About that Oobleck I Mentioned

Here it is, but take it from me and just don’t do it. See, it sounds so deceptively simple. My boys stirred the 1 1/2 cups of water into the 16 oz. of cornstarch and suddenly it all seized up. “Hey, this isn’t working! It said to knead it together with your hands.” Naturally I plunged my hands into the mass to knead it and instantly got a traumatic flashback from years gone by.

Back then I was working part time at a bulk food store and occasionally there was a need to scoop corn starch from a large bag into smaller sized bags for the shelf. The first time I was assigned that job, I scooped right into the powdery stuff. It squeaked and felt silky and hard at the same time and my every hair stood on end in horror. I was too embarrassed to tell my boss that I would rather do anything else, please just let me wash up the floors on my hands and knees. Anything else. That day I got cornstarch overload and I got really good at being busy whenever it needed to be bagged again. Anytime a recipe calls for cornstarch, I am very, very careful with spooning it out. I get a nasty little chill just stirring a few tablespoons into liquid.

But after reading how neat this stuff is, today I dug my fingers into the oobleck, then shuddered and quickly went to the sink to wash the mass off my hands. The children found it terribly fascinating, how it gelled and wept and turned mysteriously solid by turns. I let them make a huge mess all over the kitchen because I knew cornstarch washes up very easily. My oldest son couldn’t believe I tolerated the drippings and spills. He got a spatula and tried valiantly to keep it in one spot on the table, to corral it into a bowl, just anything to contain it. “Mama! They even have it on the wall! Make them stop.” He was nearly frantic so I reassured him and sent him out of the room until the little girls were done having fun. They tiptoed into the bathroom for a full scrub down and then I cleaned the kitchen for the second time today.

This is one “neat” experiment that is definitely not for the faint of heart. I guess next time we probably will just pass on it.

December, as it Happens

This month I have been a pen out of ink. I scratched a few paragraphs now and then, deleted the whole works, or left them to moulder in the drafts folder. Even the annual Christmas letter was a chore. I like pens that glide along smoothly without sputters and skips. Anything else is insufferable! So I can only thank the Lord that blogging is for writing when you enjoy it and that I have never imposed deadlines on myself.

All this time I was out of Earl Grey, folks. Two weeks in a row I forgot to go to the tea aisle in the grocery store. I drank coffee, which is a satisfying experience all its own, but sometimes a girl wants. just. tea! I have a whole shelf of boxes of other teas. My husband likes variety, and so does Gregory, my little tea drinking buddy. On Monday morning I was reading in the quiet when I heard Greg stirring around in the kitchen. To my surprise he brought me the steaming mug he had been concocting according to his Greg Standard of Perfect Tea. It was so liberally adorned with cream and sugar as to hardly be recognizable as tea. Later I saw that he had served me detox tea, which struck me as extremely funny, taking into consideration all the “bad stuff” he dumped into it. I walked over to my grocery list and I wrote it down nice and bold: EARL GREY. This week I bought a ginormous box, inhaled deeply the intoxicating scent of Bergamot oil, and was happy.

It is such a joyful season, yet I found myself praying, yearning with my heart in my throat for days as I followed the story of a family who was keeping vigil around a gunshot victim in the hospital. Yesterday he died. As I was wrapping a few small gifts, I kept thinking about what a sad, sad Christmas this will be for that family and for his friends. It took me back five Decembers when a beloved friend of mine, the wife of my cousin, lay on life support in a hospital. Her transport to glory left me with the anguished question, “Why? There are six little children here, Lord! Couldn’t you see that?” I have never faced a more severe attack on my faith. As the questions poured out, I received the beautiful assurance of the solid fact that Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us. Here in our mess and our hurt and our confusion, He is Prince of Peace. He came to give life, if we can only see that the passing of His friends is the ultimate giving of LIFE. I have seen the triumph of those who embrace this truth, who refuse to let it go in the midst of the most painful times imaginable.

He is with us! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) That is all we need to know, really. There is a sturdy quality to such faith that confounds even the staunchest unbelievers. I hear my little girl singing her version of a children’s song: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy… down in the guts of my heart!” Her siblings say, “Depths, not guts!” but she is sticking to her version. It reminds me that faith touches us in the visceral regions where logic and reason are no comfort at all. I see the impossible joy and peace blanket the soul and I say,

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  

Ordinary, Infused with Everlasting

So when she was single, the girl didn’t dream much about ordinary things. The thing about dreams is that they are wonderful. In them, she was the heroine. She was visible. She was on top, making a difference, feeling fulfilled. She didn’t think so much of dirty, gritty details like insufficient toilet facilities and sickness in missionary families far from good medical care. She didn’t dream of difficulties; she dreamed of adventure and achievement. Of course, she reserved a very private place where she dreamed of the love of a good man and the security of marriage. To her amazement, she really did get that love and marriage (and the babies, and the baby carriage)! Wow. Things settled into a somewhat frantic routine of not neglecting the thing that was right in front of her. There really was not a lot of time for a head in the clouds.

She was sort of a hard learner, and it took a while for her to “get it” that as a married woman, there would be glory in the meld of her dreams with her husband’s dreams. Her role was cast by God as a supporting role, a helper without whom her husband would be a bit disabled. 🙂 With the years and a good bit of trial and error, she came to understand that it was a wonderful place, a privilege to stand behind her man, to help him achieve his dreams. I am not suggesting that she was on such an exalted plane that she never whined, “But, what about Me?”

Here is what she wishes she had known all along. The happy woman keeps her dreams portable. There is only frustration and unloveliness in doggedly trying to make things happen the way she thinks they should happen.

Life is seasons. There may come a time for some of the obscure dreams to become reality. But for now, she is free to revel in the everyday, sometimes camouflaged goodness that is given. I have learned something from that girl. (Work with me here. Pretend you don’t see through that third person thing. 🙂 ) Just because living is lots of sameness and hard work doesn’t mean it is not valuable. The things which endure grow out of the ordinary. 

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(for wallpaper dot com)

…. I am not done yet…

A Different Sort of Weird

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It had been a fun, field tripping sort of day in the Upper Peninsula. Because lunch was beef jerky and cheese sticks with apples, everyone was on the grouchy side of hungry by five o’clock. There were no fast food restaurants, and most of the diners were closed for the season. We were forty minutes from our cabin where there was abundant food, uncooked, of course. So we kept searching.

Finally the GPS directed us to Jack’s Eats. Now Gabe and I make fun of any food establishment with the word “eat” in the name, but this would have to do. The parking lot was completely full. As we were piling out of our vehicle, an elderly lady watched us with frank astonishment. “Are these?.. All?.. Yours?” she asked, dumbfounded. I looked around and assumed she must be talking to me, since there was nobody else in the vicinity. (What do you mean? There are only five!) I didn’t say it, but my children snickered. “Five isn’t even many!” they said to each other, wondering at the silly lady’s perception.

We entered the diner, a seat-yourself place, and started threading our way to the back dining room in quest of a table. The talking din became noticeably quieter as the entire crowded roomful craned to watch us. There was, in fact, not a single table available. I resisted the urge to quack loudly as we threaded our way back out past all those full tables. Five miles further down the road we found an even greasier diner with a bit of space. So the hunger crisis was averted, and all was well.

I like this story because of my children’s amusement and the total lack of embarrassment they showed in being such an enigma. Sometimes I shrivel a bit under the disapproving vibe: the sheer audacity of having more children than is considered normal… must be some kind of freaks without many smarts. “Wow! It must take a lot of food at your house! How do you ever reach around to them all? You raising a bunch of kids to do all the work?” I think the comments are slight admiration with occasional undertones of sarcasm about the huge carbon footprint we are leaving. I also think they are a little unmannerly, don’t you?

Recently I met a lovely Indian lady at a park and we chatted about our children, our cultures, our values, etc. She told me how incredibly difficult it was for her to come to America to study with her husband. They found themselves without people, so far away from all the connections that were completely vital to living in their culture in India. When they had a baby, her mother-in-law came for 4 months to  help with the baby. The grandfather of the child got to choose her name as a mark of honor. “It is sad that America does not value family and children,” she concluded.

I couldn’t agree more. In our society, it is more important to get a thirty year mortgage on a McMansion than to fill it with people. Garages are packed with ATV’s, boats, snowmobiles, you name it, but we can’t afford to have children. There are endless jokes about how inconvenient/expensive/disruptive the kids are. I am just getting up on my soap box to tell you that I am sick and tired of it!

It isn’t so much the number of children we have as the attitude we display. This sad old world needs to see us happily visiting with our little guys while we walk into the grocery store. It needs to see us smile into their faces, listen to their stories, laugh with them at the ducks gobbling the bread at the park. It needs to see us bending down to their level to explain why they may not run across the parking lot. It even needs to see a kindly firm “No” when our children beg for candy. Our society needs to see that we Christians will not subscribe to the hip and modern notion that pouring out our lives for the sake of the next generation is much too sacrificial and time consuming.

I think something in me has been growing up and getting bolder about the fact that we are living counter-culture. When the lady in the pottery shop told me, “I only had two and boy, was it tough!” I simply said, “I decided when I became a mother that I was going to make it my career.” Maybe she thought it was rude, but like I said, I am fed up with feeling slightly apologetic about my values.

Recently there was media buzz about a woman who chose to stay home with her family, describing her as a person “who never worked a day in her life”. Wow.

So… here we are, living on one income, stacked into our little house, wearing our second hand clothes, sporting our home-style haircuts, working hard to grow a lot of our food, (go ahead and measure our carbon footprint), trying to stay out of debt, having a string of children, spending our very lives to teach them well. So what if it is hard. You got a problem with that?

I am calling all Christian parents to rally together and show the twisted world we live in that we really do believe our children are our greatest investment.

In Which We Break Out

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I would so prefer outdoor stuff to the indoor grind. This past week I convinced the boys that they would probably rather clean the house than mow the lawn. So we switched. I trundled happily after the mower for about an hour. It was loud, blocked out all noise, and I just thought stuff to myself for the whole time. Well, every time I emptied the clippings bag, I could hear that the people inside the house were alive. There were some loud “discussions” about the proper way to clean a bathroom, and no, Gregory did not nail it quite. But I pulled weeds on the walkway and out beside the picket fence and just let them work it out. Then I put away all the garden tools and a bunch of stakes that had a brief life as spears in a throwing contest. When the lawn was all nice and neat, I checked up on their work and was thrilled to see that all the biggest messes were cleaned up, floors cleaned (after a fashion…. seeing as Greg used hand soap out of the dispenser to wash them) etc. etc.

I called everybody outside just to enjoy the gorgeous afternoon. Since school started two weeks ago, it has been noses to the textbooks, labored cursive, practice with forgotten math facts, and a few other not so fun things. Then the afternoons we tried hard to catch up with our regular chores. It made me cross and bothered. Ask Gabe. 🙂 I felt like Jack, the dull boy. And I know that I resembled the mother cat in Milo and Otis, who keeps resolving never to yell at her childr… “Milo! Get back here right now!” Why does that part in the movie always make my children snicker?

Anyway, on this particular afternoon, I was trying to think of something off-the-wall that we could do all together, since Gabe was working that night. The little guys were all climbing around in their favorite  Monkey Tree, fashioning make shift platform houses. It was approaching supper time and I had no idea what to feed the crew when I had a happy thought. “Hey, how would you guys like to eat supper in the Monkey Tree?” Oh, yeah, just like that I had my cool-mom status back.  🙂 I am a little embarrassed to admit that “supper” was Cocoa Pebbles served with milk in mugs. Like Alex observed, “At least they are made with real cocoa.” Wanna see?

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I thought it was funny that we only had one spill in the tree, and who knows how many we would have had at the table, sitting properly with bowls?

We also had watermelon for dessert. I dared to pick the one in the garden. It was luscious. Just ask Addy.

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First Things First

I have a few things on my mind for the day.

  • Laundry. Always. (Remind the little laundry helper to put the detergent into the washer this time.)
  • Process broccoli for the freezer. (Try not to think about how it stinks up the kitchen.)
  • Feed my babies. (Not just food, but stories and maybe popsicles and praise mixed with the inevitable corrections. Always.)
  • Make blackberry jelly from the fruit Gabe picked beside the road.
  • File homeschool affidavits. Order some books for the boys’ upcoming foray into organized learning.
  • Feed my babies again.
  • Give two hair cuts to people who wiggle and shrug their shoulders and complain bitterly about the prickles.
  • Make fun food for the kiddos’ party with the cousins. Cupcakes. Granola bars. Finger jello. (Try not to go bananas when every little body wants to help.)
  • Wait to wash the kitchen floor until the helping/slopping is done.
  • Oversee the job charts and sticker distribution. (Don’t expect what you don’t inspect, you know.)
  • Maybe, if I am really really brave… Go to Walmart to get my glasses fixed and see if I can fit the groceries into the cart with the tot who will probably sit on them.

It will be a good day, even though it has hardly gotten started. I got up early to fatten my soul, and drink my Earl Grey. And if it doesn’t all get done, I pray that at the end of the day our souls are still well nourished. Now, for a piece of peach pie. Quality of life is all about priorities, not?