June 29, 2013


"You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."

(apologies to S. Morgenstern).


It may come as a surprise, but "busy" does not equal worthwhile.  It does not mean happy, or content, or satisfied.  Busy does not mean productive.  It doesn't mean successful, either.  Busy does not mean useful, or popular, or even needed.

Busy just means full.  Too full, usually.  When we are satisfyingly occupied, we don't feel busy.  We feel content, because we are present enough to look around us and see, and be content.

Busy means hiding, sometimes.  It means desperate.  It might mean running-away, and escape.  Busy can mean lonely, or disorganized, or frantic.  Busy can mean procrastinating.  It can mean selfish.  It can mean thoughtless.  Busy, by definition, cannot mean thoughtful.

So when you ask me how my week was, and offer "busy?" as a possible answer while I stop to think how was my week?? ... I hope I will say, "no, not busy.  I try not to be busy."  And when I ask you how you are, and you answer "busy!" with a satisfied smile, I will not feel impressed, but sad.

Busy is not a badge of honor.

Living deliberately is what I aim for.  Productive, yes.  Useful, yes.  But deliberate in filling my time, not packing it in like a starving man at a potluck table.  A little choosy in my consumption, even.  Leaving a generous amount of unscheduled space, to appreciate the activities.  In art, it's called negative space.  In music, rest.  In writing, margin.

It's true - some of us need more rest than others.  But no one thrives on stuffing themselves.

I know:  some seasons of life are fuller than others.  I'm in one now.  But I also know that my need for rest is all the more vital to meet well the demands of this season.


So next time you are tempted to describe yourself as busy, try on another word for size:  content, maybe, or productive.  It might just fit you better.

Better still, if I ask you how you are, and busy comes to mind, tell me something you did with your time that was meaningful - worked in your garden, played with children, talked with a friend, went for a run, watched a sunset, read a book, shopped for your family, fixed a bicycle, balanced the checkbook, painted a bedroom - whatever it was, it is more you than "busy."

And you is what I'm after.

June 27, 2013

facebook facade

I'm curious by nature, so when a random thought struck me this morning at breakfast, I asked my Farmer about it.  "What kind of person do I seem like on facebook?" I asked him.

He thought for a bit.  Proceeded cautiously.

"Maybe a little more saintly than in real life."

I thought so.  "Is it all the gratitude lists?" I asked.  "Does saying what I'm thankful for make me seem like I'm happy all the time?"

"Yeah, maybe.  And the stuff you write about the children . . ."

Like it's all fun and games, I guess.  Like I adore mommy-hood and swallow the sacrifice like a sacrament, making me holy.  Like life is one long list of gifts.

Sometimes I do feel that way, for a few minutes.  Most of the hours, though, of the past few years, I've felt more like an adolescent muddling her way through identity angst.  Not terribly uplifting facebook material.  I value honesty and vulnerability, but I also see that when my newsfeed is full of my friends' attitude & anger, frustration and failure, it gets me down.  And one person's bright thought can light the darkness.

I want to be a brightener!

But I want to be real, too . . . so I blog (**mischievous grin**).  Anyone who comes here, reads by choice.  Consumption is optional.

So.  I guess if you want the "whatever is ... admirable ... think on these things" me, friend me on facebook.  And if you want the rest of the story, read my blog.

Just sayin'.

" ... shining like bright lights ... " Philippians 2:15

June 20, 2013

feeding sparrows

I'm looking out the window at the bird-feeder hanging in the crabapple tree.  Lil' Snip had noticed that it was empty, so we got a scoop and carried the bags of birdseed out under the tree and took the feeder down and, scoop by scoop, taking turns, we filled the feeder.  Hung it back up.

And now who is eating that seed?  Sparrows.

My Farmer works hard for a living.  I work hard to be frugal.  I did not spend his hard-earned dollars on birdseed to feed the sparrows.  I bought it to feed the bright birds - the ones listed on the birdseed bag!  I want to see cardinals, titmice, bluebirds, chickadees, an indigo bunting!!!  Even a blue jay!  Not sparrows.

[Not to mention the other-feeding bright birds I want to see, like the orioles who spurn our orange feeder, the goldfinches I can hear but never see, the hummingbird that the rest of the family has spotted, and the nuthatches and woodpeckers that are staying further down in the yard this year.]

It's true, some wrens come, too.  A robin picks up the droppings on the ground.  But mostly we get sparrows.  It's discouraging.

And, alas, allegorical.

Life is like that birdfeeder for me just now.  I want bright flashes of success - accolades from others, children who rise up and call me blessed (instead of showing me the "tips on how to be a good mother" that they wrote, for instance), a husband who brags about me (preferably in my hearing), friends who flock to me for my wisdom and fun nature (sigh), artistic prowess in my chosen pursuits, household & home schooling running like a well-oiled machine, beauty everywhere.

Instead I see brown all around me:  a barely-clean, sometimes tidy house; knowledge of nutrition but not always follow-through; endless ideas born but not matured; thwarted or abandoned efforts at organization; broken and leaking things in all directions.....

"Do everything without grumbling or complaining."  Philippians 2:14
(except blogging, right??  oh wait, I can't seem to find any translations to support that ...)


I, who despise sweaty weather, can rejoice in the cool summer we've had so far.

Because there were no blossoms on the crabapple tree, there will be no apples littering the ground, either.

Although I cannot see the titmice, orioles, cardinals, goldfinches - I can hear them.  Finally, somehow, I've learned their songs.

I am made to run on bursts of inspiration - and when I get a burst, I sometimes astonish even me at what I can get done.  It's okay to rest between bursts.

There is color and beauty around me, when I choose to look at it.

God has blessed my hands to make things.  He is also blessing them to rest from making.

Perennial ornamentals - God's gift to sporadic gardeners like me.

Upholstered furniture.

Fun, wholesome novels.

Others who have walked this path before me.

Truth, a bedrock foundation under all the tumult of overgrowth.

Hope - a gift of vision in the darkness.

And last, but not least, the little brown wren, who turns out to be a beautiful singer!

I can learn to love brown.  I love my colors, but brown, after all, is a color in itself, and perhaps, if I look very closely, and with great patience, I will learn to love all the shades of brown.

June 15, 2013

in quietness

"... in quietness and trust is your strength ..."  Isaiah 30:15

The children are at Grandma's this weekend.

My Farmer and I are rediscovering some elemental luxuries.  We've completed whole sentences.  We've stayed out after bedtime.  We've been noisy and turned lights on after bedtime!  Slept till the sun & the birds woke us up.  Ate meals in the livingroom.  We've sat in the sun and let time tick by ... 

It's been grand.  I'm remembering, again, the importance of rest, and thought I'd share with you a post from the archives, called "de-throning the Protestant work ethic":


The past few days should have been restful ones.  Outside of basic homemaking (cooking, laundry, overseeing chores and schoolwork) and a very small handful of "special projects", I have had a good bit of free time.  And, feeling I needed a rest (July was one scheduling crisis after another for this homebody), I spent most of that free time divided between my laptop and my Lazy Boy recliner.

When I occasionally surfaced from my books and my blog, I felt guilty.  I should be spring deep cleaning.  I should be weeding flowerbeds.  I should be taking my children on fun, educational day trips.  I should be freezing corn.  I should be canning peaches.  I should .....

I've been undermining my free time by underestimating its value.

Work is good.  If you never work, you can't truly enjoy leisure.  But leisure is good, too.  If you never rest, you can never truly enjoy your work.

I want to be able to enjoy both, so now that I'm fully rested (after a mind-clearing evening at the pottery studio last night, where I figured all this out), I think I'll go find some work to do.  Seems to me I saw some cobwebs somewhere recently ....

(and when I've finished with that, Frederick Beuchner's sermons beckon....)

[first posted August 2011]

June 13, 2013

How to be a Good Mother, Part 2

Once more I have the pleasure of introducing a daughter-writer to you, this time Sugar, who caught the spirit of things with the discovery of Spice's Tips, and wrote up a few of her own.  I do, of course, plan to present them both with their lists upon the births of their first children.  It will be my greatest joy to watch them succeed where I floundered.  

I present to you:

Sugar's Tips on How to Be a Good Mother:

1. Make sure you know who is responsible for the problem.

2. Try to be patient, so that the noise level won't have your contribution.

3. Make sure your punishment works, that is, keeps them from wanting to do it again.

4. Try to understand why they did it.

5. Don't expect too much of them, remember, they're human too.

6. Set a good example, they watch you and look up to you.

7. Set options : "Do the right thing or you'll have to...", but not as a threat.

8. Give them a little responsibility, just enough to make them feel important, but no more than they can handle.

9. Stop habits as soon as they start, that's when they're easiest to stop.

10. Don't put up with whining and begging, it makes everyone unhappy.  Instead, imitate a cheerful voice.

11. Teach your children to respect one another and one another's needs.

12. Tell your child what they did wrong,what they should do instead, and give them a chance to do it before you apply punishment.

13. Don't make punishments too hard.

14. Eat healthy foods most of the time, it'll keep your teeth in good condition.  It will also teach your children good habits.

15. Don't accuse your child of doing wrong, ask them if they did it or not.

16. Make sure your children tell the truth, teach them to speak it early on and they will always remember it.

17. Teach your children good habits while they're young, so that they're won't be as many bad ones to break.

18. Talk gently, not angrily or in a cross way.

19. Explain your feelings.  It will help your children feel ashamed if they did wrong, and eager to help if you're sad.

20. Keep a personal "mother's diary" to look back and see your progress at being a patient mother.

21. Don't say 'no' right off when your child asks you something.  Give yourself time to think it over; then they will know that you actually decided what was best for them.

22. Help your children understand your choices.

23. If your children go to school, make sure they learn housework as well as play.

24. When you tell your children something that they're to do, explain how to do it so that they understand and don't forget it.

25. Don't let your children stay up very late, remember; "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man (or child) healthy...and wise.

June 12, 2013

fake it till you make it

I lied to dozens of people at church, just three days ago.

I woke up that morning feeling as fine as I can at 5:42 a.m., with no intentions of being dishonest to anyone, least of all my church family.  But somehow as the morning unrolled, the fine feeling rolled off to somewhere dark and dusty and I (and my family) was left with a sharply fragile shell of my former self.

I was impatient, irritable, and desperately unhappy.  I felt my all failings instead of all His faithfulness, and believed every lie thrown my way.  Disorganized - yes.  Undisciplined - true.  Alone - always.  Ugly - yes.  Unlovable - that, too.

By the time I got to church I was in bad need of it, but too battered to ask for help.  I never answer "fine" to "how are you" but I did that morning, to everyone who asked.  Anything more truthful would have shaken out an overflowing I wasn't ready for.  I wore the churchy smile I so despise, hiding myself behind "Good morning" and a handshake.

The funny thing is, after two hours of church and another of the unexpected [forgotten] fellowship meal ... I was starting to believe my own act.

It was like a piano piece, played so often your fingers can play it in your sleep, that saves the day when your mind forgets.  Or kneading bread, or riding a bike, or dialing your sister's number, or any of those things that your body knows more deeply than your brain, and can carry on without your conscious thought, but if you stop to think about it, you lose your rhythm, your balance.  My act carried me.

It made me think that maybe, for all the value I place on honest vulnerability, perhaps there is value, too, in acting on what's true, even when your heart can't see it.  Not to deceive, but to stand witness to what really is, instead of what really isn't.

What do you say to this?  Truth?  A fake escape?  Courage or cop-out?

[And if you're tempted to say "I told you so" (as I'm sure at least one of you is), forebear.  Lessons do not come to us all in the same order, else what would we need grace for?]

June 11, 2013


[looking back, today....]

According to wikipedia (sorry, Webster) a coward is someone who "is perceived to fail to demonstrate sufficient robustness and courage in the face of a challenge."  Hmmm..... I find life to be vastly challenging, and some days I'd love to be rescued from it all.  

I think I might be a coward. 

Parenting, for starters, feels like driving in a high-speed race – the smallest actions fraught with peril & significance; one false move and you total the car. Marriage, and friendships in general, are likewise complex and easily injured.  Thanks to psychology, even cleaning and eating and simple pleasures are redolent of internal neuroses.  

If I have a finite task in front of me – change this diaper, say, or clean out this closet, or navigate with love this one conversation about mother-daughter relationships or welfare or faith vs. works – difficult or messy though it may be, a single task feels doable. The challenge in life's difficulties is not knowing their boundaries, how long they'll last.

I just read something recently on the subject of difficulty, and escape.  I've been worrying it in my mind, trying to find out the truth of it:
"The Christian walk is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord ... The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, ... pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
"The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life." [from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson]

I guess I've thought that "the Christian walk" could (or should) be a "quiet escape to the garden" ... in fact, that's what I'd like some days - deliverance from difficulty, not merely help as I walk through it.  (You could say that I appear to lack sufficient "robustness and courage in the face of life's challenges".)  But, lacking a viable escape, I bluster on.

I wonder if this lack of robustness could stem from inaccurate expectations.  

Elsewhere in his book, Peterson says, 

"The world, in fact, is not as it has been represented to us.  Things are not all right as they are, and they are not getting any better.
"We have been told the lie ever since we can remember:  that human beings are basically nice and good. ... The world is a pleasant, harmless place.  ... If we are in chains now, it is someone's fault, and we can correct it with just a little more intelligence or effort or time.
"How we can keep on believing this after so many centuries of evidence to the contrary is difficult to comprehend, but nothing we do or nothing anyone else does to us seems to disenchant us from the spell of the lie.  We keep expecting things to get better, somehow. ... Convinced by the lie that what we are experiencing is unnatural, an exception, we devise ways to escape"

There's the rub.  If "life is good", if I alone in all the world am suffering, then the injustice, the loneliness of it burns more sharply than the suffering itself.  If all the world is wounded, though, then those around me are fellows in my grief, understanding sojourners helping and being helped in turn.

The optimist in me (despite it all) does not want to believe in a wounded world.  I want to see the blessings, choose to look at life with wonder and gratitude.  So is life good?  Or is it "but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage"?  [Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5]

Where to turn?  How to reconcile these two conflicting views?

The Master Potter, He who wields the clay to fit his will, reminds me of a verse I read this morning (the answer's always there):  

"let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith ....  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, ... but let us encourage one another ..."  [Hebrews 10:22, 24-25]

The world is wounded, but life - together - nevertheless is good.  We have God's grace, equipping us to love in the face of libel, do good despite our weariness and lack of trust.  We have God, and we have each other.

Courage! then, my fellow cowards - onward and upward!  Let us link arms and spur each other on, and be "robustness" for each other, filling in the gaps.

[first published 8-4-11]

June 3, 2013


Today Sugar & Spice (and I, really) had our year's schoolwork reviewed by our excellent evaluator.  Sugar received her 5th grade testing.  We all had a marvelous time, and now the school year feels officially over. 

As I was compiling the portfolios, looking at all we'd learned and experienced together in the past twelve months, I thought again of so many of the reasons that my Farmer and I have chosen to teach our children at home .... and I wanted to share some of them with you, via this repost from September 2011:


The traffic is busier in the mornings going to work, my Farmer tells me. School has started up again and the buses are out in full force, figuring out their routes and complicating everyone else's.

I wouldn't know. I'm at home, teaching my three daughters and caring for my little son.

This is the time of year when I alternately question our decision to homeschool and rejoice that such a privilege is available to us. When you've never had the opportunity to try it for yourself, homeschooling can look a lot like insanity. Why in the world would I trade my “freedom” for the enormous extra responsibility of teaching three students on my own? Especially when we're in such a good school district?!

Here, to remind myself as much as to inform you, is why:

~ for the joy of hearing Sugar sing to Lil' Snip while she sweeps the back porch

~ being able to hold Spice on my lap in the middle of the morning and talk about whether the glass is half full or half empty, whether the sky is mostly sunny or mostly cloudy, and how gratitude can help train us to optimism

~ vast quantities of free time for all four, today to make ink from pokeberries (“I read about it somewhere” says Sugar) and, using quills they made from feathers they found, write notes to their friends

~ the friendships cemented between sisters and brother, caring for each other and learning to “fight nice”

~ watching Nice religiously shepherd Lil' Snip and try to practice her reading on him

~ a chance to discover, again, to learn things I missed the first time through

~ flexibility to add to the curriculum spontaneously when my Farmer spots a new mushroom species or we find a caterpillar on the flowers Grandma helped them pick

~ an intimate knowledge of creation that is only possible through constantly touching it, smelling it, hearing it, and tasting it – and the opportunity to give credit to the Creator

~ and the harder joy of sacrifice, learning not just penmanship but patience

It's not all roses, of course. If it were, there would be no need for me to write this list. We passed a bus the other day, full of small children on their way to school. Their mothers were probably shopping. Or sipping their first cup of coffee at the quiet kitchen table, musing, able to hear their own thoughts, mapping out their day till 3:30.

I was taking a meal to a friend, then home to work on figuring area and doing multiplication, learn about the history of coal mining in Pennsylvania and read aloud the next exciting chapters from George MacDonald's The Princess & Curdie. We'd study nature and sketch it, write down our observations about weather conditions, practice penmanship and memorize poetry. After Sugar and Spice made lunch, they'd wash up the dishes while Nice gave Lil' Snip a ride in her dolly stroller.

In the afternoon we have an hour or so of Quiet Time (which I always think of in capital letters). Sugar and Spice read on their own, Nice listens to music and looks at books, and Lil' Snip, we hope, sleeps.

I read, or nap myself, and sometimes . . . I take the time to count my blessings. 

The trade-off is worth it. I'd rather have my children home, learning life together, no matter how much leisure I give up.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...