Anybody Can Do It

Over the years we have learned a few coping strategies for squeezing all the fun out of a family camping trip. That could be taken two ways, I suppose. The year we were in tents in a deluge that lasted for days? No fun. At all. The ancient cabin on a lake in the UP? Charmed, every minute of the time. If you do your strategizing ahead of time, even the dreaded unpacking is not so bad.

Strategy number 1. Pack a camping/picnic tote that stays packed in storage whenever you are not out. This has been a game changer for me. A few years ago I bought a large, sturdy, lifetime-guarantee tote with a lid that locks down tightly. In it I packed all the things I always ended up packing every time we went for a day at the lake or on overnight jaunts.

  • dishpan, ratty tea-towels and dishcloths, bottle of Palmolive
  • paper towels, roll of trash bags, ice cream bucket
  • clothesline and clothespins, firestarters
  • mosquito spray, hand sanitizer in a pump, matches
  • aluminum foil and assorted aluminum pans, gallon ziploc bags, coffeepot
  • flexible cutting mat, old cooking utensils that I won’t stress over losing
  • mugs, (we hate drinking out of styrofoam) plastic cups labelled with each person’s name, plastic spoons and forks sturdy enough to be washed

I customize the cookware stuff before each outing. Sometimes we just need roasting sticks, or a stockpot, or maybe a frying pan. We eat off paper plates, but the rest gets washed. Labelling the water cups eliminates a lot of washing. I went so minimalist this time that we didn’t have enough drinking cups when we got company. :/ We pull a trailer behind our Suburban, usually for the bikes and fishing gear, but this time I packed everything except clothes in totes. They were in categories and labelled clearly: towels and sheets, games and activities, food stuff, snowpants, etc. etc. I liked how shipshape this kept the cabin. Well, sort of shipshape. One tote, emptied, became the hamper. This made homecoming and laundry sorting really easy. Do you have any idea how many dirty clothes can fit in a tote?

Strategy number 2. Let the children each pack one backpack/duffle bag. This is for clothes and treasures and it is ample. If they protest, I tell them that I once did a 6 week international trip with just a carry-on bag. What doesn’t fit doesn’t go along. If you think you can’t live without the stuffed puppy, you are going to have to leave something else behind. It’s helpful to make a list of how many outfits for how many days, and just chill with their choices. The more camo, the better. Pj’s can be worn day and night. Nobody cares. Camping is not a fashion show. Once they think they have everything they need, a parent does a cursory luggage check. Each child is responsible for his own luggage the entire time. Load it, unload it, keep it out of harm’s way, put your stuff back in it, zip it up. You people with small children, just wait. It’s coming soon! I helped my little girls pack their clothes, but they did the rest.

Strategy number 3. Provide some activities for rainy days. It will happen, especially if you are depending entirely on sticks and rocks and sand to entertain the children. While we are pretty free-range in our parenting style, (if you tell me you are bored, I will find something for you to do and it might not be fun) we try to remember that camping is not just for adult relaxation. It’s a great chance to bond and play together for hours away from pressures and technology.

Strategy number 4: Keep it simple. Remember my food menu? 🙂 Keep it local. Try to become well acquainted with the area you are camping in and milk it for all it’s worth: trails, geo-caches, nature programs, scenic overlooks, birdwatch areas, swimming, boating, whatever. If you think your people need theme parks and ice cream to be happy, fine. But remember that if you go out and about you are going to have to shower the people and hope to goodness they packed a decent outfit.

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Strategy number 5: Do not complain about lack of comforts. Just do something about it. My brother once installed an air conditioner in his tent’s doggy door. Take what you need to feel prepared, but if you miss something obvious, it’s best not to articulate it.  I tell you, if you voice unhappiness, every short person will pick it up and join you in the chorus, loud and clear. I was deeply disturbed when I thought of an unheated outhouse, modern or not, in 20 degree weather in pitch dark, on a trail in the creepy bushes. It was not something that I was going to be able to cope with well. That Luggable Loo seat saved the nights. Installed on a trash-bag-lined 5 gallon bucket, with a layer of Feeline Pine kitty litter in the bottom to absorb moisture, it worked like a charm and I have to say, I felt quite proud of my foresight. Gabe and I no longer enjoy sleeping on the ground, so we camp in cabins with bunks. We like sites with electricity and running water. If there is something you dislike about camping, there is probably a solution for you. (Have you seen those folding recliners?) It just depends on what you are willing to schlepp along.

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Easy Peasy Camp Food

When we camp it seems that much activity centers around the food. The Pinterest search I did for great camp food brought up grills and skewers and lots of men standing around drooling while meat juices drip. I veered off on a completely different tack, since I had no desire to coddle a charcoal grill in 20 degree weather. I could have happily lived with cereal or protein bars for the duration, but I don’t like when people talk about how much their stomachs are groaning (Addy’s words) and it is equally disturbing when the polite child sidles up and whispers,  “Is there anything to eat?”

My game plan for this trip was to make a menu of Sustaining Foods, carefully think of portions, cook the dishes ahead of time, and not have any leftovers to bring home. At the last minute I threw in a bag of tater tots and a few packs of hotdogs with a bottle of ketchup just for a bit of  a buffer.  This turned out to be a smart move, because there were no restaurants close to the park and we were much too eager to get to our rental to spend time casting around for one. So the arrival banquet was just that. Hotdogs and tater tots. Yummy.

Here’s my Easy Peasy Camping Menu:

  • Breakfast One- Pancakes (just add water, thanks to Aunt Jemima) with some extra toppings like nutella and peanut butter, sausage patties, hot chocolate or coffee (Gabe cooked this meal. Gregory did the dishes. Win for me.)
  • Supper One- Baked potatoes with hamburger topping, lettuce, sour cream, fresh veggies-plain, because I forgot the Ranch dip. (I cooked. I mean I wrapped the potatoes in foil. The rest was precooked at home. Alex washed the dishes.) For a dessert/bedtime snack we made monkey bread, very dry because I forgot the extra sugar sauce, but tolerable when dipped in hot chocolate.
  • Breakfast Two- Scrambled eggs with cheese, cinnamon raisin toast, coffee, oranges
  • Supper Two- Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, assorted store-bought confections for dessert. (Is a double-stuffed oreo a confection?)
  • Breakfast Three- cereal and milk so that cleanup would be quick and easy before we had to check out.
  • Supper Three- a restaurant on the way home.

Maybe someone is interested in the snack list. Because we all know what happens with growing children. (What? You can’t be. We JUST ATE.) To minimize this frustration I took along a bag of apples, a bag of clementines, a jar of peanut butter, a hunk of cheese, some lunchmeat, extra bread and butter, and a few packs of Ramen. After we made the pretzel cabins, there were those to nibble on as well. If you didn’t like the selection, you weren’t hungry, and I heartlessly stuck to that.

This plan worked pretty well. I didn’t have to take any seasonings except salt and pepper because I had taste-tested everything in my home kitchen. Even so it seemed that we ended up with a ridiculous pile of supplies. There were just a few leftovers in the fridge after each meal, enough to drop into the cracks of the hungriest children. 🙂 Gabe thought to casually mention to me during our drive that he had invited his sister and her family for Friday night. She would bring extra food he said. That was great, only there was no cell service unless you hiked a few miles, so Ruby and I were not in touch. She brought whatever worked for her, and I heated the leftover potatoes and toppings and then she cooked our Saturday breakfast so that we were fortified with more than cereal on the drive home.

The drive home ended up being through Jonas the Storm. The restaurant meal plan was flawed, alas. “Oh well,” I told the children, “we won’t starve. We still have our cheeks.”

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And that is how it ended, our vehicle just barely off the road and a snowed-in weekend. 🙂

I have one more camping post, all about ways to make it doable with a family. Until tomorrow!

 

Winter Camping: Stuff to Do

It was fun! But we expected that. We took ourselves, the family circus, along. 😉 Sorry to be so conceited, but there was a point in our wedded life where we figured out that we don’t need a lot of other people to have a good time. There is a time and place for parties and crowds and there is a time and place to regroup with quiet simplicity. The two are rarely synonomous. Of course, dreaming of reading a book by the fire for hours means a woman must plan ahead wisely concerning activities for the plentiful energies of the offspring.

I did a bit of sleuthing online and discovered the duct tape craze that has been around for quite a while, apparently. The rolls of fancy duct tape are kind of small, but I chose a variety of colors and patterns at Walmart and hid them deep in the bowels of my bedroom. This is necessary when you live with the sorts of creative people who find a fresh roll of tape a sort of siren call to make and do. I also packed some craft knives and a cutting mat. (Just before we left home I let Alex watch youtube videos of people crafting with duct tape and he took it from there. Hours, people, hours of wallet making and duct tape flowers, etc. Worth every penny.)

The children looked longingly through a shipment of Usborne coloring books recently. “Nope, nope, nope,” I told them. “Don’t even think of starting in one of those.” But I secretly stuck a few detailed coloring books and my best gel pens and felt-tipped markers into my activities tote. (Hours, hours, of creative fun. Even Gabe got into it.)

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We never go anywhere without books. January was Read-Aloud-Challenge month, so I tried to pack books that everybody would enjoy listening to, as well as easier chapter books for the girls. Cheaper by the Dozen is always a good choice. “Sometimes I wish I was an only child,” someone was heard to mutter and we all laughed and said, “You are just quoting Ernestine.” It totally took the wind out of his sails. Another series we have been working through in fits and starts is The Mysterious Benedict Society. You know you have a winner when a blase’ teenager can’t help but read with all the voices and expressions and every time he quits the little girls demand, “READ.”

For myself I took Forgiven, the book written by Terri Roberts describing the terrible journey of hurt and healing after her son shot the little girls in the Nickel Mines school. I did read beside the fire with a flashlight after the children were in bed.

I am not really good at the gingerbread houses at Christmas time thing, but I like the idea. Once again I found the web to be an inspiration and amassed a few bags of various pretzels, some fanciful candies and a batch of royal icing. It seemed an appropriate thing to do while camping. I helped Addy, of course. Gabe helped Olivia. But nobody helps Rita. I loved her claim shanty with its animal paddock. She was serenely unbothered by its unorthodox look.

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The rest of the space in the activities tote was games: Settler’s of Catan, Canasta, Boggle, Chess, Monopoly, etc. Oh, yes, and in a crack went a portable DVD player and Where the Red Fern Grows, although I was skeptical that the girls could handle the sad parts. They duck around a corner when the scenes get too tear-jerking.

We were just delighted with the 8 sided Tyler cabin. I include the second pic so you can see our totes and firewood on the trailer.

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Everybody in the family thinks Lady could just live with us, in our space and stuff. All but me. There I put my foot firmly DOWN. But she did like to be with us in the cabin, toenails clicking on the wood floor as she did laps, looking for someone to throw her toy.

We spent a good bit of time outside, naturally. The trails ran right past the cabin, so it was great for strolling through a few inches of powdery snow. Just up the road was the frozen lake where we rented skates for all and bought hot chocolate at the commissary. There were about 6 other people on the ice. No worries about getting into anybody’s way. These two spent most of the first hour sprawling and hauling each other back upright. I was surprised with their cheerfulness over losing their feet repeatedly. Until the sun went down and they got cold, that is.

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Yup, it was fun.

Coming tomorrow: Easy Peasy Camp Food

(and I promise I will get to the Luggable Loo one day)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Reasons Why We Camp in State Parks

I know you all want to hear about our winter camping adventure. Here it is, February, so I can finally tell you about it. I have been saving it up. Actually, I have been doing laundry and washing road salt off Rubbermaid totes and spending three days in the company of a whiny stomach bug. Also I have been teaching cursive E and hosting company and reading aloud every day. I have been learning to stop abusing the ellipses. I badly wanted to insert one there, but Grammarly rapped my knuckles.

When I told my friend Amy that we are going camping in January, she said, “That’s not vacation!” I think she may have been referring to the facilities, or lack of them. Here is why we camp in state parks despite that objection, in 5 handy-dandy reasons:

  1. We get rejuvenated in nature. I ask no better form of relaxation than a stroll on a well-maintained, well-marked trail through unspoiled woods. This is something Gabe and I want to pass on to our children: “Alone with God” and all that. Stuff doesn’t scream so loudly, troubles tend to assume more manageable proportions, there is no wi-fi and little cell service, and if you go during off-peak seasons there are no other people.
  2. We appreciate camping cabins. Tents are fine for some seasons, but actual bunks with mattresses, hooks to hang up jackets, shelves for each child’s treasures are fine for other seasons. I don’t sneeze about electric heaters either, and light switches to hit when things go bump. At one time I would have sneered at the poshness of it, but I have opened my mind a bit. The lack of plumbing tends to off set the poshness anyway.
  3. We like affordable things. We just have to face it, the beach is too far away from central Pennsylvania for us to trot there every time we feel like it. (Also, people don’t walk around naked in state parks, a small consideration, surely.) On this recent trip, we spent less than $400 on fuel and lodging for 7 people (3 nights) and it was built to accommodate 12. That is not including the tote full of special foods to cook on sticks (just kidding, we had a stove and fridge) and the tote full of fun activities for middle of January camping, of course.
  4. We value learning about things, any things, all things. State parks have calendars crammed full of educational and low-budget fun. Many of their programs are free, paid by our hard-earned tax dollars, of course. The activities were a little sparse in mid-winter, but there was a snowshoeing class and a large ice rink cleared on the ice for skating. There was geo-caching all around the park, even though the caches were hard to find under snow. But the great thing? Those vacation days totally count as school days because we learned stuff while we were just hanging out with each other.
  5. We like being around nice people. By that I mean family-friendly people who understand that a little boy hatcheting firewood is as natural as breathing. I cannot remember ever meeting a creepy person or even an especially grouchy person at a state park and I watch for them ever since I read The Shack. I did see in the news that a criminal was hiding out in a local campground, but people ratted on him. Apparently all the fresh air and exercise keep campers alert and they look out for each other. 🙂

There you have it, my nice, attention grabbing title and a list. Is there anything you would like to add?

There is also this image, poached off the internet, of the dam at Parker Dam State Park, although when we were there the water was quite frozen and the entire 20 acre lake would have been fine for skating.

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See you tomorrow!

Retrospection, Anticipation

I dislike clunky titles, but that is what I am writing of: retrospection of the year past, grey, smudgy, tired and finished. Oh yes, muddy too, here in south central PA. The new year coming, hopefully with snow to cover the homeliness of winter, people getting married, long-anticipated babies due, students hoping to graduate with honors and others making sure they wear red undies on New Year’s Eve to give them better chances of finding true love in the next year. Do you notice that the things we anticipate are all good, happy, peace and prosperity?

I hate bad news, funerals, ugliness and mean-spirited gossip. I unfollow people who habitually depress me on Facebook. It verges on simple “head in the sand”. A few years ago when there was genocide in Rwanda, I avoided the news like the plague. I couldn’t deal with it. This year I forced myself to look at the excruciating realities that are everyday life for so many people. I committed to carrying the burdens of others where I can. Sometimes I really don’t even like the world we live in. 

Recently the boys and I watched Inside Einstein’s Mind on PBS, a documentary that explores his thought processes as Einstein worked for years on his theory of  relativity and his elegant mathematical equation explaining how the universe works. Physicists have not ever come up with a better explanation for spacetime. It boggles my mind that time bends with gravity and velocity, but what really intrigues me is the time travel dreamers. I know it’s nonsense, that we can’t get this year over again, etc. etc. I don’t want to. Well, I wouldn’t mind going back to November and planting a whole bunch of lettuce, seeing as it would still be growing this oddly warm year.

But if we could travel in time, where would we go? I like things safe and peaceful. I ask myself, which century? Is there even a decade untroubled by strife and sorrow, by epidemics and evil? Is there any utopia, a selfless paradise, anywhere? In the history of the whole world? There are lots of spaces in history I would like to visit, but to live in that era my whole life? I don’t think so. I am not trying to be depressing, but jumping ahead in time doesn’t look too appealing either.

The fact of the matter is that I know in my soul I am made for a different home.”But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13) That is just being realistic. “You are here for such a time as this” was not just for Esther in ancient Persia. It is for me and for you. This little stretch of time, bend as it will with gravity, is still our time and the only time we are given.

I have been reading the Revelation of John over and over in the last month. It is about as fantastic writing as anything I have ever attempted to understand. I believe it; I read a chapter again; I feel awed by the One who is Faithful and True. My inability to really get it does not hamper my faith that it is for real. For years if I didn’t understand something, I couldn’t believe it. Stumbling in mazes of doubt, I implored God for faith. Slowly, slowly, I learned to anchor my soul on eternal truths because He was trustworthy and if He said it, it was true. So here is what I got out of Revelation for the new year, a safe place to build upon in the slippery shiftiness of time.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new… Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’.”

Revelation 21:3-5, ESV

 

 

He is with us, present day. He will be with us, future forever. The best is yet to come, my friends!

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More on the Books

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I have to share these photos with you, because they just thrill my heart. These are the children, the ones with the eyes-that-have-seen-too-much, that are benefitting from the books sent to the refugee camps in northern Iraq. David Godoy, who volunteered there in the fall, took these photos of some of his English students with the beginner science readers we hastily scraped together to send along in a suitcase. It was about $300 worth, a pitifully small offering for so many, many children. I made a big goal this time, to raise $2000, which Literacy for a Lifetime will match by 50%. So that is 10 times as much, and with some donations received privately, not through the website, we are over half way to the goal!

I asked David to describe his classes, then put his story on the Youcaring site, but it deserves a wider audience. Nearly all of the donations have come from you kind, generous folks who read the blog. I feel very humbled by this, so I am copying David’s words here for you to read just what it means to receive a book, with pictures, with fresh ideas, with new things to learn about the wider world in it.

   “Writing about the time I spent with the Yazidi children in Kurdistan, Iraq could possibly fill many pages with various happy, sad, or whimsical occurrences that I experienced. My aim with this is not to get carried away with many details but rather to condense several weeks into a few paragraphs in the hopes of influencing your mind to understand the need there among not only the adults but especially the children.
I taught English classes to the village boys ranging from ages five to
fourteen or fifteen. The day started around nine o’clock with the five
to seven year old boys. After going over the alphabet, the colors of
different objects, shapes, and so on for about an hour the children
from all the different classes would meet in a courtyard area and sing
children’s choruses at the top of their lungs. It was always enjoyable
to listen to them and also to sing with them and perform the motions
to many of the songs.
After two hours of classes in the morning school was adjourned until the afternoon. It seemed to me that along with the dry, 100+ degree weather a Middle Eastern summer afternoon brings the 15 ten to twelve year old boys of the first afternoon class also brought along to school their heated tempers and everything else that made the
afternoon much warmer due to the rise in frustrations. One would think the heat alone would bring a calming affect but it was quite opposite.

They would hoot and holler through the alphabet at varying speeds,
climb around on the desks and each other, spill water so they would
have the joy of splashing it around, get into fights, steal each
other’s pencils, and do everything except sit like good boys who are
trying to learn what a circle is, and that orange is a color and not
the fifth letter of the alphabet.
The singing after that class was always held by ourselves in our class
room as the other classes were similar in student attitude and would
have been next to impossible to maintain structured singing period.
After the dust settled and the room was put back into a presentable
state my last and favorite class would come in. There were usually
only four or five of them and they were the most advanced in English.
They could very easily recite the alphabet and could read small easy
phrases. The comprehension may not have been there but they are off to a good start.
All this being said there is one tool that I found extremely helpful
in the different things I taught them. Two weeks into my stay in Iraq
a wise and generous person donated a few of these tools to the school
over there and some of them were accepted very happily as a gift for
excellent learning by some of my students while I used the remain onesin my teaching.

What was this tool you may ask? It was a book! Yes, a book. Something that here in America I have taken very much for granted and have, to a degree, lost touch with the immense value and information that even a simple child’s picture book can bring.
Charles Darwin in his skewed philosophy was able to influence and
change the mindset of millions of people all through the power of a
book. And when the age group is too young to comprehend the stages of evolution, artists come up with the most absurd pictures

illustrating the process of evolution staring from a standard ape and transitioning into a creature I hope never to meet then finally ending with a human.
The sad part of it is all that information is taken in and processed
by many school age children shaping there minds into believing a lie.
Why did I mention this?
The same kind of approach can be taken with the Iraqi children. But
instead of pumping their heads full of artists perspectives of
nonsense wouldn’t it be better for them to see in detailed pictures
what the steps of a metamorphosis are? Or what the Himalayas look
like? Or what the earth looks like from space? Or how many continents there are?

If a Yazidi child can look at these things and process them in childlike manner they may begin to see that outside their torn apart

lives exists a bigger world, a world that is also looking for answers in
their desperation for the true meaning to life. The children may
slowly begin to understand that maybe there is a higher power that
created the world they live in, maybe there is forgiveness, and that
the Light and Love they sing about does really exist.

A book can go a very long way in influencing a child’s mind. Even if
they are taught from a reader, what they learn will form words in
their mind giving them the ability to one day comprehend the Book that has the key to eternal life.
I will always remember the uncontainable smile the gift of books
brought to my little students. The way they proudly shook my hand on the way out of the room that last day of school helped me to see

that one little picture book may be one tiny stepping stone in the walk way towards a better life. But if eternal life is gained through the small gift of a book, I would give every last book I have.

I look back over my time spent in Iraq and am greatly humbled by the fact that God uses all sorts of ways to show His love to the precious people of Iraq.”

There you have it, the cause that I feel passionately about: the children and literacy. When I see those little faces in the news, I think that they will grow up to be either the next generation of fighters or peacemakers. So much depends on now, on the influences that come into their lives. As David so eloquently pointed out, books can introduce a child to a whole other world. (I want to sincerely apologize for the fomat of the quote. WordPress is giving me fits tonight, no matter how much I edit. This is a problem with blogging on a budget, also known as free blogsites. : } You don’t get so many pretties. )

Many of us cannot volunteer to go to the camps, but we can share. I thank you. Some day, I believe, there will be children who have received Love and they will thank you. I put more of the photos on the sharing site, if you would like to take a look. When you go there, read the comment from a little girl named Ellie. It brings tears to my eyes and a nod to some wise parents who are raising their children to be kingdom-minded.

If God moves your heart to help us  (<Click there, obviously) reach the last half of our fundraising goal, I thank you in advance.

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Something I Can Do

I appreciated hearing from some of you after my last post, that yes, you make yourself look and care, too. Even when it haunts your dreams and you carry the weight with you throughout the day and the only thing you can do is pray. Look at the little children squeezed in those masses, caught up in a chaos where innocence and routines are shattered.

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Refugee children

See them carrying burdens too heavy for them. Burdens too heavy even for the adults in their lives who are worried every day. And yet. Look at them. Still little children.

Iraqi children

There are makeshift schools going on in the camps in northern Iraq, a sad reminder that life in the dispossessed world of the tents in the wilderness is indefinite. On the bright side, the children are learning and have something to do during the day. There are volunteers teaching English classes. Many of these households average 8 children. So much potential and energy!

One day while this was heavy on my mind, a thought flitted through. “You know, you could do a fund raiser and send those children books.” It startled me a little, because I hadn’t really thought about being able to DO something. Usually that is my default mentality: I just want to be able to do something to make things better. And I hate feeling like I am powerless, so sometimes I rush in when I should stay out, you know.  I decided to wait a good little while to make sure this was not an impulse I had just cooked up on my own.

Meanwhile. A small stash of savings that I was cherishing hopes to use on a bit of unnecessary spending got delegated to another need. I have to be honest, I really struggled with this. I just wanted to buy what I wanted this time. Also meanwhile I kept seeing so many GoFundMe’s and St. Jude’s Hospital at the checkout, and Salvation Army bell ringers. I realised again that the causes dear to my heart are not always the causes that others feel drawn to support. With a little spanking from God about my uncheerful attitudes and the reminder that there are many ways to care for the world, I decided to ask my husband what he thinks of the fundraising idea.

He said sure, go for it. I contacted Plain Compassion about shipping the books. They said they like the idea and will be glad to arrange shipping. They said it’s fine to use their name in the fundraiser, as well. I certified with Usborne Books to do fundraisers, and here we are.

My ambitious goal is to ship a whole skid of books to the refugee camps in northern Iraq. I want to send them phonics readers with bright illustrations, beginner science readers with easy text, picture books, even coloring books and activity books of all sorts.

Of course, I share all this with you, my kindly readers. 🙂 In doing this as a fundraiser, I am using the Literacy for a Lifetime provision, which matches all sales or donations with a 50% grant.

If you feel a tinge of desire to share in this endeavour, here is how it works. I set up my Usborne sales page so that all sales will benefit refugees (not me 🙂 ) by 50%. You can buy books, really nice books at this site, for the children in your life and the refugees will get half the amount in books with Usborne’s matching grant money. Or if you want, you could donate here and your donation would be matched 50%. All this to say that $10 will stretch to $15.

I am hoping and praying that many of us can do a little bit each and send a great big pallet of educational supplies and story books to these precious little children. Everybody should have a bedtime story.

We Have to Look

Is there anyone else out there who can hardly bear to read the international news these days? Something about the plight of homelessness in winter strikes me as unbearable hardship. Add to that the loss of loved ones, the gouging of life savings by unprincipled men taking advantage of desperate people, the mud and the trekking in the cold and the uncertainty of when life will ever get better and it is just more than I can stand. I look at the photos of refugees huddled around small fires built out of bits of scrounged trash, the chapped lips, the bloodshot eyes with a film of hopelessness and I can’t stand it, but I can’t look away. Because it could be me. By some accident of grace (is there such a thing?) it isn’t me, but it could be.

All last week Gabe and I were fighting off a cold/cough that kept sitting hard on our chests every morning with that ugly feeling that it was settling in to stay for a while. We fought it with all the stuff in our cupboard: the Vicks rub, the eucylyptus oil, the Emergen-C, the echinacea by the handful, the Immunotea with raw honey, the elderberry syrup, the grapefruit seed crush to gargle for sore throat. And we won. It never did get a chance to settle in. Every time I fixed another cup of soothing tea, I thought of those refugees shuffling miserably through the mud, wiping a runny nose on a coat sleeve, hoping for asylum only to come up against a barbed wire fence. No comfort and no hope. I can’t stand it , but I can’t look away.

I keep reading opinion bits here and there on the interweb about short term missions and how ineffective they are. “It should have been sold and given to the poor,” Judas said about the priceless ointment Mary used to bathe Jesus’ feet. That is what some folks say about youth group missions trips. All that money spent on tickets for 6 weeks in a foreign country. It’s a waste. You could feed hundreds of people with that money. It’s not a good use of funds. They go, take a bunch of pictures of themselves being the angel of mercy to post on their social media, and they go home again and feel good about having done their bit, and then they buy the next generation phone. I suppose there is some truth to that, and the funds may be wasted sometimes.

But. What if that youth can never be the same? What if she is impacted profoundly by the dignity of a lady singing as she bends to her twig broom, sweeping her packed-dirt courtyard outside of her mud hut.. what if she thinks about this countless times when she wants to grouse about the state of her kitchen floor? What about the pastor who is spending his entire life in evangelism, living by faith, cheerfully serving the youth team cooked spaghetti noodles and fruit compote and they bless the food and are truly grateful… what if she remembers this when she serves bread and soup to her visitors and she doesn’t apologize because hospitality is not just food and she learned this in a village in Ukraine? What if she thinks about the mile walk to the well for water and the small amounts allocated to washing and general cleanliness because it is just really far to that well… and she cannot find judgement in her heart for the dirty begger standing by the intersection because without easy access to water, who can be clean? What if she met someone who literally never had a chance and she learned to care about the family that is all across the world? What if she learned an entirely new and perfectly acceptable way to peel a banana and got thoroughly embarrassed by her own condescending ideas of how things ought to be done? What if that short term missions trip changed the way she lived her whole life, made her see how much she has been freely given? What if she could never just not look because the people are all God’s people?

I don’t even know what this post is about. You are allowed to do that on a blog, I have heard. Maybe it’s about investing in a plane ticket, or exposure to the miseries and inequities in the world, about stripping away the insulation that keeps us self-centered and absorbed in our entitlement to more and better stuff. Maybe it is just plumb stream of consciousness. But we have to look. We have to see around us. What can we even do about it? As much as I would like to be there at the barbed wire, handing out hot coffee to the refugees, I am here and my children want popcorn.

Still. What if we all look at the brokenness and let it settle on us and know that there is only one solution, so we lift it up with groaning and pleading. What if all our collective whispers and petitions rise and God moves to change the affairs of nations? What if we don’t look away and we see what is coming with eyes of faith, so that we start investing in a better place “where righteousness dwells” instead of busily attempting to make heaven on earth?

As hard as it is, I really think we have to look.

The Country Mice Go to a Resort

Last weekend we combined two events and made a family field trip out of the entire works. Family field trips are so much fun, starting with “Are we about there?” every five minutes enroute to “Make her stop singing!” and “I am starving hungry. Did we pack any snacks?” Then you finally get there.

“Does anybody need to go to the bathroom? Where is Rita? Yes, we will eat just soon! Everybody stay together. We don’t want to lose you!” And so on. But it is fun, really. “Please don’t touch! Maybe you will have to save your money for the next 20 years so you can buy that. Yes, I know this display is boring for big boys, but humor us for a little. Where is Rita? Wow, that is a really neat knife with that bone handle, but we don’t have 45 dollars hanging loose right now. Where is Rita? Here, you hold tightly to my hand for a while. Yes, I know you are hungry. Shall we get some popcorn?” We did have fun. This is just my running dialog of the stuff that makes me feel like I am developing a twitch.

Wanna know what we did? Every year Gabe has to take an Outdoor Emergency Care refresher course in order to stay certified as a ski patroller in order to get a free family pass at the slopes. The course itself is interesting for him: what to do with a patient in shock from whacking headfirst into a tree, how to splint that broken-up person for the trip up or down the mountain to an ambulance, or how to assess why that person is coughing blood. It gives me the willies, just looking through the course handbook.

Fortunately for us, there was another event held at Seven Springs that weekend. The Mother Earth News is a magazine that we subscribe to for ideas to develop our small acerage. They hold various fairs across the country, and this one happened to be at the same resort as the OEC refresher course. We bought a pass online and a room for the night, making it a two day affair. A real field trip for our underprivileged homeschooled kids. 😉

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The fair was held mostly outside on the hotel grounds from the bottoms of the ski lifts to the outdoor courtyard, but it meandered through conference rooms and hallways as well. There were hundreds and hundreds of vendors, the nicest people you will ever meet. If you are country and going to a resort with a family, this is the time to do it. Earth-mother types like children and they don’t really dress up that much. I saw a lot more turbans and hippie skirts and Ugly Shoes than I have ever seen before in one spot. In the middle of all the herbs and chicken butchering equipment and log splitters there was one lonely booth for flu shots. I nearly laughed out loud. What? I would have hated to be that salesperson.

There were about eight stages with different breakout sessions, all the way from Keeping a Family Cow to Worm Composting. We split up so that we could cover more information.

I took

  • Growing a Sustainable Diet (Very interesting talk by a woman wearing a linen vest she grew, spun, wove and crafted)
  • Eating the Whole Plant (Meh. You can eat carrot tops and beet tops… Don’t throw them away! There were two men in the session who were unabashedly snoozing in the A/C. Also my girls were down to the crumbs in the maple-syrup-popcorn bag and they needed to go potty and get drinks.)
  •  One Hour Cheeses (the most fun, as the children were watching How to Pack a Llama for a Hike and I could actually follow. It was fascinating. I bought her book.)

From various friendly vendors we got open pollinator seeds and useful information about saving seeds from one year to the next.. One woman bought corn seeds for meal 25 years ago and has saved them for her annual crop ever since. Another kindly dread-locked lady didn’t have the sweet pepper seeds we wanted, but she did have a few of the peppers and offered us one to save our own seeds. I turned around for a few seconds and looked at Rita just in time to see her eating the last of the pepper, ready to throw away the core with all those lovely seeds attached.

They showed us how and why we should grow mushrooms and explained the science of herbal remedies. I bought teas and tinctures that I usually pay lots of shipping on. My favorite vendors were the good folks from Beeyoutiful. They served the girls and I freshly brewed Immunotea and I bought my winter’s vitamin C supply for the children and essential oils called ProMiSe Blend. Some of you will get that. 🙂

The boys gravitated to the wilderness survival supply booths and the alternate power sessions. Alex has a list of supplies he needs to make an electric motor bike. Gregory now has a Life Straw for his bug-out bag. The girls got batik-patterned head bands and a tiny succulant plant for their windowsill. By the end of the day we were all funned out except for one more thing: the indoor pool. We went during the supper hour when it was deserted except for a few little boys. Alex cannonballed right in, just like at the pond, putting the lifeguard on high alert. So did Addy, only she didn’t have her lifejacket on and was too short even for the shallow end of the pool and had to be fished out. I realized that our children have hardly ever gone swimming in anything but creeks and ponds. They thought the clear water was a blast. By 8:30 they were all asleep and Gabe and I could sit on the balcony to compare notes and make a game plan for the next day.

That included me taking the children for breakfast at the hotel restaurant while he did his refresher course, then meeting somewhere at the fair around lunchtime. The kids were up bright and early, bickering and giggling by turns. I made sure everybody was shiny and well aware of ettiquette at a breakfast bar. The dining area was decked out with white tablecloths and goblets, buffet lines with polished silver serving covers on every dish. I was the only adult with that many children. A buffet line with a child in tow is never easy. Too many choices, they can’t see what is up there, they want to touch stuff that they won’t eat, and the plates are too heavy for the little ones to safely manage without spills. Add in heavy lids on everything and you have a true white hair producing situation. Add in crowds of adults who only want to get their bacon already and don’t know that your kid is counting the strips he is getting because that is what he has to do at home when we have bacon and then you know where the twitch comes from. Here is the dining room, only this web image has flowers and chair covers for a wedding.

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Imagine my little country mice, freshly rested and full of ginger, there, around that table.

It did turn out to be a great breakfast. The only Where is Rita? moment was when she had ducked underneath the tablecloth for some privacy. They were very careful to only drink decaf coffee and choose their doughnuts wisely. I was proud of them. 🙂

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We spent a good while in the hotel’s backyard, a rock garden area with a fountain and trails. The twitch had almost worn off  when the acorn wars started. All this happened while many other guests were still blissfully sleeping and I could just imagine an errant acorn clattering against somebody’s window. I decided our best option was to hang around the animal tent. The little girls plucked up grass to feed the sheep and the boys examined all the rabbit options and chickens and pigs.

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When Gabe’s course was done, we wandered around for a while before heading home with our heads just packed with information.

I have been inspired to learn more about foraging for edibles in the wild and growing interesting foods. Next year we want to have a plot for broom corn and zuka gourds. I have been a little obsessed with the One Hour Cheese book, garnishing my end product with flower petals and herbs. I did feel ridiculously happy with that.

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We went on a hike yesterday and brought home some turkeytail lichens to make a tea in which “clever prodding helps us keep our systems on their toes, invigorating us in the process.” (Click on the link for an almost lyrical description of the benefits of the humble little turkeytail.)

I don’t buy into the theory that everything will kill you unless you do it the natural way, because I have noticed that everybody eventually dies, one way or another. Hopefully the weekend did open up some fresh neural pathways, possibly staving off alzheimer’s for a few years. Last week I had a vivid dream about an edible caterpillar foraging session that the boys and I were taking, complete with taste testing. I had to brush my teeth when I got up, just to get the taste out of my mouth. We aren’t quite that far gone, but I suppose if you see me coming around in clothes died with geranium petals and walnut hulls, subsisting on fermented vegetables and venison jerky, you may have cause for concern. 🙂

Five Things You May Not Know About Nurses

Tonight my husband came home 8 hours later than we had expected. The relief nurse didn’t show up and there were emergencies and problems tying him up. Other people’s problems. That’s the thing about nurses: they spend their entire day caring about problems when people are in the most susceptible places. I didn’t like that he couldn’t come home at lunchtime, but it was okay. Four o’clock wouldn’t be so bad. Then I got the text that he was going to be detained until 7:00 and that meant not going to church tonight. When he told me that he got to help stabilize a critically ill child, I was really glad I hadn’t spent any energy being mad about the hours. Sometimes I do that, you know.

A while ago I wrote this list and was reminded of it tonight. I would make a horrible nurse. It isn’t my gift. But I have observed my husband as he exercises his gift and I feel some recognition is due. So here you go,

Five Things You May Not Know About Nurses

  1. Nurses work extremely hard. They routinely take more than the 10,000 steps recommended for daily fitness. That is five miles, by the way. They lift tons of people and I mean that literally. They do this in 12 hour shifts with about 1/2 hour break if they are lucky. They work at night and on holidays and on weekends when everybody else is out camping. One time another lady and I were discussing packing lunches for our husbands and she mentioned that I probably don’t have to pack as much food as if he were working hard. Well. I didn’t tell her how often he didn’t even have time to eat the stuff I packed because other people’s needs were more important than his own. Nurses are knackered when they get home. They need food and drink. They deserve to use the bathroom in peace, take a long hot shower. It is best to wash off all traces of MRSA.
  2. Nurses really do enjoy sticking in IV’s but nobody wants to hit that vein the first time more than they do. That is why they like to stroke your arms, looking for good veins. It’s a funny way to show affection and practice their craft at the same time. If you have great veins, you will occupy a special little place in their hearts. If you don’t have good veins, you represent a challenge, and they can think of lots of places to try next while you shiver in horror. Probably I wouldn’t need to mention this, but I have an extreme aversion to needles.
  3. Nurses have an unorthodox sense of humor. “Hey Hon, come check out this neat Youtube clip,” instantly raises suspicion after just one look at “World’s Biggest Booger” or “Boil Popping on Back of Neck”. I mean, ewwwww. One can never un-see these things. It is my opinion that this dark humor is a way to cope with all the yuck and gore, a chance to laugh at things that are even stranger than the stuff they dealt with that day.
  4. Nurses have vast repertoires of interesting stories, most of which you will never hear because of patient confidentiality. They might tell you about the patient who was crawling with bugs or the man who had no idea who he was, but you have a much better chance of finding out on Facebook that your friend was in the hospital than from that friend’s nurse. And that fear that women have, that somehow the nurses will leak how much they weigh? Not even a chance. They value their jobs and the patient’s dignity much more than that. As a nurse’s spouse, I really don’t find out much about his work unless I listen to the stories when a bunch of nurses get together. That is when the tales come forth that would make a stoic sniffle. Or a maggot gag. It just depends on what is being discussed. You can’t really shock a nurse, and they aren’t afraid to talk about anything when with their own kind.
  5. Nurses are not in it for the money. This is a myth that I would like to dispel. The vast majority of people wouldn’t even touch this work without a lot more pay. It may be a cliche, but it’s true: Nurses are kind souls. They are trained to cheerfully respond to the irritating person who is constantly ringing the bell for attention. They change diapers on adults. They have to be able to care about their patients, yet expect little thanks. Many times they provide care for those who are dying and carefully explain what is happening to distraught family members. These are not really things one does for money. When a patient returns to the hospital, healthy and full of gratefulness, thanking their health care providers for attending their needs in a vulnerable time, it makes a nurse’s day. That is why they do what they do. They really like to help people.

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This is my favorite nurse. I am so grateful that he is using his gift to help bring healing and comfort to the world. (The schedule does stink, though, but that is just my personal opinion.)