Little Miss Country Girl

The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes,
and surely it is in the everyday things around us
that the beauty of life lies.

It is the sweet, simple things of life
which are the real ones, after all.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

Sweet little darling,
firecracker passion,
strawberry seed freckles,
your blue eyes now grey-green.
Work beside me,
hold my hand,
rest in the comfort
of learning alongside
this mama learning too
and who could imagine nothing better
than walking life with you.

My own sweet little country girl, helping her mama, seeking to grow up far too fast into my shoes.
She delights in ducks, water hoses, garden soil, butterfly wings, ripe strawberries, and fresh basil.
She finds comfort in holding hands, being close, and conversing about all the deep things she carries in her heart.
She seeks to be far too grown up far too quickly, but not because she really tries to – simply because she is a mature little starlet, truly an old soul.

As the years pass,
I am coming more and more to understand
that it is the common, everyday blessings
of our common everyday lives
for which we should be particularly grateful.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

My Cup Overflows

Thou anointest my head: my cup runneth over.
Psalm 23:5

This morning, as my children and I sat around the kitchen table doing our copywork for the day, little things were really getting under my skin. The six year old will not stand still, sit still, stop wiggling, or curb the humming & whistling… quite literally, no matter what we try, it seems that at least on this particular morning, he is actually physically unable to truly be still & quiet. The ten year old repeatedly uses his pencil and the heel of his opposite hand for a drum set in between penning words. The five year old moans every time she needs to correct a word, erase a pencil mark, or drops something on the floor… which, to be fair, is about every 27.3 seconds. The two year old is happily uncapping ColorWonder markers and strewing them about the floor (last time it was half-melted crayons which took a while to scrub up… so this is a major improvement) while singing songs at what-ought-to-be the top of his voice, but I happen to know it isn’t, because if there’s one thing we have in spades in this household, it’s breath support & plucky lungs.

My own copywork was going slowly, thanks to the ever-emergent nature of the fulltime homeschooling mother of small children. The dog needs out, the toddler needs to go potty, the children squabble, the pencils need sharpened, the dog peed on the floor, the toddler peed on the floor, the phone rings, the washing machine buzzes, the FedEx man comes at an unusually early hour… the singing, the pencil-drumming, the leg-wiggling, the chair-squeaking, the moaning about how long five verses is when you are trying to write in cursive and you’re only six years old…

I made a big, delicious latte and sat back down. I was only three verses through my five… and it had quite honestly been about thirty minutes already… when the five year old lost her self control and needed some correction. In my over-zealous flight to show her the error of her ways, I rather gave a flamboyant representation myself of just what lacking self control can do to a day. I managed to knock my entire large mug of hot latte all over the table and down the edge like a frothy waterfall. In the nanosecond it took for me to finally lose my cool and react in an expulsory fashion, God slowed down my vision enough to do one of those “this is your life” slideshows inside my eyelids for a moment… highlighting simply the last hour of the morning. My petty angst, my raw nerves, my frenzied attack of all the things at once rather than pacing and parsing them out in an orderly fashion. I don’t think I uttered a single sound or solitary syllable. God grabbed me right there. The proverbial swat on my hand was received, my eyelids came down, my shoulders slumped. The breath in my lungs caught and I immediately felt the mercy of God’s hand rearranging my morning in one quick movement.

My sudden physical response was so jolting, I managed to slide my chair away from the table far enough that the waterfall of coffee avoided me altogether but rather soaked up my copywork journal and splashed upon some of the readalouds from our morning basket, sopped into the table runner, and managed to splosh & splash across the entire kitchen nook floor (praise the Lord we recently got rid of the rug & reverted to the bare wood) & onto most of the chair legs around the table.

While I spun around to grab an armful of towels from the drawer beside the sink, I thought to myself, well, that’s one way to restart the morning.

I cleaned up the books, the table runner, the chair legs, the floor… and layered kitchen towels amongst the wet, brown pages of my own copywork journal. As I did this, my children grew suddenly so attentive and diligent in their own copywork, their verses were finished and they moved on almost mechanically to their sketchpads and math books. I hardly even noticed my daughter crying over her copywork… I was so caught up in my coffee-soaked Scripture pages and trying to make sure no library books were casualties.

Finally, my daughter looked up at me and said in a very sad little voice, “Mommy, was that my fault?” I cupped her chin in my hand and looked her in the eyes to say, “Who knocked over that cup of coffee?” “I don’t know, Mommy. Did I do it?” she asked, tears trying to puddle in her ever-greener blue eyes. “Mommy knocked it over, baby. You didn’t do it. Mommy lost self control. I let my impatience take over.” I stepped back and looked at all the kids. “Thank you for being patient with me while I got through my own temper tantrum. God’s still working on me, and I am not always a cheerfully obedient daughter.”

They smiled at me. They forgave me. They understood.

I made a new latte. We all sat back down, a freshly mopped floor now beneath our feet. It was overdue for that anyway. I looked down at my copywork journal. The page that seemed most ruined held Colossians 2:6-7: Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I certainly was not walking in Him with an abundance of thanksgiving this morning! And now this coffee-soaked, tattered & torn page would remain the evidence and reminder of my weak & wobbly ways.

I gently turned that page over to see where I had left off of this morning’s verse… we are just beginning to work on memorizing Psalm 103, so I was three verses into it when I spilled the coffee…

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
who forgives all your iniquities,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your…

Oh my.
My own eyes now filled with tears. Immediately, I was brought to prayer of humility, confession, repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.

I am not called to run a home that is still, silent, stark, & stoic.
I am called to be faithfully building up my home, training these children for the Kingdom, and pursuing Christ as a corner pillar.
How can I so easily lose sight of the calling of my soul?
To bless His name! And to not forget all that He has done.

Oh! Praise the Lord that even in the very midst of that moment, His grace was there to grab me and set me straight again. To show me that I was pursuing an incorrect vision of my day, rather than embracing the life before me with faithfulness. My friend Mystie had just shared with me a few days ago some thoughts about leading our homes and teaching our children with rest and faithfulness. It was a must-re-read for me this afternoon. Quoting Sarah Mackenzie, in her book Teaching From Rest, “Our days, though messy, loud, chaotic, and sometimes completely overwhelming, can be filled with great peace. … Teaching from rest means we don’t panic when things don’t go according to our plan.”

It was a beautiful spiritual exercise to finish my section of Psalm 103 once my page dried out enough that my pen wouldn’t rip the page badly.

…who redeems your life from destruction,
who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
who satisfies your mouth with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

What a perfect pivot from where I was to where I went.
The irritation and angst that had been building in me (although I would not have admitted it) gave way to destruction, and it wasn’t until after my soul awakened to NOT FORGET the benefits of my Lord that I once again realized how very much my cup overflows – with His lovingkindness and tender mercy, and with so many countless, tangible, good things.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! For things like forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction, and strength. These are the gifts that He gives in abundance. These are the things that I can rely on, even in the midst of the messy, chaotic, loud, frustrating, and unpredictable.

Mystie says, “Instead of looking for what you can cut to make life easier, cut the whining, cut the social media, cut the lingering over your coffee. Cut the fear, cut the comparisons, cut the jealousy, cut the anxiety – we can, because God gives us grace to turn from our sins, to repent.”

Yes. He does. Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless His holy name. The goodness and mercy of my God follow me and fill me. He makes my cup overflow. Amen.

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.

Burton1
Burton2 Burton3

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.

Hopper1  Hopper2

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.

Newbery5  Newbery3

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.

FunBooks1  FunBooks2

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.

FunBooks3  FunBooks4

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.

FunBooks6  FunBooks5

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.

FunBooks7  FunBooks8

FunBooks9

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.

Hungry for Healing, Part III

Hungry for Healing, Part III
The Apple Pie

A number of months ago, I made an apple pie for my husband. Fruit pies are his love language. He loves when I get the crust just right. But he could probably revel in the filling with delight even if the crust weren’t flaky enough or got too browned around the pinched, ruffled edge. He simply loves pie. Really can’t live without it. And as long as it tastes delicious and close to heaven, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

While I washed, peeled, and sliced apples, I recall meditating on trees and fruit and baked goods. I contemplated Rachel Jankovic’s comment once that “trees which have borne much fruit should no longer look like a sapling.” I thought about God growing my tree, deepening my roots, expanding my trunk, filling out my branches, producing my fruit, and performing the harvest year by year. In her book, Loving the Little Years (which I haven’t read in a long time), I remember Rachel’s musings on trees and fruit: “The branches are our responsibility, the ground is not.” “The more fruit you make, the more fruit gets used.” “You cannot know the depth of His plan for your fruit. So throw it out there on the ground when you have no plan for its future. Waste it.” “Be bountiful with your fruit and free with it. The only thing that you can know for certain is that God will use it.”

AppleStrudel2

While I blended flour and salt together, and cut fat into its grains with dedication and delight, preparing to wrap, enfold, cover, and encase those apple pieces… I thought about the process with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I remember texting a friend of mine to say that I was writing a blog post about apples, apple pie, body image, and mom life. I remember telling her that I had been peeled, cut, seasoned, aged, and baked – that I was realizing I was no longer an apple, but rather a pie. I vaguely recalled Robert Capon saying something which planted that seed.

I never hit publish on that. Partly because I lost steam, partly because I wasn’t ready to really expose my struggle.

But the image has not strayed from my mind. I’ve written and rewritten thoughts about this numerous times. None of them felt right. But the repeated phrase Jonathan Rogers told me this winter was to trust my instincts and to worry less about what I write. So this morning, I don’t plan to edit, rework, or nuance. I am writing stream-of-consciousness style, for better or for worse. It may be a jumbly, hot mess. That’s pretty much the state of my work these days. It’s simply true.

At nearly 35 years old, raising four children full-time, with thirteen pregnancies and a host of health & hormonal nuances under my belt, I am a woman learning to live post-anorexia and post-bulimia, loving my smile lines, embracing the little streaks of white dappling my carrot top. I think about Nate Wilson’s poetic phrasing in Death By Living when he said that his grandmother was the tree from which apples fell and grew, from which apples fell and grew, from which apples continued to fall and grow.
Apple trees produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees, which will produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees…

Apple tree in old apple orchard horizontal.

I am not alone, stagnant, isolated, an island. I am an apple. I fell from a fruitful tree, I was sown and sprouted. I grew into a sapling.
But the rub comes when I fail to acknowledge that God has continued to deepen my roots, increase my fruit, lengthen my branches, and strengthen my trunk. I am not the girl I once was. I am not the firstyear fruit producer I had been. And while I love the imagery of remaining the tree, of looking forward to the days of needing my branches propped up, of having burls and truly gnarly bark thick with wrinkles and creases – there’s something about the idea of moving from the orchard into the kitchen that delights me.

I’m a baking addict, so that’s one thing.
I love flour, sugar, fat, spices.
I adore the sounds of thick syrupy fruit bubbling on the stove, and the schunk sound my knife makes as it slices through crisp apple flesh.
Even just imagining the smell of pastry in the oven makes my salivary glands dance.

And then there’s Father Robert Farrar Capon.
The man who really introduced me to onions.
The one who started me realizing that my hatred of my body and my war with food was truly a spiritual battleground, and I wasn’t seeing victory.
He is the one who reminds me that, yes, I fell as a crisp, ripe, firm, shapely apple from a strong and faithful tree. But when God took that apple, He didn’t set it on a shelf to be kept the way I was harvested from the tree of my lineage.

I was plucked in order to be used.
Apples are meant to give nourishment, to give joy.
I am meant to give life, nourishment, and joy too.

And just like the apple that is used up for those purposes, I will not be left the same.

Rachel Jankovic wrote, “our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body… Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of joyfully giving your body to another.”

She goes on to say, “make sure you aren’t buying into the world’s propaganda. While there are a great many rewards, the sacrifice is very real… [and] the answer to these obstacles is not to run away in fear as the world does, but to meet it with joy, and in faith.”

My life, my calling, my homemaking, my motherhood, my faith – these things call me to be used for the good of others, to give myself away, to be used up, to savor, to become considerable, to be relished.

As Robert Capon said in a beautiful benedictory passage in The Supper of the Lamb,

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable… And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed… Eat well then.

I will determine, then, to turn from buying into the world’s propaganda. I will meet these obstacles with joy, and in faith. I will embrace my season of apple pie as sweeter and fatter than my firm and slender days as an untouched apple straight from the tree. I will endeavor to appreciate my softened body with a heart of thankfulness rather than a sense of resentment. I will seek to glorify God with this sweet season of bodily life, not grasping for control over the size of my jeans, the fit of my swimsuit, the taut of my belly skin, the roundness of my cheek.

May I be used. May I be molded, remade, served up as something even more marvelous than I was to begin with. And may I see joy and glory in the process and in the result. Not because my determination is a victory. But because God is in the business of making things new, and I want to give myself up to Him as He works new things in me and through me. Muffin top and all.

Glory be.

AppleStrudel1

“for to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you might follow in his steps…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 peter 2:21, 24

At the Barre

Originally written for a writing course I took this winter
with instructor Jonathan Rogers,
here is an artistic look at a turning point
in the developing feminine psyche of eight-year-old Melissa.

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At the Barre

Ballet lessons were a highlight of my childhood. The weekly foray into all things poised, wearing the uniform of black leotard and pink tights, made my little-girl heart skip and leap like my instructor Miss Tammy herself, yet the defining memory of my years in that ballet studio has little to do with plie, jete, or curtsy.

The rectangular studio held polished wood floors, two walls of barre, ample floor space for the ten little dancers in my class, and one entire wall of flawless mirror. The room smelled of sweat, hairspray, and leather. We practiced leg and foot positions standing along the wall of barre which faced opposite the mirror, one hand delicately resting on the barre, the other extended in a gracefully draping arc. Legs extended to lengthen muscles as our calves carved shapes along our pink tights, thighs tensed like gazelle necks, toes pointing until the leather of our pink shoes creaked with the strain. Necks were long, shoulders pressed down, shoulder blades squeezed tight on plank-straight backs, chins elegantly turned slightly left—just enough to see our reflections in the mirror, to self-correct poise and gauge how long until Mrs. Henshaw reached us for professional critique and instruction.

Miss Tammy was absent this particular day, replaced by the studio director Mrs. Henshaw. Everything about Mrs. Henshaw was as straight and strict as her name sounded. She moved along the line of dancers as we practiced repetitions of movement to classical records.

Born with German bones and raised alongside a puppy frolicking in an overgrown pasture, often crawling along a creek bed to catch tadpoles, ballet made me feel more lovely and dainty than anything. So there I stood, stately and feminine in uniform and practice, not a red hair fallen loose from the perfectly round bun atop my head, when Mrs. Henshaw reached me. Her gaze exacting, she studied the position and movement of my body, her chin aloft and cheekbones harsh. Without words, her terse hands stretched my leg further than my hamstring knew possible, and raised my elbow ever so slightly to achieve the angle of perfection.

Waiting for her eyebrows to soften and her head to give me the expected miniscule nod of approval before moving on to the dancer behind me, I almost relaxed into the genuine ballerina I saw in my reflection across the dance floor. I felt confidence begin to blossom in my bosom. And then Mrs. Henshaw cocked her proud head ever so slightly, pursed her lips in that confrontational way which makes the neck hair bristle, and reached her index finger out to poke it into my stomach. If her manicure had been less perfect she would have snagged my leotard with the veracity of her nail pressure. “Getting a little chubby,” she said coarsely.

She moved on to the dancer behind me, as though she had not just eviscerated me with the penetrating words of an irreversible cut.

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Ducky Doula

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It is funny how hobbies can sort of just show up on your doorstep one day. And then takeover your bathroom for a month. And pretty soon occupy any spare moments you didn’t even know you had. Haha!

My little birds have reinforced this, if not taught it to me directly.

Who would have thought that I would spend Friday and Saturday and half of Easter Sunday fretting about a little duckling that was malpositioned in an egg, stuck and struggling? And then that I would spend about two hours on Easter Sunday evening learning some ducky doula skills?! If you had ever suggested that to me in the past, I would have giggled in your face. And maybe you now are giggling at your screen. But suffice it to say, this is true.

I had not known the process of how fertilized eggs grew bird embryos, how the membranes functioned, what the yolk did, how the bird draws in the last of the yolk just prior to hatching, how pipping and zipping are to function… I knew nothing about the air pocket at the fatter/rounder end of an egg. I did not know that hatching took so agonizingly long. I had no idea that you couldn’t generally help a bird out of its egg without putting its life at risk. I didn’t even think about the fact that temperature and humidity levels would need to be so very specific in order to best imitate nature and how God does this process with broody mama birds. I now know that having three thermometers to monitor one incubator is a really good idea if you don’t want your fertile eggs to overheat and essentially cook. I now know how to candle eggs. I know what a pip looks like, and where it is supposed to be. I know how awesome it is when a little duckling pips at the right spot, zips the eggshell successfully, and pops out with vigor. I also know how traumatic it can be when a duckling pips at the wrong spot and dies with its little bill poking out the airhole, but gives up trying to hatch because it’s in the wrong spot and can not continue the work of hatching as God best designed it. And because of that, I learned how to spot a troubled hatchling who has pipped in the wrong spot… in fact, my last duckling came out the wrong end of the egg… at first I thought it was completely upside down but eventually learned it was more like what humans would call transverse. So I had to do some quick research on “hatch assist” to see how to give the duckling a chance at life, because it was basically prepared to die. I used a toothpick to give it an airhole after its pip was beginning to dry out and close up, and then waited. A long time. And when it still made no progress I chipped a tiny bit of shell away near its bill and head, and then waited. Another long time. I kept this egg very moist, and checked on it every few hours. The little thing kept wiggling and chirping and breathing, but made absolutely no progress in hatching. When I could tell it was getting tired, I brought out tweezers and suuuuuuper slowly helped it break the shell. Tiny piece by teeny tiny piece. Lots of moisture. Lots of time. And even lots of prayer. Proverbs 12:10 “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.” I was seeking to be a good steward of this little life God had put into my hands. And when this fragile little duckling finally came slowly out of its shell (rather than bursting forth as the previous two had), it was bleeding from the umbilical area. I had never even thought about the fact that birds would have umbilical cords! Shows how much I knew… At any rate, rather than let this little duckling rest on its own in the incubator, I scooped her up and put a warm paper towel on the bleeding area to apply pressure and warmth. I snuggled the little thing for a good while and enjoyed being a participant in this part of God’s creation. It was a unique experience for me, and not one I expect to experience a lot again in the future (although I recognize you never know, so I will never say never). I was delightedly surprised to see this duckling survived that first night.

Duck4.3.d Duck4.3.f
Duck4.3.e IMG_1738 DuckEaster3

I never imagined that I would have learned quite the things that I learned through my journey of incubating duck eggs over the last month.

Allow me to introduce my little duckling trio to you.
Left to right: Easter, Cheer, and Calliope.

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Duck4.3.g

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It is amazing how a frail little thing hatched 2 1/2 days ago that I wasn’t sure would make it through the hatch, or the first ten minutes, or its first night… is now stubborn and strong, pecky and plucky. No kidding.
This is Easter.

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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.

Books & Birds

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The glorious sunshine we have had the last couple of days has been invigorating ~ it gives me the hope of spring! Of course we still have snow on the ground, so while we were outside exercising in the sunshine, the kids were throwing little shovelfuls of crystally snow at one another. I was hauling scrap wood from random places into one pile, and kept rubbing my hands into the snow at my feet to clean them off. And when I got hot, it was wonderful to grab a hand full of the crunchy snow and drop it down the neck of my shirt. Cooled my sweaty shoulderblades right off.

So as we are transitioning from winter to spring, praise the good Creator above, we are decidedly working on springtime plans! We have chicks arriving in ten days, which is super exciting for our family. The last time I got chicks was for my fifteenth birthday, and it would not be polite to tell you how many years ago that was. My children are truly ecstatic in anticipation of these precious little fowl. We are getting eleven, and are hoping at least eight of them will survive as dependable layers.

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And then eight days ago I got a random text from a friend asking if I was interested in duck eggs. For a moment I thought she was offering to bring me some to cook up, as she was going to be visiting for lunch the following day. But then she mentioned that she was pretty sure they were fertile, and that she would bring me an incubator as well. I jumped at the opportunity in faith, figuring homeschooling for the win! For sure.
So we have dedicated our kitchen half-bath to the babying of these sweet little eggs. It is about time to figure out if there is life inside, and my kids are wild with anticipation of candling them to check for veins with a flashlight. We have been reading blogs and books to get ourselves up to speed on all things duckling.

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And yes, this means that there will be a coop in the making. I am quite excited. At first, we thought to use the coop my brother built me on my parents’ property when I got chicks the first time… thinking we could include exercise easily in the daily routine that way because it would essentially include a mile walk every time we visited the coop. But as I pondered it further, I realized that is not very realistic and way less fun. I want to have ducks and hens toddling around my own property, where I can see them from my kitchen or my patio, and where I can usher them in to eat weeds and bugs around my fruit trees and garden beds. Also, who wants to haul food scraps and baskets of eggs for half a mile at a time twice a day? Hm.

In addition to the more educational type of poultry sites and books that Gabriel and I have been studying together, we have a pile of bird-themed books from our trusty library. Have I mentioned lately that we now have four library cards in our family? At fifty books allowed per card, I just want you to envision the armloads we come home with every week. We actually do get some pretty funny looks sometimes from people. And I am not sure whether it is positive or questionable that the librarians all now seem to know us by surname, and Gabriel by firstname. In another life, I maybe would have been a children’s librarian. Actually, I might be partially turning into one in my own home. Just check out my growing collection of books and bookcases. No really: ask my husband.

But I need to share a few things with you before I can call it a night here, because these books have already brought us so much joy.

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This is just the bird stack. We also have an Easter stack ~ and since you can only get five holiday books at a time per card, it’s great to have four cards maxed out simultaneously! And a just for fun stack where lots of precious picture books get read and reread and reread ad nauseum before we return them. Here is a closer look at some of these lovely picture books:

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The most basic of the books here is a wordless (but for some numbers, as you count the chicks as they hatch throughout the book) boardbook that is beautifully sweet. Simeon delights in counting these days, and he is super excited about ducks and chicks, so this is right up his sweet little alley. (What book isn’t, though?! I mean, really.)

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Then we have some more nitty-gritty books that are more serious and farm-informational-centric, which the kids find less fun and they definitely look at those as “school” rather than “reading” ~ I know, I know… But anyway, it’s true.

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But I think my personal favorites are the ones that strike a fun balance of informational and simply beautiful. The artwork is stunning and the stories are personal. And they throw in some fun details that I want my kids to learn, but don’t try to fool them into thinking this is “school” because, oh no ma’am, this is just for reading.

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The books throw in wonderful words like incubator, pullets, and coop. Things that my kids need to know here pretty soon!
Sonya’s Chickens even throws in a poignant plot twist where a fox carries away one of the little girl’s hens, and the girl is calmed & reassured by her father’s explanation that the fox is simply looking out for the care of his kits ~ and that it wasn’t a personal affront to her, but a strong provider caring for his family in the best way he knew how. Considering all the predators we will have to contend with out here in the country, I think this storyline is an excellent preparation for the hearts of my own children.

So we will keep reading. And growing our hearts a couple sizes bigger until these precious little poultry babies have pecked their way into our hearts. Oh ~ and if you can’t find me in all the usual places, I’ll probably be reading this stack of books with my kids by the woodstove, out back building a coop, or in the kitchen half-bath babying my duck eggs.

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little creator

If only I could create ex nihilo, using nothing but logos. My image-bearing of the Creator is quite marred, as it ought to be since I am a daughter of Eve. But my deep vein throbbing to create using hands or using words or using breath is a crying out of my soul to imitate my threesome God.

I long to imitate the Father. I long to take dust and mold it into something beautiful. I long to gather together a piece of my own creation to make something fat and sweet and dimpled. To see my image done over again in a new way.

I long to imitate the Son. I long to use words to create life and fill with meaning, to reorient souls and bring restoration into broken places. I long to create healing and relationship and beauty out of written words and shared thoughts, common experiences and extravagant moments.

I long to imitate the Spirit by breath and wind. Song and speech.

~~~

What I find myself creating are meals that fill bellies, messes to wash, piles of laundry to be stacked in drawers. I create restful spaces and warm rooms and drinks to swallow that nourish tongues. I create order out of chaos. I create sounds out of noise. I create lesson plans and to-do lists and stacks of books and bins of art supplies.
I am creating well-rounded people with my body, my words, my breath.

How can such an enormous work ever be enough? How can I ever be enough for it? I cannot be. I need oh so much grace. I need more energy than I ever knew was necessary. This enormous, endless work is simultaneously more than I can comprehend doing every day for the rest of my life and everything I ever wanted to be putting myself into. The largeness and smallness of it all fills me with every sort of feeling every hour of the day.
To be needed is such a gift.
To be needed every two minutes
so that I can not actually spend any cohesive amount of time doing one single thing
is… indescribable.

~~~

I am getting ready to pour myself into a garden.
I am getting ready to pour myself into a wee flock of chicks.
I am getting ready to pour myself into more artistic creative endeavors than I could actually tell you just now.

But it’s kind of like I am trying to pour myself into these things because there is a hole here than I’m trying to fill. And I’m not sure these are the things that are actually able to fill it.
Like filling up a pothole with chocolate pudding instead of cement.

~~~

I am a creator. Made, marred yet molded, in His image.
The Creator’s.

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Ordinary

There are some days that, while filled with nothing but the ordinary, feel truly extraordinary nonetheless.

In the liturgical Church year, incidentally, today is the last day of Ordinary Time prior to tomorrow launching this year’s Advent season. Well, perhaps it is less than incidental: in fact, it may be the precise reason I thought of this in the first place.

One of my friends is at the hospital in labor today with her first child, after years of longing to be given the gift of motherhood.
One of my friends, who I babysat & taught piano to for years and then who was a flowergirl/maid in my own wedding, is getting married this afternoon.
And my one and only Grandpa will have his bones laid to rest in a couple of hours.

The intersection of some of life’s moments of highest pinnacle!

And here I am at my home, living in the very ordinary routine of my life.
Dishes, laundry, feeding my people, changing diapers, loading up crockpots, listening to a podcast while I walk around in circles between my own needy little people and my weary old brown boxes of Christmas decorations that I’m trying to unload into a semblance of celebratory beauty around my home.

Ordinary.

But just because it is ordinary does not mean it has no value. Some of the most monumental and majestic of events rely fully upon those who are holding down the forts in the world of the ordinary!

And so as I chop onions for chili and cut fat into flour for pie, as I transfer laundry loads and sweep up pineneedles from the family room rug, as I interact with my children and scatter Christmas decorations around my home, I wait for my ordinary little phone to buzz. I get updates from my friend waiting for her body to be delivered of her tiny son. I get updates from my mama who is waiting for her father’s body to be laid to rest. I watch the clock as I anticipate the covenant-making of my friend as two shall become one.

This is ordinary yet it is majestic.

On this last day of Ordinary Time prior to Advent, I am thinking about the power of the ordinary.
Ordinary things like life, birth, death, marriage, parenthood, homes, food, tangible, physical things.
And tomorrow when Advent bursts onto the scene, I anticipate one friend’s arms will be filled with her little son; another young friend entangled with her husband; and my grandpa will be planted in the earth awaiting the harvest of the Resurrection.
I will go to worship, partake of communion, sing, pray, and rejoice because the majestic King of creation came to earth in the ordinary form of a baby with human DNA just like me and lived a life full of ordinary, tangible, physical things.

Maybe it is the ordinary things, after all, which are the true pinnacle of the majestic.