No Fear Parenting

Not too long ago, just a few months in fact, a horse and young rider appeared through the woods in front of my house. The boy, just 10 years old, in his worn chaps, boots, and cowboy hat, tied the horse and played for an hour or two with my kids. I fed him good in case he might faint, offered water to the horse lest it fail, and warned him about the coming storm. The cowboy, who’d grown a few inches in the short span of that afternoon, laughed at my handwringing and rode the twelve miles (10 as the crow flies) back home, crossing one major road, then through fields and sagebrush and wild terrain.

As he left, I’d made him promise to call me when he got home, and it was clear I was the only one afraid of the looming thunderclouds, I could see it in his plucky blue eyes. The call came a few hours later, “Mrs. T, you don’t have to worry, I’m in the fields near my house now, I made it.”

I cringed for just a moment, wondering if I’d ever have the courage and steady mind of this boy’s mother, sending my babies off into the wilderness like that — Bears, cougars, snakes! Mostly, I was just in awe at the common-sense no-fear parenting in action. The lack of a parent tagging along in this little narrative only means, let me assure you, that this family has raised a confident and skilled young man. (Mom called me later to see how the whole thing unfolded and I praised her fortitude!) Yes, the boy comes from a long line of rugged pioneer stock and rides a horse as well as he walks — and had a cell phone and a hunting knife on him. And he’s been trained in survival skills practically since he was born — there is the balance.

Me? I send my kids to school with their own personal hand-sanitizers and force them to wear coats because I am cold. What kind of moral virtue and perseverance is that teaching?

In the meantime, I’ll be working toward not over-sanitizing my kids’ childhoods. Watch out, they may not gallop ten miles to a friend’s house, but maybe I’ll let them go bird hunting by themselves on the back 10 acres.

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Mother, did you know?

I was blessed to spend Christmas Day with some wonderful and rare women, all mothers to me in one way or another. We talk about Mary on Christmas Day because of her special motherhood. I think on Christmas Day, perhaps even more so than Mother’s Day, it’s right to celebrate mothers and their place in this world.

My actual mother, here with her favorite cup of tea (this is the best tea I’ve ever had, as she says about what’s in front of her at the moment). She’s lived a quirky and eccentric life and somehow raised four girls and they raised her. She is a blessing, even in the difficult days of the caring and cleaning and frustrations of old age. She now forces us into comedic breaks which we really need. My husband said “Happy Halloween” to her on Christmas morning, and then she refused to believe us when we said it was actually Christmas — “no, you’re joking!” she insisted. When I was a little girl and young adult, she would unfailingly tell me I was beautiful, smart, talented, and a wonder. She had a small world in her mind and didn’t have a lot to compare me to, so I took her words with a grain of salt. But I’ve since understood to never underestimate words like this, they are powerful and shaping, and when spoken in child-like faith are a sort of beacon of light and hope eternal.

Next is Tana, my mother-in-law. She’s been my friend and mother for 17 years now, and is a piece of my foundation. She raised three boys, and that alone makes her a rockstar. Her boys are funny and warm and love her and each other, true evidence of mothering well-done. God knew I needed some help and sent me Tana. Her fierce loyalty and deep friendship is really something. She is part of this group of seven women who went to high school together — what, 50 years ago? — and they still get together without fail a couple times a year. She inspires me to be a good and faithful friend. Also, I’m terrible at celebrating milestones, and without her help, there would have been far fewer birthday parties and other commemorating events in the lives of my children.

And Donna, the matriarch, without whom there would be no mother-in-law and no husband. She’s the only grandmother I have, my own grandma who was also a rare and beautiful soul, has been in Heaven for two decades now. I love this woman so much. Donna’s bright smile just makes me happy, and she is always happy — honestly, I don’t see her melancholy ever. True, I only see the best foot we put forward in the world, but when I’m thinking that life isn’t fair or I should have it like such-and-so, I think of her. She’s been through some battles and is the epitome of gracious long-suffering — though she would never see it that way. What, I haven’t suffered, she would say. She is practical, compassionate, consistent, and full of divine grace.

I am ever grateful for these mothers. William Makepeace Thackeray said that Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children. I would add that it’s the name of God for all humanity when we’re in need of patience and forbearance and unconditional love — and a voice to say, “you can do it, honey.”

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Near the place of offerings

I realized something today about location. That’s the mantra of real estate, right? Location, location, location.

Reading in John 8, where Jesus is speaking about the validity of his testimony and the pharisees are challenging his authority to appear as his own witness, there was tucked into a verse something I never noticed.

He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. John 8:20

Why was this location mentioned? Why was Jesus teaching next to the offerings? I followed the footnote back to Mark 12:41, where Jesus is again speaking next to the place where offerings were put. In the Mark account, Jesus is noticing the poor widow who offers her two small copper coins. And this footnote told me something interesting about the location:

The temple treasury is located in the court of the women. Both men and women were allowed in this court, but women could go no farther into the temple buildings.

Yes. This was the answer to that niggling question in my head, one of those minor details that tend to trip me up. I believe Jesus was teaching and seated next to the temple treasury not because he wanted to keep a parsimonious eye on who gave what, but because it gave him access to both men and women. This revelation spoke to me about my own locale and area of influence — am I sharing my faith in the venues that reach the most people, regions that include sometimes overlooked populations? What can I do about this?

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Tooth Fairy: revisited

I’m on my last child to be losing front teeth. I just played tooth fairy a few minutes ago, and my 10 year old had to help me out. “Jo, do you have any money?” –and I added an apology, “you don’t still believe in the Tooth Fairy do you? I’m so sorry to have to ask you…” She assured me she knew all about it, and happily handed over the money for her little brother.

The tooth went into a little plastic bag with a note, “June 24, 2013–L.’s front tooth,” to join the myriad of baby teeth hidden in secret places. I tucked a dollar bill by L’s head and felt a sudden sadness that soon I’ll be out of a job. I had the crazy thought that I wouldn’t give it up, that even when my children are grown and gray, I’d still collect their fallen old teeth and reward them with surprise treasures. Of course, it’s more likely that one of them will have to play tooth fairy to me when I’m old and worn out! Really, old folks deserve a Tooth Fairy, too, don’t you think?

When JJ was about five and lost one of her first teeth, I gave her my silver ring that I’d had since high school. It’s still in her treasure box. My oldest boy got a Bicentennial silver dollar once, a prized possession I’d had since I was little. See, this Tooth Fairy job is serious and sentimental business, my small way of telling my children that I cherish them. Oh, I’ll find other ways, this has just been “my thing.” I do have a fair amount of kids’ teeth to go, so I suppose I have time to figure out the next thing. Watch out, kids, if I’m still around when you’re 90!

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When they were young

I remember climbing up Misery Ridge with them that day, six years ago now. I don’t remember them being so little. Maybe it was a different time and my mind is playing tricks on me?

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In Fields of Grace

Jeté, échappé, a stag leap and a pirouette — I’m not a dancer but there was this moment of freedom and I danced a dance of worship.

Being home alone without the cacophony of kids and their chatter and no pressing duties as mother and wife must have dropped my self-conscious restraints. I’d finished up scrubbing tubs, toilets, doors, walls, floors — a deep cleaning kind of day, and I paused to listen to the radio. In my usual practice, I’d been praying to myself throughout the day, petitioning God for blessing for my family.

I’d just changed the sheets on my oldest son’s bed, and glanced at the photograph on his dresser. He was only a toddler, barefoot in the salty, wet sand with his diaper-sagged jeans rolled up, pointing in awe at crashing waves. I was overcome with love and emotion. Now he’s a boy-man, and I breathed out the prayer that every believing mother prays over her child: God, would you protect him, bless him, fill him with your Holy Spirit, direct his path, give him the grace and courage to follow You all his days?

And then, in the marvelous exchange that happens in the miracle of “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” I received a piece of the very blessing I prayed for my son. Not that I prayed for him to break out in dance, but the Spirit of God does move in wonderful ways.

The song on the radio was “Fields of Grace,” and just like the lyrics said, “I’m dancin’ with my Father God in fields of grace.” Dancing before the Lord is not new or foreign to me, but in polite society in the circles I run in, it’s not a frequent occurrence.

I felt someone watching me, so I clearly hadn’t lost all inhibition. I looked out the window in the middle of a twirl and there were the lambs staring at me. Oh yes. I do believe they knew exactly what was going on and wanted to join me. And now I’m positive that David must have danced before the Lord out there in the fields while he watched over his sheep, and they looked on in wonder, possibly wishing they could dance, too.

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Shrubs for Sale

These are my genius children: Dig up grass clumps from the back of the property, place them in pots, offer them for $1 each, and talk Dad into buying all of the beautiful shrubbery. #entrepreneurs (But Dad, for that dollar, does require the children to transplant the “ornamental grasses” up near the house and demands a refund if they fail to thrive…)

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The Remarkable Thing About Motherhood

It’s the small moments.

It’s this little note that warmed my heart like that flame she lit.

It’s the Mardi Gras beads, strung out on the sparkling granite no less than the stars strung across the universe, that arrangement of letters that only a child of mine can say in all its fullness.

The remarkable thing about motherhood is this: a sacredness in the ordinary, everyday acts of life, and motherhood requires both a child and a woman, both giving and taking–and extending the exquisite thing begun by God in Eve, and now even me.

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The First in 1000 Years

Imagine being the first person in your family tree in 1,000 years to do something radically different?

I was reading about Christian missions in France and read this story which completely arrested me:

Between the Children’s hour and the Ladies Bible study that Sherrylee was going to speak to, we had 30 minutes. Sherrylee had accidentally wandered into a neighbor’s house, thinking it was part of the church building. . . . ., but it turned out that this neighbor had been baptized a couple of years ago, so as Craig was explaining to the neighbor why Sherrylee had walked into his house, he invited us in for tea and cookies. Khered (?) is his name and he is Algerian. He and his wife want to return someday to Algeria, which could be a great opportunity to carry the Good News with him. He says he is the first Christian in his family in over one thousand years! Think about that!

Algeria, with a population of over 37 million, is the largest country in Africa, bordered in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. Today Islam is the official state religion and about 99% of the population follow Sunni Muslim.

What was happening for over a thousand years to prevent this first Christian’s ancestors from knowing Jesus? What wasn’t happening?! Algeria’s history is one of invasion after invasion: the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, and then, the prolonged invasions of over 1,000 years of the Muslim armies from Cairo (642-1830) which set the course of the nation. More invasions followed, the Spanish, the Ottomans, the French. But that 1,000 year reign of Muslim expansion could not be undone.

But perhaps we are beginning to see the dawning of a new era. A French-Algerian who is the first in his family to be called Christian in a millennium? The gates of Hell shall not prevail.

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This is how we do No Child Left Behind. All you need is some open country, trees (especially those suitable for building forts), and a happy dog to chase you. Someone should tell them it doesn’t take an act of Congress.

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Odds and Ends from Good Friday

cats in juniper

It feels like Spring and Sunday is coming! I sat up in the tree fort with my ten-year-old for a good spell today, she thinking about picking out her 4H lamb later today, I drinking coffee and enjoying the breezy, lazy feeling of watching clouds dance along against the bright blue, realizing it’s been far too long since I just sat like this and wondering whether Josie would remember this moment when she’s all grown up. The cats joined our reverie. I had a dream last night that Josie fell…off of something, I can’t remember the fuzzy details, but I made sure to help her down the wooden rails nailed into the old Juniper trunk.

Jaime found Ralph just minutes ago. He’s a Blue Belly Lizard she caught and marked (with purple nail polish) last September. He used to be 2 1/2 inches long, now he’s 5 inches long. I love that she thought to mark and chart her wildlife finds and that it’s come full circle for her–she is immensely pleased. She says he’s favoring one eye, left-over wounds from the cat.

Luke pulled on his swim trunks, because when you’re eight and you hit a nice spring day, you think it’s summertime and you look for a swimming hole. I’ve sent him out to wash the car.

Levi has a friend over, the other Luke who we call the bottomless pit and he’s plowed through several Dagwood sandwiches already, but he did the pruning in my garden for me and more than worked it off. Now the older boys are playing frisbee which already required two trips to the rooftop to fetch a wayward disc. Levi climbed out his second-story bedroom window and I held my breath and looked the other way.

As I glance out my window now, all the boys are sparkling wet, somehow the car is forgotten and they have wild grins and raucous laughter, their bare white chests soaking up a few rays and welcoming spring.

It’s a good Friday.

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The anti-Alpha and Omega

Today in Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates marched on Washington, D.C. to solemnly commemorate life and protest the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Since that ruling, 55 million babies have lost their lives to abortion.

I was thinking about how the Lord said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” It’s strange, isn’t it, how here in America these are the two points at which we fail most unspeakably — we desecrate and dishonor both the beginning and the end? In the beginning, we kill and abandon unwanted babies, and in the end, too, we kill and abandon the elderly in increasing numbers.

It’s known to anyone who has read the Bible, or simply experienced life, that whatever God holds dear, the enemy sets his sights on. Whatever power God possesses, Satan wants. Whatever is good and lovely, the enemy will purpose to steal, kill, and destroy it.

So of course, if the Lord has made holy and declared power over the beginning and the end, guess what? The anti-Alpha and Omega wastes no time.

Join me in prayer for the largest human rights issue of our day?

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Merry Christmas 2012

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2013! The Peace of the Christ-child and the Hope of the world to you.

“You are accepted, God has not despised you, but he bears in his body all your flesh and blood. Look at the cradle! In the body of the little child, in the incarnate son of God, your flesh, all your distress, anxiety, temptation, indeed all your sin, is borne, forgiven and healed.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

~Love Jen @ diaryof1

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This just seems wrong. I’ll take a cold spill on real ice, thank you. And that thin spray of ice shavings you can kick up when you do a hockey-stop? I’d miss it.

And this? How will the children ever read the original U.S. Constitution? Or write a personal Thank You in flowing script for that special gift, signed with their unique signature? And what of those brain benefits and fine motor skills and the loss of an art?

I’m with Tevye:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!

The constant tension between tradition and progress will never end. I like tradition for the comfort of it, the meaning it brings to life, the connection to the past and to others. Progress, it’s a benefit, too, of course, and a matter of course, and sometimes better. I would just hope that as a culture and as a nation we don’t ditch tradition because it’s the trendy thing to do, or the politically correct way, or the cheaper way, or because we think we’re intellectually superior to the “artificial constructs” we call tradition.

And how do we keep our balance?

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The Amazing Lemon Meringue Pie Time Machine

my lemon meringue pie

There was Nancy, eating lemon meringue pie in Amsterdam. She messaged me, that’s how I knew, and she’d made it from scratch just like our mom used to do when we were children, and Nancy, too, when she was probably ten. You need to make this for mom, she insisted.

Food is one of those universal associations, a time-traveling commodity whisking us in an instant to the tables of childhood.

This is how I came to be in the kitchen with my daughters (nine and eleven) a few evenings ago gathering ingredients for lemon meringue pie. I’d already sent a message to Nancy asking for the family recipe, but being too many time zones apart, I had to chef on alone.

I settled on my trusted standards: Grandma’s pie crust recipe and Better Homes and Gardens for the pie. I heard from Nancy the next day. I left the recipe in Amsterdam and today I’m in Paris, so I can’t help.

If the mere mention of the pie from my sister caused food flashbacks, both the creation of and the tasting of were full time warps. The part where you beat the egg whites stiff? This obviously was the pie-making job my mother gave me, because the moment I saw the white peaks form, I was seven years old, barefoot and covered in egg splatters, all astonished at the transformation.

Many great chefs point back to their early cooking with their mothers or grandmothers as a meaningful element in their later careers. I’ve also read accounts of women who know little about cooking because their mothers didn’t allow them in the kitchen.

The Language of Baklava (Diana Abu-Jaber) convinced me I needed to make a significant place for food in my relationship with my kids from the choosing of ingredients at the market, to the preparation of the meal, to the lip-smacking enjoyment of it. Abu-Jaber says she “comes from cooking,” and notes that how you cook and eat, and how you feed your neighbors defines who you are.

The lemon meringue pie-making process took several hours. After the rolling, mixing, beating, cooking, and cooling, and well past the children’s bedtime, the tangy dessert was ready to eat. We gathered around the hearth and ate rich heaven. I had not eaten homemade lemon meringue pie since I was a child, and may I say, it was an awakening. That a mere taste would have such power of reference was profound.

My mom was asleep by this time, but the next day I offered rather casually, “Would you like a piece of lemon meringue pie?” I’ll tell you what, the sight, smell, and taste of that pie was a trifecta which broke right through her dementia and she positively glowed like a lemon. “This is delicious!”

I asked if she knew what it was and she called it by name. She proceeded to have a long, lucid conversation with me about her mother, her children, and her grandchildren. And as providence would have it, this day was her mother’s birthday. “She’s looking down on us from heaven,” she murmured, scraping the last bit of lemon filling from her plate.

It’s a wonder how my mom’s lemon meringue pie, circa 1977, Cochise County, Arizona, and my sister’s and my 2012 renditions à la Amsterdam and Oregon all imprint such similar trails of crumbs, caches of flavor, in the brain. In forty years, my older daughter will say to my younger, you need to make lemon meringue pie for mom.


Grandma’s Never-Fail Pie Crust

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups shortening
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 egg

Mix egg, vinegar and water, add to dry ingredients and shortening (mixed). Take enough for one shell at a time and roll out. Makes 4 or 5 crusts.

Lemon Meringue Pie
from Better Homes and Gardens

1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups water
3 slightly beaten egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, cut up
1/2 – 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons sugar

1. Prepare Baked Pastry Crust. In a medium saucepan stir together the 1-1/2 cups sugar, the cornstarch, and flour; gradually stir in water. Bring to boiling, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; cook and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Gradually stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into beaten egg yolks; pour yolk mixture into remaining hot mixture in saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil; cook for 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in butter and shredded lemon peel. Slowly stir in 1/3 cup lemon juice. Keep filling warm while preparing the meringue.

2. For meringue, in a large mixing bowl beat egg whites and 1 teaspoon lemon juice with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until soft peaks form. Gradually add 6 tablespoons sugar, beating on high speed about 4 minutes or until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves. Pour warm filling into cooled crust. Immediately spread meringue over filling, carefully sealing to edge of crust to prevent shrinkage*. Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 15 minutes. Cool on rack for 1 hour. Chill 3 to 6 hours before serving. Makes 8 servings.


You may also enjoy these stories from the archives:
Cooking with Kids: Tips and Tricks
Summertime Recipes From the Family Cookbook
Dear Morton Salt Umbrella Girl

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Posted in family life, features, health/cooking/food, parenting | 12 Comments

The Moral Case for Free Enterprise

Don’t miss this powerful video about the American dream, why a free market is morally good, and why economic freedom will always mean personal freedom. The false narrative about “greedy” business people is not just a lie, it’s a manipulative grab for power.

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Because I’m Too Busy for Actual Blogging

I present a series of short Facebook status updates from the past month or two…because when I delete FB for good, I still need a record that I was alive and well these past few months with a lot of good things happening, but I’m too swamped to talk/write about life (with my days scheduled down to about every 10 minute increment), it’s enough to just live it.

September 20, 2012:
When in doubt, read poetry. I came across this gorgeous poem while preparing a class a few days ago, and I don’t know if it’s the middle ages of life, hormones, lack of sleep, or rather, just the sheer beauty and truth of it, but this caught my breath:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real ! Life is earnest !
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o’erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.


September 17, 2012:
Returned this evening from our first ever parenting class. This is what you do instead of date-night when you are the desperate parents of teenagers? Once you have a teenager in the house, you may realize you need help. Tonight, I understood I am not alone (I am not alone!) in this business of raising aliens–the child you rocked to sleep just a fortnight ago awakens with rocket fuel hormones, what else am I to think?


September 15, 2012:
Jane Austen movie night (do I watch Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility? Already recently saw Pride and Prejudice and Emma)–now Stanford needs to research, do the movies have the same effect??


September 7, 2012:
Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden. ~Robert Brault
(Luke, bringing in a little harvest from our garden. Guess who is the first one out there every day, hunting for something new?)
L harvesting


August 30, 2012:
County Fair ended at the beginning of the month, but a final update: Liberty and Justice for all. Jaime showed so well, sold her market lamb (Justice) at the 4-H auction and made a fabulous profit for all her hard work, and yesterday her “back-up” lamb (Liberty) ended his days as well and soon we’ll be eating lamb chops. It’s tough business, but we know where our food comes from.
J showing lamb


August 10, 2012:
August 10, 1996, we gathered at the little church in Franklin, Oregon, our only connection there being that we loved this fading structure with the elegant steeple, an 1898 historical building. Alison Kraus sang about how “Old Mr. Webster could never define what’s being said between your heart and mine” as wedding guests arrived and my sister’s baby cried through the whole ceremony. I never noticed at all and later Chris said, “Did you HEAR that baby?!”

He continues, all these 16 years, to point out many things I don’t notice, like signposts and passersby I invariably run into, and he still teases me about when we lived in Eugene during a time Autzen Stadium was being renovated, and after a year of daily driving by the construction, I turned to him one day and said, “When did they build THIS?!”

Luckily, we do still notice each other, and Happy Anniversary to us. ♥


July 27, 2012:
I smell like a lamb. After four straight hours of washing sheep and shearing sheep (rather, holding sheep whilst the expert slick-sheared them, and I just got the whole wooly mess all over me), I am lambed out. And all I have to look forward to is five straight days of County Fair during which I live in a sheep barn supervising my 4-H girl, bless her soul. It’s about midnight, having a hard time getting to sleep, and I’ll be darned if I try counting sheep.


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July at the Oregon Coast

father/daughter at the lake

Four days away to the Oregon Coast, plugged only into the great outdoors, does a world of good.

My family packed up the truck with a tent, sleeping bags, a little charcoal grill, lots of hot dogs and hamburgers and marshmallows and chocolate, and seven of us. We hauled a trailer, too, with two ATVs. This trip happened because the State of Oregon, as of January 1, 2012, requires both on-line safety training and hands-on rider training for all youth age 15 and under who want to ride a quad or motorcycle or other ATV on public lands. During the time frame we had available, the only hands-on training class was located in North Bend at the Oregon Coast. So, off we went and made a fun vacation of it!

We camped at Riley Ranch where the class was being held. With direct access to the Oregon Dunes, this was the perfect place! Very nice bathroom/shower facilities, new and clean. Butterfield Lake was just yards away from our campsite, and I spent a lot of time there with the kids, fishing, hiking around the lake, and rafting. Funny enough, though the kids spent a lot of time riding on the dunes with their dad and uncle and cousins, I got no pictures of that!

our tent

L and J rafting

J at Butterfield Lake

I will insert this little bit about the downside of this camping adventure, just to remember in years to come and for my readers to know that in fact, this was not a perfect trip. I said there were seven of us because I brought my 83-year-old mom, who has lived with us for 12 years and has dementia/alzheimer’s. She can’t be left alone, and rather than have someone look after her at home without us, I thought it best to bring her. Never again. Ever. I ended up having to sleep next to her, barely catching a wink because she kept waking up, not knowing where she was, needing to use the bathroom, me having to walk her there in the dark, both of us very grumpy. And since the campsite we were at was way too close to the neighbors, we disturbed them as well.

Back to the fun stuff. One of the kids’ cousins lives at the coast, only about 10 or 15 minutes from where we camped, so that was a highlight for them to get to visit and play! Plus their other grandma came for the first part of our trip, and their uncle and two other cousins who live in Eugene. Family fun!

sandmaids and men

Little L on a log
Big trees, water, logs, lily pads, salamander, sticks, and mud and sand — really not much more is needed to occupy a child (or adult). We so enjoyed this little lake. A trail through the woods took us halfway around the lake to a railroad track, which was an irresistible draw for the kids.

kids explore the edge of Butterfield

Dad and Little L in woods

hiked to tracks

I mentioned how close our campsite was to the neighbors, but luckily, they were terrific people! One of the men went out deep-sea fishing during our stay and returned with all kinds of good stuff. They shared their haul, and for our final meal we enjoyed a giant crab, fresh out of the Pacific Ocean. Amazing.

We have a son who’s a bit like a Mark Twain character—he loves to climb trees. The boy spent a number of hours exploring the woods behind our campsite, mostly up in the canopy. He also crafted this highly functional bow and arrow out of sticks and string he found lying about, and who knows the fantastical adventures he imagined in those woods.

L in tree
In those same trees live these gorgeous—and loud—bluejays. I was annoyed to be woken by them so early every morning, but after watching them for a while I forgot my annoyance.

blue jays behind our site
Our last evening in camp, we broke away to visit the majestic Pacific! None of our kids can stand to be this close and not play in the sand and waves. I don’t have any pictures of this part of our trip, but it was one of the most memorable moments. My husband I, leaning hard into each other, breathing deep the salty pacific air, watching four children scatter in the wind, some collecting shells, some building in the sand—it was a scene I wish I could store in a bottle to open and smell and see anytime I want.

And then back home again! Unpacking, emptying pockets of sand and shells, reorganizing camp equipment, days of laundry—all very much worth it. Happy summer to you!

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An Arbor in the Desert for Poets

In the place where trumpet vines bloomed in the desert, an arbor hung over some children while words danced poetry above their heads.

Seated there in the shade on hard wooden benches, their small fingers curled tight around fat pencils, thin pencils, crayons too, they crafted rhymes, for even children, especially children, are poets. Unrelenting Arizona sun thwarted by a leafy cover, they were content with this happy art of words. They batted the occasional fly and bee, and birds joined too — a little nest up in the corner of the beams — and all around was a rosy glow.

My mom built this arbor herself, a crude frame of worn, untreated timber just waiting to sliver anyone who rubbed the wrong way. It seemed spacious as a child, but really it was only about a 10 by 12 foot structure. Rustic, but refuge, in this Sulphur Spring Valley. She fought nature and place to create this haven, and being such a small woman, this was a herculean task. She was a transplant from the east, and if she could try to grow in a desert, why, too, shouldn’t these flowers bloom and this arbor give shade?

Trumpet vines crept together with wisteria and honeysuckle. Dominated by the flamboyant and vigorous bright orange trumpets, these vines twisted an artist’s canvas over the entire arbor, magnificent leafy green and colorful, which surely unbeknownst caused poetic thoughts to stir.

It was the summer of 1978, and I was eight years old. My mother, who loved poetry and words as life itself, decided to form The Little Rimers. It was my sister Heather and me and about six other neighbor children, and this was about the best thing my mother did for me in my whole life.

Big canning jars of sun tea for the kids, sweetened just right — I’d watch it sit out to brew and that was nearly as good as its refreshment — small tea cookies, and handmade cloth-bound books for each child to write her rhyming words there in the arbor. There were haikus and acrostics, riddles and limericks, and all sorts of silliness.

I wrote about Christmas and Thanksgiving and Shoes. Theresa’s poem about a hunter cat was so good I was sure she’d copied it from somewhere. And never could I have imagined that this little book from the arbor would carve out such a substantial memory, and I wonder if any of those other children remember too?

Before we moved to this place, we lived in Tucson, where I was born, about an hour northwest. There, my mom belonged to a poetry group called the Rimers of Tucson, and as far as I know, it was the only time in her life that she had a “social network” or group of friends. I mostly remember, in addition to numerous white-haired ladies with elegant speech, being locked out of the house during poetry meetings that my mom hosted, confined to play in the back yard, possibly even harnessed to a tree, but on at least one occasion I snuck in through an open window.

I was born during this poetic and productive period in Tucson, and even named after one of these poetry group ladies. But my dad relocated our family and here in this remote desert place, far from city life, it was just us children for her, so she created the Little Rimers. (I know, it’s not spelled properly, it was meant to be that way.)

My sister Nancy, she hated to write poetry. My mom would demand poetry, telling her as a little girl — you can’t come out of your room until you’ve written four lines. She’d get so angry, being forced to write poetry, and so she hated it. I never knew this until Nancy told me recently, because I only had this lovely memory of writing poetry in the arbor. Nancy, being seven years older than me — a teenager at this time — had no use for rhyming with eight-year-olds.

After that summer in the arbor, it gradually fell into neglect over the ensuing years, like its poetry was all used up and the last orange trumpet had blown its horn. I wonder if the verse of the summer of ’78 was a moment like the Isabella, the rare butterfly in the French film Le Papillon? The character called Julien, the old grandfather figure, said in response to little Elsa’s sadness about the brief life span of the butterfly (three days, three nights), “It’s a life. A butterfly’s life.”

It really may not seem like much, an arbor in the desert, but well, it is my life and my arbor — and poetry. I heard of a rare flower that bloomed once every 30 years, whereupon the plant would die but leave behind several smaller plants which then would flower after a few more decades. Sometimes, rare and beautiful things are like that, and quite unforgettable.

You may also enjoy these posts about my Arizona childhood:

The Clothesline

Thanking God for Mrs. Young

My Reflection in the Dirty Pane Glass

I Am From

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Dear Morton Salt Umbrella Girl

Dear Morton Salt Umbrella Girl:

Please do not ever, ever leave. You were my best imaginary childhood friend. I always wondered where you were going with that umbrella in the rain, worried that you might ruin your pretty yellow dress, but I wanted to walk with you and also to let you know that you were spilling your salt–you might run out, please be careful.

Remember that time when I was eight and my parents left me and my sister at home by ourselves while they shopped in Tucson all day? We made a Wowie Chocolate Cake—from that page in the cookbook that was rather crusty from overuse because we made this recipe so often since it didn’t call for eggs and we were always out of eggs—just us and a pinch of you, and we ate the whole thing before they returned in case they’d be mad. You’re so fun.

People I haven’t seen in a long time tell me I haven’t changed a bit, but you? Wow, it’s like a miracle, you have not changed at all since 1968!! Mr. Morton could have easily morphed you into a hippie or punk rocker or glam girl over the years, but somehow you are still the same sweet umbrella girl and I declare that the best branding decision ever.

It’s been over 30 years since those memories of making cakes and all manner of other cooking adventures first sifted out, but…gosh, tonight as I made hamburgers and poured the finest ever seasoning straight out of that timeless blue canister, it’s like not a day has gone by.

You are the salt of the earth. An icon. A classic. Stylish and carefree, ah, that’s what I loved, so carefree. So what that it’s raining and I’m spilling my salt? It’s a happy day! Thank you, darling.

Love, Jenny (as all my childhood friends called me)

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Last week of May in pictures

Because don’t all little boys read comic books dressed up in motorcycle clothes? (Waiting his turn to ride.)


It was a full week, that last bit of May here in the country. Someday life won’t be so overflowing with noise and ruckus, dirt and wild animals–and wild children, so dear diary, help me remember this for the quiet days ahead.

The youngest son learned how to ride a motorcycle, a little 50 minibike that his big brother used to ride. Now I have four children on motorcycles and I just work hard to push out of my mind those incidents that are bound to happen: run-ins with rocks, scraped up knees, broken bones. He ran in to proudly tell me, “I only ran into three trees, Mama!”

first time around for little L
Now he's getting confident
The big event of the week was the birthday of my girl who turned eleven. Dad surprised her with a Honda XR 80, as she’s fabulously outgrown the 50. She amazed us all with her strength and ability to master this thing immediately. She also helped her little brother and sister learn to ride her old bike, and I’m just so proud of her as a teacher as well as a fun-loving tomboy.

birthday surprise
Look at her go!
There really was more than dirt bikes in the week. We roasted marshmallows and ate s’mores at the fire pit out back. My oldest son built a perfect fire and we enjoyed good family time and made memories around the flames.

campfire and s'mores

As a minor upset, the neighbor’s dog attacked the 4H lambs while the girls were out walking them. Some doctoring up was in order, and our neighbor, affectionately known as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, came and helped us out. We discovered the miracle of Vetericyn for wound care.

dog bite on lamb leg, ouchwrapping the lamb leg

Our own dog, ever a central figure in days around the ranch, brought us a few gifts: baby jackrabbits. He dug up a nest somewhere out in the sagebrush, and trotting over with little ears hanging out of his mouth, deposited them on the lawn, completely unharmed though slobbering wet. We’re letting the girls keep them for a week or so to “nurse” them, then release them. It’s not at all advisable to try to raise a wild rabbit, but we figured either way (dropping them back in the desert somewhere or nursing them) was about the same level of success–which is to say, not much of a chance of survival either way. We’ve been through this before.

nursing baby jackrabbit
The blessings just keep coming, and I am here counting them, truly grateful for every moment.

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Waiting for the Moving of the Waters

It was this phrase I read in John 5 this morning, all those sick people waiting for the moving of the waters at Bethesda, when the phone rang.

The words still turning in my head, the meaning still emerging, and the voice on the phone told me that Jane had died. Jane, my friend, our adopted grandma, our neighbor, that funny little Polish lady–her son told me she quietly passed in the middle of the 23rd Psalm.

I couldn’t speak and said please wait a moment, and the hot tears came and the gasping for breath, bitter tears for myself that I didn’t get a proper goodbye. Hadn’t I just spoken with her on the phone a few days before, ending with, “I’ll be by to see you this week”? My heart had been weighted with the thought for weeks that I needed to get the kids and my mom over to see her soon. Since we moved to the country and didn’t live three houses down anymore, it wasn’t so easy. Bitter, grieving tears.

And then the waiting for the moving of the waters, and as my little son, the one who Jane held when he was a day-old baby, comforted me in confidence with the words that “she’s in Heaven now and all better,” I wondered about these words of John.

2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] 5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “ Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. John 5:2-9

Yes. She waited for the moving of the waters, she wanted to be well, and Jesus came and picked her up and carried her Himself to the healing pool. Now she breathes without all those tubes of oxygen, now she walks without dragging that metal frame with the heavy canister, now she dances a Polish waltz.

Dearest Jane, we love you, and I’m so sorry we didn’t give you a proper goodbye, but we cherish the day for a proper hello on the other side.

Other stories about Jane:
Happy Birthday and The Story of My Mom
Sleepover with an 84 year old friend
Life in a picture frame

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When you have to grow up with your kids

She is asking for her first bra; his feet just outgrew mine–they are working hard at the job of growing up, and I’d better grow too, because right now I can barely handle this change.

When I unpacked his bag from the 6th grade coast trip, I didn’t cry as I reached for that small stick of deodorant, a sure sign of him entering a wholly new stage of life, and I sort of came to terms with it. And hello! I’m awfully glad he has it.

And when I did laundry, I also came to terms with the little “bralette” of the girl just one step down from the deodorant boy with the expanding feet. Every single child grows up.

And that’s all I have to say about the matter. They all grow up, whether I embrace the stages or fight the stages, or worse yet stubbornly ignore them, it happens. I thought I might have some wisdom to share about how to handle this metamorphosis, but it turns out I don’t. I am just along for the ride, and like the roller coaster pictures you see of folks at the wild amusement parks, I hope my snapshot shows me thrilled with delight and not screaming in terror.

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Moon glory

Oh glory, who turned on all the lights?! Ah, it’s just the moon, so bright it’s casting sun-like shadows off the junipers, and the long slants of silhouette stretching far off the posts of the lamb pen belong to the day.

It’s well past midnight, and I sit here unable to sleep, a John Wayne-sized mug of mint tea warming my hands and lips–there is literally a picture of John Wayne on the mug–and half think about how easily I could read a book out there right now. But really, how could I even take my eyes off the moon with no walls to obscure the glory?

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Psalm 8:1-4

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The Dead President Dream

I had a dream last night that I was speaking to a dead president, actually I was practically wailing, begging for help for our nation’s predicaments. I specifically cried out to this specter of a president, white haired and stately, across the divide of time and space, about gross abuses of the First and Second Amendments by the current administration. The dead president? It might have been Jimmy Carter, as best as I can recall, but that would totally not make sense, but you know how dreams are. **Crazy** yes? I was hoping he could help.

I don’t actually recall all the details of the offenses I brought before the ghostly man, but some had to do with the imprisonment of many people for their exercise of “free speech” that was somehow against the ruling authority and their social ethics. The other particular I remember pleading about was that guns were being completely confiscated from all people. On my honor, I was not watching or listening to any conservative rhetoric just prior to this dream, it just happened. In fact, I feel asleep listening to a Pimsleur French audio CD.

I told my husband about the dream this morning and he mentioned this song, which I’d not heard before, called Mr. Lincoln by Hank Williams, Jr.

Mr. Lincoln

The theme, while just sort of related, weirdly goes well with my dream.

Mr. Lincoln I wish you were here.
The Republic’s changed a lot in a hundred years.
And I don’t think it’s working like you planned.
Oh, Mr Lincoln, we sure could use a hand.

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Adventures in Contentment by David Grayson: Review

A forgotten treasure of a book, I haphazardly stumbled on this yellowed century-old copy at a little coffee shop and found it stuffed with sincere and thoughtful observations of life along with delightful ink illustrations.

My daughter got a lamb a few days ago. I have this amazing girl — I wish I were more like her, truly. She is ten and appears to be more responsible than I was at her age, or even now. She joined 4-H in October and decided to show a market lamb at the county fair. I did this when I was her age, but she is really doing it, head, heart, hands, and health, helping in every way and keeping her records straight and saving her own money to buy a lamb. Oh, I love this girl.

I read this book recently, Adventures in Contentment, and it’s about a man who moves to the country and finds, of course, contentment. We do live in the country, and I have to admit, there is something to this, living close to the land, that brings joy. I’ve been thinking about this idea as my husband has been out with his brother digging post holes to build this pen and shelter for the lamb.

His day job is spent toiling away creating various artistic things on the computer. He has the luxury of working from home, staring into a black screen of ones and zeroes as he codes, or arranging cyan-magenta-yellow-black, or advising a client to stick with the original ad campaign — but nothing soothes like getting outside with his shovel and moving dirt and rock.

In my book, which incidentally I found quite accidentally, the narrator has been a farmer for eight years, having left the city life and the hurry and the illusions and the crowds. David Grayson is listed as the author and narrator, but I happened to look into the matter, and discovered that Grayson was the pseudonym of Ray Stannard Baker. Mr. Baker was born in 1870 and was an American journalist and author born in Lansing, Michigan, which is oddly enough near where I spent some formative years of my youth.

It happened that one morning several months ago, my husband and I dropped the kids at school and drove to a little café to have breakfast and talk about life and plans for the future. It was an old house, turn of the century maybe, renovated into this small restaurant. With a bookshelf behind me, and after the coffee came, I turned and at total random plucked an obviously old book with a light green worn binding off the shelf behind me, just below eye level, and turned it over in my hand. Oh, the feel of an old book, I was already in love. Copyright 1906, I was sold. I love old.

The pages were thick, the words were timeless and flowed like real maple syrup, just slow enough and real enough to taste their roots. The cover page was inked with this inscription that tugged at my heart for no apparent reason other than the nostalgia of two old friends who must have shared a love of books: “To Lillian from Burgetta.” Oh how my mind raced to imagine these two women, one a gift giver, and the other, a special friend. The penmanship was exquisite and that is perhaps what set my heart aflutter in the first place. The kind of script that belongs to another era.

I caressed the pages, read some lines aloud to my husband and even to our waitress, Shonna. She was amused enough to oblige me the kindness of borrowing this book whose cover matched her eyes perfectly. It was all meant to be. I’ve been back in the café a dozen times and have yet to return the book–I will, I just needed to write a few things down first, and Shonna has been all grace about it.

Grayson begins Adventures in Contentment by describing his transition from city life to the country, to contentment. He first reflects on the former:

For many years, and I can say it truthfully, I never rested. I neither thought nor reflected. I had no pleasure, even though I pursued it fiercely during the brief respite of vacations. Through many feverish years I did not work: I merely produced.

The only real thing I did was to hurry as though every moment were my last, as though the world, which now seems so rich in everything, held only one prize which might be seized upon before I arrived. Since then I have tried to recall, like one who struggles to restore the visions of a fever, what it was that I ran to attain, or why I should have borne without rebellion such indignities to soul and body. That life seems now, of all illusions, the most distant and unreal. It is like the unguessed eternity before we are born: not of concern compared with that eternity upon which we are now embarked.

Grayson then considers that day in April when he suddenly stopped, and until he stopped he hadn’t known the pace he ran. He lay sick with fever and close to death for weeks, and as he recovered, he had a most poignant thought, that of walking barefoot in cool, fresh plow furrows.

And thus, eight years ago, I came here like one sore-wounded creeping from the field of battle. I remember walking in the sunshine, weak yet, but curiously satisfied. I that was dead lived again. It came to me then with a curious certainty, not since so assuring, that I understood the chief marvel of nature hidden within the Story of the Resurrection, the marvel of plant and seed, father and son, the wonder of the seasons, the miracle of life. I, too, had died: I had lain long in darkness, and now I had risen again upon the sweet earth. And I possessed beyond others a knowledge of a former existence, which I knew, even then, I could never return to.

The book then unfolds a variety of narratives about this new country life, of buying a farm and meeting country neighbors, of axe helves and fences and preachers and new calves. The beauty of this book is that the real heart of every account is so timeless it could have been written ten minutes ago.

The title, Adventures in Contentment, is perhaps misleading. One can find contentment beyond the country life, and certainly today’s farmer who struggles to earn a living in agriculture is typically far from content. Sometimes the busy city life is actually the one that’s more untroubled and peaceful.

However, Grayson does address the pitfalls of finding contentment in the country, and nails its enemy, the enemy of all contentment: greed, avarice, envy, covetousness.

The very vision of widened acres set my thoughts on fire. In imagination I extended my farm upon all sides, thinking how much better I could handle my land than my neighbours. I dwelt avariciously upon more possessions: I thought with discontent of my poverty. More land I wanted. I was enveloped in clouds of envy. I coveted my neighbour’s land: I felt myself superior and Horace inferior: I was consumed with black vanity.

After much pondering about fences and belongings, Grayson ends up making a covenant with himself: “I shall use, not be used. I do not limit myself here. I shall not allow possessions to come between me and my life or my friends.” And then immediately follows my favorite portion of the book, his conversation with the old professor.

Grayson’s philosophical thoughts about fences reach this great crecendo in this moment when the professor ambles along with a clump of dirt in one hand out of which sprouts a purple cone-flower, and he speaks words that Grayson describes “as when a coin, tested, rings true gold, or a hero, tried, is heroic.”

“I have rarely,” he said, “seen a finer display of rudbeckia than this, along these old fences.”

If he had referred to me, or questioned, or apologised, I should have been disappointed. He did not say, “your fences,” he said “these fences,” as though they were as much his as mine.

The ensuing words shared between the professor and David Grayson are the heart of this book, the contentment found in the deep enjoyment of life and her mysteries. Mostly, the professor talks and Grayson listens, “and what he called botany seemed to me to be life.”

And thus the sun went down and the purple mists crept silently along the distant low spots, and all the great, great mysteries came and stood before me beckoning and questioning. They came and they stood, and out of the cone-flower, as the old professor spoke, I seemed to catch a glimmer of the true light. I reflected how truly everything is in anything. If one could really understand a cone-flower he could understand this Earth. Botany was only one road toward the Explanation.

Always I hope that some traveller may have more news of the way than I, and sooner or later, I find I must make inquiry of the direction of every thoughtful man I meet. And I have always had especial hope of those who study the sciences: they ask such intimate questions of nature. Theology possesses a vain-gloriousness which places its faith in human theories; but science, at its best, is humble before nature herself. It has no thesis to defend: it is content to kneel upon the earth, in the way of my friend, the old professor, and ask the simplest questions, hoping for some true reply.

Oh, the beauty of this passage. Isaiah tells us that we shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace, and the mountains and hills will break into song, and trees in the fields will clap their hands. And the purple cone-flower, too, will give witness of what Grayson calls the Explanation–God himself.

The Mystery–yes, he asks about this next, and surely an understanding of the Mystery is a key to contentment? Grayson, with some trepidation, prods, and the professor speaks.

“I have been a botanist for fifty-four years. When I was a boy I believed implicitly in God. I prayed to him, having a vision of him — a person — before my eyes. As I grew older I concluded that there was no God. I dismissed him from the universe. I believed only in what I could see, or hear, or feel. I talked about Nature and Reality.”

He paused, the smile still lighting his face, evidently recalling to himself the old days. I did not interrupt him. Finally he turned to me and said abruptly,

“And now — it seems to me — there is nothing but God.”

As he said this he lifted his arm with a peculiar gesture that seemed to take in the whole world.

The chapter titled The Axe-Helve bears the date April 15th as though an entry in Grayson’s diary. I shall end my review here as it so beautifully contains the essence of Adventures in Contentment. This was the morning he broke his old axe handle. I loved this chapter partly due to the coincidence of my son breaking his axe handle while chopping wood this winter within a week of my reading this very chapter. My husband, by chance, had an axe helve lying under our bed for over a year, just waiting to be used (or rather, in case of an intruder?).

I swung it unnecessarily high for the joy of doing it and when it struck it communicated a sharp yet not unpleasant sting to the palms of my hands. The handle broke short off at the point where the helve meets the steel. The blade was driven deep in the oak wood. I suppose I should have regretted my foolishness, but I did not. The handle was old and somewhat worn, and the accident gave me an indefinable satisfaction: the culmination of use, that final destruction which is the complement of great effort.

Yes, I understand that satisfaction even in something broken, “that final destruction which is the complement of great effort.” Also within weeks of reading this chapter, I experienced three breakings myself, and each held a peculiar gratification. First, my trusty old bread machine, a wedding gift, which had given fifteen years of service, broke in the middle of a batch of bread. I heard the motor whine and call to me that it could knead no more. So many loaves it mixed and rose, I begrudged it not. Next, my washing machine snapped a spring in the middle of a cycle. It, too, had given years of service, and this its last wash was extra tender–a soiled sleeping bag; one of my daughter’s little friends had spent the night and didn’t make it through. Finally, my car’s motor, also in its fifteenth year, died on my way home from a neighboring city as I returned from a morning coffee date with a dear friend; and oh, I was so grateful my car had first carried me to the special appointment before seizing the engine.

And so this process of making a new axe helve, this was a touching adventure. Grayson details everything from picking out the perfect tree growing there in a sheltered angle of his rail fence, to curing it, to the carving, to the final staining and then fitting with the blade.

Making an axe-helve is like writing a poem (though I never wrote one). The material is free enough, but it takes a poet to use it. Some people imagine that any fine thought is poetry, but there was never a greater mistake. A fine thought, to become poetry must be seasoned in the upper warm garrets of the mind for long and long, then it must be brought down and slowly carved into words, shaped with emotion, polished with love. Else it is no true poem. Some people imagine that any hickory stick will make an axe-helve. But this is far from the truth.

The lamb pen will be finished tomorrow, the wire stretched and the gate hung. It’s been some hard work, but as Grayson says in the final chapter, “An honest, hard-working country training is the best inheritance a father can leave his son.” Or his daughter. And he follows with this astute caveat:

And yet a farm is only an opportunity, a tool. A cornfield, a plow, a woodpile, an oak tree, will cure no man unless he have it in himself to be cured. The truth is that no life, and least of all a farmer’s life, is simple–unless it is simple. I know a man and his wife who came out here to the country with the avowed purpose of becoming, forthwith, simple. They were unable to keep the chickens out of their summer kitchen. They discovered microbes in the well, and mosquitos in the cistern, and wasps in the garret. Owing to the resemblance of the seeds, their radishes turned out to be turnips! The last I heard of them they were living snugly in a flat in Sixteenth Street–all their troubles solved by a dumb-waiter.

The great point of advantage in the life of the country is that if a man is in reality simple, if he love true contentment, it is the place of all places where he can live his life most freely and fully, where he can grow.

Adventures in Contentment is a priceless treasure of a book. I wish you contentment, dear reader, and you may find some encouragement toward that end in this book, which will be on the shelf of that small café and perhaps the kind waitress with the green eyes that match the cover will let you borrow it, too?

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A pressed and faded memory

Chicka chi lick chi lunk chi lay….This is how it began. My mother wonders if I’ve ever heard this silly tune, and I can’t place it and the closest I can come is Boom Chicka Boom from a summer camp counselor gig twenty years ago.

The song sends her reeling back in time to the 1930s and hidden slips of memory make a slow emergence. I’ve been watching for over a decade now how memory fades to gray obscurity like her silvery white hair, thinning and stripped of color. Why do minds fail?– I wonder. The memory is still there tucked away in some fold inside her cranium, I am sure, but the retrieval is where the malfunction happens. The whole piece is gone, the people, the houses, the connections that made the memory a complete vivid thing, and so it must be hard for just a slice to be recovered as a fragment of the former whole.

“My dad walked to work everyday. Mueller Brass. He was a chemist.” This statement comes shooting like a solar flare, a brightness for her, a cheerful thought uncovered when I tell her that I’ve just returned from taking the kids to school. She remembers walking to school, and her dad walking to work. She’s told me before about the little candies her dad would bring home from work for her and the other children.

“I walked with my brother Doug to Roosevelt School, it was not more than a mile away.” This reminiscence surfaces when I remind her (again, again, and again) that my children don’t walk to school, it’s too far away. She utters with obvious pleasure, “we walked.”

“Sometimes we’d go to Gomer’s house for lunch and she’d make us pancakes. We left school at lunch time and walked to her house. We listened to records on her Victrola.”

I ask her about Gomer, whose pet name has stuck even until now, the grace of some little child who couldn’t say grandma. Her given name was Hattie and she was short and thin, and I work hard in my imagination to create this woman, because I never met her and can’t recall any clear pictures of her, and yet I can see her in my mind with muted colors.

Gomer was her mother’s mother (and my great-grandmother), and I have her Bible, black leather with frayed edges and broken binding, her name inscribed in a loopy, elegant but simple inked signature, the kind of script I never see anymore. The “H” in Hattie, bold with a sharp stroke off the top left, makes me think that she was a determined, original, and independent woman. One day I found a crackled, pressed leaf somewhere in the Psalms and gently touched its thin flaxen veins, and her.

My mom says that Gomer “went around doing something for people, taking care of the elderly, and she looked nothing like my mother, who had a pug nose and high cheek bones.” She loved them both, her mother and grandmother, and I know this because I ask her, and she laughs at my question that seems absurd to her, saying, “of course, I loved my whole family!” Her mother with the high cheek bones, that was my grandmother, Thelma, the only one I ever knew, and my mom looks nothing like her. She was some remarkable lady, and perhaps I will write about her another day.

I ask about her grandfather, Gomer’s husband, what about him?

Granddad, she says, was a gardener for an official at Mueller Brass. I want to know what he was like, and she remarks, “I don’t know, he was just Granddad.” I labor in vain to solicit more details about Granddad, about what kind of garden he kept, and if he was funny or stern. Nothing. Except she does say that Gomer and Granddad slept in separate rooms, him upstairs and her downstairs, though she found nothing odd about this, and perhaps for the 1930s it wasn’t so unusual. She reminds me half a dozen more times that Granddad was a gardener for the head of Mueller Brass. It must have been an important post, in her mind at least.

This is what’s left. Stray, dim thoughts of what must have really mattered. Pancakes for lunch at Gomer’s.

Hi Ho, chicka chi lunk chi lay.

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It’s Lent and I’m Tired

Lent is here. I will wake up at 5 a.m. for the next 40 days and that, my friends, may create some cranky mornings.

Six a.m. is my usual wake-up, and that extra hour is like three to me. (Coffee is still in the picture, though.) I wondered if sleep was a strange thing to give up for Lent, and I found that others have chosen this, too, well, at least one, and I imagine there must be others. This morning, Ash Wednesday morning, I didn’t quite make it…5:30 a.m. was the best I could do, but tomorrow morning is a new chance. A sub-theme for me will have to be allowing myself grace for Lent.

I love sleep. I hate waking up early. It’s a sacrifice for me and I had to choose this because I most dreaded this, but I long for this discipline at the same time. I hope to focus that extra hour in deeper prayer, worship, reading the Bible, being disciplined spiritually and maybe even get a jump on the dishes or laundry? Yes, I do want to get some laundry done, and in fact, that’s the second thing I did this morning, after reading Luke 18 and praying I could be as persistent as that widow.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for the next 40 days leading up to Easter. It mirrors the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness and speaks of his great sacrifice and asks us to sacrifice, too.

Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance. ~source Christian Resource Institute

It’s not just Catholics who observe Lent. It’s Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, other Protestants, even non-religious people (like this fellow who abstained from forwarding jokes and silly links to his friends). I’m not Catholic, but love so many of their liturgical traditions, and my own church doesn’t celebrate Lent, but really, this should be a very personal observation, in my opinion, and forgive me for revealing what I am privately doing. (!)

Are you wondering what you can do as a sacrifice? Find an undisciplined area of your life and tackle it. It really doesn’t have to be this exact 40 day period, but it’s nice to know that you are in union with so many others, and perhaps that thought is motivating?

Do you talk too much? Try disciplined silence for Lent.

Do you gossip? Let no ill word be passed along this season.

Are you gluttonous? Then fast.

Are you too sedentary? Then exercise.

Do you drink too much? Give up that extra glass of wine.

Are you addicted to social media? Forego Facebook.

Do you love your Starbucks latté too much? Pass it up and pass the money to a friend in need instead.

I was born of two very undisciplined people into a chaotic and unstructured home and I’ve been mad about it ever since. I’m convinced that I missed the disciplined and organized genes and have to work harder than everyone else as a result. But yet I’m obsessed with people who are regulated, ordered, accomplished, self-sacrificing. There’s that Proverbs 31 woman, and then Susannah Wesley who was up early enough to pray for two hours and then spend six hours of her day home schooling ten children, and you know how I love Bonhoeffer. They all share qualities of extreme discipline, self-control, and a desire for obedience to God even at a high cost.

Maybe Lent is my chance each year to take one step closer to a disciplined and timely life? (I do hope that by Easter, I will have formed a new 5 a.m. pattern that sticks, that leads to better time-management habits.) I know, it’s not about me. It’s not about me. I have to repeat that for my own sake. It should be about emptying myself and making room for God, sharpening my mind to better know the fullness of Him.

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The Staggering Relevance of Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer’s been dogging me for decades and sometimes I do wish he’d back off, because he’s always reminding me that anything of value has a high price. I’m a tight-wad, I don’t like to pay high prices.

Perhaps you’ve not been introduced to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Today is his birthday, and 106 years ago he entered the world, along with his twin sister, Sabine, in Breslau, Germany, bringing great joy to Paula and Karl Bonhoeffer, and eventually there would be eight children who had the most lovely and nurturing family a child could hope for. Above the west entrance of Westminster Abbey in London are 10 modern martyrs – Bonhoeffer’s statue is among them. In the briefest of words, Bonhoeffer was a theologian, a pastor, a writer, a Christian, a prophet, an anti-Nazi spy. He was executed on April 9, 1945 in a German concentration camp for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler, just days before liberation of that camp.

But I’d like to talk about why we should be concerned about Bonhoeffer in the 21st century.

Eric Metaxas has recently written an award winning biography of Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I liked it better than the massive volume by Eberhard Bethge simply for its readability and style. Metaxas explains why we should care about Bonhoeffer:

Bonhoeffer’s relevance to us today is staggering, and I confess that when I began writing the book I had no idea I would stumble over so many powerful parallels to our own situation. For one thing, the story of Bonhoeffer is a primer on the burning issue of what the limits of the state are.

Exactly why is he relevant to such a degree that people are still writing biographies about him and giving talks and holding congresses? Germany in the 1930s and 40s is challenging to comprehend — the Nazi and Jewish issues, of course, the role of the church, and I wonder how to extrapolate from those times without finding a Nazi behind every overreaching government act.

The state of Bonhoeffer’s world was that the German Christian church looked the other way as Jews were being carted off for “resettlement in the East.” In Bonhoeffer’s last great work, Ethics, though unfinished he considered it his magnum opus, he rebukes the church for her grave offenses against humanity and allowing herself to be subjugated by the Nazi regime:

The church must confess that she has not proclaimed often or clearly enough her message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all time in Jesus Christ and who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself. She must confess her timidity, her evasiveness, her dangerous concessions…She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven…She has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of the lord Jesus Christ…The church must confess that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honor…She has not borne witness to the truth of God…By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty of a failure to accept responsibility and to bravely defend a just cause. She has been unwilling to suffer for what she knows to be right. Thus the church is guilty of becoming a traitor to the Lordship of Christ. [Ethics, p.117]

Could this not have been written ten minutes ago, as Metaxes said in an interview?

What are today’s burning issues? I ask, as I seek to find Bonhoeffer’s relevance.

Abortion is one. I’m not comfortable addressing this contentious subject. Every person I know has been affected by this, either she has personally had an abortion or knows someone who has. And so who wants to go around telling a woman she is a negligent person, a selfish creature, a murderer? Not me.

I vaguely, then rather insistently, wondered if Bonhoeffer ever had an opinion on the topic of abortion or the right to life. I discovered in his book, Ethics, what I was looking for.

Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder. [Ethics, pp 175-6]

Bonhoeffer considered many facets of abortion, including the pastoral care that necessarily should be involved:

A great many motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual. Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man’s more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed. All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but they cannot in any way alter the fact of murder. [Ethics, p 176]

He further speaks to extreme cases:

…with regard to the killing of the fetus in cases where the mother is in danger of losing her life. If the child has its right to life from God, and is perhaps already capable of life, then the killing of the child, as an alternative to the presumed natural death of the mother, is surely a highly questionable action. The life of the mother is in the hand of God, but the life of the child is arbitrarily extinguished. The question whether the life of the mother or the life of the child is of greater value can hardly be a matter for a human decision. [Ethics, p 176 n. 12]

I’m amazed at the specific issues Bonhoeffer addresses with regard to abortion, and it all leaves me little room to wonder what Bonhoeffer would say today in the 21st century. As Eric Metaxas said, Bonhoeffer is staggeringly relevant. He further makes it clear that the right to life is not based on the qualities of the individual.

Life, created and preserved by God, possesses an inherent right, which is wholly independent of its social utility. The right to live is a matter of the essence and not of any values. In the sight of God there is no life that is not worth living. [Ethics, p. 163]

The distinction between life that is worth living and life that is not worth living must sooner or later destroy life itself. [Ethics, p. 164]

It would…be intolerably pharisaical if society were to treat the sick man as though he were a guilty man in order to put itself in the right at his expense. To kill the innocent would be, in the extreme sense, arbitrary. [Ethics, p. 165]

I read all this from Ethics just yesterday and my head fell into my hands and I wept. I almost didn’t want to know; silly, it’s not like Bonhoeffer’s opinion would change my mind, I had concluded when I was very young that abortion was an injustice. But have you ever experienced knowledge that suddenly unloads responsibility? It was this, and I wept, and I couldn’t even allow myself to grasp the entirety as I would have literally fallen to the ground from the weight of it.

I don’t want to become a radical, oh, at least not any more radical than I already am. It’s dangerous to be radical. It’s so much safer to be non-radical, at least on this side of Heaven. Bonhoeffer was a radical of sorts by all accounts, and he paid for it with his life, with a a piano wire around his neck as he dangled naked in the courtyard of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in Germany.

And yet he is my hero, and has been for two decades. Someone gave me The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was in my early twenties, and that was my introduction to this compelling man. I read bits and pieces and the words just sat smoldering in the recesses of my mind for twenty years. I do gravitate to the edge of costliness, but to actually take the leap, like Bonhoeffer, is not fully in my nature.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. [Cost of Discipleship]

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. [Cost of Discipleship]

So from the beginning of my life as a committed Christian, I’ve had in the background of my thinking, always, the cost of discipleship, which is of course clear in the teachings of Jesus, but made so visible to me by Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was continually accused of being a single-issue fanatic in his time. And why? He vehemently opposed Nazi interference in the church and so was stripped of his pastoral license and forbidden to speak in public or print or publish. He then helped Jews escape to Switzerland which led to his first arrest. Don’t we look back from our vantage point and not see this as fanatical at all? We are not allowed the privilege of seeing our present from a future viewpoint, and that’s why I spend all this time with Bonhoeffer, searching and probing for relevance and truth to help myself, and maybe spare myself from death of conscience.

But I’ve come to realize there are rarely single-issue fanatics. There is a vast underpinning of philosophies and moralities that find expression in a single-issue, and start digging and you will find the true breadth of it all. Bonhoeffer’s extensive writings demonstrate this theory, and the complexity of what appears to be a single-issue begs to be examined.

Five years ago, on the anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s execution, I wrote an essay exploring Bonhoeffer’s call to the church, a call to action for times when the state is involved in illegitimate actions. I said I’d write more later. And here it is, it took me a while. I quote again from Bonhoeffer’s writings in Ethics, scathing words to the church in his day relating to the Jews, but equally applicable and significant for the unborn in our day:

She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven…She has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of the lord Jesus Christ. [Ethics]

Bonhoeffer, oh, could he have known that he would suffer to the last and to the fullest, with Christ and with the Jews and the undesirables? I do think he knew, and he intentionally chose the way of the cross.

If we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity… We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.

The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. [Cost of Discipleship]

May I leave you with some resources for you to further examine the relevance of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to your world? Following are some links (which have been of immense help to me) to books, essays, videos, blogs, all of which either directly speak of Bonhoeffer, or involve current issues to which his principles could be applied.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
National Prayer Breakfast, 2012, with Eric Metaxas (begin at 35 min. in)
Marco Rubio Pro-Life Speech at SBA event
Catholic Leaders Urge Parishioners to Denounce Mandate
Bonhoeffer Blog
Bonhoeffer Timeline
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Reading Room (links to all of Bonhoeffer’s works as well as books/writings about him)
God & Caesar by Dr. Laurence White
Bonhoeffer Blog Discussion Group @ Pebblechaser
Bonhoeffer Documentary
Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace – DVD
Hanged on a Twisted Cross – film

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Why Claire Berlinski is Awesome

While Claire tells me exactly what is going on in Syria at this moment in totally understandable and frank terms, FoxNews thinks that today’s best world news is that a school principal in Trinidad puts students’ heads in toilets. Truly, nothing about Syria on Fox’s main page as I write this. CNN does have a story on their main page, but I really don’t like CNN and they fail to mention possible outcomes, they title their story including the words “bold and exhilarating” which is sort of inappropriate for the situation, and they seem to think diplomats or the UN might be of some use here.

CNN says the U.N. Security Council is drafting a resolution to “put more pressure on Syria,” while Ms. Berlinski says:

Let me put this to you simply. Assad is a monster. He is evil beyond comprehension. No one is going to stop him until he and everyone around him is dead. But you’re out of your minds if you convince yourself the FSA is comprised of potentially friendly, liberal democrats. There’s not a liberal democrat between here and the Horn of Africa, just trust me on this; they don’t even know what those words mean, they just know that you have to say them if you want to have any hope of being saved by those weird but freakishly powerful Americans for whom the words “liberal democrats” are the magic elixer. There will be no friendly, moderate, secular regime in Syria, ever, and the first thing the FSA will do if anyone helps them is slaughter Alawites and Christians.

Ms. Berlinski does honest risk assessment and thinks of a plan–slim chances of anything working but at least she’s thinking.

The risk right now to Syria’s neighbors, if it tries to help, is extreme: Assad holds the PKK card, it has huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. The regime is going bankrupt, at the very least there will be floods of refuges if this continues, Turkey certainly can’t absorb them. The Russians would be perfectly happy for every man, woman and child in Syria to be tortured and killed so long as nothing gets between itand its warm water base at Tartus. The French and the British will make very stern noises, but what are they going to do. UN? Useless. Arab League? Useless. GCC? Useless.

Thanks, Claire. While I think she’s rather crazy and radical to choose of her own volition to live and write from Istanbul, isolate herself from friends and family, continually place herself in bodily danger, and insert her opinion at her peril on explosive Middle East politics, she’s pretty awesome.

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The Clothesline

White sheets flapping under luminous blue skies, I would skip through the rows of clothes feeling billowy and clean myself. Sometimes it was my job to hang up the clothes, sometimes to unpin the dry, stiff socks and shirts. Of all the jobs of childhood, this work at the clothesline was my favorite.

Scrubbing the dirty linens necessarily had to come first. There I’d sit, out under the endless expanse of Southwest blue, small pail under me, usually an old paint can which left merciless indentations in the backs of my thighs, and just before me like a yawning silvery gray band sat a large stainless steel basin. The brightness of metal caught the sun and cast a glow against the brown earth, loose and dusty, but hiding just below was endless clay.

First, I’d dump a cup of suds right in there, that same tub we used for baths and dishes, then I’d position the old hose that snaked about from a spigot at the side of the house, and being this close I had no cause to worry about kinks in the tubing like when watering trees a hundred yards out. A turn of the valve, an eruption of liquid, and I’d be careful not to waste a drop of that first spurt, hot from sitting in the length of hose, the only hot I’d get.

Cottons, and small knuckles, invariably, rubbed on a metal washboard, fingers quickly numbing from cold. I could never figure how to scrub the material closest to the big brassy buckles and buttons on my dad’s heavy overalls and was continually vexed by those fixtures. Scrub, wring, toss in a bucket. When all pieces were washed, I’d empty the great tub, at first by the pail, then once I could muscle it, by tipping the basin, creating rivulets and muddy swirls and soon my toes were submerged and curled under mud and clay. When you live in the desert, water is extra fascinating.

I would refill the washtub for a rinse that never seemed to run clear, and now hands were raw and back aching.The water would be brown and filmy by the time the last sock was scooped up from a bottom crevice, the last shirt wrung as tight as my tired arms could wring. A final dragging of pails heavy with washing over to the lines that stretched from east to west between wooden poles, beckoning to take my load, and I was at the best part of the job.

Arms stretched up, toes stretched, too, to hang the clean, wet clothes, and retrieve the dried, and this was a happier place.

There is nothing tragic in an eight-year-old having to wash tubs of laundry by hand. Millenia of young girls have been little washerwomen and mothers’ helpers and labored under more than this. Ancient girls would have cleaned their clothes by pounding them on rocks and washing the dirt away in the streams, and made their own soap, too, from the fat of sacrificed animals. When I was eight, the electric-powered washing machine was barely 70 years old and it’s not unreasonable that I should still be scrubbing clothes.

No, the tragic things aren’t the work and crudeness of the apparatus. It was my mother, sick in mind and body, lying in bed for weeks –in the hot summers even–loaded down with heavy blankets, alternately shivering and fevering, wet cloth on her forehead, and so the child was loaded down with all that laundry. Always with a wet cloth to cool her head, that’s how I remember my mother.

It was my father, inexplicably letting a brand-new washing machine shipped by my aunt from nearly two thousand miles away sit untouched in an outbuilding. After a while, the mice took up residence in the beautiful machine, and after a greater while, it was unusable, important parts chewed through. Really, it wasn’t inexplicable, it was the way he did most everything, in fits and starts and always undone. I spent many moments lost in dream over that machine, as if it were a magic capsule to usher me into normal life.

On the rare occasion when a friend was over, and it was laundry time, she would enjoy helping, quite entertained by the novelty of the washboard. In those instances, it was all joy — splashing water, wringing contests, and a race to the clothesline. The clothesline. If the cord had more tension, I could be a tightrope walker. If it were stronger, I could swing from my knees and do a cherry drop like on the monkey bars at school.

The clothesline was the end of the job, reaching up toward blue sky and all clean around me, and endless possibilities.

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The Year She Knew She Was Loved

Happiest of New Years to all, and blessings of love to you. The new year holds so many possibilities, promises, hopes, expectations.

I’ve always wondered about how the Chinese proclaim a message or theme for each new year, awash in traditions and rituals, based on a complex Chinese calendar and Chinese zodiac. My own quiet celebration and resolution is not so festive, but observed in my own way.

I met a new friend recently, the mother of a friend, actually. She is a small, wizened Hispanic woman who speaks of signs and symbols and prophecies in the most colorful way, and she shared with me that 2012 will be the year the bride knew He loved her. I took this word for myself, as it greatly resonated with me.

The little woman related an anecdote to me, her words tumbling faster than I could catch, of two friends, and one knows she is completely loved by the other and is thus willing to share quite openly and honestly with her companion, with no fear of being taken wrongly or judged harshly and no fear of loss of that friendship because she knows how that love won’t break. This brief narrative was the beginning of my understanding of a powerful message of knowing you are loved and the consequences of that knowledge. I missed some points, I do know, and she knew it, too, and expected that I would.

And that is how it must be between you and God, she declared. When I am completely at rest in the solid, unmovable fact that God loves me, I am willing to take risks, to be utterly vulnerable and honest with Him, to throw myself with abandon into all of Him. And then there can be real relationship.

I’ve pondered, too, the relationship from the other end. If God knows that His bride is completely and passionately in love with Him, then perhaps He has access He didn’t have before? He can open Heaven’s gates and pour down abundant blessings and ravishing love upon the bride that He knows is also unmovable in her love for Him.

And further yet, there are applications in these earthly vessels of husband and wife, mother and daughter, father and son, friends, sisters, brothers. You must know the critical nature of this point? Knowing you are deeply loved, oh, there is nothing like it to make for a glorious marriage, friendship, relationship.

2012: The Year She Knew She Was Loved — I hope to share my journey of realizing this.

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Wishing you a Merry Christmas

family photo

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold,
I bring you tidings of great joy, Which shall be to all people.”

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” – St. Luke

manger setting

Bright and joyful is the morn,
For us to a Child is born.
From the highest realms of Heaven,
Unto us a Son is given.
{Hymn~Bright and Joyful is the Morn}

snowman in the window

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella
Bring a torch, come swiftly and run.
Christ is born, tell the folk of the village,
Jesus is sleeping in His cradle,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother,
Ah, ah, beautiful is her Son.
{Hymn~Bring a Torch}

hanging the stockings

gather round the tree

Gather around the Christmas tree!
Gather around the Christmas tree!
Evergreen have its branches been,
It is king of all the woodland scene;
For Christ our King is born today!
His reign shall never pass away.
{Hymn~Gather Around the Christmas Tree}

light the tree
candy cane tree

Gather around the Christmas tree!
Gather around the Christmas tree!
Once the pride of the mountainside,
Now cut down to grace our Christmastide;
For Christ from Heav’n to earth came down,
To gain, through death, a nobler crown.

he chose this ornament
the girls at the tree

Gather around the Christmas tree!
Gather around the Christmas tree!
Every bough bears a burden now—
They are gifts of love for us, we trow;
For Christ is born, His love to show,
And give good gifts to men below.


Hosanna, hosanna,
Hosanna in the highest!

Merry Christmas to you, with love from our house to yours.

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Stocking Stuffer Giveaway for the Sports Fan!

Hey Sports Fan! Diary of 1 and would like to give you a FREE stocking stuffer!

TeamMASCOT is our family business, and you can read about it here, and then there’s Business 101 From an Eight-Year-Old to prove there’s nothing better than a family business to create savvy little entrepreneurs.

Here’s how to win a sports-themed stocking stuffer: be one of the first ten people to go to and click the “Follow us on Twitter” button. Tweet the stocking stuffer you’d like, choosing from one of the following items, any team that is currently in stock: [NFL, College, MLB, NHL, NBA, NASCAR]

Bumper Sticker
Temporary tattoo
5×6 Decal

Then, leave a comment here on this post telling me what you did…and I will contact you via email for your shipping address, and get your stocking stuffer on its merry way! Hurry, Christmas is coming!

Merry Christmas!! ~ Jen

p.s., I will ship International if you also post your own tweet mentioning!

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Blogging to Bethlehem: Feeling Nauseous

Blogging to Bethlehem, sunset rails

I am desperate for anticipation in this season of Advent, the awaiting of the coming of the Messiah. Mother Teresa once remarked that John the Baptist was the first person to rejoice at the coming of the Christ when he jumped for joy while still in Elizabeth’s womb, and Jesus was yet in Mary’s womb. That’s the kind of joyful anticipation I want.

I start with Isaiah.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
Isaiah 11:1-3

Feeling like a stump, it’s so reassuring to know that the Spirit of the Lord is coming. “From his roots…” and I wonder about what keeps roots alive and I’m still astonished that fruit should come from there.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
Isaiah 53:2

On this paved road to Bethlehem in my century, knowing the end of the story is a unique perspective, a blessed place. I don’t have to look for the signs, read the skies, search the prophets. But I think about the days of Isaiah, when the Advent was but a distant hope, and there is something unrivaled and momentous about that place, too, a place of watching, waiting, hoping. Anticipation stirs passion, and I’d like to go there, to Isaiah, in my mind, because here and now, with the gift already come, I sigh and fear falling into lethargy.

…from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

When dear women in my life have babies, I visit them in the hospital and nearly without fail, I cry. Tears flow from wonder at the beauty and miracle, and how can I not notice the Mystery? The Spirit of the Lord rests heavily there, and I fairly swoon at the smell of the newborn, like milk and honey and fresh rain, and the sight of his tiny curled fingers–and I’m desiring now to be lifted to the heights at the thought of that One Baby, and I’m mortified that I don’t approach the Christ-child the same.

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy? ~ Madeleine L’Engle

I’ve asked the questions a hundred times at least, “How are you feeling?” as I observe the swell in the belly of my sisters and friends. “Are you hungry all the time, are you nauseous?

I want to be hungry all the time as Advent proceeds down this crowded, bustling road to Bethlehem. Hungry to feel His presence, to simply anticipate. For now, I just feel nauseous at my dispassion, but it’s a start.

I’m asking what it takes to feel hungry, and perhaps part of the answer is an empty space, a fasting from busy, a tenable chance for hunger to wake me into longing and then I’ll hold my breath with the stars. I need an unpaved, uncrowded road to Bethlehem here in my heart.

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The Brothers Karamozov and Me

What was I thinking? What can I even say about Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov except that never again will I commit to write about such a sweeping novel with ideas so intricately laid down with the precision of a master architect who has weighed and measured every stick. Unless maybe I give myself a whole uninterrupted year. Or 25 years, like Joseph Frank (professor emeritus at Princeton and Stanford Universities) did, who finished his fifth and final volume on the life of Dostoevsky, a monumental biography at 800 pages for just that volume, back in 2002.

It’s not that Dostoevsky is unreadable for the lay person. Yes, degrees in psychology and Russian history would help, but for a writer who is considered to be one of the world’s greatest authors and this his greatest novel, he’s very accessible.

You may find yourself asking, “How could he know me?” To read Dostoevsky is to stand naked-hearted before a wise and piercing being and it’s quite uncomfortable to be so exposed. The major themes that course through The Brothers Karamozov are broad but it’s uncanny how they light in a small place of your own nature and prick your conscience. He is a master. Were he alive today, or had I lived 150 years ago, I’d have wanted him for a friend and confidante during my darkest inner battles, and he would look straight through me and diagnose me and make such sense that I’d be well just for having been diagnosed and having seen such stark and beautiful truth.

The Brothers Karamozov is a big book of ideas, nearly 900 pages of dialogued postulations on love, guilt, forgiveness, responsibility for one another, money, the existence of God, atheism, socialism, freedom. And who among us hasn’t grappled with those big ideas in some small or grand way?

And there’s an intriguing story, too, that weaves these big ideas all together, a family tale that follows the lives of the Karamozov brothers and their father and surrounding characters. There is a love story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and always deeper meaning. Indeed, the entire nation of Russia is a character in the story, as is God himself, as even a cursory read reveals.

The allegorical depth of The Brothers Karamozov is part of its richness and acclaim. The brothers each are emblems and caricatures–Ivan is the intellectual atheist; Dmitri is the worldly sensualist, Alyosha is the spiritual soul. Other allegories include each of the Karamozov brothers being subjected to three temptations, as in the biblical story of the temptation of Christ, each with varying degrees of success according to their character.

In fact, it is this story of the temptation of Christ in the chapter on Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor that was one of my favorite parts. I had never read a more complete or compelling account of how Jesus was tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). The first temptation, for the hungry Jesus to turn the stones into bread, Dostoevsky extends and shows himself to be a brilliant theologian. Jesus said no, that man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God.

And Dostoevsky conveys this was an issue of freedom, as his Grand Inquisitor promises man, as Satan promised Jesus, everything in exchange for freedom, that single thing that defines man. The Grand Inquisitor tells the man that people are too simple and unruly for freedom, that what they really need is bread, to “feed men, and then ask of them virtue.” The Grand Inquisitor goes on to claim that “freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together.” His indictment against Christ is that He turned down social justice for the sake of freedom and the bread of heaven.

The Grand Inquisitor makes such an eloquent case in this chapter that any atheist who reads it champions this as his proof. But Dostoevsky, having travelled through atheism and out the other end to Christianity, is in an uncommonly opportune position to be exquisitely credible to both sides, and still win. He thus commented on his own faith and responds to atheists and critics of The Brothers Karamozov:

The dolts have ridiculed my obscurantism and the reactionary character of my faith. These fools could not even conceive so strong a denial of God as the one to which I gave expression… The whole book is an answer to that…. You might search Europe in vain for so powerful an expression of atheism. Thus it is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess Him. My hosanna has come forth from the crucible of doubt.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s own life informed his writing of The Brothers Karamozov in many ways. As a young man, he was a socialist revolutionary who ended up arrested by the Tsarist police for associating with a secret socialist group. Dostoevsky claimed to not be against the Russian government but against the institution of serfdom. The next decade found him in prison and labor camps in Siberia. He emerged from the experience, having nothing to read but the gospels, one of the few books allowed, not a social revolutionary, but a spiritually awakened man.

A journalist recounting Joseph Frank’s staggering biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky offered this insight into the theme of The Brothers Karamozov:

Dostoyevsky, in Frank’s view, is comparable to Dante, Shakespeare and Milton in the grandeur of his thought and the power of his spiritual vision. His goal in this novel, Frank says, was both to portray the breakdown of social and family life (the principal theme of the much weaker ”Raw Youth”) and to warn, through the three Karamazov brothers, Ivan, Dimitri and Alyosha, and their corrupt father, Fyodor, against the impending collapse of Western civilization, which was inevitable unless humankind embraced a return to the (Orthodox) Christian faith.

Dostoevsky indeed believed that the only salvation for us all is not found in politics, but in faith. There are so many more characters for you to meet in The Brothers Karamozov, countless conversations and incidents, that will illuminate this truth and more. There is Father Zossima, the crazy Father Ferapont, Katerina Ivanovna, Grushenka. There is this:

Ah, children, ah, dear friends, don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something good and just!


If they drive God from the earth, we shall shelter Him underground. One cannot exist in prison without God; it’s even more impossible than out of prison. And then we men underground will sing from the bowels of the earth a glorious hymn to God, with Whom is joy. Hail to God and His joy! I love Him!


Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears.

As the book’s final line echoes, “Hurrah for Karamozov!” Read it, you will be flattened, raised, amazed, challenged. This is the best I can do, for I have a long way to go in really understanding it all.

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Mommy, do I have Catholic or Jews in me?

Her question made me laugh out loud, and my heart warmed at the wondering, because don’t we all long to know where we come from and don’t we desire to be distinct and remarkable?

Mommy, do I have Catholic or Jews in me?

The confusion between blood ties and religious persuasion is understandable for an eight-year-old. Her inquiry followed with me explaining the difference. I was in the dark on the origin of her question, perhaps some discussion with a teacher or classmate or friend? But I heard her heart, and it was an innocent curiosity, a wanting to be special.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139:14

Jo with baby goat

It’s the same question I hear when my child says, “Mommy, tell me what I’m good at,” or “Do you like how I sing?”

Oh, that we could really know how wonderful we’ve been made, that we are His workmanship, that we are chosen, redeemed, established, complete.

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All Things Bright and Beautiful

snowy morning

Out my wintry window today, I think of Mrs. Cecil Alexander, who penned in 1848, “All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful; The Lord God made them all.”

My older son says the world is a better place when there’s snow, and it certainly is bright and beautiful. The way the snow sits in a cluster on the junipers, the tracks that leave behind a larger you, the way my child contours an image and shape with what was once water, it’s all so other-worldly, and I know why he loves this.

Boots, hats, gloves! I see growing spheres of snow, half-bodies waiting to be put together. What compares to rosy cheeks, snowballs flying, frosty eyelashes, and pure happiness hung in crystals?


Who would have ever thought to do it this way but the One who sent that other white manna from Heaven? Manna that brings joy, that is for the day, that brings sweetness to the soul and melts in the mouth–this snowy provision is a gift.

The kids are out gathering early this morning, and those who are prone to fight have assembled in harmony, harvesting the plenty, powdered white as far as the eye can see.

snowscape front yard
snow cat

Bright and beautiful manna. Taste and see–and tell.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

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Thursday Threads

Good Thursday to you! I’m too busy to write much or write well, but here are some threads catching my attention today.

1. The Iron Lady. This film is a biopic on Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom from 1979 – 1990. Because Hollywood hates conservative women, I’m afraid this will be a hit job, but I await the release with huge anticipation. Her arrival at 10 Downing Street was historic, and I’d love to see a fair treatment of her complex personality and contribution to world affairs, but casting Meryl Streep as Thatcher is like casting Sean Penn as Reagan–you can’t get more politically polar. The jury is still out on whether Streep, an outstanding actress, will put aside her own contempt of conservative politics and do right by Maggie.

2. This fantastique French blogger is on her way to publishing a book in 21 days! Kristin Espinasse, my French connection and kindred spirit, is culling hundreds of blogs post to compile into a vignette of French life, to be self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Go Kristin!! She had previously put out a traditional house-published book, also a collection of blog posts, and this new book will pick up where that one left off.

3. Today in history (November 17, 1558) marks the beginning of the Elizabethan Age! (Hello, Shakespeare). Queen Mary Tudor died, and Elizabeth I ascended the English throne. Also on this date in 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh went on trial for treason and today in 1796 Catherine the Great of Russia died. This day was also terrible for the tango: on November 17, 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany banned the armed forces from dancing the tango.

4. Thanks to give in Detroit.

5. Detroit also has a coffee angel.

6. The secret of contentment.

Random photos from my file (and wow, rearrage the letters of file and you have life!):
the four on bikes
the kids stacking wood

Jo's stained glass window art

Jaime and dog in fort
Luke's eggshell
Have a thrilling Thursday, and wonderful weekend!

~Love Jen

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The Wind and Leaves on Veterans Day

The wind, he wasn’t going to miss the parade. Swiftly, anticipating, as one enthusiastically awaits a spectacular homecoming, he gathered himself from the four corners and whirled in with the leaves. I saw him, I heard the whispers.

“Honor, valor, true grit,” the murmurs grew louder, and I perceived it was the wind passing the message to the leaves. “Heroes!” The leaves, they came rushing as a ghost army of soldiers, crimson and scarlet, yellow and brown, colors of sorrow to greet their standing comrades, themselves fallen and buoyed only by the wind.

The first wave of veterans marched down the main street, a strong one in the lead calling the marching cadence, “Sound-off, 1 – 2; Sound-off, 3 – 4.” The leaves curled with the rhythm of the call, and then suddenly, like footweary fighters, bowed before the veterans with a crackling applause.

“Remember!” bellowed the wind, “it is but disgrace to forget.”

“Glory!” rustled the leaves.

Together came the chorus, “We’ve seen where they’ve been, the battles they’ve won, how heavy the gun, carry on, carry on!”

And with one great gust, the wind bore the corps of fallen leaves past the procession of perseverance, into the distance, seeking another band to honor.

As he bid farewell, the wind called upon the flags to salute straight out, no star or stripe was hidden. “It was for this they fought,” he lastly hailed, and once more, “Remember!”

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Thanking God for Mrs. Young

desert sky

The wooden bench in the hallway, between the pot-bellied stove and the hanging ivy in a macramé plant holder, that was where I learned to love. With my skinny legs dangling almost to the worn linoleum and my green eyes hung down to avoid Mrs. Young, I studied the brown and orange geometric lines on the floor beneath my dirty tennies with intensity. I had picked out the shoes myself from the rack at Value Village in Tucson and now they were squeezing my toes and maybe my heart. Mrs. Young had placed me there on the bench and I burned with shame.

Despite my anxious discomfort, this house was warm and safe, and the place to learn about how normal people do life. Like a plant engaged in phototropism, I found a light source and turned to it for survival.

I was there for church, a house-church in my desert village, planted in that southeast corner of Arizona by Providence for my sustenance. I think now of Deuteronomy 8:15. “He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.” This place was my water.

Strings of memories wrap around this place like a large ball of twine, strong enough to tie a young sapling to a stake to steady it in the wind. Holy words were said there, pudgy old ladies in flowered dresses and bloated ankles served potluck meals, and I heard laughter. I cherished a few special sanctuaries as a child, the leafy branches of the poplar tree in my own yard, the flat roof top of our shed, and here too in this place, the swing in the side yard where I’d tuck my feet up under me to get away from the chickens or where I’d lazily rock and pretend I lived there.

And there was Mrs. Young in front of me, the best mother I knew, her brown hair in a bun with gray wisps falling near her porcelain face. She and Mr. Young owned the general store about five miles down the dirt roads that criss-crossed the clay and dust, grasses and tumbleweeds, and sometimes I’d walk all the way there just to buy a Baby Ruth. A small group of girls, including myself, and a little Korean girl named Kim wearing the prettiest clothes of all and shiny black patent leather shoes, we’d all been playing after Sunday-School.

And why, I don’t quite know, because I was the least of them all and thought so little of myself, but I had been terribly offensive that day, and perhaps I’d fallen victim to that psychology of only liking what is “similar to me,” and in fact in my tiny homogeneous community I’d never known anyone before who wasn’t white like me.

“You are not being very nice, young lady!” Mrs. Young had seen it all, heard the words, noticed the hurt, and pulled me aside there to the bench. I was ablaze with honest shame because it was all so dreadfully true. I wasn’t nice, and I didn’t like her daughter, and I had actually said to the brown girl, “you can’t play with us.”

The best mother stood over me and spoke to me privately about her daughter, an adopted Korean girl with impossibly thick black hair, smooth brown skin, and small dark eyes that held all of Seoul. Mrs. Young told me where her Kim came from, that she was just like me, and though very few words were said, something in her voice seared my soul about the dignity of each human life. She asked me to apologize.

I embraced that other little brown girl. She soon, almost instantly, became my first best friend, a treasure. I spent many nights at her house, and we were just two little girls with dreams, and we’d give each other a head massage as we sleepily talked about the possibilities out there in the great big world. She wanted to be a gymnast. I thought the circus sounded fun. We ate spicy kimchi at her house and dressed up in kimonos. Mrs. Young told me how much Kim wished for hair like mine, and I told my sisters I wanted to be Korean.

If you never have a best friend you can’t learn about things like keeping secrets, writing notes with bubble letters and hearts, sharing those silly glances when you have a crush. You learn that girlhood is universal no matter what your race or religion or social status. Sometimes you get hurt, too, like the time in 7th grade when I moved away for a year and after I came back, Kim had a new best friend. Things were not the same, and a year later, Kim moved away to California.

But I thank God for Mrs. Young and that holy bench, and this lesson in love.

Beloved, let us love another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. I John 4:7

(to be continued)

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To honor when it isn’t fair

Mom draws at the lake

Our paths connected through our children and so I didn’t expect to be sitting there talking about our mothers. Kelly is one of those rare, faithful confidantes who is an exceptional blessing to know, the kind who sees you through weary, complicated trials and you shake your head sometimes marveling at the loyalty and wondering how you gained such a friend.

Behind me a sheet of water was eternally cascading down an ornamental fountain. The small café was cozy with warm colored walls, burnt yellows and cinnamon, just big enough for a dozen or so comfortable patrons. I was late to our breakfast appointment and greeted her with a hung head. She laughed at me and was thankful I had still come.

log at Billychinook

“How are the kids? And your mom?” Kelly’s inquiring brown eyes searched out the answer, glossy auburn locks falling perfectly past her shoulders, and I remembered I hadn’t applied a spot of make-up in my hurry.

The waitress offered the special, eggs Benedict with Hollandaise lime sauce and cooked pears over sourdough, or something along those lines, I couldn’t remember but ordered it anyway. I squinted at her hard, trying to recall just where it was the previous day I’d seen her. It came to me, it was the library. Her son brushed past mine, my freckled boy who clutched the Scooby-Doo video in his little hands, utterly cheered to find it there, finally. This mother with son at the library – I’m always so happy to see mothers with children at the library, it’s my strange joy. And her son wanted that video, too, and he squalled to his tall, blonde and beautiful mother, “It’s not fair!”

And those were the very words I painfully expressed to Kelly over coffee and breakfast platters, just as petulant as that child. Why should I have to take care of my mother? She barely took care of me, I practically raised myself, and it wasn’t fair, and sadly it was only at the end of the meal I considered my unforgiveness.

It happened that some years after I met Kelly, her mother moved in with her, too, and like mine, has degenerative brain problems. She’s forgotten how to comb her hair and take a walk. Her conversation has dwindled to “no.” Kelly gracefully chided me with, “At least yours talks.”

mom at Sahalie Falls

And grace it is that I need at this moment, and the compassionate forbearance of mercy. I know it. I know it by its absence. I know it by the tightness in my chest when she walks into a room. Oh, grace to cleanse my irritated soul. The way she shuffles, asks again what day it is, tells me she forgot how to whistle, burps at the table, a thousand ways that need grace.

I mourn that I’m not doing this well. I mourn that my own children observe my lack of grace and mercy, because one day, they may need to draw on it.

Kelly explained how she came by new grace for her mother. “Last time,” she shared, speaking of her mom’s prior six-month stay, “it was really hard and I was always frustrated.” But then she returned from retrieving her mom from a sibling who shares the care-taking, and here sensitivity laced Kelly’s every word. The mother she knew had never a hair out of place and things ordered just so, but now her hair was stringy and unkempt, her clothes ill-fitting, and her exercise unattended to. Sometimes it is seeing the indifference in others that provokes us to tenderness.

“Is that honoring to my mother?” Kelly had asked herself with renewed humanity.

Those words tumbled around my head. Honoring. The sheets of water continued to course behind my chair, molecule after molecule, and I wanted to jump right in and wash away the vexation, the impatience, the anger. Could I replace those insipid characters with esteem, respect, appreciation, love? And how? One molecule at a time by the grace of God.

waterspout at Yachats

Is it fair that Jesus died for sinful me? Is it fair that I don’t deserve his grace but receive it freely and abundantly? I guess fairness really can’t be part of this equation, but forgiveness, yes, to forgive as I have been forgiven. And that will be another story, my friends.

He has show you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

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The House of the Lord on the Ocean

Dad & JJ surfing in Pacific City, 2011

The day he taught her to surf was a beautiful day with slate-gray waves pushing up arcs just her size and sun and wind offering competing comforts. She, so brave, he, so proud. And me, just so content to watch the unfolding of a love transferred.

We talk often about the future and where we’ll live and how we’ll live, as if we really have the freedom to make our lives what we want. And always, the ocean comes up. He wonders if it’s just childhood nostalgia, a deep longing for the simple, but a deep so elusive one wonders, was it real?

The mighty waves call “come ride with me,” and awaken something unutterable and eternal. The two push out there, and then she comes gliding in with a smile and flicker that tells me she’s been captivated, too, as deep calls unto deep.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. ~ Psalm 29:3

The house of the Lord is all around, they entered it there, so real in the surf, and it’s here too in my desert, and may I dwell in his house all the days of my life, may I notice the beauty of the Lord as I seek Him in his temple.

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It’s like going into a strip bar and being offended by nudity.

It’s a Catholic University, for God’s sake. Really, it’s for God’s sake. And Muslims who CHOOSE of their own free will to pay lots of money and attend this Catholic religious educational institution, are now complaining and filed a 60 page complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights against Catholic University in Washington, D.C. for violating their “human rights” by not providing them with special prayer rooms that are devoid of any Christian symbols such as the cross.

I would love to think this was a joke. Or at least that it was some mentally unbalanced fringe character who filed the lawsuit. But no (or maybe yes), it was an attorney and professor at George Washington University who filed the complaint. The Office of Human Rights expects the investigation to take as long as six months. It should take six seconds: it’s a private Catholic University, assimilate or go to a Muslim school or a government school. And then let’s talk about how you feel about a Christian church in Mecca.

It’s like going to the Louvre and filing a complaint that there is not a single room in the entire museum that is devoid of art. Or like going to La Scala and being offended that singing filled the entire opera house. Or like watching the World Series and being offended by the balls.

*my title comes from a comment on this article~thanks, Timothy in Georgia

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Two-Hundred-Proof Grace

Scotch Malt from Nancy

We could have been at a mountain distillery in Scotland, and indeed, my sister Nancy had just returned from a month in that lush, green country and deposited this array of single malt Scotch whiskies on my dining room table. She regaled us til past midnight with stories of the Highlands and its clannish folks, along with histories of each distillery, some centuries old, which produce one of Scotland’s finest gifts from her unparalleled mountain springs. Nancy spoke of oak casks and aging and proofs and I delighted in the mere names on the bottles.

And so I thought of this visit with my sister when I read this bit about two-hundred-proof grace and one man who found it:

The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred-proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about perfection—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter in. ~ Robert Farrar Capon

I saw that quote yesterday and so my mind began throbbing about grace. I considered how my sister’s Scotch was proof enough with just a whiff to convince me of its power and how just a taste sent my nagging cold into oblivion, and wasn’t grace good medicine, too, especially for ailments of the conscience?

And then today, as the Lord would have it, I got to follow up on Martin Luther’s wild discovery, uncovering, about that grace. A radio show this morning told the story about the day Luther was conducting his very first Mass (still in the Roman Catholic church, and before his crisis of faith that led to the Reformation). His father, bursting with pride over his son, who he really wanted to be a lawyer, but at least now he had an official vocation, invited his closest business associates to the momentous event.

Martin Luther executed the mass flawlessly, up until the point where he was to pray over the bread and wine, to supernaturally intercede for it to become the actual body and blood of Christ. And then, in what his father hoped to be Martin’s finest moment, Luther froze. He opened his mouth to speak and not a word came forth. He trembled. Sweat beaded down his face. Another priest had to take his place.

Luther’s father pulled him aside afterward to express his agonizing disappointment, and really, because he was humiliated in front of his important friends. Luther, ever the man to feel the full guilt of his humanity, but so deeply aware of Christ’s presence, was only able to say (something along the lines of), “But, I was holding Jesus in my hands!” He was terror-struck at the thought of the majesty and justice of a holy God right there in his hands, his own sinful hands, and could not go on.

Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God. ~ Luther

And what does this have to do with grace? Because Luther so desperately himself needed grace, because he literally could not function without it, as evidenced by this terrifying experience in his first Mass in which grace alone could stand between him and a holy God, though he hadn’t yet grasped that, because of this and so much more, Luther found a way to grace.

He was condemned as a heretic, but he had found grace.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. ~ Luther

And what are we to do with this gift of two-hundred-proof grace? Accept it, for it was prepared for us and done before the foundation of the world, and is already ours for the taking, and isn’t it just ridiculous to leave a gift unopened under the tree?

crooked tree at Sparks Lake

This is Part III of my study on Romans 12:3-8, just a look at grace in this post, because as Martin Luther preached in his Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans:

To begin with, we have to become familiar with the vocabulary of the letter and know what St. Paul means by the words law, sin, grace, faith, justice, flesh, spirit, etc. Otherwise there is no use in reading it. ~ Luther

And here is Part I and Part II.

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Many Members, One Body

[This is Part II of a series on Romans 12:3-8. Part I is here.]

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5

Part I: Many members and functions; one body.

Unity in diversity is the beautiful picture here. Both physically and spiritually, many parts make up the whole. Each unique, specific, necessary, and diverse part fits together to make one unified healthy whole. Without the eye to see the danger and relay it to the brain which tells it to the feet which run, the whole body is in jeopardy. (see I Cor. 12:12-27)

God’s purposes are sovereign…the diversity of gifts is necessary to accomplish His unified purpose.

This is the DNA of all creation. Within the cosmos, the earth cannot say to the sun, “I don’t need you,” or to the moon, “please move other there.” No, our very existence would cease; it must be precisely as God ordained, and He calls it “good,” as when He marveled at the diversity of creation in the very beginning.

There is only one body. Not two or three. Haven’t we all learned through trials that it’s critical to the health of the whole body that we not take up any offenses, feel like we don’t fit in, and look for some other body? Our enemy is skilled at setting up counterfeit bodies, like cults or gangs, that mimic some of the good “belonging” feelings of the one true body of Christ and so ensnare the unsuspecting or the weak, but are actually dangerously unhealthy. Our membership has only one place to be redeemed and that is in Christ.

“…and these members do not all have the same function…” And oh, the trouble in keeping the parts where they belong! My kids used to be silly with Mr. Potato Head and stick an ear where an eye should go or feet on top of his head. Do you recall the Mr. Potato Head character in Toy Story? He was a jealous, rude, and unfriendly character — precisely our traits when we wish we were mouths instead of hands or feet instead of eyes. May we rejoice in our distinct giftings with humility and understanding.

Part II: Each member belongs to all.

We are mutually dependent on one another. How can we really, humbly know that our gifts are not for any selfish purpose or display, but always for the good of the whole? We have a profound interconnectedness by which we need each other, even the meekest contribution.

It’s no wonder that the section of Romans directly following this passage on gifts is all about love, as that is the key:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10

To love sincerely is to accomplish this “belonging to” with grace and triumph.

A pastor once told it this way:

“A number of years ago I fell and injured my wrist rather severely. It swelled up and got very painful. And the rest of my body felt so bad about it that it sat up all night to keep it company. That is what the body of Christ is to do when one member is hurt.”

We see a moving demonstration of how “each member belongs to all the others” from Christ on the cross as he utters in one of his last moments:

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved, standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27

To know that within Jesus’ dying words was this request to live out our Christian experience in fellowship with one another and caring for one another as if they were our very own flesh and blood (and oh, the beauty of His provision for his mother) ~ this is another gift from the cross. Each member belongs to all.

Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others. ~ Augustine

Jesus, we praise you for the privilege of membership in your body, each of us different members. We ask for your grace to keep us functioning exactly as you designed. Help us to honor one another as though we each belonged to the other. Amen.

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Beware the secondhand stress!

“Beware the secondhand stress!” Practicing patience today with my children. I grew up inhaling secondhand smoke every single day thanks to my dad, and I’m terrified I’ll die of lung cancer, but maybe secondhand stress is just as deadly for children?

As Kevin DeYoung points out in this insightful article titled Children and Secondhand Stress, research has shown that it’s not the parents’ ability to make their children feel loved or appreciated that’s the problem…it’s the anger.

It’s Mom or Dad with a short fuse of patience because what they’re really worried about is how to pay the bills or make the dinner or find the time to do everything they’re juggling, and it’s overwhelming to the point of explosions of stress that shower down on the children, wounding like sharp bits of shrapnel that never really get removed.

The interesting thing about blast injuries that involve shrapnel is that the deadlier physical trauma actually occurs from blast overpressure, or shock waves. Especially when the explosion occurs in a confined space. External injuries aren’t evident, but inside? Lungs can be collapsing, hearts can be bleeding, brains can be swelling.

Really. It’s that deadly. We should be more intentional about removing stress triggers in our family life.

Maybe we schedule fewer family activities that require the hurry and rush that inevitably causes stress. Are there other ways to simplify our lives, like downsizing and eliminating things that cost more, so there’s less financial demand on the parents? Maybe take time at the beginning of each week to schedule meals so the family dinner isn’t a grab-n-go scramble, but a thoughtful and peaceful event?

The next time I’m driving down our gravel road late for life and spilling out my anger and stress-laced piercings on those absorbent souls, I hope I remember my dad’s old Ford rumbling down Havasu Way, a trail of dust pluming into the Arizona sky behind us rivaled only by his toxic smoke irreversibly penetrating my lungs. And I will pause, pull over if necessary, roll down the windows, and breathe slow.

If we’ve blown it, parents?

Pray. Always pray. Both alone and together. Ask forgiveness. Hold tight one another. Breathe fresh clean air and listen. And make the necessary course corrections.

Blessings on us all as we pursue peace and patience.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

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For by the grace given me

many shells and rocks, Pacific City, OR

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Romans 12:3

This verse precedes an amazing section of scriptures in which Paul lists several gifts (charismata), gifts of grace freely given by God for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. I’ve always hastened over this verse that begins the introduction to the gifts, but I’d like to take a closer look.

Part I: For by the grace given me

Before Paul speaks this word of warning and instruction, he notes that he’s only speaking “by the grace” given to him. Might we also, before we speak words into someone else’s life, be sure the words are foremost given in grace?

And then I noticed this other thing about “for by the grace” –over there in Galations 2:9, Paul has a word about this grace:

James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.

We are called to recognize the grace giftings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Grace in this sense means a special endowment that brings responsibility for service. Paul is adamant that his apostleship be recognized by his fellow believers, and always he points to Christ as his authority to exhort and instruct them. And didn’t Paul know the consequences of opposing this call to acknowledge the God-given grace at work in a believer? {His letter to the Galations reveals that the gospel gets perverted otherwise, and that is a whole other study.}

I will be looking for the grace in you.

kite flying, Pacific City, OR

Part II: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought

As I investigate more deeply this call to humility, I find something intriguing about its connection to grace (what I will call grace-gifting in this context).

I read in 1 Peter 5:5-6 to clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

And then,

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

If we are proud, vain, conceited, thinking about our own greatness, I believe we’re in danger of not receiving, or losing, our grace-giftings, as this grace is reserved only for the humble.

Paul knew something powerful about this relationship between humility and grace-gifts. It is Paul who continually (and in true modesty) proclaimed himself the “chief of sinners” and “the least of the apostles.” Apostleship was bestowed upon him by the grace of God and he knew it, he knew it wasn’t of himself.

If we could know it, too, that self-pride and grace-giftings cannot reside together in our hearts, we would be so powerfully moving in our gifts and a tremendous blessing to the Body of Christ.

summer 2011, pacific city

Part III: In accordance with the measure of faith God has given you

Our measure of faith is critical to this whole process of our calling to exercise our gifts. It seems there are different measures of faith. As Paul states in Romans 12:6, we have different gifts, and the various measures of faith needed to carry out these gifts is a gift itself. We need to know our measure of faith and act accordingly.

Dangers lie on both ends, both in underestimating our faith and in overestimating our faith.

To underestimate our faith can lead to spiritual laziness, and can be likened to the man who buries his talent. He neglected the abilities God gave him, out of fear, and do you remember? It was taken away from him and given to the one who showed himself wise in the use of gifts.

To overestimate the faith God has measured to us is equally dangerous. Perhaps we’ll try to serve in ways God hasn’t prepared us for. Maybe we’ll be sidetracked from our true purpose. We may find ourselves walking into situations we naively or pridefully think we’re equipped to manage and find ourselves floundering. Or maybe we become like the clay who says to the potter, “what are you making?”

To exercise your grace-giftings exactly in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you, though? That is effective, life-giving stuff that benefits the entire body of Christ.

geyser, Yachats, OR

Jesus, we praise you for the privilege of your grace, we ask for your help in keeping us bowed low before you, to have a correct view of ourselves. What an honor to be faith-filled believers in your service, and help us to always embrace our gifts in accordance with that faith, for the good of the Body and to your glory. Amen.

[Part II of the Romans 12:3-8 series is here: Many Members, One Body.]

{visit the Christian Blog Carnival for more great posts}

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Hope Renewed

Those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31).

“Your pace will change from a sprint to a marathon,” she counseled. These words brought immense hope to my soul on the heels of a few exhausting years that did indeed feel like the 50-yard dash on replay every hour of my day.

The thought of a marathon panics some, but its pace is slower, steadier than the sprint, and yes, we still have a race to run, but perhaps it didn’t have to kill me?

I had been waiting for this comfort, and many translations in fact interpret the words “hope in the Lord” as “wait on the Lord.”

Following a difficult circumstance that involved condemnation, emotional pain, all my own irresponsible and naive decisions, and despair of such magnitude I thought I might die of it, I discovered the truth that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

This renewal of strength is conditional of course, as all of God’s promises are, on a decision I had to make: would I hope in the Lord? If so, then I could soar with the wings of an eagle! I could run and not grow weary! I could walk and not be faint! These are miracles, all humanly impossible, for who among us can sprout wings or never tire or feel faint after endless movement?

I remember praying to God to make me invisible. For the first two weeks after this situation erupted, I couldn’t leave my house (except for the picking up of the raw fragments of it all), held there by my own almost manic despair.

My husband did the shopping, errands, and all necessary functions of life as I half-lived, my movements like a lizard’s tail that moves after it’s been dropped from the body. When finally I did have the strength to make one small trip to the store, I got through it by praying, “Lord, please let people miraculously look right through me. Make me invisible. I can’t handle the bitter words.” I yet had no hope and felt no grace.

I lived for a long time in fear and mistrust, which may be the antithesis of hope. Fear of never recovering, mistrust of the intentions of everyone, afraid of sleeping, for then the shadow of death settled in. And then came the period of the sprinting, sometimes running hard to prove I was something, sometimes running hard just to get away. I was wounded too much to hope, I thought. I couldn’t speak and I was mute and knew no one and no one knew me.

I lived in the Psalms during the dark days as in no other season of my life. In fact, I believe I never before even remotely had an emotional connection with the Psalms, with the pursuit of enemies, the sheer agony of despair that David cries out about. I never before needed Hope like I needed it during those years. I cried out to the Lord out of the brokenness of my spirit as I had never before cried. I could almost physically feel my mind splintering.

And behold, this hell is the very best opportunity to experience Hope, though who would want to live in these dark David-like caves? But who was called a man after God’s own heart?

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.” These words precede the promise in Isaiah 40:31. In my own strength and youth (immaturity), I was weary and had utterly fallen. I needed Hope.

It took time, but gradually I re-entered normalcy as best I could, and bit by bit He renewed my strength. I would still be in that cave were it not for this promise of God: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. God-sent friends thoroughly loved me through these months and years, believed in me, lifted me up, and indeed still lift me up, like the wise woman who shared the gift about the marathon. I clung to His Word. I was as the deer who panted for water.

Biblical hope is powerful and mighty to save. This hope is an expectation that positively, absolutely the thing will come to pass. The hope we’re waiting for is always God’s salvation, both His eternal salvation and the salvation we need in the daily moments of life. It’s beyond me, yet I must actively participate.

I found that Hope required me to move. I wanted to lie in bed in my despair but it was in the rising up, pursuing Him through prayer, worship, and meditation upon the Word, that Hope changed me.

Hope renews, and I’m also learning that it’s a daily renewal. Hope yesterday was for that day. Today? I need it fresh. Because sometimes, I still hear a graceless word and want to crawl in a cave and am overcome by fear and mistrust.

As Vincent McNabb, Irish scholar and priest, once said, “Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.” I pray daily for that special grace to have Hope for the day, for new wings and fresh feet.

{A very special thanks to Anita at Dreaming Beneath the Spires who first invited me to write on this topic.}

And sharing today with Ann at A Holy Experience, as she also explores Hope.

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île flottante and more

In the kitchen with Elise tonight, it’s Quiche Lorraine, une salade, and les baguettes, followed by the fabulous île flottante (which is sort of a ball of meringue floating in a sea of custard). How did I get so lucky? And why does she leave so soon?

Elise and me
Tomorrow, we head to Eugene to show her the University of Oregon, then it’s on up to Portland to stay the night with friends so the early morning trip to the airport the following day isn’t so tiresome. It’s been fantastique, our time together. I found a wonderful American friend for Elise, too. When you’re a young girl exploring cultures, this is a dream come true! I love being a match-maker! Now, I just wait for the time when I get to visit her in France.

I told Elise about the time when I was around her age and had the opportunity to be an au pair for a family in Besançon, a city in the northeast of France at the foothills of the Jura Mountains and near the Swiss border. I shortly thereafter met my future husband and cancelled the job and the opportunity of a lifetime, which is unknown to a young girl at the time who just worries about whether he’ll be there when she gets back. I’m so proud of her, and perhaps a bit envious, for getting out there and doing what is not so simple and unfettered a thing to do once you’re married and have children. Oh, I’m so happy I stayed back and married my husband, and someday I will have another opportunity. However, I generally counsel the youth I work with or come in contact with to just go. Really, if that boy truly loves you, he’ll still be there.

I have a French Bible which I’d love to give Elise, and I’m wondering about that. It’s a little book I’ve had for at least 20 years, and once in a while I’ll read it to practice my French. I’ve so far avoided direct discussion of my faith and her lack of faith. I’ve prayed, wondered, and haven’t sensed the time is right. During Elise’s previous visit, we spoke often on issues of God and Christianity, and she’s mentioned just once this visit, during a discussion of her boyfriend, about her disbelief in God. I didn’t press. Just prayed. Perhaps I’ll tuck it in her bag with a note, would she consider God?

La cuisine beckons, so je suis aller!

Recipe for île flottante

2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup water, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds
8 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Creme Anglaise, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the caramel, heat 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat until the syrup turns a warm caramel color. Don’t stir, just swirl it in the pan. Off the heat, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla; be careful, the syrup will bubble violently. Stir and cook over high heat until the caramel reaches 230 degrees F (thread stage) on a candy thermometer. Set aside.

For the praline, combine the almonds with 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the almonds are lightly browned. Allow to cool at room temperature and then break up in pieces.

Lower the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

For the meringues, beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer on high speed and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Whisk in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla. With dessert spoons place 12 mounds of meringue on the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

For serving, pour creme anglaise on the bottom of individual plates. Place a meringue on top of each serving, drizzle with caramel sauce, sprinkle with praline, and serve.

To make a day or two ahead, leave the caramel and praline at room temperature and refrigerate the creme anglaise. Bake the meringues before guests arrive and assemble the desserts just before serving.

Creme Anglaise:

4 extra-large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 3/4 cups scalded milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac

Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean, optional

Beat the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.

With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. The custard will coat the spoon like heavy cream. Don’t cook it above 180 degrees For the eggs will scramble!

Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add the vanilla extract, Cognac, and vanilla seeds, if using, and chill.

Yield: 2 cups

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Preparing for Elise: Partie Deux (or, hosting a foreign exchange student)

Elise arrives next week from France! Her presence always creates a pleasant stir, a certain je ne sais quoi, an excitement of the exotic and faraway lands–and of course, a nervous energy on my part as I prepare for her once again.

The first time around, four years ago when Elise was fourteen, I worried about having her room just so, I squawked about in French trying to improve my language skills real quick like, I fretted over the menu, I positively wrecked myself over itinerary. I’ve since learned, after hosting several foreign students, and especially with Elise, that:

1) my home is a grotesque mansion, our cars are monstrosities, they are used to small and simple in the villages–do not worry about the room;

2) I needn’t worry about my French, their English is better than my French and they want to speak English, that’s why they’re here;

3) they will cook for you and show off their amazing culinary skills, nearly always, if it’s a girl in a home with a smart French mother, so do not worry about the menu and bring on the île flottante;

4) just living with an American family in la vie quotidienne is all they really want–everyday life. Special trips to the beach, museum, or the deepest lake in your state (and the whole U.S. for that matter) are just bonus. They may even want to work during their stay with you to earn some extra cash, and my experience with Europeans so far has been that they are quite industrious and hardworking.

And then there’s this. How to handle politics and religion? She is liberal atheist, I am conservative Christian. Our differences made for some interesting discussions last time. I love her so, and I love her country, and want for her to intimately know the love of God and the miracle of salvation in Christ, and surely the Lord’s merciful hand is upon her return here.

I will speak only as the Holy Spirit leads, and love a lot. I’m not backing down to avoid a conflict, I think I’ve just learned a lot about the French postmodern culture since she first came, and I need to be deeply prayerful about, and educate myself about, how to represent Jesus Christ to the postmodern.

The French hand towels Elise brought as a gift on that first visit are still used daily in my kitchen, and I pray as I dry my hands and a dish, Lord, how can she know objective truth? How to present one crucified and risen Savior, when the very thought of only one and utterly necessary is offensive?

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:3-6

I’ll be driving to the airport in Portland a week from now, and would you pray for me if it comes to mind? And for Elise? We’ll all have so much fun, she’ll teach us new songs and folk dances and read French fairy tales to the children again, I’m sure. I’ll correct her English because she asks me to, and play chef in the kitchen with her and instruct her about American measures, and she’ll have many questions. And the things of eternity will swirl around, and oh that I will be always full of grace and seasoned with salt, knowing how to answer.

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Life in a picture frame

I visited Jane yesterday, stepping carefully over oxygen tubes and scattered papers in response to her call to please come by, she had a painting to give me. She worked with oils 25 years ago, and her days closing in like her lungs, wanted me to have this Hopi Indian Woman canvas. Her only son didn’t want it.

“Promise me you’ll put it in a fancy frame.”

Of course I will, I assured her with all true grace mixed with deep knowing. It’s not all together attractive, but it’s like her very soul that she wants well remembered after she’s gone. “Don’t you love the deep purples and blues?” she wanted to know.

Don’t I want my life put up in a fancy frame, too, and hope my children would think it beautiful?

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Beauty: Five Minute Friday

The deep burnt red coffee mug I sipped from just now, a swallow of hot, smooth brew, is my favorite. It’s beautiful; a thank-you gift from a friend, it held a bag of quality chocolates on the day it was given. A school year’s end, a child well taught, another chapter closed and a new one to begin. The beauty of life lived together.

This mug I reach for every morning, its gentle curve of a handle makes exactly half a heart; I hold a half, another holds the rest. Is this how it is? Yes, this makes life beautiful, this willingness to have half a heart, to be made complete in relationship with another; a spouse, a sister, a friend, a daughter, and ultimately, the One who created all hearts.


From Gypsy-Mama, a writing prompt:

Want to take five minutes with me and share what you found? Want to just write without worrying if it’s just right or not. Here’s how we do it:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat with no editing, tweaking or self critiquing.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in {you can grab the button code in her right side bar}

3. Go and tell the person who linked up before you what their words meant to you. Every writer longs to feel heard.

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes for the prompt:


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Fair Time!

It was county fair time last week, and the kids and I quietly gathered a few items to exhibit in the open class…just for fun.

A few of my photographs…this first one, such a sweet little duckling, and such a sad story! My dear friend Linda, my country neighbor…her little son called me up several weeks ago, entreating us all to come and see! the baby ducks had been born! We all just oohed and ahed at the darlings, hiding there under the mama. It was hot, and a tray of water had been set out for them to wade in. Somehow, no one quite knows how, every one of the six ducklings drowned two days after this picture. I’ll frame this for Linda.
Rawlins duck

This old fence, like any other country fence, its splintered wood and barbed wire marking a boundary, just captured me. Who twisted those wires way back before rust took hold? What was this barrier keeping in or keeping out?
wire fene

Did you grow up looking forward to the fair? For me it was the Cochise County Fair in Douglas, Arizona when I was very young. You must know about the cotton candy, cowboy hats and rodeo, happy music, dizzying rides, the earthy smell of livestock, colorful people? Oh, I loved it, and also that long, quiet ride home, all exhausted from that spun out endless day, sleepy eyes on the black sky with twinkling stars, one with my name, and if I turned my head back I could still see the fireworks exploding against that great dark canopy above.

My last year there, I brought my 4-H lamb. There under the bluest sky with those classic Arizona clouds, little white puffs that went on forever, I washed my lamb in the livestock pen, preparing for a final shear, adding to those little white puffs above. This was a market lamb, and this was time for goodbye, a goodbye to daily feedings, walkings, worrying about weight, wool, and bracing a lamb. I remembered when I chose this one, there at Diane’s place down the dusty road from me, and I had the last pick since I drew the shortest straw, but this was the best lamb for me, even though he escaped more than once to explore the tumbleweeds.

My kids didn’t have animals to show this year, but perhaps next time. We submitted photographs, carvings, crafts, paintings, and joined the community of people that have been gathering for a century to show the best of their harvest and hands.

Luke won a blue ribbon for his angry-browed, scar-faced, Victorian button-eyed bear.
bluebear--is this supposed to be comforting?

Josie won a second-place ribbon for her watercolor of a glass bottle. I was glad the judges overlooked the potential awkwardness of an eight-year-old painting a wine bottle, but she just loved the design on the label.
Josie's Fish Eye bottle

Levi’s soap carving was fun, another second place. After learning how to do this at school, we spent a terrific summer day at the table slipping about in soap shavings, all the children armed with butter knives and Ivory, and Levi was the only one who could master this art. I remembered him telling his teacher, “I didn’t know I could do this.”
Fish Soap Carving
Then there were the “crazy critters”–those healthy creatures carved from our very food, the cucumber shark, the apple swan, and the potato porcupine.
the cucumber shark

apple swan

potato porcupine

Until next year, my fair friends.

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Stormy, Yellow Thoughts of Thunder and Puddles

Kitty likes umbrella in the rain, too

The potbellied raindrops came thundering down, the cat hid under the bed, the dog barked at the booms, the kids danced all silly out there under umbrellas, and I was in awe. Don’t you love a good storm?

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders. ~Psalm 29:3

It was rolling out there last night and I couldn’t take my eyes off the yellow hue of the sky, the light spectrum showing off a new reflection. Now, yellow can have a lowly meaning, as in a yellow-bellied coward. But did you know that a pure, bright yellow is the easiest color to see and that some people blind to other colors can usually still see yellow? And yellow can also symbolize wisdom, intelligence, joy, creativity, and of course energy, as in the powerful energy source of the sun. Have you seen yellow after a storm?

It’s His glory I hear in every rumble and His splendor I see in every strike of light. I do feel small at times like these, and wonder who am I that you are mindful of me?

And then, suddenly, the sun broke through! If only you could have seen through the new lens that flipped, creating vivid, high-contrast shadows thrown long from the junipers, you’d beam and be in awe, too. Thunder still pealed in the distance, echoing a reminder from a far corridor that God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways and he does great things beyond our understanding (Job 37:5).

Luke found a puddle in the midst of this, as all children do, his toes squishing the sticky earth as delighted as a rhino taking a mud bath, while rain pelted his enormous maroon and white umbrella, magnifying the sound of every drop to the decibel of a cannon. I did the same as a child, and would have wondered at any kid in my desert who didn’t like to jump puddles with face in the rain.

Why is this so, this irresistible draw to these pools in the mud? Maybe we’re born to love this, some wild sense of freedom and power, and weren’t we born of the dirt anyway? That day when God scooped up a handful of soil from the ground, it must have been wet and moist, for in those days before the rain the water came from the depths. We all desire to know where we come from, and this was the beginning.

And could it be there’s a sense in this small puddle of the child feeling so big it’s like walking on water? That’s what Jesus did in a storm–He walked on water, so I suppose it’s natural for us to long for the same.

Today, there’s no trace of the storm. It fled fast across mountains and plains for new encounters, and I’m left with the reverberations in my head, and continued pondering of His displays of power. As Psalm 29 ends, after a vivid description of God in the storms, we’re told that “the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

Peace to you~I love that it ends with peace.

{Counting One Thousand Gifts~41-50}:

::thunderstorms::best friends::visiting sisters::tennis with child and grandma::chess with a friend::wildflowers picked for me::great coaches::boys learning football::catching crawdads::river play::

Cheri and me, so fun to catch up!JJ & Kailie, best buds!
Nancy comes to visit!
Luke learns tennis!JoJo loves tennis, too
Grandma plays at 82!
Levi teaches Charlie some chess
Josie picked me this gorgeous wildflower!
Levi learns some football
awesome football coach!

Deschutes River fun
Jaime's up to it again...catching crawdads

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Sister Love, Brother Bear

“If my hair and face and shoes were like yours, then we’d be exactly alike!” Josie’s words gaily skipped across the once bumpy space between her and Jaime, flooding my senses with gratitude at this sister-love. After one sewed a dress for the other, the two girls had disappeared up to their room, returning quickly, arm-in-arm, wearing matching shirts and pants, a symbol of their hearts turned to one another. He who knit them both together in my womb smiled with me.

the dressmaking sisters

JJ and JoJo match!
The Day of Sewing was like magic, this enchanted day where sisters weren’t fighting, arms were for hugging, and needles were only for making something beautiful. It started the day before with a teenage babysitter who completely showed me up–and showed us a way toward love and bears.

While my husband and I were out dining with old friends in a nearby town, the four children were left in the care of Abby, an able young girl who turned out to be more capable and skilled than I could have imagined. She was brave to take on the four kids and the grandmother who couldn’t remember names, dates, or pills, and little did she know she’d also be threading bobbins and teaching backstitching before the night was over.

The sewing machine had sadly been consigned to the corner of my closet for a number of years, me too lazy to figure out why it wouldn’t stitch, and perhaps ungrateful for this thoughtful gift from my husband from a birthday past. The girls hauled it out when Abby came, their hopeful eyes begging the question, “Can you make it work?”

“It just so happens I can,” was the happy reply.

And so I came home to a mess of fabric scraps spilled across the walnut floor, machine whirring and bears stuffed with the most cheerful of hands. “Look, Mama! A teddy!” shrieked Luke as he thrust a skinny blue bear with white stuffing leaking from all sides toward my chest.

Jaime sews Josie's dress
Levi sews a bear

The hour was late, the entire floor was swept into the oversized old red gift bag, and kids were soon ushered to bed. The miracle that unfolded the following day was bigger than all this.

I left for an early doctor’s appointment the next morning, kids still in bed with my husband in command. Yet savoring the joy of the previous night, I had no thoughts of how the remnants of all that would sweetly hem in around the four.

The Day of Sewing was in full swing when I cracked the door after my doctor visit. Both boys, both girls, all busy with patterns, cutting, sewing, stuffing. Their ages stack up at 6, 8, 10, 12, and they all stitched together with no attention paid to numbers or genders. I didn’t even need to convince the oldest boy that sewing was cool, and I had a great story ready, even.

I told him about how the younger kids went on a field trip to the smoke-jumpers unit, and how they have a sewing room there because all the manly firemen who jump out of airplanes made their own uniforms there, their broad fingers running industrial machines for every task from a delicate parachute repair to building a thick pair of fire-resistant pants.

The morning scene in my living room, that frenzy of strips of cloth and bolts of color and stitches whipping, was all about creation and reconciliation.

Jaime sizes the dress for Jo

My older girl can have a sharp tongue that pierces little hearts and my constant reminder to her about tone, words, kindness, seems nagging. She has some repair work to do (and don’t I, too), especially with her little sister. Josie loves dresses, and Jaime, not so much. But I watched as Jaime fitted the fabric for Jo, carefully considering what style her sister wanted, and the patience, oh the patience! It was redeeming.

Stitch by stitch, their souls were being connected. Jaime held the fabric tight against Josie’s back, and her “Keep still, Jo,” hit just the right note of a big sister intent on being helpful and Josie received it with love.

“Can I please wear this to town?” Josie pleaded. “No, it’s not done yet, you can wear it Sunday.” I was thrilled; she felt like Cinderella and Jaime was the fairy god-mother. It was shortly after this scene that the girls appeared in their matching t-shirts and pants.

For the boys, I suppose anything involving a power-operated machine is enticing. Both made bears, pillows, pouches, and other oddities. Luke entered his Victorian-button-eyed sky blue bear in the upcoming county fair in the 6 and under division, and is prouder than a haute couture designer.

Levi marks the bear pattern
buttons on bear

The Day of Sewing was literally an all day activity, and something of His restoration was threading through the fabric of this family. Now I’m off to buy more sewing notions for the ravenous seamstresses and seamsters.

{Thank you to Abby, who began to unravel it all.}

The Practice of Love

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The Miracle and Gift of Brotherhood

l to r, Dusty, Chad, Chris after Smith Rock Run

The brothers ran together, again together. These grown men with children of their own who now run together, up at the crack of dawn to reconnect the joy of boyhood that’s always down in the heart somewhere.

We had watched the old home movies the night before, those captured bites of colored motion and time, my husband and his brothers as playful little boys in snowball fights and splashing wars and games with Grandpa.

I heard the small clatter in the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. as the brothers stole a mini-breakfast before heading over to Smith Rock for the sunrise run with several hundred other brave early rising runners. I wanted to go, to see it myself and snap that photo at the finish line. But it was more than the early hour that kept me home. This moment was just for the brotherhood, this triangulation of boys that makes its own unique folk sound just like that metal instrument that sings when touched with the wand. The triangle can always beat the call to dinner later.

Back home with stretched legs and aching calves, I saw the boys happy and accomplished and fulfilled. Next year at Smith Rock can be the call. Shouldn’t we all run this race together?

After the run, we all, the brothers and families, headed out for a day full of fishing, swimming, sunning, and barbecue. The brothers’ children then had splashing wars and mudball fights and silly games at the lake.

{Counting One Thousand Gifts~#31-40}:

::brothers running in the early morning::racing numbers::catching little bass and throwing them back::home movies 40 years old::the good family memories::little boy making mud trails on shore::little girl building princess castle of same mud::playing with cousins::grilling burgers::blowing out candles on the cake::

Jaime, Josie, Riess fishing at Haystack

Josie fishing w/ Mt Jefferson in background

JoJo's big catch of the day

cousins fishing

Luke as beachboy

Nick & Levi at Haystack

Dusty shows Riess how to fish

Luke and Riess play at the shore

cousins in the splash war

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The Toothpaste Story

chopping mint for the toothpaste

I hastily wiped my dripping hands on the red flowered towel hanging askew from the oven door and answered the commanding ring of the phone.

“Hi, this is Jasmine, can I talk to Jaime?” trilled the young voice, obviously experienced in phone-calling.

My kids aren’t phone-talkers yet, and at ten, I’m not ready for my daughter to jump into the world of wireless communication. After a brief hello, Jaime queried, “What did you call for?” because she’s not accustomed to this way, and surely one only calls if one has a question or certain purpose? Jasmine hesitated only a moment, it seemed, and I learned later she had phoned simply out of boredom.

“I just got done making toothpaste,” Jaime offered. I heard the confusion on the other end as one of our many family peculiarities was revealed. Jaime had come to me several days ago complaining that every time she brushed her teeth, her eyes were watery and stinging. “I must be allergic to toothpaste,” she surmised.

Being the independent, thinking person she is, Jaime set out on a quest to discover a perfectly natural toothpaste that would leave her with clean teeth and clear eyes. Tom’s of Maine seemed to give rise to no problems, so I suggested she make a list of every ingredient in the standard Crest versus the Tom’s. What was Tom’s missing that the other had? She couldn’t figure it out. I was sure it was the sodium lauryl sulfate, but was surprised to see that the Tom’s of Maine variety she used actually did have that ingredient.

Coincidentally, The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill was on my bookshelf at this moment, on loan from the library, and by the way, it’s a fantastic children’s book on entrepreneurship and business. Having read bits of it already, Jaime took it up again when I reminded her of a recipe the boy in the book used to make his toothpaste.

There followed the collection of various ingredients–mint and lavender from the garden, vanilla, cinnamon, flour, starch, and of course baking soda. She settled on a mint flavor, but only after much trial and spitting and because she didn’t want to take my advice right off the bat.

Jaime now has a small tupperware tub of sticky toothpaste next to her sink that she uses daily. She’s bugging me to take her to the camping section at the store to buy those reusable tubes. I’m so proud of her. She wants to sell it and make money, but I’ll tackle that problem another day. I do think I’ll let her call Jasmine on the phone so she can tell her all about her plan.

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Dear Mom, tonight we will go to Starbucks.

She smiled a toothless grin, eyes sparkling as she handed me the note, carefully written in her ever improving handwriting but still lopsided and multicolored. “Dear Mom, tonight we will go to Starbucks and I will pay. We will leave at 5:00 and you can bring a friend.”

Not only had she stolen my heart, she set up a play-date for me. Her own money, her own kind heart, her…just her. She really melts me. A tear escaped later at Starbucks as she paid for my coffee, along with our friend Julia’s latté and her own hot cocoa, and I fought the strong urge to pay myself. No, I had to let her do this. This gift was hers to give and her eternal blessing.
JoJo and me on our Starbucks date.

::love letters from my children::dates with daughters::connections with sons::a faithful dog::a broken egg, found and treasured::Vacation Bible School::crème brûlée and the way it makes me all happy when seven little girls say it’s the best dessert ever and thank you for making it::friends who bless::so many good books::summer swims::counting my blessings today.

Little L working hard

Riley's searing eyes

Little L's broken egg teasure

my creme brulee, so glad it's in a small bowl

the kids swimming at KOA w/ Brian & Becky

{Counting One Thousand Gifts~#21-30}

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Missing Front Teeth

JoJo lost her tooth

::missing front teeth::sisters::learning to ride::a horse to love::finding expression for your passion::sketching by the lake because your grandma sketches and you’ve inherited her gift::being six and finding a butter knife washed up on shore, treasuring it like you’re in Ancient Egypt and you discovered a king’s tomb::reflections in the water::learning to sense which way the wind’s blowing::cat and dog curled side by side::counting my blessings today.

JJ and JoJo
handling tackle

learning to saddle
she's in love with a horse
JJ sketching at Hagg Lake
grandma sketching at Haystack
the four see themselves
weathervane in Dundee
Riley and Streak, BFF

{Counting One Thousand Gifts~#11-20}

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Freckles and Big Ears

Little L and his fishing pole

::freckles and big ears on my boy, and his home-made fishing pole::strawberries growing plump in my garden::noses buried in books::fish taco night::surprise meeting with an old friend::wildflowers thrust through the window for me by her small hands::their joy at discovering a quail’s nest::the bright blue butterfly that followed me around::frogs that let small girls catch them::picnic on the front lawn with all their little book club friends:: counting my blessings today.

wildflowerquail eggs
JoJo's frogs
book club picnic

{Counting One Thousand Gifts~#1-10}

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A Package from England!

Etre et Avoir has arrived!

I really was like a kid at Christmas yesterday! My friend Anita Mathias, a writer and blogger from Oxford, sent me the movie Être et Avoir, an award-winning French film that we’d discussed, and it being difficult to procure here in the states, she generously mailed me her very own copy.

It was with huge surprise that I opened the mailbox yesterday, expecting some bills and ads perhaps, but not a package from England! I knew Anita was sending me the movie, but so quickly? She’s a professional!

The movie intrigued me first of all because it’s a French film, a genre I love, and more importantly, because it’s on the subject of education – in particular a one-room schoolhouse in rural France in modern times, not some century-old school. I honestly didn’t know this institution existed in France, but apparently there are quite a number of such little village schools.

Être et Avoir (2002) is a documentary by the celebrated French film-maker Nicolas Philibert that chronicles one full school year in the life of teacher Monsieur Lopez and his 12 students aged four to eleven in a French village in the Auvergne. It’s been called a movie that every teacher and parent should see, and it’s been said that M. Lopez has an extraordinary talent for teaching. For those of you (like me) who are engaged in multi-age teaching of small groups, I think Être et Avoir will be incredibly enlightening. My review will follow shortly.

And Anita intrigues me just as much. Her background is colorful and varied–born and raised in India, she tells a fascinating story of her conversion and her work with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Anita goes on to live in America for a season, teaching at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and writing two books, Wandering Between Two Worlds and The Church That Had Too Much. She is happily now back in Oxford, raising two girls and a garden with her husband and business partner, Roy, oh, and running a publishing company. My kind of woman!

You can visit Anita at her blog, Dreaming Beneath the Spires, where you will be inspired and educated at every turn. And maybe you’ll end up with a free movie, too, someday.

{I’m saving my Royal Mail stamp, Anita.}

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Just a Wednesday in June

Just wanted to drop a pin on the map. I’m here.

The kids are all finished with school tomorrow; three have been done for two weeks, and the fourth had the tough job of continuing on for those extra days whilst the siblings played.

I’m regrouping my homeschool kids tomorrow for a play time and to give them their first summer book club book: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. It’s the first in a wonderful, witty, charming, sort of old-fashioned series of books, and we’ll read them all this summer. I have to say that I was completely inspired when I discovered that the author, Ms. Birdsall of Massachusetts, didn’t begin the book publishing business until age 41 or 42. See, life does begin at 40.

It feels like change is in the air. All senses are alert; I’m listening hard, hoping to have keen ears and a wise heart, wide eyes, sensitive soul.

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D-Day in Color

D-Day in color.

By the numbers:

160,000 Allied troops, supported by more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft, landed along a 50-mile stretch of French coastline. While the Allies sustained major casualties–9,000 killed or wounded–more than 100,000 troops would go on to march across the Continent to defeat Hitler.

Their finest hour, as Churchill said on June 18, 1940.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Remembering Normandy.

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Weekend Links

First week of June!

1. This is nauseating. For real? I’ll have a Coke.
2. Business 101 on ideas, money, greed, and enough.
3. $500 million of YOUR money to get a 5 year old to sit still? I could do it for free with a good book.
4. I am new.
5. The food pyramid is out. Dairy is off the plate.

Have a great weekend!

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Happy Memorial Day

The old shack down the lane

I suppose the only thing that puts the “happy” in Happy Memorial Day is the remembering. The importance of remembering is huge. So huge that if we forget, all really is lost. Remembrance leads to action. It is an act of truth and honor.

Please pause from your BBQ, your boating, your biking or hiking and remember the fallen, the fighters, those who died in battle and those among us that are dead inside though they live.

This short trailer for the documentary Honor Flight to be released in November 2011 is a kind way to remember the fallen, as told by their comrades who now have little time left to tell.

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae 1872-1918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


{photo: the shack at the end of my lane}

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To Give a Gerbil a Bath

shivering gerbil

I didn’t know a wet gerbil would cause me to laugh hysterically. He looks so…cold. Or is he just shivering because he can’t remember his letters?

Who does such a thing, bathing gerbils like babies? Was this really out of concern for gerbil hygiene, or a chance to play parent, or just something fun to pass the time? I do like to think the best, I’ll go for hygiene.

little L and gerbil

In this boy’s defense, he was simply aiding his big sister, owner of the gerbil pair. It does take two or three extra hands to give a gerbil a proper bath, what with all the squeaking and squirming attempts at freedom. But of course, what little boy can resist a flurry of animal activity?

JJ bathing gerbilsI was actually shocked at how dirty the water was. Truth be told, this was the rodents’ first bath, so we witnessed about a year’s worth of dirt, oils, bedding, and WHO knows what being washed away.

And another truth be told, I’m pretty sure I saw a smile flit across the whiskers of Mika and Merlin. These gerbils have a good life here in our schoolroom, sitting quietly (save for the incessant turning and grating of the wheel) while the kids learn sounds and signs and names and places. If a bit of freedom meant also getting soaked to the skin, what’s that to a desert rat? Especially considering the last time they roamed free, one skinny tail got stepped on and lost. Yes, this bath was a good thing.

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What makes a desert beautiful?

Life, death, and the breath of God — we were blessed to see all on a simple hike through our spring desert last weekend.

hiking down the east end of our property
first lizards of the season sunning
our kitty hiked with us

full skeleton of a deer?

lightning-struck tree near the edge of our land

{the breath of God}
alpine forget-me-nots in hiding
yellow-bells opening slow

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On an enchanted journey

~scenes from a family hike at Sahalie Falls, Oregon~

If God had wanted to be a big secret, He would not have created babbling brooks and whispering pines. ~Robert Brault

kids gazing at Sahalie Falls power
beginning a journey
path to the river below
mezmerized by water
nature is to be examined

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My Reflection part 2

I had a dream a few weeks ago that I know was about this journey. I was back in my childhood home, and I struggle to recall the details, but this was the first time in years I’ve dreamed of the place and the first time in my dreams I was there as an adult and feeling in control.

Standing in that room where I had longed for beauty, it was daylight and I looked about the mess and had ideas: I could conquer this! The rough wood I planned to paint a lovely blue, just like the French gate in Marseilles. And curtains! With lovely ruffles! Cupboards could neatly enclose the old open-faced shelves nailed to the wall and much could be done for beauty. I was not afraid.

Then the most curious thing. I looked below me through an opening in the floor, and kneeling with utter surprise discovered another dwelling of such beauty and majesty–fine marbled floors, a stately curving staircase leading to greater rooms and even an indoor pool. (Or was it utter surprise? Dreams are so difficult to gauge, that realm where even the most bizarre is not astonishing.)

Why was I living in this shack when under my very feet was a mansion?

Nearly as soon as my eyes took in the beauty of those impressive quarters, I heard a wind gaining strength in the distance, knowing instinctively the gales were headed my way. Suddenly, the door to the mansion below flew open and I was filled with old terror. There at the doorstep lay a girl, a waif, as if blown in by the east wind. Was this a picture of myself, was I afraid of entering into the beauty? Fear and beauty cannot live together, just as disorder and beauty cannot.

The girl stood up, revealing a pack on her back. The knap-sacked stray with long straight brown locks, unkempt with the wind, walked almost defiantly into the entry of the great mansion, and I was afraid, feeling that she did not belong here, threatened by her very presence. Was she a symbol of every fear that threatens to undo me, a whole suitcase full of anxiety?

Just today I had another perspective. I may be living in a mansion but not really living. I may have at my disposal all the riches of Heaven and be ignoring them, or just peering at them through the cracks, perhaps relegating myself to a corner. Why, oh why, would a child of God behave this way?

Such thoughts found home in me today as I walked into the guest room of my real-life house, now clean. But this room had sat a mess for months, a living specter of misorder within a mansion. Not until yesterday when the floors were cleared of shambles and every carpet tuft free of box and burden did I understand: if I exercise discipline and look closely at what I already have, I may discover that I am indeed equipped for every good work.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinithians 9:8

I’m growing in strength and beauty, but still I journey, and have miles to go before I sleep.


My Reflection in the Dirty Pane Glass, Part 1

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How to Draw a Self-Portrait (and some wisdom from the child)

Little L's self portrait

I think my boy here could give some art lessons on self-portraiture {and life}.

1. Know how many freckles adorn your face and love them all. {Or, love every unique mark the Lord has blessed upon your countenance, and love that you are wonderfully made.}

2. Realize how far your ears really stick out. {Or, be aware of your faults, your weaknesses, your differences, and make them as darn cute as possible.}

3. Make your eyes brighter than they really are. {Or, know that the eyes are the gate to the soul, and work to let all the love of God pour out through them and smile through them, too, and so bless those who look upon you.}

4. Draw yourself happy. {Or, remember that a cheerful heart is good medicine, and the joy of the Lord is your strength, so do not grieve.}

Thank you, Little L. for the art lesson.

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My Reflection in the Dirty Pane Glass

my old house in Cochise AZ

When nightfall turned windows into mirrors, I used to look into one of the dusty old frames on the east wall and stare hard, willing the glass to produce a beautiful me, praying to God to let me see myself as I would someday be; beautiful.

The night-darkened window cast back a grainy romantic picture, and waved by the layers of dirt and oil, I could imagine in the shadows. I imagined a beautiful, grown-up girl in a pretty house.

I had to call my sister to ask her if we had a mirror. I remembered a small, round one that my dad used for shaving, but Heather would know the details. Yes, we had a mirror, she said. It was as I thought except I hadn’t considered that my chest would tighten and my breath catch as I tried to remember. The east wall, why was I standing there, what job was to be done along that wall? Nothing, Heather said, it was a tiny space between the front door and the refrigerator and I would have had to stand on my tiptoes to see myself in the window, but I must have done it many times, this I do remember. I did have a job in that cramped spot, that of baring my heart to God begging for beauty.

The prayers to be beautiful were constant. Poverty can feel ugly, and I felt the depths of it. I remember the day in Sunday School when the teacher asked us children to raise a hand if we knew someone more poor than ourselves. Apparently we were to pray for that unfortunate soul. I knew no one with less than myself, but raised my hand anyway, thinking that maybe the Cartmells had it worse but knowing deep they really didn’t, not missing the furtive glances my way. Why would a teacher ask such a thing? And there was my teacher at the elementary school who went round the class after Christmas asking each child to share what he received. I lied and made up gifts and everyone knew I lied. I vowed to never ask a child that question.

I could have been a child-leper, calling out ahead in a thin voice of shame, “Unclean, unclean.” Our shack made of corrugated iron and rough wood, dirt thick on the floor, a crude hole in the floor with a pipe for water serving as sink, and always undone~this, this was my shame and ugliness.

Long I’ve considered my childhood but just now have discovered something. What frightful thing I couldn’t put my finger on I’ve now marked. It wasn’t just that we lived in extreme poverty, that my mom was unstable, that my dad was the town drunk, neglectful and abusive, though these are frightful things. It was the disorder and the chaos and the filth.

Always dirty clothes, dirty dishes, junk strewn about, boxes stacked with items long-forgotten by all but the mice, piles of old construction materials in the side room anchored in the dirt, and how could I have ever expected to feel beautiful? Being raised in such a chaotic mess I wore it every day as my garment and I felt ugly.

I was haunted for years after I left my home in Arizona, too afraid to look deeply for the reason, afraid my memory was hiding something sinister. I was terrorized at night in my dreams and it was always that place, the mess, the demons of disorder that thrashed to get me. The nightmares were me as child straining under shame to make order and quickly present an unsullied home to a soon approaching visitor. Never was that mission accomplished before I woke in a black panic.

Beauty is ordered by God. I longed for it like the deer pants for water. It was not my vanity. God set the universe in order, and the stars that sailed bright by my window each night were exactly in their place, and the sun followed his path across the sky in a manifest pattern as if on some invisible line, and absolutely everything in all creation is meant to be ordered and this is beauty.

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the Lord, “then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Jeremiah 31:35-36

I’ve heard several people throughout my life share of growing up in poverty but never quite knowing how poor they really were. The common thread was that without exception these people came from loving families where there was a rhythm to life that included breakfast, lunch, and dinner, evening family time, whatever kind of order that particular family possessed. Their clothes were clean even if threadbare and simple, their tummies were filled even if with rice and beans every day. And that is beautiful.

I’m so grateful for the Arizona desert. Were it not for the mountains He called up, the stars He appointed to their place, the surety of the rising and the setting of the sun, the rhythm of seasons, I would have had no order and no beauty. I cannot express the comfort of seeing stars align into the Big and Little Dippers and Orion’s Belt, without fail. Though no trace of order could be found inside that rundown shack on Havasu Way in Cochise County, Arizona, all the beauty and sequence of the universe was beckoning me from outside–and so I lived outside as much as possible.

God answered my prayer. He eventually took me out of that place, and through a journey too much to recount, I’m a beautiful, grown-up girl in a pretty house, more beautiful than I could have imagined in that darkened window. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” These words from 1 Corinthians 13:12 are doubly meaningful.

Though He is far from done with me, God is steadily teaching me how to carefully arrange my home and my family life, and I am called to teach my children so they too can find beauty in the order, and whether rich or poor in dollars, they will be rich in beauty.

To appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Isaiah 61:3

our happy home
[My new home full of light and love and laughter; and yes, that is my old home at the beginning of this post.]

{to be continued…I will share a most curious dream I had after I began this post last week.}

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Hario, et cetera.

Ethiopia Sidamo prepared Hario style by Sisters Coffee Company made my morning, the best coffee I’ve had. Ever. I loved that Winfield (owner) made it special for me, and with each slow drip I loved seeing him greet everyone that walked in the door like the old friends they were. I loved chatting with my girlfriend in the corner, the Jesus Saves sticker on the fridge behind the counter, the wide wood floor planks and full stone fireplace; I would move to Sisters just for this.

Slow, small, intimate.

Julia spends the night tonight. Even grown-up girls need sleep-overs. Last time we stayed up late and cried together over Bonhoeffer. Tonight we’ll probably cry over Pride and Prejudice.

Friendship is precious.

I spent the better part of my day trying to find a mobile dog groomer for a photo-shoot I’m helping coordinate. Ten attempts and still no luck; all booked for weeks. If you are out of work, I have a serious suggestion for a niche market you should pursue.

I hope to spend the next week contemplating several threads of grace: His Presence, my purpose; His gift, my gain; His reality, my redemption.

Posted in family life, health/cooking/food, religion | 8 Comments

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Kenneth Grahame’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter from The Wind in the Willows is just gorgeous, sheer magic. First published in England in 1908, this classic talking-animal book includes lovable characters like Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, and right there in the middle, seemingly out of place, is the piper at the gates of dawn. While the piper appears as the ancient Greek god Pan, you dear reader have the prerogative to make him what you will. I make him Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn opens with Rat and Mole setting off at night down river to search for Little Portly, the misadventurous and now missing young son of Otter. Presently, with dawn approaching, Rat becomes entranced by a distant, clear piping.

sahalie falls area, copyright

O, Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on Mole, row! For the music and call must be for us.

The call? I bring to the reading of The Piper all that I believe, and while the god Pan is pure pagan myth, I extract the goodness, for every good thing comes from God. And so I hear the call as from Him who created all things, and even His creation calls out to us.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

Rat and Mole continue on until they come to a small island fringed with willow and silver birch and alder, and it is here, whispers Rat, “in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him.” And find Him they do, and what a glorious picture of what it may be like to stand before God in all his holiness.

tiny island on the mckenzie river

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

When finally the pair have the courage to raise their heads, they see a creature described clearly as that ancient demigod with the pipes, the legs and horns of a goat, that god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds and music. And they call him Friend and Helper, and there sleeping beneath his watch is the round little otter. Then Mole and Rat, breathless and filled with love, “bowed their heads and did worship.”

Did you see our Friend, Jesus?

Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Did you see our Helper?

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:26

The Vision vanished and then Mole and Rat and even Little Portly forget. The gift of forgetfulness was bestowed upon them, lest they dwell only on that most beautiful moment, the memory of it overshadowing all the rest of life and spoiling it. Even this was familiar to me, and I thought of Jesus transfigured.

the children looking

The account described in the gospels (Matthew 17:1-13, Luke 9:18-36) comes to mind, in which Christ reveals his glory to some of his disciples, and Moses and Elijah appear. Peter reminds me here of Grahame’s Rat in his request that Jesus allow him to put up shelters there on the mountain for them–he clearly never wants this out-of-the-world experience to end! But it must. It’s not an earthly possibility to live as if in Heaven. We must wait, lest our world lose all color and purpose.

There are times for not forgetting, to be sure. Israel is warned again and again to not forget the goodness of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:11, Psalm 78:11). But the point I draw here in The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is that it’s impossible to look upon the full glory of the Lord and remain there until we ourselves are glorified in that eternal state. (Romans 8:17-19). Paul says that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” (I Timothy 6:16.)

Have you ever woken from a beautiful dream only to forget it? Have you grasped a deepest truth only to lose it? The Piper at the Gates of Dawn ends this way. Rat has finally understood it all and is about to share it with the wondering Mole.

Ah! now they return again, and this time full and clear! This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing, simple–passionate–perfect—-‘

`Well, let’s have it, then,’ said the Mole, after he had waited patiently for a few minutes, half-dozing in the hot sun.

But no answer came. He looked, and understood the silence. With a smile of much happiness on his face, and something of a listening look still lingering there, the weary Rat was fast asleep.

edge of deschutes river

After I read the chapter to the children, I asked them about the piping creature. “He’s like God,” and “He’s like Aslan,” were some responses. Though C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is so much more developed and clearly a Christ-type, Graham’s piper is still so revealing of the character of God, and, to borrow Rat’s words, it was very surprising and splendid and beautiful.

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Posted in book reviews, features, religion | 15 Comments


grandma's birthday

82 it was this year. The six-year-old had to help her blow out the candles. She ate four pieces of cake, only because each time I offered a new piece she had forgotten already about the previous piece and her stomach hadn’t yet caught up. S’pose that wasn’t nice of me. (It really wasn’t out of spite, she just awfully seemed to want more cake).

Sometimes I’m angry. Uncle Doug wrote her a letter which she received yesterday. It was a birthday card that he’d misaddressed so it came late. She was already confused about that when her eye fell upon the sticker. For his return address Uncle Doug used one of those free labels that Some Charity sent in hopes of procuring a donation. It had his legal first name Basil on the label because who knows from what list direct mail marketers got his name.

So my mom says, Oh, I see that Doug is now going by the name Basil. I wonder what he’d like me to call him. Jenny, should I start calling him Basil? No attention paid to his personal signature of Doug on the birthday card, or perchance to the fact that he has always and only in his whole 84 years gone by Doug or Douglas.

Despite numerous, dreadfully numerous, attempts to explain that Some Charity doesn’t really know Uncle Doug and he just uses the free address labels because he’s frugal and that obviously he would have let her know if he changed his name, my mom insisted that he must have, for there it was on the sticker. And *I* was the one who was crazy for not thinking so, too. Yes, I lowered myself in my frustration to saying, You Are Crazy to think that.

I maintain a multi-generational family and do struggle along with millions of other “sandwich generation” folks in the raising of my own young children while caring for an aging parent. I just read a statistic from Pew Research Center that 1 in every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is doing this. This is what happens when people live longer and start families later.

Sometimes I feel every warning sign they tell caregivers about: burnout, anxiety, anger, fatigue, depression. Sometimes I laugh and feel doubly blessed. It depends on the day. I thank God for my husband who has the most amazing sense of humor about it all, and willingly shares his castle.

Because my mom has lived with us since our oldest (11) was an infant, this lifestyle is all my children know. I’m glad for that. Nothing was disrupted in their life by suddenly having Grandma move in. It was always this way and this is just what you do. My kids had a conversation in the back seat of the car one day about who would take care of mom when she was old. I was so stinking proud of them for coming up with a plan for my old age that included each one of them hosting me in a rotating fashion. Of course we all know it will be JoJo who takes care of me. She decided that when she was six.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27 says this, and yes, I comfort in these words not because I feel so self-righteous, believe me, I don’t, but because I need to know that we care for those in need because we are commanded to do so, it’s biblical. On hard days, it really helps to have that to lean into, lest I be tempted to fold. Speaking of fold, my mom is really good at folding laundry. Of course there is absolutely no guarantee about in which drawer clothing will end up, and I just realized that explains my son wearing my husband’s running underwear as shorts. It’s all part of the sandwich and sometimes the lettuce is wilted but you eat it anyway and it still nourishes you.


She Speaks Conference
She Speaks Conference, July 22-24: women connecting the hearts of women to our Father. If, like me, you feel called to serve the Lord through ministry to other women, whether it’s speaking, writing, or mentoring, please check out this.

A Holy Experience is offering a scholarship to the She Speaks conference, a Proverbs 31 Ministries event, held in Concord, North Carolina on July 22-24, 2011. Click here for instructions on how to apply.

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Three little kittens have lost their mittens…

our three cats

…and I began to cry.

Our lovely trio of orange tabbies has dwindled to two. Chubsters, on the far left in this photo, disappeared four days ago. We hope and pray for his safe return, but this is the third cat we’ve lost out here.

The neighbors down the lane warned us when we moved here to not have outdoor cats. Their 30 years of experience in this wild desert place taught them that if the coyotes don’t get the cats, the owls will, and they even spoke with fear of the occasional cougar.

I have unfortunate dander allergies and keeping an indoor cat is a bad option for us. And we need help keeping the rodents down outside the place. We took our chances. These fastidious felines who so generously groom one another also leave us mousy gifts at the doorstep most days.

We took chances on the wild, but made sure the boys were fixed to prevent wandering and also made sure the cats had lots of good food and love–an easy task with four doting children who are forever kissing, carrying, stroking their softness– and even a cozy cat house, and as much indoor time as my sinuses would allow.

Chubsters had a glorious life here. I’ve been out looking for him everyday, the children call him at all hours, but nothing. We miss him.

The dog misses him.
our dog and cat

The night before he went missing, my husband heard the howling in the fog of his dreams. Coyotes close, too close, and he wondered why the dog didn’t bark. Could it be? A broad owl swooped out of a tree just ahead of him on his run that day. Was it?

We like to think he’s just out visiting new sights and will be home any time. We see him in every bunch of golden waving grass and coppery downed log. We hear mewling in the wind and in the creak of the door.

Return to us dear one; and if you can’t, may you rest in peace.

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How to Return to Your First Love

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4

Start there.

Dear readers, I apologize for the lack of body here! I meant to post something with depth but coming off strep throat/exhaustion, that’s about all I could say for today.

But I do believe the best place to begin on this issue of reconnecting to your lost loves is to recognize that you left or wandered, and to confess that to the Lord and let His spirit bring you back.

This verse in Revelations is from a letter written to a church that had done many things right and well, but they had also done this one grievous thing: left their first love, that first passionate love of a new believer in Christ.

How to get back there, whether it’s to the love of God, spouse, or a leisure pursuit, involves taking inventory, like those letters in Revelations do so well, acknowledging the successes as well as the failures, and developing an intentional plan to get back on track.

Journal your plan and find a way to have accountability. Let a trusted friend in on your desire to return to your first love and say, “hey, hold me responsible!” If we are talking about your relationship with God or your spouse, returning to your first love is beyond critical, so take every last measure conceivable to rekindle the romance.

This process will involve much grace, a lot of humility, learning to forgive both yourself and others, and perhaps more effort than you think is humanly possible. And speaking of humanly possible, this isn’t. The only being that can bring something dead back to life is God himself. Call upon Him, and He will answer.

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Strep-induced quiet

I’ve allowed myself to rest in bed for several days because I’m sick with this fiery, swollen throat that makes swallowing feel like giving birth.

From my horizontal position, I turned to watching clouds, my way of childhood, though nothing can ever compare to my sapphire Arizona skies with her swirling, captivating cumuli, so full and ripe for imagining. Sister and I staring into sky, taking turns for hours as familiar shapes emerged and troubles retreated.
baseball and clouds

Here from my window, decades on and short on fancy, I see a slow train coming, her engines gathering girth as she chugs forward. Following the iron horse is a charging elephant with turned up trunk, and I expected the rest of the herd, but there in his wake is the great Arizona horned toad. Toad gives way to the wispy puffs of an old man’s pipe.

Then all is clear and my cloud game is done. I declare, I do feel better.


[weekend links]
Carnival of Homeschooling
More Homeschooling articles
And another Homeschool post
Christian Carnival

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Giving to Japan: Please consider my friends the Millards

Do you wonder how to give responsibly and directly to the Japanese relief effort in the wake of the March 10, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster?

I remember after Katrina, Haiti, and other colossal calamities, there was much waste and fraud, and little accountability concerning the donations that were made.

So, I want to introduce you to friends of mine who have been serving as Christian missionaries in Japan for over 20 years.

Jim & Masako Millard of Sunrise International Ministries

They were sent out as missionaries from my home church in Eugene. Jim grew up in the Eugene area and met his future Japanese wife, Masako, while attending the University of Oregon. The rest is history, as they say.

My husband and I have been supporting them for at least a decade, and know without a doubt that monies given directly to their ministry is literally saving people as I write, as their family is busy with buying food and supplies in Tokyo and trucking them into Sendai province.

Sunrise International Ministries is a nonprofit Christian mission organization founded by Jim & Masako Millard. Jim and Masako have been serving in Japan for more than twenty years. Their sons Joey, Noah, and Davy, along with Joey’s wife, Ai, and Davy’s wife Yumiko, all work with them in Japan as missionary interns.

This website allows you to make debit or credit card donations on a one-time or recurring basis to Sunrise. These donations are tax-deductible and a tax receipt will be issued each January for the preceding year’s contributions. [info from the Sunrise website]

I’ve been receiving the Millards’ monthly newsletter for many years, and can attest to the incredible passion and often crippling perseverance this family has lived out on behalf of the Japanese people whom they love with all their hearts. I find it compelling that all of their children are serving the Lord, and with the exception of their daughter Anna who is currently attending the University of Oregon, their grown kids are also working as missionaries in Japan.

If you have the resources to give financially to Japanese relief or missions, please consider donating to Sunrise International Ministries for relief work in Sendai province. I truly believe they have been placed there for such a time as this. And please continue to pray for Japan!

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Posted in persecuted church, politics/world news, religion | 4 Comments

In the Garden with Children

Little L with his sunflower

{Parts of this post were previously published here at Diary of 1 on April 6, 2008.}

Planning, planting, nurturing, enjoying the beauty and the bounty~there are so many facets to a child’s gardening experience that makes planting a garden one of the most treasured gifts you can give your child.

You should have no trouble in getting a child to garden with you. No surprise, children are drawn to dirt like nothing else! You mean you want me to dig holes? I’m allowed to get filthy and mucky? To direct that childish energy and wonder into a productive endeavor like a garden is not only wise on the part of the parent, it’s a lifelong blessing to both of you.

Jo diggingJoJo spent several hours some time ago with her pint-sized rake and shovel. I was working on the main garden area while she staked out a spot of her own. The other children were doing likewise. I hesitated a moment when suddenly all the kids wanted their own garden space in addition to the main garden. Was this okay? Would I be teaching them to be selfish and look out only for themselves?

I ended up deciding that the sense of community and family in the main garden would not at all be diminished by each child’s ownership in their own scratch of earth. In fact, it would probably deepen their respect for the family garden, knowing the responsibility and effort their own gardens required.

I found a wonderful book to guide me through some activities to do in the garden with children. It’s called Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: gardening together with children, by Sharon Lovejoy. The book covers not only the basics of how to plan, plant, and care for your garden, but the top 20 plants for kids, theme garden ideas, and many little bits of garden wisdom.

I would say that my first tip for gardening with children is to involve them in every decision. Where should we put the garden? Is this spot too shady or too sunny? This area is nice and level, but we’ll have to dig up some rocks, is that okay? What shape do we want the garden to be? What should we plant that will thrive in our region? Let’s test the soil and decide what supplements we may need. All of the issues that arise in the planning of the garden are incredible teaching tools, and there’s no better way for your kids to really understand the complexity – and joy – of it all than to walk through it with you step by step. And the sense of ownership will be there from the start – the greatest motivator I know. I never have to twist their arms to go work on the garden.

JoJo watering

Here are the top 20 plants for children to grow. This list comes from Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, based on the fact they are proven winners:

They have personality, fragrance, texture, and color — vibrant color. They grow quickly — something kids need in response to their work. And they’re versatile; they can be used as jewelry, toys, clothes, musical instruments, and household utensils.

1. Pumpkins
2. Sunflowers
3. Gourds
4. Corn
5. Berries
6. Hollyhocks
7. Carrots
8. Mimosa
9. Poppies
10. Tomatoes
11. Trees
12. Alliums
13. Potatoes
14. Woolly Lamb’s Ear
15. Four-O’Clocks
16. Evening Primroses
17. Radishes
18. Nasturtium
19. Moon Plant
20. Lemon Verbena

Do keep in mind your climate – some of these will fare better than others depending on where you live. In Central Oregon, for example, root crops like potatoes and carrots grow well with our short growing season and cool nights; but for some vegetables like corn or tomatoes, a short-season variety is a must for your plant to mature.

the kids harvesting potatoes

Theme gardens can be a joy for children, and I’ll highlight just one of the themes from Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: the pizza patch.

The Pizza Patch: gardening in the round is sure to delight children who are used to seeing a straight-row vegetable garden. This pizza patch garden is a giant sized six-foot-wide wheel shaped plot, divided into seven great wedges and edged with a thick rock crust. Ms. Lovejoy suggests the following ingredients for your pizza patch garden, but you can add other favorites as well:

3 seedlings plum tomatoes
6 seedlings cherry tomatoes
3 seedlings small eggplants
3 seedlings bell peppers
1 seedling zucchini
1 seedling rosemary
3 seedlings oregano
3 seedlings basil
3 seedlings onions
3 seedlings garlic
6 seedlings “Lemon Gem” marigolds
6 seedlings “Kablouna” Calendulas
Aged, bagged manure

To begin this project, select a flat 10×10 foot plot of ground that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. Place a stake in the center of the area, and tie a 3-foot string to it. Your child can take hold of the very end of the string and walk in a circle, while another child walks behind with a hoe to mark what will be the outer boundary of the garden bed.

Divide the garden into slices: mark spots at 32 inch intervals along the outer edge. Draw a line with a stick from each of the seven marks to the center stake, to denote the seven slices. Then place rocks along those lines for a permanent boundary, and you can remove the center stake.

Place the five tall vegetables in each of the five slices on the northern side of the wheel – the plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and zucchini. In a slice on the south side, plant the herbs, onions, and garlic. Set aside one slice to be the pathway for the little feet tending the garden. The bright gold marigolds and Calendulas can be filled in around the vegetables and herbs, the “cheese” of the pizza.

To plant each slice, start from the center and work your way out. Plant tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and zucchini 12-18 inches apart. In the small herb slice, space them 6 inches apart from the onions and garlic. The flowers are scattered throughout each slice, but allow 3 inches between them and other plants.

When harvest time comes, you can throw a big pizza party with toppings straight from the garden!

You can find more fabulous garden ideas and activities to do with children, such as a sunflower house, container gardens, and a moon garden, in Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots.

Don’t forget to teach your children about the use and care of gardening equipment, about watering requirements for various plants, and about safe weed/pest control. You can also measure plants, make growth predictions, learn about pollination, visit with a master gardener…the opportunities in a garden are endless. Mostly, just have fun!

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Homeschool Recess

digging forts at recess

Recess on the ranch is more fun than I remember from my childhood schoolyard. My school playground wasn’t nearly as bad as some (at least I had one), and I loved swinging the tetherball and merry-go-rounding, but I still have shadowy memories of pulled hair, pavement, and skipped turns.

Over here, though, our homeschool co-op kids get to build forts, dig holes while belting out “From the Halls of Montezuma” and run wild with all God’s creation for their recess. In my yard yesterday, toes curled around shovel heads, small hands arranged sticks, muscles flexed under loads of dirt. Real play in a real place.

And I breathed slow, inhaling the moment, that springtime of life that was all exhilaration and wonder. We are blessed.

What do you remember most about your school days? I’ll bet recess is among the top memories, whether good or bad.

Links for your week:
Christian Carnival
Homeschool Carnival

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The Human Condition

my flower bootA friend loses her job, a mother loses her mind. A child falls and scrapes her knee, a man falls off the wagon. I witnessed such struggles this week, and paused to note the challenge of being human.

In this world you will have trouble, declares the gospel of John. Do you sometimes get dragged down by what seems to be the inhumanity of our world? I had to stop taking the paper years ago because of the endless stream of black-hearted news that just wasn’t outweighed by the good. But burying my head in the sand isn’t that useful, because the black is there, too.

How do we function as humans, who have souls and eternity in our hearts, in this universe, that while oftentimes enjoyable, also harbors terror, grave injustice, fear, hatred, betrayal, and depression? With resignation? Fatalism? “That’s life.”

But wait, there’s a dawn rising, and I heard that joy comes in the morning.

You can get a new job, restore your mind, heal the wound, and climb back aboard. Really? There’s hope? Always. Can I share the remainder of the verse in John about trouble?

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Like water to a parched tongue are these words to my soul. I forget. I am Israel, and I forget. Jesus has overcome! There is an offering of peace and a call to courage in these parting words. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead IS at work in me. Beauty DOES rise from ashes. Trials DO produce perseverance, which in turn gives wisdom.

I am willing to be human.

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A Peek into a Homeschool Co-op

Back in August, four families decided to do school together in a co-op style of educating, with moms each assigned to a class and kids grouped by ability. On the first day of school at the start of September, nine children arrived at my doorstep at 7:30 a.m., ready to hit the books and expand their brains, pushing hard until noon when our official school day was done.

{If you read to the end of this very long post, you’ll see our daily schedule, and that despite the seemingly rigorous routine, we have a ton of fun!}

Monday through Thursday we follow a very structured program, with every half-hour increment planned carefully and little time wasted. Friday is a no-school day, reserved for field trips, outings, family time. This type of co-op is not for everyone, but I’d love to share how we do it, because depending on your goals for educating, it just might work for you.

pumpkin seed counting

A homeschool cooperative is a group of families who choose to work together on a consistent basis in the educating of their children, a “mini-school” of sorts. Some co-ops meet once a week, some once a month, and in my case, every day, with each child having one or two others working at their same level.

But first, why co-op? I’ll give you my goals, though there are many more out there that are equally valid. I’ve homeschooled solo in the past, just me and my kids. That was a great season, and rather laid-back without the intense structure under which I currently operate. But my needs have changed and this season calls for
1) efficiency, 2) accountability, and 3) positive social pressure.

Regarding efficiency, I had to be honest about my many obligations. I have another job that consumes quite a bit of time, and streamlining is critical for me. Afternoons require a free block of time to work on the business I run with my husband, and though I work from home, I can’t, in fairness to my kids, have my work constantly interrupting their education. Those dedicated blocks of time are vital to our overall family productivity.

Why couldn’t I just be efficient on my own? First, more teacher-parents means the same number of teaching hours yields a multiplied teaching time with the other teachers than on my own. The first grader learns to read during the same period the second grader is taught to write, impossible on my own (at the same time) with the level of care I want. Co-oping lets me leverage time. Second, there is the matter of accountability, addressed below–would I be efficient without a structure forced upon me?

learning to balance

Accountability was an issue I had to candidly face. I’m prone to procrastination and distraction, and without those little hands knocking on my door by 7:20 a.m., I can assure you I wouldn’t always be dressed and ready to tackle all that a day holds in the life of a busy homeschooling/business-woman mother and wife. I’m willing to share my house, give up some privacy, and add to the wear and tear around here, to ensure that rain or shine, we do school.

I believe in the discipline the children are presented with, the order that follows, the resulting self-regulation that begins to take hold. I lose some flexibility, a Holy Grail to many homeschool parents. If I don’t feel like doing school, or my kids want a day off, or there’s an enticing rabbit trail to follow, it’s too bad, the others are showing up. But really, when you look at how much free time we have compared to regular-school counterparts, it’s a small sacrifice.

soap making

Positive social pressure is the last goal I’ll discuss. I wanted an education model that included daily work with peers. Not a once-a-week or monthly interaction, but day-in, day-out. I’m not wanting public school, but I am wanting to meet my kids’ spoken wishes for friends to work with and my own desires for them to experience a healthy social pressure.

Friendly competition is a marvelous thing for pushing a child to their best limits. Iron sharpens iron, and for our little co-op, the small sparks that fly tell me that we are helping to work out each other’s character, we are showing the other a different way to think, we are growing together more than we would alone.

language lessons

What does my schedule look like? It’s changed throughout the year slightly, as one of the moms had a baby and is now homeschooling at home, so we currently have six kids here each day instead of nine. But, here is what we started with, four families hoping for the best education for their children. You’ll see that the students range from K/1st to 4th grade, we cover all the core subjects, and each mom has the opportunity to teach her own child throughout the sessions. (The moms are called “J,” “K,” and “L,” since that’s what each of our names begins with.)

Our Homeschool Co-Op Schedule


J teaches Abeka 1st grade phonics lessons to the K/1st kids
K teaches Abeka 2nd gr. phonics lessons to 2nd level kids
L teaches First Language Lessons to the 2nd/3rd level kids
Independent: 4th grade does independent reading of chapter books


J teaches Five in Row and First Language Lessons to K/1st
Independent: 2nd level kids do Abeka 2nd grade cursive handwriting practice
K teaches Writing with Ease Level 3 to the 2nd/3rd level kids
L teaches Writing with Ease Level 4 to the 4th graders


J gets K/1 started with Abeka 1st grade cursive handwriting
L teaches literature to 2nd grade with various chapter books
K teaches Writing with Ease Level 3 to 2nd/3rd level kids
J moves from K/1 to begin teaching First Language Lessons Level 4 to 4th graders
[note–on Mondays, this time slot is devoted to a Baking Class run by K]


Kids take a snack break– our early start gives us very hungry kids by 9 a.m.


K teaches Abeka 1st grade Spelling to the K/1st kids
J teaches Abeka 2nd grade Spelling to the 2nd and the 2nd/3rd level kids
L teaches Abeka 4th grade Spelling to the 4th graders


L teaches Singapore Math 1A to the K/1st kids (they go til 10:15 only, as they need an extra break)
J teaches dual classes of Singapore Math 2A to the 2nd level kids, and Singapore Math 2B to the 2nd/3rd level kids; a lot of back and forth between groups.
K teaches Singapore Math 4A to the 4th grade kids


Kids take an outside break–riding bikes, digging in the dirt, playing with the kittens, etc.


J teaches History to all kids: Story of the World, vol. 2, Middle Ages on Monday/Wednesday
K teaches Science to all kids: Apologia, Exploring Creation with Botany on Tuesday/Thursday
[note–an art teacher comes every other Monday during this time slot]

gingerbread house making

And that’s the end of our school day! We do assign homework every day. Always reading, and a small amount of spelling and math. One of the moms has been good about helping us schedule field trips with other homeschool families. We’re planning a trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland in March. And the final quarter of school will see us taking a break from Story of the World to do an Oregon Trail unit, culminating with an overnight trip to Baker City, Oregon to visit the Oregon Trail Museum and surrounding area.

We took time off from Botany during the cold winter months to do a human body study, and built our very own bodies as we studied each organ!
body building

Links to the curriculum I use:

Abeka phonics, spelling, handwriting
Five in a Row
First Language Lessons
Writing with Ease
Singapore Math
Apologia Science
Story of the World History

Lists of chapter books each level has read so far this school year (and wrote reports, created posters or other visuals for, and presented before all the students):

2nd grade
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Minstrel in the Tower by Gloria Skurzynski
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
Courage of Sarah Noble

2nd/3rd level
They read some of the above and also:
Ramona’s Father by Beverly Cleary
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Heart of a Shepherd by Roseann Parry

4th grade
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling
Turn Homeward Hannalee by Patricia Beatty
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Perilous Road by William O. Steele
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The Swiss Family Robinson (unabridged) by Johann Wyss
Chronicles of Narnia

Yes, that is a lot of reading! These particular kids are generally great readers, and we do expect a lot in the way of good literature. This heavy of a reading schedule may not work for every child, but if it does, don’t miss the window of opportunity! A few of the kids got through books they were struggling with by having a parent co-read with them or listening to parts of the book on audio CD.

A P.S. on pitfalls–True, a lot can go wrong with a homeschool co-op. I’m sure some of you have horror stories. Here’s a short list of some red flags to watch for as you consider whether you’d want to commit to something like this.

Having different goals.
Not being willing to compromise on curriculum, schedules, discipline, or pace.
Having differing student or teacher expectations.
Disagreements over the role of faith/biblical teaching in education.

P.S.S.–I don’t have time in this post to cover the many other benefits of a homeschool co-op, but want to quickly acknowledge that I love for my kids to learn from other teachers, to experience varying teaching styles and other parents’ areas of expertise. I so appreciate the daily fellowship with other moms, and I really adore all those kids!

How do you homeschool? Do you work with other families? Share your journey in the comments box!

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Conversations with a little boy.

I love him, I love his ideas, and gosh, I wish I could just jump in there sometimes and see it in full color. This must be how it is with children; they slow down enough once in a while to share a piece of the rolling film, but it’s only a shadow of the lively non-stop, action-packed thriller that is the mind of a six-year-old boy.

Mom, are there really angels guarding the Garden of Eden? Are treasures buried there? Would I be able to see the angels if I found the garden? I hope so, and I hope they would tell me where the treasures are buried.


Mom, am I a Jew? Because Jews are God’s people, and I’m God’s people.


A few days ago, he sat on the floor playing with an airplane “slingshot” toy as Grandma sang an old song that I remember her singing to me as a child. Well, she doesn’t really sing it to anyone, just an unconscious singing. Sitting small in the cushioned chair with pillow tucked behind her gray and her songs, she stared into yesterday:

Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun. Here they come zooming to meet our thunder, at ’em boys, give ‘er the gun! Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps!

“I CAN!” shouted my little boy, aiming his airplane for a sure fire into the chair. And he was off, in the heat of battle, just him and Grandma’s song, conquering the skies.

A few links for your week:
Christian Carnival
Carnival of Homeschooling

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Thankful in this place…

…for child-made Valentines, especially the glittery heart one that sparkled today in the sun, each of the thousand squares of tiny glitter unable to outshine the joy of the son in the giving.

…for chocolate truffles and coffee, dark as midnight and as smooth and strong as David’s stones, and particularly for the thoughtful hand that delivered the gift.

…for rib eye steak and a night in, and mostly for the request from him to cook a special gourmet dinner together in the kitchen. Who is this sophisticated man and where is the uncultured one I married? (wink)

…for a new refrigerator that doesn’t leak, doesn’t freeze the lettuce within two hours, doesn’t belong to another century, doesn’t open the wrong way, but does come with a message from above that says “I love you and I will bless you when you least expect it.”

…for my grandmother’s watch, newly discovered last week in a box of junk jewelry left to me twenty years ago, and for the ultimate surprise that it indeed works and is a beautiful piece of antique art, running a bit fast just like she used to.

…for gratitude, a gift in itself.

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One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp: A Review

my review of One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

A book review by Jen

One Thousand Gifts is the beginning, a game of sorts, to list one thousand things in life for which to be grateful. Ann Voskamp discovers that with each listing, her joy enlarges and she is soon addicted to the joy, in the very best of ways. It’s easy to dismiss this itemizing as an amusement for the immature, but as I began my own list, I chanced upon a switch.

  • motherhood
  • that breathtaking moment when I first saw Lake Huron, horizon melting into sky
  • that perfect Labor Day at South Jetty in Florence, the warm sand, collection of seashells, children digging, laughing, running from waves
  • encouragers
  • dried desert mud that crackles under your bare child feet
  • the park bench across from the White House in D.C. that supported my lonely, peaceful lunch breaks in ’93.
  • music

The ticking of the thanks triggered something. It’s like when a circuit breaker trips in the house leaving you powerless and dark, only you don’t know where to find the electrical panel to reset it. This is it, my friends! It is the giving of thanks that corrects the problem that caused the breaker to trip in the first place. A ground fault is one reason why the power can go off, and Ann Voskamp identified the root cause of this fault: ingratitude. Breaker! Breaker! Let’s give thanks!

Ann scatters herself, her humanity, just right throughout this book, and I am left knowing that she is an authentic woman who has deep places of pain just like the rest of us. We learn of the death of her little sister, her mother’s mental illness, her own dark interior struggles. And so I connect, I engage, I truly learn.

I had shadows of doubt about Ann Voskamp at various points in OneThousand Gifts, but Ann is like that children’s word game where Grandma loves poundcake but hates chocolate cake, she loves Pringles but hates chips, and you have to know that Grandma’s secret is that she only loves things that begin with “P.”

So it is with Ann. She loves the Christian mystics but hates the idea of wisdom found outside of Christ; she loves to run with the moon and lie prostrate in fields but hates nature worship; she digs deep into her soul to share it raw with the world but hates narcissism. You have to know that Ann’s secret is that she is indeed a woman after God’s own heart.

I did come to a certain point in the book where I thought I couldn’t go on. Voskamp spends an entire chapter describing a bubble of soap, its shape, its color, its chemical composition, more of its color. It was the night I had hit the wall of exhaustion and emotional overload and my husband had to tuck my crying eyes into bed, pulling the patched quilt up over the worry, hurry, fear, condemnation, the crush of life that threatened to undo me, then he finished the dinner I had abruptly left and tended to the four children’s bedtime. And I’m supposed to draw comfort and wisdom from the sudsy bubbles?

I still don’t completely get it, but I understand that a writer has a certain style, and Ann Voskamp is a poet and I love words like she does, though we may play with them differently. So I will let her talk about suds in the sink all day long if she wants because in the end, I rose large the next morning, new grace upon me, and I remembered how much I loved bubbles as a child, the endless joy in swooshing the wand to create the perfect sphere to run after and chase with the wind, and the sheer delight in catching it before it burst into another dimension.

Here’s the thing. I am working really hard at this thing she calls eucharisteo–what Christians know as the Eucharist, or communion, the taking of the bread and wine. This charis grace, chara joy, eucharisteo thanksgiving. I’m working harder than I have in a very long time, because I have to or I will shrivel. There are some tools in this book to help this jumble of myself to begin to conquer life-smothering fear, to reach for a firm grip on His everlasting love for me, to give thanks in all things in such an unceasing way that the power is restored in this short-circuited woman.

A thousand thanks to Ann Voskamp for writing this book.

P.S. I want to know why the sows were losing their litters. A small complaint, but she never tells us.

P.S.S. Thank you, Ann, for ending in Paris, the place where God says, “Enjoy Me.”

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Hurray for boring!

I saw the word written plainly this morning atop his new spelling list. The list of small words for a small six year old boy. I would not have noticed the message had he not pointed it out.

“Do you know what this says, Mom?” he asks with a cheeky grin. It was his own newly minted penmanship, each letter carefully proclaiming his fledgling independence.


Asking him to read the word to me, I worked hard to conceal my heart. Surely it was a bit naughty to write such a word on one’s work…but he wrote it all by himself, oh, the joy of a mother-teacher!

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Spaghetti Squash to Iron Man

Spaghetti squash, baked with butter and brown sugar, is quickly eaten by my girls. I had a heck of a time getting it to the oven, what with my dull knife and its tough skin. What an amazing creation, this squash, right up there with the pomegranate in its ability to make your mouth water and your fingers cramp as you ready it for consumption.

Someone we know is training for a triathlon, and upon reading the nutrition section of Joe Friel’s Triathlete’s Training Bible, he’s been requesting unusual amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. What happened to my meat and potatoes man, his wife wondered? He’s still there, but make it lean, if you please.

Please enjoy this picture of me risking my digits to cut a fresh pineapple in honor of the health conscious athletes in my own family. And do look closely at the bowl, for each and every pomegranate aril was hard fought and I even had to do some research to learn how to de-seed this ancient fruit without ending up in an awful pulpy mess.

Pinapple Pomegranate Salad

I’m actually having fun with with exotic fruits lately, and may have to expand beyond my small town grocer in search of things stranger and wilder. I have the idea that the more bizarre the fruit, the healthier it must be.

Little L Iron ManHere is my little boy’s idea of an Iron Man, versus that world famous triathlon called the Ironman. I do believe I would sooner suit up like him and be Iron Man versus do Ironman. But either way, it’s all good! And fruity. I’ll write to you from Kona someday.

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Happy New You!

Happy New Year and Happy New You! What a great time for reflection and renewal. I love the beginning of January for this reason–the turning of the year is so symbolic for me of the burying of the old man and the raising up of the new, revived and purified man.

On a totally superficial level, I love this time of year as well for the lingering effects of the Christmas gifts. I’m wearing the super cute handmade apron my husband gave me (Becky, you are amazing, it’s perfect!), feeling all officially housewife now. And I was under the influence of Rouge-Bleu for several days, amazed that my husband again surprised me by finding the one and only wine import I’ve ever asked for, made by my friends in the south of France. (Again, Becky, you came through on this as well–thanks to you and Brian for finding that wine shop). If you have never tried a really great French wine…the search ends here.

Back to my reflection and renewal, I just started a new Bible study by Nancy Leigh DeMoss called Seeking Him. It covers topics such as revival, humility, repentance, obedience, and grace. I’m looking forward to seeking Him this year.

Here’s wishing a Happy New Year to you! A toast for my friends:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
~ Lord Alfred Tennyson

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Corncob Dolls and Christmas Coming

It wasn’t Susan’s fault that she was only a corncob. Sometimes Mary let Laura hold Nettie, but she did it only when Susan couldn’t see. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

I caught my breath on these words, picturing Mary and Laura playing for hours in the dusty-spicy attic with nothing but a rag doll and a corncob. Life was very hard, I know, and sometimes the romanticized view of pioneer life does it such injustice…but still. Still.

Having no flat, dimensionless drivel flashing before them incessantly such as modern children are subject to, these girls had the freedom to develop the creative power of a brilliant sunrise. That Laura’s corncob doll was given such power of feelings, and never a second’s thought as to her stature, speaks volumes for the strength of simplicity.

I told my children to guess what Pa did with the pig’s bladder. First, they had to be informed what a bladder was, for they didn’t know. In 1870, a four year old knew what a pig’s bladder was, and what fun it could be! Pa blew it up into a little white balloon, which the girls batted about and bounced along with endless joy. Who needs a bounce house? Oh, and the pig’s tail was even more fun!

I’m sort of old fashioned and nostalgic, so I need to not get carried away with sentimentality. I know that about myself. I live in the 21st century and I’m glad I do, but still. Good literature always demands a response from me. I can’t read something meaningful and not come away with an action, however small.

With Christmas just days away, and since tomorrow’s reading with the kids is the Little House chapter entitled “Christmas,” I have a reply. If you know Little House, you know that simple is not dull. Ma loved beautiful things, and I’m amazed at how she used so very little and so common a thing to make her home charming. I hope to create beauty with simple things.

Laura loved to look at the lamp, with its glass chimney so clean and sparkling, its yellow flame burning so steadily, and its bowl of clear kerosene colored red by the bits of flannel. She loved to look at the fire in the fireplace, flickering and changing all the time, burning yellow and red and sometimes green above the logs, and hovering blue over the golden and ruby coals.

Maybe I’ll make pancake men for breakfast for the kids on Christmas morning, like Ma. We’ll bake together, sing carols, make pictures in the snow, sit and look at the fire, read stories, and of course talk about the birth of Jesus.

Anyone have a pig’s bladder to lend me?

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Why I thought I could begin baking all the gingerbread pieces I would need for the nine children in our homeschool co-op at ten-o’clock…p.m., not a.m., the eve before hosting a gingerbread house-making party, is because I’m crazy and need to be committed to the Hansel and Gretel asylum. Once upon a time there lived a very silly mother in a house in the juniper forest with her four children…who deserves to be shoved into an oven.

I hunted down gingerbread templates for very petite, wee little houses, perhaps a lean-to, that would not require me to produce 50 pounds of flour to make enough dough for nine houses, plus extra for the small child who would surely squeeze his house too hard and cry and want another one. I printed some templates, then began to fret over the gingerbread house “glue.” Do I use the recipe with raw eggs, surely it would hold better, and chance that no one would be poisoned a week later as she snacked on her house, or go for the no-egg less-hold version?

If not sleeping at all tonight is an option, I should definitely make 10 separate batches of gingerbread house dough, so these precious kids can each have their own Queen Anne Victorian scale model reproduction gingerbread house complete with turrets and spindles. I’m sure the other moms are doing this.

Lucky for me and my sanity, I came across a website from a mom who has been hosting gingerbread house parties for children for 15 years running. Mass quantities of children, at that. Not just one spoiled child who gets the Queen Anne, but up to 20 children who all make a blessed mess and have the time of their lives with…graham crackers!

Oh yes, I will! I don’t know where that article went, but I believe this woman made up the houses ahead of time, so as to be sure of the structural integrity of the (fake) gingerbread houses. Using about six to eight crackers per house, never mind they are small huts, it’s about a five minute per-house job to make up beforehand. All the less candy to get fattened up on, my dear.

In fact, I will not even make the cracker houses ahead of time. As it is now well past 10 p.m., snowing and pitch black, I shall go to the store tomorrow before our afternoon party to buy graham crackers, for who has four boxes of these on hand? Certainly not the woman who is even contemplating this endeavor at 10 p.m. the night before the party. Besides, the children don’t even know this is a gingerbread house-making party. It’s just a regular old Christmas party as far as they know, with perhaps eggnog and checkers. So they will have no idea they’ve been downgraded from the castle to the hut, from the homemade gingerbread to the cracker.

And this mom will keep her sanity. And they all lived happily together ever after.

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Prayers for Dana

Please pray for Dana who lost her little boy, 22 months old, today. One of my very first and beloved bloggy friends, she has inspired me, made me laugh and made me think for several years now, and desperately needs your loving prayers. You can visit her here and bless her and her family with whatever words the Lord puts on your heart. It feels like there are no words to say, but I believe she will be held up by your very prayers, thoughts, and words from the heart of God to her.

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I shined my sinks, and other news.

I finally took the Flylady’s advice and did something about my grimy sinks. They are so sparkling at the moment! No one dare set a dish in there, please. My husband actually noticed on his own, first thing upon entering the kitchen. I was feeling pretty good until he saw my cheat sheet on the counter–the organizing lady’s directions, everything from getting dressed to the shoes to how to do crisis cleaning (like, someone’s coming to stay with us for Christmas vacation!).

Dinner tonight was rice and beans; a tip from another helper I like, Dave Ramsey. It’s a lovely meal, really; there’s a lot you can do with simple grains and legumes. I just heard of someone making fantastic East Indian recipes nearly every day with rice and beans that are gourmet meals. Mr. Ramsey’s basic advice is to try to live on very little as you are working your way out of debt or as you are trying to save.

In other mundane news, as if the condition of my sinks or beans didn’t bore you enough, I’m nearly caught up on laundry. Due to a certain child throwing 1/3 of his clothing down the chute in lieu of putting said clean clothes in the drawers, I had to rewash everything, not knowing what was soiled and what was fresh. We had a meeting, it won’t happen again.

Is it truly just about 20 day until Christmas? Everything just seems faster and earlier this year. We did some decorating (and cleaning) today with the Christmas tunes floating throughout the house. The stockings are hung and tomorrow we go to the Ochocos to cut down a tree. Those of you who don’t live in Oregon may be envious to know that for only a $5 permit you can cut down up to a 12 foot Christmas tree from the forest.

If I don’t make it back to this spot before Christmas, please slow down with me and enjoy the season. Celebrate the birth of Jesus in a new way this year. Begin a new tradition. Do something magical with your children. Play in the snow. Give from your heart. May the peace of Christ be with you.

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Thank You for my dishes.

Another piece of Dansk Concerto Allegro Blue went down tonight. My husband and I have wagered that perhaps not one piece will be left by the time the kids are grown. It was a wedding gift, nearly all of which was given to us by the late, great John E. Jaqua. So, it’s doubly sentimental.

Will my grown-up children catch a glimpse somewhere of our special Dansk and remember a warm, full table of family and love? I have no memories of a special tableware, because we had none that I recall, just a bit of this and that. I want my kids to have memories. They already know how I feel about our dishes, given my constant, “be careful, it was a wedding gift!” But I believe the less I say, the better. Just serve up good meals on the Allegro Blue, that’s all I need to do.

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A Different Harvest

I was to be writing about the harvest this month. I was lulled out of vigilant garden care by a late warm spell, and then, bam, it froze and died. All lost.

There are harvests of others kinds to ease the pain. I’m busy reaping the fruit of childhood. Raising kids is a continual and concurrent sowing and harvesting. Today I both collect the joy of children who know how to be silly, innocent little ones who at nearly ‘tweenhood still bless me with sweet simplicity, and also sow the seeds of self-control. Someone else will reap that one some day. I harvested a budding intellect in one child today, a seed which was sown beginning at birth in the countless hours of reading, playing, exploring with. Sowing and reaping, like my garden that I’ll soon start again, is a forever process.

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It flew by.

Wow, the end of September and not a single post. This photo from our last hurrah before school started sums it up:

Oregon Sand Dunes

This is us traveling at high speed up an Oregon sand dune and screaming with…something like a thrill.

So, the past month has seen the end of a season and the beginning of another–a normal part of life but somehow something I’ll never be totally comfortable with. The wonderful lazy days of summer have been replaced with the fine pace of fall. Back when I lived in Michigan, at least I had the change of color, the spectacular foliage that compels thousands to take long Sunday drives just to take it in, breathe it in. Here in Central Oregon, what do I have to make fall really worth it all? The same green/gray junipers looking at me with their blue-berried eyes and unchanging scraggly limbs, no apple orchards to make an Autumn tradition, no piles of leaves to jump in. But, as a friend told me, look on the bright side–no change to cause a stress in emotions, no apples to dig worms out of, no leaves to endlessly rake into heaps. The grass is always greener!

One month of school under their little belts, and the kids are stretching into more of who they were created to be. So am I. In spite of and because of various trials and new situations we are facing, we are growing, growth pains and all, and it fits the season.

Though fall in Central Oregon doesn’t look like much, there is grand activity going on under the surface. The nights slowly get colder, and the garden gives us its last. Even with an Indian summer enticing us at the moment, I am not fooled. The purpose and function of fall can be missed, but it’s essential. The cold, shorter days play with our chemistry, but somehow prepare us for an eventual spring. Upheaval, activity, schedules, insanity…then a long, cold winter that relies on that burst of fall activity to carry you through safely til spring.

We won’t visit the sand dunes again until next Labor Day weekend. Until then, I’ll cherish the memories of sand-angels. Happy Fall, y’all!

JJ and her sand angel

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Peace Defined

Practice what you preach, sister. Just when I thought perhaps I was far enough removed from a particularly difficult time to write with clarity, BAM, I’m back, feet tripping and mind swaying, in the midst of trial.

It seems I have to write honestly and come with words that aren’t backed with the full confidence and assurance I thought I had. I had wanted to share some secrets to peace, secrets like these:

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
—Isaiah 26:3

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4:6-7

So, the secrets say Keep your mind on God and you’ll have peace. Go to God with your anxieties and He will give you the peace that dissolves all confusion. These are the words of my source of help and strength — I’m not mocking them, I’m just saying that there is clearly much more to these “secrets” than meets the eye.

Maybe my definition of peace is incorrect. I’d like to think that when a bump in the road comes along, I’ve equipped myself with big, fat tires and a great suspension system that diminishes the jolt and it feels more like a sway to the music than a bump in the road. But somehow, I still feel the rise and fall of every trial, despite my human attempts to reach the mind of God and that elusive “peace.”

If I readjust what I call “peace,” I might find some understanding. I’ve imagined peace to be a thing that eliminates the pain of life. I’ve imagined myself Dorothy in the center of a tornado being swept into the throes of a violent wind, feeling nothing but tranquility.

Ah, Dorothy. I’m learning that peace may not be the drifting on a cloud of calm that I had hoped for. It may be a certain grit and courage I have to bring to the situation to navigate the delusions and anxiety of the trial.

Behind the grit and courage is a word I missed in the verse I quoted above from Isaiah: trust. There is a steady faith and understanding that has to be clearly intact for peace to prevail. If I am shaken in my knowledge of the fact that God loves me and wants the best for me, if I am shaken in my belief in myself and my destiny, there will be no peace.

I may still have to feel the jolt of a speed bump, I may still feel the aches and discomforts of this life. I will surely be swept into tornadoes now and again. I can expect to feel some pain, but I pray that as I trust in the truth of who God is and who I am, I can find the peace that paves the way for me to bravely steady on.

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Car trouble

It went like this:

Car Guy: Your van is done.
Me: (slow to get the point) What do you mean?
Car Guy: Rods are knocking, it’s about to blow up…
Me: What are my options?
Car Guy: Nothing — or get a new motor.


This, after breaking down on top of the mountain with my four kids, 81 year old mother, and a foreign exchange student, having our family van towed into town, waiting almost 2 weeks for an answer…Nothing to do but smile. At least it didn’t blow up with us in it. And my girl from Poland got to experience the generosity of American strangers and friends who helped this stranded family off a mountain pass.

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When your daughter finds a baby jackrabbit

The dog brought a baby jackrabbit to our lawn. Miraculously unharmed, the small gray creature with eyes wide open was a gift to my 9 year old animal loving daughter. She has wanted to raise a baby rabbit for years, and this appeared to be the genie in the magic bottle that answered her deepest wish. Appearances can be deceiving and wishes can be answered in other ways.

baby wild jackrabbit with JJ

I learned several years ago when same dog unearthed a wild jackrabbit nest that it’s never recommended and nearly impossible to raise wild rabbits on your own, not to mention that it’s illegal to possess Oregon wildlife without the proper state and federal permits. The survival rate is miniscule. I had foolishly and greenhornedly gathered up two of the babies and brought them home, only to have them cry all night, and then I wanted to cry when I researched online and discovered that I was now party to the likely demise of the sweet bunnies. I got up before dawn the next morning and returned the babies to the very spot beneath the junipers where I found them, following the instructions I had read, and believing that, as stated, the momma would find them even though she had obviously moved her nest elsewhere by this time.

Having learned this lesson, I knew JJ couldn’t keep the baby jackrabbit that our dog was so pleased to deliver. I let her hold the baby, and little sister JoJo gave it some love too, as I reminded them of the literature that clearly counseled the return of the jackrabbit to its nest. The problem was, we had no way of knowing where in the midst of the hundred acre wood the nest could be.

JoJo with wild bunny

These are the beautiful moments of our lives. There is something precious and priceless about loving a wild thing that must be let go, and making that decision on your own.

The children decided upon a location for the return, an area of junipers where the dog had been recently spotted. JJ and JoJo prepared a safehouse for the newly orphaned bunny who would hopefully soon have a reunion with a mother who would be calling her baby for a midnight feeding. A careful hole lined with soft grasses, some twigs meticulously set across the top of the child-made nest, and some tender goodbyes and goodlucks were the scene.

the bunny nest

goodbye sweet bunny

Goodbye, wild bunny who brought a thrill of delight and a living nature lesson to my children.

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Newborn kittens over here!

There is nothing better! Newborn kittens, and children who got to watch the miracle happen! Five sweet little noses at mama’s belly, the awesomeness of new life.

Streak with her babies

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Posted in family life, the ranch | 9 Comments