Thursday, December 6, 2007

Coughs and Sniffles

It’s nearly eleven p.m. and all of the children fell asleep by eight, tucked into sleeping bags at the foot of my bed. We transformed the bedroom into sick bay as one child after another came down with a hacking cough and an aching body. Charlie got sick on Sunday night and by Monday afternoon all five children and Stuart were coughing and shivering and aching. I alone remain healthy. Now it’s Thursday and the coughing continues.

The humidifier breathes out steam into the darkened room. The children inhale moisture and cough on the exhale. My last few days have been spent distributing lemon water, saline spray, and homemade chicken soup. The kids thank me for this by coughing into their dinners…and mine. Mountains of soggy tissues decorate the livingroom. Well, not exactly tissues. Toilet paper. They blew through the two family-sized boxes of tissues three days ago.

Stuart is curled into a ball on the bed beside me, alternately throwing off his covers and reaching for them again. His head pounds and he shifts restlessly trying to find a comfortable position. He stayed home from work today, a first this year, and Claire delighted in bringing him his meals and making him glasses of lemon water. I have been impressed to see how the kids still serve other family members even in the midst of their current discomfort.

We are in the golden years of parenting. I have not had to soothe a feverish baby or comfort a thrashing little one in the middle of the night. The children have been fairly self-sufficient. They huddle under blankets in the living room while I read to them. They drift off to sleep on and off during the day and they don’t cry. Now they sleep fitfully on my floor and I listen to them breathe and cough and I enjoy our togetherness in spite of the circumstances.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Heads Up: Get in on this Awesome Christmas Contest

In ten days, Christy's husband will return from Iraq where he has been on a tour of duty for months leaving Christy and their three beautiful little ones behind. You can read their story at After A Cup of Coffee...Or Two. I am so excited for her. She is hosting a contest. She wants to make a creative welcome home banner and is looking for suggestions. If you have any ideas pop over and contribute. Who knows, you might win a $25 dollar Starbucks gift certificate. But even better, you can get behind the scenes and help to welcome Isaac home.

Thank you Christy and Isaac. Your enormous personal sacrifice has weighed heavily on my heart throughout this fall. Merry Christmas to you both!

Sleep Well

I’ve been blogging less over the past few months in favor of sleep and exercise. We women have a tendency to put sleep at the end of our long to-do lists. We spend our days nurturing others and meeting deadlines (real or self-imposed) and the nurturing of self goes by the wayside. We don’t do ourselves or our families any favors by living this way.

Getting enough sleep is crucial to our health. Did you know that quality sleep boosts your memory, helps you fight cancer, diabetes, obesity, and is good for your heart? Sleep also reduces your risk for depression, reduces stress levels and reduces inflammation. If you are a woman who hates to waste a minute, look at sleep this way: Your body is hard at work rebuilding and restoring itself during those hours that you lie cozy under the covers. This translates into healthier skin, greater immunity, more energy and a more positive outlook on life. Who doesn’t want that?

“But, I’ve never been much for sleep, I do my best thinking at night, I need a few minutes of peace and quiet after a long day with the kids,” you say. Let me tell you, from one night owl to another, it is possible to change your sleeping habits. It might require some effort to set aside our old, unhealthy sleep patterns but sound sleep is attainable.

Here are some ideas that you can try to make it possible for you to sleep for eight continuous hours.

1. Put down the caffeine…at least for several hours before bedtime. Or, you can give it up entirely for even better health. (OK, I know for some of you that might be a stretch.)
2. Make sure to exercise sometime during the day. Regular exercise is good for our sleep patterns.
3. Get ready for bed early. Take a warm bath and put on your comfy pajamas. Drink some warm milk. Do some stretching.
4. Stay away from the computer, and the TV. These can tend to activate you when you are trying to wind down. I read aloud to the kids for a while and then go to bed when they do.
5. Make sure your room is dark. Black really. No night-lights, no street lights. Our bodies produce melatonin in the dark. The more melatonin we produce the better we sleep. As we age, our bodies produce less of this hormone so you may want to consider a melatonin supplement to help you achieve eight good hours of sleep if getting enough rest is really a struggle for you.
6. Invest in a white noise machine if your mind whirrs and you need a soothing distraction to lull you to sleep.
7. Get up in the morning! I really struggle with the temptation to sleep in after a restless night’s sleep but this just sets me up for those poor sleep habits to return with a vengeance. It's better to just get up and try again the next evening to sleep soundly.

I know that some of you mamas with wee ones and sick ones are rolling your eyes at this post and are wondering if you will ever sleep again. Those sleep-deprived days are tough. Hang in there. Normal sleeping patterns will return.

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. Psalm 127:2 Sleep is a gift! We would be wise to value those dreamy hours and not cast them aside in favor of blogging, or scrap booking, or any other activities we let rob us of our rest. Sleep well tonight!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cousins and Chaos

All of the people in all of these photos are family. Lots and lots of family. Not everyone is represented in these pictures but what's here will give you a good idea of what Thanksgiving week looked like. We were so busy with visiting and crowd control that we never thought to capture a photo of the whole group.












Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Snapshots

And now we drive south in cold, crisp Sunday morning sunshine. Charlie fusses in the back seat and the children snap, tired from a hectic week. Chapter One, Book Two of the Merlin series fills the car in surround sound but it is a distant drone to me. Instead, snatches of conversation roll through my head. Bits and pieces that people shared of themselves, strands of kindness and talents and strengths all woven together to make a blanket of memories that I wrap myself in here in the passenger seat.

Clink. Clink. “I have a toast to make.” She stood up at the table and we all burst into laughter at the sight of her with a beer bottle in each hand. She’s not much of a drinker. “I just want to thank you Mr and Mrs. M. for bringing me here to spend this week with you. You have no idea how special you all are to me and how much I needed you.” She said this through laughter and tears. Both emotions spill from her simultaneously, always.

“It’s no harder raising nine children than it is to raise three,” Dad proclaimed from the head of the dinner table.

A brother leaned in until he and Dad were almost nose to nose. “That,” the brother declared in the voice he saves for delivering strong opinions, “is bullshit.” His choice of words was so unexpected at this dinner of good food and good manners that the occupants in the nearby seats exploded into loud, gasping laughter…Dad perhaps the loudest of all.

“We’re having a hard time with him,” they shared with me, as we were lost among a herd of relatives hiking down a gravel path on a warm-enough-to-shed-jackets afternoon. I listened to their story and was impressed by their courage and their willingness to set aside pride in exchange for humility…to do whatever it takes to create peace within their little one.

As we hurried back to the cars on the same walk, the sun’s warmth disappeared never to return for the rest of our visit. I walked with another sister while some of my children pushed the stroller carrying her baby into a ditch and another one of my children rescued her. “I have enormous respect for your parents. They did a wonderful job raising nine productive human beings.” I thought on those words for the remainder of the week. It's good to see family through objective eyes.

“Come on, Jen. Let’s run suicides!” Two sisters went out into the freezing dark with a dozen children behind them to run and tag and play. They came back in and put coats on the little ones before they caught pneumonia and went out again and came back red cheeked and laughing a long time later.

We sat side by side at the counter in the kitchen and the conversation turned to life. “It’s been a hard year,” he said and for a moment the easygoing persona that he customarily wears was pushed aside. Tears welled in his eyes and I was overcome by their sudden appearance.

“I’m sorry.” I reached out to him and found that I had tears too. It hurts to see the suffering of one that you love.

He ran into the fridge with a bang and discovered that there was a handle. What’s this? A handle? The fridge at home doesn’t have a handle. I wonder what’s in here. He tugged with all his might and the door popped open. His eyes scanned for treasure. Butter. That’s what I want! “Butter!” he cried and pulled out a stick and plunked it into my hands.

“That’s right. It’s butter. Do you want it back?”

He held out his hands and grinned up at me. I gave the butter back and he returned it to it’s home on the fridge door. He shut the door and opened it again. The butter was still there. “Yeah! Butter!” The game was repeated again and again. “Yeah! Butter!”

“Sometimes I think he compares himself to some of your brothers and sees how successful they are and somehow feels that he doesn’t quite measure up,” she told me as we set up an impromptu sandwich shop on a woodpile. We were smearing peanut butter and jelly on bread and doling out cheese sticks to a hungry mob in the middle of the woods.

“Yeah. I understand. I feel like that too. After all, I don’t do anything all that great. I’m just a mom.”

“You do?! That surprises me. I guess we all struggle with comparisons, don’t we? But then he looks at the life that he has with us. He’s a great dad and family comes first and that is what really matters. He’s a great success in the things that count.”

She’s right. He is a great husband and dad. He’s wonderful at the things that matter. And I was glad myself for her reminder.


“We asked the bus driver to back up so we could capture this shot.” A beautiful African bird filled the screen. We were looking at pictures of Tanzania where a brother has spent the last two years. Zebras, elephants, computers, children, schools and birds marched in succession across the screen. Lots and lots of birds.

“He told me that one of his sisters loves birds so we made sure we took lots of bird pictures,” his girlfriend said. I was astounded by their thoughtfulness, not only with the photos but also with how they went out of their way to be kind to John, the oldest grandchild. The one who didn’t quite fit with the massive pack of four to seven year olds. “Do you mind if we take John with us to the store? He was just wandering around outside by himself. Do you think he might like to spend a little time with us?” This youngest brother of mine is my parents’ magnum opus. There is not a kinder, more generous spirit in the bunch.


The baby grinned at John and Charlie while rocking, rocking on his papa’s lap. He leaned over to make closer eye contact. The smallest cousin. “When I have a kid, it’s going to be the best baby,” his papa said, when this baby was nothing but a thought. It appears he was right. The baby was passed around to eager, waiting arms. He was snuggled and kissed and in return he smiled and cooed and he did not cry. Ever.

Food arrived by the carload at the house, all of it neatly labeled, Merchant. We laughed out loud at this butchering of our last name. It has been so since the beginning of time. It was good food though, all thoughtfully provided by my parents. They thought of it all. Everything we needed was provided before we needed to run to the store or search through the cupboards. Such generosity.

And now we drive south. Thanks to all of you for the memories. May it not be so long until the next time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Under a Starry Sky

Thanksgiving week has come and gone. All emotions found their place and presented themselves at the appropriate time as they always do. Excitement and anticipation came early in the week. Enjoyment and connection stretched from end to end. Exhaustion and eagerness to return to familiar routine showed up toward the end along with incongruent regret. Regret that the curtain must come down on seven days of delight and surprises. So predictable are these emotions with their entrances and exits, are they not?

The goodbyes rang out at regular intervals in the last hours of our last night together. So many goodbyes. Farewells made of hugs and tears and laughter... and more tears. The house wren, who marks twelfth hour on the kitchen clock, chirped midnight and the small party of eight laughed at the aviary announcement and then disbanded.

The last goodbyes were the teariest and most heartbreaking...and most beautiful. Three went to bed and five went out into the frosty night under a black velvet sky. Two stood on the porch to wave and three picked their way carefully down icy steps toward icy cars. But on the way, all stopped for a moment to look up in wonder at the constellations. The Pleiades waltzed forward in formation. We shivered and watched and then hurried to heat cold cars and to burrow under warm covers. A majestic ending to a week of reunion and chaos and memories made.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Going Home

Two suburbans rumble toward New York. One shivers its way down out of the Cascade Mountains. My sister is at the wheel. Four kids play “Cows in the Cemetary” and “Scavenger Hunt” in the back seat. The fifth rides shotgun with an atlas and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in her lap. They sing along to Willie Nelson and Taj Mahal as they drive among the western pines and out into the fields of brown grass under the wide open prarie sky.
My sister tossed a few changes of clothes, a cooler and some dishes behind the back seat. The kids grabbed a handful of books and toys to keep themselves on their forty hour trip eastward. They press across the country. Each night, for three nights, after the sun sets, nine-year-old Maddie thumbs through the Hitchhiker’s Guide in search of somewhere to lay six sleepy heads.

The second suburban is ours. We head north from Smallville through nearly empty countryside in an autumn just past it’s prime. Gold and red leaves, bare branches and evergreens brush against the blue, blue heavens. Our vehicle is not big enough for all the claptrap we might need so we haul along a trailer full of boots and winter coats. Five bikes are chained to the trailer in the event that our soft southern children want to brave the frosty New York air and peddle around in the grandparents’ driveways. The albuterol, heating pad and nebulizer are packed "just in case." The kids put together a laundry basket of library books and filled another with toys and the cross stitch samplers they are working on. The Lost Years of Merlin and The Prarie Home Companion take turns in the CD player. I read the directions Stuart printed out from Google Maps. We pull into the hotel in Cincinnati where we have had reservations for a week.

We’re so different, my sister and I, but best friends anyway. Tomorrow, in Cleveland, our children will greet each other as if only a day or two have passed since the last time they rode bikes and played Barbies together. In reality, it’s been two years. We’ll caravan to New York, the children all mixed up together between our two vehicles.

And then the brothers will come, all seven of them, from near and far and farther, with wives and girlfriends and children. We will delight in meeting the newest additions to the family. We siblings will laugh at the memories of who we were when we all lived together under one roof and we will share bits of the people that we have become and the lives that we live now amidst the chaos that comes when a family of eleven burgeons into a family of forty-one.

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving with your families.

(I'll post a few pictures of the crew sometime next week when I have a few minutes.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"B" Good to Yourself

I became serious about health early this summer while on a quest for more energy. (Falling asleep in the middle of the day is a recipe for disaster with a houseful of kids!) I was excited to find out that Darlene is hosting Live Well Wednesdays. I will be sharing what I have been learning from time to time.

I was at the doctors last week for a physical and was shocked by the health of the people sitting in the waiting room with me. Men and women came in carrying LARGE ziplock bags FULL of prescription bottles. They shuffled in, their weight pressing down on canes and walkers. They squeezed in. I live in a state that boasts one of the highest rates of obesity in our nation. The size of the patients in the waiting room did not dispute this statistic. We are a nation weighed down by crippling, degenerative health problems brought on largely, I believe, by what we eat.

Coronary heart disease, allergies, exhaustion, anorexia, depression, anxiety…Do any of these sound familiar? They all have at their root a vitamin B deficiency. We look at the labels of our foods and ask ourselves, “How can this be? Vitamin B is in everything.”

Did you know that whole-wheat flour has 21 nutrients plus fiber? White flour has been stripped of between 30 and 98 percent of each of these nutrients and in their place only iron, thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2),niacin (B-3) and folic acid are added back in. If you are a sugar consumer, you further complicate the B issue because you rapidly burn through B-1 and B-2.

The story gets more complicated. Even bread made from whole wheat can be fairly low in nutrition for several reasons. Whole wheat flour loses 90 percent of it’s nutrients within 72 hours from the time it is ground. Also, all grains and legumes contain phytic acid in their outer layer. Phytic acid binds with calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc in the intestinal tract and prevents their absorption. This leads to a whole host of different health issues beyond the scope of this post.

I have a bowl of six cups of fresh ground flour, mixed with two tablespoons of vinegar and two cups of water on my counter. This process of soaking the grain for twelve to twenty-four hours before baking with it neutralizes most of the phytic acid. It also makes the dough supple and easy to work with. My bread comes out lighter and more tender when I take the time to prepare the flour this way.

This is not always practical. So even though we prepare almost all of our grain products by first grinding our own flour and then soaking it, we also take vitamin B supplements. Lauren takes a time-released B-Complex. She also takes 500mg of Pantothenic Acid (B-5) several times a day. Pet dander and changes in the weather bring on vicious attacks of sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose. We have found that B-5 calms these attacks better than any antihistamine she has tried. (Even prescription strength.) Stuart takes B-Complex for heart health. He also takes sublingual B-12 under his tongue in the afternoon for extra energy and is able to work through the rest of the day without the afternoon sleepies. It works way better than coffee. I take a B-Complex for even energy levels all day. It feels good to have energy again.

For more information see Nourishing Traditons by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig. This is a cookbook that studies the whole food diets and methods of food preparation used by isolated people groups around the world. It is one of the most fascinating books that I own. I use a few of the recipes but love the book for the abundant commentary that surrounds the recipes.


Sue Gregg has a series of cookbooks that adapt well to the Nourishing Traditons way of preparing food. There are a few recipes available on her website to try. I especially like her Yeast Breads, Lunches and Snacks and More than Breakfast Cookbooks.

Living well is hard work but the rewards are great. God made us to live well on the whole foods that He created for us. I am having so much fun passing on good eating habits to my children. They will be blessed for a lifetime by what we are learning and practicing together today.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bible Time: How it works at Our House

Janelle asked me weeks ago to write a post about what our Bible time looks like. Here it is.

I think too often Christian moms cling to a perfect picture of how Bible time should play out and feel a sense of failure if expectations are not met. Dad should lead. The children should be quiet but enthusiastic. Devotions should happen every day. I was one of those. I waited for years for Stuart to take the initiative in this area. It hasn't happened yet. He's a great living example of a godly man, husband and father but Bible study is not his strong suit. I have learned to be content with this. So instead I read Bible with the kids Monday through Friday and it looks like this:

It’s eleven o’clock. I’ve done my morning workout and spent time preparing for our Bible lesson. I’ve read through the portion of Matthew that we are covering today and thought about it but honestly a whole lot doesn’t come to me. Then I spend some time at Bible.org and study sermons and commentaries. The Bible comes to life this way for me and after I have gone through a commentary on the chapter and looked for additional historical information and looked stuff up in The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, I can begin making other connections that I haven’t come across in my studies. This happens frequently during our discussions around the table.

The kids are working on their morning chores. Some are in pajamas; some are dressed; all need their hair brushed. Bread is rising on the counter and Lauren and I are setting almond coffee cake, butter, grapefruit, plates and glasses of water on the table.

“Claire, I’ve called you three times to get the napkins out! Faith? Faith?! We need silverware. Where are you?!”

Eventually everyone straggles into the sunroom and coffee cake is distributed. The chatter is childish and loud. The room has terrible acoustics and these child noises are magnified to the point of being intolerable.

“BE QUIETAND EAT!”

The children gobble and dribble and spill. I eat fast, push aside my dishes, brush crumbs off my Bible and open to Matthew. “Do you remember what we talked about yesterday? Why is Matthew the first book in the New Testament?”

Claire sidles out of her chair and gets out her coloring book and crayons and sits on the floor.

“I know Mom.” This from Lauren who always pays attention.

“I know you know. I want to know if Claire knows. Do you remember why Matthew comes first, Claire?”

She looks up from her coloring book, “He had bad brothers.”

Oy! Everything relates to Joseph with this kid!

“No, silly!” John is indignant. “Matthew is the trailer hitch book. He uses lots of Old Testament verses. His book is perfect for connecting the Old Testament with the New. He was writing to the Jewish people and was trying to get them to understand that Jesus fufilled many prophecies that were written in the Old Testament.”

“That’s great John. I’m impressed.”

“Can somebody build me a ramp? I need a ramp.” Charlie makes it through about three minutes of Bible time before he runs off to play.

“Faith go with him and build the ramp and then come right back.” They wander off to the playroom.

Yesterday, I read straight through Matthew 1-17. We contrasted Matthew’s and Luke’s geneologies. Today we look at the people listed in Matthew’s. Claire fidgets. Faith needs to be reminded to leave her block building and return to the table.. Kids interrupt for more coffee cake. Water spills and children rush to get a towel to clean it up but eventually we discuss the women listed in this geneology. We discuss how all five are outcasts. I find their stories and read relevant portions aloud. We talk about how three are Gentiles. “Isn’t that awesome, guys, that even at the very beginning of Gospel message God lets us know that the good news of salvation is not just for the Jews but for everybody? Matthew includes person after person in this gospel who is on the edge of society, people who are looked down on, outcasts. Why do you suppose he does that?”

“What’s an outcast?”

“I just told you. Somebody who is looked down on. Somebody that everybody else thinks is unimportant or worthless. Do you understand?”

“I guess. Can we be done yet?”

“In just a minute, Claire. There’s some important stuff in this section.”

“I know. Matthew was a tax collector and tax collectors were looked down on during Jesus’ time.”

“That’s right, Faith. That’s exactly right. So as we read through this Gospel, keep your ears open and be listening for stories about the outcasts, the people nobody liked.”

“Are we done now !”

“Yes, we’re done now, Faith. Clear the table and get your after breakfast chores done and then it’s time for individual lessons.”

We will read over this section for two more days. Tomorrow we’ll point out all the kings. We spent a year in Kings and Chronicles so this will be good review to see what the kids remember. I’ll emphasize that none of these people were perfect. We’ll go through the list of names and see if we can remember the shortcomings of the people in the list.

The next day we’ll talk about how Matthews personality is reflected in the geneology. It makes sense that a numbers whiz would divide the geneology into three equal groups of fourteen. I’ll explain that Matthew’s geneology shows us that in spite of the chaos of the individual lives that make up the list, God is able to work his perfect orderly plan through ordinary people. I’ll tell the kids that A record of the geneology of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham can be translated The genesis of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. I’ll ask them, “What do you think about when you hear the word genesis? Now doesn’t it make sense that John chose to begin his gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ? They are really both saying the same thing!”

That will be the end of Matthew Chapter 1:1-17. Four days spend with Matthew’s geneology. Bible takes about twenty minutes to a half hour. We often have one lesson at breakfast and another at lunch. Interruptions are a given. The little ones get bored but their minds are stretched and around age seven they begin to understand and participate with more enthusiasm. If I only had little ones (seven and under) I would simply read through the The Child’s Story Bible like I did with Lauren and John. Perhaps this is really what I need to do with Claire and Charlie but Faith (7) is definitely ready for this type of Bible study. She begs me to read Bible at every meal. For now this is the way we learn. For now. But nothing ever stays the same with children.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Homeschooler of the Week


Today I am at The Heart of the Matter talking about what homeschooling looks like for my family. Stop over for a visit.

Please ignore the fact that the picture accompanying the post is over two years old. It's the last relatively decent picture that we have with all of us together. It's hard to get a photo of seven people with everyone's eyes open! (Now I know you'll head over to visit, if only out of curiosity.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Backyard Habitat

Tiny living things we've found in our backyard in the last few weeks.


"Look Mom! There's a tree frog."

"Where? I don't see it."

"Right there."

Can you find it?

Toads LOVE our backyard.

"Mom! Mom! Come quick! We found these insect eggs under a leaf on a vine!"


We brought the leaf in and set it on the window sill in the kitchen. We spritzed it with water from time to time. The egg cases turned orange and a few days later we watched little red and black bugs hatch. They look like tiny lady bugs but I don't think they are. Any experts out there who can identify these?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rediscovering Traditions in the Kitchen

We are on a quest to eat food that nourishes. This is a hard thing to accomplish given the fifteen aisles in the grocery store that offer soybean oil, red # 40, high fructose corn syrup and enriched wheat flour in two thousand brightly packaged varieties. I’ve stiffened my resolve and we skirt around the edges of the store dashing into the middle for dog food and olive oil. The kids and I are turning this into a challenge. How many aisles can we bypass? How many things can we make ourselves with whole, healthy ingredients?

It’s busy in my kitchen tonight. The food processor whirrs and shreds. Charlie feeds the hungry machine zucchini that Claire has cut into slices. Faith writes ZUCCHINI on a freezer bag and tucks one cup packages of the shredded veggie into the bag and carries it out to the freezer. Lauren rinses cranberries and we chop and add them to our colorful pile in the freezer. I slice and process onions. Claire tries to stay and watch because she doesn’t like to miss a thing but her eyes water and she must abandon the kitchen.

Lauren pulls apart the chicken carcass from dinner. She snaps the bones to expose the marrow. The leg bones are too sturdy for our hands so we use a hammer to break them. The children laugh at the sight and Henrie dives for a stray bone. Lauren struggles frantically to wrestle it from the dog’s mouth. Eventually she is victorious. That bone goes in the garbage, the rest go into the crock-pot where they will simmer all night and most of tomorrow filling up our entire house with their rich, delicious smell.

It’s sad that as a whole our society has forgotten these traditions of the past. We have set aside labor in favor of convenience and in the process our health has been set aside as well. The number of people living with chronic disease in this nation is staggering. We search for cures that will conquer the scourges of cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression and heart disease that plague us. Doctors write prescriptions with abandon for drugs that help us manage and cope but do not cure. And all the while we wonder at the state our bodies are in, we drink our diet cokes and drive through the Wendy’s drive through and pop chicken nuggets into the oven for a quick dinner and we don’t make the connection. We are what we eat.

My family has had it with the status quo and we are looking for a better way. It’s not easy to set aside a lifetime of bad habits and lack of knowledge but just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Good health is worth the time and trouble it takes to learn new skills. Today it’s homemade chicken broth full of the minerals and calcium from the bones of tonight’s dinner. The cookbook is propped up on the kitchen table and Lauren and I read through and take the principles from the recipe and adapt the spices to our tastes. (Can’t you just picture our great grandmothers doubled over in laughter at the sight of us reading how to make broth from a book? Or might they be sad at this woeful lack of knowledge?)

This week we will build health and strengthen immunity with homemade chicken soup. If you would like to fill your kitchen with the same aroma and conquer flu season with us here is our recipe. (In case this ancient knowledge went to the grave with some ancestor a few generations back.) I have written it just like we made it and just like your great grandmother might have written it down in days gone by.

Chicken Broth

Place in crock-pot:
1 Chicken carcass
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (draws out the minerals)
A couple of chopped carrots
1 chopped onion
A stalk or two of chopped celery
1 tablespoon of dried parsley (I just poured a good amount into my hand and dumped it in the crock-pot
4 quarts water (We just filled out crock-pot right up to the top)

We set the crock-pot to cook for 10 hours. Then I will leave it on warm until late tomorrow afternoon. The longer the broth cooks the richer the color. Strain the broth through a colander and store in containers in the fridge or freezer.

Here’s to our health this winter!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Entomology Artwork

Predacious Diving Larva and Beetle by John

Lots and Lots of Ladybugs by Claire

Mrs. Mosquito by Faith

Atlas Fritillary by Lauren

Monday, October 22, 2007

Seven Pairs of Shoes

This weekend we went shoe shopping. Click over to 4 OR MORE for the story that goes along with these pictures.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not Quite Like the Pumpkin Patch

The Pumpkin Patch sits on top of Signal Mountain tucked safely behind Walden Town Hall just outside of Chattanooga. It’s our favorite playground. Ever. There are zip wires, little slides, bigger slides and the daddy of all slides. There are four or five swing sets, play places for little ones and big ones, a covered picnic area, drinking fountains and a bathroom. It was forty-five minutes from our house when we lived in Tennessee and we scaled the mountain from time to time to play under the shady trees. We miss it.

We had been scouring the land for a good playground somewhere near Smallville for about nine months when an acquaintance asked me if we had discovered the wooden playground just a few miles from Stuart’s work. We hadn’t due to the intricate road layout in the Land Flowing With Milk and Honey.

"You should definitely take the kids there. It's a great playground."

I had her repeat the directions a few times and on the next grocery day we traveled a few minutes off the beaten path and pulled into a gravel parking lot where swings and slides and wooden bridges shimmered in the 107 degree heat. We didn’t get out but made plans to come back when the temperature dipped low enough to allow for breathing.

It’s been several months and the children have anxiously waited for the thermometer to drop into the eighties. It finally did and last Thursday we pulled into the same gravel parking lot. The three little ones were quivering with excitement with visions of the Pumpkin Patch etched in their little heads.

I, on the other hand, was watching a Mustang Convertible come squealing up behind me in my rear view mirror. He pulled into a parking space in a swirl of dust. Two teenage girls came giggling over to the car wearing shirts that might have fit them comfortably four or five years ago. They decorated the driver’s side door and pulled out their cigarettes. I considered my options. Well, I didn’t really have any options because I had promised and the kids had waited for months and we were finally here and I couldn’t very well tell them, “Sorry guys, creepy people to starboard.” So we got out.

We walked through the gate and under the archway and the kids made a beeline for a dragon made out of tires. They scrambled to the top and and a little girl named Alyssa came over to watch. I know her name was Alyssa because she told me.

“What’s your name?”

I was distracted helping Charlie clamber up the dragon and I thought she was talking to Faith. “That’s Faith and this is Charlie and that is Claire,” I told her.

“No. What is your name?”

“Kate.”

“Oh, I’m Alyssa.”

Charlie made it safely to the top so I turned to look at her for a minute. She was the same size as Faith with white blond hair and dirty bare feet. “Hi Alyssa. Who are you here with?”

“My brother.” She pointed to a middle school kid sitting in the only square foot of shade on the playground. “And my sister.” One of the giggling girls I had met on my way in.

“How old are you?”

“I’m seven. I’m in second grade.”

“Oh, so you are the same age as Faith.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m thirty-nine.”

“Wow! That’s old! My grandmother’s thirty-nine.”

Thanks kid. I needed that boost of self-esteem.

I lifted Charlie off the dragon and we went over to the tire hammock. Alyssa came too.

“Everybody climb on. I’ll push you.”

Charlie fought his way into a secure position. The girls hopped on and I rocked the swing. Charlie leaned back. Then he rolled over and licked the tire.

“Charlie! Don’t lick that! That’s disgusting!”

“It’s dithguthting?”

"Yes. It has germs."

“Yeah! My little brother threw up on this swing once. Right there.” Alyssa pointed to the exact spot that Charlie had just licked clean.

Eew!

That did it for the hammock. Everyone rolled off the swing and began to crawl through the tire tunnel. Alyssa crawled right after Charlie. “My brother pooped in this tunnel once.”

You’ve got one gross brother kid. “Who wants to swing?”

Everybody did. We walked over to the swing set where we discovered that the sun had baked ripples into the plastic seats. I eased Charlie onto a swing and gave him a few test pushes. The swing held. I pushed harder.

“Once when I sat on that swing it broke.”

“I can see why. They don't seem too sturdy do they?”

We moved onto the telephone tubes and the tic-tac-toe game that was set up sideways so the X’s and O’s rolled from the positions we put them in. We held our pieces in place as we played.

Mercifully, the minutes ticked by and finally it was time to say goodbye to the playground and the giggling girls and our little tour guide.

"That was fun, Mama! Can we come back again next week?"

" Next week, I think we just go back to McDonald’s and get a milkshake. It will be healthier."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Transformation of John: Part Two

John calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved in the Gospel that he penned. For years I thought this was perhaps false modesty on John’s part. Why couldn’t he refer to himself in the first person like some of the Greats before him? Men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Why choose such a wordy title when I, me and my would suffice. But do they?

The disciple whom Jesus loved are words that have been weighing on my mind for the last week. John writes the best known verse in all the Bible, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever shall believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. As he stood at the foot of the cross John was the only disciple to actually see how much God loved the world, to recognize how much Jesus loved not only the whole world, but more personally John himself. He couldn’t help but call himself the disciple whom Jesus loved and to be changed because of his certainty of Christ's love.

JOHN: NEW AND IMPROVED

GENTLE: When Jesus stood at the edge of the shore in the final chapter of John, he called out to his disciples, "Friends, haven’t you any fish?" (NIV) This is one of those times where the NIV fails to capture the best meaning of the Greek. The NASB translates the sentence this way.“Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” Can you hear the tenderness in His voice? When I read this sentence, I hear it as a rhetorical question. He knew they have no fish. I hear Jesus speaking to His closest friends as a father in this scene. This scene must have lived on in John’s mind for it became clear to him that he was not to seek glory but to seek ways to serve. He was not to lord authority over others but to be a father to his spiritual children. John used the word children frequently in his letters. He echoed the tenderness of Jesus in his writing.

ALL INCLUSIVE: John wrote his Gospel that all might believe, that all may have eternal life.

HUMBLE: John could have included miracles he had performed. He could have told us how he was related to Caiaphas in chapter 18. He could have told us how brave he was to remain with Jesus throughout the crucifixion. He could have at least dropped his own name into his book a few times but he does none of these things. Instead, he focused the spotlight completely on Jesus. John realized that he could not improve on the message of Jesus' life and death and resurrection.

UNDERSTANDING: Daniel 2:21 states, He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. This was the case with John. John was already quick to understand just by reading the clues around him. After the indwelling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, John must have been overwhelmed with understanding. His gospel clearly shows the correlation between the Jewish holy days and Jesus’ ministry. He was entrusted to share the future with us through the book of Revelation. He wrote to protect the Church from the snares of Gnosticism. His writing is powerful, logical, and persuasive. I am most amazed at the artistry in his words.

Once Peter and John were boldly proclaiming the gospel. They were seized and thrown in jail and they spoke before the Sanhedrin the next day. The Sanhedrin. The group that had Jesus put to death. Peter and John preached the gospel to these men courageously. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.

John shows me that we have the ability to astonish others with our faith. Like John, when we have been with Jesus, when we understand how much He loves us, it will show. Don’t the changes we find in John’s character give you hope that you will slowly put away your shortcomings and dress garment by garment in a more Christ like nature? John’s example fills me with hope and helps me look past my momentary failures. I know that change will be wrought in my own character because I know with certainty that I am one whom Jesus loves. And so are you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Reflecting on John

We turned the final page of the Gospel of John this week. We’ve been traveling with him since mid-July and I am sad to part ways. The kids and I have discussed in detail how John didn’t tell everything he knew. He relayed only what was important. The kids have been writing bug stories this week and we have edited ruthlessly so that only the ideas that tell the clearest story and create the best word pictures have remained. They get it. They have enjoyed the richness of John’s writing and they see the value in emulating his style.

This is my first time studying John in depth and the beauty of this book and the genius of his writing have overwhelmed me. He writes tightly. He writes with a purpose and must leave much of what he witnessed in his time with Jesus out of his work. This enables him to pack a solid punch. All that is included in the twenty-one chapters supports the first sentence: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John is a book of signs, of miracles, each included so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

I learned much about Jesus’ public ministry that I had not noticed before. I was surprised that the religious leaders became antagonistic to him so early in his ministry. Jesus’ resolute march to the cross began in earnest, long, long before the final week in Jerusalem. I saw that He was in command of His death from the beginning of John’s gospel until the moment He took His last breath. As I studied the history surrounding Caiaphas, the high priest, Annas, his father-in-law, Pontius Pilate, and Herod Antipas, I learned each was reacting to circumstances beyond his control. None got what he wanted by having Jesus crucified during Passover Week. None but Jesus. His deity became clearer, more certain to me as we poured over the chapters. It is good to be able to pick apart my Bible a sentence at a time and find that my faith is not diminished but strengthened.

When we came to passages that were difficult to understand, we stopped and prayed for understanding and often it came. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery was particularly helpful, both in understanding the structure of the book and the imagery. John is a master of word pictures. I spent hours at bible.org reading Bob Deffinbaugh’s commentaries. His work is contemporary, scholarly and alive.

I said before I started this book that this is the place many people recommend starting with when reading the Bible and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. I read through this book in my early years as a Christian and found myself thoroughly confused. I don’t know that I would jump on the bandwagon and say that this is the place where one must start but it is not a book to be missed. It cannot be a book that one just zooms through a chapter or two a day in their hurry conquer the Bible. John is a book to be savored, a book to soak in. If you have not yet spent some time here, do. You’ll be amazed all over again at your God.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Writing for 4 or More

In the midst of this writer's block, I received an e-mail from lotsofkids.com asking me to write for their new blog 4 or More. I had sent them a link to my blog several months ago to be considered for this writing opportunity. Little did I know that when the time actually came to participate, my mind would be frozen solid! I'm still waiting for the thaw.

So I wrote an introduction about our family for 4 or More. It took me three hours! Three hours to write a few simple sentences about people that I spend every waking minute with.

Here it is:

Stuart and I were married fifteen years ago today in front of God and family and an entire class of balloon-clutching kindergarteners. Looking back, I guess it's appropriate we started our married life with a church full of kids as witnesses because our lives have since been overflowing with children...

The story continues here if you care to read further.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

We Interrupt this Program...

It's been quiet here on this blog. Boring even. I want to write but not about chores and laundry. I want the ideas to flow freely from my brain to my fingertips but they will not come. There is an inky blackness. An overwhelming lack of creativity and coherent thought. God is teaching me in this. All that is good here in this space comes from Him. He is the generator of my ideas. He puts my words together. Now He chooses to be quiet and so must I. When I hear His still, small voice once again, I will be back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Waiting For Lauren

We went to a local craft fair where Lauren was lured into spending two hours sewing a tiny leather pouch. While we waited for her to finish, the rest of us took turns with the dulcimers.



Thursday, September 27, 2007

Charlie and the Cheesecake Filling

"Would you like to try some?" asked the smiling lady in grocery aisle. She held out a tiny plastic cup with two graham cracker sticks and a scoop of chocolate cheesecake filling.

It's cheesecake, lady! Of course we want to try some.

"Yes please. We would love to try it. Wouldn't we, kids?"

"Yes please, Mama."

We walked away dipping our two little crackers in that tasty filling. We dipped until we ran out of cracker. I being a rational adult made the chocolate and the filling come out even. Charlie ran short of cracker and resorted to using his tongue and a good deal of his face to get at the rest of the chocolate goodness. He worked quietly as we trekked down three whole aisles. Then he looked up. Brown sweet goo covered his face from the nose down, ear to ear. But Charlie is resourceful. He used his shirt to take care of the damage as I scanned the aisle in vain for a box of wipes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Laundry Nightmares

I have nightmares about the washing machine breaking down.


This is about how much laundry we wash every single day!

The crew folded and put it away in about twenty minutes on this particular day. Most days they dawdle.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Stuart and I went on a crash diet this weekend and lost a couple hundred pounds. Our waistlines are not trimmer but the garage is no longer stuffed to the gills. It had to be done. Especially after I posted a picture of the disaster for all the world to see. It's one thing to admit that I'm a slacker. But what if somebody sent me an e-mail a month from now and asked, "Do the kids still have to wrestle with painting equipment and footstools to get at their bikes?" If I had to admit that they were, what kind of mother would I be? So we cleaned the garage.

My favorite box was filled with joy sticks to a Nintendo game. We don't own Nintendo. Remote controls. Lots of them. We pushed buttons. Maybe we were turning on the ceiling fan to our last house? "Hey! Remember the TV that caught on fire. I think this was the remote that went to it."

Cordless phones without their base units. A rechargable battery. To what? More head scratching. Enough! "Tip the whole mess into this here trash bag. Ah! Now hand me the box. I've got 30 canning jars that need a better home than the bottomless cardboard box they've been in for the last year."

The back of the car is stuffed with highchairs and doll strollers and the chandalier that was hanging over our bed. (The ceiling fan that took it's place is much more enjoyable.) We hung shelves for sprays and cleaners and other man stuff. Moldy rockers and old doors are sitting on the trailer waiting to be hauled to the dump. The shop vac gobbled spiders, a whole army of spiders and egg sacs. Stuart sprayed Raid in after them for good measure.

And finally, after five years of sitting in the garage of two homes, we said good riddance a fond farewell to old stereo equipment. I'll replay the scene for you. I could write this in my sleep for it is a conversation we have had many times over the years though never with this particular ending.

"Hon, what about the tape deck, the CD player and the VCR? Do you think we still need those?"

"Umm."

"Well, do you? We use the computer for everything. They've been taking up storage space for five years."

"You can't play tapes on the computer."

"We don't play tapes! Every tape you've ever owned is on Rhapsody. We don't even know where the box of tapes is!"

"Mmm."

He didn't say no! Every other time when I say "Do you think we still...." I don't even get to finish the sentence before he says,

"Yes! I'm keeping them!"

He didn't say no!

"So you think it might be time then?"

"I'm not throwing them away! They're still good."

"I know they are. I wasn't thinking of throwing them away. Can we give them away?"

"I guess."

"Do you want to help me load them up or would you rather leave while I do it?"

"You can do it. I don't want to watch."

"OK. How 'bout those speakers? I know I'm really pushing here but come on they are each the size of a midsize refrigerator.

"Umm. Umm." Silence. "Alright."

Yes! "I'll get those too then."

Stuart left to haul the paint cans to the shed and I loaded up the car. I hummed cheerily. If Stuart was humming, it was dirgelike and morose.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'd Rather Blog

Last week Janelle wrote a responsible post about blogging and Alana posted a humorous response. I give you the photo essay about how things tend to slide...


...when one blogs.

Plants begin to escape their borders.

Doors lean next to the closet they belong to two months after they have been painted.

Stuart needs the Army Corps of Engineers to help extract his motorcycle from the garage.

And this sympathy card has been sitting on the shelf in my kitchen for months. Sometimes when I dust around it, I feel guilty but apparently not guilty enough to either mail it or put it in a drawer.

After I put all of these pictures up, I felt like I needed to tackle one of these projects so I turned on the flood lights and went out into the night to tackle the garden. I dug up shoots of crepe myrtle and gave the lantana a giant haircut. When the need to accomplish something passed, I dumped everything in a pile and went back into the house. So I guess I really can't cross that gardening thing off my to-do list quite yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Straw-Hatted Geezers

Writing has become therapeutic. When something annoying begins to happen, I think There’s potential for a story in this and the more annoying it gets the better the story. Such was our drive into The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey this afternoon.

The roads between Smallville and The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey are twisting, bumpy and covered with deer carcasses this time of year. The people who travel to and from Smallville are the retired type. Why drive slow when you can drive slower? is the town motto. Most of the time I get lucky because I drive on the back country roads with just butterflies and dragonflies for company. But today it was me and the butterflies and dragonflies and one faded red pickup. The pickup was in the lead and my Suburban trailed behind. Closely.

There is really no good place to pass on these narrow country lanes so we went twenty, forty, twenty, forty for ten miles. I noticed many things during those ten miles. The pickup windows were rolled down to allow elbows to poke out. The driver wore a straw hat and a blue shirt with green letters. The passenger seat held another geezer sporting another straw hat. Driver and passenger talked and gestured and once in a while the driver glanced at the road. Mile after mile, I absorbed these little details until we came to a fork in the road. Finally! I could go left or right and still reach my destination. The pickup faded to the right. I went left with pent up speed.

Houses and mailboxes blurred by for a quarter of a mile. It was glorious. Suddenly, just around a curve, I came upon another pickup driven by another elderly gentleman wearing, you guessed it, another straw hat. He was, of course, driving twenty, forty, twenty, forty. I was delighted. I was living in a story and began to tell the children the end for I saw it very clearly in my mind. “Watch this guys. In a minute we’re going to turn right. When we get to the place where that other road comes out, the faded red pickup is going to pull right out in front of the white pickup.”

“No way, Mama! I’ll bet you a hundred dollars.”

The minutes ticked by. Twenty, forty, twenty, forty. We came over the top of the hill and down below we all could see the faded red pickup. He pulled out, slowly, slowly in front of the white pickup and made a wide right turn using the right lane and the left lane and the right lane again. I was beside myself. There was cheering and high fiving. I wonder what the guy in the white pickup thought of the celebratory spirit in the Suburban trailing in his wake. Maybe I scared him because a few minutes later he pulled over to the side of the road. Maybe he needed a nap. It's twenty-five whole minutes between Smallville and The Land Flowing with Milk and Honey.

“Hey, Mom. Do I have to pay you a hundred dollars?”

“No, buddy. You don’t have to pay. It’s just so awesome to be right and besides I have a blog for tomorrow.”

And here it is.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reading Lessons

Charlie and I sit together on the sofa, close, close. The way we always sit. Charlie likes close. His little head is bent over the paper I am writing on.

"What's this, Charlie?" I draw m on the paper.

"mmmm for Mama!" He grins up at me.

"What's this one?" f

Charlie puts the palms of his chubby hands together and wiggles them back and forth through imaginary waves. "fffff for fishy!"

"And this one?" s

"ssss for sword!" I duck out of the way as he brandishes an imaginary weapon.

Now there are five. Five kids in school. This is how we start, with a piece of paper and a pencil, lowercase letters and letter sounds. (Uppercase letters and letter names will come in a few years when Charlie learns how to write. ) It takes a couple of minutes each day and in a few months my last child will know his letters. When we pull into Wal-Mart, he will start yelling, "There's a wuh for water! There's a tuh for tickle!"

After letter sounds comes combinations like ea, ai, th... for a very long time. This is not so exciting as learning letters. I've never found anything that I love for teaching the very beginning of reading. A different phonics program for every kid. Teach Your Child to Read in a Hundred Easy Lessons. Sing, Spell, Read and Write. Reading Made Easy. Phonics is boring, necessary, but boring.

And then, after we have slaved over phonics and Charlie can read The p-i-g t-oo-k uh b-a-th, we will move on to my favorite readers, Pathway Readers, an Amish reading series.

After Charlie hopped down this morning Claire came and sat next to me but not quite as close as Charlie. She opened her second grade reader, More Busy Times, and began to read about Peter and the measles. Faith looked up from her math book, "I remember that story. Peter wants to go to the zoo but he can't because Rachel has the measles and it wouldn't be fair to leave her at home." She comes and leans over the back of the sofa to listen while Claire and I read pages in turns. An old friend.

I love these books. That is saying something because I have listened to four children sound out, P-e-t-er s-a-i-d, ("Said.") Y-e-s R-a-ch-el. You c-a-n r-i-d ("No, that's ride. The e jumps over the d to make the i say i." ) r-ide...

The stories are interesting. They are about family and kindness and all of the values we want our children to claim as their own. The black and white line drawings complement the story but do not compete for my young reader's attention.

The first couple books in our set of readers have all of the b's marked in blue. b's and d's are hard to tell apart. There are marks where letter combinations have been underlined and then erased. I had to cut "word windows" out for a couple of kids who couldn't keep their place. This is a narrow strip of card stock with a small rectangular hole in it, just big enough to read one word at a time. In time, all of these crutches fall by the wayside. In time, much time, my readers stop sounding out every letter and read whole words. Andthentheyreadeverythingasfastastheycanwithoutregardforpunctuation.

Pathway Readers go through the eighth grade but we only own the first through third grade readers. My kids graduate to Henry Huggins, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Stories from Grandma's Attic...They read in the car, in the bathroom, in their beds late at night and early in the morning.
So today, Charlie says, "It's t for tickle" as he reaches over and tickles my arm but in a few years he is going to join the chorus that the other children sing:

"Can we go to the library today? I finished my last book and I haven't got a thing to read!"

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Redecorating

Have you ever lived in a house that doesn’t match your stuff? A house full of flooring and light fixtures and cupboards that are outdated and worn and ugly? That’s my house. It’s was built in the seventies and retains some of the charm of that era: a Jack and Jill bathroom in the playroom, gold carpet on the floor, dark shelving and trim in the living room.

And the paint! Oh my word! I do not long for fall. It’s colors are spread out majestically over my walls. Pumpkin. Caramel. Hunter Green. Gold. I love light and these colors drink in the sun in big thirsty gulps, covering me in shade and shadows.

So we work. All the changes that we have made in the house so far have been with an eye to creating more light. Heavy drapes came down. Stuart is preparing to install French doors leading out to the sunroom. I paint. Cameo blue and white cover the gold hallway. Blue and white comforters do not pop against a pumpkin background, so bedroom walls are coated in layers and layers of white.

The house is a mess this afternoon. Stuart has tools scattered down the length of the hallway. He is installing trim in Lauren’s bedroom. I have shoved the furniture in John’s room against one wall and laid a sheet of plastic over the floor. A roller full of Kilz bulldozes away the caramel color in his room. The gold carpet, which was muted against the caramel walls, now shouts from the floor. It is out of place against the white walls and blue bedding.

I think as I paint. This must be how it is for God.When He comes and makes our heart His home, I’ll bet He is excited to get to work so that this “home” can better show off His glory. It must bother Him that His elegant furnishings don’t match our tacky d├ęcor.

My blog links have been full of evidence of His redecorating in the lives fellow bloggers this week. He clears away the old to make room for the new. God’s new is always better than our old. Some share triumphant news. God’s glory is surely found in the triumphant when a person frames success in terms of look what God has done rather than An Ode to the Great and Talented Me. A friend writes of her journey to acceptance in a time of sickness. Our natural tendency is to rebel, to be bitter when health is elusive. To rejoice during such a time could only be a change wrought by the Master Designer. Two sisters write of the death of a nephew. They grieve deeply and and yet declare God's sovereignty during this dark and sudden chapter that has been written into their family. They are hard pressed, perplexed but they do not despair. Only those filled with the glory of God would not despair at such a loss.

All of these triumphs, disappointments and tragedies are invitations extended to us by the Father to allow Him to tear out, to rebuild, to redecorate for we house His glory. He wants our house to match His.
I love the house where you live, O LORD, the place where your glory dwells. Psalm 26: 8
And glory has come to me through them. John 17:10

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Correction

I just checked my blog profile and discovered that I am an accountant living in Afghanistan. News to me! So for all of you who were wondering about that, I'm still in Smallville, and I'm still really bad with numbers. I am not, never have been and do not aspire to be an accountant. Go check your profiles. Maybe you'll discover you're a dog trainer in Mozambique.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

4-H Exhibits-Updated

Update: Blue ribbons all around! 4 of our projects will go onto the state fair. John's headboard exceeds size limitations and so we will lug it home tomorrow. We are relieved. That thing is heavy!
*************
For the past few weeks we have been busy sewing, sawing, quilling and painting 4-H projects. The kids have been in 4-H for about a month and they started with a bang. The annual 4-H fair is tomorrow. So this morning we loaded these projects and four kids wearing slippers into the car. The fifth one had sense enough to wear flip-flops. (The other four complained as we pulled out of the driveway that their feet were sweating.)

John reclining against the headboard that he built with Stuart. He wrote the 10 Commandments of Table Saw Safety to accompany this project.

Claire's quilling project.


Lauren modeling the apron that she sewed.

Lauren and the dog painting she has been working on in art class for the past few months.



Faith and her quilling project.

So now, I guess we can get back to algebra, language arts and history for awhile. But not for long. There's an entomology exhibit that we need to prepare for in a few weeks. (Mom, if you click on the pictures you can see them in greater detail. The quilling looks great up close.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So Long Summer

Two swim noodles will support one mama quite easily.

They will also support five children...

...but not for long.

This was my last day in the pool as the temperature of the water has dipped below 95°. That's just too cold for me. But, it will still be awhile before we have to trade flip flops and shorts for long pants and tennis shoes. I love the South!

A Doubting Time

“Mama. This isn’t true.” Faith has a Magic Tree House book open to the last few pages. She is pointing to the heading, The Rainbow Serpent, an Aboriginal myth about the role the Rainbow Serpent played in creating the world. “It’s not true. I don’t think that the author should write about things that aren’t true like they are true! Indignation leaves it’s mark on her little face.

John has been watching the Discovery Channel with Stuart. He comes out in the middle of a program to let me know, “It’s another one of those the Bible can’t be true so here’s what happened instead shows. This week it’s about how Noah’s ark would have sunk. Last week, it was about how they found Jesus’ bones. Where do they come up with this stuff?”

These conversations are heartening. My children are learning to evaluate the reasoning of others using the Bible as a plumb line. An incredible skill for ones so young.

Just a few years ago, planes flew into the Twin Towers and scattered glass, concrete and human flesh, confidence and security. My own young faith teetered in the aftermath of this event. How could men be so convinced that they were right? How could they be so sure they would fly into those buildings and come out in a blaze of Glory? Where did this conviction come from? I found myself wondering, Am I so sure of what I believe that I would be willing to defend my beliefs? To speak up? To die?

I wandered around the house in a fog making beds and washing dishes. They seemed unnecessary, worthless tasks in the grand scheme of things against the backdrop of those days. I voiced my thoughts to Stuart. “Is the God whom we believe in right? Are we on the right track?”

His answer was wise. “Belief is a decision. If you choose to follow Jesus. Follow. And keep your eyes open. If He is who He says He is, He will show Himself faithful to you and you will come out at the end of this time of doubting more sure of your faith. If He is who He says He is, He will not crumble because of your questioning.” This is what happened. I did pass through to the other side, from doubt to a renewed, strengthened faith.

Yesterday I was studying John 16 and verses 1-4 glowed as if blinking from a billboard. “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you will remember that I told you about them” Oh, I thought. If I had known these words on September 11, 2001, I would not have faltered. I would not have been surprised by the ferocity and the calculation of those men. I would have known how to think. I would have been standing on a firm foundation instead of swinging in the breeze.

This then is why the Word is at the heart of our day. It makes our path straight and our footing sure. It’s what my children will need as they make their way into the world and while they live here in the shelter of our family. It’s what I need for confidence and peace.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Band-Aids and The Kissing Hand

A crowd instantly collected. Yells are very unusual at bazaars, and every one was intensely interested. It was several seconds before the three free children could make Mrs. Biddle understand that what she was walking on was not a schoolroom floor, or even, as she presently supposed, a dropped pin-cushion, but the living hand of a suffering child. When she became aware that she really had hurt him, she grew very angry indeed. When people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest. I wonder why.

The children were gathered around the coffee table with coloring books and draped across the floor and the sofas in the evening lamplight as I read these words aloud from E. Nesbit's book, The Phoenix and the Carpet. I read on to the end of the chapter but my mind stayed on these words…when people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest.

I don’t know about you, but for me this is true. I take one step backward from the refrigerator and step on the toes of a little one who was standing much too close. I pull a rake full of leaves toward me and bump the head of another curious child . What is it about children and their need to crowd a mother in motion? The trodding and banging is usually followed by words like, “Back up! You’re too close! Give me two inches of space!” And then, belatedly, a kiss on the head and a grumbled apology.

Stuart is compassionate by nature and I, by intention. The kids have been known to go running past me to their papa for hugs and kisses for scrapes and banged knees. I’m learning though. My husband sets a good example. I see the children melt in his arms, their loud cries become whimpers and then smiles. Tears still clinging to their lashes. It’s not so hard. I can do this, I tell myself. And I do. Faith comes crying from her bedroom, a hand clamped over her eyebrow. “A picture fell on my eye.” I don’t give her a safety lecture for she’s already learned her lesson. Instead, I sit her in my lap and kiss her forehead. The crying stops. She scoots away, comforted. A kiss is a powerful thing.

We had one. I don’t remember who, who demanded that we kiss exactly where she had been injured. “Not there. Here. No. Here!”

Stuart, in a moment of exasperation and genius said, “Here. Give me your hand.” He kissed her outstretched hand. “Now, rub the kiss where it hurts.” And that was the beginning of The Kissing Hand. The Kissing Hand makes short work of the sympathy ritual.

Magical powers dwell within the band-aid box. The kids just feel better if we cover an injury, real or imagined, with a band-Aid. They like to pick them out at the store. Scooby-Doo, Dora the Explorer, Curious George. A crying child settles almost instantly at the sight of the sticky, colorful strip of plastic.

The kids are learning from our example. Often, I will hear crying in another part of the house and by the time I get there a child has their arms wrapped around the wounded one. “Are you ok? Where did you get hurt?” That is an awesome sight.

This scene is being played out at this very moment. A game of softball in the backyard is interrupted by cries and concern, “Are you ok?” All the children gather round and pat Claire on the back. The game resumes a second later. What lessons these young ones are learning from our example. Compassion is contagious.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Raccoons

It was a running around kind of day today. An eat in the park, errand, exercise, wash the dog day. The kids were swimming right before dinner and I had Henrie in the rinse cycle when Miss Linda popped over. She's stealthy, Miss Linda is, and I startled when I looked up from Henrie's tail to Miss Linda's face.

"I came over to tell you that I have a happy for you over at the house. I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate you."

I twisted off the hose and leaned in close to hear. Cigarette smoke has erased a good deal of her voice. It's deep and gravelly and almost a whisper. We talked for a while over a wet dog leashed to the fence about vitamins and minerals. We're both subscribers to their medicinal value.

"Thanks. I'll pop over sometime after dinner. We miss the kids."

"So do I. The house feels empty. Well, be sure to come by."

Then it was showers for the kids and dinner and dishes."

"Get your shoes on. I have to pick something up at Miss Linda's. You can come if you want." Of course, they did and we arrived on the doorstep, two doors down, in a herd an hour after the sun set. It matters that you know that the sun had set.

"Hey Linda. Everybody wanted to come. Are the raccoons out?"

"Well I don't know. Come on in and we'll see."

"What do you mean are the raccoons out, Mama?"

"You'll see."

We walked through the hall and the kitchen and came out in the sunroom. We breathed shallow breaths on account of the smoke. Mr. John was lying on the sofa. All the lights were off. All the lights in the sunroom that is. But the floodlights in the backyard were on. We looked through the wall of glass into the bright backyard at a wading pool sitting in the dust, and two large dishpans.

"Watch," said Mr. John.

The children were silent. Absolutely silent in a row on the floor. We watched. Pretty soon a raccoon came to the dishpan, his back curved like a kangaroo's. He reached his little hands into the dishpan and wrapped them around a piece of dog food. He rubbed the food between his paws and put it in his mouth and then rubbed his mouth clean. He waddled over to the pool and lapped some gulps of water. He washed his hands and his face, rubbing them fastidiously, and went back to the dogfood diner.

More raccoons came. One. Two. Six. Ten. Out from the shadows. Out from the trees to the diner and the water. We watched in the dark.

"Watch that guy over there. He gets his food and takes it to the pool and washes it. He's the only one that does that. Watch him. He'll hop on his hind legs to the pool with the food in his hand." Sure enough he did.

"There's one, I don't see him here now. We call him Fat Albert. He comes and climbs in the dish and fills it. The other raccoons have to scoop the food out from under him." We never got to see Fat Albert but we wanted to.

" A fox! Look!" We just got a quick glimpse because twelve raccoons can take on one fox. They circled and pushed him back into the shadows. He didn't return.

Sometimes the furry bandits startled as we watched. They scampered into the shadows under the trees in a pack and sauntered back minutes later. One. Two. Five. Nine... In and out, they went from light to shadows, shadows to light.

Projects were calling at home, though we wanted to stay. Charlie waved goodbye to the ring tailed rascals. "Good night, raccoons. Good night."

Linda put a big box of handmade greeting cards into my arms, beautiful ones. "Thanks again. The kids have been asking about you. They miss you," she said. She gave Lauren a plate of cookies to carry home but Charlie carried them instead until he dropped them out by the road and John carried them the rest of the way. Chocolate Chip. We ate them in the light of our kitchen and wished out loud that there wasn't a big fence around our backyard so that we could feed the raccoons too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Aviary Amphitheater (Wordless? Wednesday)

We're slow starters in the morning. The children lie on the sofas and read. Charlie sits and eats a graham cracker and a bowl of yogurt at the table before breakfast. Lauren and I take turn cooking oatmeal, or muffins, or scones... We eat somewhere between ten and eleven. Today, in the midst of all this leisure, the house became exceptionally quiet and I went to figure out why because "too quiet" is never a good thing. Except that it was today. I peeked out the living room window into the backyard and found five chairs and five children lined up on the patio. I opened the door and everybody shushed me.

"Hush, Mama. We're watching the birds. Come sit with us"

Six or seven hummingbirds were zipping around the feeder, frantic to fill their little gas tanks before they migrate. The children were silent, heads tipped up, eyes squinting against the morning light. I went in to get the camera. I took a few pictures of the children but could not capture the hyperactive hummers. The kids laughed at my ineptness.

John has a way with the camera so I handed it over to him and pulled Charlie into my lap. We sat for fifteen more minutes while the hummers chirped and scolded and John worked his magic. (Well, as much magic as he could with our unimpressive camera.) Finally, we went in to get to work and left the birds to their sugar water feast. Our backyard will feel lonely without them in a few short weeks.