My rainbows

I just glanced outside and saw this mystical hue filling our front yard, dark black clouds sitting behind my brightly lit trees brimming with fall color.  I commented to Caleb as he worked on his writing,  “Look out the window – it looks magical out there doesn’t it?”.  He agreed and I wondered out loud if there might be a rainbow out there because it had just started to rain in the midst of such bright light.  Kyler headed out on the porch to check and indeed, there was one.  We ran to check it out. It was stunning.

We stood and soaked it all in.  Pretty soon there were two rainbows, the second one fainter than the first.  Kyler said “Oh how I wish I could climb the tree where it meets the ground! It would be so amazing!”  I asked him what he’d do if he could and he said “Well, I’d touch it.  I’d climb on it and it would be beautiful!”.  Though he’s heard me explain it before, knows its just light reflecting and the result of the perfect God-designed weather conditions (and the age-old promise He gave to Noah)….when its right there in front of you and its just so unreal how lovely it is.  It’s hard to believe its really even there.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about was if it wasn’t raining right now, there wouldn’t be a rainbow.  I know I can’t be the first person to think that but I couldn’t shake the parallels to my own life.  There is some rain, serious, flash-flood type “are-we-going-to-be-washed-away?” sort of rain.  But even in the midst of it, I have glimpses of the miracles at hand, the sheer beauty of God doing something beautiful in my mess, and it takes my breath away.  Makes me want to grab my (mental) camera and freeze frame my life that very second.

The rain is key to the beauty of the rainbow.  It is key to my rainbows.  I couldn’t possibly “cultivate the land, the life, He’s given me” if I didn’t have a drop of it.  If I only have the sunshine then nothing would be growing here.  The planting of little seeds of life and truth and love all around me, the pruning and clipping back of my vines that can’t bear fruit and the rain….the sometimes despised, often complained about but veritably LIFE GIVING rain in my yard and in my life.

Honest truth is I’m learning to love it, to say welcome to it every day.  Because the learning to keep walking, to keep believing in the midst of rain – this is what I long for.  The fertile life that is soaked and drenched in wet mess but green and sprouting all over?  That’s what I wake up asking for every day.  Looking for rainbows and the promise of miracles, small ones and big, all over the landscape that is my life.



Living history – colonial times

History in a textbook can be so boring that the whole subject is forever labeled as far from interesting.  One of my favorite things is when I get the chance to make it come alive for my children.  Today was one of those days.  Our American Girl book club group met here today and we studied colonial America.  We’ve been hard at work all week getting ready and I was nervous last night that the day wouldn’t meet up to our collective expectations!

Colonial Williamsburg, where the Felicity books take place, is a place so near to the heart of our family.  We’ve visited numerous times and my grandparents live there.  My husband is a history major and is totally passionate about history.  I am the teacher of our children so I am immersed in all of it all over again and that has to be one of the best things ever!

We started with a book discussion, talked about colonial times, what their life looked like and how it differed from ours.  We talked about the Patriots and Loyalists and how much was at stake during that time. The girls joined me at the table where I’d put out several things similar to what they would have seen in the late 1700’s.

Glass blown by hand tinged green from the algae in the water, large keys made of metal and brass, candle holders to light dark nights with no electricity, extremely heavy iron that had to heat in the fire before using them and a washboard for all the hand washing of laundry.  A copy of the Declaration of Independence and a colonial map, just for fun!

In discussing clothing and bathing, we learned that the reason they wore those white caps on their heads wasn’t just the style but that it kept their hair clean – bathing was such an ordeal.  The mob cap protected them from sun as well as kept their heads cleaner.  My (amazing) mother offered to sew white mob caps for all the girls and also to get ready little small mob caps for their dolls.  It was too fun!

  The girls glued lace to the edge of their doll caps then let it dry and later threaded elastic through to complete the project – they were so proud – they turned out darling!  Even the boys insisted on dressing up, their job was to tend the fire outside.

I walked the girls outside, talked about how much work just making a cake would be, getting milk, making butter, grinding flour and collecting eggs.  We don’t get milk yet from our goats but we talked about how they would have had animals that all served a purpose and were key to their survival.  Our horse is a cute pet but I said that horses would have had to work hard then, plowing, pulling carriages or being ridden.  We checked for eggs but there were none, I’d taken the last two from under the hens this morning to bake our apple cake for snack time!

We made a button spinner, buzz saw type game with a string and button, played Blindman’s Bluff in the backyard and colored colonial paper dolls.  We talked about the things they used to play with – corn husks, shells, flowers, leaves and tried to imagine those being our ‘fun things’.

Getting to do this with these girls was the highlight of the month for me and for sure one of the highlights of our year!  Next time we meet I am hosting a formal tea, teaching how to curtsy and dance the minuet.  We might learn some manners too!

Delighting in daughters

Her blanket is in the van and its dark and late and my foot has a tiny piece of glass in it and I don’t want to limp outside to get it.  She is too tired to argue so she gently takes my hand and cradles her cheek with my palm just like she would with her blankie.  She holds on to my other hand with her tiny one and I watch her eyes flutter.  Mine keep closing from a longer than most day of the hardest work.  But I will them back open to make sure I don’t miss getting to watch her fall asleep.

There is something delicious and other-worldly about little girls.  Her lips are a perfect tiny rosebud and her curls hang all around her face.  She reaches out to touch things that aren’t there and makes the softest little sounds as she drifts off.  Her skin is unblemished and untouched by age and I soak in all that she is in this moment.  She possesses a tender, sweet spirit and I pray for it and her to be protected in all the years to come.  That somehow she can cultivate and grow in her feminine, soft loveliness in this ever-so-mixed up world.

The older daughter, my first born, she has this intangible ability to sense how people feel around her.  Maybe that’s why she went to all the effort today to set up a tea party in the family room for us girls.  She thought of everything.  Put Ray LaMontagne on the CD player and a fan on for ambient noise.  Tried to light candles but couldn’t find a lighter.  Put a table cloth over the old card table and sprinkled rose petals from the yard all over the table.  She played two roles even, server/waitress and the friend joining us who was running late.  She switched between roles throughout our lunch.  Made sure to tell me I would be so impressed by the baker who’d made our cookies we were eating “she has FIVE kids, can you believe it? and she made these delicious cookies and they are gluten free!”  I grinned big and marveled at her nine year old self, play acting and still managing to compliment me in the most darling fashion.  There were even little umbrellas in our iced tea!  I rode the happy of our tea all day long.  I replayed it all over and over and was unceasingly thankful that I am blessed with these two daughters.

The view from here

He pulls me along and we poke our toes in the sand.  His blond fuzzball head covered obediently with a hat and his ever so pudgy fingers squeeze my hand tightly as waves lap at our feet.  I spent his first year trying to find ways to soothe his colicky, high-need baby self.  I’ve spent this first part of his second just trying to keep up with him.  He will change his world someday, whatever that world is that ends up being his circle.  He refuses to be a spectator and will not let life or adventure pass him by.

I say a silent thank you while I walk with this youngest one on the beach, a thank you for a husband willing to do hard and sometimes unpleasant work for our sake.  Driving day in and day out, every month a new sales quota to meet.  Missing our mornings, our days, sometimes our dinners and our lazy summer beach days.  What a burden we are to his man-shoulders.  One I know he gladly, willingly bears but I am foolish to forget that we are heavy on him.  Just as easily as I let the days ahead loom over me and tempt me to be overwhelmed, he too just might feel like there is no end in sight, no respite from hard work.

This moment walking on the beach with my toe-headed little boy is perfect.  I don’t want to forget.  I let him walk me as long and as far as we can go.  I push every thought out of my mind and delight in the way he holds onto my pinkie finger.  Someday he will be taller than his not-so-tall mama.  I’ll look up to him.  I’ll tell him he has what it takes and he will let go of my hand.  And I might choke up thinking about holding him night after night while he cried and fussed about who knows what.

But for today, I’m loving my view from here.

Our homeschool year

This post is as much for me as it is to share, as I type it out one more time it helps me see the flow and get (more) excited for what is to come.

The new school year holds more for me as teacher-mom than ever before.  I have 4 official students this year (though trust me, Phineas is definitely a learner, he is outside right now watching brother search for caterpillars and giggling every step of the way!).  While I am fighting the temptation to hyperventilate while I finish up our schedule, I am honestly really excited for all that is to come.

Here is our synopsis for this 2012-2013 Strovas family school year:

History:  Story of the World Vol. 2: The Middle Ages – This is our history ‘spine’ and we will do all sorts of fun and interesting activities and mapwork and reading in relation to where we are on the timeline.   Each of the oldest three will create a history notebook to chart time and collect their work as we go.

Reading:  Hard to list a curriculum here for the olders, I can’t keep enough books on hand for them to read.  They will be offered a continual feast of quality books that challenge their reading and thinking.  For Kyler and Audrey we are going through the PAL reading program from the Institute for Excellence in Writing which looks to be a great deal of fun and I am thrilled to get some focused fun/learning time with the two of them.

Geography:  no specific curriculum, but plenty of it built into other subjects

Grammar:  Daily Grams workbooks for Rylee and Caleb, First Language Lessons with Kyler at a leisurely pace…but at these ages my much more experienced friends assure me that reading excellent literature and observing good grammar is more important than crazy amounts of grammar drilling.

Bible:  For Bible as a subject, we are excited to try something new and use the Picture Smart Bible materials.  Each day the kids will listen and observe and follow along with me in creating a ‘picture’ of every book of the Bible.  My dad would love it, he has a penchant for diagrams and really it’s like a beautifully written diagram of each book.

Science:  We are using Answers in Genesis this year.  Starting with The World of Animals in fall, then The Human Body in winter and in spring we will do The World of Plants.  It is perfectly suited for varied ages and teaches Creation science in a wonderful way.  The oldest three will keep a science notebook to catalog their studies in this area.

Writing/Copywork:  There are abounding opportunities to practice writing, but specific writing practice will be given daily in correlation to history and literature studies.  The oldest two are in a literature co-op this year where they will develop their writing skills a great deal I expect!

Math:  Rylee and Caleb are using Teaching Textbooks (which we LOVE) this year while Kyler (and Audrey as she is interested) will dive into Right Start Mathematics (hands on, lots of games, I think it will be great) .  All are well suited to the kids that are using them….at least as well as I can tell.  Some of my students do not love math at all and no curriculum in the world could change that!

Spelling:  Trying something new here in this department this year, Spelling Power looks promising and the only way to find out is to give it a try.  Sequential Spelling didn’t work too well last year.

Art and Music study:  With one focus a week, we will talk and observe and learn about either a famous artist or composer.  But as often as possible (think daily!) we will go about our learning with a smattering of classical music, just because we can!

When church hurts

My sister is nearing the home stretch in her third pregnancy, I guess I could certainly count on her to give me a good description of uncomfortable.  But I’ve been mulling over a different sort of uncomfortable.

It has been close to four years (gasp, really?  is that possible?) since our decade long stint serving and working full time in the church setting came to a close.  Our family and friends, our whole life truly was wrapped up in a place that we loved.  We were known.  We belonged and it felt good.

Dealing with the grief and loss in and after that season was very onion-like, we would deal with one thing only to realize there was still more.  Some of it I hated because my heart hurt so bad I couldn’t see straight and some was so sacred, so holy that I relished it for what it was.  After a hiatus from church altogether, we visited a dozen church one summer anticipating ‘fun’ and ‘variety’.  Hmmmm, there would be many words to describe it but fun it was not.  We were strangers, visitors, unknown nobodies.  Sometimes we were welcomed and directed and sometimes we were chastised for sitting in the wrong spot.

When we left our long time church home, our place of comfort and community, one of the whispers that God kept speaking to my heart was this:

You will never again be as comfortable as you were here.

I was tempted to be bitter and angry.  But I had done bitter and angry plenty already and the fruit was sour.  I refused to sign up for more on purpose.  I let the words sit in my heart and simply waited.  As the months passed and the fog of sadness lifted a bit I began to see the down side of being comfortable…

  • it was special and felt good to walk into a place and know that everyone knew who I was but somehow I forgot that not everyone felt that way
  • it was hard to find the courage to try new things or dream different dreams because the draw of stability when you have kids in your life is a very strong draw
  • staying put is (often) easier than stepping out
  • living in a nest-like cocoon of community can be a bubble that leaves you out of touch with the world around you

I began to understand that my comfort had often brought along with it complacency.  In order for me to realize that a change was imperative, my world needed to fall apart.

And it did.  What first felt like I-can’t-breathe gave way to maybe-I-can-get-dressed-today which later led to we-all-might-survive-this-just-possibly.  But the sense that we were headed for a different walk, a different sort of path was something I could not shake as we moved forward.

In the past two years we’ve been part of a new place of fellowship.  It has felt like home.  It’s been precious and encouraging and has built us up.  We know we are supposed to be there.  But like any place where a bunch of imperfect people get together, there is hard stuff.  There are challenges that are uncomfortable.

This time however, I am determined to do better at living in that middle place where I can “take my shoes off” but I’m not so at ease that I don’t see the needs all around me.  I have been gifted with children who don’t all perfectly fit in with their peers and this is indeed a monumental gift.  It forces me to be sensitive and aware in ways I would not normally be.  I am learning to welcome the feeling that things aren’t quite right because that means there is room for improvement and that means that I get to watch things happen that are beyond my ability.  I love that.

Why mess is worth it

Ten months ago following the oh-so-sudden and tragic loss of Chris’ dad the year before, his mom moved across the country to live with his sister.  The reasons were many and they were good.  But no amount of good reasons made it easy, for her or us.

That’s the thing about change.  It hurts.  Even when you understand it and know it has to be that way.  Life has kept her there and us here over almost a year now.  And when she’d been a brief drive away for our entire marriage, that feels like an eternity some days.

Add into the mix our five kids, us moving, her getting sick and so on and so on…’s been hard to get a moment on the phone to catch up.  Phone time for me is scarce.  The time change is one more dynamic.  I actually set my alarm to get up an hour early today so I could call her and my grandpa back east before the kids were up.  But one quick snooze button later and I was snoring away until a little voice beckoned me for breakfast.

Usually I keep my crew of learners reigned in until they’ve completed at least some of their school work.  But I felt this burning need to have a conversation with the mother of my husband more than my duty as teacher.  So I grabbed my coffee, went somewhere quiet and talked.  To say it was what both our hearts needed is an understatement.

All that transpired elsewhere in the house and yard during that half hour seemed a pitifully small price to pay for time well spent.  Her voice was lighter when we said goodbye.

I tallied up the damage and all told, I still say it was worth it.  Sometimes that’s the nature of life and learning and love and little people…..

A huge bowl of dog food AND dog water all dumped and mixed onto the kitchen floor by a crafty one-year-old.

A little girl outside in footie jammies without boots leaving permanently mud colored feet.

A pile of puppy poo on my favorite rug.

A baby toy gnawed to bits by same puppy.

A bathroom door left open and a little boy who just can’t help but throw toys into the toilet.

The remains of my mug of coffee poured out onto white carpet AND into a box of puzzle pieces.

A box of dumped out and unattended toys.

Jelly remnants on the counter from self-serve breakfast goers.

Yes, all that.  And yes, still so totally worth it.

The best question asker

Rylee.  She is uniquely wired to ask more than the average amount of questions.  While this does pose a patience-challenge sometimes, it is a wonderful quality and I do my best to affirm it.  Every now and then I do ask for a ten minute question-asking timeout.  To which she usually asks “Why?” and I have to laugh.

This morning while we had breakfast together before church we got to talking about Finn and she was saying how he was too cute and we were gushing over him as we tend to.  We talked about how glad we were that he’d been given to our family. The lingo we use whenever we talk about children is always intentional and always positive.  So it was natural for her to frame her question the way she did, but it still surprised me:

If God gives a baby to someone and they didn’t really want to have kids, then what happens?

Um, wow.  She is only 8 and though we’ve talked abortion in broad terms I didn’t really want to go there in our short time at the breakfast table.  She actually asked the question in regards to someone we know that recently got married.  And they do want kids, I made sure she knew that.

But still, the question loomed and was such a big one.  I stumbled for words as I ate my pancakes and told her that maybe people might not think they did but once they’d been given a new life to love, they might change their minds.  This prompted a whole new thread of thought for her, and more questions. I told her:

Well, just like animals get surgery (like our cat and dog did) so that they don’t have babies, people can do the same thing.  And to be honest, after Kyler was born we thought our family was full and perfect.  We really did.  But God spoke deeply to my heart and to daddy’s.  We listened.  He told us that His plans for our family were different than ours.  If we had said ‘no thank you’ to what He was asking of us, you wouldn’t have the sister you prayed for.  And we wouldn’t have squishy, smiling Finny here today.  Can you even imagine?

She said no way!  And I agreed, I can’t imagine.  Though there are chaotic moments, the bottom line is we are abundantly grateful for the path we’re on and the way God has shaped our family.

What I wish I’d said but thought about later was the way that God grows and opens our hearts if we let Him.  I really didn’t think there was room for more little people for me to love in my very early years of mothering.  But the most amazing things happen when Love abides in an open heart.  Though I run out of love regularly, the Love Giver Himself is always overflowing with more than I could ever need.

That love is amazing, unwavering and extravagant.  And it is always, always enough.



Just when you think you’ve got things under control

It’s Sunday night.  Kids and husband have pitched in and worked hard and the house is close to back in order.  I remark that I absolutely must spend some time writing out lesson plans after bedtime for our school week.  I clean the kitchen after yet another round of applesauce making so I can have a free counter to spread books out.

I breathe a sigh of relief.  Starting the week in good order is such a blessing for me.  It makes such a difference in how things go. I spend a brief moment relaxing on the couch before I begin my next task. Kids are all tucked in bed and it is quiet.

Enter Rylee.  She’s talking fast and has wide eyes and is saying something like “emergency, its an emergency, come, come see!”.  She has a slight smile so I know its not a grave injury.

We quickly follow her down the hall.  A smell greets us in our shower but worse yet a sight.  Our shower basin is filling fast as toilet refuse combined with kitchen sink drainage is spewing up the drain.  We run for towels.  We grab a plunger.  I start sopping brown liquid and he starts plunging everything he can possible plunge to no avail.

He gets on the phone with a plumber who of course says they can come ‘for an extra after hours charge’.  I see dollar signs in my head but also 7 people who ‘need’ running water and toilets.  All the plumbing and water for the whole house is at a standstill.

Kids now are bustling from the drama and no one wants to stay in bed.  Toilet water spilling onto the floor mixed with piles of pumpkin seeds from tonight’s carving is too exciting to not see.

When the plumber finally arrives its past my bedtime and my hopes of peaceful lesson planning are long gone.  And he needs access to our bedroom so we can’t put the baby to sleep in there.  He starts working and trying to drain the flood waters back.  It doesn’t go well.  A valve breaks over his head and instead of water slowly draining into buckets it covers the poor man head to toe even in his mouth and empties all over our crawl space (the crawl space that was just re-done last year and is was pristinely clean).

I am mortified and want to offer him a shower and towels immediately.  But of course I have no clean towels and no running water, so that’s out of the question.  He tries to continue working but simply cannot given the saturated, smelly nature of his self.  Who could blame him for leaving?

Now its midnight and we try to retire for the night but mixed up baby who should have been in bed hours ago is not tired anymore.  Besides, he got into the dog food earlier in the day and ate some and has a most unpleasant belly ache – which I probably would too if I ate dog food.  We still have no working plumbing.  I spend the next 5 hours up and up again with little Phineas.  At one point I step in bathroom water but am honestly too ridiculously tired to find clean pj pants.  I roll the pants up to my thigh and crawl into bed for the umpteenth time.

By 5:30 AM Finn settles and I sleep for more than 30 minutes.  My phone got misplaced at some point so its not by my bed to wake me early for homeschool co-op in the morning.  Instead I wake at 8:40 to the plumbers knocking on the door.

In my pajamas.

With my one leg still rolled all the way up.

With kids running around who’ve been awake apparently for almost two hours playing horse quite happily in the backyard.

I am incoherent.  I tell the sweet plumber that we’re supposed to be at co-op and what do they need and “I’m so sorry I just woke up…”.  Seriously – it was a completely crazy scene.  They smile at me and say to just leave the door unlocked and they’ll get to work.

Kids run to the van but then I realize one is missing and I run back in to wake up the one who is still sound asleep.  We stop at a coffee stand for a pathetic ‘breakfast’ on the way.  I am in yesterday’s dirty jeans and a baseball cap and am pretty sure I have crazy written all over my face.

We make it only 20 minutes late and boys who are thrilled to finish a very cool art project make it in time.  I take deep breaths and share my plight with a sweet mama in the playroom who offers her house later if our problems are not fixable soon.

We stop at the park on the way home and breath plenty of fresh smelling air before heading home.  Problem (mostly) fixed.  A graciously less-than-it-could-have-been bill for me to pay.  Piles of nasty laundry to do.  Cleaning work that I won’t get paid for that will involve a clothespin on my nose and an open bottle of essential oil of lavender.

Coincidence that all this went down on a Sunday night/Monday?  On a day that I remind myself to choose gratitude?  Really?

#523 – toilets that flush

#524 – not having to wash clothes by hand

#525 – resources to fix this (very large!) problem

#526 – the three hours of sleep I DID get

#527 – how it feels to have friends call to check up on me

#528 – a strong enough stomach to clean utter nastiness

#529 – getting to do life, every day, messy, real life with my children by my side

#530 – Snickers minis

#531 – laughter in spite of it all