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. )

Just Ordinary Stuff

Gabe had a meeting at work today for just an hour so I decided to go along to pick up a few groceries and to look for shoes at Ross’s. I needed a pair of walking shoes, and as I was concentrating on the selection of very ugly tennis shoes, I heard someone say my name. It was my friend Amy who is also my girls’ piano teacher. Both of us live a half-hour from the Ross’s and we never see each other unless it’s at a lesson. But there she was and she said, “Did you see my text?” Only a few minutes before she had sent me a picture of a sign that she thought I would like in the home decor section. Then as she was checking out she looked up, and there I was. It was random and hilarious.

A group of friends and I are challenging each other to live sugar and flour free for a while. While I was picking up my groceries at Aldi, I kept seeing all the wonderfully affordable treats that of course had sugar in them. When I saw a bag of sugar free crispy chocolate wafers, I thought that I shall have my treat. It wasn’t until I had had a generous serving that I noticed the first ingredient: flour. Well duh. If I was going to cheat, I wished it had been an apple fritter.

When I got home my girls asked me why I bought another pair of shoes. I told them because the Chacos I bought online were too narrow, but I would put them in storage until Olivia can wear them. She tried them on just for fun and they fit her. What is going on with that?

I tried out my new shoes right away today since the sun was shining brilliantly and I needed to breathe fresh air. A while ago I downloaded an app that counts steps. I was not happy to see that it was only counting one mile and a few tenths for the stretch that I always thought was nearly two miles. Today I walked much further than usual, then I took the car and clocked miles and the app was wrong, for the record. I felt instantly healthier and vindicated.

The children are very close to their hundredth lesson in school, which seems like a good time to take a field trip every year. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny so the principal is taking the whole crew skiing. The teacher’s going to stay home and throw pots without any interruptions except the ones she imposes on herself. It’s probably better that way because watching her babies zip off down the slopes gives her mild panic attacks. Also she may need a rest for a few hours with a book considering the strenuous efforts to make sure everyone has their wool socks and their helmets and their goggles and fleece garments and extra gloves for when the first pair gets wet. Also the lunch bag. Edit: this was written yesterday. They went today, all but Olivia who wasn’t feeling well. I did read for a while, and I did throw a whole bunch of pots.

On the pottery end of things, it has been sheer pleasure since the turn of the year, when all I’ve been doing is whatever I felt like. There are a smattering of orders and a few brand new ideas on my drying shelf. I had a 5 gallon bucket full of trimmings and clay bits that had dried out so I took the time to rehydrate them and wedge them into shape so that I could use them again. I’m estimating that it was around 75 pounds of clay that would otherwise have been thrown into the trash, which is a thing that makes my frugal heart rejoice. As far as I know, all potters reclaim their clay bits but I don’t think it’s anybody’s favorite part of the job. Recently I bought a bunch of glaze and a stack of large buckets with lids so my next firing should have lots of fun experiments. Bonus points to those alert enough to spy my footgear. In January.

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When my husband asked me what I want for Christmas, I told him I wanted a happy light to keep SAD at bay. Either it didn’t register, or he forgot what I said, but he gave me a really, really good fabric scissors instead, which I promptly named Off Limits. With such a good scissors, I decided I need to add to my fabric stash. The girls were given a whole bunch of beautiful scraps out of my sister’s fabric stash. We’ve been having a blast sewing play-all-day dresses and doll dresses and 9 patches and even funny stuffed animals. Rita has now expanded her family of dolls to five. Whenever she wants another child, she makes one and when she wants it to have curly hair, she pulls the yarn out of the inside of the skein where it’s tightly wound. All of them get tenderly dressed and cared for in her spot under the basement steps where she keeps house for lack of being able to use her squatter huts outside.

I gave myself a present and got 4 years of my blog printed in book form, complete with the pictures in the posts. It came in the mail today with a disappointingly thin paper-back cover, but for the children it’s like reading a diary of their childhood. So far no one has objected that these stories are on the web. Granted, it’s from when they were all quite little and they are amused by the stories, as if they are not the main characters in a family circus.

These days are very different. When the arguments simply don’t get settled without a Google search, (is there such a thing as military grade putricant for stink bombs?) I wonder how my mom did it when we were teens and tweens. She probably said, “Look it up in the encyclopedia,” or maybe she just said, “Nobody may talk anymore.” I do think we learn a lot of things by hashing them through with our siblings as we’re growing up, but my word, it can be exhausting for the mother. What was it they said in Cheaper by the Dozen? “Not of general interest…” Of course I only have one vote, but I have the authority to make it a heavily-weighted vote if I’m simply not interested in a continued discussion as to whether that was a red-shouldered or a red-tailed hawk soaring out of sight. (Also… no, son, we won’t be investing in putricant anytime soon.)

I do enjoy the conversations. It’s a season where we discuss many things more grown-up than we used to. Gregory and I discuss books and authors and I want to pinch myself, because this is one of my favorite conversations ever. I feel like I’m talking to my brother Nate 25 years ago, only I am the one telling him how to pronounce words he knows from his reading, instead of vice versa.

Our most recent audiobook binge has been The Wilderking Trilogy. The story is a fantastical parallel to King David’s story. My middle graders love it, but it’s the kind of tale I enjoy as well. There is a lot of great humor for those tween years, supplied by the Feechiefolk. I can tell it will be quoted many times in the future, especially since they are listening for the second or third time in as many weeks.

My personal re-read right now is Calvin Miller’s memoir, Life is Mostly Edges. Anyone who describes birth as “the umbilical trot that squirts us into the world” has my attention. He summarizes, “It was God who gave me the courage to walk the edges of a life that was never mine.”

So that’s what’s going on these days. The pond is frozen over, perfectly smooth and black, almost safe for skating. We’re drinking a lot of tea with honey and conserving our movements for a few more frozen months. But the days are getting longer, the sun’s rays slightly more direct every day, and I ordered seeds for the garden this morning. We’re doing all right.

And I have a guest post or three coming right up. Stay tuned!

Ordinary Journey to Joy

Lest you think after my strong-minded post about motherhood that it has always been easy… Here’s an article I wrote for Daughters of Promise ( Tend issue) last year. (I am trying to resolve the issues with the missing comment/reply section. Thank you so much to those who emailed or texted to give me feedback.)

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I hit a disconnect between the shiny idea in my head and the gritty reality of life as a homemaker about the time I had two babies and the wedding gifts weren’t new anymore. One day my husband asked me, “Why are you constantly sighing? What’s wrong?” I was taken aback; my husband rarely chided me about my attitudes. When the toddler pulled out the one book that kept the stack intact, making a racket fit to wake his colicky little brother, my sagging spirit sighed deeply. I found myself entrenched in a rut of unhappiness.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I admitted. “I seem to have lost my joy. The things I do every day don’t last, and they’re so boring! I do for free what you couldn’t pay most people to do.”

The truth was that I was not overworked. I was merely tired and cranky. I wanted to change the world and found it difficult to reconcile with the fact that I was changing diapers and laundry loads. I wished I could feed the orphans, but I was coaxing a toddler to swallow his green beans. I wanted to showcase the beauty of Christ, and I was washing the spilled milk off the kitchen floor.

Much of the trouble stemmed from a narrow view of Kingdom work. The desire to serve God was right; I didn’t want to waste my life, but I was not connecting what was right in front of me with meaningful work. It felt pointless.

I started to look up the verses in the Bible about serving, giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. I also noticed the references to not being weary and faint, and I understood for the first time that being weary is a thing that happens when you’re doing good work.

I cringed as I read the words of Christ, “…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:10) I had to admit to a tinge of self-aggrandizement attached to my noble desires. I preferred visible results, like the report cards I filled out during my school teaching days. Nobody was noticing how masterfully I could clean up peas under the high chair or how well I could remove stains from onesies. As I repented of my short-sighted vision for what the work of God was, I began to lean in to what clearly was given me to do, this moment, in small-town U.S.A.

I found wonderfully clarifying help in a little book by Brother Lawrence titled The Practice of the Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century Christian who was not educated enough to be a cleric in a Parisian monastery, so he worked in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning for his superiors. His radiant life of joy was so attractive that people kept asking him for his secret. This is what he said:

“…we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of GOD, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” (3)

Now that was a freeing thought! I didn’t have to put luster dust on the cup of water or feel warm fuzzies while I taught my boys to pick up the toys. I simply had to line up my heart every day to serve Jesus with all I did and then do it gladly. This was not a spiritual discipline of epic proportions. It was more of a conscious obedience, an offering that didn’t feel all that amazing. Yet the more I practiced, the less I found myself sighing over petty annoyances. One day I took stock and I knew, “The joy is back!”

I have some simple steps that helped to transform how I looked at my ordinary life.

  • I decided to be all-in. This was my life-work. I started to relish the details and disciplines of keeping our home a pleasant place.
  • I determined to accept narrowness and repetition. To my surprise, I found myself taking delight in weirdly ordinary things like a clean refrigerator.
  • I started to offer my work to God with open hands, as the simplest form of worship. If Jesus emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6), why should I feel like something I am asked to do is too demeaning?
  • I learned to value faithfulness over feeling. When I wasn’t feeling it, I simply looked at truth. Is this my job today? Well, then it must be God’s will that I do it the best I can.

I love the Biblical analogies of tending a garden in reference to our spiritual work, which I now believe is our everyday work. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal.6:9). Another one is, “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly.” (2 Cor. 9:6). Clearly there is a problem with a stingy gardener. I want to be the one with fruit that comes from sowing generously, having my hands in the soil.

It doesn’t matter if my garden is on the grounds of a palace or in containers on an apartment patio- the thing that lifts it out of neglect and mundanity is careful tending. Every spring I plant crinkly brown dahlia tubers in the soil along our picket fence. Weed pulling and pest control do not inspire fascination in my soul, but I do that too because I know the glory that will be the result when God has done His life-giving work. In the same way that the delicate origami of a dahlia bloom is God’s work, any glory in my commonplace life is His work too.

It is not easy to lay down my life in this way, cheerfully repeating the menial tasks that demand to be done. Presenting my body as a living sacrifice is not an ideological theory; it is a breathing, voluntary sacrifice that occasionally clambers off the altar. The Apostle Paul describes this offering as “holy, acceptable to God… your reasonable service.” (Rom.12:1) Some translations call it “your spiritual worship.” When I offer Him my work-worship, I can live in joyous assurance that He is glorified in the daily ordinariness of my life.

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, Who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in Your ways…” (Isaiah 64:4, 5 emphasis mine)

It’s not just a house I’m keeping here: a message for mothers

It has been a minute or two since I planned to post this, and then the holidays and a baby nephew in the hospital and a new year and trying to get our school back on track and looking at the books for the pottery biz and doing inventory, etc. I dictated this post when I was on a walk one day, and here I am at 3 AM, wide awake and trying to make sure I fix all the errors that talk-to-text is so prone to produce.

I remember the day a picture hit the media of a child’s body washing up on the seashore in Greece. I scrolled through the news with a knot of grief in my stomach. How can these things happen? What can I do about all this evil? This injustice?

My little girl came to me just then with the book she wanted me to read. She loved the Animally story that was filled with illustrations of animals and punny ways that I love her. “I love you cleverly like a fox. I love you powerfully like an ox.” My head struggled to wrap around the privilege of the little girl cocooned in her favorite blanket in my living room, compared to the too-wise faces of the refugee babies. But what can I do?

Recently we had a ladies’ discussion at church about reaching out beyond our world to those who are needy and some of the many, many ways to do this. Someone mentioned that Mennonite women tend to think that their ministry stops with their families. I’ve been mulling over this for a few weeks. What if one of the most powerful ways to change the world is actually our children?

What if I would have never read my child any more stories because life isn’t fair? What if I decided that the thing right in front of me, the grody bathroom, was not worth scrubbing anymore because there is much bigger work to be done in this world? What if I would have decided that pouring my energies into nourishing my children is not a big enough vocation and from now on they can eat lunchables so that I can spend my days fundraising online? Would there have been some fallout, maybe a bit of chaos in our home? Could this sort of neglect contribute to the endless cycle of soul-hunger in the world?

The goal in my mothering is not to raise entitled people who pitch fits when their perfect life is disturbed. The goal is to raise nourished souls, wholehearted people with a steady background of care and stability and mom being there with hot chocolate and everybody matters. The goal is to send these people into the wide world with a reservoir of fat in their souls, to give them resources as they spread the same love and kindness to everybody they meet. If I send my children out to live as adults with starved hearts because I resented the work they caused me, found a more worthy cause to work for (and I really didn’t even like them,) what have I accomplished?

The way to combat homelessness is not to all move out of our homes. The way to combat lovelessness is not to stop loving those who already have plenty of love. I do not believe that Paul is being a male chauvinist when he suggested that women who have families should keep their homes. I think Paul just saw God’s design as being a good design, like “This is how you bring glory to the world, you young ladies with a husband and children, and you older ladies need to show them how to do this. (And by the way, servants shouldn’t pilfer from their masters and young men should be self controlled and older men are called to be dignified,)” and all the rest of the stuff he was saying in Titus 2. All you have to do is look at the end of the chapter and you see the whole point of Paul’s instructions was not to cramp everybody’s style but to give them simple direction for living a good life that pleases God.

So if you find yourself bristling when someone brings up the keepers at home subject, dare to dig a little deeper into what it actually means. If God gave you a husband or if God gave you children, he gave you a big job worth pouring your life into. I’ve said before that if you’re bored in your work of raising a family, you haven’t leaned into it hard enough. Maybe you have been absorbing some feminist rubbish that is impoverishing your own soul. That may sound harsh, but I believe it.

Nobody can dispute that someone has to do the grunt work in this world and if it is true that everything becomes a mess when mama quits doing her work, isn’t it also true that there will be extra glory in the world when mama gives it everything she’s got?

If you are faithfully pouring your heart into raising a family, you shouldn’t bow to the pressure of feeling like you’re leading some second-class existence “as if God put you on a short tether to a tan sofa” like Rebecca Merkel says in her book Eve in Exile. (Go, read it.) Lift your chin up, offer your work to God and just be that career mom with all your heart. Think of the difference when all these little children swarm into the world with secure hearts and the love of Jesus and knowing how hard love works for others because they’ve watched you model it for years. “I love you bravely like an eagle. I love you freely like a seagull.” (Lynn Sutton, Animally again)

Go ahead, tell me what you think. Is it a struggle for you? How do you minister to the needs in the world around you?

How Should a King Come?

My husband reminded me of a song we sang years ago in choir. We looked it up and enjoyed both the lyrics and the music again.

Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry
and the crowds make way.

And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.
How should a King come?

Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!

Songwriters: Jimmy Owens / CAROL OWENS

Here’s the link for a beautiful recording on YouTube.

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Making Progress

I determined that I would not live through another week without cleaning the ceiling fan in the kitchen, as well as the furry vents in the bathroom fan. Yesterday was their day of reckoning. Gregory was conscripted to climb up onto the counters and vacuum the dust that had accumulated above the bathroom cabinets, although he repeatedly assured me that it never bothers him. How generous to be so reassuring, but I was not to be deterred.

Someone told me once that if your kitchen and bathroom are reasonably clean, you can get away with a lot in the rest of the house. After working my way through the place, eliminating the cobwebs of the enterprising spiders that moved in with cold weather, those two rooms still need the most attention in places not open to public view. I did put up the proper shower curtain in my bathroom again. I can’t even remember why I switched out the blue striped fabric one for the coral one that I bought at a discount store this spring. I think the blue curtain needed to be washed and we had company coming, but then I never got around to putting up the one that actually coordinated with the towels and here we were in November and suddenly I realized that the color scheme was a little weird in the bathroom. Harmony is now restored. I am untrendy, but I do know a little about decor when I take the time to think about it.

I would like to give a little tip here for others who may find themselves frustrated by how hard it is to undo the dinky little clasps on some shower curtain rings… a small thing, but important in the housekeeperly realm of streamlining cleaning. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall for those silly plastic rings that leave you sweating and fiddling while teetering with one foot on the edge of the bathtub and the other on the lid of the toilet, all the while groping for the next buttonhole on the shower curtain and trying to insert the plastic liner blindly on the backside. (Unless, of course, you want to live with grody showers.) They do make nifty metal ones that just hook on and that is where you want to spend your dollars. Look, you don’t even have to do the liner at the same time as the curtain. If you have glass shower doors, then I am sorry to have wasted your time. My sympathies with your own unique set of issues.

I have another tip for you. Get yourself a good hamper. You know those annoyingly flimsy hampers that do not hold up for more than a year? The ones that rhyme with tubber-laid? I have a whole row of them in the attic, storing stuff despite their cracked and broken condition because I hate to throw out such hunking blobs of plastic. After a brief try on the pretty fabric ones that collapse unless the children make a perfect basket every time they toss their dirty clothes, I finally did a thing that surprised myself and spent $75 on a hamper. Before you gasp too loudly, let me qualify: it’s a woven hamper made by an Amish family with significant health challenges that preclude the ordinary Amish livelihoods. Whatever they may not be able to do, they can weave a mean basket! It is capacious, with a sturdy wooden bottom and lid, and it is not like anything you can buy at TJMaxx or anywhere retail. I am just sorry I cannot link to their shop.

This week I indulged in my annual brief panic/depression about how I am going to make it through another cold, dark winter in confined spaces. Then I girded up my mind like a sensible German peasant and collected all the flip-flops and sandals to stow them in the attic in one of the reject hampers. While I was digging in the girls’ closet, I stumbled across a desiccated banana on top of a pile of clean pillowcases. Hmm. Nobody had any idea, but one more corner got cleaned. There is something to be said for the impetus of sheer necessity. I only wish I knew where the dead mouse stink is coming from. I like diffusers with essential oils, but there are limits to their odor-masking. Rita suggested we use cinnamon oil, and now the basement smells exactly like the entrance to JoAnn Fabrics when they get out their Christmas scented pinecones.

This week it got cold, so I took a clipper to the woods and collected long strands of bittersweet berries to make wreaths. They burst open after frost and are easy to spot once the bright orange berries pop out. I made two wreaths for the shed and one for the barn, using our own grapevines for a rounded base, then wiring the berries around it and tucking in some greenery.

The girls have started piano lessons, a long-time dream of theirs. It’s another run in the week, but we try to line up the errands. We take our recycling to a collection place on this route, pick up milk, get groceries and gas, maybe even a Walmart stop. This past Tuesday I had an unusually compact set of plans that included the library and brunch with a friend before the piano lesson. When I was standing on the porch of my friend’s house, I realized that I was there on the wrong day. “You were trying so hard to be efficient that you even mashed everything into one day in your mind,” Olivia said. And she was right.

We had some fuzzy snow flurries a few days ago, enough to make snow pants and ALL the other paraphernalia a necessity. For a few hours it transformed the muddy brown of November into something other-worldly. Addy grabbed one of my jackets, slipped into her rain boots and ran outside to dance through the swirling snow, the extra long sleeves flapping expressively as she twirled with the dog running circles around her. It reminded me of a quote by C. S. Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this?” I put it up on my letter-board as a reminder to focus on the sparkles this winter instead of the icky. The children read it and said, “Huh?” But they don’t need so many reminders to notice sparkly things. (I was one “f” short of being able to use the entire quote. It is an annoyance that’s common to letterboards. )

A few of our children really like routines, knowing what’s coming, no surprises, definitely not happy with flying by the seat of the pants. For a few years, I didn’t try hard enough to meet those needs. It seemed too much effort to incorporate traditions into our daily life that they will be upset if we cannot keep. This November we took our cue from homeschooling cousins and started a tradition of having Tea and Poetry Tuesdays. It is really just early lunch on pretty dishes with tea in cups instead of mugs. I read whatever poetry strikes my fancy, and we all love it. It’s definitely more fun than our tradition of Thursday Basement Cleaning.

I have been diligently filling my pottery orders for Christmas. Gabe and I had to look at our fledgling business long and hard before we could name it, but it does now have a name and a logo.

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We live on Black Oak Ridge and the ceramics is my part while slöyd is more the guys’ department, as well as the needle-crafting small girls around here. Slöyd is a common idea in Sweden, the art of making things with your hands and simple tools. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Educational slöyd’s purpose was formative in that it was thought that the benefits of handicrafts in general education built the character of the child, encouraging moral behavior, greater intelligence, and industriousness.” That fits our philosophy of education exactly. Many of the things we encourage our children to try (the copious amounts of paper, fabric, wood, yarn, paints, the endless messes) cost us money, yet they are cheap when measured by the skills they pick up and the confidence they learn from figuring out how to make things for themselves.

Eventually we hope to have variety in our shop besides pottery. As of now, it’s my pots. Here’s the link to the Etsy shop if you are interested. I do not always have time to stock it and there are lots of pieces in my pottery shed that have not gotten posted on Etsy, including those beautiful spoons Gabriel carved.

The little girls have heard me joking about my “mid-life crisis pottery.” Tonight Addy informed me confidentially that she and Rita were going out to the barn “to have a mid-life crisis together.” I said, “WHAT?” and Rita rushed to explain that they were starting a new kind of play where they are vets for the animals. Apparently any new venture is classified as a “mid-life crisis” in their minds.

This week we have consumed a lot of food and have drunk a lot of milk. Our clothes keep getting dirty and torn and sometimes even lost, so we wash and mend and replace the gloves. The cars need to be topped up with gas and the pigs are always hungry. Gabriel has been picking up overtime to pay the bills. As soon as one wheel gets grease, another starts whining. But we “keep buggering on” (Churchhill) and we make a bit of progress. I don’t know any other way, do you?

Sometimes the Beans Get too Fat

Would you like to know about the time the Lord gave me permission to not make pickles with my excess cucumber crop? It was in August and I felt that I really should not allow those cukes to go to waste. I looked at my shelves of jars in the basement and saw that I had about 10 pints of mushy bread-and-butter pickles from a previous harvest. They were no longer a blessing or a temptation to eat, so we didn’t eat them. I dumped them out for the chickens, washed the jars, and then I heard the voice of reason. “How many jars of pickles did you can last year? About 15? See, you’re not even really fond of pickles, so how does it make sense to cram a batch of them into an already hectic day so that you can dump half of them to the chickens in a few years? Maybe you could just throw the cucumbers to them now and buy a jar of pickles when you need it?”

A gardener tends to look at that sort of advice as from below, the lazy place, where people don’t manage very well. Having been raised with gardening my entire childhood, I value the lessons learned while pulling weeds and digging potatoes. Once we had enough green beans in the freezer for the year, my mom would sometimes let the last ones get fat so we could shell them and can them. It didn’t matter that none of us really enjoyed shell beans; we were not going to waste good food. I witnessed my aunts doing the same. When there was a glut of cantaloupe, one of them froze the excess in little chunks to eat as slush. It was actually a good idea, but I don’t need to tell you how small the window is for a bite of slushy cantaloupe versus a bite of disgusting slime. For a person from Amish culture, wasting something that could possibly be preserved, canned, frozen, dried, or fermented was unpardonable. I still find it really difficult to throw out food scraps unless they are going to compost or to feed an animal. And I do let the last green beans get fat, because I know our goats will love them.

I’m prioritizing hard this August, having added another layer of things to do with my pottery, which I like a lot better than canning pickles, by the way. I ask myself, “What does the Lord require of you?” and it is simply this: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.” There are a lot of choices available in those generalized instructions, but “do all to the glory of God” probably summarizes them all.

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We are back to school and I love the routine and the quieter pace that is a necessity of providing an education for our children. We do our basic household chores in the morning, then go to our schoolroom and look at the schedule for the day, taking it from there. This year I am planning out only one week at a time, with Gregory making his own goals and keeping his own logbook. Alex has to do one course that is mandatory to get his credits for graduation. With Addy reading pretty well, I feel like I’ve hit on a little pocket of homeschool bliss that I have been working toward for years. Feel free to ask me how it’s going when we hit February.

A few weeks ago, Gabriel took time to build me a wonderful set of bookshelves for our schoolroom. It has been exactly the inspiration I needed to get excited about getting back to the books. I just filed our papers and slunk outside this spring when we finished our term. Things were not pretty, so I sorted, culled, and got thoroughly happy as I arranged our library.

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That, right there, is the heart of our homeschool. Once my children love to read, they are driven to learn and they don’t even have a clue it’s happening. I am planning a series of book recommendations this fall. It should be a lot easier with everything categorized. The left half is non-fiction, biographies, and classics. The right half is series, readers, and storybooks.

Aside from not canning pickles, we are have been working toward a massive shift of bedrooms in the house. There is one large room downstairs with a bathroom/laundry room next to it. The boys were down there for years and the girls were upstairs in two little bedrooms. This meant that Olivia had her own room and she wasn’t even a teen yet, and they did not think that was quite fair. On Saturday the boys talked the girls into switching so that they are all three downstairs in the big bedroom and the boys each have a small bedroom. I was painting the downstairs room while they were doing negotiations, and was a little surprised that it was going so smoothly. Suddenly I noticed a sad little face and when I asked what was wrong, she crumpled into tears because “I don’t want to be selfish but I did so love to be by myself.” It was a situation that reminded me of a Dutch phrase my mom used to say (“Es chatshtah gebt uch.”) that translates loosely into “The most mature person gives up.” In many ways and on many days, my middle child is the most mature of them all. We talked about decorating and making sure she gets her quiet time without interruptions. Today we picked a blush colored paint for an accent wall behind her bed, and her school desk is beside a window where the sun shines in. It is very pleasant, and the smaller girls are being held strictly accountable for their messes. We are three days in and so far, so good.

If you want to know what a house looks like when a passel of children are sorting treasures and clothes, moving all the furniture, some into the attic and some out of the attic, emptying out the entire closet full of games and puzzles… well… It looked like all the bedrooms vomited into the living room and down the stairs and literally everywhere. Meanwhile Gregory had a burning desire to make gobs and they were spread on the table, waiting for icing. I finished painting and came to a kitchen that was liberally sprinkled with chocolate crumbs and abandoned cookie sheets. Then I remembered that I hadn’t finished my kettle full of spaghetti sauce on Friday night, and I was chopping fresh herbs for that while the paint was drying. That was when my parents dropped in, so you can ask them and they will tell you that it was bad.

Having big strong boys makes this sort of enterprise much easier than you would suppose. At 3 o’clock they started moving the bookshelves, because yeah, every child has their favorites in their bedroom so every bedroom has a bookshelf. The two little girls use most of their shelves for things like rock collections and pinecones and Calico Critters. Olivia has books, coloring supplies, and knitting projects in baskets. Most of the games from the closet got stashed on Greg’s shelves for now because they had to go somewhere. His closet is the biggest, so he is also stuck with a section of girls’ dresses. Alex’s books are in three tall stacks right inside his door. Like I said, we are in progress here.

Every dresser, chest of drawers, nightstand, mirror, and lamp moved up or down. The air conditioner unit and the window fans moved.

The bed situation was easier. Greg inherited the bunkbeds because that is his room. Only one twin bed had to be moved downstairs, but that left Alex without a mattress because his full-sized one doesn’t fit into his tiny room. Our Goodwill sells decent quality new mattresses and I bargained with him that if he got the things squared away by 6 PM, we’d go pick up a twin bed. Unfortunately the power steering on the Suburban gave out just a few miles from home, and we had to abort the mission. By the time I tucked in the girls that night, fed the dog and put her into her kennel, and made sure there were nightlights in all the right places, I felt like I had juggled paint rollers, fragile feelings, and homeless objects for hours. We might as well have moved, it was that drastic. I am not the tucked-in “don’t have stuff you don’t need person” that I thought I was, but now I know exactly what else needs to be worked on. And that is after a massive clearing out this fall, with yard sales and all. I don’t know where all this stuff comes from! (Help me, Carol!)

Greg is currently sleeping in a lavender room. I wanted to paint it anyway, but all in good time. Alex has a mattress now and no longer sleeps on the floor. The girls are getting along much better than I expected and can’t wait for the blush accent wall. And I am tired.

Home-making. It can be really absorbing and exhausting, but there is plenty of scope for imagination here. I have always liked rearranging furniture, figuring out how to freshen the house without spending a lot of money. I don’t like decorating at all if it means I am trying to achieve a certain look. It must be that I am not visual enough. But I do know how to go for a certain feel. That probably isn’t really a cool thing but it’s how I roll.

Speaking of feeling, four people have told me recently that I should read up on the Enneagrams. I am starting to feel ‘way behind the times. One of them gave me specific recommendations for websites, but I forgot them. Give me a link in the comments if you have a good source. I am very interested.

For one last bit of random, I leave you with an herb bouquet because it’s Abundant August and I can. Have a lovely day!

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