Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hunting and gathering

I'm back from my lunch with friends via a small farming community two hours south of here. We had picked up our pounds of food and were eating lunch in a small restaurant down the road, when the waitress asked, "So where are you ladies heading today?"
"Home to Chicago," we reply.
"Oh, where had you been?"
"Dwight, for forty-five minutes or so,"
"Dwight?" she repeats. Another pause. "Why?" she adds, clearly baffled by the conversation. So we try to explain about bags of wheat and lunches with friends and four hours in the car minus children. She gave us a strained smile and walked away shaking her head. I guess women stopping through on their trip to bring home bags of wheat doesn't happen everyday.

We made it back and we are set for winter. (I feel vaguely like a homesteader when I say that.) I brought home 200 pounds of wheat berries, 50 pounds of rolled oats, 50 pounds of cane sugar, 8 pounds of dry milk, 6 pounds of cocoa powder, 10 pounds of sea salt, 5 pounds of baking powder, 1 pound of ground cinnamon, and 1 pound of dehydrated chopped onions. There was also some yeast and other bread baking ingredients thrown in as well.

And now I'm realizing that since I was out gathering the bulk order, there is not really time left in the day for the further gathering of weekly groceries. Three hundred plus pounds of food later and I still don't know what we're having for dinner. It is now time to go downstairs and do some hunting in the freezers, because I don't think everyone will be on board with my Plan A for dinner, which would be to skip it.

Meanwhile back at the ranch while I was doing my hunting and gathering routine, this was happening.

Much Mario Karting with friends.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Friday bullets, 12/9/16

It's that day of the week where I don't need to write coherent paragraphs.
  • Over Thanksgiving, when B. was home, he spent a lot of time using a new app he had downloaded to his phone. It allowed him to take our actual photos in our photo albums and digitize them. He got through two or three albums, and I cannot tell you how satisfied this makes me. To know these photos are backed up and can be replaced allows me to sleep just a little bit better at night. I'm hoping he can get through even more at Christmas. Plus, it allows me to share some older pictures with you. How about these? Ack! We were so young! (A. is the baby in this set.)

  • In our perpetual search for mindless television, J. and I are really enjoying The Librarians. We had seen the first movie years ago and liked it, but somehow missed that there were now two other movies and a television show. It is silly and over-the-top, but fun. Only one episode did I have to close my eyes for most of it because I found it too scary. Of course, I am also the person who had nightmares from watching Fantasy Island when I was younger.
  • There is nothing like being allowed to do real, grown-up work to inspire children. We are doing Project Feederwatch this year, and have had our feeders up for a while, so the birds had time to find them. I wasn't sure how successful this would be since, there was marginal interest in staring at the feeders. And then our count days arrived and I explained how we were to count, and that our results would be sent to the scientists who run the program. Oh my goodness, what I difference it made. There was avid bird watching and counting going on for those two days. We identified birds that we didn't know even came to our feeder. This was suddenly important and not just something to do because mom decided it was good for them. Proper motivation is everything.
  • I live with gerbils. At least that what it seems like... large, human gerbils. We are back into major craft-making by raiding the recycling bin. While this is wonderful, it also means that the floor of the kitchen is littered with scraps... everywhere.
  • I have a gift-wrapping station set-up in a room where people are generally not allowed to go. It also is a room that has little temperature control, so kind of like wrapping gifts in an unheated garage. Actually, I am wrapping gifts in an unheated garage, just the second floor of one. I also have my own personal stash of tape stored there. See the above comment for the necessity of this.
  • I am not getting sick and not developing a head cold. I'm just not.
  • My children are not running around feral, some still in their pajamas, because I am not getting sick.
  • G. and L. had a big day yesterday. At the spur of the moment, A. swung by to pick-up her littlest sisters and took them back to school. They had a grand time and even got to eat dinner #1 in the cafeteria with A., her friends, and also B. It's hard, sometimes, being the youngest of 12... so neglected, so left out, so overlooked. (Where's that sarcastic emoticon when I need it?) I'd like to see the person who could ignore or overlook either one of these girls. They would have to be in a coma.
  • The cats still ignore the Christmas tree. Phew.
  • Tomorrow is my big semi-annual trip down to Dwight, IL, two hours south, to pick-up the bulk order. It was particularly large this time around and my portion will be at least two hundred pounds of food. (That sounds pretty outrageous when I actually write it down, huh?) I look forward to this every time. you see, it's not just about going and picking up pounds and pounds of wheat and oats, it's about four hours in a car with friends and no children and a lunch in a restaurant thrown in to boot. 
And now I will take my not-getting-sick self and get dressed so that I can work on getting the not-feral children dressed. Or I will throw in a load of laundry first, so the not-feral children can have "clothes what they like" to get dressed in. Hey, it's December, what can I say?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Advent Hope

A while back I led a girls' Bible study and we spent two years working our way through the book of Isaiah. I fell in love with the book at that time, and if I had to choose just one book of the Bible to keep with me, it would be Isaiah. It's all there, God's power, human sin, destruction, desolation, judgment, hope, rebirth, renewal, love, and forgiveness. The whole story of the Gospel is in there. It's no wonder that so many of the passages we love to read at Advent come from the book of Isaiah.

One of the favorites at this time of year comes at the beginning of chapter 11. Wait. Stop. Don't go flipping to it yet, those of you who are inclined to do so. We have to work up to it. It loses its power if you don't read it in context. The book of Isaiah has four key themes (to my mind), the first is that God is in control. Total and absolute control of what is going on in the world. The second is that this all-powerful God hates pride. He hates the pride that says we humans can do anything ourselves. The pride that says we don't need God. The pride that says we are better and more powerful than God. The pride that leaves no room for God in our lives. The third is that God is going to bring us to a place where we realize that we do indeed need God. And finally, the fourth is that God loves us. God loves us so deeply and with such passion that He has a plan for a better world that He will bring about.

Before we get to chapter 11, in the first ten chapters, we have already encountered these four themes a few times. There are accusations that Israel is not doing what is right. The leaders are selfish and immoral. They do not care for the poor and the downtrodden. There is no good in the government that the people have allowed to rule them. As a result, God will allow catastrophe to happen. Foreign armies will come and invade and take away the people of Israel. (This is the prediction of the exile which is to come.) But always, after descriptions of desolation, there is the hope held out that God has a plan to fix this. The Messiah is promised. And with the Messiah comes the promise of a new world. A world of beauty and peace and love. In chapter ten, once again we read of the coming judgement and desolation. Because we have already read of these events in previous chapters, not only do we have in our minds what is currently being read, but we have the memories of the past accounts as well. The cumulative effect is powerful. At the end of chapter 10, we hear about people fleeing, huge trees cut down, and a land left lifeless.

I know that 2016 has been a fairly dreadful year for more people than just me. Frankly, it has been truly hard. Hard in so many ways. It has felt like loss upon loss upon loss. I'm sure there are very few of us who cannot think of a time when hope felt like a very distant thing. Perhaps this is where you are right now. It is a dry place, a hard place, a lonely place. All through this year, I have had an image in my head that won't let me go. If I could paint, I would put it on a canvas. I cannot paint with paints, but I can paint with words.

Imagine this painting. It has very little color, a lot of ash grays and dull browns. As you get closer, you realize that it is the remains of a large forest. Jagged stumps protrude and broken trunks litter the ground. There is no greenery; all leaves have been stripped and lie scattered and brown. In the distance a few small figures flee the devastation behind them. There is nothing left. The scene leaves little doubt that the destruction is absolute. There is nothing that can be saved. There is no life here, only reeking ash, dust, and smoke. And yet, your glance heads toward the bottom corner of the painting. What is that? You look closer... and closer. So small that you almost don't notice it, you see something small and green coming out of one of the dead and desiccated stumps. Stepping even closer you realize it is a green shoot. A scrap of life growing in this utterly dead place. Against such desolation, a fresh green leaf of such brilliance and beauty that it reminds you of the iridescence of a hummingbird.

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." Isaiah 11:1

What we don't see when we read just this verse is the total devastation that preceded it. Notice that it was the stump of Jesse, the father of David, to whom the promise of an eternal kingdom was given. Before chapter 11, it seemed even the promise of a better future had been destroyed. The promise seemed to be dead, wiped out, hopeless.

But God...

Not only does God promise hope rising out of the devastation, but it is a hope that will be good. It will bear fruit. The next nine verses of the chapter go on to detail what this is going to look like. There will be justice and peace and the whole natural world will be remade. The lion will lie down with the sheep and a little child shall lead them.

We don't live there yet. The book of Isaiah not only details what will happen in the immediate future for Israel, and promises a return to the land God gave them, but it also deals with events that have yet to happen. It is a book that is the past, the present, and the future all at once. The now and the not yet.

Advent is a time of waiting, of preparation. It is a time of hope when the world around us seems hopeless. But God does not leave us hopeless. Life may be hard, but He promises something better. Keep watching that small little shoot and remember that the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Life, the real version

You want to hear about my day? Well, first, admittedly, we got up a little later than we should. The month of December is little bit more relaxed around here because the craziness of the month does not lend itself to heavy academics. No one can think very clearly with the excitement, so why fight it? We've been catching up on our reading and doing bigger projects.

One of those bigger projects we worked on today... our paper mache birds. I'll write more about these when they're all done, but they are terribly parent-intensive. Thus, pretty much the sum total of my day's accomplishments are having helped eight children add wings and tails to their birds. After the first phase of this particular craft I realized that working one-on-one with each child was just going to be a more productive and saner way to go about it. It's also time consuming.

I finished up just in time to get in the car to go pick P. up from the stable. Well, first byway of the gas station because I was down to my last gallon. Literally. Then from the stable it was back home to drop off P. and pick-up the children who were going to pageant rehearsal at church. From there it was back home again, in time to teach two piano lessons. It's a good thing that dinner is the shove-it-in-the-oven sort of non-cooking, otherwise I'm pretty sure we would be ordering something.

So no real blog post today, though I had one all planned out. I also need to spend the evening working on an article for my paying job since no window of time opened in the afternoon as I had planned. And I'll throw a load of laundry in so people have clothes to wear tomorrow.

Here it is, people, the glamorous life of a mom. And it is also the answer to the perpetual question of, "I don't know how you do it?" I don't. Clearly I don't do whatever "it" is. I make birds and drive around town.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Disregulation is how you know.
It's all so much fun, when suddenly when,
The screaming starts once again.
The crazy kind that makes Mom want to blow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Whine and whine some more.
Catalogs try to sell,
More toys-- than I can tell.
The noisy kind that makes mom cry, "Please, no!"

There's lists of things people need and to-do lists to feed
Before the fun can begin.
There's bills to be paid and things to be made
Though the checkbook is looking thin.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
The craziness is part,
Of the love to me they bring,
These lovable ding-a-lings,
From whom I would never part.

Yes, it's been that kind of a day week month. We'll see what we can do to redeem what's left of the season.

Monday, December 05, 2016


There is a comment I hear every so often, but others hear it a lot. I think I must give off some sort of scary vibe, because rarely do I get the level of comments others get. Anyway, this particular comment is, 'You should put your child(ren) in school. It would be so much easier for you." This is usually said to a frazzled mom with either many children or special needs children or both. I know the person making the comment thinks they mean well; that they are concerned for the mother's health, but this is certainly not how it comes across.

So let's take a moment and look at what that "easier" might look like.

Mornings. Well, my experience is that schools expect parents to get their children to school on time. One of the cardinal sins of school is tardiness. Also in my experience, large families with children who have different needs are not going to be prize winners in punctuality. So, every single day, the mother must wage war on tardiness. The means making sure everyone is out of bed and functioning in time to leave for school. This means also taking into account children who do not rush well, who shut down with stress, who may be in their prime sleep years and are not fully conscious until noon. The well-organized mother will be sure everyone has their clothes picked out ahead of time, and will go to bed praying fervently every single night that the child who picked them happily will wear those same clothes happily the next morning. Assuming everyone got dressed and ate (no small feat, there), there is also the question of lunches. Who likes what? Who will eat what? Should the mother make the lunches and forgo the excitement of teaching life skills, such as making lunches? Is there even enough food in the house that can be packed to eat later? Oh, and then there are the papers. Papers that need to be signed and returned. Papers that give important information. Information that might require the parent to dig up last minute items that need to be sent to school. Then there is the driving or walking with or pushing out the door at the appropriate time. (Are you tired yet? I am.)

Midday. Ahhh... the children are all off at school. Now the mother can relax. Right. That's assuming all the children are at school and there aren't some little people at home. Oh, and that's also assuming that there isn't anything else school-related the mother has to deal with. Since we're assuming special needs children in our little scenario, we have to assume IEP's. This could be multiple IEP's. And IEP meetings. And questions about what to do when the child comes home and tells about their school day and it happens to be in direct violation of the IEP. Oh, and let's add in a child from trauma. If this is the case, you can pretty much be assured there will be frequent calls home because of some indiscretion or issue caused by this child. More meetings. Then, not all doctor's appointments can be taken care of outside of school hours. Not only do you have to drive the child to the appointment, but now you have to add picking-up an dropping off the child from school and managing their excused absences. Let's not forget any room mother duties, PTA activities, and other school-related volunteer work that happens during the day.

Afternoon. Pick-up from school, or wait for child to come home. Then begins the afternoon's fun. Even if you limit your child's activities outside of school, there is usually at least one or two things that need to be driven to. In the rotten after-school traffic with hungry children if you forgot to bring the snack. There's probably at least one doctor's or therapist's appointment thrown in there as well. Let's also add in at least one melt-down from the stress of holding everything in at school. Assuming there is time before it is time for dinner, it is probably a good idea to get started on the....

Homework. Homework times however many children are in school. I've never really had to deal with homework, but from the myriad of complaints I've heard about it over the years, it's not really a good thing. And certainly not good for parent-child relationships.

Bedtime. In order to get everyone up and out the door the next morning, it is vital to get everyone in bed at an appropriate time the night before. Clothes negotiated, lunches planned, papers found, etc. to cut-down on the chaos that not doing these things can cause the next morning.

Now, I know this is a worst-case scenario. Actually, maybe it's a middle-of-the-road scenario. I haven't even touched on things such as bullying, school-refusal, inappropriate assignments, etc. I also know that many families find that public school works well for them. This is just one of a infinite number of scenarios, knowingly painted with a bias.

Here's my point. sending a child to school is not necessarily easier on the parent than homeschooling. Both have their difficulties, both have their pluses. What works well for one family, may be a train wreck for another. It is the assumption that school will solve a parent's problems that I find tedious, because it is so often not the case. When a struggling parent hears someone say, "Why don't you just sent them to school? It would be so much easier for you." The struggling parent hears, "I am worried that you are a hot mess and wrecking your children. You better let someone else take over." It's not terribly helpful. Often what is at the root of the stress is something not really school-related.... a child with past-trauma or other health issues, either mental or physical; worries about money or relationships; feelings of inadequacy in life in general. Instead, ask this parent what would help? A night out? A chance to share their problems in a non-judgmental atmosphere? Someone to come over a do a load of laundry? Or just feeling as though they had a friend who understood them?

Why can't we all just learn that raising children isn't easy. It is joyful and hard and hilarious and frustrating and wonderful and scary, but it's not easy. No matter where they go to school.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Tree Trimming Party 2016

As is our tradition, every gathered and we ate a lot of snacks and decorated the house the tree for Christmas. M., B., and A. were all able to join us and also all brought friends. We were quite a crew. It was fun and all the ornaments are on the tree. I have only rearranged a couple so far.

Y. is interested by all the festivities, but also a little baffled by them. We are continuously being informed that, "we didn't do this in China." R. loves it. Every single glittery, sparkly, carol and snack filled moment. She was so tired from the excitement that J. had to get her ready for bed and then tucked her in, whereupon she immediately fell asleep. For a child whom I'm convinced doesn't actually sleep, but lays there with her eyes closed all night, this was quite an occurrence. And as far as the animals... Kenzie did pretty darn well and never had to have a rest in his crate. Midnight hovered around the edges waiting for unguarded plates, and Nefertiti just liked all the boxes that ornaments came out of. So far, neither cat has shown any interest in trying to climb the tree. (That loud knocking sound is me now pounding on the nearest wooden object.)

L. and Y., decorated as a Christmas tree.



P., in her traditional Christmas tree decorating pose. I probably have this same picture of her from many previous years. She eventually did get up and put an ornament or two on the tree.

Y., R., and H.

From the front hall

After a chili dinner, all the younger people watched a Christmas movie.

The older people began a raucous game of Dutch Blitz, which is still going on as I type.

Our tree

I cannot believe how fresh it is. Hardly any needles fell as we put the ornaments on.

And our 14 stockings, all made by my mother. Yes, R. and Y. have theirs already and they are up. I am just short one stocking holder.

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