Friday, April 9, 2021


This week we had to say goodbye to our faithful canine companion, Maverick. He was thirteen (fourteen?), and he was ours for twelve years. Most of our children knew him for all of their lives, and all of our children knew him for most of their lives.

Which did make things difficult.

He never barked, never bit, never growled at children. He had toddlers bite him and run over his tail, foreign chihuahuas threaten his very existence, several sets of cats claim his home as theirs, and seven babies interrupt the nightly routine. The only time we heard him cry was when he had to be separated from us, enclosed in our bedroom so that friends' children who were afraid of dogs would come into our house. Even when he had cancer and a permanent wound on the bottom of his paw that had to be dressed twice daily, he never growled nor lunged at anyone. He was the best dog I have ever known.

Which did make things even more difficult.

Our children have grieved in different ways, which has been eye-opening and somehow lovely. One daughter remained in the hub of our house, stoically taking on cleaning the kitchen, quietly scrubbing dishes and counters and moving chairs to sweep under the table. As the younger children ran through the kitchen, demanding popsicles and "something to do," she noiselessly provided frozen treats and crafts. Another daughter preferred to be more invisible, thoroughly cleaning the room she shares with six sisters, framing the article from the Helena, Montana newspaper the shelter had published about Maverick the week before we got him. (We had not seen that article when we found Maverick at the shelter, and a church member cut it out and gave it to us after they found out we had adopted him.) Two of our girls decided to go sit, quietly but together, in the sun at the top of our property.

One son, while camping in our yard with his brothers, woke crying in the middle of the night and came inside to spend the rest of the night on the couch. All of our boys -- without a word from us -- straightened up the yard, pulled out the many push mowers we have accumulated, and pieced together enough working ones to mow our acre for the first time this season.

And the three little girls (5, 4, and 2) went continually among each group, relentlessly asking questions and making everyone laugh and groan through tears: "Do you want to see the picture I drew of Maverick dead and everyone crying?"

And River (4) perfectly summed up the situation: "Well, Maverick's dead. But we can still have chicken nuggets and French fries!"

This week would have been easier if we had never gotten a dog. Only, I never would have known it was any easier of a week. And we never would have known the utter delight of a freshly bathed dog (after he has dried), a good romp in the grass, a faithful, quiet, furry friend when we are sad, and reckless joy in deep snow. We would not have gotten to watch our then-18 year old son rise to the occasion and decide to brush an old dog's teeth nightly in order to save them, or our current 15-year old son learn to dress an old dog's wounds, with never a stubborn refusal. I watched this dog grow old with my children, and I have watched my children mature with this dog.

He was a good dog, and we loved him.


(Side note: I will say that something I had not anticipated was that with Maverick's passing, we are now a cat and gerbil family. I absolutely detest that.)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Queen of Stall

Our resident 2-year old is the only person in this house with her very own room, and I'm not sure she fully appreciates that situation. In fact, I'm quite sure she doesn't.

Every night, without fail, she comes up with a million little things she really needs or something very important we forgot to do.

"I need a diffent baby doll."

"You dinn't switch the books in my bed."

"I haffa go potty."

"We dinn't pway."

"I dinn't sing 'Hot Cwoss Buns'" (which, I must admit, is one of my favorites because she does a mash-up with "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" and sings, "Hot cwoss buns to da Yord").

"I dinn't have a special dwink."

Rosie (2) and River (4)

"Ben's in Fwoda! 
"I dinn't kiss Papa."
"I dinn't kiss Lily."
"I dinn't kiss Abey."
"I dinn't kiss Mimi."
"I dinn't kiss Edee."
"I dinn't kiss Jon-Jon."
"I dinn't kiss Dideon
"I dinn't kiss Sayum
"I dinn't kiss Ada."
"I dinn't kiss Zebby."
"I dinn't kiss Eve."
"I dinn't kiss Rivah

"You dinn't tell me what's foe bumfick [breakfast]."

It doesn't matter how many times we remind her that this is the last thing she may request, or how many issues we try to conquer beforehand (All kisses given? Check. Baby doll of the day? Check. New books in bed? Check), there is always one last thing.

Last night's was, "I need socks! My feet are FWOZEN."

River (4), Eve (5), and Rosie (2)

At prayer meeting last night, someone asked for prayer for a niece, stating, "Young mothers are just so tired."

I wanted to quip back, "You should see the old mothers!"

(There is a video imbedded in this post. If you received this in your email, you might have to click over to see it.)

Monday, May 25, 2020


This past Saturday, May 23, 2020, we had our first high school graduate. 

Benjamin (18), sporting his graduation shirt
The news abounds with reports of high school seniors who are suffering due to graduation plans being chucked this year. 

In this house, we have seen nothing of that senior. This senior could not be more thrilled with the lack of pomp and circumstance. This was exactly the kind of graduation party he would have ordered, were I the kind of mother who would have taken his order. Like father, like son, that one is.

Even when I asked him what he would like for a celebratory dinner, he answered, "Meh, whatever's fine. We had a really good meal last Sunday. That's enough."

I cannot imagine an easier student for a harried, distracted, perpetually exhausted teacher with a million loads of laundry to load holler after someone to load and a million meals to fix and half a million non-school-related books calling her name.

He has been so easy. He enjoys learning and does so quickly and independently, reads much faster and comprehends far more than I, and has the dignity and respect to never mention these things.

But I know them. And very, very frequently, I thank God for them.

When I told him he *had* to let me take his picture on his official Graduation Day, he humored me but only under duress.

Then the Little Girls came outside, fresh from their Saturday evening baths, and suddenly the sparkle came back into his eyes.

Ben in his more natural stance: arms full

This summer, he heads to Florida to attend Reformation Bible College. He has already met his apartment-mates online, and we are thrilled with the future that waits for him.

And the future that waits for us! It is such a thrilling, exhilarating thing to watch the Lord's work, in spite of ours, in our children. Daily we marvel at His goodness. Daily we groan and laugh and wonder at how He moves and performs His will.

When I grew a little somber and mused to Ethan, "We have a college student!!!" Ethan quickly grounded me by saying,

"We have ONE."

Which does, you know, put things into perspective.

My work is not done.

So we will keep on doing the dishes and washing the clothes and threatening to meet any school-related eye-rolling and deep sighing with trash cans that need to be washed out. And we will keep cheering Ben on, and grumbling over his puns, and updating him on the Little Girl Antics.

Back to work, Ben.

You, and me, and them.

Rosie, getting the bubble mowing done

Saturday, May 23, 2020


Ethan has been preaching through Genesis. He was preaching about Noah and the ark and how long they were on the ark, and he mentioned the amount of patience and waiting on the Lord that took. 

(Eve, 4, waiting for us to leave for church)
I had just read James that week, and these two portions were being brought to mind: 

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).


"Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:7-8).

River (3) came to wait with her.
I was struck with the thought that the Christian is never in a holding pattern. We are never to be stagnant spiritually. It's never, "When such-and-such happens, then I will really be able to work on this spiritual issue..." As Rachel Jankovic says in her book You Who: "You are always in the midst of your most important spiritual work." There is never a time when we are not able to do the work God has for us. Every second we are fully able (because HE is fully able to work in us!) to carry out our spiritual duties. James makes it so clear that patience is far from some sterile waiting room of "waiting until I can start moving again -- waiting until thus-and-such happens and I can really live out my doctrine -- etc." I am never "just sitting on this boat, nothing happening to me spiritually because I can't get off this boat...." Patience is active. Patience has a work -- the Lord uses patience to work in me. It is *not* doing nothing. And what am I  to do while being patient? Count it all joy! Establish my heart! 

The "Little Girls," as we call them, waiting for Papa to put in a window bird feeder (River, Rose [20 mos.], and Eve)

This was such an eye-opener for me! Now I view this time of "waiting" for --- for whatever it is that is coming, with my marching orders. OK. So I give thanks for this time. We are told to count it all joy to have to have patience. I determine not to complain. My children have been getting civics lessons, as I think part of our current problem in the United States is that people do not understand our form of government (Hello, Governors, we are not a tyranny, and you are not lawmakers). We have been talking about the rule of law, what that means, and what are godly responses when you live in a constitutional republic and the authorities that God has placed above you are breaking that rule of law. 

The Bible commands me to rejoice. And the Lord has graciously made that so easy. I mean, LOOK at this gang (Ben [18], Mimi [14], Edee [13])!

We have been discussing what if people were as concerned about the possibility of getting and spreading sin as they are about getting and spreading COVID-19? Are we diligent in keeping our hearts clean, in staying away from thoughts and deeds that will spread lies and deception and death? Do we rejoice in reading God's Word, in talking about Him constantly to each other, in fellowshipping with the saints, because we know that herein is life and health and peace? Do we remember the armor of the Lord as fervently as people remember their masks?

Our Resident 12yo, Jon-Jon, constantly reminds us to social-distance. But it doesn't work, as evidenced in the above "Jon-Jon Sandwich": Abe (14), Jon-Jon (12), Gideon (10).

Regardless of what economic/medical statements will be made, I want to look back on this time and remember the faithfulness of the Lord to my family. I want to remember it as a time when we searched His Word, rejoiced in His provisions to us, and noted His goodness in the midst of the folly of men. That is the work that patience can do, and that is so life-giving to me.

Rosie and Edee

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rose Sharon

Rose Sharon Allison
September 21, 2018
12:33 PM
8 lbs., 12 oz.

Yes, she is almost five months old. And yes, I know this is the first mention I've made of her on here. But it's only because she is so very wonderful and cuddly and a wee bit demanding and fits into this family perfectly. Which is to say, my days are very, very, very, very full.

In the best sort of way, of course!

Her actual birth was … forgettable, to be frank. And, might I add, that is the best kind of birth to have. I was not traumatized from it, there were no lingering complications, and I cannot for the life of me remember the details of the birth as much as I can remember the obligatory post-birth Outback Steakhouse steak, which we devoured in the hospital room with the REAL SILVERWARE we remembered to pack from the house! (Eating an Outback steak with a plastic fork is a definite downer.)

I do remember the day before, however. My water had broken the night before, on Wednesday. Thursday I announced, "Today we walk! We will have this baby!" and Ethan and I left the Older Children in charge with plenty to eat and went walking. We started at the Star Trail, and then walked the Verona Trail, and then we headed down the road to try BBQ at a campground we had heard recommended from a man in line at another BBQ joint. This is the campground with a million pet rabbits who ate the pieces of bun I threw at them. This is also the campground where our GPS took leave of its senses.

After the brief lunch, we headed up the mountains, past a freshly dead timber rattlesnake, to hike part of the Appalachian Trail, which we did.

There were a few overnight hikers who were excitedly starting their hikes from our trail, and we quickly moved to the side while they laughed and sang out and hiked their packs higher on their backs. I hiked my belly up and declared, "This is probably enough of this" and turned back to head back to the car. It took us about two minutes to make it back to the parking lot. Does that count as hiking? It is probably more correct to say I set foot on the Appalachian Trail that day.

Then we walked around the Humpback Rocks Farm and imagined trying to do things with our family way back when -- laundry washing and drying, raising all our own food, making all our own hard cider. My life was looking decidedly easier.

It was a beautiful day. It was a wonderful, long, leisurely, special date. It will be forever implanted (I hope) in my mind -- it is rare that I "live in the moment" -- but I was so fully aware of the fact that our family was about to change, and my normal pre-birth fears and sense of overwhelm were being successfully suppressed by the knowledge that this, too, would pass, and a wonderful family awaited this newest one and would do above and beyond what I needed.

We continued to find little places to pull over and admire God's creation, marveling at the many butterflies and the vulture airing its wings on a rock overlooking the ranges of mountains. It was spectacular. And I kept thinking, "God made all of this! It all declares His glory! And so, Little One, will you! And that is just incredible."

And the next day, when the contractions were hard and strong, we headed to the hospital. Of course, there was not a single contraction the whole way there, so we turned around in the parking lot and headed to the Star Trail to walk some more. We walked, and then we headed to Aldi's for easy foods for the kids and then drove home, and then we decided to wait until the regularly scheduled doctor's appointment at 11:30. At the appointment, the doctor and nurse were making bets as to how far along I was. The doctor said a 6, the nurse said a 4, and Ethan said an 8. He was closest, of course. I was at a 9, so they sent me over to the hospital; and I honestly remember very little after that, until hearing, "It's a girl!"

Ethan had put his order in for another girl. She fits the bill beautifully. She twists my hair around her fists while she nurses, and she squawks her opinions loudly, and she has the best whole-face smile in the world.

She has these gorgeous, dark, intense brown eyes and looks exactly like Lily (15) did at that age. It's so wonderful to hold a mini-Lily! My two flower-girls -- Lily and Rose -- most certainly belong together.

And so do all the rest of them. The Lord has most certainly hedged me behind and before, and laid His hand upon me (Ps. 139:5). And I am so very thankful, and my days are so very full, and it is all so very, very good.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

First Day Hike

It has been one of my goals to get Outside as a family more -- farther than the backyard. We used to be Out all the time. Lately (as in, the last few years), it has been not-so-much. I was frustrated by this, but then I had one of those Plain as Day insights hit me a few weeks ago: it is a huge effort to just do daily life with this large of a group. It doesn't always feel like a huge effort, but that is due to being blessed with a spouse and children who seem to have an endless supply of good humor.

The reality is, many days there is also an endless supply of dirty laundry, meals that must be cooked, and groceries that must be stocked.

There was something comforting in that realization.

So then I could move on.

Virginia State Parks are free on January 1. "That's it!" I declared. "We are going to go to a state park on New Year's!"

No one cheered.

The predicted high was 21 degrees, we have two dedicated nappers who most certainly would be missing their naps, and there is always the issue of What to Eat.

But I was not going to be thwarted. I threw some ham-and-cheese sandwiches in the oven, Miriam (12) put together some trail mix baggies, and Ada (5) and Zebby (4) helped me make S'mores Brownies (proving, once again, that Ashley English and I are from different worlds. She is from a world where you make S'mores Brownies for a winter picnic and then photograph them for a book whose genre is probably best described as Escapism. I am from a world where you should be anticipating the innate problems in making brownies with sticky marshmallows on top to be eaten in a van and nowhere near a sink. I think I gain a point for packing forks but lose about twenty for entertaining the idea at all and another forty for carrying through).

It didn't really matter. The food issue was conquered, and that was the main thing. We would not starve to death on the 45-minute drive to the Natural Bridge. I scarfed down my usual "Breakfast Lunch": two fried eggs with ham and a cranberry muffin, we packed the water bottles and the dog and some low-carb shortbread cookies and the rest of the food, bundled everyone up and then added some more bundling, and headed out.

It was so worth it. Even though the "hike" ended at the bridge (icicles hanging from it prevented the rangers from letting people pass under it), the chance to Do Something Else with the family was golden. (It was at about this spot pictured above that we saw a black lab whose owner said exasperatingly, "Calm down. What is WITH you, Maverick??" at which point I had to ask if her dog's name was Maverick, because that is our dog's name, too...and I think our Maverick was as confused as I was!)

Eve, 2

Zebby, 4

River, 1

Lily (14) caught Ethan sneaking a picture
One of the perks of getting Out, I must admit, is that it is more fun to embarrass your children. When Jonathan (9) saw Ethan's hat, he said, "I guess Papa's job is to make me not feel so silly."

"Oh, yeah?" said Ethan. "What if I do this? Come here, my boy." And then he did this, and I snapped the picture.

And I loved every bit of it. I loved the cold, I loved the napping little one, I loved the warmth when we got in from the cold, I loved that the gift shop featured the artisan who made Ben's mug that I broke a year ago so that I could finally replace it, I loved meeting another canine Maverick, I loved the stubborn, independent two-year old insisting on pushing her own stroller.

(Well, OK. I did not love our Maverick peeing on the signpost just inside of the building, right before you get out to the trail. Maverick, that was incredibly stupid. And also, hurry on up and get out of here before anyone notices.)

It was invigorating, and exasperating (Maverick and sticky brownies and stubborn stroller-pusher), and altogether lovely.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

First Days of School

"Thank goodness I was never sent to school;
it would have rubbed off some of the originality."
~Beatrix Potter

This morning has been quiet. River (9 mos.) was up at 6:00, but she has already had a diaper change, nursed, and gone back to sleep. I have relished the silence, reading my English countryside book and sipping a now-lukewarm coffee in the grey light of this misty, drizzly morning, listening to the buses drive down our own wet countryside road on their way to the school down the lane.

River, at Saturday's church pool party. A fitting end to summer!

We started school yesterday. I faced the new year with a mix of eagerness and dread. I am always overwhelmed by the sheer logistics of this thing called school. Too easily, I succumb to the weight of the realities of life...those things called children, and laundry, and meals, and doctor's appointments, and dog food.


Yesterday was delightful. It was a mad rush of things, trying to quickly explain which books were whose and what was expected while also getting the ripped paper out of River's mouth and for heaven's sake, Older Children, GET OUT OF BED!!!

Things did seem to move right along once we tackled the getting out of bed part. Funny, that.

I absolutely love this mix of kids. But NOT, I must admit, their week's worth of dirty laundry from camp.

Despite my complete expectations that there would be complaints and mutiny among the ranks (as we say, "If they are complaining, it does not mean we're doing something wrong. It just means they're still alive"), there was not any. The children were excited by the new books and attentive during the readings (both mine and theirs) and careful to keep on-task.

There is, I must admit, a contagious excitement that comes with freshly sharpened pencils and a sense of Things That Must Be Done.

A waning excitement, I am sure, but excitement nonetheless!

And now Ada (5) is here, waving my days-old birthday balloon and wearing Gideon's bowler hat, Eden (10) is reading Beatrix Potter to Eve (2) and Zebby (4), and Lily's Baked Oatmeal is ready on the stove (a perk of homeschooling: you can say, "Preparing breakfast for the next day is part of your 'Culinary Studies' class each afternoon..."), and my mug most definitely needs a refill.

School days are here again!

This is a poem my mother used to say often.  I don't know why. But it is the first poem I teach my children each school year.

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