Cranberries

I don’t know why, but I love the Cranberry books. Cranberry Christmas, Cranberry Thanksgiving, Cranberry Easter, we even have a Cranberry Halloween book while my family doesn’t really even “do” anything for Halloween. I just love the stories, the characters, the artwork.

But I also really love cranberries: they are just a delicious, pretty, little tangy fruit. Ha! I remember loving a particular cereal when I was a kid that had cranberries and walnuts in it. It felt like a very grownup thing to enjoy, and I thought it was super special when my mom would let me put a box in the cart when wandering the grocery aisles with her. (Have I mentioned that I am a second generation homeschooler? I did ALL the errands by my mom’s side, and sometimes we were even bold enough to run errands before 2pm… that was our kind of brazen rebellion back in the eighties and early nineties of California living.) My mom was big into country style shabby chic arts & crafts… and for a handful of years she partnered with a friend to do a Christmas market they called Cranberry Corner. I’m not sure I have ever asked her exactly why she chose that name. But I still remember it! And I remember the ambiance of that annual event, the pungent smell of cinnamon & a tart sweetness. Perhaps it was a cinnamon-cranberry candle burning in the back! My mom was also keenly into potpourri at the time. It was the nineties, after all.

I also have always loved my mom’s homemade cranberry sauce. Nothing particularly unique about it: just fresh cranberries with sugar, water, and some kind of orange flavoring – usually zest. She also occasionally made cranberry muffins and put dried cranberries in our trail mix or granola. I was never a big fan of raisins, but I sure enjoyed their cousin, Craisins. Yummers.

So here I now find myself continuing to love cranberries. But my kids don’t have the same affinity for them. So I’m trying to find ways to incorporate some cranberries into my kids’ holiday traditions. This year, I made a cranberry-pecan coffee cake for Thanksgiving Day morning. It paired perfectly with a side of crispy bacon and a hot latte… well, the kids had milk, but the latte is my favorite. Anyway, that is definitely a recipe we would enjoy again. We have had homemade cranberry sauce twice so far this season (including once when I added a splash of frangelica liqueur, which was a lovely touch). But I still want to try something else.

I think I may need to whip up a batch of cranberry orange muffins to start our Saturday with some zip. And then to pair with a pork loin roast tomorrow evening for our second Advent dinner, I think a cranberry apple chutney might work really well. And if I have any cranberries left that make it without getting gooey in the fridge by next week, I would love to try a cranberry balsamic chicken with cranberry brie bites on the side and cranberry apple upside-down cake for dessert.

It’s time to plan and prepare some more meals. It is just more part of the joyfully domestic life as a full time keeper of home, with seven people living here full time. There are no fewer than twenty-one meals a week which need planned and prepared to some extent. Perhaps breakfasts are mostly haphazard scavenging by the children on most days, but I need to be sure we have muffins or eggs or cereal or oatmeal available. That in itself takes some level of planning on my part. Lunches are often quick things to cook or compile, often just the heating up of leftovers and adding a side of fresh fruit and a cup of milk. But dinners can honestly be the bane of my existence sometimes. I go through seasons of loving the dinnertime routine… but often it is a rotation of cookery that simply feels like work without the pleasure. I know my people need fed well, so I do my utmost to use healthy ingredients and prepare tasty meals. But it honestly CAN get to be a bit monotonous and predictable and uninspired. Sometimes I ask a friend for new ideas. Or I will even just call my sister-in-law and ask, “what’s for dinner?” A friend of mine had dedicated a category of food for each day of the week (Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday is chicken, Thursday is soup or salad depending on the season, Friday is pizza, Saturday is leftovers, Sunday is takeout, Monday is meatless…) just to have a starting point. When I was preparing for my fifth child’s arrival, before I even knew that bedrest was looming on the horizon, I compiled a list of our family favorite meals and posted it on the fridge. So if I ever felt too sick to come up with ideas based around food myself, I could just have a family member glance at the list for inspiration and we would move forward with it… sometimes with Mommy sucking on peppermints while trying not to smell anything meat-based or heated and seeking to avert my eyes from certain things because they would absolutely turn my tummy just on sight. (Honestly… blackberry jam and ground beef are pretty much ruined for me for life.)

But so much of holidays are based around foods. So how do we maintain beloved traditions while not letting the grow stagnant? How do we make holiday meals our own? How do we incorporate our children into the planning, the preparation, the cooking, the work AND the delight?

For my part, I take what I loved from my childhood and mix it with what my husband tells me he loved from his childhood. And we take a few things from each… then we try out different things on our kids like guinea pigs. I try to log what is delighted in while tossing aside what wasn’t anyone’s favorite. Sometimes you know it is an instant hit (like when Grandmama makes homemade donuts for everyone after cutting down Christmas trees on family property… and all ten grandkids devour them, declaring it to be a new annual must), while other times it takes a couple of tries to know that it has made the cut (like hosting weekly Advent meals… not because of any particular recipe, but because the energy of a mama wavers & wanes from time to time thanks to motherhood and hormones and any number of other things).

So I am learning. Growing. Trying. Often succeeding. And praising the Lord for the lot of it. He is good. I am only fourteen years into my own specific homemaking, but I helped my mother before that, so I might be a couple of decades into it. And honestly, sometimes He gives me something as simple as a cranberry to remind me that this is good. From stories to memories to recipes ~ these are the things of which memories, traditions, cultures are made.

Gather

I feel like I’ve never wanted a big old “gather” sign on my wall more than I do this year. It’s like our eyes are all opening to all kinds of things. Like covering coughs with elbows rather than hands- or washing your hands on the regular to remain sanitary- or that we actually do believe corporate weekly worship is important and needs to include singing. Other things I learned this year have included things like: my babies adore my parents, and ought not be kept from them- staying home for twelve weeks in a row can actually be an enormous gift- hugs & handshakes are not scary nor death-sentences- and welcoming people into our homes for various hospitality can not be taken for granted.

If you have ever had family drama surrounding holidays and extended relatives… that whole rubber band type stretch of how much you can fit in, or whose year it is (as though time spent with your family were a bargaining chip or hot commodity rather than an undeserved gift)… well, I’m pretty sure 2020 took the cake AND the icing on top.

So how about that “gather” sign, hmm?! I keep thinking I just need to rearrange some things on a wall or two… but then again, there are timeless options that I really want even more than that… because solagratia.co has this gorgeous option. Actually, let’s be real: they have LOTS of gorgeous options that would bless your home as well as mine. Consider that my unapologetic advertisement for a shop I love, as well as a resource I am saving pennies for myself!

All pithy pleasures aside, gathering for Thanksgiving this year was splendid. And because my family as well as my parents all have immunity to the bug that is trying to take over the world (tongue is in my cheek…), we felt zero guilt or shame in joining my brother’s family for the day. Honestly, we are basically just one big family anyway. They were in our pod from day one (literally! March 14!), and our kids are actually cousins but love each other (& treat each other) an awful lot like siblings. If there is a cousin-sibling hybrid out there, I guess that’s what these ten munchkins are.

I was happily assigned baked goods for the family feasting table. I made sourdough rolls plus six pies (pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate chess). A week later, we are finally licking clean the last of the pie plates. Of course we followed Thanksgiving up with two Advent meals for hospitality & celebration… so we have not been dieting our way through the pie plates.

But here is the real point of the celebrating, the abundance, the joy, the feasting, the hospitality, the pies that are decadent down to the last crumb: Christ has come to make us new, and He is coming again to finish the good work He began. He proclaimed on the cross, “It is finished”! And this is the best news for us as His people. Because it is finished, because He lived & died & resurrected & ascended, He will come again in glory! And from now until then we aren’t just waiting around for the good part of the story. We aren’t just wondering how to endure this life until we reach the life to come. No indeed, may it never be. This life in the meantime is a gift! It is our participation in the early/middle chapters of the story. It is our opportunity to imitate Him, to practice worship through work, to learn abundant grace by abundant giving, to learn immeasurable joy by immeasurable gratitude.

Gather. Feast. Sing. Show your gratitude through gifts like thanksgiving and gratitude-gifting. This is what Christ equips us for: good works. Let your hands get to work. Sweep the floor, make some food, fill the bellies of neighbors and strangers.

Be overcome with abundance. Because that’s exactly what you are.

A Break for Breathing

It may seem as though even I were new around here now, it has been so long since there has been any update here on Joyful Domesticity. This has been a break for breathing, a season for a deep breath. A season for new journeys, and adjustments to old paths that take new winding turns.

For anyone who is genuinely new to glancing around Joyful Domesticity, please allow me to briefly introduce myself. I am Melissa Joy, a second generation Christian homeschooling mother in the Pacific Northwest. I have been married to my husband Steven since 2007, and we have been deepening our walk with each other & our walk with Christ ever since. One way He has broadened our faith and deepened our theology is through the sanctification of parenting: what a joy, what a privilege, what a hope, what a responsibility! He has blessed us with fourteen children: nine in heaven, four in our home, one in the womb.  Our journey of recurrent miscarriage has been very shaping and honing, of our individual spiritual lives as well as of our family culture at large. I continue to endeavor to reach out in empathy, compassion, understanding, and aid for other grieving mamas. I continue to learn much from the experiences and community God has put in my story.
We homeschool our little band of redheads on family property in the countryside in a Classical Christian model, emphasizing truth, beauty, & goodness through the means of books, music, science, math, art, books, language arts, penmanship, computer skills, books, history, geography, handcrafts, theology, and more books. We delight in embracing life together in our home, our homeschooling community, our church family. My husband operates a company called Olive Tree Bible Software with passion, patience, and diligence. I recently began an endeavor called Paideia Northwest, where we aim to host an annual conference in Northeastern Washington state for Christian mothers raising, educating, & loving their children for the Kingdom of God. It isn’t a money-maker, it is more of a ministry, as my heart longs to see Christian mothers band together in love and encouragement despite differences of practice, method, or even theology.

We have four sons, with one daughter directly in the middle. At this moment, our children are Gabriel (11), Asher (7 1/2), Evangeline (6), Simeon (3 1/2), with the littlest brother’s arrival anticipated in a matter of weeks. God has been continually gracious toward our family, and we are humbly grateful for His intense benevolence. There is no more challenging yet rewarding chapter in my life than motherhood ~ with its many facets.

While I have taken recent months to focus on my tangible home, replete with books and babies and bedrest, I hope to make a somewhat more regular presence here at Joyful Domesticity again. To share what God is doing in my heart, my home, my journey to the Kingdom. I am nothing particularly clever or wise or unique, but I have a heart that is eager to uplift, encourage, and share the sharpening of Christ mutually with my sisters in Christ both near and far.

For the glory of the King, the furtherance of His Kingdom, and the joy of the home! Cheers.

Summer Reading Stack, take one

It is hard to imagine that summer is so fully underway! With soccer camp behind us and music camp looming just ahead, the garden in full production and the birds nearly ready to start laying eggs, you’d think I would have a clue. But I totally missed local strawberry season, and the only way I won’t miss our local cherry season is if I get out there this week with my sister-in-law and all the kids. My children are ecstatic that “fireworks day” is this week, but when my daughter asked this evening, “is that the day about St. Patrick?” I realized that I need to revisit some basic Independence Day foundations with the kids in the next 24 hours. Note to self: dig out the patriotic picture books post haste! I know I have Mary Pope Osborne’s Happy Birthday America on the schoolroom bookshelves somewhere…

While our official school year with the chaos of our weekly co op finished up over a month ago, we are continuing our normal habit of schooling through the summer when we are at home. During soccer camp week, we focused on Bible, reading, music practice, and soccer practice. Plus playdates and swimming! It was exhausting and delightful. It will be a very similar pattern during music camp. The rest of the weeks of summer, though, we are plugging away with piano lessons, ukulele lessons, and the basic subjects at home: Bible (which term we use rather broadly to include Scripture, catechism, hymn, devotional, copywork, & handwriting), math, English, reading, and music lessons.

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What everyone most looks forward to, though, is our regular habit of reading aloud. In general, I am the one who reads aloud to the children while they eat a meal (or two), and while they do things like copywork, artwork, sewing, or other quiet fine motor projects… but the children do love being asked to take turns reading passages to one another. (Only the three oldest are solid readers, of course, but even 2 1/2 year old Simeon likes to hold a book and “read” it to us either by reciting what he remembers of a favorite, or by interpreting something from illustrations.) It gives the children practice speaking well in front of others, without the added pressure of needing to recite a memorized passage or write a speech themselves. One step at a time! I am very pleased with their skills of inflection, character designation, and rhythm/speed/pause.
Something I have been incredibly pleased with in the last few months is the broad variety of picture books we have gotten that are biographies of wonderful, creative people, both historic and contemporary. It is wonderful to accomplish humanity studies through the practice of reading aloud with one another.

This morning we enjoyed visiting the world of Virginia Burton, the brilliance behind stories like Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. We have always loved Virginia Burton, so to read a picture book where we can recognize all of her wonderful characters, as well as find out a little more about her own life, delighted us all.

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There is a delightful comment here about Virginia, called Jinnie, making creations with her very magical wands — her art supplies!, which made us giggle and have a brief conversation about the magic of creation, using things like charcoal, pencils, brushes, stamps, and God-given hands.

We also recently read about Grace Hopper, which was of particular interest to my own computer programming son, as she was so highly instrumental in creating and streamlining computer code. She found the solution in taking binary a lot further than anyone before. It is good for my son to read about women doing amazing things — like computer coding for the naval forces during a war, or painting children’s books, or cooking gourmet French food, or rocking babies to sleep on a starry night. Each of these things is a powerful force, and could be wielded for great good in God’s kingdom. I am eager for my children to take note of these things.

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Software tester. Workplace jester. Order seeker. Well-known speaker. Gremlin finder. Software minder. Clever thinker. Lifelong tinker. Cherished mentor. Ace inventor. Avid reader. Naval leader.” Such good reminders that a beautiful education is fat with variety, fully faceted all around.

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And there are also innumerable books that I want my children to read about incredible, world-changing men throughout history. One of my favorites this week is called Balderdash, about John Newbery himself. What a treasure of a little book! The artwork is absolutely sublime.

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The story begins with an introduction to Newbery as a boy in a time when books were not made for children, but rather only for adult sensibilities. And John set out to change this as soon as he had outgrown childhood himself. Apprenticing for a printer, and eventually owning his own printing company, he was the one who put children’s literature truly on the market. The lighthearted way this book describes the life and times of John Newbery is truly satisfying. I think Newbery reminds me a little of my father, and perhaps that is why I think I could have been friends with this gent if I were about two centuries before my time.

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Did I mention that Joni Eareckson Tada sent us a couple of books recently? We had written to her earlier this spring, as a family and then also along with a letter-writing class I taught at our homeschool co op. What a delight to receive letters in return (an unexpected surprise, for certain), and the additional of books to enjoy. This woman has been an encouragement to my heart since I was right about ten years old, so it feels full circle now for my son of the same age to be finding joy from her as well.

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But lest you think we do all serious reading, even in picture books, and don’t delve into the realm of lighthearted tale, anthropomorphism, comedy, or jest… think again. When you see a book cover that has your 2 1/2 year old all but pegged (including just one letter off on the author’s name!), you bring it home from the library to pass around and everyone agrees it’s a total ringer for our little Simeon James!

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Or how about the Animal House that had the three big kids walking around our house trying to locate all the animalesque words they could find in our own home? Refrige-gator, seal-ing, floor-mingo, kanga-room, gi-roof, snail-box, chimp-ney, cow-ch, ele-pants, hare-way, chande-deer. The house was echoing with bad puns and uncontrolled laughter for a solid twenty minutes after we finished the book itself.

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I must quickly mention two sweet picture books we discovered last week, which both could be summed up in the idea of knowing yourself… with two very different ways of getting there. Tracks in the Snow is sweetly simple, with a little girl eagerly trying to find the owner of tracks she sees in the snow until she realizes they were hers leftover from the previous day. And Adelaide is truly winsome, in a very subdued message that the little kangaroo with wings has a life that no other kangaroo could have because she was made exceptionally unique – which is, of course, exactly the way we want her to be.

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And lastly for now, our love of bird books continues. We revisited an old favorite, Chickens to the Rescue, which allowed us to introduce it to the youngest member of the family — and now our chickens themselves have taken on an adventurous twist of their own when we call out the refrain to them across the backyard.

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And Calliope… who we now realize is a drake and has thus adopted the nickname Ope rather well… would like to show you our latest ducky favorite. Largely because it’s simple, sweet, and has precious ducky illustrations.

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I have two large canvas bags filled with library books ready to be returned tomorrow after our watercolor lessons with Mrs. S. We have potty training books on hold, waiting for us! Somebody around here needs a little extra literary inspiration, I think, to make the final leap in the process of ascending the porcelain throne…
And I have more books and snippet-reviews to share coming up soon.

What kind of children’s books would you like to see reviewed for a tried-and-true perspective?
I’ve got a pile of little gingers who are up for the challenge.

Only Daughter

EJCatthebeach

She runs into the house without even slamming the door—the loud clomp clomp of her periwinkle Wellies announces her entrance just prior to the shout in the foyer, “I want to come in! I’m frozen!” Chapped, peeling lips are pale beneath her runny nose and wind-kissed cheeks. Heavy breaths through her mouth along with icy white splotches on her coat are evidence of the five-year-old’s best efforts at a snowball fight with two older brothers. Tossing mittens halfway down the hallway and grabbing off her purple knit cap, she shakes her head like a puppy fresh from the bath, letting loose deep red tangles of hair that cling to the sweat on her neck and melted snowflakes on her freckled face. Sitting down with both exhaustion and effort, she tugs off her boots, bringing along striped wool socks which leave little balls of fuzz between clammy toes.

While her hands unclip navy blue hand-me-down snowpants and unzip a pink snowcoat two sizes too big, she hears her mother hollering, “close the front door!” Leaving haphazard piles of thawing snowclothes and strewn accessories, she latches the door and runs on tiptoes. The little girl who previously looked as plump as a marshmallow is stripped down to mere lace-edged white leggings and a long-sleeved magenta shirt, showing the gangly limbs and thin frame of a little sapling not yet fully grown. She finds a silver tulle skirt with sparkly sequins freckling the top layer, a coordinating silver knit sweater with metallic threads woven throughout, two pink grosgrain barrettes, and a hairbrush to deliver to her mother.

She finds her stoking the fire, and scurries to squeeze her softer frame. With a heaving grip and exaggerated groan, her arms wrap around matronly hips, smiling upward with her chin pressed into her mother’s belly button. “Get me dressed!” she demands. She swivels her body and shakes her pigtails. She grins and sighs as her mother fawns over her, dolling her up in the warmth of the nearby fire which pops and crackles. She stares into dancing flames until her blueberry eyes glaze over and her breathing slows into little sighs beneath her sinking head as one ear nearly reaches a shoulder in relaxation.

“Read to me, Mommy,” the daughter quietly pleads, blinking slowly and stifling a yawn, as the last barrette is clipped. Mother reaches for a nearby stack of books, and pulls her daughter onto her lap. The thin little girl reclines against the pillowed warmth of her mother’s body, covers her knees with her shimmering skirt, and rests her temple against her mother’s breast. She insists on turning the pages, interjecting commentary, and correcting each slip of her mother’s tongue.

The door slams. The little girl is immediately erect, rigid, alert. “Boys?” she calls out, cupping her hand alongside her mouth. With a quick kiss on her mother’s lips, she wriggles herself out of her mother’s lap and races down the hallway back to the foyer, welcoming her boisterous brothers with clapping of hands and loud hurrahs. One of her barrettes falls askew.

EJCatthestore

Making Way

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We are moving from books about birds to the birds themselves. And while I will have updates about the chicks soon, tonight I am still flying high on the spectacular experience we had today with our first little duckling hatching. It has burrowed its way quickly into our hearts! After having a very busy weekend followed by a very busy day with our first-ever homeschool science fair yesterday, we took a low key school day today – birds, books, tea & cookies while Mommy read aloud for over an hour, workbooks and piano lessons by the toasty fire, and lots of Legos and running around outside. And although the day in practice was quite relaxed and chill, there was excitement to be had!!

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While the seven duck eggs we began incubating a few weeks ago ended up being overheated (lesson learned: do not trust the incubator’s thermostat… measure its accuracy regularly with additional thermometers!) and never developed their ducklings inside, we adopted five more nearly-fully-incubated duck eggs on Sunday. We have been intently watching and waiting. And little Simeon prays for the ducky eggs constantly, which is perfectly adorable, incidentally.

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I wish like crazy I knew how to add a video from my phone to this blog. I happened to get the actual hatch recorded, and it was downright incredible. My daughter’s reaction was pretty priceless – she cried (actual tears) for joy. The process of watching the duckling wiggling to squirm and stretch, listening to it peep and chirp while still in the egg, was pretty miraculous to all of us. But the actual hatch where it finally broke free of the shell and burst forth like a nocked arrow let loose? It was absolute magic.

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Almost immediately after the duckling was born, Evangeline marched off to find Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, which is pretty great, to read it to her little brother. While we had been reading lots of books recently about chickens, nests, eggs, where birds come from, etc we had not read anything very duck-specific. Leave it to my five year old daughter to locate the book needed for the moment! While Evangeline was caught up in the story, Simeon was caught up in the illustrations.

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We have also been reading a bunch of Easter books this week, for obvious reasons (#holyweek), and in The Legend of the Easter Egg, this illustration made all of us smile because our little duckling’s empty eggshell looks so similar to this one!

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After letting the little Khaki Campbell rest all day in the incubator to try getting some balance and dry off those little downy feathers, this evening I finally caved and snuggled my little duckling once the kids were all tucked away into their beds. I gave this little sweetie some sips of water, and some snuggle-loves. I love the way baby birds just snuggle into a relaxed hand and fall asleep.

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I am pretty sure this duckling is downright darling. Am I right?!

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So now I have tucked the little duckling back into its incubator nest for the night, where it is snuggled near two other pipped eggs, which I imagine will hatch tomorrow (or the next day, at least). The way it chirrups conversationally with the ducklings squeaking inside those two eggs is positively endearing. It’s like a big sister cheering on the younger siblings, and just makes my eyes widen all over again over God’s amazing creativity, and the details He nuanced in such incredible ways.

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Matthew 6:26
Look at the birds of the air,
for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns;
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?

~~~

Luke 12:6
Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?
And not one of them is forgotten before God.

~~~

Revelation 4:11
You are worthy, O Lord
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.

Grandpa’s Hands

When I was a child, it was your hands that were getting down and dirty, scraping the barbecue, planting seeds, trimming rosebushes, stopping my spinning chair at the kitchen table. I remember watching your hands place toothpicks in the petals and stem of delicate passion flowers so they would stay open. I remember your hands holding the tiny paring knife, standing at the kitchen counter, every morning as you prepared a mound of fruit to top your bowl of mixed cereals. I also remember your hands opening the lids of multiple salad dressing bottles as you mixed dressings to top your salads at dinner.

I don’t remember you playing games, I don’t remember you reading books aloud, I don’t even remember you often holding my hand or holding me on your lap. I guess those weren’t necessary ways for you to show me your love. You brought me alongside you, and allowed me to follow you around, as you did your work. I remember reading the funny papers and watching America’s Funniest Home Videos on your tv on Sunday evenings. I remember sitting on your left side at the dining room table every Sunday night for our weekly family suppers. I remember you always saying supper, rather than dinner. I remember you holding your fork in your left hand, while I held mine in my right and tried not to bump into you over the table corner.

There were years, my most formative years, with a thousand miles between us where I did not get to much practice the art of being a granddaughter. As I look back at it now, with more perspective and wisdom on the subject, I can see that those were also the years where the Alzheimer’s was settling in to your cells and beginning to take over little by little. I remember you coming to visit, especially for Thanksgiving and November birthdays. I remember your addiction with little dogs and the daily newspaper.

The years I was in college, the early years of my marriage, the time I have spent in the trenches of young motherhood, I do not have lots of memories… but I missed you. I remember missing you.

I remember going to California to see you eleven months ago. It was my first time seeing you in a wheelchair, seeing you in “an assisted living center,” seeing your eyes deeply while knowing without a doubt that you don’t see me back. I remember bringing you a gift my children and I had made: a fidget blanket to keep your hands happy. I remember you loving it; in fact, you loved it until just a couple weeks ago.

I remember you moving here in May, and the delight it brought my soul. I remember bringing my children to see you; the newness of that first time, and then the normalcy of seeing you multiple times each week. I loved holding your hands, rubbing your shoulders, scratching your back. The way our eyes connected sometimes made it feel like you knew me deeply and truly: but then I would wonder if, instead of seeing me, somehow your brain saw your wife of years gone by in my visage. It brought my heart so much joy to look into your eyes connecting with your soul, while my body leaned close over yours. I knew your wrinkles, your grizzly whiskers, your long earlobes, your wild eyebrows. Your hands would sometimes let go of your fidget blanket long enough to reach out and touch my face or grip my hand. I loved how your hands would pat my children, rub them, hold them. Both of my youngest children loved to sit on your lap, Simeon especially asking for rides on your lap as we pushed your wheelchair around in big circles in the backyard, crunching yellow leaves this fall. Asher, my special boy you always had a unique connection with, would stare into your soul through your eyes as your hands wrapped around his back. You would smile for him when you wouldn’t smile for anyone else.

Then it happened: every part of you grew suddenly tired, massively weary. I brought you ice cream, I fed you bites of cold caramel creamy goodness when we could not get you to swallow anything else. It was the last thing I fed you, except for the apple cider mixed with Ensure I gave you in a syringe at Colin’s house the week before you died.

That was the day we gave you a living memorial. We sat you on the big brown leather couch, propped with some pillows, your foot on a little wooden crate. Grandma held one of your hands, Mama held the other. I was kind of wishing you had a third hand I could hold. I sat near your feet, sang toward your face, rested my hand along your cheek, and let my tears fall on your lap as I sang to you of day’s end, death’s disrobing, and being in God’s loving presence. My daughter danced for you. One of my boys read Psalm 90 for you. We sang hymns on end following your birthday songs, with Psalms sprinkled in.

And then the days grew long as we felt the night of death draw near. We rotated sitting at your bedside so you would not be alone. We sang to you, read to you, held your hands.

There were times when you would squeeze my hands when it really seemed inexplicable.
And then you raised your hands. Your body was as wasted away as I could imagine, so I have to believe it was your renewing spirit that was lifting those weary bones and drying skin into the air with praise.
When Mama read you Ephesians 1, your hands were raised in a strength that was clearly not your own.
When we sang you hymns of faith and psalms of hope, your hands would raise – it made us want to keep singing!

Oh Grandpa. Your hands.
I love those hands. I held your hands tight and told you how I could never look at lemons, blueberries, passion flowers, or cherry tomatoes without thinking of you. I also think I will never see tired old hands without remembering yours.
The last week of your life, I got to spend a lot of hours at your bedside, and I hated the time when I couldn’t hold your hands because they were being held by other people instead.

There was a wish inside me that I could be holding your hands when your body was delivered of your spirit. Rather, I held your hands often during the laboring of your body while your soul waited on the Lord for the full renewal of being called Home, and it was my own daddy whose hands held yours and whose voice you heard as the angels escorted the real you away from your body’s shell.

I did not come see your body after your spirit passed away beyond the veil. I heard that your wife and daughter held your hands and kept them warm until you were taken away. I saw a picture of Mama’s hands holding your hands as you lay in your handsomely wrought casket at the funeral home in California two days ago… it was the part that broke my heart. Your hands.

Today I saw a picture from 62 years ago, you holding my mama in your arms. I saw your young, healthy hand holding her chubby little toddler thigh. I cried. I never saw your hands like that. But they were the same hands. Those hands that held my mama in your youth are the same hands I saw working in the garden twenty-five years ago, and are also the same hands that rubbed my babies’ backs this summer, the same hands that I held while I sang to you on your deathbed, and the same hands I saw with no warmth or blood or life as Mama held them in hers two days ago.

Now your hands are crossed across your body, which wears a suit many sizes now too big, as you rest in your coffin of wood beneath the layers of earth, dirt, sod, and California sunshine. Grandpa, my memories of our life together are scattered and incomplete. But as I scatter these words through my fingertips at your memory, please just know how completely I love you. How thankful I am for you. How I will not forget your hands.

You made it to the finish line with valor and integrity. I trust your hands are still raised in victory, praise, and joy.
I love you, Grandpa. xo

Two Years Old

God’s amazing hand in our life by granting us His gracious gift of Simeon James two years ago is just astonishing on so many levels. I can not believe the adventure of his entrance into the world of the oxygen-breathing was two years ago. My little boy loves so much and so well. Books, tea, turning anything & everything into a phone, taking rides on Great Grandpa’s lap in the wheelchair, snuggling with his parents after the big kids have gone to bed, singing at the top of his lungs, talking up a storm, exploring with flashlight in hand, zooming around on a tiny balance bike with epic skill. This little boy has a big life ahead of him; he is embracing it with both hands already. We couldn’t be more thankful for God’s evident grace in his life, and the faith Christ continues to grow within him.

Happy Birthday, sweet little benediction.

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Beautiful crying forth

As I contemplate my thirteen precious children today, on PAIL (pregnancy and infant loss) Remembrance Day, I am praising God for His beautiful crying forth of ideas which created each one of them.

I still daily get to set my eyes on four of them, and I am daily blown away by His imagination in how He formed each one. They are absolutely spoken magic, woven into flesh.

But there are nine other ideas of His which were spoken into creation by His Words. Although my eyes do not see them, nor my hands get to hold theirs, and my days are not filled with teaching & instructing them; and although their beautifully cried forth souls have flown from their woven bodies of flesh; they are still spoken magic. Fully alive. Glorifying God.

How stunning.

God, thank You for giving me so many children.
Thank You for lending some to me for such a long time.
Thank You for balming my heart when You took so many of them to Your heavenly places.
Thank You for crying forth such beauty even through my broken womb.
Thank You for showing Yourself faithful to me in grief.
Thank You for hearing my prayers.
Help me to show my children how beautifully & imaginatively spoken they are by You.
I believe Lord, help Thou my unbelief.

Teach Them Diligently

This week, I participated in a conversation about how to keep a Bible routine with the children in your home. It seems both super simple and overwhelmingly complicated at the same time. God granted me four precious children to train for His Kingdom. What an immense responsibility! In some sense, I’ve only got one shot at this parenting gig. In another sense, the Lord’s mercies are new each morning so I’ve got an endless amount of shots at this parenting gig. It is seeking to live a life of balance by His grace, with faith in Him, where I need to focus my eyes as I work day in and day out training & educating & discipling these children of His.

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As a stay at home, full time homeschooling mama, I don’t have to rush out of the door in the mornings, so I aim to do Bible time with my kids around the breakfast table. Steven and I were recently discussing how we can get him incorporated into it more (which is super tricky with his long work days), so we are thinking of having him lead that on Saturday mornings after breakfast (although Saturdays have been crazy because of rushing out for bowling league & ballet lessons right after breakfast… so we will need to do some planning before that starts up again next month), and then also on Sunday afternoon just before we start our weekly “family fun night” (which includes board games, a movie, special snacks, etc).

Part of me misses the old bedtime routine we used to have with our older boys (in the quieter days pre “real” homeschooling, with fewer rascals bouncing around), which involved rocking and reading books, singing as many songs as they would beg for, etc. Now it has turned totally different, because our evenings are spent more in the family room or playing soccer outside or something. And then the “bedtime routine” is just a rush of necessities rather than a special time of bonding. And that’s okay! We tidy up, we get in jams, we brush teeth, sometimes there are baths… and with four young kids to take through the routine of basic necessities, it draws things out and has resulted in needing to cut short the snuggly part of the bedtime routine. It’s just a different season now, and I’m slowly learning how to embrace that. But I also don’t mind admitting that I miss the old bedtime snuggle phase.

Anyway.
During our morning time together each day, I read from Scripture (we always do something from Psalms and Proverbs, and then I am reading straight through the Bible with the kids – we are currently in Ecclesiastes), I read from a picture storybook Bible, we sing “psalms & hymns & spiritual songs” (it varies day to day… we are working on memorizing a couple Psalms right now, and also the old hymn Praise To The Lord, The Almighty), I quiz the kids on their catechism (Gabriel is through Q68 in this Westminster Shorter, & I the one my 3 little guys do is called The Small Child’s Catechism – Simeon knows three Qs, Evangeline knows 27, and Asher just about has all 50 down pat), we pray together, I read a page from The Boy’s Devotional, and then I read a chapter of an allegory (we did Pilgrim’s Progress, Basket Of Flowers, Hedge Of Thorns, Hind’s Feet On High Places, and are now in Mountains Of Spices – I love the Lamplighter books for this, and when I purchased the Boys of Grit collection this week I also might have just signed up for the 4-book-per-month book club!).

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Honestly, our “Bible time” really sounds more intense and complicated than it actually is, now that I’ve typed it out. :blink:

It only “needs” to take about ten minutes, and sometimes on days when we have places to rush to, I just pick and choose two or three of those things. On “at home/school days” we do the whole routine and it takes about an hour. It’s the kids’ favorite hour of the day, though, pretty much. I try to start it while they are eating breakfast, and then while they are still sitting in their seats at the table, I give them copywork to do (I give them a verse each day that they copy… Evangeline is just now barely beginning to copy them properly into the actual words/sentences in a readable way, mostly now that she knows how to read so she can tell the actual difference), coloring (especially Bible themed coloring books that you can even get from the Dollar Store!), and my nine-year-old does some Bible word searches and Scripture/catechism copywork, and then both of my big boys (ages 9 and 5) have sketchbooks they draw in. So I keep their hands busy as much as I can so they pay attention. It’s my own attitude that sometimes gets most in the way because I get sick of being interrupted every three sentences with someone needing something or the kids just get noisy.

But I am trying hard to humbly realize that the important thing is just to cover them in Scripture, and make it a normal part of their life. It honestly doesn’t matter so much how I do it, or how much I do it, or how well I do it!!! It’s just that we seek to live a life that is saturated with Scripture. It’s all over our walls in pictures and on chalkboards. We have cds playing nonstop all day, and about 90% of the music I play is Christian music or straight up Scripture set to music. We are currently on an Indelible Grace streak. ;)

My little ones (ages 5 and under for sure) looooooove the Jesus Storybook Bible. They also love the old Children’s Illustrated Bible that I picked up for fifty cents at Goodwill! And the Lindvall series of Read-Aloud Bible Stories (there are five volumes I think). We have others we read at a variety of times also: The Garden, the Curtain, and the CrossThe Biggest StoryRead Aloud NTRead Aloud OT. They love the app on my phone, too, Bible For Kids, which they really only rarely get to play, but they get totally addicted to it and into it! My big boys (especially the 9 year old) love The Action Bible. When it comes to reading the Bible storybooks, sometimes I do add my own little commentary to include things that I  might notice missing/incomplete. But I am constantly emphasizing to my kids (even from before they understand, like my 21 month old) that these are Bible storybooks, not Scripture. When I read the Bible with my kids, I read them a real translation of Scripture (usually ESV or NKJV because those are what I have handy). But we make sure to train their sensibilities to know that there is a difference between Bible stories and Scripture. Both are good, so we use both! But making that distinction is one of my key points even with the littlest. After I read Scripture to them, I say “the Word of the Lord” and all four of my kids strongly respond “thanks be to God” – but we don’t do that after reading stories out of the Bible storybooks. That is just one way we practice reiterating that and putting teeth to it, so to speak.

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We pray a lot during the day, so they are constantly bathed in prayer being a normal part of life as well.
Before each meal, when we do “Bible time”, when we arrive somewhere (while kids are still buckled in, after I’ve turned off the car, we usually quickly pray for all of us to have self control and joy etc while we are doing whatever it is we are about to do), before bed, and just at random times throughout the day like if someone gets an owie or needs a prayer for self-control or faithfulness or diligence, we pray during our discipline routines, we pray when we get a parking spot right next to the cart return, we pray when we see an emergency vehicle rushing by us…

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As I seek to prioritize the education of my children to line up with what I most see in Scripture, these are just some the things I am personally doing at this current time with my kids. It’s the most structured and formal it has ever been yet in our family, largely because I am homeschooling fulltime so it works out well in that way (which is one of the reasons we wanted to homeschool, actually). But I do not think it has to be super structured. I do not want my children growing up in at atmosphere of legalism, emphasizing works over faith, or being pressured into “spiritual disciplines” as though our entire lives were not an act of worship & spiritual discipline. I honestly firmly believe that if you just spend your hours with your children loving Jesus, it will happen naturally.

Praying for my children, I think, is hands down the biggest and best blessing for them and their souls. Both in the short term and in the longterm. I am seeking to grow in that area. I love praying for them when they are listening, because I think it feeds their souls as well as helps to shape their own prayers. But I also need to be truly purposed about praying for them when I am alone with God as well. I got Andrew Case’s book “Setting Their Hope in God” as a springboard for praying for my children, largely because I am lazy about it. :blush: But I know that… and acknowledging that and humbling myself should be the first step in growing in that area and asking God to gird my resolve to pray more frequently and more passionately for my children.

Also, back to that idea of seeking to find balance & grace without slipping into the ditch of legalism, I have learned to realize and & embrace that it doesn’t have to be every day.

Seriously. Are you shocked that I would say that publicly? Hah!

If you pour into them little bits at a time, even if it only feels like you’re “doing adequately” once a week (or whatever), God does not turn that away void.
Give what you can give to your children in faith.
Offer up those bits of time as loaves and fishes to Him, and let Him multiply it for your children.
Be gracious with yourself.
God is not constrained by our work schedules, our noisy & silly kids, our wiggly or consistent prayer times.
He gathered the children onto His lap and blessed them.

Honestly. It’s enough.
It’s enough because He takes what you offer in faith, and He multiplies it, makes it fruitful, and brings the increase.

We end every day with singing Numbers 6:24 over the kids, and saying “God bless you, I love you, peace be with you.”
Even if that is all I manage to sneak into the day, God knows my heart. He knows the hearts of my kids. He is at work. :happytears:

 

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