Monday, November 28, 2011


I picked the last of the Christmas pole beans last week, right before the weather drop and frost claimed the vines. Didn't quite make it to "Christmas," but late November isn't too bad. Combined with a few straggling green onions, they made a nice pot of ham and beans. The beans seeds themselves are huge - as you can see, three of them take up most of my palm. More nutrition and protein "bang" for my small growing area "buck." They also require zero care. I find that attractive in a vegetable.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Woodpile

My mama was born in 1937.  She was a farm girl, born the unexpected twin and placed in a dresser drawer because poor Violet and Elcie didn't have a place to put her.

She was a farm girl, so her childhood memories include a tiny runt piglet she and her sister raised in a box behind the cookstove.  They kept Tiny inside and bottle fed him as long as their mama would let them, then Tiny moved out to the barnlot where he eventually became a massive hog.   In my imaginings, my mama could have written Charlotte's Web.  I never ask what happened to Tiny, because I'm afraid to.  My Grandpa was a practical man, and I suspect Tiny became bacon.

My mama (and dad too) are unique; anachronisms in this modern age.  They have in many ways chosen to stay in their time frame, they find comfort and connectivity and health there.  My brothers and sister and I know this; this is why we battle to keep them here, at their (non-working) farm for this time, for as long as we can.  We won't be able to do it forever, but for now it is a gift to them and also to our children.  Once this era is over, it does not return, and we and our children still have valuable lessons to learn from them.

Take, for instance, a conversation between my mother and I right before a fine Thanksgiving supper of leftover turkey sandwiches:

We were standing outside looking over her woodpile, which incidentally, stands right next to their outhouse.

(How many people in America can write these words about their parents?  At times I am embarrassed of this, times I don't want this difficult responsibility, but the older I get the more I understand that I am standing at the edge of what is a passing time.  That does not mean that I think the end is near, for I have children yet to raise; but the time and place my parents came from is barely still here.  I'm glad to offer my children a dramatic alternative to facebook; they get to see and be a part of another world, a different time.  The outhouse itself deserves a post; it has been an insider's joke, a family memory.  My father does nothing by the book - the outhouse is carpeted wall to wall.  Even at 87 years of age my father takes himself outside in the middle of the winter to use the "facilities."   He insists that the children use it too; they are modern little wimps, but much more compliant than their mother.)

So, mom and I circle the woodpile, discussing the merits of the different types of wood, deciding which row to carry from next.  Four of my children dance around us (the 9, 7,5 and 3 year olds,) ready to help Grandma carry wood.

Mama loves a well-stacked woodpile, one that won't topple over on you in the dead of winter when you're scrambling for a good log that will burn for hours.  My sister is the best stacker; I'm always too haphazard.  I just want to get the job done.  Mama jabs her finger at a particular log, pointing out that this is just the type she will need.  It's a hardwood, properly seasoned, and it will provide a nice, long, steady heat.

I grew up this way, but I'm still amazed at my mothers organic knowledge.  She just *knows* things systemically, from doing them for a lifetime.  She doesn't know Lady Gaga (wait, I take that back.  She does, and she's appalled....) but she knows things.

She knows about every plant and tree, about when the forsythia and dogwood will bloom, and how many weeks of cold weather will come after that.  She doesn't observe the weather, she feels it.  What to do with each type of flower bulb, how to save every seed.  She doesn't have to think about it, and I wonder, how many daughters are having discussions today with their mothers about the virtues of various logs in the woodpile and which type of wood to burn for differing uses (heating vs. cooking, for instance,) and how best to stack a woodpile on Thanksgiving day?  It's strange, I'll admit, but I'm glad to receive it and to offer it to my children while they scamper nearby.  There are many things I can not give them, ways that I fail them regularly, but my husband and I give them this for this time.  To gain insight and natural wisdom like this, in an era where natural knowledge has largely been forgotten?  Priceless and worth the extra work it takes to gain it, we think.

So we watch and learn another lesson, balancing the old and the passing with the young and the emerging.  Mama stands at the woodpile, handing each child a carefully chosen log to carry to me, where I will stack it underneath the overhang of the shed.  It's just a few steps from her kitchen door.  We make short work of a job that would take many trips for mama, and the kids laugh and run all the way, happy to be useful and to see their work stack up.  They will enjoy pressing their backs to the woodstove on their winter visits to Grandma and Grandpa's farm.

Thanksgiving Remembrances - 2011

We had a really great Thanksgiving day.  It was just my mom and dad, Jeff and I, and the six youngest kids.  We spent the day at the farm.  I don't think we saw another vehicle all day - it's just that quiet and isolated.  Our oldest three children drove themselves up to Minnesota to visit Jeff's side of the family for the week.  The boys had a college break.

My parent's place sits inside the rim of an ancient and extinct volcano.  We literally go over a river (Wabash) and thru the woods (Shawnee National Forest) and then drive the rim of an old volcano to reach Grandmother's house.  The irony does not escape us, and someone usually sings this song as we approach their place.

The day was cloudy and the air filled with mist, but rather than dreary it felt almost magical.  The kids alternated between running up and down (and sometimes rolling) down the pasture and racing in to fling their boots in the corner by Grandma's cookstove in order to warm their hands on the woodstove.

We carried wood to keep them warm until Christmas, and hung their string of old-fashioned (with the large, bright bulbs) Christmas lights, put up the tree and did the last of the yard work until spring.

Mom baked the turkey and made the rolls, and I brought the pumpkin pies (from our own pumpkins) and stuffing.  After dinner we picked the turkey clean together and set the bones to simmer into broth on the woodstove.    We never lived close before this, so it has taken awhile - but mom and I have finally found an easy peace in our relationship.  We respect each other; I think she likes me (which is different than loves me) and finally *might* trust me to raise her grandchildren properly.  Julia played aggravation with Grandpa.  He forgot his hearing aid, so the conversation died out after awhile.

When it was time for the baby to take his nap, I stood swaying with him in the cabin's "pink room."  (Mom always calls specific rooms by the color of their carpet and bedspread.) Gabe tucked his head on my shoulder, into my neck - just so - same as every time.  He cuddled in and draped his arms around my arms; he patted me as I sang to him while the misty grey from the window invaded the room.

I am struck by the thought that although this is so familiar, and I do this every day, he is already 13 months old and very soon I won't be able to stand and hold him and rock him this same exact way.

I look around me, and see the pictures of other little boys who once slept in this room.  On the headboard, there's an 8x10 of a little boy who became a daddy a few months ago - I held his beautiful baby in my arms.  Right beside that, is the picture of another baby boy.  He's a Marine now, just arrived home from Afghanistan yesterday, in fact.

Daddy and Mama's little cabin, old, in need of updating.  Nothing special, really, but packed overflowing with memories.  Dad and I gutted this room and redid it, back when I was 12 or so.  I know every layer. 

On the shelves, on the walls, everywhere, remembrances.  Here, thru my ugly cattail oil painting, I am still alive as a seventh grader.  I keep telling mom to throw it out, she grins and refuses.  Dad's great-granddad lives on thru the steamer trunk that sits at the foot of the bed.  My brothers and sisters grin out their grade-school selves from tiny metal frames, Dad's black-and white teenaged years sit casually on an end-table in a straining, decrepit photo album.  A perpetual calendar from 1983 graces the wall.  (Two types of calendars never get taken down at my parents' places:  Those too pretty to take down and those featuring Ronald Reagan.)

I first slept side by side with my husband here in this room.  Two college students, too poor for any other honeymoon, this was our fine hotel.  (Well, he was a college student.  I had graduated two weeks before.  We dined on fried catfish and frog legs the next day on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River.)

We brought our babies here.  All nine of our babies have been patted to sleep in the "pink room."  Our homes have changed, many times.  This room has not.   Some of those babies of mine are very near flying this nest.

I cried while holding Gabe close.  Nephews, nieces, sons and daughters - growing up, building their own lives, sometimes falling down, losing their way, then finding their way again, having their own babies and hopefully remembering the foundations that are always here for them.

And my parents, doing so well, but definitely growing older.  I wonder how long we will have them, and feel again the privilege of loving and caring for people - even when the days are long and the responsibilities hard and there seems to be more than can ever be accomplished.

And I turn it over to Jesus, crying into Him, because He's the only one who has seen it all, knows it all, understands it all.  He's seen every struggle, been a part of every joy.  He's known my parents from their childhoods; known me, Jeff, all of my siblings, all of these kids - from start to finish.  He knows our best selves and He knows our mess - and right there in the "pink room" I take a few minutes to turn us all over to Him.  Only He can take these lives, these years, and redeem them - turn them to good and life and glory.

God's love endures, it always stands, it always builds.  Love remembers, loves marks time, love sets a marker for memories. 

Tonight, once we were home and the kids were all asleep, I sent my father an email.  I asked him if we should think about planting some new shade trees in the yard - Maples or Tulips or Oaks.  I reminded him that this generation of children will grow up, and they wll need shade and limbs for their own children to climb and swing from.

Love always hopes,  love looks to the future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Yarn Along - November 23, 2011

I've decided that Gabe needs a new mama-made blanket. I'm loving the colors, even though I don't feel that the lighting is good in these photos. I chose a dark chocolate, light blue, soft grey and dark red yarn color/pattern, and am using a single crochet (but thru both chains.) I'm using Caron's Simply Soft, because,'s for a tiny boy and it's simply soft. I assume I won't finish this until January at least, but it has become my "carry along" project. It's a no-brainer, so I can listen or talk or ride in a car or wait for a doctor and still accomplish something with my hands.

These are the three books I'm reading this week: Boundaries, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'm only reviewing Boundaries, I like the gentle approach in the No Cry book (but haven't tried anything from it, haven't had too, was just curious....) and am about halfway thru the Potato Peel Pie book. It's okay so far. Maybe it gets better?

I wish to add a little note about last week's book - the Walter Isaacson's biography on Steve Jobs. It WAS a good book, but there's a lot of language in it. Maybe you are able to overlook that, but I thought I'd give you a heads up, particularly if you planned on having a kid read it. Also, in the end, I didn't think it fairly represented Steve's familial relationships nor his quiet philanthropy. I base that upon other books/sources that I read. It was more of a timeline than an intimate portrait. Still, I learned a lot that I can apply to my own life and will continue to think about - and for me, that is the mark of a good book.

Ginny at Small Things hosts this yarn-fest/book show-and-tell every Wednesday. Feel free to join in and link to her site if you wish.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I fell down on one little word....

Our new pastor is working to develop a composite of spiritual gifts within the congregation.

So, on Sunday, he handed out a short survey which we were to complete.  If we answered honestly and appropriately, we should have been able to ascertain exactly where we fit into the the Church.

Now, this isn't a new thing for us - Jeff has taught classes on helping people work to discover their spiritual gifts and how to apply their passions to serving one another within the local church.  We've taken so many of these over the years, that we could almost do them blindfolded.  We know where we stand, we've worked to correct our weaknesses and strengthen our strongest points.  (For the record, I'm destined to do bulletin boards for the rest of my life.  Public speaking, in any way, shape or form - is out.) 

I cruised down thru the checklist, most of them were easily answered - for me, at least.

One question under the heading of "Compassion" stumped me, though.  It went something like this (but not exactly, because I'm not looking at the questionnaire:)

"I enjoy gently helping and guiding others as they move from woundedness to a place of health and healing."

I wanted to put a 10 on a scale of 1-10, because really, I do.  I am thankful whenever God can use me to help someone through a rough place.  Often, that is exactly what He asks me to do.  He's equipped me for it through trials and tough times of my own.  He's made me emotionally strong and has given me a tender heart.  (It's all Him - like everything is - so I feel okay with saying this.  Everything good in me is from Him.  I'm responsible, alone, for the failures.  And there are plenty.)

But I could only give myself a 6 on compassion.

And it's all due to one little word.


I've seen woundedness, and anger, and pain.

And healing from any of those things?

It's anything *but* gentle.

Whether you are the one in need of healing (emotional, physical, spiritual, psychological...) or the one walking alongside....

Healing - and the full process - is brutal.

Healing means you've got to stir up pain.  It means you've got to scrape off the dead stuff.  It means you've got to try to walk on limbs that have been cut open and cleaned out.  Sometimes healing means jump-starting a heart that thought it had stopped beating, stopped feeling - long ago.  Sometimes healing means confrontation.  Sometimes, it means honesty.

It may not be gentle, but health is always worth it, and walking the path with a friend is much better than walking it alone.

Yarn along - 11/16/2011

I'm sneaking in here today with a post for Ginny's Yarn Along.  Every week, on Wednesdays, Ginny posts a picture of what she's reading, along with what she is knitting.  If you'd like to do the same, just follow the link and the directions.  (Crochet is acceptable too.)

I finally finished knitting Gabe's sweater.  I like how it turned out - sort of a blue/camel/brown camo look.  It's so soft, and it was easy to put together too.  Because I tend to drift in and out of projects, it took me quite a long time.  I usually reserve knitting and/or crochet for travel or doctor's appointments - times when I am out and will be sitting awhile.  I would knit while watching a movie - but I can't remember the last time I watched a movie.  (I'd like to....)

I made it in an 18 month size, and it seems to run a little bit big, so it seems I actually finished it just in time.  :)  He should be able to wear it for a year or so.  The buttons are little antique glass buttons from my button jar, kind of a "translucenty" blue.  (This is why I like blogging.  I get to make up my own words and pretend they are valid.) I can not post a pattern link, because this is from an old book that I've had around forever.  It's just a standard crew-neck pullover toddler sweater, though, with side buttons.  It's pretty easy to find a similar pattern online.

I have a secret for collecting buttons.  I go to the thrift store when they have bag sales - when the really ugly or worn garments are all that are left, and you can stuff as many as you can fit into a bag for $1.  I look at the buttons on the clothes   Some of the ugliest clothes have the neatest buttons, and you can score a large amount for a dollar!   Wooden, antique, vintage, glass buttons- they all need to go somewhere, and why not my house?  :)  I pay only pennies for beautiful buttons.

I'm reading the "hot-off-the-presses" biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  My son brought it home from the library, I snagged it and commandeered it, and it is a fascinating read.  I love biographies in general; biographies of quirky, driven, successful people in specific.  What makes (or in this case, made) them tick?  What made them successful?  What were their weaknesses?  What can I learn from them? 

I'm two-thirds of the way thru the book.  I've learned many things so far and I'm still thinking about them.  You might not think that a full-time mother could get great "take away" from a book by a tech genius - but indeed, I have.  (Steve Jobs had several negatives, too. His family has been clear about that.  We can learn from that as well, and I could make a list of those too, but here I am focusing on the positives.)  Here they are, my "positive take-aways," in bullet point.  See if there are any things you could incorporate into your life vision - whatever your job or role is in life:

  • Simplify.
  • Prioritize.
  • Don't apologize for that.
  • Know what you can do and do it well.
  • Revel in it.
  • Embrace it.
  • Grab it and run with it.
  • Don't worry if people don't understand it.
  • Don't be afraid of being different.
  • Different isn't threatening, it is good.
  • Allow for creative time.
  • Please.  Be outside of the box.
  • Don't let the turkeys keep you down.
  • Believe in what you are doing.
  • Relentlessly pursue your visions.

    What are you making and reading these days?  Feel free to join in over at Ginny's Small Things.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More Family Art

Here's a new family art project we've just about finished.

It features self-portraits of all of the kids.
Left to right, top to bottom, they are as follows:
Jake - 19, Nick - 17, Emily - 15,
Julia - 12 (at the time), Josiah - 9, Sam (complete with four-wheeler scar)
Ben - 5, Mari - 3, Gabe - 12 months. (Julia drew Gabe's.)

Sometimes projects take us a looooooong time to finish.
(And that would be a huge understatement. Ha Ha.)
But hey, when you're trying to collect self-portraits from busy college-students
right on down to toddlers, that can simply take a long time. I wasn't sure we'd ever complete it -
but we have, and with one more coating of mod podge it will be hang-worthy.

We started with a piece of foam display board from Walmart. If I were doing it again, I'd go
with a slab of matted board from Michael's or Joann's or Hobby Lobby.  The foam board wants to bend a bit when you apply the glue.  (I counteracted that by mod podging the back, too - but if you try this project do yourself a favor and go with matting.)
The foam board is approximately 2 ft x 3 ft.
(I'm eyeballing it.  No - I'm not going to go rummage around in the toolbox to find a tape-measure.  Just buy the size you want and need.)
When we began eons ago, I measured out how much room each portrait could take up.  I needed nine spaces.  I was really grateful to need nine - it made the math much easier for me.  What would I have done if I had ten kids?  :)  Your math will vary, depending upon the spaces you need.

I then cut white paper to the allowed specifications, and gave everyone a sheet and asked them to draw themselves.  Once they had handed me their originals, I made a copy.  (I've learned the hard way that someone will mess up and mourn their first drawing.  Better to copy from the beginning.)

After that, I outlined their picture with a skinny black Sharpie, and handed it back to them to color.
Some of the kids used oil pastels, others - crayons, some colored pencils, and a few used markers.  I didn't set the specifics, I wanted their pictures to reflect their individuality - even in chosen art mediums.

Once they were finished and collected - I mod-podged them onto the foam board.
I wanted to separate each picture in order to put a kind of "modern" twist on the composite, and that took me a little bit of thinking.  I looked for a black paper tape, but did not locate exactly what I wanted (for less than $8 for a small roll.)  I looked a little further, and decided to buy the .88 cent roll of decorative satin ribbon (black, 1/4") and mod podged that right in between the sections.  (Kinda looks like the Brady Bunch, now that I think about it.)  I lapped the ribbon over the back so that it wouldn't gap when dry in front, then finished it off with a couple of black satin loops for easy hanging.  A final layer of mod-podge over the entire "face" and I am ready to call it finished.  :)  It looks a little curved still in the photographs - but it's not really like that when you see it in real life.

I like it.  The kids like it.  They stand and look at it and giggle at themselves.  I think it would be fun to make a new one every few years, to see how their artistic styles change.

If you decide to make your own family portrait collage, be sure and let me know.  I'd love to see what you do with it and how it turns out!

Here's a link to our first Family Art project