be as routine as coffee at breakfast, I would have had a hard time believing it because I felt like I had been run over by a truck. Receiving a diagnosis that is strange, learning terms you never heard of, navigating a big city for doctor’s visits… this is just never part of the dream.

The first thing we did was ask for anointing with oil and prayer for miraculous healing at church. We believed that God could heal her completely, but we also believed in “not my will, but Thine.” God taught us some deep truths when He did not heal in the way we asked, even though many times I wanted to know a way to twist His arm, a way to obtain special faith, even just a way out of a scary path. Again and again I read Psalm 139, savoring all those intimate ways that God knows us. One day it dawned on me: “Fearfully and wonderfully made in secret” does not only refer to healthy babies. He did not somehow lost track of our baby in utero, and that became my strong place to stand. I believe that there is so much more going on than what I can see, and that is where I find rest. As much as I would like to, I do not have to figure out the inscrutable.

God did use medicine to heal her. Our baby went from a stressed, constantly crying infant who didn’t thrive to a gorgeous, chubby child with the most cheerful outlook imaginable. Her meds fit into the middle of a cheerio, and that’s how she chewed them down for many months. Lab draws were never fun, but it became her special date with her dad, since her mom has a thing about needles. We got a medic alert necklace for when we travel and we carry an emergency shot for stressful situations where adrenaline would usually pull a body through shock. I do tend to hover and protect her from germs, but I can easily see the gifts I have been given in this walk.

First on the list is a beautiful daughter with a tender spirit and deep kindness toward anyone who hurts or is “different”.

Second, there is the healing God has done in my heart through the privilege of mothering her. I know Him in ways I would not if I had not slogged through miry questions of how and why, and that is where He showed me his tender Love.

Then there is empathy, because when your mother heart has been crushed for your child, you can walk beside others and hurt with them and share the comfort He has given you.

I think the thing I cringe about the most is the comments that indicate that physical health is the top priority, the prize of a good life. “We don’t care if we have a boy or a girl, just as long as it’s healthy,” people say. Of course I understand what they’re saying, but I’m tempted to reply, “And if it’s not healthy, what then? Are you going to give it back?”

Please hear me: your baby may not be healthy, but your baby is perfect. Your baby was designed by a loving Creator who will never leave or forsake His creation. Yes, the world is broken and genetics are flawed and tragic accidents happen and children suffer. It’s ok to hate the pain and the hurt, but He is there and He is a parent too, and He will carry you. It’s ok to grieve deeply for what you have not been given, but there is a time to get up and lift your eyes past what seems senseless and random, and you will find that He is there. Go read Psalm 139 every day until you have it memorized. Let the truth filter down into your soul and settle you. You will find that you are not alone.

(You will also find that you are a fierce mother bear who can fight for your cub in ways no one else can. There is a latent strength in you, brave and capable of things you never dreamed you’d have to do. You are this child’s mother for a reason. It’s not accidental, and as much as you’d like to run away from it, there you are. My next article is a guest post from other mothers who are walking this way. There are people, too, and great kindness, and maybe we can all learn together how to help each other. )