Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Little "Stuphph" of Life

I really need my annual haircut. When even a ponytail is looking ratty and nasty, it's time to get it all chopped. Of course, I don't get around to things too very quickly. One year I got my annual fall haircut in January.

You know little girls are growing up when they begin to have need of grown-up undergarments to wear under their shirts. But it's really weird when the little girl is still enjoying Blues Clues, Teletubbies, and Mr Rogers.

I am stunned and saddened by an article on a friend's blog about a
sting operation when the govt went after farmers who were helping people obtain raw milk. You know something is wrong when the govt can't tell the difference between heroin and a healthy food that's been drunk for millenia. We can't see the whole picture of things anymore, but instead look at tiny little segments of problems, and then come up with "solutions" that just create more problems. In this case I'm talking about public health with regard to pasteurization, but the same thing applies to tax policy, prescription medications, education reform, environmental issues, crime, campaign-finance reform, etc.

My finger has healed enough in the last four days to begin to pin down exactly where the pain is located. There's still numbness in one spot just off to the side of the fingernail, where the cut is the deepest. But the numb spot has decreased in size. The ultra-painful spot has decreased in size too, so that it's no longer the tip of the finger, but now is just a few spots near the numb place. I no longer melt in a puddle on the floor whenever I stupidly forget the canning-jar explosion from earlier this week, and do something dumb like try to use my hand. So things are moving in the right direction!! I even got brave enough to try playing piano today, and it was manageable, though not entirely comfortable.

Gary's helping Maggie with her jack-o-lantern. I'm not doing it this year since it's been amusing enough to try to figure out a way to chop onions or cut zucchini for dinners. Sure does make a person appreciate (at gut-level instead of just in a head-knowledge way) how incredibly adept Katie is at doing things with one hand.

We found a message on the answering machine this week. The funeral director in town had called. He had needed help in the grocery store, asked one of the employees, and received excellent service. He went to the service desk to compliment this "polite young man" who knew how to "treat people with dignity" and asked who this "Paul" was. When told the young man's last name, the funeral director said, "Of course! I should've known! With parents like that, who teach manners and respect, how else would anyone expect that boy to turn out?" Wow! Not only did the man compliment Paul to the boss at work, but he also called us to give us a pat on the back too. Wow! Paul turned 15 shades of red when his dad asked him to listen to the message on the answering machine. When we asked Paul what awesome thing he'd done to help this customer, he said all he did was just fetch the soupbones from the back room ... and be polite. Wow!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pruning My Cherry

Yesterday was a gorgeous and sunny day. There was plenty of work to do inside with regard to cleaning and schoolwork and cooking. But it was sunny out there! So I decided to tackle my cherry tree. It needed its annual pruning. But mostly I just needed an excuse to be out in the sun.

I don't know how to prune! Sure, I've read books. I know that spindly branches should go. I know twigs and branches must not overlap or rub against each other. I know that watershoots should be taken off. I know that sun and air must be able to get to all parts of the tree, so the tree must be thinned so that leaves won't interfere with the necessary light and air movement. I know these things. I've read books. I've talked to people who know what they're doing. But that doesn't mean that I know what I'm doing out there with my pruning shears.

In the past, I've gone out in the backyard with trepidation and started a-snippin'. Year after after, it astounds me that I managed not to kill the tree. The year I really cut back the grapes with a vengeance, I was afraid I'd gone too far. But sure enough, the next year, buds sent out shoots, leaves grew, and I got a bigger harvest from the grapes than I'd had for a couple years. I'd been letting the vines grow without tending them, and I wasn't getting enough grapes for jelly, and certainly no chance of making juice or wine. The pruning made a big difference.

This year I was more worried. Something is wrong with my cherry tree. I got enough semi-tart cherries to make an utterly delectable batch of jelly. Only one batch, but, hey, it's a dwarf tree, and the birds usually beat me to the fruit, so this was an acceptable amount of cherries. But soon afterward, my cherry dropped its leaves. When I went out to prune today, I saw that the tree is covered with lichen-growth, especially where twigs branch off from the branches. This is not good. Nevertheless, I needed the sunbath, and I hoped pruning wouldn't hurt the tree any more than the lichen (or mold or whatever that stuff is) is already hurting it.

I couldn't help but wonder if my clueless pruning in the past led to the damage to the tree. And as I clip-clipped, each snip of the shears made me wonder whether I was taking too much off, or if this was the right one to take off, or if this was a healthy part that should be left. Was I whacking and hacking too much? Was I whacking and hacking not enough? Was I doing the right amount of whacking and hacking, but not in the right places?

Pruning trees is like raising kids. I don't know what I'm doing! Am I too strict? Am I too lenient? Who knows whether I'm working on the right things with the kids, and in the right amounts? What if I have hang-ups, and they're the wrong hang-ups? What if I'm not pruning back their bad behaviors with enough diligence? What if I do it wrong, and "lichen" grows on them too? What if my mistakes make them "lose all their leaves"?

Right now, I have only two reassurances. First, I don't think anybody else knows any better than I do. Whereas I could theoretically pay a knowledgeable gardener to come in and prune my grapes and my cherry, the people who purport to be experts on child-raising probably know even less than I (especially when it comes to these particular children).

The other assurance is that God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, but we pray that He would lead us to realize this, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. He gives cherries to those who don't prune enough. He gives grapes to those who prune too much. He gives blackberries to those who don't water enough. And He gives devout children even to those of us who don't deserve it and haven't earned it. And, further, when He has not "given devout children," it is not because of something we have done or not done. I'm pretty confident in my head (although not in my gut) that the lichen on my cherry tree has nothing to do with my pitiful pruning skills. I could be an incredible gardener and still have those kinds of problems crop up. Or I could be clueless and have every kind of rich temporal blessing. We don't earn cherries or blackberries or grapes or good kids.

God gives. He is good. When God doesn't give what tickles our fancy, He is still good. "The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Mouthhouse Moms

I posted on Mouthhouse Moms yesterday about pruning my cherry tree. I also very much appreciated what Sandy said there yesterday about the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dinner Together

Last month, I read on Barbara Frank's blog about a special day set aside for families to eat dinner together. I have been thinking about how seldom we eat dinner together any more. With kids going in a variety of directions, especially wtih one working days from 6-4 and the other working evenings from 2:30-11:30, there just isn't going to be a time when we all can eat together. I figure if I can get five of us at the table at once, I'm doing okay. Six of us at once is really good. All seven of us who live here ... that hasn't been since Labor Day when one of the kids had a couple days off work. There's not a lot I can do about that. But I found a very interesting statement by Jeanne Wakatsuki in our current read-aloud, "Farewell to Manzanar." The west-coast families of Japanese descent were put into internment camps during WWII. She was describing the mess halls, and how the grown-ups ended up eating with their friends, and the kids ended up eating with their friends. Jeanne's mom tried for the first several weeks to hold the family together at mealtime, but it was a losing battle. This is what Jeanne wrote later --

Kiyo and I were too young to run around [to different mess halls], but often we would eat in gangs with other kids, while the grownups sat at another table. I confess I enjoyed this part of it at the time. We all did. A couple of years after the camps opened, sociologists studying the life noticed what had happened to the families. They made some recommendations, and edicts went out that families must start eating together again. Most people resented this; they griped and grumbled. They were in the habit of eating with their friends. And until the mess hall system itself chould be changed, not much could really be done. It was too late.
My own family, after three years of mess hall living, collapsed as an integrated unit. Whatever dignity or feeling of familial strength we may have known before December 1941 was lost, and we did not recover it until many years after the war.

When my older kids were young, they wanted to set up a homeschool commune. They wanted to pick a spot and have all their friends move to live in the same township, or even on the same square-mile section. They could enjoy the luxury of seeing friends every day. What a dream! A dream that I admit to sharing!

Of course, if we lived that close to friends, we'd have to learn to be self-controled about playtime, about visiting, about working, about school, about private time and family time and friend time. Not that we have a choice in the matter, but sometimes it's good to know that, as things presently stand, I don't have to exercise that self-control because the "controls" are placed on me by outside forces. (Well, there's always the problem of the computer....)

What I've been noticing the last several years in the younger kids, that didn't manifest itself as much in the older kids, is that they get really nasty to one another whenever we see friends. Whenever we go to Milwaukee to play, they fight the whole way home. I've taken to giving a speech on the way to a "Feed My Lambs" event: "On the way home, will you be teaching me the lesson that I am a really stupid mother for taking you to play with friends? Or will you teach me the lesson that you can play with friends and still be kind to your siblings?" The older one of the pair "gets it," but the younger one just fusses, tattles, complains, and pesters. Yesterday I noticed, however, that it's not just friends that have this effect. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa this week also caused her to be a pain in the patooty when she arrived home.

It's almost enough to make me yearn desperately for a boring boring boring routine, never to be transgressed with any excitement or outings or friends.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Blood Clots

The title of this is not an adjective+noun; it's a noun+verb. Someday I'm going to learn that I ought not go to the emergency room just because there's blood spurting. Blood clots. It may take longer than you'd like, but it does clot.

I managed to have a canning jar explode in my hands yesterday. I'm not one to go to ER for stitches: we have butterfly bandages here. But this was deep and it was really bleeding and it was on a joint; the pain was as bad as anything I'd ever experienced; and I was getting pretty woozy. So Rachel took me to ER. An hour later, by the time we got there and I saw the doctor, the cut had clotted and it wasn't looking so bad. We shouldn't have gone.

I talked the doctor out of giving me a tetanus shot. But I wasn't as forceful and determined when it came to the ER Tech telling me that, before I left, she had to clean up the wounds. I asked questions; I debated with her a bit about it. But I allowed her to do it. That was a big mistake. She opened up the cut, and it was nearly another hour before the blood stopped again. That'll teach me to be compliant with medical professionals.

I think the pain is not from the cut. One of my fingers that isn't cut has the same pain but to a much smaller degree. There is a tingliness and numbness (but that sounds contradictory!) that must be from getting banged rather than from the laceration. In my experience, closing a finger in a car door or bashing it with a hammer is a pain much different from a cut, even a doozy of a cut. But I'm managing to type through the pain, even though the simple act of changing the bandage starts me hyperventilating again. Rachel laughs at me; I'm so addicted to blogging.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Too Much the Mathematician

Two events this weekend made me realize that something on my blog-profile page probably should mention being a mathematician. It's just part of how I think, and there's no escaping it.

Husband and daughter decided we needed to watch the movie "The Lake House" with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. It's a love story, but it's also a time-travel story. No, not time-traveling, but maybe time-warping? I was struggling so much to figure out what was supposed to be going on with the communication back and forth between these two people who lived two years apart. How could they talk to each other? Or could they only write? Whenever my 14-yr-old would ask these questions during the movie, he was shushed by his sister and told that he was just going to have to "suspend belief" and accept this "communication-through-time thing" as part of the premise of the movie. But I didn't get it either! And all through the movie, I kept trying to figure out how this could work, because if he or she knew what happened, and took action to change it, then those actions would've changed the future, which would've changed the story, which meant the actions couldn't have taken place which would've gone back and changed the other actions. And .... and .... ohhhh, my head was spinning. I think (?) I liked the movie, but the only one of us who "understood" it was the one who is vehemently anti-math. She claims that enjoying that movie is just one of many benefits that result from being a literature person instead of a math person. Just proves she has no logic! Ha!

A conversation between the kids was the other incident that betrayed to me how very very mathy and nerdy I am. Someone in the house mentioned "the Golden Rule" to a selfish little twerp. Selfish little twerp hadn't heard of that and asked what it was. My immediate reaction was to try to explain Fibonacci numbers and how the number 1.61803... shows up in nature and in art. Oldest son said, "Mom! The Golden Rule. You know, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'" Ohhhhh. That! For some reason, the golden ratio was what had been dragged out of my memory banks. Ratio; rule; both are math words; both start with R. I think it's a perfectly reasonable mistake. Yes, I do. That's my story and I'm stickin' with it!

Bleach + Milk

A couple of years ago, my mom bought me a really cute Halloween shirt. Early this month, I pulled it out of storage, and in amongst the jack-o-lanterns and black cats and candy corns, there were lots of little stains. I washed it before I put it away, but those particular little brown dots seem to show up in everything we pull out of storage. And they don't want to come out! Not with Shout. Not with bleach. Not with Oxyclean. Not with soaking.

Now, I know I'm not the cleanest person with the best fashion sense. In fact, I am a person with absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever. This weekend I read an article I just loved about Homeschool-Induced ADD. (It was such a hoot, and so true-to-life that my husband thought at first that I'd written it.) What I'm talking about here in this post though is "Homeschool-Induced Acceptance of Cruddy Clothing."

A person spends her early days of motherhood getting spit up on, being drooled on, and having diapers leak on her. Then she advances to playing in the sandbox, having paint spilled on her shirt and playdo ground into her jeans seat, getting grass stains on her knees, accidentally splashing bleach or ammonia on her shirt sleeves (because she's always cleaning something). There are blood stains from kids' booboos, mud stains from the playground, spaghetti sauce stains from making dinner, grape juice stains from short peoples' spills, and more stains too numerous to mention. If a mommy desires to keep her children's clothes clean and tidy, and her own clothes clean and tidy, she will buy Shout by the caseful. Me... I didn't try. I figured my kids could look grungy at home, have a few decent clothes for going out in public, and when all else failed, buy new things from Goodwill cheaper than investing in copious quantities of stain-removing chemicals.

But my Halloween shirt is so cute. And now that we are past the worst of the Kid-Stain Season of Life, I have begun to care a little bit more about how our clothes look. I actually made one kid throw out a shirt this week because I could no longer stand the grunginess level, even at home where nobody else could see that old green-and-white striped shirt that shouldn't have even been passed down to the last kid because it was so worn out from its previous owner who seldom took it off when she was 10.

So to make my shirt wearable, I hauled out my trusty bleach+milk concoction. That stuff is utterly amazing! I fill a shot-glass nearly half full of milk (the higher the fat content, the better) and fill it the rest of the way with bleach. It can't be made ahead; there's a chemical reaction that causes a slight color change and a significant rise in temperature; the effectiveness lasts for 10 minutes or less. Using an old toothbrush to scrub that concoction into a stain on white fabric has done wonders to clean things. I don't trust it; it's pretty strong on the bleach and I'm never sure whether it might ruin something. But when an alb or a surplice gets such horrid sweat stains at the neckline that it's in dire need of replacement, I've discovered that bleach+milk will garner us several more years before we have to go ahead and order new vestments for the pastor. (Those you can't pick up at Goodwill for three bucks like you can kids' clothes.)

And I can wear my Halloween shirt today too.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hardwood Floors

Most of the floors in the parsonage were beautiful hardwood. But over time, they were carpeted. Eleven years ago we pulled up the carpet in the study, when we were turning it into a fourth bedroom. That was utterly atrocious carpet, early-70s colors, falling apart and warping from age, and thus tripping silly people who expected a floor to be relatively flat.

The living room, dining room, and hallway were newly carpeted shortly before we moved here 16 years ago. Carpeted in a very light gray. Kids live here. Kids eat in the dining room -- the carpeted dining room. The dining room that was once-upon-a-time carpeted in light gray. I've tried, but there's only so much you can do with a light colored carpet and eight people who actually live in a house all day every day, instead of just two people living in a home on evenings and weekends.

Andrew has been dying to pull up the carpet. A year or so ago, the church started talking about using AAL funds for new carpet. But I would so much rather have the hardwood with some area rugs. It'd be better for those of us with allergies than wall-to-wall carpet. So all this time, Andrew has been wanting to rip up carpet. I told him that, when we started, we would tackle only the hallway, a small section. That really gave him incentive. Doncha just know how cool it would be to go running across the living room and sliiiiiiide down the length of the hall in your stocking-feet?

Andrew has been so willing to do this work. But all along, I've told him it's a bigger job than he imagines. I kept telling him that we don't know exactly what's under there, and we don't know how we're going to have to deal with it. I kept telling him that I wasn't sure he could handle it on his own, and that he needed to wait until I could work with him so that we could "problem solve" our way through it together.

Tonight was the night. Two lessons learned:
first, how carpet is attached to floors -- with lots of nails pointing up;
second, that moms really do know what they're talking about when they say a job will take significantly longer than 14-yr-olds expect a job to take.

Although Andrew was disappointed in the large amount of work and time that the job entailed, it actually took far less time than I had expected. I think that's because my husband pitched in too, and Andrew really was a diligent worker. It was only two hours from starting to rip until the time the hardwood was all cleaned and washed. Even with nail holes still to be puttied, and even with a little water damage that had been done in previous years, it sure does look nice.

Laissez Faire

Given the financial situation at church, I've been thinking for the last several years about the need to make money. And of course, being church's budget-planning time of year, that causes money-thoughts to be more in the forefront of my musings and our conversations here. Thus, thoughts of employment and/or starting a business are once again making their annual autumn trek through my thoughts.

There's one business I would love to start, but it would involve a huge capital investment. Furthermore, it would involve a kiosk at the mall (an hour away), which means long long hours away from home, daily. It also would involve immersing myself into learning all sorts of things about business regulations, accounting, taxes, payrolls, etc etc. And I just don't have time for that. I'd rather be poor. :-)

The most reasonable thing for me to do would be to cook or to cater or to sell kombucha. I planned one summer to sell bread at the farm market, but it turned out that I had to have the government overseeing my kitchen. Kombucha costs a fortune in the store, and it would be easy enough for me to make and bottle and distribute through a couple of health food stores. But any time food is involved, there's government involvement in their attempts to protect the public. I suppose I could look into the laws, and obtain stockpiles of latex gloves for whenever we touched anything to do with food, and buy the sterilization equipment, and pay some laboratory to analyze the food for nutrition content so that we could comply with labeling laws. But those regulations are a huge hurdle. If a business were merely a matter of doing the work, doing it well and safely with intent to serve the neighbor and make a little money to help feed my family, that would be entirely reasonable. But it's not good enough today in our big-government, litigacious society. Today businesses must comply with innumerable laws and regulations and tax code. And that's enough to chase the idea out of my head. Maybe I'm just a wuss. Or maybe it's that the housewifey stuff is just higher priority. But I sure do have admiration for the people who are strong enough to dive in to starting businesses even in the face of the govt's desire to micro-manage.