Caroline Ingalls and me

Funny how a character from a book can grab you in childhood and never ever leave you.  I found myself thinking again about the Laura Ingalls books the other day, and wondered what had so captivated me about those books.  First I thought maybe it was Laura.  Definitely there were times in my early life where I felt like I fit awkwardly into my world, which was also a common feeling of Laura’s.

Charles and Caroline Ingalls

But thinking deeper, I realized that it was actually Caroline Ingalls who made the biggest impact on my adult life.  She was always making the best of her circumstances, adding beauty to her home in all sorts of ways, and encouraging her family to learn and to be graceful and courageous in the midst of challenge.

One of the stories that comes back to me often is the way she used carrot juice to color winter-pale butter.  She got the juice by grating a carrot over an old tin pan pierced with nails, and then wrapping the carrot bits in cloth and squeezing the juice out.  She wanted her butter to be pretty even in the winter time.

There are stories of her making over dresses, and telling her girls stories from her childhood, and putting colored ribbons in her girls’ hair, and teaching them to read from the two books that they owned.  She treasured a little china doll that she kept on a pretty shelf, and was dismayed at first by living in the sod house built into a hill on the banks of Plum Creek.  Then, just like always, she squared her shoulders and made the best of it.

The book most memorable to me and my very favorite was ‘The Long Winter”.  Caroline had to call on every skill to help her family through that terrible winter. They ground wheat in a coffee grinder, and burned hay in the wood stove when the firewood was gone, and barely, barely lived through those long cold days.

It was not til adulthood that I understood another, equally powerful strength that Caroline possessed.  She was able to love her husband well, and support and treasure him even as he carried his family hither and yon to all the different places they lived during Laura’s childhood.  Charles was a dreamer, a restless soul, and (I think) not always a good decision-maker.  Very often he asked his family to move right as life was getting easier for Caroline– when the garden was getting productive and the children were enjoying school and the well had been dug and the house was cozy and warm.

How hard it must have been for Caroline to acquiesce to each move gracefully, to trust her husband’s judgement though she knew his decisions often brought her family great challenge.  Of course it was a different time, one where men were expected to lead and women just followed.  And Laura probably omitted some of the hard moments and hard conversations that his decisions sparked.

But what I read in those books, even now as an adult, is strength and grace and a powerfully honoring way about her.  I think it was she who helped him be the best man that he could be.

In my mind, she’s the real heroine in the Laura Ingalls books, possessing both skills that I’ve worked to cultivate and others that I don’t remotely yet have a grasp on.  I’m glad to have had such a strong woman to inhabit my mind, both in my childhood and even now that I’m all grown up.

What about you?  Do characters in childhood books still live in your mind?

 

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When you’re suffering

Suffering

I’ve been thinking lately about the hard in life, how it lambasts you sometimes amid a stretch of tranquil days, surprising you with that ‘oh, it’s you again’ familiar misery.  How lying in the dark some nights the heart aches so hard it’s a struggle even to breathe.  There are moments you’re wild to talk it through with someone, someone who will understand the pain of it all, someone who will lift just a few ounces of the stifling load off your chest.  Someone who can sit with you and encourage you to keep breathing, keep trusting, keep stepping forward.

But who can we truly trust?  Who will not betray us?  Oh, it is scary to be transparent, to honestly unveil the shape of the ‘hard’ that is rocking your particular bit of the world on any given day.  The reasons not to speak are so many.

When it’s a loved one whose pain is savaging your heart, even in the middle of that pain you often still want to protect them from the uncharitable thoughts of others.

Or maybe it’s pity you want to avoid.  Who wants everyone feeling sorry for you, or wincing at just how un-together your life is some days?

Or maybe it’s judgment that you fear.  Always it seems there are people judging you for not getting this thing or that thing under control.  Judging you for not preventing this pain in the first place.  Not being wise enough, kind enough, dedicated enough, maybe even ruthless enough.

There’s also the problem of scale. Maybe despite the very real misery in your own heart, you know that others have it so much worse.  There are friends mourning lost children, loved ones coping with their cancer or their child’s cancer, friends facing financial ruin or relational ruin or spiritual ruin.  And all over the world, for the love of all that’s good, there are mothers whose dearest wish is simply to be able to feed their children.  So. much. hard.

How dare I complain?

And yet.  The heart aches.  Quietly breaks sometimes under the weight of the struggle just to keep breathing in and out.  What then?

The longer I live, the more I realize that pain is a familiar stalker of us all.  Some more than others, perhaps.  Each of us experience it in different ways, and some hide it deeper than others.  But oh, we all know hurt.  Don’t we, friends?

Our first and best and brightest hope in all of this pain-filled world is Jesus.  He remembers our weakness.  Sees every tear we shed.  Feels every ache. He promises to someday wipe all tears from our eyes.  He promises that His plan for us is good, that it is intended to give us hope and a future.  He promises that He will carry His good work on in each of us to completion.  He went to the cross and died to ensure that bright and complete and perfect future for us.

On those promises we can depend.

But when we find ourselves adrift in the abyss of suffering, I think most of us also long for the kind of friend willing to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ to us. The kind quick to offer solace and forgiveness and encouragement,  and glacier-slow to offer judgement.  We also need friends willing to share their own moments of struggle and pain.

Some of us have hurts deep and raw and evident, and we need no invitation to share.  It just bubbles out. But others of us are all too quick to paste on a smile and to say, ‘Oh, I have it so much better than so many…’ when really what we need most is a safe place to share honestly, to unburden those covered-up hearts. And for some of us that courage only comes when someone else is brave and honest and vulnerable and transparent, first.  Leading the way.

Oh, to have friends like that.  Oh, to be that kind of friend. It truly is one way to see Jesus at work in this hard and hurting world. We all know pain and suffering.  Let’s lift each other up whenever we can.

Flowers in the redwoods

My baby is 10!

No frugality post this week– sorry, today we decorated gingerbread houses instead. I did remember, however, that I hadn’t yet shared any pictures of a very momentous event in my heart– my sweet and sassy lil Julianna turning TEN years old.  Be still, my heart.  We ended up celebrating twice, once with friends and then again the next night with family. Here she is having fun with her sister and their friends who spent the night.
10

Here’s Julianna and her friends again, getting ready to pulverize a pinata.  They had lots of treats, including BBQ chips (her fave) and stayed up late to watch TWO episodes of High School Musical.  The next day we even fit in ice skating and frozen yogurt.  Whew.

10 Yrs Old

Here she is with her little nieces and nephews, getting ready to blow out candles at the family party.  As the happy birthday song was winding down, Ascher puckered up to blow Julianna’s candles out all by himself, which idea Ranger nixed by covering Ascher’s mouth just in time. We all got a laugh at him policing his cousin.  Crazy how much kiddos learn in less than 3 years on earth.  They are so much fun. I’m so glad that even tho my baby is getting so big, we still have plenty of little ones to enjoy.

10YrsOld (1)

 

A giveaway and a favor

I have a book giveaway for you today! Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage After Postpartum Depression is billed as a book for couples recovering from postpartum depression, but I chose to review it thinking it might encourage adoptive families as well.  Adoptive moms can struggle with depression in just the same way that bio moms do. Bottom line– adding a child to your family can be a very challenging adventure.  And in times of stress it can be easy for people to grow apart.

As I suspected, a lot of the advice in the book did translate very easily to couples who’ve adopted. But I didn’t expect the ideas in the book to apply so easily to almost any challenging yet important relationship in life– whether that be with a spouse, a friend, or maybe even a teen who’s having a hard time seeing you as an ally instead of an enemy.

The author calls these ideas ‘tokens of affection’– basically gifts you freely give to your loved one because you desire for the relationship to grow and improve.  Chapters talk about each of the tokens: esteem, collaboration, selflessness, sanctuary, expression, tolerance, and loyalty.  As you read this list, you might have a gut feeling about which of these tokens might be hardest for you to offer your loved ones.  The book explains how each token builds the relationship in a different way, and gives ideas for offering each of these tokens to your spouse.  And the awesome thing is that both partners don’t necessarily have to have read this book– just one partner offering these tokens will begin to improve the relationship, offering both partners incentive to come together and work more at the relationship.

I’m not quite done with this book yet, but I’ve found it to be worth every minute of time I’ve given it.  I recommend it very highly. If you’d like a chance to win a copy, comment below and tell me which token sounds most intriguing.  Is it one you’d like to receive?  One you’re good at giving?  One that challenges you? I think I’m good at loyalty and collaboration, but probably could work on being more tolerant, especially of differences of opinion.  I personally would love to get the token of expression– to be able to express what I’m feeling without judgement or without having to worry that expressing myself will upset the equilibrium.

OK, so that covers the giveaway.  The other thing that I wanted to do in this post is ask a favor of you in regard to my Owlhaven facebook page.  First, if you haven’t already liked it, would you follow this link and do so? It’s one way you can support my writing. Second, Facebook has recently made changes so that even when you ‘like’ a page, you don’t always see all of the updates on that page.  (They want folks to pay for advertising.) If you would like to receive a fb notification each time there’s a new post here, what you need to do is go to the “Liked” button  here on my facebook page, hover over it, and then click on “get notifications.” That way you’ll know if I have a new post up.  Thanks so much!

Remember to comment below if you’d like to win a copy of ‘Tokens of Affection’ and as always, thanks so much for reading here!

Happy 4th– and Frugal Friday

Raspberry Jam

Happy 4th of July!  It’s Frugal Friday again!

This week I cooked double batches of chili and pasta carbonera, so I was able to serve 4 meals for the effort of two. Thankfully my family does pretty well with leftovers, because they are a real help on busy days.  We also resisted fast food when we were out during dinnertime one day, instead waiting to eat til we got home.

On Monday we had our usual 4th of July party with all our kids.  OK, not really frugal, but I wanted an excuse to show you pictures.  We played all sorts of water games and had burgers and grilled shrimp and melons and jalapeno poppers for dinner.  Our married girls brought dessert– yay!– and our grown boys contributed to the treats that folks won as prizes for the various  games.  We had lots of fun.  Click on the various photos to see the enlarged version of each.  Bonus points if you spotted the new girl and wondered who she is.  Her name is Erika and she is Jared’s girlfriend.  :)  Slightly confusing since Jared also has a sister named Erika, but very delightful. :)

On Tuesday we took the teens to the dollar movies with friends. This year to encourage them to spend their money wisely, we decided to only allow three ‘new’ (full price) movies per year, and to wait for the dollar theater for other movies.  This has not been the most popular decision: some say since it’s their money, they should be able to decide, and in the spring it was painful for them to only watch SOME of the new movies their friends were seeing. But this summer there are lots of interesting options in the dollar theater that they now get to enjoy for the first time (or second) for only a buck. Not sure if this decision will truly lead to wiser spending later in life, but at least it is netting just a bit more money in each kid’s bank account.

On Tuesday I also canned 13 pints of raspberry jam.  The berries are coming on full force– hooray! — a really good thing since last year I didn’t can enough jam, and we ran out in about March this year.  Also of note, my husband had one of the boys spray our apple trees for the second time this summer, which should increase our yield greatly.  We’ll probably spray one or two more times between now and harvest time in September.  All our other garden produce is organic, but apples just need spray if you’re not into worms.  At least in our experience.

On Wednesday we brought kids to the God and Country Rally, an outdoor concert, fireworks display, and patriotic celebration in our area, where we got to see Audio Adrenaline, Esterlyn, and Ryan Stevenson for a grand total of $5 (to park the van.)  We ate before we went, brought dollar-store glow sticks with us instead of buying the overpriced ones they sell in the venue, and limited the kids to $6 spending each. Again there came mild grumbling about my spending cap, but I just told them no one ever regrets having money in savings. Right?

On Thursday I found a CUTE clearance outfit at GAP for my youngest daughter for less than $6 including tax.  Just about the only time I’ll buy kids’ clothes new is if the clearance is stupendous, and this time it was.  We also moseyed into Claire’s and found cards of earrings marked down to $2, with an additional sale of buy two/get one. So 6 cards of earring cost me less than $9, and will be good little stocking stuffer/birthday gifts here and there.  They were even earrings for sensitive ears, which is a necessity for one of my daughters.

On Thursday I made split peas and rice for lunch– super easy, moderately well liked by all, and very affordable.  I also made a menu plan for the next couple weeks, which should help me wisely use all the food we have stashed in freezer, fridge and cupboards. And one of these days we’ll have apricots, and later plums from our fruit trees– always a help in the produce department in the summer. All in all, a decently successful week in the finance department around here.

How’d it go at your house?  I love to hear about your successes.

 

Camping fun

Here’s at least some of what’s been keeping me away from the blog during the past week. I’ll write more later. Hope you’re enjoying your summer as well!
Tubing

 

Smores

Flame-out

 

Volleyball

Games in the lodge

Sunning

summertime

Sweet little Ascher
Too busy to blog today, but thankfully my lovely daughters have somehow found time to blog even with teeny ones!  Maybe you’d like to pop over and see what’s new with them??

Amanda

Erika

Easter fun

Eggs!

FlowerGirlSmThis week we’ve been preparing to have family over to our house for Easter. Along with our kids and grandkids, we’re having both sets of grandparents plus John’s and my brothers and sisters. Between tables in the family room, dining room, and patio, as well as kitchen counter seating and patio furniture, we should be able to find space for everyone.

We’ve been planting flowers and sprucing up around the house.  The flowers on the tables will eventually end up in the flowerbeds, but I thought I’d keep them indoors for the weekend to add more of a spring feel inside. And of course there was some egg decorating.

FlowersSmThe really crazy (and nice!) thing is that all I’m cooking is potatoes and ham.  Everyone else is bringing every blessed thing, right down to cups and plates and oodles of dessert and lots of eggs for the kids to hunt. Should be a lovely time!

I hope you have a blessed Easter as well.  I saw this amazing video on facebook and wanted to share it here in case you haven’t seen it yet.

Our Redeemer lives!  Halleluiah!

 

 

Because you NEED an antelope


me with Sophie Hudson and Melanie Shankle at dotMomI discovered blogs way back in 2006, and since then have found lots of good ones.  But only a handful have remained steady favorites, and Melanie Shankle’s blog Big Mama is one I’ll read as long as she’s game to write it. Her sense of humor is priceless–in my next life, I want to be as funny as she is.  I had the fun of traveling to the Dominican Republic with her on behalf of Compassion International several years ago, and also attended a dotMom conference where she and fellow blogger Sophie Hudson (A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet) spoke. (I begged this photo with them at the end of that conference.)

Anyway, Melanie’s SECOND book was just released:   The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life.  It’s a delightful story of married life that I think a lot of us can relate to, even as we’re chuckling over some of the funny moments. I read it in two days and loved it.  My husband is currently reading it, which is a testimony to how funny it is– he rarely reads the same books I do.  Several of our teens have read and enjoyed bits of it too. SO!  I am delighted that I get to give away a copy of this fun book to one of YOU!

All you have to do is comment below and tell me the funniest or most shocking or most controversial item that you or your husband brought home, to the dismay of your partner.  For John and me I think it would have to be a plush recliner that we found next to a dumpster at the nursing home where I worked, and brought home as newlyweds.  One of us (OK, it was me) naively thought a good scrubbing with baking soda would get it smelling like roses.  Ah, notsomuch.  Let’s just say that chairs residing next to nursing-home dumpsters are there for a good reason.

So what was it for you? Tell us your stories.  And by all means, if you have more than one funny story, comment twice and share both stories for two entries.  You can have another entry by tweeting or sharing this contest on facebook, and commenting yet again.  I’ll announce a winner on Monday!

my (un)Valentine’s weekend

Us

It’s funny how you get used to all the rhythms that are peaceful in your home, and begin to take them for granted.  It’s much easier to focus on the hard parts of living in relationship.  Any marriage, no matter how happy, consists of two souls with different needs and wishes and sometimes widely varying ways of seeing this big world.   It can be easy to focus solely on the squeaky spots, the places that lack harmony, to feel frustrated that even after years of living together it can be hard to see the world through another’s eyes.

But the good.  It’s right there all around me too.  If only I would remember to see it and savor it and breathe it in.

Over the weekend my husband took our teens to snow camp, which left me home alone with our two youngest girls on Valentine’s Day.  The girls and I look forward to this weekend each year almost as much as the folks who actually get to go someplace.  We’ve turned it into a girls’ weekend, where we stay up late and sleep in the living room and watch movies and paint our nails and play games and go on little outings that we rarely make time to do during the rest of the year. Oh, we had a good time!

But this year, maybe because of the Valentine’s-Day-that-wasn’t, I also felt the absence of my husband much more keenly.  It seemed that everywhere I turned, there was something not quite right because he wasn’t there.  The fire in the wood stove went out over and over, all weekend long. We forgot to feed the cows in the evening until it was nearly dark. No firewood magically appeared on the hearth when we needed it. I woke in the middle of the night realizing I’d forgotten to lock up the house, then scurried barefoot to lock everything up, pushing back a hint of the dread I felt as a child when walking through the dark night to the bathroom alone.

Each little moment of unbalance reminded me how much I take for granted.  How much my husband nurtures and cares for me, quietly and automatically, simply because he savors his role as my lover and protector. There have been moments where I resent his protectiveness, crankily ‘reading’ it to mean that he thinks I am not competent.  But this weekend of missing him made me see it clearer.  He serves me in these little ways because he cherishes me, plain and simple.  He wants me to move through life with warmth and safety and comfort and ease.

That’s all it is.

And yet it is so much.