Change Is In the Air

We are still alive here. I experienced the very first sickness of the winter last week when I contracted a miserable head cold that drained me for 3 days. (Get it? Sorry, I know that is obnoxious.) I found myself dragging along in a haze of Vicks, carrying a tissue box, so far behind with normal life that writing seemed downright frivolous. In fact, I entertained discouraged thoughts of shutting down the blog entirely. Then I started to feel better and got over it.

I have noticed some milestones recently in my children’s lives. My absent minded son was on kitchen duty the week I was dragging. “Mama, what in the world are all these pills doing on the counter? You would think they have no home!” Not only did he quote my words back to me, but before that he had actually noticed some stuff that needed to be put away. I am sure I cannot really describe to you what a marvel that is to me. Until very recently, this child saw no reason why anything should have a spot. His practical idea of locating missing stuff was always traveling with a mother. I must have explained to him twenty-eleven times why he should always put his treasures away in his drawer, his boots on the rug, and his bike in the shed. So even though I felt like snot, I got a little burst of encouragement from that conversation. I think there may come a day when he might actually become neat and organized. I see some small signs and how they do cheer me!

I saw some buzz on the web for using a system of mom-bucks to reward a child’s responsible behavior and decided to give it a trial shot. Obviously, penalties involve paying back some bucks to mom. Thus fixing the bed earns a buck, but leaving the pjs on the floor costs a buck. It is impossible to redeem privileges from the mom-store if all your bucks were frittered away in penalties because you neglected to put your folded piles of laundry into the proper drawers or you quarreled with a sibling. I picked some specific behaviors to reward and zeroed in on some especially entrenched habits. There is no way I can keep up with anything complicated, but I think I can cautiously say it is helping my boys to be more heedful.

Gregory seems to have hit his stride with baking. Just a year ago I groaned (privately) when he asked to cook something. He does so dearly love to mess in the kitchen, going into a really happy place, humming, measuring with flourish, the dry ingredients puffing this way and that, the eggs unpredictably doing their oblong rolls off the counter, the whisks and scrapers all saved for licking with gusto when his project is safely baking. At first I had to watch every step of the way or he would use a tablespoon of salt instead of a teaspoon, or forget to grease his pans or use a little more sugar than the recipe called for “to make it better”. I will be honest, it was a trial. The cleanup was dreadful. We blundered along like that for a very long time until he graduated to me just carefully explaining a recipe to him, then forcing myself to let him alone, only coaching him as he came up with questions. Last month for the first time ever he made cookies all on his own steam. Even scooping out the dough. Even putting the baking sheets into the oven. Even cleanup. Whew! Then he did it again and again. We had snickerdoodles one week, chocolate chip cookies the next, and brownies the next. I can see that this could pose a problem, so we will need to work on spaghetti or omelets or chicken soup for a while. 🙂

Olivia is losing teeth with alarming rapidity this spring and now she talkth with a charming little lithp. And she can read. Just like that, she finally got over the hump of great effort in sounding out to reading for fun. I just sat and got all sentimental while she read Ten Rubber Ducks to her little sisters. Forgive me for the little rave, but it thrills me every time it happens for the first time. And every homeschool mom said Amen.

I won’t go down the whole row of children and their changes, but I should tell you that I started about 120 little plants in peat pots: tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, etc. There they are, all plucky and greenish, straining to the sunshine. I keep them on the warm floor of the kitchen, where they may not always be safe from stomping feet, but on the sunshiny days I set them out on the deck. Today I thinned out the extras and I ate them. It was such a lovely, wheatgrassy thing to do.

I also freed the bulbs and perennials from the winter’s accumulation of blown leaves and junk, so that now they can reach for the sky. It always reminds me of Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, setting the little plants at liberty to flourish. Strange as it may seem, I like weeding, especially my flower beds. I find it about ten times more fun than wiping the dirty handprints off the walls in the hallway. Mmmhmmm, that explains a few  things.

Change. It is good. It is delightful to feel the cocoon of winter slipping into a memory. I sneeze an average of 17 times a day, so pollen is also in the air. Oh, how I do love this time of the year!

Going to Seed, Among Other Things

It is that time of the year where I find that the best approach to gardening is just to slowly back away, hands in the air, saying, “Uncle.” The promise of bounty isn’t shiny and fresh anymore, but hanging down sad, withered, eaten by bugs and surrounded by weeds. I tell myself every year that I won’t let that happen again, and for some reason, every year it does. I still have an interest in a rather large broccoli crop and late green beans, but the rest may slowly rot back into the soil, I am so tired of it.

Still, there are some bright spots. We have three enormous volunteer sunflowers, all different colors. Gabe wanted to pull them out when they started showing up, but I love volunteers. They are so brave and unexpected: random reminders of undeserved graces in obscure places. There is also a gigantic watermelon on a blighted vine that I have no idea how to tell when I should pick it. And we have our first concord grapes this year. We are blessed, indeed. So what about the weeds. ?Right?

I decided this morning that homeschooling and canning at the same time is for the birds. Or maybe for crazy people. No wonder the house goes to seed. And I asked myself honestly, “Are these peaches worth the stickiness and the fuzzy fingers and carpal tunnel? Really, am I just doing this because my line have always canned peaches back to just after the cave days when someone discovered glass? And I daresay none of my ancestors tutored a math lesson and checked quizzes on peach canning day. So why am I doing this again?” Sometimes it is best not to overthink these things, especially in the middle of a mess. I decided to just keep calmly on peeling and eventually we were done, school was done, we cleaned up and we held real still for a while. 🙂

At the book fair a few weeks ago, I picked up a book that was an obvious attempt at a Jan Karon look-alike, just a different author. I thought I would give this one a try. Set in the Midwest, the book opens in springtime with an orchard in bloom, bees humming busily in the blossoms. A few days later the main character takes a drive to the neighbors who happen to have a thriving home business of making fruit sauces. That day they were processing pears. It just irritates me terribly. Maybe they shipped the pears from Chile or China, but still… Also the orchard lady had carried along a few boxes of fruit for the sauce making people, also presumably shipped from far afield. Boo, I say.

If I ever write anything more serious than a blog, I hope to goodness that I remember to stick with what I know. Feel free to tap me on the shoulder anytime and say, “Hey, that doesn’t make sense.”

External Vexations Vs. Eternal Verities

Sorry about the ponderous title. It was fun to extract it word-by-word from the Thesaurus, especially now that it sounds like some sort of article from the 1800’s .  🙂

I wouldn’t really say it was a good day. But it wasn’t a bad day, exactly. I sometimes think I am getting more skilled at rolling with the punches, but occasionally the punches come more fast and furious than usual. It leaves me feeling, at the end of the day, like I have not lived it very well.

I was thinking about this in the shower, and suddenly I just burst out laughing. Gabe has a week of night shift, so I shall tell you about the day.

It started last night with a late iced coffee, and it was so good, so very effective at wiring me that I stayed up until 1 AM catching up with Facebook  posting our checking account and credit card data in our budget program. At that hour I even entertained a brief notion of surprising the boys with a day of school today! Haha. We have all our supplies, all our books, shiny new desks that Gabe made. Everything is ready except the teacher. I decided to wait another week or two, make tomato sauce instead.

We all had breakfast together before my hubby needed to go sleep. Then it was daily chores, little girls getting dressed in whatever picturesque outfit tickled their fancy, boys cutting up tomatoes. Everything went just fine, except for the fact that doing food preserving in a small kitchen, where every time you turn around you stumble over a fresh configuration of the chairs and people, becomes a little wearing. Also there was a small matter of literally sticking to the floor when I walked. I am trying hard to break the habit of saying, “That gets on my nerves,”  because my children repeat it. But I will just tell you, in confidence, a sticky floor really gets on my nerves. 

Lunch was very dry sandwiches lovingly prepared by the little boy who hates mayo. And a bit of chocolate on the sly for me. Then I shooed them all out while I washed up all those dishes and the sauce simmered on the stove and burned slightly on the bottom for lack of stirring. About then the littlest tot complained, “I NEEDS to go to bed!” Me too, tot, me too! Not an option, of course, but a nice thought.

We needed to go pick up milk from our friendly farmer. Even though Gabe was fast asleep, I took just one person with me. The van didn’t start, but the car worked. All but the AC. While we were over in horse and buggy country anyway, I had some kind of lapse and thought we should maybe do some sweet corn for the freezer yet today, the floor being already sticky and all… But God was merciful and the produce stand was sold out of corn. When we got home, I discovered the food coloring/homemade paint project crossed with cleanup involving a new white towel.

The house was hot and reeked of garlic and tomatoes. Unfortunately, our AC unit fried. All the females around here had a bad hair day due to the humidity. I found it mildly depressing to know that I looked exactly the same sort of hoodlum as my girls. 🙂 Then it rained and poured. Somehow there were two carseats out in the lane that got soaked. The little girls listened to the same story CD for the tenth time and I was feeling ready to write a scathing letter to the producers. The kiddos ran in and out, let the flies in. It was just drip, drip, drip. On and on and on my nerves. Oops.

Two hours after lunch everybody was hungry again. The tot bit chunks out of all the plums. The self sufficient little girl found a lunch box, filled it with an apple and pretzels. Then she poured milk and cleaned up her drips with a tea towel.

They were bored. They were housebound. They dragged folding chairs into their bunk beds. So I set them on the couch and they howled mirthfully at  Dennis the Menace until a very uninspired supper of spiral pasta and fresh tomato sauce. But the sauce was really good!

I sent my man off again with a lunch packed for his midnight snack. One boy took out the trash and folded the laundry while the other washed the kitchen floor. He missed a few spots, but it was a definite improvement.

Someone emptied a can of shaving cream into the tub. The baby deliberately puddled onto the floor. And they were all hungry again after our bedtime story. The tot got out of her bed five times. The girls were hot with their hair on their necks and giggled while I made them really high pony tails.

Downstairs there were dehumidifiers to empty and reset, some last instructions about the proper placement of dirty clothes, and NO, you may not wear that shirt again tomorrow, even if it is your favorite. And then…

There was the kitten under the blankets. That was the last, the final drip that turned it all from just driving me nuts to hilarious.

What was that I read just this morning? It sounded so ideal, so peaceful… I just found it again in Isaiah 54:13.

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;

and great shall be the peace of thy children…”

I ask myself, in this very ordinary, hilarious, sometimes frustrating life…when at times I am ashamed to hear my voice, provoked to high pitchedness about food coloring on a white towel and chairs in my way… how does He turn my very flawed efforts into children “taught of the Lord…”?

I asked God the same question, and this is what He said, “My grace is sufficient for you… really. Not just sufficient in the middle of a hard place, but sufficient, too, at the end of the day, when you have messed up and been impatient and irritated. My grace is sufficient for you… and your children!”

Here are some more of the verses in Isaiah 54. They make a very fine resting place, even a reason to laugh in the shower!

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper;

and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”