Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bah Humboogers

Well, it's that time of year again ... that time when expectations (theirs) are high and performance (mine) is low. That time when I eagerly make specialty hot chocolate and the kids immediately spill it all over the freshly Swiffered floor.

"Deck the walls with Mom's hot cocoa,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
'Tis the season drives her loco,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Don we now our mismatched gloves,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Trolls and ogres feel more love,
Fa la la la la, la la la la."

I've read blogs showcasing dazzling mantle displays and describing quaint homemade traditions meshing Little House on the Prairie Christmas and Pottery Barn.

And I could care less. Or couldn't care less. Whichever is the way to say you don't give a hoot.

Because I don't.

Around here, the Christmas lights dazzle on our rolltop desk (we have no mantles), and four boxes of Christmas junk occupy the sitting room. They're my constant reminder of the lesson of Christmas 2010: Don't Get Your Decorations Out until You Have Your Christmas Tree. But before we can fit the Christmas tree in to the room, we have to get a rather large piece of equipment (ahem, the piano) OUT. It's a little hard to get motivated to get the piano out since we just put it in a month ago. But it is a cast-off that ends up being too big for our space and so we really need to borrow the trailer to haul it away. Then we can get the tree and decorate it and do all of that stuff.


I want to like the season, and overall, I do. But I have a really hard time when I start analyzing it. I mean, what's magical about Christmas? Well, nothing really. And what's fun about Christmas? The lights, the caroling, the presents, the smells, the tastes, the cleaning. Oh, and let's just throw in a little "Happy birthday, Jesus" so we can feel mainstream Christian about it and do further dishonor to the divinity of Christ.

But I won't tell you how I really feel. ((Snort, snort.))

The thing is, I don't get all the "magic" that traverses the Internet. I mean, these women who are making the coffee filter wreaths and the gingerbread castles and the homemade candy canes?

How? And, more to the point, why?

I've just spent an entire day trying to enjoy festivities with my children. Or, actually, festivitY. The ONLY scheduled "festivity" was making some spritz cookies. And blast it if that silly cookie press didn't blurp out blobs that looked nothing like the Christmas tree on the guide! And in order to give everyone a "job," I had to invent steps. I mean, we ran out of ingredients before I ran out of children, so we ended up frosting and embellishing the cookies just to have a job for two of them ("You frost; you crush candy canes and nuts").  And not a one of them is going to end up with today as a fond memory: "Remember when I got to add the butter and Mama got so fed up with our help she sent us outside and then called Papa saying, 'I can't stand your kids'?? Oh, I feel so warm and fuzzy inside!"

But that's life here. No one stops the dirty diapers or runny noses or selfish attitudes (theirs and mine) or hurt feelings or tired whinings - or refreshes your camera batteries - just so you can enjoy the "season."

I'm going to have to learn to enjoy this Season of Life - this rugrat-full, crumbly-floored, hat-and-glove strewn, sibling-rivalried Season with all of its mess and annoyance. And that is a trick far harder (and more important) than dangling some tinsel and twinkle from the staircase.

I'm very hard put to believe a fat old man comes down my non-existent chimney or that the Lamb of the World was born anytime in December. But I know that God did come down to dwell with man and that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was the beginning of my reason for hope. The promise that thousands before me held so dearly -- that there would be an offspring to crush the serpent's offspring's head -- has been carried out in history. It is a true fact, a done deed! And because of it, I can smile at my children and tell them of the heavenly blessings which are ours in Christ Jesus and how God has lavished His riches upon us (Eph. 1).

I can enjoy the season (spritz cookies aside).

And the Season.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birthday Girl

She's seven today.


When I was pregnant with her, our second child, EVERYONE said, "What will Benjamin do when the world doesn't revolve around him anymore?"

You know what he did? HE GOT EASIER. The day she was born, that newly 2-yr. old was instantly less clingy and happy to entertain himself. And you know what his chief entertainment was? HER.

I don't blame him. She has these sparkling brown eyes (from my mother) that are so deep and dark you honestly can't see her pupils. She's game for anything: tree-climbing, bike-riding, joke-telling, bunny-chasing, and baby-watching. Well, all right. She's game for almost anything. We're still working on those morning chores.

She was named Lily Ann Arvilla: Lily being Ethan's pick, which I OK'd because you can make it a Bible name if you read the English version of Song of Solomon (Lily of the Valley). "Ann" was after my mother, and "Arvilla" was after Ethan's maternal grandmother, who was very Swedish daun't-cha-know.

She walked at 7 1/2 months (I am not making that up!) and has continued to be a physical powerhorse. She is very strong and limber. (And also slow, when it comes to morning chores.)

Lily is our tenderhearted girl. A sharp word can quickly bring tears, and she is often the one to console a crying sibling.

Ben recently told his Sunday School teacher that he didn't know how he survived the first two years of his life without her.

Well, the truth is that he DID survive life without her. He just didn't enjoy it.

Our family is much happier with you in it, Lily. I love your sparkle and even your sass and of course your dimple.

Happy birthday, Sweetie!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grandma's Kitchen

is almost Salem-sized.


The thing is, this is only incredibly fun to them because there is an official label warning against this very type of behavior.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Generally Speaking

I have always been one to pooh-pooh stereotypes and generalities. You're a homeschooler? Suddenly you love denim jumpers. You have eight children? Then you must cloth diaper and cut your girls' hair yourself with a mini-chainsaw (you know, for the one time in ten years they actually trim their hair).

I realize there are large families that homeschool, wear clothing that missionaries would only wear under duress, and call matted locks a virtue.

There are also uber-cool large families that homeschool. You would never know it by the trendy clothing labels or the lithe figure the mother cuts as she snowboards the slopes, but they are out there.

At least, I've read their blogs.

But you can't stereotype me. I'm not trying to say I'm complicated. There's absolutely nothing multi-layered about me. What you see is what you get - what my mouth doesn't say, my face clearly reveals. Well, my face and my children.

But I don't fit into either group. I'm a reluctant homeschooling mother who counts it a success to get dressed by lunch and not have my toddler run naked on the side of our house that faces the overpass. 

Every day is a all-out battle to not duct-tape my children to their desks* or drink the entire bottle of merlot at one sitting.

I'm only sort of kidding.

Every day is hard. Very hard. I was just remarking to Ethan and then later to some friends that at the end of the day, I can't say, "Well, I would have had more time if I hadn't ... knitted ... or read ... or sat on the porch ... or played on the Internet ..." I don't do any of those things. I wasn't complaining ... I know everyone has a different set of struggles - I have to be a martyr; Ethan has to live with a martyr. But right now is an especially busy time in my life. The babies are mobile and active. And when it comes to chores, the older children are often immobile and passive. There is the constant cycle of making food, cleaning up food, making food, cleaning up food.

The laundry is a sure thing. There always seem to be books and Legos and doll clothes and hair things and dress-up clothes and crayons spread around, no matter how many cleaning sessions we have in the day.

And again, I am reminded of two things: I CAN'T DO THIS!!! and IT DOESN'T MATTER.


It has been a blessing to have my laptop out of commission. I have been spared from the Internet reading I somehow always find myself doing ... those readings that major on the minors (and don't we all ... and isn't that also called idolatry?). You know, the ones that chasten anyone who isn't supporting five third-world children or visiting poverty-stricken nations or cleaning their mudroom daily or raising their own chickens or ... you know the ones. It is one thing to do those things and quite another to preach those things.

I'm tired of all the unordained women preachers in the form of bloggers! (Incidentally, I also have zero tolerance for ordained women preachers. But that's not my point right now.)

We need to realize that we are all in different places spiritually and physically and financially and intellectually. We don't know what Sally's or Linda's or Ashley's lives are really like. The ONLY thing that is true for all of us is that we are sinners in need of a Savior. I need that Savior every day. My mission is not to save the world. I can't even save myself. My mission is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever ... with the life He has given me, the kids He has given me, the resources He has given me.

I think there are times when we need to turn off the computer, close the magazines, shut the TV cabinet, and open the Word. It is only when I take the time to read the Bible ... and not use the excuses of meals and laundry and Legos and crayons and dress-up clothes ... that I am given any hope. My hope doesn't come from what I need to do. It comes from what has been done by Someone else. I can't raise my kids perfectly (or even well). I can't follow my plans for a complete week of school. I can't keep (or get) my house clean.

And you know what?

It wouldn't matter if I could.

*Incidentally, I went to Christian school for my education. And I distinctly remember sitting in first grade and watching Mark D. get duct-taped to his desk because he refused to sit still. It wasn't cruel  and it wasn't even that unusual. It was just funny. He finally sat still so we could continue our seatwork, and I doubt it even struck us as something to tell our parents. I'm just saying...


On to some fall pictures:

We went to Crabtree Falls, where it was pouring rain and we only made it out of the van for a 5-minute run across the bridge. But it was a gorgeous drive - nature in all of its autumnal splendor. We plan to revisit another day.

Then yesterday, we went to Betsy Bell Park, which is a very narrow road up the side of a very large hill. There's a beautiful view of Staunton from the top. And there is another beautiful view:

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Benjamin reminded me that, as of November 6, I no longer have eight children 8 and under.

I have eight children 9 and under.

Which, you understand, is a drastically different statistic...

to the 9-yr. old.

Can this be right? Was it really over nine years ago that the principal - my boss - announced to the entire middle school chapel that in eleven years a new student would be joining them, and that new student would be the Allison baby that was making Mrs. Allison run from the classroom retching?

Was it really a whole nine years ago?

And really? It was only a day over nine years ago that the Allison family consisted of a legal-clerk-turned-bookstore-clerk-turned-historical-renovator-turned-teacher-turned-farm-boy and me, a disgruntled Christian school teacher. And now there are ten of us, eight of whom answer to "Preacher's Kid."

Was it really only nine years ago?

My father remarked that he can't believe Ben is nine. NINE! I know he really meant he can't believe he's old enough to have a daughter old enough to have a son that's nine.

I can't believe it either.

I have been blessed with a son who is as close to being a carbon copy of his father as is humanly possible. (And heaven help me...really! Heaven, help me!) The twinkle in his blue eyes (inherited from his father and mine) means he gets the joke. The crinkle in his nose means he doesn't want to admit it's funny. And the subsequent wry comment means you're not getting the last laugh.

He's a good big brother. Especially if you define "good" as "willing to teach younger siblings the hard, cold facts of life in between ticklings and dress-up clothes and 'Survivorman.'" (And by the way, Benjamin, it is not normal for a 3-yr. old to tell her grandparents you can drink elephant pee if you get thirsty. )

He's a deep thinker. I am often surprised at the depth of his questions and the insecurity of my answers. I thank God that his father is a kindred deep thinker and biblical scholar.

You were a wonderful start to our family, Benjamin. I'm so glad God gave us you! And I'm so glad God gave you your siblings. Do you know how unique and wonderful it is to live with your best friends?

We love you. Happy birthday, son!

From a few years past: sharing a chair - and a laugh - with his best friend

Saturday, October 30, 2010


My laptop has come down with a nasty virus. This is on the heels (or the wheels?) of our van needing more extensive repair than we cross-our-fingers-scrunch-our-nose-close-our-eyes-and-grimace were hoping.


My children have rediscovered their mother (who has not spent all day trying to feverishly fit a lesson in between allrecipes reviews and Google reader). We have sewn together, read together, cleaned together, played outside together, and even ((once)) napped together.

And friends!! They've come here, we've gone there. We've tea-partied and leaf-jumped, tractor-rode and marshmallow-oozed.

But still.

I miss my laptop.

And blogging.

I have little worthwhile to say, but my fingers do enjoy the typing.

So when I can steal Ethan's laptop to get a few words in edgewise, I will.

And when I can't? I'll try to remember how to use a cookbook and where the knitting needles are. And we'll be thankful for the real wide world of webs that sways just outside our door. And maybe, just maybe, if my computer does get fixed, it will only be a "come back when you can't stay so long" kind of friend, and not a constant companion.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Picking the right diaper

works for me wednesday at we are that family

If you use cloth diapers, you'll just want to skip this tip.

This is not a post about cloth vs. disposable, Pampers vs. Thirsties. I've tried almost every brand, disposable and cloth, and it came down to this: Ethan hates cloth, and I can't blame him. They do stink (yes, they do), and we both dislike the inevitable gigantic bubble a cloth-swaddled bottom is. We usually have three kids at a time in diapers (two sets of twins ensures that), and I don't have time for the extra laundry. Besides, when my mom babysat our first twins in cloth, she showed up the next day with two huge boxes of disposable diapers.

If you use and love cloth, that's fine by me. Even I have my secret stash of cloth to ooh and aaah over and perhaps someday reuse so Ethan can remind me why I love my Luvs. (That's just for the homonym -- MY personal favorites are Target's "Up and Up.")

Huh. I said it wasn't a post about cloth vs. disposable. I'm glad I said that, 'cuz I could have fooled me.

Moving right along...

This is for when you have multiple children in multiple sizes of diapers. Not all brands have different designs for the different sizes. So when you shout for a child to hand you a diaper from the diaper basket, you usually get handed the wrong size. Which means the diapered kid ends up whining two octaves higher or having the diaper wrapped around him twice before it's fastened.

Enter this tip. (I know, I know...such build-up...)


(Ignore the vagrant shoe in the middle right of the pic. I said IGNORE it!)

You looked for the shoe, didn't you? You're getting distracted!
Now all I have to say is, "Hand me a diaper without a dot!" or "Hand me a diaper with a dot!"

I know. This tip has an extremely limited audience. I would say, "Cheer up! We're changing the world, one diaper at a time!" but a google search revealed that's pretty cliche.

Oh, well. It makes me feel like a problem-solver when I pull out my sharpie and rip open the diaper pack. And when I pull out my sharpie, rip open the diaper pack, and take a picture simultaneously, well.

It works for me!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Little Cultivation

I'm convinced it was more than happenstance that my first gardening venture, in which my mother told me to pull out all the clover, ended with Mom stuttering through a shocked, "Don't you know what clover is?" when I proudly handed her my armful of what turned out to be irises.

My thumb is green. My plants? Not so much.

But two Master Gardeners visited this week, and the garden is hopeful.

I snuck this picture of my mother-in-law moving the large...erm...bushicus pricklipus from the middle of the garden to the more visually pleasing corner:

And then Karen came by Thursday, said, "Oh, she moved the ____________________ [insert real name, which escapes my mind because I do not remember first and last names unless I'm yelling them daily]! Oh, wonderful! Oh, I just want to come garden Saturday!"

So she did. She called it therapy. Or she did, until the six older children joined her. Then she stopped calling it that.

Ethan and I still need to edge and mulch it, but the garden is full. Bedded down for winter are irises, lilies, acuba, daffodils, tulips, phlox, columbine, and a baby maple that's staying warm until we decide where to put it. And those bushicus pricklipus.

Or is it pricklipi?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Green Acres

So today Ethan's mom left to go back to Colorado Springs. I would add a "sniff, sniff," but the truth is that I am just elated she doesn't live in Alaska anymore (although we really wanted to use her as a reason to have to go back there, but the money to haul us out there hadn't magically appeared in 8 years). Goodbyes were much harder when she had to make that trek. But Colorado Springs seems like a mere jaunt down the road (via air, of course).

I have spent the 9 days she's been here much as I would my regular days (with more outings), only significantly more aware of how LOUD and WHINY and SCREECHY this household is. You get kind of used to the chaos and mayhem, until you have a visitor that stays too long for you to keep the fussy kids hidden in the closet. Out they come, and then you realize that this household is truly anti-functional and a big smile and hairbows in the girls' hair are not going to change the preceding forty minutes of "He's pinching me! That's MY balloon! Who tooted? Who tooted? Who tooted?"

Come on, kids. Do you know how many times in the past week I've said, "We don't talk like that" when it is abundantly clear that we do? And when I say WE do, I do not mean the all-inclusive sense of the word. I mean the ALL OF YOU sense of the word.

The bickering was substantially lessened when Grandma bought both Ben and Lily new bikes. Their bikes were passed down, which ended the "how many minutes on the timer until I get a chance to ride?" They took Lily to the school across the road to practice riding without training wheels, and she called me five minutes later to tell me she was doing it! Now she's a pro, which Benjamin loves. They can ride circles around our driveway for hours.

We had plans for what we would do while Grandma was here. Half of those were scrapped when we realized three days into it that the babies were not going to instantly stop their whole-van-ride hollering just because Grandma was in the van. Quite the opposite - they sought opportunities for encores. So we did what we could  - half of the Frontier Culture Museum, the Green Valley Book Fair, dinner at the house of kind friends in Harrisonburg, Costco (it counts!!), picnic at Braley Pond, lunch with her and my parents at the Depot Grille, Machen Retreat Center, Andre Viette's garden, my weekly morning out for coffee with friend Barbara at Newtown Bakery, and Polyface Farms.

Yes, Polyface Farms. I had to remind the children of where we were going: "You know...the place with all the chickens. We're going to go chase the chickens!" Well, guess what we couldn't find when we got to Polyface. And then we could find, and they were upside down in the killing cones, dripping blood down their little heads. Three workers deftly chopped at plucked poultry, pulling out innards and tossing the carcasses into ice water.

The kids were fascinated. The only thing better than chasing a live chicken is watching the butchering process!

Immediately prior to us finding the chickens, two little tow-headed boys (around 6 and 5 years old?) asked if we wanted to take the tour of the farm. "Oh, that's OK," we answered. "We already gave ourselves the tour."

"Didja see what our dog Michael killed?" they prodded.

When they discovered we had not, in fact, taken the extensive-blood-and-guts tour, they quickly had us turn around and head back toward the store. "It's something wild," they hinted.

I started guessing. "A mouse?"


"A rabbit?"


"Snake? Fox? Skunk? Squirrel?"

We rounded the front porch of the store. "No, no, no, no. Here it is!" And with that, the older of the two boys started kicking a very dead groundhog while the younger child picked it up by the scruff of its neck so that we could see its rodent teeth.

My children were enthralled. Each child got as close as he could to the prized trophy. The babies started squirming, and we called the children away. Jonathan was the last to come, and he hurled a few well-aimed parting kicks at the groundhog.

The resident children pointed us in the direction of the upside-down chickens, and we left Polyface feeling ... oddly enough ... hungry.

After grabbing a bite from Wright's Dairy Rite and touring Andre Viette's fall gardens, we went back home to put the littles down for what turned out to be 3-hr. naps. Ethan went in to church to get some work done, and I plopped  frozen chicken into some boiling water to get a head start on the evening's tacos.


It turns out nobody was too interested in eating tacos made with the bananas I was boiling. After Ethan gave me much grief about "who freezes bananas?" he picked up some ground beef and we had much more conventional tacos.

And now the fun with Grandma is over. Ethan and Ben left a couple of hours ago to take her to the airport. The children still smell like her, her room looks empty (but only for a few more hours until we reassemble the crib and playpen back into there), and I am realizing that my week of neglecting the house sort of really shows. And sticks.

Years ago, when Ethan's mom came from Alaska and we came from Virginia and met in Seattle, we visited Ethan's grandmother. We were only there for a short time, and when we left, Marlys (my mother-in-law) said, "Well, it's best to leave them wanting more."

You did it, Mom. You left us wanting more.

Come back soon.

Miriam, Abraham and Grandma at Frontier Culture Musuem - taken by Benjamin

Grandma, Salem, and Gideon - taken by Benjamin

Catching crayfish at Braley Pond

Jon-Jon and Abraham at Polyface. Abraham is going to build Grandma a house, and he and she will live there. When Ethan and I get old, we can live there, too. It will be purple and pink, and there will always be cookies and milk.

Ethan's favorite Polyface cow. We named him "Burger."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Polyface Farms

Saturday we headed out to our first adventure with the homeschool group. We followed the GPS ten minutes from our house down back roads until we reached Polyface Farms.

Did you hear (read) me? We went to Polyface Farms!

Do you know that I do not know anybody in Staunton that has been to Polyface? Well, OK, I now know about twenty homeschool families. But other than them?

This boggles my mind. Polyface is one of the coolest, low-key, good-ole-country-boy kinds of farms. The Salatins are the owners. Did that help? Does the name "Joel Salatin" ring any bells?

The first time I had ever heard of Joel Salatin, we were at the State Fair. I passed by the Dairy Booth and asked the giggling college-aged volunteers if they knew of any sources for raw milk. "Raw milk?" they asked, eyes open wide and noses scrunched (which is surprisingly hard to do simultaneously -- you tried, didn't you??). "Ewww!"

Ah, yes. Cows can be surprisingly "ewww"-y.

Anyway, I politely thanked them for their unhelpful ignorance and headed out the door. A lady with a long broomstick skirt, braided hair, and Birkenstocks handed me a pamphlet about petitioning Virginia's lawmakers to change the laws concerning the sale of raw milk. Quoted all throughout the brochure was a "Joel Salatin." I liked him instantly. Aha! Someone who knew where to find a cow!

And Saturday, we found him. He very ably led our group of straggling homeschooling families all throughout his fields and then treated us to hamburgers made from Polyface pork and beef.

We loaded our plates with the other potluck provisions (and our contributions of seafoam salad and Andrea's chocolate cherry cake), watched the boys fight each other with sticks found on the massive wood pile, and welcomed children to our pile as they shyly asked about the babies ("two of them?" "You have TWO sets of two of them??").

It was yummy, the day was cool and delightful, and the farm was perfect. I've already made plans to take visitors there ... they have "an open door policy.  Anyone may come anytime Monday through Saturday to see anything anywhere" (from their website).

And the first visitor we plan to take is Ethan's mom. He just picked her up from the airport, which gives me two hours before they get here.

Ahem. I'd best get back to work. We sure are ready to have her, but the house isn't! (Will it work if I park the vacuum in the middle of the kitchen floor, take a nap on the couch, and pop up to say, "I was just in the middle of cleaning!" when they arrive?)

Gideon and Salem meeting a friend

Joel Salatin describing how different animals graze

Gideon waiting for some munchies

Jon-Jon and the chickens

"Here, chicky-chicky!"

Some of them on the hayride

(There is a video embedded in this post. Email subscribers may have to click over.)

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