wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Houses of my Childhood

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(painting by Grandma Moses)

 

When I was a tot, we lived in a tiny house that would probably be best described as a Kentucky shack. It was at the end of my grandparent’s lane and the only clear memory I have of that house, seeing we moved when I was about 2, is of my dad having to stoop a little when he came in the front door, and my mom washing dishes at the sink. All the people who really mattered in my life were right there.

The next house was an aging two story close to a rail road track, where my parents made their living with a barn full of brood sows. I have a few vivid memories of that house: the phone was a bright blue color with a long twisty cord. There was a dresser in the living room where I couldn’t reach my binky (Yes, you read that right. I remember my pacifier with fondness.) and I would stand there and beg at bedtime until my dad would get it for me. My older brother and I slept upstairs in a room that was small even for children. There was a heat register hole in the floor that chilled us with the possibility of a scary person we called Viola coming out to look at us while we slept. I remember that the wall paper was peeling and the floor boards were uneven. But my dad would pray with us and tuck us in, and all would be well. When the bottom fell out of the hog market in about ’81, we moved again. It had been so much fun to watch the trains go by. We missed that.

This time we lived in my grandparent’s basement for a while. I can still smell the damp of that basement and see the curtain-wall made out of an old blanket around our mattress. My brothers and I were big enough to bring the cows to the barn at milking time, but my uncles did all the other chores and we watched. When they sold out and relocated to Wisconsin, we moved upstairs into their house while my dad worked at a nearby pallet mill and built a new house just a mile up the road. My room upstairs was bright green, with matching curtains. My little sister’s crib was in my room, and she had a decal of a little sheep on the end of it. The attic steps were endlessly fascinating, the way they pulled out of a hole in the ceiling. Sometimes my mom would bring down a very special doll of hers out of the attic so that I could look at it and marvel at the beautiful clothes and shoes she still had for it, but it always had to go back up to the attic for safekeeping with the ladder folded and snapped shut. Right beside the carport there was a sprawling mimosa tree that I liked to sit in when it was fuzzy full of blooms. It was a good place to live, with mature shade trees all around.

It took a while for our new house to get built, since my dad did a lot of the work himself. It seemed palatial to my 7 year-old self when we moved in. There was a blue bedroom for the boys, a green bedroom for the girls, a lavender guest room, and the kitchen was a sunny yellow. It had an avocado green toilet, sink and tub in the one bathroom because a friend offered them at a discount. A local carpenter had made the cabinets, very simple and practical, with a bar at one end where I sat every day to have my hair braided while I fussed and winced about the pain. The floors were linoleum, a pattern with little rocks that was genius for hiding dirt. There was a walk-in pantry, which was the ultimate in kitchen luxury! Mom did the laundry in an attached wash house, in a wringer washer. We stored our canned goods in the basement, and once when I went down for a jar of applesauce, I stepped barefooted on a little frog and slipped sideways on the slick concrete. The dirt in our new garden was bright red clay and my mom struggled to get anything to grow well. We planted a row of little maple saplings, but the house stood alone on a little knoll. The best thing about it was the neighbors who had children our ages. We all walked to school together and hurried through our after-school chores so that we could play. Then they all moved away and our neighborhood felt lonely.

After two years, we moved too, this time all the way to Pennsylvania. It was a huge step for my parents, to leave the Amish community and step out in faith. What we children really wanted was a small farm, but our new “temporary” home was a summer cottage along a creek. The former owners had closed in a screened porch with walls of windows, at one end of which my brothers had a curtained corner, 8 feet by 8 feet. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to find a farm right away, my dad built a wall for their room. My sister and I had a bedroom with wooden louvers in the doors, and we had to be very careful about placing our furniture so that we could walk around the bed. The house had paneling with pictures of antiques in the dining area. The living room was just tan patterned panelling and the drapes were a novelty for us, with chains to pull them shut. There was a teeny kitchen with mirrored panels over the sink where normally there is a window. We made faces at ourselves while we washed dishes, until my mom pasted up an inspirational poster so that we could only see the edges of ourselves doing dishes. For the first time we had a microwave and we thought it the easiest way to make popcorn ever. We also had carpet, a luxury for folks fresh from the Amish. It was mottled brown and orange and smelled like dogs. My mom shampooed that carpet repeatedly before she let us lie on it. For some reason it didn’t occur to them to tear it out. When there was a huge flood that came within inches of flowing in our doors, my dad hired a man to jack up the house and lay blocks to put it out of flood plain. Dad built sturdy decks so that we could spend evenings outside and hang our wet swimming clothes on the railings.. We ended up living in that cottage 7 years until a farm needing a lot of TLC came on the market. It had been amazing to live right there by the water. Our spot was the kind of place where other people went on vacation.

We children were ecstatic at the prospect of each having a bedroom after renovations at the farmhouse, but that had to wait.We cleaned and painted and moved in. There was a wraparound porch with a few holes that needed to be patched, and then we hung a swing. The storm windows came out of storage with the cold weather, but even so the curtains would waft gently when the gales blew across the valley. When it was time to scrape old wallpaper and tear down walls, there was plenty of help, since all four of us were teenagers by then. We eventually all got our bedrooms and a new kitchen, this one designed by a professional cabinet maker. We had lots of room to have the entire youth group over, plus a cabin on the hill for cookouts or camping, or dates even. It is a place I remember with great fondness; it was the house where we came home to after short flights of independence. Things stayed the same there, our space was our own, and enough of it to share. I left for good when I got married at 24, and that was good too.

Tomorrow I will attempt to get to the point. 🙂 Hang in there.

 

 

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Scribbling in Your Bible?

I am a terribly forgetful sort of person, which is why I put bags of things right beside the front door when I am supposed to take them somewhere, so that I practically have to stumble over them on my way out. I also mark stuff in books and put post-it notes of inspirational sayings beside the kitchen sink. I know a few geniuses who never forget the punchline to jokes and can quote verbatim the sentences that impressed them when they were reading. Not me. Sometimes I can hardly stand not being allowed to underline key passages in library books, because it is so much more clunky to take notes.

The discovery that they print Bibles specifically designed for journaling has changed my devotional life. It’s not really scribbling, but I don’t try to be profound in my notes to myself. The whole idea is kind of like the stones that the people of Israel took out of the middle of the river and piled on the riverbank. Every time they walked past them or stumbled over them, they were supposed to think about where they had been and where they were going and Who was taking them there.

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That is Bible journaling for me. If you have ever considered it, now is a great time to hustle over to Christian Book Distributors and check out their selection. They have a great sale on their Bibles today, with free shipping (use code SHIPBIBLES) on orders over $35. (This is pure sharing of the love. I am not being monetized in any way for this recommendation. 🙂 ) I have this one, because I love the English Standard Version for study.

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Bibles are not supposed to be ornamental. I take mine lots of places besides church. It has wrinkled pages from a leaking water bottle in a back pack, and I fear that coffee slopped on it once when I was rushing out the door in a hurry. A child wrote in it once and my pen developed a leak and spattered a page. Eventually I will get a new one and start fresh with marking the edge columns with the things the Spirit is showing me. I assure you, I would not remember half the things if I did not write them down. Those reminder stone piles  markings give me courage and remind me of Who is in charge of the journey.

When I see my life as a story He is writing, and I parallel it with the stories recorded in the Word, it does wonders for my faith.

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I told you before about the pens I use, but just for love’s sake I will show you again what they look like. Maybe you are more of a colored highlighter sort of person, but these pens are fine point and enable you to write in tiny legible script. They come in different colors, so I had a bright idea and am using a different color each year, just as a sort of reference.

Why not do yourself a February Favor and order a journaling Bible today? (The sale and free shipping end today. Sorry to not give you more notice but I only just saw the promotional email myself.) Challenge yourself to find one thing to comment on each day in your readings, no matter how insignificant. I can assure you that it will invigorate your walk with Jesus, even if you aren’t a writer sort of person.

You are welcome. 🙂

 

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Why We Grow Corn

Last summer I grew a new variety of corn for grinding into meal. It’s an heirloom variety called Bloody Butcher dent corn; the stalks were amazing, about 11 feet tall and the cobs were dark red. Only recently we shelled the corncobs that we managed to salvage from the squirrels. The kernals looked so pretty in their glass jar in storage, but they were decorative until I ground them into meal. Today for lunch we fried cornmeal mush to eat with eggs, and it tasted amazingly fresh, nourishing. (Buttery too. All THM folks may need to look away for a bit because it was a glorious mix of E and S.)

In my head I sometimes wish that the daily grind would be just pleasant aromas of coffee. I thought about this when I cooked that cornmeal. It wasn’t so pretty anymore, greyish with sprinkles of red, but it was in a form that has the potential to grow sturdy children and strengthen starving people anywhere in the world. That’s why we grew corn.

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I would rather have life-giving qualities than pointless shelf life in a pretty jar, wouldn’t you? There are some relevant quotes that I copied a long time ago. Both were written by George Mueller. I think he knew what he was talking about.

“Self-denial…

      not so much an impoverishment

      as a postponement:

We make a sacrifice of a present good

      for the sake of a future and greater good.

Whatever be done…

      in the way of giving up, 

      or self-denial,

      or deadness to the world,

      should result from the joy we have in God.”

This second quote has ministered to me when I felt like I was pouring love and training and mercy into a child, yet the need wasn’t going away and the results were not instant like I wished. Why weren’t the prayers working, like they seem to for other people?

“One of the great secrets

in connection to successful service for the Lord

it to work as if everything depended

upon our diligence,

and yet not to rest in the least

upon our exertions,

but upon the blessing of the Lord.”

I need that restful place to live and work. No, I don’t get to quit my job and “just let God do it”. He expects me to keep on, to endure to the end. But He is really doing the work, and that is where the JOY comes in.

How my measly few kernals get ground into powder and turned into a source of life for others is His business, not mine.

All I have to do is submit myself to the grinding.

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Top Picture Books My Children Love

***We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.***

That, my friends is the official speak for “if you buy products from these links, I stand to make a bit of money to support my book habit.” Feel very free to do so. 😀

Occasionally I get emails from people wanting book recommendations. I know I have made these lists before and I have emailed many of them. They change a bit from time to time, but here’s a current one, starting with the little people. I believe staunchly that the best start to education is reading stories to our babies, instilling a love of words by looking at books with illustrations that capture their attention while you read the story.

I have a friend who said one of her children didn’t care if she read him gardening articles; he simply wanted to sit beside her and be read to. I am guessing that kind of child is rare. Ours look for the pictures, and sometimes there is so much crowding, “Move over! I can’t seeee, your hair is in the way,” etc, that I close the book and rearrange the crowd to more manageable positions.

When they are past the stage where they chew all their books, that’s when the fun really starts because the parent can enjoy this too. The best children’s books do not bore the reader any more than the listener. If you are reading Little Golden Books that make you want to pull your hair with their inanity, you should probably look further. Not knocking Little Goldens… I absolutely loved The Saggy Baggy Elephant as a child. And my own children loved Doctor Dan, the Bandage Man. They have their place, but some are distinctly sub-par and you shouldn’t be fooled just because of the gold wrapper on the spine.

What you want to look for in a picture book is content that engages the mind with ideas while the story is being told. Unfortunately, some children’s books simply tell. It’s not complicated. If you enjoy the plot, your children probably will. And then they will pick that book again and again until maybe you don’t enjoy it anymore, but by then they can “read” it to themselves from memory.

Here’s our list of books that I expect our children to collect for their own children some day.

    • One Morning in Maine
    • Make Way for Ducklings
    • Blueberries for Sal

All of those are by Robert McCloskey, and all are worth getting in hardcover, or in multiple paperback copies when they wear out. In fact, I have never met a McCloskey book I didn’t like. The stories are simple, charming, full of nature and caring for others. Most of the illustrations are beautiful pencil or pen sketches. (We used to make copies for the children to color.) All the stories contain clever little twists and masterful word play that I enjoy.

    • Town Mouse, Country Mouse

There are a lot of these books out there, all with variations on a theme of being happy with the life you have. The one we like the best is by Jan Brett. Her paintings can only be described as exquisite. When we go on walks in the woods, we speculate about holes in tree roots and which ones would make good country homes.

    • Abe Lincoln, the boy who loved books

This is a pint-sized biography with lyrical text by Kay Winters and really fun paintings by Nancy Carpenter. The story follows Abe’s love-affair with books throughout his early years and how this love changed our world forever. The concluding page has Lincoln sitting beside the fireplace at the White House, nose deep in a hefty tome, and these words:

“Abraham Lincoln- born in a log cabin,

child of the frontier, head in a book-

elected our sixteenth president!

From the wilderness to the White House.

He learned the power of words

and used them well.”

    • Little Bear
    • No Fighting, No Biting

These are two of Else Holmelund Minarik’s books, with illustrations by the famous Maurice Sendak. They are gentle stories, with bits of humor that tickle children and adults alike. No Fighting, No Biting has the exact scenario describing above, with children jockeying for the best seat at storytime.

    • The Biggest Bear

In my opinion, this is a book every child should have. Recently I discovered it in the attic with some other paperback books that I read hundreds of times to the boys and Addy was just as delighted as they were. There isn’t a lot of text, but it is such fun to read aloud.

    • Floss, Just Like Floss

The reason Kim Lewis can paint such amazing scenes with a sheepdog’s perspective is because she lives on a sheep farm in England. All of her books are works of art.

    • Moses the Kitten

Of all the Herriot stories for children, this is my personal favorite. We have the collection, but something about little coal black Moses suckling at the piglets’ milk bar is just wonderful.

    • Five O’Clock Charlie

This is such a compelling story about an old work horse who is still not done with adventure, even though he is put to pasture. Marguerite Henry is a master of horse tales, and as far as I know, this is the only one that is published for a younger audience than her line of chapter books.

    • Charlie, the Ranch Dog

I was delighted to find this book by the Pioneer Woman recently. She writes a rollicking good story and we look forward to more from her.

  • A Tale of Two Beasts

What? You didn’t think I would write a book list without including at least one Uzzie? 😀 Let me explain why we think this is such a great book. The story is told from the perspective of a little girl walking in the woods, when she sees a little beast and rescues it. Eventually it escapes back to its tree home and tells its side of the story, how it was kidnapped and made to endure all this horrid petting, etc. When the children are fighting and have many sides to a story, I ask, “So which beast are you?” No Amazon link for this one, but if you are interested, you can contact me. 🙂

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As you may have noticed, I am experimenting with links for Amazon’s affiliate program. I have never made anything on my product recommendations before, but if it helps make ends meet, I shall try it. I don’t like a lot of flashy ads, so we shall see. If you hate it, or I hate it, the links will disappear.  🙂

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The Feelings

I looked at my list of the events of yesterday long and hard before I posted them. It was all true. The events actually happened, and they even looked neatly compartmentalized. So why, I asked myself, do my days feel so chaotic so often? Why don’t I feel like the dance is elegant? What was missing in the listing?

Ah, the feelings. Yes, the days are event-full. It’s one thing after another, “Just do the next thing“, which is the probably the most valuable lesson Elisabeth Elliot ever taught me. The thing that poses the challenge, though, is the feelings. Faithfulness does not depend on them, thank God! Neither does effectiveness. Actually, they don’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Think about the people Jesus commended for living their faith in Matthew 25. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

  1. For I was hungry and you gave me food,
  2. I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
  3. I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
  4. I was naked and you clothed me,
  5. I was sick and you visited me,
  6. I was in prison and you came to me.’

 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

This sounds so simplistic, but it has helped me a lot to deal with the repetition of life as a homemaker/mother to settle in my heart that my feelings are not what matters. It isn’t about me at all. Oooh, ouch.

Yesterday I woke up and felt hurried because it was later than usual. I felt kind of bothered until we had breakfast over. I got interrupted by questions about 15 times during the course of the school day. The pencils dropped on the floor with annoying predictability. Olivia and the dictionary were not getting along amiably at all, and her frustration seeped over me. I dislike ironing and mending when I stop to think about it. When it was time to go for a guitar lesson, my son was in the barn and couldn’t hear me calling him. A few people at the supper table smelled like goats.

I felt good things too. Gregory’s poem, the perfect cursive “D”, the feeling that algebra is connecting in our heads, gratefulness to have my husband home in the middle of the week, the quiet hour of chatting with a dear friend, the scent of clean laundry, the symmetry of rows of brown eggs in boxes, sharing a love of reading aloud.

It all mashes together in an ordinary day, and I no longer gauge the success or failure of a day by how I feel at the end of it. Well, sometimes I do. I am not that far above the tumult yet,  🙂 but I take heart in offering it all to Jesus.

“This is my worship, Jesus. This meal, maybe just this cold cereal… I offer it to my people because I love them and I love you. If a pack of flashcards and the timer can bring you glory, then here they are. This squabble I settle because I value peace and You love peace. Please, redeem this mess that I made with my impatience. Forgive my stinging words and give me humility to apologize to my children. Help me to move on in grace.

This day with its imperfect beauty is for You, Jesus. I will give it everything I have, and depend on You when I don’t reach around and I simply don’t feel it. Please, will you accept my homely gifts?”

He has never told me that it’s not enough.

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(source)

 

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Thursday in the Life…

…of an ordinary woman who tries to be faithful in that which is least, but mostly it’s just stuff that has to be done so her people don’t starve or join the anarchists.

7:30-9:00

  • Wake up with a start and realize that the midnight chat with your husband after brothers’ meeting has you off to a late start already. That’s all good, because you signed up for this flexibility when you decided to educate the kids at home.
  • Get dressed, fill the teakettle with water for coffee, start the cream of wheat cooking because fewer people fuss about that than oatmeal.
  • Read your Bible at the kitchen counter while you wait for the water to boil. Discuss the parable of the rich man and Lazarus with your husband. Press the coffee.
  • Ahhhh. Coffee.
  • Call the children. Direct the kitchen helper to make toast and set the table.
  • Blend a protein berry shake and eat breakfast.
  • Hand out morning chores to the children and finish your coffee.
  • Brush and braid little girls’ hair.

9:00-10:00

  • Send the older three children down to their desks to start their assignments.
  • Jot a quick note to a friend.
  • Wander through the kitchen and do a quick tune-up of crumbs missed on the countertops.
  • Wander into bathroom to brush teeth. Brush with right hand and do a counter wipe with left hand.
  • Dig wash out of the hamper where the short people can’t reach.
  • Go downstairs and sort laundry; start a huge load washing.
  • Settle at your desk and field questions; coach dictionary skills for the 3rd grader.
  • Organize the first grader’s papers and call her away from her drawing. Admire her picture of a farm, complete with canary cages on top of the rabbit hutches.

10:00-11:00

  • Teach first grader her 12’s addition and subtraction family. Work on her arithmetic until she can power along on her own with her worksheets.
  • Do speed drills; coach cursive writing.
  • Help the dictionary child again. Tell her brother to stop volunteering how to spell words. She is supposed to look them up!
  • Admire the poem the boy wrote and feel secretly amused because of how often he has protested that he doesn’t need to study Language since he will never be a writer.
  • Talk on the phone with Mom for a while.

11:00-12:00

  • Clean up the sewing area, (which is handily situated right next to the classroom) where a pile of mending converges with scraps from canvas slippers, stuffed foxes, and embroidery projects. Only the mending is yours; pull children one by one to clean up their own messes and send them promptly back to school.
  • Sew the L shaped tear in the flannel sheet. Alter the little girl’s Goodwill dress with some elastic in the huge neckline. Iron a patch onto the khaki cargo pants that are too nice to pitch.
  • Change the laundry loads, out of washer, into dryer, another huge load into washer.
  • Do some quick swipes with the iron and put it away.

12:00-1:00

  • Dispatch the son on kitchen duty to make quesadillas. Serve them with leftover chef salad.
  • Enjoy the sensation of all sitting around the table at lunch, chatting about the day.
  • Assign cleanup to the girls, since it’s just paper plates and forks anyway.

1:00-2:00

  • Take the boys back to class to finish up assignments.
  • Take your daily dose of algebra instruction. Find yourself pleasantly surprised at how it is starting to all make sense. Pinch yourself a little.
  • Quiz the 6th grader for his geography bee.
  • Change out loads of laundry again.

2:00-3:00

  • Sweep the kitchen floor before your sister-in-law gets to your house.
  • Sit and drink tea with your sister-in-law for a while. Snuggle the sweet little baby and chat about anything and everything.

3:00-4:00

  • Mix up a custard and put it into the oven.
  • Dress warmly and head out for a 30 minute walk.
  • Listen to The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias while you bask in the sudden rays that burst from the clouds.
  • Watch the turkeys in the field and the hawk soaring above it.
  • Wave at the neighbors.
  • Get home just in time to take the custard out of the oven. Scour the fridge for supper. No joy. Oh well, you have a plan.

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4:00-5:00

  • Remind your son that he has a guitar lesson tonight.
  • Briefly connect with your husband and feel grateful that he is home so you don’t have to haul everybody across the mountain to the lesson.
  • Load up the milk jugs to fill at a friend’s place.
  • Stop for cheap cereal at the little discount grocery store en-route.

5:00-6:00

  • Drop your son off at the teacher’s house.
  • Browse at a nearby fabric store for the happy feeling it supplies.
  • Buy a lovely piece of twill with some Christmas money. Also white thread and black thread since the children have used up every scrap of it for their projects, which you didn’t know until you went to do mending and had to use bobbins and hope they wouldn’t empty before you were done.
  • Impulse buy a rusty tin sign that says, “Life is beautiful.” Because Christmas money.
  • Yawn and yawn on the way home. Listen as your son explains how spies can tell if someone is watching them by faking a yawn.
  • Arrive home to a surprise. The little girls have folded their laundry and vacuumed the living room. Praise them extravagantly.

6:00-7:00

  • Serve cereal for supper. Yup. Cold. Plenty of milk, plenty of Kix, and even some “chocolate frosted sugar bombs”. Everybody loves you.
  • Do dishes while your husband and sons finish the chores in the barn.
  • Fold the laundry that was too challenging for the girls to do.
  • Read stories to the little girls and record their reading challenge times for the day. Olivia: 2 hours. Rita and Addy: 1/2 hour.

Call it a day.

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February the One’th

Here we are! I have been thinking about my February tradition of a daily post and worrying about it just a little bit. All my spare time has disappeared alarmingly into the maw of daily algebra lessons. Not to make too big a deal of it, but if I don’t know this stuff anymore by the time I am fifty, it won’t be the fault of Pensacola Christian Academy’s Algebra 1 teacher. Her homework assignments are quite rigorous enough, thank you!

Tomorrow I plan to give you A Day in the Life, just so you are kind if I don’t make it with my daily posts. I do relish the challenge, though, and I really love the connections. I actually even made a plan for some of my posts so that I don’t scratch bottom too hard. This is a huge departure from my usual winging-it style. No outlines though. Not yet.

We are deep into projects at our house these days. The floor can only be described as “rubble-covered” for a great deal of the time. There’s mud outside, with occasional blanketing snows that only last 24 hours, thanks to our indisputable global warming. The younger children are drawing and coloring, taking turns to read aloud from our current favorite storybooks by Elizabeth Enright. After we finished The Saturdays and Four Story Mistake, we went on to the Gone Away Lake set. I love stories that were written in the 1950’s and 60’s. Sometimes I wish I could go back and raise my children then.

In wintertime, I make a point of stepping outside the house every day, usually for a walk and some outlook renewal all by myself. Today I felt so annoyed at the chaos that accumulated from our “normal” living that I figured it would take a really long time to step it off. It was colder than I thought, though, and I hadn’t dressed warmly enough. I came to my senses speedily and was glad for shelter inside my own front door again, despite all that mess. So then I did the logical thing. I fixed my bed and cleaned out a drawer. It was 4 PM.  Haha. At least there is one restful place for me to go and one organized drawer I can open and feel good about. (It harbors a super-secret bar of dark chocolate, which is actually where the good feeling comes from.)

I had been out long enough to make up my mind about supper. It was definitely going to include a chef’s salad and mac n cheese, since these are dishes my kitchen-duty son could handle. I decided to do the stripes of goodies myself, just because cooking should always be this much fun.

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It’s February! Shall we travel it together? When we come out at the end, spring will be just around the corner. HE PROMISED.

 

 

 

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A Thrill of Victory

We had a moment aglow with achievement yesterday, my son and I. Ever since the beginning of 9th grade there was a bit of a thundercloud hovering over the Algebra 1 coursework. “It’s too hard! I don’t get it and I never will. There’s no point in learning something I will never use, etc.etc.”

If you have ever tried to reason with a teen on the merits of discipline and HARD WORK when they see no immediate personal gain, you know how futile this feels. We looked at the chaos of his bombed quizzes and tests and my husband tutored him whenever he was home, but this was not reaching around to the everyday frustration. I would look at his assignments and dredge back into my school years, coming up with… nothing. I realized that I had never covered this coursework, having only done pre-algebra.

Well. Nothing for it then. We went back to the second unit and we did all those bombed out lessons again. I did every homework problem that Alex did, and we checked our work together. Guess what? I got an F on my first quiz. This was a new sensation for me and humiliated me a little. :/  I had to go back and review the first unit, memorizing formulas and forms and a ridiculous amount of basic rules for order of operations that I had forgotten.

There was a spot where it was all so muddled in my head; I would stay up studying until Gabe got off work, then whine to him about how hard this was for my brain crammed full of so many other things. He would unscramble my problems in a few concise sentences and I would go to bed with at least that day’s classwork done. “I don’t have time for this,” I would mutter. But I knew if I quit, my son would see the bad example of wimpy-ness that I was not allowing him to use as an excuse.

Slowly we scraped and scrabbled our way out of the pit of sucky-mud defeatism and climbed our way to consistent C’s and then we started getting B’s. It was shoulder to shoulder all the way, every day. And yesterday, oh yesterday! My son reached the pinnacle of a perfect score on his test! I made a dumb mistake and got 94%, but I was so happy for him that I could live with that!

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I will savor the taste of the expression on his face when he saw that 100% for a long time. It will get hard again, but we can do this. It’s only Algebra, but it’s life too.

You can do this, Son.

 

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The Claustrophobic Kingdom

That phrase hit me square between the eyes when I read it in an article by Paul David Tripp. He was talking about our words, the power of them to destroy or to build, but the part I kept thinking about all week is my little kingdom of one.

“You live your life in the utterly mundane. And if God doesn’t rule your mundane, He doesn’t rule you, because that is where you live.” P.D. Tripp

In other words, few of all the people in the world ever go into the history books. In a  few generations you will only be a faint memory even to your loved ones. This is not to be depressing. It actually frees me to live TODAY, this minute, and make it above normal for the people around me, because that is where it counts. Mundane is not synonymous with unimportant. It’s just everyday, okay? We all have everyday, where the hair is messy and the toes get stubbed and the bathroom needs to be cleaned. Again. Still, if I do not clean the toothpaste out of the sink and brush the snarls out of the hair, what happens?

It is easier for me to live sweetly when the pressure is on, the people are watching, and company is here. But what about the grinding sameness of deep and dark winter with grey skies and squirrelly people underfoot? Oh, then… when the words slip out sighing or sharp or sarcastic because the people are all so familiar and the very same situation happened yesterday and the day before that and the day before that? (Will they never learn? How many times have I told you?) That is when I need Jesus to broaden my vision beyond the claustrophobia of my little kingdom.

How do I get out of the trap of living for my own comfort, arranging the people who are willing to be arranged, struggling with those who are resistant to my efforts at controlling my kingdom for my own ends? Because I cannot stand the boots all over the floor, but they know, oh they know when I am in it for just myself. This doesn’t mean that it is not okay to make the child go back and line up his/her boots in the row. It means it is not okay for me to scold and rant about such a silly thing as boots.

I dislike when small people who love to eat complain about the food. It is not wrong to teach them gratefulness, but it is not right to sigh, “You guys just eat, eat, eat. All the time. But you don’t like these sweet potatoes or the green beans that I spent the last two hours preparing for your supper! Maybe tomorrow you can just eat cereal all day, huh?” (Well, actually that last line would not work here because they would gladly take me up on it.) There is something really stinky about a passive-aggressive mom who makes herself out as a martyr in order to guilt her children into better behavior.

I find myself at times in a negative holding pattern, where nobody is writing neatly in their lessons and the math is taking too long and the missing commas are distressing me with their portent of ignorant little homeschooled children being launched into the world and showing me up as a terrible teacher. It’s my own little claustrophobic kingdom and it requires some shaking and repentance to break out of it. I doubt I am the only one who has such a kingdom… please tell me I am not.

When this happens, I need a broader vision. What is really going on here? Who is in charge of the circumstances of my life? How do I fit into the story that God is dictating? Is it really as miniscule as lost gloves and muddy carpets? Or am I perhaps missing the point here?

I can constantly bang my head against a wall of futility, because my little kingdom wobbles out of the shape I would like to keep it in; it requires no effort to think about me, my needs, my lack of white space, all the reasons I excuse my stinky attitudes and withered soul. But there is a much greater Kingdom where the merciful receive mercy, the pure hearts see God, hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled, and blessing is measured by life-joy instead of stuff. I am part of that Kingdom by faith! When I embrace the love lavished on me daily, it expands me and spills out like sweet water in a thirsty land.

This is living large in my small space and has a way of curing me of the childish tempers of self-absorption. Jesus takes every space I give Him and glorifies it with His beauty. Possibly this includes the days and days of grey winter space. And the space where the boots and coats and muddy dog prints mix on my tile floor. If my husband is reading this, I am sure he is nodding in agreement.

[Redeeming love] reaches into the private recesses of your everyday life. Look for opportunities to be in someway an agent of that transforming love.” (P.D. T.)

I will end with a funny story about Addy. We were sitting in church when she suddenly noticed that Rita had a tablet and a pencil and oh dear! she had none. I told her she doesn’t need to write and kept on singing. Looking down a bit later, I noticed her little face full of reproach and she whispered in my ear, “Mama, do you even understand tragic?”

It is so easy to see the hilarity when it is a child speaking, but I am pretty sure God looks at me with exactly the same mix of exasperation and humor as I do when my daughter is overly dramatic. (I wonder where she gets it?)

Let’s live audaciously! Let’s do our small things out of the abundance of great love within! Nothing will be wasted that we give away. He promised.

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The Smartest Kids in the World

“The sign at the door says the purple tags are 90% off,” I mentioned to the clerk. “Does that include things like these roller blades?” She looked blankly at me for a bit, then said, “Yeah, 90% off all purple tags.”

“That’s great. I will take them,” I replied. It was a good deal. The blades were tagged $24.99 and looked new. I dug in my purse for $2.50. When I looked up, the clerk was gone, threading her way across the store with a calculator in hand, calling for the manager. I heard the instructions, “Just take 24.99 times point 10. That’s your price.”

I didn’t want to show my incredulity, but really??? Every 5th grader in our great nation is supposed to learn percentages and 10% is the easiest one to do in your head when you are 11 years old.

I  just finished reading The Smartest Kids in the World, where the author explores how it is that American school children are scoring so very low by international standards. Why is it that entire countries full of children (Finland, Korea, Poland) tend to score much higher than  our American students in matters that require common sense and thinking through problems?

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I  have always thought that my goal is to teach my children to THINK. Yes, I want them to enjoy learning, but that is my secondary goal. If they cannot apply what they are storing in their heads, it doesn’t do much good.

There is a relatively new test called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) where we U Sers are getting our butts whipped, especially in math. This is the language of logic, of disciplined, organized thinking. There are rules to follow and when you follow them, you get the right answer. I quote Ms Ripley, “Mastering the language of logic helps to embed higher order habits in kids’ minds: the ability to reason, detect patterns, make informed guesses.” (pg. 70)

As a nation we do a lot better in reading comprehension, which is good news. This also means that without the background of logic, we are a nation of people who can feel for others, empathize, recognize problems, etc, yet have no foggy idea of any absolutes or certain outcomes that follow certain behaviors.  Add to this the self-esteem movement, where teachers and coaches dole out praise trophies for just showing up, no effort required. There was a huge outcry in some states when it was proposed that high school students cannot just put in the time in class, but must actually pass exams in order to receive a diploma. Again I give you a pithy quote, “Vague, insincere, or excessive praise tends to discourage hard work and attempting new things.”

The poor children raised under the “You are the specialest person in the world and can always have anything you want” quickly find out in the adult world that they are pretty small stuff unless they are actually prepared to work hard and think carefully about their choices.

PISA also has a lengthy section after the academic questions where participating students spend nearly an hour answering a questionnaire on their background, motivation, and family habits.  The interesting thing about this survey is that there are no right answers. The researchers are looking for diligence, to see if there is a link to overall success. Well. Duh. Those kids who had learned to persist, even through seemingly meaningless assignments, tended to score higher overall.

The author calls it rigor.  It is what they have in Finland, where people have been determined survivors of long, sunless winters and the neighboring Big Guys for centuries. They focus on motivation, self-control, persistence. We might call it character. They don’t skip recess either, even in bad weather. Turns out rigor is a bigger deal than interactive white boards in every classroom and multi-million dollar sports programs where the vast majority of the students sit in bleachers and cheer for the favored few.

Admittedly, there are big problems when education is so dead serious that Korean children have been known to become suicidal if they fail a test. Recognizing this, the government actually has task forces assigned to patrol at night to be sure the tutoring schools close before midnight. These children literally go to school all day. They know how to think, but they don’t really have a life.

Then there was Poland, a country that scored discouragingly low in the first PISA test they participated in, in 2000. The next year they introduced some sweeping reforms: dumbed-down textbooks got replaced with rigorous ones, many of their teachers were required to improve their own education, and fundamental goals were set countrywide with accountability in the form of standardized tests. By 2009 Poland outperformed the U.S. despite spending half as much per student. They don’t have the fancy stuff in their classrooms, but they decided to implement the grit that has kept them alive through some of the most horrendous wars in history. They quit expecting failure in school.

What really matters? How can we best help our children learn to think? Toward the end of the book, Amanda Ripley condenses a vast subject into a few fairly simple expressions:

Conscientiousness > smarts

Self-discipline > IQ scores

Rigor > Self-esteem

In my head I knitted all these concepts about educational systems with our cultural bias against sweat and rules and moral absolutes, and it all makes sense. We are in trouble here in America, but we do not need to despair. We can teach our children to think and to work past failure. Someday it will save them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned about their child’s education. It will put some steel into your spine when your child/student thinks Algebra is dumb and research reports are too much work and nobody should ever have to do speed drills. Too bad, sonny. This is about your survival! This is about how much I love you. (This is so that you can instantly figure 10% at the cash register.)

 

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