Sunday, February 26, 2017

At War with Your Bathtub?

When Adam put in the new bathroom, and I got a sparkling new tub and shower unit, I told myself I would not ever, ever, ever let it get gross and dirty. Are you fighting with your tub? Do you hate cleaning it? Do you wish there were a way to keep it always fresh and clean? Well ... Tada!!!
You've seen these in the store. They sell them for dish scrubbing, but a facebook friend recommended this as the brilliant tool to keep a clean shower. That was several months ago (honestly, considering my memory, it was probably September), and I'm here to tell you that it works! It works for me, anyway.
Screw off the white end of the wand and put 1/2 Dawn dish detergent and 1/2 white vinegar inside.
or the knock-off brand ...
I sometimes have trouble with the bubbles. Wait for them to die down if you want to fill it all the way up.
I keep this scrubber in the shower and I scrub away at the walls or tub whenever I think of it -- before a soak in the tub, while I'm in the shower, etc. In other words, it gets a little bit of good cleaning nearly every day. And I never, ever have to look at my shower/tub and think, "Ugh! That's nasty! Now I must go to battle!"  No reaching for some spray cleanser.No harsh chemicals.  No nasty little cleaning rag draped over a handle. Give it a try!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Visit to White Oak

my daddy and mother
 The quiet country lane where my some of my West Virginia kin live, used to be a tiny community called White Oak. When I strolled down the road, looking back I could see my parents' home at the top of the hill, around the curve ...
 ... and peering far across the fields I could see my brother's house and farm too. Can you see it on the hill through the trees?
 In between is White Oak Cemetery, a minuscule country burying ground with names like Burr and Spencer.
 My parents hope to be buried there.
 Walking the quarter mile to Max and Anne's house, this is my favorite view of their farm from across a little valley. The blueberry rows stretch in front of the house, and a red barn shed sits below. White Oak Berry Farm is a pick-your-own blueberry farm in just about the prettiest spot on the planet.
 I was so happy that Marshall came down to see me from his home an hour or so away. He's semi-retired now from many years of very hard work building a successful company. Isn't that amazing? I'm very proud of him, and he is a good and kind man. He and Max discussed all things farming. I didn't get a good photo of them together because I do get tired of bugging people for smiling photographs, and I bet they get tired of it too!
 Max and Anne have a lovely red barn.
 Max added on a open machinery shed on the side of his barn. He was finishing it that day. Marshall helped.
 I find inordinate delight in watching my brothers do anything. I love to watch them work. I love seeing their personalities, which I've studied so much over the decades, still come out as they relate to each other, as they converse and discuss, laugh and commiserate, work and relax. I absolutely love being with my family.
 There's the shed. Here are some sheep, but I think they are a neighbor's. Max has about six sheep this year, I think. He lost quite a few to coyotes a couple of years ago, and was down to only one ewe.
 This is his milk cow, and he has two others. All three should have calves this spring.
 I enjoyed lots of time chatting with my dear sister-in-law Anne, and she cooked a lovely meal for us Wednesday evening. She has such beautiful personal taste and always has.
 My brother Mark is working on his farmhouse, which is an on-going project. I love the blue paint he chose for the top under the eaves. There's still so much to do.

 One of the house's biggest problems is that it sits right on the ground. The dirt is literally about an inch below the kitchen floorboards, and because it's so old (120 years), there aren't all those sub-floors, etc. that are so handy in modern houses.
 It's a huge house, and Mark has wanted to raise the house from the dirt for the three years they've lived there. Finally now he is able to do it. It's a huge task, especially doing it alone. And as he raises it, because the sills and lower boards have been so close to the dirt for so long, there's much deterioration and repair work to be done.
 I wouldn't even want to begin to figure out how do to all that!
As he raises the house, Mark also needs to level it. Just as an indication ... he raised the middle of the floor 3" so far, but raised the perimeter of the house 8". The house was sagging that much, at the exterior walls! In addition, the utilities will have to be adjusted as the house goes up. Some of the repairs that have been done will have to be redone, I think. He wanted to raise the house first, and do those other things second, but at least it is being addressed now.
Mark drove me over to White Sulphur Springs to see the little Presbyterian church where he preaches every other week. We stopped in at the Episcopal church too, where they gave me a bowl of chili for lunch. They're still feeding dozens of people every day who are in White Sulphur to help rebuild the community after the devastating floods of last year.
 We took the most gorgeous "scenic route" from Frankford, winding through hills and across rivers and wiggling beside streams. It was breath-taking. This is one thing I've always loved about my brothers: they enjoy and value the outdoors, the rural, the landscape where others wouldn't bother to go. We are all non-urban folk in our family. My parents were too early to be hippies, and we children were all too late, but somehow we all got that rather rustic gene, and we just can't seem to get the dirt out of our blood.
I stopped on the drive home in the Shenandoah Valley for this shot near Waynesboro.
I'm back home now. It hardly feels like February -- it's about 80 degrees today! There's lots going on around the house and farm, but I'll post that over on the Red Robin Farm blog. You all have a lovely day, and be sure to get outside!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Justice vs. Sacrifice

An excellent article on marriage I'm reading just sparked an idea. (Here's the article.) The husband writes that we've all told ourselves, all our lives, that we must be true to ourselves, discover our own spiritual heights, be authentic to ourselves. As he says, "An authentic life means being true to ourselves, and there's nothing more inauthentic than doing something counter to our current emotional state. Basically, if I'm not feeling it, then I shouldn't have to do it."

That's a little crassly put, but we do all practice this principle. We teach it to our children and defend it in our culture: personal justice! Do not tolerate anyone treating you badly! Fight back and defend what's right! Push for personal justice and rights! Every group in the country (and the individuals within those groups) are encouraged to fight for personal justice. We tell ourselves that in fighting for me we are also fighting for others. Yeah.

And what's wrong with that?

If you're a Christian, I'll tell you what's wrong with that -- Jesus taught the opposite. He taught us not to seek our own good, our own way. He taught to present your second cheek to be slapped after your first is stinging. He taught us to absorb the wrong, and then forgive it. If you are His follower (in Scripture, the correct term is "bond-servant," i.e., slave) then you have given up your claim to personal justice for yourself. If you're not ready to at least make a half-hearted attempt at that, then reconsider your connections to the Man.

Seriously, people. Let everybody else hammer out how badly they've been treated. You should be busy with other things. The only justice Jesus ever told us to concern themselves with is justice for the truly oppressed -- the poor, the homeless, the abandoned, the orphans, the people whom organizations and institutions love to extort and use. We are to forget about rights and justice for ourselves, and seek it for them.

In Jesus's mind, the two are mutually exclusive.

I see this every day at the afterschool program where I work. Here's how it goes -- I call the 31 children to make a line so we can go inside to the restroom. Instantly I hear, "She broke in front of me!" "I carried that basketball outside and I'm supposed to carry it in!" "She stuck her tongue out at me!" And on and on. The 'breaking in line' complaint is my personal favorite. I ask the child, "Are you the line leader? Do you have a particular place in the line anyway? Does it really matter if she's in front of you? Will you get to the bathroom any later?" Of course there's absolutely no practical implication, no tangible wrong done, if someone steps in line in front of you when you're seven years old. Or when your 47, or 70 either. But, oh my, does it make us mad! We have been wronged! We have been ill-used and treated rudely. It's the principle of the thing! We must never tolerate injustice in any form!

I agree that rudeness and meanness and ill-treatment are offensive in our culture. But I wish that we would all adopt this attitude: Never try to address any injustice against self; always address injustice done to others.

If we all did that (an impossibility, I'm sure) what a different world we would live in.

If we ceased seeking our own rights and justice in our marriages, and instead began seeking it only for our partners.

If we stopped seeking our own rights and justice at our jobs, and instead began seeking it only for our co-workers.

If we stopped teaching our kids to look out for their own rights and justice and began teaching them to look out for others.

If we stopped, as a church, looking out for our church's rights and justice at the hands of our government or culture, and began seeking the rights and justice of the oppressed instead.

And, last but not least, if we stopped expecting those who don't profess any relationship with Jesus to behave in ways that we who do profess this relationship, won't behave. Fighting for one's own rights and personal justice is perfectly normal in the world. Let the world do its thing. Be different -- that's all Jesus asked us to do, just be different. He knew it would be nearly impossible to deny ourselves, to sacrifice that way. So He did it first to show us that it could be done.

Shakespeare addressed these thoughts in Hamlet. Polonius advises his son, Laertes, "This above all - to thy own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." The father dies at the hand of Hamlet, a man who struggled with this concept more deeply: "To be or not to be -- that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them." Laertes, in the end, murders Hamlet and then dies himself. What sad ends for men who found self-sacrifice so impossible!

Do we suffer wrongs? Do we rouse ourselves and fight against them? Are we true to self above all others? Look to Jesus. Be different.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Silent Blog

I don't blog quite as much as I used to, and when I do I avoid topics I used to leap into -- theology, politics, culture. You know, the debatable things. I've been sticking to topics like knitting, farm work, and food because the overwhelming din of unkind arguing out there is painful. I've tried to stay out of it. I've unfollowed facebook friends. I've turned off the radio in the car. I won't talk about it at home or work. It's not just the U.S. election/politics. It's the general meanness in the world, the fear, distrust, emotional distance, and broken community.

I just saw this commercial on facebook:

I think it kind of put me over the edge.

It's not just old people who are mean, or Trump supporters, or young progressives with agendas, or immigrants or immigrant-haters. We're all shoving everybody away. I shudder when I hear Fox News and I shudder when I hear NPR. We are so busy polarizing and pushing away that we don't realize we're killing ourselves and ruining life for our children.

Here's another bite of food for thought, an article from a facebook friend:

"59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out -- And They're Trying to Tell Us Why"

The stats are shocking. Millennials are people 20 - 36 years old, this year. These aren't teenagers. These are young professionals and parents. They aren't "the next generation"; they are the generation. Basically the writer says this: The American church is self-centered, judgmental, out-of-touch, into its own politics, power, and money, and isn't interested in serving anybody. Oh, and there's this lovely quote from the writer's mother (who's probably my age) --

"Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school, and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”

I read this as a pastor's wife, and I know what she means. To people on the outside, church often looks like a nasty little game. There are really fabulous ministries in the U.S. dedicated to helping the poor/addicted/refugee/depressed/suicidal/homeless. But they're not usually based in the local church. I wish they were! If your church is an exception, I'm very happy for you. But if the bigger church -- members and leadership alike -- were as dedicated to helping and loving people in need as they were to the latest building project or covered dish dinner, 35% of people between 20 - 36 wouldn't be anti-church, i.e., think that the church is doing more harm than good.

Then there's the other thing preying on my brain, the Bible study that I'm teaching with older ladies at my church ... because all the ladies at my church are older ... because at 53 years old I'm the youngest adult woman in my church by at least a decade. Sigh. [They're lovely ladies. I just wish our church had a few millennials.] Anyway, we're studying Elisabeth Elliot's incredible book, A Path Through Suffering. Someday I might do a way-too-long post on it. If you struggle to understand why you suffer, or why anyone suffers, this book is helpful. Elliot is bold and unapologetic of her radical positions. Chapter after chapter she pummels you with arguments that suffering is designed, important, essential, useful, and brings joy. Yes, I just wrote that. 

Perhaps this is where all these distasteful topics come together for me, right now. Elliot says "the maturing process in the Christian ... is for one purpose, the giving of life." (97) How do we give life? Kindness. Openness. Loving instead of hating. Welcoming instead of pushing away. Sacrificing for others. Ceasing from judging. Why do Christians feel it is our job to judge the world right now?

"All who would bring souls to God and multiply His kingdom must do so through surrender and sacrifice. This is what loving God means, a continual offering, a pure readiness to give oneself away ...." (Elliot 101)

Surrender and sacrifice. Same thing as suffering. A thousand little deaths each day as you choose others over yourself. You choose your political enemy or your nasty neighbor, your annoying co-worker or your selfish family member. You choose them over yourself and your own agendas or ideas.

I refuse to continue judging the culture around me, pointing my scrawny finger at its blemishes and faults. Church, you are to judge yourself. I am to judge myself. What am I doing to be a life-giver? What am I doing to make a kinder community? Reader, who is your enemy? With whom do you disagree? If you cannot reach out in love, can you respond with it? It's quite difficult, simple kindness. 

Sometimes I feel like a referee between two bloody prize-fighters intent on murder in the ring. It's one thing to reject ISIS or Westboro Baptist Church or Kim Jong Un or Neo-Nazis. Shouldn't we agree on where the hatred is coming from, and reject that together? But we ought not hate one another, we who say we want peace. "Trust in the Lord and do good. Cease from anger and forsake wrath." (Ps. 37)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mission #1 Accomplished!

My mother called today with two missions impossible, "if I should choose to accept them." Well! I have already accomplished the first one!
This is my mother's absolutely favorite dish-scrubber device, a Dobie pad.
 They come two to a box. Inside is a sponge. Outside is a plastic scrubby case. My mother uses them so utterly and thoroughly that the plastic busts, the sponge wears out and finally comes out, and then she uses just the scrubby exterior until it's DEAD.
Sadly, she cannot find them in West Virginia where she lives, so she asked me to find a few boxes for her here. I think she asked for ten. Anyway, that's what I bought for her!

I'm going up for a visit to see the family soon, so she will be set for dish-doing for about a year. The other Mission Impossible is to find her a Maidenhair Fern here and take it to her. She cannot find this particular type of pretty fern in the frigid mountain state. She always had Maidenhair Fern when she lived in the South. I may have failure on that particular mission, but I'll give it a try!
That's what a Maidenhair Fern looks like -- lovely, tiny leaves and very delicate. That's a random photo from Google. We'll see if I have any luck finding a real one to take to my dearest mother.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


Perhaps I'm in the winter doldrums, but I'm quite sluggish this week. Just downright BLAH. I want to sleep. I'm barely functional at work. Right now, Adam and I are both wishing it were 9:00 p.m., but it's only 8:00. At 9:00, we tell ourselves that it's legal to put on pajamas and start heading for bed. We're going to bed earlier and earlier now, and getting up earlier also, I'm sorry to say.We are old people. I know this is true because Julia regularly laughs at us and tells us we are.
 Adam is supposed to be resting this week. He's been sick with winter crud on and off through January. Finally I made him go to his doctor. They prescribed a rescue inhaler, an antibiotic, prednisone, and a breathing treatment. His oxygen was quite low, and his lung function was not good. When he went back on Monday, he was actually worse. He got a chest x-ray and now has pneumonia in his right lung. Thus: resting. So he sits on the couch and makes books. He finished the pulling-apart and putting-back-together of the Greek New Testament he was working on last week. That was simply skill-honing. He just has to put the final outside cover on it.
 He thoroughly dismantled the entire thing and resewed it all, covering the boards and forming and gluing the spine again.
Then he started on a sketch book for Julia. He's using some stiff cardboard covered with a painting canvas as the outside of the book.
 He bought the paper and cut the pages, stitched them and bound them. He's enjoying this hobby.
He also bought some lovely scrapbooking pages at Michael's to use as end papers.
 He presses the books between boards and tightens it all with clamps.
 Julia is doing a little drawing/sketching for me. Adam wants to bind a copy of my first kids' book, Three Against the Dark, and he wants Julia to do the art work in it.
 I had a hard time remembering what the characters looked like! Then she asked about the lay-out of the house in the book, and she did a quick sketch of that.
So we're having a quiet February. The greenhouse is nearly done, and then I'll start spending many hours there planting seeds and starting our garden. For reading material since Christmas, I slogged my way through The Singing Line
Author Alice Thomson goes back and forth in her book between telling of her own travels across the Australian wilderness and trying to track her famous ancestor's feat of putting in the continent's first telegraph line. I found the history quite interesting. I found her own trip almost a bore in comparison. I'm glad to have read it and learned a new chunk of history, but I will not be keeping the book on my shelves. In fact, I really need to cull quite a few books and give them away. I've been lugging around so many literature books for so many years. I will never re-read them. I think it's a good time in life for a purge!
For family and family-friends -- since I surely won't get around to an email update anytime soon ... Julia is doing well in her last high school semester. She is probably going to attend Western Carolina University in the fall, all things permitting and the stars align. It's nice that her big brother has been there. Peter and Shani plan to marry in May. After long deliberation, they have decided what they would truly love in a wedding is to have close friends and immediate family with them for a whole weekend, and have a "destination wedding." So we will be going to the Berkshires for the happy event, along with about 30 folks, for an intimate celebration and some very lovely scenery. Anna has returned to Japan and is doing very well. She has cautiously entered into the "online dating" scene and is enjoying getting to know a few young men. It makes good sense, considering her situation overseas. I think she's finding it entertaining and fun. Philip and Kara are doing fine in Chattanooga. Philip is busy and doing great at his job. Kara now works in a Head Start school with a bit of a commute. When she shares about her struggles working with little ones, I can commiserate! My job each day (about 2:30 - 6:00) is quite strenuous, and I'm one of the younger ones working there! It is not easy working with 31 1st and 2nd graders after school each day. I do not think I will work there this summer, and we will have to see if I am up to it next fall. I'm still wearing my compression stockings each day. Without them, I could not work there on my feet on the concrete floors. I continue to teach a weekly ladies' Bible study, and I still sell my wares at the farmers' market in Oriental. Adam enjoys his pastoral work and his farm work, and we find farm life generally peaceful -- a setting quite conducive to what we want for ourselves: a quiet, tranquil life in later years, close to the soil, close to the Lord, close to each other. With limited budget, improvements to the house and farm are limited and slow, but we continue to move forward. So that's a little update on us, if you were weary of knowing what I'm knitting but not what the kids are doing :)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Things Are Coming Along

Can you feel spring in the air? I can. Not just the weather temps or the shift in sunlight. It's the change in my activities that stirs my soul. I go outside more. I'm digging into soil more. Here are some creative things -- inside the house and outside -- happening this week.
I'm making progress on the advent calendar:
That's Mary, Joseph, and the outline of the stable. Joseph's arms are not attached to him yet.
Now for Julia's Kitty Cats painting. Here are a few shots to show its progress over recent weeks:
Above you see the acrylic work without any pen. My mother loves this early version.
 Above you see a little more definition with pen work on the faces and paws.
 Here's the finished piece before she took it away this morning.
 A few close-ups. I'm not as fond of the white outlining, etc., but each to her own :)

The piece will be given to a boy named Daniel at college that she barely knows. Last semester she asked him for a pen, and promised in return to do a piece of art of his cats. Doesn't seem quite the equal trade to me. I do wish she'd stop giving her artwork to every stranger on the corner. Sigh.

Adam finished the metal edging around the herb garden!!! He still needs to tamp in the soil firmly around all the edges, but it looks good. I'm excited about what we'll grow there this year.
 Adam baked two beautiful challah loaves last night. You see that Julia ripped off a chunk before I could get a photo! It's delicious -- sweet, buttery. These are six-braid loaves. He wants to master the nine-braid method too.
 If you want to read more about the greenhouse going up, my latest soap batches, and a skunk on the farm, click over here to the farm blog.
Here's a recent sunset over the playground at the afterschool program where I work each afternoon. It's nice to have daylight for the kids to play almost until it's time to go home.
Cheerio, friends!!!