wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

The Milk of Human Kindness

I thought about beauty quite a bit recently, seeing as this is a subject that interests us all. I may have implied in my post that I disdain all fashion, and I have to confess, that is not true. My ideas of what is attractive are very influenced by what I have been taught as a Mennonite, I know that. But I don’t live under a rock, and like all of us, I like to feel pulled together, not frumpy and straggly. That latter feeling makes it very hard to be pleasant. It is on the opposite end of the modesty spectrum, so far out as to be highly noticeable. So yes, I do care about how I look and I notice how other people look. I have a little story to illustrate what I was trying to say:

At a recent event, I noticed a lady in front of me who was strikingly beautiful. She had long, flowing, silver hair and flawless skin without even crow’s feet around the eyes. Although she looked to be 55 or 60, there was no trace of extra chin or flappy arms. She wasn’t skinny or unnatural, just exceedingly well preserved and as poised as royalty. When her husband showed up with two water bottles and a soft pretzel, I watched her reaction and observed with sudden clarity that no crow’s feet= no sense of humor. He gave her the water, but she seemed only to see the pretzel and narrowed her eyes with the merest hint of disapproval. He chuckled a bit nervously and made excuses for his lack of appropriate food choices. She said nothing, just looked at him without any expression except mild scorn. He offered her some pretzel and she turned away. At this point I wanted to say, “But he brought you nice, cold, bottled water! You could at least thank him.” Of course, I didn’t. I looked at that lovely profile and I didn’t think it was beautiful anymore. Her husband ate his pretzel with the nonchalance of a naughty little boy, then got up and left. I didn’t blame him.

So here’s the thing. If you had everything you wanted, could people stand you? I have a theory that very beautiful people tend to get away with more brattiness in life because somehow we excuse them for bad behavior. It’s called the “halo effect”. I googled it and found it quite interesting. It’s why pretty little simpletons get married to rich men with hardly any skills other than giggling. (edit: the rich men don’t giggle. That’s the girl’s job.) It’s also why overly-confident, handsome boys get hired for jobs that they are not even competent at. Gah. The injustice! So anyway, here’s to looking deeper than skin.

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Here’s story two. I heard such an inspiring thought this morning. “If you are raising a family, you are doing building work, and your home should resemble a construction zone. Don’t even try for a museum.”

Wow! That’s so true, I thought. I won’t forget that one. Then the day happened. Before supper I asked the girls to clean up the living room, since obviously they needed something to do because they were not outside in the gorgeousness that is our September. They did, and I rewarded them with tiny bits of food for a doll party on the deck before I set to pulling weeds. All day I have had a terribly painful sore on my tongue that seems to have started from eating too many tomato slices a few days ago. I could hardly talk and even drinking water made my eyes smart. Pain can make one feel ugly too, so I removed myself from society and went to the garden to set my little strawberry plants free from their weedy competition until it got too dark to see.

When I returned to the house, there they were, listening to “Little Men” on audio and the house in shambles. Again. There was a teetering pile of folded laundry that just hadn’t made it to drawers, mixed with every kind of project five active little bodies can think up, including a freshly painted plastic bucket and some sticky apple schnitzes on the computer desk. And the dishes weren’t done. I did not even once think about the museum/construction zone quote. “You guys have got. to. own. your. messes!” I said emphatically. It was bad, on the scale of messes about at Rubble but not yet at Disaster. In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse when I considered the tube of super glue on the floor, as well as a cider jug that seemed to have been the refreshment of choice. They sheepishly looked around and said, “What do you mean? You didn’t give us any instructions,” but they knew quite well and scurried around picking perler beads out of the frizzies of the carpet and putting paper snibbles into the trashcan and dishes into the dishwasher. It was probably a good thing that my tongue was too sore to say much. As I cleaned the dirt out of my fingernails (without benefit of a nailbrush, which is AWOL, probably being used on a dolly’s mop) and washed my sweaty hair, I thought about the construction zone and my fuss.

The Proverbs 31 woman speaks with “the law of kindness”. I do so aspire to be like her and it seems God is very interested in giving me lots of practice. I need to learn as much as my children to own my messes, so we had a quieter, kinder talk, and thus ended the day.

It’s still a good quote. I shall repeat it as my watchword when I work through Saturday. Anybody joining me?

Here it is again, so you don’t have to scroll back up.

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Five Beauty Tips for Every Woman

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Recently I saw an outfit selfie and the girl was saying, “I don’t know what it is, but something just seems wrong with this outfit. Help me out. Is it the cardigan? The dress? The combination of the cardigan, dress, and headband?” In her friends’ comments on the photo, someone made the illuminating observation that it was the sandals. They were too strappy and didn’t coordinate well with the horizontal lines on the dress. Okay then. I would never have thought of it. I am quite certain that I make frequent mistakes along those lines, but here’s the thing: I don’t really have time for that. When I ask my husband, “Does this look all right?” he often responds with, “You are a grown-up. You can wear what you like.” So very helpful and yet very freeing!

I have a lot of beautiful friends. Not one of them is ugly. Not one. Every woman that I know well enough to consider my friend has some beauty that I see and I rarely think about a lack of fashion sense unless they bring it up themselves. A few of them are gorgeous by any standard, but most have design flaws (yes, we think of them as design flaws and forget about the Designer) that they bug themselves about. I have good news though! These beauty tips are for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your ears stick out or your hair is flat or your face is wrinkled and liver-spotted. Seeing that I have so many lovely friends, I would like to share some beauty tips that I have gleaned from them.

  1. There really is beauty in simplicity. It is interesting to see the trends to neutral colors and simply tailored patterns come back. It seems the fewer flamboyant things you put on yourself, the less you have to worry that they clash. Granted, I have moved a fair distance from the four color options I could wear as a girl, but I do know that one should be careful about wearing plaids and floral prints together with a chevron scarf and a pile of Lilla-Rose hair accessories.
  2. The most beautiful people think about others more than themselves. You could have a triple chin and warts on every one, but if you are genuinely interested in others, they will think you are a wonderful person to be around. I have to be honest, sometimes when it seems like a person is just looking at one spot on my face, I get really nervous that I missed something obvious like a chin hair or broccoli stuck in my teeth. Sometimes I duck into the restroom to check in a mirror. This is not the self-absorption I am talking about, because I am inconsistent like that.
  3. A joyful smile shines like the best makeup you ever saw, and a whole-hearted person is lovely any way you look at her.  On the flip side, no amount of cosmetics will cover an unhappy face. You cannot paint a sour expression beautiful or color-coordinate the discontentment out of your soul.  A spirit that is not at peace just oozes out everywhere.
  4. Confidence is much more compelling than a woman who is shrinking inside herself with worry  (see 2. above ) about her weight, her hair, her flaws, and how she compares with everybody else in the immediate vicinity who is thinner, taller, shorter, blonder, more talented, etc. Elisabeth Elliot has always been one of my heroines. She had a very clear sense of purpose and she lived graciously in it. She also had a very obvious gap between her front teeth that flashed out every time she smiled. When she died, it was one of the things that people mentioned as most endearing about her.
  5. A brain is a fascinating thing; an empty head is not beautiful. Very few people like to spend time with vacuous females obsessed with selfies, shoes, boys, and bling. It is exhausting, watching the eyelid flutters and vain little airs that are supposed to be so fetching. I will confess that I have always fought an urge to stick a pin into this kind of girl. Put something worthwhile in the head: some ideas that are bigger than an Ipsy bag, some concepts that matter in the grand scheme of things, some opinions that are carefully formulated by actual thought processes, and then you start to see the woman whose worth is not tallied by the sum of her pretty features.

I have three little girls. It is a trust I take very seriously, teaching them about true beauty and values that transcend youthful charm. They are still young, sure, but I do not want them to suffer the agonies of insecurities that are a result of swallowing the idea that they are only worth as much as they are pretty.

These five things are sure-fire beauty tips that I am passing on to them. What have I missed? Do you have beautiful friends too?

 

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Writing Assignments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what she wrote.

Ladybug Adventures

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

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Navigating Tricky Waters

Disclaimer: This post is full of strong personal opinions. We don’t for a minute think we have the whole balance-with-technology figured out. As you may have noticed in my farmlet post yesterday, we made a deliberate choice to provide our children with opportunities to develop life skills on the land. It’s kind of a lot of work and it costs significantly more than a device that would doubtless entertain them for hours. Did I mention that it’s a lot of work?

Part of my book selling job is doing research about reading versus technology. Thirty years ago it was couch potatoes and TV that distressed Mr. Usborne to the point of doing something radical like starting an educational book publishing company.

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There used to be a place where the TV was plugged in and you had to go to that room and sit there. Now the devices go on a full charge and I see children everywhere, no longer just messing with their mom’s phone, but with their own kid-themed otter-skinned iPad minis. I see them sitting in grocery carts in that little kid spot, because they are little kids, but instead of visiting with their mom while they scoot past the lightbulb aisle, they are playing Candy Crush. They watch movies while traveling instead of looking out the windows and playing ABC. They swipe their screens at the doctor’s office and barely look up when their name is called. In fact, one local pediatrician’s office no longer has any children’s books on the end tables in the waiting room. They bow over their devices at museums, at concerts, at the park. They pitch fits if Santa doesn’t bring them the latest gadget and their parents think it is so funny that they take videos and post them on youtube. Even schools are moving toward all digital textbooks.

Aghhh. It is enough to make me want to hold signs and picket outside Bestbuy: Dangerous Items Sold Inside. Enter With Extreme Caution. Not really, but may I share some facts with you?

The University of Southern California did a 5 day test on a group of 6th graders. They split them into two groups. One was business as usual and the other group spent 5 days at a wilderness camp with no screen time at all. “Researchers found that the students who went to camp scored significantly higher when it came to reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students who continued to have access to their media devices.”

That is just one study. There are many obvious side effects of digital addictions: obesity, irregular sleep patterns (text alerts when you are falling asleep), behavioral issues (and they are not cute), damaged grey matter (brains of internet-addicted kids actually shrink significantly, proven by CAT scans), sensory overload and the accompanying boredom with all normal activities, disconnect in the neural pathways that aid survival in extreme situations, inability to do something as elementary as holding down a job.

“The majority of people we see with serious Internet addiction are gamers – people who spend long hours in roles in various games that cause them to disregard their obligations. I have seen people who stopped attending university lectures, failed their degrees or their marriages broke down because they were unable to emotionally connect with anything outside the game.”

I find this subject to be depressing. Technology is here. It’s not going away. How to navigate it is a huge part of parenting for any concerned mother or father. We cannot bend low before popular opinion and pile stuff on our children that will cripple them for real life. Yet we cannot all move to the bush and fish for our dinner cooked over a campfire.

It is also encouraging to read the studies and hear a growing crowd of parents say, “We cut out screen time because we got so tired of the results.” There has been a lot of media coverage, also known as ALARM, about the effects of too much digital doodoo, and people are waking up and putting their feet down firmly and children are wailing about it, but they won’t when they survive a disaster because their wits have not been fried in infancy.

Figuring out how this works in our family has given Gabe and I fodder for many long discussions. Our children do DVD school for all the main subjects. We figure that gives them more than enough time in front of a flickering screen. One night a week is designated as movie night, which is usually something everybody can enjoy if they aren’t too miffed about another documentary. We have some copies of DVDs that they watch with permission, although Addy would never tire of Flo-the Lying Fly and Buzby-the Misbehaving Bee.

We decided years ago to put passwords on all our devices with internet connections. The children can do research in the living room with permission and we have a laptop that the boys use to do keyboarding practice or to write papers. This is a recent addition and one that taught us the value of a really tight filter. Our goal is to teach them that accountability is freedom and power. Somehow it doesn’t seem like a knee-jerk reaction of “if it requires a cord, we won’t have it” is going to provide them with the tools they need as adults in a computerized world.

We don’t really know how to answer the phone question. Our house phone is a little Trac-fone that the children can use, but we see no reason for smart phones for a very long time to come. This is a sore point for the teen in the house, but he is trying to understand our views. Many times we tell our sons that we are finding our way, just like they are. As for now, a smart phone that is taken to the privacy of a bedroom seems like handing them some sticks of dynamite with the fuses already lit. It’s not like the children want to become casualties, and maybe it’s just time for parents to say, “Enough with the maiming and dying. We aren’t putting that dynamite in our children’s hands.”

Our Kindle Fire has some games on it. The standard time for playing is 30 minutes. When there are five people taking turns and the timer beeps, trust me, there is not a lot of grace for longer than a half hour. They police each other very diligently. I made a flow chart this winter that they are need to go through before they come to have the password put in. It looks like this, which is to say, customized and unprofessional, but it works for us.

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There are many days when no one uses the Kindle unless it is to listen to audiobooks while folding laundry. And there are times when we bend the rules. The requirements change from season to season. Sometimes when there is too much whining going on, everybody fasts for 2 weeks.

This is not the way of least resistance. Our children do not naturally desire disciplines. They don’t prefer work to leisure, especially not that glittering world of make-believe. They would eat candy and drink pop all day if we allowed it. They wouldn’t bother to write neatly if we didn’t give them penmanship copywork. In so many areas we can easily see where we just need to be the parent and say, “No more sugar today.” Why is it any different to do that with the allure of technology?

(I am aware of the inconsistency of making rules for the children that I do not abide by myself. Ow.)

I would love to hear how you decide on a wise course for your family and yourself.

Tomorrow’s post: 10 Things That Won’t Rot Your Child’s Brain.

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Stalling

We have always been sticklers for early bed for the children, but all the rituals must be properly attended to or disaster would surely befall before morning. In my mind it is Lame Excuse Time. It is not unusual for the huggy child to come to my bedside when I am drifting off and say, “I think we forgot the kiss and the hug,” even though I clearly recall her nearly strangling me earlier. Someone might have a scratchy throat and need a throat drop. The one who chews her fingernails gets painful hangnails that require bandaids so they don’t catch in the covers. Sometimes after bed is when the fear bogeys come out and we need to pray again. The boys are hungry again with frightening predictability. It feels like it can drag on for the longest time, and it makes me so much more tired than I already am.

We have friends who let their children stay up until they drop, then they put them into their beds. “You make it too hard for yourselves,” they say. “We just don’t pick that battle.” I don’t know how long ours would keep going if we let them make their own bedtime, but I value the feeling of everything squared away and everyone tucked in enough to push through the daily dose of small rituals that cannot be ignored.

Today was action packed, with warm sunshine that had the children out shooting targets with homemade bows and arrows, and tea-partying in their play house. They procrastinated on their chore lists because it was “too nice to work”. There were still a lot of things not scratched off the list when supper was over. I had resisted the urge to just do them quickly myself. Instead, I strolled along on Instagram for a while before I balanced the budget with the credit card statement. I too, have my stalling tactics. Then I cleaned the bathroom. The living room wasn’t vacuumed, but the person responsible insisted they would do it just as soon as it gets dark. I can make them feel guilty by picking up the slack, but again I resisted and just stayed in the kitchen, washing the big dishes that didn’t fit into the dishwasher.

After my shower tonight, I saw a text from my husband at work, saying that some friends have overripe produce for our pigs. I went to pick it up, but apparently it had already been cleared away, being so late and all, so I went to the gas station instead and filled up the tank on the Sub. When I got back the smaller boy still had not found his Sunday school book and the middle girl was still playing in the tub with her hair not washed and the small girl was weeping about everything because she was so exceeding tired.

We mired through drinks and teeth brushing and repeated trips to the potty, because “What if I pee myself in the night?” Unfortunately when it was time to crawl in, the bottom bunk needed a complete overhaul because Rita left her bunny on the bed for a few hours while she ran out to play. It is not house-trained and made an astonishingly large puddle that penetrated all the way to the waterproof mattress cover. I told them to strip it and tossed them a clean sheet, then  went to the kitchen to wash the eggs that the late chore-boy had brought in. He finally did his vacuuming, a little apologetically. Ten minutes later the sheet was still not on, because the “corners are impossible” and there were meltdown tears (not mine, theirs) and another potty break.

Tonight the nightlight wouldn’t work and the water bottle was empty and I did not let them listen to My Story Hour because it’s Saturday. The teddies were in the wrong beds and the favorite blankets were in the laundry basket and the hugs got kind of shortened. I wish I knew how to make it all sweetness and light. Sometimes I see those illustrations of a child falling asleep while the parent reads them a story in the serene lamplight and I wonder… Since I am often on my own at night, I could use some tips. Do you make it fun? Have time limits? Discipline dawdling? Please tell me how you do bedtime. I am genuinely interested.

At any rate, we will be delighted to see each other in the morning, all fresh and basking in the new mercies that we count on every day.

 

 

 

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Growing up House-Humble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Top Picture Books My Children Love

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That, my friends is the official speak for “if you buy products from these links, I stand to make a bit of money to support my book habit.” Feel very free to do so. 😀

Occasionally I get emails from people wanting book recommendations. I know I have made these lists before and I have emailed many of them. They change a bit from time to time, but here’s a current one, starting with the little people. I believe staunchly that the best start to education is reading stories to our babies, instilling a love of words by looking at books with illustrations that capture their attention while you read the story.

I have a friend who said one of her children didn’t care if she read him gardening articles; he simply wanted to sit beside her and be read to. I am guessing that kind of child is rare. Ours look for the pictures, and sometimes there is so much crowding, “Move over! I can’t seeee, your hair is in the way,” etc, that I close the book and rearrange the crowd to more manageable positions.

When they are past the stage where they chew all their books, that’s when the fun really starts because the parent can enjoy this too. The best children’s books do not bore the reader any more than the listener. If you are reading Little Golden Books that make you want to pull your hair with their inanity, you should probably look further. Not knocking Little Goldens… I absolutely loved The Saggy Baggy Elephant as a child. And my own children loved Doctor Dan, the Bandage Man. They have their place, but some are distinctly sub-par and you shouldn’t be fooled just because of the gold wrapper on the spine.

What you want to look for in a picture book is content that engages the mind with ideas while the story is being told. Unfortunately, some children’s books simply tell. It’s not complicated. If you enjoy the plot, your children probably will. And then they will pick that book again and again until maybe you don’t enjoy it anymore, but by then they can “read” it to themselves from memory.

Here’s our list of books that I expect our children to collect for their own children some day.

    • One Morning in Maine
    • Make Way for Ducklings
    • Blueberries for Sal

All of those are by Robert McCloskey, and all are worth getting in hardcover, or in multiple paperback copies when they wear out. In fact, I have never met a McCloskey book I didn’t like. The stories are simple, charming, full of nature and caring for others. Most of the illustrations are beautiful pencil or pen sketches. (We used to make copies for the children to color.) All the stories contain clever little twists and masterful word play that I enjoy.

    • Town Mouse, Country Mouse

There are a lot of these books out there, all with variations on a theme of being happy with the life you have. The one we like the best is by Jan Brett. Her paintings can only be described as exquisite. When we go on walks in the woods, we speculate about holes in tree roots and which ones would make good country homes.

    • Abe Lincoln, the boy who loved books

This is a pint-sized biography with lyrical text by Kay Winters and really fun paintings by Nancy Carpenter. The story follows Abe’s love-affair with books throughout his early years and how this love changed our world forever. The concluding page has Lincoln sitting beside the fireplace at the White House, nose deep in a hefty tome, and these words:

“Abraham Lincoln- born in a log cabin,

child of the frontier, head in a book-

elected our sixteenth president!

From the wilderness to the White House.

He learned the power of words

and used them well.”

    • Little Bear
    • No Fighting, No Biting

These are two of Else Holmelund Minarik’s books, with illustrations by the famous Maurice Sendak. They are gentle stories, with bits of humor that tickle children and adults alike. No Fighting, No Biting has the exact scenario describing above, with children jockeying for the best seat at storytime.

    • The Biggest Bear

In my opinion, this is a book every child should have. Recently I discovered it in the attic with some other paperback books that I read hundreds of times to the boys and Addy was just as delighted as they were. There isn’t a lot of text, but it is such fun to read aloud.

    • Floss, Just Like Floss

The reason Kim Lewis can paint such amazing scenes with a sheepdog’s perspective is because she lives on a sheep farm in England. All of her books are works of art.

    • Moses the Kitten

Of all the Herriot stories for children, this is my personal favorite. We have the collection, but something about little coal black Moses suckling at the piglets’ milk bar is just wonderful.

    • Five O’Clock Charlie

This is such a compelling story about an old work horse who is still not done with adventure, even though he is put to pasture. Marguerite Henry is a master of horse tales, and as far as I know, this is the only one that is published for a younger audience than her line of chapter books.

    • Charlie, the Ranch Dog

I was delighted to find this book by the Pioneer Woman recently. She writes a rollicking good story and we look forward to more from her.

  • A Tale of Two Beasts

What? You didn’t think I would write a book list without including at least one Uzzie? 😀 Let me explain why we think this is such a great book. The story is told from the perspective of a little girl walking in the woods, when she sees a little beast and rescues it. Eventually it escapes back to its tree home and tells its side of the story, how it was kidnapped and made to endure all this horrid petting, etc. When the children are fighting and have many sides to a story, I ask, “So which beast are you?” No Amazon link for this one, but if you are interested, you can contact me. 🙂

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As you may have noticed, I am experimenting with links for Amazon’s affiliate program. I have never made anything on my product recommendations before, but if it helps make ends meet, I shall try it. I don’t like a lot of flashy ads, so we shall see. If you hate it, or I hate it, the links will disappear.  🙂

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Efficiency Tips for Martha

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

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

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

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

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

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One Day

It started kind of early, in the wee smalls when a sweaty little girl appeared at my bedside complaining that she couldn’t sleep. I reminded her that it might have something to do with wrapping herself into her favorite fleece blanket, but she thought the couch would be better. As we walked into the living room, the heat was oppressive, even though it is the one room that has an air conditioning unit. Upon inspection, I found that the AC was sighing gently rather than AC ing, so I unplugged it and the little girl went back to her bedroom fan while I opened every window in the living area.

I reached for my phone to check the temperature, only to discover that our internet connection was down, so I went to my bedroom fan and tried to sleep. One of the blades in the window fan started screeching recently, so the flow of air was a little stagnant. It was about 3 AM, which is the worst time to be waked up, because then you start thinking of all the things you want to do the next day and soon the alarm will sound and you need to quickly sleep before it does. Eventually you get into deep sleep again, just before the alarm shrills, and that is that.

I started the day officially by brewing coffee and packing my husband’s lunch. He had a 14 hour day ahead, so I included power snacks, like cashews and Greek yogurt and cheese sticks. Hopefully he had a few minutes to eat them, instead of waiting until the drive home, which happens oftener than I wish.

As soon as he was off, I got the crew assembled for breakfast and made sure everyone was presentable. This should not be a big deal with the ages we are around here, but my idea of presentable does not include holey Crocs or torn favorite shirts. There were a few rounds of “Go find something decent” because I just care about that. They don’t have to look ready for formal portraits; we are just shooting for neat and clean. I think people already notice a small tribe of children with one mother out shopping, and it might be better if the children look well cared for. I know, happy faces and all, and clothes are totally surface, etc. It’s just one of the battles I pick. Our mission was new bike helmets, courtesy of Gabe’s employer, UPMC, and Kohl’s. It’s a great program, with the hopeful outcome of fewer head injuries. We joined a queue in the brilliant sunshine outside Kohl’s and all five got shiny new helmets, properly fitted.

I had a moment of desire to check out the junior clearance racks so we all wandered around inside Kohl’s, but the funny thing was there were so many other things, like backpacks and sunglasses and waterbottles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gregory pick up a pricey porcelain serving plate shaped like a fish, swoop it through the imaginary water in front of him. GASP! “But you know I would never drop it, Mom!”

I had five people helping me pick out a wallet. Everybody had ideas as to which was the best and I just wanted something that holds all my store loyalty cards and zips shut around my phone, with a wristlet strap. Shew, but it got complicated.

The next stop was Home Depot where I was hoping to replace the gimpy window fan. I had a library audio book for the children to listen to while I ran in and out of stores. Edward Tulane, the beloved China rabbit, got pitched overboard from the ship’s deck when I went into the store and sorry, they don’t have any window fans. On to Lowe’s, while Edward got fished out of the bottom of the sea in a fisherman’s net. There I did find just the fan I needed, swallowed hard and paid the price. It’s still much more economical that an AC unit. I forgot to mention, the livingroom unit worked again this morning. It must have just been a little exhausted from days of non-stop running.

On the half hour drive home Edward Tulane found a new hobo friend and there we left him while we collectively worked on a list that took up every line on the notepad. Sometimes we do that and the children proudly cross off each thing as it is accomplished. They each had about 4 tasks and I had about 10, including keeping everybody motivated and on the straight and narrow. This does not include a 10 minute break with the Gilbreths, my small son hiding in a corner of the couch. He has probably read Cheaper by the Dozen at least 10 times, so don’t feel too sorry for him.

I picked the blackberries and it was Hot. Then Rita helped me turn a box of peaches into slush for the freezer. We sliced them thinly with an old fashioned egg slicer, then to an 8 quart bowl of peaches we added a can of orange concentrate and a little over a cup of sugar. We serve this just shy of thawed, when the peaches are slushy and cold. If I had some crushed pineapple to add, I could have reduced the sugar drastically, but I didn’t.

After lunch I read Addy’s favorite chapter story to her, where some little boys in an African village try to build a modern home out of blocks and cement. I may have skipped a few paragraphs because I was falling asleep.

The list included cleaning jobs. The girls did their best while I worked on catching up with correspondence and deskwork. It appears Rita could use some coaching in the bathroom cleaning department. They were wanting to try out the new helmets on a bike ride. Alex packed a picnic supper and supervised the loading of bikes and swimming clothes. We folded all the laundry and put it away before we left for the park because we didn’t want to trundle in the doors at bedtime and still have a ton of stuff to do.

It was still hot: 95 degrees at 5:30. The trail around the lake was mostly shaded and there was a nice breeze. Everybody zipped along happily except Rita, who was hot and miserable and didn’t want to wear that shiny new helmet. I rode behind her and prodded her on with promises of a swim at the beach area if there weren’t too many people. Gregory gazed across the water, “Hmmm, from here I can’t really tell the flesh from the sand.” Happily there were only a few people out braving the heat wave.

kids on bikes

At the halfway point to where I had parked, Rita was finished, weeping from a bike wreck into the side of the bridge. Addy was chipper but wavering, which was understandable considering how fast she has to peddle to keep up with the bigger bikes. I left them by the swings with strict instructions to stay right there with my big boy babysitter and biked speedily the rest of the way to the Suburban. I brought it over close to the swimming area and the children sprinted for the water. We stayed until the sun went down and the moon came up and all the other people went home. The picnic got eaten in dribbling shifts, whenever somebody got hungry. At last I called everybody out of the water at 8:30. The boys begged for a quick wash in the shower house. The girls moaned and dragged their towels in the dirt, pushing their bikes up the hill to our parking spot. I took turns giving them boosts while balancing a loaded laundry basket full of wet stuff and the picnic remains. While we waited for the boys I was astounded to see three young men walking along the sand, very dressed up in dark pants and long-sleeved, button-down shirts. It was almost dark, yet they waded into the water fully clothed and had themselves a grand time swimming. 🙂 After I got over my surprise, I applauded them for finding a way, despite obvious obstacles, to have a little fun.

It was very quiet on the ride home. Always after this sort of excursion there is a bit of weeping about the actual walk into the house and the process of getting into bed can be so unbelievably complicated. “I just need you to stand upright in the shower for five minutes,” I told the girls. “Can you do that?” They found within themselves the grit for that great effort and went to bed with a few parting paragraphs where Edward Tulane got nailed to a garden fence for a scarecrow.

I cleared up the picnic mess, gathered together the dirty laundry, vacuumed the living room and that’s it. The evening and the morning were one day.

(Shucks. I forgot to put my clean sheets on the bed.)

 

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The Feeling of Daddy

 

She was a very little girl in a great big world. Her mama had told her she could walk out to the farrowing barn where her daddy was working. Peeking in the barn door, past the rows of brood sows, she saw him beckoning her to join him. That meant there was probably a new litter of piglets that she could look at. But the aisle between the two rows of pens for the sows looked a mile long, and the pens themselves were higher than she was. Should she dare it? Walk between those rows of snuffling grunts all by herself?

“Come on, you want to see this,” he called, so she plucked up her small courage and started walking down the long trail to where he was standing. There were little peep-holes in the pens, where she could glimpse hairy backs and sometimes a beady pig eyeing her as she sidled past.

Then there was a cranky sow who was having a bad day and objected to short people walking through the barn. Just as the little girl was walking by, she reared up and scrabbled her hooves on the edge of the pen, woofing her pig breath out in a terrifying series of snorts. Panic-stricken, the child froze in place, not sure whether to retreat or fly past to the safety of her daddy. The sow woofed again and there was nothing for it but to abandon all dignity and wail for help.

Her daddy came running to the rescue, put his hands under her arms, and lifted her up, way up to his shoulders. She was far above where any old pig could reach. He comforted his little girl, wiped her face, and said, “Would you like to go see some new little pigs?” She sniffled, “Yes,” and looked down from her vantage point at a whole row of little pink bodies lined up beside their mama. She stayed there out of harm’s way on her daddy’s shoulders until they were out of the barn, away from all the scary things.

It was one of her earliest memories. She never forgot that feeling for the rest of her life. It was the feeling of daddy, and it was safe.

***************

This is what I wrote for my dad instead of a card today. Because I forgot to buy the card in the busy rushing of the past week. I post it here for all the dads who are present, who care, who work and provide for their families day after day. You are the unsung heroes, but today is your day and we thank you!

 

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