Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is Your Home a Daylily or an Oak Tree?

One of my favorite websites is "The Homemaker's Mentor" by Mrs. Martha Greene. She is a true "Titus 2 woman", dedicated to helping younger women learn the art of homemaking. I am so excited to be a "guest mentor", and will be writing lessons that will be published on the site occasionally! I'm posting the first lesson I wrote here, although without the beautiful graphics and extras that Marmee Dear (aka Mrs. Martha Greene) will be adding for publication. Take a look at the Homemaker's Mentor website by clicking the link above, and meanwhile, enjoy my lesson....

Preserving your Home While Changing Houses

Once when my dear husband was a boy, he was riding into town with his father and they passed a house with a sign in the front yard that said “Home for Sale”. Dad said “They need to change that sign. You can’t sell a home; you can only sell a house. A home is forever.”

That story has influenced me greatly over the years as we’ve sold house after house – and become experts at buying them! But we’ve never sold our home. We always keep in mind that no house, no matter how much we love it, will ever be our permanent home. Our home is our family, and it is forever.

Since I’m a gardener at heart, I like to look at things with a gardener’s eye. Even though the metaphor doesn’t always fit, it helps me to think of a home as a living, growing thing, like a plant. I’ll try to help you see what I mean –

Some homes are like oak trees – an old oak that has grown in the same spot for a hundred years. As part of the landscape, no one can imagine this town or this neighborhood without that family and their home there. The branches are strong, there are many seedlings growing in the area, and the roots grow deep into the ground. The family and the home are part of the soil, part of the air they breathe, part of the community.

Other homes are like our home – a daylily that gets transplanted every few years. A daylily flourishes wherever it is planted and brings a bit of beauty to its surroundings for awhile. When it is transplanted to another spot, it suffers in some ways – each time it is moved, it seems harder to establish a good root system again – but in most ways the flower flourishes. The new soil and surroundings revitalize it and keep it strong, and it is healthier for having been moved.

Transplanting a flower successfully requires special care. It needs to be carefully removed from its bed with as little damage to the roots as possible. It needs to be kept moist with the root ball intact during the transition. And most important, it needs to be placed in a well prepared spot and lavished with plenty of water and fertilizer. Moving your daylily home takes the same care. We have learned a few things along our journey about how to transplant this daylily. I hope you’ll be able to glean a few helpful things from my experience!

How to transplant your daylily home -

Removing your home from its bed:
o Pack an “Open Me First” box. Fill this box with things that you will need to live in your new house for the first day or two. Your “Open Me First” box will be the bit of soil that you transfer from one spot to the next along with your plant. In a large box pack
• bedding for all of your family’s beds
• towels, washcloths and toiletry items
• plates, silverware, glasses and napkins so that you’ll be able to serve a simple meal or two before the rest of the boxes are unpacked
• favorite toys, if you have young children
• a few supplies to clean kitchen cupboards, bathrooms, etc.
• new, pretty shelf liner for your new kitchen cupboards

o If the weather cooperates, take a walk around your old neighborhood. Take time to say good bye. Be especially aware of what the others in your family will want to say goodbye to – while Mama’s final goodbye may be said to her favorite grocery store, your children might want to spend a last few minutes at their favorite park!

o Take pictures of your house. I realized during a move several years ago that we usually took pictures of the new house, but rarely had pictures of what it looked like after we had lived in it for awhile and had painted, decorated and made it ours. Take pictures of what it looked like when you were living there and you’ll cherish them for years.

Making the transition to the new site:

o Pack a picnic pack – disposable cups, a roll of paper towels, some plastic silverware, paper plates, wet wipes and a box of tissues. Wherever you are over the next few days – in your old house full of half packed boxes, riding in a car, in a motel room, or in your new house full of half un-packed boxes – you’ll have everything you need for anything from a grocery store picnic to a drink of water.
• What’s a grocery store picnic? That’s when we’re travelling, and instead of going to a restaurant to eat we stop at a grocery store and buy crackers, cheese and fruit for a quick meal.

o If someone else is packing for you, make sure that the things you want to be together are near each other. You don’t want to lose a pair of shoes because they ended up in a box marked “kitchen”! And be sure to take out the trash before the packers arrive – they are trained to pack everything!

o Make plans for any animals that are moving with you.
• Make sure you have enough food for the transition
• Think about how the animals will be traveling – do they need cages to travel in?
• Pack leashes (even if your pet doesn’t normally use one), food and water dishes, treats and medications. Make one of those ID tags for your pet’s collar with your new address on it.

o If you’re travelling a long way – more than across town – turn the travel time into an adventure. Spend time talking about your new town, or have a book about your new area to read aloud during the trip. Many years ago when we moved to west Texas, we enjoyed the adventure of learning about Cowboys and the early days of settling that area. On our move to the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, we learned about horse farms and looked for white fences.

Preparing the flower’s new location:

o I always try to remember that even though I’ve seen the new house and spent many weeks living in it in my imagination, many times moving day is the children’s first opportunity to see the new house. I try to make that first night seem more like home by making sure their bedrooms are as much like the old house as possible with beds set up, dressers in place, favorite toys in their place for that first night. Little children appreciate sleeping in familiar surroundings!

o Make a quick trip to the grocery store to buy necessary perishables and a few items for your supper that night and breakfast the next morning.
o Celebrate the first night in your new house with a simple meal together.
o The next day, give a job to everyone!
• The kitchen cupboards will need to be cleaned and new shelf liner put in.
• The bathrooms will need to be cleaned.
• Bigger people can start sorting the boxes that are in that huge pile in your garage or living room and carrying them into the rooms where they belong.
• Small people will need to have supervision and play time in between their times of helping.

o Finally, boxes will need to be opened and everything put away.
• Make it a rule that every box needs to be emptied, the packing paper taken care of and the box broken down before the next box is opened. Nothing is more disheartening than the chaos of a dozen opened and half-emptied boxes!
• Arrange the furniture so that everyone can sit down for a break when it’s needed. If your family is like ours, Mama will want to try out the furniture in different arrangements anyway!
• Unpack and set up one room at a time; make each room livable.
• Take a break every day to explore your new town and neighborhood.

o Get back into your household routine quickly – doing this within a couple days of moving will be the water that your family’s new home needs to establish those roots.

Watering and fertilizing your home in its new location:

o Give yourself and your family time to settle in, to let this house and this town feel like home. Every time we’ve moved, our settling in has followed the same pattern and the settling in has taken three years. Every time.
• The first year: First we have to learn how to get from our new house to the grocery store, and the bank, and the library. We learn how the streets are laid out. We find a new doctor, dentist, and vet. We look for a new church. We meet the neighbors. After a few months we find that when we’re driving down a street, we no longer have to look at the street sign to find out where we are – we’ve learned the landmarks.
• The second year: This is the year of “I remember doing that last year”. This is the second time we went to the special Christmas concert. This is the second time we went to the county fair. This is the second time we went to the Memorial Day parade downtown. Things are still new, but they aren’t so strange any more.
• The third year: This is the year that the new place finally starts feeling like home. It takes a few years to develop friendships – suddenly we realize that we have friends that we would miss if we had to move again. We’ve been around enough that we know people, and people know us, and we start getting involved in the community – at our church, at scouts, in the neighborhood. This is the year that we realize that the roots have established themselves again. For now, this is home.

o In these first years after transplanting, remember that the plant that is your family is fragile. Be careful to not make any of these mistakes as you’re helping your home establish its new root system:
• As you settle your home into your new surroundings, it’s easy to hold on too tightly to the past – after all, it’s familiar! Holding on too tightly to the old place keeps you from seeing what is good in the new place. It’s hard to relax and let the roots heal when Mama lets herself complain about the little things: different accents, or the way people drive, or the width of the roads, or the unfriendliness/overfriendliness of the clerks in the grocery store! Things will be different in the new place, and one way to help your home establish itself in your new area is to learn to enjoy what you can and cope with the things you can’t. Mama’s attitude will make a big difference in how well her family accepts the change.
• Another mistake is to try to make a clean break between the old and the new, and never revisit the old place again. Sometimes you just can’t physically revisit the old house, but you can always revisit it in your memory. Making a sudden, clean break shocks the root system, and it can’t grow to embrace the new surroundings.
• A third mistake is to treat the move as if it wasn’t anything major or life changing. A move is huge in your family’s life. It changes everything. Part of Mama’s job is to help her little ones learn from this experience. When it came time for our last move, our daughter was devastated. She was half way through her senior year of high school and was wrapped up in all the things that makes a 17 year old’s life good: a wonderful circle of friends, a church that had helped her grow through some important experiences, a job at the local library that she loved, and a family who had welcomed her into their home as a mother’s helper. We were able to help her accept the move by reliving our previous move with her – in both instances we had not chosen to move, but God had chosen for us. Since our previous move we had seen great growth in our family’s lives, had learned great life lessons, and had made wonderful friends. Why, we reasoned with her, would we expect that God would have any less planned for us in this move? She made the move in faith, and her trust in God’s plan for her life has been confirmed.

Maybe your home is an Oak tree, and you’ve never experienced the adventure of moving. What a blessing! But you have a task – watch for those daylily families that move in and out of your neighborhood. Seek them out, make them feel welcome, extend your own special flavor of hospitality to them. They will appreciate it, and you may make some lifelong friends!
I’ve always wanted my home to be an Oak tree, but God placed me in a daylily home.

Daylilies are beautiful, they persistently grow wherever they are planted, and they bloom profusely. I’m thankful to be part of a daylily home when I think of all the experiences and especially the friends that our family would have missed out on if we had been Oak trees! Are you a daylily? Maybe we’ll be neighbors someday….

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"A Holy Resting All That Day"

There are a lot of different opinions on how Sunday should be treated by Christians. I don't want to get into a discussion of what Christians should or shouldn't do on Sunday, but I do think that we need to be aware of what Sunday means and what our attitude is toward it. So as I've been thinking through this, I've been asking myself some questions:

First of all, is Sunday the Sabbath? Is it the Lord's Day? Is it different than other days of the week?

Second, if it is a different day, do I act any different on that day? How does what I do look any different from what the world does?

Third, if I do act differently on that day, is it enough to act differently for one or two hours as I attend church in the morning, then go back to my regular life for the rest of the day? Or is the whole day the Sabbath?

Fourth, what does that mean, anyway: "the Sabbath"? Does it mean that I don't do any work? And what is "work" on Sunday, anyway? Isn't it resting from work when I get to do what I want?

I've been exploring this since we studied the Fourth Commandment in our school. In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 57-62 thoroughly explore the Fourth Commandment. There are two parts of the catechism that really have really gotten me thinking. First is the commandment itself expressed in catechism question number 57, and then one of the follow up questions:

Question 57: Which is the fourth commandment?

Answer: The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Question 60: How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

Answer: The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole day in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

So that is where my thoughts are - and it brings me to the center of all the questions: how is God calling me to spend my Sundays? A holy resting....

“I Don’t Cook on Sunday” menus to please the family and the budget!

(Recipes usually serve 4 – double for larger families or growing boys)

All of these menus are to be prepared for the most part on Friday or Saturday, and then finished up on Sunday:

1. Sloppy Joes, Chips, Carrots and Celery
2. Meatloaf, Baked Potatoes, Vegetable, Fruit
3. Tacos, Nachos, Fresh Fruit
4. Beef Stew, Bread, Salad
5. Breakfast Burritos, Fresh Fruit
6. Lasagna, Garlic Bread, Vegetable, Salad

Recipes and shopping lists:

1. Sloppy Joes, Chips, Carrot and Celery Sticks

Sloppy Joes Recipe
1 pound lean ground beef, browned and drained
¼ c. diced onion
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. pepper
½ c. chili sauce
¼ c. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 T. white vinegar
8 oz. tomato sauce
hamburger buns

Mix all ingredients except buns in a large frying pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for minutes. Put in a container and freeze or refrigerate. To serve, reheat until bubbly or put in crock pot on low for 2-4 hours. Serve on buns with chip and carrot/celery sticks.

Shopping list:
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 bottle chili sauce
1 onion
Spices, if needed
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 pkg. hamburger buns
1 # fresh carrots
1 stalk celery
1 bag chips – family’s favorite

2. Meatloaf, Baked Potatoes, Vegetables and Fruit

Meatloaf Recipe
2 pounds lean ground beef, or 1 pound beef, 1 pound turkey
1 egg
¼ c. dry bread crumbs
1 T. Worchestershire sauce
¼ c. diced onion
1 whole onion

First, prepare baking dish: line a baking dish with foil (remember – it’s Sunday and you don’t want to spend all afternoon doing dishes!) Peel whole onion and cut into 3 large slices. Lay these slices on the bottom of your baking dish (adds flavor and serves as a rack to lift your meatloaf out of the grease). Lightly beat egg in a large bowl. Mix in breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce and diced onion. Add meat and mix until seasonings are mixed throughout the meat. Form into a loaf and place in prepared baking dish. Refrigerate until Sunday. The meatloaf and potatoes need to bake for 1 ¼ hours – use the timed bake option on your oven if you have one, or plan to have a late dinner. Serve with baked potatoes, vegetables and fruit.

Shopping list:
2 # lean ground meat – beef, turkey or both
2 onions
bread crumbs
1 egg
Worcestershire sauce
potatoes – russet and/or sweet
Fresh, frozen or canned vegetable of your choice
Fresh or canned fruit

3. Tacos, Nachos and Fresh Fruit

Tacos Recipe
1 pound ground beef or turkey
¼ c. chopped onion
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1T. chili powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. oregano

Brown ground meat and onion, drain fat. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes, then freeze or refrigerate until needed.
Prepare the following (according to your family’s tastes) in separate dishes, then refrigerate until serving time: shredded lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocados (don’t prepare until the last minute), black olives, etc.
Before serving prepare soft or hard taco shells, heat up meat, warm nacho cheese sauce, bring toppings out of the refrigerator.

Shopping list:
1 pound ground beef or turkey
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 onion
spices for taco seasonings
veggies for taco toppings
canned nacho cheese
soft tortillas or taco shells
1 bag tortilla chips
fresh or canned fruit

4. Beef Stew, Bread, Salad

Beef Stew Recipe
1 pound stew beef
¼ c. flour
¼ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. salt
dash pepper
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove
1 bay leaf
4 carrots, sliced
2-3 potatoes, cubed
1 tsp. each thyme, basil, parsley, marjoram
1 ½ c. beef broth or stock

Use a crock pot liner! (Remember – it’s Sunday). Prepare meat and vegetables up to one day ahead of time and refrigerate. 6-10 hours before serving assemble stew: Put cubed meat in the crock pot liner. Add flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Hold bag closed and shake to cover meat with flour. Put crock pot liner with meat inside it in your crock pot. Add vegetables, herbs and broth. Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8-10 hours. Serve with bread (make homemade bread on Saturday!) and salad (prepare on Saturday).

Shopping list:
1 pound stew beef
paprika, salt, pepper & herbs, if needed
4 carrots
2-3 potatoes
1 ½ c. beef broth or stock
special bread – bakery or artisan (if you don't have time for homemade)
lettuce (or choice of salad)

5. Breakfast Burritos, Fresh Fruit

Breakfast Burritos Recipe
1 pound bulk sausage
1 potato
¼ c. onion
2 eggs person
2 large (burrito sized) flour tortillas per person
picante sauce or salsa
shredded cheddar cheese

Brown and drain sausage, remove from pan and refrigerate. Peel potato and slice thin. Brown in pan, add onion when partially cooked. Remove potato and onion from pan and refrigerate.

Before serving warm flour tortillas according to package directions. Put sausage and potato/onion mixture in pan and warm. Beat eggs and add to pan. Cook together until eggs are done. Serve with picante sauce and shredded cheddar cheese. (each person assembles his own burrito).

Shopping list:
1 pound bulk sausage
1 onion
1 potato
1 pkg. burrito size flour tortillas
picante sauce
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
fresh or canned fruit

6. Lasagna, Garlic Bread, Vegetable, Salad

Lasagna Recipe (serves 12)
9 lasagna noodles
1 jar prepared spaghetti sauce
24 oz. carton small curd cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. parsley flakes
½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pound ground beef, browned

Cook noodles according to directions on package. Remove from the pot and lay out on aluminum foil or wax paper until needed. In a bowl, combine eggs, cottage cheese, ¼ c. Parmesan cheese, parsley flakes and mozzarella cheese. Grease lasagna pan or 9x13 baking dish. Layer ingredients in the following order: 3 noodles, ½ cheese mixture, 1/3 jar of spaghetti sauce, ½ of ground beef. Again: 3 noodles, ½ cheese mixture, 1/3 jar of spaghetti sauce, ½ of ground beef. Last layer: 3 noodles, remaining spaghetti sauce, ¼ c. Parmesan cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until Sunday. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Let rest outside of oven for 10 minutes before serving. Hint: if you need a smaller size Lasagna for your family, use 2 8x8 baking dishes and split the ingredients in half. Cut each lasagna noodle in half and layer each smaller pan the same way as the larger lasagna. Freeze 1 pan until needed for another meal.

Shopping list:
1 package lasagna noodles
1 jar spaghetti sauce
24 oz. carton small curd cottage cheese
1 pound ground beef
parsley flakes
Parmesan cheese
4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 loaf frozen garlic bread
lettuce (or salad of choice)
fresh, frozen or canned vegetable of your choice

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kinder-gardening: The Gentle Art of Raising Adults. part 4

When our children reached 12 years old it was time to transplant the seedlings into the garden. Our 12 year olds were never teenagers to us – they were young (very young!) adults. Between the ages of 12 and 18 we gave our growing adults more and more responsibilities and privileges as they were ready for them. Because of the work we had done earlier, our 12 year olds were confident in most situations, whether it was a night of babysitting or a week at scout camp.

During these years between 12 and 15, we tried hard to instill into our growing adults what it meant to be a mature adult: a personal relationship with their Lord Jesus Christ, a servant’s heart, a willingness to take responsibility for their own actions, a knowledge that at times they may be asked to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. It was a growing experience for ourselves as parents also as we tried to teach these values by example – we couldn’t teach our young people to do anything that we weren’t willing and able to do ourselves.

Our 12 to 15 year olds didn’t learn these values only by our example, though. They also had the benefit of observing others – both real people and fictional characters became role models. One of the benefits of carefully selecting the adults our children would spend time with at church, in the neighborhood and in organizations like scouts was that they spent time with other adults that were worthy role models. These were people who were living the values we were trying to instill in our young people, and we are always grateful to them for the influence they’ve had on our family’s lives! We also held up fictional heroes for our children – heroes are larger than life and inspire a child or adult to attempt great things. Reading good literature does more than make an impressive entry on a college transcript. Reading good literature enlarges a life.

Each learning experience built on the next, until by around 15 years old those growing adults were able to take on adult responsibilities in controlled circumstances. This is the age when our children got their first jobs, went on mission trips, and organized social times with their friends. Our oldest son was part of a trip to New York City and enjoyed youth group retreats; our daughter went on mission trips to Appalachia and volunteered at our local public library; our younger boys are involved in scouting activities that have them involved in camping and service projects and regularly have a group of their friends over to our house on a Saturday afternoon to play games.

Dating, which is a huge time and energy investment for most people this age, became a non-issue in our family. We encourage our young people to involve their friends in group activities and to put off one-on-one dating until at least college. They appreciate how they are able to avoid the “drama” of broken hearts and broken relationships at this age, and we are encouraged as we see them waiting until they are older to give their hearts away.

But at the same time that our young people are establishing themselves in the world, we are all too aware that they are newly-transplanted seedlings facing their first experiences in the garden. Just like a gardener keeps a careful eye on the weather, we keep a careful eye on our young people’s environments. It not only matters that they are working, but where they are working, and with whom. It not only matters that they participate in our church’s youth group, but who the leaders are and what they are teaching. It not only matters that they welcome their friends into our home, but what they are planning to do and how they are organizing the event. Just like a gardener keeps a cover handy when frost threatens, we keep ourselves available with help and advice – and celebrated each time we realize we are needed less.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Kinder-gardening: The Gentle Art of Raising Adults. part 3

Our young plant is thriving in the greenhouse. The stem is getting longer and stronger, second and third pairs of leaves are growing: the plant seems ready to be set out in the garden. But there is also important work going on at this point in both our plant’s life and our children’s lives that is hard to see – they are growing roots. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken a young seedling out to the garden to plant it only to find that even though the stems and leaves look mature, the plant has a weak root system. It just needed more time before transplanting.

Our children were doing important work between the ages of 7 and 11 – developing strong roots. They were in the process of establishing a firm base – a solid confidence that home was secure. They identified themselves as part of our family.

Also, if you have observed children, then you know that at about 7 years of age there is a turning point in the child’s life. Part of it is physical – the round chubbiness and straight baby teeth of the preschooler are replaced by growing gangly limbs and missing teeth – but a big part is also emotional. The growing child starts to separate from the parents in a way that a toddler and preschooler never would. The 7 year old is becoming an individual.

I know it sounds like I just contradicted myself – read through those last paragraphs again. The growing child starts to separate from the parents at the same time that they are establishing a firm base? There’s a line from a poem by John Donne – “Thy firmness makes my circle just”. What he’s talking about is a compass, the kind used to draw circles. John Donne was saying that his wife was the “fixed foot” – the foot that establishes the center of the circle. He was the other foot, the foot that must “obliquely run” – but no matter how far he went, his wife was the fixed center to his circle. I don’t want to get too far from my greenhouse illustration, but I think it’s important at this point to see that this is one of our roles as parents of growing adults – we are that firm, fixed foot of the compass that brings our children back to the center, that makes their circle just (or true, or perfectly circular).

So the strong roots make the separation possible and almost unnoticeable. It is the secure child that can take risks. Consequently, around 7 years old we started the serious hardening off work at the same time that we reassured them that the fixed foot of the compass would not move.

It was time to put our seedlings in a larger pot – but still under the protection of the greenhouse. In controlled circumstances we put our children into the larger world, the same way you put young seedlings out on a sunny day. They would have a sleep over at a friend’s house or go on an outing to the zoo with the neighbor family.

Between the ages of 7 and 11 we would expose our children to the world outside our home in increasingly large doses. The activities we allowed our children to participate in were carefully chosen – even at the ripe age of 11 years old when our children went on their first week long adventure without us (usually camp), we knew who they were going with, what they would be doing and who was going to be responsible for them.

As they were exposed to the outside world, our young plants were no longer in that strictly controlled environment that I wrote about in my last posting. If you leave a young plant in those conditions for too long you’ll have a weak, sickly plant. A young plant needs to be exposed to adverse conditions to help it grow stronger – but that exposure is carefully controlled.

During this hardening off time they experienced life in different families and different environments, and learned that different places have different rules. Sometimes they would encounter things that we didn’t anticipate, or things that we wish they had never seen, but those experiences helped them see the differences between our family and others. They also learned that they were expected to live by our family’s rules no matter where they were. Home was still the greenhouse – but they were getting ready for the garden.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kinder-gardening: The Gentle Art of Raising Adults. part 2

In this second part of this series, I want to discuss the early, early years of raising adults, those years from birth to preschool when our young ones are newly planted in the greenhouse.

Think for a moment about how seeds are planted in a greenhouse. First there’s the pot – not too big, about the size of an empty eggshell. There isn’t much room in that pot, but it’s also very protected. Not much gets to the seed by way of outside influences - nothing but a controlled amount of sunlight and water.

Next there’s the growing medium. Gardeners quite often use something other than soil for planting seeds. That first growing medium needs to have the right nutrients and moisture retention for the young seedling, but it also works best if it’s sterile. Dirt is… well, dirt – filled with all kinds of bacteria, mold and bugs that are beneficial to the growing plant, but not the new seedling.

And last, there’s the environment. The greenhouse is a controlled environment – controlled sunlight, controlled temperature, controlled moisture. Everything about the seedling’s first home is optimal - not just for its survival, but for its ability to thrive.

Now let’s imagine our young child as that little seedling:

First, what is our child’s “pot” like? In other words, what is their world like? We found that our infants did best in a small pot – their world consisted of home, family, routine. There were occasional, random (in the infant’s mind!) trips in the car to the doctor, to the grocery store, to church, but the main world was home. Mama was always there. They slept in the same bed every day. Diapers were changed, crying calmed, bellies filled, and someone was there with a smile when they were awake.

Somewhere around 2 or 3 years old, our children started to make friends outside our family circle. The boy at church or the girl next door became friends. Their world was enlarging – just like gardeners will put a growing seedling into a larger pot – but they were still living in their controlled environment. Home was still the main focus of their lives.

During these years they learned to play with others, first under my watchful eye (after all, play dates are for moms too!), and then as they reached 4 or 5 years old, alone at a friend’s house under that trusted mom’s watchful eye. That was the beginning of the hardening off process – akin to propping the roof of the cold frame open on warm days.

It’s at this point in our children’s lives that we deviate from the norm. Most children go straight into the garden at this point – and yes, most survive and are fine. In the “Greenhouse Method”, there is no thought that “fine” is adequate for these young souls. There are many years ahead of hardening off before these seedlings are ready to thrive in the garden….and that’s the subject of my next posting.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kinder-gardening: The Gentle Art of Raising Adults

Parenting is an adventure, it’s a quest, it’s a great undertaking - and most of us face those first few days scared out of our wits. Very few of us feel well prepared and equipped when we become parents for the first time! My dear husband remembers that first day home from the hospital with our oldest – “They just let us take him home. What were they thinking?”

But parenting is also a calling – whether our children come to us through birth, adoption or less desirable circumstances (like friends of mine who are raising their grandchildren), we are called by God to this task. Answering the call to the best of our ability is our duty – to neglect it is unthinkable.

In the last 25 years, I’ve developed a theory of child rearing. I call it “The Green House Method of Raising Adults”. What gives me the confidence to share it with you now is that space of 25 years – I’ve had time to not only develop the method, but to watch it play out in four young lives and to see the results as we reach the end of our child rearing years. The whole idea is that raising adults is much like raising plants in a garden – thus the title of this blog entry.

But before we go on, I have to clarify what I mean by “raising adults.” One thing that my husband and I have had foremost in our thoughts for the last 25 years is that when you discuss raising something, you talk about the end product. We raise lettuce, or tomatoes. When we plant seeds we speak of planting radishes, not little round pebbles. We’ve always had the end results of our labors in mind – not old children, but responsible, mature adults.

The “Green House Method” takes what I’ve observed and practiced in gardening and applies it to children. When you raise tender plants, like tomatoes, from seed, the last thing you want to do is to place those seeds directly into the garden. You plant them inside, nurture the little plants, slowly “harden them off” so they can survive in the larger garden, and then finally transplant them in the garden. But even after all that, you don’t abandon them – you cover them if frost threatens, you water them on dry days, you remove invasive weeds, and you carefully watch and celebrate their progress.

When you raise tender human souls, you go through the same process. My next three blog entries will elaborate on the process – I hope you will enjoy reading through the entire series!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

George Tiller's death

After a long absence (sometimes school just seems to get in the way….) I was going to post today about homeschooling, but then I heard about George Tiller’s death, and school will just have to wait.

For those of us who are “pro-life” George Tiller has represented the worst of the other side for years. Even though he has been investigated for illegalities with varying rates of success (depending on your point of view), his legal activities alone are enough to have made this man into the figurehead of the abortion movement that he is. I won’t go into his activities – there will be enough of that in the media over the next several days to keep everyone entertained.

What I’d like to address is my own role in what Tiller represented – yes, I said my own role. Not that I have ever actively supported abortion – even in my “liberal” days I was aghast at the prospect of abortion, that I or anyone I knew would even consider such an alternative. No, my own role has been the same one we all share – as a citizen of the United States and a human being.

By being a US citizen, I share in the responsibility of the legalization and acceptance of abortion. I am a citizen of a democracy, and even though I may disagree with what our government does, I share in the responsibility of its actions. Because I enjoy the freedoms my government gives me, I have to allow others like freedoms. I have to allow others to have their opinions that abortion, even late term abortion is acceptable. I have to allow others to practice what is legal to practice in our country. That doesn’t mean that I like it, or that I want it to continue. That doesn’t mean that I won’t work to change the law. It doesn’t mean that I won’t pray and work to change people’s minds about what is acceptable. But it does mean that I still share in the responsibility of this horrendous practice in our country.

As a human being I share in the tragedy of abortion – just as I share in the tragedy of all sin. As a human being, each death of each small baby affects me. As a human being, the death of George Tiller affects me. Human life is sacred – we are made in God’s image. As that image is clouded and marred by sin, we all share in the tragedy and we all suffer.

We do all share in George Tiller’s death – as conservatives we will share in the erosion of our freedoms that the backlash to his murder will cause; as Christians we will share in the blame of the actions of one man (whether religion will be shown to be the reason for his actions or not); and as citizens we will share in the blow to the pro-life movement this murder will cause. But most of all, we should share in the grief that one more unrepentant human being has died…..such a tragedy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Slow Good-bye

“Alzheimer’s Disease” is a term I’ve grown to dislike. What bothers me most about it is that word “disease”. That implies that this is an unnatural state, caused by outside influences, and can be cured by medical intervention. Is that true? I don’t know.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. In the last 10 years we’ve slowly been saying good-bye to her, as we see her slipping away a little more each time we visit her. Grief has become so much a part of my life that I almost don’t notice it anymore. Grieving as I remember what she was like when I was a young girl. Grieving as I remember her joy in her grandchildren. Grieving for the loss all of the conversations that we can no longer have. Grieving because we live 600 miles away and can’t visit her every day. Or week. Or month. Grieving because I know that one time very soon we’ll visit her and she won’t know who we are. And grieving because I may never be able to visit her again. This is the grief that has been part of my life for the last several years.

In the last few months she’s progressed (isn’t that a funny way of saying it?) to the point where she can no longer be taken care of at home and has been admitted to a nursing care facility. Saying good-bye is no longer one of the privileges we have: in some ways she’s already gone.

But then she isn’t. When we visited her last week she knew who we were, even though she couldn’t place names and faces together. She laughed with us when we told a story of what the cat did. She exclaimed at how tall her grandsons have gotten. She wasn’t ready to say good-bye when it was time for us to leave. She is still there, inside that increasingly aging body, inside the mind that can’t form words to communicate.

I know people worry about me, how I’m handling the fact that my mother is dying such a slow death. Wondering how I’m reacting to the fact that she’s dying the same way her mother did, and possibly the same way I will die. But I try to tell them I’m okay. I believe in the providence of God. What is happening to my mother is within His grasp. He is in control of it, and He is the one who brings good of every situation. Even this one. I trust Him with the past, present and future. All of it. No exceptions.

And I pray for grace to thank God for even this. And He gives that grace every day.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Birdwatching 101

I love birdwatching. I can't remember when it may have started - I do remember trying to identify birds by their songs when I was quite young...probably 8 or 9 years old. I've been trying to improve my skills little by little ever since then, which has been more than 40 years. So why did I title this entry Birdwatching 101? Because I always feel like I have so much to learn! I could spend so much more time at this than I do, and I could learn so much more....

The current birding project that is under construction is a bird garden. The former owners of our house had an above ground pool, which meant we inherited a lovely round circle in our yard, right next to the patio. We've hauled in top soil, landscaping timber and mulch to create a not-so-level area, and expanded the circle in a couple directions. The goal is to make a mini-habitat for the birds, with various levels of shrubs, plenty of cover and natural food, a bird bath, and several different feeding stations. We have a natural windbreak of hybrid willows on the north side of this area, and the birds already love those trees for cover and for nesting.

This is the second winter for the garden, and the birds are certainly enjoying it. The shrubs that have been planted aren't large enough to provide shelter yet, so the birds make good use of an existing Barberry bush and our recycled Christmas tree. We have three different feeding stations and water available, so we are getting visitors. Mostly house sparrows, but I've also seen a couple other varieties of sparrows, juncos, chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves, northern flickers, and once or twice a Merlin - my husband likes to say that we feed all kinds of birds here!

The fun part is watching our new kitten. Maggie-cat has a front row seat on all the action - behind the glass of the patio door. She spends hours stalking the sparrows, crouching behind the door frame, and watching, watching, watching....and of course wishing the glass was non-existent!

And of course, since it's January, the planning for the spring has begun. I think this spring we'll plant some annual vines for color and height while we wait for the holly and weigela to grow - a teepee of scarlet runner beans and thunbergia would make a nice focal point next to the birdbath....