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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Yakkity yak

Sunday, I was rummaging through the church refrigerator trying to find some cream for my coffee, when I landed upon a suspect mound of butter on a plate from who-knows-what and who-knows-when. I stirred some of it into my coffee and turned to go.

"You know," said Kenley, watching me, "we had some friends who were missionaries in Tibet. They shared some Tibetan tea with us when they were in the States. They put butter in their tea, only it was yak butter. They packed a whole bag full of yak butter to bring back here with them. They loved the stuff. So I have had some, but....eh...."

"YAK butter?" I asked. "Did it taste gamey?"

"No," he responded. "More like...well..."

"Rancid?" I prodded.

"Yes. A little bit rancid."

And that was pretty much it. I think I got distracted by some child, and then there were other children to scoot along their way to Sunday School.


That very afternoon, I was all hunkered down for a nap with a delicious book in my very favorite series ever (thank you, Mom). And, would-you-believe-this, and yes-I-poked-Ethan-and-made-him-listen, on page 93, half a page in to my reading, THIS is what I read:
'Is this the milk?' queried Betty, sniffing at a small jug. 'Smells a bit off to me.'
'Oh, that will do, dear. I really don't mind it slightly cheesy. After all, the Tibetans always use rancid milk in their tea -- and yak's milk at that.'
'I think I'll have mine black,' said Betty, and the two settled happily at the kitchen table for ten minutes' gossip about the newcomers to Thrush Green.
(Friends at Thrush Green, p. 93) 

And of course I brought the book to evening worship to show Kenley.

And now I'm showing you.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Chantrelle Dimarco says she loves to create areas of "wild wonder" in everyday locales for Teague and Finley.

"It will spark their imaginations, calm their hearts, and create a space of everyday joy."

This husband of mine. The previous is an email he sent me, proving that even he can pose as a thirty-something eco-conscious minimalist mother of two from New York City.

When really, this. The wider view:

So I suppose that does make me feel better. We do have the necessary components for minimalism. They are just hiding behind all the stuff.

Friday, May 5, 2017


I was reading an eye candy of a book yesterday. The genre was my kind of escapism: a primer of sorts on eco-conscious minimalism and simplicity, written by a mother of two in her early thirties who lives in New York City.

It is a gorgeous book. Her tidy teensy apartment has no plastic, no disposables, no junk.

In one of the pictures, there are two beautiful white bowls of berries (one of blueberries, one of strawberries) placed on a linen towel. The caption reads, "I find that keeping bowls of fruit out on the kitchen table means they actually get devoured instead of shriveling up in the fridge."

It was such a pretty picture.

So yesterday, instead of slicing half a pound of strawberries into minuscule pieces and creating a glaze to go on top of shortcake, which is my usual route, I decided to cut two pounds into slices and put them in our painted strawberry enamel bowl to generously share with my family. The strawberries were not purchased at the farmer's market, they were not carried home in a cloth bag, and they were not de-leaved with a wooden-handled artisan knife. But they were placed, in a bowl, out in the open. I felt a kinship with the younger, suaver, trendier author.

Halfway through our meal, I asked the other side of the table to pass down the strawberries. "There are no more strawberries," they said. Three of us still had not gotten any. 

It is when you need a mid-meal shopping trip that you realize the shortcomings and dystopianism of minimalism in a family of fourteen.

I should also mention that there is a blatant oxymoronish tint to it all, too.

Ethan was not surprised. After all, two pounds of strawberries divided between thirteen eating people is less than generous. And he was also not surprised that, on our second grocery trip of the day, we picked up more strawberries.

"You know," he said, in response to my exasperation, "if you were discerning about which teensy corners of our house to photo and crop and embellish and post online, you could have people believing you were a mother of two in your early thirties in New York City."

No. No. I never could.

I should have paid more attention to what the author said. "I find that keeping bowls of fruit out on the kitchen table means they actually get devoured instead of shriveling up in the fridge." That is exactly what happened. Set on the other side of the table, that is exactly what happened. My side of the table never saw those strawberries.

This is exactly why I do not keep bowls of fruit out on the kitchen table.

Lesson learned, I think. And here is the lesson: mother-of-twelve trying to re-enact mother-of-two's tale of eco-conscious minimalistic simplicity is perhaps enacting quite another genre: FICTION. And bad fiction, at that. Hungry, exasperated, frustrated bad fiction.

In other news, photos from the past few months. Not cropped, not embellished, not eco-friendly. I just don't have the time, and also I'm hungry.

River, Eve, and Grandma Allison on Easter

Trying to gather the masses for a family picture the day of River's baptism (February)

Ah. There we all are. All grandparents and children accounted for!

Gwendolyn, our Outdoor Cat AHEM, with Maverick.
Gwendolyn, our Outdoor Cat AHEM, again.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

And how it really went...

There is a reason I don't do to-do lists. And the reason is that they never get to-done. That leaves one feeling slightly deflated. For instance, if I look at this--

Today's List:
--well, all I see is what didn't happen today.


a Done List is much more satisfying.

  • Clean Eve's room (storage room)
  • Pinecones lightly dipped in white paint for garlands for the windows.
  • Cinnamon rolls for Sunday
  • Gingerbread
  • Chocolate Panforte
  • Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
  • Walked for 2 miles with 11yo daughter
  • Found 11yo son's long-lost Trail Life handbook
  • Listened to 13yo daughter teach 15yo son how to sew stockings, and admired five fresh-off-the-sewing-machine stockings made from dress shirts their father no longer wanted
  • Washed kitchen blinds
Because the reality is, even on these festive preparation days, people still have to eat their regular meals and wash their regular clothes. The baby still needs to nurse, and the next baby up still needs attention and ticklings and naptime.

So my house is only marginally cleaner than it was this morning; and while it certainly smells better, that smell reminds me of the tidying the kitchen still needs. There are crafting bits and pieces here and there and everywhere, and there's dog hair and random books and random pieces of clothing.

But now the children are in bed, and they were all fed today (three cheers for frozen food!!!), they were all bathed today (three cheers for Saturday night!!!), and they are all present and accounted for.

And Papa is home, the dog is snoring on the couch, and the kitty on the front porch has her little heated house plugged in.

So all is right with my world!


Papa is away today, gone to the semi-annual presbytery meeting. He left before anyone was out of bed, so we decided to get busy while he's away. The December meeting is our yearly chance to ready the house for the holidays and the coming crafting (already begun) and neaten things a bit for Mama's sanity. I've read my usual motivational posts, and we're geared up and ready!

Today's List:
  • Clean boys' room
  • Clean girls' room
  • Clean Eve's room (storage room)
  • Clean master bedroom
  • Clean bathrooms
  • Straighten downstairs
  • Straighten outside
There. I do believe that covers the whole house.

There's also the decorating...simple and homemade. Pinecones lightly (LIGHTLY, CHILDREN!) dipped in white paint for garlands for the windows. Mixed nuts in bowls. Snowflakes and Swedish stars here and there.

And there's the kitchen work... readying the dough for

BUT! To keep us focused and the house smelling less like lemon cleaner and more like Christmas, we will be employing the oven timer as our taskmaster. When the timer rings, we move on to the next room.

AND...when the timer rings, we take one of the following out of the oven:
At least, that's the plan. I will be busy nursing and delegating and choosing the Christmas music. I've got a great team, and we can do it!

Brothers who lost teeth late the same night. Hmmm. Gideon (6) and Jon-Jon (8).

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