Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mud Bugs

We love our books,
but when a beautiful morning
beckons through
my babes' bedroom window,
we just have to take
a mudbug break.

Lots of fun
when you will yourself
to put out of your mind
the muddy bathtub
and clothes
and carpet
and walls
that will soon follow.

Hope your day is as
and beautiful
as this one was.

May God bless you in your play.

"Mom, Stop Laughing!"

I needed to make a quick trip to the library and asked Pippi if she wanted to come along. "I really do, but, Mommy I need to work on my story and I'm at a really good part." So we packed up paper, markers, pencils, and crayons and took off.

We browsed the stacks for awhile. She was delighted to find her favorite orange cat, Chester, back on the shelves after his long disappearing act. Can I just say, I HATE the library during the summer. Too many people, too few books. Ransacked shelves, all our favorites no where to be found. But I digress. I picked up our copy of Adele and Simon (thanks so much Silvia!), and we headed upstairs

We found a table, bathed in afternoon light, overlooking the duck pond. I explained quietly that we were in the adult section and must be quiet as church mice. She smiled and squeaked, "like a mouse," she whispered. She sat with her stack of books, flipping through Mailing May and Dodsworth in London. Then she pulled out her story-in-progress - something about Pippi, Tommy, and Annika playing tag with their shadows - and fell into her work, the only sounds her quiet whispers and the occasional squeak of her marker.

I've taken a break from A Severe Mercy, needing to put some distance between myself and Van, Jean, and Lewis. So I opened Great Expectations and before long, I found myself chuckling, not so very softly, through a particularly witty passage.

"Mom," Pippi whispered. "Mom, your supposed to be quiet in the adult library. Stop laughing," she said, frowning, stealing furtive looks at our neighbors through the curtain of her hair.

Let's just say, we had to leave. People were staring. But in my defense, it was awfully funny, my little girl behaving as an adult, and myself with no more self control than a child.

Then, this evening, we're having dinner. Tommy stuffs his fist into the peanut butter jar and my mom hides her face in her armpit, body shaking in silent laughter.

Guess what I said?


Cunningham was born on a sleepy day about a month before our Tommy slipped into the world. Pippi and I spent most of our time in our quilted nest, contractions being my constant companion, forcing me to slow down. We read great stacks of books. Watched too many movies. Spent our days in a complacent fog. But then, Cunningham, our dear little bantam, split the quiet afternoon in two. Before, there was that awful silence. Like a blanket pulled down over the head, a dullness brought on by too much sleep, too little movement. But for the next month, when the rooster's crow ushered in the twelve o'clock hour, the very atmosphere seemed to crackle with expectancy.

My Dad

This afternoon was rough. My husband has been working like a madman earning extra cash for birthdays and Christmas and we've been missing him terribly. We decided to stay home from church tonight to be together as a family and this news sent an already weepy Pippi into a tailspin. You know those moments, days, weeks when nothing you do or suggest is right? When everyone is hard to please and you wish you could just stick your nose in a book and tune it all out? That's where we've been this afternoon. And I so wanted this evening to be peaceful and cozy. In all fairness Pippi hasn't been the only weepy one around here this afternoon.

The more I tried to reason with her, "Pippi if you would just close your eyes for a few minutes you'd feel so much better," the more resistant she became. Until the two of us were feeding off of one another, fueling this angry beast that was growing black and ugly between us.

In stepped my dad. Sat on the couch. Listened for a while.

"Pippi come here for a minute," he said.

She walked over to him, grudgingly, almost certain she was about to receive a lecture about obedience and respect. He patted the cushion. She sat.

"Let's walk in the meadow for awhile," he said. Everything - her mood, her posture, her face - changed. The angst just seemed to melt away. The meadow, as my mom writes about here, is a world of their making, their Narnia where they push past the fur coats and tumble into a frosty forest teeming with the most fantastic creatures.

Twenty minutes later, Pippi put on her shoes and she and my dad went out to buy a bucket of fried chicken for supper. Now, Pippi and Tommy are playing with my husband's new phone taking pictures and chatting about batteries. Gone are the tears, the angst, the body rigid with tension. Hers and mine.

I've been thinking a lot about my dad here lately. He has cancer, has had a part of his body removed and is undergoing radiation and hormone therapy. Living with my parents, it is impossible to compartmentalize our lives, knowing of his battles but unable - or unwilling - to live through them with him. At two am, I hear him pacing the floor, watching TV because he can't sleep. I watch him leave the house each day ten minutes to eleven for his radiation appointment. I see the bills for the oncologist and the radiation department and the surgeon and this and that - all meaning cancer - littering the desk. And I am constantly reminded of his mortality.

And I am thankful. Thankful for the meadow. And fried chicken. Gardens. Tree swings. The Bible. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. His slanted all caps script. Tie draped over the back of the chair. Socks and shoes under the desk. False teeth in the Campbell's Soup dish. Baseball. Tabasco sauce. The great big cooking pot. Roller coasters. Butterfly kisses. Blow dryers. And long blond hair. And a cat named Dallas. Small churches. Tinsel. Colored Christmas tree lights. Star Trek. Marty and Doc. George and Mary and Zuzu's petals.

And a thousand more things that evoke my father's presence. It is a strange thing to be haunted by a person's absence when that person is still present. Objects and movies and images become loaded with memories. And watching moments play out, knowing that years later when the person is gone, this moment will live on. I don't think of myself as being morbid, thinking always of death, but as someone who is savoring the now, letting the moment sear itself into my mind with all the colors, smells, and flavors of life.

So, do me a favor. Hug your dad. Your mom. Your kids. Take a walk. Push through the wardrobe. Watch. Listen. Taste. Savor.

Because, in a twinkling, this may all be


and all that remains

is memory.


I've learned that for any roadblock my Pippi puts up, if I'm diligent enough, watchful enough, I can blaze a detour, setting out the orange traffic cones as I go. Sometimes the detour is not a simple curve around, but a tunnel underneath or a meandering scenic route. But I must never just blast through the roadblock like a petulant commuter late for a meeting. That roadblock is there for a reason.

A collapsed bridge.

A downed tree.

A herd of cows.

Fear of failure: What if I can't do it right the first time.

Or fear leaving childhood, even babyhood, behind: If I can read, will you still read to me?

Or maybe plain old play is so much more fun than work.

But when a roadblock is thrown up, a detour is sometimes provided. Not always. Sometimes you just have to sit tight, wait for the cows to mozy on along. Waiting is hard for me. This is why I make such a bad unschooler. I try very hard to be respectful of my childrens' inner clocks and such, but sometimes I get so impatient, looking for the detour, blazing my own if need be.

Brings me to my point. Remember this? Oh, I was so excited. Brought those beauties home, took pictures of them, smelled them, offered them to Pippi who promptly did the same. (You must understand, we seldom purchase new books and that new book smell is oh so crisp and warm, so the smelling thing is not all that weird.)

We couldn't wait for Tommy to go down for his nap.

For three days, Pippi pounced as soon as Tommy was in his bed, Goodnight Guitar drifting to us from the nursery radio. "Can we do lessons?" she'd ask, primer in hand. I was so sure this was it - that final leap into mostly daily lessons.

Then day four. Tommy was asleep. Pippi was drawing. "Would you like to do lessons?" I asked. "In a minute," she answered. Thirty minutes later I asked again. "Ok," she said. Not quite the response I was hoping for but I took it. Our lessons were significantly shorter and they lacked the luster of previous days.

Day five. "Maybe tomorrow," she said.

Day six. Roadblock was in place.

Day seven. Today. I found my way around it. I coaxed her, with every bit of parental whining and cajoling I could muster, into sitting for a short lesson from her primer. Then we built Deep Valley, from the Betsy-Tacy books, with blocks, play silks, and a myriad of wooden figures. Most of the action in her version of Deep Valley took place in the local school. After a while Pippi asked if we could play school. We've done this before, but this time she twisted the game a bit. She wanted to play the teacher.

Let's just say I played this game for all it was worth. And a more illiterate pupil than me you will never meet. Poor Teacher Pippi had to help me with all but the easiest of words. We stumbled through the first part of a Henry and Mudge reader. Anytime we would come across a phonetic rule unknown to Pippi, a "memory" would suddenly come to me, the student.

"Oh, teacher! I remember this one," I would say. "You told me last week - that day I wore my pink skirt with purple swirls and my yellow shoes and blue tights, oh and that was the day I threw up because I ate too much red jello - that was the day you told me that kn says n. The k is silent. I know that one. I know that one!"

"That's right," Pippi would say, primly and teacherly. "Kn says n. That word is knew."

She may always associate kn with red throw up, but she'll probably never forget it says n.

So many things happened in that impromptu lesson. She learned at least three new rules. She began to recognize many difficult sight words such as would and said, reading them with ease. Lower case b and d finally propped up her words like a sleeper on a bed. She gained confidence. She knew that this was play and that my reading skills surpassed hers, but for awhile we were able to suspend reality and reverse roles, allowing her feel her way around the words, sounding them out as a teacher would with a hesitant student.

Pippi may never respond to traditional lessons stripped of fun and games, at least not in childhood. And that's ok. You meet a child where she is. Sometimes that means waiting. But sometimes it means taking your forehead off of the horn, getting out of the car and leaving the beaten path.

Our Newest Family Member

Marie: Pronounced in the French fasion, a la Aristocats. At first, Pippi picked Moses from the James Herriot
story of the same name, but when Moses turned out to be a girl, she quickly became Marie.
And if you bungle the pronunciation, Pippi will correct you.

We adopted Marie from a local animal clinic. She and her litermates lost their mother not long
after birth and have been fed in this fashion since before their eyes were open.
We are trying to ween her off of the kitty formula, but she loves it. And I gotta say the
sound she makes when she's sucking the stuff down is so stinkin' cute.

Marie's favorite napping spot - Tommy's crib.

Happy Birthday Pippi!

Pippi turned five today at exactly 5:36 am. And since she woke very early today, quite excited, I had the pleasure of telling her happy birthday on the minute she turned five. To celebrate her birthday, I've culled facebook for all the sweet and funny things she has said and done in the past year. Enjoy!

September 18, 2009

I don't know who's enjoying Pippi's birthday more, Pippi or Chris and I. We made pancakes together, and I loved watching my babies get sticky with syrup. Now Pippi and Chris are on a date. We are so blessed.

September 24, 2009

Pippi must be going through some strange Andy Warholl thing with her art. In the past few days, she's gone through half a ream of notebook paper, markering three dots on each page. That's all. Three dots, different colors and sizes. If I suggest she put something more on each page (ever the frugal momma, don't waste anything) she looks at me as if I've suggested she use her artwork to wipe Tommy's butt.

October 4, 2009

My little scientist, Pippi, just discovered that "water and dried snot makes wet snot!"

October 6, 2009

Oh, how I love homeschooling. While I sat snuggling Tommy, Pippi just read a book to me. That one sweet, thrilling moment validates all the monetary sacrifices we have, and will, make.

October 11, 2009

Pippi has discovered my old stash of art supplies and is having a ball decorating all of our moving boxes with her artwork.

November 11, 2009

We're setting up Pippi's writing table. Such a pretty spot, bathed with sunlight filtered through the giant oak out back. I can't believe how much my little girl has grown. She loves to write - notes, letters, stories. Letters and numbers (in crayon) trail up the wall beside the stairs, which she blamed on Tommy.... So we can add lying to her long list of acquired skills. Sure do love that girl.

November 21, 2009

Pippi is reading We're Going On A Bear Hunt to Tommy, and the suspense is killing him. He's hiding his face in the pillows, and raising his head every now and then to say "Oh, no," with his hands on his cheeks.

December 4, 2009

I think my favorite thing about today's snow was walking with Pippi through our quiet white world. And she said, "God is so good to give us snow today."

December 8, 2009

Chris is teaching Pippi how to shoot craps (we are calling it shooting dice). That counts as a math lesson, right?

December 14, 2009

I'm making my shopping list and Pippi wants me to pick up some bear meat so that we can make bear meat chili with rosemary. Hope she'll settle for lamb. Don't think I've ever seen bear meat at HEB.

January 2, 2010

I had Elvis on my playlist earlier and PIppi said, "Mommy, I don't want to listen to Elvis right now. I want to listen to Billie Holliday."

January 8, 2010

Pippi's writing and spelling skills have reached a new level. She is now writing sentences on her own and likes to write out answers to questions and leave little notes all over the house. She brought me a note today. This is what it said, letter for letter: " I ned tu go too hte bathroom."

January 8, 2010

Pippi is the coolest little girl. She has spent the last hour writing and illustrating her first book. She won't let me peek until she's finished. Then I get to be the editor and publisher. (She's fascinated with what a book goes through to become a book.) So some of you may be getting a copy soon!

January 14, 2010

Pippi's crazy about the Cloudy/Meatballs movie. She is Flint, Tommy is Steve and apparently I'm the food making machine. She wrote out her breakfast order this morning and handed it to me: bdrd toste egs too apl joos

January 16, 2010

Pippi and Tommy are play cooking and I hear her say, "Oh no. I dropped the pelican leg in the fried gopher. And here's some lettuce to soak up the yummy gopher broth."

January 28, 2010

Listening to my dad tell Pippi a story about Elijah. So precious. Loving this moment.

Febuary 2, 2010

I have been searching for a bible for Pippi since she outgrew her toddler bible a year ago. None have interested her. Then last night, I was reading my bible and she asked me to read it aloud. So I did. She listened to me read 2 chapters from Luke. And asked lots of questions. And took it all in. I thank God for giving her a heart willing to recieve his love and a mind hungry for the completeness of his Word.

Febuary 28, 2010

Pippi was bemoaning the fact that the garden was barren of "tasty snacks." So I tought her how to spot dandelion weed and chickweed (both edible.) She declared dandelion leaves too bitter, but she grazed bare a patch of chickweed.

Febuary 28, 2010

Pippi asked me, "What's wrong with the flowers in the vase." "They wilted," I answered. "What's wilted mean?" "Died," I said. The next day she asked, "When I wilt, will I go to heaven?"

March 12, 2010

Pippi loves using her magnifying glass to hunt for bugs, ghosts, and animal tracks. Now she's using it to look down the back of Tommy's diaper. "He's poopy," she hollers.

April 4, 2010

We were outside, a book was lying open on the table and the wind was flipping through the pages. Pippi said, "Look Mom, the wind is reading the book!" I love how she looks at everything.

April 8, 2010

Pippi loves to watch my mom knitting, touching the yarn to her face and fingering the stitches. So she put together her own basket. Yes those are pom poms. And the needle is a wire thingy from an easter toy. She sits, poking a pom pom over and over with the wire, then brings it to me and says, "Look Mommy, I knitted some socks for you."

April 23, 2010

I'm reading Zathura to Pippi and one of the characters is about to step out his house into outerspace and Pip says, "Uh oh, Mommy. He better take an umbrella with him so that he doesn't get smashed by a meteor!"

April 28, 2010

Asked Pippi if she would like to begin learning piano. I explained that she will learn to read sheet music, and one day be able to write her own music, just as she writes her stories. Her response? "When can I make a CD?"

May 1, 2010

"Pippi, what's wrong?" "My eyes are brimming with tears because I really want a chocolate," says she.

May 11, 2010

Pippi is getting Tommy dressed. She said, "I've got to put on your trousers, Tommy. Be still. Tommy, trousers is another word for pants. Did you know that?"

May 14, 2010

Pippi has nicknamed herself "Monkeysee" and Tommy "Monkeydo." Wonder where that came from?

May 16, 2010

Pippi said on the way home from church, "Mommy, I really had fun in my class, but I missed Tommy so much." I love that they are each other's best friend.

May 28, 2010

Pippi has a new obsession. We printed blank music manuscript paper, and Pippi is composing her own songs, then bringing them to me and asking me to play them. She offers freely her opinions of my interpretations, saying, "Oh Mommy, that sounds good," or "That doesn't sound quite right. I think you've got the sheet upside down." Such a perfectionist.

June 5, 2010

Tommy is clunking around the living room in Pippi's shiny black dress shoes, and Pippi said, "Only unique boys wear girls' shoes."

June 11, 2010

Pippi was fooling around on the piano, making up something in the lower octaves. Sounded pretty spooky and dark. But good. Really good. "I call that one, Scooby Runs From Something Really Scary Then Eats a Sandwich," she said.

June 22, 2010

"I wish you just wear blue jeans, because I don't want to sit on your prickly legs." Courtesy of my 4yr old daughter.

June 29, 2010

We are watching the Looney Tunes episode called Baton Bunny, in which Bugs conducts "Morning, Noon, and Night" by Franz von Suppe. Bugs is up to his usual anticts - wandering shirt cuffs, waggling tux tails, conducting with his toes - and Pippi shouted, "Mommy I think Leonard Bernstein watched this cartoon."

July 11, 2010

Pippi is conducting an orchestra, chairs lined up with instruments on each chair. And Tommy is going from chair to chair dumping instruments on the floor. Pippi keeps waving her baton at him, shouting, "Out of the audience, mister!"

July 12, 2010

Tommy was chasing tigers and we told him, "Tommy, you're so brave!" Pippi's response? "I'm not brave. I'm only somewhat courageous."

July 13, 2010

Pippi is preparing for her fifth bday, still two months away. She's making her own party hats and invitations. But homemade paper plates (copy paper) and paper bowls (coffee filters)? Come on, Pippi my thrifty little soul . . . we'll splurg a little. Real storebought paper goods are not too extravagant.

July 16, 2010

Pippi has informed me that she wants a blog too, because, in her words, "I'm a very good writer."

July 23, 2010

Pippi: "Mommy, Pink minus red is white!"

August 16, 2010

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom,trying to spell over Tommy's head within earshot of Pippi. "Mom, after I put Tommy down for his nap, I'll let Pippi watch a m-o-v-i-e," I said. A moment later, Pippi said, "Mom, you spelled movie wrong. It should be m-o-o-v-i-e."
August 18, 2010

Pippi took a stack of books and a flashlight to bed with her last night. When I checked on her five minutes later, she was cradling the flashlight fast asleep. This mornig about 7:30 I found her on her bed looking through the books with the flashlight, despite the fact that her room was bathed in sunlight. "I just needed a little nap first," she said.

August 25, 2010

Pippi: Mommy, are you pregnant?

Me: No.

Pippi: Then why is your belly getting so big?

September 13, 2010

Pippi is becoming quite the cook. She loves digging her hands into the meatball mixture, squishing it all together, and rolling the meatballs. She's got her hands into it, pushing hair out of her face with her forearm, and Marie, her kitten is standing beside her mewing her head off. Pippi says, "I'm sorry Marie. Mommy's got to cook now. You go play and I'll hold you later."

September 18, 2010

Pippi turned five this morning. Last night before she went to sleep she said, "I have to sleep holding my feet so that I can feel myself grow into a five year old."

Trees of the Dancing Goats

Two nights ago, Pippi picked this one from the shelves. I was tired. Exhausted would be a more correct word. Tired in body, mind, and spirit. I didn't feel capable of handling books with heavy thematic content, so not having read this particular Polacco, I skimmed it briefly. Not finding a death bed or fresh grave, I settled in to read it to Pip.

Before we finished the first page, Pippi could tell this was a new sort of book, opening up a new world, a new people to her for the first time. On the first page is a menorah, and the opening scene is that of a family of Ukrainian descent preparing for the eight days of Hannakuh.

By the second page Pippi had unearthed a handful of new words. Menorah. Hanukkah. Ukraine. Babushka. Festivities. Homeland. The third page gave us a brief lesson on candling. By the fourth page, Pippi had me pause while she gathered supplies.

Then she begged me to start over.

"There's so many new words. I have to study them," she said. Each new word, she copied mostly to the letter. Every so often, her eyes and brain would tire and she'd veer off into her own spellings. But she was faithful. No unfamiliar word escaped her notice. Thirty minutes later we finally finished the story.

And she had her first vocabulary list.


Our shelves were bursting with books. And although that's not a bad thing, many of the books were twaddle. And not fun twaddle either. Just . . . fluff. So I did something I feel a bit guilty about. I snuck books off the shelves, passing by Pippi with books shoved under my shirt, in my waistband, and wrapped up in playsilks and blankets. "What are you doing?" she asked a few times.


One of these days she's gonna catch on. Momma starts attacking the bookshelves, walking around with square bumps under her shirt. That means purging.

But today was not that day. She was mostly oblivious. I became especially sneaky when handling her Junie B. Jones stash. I slipped this one and that one under cushions, sliding them on the floor, around the corner where they disapeared into a paper bag. I left her favorite titles. I'm not ruthless. But do we really need the entire collection? I think not.

Four bag fulls of twaddle later, our shelves are neater. Somehow fresh. No longer does a solid tug on one book pull down half the shelf's collection. Now we can flip through the books on the shelf, instead of taking out stack after stack, searching for the perfect book. Now when Pippi asks for the Seven Silly Eaters, I can find it. That one had been missing for months.

And the kids noticed. Nothing was said. Certainly no, "Hey Mom, this looks great!" Nor were there any tears over missing titles (I swear, most will never be missed.) But the kids spent most of the evening pulling books off the shelves and either looking quietly through them, or bringing them to me for a reading. We spent two and a half hours before bed, just reading. Book after book after . . .

I'm actually suffering from a bit of sore throat. I can't remember the last time I read myself hoarse.

And all it took was a bit of weeding.

Some Good Books and an Impromptu Narration

I was looking forward to book time last night. I had hauled my bags of twaddle to my favorite bookstore to turn in for credit. I came home with a small treasure.

Among the booty was this gem, Princess Nobody by Andrew Lang and illustrated by Robert Doyle. If I was somewhat befuddled by what makes twaddle twaddle, and what makes a living book . . . well living, one look at these exquisite illustrations, rivaled only by Beatrix Potter in my humble opinion, cleared up the matter for me.

I'm constantly amazed by how little I know about books.

Before my children were born, I worked in children's books. I've been reading to my kids for five years. And this snail riding fairy had never before made our acquaintance. But that's the fun of this book seeking business. If I knew all there was to know about good children's books, the world would be dreadfully dull, with no surprise, no secret thrill at what lies between the book wrappers.

But I digress.

For all the book build up, I was expecting an exciting session, Pippi pouring over the pages, taking in all the detail. See, I do that quite a bit. Spin scenarios in my head, building things up so that the actual event could never possibly measure up. So I was more than a bit disappointed when she said she'd rather tell stories than read books.

Tell stories? Come on. Any other night and I'd be fine with it. But tonight. Princess Nobody awaits. Not to mention The Hundred Dresses I'd been teasing her with for days.

Nope. Just stories.

So Pip begged my mom to join us, we turned out all the lights, buried ourselves under way too many blankets, and began. My mom told a story about how my great grandmother and grandfather met on a dance floor, got married, and had a little girl, Fay. A year after they were married, my great grandfather gave his bride an oblong wooden box filled with candy. That box now holds my mother's knitting needles.

My story continued the Old Testament saga. Whispers of a Deliverer filled Egypt's Hebrews with expectation and resigned bitterness. Yochebed had just begun to feel the first birth pangs as the boy child chosen by God turned in her womb.

"We'll continue tomorrow night," I said. I always end on a cliffhanger. I've learned a thing or two by watching shows like 24 and Lost. End with tension, fate of mankind in the balance, the world in flux, and you ensure your audience will return. So I never tie anything up neatly for Pippi. I want her to think and wonder about the story throughout her day.

"Now my story," she said.

"Once upon a time, a long time ago," she began, "a little baby was born, named Joseph. His father's name was Jacob. And Joseph had a whole lot of brothers. And Jacob loved Joseph so much. So one day, Jacob went and bought him . . . a car seat."

"Did they have car seats back then?" she whispered.

"No, they didn't," I said, glad of the dark so she wouldn't see my face.

"So," she continued, "Jacob made a car seat out of a lot of wood, and Jacob put Joseph in the car seat in a carriage that was pulled by a lot of . . . horses. And they rode for many days and many nights until they got to . . . Bethlehem. And a lot of years had passed because the journey was so long, so by now Joseph was a little boy. And he grew out of his car seat. Carriage seat, I mean. I think."

"And while, Joseph was in Bethlehem, he met . . . Momma, who did he meet?"

"Ummm. . ." I fumbled.

"Do you mean the disciples?" my mom prompted.

"Yes, the disciples."

"Matthew was a disciple. And John," my mom offered.

"So in Bethlehem, Joseph met Matthew and John and all the other disciples. And by this time Joseph was an old, old man. Until all of the disciples died. And after the disciples died . . . Jesus was born."

"And then Joseph and Jacob went back home to . . . their home, and there they met Joseph's brother, Benjamin, for the first time."

"The end."

Um . . . wow.

If her narration is any indication of what she has learned so far, I've got my work cut out for me.

The Story of a Pumpkin

Oh, how I love Fall. Apparently, Pippi does too. We dug her winter clothes out of the cedar chest a week ago, and she's been running around the house, yard, and about town in sweaters, stocking caps, and scarves despite the fact that here in the South, temps swing wildly in the Fall - fifties in the morning, upper seventies, even eighties in the afternoon.

Perhaps my favorite part of fall is the food. Sausage on a stick. Roasted ears of corn. My mamma's apple cake muffins. Wassail. Hot chocolate made with whipping cream instead of milk.

And pumpkin. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin pancakes. Pumpkin cookies. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin soup. Spiced rice pudding swirled with pumpkin. Love the stuff. But all those cans of pumpkin get a bit pricey. Especially as much as we have been using.

So I bought my first pumpkin. Now, I'm great about thinking up activities, buying weird foods, intending to experiment. Bad about following through. There is a coconut sitting on the counter. Been there about a month. Before that sad coconut, there was another coconut. It rotted. All it would take is a screw driver and a bit of muscle and we'd have fresh coconut milk, but . . . well, I'd have to go down to the garage and search for the screw driver, and it'd take a really long time tapping at that coconut eye . . . and, well . . . Pretty soon we'll have another rotted coconut.

So I'm sure everyone rolled there eyes, when I rolled in the pumpkin. But low and behold, we dug into that thing the day after I bought it. Really! And we had the most fun. So here it is, the story of a pumpkin.

Pippi had finally taken off her layers of winter garb, admitting that seventy-ish degrees was not exactly winter, and she and Tommy began to droop a bit. We'd played restaurant, king of the hill (with hay bails- very fun), hunted for bugs, and rubbed dirt into all the stuffed animals (that would be Tommy), and they'd begun to get that I'm bored, nothing to do look in their eyes.

So I rolled the pumpkin outside.

From start to finish, this was the most fun we've had in a while. Tommy was reluctant to stick his hand in it, kept calling it fire, talked about getting burned. And with the sunlight shining in through the hole I'd carved, the insides did sort of shimmer like firelight.

But Pippi had no such reservations. She dug in, squished the pith through her fingers. Then she helped me separate the pith from the seeds, which we set aside for later.

The pith, I gave to the kids, and their game of restaurant began anew. This time with pumpkin pith, cups of water, and okra from the garden. Pumpkin soup with nutmeg and cloves (dirt and more dirt) were on today's menu at Cafe Pip 'n' Tom.

After lunch, Tommy went down for his nap. While Pippi played not so quietly, my mother prepared the pumpkin for roasting while I attended to the seeds. For the seeds, I cleansed the seeds of pith. This probably would have been easier if I had done this while the seeds were still wet instead of letting them dry, the pith hardening like snot dried hard on my son's cheek. Then I spread them in a pan, sprayed them lightly with olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt, and roasted them on 300 degrees for about twenty-five minutes, stirring them once about halfway through. Yummy. Maybe next time I'll try tossing them with pumpkin pie spice.

To dress the pumpkin, my mom cut the pumpkin into three inch (or so) chunks, scraping off the pith with a paring knife. Then she turned the chunks skin side up in a roasting pan. For our pumpkin, we needed two roasting pans. Then she ran about 1/4 of an inch of water into the pan. Then put them into a 300 degree oven for about an hour and a half.

While the pumpkin roasted, Pippi and I read books. I must admit, I slipped my own selection into her stack. I couldn't resist. Have you discovered the Mousekin books by Edna Miller? Exquisite. I love these sweet forest stories. We read Mousekin's Golden House, a gentle story about Mousekin stumbling upon a discarded jack-o-lantern in the woods. When an owl flies at him, he jumps into the lantern. Sunlight floods the interior with a molten glow. He begins to line the pumpkin with feathers, thistledown, and milkweed, preparing his winter home. As the first snow of winter blanket's the ground, the lantern's eyes and mouth close, sealing the sleeping Mousekin inside

Snug as a mouse in a pumpkin.

After the pumpkin roasting, my momma mashed the pieces with a potato masher until the chunks were broken down quite a bit. Then while I cooked the evening meal, she slaved away with the immersion blender, reducing the mashed pumpkin into a puree every bit as fine as the golden stuff that comes in the can. Would we do this again? Not until I get a food processor. Momma spent an hour on the blending. Even for all the savings, that's a bit much to ask of a person's time.

But are we glad we did it?

Ask my mom.

Green Oranges

We have two new mandarin trees in the front yard. We put them in the ground in Feburary, and within days they were covered with sweet smelling flowers. Now for trees that young, a person should knock off all the blooms, allow the tree to put all it's energy into growing big and strong. I know this. But those blossoms smelled so good. Made weeding the bed around them a joy.

So when I saw my dad out there one morning knocking off all the blooms, I joined him. Not exactly a Fern Arable moment. My dad certainly wasn't sporting an ax about to cut a squealing life short. But it sure did seem a shame to knock all the blooms off. Couldn't we keep just a few? Or nine? Or ten? This was the question I put to my dad. Even though I knew better.

My dad left a few. Or nine. Or ten. Even though he knew better.

The blooms eventually fell off, revealing tiny round green balls, about the size of sweet peas. All through the spring and summer, they balls grew. But the trees did not.

Summer is through. Fall is upon us. The growing season is nearly gone, and the trees are not much bigger than they were when we planted them. So my dad went out and picked ten green oranges. Full size, just about to turn, but definitely green. Figured if we gave the trees a month or so to grow before the first frost, maybe they will make it through the winter.

So, ten green oranges lay on the table.

My dad was the first to peel one. Green on the outside. Pale orange on the inside. Beautiful.

He took a bite. "They're sweet," he said.

That was all the invitation we needed.

I scooped up two of them, and the kids and I headed outside. I peeled one for Pippi, one for Tommy. Pippi took hers to the awning swing, enjoyed it slowly, quietly. Tommy gobbled his up, dribbling juice down his chin, neck, shirt. His mandarin disappeared all too quickly.

"More," he begged.

"It's all gone," I said, showing him my empty hands.

"Green oranges gone?" he asked. "Pick more," he said headed for the front yard.

"Grandad picked them all."

"Oh." He hung his head and walked away.

Thinking the matter over, I pulled out my seed box, and began sorting them, filling a small basket with fall seed packets.

Tommy was back a few minutes later, hands behind his back, a big grin on his sticky face.

"What did you find?" I asked.

He opened his hand, and answered.

"Green figs."

Charlotte Would Have Smiled

I tend to imagine Charlotte Mason as a prim matron, no-nonsense, gentle yet stern, musn't dirty your clothes sort. Which is ludicrous, because Miss Mason was an advocate of play in childhood, of children living life mostly out of doors. And although living books, under a CM form of education, are the feasts upon which we should be daily supping, a person's gotta have a bite of chocolate now and then. Or even a fresh donut.

So while it's not McGuffy's Eclectic Reader, I believe Charlotte would have smiled at Pippi's latest reading lesson.

I know I did.

And you should have heard Pippi laughing. It was the sort of laughter born of total comprehension.

In other words, she got the joke.

Peter Piper Slays The Dragon

"We're going to be late for our honeymoon because Peter Piper wants to swing," Pippi says, swaying in her dress-up bride dress, fidgeting with her veil and tiara. I must say, she does make a lovely Lady Patsy in her getup. "Yeah. I Peter Piter," Tommy says. I stop the swing so that I can adjust the red cowboy boots that slip off of his heels with nearly every backswing. "Where are you going on your honeymoon?" I ask "To buy some food for our babies. Our carriage will take us to the store so I can buy them some artichokes and peanut butter." "So, you and Peter Piper have children already, do you?" "No, they're at the hospital. We'll go there after we get the food." "Come on, Peter. We're late. I hear the babies crying," Pippi yells. Tommy slips down. "I coming," he yells. Then they both run to the awning swing where Pippi is positioning in front, the red Radio Flyer trike, the plastic Dora trike, and the two yellow dump trucks. "These are the horses," she says. "There are ninety-nine horses, and this is our carriage. She helps Tommy onto the swing cushions. "Our carriage is made of the finest china . . . and lace . . . and strings of jewels surround these windows here," she points to the space between the swing frame and the bottom of the awning. "And the cushions are pink silk with the tiniest pearls." Tommy takes off his boots and shakes a cup full of sand onto the cushions. "You are the driver, Mommy, and you have to make the horses go." I take up my reigns (cord used to tie up hay bales) and slap the dump trucks. "Giddyup," I holler. "Now, Peter, we're going to be dreadfully late because you played too long. So while we're driving I want to sit here and read my book. So please be quiet." And she takes up my copy of Heidi and sticks her nose in it. "I see a dragon," Tommy says in a mannerly conversational tone. "Hush now, Peter. I'm trying to read," says Pippi. "There! A dragon!" Tommy's standing on the swing now, pointing to a bird circling above. "That's not a dragon. It's just a bunch of squirrels, Peter," Pippi says, never looking up from her book. "A dragon! I go eat 'em up!" Tommy jumps over the dump trucks, lands tangled up in the Dora trike, picks himself up then grabs his sword (PVC pipe.) "Oh, Peter! I see it! Peter watch out! It's coming after us!" "I get it! I eat it up! I Peter Piter! I eat it up!"
Funny what a book can spark. Pippi and I spent Tommy's naptime reading the Racketty Packetty House, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I had read through the first few pages on my Kindle, knew Pip would love it, and began with my usual pitch. "Want me to read, while you draw?" I asked. "Sure." She took up a red marker, continued her work. My offer barely made a blip on her radar. An hour and a half later, she was on the floor, beside her dollhouse, acting out the story with her own dolls, prompting me to keep reading anytime I stopped to sip my coffee. She was not the only one a bit miffed when Tommy woke up early. I put aside my Kindle, wondering in what dire conditions I left the poor Castle dolls, languishing with scarlet fever with no one to tend them. For those of you who have not yet been enchanted by this story, I'll give you a brief rundown. Not too much information, mind you. That would ruin the story. Racketty Packetty House, published in 1906, is a story about two doll houses and the dolls who live in them. One house is old and shabby, a relic from the Victorian era, with holes in the carpet, pushed behind a chair and forgotten. The other house, a castle, is inhabited by a noble family of Ladies and Lords. The story is narrated by Queen Crosspatch, who more than once with the aide of the Fairies, saves the dollhouse from being destroyed by a grumpy nurse. The free edition I downloaded to my Kindle is without pictures, so without any visual aids, Pippi and I were free to dress Peter Piper, of the Racketty Packetty house, in the most dilapidated attire, while Lady Patsy, of the Castle set, reposes on her armchair, chin in hand gazing across the nursery floor at the shabby dolls frolicking in their parlor. And although, I know Charlotte Mason recommended choosing books with few pictures so as to free the child's imagination, and Pippi certainly did not seem bothered by the lack of pictures, I would have liked to have caught a glimpse of Queen Crosspatch. And Ridiklis. And Gustibus. And Lady Gwendolen. I would not be surprised if the illustrated thingy edition is found wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning. Oh, and the bit about the dragon? Purely Tommy. No dragons to speak of in the book. Fairies, yes. And nursery magic in good measure. But alas, no dragons. Tommy will oblige Pippi in almost any charade she proposes, even consenting to step into the split-toe boots of "Peter Piter," a character of which he knows nothing, and ride around in a pink cushioned carriage. As long as he gets to fight a dragon and eat 'em up in the end, he's content.

Sarah Beth

A few weeks ago, my grandmother sent home with my dad, who had been visiting, a rabbit. A soft cotton stuffed rabbit, with long loopy ears, blue print dress, and a white apron. My Grammy had sewn her ages ago for one of her children, and was now passing the rabbit, named Sarah Beth, to our Pippi. And she wanted me to write a story to go along with the bunny, give it a past, a history.

Immediately, I got to work - in my head that is. Going all blank eyed, when my children would ask me the same question over and over again, Tommy all but bopping me with a toy to get my attention. At first it was very hard to keep the Velveteen Rabbit and Edward Tulane far from my mind, two books I adore. You see, I didn't want this to be just another bunny story. I wanted this to be something my children, and my Grammy, would treasure.

Then about a week ago and a half ago, I hit upon it.

My Grammy is having some difficulty remembering. Mostly, it's remembering names of things, common everyday things, but I fear all too soon it will be names of people. Children. Grandchildren. Stories. Faces.

So I wanted to give her something to help her remember. I wanted to give her a book of memories. Have you ever read that delightful book by Mem Fox, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge? It's about a little boy who lives next door to a retirement home. He befriends a woman who has lost her memory, and he sets about collecting things, things that he believes embody the essence of memory. Each thing he collects - the egg still warm from the sitting hen, the funny feathered puppet dancing at the end its strings - each thing evokes a long lost memory.

That is what I want to do with this book. Loosely based on fact, the story will follow the lives of my Grammy, Granddad and their six children, with the rabbit as the thread that weaves in and out of the storyline. Some stories are old family stories. Some are purely made up. But I hope that this book captures the essence of who my family is. I hope that in reading this book, my Grammy remembers, not just stories, but faces. The curve of a smile. The tilt of a head. The warm breath of a sleeping baby.

Here is a sample from the second chapter. To set the scene, the rabbit has been rechristened. Sarah Beth is now Gus, and instead of a flowered blue dress, the rabbit sports a camouflage night dress.

Here is Bernard, one day in March when he is ten months old. Helen sits on the back porch shelling English peas while Barnard plays in the grass beneath the clothes line. Above his head, his diapers scrubbed clean that morning and bleached white by the sun, snap back and forth in the salty breeze.

At the midpoint of the line hangs Gus, pinned by his ears. To the right of him hangs his camouflage night shirt. To his left, the olive green bandanna.

Although Helen scrubbed hard at his head and ears with an old toothbrush and a scoop of baking soda, she was unable to remove all traces of mud, and a milky brown stain bruises his left ear. Helen pops a green pea in her mouth, and laughs again.

"What is it with boys?" she wonders aloud. A girl would never have thought to bury the rabbit's head down to its shoulders in the mud hole beneath the water spout. She'd caught Barnard, just as he'd stuffed one of Gus' legs up the spout, trying to feed the other foot in beside it. Gus' head had all but disappeared in the sludgy pool beneath the spout.

She'd been angry, a hot flush rising in her cheeks, a harsh word forming on her lips. Until her boy looked up at her and grinned, his face just as dirty as the rabbit's.

Now Barnard plays beneath his soggy rabbit, laying on his back, pulling his feet to his mouth and sucking on his big toes, rolling to his right, then his left. Then he pushes himself onto his feet and reaches for Gus' feet.

"Barnard. No," Helen warns. Barnard looks at her, grins, grabs both of Gus' feet.

"Barnard," Helen warns again setting aside the colander half full of shelled peas.

Barnard pulls with all his little might, and the ears snap free of the clothes pins. Barnard and Gus tumble to the ground, roll into a patch of white clover. Barnard pops Gus' left ear into his mouth and begins sucking.

Helen gets up, crosses the yard and takes Gus away. "I said no," Helen says. "Gus needs to dry."

She hangs him by his ears again and moves Barnard nearer to the porch and pulls from her apron pocket, his cloth book sewn from bits of cloth from the scrap bag. On the first page is an over sized orange button fitting the over sized button hole on the adjoining denim flap. Barnard skips past this page, and the page with the lace up shoe, and turns to the zipper page, made from an embroidered red linen napkin that she'd accidentally scorched with the flat iron.

Bernard begins at the bottom, works the zipper up to the top, splitting the page into two pieces, then yanks the zipper back down, rejoining them again. Zipping and unzipping. Zipping and unzipping.

Helen sets her bowl between her legs again and resumes shelling. She pulls at the stringy bit, then unzips the pod, scooping out the green peas with her thumb.

While she and Barnard work, Barnard begins to hum. He's been doing this lately, making a sound in the back of his throat with his mouth closed, his voice rising and falling, almost like a yodel. Wyndell was the first to hear him making this sound. He had taken Barnard into the garage with him, talking to him as he swept sawdust into small piles. When he bent over to sweep the piles into the dust pan, Barnard began making that sound, that later Wyndell swore sounded like music. "Impossible. He's not even talking yet," Helen had said.

Now listening to Barnard yodel, Helen understands why Wyndell called it music. His voice rises through a scale in an almost pitch perfect sequence of thirds. When his voice reaches the peak of it's scaffolding, it warbles a bit, before descending along a minor slope, hitting nearly every flat along the way.

She shakes her head, smiling at her musical boy, and sets the bowl aside, about to shamble to the pea patch to pick another pocket full, when she stops. Turns and faces Barnard.

His mouth is open now, brown eyes searching through the oak's branches, listening to the squirrels chittering among the branches. Barnard begins clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, chittering back to the squirrels. One squirrel pauses, scampers down to the bottom branch, and watches Bernard warily.

Barnard chitters again, this time changing the inflection, raising the pitch by a third.

The squirrel runs down the trunk, and scuffles across the grass, stopping a yard away from Barnard.

The tanned skin around Bernard's eyes crinkle as the sun shines bright through the leaves causing Bernard to squeeze his eyes shut.

The spell is broken.

Helen walks to the garden, and fills her apron pocket full of peas from the trellised vines.

It is not until that night after she tucks Bernard and Gus into their crib. Not until she pulls Barnard's blanket to his chin that she realizes why the squirrel looked at her son so.

Barnard spoke to the squirrel.

And the squirrel understood.

I'd hoped to be finished by Christmas, but that's a long shot. So until the book is finished, I will probably be pretty quiet here. Please forgive my silence. I hope to pop in at least once a week. Because we are reading some wonderful books that I would love to share with you. I probably won't provide book links, or pictures unless absolutely stunning. My prose will be spare. Syntax a bit choppy. And grammatical errors will abound.

Just know that we are here. Plugging away at this homeschool thing. And loving (almost) every minute of it. Wishing we could share more with you.

My Cup Is Full

I posted here about the book I've begun writing, a story about a stuffed rabbit named Sarah Beth that my Grammy made decades ago for one of her children.

Christmas Eve, after the children went to bed, my husband and I set out the the gifts, including dear Sarah Beth, not wrapping her, but sitting her on top of one of the larger gifts, nestled against the tree.

Christmas morning, minutes after the kids stumbled upstairs, Pippi, Sarah Beth, and I sat on the couch, while I explained a bit of the history of the rabbit, letting her know I was writing a story of her life.

Earlier today, Pippi came to me, holding Sarah Beth, and asked me to read what I'd written.

So I did. All of it. Pippi didn't wiggle once. No head stands on the couch. No fidgeting. No yawning. Nothing that would indicate boredom. Once she said, "I love this story," her eyes a bit moisty. My mom sat on my right, my dad on Pippi's left, while my husband entertained Tommy downstairs. Everything about that thirty minutes or so was . . . I can't even think of a good word to describe how that felt.

Pippi never met my Granddad, her great grandfather. But now she knows he was the minister of Pine Burr Baptist Church, liked to chew on paper, and couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. She never met her great uncle, who died when I was not much older than our Pip, but she now knows he loved music and was unusually talented, even as a child. She now knows that my Grammy loves buttermilk, and that she washed clothes by hand, hung them out to dry, and pressed them with a flat iron.

And she knows the chorus of He Lives, one of my favorite hymns as a child.

And when I finished reading, Pippi said, "I have a Winnie-the-Pooh doll, for the Pooh stories, and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for their stories. And now I have a Sarah Beth doll for the Sarah Beth stories."

Whether or not the world ever finds merit in my humble scratchings, to know that my daughter puts me up there with Milne and Gruelle, is . . .

My heart is full.

Here is another sample from the stories.

Two months later, Helen ties her apron, now a bit tight, around her waist. She is now expecting their second child, and finds that her clothes have begun to feel a bit snug.

The day before, she'd dug her two maternity frocks from the cedar chest, knocking aside a slim brown package in the process. She retrieved the package, sat down on the edge of the bed, and untied the twine. She folded back the butcher paper and pink tissue paper, then lifted the soft blue cotton print and nuzzled it to her cheek. "Some day, Sarah Beth," she whispered, before rewrapping the clothes and returning them to the chest.

Now she irons the yellow dress while Barnard plays with the white sackcloth bag full of clothes pins. He works at trying to squeeze hard enough to make the closed ends pop open as he's seen his mother do time and again.

"You'll get an awful surprise the first time you manage to open one," Helen says. Barnard looks at her and smiles, goes back to his work. He holds Gus' floppy ear in one hand, the clothes pin in the other, and tries to force the ear between the closed ends.

Helen sets the iron aside and whips the dress off the ironing board. The cotton smells hot and starchy, like a hot, crispy jacket potato. A good smell.

She hangs the dress in the window, and sunlight illuminates the yellow dress, filling the room with soft buttery light. She takes up the blue dress, smooths it flat on the board and spritzes it with starch water. When the flat iron touches the moistened cloth, it sizzles, sending up a cloud of steam.

Once the blue maternity dress is fully pressed, she unties her apron, slips off her slim brown dress, then lowers the warm cotton frock down over her head, slipping her arms into the armholes. She adjusts the billowy cloth over her burgeoning waist, then ties her apron back around her middle.

"Come along Barnard," she says, taking Barnard in hand.

I hope your Christmas was filled with joy. Unspeakable joy.

Ours was.

As a year filled with money worries, cancer, tension, and uncertainty draws to a close, I can truly say

Our cup overflows.

Maybe Something Is Stuck Inside

About six months ago, the music minister at our church gave me a saxophone. He wasn't even sure if it worked, but I was welcome to it, he said. I played the flute in high school and messed around on my brother's sax. All woodwind instruments have similar fingerings, making it possible to pick up an instrument you've never before played and squeak out a recognizable melody.

So I took home the instrument, put it together, blew with all my might, and . . .


Nothing but puffy cheeks and a light head.

The kids were crowded around me, expecting me to do something more than click the keys and blow. So I looked up a YouTube tutorial, followed the directions carefully, and tried it again.

This time I managed a loud honk, scaring the kids.

I put it away. Didn't touch it again.

The day after Christmas, my brother and his fiance came to visit. After visiting with them for awhile, I said, "Guess what I've got downstairs?"

"What?" my brother asked a bit nervously.

"A saxophone," I said.

He and his fiance exchanged a look. A charged look.

Turns out he deeply regrets pawning his saxophone shortly after high school. And they've looked for a new one - or more accurately, a used one - but found nothing within their budget.

"I'm not sure it works," I said, not wanting him to get his hopes up, explaining what had happened when I'd given it a try.

He put it together, clicked the keys a bit, checked the pads, making sure nothing was missing. Then he blew. With all his might.


He started talking about repair costs, significantly less than purchasing a new or used one, all the while, fiddling with the mouthpiece, reed, and bell.

Pippi looked at it and said, "Maybe something is stuck inside."

"Oh, I don't think so, Pippi," I said. Surely it couldn't be that simple.

"Maybe. Could be," my brother said. "I got something stuck in my sax once and it sounded . . . ." He took off the neck. Asked for a flashlight.

"It sounded sort of like it did just now," he continued, shining the light down the neck.

"There's something in there." He looked up at me, grinning, excited.

We used tweezers. A dowel rod. Whatever it was wasn't budging. Then I went and got this strange long wiry scrubber sort of thing that my mom had put in my stocking. "It's to clean your tea pot," she'd said. I laid it aside and forgot about it until we went hunting for something long and skinny and just the right width to shove down the neck.

It worked.

Out popped . . .

another mouthpiece, clanging down into the bell.

After my brother stopped laughing, and grinning (because it's very hard to hold your mouth just so when your mouth is spread wide in a goofy grin), he blew.

And out came the most beautiful, mellow sound.


I'm so glad my mom gave me that odd little scratcher brush.

I'm so glad I produced no more than a squawk the day that I tried and tried. Because if I had, I would have practiced. And practiced. Until it started to sound good. And it would have been much harder to just give it away.

And I'm so glad that my brother is the sort of person who really listens to kids. Really listens.

Because sometimes I forget how good my kids are at problem solving. That most of what they say is valid, and worthy of my complete attention. But being with my kids all the time, hearing them talk so much, I'm guilty of sometimes . . . tuning them out. Disregarding what they have to say before they even speak.

But not my brother. He has infinite patience.

When Pippi was two and a half and Tommy was a babe in the sling, my brother visited. And I remember them sitting together at her desk. Sharpening pencils. For an hour. He didn't squirm. Didn't glance at the clock. Get up for water. Go to the bathroom. Nothing to indicate that he wasn't completely captivated by their task. That hour that he spent at the pencil sharpener with her was important. There was worth in what she was doing at that moment. Not once did he say, "Well, maybe this should be the last pencil," or "Let's do something else." He just sat there with her, patient, attentive.

I'm so glad I was able to give my brother just the right gift for Christmas. Because he gave me a gift of great value.

He reminded me of how important it is to really listen to my kids.

Because had it been me, I would not have asked for a flashlight, wouldn't have looked down the neck.

I would have brought it to the sage repair man.

And paid a whopping Benjamin or two.

For him to tell me that indeed,

"Something is stuck inside."


In early December we spent a weekend at a lodge in the woods a short hike away from the lake with my mother's rather large extended family. It was an amazing two days, spent bear hunting with sticks and imagination, staying up crazy late, and playing cut throat chicken foot. On the last day, my uncle pulled out his bows and let all the kids take turns shooting at a target.

Pippi waited patiently while all her boy cousins had their turns. All missed, the arrows shooting off into the woods.

Up stepped Pippi. My uncle spent some time with her, teaching her how to hold the bow, how to pull back, how to let it go.

Then, she let it fly.


My little girl hit the deer target in the rump on her first shot.

My daddy, a hunter by nature, was pickled tink. He went out and bought her a bow and arrow, set up a hay target in the backyard and is giving her bow hunting lessons. My mother is teaching Pippi how to knit and how to play the piano. And my father will soon begin teaching Tommy how to build, using a hand saw, hammer, and nails.

And they continually teach me, with few words, leading by example, how to be a quieter, gentler wife, how to mother with the right mix of sternness and tenderness, how to work diligently without grumbling, and how to play.

On this, the day before our house is to be inspected, clearing the way for a potential buyer, I have no misgivings, no regrets about how we have chosen to live our lives. We are an uncommon family in uncommon times. We choose to live together - grandparents, parents, and children - under one roof. And although our choice grew out of financial difficulty, we are getting so much we didn't bargain for. For how long we will live this way, I do not know. But for now, I am content. And so thankful for God's blessings beyond measure.

It' Not A Stick

The kids and I read Not a Box and it's sequel Not a Stick about a year ago. They were both pretty good. I didn't feel compelled to run out and buy them full price, but they were good. If I saw them on the used book shelf, I'd definitely snag them.

But on with the show. I must get breakfast started and here I sit at the computer again. Believe it or not, this post is not about a book. The books definitely sparked the idea for this post when I was browsing through photos of the kids, but really this post is all about my kids. About how creative they are. About how creative kids in general can be when they are allowed to explore and play with things "inappropriately."

I know people who try to keep all toy sets together. All the time. Never shall the triceratops from the dinosaur puzzle be stuck in the ficus tree in the living room. Yes I know, he's prowling in the jungle, about to pounce on pour unsuspecting Benjamin Bunny from the wooden toy basket. But you see, that puzzle piece might get lost. And I'd just have to throw the whole thing away. Agggghhh! And pray, tell me, why are there markers and crayons stuck in the play dough. A birthday cake? I see. And play dough covering your trucks? Oh, it's a blanket. Yes that makes sense.

My kids love to mix their toys. Strewing pieces from this set and that one all over the house while participating in various expeditions, hunts, safaris, etc. And I know about those anal parents who try to just keep it all together, contained, because I am one. And I try very, very hard to hide it. Just bite my tongue, let them play, and try not to fuss too much later when I want them to just help clean it all up already.

And another pet peeve is bringing indoor toys outside. My visiting friends probably marvel at my careless manner when the kids drag polly pockets, dinosaur sets, blankets, dolls outside and I barely bat an eye, smile and say calmly, "Sure, that's fine. Just put it back when your finished with it." If only my friends could hear the stomach acids stewing around, churning, churning, churning. See the nails digging into my palms. Taste the salty tang of blood because I've bit down a smidgen too hard on my tongue.

I try so hard to just let these things go. I don't consider myself materialistic. Not in the traditional womanly sense. I don't care a heap about my clothes. I spend no more than a buck on any one piece (thrift store dollar sales.) And makeup? I recently replaced the mascara tube that I bought for my wedding day, eight years ago. And cars. Furniture. My hair. Fingernails. The last - and only time - I had a manicure was for the senior prom. A lady named Charlene with big hair gave me french tips, while her twin sister Darlene - with even bigger hair - sat popping her gum and chatting. True story.

But I digress. All that to say, I don't care about the things women are supposed to care about. But the toys. And books. I have to just keep my mouth shut. Try not to scold too severely when Tommy rips up his dinosaur pop-up book. And you know what? He's had a blast with that book. Still does, even though his brontosaurus has lost his neck, and the T-Rex is missing a leg and several teeth.

So, that brings me to the whole book tie-in. Not a Stick is about a child who is holding . . . well, a stick. But he insists it's not a stick. It's a sword. A baton. A paintbrush. You get the picture.

We were outside one day, and Pippi and Tommy had of course dragged just about every toy they own outdoors. Toys strewn from one end of the yard to another. Cleanup was gonna be fun.

Then Tommy walked up to me, held up this stick with his Luke Skywalker figure sitting astried. "It's a spaceship!" He said. He spent a good while zooming Luke around the yard. When he abandoned the stick, moved on to something else, probably peeing in the dirt, Pippi came along, picked up the stick, looked at it for awhile then ran into the house. She returned a minute later with the bag of rubber bands from the craft box.

Oh no, not more stuff, I groaned inwardly. "What are the rubber bands for?" I asked. "To make a slingshot," she answered. "So I can shoot a squirrel."

The stick had a fork at one end, really the perfect sort of stick for a slingshot. I helped her secure the bands, she filled her pocket with stones, and set off hunting those furry tailed rodents. Didn't work. She decided we need a giant rubber band, which illuminates her amazing problem solving skills. Bad mommy still hasn't remembered to go buy those giant rubber bands, but you know what? It just might work. I think a giant rubber band would actually work.

All this to say, the next time your kids are driving you crazy, dragging clothes, blankets, sticks, acorns, rocks, etc. all over the house and yard. Think of me. And bite your tongue.

Because in your child's mind, It's not a stick. It's a spaceship. It's not a puzzle piece. It's a dinosaur. It's not a box. It's a car. And those ties, drug out of your husbands closet? Well, seat belts, of course. The world becomes their play yard. Their toy box. And isn't childhood, toddlerhood, such a young age to so severely limit them.

Those puzzle pieces are only to be played with with the puzzle.

Just my humble opinion, but when we limit them so - not just in there play but also in their work (ie - That's not the way you work that problem. You do it this way.), I believe we raise adults who can not be creative. Think outside the box.

A box is a box.

A stick is a stick.

Nothing else.

That's How My Kids Play

I wrote here about how my kids love of mixing toys sets off my OCD tendencies. I was picking up toys a few days ago, putting sets back together and such, when I happened on this happy scene. I called Pippi over to explain the action.

The kitten with the pink Polly Pocket skirt on her head? Well, a party hat, of course. It's kitty Mocha's birthday, and all her friends are invited. Lilly, Chester, and Wilson (from the Lily books by Kevin Henkes. Please tell me you've read those.) And Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny are also in attendance. And the fish/rocks? Well silly, that's dinner. Astrid (not in the picture) took her catapult out to the river and knocked the fish dead on the head, and fried them up for the birthday feast.

Then after frying up the fish, Astrid got in her fire truck and drove down to the toy store to buy Mocha's gifts. These are her gifts scattered about Mocha's playroom. And yes, they all live at the local fire station.

And my Tommy? He's happy as long as he gets to "bang them all dead."

And for those of you curious about the wooden character toys, read this.

Chain Reader

Those of you with me since the beginning of Books For Breakfast may remember Chain Reader, a post on how I've become a person who habitually reads multiple books at once, and how I've benefited from my new habit. My former self gobbled books whole, moving on to the next before I'd digested the meal. Now I read slowly. On purpose. Pausing to ponder. Stopping to think.

How wonderful to marvel at a clever turn of phrase, such as this one, from Middlemarch by George Elliot:
Celia's face had the shadow of a pouting expression in it, the full presence of the pout being kept back by an habitual awe of Dorothea and principle: two associated facts which might show a mysterious electricity if you touched them incautiously.
Or this, from Tozer's Pursuit of God, a book that I've been reading for three months without getting past the third chapter. Not because of disinterest. But because it takes that long for the words to deeply penetrate. And affect change.

With the veil removed by the rending of Jesus' flesh, with nothing on God's side to prevent us from entering (the Holy of Holies), why do we tarry without? . . . What but the presence of a veil in our hearts? a veil not taken away as the first veil was, but which remains there still shutting out the light and hiding the face of God from us. It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for these reasons we have never brought to the judgment of the cross . . . So I am bold to name the threads out of which this inner veil is woven. It is woven of the fine threads of the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we do, they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power. . . self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them.

. . . that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.
Words such as these beg attention. Contemplation. How much do we miss when we speed through? Consume but not absorb?

I've been reading in this manner for about a year now. And about six months ago, I began to think, why not open up such experiences to Pippi? Up until then, we would read one chapter length book at a time. Some to which she was receptive - such as Betsy-Tacy - some not so much. Lots of wiggling and hand stands going on.

But when I began to pace our readings, I noticed a change.

But before the change, I'll first explain our schedule.

We typically read about ten books at a time. One chapter a day in most cases. Sometimes she begs, and I relent, and we will read two or three chapters in a sitting. But I try to hold her to just one. Nothing like an unquenched thirst to bring her back to the cup.

So here's our reading schedule. I read aloud from two long books a day, one in the morning while she works on handwriting, and one at night before bed. Rest assured, though, we read plenty of picture books throughout the day.

Sunday - Because we have church, this day is an exception. We don't do lessons on Sunday morning, so we have only one read aloud, Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland.

Monday morning, I read from The Japanese Twins, part of a series written in the early twentieth century by Lucy Fitch Perkins. With detailed descriptions of food, dress, customs, and the land paired with challenging vocabulary and syntax, packed into a story about five year old twins, I can not imagine a better way to introduce children to other countries. And for our night reading, we have been reading from The Adventures of Grandfather Frog by Thornton Burgess. Our adventure with Grandfather Frog came to an end last night, with a new adventure with Jeremy Muskrat waiting in the wings.

Tuesday morning, I have begun reading from Stories of American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston, a challenging primer in American history. Evenings, we read from TWIG by Elizabeth Orton Jones.

Wednesday morning, we work on memory work for the scripture memorization program at our church. Evenings, we read from the Beatrix Potter stories. These, she is also beginning to read to herself.

Thursday morning, I read from her choice of books, usually Pippi Longstocking. Evenings I read a chapter from Winnie the Pooh. This is a favorite. Pippi and Tommy also listen to the audio recording of the Pooh books at night while they wait for sleep.

Friday morning, I read a chapter from Among the Night People, part of a natural science series written by Clara Dillingham Pierson. Evenings, I read aloud from the Rageddy Andy stories.

Saturday morning, I read from Stories from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson. Evenings, I read from Elmer and the Dragon.

Now for the change.

At the beginning of our chain reading expirement, Pippi seemed a bit puzzled. Monday night, I read from one book. Tuesday night, another. And so on. At first, she was less than enthusiastic. But after a month's worth of reading, she'd memorized the schedule and began to eagerly look forward to each installment. Now that we are coming to the end of many of our books - after six months of living with the characters, drawing them, acting out chapters - Pippi acts as if she is bidding farewell to beloved friends. Pippi was moved to tears when I closed the book for the last time on Grandfather Frog.

And the manner in which I read the books has changed too. I have learned to stop keeping one eye on the page number. I've learned to stop looking at the shelves of books, wondering when we can get to the next one, and the next one, and the next one . . . Learned to stop thinking of chapter books as notches in my belt. Because I know we will be spending a loooooong time with Pooh, Elmer, Andy, and the Twins, I settle in. And take my time.

And because I'm in no rush, I patiently (that is a key word) reread difficult to understand passages at Pippi's request. And because we are taking this time, this slow, unhurried time, the subtlest nuances do not escape her comprehension. She notices more. Understands more.

And that folks, is what it's all about. Forget AR points. Forget number of pages read.

Throw away that belt with the notches.

It is meaningless.

What matters, what truly matters in this stuff of books, is a child's experience with the book.

Don't tell me how many pages you read. I want to know, did something nameless awaken within you?

Because if not, you've wasted your time.