Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lavish Living

It's been a busy, full, fast-paced few weeks. Despite our constant go, I am grateful. Grateful because right now we have this-- a quiet morning. No rushing, or primping, or shoveling breakfast into tummies not ready to eat. No frosty cars to bundle into, and no racing into our day tired and slumpy.

This is lavish living I know. Our choice to keep me at home with the kids and the kids at home with me means we say "no" to a lot of what culture deems is necessary. Remaining resolved in our choice can be hard. But in these moments of a snuffly girl being told she can sleep longer and watching her drift back into dreams; checking on the smallest one and giving her a lovely and books and listening to her read; meanwhile, I brew a cuppa and write. The clock ticks on, the neighborhood settles into the calm of after morning rush hour, our little island is still in pjs, blankets warm, lights dim. The day quietly taking shape in the most pleasant of ways. My heart is glad for He is good.

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; 
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! 
Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; 
his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. 
Psalm 100:3-5

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Fall Fun with Friends!

This autumn was the first time we truly took advantage of fall themed fun. On the suggestion of my brother and sister-in-law, who grew up in Manheim, we visited the Manheim Farmers Fair in September. We went with some homeschooling friends and loved how accessible, free, fun and educational it was! The girls, all 5 of them, had a lovely time seeing farm animals up close and collecting stamps at each pavilion for a prize packet. As moms, we loved the fall weather without the need to bundle, the ability to move around without huge crowds!

A month later, we met up with some of David's childhood friends while they were visiting Philadelphia from the midwest. We had a blast! We visited the U. S. Mint, Independence Hall, peered at Ben Franklin's grave, and strolled through Elfreth's Alley which claims to the oldest continually inhabited street in the US. It almost felt like Harry Potter could materialize at any moment. To keep the history theme going, we ate dinner at an 18th century tavern. We ate delicious food and enjoyed the late afternoon sun as it provided the only light in our dining room. While not as historically interesting, we did do something that I have longed to do since a student studying in Philly. We ate s'more's at Cosi! After a long day of walking we ordered s'mores at Cosi, a coffee/cafe, and enjoyed a sweet treat with the kids.

Our second day, we spent mostly at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. What a place! Having recently been to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, I wasn't sure how the girls would respond to another aquarium. We definitely got our moneys worth! Not only were the exhibits more child friendly with several see-and-touch stations, a shark tank tunnel, and a younger kids fish themed indoor play spot, but the entire place was brighter and lighter. We all were mesmerized by the hippos and were thrilled when they waded into the pool allowing us to view them underwater too! The girls were definitely taken by the weekend mermaid exhibit. It was definitely the highlight for them. That evening we met up with another childhood friend of David's. Together we had 6 adults and 10 children ages 9 yrs to 7 months out for dinner at Sonny's Famous Cheesesteaks on Market Street in Center City. It was wonderful to be together, although I think if there is a next time (and we do hope there is!), we'll host at our house so the kids can really play together and the adults can truly chat without fear of little ones running out into the street.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Pickle Update

It's been nearly four months since we started Pickle on her host of supplements and diet. We recently had more blood work and a follow-up appointment with the doctor. Part of the need for a strict diet was to reduce the inflammation in her system so subsequent blood work would reveal what was really happening. Praise the Lord her recent check did come back with some clues!

First, her inflammation is down considerably. We haven't had a true fever episode in 15 weeks and she has responded very well to treatment. Based on Pickle's response to the various medications the doctor feels she has/had Lyme's disease with a co-infection. This entire time we've been treating Pickle as though she had Lyme's and will continue with the two tinctures we have remaining. We are also continuing to support her immune system through supplements and diet. Yup, the diet continues.

One of the blood work results indicated that Pickle also has a "leaky" gut. Essentially her small intestinal lining has broken down, allowing larger food particles to pass through the lining and into her immune system. The immune system has seen these food particles as it would a virus or bacteria and attacked. It's hard to know if she had Lyme's first and then the leaky gut or vice versa, but we're working to repair, strengthen and restore her small intestinal lining.

We are feeling encouraged despite the work ahead and reminded how fortunate we are to have caught this early and to be with a doctor who treats the whole body not just a particular system or disease. As we move into the colder months and produce is less available, I'm hitting yet another learning curve with our diet. Still, I'm picking up tips and tricks and finding that my family is more flexible than I thought. Lately we've been having some rather unconventional breakfasts. Anyone want bacon wrapped chicken leftovers to start their day? How about 3 meat chili? Potato leek soup with bone broth? Yeah, it's different but satisfying. Two challenges I have yet to conquer is keeping enough food in the house and making a predictable budget. I've come to realize it might just take a while until we discover what is available and viable for our family.

The last remaining hurdle for me as home keeper is traveling with our supplements and diet. On a recent adventure, we ate on the go and paid for it in diaper rashes, bloated bellies, exhaustion, moodiness and elevated temperatures. Yes, we can definitely say there is a major difference in all of us when we eat what we're supposed. We're determined to keep traveling, but finding ways for us to source food on the go is a problem needing a solution. Still, we are thankful for the improvement and healing we've seen so far in Pickle and eagerly anticipate God's full restoration of her sweet body.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Our Good Shepherd

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sharing with a handful of women a story about our Good Shepherd, Jehovah Rohi. Initially, I was asked to share my testimony or a lesson the Lord had taught me. As I prepared, the Lord completely changed my focus. I took Psalm 23 and fleshed it out in a story. It's not strictly allegorical but much like King David's poetry, it is an illustration of how the shepherd tends for his flock. I know there are several people who missed the breakfast and others have asked to read what a wrote. For ease, I'm posting the story here. I'm not a shepherd. Creative license was used. However, I tried to take what I have learned about shepherding (ancient and modern) to weave a story that would leave the reader with a sense of calm and peace that their Shepherd is caring for them. I hope you enjoy.

High in the hills, where the clouds kiss the thin grass and the scrub brushes the sky, lives a flock of Herdwick sheep. These white-faced, grey-wooled sheep are hefted to their land. The practice of hefting is unique to this place. Year after year, generation after generation, these Herdwicks graze on the land of their mothers and grandmothers. Each new lamb is taught by the older ewes about the rich, rugged, and varied terrain on the mountain. Through bleats and baas the sheep instruct the lambs where to hide from the wind and which pastures belong to their shepherd. In this way, the sheep are rooted and grounded in their surroundings. Today the leader of this flock, a shepherdess, is a girl on the brink of womanhood. Her name Solace. 

Solace is as hefted to this land as her sheep. Her family has grazed sheep on this mountaintop for nearly 300 years. As a toddler she learned to roam the high fields following after her grandfather or chasing the newly born lambs. Now as she tends the sheep her trusty four-legged companions, the sheepdogs Goodness and Mercy, assist her by charging hard after the flock, nipping at the heels of those ewes who’d like to stray, and creating boundaries on this boundless land for the protection of the flock. Solace is always mindful of where her flock is even with the sheep’s preference for a small portion of moorland. As their shepherdess, it is her role to move the sheep continually to fresh pasture and have a thorough knowledge of where to find clean water. 

Being so far removed from village life, her knowledge and care of her sheep is paramount when a physician is needed. A sick sheep is often a dead sheep. Solace is well versed in keeping her flock fed on high quality grass and uncontaminated water and is ever watchful for early signs of illness. Sheep are finicky animals. Their stubbornness often quickly carries them from strong-willed selfishness to self-endangerment. Susceptibility to illness stems from not just physical injury or poor judgement but often includes emotional attitudes. In the Spring, Solace was faced with a heart-broken ewe who had delivered a stillborn lamb. The ewe kept trying to make other lambs her own and Solace, as shepherdess, set out to mend her heart. Without a young one to tend, Solace knew it was possible for the ewe to slip into deep melancholy. When a set of twins were born, with one weaker than its sibling, Solace quickly placed the hide of the dead lamb on it and rested it next to the heart-sick ewe. To her great pleasure, Solace delighted as the ewe sniffed the lamb and then nudged it to suckle.

Being the leader is a responsibility in which Solace takes deep joy. Despite their extreme stubbornness and absent minded ways, she delights in the dependence of the flock on her. If the early spring snow has too much ice, it is Solace’s job to chip it away so the animals can find nourishment; otherwise they’ll starve. Due to their body composition and heavy wool coat, Solace also must be wary that her sheep remain upright. Should a sheep get stuck in the swift current while crossing a stream, it can hastily be thrown off balance and drown. If they get too comfortable while ruminating the weight of their wool can roll the sheep on its back, casting it down, and rendering it utterly helpless, hooves pointed to the clouds. This ever present danger requires Solace to count her sheep daily. She has bred, even designed, her sheep to have fleeces which reflect the qualities specific to her breed. Keeping the health, character traits, safety and provision of her flock at its best all the time is long-suffering work. However, her ever present understanding of the terrain and available resources is what makes her family’s livelihood come market time.

When the fall gatherings take place and portions of the flock are sold for meat or breeding, Solace knows her reputation and that of her family’s will be as much a part of the price as the sheep. The care put into the sheep, and the sheep’s submission to that care, are not for the sheep’s glory but the shepherd’s. In order to groom sheep worthy of a shepherd’s namesake, Solace knows they need to be well-disciplined. A sheep’s job is relatively simple: it needs to eat of the pasture provided, remain close to the flock by knowing and obeying the shepherd’s voice and rest in the cool shade which Solace sustains. When shearing time comes, a well-disciplined sheep will trust the shepherdess’ skilled hands and be content with the process of clipping away the old weight of wool without injury to themselves or Solace. Their life is not their own and Solace diligently works to show them devotion so they understand and faithfully submit to her.

With the approach of winter and the icy air already licking the land, Solace, Goodness, and Mercy are ready to bring the sheep off the mountain and into the valley. The descent is steep and the sheep are always timid to go over the crest of the mountain, for despite walking this path twice a year they do not remember what lies on the other side. Last year, as Solace led and the sheepdogs corralled behind, the flock panicked. racing for a severe and craggy cleft when a dark cloud’s shadow moved over the mountain. It wasn’t the first time Solace found herself grateful to her grandfather for carving her the birch and sheep horn handled staff. She deftly pulled the most wayward sheep back into the fold and Goodness and Mercy instantly closed in on the panicked sheep to restore calm. While the danger was just a cloud, in the half mist, half sky of the fells greater danger can lurk just beyond one’s sight. Foxes take particular delight in preying on the defenseless animals. They skulk into the pasture and nothing but force will prevent them from striking several dozen sheep within moments. What makes Solace burn with anger is that the foxes generally don’t kill for food. No, they kill for the taste of blood on their jowls. Once they have killed, the sheep are left to die alone while the foxes, red tongues lolling, race off into the thicket wild with amusement.

Banishing these thoughts of dark and menacing enemies, Solace knows that, once safely off the mountain, a great homecoming awaits her flock. They will spend the worst of the winter months on lower, greener land. Some shepherds allow their sheep to graze on the scrub of the mountain but these animals never fare well in such harsh conditions. Well-loved and cared for sheep are the pleasure of a good shepherd. Oh, and what joy Solace takes in her sweet, innocent eyed friends! When they return to the small dry rock pastures of farmland, Solace will dote on her sheep. Each one will have the mud and detritus clipped, washed and groomed from their coats. Comfy pens of straw laid thick await the sheep’s bandy legs. Salt cakes, turnip buns, hay smelling of summer sun, and abundant water, crisp and refreshing, will be placed in the barn’s troughs within easy reach of all. Every ewe will have her portion counted out just for her. 

The sheep do not deserve these sweet treats or extra care, but their happiness, their contentedness at having everything laid before them makes her heart smile. Goodness and Mercy, having pursued their charges down the mountain, will lay quietly at the barn’s doors ever observant and faithful to their mistress. Solace too will stay near her flock. The farm house holds her bed, but it rarely contains her. She prefers to bed with her sheep. This closeness affords her to rise with the flock before dawn to ensure they feed on the moist, tender pasture. Despite her early rising, Solace’s shadow will extend long against the barn walls as glowing lanterns enable her to tend the ever present needs of her flock. Neighboring farmers will witness her devotion. Some will shake their heads in misunderstanding, floating rumors that her beloved animals are weak from over indulgence. Other neighbors will come knocking, seeking Solace and eager to understand her ways. Generously she shares her time with those who genuinely desire to know her. For Solace, there are no secrets, no proprietary information. She is a simple shepherdess and hostess to this unlikely party. Yet here, in the presence of her flock, who yearn to show devotion to their good shepherdess, she will dwell.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sabbath Rest

After a recent Facebook post, several of you asked about our celebration of Sabbath. I've been personally studying and reading about Sabbath for the past 2 years. It grew out of my minimalism/simplistic reading. While two years seems like a long time, I haven't been solely devoted to this topic. Rather, I pick it up, enact what I read, and then learn more. It's a slow digestion of a very large and moving command.

While browsing the shelves at our local homeschool curriculum exchange store, I found a book by Martha Zimmerman entitled Celebrating Biblical Feasts in Your Home and Church. For a girl who has been mingling with Jewish traditions since a babe, there was no question of it returning home with me.

I love that the book presents the Jewish feasts from a Messianic perspective. Celebrating Passover becomes so much richer when the story of the exodus is combined with Jesus' redemption of our lives! Zimmerman also gives recipes and an outline of what to do, what to say, and how to prepare for each feast. You get the meaning and understanding behind the feast and then the steps to do it.

For our family, I took the weekly sabbath ritual and modified it slightly to our family's needs. My goal was to keep the meaning while making it practical for our stage of life. What this translates as is that sometimes we follow a traditionally Jewish meal, other times we have pizza; sometimes we celebrate on Friday, other weeks we celebrate Saturday and sometimes we skip a week. However, we strive to finish all cleaning and chores before we sit down to table. We always set the table fancy, usually with a table cloth, cloth napkins, china, and a table arrangement from nature. Our service goes as follows:

  • Mother prays and lights candles
  • Father blesses children and mother
  • Singing of "Bless Our Home"
  • Blessing of the Cup, Washing of Hands, and Blessing of Bread
  • EAT!
  • Prayer of grace to end the meal

After the meal, we clean up-- together. Then we spend the remainder of the evening playing a game, reading aloud as a family and enjoying each other's company. For the day or days (if we celebrate on Friday we extend until Sunday evening), we fill our time with family, service to others, worship and strive to keep God at the forefront of our thoughts.  As our children grow older, we hope to spend more concentrated time individually and corporately studying God's word. We try very hard to not clutter our Sabbath with errands or other routine tasks. When we do need to drop by the grocery or stop at the bank, we give ourselves grace and keep going. We're not interested in making this a legalistic thing.

What I can't show you via blog or have you experience by reading is the effect of this ritual. Literally, as I open our time with prayer I can feel the stress, the crazy, the yuck from the week dissolving-- almost trickling off my back. My children sit and anticipate with glee helping and participating in the service. My husband speaks words of encouragement to our children and to me. It is such a renewing experience. God intended it to be restorative yet I am always surprised when He fulfills His promise. There is something mysterious about how my soul yearns for Sabbath. And by the number of times I am asked during the week "is tonight Sabbath?" my children are rejuvenated by it too.

I've stopped praying for rest and started to live it. 

It seems silly to say, but I hear so often from others that they wish they could find time to rest, relax, enjoy family time. God has already provided rest, we have forgotten to obey and therefore, miss out on a blessing deep and rich and full of spiritual significance. All we need to do is go and keep the Sabbath holy. 

Other readings on Sabbath:
  • Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner
  • Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn
  • Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity by Keri Wyatt Kent

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where in the world is... Pickle?

Oh sweet Pickle! She is a feisty little two year old. Her talents include:
  • Counting (1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9...)
  • Jumping
  • Family clown!
  • Climbing everything, everywhere, all. day. long. 
  • Trains. Particularly, Tommy, Peecy (Percy), James, Gordon, Toby
  • Language development. We can understand about 90% of what she says. 
  • Dearly attached to her baa (pacifier). 
  • Extreme politeness. We can count on "thank you mommy" "please papa" for just about anything. If she doesn't want to take a nap, she will simply say, "no nap. no thank you mommy". It can be really hard to discipline such a sweet mannered child.
Such a little mommy.
We have started to see her imagination begin to express itself. She will frequently tell us to be quiet as she is searching for a turtle. We have no idea from where this scenario came! She also absolutely adores baby dolls and plays mommy daily. She and baby go on walks in the basement or visit a restaurant created by big sister. 

The biggest summer change for Pickle relates to her health. For the past 8 months she has experienced high fevers (103-105 degrees) every 2-3 weeks for no apparent reason. After our pediatrician wrote our concern off claiming she'd out grow it, we found a new pediatrician. Certified in functional and conventional medicine, our new doctor is treating Pickle for a host of possibilities. Initial blood work came back relatively inconclusive. Basically, Pickle was/is so inflamed internally that it's hard to see the forest for the trees. To get her system to a stable point, and possibly be able to identify the cause of the fevers, she has been taking 12 various supplements daily since August. We are also all on a no dairy, no gluten/grain diet. We definitely bend the rules here and there, but overall, we've stuck as close as we can to the doctor's orders. 

Pickle and "Bacca". Best Friends.
To say this has been a huge change is an understatement. Overnight my cooking had to change, my approach to snacks and sweets and everything in between had to be different. While we've eaten healthy, my confidence was shaken in how to prepare foods for my family to eat. Moreover, I started to question everything I gave my children. Would it be healthy enough to keep the fevers away? Why did I wait so long to institute this type of eating? God quickly calmed my thoughts and fears. As a friend so sweetly reminded me, "His mercies are new every morning." Yes, they are. I am taking each day as it comes and trying so hard to revel in it's mercy.

The upside to this diet has been a reasonable amount of weight loss for David and I. The downside has been our grocery budget. Nearly two months in I'm finally feeling some balance to this whole new world. When we go back in November for more blood work, we are hoping to get a definitive answer to why she has fevers. However, as we've been using the supplements and practicing the diet, Pickle has only had one fever. It's nothing short of wonderful to have only had one fever in 8 weeks! We are praying that the Lord will heal our little girl's body through our efforts, medicines, or His touch. 

In the meantime, she'll keep climbing and chattering and mirroring her big sister all while being her unique silly self.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Where in the world is... Sweet Potato?

This girl is amazing. I know I've said it before, but the depths of her imagination absolutely floor me! Our dear 5 year old is now in Kindergarten/1st grade. She is reading despite the claims that she can't and is making daily improvements. Outside of language arts, she is thoroughly adoring history, making amazing strides in memorizing the catechism and Bible verses, and doing better than her mother ever did at learning her addition and subtraction facts.

She also has an interest in science that this mama is trying to encourage and support. This fascination with scientific experiments was definitely aided by her recent experience at Spring Arbor University where she heard her uncle talk about Pluto and saw some experiments related to Pluto's atmosphere. Liquid nitrogen is cool whether you are 5 or 32! :-)

Our curriculum for the year (so far) consists of the following:
  • Saxon 1 - first grade math
  • Story of the World, Ancient History Vol. 1 - history
  • Big Truths for Little Kids - catechism
  • 365 Science Activities by Usborne
  • Mathematical Reasoning by Critical Thinking Press
  • Exploring nature at Hershey Gardens.
    Note the pad and pencil. ;-)
  • Loads of Read Aloud Chapter Books. 
            Since July we've read:
    • James Herriot's Children's Treasury
    • Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
    • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Florence & Richard Atwater
    • Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry
    • Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry
    • Anna Hibiscus & Horrary for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
    • Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman
    • Francine Poulet and the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo
    • Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale
    • In Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson
    • Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
    • Now We are Six & When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne
            Currently reading: 
    • Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang 
    • Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates
Enjoying a special date with Mama and Papa.

Additionally, Sweet Potato is greatly enjoying the first two DVDs of What's in the Bible with Buck Denver. She asks nearly every day to watch either Genesis or Exodus. She doesn't always get her way, but I am thrilled at the content and truths these shows are instilling in her. We have even started having mother-daughter discussions about Exodus since we are both "studying" it. :-)

While we aren't taking dance this year, Sweet Potato is continuing to attend Kid's Club at a local church. She loves it and we are so grateful for this weekly infusion of fun and faith in her life. With my schedule this fall, we aren't participating in a co-op, but we are hopefully joining a local homeschooling group come January. And of course, we have Sunday school. It's a short span of time, but Tabitha is learning about God and we take time each week to review the lesson. We are very grateful for the volunteers and teachers who help instruct our daughter. Our faith is fundamental to our lives and we are trying to utilize every moment of these early years to instill in our girls the love of God and knowledge of Him. 

Sweet Potato continues to adore Legos, Star Wars, and has a growing love of princesses, pandas, and nature exploration. We are frequently serenaded by her songs that often are a mix of worship, theology, and whatever is on her heart. Her ability to help around the house is increasing. We still regularly fight about eating food (she can be quite picky!) and cleaning up (play is far more fun). However, at five years old, she is finally consistently sleeping through the night!!! We made it!

We are definitely still training her emotions yet we tread carefully and thoughtfully with our sensitive-hearted girl. As Sweet Potato is maturing, we have recognized her need for one-on-one time with adults she cherishes. Dates, special play times, and being with those she loves with undivided attention makes her shine.

A hat made out of a blanket. 
While she is definitely the more serious of our two children, she frequently says the most hilarious things! She recently requested a trip to Disney World with just her and Dearpa. 
SP: "It'll be a Dearpa-Daughter date."
Me: "You mean a Dearpa-Granddaughter date?"
SP: "No. A Dearpa-Daugther date. Sometimes saying 'grand' hurts my tongue."
One day we hope she'll use her natural flare for the dramatic and her creative imagination to entertain people perhaps on stage! Until then, we count ourselves so very fortunate to be witness to her private daily showings of theatre extraordinaire.