Saturday, June 30, 2007

The joy of working together

Today some friends from church came over to help us do yardwork. It had been arranged by a friend of mine, who knew we were feeling pressure about moving and leaving some things undone for our renters.

We live on 1 3/4 acres, most of which is not nicely landscaped. We have planted beds here and there, but between the blackberries, crabgrass, deer, moles, and inertia, it's not easy to keep it nice. While I would have liked a more landscaped yard for these past 9 years, it hasn't really bothered me too much. As I told the lady who is moving in, "it's a fun yard, not a nice ladies' tea type of yard."

Still, we wanted to get some of the blackberries and other weeds down before our renters move in. I think they know what to expect, sort of, but I don't want them to drive up and start hating it here right away because it's so wild and messy.

Anyway, there were a couple of dads alone, a dad with 2 young boys, and a whole family of 5 which included a teen boy who can really work, and I mean hard, his younger sister who helped me immensely in the kitchen, and his toddler brother who just had fun.

We cut down blackberries, spread mulch, pulled weeds, trimmed shrubs. The kids got all the yucky toys out of the sandbox and cleaned out the playhouse. The 8 and 10 year old boys muscled the play kitchen out of it and down the steps. The happiest 5 year old I've ever met swept the playhouse out when it was empty.

At the end of the day it was just 3 dads working together. I could hear them talking and it seemed like it was deep stuff, not superficial chitchat. Except for checking on their hydration needs, I kept away and worked in another area. I didn't want to constrain their conversation.

One of the men had been over a few weeks ago to help with some siding. He pointed out that men used to work together that way all the time and how great it was to work and talk. Really talk. Today, one of the other men made a similar observation. He said if men in the church got together to work more often, there'd be more understanding among them. People would get along better. But I thought about some people at our church who don't seem to want that closeness; they'd probably just stay away. I think the my husband had the same feeling last week when yet another family came over to help us. He and the husband of that family spent 12 hours one day, working on a deck. He said he had a great time, though the work was hard.

It was really a sweet day. It is very humbling to have people come over and do work I should have done myself. To receive thanks for food I prepared for them, even though it was just hot dogs and store-bought potato salad - and if they weren't doing me a favor, I wouldn't be feeding them anyway.

There's still a fair bit of work to be done - all those blackberry vines have to be hauled out to the woods. But it sure went faster and was much more pleasant today with people working together. Two of the families working here today might be moving away themselves. It's too bad we won't be around to help them with their unfinished projects.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Last night was the first I ever spent completely alone in this house. C was in Philadelphia signing the papers on our house. The kids are spending some time with friends. I was alone from about 2 yesterday afternoon and will be till I pick C up at the airport late tonight. The kids will be home tomorrow.

I got a lot of errands run and a lot of packing done. I shifted some things around and I'm still looking for the rake. I made plans for a work day at our house this Saturday - a friend arranged for some folks to come over and help us spiff up the place a little for the family who'll be living here. . I picked up a little outside. It's amazing how much junk gets around when we're working on the house!

But it was a long night and it's lonely here!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Moving plans

A couple of people have asked about our moving plans. We are in the process of fixing up and packing up the house. We've been blessed with a wonderful family to live in our house for the 3-4 years we'll be in PA. After graduation, we hope to come back to Oregon - as long as there is something here for the Seminarian to do! So we are really hoping we can keep our house here so we can come home.

However, we know that God may have other plans for our family so we're not promising anyone (the kids) anything in that regard.

We're doing a "u-pack" move which means that a trucking company will drop a big trailer in our driveway and we will fill it up. They will come 3 days later and take it away for us. 6 days after that, they'll drop it off at our new house, where we will have 3 days to unload! We've already been contacted by some folks at the seminary with offers of help to unload.

Our plan is to leave on July 12. We will be driving mostly along Highway 80, going through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana (?), Ohio, and Pennsylvania! Hoping to find something fun (and short!) to do every day to keep the kids from getting too stir crazy in the car. (Ideas welcome!) Hoping to find hotels with pools! Planning on a couple of days in Dayton OH so the boys can visit the Air Force museum. The girls will have to find something else to do. Also planning a day in NW PA to visit my aunt!

OK, that was a quick post; break's over, time to get back to work. Can someone please tell me where I left the rake?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New name

I changed my "screen name" today. A blog I like to read and comment on had a very energetic discussion going on today, and another blogger named Margaret was quite active posting. Rather than try to explain that I'm not "that Margaret" (since our views on the topic are widely divergent) I decided to change my name to something not so common. I was surprised that Blogger allows the same screen name on two blogs. Oh well, no big deal. Margaret is a dull name anyway, even though it's my own!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hand cultivating

A few weeks ago when I was at the hardware store for some mundane item, I picked up a lovely new cultivator. It was a cheap luxury - not more than $3 - but the wood handle fit so nicely and the sharp tines seemed so ... sharp.

Today I was working in a badly-neglected flower bed, trying to dig out weeds without disturbing the few remaining plants in the bed. Working with my little cultivator is slow work, but very satisfying. So is pulling out roots and stems of "field grass" (my term for the thick weed grass so prevalent in my yard) and clover. I know it would go much quicker with the tiller - I could just fire it up and plow through all those weeds! (Well, if I knew how to fire it up, that is).

But then I wouldn't be able to rescue a little patch of thyme, or a struggling little rose bush, or an earthworm. I wouldn't see the bees working on the clover - sorry about that, guys; there'll be something better soon. I wouldn't be able to talk to my daughter about the bees, and the worms, and the flowers we are going to plant for the people who will be living in our house for the next few years. The tiller's pretty loud.

As I worked I realized that working with hand tools is a little like homeschooling. I'd probably save a lot of time if I sent my kids to school. I bet my yard would look a lot better if I had 8 hours alone all day. But then I'd miss so many things, wouldn't I? Things more important than a nice-looking yard.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Setting the date

Not a wedding date. The big move date! After much talking and looking at the calendar and the to-do list, we set our moving date last night. We will be heading out to PA on July 12. Having the date firm, and the reservation for the truck made, gave me a little thrill of excitement. Of course we knew we were leaving around that time, but having the actual date on the calendar makes a huge difference. Maybe it will motivate me to work a little harder too!

We had originally thought we'd leave on July 9, our 12th wedding anniversary. It seemed an apporpriate date to set off on a new adventure. But, the trailer will be delivered on July 9, so we could say that loading up our stuff is the real start. Whatever.

Now if only I could get the kids so excited!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Starbucks VISA card?!

I have all the credit cards I need right now, but I have to admit the offer of a Starbucks VISA seems mighty attractive right now. $25 to spend at Starbucks just for getting a new credit card! What a deal! The offer arrived in my mailbox while I was scraping away at some nasty old caulk that I'm finally getting around to removing from my shower, after it's bothered me for about 9 years. Oh well, our lovely tenants will enjoy the new caulk. Or, to be more precise - they won't notice the new caulk. Which is as it should be.

Hm, I think there's some of the morning coffee left in the thermos... it's only about 3 hours old... who needs Starbuck's anyway?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Blessings abound

Today the phone rang and an unfamiliar voice asked for my husband. I handed it over and as he talked it became obvious that he was talking to someone from the seminary to which we are moving. He kept sounding happier and happier and saying things like "wow, that's great!" "Oh, yeah, that's fantastic!" He talked a little about our family and the kids.

(One of the concerns we've had about moving - one of the many - was how we'd get all our stuff unloaded off the truck. We're not driving u-haul but we're doing the loading and unloading - the moving company does the driving. We've got plenty of help here but didn't know how to recruit people at the other end. Our realtor out there said she'd look into something but hasn't gotten back to me about it.)

OK, so when the future seminarian gets off the phone, he says "well, we've got help unloading!"

The call was from someone at the seminary, assigned to call him and (presumably) other incoming students to check on them and see if they any kind of assistance. They have people ready to help out with unloading and moving in. Other families stand by to invite newbies over for dinner.

Wow, that is fantastic!

The head gets it; the heart's not there yet.

My J is getting really anxious about our upcoming move. We are planning to leave in about 4 weeks. Every night we have to talk about why we are moving, and go through all his worries: that he won't meet any friends, that he won't like the weather, that our new house will be too small. He asks why we have to move. We go over it again; Daddy and I know that Dad should go to seminary. We just know it's right. J knows it too, in his head. He gets it. But his heart isn't there yet.

E is a little quieter about it now; she had her sad times and maybe is already feeling better about it. Or maybe she's just not talking right now. She likes feeling superior to her older brother so maybe she's enjoying looking like the mature child... hard to tell with that girl!

Yesterday was really hard; it was our last visit with some really good friends. New friends, but still. These are kids both J and E clicked with the minute they met. There was none of that awkwardness that can come with meeting a new kid. They met and immediately started having fun. Those are hard friends to say goodbye to.

There are also some friends they've known all their lives. Literally - we met one family when our oldest kids were 18 months old, and the next oldest were newborns. That family went on to have 2 more kids; we stopped. We still see them often. My kids don't know what it's like not to see them several times a month.

There are old friends who don't live so close anymore, but close enough we can visit on a day trip or a quick overnight.

There are friends we knew we would enjoy but didn't have time to get to know well.

And all the other friends too!

J did show some wisdom in our latest talk. Our current house is not in a neighborhood, so my kids don't have spontaneous play opportunities with kids on the block. So they don't deal much with mean kids, or kids they just don't get along with. Our new house will be in an old-fashioned American suburb. Potential for lots of kids (or, maybe not; we visited the house on a school day so didn't see anyone, but it looks like a kid neighborhood). He is nervous about that, about meeting a bully. He said "here's my tactic for meeting new kids in the neighborhood. I'll keep an eye on everyone to see how they treat the other kids. If they aren't nice to the other kids, I'll steer clear." We talked about being kind to everyone but not making a close friendship with any one person right away - about discernment and how to develop that when it comes to people.

Of course I'm a little nervous about the whole neighborhood thing too. I've never lived, as a mom, in a "regular" neighborhood. I've always been able to pick and choose the people we come in contact with. I've never experienced some of the things my friends have: kids stopping by, asking to come in and play, even though the parents don't know each other. Neighbors who expect the stay-home mom to watch over the neighborhood while they're at work. People who are loud or vulgar or have the tv blasting some kind of garbage I'd rather my kids didn't sit around to watch. These are the experiences of people I know! Of course they have nice neighbors too, but it's always so much easier to focus on the scary parts of moving.

I've been reading Moving With Kids by Lori Collins Burgan. Nothing I didn't already know, but good reminders. She goes over the stages of grief, a la Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (who wrote in the context of dying): denial, grief, anger, acceptance. I think I missed one. Anyway, my kids are in the grief stage now. Wonder if we can skip that anger stage?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Where do you find books?

My friend Norwezter asked me where I find books. Short answer: I dunno... they just seem to appear!

OK. I do browse the library a lot. Ours has a shelf of new books and I'll always take a look. A lot of stuff in the public library is junky, but there are always some gems. I think that's where I first came across the "Green Knowe" books.

The "Hall Family Chronicles" (books by Jane Langton) came to me via Daedalus Books which is a remainder catalog which often has great finds. I found a couple of titles super cheap there and we're filling in with library copies.

Blogs are another great place to find books. I just take note of books that seem interesting and look for them at the library. My list of books (and dvds) to look for is here. It's not at all organized. Some blogs at which I find book ideas: Smallworld, The Common Room, Instapundit, Books for Kids Blog.

Sometimes I get my recommendations from my favorite homeschool message board: Homeschool Fellowship. This group of homeschooling moms (and one dad) offer great homeschooling support and, sometimes, book recommendations.

If I'm in a bookstore and see something interesting, I'll take note of it and look it up at the library. I've gotten more picky about books as our collection has grown and finances have shrunk. I remember a time I'd pick up a few paperback novels at Borders or Barnes and Noble without even thinking about it. This was before kids when it seemed there was money to burn! Most of those books have been sold or donated by now. Very little contemporary fiction is worth reading once; forget about rereading!

One place I rarely find books is on bestseller lists. Usually if a book is really popular, I'll hate it.

Where do you find books?

A timely quote

A snippet of a famous speech given on this day in 1775, so very apt for these days:

“Gentlemen may cry peace, peace – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun.
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery?
Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me
liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry, of course.

This is my kids' copywork for the day.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

May reading part 2

A couple of months ago we started the "Green Knowe" series of books by Lucy M. Boston when we needed a break from Swallows and Amazons. We enjoyed the first two books: The Children of Green Knowe and Treasure of Green Knowe.

This month we finished off the series, starting with
The River at Green Knowe, which was similar to the other books: a gentle story with some elements of magical realism, but not what I'd consider real fantasy. Then we listened to A Stranger at Green Knowe while on a road trip; I didn't like that one so much and wrote about it here. Next came An Enemy at Green Knowe which we also got on cd from the library - and it too was very different from the gentle stories we'd come to expect. This had full-on black magic in it; more along the lines of Harry Potter than the other books. It was good, but very different. We finished up with The Stones of Green Knowe which again had the gentleness we'd come to expect and enjoy.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright was a re-read from a few years ago which we loved once again.

The Tale of Despereaux - Kate DiCamillo was another audiobook I picked up. It's nice to use those to give me a break. I have to confess that I didn't listen to all of this one, just caught snatches in the car and when I was working around the house. The kids liked it, though.

The Swing in the Summerhouse by Jane Langton is part of the Hall Family Chronicles series. We'd read the first one, The Diamond in the Window, over a year ago, I think. This one involved a magic swing that transported the kids to weird places. I can't say I love these books because the fantasies are just so weird. But they are well-written, exciting, and there's usually a good "lesson" or moral to the story. More important, there are always some literary allusions for the kids to get (or me to point out). They are set in Concord, MA, and the slightly-loony uncle has a "friendship" with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I love books like that show my kids that the more they read, the more they will get out of the books they read.

Case in point, Johnny Tremain which we are reading now. In a scene in which a family is reading the Bible together, one boy is said to be "asked to read about sluggards and going to ants." If a child reading this is not familiar with the Bible, they're going to be sitting there saying "huh?" about that. We get so much more out of literature when we are well-read.

Friday, June 01, 2007

May reading

Not a lot of reading done this month. Cleaning, packing, decluttering... ah the joys of moving. Still, I have managed to sneak in a bit:

Brick Lane by Monica Ali - story of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi immigrant to London, from her arrival as a young bride in the 1980s (arranged marriage to a much older man) to about 2002. She undergoes a lot of changes as she struggles with her marriage and with fitting in to Western culture; Nazneen is very passive for most of the story, then slowly begins to take some control of her life. The book provides an interesting view of unassimilated immigrants. 9/11 figures into the story; there is a spark of anti-West, anti-American activity but it goes nowhere. Also going nowhere are her husband's constant plans for better jobs, better education, a better life. There is an adulterous affair, that seems so inevitable it is not shocking. This book interested me but the characters also frustrated me greatly. I can't think of one with whom I really related or empathized.

Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It by Gabor Mate: A fascinating book about ADD. This book took a long time to read and absorb. Nodded my head on nearly every page. Saw myself, my whole family in various places. Saw lots of mistakes I make with my kids. A reminder that it's all about relationships! I'd like to buy this book as I think I'd refer to it again.

Started When Crickets Cry which looks interesting but I returned it to the library. I really don't have time for fiction right now! Also have been dabbling in The Duty of Self-Denial by Thomas Watson.

Did a lot of reading with the kids and will write about that tomorrow.