Survival Books for Boys

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With one son camping with friends and another ready for a weekend course on Outdoor Emergency Care, I thought it would be appropriate to finish this post that I have been incubating for a while.

When we upgraded our book shelves, we categorized a lot better and I found a section of books that are specifically geared to survival. I didn’t even know this was a genre until I started buying books for my sons. They have been pretty absorbed with the idea, and it really escalated their interest when Gabe took them wilderness camping in the Adirondacks for a week. I would like to be with my husband/sons in the event of a disaster. Both of the boys have built primitive shelters in the woods with scrounged materials and have amassed impressive bug-out bags full of essential gear such as Lifestraws and flint strikers for building fires. Once Gabe bought a thousand foot roll of paracord for them and was astonished at how quickly they powered through the entire roll with their projects. I thought it was definitely worth the investment, since it kept them busy for days, seeing how many feet of cord they could weave into one survival bracelet. I will draw a merciful curtain on the pocket knife situation. I don’t pretend that our wild and free ideas of learning survival are for everyone, but if you’re interested in armchair learning, here are some book reviews from Greg.

Starting at the bottom of the pile up there, with Northeast Foraging, Greg says, “This is our best foraging guide because the author started foraging with her grandma and she gives good advice for how to prepare the food you find. Also, it is our region.”

  We have a Peterson’s Guide to Edible Plants as well, which is much more comprehensive, but not helpful when the plants don’t even grow in our area.

  Outdoor Life Ultimate Bushcraft  is Gregory’s favorite book on wilderness skills, “because it focuses on living in the wild. There are excellent illustrations and it is really interesting.” His other Outdoor Life Survival Manual includes natural disasters, wilderness skills, and urban dangers. Gregory hopes never to have to face urban dangers. He doesn’t even like driving through the city (no air! no space!)

The Boys’ Handy Book is a boy scout manual from the turn of the century -early 1900’s, that is- and has lots of illustrations of skills that are largely forgotten now. Gregory doesn’t like it for only one reason: some things are hard to source nowadays.

 My parent’s gave the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook for a birthday, along with a cast-iron Dutch oven.  “It’s nice because the recipes are formulated for cooking over a campfire, so it makes it easier than trying to adapt a regular recipe.” Our favorite so far was a campfire cobbler. To be honest, though, most of the things they cook over fires are bannock type breads, or rice with seasonings, or maybe potatoes cooked in the coals.

Usborne has a few good sources that I found on Amazon: True Stories of Survival, Survival (written in typical Usborne style with short, readable paragraphs and lots of good illustrations… my personal favorite), and a comic-book styled one titled Improve Your Survival Skills.

A lot of this excitement about learning survival skills comes from reading storybooks. Top of the top for us is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. It has all the elements of a toe curling gripper for boys: a raw greenhorn, alone in the wilderness with only a hatchet to help him after he survived the plane crash.

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The Cay is another classic tale of adventure at sea. Theodore Taylor has a gentle way of bringing huge topics such as racism and terrible loss into the story. My Side of the Mountain tells the story of a slightly bratty boy who discovers how wonderful his life really is when he takes off to try to live entirely off the land. 

Of course, all of the Ralph Moody books are great, especially for young teens. We have been accumulating them on audio, although I should caution that they contain some strong language.

I try to look ahead in faith for the next generation, but I feel in my gut that there are hard times ahead, possibly involving finding starchy roots to eat, or building fish traps for supplemental protein. But especially there will be trials of the soul. With this in mind, we have been buying more mature biographies and memoirs for our older children. Here are a few for older boys that tell a true story of survival, accompanied by many life lessons. All describe men who toiled through incredible hardships and came out stronger.

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Last, but not least, there is Evidence Not Seen, the story of very courageous woman who survived Japanese camps during World War II. It is our current read-aloud and I know I will need to edit some of the heaviest passages for the sake of the younger children, but I consider it on the same level as the books above.

That’s our list of favorite survival books, for your perusal. If you have any recommendations, we would love to hear them!

 

Sometimes the Beans Get too Fat

Would you like to know about the time the Lord gave me permission to not make pickles with my excess cucumber crop? It was in August and I felt that I really should not allow those cukes to go to waste. I looked at my shelves of jars in the basement and saw that I had about 10 pints of mushy bread-and-butter pickles from a previous harvest. They were no longer a blessing or a temptation to eat, so we didn’t eat them. I dumped them out for the chickens, washed the jars, and then I heard the voice of reason. “How many jars of pickles did you can last year? About 15? See, you’re not even really fond of pickles, so how does it make sense to cram a batch of them into an already hectic day so that you can dump half of them to the chickens in a few years? Maybe you could just throw the cucumbers to them now and buy a jar of pickles when you need it?”

A gardener tends to look at that sort of advice as from below, the lazy place, where people don’t manage very well. Having been raised with gardening my entire childhood, I value the lessons learned while pulling weeds and digging potatoes. Once we had enough green beans in the freezer for the year, my mom would sometimes let the last ones get fat so we could shell them and can them. It didn’t matter that none of us really enjoyed shell beans; we were not going to waste good food. I witnessed my aunts doing the same. When there was a glut of cantaloupe, one of them froze the excess in little chunks to eat as slush. It was actually a good idea, but I don’t need to tell you how small the window is for a bite of slushy cantaloupe versus a bite of disgusting slime. For a person from Amish culture, wasting something that could possibly be preserved, canned, frozen, dried, or fermented was unpardonable. I still find it really difficult to throw out food scraps unless they are going to compost or to feed an animal. And I do let the last green beans get fat, because I know our goats will love them.

I’m prioritizing hard this August, having added another layer of things to do with my pottery, which I like a lot better than canning pickles, by the way. I ask myself, “What does the Lord require of you?” and it is simply this: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.” There are a lot of choices available in those generalized instructions, but “do all to the glory of God” probably summarizes them all.

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We are back to school and I love the routine and the quieter pace that is a necessity of providing an education for our children. We do our basic household chores in the morning, then go to our schoolroom and look at the schedule for the day, taking it from there. This year I am planning out only one week at a time, with Gregory making his own goals and keeping his own logbook. Alex has to do one course that is mandatory to get his credits for graduation. With Addy reading pretty well, I feel like I’ve hit on a little pocket of homeschool bliss that I have been working toward for years. Feel free to ask me how it’s going when we hit February.

A few weeks ago, Gabriel took time to build me a wonderful set of bookshelves for our schoolroom. It has been exactly the inspiration I needed to get excited about getting back to the books. I just filed our papers and slunk outside this spring when we finished our term. Things were not pretty, so I sorted, culled, and got thoroughly happy as I arranged our library.

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That, right there, is the heart of our homeschool. Once my children love to read, they are driven to learn and they don’t even have a clue it’s happening. I am planning a series of book recommendations this fall. It should be a lot easier with everything categorized. The left half is non-fiction, biographies, and classics. The right half is series, readers, and storybooks.

Aside from not canning pickles, we are have been working toward a massive shift of bedrooms in the house. There is one large room downstairs with a bathroom/laundry room next to it. The boys were down there for years and the girls were upstairs in two little bedrooms. This meant that Olivia had her own room and she wasn’t even a teen yet, and they did not think that was quite fair. On Saturday the boys talked the girls into switching so that they are all three downstairs in the big bedroom and the boys each have a small bedroom. I was painting the downstairs room while they were doing negotiations, and was a little surprised that it was going so smoothly. Suddenly I noticed a sad little face and when I asked what was wrong, she crumpled into tears because “I don’t want to be selfish but I did so love to be by myself.” It was a situation that reminded me of a Dutch phrase my mom used to say (“Es chatshtah gebt uch.”) that translates loosely into “The most mature person gives up.” In many ways and on many days, my middle child is the most mature of them all. We talked about decorating and making sure she gets her quiet time without interruptions. Today we picked a blush colored paint for an accent wall behind her bed, and her school desk is beside a window where the sun shines in. It is very pleasant, and the smaller girls are being held strictly accountable for their messes. We are three days in and so far, so good.

If you want to know what a house looks like when a passel of children are sorting treasures and clothes, moving all the furniture, some into the attic and some out of the attic, emptying out the entire closet full of games and puzzles… well… It looked like all the bedrooms vomited into the living room and down the stairs and literally everywhere. Meanwhile Gregory had a burning desire to make gobs and they were spread on the table, waiting for icing. I finished painting and came to a kitchen that was liberally sprinkled with chocolate crumbs and abandoned cookie sheets. Then I remembered that I hadn’t finished my kettle full of spaghetti sauce on Friday night, and I was chopping fresh herbs for that while the paint was drying. That was when my parents dropped in, so you can ask them and they will tell you that it was bad.

Having big strong boys makes this sort of enterprise much easier than you would suppose. At 3 o’clock they started moving the bookshelves, because yeah, every child has their favorites in their bedroom so every bedroom has a bookshelf. The two little girls use most of their shelves for things like rock collections and pinecones and Calico Critters. Olivia has books, coloring supplies, and knitting projects in baskets. Most of the games from the closet got stashed on Greg’s shelves for now because they had to go somewhere. His closet is the biggest, so he is also stuck with a section of girls’ dresses. Alex’s books are in three tall stacks right inside his door. Like I said, we are in progress here.

Every dresser, chest of drawers, nightstand, mirror, and lamp moved up or down. The air conditioner unit and the window fans moved.

The bed situation was easier. Greg inherited the bunkbeds because that is his room. Only one twin bed had to be moved downstairs, but that left Alex without a mattress because his full-sized one doesn’t fit into his tiny room. Our Goodwill sells decent quality new mattresses and I bargained with him that if he got the things squared away by 6 PM, we’d go pick up a twin bed. Unfortunately the power steering on the Suburban gave out just a few miles from home, and we had to abort the mission. By the time I tucked in the girls that night, fed the dog and put her into her kennel, and made sure there were nightlights in all the right places, I felt like I had juggled paint rollers, fragile feelings, and homeless objects for hours. We might as well have moved, it was that drastic. I am not the tucked-in “don’t have stuff you don’t need person” that I thought I was, but now I know exactly what else needs to be worked on. And that is after a massive clearing out this fall, with yard sales and all. I don’t know where all this stuff comes from! (Help me, Carol!)

Greg is currently sleeping in a lavender room. I wanted to paint it anyway, but all in good time. Alex has a mattress now and no longer sleeps on the floor. The girls are getting along much better than I expected and can’t wait for the blush accent wall. And I am tired.

Home-making. It can be really absorbing and exhausting, but there is plenty of scope for imagination here. I have always liked rearranging furniture, figuring out how to freshen the house without spending a lot of money. I don’t like decorating at all if it means I am trying to achieve a certain look. It must be that I am not visual enough. But I do know how to go for a certain feel. That probably isn’t really a cool thing but it’s how I roll.

Speaking of feeling, four people have told me recently that I should read up on the Enneagrams. I am starting to feel ‘way behind the times. One of them gave me specific recommendations for websites, but I forgot them. Give me a link in the comments if you have a good source. I am very interested.

For one last bit of random, I leave you with an herb bouquet because it’s Abundant August and I can. Have a lovely day!

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Tuesday in the Life, Installment 3

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

Yours is the day, yours also the night;

you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;

you have made summer and winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My Family  Addy Rita Livy Greg Alex Papa Mama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

 

a Slightly Imperfect Day in the Life…

The day started with my husband’s alarm, due to his having an early shift. When we do get up at the same time, I enjoy the novelty of fixing the bed right away. 😀  I went through my coffee bean grinding ritual and this morning it was still early enough that the noise didn’t wake the girls. A quick sweep through the fridge and I had his lunch packed. The children wandered out of bedrooms, one by one. While they ate breakfast, I read them the conclusion of our most recent read-aloud, Sophie’s Tomby Dick King-Smith. It is a short story about a 6 year-old aspiring lady farmer, but it is written so masterfully that the older children and I enjoyed it just as much as Addy did. (Even though Sophie probably needed a spanking.)

After the dishes were cleared, the girls and I did a Bible lesson at the table, all together. I have been meaning to do this all year, using Route 66: A Trip Through the 66 Books of the Bible.  Somehow we only just got started. This is a course for middle schoolers with simpler text and an overview of who wrote the books of the Bible, key passages in each book, etc. Gregory will be working through Route 66: Travel Through the Bible, a course I myself did a number of years ago. I ordered it for him when I realized that the girls’ course is a little too simple for an 8th grader. The concepts in this study guide are not difficult or even especially theological, with the focus being more on the historical aspects of the books of the Bible.

When we got that cleared away, it was already 9:30 and high time to hit the arithmetic lessons. I dictated spelling words, found fact sheets, cleaned up the schoolroom floor, took a few minutes out to cast some burdens on Jesus, documented some pottery glaze tests, showed Olivia how to make a sentence outline, compounded interest with Gregory, and then it was lunch time.

If you ever want to know what homeschoolers eat… well, today was an inglorious one with fried bologna sandwiches for lunch. Fast, easy, cheap. Hmm. Sounds about right.

After dishes clean-up, I set the little girls loose to go play in the glorious 55 degree sunshine. They were not done with their assignments, but I figured they would be back inside in plenty of time to do them. Meanwhile Olivia and I worked in three loads of laundry and I packaged some pottery orders. Then there was a run to the post office and the bank. We live in rural hick-town, but we only have a mile to those two establishments, which is a great blessing. Last year a local chocolatier built a factory/warehouse just 1/4 mile from our place and I very nearly swung in today to check if they have any seconds or an outlet store in the building. Then I thought that might seem a little desperate, what with no signs or anything indicating a store. I did go to Fisher’s, our favorite local bulk food store, where I bought milk and lunchmeat because we nearly finished the bologna today. Haha. I was pleasantly surprised to find a book-selling gentleman set up in their empty greenhouse. A quick scan of his shelves revealed one of David McCullough’s books, 1776He is probably our favorite history writer, so of course, I needed to give it a home.

The little girls were still out playing Heidi with the goats, wearing only short sleeved shirts and their rubber boots, it was that warm. Oh well, school assignments would wait a little longer.

The day was creeping along, clouds covering the sun, making it urgent for me to get my daily constitutional. I usually walk 2 miles or 30 minutes, whichever comes first. I like to use the time to listen to audiobooks. Today I was in chapter 2 of Ravi Zacharias’  The Grand Weaver. I kept pausing, dictating notes to Google Keep, trying to absorb the soul-stirring truths. I am sure I looked like a weird woman who is nutso about her phone. But seriously, this is a book for every person who has ever grappled with the problem of pain and injustice and why God doesn’t just rescue all His children quickly.

I came home to chop celery and cook chicken noodle for supper. This morning Addy had begged to mix up some brownies “before the mix gets old and yucky” so that was dessert. The little girls were still out chasing ducks when supper was ready. The rest of us ate without them and I am afraid I must admit that we sat in the living room and just read quietly while we ate. Gabriel is working a double shift, so we do these odd things to compensate.

When the goat girls finally showed up, it was getting dark. I ushered them straight to the shower for hair washes and all. They were starved, so there was no quibbling about any of the food. That was when I trotted out their schoolwork that wasn’t finished. Addy’s was just a cursive practice page, but Rita needed to do her Language lesson.

At last all was wrapped up for the day and it was time for bedtime story. I started a new book tonight, The Bushbaby, an out-of-print book I picked up at a library sale. It started out promisingly enough, with the girls begging for more every time I got to the end of a chapter. I have honed the skill of rapid editing if I happen to run up against objectionable content in books I haven’t read before. Sometimes they ask me what I skipped, but if I am smooth enough, they don’t even notice. Only once have I been so awfully wrong about a children’s storybook that I chucked it into the trash before we finished it. We don’t use a reading curriculum in school, so that’s why all the books. It seems to be working out okay.

I thought all was wrapped up for the day, so I took my shower. When I got out, the two littles had set up a restaurant in the kitchen with the only thing on the menu being oranges, because that was all they were allowed to have for a bedtime snack.

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There was sticky juice on the counter, the floor, the table, themselves. I swiped a few swipes with a washcloth and sent them to bed. Tomorrow we’ll work on spelling.

My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

“May I have an apple in bed?” Addy asked, since she knows that there isn’t much chance of me saying yes to anything that could rot her teeth after she brushed them, and apples are practically toothbrushes anyway. There were no apples in the fridge, so the next up was, “Or how about some pieces of dried chicken?” I was startled out of my absent-minded washing of yesterday’s dishes that had stayed on the counter all day because we got home late last night and went to church this morning. Sure enough, she had found a baggie of very dry chicken bits, saved from our roasting/canning operation of 20 old hens last week. “Maybe a pepper. I could eat a pepper,” she hedged when she saw that I wasn’t excited about her choices. My two little girls make up for any vegetable deficit in the older children. Same parents, same parenting style, only less “now eat your broccoli” fuss, and here they are, regular veggie devourers. It does make you wonder. This is Rita with a legit bedtime snack that makes her just as happy as milk and cookies.

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I wasn’t going to plant regular tomatoes this year because I have a good source where I can buy a couple boxes of Romas and make a big batch of sauce all in one day instead of having them trickle in over the course of a month. When my neighbor gave me plants he had nurtured in his sunny windows, I had to plant them, so I am hauling in a bumper crop all month. The vines are blighted and ugly, and still the babies swell and turn scarlet. It’s astounding! I planted some pineapple tomato plants that are luscious for sandwiches, and shiny purple “Dancing With Smurfs” cherry tomatoes that aren’t good until they turn red, which I think is a little bit of false advertising.

August is all about harvesting and preserving bushels of stuff for winter. Have you ever had tiny, tender green beans that you just picked an hour ago and lightly sauteed with a bit of garlic and olive oil? If you did, then you know why I garden. Or a slice of tomato so huge that it hangs out over your toast, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper? How about crisp cucumbers sliced into a vinaigrette? There is no farmer’s market that can yield that sort of freshness, although it’s better than vegetables shipped across the country, for sure! August turns me into a food snob, because I can. It’s when all the endless hovering and ministering to the plants yields fruit, and does it taste good! So that is what we are currently eating. (Too many melons, a funny problem to have.)

Tomorrow starts our third week of school. Olivia was looking at old pictures and said, “Mama, you used to play more.” It’s true. Somewhere things got too heavy and much. I quit going outside for recess and impromptu soccer games in favor of throwing some laundry into the washer or starting dinner. I am working to change that. We bought some new games and are back to starting each day with a read-aloud before we hit the math books. My Consumer Math guy is still working his summer job, so he is not included in this picture.

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I don’t buy reading curriculum. We just read and read and read. If you ever wonder who really funds the libraries, it’s people like me who suddenly realize that August 23 is past and I have a humongous pile of books overdue. Hey, at least it goes to a good cause. Each year the children also get books as gifts when school starts and again when we celebrate our finish. I buy them second hand, at library sales, on Thriftbooks, or Ollies. Making sure my children love to read is the ace up my sleeve for success in education.

Last week we finished Kate Seredy’s The White Staga fascinating tale of the Huns in the days when they were sweeping across the world after their ancestor Nimrod died. It’s historical fiction/fantasy, so we did web searches and verified Gregory’s trivia bit about Attila the Hun dying of a nosebleed. The thing about reading aloud is that the children really don’t suspect that they are learning, but I am guessing they will always remember that choice bit.

Addy’s book, Poppy is by one of our favorite authors, Avi. It is the story of a very brave mouse. The book I got for Rita is one of Cynthia Rylant’s stories, Gooseberry Park.  It has been a great success because Rita is not an avid reader yet, and she says this is the best book ever. I personally have not found a Cynthia Rylant book I didn’t like. Of course, there are over a hundred of them, and I haven’t read them all. Olivia reads all the time, and fast. Thimble Summer didn’t last more then a few days before she was whining about not having anything to read. We agree that Elizabeth Enright’s stories about Gone Away Lake are actually better than this one, but she is another solid author.

The boys are more into non-fiction. Alex is reading Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.  I might just mention that the title describes the appeal of the book for him. I stood in Barnes and Noble, staring at the $25 price tag, then I looked up a used copy without a dust jacket on the web for 3.99 and left the store empty handed because I am cheap like that. Gregory received a copy of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage He and I shared story grip on this book and had to keep swapping out turns to read it. Then we discovered all the youtube videos about Shackleton and were astonished anew. We are also working our way through the New Testament during the summer months. Our favorite way to do this is listening to Max McLean on audioBible. And that is what we are currently reading.

The animal population here on the farmlet thinned out briefly. We sold Lamb, who was now big enough for Mutton. Rita worked her charm on him and got him into a pet carrier for the ride to join a herd of other sheep going to market that day.

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We also hauled 20 chickens to the chop. They were old and no longer laying eggs except on good days, when they felt like it, if the light was mellow and the grain fine. I was grateful I didn’t have to butcher them; all I did was roast them, pick the meat from the bones for canning, and then make bone broth. I feel quite happily fortified for soups and stews this winter. Yes to collegen! No to leaky gut! (I just googled that.) We also sold a bunch of fat leetle rabbits, which makes me feel like my name should be Mrs. McGregor, because I know they get eaten, but at least not by me. I thought it was a good thing, emptying a few of the gobbling horde out of the barn, but my husband came home from the salebarn with a flock of ducks and my son bought different rabbits and more chickens.

My mom used to say I shouldn’t get married until I could butcher a chicken and bake a pie. I couldn’t do either when we set up housekeeping, but it seems to have worked out all right. I can bake a pie now, but I have to admit to a secret feeling that someone should commend me every time I do. “Come on,” I chide myself. “You’re a forty-something Mennonite housewife. You’re supposed to be able to bake a pie.” Here’s a really good thing to do with peaches, super easy, super un-fussy, without a ton of prep and dishes.

  • Buy or make a pie shell, with enough pastry to put a lid on it.
  • Peel peaches until you have 4-5 cups of slices.
  • Gently toss them with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 4 T minute tapioca.
  • Pour the peaches into the pie shell and top with pastry.
  • Seal the edges, cut a few decorative slits in the top, give it a wash with milk and then dust with sugar for a pretty sparkle.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

The tapioca does all the work of thickening the juices and holding the peach slices together when you cut the pie. It tastes fresher than cooked peach filling because it wasn’t cooked, obviously, until it went into the oven. Mom had minute tapioca variations for apple pies (2T tapioca and some cinnamon) and other fruits too. We children loved these the best of all the pies she made and that was a lot!

In my spare time, hahaha…. goes off in fits of giggles…

When I have some minutes or an hour, I play with clay. Since I have a kiln, I find my mind constantly veering toward what I could make next. My first firing was full of wobbly pieces that took me 6 months to accumulate. When I saw how the glazes made even lowly pinch pots pretty, I got down to it and filled the kiln again in a month. I had a few big bowls that made my heart sing proudly, but then I had some issues with firing too hot, too quickly and the moisture in the bowls shattered them into thousands of worthless shards. This sight was what greeted my eyes when I opened the lid. I learned a valuable lesson about patience in letting my pieces thoroughly dry out before doing the first firing, as well as double checking the switches when I turn on the kiln.

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This shattered mess happened the morning before I went to the funeral of a dear family friend, the person who actually first introduced me to a love of pottery. It felt like an underscoring of the sadness of losing Karen.

Thankfully most of the pieces were fine, but they were all small bowls and mugs. The next kiln load only took 2 weeks to fill. I must be getting better! Sometimes I watch potters on Instagram and see that they could easily throw enough pieces in a day to fill what looks to me like a cavernous kiln. Then I don’t know whether to power on or laugh at my struggle, so I do both. That would be the current events on the creative stage.

What I haven’t been doing is writing, and this bothers me. I feel the urge to not forget all this wonderful mix of stories in the mad whirl that is August, which is really too much and just right. One steamy day I got into the Suburban to run errands and was greeted by a rush of super-concentrated air. It was the weirdest blend, like dirty socks (there actually were some under the seat) and fishing tackle mingled with wool and a cloying overtone that I couldn’t place, like very ripe peaches. “Oh, that’s Rita’s air-freshener. She put clove oil on a tissue to smell good.” That’s August in a nutshell here.

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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Parting shot: I like my Gregory’s pinch pot better than most of my attempts at symmetry, but I do really like this mug. I get a lot more than coffee out of it. It feels exactly like a smooth egg in my hands, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to make another just like it. Yet.

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A Quick Note

For those of you who subscribe through email and read the posts without clicking through to the browser, this is just an alert that I accidentally posted my Six Ways blog before I had finished and before I realized that I only had Five Organic Ways. You can’t call a weed eater and a mower organic, can you?

Anyway, do click through and read the finished bit if you feel like it doesn’t make sense. Good night!

Glorious May

What could be better than sitting in a clean house while a rain-shower patters down outside? Try adding a piece of chocolate with salted caramel bits, a bird singing outside the window, a son planning supper around his freshly caught fish which he filleted himself, and an hour to write. Bliss.

You may wonder why my house is all clean on a random Thursday. Let me tell you, I nearly killed myself with mopping and clearing away of chaos this forenoon. This, because the insurance adjusters were scheduled to come take a look around. The last time we had a property assessment, I was unprepared and embarrassed to the core as they walked through every room, taking pictures and ignoring the mess with cheerful grace. Every time they opened a door, there was a child doing school in an odd place, or playing something incredibly messy on an unmade bed. Gabe told me that from his years of experience with replacing windows, this is nothing. Well, it feels dreadful to me, so I was going to be prepared today. We got lunch cleared away and the children’s faces washed before they showed up.

Turns out we don’t have wood heat, so they didn’t even have to step inside. I felt a little cheated. Why can’t someone take pictures of my house when it is like this?

This next scene is right outside the window. My long-cherished dream of throwing pots of clay in that little barn is about to come to pass. We had a grand clearing out and reassigned the stuff in there to other storage places. Plans are for a corner for carving for the man and the place where the lower windows are will be the pottery section. Can’t you see us in there, companionably creative? Only problem is, I still can’t concentrate with people around and I certainly can’t hold a conversation while trying for just the right wall thinness on a clay bowl. About the time I start to talk, my precious piece suddenly feels gravity in a new way and settles gently downward. I have never had so much fun being terrible at something.

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Check out the green fuzz on the ridge, which we have been waiting for for a long time. Suddenly it is popping, almost too fast. It takes the breath away. This morning the lawn looked like this, but in about 2 days we will have abundant dandelion chain supplies again.

 

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I used to spend hours with the older children outside, looking for signs of spring, weaving flower chains and playing in the fresh grass. One day when Addy was grizzling and bored, I realized that I don’t do that very much with her. So I took her little paw in mine and we meandered around the pond, discussing things that interest her life. I braided her a coronet of gold and she had a heart change.

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The children are all but done with school books for this term. There are a few random tests yet, but other than that, we’re done. One of the cousins told them about DIY tutorials on Youtube for making tiny doll furnishings or clothing. From there they have moved to all sorts of  projects, resulting in sketchy looking lip balms made with raspberry juice and coconut oil or odd hot air balloons where the tissue paper tends to flame up suddenly on liftoff. My personal favorite was when Rita said, “Did you know that you can fix nail holes in the wall by putting toothpaste into them?” I told them to take a break from creativity, so we are back on the more familiar ground of a pet snake in the terrarium and some pillbugs in a plastic container. “May we google, ‘What do pillbugs eat?’.”

This next photo represents a triumphant moment for us all, but especially for Gabriel. He had been hankering for a motorcycle ride all spring, saying if he didn’t have this assignment to finish, he would just break out and go riding. The thing about unrelenting assignments to study is that Jack feels like a dull boy, ready to bust out and do something different! One day I was gone for a while, and when I got home he was at the neighbor’s house, borrowing his bike.

“Did you finish your course while I was gone?” I asked at first opportunity, not believing it could be possible. He just grinned and nodded. He had the last two assignments to work on when I left that morning, but in a spurt of determined perseverance, he had actually submitted them both in one day! I didn’t begrudge him a long ride through the countryside in the least! (For the concerned folks out there, the child did not ride with him. Prop only for a spin in the lawn. 🙂 )

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It occurred to me that some of you may be interested in my container gardening tips. I can’t grow houseplants worth squat, but I do seem to have success with my containers on the deck. I will use last year’s pictures for this DIY session. 🙂

  1. Find a friendly greenhouse proprietor who knows their stuff. You need to consider the light where your container will be. Is it full sun or partial shade? Ask your new friend what grows well in your conditions. You do not want to mix a shade plant with a full sun needer, or you will be conflicted all summer as to who gets what they need. (If at all possible, do not buy your plants at the big name stores. They ship them from who-knows-where, so the plants are stressed and sad from the start. You local greenhouse people deserve your business. Have you ever thought about how hard they work?)
  2. Look for a grass or spike plant to give you a visual high point. These plants usually are very tolerant of almost any condition. Last year I found these neat “Prince Tut” grasses, which look like a scepter with a sunburst at the end. I haven’t seen them anywhere yet this year, but I did find curly pink grasses. That’s the fun… mixing it up.
  3. Your next requirement is for a showy leaf. Some good ones are sweet potato vines which come in endless varieties ranging from bright lime green to purple. Those trail beautifully. More upright plants with dramatic foliage are dusty miller or coleus.
  4. The third category in a mixed planter is the blooming plant. We enjoy things that attract hummingbirds, so anything with a trumpet-like flower makes us happy. Million bells, those tiny petunias that never have to be deadheaded, are great for show and easy to please. I don’t hold back much on color combinations, but I do try not to put orange and pink together, etc. Really, there are no rules. If you love your flowers, they will love you back.
  5. My fourth category is something with big blooms. You see Gerbera daisies in these photos, but I am officially done with mixing them in planters with other flowers. They don’t like sharing my space, for some reason. Also, my greenhouse friend told me they hate fertilizer, and literally everything else loves it. So they are out this year. Geraniums work, especially the vining ones that aren’t stuck on one upright shape. I have fallen in love with large begonias as well. They are a little picky about water. Not too much, or they rot.
  6. The next step is funny. Line your planters with adult diapers. This trick comes to you courtesy of my friend who is caring for her elderly mother. She was given some Depends that would have wrapped twice around her mother, so she changed up their use, figuring they would hold moisture in her planters during the hot July days. It works like a charm. Also, your big planters can be filled with empty milk jugs or soda bottles at the bottom. You really only need dirt in the top 12 inches and it makes them much easier to move.
  7. Use good potting soil. Trust me, it is worth 5 or 10 dollars extra to buy a good brand versus cheap, generic stuff. I like Miracle Gro potting soil with fertilizer in the mix.
  8. Arrange your plants until you like the configuration in the pot. I like mine full and energetic, but they do tend to take up whatever space they have. Just don’t be stingy. You can always repot something if it takes too much space.
  9. Plant them. Pull the roots apart gently at the bottoms. They are almost always root bound in the greenhouse pots. Set your planters in a sheltered area for a few days so they can get used to the big outdoors.
  10. Remember that the plants are used to a lot of fertilizer. It’s what greenhouses do to get that luxurious growth that makes you want to buy the whole place. If you never feed your plants, you will see them taper off and look sickly for a while. I have one word for you. Miracle Gro. Seriously. At least once a week. If you feed them oftener, make the solution weaker. Pinch back the aggressive plants, and have fun!

These (below) are my planters last year, at the end of July. See how sickly/nonexistent those Gerberas are in there? I stuck some houseplants in last year, as well. Sometimes I include perennials from my flower beds. Hosta is a good one, as are coral bells. I also do herb planters. They do not have the eye catching appeal of florals, but it is really fun to step outside the door and pinch off some basil. Bonus points for anyone who spots the flourishing plantain weed in one of these arrangements.

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Is it worth the money? I heard that. For us it is. For about a hundred dollars, it turns our outside space into a haven. We may live right beside the road with traffic noise, but we have months of enjoyment out of this investment. I know a man who says he will wait for heaven to have flowers, but I don’t want to wait that long. God gave them to us here. If you source carefully, or wait until the greenhouses are getting rid of inventory, or propagate your own plants, you can grow astounding variety right at your house.

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Well, that concludes my writing hour. I ate a piece of excellently prepared catfish while I sat here, and now I must leave you to go find a greenhouse.

So here we are. May is glorious any way you look at it. And it is triumphant this spring, flush with accomplishment, ready for the next good thing. We feel mellow, delighted with the endless possibilities, despite the normal adult things that weigh down on us. The weariness is passing, the catch-up time is here.

Tuesday in the Life…

All was very quiet and a bit dark yet when I got up. The boys were out cold from a late night of skiing and the girls must have been worn out from their embroidery marathon last night, because it stayed quiet for an hour.

I picked up my phone, read a blog post in my email feed, then mentally slapped my hand and put it down. It is hard to break bad habits, you know? I am training myself for better phone usage and I need so many reminders. Check the weather, see a notification, fall headlong into an interesting wormhole on the internet, and there went the precious first part of the day.

This month I am reading through the book of Jeremiah. It is doleful reading, all those dire predictions and the rudeness of people who decided to dig a pit and drop the messenger into it rather than listen to his message. These are the same people who traded their treasures and heritage for high places of sin and a life of slavery. And yet, through it all is the relentless pursuing of a God who is jealous of their loyalty and wants nothing more than to restore them to righteousness and justice in the land.

I had just finished chapter 23, where Jeremiah prophesied about a Righteous Branch who would be coming in the future when Gregory showed up with his mug of tea. Time for breakfast. He and Olivia are on kitchen duty this week. Normally they are the early risers who make pancakes or creamed eggs or something ambitious, but this morning they pulled out cold cereal because the family was late to bed and late to rise. I fixed a protein shake for myself because I didn’t want the cereal shakes at ten o’clock.

The girls wore their new matchies today, thanks to $1 clearance at Walmart. I suggested that any grumpiness would be terribly inappropriate in these shirts.

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While the children cleared the table and gathered up the laundry baskets, I lovingly crafted the coffee for us. I do mean lovingly, because those fresh beans from Honduras are worth the full attention of the coffee brewer.

Olivia and I spent some time compiling a photo collage of places she has visited in our state, and a page of places she would like to visit. Then we stumbled across this picture and drooled about stepping out on the deck, but there was a little too much snow for our fantasy.

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After she had her Spelling Power words done, I got her started with her Arithmetic lesson on the computer, knotted Addy’s embroidery thread for her, and went to the basement to check on the boys.

Oh, yes, that’s when I started the laundry humming along. Normally we do all our laundry on Monday with Tuesday as our day off, but we had an optometrist run yesterday, so we saved the washing for today. I like to do the weekend sorting because I don’t like when dress clothes get mixed in with a load of blue jeans, accidentally like. The children can take it from there with some oversight, although today I did the loading and unloading and loading and unloading… Let’s see, something like 9 times. All permanent press clothes got hung on hangers while still damp, and the folding of the rest is looming over the young fry by the basket full. I love folding laundry, but I crucify my desires because I want my children to learn responsibility. That is a true story, believe it or not.

Gregory is now learning about differentiating adverb and adjective phrases and is irritated at my enthusiasm for these lessons. “The fields and gardens beyond this mountain must be irrigated.” He thought that phrase tells “where”, therefore it is an adverb phrase and I insisted it modifies the subject, thus it is an adjective phrase. So that brings up the burning question of 13 year-old boys everywhere, “What does it matter?” I am not sure what to say to that, but I do think it matters, so just do it for me, son, okay?

At eleven o’clock I suddenly considered that the rest of the family would be getting the cereal shakes quite soon, not being fortified as I was, so I got out some frozen hamburger with plans for taco stacks at lunchtime. At last I settled in to write out lesson plans for Gregory’s February, with him on my left and Rita at her desk on the right, doing her spelling words and language lesson. Addy decided to come downstairs to practice cursive writing just because it is better to breathe the air where everybody else is if you are Addy. Alex was working independently on his lessons after having done the critter chores in the barn.

“What’s for lunch?” he asked, out of the blue. “Hmm, I will make tacos when it’s time,” I replied. “But it is lunchtime,” he pointed out. And it was. It was 12:02. The thing about having a hungry teen around is that they will be glad to shred cheese, open chip bags, and set the table while you fry ground beef and make your main course.

Gabe was home today, working on the bills and the taxes. I admired his work and slunk away quickly, grateful that he just submitted an assignment last night and the next course isn’t available yet.

After lunch the middles did dishes while I read a story to Addy and nearly fell asleep. Most days she does fall asleep, but not today. When we got up, we found that Olivia and Rita had set up handmade dollhouses on the kitchen table, with clothespin dolls inhabiting them. Nevermind that they went to the attic for boxes, walking past 3 other dollhouses, one wooden, one cardboard, and one punched out of heavy cardstock.

I spent an hour practicing songs for choir, then another hour advising Gregory on places to look for his history textbook. He loses books, on average, about 4 times a week, but in the case of a textbook, the rule is No Free Time Until Found. Eventually we all felt sorry for him, wandering around flashing a light into corners where no history book would go, so we started helping him look. “Oh,” Addy suddenly leaped to life, “is it this one? I put it in here last night when we cleaned up.” And there it was in the yarn bag. Gregory, for once, had not lost his book. But neither had he put it away. He was very grateful, at any rate, to have permission to watch his TED talk on ignoble prizes, now that business was taken care of.

In other news, today I noticed a sales flyer from the local grocery store advertising these special filled doughnuts for Fat Tuesday. What? So I looked it up and found that the day before Ash Wednesday is Fat Tuesday. Apparently one stuffs in order to survive all the fasting and sacrifice during Lent. In all my life I have not heard of this day before. I haven’t observed the season of Lent, either. Hmm. I wonder whether I should give up something as a discipline until Easter… Have you ever done this?

I will wrap up the day, even though it is not over, because tonight will be choir practice for Alex and me and right now it is time to make supper. Rita wrote a true story about me yesterday. “I love Mama becase she is vary, vary, vary nice. She makes all our melles! I love Mama.”

It is good to be loved.

Catching Up

It's Feb! wreath

 

If you were to sit at my house, in one of those dusty folds in the curtains the stink bugs like so much, you would see us pegging away at school day after day. Sometimes we are inspired and sometimes we just do it because it is the thing that must be done.

Gregory wallowed in adjective clauses for a while, but then he started to recognize the relatives in sentences, and he pulled ahead strong and steady again. I love language so much that it is just fun to refresh my own memory from grammar lessons of long ago. Olivia was very distressed to discover that she has to do a course in Pennsylvania history this winter, but now she has learned to search Google and how to print photos and even how to draw little illustrative maps of the state’s industries. It has turned out to be fun, the thing she does first in the day. I say this as a homily for myself: just getting started is kind of important. I also decided the time was right for my Addy to start 1st grade curriculum, and she has powered through 3 units in 2 weeks, sharpening her colored pencils obsessively so that she can use them for her lessons. None of the others had this need to achieve. It’s her drive to catch up, which isn’t going to happen for a while, but I don’t discourage her.

Gabe asked me why I didn’t post at all in January, now suddenly I am doing every day for a month, and I laughed, a little embarrassed to admit that it’s just how I work. I have actually written lots, and dredged up past writing too, in anticipation of this month. For the first time in my history, I have planned out my posts, so you may see a sort of outline as we go along.

  • Sunday and Thursday: preaching to myself posts/ inspirations
  • Monday: something bigger than my world
  • Tuesday and Friday: life around the house
  • Wednesday: miscellany/ reposts
  • Saturday: book reviews

I think you will see a theme, too, which seems to squeeze out in most of the stuff I write currently, even in the books I recommend.. I dislike hobby horses, as a general rule, but I have one. I will see who guesses it first.

I have not regretted taking a Facebook break this month. Occasionally I dip in for a minute or two to check on something, and I find myself fighting to pull back out. It’s not like my life is impoverished without all the extra knowledge of what the rest of the people are up to, but it is just so interesting and there went a half hour, zing! I have spent the extra time reading, crocheting hats, checking math lessons, making slightly lop sided pottery, etc. Nothing profound has happened, but I do feel lighter when I am not loaded down with all the noise. I haven’t been keeping  up with the news either, except just the weather forecast, which is extremely head-in-the-sand. There is no lack of drama in my life, even so. I am learning to enjoy this centering process, back to b-a-s-i-c-s.

My husband has now studied hard, HARD, for a year. He has three months to go before his fast track BSN is completed. Both of us are feely antsy and just want the pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel to open up wide into fresh air and some leisure time. It’s only been a year, I know. Fast-tracking a degree means the pain is shorter, but more acute. That’s all I have to say about that.

I am on the fence about keeping my Wocketinmypocket page on Facebook. I know it is nice for those who depend on that platform to get notifications of posts.  I vastly prefer the dialog to happen in comments on the blog instead of Facebook, where a quick “like”, although a friendly wave in passing, is an unsatisfactory form of feedback for me as a writer. I will not be posting this month’s stuff on Facebook, but there is a handy share button at the bottom of the webpage, where you can feel free to share all you want. You can also subscribe by email if you wish for updates in your inbox.

Here’s to February, friends!

 

A Wedged Bear

“Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”

So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh, and Rabbit hung his washing on the South end…”   A.A.Milne

When I read that recently, I thought, “That’s it! That’s the recap of life this year.” It’s not like it has been too much, but just more like it has been plenty and the wedging into tight places is a fairly regular challenge. Something usually gives eventually and, “POP! just as if a cork were coming out of a bottle…” Meanwhile there is always the washing to hang, and that is about as far as my little parallel will take us. It really has nothing to do with too much honey, or any of the other hilarities of the story. Unlike the Bible, we are free to take Pooh out of context.

With my husband busy studying, I have been trying to pare life down to what must happen, what must be bought, where we must go, how we can thrive in the tightness, and not a lot else. I didn’t mail out Christmas letters and photos this year, and that is why. I dislike narrow spaces and claustrophobia and panicky stuff, but one day at a time, one task at a time, we get to December and the hope that springs up in the darkness at the end of the year. It’s really amazing, how the celebration of Christ’s birth coincides with long stretches of twilight, cold, and tiredness.

In my very amateur efforts at making pottery, I have learned the great importance of the first step, called centering. It’s the process of the hunk of clay being aligned, perfectly balanced on the center of the wheel, and unless it is right, the finished product will be wobbly or might even fly off the wheel altogether. At this point I cannot center clay when someone is trying to hold a conversation with me. I have to be totally focused.

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This has become a loud sermon to me. There are wobbly places in my life that only dedicated focus will bring into alignment. I have decided to give the blog a rest for a few months until Gabe finishes his Bachelor’s in Nursing. I do plan to do a daily re-post in February, but I will not be putting them on my Facebook page, since that is one of the distractions that I will be giving a rest. I am going to miss the interaction, I know, but if you could pray for me? I could use some extra courage for the next year. I don’t mind being forty at all; in fact, I recommend it. It’s the season that comes with it, with so much responsibility and so little life-experience that’s wearing me down. It’s coming from all sides, and the only reasonable place to look is up.

The girls and I were listening to “Mary, Did You Know?” recently and were intrigued by the idea of “…when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.” My personal opinion is that Mary had the angel’s promise and the rest she took on faith. It may even have been a fairly ordinary-seeming life she nurtured in her home, since the townspeople were so ignorant of Jesus’ significance as a person. By the standards of the day, he was middle-aged before  his ministry began. It was 30 years for her to keep all these things and ponder them in her heart. That’s a rather long time!

I am so challenged because of my own impatience in waiting for miracles, answers to prayers, promises not yet fulfilled. But Hope rises in the darkness and we cling to that!

Have a blessed, awe-filled Christmas as you let it sink in that He is with us!