Sunday morning stroll through the woods

I decided to do a Sunday morning hike (primarily motivated by the fact my treadmill is on the fritz — again, and it was so gorgeously fall-lovely outside, I wanted to be a part of it). I thought I would amuse myself with a little photo-journal of the hike, with snippets of my own reflections as I progressed. And, if it’s an enticement to draw some of my BFFs I haven’t seen in ages to come stay with me for a week, all the better!

I started out by the rail road bed. My first musing as I’m walking is how Gerald O’Hara I’m getting, “Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” I really dig having property. It’s a lot of work, but when we leave it to the kids, hopefully one out of the six will appreciate it. 🙂

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This is actually part of the old M-K-T rail line that runs across the southern boundaries of our property. This is where the meth heads used to come and burn the plastic off the copper wiring before we put up the gate, and gave a copy of the key to the landowner on the south side of the rail road bed. Now the meth heads just come and ask to “arrowhead hunt” which my husband generally agrees to because, in many ways, he’s nicer than I am. Or, possibly not as aware that they’re in fact drug abusers — something which I can pick up on in about 30 seconds.

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This is the “road” up the hill where husband likes to cut brush. He really, really enjoys cutting brush. Like, it’s a hobby for him. If he’s got some chump to follow and “paint the stumps” (put something on the stumps that kills them for good, so they don’t regrow) then he’s in hog heaven. He also likes to brush hog, hence my many, beautiful walking paths (center picture). Then, I just loved this shot of some redneck’s “hunting chair.” I think this has been there 2-3 years.

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Oh look! Two paths diverged into a wood . . . you can surely guess which path I took.

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This looks like a passel of Sunday afternoon family fun. Haul up the wood splitter, and we’ll be good to go.

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This is my *most* favorite hiking path to take on our property. He’s got about 12 different paths brushhogged off of this one. I can never remember what he calls it, though. “The old logging road?” That might be it. I also love playing the game of looking for the No Trespassing signs, which are ancient ones he’s wired up in some capacity, generally as a marker. No one but family is back in the middle of this area. Still, you can always say, “Follow the old logging road up past the old barn foundation (which is rotted away, but the cement is still there), and you’ll see the white no trespassing sign. Beyond that is the white sleeper stand, and then you’ll go left  . . . . “

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This is the white sleeper stand (deer stand), but it’s somewhat creepy because critters crawl in there, and the only people who might actually want something this secure to hunt in (as versus a small seat with a small railing 30 foot up in the air, for the *real* hunters) are also likely scared of encountering a family of possums, in a small, urine-smelling stand at 5:30 in the morning, in the dark. Or namely, me.

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Who could fail to appreciate walking in such beauty on a quiet, crisp morning? Not this gal. I was half-tempted to pick up some of the acorns I kept coming across, because I was thinking like a 4-year old (or rather, thinking how delighted Miles might be if I showed up with a handful of acorns for him, since I left him wailing at home with sisters because I wouldn’t let him come along). However, I didn’t have pockets in my exercise pants (what’s up with that, anyway?) and the only other spot would awkwardly be my bra. This was my sweet hiking companion, Lady the Beagle. She was with me about half the time, but the other half she was off baying magnificently to let me know she found a trail of a rabbit. She’s sweet. She’s no Trixie, but she’s got a good heart, and the pup is on lockdown since he’s been killing chickens.

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The creek crossing was dry, but it was a doosy to get down the hill to that point. Very good for my thighs, I’m sure. My fat thighs. They need to see more hill action. Then, another lovely brushhogged path husband made for me.

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This one is interesting — evidently on an iPhone you can take pictures with your volume button. Since I didn’t know that, and kept trying to adjust the volume up or down on my morning hike playlist, I got home to about 150 extra pictures. Interesting, yes? Rather looks like a hippy-lover’s acid trip. And, I would assume the majority of my reading audience has not dropped acid, so you can just trust me on this. Just say no to drugs.

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Then, a dilemma. Here are the soybeans, and here is the pasture (with cows and ragweed galore). I decided to take the path along the edge of the soybean field. Much longer way home, but walking through rag weed on a September morning didn’t sound that appealing.

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This is one of husband’s favorite deer tree stands. He calls it the “Sycamore Stand.” Three guesses why! I was so tickled when the soybean field ended, and I saw the fence row home (mind you, it was still about 3/4 mile from home). Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that the soybean field ended at the bottom of a monster hill. This next picture is me stopping to admire the fencing handwork of my husband — truly the best fence builder I know. It had nothing at all to do with gasping for breath and screaming calves.

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Oh look! Home, sweet home! And one happy, sweaty Mama. Got in 3.15 miles all told, and a nice Sunday morning.

Coming Out

I saw something yesterday on facebook that had me rolling with laughter. It was this picture:

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I have been pretty candid with my close friends, when we discuss life issues, and I am pretty sure I’ve recently lost someone I perceived as a good friend because of my more “liberal” ideological position. I put “liberal” in quotation marks because I am actually a moderate, by most considerations of the continuum. I’m a liberal next to many of my good friends in the church, and I’m a conservative next to my LIBERAL (notice all caps — she’d appreciate that) girlfriend Jadi. Inasmuch as we can’t evaluate social class outside of relativity, I think we cannot evaluate ideology outside of relativity. But then again, that might just be my Marxism showing.

All that aside, I think it’s time to officially come out. Yes . . . yes, I am an Ally. What does that mean, really? It means I support gay rights. I support equality for *everyone* (people of color, people who practice a different faith than I, people of a different sexual orientation than I, people who are subjugated for whatever reason). As a straight white Christian woman living in very rural Missouri, this isn’t a conversation I have with many. My pre-Missouri friends know my position, and know it well (I’ve certainly dragged my daughters to rallies in grad school). Now I think they, too, would be considered Allies. Will that happen with Miles and Ruth? Lord, I hope so.

I probably lost a lot of people with that single plea, but I mean it! “Lord, I hope so!” I want to raise my children in a realm of loving acceptance. Yes, I am a Christian. I dig the Word. I talk daily to my Savior. I am comfortable with my walk in faith. Yes, I understand there’s much in the Old Testament that speaks out against homosexuality. However, God’s grace and Jesus changed all of that – Mosaic Law does not need to hold us captive any longer (thankfully, because some of the responses were pretty harsh). There are two things we need to be mindful of – Loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s huge to me. That stands out more than anything else in the Bible (to me). For any scripture someone can show me an anti-homosexual castigation, I can show you one of Jesus’ love and acceptance. Unfortunately, there’s this “hush-hush” perspective that anyone who *really* is a Christian can’t support gay rights. That’s so judgmental. Judgement is not my place.

My place is to offer love. It’s not to judge someone who’s gay. It’s not to judge someone who is cohabitating. It’s not to judge someone who is on their 4th marriage. I’ve heard a lot from other Christians about the need to hold people accountable for their behaviors, but I think that gets taken out of context. It was specifically addressing other Christians within the church – it wasn’t talking about us having a role being the policing moderators of sexuality in the world at large. Does that mean we don’t have a responsibility to keep pornography off the television where children can see it? No, that’s silly. We still need to be responsible for raising our children as children. So many people lump homosexuality in with pornography, or pedophilia, or bestiality, etc. That’s sheer ignorance. Please educate yourself. Opening up gay rights (in particular, marital rights) isn’t going to open the door for people to marry their dogs, marry children, or marry their toasters.

In all likelihood, you know someone who is gay. You can either be frowning upon their “lifestyle choice” or loving them as they are. I have a lot of close, gay friends, and I love them. It saddens me to see that they can’t marry, or make medical decisions for their partner, or adopt children together (in many states). I think most of them don’t even care if you accept them (it would be nice, but not pivotal). What’s imperative is that gay couples be afforded the same rights within our society as straight couples.

I don’t have a problem being friends with people who feel differently than me – I’m just not going to keep my positions to myself simply to avoid discomfiting you. I’m not going to force my opinions on you – you’re entitled to hold your own, as am I. I’m not going to argue with you about whether its right or wrong, or what God says, or whether our country is going to hell in a handbasket (which, I would argue it likely is, but certainly that’s not related to gay rights). I’m not going to worry if you feel alienated, or want to unfriend me on facebook, or ignore my emails (I’m quick to take a hint). Frankly, I think we need to be discomfited. We need to create some social change. Yes, I am an Ally.

The Bad Rap of “Controlling” Behaviors

I was reading through the Bible for my study, and it referenced the Wife of Noble Character (a/k/a the Proverbs Woman, from Proverbs 31:10-31). In this, the wife of noble character is hard working, manages her household staff efficiently, toils through the night when necessary, provides good food and a clean home for her family, is experienced with trade and brings in wealth for her household, serves the poor, takes good care of her appearance, and brings her husband respect.

I freely confess I am a *long* way from being a Proverbs woman, but by the same token, I absolutely hold her up as an ideal, and an attainable ideal, at that. I think in 30-40 years I might have mastered these things if I continue to seek God in the daily choices that I make.

Unfortunately, though, I’m often considered as “controlling,” which I admit, raises my hackles a bit. There’s just such a negative connotation with being a “controlling woman” (in particular, it’s negative when associated with women, as men are encouraged to be controlling since it’s ‘manly’ and all that other sexist gendered stuff).

When I’ve been told I am “controlling” it’s often in the context of my interactions with my children (such as not letting my daughters wear make-up until they’re 14), or with my husband (although I have no specifics on that, but he’s mentioned his family perceives me as such). I’m trying to work through my feelings on this. On the one hand, I want people to think well of me – not in the people pleasing or codependent way, but just have an overall good regard. I don’t lose sleep when people don’t like me, and I don’t go out of my way to curry their favor (it is what it is). Still, when I hear I’ve been considered “controlling” I get defensive, because I think that the choices I make about what I control or do not control are sensible ones.

Here’s my position of defense:

I think not letting kids drink sugary drinks is good – we are one of the fattest countries in the world, and soda/sweet tea/slushies contribute to that. I think that managing our food could be considered controlling by many in our culture, but I have to juggle the costs of providing healthy options with how they’re taken in. If the kids each eat 4 peaches a day and I won’t be able to afford to get more for another 2 weeks, how practical is that? Plus, diarrhea is seldom a good thing. I think teaching kids about healthy options to eat, instead of junk, encourages healthy eating habits when they are adults. Why is this something that warrants justification? Why would I want them, at 40, to be working to lose an extra 100 lbs to be fit (ahem, ahem)?

I think not letting young girls wear make-up or dress provocatively before they have the maturity to handle that is good – we are a hypersexualized culture, and I don’t want them to be immersed in it.

I think that cleaning my house every week (or my beloved ‘deep clean’) is good – who wants to eat in an environment, such as on a farm, where there could be unseen poop somewhere? Or have a toddler crawl around on a filthy floor? Or can tomatoes with flies all over the place?

I think that removing myself from a situation where I’m in verbal conflict with someone *before* I speak rashly (emotional or verbal control) is good – I don’t want to regret my words, and I learned from an early age that unchecked emotional responses can be hurtful. I work hard at maintaining emotional control (without stuffing, of course, because stuffing is not ideal). But, I like to be a happy girl, and processing through my emotions before speaking has had positive results for me.

I think that working 50-60 hours a week might be considered a workaholic in society’s eyes, but at this stage in my life, it’s necessary to contribute to building up our farm (which my husband dreams of running full-time someday, someday soon, so he can be at home with us). Keeping a thumb on my work load might be controlling, but again, if it’s for the greater good, why is there harm? Why is ambition or a desire for professional success in a woman a bad thing?

I think that keeping a texting option off my kids’ phones until they’re older teens is a good thing (or for that matter, we don’t let them have cell phones until they’re ready to drive, and then just for security’s sake if there’s a breakdown). I read a lot about how texting and messaging is changing the culture of communication – I want children who can relate, personally, to others. I don’t want them staring down at their phones during dinner. I don’t want them playing games for 4 hours a day (and yes, I think gaming can be addictive).

Ironically, I think “the family” (or our closest social networks in propinquity) assumes that because I want to manage my household efficiently, of course I am controlling of my man. I use the word “ironically” because I know of no wife who is less controlling of her husband – my husband has full charge over his life, our children, and most elements of our marriage. I give my input, of course, but firmly state that I’m not the boss of him, nor do I desire to be his mother. 🙂 Throw in that his previous wife really was controlling, and I’m sure that influences perception.

Yes, I like to have my towels lined up in the bathroom, but I don’t punish anyone who doesn’t – I just straighten them for my own aesthetic sense of order. Likewise the canned goods in the kitchen pantry. I like to spreadsheet to-do lists. I’ve planned my own funeral. I keep six separate calendars of activities. OCD? Maybe. But not hurtful to anyone.

I would also add that there are so many things I vehemently *don’t* seek control of.

I don’t have a curfew for my older children.

I’m fine with the youngers playing in mud or sitting in the middle of the chicken pen in diapers.

I encourage cross-country travel (flying, or driving, so the older teens can build experiences).

I don’t freak out about bad grades (in that I don’t punish for them, although a short lecture on the consequences of bad grades in college may arise).

I don’t control how the kids spend their money they’ve worked for (except to take it from them for phone bills and car insurance).

I don’t regulate their clothing choices (unless it looks sleazy, but it seldom does) and I’ve even been known to purchase jeans with holes in them. I’ve accepted that mismatched socks are a fashion trend.

I don’t homeschool because I have a stringent need to regulate my children’s education or ideological positions –I do so because I want to encourage creative, free thinking, dislike structured tests as the medium of assessment, and resist the boundaries of the current public policies towards education.

I don’t call my husband repeatedly throughout the day to see where he’s at – I figure he’ll straggle in at supper time if he’s hungry. I don’t snoop through his things, read his texts or email, or open his mail. If I sincerely need him to do something to help me, I make sure to request it, and not command it.

I don’t micromanage the expenses (except when we’re broke, and that’s just to say, “we’re broke – we can’t afford it”).

I don’t interfere with others’ life choices – this is a big one, I think, because I see it a lot. How others choose to live their life is their business, so I don’t put my opinions out there on how they should be making this choice or that choice.

All I want to “control” is my little haven, and to conclude, I think that’s a good thing if it yields healthy, happy children, a fruitful marriage, and an efficient household.

The defense rests.

On Hand-Me-Downs

Each year in our local “not-quite-metropolis” there are huge consignment sales from the Mothers of Multiples group, where I go and rummage through an enormous warehouse to find my children’s (the youngers) clothing for the next 12-18 months. Generally items are about $.50-$1.00, and I can leave well equipped for both Miles and Ruth (including shoes, and a couple of well-worn toys) for less than $100.

The next sale is scheduled for this Saturday morning, so I do my pre-sales preparation, where I go out to the storage area and rummage through tubs of clothing to find out what we have in each child’s sizes, what I’ll need for the fall/winter/spring/summer to come, anticipate growth patterns, and make a checklist for each child’s needs. Generally I leave babies with Nathan as we get up at 5:00 a.m. to wait in line for the 7:00 a.m. warehouse opening, and take Addison and Rebecca along so we can divide and conquer. It’s a nice little tradition, and I can’t thank my girlfriend Dawn enough for introducing me to the sale.

This year, though – funds are tight. We’re doing the whole, “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else,” and while also saving up to replace our hobbling-along refrigerator (compressor is going out), funds are just tight. No way around it. My work load has been cut since colleges are reluctant to give part-time faculty a full load to avoid paying insurance (and please note, I am a fan of the health care plan, so I’m not bagging on Obama for this). I understand the dollars and cents of adjunct faculty issues. Nathan’s going to have to travel for work (out of state), and we always try to minimize our expenses to minimize his time away from home, the kids, and our bed. So, although getting clothing for 2 kids for a year + for $100 is a heckuva deal, I wasn’t looking forward to spending it, regardless.

Hence my trip to the storage tubs, where I finally opened the bags my brother has been faithfully shuffling my way from my beautiful niece, Ella Mae. As I sort through bag after bag after bag, I was ready to weep. I’m getting weepy just writing this. It was the MOTHERLOAD of hand-me-downs. Nathan quips Ruthie could wear a different outfit each day, but he’s a man, and somewhat exaggerates anything having to do with clothing or underestimates just how much a woman needs. Still, an incredible amount of clothing, and absolutely adorable clothing – what a blessing to have sweet Ella’s diva duds! Who would have thought my brother could pick out such cute clothing, additionally??!? So, lots of gratitude as I’ve rewashed and folded up the baskets I brought in. Mind you, all of this is just 2T, 24 months, and some smallish-looking 3T stuff, so all can be worn in the next year. There’s every range of weather needs (truly, all season). This stash below is *just* what I cleared out of storage — she still has a dresser full I have to sort through for what still fits, what’s out of season, and what we’ll hand-down ourselves.

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As I’m folding, Nathan and I are in the kitchen talking about our own experiences with hand-me-downs growing up. I didn’t have a lot of hand-me-downs. My dad gave us a clothing allowance each year to buy back-to-school clothes, and when I finally got to high school and that was insufficient, I supplemented with money I earned from working. Back in the day, those $75.00 Guess jeans were the shiz-nit, and I just had to have them. Nathan has told me about either wearing Walmart clothes (which he hated to go pick out, because the kids at school teased him about it) or wearing hand-me-downs from Uncle Ken.  Neither of us were clothes-horses like our school mates, because neither of us could afford it. I tended to wear the same clothes over and over again (okay, *sheepish grin*, I STILL do). That’s just being tight, I guess.

In our house, kids get new clothes for Christmas and/or birthdays. Occasionally the Easter Bunny will bring a new top with baby chicks or bunnies on it. We shop Goodwill. We shop consignment sales. We hit the Salvation Army when we’re near one that doesn’t smell all smoker-mc-smokey. Aunt Jill gives us clothes she finds in cars when they’re repossessed (from her work), if they would fit the girls. We are *blessed* with teen girl hand-me-downs from my plethora of nieces, and from my 40 year old neighbor who is a marathoner and hip (and fit) enough to still dress like a teen. When those bags of hand-me-downs arrive, I may grumble a bit that the girls will take forever clearing out the old, and sorting through what fits (not to mention the “battles” over who gets to pick from the bag first, and who really wanted THAT skirt or THIS top), but goodness, we’re grateful. When I have clothing to “redistribute” I try to give to people I know and care for, and feel could use it (rather than hauling the bag to Goodwill, although that still happens from time to time).

In short, all sanctimonious righteousness aside (and if you’re leaning towards thinking that’s my tone, disregard that thought), WE LOVE HAND-ME-DOWNS. I think it teaches kids a lot about practicality, taking care of what you have, valuing things that are “new”, and that the friends who would judge you on the basis of your clothing are not really friends at all. Feeling the love this morning! Thanks, brother of mine!

 

One Summer Day

I was hanging out diapers on the clothesline and I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Because I was hanging out diapers? No, no . . . that’s not it. Just had a moment where I thought, “I need to take a snapshot of this. I need to remember this day, this day right here in August 2014.”

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When I was hanging the diapers, I saw the shoes sticking out on the fence posts of my garden. The kids went down to play in the creek, and we needed a place to “put them” to dry – some place puppy proof, because the two Catahoula pups will chew up anything in their path. I could hear Ruthie on the deck rocking away on the incredibly noisy, but remarkably durable rocking horse that has served all of Nathan’s children (Dustin, Grace, Miles & Ruth). I could also hear Miles wailing inside the house. He was pitching a fit because I wouldn’t let him put on a pair of clean jeans (from the folded piles on the kitchen table) after he got up from his nap to come chore with me – I insisted he wear the same jeans he’d put on that morning, but took off when he was napping. After making my stance, I just came outside to chore and left him to sort through his temper tantrum (he’s 3 ½, and they are waning in number considerably, but I am trying to curb the amount of laundry he creates). Poor Rebecca was stuck up in her bedroom listening to the wailing as she tries to find enough quiet to work through her geometry. Addison, my fledgling eaglet, is at play practice (in a college production).

It’s almost the end of August, and everything is still remarkably lush from all the rain we’ve had this winter. I have been speculating (as I dab at my consistently-running eyes – allergies) if I need to look up the winter forecast in the Almanac. As a good farmer’s wife, I now check the Almanac for these things. It’s about 105 with the heat index right now, but the tomatoes are still hanging in there, and producing buckets for me (which I can as I’m able, but I sure give away about as many as I can).

So far today, I’ve done 3 loads of laundry, made two separate rounds of lunches for children (older kids to take to campus, and younger kids to eat here at home). I’ve chored twice today (morning to let everything out, water and feed) and afternoon (check everything’s water, and get eggs). I’ve searched out a calf we were worried about – only 2 days old, and Mama Cow is a bit negligent, and tracked down an older-than-dirt mare who is wandering away from the others. Not that I blame her – I probably will want to do the same when I’m older than dirt, it’s hot out, and I’m getting crochety. I’ve done my workout, picked up toys about 10 times, gotten both babies down for naps, up for snacks, and about 10 diapers changed. I’ve gotten in about 4 hours of grading, I would estimate, and have two new classes starting today. I’m about to start working on tonight’s dinner, which will be fried catfish and fried potatoes, which only my husband and the two babies will eat. There’ll be baked fish and salad for us 3 ladies who prefer a bit less, uh, saturated fats, in our diet. I’m not going to make a dessert, because I still have chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, chocolate brownies, lemon brownies, peanut butter fudge, and blueberry oat bars leftover from the weekend (oh, and homemade peanut butter bars in the freezer). The world’s greatest husband indeed deserves his fried catfish because he’s out working in this 105 degree day, at a coal plant, no less (10 hour shifts).

All in all, it’s an incredible day, and I am one lucky country mama.

The Balance Between Work and Play

This morning I was moved to write about work (and play). Yesterday, as I was processing buckets and buckets of tomatoes that I will need to can today, I was really tired by the evening. My husband got a call that he’s going back to work this morning (an hour away). The nature of the union is that you go where they send you, and his supervisor works hard to keep Nathan close to home. This morning as I was doing my devotion, I watched my husband get up, get dressed, and head out the door about 5:30.

He’ll work outside all day, in the heat, probably a 10-hr shift. He doesn’t have a microwave to heat up his leftovers for lunch, and (because I missed seeing the empty tea pitcher last night when the girls washed the dishes) will not start his day with his cold, sweet tea as he enjoys (it’s the equivalent of my morning cup of coffee). He has loads of work to do around the farm – stuff that sincerely needs doing, but he can’t quite seem to get on top of, even though when he is laid off at home, he’s working 15-18 hours a day to tackle it all. Despite this, he kissed me goodbye and went on his path without any grumbles. Is today’s blog an ode to my husband? No . . . it could be, but it isn’t. This incredible man I married knows the value of *work*.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that we share a similar work ethic. I grew up working. I was one of those kids who had to pay for my own car, my insurance and gas, to supplement the budget I was given (pretty meager, I remember thinking) for my clothing needs, and I was working at least 20 hours a week from my freshman year forward. There’s also an incredible amount of work that goes into running a home with six children, homeschooling, farming, and working full-time (albeit from home – another big thanks to Jesus for that!). My dad was one of the few who made me sit down and reconcile my banking account on a consistent basis (and then show it to him). I had to help run the house (and since we were motherless, we all worked to do so from a pretty young age). I’ve often discussed with my siblings how interesting it is that our family circumstances contributed to the strong work ethic in our family. My dad rose up from poverty to become a self-made millionaire. That’s something to be proud of!

But then I look at children in society today. They grumble when they have to do chores (if they indeed have to DO chores), and grumble if they have to pay their own way (sometimes with the allowance they’re given freely each week). They shortchange their efforts on school, on helping with the household, on helping watch siblings, on saving their own money or *gasp* working outside of the home for pay. Is it any wonder we have young adults who put off leaving the nest until their 30s? Who bury themselves in credit card debt and never seem to get a handle on financial preparedness? Who can’t hold a steady job, much less invest in themselves enough to establish a career? What is going to happen in 20, 30, 40 years with this newest cohort of youth, who are seemingly incapable of doing things for themselves because helicopter parents steer their every move, and perpetuate a helpless or entitled mindset? It’s terrifying to consider.

I figure the best I can do is to start within my own home – to teach my own children the way my dad taught me (except, perhaps, with a bit more verbal instruction and encouragement – he didn’t have all the ‘hippy-dippy’ parenting books I have to read). I remember cleaning the bathroom as a child, but no one really taught me the most effective way to do so. . . I guess I just bumbled along until I sorted through it. In my Bible study this morning, Lisa Terkeurst was discussing how to teach your children household tasks, and although the scripture passages were interesting to read, I was saddened to reflect on just how many parents are not encouraging their children to work.

As I’ve said before, I don’t pretend to be Supermom – I couldn’t run this house without my children’s labors to help (delegate, delegate, delegate). They help with dishes, with laundry, with cooking (occasionally, anyway), with canning (most definitely), with gardening and weeding and mowing the yard, and taking out the trash, and all the animal care (which, in fact, I hardly ever do), and with keeping their own things picked up and their rooms clean. Is that a lot in the eyes of the world? I think it might be. Miles, at 3 ½, just got his first chore chart (a darn cute one I made up, too). There’s certainly plenty a toddler can do around the house to help out. Am I placing a burden upon them that will harm them? I hope not! I don’t want them to resent me, but I think to some extent I likely resented my father when I was younger because I just compared my work load to my peers, and never understood why I always had to work before getting to play. Am I grateful now for the blessings that work ethic created? Absolutely!

We have to teach our youth that the work and play must be balanced. There can be play – plenty of it! We live on a 300-acre farm. There’s loads of stuff to do around here (ride horses, hike trails, play on the monstrous swing set we acquired from the meth head neighbors for a song, climb trees, play in the playhouse which is full of games, Barbies, dress up clothes, tractor toys, and books, ride bicycles, ride the 4-wheeler, swim at the neighbor’s pool – the ones who don’t do meth, etc). We can picnic at the parks in Columbia, play on those play places, go to the library and pore over books (admittedly, that’s play to me), go to the creek and search for arrowheads, follow the path of a rainbow. There is just so much to do out there to play! (I would qualify, in our home, this doesn’t entail watching television or playing video games, but I guess, if one gets their work done and that’s play to them, it’s acceptable enough). I would probably argue it’s not equally balanced — I think in our home, I would estimate there’s 65% work and 35% play, but I imagine that lines up with responsible living as an adult.

We went camping this last weekend at Mark Twain State Park. The weather was gorgeous, and we hadn’t been to that lake before. We went to the beach each day, ate meals around the campsite, played cards, and enjoyed the scenery. However, there were inevitably the two days of preparing to camp beforehand, and the full day of putting the camping supplies away when we got home (plus the monstrous amounts of laundry to wash). Still, to enjoy the camping experience, that work is inevitable, right? Isn’t that how work and play have to be balanced, in the grand scheme of life? These are some sweet pictures from our camping experience (Miles enjoying a camping breakfast, Ruthie playing in the rocks, and Grace and her buddy playing cards with us around the table).

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Also, just as a last note, I think that, as a parent, I want to try and instill a positive attitude towards the work-play balance. Do I like processing tomatoes all day? Uh, no. But I love having my own tomato sauce come January. Do I like deep-cleaning the house? Uh, no. But I love relaxing in it when it’s done for another week, and I can appreciate knowing I am providing a safe, clean environment for my children. When it’s time to deep clean, I put in some rocking music (old school classic rock, for the most part – Addie has told me she will forever associate Don Henley with cleaning the house), offer a treat like a can of soda (soda is indeed a treat in this home), and we hit it hard to knock it out quickly. I try to teach the concept, “Many hands make short work,” and I try personally not to complain about the work that needs done. I hope when my kids look back, they’ll not envision some tired, haggard Mom always drudging along the day to day tasks, but a Mom who cheerfully does what needs doing so she can enjoy time with them in shared play. That’s my goal, anyway!

Now, I’ve had my play for the morning, and need to get back to work. 🙂

Girlfriends

So today I was thinking about friendships. I read through, “A friend loves at all times . . . .” (Proverbs 17:17). As many of you know, I grew up without a mother (she died when I was very young). Dad did a good enough job as a single father, and I had various women in and out of my life growing up, but none with a really significant, lasting impact. As a child, I had no friends that carried through to adulthood (at least, no closeness to them still). I was a pretty crappy friend myself (which I’ll highlight again later) and thought we should always play what I wanted to play (very self-serving). I sometimes see that in young children today and I just sigh, because I know that to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Sure, it’s a cliché, but it is a good one! I never bought into the truth of it until adulthood.

Then, when I was working as a house keeper pursuing my Bachelor’s degree, I developed a great (and I mean phenomenal!) relationship with an older woman. I was 24 at the time, she was 72. Gerry taught me more about my friendships with women, just through actions, than I’d known before, and I carry those points with me today. I thought I would share.

1) Don’t get stuck in a friendship rut – be flexible. I love having friends who are Moms, because they understand the scheduled chaos motherhood inherently brings about. Mom-friends seem to come in and out of my life, often because of moving, or work changes. When I want to get out of the house, it’s more likely I can hang with the Moms (their kids in tow in addition to my own) because my single or child-free girlfriends may not want a get-together where I’ve got to stop the conversation to pull out a breast and nurse a child. On the rare night I can pop up to my neighbor’s house for a glass of wine, child-free, we both love it all the more. What happens more often is she comes down here for a cup of coffee on the weekends. We have to be open to being flexible with our friendship needs and adjusting to those over our life course. With the social networking that is out there, I can keep up on my friendships with women across the country (planning trips that *someday* will come to fruition). At one point Gerry was the most influential woman in my life, and now we catch up once or twice a year over the phone. I miss her. I know if I need her still, I just need to pick up the phone. Sometimes my friendship needs change, and that’s okay.

2) Digging in the dirt is always better with a friend beside you. When I was working “for” Gerry (she was my employer, but there was never that awkward authority issue), we spent hours and hours tending her flower gardens (and there were acres of them). Gerry’s idea of planting was to just fling the seeds out in haphazard abandon (she approached a lot of things this way) and let them root where they will. Great for a beautiful garden, but certainly took a lot of work combating the weeds (especially to a person who doesn’t know the difference between a wildflower and a weed). Fortunately, Gerry often weeded with me, and we had some of our best talks laboring on our hands and knees in the garden. I hate gardening (to this day), but having a friend beside you makes every onerous task more enjoyable.

This week I’ve got a “new” friend coming over, and we’re going to can together. I’m excited about this, because I’ve wanted to be friends with her for a while. (Surely you know how that works – there’s a really cool woman you see around, you think her life story would be interesting if only you knew the details, you like how she parents and actually enjoy her child(ren), and she seems like a good wife – all earmarks that tell me this person would be someone I’d enjoy spending time with). Now, I should clarify that my excitement comes from anticipated enjoyment of time with HER, not time canning (I hate canning). The canning will pass so readily, though, I’m sure.

3) Give as good as you expect in return. This was probably my biggest stumbling block in childhood. I wasn’t willing to give anything. I was one of those bratty kids who wanted to play what I wanted to play, or I’d say, “Fine, then I’m not going to play with you.” Frankly, I have no idea how that developed. I could argue I just didn’t have a lot of modeling of what good friendships looked like. I could argue I didn’t have anyone saying, “Hey! Don’t be a brat! Take turns playing what others want to play.” (Something admittedly I’ve told my own kids when I see them being unkind with friends). I could even question at what point that stopped, and not be completely sure. Just speculating, I would argue it happened when I found Jesus. That also sounds cliché, but it was probably the first time I developed a network of women who I could talk to about anything, and who shared their counsel and life wisdom with me (thank you, Titus 2). I trusted them. During my divorce, I leaned on them. They were there. I’ve learned from Gerry and other women along the way that I have to give of my time if I expect women to give back to me when I need a friendship refill. I also have to be honest if I expect honesty, be willing to listen to them if I expect them to listen to me, be willing to go to their house if I expect them to come to mine.

4) Food always makes people feel valued. Gerry fed everyone. She had friends over all the time for lunches, dinners, birthday parties, bridal showers, Bible studies, or just afternoon tea. She made casseroles for funerals, for sickness, for weddings, for housewarmings, for new babies – she was always delivering food somewhere. At the time, I thought she just really liked to cook. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that there’s some element of feeding people that says, “I value you. I want to lighten your load. I want to give you something from my heart, crafted by my hands, developed through my time.” It’s probably from Gerry that I’ve developed this particular component of my own character (and what many would perceive to be my special little gift from God). No, it’s not a gift of being a good cook (I still burn plenty, and many of my more creative efforts are met with dubious skepticism around the table), but a gift of service. I’ve found that service is invaluable to friendships. Cooking may not be your gift, or your means to serve, but every friendship benefits from a well-timed casserole (anecdotally speaking).

5) Embrace the differences, and learn from them. This last one is probably my favorite, and a caveat that ties in (there’s always a caveat). I am a Jesus-loving girl, but I’m not the variety that feels all my friends need to be Jesus-loving girls. In fact, I really adore having friends who aren’t. I’ve got friends who are Jewish, Universalist, Wiccan, where’s-the-order-of-things agnostic, and even one who’s an Atheist (at least, only one I know of who is an Atheist).

I’ve got friends of all races, ethnicities, social classes, and orientations (I’m white, middle-class, and straight, not that it should matter). I learn SO MUCH from my friends who are “not like me.” When I was growing up, in my whiter-than-white school district of affluent yuppies, I had no clue or appreciation of the beauty in the differences of mankind.

Being exposed to different opinions really helps shape my own ideological positions. I’ve got a few friends who are feminists, and while I tend to favor Marxism over feminism, I am constantly learning more about the societal subjugation of women. I can still love the capitalists (like my sister). I’ve got a few friends who are gay, and while I do the whole Jesus thing, I support gay rights because I want my friends to have the same happiness and life opportunities that I have (plus, I honestly think Jesus would have been like, “Let it go, people . . . just love one another”). I’ve got friends who distinctly oppose gay rights, but I still consider them my friends, even though we differ in our positions. I’ve got ultra-conservative friends and ultra-liberal friends (one in search of something further left than liberal to describe herself), and even though I’m a moderate, I love them and feel loved by them still. I’ve got Republican friends and Democrat friends. Something I learned from Gerry was to accept people as they are – if they have a character I enjoy, I can embrace them as my friend.

There’s one caveat to this, and it’s just something that I’ve developed that “feels right” to me – I don’t have a lot of male friends. When I was growing up I did . . . tons, in fact. I remember in high school saying, “I just don’t like girls. I’m much more comfortable with boys.” I hear that now from young girls and shake my head a bit, because it often means we’re insecure with ourselves as women, and quite possibly have some Daddy issues to work through. But that’s beside the point.

I’ve got three friends from grad school who are men, and we keep in touch, and I love them dearly. I’ve got one neighbor friend who’s male and we email quite a bit, but he was friends with my husband long before he was friends with me. I’ve got a couple of facebook friends who are men (but they’re generally dads of my girlfriends or husbands of my girlfriends). However – I don’t spend time alone in their company. I don’t go “do” things or “hang out” with my male friends. My husband has never addressed it, and may well not give a fig if I did, but as a married woman, I’m very careful about my male friendships. When I consider how I’d feel about my husband having female friends, I get a little twinge of discomfort in my tummy. It’s not jealousy or insecurity really, because I know my man is faithful. It’s not that I buy into the societal double-standard of rules for men versus rules for women. It’s just my own issue. Inasmuch as I try to be the friend I want to have, I try to be the spouse I want to have. Fortunately, since my husband is my very best friend, I’m not missing the male perspective on anything. 😉

I hope I can teach my children how to be a good friend – I hope I can model that in my actions. I hope they have lifelong friends like I didn’t, even though they’ve faced challenges of moving a lot in their childhood and have only sunk down some roots these last few years. I hope they know that their siblings can be wonderful friends, but other women can be as close as sisters, given some time and energy. It took me long enough in my life to get to this point, but I’m glad I finally got here!