A Good, Good Day

This day started in the best way I can imagine, with a child wanting to talk with us, coming to our bed and whispering a need, “I want to become a Christian.” How happy we were to leap out of the covers, get dressed, and pray with our second son as he gave his life to Jesus. Some things are too sacred to describe. It is awesome, how Jesus meets every sincere person who comes to Him, whether with impossibly complicated messes or with simple childhood faith.

I looked out the window and saw the leaden, dripping skies starting to lighten, and this day it did not affect my spirits at all.

We had our farm fresh eggs for breakfast. Rita decided to go on a hunger strike because eggs make her gag and the toast was too grainy. Addy said, “Eggs? Oh good. I thought you said oatmeal and I felt a shudder going up my spine.”

School got started early, because we had an afternoon of activity planned. Addy and I learned the letter “y”. She is the first child that I put through CLE’s K5 curriculum before beginning the Learning to Read series. It seems to have helped her to zip along with the harder concepts, but I guess I wouldn’t know how she would do without that K5 work, especially considering how determined she is to do everything the other children do. She has picked up on reading the fastest of all the children, but she still needs me to read her chapter books, of course. When she finishes her reading lesson, she settles with an audio book and her coloring pencils and book, usually in a private place where she doesn’t annoy the others. I cannot even estimate how often she has listened through The Boxcar Children.

When the middle girls were finished with Language lessons, I went down the steps to check on my seventh grader, grade math tests and quizzes from oh, probably 3 or 4 weeks up to now, and file the quantities of artwork the girls want to save. Whew! I shouldn’t ever let it pile up. My high schooler and I had a long discussion about our differing views in getting things done. He is largely self-directed this year, with a strong bent to procrastination. I am largely a scheduled teacher, with a strong bent to intolerance of skipped work. He is planning to get it done soon. I want it done last week. We work out this impasse one slow step at a time.

Lunch was late, after 3 different people reminded me that it was time to eat. We pulled out leftovers. I got the chicken soup, Alex ate sloppy joes, and the others finished the bean dip with chips. It was good to clear out the fridge before we headed to the grocery store.

Rita was in a stitching mood again today. Someone gave her patterns for beanie babies. She hand-sewed this little guy, then needed beans to stuff him. I gave her corn, which makes him a corny baby. She affectionately calls him Blobby. On his birth certificate, she listed his favorite activity as fetching. “What? Fetching curls?” Addy asked.

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That’s our red dent corn in the cookie sheet. When I got out the huge bag of shelled corn, it had a few holes, so I decided to roast some and get it ground instead of forgetting it.

Addy and I read a story, and had a short rest while Alex finished up his assignments. We pulled together all the library books, and surprisingly, they were all in the living room or on the designated library book shelf. I switched out some laundry loads quickly, then we loaded up and headed for the city.

Today’s haul was 15 books returned, 24 books checked out. We used my large 31 tote and I have to say, I love that thing. Our favorite grocery store is only a mile from the library. There is just one sad thing: no Ibotta rebates. Olivia wanted to push the cart for me, but the rest stayed in the Suburban with their books. I asked myself, “When did grocery shopping with the whole crew get so easy?” I used to get a splitting headache every time. It was just so taxing, keeping track of everybody. I do haul much bigger loads of groceries home these days! I remembered to get plenty of flour to feed my sourdough starter pet. Butter was cheap, and our favorite tortellinis were on sale, so we got piles of that too. Olivia got hungry for fruit pizza when she saw strawberries and kiwis, so we got some. I am guessing that the strawberries will rot before these rock hard kiwis are ready to eat. (Any tips on how to get them to ripen faster?) The back of the Suburban was pretty full when we loaded up, and Addy said, “WHAT TOOK SO LONG?”

I doled out nacho chips, and chocolate milk. Yes, total junk food. In the vehicle. I offered them some baby carrots, veggie straws, and banana chips, too. It was a nice gesture. No doubt my head needed to be examined, but nothing catastrophic happened, so I feel bolder about the next time. We also hit a drive-through for some fries for the girls and a chicken sandwich for the boy with the hollow leg when I realized it was going to get pretty late. Also, the next stop was a fabric store. Sometimes you take preemptive action by taking care of potentially hangry people first. Again the boys wanted to stay outside and read. The girls browsed the knick-knacks while I ordered fabric for the dresses for the choir. They only had enough for 2/3 of us ladies, so I will need to go back for more. It took so long that the boys came into the store. Gregory suddenly recalled a burning need for camouflage knit and Rita needed penny-sticks, one for each child, which she paid for herself. Olivia looked at all the pretty stuff and decided it was too expensive and that is why she always has more spending money than any of the others. Addy said, “Please, please, please, may I get pick-up sticks? May I get this dot-to-dot book? Please would you buy me this candy slime with a frog in it?” When I held firmly to a kind no, having warned her ahead of time that this was a fabric only, no knick-knacks trip, she wept large tears, but quietly. That was a huge victory for both of us.

It was dark and raining by the time we were done with our business in the store. I opened the back to put the fabric on top of the groceries, not knowing that someone had piled empty gallon jugs back there. Out they crashed, but only one broke into smithereens on the asphalt. The boys had a flashlight to help them pick up the pieces, and then we headed to the farm to pick up milk.

I should mention that we listened to a G.A. Henty audio dramatization about the Reign of Terror while we were on the road. Just as we drove into our lane, the two aristocrats and their noble protector were safely crossing the English channel. It was such a relief that they didn’t lose their heads after so many narrow escapes.

You know what is the hardest thing about hauling home groceries? Yeah, putting them away. It’s a silly thing, but often this is where it unravels for me. Some of the people drift off, having lost interest in the commonplace stowing of goods. There is always someone who wants to open packages prematurely. When we refill the flour and sugar canisters, powder puffs and granules dribble. The produce doesn’t quite all fit into the crisper drawers, ever. We are that blessed! I have tried and tried to figure out ways to streamline this process, including involving all the troops. It seems to be the sort of thing you just have to do, like going on a bear hunt. Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, have to go through it. I am so grateful for loaded pantry shelves again, and a refrigerator stuffed with all we need to eat healthfully and well. And I am glad it is all put away.

In the interest of keeping it real, this is my living room tonight.

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I decided to turn out the lights, put the girls to bed, and leave it for another day. Gabe is working all night, so I don’t have to worry about him tripping over rubble. There are  two baskets of laundry saved up for folding. Plenty of time for that tomorrow too.

I just brewed a cup of tea in a mug made by my talented friend Allison at White Hill Pottery. Often I look at this mug and aspire to achieving such graceful dimensions on my pieces. (Even just successfully attaching a handle would be okay with me.) It’s probably a few years down the road, but it sure is nice to drink tea and dream.

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That’s it. Quitting time. It was a wonderful day! How about yours?

Parenting and Pink Sugar Donuts

I observed a particularly awful sort of well-meaning parenting yesterday.

There in the aisles of the discount store where I was checking out the salad spinners and area rugs, I noticed a tiny, imperious child. Little Curly Top was ruling with a heavy hand over her parents, dictating where they could shop or not shop, picking up things they told her to leave alone, begging for snacks that duly got placed in the cart. She was such a beautiful child with such a stinky attitude. It was astonishing, the contrast. Suddenly she took off running to the far side of the store. “COME BACK,” Mom said, but Curly Top had other ideas. “I AM PUTTING YOUR SNACK BACK ON THE SHELF. SE-E-E? WE ARENT BUYING THIS BECAUSE YOU AREN’T BEING GO-O-OD.” Dad hauled a kicking, crying  child back to the cart and the shopping continued. She saw a breach in the wall and dashed off again. Meanwhile the snack had once more gotten into the cart. Mom sighed, exasperated, to Dad, “Go get her. Tell her we won’t buy her a snack if she isn’t good.”

At this point I couldn’t watch anymore.  I felt so sorry for that child. The oddest thing is that this sort of circus is considered normal and totally acceptable in society, but a mother who is peacefully shopping with a crowd of happily obedient children around her is taking up too much space on the earth. Not only that, she is also seen as being suspect to all the ones who experience children to be cumbersome brats who will embarrass their parents with their desires loudly expressed at every occasion.
It’s the self esteem movement parents now attempting to be parents themselves, and finding their own training lacking somehow. I am the last one to cast judgement on someone who is having a rough time with a cranky toddler, but when I see them trying to wheedle a child into happiness instead of being in charge- you know, a firm little nonnegotiable nap or something equally corrective- then I am afraid I do cast a bit of judgement.

The thing about mothers is that their job is to nurture and take care of their people. However, we cannot let the world’s philosophy of “the chief end of man is to feel good” rule us here. Listen. You can do your job to the best of your abilities and with every dollar available and still never be able to keep your child happy all the time by trying to manipulate circumstances so they do not have anything but happy feelings. It’s a vicious, unending, impossible cycle. It is like being lashed through life by a tiny dictator with unstable emotions and a dubious worldview. “You want some juice? Sure, here is it with a nifty little straw? Oh, you don’t like that flavor? How thoughtless of Mommy to get apple instead of mango/strawberry. Wanna play trains now? What, that’s not a real Thomas? Don’t cry. Let’s go see what they have at ToysR Us. Have a donut on the way, honey.”

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Our role as a parent is not to make every moment of the day amazing. If you feel stuck in this cycle, you can actually let that expectation go. It’s not gonna happen. There are lots of sweet, happy instances in life, sure, but there are an equal amount of un-amazing kidney beans. In acceptance lies peace.

You might say, “But don’t you want your children to be happy?” Of course we love to have happy children! It is delightful to do things that make them shine with joy. Mine light up any time the chocolate gets passed around, but I would never feed them a steady diet of chocolate, even if chicken broth doesn’t bring out the sparklers. They don’t like to pick up toys and do dishes. Jobs like cleaning out the poo in the barn make them downright glum. We aren’t unreasonable; we give them milkshakes occasionally and they get more in allowance if they do a good job on it. The requirement is simple: push through and finish, or forfeit the pay. I say the same things my mom said to us, “Why shouldn’t you help with the work? You live here like everybody else. Now get busy.” Or even better is this one, “He who does not work should not eat.”

Our parenting goals should be bigger than happiness. What is the chief end of man? It’s about glorifying and enjoying God. That bliss comes from learning to live life unselfishly, and those lessons begin when we are still little tots without the ability to direct our own lives. A two year old cannot understand the deep doctrinal truths in verses like,

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” but they are extremely malleable and effortlessly pick up values as they go along. Guess what- They get their values from their parents.

In the late nineties, the self-esteem rhetoric exploded, but it took almost a generation to see the troubling patterns emerge. Even secular psychologists are calling it a bad parenting model now that the results are back. Many are sadly discovering that they were not handed any favors to face life when they were handed lollipops to make everything better, with Mom and Dad doing all the struggling. These people have a gut feeling that they were created for better things, but they really don’t have much sense of purpose in the world except to feel good. They were trained carefully along this track and told the whole time how amazing they are. The only problem is: they aren’t amazing. It is much easier to see when they are grown, totally unequipped for life.

I will tell you what is amazing. I personally am friends with many millennials who were raised by parents who didn’t buy all the nonsense. These young folks have embraced the mentality of the Kingdom of Heaven, that bit about living for others, it’s not all about me, etc. They are standing upright, fighting battles for others, starting businesses, teaching children in school, raising families, doing work that will not be paid in this life. They are the fruits of wise parenting and they are much too busy to obsess over whether they will get their pink sugar donut today. They know they can be happy without it.

 

Going to the Moon

Sometimes I dress up a little on ordinary days, just because it helps me feel better than wearing old stuff. Same with washing my hair even though I will just be home. It is no fun to look into the bathroom mirror throughout the day and see that I am having an awful hair day, nor to think, “We need milk, but there is no way I can walk into a store looking like this.” I still have not figured out how the pajama-clad folks at Walmart do it. I find I can’t even look. Not very long ago you got put into asylums for stuff like that.

This morning I dressed up a little because I knew I was going to sneak in a coffee hour with my sister-in-law at some point. The children usually notice the “going away clothes” right away. “Where are you going? Huh?” and if I reply, “To the moon. Wanna come along?” that’s our code for Mama is Going Solo This Time so Just Stop Begging.

Addy got to go along this afternoon. She was done with her school. Also she seems to be going through a scrappy streak, taking many things as personal affronts because she is the smallest child. The scrappiness comes out like a spitting kitten bristling its tail, and tends to degenerate quickly into howling cat-fights if there is no mother around. She is working hard at not getting her fur so knotted up, but there is a huge temptation for big brothers to stroke it wrong, just like a little experiment, not meaning anything by it, of course. I know now why my mom would ask my siblings and I if we even love each other. We would look at each other like, “Duh. Why does she wonder such a thing?”

I know now, too, why there were times when we had to sit and read and were not allowed to say one word until the timer beeped. Sometimes children at this house who spar constantly have to work together at a job like washing the kitchen floor on hands and knees, or doing dishes by hand, one washing and the other drying. Other times I make them play a game together. Occasionally they are not allowed to be in each other’s company at all until they miss the annoying sibling enough to be civil again. I don’t know whether any of these mechanisms are more effective than others. At least it makes me feel like I am being a parent, teaching them to value their siblings, but I have a feeling they think, “Duh. Why does she wonder such a thing?”

Well, that was a meandering trail. I got my groceries, including some highly processed food for our Valentine’s Day party tomorrow. We plan to have fun with the pretty dishes and sparkling juice in goblets. There will be finger sandwiches, Little Debbies cut up in tiny pieces, and some chocolate candy for each person. I like to include the children in this one; they are, after all, the direct result of Cupid’s arrows. Gabe and I rarely go out on Valentine’s Day, but we always do something nice for just the two of us; we are, after all, where this family started and it’s good to remind ourselves of that when the dust settles after the children go to bed.

I had two hours to drink coffee, eat a muffin, and just visit about life with my sister-in-law Rhonda. Our little girls played and we talked. It was a spot of quiet happiness in the day, and on the way home I reflected on how wonderful it is to have  friendships where I can walk into a house, pull my feet up on the couch, coffee mug in hand, just say whatever it is that is currently happy or sad in my life, and be completely accepted.

I told her I think I am writing mud these days, and she said it wasn’t that bad, so I will take her word for it. It’s a little weird to push through and publish posts that I am not excited about and that I know certainly won’t change the world and just possibly you are all terribly bored. My mind isn’t the strongest in midwinter. Also I am reading Jeremiah. And the children seem to get in each other’s space a lot.

I saw three road-killed skunks today. That means they are starting to stir out of their winter torpor, looking for love. That means baby skunks on the way and that means spring. It was a good sign, although I was sorry they died on their quests across the road.

Rita and I are growing little lawns inside the house. Here is mine.

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A few adventurous sunflower seeds got mixed in with the potting soil, so they are pushing up sturdily as well. Rita has three different containers with grasses. She gives them haircuts with scissors when they get too tall. Gabe shakes his head, amused, but I told him we really can’t help it. Some of us are born with souls that need green and sprouting things. I cannot think of a worse plight than being called to live in the Arctic. I guess a cell would be worse.

Tonight was choir practice again, always a highlight in the week for me. I came back home to peaceful children, bless their hearts. They were listening to Anne of Avonlea on Librivox. Some were coloring up a storm and two of them were trying to braid as many little braids into each other’s hair as possible. Nobody had any troublesome tattles to tale, which I feel I should mention in all fairness. They really are “nice”, which is what our elderly neighbor used as the one all-purpose adjective for them. Sure, I had some kitchen cleanup to do yet, but all in all it has been a good day.

Tomorrow is the day to celebrate the people we love! Let’s pull out the stops and really bless them, how about it?

 

Tale of a Homemaker, with a Nod to Dickens

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It is the best of times, with the chicks all scratching more or less independently, capable of scrounging out of the refrigerator when they are starving, picking out a brownie recipe, cooking their own eggs if they dislike the oatmeal. It is the worst of times for the pantry, the milk jug, the cookie jar and the grocery budget, not to mention the oven where the plastic container melted into an odorous blob of anonymity during the brownie preheat.

It is an age of incredulity as an avalanche of recipe cards sifts out of the baking cupboard and I wonder how… in this enlightened age of digital help… how do I still have all these clippings out of Real Simple from the first year of my housekeeping and when will I ever rein it in and what to do, What To Do? about all these stink bugs?

Yet I do know our favorite foods when it is time to cook, and even where they are supposed to be in the binder of despair that is full of clippings, although it may take a few minutes to find the recipe, and I never thought I would have one of those stuffed messes. The stink bugs remain, but there is light and sweetness in the lemon curd (recipe after breakfast foods, written on the bottom of a page on teas) spread on yogurt scones (recipe in the section with the muffins, but loose: not inside the sheet protector). All is only temporarily lost.

It is an age of wisdom, when even the smallest is able to read simple books and find her own audios in the library of iTunes, and I have time to pick up my own books. There are the days when the grown-up-ness of the child taller than me just takes my breath away, and the short one whispers, “What is a selection?” in church, then stoutly raises her hand and picks her favorite number, “Twenty,” even though she never heard the song.

It is an age of less-than-wisdom, where tensions erupt about NOT the Moffats AGAIN, and such short lives have not yet learned the discretions of choosing carefully what goes into the mind, and yet have learned quite well how to argue a point. There are days when my careful parental oversight is a hard discipline, because can it really matter that much? These are the days where I mercifully draw the veil and pray for new mercies the next and I know not whether to laugh or cry so I do a little of both.

This is the age where we have everything before us, and yet have not proven anything: the age of rubber band flexibility, where I try to be sensitive to the small girl who likes to keep a saltshaker in her bag just in case she finds something edible, (but of course not the withered blueberries under the Suburban seats) and the big boys who are thoroughly embarrassed by the sisters. It is the time where wristwatches are the most treasured of birthday gifts, yet are never on the wrists when they are needed, and the time where the shirts and shoes that fit just fine last week are way too small and they literally have nothing to wear. It is a time of inflexibly insisting on sheets on the beds downstairs and socks on the feet when we go away, and coats, yes coats! It’s winter. It is an era of admiring rooster feathers plucked and sewn into a headband by one child, a thinly disguised plagiarized story plot written by another, accepting gratefully all seven of the loving cards made for me in the same pattern of hearts and flowers, checking out the latest carved spoon with a short handle where it snapped in construction, and praising the efforts of the egg washer, all while keeping a fishing bobber safe in my purse when it accidentally goes to church in a pocket, and keeping track of the progress in the seventh grade unit on equations.

It is the winter of despair, days stacked on days, inside four walls, with tempers growing thin in the lack of oxygen and light, when the boots will not march in straight rows beside the register, but lie kicked about in melting pools of muddy forgottenness, the library books went overdue to the tune of $15, and the baby rabbits keep dying inexplicably. Yet it is the spring of hope, because we have boots and balmy days to squelch into the slanted rays of benevolent light that stays longer every day, and we pulled a tiny radish that survived the Arctic blast in our cold frame, where very soon we will sow lettuce seeds.

 

 

 

 

Soul Care

Some of us have a trump card that we try not to play very often, but we would like to mention that Grandma didn’t homeschool. (Thank-you for the prompt, you commenters from the last post. ) We keep this close because when somebody whines about something that is an obvious choice they made, people think, “Duh, you didn’t have to sign up for that.” However if you homeschool, you have chosen a challenging path and set yourself up for a lot of work! All the noble reasons for doing what you are doing will not make it easy.  The best thing about homeschooling is that our children are here all the time. The worst thing about it is that our children are here all. the. time. There is no substitute and very little wiggle-room, and it definitely has a way of turning your heart to your children! Unfortunately, it also tends to overload us with anxiety about our failures and their struggles. (You cannot outsource your relationships.) Sometimes you absolutely must get perspective, which means you have to step back, out, away, alone, and think, ponder, pray, cry, figure out how to make this work, how to get the white space you need to be healthy.

It’s not only mothers who have to do this. Nurses, teachers, nannies, cart-pushers, all of us, really… we all need to care for our souls. You know all those verses about fatness and leanness in the Bible? It may sound counter-intuitive, but you want a fat soul! A skinny one won’t be able to share anything nourishing with others.

Winter is coming. In this area that means staying inside most of the time. We end up with projects stacked on projects. As I write this in the living room, there is a Jenga blocks game on the floor, piles of books on the end tables, a Monopoly card game, assorted socks and shoes from church, and spilled popcorn on the floor. Someone was sculpting on the coffee table and there is a PBJ sandwich there as well. In the corner I just noticed a basket of clean blue jeans that got missed yesterday. I expect to feel rather famished by springtime when we can move outside again, but I also have some coping mechanisms that I sprinkle into my days.

  • Take walks alone, if at all possible. When the sun shines, I like to drop non-essentials and go out right then; I need the vitamin D. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook that is above the children’s heads. I pray about the things that trouble me, and once I astonished myself and managed to not think about anything at all for a bit. That is actually a thing- ask a guy! Even if I have to take everybody along, getting out of the house is therapy.
  • Learn to run to Jesus with everyday issues. If you need a little privacy, lock the bathroom door. Nothing is too small, nothing too complicated, nothing out of bounds to pray about. Sometimes I have no words other than a desperate, “Help me, Jesus.” He always hears.
  • Figure out your signature drink, the one that makes you feel like you are going to be all right. Craft it lovingly and drink it out of a great mug or one of those cute Pioneer Woman drinking jars.
  • Keep a secret stash. I don’t care if it’s chocolate covered almonds or tofu chips, it is vastly preferable to chew on something than to chew out somebody. Not like the two are mutually exclusive, but still… I might add that I have been known to hide my chocolate so well that I couldn’t remember where I put it.
  • Make time to read even if it is just a few paragraphs before falling asleep. I love to read the Bible in a different version and study the grand theme of Glory throughout the little lives of people. It helps me to step outside my world and think about other horizons, bigger pictures. (You think you have problems, lady?)
  • Take a touch time-out. We have a few members of the family who are sensitive to others in their space. In a family setting, this is inevitable. When things start going a little bonkers, I make them sit in separate places, no talking or touching each other while I read aloud. They may color or crochet or draw. Sometimes they listen to audiobooks or I read until I am hoarse. It has a way of putting us all on the same page and we forget about the way people were getting on our nerves.
  • Cultivate gratefulness. It will put pounds on your soul, and that is a good thing, remember? My personal challenge for this year is to be truly delighted with how cozy my house is. I will not dwell on the fact that we could easily use another 900 square feet. If you hear me grousing, call me out on it.
  • Teach the children to help with the housework. Few things trigger frustration faster than irresponsible people who will not own their messes or serve others. I am not supposed to do it all for everybody. That may seem spiritual, but in the end I am putting my children at a huge disadvantage by sending them into adulthood with that mentality.
  • Have a restful space that you can retreat to when you need a break. We do not allow our children to play in our bedroom. It’s simply off limits. Sometimes I go in there and lock the door and just breathe for a few minutes until I have lightened up and gotten over myself.
  • Learn to laugh; if you can’t see the humor in life, you might as well stuff yourself into a pickle jar. I have not quite learned to say, “That was a hilarious arc your milk made on its way to the floor,” but I look for belly laughs as often as possible. Recently I read a children’s story about a little African boy who wanted to make biogas from goat droppings. I pronounced it “by-OH-gus” and couldn’t figure out why I had never heard of this alternative fuel before. It has now become part of the hilarities in our family legend, I can assure you.
  • Try grocery shopping all by yourself. I have shopped at Walmart in the wee hours while the household slumbered. It is open 24 hours, after all. This can be very fun and relaxing.
  • Be as creative as you can. The act of making something with your hands is  extremely REcreational.  I have been having it out with pumpkin pie this fall. I grew up on my Mom’s version, where the pumpkin separates slightly from the milk/egg so that the layers are perfectly defined. I can use her recipe, but I can’t make her pie. It has become a duel: the perfect pumpkin pie against me… great recreational activity. My husband bought me a pottery wheel recently, so between that and the pie, I have plenty of scope for creativity.
  • Get help. I have a friend who is willing to come do large housecleaning projects with me. The last time she was here I worked in the kitchen, cooking, while she shampooed the carpets. I recommend getting help for the big stuff.
  • Schedule down-time. Sometimes my husband would notice a certain neediness and tell me to take a break, and sometimes he wouldn’t notice, so I have learned to ask. We try to schedule in a day every month where I can do whatever I need to catch up with schoolwork and shopping.
  • Plant flowers. The girls and I just dropped 150 tulips, 30 alliums, and 30 crocuses in the ground. It’s kind of long range planning, but the anticipation will give us happy thrills all winter. In the flowering season we take joy in regularly bringing in bouquets to lift our hearts.
  • Let go of perfection. It is an unattainable and fretful place to be.

There was once this lady named Martha who was doing all the stuff! She was really reaching around and serving, but she missed the most important thing that would have given her rest in her soul. Her sister just sat there and listened to Jesus. I have often puzzled over how to be both these gals, because the world needs to be fed, and some of that is my job. I feel a kinship with Martha, to be honest. My personal solution is to work hard and rest hard, if that makes sense. Someday you may drop in at my house and be a little shocked to see me messing with yarn and knitting needles while there is a general litter of life all around. It will just be me, tending to my soul.

Your turn. I would be so tickled if someone out there told me they go fishing or hunting. What refreshes you? How do you restore your soul when life gets too busy?

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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?

 

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.

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.

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.