Preparing Room

I love that line: “Let every heart prepare Him room.” It’s an old-fashioned way of saying, “Give Him space.” He is the One who clears out the chaos and dusts the cobwebs in the heart that has given Him room. He beautifies and enlivens the old place, brings out the shine in the furniture, and provides the places of comfort.

This realization inside me has changed my view of housekeeping into one of homemaking. I get to partner with Jesus in my home, filling it with grace and goodness, because that is what He has done for me. That sounds so nice: good food, warm places, and happy hearts. However. You can’t have fragrant gingerbread without some flour puffs and icing smears and possibly even a deluge of frustrated tears. It also involves taking out the trash and washing a lot of dishes. I guess technically you can light a gingerbread candle, but that doesn’t quite count the same.

When I was handed a different house to turn into a home, it was a dark and gloomy place, floor to ceiling. It ended up being a long paint-splattered process, with only two rooms completely finished when we moved into it. Decorating brings out my insecurities and exhausts me, but homemaking has become a delight. Just ask my children how many times I rearranged the living room furniture this fall, finding the sweet spot where everything looks peaceful and happy together. Not matchy -our furniture is carefully curated (Don’t be afraid. That’s code for used, thrifted, or on clearance.) from many different sources- but cozy.

Because of how unsettled and chaotic the last few years felt, it became imperative to me to make our home feel lovely and secure. I am not good at visualizing things in my head, and Pinterest gave me anxiety. I ended up making a list of things that are important to me: light, cheer, comfort, practicality. Stabbing at a feeling meant sleuthing out little end tables at the thrift store so we can set our mugs and books on them. It meant soothing blues and uplifting yellows. It meant putting the old ratty towels on the dog-towel stack and investing in fresh ones.

We have large south-facing windows in the main living area, one of the big selling points for us when we checked out this house. I wanted to let all the light in, yet be able to close the fishbowl at night, and decided on sheers with metal rings and linen looking panels to keep open most of the time. I bought curtains and hung them so I could feel them, then returned curtains and got others until it looked like I wanted it to look. (Sorry, Big Lots.) My windows are dressed, not like anything I saw on Pinterest, but I like them.

I take the same approach every time I decorate the mantle piece. A few weeks ago I bought some placemats that say “JOY” because I wanted to use one as a wallhanging above the fireplace. I was tempted to buy silvery fake eucalyptus, but decided on the dried dusty millers from the garden, some twigs spray painted white, and sprigs of rose hips instead. When I am done with them, I can throw them away instead of figuring out storage. Every time the season switches, I decorate and step back and rearrange and step back and throw out some stuff and step back and go look for different elements until it feels right to me. This is probably not how you’re supposed to do it, but once it feels cozy, I feel done. My heart tells me so, and in this case that’s what I go by. I refrain from comparing with what others are doing, because that is not the point. Their house is their house, and ours is ours.

Home is a sensory experience. The atmosphere really does matter. Lights are very important. My husband blessed me and installed can lights everywhere. I also hang many strings of twinkle lights for the long dark winter. We light candles and fires and feel the blessing of darkness pushed back.

Gabriel’s work is as stressful as it has ever been, so the feeling I strive for at home is peace. Imagine with me a 12 to 14-hour shift where you are aware the entire time that you cannot possibly give patients the standard of care that you were trained to do. You are only one, and you can only do so much. When you come home from work, what is it that you want to feel? I can’t do much for the masses in the hospital, but I can make a place where one of their nurses can recharge and find cheer and hope.

This is different for everyone. I read articles about how the pandemic has changed people’s perceptions of what they want in their homes because they actually spent a lot of time in them. The all-vanilla, sterile hotel room style is out, and colors and comfortable furniture style is in, as well as personal touches and hand-made accessories. (I know I should have made my curtains, but I am only one and I can only do so much. :D)

We can take part in preparing room, in building a culture of redemption and safety, one homemaking day at a time.

“And heaven and nature sing!”

(Disclaimer: I wrote most of this post last year before Christmas and didn’t publish it, for some reason, so here it is, fluffed up a little, not your average Advent post. My “Restoration” issue of Daughters of Promise came in the mail yesterday. I was happy with my little garden feature, but really inspired by all the articles on taking waste spaces and discarded goods and giving them new life. It’s a core value that resonates deeply with me. I dug out this article and decided to send it out. Blessings all, as you invest in wherever it is you are called to beautify today.)

Forgetfulness and Foibles

Before I forget, which I have done for the last month: Some of you asked me to let you know here when I put pottery on Etsy. I use Instagram for my free advertising, but if you are not on Instagram, you don’t get the announcements. So, here’s the link if you wish to check out what’s left in the shop: Black Oak Ceramics. I am sorry I forgot to alert you. There are still some mugs available, if you are interested in supporting small business. 😉 I might add that shipping seems pretty steep, (They just upped the rates again for the Christmas rush) but as it happens, I can usually ship two mugs for very nearly the same price as one. Not that I want to sell all my mugs, or anything. I asked the Post Office about last dates for Christmas delivery, and they said probably December 15.

When I was setting up online banking on an app last week, I was given a list of security questions for the future. They ranged from things like, “What was the name of your first pet? What is your mother’s maiden name? Who’s your favorite musician?” I was supposed to pick 10 questions, and some of them had no concrete answers. I don’t have one favorite musician. “What’s your dream car?” I thought that might be a good one because I can see it in my mind, but I could not think what it was called at that moment. There was no way I was going to be sure I could recall my dream car when the security question popped up. I remembered later. It’s a Mini Cooper, just because it’s cute and after years of parking a Suburban, I’d find it restful. Memory experts say I need to associate that tidbit with something else in my mind so it doesn’t get lost, so I am seeing myself in a tiny green car, pulling off a flawless parallel park in Pittsburgh.

The same blank thing happens when the pharmacist asks my child’s date of birth in that brisk professional tone, and I stand there stammering, all five of my children’s birthdays gone away for the moment. Where has my brain gone?

I’ve gone to the chiropractor a few times in the last month. This is not an attempt to improve my memory, but more to do with “potter shoulder”, let’s be clear. At every visit he instructs me to turn my head to the left. Every time I struggle to find the correct left. Does he mean the back of my head or the front of my head? It’s very humiliating. I have had left/right confusion my whole life, but it’s the spur of the moment times that really show me up. I find myself making extra effort to act intelligent in other ways to try to offset this lapse.

I’ve heard of women who always face a certain direction for family pictures because they have “a good side”. The problem is, looking in the mirror is not the same as looking at a camera lens. I’ve given up on remembering a good side. It is what it is. What you see is what you get. This fall I wrote an article about my garden experiments at this property and submitted it for Daughters of Promise. They suggested that it would be good to have pictures taken of the actual garden and me in it. I found a talented young lady locally who took the pictures, and when I was looking through them, I made the comment, “Well, I guess that’s how I look.” My daughter is very astute, and she said, “You don’t look fat if that’s what you mean.”

It’s astounding how often I spill coffee when I wear a white shirt. I have a niece who has joined me in this club. We prefer not to wear white. That’s one of the best ways to keep from spilling our coffee.

I suppose it’s human nature to want to appear pulled together, a person who does not forget stuff and make messes and flub up in general.

We learn coping mechanisms and scramble to cover our tracks. We look around quickly when we fall, checking to see if anyone has witnessed our lack of coordination. I do have a wide streak of dignity that I get from my father’s side of the family. I suspect it is healthy for everyone to keep things to themselves that nobody needs to know. I am not talking about secret sins, of course, but personal issues such as sucking one’s thumb to fall asleep. (I don’t.) My mom used to ask, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” when she felt like her children were skirting the edges of what was proper to talk about and what might be called ‘Eskimo’.

Sometimes I spout opinions without thinking about the person hearing them. Last week I wore a dress to church that had white flowers on a black fabric and a white sweater layered on top. A friend asked me if I had a new dress, and I said, “No, it’s just a new combination. I usually wear this dress with a black top, but I decided the world is dreary enough right now.” Then I looked at my friend and saw she was wearing a black dress with a black sweater, and what was there to do but to laugh and try to delicately extract my foot from my mouth?

I do consider my best defense mechanism to be able to laugh at myself, to find the humor in humanity. I only came to write this post to let you know about the Etsy sale. It seems like I found plenty of foibles to cheer your day, as well. Wouldn’t you like to know all the stuff I didn’t say?

Cheers! Go forth to brighten your world today, and if something funny happens, laugh heartily and tell somebody about it!

Blame It on the Cider

If you give a housewife a gallon of cider, and she finds it in the back of her refrigerator, going fizzy, she will google “how to use fizzy cider.” She will find an idea that makes her mind sizzle, and she will latch onto it because it’s called Apple Cider Brined Turkey.

When she thinks about turkey, she suddenly feels hungry. She went to her mother’s house for Thanksgiving and consequently she does not have leftover turkey in her own freezer. She decides that she did not have enough turkey in her life recently, and she should purchase one for a second feast after the feast. Alas, the housewife can find none anywhere in this year of turkey shortage, but she figures that one fowl in brine is pretty much the same as another fowl in brine. She goes to her freezer and pulls out chicken quarters. When she sees how icy the freezer has become, she knows that she will have to defrost it before her family butchers the deer her men have brought home. She fixes the brine and drops the chicken quarters into it, then she tackles the freezer. It looks very nice when it is done, and she finds a loaf of stale bread to make stuffing. It only tastes a little bit freezer-burned and the butter will mask that, she decides. She even has a bit of limp celery in the produce drawer to give it flavor.

If she makes faux turkey and dressing, there will need to be mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. She has seven potatoes in her pantry, and that is considered a good sign. She has a large sweet potato that she needs to use, so she cooks it to make sweet potato pie, AKA “almost pumpkin pie.” While the sweet potato is cooling, she makes a quick grocery run for cranberries and pie crusts and chicken stock for gravy.

She drains the brine off the chicken, and she bakes her first ever sweet potato pies at the same time as it is roasting. When the chicken starts to go golden brown like the recipe promises, she slides the stuffing into the oven and cooks the seven peeled potatoes. She turns the chicken stock into gravy and she mashes the potatoes.

If you give a housewife the ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast, she will cook and mash and add more butter, and then she will call her people to partake of it. She will boast unwisely to them that the pie is sweet potatoes. Because she has funny children, she now has sweet potato pie leftovers in her fridge. She does not have stale bread or limp celery or any more fizzy cider though.

(And her freezer is very clean.)

The Annual Slightly Strange List…

…Of things for which I am thankful. It’s a little late, since I spent a whirlwind week trying to catch up and get ahead and then dashed off for 2 days of Thanksgiving fellowship and feasting at my parents’ place with two of my siblings and their families.

Cousins are awesome. We were missing five of them, but this crowd had non-stop fun and games. Alex is the oldest, and he is turning 19 in a few days. Desmond is at the tail end and he just turned 2. So the four of us kids produced 20 offspring in 17 years. Pretty amazing!

Siblings are awesome too. And parents.
And just our immediate family, before we headed home. It was blustery and cold, and nobody wanted to take a quick photo but I rather insisted because otherwise one doesn’t ever get photos.

And now, on to the slightly strange list, the off the cuff things I am grateful for.

Personalities. I love how different people are. It is endlessly fascinating to try to figure out what makes people tick, even people that I don’t like as much as others. Imagine if nobody were organized, or if everybody were micromanagers. What if nobody liked to talk and everybody sat around wishing someone would pick up the conversational ball?

Good healthcare options. This year especially I am grateful that we have options. Not only things that are helpful to slow a pandemic, but also clean facilities and experts who know how to cut out disease or prescribe proper medications to save lives. Also. These digestive enzymes. I have taken a lot of teasing and then some because they are called Bye-bye Bloat, which is just a funny name. Over a year ago, when we moved, my body collapsed with a knee injury and a severe toothache that involved a root canal and a round of antibiotics. I could tell things were out of kilter for months, and I felt unwell every time I ate, no matter what it was. Finally I googled for a digestive enzyme and looked at Amazon reviews, and then I stabbed in the dark and ordered these. I will humbly tell you that they have blessed my innards tremendously. I have taken them for 6 months and when I saw a Black Friday sale today, I felt like I should share a little love in case someone else has similar issues. (FYI, that’s an affiliate link up there. For my full disclosure, see the bottom of the page.)

Mud. I really like mud, that is, dirt to grow things and clay to throw things. Maybe I am just an earthy person. I have suspected as much for years. Oddly, I wear garden gloves when I am digging and I use copious amounts of lotion on my hands after I have thrown pots for a while because I hate that dry feeling.

Libraries. The library in our small town is tiny and very nervous about the spread of germs, even though the librarian is doubled masked behind a clear shower curtain and there is nobody else in the building, much less within six feet of us. Then we discovered that the library in the larger town is only about seven miles away and it is amazing! There is a great middle grade section, and the last time we were there they were selling an encyclopedia set that was only four years old, with pristine pages that were hardly ever cracked. I snapped it up gleefully, because I am a homeschooler who does not want my children to think Google is the only way to research. We missed our very ancient encyclopedia set that was left in a dumpster when we moved.

Thermostats. Seriously, how wonderful is it that we can push a few buttons and have heat? I feel almost embarrassed by the ease, which we pay for, of course, but I am grateful when it blusters and threatens to freeze us. If we ever live in a dystopian setting where we huddle around campfires again, I am sure we will be grateful for that heat too. So maybe I should just say I am glad for the warmth.

Tea. And coffee. And hot chocolate. Hot drinks in general, that bless us down to our chill-blained toes. Or even the toes that are doing fine.

Coziness. Can you see a theme here? I am making a concerted effort to settle in to this season that I do not love. Maybe if I think of soft sweaters and scented candles and fleecy socks, I won’t notice the ickiness. Apple dumplings, made with sour Granny Smiths and buttery brown sugar syrup. Crackling logs in the fireplace. Twinkly lights hung about the house. (Ooh, I might be feeling it… Hmm… Nope, not yet. )

Hope. There is a verse (Proverbs 13:12 ) that talks about hope deferred and how it makes the heart sick. It seems to be referring to our wishes. But there is another kind of hope, where we do not see how it will all work out, but we tenaciously hang on because we know the One who is arranging our lives for His good purposes. “And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:5

I am grateful for all these, and there should be at least forty more on my list, but I do not wish to weary you. Happy thanksgiving! Let’s be busy in our thanks-living!

Sometimes He Says it Twice, and other things

On Sunday morning Olivia was not feeling well, so she stayed home from church with Gregory and Addy. Since our church doesn’t stream the service, I found a sermon by Alistair Begg for them. As I was going out the door, I heard him reading from the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore take no thought for your life… For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things… Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” Well, guess what? The preacher read the very same passage in church. Not only that, but I had been looking at Hebrews 12 and Romans 5, at the passages about chastening being an indication of being beloved of the Lord, and all the good things that tribulations work out in our lives. The scripture reading passage on Sunday was Hebrews 12. Sometimes God just gets my attention this way. I would do well to listen, don’t you think?

I have been in a bit of a quagmire of anxiety. It’s not important that everybody knows what the anxiety is about, but I can assure you that I have “legitimate” reasons to worry. However, this is not the will of God for his children. I know this. And sometimes He taps me on the shoulder and repeats Himself, and I’m so grateful that I can hear His voice.

I am sure that many of us are facing uncertainty when we look around. The covid continues it’s strange patterns of deadly ebb and flow. Last week most of my husband’s ICU patients died. Seven of them, four on his watch. He is assigned to a small hospital with only six ICU beds. Occasionally there are people waiting in the emergency room until someone in intensive care dies, and then there’s a bed for them. Then there may be a stretch of days where he is assigned only “regular” patients. If you know someone in healthcare, please take a moment to pray for God to sustain their spirit. It’s a continuing strain. I believe that we, all of us, are here for such a time as this. We can change the world with our compassion and kindness. I can see great courage in the world when I look for it. Or I can see strife and selfishness. It just depends on what I want to see.

There’s a lot of emphasis on the labor shortage and how nobody wants to work anymore. It is a problem, but it is not entirely true. The ones who are working are carrying a lot more weight on their backs. What if we all made a concerted effort to bless the people in the service industries, who are doing their best? We can look into their faces, smile genuinely, and cheerfully express our appreciation for their service. It might not make less work, but it could give them the stamina to keep going.

Switching gears here…

I got a coupon in the mail for 16 free Hello Fresh meals and free shipping. Wow, I thought, that might be fun. When I went on the website, I had to make a profile, and then I had to enter my credit card information. That should always be a red flag, if you haven’t even ordered anything. However, I pressed on. I entered my coupon code. It wasn’t valid. I took my glasses off and strained closely at the coupon. Oh. That 1 was actually just a straight line. I had to do some fancy keyboarding to figure out how to get it, but at last my coupon was valid. Then I saw that the sixteen free meals are spread out over four orders, so that you only get four free meals in an order. Okay, I figured it might be fun for the children to cook on a busy day. I selected the maximum, three meals for four people, the meat and veggies option. Then I got sticker shock: nah, that’s going to be too expensive. I never concluded the order. The next day I got an email saying, “Since you didn’t choose from our menu, you will be receiving your meals from our weekly menu. You have been billed.” Well then. I guess that was meant to be. I promptly went into the innards of Hello Fresh and canceled my subscription, but today our box came. Rita and Addy were delighted to sort through the contents and each of them cooked a meal in short order. They were charmed with the little pre measured seasoning packets and the careful instructions on the recipe cards. I oversaw operations, and helped chop the scallions. Our meals turned out fantastic, and we had a buffet for supper, with lots of leftovers. I suppose if you divide $47 into 12 restaurant plates, it’s not too shabby. But it was a once in time fling for us. I think this could be a great option to send as a gift to someone who is having difficulty, especially if you can’t physically take them a meal, and more especially if they enjoy cooking.

Speaking of coupons, this is the time of year when I always like to look at the Christian Book Distributors website because they frequently offer free shipping, and have deep discounts. My ESV journaling Bible is 5 years old, tattered, with coffee stains on the cover, and the margins full of notes. I like to read a new translation every couple years, so I’m planning to get a New Living Translation Bible next. My only problem is that I really like having margins for notes, but the NLTs all they have these pretty coloring page style illustrations, which is not really what I want in a Bible. I thought maybe I can do my regular notes in the margins and let the girls color the illustrations?.. I also ordered four NLT Proverbs illustrated study guides for my students to study in the new year.

As I write this, the last kiln of glazed pots is firing for this year. I draw the line here, at the end of November, and if my tallying is correct, it was 640 pots this year, give or take a few.

After I got the kiln firing, Addy and I cleaned the basement thoroughly with our floor cleaner that we got at a yard sale for $5. It has a hot water tank, and brushes that help to scrub the concrete while it sucks up the dirty water. While we manufacture enough dirt to use a commercial cleaner down there, it does help and is easier for the children to handle than a mop.

Meanwhile Olivia was doing the laundry and Rita was cleaning the kitchen. Sometimes I can hardly believe I am in this season where people can be told to do things and they do them. Mostly. The degree of thoroughness is often relative to how much oversight they get. You may have noticed that I kept Addy working with me. She is willing and swift, but last week when I went digging into the attic in their room, I discovered that when she cleans their room, she opens the attic door and shovels in the things she doesn’t want to deal with. So we work together and all is well.

My friend who organized the church house cleaning this fall had made detailed lists of what needed to be done in each room. She told me that she used to make spreadsheets for her children to clean their house, room by room. I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I did the same. Now the kitchen cleaner has a little list of things that have to be checked off before she can initial that she cleaned the kitchen. I came upstairs and was startled at the sight of Rita wiping out the microwave because I hadn’t even told her to do it. Ah, the list! There’s a small stipend with the bigger jobs, and that becomes the allowance at the end of the month.

Gregory had a full day of school, but the rest of us took off. We decided to have school vacation this whole week, and work later to do a little catch up. It feels amazing. We never do this. But this year we are, because we can.

Would you like to know what our weather is like right now? It’s unspeakable. But we have boots and sometimes I go out and puddle around with the girls. Yesterday we waded across the creek and explored the deer trails in our small woods. The only bright spots of color I saw were the rose hips. Everything else was monochrome. I will be very happy for some brilliant snow.

This is my current inspirational read by Hannah Grieser. It’s so relevant for this season, as well as an antidote for the anxiety referenced earlier.

We’re burning candles, and getting out the twinkly lights, and making things like pumpkin whoopie pies. I made a batch of latte mugs a few weeks ago, and this morning I tried one to see how it works. It tasted fine, and the mug made me happy. What are your coping mechanisms for November? We’d all love to hear about them. 😘

An Unscheduled Interruption

Our cell group was recounting the year past, with an emphasis on thankfulness. I personally don’t feel like the year just past is very fun to look back on. “Sometimes I find myself just waiting for the next disaster,” I said, “but I do not want to live like that.”

A week after that conversation, Addy came to my room at midnight with acute stomach pain. Gabriel was working in Pittsburgh, so I couldn’t confer with him. Her pain was right under the ribcage, not lower right lateral like I thought appendicitis would be. We tried everything we normally do for stomach pain: a warm bath, massage with soothing oil, warm drinks, rice bag heated up for the affected area. I finally called Gabe in the middle of the night to see what he thinks, but it is hard to tell when you can’t see the person in pain, and maybe even harder if you know this is a child with a lower pain tolerance than some. At 2:30 I decided we would go to the ER to check her out. She was doing her best to be brave, but she was chilling under mounds of blankets, writhing in pain.

Upon arrival, she was given an IV and some morphine, after which she became quite chipper, chatting with the nurse and watching while they drew blood for labs. Suddenly she threw up all her supper on the bed and the nurse looked at me with eyebrows raised. No fever, no obvious flinching when they palpated her stomach, and less pain once she had tossed her cookies. I thought for sure that we had just gone to the ER to be diagnosed with a stomach bug.

It didn’t take long for the CAT scan results to come back. It actually was an inflamed appendix. Since she is still a child, we got sent to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for the appendectomy. I had time to drive home and pack some extra clothes and supplies. I woke the other children and told them what was going on, then Addy and I had a nice, bumpy ambulance ride in the chilly morning. By the time we got to Pittsburgh, Gabe was already working just a few minutes away at another hospital. It was good to know he was right there if we needed him.

Meanwhile we got VIP treatment, escorted by the EMTs straight to a private room. I could have cried when I saw the couch with pillows and sheets ready for weary parents. We were warned that it might be a day before they could add her into the surgery roster, and we settled in. I crashed hard on that couch, but had only slept an hour before a nurse cheerfully informed us that she could go to surgery right away, since she had not eaten anything recently and it looked to be a fast and routine operation. Probably it will take about 60 to 90 minutes, they told us.

I decided to grab some food and eat in the courtyard in the sunshine. My stopwatch was set so that I would for sure be back in the waiting room when the surgeon came out to tell me how it went. At exactly 55 minutes, he breezed in and said she did great, appendix was out, and she could probably go home in a few hours since there was no leaking or infection. I was astounded, grateful, relieved.

Gabriel had a motel room reserved for that night, so we decided it would work out well to stay with him there, get a good night’s sleep before heading home together. This was a double blessing because I didn’t have a vehicle in town. Gabriel picked us up at the end of his shift and settled Addy on a cot. She choked down a large syringe full of cherry flavored tylenol and fell into a sound sleep. So did I! Twelve hours later we woke to sunshine and renewed energy. Addy walked very carefully and slowly, but she was hungry and happy to be going home.

Sometimes a potential disaster is a simple little interruption where God shows Himself present, able to take care of all the little details on the surgical floor, the other children at home, the lodging, and the transportation. This is a week later, and Addy is bouncing like usual, no more cherry medicine necessary. I am very grateful!

One Day

A few of my friends did a one day challenge on Instagram where they posted a photo of their ordinary or extraordinary lives every hour. I haven’t had time to catch up with them, but I thought it was pretty interesting, and it would be fun to take a photo every hour, then look back at the day. Here, without further ado:

8 AM. Having coffee in my room, looking out, thinking about the day, committing it to the Faithful One.
9 AM. Finished read-aloud time (Ben Carson’s story, Gifted Hands, abridged for children) and memory work. Ready to check some quizzes and tests. The coffee is now cold, but I sip it anyway. It’s my breakfast.
10 AM. Hanging out a load of towels because it’s warm and sunny and I love the smell of line-dried towels.
11 AM. Pottery busyness. Trimmed these mugs and bowls, then threw another batch before lunchtime.
Noon: The last half of the apple dumpling leftovers, eaten in the garden as the clouds start rolling over the horizon.
1 PM. Handling the handles. Hand’s down my least favorite pottery work. LEAST FAVORITE.
2 PM. Taking a break with outdoor therapy. Pulled dead plants and trimmed back unsightly frozen ones. Then I spread the very last of my rotting hay bales as mulch while the children raked and dumped leaves onto the garden.
I think this is 3:30 to 4-ish. I was back at handles and attaching hearts to mugs. I threw 30 mugs today and only handled 9, so there is my work, all tucked into totes, ready for tomorrow. But at least the handles are pulled and ready to attach.
5 PM. Helping my son with his fish fry, as you can see, there in the reflection. He did the battering, and I did the frying. They were walleye, and they were delicious!
6 PM. Ancient Civilizations and the Bible, Greg and Olivia’s history course. We do it first thing in the morning or last thing at night, depending on the day. Today we did it last, and the assignment was reviews and mapping and listening to Itzhak Perlman’s Jewish Folk Songs.
7 PM. Reading our family circle letter, and my Grandma’s last letter to the family. “My love and prayers for all of you,” she said every time she wrote a letter. A few tears of gratefulness pricked my eyelids as I reflected on the treasure of such a Grandma.

And that’s when I quite taking pictures. The day was far from done, but it was tired. I face-timed with my husband for a bit but he was too whooped by his shift to do much more than yawn and try to listen to what I was saying. He is working in the Pittsburgh hospital currently, because they are having severe staffing difficulties. That means he stays overnight and works all the shifts in a row, then comes home for a nice chunk of time. (That’s about the best spin I can put on it. Also, bonuses are nice.)

I cleaned up the frying mess on the stove while Gregory did the other dishes and the girls had a howling fun time in the basement. It was a good day, and since I went to the bother of taking the pictures, I thought I might as well share them. How was yours?

Kitchen Makeover

It has been a year and a half since we bought this cottage in northwest Pennsylvania. The house was liveable, but so dated it was like time traveling to the 70’s. I like the 70’s. I was born in them, but why so much dark paneling and dark woodwork and fake brick? As we brainstormed renovations in the house, it became obvious that the kitchen would be the biggest project. We decided to keep it till last.

“Do you think it’ll be done by Christmas?” I asked.

“Aren’t you feeling pessimistic?” Gabe said. So I tucked my expectations away and made the best of things, which ended up being a good idea, because we were so tired of renovations in 2020 that we made a mutual agreement to wait until 2021 to do any more in the kitchen.

Here is how we started, straight out of settlement. The dishwasher, a Very Vintage Maytag, still worked; it sounded like a small jet was taking off during a rainstorm in the kitchen. The refrigerator was the newest appliance, but it was small and a week’s worth of milk and apples pretty much filled it up, with some cracks for ketchup and ranch dressing. What else could you possibly need? But still… See the wall oven across the corner? There was a vast space above and below it, perfect for hiding runaway slaves. You had to send a small child in to get stuff in the back. The stovetop was in the countertop, where the red kettle is sitting.

(WordPress is giving me absolute fits with all these photos. They don’t cooperate and the edit buttons are without pattern or mercy. I will need to go somewhere and breathe different air for awhile.)

The doorway into the living room was a standard size, with a spiral staircase into the basement just to the left of this photo.
Here you can see the hole where the spiral descended, and the wall we removed to open the area into the living room.

We started by tearing out walls, and since the ceiling was low and claustrophobic, we decided to take it up to the rafters and open up the walls from one small doorway to an open floor plan including the living room. There was an ungodly mess when we took down the ceiling and all the blown-in insulation fell onto the floor. We took out the upper cabinets at that time, as well, knowing we weren’t planning on using them. Gabe saved them for storage in the basement.

This was August 1, 2020, moving day. I can hardly believe it myself. But the lights worked, and that was cheering. We kept the originals, just moved them to where our future island would be situated.
This was the set-up for a few months, until we realized that the wait for appliances would be long, and I felt slightly hampered in my food prep without anything except a toaster oven. So we set the wall oven on top of the old island set into the place where we had put the shelving unit. The temperature read-out was never right, so I bought an oven thermometer and adjusted the settings that way.

And August 14, the day the brothers came to help install flooring. Nothing lifted us out of remodeling squalor like this did.
We got some of our new appliances in March, 2021. It was wonderful to have tools that worked. I would open the refrigerator doors and gaze at all the space. That, and the huge pantry: game changers! We started having friends over, and one of the ladies wondered if I like the countertop, an old chippy-paint door laid on the former island. I assured her that it was temporary.
In July we tore out all the old cupboards. Everything in them was packed back into boxes and hauled to the basement to join the other kitchen boxes that had never been unpacked at all. In many ways this was the most challenging stage of the redo. I improvised, grilled, bought frozen pizza, etc. We stayed nourished.
Our cabinet maker installed the boxes so that Gabe could put in the countertops. We had bought sections of bowling lanes on Facebook marketplace. The bowling alley dated to the 1920’s but the lanes had been resurfaced with some extremely hard product. It took us days to sand and smooth them down to butcher block.
After the countertops were installed, we filled the cracks and treated them with Dark Half, a food safe tung oil application that has a bit of stain in it. We really like them so far.
Did you know coffee tastes just as good when it is made on the floor. We did this for weeks, and everything turned out fine in the end.
And here we are. This photo was taken this morning, after I had spent 30 minutes tidying up. We are all done, (except for putting glass into the fancy cabinet on the left). There will be some sort of pot hanger situation under the hood eventually, but for now I store my cast iron pans inside the oven. There are no more boxes to unpack in the basement, but there is a box or two of things I have decided to donate. If I could live without them for a year, I can live without them.

Occasionally I feel almost guilty about my beautiful kitchen. It feels like an overload of goodness. Our cabinet maker did a lovely job, worked with us to make everything just how we wanted it. I marvel at the ease of preparing large amounts of food in a space that we carefully thought through for our needs. I am grateful! I said no to a lazy Susan. Life has improved!

The whole point of having stuff is to share it with others. I have not always seen kitchen work as a way to bless and minister to others. It seemed like a necessary evil because I didn’t like it, but I have grown a little. (Thank you, Sally Clarkson.) This space- this is for daily bread and fellowship and feasting.

Before.
After.

Today and Backward a Week or So

I told the girls we’ll go to Sally and Wally today after they are done with school. We haven’t done any shopping together for weeks, and they love to check out the deals at thrift stores. As we were pulling into the Salvation Army parking lot, Rita said, “Oh, goody! We can get candy out of the quarter machines.” Before I could protest about how germy those little metal chutes are, where people dig their fingers in to make sure no fruit runts are left behind, she said, “And I brought sanitizing wipes for the machines before we get our candy.” How can a mother object past such preparedness?

I get a lot of private amusement from their purchases. Today one of them bought a 1/4 cup ladle for her playhouse, a crocheted shawl for dress-ups, and a baggie full of mini figures. Another bought a purse, and the last one found a scarf and a tiny notebook/planner with a pen that doesn’t work but looks cute. As for me, I bought two books, some steak knives, and a hoodie for one of my teens.

We kept our Wally stop very short… Just a few health and beauty aids, some chicken breasts, lead for mechanical pencils, and stuff like that. It’s astonishing how quickly Wally can gobble up all the carefully saved money, and Addy walked past at least two displays of Kinderjoy eggs without caving. I was so proud of her.

This morning I looked out the window, and this is how the garden still looks, to my delight and astonishment.

In August I noticed a few volunteer tomato plants that were unaffected by blight. They are now ripening on the vines, still untouched by frost this late in the season. The dahlias are weak-stemmed and bowed down with the weight of the riotous blooms they keep putting out. They have fallen over all the other plantings in the bed, nearly smothering them. I cleared out most of the annuals and vegetables, and I planted my garlic yesterday under the stick trellis. If all goes to plan, the dill will volunteer there next year as well. The pine straw was hauled to our house one little lawn trailer load at a time from the neighbor’s generous pine trees. He has been mowing them into piles, so we picked them up, with promises to rake them up again as they fall. Everybody wins in this deal. Except the weeds. They lose.

I had some enormous Jerusalem artichokes that needed to be relocated, and when I dug them up, there were plenty of bulbs for us to sample them. We washed them well, then tossed them in olive oil and garlic seasoning before roasting them. They were deliciously nutty, yet soft like potatoes inside. I decided that they merited a nice long row along the privacy fence, so that in future we can forage from them again. Also, they grew tall as sunflowers, so they need a bit of a backdrop. Our neighbor on the other side of the fence is a lonely old man who peers through the cracks and visits when I am out in the garden. I tell him to come on over, and sometimes he does, but often he just stands there and talks through the fence while his yippy little dog bounces and barks around him. I made sure there are spots where he can still peek through to see the action once the flowers grow along the fence.

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A row of 8’s makes a fancy sort of divider. This is a day later, and I can’t remember how I was going to conclude that post, but I’ll give it a shot by looking back over pictures from the past week.

Gabriel just passed the ten year mark of working for UPMC. It (he? she?) has been a good employer, and we are grateful. In a gift bag with an assortment of thank-you’s for his service, there was this mug. I pulled it out and got the giggles. I think it’s supposed to be a joke for such a time as this, for a person in healthcare.

Last weekend was the annual training for ski patrollers on our familiar Blue Knob Mountain. We have camped there many times in the past while Gabe trained, but this year we asked some old friends to join us. These are people who were in our youth group, some were co-teachers, and all had babies around the same times as we did. There is a richness to these friendships that never change.

Usually the campground is nearly empty in October because it is always wet and cold on the mountain this time of year. To our surprise, it was teeming with campers. But we had a great time anyway. I thought I knew these trails about as well as I know our backyard, seeing as our family had hiked them many, many times in the past. But when the dog got away during a hike, I told my friend Michelle that I would join her and a passel of little hikers by using a short cut as soon as I had the dog leashed again. I ran back to camp, shut Lady into the vehicle, then ran my shortcut trail, only I had forgotten to tell her to look for a fork and stay right, so the crew ended up hiking a lot further than expected before I rejoined them. They stayed very cheerful, and it was warm, even though it was damp.

Just a few days before this adventure, we had our 20th anniversary, and we dashed off to Niagara Falls for two days and a night. We had a lovely time, just meandered about the countryside, rented scooters to tourist at the falls, hiked 400 steps down into the Devil’s Hole Gorge just as it was getting dark, so that we couldn’t dawdle on the way back out or we wouldn’t have been able to see where we were going. It was off season, lots of places closed, but we found a hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant with wonderful food that exploded ginger and cilantro and lemongrass in our mouths when we ate. We hardly recognize our 20-years-ago selves: that’s how time, circumstances, and the love that accompanies that unique sanctification of dwelling together for two decades changes us. But we like each other and ourselves better now than we did then, so I think we’re growing the right way.

It’s funny. On our honeymoon, we would not have seen our future of browsing antique stores and junk shops as especially riveting. And we visited orchards: both a cider brewery and our fruit tree supplier, Schlabach’s Nurseries, up close to Lake Ontario. The latter was a thrill to visit. It was as if we stepped into a Wendell Berry book, only it was an Amish farm, with kindly proprietors who were generous with their knowledge of backyard orchards. They urged us to walk around and sample any fruit we wanted. We tried dead-ripe persimmons and immediately decided we need to plant some. Then we had a quince, a bit sour for our taste, probably because it wasn’t quite ripe. The Asian pears he brought out of the ice house were amazing. (Yes, a real ice house, with ice harvested off their pond last winter.) Next was a pawpaw, which I had read about, but had no idea what to expect. “It’s an experience in itself,” Emmanuel Schlabach said, and he was right. It was like a melon and a banana got mixed into a mango. His father, David, was busy compiling next years catalog, which we pore over every year. Not surprisingly, they can’t possibly keep up with the demand, and they simply send checks back if they can’t fill their mail orders. There is no website and they don’t like using a phone. We have a deep respect for how these people stick to their principles, all while possessing this vast store of knowledge that makes the world a better place. We couldn’t taste all the apples he wanted us to try without looking like toddlers who take bites out of fruit, so in the end he gave us about a half peck of apples that we brought home to sample. It’s hard to decide which ones we want to order for spring planting, but we do know who we will order from.

That’s about as far back as I can conveniently remember at this time of night. It is a lovely, lovely fall. We have hardly any colorful leaves, but the air has been so balmy, it feels a little like you are swimming in it. Actually, today it rained. And it was kind of cold.

I do want to say one more thing of great import. My kitchen is all done! I have unpacked the boxes in storage and moved into the cabinets and it is a beautiful thing! When I am cooking, there is an aura of gratefulness around me. It feels like I can nourish any and all with ease. Come see me! (I am hoping to do a before and after post soon. Stay tuned. 🙂

Oh, yet one more thing. This is the time to plant your tulips for spring. You don’t have to do a thing except drop them into a hole in the ground. You won’t regret it! 😘

KBOing

That’s “keep buggering on,” for those who may not have run into that particular initialism. Our family thanks Winston Churchill for the code he had with his wife Clemmie when they were tired of a situation that they couldn’t dodge.

“We must just KBO, all of us,” I think. The situation in our hospitals has not gotten better. Intensive care units continue to overflow, and the caregivers continue to give care to the best of their abilities. Gabriel is working a flex position, so he is getting a six week break in the cardiac ICU.

I have gotten a number of notifications of new email followers, probably due to writing about those very controversial subjects last month. You are quite welcome in this space, but I have to tell you, I rarely feel compelled to pick up hot button issues of our day. There is plenty of outrage in the world without me adding to it. Also I am the offspring of a father who hates controversy and a mother who admonished her children repeatedly, “Sweep your own doorstep first.” What you will find here could be pretty solidly described as a mom-blog, with a sprinkle of homeschool, a lot of garden, occasional links to cool stuff, some marriage advice distilled out of 20 years of living with my love, less parenting certainty than I used to have, but a lot more confidence in Jesus.

The world is a beautiful place full of promise, but it is also broken, groaning for redemption. Every day I can live in a way that adds to the glory in the world, or I can live in a way that adds to the heaviness.

Cosmos from the girls’ garden, finally coming into their own after spending the summer getting tall
instead of putting out blooms.

This is my passion: I have been redeemed from destruction, and I am called as a follower of Jesus to model that redemption. If I add to the hurt and destruction, I am not living as a child of light and love. Somehow this makes decisions easier for me to make. Should I do this, or this today? Should I say this, or not? Should I delete that paragraph?

My career at this point is to stay home, take care of my family, love my husband, educate our children, and from that base I reach out to my neighbors, my church, people in the larger community. I enjoy online connections so much and have made some fabulous friends that I haven’t ever met in person, but I am more invested in the people whose faces I can see when we talk, the ones I can hug when we meet, the ones who plant mums across the street and need help to rake leaves.

When I write, I intentionally prod people to connecting offline. I know, there is a funny sort of gap involved in a person posting admonitions to the world wide web to get offline and find a flesh and blood person. Funny, funny me.

I mostly write because it is how I process stuff. I hope that if there is any “tone” to this blog, it is simply that how we live matters. We get to choose if it is bright and hopeful, dark and self-absorbed, or mind-numbingly boring.

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Autumn in northwest Pennsylvania is exquisite! This is only our second season in the area, but I may turn into a fall lover after all. Not necessarily the lover of everything dying while I drink pumpkin spice (I’ll draw the line at pumpkin tortilla chips), but the shining air, the harvest abundance, the last burst of bloom the garden puts out in these shorter days. I bring in loads of flowers because they will soon be gone and I want to look at them as much as possible.

My dahlias lift my spirits every day, and there are plenty of blooms on them to share willy-nilly
with anybody who crosses my path.

I made a cake with apples that you would like too. It definitely adds glory to the world.

You can find the recipe for Sourdough Coffee Cake at Food Network, but let me tell you about some tweaks that will elevate it to the heavenlies.

Mix the recipe just as stated, but then!.. Grate an apple or two, and fold it into the batter (a little over a cup of apple shreds is good). You can decrease the sugar a bit if you like, since the apple adds moisture and sweetness, but do not skimp on the cinnamon!

My second tip is to bake your cake in a cast iron pan. I use a 10 inch skillet, and when this cake comes out of the oven, the people come running. I had it ready for breakfast when Gabriel got home from nightshift last week because if I had to work nights, I would be glum, and I can imagine how cheering it would be to walk into a house scented with apple cinnamon.

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Every day I am given in my hands the raw material for making a beautiful world. The ordinariness of life is easy to overlook as too mundane to mention, yet it nurtures the world. God holds it all together, of course, but He asks me to do some things to help out. The raw materials are simple: cheerful good-mornings, read-aloud chapters before starting math, and learning verses to music. Fresh coffee with breakfast and cups of spearmint tea at bedtime. Sometimes what is in my hands is sourdough starter or green beans and garlic cloves. It may be flowers or paper, pen, and a stamp. Occasionally it is a heaviness I have to carry to Jesus in prayer for days on end, and I don’t even know what He is going to do about it, but I keep praying.

I know the niggardly tendencies of my own heart. When I live out of the kindness of Jesus because He has been so indescribably generous to me- that makes all the difference. He is the one who will heal this weary old world, but He is asking us to pitch in. We don’t get to quit, indulge in a private pity party because everything is just too much for us.

We have to KBO, friends. (Sorry for jerking you from the spiritual to the physical so repeatedly, but I don’t believe in a sacred/secular divide anyway.)

What is in your hands today? Please tell me about the raw materials you have been given.