Friday, August 26, 2011

Family Art

I'm hooked on "family art" right now, particularly hands. I'm also working on a self-portrait composite of all the kids. We just finished this piece for the laundry room. I got the idea off of Pinterest, you can see the original here.

I bought a large canvas at JoAnn's, (40% off already with an extra 20% off total order coupon.) That's not to impress you or anything, it's just how I do things. It's gotta be affordable or it's not going to happen. I painted the canvas with some paint that was leftover from one of the bedrooms, then traced around each family member's hand on textured paper. (It was from Jeff's fancy smancy resume' paper stash, I believe....shhhh....) Then I mod podged them onto the canvas. I ended up using three layers of mod podge over the entire picture. I wanted depth and texture.

This isn't quite the finished project - I added a couple of words to each person's hand after this picture was taken. It took me awhile, because I wanted the words to both reflect the individual's personality and gifting, and also to be words of blessing. It's crowded and "loud," but that's what I wanted. It's full of meaning for our family.

And oh, look. There's just a tiny bit of room right beside Gabe's little yellow know, just in case, someday. :)
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Along with our own home, we also have a little house that we bought on a sheriff's sale (for $3,500, if you can imagine that.)   We immediately put a new roof on the old place, and Jeff and the boys have gutted it down to the studs and are getting ready to install new plumbing.

Along with that house and the one we live in (which we are also remodeling,) we are caretakers of my parents' two properties.  (That's four places, in case I lost you.)  My parents still live in a small town in the same home in which my father was born; in the house which my great-grandfather built with his own hands in 1914.  They also have a little cabin way out in the hills and hollers; twelve acres of rolling, stretching, wooded land.  My family has owned this particular piece of property since I was 11.  Dad saved up his pennies until he was 53 years of age, then plopped down $18,000 cash for this piece of property.  Dad never made more than $18,000 a year in his life.  Mom was a substitute school teacher making $30 a day when I was in highschool in the eighties.  Frugality bought them a beautiful piece of land that has given and given to our family over the decades.
(I hope I don't make anyone uncomfortable talking prices.  I tell it all for the sake of perspective.  You can buy houses and even land for less than the price of a car.  Also, it's good for the kids to see what hard work and fiscal conservation can do over time.)  :)

My Daddy was a pastor.  This place was our retreat.  No phones, no running water, no indoor bathroom, even.  Just wood heat.  The farm sits inside the rim of an extinct volcano; you can see the outline of the rim by aerial view.  It's a hardscrabble, beautiful place.  We came once a week, Fridays after school.  We mowed, we gardened, we remade the cabin.  We fenced the pasture and gravelled the driveway one bucket at a time.  We seined the pond and restocked it, built the dock and built a deck on the house too.   It was mostly just my Daddy and I doing the work, as my oldest siblings left for college very soon after.  I loved the farm, I hated the farm.  There was always so much work.  I named it NeverRest, and the name still stands.

I've grown up with this land.  I've watched it change and shift over 31 years; and it has shifted.  I notice new species of trees, different mushrooms and bugs, gullies and ravines worn through the hills by spring rains.

  It is an amazing thing to parent the same land over time, to be able to say, "I remember when Dad and I planted these pear trees.  I remember when we grafted in new branches, splicing in the buds and wrapping them with tape."  Now, my children harvest fruit from these trees and I spend late summer days canning pears for us to enjoy this winter.
God is so good to me to let me live this long and share such things with my children.  When I was eleven and twelve and working so hard to clear the land and help my Dad remodel an old cabin, I never knew that one day I'd have nine children who would come back to work with me, to swing on the same old tree that I enjoyed as a kid.  I'm grateful now for the hard work that I was made to do.  It made me very, very tough - and I sure need that with nine children.  I'm no quitter.  :)
I like that they are getting the opportunity to learn to work, too, to do the things they don't necessarily want to do but should.  They are gaining ties to the land, learning to caregive both the people that live there and the land itself. 

Shepherding land is hard work.  Mowing, pruning, mending,

Splicing, sharpening, harvesting, gathering, cutting wood for winter.  The work is never done.   Three seasons wear us thin, pull us into four different places that need maintained.  My parents' places have strong familial value.  We do the best that we can.  By September, we are looking ahead with longing towards the first snowfall, when we can sit with our backs to the fire and enjoy cocoa from the kettle of warm water that is always on the cookstove.  The kids pilfer cookies from Grandma's cookie jar, drive her a little nuts with the chaos, and play legos in the loft bedrooms (you get there by pulling down and unfolding a ladder.)

My parents love this place.  It hurts my heart so much to see them grow older and able to do less around their places, but as long as they can make it down to the country, to their farm, they are content.  Last year when they both had joint replacement surgeries (and my father's hip was broken,) they couldn't come for several months.  They came as soon as they possibly could - and it did them such good.  My Dad will be 87 next month.  I'm not sure what we will do when the day comes that he can't drive himself to his farm any longer.  I think I will have to take him, for sure.

Catfish, bluegill, and bass.  Yum.  :)
We don't fish nearly enough to suit the boys, but hopefully we'll find more time this fall and again in the spring.  I recently saw that Jeff had picked up a pink fishing pole from a garage sale for our little girl.  He must have plans.

My dad has always been a steward, a conservationist, even before it was cool. He devotes specific plots to wildlife, he works to eradicate invasive plant species that threaten the national forest, he loves this land the Lord has let him caretake for a time. He's taught me well in this regard. I love it too.  Although the days are very long and tiring and the work exhausting; I am thankful that our children have the opportunity to experience the land, the work, and the relationships regularly.

*These pictures were taken in the spring by my daughter Emily

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The year that was: Provision

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Jeff came home.  We settled him into a recliner in the living room.  It was more comfortable for his hip joint than a bed.   He was incredibly weak at first, walking with a walker, tiring easily.  Over time, he gained appetite and strength again, and with a regular regimen of antibiotics through his PICC line, he began to improve.

We began to get cards in the mail.  One of the very first letters we received was from a dear friend of ours who had been widowed.  She wrote words that we needed to hear, words that we would cling to in days to come:  Jesus told me to tell you this:  He loves you.  He cares for you."  That card was the first, but the message was repeated many times over.

"God loves you.  God told us to send this to you.  God cares for you."  What amazing and beautiful words to us through difficult times.  We read the cards to the children.  We let them look through them, let them see how God was taking care of them - in spite of their parents' fears and skepticism.  At times we truly stood and in the midst of pain and fevers and doctors' visits - beheld the goodness of the Lord.  He did not remove the pain nor the tough times - but He let us know that He was with us.  That was the most important thing.

We had been worried about finances.  God began to provide for those, too.  He must have been nudging some hearts, because people that we didn't even know began to show up, sending gifts in cards, helping us through a horrible time.  God's people came through, and it was just enough.  There was not excess, we did not head to Disneyworld, we did not waste it, we still had huge medical bills, we still lived simply and carefully - but there was enough to get by day to day.

Our larger city homeschooling groups brought food:  Canned goods, noodles, paper towels, shampoo.  Our small, local community of homeschooling friends gave so generously to us.  They brought us meals for a month, I think.  Online friends - some of you (!) gave to help us through. My brother's church in Georgia undertook to pay a large portion of the surgeon's bill.

Our home was paid for.  (Remember?  We bought this place for $16,000?  I was so discouraged at the time at this old house - yet another old home that needed remodeling - but can you imagine how thankful we were that we owned our home free and clear and would not lose it through illness and inability to work?)  Our vehicles were paid for.   Jeff did not receive a paycheck for three months, and there was no short term disability available. The Lord provided enough to cover our insurance payments, which Jeff's workplace did not cover while he was unemployed.

I get soggy-eyed as I stroll back through time, remembering.

God carried us.  He carried us through his people.  It is so easy to get discouraged about the state of the church, but we have experienced the very best of God's network of believers.  There was such love, and unity, and coordination - without any human coordinator.  It was God at work.

Our mission commitments were paid by a friend.  That meant that the missionaries who rely on us for support did not have to do without while we were down and out.  Anonymous donors paid for our children to go on stateside mission trips.

We were never left alone - not even for one minute.  That does not mean it was not hard.  That does not mean that we did not stare at death and disease, nor that I did not worry myself silly-sick, because I did.  There was still a very long road ahead.

But our God?

He delivered us.  He walked with us, and carried us.  Sometimes we get to really see that, to feel it.  Other times, He carries us, and we don't realize it until much, much later, when we can breathe again.

This is just part of our story, of course.  Many Believers have different stories, with different endings.  Not everything turns out well in this life.  Everyone of us will eventually face difficult times, times which will either strengthen us or threaten to destroy us.   For a time, I was not certain of what our outcome would be - strength, or destruction.  Every story, though, has the same theme woven throughout - as Christians we can find hope again in the God who carries us, in the God who turns what was meant for evil to good, and in the only God who longs to bring  healing and restoration to our human situations.

Coming up:  a second infection and hospitalization

Friday, August 19, 2011

{this moment} 8.18.2011

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you would like to post a {this moment} of your own, please feel free to do so!  Just leave a link to your post in the comment section of Soulemama's blog.

For more red trunk garden pictures, visit my daughter's blog, A Free Captive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ten Months

Gabe is 10 months.
Well, actually, make that ten and a half,
but my camera was off visiting
up north in Michigan with big brothers, so...
mama is running behind.

Our children are late-bloomers when it comes to walking. 
I don't think I've ever had a child learn to walk before 13 months;
some have taken as long as 18 months.  Gabe looks
to be trending to be a later walker, but he is still
exploding with capabilities.
He's trying a few words,
pulling up to stand,
and obviously,
he's taken up driving.

He's very serious about the driving.

It's a skill, dude.

He has the funniest expressions.
He's very interactive - he'll do something then wait for your reaction.
He likes to blow raspberries on my neck then wait for me to laugh.
One of my favorite things that he does takes place when I
put him down for a nap.  If he's really not tired (and I've misunderstood his cues...)
he'll let me know - loudly.  He knows he's got rights. 
But if he's truly tired, he'll snuggle right down, wait for me
to pat his little bum (he'll wiggle it until I do...)
then he makes contented baby noises and settles in for a good sleep.
So cute.  So fun.  Moving way too fast.

Friday, August 12, 2011

God Wins. Simple eschatology from an ordinary housewife.

I had a recent epiphany that warmed me as understanding spread - "how to live peacefully in the midst of crazy times?" 

How not to go over the edge with panic over a million things?  How not to grow hardened and cynical, how to avoid becoming a part of the angry, raging crowd that seems to grow larger by the day?

My husband has said it to me before over the years, but I did not fully realize it until now.

In the end, it comes down to grasping one simple thing. 

God wins.

At times like these, when it seems that everyone is tense with worry and fear; when famine, tornadoes, earthquakes, faltering economies and nuclear meltdowns have dominated the calendar - it is essential to see the big picture, to keep this perspective in mind:

God wins.

We look ahead, through the struggles, the questions, the tears...and as we blink to see, we understand that God wins.

The book of Revelation was written so that we would not put our trust in Government, nor in gold, nor in a peaceful society, nor in the stock market.  It was not written so that we would count the days and be tied in knots over time tables and dramatic imagery guaranteed to strike fear into our hearts.  It was written to give us peace, to give us hopeful perserverance that one day - God wins.

Fear does a horrible thing in the human life.  It debilitates, it freezes, it makes us angry and hateful.  Fear steals - it steals our joy and our hope and our peace.   Fear drives us to focus on ourselves rather than on the things of God and His working in the world today.  It even steals our desire to do anything today that would make tomorrow better.  What's the point, anyway?

If we live by the stock market or the economic forecast, our peace will quickly turn to panic and our inability to physically prepare for what may or may not come.

If we look to government for our peace, we become angry and exasperated, not just with our leaders but with each other.

Sunny skies and good weather and good crops can not bring us peace - the weather is a petulant two year old prone to tantrums.

Starving children, rain that does not fall, spouses that are not faithful, earth that shakes, gas prices, food indexes, health care systems, disease....death....

One day, these things will be made right.

This is how we endure, how we hope, how we have peace in our hearts through troubled times.

God Wins.  Good wins.  Evil falls, is trampled, overcome.  We hurt, we mourn through this night, but joy is promised in the morning of the Resurrection, when God will restore what the worm has eaten and the locust has destroyed.

When fearful, know this.  God triumphs!  He makes all things new!  He restores, he redeems, he heals our wounds and our diseases.  Not always now, but sometimes now, and if not now, someday, certainly.  He is only good, and fully good.  He is only just, He is only loving. 

When broken-hearted over what you have seen or lived through, lift up your head .  Redemption is near!

When paralyzed because all seems hopeless, get up and do the next thing.  You can live with joy and purpose, you can take heart and have great hope - even in terribly difficult situations - because there is a God, and in the final analysis of future things (eschatology,) He wins. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Waltz at Dusk

By Holly It’s not quite dark when we dance -
The shades are drawn but dusk still tarries, waiting a few moments more to wrap us tightly in her tendrils.
I press the button, and sweet music eases into the room. I hold out my hand, an invitation to dance. My partner places his hand in mine ~ smiles with anticipation ~ and presses his cheek to mine. He believes he is my first, and only – dance partner. He believes he has my attention for as long as he wishes.
He’s only 14 months – and the hand in mine is tiny, but trusting. He never fails to link us palm to palm, with great certainty. His graphite eyes look directly into mine, with delight and joy at this time we share.
He knows the routine well, as we’ve been dancing partners for quite some time now. The lights go off, and we waltz to tender lullabies. I inhale him – his milky warm breath – and enjoy his long blonde curls as we move cheek to cheek. He begins to croon his baby songs to me, smiling shyly when I pull back to see his face.
The cord is cut, but we are still bonded. I will forever carry this little one and these dances of ours in my memories. For now, he fits so nicely on my arm – but soon enough I won’t be able to hold him like this. He will move out of my arms, off my lap, to my side…and soon enough he will have his own love to dance with.
For now, he can’t last too long before his dangerously long eyelashes grow too heavy to hold open. He slides down into the crook of my arm, plops his thumb in his mouth, and snuggles close. He doesn’t even see the sibling faces peeking around the door frame, wishing they were the ones who were dancing with him.
He’s a cherub, one of my great loves ~ and a glorious dance partner.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Toys gone wild...

I always suspected what the dinosaurs were doing after dark....

but I had no idea about the Toucan.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Something good is coming...

My little Sam has a birthday coming up.


He's taken to worrying that he might not have presents.  He can't relax and trust that there is something good going on behind the scenes.

I've never missed a single one of his birthdays; he's never lacked a cake nor gifts, for that matter.  Even in the toughest of times, there would be something.    Last year, it was a cheeky little monkey, hand-sewn and redone several times to his specifications.  The eyes are glass and look like real and the tail was crocheted into a curl, just for him - just to let him know how special he is and how unique and how beloved.  And yet - he can't seem to find peace that we are working for his good, that we have his best in mind, that we won't let him down.

He almost seems to feel the need to do it himself - as if he is responsible to provide it all, as if how it all turns out rests upon his scrawny thirty-five pound frame.

I analyze this and realize this anxiety is genetic.  He gets this from me, not from his father.  His father snores lightly at night while I wake to wrestle with the "what if" and the "how should we" and the "we can'ts."

Sam will be fine.  This will work out and he will be reassured when the day comes.  He will remember that he is loved, that he is never forgotten.  He can relax - the ones who gave him life won't fail him. It is not up to him to make the future celebration happen.

I think there's not much difference between a seven year old and me, and the rest of us who are called children of God.  Sometimes slowly, day upon day, sometimes quickly, in great leaps and bounds, God's faithfulness is proven and we learn...



There is something good coming.

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him."   I Corinthians 2:9 NLT

Monday, August 1, 2011

Home-education: Science and History projects in the Summer

We do many of our messy school projects in the summer. It's practical, and it keeps me from stressing out about science projects or hands-on history during the traditional school year. Here, Josiah and Ben are making bricks in Hebrew slave fasion: just make mud, add some straw, and mix it around with your toes. We dried the mud into bricks in the sun for several days, then took them out of the boxes and flipped them over to dry on the other side. They turned out great. I assured the kids that with just, oh, say, 500 more bricks they could build their very own brick playhouse. Think of just how busy that would keep them! :)

Study and project ideas from  "Old Testament Days"

I used this book back when my biggest kids were little themselves. It's fun to cycle back thru our favorite books and projects, as long as it doesn't come back around too soon. 

This history project was messy, but clean up was fun. I hosed them off, then let them jump into their wading pool. In true multi-tasking fashion, I brought out a bottle of shampoo, and evening baths were also accomplished.

It's summer school, and the kids don't even know it.  :)  Definitely a "win-win" situation for everyone involved.
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