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 its 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.

Sprite

a poem about going to bed and the vice of drinking too much carbonated beverage, by Gregory

“Why? Why? Why?”

said little Billy Fie.

“Why must I be in bed by 8:00 at night…

when I could be up

drinking lots and lots of Sprite?”

“Because, dear,” said the maid Mrs. Piper,

“Sprite would make you hyper.”

But late one night Billy

drank 3 gallons of Sprite

and as he was straining to get the last drop,

Poor Billy went POP!

But it’s Friday night, so we are going to party and stay up late! What about you?

Growing up House-Humble

All those houses I lived in had two common things. We made do with what we had and they were home. Until we moved to PA, my parents moved about every 2 years from rental to rental until the new house was done, and then we only lived in it two years. When I look at it now, 30 years later, I realize that it is actually a very modest size compared to the norm for Amish homes. It was not extravagant in any way, except that the floors didn’t sag and the drywall was brand new.

Not once do I remember my mom consulting decorating magazines, to figure out how to make it a homelike place. I know she gave it a lot of thought and effort. She was always working on some project. She made her own curtains and throw pillows and even reupholstered our disreputable looking couch that still had a sturdy frame. The afghans were handmade and nobody worried if they “went” with the rest of the decor. They were for keeping us cozy when the cold winds blew, duh. We could use those afghans to make tents over upside down kitchen chairs and stretch them out as much as needed.

The only criteria for replacing a piece of household furniture was that it had to be thoroughly worn out. Think actual holes, broken springs, falling apart. We could do experiments on the table and not worry if something spilled or scratched a little. Nobody panicked when we tore around the house or bounced off the couch. In fact, our Saturday night tradition of playing bear with my dad and roaring around the house is among my fondest childhood memories. Sometimes stuff crashed off the walls, and mom would shake her head kind of helplessly until we wound down.

Oh, Mom was always cleaning windows and shining her cupboard handles and she ran a tight ship in the kitchen, with nourishment appearing at regular intervals. The mashed taters tasted just fine on the old-fashioned Correlle dishes with little green flower borders. We had to change our sheets every week and were not allowed to throw clothes or towels on the floor. Little things did matter, but it wasn’t so much for looks as for comfort or cleanliness. It was unloving to leave shoes right by the door for others to trip over, so we had to put them away.

Once we got invited to a fancy house for dinner. The lady was so kind and gracious, but she had deep plush carpets that were white, and her house really did look like Better Homes and Gardens. I felt anxious about breaking her China or ruining something the whole time we were there. I know it’s because we were little country bumpkins, but we were happy bumpkins.

Let me quickly say that I believe wholeheartedly in home-making. A house is a habitat, and the atmosphere in it matters. The attitude of the one making the home infuses whatever goes on in the house.

  • If the air is slovenly and muttery with unhappiness, it wafts around and affects the other inhabitants with its poison.
  • If the prevailing desire is for more and nicer stuff, the dissatisfaction permeates the home and nobody ever has enough.
  • If the homemaker is always fussing about not getting this dirty and not touching that fragile thing, the tenseness in the home drives the ones away that are supposed to feel at home there.

This is what I learned as I was growing up: Our houses served us. We didn’t serve them.

That long round-about way is just to give you permission, if you need it, to scorn the idea that your home isn’t right unless it is swathed in the latest of styles with a few pots of succulents on every sunny windowsill.

  • If your guests feel welcome and happy in your living space, they don’t mind if your carpets are a bit squashed down in high-traffic areas.
  • If you are glad of their presence and pour the coffee generously, they could care less that your mugs are all shapes and sizes.
  • If there are some cookies in the jar, your children don’t notice if the kitchen counters are made of concrete or granite or cracked formica.
  • If the little people are allowed to splash clean in the tub, that matters more than the towels matching the stripes in the shower curtain.
  • If you tuck the children in with hugs and kisses, I can guarantee that you won’t ever be accused of neglect because their dresser didn’t match their bed.

 

Because the story is only a little bit about the stuff and the rest of it is the relationships.

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( free photo source:pexel. text:mine.)

 

Efficiency Tips for Martha

We all need more white space to ponder and pray and take care of the really important things, right? And how, we ask, do we make this space to be like Mary? The stuff to do keeps coming at us and it isn’t going to quit anytime soon. I have compiled a list of things I have learned about keeping house. These are tips for homemakers, okay? Don’t laugh if you have never been one and maybe you think we just sit and drink tea. You. have. no. idea.

  • Never go up or down steps without checking if there is something that needs to be carried up or down. The same goes for room to room. Don’t step over the brush in the hallway 11 times. Scoop it up and put it into the bathroom while you are walking that direction anyway. It’s a lot easier than mounting a full scale search party when it’s time to brush your child’s hair before church.
  • Throw away ALL junk mail immediately. If it’s a company with a website, don’t keep the catalogs. If it’s a Lego or American Girl catalog, let the children look at it until it is soggy with drool, then immediately bury it deep under the eggshells in the trashcan.
  • If there’s a load of laundry, just do it. Don’t ever worry about running out of laundry. Keep your used towels and washcloths in a separate basket/hamper so you can do them often and avoid that stinky, musty smell.
  • Do not put stacks of folded laundry on beds or on top of dressers. It might take 20 seconds to open the drawers and put them away. The same 20 second rule applies to hanging up coats instead of draping them over the nearest chair. Buy hooks until every piece of outerwear has a place to hang out when you aren’t wearing it.
  • Do not store stuff you don’t need or have no sentimental attachment to. If your cupboards or closets are stuffed, sort through them and donate anything you haven’t used for a year to someone who will be grateful for it. (Or put it in storage out of sight.) Stuff can seriously bog you down, did you know that? If you have stuff that nobody would want, well… what are you doing with it?
  • Buy a tote for each child to store their sentimental keepsakes in. Help them decide what they want to keep when you are deep cleaning their room. (Within reason. Some children cannot seem to part with anything! But they probably won’t ever look at those Sunday school papers from 10 years of childhood. Sometimes you just have to disappear things. Unless, of course, you have access to unlimited space for totes.)
  • Keep your fridge organized. It is so much easier to find the ketchup if the ketchup has a spot to live in the fridge. This is not to say that the absent-minded child won’t stand there and gape for the longest time before they find the ketchup. Also, it is much easier to use up food before it spoils if it is visible in the fridge. Buy clear storage dishes. Odds are pretty high that leftovers stored in old cottage cheese containers will grow mold.
  • Avoid ironing clothes if at all possible. Learn how to tumble-dry the permanent press clothes and hang them on hangers while they are still damp. If you forget to get them out of the dryer and they get sadly wrinkly in there, just give them a quick rinse cycle and try again. Life is too short to spend hours ironing.
  • Mulch your garden heavily. And your flowerbeds. Mulch everything. Put newspapers under the mulch. Do not let those weeds come up and spread their noxious seeds.
  • Invest in cleaning tools that your children can use, preferably tools they fight for the privilege of using! That mop with the little water tank that squirts out when you press the trigger?.. Those microfiber window cleaning cloths?..The fun feather duster? Even the Lysol wipes… All these things will make your life much easier than just scrubbing away with a rag cut out of old shorts. Seriously.
  • Delegate. If a child can do it, then let them do it. See above. ^^^Learn to be okay with imperfection.
  • Have a pair of scissors/gluestick/tape roller/sharpie that is verboten to all but yourself. So many motions are wasted while we scurry hither and yon, tracking down the missing household item that someone carted off to make a kite in the garden. I know this.
  • Whenever it is practical, double up your meal prep and freeze the extra. If you are frying a pound of burger, you might as well fry 5 pounds and freeze 4 of them for later use. When you have chicken, make bone broth in the crock pot overnight and serve it with the leftover bits of chicken in a nourishing soup the next day. Make friends with one-dish meals.
  • Keep a schedule, as loose or tight as you need to feel happy. If you know that Thursday is downstairs cleaning day, you can calm down about the mess on Wednesday because you know it will get hit the next day.

Of course, these things do not mean you don’t have to work hard to keep your home free of chaos. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. Ever heard that one? You can then discover a little pool of white space and just enjoy it. Maybe you can find a piece of paper, or if you are artsy, you can get some paint and a board and make yourself a motto:

“Smile! It’s life and you’re living it!”

And now, do tell, what are the ways you have learned to simplify your homemaking?

What Life is Like

We sat outside in the mellow air at 10 PM, talking over the day when Gabe got home from work. His patients had all been nice people, so that was a good day for him. I had done something that bothered me all summer: pressure washed the algae and road dirt off the deck and railings. It took me 5 hours. Then I came into the house and wished I could pressure wash it and just be done. The children had done a clean blitz and it was acceptable, but not optimal for going into the weekend. That was when I just turned around and walked back outside. There is just a limit and I had reached it. In grasping for a  description of how this feels, I told Gabe, “It’s like things just keep flying at you. Like one of those early electronic games we had where you had a bat to hit the balls that got pitched, and the faster you hit them, the faster they came flying. Finally you just die.” Gabe came up with an even better analogy, “No, it’s like Tetris, where you have to stack the blocks and you never know what shape is coming next.” I might add that the more efficiently you stack them, the faster they drop out of nowhere.

I am not sure whether to feel sad that life is like that, or to just KBO. Remember Churchill’s “KBO”? That’s what we have been doing. Like everything. I don’t know of any way to get out of it or I would, trust me.

About every ten years I have an epiphany that changes my life in some way. For example, at 10 I discovered that two people can have the very same name and be totally opposite people. One might be someone I can’t help loving and the other might be someone I didn’t really enjoy, but I couldn’t draw conclusions until I actually got to know them. At 20 I figured out (after those teen periods of agonizing embarrassment) that people really didn’t notice me and my mistakes that much. It was a great relief. Around 30 I made up my mind to make a joyful career of mothering instead of wishing I didn’t have to always be the adult. And now, just before I turn 40, I think I have had a sort of epiphany about more and more work and my relationship with it. It’s unavoidable. Might as well embrace it and take it down.

On a more spiritual note, I think of Matthew 25 and the Parable of the Talents. I used to read that and dream of the day when my “being faithful with a little” would turn into “being set over much”. I am not sure whether the much is referring to the present, or in the Future because they were “entering in to the joy of the Lord”. One point is clear, the slothful person who was afraid to do anything with what he was given was extremely displeasing to his lord.

This brings me to my writing goals and how they just don’t seem to happen. About five years ago I thought that I was supposed to compile a book. Then I accidentally lost three years worth of writing and I will admit, it took the stuffing out of me. I had brainstormed titles, chapters, outlines. All gone. So I just kept blogging and holding it there in my hands, loosely. Now I find I don’t even have time for that anymore. It makes me sad. There have been many days in the last months when I wrote in my head, but yeah. Not so much use in the long term. Add to this the fact that much of what is either tragic or hilarious in my  home life right now involves adolescents whose feelings I will not hurt by sharing confidences online. So I am in this holding pattern and I don’t know…could I eliminate some T-shaped blocks to make room for others? Am I being slothful/undisciplined? Or am I just supposed to wait for a different season to get serious about writing?

Sometimes my desk looks like this when I feel a sudden urge to write (I share in the interests of transparency)

desk

and I feel the creativity flee as I slink away for another time when I have a block of time to get the chaos under control.

Last but not least, I have been reading Calvin Miller and feeling like a very small tadpole in a shallow puddle beside an elegant dolphin who flings shining words about in the ocean. I suppose even a very small tadpole might have things to say, but it seems a little presumptuous. Still, I guess I just did that. It felt good. 🙂

Have a great week, my friends.

State of Affairs

  • State of the blog: So I suddenly realize that it isn’t June anymore. Actually, I noticed that it is past mid-July and I haven’t written anything besides a daily sentence or two in my diary. If it weren’t for that, in future one might assume we went dormant for a month in the year of twenty-sixteen.
  • State of the homeschool: Last year we had our first day of school on July 16. I am a duck out of water here, okay, but not totally okay, if you know what I mean. I cannot scrape up even a modicum of enthusiasm for the pond that is school and books, even though it is simmering in the back of my mind that I really must dive in very soon. I bought paint for the schoolroom and I organized the new books on shelves. That is all. We don’t have a single new pencil in the house. All of them are ground down to little nubs and the copier paper is gone, down to a teeny stack in the printer. All this means back to school sales and stocking up, which is actually fun. I will take the troops and roust out the deals and then we will sharpen new Ticonderogas and feel the sap of learning rising.
  • State of the garden: Gasping with gratefulness for the thunderstorm that settled the powdery dry dust last night and greened up all the wilty things. We are in a lull currently. Nothing but Swiss chard, cucumbers, (for fresh eating only. I no longer make pickles. I don’t enjoy it and we hardly eat enough to bother, so I gave myself a permission to skip it.) And we are awash in raspberries. It is a very good kind of flood. I am flash freezing them on cookie sheets and putting them in gallon bags, literally. We are fondly waiting for the first vine-ripened tomatoes and when that happens, we will be at the pinnacle of summer. Oh yeah, I forgot zucchini.
  • State of the house: You don’t really want to know, but in the interest of humble honesty, it’s not so great. We live outside and trail dirty bare feet across the floors and all the places could use a scrub, especially the windows. The little girls’ room did get a facelift last week because someone who likes to pick at things had peeled a huge circle of paint off the wall. They have wanted purple for a long time. I tried to gently steer them to more neutral colors in the paint chips aisle, but finally caved and bought “lilac bouquet”. After I started rolling it on, I wasn’t sure I could handle it so I decided to do an accent wall with yellow to break it up and my sister-in-law helped me paint bubbles on the yellow wall in exchange for a bucket of raspberries. We added some wall stickers from good old Wally World and their floral/polka dot bedspreads work just fine, seeing as we have all the colors going on anyway. yellow wallwalmart decalscurtainI let my inner child loose on the curtain and warned the girls that any picking of yellow bobbles or new paint will be prosecuted. I might just mention that I did not Pinterest this room project. I winged it. That might explain a few things, but my girls are thrilled and they thank me every day for their purple room. So, as Ma Ingalls said, “All’s well that ends well.”
  • State of the schedule: Normal. Busy is normal, yes? Events stacked up, picnics, impromptu swimming parties, VBS for the children, inspirational mom-webinars that get shared with friends over iced coffee. I completely lose track of what day of the week it is pretty often. I am pretty sure today was Sunday although not like normal people’s Sunday since my husband had to work. That means tomorrow will be Monday, and that means laundry, but from there on I am not sure. I have to consult my calendar. Seriously. But it is fine because:
  • State of the body: Healthy. Blessed. Two teeth fixed and no more dentist appointments for a year. Stouter than strictly necessary, but not going to let that ruin my day. (Anybody want some homemade ice cream with those raspberries?)
  • State of my mom’s health: Lots of you know my mom and will rejoice that she is improving daily. It was pretty much six solid weeks of infirmity and debilitating pain before she started to gain ground. She is puttering in her house and kitchen again and looking as positively as she can at the long haul of recovery from Lyme disease, which ended up being the dastardly culprit behind all the neurological symptoms. We thank God for healing, and for healthcare professionals who pour out themselves to help along the healing.
  • State of the soul: Wanting to get fatter, but definitely not as lean as earlier this summer. It is a known fact that feeding the souls of others, specifically my children, requires reserves in my own soul. I learn slowly, but I do learn. I think. And Grace is so… kind. I feel keenly the kindness of God, the “daily loading of benefits”. I want to share them. I don’t want to keep them all in my own cellar. Here, children, have some goodness today, and you are welcome.
  • State of the bookshelf: Well, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on audio is hard going. I have been working on it for a very long time and am only halfway through the 50 plus hours of narration, at the point where Germany is bullying Poland around. I only get the high points. It is a tedious history with very many footnotes and quotes. But there are some striking impressions. I didn’t know that the German people voted Hitler into power. He promised to make their country great again, to bring back economic prosperity at all costs. Enough people had this as a top priority, so that he came into his position as dictator at least sort of legally. There was plenty of weirdness going on behind the scenes, but the people did really want what he was promoting. Unless they were Jews, of course. And the propaganda fed to the public was just ridiculous. It is interesting to draw comparisons in an election year in America. :/ To offset this heaviness, I just finished reading the Princess Bride which is definitely  the most amusing thing I have read in a long time. The author is extremely clever. It is fantasy, so if you don’t like when things don’t totally make sense, this is not the book for you. To offset the frivolity, I have been reading Philippians again and again. “Finally.” I have been looking up all the times Paul said that in his letters. He seemed to condense his last bits of advice at the end, kind of like mothers say, “Now be good and don’t forget to thank the hostess for the food and help with any chores they have,” as their children go out the door for an afternoon at a friend’s house. The Philippians “finally” is so simple and profound.

 Philippians 4:8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This week I want the God of Peace with me.

 

QOTD: I leave you with a quote from one little girl at VBS, leaning over to my little girl and whispering conspiratorially while the teacher is reading the story, “Shall we pick our scabs?”