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We are living in turbulent times.  It seems everywhere around us, things are falling apart, shaking, toppling, and flooding.  Is anyone else feeling the burden that comes from a constant sense of “what next?”

First, let’s consider the unusual, extreme weather we’ve had in the past nine months.  (And, no, I don’t believe climate change has anything to do with the weather patterns we’ve been seeing.)  In June a hail storm came blasting through that left almost all the homes in our area needing new shingles and many needing new siding as well.  Some of the fields north of us were completely devastated.   Last September there was record rainfall in our area—8 to 12” in a 24-hour period.  That resulted in record flooding in the area rivers.   In October we had a day with record wind speeds.   Winter weather came with a vengeance in mid-November and battered us repeatedly for the next four months.  The first storm of the year included ice that took down electrical wires and many homes were without power for at least 24 hours.  We had record amounts of snow over the winter.  For the first time since we’ve lived in the northern plains, all the roads were shut down during one storm due to drifting and poor visibility.  We had 20-24” of snow on the ground almost all winter.

Of course, when spring came, all that snow had to go somewhere.  And winter was very reluctant to let go of its icy grip which meant a very cool, wet spring with many places receiving way above average amounts of rain.  As the snow melted, the rivers—already full from the torrential rain in the fall—were soon out of their banks.  All that water worked its way into the Mississippi River which sloshed its glutted way through the mid-section of the country, haplessly flooding all along the way.  Thousands of acres of farmland were lost, countless homes and farms inundated while engineers tried to save the cities of St. Louis and New Orleans.

Just as the worst of the flooding was over, tornados began ripping through the Midwest and South.  For a couple of weeks, tornados pounded various states and cities.  We watched the news in awe as we viewed the destruction of these storms.  Then, uncharacteristically, tornados also hit Massachusetts.

Then it was the Missouri River’s turn to flood as all the snowmelt and heavy rains began to drain.  Now, the other side of the Midwest is fighting the rising waters as we helplessly watch the rivers flood to record levels.

Now, besides the weather,  there was the terrible earthquake in Japan in March.  The nuclear ramifications from the Japanese earthquake made that event even more traumatic.  .  Before that one, there was an earthquake in New Zealand.

Weather and earthquakes aside, there is unbelievable turmoil in the Middle East and Africa.  Every day  it seems one more country is locked in bloody battle:  Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt.  There are louder rumbles against Israel from many nations than there ever has been before.  The world seems on the verge of erupting in global conflict.  Our troops are being deployed in more places all over the globe.

Closer to home, our country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse.  Every day more dire warnings are being broadcast about the national debt and lack of economic recovery.   Anyone who has tried to get a job doesn’t have to be told what’s happening in that realm!  The housing market is still extremely weak.  The stock market continues to be bearish.   The American dollar is losing strength against most foreign currencies and is being threatened as the world reserve currency.

We are constantly being hit with yet another wave of bad news.  It’s very possible that other periods in our country’s history were as turbulent, but it seems the news on every side is more cumulative.  Perhaps we live more in a global culture where we are more aware of the events outside our nation’s borders.

Whether this is one of the worst periods or not, the constant onslaught of bad news can be overwhelming.  As a culture, I think we are coping by becoming more fixated than ever on the trivial and entertaining.  If we can make it through one more day by dulling our senses and surviving, we count it as positive.  We feel helpless to do anything about a world that seems totally out of control.  So we try to cope by focusing on something we feel we can control:  how much fat/salt/sugar should be in our diets; how much we should be exercising; banning soda from public schools; building new sports stadiums.  Or we may cope by zoning out and soothing our consciousness by playing video games, watching TV or movies, obsessing about sports teams, fixating on the latest celebrity in the news, entertaining ourselves to numb the reality of the world in which we live.

None of these coping mechanisms are inherently wrong.  We NEED to cope, somehow, with the growing sense of helplessness and hopelessness in a world gone crazy.  One of my ways to cope is to be thankful every day for the blessings I have in my life.  It’s easy to lose sight of the good things we have in the whirlwind that swirls around us.  Then I also spend time in prayer and communion with God, to remind myself that ultimately, He is the one in control, even if it seems like the world is coming apart like a two-dollar watch.

During World War II, I’m sure many felt things couldn’t get any worse as millions perished and the entire European continent was engulfed in turmoil.  Yet, out of that terrible time in human history, God drew the remnant of His chosen people back to their Promised Land, fulfilling prophecy that the Jewish people would one day return to their homeland.

It doesn’t always make it easier to face each day when we can’t see the Big Picture like God can, but it helps to know that His ways are greater than our ways and we can trust Him to care for His own.

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Okay, I know in the chaos of our world these days, that this may seem a pretty trivial soapbox to climb upon.  I was looking at online news sites today and it could make a person shake in their shoes at the instability of the Middle East, the resulting spike in oil (and thereby gas) prices, and the aligning of military forces.  Several countries are on the verge of implosion and governments toppling.  While it is a half-world away, it will have dramatic impacts on us in midwest America.

So why, in the midst of this, do I make a stand against the slobbification of America?  Why is this my personal crusade?  Because I believe we are losing something very vital in this generation.  In a world where nothing is important anymore, nothing is sacred, there is nothing worth living or dying for.

In just the past few years there has been a dramatic change in the way people from all walks of life attire themselves.  A decade ago, when one had to take an airplane flight, one would dress up for it, wearing at least nice slacks and a shirt.  Women would often wear skirts or dresses.  Businessmen would wear suits and ties.  Nowadays, take a walk through the airport and observe the travelers and you will see predominantly jeans.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against jeans.  I just protest against them as being the totality of a wardrobe.  I know most people under the age of thirty don’t even own anything to wear except jeans and tops that can be worn with jeans.  When it comes time for a job interview, if you decide to ‘dress up’, it likely will require a trip to the department store to buy something that will later be shoved to the back of the closet.

At a lot of places of employment, jeans are the usual daily attire.  Some places require khakis but even these are often of a denim-type cut and fabric.  Employers that used to require business wear now settle for business casual.  It’s rare to see any man wearing a tie today except for a funeral or wedding.  And you know what?  They’re always noticed.

If you go to the local Wal-Mart, you see shoppers in sloppy sweat pants, pajama or lounge pants and slippers.  My college-age young people tell me their peers show up to class in their pajamas on a regular basis.   If clothes aren’t sloppy, they’re inappropriately tight or revealing.  Strappy tank-tops, skin-tight tops showing every extra bump or roll, pants that reveal way more than anyone wants to see.   America needs a make-over!

Even church, which used to be the bastion of wearing your “Sunday best” is today a sea of denim and t-shirts.  Even the pastors and leaders wear jeans, perhaps with a casual sport coat thrown on over a t-shirt.  In the summertime it’s common to see shorts, capris and flip-flops.

I have nothing against any of these people who choose to dress comfortably in their favorite clothes.  What I protest against is the attitude that there is nothing worth putting out effort for.  If I can throw on any old pair of jeans and any old t-shirt for any event, what makes one day different than another?  And is this attitude indicative of our society as a whole that it’s all just good enough?  Do the bare minimum.  Don’t expect anything beyond the basics.  Don’t ask me to step out of my comfort zone.

Why does a couple planning their wedding take such care and go to such expense to get just the right attire for their special day?  Because it’s a very important aspect of setting that day apart as something very memorable.  Wearing a beautiful wedding gown makes every young woman feel like a princess.  Seeing her Prince Charming in an amazing tuxedo is a moment no bride would want to miss.

There used to be an adage about first impressions, remember?  Nowadays, instead of trying to make a good first impression by wearing sharp-looking clothes, people seem to be afraid to overdress.  A few years ago when we were invited to a graduation reception, we would dress up in our Sunday clothes to attend.  Now, if you wear something like that, you’ll be the only one.

*Sigh*.  Once again I seem to be stalwartly going against the grain of society around me.  I have made a conscious effort to dress professionally when I teach.   When I go to a meeting, I don’t wear jeans.  In fact, I usually wear a skirt.  Why?  Because I do think we live up to what is expected of us.  When people see you dressed in good-looking, sharp attire, they expect you to be smart, articulate and professional.  You feel confident that you look your best.   And, like wearing a beautiful dress on your wedding day, wearing nice clothes makes you feel capable, special and competent.

Two generations ago, a man wouldn’t leave the house to go to ‘town’ unless he was dressed in a tie and coat.  A woman wouldn’t leave without wearing a good dress and shoes and likely a hat.  Even today you can sometimes see one of these older gents in their suits and ties sitting at a coffee shop, reading the paper.  They are quaint and “old-fashioned’ but don’t you also think of them as endearing, charming, and someone with whom you’d like to sit and hear their life story?

I know; we stand out.  (What’s new?)  The young women in our home wear dresses or dressy pants to church and among their peers they totally stand out.  It’s taken time for them to get used to being a flower in the sea of denim.  For adolescents, that’s not an easy feeling.  But they’ve learned to humor their mother and, I hope, seen the benefits of wearing clothes that make them as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside.

I know this is a futile crusade.  No one cares that I think this is important.   But maybe, if one person pauses before grabbing the familiar pair of jeans, I’ve made a small impact.

 

 

STORMY SEASON

It has been a very stormy summer.  I don’t know if I’ve heard for sure, but it feels like an El Nino year, when the warm current of water in the Pacific Ocean has shifted, causing a change in the jet stream and affecting weather all over the world.

The last El Nino year that I know of for sure was 1998.  That was the year of the Great Tornado that swept across our area, wiping out several places just a mile south of our homestead, then roaring to St. Peter, devastating that community.  That same summer we had a storm with 100 mph winds that toppled giant trees in the area.  We lost a big maple tree in our yard that time.  That summer we were in the basement many times as threatening storms charged overhead.

This summer we’ve had a lot of storms too.  I was driving home from dropping my son at his summer job at Interlochen, MI, when we ran into terrible storms only an hour from home.  We spent close to an hour in a Casey’s gas station waiting for it to pass, watching torrents of water pour down.  The tornado sirens kept sounding, over and over.  One group came into the station saying lightening hit a transformer right by them and great bolts of electricity were bouncing all around.

The worst one we weathered so far (pun intended) was the end of June.  The radio reported a tornado sighted just a few miles from us.  I was in the basement with several of the children while dear hubby and a couple of the older offspring were gawking at the roiling clouds.  Suddenly, they come charging down the basement steps hollaring, “Get in the cellar!” and we all dived in.  Our cellar is typical of an almost-century-old home: dirt floor, full of ancient jars and cans, and, of course, the resident spiders with their hoary, dusty webs.  Most of my children refuse to even step into this creepy cave, so nine bodies charging in all at once was full of shrieks and squeals.

As we huddled in the middle of this space, trying to keep from touching any of the disgusting furry things on the walls, the littlest member of our family was sobbing, the next youngest was clinging as tightly as he could.  I was praying audibly as were a couple of the other members of our family.  Our resident teen animal lover had rescued the two kittens that had been born on the porch so they wouldn’t get blown away, and had wrapped them in her t-shirt.  Other than the prayers, it was silent as we listened to the storm pass overhead.

One little window was our only view of what was happening outside.  The weeds that grew outside that window were thrashing around, bending to the ground, the sky was an eerie color.  Then we began hearing things hitting the house.  It sounded like they were right about our heads, on the floor above.  The wind beat against the house and it rained in torrents.  We huddled together tightly, wondering if our house would still be standing when we emerged from this spidery refuge.

Finally, the sky grew lighter and the wind eased up.  It was still raining, but the worst was passed, so we trudged up the steps to see what had happened.  Thankfully, we had no broken windows or serious damage to our house.  However, the strong wind and rain had succeeded in pouring into our two rooms where we’d just finished putting in wooden floors!  Needless to say, the first order of business was mopping up the water!

Fearless Father went to take a look outside and found hailstones as big as golf balls.  There were numerous tree branches down, both large and small.  Half of our dead apricot tree was on the ground (good riddance!) and the middle of the willow tree had its branches stripped out.  There were leaves plastered against the north side of the house. But all in all, we were relieved to see the damage was as light as it was.

Then we noticed a squad car on the highway at the end of our road, blocking traffic going east.  All the normal traffic flow was going past our house.  And there were pick-ups hauling big livestock trailers away from the dairy barn south of us.  Fearless Father again took it upon himself to investigate, and drove down to talk to the state patrol trooper.  It turns out that trees and electrical lines were down in the nearby town, and the dairy barn had its roof torn off so they were evacuating the cows.

Just east of the dairy barn was significant tree damage; big trees broken off or uprooted.  Amazingly, by the hand of protection from the Lord, we had escaped this kind of damage.  The corn and soybean fields near us looked stripped bare.  Just north of our house, the fields were devastated.  They never recovered the rest of the summer, while those east of us look like they’ll still have a yield of some kind.

We did end up having to put new shingles on our roof, which was an adventure all its own!  One day two vans full of dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking men drove in our driveway.  Without scaffolding, elevators to carry shingles to the roof, or hydraulic lifts, these dozen or so men stripped the old shingles off and put new ones on in two days.  It was quite an operation.   There are many, many homes getting new roofs and siding this summer.  On every block there are two or more homes with construction signs in front.  I wonder how long it will be before some of them get their roofs repaired, and am thankful ours is done.

The rest of the summer, thunderstorms have been frequent, but they often passed us to the south.  Northern Iowa has been pounded all summer with one deluging rain after another.   I remember many summers when we went weeks without any significant rain…maybe that was just last summer!  And now, this summer, we’ve had more rain than we know what to do with.   We went so many summers without much rain, I remember standing on the porch watching the rain come in sheets and trying to remember when I’d last seen that kind of precipitation.

This past week, Ames, IA, has been flooded and their drinking water contaminated.  My oldest son graduated from Iowa State in Ames, so we are familiar with the town.  Two small creeks that run through the town were overwhelmed by the 15″ of rain that fell in three days.  Can you imagine?

As we watch this bizarre weather pattern, I am reminded that as out-of-control as things seem, our God is still in control.  We may not understand His ways, but He sits on the great eternal throne, and He rules in the affairs of men.  None of this is a surprise to Him.  It is a good time to learn to cling tightly to Him in the midst of the storms.  He has promised to be our refuge and high tower in the storm.

In three days it will be the exact middle of the summer and I am still waiting for some lazy days to totally relax.  I keep thinking surely this week, and the week flies by and here I am again, another week and another busy schedule.  I am so frustrated that the summer is half over and I have yet to enjoy long, leisurely days to breathe deep and enjoy the small, quiet moments.

The porch project, that I wrote about a few weeks ago, is mostly done.  The bookshelves that my dear hubby is constructing are still in process, so that means many stacks of books are waiting to find new homes.  They have been removed from their original places to make room for my mother-in-law to join our household.  We got a new bed and linens, a wardrobe, miscellaneous items to make her room comfortable.  We drove all the way to her home (6 hours away) to retrieve some personal items to make it seem more like home.  We brought all her clothes that were left behind when she had her stroke and was rushed to the hospital.  We did all we could to make her transition here as easy as possible.

It has been 12 days since Grandma has moved in, and we are making plans to move her to a facility close to her home.  She has not been happy here, no matter how we have tried to make her feel like a part of the family.  The stroke she has suffered has caused significant damage to her brain in ways we have trouble understanding.  She can talk, she can move around pretty good, her long-term memory is good.  She can have pleasant conversations, she seems fairly normal.  But there are parts of her brain that don’t work right anymore, and it has resulted in bizarre behavior.  She will suddenly say and do things that are so out of her ‘normal’ character, it leaves us breathless.  She has wounded everyone with angry words that are so unwarranted.  As much as she seemed to enjoy the children in the past, now they cause outbursts of anger with language this woman hasn’t used in her whole life!

It’s been a sad, discouraging journey for our family.  We have spent a lot of time and effort making our home a place for her to share.  It’s been no small sacrifice for our family.  The past seven months since her stroke have been stressful as we’ve overseen her recovery and made ourselves available for her many needs.  As she improved, she seemed to appreciate the closeness of family and enjoyed the time we spent with her.  Despite her bouts of paranoia and confusion, we were hopeful that she would be content and peaceful in familiar surroundings with family she loved.

How could we have been so wrong?  She seems quite lucid when she affirms she wants to be back close to her home near people she knows, even though none of her children live closer than a 6-hour drive.  She can’t wait to leave.  She is eager to be out of our home, which, admittedly, is full of energy and noise with our many children.  We are working hard to understand that she is not the woman we have known all our lives.  She is a different person, no longer focused on her family but totally self-absorbed.  It is a painful process.  It seems to be the ultimate rejection when your mother/grandmother wants to leave, can’t wait to leave, and says so quite emphatically.

Growing old is a journey that is different for all of us.  My father-in-law sank into the abyss of Alzheimer’s and seemed to fade away piece by piece.  Now his wife, my mother-in-law, is also dying in pieces.  My parents, thankfully, are still fairly healthy but they are aging and have seem many of their contemporaries pass from this life into eternity already.  Who knows where their journeys will take us?  It is not something I look forward to; I dread the day I get “the call” that something awful has happened.

So it is with a heavy heart I write these words.  One thing that cannot be changed is the inexorable march of time.  I can only cry out with all that is in me: May my life count for something!  When I enter eternity, may I leave behind a legacy for my children and others that will be a beacon of light pointing to my Savior!

Blessed be your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where the streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say…
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

Blessed be your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say…
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, Blessed be your name

It seems I’ve always been an outside-the-box kind of thinker.   My parents can’t be blamed for this; they didn’t try to raise a maverick.  It just seems to be in my DNA to look at thinks a little differently than most people.  I feel compelled to analyze things from a different perspective if I just can’t wrap my brain around the conventional mindset.

This trait first appeared in my teens.  I was raised in a devout Lutheran home but wanted something more.  I couldn’t explain it but eventually ended up in a Pentecostal church.  In 1984, when our oldest son was about to embark in the adventure of kindergarten, I began to hear about homeschooling and started researching it.  This was when it wasn’t even legal in the state where we live.  This fall we will be embarking on our 25th year of homeschooling.  Then, in 1988, when we had four children–the perfect family, two boys, two girls–I felt a niggling that needed to be investigated.  Thus, we ended up giving up birth control and allowing God to “plan” our family–and now we have a houseful!

My track record for independent thinking is pretty strong.  It can be very frustrating to always be going in a different direction than most of the culture around me.  I can’t help it; I see things differently.  I’ve finally come to accept that I am meant to be different.  I don’t know why.  I get tired of always going against the flow and no one understanding me.

So, once again I am faced with a whole new perspective of thought.  Earlier I wrote a blog on the D-Word (discipline) and in it I mentioned I was going to be taking medication for high cholesterol.  Boy, was I wrong about being so flippant about that!  I began taking simvastatin the end of January.  In two or three weeks, my whole body hurt so bad, I could hardly move.  Getting up and down from a chair made everything below the waist holler in protest.  At night my left hip hurt so bad, every time I rolled over it would wake me up.  In addition to the body aches, I was exhausted.  I could sleep (which is a relative term since I spent most of the night waking up to my aching hip) for 9-10 hours a night and still be exhausted.  And my energy level was zero.

Finally, after seven weeks of torture, I contacted the doctor because he had mentioned muscle pain could be a side effect of this medication.  I had a blood test done which showed reduced cholesterol levels and no indication that there was anything wrong with my muscles.  Apparently there would be some elevated level if the muscle tissue was breaking down!  He told me to go off the medication for a month, then go back on at a reduced level and see if things were better.

I was only off the medication for a few days and my energy level dramatically increased and the fatigue eased.  It didn’t take me long to determine I was not going to go back on that statin!  Unfortunately, the pain in my hip has not completely dissipated.  I have been off the medication for over two months now and the pain in my hip comes and goes.  Some days I don’t notice it at all and other days it’s very annoying.

So, out comes my usual method of operation, and I began to research statin drugs and the whole cholesterol/heart disease thing.  I was totally shocked at what I found.  Statin drugs can actually cause muscle deterioration to the point of death!  It’s rare, of course, but muscle damage is much more common.  It occurs on a cellular level because the statin inhibits the development of cholesterol by preventing biochemical processes (which I don’t even pretend to understand because I’m NOT a scientist).  These processes end up causing mutations in the mitochondria in the muscle cells which result in damage.  Damage which could be permanent.

After only a few weeks of statin use, muscle damage can be permanent!  That means the pain in my hip could be around for the rest of my life!  I can’t tell you how devastating that is to me.  I can deal with aches and pains from aging, but to have to face the rest of my life with pain that is a result of medication is absolutely maddening!

Statin use can also cause memory loss.  Duane Graveline has a website devoted to statin-use problems.  He is a former astronaut and family physician who experienced first-hand serious memory problems while on lipitor.  He is in the forefront of physicians and scientists raising the alarm about statins.  There are more of them.  A website for cholesterol skeptics at http://www.thincs.org is for medical professionals and other scientists who have been studying this issue.

I have recently read (well, tried to read) two books about cholesterol and heart disease.  They are pretty scientific and I don’t always understand the terminology, but I gleaned enough to know that for all the hoopla about cholesterol and heart disease, it appears high cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease.  In fact, low cholesterol can cause all sorts of problems.  Memory loss is one because cholesterol is an important component in brain function.

The use of statins can actually cause heart attacks because of the effect on muscle tissue!  There are some respected scientists who believe elevated cholesterol is a sign your body is trying to heal damage to your arteries.  There is agreement that damaged arteries that are then covered over by plaque “scabs” cause the problem, but how they get damaged is another matter entirely.  Guess what?  Arteries are not damaged by cholesterol!

It’s a very complicated matter.  I recommend you do some research of your own, especially if “high” cholesterol is an issue for you or someone in your family.  I think you’ll be surprised.  You will have to wade through layers of the usual low-cholesterol-low-fat stuff to get to what I believe is truth.

Hmmm…maybe that’s what I am.   A truth seeker.  That sounds much nicer than a maverick, independent-thinking rebel.

We have been in the midst of remodeling the front porch on our almost-century-old farmhouse for the past week.  The carpenters came to put in the floor underlayment and the rafters on the ceiling, then left it like that while we had our graduation party.  This past week they have been working like the proverbial beavers and that space has been transformed!

It is with bittersweet feelings we engage in this project.  I loved the old porch.  It had originally been an open porch, then somewhere along the years, long before we moved in, someone had enclosed it and lined it with windows.  I would have preferred an open porch with a cozy porch swing reminiscent of bygone days.  But, in the state it has been, it was not used a great deal by us and tended to be a catch-all for the things we didn’t know what to do with: toys, lawn chairs, even the benches from the van when we needed to remove them for some reason.  In general, it wasn’t a space we had utilized to it’s full capacity.

So, when the season of our lives changed, it became apparent that it was time to make the porch into usable space.  My mother-in-law will be joining our family circle as soon as this project is done.  She suffered a stroke six months ago, and has spent that time since in a nursing home for rehabilitation.  We are pleased that she has made so much progress.  However, she has only partial vision now and that precludes her from living alone or in assisted living.  So, we chose to offer her a home with us.

That meant, however, we needed to find a space for her to move into.  With ten people living in this house, there is no spare bedroom.  In fact, our oldest daughter is complaining she needs a space of her own, but we tell her she can move into the attic. 🙂  Grandma, of course, cannot do many steps anymore, so the best place for her is the back room which now serves as our office/library.

This 10×10′ room houses thousands of books, and that’s no exaggeration!  I am a bibliophile, and cherish out-of-print childrens books.  Over the 24 years of homeschooling, I have collected thousands of books.  I often tell my husband I never met a book I didn’t like (which isn’t REALLY true) and that you can never have too many books (which, of course, IS true).

So, with the prospect of Grandma joining our household, what to do with all these treasures is the main question.  Fortunately, it hasn’t been too hard to find an answer.  The Porch Project will be the new home for our two desktop computers and their miscellaneous paraphernalia.    The bookshelves already in residence in the present office/library/soon-to-be-Grandma’s-room will be able to stay in their familiar surroundings.  We will nestle her bed and chair and personal belongings in between and around the bookshelves.  Hopefully she will be comfortable with all the words that will envelope her!   The good news is that new bookshelves in the Porch Project will give  homes to the many books that are stashed in many corners of the house and reduce the claustrophobic feeling of being overwhelmed by them….I hope!

We have watched eagerly as the old windows were removed and all of the outdoors felt like it was in our living room.  Then the new walls and windows went up and suddenly it seemed like a room, a real room.  From the outside, with siding applied, it looks attractive.  From the inside there is still much to be done.  My dear hubby, handyman that he is, got the electrical wiring done last night, and the sheetrock will be going up early next week.

Then comes our part, for which we went shopping today: constructing bookshelves, painting, finishing off the woodwork, putting in the oak flooring, installing the lighting.  The goal is to be done in two weeks…we’ll see if that goal is met.  Grandma is eager to join us, and we hope to have her here for a couple of weeks before she heads to Oklahoma to spend the rest of the summer with her daughter’s family.

This is the first time we’ve ever hired anyone to do work around our house.  It has been a fascinating process to watch, even as we mourn the loss of the original design of the house.  On one side of this room will be our computer stations, on the other, a reading corner and the musical instruments, music and practice space.  However, I’ve been eyeballing that corner and have determined that a five-foot grand piano will fit lovely into the corner, so now I am waiting for that to appear in my life.  I have the long-awaited space for it, that’s a big step in the right direction!

Once again it’s been awhile since I’ve posted on my blog.  Life has been busy; what can I say?  In three days we’ll be celebrating Son #4’s graduation from homeschool-high school.  So for the past two weeks we’ve been cleaning the house top to bottom.  Finally, I think that marathon is done, and we get to the fun part of preparing the food and decorating.

My son, the graduate, is embarking on a career as a pilot–well, of course, he has to go through all the training first!  But that is his desired field and has been since he was four years old, when he can to me and asked me to teach him how to fly!  Come August, this son will begin his pilot’s training, and this mother will be on her knees a lot, praying for his safety!  I just got to the point where I can ride in the car when he’s driving without being extremely nervous!  I’m glad I don’ t have to fly in the plane with him for awhile!  Those pilot instructors must have nerves of steel!

As I watch one more child leave our nest and begin his flight pattern, so to speak, I have bittersweet melancholic feelings.  As one more of my offspring graduates, I see how the rest have grown and matured, and every other year now another one of them will be taking their leave.   I’m so glad I have lots of children because it will still be ten years before my last little one is ready to try her wings.  But having many children doesn’t make the parting easier, just familiar.  I know that the letting-go process is is just that–a process.  Sometimes my young’uns are impatient with the process as I peel my fingers off one-by-one.  I try to explain to them that I’m still trying to get used to this whole idea: that they’re adults and capable of making their own choices.  (Gulp!)

Sending a child off into the world in these days is challenging because the world around us is so uncertain and tumultuous.  As a mother, I want to embrace my children tightly and do my best to keep them safe.  I was just reading about the increase of tensions between North and South Korea (as if they need more to fight about!) and the escalating situation in the Middle East with Iran and Israel.  Some investors are saying cash is the best place for your money right now since the stock market is so volatile.   Add to that the economic meltdown happening in Europe, the border tensions with our country and Mexico,  the distressing governmental decisions, and the world seems like a very unstable place.  Almost like walking on a water mattress–every time you move, the surface underneath you changes.

Every day seems to bring more news of an entire world in free fall.  I think most people are trying to cope the best way they can by focusing on the daily aspects of their lives and hope the rest of the world doesn’t totally disintegrate.  I know,  just keeping body and soul together these days is a struggle.  If a person tried to carry much of the weight of the world events,  they would collapse under it.

I’m so glad I don’t have to carry that weight!  World events truly are out of our control.  Do you know why?  Because they are in the hands of the One who created the world.  Out of OUR control and in HIS.  It makes it so much easier to cope all the insanity of the world around us when you realize that it is ultimately in the hands of the Ruler of the Universe.

This year in our homeschool we have been concentrating on ancient history.  My main exposure to that time period was an extremely boring school session long ago, and I dreaded tackling it.  I can’t tell you what an amazing experience it has been!  I’ve read the Bible most of my life, but to see how all of that actually fits into history, that all the people mentioned really did exist, is mind-boggling.  And how God used all these events in history to bring about His will.

For instance, Persia was a powerful empire in the BC-years.  They fought with Greece for dominion, they aligned with Assyria awhile, and they were the dominating force of the world for a period.  Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, was used in a mighty way by God even though he was not of the Jewish faith.  He allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem and even supplied them with the materials and valuables to do it!

In the course of human history, nations have fallen and new ones arisen.  In their own turn, various countries were dominating world powers: Persia, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Spain, England, France.  Now we come to this day and age, which has been the age of the dominance of America as a world leader.  As a nation, America is only 230 years old.  Yet we see before us the possible diminishing of the power she has held as our economy falters, our debt load overwhelms our productive ability, and our government becomes more socialist instead of republican.

In the natural sense, I fear for my country and her future.  And I fear for the future of my children in this unstable world.  But in a spiritual sense, I know God is in control, and He will rule the nations.  In 1948 He established the nation of Israel.  After centuries of disbursement, the children of Israel had a homeland again.  However, it came at a very high price, as a result of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.   Prior to that time, no one could conceive of a Jewish homeland and suddenly, there it was.

I know God has all things in His hand, even though it looks frightening to us.  He has a Master Plan.  America is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, so we can’t know what His plan is for us as a nation.  But as His children we can rest assured that He will care for us through all the trials and challenges ahead.

So, with comfort and trust in that, I send yet another of my precious children out into the world.  His purpose for each  of us is revealed as we walk in fellowship with Him day by day.  When things look too frightening, I need to fix my gaze on Him, not on the world around me.  None of this is a surprise to Him.  Someday we will be able to look back and see how perfectly He brought about His will in the world.

The D-Word

No, it’s not the swear word, although it’s often used in a negative connotation.  It’s DISCIPLINE.  And I’m not referring to disciplining children for their wrong behavior.  I’m referring to self-discipline, and specifically to MY self-discipline.  Or lack thereof.

I’ve never been a disciplined person by temperament.  I’m much more of a free-spirited kind of person, creative, impulsive, go-with-the-flow.  And, in general, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that kind of personality.  But, as with any nature, the negative aspects need to be reined in, and over the years I’ve had to work pretty hard on reining in the free-wheeling part of my temperament.

I graduated from high school with pretty good grades without trying very hard.  When I went to college, I suddenly learned what it meant to study when my first semester, along with ‘regular’ classes, I was plunged into two upper-level English classes, by sheer stupidity.  I am proud to say I got an A in one and a B in the other.  As a music major, you’d think I would have understood the value of practice.  However, my creative side warred with the idea of long practice sessions, and another area of my life came under strict scrutiny.  An hour of practice time a day seemed horrendously long!   (Don’t tell my children or my piano students that!)

Somehow, I gained some skills to graduate from college with honors, and ventured into the world of wife and mother.  Now, my days were my own to use as I chose, and I had long days to fill with creative pursuits.  Never mind that there was cleaning to do.   That was always something to be done when I had exhausted all of my other interests.

Baby #1 came along, and being a complacent, easy-going baby, he fit in with my haphazard way of life.  My patient, non-judgmental husband rarely complained at the dishes undone or laundry unfolded.  In fact, he often enjoyed the results of my creativity.  Fortunately, some of that was played out in experiments in culinary creations, which he enjoyed.

Babies continued to join our household and in 8 years we had three children and began homeschooling.  I thought I’d never survive!  No longer did I have open hours to dabble in creative pursuits, but was faced with a long day of childcare, housekeeping, and homeschooling.  Thus began a lifetime of pursuing Discipline.

Now, twenty-five years later, I have been able to instill a lot of discipline in many ways in our family life.  My children are assigned daily and weekly chores, daily practicing on their instruments, schoolwork is done in a regular, timely fashion.   They are much more disciplined than I was at more than twice their ages!  I have learned to plan menus so meals are prepared without the four o’clock panic and children whining because they’re hungry.  I have my regular household chores organized so things get done on a fairly-regular basis.  (Okay, I admit I HATE cleaning the oven and the refrigerator….guess what happens when some child needs some disciplinary action–in the wrong behavioral sense of the word!)

I’m cruising along, content with my generally orderly world, when once again the need for yet more discipline slaps me in the face.   Contrary to the other areas that directly affect the other people in my family, these areas of discipline are much more self-focused.  And that makes them much harder to implement because it’s so easy to talk myself out of them!

I am fifty-something, and reaching middle age has brought with it some minor but irritating physical changes.  I recently had a doctor’s appointment to check on some of these changes, and found my cholesterol is high.  Fortunately, my blood pressure is good, but high cholesterol runs in my family so it was not a surprise.  I’ll be looking at taking some medication for it shortly.   One of the best ways to deal with high cholesterol is to lose weight.  Hmmm….here is self-discipline staring me in the face once again.

To top it off, some arthritis issues I’m having with my knee can be best dealt with by regular exercise, as in EVERY day.  I have been swimming 2-3 times a week for a couple of years, but now I must face daily exercise, even on Sundays in order to keep my knee in good shape.  So, if I don’t swim, I have to walk 1 mile.  Now, that’s not hard, it takes twenty minutes or so, but it’s such a PAIN!  Every day, rain or shine, busy day or not, EVERY day!

Big Sigh.  So, Discipline is once again rearing its ugly head in my life, jeering at me for failing to be self-controlled and well structured.  I’m finding it has other tentacles in my life, too, like spending habits (remember I said I was impulsive?) and sleeping habits.  Now, after more than twenty-five years of having small children waking me up in the middle of the night, I have supposedly unhampered sleep.  And now I’m supposed to discipline myself to get up in the mornings, even when little children are not calling at me.  It’s very tempting to roll over for another little snooze when I know all my children would rather I do just that.

I know there are disciplined people in the world.  They count every penny carefully before they spend it, and document their expenditures faithfully.  They delight in exercising without having to screw up their motivation.  They go to bed early and get up early.  They can eat what they ‘should’ and shun things they ‘shouldn’t’.

I am not one of them.  I enjoy an occasional late night with a couple of movies, a big bowl of popcorn (buttered, of course!) with the prospect of sleeping in in the morning.  I relish lazy days when I don’t have much to do.  I’d rather get out my latest sewing project than tackle the cleaning projects that are screaming to be done (but I try hard not to listen).

For people like me, there ought to be some kind of cosmic gold star awarded when we knuckle down and discipline ourselves against everything in our nature.  I know, I should be pleased with the intrinsic rewards and hopefully, eventually the external rewards.  But it sure would be nice if we could get a pat on the back for doing what is so hard for us and seems so easy for others!

But then, maybe  the strict, disciplined folks should get a gold star when they don’t turn on their alarm clock one Friday night.  Can you imagine, forcing yourself to turn off your alarm clock?!  Forcing yourself to stay in bed?!

Well, I better be disciplined and get my upcoming week planned!  Wish me well!

Culture is defined as the behavior and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.  We have cultures associated with certain ethnic backgrounds.  Here in the Northland there are many people of Scandinavian origin so we have lefsa, lutefisk, potato baloney (or, as some call it, sausage), Swedish meatballs, and now IKEA.  Mix that with the Germans and their German potato salad, bratwurst, landjaegers, sauerkraut, gemutlichkeit, and there is a pleasant stew of European traditions.

I have mused often on the culture that goes with certain leisure pursuits.  BMX biking, Nascar racing, ice fishing, youth hockey, rodeos, orchestral music, snowmobiling–they all have certain cultural characteristics that define those who are passionate about them.   And those on the outside of these social groups look on in confusion or puzzled amusement.

Homeschooling has a very definite culture that those outside the movement most likely do not understand.  As a veteran homeschooler, I have experienced plenty of negatively charged comments from onlookers who do not comprehend the choices and decisions we have made.  Even well-meaning, Christian acquaintances have revealed their lack of understanding.

I’ve decided it’s time to delineate, at least partially, the cultural definitions of homeschooling.  Within any social group, there are bound to be variations, but I think I can pinpoint a few that are applicable to most homeschoolers…at least those who homeschool for moral and religious reasons.  Homeschoolers are many and varied in their lifestyles and temperaments.  Some live very ‘back-to-nature’, producing most of their own food, living simply.  Others live very urban lifestyles.  We are as different as any cross-section of America today in our living environments.  But there are some aspects that unite us.

ISOLATION.  By definition, homeschooling is an inward experience.  Parents choose to keep their children home from the public or even private schools and this, in essence, is isolating.  But isolation has a negative connotation that doesn’t necessarily apply to most homeschoolers.  Many non-homeschoolers view homeschooling parents are over-protective.  By ‘sheltering’ their children from the ‘real’ world, homeschoolers are accused of warping the development of their offspring.

The first two questions I have been asked when people find out we are homeschoolers is: 1) Is that legal?  (In the days before it was as mainstream as it is today) and 2) What about socialization?

I have no idea where that buzz word came from!  Do ‘normal’ parents worry about ‘socialization’?  Do they sit down and think, “Now, if I refuse to let Junior join the Boy Scouts, will he get enough socialization?”  I never heard anyone mention anything about socialization until educators were worried about homeschoolers removing their children from the public schools.  What is socialization, anyway?  Learning how to interact with others outside your immediate family circle.  This can take place at church, in extracurricular activities, in social gatherings, playtime with friends, the possibilities are endless.  Why is school the only place official socialization can take place?

We are all different in our living environments and our genetic temperaments and that affects how we live within our homes.   Some families are very reserved and quiet, others are loud and boisterous.  Some are very academic, others are very interested in athletics, sports or musical endeavors.  How we live our daily lives, how we interact with one another, how we instruct our children to relate to each other all affects how we relate to others outside our family circle.

By nature some homeschoolers are more quiet and reserved.  I have met some of them.  Outsiders may consider them socially inept because they are not bantering or teasing the way the majority of the youngsters do.  Hence comes the question of socialization.  Instead of entering conversations they find distasteful, these homeschoolers will choose to remain silent.  Yet they are labeled socially awkward because they choose not to enter into behavior they find offensive.

Homeschooling parents choose to keep their children home precisely because they want to protect them from many of the influences in our society they find destructive.  Overtly sexual behavior, destructive interaction with peers, peer pressure to conform, drugs, alcohol, smoking, and rebellion to parental authority to name a few.  Instead, they spend a lot of time providing positive experiences for their children to learn and grow into responsible, productive adults.

No homeschoolers I have met in my 24 years of homeschooling want their children to be insulated from the world for their whole lives.  The goal is to nurture and train up their youngsters to be mature, educated, intelligent, informed, productive, generous adults who will benefit the society in which they live.  The conviction of these parents is that spending the majority of time in the home where they can be carefully trained and taught will produce these kinds of young adults.

So, isolation, yes, but not insulation.  For a short time, homeschoolers choose to keep their children protected from the destructive elements of our society so that they can grow into strong adults.

FAMILY VALUES.   This is another buzz word, used more in political circles than anywhere else.  But the emphasis of ‘family’ values is really what homeschooling is all about.  Family values are the core of who we are as a family, what we believe to be true, our world view.  It is extremely important to most families, I think, and particularly to homeschoolers, that we pass on to our children the ideals we believe are important to a quality life.

Another synonym would be traditional values.  Traditional marriage where Mom and Dad stick it out through thick and thin to provide a stable home for their children.  Old-fashioned ideas like Dad going to work to provide for the family and Mom staying at home to care for the children.  Beliefs that the Bible is right and true and we should live our lives by it.   Caring for one another when times are tough.  Sacrifice, hard work, integrity, honesty, generosity, responsibility, and a myriad of other timeless but oft-forgotten qualities.

It has taken a whole generation, but I think most of the world around us is beginning to see the fruit of the labor of the pioneering wave of homeschoolers.  From having a hard time getting accepted into college, we are now seeing homeschoolers being sought after because of their reputation for academic excellence, leadership skills, reliability and hard work.  Employers who have had exposure to homeschoolers are eager to hire them.  More and more I believe homeschool graduates will be making names for themselves as they disperse into society in every field imaginable.

CHILDREN.  It makes sense that people who focus on family values would enjoy children.  Homeschoolers, in general, have much larger families than most of Americans.  The average birthrate of Americans is 2.1, just above replacement rate.  (For more on this, see my earlier post “In Defense of Large Families”)  I don’t know of any studies or statistics on the family size of homeschoolers, but in my casual observations, almost all the homeschoolers I know have three or more children.  Many of them have 4,6, 8 or more!   I would say the average size of homeschooling families is four children, but it could be more.

The idea that children are a blessing, which is Biblical, by the way, has taken a firm foothold in the homeschooling community.  Prominent leaders in the movement advocate large families.  If you see a family with more than four children in a local store, you can bet they are homeschoolers, and be right most of the time!  And if they have several under the age of twelve, you could bet money on it!

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but suffice it to say that homeschoolers are strong advocates of family and children and are raising these multiple children to be salt and light in the world around them.

CONSERVATIVE.  This goes along with family values, but extends into the realm of politics, finances, even apparel and living environment.  Homeschoolers, at least those who choose to educate their children at home because of spiritual convictions, are extremely conservative.  The world of homeschooling is very eclectic in many ways, but if you go to a homeschool conference, you will see many, many women dressed in modest apparel; skirts, dresses, even head coverings on many.  You may find people selling grain mills and bread mixers for those who want to make their own bread with fresh-ground flour.  There is the vegetarian element, too.

Homeschoolers are conservative in how they spend their money, usually because they are living on one income in a mostly two-income world.  They often live without a television in their homes and are very careful on what kind of electronic media their children are exposed to.  They choose carefully their leisure activities and their social outings.  Every decision is based on what is good for the family.  It’s a restrictive way to live, for those who are used to the free-for-all environment of our society.  But for those who choose it, they find it a peaceful, rewarding lifestyle.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.  Without a doubt, homeschoolers are focused on providing a quality academic experience for their children.  Within the movement, this pursuit takes almost infinitely divergent paths.  There are more educational approaches than you can imagine, and everyone has their vocal advocate.  It can be overwhelming for a newbie in homeschooling to find their way, but it is an important part of the process to discover what you believe education is and how you’re going to acheive it.

Homeschooling parents are passionate about education and that passion takes many forms.  In our home, we have books, books and more books.  My young adult daughters have already started their book collections, especially prizing out-of-print books that can be found only at thrift stores and used-book sales.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read all these books, but I treasure them.  We are endeavoring to teach our children the value of lifetime learning, and so by example, my husband and I are always reading and learning.  My one regret at this point in life is how little time I have to read.  I have to avoid going to the library because I always come home with several books I don’t have time to read!

Education isn’t just academics and many homeschooled students excel in music or other fields that require a lot of devotion.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to structure the academics so that they can include other areas of interest, and the time to pursue them.  We have had a couple of children who pursued musical interests that required hours of practice during their high school years.  Computers, art, even horse or dog training, all these things and much more can be on the list of subjects.

As a long-time homeschooler, I have endured, mostly silently, the many jibes towards the homeschooling community.  I dislike being lumped into the stereotypical view of most ‘outsiders’, yet I recognize that we are different.   By choice.  We choose to be different because we believe there is a better way to educate, train and nurture our children.

I come from a predominantly Swedish family.  My dad is 100% Swedish; my mother was 75% Swedish and 25% French Canadian.  At Christmas time we haul out a few special foods that are directly handed down from my grandparents and their forebears.

We never had lefsa or lutefisk–I think those are more Norwegian in origin.  But we did have herring which I suspect is similar to lutefisk.  And tongue was considered a special delicacy; boiled and sliced, served cold with vinegar.  My children almost throw up at this sight, but I grew up on it and still enjoy tongue.

Swedish rye bread was my grandmother’s traditional bread and I loved going to her  home to have it, slathered with butter.  It is a sweet bread with molasses, corn syrup and brown sugar in it.  I love it but my children have not acquired a taste for it either.

Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without potato baloney.  Here in the German community we live in, you can purchase potato sausage from the meat department during the holiday season,  but it isn’t nearly the same as our family-made potato baloney.  Everyone who comes to the house for the celebration loves it, and they eat it even if they can’t stomach the oyster soup that goes with it.  My parents make a big batch of potato baloney after Thanksgiving and freeze it in rings for use during the holidays.  My immediate family is determined to get the equipment to make it ourselves so this family tradition will live on.

Another Swedish dish we have at Christmas is ostakaka, which means cheesecake, I think.  That’s basically what it is, and for years I disdained it, refusing to try it.  Last year, yes, just last year, I decided to try it since it was supposed to be cheesecake and I like cheesecake.  Much to my surprise (and chagrin since I’d waited so long to try it!) I really liked it!  My older sister has taken on the task of making ostakaka for us at Christmas.  It’s traditionally served with lingonberries, but we have always had strawberries since lingonberries are not native to the U.S.  Now, though, I’ve found IKEA sells lingonberries so next year I am planning to bring some to the family celebration to eat with the ostakaka.

In the spirit of the holidays just past, I’ve decided to post the Ostakaka recipe in case anyone out there is brave enough to try it….it’s an old-fashioned recipe that takes a few hours to make but the tradition that is seeped into it is well worth the effort!

OSTAKAKA

1 gal. whole milk            2 eggs
1 rennet tablet               1 egg yolk
2 T. warm water            1 c. sugar
1 c. milk                            1 c. cream
1 c. flour                           1 t. salt

Warm milk to 100-105 degrees. Test with a candy thermometer.  Dissolve rennet in warm water and add to warm milk.  Mix 1 c. milk and flour together in a smooth paste and add to warm milk.  Stir well.  Let set for 1/2 hour.  Cut through milk with metal spatula about 1″ apart.  Let set an additional 1/2 hour.  Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients.  Skim off a scant 1/2 gallon of whey from top of milk mixture.  Beat egg mixture into milk and put into 9×13 pan or casserole dish.  Bake at 400 for 10 min.  Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 1 hr. or until brown.   Serve with sweetened strawberries or lingonberries.

Caution: this will puff up as it cooks and may spill out.

Note: rennet tablets can be found by ice cream-making supplies.

Enjoy this new taste experience!  God Jul!

Does anyone else feel like they’re living in a surreal movie?  Events around us seem to be swirling in a faster vortex of insanity and every day seems to be more and more bizarre.

First it’s the health care reform bill.  I know there are a lot of differing opinions on this.  I know someone very well with overwhelming medical bills that has forced them to declare bankruptcy.  I know our health insurance premiums are very high with high deductible, which doesn’t include prescriptions costs.  With two members of our family requiring regular medical expenses, we struggle to pay the ongoing costs of their needs.  But I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this monstrosity of a health care bill is not the answer.  It seems to be apparent to me that our legislators are aware that many, many people are unhappy with the direction this ‘reform’ bill is taking.  No matter how often we’ve contacted our senators and representative, we are ignored with platitudes that “this will be good for the country”.  Yeah, right.

Our daughter finally got a permanent, almost-full-time job that will offer medical benefits in 6 months, just before her 25th birthday when she can no longer be on our medical insurance.  She graduated from college two years ago, and since then has had intermittent employment and we, her parents, have had to cover the payments on her school loans that couldn’t be deferred or forbeared (foreborn?).  This job is only  a little better than minimum-wage employment, but we are all thankful that she has it!

Employment in our neck of the woods has been very tight.  The economy of our country is staggering to stay on its feet.  I am thankful I have been able to obtain part-time employment as a private music teacher to supplement the family income during this challenging times.   As I scurried to finish up holiday shopping, I was amazed to see people out spending money freely.  We had to debate the cost expenditures of our holiday giving carefully this year.  At a time when new spouses and grandchildren are joining our family circle, every year our giving dollars have to be carefully stretched.  I am glad, however, in the midst of the difficult economic climate, that people still find ways celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Speaking of climates, another aspect of the surreal atmosphere, is the continued debate on global warming.  Hello!  Is anyone paying attention to what’s outside their windows?  Some websites are stating this could be the worst winter since 1985.  Not only the United States, but Britain and Europe are experiencing extreme cold and snowfalls.  During the Copenhagen conference on global warming, they were having record cold temperatures in the host city!  There have been many allegations of data manipulation.  The whole premise of global warming is unsound and it seems the Lord is doing His part to show mankind that He is the one in control of the weather, not mankind.

Just recently there was a thwarted terrorist attack that occurred on Christmas Day, and the debate about terrorism and security issues has been heated.  The president insists that changes must take place.  At the same time, the hands of the agencies responsible for terrorist interrogation and information are being tied.  There is so much rhetoric filling the air, it is hard to breathe.

Looking out my frosted window, I see mounds of snow, drifts filling in my driveway, snow blowing fiercely through the air.  Schools are closed, highways are treacherous, and all plans for today are canceled.  Christmas plans were also canceled due to a snowstorm.  We are surrounded by a world of white, which only reinforces the surrealism.  Everything looks different when covered in a thick layer of  snow.  Even trudging across the yard it’s easy to lose a sense of direction because all the usual landmarks are merely humps in the snow.

In the world around me, both globally and intimately, events seem to escalating faster and faster toward an end that is yet to be seen.  I believe we are quickly moving toward a cataclysmic event that will change the world as we know it.  I am clinging to the One who knows the future and will care for me through it all.  When everything is shifting around us, threatening the very ground we stand on, the only thing we can cling to is the One who is immovable, unchangeable, eternal and omnipotent.  He is very real in a world that seems increasingly unreal.

Can you believe it’s been three months since I lasted posted on this blog?  The past few months have been an incredibly busy time for our household and I just wasn’t inspired to bore anyone with the minutiae of our daily life.

This has been the busiest season of my life that I can remember.  Even when I had several small children and a nursing infant I thought I was busy then….this is even busier in a totally different way.  Then I had endless things to do to care for my family and little ones and I was exhausted at the end of the day.  Now I am endlessly running with the youngsters in our household with their activities in a crazy kind of busy.  It is fun and satisfying but boy, is it exhausting.  Maybe it’s because I’m a few years older??  (Nah!)

I am teaching privately three afternoons a week.  Some days are fuller than others.  But it means I must leave my family and go to teach lessons, which makes for a much more complicated lifestyle.  I am, essentially, working part-time, and still trying to do a full-time mom’s stuff.  I know I am not alone in this.  Millions of moms work outside the home and care for their family.  But I’m a homeschooling mom, and this isn’t really what I’d planned on doing!

I am thankful the Lord has provided the means for me to help with the income for our family.  Teaching privately is much more lucrative than a job at the local retail store.  And, it utilizes the skills I have.  In this time when our family’s financial needs are so demanding, it enables us to meet those needs.  So I try to maintain a positive attitude.

It has been a challenge.  I won’t lie to you and say this is the desire of my heart.  I’d much rather be at home with my children.  I haven’t made a batch of cookies in a month!  But for this season of my life, I have to be grateful for the provision of the Lord and be willing to do what He has laid before me.

My children have been wonderful to pitch in and keep things running smoothly here at home.  I plan the menus and most of the time they are responsible to make sure supper is done when I’m gone.  They are in charge of making sure reading assignments are finished and practicing is accomplished in the afternoons.

Besides fatigue which comes with the insane schedule I’m keeping, the biggest struggle has been feeling like I’m not really doing any of my jobs well.  I spend many hours with my children yet feel like somehow I’m not doing enough.  I teach many piano students and often feel like I’m not giving enough to them.  As a very part-time General Manager for the youth orchestra, I feel like the time I have to devote to that is way too limited.

And how do I handle all of this?  I have been throwing myself on the mercy and grace of the Lord!  In the midst of all of this, I have found my hunger for the Lord to be more than ever.  So I am trying to carve more time out to seek Him and that is keeping me sustained.  I wake up in the morning and begin to worship the Lord and recite His goodness, and that starts my day off on a positive note, as I get in the shower.  Two or three mornings a week I go swimming first thing, and that is a great time to pray and worship while I’m splashing in the water.  That alone keeps me going, knowing that the joy of the Lord is my strength.  One added thing to my schedule or emotional/mental load can threaten to overwhelm me so it is imperative that I start my day in the right frame of mind.

I try to get some worship & praise music going in the morning while we eat breakfast to keep me focused and fill our home with music that will fill our souls.  Often times I don’t even listen to the words that closely but the atmosphere lends peace to our home.

Finally, I try not to expect too much of myself or other members of my family.  When I’m exhausted, I allow myself time to rest.  I embrace the small moments of enjoyment.  I give myself freedom to take a break even when there’s more to do.  I am willing to accept more clutter and less-than-perfect cleanliness (well, okay, my house has NEVER been perfectly clean!) and take a deep breath (or two) when I come home to a kitchen that needs attention.    And more  than anything else, I try to seize each day to the fullest.  The days go by so fast and I’m literally seeing my children grow up before my eyes.

So–if you don’t hear from me for awhile, there’s a reason.  I’m on the go again, from one lesson or rehearsal to another, to church, to Bible study, to another lesson, another rehearsal, to grocery shopping, to swimming, to…..to…..to….

I was given a ‘recipe’ to make homemade laundry soap recently.  I have tried this before, but was never very impressed with the results.  This, however, turns out really good and makes a lot of soap for just pennies!  I recommend you try it.

LAUNDRY SOAP

1/2 cup Arm & Hammer washing soda

1/2 cup Mule Team Borax

1/3 bar Fels Naptha soap, finely grated

Heat 3 pts. of water in a large pot.  Add grated Fels Naptha soap and heat until dissolved.  Add borax and washing soda.  Stir until powder dissolves and slightly thickened.

In a 2-gallon bucket, pour 1 qt. hot water.  Add heated soap mixture.  Top pail with cold water (about 7 pts.) and stir well.  Let sit overnight.  It will set up like a gel.  Use 1/2 cup per load.  Can add 10-15 drops essential oil for fragrance.

Note: Grate the Fels Naptha soap on a fine cheese grater.  That is the hardest part of the process.  This soap can be purchased at most grocery stores in the laundry section.  It costs less than $1/bar.

I used two ice cream buckets and divded the soap mixture into them when I added the cold water.  I added 7 cups of cold water to each bucket.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve blogged…and I don’t have the excuse that I’m super-busy either!  While we have had a couple of busy weeks in July, it’s nothing compared to what the school year is like.

I guess my excuse is that I’ve been enjoying the relaxed pace of summertime.  I went into these three months with the purpose of being as hedonistic as I wanted to be: sleeping late, reading, resting, spending time with the family.  I can say I’ve gotten pretty good at it!  Now that August is here, however, the urge to be more disciplined and structured is starting to rise up.

Many mornings I’ve lolly-gagged in bed even though I was awake, trying to convince myself I should get up and walk or swim.  I should add, in my defense, that I have done my lap-swimming at least 3 times/week all summer, and often walked the other mornings, plus adding a weight-lifting regime to my schedule–at least most of the time.  One of my goals this summer was to regain the strength and stamina I lost when my foot was broken last year.  I am pleased to say that I am meeting that goal!

My children have also gotten into the hedonistic lifestyle by sleeping late and staying up late.   I’m giving them two more weeks to enjoy it, then we’ll start enforcing earlier bedtimes and earlier awakenings in preparation for the coming school year.

Ah!  School….I think I am almost organized for that venture.  This year we will have a senior in high school down to a second grader–six different grade levels.  This will be the last time for so many age levels, now they will start dropping down every other year.  After 24 years of homeschooling, we are on the downhill side.  I still have 10 years to go, but it will be getting easier and easier.  I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I’ll worry about that when I have to.

The garden is producing even though it’s been a very dry summer.  My hubby succumbed to watering it when we went all of July without rain.  Last night powerful storms drove through our area, but they split and went on either side of us (again!) and we got a brief downpour of about 1/10″.  The birds were out rejoicing this morning, though.   We have been picking green beans lately, and keep an eager eye on the sweet corn, eager for the first tender ears of the season.

Today is my oldest daughter’s 24th birthday!  Happy Birthday!!  She is being ‘kidnapped’ by some friends to spend the day in the Cities.  That will be fun for her, since she is still unemployed and looking for a job….anyone have any openings for a friendly, good-natured young woman with a degree in English/Writing?  A retail job would be just fine.  In two days it’s my youngest son’s birthday, and four days ago it was mine, so we have a week of celebrations this time of the year!

I won’t reveal how old I am, thank you very much, but I guess I’m finally resigned to doing my best to age gracefully.  I can’t turn back the clock, I wouldn’t change any of the major decisions of my life, and it has been a good life.  I am thankful for the years I’ve had, especially when two members of my extended family are battling cancer right now and they are younger than I am!  God has been very gracious to me and I am grateful.

Our son, who is in the Air Force, was home for 9 days in July and we thoroughly enjoyed time with him.  It seems it’s never long enough!  We enjoyed lots of family time while he was here–I almost felt like I was on a ‘staycation”–a vacation spent at home.  Soon we’ll be enjoying time with Son #3 who is away at school and will be home for a week in August.  How precious are these times, as they all spread their wings and fly the nest!

As mundane as this is, that is the sum of my existence these days.  Well, not entirely….

I am gearing up for school, youth orchestra, lessons, and choir to start in September.  Besides that I’ll be teaching private lessons three afternoons/week.  So it will be a busy year, but fulfilling as well.

The best to all as you enjoy the rest of summer!

Unbelievably, the first month of summer is already history and today is Independence Day.  HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, AMERICA!  That thought is even more meaningful to me today as I ponder the changes that have occurred in our country in the past few months.  The world seems a much more frightening place today.  North Korea is flexing their military muscles; Iran is on the verge of a civil war; our own country is struggling economically.  I want to retreat to the warmth and comfort of my home and family, but I cannot.  To cut oneself off from the reality of what is happening is to stand passively by.  What right do we have to complain if we will not contend for the liberties our nation was founded upon?

Closer to home, our college-educated daughter is still looking for a job and she’s not being particularly picky, either!  She has put in two or three applications a week for several weeks; had one job interview but so far no job.  It is a very frustrating situation, when she would be happy to get a retail job like she had while in high school.

We have had to, as a family, tighten the ol’ belt some more, even though it didn’t have much slack in it to start with!  I am hoping to have a part-time job teaching private lessons at a local music school.  I would never have advised anyone with a family size like ours and trying to homeschool to take on a part-time job, but these are unusual times.  We are focusing on pulling together to keep the family ship afloat.

I would be totally despairing and depressed if I had not the Lord to lean on.  He alone has kept me from sinking into complete despair.  Psalm 34 states that He hears our cries and rescues us.  I am clinging to that promise and am trusting that He will meet all our needs, which seem so big to me right now.

And I am trying to be thankful for the provision of today.  We have what we need this day: food on the table, our bills paid, and enough cash in the pocket to keep going.  There are continued medical expenses that do not go away, and school loans that have to be paid somehow.  But, today, our needs are met, and I am thankful for the Lord’s provision.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it, He is faithful.  Even when I don’t feel His care for me, He is loving me.  His word is true despite my experiences or my emotions.   I am trying very hard to walk in faith even when I can’t see it around me.  Perhaps that’s  the point of this whole time in my life–to learn– truly– what it means to walk in faith.  I can’t feel it, I can’t see it, but His Word is true:  God is our faithful provider.

Well, apparently spring has finally arrived here in the Northland.  At least, I think it has.  Less than a week ago we had temperatures in the 50’s, and then we had two days with record-breaking temps in the upper 90’s.  Tonight, though, we have windows open and the air is very fresh.  It’s nice to have a blanket to snuggle under.  It’s actually the best time of the year, when the nights are very cool and the days are warm and sunny.  This is why we endure the bitter winters, so we can enjoy heaven on earth for a few weeks.

The garden is mostly planted, and Dear Husband has put in 44, yes that is forty-four, tomato plants, along with a sundry of other vegetables.  I hear the sale of vegetable seeds are up by 40% this year as people hunker down in survival mode.  My dear husband has conceded to the shaky economy by putting in a few more rows of potatoes and corn.  The onions are green and perky in their little soldierly rows, and the potato fluffs are starting to show their tops.  It’s a wonderful time of the year, when fresh asparagus is picked almost daily, and the strawberries are blooming with yummy promise to come.   Two of our four apple trees were covered in blossoms; this is the first year for a big crop from these two trees, so we are looking forward to the fall harvest.  The winds were terrible for a couple of days, so I hope the bees were able to complete their God-ordained task and pollinate all those blossoms–even half of them would be plenty!

We are trying to nurture some tiny oak trees that my oldest daughter planted from acorns two years ago.  We hopefully have found a half-dozen of them that are about two inches tall, bravely trying to put down roots and send out leaves.  We have one oak tree we call “Hercules” because he has survived being mowed over at least twice.  He is now about 10 years old and more than six feet tall.  We know we won’t be here to enjoy his maturity, but we plant oak trees for the next generation to come.  I guess it’s our investment in the future, in a small way.

Now that my strawberries are trying to flower and bear, I thought I’d share my favorite strawberry dessert recipe.  I have to make this at least once every spring, and sometimes more than that.  I hope you get a chance to try it and enjoy it as much as we do!  Happy Springtime!

STRAWBERRY PIZZA

6 T. butter, softened                               ½ c. sugar

1 egg                                                             ½ t. vanilla

¼ t. almond extract                                  1 ¼ c. flour

½ t. baking powder                                 ½ t. salt

Filling:

8-oz. Pkg. cream cheese, softened         ½ c. powdered sugar

2 c. sliced fresh strawberries                      1 c. sugar

¼ c. cornstarch                                      2 c. crushed strawberries

Cream butter and sugar for 2 min; beat in egg and flavorings.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.  Roll dough out onto  floured surface to 13” circle.  Transfer to an ungreased 12” pizza pan.  (Or you can use a regular cookie sheet and make rectangular pizza)  Build up edges slightly.  Bake at 350 18-22 min. or til lightly browned.  Cool completely.  Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar til smooth.  Spread over crust.  Arrange sliced strawberries on top.  In a saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch and crushed berries until blended.  Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 min. til thickened.  Cool slightly.  Spoon over strawberries.  Chill.

Note:  This makes a lot of glaze; you could easily halve it.

12-16 servings.

100 Days

Sounds like it should be the title of a movie….perhaps a horror film.

The past 100 days since Barak Obama was sworn into office have seen incredible, sweeping changes in our country.  Does anyone feel safer, more secure, more hope for the future?   Is this the change we were promised amidst all the rhetoric of the campaign?

True, the financial situation in the country started before Obama took office, but his administration has overseen the takeover of General Motors including the dismissal of the CEO.  Just this past week, they were trying to force the banks that hold many of GM’s loans to settle for a small percentage in cash and forgive the rest.  The banks weren’t willing to do that, so GM was forced into bankruptcy.  This, after the American taxpapers poured billions of dollars into the company.

Do you, as one of those American taxpayers, want to own a failing enterprise like GM?  If I had money to invest, I certainly wouldn’t put it in a company like GM, where my money will disappear into a sinkhole!  We’ve already done that once, thank you very much!

Health care is on the docket for the next sweeping change.  If you think health care is inaccessible now, just wait until the government gets hold of it!  You know what it’s like to stand in line at the motor vehicle department to renew a license, and how tedious it is, and how dour the employees are?  Multiple that a few times and you’ll be looking at the health care industry of the future, run by the government. Now, with the ‘pandemic’ scare of the horrible not-swine flu, the health care of the nation is being threatened, and only the government is able to handle such a terrifying situation.  Are you terrified?  The only thing I’m afraid of is the government bureaucracy taking over our health care!

The International Childrens’ Rights Treaty that was passed by the UN several years ago is another item that is on the near horizon.  If you don’t know anything about that, you need to get informed!  The U.S. has regularly refused to ratify it until now, with good reason.  It will completely undermine any parental authority and thereby undermine the structure of the family, which has already been under fierce attack.

In the past 100 days, (has it only been 100?!) the country  in which I have grown up and loved has become a nation of people who are panic-striken.  Every day brings more news of doom and gloom, and people are sinking into a morass of despair.  The generational hope that our children will have more prosperous lives than their parents, has died in a flurry of number-crunching and bean counting.  Will there be enough for us to live on if we don’t kick the bucket till the age of 80?  And, what will happen to us if the government takes over health care and decides it can’t afford the long-term care of all these aging baby boomers?  It’s almost too heinous to think about!

No longer can we stick our heads in the sands of our busy lives and hope it will all get better or pass us by!  If we are not active, vigilant, and persistent, the America we know will soon be gone.  Even the Roman Empire lasted more than a thousand years.  Will America be gone in less than 300?  The very foundational rights of the Constitution are being threatened.  We are being weakened on every front, and soon we will be easy prey for any people group that has more power, more determination, and more will than the wimps we have become.

Pray for our country!  Only a move of God can save us!   I know He can if we continue to cry out to Him to save our land!

Greetings all you coupon hounds!

I just wanted to let you know, in case you haven’t heard, that Walgreens has discontinued their monthly Easy Saver Catalog. I was disappointed, but in the past two weeks, in their weekly ad, I’ve noticed more Register Rebates offered.  Maybe they’re substituting the rebates (which are essentially cash coupons for your next trip) for the Easy Saver rebates.

I went to Walgreens today to pick up the good buys, and used $16 worth of Register Rebate coupons.  I left with $6.50 more to use next time.  I didn’t get all the Register Rebates I thought I would, but it’s the off week for us in the pay period, so I had to be cautious.

In case you didn’t see it, there was a $2 coupon for Centrum Cardio Vitamins in the Sunday paper, and a mail-in rebate for the entire purchase price.  Walgreens had them on sale this week for $8.99.  I used the coupon, and will send in the rebate, and actually make $2 on that transaction!

Things like that keep me going back!  My biggest ‘steal’ of the past couple months was when Hy-Vee had Ziploc bags, 2/$1.  I had several coupons for $1 off on 2, and a few for .55 off one.  I got 14 boxes of Ziploc bags for a mere few cents.

Happy hunting, Coupon hounds!

I have recently finished a book by Mark Steyn called America Alone. It is an absorbing treatise on demographics, which is the study of distribution, density and statistics of human population.  Mr. Steyn has studied the world’s populations and has written a book that is alarming and sobering.

In the early 1970’s, a book by Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, unleashed a new paradigm of human perception regarding the family.  He asserted that the earth would soon be overpopulated, that our resources would be depleted, and people would begin starving and the earth would be destroyed.  That book alone created a sensation that was felt around the globe and the ripples of which are still impacting society today.  Much like the global warming ‘crisis’, it was a theory that played on peoples’ fears without real evidence.  True, since then, many improvements have been made in the care of our earth, so much so that the environment is in better shape today than it was 35 years ago.

However, the insiduous idea that children are contributing to the destruction of the planet has taken deep root in the psyche of humans.  In one generation, we have seen the decimation of family size.  When I was growing up, four children was pretty normal for an average family.  Six was considered fairly large, but in Catholic communities it was common to find ten or more children in a family.  Today it was uncommon to see families with more than two or three.  Four is considered large.  Our family, with eleven children, is considered insane.

Mr. Steyn, in his book, has laid out the tragic results of this mindset and the sobering future we face because of it.  In order for a nation to prosper and maintain its vitality, the birth rate must be at least 2.1 live births per woman.  That will keep its population stable, not growing or falling.  Every developed nation in the world except America has an aging society where the birth rate is falling.  Fortunately, America is holding steady at a 2.1 birth rate.

Europe, Japan and Russia are basically going out of business.  Their birth rates are respectively 1.38, 1.32 and 1.14.  Their population is aging, and in socialist societies there has to be enough younger workers to support the aging population with their taxes.  Even in America, the Social Security system assumes a 30% population growth to maintain its programs.

What happens when a country is failing to reproduce?  In the case of Russia, statistics show that once the 1.1 birth rate is achieved, there is no turning back; the decline is irrevocable.  For the other countries, their populations will halve every generation and by mid-century the world will be very different than we know it today.

So, you say, perhaps that isn’t all bad.  With less people on the earth, there will be more resources for the rest of us.  Think again.  There is another aspect to this demographic shift that is crucial.  The one group of people that is reproducing abundantly are Muslims.  And these large families are migrating to all the countries of the world.  Europe is feeling the effects of this influx of Muslim population.  Last year, France had riots in the streets led by Muslim youths.  France and other western European countries now have upwards of 40% Muslim populations.

When these Muslim groups settle in another country, they do not assimilate themselves into that country’s culture.  It is not like the great immigration that happened here in America in the 1800’s when people from many countries came and formed the melting pot that is now our American society.  When Muslims immigrate, they bring with them their culture and expectations to live that culture wherever they find themselves.  That is why Great Britain is finding itself is the uncomfortable place of having to accommodate sharia law and compromise to prevent upheaval in their nation.

By the mid-twenty-first century, if things continue as they are now, the Muslim population will be so overwhelming that all the western Europe and developed countries will be forced into a Islamic government and culture.  Only America, with its present birth rate, will have enough homegrown citizens to stay independent and free.

In America, there are many families with two children, many with one, and many couples choose not to procreate at all.  The tendency for women to postpone having children until they have established a career has resulted in a huge increase in infertility.  These women may have one ‘designer’ baby or may adopt one that is showered in everything material imaginable.

There are two segments of the American population that are still having large families, and no, it does  not include the Catholic community.  One is those who are of the Morman faith, and the other is homeschooling famlies.  As a mom of a large family, we are often asked if we’re Catholic (we’re not) or if we’re Morman (we’re not).  My husband and I believe passionately that God has given children as a blessing, not as a curse.  What a lie everyone has been sold that children are a curse because they will cause the planet to deteriorate and lead to death and destruction!  In fact, God’s truth is that children are a blessing and blessed is the man whose quiver is full!

For all the flack we have taken for the choices we have made in our family size, I am gratified to find out that is families like ours that will save America and possibly the world!  America needs our children!  And even more so, God needs our children to work for His Kingdom!  I am praying that we will leave a legacy that knows no end, as long as the Lord may tarry.  I hope to have 100 grandchildren, and 1000 great-grandchildren, and that those descendants will transform the world!

Hooray for the large family!

It is hard to deflect the depression that haunts me when I listen to the news and events that are taking place in an ever-increasing vortex of liberal socialism.  In less than a month since taking office, the new presidential administration has swept away with Executive Orders the ban on using American funds to support overseas abortions, and the imminent closing of Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorist prisoners.

Now we are watching the Senate and House of Representatives put together a ‘stimulus’ package that is a huge spending bill in disguise.  I am incredibly angry at these ‘representatives’ who are not representing me.  Even though I have contacted my senator (I only have one because here in Minnesota they still haven’t decided who the other one is!) she didn’t even deign to respond to my concerns.  I have no voice, I feel so helpless, and I am so enraged that suddenly the country I love is being destroyed from within by elected officials who care only for the next round of elections.  There is no such thing as a statesman anymore, men/women who put the good of their country ahead of their own personal agenda.  And it doesn’t seem there is anything like representative government anymore because I know there are many like me who are outraged at what is happening, and NO ONE seems to care!

The Roman Empire was not destroyed from without by foreign invaders, it was destroyed from within by a populace that wanted only to be pandered to by the government.  They wanted to be entertained (the gladiator competitions) and fed and if the government didn’t keep them happy, riots would ensue.  They were only interested in hedonistic pursuits and government handouts.

The Roman Empire lasted a lot longer than the American Experiment has lasted.  True, this country is not about to disintegrate, but the current path we are on will result in the same self-absorbed, victim mentality that destroyed Rome.

Karl Marx, the founder of communism, stated this: “Democracy is a form of government that cannot long survive for as soon as the people learn that they have a voice in the fiscal policies of the government, they will vote for themselves asll the money in the treasury and bankrupt the nation.”  Isn’t that appalling and searing?  Can he possible have been right?  If he wasn’t burning in hell, he’d be jumping with glee that his prediction seems to be coming true.

If the American Revolution had occurred during our generation, we would still be part of the  British Empire because no one would have had the guts to stand up, against all odds, for what was inherently right.  Men and women gave their fortunes, their families and their lives to fight for the liberty they believed in.  Where are those brave people today?  I know there are some out there, but we have been refused the right to be heard!  Isn’t this what happened in the Revolutionary War?  The colonists revolted because they were not represented in Court and or having their grievances aired.

Or, quite possibly, this country as well as most of the world, would be in the grip of German Naziism because there is no idealism today that would send our young men overseas to die by the hundreds of thousands to stop the relentless blitzkrieg of the German army.  Instead we whine about the price of gas and how it has put a crimp in our lifestyle.  Does anyone remember that during WWII there were rations in place that limited meat, milk, sugar, gas and similar commodities so they could be sent to the fighting soldiers?  What an outcry that would cause today!

The prevailing mindset today is that the government exists to make our lives comfortable, keep us happy and see that everyone has a chicken in the pot.  Socialism has arrived in America, and if you don’t know the difference between a socialist government and republic, which is what the USA USED to be, it’s time you did some homework!

I have spent 23 years diligently teaching my children a Christian worldview and Providential American History, which means all of history is part of God’s great plan and the New World was unveiled in His time to to be a light to the world.  It was no accident that the Lord revealed to Columbus the truth at the specific time He did.  And it was no accident that the first major settlements were peopled by colonists who wanted to worship God freely.  The Constitution was written on Godly, scriptural principles, unlike any other document in history.  Whether people today like it or not, this country was founded on Christian ideals and values and as we drift farther from them, we find ourselves rudderless in a sea of humanism.

Lenin, one of  most evil men who ever lived, stated, “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.”  While communism as a system seems to floundering, the ideals (if you can call them that!) of communism are alive and well.  Fifty years ago our nation was subjected to a systematic undermining of the values that our nation was founded upon.  In the past generation, we have seen the Christian values steadily eroded.  It began in the colleges where the professors began to spout communist rhetoric.  The next generation of teachers infiltrated the public schools with these communist ideals and taught our unsuspecting children.  That generation has matured and reached adulthood (of which I am one) and here we are today:   government officials who think the wealth should be spread around, that Christianity is not a viable part of our society but Islam is, and above all we must look out for #1 and our personal comfort and advancement.

What a sad state of affairs we are in today!  My heart is so grieved by what I see around me.  And yet, because I believe strongly in a Christian worldview, I have to believe none of this is by accident.   This country that was nurtured by God’s own hand has strayed a long way from His purpose, and I think this economic/political turmoil we find ourselves in is His method of getting our attention.

Will we, as His people, stand up and declare Truth?  Will we fight for what is right?  Will we return to the ideals and values on which this country was founded?  Or will we weakly stand aside while the enemy from within takes over our nation?  Does anybody really care?

I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a bibliophile….a book lover.  If you know me, and have been in my house, you know that books have a place in every room in our home.  Except maybe the dining room, unless we can count piano books.  We own thousands of books, and I honestly don’t think that is an exaggeration.  I tried to put them all on a data base on the computer a few years ago, but was unable to keep up as we acquired more.  Our bookshelves are overflowing and there are some stacks on the floor.  I am wracking my brain to find yet another place to install a bookshelf.

As a veteran homeschooler (this is our 23rd year) I have collected books for more than two decades.  A goodly portion of our collection relates to homeschooling.  I have focused for years on buying books for our educational process that we could reuse.  Other than lower-level math books and similar workbooks, nothing in our homeschool is consumable.  And, unlike so many other homeschoolers, I have not sold much when we are ‘done’ with it.  So my shelves overflow with curricula and many literature and history books related to those studies.  But it doesn’t stop there!  I have one whole bookcase stuffed with paperback books, the majority of them for young and middle readers.  The ones that are tucked behind the door in stacks on the floor tend to be more of an adult nature.  One whole wall is literature of various flavors, both adult and youth.  And the books upstairs?  Well, let’s see…

The large majority of the literature books and many of the others I purchased at the used book sales at our local library.  When I first began my forays into buying used books, I had no idea what to look for.  And, my first experiences at books sales were at homeschool curriculum fairs where the used book vendors were charging pretty hefty prices.  With the gentle guidance of a dear friend who knew many good childrens’ authors, I began to discover classic books and authors whose books became dear friends.  Many of these books are out of print and can only be found in second-hand places, although some are now being reprinted.

Some of these books we’ve read outloud together, many more than once as another set of children became old enough to enjoy them.  They have become shared memories in our family.   We still enjoy reading aloud,  particularly to the younger children but even the older ones will join us for a particularly good tale.  Right now we are reading a book by Gene Stratton Porter called “Keeper of the Bees”.  If you are familiar with her books, you know they have wonderful values in them and will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.  This particular book is a bit more mature in theme than the others, but it has a powerful theme of true manhood that is not to be missed.

In the light of that, I’m going to give a partial list of our favorite family books, and I hope some of you will join in and share your favorite stories so we can accumulate a dynamite collection of books not-to-be-missed.  I will add more to the list as I remember some that don’t come to mind right away.

Books We Have Loved: (Not an exhaustive list and not in any particular order)

The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright (a collection of three of her books: The Saturdays, The Four Story Mistake, Then We Were Five)

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. Tolkien

Little Women & Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

The Wheel on the School by Mendert DeJong

Peter and the Star Catchers, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

The Von Trapp Family Singers by Maria Von Trapp

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

Any of the “Soup” books by Robert Newton Peck

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner

Any of the “All of a Kind Family” books by Sydney Taylor

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (the original book, not necessarily all the later series)

Mandy by Julie Edwards (also known as Julie Andrews)

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Join me and tell me your favorites!  I love talking books with good friends!

New In Town?

A new movie just came out that features the town New Ulm, Minnesota….except it was filmed in Winnepeg, Canada!  I have lived in the afore mentioned town and still live in close proximity to the community.  I have not seen the movie yet, but I have heard that it portrays theity c in a far more barren landscape than the actual community is situated.

There IS a butter plant in New Ulm.  Several years ago there was a fire in the AMPI butter plant and butter melted all over, flooding the streets and mixing with the dirt and water–it was quite a mess to clean up!  There is also a Kraft cheese plant in town.  We are, after all, in the middle of dairy country where the farm acerage is far too valuable and fertile to use for pasture.  On certain days, the smell from the Kraft plant reminds one of limburger cheese. (I know they don’t process that there!)

New Ulm is one of the most homogeneous communities in the United States.  For those in Rio Linda, that means it has a population that is very much the same.  New Ulm is heavily German, founded by German atheists known as Turnervein, and is still largely of German descent.  The natives take great pride in their German heritage.   Every summer there is a big German festival (read: Beer Fest) that features the local  beer (yes, they have their own brewery too!) and musical groups from Germany.  In the fall Oktoberfest is held (read: Beer Fest) and in place of Mardi Gras they celebrate Bockfest (read: Beer Fest).

The town is the center of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church, with the college affiliated with it located at the top of the hill.  There is also a large population of Catholics in town.  I suppose, originally, the town was split between Catholics and “German” Lutherans.  When we first relocated here in the late ’70’s, there were two locally-owned hardware stores in town.  We quickly found out that the Catholics shopped at one, the Lutherans at another.  For those of us who were neither–well, I guess we had to spread the wealth around.  It wasn’t unusual, back then, to hear the older generation conversing in German when they met at the grocery store.  That generation has all passed on so that doesn’t happen anymore, but the German/Minnesota accent is very prevalent.

There are some very unique architectural points in town, which I’m sure were not featured in the movie.  Anyone who is familiar with New Ulm would look for the sandwich-layered building which used to be the post office and now houses the Brown County museum.  In 1998 a huge wind storm took the peaks off the top of the building which took many months to repair due to their unique deisgn.

That storm also damaged “Hermann the German” who resides over the town, peering down from the highest point from his pedestal.  He is an exact, although smaller, replica of a statue in Ulm, Germany, of the leader of the Germanic tribes who defended their homeland from the Roman army.  He, above all, symbolizes the heart of New Ulm.  Was that included in the movie?

Also, Winnepeg is on a flat tundra, while New Ulm is built on the bluffs overlooking the Minnesota River, and there are some BIG hills in town.  I don’t think winter in this part of Minnesota is as barren and bleak as a Canadian winter, although THIS winter has given it a run for the money.

Outside of town is the Group Camp which used to house German prisoners-of-war during World War II.  It wasn’t uncommon for local residents to discover someone they knew, or someone who knew someone they knew, during that time.  Many of the prisoners worked on area farms and some never returned to the Fatherland, feeling right at home in this little pocket of Germany in the US.

The town, indeed much of Minnesota around here, is very neat, clean and beautiful with well-manicured yards and many flowers in the summer.  That’s another part of the German heritage, I think, that enjoys things in their environment well-controlled and ordered.  Having encountered many of the older Germans, I can tell you they tend to be brusque, rough-spoken, and crotchety.   And fairly stingy with their money, and very clannish.  We lived in the community for 13 years, but didn’t go to either the Catholic or Lutheran churches, nor did we send our children to the public or parochial schools, (of which there are three) so in that sojourn, we didn’t even know all the neighbors on our block.

Because of their proud heritage and strong culture, it has been very hard to see changes in the community at large or the people individually.  We labored for more than a quarter-century, working to see the community changed with the Gospel of Christ.  Another trait of the Germans is hard-headedness and stubborness.  The city leaders take seriously their task of keeping the unique flavor of the community.  When Wal-Mart was negotiating to build a new store way out on the edge of town, there was fierce opposition.  The store was built, but there is a good segment of the population which refuses to give them any business.

It has been fun to see a little piece of our part of the world so prominently featured on a major movie.  It would have been nice, however, to see it accurately portrayed.  It’s another jab from Hollywood at the small-town, midwest America where backward people live with archaic values and ideals.   Fortunately, the movie seems to be a light-hearted tale of love and life in a fictionalized place that slightly resembles the real town of New Ulm.  And, to make it even more enjoyable, the premiere showing of the movie here in the city was celebrated with a good, old-fashioned potluck!

Enjoy the movie but, as always, don’t believe everything you see.

Winter Still

I haven’t blogged anything for a couple of weeks because I have had absolutely no inspiration!  It’s hard to find anything inspiring to say when it’s January, the weather is unendingly cold, dreary and miserable.  I must admit, I dislike January the most of all the months.  I suppose it could be because there’s nothing to look forward to, except spring…someday.

Up here in the far north, winter is very long.  We can easily count on six months of wintry weather: November through March with a couple weeks tacked on the either end.  There have been some years when it wasn’t very nice most of April.  I remember a year when we had snow on Memorial Day.  The trees were green, the grass was lush, and there was snow everywhere.  True, it didn’t last long, but it snowed.

This has been a winter reminiscent of what one would think it’s like in these northern plains.  We actually haven’t had really cold, snowy winters for a decade.  There were a few years when we kept waiting for winter to come: January with 40 and 50-degree weather.  Snowfall has been minimal for several years; places further south got more snow than we did!  My children complained there wasn’t enough snow to enjoy sledding or making snow forts.

This year we have been rudely reminded the reality of where we live.  The past month, the driving has been terrible, and several events we were supposed to attend were passed by as we stayed in our (relatively) warm home and watched the snow fly and the hardy souls braving the icy roads.  We love where we live most of the time, especially in the spring and fall, and most of the summer (except when it’s 90+ degrees and 90+% humidity!) but this winter has me idly wondering, why do we live here?

I must be getting old…or just smart to realize not everyone lives this way.  Some friends of ours are moving to Missouri soon, and that sounds delightful right now, although come July, I’ll be very glad we are in the north!  I envy those who have the resources to take a snow bird vacation to some warm clime, basking in sunshine and tropical breezes.

Alas, that is not for me.  I will be here, faithfully holding down the fort, peering out of my frosted windows each morning to see what the quirks of nature have brought us this day, piling on one more layer of clothing and when I snuggle down to read or lose myself in the mindlessness of TV, I make sure I grab one (or two) blankets to nestle under.  Counting down the days until it could be spring….is it 60 days now, or 70?  Perhaps 80?

I think, as I do every year about this time, that I will be outside all the time once the grass has greened and the flowers are peeking up from the ground.  And I really mean it this year!

Stay warm, dear friends!  As hard as it may seem right now, this too will pass.

This is a great week to shop Walgreens.  It almost makes me giddy (and almost makes me feel guilty!) when I walk in with a fistful of coupons and walk out with three bags of expensive health-and-beauty items for a few dollars.

Today was my best excursion yet!  My bill totaled $59 before the coupons, and after the coupons and my $10 Register Reward were deducted, I paid $10.22, which included a $5 Register Reward for my next trip, and a $1.50 rebate.  Total net cost was $3.72.

Garnier Fructis hair products are free if you have the manufacturer’s coupon for $1.  They are on sale for $2.99 this week, and there’s a $2 coupon in the January Easy Saver catalog (located at the front of every store by the doors).  If you have the manufacturer’s coupon, they actually pay you .01 to take it out of the store!  I had three such coupons so they paid me .03!

Another good deal is the Electrasol Gel paks, on sale for $3.49.  I had a coupon for $2.50, which made the cost .99.  This is the rebate item, so the net gain on this was .49!

Another great buy was Stayfree Feminine Products.  $3 off the regular price.  I had a buy-one-get-one coupon so I got two, each regularly priced at 6.49.  So the reduced amount was 3.49, and I received 6.49 credit for the free item, so I paid .49 for two packages.

Softsoap, with a coupon, for .99; with a manufacturer’s coupon for .35, total cost was .64.

Palmolive dish soap, sale price 1.79; Walgreens coupon for $1, manufacturer’s coupon for .25; total cost .54.

This is almost too much fun!  My son, who accompanied me to the store said as we left, “Mom, you’re a thief!”  I chortled all the way home.  I used to spend $75 or more on these kinds of products, now I’m getting them at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, not all weeks are as good as this one.  Last week I used some coupons and my December rebate and paid more than this week’s venture.  But great deals like these keep a person like me cutting coupons and calculating deals.  My daughter says they’re going to start putting restrictions on coupons because of me, but I tell her that aren’t enough people who take the time to really figure it out to make it worth their while.  The Walgreens people are counting on the fact that a very small number of people are really taking advantage of the deals, and of those who may submit rebates, a fair percentage of them will forget to submit them, or do something wrong so it is invalid.  (I know, I used to process those Walgreens rebates!)

What a rush!  I hope you are taking the time to scout out the great deals and join me in my pursuit of careful stewardship of our resources.

Here goes–I have a confession to make that will make my fellow homeschoolers and conservative Christian friends gasp in horror:  I have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.  I’m still alive, my faith is intact, and I’m not going to the Dark Side!

It came about like this:  when the big fury over the HP books began, I adamantly put down my foot and said “You will not read those books!”  This was close to ten years ago, I suppose.  The Christian community, in general, supported my assertions, and while my children asked several times why they couldn’t read them, they complied with my edict.  UNTIL my oldest daughter went to college (a conservative Christian college, I might add) and all the girls on her dorm floor were reading the HP books.  So, she wanted to see what the fuss was about and began reading them.  After finishing them, she told me they weren’t that bad, no worse than The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Now, I must add that I have been a big Tolkien fan since his books were first published in the late-sixties.  They were recommended to me by my English teacher and I read them for the first time when I was in seventh grade.  Since then, I’ve read the entire trilogy at least four or five more times, and I’ve read them outloud to my children a couple of times.  All of my children, down to the age of 14, have read them themselves also.

I must also add that fantasy is one of my favorite genres of literature.  There has been some discussion in homeschooling circles that fantasy is not a healthy genre to allow our children to read.  I will agree that there are a lot of fantasy novels that are not worth the paper they are written on!  And I will also concede that one must be very discerning when reading fantasy as many of them have a very dark nature to them.

One of the main reasons I enjoy fantasy literature is that it is always essentially a battle between good and evil, and if it’s well-written fantasy, the good will eventually win, even if you don’t see how it could possibly happen.  Often fantasy is an allegory of the spiritual battle between God and Satan, the ultimate good and evil.  Many people are put off by the magical aspect of most fantasy novels.  They refer to the scriptures that admonish us to avoid witchcraft and sorcery.   And I agree–if any fantasy novel actually propeled a reader to consider looking more closely at the dark arts, then I would quickly counsel that reader to shun such reading.

But fantasy has a way of making a person think outside the box of what we can see, touch and experience with our natural senses.  We become aware of a power much greater than ourselves, both evil and good.  Where would C. S. Lewis’s  extremely popular series, The Chronicles of Narnia be without the use of magic?  And yet the Christian world has embraced those books as wonderful allegories of God’s redemption story.

Eventually, Daughter #2 read the HP series and joined in the assessment that they weren’t any worse than Lord of the Rings. The two of them began to pester me to read them, and protest my stand against them when I hadn’t read them and was only going on what I’d heard others say.  Finally, I had to admit they were right, so I began.

The first two books aren’t extremely well-written, but the story line is intriguing.  By the third book, which is much more lengthy and involved, the characters begin to be fully-developed and you are drawn into the powerful struggle between the evil and good.  True, there are dark characters and scary moments, but truly they are not as heart-poundingly intense as the pursuit of the Black Riders in The Fellowship of the Ring.  And there are delightfully creative things in these books, very funny moments, poignant moments, the angst of adolescence, the excitement of Quidditch.  (And if you want to know what that is, you’ll have to read the books!)

I honestly found the Harry Potter books to be entertaining with a creative story line that kept even an adult interested and reading.  I finished all seven books in little over a month, I think.  And there is an underlying theme that I think all can relate to:  that I was born for something more, for something greater than myself.  That longing in each of us to reach and believe that the destiny of our life, however hard it may seem, is possible.

As for the claim that they would draw children into an interest in the occult, well, the ‘spells’ that J. K. Rowling uses in her books are funny and have humorous names like “Expelliramus”.  There is nothing truly occultic about them….it’s more of a characature of what our culture has believed about magic, including flying on broomsticks.  I’m sure any follower of wiccan today would be insulted by the way wizards are portrayed in these books.

So, there you have it.  I am allowing my children above the age of twelve to read them, with the caution that if they are uncomfortable or uneasy about anything in them, to stop immediately.  I want to teach them to be sensitive to the Spirit of God, and to be discerning as they read.  Many are the times I have put down a book after several chapters because my spirit is uneasy.  Just as I hope I am teaching them to be discerning about movies and other electronic entertainment.

It’s been a lesson for me in being willing to step away from the Christianese and take a good look at something for myself to see what it really contains.  As homeschoolers, we like to think we are teaching our children to think independently and analytically.  This is one situation where, as parents, we need to apply the same principles.  You may not agree that the Harry Potter books are ones you want your children to read, but I would encourage you to make the decision based on your personal research and convictions and not on what others have told you.

Here in the northern plains, winter has come fast and furious in the past couple of weeks.   Having lived in this savagely beautiful place for many years, we are used to winter coming long before the ‘official’ day of winter on Dec. 21.  And we are used to spring arriving later than the ‘official’ start of the season in March.  It is not uncommon for us to have five or six months of winter, three of summer, and maybe six weeks of spring and six weeks of fall.  Once November rolls around, we are digging out the winter clothes, tuning up the snow blower and taking stock of who needs new snow boots.

This year winter was a long time in coming.  We had a prolonged, lovely autumn and wondered if winter might just pass us by.   Don’t laugh–it has happened a couple of times in the years we have lived here, that it never got colder than the mid-40’s all winter.   However, December arrived and so did blustery cold winds and snow several times a week.

We have had a record amount of snow for our area for the month of December, and we’re supposed to have more tomorrow night.  None of them have been more than two to four inches at a time, but we now have an accumulation of over a foot on the ground.  This past weekend has been a nightmare for traveling.  And, it’s been the weekend when so many are returning home for the Christmas holidays.

Our son who lives in Washington DC flew in on Friday and I drove to the airport to pick him up.  One retrieval accomplished successfully, sandwiched in between snow storms.  Then a big storm moved in, with blowing snow, and temperatures plummeting, and our part of the state has almost been closed off for two days.  The wind chill tonight, at this writing is about -17 and it’s supposed to get worse as the night progresses.   Fortunately, the wind is supposed to die down some so the drifting snow should ease.  Which is good, because my husband has to try to drive tomorrow to retrieve Son #3 who is due to arrive tomorrow a.m.

Son #3 has been stranded in Chicago for over a day.  Thankfully, he has a friend who was willing to take him in and he has experienced sharing Hanakuh with a Jewish family in the process!  He is supposed to be on a bus to bring him home tonight, if all goes well.  With the size of this storm and the path it has taken, I’m sure they will be driving through blowing snow and bitter cold the whole way.

So, here we are three days before Christmas, and shivering in the cold (sounds like a song!) and wondering, “Why do we live here again?”   We hope to make the trek to Grandma’s house in two days, if Son #3 is successfully retrieved.  My sister lives in San Antonio, Texas, and often complains how much she misses the cold and snow.  I would not want to live where it can be 80 degrees in January, but right now some sunshine and 60-degree weather sounds like paradise!

By tomorrow evening, our plan is to be all snuggled in with all our children and our granddaughter under our roof, enjoying the Christmas festivities and traditions and making memories together.  It will certainly be remembered as the year we almost didn’t succeed in getting everyone together!

Merry Christmas to all!  Let us adore the Redeemer who came to earth to set us free!

Hard to believe, but Christmas 2008 is just around the corner!  My children are counting the days until “our” Christmas and then the “real” Christmas when we make the trek to Grandma’s house.  I am amazed that this season has arrived again, and I KNOW I just put those decorations away a few months ago!

We got a huge, blue spruce tree at a tree farm.  The kids were adamant that we get a ginormous tree, and I told them it was too big, it would take up all of our living room.  But, no, we had to have this tree that looks like it belongs in some forest in the far north.  So we get this giant tree home, and sure enough, it consumes half of our living room!  But it is truly the most beautiful Christmas tree we’ve ever had, so I smile as I skirt my way around the prickly thing.  All the ornaments collected over the years look almost lost on it’s abundant branches.  And I love the way it smells–I hope I never get too old or complacent to get an artificial tree!

Tonight began the annual present-wrapping spree.  (Well, if you consider the number of presents are limited!)  Most of the family is at church so the ones at home begged to wrap some presents to put around the tree.  I can’t say “under” because there is no room under the tree.  So, now we will not only have to walk carefully by this rather unfriendly but gorgeous tree, we now will have to keep from tripping over the presents that don’t fit under it!

Many years ago we began numbering the gifts instead of putting names on them.  This was an effort to keep the guessing and package-shaking to a minimum.  And maybe it made it more fun, too, because not only did you have to try to figure out what was in the package, you had to figure out who it was for first!  The only drawback to this method is you can’t lose the master list of numbers (which is in Mom’s safekeeping!) or you will be the one guessing when it’s time to open the gifts!

It looks very Christmassy outside because we’ve had several inches of snow in the past week.  We’re supposed to get more this weekend; we seem to be in a very snowy weather pattern right now.  The past several years have been fairly dry winters here, so having snow to decorate the landscape is a pleasant addition to the holiday festivities.  I think I’ve finally gotten my thick, winter ‘blood’.  At first the cold seemed so cold, but now that we’ve had a few weeks of it, it’s not so bad.

The list of things to do is still fairly long, but I’m not stressing out too much, amazingly enough.  Next week we make Christmas goodies–I’ll post one or two of my favorites–and get the house ready for the big shebang.  The two young men of our family who are far away will be coming home and more than anything else I am looking forward to having all the family together again!  This week I need to finish sewing the Christmas dress for my youngest daughter, and, if I have time, something for me, but we’ll see if that happens.  I should get the Christmas letters written and ready to mail, too.  Oh, and I do have some shopping to do…..

I wish all of you the merriest of Christmas seasons.  Enjoy each day, the preparations, the anticipation, the comings and goings, the music and scents.  May the joy of the coming of our King infuse all you do!

My Thankful List

I said I was going to make a list of things I am thankful for, so I am finally taking a few moments to do that, although I don’t have much time and I know once I get going, this list could be endless….but here I go!  Other than the first few, they are not in any particular order.

–First and foremost, for my Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ

–My dear husband, for his faithful love and support Through It All

–All my children (is that a soap opera?!!) I could name them separately, but since there’s quite a few, I’ll lump them together–hope no one is offended!

–My granddaughter…I think grandchildren get a separate category all their own, just for the unique place they hold in the family circle.

–The rambling ‘vintage’ house we live in and the small piece of God’s earth of which we are stewards

–Life in the northern plains where summers are hot but not unbearably so, and winters are cold but not unbearably so.

–Dear friends who share this journey of life with me–you know who you are!

–Music, music, music!

–My family of origin and extended family: mom, dad, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, all of whom have made my life richer.

–The fellowship of the Saints–the Body of Christ who are a second family to us.

–God’s faithful provision day by day.

–The holidays that bring the far-flung ones back home again, at least for a short time.

–Opportunities that enable my adult children to stretch their wings and fly.

–Laughter and good memories.

–Books, all kinds, all genres (except maybe westerns and horror stories!)

–The music that fills my home as my children practice and develop their separate skills.

–God’s guidance, wisdom and insight that leads us daily.

–Dare I say, the internet?

–Computers

–The Word of God that leads us to all Truth.

–The promise of a new start every morning, indeed, every moment!

–Sunshine streaming in my window in the morning.

–Rain that runs down the windowpanes and makes puddles in the yard.

–Vehicles that run reliably, most of the time!

–Gas that is down to $1.67 (as of this writing!)

–Bright stars at night that make me realize how great is my God!

–Kittens

–Fresh, growing things….(spring, I guess)

–Good food and the fellowship around it.

–Joy that is not dependent on the circumstances or our feelings.

–Little children who make each day seem fresh and new.

–The wonder of Christmas.

–The smell of cookies baking in the oven.

–Time to end!  The list could go on and on–it’s so good to reflect on the things we are thankful for; I’ve started doing that every morning so I can begin my day with a joyful heart!

Well, Black Friday has come and gone, and I have to admit I did succumb to the siren call and was out of bed at 4 a.m. this morning!  I went to a smaller community that has a Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target, but not the big crowds that you may find in larger places.  It was still busy, but there were not the frantic overtones you find where there are long lines and anxious people.

I decided if I didn’t get the things on my list, it wasn’t a big deal; I’d get something else.  I actually did end up with most everything on my list, which was a bonus.  My daughter, whom I sent to a neighboring larger city, said the lines were kind of crazy and within 90 seconds some of the more prized electronics were gone.

I think the idea that there is a limited number drives the insanity, and we get the idea if we don’t get it now, we’ll never get it.  Only 20 in the store–one of them must be mine!!!  Then I heard about the store employee in a Long Island Wal-Mart who was trampled to death by the crowds, and the shooting at a ToysRUs, and I seriously ponder the idea that maybe we need to take a national moratorium on these insane shopping frenzies.

Why can’t we open the stores at a more reasonable hour–say 7 a.m.?  Maybe if the shoppers had more sleep they wouldn’t be so crazy.  Why is it always earlier and earlier?  Just a few years ago the stores opened at 6, now it’s 4.  Next year will it be 3 a.m?

The media has been telling us that consumers are not spending as much this year.  I suspect this Black Friday will negate that.  I saw some people with two and three large-screen plasma TVs in their carts!  Or maybe they’re more determined to get them cheap since the money has to stretch farther….

I know at our house, the Christmas expenditures have been trimmed somewhat.  I am looking for ways to give and save at the same time.  My children know there will probably be only two or three gifts under the tree for them, but hopefully they will be exactly what they want.  Now, adult children and teenagers have expensive tastes, so it’s harder to find gifts I can afford, but they know there are limits to the budget, and we are focusing on Christmas as a time of family togetherness.  More and more, as my children are far from home, I cherish the holidays because we are together again for a little while.   Only a few weeks til we are all together!

Today is Thanksgiving Eve, which means it’s a day spent in the kitchen preparing for the feast of all feasts (until the jubliant Feast of the Lamb!).

So, in the festive spirit of the season, I was up early (well, at least not lollygagging in bed til late morning!) and quickly set to making the first of my culinary preparations….pumpkin pie.

I am not a newbie to making pie, particularly pumpkin pie.  So I set about making the crust and rolling all six of them out (yes, six!).  Then I began mixing up the filling and poured it into the crusts and popped them into the preheated oven.  A minute later I turned around and saw three cans of pumpkin sitting on the counter UNOPENED!  I screamed and dashed to the oven to remove my non-pumpkin pies.  I quickly poured all the liquidy filling back into the mixer and added the pumpkin.  Thankfully, they hadn’t been in the oven more than a minute or two so the filling mixed well and I am fairly confident they will survive the mishap without any problems.

I have never done that before!  I have been preparing Thanksgiving meals for many years, and this is the first time I’ve tried to make non-pumpkin pies!  But, suffice it to say there are always new things to experience in this adventure of life!

I am sharing my mom’s pumpkin pie recipe because it is the best in the world.  Most people use the evaporated milk recipe, but this recipe dates back to my grandmother, I think, and is more custardy than the usual pumpkin pie recipe.  I think it is far superior, and well worth the effort to make!  I hope you will try it out sometime and enjoy it as much as we do!

MOM’S PUMPKIN PIE Makes 1 pie

1 cup pumpkin

2 beaten eggs

3/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. ginger

1/3 t. vanilla

1/4 t. salt

1 1/2 c. milk

Combine pumpkin, spices, sugar, salt and vanilla.  Mix well.  Stir in eggs thoroughly.  Add milk.  Pour into pie crust.  (You’ll have to use your favorite crust recipe)  Bake at 425 for 10 min.  Reduce heat to 325 and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the center tests done.  Serve warm or cold with whipped cream.  (I like it cold best).

It has occurred to me over the past week that another important aspect of being frugal and keeping the pennies in line is to be organized!  I was contemplating this while I was rummaging through my pantry, trying to figure out if I had any more tomato sauce.  I could find six cans of chili beans, but only two cans of tomato sauce.  I have tried keeping a running inventory of my pantry, but after the first day or so, I forgot to keep it current.  Hence, I was hoping to find another can of tomato sauce in the corner somewhere!

This is also true of the freezer inventory…which tends to be a black hole where things disappear, and I find them months later, all freezer-burnt and unidentifiable.  I have two chest freezers (yes, two) and two refrigerator-freezers (on top of the frig).  Needless to say, it’s not always easy to find what I’m looking for.  “I know it’s in there somewhere–try again!”

But this organizational premise holds true for other areas as well–“Are you sure you don’t have any black pants that fit you?  The concert is tomorrow!”  And “What do you mean you don’t have any clean socks?  Did you put your clothes away?”

It’s easier to go out and buy a new pair of pants than it is to try to find the elusive pair that seems to be missing–only to turn up a few weeks later in some strange place like the bottom of the toy box!

And library books!  I could save a fortune if we could keep track of our library books and return them on time!  And stop losing them!  We lost three library books last year, which we had to replace…that adds up, especially when you add in all the fines I pay for returning the books we weren’t finished with, or had to hunt for under the beds or on the shelves with our extensive personal library.

Now, all this makes it sound like our house is chaotic and a disaster all the time, which is definitely not true!  But I have a household of 10 people and we could use a dwelling twice the size of the one in which we live, so it seems jam-packed all the time.  The old adage, a place for everything and everything in its place, is not easy to live by in our home.  There are four daughters living in one large bedroom, which has two sets of bunkbeds, two wardrobe-type pieces, a large bookshelf and small computer desk…needless to say, there is little room for anything else.  And they all have the usual girl-type paraphernalia and complain that someone else is taking up more than their share of space!

The other vice I must admit to is a passion for books–as a veteran homeschooler, I have a passion for collecting books, particularly older, classic childrens’ books.  It would not be an exaggeration to say we have 3000 books in our house–maybe more.  Most of these books I’ve purchased at library sales or thrift stores, or I purchased them specifically to use for our homeschool education.  Books take up a lot of space in our house; we have a whole room devoted to them–our ‘library’.

So, getting this place under some kind of organizational control so I can find things when I need them, and can keep track of what we have is going to be a long process!  It will mean weeding out the ‘stuff’ we really don’t need…I’m not REALLY a packrat, just a packmouse.  I suppose it will even mean culling out some books we probably won’t need.  (Although, my justification for these books is a legacy for my children and grandchildren to use in the future!)

As overwhelming at it seems, I have taken a few steps.  I have cleaned out the pantry, where our food stores are kept, and where my washer and dryer are stored.  I did an inventory of my pantry stores and plan to update it daily…(that’s my PLAN!).  I also cleaned out my refrigerator, and my goal is keep track of the leftovers and things that get pushed to the back so they don’t end up getting thrown away when they’re moldy and disgusting.

However, I know when life gets crazy around here, (and believe me, it does!) it will require more than good intentions to keep things on track.  I also know I’m going to have to get the young-uns on board to keep things organized.

These are all things I know–whether I can implement them all, is yet to be seen, but that is my next step in frugal living!  If anyone has any ideas, I’m eager to hear them.  And I’m sure I’ll be finding lots of websites to help out too.

Onward in the adventure!

Once again, it’s been longer than I’d anticipated inbetween writing these posts.  Some days go by so fast, I hardly feel like I breathe between arising and collapsing in bed again at the end of the day.  And then I wait for some inspiration so I am not just rambling on endlessly about things no one cares about….although that’s probably true anyway.

We have had seemingly endless days of cloudy, gloomy weather.  Today, finally is bright and sunny and I feel so much more energetic!  Add together the cloudy weather, the hormonal roller coaster of being a woman, and the depressing news about the economy, the election, and the future of our country, and the spiritual struggles I’ve been facing lately, and it has been a tough few weeks.  I have had to fight off hopelessness and depression once again.

You’d think I’d get better at this, since I’ve had to fight so many spiritual battles like this…and I guess I am getting stronger to fight.  But it seems like I’m always caught off-guard and it takes me awhile to figure out what I’m dealing with.

The lies of our enemy are subtle and devious.  He knows what our weaknesses are, and he is relentless to attack there over and over again.  It’s taken me many years of living the Christian life to even identify the lies with which he has been so craftily poisoning my brain.  It took me a long time to even realize the thoughts going through my brain weren’t necessarily from the wellspring of my thought life, but were actually planted there by him who seeks to devour us like a lion on the prowl.

For years I lived with the lies (and believed them!) that I was unacceptable, inadequate, sub-standard.  Now, in God’s eyes, we know that is not the case!  We are precious in His sight because of the enormous price that was paid for us.  Yet how often do I succumb to the lie that I’m inadequate, unworthy, unacceptable, because of something that has happened in my life.

I am a flawed person.  I make mistakes, errors in judgment, lose my temper, fall down over and over again, every day.  I desperately need the grace of our loving God continuously to step out of the pit of sin and move on.  I am so thankful for His endless mercy that forgives me 70 times 70, for the same stupid offense I can’t seem to overcome!  His forgiveness is instant and complete as soon as I repent and ask for it!  Any sin or wrong we do can be instantaneously wiped out by his loving forgiveness!

If that is so (and it is!) why do we live in the condemnation of the enemy?  His lies that are whispered in our ears keep us defeated, feeling rejected, unworthy, and unloveable.  I have spent most of my life believing him!  Even though I know the Truth, I have willingly embraced the lies of the enemy as truth!  It is only recently that I’m beginning to identify his lies, and then combat them with the Truth.

Jesus is the Truth!  His Word is Truth!  That is all we need to fight the lies of the enemy.  When he comes at me to tell me I’m unacceptable, I can joyously proclaim that I am acceptable in His sight because of the blood and sacrifice of Jesus!  When he tells me I’ve done another stupid thing, said another stupid thing, made a dumb mistake, I can forgive myself because I’m forgiven by God and put it behind  and move on.

I’ve had to learn to put up boundaries on my thought life because it’s far too easy for me to relive the past, and all the dumb things I’ve done, errors I’ve made, things I wish I could do over, impulsive statements I’ve made that hurt others, the times I’ve lost my temper.  I could spend the rest of my days regretting, reliving, rehashing and totally miss today!  I could live all my life in the past, never enjoying today.

So I’ve found it necessary to learn to discipline my thought life so I refuse to reflect on the past and my multitude of mistakes.  Once I have asked forgiveness and done what I can to make restitution that may be due, I must move on.  Our God is a God of hope, of new tomorrows, of fresh starts.  Even in these days when there seems to be little to hope in when we look at the world and society around us.  If we dwell in the past, particularly our failures, we will never live in the hope that God has for us today and tomorrow!

I have made boundaries where I refuse to go, even though treading in those well-worn paths are comforting in a twisted sort of way.  I have enjoyed a sense of satisfaction imagining conversations I wish I’d had, things I wish I’d done, the ways events could have been different.  But it’s not healing to live where the pain is fresh!  If I visit the painful places over and over again, no healing will ever be complete in my heart and spirit, and I want very much to be healed!

I have gone through a very difficult time in the past several months in my spiritual life, wounded by a situation over which I had little control, doing my best to be obedient and feeling betrayed by those I trusted.  The pain has been incredible, and the enemy has come like a flood to tear me away from the only One who could heal my soul.  I am finally through the worst of the battle, but even now, the enemy snipes and tries to renew the intense pain by reminding me of the should-haves and could-haves.

I am planting a banner in the ground and declaring, No More!  No longer will I listen to the lies of the enemy who would love to see me destroyed!  No longer will I believe his lies that tell me I’m unworthy, inadequate, unacceptable!  No longer will I live in the past, but instead will commit to rejoicing in today.  And I have so much to be thankful for!  In this season of Thanksgiving, I will soon post all I have for which to give thanks!

Fight the good fight!  Don’t let the enemy lie to you and rob you of the greatest joys you have today!  We serve a wonderful God who forgives, renews, rebuilds, and above all, loves us!

I am just getting back on my feet from a nasty virus, so this has been longer in being written than I’d planned.

I wrote last post that my husband and I made the commitment to live in radical obedience to the Word of God.  This commitment is wide-reaching and includes all areas of our lives, and sometimes it involves making things rather uncomfortable because we walk a path so different from the world around us.

I have often complained (okay, whined would probably be a better word!) that it seems God is always asking us to be on the forefront of things.  It’s not a comfortable place to be because few understand what you are doing and why, and explaining it is really difficult.

We encountered this when we began homeschooling in 1985.  The concept of homeschooling was very new, and at the time we didn’t know anyone else who was homeschooling.  The Lord led us into it through a radio program on “Focus on the Family” with the Moores, who were pioneers in the recent homeschooling movement.  At the time our oldest son, who is now 29!, was five, almost six.  So we began the adventure of homeschooling when it wasn’t ‘legal’ in our state.  We were in the gray zone of being unregulated, while the laws were being challenged and rewritten.  If I took the children anywhere with me during normal school hours, we were always queried as to why they weren’t in school.  And if I said we homeschooled, we were always asked, “Is that legal?”  Oh, you who consider homeschooling these days have no idea with what trepidation the whole movement began!

Eventually homeschooling became more accepted and is now even somewhat mainstream.  The first generation of homeschoolers have passed into college and the work force and are having an impact on the world with their Christian worldview and strong work ethics.  Our oldest son is a mechanical engineer, our second son is in the Air Force as a musician, our oldest daughter just finished her degree in English/Writing, and our second daughter is a sophomore in college studying journalism, photography and music.  They are not geniuses nor gifted, but they know how to work hard and the value in recognizing the sacred calling in their lives.

A few years after the homeschooling adventure began, the Lord directed us to the family-size adventure.  I related the details of that in my previous post.  This was an even bigger turbulence to wade through.  We made the commitment in 1989, and we knew then that we could have a houseful of children, but no one else knew the depth of that decision.  We had one child, then another 20 months later, then another 2 years later, then another 22 months later, then another 20 months later, then another 22 months later….it didn’t take long for people to realize something was going on!

The hardest part about living out this commitment was walking it out in the Body of Christ, sad to say.  Those who should have been able to understand why we were doing what we were doing were those who felt the most freedom to ridicule us, scold us and try to correct our ‘erroneous’ thinking.  I can’t tell you how many times I burned inside from the thoughtless, harsh, ignorant comments from those in my spiritual family.  It is a terrible commentary on the church today that we cannot at least make an effort to understand the calling someone has heard from the Lord, and encourage them to walk in it.

I had to grow a thicker skin than I originally possessed.  As a sensitive soul, it was not easy for me to take these judgemental comments without it wounding me, especially when they thought I was in error.  I had to learn to throw myself, over and over again, at the feet of Christ and proclaim, this is for you, Lord!  You know I am doing this for you!

I believe so strongly that this is a calling from God, and so I believe He will bring beautiful fruit from it.  It requires a long-distance view.  You have to keep your eyes on the goal, which is raising godly children who will serve Him as lights in the darkness.  It is very easy to lose sight of that when you’re exhausted, frustrated, feeling misunderstood, and the baby was awake again most of the night!  I was forced to my knees, to rely on Him alone, when all else failed.  I often said that one of the greatest blessings of children is that they drive me to my knees in surrender to the Lord.

The price of radical obedience is high.  You will look like a fool in the eyes of most people, Christian and heathen alike.  You will have to surrender your pride, your desire to be acceptable, and be willing to accept the fact that others in the Body of Christ will think you’re wrong.  Your worldy resources will be swept away in the consuming needs of your family.  Your time will not be your own.  Every desire your harbored in your heart will require piercing examination to see if it is line with this great calling the Lord has given you.  Your body will not be your own, as you yield it to the Lord to bear another child for His kingdom.

Yet, as dear as the cost is, the rewards far outweigh the price.  First and foremost, I know I have faithfully obeyed what I saw as truth in the Word of God.  The peace in that is priceless.  Secondly, the joys of raising this family He has given us have far outweighed the pain and trials.  In another post soon, I will share some of the joys we have known as we have walked this road.

A missionary that goes to a foreign land to toil a lifetime among those who are resistant yet so needy could share a similar tale.  Our lives, in many ways, are similar.  We are called to live a radically different life among a culture that does not comprehend what we do.  We are called to shine the light of Christ in all that we do, so as to reflect the glory of who He is.  Our toil may last years before we see any fruit, but we rely on the promises of God that our work is not in vain.

We are living a life that proclaims to the world that God loves children!  As we have enthusiastically embraced each new baby into our lives, our children have understood the value they have in His sight.  They are treasured because He treasures them, and they in turn embrace the value of each baby.  We consciously live an attitude of joy towards our family and children so others will see that these children are not a burden to us, but indeed a great blessing.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have our struggles and I am not a hyprocrite in that I pretend all is well when it is not.  But underneath all the daily trials is the joy that flows from knowing that we are walking in that place of obedience to Him who has called us.

Those of you who know me, know I am very real.  As this all unfolds, I will share some of the specific struggles we have had to endure and how we fell down, got up and tried again, and eventually overcame (or are still overcoming!)  However, under all the honesty is the underlying truth of God’s Word that cannot be denied:  God desires us to have children for His kingdom, and what an awesome privilege it is to be allowed to do that.

How We Got Here

This is a post about a totally different topic than I’ve written lately.  But, in a way, I guess they’re related.  I am in the midst of finding ways to cut our expenses, partially because we have a big family to provide for.

I just recently found out two friends of mine are pregnant, and both of them are struggling to come to terms with the prospect of another little one.  One woman has six children, aged 13 to 18 months, the other has five aged 11 to 1 (I think).  They are both reeling with the idea of having another little baby who is very time-consuming.  Both of these moms are homeschoolers, as well.

So this is written for all moms who love children but are struggling with the reality of life one day at a time.  Putting nutritious food on the table, dealing with the constant laundry, the continual needs of many children, their bickering, the constant character training–it is exhausting!

I am a little farther down the road in this journey.  I have eleven children, the oldest is 29, the youngest is six; and  I am now a grandmother of a little sweet girl who is 6 months old.  So I have been in the midst of this adventure for a little longer.  But I well remember those days, of exhaustion, of being overwhelmed and wondering what am I doing?!

So, in the next few posts I hope to encourage you moms who are still in the child-bearing stage of life.  Bear with me, and I will try to do my best to lift your spirits.

How we got here….my hubby and I have been married 31 years now.  About 22 years ago, we had three children, two boys and a girl, and I was not sure I could handle anymore. (boy, was I wrong!)  Then, to our surprise, I got pregnant.  It was a surprise to us, but not to God!  He used that time in my life to really change my heart about children and family.  I had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, so that wasn’t an issue.  But after four children, two boys, two girls, we were considering doing ‘something permanent’ since we obiviously had the perfect family!

That is when God began to get hold of my heart!  I had some post-partum depression after my second daughter’s birth (probably due to the fact that this was NOT my idea in the first place!) and I remember crying and my husband asking me if I was going to be okay.  That made me realize I couldn’t continue on the way I was.  Then the Lord brought into my hands, in the same week!, two mass-market women’s magazines (yes, I read them back then) that featured families with many children.  If I remember correct, one had ten children and one had fourteen.  I was fascinated as I read those articles, and the tiny seed was planted.

That next spring I attended our state homeschooling curriculum convention and the featured speaker was Michael Farris, of HSLDA.  He mentioned, off-hand, about having read Mary Pride, and that’s why they had six children.  I made a mental note to find a book by her (didn’t even know what it was called) to find out what he knew that I didn’t.  I scoured the convention until I found someone selling the book “The Way Home”.  I began to read it that evening as I ate supper on my way home.

By the time I got home, I already knew we were in for something life-changing.  It became a watershed in our life.  Mary Pride had been an extreme liberal feminist before she became a Christian.  When she met the Lord as Savior, she applied all her intellect to learning His word, and as she did, she found that the Bible teaches us that children are (gasp!) a blessing!  In Psalm 127 it states “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them:”  (Ps. 127:3-5a)

So, 1) children are a gift!  To be desired, cherished, anticipated.  2) They are a reward!  You must be doing something right if God rewards you with children.  3) They are like arrows, blessed are you if your quiver is full.  I know there’s been much discussion about how much a ‘quiverfull’ is.  I’ve heard people say five, or however many you can manage.  Personally, if I’m a warrior going into battle, I want as many arrows as I can stuff into my quiver!  Gimme a dozen or more!  God sees our children as arrows in the Battle of the Ages; they are weapons against the powers of darkness, as we raise them up to serve Him in His kingdom.

Then in Psalm 128, it states, “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord…Your wife will be like a fruitful vine, within your house, your children like olive plants around your table.  Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”  It clearly states that we will be blessed with children if we fear the Lord.  BLESSED–that is a good thing!  We should desire above all things the blessings of the Lord!  Why would we tell God, “Well, Lord, I’ll take three of your blessings but no more.  You can bless me with financial wealth, good health and any number of other things, but I only want three of your child blessings.”  Do we have the right to say that to Him?

In Psalm. 139:13 we read “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb”.  If we truly believe the babies are formed by God’s own hand, then don’t we have an obligation to bow to the sovereignty of God?  In our culture children are viewed as either pets to pamper, spoil and dress up, or as hindrances to the true pursuits of our lives.  Many parents endure the child-raising stage of life so they can get on to the ‘real’ living–vacations, travel, hedonistic pursuits.

When we realized the truth of God’s Word, we could not deny His sovereignty in our lives.  In Genesis, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and fill the earth, and nowhere did He rescind that command.  As His people, we are still commanded to be fruitful and multiply.  In the Bible and in the Christian church teachings, birth control was considered a sin, an abomination to the Lord. (See the story of Onan in the Old Testament).  Until the mid 1960’s, it was even taught to be a sin in the non-Catholic churches.  Once the Pill and reliable birth control became available, the churches had to change their centuries-old teachings.  Only the Catholic church today is still clinging to the shreds of that teaching, but I know few Catholics who truly embrace the large-family concept that was common a generation ago.

So, my husband and I decided to be radically obedient to the Lord.  And it is an obedience that has been apparant to everyone that knows us, or maybe doesn’t know us, but just knows OF us.  We have had to walk this radical decision out in front of many people who couldn’t begin to understand the choice we had made.  It was not a choice made lightly, and it’s been one we’ve had to recommit to over and over again.

I was thirty-three when we decided to allow the Lord to bless as He would.  You know, the traditional medical wisdom will say that after the age of 35, fertility drops dramatically, and after the age of 40, forget it, unless you have some kind of medical intervention.  Well, the Lord took us at our word, and began to bless us abundantly!  I had seven babies in the next 11 years; three after the age of 40.  My last baby was born when I was 44.

If you want to undergo attack, just be visibly pregnant after the age of 40!  When I was pregnant with out last little bundle, our second son who was in college at the time, was told time and time again how stupid and foolish his parents were for taking the risk of having a baby at that age!  There are more risks as you get older, but the research I did showed I had an 87% chance of having a perfectly healthy baby, and I thought those were good odds.  Sarah Palin, vice-presidential nominee, had a baby at the same age with Down’s Syndrome.  I know the risks are there, but we were willing to take them, and take whatever the Lord chose to give us.  And our little girl is a pure delight, and smart as a whip.

We don’t have any idea of the risks we face with any of our children.  We might have to face a traumatic illness or injury.  We aren’t guaranteed anything.  And I suspect, if you ask any parent of a Down’s Syndrome baby, they would tell you that that baby is the greatest blessing in their lives.

So, we had eleven children, and had hoped for just one more.  But we are truly blessed with what the Lord has done for us.  There is no guarantee.  Putting A and B together doesn’t necessarily equal C.  Just ask any couple who has struggled with infertility.  Being able to conceive and bear children truly is a blessing of the Lord and not anything to be taken lightly!  We honored the gift of being able to have children, and the Lord blessed us in a beautiful way.

That is how we got here.  But there is much more to be said of the process, which I will continue in a later post.

To my dear friends who are pregnant and struggling–blessed are you!  He has chosen you to bear His children for His kingdom, and has declared you to be their parents!  What an awesome, amazing privilege!

Okay, I promise, this is the last post on what I’ve learned about saving money on groceries–at least for the time being.  I’m sure I still have some things to learn!  But I won’t bore you with them anymore for awhile.

If you’re never gone to Aldi’s, I highly recommend you check it out.  We had an Aldi’s in our local town for almost a year before I stepped in there.  I could not see how such a tiny place could compete with the big stores, especially Sam’s. (Which I’ve abandoned, as you know if you’ve read my previous posts).  But I heard from more than one source that I should try it out.  So about six months ago I did.

There are only three aisles in the store, two outside rows of refrigerated cases, and one row of freezer cases.  And I’ve never been there when there was more than one cashier.  It resembles a small-town grocery store.  But the resemblance ends in its appearance.  I read somewhere that Aldi’s stocks the top 300 items most people purchase at the grocery store.  Almost anything you need you can find there.  If you are looking for specialty items, they won’t have it, of course, but they carry 75% or more of your general pantry items.

The majority of their products are a private label.  This, at first, made me skeptical of the quality.  But I gave some of the stuff a try.  We found there were a few things we didn’t like, but in general, their store brands are very good.  Except the cat food–don’t buy the dry cat food.  Even our barn cats, who will eat anything, wouldn’t touch it.  My husband, the chemist, says it must be high in ash or something like that.

If you can get past the lack of brand names, you will find great prices.  I’ve found that I purchase most of what I need there, unless it is on sale at another store because their prices are more competitive than any of the bigger grocery stores.  For instance, a 2-lb. bag of brown sugar is .99 this week (I think it’s a special deal because it’s usually 1.09).  At the big grocery stores, it may be that price if you have a coupon or it’s on a special sale.  If it’s a coupon sale, you can usually only get one.  At Aldi’s buy all you want!  Consistently, their prices are cheaper.  5 lb. of flour for about 1.75 (that price fluctuates as the commodities go up and down).  And a real 5-lb. bag of sugar for about 1.60!

So my regular routine is to check out the sales at the big stores, mark the ones I want to stock up on, check out my coupons, and then make a list of the rest of the things I need that aren’t in my pantry  to pick up at Aldi’s.  I usually go to one or two grocery stores and Aldi’s.  I know–some people find that ridiculous, but I love the thrill of the hunt!

One thing you need to know if you’ve never been to Aldi’s–the grocery carts are outside, chained up, and you need to have a quarter to free one up for your use.  After you’re done with it, you take it back to the cart chain-gang, hook it back up and you get a quarter back.   It’s an effective way for them to keep the carts under control without needing an attendant to corral them all up again.

Also, Aldi’s doesn’t take checks.  They just started taking debit cards from all banks.  But I usually go in with cash in hand.  They do have an ATM in the store if you are short, like I’ve been on occasion, but it will cost you a service fee to use.

The other store I frequent more than I used to is Dollar Tree.  I am always amazed at the things I find in there!  There are the items I buy most often at the dollar store:  gift bags and bows, cleaning supples (especially The Works Toilet Cleaner–my favorite!), body lotion, toothbrushes, hair stuff (clips, rubber bands, etc) plastic microwave/freezer containers.  And every time I go in there I find something else that is a great deal.  Dishwashing soap is a great buy there.  So is Soft Soap hand soap in the small dispenser.  Unless it’s on sale with a coupon somewhere else!  🙂

So–I think I’ve finally reached the end of all my wisdom–it was in short supply, I know!  I hope some of what I’ve learned will be of help to you.  Our family is focusing on paying off our debts so we can be debt free…at this point, it may be years, but that’s our goal.

Stay tuned for more great deals!

Apple Season

We are overrun with the biggest apple harvest we have ever enjoyed!  I wish we could somehow spread it out over several months instead of having so much abundance all at once.  That’s what my husband says about his precious tomatoes, too!  I guess that’s why we freeze/can/process as much as we can.

I hear it was a good year for apples in our neck of the woods, and a not-so-good year for pumpkins.  I have shared some of the apples we have been blessed with, and I am trying to freeze much of the rest in the form of applesauce and frozen slices for crisp and pies.  Almost all of us love homemade applesauce, and in my book that’s pretty good odds.  One tree we have has McIntosh apples, I think–they mush up pretty easy and are pretty tart–make the best applesauce, if you add quite a bit of sugar!  The other tree that had a bounty this year was a yellow tree, similar to Golden Delicious.  They are wonderful for eating fresh and also for baking.

Fall and apple harvest means our traditional Applesauce Cake, made, of course, with homemade applesauce.  The cake recipe I got from a friend many years ago and I added the butter sauce that really makes it special.  I hope you enjoy it!  I can’t promise it will be as good with store bought applesauce, but I’m sure it will still be yummy!

APPLESAUCE CAKE WITH BUTTER SAUCE

1 cup butter, softened                                             2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup sugar                                                             2 c. flour

1 1/2 c. applesauce                                                1/2 tsp. ginger

1/2 c. nuts (opt.)                                                     1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon                                                      1/2 tsp. nutmeg

3 eggs                                                                     1 tsp. soda

Mix together well, pour into greased 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until tests done.

Butter sauce:

1/2 cup butter (real butter, not margarine)               2 T. flour

1/2 cup sugar                                                           1 1/2 cups water

1 tsp. vanilla

Stir together in saucepan, boil over med-high heat until thickened, stirring.  Serve warm over cake pieces.

Hope you enjoy this treat from our house to yours!

Previously I wrote about stocking up on sale items to end up buying the majority of your grocery items at 1/3-1/2 off.  Now we come to the next step in saving money on that grocery bill!

Coupons.  I know, I gave up couponing  long ago because they were always for things I wouldn’t buy or use.  But, in the spirit of cutting my expenses to the bare bones, I began purchasing the Sunday paper (well, actually, two of them from two cities) and diligently clipping all the coupons I thought I might remotely use.

The next step comes in carefully perusing the grocery store, drug store and ‘box’ store ads.  I find if I clip the coupons first, I have a good idea of what’s available before I look at the ads.

Walgreens is one store I never used to frequent.  Now I stop there almost every week, picking up a few of their special items.  True, in general their prices are more expensive than the local Wal-Mart or Target.  However, if you buy only the items that are on sale, you can really get the deals.

I used to data entry for Young America and I spent many hours processing Walgreens rebates.  So I know about their monthly Easy Saver catalogs.  They put out one of these every month and it contains coupons and rebates.  Every month there are a few items that are free if you send in the rebate.  Sometimes these are items I will use, often not.  But I will usually get one or two items that I can eventually get free.  There are other rebates that are $1 or $2 back–or more–if you buy certain items.  It’s worth checking it out carefully every month.

Another thing I’ve discovered about Walgreens Easy Saver catalog–every item that they have coupons for in the catalog will go on sale sometime during the month.  (Well, I haven’t done exhaustive research on this, but I’m finding this to be true.)  So, for instance, if they have a $2 coupon for Pantene hair products, sometime in the month Pantene products will be on sale.  So if you can wait patiently for the Pantene sale, you can get an even better deal on the stuff.  I know, in the beginning, I would go out and buy everything I wanted to send in a rebate for right away, then find out later I could have saved several dollars if I’d waited.

This is also true for their rebate items.  So be patient and wait for the item to go on sale.  If I’m wrong and you don’t see it go on sale towards the end of the month and it’s something you really want, then you can pick it up.  I will say that Walgreens doesn’t keep a lot of items in stock so if you wait until the end of the week to get the sale items, chances are you won’t be able to find them.

I have made it a practice to only purchase buy-one-get-one free items, buy-one-get-one 50% off, or items that you get register receipts on.  Register Receipts are like cash coupons you can use the next time you shop at Walgreens.  For example, if you buy four Dove products you may get $5 in Register Receipts.

The greatest part about all of this, is that you can use manufacturers coupons in addition to the special deals and save even more!  I don’t think very many people think about this or take time to work it out, but there are a few of us dedicated coupon clippers that make a game of seeing how much we can save at Walgreens.  I hear CVS is similar, but there aren’t any of those in our immediate area.

I use coupons mostly on health and beauty aids, but it has saved us a bunch of money!  Particularly if you’re not too picky about the brand of shampoo or soap you use.  Do you remember going to your local discount store and dropping $75 or more on HABA items and walking out with two bags???  So I’m saving a lot of money on these kinds of items.

Every week I’ll post the really good deals I find at Walgreens so you can enjoy the benefits too!  Once you start, you’ll be addicted!  Everyone in my house is tired of hearing me jubliate when I find a really great deal, so now I can share it with you and my family will quit complaining!

Enjoy the adventure!

The world we live in keeps changing at a breathtaking pace.  In the past week the economy of our country seems shaky and the financial giants are crumbling.  It can be a scary place, if you spend much time thinking about what may be.  We share the same concerns as multitudes, wondering if there will be any of our retirement money left when those elusive days are upon us.  We wonder how we’re going to pay the heating bill this winter, with costs up 50% from last year.  We have made some changes in our budget and lifestyle just to keep gas in the cars and food on the table.

My parents were children during the Depression.  I don’t think anyone who lived during those years have forgotten what is was like to make do, wear it out, use it up or do without.  Dresses made out of flour sacks.  Shoes that were handed down and didn’t fit right.  Meals that were simple and plain.

We are looking at the world a little differently these days.  Gone are the plans to do some fixing up around the house, or possibly purchasing a different vehicle.  We are in hunker-down-and-survive mode.  Does anyone else know what I mean?  Our children have finally learned not to ask for something that is not necessary.  We have made a commitment to not using the credit cards to fill in the gaps, so that means when the checkbook and pockets are empty, we wait.

That in itself is part of the Adventure of Life.  While we have never had an abundance, raising this large family, we have had times of spare cash with which to do some enjoyable things.  Now, however, we are working with a bare bones budget.  And it will be quite an adventure as we see how this plays out.  You see, through it all I am learning about trusting in the Provider, the One who meets all our needs.  And, if we don’t pull out the credit card to meet our needs, we have an opportunity to see how He is going to do it.

I am trying hard to focus on one day at a time.  In the Beatitudes Jesus taught not to worry about tomorrow, every day has enough worry of its own.  What wisdom there is in that!  If we continue to look beyond tomorrow, we will be overwhelmed by the pressing needs.  If, however, we do our best to meet our financial obligations and there is some need left over, then we can give God a chance to do His thing.

I know we are not alone in this!  I was praying about how to make the ends meet of our budget belt, and I believe the Lord gave me insight and wisdom on some changes I could make.  I have changed the way I buy groceries, and I never could have believed I could save $100-200 month!  In the future I will give more details about that.  We analyzed the private music lessons our children took, and decided to drop two of them for this year.  And every day I pray, Lord, thank you for your provision and help me to be content with what Your hand provides.

Contentment with His provision is really key.  Unless I can control the heart that longs for more, that is greedy and dissatisfied, I can never be happy with the provision the Lord gives.  If I pray for a new coat, for example, it could be provided in a number of ways.  I could end up being able to save a certain amount and wait for a good sale.  I could find a really great coat at the thrift store for a few dollars, or perhaps someone, who was totally unaware of my need, could offer me a coat they can’t use.  Our God is a god of variety and He longs to show us how He will provide for our needs if we will wait and trust.  And it could mean, if a coat doesn’t materialize, that I need to content to use the one I have until further notice.  That is when it is most challenging to be content.

While I have much to learn in this area, I have found if I can let go of my expectations and focus on trusting Him, I can be content.  He is a loving Father, and He desires to provide for His children.

In this day, with the uncertain economic scene, what better way to live than allowing the Great God of the Universe to meet all our needs just as He’s promised.  And the great payoff for us is that we can live in peace when the world around us is in turmoil!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phil. 4:6-7

So do not worry, saying, ”What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matt. 6:31-33