November 30, 2010

Out in the middle of nowhere...

We made an informed choice to live out in the middle of nowhere.  We love the privacy, the serene quiet, and the space to let our kids run around and disturb the serene quiet with their happy squeals and shrieks on our ten acres of wooded property.  We knew full well it meant sacrifice and inconvenience for us in some ways, with an hour-long commute for my husband and a long drive for all of us when we want to go just about anywhere besides the post office or Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  It was worth it to give the kids the environment we feel is best for them.  But we didn’t know we were removing ourselves from the cyber world as well.
When we lived in New York we were country bumpkins too, but had high speed internet and great cell phone reception.  We lived on five acres with all the peace and quiet we needed, and had the best of both worlds: out in the middle of nowhere but completely connected to everyone when we wanted to be, and isolated when we didn’t.
Not so here.  What we were uninformed about when we bought this place two years ago was that we would have a terrible internet connection and practically no cell phone reception.  Yes, we live in the dead zone.  As a stay-at-home mom, my location day-to-day as indicated by my job title is at home.  And living far away from stores, online shopping is my safety net.  Every day is Cyber Monday.  That was fine and dandy when we were in the New York boonies with our fantastic internet.  But Hughesnet is our internet provider here, and I think it’s trying to kill us.
Normally I can handle the slow connection.  I email friends, visit Facebook several times a day, and shop for everything I can over the internet, and with patience I can still enjoy all the things the rest of the modern world does, just a bit more slowly.  But during this joyous season of everybody scrambling to buy things for each other, the crowded stores aren’t the only thing I’ve had to avoid.  This mortal enemy of ours, Hughesnet, is even slower than usual when more local yokels are on it, and with we hicks shopping online all at once, everything was taking twice as long as usual over the past few days.  Finally I decided to implement our Wilbur way: do things when nobody else does to avoid the crowds and enjoy the experience more.  We do it with travel, restaurants, and so on.  Why do this any differently?
So I sat here this morning an even earlier bird than usual, bleary-eyed and coffee in hand at 4:00 AM, doing my morning routine two hours ahead of schedule, allowing time to shop online for Christmas presents while everyone else in Hickville was sleeping.  Listen… do you hear those bells ringing?  It’s the celebratory sound declaring to the world that I have finished my Christmas shopping!  What sweet relief.  Hughesnet has not gotten the best of me, and now I can relax and enjoy the month or so to come, watching for the big brown truck to bring me all those gifts.
And in the weeks to come, as I’m wrapping up those gifts and doing all the other things we moms do to get ready for the holidays, I’ll glance out my window from time to time, watching the kids playing and enjoying themselves outside in the Wilburness, knowing that they are worth these small sacrifices.

November 29, 2010

Inspired by the dishes...

It’s Not-So-Extreme Makeover Day here at this little blog.  I felt it was time to say goodbye to that dandelion-in-the-wind background I started out with and freshen things up a little.  Since my computer skills and the options on this free blogger website are both limited, it’s not as revolutionary a change as I might like, but it’s something new and different that reflects my taste within the confines of those limitations.
I love to improve the look of things, especially if it’s taking a step toward something more personalized.  When we moved into our current home, few rooms were painted a color besides white, and the color choices were decidedly not my taste.  Over the course of two years I’ve painted eleven of our rooms, with a few left to go.  All the color selections on our main floor stem from the colors in my china pattern, Summer Chintz by Johnson Brothers.  Some design team at Johnson Brothers worked very hard to coordinate the colors of the flowers on those dishes.  I’m more than happy to benefit from their effort and expertise.  So as you walk from room to room in my home, the colors on my walls flow well from one to another, and my dishes look at home in every room, freeing me to not just serve food on them, but decorate with them also.

My inspiration
You don’t have to be a color expert to select paint.  If you walk into the paint department at a home improvement store without a plan, it can be overwhelming when you see the myriad of choices.  But if you have some special item you know will be central to the room you’re redoing, like a bedspread, or a throw pillow from your sofa, the helpful people there can copy the shade you want for you right from your object.

And if you have some multicolored object that you love as much as I love my fancy-schmancy dishes, you can transform your whole home with color choices that automatically blend and suit each other as well as you.  Whether it’s a bouquet of flowers someone sent you, or an old plaid coat of your grandfather’s, or the packaging of one of your favorite foods, look for something that has colors you like already coordinated for you in one place.  Head to the paint department, and bring a little new life to the look of your home.  It doesn’t have to be done all at once; gather the paint chips and take it a step at a time.  Before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by colors you love, the perfect backdrop for adding more personal touches to your home.

November 28, 2010

"She looks just like her dad..."

People tell my daughter Audra all the time how much she looks like her dad, to which she responds with stony silence and a dejected expression on her face.  She desperately wants to hear that same comment end with the word “mom.”  It’s not because her dad isn’t good-looking; after all, he’s the most handsome man in the world.  And it’s not that I am good-looking, because I see myself as ranking average at best.  It’s also not because she doesn’t love her daddy.  She adores him.  It’s simply because she’s a little girl, and I am, for better or worse, the one who to her is the standard for what a woman is.  She wants to grow up to be like me, inside and out.
But look at the two of them there.  People who tell her she looks like her dad are absolutely right.  She does.  Maybe not exactly like him; she does have my smile and my hair.  (It’s only through the advances of modern chemistry that I am blonder than when I was a child.)  But even to the casual observer her resemblance to him is undeniable, though obviously in a more feminine and youthful form.  And she really looks very little like her mommy to the right.
Knowing how Audra feels about this, I don’t dwell on the subject for long when it comes up.  But I do seize the opportunity to tell her something she wants to hear: that while she may not look like me, she is just like me in many ways.  We’re both lovers of flowers, pastel colors, decorating, painting, fancy things, story writing, big words, and too many other things to list completely, and we have very similar sensitive, emotional personalities.  I also remind her that the Lord has given her unique interests all her own, like cooking, inventing, and knitting, among other things.  I point out the special strengths she has that I don’t, like her fierce determination to keep trying something until she succeeds, a quality I admire and do not possess.  And eventually I’ll turn the conversation back to her deepest desire to have a common bond, and discuss with her how much we both love butterflies.  That’s really what she wants to hear.
Knowing how much she looks up to me and wants to emulate me gives me good cause to watch my mouth and my actions, and do my best to give her something worth imitating.  When I see her with her hands on her hips looking at one of her brothers with a finger up his nose, to which she’ll say, “Somebody needs some hand sanitizer,” I know where she’s heard it and seen it.  It reminds me that she’s watching my every move, and I ought to offer behavior of high quality for her observation.
I love that she looks like her daddy.  She has his big brown eyes and those high cheekbones, among so many other gorgeous features.  She’s beautiful.  And I love that she and I have our affection for flowers and butterflies in common.  But I hope that as she grows up I get the message across to her that I love her for the unique and lovely girl the Lord created her to be, inside and out.  I also pray fervently that she will make the decision to trust and follow Him.  That is the most important thing we could share.

November 27, 2010

The village people...

Every year on the day after Thanksgiving we begin getting ready for Christmas, just like many of you.  For us that doesn’t mean shopping, which I prefer to do online as much as possible.  Instead I spend the day at home with my own little crowd, and get the help of the next in line to bring a little Christmas cheer to our place.
From the Christmas just before I was married to the last one she spent here before going to be with the Lord, my grandmother bought me a new Dickens Village building each year, along with lots of little accessories.  When our kids were younger I would carve out a few hours on the day after Thanksgiving, get them occupied elsewhere in the house, and spend that time carefully arranging the miniature village in hard-to-reach low-traffic locations in the house.  I’d set up ye olde houses and stores in little clusters with bustling crowds of old-fashioned people and lots of fake snow.  I loved changing it from year to year, adding the newest from the previous Christmas and plotting out new places in our home to display my lit-up charming collection where they wouldn’t get broken.  After a few hours of work (and play) at this task, I’d light it up, show the kids, tell them not to touch anything, tell them again, remind them once more, and quickly shoo them away.
A few years ago that all changed.  Our son Scott was eleven at the time, and offered to give me a hand.  In the previous few years I had used him to entertain our younger kids while I worked on it, but our twin boys were now five and our daughter three, and they were capable of entertaining themselves far from the action.  After seeing the different perspective Scott brought to the process I realized we had a new tradition in the making.  I watched as he carefully placed things in unique ways I’d never thought of, and marveled at how fresh and new it all looked when he was finished.  The other kids loved what he had done with the village and wondered when they would get to try it too.  It was decided then and there that the kids would take turns each year being my special helper, from oldest to youngest.
Zach’s turn came the next Christmas, being the older twin, and he too had a completely different approach.  At just six years old he was much younger than Scott had been, so I handled the buildings while he placed the little people, trees, and other accessories in his logical and careful way, creating a very serene and gentle setting.  Last year it was Daniel’s turn, age seven at that time, and he brought his quirky sense of humor to it, placing bagpipers all around Scrooge’s accounting firm where Scrooge can be seen inside working away at his desk.  Daniel said, “No matter how hard he tries, he can’t get his work done with them there.”  Daniel also enjoyed burying people up to their necks in fake snow.
And now onto Christmas Present.  After great patience on her part, yesterday was finally little Audra’s turn.  I watched as she brought her sweet feminine touch to it.  Though she is only six years old, she was so gentle with everything as we unpacked them from boxes that I allowed her free reign, with my only responsibility being the plugging in of each item.  She turned our living room and dining room into a nineteenth century winter wonderland in no time at all.  With the collection of buildings now and forever numbering sixteen, she meticulously arranged them in small groups on end tables, chests, and our piano.  She did so well at all of this that I then unpacked my snowman collection and our other few Christmas decorations and let her at them.  A natural decorator, she arranged everything with her whimsical and artistic approach, and skipped and smiled her way through our special time together.
As she finished off the last of her feminine wintry touches to the temporary new look of our home, I pointed out to her that next year would have been Scott’s turn, if he weren’t going to be fifteen at that time and wholly disinterested in such things.  So instead it will be Zach, who will be nine then.  The next year Daniel will be ten and may still be interested in helping.  The year after, when she is nine, it will be her turn again, and with the boys aging and losing interest, she would likely never have to relinquish control again, and would be my helper from that point on.  We smiled at each other as we saw all the girly fun waiting for us in Christmas Future.
Spending this special time one-on-one with my kids each year has turned a tedious but worthwhile task into a precious and more meaningful one.  I get to see the unique qualities of each child shine as we quietly create together, and they get to enjoy doing something besides math and phonics with their mom.  The kids haven’t broken any of these fragile gifts from my grandmother yet, though obviously there is that risk their help brings.  I know she would agree that what we’re building together is worth the risk.

November 26, 2010

Where an ivory elephant feels at home with the Three Stooges...

Today will be a busy and fun day out here in the Wilburness, one that you’ll likely see described tomorrow.  So today, with time a scarce commodity, family and friends, I’ll just share a quick little something about little somethings.
I have had this printer’s box since I was a young girl.  Its contents have changed frequently through the years, but it is always filled with tiny things that mean something to me or simply amuse me.  For those unfamiliar with this sort of thing, it’s a tray-like drawer from a chest a printer would have long ago (the human kind, not that machine on your desk).  It would hold the letters to be placed for setting the type of something to be printed.  This, for you trivia lovers, is why we refer to our letters as “upper case” and “lower case”, the locations in such a chest of drawers for each type of letter.
Mine serves a different purpose, hung on a wall to display old and new little treasures, none of which have any real value apart from sentimental or whimsical.  I parted with a good portion of its contents not long ago to help supply my daughter’s newly remodeled dollhouse, so it’s sparser than it once was.  I view that as an opportunity to go hunting for replacements.  Other petite mementos and perhaps some new miniatures will find a home there, and become part of a hodge-podge of odds and ends that only look right together when gathered there.  Where else would a Smurf look like he belongs with your grandmother’s porcelain brooch?
If this intrigues you and you love miniatures like I do, you can pick up one of these printer’s boxes on eBay or in antique stores fairly inexpensively.  They look lovely done in a sophisticated manner or a somewhat goofy one like mine.  They’re as personal as what you fill them with.  And if you stop by my house and take a close look and see something you like in it, tell me.  I’ve been known to send these little items home with admirers.  It brings a smile to someone’s face, and opens up a vacancy begging to be occupied by whatever strikes my fancy.

November 25, 2010

The Pilgrims would have preferred steak...

Year by year, some holidays look exactly the same as the previous ones from start to finish.  Thanksgiving was that way when I was growing up.  We spent the early morning with my dad’s side of the family having breakfast together and going on a long hike.  Afternoon came and my parents, my older brother and I would head over to the home of very special friends of the family and sit down to a traditional meal of turkey and all the usual tasty side dishes followed by the guys watching football, the two moms sitting in a different room chatting, and young Laura finding a quiet spot to read a book while listening in on the two ladies.  This was the pattern for years, and was our tradition.

Audra helps her grandma
last Thanksgiving
Traditions change when you get married.  Couples have to figure out how to mesh two established sets of them into one new one, a process that evolves over time as children are added, families move, and so on.  Our experience has been no different.  We have developed our own traditions in the sixteen years we’ve been married.  Some were by recycling ones from each of our childhoods; most just fit who we are as a family.  We're not people who do things just because we've always done them that way; we like to consider carefully what we do and why we do it, and change it when necessary.  Thanksgiving dinner is no exception.

We generally spend Thanksgiving with my parents, who live close by.  Sometimes my mom cooks, sometimes I do.  Though the participants are the same year to year, the menu is what is unpredictable.  Many years ago we all realized over a fairly traditional meal that turkey was something we tolerated, not something we looked forward to.  We determined then and there to break with this somewhat dry and tasteless component of Thanksgiving and try something new the next time.
We began with baby steps, switching the next year to a chicken dish that was a family favorite, but keeping all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes.  That became the new tradition for a short time, but eventually we came to the point of choosing year by year what we are in the mood to eat.  We boldly rewrite history each year, imagining that the Pilgrims and Native Americans had enjoyed lasagna together, or steaks on the grill, or even had abandoned a big meal in favor of an all-dessert celebration.  I don’t think they would mind.  Besides, I’m pretty sure they never had green bean casserole.

Daniel and Audra enjoy the ramp
their grandpa set up for them last year
What doesn’t change year to year is that it’s a nice time to spend with each other.  The kids play, the grown-ups talk, and we enjoy a time away from the usual day-to-day routine.  Just like most of you, it is not the only day of the year that we’re thankful.  We’re grateful to our Heavenly Father for the abundant blessings He’s given us: a loving family, our health, a home, employment for Joe, seeing us through hard times, and most of all, we are thankful that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and that He rose from the dead, accomplishing salvation for those who trust in Him like we do.  But we certainly don’t need a holiday to tell us to be thankful for these things.  Every day He’s good to us.  Our gratitude should happen with the same frequency.
That doesn’t mean we can’t also enjoy Thanksgiving, which to our family is a day to have a great meal, whatever it may be, and have fun playing and spending time together.  That’s a tradition worth keeping.  And as for me, today I am especially thankful to not be eating turkey.
Paper airplanes: a new tradition in the making?

November 24, 2010

Something you can't really sink your teeth into...

Our home is not exactly eclectic in its d├ęcor, though it is very personal and reflects who we are far more than it does conventional decorating rules.  You won’t find an old traffic light flashing in our family room or anything like that, but among the colorful rooms filled with family photos and heirlooms, you will see an odd thing or two.  One of them is a giant wooden watermelon.
This perfectly-shaped-for-this-idea hunk of wood came from my parents’ house when they had trees removed.  They remarked how much it looked like a piece of watermelon and ought to be painted that way.  I asked if I could have it to do so, bearing in mind that it didn't have to turn out actually looking like real watermelon, since we weren't going to eat it.  With no formal plan, I just gathered some paint I already had around, a peachy pink used in our daughter’s room and some acrylics I had from other projects, and set to work, making it up as I went along.  When it finally looked enough like the real deal to me just a short while later, I offered it back to my parents for their home.  Since my mom’s taste is far more refined than mine, she declined and kindly let me keep my giant pink watermelon.
Recognizing that not everyone appreciates enormous brightly-painted wooden fruit, I will simply encourage you to look around and see what you could transform into something you enjoy with just a little paint job.  Maybe it’s a child-sized chair that isn’t sturdy enough to sit on, but would look cute with a fresh new color sitting in a corner with a potted plant on it.  Use some leftover paint from redoing a room you love, and put the chair in a different room altogether so you can enjoy that color in more than one place.  You could even paint your last name on it, or cutesy it up with hearts or flowers if you're so inclined, or stripes, or checks - whatever suits you.  Perhaps you can have your kids find some bigger toy blocks and paint their first names or just a picture on them, then display them on your mantle.  Maybe take one of those blocks yourself and see what you can create.
You don’t have to be an artist to do this.  You just have to have a little imagination, patience, and tolerance for end results that are as imperfect as the wood on which they’re painted.  If it’s going to sit in your home, then only you and your family have to like it.  That’s how we Wilburs look at many things about our way of life, and oversized fruit is no exception.

November 23, 2010

Perpetual filth...

Audra gives herself a dirt shower

I’m one who can easily feel overwhelmed by my perception of the magnitude of any problem.  I’m emotional by nature, and decidedly illogical when I react on instinct alone.  So when I face a challenge and this feeling comes over me, I have to fight that nature and force myself to take a deep breath, step back, and examine what’s in front of me in a more analytical fashion.  This is what I have to do on a regular basis when it comes to coping with the never-ending supply of dirt and germs one does battle with in the role of homemaker.  I stand by my claim that some cleaning jobs can wait, and that time with our kids is more important, but houses do need to be kept somewhat sanitary.  With four kids who are home all day every day, it’s nearly hopeless.
Zach tries to catch minnows by hand
It is very easy to feel in-over-your-head on this one.  Kids, by virtue of how they live their carefree little lives, are dirty.  First of all, depending on their age, they have little to no regard for the microscopic germ world.  They also love to play outside and drag it all back in.  When it comes to eating, the messier and stickier something is, the better it tastes to them.  When they’re babies and toddlers, their pants are a port-a-potty.  I could go on, if it weren’t for that overwhelming feeling of helplessness creeping in.
What family doesn't have a picture like this one?
But as with other times when I feel inundated and incapable of finding my way out, when I break this down into smaller, more manageable pieces I can survive and somehow keep the filth level at a minimum.  Let’s look at an only somewhat fictitious scenario and watch the mess move into and out of a home:
Grandma comes over to drop off a little something for the kids: blue frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles on top.  The kids come running in from building a fort outside, kicking their shoes off by the door in their feeble effort to help keep the place clean.  Chunks of mud can be heard falling off them as they rush to the kitchen.  Before you know what’s happening, they dig in to the cookies, hands covered in dirt and countless outdoor microscopic enemies.  They scarf down the cookies, “clean” the table, scramble to put those muddy sneakers back on and run back out with big blue grins.  Grandma goes on her way, pleased  to have brought such cute smiles to her sweet grandchildren’s faces.
Five minutes have passed, and suddenly the landscape looks different in the house.  The kitchen that was just cleaned before Grandma got there is now covered in rainbow sprinkles, crumbs, sticky milk spots from the kids pouring it in haste to go with the cookies, blue frosting smears, and little chunks of mud.  There’s also a Hansel-and-Gretel-style trail leading to and from the door, not of bread crumbs, but of dried mud.
This is about the time I’d be ready to cry in frustration and despair, wondering if my battle with filth will ever end.  But wait; take that deep breath and step back.  Find your inner Spock and be logical.  The mess came in, now send it out where it came from.  Start at the messiest spot, the scene of the crime, the table.  There’s too much to sweep into your hand.  Get a rag, soak it with hot water and dishwashing liquid, scrub the surface of the table, and send everything on it down onto the floor.  Do the same to the chair seats, which you discover are in the same condition as the table.  Now sweep.  Get that mess out from under and around the table, and keep sweeping your pile together, bringing it along as you follow your children’s path back to the door.
When you get there, put all that dirty, crumbly, sprinkly, sticky mess into the dustpan.  Don’t bring it to the garbage can back in the kitchen; instead, open the door, dump it in the yard or garden (bugs and birds like cookies too, you know) and take another deep breath.  Step back, and look at those blue-mouthed kids, busy once again with building a fort, enjoying themselves.  They’re talking about the great cookies Grandma brought, and how she always brings them such great stuff.  They’re as happy as can be, and couldn’t care less about messes and such.  They may be the cause of your need to clean up, but they’re also the reason you bother with it at all, trying to make a nice place for them to grow up.  Their happy little faces remind you that it’s all worthwhile.

Audra's first birthday:
just like her brothers before her,
a mess-maker in training

That’s not to say that it’s not frustrating and overwhelming to see what you just cleaned transformed into a landfill in a few short  minutes before your very eyes.  But it is the nature of running a house with children in it.  Will it ever end?  Not until they grow up.  But no mess they make can defeat you if you make sure they are doing what they can to help, and you handle it in a logical way, one step at time.  Just focus on the skirmish with filth at hand, and clean it up without letting yourself worry about the certainty of the next battle soon to come.  It will be less overwhelming that way.  Then put the mess-of-the-moment where it belongs: in the garbage or outside, and off of your mind.
And maybe mention to Grandma how much the children would like some sliced apples next time.

November 22, 2010

The family tree...

My great-great-grandparents
and their five children
on their 50th wedding anniversary
(my great-grandfather, center of top row)
As I’ve mentioned before, family trumps friends for us, with all due respect to our friends.  Perhaps that would explain why presently I have a mere 202 Facebook friends while there are 869 relatives listed in my family tree on my little laptop.  I know that logically it doesn’t explain anything – there’s obviously a greater supply of relatives to find if you go far enough back than there are friends to dig up out of my past and present over my thirty-nine years of life.  But building this family tree is indicative of just how important family is to me.  In fact, it’s important to note that among my “friends” on Facebook are many relatives, close and distant. 

My mother with my grandmother
and great-grandmother
I am an amateur genealogist.  By amateur, I mean that I really don’t have any idea how to officially and properly document anything I find out, though the computer program I use to store the information and build my tree has the capability of recording my sources, adding footnotes, and blah, blah, blah.  I don’t care about all this; I’m just looking for names, dates, places, and most of all, the stories of their lives.
My paternal grandmother
and great-grandmother

Amateur also means nobody pays me anything to do this work.  It’s just something I like to do.  For well over a decade now I’ve been compiling information and piecing together my family’s history, though always with the guideline of never having to leave my comfy chair to do it.  I am a through-and-through stay-at-home mom.  I try not to let hobbies or anything else take me away from my kids.  But this is something I can do in the comfort of my home.  I started with a good framework to spring from, listening to older family members who could tell me things about ancestors they had known but I hadn’t.  I also have my handy-dandy computer program, keeping me from having to use my faulty memory or way too much paper.  With our lineage now traced back fourteen generations in one particular branch, it would take a lot of masking tape and construction paper to build a hard copy of the family tree, so I’m satisfied to build and explore it electronically on my laptop.  That is also where I make use of the greatest aid in my effort to learn what I can without leaving home: everybody’s favorites source of information, the internet.
There are many official resources on the internet that have been a help.  There are also some websites you pay for, but I have avoided those for the most part.  But most of my work is built on the hard work of others, having found on the internet a few relatives who actually knew what they were doing in the area of genealogy, and who kindly shared their information with me.  It caused me to make an exception to the never leaving home policy and meet up with one such relative, my father’s second cousin, whom I’d never met before.  She generously shared everything she had with me, and much of that 869 is thanks to her.  So I will not lay claim to putting an awful lot of effort into that ever-growing tree; but it still is important enough to me to continue to piece it together and work on it when I have time.  It’s an easy project to set aside and pick up whenever I’m so inclined, making it a perfect hobby for a somewhat busy mom.

My husband's grandparents

I don’t limit my “research”, if you can call it that, to just my own line, but to my husband’s side of our family too.  He has no interest in such a pursuit.  He enjoys hearing what I’ve discovered when I find something new on his side of the tree, but only the basic facts and only for a few minutes.  He’s much more of one to live in the present, while I’m one to walk down memory lane and lose myself in it for a while, sitting under the peaceful shade of the family tree, enjoying new discoveries about the life stories of the people we come from, or reminding myself of ones I’ve known for years but that still bring a smile to my face.
I do enjoy this little long-term project, but not for personal gain.  (Though there are rumors we descend from royalty – I’ll keep you posted on that one.  Maybe I could shop at Walmart less often if that turns out to be true.)  I’m doing it to share it with my children.  None of them care right now, but someday I hope they will.  Should our sons take after their dad and give it only a passing glance, perhaps at least our daughter will take after me and cherish the family tree I’ve built so far, and continue to expand it with whatever resources she’ll have access to someday.  And then hopefully it’ll keep being passed along to future generations, who I may or may not meet, but who will know a little something about us.
And so I continue on, gathering details of the lives of our ancestors.  Should it turn out we have blue blood, I’ll keep on blogging, but maybe speaking less of dirty toilets and managing the laundry.  I’ll have the servants do that.  But should the more likely scenario occur, continuing to discover that we come from regular people just like us, I’ll still be here talking about my family, sometimes those from the past, but mostly the precious ones who live here in the Wilburness with me.  They’re everything to me.

November 21, 2010

Top o' the mornin' to ya...

None of our kids were the type of babies or toddlers to just put anything they found on the floor into their mouths.  Call it a keen sense of what is edible, an advanced palette unwilling to dabble in dirt and marbles, or whatever you like, but they all were cautious and selective from the very beginning about what they would dare allow in their mouths.
No such discretion existed for what would go on top of their heads.  Our little people were hat people.  Our kids loved their wacky and varied headwear when they were younger.  With total abandon they’d throw anything up there on their little coconuts, and parade around as proud as can be of their dapper new look.  We gladly contributed to the supply of choices, be it a pizza box or a bucket, or just any old adult-sized hat.
Those days have nearly faded away, with now only the youngest willing and eager to wear something on her head, but seldom a big, floppy, silly one.  She has a favorite hat with a cute little elephant on it that she loves, a gift from her grandparents.  It fits her just right, and though she looks sweet in it, I do also miss the days where she’d wear one of her great-grandmother’s hand-me-down frou-frou hats to embellish her princess/ballerina look, or one of her grandfather's hand-me-down freebies from some company or another.  She’s the last of the hat-wearers whose taste has matured beyond those baby days.  And her older brothers certainly no longer have any interest in wearing boxes, buckets, or particularly anything girly that would have been cute at age two, but decidedly not now.  Growing up is exactly what they are supposed to do, and I wouldn’t want them to go backwards.  But I do miss those goofy hats.
If you have little ones scurrying around your place, perhaps you could dig through your house and gather a collection of things to top them off with, and see if your kids are hat people like my people.  And be sure to take lots of pictures; those days pass all too quickly.

November 20, 2010

The life of the party...

Nothing's more fun than
dancing in your dad's shoes
There’s likely one in every family.  That one who cracks you up, who makes you laugh and shake your head in disbelief at what they are doing this time.  In our house, that’s our Daniel.

The other kids are funny too, but Daniel has a unique quality about him.  He’s inherently silly.  In our family that’s not an insult; it’s the highest form of praise.  We’re serious around here about serious stuff: spiritual topics, respect for parents, kindness toward one another, and so on.  But when it comes to time spent having fun together, give us some silliness.  Our eight-year-old Daniel is always ready to provide the main attraction.  He's always in motion, and he loves to be the center of attention.  That obviously could spiral into something negative very quickly, but when it’s reined in and focused on entertaining the troops, he lights up and is in his element.  It might be a goofy dance, a funny face, or his uncanny ability to make the flesh on his skinny little abdomen roll like the waves of the sea.  Whatever he comes up with, it usually has us rolling too.

He even makes us laugh when he’s just trying to entertain himself.  At lunchtime one day, he was quietly and rhythmically raising and lowering his forearm while eating his sandwich with his other hand.  This went on for a couple minutes before I finally just had to ask, “Daniel, what are you doing?”  In a matter-of-fact tone he replied, “Chopping robots.”  Simple enough explanation.

The shirtless sheriff

You just never know what you’re going to get with him, and he’s been that way from the very beginning of his life.  When our pediatrician gave him his first physical, little newborn Daniel was wiggling around so much compared to his more sedate twin Zach that the doctor declared, “Well, he’s the squirrely one.”  Daniel is always on the go, and always ready to entertain us.
The comedian in his younger years
We don’t squash that silliness too often, though there is a time and a place for everything.  We do have to help him know when it’s appropriate to do his act.  But aside from his entertaining ways, among his other fine qualities are tenderheartedness and willingness to listen and obey.  Without feeling hurt by us putting an end to his crazy antics, he’ll happily pause the comedic routine and save it for later when told to.  Combined with all the other things that make Daniel who he is, it’s a wonderful recipe for a very special son.
So if you have a Daniel among you, I suggest you encourage the silliness, in its proper place and time.  Let them entertain you.  Families are often looking for inexpensive ways to have fun together.  For us, that starts at home with our squirrely one.

November 19, 2010

"And that's how you do it..."

Featured here and in all the other photos are what I consider
more important than clean stovetops, at the ages they were
at the time of my little story

Nearly every time that I notice how filthy my stovetop is, I find myself remembering a dinner with friends at our home several years ago that taught me things about the viewpoint of the young, my own pride, and accepting that sometimes something’s got to give.
At the time our children were 8, 2, 2, and 0, which was what the 2 year-olds would say back then concerning their infant sister’s age.  I had worked very hard that day cleaning up the mess that accompanies such household occupants to be ready for our guests, and put a great deal of thought and effort into the meal we would have, planning carefully how I could time everything to be ready all at once, and be both hot and delicious.  Somewhere between two different nap schedules, which clearly mean two different awake schedules, school for our older son, normal household responsibilities and so on, I tried with all my might to make the house and the meal as lovely as possible.  I set the table with our best dishes early in the afternoon to be sure it got done, cleared the air of the smell of three diaper-producers, swept up the dust bunnies which were exactly as old as our baby, vacuumed, scrubbed, polished, wiped down, and/or washed every surface I could think of and find time for in an attempt to make the house sparkle.  As for the meal, it needed to be something easy to make, but tasty, so I went with a dish our family just calls Swiss Chicken.
Shortly after my twelve-hour juggling act of preparation our guests arrived, and I brought the Swiss Chicken and all its companion side dishes to our table, ready to be enjoyed as a backdrop to great conversation.  I had already fed our children something else before they came, and put the younger  three to bed for the night with the oldest playing nicely on his own, so that my husband and I could enjoy a quiet evening with adults.  Our friends that came that evening are closer to our parents’ age than ours, but we had a wonderful time together.  Their youngest daughter was with them, only about twenty years old at the time.  A thoughtful and sweet young lady, she stood up when dinner was done, cleared the table and set to work doing the dishes, with her mom pitching right in too.  I tried to insist on helping, more from my control-freak nature than anything else, but they quickly got the job done without me.
As I got our coffee and dessert ready, I turned to see this thoughtful young woman taking off the removable parts from my stovetop.  She was cleaning the used-to-be-white surface with vigor and determination.  I tried to stop her, informing her that 97% of the encrusted grime was not from this evening’s meal, and I would get to it later.  Apparently in my juggle-a-thon that day I had missed that spot.  She continued on, dedicated to her goal of restoring it to like-new condition.  Unable to thwart her mission, upon its completion I simply thanked her and complimented her on how clean she had gotten it.  With a well-intentioned demonstration and explanation, she proceeded to “teach” me how it is that one goes about cleaning a stovetop.
I had listened to the whole cleaning lesson feigning interest, as she finished it off with, “…and that’s how you do it.”  I resisted the urge to scream out, “Now tell me how you do it while you’re also homeschooling a third grader, taking care of twin toddlers and a new baby, changing twenty diapers a day,  getting five hours of sleep on a good night and running a household that has way too many toilets!  Tell me, how?!?!”  I knew this young woman had meant no harm or insult.  She just simply didn’t understand what she was seeing, and couldn’t have.  In her young, single, and living with her parents world, she had only herself to take care of.  She was generous enough to be a help to me that night, for which I was grateful.  But she couldn’t relate to my world, and couldn’t see that sometimes you just can’t do it all, even if you know how to do each part of it.  I knew the work I had put into preparing for their visit, and I’m quite sure my pride was injured that she had pointed out the one place I missed.  If she had seen the house at the beginning of the day, or dropped in unexpectedly sometime and saw how we really live, she would have cringed at the true level of ignored filth.
To me, the kids come first, and the rest can wait.  I cleaned that day because people were coming over, and wanted to look like I had it all together.  As much as I’d like to say I’ve grown since then and don’t worry about what people think of how clean my house is anymore, I’m sorry to report I still do.  (Although posting your nastiest toilet for the world to see is progress in the pride-dropping department.)  But day-to-day, when no one outside of family is here, I don’t really care what the place looks like.  I keep our house clean enough to prevent illness, tidy enough to not cause injury, and organized enough to maintain sanity.  But I’m not going to spend my life making the house sparkle.  To this day I only spruce up the stovetop when people are coming over, provided I remember to.
Taking good care of my children is by far my highest priority.  And though I certainly don’t spend every waking moment with them, and there are plenty of lazy reasons why the cleaning isn’t done more thoroughly, I like life this way.  If only I could bring myself to let other people see that my house is just as messy as theirs is.  Writing about it here lets all of you in a little, but I’m thinking maybe some of you should just stop by unexpectedly – it would be good for my personal growth.  Please just don’t show me how to clean my stovetop.

November 18, 2010

One at a time...

My husband Joe is the kind of dad who loves to teach our kids fun and useful skills, and is wonderful at explaining things to them in ways they can each understand.  He knows each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and personalities like any good dad would.  He’s taught them how to fish, how to ride a bike, how to play chess, among many other interesting things, but always in an individualized way, knowing they each learn differently.  He likes to take them out to exciting places whenever he can too, often as a whole family, but especially one child at a time to a place they’re interested in, giving them his undivided attention and teaching them all he can about it.

Taken over Hagerstown, Maryland
when Joe and Scott flew to Gettysburg
together for the day
Being this kind of father has translated into one of our favorite parts of the week in our home.  Every Sunday evening, Joe spends time one on one with each child teaching them his favorite subject, and the kids look forward to their turn with great anticipation.  For about a half an hour each, Joe does a Bible study with them in a way that makes sense to  them and meets their needs.  At present, he is studying the book of Revelation with Scott, the book of John with Zach, Hebrews with Daniel, and Esther with Audra.  While they each have their half hour, the other three kids are in our family room on another floor so as not to disturb them, doing something fun but of less eternal value, like watching SpongeBob.  I also steer clear of the living room where Joe teaches each child, but usually get some work done in a room nearby where I enjoy the benefit of four Bible studies without being a distraction.

The kids love having their dad’s full attention, and he loves teaching them.  It is what we are here for.  Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is central to who we are and what we believe is the meaning of life.  We know without a doubt that we need to teach His Word, the Bible, to our children, while also recognizing that the Lord gives them each a choice to follow and trust Him or not.  It is our goal to teach them to read the Bible for themselves and understand what it says.  They are learning how to discern what others teach them, including us, and compare it to what they read there.  And Joe is taking them each through it, not telling them what he thinks, but showing them what the Lord says.
As much fun as they can have together fishing, bike-riding, playing chess, and even flying in an airplane to far away adventures, nothing compares to that.