When you lose your bearings…

… and if you are human, sometimes this will happen. There will be times when it’s foggy and neither sun nor stars shine through the haze. There will be occasions of blinding, sideswiping forces that you never saw coming, and there you are with unfocused eyes and a head full of questions. There will be tempests with no land in sight for many days. No one is exempt from the things which try our souls. We face our puny humanity, our complete lack of control, our personal blind spots suddenly illumined, our own sinful hearts betraying evidence that we are still in desperate need. It can be disconcerting, sometimes disorienting, and often profoundly discouraging.When I’m in a situation like this there is a way to get my bearings back. It’s like pulling out a compass in a blizzard and realizing, “Oh, yes! there is a true north after all!” The solution is simple, really, requiring only that I crack my Bible open in the middle and start reading the Psalms.Someone has described them as “the practical theology of vivid human experience.” I find the Psalms a cross-section of all the tumults and ecstasies of humanity and the over-arching Providence of God. While David did not write all of them, I’ve been reminded of his faith this week. I’m reading the historical accounts of David’s life in the book of Samuel in the Keep the Feast Bible reading challenge. Each day the selected reading concludes with the psalm David wrote in that particular time.There was the time when he fled for his life from King Saul only to find himself in peril from suspicious enemies. After his escape by faking insanity, scratching at the gates and letting spittle run into his beard, David wrote Psalm 34. “I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Do you see how he had oriented himself again from the brink of insanity by simply looking to the Lord?Psalm 57 is another example. “In you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” This after he was cornered in the back of a cave, praying not to be discovered by Saul and his men who were taking shelter in the cave’s mouth. Sometimes the best we can do is hunker down in a safe place until the storm passes and David knew where that safe place was.Clearly David had also learned to orient himself by running to God for mercy when he fell deeply into sin. He could have wallowed in the depths of despair at his own wretchedness after he had a man killed so that he could take his wife. Certainly his repentance was genuine. Yet he knew where to run for mercy and he knew that he could be purged whiter than snow. The beautiful prayer of Psalm 51 has brought hope and restoration to sinners ever since he wrote it.So when you find you’ve lost your bearings, know that you’re human and then go read David’s Psalms and find your orientation to the right course, to a safe place, to beautiful Hope. Even if all you can say is, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, oh my God!” (PS. 40:17) you have taken a step toward true north.

Photo source: pexel.com pixabay

Annual Slightly Strange List

  • Boots. I’m glad for boots. The only foot gear I really require is flip-flops or boots. I wear flip-flops when the weather is 50° or warmer and boots when it’s colder or wetter. So Simple.
  • Inside jokes. All my childhood, we siblings would snicker about things that other people didn’t get, and that was just fine. When I got married my husband and I explained each other’s family jokes to one another and crafted our own private line. Now I have a whole new range of inside jokes with my children. One of our favorites is making up new words for things. It’s surprising how often we come across “noddles” (small, sketchy-looking lumps).
  • The sky. I’m a skywatcher and I think I get it from my grandma who never writes a letter without mentioning the weather. Cerulean skies, puffy clouds, brilliant horizons, these all lift my heart. I call the children outside when the sun shines after a long gray spell, and we absorb sunshine on our shoulders. I think I would die in a cell without a window
  • Sheets. The pleasure of climbing into a bed with freshly line-dried sheets is difficult to describe. The only thing I want to buy in all this commercial craziness over the weekend is a superlative set of sheets on sale. That’s it. My needs are very simple. (I haven’t even scanned the sales yet to find them, but I will.)
  • Old things. When we were packing our clothes to go to Grandpa’s for Thanksgiving, I instructed the children not to pack anything ratty. One of my daughters objected, “But all my favorite clothes are ratty.” It’s true. The homely comforts are the best. My husband has been influencing me to appreciate the qualities of sturdily built objects from bygone centuries. He heartily objects to the wasteful, constantly-changing fashion world that is (Ikea 😳😳) home design. So now I like old things.
  • My hands. I never really liked my hands, but I have decided that that’s ridiculous. I am all grown up now and they’re not going to ever be the slender long-fingered hands with manicured nails that I so much admire. Every year I get more freckles on them, and they’re even starting to wrinkle, but they can do lots of things. I mean, they can soothe a sick child or swat an unruly goat or turn a lump of mud into a mug. So I’ve determined to be thankful.

I’ve been anti-social for an hour with my WordPress app, which I love, by the way, so I need to go rejoin the family. What about you? Do you have a list of slightly strange things that inspire you to be grateful?

Happy Thanksgiving!

You don’t get to quit

I am trying out the WordPress app on my phone and I discovered that it has a talk-to-text function. This might actually be a life-changer for my blogging since I’m often unable to access a computer at the time when I want to write down something quickly. Let’s see how it goes to add photos.

Well, that was easy!

So my sister and I were talking about the undeniable fact that parenting, with all its wonderful aspects, is utterly wearying. She is expecting her sixth baby any day and knows all about the adjustments to come with the beautiful little baby. She also knows how fleeting that squeaky newborn stage is and how quickly there will be a toddler making sure she doesn’t sit still too long. When we were discussing this she said something that I thought was profound, “When you feel sorry for yourself or depressed about how little time you have for yourself, the best thing to do is get up and do something for somebody else.”

This meshed with another conversation I had with a friend this week. She lost her husband in tragic circumstances a few months ago and is raising her family by herself. In the middle of her grief, she is refusing to pack her children off to school or daycare so she can indulge in “me time” even though many of her friends have counseled her to do that. Her focus is on serving her children and healing their sadness. She knows that God is with her in this daunting work that is in front of her. It is crushing and horrendous and He is with her and she will not sit down on the job.

I admire both my sister and my friend deeply for what they are modeling with their lives. In difficult circumstances we all tend to revert to a self-preserving, I-might-die-if- I-don’t-get-a-break, I-quit mentality. When I think of Jesus and now he never refused to give to another person from his resources, and I remember how he said, “When you have your hand on the plow, you don’t look back,” I feel the challenge. The field right there in front of you is your work. Get up and plow it. When I remember that He actually did die, I feel the puny weight of my measly problems.

I’ve done my share of private wishing for a live-in maid in my house. I’ve wasted time wondering what’s the point of beating back the chaos every day and is there even anything about cursive or geography or spelling that matters? I’ve fantasized about having a chef who will whip up nourishing meals for my children while I think about how to change the world. With this mindset, happiness is a slippery, unattainable thing and I know better than to indulge in it for long. In King James version, it’s time to “gird up the loins of your mind” when you’re in this place.

I suppose having a very practical personality might be helpful. I mean just get up and do something. I probably absorbed that advice with my mother’s milk, and I certainly heard it all my life as a child. Just get started with the glasses and the silver ware first. Just go comb your hair. Wash the windows so you can see outside. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.

Guess what?… it’s all true.

Newsflash: I am not here on this Earth to feel great about myself. In fact, the less I think about myself, the more likely I am to find the happiness I crave. Isn’t it weird how that works?

This is a principle of the kingdom of heaven that we get to model every day to our families and to the world around us. It’s deep and mysterious and very simple. Elisabeth Elliot would say, “Just do the next thing.” I am adding a little note to that, “You don’t get to quit.”

For your enjoyment I will include a recent essay my middle daughter wrote, but please do not mention that you read this on the blog. She is serenely unselfconscious and I’m confident that someday she will see the rich humor in her piece but probably not when she’s 10. You wouldn’t think that she spent an inordinate amount of time whining about her assignment by the matter of fact tone of her essay, but I’m afraid she did. She was supposed to write her own thoughts about a wise saying from years gone by.

“Benjamin Franklin once said ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think this means that many people want things that they don’t want to work for. You could wish all day that you had a cat, but if you don’t get up and buy one you won’t get one. If you want water get off your padooka and get some. If you want to learn how to speak Spanish, get someone to teach you. SIMPLE. Basically if you want something you have to work for it.”

(A bit of clarification may be necessary. “Padooka” is code in our family for rear end.)

Making Progress

I determined that I would not live through another week without cleaning the ceiling fan in the kitchen, as well as the furry vents in the bathroom fan. Yesterday was their day of reckoning. Gregory was conscripted to climb up onto the counters and vacuum the dust that had accumulated above the bathroom cabinets, although he repeatedly assured me that it never bothers him. How generous to be so reassuring, but I was not to be deterred.

Someone told me once that if your kitchen and bathroom are reasonably clean, you can get away with a lot in the rest of the house. After working my way through the place, eliminating the cobwebs of the enterprising spiders that moved in with cold weather, those two rooms still need the most attention in places not open to public view. I did put up the proper shower curtain in my bathroom again. I can’t even remember why I switched out the blue striped fabric one for the coral one that I bought at a discount store this spring. I think the blue curtain needed to be washed and we had company coming, but then I never got around to putting up the one that actually coordinated with the towels and here we were in November and suddenly I realized that the color scheme was a little weird in the bathroom. Harmony is now restored. I am untrendy, but I do know a little about decor when I take the time to think about it.

I would like to give a little tip here for others who may find themselves frustrated by how hard it is to undo the dinky little clasps on some shower curtain rings… a small thing, but important in the housekeeperly realm of streamlining cleaning. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall for those silly plastic rings that leave you sweating and fiddling while teetering with one foot on the edge of the bathtub and the other on the lid of the toilet, all the while groping for the next buttonhole on the shower curtain and trying to insert the plastic liner blindly on the backside. (Unless, of course, you want to live with grody showers.) They do make nifty metal ones that just hook on and that is where you want to spend your dollars. Look, you don’t even have to do the liner at the same time as the curtain. If you have glass shower doors, then I am sorry to have wasted your time. My sympathies with your own unique set of issues.

I have another tip for you. Get yourself a good hamper. You know those annoyingly flimsy hampers that do not hold up for more than a year? The ones that rhyme with tubber-laid? I have a whole row of them in the attic, storing stuff despite their cracked and broken condition because I hate to throw out such hunking blobs of plastic. After a brief try on the pretty fabric ones that collapse unless the children make a perfect basket every time they toss their dirty clothes, I finally did a thing that surprised myself and spent $75 on a hamper. Before you gasp too loudly, let me qualify: it’s a woven hamper made by an Amish family with significant health challenges that preclude the ordinary Amish livelihoods. Whatever they may not be able to do, they can weave a mean basket! It is capacious, with a sturdy wooden bottom and lid, and it is not like anything you can buy at TJMaxx or anywhere retail. I am just sorry I cannot link to their shop.

This week I indulged in my annual brief panic/depression about how I am going to make it through another cold, dark winter in confined spaces. Then I girded up my mind like a sensible German peasant and collected all the flip-flops and sandals to stow them in the attic in one of the reject hampers. While I was digging in the girls’ closet, I stumbled across a desiccated banana on top of a pile of clean pillowcases. Hmm. Nobody had any idea, but one more corner got cleaned. There is something to be said for the impetus of sheer necessity. I only wish I knew where the dead mouse stink is coming from. I like diffusers with essential oils, but there are limits to their odor-masking. Rita suggested we use cinnamon oil, and now the basement smells exactly like the entrance to JoAnn Fabrics when they get out their Christmas scented pinecones.

This week it got cold, so I took a clipper to the woods and collected long strands of bittersweet berries to make wreaths. They burst open after frost and are easy to spot once the bright orange berries pop out. I made two wreaths for the shed and one for the barn, using our own grapevines for a rounded base, then wiring the berries around it and tucking in some greenery.

The girls have started piano lessons, a long-time dream of theirs. It’s another run in the week, but we try to line up the errands. We take our recycling to a collection place on this route, pick up milk, get groceries and gas, maybe even a Walmart stop. This past Tuesday I had an unusually compact set of plans that included the library and brunch with a friend before the piano lesson. When I was standing on the porch of my friend’s house, I realized that I was there on the wrong day. “You were trying so hard to be efficient that you even mashed everything into one day in your mind,” Olivia said. And she was right.

We had some fuzzy snow flurries a few days ago, enough to make snow pants and ALL the other paraphernalia a necessity. For a few hours it transformed the muddy brown of November into something other-worldly. Addy grabbed one of my jackets, slipped into her rain boots and ran outside to dance through the swirling snow, the extra long sleeves flapping expressively as she twirled with the dog running circles around her. It reminded me of a quote by C. S. Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this?” I put it up on my letter-board as a reminder to focus on the sparkles this winter instead of the icky. The children read it and said, “Huh?” But they don’t need so many reminders to notice sparkly things. (I was one “f” short of being able to use the entire quote. It is an annoyance that’s common to letterboards. )

A few of our children really like routines, knowing what’s coming, no surprises, definitely not happy with flying by the seat of the pants. For a few years, I didn’t try hard enough to meet those needs. It seemed too much effort to incorporate traditions into our daily life that they will be upset if we cannot keep. This November we took our cue from homeschooling cousins and started a tradition of having Tea and Poetry Tuesdays. It is really just early lunch on pretty dishes with tea in cups instead of mugs. I read whatever poetry strikes my fancy, and we all love it. It’s definitely more fun than our tradition of Thursday Basement Cleaning.

I have been diligently filling my pottery orders for Christmas. Gabe and I had to look at our fledgling business long and hard before we could name it, but it does now have a name and a logo.

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We live on Black Oak Ridge and the ceramics is my part while slöyd is more the guys’ department, as well as the needle-crafting small girls around here. Slöyd is a common idea in Sweden, the art of making things with your hands and simple tools. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Educational slöyd’s purpose was formative in that it was thought that the benefits of handicrafts in general education built the character of the child, encouraging moral behavior, greater intelligence, and industriousness.” That fits our philosophy of education exactly. Many of the things we encourage our children to try (the copious amounts of paper, fabric, wood, yarn, paints, the endless messes) cost us money, yet they are cheap when measured by the skills they pick up and the confidence they learn from figuring out how to make things for themselves.

Eventually we hope to have variety in our shop besides pottery. As of now, it’s my pots. Here’s the link to the Etsy shop if you are interested. I do not always have time to stock it and there are lots of pieces in my pottery shed that have not gotten posted on Etsy, including those beautiful spoons Gabriel carved.

The little girls have heard me joking about my “mid-life crisis pottery.” Tonight Addy informed me confidentially that she and Rita were going out to the barn “to have a mid-life crisis together.” I said, “WHAT?” and Rita rushed to explain that they were starting a new kind of play where they are vets for the animals. Apparently any new venture is classified as a “mid-life crisis” in their minds.

This week we have consumed a lot of food and have drunk a lot of milk. Our clothes keep getting dirty and torn and sometimes even lost, so we wash and mend and replace the gloves. The cars need to be topped up with gas and the pigs are always hungry. Gabriel has been picking up overtime to pay the bills. As soon as one wheel gets grease, another starts whining. But we “keep buggering on” (Churchhill) and we make a bit of progress. I don’t know any other way, do you?

Brave Girls of History: a Book List

First order of business: thank you for weighing in with your comments on my last post. How very cheering to hear from so many of you! I wasn’t sure if blogs were a thing of the past, especially rather lethargic blogs, but now I know there is a cloud of friends still out there. You all made my day!

After I posted a list of survival books for boys, I thought that I could have titled it “Survival Books for Anybody” because girls love learning these skills as well. My outdoor-lovers carry pocket knives and weave baskets out of grasses. They forage foods out of the woods and reference them with field guides. Rita loves to build a fire in the backyard to roast hotdogs, to stick potatoes in the coals, or to cook a bit of rice in a small kettle she bought at a yard sale. The girls pack their own version of survival kits, which usually include needles and thread, band-aids and chap-stick, some salt, and always a baggie of oatmeal. They eat oatmeal dry for snacking outside, and I have a suspicion that it is a result of reading lots of stories about brave girls in history and learning how important it is to have shelf-stable provisions.

Here are some of our favorite stories about girls who were survivors. The picture is the link that will take you to the Big A if you click on it.

On the tip-top of the list is the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Worth every penny just for the wonderful way they are written, these stories should be on every American family’s bookshelf for the historical significance. (all ages)

Elizabeth Yates is a solid author, one I trust for good content any time I see her name on a book cover. One of her wonderful stories for girls is Carolina’s Courage, a tale of a young girl who gives up her greatest treasure when her family settles in Indian Territory. (all ages)

Last winter we read Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is a fictional account of  a historical epidemic of fever in the city of Philadelphia. The main character is a girl from a fairly wealthy family who ends up having to perform menial tasks for the sake of her sick loved ones. As the fever rages across the city, it burns up her selfishness and teaches her what the most important things really are. (ages 8-14)

The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh, is a true frontier story from 1707. Young Sarah accompanies her father through the wilderness to keep house for him while he builds a cabin for his family. “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble,” her mother says in her parting advice to her little daughter. (ages 6-12)

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry is a story we have enjoyed on Audible many times. During World War II, the Germans began rounding up the Jews in Denmark as they did in all their conquered territory. Anne-Marie is a small girl in a family that is helping Jews escape. There are some heavy themes in the book, but they are told from the artless viewpoint of a young child, so they are not as graphic as many of the stories from this time frame. (ages 6-12)

Calico Captive and The Witch of Blackbird Pond are both by Elizabeth George Speare . Both are stories of colonial New England and both contain a slightly spoiled young lady who learns through difficult circumstances that frilly clothes and pretty baubles are shallow comfort in the face of real need. (Probably written for ages 10 and up… We have these on audio, so the younger girls listen to them even though they would not be up to this reading level.)
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Island of the Blue Dolphins is the challenging tale of the survival of a young girl who found herself all alone on an island off the coast of California. She lived there alone for nearly 20 years. Scott O’Dell wrote her story as a work of fiction, since nobody ever really understood this woman’s language when she was rescued.

Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a classic I have loved since childhood. This is another wonderful audiobook in our library. Betsy is a small girl who is beset by many fears due to her Aunt Francis’ careful tutelage that everything is scary. When her aunt becomes ill, Betsy is bustled away to a remote cousin’s farm in Vermont. The story is an amusing account of Betsy’s realization that she is actually quite brave.

Patricia St. John is another author I unequivocally endorse. She has written many beautiful books for children, all with themes of faith and redemption. In Rainbow Garden she describes a sad city girl who has to live with a foster family in the country. All the changes make her feel terribly lonely, but her misery slowly changes into joy as she tends a secret garden and discovers the love of God for all living things, including herself.

Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm,  by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is not exactly a survival story, but it is a fun read about a lively little girl who manages to live with a passel of dour elderly aunts.

 

Christian heroes biographies about Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, Darlene Diebler, Amy Carmichael, and many more. These are all role models of faith and great perseverance in hardships.

In reading these books, I have a goal to give my girls friends from other centuries, cultures, and customs who have faced similar circumstances in life and learned to be brave and work through them. It’s not just stories I am peddling to my children, and it’s definitely more than entertainment. These brave girls are their friends.

When you are afraid of taking the table scraps to the chickens after dark, it’s good to think of Betsy who faced down a dark night in a pit. When you feel like everybody around you is strange, you can remember Laura and Mary walking the gauntlet of eyes at a new school. When you face a crisis, the memory of plucky little Gladys praying her way into China will certainly help you to reach out for help from God.

Tell me of books I missed. We’re always on the lookout for more good friends around here.

 

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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