Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Apple Picking


The infamous Grandma Allison is visiting, and we are trying to enjoy every bit of the much too short week she has with us before she heads back to Alaska.


Although it is admittedly late in the season to be apple picking here in Virginia, we decided to hold off until Grandma came. We love picking apples – it is one of our favorite family activities. The mountains are beautiful, the fresh air is exhilarating, and the children are free to run (or cry) without being slowed down or shushed. As we usually opt for the cheaper (and more easily accessible when you’re only 2 feet tall) ground apples anyway, we figured the lateness of the season wouldn’t hurt us too badly.



Monday we woke up to a gorgeous, sunny, crisp fall day (very welcome after the weeks of summer we had just experienced!). Ethan checked our usual orchard’s website to determine the availability of the apples, and we crammed into the van to travel the 1½ hours of pretty drive. “We’re almost there!” we kept telling the kids. And then, finally, we were there, where a large “Orchard Closed” sign forbad us to go any farther.


Fortunately for this cranky, crammed, hungry group, there was another orchard less than a half mile away. “We’ll try there,” we promised. And this time, we were not disappointed. The lady owner welcomed Ethan with a large grin and told us to pick clean her orchards, free of charge. We were the only pickers there…an entire orchard to ourselves. The children ran, dragged their feet, laughed, and cried in turn. Edee (9 mos.) delighted in riding on Grandma’s back. Benjamin (5) and Lily (3) delighted in showing Grandma their finds. Abraham (2) delighted in biting into an apple, yelling, “EWWW!” and spitting it out with great drama, over and over and over. Miriam (2) delighted in finding no delight. We chomped on delicious Stayman and Red Delicious apples, wavered between sweatshirts on/sweatshirts off, took pictures of the five children on an apple bough, and went back to thank the owner by purchasing some cider. To our surprise and wonder, the cider was fresh and unpasteurized. This is a rare thing to be able to find in Virginia, and it is scrumptious! We also purchased some very low-priced local honey (raw and unheated), and then she had each of the children pick out a free pumpkin.



After this, we finished filling our bellies at a local ma-n-pa-Cracker-Barrelish restaurant/store, called The Apple House. We were treated to delicious pork barbecue sandwiches (roasted in an apple sauce); and we wandered the store, exclaiming over quilts, lotions, Very Badley (ahem) priced quilted purses, and specialty sauces and candies.


It was wonderful.




Thursday, October 25, 2007

Senior Sermon RELIEF


After the long, frustrating nights…


And the writing and writing…


And writing and writing….


And throwing away and starting over…


And writing and writing….


And rewriting and reworking…


And driving in the pouring rain, water gushing down as he tried to read obscure street signs in the dark, straining to hear me on the cell phone as I gave equally obscure directions from the Internet…


And finding a hotel that wouldn’t break the bank with a bed that wouldn’t break his back…


And waking early to practice and pray and practice and pray…


And me waking several times last night to worry and pray and worry and pray…


It. Is. Over.


I got the call a little after 1:00 this afternoon. “Well,” I gulped. “How’d it go?”


“It went better than I thought it would.” [A most unusual phrase to come from my husband’s mouth.] “They had a few suggestions and some very kind comments.”


And even the suggestions were gracious: the Greek professor thought the text (the Scripture portion he chose) could have been shorter to allow for more Greek exegesis; the homiletics professor argued that the text could have been shorter to allow for more application.


Glowing words of praise, even if I do say so myself.


And I do.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Senior Sermon

CarpeBanana indirectly gave me the idea to reward my husband's recent long, long nights of sermon preparation with an uplifting T-shirt. Not only is my husband preaching his senior sermon on I Corinthians 10 (albeit a few verses before the one on the shirt), but an encouraging word from the grave (even if it's only attributed to Martin Luther) can be quite comforting. Especially when it involves the words "beer," "sleep," and "heaven."


Ethan has finally left for South Carolina (7-8 hour drive) to preach his senior sermon. I told him I couldn’t wait for him to leave so he could hurry up and get back. He’ll only be gone for two days…he preaches his sermon tomorrow and then comes home after that…but it’s the exhilaration of knowing this headache-inducing senior project is OVER. Ethan’s no stranger to preaching – God’s providence has seen fit to provide him with plenty of preaching opportunities at nearby churches in our denomination – but the thought of having professors and students grill him afterwards is more than a little exasperating.


He has done a good job of taking it all in stride. He has tried not to think of this as some kind of measurement of success or application, but as another sermon where he shares God’s Word with His people. My prayer is that the students and professors will view it that way, too, and offer constructive criticism and encouragement. He has worked hard and long hours on this text, and it’s a good thing I’m not going. I think I would have a few choice words that were, um…not-so-godly, if anyone dared to criticize him!


This way, he can phone me with the results, and then I can cool off for 7 hours before he gets home.


And I’ve heard the sermon. And frankly, he did a darn good job, and I won’t believe a word to the contrary.




Sunday, October 21, 2007

Quote of the Day


"Of COURSE moms should work outside of the home. You know, like mowing."


(Benjamin, 5)




Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pencil It In

There were a few stock stories that circulated regularly when we had guests. These were the stories that you just knew were going to be told at some point during their stay. There were certain signs that the moment had come: Mom’s dark eyes would light up, a barely suppressed smile would squirm over her mouth, and her hands would begin rubbing briskly. Sure signs that a story was coming.


One such story that my mother could be counted on to share was the Joni story. When I was about four years old, my hero was Joni Eareckson Tada. Our church had a movie night when they showed “JONI,” and I was mesmerized. I loved that movie. I thought Joni was beautiful; and more than that, she was tragically beautiful. Left a quadriplegic after a diving accident, she wrestled with God’s sovereignty and omniscience and ended up a beautiful singer, broadcaster, and artist. I was intrigued by her ability to use her teeth to control a pencil or paintbrush, creating gorgeously detailed pieces of art. She could sing. Before her accident, she rode horses. She swam. What was there not to love?


Timmy was not convinced. He lived over thirty minutes away from our kindergarten, and my mother would take care of him after school until his mother got off from work. We played GI Joe. We played Cops-n-Robbers. We played Cowboys-n-Indians. We played House. And, after that fateful church movie night, we played Joni. To Tim, even House was better than Joni. Playing Joni took a great deal of imagination and little else. I would pull out two chairs, and we would sit there. I was a stickler for details: you could sing, talk about God’s work in your life, or fall out of your chair. You could NOT fly, run faster than a speeding bullet, or use your legs for anything other than floundering.


Not exactly thrilling, to Timmy’s way of thinking. After about twenty minutes of this, he would start asking when we could be finished to go play with the tools in the shed or go to the park or get a snack or do anything other than sit in the chair motionless. Complain, complain, complain. And one day, I had had enough of his complaining. My mother remembers peeking in on us only to find me, exasperated, breaking my own rules to get up from my chair, grab Tim’s pencil with my functioning hands, and shove it in his mouth, yelling, “Shut up and draw!”


I never understood why this story was in Mom’s Arsenal of Stories to Illustrate, Educate, Pontificate, Contemplate, or Entertain(ate?). But it was. And the guests always laughed, shaking their heads at me and sometimes repeating the last few words: “Shut up and draw, oooh, hooo, that’s a good one, shut up and draw.”


Some people just don’t know what fun is.


Monday, October 15, 2007

State Fair

Alpacas, piglets, puppies, ducklings.




Carousel, roller coasters, slow train cars, slides.




Miriam screaming violently on "caterpillar coaster." Ride stopping early. Miriam being lifted from ride by worker, who is saying, "I know you're scared, baby." Miriam being handed off to Ethan. Miriam looking at Ethan, wide grin spreading across her face, and an excited, "That was FUN!!!" blurting from her mouth.




Dancing wildly for Grandma and Grandpa in front of the Indian flutist and Neil Young cover artist.




And a quiet, sleepy ride home.





Grandparents Resting

Monday, October 8, 2007

FREE Debate

Due to a generous donation, Covenant Media Foundation is offering the Greg Bahnsen/Gordon Stein debate for free ... well, almost free. Each copy costs 1 cent. And shipping is free.


Go! Get one! Go to www.cmfnow.com  and follow the very well-marked links for the free debate.


From their website:

"This is the famous formal debate between Dr. Bahnsen and atheist promoter Dr. Gordon Stein held at the university of California (Irvine) in 1985. Hear how hard it is to deny God's existence and how intellectually rigorous the Christian position actually is."


Dr. Bahnsen was an incredible theologian who excelled in Van Tilian apologetics. And you don't have to understand that last sentence in order to enjoy and benefit from this debate. CMF is offering it in MP3 downloadable format and CD format.


I am especially excited about this because I actually bought this at full price a little over a year ago.


So when I found out about this, I went and purchased two.


But that's just my 2 cents.


Saturday, October 6, 2007


drying laundry 2


I have recently been reminded of the truth of spiritual warfare. For me, this warfare seems to morph into hologram-like images -- here now, gone now, a bit shifty and evasive now. Just when I think I've grabbed ahold of it (Aha! This is the battle! This is the fight!), I find myself being attacked from behind, and the ugly monster in my hand is laughing.


And these are the good days. The other days? The more frequent days? Those are the ones that find me surrounded by the enemy, yet so unaware of any ongoing battle that you might even assume I was comfortable with it. Or, worse, fighting alongside the enemy. On his side.


 I have read the phrase "sacred and profane" so often that my mind jumps over it. Yes, yes, there is no secular... But the truth of that has been thrust at me this week. Nothing I do is secular. Nothing I do is neutral, blank, without loyalties. Nothing. Not hanging laundry, not checking email, not doing my daughters' hair, not scraping dishes. Because no matter what I am doing, or not doing, I am there. And I am not neutral. I was once profane but now am sacred. I, who once trembled at the blazing fire and darkness and gloom and tempest and the sound of a trumpet and begged that no further messages be spoken to me,  yes, even I, now come to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (see Heb. 12:18-24). 


Ethan reminded me that Philippians 4 admonishes us to think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise. And if we are not doing this, we are not being obedient. But what of ugly things? There are ugly things in this world. Painfully ugly: torturous, murderous, horrific, wrenching. And equally ugly: cantankerous, smarting, snapping, wasting. But these ugly things? These things are only in this world. Colossians 3:1-3 give the antidote to this ugliness: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."


That's where my mind is to be. On things above. Even in the midst of the ugliness, I must look to find what God's Word says, His Word from above. He knows of the ugliest things: torturous, murderous, horrific, wrenching, cantankerous, smarting, snapping, wasting things. But He has overcome.


So how does this fit in with my hanging laundry, checking email, doing my daughters' hair, scraping dishes? When I do all of these things, do I do them with a misguided sense of duty? Is my mind scrambling for the next thing that needs to be done, the next item to cross off the list? Am I fuming with a misguided sense of merit, angry that I, even I, seem to be the only one doing these things? Or is my mind fixed on things above? Whose side am I on?


This is where my subject line (finally!) comes into play. I realized that my mind, when I did try to fix it on things above, was flopping flabbily about, vaguely slapping on some Sunday-schoolish generalities. Umm, think on things above. OK, God is good. I'm glad I have a family. I'm thankful for my house. And while these are valid thoughts, I felt I needed to rise above the level of the first-grader's Thanksgiving prayer.


And I realized that constant, diligent, purposed memorization of the Scriptures has been absent from my life for quite some time. How can I meditate on His Word day and night if I don't have it hidden in me? How can I fix my mind on things above if I keep forgetting what they are? This really hit me between the eyes when I was talking to a friend and explaining how I had providentially read a verse that helped me keep my mouth shut at the right time. "It was in Proverbs 19. Wait...Psalms? Oh, Psalm 6. Or Proverbs 5. Or Psalm 2? AARGH!" (I did eventually find it, by the way, after a LONG search...Psalm 5.)


So here is my first chunk:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (II Peter 1:3-9)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Country Life

Abraham and Miriam


Lily and Benjamin





But alas, all good things must come to an end...

Sad Impatience

Monday, October 1, 2007


We own a gate-leg kitchen table. I will not here go into the immense (and usually unattainable) amount of patience it takes to deal with said table, nor the fact that my husband deems it valuable for the very reason that it requires patience to deal with it. Suffice it to say that it is a …trying… piece of furniture. Adding to the frustration of dealing with this table is that the floor that it sits on is not straight. If you put a six oops eight-legged gate-leg table on a crooked floor, you will have several legs that do not actually rest on the floor. You can try and wedge folded pieces of paper under the floating legs, but this will only work if you remember to guard these wedges of paper when your 8-mo. old is crawling in the kitchen.


So it is not unusual for the table to vacillate gently before deciding on a resting spot each and every time someone sets a piece of silverware down or bumps a leg. It is unusual for it to vacillate wildly and unrhythmically amidst a chorus of giggles. So when this happened, I turned to see Miriam (2) with one hand firmly on the edge of the table, shaking it. “Stop that!” I said. “Stop shaking the table!” She looked at me with twinkling eyes, unphased, and continued shaking. I briskly walked over to her, put her face in my hands, and got down to eye level. “Miriam,” I said in my deepest, most serious voice, “if you don’t stop shaking that table, you will get a spanking for disobeying.”


And this is the mark of true effectiveness. She instantly stopped shaking the table, stopped giggling, and threw her head back, still in my hands. And then she laughed hysterically. I could see all of her little teeth, and tears were started to form in the sides of her eyes. Tears of pure joy. I was so mad at her blatant disregard for the gravity of the situation that I just started laughing right alongside of her. “Now, Miriam,” I choked, trying to recover all nonexistent dignity, “I mean it. Do not shake the table.”


She looked at me, gave a post-guffaw sigh, grasped the table firmly with her hand, and shook her bottom violently.


I have GOT to work on The Look.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Slow and Steady

You know when you go to the park and you see a mother laughing hysterically as she swings on the swing next to her toddler? Or when you go to McD’s and see a perfectly content mother playing with the Mini My Little Pony Happy Meal toy? Or when you drive by an ice cream parlor and spot a mother and her children enjoying multicolor ice cream cones, ice cream dripping from everyone’s chins and even some fingers?


I am not these women. I am the woman standing in the ice cream line insisting to my children that today is Root Beer Float Day; and in honor of that, we will be getting root beer floats with lids but they may choose their straws. I am the woman sitting at the table in the fast food play area, begging my children not to linger over their dollar menu nuggets but to go slide down the slide. I am the woman sitting with my eyes closed on the park bench next to a stroller, trying to catch a few seconds of sleep before the next catastrophe.


I am not a fun mom. Ethan is the fun parent. I am the one with the diapers, the hairbrush, and the sippy cups. You come to me if you need something wiped or buttoned. If you need a good laugh, you go to Papa. My idea of fun is getting to nap in a freshly vacuumed room.


But I have recently reinstituted something that does up my fun factor. This book is a terrific resource for those of us scrambling to come up with something to do that 1) doesn’t cost much of anything, 2) doesn’t require much work on our part, and 3) the kids actually enjoy. Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready: The How-To Book That Grows with Your Child by June R. Oberlander is a terrific book. From birth to age 5, it gives a weekly activity to do with your child. I have found the activities to be age-appropriate and cheap cheap cheap (I have never had to buy anything to do any of the activities, and the book estimates that the activities cost a penny a day). I first borrowed mine from the library, and then a good friend (Thanks, Mary!) gave me her copy. My friend Jamie recommends it to adoptive parents who want a guide for helping to develop age-appropriate skills.


But I love it for the way the kids love it. Preparation is at a minimum and enjoyment is at a maximum. For example, one of the activities was to demonstrate how to put a rubber band on and off a door handle. When they were 18 months old, my twins spent 45 MINUTES doing that. 45 MINUTES!!! And no broom, Formula 401, and paper towels were needed when they finished!


To give you a better picture, here’s what we’re working on this week (I am paraphrasing the activities):


Eden (Week 30):


Paper Noise: Take a bunch of pieces of paper. Holding one near the baby, crumple it and make as much noise with it as you can. Crumple another one close to her ear. Give her a piece and let her try (you can crumple another one at the same time so she gets the idea). Do until bored.


If the baby’s still happy, take a clean trashcan and show the baby how to put the crumpled pieces into the trashcan. Make it a game by you doing one and baby doing one. Praise any time she actually tries to get it in.


Another time, take a large toy, show to baby, and put it in a box with the crumpled pieces of paper. Close the box and have the baby open it and find the toy.


This activity develops small hand muscles, enhances listening, encourages the baby to copy or attempt a task independently, and develops an awareness of the concept “inside.”


As a side note, she had already mastered this crumpling technique on, ahem, church bulletins, but I figure it’s good practice anyway. Should she run out of bulletins or something.


Abraham and Miriam (Age 2-Week 15):


Put It in a Line: Take a yard of tape or string, etc. Lay it in a line on the floor. Have a few small items (block, key, clothespin, spoon, cup, etc.) in a can or jar or paper bag.


Start on the left. Place one item on line. Sweeping your hand from left to right, show that you are going to put the next item to the right of the first. Continue, always placing next item to the right of last. Have child do it. Repeat often, varying the items.


This activity develops an awareness of “left” and “right” progression, enhancement of the sense of touch in handling the objects in the bag, eye-hand coordination, skill in following directions and completing a task, further awareness of the concept “empty” and “on,” and awareness of “one” object to place at a time.


Lily (Age 3-Week 44)


Yes or No: The book gives 24 statements, to which the child is to answer “yes” or “no.” You can add your own. Some examples are, “Pages are in a book,” “Sugar is sour,” “Mother washes clothes in the dishwasher,” “A camera takes medicine,” and “Clouds are white.” While I would assume this would be boring, Lily thinks it’s a blast and cracks up hysterically at the ones like, “I can pour juice in a fork.” But then, having heard her jokes, she probably thinks each “no” statement is a great one-liner.


This activity develops listening skills, thinking skills, skill in making a decision, language enrichment, association skills, and confidence.


Ben (Age 5 and I don’t know how many weeks ‘cuz he’s too old for the book):


While he has “outgrown” the book, sometimes I go back and do some of the older activities that we missed (like clothespin toss, jumping distances, pattern repetition). But this week his “activity” is learning how to load and run the washing machine. I usually use the 4-stage teaching approach (You watch me do it, you do it with me, I watch you do it, you do it alone), and he’s on the third stage of this one. We’re almost all the way to washing machine independence – WOO-HOO!


This activity develops an incredible sense of accomplishment and freedom…in the mother!


OK. So it’s not going to win me the “Entertainer of the Year” Award. But it is a step up from “Let’s Play Tidy Up the Nursery.”


And the last time I tried to swing next to my toddlers, I about threw up.



Monday, September 17, 2007

It's a Girl Thing

Lily (3), after watching me point to my head while talking to Ben about using the brain:


"What's a brain? Is that like a hair clip?"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Survivor Skills

I've never been a fan of the "Survivor" shows. What kind of person has to AUDITION to be lied to and about, run marathons with only one shoe, eat unidentifiable things that look like they're still moving, and sleep crammed in a tent with four other people? You mean they get paid to enjoy what the rest of us take for granted?


But I digress...


Angela asked me how I survive things if I am an avid schedule-hater. First of all, I think it’s important to define “survive”: if I know where all my kids are and have enough silverware left for a meal, I consider myself a successful survivor. Still, I do have a few things I do to help maintain “order”:


  1. Lower my expectations. This is probably the single most important tip I can give. When someone gushes at the checkout line, “Wow, you have your hands full. I just don’t know how you do it all,” I just rest in the fact that they just don’t know I don’t do it all. Or even most of it. My ceiling fans do not get dusted on a regular basis. The freezer would probably die of shock (literally?) if I ever defrosted it. And yes, I have reached under my kids’ bunk bed and grabbed a stuffed animal that was not exactly…stuffed. But because I take the extra 15 minutes to put frilly bows in my girls’ hair, countless numbers of people get to have an extra 15 minutes of daydreaming of bygone days when mothers cared for their obedient children and waxed their spotless floors. I have learned the art of window-dressing, only the mannequins are my children and I pray you don’t step inside the store without giving me at least 4 days’ notice.


If you don’t want to “lower” your expectations, then just change them. I no longer expect my children to maintain eye contact with every adult who tries to engage them in conversation. I no longer expect my children to remember what bucket the miniature dinosaurs (all seven hundred thirty-nine of them) came out of or whether those dinosaurs are theirs to play with in the first place. I no longer expect my children to publicly recite the first thirty answers to the Kids’ Catechism (or “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” for that matter). I expect my children to grow to know that God is their God and they are His. I expect them to cheerfully glorify and enjoy Him forever. I expect them to love, protect, and strengthen one another.


I no longer expect my kitchen floor to be unchunky, my hallway free of paper airplanes and stray bedding, or my yard cared for. I do expect that when you knock, unannounced, the kids will throw some decent clothing on and we will smile when we open the door. I expect you to feel welcomed and wanted. I expect our conversation to move beyond pleasantries to the not-always-so-pleasant to the ultimate pleasure found in living within God’s will.


  1. Follow a routine. Yes, this may just be a case of semantics: I hate schedules but can stand routines. The difference? Schedules have times written in. This is a significant difference to me. With a schedule, I am NEVER on track. But with a routine, I am always doing the next thing. And I can easily tweak and rearrange when priorities differ. I basically have set times for meals, naps, and bedtime (the important things, eating and sleeping). These are my checkpoints throughout the day. I have a list of things to accomplish before each of these checkpoints.


And not only do I follow a routine in the grand scheme of the day, I also follow routine in little things. I wash my dishes the same way each time. I clean rooms the same way each time. This way, I can just go on “autopilot” and busy my mind with more interesting things than whatever chore is at hand.


  1. Work quickly. When it’s time to get stuff done, be fast. The dishes will not get that much cleaner if you languish over the job. And even if they do, you will be dirtying them again in another few hours, anyway. Figure out what’s important and spend time on those things. For me, important things include reading to the kids, having Lily do my hair, letting Ben read to me, tickling Abraham and Miriam, and letting Edee crawl all over me. These are unrecoverable treasures. They will not last forever. Dishes, laundry, kitchen floor dirt, and meal prep do last forever. I will be dealing with these in their present state until I am no longer in my present state (breathing), so I’d rather deal with them quickly now and not spend forever. A little imagination helps: sometimes (shhh) I pretend I’m a paid Starbucks worker and rush like crazy to get the kitchen clean.


  1. Lighten the workload. When things start taking over my workday, I reevaluate. Meals used to take me forever. Now I plan ahead and pre-cook, chop, etc. anything that will monopolize my day. Beans, chicken, and seasoned ground beef all get pre-cooked and frozen in mass quantities when I have a “light” day. I make six loaves of bread and freeze three of them before the second rising. The crockpot and pressure cooker have been resurrected. If I can make myself get out of bed a little earlier than the kids do (no small feat for me), I can race madly around the house doing those things that seem to take five times longer with children.


  1. Music, music, music. Fast, crazy stuff for cleaning…‘80’s rock, Kermit Unpigged, Rachmaninoff, any of the Putumayo CD’s, old country music about the Harper Valley PTA. Slow, calm music for just before Papa gets home…classical guitar, Michael Card, James Taylor, Johnny Cash, old country music about goin’ down to the river to pray. This is not to create an ambiance of peace and tranquility for him but to calm me from my frenzied state so that I don’t run for the van as soon as he cracks the front door open.


  1. Declutter and simplify. Yes, this old standby. In a moment of theological strength, I emailed my husband last week with a summary of the day’s woes and messes, the last line being something like “I haaaaaatttttttteeeeee kkkkkkiiiiiiiidddddddsssssss!!!!” His quick and (I felt overly) dramatic response was to say that we would limit the children to one toy and one stuffed animal each. All the rest would be put away for a few weeks, when we would let them trade for a different toy and stuffed animal. “Great!” I emailed back. But when he got home and pulled out the trash bags to start stuffing, the kids were eager beavers and I was dragging my feet. “Here, Papa!” they’d chirp as they handed him yet another toy. “Oh, Ethan. They LOVE that!” I’d argue. He threatened to ban me from the whole picking up process (!!!!!!).


And here it is, a full week later. They have kept things much neater and have played nicely with each other. They have enjoyed the extra space and have not once complained about a lack of toys.


So those are some things we do. Sometimes they are more effective than others. I think over all the most helpful thing is to have a husband who can make me laugh hysterically at my own dashed hopes of winning the June Cleaver award.


“Oh, Ward, for heaven’s sake, sit yourself down after your hard day of work. Just move that pile of wet diapers that are on those papers…oh, are those your sermon notes? Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. Under all of that I’m sure there’s a chair somewhere. BEAVER! WALLY! AND YOU OTHER THREE! STOP BICKERING AND GIVE YOUR FATHER A KISS! Wait! Go wash your faces first. Where did you get markers? IS THAT MY LIPSTICK?”


It works! Oh, come on, feed my fantasy. June Cleaver meets Brady Bunch meets Waltons meets Apple Dumpling Gang meets Little Rascals meets Tom Sawyer.


Now if only I could find the remote…


Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Surefire way to make the trip home from Family Camp even longer: travel 25 miles past your exit off of Interstate 81 before your navigating wife says, “Do you remember any of this? Do you think I might have missed it? There’s no way I could have missed it! I’ve been looking!”


Surefire way to make that extra hour feel like three: when your wife is singing, “Have you ever seen a housefly, a housefly, a housefly?” to demonstrate puns to the kids, add verses like, “Have you ever seen a doghouse, a doghouse, a doghouse?” and then laugh haughtily while fending off the glares of said wife.


Surefire way to make sure your wife answers with an unelaborating “Fine,” next time you ask how school went, listen to the kids tell you that living things grow and change, and say, “Oh, so diapers must be living. They grow and get changed.”


Sure. Aim. Fire.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007


My youngest cousin, when she was three years old, used to ask, “What are you doing in the world?” instead of “What in the world are you doing?” Either way, here’s what we’re doing…


Ethan started classes last week.  He’s in his final year of seminary, and these five classes look to be as enjoyable as seminary classes can be when you live in the real world (with wife and kids whose idea of a good seminary joke is, “It’s all Greek to me!”). He is done with his language classes, which means no more lengthy exegesis papers that make this proofreader’s head swim. He has his senior sermon to preach in October; and that, along with the upcoming oral licensure exam, will be good to have done.


Benjamin (5) has had a very productive summer. Thanks to his Aunt Becca, he’s learned to tie his shoes; and thanks to his papa, he’s learned to ride a bike (but not stop it!). He gets more capable and more confident each day. He has inherited my tendency to aim the bike straight for whatever he most wants to miss (who knew that was genetic?) and has about six bike-related scrapes, of which he’s very proud. He loves math, and his reading has gotten much stronger.


Lily (3) is quite the accomplished beautician. At any given moment, her hair has at least three clips in it, and brushing is optional. She loves to play with Benjamin and is rarely seen away from him. She is a very able big sister, and she often changes the twins’ diapers and asks how she can help. Sometimes it amazes me to see how gentle and loving she is towards her siblings.


Abraham (2) is getting potty-trained, which for him means that he sits on the potty singing loudly for about ten minutes, gets up, and promptly goes on the floor. He is also unnervingly good at sound effects. When we were in Maine, he perfectly imitated the musical saw at the farmer’s market; and he loves to imitate the vacuum and wheat grinder, which always gives me a start and him a good laugh. He continues to be the ham of the family and enjoys long hugs.


Miriam (2) is also getting potty-trained, which for her means going on the potty, getting praised, Mommy cleaning potty, two minutes later going on the potty, getting praised, Mommy cleaning potty, two minutes later going on the potty, getting praised, Mommy cleaning potty, two minutes later going on the potty, getting praised, Mommy cleaning potty, two minutes later going on the potty, Mommy cleaning potty, getting diaper on. Enough is enough! Her vocabulary has really expanded; and she is always busy busy busy, making sure everyone is doing what she thinks they should be, and helping maximize the trouble her twin is getting into.


Eden (7 mos.) is quite the troublemaker now! Her hair is massive and I have to clip it so it doesn’t hang in her face where she’s not coordinated enough to pull it back. She crawls everywhere and pulls up on any surface available (couch, chair, leg, toy basket…). She cruises along the couch to reach whoever’s closest; and her favorite activities include attempting the stairs and pulling videos down from the entertainment center. Edee had her first word on Monday, and it was…drum roll, please… “MAMA!” She says it on command and usually when she wants food, so it could mean “more,” but I’ll just take it at face value and say it means “Mama.” It beats “hi,” (2 kids), “ball,” and “no,” which were the other firsts around here.


And me? I’m busy running in circles, getting dog-tired but never quite able to catch my tail. I have enjoyed playing around in the kitchen with cost-effective, healthy meals. Summer was fun, laid-back, and memorable; and now the school year looms ahead. Fortunately, I only have one that I have to be legally schooling and that one is only 5 years old, but I do need to get some routines in place as little ones quickly wreak havoc otherwise. I am a bonafide schedule-hater (and yes, I do own Managers of Their Homes and still declare loudly that I hate schedules), but I do enjoy a good routine now and then. You know, to down with my coffee.

So, what are you doing in the world?


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Maine Thing

After months of dreaming and planning, we finally went on our long-awaited trip to Maine to visit good friends who moved there in November. It was the kind of vacation a parent of little ones dreams about -- their five children (ages 13, 10, 6, 4, and 2) played for hours and hours and hours with our five, inside and out, with chickens and geckos and dog, with play-doh and playsets, with dress-up clothes and dolls and light saber. The only times I saw them were 1) when there was a dispute over how many passengers a ride-on toy could handle, and whether said passengers should sit behind or on top of one another, and 2) when they would gather like starving orphans around the kitchen island, mimicking the puppy in Disney's 101 Dalmatians: "I'm hungry, Mama, I'm hungry. Mama, I'm hungry."


And I got to visit with my very good friend, who has risen even higher in my estimation after putting up with us for a week. She's the kind of friend you love to just watch and learn from -- I received an education in culinary delights (summer savory, grilled home-grown chicken, homemade bread that shamed mine), parenting ("Your voice is whining. Listen to how I say it, and say it like me..."), laundry (a little eucalyptus oil in the wash makes it smell better and kills bedmites), and chicken farming ("Do they still have water? Do they still have water? Do they still have water?").


Ethan got to enjoy the outdoors with their 13-year old son, an outdoor companion of his from before they moved. He and the father grilled together and shared theological discussions, as well as serving as the "wet" parents at the lake (otherwise known as the fun ones). They succeeded at finding a fine wine and failed at finding a fine movie.


This family is the kind that has the two stepped-out-of-a-magazine parents with the five beautiful children that behave themselves. You know, the kind that every church pastor wants to introduce new people to (See what fine members we have? You, too, can be beautiful and put together if you join our church...). Normally this would be cause for me to steer away from them. (Beautiful and well-behaved? There's got to be SOME kind of well-hidden problems brewing that I don't want to get anywhere near. Me, jealous? Perish the thought!) But what sets them apart from the other goody-two-shoes (hee, hee) is their sense of humor. They can match every sarcastic remark I make, and even the children enjoy a hearty laugh at themselves. Or at me (just ask their 10-year old, who calmly pointed out that I was using the knife upside down and it seemed a lot sharper if you put the blade end to the beet you were trying to cut).


We enjoyed their beautiful home and attached barn, their well-behaved dog Jasper (even if he did start gagging whenever I got close), the harvest of their garden, and their adorable town. But most of all we enjoyed the companionship, laughter, and probing discussion of friends. We have been united by the bond, welcome or not, that comes when you spend a length of time with outsiders. A week of our lives has been shared, and I cherish the memories that week provided...chasing the birds to get the perfect picture of a gull hovering in front of the lighthouse, playing ImaginIFF and arguing over what kind of a shoe our pastor's wife would make, crocheting with my friend and her daughter, the three of us frustratingly pulling out stitches, smiling at the draft of a book, Ethan and their son making apple wood chips from a branch that fell from their apple tree, watching kids splash for hours at the lake, the four of us adults sleeping through "The Tower of the Firstborn," seeing five bedecked and bedazzled children in play clothes play "pound" with stuffed animals, watching their two-year old "baby-sit" (in the very literal sense of the word) my two-year olds who seemed to struggle with pattern recognition whenever he got the sumo wrestler look in his eyes, Abraham adopting their 13-year old as his older brother, Edee snorting hysterically at anyone who would pick her up and smile, the children hypnotized at the man playing the musical saw at the farmer's market, five girls sleeping peacefully in their shared room, four boys sleeping peacefully in their shared room. Each memory brings a smile and a sigh.


But I'm almost sure I heard a collective sigh of relief from their house as we pulled away...



Thursday, August 2, 2007


Believe it or not, that's the first thing I noticed about my husband. I was sitting in my Southern History class, and my eyes drifted from the teacher to the floor. My hand was doing that sprawling notes thing it does when I am almost asleep -- you know, the thing where you look at your notes later and they say something like, "drafted a charter to soooo boring boring BORING" and each "boring" is written in a different way: bubble letters, mirror writing, circles on the end of each letter... I was trying desperately to stay awake, when my gaze wandered over to the left and landed on a pair of forearms that even Popeye would have envied. They were huge. There were muscles outlined that I didn't even know existed outside of comic books.


I looked to see whose they were and was surprised to see that they belonged to a guy with whom I'd had several classes. I don't know what kind of blinders I'd had on to not take notice, but they were certainly removed that instant.


The professor called on him to answer some Charlie Brown teachery "Wah wah wah wah wah" question, and he gave this clear, well-thought-out-but-not-groveling answer in a deep, soft voice. I remember my face getting hot and flustered at the thought that if he looked over, he would see how intently I was looking at him.


At the time, I was living with some very well-meaning friends who were both engaged. For some reason, engaged people seem to view unengaged people as, well, unengaging, and they do their best to remedy the situation. They had given me a book whose thesis was that if you wait patiently, doing all kinds of marvelous deeds of housewifery like ironing your sheets and learning to crochet window treatments, and keep your gaze on God, He will provide a dashing husband. The irony of this book was that it used Ruth as the biblical model of a lady in waiting.




I called my mom and told her that I had just met the most outstanding man in the universe. He was good-looking AND could stay awake through Southern History! Her advice? "Ruth lay down at Boaz's feet!" With this theological argument at the helm, I thought out my battle plan.

  • Talk to said history professor (I MUST STAY AWAKE! I MUST STAY AWAKE! I MUST STAY AWAKE!) to find out everything I can about ... what's his name? Nathan. Or Ethan? Maybe Ian. Report: He is not dating anyone and is said professor's favorite student. He works at the library, in addition to being a history grader. He is a member of the history club. His name is Ethan.

  • Join history club. Report: attended the field trip to the Holocaust Museum. Vacuumed out car just in case he rode with me. Ended up riding with four giggling girls. He rode in pickup truck with only 1 other person.

  • Go to Christmas party local community history society is hosting at the museum. Report: Ethan was the person you were supposed to RSVP to, so I called him to say I would be attending (and woke him up: "That's OK. You make a nice alarm clock." Oh, the things said in that hazy place between dreams and reality... I now have to regularly remind him that I make a nice alarm clock.) Bribe another girl to go with me. Ethan does not go; my friend and I are the only two people under the age of 72 at Christmas party.

  • Take brownies up to his dorm floor. One of my good friends had a crush on the same floor, so we decided to make brownies and take them up there during the "open dorm" hours (4 hours on the weekend). Report: neither my friend's crush nor mine were there. Give brownies to my cousin (on same floor) and play 3 1/2 hours of some African card game (this was the Missionary Kid floor) with every male on the floor. Listen to 3 1/2 hours' worth of bush and jungle stories. Thank them for the "wonderful" evening and leave with empty brownie pan. Meet Ethan on stairway where he is returning from a bike ride, bike and helmet resting on massive forearm. Manage a frazzled, "You missed some great brownies!" through clenched teeth and roll my eyes at his puzzled expression.

  • Check out theological and intellectual books from the library. Report: in a strange twist of irony, this was the one that got his attention. So guess who had to read up in order to carry on the discussion? And I thought Southern History was a snoozer... This plan of action resulted in many, many nights spent reading heavy books at the back of the library. Well, many, many nights with my head lying on heavy books at the back of the library. But at least he had to come over to wake me up in order to close the library...


I laugh heartily when people make assumptions and ask me my "courtship" story. I stalked him! How's that for courtship?


On Sunday, we will have been married for seven years. I won't be naive enough to say that I don't know where the time went, because I know that's not a very long time. But what has amazed me is how much richness a short seven years can bring. When we started going out, I thought of all those people, books, etc. that advise you to make a list of what you want in a husband. I had made my list(s), and he far surpassed them all. I didn't even know God made guys that good. And with every year (month, day) that passes, I am even more amazed at his "goodness": in important ways (godliness, intelligence, humor, sensitivity) but even in the "unimportant" ones (making me laugh at myself, knowing the perfect thing to say or do to snap me out of my selfishness or uppityness, knowing the places all of the kids like to be tickled -- which is no small feat -- just ask them -- "Mama's a terrible tickler.").


And tomorrow is his birthday. This is the beginning of the glorious 10 days of the year when we are the same age. The other 346 days, he loves to rub in that I am older than he is. Respect your elders, I say.


But I love him. And I don't know anybody who doesn't.


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fairy Godmother-in-Law

I never REALLY get the mother-in-law jokes. I mean, I get that in some sort of Cinderella stepmotherish way, mothers-in-law are supposed to be (and stereotypically are) these women who are out to get their daughters- or sons-in law, foiling every desperate attempt of said victims to do their duties in the world.


But I don't REALLY get the jokes. I can't identify at all. My mother-in-law is nothing like this. She is more like the fairy godmother, bibbity-bobbity-booing her way through my house, making everything look, sound, smell, taste, and feel better than it did before. And she does all of this without making me feel inferior for not having things look, sound, smell, taste, and feel as good as she has.


She's beautiful. We once got into a Williamsburg exhibit for free because the tour "guard" couldn't stop flirting with her. She has beautiful Swedish blue eyes (which four of my children have inherited, thank you very much!) and an incredible smile that is so calming and comforting. She always smells wonderful... not chocolate-chip-cookie wonderful but indescribably wonderful. It's like a mix of hope and excitement. My kids love opening cards from her because they can't wait to sniff the envelopes (it's true!).


She has this knack for giving presents. I can pretty much guarantee that if you like what I have on, she gave it to me. If you like what my kids are playing with, she gave it to them. If you don't even know her but will be with us for Christmas when she is, she'll get you something you never knew existed but instantly love.


We don't get to see her very often . She lives in Alaska and we live...Outside. The times we are together are magical -- even for me. I wait for my husband to return from the airport with "Grandma" with as much breathless anticipation and jittery excitement as the kids. Even with our crowd of a family, she manages to make every one of us feel special and appreciated individually.


I cherish our times together. She has excellent wisdom, an experienced shoulder, and a great sense of humor. Once when I groaned in exasperation to my then-6 week old, "Miriam Marlys!" my mother-in-law said, "Oh, no! I'm a middle name!" Get her started on a story about driving to Anchorage with her late husband and their near-blind friends, and you will have her laughing in tears as she describes the officer's face at the visually impaired driver pretending to be drunk after being pulled over for less-than-perfect driving. Get her started on forgetting her children at the grocery store, and she and my husband will have tears literally leaping out of their eyes as they recall her singing, "Oh, where, oh, where can Jamie be? Oh, where, oh, where is Michelle?" when she thought they were just hiding in the back of the station wagon.


We love my mother-in-law. The only jokes we can honestly tell about her are ones she has told us. She has made my house more beautiful, my children happier, and me more blessed. And she made one doozy of a fine son.


Happy birthday, Mom!


Her children rise up and call her blessed;
   her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
   but you surpass them all."
(Prov. 31:28-29)

Monday, July 23, 2007


23 inches. According to the time-honored "one knuckle is an inch" method, this is how far my arm can reach down the floor register trying to retrieve my long-lost silverware from the air duct.


24 inches. According to my ability to make the spoons clink but my inability to actually grab them, this is my estimated guess at how far down the air duct the silverware is.


32 inches and 35 inches. According to the hasty, "stand still while I flip the ruler" method, these are the heights of the perpetrators.




Friday, July 13, 2007


I do believe I’ve just had an epiphany.


I often find myself on the tail end of a discussion about grandparents. Many of my friends have complained about the time they have to spend re-training their children after an extended visit with Nanny and Pop-pop, the Mee-maw- and Gramps-induced sugar highs (and lows) they end up dealing with because the children were laden with candy and sodas right before being picked up by Mom and Dad, and the noisy toys requiring 18 AAA batteries that are gifts from … you guessed it … Grandpa and Grandma.


“I don’t think they understand that not following the way we discipline sends mixed messages to my son and makes it harder when we get him home.” OR “I think they just must not remember what it is like to parent. They have forgotten what it’s like to deal with little children after sugar.” OR “Times have changed. They just don’t seem to know how to pick a decent toy that won’t give me a headache or run out after an hour of play.”


I used to commiserate and nod along with their suppositions about why grandparents are the way they are.


But today I had an epiphany.


It came during a day of cleaning up messes in order to make room for more messes, children refusing to nap because they don’t want to miss out an any mess-making (yes, I put them in their beds but you can rip a book into a thousand pieces rather silently and Mommy won’t hear and will not want to check on you because you are being so quiet and she thinks you are sleeping), and my five-year old responding to my groan after discovering said awake children and torn book, “Well, Mom, life is hard.” (!!!)


When my repeated calls upstairs to Miriam were met with silence, I found her applying toothpaste to her face, her hands, her brother’s face (who went to investigate when she wouldn’t answer), and the child’s table in their room. As I was scrubbing at her face, hands, brother’s face, and table, my one thought was, “I can’t wait until I’m baby-sitting your little girl and I will TEACH her to make messes so that YOU can clean them up!”


At which point came afore-mentioned epiphany. Our parents are not in the early stages of Alzheimer’s nor confused by modern times.


They remember perfectly.


Every lemon drop, every Dr. Pepper, every drop of caffeine and injection of sugar, every beeping toy requiring a zillion batteries, every second-guess of your method of discipline, ALL OF THEM, are calculated moves that have been at least 20 years in the making.


It’s not senility. It’s revenge.


But I’m on to them…


Menus 4 Moms


Have you seen this? For no charge, Menus 4 Moms will send you a weekly email with 5-days' worth of dinner menus and recipes, complete with side dishes ("MOM! Who's coming for dinner?") and a shopping list with estimated prices. (You can also look at the menus/shopping list at the site.) The meals feed 6 people (generously), but you can always double or halve (or freeze or gift the extra). Check this site out -- there are lots of goodies here!


The meals have been delicious, nutritious, and reasonably priced. My days just got a LOT easier!



Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pollyanna and Poppycock

One of Lily's (3) morning chores is to make Abraham's and Miriam's (2) beds. This morning she came skipping down the stairs singing, "Mommy, come look! Mommy, come look! I made Miriam's bed a SPECIAL way!"

"Just a minute!" I yelled and finished chopping the red pepper for tonight's salad. A long minute later (no wonder my kids' sense of time is so warped), after chopping the pepper, leaving a message for Mom on her voicemail, and washing up the breakfast dishes, I took my hands out of the dishwater, dried them on my pants, and headed up the stairs to see this newest masterpiece.  

A 3-yr. old's definition of "special" differs drastically from ...well ... mine, so I glanced in the room, gave what I hoped was a convincing "Wowww..." to Lily who was putting toothbrushes away in the bathroom, and turned to take the vacuum downstairs. 

Lily went into her room to re-gaze upon her work, but the shriek that followed let me know she was no longer in awe. "WHO MESSED IT UP? WHO MESSED IT UP?" she started yelling. "I DID A BOOTIFUL JOB, AND SOMEBODY MESSED IT UP! NOW I HAVE TO DO IT ALL OVER!!" 

I gave my best Haley Mills smile and said, "I'm sorry someone messed it up. I'm sure it was beautiful. But you can do it again. Think of it this way: now you have a chance to practice making it your special way. And you can do it a different special way, if you like! You can be glad that you get another chance to do something you're good at!" 

I smiled as I headed back down the stairs. And why shouldn't I? The salad for tonight was ready, my phone call made, the breakfast dishes done, the laundry hung... 

The laundry. I looked outside to re-gaze upon my work, and a snapped clothesline full of wet clothes lying in the grass is what met my eyes. "Ugggggh," I groaned as I slammed the vacuum down. Grabbing the laundry basket, I fiercely swung the door open and stomped out to face my chore with grit. Trying to stifle the rising anger, I attempted to go into automatic mode and just get the clothes into the basket. But with each grasshopper, spider, mosquito, and fly, not to mention (OK, yes to mention) the sweltering wet heat, I found myself getting angrier and angrier. And unlike Lily, I didn't even have anyone to blame, which was more frustrating. 

The closest I could come to a scapegoat was stinkin' Pollyanna. My own words echoed in my head: "You can do it again. Think of it this way: now you have a chance to practice drying them your special way. And you can do it a different special way, if you like! You can be glad that you get another chance to do something you're good at!"

Please. It's not like it's rocket science. It's drying the clothes, for crying out loud. There's no art to it. Practice won't make perfection, it merely makes another load dry -- if you're lucky, that is.  

Pollyanna can mind her own business and start shaking out some clothes. I don't need the Glad Game; I need to not have my day interrupted by wasted time. I'll see your Pollyanna and raise you an Erma Bombeck. 

But even as I mentally raged, I could see the futility of my anger. It wasn't getting any more clothes picked up, it wasn't bringing glory to God, and doggone it, it wasn't even making me feel any better. I grew (slightly) pensive. Ethan and I had been talking about having that heavenly perspective, that view that as believers, eternity has already started. What was this job doing for eternity? Well, absolutely nothing on its own. Having to gather the clothes to re-dry them is not going to mold the future into anything. Then what on earth good is it? It is even lower on the totem pole (to use a thoroughly syncretistic metaphor) than other daily drudgeries; because not only is it something that is just going to have to be done again (like washing dishes and making beds and changing diapers and brushing teeth), it is something that I had already done for this moment in time. I had already hung these clothes to dry! I should not have ever had to gather them to be re-dried! 

But even the phrasing of my question: What on earth good is it? led me to a revealing question. Who cares what good it is on earth? How could it be something good for heaven? The answers that I came up with were not profound or earth- (or heaven-) shaking, but they did give me cause for thought.

First, the very pondering of what possible good this was doing for heaven had already made me think more about heaven than I had this morning.

Second, it was a chance for practice. Not practice at gathering clothes, but practice at cheerfully doing the task set before me (and from the looks of it, I really do need the practice). 

Third, as with most unpleasant jobs, it gave me cause to reflect on the fact that heaven will not be like earth (amen!). Heaven will not have wasted time. The time there will be endless, but it will not by any means be wasteful or wasted. 

Fourth, I could rejoice that this was my worst problem of the day. This is almost reason to be giddy. Nobody's life is endangered, nobody's relationship is severed, nobody's family is compromised because I have to pick up wet clothes. 

Fifth, my Robes with a capital "R" are the kind that never ever ever have to be re-washed or re-dried. I can do NOTHING to dirty these clothes. No Spray-n-Wash or Oxi Clean or hydrogen peroxide will wash out the blood of the Lamb. And, ironically, His blood has made my Robes white.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

"Therefore they are before the throne of God,
   and serve him day and night in his temple;
   and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
   the sun shall not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of living water,
   and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  (Rev. 7:13-17)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fourth of July

I am always slightly irritated by the Fourth of July. I think a lot of it has to do with trying to find 1) something that makes it worth being out in the heat that 2) small children will enjoy but 3) without a long wait. We have a hate-hate relationship with humid heat. Ethan's Alaskan blood and my ... well, heat-induced crabbiness tend to embrace winter holidays but sprawl in the air conditioning during the summer ones. Fireworks are always iffy -- they start much later than my children's bedtime, and the majority of my kids spend the time with their hands over their ears saying, "Too loud! Too loud!" (violating limitation #2). Plus, the fireworks in this area are frankly rather puny (violating limitation #1), but to go where they are spectacular in the mountains involves a 1 1/2 hour drive (violating limitation #3). 


The past few years we've abandoned fireworks altogether and bought a package of firecrackers (and here in Virginia, you're pretty much just paying for birthday candles on steroids) and sparklers to do in the front yard. The kids have been duly impressed, but we were itchin' to do something a little different.


In order to ensure a perfect Fourth, we planned. Absolutely nothing. Well, we planned to plan, but somehow the Fourth came and we had ... no idea what we were doing with it (and to state the obvious, five kids in five years shows that we have never been strong in the planning department).


So when Ethan came downstairs yesterday morning and said, "What are we going to do?" I scrambled to think. The only thing I could come up with was a weak, "Ferry Farm is having a free thing today."


"Great! Let's go." FREE is one of our favorite words, but we understand that you sometimes get what you pay for. So I went into this with low expectations, thinking that it was only a 15-minute drive if things went haywire.


But I have to say that this was my favorite Fourth with kids so far. (My favorite Fourth sans kids was the year after we were married and we went to Seward, Alaska, and watched the fireworks over the water and then camped and watched the Mt. Marathon race and the mini-Mt. Marathon, but that is a rabbit [moose?] trail that I won't follow here.) SOMEBODY had done their planning, and the Ferry Farm activities were perfect! There were free cupcakes and crafts, demonstrations and games. Lily made a corn-husk doll with her squaw instructor while Benjamin and Abraham checked out the deer, fox, raccoon, and otter pelts a painted Indian was displaying. Benjamin made a beeswax candle, joining a circle of children who dipped their wicks rhythmically in a bucket of wax, then a bucket of water, then a bucket of wax, then a bucket of water, bending almost in time with the musician playing the penny whistle. At the crafts table, we made tri-corn hats for the boys out of construction paper, feathers, staples, and glue; and the girls wore mop caps made from coffee filters with ribbons laced through holes punched around the edge. There were all sorts of colonial games -- bocce, lawn bowling, burlap sack racing, toss the oh-so-colonial inflatable beach ball on the oh-so-colonial parachute, hoop-and-stick, bean bag toss, etc., etc., etc. They signed their names with a quill pen to the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin practiced carrying a musket around. A gunsmith showed the boys how they used to make bullets (it must have improved your aim dramatically to have to make your own bullets!).


It was fantastic. We left, wandered around the newly-renovated mall (my favorite part is the huge family bathroom -- I can change diapers and have the olders use the restroom without having to work shifts!), and came home to prepare some red-and-blue treats.


And in a few minutes, I'm off to gather some corn husks from the field next door to whip up another doll to replace the one that is now guarding that family bathroom at the newly-renovated mall.


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