Making Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday in the Life, Installment 3

I hope I meet Asaph in heaven so I can tell him how much I loved his songs here on Earth. I don’t know… maybe Asaph was more than one person, but the chapters in the Psalms from 73 to 83 are some of my favorites. Reading through them with their sweeping big picture arrangements contrasting human frailties and divine kindness  never fails to inspire me to deeper trust. Consider this passage from Psalm 74: 16, 17.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;

you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;

you have made summer and winter.

I sometimes say things like, “Aghhh. I want winter to be over NOW! I want tulips!” Or maybe it sounds more like, “I am tired of all my clothes, and I want to go to the tropics!” Sometimes the pettiness comes out in a mutter under my breath about how every one is getting on my nerves and why are there so many boots in this life? 

When I read through these Psalms, I hear Asaph reminding his people again and again that everything is under control. There is a bigger purpose here than just what I want. I do want spring, unabashedly. I pine for it. But I can also wait patiently because it will be worth the waiting!

My sister-in-law Becca passed on a pearl of wisdom a few years ago. “If you don’t like something or if it just bugs you all the time, do something about it! Don’t just talk about it.” This is very good advice for the things that I can actually do something about, like training the children to line up the boots or setting aside some household funds to freshen up the house.

It’s that time of the year when I need to have a zero tolerance policy for grousing and yet have the courage to change the things I can. I may have said the line about being tired of my clothes this morning. My husband looked a bit blank, “Why?” So then I moved on to “I think I am going to buy a bunch of houseplants,” to which he replied, “Why not?” His reasonableness made me remember why not. I kill houseplants regularly. Also they tip over when we walk past them. I do have better success with tiny succulents but alas, this winter I had them on the sills of my pottery shed windows and they got nip-dead on that weekend of bitter below zero temps. A few also got drown-dead.

I don’t know what spying algorithms are at work, but Instagram regularly gives me ads for buying plants online, so I went on the Amazon this morning and used all my points on a variety pack of 20 teensy plants to replace the ones that froze. I also bought paperwhite bulbs to force in time for Easter blooms. I felt much better then. On my kitchen windowsill I do have some genuine geranium blooms that had no one to admire them in my mom’s basement while she is in Florida, so I clipped them and brought them home.

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Yet another brilliant project I am working on is a small pinwheel quilt kit I saw on the clearance rack at Joann’s. By the time I was informed at the register that I couldn’t use my coupon on clearance items, my heart was too invested to give it up, so I spent way too much for small pieces of coordinating fabric. I really do enjoy the therapy of brilliant calicos, although it is slow going.

On Mondays we catch up on laundry and I do school assignments in the notebooks for the week. Ideally that makes Tuesday the day for projects. I can easily dictate spelling words while I am sewing.

I recently found a vintage typewriter at a thrift store and debated for a long time about whether it would be worth the storage space required. Considering how much fun my girls have playing pretend with an old computer keyboard, I decided to bring it home. The ribbon was dried out, but they used it anyway while we waited for a replacement online. Today it came in the mail. The child done first with her school assignments (Olivia, of course)  got to be first with the typewriter. It was a great boot in the rear for the lagging ones when they saw how bright and fresh the words leaped onto the paper.

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They have been writing letters, pounding out stories, making little books, etc. etc. There are no cords, no batteries, and no backspace key! Addy is a fearless writer, with little regard for unnecessary details like spelling or chronological order. I find her scraps of stories around the house and enjoy them vastly. Here is a translation for you.

“My Family  Addy Rita Livy Greg Alex Papa Mama

Oh no. The boys are on the roof. Sally is in

side. Alex is sick so my mama went to the store

to get ginger ale. And that is the end of my story.”

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(The boys were not on the roof.) This simple machine has been well worth $20 already, just for the tricky way it has sparked joy in composing writing.

After lunch we had quiet time, all except the clacking of the typing keys. It’s not even half as annoying as the sounds of a computer game.

I spent a few hours in the pottery barn, glazing pieces that came out of the first firing yesterday. There are a lot of experiments in this kiln, including the teapots. I am waiting for some glazes I ordered before I can finish the load, but it was nice to be deliberate. Most of my mistakes/seconds happen in the glazing process. I am currently trying to wrap my head around the chemistry of glaze components as explained by a master. When I think back to learning the periodic table in school, my head is pretty much a blank. I must have memorized them long enough to pass the test, then gently released all that excess data to make space for more pressing items. It’s not like I have to learn about all the elements now, but I do need to understand the ones that make successful glazes unless I want to be stuck with only using commercially available ones. I muddle through and take notes but I honestly don’t know whether I have it in me.

At suppertime I came inside and cooked up a huge pot of creamy potato soup. My family cheers for soup, and I love cooking it. Tonight’s version included sweet onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, whole kernel corn, lots of parsley, ground turkey, and some cheddar. It was broth-based with a few cups of milk for creaminess and I used instant potatoes to thicken it just a bit. Served with saltines and pear butter, I am glad I can report a meal that was nourishing at the end of this Tuesday.

Cheers!

 

 

 

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.

Ice Cream from Heaven

The young boy sat outside the country store on a bench. He was supposed to wait there while his mom ran inside to buy ice. She said he couldn’t come in because it was Memorial Day weekend and the store was jam-packed. Plus, he was wearing muddy rubber boots and jeans with big holes in the knees. He didn’t think anybody would care about that, but his mother objected to the overall urchinly look, and it was his own fault that he had lost his sandals and now traveled in rubber boots. It would be just a minute to buy ice.

He sat there beside the window where the ice cream cones were ordered. It was bright and sunny, kind of hot. He wished, oh, how he wished for a nice big cone. He was pretty sure his mother wouldn’t buy one because they were in a hurry. Also, all four of his siblings would cry foul if he came home with ice cream and they didn’t have any. But he decided to pray for ice cream. It never hurts to ask.

Only a few seconds later an elderly gentleman sat down on the bench beside him and asked, “So, what is your favorite ice cream flavor?” The little boy’s heart beat fast, because he knew that his prayer was going to be answered right then. Being a modest little boy, he shrugged and said, “Oh, I just like them all.” And then that elderly gentleman got up and ordered a raspberry cone and handed it to him. The little boy’s freckled face beamed, “You don’t have to do that, but thanks!” His new friend said, “Tell your mom it just fell from the sky,” as he walked to his vehicle.

When his mom came out of the store, she was a little surprised to see her boy licking a huge ice cream cone with the most delighted look in his eyes. “Where did you get that?” she asked. “From the sky,” he replied. “Well, actually, from a kind old man,” and he proceeded to tell his mother how he had prayed for ice cream. “Are you sure he was a real man,” his mom asked, “or maybe he was an angel?”

“Well, he had a wife and a car. That ice cream just made my day, Mama.”

 

 

Right Now I am Four…

…but soon I will be 6 or even 25. I am the baby of my family and yesterday I asked my mom if I have to be the baby of the family always, like till I am 51? She laughed at me and said, “Yup, unless we have another baby or adopt one, you are stuck.” Well, today I met a man who is 48 and he said he is still the baby of his family and he even has 8 children, so it must be true.

This is the thing about being the baby: naps. I am the only one in the whole family who has to sleep every single day. My mom says I get too crabby if I don’t have a nap, but I am sure I would be fine if she would just give it a try. Sometimes my mom even says, “I can’t wait to put you to bed!” when I am fussing about how my brother is looking at me funny, or about not having enough peanut butter with my apple at lunch. I don’t know what that has to do with naps, but there I am, whoop-sloop-bloop, tucked in no matter what I say.

Here is the other thing: nobody takes me seriously. I was serious when I promised to eat all my cupcake as soon as I am thirteen. Right now I mostly like the icing, but I am trying, I really am.

Last year I traded my favorite blanket for a stuffed teddy at night. My mom said my blanket was too grubby for words and I need to grow up, so I did. Don’t you think naps are just not even fair when I am so grown up?

My brothers and sisters act like I am a baby too. They tell me I can’t hold the dog’s leash because I am not strong enough, then when Lady runs away and I fall and cry they say, “See, we told you that you are too little.” This really hurts my feelings. Also, they all do school in these big books with stories and problems. My mom got me some wipe-clean dot-to-dot books and said it’s my school. I like them, but you can’t really tell me that they are important or anything.

Today I found a nickel on the floor and put it in the offering at church. I think the church is pretty rich now. I wish I could be bigger and do big people stuff, but mostly what I can do now is be sweet when I don’t have enough peanut butter on my apple or when my sister picks a bedtime story that I don’t like. It doesn’t feel very important. If I would be bigger, I would go help the refugees. I feel really sad for them and I pray that they can find warm places to stay.

One thing that I have learned to do is match my own outfits so you see I am getting to be pretty big. I have this green sweater with tulips on it that I just love to wear. My mom says it doesn’t go with some of my dresses, but she usually just lets me wear it anyway. My favorite jammies have feet on them and this long zipper from the toe to the top. I was supposed to give them to my cousin who is smaller than me because my toes were all squished, but I was so sad about it that my mom cut off the tip of the jammie feet and now I can wear them until I am 6.

I cannot wait until I am 6. I know I have to get to 5 first and it takes really long! I have been trying to become 5 ever since my last birthday but it is just taking really long. I told my mom it isn’t fair that everybody else has birthdays and mine never comes. She tried to explain birthdays to me, but she just doesn’t know how it is to be trying so hard to catch up all the time.

I guess being four is okay, even the naps stuff if I can pick a story book every day just for myself and nobody else. Don’t tell my mom, but I always look for a really long one. She skips stuff sometimes when she is tired, but I know when she does it! People think I am a baby, but I really have a lot of big ideas. Someday I will show you.

 

Things to Do

Guess what was the first thing I did in the new year, right after supervising the gun-shooting boys in the backyard? It wasn’t drinking bubbly or eating cheesecake, not by a far shot! Oh well, you will never guess. The first thing I did in the year of 2016, 12:01 AM? I helped clean up a puddle in the basement made by a very excited dog who couldn’t hold her bladder in the blasting excitement of the shotgun. I am not superstitious, but it did irritate me a little.

It’s all fresh this morning. It is snowing! At last, at last the precipitation is coming down in acceptable form. We had omelettes for breakfast and French vanilla tea and coffee from Honduras. The dishes are cleared away, the husband went to work, the dog is outside, wistfully looking in, the children get the day off school, and I have a witty memoir to read. All is well.

I have no plans for complicated anything today. I may need to settle some fights and feed a few people and I do hope to clear out the boxes that are stacked in my reading room where the chair is supposed to be. Nine. Nine! Boxes of books for the refugee children. Not to crow, or anything, but you folks who so generously supported my fundraising dream deserve to see what we have done together. There are beginning English flashcards and ABC wipe-cleans and First Hundred Words in English and First Thousand Words in English. There are Thing to Spot and Mazes and sticker books and story books. There are dot to dots and doodle books and lots and lots of science readers full of bright pictures. I took them all out of the boxes and stroked them lovingly. I prayed over those books, and now I am sending them along up the chain. I have no idea what will happen with them all, but thank-you, thank-you, all who shared!

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There are a few things I want to do this year. Topmost among my goals, of course, is being a keeper of our home. Keepers (think zookeepers) feed and water and clean out stinky stuff and make habitats that are welcoming. I see this as a life work, with no apologies to anybody who thinks it is impossibly restricted and limiting. It is harder than you think. Can I hear an amen from the mothers present? Yesterday my little girls drew pictures for me:

This is how they see life right now and it makes me very glad. I am not raising my children in a bubble of happy, where nothing nasty ever happens. I show them sad pictures in the news and we pray for homeless people and broken situations. They know that these things are possibilities. But I am fighting fiercely for their innocence, for their purity, for their emotional stability. I am working toward kindness and honesty and no name-calling.

Recently we had a discussion about secret sins, Gabe explaining to the children that this is when we do things that we think nobody will find out. Like cheat on homework, or sneak someone else’s chocolate, or poach things out of the fridge when Mama isn’t looking. We all looked at Rita and grinned and she said, “Oh, yeah, I have secret sins. I mean, no, I just have secrets! Plans and stuff.” Those plans do include my sewing scissors oftener than I like. There is still much to do this year!

I want to write more. When I started selling Usborne books in August, my writing and reading took a hit, which is kind of ironic. I missed it. And I didn’t even read to the children as much anymore because I was busily getting books into other children’s hands. I love selling the books, but I am setting up some parameters for myself, having established the fact that we will never get rich from what I am doing, judging by the numbers at year’s end. It’s a part time job for me, one I love, with a steadily accumulating stash of wonderful books in my reading room. But I am not willing to let other creative outlets be stifled, so I signed up for two things to aid all of us in the house.

The children are doing a 31 day Read Aloud Challenge in January. It’s not too strenuous, but we will probably take some extra trips to the library. They are fondly hoping to win a Kindle, or at least a $20 Amazon gift card.

I signed myself up for a WordPress writing challenge in February, which coincides nicely with my annual daily posts in the short month. I am also continuing my daily diary entries. I actually made it without skipping one day last year, although sometimes I had to catch up a week at a time. Most of the days were not brilliant, but they got a record anyway.

That is life, isn’t it? I think the past is like a compost heap: The bumper crops are represented by piles of husks and peelings. The weeds that got pulled out are thrown in there too, all decaying together into something that becomes very useful indeed when applied to the gardening efforts of the present. It all matters when we recycle the past and learn from what went right and what went wrong. The future will be richer and wiser, the crops better for the organic matter gained by experience. With that inspiring analogy, I will add just one funny story.

I was at Goodwill with Livvy, standing at check-out behind an elderly grandmotherly sort of lady. They were running a special, an extra 20% off for anyone over 55.  The cashier asked, “So, do you qualify for our sale today?” Obviously, yes, I thought. Then it was my turn. “So, do you qualify for our sale today?” I couldn’t help it. I laughed in her face. No. Obviously, no. But I am getting there as fast as I can!

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Pots and Paint

We are walking in fresh sunlight these days. I do not take it for granted. I marvel at it and try to store it up. An art book we are reading describes warm colors as orange and red, and cold colors as blue and green. I have been working on a game plan for winter, because I know it is coming and I dread the chill and dark already. Our basement rooms have been the same color for 11 years. We drywalled and painted it grey just before Gregory was born. It’s a nice neutral color, but back then I couldn’t even imagine doing school down there with 5 children and a dog who thinks she is a child. I didn’t dream how much time I would spend in my laundry room.

I decided to liven things up a little, and I am glad I did it every time I walk into the laundry/bath room. Less than $20 dollars worth of paint (because I got one on the mistints shelf…I am cheap like that.) really made a difference. This room was off-white for 14 years. May I present to you Sunbaked Orange with the light off and with the light on. Hey, I saw you blinking. Isn’t it cheerful? This was not the mistint. I deliberately chose it while in my right mind. And yes, that space between the washer and the laundry sink is really small. When I was pregnant, it was uncomfortable. But I like my large sink for scrubbing things and rinsing bits of our property off small children, so I put up with the crack.

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(I did this painting while Gabe and the boys spent a week up north helping his dad dismantle a huge old barn. When they first talked about doing this, I weighed my options. I could sit and drink tea and read and write in a space of small appetites and little noise and bazillion paper snibbles, or I could tackle some projects on my list that I had despaired of ever getting done. I chose the latter and worked like a crazy woman. When Gabe got home, I had just finished showering off the last of the projects.)

The other room I painted Tavistock Green. I know. It’s not really a warm color, but it is a different color, and that is what I needed.

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I don’t have a clear photo, so this will have to do. Maybe you think this is still grey, but you should see the difference beside the grey wall. It just occurred to me that, being a mistint, this color swatch is not entirely accurate. I think the paint mixer person dribbled a little extra bright green into my gallon, because mine seems to be fresher on the walls.

This is one of my favorite colors in the world, and I picked it up when I saw it on clearance because you never know when you will want to paint something Tavistock Green. That was five years ago. See, I was right!

I did not go yard saling, even though it was Labor Day weekend and the roadsides were just littered with signs. I did not go shopping in Altoona, like I had hoped to do. But I did go up to Rome for 2 days to help out with cooking and whatever I could while the guys were so busily tearing down the barn. That was 8 hours of driving. And Olivia and I did our fall trek to Pittsburgh to see her specialist, so that was another 5 hours of driving after I counted in the detours and the missed exit and the bridge out at a very crucial point. One day I went to a party an hour away and back again for another 2 hours driving total. And I went to pick grapes 1/2 hour up the mountain, so I figure I put in at least 16 hours on the road in my “week off”. I also got pulled over by an officer for the first time in my life. Not that I never deserved it before, but this time seemed mild. I was just at the edge of a small town, speeding up now that I was through it, only I wasn’t through it. I was already past the “End 35” sign when I got pulled over for going 52. Bummer. There went that record. I got off with a warning because I looked harmless  wasn’t local.

The girls and I picked all our pumpkins. I wanted pie pumpkins when I bought the plants, planning to sell the extras out beside the road. This usually works out as a nice little cash crop for the boys. But this was the year for funny mistakes. Remember how the tomatoes turned out to be cherry-sized? Well, the pumpkins turned out to be Jack Be Littles. Ever so cute and decorative and… little. I roasted a bunch of them for pies and lattes, scooping out the minuscule bits of soft flesh and blending it. Then I made this one night:

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It was the prettiest dinner I made in a long time and I spent a good part of it coaxing the children to eat. What is with that?

I think I will spray paint a few of them for decor and give the rest away.

You haven’t heard the end of our mistaken identities in the garden. This was entirely my own fault. I wanted mini bell peppers because I heard that they turn colors quicker than the big ones and it always seems to take so long to grow a beautiful sweet red pepper and then it frosts on them. I bought plants labelled Cherry Bomb because the picture looked exactly like Mini Bells. When we cut into the first brilliant red baby pepper, it nearly blew us away with its heat. My mom said, “What were you thinking? Bombs? That should have been a clue!” And she was right. But they sure are pretty. My yellow Bells are ticked off about something, but the red ones have finally started turning sweet. Those are the bombs at the bottom of the photo.

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I turned a whole bunch of them into pepper poppers and they were fine, indeed. Then I called my sister-in-law Ruby for her hot sauce recipe. One bottle of Tabasco typically lasts us about 8 years, but last year Ruby gave us a pint of her homemade hot sauce, something I had never even thought of making. We are down to the last of it, in one year. It is that good. I used the Cherry Bombs for hot sauce, and in my humble opinion, I think it is even better than the stuff made with Habaneros. Still, we will need to convince the kids to join in if we want to consume 8 jars of it.

The garden is down to a straggle of late tomatoes and green beans, a total failure of a broccoli crop, some really slow pole limas, and lots and lots of sweet red peppers. And weeds. Unbelievable trees of weeds that helped themselves when we got all that rain in August and we couldn’t keep up with them. But in September we do not pull weeds. We mow them off. It is really fun.

Are you getting bored yet? Just one more quick story about this cabbage that Alex kept until it started to split. It was 18 pounds with three babies attached around the bottom. We sliced it up and packed it with salt where it is happily fermenting into sauerkraut, amassing healthful probiotics by the millions. The children don’t like kraut either, but Gabe and I don’t really care. That’s more for us. Hopefully if they see how much we enjoy the stuff, they can get past the stink. 😀

That is about all the creativity I could handle the last few weeks. We are hitting the books with renewed vigor, finishing out 25 days this week. Ahh. It’s a long road is a school term. Rita misses her carefree outdoor existence. “Do you mean I have to do this for twelve years?” she wept one morning when the flashcards overwhelmed her. Because she just turned six this summer, I am letting her off with half days, taking it slowly, letting her go pet her bunnies and look for caterpillars. She can read, and surely she will know her facts by the time those twelve years are over.

Addy, on the other hand, feels left out because she is the only one without real school books. I bought her some wipe-clean preschool materials and that helps, but still is hardly official enough for her. Yesterday she sighed gustily, “I am so tired of this ‘yong, yong’ week! Because I am still not five!” The child talks in italics. Really. Talk about drama. It is just hard being the smallest, especially when you are dead serious about something and the other people at the table smirk. And especially if you still can’t say your l’s.

Well, look at that. I have managed to stay up until my husband gets off work. Thanks for listening!

Growing Up

The conversation at the supper table was all about what we want to be when we grow up. Of course, the children have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, since they hold the erroneous assumption that I have now reached what I want to be and it’s all downhill from here.

Gregory likes art and books, so he may be looking at a life as a librarian or a teacher. Olivia wants to be a nurse and Rita is dithering between being a doctor or an artist, presumably once one side of her brain gets precedence over the other side. Alex isn’t saying, because he is old enough to know that he will change his mind, most likely. The other children say he will be an engineer or a preacher or an inventor or something leaderish. 🙂 As for Addy, she is earnestly anticipating a career as a peaceful Indian. She also has grand delusions about all the amazing presents she will give us all once she grows up, chests of gold and jewels for the ladies, cars for the boys, anything they want. Given her current circumstances, she had better look for lost pirate hoards when she gets big.

I was struck by something. In my somewhat sheltered childhood, I never mentioned any of the things they said they want to be, because it simply wasn’t done. (Actually, I do remember the librarian dream, because I couldn’t imagine any happier place than surrounded by books.) Higher education wasn’t done. People stayed close to their roots and happily raised families very similar to how they themselves were raised. I think the simplicity tended to an almost idyllic peacefulness. Sometimes I wonder what I would have chosen to study if I would have had the option of going to college. But I was much too conventional to push for anything that would have rocked the boat. It was part of the culture and I didn’t really consider venturing outside of the safety of our world.

Did you ever have a moment when you wondered, “This? This… hard work… is what I spent all that effort growing up for?” And you want to tell the children to just slow down and enjoy their Ranger Rick and Legos and being told what to do and when to go to bed. Not to sound negative, or anything, but there are times when I wish to run from responsibilities, to stop being the tired middle-aged person with all this stuff on her mind and this back log of things that need to be done, the passel of grubby children needing attention.

At those times, I hear this voice in my head, (It might be Elisabeth Elliot or Sally Clarkson or Rachel Jankovic or even Marabel Morgan…) “Stop whining,” it says. “This is life, all this stuff that needs to be done today is life, and you get to live it. What did you want? A useful sojourn in a coffee shop, scrolling through social media and posting gorgeous pictures of your outfit and your new sunglasses?” If I don’t feel sufficiently chastened by this inner voice, I want to be sassy and say, “No, but I would take a cook and a maid so I can at least be lazy over coffee and finish this book.” Then I laugh at myself and set myself to the task of learning to enjoy the things that need to be done. I make it a practice to look into my children’s faces, wash the grime off tenderly, feel the different bone structures, sense the miracle of these little people. And I look for things to laugh about.

Last week our blueberries came, the ones Gabe ordered for containers on the deck. Tophat blueberries, they are called in the catalogs. I called him, excited, and said, “The ‘tow-fat’ blueberries are here!” He was quiet in a Huh? kind of way, then kindly said, “Honey. Those are top-hat blueberries.” The resulting fit of giggles grew into near hysteria. It was precisely what I needed to release some of the stresses I was having a hard time dealing with.

Maybe someday I will be grown up enough that it all comes effortlessly. I hope that when I get big, serving others joyfully will have become my default mode. Raising a family certainly should give us enough practice, not?

I mentioned that I am reading Sally Clarkson’s new book, Own Your Life. I am being challenged to identify sources of chaos in my life, things that divide my heart and make me unthankful, interruptions that I bring upon myself. For this season, it is a very convicting read for me. I am taking it chapter by chapter, searching my heart and letting God’s Spirit speak to me. When I am done with the book, I will do a review. 🙂

Chin up, my friends. The best is yet to come! Oh yes, it is!

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and now, just for fun… artist unknown.

Good to Know…

All was quiet. Outside was still pitch black, but I had a soft pool of light from the lamp beside the couch. I am always very, very quiet when I get up because my early risers hop out of bed at the first sound of stirring. Then the quiet hour that I sacrificed my sleep for is gone and we are launched into the day. The early risers are the hungry ones. They seem to have this connection from their stomachs to their brains the instant their feet hit the floor. For myself, a fried egg before 9 o’clock has always been kind of gross. I just know God enjoyed the joke when he gave me these children who rise and shine so effortlessly.

This morning the kitchen floor squeaked and maybe I banged the tea kettle a little when I started water a-boiling for my tea. I soon heard stealthy creeping and a small face appeared in the doorway, poised to head back to bed because sometimes I instruct her to go back to sleep! Right behind her the smallest, loudest child peeked out and I sighed. If I send that one back to bed, everybody will be up in minutes.

“You can bring your blankets and snuggle with me, girls, if you hold very still and do not mention breakfast.” They scampered over and wiggled like excited puppies arranging nests. Oh well. Never mind the quiet hour. We will snuggle and visit. They had things on their minds. Dreams, very odd dreams that the small one makes up as she goes. “I saw a dinosaur that got unplugged from its wires that God put in it.” Oh.

From her blanket cocoon, Olivia changed the subject, “Mama, I think other people will die before you do.”

“Really? Don’t you want me to die?” I asked the rhetorical question. I expected her to say that she wouldn’t like if nobody was there to make her breakfast or read her stories, or some such childhood reason.

“NO! I do NOT! I would be so….” She paused, groping for the right word. “BORED!”

Well. That is good to know.

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Potpourri of Just Happy Stuff

I have another shortcut to misery all ready, but on a drizzly, grey day, who needs that? We need to focus on how to be happy, yes?

There is a sweet, humming sound in my laundry room this morning. I keep tilting my head, listening to make sure it is still going along all right. Thanks to my husband’s skill in ordering and installing the right part from a system that is, at best, user surly, we have a washer again. I am grateful to not be schlepping baskets of dirty laundry to the neighbors or to my mom’s house. When we got married we bought a washer and dryer set at an auction for about forty dollars. They were already old when we got them, but lasted ten years with hardly  a hitch. We decided that we must have lucked out and gotten a durable brand, so when we needed a new one, that is what we looked for. Let’s just say we went to the big store that rhymes with gears. Gabe said, “You need a good one, a big one, a dependable one, so we are not going to buy cheap.” Okay by me, the one who always starts at the cheap end of the displays.

Three years later we had a washer that expired in a clunking of alarming engine noises. My resourceful husband had already taken it apart once to try to find the noise, but since it still worked, we kept using it until it didn’t work. Of course. The place that rhymes with gears said their repairman could come out on January 2nd. “What? You have got to be joking! I have 5 children and I cannot wait that long,” I protested weakly.

We started checking out local repairmen, all of whom were ever so helpful and friendly, but afraid to mess with a computerized appliance from “gears” because they do not give any tech support to non-company fixers. Finally we were able to find one who was willing to give it a try if we wouldn’t get mad at him should he be unable to fix the problem. Meanwhile, I called the company people and made my case a little stronger. This time I got Betty, “she’s the bomb,” and she pulled some strings, scheduled me a Company Man for the very next day. So we cancelled the friendly local guy.

The funny thing was, the man they sent out was the most garrulous person I ever met and he spilled the beans about quite a few things, including the fact that he isn’t very busy at all right now. He doesn’t know what the January 2nd date was all about. Tilting the washer up about 45 degrees, he looked underneath and immediately pronounced our transmission shot, maybe a few other things fried as well. It could run into a lot more repair bucks than the machine was worth, he has a bunch of coupons and if we decide to go buy a new one, just give them his number, yada-yada. He didn’t do anything with his tools except carry them in and out again after charging us a hefty little sum for diagnosing our problem. To be fair, he had called ahead and explained all charges and he was very kind and helpfully verbose. Particularly he thought I shouldn’t use so much detergent, even if it is formulated for high-e machines, even if it is packaged in a handy little pod. I have to admit to some incredulity, “You mean, you think that is what fried the transmission?”

Upon careful reflection and an inspection of the family budget, we decided that a repair would be smarter than buying new, only the repair would be done by my husband  now that we had been informed that it was not a computer problem. When Gabe ordered the part, they once more gave him that magical January 2nd date for shipping. We resigned ourselves to the inevitable and growled at the children every time they did superfluous changings of attire. The boys actually have no problem with wearing their clothes for a few days, but our girls do love to change outfits at least once a day.

Late last evening, UPS brought our part, Gabe promptly installed it, and now I can do my laundry again! It is only December 16 yet, so this is a gift! Can you see why I am happy after jumping through all those hoops? We have decided that, in future, we will buy new appliances locally, not because we carry any grudges against the friendly unhelpfulness of the big stores, but simply because we don’t like being lost in their shuffle and given dates that don’t mean anything. Also, we would like to keep the breed of small town owners alive, even if we have to pay more up-front, even if they don’t send out reams of coupons with their repair guys.

Moving on… We have a new baby at our house. A puppy baby, that is. She is sweet and waggy and might even turn me into a dog lover with her winsomeness. Gabe has dreamed of owning a spaniel for about most of his life. This fall we had started researching and looking at puppies with an eye to raising pups to sell. Our boys have wanted a puppy all of their lives, but we were always afraid of the road out front. There will have to be a kennel, and there is a lot of training involved, but spaniels are supposed to be extremely amiable and willing to obey. For now, there is a crate in the basement with a  puppy that is learning to only go potty outside. :/ I wasn’t going to allow even that much, but it is winter and spaniels don’t smell, etc, etc.

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She is named Lady Gauge and we like her. May she enjoy a long life and flush many grouse and have many babies!

Some of you know about how I injured my knee while performing the arduous task of fishing some books out from under a dresser. As I twisted to stand up, something popped and I felt alarming pains that affected my walking for a few hours. With ice and elevation, the knee eventually was not painful unless I bent it. Gabe’s doctor friend said it was likely a tear and should be scanned sometime, but mainly I need to keep it braced and inactive. Hahaha, I said mirthlessly to myself. After 10 days in which I walked stiff legged and fantasized about curling up on the couch with my tea instead of extending my leg always into the cold, I am able to bend it carefully. It is healing, and that is happy too! I might add that the washer broke down at the optimal time, when I couldn’t run up and down the basement steps anyway.

Yesterday Rita wanted to ask the blessing at lunchtime. She started with a sweet thanks to Jesus “that I have a family and don’t have to live on the street…” Yes. That is right, little girl.

The boys are deep into codes and acronyms these days. I keep coming across papers with hieroglyphics of some sort or another, with alphabet decoders alongside. The acronyms are less obvious. “That was the MDM!” one of them will exclaim and when I look blank, they say, “Most Delicious Meal, of course.” Or I will hear an argument where one will insist, “I tell you, it is AT! AT!” I have discovered that AT means All True. Of course. Somehow the girls know that they should be insulted if they are referred to as “SLG”, or Silly Little Girl, as well as any other variation on the theme. I roll my inner eyes and laugh at the circus. Or I might say, “Okay, that is EA! Enough Already!”

We had a mega cookie baking spree one day, where each child picked a recipe and we baked it. Alex made rice crispy candy on his own and Greg did his own snicker doodles, but the girls still required a lot of supervision. I made a little mistake when I handed them a Taste of Home cookbook with pictures so they could choose their recipes. They chose things like Peppermint Pinwheels, Evergreen Sandwich Cookies (with two kinds of icing, no joke, although I declined to ice the tops with royal icing…) and Giant Spice Cookies (that look like cracked concrete according to Rita). The batches were small, and we gave a bunch away and ate a bunch and here we are, 10 days to Christmas and the cookies all gone.  Addy was crestfallen that she won’t even be able to share her kind with Cousin Jackie.  I am a sucker for sad eyes. Yesterday we made Evergreen Sandwich Cookies again.

In wintertime I challenge myself to do things that are inconvenient and require me to give up my personal space, just for love’s sake. After all, it would have been much easier for Jesus to stay in heaven, wouldn’t it? It isn’t that stuffing white socks with batting and making snowmen is so complicated. It is that it requires me to put out patience and long-suffering and time with a generous helping of hot glue and buttons. My children don’t know the difference between that and love that actually is costly. What they recognize is the camaraderie of life with a cheerful giver/mother. Incidentally, the Greek word for “cheerful” is the same root word as “hilarious,” a tidbit I remember from Bible School days. That is the catch, isn’t it, my friends… it isn’t the doing, it is the how they are done.

That is what I mean when I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish you joy in recognizing how extravagantly costly was the gift God gave when He sent His Son. Let’s live His lifestyle of extravagant giving of ourselves!