Friday, February 29, 2008

Winning ISN'T Everything

I have been beaten. Defeated. Trodden. Mercilessly slain.


It wasn't bad enough that he got a "Yahtzee" on the first round. Or another one a couple of rounds later. No, he had to get the small straight, the large straight, the full house, and two four-in-a-rows, one of which he was forced to use as the three-in-a-row. He went on to get his whole top, gaining the extra 35 points (which, by this point, was just showing off, in my opinion).


And even when I used my usual Yahtzee math calculations and forgot to add the extra 100 points for his superfluous rolling of identical dice, he STILL walloped me by a good 50 points.


I am undone.


If you don't know how to play Yahtzee, give thanks. If your husband doesn't, give an extra thanks.


You have been spared the agony of gaming abuse.


Score Card

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


One of the very few reasons I had any respect for my mother when I was thirteen was because she would reach into the sink with her bare hands - bare hands - and pick up that lethal gunk and drop it into the garbage.  To top that, I saw her reach into the wet garbage bag and fish around in there looking for a lost teaspoon.  Bare hands - a kind of mad courage.

 ~Robert Fulghum

Mom and Benjamin in 2004


I was the one who had the mother everyone else wanted. I can't tell you how many times I heard a friend say, "I wish I had your mother." There were times that I wished they had her, too. Like when she would make me wear the same dress two church services in a row, or when she served pickled herring and sour cream, or when she laughed earlier and louder than anyone else, or when she insisted on giving multiple robust kisses to me when I was in the middle of a serious prima donna diatribe, or when she punished me for being later than my curfew by necking with my father on the front porch (believe me, after you and your date have seen your parents doing that, you will NEVER push a curfew again), or the three years in a row that she insisted on announcing our late arrival to church by sneezing loudly (her side of the family would never DREAM of a close-lipped "kersnitsch" when a hefty "AAAAA-CHOOOO!" is available) every time we entered the sanctuary, where she was allergic to the carpet.


But, sneezes and odd fish aside, I knew even then that I was pretty blessed ... exceptionally blessed. Mom never gave in to my compliment-fishing ("Pretty is as pretty does") or my self-pity ("You know, I went to college with a girl who wore the same dress EVERY MONDAY. And EVERY TUESDAY, she wore the same other dress. And EVERY WEDNESDAY...") or my self-righteousness ("If you dislike sitting next to her in class so badly, perhaps we should have her over to spend the night so that you can learn how to be gracious"). She has an uncanny knack for prioritizing and would never dream of letting fatigue get in the way of worship or a messy house in the way of hospitality. Her favorite question to ask in response to my dramatic expressions of conflict was, "Well, what does the Bible say?"


Still, I was a typical teen. The ultimate put-down to hear was, "You look just like your mother." But there came a day, after I had married and left her house, when I walked into her office to find her wearing the same outfit I was wearing.


And now I can't think of a better compliment. When people tell me that I am just like my mother, I know they're not talking about the fact that we're both wearing maroon and Birkenstocks. They mean that, for whatever reason, I have been REAL about something. I've seen past the drama and emotion to the core of the issue, and I've directed someone back to Scripture. I've seen the humor in something and been brave enough to laugh earlier and louder than anyone else. I've embraced a situation and thoroughly lived the sneeze. I've made sure my kids were hugged and kissed sloppily and often and haven't given a thought to whether they wore this outfit in front of this crowd last time.


I don't often get this compliment; but when I do, you better believe I relish it.


I think "mad courage" describes my mother well. She has done more than fish gross gunk (and gross fish) from the bottom of the sink. She has fished through the muck of five teenagers and made each of us feel like we were her favorite. She has weathered countless opinionated family dinners, each of us speaking loudly and forcefully with no consideration of whether anyone was listening. She has cuddled grandbabies while balancing a spoon in one hand and a pitcher in the other and making the parents feel like it's her privilege.


And she finally did give up on the pickled herring.


She's pretty perfect. Happy birthday, Mom.



Tuesday, February 26, 2008


We left the children (one of whom was sleeping) in the van on Sunday as we dashed into the house after church to pick up our contribution to Sunday Dinner at Grandma's.


Benjamin (6) came in a few minutes later:


"Abraham hit Edee in the head, and now she's unhitting the hay."



Monday, February 25, 2008


Kendra posted some "reality" pictures to encourage homeschooling moms that perfection is impossible in real life.


The problem is, her "imperfection" is closer to perfection than this house has ever seen! So I'm taking her up on her challenge to post pictures of real life at our house.


Here's breakfast (well, for two of them, anyway):



I am actually rather surprised at how little of the mess you can see in this. On the island ("peninsula"?) in the back is a vase that I removed the flowers from um... I think four days ago? and the Bosch blender that needs to be put away and the grocery bag that has the ribbons and facing for my next attempt at sewing, and that is a Valentine's curly ribbon under the chair next to Abraham...


But for some true standard-lowering:

Living Room


Feel better? I mean, look at this mess! Blankets, books, pillows, toys, changing pad, ribbons...I had a defense all planned out, but I mean, really. The point of this is that this is what my house really looks like.


And junk drawers? Those are for amateurs. We have a junk hallway. Just take a junk drawer, enlarge it by about 20,000 percent, and change the screws, cat clippers, post-it notes, and springs to coats, shoes, Sunday School papers (which I loathe), diaper bag (just waiting to be dis-assembled by some little fingers), and anything else that didn't quite make it to its final destination (including screws, cat clippers, post-it nots, and springs).


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Alternative Learning

Jabba the Hutt

As I was coming out of my groggy nap on the couch while the three youngest were napping in their beds, I heard 6-yr. old’s trying-to-sound-like-Jabba-the-Hutt voice, reading as quickly as he could before the subtitles changed:


“I will see Solo and the Wookie die for this outrage.”


Who says "Return of the Jedi" is not an educational video?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Puritan Math



"A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. That is his way of contentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal . . . But now let God give a man riches, no matter how great, yet if the Lord gives him up to the pride of his heart, he will never be contented: on the other hand, let God bring anyone into mean circumstances, and then let God but fashion and suit his heart to those circumstances and he will be content."


-Jeremiah Burroughs,

from Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1651), ch. 2


Monday, February 18, 2008

A Little Kitchen Culture (Ahem, Yogurt)


Have you ever made yogurt? We are huge fans here: homemade yogurt is cheaper than store-bought, it’s more versatile than store-bought, and you control the ingredients. And the process is so easy, once you know the secret.


And here’s the secret: the crucial part of yogurt-making is the incubating. After many failed attempts at making yogurt (and after many post-yogurt-oopsie-smoothies), I clued in to this secret and had a successful batch. And we’ve been enjoying it ever since! I’ll give you two methods of incubating, both of which have worked well for us (but the first method is SO SO EASY that if you have a crockpot, try it first).


We like to eat our yogurt with a little bit of preserves stirred in…it tastes like a blended fruit yogurt from the store.

Eating Yogurt


INGREDIENTS (this will make a little over four quarts of yogurt):

1 gallon whole milk (raw or from the store)

¾ c. plain yogurt (we like the whole milk variety…just make sure it says it contains “active, live cultures” for your first batch. After this, you can use your own yogurt to start the next batch!)

1 c. sugar (optional)

tad vanilla (optional)

½ c. powdered milk (optional; this helps make the yogurt creamier)

OR 4 t. gelatin (optional; this will make your yogurt the creamiest)


Sterilize 5 quart jars by running them through the dishwasher or pouring boiling water over them. (You don’t have to use jars…but make sure you sterilize whatever containers you are using.)



  1. Pour the milk into your crockpot (if you have a small crockpot, you will want to halve the recipe). Set the crockpot on “LOW” and leave it for 2-3 hours.

  2. Turn the crockpot “OFF” and let the milk sit in there until it cools to anywhere between 95-110 degrees. It takes about 2 hours.

  3. Put about 1 cup of this cooled milk into a bowl. Add the yogurt to the 1 c. of milk, and whisk well with a wire whisk. Dump this back into the large pot of milk. If you are using sugar, vanilla, powdered milk, and/or gelatin, add those now. Whisk well.

  4. Put the lid back on the crockpot (which is still off), cover it with a bath towel, and leave it for anywhere from 4 hours to overnight. When it is custardy, put the yogurt into the jars and refrigerate. DONE!



  1. If you are using RAW MILK: heat the milk to 180 degrees (this is pasteurizing, and store-bought milk is already pasteurized). Just dump it into a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally (unless you like the smell of burned milk in your house) until it reaches 180 degrees when checked with a candy thermometer. Cool the raw milk (you can just remove it from the heat or set it in a sinkful of ice water to cool quickly) to somewhere between 95-110 degrees. Note the time it takes to do this. Next time, you won’t have to baby-sit the milk to see how long it takes to cool.  If you are using STORE-BOUGHT MILK: heat the milk to 110 degrees.    

  2. Turn your oven on to its lowest setting, or "WARM."

  3. Remove about 1 cup of milk. Add the yogurt to the 1 c. of milk, and whisk well with a wire whisk. Dump this back into the large pot of milk. If you are using sugar, vanilla, powdered milk, and/or gelatin, add those now. Whisk well.

  4. Place your jars into a shallow roasting pan and ladle the yogurt mixture into the jars. Tuck a bath towel over and around the jars. Set your jars in the oven, and set your candy thermometer right on the rack.

  5. Turn the oven "OFF." Try to keep the oven at around 100 degrees (if you have moderate weather, you usually won’t have to adjust the oven after you turn it off). If it gets cooler, set it on “WARM” again until it reaches 100. If it gets too warm, open the oven door so it can cool down a little. Leave the yogurt for 4-6 hours. Once it gets custardy, put your jars in the refrigerator. DONE!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Be Mine...Wait...Never Mind.

I’m not even sure how it happened. Or what happened.

Two days ago, Lily (4) came to me with the Usborne I Can Draw book. “Can you draw me a ballerina princess?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered. I carefully followed the directions and ended up with something that remotely resembled their drawing. “Do you want me to get the crayons for you, so you can color it?” I asked her.

“Well, Mommy, can you color it?” She meticulously chose each crayon and dictated exactly where I was to color. When I finished, she grabbed the paper and said, “This is your valentine. But I’m not going to give it to you until the holiday. It’s a surprise.”

I forgot about my “surprise” until yesterday, when she came crying up to me. “All right, Mom. I’m NOT giving you a surprise for Valentine’s Day.”

Thinking she was probably acting in retaliation to what she perceived as some injustice I had put upon her, I said, “Well, that’s OK.”

“I WAS going to give it to you, but I hid it and now it fell behind your dresser and you’re never going to have a surprise for the holiday.”

I explained that I could help her retrieve it and went upstairs to look.

She waited until after I had shined the light behind the dresser, after I had cleared the top of the dresser, and after I had moved the dresser out of the way to say, “Not that dresser, the other one.”

Dresser back. Top rearranged. Flashlight moved.

The whole procedure was repeated on the OTHER dresser, revealing several dust bunnies and the long-missing cat brush, but no surprise valentine. Lily was now furious with me, sure that it was my fault the valentine was not behind the dresser. Exasperated, I shoved the dresser back harshly and my eye fell on a small, triangular shaped piece of paper that tumbled around the top of the dresser. It was taped securely with about ten pieces of Scotch tape. “Is THIS it?” I asked her.

“Oh, YES! Mommy! You found it!!! I think I’ll give it to the Muchler girls. Won’t that be nice?”

I don’t even know what to say. I guess I can’t think of a more selfless valentine I have never received. She couldn’t have put less of herself into that if she…well, didn’t try.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

High School Carnival Souvenirs









All Together



Monday, February 11, 2008

A Great Date

I love my family. I love my children, and I love doing things with them.


Having said that (and very convincingly, I might add), there is usually a point in every outing we take – and it usually has something to do with buckling car seats (don’t even get me started on how I KNOW that car seat laws have everything to do with making you buy a bigger car and very little to do with safety; and don’t even try arguing with me because I am very diplomatically stating here that I won’t listen) – when I say to myself, “THIS is something we should do without the kids.” And I try to log it into that memory file titled, “Things to Do on a Date.”


Only that file never wants to open on the rare occasions when I actually need it. And so standard date fare around here has been dinner, a stroll around Target (which makes it high-class), and a coffee from Starbucks if our local favorite (The Griffin) is closed. We usually spend a little time in a bookstore, gasping at prices and mocking the religion/philosophy section. And, believe it or not, I actually enjoy these excursions. (Why wouldn’t you believe me? Taking the trash to the dump without children can be a luxury!)


But I have always felt uncreative on our dates. The food is good, the company outstanding, the occasional silence restful, but the creative outlet? Gone.


And so when my saint of a sister offered to fulfill her Christmas present to us and baby-sit the children after a half-day of school on Friday, we eagerly accepted. YES! GREAT! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?




I shoved the auto-pilot mode of “dinner, Target, coffee and some books” aside and searched for something creative. “Bowling” and “mini-golf” came to mind but were instantly shoved aside by fatigue. But when I started thinking about the times that have been the most restful and most enjoyable for us, I realized that they usually did not involve stores and commerce but country and nature. So I started thinking down that avenue.


We ended up grabbing a bite for lunch and driving out into the country. We explored some roads that we had wanted to explore before (actually, one of them is where we went blackberry picking 5 years ago and were chased by dogs, but the good news is that we saw that that house has been totally torn down so I am guessing the dogs are gone, too?). We found a members-only campground and golf course about ten minutes from our house.


We continued driving, stopping at Gitie’s, a quaint antique/collectibles/yard sale/junk store on the way. We ended up at Colonial Beach off of the Potomac River. The weather was in the mid-50’s, the bright sunshine warm on our backs. We wandered down the pier, listening to the sounds of the gulls and cormorants (picture below), the gulls sounding like panicked women, the cormorants like belching beer-guzzlers. We daydreamed about living in some of the huge Victorian painted ladies or more modest beach cottages. We drove to one of the marinas, where Ethan explained the different equipment used to haul boats out of water.


The chocolate lattes we enjoyed perfectly complimented the outstanding peanut butter pie at Espresso Station in the middle of town, where we lazily watched bicyclers and pedestrians saunter in for a drink, each greeting acquaintances already sipping, some receiving a hug from the barista. We looked at a town map and located a newly renovated playground. After finishing our refreshment, we found the playground and decided it merited a trip with the kids, especially as it is only a block from the coffee shop.


And on the drive home, we discussed our future and our hopes for our family and our church. A thrift-store stop provided some much-needed bowls and a Dutch oven, a pair of maternity jeans, a lamp for Ben’s desk, and a magnetic sculpture.


We grabbed a light supper and enjoyed giggling at our over-exuberant waiter and watching other exasperated parents with their children.


And when we got home, we were HAPPY to see our kids. We were refreshed, we were rejuvenated, and we were home.


And today? There’s laundry, there’s homeschool, there’s meals to prepare, trash to take out, and sourdough starter to feed. But there’s also the memory of my husband’s face as he gazed out over the Potomac, his intense blue eyes making the blue of the sky and the blue of the water seem washed out. There’s the “I should have known he would know that” joy of hearing him answer, “I think it’s a cormorant,” when I asked, “Is that those BIRDS making that hideous noise?” And there’s the calm realization that the true peace of that day was provided in the knowledge that the Lord has already given us all we need. We were able to take the time to reflect and relax and contemplate His goodness to our family.


And it IS good.

   A cormorantA cormorant


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