wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

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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How to Clean Your House in One Hour

cats cleaning, color(source)

The house was a wreck. I am hardened to mess, but this? It was what my mom would have called a Royal Mess. The sun was shining outside and I knew I needed to harness the man-power before it disappeared out the door. My strategy was a simple cleaning blitz, which is what we do when somebody calls and says they would like to stop by in a little while. It’s all hands on deck swooshing away toys and marching shoes to closets. It’s fast and looks great, though not totally thorough, if you know what I mean.

We had six rooms on the main floor to contend with and six people to be contenders. I divided us into three teams. Alex got the little sister who adores him unequivocally. I got the little girl who tends to sit and sigh despairingly at the sheer scope of what she is being asked to do. The two middles got each other and a kitchen with a lot of problems.

“Okay, guys, we have one hour before the sanitation officer comes! Let’s be done by then.” Dividing the huge chunk of picking up and putting away is the best motivation I know for staving off disheartenment. Even so my helper kept languishing and had to be encouraged with itty bitty jobs, one at a time. The middles very diplomatically divided the kitchen work and churned through it in record time. Alex’s team was done first, sitting on the couch with books long before the rest of us were ready for inspection.

Each person then got to inspect one room and the persons responsible for any problem spots had to accept the critique without fuss and fix the issue. I liked this way, because I always end up being the impossibly picky sanitation officer and now they got a chance to do it. They were quite detailed in their inspections. Even one of my rooms didn’t pass.

Lest you think it was all peaches and cream, I should mention the child weeping because her teammate made the bed with wrinkles and he walked off in disgust because she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. The team that was done first had toys stashed in corners and coloring pages behind the couch. And some of the things went into drawers and cupboards where they definitely do not belong. Also, you shouldn’t go down to the basement. But that is one way to do it-clean your house in one hour.

 

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Notes to my Younger Self

My assignment today is to pick a person and write to them specifically. I picked myself, 10 years ago when I had a three year old and a toddler and my days seemed to be much ado over very small stuff. I am writing this as it pops into my head. It’s definitely not some holy writing or aged-to-perfection and prayed-over piece.

  • It doesn’t really matter what else is going on, soul care is still the most important care. You might feel crosseyed in all your places from the weariness of not enough sleep and being a food source and having to constantly be everywhere, but if you keep your soul fat, you will be fine. This is not a season of heavy Bible study. Just let that go and find a promise for a lifeline for this day. Listen to an inspiring song until you know all the verses and they loop through your head the whole day long. Pray short prayers that come from your heart. “Help me, Jesus,” is a great start.
  • Lighten up. If you have never learned to laugh at yourself or at life, you had better start now. Maybe you find yourself fuming about the dribbles on the toilet ring. Think about it. You, the smart and capable woman who knows exactly where the Lysol wipes are, having a fit about something that will take 5 seconds to wipe away. It’s hilarious, isn’t it? As a bonus, your children are endless sources of amusement. They haven’t learned how to be sophisticated. Like the time your little girl asked if she could have some peaches. You were occupied at the moment and told her she can get some, and she sidled up a bit later and said, “Mama, my belly feels quite plump full of peaches.” That’s when you realized that she ate the whole quart. You had a choice of either having a conniption or just being chill about it. Who knew that a very small girl can hold 4 cups of peaches anyway?
  • Learn to kneel down to the level of short people. Take a walk and be okay with every stick and shiny rock is that is of such absorbing interest. “You are right, son, that stick does look just like a gun. What are you going to shoot?” Look at the jelly bread with the bite out of it and say, “Sure enough. It is a hippo!” Who really cares if they scrutinize their bread one methodical bite at a time? Don’t squish the joy just because you are such a grown up.
  • Slow down, like way, way down.  Telling a toddler to hurry with his boots is like saying, “Here is a great handle to pull Mama’s chain.” It is commonly known that children become all thumbs as soon as you start to scurry around. They can’t find anything and have to go potty and need a drink, etc. etc. Does getting to church on time really matter as much as a wounded spirit in a small person? If you have a time sensitive appointment, give yourself a half hour per child just to get out the door. It’s all right if it takes all morning to get to the store and buy groceries. Perks of the job: you take all the time it takes.
  • Accept the fact that you will fail sometimes. It is much better to apologize to your child promptly than to castigate yourself all day because you messed up and are such a loser mom. You may feel like saying, “You kids just really got on my nerves, and I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”  That’s a rationalization for your sin, not an apology. Instead you should say, “I was wrong to yell at you when you pulled the curtain down. I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?” Help your children to understand how to keep the air clear in your home by demonstrating repentance yourself. You will not lose face. You will gain respect.
  • You will be much happier once you stop looking for praise. Remember that day you tallied up the approximate number of snaps you had done up for your onesie-wearing, sleeper-clad babies in their lives? You were exasperatedly proud of that number but nobody else seemed impressed. This job is never-endingly repetitious and nobody else notices (the baby certainly doesn’t care) that you just wiped all the goo off the highchair for the third time today.  They really have no idea how hard it is to wipe things all the time. (Laugh at yourself right there and go eat some chocolate.)
  • Give it all freely, the face washing and the cup of water and the storytime with the same favorite book you read 20 times already. You wanted to be useful in God’s kingdom, didn’t you? Well here you are, grown up and useful as anything but it doesn’t feel like you expected it to feel. There is a verse just for you in 1 Cor. 15:58.  “Therefore, my dear… sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Maybe it still seems odd to you to say, “Lord, in your name I offer this snack of fish crackers and milk in a sippy cup. Be pleased to accept it with my love.” But that is the reality and you will freely receive for everything you freely give.

I write these things to my younger self, but here’s the thing.  Every day I am still learning, and I have been working at it for over 13 years. It has gotten easier, just like any other job where you practice daily and get better at your work, but I am still learning and expect to keep on until I die. Mothering is not a sprint. It’s the marathon of a lifetime. I have a very patient Life Coach who loves me enough to not let things be easy all the time so that I grow stronger. I wish like crazy that the learning curve wasn’t so steep for new mothers, but just know that you will be given exactly what you need in the moment when you need it. He promised it. You are not alone. We are all in this together. Keep going, for Jesus’ sake!

And just for fun even though it’s not mother’s day, because it actually is if you are a mom:

superwoman

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Blogging 101, Assignment 1

It was with a bit of trepidation that I signed up for these assignments from WordPress, seeing as I usually only write when the phrases start scrolling through my head. Sometimes it’s the middle of the night and sometimes it is while I am on a solo walk that I get inspiration. A bit of discipline is a great thing though, so I will introduce myself to the world today, along with my blogging goals, as I have been instructed. 🙂

As a little girl skipping to the Amish school where my formal education started, I had no aspirations to be a writer. I just wanted to learn to read those letters that fascinated and scared the wits out of me whenever I looked at a book without pictures. I was fairly certain that reading would be too hard for me. Fortunately for all of us, we had an amazing teacher who pulled out our strengths. Even though she had about 30 students in four grades, she noticed us individually and managed to pull us all together in a joyous quest for knowledge. Once I could decipher the puzzling groups of letters in the books about Reuben and Rachel, I galloped along reading everything I could lay my hands on, including cereal boxes and shampoo bottles. Literacy was for me a portal with endless vistas to explore.

It has been about 30 years since the Amish school days, but I still think of myself as a learner. We are all apprentices of life, whether we like it or not. I have failed a lot of exams in my life, but I get to do them over until I pass. There are plenty of activities for my hands to do and unending conundrums for my head to figure out just here in my little house with my family.

My husband is my best friend and my encourager. When we got married 14 years ago, we didn’t know much, but we did know that whatever comes, we are in it together. I stand by him and he stands by me. Don’t try to get between us or we will raise our hackles and fight. We are blessed with five children, ranging in age from 4 to 13. Those life exams I referred to are mostly courtesy of the children. 🙂

Some may think the life of a stay-at-home mom to be impossibly restricting, and I have to admit, it is harder than I ever imagined. While my children are smallish I am “keeping” our home. I mean that both in the Biblical sense of a woman who stays at home and in the contemporary sense of someone such as a zoo keeper who keeps the habitat pleasant and cares for the animals. I consider this my life work, worthy of all my consideration.

Part of that consideration is homeschooling our children. Some days I love it and some days I hate it, but it does work really well with our lifestyle. My husband is an RN with odd 12 and 8 hour shifts and mandatory weekends as well. Our school days are flexible and vacations are always off-peak season so we can stay a family unit. Speaking generally, we like learning about stuff together. Research reports are a little “meh” says my oldest son. My personal enthusiasm for practicing the writing craft has not yet translated to my children.

I process life through writing. When I started blogging eight years ago, it was mainly to stay in touch with distant family members. Then I realized that I really liked having this record of our lives and the developments in them. Eventually it sort of became a record of God’s work in my heart, and now my blogging is a mash of all of the above.

One night I needed a new title, since my first blog “Living and Learning” was not working out. I sat at the computer, sorting through the innards of my shiny new WordPress site and got an idea. There was a bookcase of children’s books right beside me. What better way to give a nod to my insatiable love of books than to play with a title? “Make Way for Ducklings!” I thought. Alas, every variation of the title was already taken. How about “Mrs. Tiggywinkle”? Nah. She was too prickly. I wanted something easy to remember, which is how I came to “Wocket In My Pocket”. Thank you, Dr. Seuss. I like that wockets are anything. We have wockets everywhere around here. Lots of them are fun to write about.

I chose my tagline “looking for the unexpected in the mundane” because that is what I do. It takes conscious effort not to settle down among the clods in the mind-numbing mundaneness of laundry piles and sticky floors. I am trying to dust off the ordinary and find the shiny bits in life.

Nobody was more astounded than I was when I started to get loyal readers. It is the best part of blogging: getting feedback, hearing that what I wrote connected with someone else, feeling that putting my heart out there may have cheered another person on. Blogging is scary enough that I have considered quitting altogether many times. But here I am, still getting up early or staying up late to try to string words together in a compelling way. Thank-you for reading.

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