Currently, a Long Time Ago, with a Look at the Future

I just spent a few post-supper hours in my pottery shed. I shut the door, turned on the fan, briefly mourned the smashed pitcher that a well-meaning child dropped before it was fired, and got down to business with a fresh box of clay. That was especially nice, since I have been only working with reclaimed clay from pieces that seemed good at one time, but lost their appeal as I got slightly more advanced in my skills. Yesterday I made a really nice serving bowl, only to fish a piece of plastic bag out of it when I was doing the final trimming. Bummer.

Tonight I cut my fresh clay into equal 200 g portions to try my hand at making small matching bowls. I wanted snack bowls, the sort of thing you put your child’s apple slices into. I had only three successes and at least six squashes. Apparently it was the night to make every rookie mistake and I may have invented a few extra ones.

We are sitting on the deck with the Tiki torches lit to fend off the mosquitoes on this perfect summer evening. Addy practiced “reading” a story that she has pretty much memorized while Rita played with her miniscule Sculpey clay figures. She made a squirrel family for her fairy garden, and one mischievous fox that slinks around. The people turned out the same size as the squirrels, and their couches would work for either the humans or animals.

We had humid sunshine this week. Every time I check the gardens, the cucumbers and tomatoes have leaped higher. I am so pleased that finally I have cucumber plants growing up a trellis. They never cooperated in other years, but these are flourishing. I keep an eye on developments, but every time I need a cuke for a salad, a small Peight girl has already had it for snack. I have six plants; surely they won’t be able to keep up! Sadly, my seed potatoes and a lot of my dahlias rotted in the weeks of unrelenting wet after I planted.

The lawn is leaping too! Our grass isn’t thick, so we can get by with only once a week mowing, which is good because I run out of dollars for the mower-children. Most of their jobs are unpaid except by thanks and hopefully a good feeling at being a useful part of society. Lawn mowing, weed-eating, window-washing, and car cleaning are paid work. I have wondered what the children of the future will do to earn spending money once all the tasks are taken by robots.

I am deeply suspicious of robots. Every time we go anywhere local, we drive past a neighbor with a robotic lawnmower. It drives me nuts. The children say, “Mom. Mom… don’t look.” But of course I have to look. It is always out, questing around for a stray blade of grass, leaving the worst zig-zag tracks you ever saw! When we had a snow shower in late April, it was out tracking in the snow. That was when it clicked for me. Ever since I read “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Literature class in school with its mechanical cleaning mice that darted out of the walls to clean up crumbs and dirt, I have felt that robots are creepy. (You can listen to Ray Bradbury’s short story here.  (disclaimer: It’s very sad when the dog dies.) )

I do not intend ever to have an Amazon Echo in my house. Nope, nopety-nope. It’s too much like August 5, 2026. And a goat would be a huge improvement on that ridiculous mower!

And just because a post is more interesting with a picture, here’s the view from my deck on a gorgeous morning last week.

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The children and I are doing a summer Bible reading challenge, during which we are reading the New Testament. This past week we read Revelation. It is breathtaking and terrifying- all those apocalyptic descriptions where John seems to be grasping at words wholly inadequate for what he saw. The scene that touches me the most is the one where all nations, kindreds, and tongues fall before the throne of the Lamb. All our temptations toward me-centeredness will be gone for good! The popular theology that makes God and irresistible me besties that hang out together is a flippant view that makes me cringe every time I hear it. I know that I am loved with an Everlasting Love and that knowing is the sort of thing that prompts falling on my face before God in worship.

I have to include a bit of my personal drama, not because it is so important, but because I am living in a haze of gratefulness these days. About 10 days ago I was on my hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. I twisted to the side to reach as far as I could when I felt my knee do the crazy strain/pain that I have had before. I broke out in a cold sweat, trying to push past the pain to straighten out my leg. Thankfully, Gabe was home so that he could help me up off the floor. I thought if I held really still, the pain might go away, but when the tears squeezed out of my eyes uninvited, and the children stared in horror, my husband said, “We’re going to get this checked out.” An Xray showed no bone damage. It was the weekend. I came home with an immobilizing splint and crutches. If I kept my leg completely straight and held perfectly still, I could deal with it. If I tried any funny business like ordinary life, I got extremely unhappy messages from my knee.

It was 5 days before I could get in to an orthopedic surgeon and I was told that I just have to take it easy, wait a week for an opening to get an MRI to assess the damage to my meniscus (hypothetically). I hobbled out to the Suburban, did my awkward stiff-legged climb in with the driver’s seat all the way back so I could get my foot past the e-brake, and I sat there in a parking lot and cried great salty tears of self-pity. I felt that my summer was shot. The doc had said there was always a chance that whatever was torn would unfold itself and give me relief. Meanwhile… pain meds and splints.

I had been begging God to fix me the entire week. As I sat there in the Suburban, mopping my face with a scratchy paper towel, I knew that this was a test. I say He is always good. So what if (worst case scenario) happens… Do I believe that He is good? Yes. Yes, I do. Am I so special that I should never have any hard things in my life? No. No, I am not. Is there grace for this problem, for this looming summer of inactivity? Yes, of course. God graciously poured His truth over me and I stowed my paper towel and drove home.

The next day I was stiffer than ever. I was scooting along the edge of the porch to try to pull some weeds that were growing there, but it wasn’t going very well. “Please, Lord, help me bend this knee,” I muttered under my breath. Impulsively I used my hands to haul on it, and tried for a 45 degree angle. There was no pain! I pulled on that knee until it was bent to the full normal range of motion. Hardly believing it, I walked to the mailbox. It was a creaky walk, but with every step I felt it getting more limber. I was too cautious to leap and dance, but I sure did praise God! For some reason He allowed that handicap to last for 6 days, and then He gave me relief.

It isn’t healed totally. My knee is gimpy, buckling without warning a few times a day. I didn’t cancel the MRI. But I am so thankful for the ability to go up and down steps to do laundry, for being able to sit at my wheel and throw pots, for the capacity to lie on my side in the bed, for the privilege to serve my family instead of them serving me.

Meanwhile I will be using a mop.

The In Between

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Solutions from the A—-n

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Good, Good Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday in the Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Tuesday in the Life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is good to be loved.

Tale of a Homemaker, with a Nod to Dickens

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It is the best of times, with the chicks all scratching more or less independently, capable of scrounging out of the refrigerator when they are starving, picking out a brownie recipe, cooking their own eggs if they dislike the oatmeal. It is the worst of times for the pantry, the milk jug, the cookie jar and the grocery budget, not to mention the oven where the plastic container melted into an odorous blob of anonymity during the brownie preheat.

It is an age of incredulity as an avalanche of recipe cards sifts out of the baking cupboard and I wonder how… in this enlightened age of digital help… how do I still have all these clippings out of Real Simple from the first year of my housekeeping and when will I ever rein it in and what to do, What To Do? about all these stink bugs?

Yet I do know our favorite foods when it is time to cook, and even where they are supposed to be in the binder of despair that is full of clippings, although it may take a few minutes to find the recipe, and I never thought I would have one of those stuffed messes. The stink bugs remain, but there is light and sweetness in the lemon curd (recipe after breakfast foods, written on the bottom of a page on teas) spread on yogurt scones (recipe in the section with the muffins, but loose: not inside the sheet protector). All is only temporarily lost.

It is an age of wisdom, when even the smallest is able to read simple books and find her own audios in the library of iTunes, and I have time to pick up my own books. There are the days when the grown-up-ness of the child taller than me just takes my breath away, and the short one whispers, “What is a selection?” in church, then stoutly raises her hand and picks her favorite number, “Twenty,” even though she never heard the song.

It is an age of less-than-wisdom, where tensions erupt about NOT the Moffats AGAIN, and such short lives have not yet learned the discretions of choosing carefully what goes into the mind, and yet have learned quite well how to argue a point. There are days when my careful parental oversight is a hard discipline, because can it really matter that much? These are the days where I mercifully draw the veil and pray for new mercies the next and I know not whether to laugh or cry so I do a little of both.

This is the age where we have everything before us, and yet have not proven anything: the age of rubber band flexibility, where I try to be sensitive to the small girl who likes to keep a saltshaker in her bag just in case she finds something edible, (but of course not the withered blueberries under the Suburban seats) and the big boys who are thoroughly embarrassed by the sisters. It is the time where wristwatches are the most treasured of birthday gifts, yet are never on the wrists when they are needed, and the time where the shirts and shoes that fit just fine last week are way too small and they literally have nothing to wear. It is a time of inflexibly insisting on sheets on the beds downstairs and socks on the feet when we go away, and coats, yes coats! It’s winter. It is an era of admiring rooster feathers plucked and sewn into a headband by one child, a thinly disguised plagiarized story plot written by another, accepting gratefully all seven of the loving cards made for me in the same pattern of hearts and flowers, checking out the latest carved spoon with a short handle where it snapped in construction, and praising the efforts of the egg washer, all while keeping a fishing bobber safe in my purse when it accidentally goes to church in a pocket, and keeping track of the progress in the seventh grade unit on equations.

It is the winter of despair, days stacked on days, inside four walls, with tempers growing thin in the lack of oxygen and light, when the boots will not march in straight rows beside the register, but lie kicked about in melting pools of muddy forgottenness, the library books went overdue to the tune of $15, and the baby rabbits keep dying inexplicably. Yet it is the spring of hope, because we have boots and balmy days to squelch into the slanted rays of benevolent light that stays longer every day, and we pulled a tiny radish that survived the Arctic blast in our cold frame, where very soon we will sow lettuce seeds.

 

 

 

 

Bits and Bobs of Summer

August 30: I dreamed a post, brilliantly funny and true. I thought I should probably get up and write it down, but I didn’t because it was 2 AM. The title was the best part, something like “August Hits Back”, only it must not have been that because that is pretty odd. I settled instead for a title with one of my favorite British expressions, second only to “I was just chuffed to bits!” I can’t remember a single thing from the dream post except that it had something about pumping gas. There you are- you can’t trust your impressions in dreams.

I have been having so much fun! (Just chuffed!) Yes, I just said that about the craziest time of the year. It is so gorgeous in south-central Pennsylvania this year! We have not had one week of crunchy grass, hardly any sticky-hot days, and the tomatoes are out of this world! Granted, there is an element of panic about summer’s ending, for me at least. When those fall insects start droning, I squeeze a little harder to get the joy out of the days. My friend Violet called it my annual tragedy. Meanwhile Gabe gets more and more excited with every chilly, foggy morning because winter is coming! We are quite elemental here, with very strong emotions dictated by the seasons. It makes life interesting, which I think is exactly what God intended when He created a temperate zone.

We started our school classes in the first full week of August. I mentioned before that I am reclaiming my classroom this year. It felt just a little scary, because DVD instruction did help me out of a tight place where I wasn’t reaching around with the drills and flashcards, and especially the checking.  However, it was so thorough that it nearly killed me. That may be just a smidge dramatic, but I am loving having the freedom to order the school morning to my life instead of having it order me around. This is the best thing about homeschool and I have it back!

Here’s how we do it currently, with the schedule subject to tweaking as things come up: Breakfast at 8-ish, although this morning the steel-cut oats are not cooked yet, so a little later. We do Bible memory work at the breakfast table, then take about 15-30 minutes to knock out some morning chores. It often looks like this: husband either packs his lunch for work or goes to study room to work on his latest writing assignment, one boy goes to the barn to feed and water the critters, one boy starts the laundry cycle going, two girls take care of dishes, smallest girl struggles to decide what to wear and cleans up the stuff in her bedroom, one mom referees and tries not to spill her coffee.

At 9 o’clock I start our read-aloud chapter and if you dawdled with your chores, you might just miss it. It has been a great motivator for the kiddos around here that could use starting fluid in the mornings. We just finished “The Winged Watchman“, a compelling story set in WW2 Netherlands. There is a conflict between the organized resistance and loving the enemies which prompts some great conversation with children. I would hope to be the one hiding a Jewish child as part of my family, but lying about the child’s identity is a harder question. I had never read it before, so it was as fun for me as for the youngsters. When they begged for another chapter, I wanted it just as much as they did. This is what the children do while I read aloud:

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Yes, some of them do perch on those stools, because they prefer them to padded folding chairs. They wiggle and lean back and forth on one leg of the stool when the concentration is hard. Sometimes they fall off when they can’t reach a dropped pencil-  the same sort of comic relief as any school kid. Addy gets to go play for a while after reading. Her school fits in the cracks of the day, which works great because she is a child who needs concentrated bursts of mother.

We do Spelling Power first thing. I spend five minutes with each child on that, and then they spend five minutes practicing the words they missed. I love this concept; it makes spelling much less deadly for the children who struggle. Thanks to my friend Naomi for the recommendation.

The forenoon continues with a meld of arithmetic, language arts and reading practice. The two middles have arithmetic instruction that we stream, so I am still not doing fact drills. I wouldn’t mind not giving another set of flashcards, ever, but of course I will do whatever I need to do.

At this point it is usually lunchtime and everybody is clocking out because you can’t possibly retain knowledge when something as insistent as a stomach is growling. (Told you we are a bit elemental here.)

If I have been foresightful and provident, there is something in the fridge we can warm up for lunch. If not, I cook omelettes faster than I ever knew was possible, or I make a very simple pot of chicken noodle with most likely some swiss chard floating in it because we cannot seem to eat the stuff faster than it grows. Plus it is sooo pretty. Sometimes lunch is hotdogs and smoothies. Not gourmet, unless you count dicing Bell peppers for the quesadillas or serving balsamic vinegar ketchup as a condiment.

I buy huge packs of paper plates so that most times lunch is served on disposables. I don’t know what is worse, wasting trees or soap and water and energy, so I take the liberty to choose the one that makes it easier for me, like a true consumer. The same goes with grocery shopping. Taking in account all the money I save by teaching our children, not buying entire wardrobes for school, not spending on gas to transport them, I do not feel embarrassed to buy convenience foods. The thrifty side of me still protests at times, “You know, you could make bread much cheaper and better. Hey, remember that the Pioneer Woman has a great tortilla recipe? Why buy shredded cheese if you can save 20 cents a pound on the chunk? Cereal? That’s a horrible choice with all those eggs you have. Blah-blah.” I have learned to smile and wave cheerfully to that little money-saving voice and then I put the chicken nuggets in my cart.

What is most lethal? GMO’s, mechanically separated meat, a bit of food coloring, or a mom harried out of her mind with sprouting wheat and butchering organic chickens and no time to enjoy her babies? I wish I could do it all right and perfectly, find some magic bullet to seamlessly incorporate it all into the best life ever. I admire women who do this, and I hope to learn and get better at it, but I still buy microwave popcorn packs at the discount store sometimes. Just so you know.

Another thing I might mention: I really really like our principal. It’s so nice to be able to take time to discuss issues that come up, get a wider perspective when I have tunnel vision, show him the latest achievements of a child, and even flirt shamelessly sometimes.

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After lunch the middle schoolers finish up science and history assignments. They often do this during quiet time so that they can roar outside to play as soon as the noise ban is lifted.

Well. It’s September 3 now. Gabe had lunch with us before going to work, then I took a long (think 3 hour) nap this afternoon. First I read a book to Addy about where our food comes from (her choice, not mine). After the page about growing rice and before the page about dairy products, I yawned and told her I couldn’t stay awake. Now, post-coffee at suppertime, I am wide awake. We had our Sunday evening popcorn and what is also becoming tradition: homemade ice cream. (I have the easiest no-cook recipe ever. Maybe I can tell you about it someday.) Then we had bike rides and that wonderful decompressed feeling after a long day of relaxation. I am grateful for the stillness and quiet, for the renewal of rest.

I will conclude my post with cell phone photos from August, with apologies to real bloggers out there who do pretty pictures. I read this somewhere: the best camera is the one you have with you. I am afraid I wouldn’t document very much if it weren’t for the handy camera feature on my phone. I hope you can overlook the quality and enjoy the story in the captions.

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My little brother Kenny and his 3 oldest children went with us to Ag Progress Days in State College. Along one of the streets we spotted a sign that my Dad made with his fancy router machine for this landscaping company. Mom painted the letters, so we had to pose to show them how nice it looks.

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We spent eclipse day at the park with cousin-friends. This was taken when the sun was shiny again, after the weird twilight was past. We had a welding helmet and some of those NASA cereal box pinhole viewers too, so we got to see the partial eclipse.

Here we have the amount of corn the boys found when they went through the patch to pick stragglers, and then the amount I found when I went through the patch to look for stragglers they missed. They were a little miffed, but the evidence was undeniable. The last pic is Addy’s offering to me. “Here, Mama, you can share my trail mix,” she said generously. Um, yeah. I see what you did there, little girl.

 

This is an epic tea party with all the little critters and the latest doll that Olivia made. Grandma gave them each a tea set. It makes me so happy when my girls play like this. On a side note, they have a stuffed animal love that defies explanation. In recent years I have allowed them to add only miniatures to their collection, which is why you see all the tiny animals.

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This is the best book of the summer: my latest very long novel by Michael D. O’Brien. It took me months to get through it, but this book deserves its own post, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, you may notice our deck space, with chairs to lounge in while I read with my peasant feet up on a side table. We have extra chairs for friends, just so you know, and we will put drinks on the table instead of feet, should you happen to stop by.

A pleasant fall to all of you!

Scattered Glitter

“Oh, I am going to have to clean this up,” I heard her say with consternation in her voice. It was my accident-prone little girl in the bathroom, so there was cause for concern. I stayed in the kitchen, mixing bread dough, waiting for further developments. It wouldn’t be long. I heard her get her small brush and dustpan, the ones decorated with plastic flowers that had caught her fancy at the store. “For cleaning up messes!” she had insisted, and it was actually a good idea. The brushing sounds stopped and then there was water running in the sink. The mess was escalating. I could hear it in her muttered sighs, the way the step stool was being shoved around. Wait for it… and sure enough, it came, “MAAMAAA!”

I went to her aid and caught my breath. There was golden glitter and it was Everywhere. “What happened?” I asked calmly as she looked up in frustration and told me how the glitter can jumped out of the crafts box and dumped onto the floor when she was just trying to get paint for her popsicle stick project. (That last sentence contains 2 other distinct recipes for disaster, but let’s just stick with the glitter, shall we?)

There were towels with glitter in their folds, sprinkling out into the hamper. The floor was awash in floating specks where she had vainly tried to wash it up with a small flood. The brush and dust pan were abandoned in favor of the vacuum cleaner as we worked together to corral the flyaway stuff. I dismissed the little girl, commending her for trying so hard, then finished up on my own. This is days later and we still find golden glitter in odd places.

It is exactly how I feel this spring. There is so much sparkle and joy that it just scatters into everything, and sooner or later it usually comes back to “MAMA!” It is okay, since this is my favorite season, and I can handle a good deal of chaos if the sun shines and lilacs are blooming. I do spend a lot of time with damage control in spring.

We have two gardens, five varieties of berries, and some flower borders that I relish all summer. I cannot enjoy them if they are overrun with weeds. I would rather not have any flowers than have thistles and those nasty wild rhubarbs growing beside the peonies. Right now all the stuff needs attention at once. One day when I was feeling a little mad at life in general, (Don’t ask. I can’t remember.) I went out with a dandelion digger and got ahead of the weeds in the borders and asparagus beds. Then I pleaded with my husband to set aside a block of time to help me mulch them. I thought it might take a morning. Bless his heart, he had about ten other things to do, but he edged and mulched and lent his strength to the outdoor mess for a whole day.

That was one big mess to get under control, and I am so grateful that we can sigh and move on to other things. For Gabe it is school assignments. Always, in the back of his mind he knows he has a deadline for an essay, report, evaluation, etc. He is working toward his bachelor’s in nursing, cramming in whenever he can with the hope of finishing next spring. We knew exactly what we were signing up for when he started class in January, and we both dreaded it a little. I have to pick up more loose ends; the boys are learning animal husbandry; all of us are on home stretch for the school year. I made all their assignments to finish the requirements for the state, and this is the week! Rita already completed her books, preferring to spend her spare hours outside catching toads and holding her silky chickens.

Speaking of animals: this week our friendly piggies are going to market, err, the butcher shop. They have cleaned out the poison ivy roots in the pasture and eaten garbage along with a good deal of pig food from the mill. In the process, they have developed some impressive hams. It’s funny how something that would have seemed so awful and stinky at one time, like my little girls scratching a pig on it’s back and tenderly feeding it weeds, is now an ordinary part of a day. I am glad we opted not to do the butchering ourselves.

Yesterday I was helping Gregory move the woven electric fence for the goats so that they could have a fresh smorgasbord of greenbriars and multiflora roses on the ridge. We had moved them to the pasture where all the kids promptly slipped under the fence and ran for the fruit trees while their moms bleated up a storm, mostly because they wanted pear leaves too, and couldn’t reach them. I called the girls to guard duty while we pulled up the fence and relocated it. It is not heavy or difficult to move at all. Unless, of course, you are working in greenbriars and multiflora roses on a steep ridge. At one point Gregory had his roll of fence stuck on a snag and I had my end tangled in thorns and we both needed each other. We were hot and bothered and it was just hilarious. I thought of the patience of Job, but I am guessing Job had servants to do the grunt work while his children had tea parties with private tutors standing around to supervise their manners.

Speaking of manners: I have noticed a funny thing. One of my children has a thing about washing hands and pronounces anyone with dirty hands a slob. Another brings the nail clipper when he sees a sibling with “revolting claws”, although he regularly forgets to wash his hands. One child is a neat-nik with a repulsion for rude noises, but likes to let her nails grow until they are much too long. There is one who brushes and brushes her hair a couple times a day, but could care less if it smells like a goat. And then there is the one who likes to lotion my feet when I am tired, but regularly howls bloody murder when she stubs her toe. At least she tries to clean up when she spills glitter. It occurs to me that if I could roll all the good habits into one person, I would have a model child on my hands. How boring would that be?

So, that’s my round up of the month of April. All the joy and glistening days of spring madness, mixed with a little funny and quite a lot of mud. Some times we hit pay dirt and sometimes the sparkle is just mica. My brain is simply teaming with projects and ambition, because that’s what I do in spring. This week I turn forty; I am waiting for life to begin, like they say it will. If it gets more lively, I am not sure how I will stand it!

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**I feel sorry for you folks who check back to see what’s been happening. For the for-see-able future I plan to weigh in once a month, just to keep the record going. If I get a block of time or a sudden urge to publish, it will be a bonus. I just really need to focus on first things first for a season. Thank you for understanding.

***Your turn: make my day. 🙂 Tell me what’s been glittering in your life recently?

Writing Assignments

You know those writing assignments in the school language textbooks? The ones where you are supposed to choose one of the topics on the list, develop it into a paragraph or essay or report? I don’t know how else textbooks would teach writing, but there is something about an assignment to write that causes the brain to glaze over.

I remember this distinctly from my own school days. I wrote pages and pages of descriptions to my best friend every week, then came the chapter on composition in the grammar book, “Using only three expressive sentences, describe a place and see if your classmates can guess what you are talking about.” And we would sit there and stare into space for fifteen minutes, just trying to come up with a place that could be described suitably.

Flash forward. I make my children do writing assignments. Books reports? You betcha. Paragraphs? Poems? Yup and yup. I don’t really worry about how long they stare into space in despair. Maybe this is totally the wrong approach, what with delight driven learning and all. I just have a hunch that doing stuff that feels hard is actually kind of good for us.

Last week my third grader was supposed to write about camels at an oasis, just a simple imaginary story. She did not feel like it. I mean, camels are so boring.  She stewed and fretted and looked at her sister’s story about a ladybug with three spots.

“Please, may I write about ladybugs instead of camels? That would be a lot more fun.” Here I perceived a bit of irrationality.

“No, honey, I think you should push through and do the assignment. You can write two stories if you want.” (Note to mean-mom haters: I do not apologize. It’s just the sort of person I am. You can be your sort of parent.) I calmly continued my work at my desk and when I stole a side long glance at my little girl, she was resigned, writing diligently at her desk. It went from the required paragraph to another and another. I was duly impressed.

Here is what she wrote.

Ladybug Adventures

What can I say? My daughter is a diplomat. But so am I. I followed my own delight-driven path, fixed 37 misspellings for her, and typed it up nicely. We both won.