Monday, May 28, 2007

Strawberry Fields Forever

As I sit here very early this Tuesday morning (oh, the joys of an evening mocha!), I type with red-stained fingertips. We spent about an hour and a half yesterday morning at the farm next to ours picking what I think are the absolutely best-tasting strawberries. The children required surprisingly little attention -- we put Edee in her stroller in the pavilion and laid a blanket out for the others, with various balls and frisbees nearby. They occupied themselves by eating strawberries and playing with the drink cooler the farm supplied to refresh thirsty strawberry-pickers.


It was the PERFECT strawberry-picking day...just like I remember them being when I would go picking (eating) as a little girl with my the 90's, blazing sun, and humid as all get-out. We could hear the occasional motorboat cruising down the river just on the other side of the trees, tempting us with the idea of ... well ... doing ANYTHING else. Ethan reminisced about picking salmon berries and wild strawberries in Alaska; and I reminisced about coming to the very same farm every year as a little girl, crazy with excitement beforehand and hot and bothered about ten minutes into it.


I guess the only major change from back then is that those playing on the outskirts of the field are my children and not my siblings.


And I did do more picking than eating...


And I don't remember my back hurting this much...


But I do remember the strawberries being this delicious. YUM.


Gone Fishin'


Ethan took Benjamin fishing Saturday morning. It was a big deal. Benjamin had drawn a series of fish on his calendar for Saturday, May 26, and he crossed the days off in eager anticipation. They picked up a Pirates of the Caribbean fishing rod and tackle box, loaded their backpack with water, iced tea, two chocolate chip muffins, and three Little Debbie Star Crunches (nutrition is essential for the sportsman), and headed to the local pond. They saw baby goslings crossing the trail with their mother, a dead fish that looked like it had been partially consumed by a heron or some other bird, and a large fish swimming near Ben's line. They spent an hour and a half and caught nothing.


And when Ben got into bed that night, he said, "This has been one of the best days of my life." 



Thursday, May 24, 2007

School Bus...iness

Benjamin recently asked how old he would be when he got to take a bus to school.

"Well," Ethan said, "You might not ever ride a bus to school. Or if you do, it might not be for a while."

Benjamin pondered this for a second and then jumped back on his four-wheeler to "mow" the lawn. And really, with a Power Wheels four-wheeler Papa got from the thrift store and a real dead Suburban to play in, who needs a school bus?

Transportation was the least of my worries as I contemplated curriculum for this coming year. But a long talk with Ethan helped to ease my worries, and I think having settled what we are going to do for the year has lifted a large burden from me. This is what we will be doing for this coming year:

Bible: finish Catherine Vos's The Child's Story Bible; begin Gertrude Hoeksema's Suffer Little Children with Covenant Home's day-to-day guide. One of my friends, who is contemplating using this program, looked at my guide and commented that they expect a lot of prep work from the parents. While this is usually a reason for me to shy away from a curriculum, I think that Bible prep work is absolutely necessary for parents. I need to be well-prepared in this area anyway, and I appreciate that Hoeksema gives so much attention to helping the parent understand biblical truths.

Language Arts: Benjamin -- continue with Dolores G. Hiskes's Phonics Pathways; Lily -- continue with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons; supplement with Walmart phonics workbooks and early readers.

Math: Math-U-See

Memory: continue with Bible Memory Association's The Bible ABC's, Kids' First Catechism, the Lord's Prayer, the Apostle's Creed, and various hymns.

Life Skills: these are the basic things they need to learn, like tying your shoes, wiping down a bathroom sink, cleaning the kitty litter, loading the washing machine, etc. I need to compile a list to go through this year. I have loved Montessori materials for teaching these sorts of things.

We will also be doing a lot of read-alouds. We are currently on The Horse and His Boy in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and will finish that, along with a lot of other books. We were given many of the read-alouds from Sonlight, so we will probably read those as they are high-quality, fun classics.    

Our history will be tied in with the Bible that we are reading. Biblical history is where it all started, right? And the science will be picked up as we go. Since reading Charlotte Mason, I have very much enjoyed being outside much of the day (lately, the kids stay out 4-5 hours MINIMUM during the day). It probably helps that the weather has been unusually mild and the bugs unusually...absent. And we have learned so MUCH just from observing and then looking up what we observed, etc. Ethan has some great books on animal/plant identification and is a natural whiz at science (or, as Benjamin puts it, "Papa knows everything and you know a little"). We also have various early science books that we picked up at different used book stores, and our library is outstanding.

I'm looking forward to this!

Friday, May 18, 2007

One Is the Loneliest Number

Our four oldest children share a room with each other: one bunk bed and two toddler beds. Adjacent to their room is a very small, oddly shaped guest room (or more appropriately, as Lily calls it, the "guess" room -- you never know what might be stored in there!). Since the twins moved out of that room and into Ben and Lily's room 7 months ago, I have been waiting for a certain someone to ask if he could sleep in the guest room. He finally asked this week.


And lasted all of MAYBE seven minutes, if I really stretch out how long it took him to climb back into his top bunk. As he was walking back to his room, his stuffed dinosaur under one arm and a blanket under the other, he muttered, "I'm going back to my bed." When I asked him what was wrong, he sheepishly said, "I'm lonely in there."


I knew exactly how he felt, and I was reminded of a birthday breakfast my mom prepared for me to have in bed one year. I was so lonely eating that breakfast in bed that I ended up downstairs with the others in a matter of minutes.


I'm all for silence...occasionally...but it is wonderful when the constant mayhem of siblings is a comfort, when those who know how to most distress you are also those to best soothe you.


In Psalm 68, the psalmist says, "God sets the lonely in families..." How often I forget this and view "family" in the strictest technical terms. We are more than just people who share a last name; we are together because God set us together!


And I am ashamed when I remember that I should view my church family in the same light. We are more than just people who share a bulletin; we are together because God set us together! Like Benjamin with his siblings, I should be anxious for the times when we can be together. I should feel lonely when I am apart from the Body. And I should rest and rejoice when I am together with the Body, not because it's a perfect Body, but because Christ is the Head.


Like the psalmist, I need to remember:

"I lie awake;
   I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop...
My days are like an evening shadow;
   I wither away like grass. "
(Ps. 102: 7,11)   



"Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
   so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:
that he looked down from his holy height;
   from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
   to set free those who were doomed to die,
that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD,
   and in Jerusalem his praise,
when peoples gather together,
   and kingdoms, to worship the LORD
. "
(Ps. 102:18-22)


Friday, May 11, 2007

The Circus

Wednesday, after being house-bound for too long, we went to the circus. Ethan had planned on staying home as he had work galore to do for classes. As it turns out, he ended up being in the throes of . . . well, throwing up, so he got to watch something else fly through the air with the greatest of ease. But this is not where I was going with this post, so let me just stop there.


Anyway. I took our kids to the circus. Going to the circus always involves a bit of an inner struggle for me -- I love the thrill of the daring feats, the sheer physical prowess of acrobats who can almost look bored while juggling firesticks and standing on an elephant, the humor of pink and blue poodles driving scooters, and . . . the thought of being a circus gypsy. I hate the clowns (with one exception that I can recall), the endless drivel of the ringmaster, the suggestive costumes (I mean, really, I understand needing to wear tight clothing to do some of these acts, but it just gets ridiculous!), the ever-present allegations of the poor treatment of circus animals, and . . . the thought of being a circus gypsy. 


But going to the circus, and this circus in particular, was a tradition growing up. Edith Shaeffer talks a lot about the importance of family traditions, and I agree. Traditions help to knit your past together. They become the mileposts of your history. But back to the circus. It's not a huge circus, which is part of its charm. You have time to absorb what's going on without trying to look from ring to ring to ring. And, like the fair and going to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, I always looked forward to going. I can even remember what I wore one year when I was about 7 -- purple corduroy overalls that my mom ordered from a JCPenney catalog.


So when I saw that the circus was coming, I decided that we would go. I am learning that part of the joy in doing something special is the expectation that builds. Usually I forego this expectation for the 2-and-under crowd as their concept of time is extremely . . . immediate. We don't even tell them we are going to church until we are actually in the car (eventually they figure out that the whole bathing/nail clipping/picking out dresses for the next day routine is a precursor to Sunday), and even then it's just to do the "We're going to church to worship God. How do we worship God? We listen. We sit still. We don't touch the people in front of us. We..." etc.


But I wanted Ben and Lily (5 and 3) to have that expectation.  I got some circus books from the library and gathered the kids around me. I told them we were going to go somewhere special in a few days, and the clue was in the books. Lily looked at them and said, "We're going to the library?" (In her defense, she comes from a long line of "clueless" guessers, her brother being one of them: Ben, we're eating your favorite meal for lunch. What is it? Something you specifically asked me to get. Ummmm.... It comes in something rectangular. Ummm... [Ethan, exasperated]: It comes in a box and starts with macaroni! [Ben, 5 minutes later]: Macaroni and cheese!)


Anyway. You can see why we needed to prepare. We read the books, discussed the pictures, and talked about what we might see at our circus. Ben pretended to be a lion, and Lily was the princess lady who feeds the lions and gives them baby dolls to sleep with. The day of the circus, everybody took baths (oooh, we must be going somewhere REALLY special!), got dressed in special circus clothing (T-shirts and denim overalls for boys, pink gingham dresses for girls), and made lemonade to take with us. As an added bonus, we drove past the lawnmower man bringing our FIXED!! lawnmower back.


We met my parents and siblings at the fairgrounds. I'm not completely stupid; five little children with only me would mean I was assuming the role of ringmaster for our own little private circus and NO THANKS! My kids were enthralled; any time they get to do something with Grandma and Grandpa is a big deal.


So we were enchanted by the artists swinging in the air, entertained (well, some of us) by the goofy clowns, and frightened by the motorcylists. And 100 minutes and an elephant ride later, it was all over. All that we had left to show for it were some blow-up toys on sticks.


And the memory of a really great time, the continuation of a tradition.


Ben, Lily, and cousin on elephant

(Ben, Lily, and their cousin on an elephant. My photographic abilities are astounding, I know.)

All Better

Abraham and Miriam sans flu

Hurrah! After a little over a week, the pesky flu bug has finally given up the good fight. And my superhero husband, ever the one to tempt fate, even fought the bug (violently) for two days. Good thing he works well under pressure -- nothing like having two less days to prepare for a test and write a 20-pg. paper! But by tonight, that test and paper should be OVER WITH! And I can't wait!!! Then a week of exams, and then . . . a whole glorious summer without classes. I am ecstatic.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Regurgitate, Regurgitate, Throw Up All the Food You Ate...

Remember the beginning of "Toy Story"? After Woody's catastrophic announcement that Andy's birthday party is today, the toys are gathered around the baby monitor, waiting with bated breath to find out what each package contains. They heave a sigh of relief when the toy soldier whispers into the monitor, "Bed sheets!"

"BED SHEETS!!?" says Hamm, the piggy bank. "Who invited THAT kid?"

I know who invited that kid. Andy's mom. And probably after she'd been dealing with a week of incessant stomach fluing and had to change more sheets than she had and was trying to make do with receiving blankets and cloth diapers strung across the mattress and to make it worse the flu was the ONE thing the twins decided to willingly share and . . . oh, wait. That wasn't in the movie. That was here. Reality and fantasy tend to blur after a few sleepless nights . . .

You know something's up when this

Abraham Happy


and this

Miriam Happy

turn to this

Abraham Sick

and this

Miriam Sick

But things are finally starting to look better. Miriam gave me a mischievous look and cackled as she stuck her thumb in her mouth and her finger up her nose, and Abraham tried to pick up some goose poop.

Normal never looked so good!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What Are the Chances?

We very rarely order pizza. For one thing, it’s time-consuming to have to go pick it up (giving directions to our house is a little sticky); and for another, well, you have to pay for it.



But we did order pizza a couple of nights ago. And then we loaded everyone into the van, trudging through the knee-deep grass, and went to go pick it up.



Remember that mower with the starter that we haven’t quite figure out how to, er, start? It wasn’t such a big deal at first. The yard was kind of pretty with the buttercups and dandelions giving it a sort of “Secret Garden” look. We told the kids to play in the back “field.” And when they complained of being itchy every time they played outside, we just reminded them to change into long pants before they went out. But when we were flossing grass seeds out of their teeth, we decided it was pretty much time to do something about the mower.



Now my husband is no dummy about mechanics. He can figure anything out involving a screwdriver. But the way the mower is set up, with safety guards everywhere, this was more than he could fix with a screwdriver. He found some of his auto-savvy acquaintances and the answer was unanimous: you need to take it to a professional.




No big deal. Except that this is scrunch time for him (4 papers – 10 to 20 pages each – and a sermon due by Friday!). And we don’t have a truck. So “taking it to a professional” would involve borrowing a truck, finding time to pick up the truck, finding time to load the mower, finding time to take it to someone who had the time to look at it, finding time to unload the mower, etc. And of course, you have to pay for it. Meanwhile, the kids are taking walkie-talkies outside with them so when they get lost in our jungle of a yard I can direct their steps from an upstairs window.


So fast-forward (or rewind!) to our going to pick up the pizza. He went inside the pizza parlor, picked up our buy-one-get-one-free order of one large cheese and one large Canadian bacon and mushroom, and turned around to go out the door. A neon green flyer caught his attention. On it were various Christian symbols and the words “LAWN SERVICE AND MOWER REPAIR” with a telephone number.



Yesterday, he called the number, and the man said he could be out to look at the mower in a half hour. When my husband gave him the (sticky) directions, the man surprisingly said he was familiar with the area. Well, it turns out he was SO familiar that he used to live in the very house we live in, about ten years ago. He came out with his fifteen year-old son, and he explained that the hole in the tree in the back yard was from a tornado that hit (I didn’t need to know that!) and knocked a big branch onto his dog’s house. And he is the man who built the makeshift shed out back.



He looked at the mower, determined that it was not something that he could fix right there, and loaded it up on his trailer. So we got the picking up the truck, loading the mower, finding someone to fix the mower, and unloading the mower all taken care of. And what about the paying for it? His rates are unbeatable: pay for parts and donate whatever you feel the labor was worth.



And when he saw our children attempting to picnic on the blanket that wouldn’t lie flat because of all the tall grass under it, he and his son mowed a swath so that they can make it to the swing and have a place to picnic until we get our mower back.



I can’t help but think know that these things are more than just coincidence and that the One Whose eye is on the sparrow is the One Who watches me. Pizza, anyone?


I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.


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