Sick Days

Today is the first day in twenty-three days that no one in my family has run a fever or exhibited some new symptom of illness.

Hallelujah!

We are not normally a sick group, but February has been hard on us.  Lingering colds, influenza, stomach yuck.  It’s been a long month.  Due to influenza, my son ran a 102-103 degree fever for seven days.  As soon as the fevers went away, his viral-related asthma kicked in.  For days, he was not able to talk without an ensuing coughing fit.  This morning, for the first time in over a week, I heard him laugh his true, unfaltering laugh.  The cough eventually followed, but there was enough of a delay that he was able to finish his laugh.  I am so thankful.

Over the past few weeks, those of us who are feeling okay have divided up the chores of those who are not.  This has been a fluid thing–one in which we all rotate doing what must be done and try to overlook what can be ignored.  Every day, after the animals have been fed and the breakfast things have been put away, we disinfect the house.  We wash blankets and hand towels and sheets that have lined the couches.  We sanitize light switches and doorknobs and handles and faucets.  I don’t know that it has helped, but I need to do something.

We have canceled plans, mandated rest, drank water, popped pills, choked down apple cider vinegar, smeared vapor rub, mandated more rest, administered essential oils, guzzled vats of bone broth, taken mega-milligrams of Vitamin C and mandated more rest.

We have watched documentaries on a variety of animals, Nellie Bly and The Dust Bowl.  We have listened to most of the Chronicles of Narnia on CD.  We have watched musicals, westerns, fairy tales, action films and episodes of Little House on the Prairie.  We have watched more television in these four weeks than we have in the past six months.

Oh, wait.  One of my children just came and showed me a developing rash.

So much for no new symptoms.

As much of a hassle as this month has been for me, and as disappointing at it has been for us to miss out on so many highly-anticipated engagements, I am thankful.  I am thankful that this has been one cruddy, inconvenient month and not a series of life-threatening crises.  I’m thankful that these illnesses are light and momentary–that we have the modern conveniences to make them bearable–even moderately pleasant.  I am thankful for hot running water and fresh citrus fruits and indoor laundry facilities and television and easy, inexpensive access to fever-reducing medications.

One time, just before my son turned four, we noticed a squishy spot on his skull.  It was a delayed result from a fall he’d had a couple of days earlier.  After a long day of tests, scans and waiting at a local hospital, we were told to take him to a well-known children’s hospital about an hour away.  We were able to drive him ourselves, and we arrived at about 11:30 that night.  The staff was ready for us, so we followed the nurse through the darkened waiting room to get to the exam room.  As worried as I was about my now-sleeping son, I was overcome with gratitude that night.  As we quietly walked past child after chronically ill child, a lump formed in my throat.  These little ones with their bald heads, wheelchairs, IVs and oxygen tanks were regulars.  I could see it in the lines on their parents’ faces and in the resignation in the children’s eyes.  My son, with his one-time head injury was the doctor’s priority when these little ones were fighting for their lives on a day-by-day basis.  For some strange reason, I felt guilty about that.  To be honest, I sometimes still do.

Life is truly a matter of perspective.  Sometimes, I let the fatigue and frustration creep in and steal my optimism and start to eat away at my joy.  Sometimes, I feel like giving up and just giving in to whatever mood is on the horizon.  Then I remember to give thanks.  Oftentimes, gratitude makes the difference between joy and despair in our lives.

Our feelings will almost always follow our focus. 

Yes Appreciation Day

I’m thinking about having a Yes Appreciation Day.  In all actuality, our particular household might need more than one day—maybe as many as a dozen.  Yes, an even dozen.

I feel like I’m being relatively reasonable, mostly accommodating and even somewhat selfless.  All to no avail.  They just want more.  They always. Want. More.

I know I’m not alone in this plight.  I see the slumping shoulders and the resigned-to-martyrdom looks in your eyes.  I hear the whining, nagging and pitiful woundedness in your voices.  We must not resort to such petty behavior!  We must simply band together in a united effort to increase awareness and to prohibit further entitled behavior.

Which brings me to my point:  Yes Appreciation Day.

This will be a day in which there are no yesses.  They will hear no, no, no all day long.  From morning ‘til night, “no” will resound!

“No, I will not provide breakfast this morning.”

“Out of shampoo?  No, I will not buy you more.”

“No, I will not overlook the eyeroll you just gave me.”

“No, no television today.”

“No, you may not use my wheelbarrow to get the four 50-lb. bags of feed out to the barn.  Bundle up!  It’s cold!”

“No, I will not go over dividing decimals with you for the fifth time this month.”

“Sorry, no computer time.”

“No, I will not drive you to work today.”

“Ummm…no, I will not share my chocolate-hazelnut biscotti with you.”

“No, I will not replace the pants you’ve outgrown.  Besides, we may have flooding.”

“Nope.  You may not borrow any of my books today.  Even the one you were reading yesterday that left off at that really good part.”

“You want to run a load of laundry?  Sorry.  No one but me is using any appliances today.”

“You need tape?  White-out?  Scissors?  A stapler?  The printer?  Toothpicks?  Paper towels?  Lotion?  A fork?  Running water?  Sorry…but…no.”

My theory is that if enough of these Yes Appreciation Days are strung together firmly and without any waffling whatsoever, a return to the routine of thoughtful yesses will be much more highly valued.

Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Who am I kidding?

I know that parenting isn’t about fun.  I also know that it isn’t about being liked or disliked.  It isn’t always about yesses and nos, and it isn’t always about teaching someone a lesson.  Sometimes, the person who most needs to learn the lesson is me.

I feel like there’s a lesson I need to learn in this.  What am I taking for granted?  What example am I setting?  When am I keeping score, and what is my goal?  Are my expectations reasonable?  Is there a deeper need that I’m missing, or is this a character flaw that needs exposed…in them or in me?  I don’t always know.

I wish I knew the answers as soon as I needed them.  I wish I didn’t make so many mistakes.  I wish I didn’t hold so tightly to some things, and I wish I hadn’t let others go.

The fact of the matter is that wishing will get me nowhere.

Lord, please give me the wisdom I need to raise these children according to Your plan.  They are so bright!  So amazing!  So helpful and talented and creative and generous!  They are so capable—so completely captivating to my heart.  And they’re human.  Just like their parents, these precious children are incredibly human.  There are times when I’m tired.  And hurt.  And uncertain and insecure.  There are times when I think I will surely burst a blood vessel if I am asked that same question one more time…or if I hear a ridiculous argument erupt again…or if I have to address the fact that the dog’s water bowl is still empty.  Please help me to respond with wisdom and in love.  Not to lash out.  Not to berate.  Not to give up and just ignore bad behavior.  Help me to choose my battles wisely and with eternity in mind. 

And, Lord, like I’ve prayed hundreds of times over the past 16 ½ years, thank You for letting Your grace cover over my mistakes. 

My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

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Doughnut Traditions

It seems that almost all of our family’s special occasions are somehow punctuated by the food we share.  It’s not that we don’t enjoy spending time together or that we don’t value the reason for the holiday; it’s just that the love of good food runs deeply in our family.  I have a nine-year-old nephew who puts every family get-together in the context of the food that is served.  He remembers a beautiful, spontaneous, autumn outing on Summit Lake as “that day when Aunt Trista fixed that chili that I wouldn’t eat” and a certain birthday celebration as his introduction to peanut butter “scream” cake (also known as peanut butter sheet cake).  He gets his love of food honest.

When I was a little girl, I remember family members making a big deal about my maternal grandma’s from-scratch walnut fudge, her crunchy peanut brittle and her fluffy white clouds of divinity.  That stuff was all right for the grown-ups, but I was mesmerized by her cocoa brownie cubes that had been individually rolled in powdered sugar and piled high on a cake stand and her buttery, gooey caramels that had been individually wrapped in wax paper.  In later years, I remember helping my mom to make some of these same sweet treats, and I still continue to make some of them for my little family today.  I have learned to appreciate the focus it takes to get that peanut brittle to just the right temperature and the patience it takes to cut and wrap all of those caramels.  Not to mention the expense of all of that butter!

The memories I associate with my paternal grandmother’s holiday food center more on the savory—namely her turkey & noodles with mashed potatoes.  For a number of years, I completely skipped over the roasted turkey, stuffing (especially if it had oysters in it!!) and cranberry sauce in favor of Grandma’s perfect turkey & noodles.  I still can’t get mine to taste like hers!  Even when I make noodles from scratch, there’s still something not quite right about the consistency.  She was a self-described “pincher and dumper” when it came to measuring, yet her food always turned out heavenly!

My mom has continued the tradition of good food for our family.  Whether it’s angel food birthday cakes topped with whipped cream and toffee bits, Polish mistakes served piping hot at Christmastime, oven-baked porcupines for family dinners or ginger ale with cranberry-juice ice cubes, Mom makes sure that we are fed well and that get-togethers are festive occasions.

One of my favorite food traditions involves making tender cake doughnuts on Thanksgiving morning.  I guess I was probably 8 or 9 when this tradition began with my mom and siblings.  I remember that Dad would often go hunting on Thanksgiving morning and would come home to enjoy the sweet treats Mom left for him under the cake dome.  When I got married and discovered that getting together on Thanksgiving Day was especially important to the Hill side of the family, my mom graciously suggested that we move our family dinner back a couple of days to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  What a blessing that was to us!  Our crew makes every effort to wake up at Mom’s on that Saturday morning to continue the doughnut-making tradition.  Oftentimes, my brother and my nephews are there to join us when we pull out my mom’s worn Betty Crocker cookbook and turn to the batter-splattered doughnut recipe.  We put in an old Kenny Rogers Christmas CD and make a lot of noise–as well as a lot of mess–in our breakfast production.  We also make a lot of memories.  And, of course, those memories are what are truly the sweetest.

This article was originally published in HER magazine.

 

Focus

It has been a long time since the candidate who held my vote has taken up residence in the White House.  2017 will be no exception.

However, I will continue to respect the office of the Commander-in-Chief.  I will continue to require my children to speak of him with courtesy.  I will continue to pray for him and for his family.  I will ask God to give our new President-Elect wisdom, a spirit of humility and the courage to do what is right.  I will also pray God’s protection over his family–from within and without–as they continue to live under the harsh scrutiny of a very outspoken people.

I give thanks, again, that out of the hundreds of other points on the globe, I was born here–in the land of the free and in the home of the brave.  A place in which most of us can easily afford the luxury of not fighting for our survival.

Let me not lose sight of the fact, Lord, that the world still turns at your command.  You are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Thank You for being my one true certainty in these uncertain times.  I choose to continue to focus on You.

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Staying Alive

November is traditionally a bad month for American turkeys.  The vast majority will soon  sacrifice their lives for our dining pleasure on the fourth Thursday of this month.

Thankfully, for these guys (and girls), they are not in the majority.

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Last July, my son decided to buy seven baby turkeys as an investment.  We did careful research on varieties and care, and we opted for a couple of heritage breeds that came with promises of gentleness and friendliness.  Some folks may wonder why we’d want to be friends with our future food, and I understand that.  It just makes the handling much less difficult.  Turkeys get big, and their beaks and toenails are nothing to sneeze at.  Friendly and gentle is good when you have to get up close and personal with them on a twice-daily basis.

Back to July.  After some Divine intervention in getting our truck started, my son and I headed out to meet a couple of friends for the 45-minute drive to the turkeys’ house.  (It takes a special kind of friend to be excited about picking up baby turkeys, and we had chosen just the right family!)  The poultry pick-up went smoothly.  The babies were adorable, and we got all of our questions answered by the very helpful and knowledgeable turkey lady.  We were soon back on the road with a peeping crate of seven fluffballs.

Long story short, the turkeys have been a pretty easy venture.  (We are down to six, but that’s a story for another time.)  Even though my son is their primary caregiver, I peek my head in to their movable coop from time to time just to talk turkey.  They make the most interesting sounds–much softer and more musical than the gobble alarm with which we are all familiar.  They are so naturally curious that any new thing gets their thorough observation.

Yesterday we moved the turkeys to their winter quarters in the barn.  I was a little nervous about how the disruption would affect them–especially the toms who probably weigh about ten pounds at this point.  Things actually went very smoothly, though, and they were soon settled into their new home, curiously checking out every corner and making quick work of all of the spiders.

I went in the house and my son stayed outside to finish moving feeders and to clean the turkey’s waterer.  He soon runs in to tell me that the turkeys have already escaped.  Yikes!  Eventually, we want them be able to free-range in our pasture, but they need to come to terms with their new sleeping quarters first.  Turkeys will automatically go in to roost at dusk, but they must first know where it’s safe to roost.  We planned to confine them to their new pen for a week or so–making sure they know that this is their home–before opening the door and allowing them out during the day.

My daughters and son and I all hurried outside to herd turkeys.  Upon arrival, we discovered that it wasn’t as bad as we had thought.  All six birds were just roosting on top of the gate to the pasture.  Two of the kids went around to the outside and gently pushed each bird back into the pen.  We then caught each one and clipped their wings.  I won’t say that this was particularly easy or enjoyable work, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been with more aggressive turkeys.  I felt bad taking my scissors to such beautiful feathers, but it really is safer for the birds at this point.  If you know anyone who wants to make a feathered headdress, I might be able to help ’em out.

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My son hopes to butcher and sell a few of the birds for profit this Christmas or even for Easter.  Since they were born so late in the season, they’re just not quite big enough to be anyone’s showstopper this Thanksgiving.  I would kind of like to keep a pair, though–a tom and a hen–for breeding.  Not only do I hear that their eggs are fairly valuable, but I think turkeys would be a nice addition to our little farm.

Sometimes, we try something new and it really, really works.  Sometimes, it really, really doesn’t.  For now, these turkeys seem to be working for us.  Either way, we are certainly working for them.  They’ve got at least a month on almost every other turkey in these united states.

Obedience. Blah.

Yeah, the title kinda sums me up.  I love to be obeyed, but I don’t necessarily enjoy obeying.  I like my kids to jump right in and do what I want them to do with Pollyanna-like sunniness, but I can’t say that they’ve always gotten a real solid example from me.

Actually, they kind of have.  I do a pretty decent job of obeying God in pretty much everything that everyone else can see.  Unfortunately, though, there are a few things God wants me to do (or not do) that only He and I know about.  On those things, I often miss the mark.  Big time.

It’s a shame, too, because the things He asks me to do are simple things that have the potential to make a big difference in someone’s day–a card in the mail, an encouraging email, a lunch invitation to a friend, a compliment to a stranger, time in His Word.  Easy stuff.

Then why is it so hard?

I don’t know if I just think I’m too busy with important things to drop what I’m doing and obey or if I feel compelled to know why in the world God would want me to do whatever He’s asking me to do.  The reason for my non-compliance doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that I’m not obeying my God.

Jesus has this still, small voice that He often uses.  It’s actually difficult for me to hear on occasion.  I tend to be the kind of girl who takes a two-by-four on the side of the head.  Subtlety often escapes me.  I’ve learned, though, that practice makes His voice more easily heard.  Because of my habit of disobedience, His whisper has long been easily lost in the loudness of my life.

I want to do better.  I’m committed to doing better.  James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins”. 

Sin keeps me from living the life God has called me to live.  Whether I consider my sin to be big or small, it creates a division between my Savior and myself.

And, to be honest, my kids may not actually see my disobedience, but they do share some of the consequences.  If there is division between Jesus and me, my kids are not getting my best.  I don’t want them to have a broken momma, but a momma who is whole and alive in Christ.  I want them to see me doing little things for Jesus–things that are maybe out of my comfort zone or things that maybe don’t make sense.  I don’t want to model a safe, white-bread sort of faith.  I want them to see the richness of full surrender to the Bread of Life.  I want them to see Him in me.