April On My Mind

When I made the lesson assignments for the girls this week, I got so happy that I just went ahead and did next week’s as well, and that was the last lessons in the books. They got so happy when they saw how close they are to done, and now they are speeding along, doing two lessons a day. They might as well, since it is once more snowing and blowing. I cannot decide how one ever figures out that the time is now right for stowing winter gear. I packed away hats and gloves yesterday, even though I knew… oh yes, I knew.

The magnolia in the front yard tentatively opened one glorious rosy bloom yesterday. Today it wishes it were a few degrees south. I do too.

There are bluebirds flitting about, though, and the raspberries are growing great promising leaves, shooting up sidewise out of their roots with more energy than discretion. I planted Purple Passion asparagus roots yesterday, too, with a loving layer of rabbit poo pellets, and I have Plans, oh do I ever!

This spring I keep running into tutorials for making your own planters: a mix of portland cement, peat moss, and perlite, called hypertufa. Apparently Martha Stewart has been making them for over a decade, and there are endless varieties online. I love the look of a planter that may have been unearthed in an archeological dig in the backyard, so I have been hypertufa-ing like anything. The first planters were too ambitious, as in too large, molded in a five gallon bucket with a smaller bucket inserted to make the plant’s space. Unfortunately, I forgot to unmold them until they were pretty dry, and I had to break the plastic buckets to get the planter loose. They were a fail. Holes in the bottom, cracks in the side- that sort of fail. Now if a little old lady can do it, so can I. I watched more tutorials and I tried again. The second set of planters is curing, and they please me inordinately with their craggy concreteness. In this whole family, only Addy likes how they look, so we two stoutly stick together. Just wait until they have flowers spilling over their concrete sides! I have enough perlite to make two more batches, and I plan to sprinkle them throughout the garden. Once it gets warm, that is.

This is the time of year when I squirrel away books for our end of the year bash. Often I buy used books at library sales or from Thrift-books, but this year we are feeling extra celebratory. Gregory is graduating and we have survived an unusually brutal winter, both actually and metaphorically. This year I am buying new, beautiful books, hardcovers, lovely illustrations, the like. This year, the books are worth wrapping nicely, and I can hardly wait to give them to the children! I bought quite a few from The Rabbit Room Store, where they are running a good sale for Mother’s Day right now. I also like Lost Art Press for simply beautiful books on lost arts… what else. I only ordered one book on Amazon this year, and for that I feel accomplished. Each child gets two, a storybook and a nonfiction, how-to, or poetry book. I even got myself what my little heart desired, which this year was Poems to See By. It is the high point of the school year, a tradition we all love.

I think I mentioned that I am taking a writing course from The Habit, and currently we are reading/discussing All Creatures Great and Small. I have no idea how Herriot came to be such a stellar writer, but I’m guessing it was with a lot of practice. In an encouraging email to the Habit membership, Jonathan Rogers said,

“I find it helpful to think of writing as a way of continuing a conversation I didn’t start. It relieves a lot of pressure to remember, My job here is not to say something utterly original, but to add something to an ongoing conversation. It may seem counterintuitive, but giving up on “utter originality” may be the first step in producing something that feels original to the reader—something that continues the conversation in an interesting way.”

That produced an “aha” moment for me, because of how often I flounder without anything utterly original to say, or even worse, fear that I am subconsciously quoting what I read somewhere else. One recent assignment was to write about expectations, and then describe what really happened. Here is my contribution. Some details may have been changed just a tad, but it did happen. Enjoy. 🙂

It was an era in our lives where the high point of the month was plunking a little extra onto our mortgage payment. We were in love, two children deep into our marriage, and my husband was working his teaching job, studying nights and weekends for EMS training. Time was in as short supply as funds, but our house was small and we really needed a night out, just the two of us. 

I saw the poster, “David Copperfield, Reimagined,” and I thought it would be perfect. We were avid Dickens fans, a little old-fashioned in our tastes.  My husband would quote his favorite passages, chuckling and marveling at the genius who penned these worlds. “Reimagined” was a great idea for a play. In those innocent, pre-smartphone days, we planned to simply show up at the venue and buy our tickets. Having arranged childcare, we dressed carefully for a date night in the city.

We were running a bit late, and the crowd that teemed at the door was young, hip, and decidedly casual. “Wow,” I enthused to the girl in the line beside me, “who would have thought this would be such a sell-out? We just love Dickens!” She didn’t bother to reply, and her sidelong glance seemed to register a bit of pity. I figured she could sense the deep country air around us, and let it go with a shrug. I was here to enjoy this evening. 

When we finally found our seats it was time for the show to start. Neon lights strobed across the curtain as it rose in a flourish of music that was anything but 1800s. “Reimagined,” I reminded myself as we settled in to enjoy the show. David Copperfield himself showed up in a red sports car, stopping center stage in an ear-splitting roar. Dressed in a gauzy black suit, he produced a flamboyant silk from his pocket and threw it over his car.  The car disappeared in a swirl of foggy smoke and I looked at my husband, who was as bewildered as I was. Try as we might, we couldn’t discern a  hint of our beloved Copperfield in any of it. It was when he pulled underwear out of the pockets of ladies in the audience that I took time to read the handbill we had been given in our rushed entrance. “David Copperfield: Reimagined” and underneath that in lilting cursive was the subtitle, “The Magic Show.”

Welp. ( Just a little trivia: welp has just been introduced into the Webster’s dictionary, an official word. I liked it better before, but it has become habit, so I shall continue to use it.)

Welp. That concludes the April post. If it’s still snowing where you live, maybe go buy a few poetry books?

In which I played with a bit of mud and some spring came out of my fingers.

Saturday in the Life…

I awakened to that blissful feeling of a whole Saturday to just do whatever I felt like doing, which for a mother means Whatever Yells Loudest. I got out of bed just about the time Gabriel got home and got into bed. He was the only nurse for the entire 12 hour shift last night in the emergency department. Weary is not even the right word to describe it, but it will have to suffice.

There was a blustery blizzard going on, and I’ll admit, I was not especially pleased about it. It seemed like a good day to wear my robin egg blue sweater and drink lots of coffee.

Two days ago it was raining so hard that I kept checking the basement to see if the dehumidifier and drains were keeping up with the trickle of water coming in from excessive snowmelt. A bunch of old towels made temporary dams, but this morning we had to address the situation in the basement, now that the precipitation is solid again. I picked up the sodden towels, then we sorted through the big bags of snow clothes from last Saturday when they were skiing and put them away. Gasp. A whole week later!

There has been a stack of boxes in the basement that were never unpacked since we moved. Cringe. Eighteen months later. I found that the threat of a possible flood gave me the nudge I needed to get rid of the cardboard boxes. One was full of framed family pictures from newborn portraits to recent, and I repacked them in a plastic tote to take to the attic. The rest of the boxes contained stuff that we shouldn’t have moved. We haven’t used or missed that stuff in 18 months. Salvation Army, here we come. We had a small bonfire as well, and I feel better.

I mentioned the girls’ play corner downstairs. We curtained off about 10×10 feet for them to set up as their playhouse. Sometimes it feels like it is completely out-of-hand, spilling into the entire basement, but I think it is worth every square foot we ceded to them. They cook on an induction burner, make tea for their friends and serve it in pretty dishes. Then they wash the dishes and use an antique washboard in a bucket to wash their tea towels. Occasionally they sleep down there on the floor with its patchwork of area rugs, surrounded by hodge podge furniture we don’t want anywhere else in the house. They reign there in a miniature scale they can manage.

This morning I saw that the girls had a bunch of my pottery towels in their play corner in the basement. They were clean, but stained, and looked ugly. I told them they need to make some tablecloths and runners out of fabric pieces. When those were hemmed, they needed to be ironed, which reminded them of the tiny iron I got for them. They promptly decided to make an ironing board to match. I heard a lot of hammering and drilling, and what do you know! They have an ironing board for their linens.

Gregory and Olivia are doing a history course together this year: Ancient Civilizations and the Bible from Answers in Genesis. It’s a different approach to history than we have done in the past. Gregory likes the freestyle idea of reading supplemental books, following trails that interest him, picking a research topic for each unit, and then procrastinating until the very last minute to write the report after I have twisted his arm. Olivia does not like the freestyling at all. She prefers a history course where you memorize dates and timelines and do normal tests. Her reports are masterpieces of conscientious research that she is sure are not good enough, and they are done before the deadline. Children, children. (To be honest, this history course is stretching me too. Rather more library books to chase down than strictly necessary.)

Anyway, all week I wanted to make baklava to finish up the chapter on Greece. Today we had time to do such fiddly things. Olivia brushed butter on twenty sheets of phyllo dough and Greg chopped up the nuts and mixed the honey/spice drizzle. It was a golden brown triumph of pastry to enjoy with our tea.

Eventually the sun shone on our world in that aloof way it has in winter. I took a walk outside, slipping barefooted into my fur-lined boots, which is about as edgy as I care to be in 17 degree weather. Lady and I checked out the creek, which was flowing brimful in midweek as it drained away the snowmelt. Today it was a normal size again, with little dangly icicles left behind as the water level went down. I heard birds singing, but there are no rose hips or other edible berries left along the edges of the trail. There was a brilliant flash of a cardinal digging seeds or bugs out of the now-brown seed heads on the sumac. Other than that, the world was monochrome. I noticed that the woodpecker’s ash tree broke off right at their biggest bug mining hole, crashing across the picnic spot in the woods, and I fantasized about getting out there with the small chain saw and cleaning up. I have Plans for Paths and all manner of projects in the backyard just as soon as the snow melts and the mud dries. I cannot wait to mow lawn again!

Bev Doolittle would be proud.

We planted some seeds this week. Rita started a lettuce garden and I sowed grass seeds in containers, an idea I picked up from my sister. It should be lush and green by Easter. I also planted some little bulbs, crocuses I think. Last year we grew paperwhites, but honestly, we could not stand the scent. It was just too much, and I had to throw them out.

See my tropical grass on the windowsill up there? Last fall I had a piece of ginger that was very wrinkly and old. We stuck it in a pot of dirt to see what would happen. After a long time, a shoot emerged, then another and another. It is now a grass stalk about 3 feet tall by my kitchen sink. We love it, and can’t bear to check if it has made more ginger roots in the pots. Maybe once we have green outside we can sacrifice it. I have a coleus on the windowsill, saved from my outdoor planter, and it will be the mother of many babies for my window boxes and planters. Then there are the fiddle leaf fig leaves that we hope will eventually get roots. Do you notice a theme emerging here?

Tonight I took Rita along to Walmart to help me load up bags of salt for the water softener. She is strong and useful for such errands. “Just essentials,” I said as we picked up milk and eggs. Somehow the two of us also came home with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, lettuce, cucumber, avocados, and a coconut. Isn’t it wonderful that we have access to so much bounty? I am very very grateful.

How we live these days. It was 50 degrees at the time.

These are the days…

…the August days, where we make salsa in the morning and put the extra cucumbers into the fridge for a friend because there are so many and they will blow up on the vines and end up on the compost pile. Tsk tsk, what a waste!

…the August days when our green bean plants have at last gotten ahead of voracious rabbits, and we get to taste our three-seed-trial. The first pile is Jade beans, the darkest green, and in our opinion, the toughest when cooked. They remind us of the bright beans on a Chinese buffet. The middle pile is Tenderette, but we aren’t sure why only some of the beans in the row are flat and wide and require pulling an actual string off the pod. It is a bit of a pain, but they are tender. The last is our old favorite, Strike. Although they are paler, they grow long and straight and are excellent as whole beans. They don’t seem to need as much cooking. Now we know.

…the August days where we fully intend to get a nice head start on school, only there is a funeral in Wisconsin, a day to do corn with friends, a few days with cousins, and somehow we approach the end of the month and have managed about eight school days. A soft start, but it is a start!

…the August days where we wonder about our decision to not install central air at this time, and it is very warm in the house. I buy a blower in the shop section at Walmart, then I set it on a stool in the doorway of the one bedroom (Greg’s room) that has a window unit. It blows cooler air out toward our living area and it is bearable.

…the August days when both our vehicles have to be inspected and neither one passes because they need some repairs, so Gabriel puts them on the lift, changes brakes, fixes tires, orders parts. Then we just take them back for the sticker and we’re kosher for another twelve-month.

…the August days that are already darkening earlier then we wish, and there are such multitudes of mosquitoes at dusk that we end up retreating to the house. We pick up our read-aloud tradition in the evenings and the girls beg for another chapter until my voice is hoarse.

…the August days when there are so many blooms in the garden that we can bring in fresh bouquets every day if we wish, plus share with friends. There are delicate dahlias, velvety sunflowers, brilliant cosmos, elegant gladiolas, and herbs gone prettily to seed so that they fill in any gaps in the vases. Sometimes the girls make enchanting fairies with the blooms.

I call it my pretty garden and it makes me happy.
That over-achieving Jerusalem artichoke on the left will need to be re-homed before next year.

…the August days of blackberries and elderberries and wild cherries, only we don’t know what to do with those last ones but there are so many on the trees that they bow down with the weight. But we make our berry-well syrup and freeze extras for winter. The blackberries are not as plentiful, more like a bonus for taking a walk.

…the August days where once again my husband’s work takes a stressful turn in the ICU as it fills up with critically ill patients and the nurses look at each other in dismay as they consider how they will make it through another season like we had in 2020. I feel the dismay too, because for a few months it felt like we could breathe freely and just maybe Covid has done its worst. So now we know it’s not over, and we will be required to have more stamina than we like.

…the August days when I look at the research, and the polarizing sides to all the stories, and I see that any decision has to be a decision made in faith because there are no guarantees. I have ignored my husband’s wishes and his firsthand experience long enough. I get the shots, and I am at peace about it. I am pleased to report that I have not turned magnetic or begun to glow in the dark. Yet.

…the August days when the frozen custard stand at the end of our road beckons imperiously, and really it is just about the best we’ve ever had, especially the tangerine sherbet, which isn’t even custard. We stand in line happily, because all too soon their windows will be shuttered for the season.

…the August days when I spend a whole afternoon with a crowd of tween girls at a pond equipped with a diving board and a rope swing. I swim a little, count heads a lot, and visit for hours with a mom-friend from church. It is a lovely way to be lazy.

…the August days when my new kitchen is almost finished. The main parts are installed; I marvel at how easily the drawers slide. There are knobs and handles ready for Gabriel to install as soon as he gets a day off monitoring patients or fixing random car troubles. The island is being built this week by our cabinet-maker, and our last bit of bowling-lane-turned-countertop needs to be sanded. So very close to finished!

…the August days with the insistent drone of late-summer insects announcing that these days are nearly over, but did we ever pack them full of goodness! Besides, there is still a lot of corn and cantelope ripening. It’s not over yet!

The Thing About Homeschooling

I think a lot about the mass-homeschooling that is being plopped into people’s laps these days. Every year that we make the decision to do it again -homeschool these children of ours- we have time to think about our decision, arrange a space with learning stations, buy supplemental books, invest in industrial strength pencil sharpeners, and in general make a plan. I feel a pang of sympathy for the willy-nilly way this has come up for many parents. We have only been homeschooling for 12 years and there are many who have better perspective than I do, but I have learned a few things that might be helpful.

  • Acceptance. Being upset about the way this is cramping your style is only going to raise a stinky cloud over your household and it won’t be long until you see little mad stink clouds hovering around your children. Your husband will come home from work and walk right into the unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better to just accept it and enjoy clear skies in your spirit for the duration.
  • Camaraderie. Staying in fellowship with your children, to borrow a term from Rachel Jankovic, is more important than doing the books. You may be surprised at how strong your feelings of dislike can be for your own offspring when you rub up against them constantly. Homeschooling is uniquely sanctifying in that you literally cannot get away from your own sin in relationships. Deal with your own heart first, then work at the sandpapery issue that is scraping at your relationship.
  • Humor. You have to be able to laugh. Looking into your child’s face and taking genuine pleasure in who they are, sharing a joke, singing a silly song: all these are excellent ways to take moments of joy in the day.
  • Creativity. There is a special happiness aura around a child who is absorbed in making something. Be warned. It will be messy! If you find yourself saying “no” to every project that messes up the house in favor of endless online entertainment, you will make yourself and your child the loser in the long journey of life. Let them cook, let them cut paper and sprinkle glitter, let them plant seeds in egg cartons for the windowsill, let them sew and carve and crumble playdough onto the floor. Then kindly teach them how to clean up after themselves.
  • Flexibility. Having run a fairly tight ship in traditional school, I tried hard for this vibe in homeschool. I hate to break it to you, but this is at best an exercise in frustration. Home is not school. While lessons need to be completed, it is fine to have trampoline breaks between Math and Spelling. There is nothing wrong with sipping tea or nibbling on apple slices while diagraming sentences. One of the finest aspects of homeschool, in my opinion, is the way learning becomes part of life. It doesn’t have its separate compartment. If we get interested in how an earthworm hangs on so hard when a robin is pulling it out, we take a detour and google it. Sometimes it drives me nuts. Can we just stay on track here?
  • Staying the course. That is a thing, despite how strongly I believe in following trails of wonder. In the end, there needs to be an authority who says, “All right, you have an hour for this math lesson. I will help you if you have questions, but you need to be diligent or you will (lose privilege of dessert, screen time, calling friend, etc.) “
  • Reset. What if it all just hits the fan? If you have little children in the house as well as older students, there is a pretty high likelihood that all will not go smoothly. There are ways to reset the whole crew. Quiet time, an hour of space for each individual with their own books or toys, has been a personal favorite. Sometimes we take walks in the woods, or bike rides on back roads. Occasionally the child with the biggest ‘tude is asked to make tea and set the table nicely for everybody. My personal favorite is to read aloud. The idea is to take a drastically different direction for a while, pray about the issues, talk them over frankly with your children, ask each other for forgiveness, and move on.
  • Presence. You are the one. This has been placed into your jurisdiction and your faithfulness will make all the difference. Don’t be discouraged if it feels hard. It is hard. If you do what is in front of you every day with the assurance that this is how you glorify God today, you will do well. Perfection is not required. Faithfulness is.
  • Grace. You may be surprised at how wonderful it is to stay home with your loved ones. Maybe you will discover that the disconnect you were feeling with a child is fading. Hopefully you will see afresh the amazing people your children are, with all these gifts and abilities. And you have access to all the Grace you need, you know. Blessings to all you “accidental homeschoolers” today. 🙂

I’ll conclude with a couple of phone photos from the last few weeks. Rita said she was tired of sourdough, so I taught her how to make bread with a simple recipe from Grandma. IMG_20200309_133436156_HDR

Addy, pegging away. She is keeping a countdown of the math lessons. On her whiteboard she wrote, “40 lessins won’t stop me!”

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Last but not least, some tiny creature sculptures that the girls made. They range from thumbnail size to about 2 1/2 inches and they make me happy.  Maybe now we won’t be so tempted in the miniatures aisle at Hobby Lobby. 😉

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Cheers everybody!

The sock situation and other things

::Just a quick note about orienting oneself after losing the way. Someone said they were not able to comment on that post and I thought maybe there were others who would have liked to give me a bit of pushback. I may have sounded simplistic and I want to say that the wilderness can be very long and when we’re in it we don’t know if it’s 10 more miles or a hundred more miles. What we do know is we don’t have to go in circles. That’s where I find it helpful to follow David’s pattern and orient myself by what is real. Gabe and I have had many discussions about what to do with prayers that do not get answered the way we wish. Ultimately it’s a question of having faith in our faith or faith in the great faithfulness of God. One way leads to striving and despair and the other way leads to rest and confidence. It is both helpful and difficult to remember that there is always so much more going on than we can see. In the season where we celebrate God coming down to be with us, my heart burns with this reality. He is here in all our happiness and our mess and He is redeeming our lives from destruction and He is able to keep doing this till the end of time. If I ever need something strong to stand on, that is it. ::

Today was a good day of fellowship at church and the miracle of changed lives and blended hearts struck me afresh. Our congregation is made up of ordinary, prone-to-wander people but they are our people and we belong. Here I go being simplistic again, but is there a deeper desire in the human heart than to not walk alone?

We’ve been concocting good things for the freezer, and yesterday the girls mixed up gingerbread. I feel a bit of shock when these sorts of projects take off without a lot of oversight by mama. I did mix the royal icing and help Addy with her tiny house.

The girls and I just made the browned butter/nutritional yeast popcorn that says Sunday night and Gabe left for his shift.

We have had a week of glittering ice and brilliant snow with sunny days that cheered our hearts. Ski patrol started this week and Alex and Gabe came alive in their special ski-weather ways. For me this translates to gear coming and going through the living room and occasionally being propped up in corners until I put my foot down a little crossly and they get the message and stow the stuff elsewhere. All the snowboots came out too. And the gloves and the hats and the insulated pants and the puffy coats and the scarves. I am grateful for all of it because it means we have a life in wintertime. I do think every house north of the Mason Dixon line should be built with a room for housing these clothes, however.

The laundry has changed seasons too. I usually lay everyone’s piles of clean clothes on the table from oldest to youngest when I’m folding. There are lots of deductions to be made from the stacks that result, but the socks are probably the most telling. I shamelessly compartmentalize my family by their socks. My husband and Alex always have the most because they actually wear socks everyday. Gabe likes nice ones with argyle patterns or polka dots. His are easy to match and fun to sort. Gregory usually has only one pair, the one he wears for church. When he does chores, he stores his socks in his boots as soon as he comes inside and they get washed when I deem it necessary. Olivia has carefully matched sets that also coordinate with her clothes. The little girls don’t wear any unless I insist and tell them they look like snipes with bare legs sticking out of boots. When we went for piano lessons last week, I asked Rita, “Did you remember to put on socks so you can take your boots off at Amy’s house?” Oh yes, she had. One was green and the other was orange, but it was a triumph of remembering for both of us. I had mine on too because I couldn’t wear flip flops that day.

It’s the season for games. We have one called Survival where you get a card with a disaster on it and a challenge for how to survive it. The children love this game, especially some of the zanier challenges. So what do you do if you’re stuck in the wilderness without chapstick? We thought about it awhile and decided on a solution. You use bear grease on your lips, but of course if the bear eats you first you will have died of chapped lips. Gregory and I saw a Monopoly for Millennials game at Walmart. The tagline said, “Forget real estate… you can’t afford it anyhow.” Gregory figured the go-to-jail card would probably say “the Wi-Fi’s down” or maybe “coffee crop failure.” Where does he get his ideas?

This year for Christmas I bought our family the Ticket to Ride game. I’m hoping that it gives us a break from Settlers which has been our go-to for a few years running. I only ever win when I’m lucky which means everything I do prospers despite absent-minded trades and lack of ambition. This really bugs the guys who always have cutthroat competition and delve deep into each other’s motives for why they played this or that. Over Thanksgiving we spent time with Gabe’s family and the Rook games were intense indeed. I told my sister-in-law that if you only met the brothers while they’re playing a game, you wouldn’t have any idea how nice they really are. 🤣 Still, they don’t hold grudges for long, so we still like them.

We’re looking forward to a slower week with lots of family time, lots of living close together, eating up everything that’s in the house, and staying kind. It’s going to be great and I mean it. It might be a bit of a challenge, of course, as pouring ourselves into making special times is always extra, but how can I object to giving my little bit to sweeten life for others when Jesus gave everything? I’ve had to bring a few attitudes to Jesus in this past week. I mean the kind that mutter, ” I just can’t even handle all this chaos.” (See paragraph on snow clothes above.) But He is bigger then hormonal panics and He can redeem flawed little spaces if we let Him.

I’ll tell you how I would prefer to spend the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s. I would like to “sit just quietly” Ferdinand-fashion and work on my backlog of reading and drink tea nonstop. I am sure there will be those moments, but what I’m asking for is Grace to give unsparing, like Jesus showed us. Tell me, please, how do you show your people love? How do you deal with the joyful chaos of holidays? (And do you ever wish you could celebrate without cooking and dishes? )

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.