Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes!

Mystical  Nativity  Sandro Botticelli
If you like this post, you may also enjoy further Christmas meditation in Scripture and art, in the 2010 Twelve Days of Christmas series from my Poems and Paintings: Day by Day blog.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It was the worst of times,...NO, it was the best of times...

I'm taking a break from the rush and rumble of getting ready to pack up and leave with a family of the size of ours.  There are ten of us leaving tomorrow, allegedly right after church.  Our actual departure time remains to be seen.

At times like this, I'm not usually very pleasant to be around.  Generally, in the days preceding the RUSH, I get kind of overwhelmed feeling and start to fizzle out.  I do next to nothing, because it's all a little bit too much for me; my brain freezes up.

Then at the last minute, I start to rush around, frantically throwing things together and hollering and screaming at my kids.  Not a pretty sight.  Then my husband gets frustrated, thinking the kids are deserving of the verbal abuse they are enduring, and he gets into the action.  Ooh, not a good scene.

Then I, who know deep down that the emotional mess is of my own creation, try to sooth things over and get us on the road.

And we always eventually get going somehow.

But really, truly, getting ready for a trip is for me one of the worst of times.

And why, I ask, when I can predict so precisely how things are going to play out, can I not do something to change this sorry state of affairs?  My prayer this time is that even when things get frantic, I refrain from the yelling and screaming.  I want to have a happy Christmas.

So far, so good.

Today, I got up and got moving in a timely fashion.  I made a chore list for the kids to tackle during the day, so that when we do eventually leave, the house is in a not-quite-so-messy state.  My main job for today was to tackle the infamous Mt. Washmore.  Da-da-da-daaaa.  (That was scary, evil organ music, that notorious phrase from Beethoven's Fifth, in case you can't tell.)

I also had several odds and ends to take care of, PLUS, sort out and wrap all the Christmas gifts, AND (since I have five girls with winter birthdays, two of whom are on Dec 27th), I generally buy for birthdays and Christmas all at once for those girls, and end up sorting and wrapping for those occasions, too.

So, I was a little bit busy today, but in keeping with my goal (no maternal ugliness) I tried to stay upbeat and happy all day, and gave myself little minutes to rest my brain in between things.  Like the minutes it's taking me to write this, for example.

Jeremy called me this morning when he got home from work; that was a treat.  We exchanged our Christmas greetings and miscellaneous pleasantries; and I arranged for us to drop off his gifts on our way out tomorrow.

I even took time to do my pilates.

I listened to 80s music on my MP3 player while I washed and folded laundry.

And yet, the clock marched on.  My goal was to have our family Christmas doings at 3:00 or 4:00 pm, but I was still folding clothes at 6:00.  Sigh.  But no ugliness.  I decided I'd have to leave a small portion of Mr. Washmore standing.

I forged ahead and decided on the minimalist approach to wrapping gifts. I gathered all the assorted bags and packages of clearance and second hand purchases I've accumulated throughout the year.  I summoned my husband to "join me in my chambers."  (That may sound a bit risqué to the uninitiated, but the phrase is used by Mrs. Moody in the Little Britches books by Ralph Moody.  Read them if you haven't.  They are wonderful books for all ages.)

Where was I?  Oh, yes, in my chambers.  Joe had just joined me. As I pulled each item out of the packages, his assigned task was to add it to the appropriate pile, youngest to oldest, lined up along the floor of our room.  Generally, we've tried to limit ourselves to one modest new or special gift per child, and we fill in with fun things that I pick up here and there.  So when it's time to finally wrap the Christmas gifts, there is a bit of play, moving some things from one pile to another, until I am satisfied the arrangement will be appreciated by all.  After Joe and I did the first tentative arrangement, I excused him from the process and finished manipulating the bounty by myself.  It's kind of a one person job. 

When I had all the piles arranged to my liking, I put into motion my emergency minimalist gift wrapping procedure.  A plastic bag for each child...tied shut at the top...labeled with permanent marker.  I loaded all the bags into a big box, and then threw a blanket over it all.   This sleigh of sorts, Joe and I then pulled and carried into the living room, and set next to the tree.  It wasn't fancy, but I reminded myself that all the trappings of the season, including pretty papers and trims, is not what really matters.

By the time we had everything ready, it was nearing 7:00pm.  The kids still needed bathed; we had not eaten supper; and the packing for tomorrow was not yet started.  But... NO MATERNAL UGLINESS... right?  Take a deep breath, Mary, and just enjoy the moment.

We gathered everyone in the living room.  I had Matt light the candles on the Advent wreath, and all the others around the living room.  We turned off all the lights in the house except a table lamp near Joe.  He read to us the Christmas story from both Matthew and Luke.  Then we turned off the lamp, and each of us got to choose a Christmas hymn to sing. 

It was the best of times.

When we were done with our Christmas worship, we started the part the kids were all waiting for.  We opened our oh-so-lovely presents.  I sat down by the erstwhile sleigh and, starting with the oldest working to the youngest, one at a time, I gave each person their plastic shopping bag. Each got to open his or her own, before we moved onto the next.  Anticipation built as we worked our way down to the youngest ones.

After the gifts from Joe and I were opened, the kids handed out all the treasures they had prepared for each other these last few weeks.  Colored pictures, puzzle pages ripped from a favorite activity book, candies saved from their treat bags at church, lip balm, lotion, a favorite book, a hand-me-down clothing item...I love to see how creative the kids get in giving to each other with our limited resources.  Probably one of our favorites was one Stella gave to Sophie.  She had used the pretty unused gift tag from one of her gifts.  She filled in her and Sophie's names in the to and from spots, and because it had such a pretty ribbon on it, she gave it as a Christmas tree ornament for Sophie.  Priceless!

It was the very BEST of times.

My Sophie gave me a singing card and a windowed locket containing within it a different colored gem symbolizing each of the fruits of the Spirit.  Clara gave me the painted turtle sculpture that she made in art class last year.  Joe plans to get me the 2012 Writer's Market guide.  And my friend, Christine, who makes beautiful jewelry, and from whom I got some pretty things for my oldest girls, sent along a little treasure for me also: a beautiful, sparkly bracelet that I am wearing as I write this.  It is winking provocatively at me.  I keep wondering what it is up to, with such a merry glimmer in its eye.

Jesus' birth, our heavenly Father's gift of His only Son, is the greatest gift of all.  But my mother's heart joyfully drank in my family's Christmas celebration.  Now I am refreshed to tackle the rest of the things on my list.

Well, I wish I was anyway.  I am filled with a warm glow of the love of God and my family.  But truth be told, I'm really pretty tired and kind of ready for bed already.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Do you remember the game, Blockhead, from back in the '70s and '80s?  Players would take turns stacking colorful blocks of various shapes and sizes in such as way as to balance their blocks on the sometimes tottering stack, while at the same time making it difficult for the following players to find a spot to successfully position their own blocks.

Apparently it is still available, but not with the cool '70s look I remember.

Blockhead was fun as a game.

But when we're talking real life, and the constant state of one's countertops, tabletops, and any other horizontal surface in one's home, life can get a bit dicey.

I've learned to live in a state of heightened awareness of the potentialities such a situation affords.  I'm always cautious of how I set something down, lest it start an avalanche that will pull over the last several months' worth of debris, and cause the contents of an entire countertop to slither and slide, and tumble and rumble, quickly to the floor.  This morning I saw something that might have brought a more timid soul to her trembling knees.  I, however, am thoroughly acclimated to living within this constant state of, uh, expectancy.

One of the places in our home that seems to constantly build up clutter and then also consequently have that same clutter tumble and slide to the floor is the half-wall that divides our upstairs hallway from the stairs to the basement.  The stacks in this location can get a little more precarious than those in other locations, since the tumbling papers and toys and books and other miscellany pose an additional risk to any poor unfortunate who might be walking up the stairs at the moment an avalanche occurs.

And yet, still we stack.

Today, as I was walking from the kitchen to the living room, walking along that previously described half-wall, I noticed the all too familiar, precariously stacked oddments along the top edge of the wall.  But then, shudder, I saw a disaster of worse than usual potential, just waiting to happen.

Now picture with me.  The heap of junk that is sitting upon the top of the wall consists of several layers of books, papers, magazines, notebooks, puzzles, and games, among other sundry flotsom of life with ten kids.  Each layer gets a little wider, so that along the top of what is a mere seven inch horizontal surface, the pile that accumulates is perhaps a foot high, but might also be a foot wide or even more.  The edges hang over the hallway floor, but also teeter dangerously above the stairway.

This morning, as I passed this jumble,... there... sitting upon the top of everything... as nice as could be... only slightly askew,... sat one of Joe's pint jars that uses for drinking glasses.. serenely waiting there... with about three inches of coffee in the bottom.  There it sat, just looking for an opportunity to creep off at the slightest nudge.  Just waiting for one of the overhanging edges to get bumped or jostled.  Just waiting.

Heavens to mergatroyd!  I grabbed it quickly. 

A disaster dodged.  Am I ever glad I saw it when I did.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Shopping in Brrrrmidji

Yesterday we had two running around things to accomplish, in opposite directions. We had to go to Fosston to pick up the van, which had spent the night at Carco getting its pre-winter check-up done. And we had to deposit some money in the bank somewhere. After picking up the van, Joe took the little girls home, and I continued on in the car to do the banking. But first, I had to decide where to go. Fosston has no Wells Fargo, so my banking options were to drive 48 miles back north into Thief River Falls to deposit the money there, and then pick up a few things at Wal-Mart; or continue east on US 2 into Bemidji, about another 45 miles, but then be able to catch a variety of stores. It may seem a no-brainer to head into Bemidji with its relative multitude of shops, and it being a few miles closer to Fosston. But if I went into Bemidji, I’d have to drive about 75 miles home after shopping; whereas if I went into TRF, I would be only 25 miles from home at the end of the day.

What to do...what to do...

I don’t generally indulge in unplanned trips to the ”big city” (especially unattended by little ones). But it is Christmas season. And I felt the draw of Bemidji’s Goodwill. So I headed in that direction. It was a nice day for a drive anyway; cold, but crisply clear with a sparkling blue sky.

I wanted to get to the bank by 3:00, so my deposit would go in before the weekend, but I was cutting it kind of close. I pushed it as much as I dared. Since I got a written warning a few weeks ago, compliments of Officer Norland of the Minnesota State Patrol, I’ve been a bit more cautious of late. I pulled into the bank parking lot at 2:55, but there was a hold up in the bank (3:00 on a Friday...I should have known) and I stood in line for almost ten minutes.

When my turn finally arrived, I immediately asked if it was too late for a deposit to go in before the weekend. The teller said that yes, it was. But that I could put it in the ATM until 9:00pm, and it would be credited immediately. Whew. A little luck.

Or maybe not.

I may have mentioned a time or two that I’m a certified techno-phobe. We finally got debit cards just a few months ago; and I felt very cool and accomplished after I learned how to slide it through the little gizmo and sign my name. But the ATM, now that I’ve never done. Really. Never. Well, that’s not quite true. About three months ago, in Grand Forks, they had a promotion for the new envelope free deposit. If I tried out the machine, I’d get a dollar to deposit, just to try it out. The teller there gave me my complimentary dollar and then patiently took me out to the ATM in the entry, and walked me through the process. Oh, OK, easy, cheesy. No sweat. Nothing to fear.

So, there I was, three months later, in the drive through lane, about to do it all on my own. Take a few cleansing breaths, Mary, you can do it...

Oh, no! What’s my PIN number? Shoot, shoot, shoot. Didn’t I write it down somewhere? Ummm, of the kid's birthdays? my childhood pet? favorite hymn? Grrr. I drew a complete and utter blank. Well, there was nobody behind me, so I decided to dig through my purse and try to engage my brain. I remembered writing it down. Another thing I’m very poor with is remembering numbers, so yes, if you ever rob me, you’ll probably find a few PINs or passwords. But you’ll have to figure out which goes to what. They are not labeled. I'm so sure...I'm not THAT dumb!

I took a few minutes to dig through the month's worth of receipts and the miscellaneous detritus of a mother’s purse. I guess it needed cleaned out anyway. Oops, a car pulled in behind me....I pulled into a parking spot until I could figure it out.

Well, it’s too late to make a long story short. I ended up going inside again, and waiting in line again, and ashamedly confessing to the teller what a misfit I am, since I don’t even know how to use the ATM. She kindly and patiently helped me to set a new password,...and suddenly...excellent timing...I remembered the old one. Hmmm. So I simply re-entered the old one, so my new one is my old one. I remembered it long enough to complete the transaction once I was back out in the drive through.  It remains to be seen how long it will stay in my brain without being dislodged by some factoid of more pressing import.

Nice start to my afternoon of shopping.

By then it was 3:30, and I had wasted half an hour. But besides that... drat... I ought to have remembered, the middle school buses come in a swarm at that time of day past the west exit of the parking lot. After waiting for what felt like 40 buses to pass, I was finally once again on my way. But it did leave me wondering...If I only come to Bemidji about four or five times a year, and if it seems like I always get caught waiting for the buses at that particular parking lot exit at that particular time of day, does it imply that I’m always rushing to get to the bank before 3:00, and always arriving late?

At any rate, off to Goodwill and Twice But Nice. I’m not telling what I got there, but let’s just say it was probably too much...

(No books, though, Char, or small appliances; you’d have been proud of me. They did have a Braun immersion blender I picked up, and hemmed and hawed over. It’s nice to have an extra one around if a previously purchased second-hand one goes on the fritz. But I put it back, since I was Christmas shopping; strangely none of my kids has an immersion blender on their wish list.)

After cleaning out the second hand stores, I scurried across the street to Ben Franklin, simply because I love looking at fabric and yarn. But I didn’t buy any. Really. I was a good girl. There was lots of very cool yarn that I would have loved to buy. There was even one of those free promotional patterns for a very pretty plush afghan. But it took 11 skeins of yard, and the yarn around which the pattern was designed was $6.00 a skein. A $66 afghan? Really? Do regular people really have that much money to spend on yarn? I was stunned. I seriously can’t even imagine. I’m so penny pinching that it almost kills me to buy the multi colored yarns that switch from one color to another throughout the skein, because they are smaller skeins for the same price as the larger solid-colored skeins.

After doing that quick and very deflating calculation, I returned to the car empty handed, and moved on to Target and Wal-mart. I didn’t get much at Target, but I like that dollar section at the front of the store. I can always find some sort of doodads with which to fill the “box of tricks” I keep in my basement.

OK, now here’s a confession, it's embarrassing.  But this made me really mad, so I have to tell you about it. After that whole frustrating altercation with the teller machine earlier, wasting half an hour of my limited time in town, my debit card wasn’t even accepted at Wal-Mart. I didn’t spend that much!!! I know the money was in there! Why would they tell me that if I used the stupid ATM, the money would be immediately available, if it isn’t going to be?!? I’m going to have to call the TRF bank this morning and figure it out. It was very frustrating. I wrote a check, so it was not really a big deal. But still...Embarrassing!

By the time I wended my way through the milling crowds of holiday, Friday-evening Target and Wal-Mart shoppers it was, predictably, much later than I had wanted to stay in town. I still needed to put gas on the car and get a cup of coffee for the drive home. (Did any of you notice the strange preposition in that last sentence? Now tell me, who puts gas on a car? It would just run off, wouldn’t it? You put the gas in the car. Except if you live in Minnesota, you put gas on the car. Don’t ask me. I can’t explain it. I’ve lived in Minnesota for a total of eighteen years now, and it still sounds strange enough to me that I have to interject this little explanation into my post, so that any non-Minnesotans reading this don’t think it’s a typo.)

Now where was I? Oh, yes, gas and coffee. I pulled into the Murphy USA adjacent to Wal-Mart, and filled up. I got back in the car while I let it fill, which I’ve learned the hard way is a bit risky when the temps are low. When I first moved to Northern Minnesota, I once let about 8 gallons of gas overflow onto the pavement, because it was too cold to trigger the turn-the-pump-off thing. Strange but true. That little sign that warns you not to leave the pump unattended while filling, it’s for a purpose, and now I know. I still get in the car if it’s cold, but I keep my eyes on the pump. And when the number of gallons going in approaches the number I expect the car to need, I keep a close eye on the nozzle.

Last night my luck held and no gas was spilled. But when I went in to pay for the gas, I remembered that this particular gas station doesn’t have hot coffee. I make this mistake at least once a winter. I should know better. I ought to have filled up at that place several miles out of town. But once I hit the road, I don’t like to stop.

So I still needed coffee. I gave into all the pent-up frustrations of the day, and indulged in a Caribou Coffee. It was really handy, and I felt like I needed a little treat.

Finally, 7:00, and I was just heading home. I had hoped to be home in time for a late supper. I didn’t leave any instructions for Joe, so I felt a little negligent. And for some reason both our cell phones were missing when I left home earlier; so I had no way to call and check on how everyone was doing on the home front. (Not going to mentioned any names, but after the kids got home from the basketball game last night, I asked about the phones. A certain one of them happened to have them both. You know who you are...)

The drive home went quickly. It started out with John Denver’s Thank God I'm a Country Boy, which you may find hoaky, but it’s one of my favorite songs. Between the happy song and the warm fancy coffee, I was feeling a bit revved up. Glad to be heading home, happy with my purchases, always ready for a little road trip. That lasted about half way home until I heard a song that made me cry. Hey, it’s OK. It's been all of about two weeks since I’ve had a good car cry. I was due.

It was Clay Walker's The Chain of Love. Again, perhaps hoaky. Maybe I'm waxing maudlin in my old age.  I saw on Wikipedia that when it was originally released, one reviewer called it sickly sweet.

But I loved this song. Really loved it.

Really, really love it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Walking in a Winter Way of Life

I was going to be really creative and think up all new lyrics to Walking in a Winter Wonderland, in order to tell about my morning walk.  But I'm more comfortable with prose than poetry.  You'll just have to forego the pleasure of my verse.

When we got the kids up this morning, it was a whopping 3 above zero.  Oooh, a little cold.  But by the time I left for my walk at 8:00, it was down to zero. I bundled up in my sweatshirt and parka, wrapped my extra long and wide scarf around my head three times, and took off for Lana's.

I pulled up into Lana's drive; as is typical, I was a few minutes late.  She had already been around the barnyard a couple of times.  See, when you get all bundled up, you can't wait for your partners inside or you overheat.  And you can't really come outside and just stand around waiting either.  So Lana sometimes gets in a few more rounds than the rest of us.

Today when I arrived, she was finishing up a round.  She approached my car as I got out and pulled myself together.  She bemoaned the fact that her glasses were fogging up because of her warm breath filtering up through her neck gator and landing on the cold glass.  She set her glasses on the back window of my car.

I contemplated doing the same.   But I'm really, really blind without my glasses.  Really.  Blind.  I'm not at all comfortable without them.  I thought if I could adjust my scarf correctly, I could make it work.

And so we started out.

As Lana and I were finishing our first round together, we could see through the trees that Connie's car had pulled into the drive.  Unlike myself, Connie's not typically late, but she's been battling a head cold.  We were both surprised, pleasantly so, that she was up to walking on such a cold morning.  Jan was with her, so we had our complete foursome.

We tried to keep a brisk pace this morning, to keep the warm blood pumping into our extremities.  We all adjusted various times to find the optimal warmth for our particular apparel items and metabolism.  I pulled my fingers up into the palm part of my gloves and balled my fists to warm my thumbs, which had gotten cold on the drive over.  Lana and Jan traded hand coverings, because Lana's hands were too hot in her mittens and Jan's were getting cold in her gloves.  Connie had enough layers on, that she was getting a bit too warm.  I kept fidgeting with my scarf to get it just right.

But I soon realized that the whole "adjust the scarf to keep the glasses clear" thing was not going to happen.  So I settled for scooting them down to the end of my nose to see over the top.  Which worked fine until my shoe came undone.  I must have been kind of wriggling my foot or trying to look down past the foggy glasses or something, because Lana asked what was wrong.  I said, "I think my shoe is undone, but I can't see far enough to tell for sure."  She looked down and sure enough, my shoelace was dangling. 

That lead to a big discussion and a few chuckles about all of our glasses being so useless.  We spent the rest of that round cooking up silly rescue ideas. If somebody stumbled into the woods, another of us would be sure to come and get her; and somebody would give a holler if one or another of us was about to get tangled in a piece of farm equipment.

When we got back to the driveway, I veered off to the cars to tie my shoe and deposit my glasses. Yes, I had surrendered to the frosty air and decided to walk blindly.  But then, really, looking over the top of my glasses is no less blind than just taking them off.  But still, when one is a blind as I, glasses become a security thing.  If they are at the end of my nose, I know they are there if I need them.  I could always breathe on them and clear them off if need be.  But I bravely set them on the back window with Lana's glasses and forged on. 

I heard Brad calling to the ladies as they passed his shop, "It's nice and warm in here if you want to come in and warm up."  After having slowed down for a little bit, and thereby cooling off a little, the warmth was tempting.  By this time, we had all developed a hoary layer of frost on our scarves and headgear.  But instead of giving into the desire to warm up, I jogged past the shop to catch up with the others.  When I caught up with them, I kept up my jog.  I told about how books about dogsledding, or those set in the old days of horse and sleigh, often describe having to get down periodically to jog alongside, to keep warm.  The mushers and drivers would stomp their feet and pound their chests to get the blood to their extremities.

Well, the girls decided they wanted to give that a try.  After a few steps of it, somebody said, "Hey, this really works.  Let's try to make it to those bales up there."  And so we jogged past the cowyard and laughed as the cows watched us pass. 

I do realize that zero is hardly extreme in the big scheme of things.  But taking a walk in such invigorating weather gives a person a little lift, simply because of the spirit of adventure and accomplishment it imbues.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Goal of a Godly Home and the Frustration of Never Attaining It

“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 16:3

A friend posted this passage to her facebook today and I thought it fit well with the direction of this particular post I've been working on seemingly forever (really, the post editor shows I started it on October 7.  My, my, am I ever pokey!).  This passage admits that this life will have its struggles, but clearly tells us where to find the comfort we need when things get hard.

As a stay at home (formerly homeschooling) mother of a large family, arguably the most basic part of my identity goes against the grain of mainstream society.  I am first and foremost a mother.  And I have lots of kids.

In that sense, I am a rebel.  That in and of itself is not a problem for me, since I've struggled with a wayward and difficult personality all my life.  My dad used to say that I intentionally chose the most different, or unusual, or even argumentative stance on anything.  Just to be difficult.  And some might say this big family thing is another example of my penchant for troublemaking. 

But I don't think so.  Yes, in this day and age, a large family is somewhat unusual.  OK, very unusual.  And it does take a certain amount of chutzpa to go against the societal grain.  But in the larger historical sense, within the Christian tradition, children have always been considered a blessing from God; they were desired and prayed for; and a large family was considered a bonus.  And historically speaking, letting God decide one's family size was assumed.  It was, simply put, the right thing to do. 

Joe and I didn't set out to "have a big family," although being the second oldest of eight children, I certainly grew up knowing the value of a large family.  But we do believe that God knows better than we, how many children we ought to have, and how far apart we ought to have them.  It's so much less stressful that way.

I've read that there is a trend toward larger families, especially among conservative Christians.  And I've seen a bit of that myself.  During our homeschooling days, among other homeschool families, it was not at all unusual to know others who also had a larger than average number of kids.

But within that trend, there is a bit of a problem.  Most people today are not from large families.   So if they follow the path of fully embracing God's blessings and His plan for their family, and if God chooses to bless such a couple with a large family, they may not know quite how to go about the logistics of it all.  Most young people who are starting a family today did not grow up with any example of parenting a large number of kids, or of managing a large household. Periodically, I find myself in the role of "elder matron" to a younger mother, providing her with mentoring and advise on how to make things work.  And quite frankly, I don't always feel up to that task.  Just ask my kids.  I'm not really a picture-perfect kind of mother.  And I'm a horrible housekeeper.

In this role of elder matron, I often talk to women who seem weighed down with a sense of failure.  And I have often felt this same way myself.  We mothers so want to do everything right for our children.  We want to give them the very best opportunity to become responsible, moral, and God-pleasing adults.  We want to provide a healthful and peaceful home life.  We have admirable and God-pleasing goals.  So why doesn't it work?  Why can't we get it together?

One reason I've seen, in both my own life and the lives of other women, can be brought on by these same very noble and God-pleasing goals.  It is easy to lend such goals or ideals a sense of near-idolatry.  We so ardently want a certain kind of Godly home, that the type, or ideal, takes on an import that is out of proportion with the very same God-pleasing lifestyle we are trying so hard to achieve.  And when that goes awry, as it often does in this sin ridden world, we can easily become frustrated or even depressed.

One of the biggest challenges in my adult life as a wife and mother has been letting go of the man-made standards I had imposed upon myself.  I have sometimes struggled to be joyful, or even just content, with who I am as a woman of God. And one of the biggest hurdles to contentment and joy that I've seen, both in my own life, and in the lives of other women I speak to, is coming to peace with the things I am realistically able to accomplish, and the standards I am able to hold up for my children and family.

What do I mean by man-made standards, or ideals?  One of the ways we make decisions for our families is by listening to and emulating those parents or families we respect and admire.  A husband and wife each has a different example of parenting from his or her own upbringing, but also brings into a marriage any ideas he or she has picked up along the way. 

We also see how our friends are making their homes and raising their families; we read about a variety of philosophies and practices in magazines, on blogs and internet groups, through parenting groups or homeschooling groups, etc.  We hear radio interviews and attend presentations.  With today's global communication and transportation, we can find examples of various lifestyles and parenting methods just about anywhere. 

And so we must glean.  First and foremost, we must examine everything through the lens of God's Word.  But we also use our common sense, instinct, and unique personalities to come up with a personal style of parenting and homemaking that works for us.

But remember, everyone is different.  I can't say this often enough.  Everyone is different, every couple is different, and every family is different.

Each couple's children inherit the genetic make up of their parents.  We pass on to our children parts of our personalities, some of which are great and wonderful, but others which are not so much so.  Some of what they inherit from us will be a constant struggle to them, just as it is to us.

But not only that, they also see and emulate both the good and bad behavior of their parents.  This all adds up to a particular flavor of family dynamic that is unique to each couple's home.

When I started out parenting, I really wanted to do the Laura Ingalls thing.  Back to basics, and old fashioned rules.  I inherited from my upbringing a, "Hard work is good," ethic, and also a good share of the somber German attitude, "If it's fun or pleasurable, it's bad."

I was raised in a very regimented family.  We had clearly defined rules and punishments and formulas for everything.  And I always imagined that I'd follow in my parent's footsteps in those ways, too.  Follow the formula, and everything's all right. Right?


God has laid out my life for me.  He showed me through many struggles and failures and feelings of beating the proverbial head against the wall, that,  "What worked for your mom and dad does not work for you and Joe."

Firstly, I am not my mom.  In fact, I myself am adopted, and so I don't even have the genetic personality or gifts that my mother has.  Secondly, I married a man very different than my dad, and so another flavor was brought into our home.  Along with that, yet another mix of genetic code was passed on to our children.  Joe's and my personalities, Joe's cultural background, and our kids' new and unique dispositions didn't seem to go well with the "formulas" I had been holding as the ideal.  Hard as I tried, I couldn't make it work.

It was a very painful process to have to let go of those ideals.  God definitely put me through the crucible, until I let go of the false god I had built up in such ideals.  And yes, I mean false god.  The ideal had become the god.  Living up to the standard was more important to me than simply loving my children and making a home.  If I didn't do it "well enough" or "the right way" then I felt as though I had failed, and I was not a happy Mama.

But when I found that those rules or standards I wanted to use in my home, which I had totally expected would work in my home, weren't working with the particular family with which God had blessed me, with what did I replace such standards?  How does one leave off what one has held to as an almost Biblical ideal, and find something of equal value with which to replace it?  How does that work in practice?

What has worked for me is to keep in mind a set of long term parenting goals.  Joe and I set these goals many years ago.  It was part of an exercise for short, medium, and long term homeschooling goals which I did back when my youngest were just reaching school age.  I very highly recommend every young family write down a set of such goals.  In busy life, the short term goals will change frequently, and may not get written down.  But having something on paper, especially for the long term goals, to which one can return time and again, is a very useful thing. 

My long term goals are very basic.  And when taken in the light of such long term goals, many of the daily rules and strictures and formulas loose their ability to overwhelm or imprison.

For instance, consider some of the things I strive for and struggle with: I want to have order in my home.  I want to teach my kids to be orderly.  I want to punish when needed in a reasonable, timely, and consistent fashion.  I want to have a happy, joyful home.  I want to read to my kids nightly.  I want to have wholesome and nutritive meals, and clean, well-organized clothing.

These are all things I desire for my home and family.  But none of those things are part of my long term goals.

My long term goals go more like this.
  • I want to raise God-fearing children who are able to confess their sins and turn to their Savior for forgiveness and for the mantle of His Righteousness.
  • I want my adult children to be able to be responsible citizens according to their abilities, who have the skills to provide for themselves and whatever number of dependants God gives them.
  • I want my adult children to be well enough versed to be able to communicate the hope that lies within them.
That's about it.  Simple, huh?

Would I like the kind of "ideal" family with all generations working together, which I used to hear about within the homeschooling community?  Yes.  I like to think so.  But is that kind of family the only God-fearing model?  Nope.

Would I like to be more organized with my household tasks?  Yes, absolutely.  But is it necessary to my long term goals.  Nope.

Would I like to not have to periodically rummage through the dirty laundry in order to find those "not so dirty" things in which to clothe my children for an outing?  Yep.  But not a necessity.

Would I like my children to be able to work together to do dishes without bickering?  Oh, boy, would I ever!  But more than that, I want them to know where to bring the sin of their bickering and harsh words, and how to forgive each other as Christ forgives us.

Why am I rambling on about this?  Because this is exactly the type of thing that can wear a mother down.  We easily see the very many things we are not accomplishing.  We readily feel the weight of the enormous responsibility we face day by day and minute by minute.

We, many of us, have very high expectations and standards with which we'd like to run our families.  But things don't always run the way we'd like to see them run.  We aren't always able to incorporate the various formulas we are lead to believe will work well.

But if we have long term goals to which we can refer when things seem to be going poorly, we can cast our heart to those goals.  We can refocus on what's really important, and let everything else sort itself out in time.

We are all still wonderful women who have many things to offer the world, both in our parenting, and also in every other interaction we undertake daily.  We may always struggle to want to do things a certain way, by a certain set of lifestyle, parenting, or homemaking standards.  And that's OK.

Other times we may decide to strip down our life to the simplicity of those long term goals.  We can remember those goals at their most basic, and see how our particular personality can accomplish such goals in a way that is more in tune with who God made us.  It's not a sin to be disorganized and flighty, for instance.  It's a challenge.  But not a sin.

And so with many of our daily struggles.  There will always be things we wish we could do better.  There might always be those standards or ideals we wish we had better maintained within our family.  We may feel as though our children will never learn to get along and work together.

But we must never become envious of women and families that seem so much better at it all than we feel.  And we must not covet a skill set or personality profile we or our children don't possess.

By living each day in our baptismal grace, and holding to the eternal truths and things of eternal import, we can learn to forgive ourselves of our failures, just as our heavenly Father has forgiven us.  We can find contentment, peace and yes, even joy, in the singular women God has made us, and the unique family with which God has blessed each of us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” 
declares the LORD, 
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Lord our God is Good! Happy Thanksgiving!

The Angelus  Jean Francois Millet
 As for God, His way is perfect;
      The word of the LORD
is proven;
is a shield to all who trust in Him.

“For who is God, except the LORD?
      And who
is a rock, except our God?
God is my strength and power,

      And He makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer,

      And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war,
      So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;

      Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me;
      So my feet did not slip...

The LORD lives!
be my Rock!
      Let God be exalted,
      The Rock of my salvation!...

Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles,
      And sing praises to Your name.
 II Samuel 22:31-37, 47, 50

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tears, Wolves, and Rodney Atkins

I almost hit a wolf on the way out of Thief River Falls the other evening.  I'm pretty sure it was a wolf, but I suppose it might have been a coyote. 

I was driving the Smiley Road; must have been just east of the river.  I was feeling a little bit blue, because I had passed Alison and Jona's new house, looking all happy and peaceful with its lights all aglow in the winter night.  Yes, to be quite frank, I was crying.  Sobbing, in fact.  It's so easy to know God is good and merciful and has a great eternal plan.  But knowing and feeling are two very different things.  And it just plain feels unfair that this young couple has to bear such great grief.

And so I was crying. 

I was trying to wiggle a tissue from my purse when I got to the part of the trip, where the woods comes right up to the road on both sides, and the compacted snow and ice are pretty much ever present.  I had to give up on my tissue pursuit until I got past the icy area.  Bleary eyes on ice is bad enough; I didn't think I ought to add distracted driving into the mix.

Once I was past the icy spot, I once again attempted to work the tissue out of my purse.  Just as I got it free, I sensed movement out of the corner of my right eye.  Out of the ditch, just ahead of the car, darted a gray figure.  Shot like a bullet, straight for the side of my car.  I flinched, but tried hard to stay the course and not veer out of its path.

At first I thought it was a deer.  I saw the gray figure for only a split second.  It was all so quick.  I looked back thinking it would run right into the back side of my car, at the passenger door area, or the back wheel.  But it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

I'm quite sure it was not a deer.  It ran low to the ground and darted rather than leapt.  Even in the brief moment I saw it, I sensed its skulking posture.  But it seemed bigger than a coyote ought to be, and fuller, and... well... just plain big.

The adrenaline of that pretty much chased my tears away for the next few miles.

Until I heard Rodney Atkins singing It's America.

It's a high school prom
It's a Springstein song
It's a ride in a Chevrolet
It's a man on the moon
And fireflies in June
Kids sellin' lemonade
It's cities and farms
And open arms
One nation under God
It's America.

Anybody have another Kleenex?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tribute to Jacob

Jona with his boys: Jacob, Joshua, and Noah
 I know of a sleep in Jesus' name,  
A rest from all toil and sorrow;
Earth folds in her arms my weary frame  
And shelters it till the morrow.
My soul is at home with God in heav'n;  
Her sorrows are past and over.

I've been wanting to post about our friend Jake's sudden death, but until now have not.  At first, it seemed as though I'd somehow cheapen his death, or the pain the closer friends and relatives are suffering to post about it on a blog.  I also don't want to seem to glorify my own pain, when others must be hurting exponentially more than I am.  But I generally post about the things that are on my mind and this certainly has been the dominant incident on my mind of late. 

Jacob Robert Bernier, son of Jona and Alsion Bernier,  died suddenly at nearly 18 years of age, from problems related to the multiple congenital heart defects with which he was born.  

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. 
Job 1:21

When we first moved here, almost ten years ago, Jake was seven, almost eight.  My Matt was also seven.  Trisha Bernier was almost nine when we moved here, and Jeremy was eight and a half.  Louisa and Noah Bernier were both five.  And Josh Bernier was three and a half, right between Clara, who was almost two,  and Elsie who was almost four.  

Their family homeschooled and so did we.  They lived only about five miles from us at that time; and although that sounds like a somewhat large distance, in this neighborhood, it is not.  They were near neighbors who lived just around the corner, and down the block a ways.  Of course, the "corner" was a mile and half up the road and "just down the block" was another 2 1/2 miles.  And so the Berniers ended up being some of our first friends in our new community.

When we arrived at our new home sight unseen, in early December of 2001, after driving for a day and a half through a horrible blizzard, many of the members of the churches Joe was to serve were here to meet and greet the new pastor, to feed us supper, and help unload the van.  They were strangers to us, but they welcomed us with open arms and open hearts.  Alison tore off a piece of a paper plate, wrote her phone number on it for me and said, "Call if you need anything.  Anything.  Really."

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor, giving preference to one another.
Romans 12:10

Alison and Trisha
And after a few days, I did call Alison.  I don't remember what I called about.  But I do remember how nice it was to have another young mom who had put herself at my disposal to help with whatever I needed at my new home.  That paper plate stayed hooked to my fridge with a magnet for several years.  Long after my fingers had memorized the order of the digits in her number, I liked to see that corner of paper plate.  It reminded me of the kindness Alison and her family showed to us when we were strangers in a strange land.

A few weeks later, we were invited to the Bernier's house for pizza.  Jona had won a big "pizza party" from PizzaHut and they kindly offered to share it with their new pastor and his family, as their Christmas gift to us.  The pizza was great; but the friendship, and the invitation for an evening with another family, was nicer than the pizza.

"Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?"  
C. S. Lewis

During the course of that evening, Alison and Jona told us about the things their Jake had been through.  I may get some of these details wrong.   He had been through many things already at that young age.  Jake was born with only two functioning chambers in his heart.  He had a little tiny bit of a third chamber that was undeveloped, and no fourth chamber at all.  Jake had some transposed vessels, and faulty valves.

Jake had two heart surgeries when he was young, during one of which he suffered a stroke.  At the time Alison was telling us about this, the doctors had done all they could.  Jake was monitored regularly and was on a mix of medicines that was keeping him alive.  I believe Alison described it as being the vascular pressure which was mostly responsible for circulating his blood; his weak heart was only adding a small amount of help.

But Jake was surviving, and even thriving as a young boy.  He was not able to participate in everything in which his siblings participated.  And everyone knew that his life was precarious.  God might decide to take him home at any time.  But Jake was always active and stayed plenty busy.  He was a great reader and kept his mom busy as she schooled him at home.

Jake and Matt hit it off right away, having many of the same interests.  Throughout the years, they built forts and made campfires; they hunted and fished; rode snowmobiles and four wheelers; and just plain bummed around.  After the Berniers moved closer to Thief River Falls, we didn't see them as often, but the boys still managed to get together.  Joe or I would often drop Matt off at their house on our way into town; sometimes we'd pick him up again on our way home, but often we'd arrange a ride the next afternoon with one of our neighbors who work in Thief River.  Matt would take his school work along, and the boys would have a sleep over with plenty of time to play and do school.

Once Matt started attending public school, the boys saw each other even less, but they still managed to spend time together now and then.  Sometimes Jake's family would spend Sunday afternoons at Alison's parent's house, and when they did, Matt was usually there for part of that time.  And when Matt didn't have after school activities, the two boys spend many Wednesday afternoons together.  One of Jake's chores once he got his driver's license was to drive his younger siblings to our church's Wednesday school, and then find something to do to pass the time until they were done.  He always came up to the parsonage to see if Matt was free.  If Matt was around, they'd take off to parts unknown.  Sometimes they went into Oklee to see Jake's Bernier grandparents, or his Uncle Cole at the body shop.  Sometimes they went to the Lundeen grandparent's place or the great grandparent's farm.  Sometimes they went to the river to fish, or just hike around and visit.

A friend loves at all times.  
Proverbs 17:17

Although Matt and Jake were good buddies, and although Alison and I became close friends, I feel as though I never knew Jake very well.  I was always a kind of scary mom, being not of a gushy type of friendliness.  I often think of myself as Aunt Marilla, Anne's adopted mother in Anne of Green Gables.  So especially until I began to teach Sunday School, I didn't get to know the other kids at church very well.  I think they were kind of scared of me.  I seemed a bit stern.  So Jake would come up to the house, ask for Matt and then hustle back down to church.  If Matt was home, he might hustle down to Matt's bedroom.  Perhaps it was partly due to his heart troubles, and not only because I was scary; or maybe it was just because of the constant commotion around here, with so many more people than most homes contain.  But somehow, Jake never really hung around our house much, so I didn't get to know him well.

Regardless of how well I knew Jake, my heart is breaking for all who grieve his departure.  For my son, who at only 17 was pall bearer for his best friend.  My heart is breaking for Alison and Jona; although they knew they might have Jake only a short time, and although God granted Jake almost 18 years, their human hearts cry out that it was not enough.  My heart is breaking for Josh and Noah and Trisha, because they will never see their dear brother again in this life.  My heart breaks for Jake's grandparents and great grandparents, and aunts and uncles, who not only grieve themselves, but also will worry about everyone else who is hurting.

I'm not much of a crier, but I have cried over this.  I've cried more in the last week than I have over anything else in my life.  I don't cry much around the house, but I cry in the car.  The car is my thinking spot and some things are just easier to not think about, I suppose.  But whenever I am alone, my sadness is hiding just around the corner, waiting to jump out at me in the quiet moments.  I have yet to drive anywhere and not ended up sobbing as I'm driving down the road.  (Watch out everyone, if you see me coming.)

But, alas, we know that this world and this life are temporal.  We know that Jake believed in Jesus as his Savior.  In spite of our great grief, we know that we will see him again.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  
I Thessalonians 4:13

In spite of having such a severely malformed heart at birth that the doctors didn't quite know what to do for this child, God allowed the doctors to keep Jake alive for 17+ years to give joy to his family and friends.  The Holy Spirit put His name on Jake through the washing of Holy Baptism; and kept him in faith through His Word and Holy Communion. 

But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “ Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine."  
Isaiah 43:1

Jake is in heaven with his Lord and our Lord, and his sufferings are over.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
      And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
      That in my flesh I shall see God,

 Whom I shall see for myself,
      And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!  
Job 19:25-27

It's easy to remember, in our brains, those promises of God.  Our hearts need constant reminders.  I pray that God grant peace and healing to all the broken hearts in our community.

The LORD is my shepherd;
         I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
         He leads me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I will fear no evil;
         For You
are with me;
         Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
         You anoint my head with oil;
         My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
         All the days of my life;
         And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chillin' on an Ice Road...Alex Debogorski on large families

I saw King of the Road, by Alex Debogorski at the library the other day.  The sub title is True Tales from a Legendary Ice Road Trucker.  The cover also shows a little logo thing from the History Channel that says, "As seen on Ice Road Truckers."  Had I noticed these things when I picked up the book, I might have realized that there is a History Channel show with such a name, and I could have researched it to find out ahead of time that this is a reality show that's been going on for five seasons now and features the author of this book.  But I didn't notice these things at all.  And since I'm notoriously lacking in pop cultural literacy, I didn't know about the show at all until talking with people about this cool book I was reading.

What I did notice was the cover picture of a fellow who has that "good old boy" look to him, standing next to a big rig.  I noticed the ice and snow.  And I thought of the lonely and fatalistic man-against-the-elements tales of the far north by Jack London, to which I am inexplicably drawn.

So I checked it out, brought it home, and started reading.

Well, I'm going to come right out and say that Alex Deborgorski is the polar opposite of Jack London. This book, which tells the story of Debogorski's childhood, coming of age years, and how he ended up being an ice road trucker, is a hoot.  Totally fun and off the cuff; filled from cover to cover with unbelievable yarns that Mr. Debogorski spins with the skill of the born story teller.

The book is a quick read, with plenty of breaking off points in between the anecdotes, that allow a busy mom to read a bit and then easily put it down until the next cup of coffee.

I want to share particularly the following couple of paragraphs that portray a view of family that one does not often find in today's world.  It was wonderful for me to read something like this and to know that this author is out there in the mainstream and even pop culture world, becoming a publicly recognized figure of sorts, and that he holds this rare view of children.

I know that children are a blessing from God.  I am comfortable that God gave Joe and I each of our kids, and that each one is special.  But I still sometimes feel as though I ought to feel guilty or stupid for having so many children.  Even among friends with whom I share many basic aspects of my world view, I find that most people kind of think, "Enough's enough, lady." 

So it was refreshing to me to read this.
For some reason, working class white families are having fewer and fewer kids.  What's that all about?

People will say, "We can't afford to have more than two kids."

So at what point in history could people afford to have a lot of kids?  Do you think the pioneers could afford large families?  Do you think the farmers with one little tractor and a couple of horses could afford to have a large family?  The fact is, people have never been able to afford large families.  The previous generations recognized a simple truth--kids are not a liability, they are an asset.  People have to turn their thinking upside down.

My aboriginal friend Richard Cadieux says we'd better watch out because the population of Indians is growing like crazy  and we white people are having small families.  And he's right.  The aboriginal people know that kids are a joy.  Money isn't important.  People are important.  And your family is your only true wealth in this world.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recommended Poetry Books for Children

Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected For Boys and Girls
by Helen Ferris Tibbets and Leonard Weisgard
This is my favorite poetry book.   It contains poems at a variety of levels, arranged by topics such as seasons, animals, going places, historical figures, etc.  The indexes are handy, because they not only list by author and title, but also by common titles or first lines.

The Golden Flute:  An Anthology of Poetry for Young Children
selected by Alice Hubbard and Adeline Babbitt
This is another collection that I enjoy very much.   We picked this up used somewhere along the way, and it's gotten much use throughout the years.  The audience is a bit younger in the one than in Favorite Poems Old and New.  The chapter categories are similar.  The indexes include a comprehensive list of possible subjects under which one might find a certain poem. It's too bad this nice volume is no longer in print.

Book of Famous Poems
Compiled by Marjorie Barrows
These poems are especially suited for introducing young children to many classic poets and poems.  It includes a familiar verse or two from many longer poetical works, the knowledge of which was at one time considered part of our cultural heritage.  There are little mostly black and white inset decorations here and there to lend interest.
At the bottom of the front cover, this book includes the note, "A Companion Book to One Hundred Best Poems for Boys and Girls."  I'd love to find that one somewhere, too. It appears it was briefly republished in 2004, but doesn't look as cool as the old one.

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children: A book of 572 Poems for Today's Child
complied by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Arnold Lobel
We have this book sitting around somewhere, but I haven't used it as much as some of the others.   I believe it includes a higher percentage of contemporary poems.  The kids like many of those for the silliness they lend. Lobel's illustrations make this nice for the kids to read on their own, or just fun for pre-readers to peruse.

Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection
Edited by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Paul Howard
We used this one for school one year, and then it got put away with the school books.  I really need to get it out again.

The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems
edited by Donald Hall
This one, too was put away with the school books, so I can't tell you much about it, just that we liked it. This one is not as large a volume as some of the previous ones, but I thought that since its focus was American poetry, it might be useful to build a sub-category in the cultural literacy framework in a reader's brain.

The Poetry for Young People series.  I love these books.  We used to get them from Scholastic; they usually came in a three- or six pack.  We'd give them away for gifts, or put them in our kids' Christmas stockings.  Most books in this series are available in paperback or hard cover each title highlighting an important poet or topic, and colorfully illustrated to keep the interest of the younger children.  Featured poets are Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Allan Poe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edward Lear, Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Langston Hughes, Lewis Carroll, Maya Angelou, Robert Browning, Robert Frost, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, William Blake, William Butler Yeats, William Carlos Williams, and William Shakespeare.  Featured themes are American Poetry, Animal Poems, and The Seasons.  Also available is A Treasury of Poetry for Young People, which includes the complete text and illustrations from the books on six American poets from the above list. I'd love to have this entire set.

I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak; introduction and notes by Iona Opie.
If you are accustomed to Sendeck and his quirky humor, you will enjoy the illustrations in this title.  The book is by a British publisher, so to some here in America, parts of it might seem somewhat coarse or inappropriate.  We got this book for Matt when he was quite young, maybe four or five.  One illustration that the kids found quite,... uh,... mezmerizing accompanied the rhyme, "I one my mother, I two my mother, etc."  Sendeck's illustration featured a mother nursing a toddler.  At each line of the rhyme the child gulped down more of the mother, beginning with one breast at the line for "one," and both breasts for the line with "two," etc., ending with the mother being completely consumed at the line, I eight my mother.  It's been years since I've looked at that one, but I believe there was also some portrayal of naked children, or children engaged in arguably shocking varieties of naughtiness. 

Books by Paul Fleischman; one of his specialties is poems for two or more voices to read together. The one I linked, Big Talk, is poems for four voices.

Anything by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky.  These men are/were geniuses with words and picture language.  The kids love going through their collections on their own, once they can read independently.

Picture book collections by Douglas Florian.  He has many fun and creative spins on language.

Family Poetry Night at the Abrahamsons

When the kids were younger, we tried to have family time every night.  What did we do for family time?   Mostly we read.  We always had a read-aloud going, sometimes we played games, and Friday was movie night.  Periodically I would ask the kids to memorize a poem suitable to their age and ability; we'd then plan a night of recitation.  If you are not a homeschool family, this probably sounds artificially quaint or anachronistic even.  I mean, really, who makes their kids recite poetry and calls it entertainment?

But please understand, Joe and I are both lovers of the written word.  We don't have television, and at that time tried to limit even a DVD on the computer to Friday movie nights.  We intentionally strove to instill in our kids an appreciation for the simple things of life. 

And we were homeschoolers.  So we could call such evenings "school."  Besides the enjoyment of "simple things" we were striving to instill, we were teaching with these poetry recitations.  The children honed their skills in elocution, memorization, and speaking in front of others; they broadened their exposure to famous poets and poems, built their vocabularies, and gained familiarity with rhythm and sound.  And we'd often get little history lessons in, too, if a particular poem had historical merit, such as Walt Whitman's Captain, my Captain, which he wrote after Lincoln's death.  Any time we spent on these things in our evenings was time we did not have to spend on it during our school days.

But alas!

Gradually the increasingly greater age span of our children made finding a books or activities that would interest all of them at once more difficult. The older kids were often busy with evening activities.  One or another child sometimes had school work or lessons remaining into the evenings. Or Mom and Dad were simply tired out.  Gradually our family time slipped to periodic, then rare.

Lately, after the additional changes to our lifestyle due to having our kids in public school, our evening family time has dwindled to almost non-existent.  We try to stand firm on evening devotion and prayer time, but even that is challenging some nights.  Some kids fall asleep before we're ready, other's are coming in at all different times.  Supper gets late, or chores take longer than expected.

This has been a very sad thing in my life.

This fall, I've tried, striven, demanded that we regroup and get back to this time together.  I'm trying, with only moderate success, to be more faithful about an early supper.  I'm trying, with mixed results, to get most of the supper prep dishes washed up while I'm preparing the meal.  I've asked Joe to try to be home from his office during the evening, to lend a helping hand, or simply to "be there". 

And I've worked to initiate a "no computer from 5:00-8:00 pm" rule.  This has probably been the hardest, since we have such bad habits.  The computer sits in the kitchen.  Somebody is always on it.  Whoever is sitting here might visit with whoever is preparing supper.  The younger kids are always running through, and they know that if Joe or I is not the one fixing supper, we can be found at the computer during that time.  So they come there to visit with us.

But there is also much just plain, mind numbing, spacing out to whatever is on it, to the avoidance of everything else in the home.  It's like we've forgotten how to live without staring at the stupid computer.  I think a big part of it is that Joe and I have become so overwhelmed with the responsibilities that come with raising this many kids, that we've resorted to escapist computer use to deal with the pressure.

Bad, bad, bad.

How to we get back to better habits?

For one, we're starting with read-aloud.  I am bound and determined to keep plugging along no matter how many or few kids are home.  No matter if supper dishes are done or not; dirty dishes will always wait until morning.  No matter if Joe and I have laryngitis, as we did this week--one of the older kids read for us; they are able.  No matter what!

We're reading Little Britches by Ralph Moody.  Read this book if you never have.  In fact, read Moody's whole series of autobiographical books.  He has been described as the male counterpart to Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

We've actually read this book several times for read-aloud, but not for perhaps four of five years.  Even though it is one we've read previously, I chose it because 1) since it's familiar to the older kids, if they miss some, it's OK;  2) its story draws in boys and girls alike; 3) its timeless themes of hard work, independence, and family, is of interest to a variety of ages;  and 4) it's a family favorite, so I'm hoping to play on my older kids' sentimental side-- if they are tempted to think, "Stupid family time,"  they might instead think, "Hey, I remember this part!"

So far so good.  Not perfect, but we're still hanging in there.  I started my mission to recapture family time about a month ago, and we've gotten through 11 chapters.  We are mostly all still eager to get to the living room once Joe or I call, "Family time!"  But we still don't get to it every night.  It's something to continue working toward.

Last night we did something different.  Matt was off at the hunting shack with the family with whom he hunts; Clara and Sophie were at a slumber party; and Joe and I still have this annoying laryngitis type bug.   I especially didn't want Clara and Sophie to miss Little Britches, since they are old enough to be fully engaged in it, and young enough to not really remember much from the earlier times we've read it.

So we needed something different.  Yes, it was Friday, so we could have had movie night, but sometimes it seems as though the kids see so much video type stuff these days anyway, that even movie night is no longer special.  That's another thing we have to try to change.

I decided to try an extemporaneous poetry night.  I called the little ones over, grabbed a couple of my poem books, and quickly assigned each of the four little ones a little something to learn.  Then I assigned Louisa, Elsie, and Joe each one younger child to help, and I helped Inge.  She really is too little to quickly learn much of a poem, but I helped her learn John 3:16.  Much more valuable that a poem in the long run, anyway.

Joe helped John learn the first verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's, Paul Revere's Ride.
Listen my children' and you shall hear 
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Stella memorized Apple Blossoms by Helen Wing
The apple blossoms grow so high
Upon the branches of our tree,
I can't reach up to smell them; so
They send their perfume down to me.
Louisa helped Donna memorize the first verse of Helen Hunt Jackson's, September.  At least, that is what she was supposed to help Donna learn.  Jackson's poem begins,
The Goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
But, yes, well, my Louisa apparently wanted to add a little,... uh,... pizzazz to our recitations.  Donna, for her part, learned well what Louisa taught.  But that stinker, Louisa...What's a mom to do with such a girl?

Apparently, Donna, being unfamiliar with the word orchard, kept saying, "apple turds."  (I'm not sure what this says about my family.  A four year old is more familiar with turds than orchards.  What can I say?)  So Louisa built off this little confusion to come up with an entirly new ending to the poem,
The Goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees with apple turds
Smell yucky and taste gross.
Hmm.  Poor little Donna, standing there in front of us, saying her little poem in all seriousness; and Joe and I staring aghast for those first few heartbeats of realization.  Then, of course, we all kind of chuckled, Joe and I reprimanded Louisa for being so cheeky, and I quickly taught Donna the correct words so she could do it again, the right way this time.  That Louisa!

We finished off our poetry night with us older people reading our selections.  Elsie read The Moon, by Robert Hereford; and Louisa read The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost.  I, with my croaking voice, read through the rest of Paul Revere's Ride.  Joe chose Longfellow's, Excelsior.

I'm sure they would never admit it, but I think even the older kids had fun, in a quiet (or cheeky) sort of way.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Italian, not Math, Mary!

I just took an on-line Italian quiz.  No, I wasn't merely wasting time.  Although I did have other things I wanted to be doing today. 

My Louisa is hoping to be a foreign exchange student in Italy next academic year.  She's learning Italian using Rosetta Stone.  But since Italian isn't one of Rosetta Stone's more commonly requested languages, it doesn't come with any supplemental materials, such as worksheets, tests and quizzes.  So I'm dinking around in the virtual world today, trying to find something she can use to reinforce what she's learning. 

I studied Italian for two semesters in college. But I don't really remember anything.  Or at least not much of anything.  I had also studied German for three years in highschool.  Highschool level language studies progress at a much slower pace than do college level courses.  I think a foreign language sticks with a person better when done at a slower pace.  

I traveled to Germany immediately after having studied Italian in college.  We stayed for three weeks with a family who spoke almost exclusively German.  When I first got there, I kept saying, "Si," rather than, "Ja," and, "Buon Giorno," rather than, "Guten Morgen."   But by the time we went to Italy at the end of our six weeks of traveling, I couldn't remember any Italian.  Almost nothing!  I think the German I learned in highschool resurfaced during my three week stay in Germany, and fully chased away any Italian I had managed to absorb during the previous college semesters.

Good thing many Germans travel to Italy for their holidays.  Most Italians we needed to speak with spoke German pretty well.  So between their second language skills and our own, we communicated more easily than in either Italian or English. 

So I'm not really much help to Louisa in her Italian language studies.

But I did have a pretty good classical type or college prep education, and I have always been a huge reader.  From that combination I have a little bit of ability to connect words that sound alike, or have similar roots, and can often make a reasonable guess at the meaning of isolated foreign words.  Especially in Italian or Spanish, since they have so many similarities to Latin, which is the root of so many of our English words. 

I can guess at German and Norwegian words or phrases for a different reason.  Since they are not romance languages, they don't get their foundations from Latin.  But they have similar roots to the English language (it's the whole Anglo-Saxon thing, I guess).  So they often just sound similar to our English words.  Guten Morgen, for example does not sound too much different than Good morning.

But I digress, sorry.  I'm a word geek, I find languages very fascinating.  When I was young I wanted to learn all the languages in the world.  We had a retired neighbor whose surname I can't spell correctly, so I'm not going to try.  He's just going to be, "The neighbor."  He had worked, I believe, for the national government (maybe state department) in some international capacity.  The neighbor had collected over his years of service a good number of languages.  Something like eight or nine.  I always held him is awe because of this talent.    

The neighbors were the kind of older couple who kept a little dish of candy just inside the door.  They liked for us kids to come over and visit.  We'd ring the doorbell and visit a few minutes and leave with our little piece of candy.  But behind the polite little visits with The neighbors, underneath the desire for that little piece of candy, was always the idea that this man was very cool.  He knew lots of languages.  Wow!

With that whole language thing in mind, just to see how I could do, I tried my hand at this Italian language quiz of common phrases at Quiz Tree a few minutes ago.  I did have a little help from Joe, who also does not speak Italian, but is a bigger language geek than I am.  He didn't help me with all of the questions, but for a few I couldn't decide between the two more likely answers, I'd ask his opinion. I think I got all the questions correct.  The little answer blinked green when I answered all of them. 

Just to be sure that I was interpreting the quiz blinks correctly, I just did a test and yes, it blinked red when I intentionally answered one wrong. As you can see from the screenshot I took of my quiz scores, I got the following results.

Think about that a minute.

Score: 640/700
Accuracy: 100%

Hmm.   Joe's response, "It's Italian, Mary, not math!"