Sunday, October 22, 2017

To Be Apart

It is my uneducated belief that there is nothing so good for a marriage as time spent apart. Maybe not always. I also believe it is essential for a good marriage to place high value on time for just the two of you together. But there is nothing that makes you appreciate what you have, more than when you don't have it; nothing.

Chris and I have always been very generous with each other when it comes to allowing the other one to go off and do something on their own. He pushes me to do it and I encourage him to go if he can. Sometimes it's just a Saturday afternoon run to town for him by himself or going to the sewing alone for me. Other times it's ongoing projects, like him being in charge of the school's Bible Quizzing and going to a practice every Tuesday night or me going to choir practice once a week and helping with the Christmas program. Sometimes, it's bigger things, like me going to Arkansas alone to be there for my dad's surgery or him going off for a week to help a buddy with a job.

'Absence makes the heart grow fonder' is not a meaningless, empty saying. It's true.

It's not until they're not around that you really realize how much you depend on their support every single day. How much you take for granted another adult in the house to fill in the gaps where you leave off. How much you rely on another person in authority to take over when you're weary of 'adulting'. How nice it is to not carry the sole responsibility for everything. How hard it is to go to bed at a decent hour when you know it's going to be just you laying there....

My week has gone well, really. It is quite different to be a single mom when your two oldest tower over you and your youngest tucks himself into bed at night. I remember the days when work required Chris to overnight somewhere and I had two 'babies' to put to sleep. First one cried and then the other until finally I joined them and wondered if I would ever make it past those days! Time has a way of dimming those memories but it is much easier when your children are older, there's no question about that.

Weeks like this have a way of making me face my fears head on. The longer I live, and the more people I learn to know, the more often I hear the words 'cancer' and 'freak accident' and 'sudden death'. Some days I wonder how much longer it can be before the news hits closer home? Sometimes I think I should be more surprised and shocked that we're all alive and healthy than I would be to find that we're not! Having my husband gone for a week drives in a sharp reminder of how it would be if he never came back. It's sobering. And it's good for me.

I need these kind of reminders over and over and over. It's nearly impossible, it seems, to keep the perspective of eternity in the forefront. He goes off to work every day and comes home; I take children to school and do housework. Repeat, repeat, repeat. In the daily-ness of life, it's so easy to think it will stay this way forever. Many, many people could testify to the fact that life can change drastically in the blink of an eye -- one phone call, one Dr appointment, one freak accident, one last good bye.

It's been a long week. The road to Arkansas is long and, while I know it's a bit irrational, the battle with fear will be so much less when all those miles have been traveled and Chris is back, safe, at home. Still, I'm glad for these experiences. If you get the chance to be apart from your spouse for a day or two... or seven, I'd encourage you to do it. You'll appreciate each other in a whole new way on reunion day!

PS. And when he shows up at 8:00 on Sunday morning instead of 8:00 Sunday night, you might discover you can do cartwheels and your mind, at least.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear Mom

My husband is gone this week, Mom. Any idea why that's been making me think of you?

Chris went off to Arkansas this week on a work adventure with his buddy from Horton's Countertops days. I'm happy he had a chance to get away and do something out of the ordinary. At the same time, I'm missing him dreadfully and it's made me go back in time and wonder how it was for you, Mom.

Your husband was a preacher. All the years of my life were interspersed with occasional weeks and weekends when Daddy would be gone. A lot of my memories of those times are vague; I was the youngest and everything happened before I was born (or so I used to think). Most vivid in my mind are the many, many weeks Daddy spent an hour away from home, teaching classes at Calvary Bible School.

This week I've been trying to imagine what those weeks were really like for you, Mom. Calvary Bible School landed in the middle of winter. In Arkansas, this could mean many things -- moderate weather, freezing temperatures, sunshine or maybe an ice storm. Back in those days there were cows to be checked on and a whole broiler house full of chickens to keep fed and alive. Way back in the day there were also pigs, I believe, who managed to make as much nuisance of themselves as possible when the man of the house was away. Inevitably, when Daddy was away, the cows would find their way through the fence or the feeders in the chicken house would decide to malfunction or the ice on the pond would need to be chopped so the cows would have water or a vehicle would refuse to start. Indeed, it seemed the whole farm was just waiting for the handyman to depart to spring any number of catastrophes on the poor wife left behind.

The thing is, Mom, I have good memories of those weeks! You used to let us take turns sleeping with you and do special things together those weeks when Daddy was gone. I have nothing but good memories of those days and I've been marveling this week at how much that fact reflects on the kind of Mom you were.

Daddy was not just a text away back then. In fact, you couldn't even count on the fact that you could get through if you tried to call him at any given time. You had children to care for -- to make sure they got to school and to settle disagreements between and to feed and keep happy. You had double the work and worry with your husband gone. I'm sure you felt lonely some days and misunderstood. I bet you looked at all the other wives who's husbands never taught at CBS and wondered what they had to complain about? I know you were just as human as anybody else, Mom, and there were times when those weeks without your man at home were just plain hard.

Maybe time dims the memories, but when I look back those days are filled with cozy times together and a mother who loved us and made us feel special. This week I'm the mom. I don't have any chickens or cows, much less pigs. It's not snowy nor icy and my husband is a text or phone call away at pretty much any given moment. I realize now the effort you put forth, Mom, to make good memories for us those weeks when Daddy was gone. I know now that you weren't necessarily having as much fun as we were. And, I for sure know that letting us take turns sleeping with you was most certainly not for your sake!

Thanks Mom.

Love, Bethany

PS. I'm trying to make good memories this week but, I confess, I'm drawing the line at letting anyone share my bed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How Romantic Is Your Marriage?

The two of us sat together companionably in our silent house. The clocks ticked, the air conditioner hummed, and slowly the stress of the day ebbed away. All five children had been invited away for an evening of games and pizza with the aunt and uncle and here we were, all set for a romantic evening.

Shall I describe the scene for you?

We sat together companionably, yes. Him on one side of the table in his dirty work clothes, eyes fixed on the laptop, right hand busily clicking and doing whatever you do in the fascinating computer game he was playing. I sat on the other side, feet up on a chair, mouth full, busily scarfing down the sub sandwich he had brought me -- the entire footlong length of it.

Sandwich gone, I scootched a chair up next to his and lazily scrolled through Facebook on my phone. "Suppose I would write about this," I grinned to myself. "How many shocked and appalled readers would I have? Does anybody else in the world do such unromantic things when they're given a chance for an evening alone? Granted, we're spoiled with willing 'babysitters' nearly any time we want one but are we odd? Should I feel slighted?"

He glanced at me with a sheepish grin, "I'm just going to finish this," he told me. "It won't take very long."

"That's fine," I assured him. "I'm not even feeling bad."

"And I'm not," I realized with a bit of surprise, as I leaned my elbows on the table and watched a game that made about as much sense to me as handing a pattern and a piece of material would to a man. And I found this discovery to be interesting. "There was a time when I would have been feeling bad," I mused to myself, absentmindedly checking through my email. We've never been the romantic candle lit dinner or fancy restaurant type; our romance has always been the kind found in small things and ordinary days. But I had to admit, there would have been a time that I would have chafed at sitting together doing this. "It's called mature romance," I decided, as I scratched his back and ran my fingers through his hair. "We're completely comfortable with who we are and what the other one needs and who cares about all the things you might think you should do when you have a chance for an evening alone?"

Because, did I tell you what kind of a day it was? Let me tell you.

It was one of a string of days where summer had returned with a vengeance, as if determined to get as much 90 degree weather in as it possibly could with October looming on the horizon. I had spent the day turning two bushels of apples into applesauce by myself. My feet ached and my back ached and all I had eaten the entire day was yogurt and granola for breakfast and about a third of Charles' piece of pizza somewhere in the lunch time vicinity. Basically, I was exhausted and starving.

Chris had spent the day in and out of the cool Tire Shop office and 90 degree out of doors/bay listening to customers who complained about the price of tires or insisted that all four of their tires must be put on so that the letters on the wheels are at the top. He had dealt with employees who needed a course on work ethics and customers who couldn't make up their minds and people calling who needed immediate favors. Basically, he was exhausted and in need of some mindless activity.

Eventually the game ended and he headed for the shower, throwing back over his shoulder with a grin, "Now that's my idea of a good time - you, sitting there beside me, watching me play." I laughed and knew with certainty that I didn't feel one bit slighted.

"And maybe I will write about it after all," I decided, as I threw away the subway trash and went on to spend the rest of our evening in less mature romantic activities.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dear Mom

I made applesauce today, Mom -- delicious tangy-sweet sauce from bags of big, beautiful, spot-free apples. It made me think of you.

You taught me many things, Mom. Most of the time I go along living my life, oblivious to the many ways you influenced me. Once in awhile something like a bag of shiny, beautiful apples will look me in the face and make me stop and think.

All the years that I was a part of your life, you lived in Arkansas, Mom. While being from the south is, without question, superior in many regards, easy access to fresh fruits and luscious gardens isn't one of them. You loved to garden and toiled tirelessly in spite of inevitable drought, poor soil and pesky bugs. You canned and froze and served fresh, and not once did we ever go hungry.

But this is what I learned from you, Mom -- you made do with what you had. If the corn produced little (as often was the case) but the green beans were prolific; we ate green beans. If an early frost nipped the peach trees we did without peaches. Because strawberries were expensive and blackberries were free, we spread our bread with blackberry jelly. I don't remember you ever once making a batch of strawberry jam, are you sure you were a true Mennonite, Mom?

English peas didn't do well, so we ate purple hull peas and zipper peas and lima beans. My brothers will testify to gaining pill swallowing skills because of the need to consume those loathsome limas. We ate okra because it grew and pears from the old pear tree on the odd years that it produced. On those years we were all expected to try new things like pear butter and pear and pineapple jam because -- you know, free food.

You were always willing to use what was available, Mom. When Ervin Dorothy had squash, you canned it. When someone offered you peaches from their scrubby little trees, you froze them. If there were strawberries available, we enjoyed them. And when it was time to can applesauce, you never stressed over Jonathons or Cortlands or Golden Delicious or Ginger Golds. You didn't insist on brown sauce or pale yellow or pink; you took what was available. I will never forget the year of the ugly red apples and the tasteless pink sauce.

It was me who needed apples that year, Mom, and me who had no money for being choosy. When a church lady's neighbor offered apples, free for the taking, we took them. We loaded up baskets and buckets of the spotted, red things and you came over to lend a hand. They sure weren't the prettiest apples nor the biggest. But we cut and snipped and cooked and when the applesauce came forth all pink and tasteless, you cheerfully added sugar and cinnamon and whatever else we could think of and called it good.

Today I thought of you, Mom, as I sliced up my beautiful, spot-free apples. As the sauce came out, all golden and tangy-sweet, I remembered. And I thanked God for a mother like you who taught me to make do with what you have. I also breathed a quiet thank you that this year it was shiny Ginger Golds.

                        Love, Bethany

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Months That Start With 'S' and Other Wisdom

Writing is a strange and uncooperative thing. Some days it just wants to come, and so I let it; other days, the more I look inside, the more it isn't there. It hasn't been there for quite some time now and it's bothering me greatly.

One can only have so many Tid-bits and Random Picture posts. There are only so many opportunities to host giveaways. I have no new recipes to share. The more I try to manufacture inspiration, the more there is nothing. And, might I add, that is the exact time when all the other writers I know seem to be starting new projects or writing eloquent words being shared by multiple people; coincidence much?

My mind feels dry. Dry as.... well....

Dry as the leaves falling, crunchy, from the trees.
Dry as the sun on a day without a breeze.
Dry as the dirt 'round the plant with curling leaves.
Dry as the throat gripped in fear's tightest squeeze.

Dry as the wind blowing sun's hottest glare.
Dry as the towels hung in summer's stifling air.
Dry as the earth in a desert bright and bare.
Dry as the soul burdened low with every care.

Dry as the grass withered brown in Summer's heat.
Dry as the skin worn and rough on barefoot feet.
Dry as the lips cracked by fever's steady beat.
Dry as the heart scorched by silence and defeat........

This mournful bit came forth one day and I shelved it in disgust. Pathetic. Not even true. In fact, I had someone tell me recently, "Your life sounds so easy and fun!"

Today I finally discovered the reason: it must be something about the atmospheric pressure in the months starting with 'S'! One year ago on this very day I wrote, "I confess to feeling really dry lately; brittle in places."

Alrighty then.

Now that I have that figured out, I can relax and stop trying so hard. Eventually the atmospheric pressure will change, another month will appear and I'll wonder what was so bothersome about it all. And if it doesn't? Well, then I'll go on with my fun and easy life and be happy.

My fingers bear the battlescars of quilting these days. I've been listening to the Bible as I sit and stitch, started in at the beginning and have gotten through to the building of the tabernacle. I'm always just amazed when I read/hear about Pharoah. Seriously, was the man insane? How could your heart be that hard? By the time it came to the tenth plague, did he really think the firstborns wouldn't be killed? What was he thinking??

And then the children of Israel. Honestly, people! You walked through the Red Sea on dry land. A short two months later, how could you really think God would let you starve to death when he parted the waters for you and swallowed the Egyptians up after you had all walked through?

I was discussing these things with my children one day after school and my daughter said, "But how did you feel when we moved to Ohio and had no house? How could you have wondered if God knew what he was doing??" Wellllll. You know, God hadn't done anything as big for me as parting the Red Sea!

Children are pretty good at putting us in our places.

I guess it's mostly being able to look back on the whole picture that makes me judge the Israelites so harshly. I suppose, after all, my doubt and questioning of what God is doing would look pretty silly too if I could see the big picture. I reckon a lack of inspiration and a drought in spirit is a small thing in the grand scheme of a life story.

Happy weekend to all of you. Go enjoy your life (fun and easy or otherwise) and rest in the arms of a Father who deals in big pictures.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Giveaway Results and Other Tid-bits

Giveaways are fun. There's always this happy little thrill of surprise as I watch all the comments come rolling in. I know by now that they will but it's still so much fun.

The time is here to announce a winner and I've got a happy little surprise for you, this time. I decided to buy a copy of Anything But Simple myself and give away TWO books instead of one! So, without further ado -- Winner #1 is Katrina, who commented: "I enjoy reading your blog and would be delighted to win this book."  Winner #2 is Jessica, who commented: "Hi Bethany,
You don't know me, but I've been one of your quiet readers for quite a while. ☺ Don't give up your book dream; you have a wonderful way with words, too! Please enter me in your drawing... Thanks!"

Congratulations ladies! I'll be contacting you via email so we can get your books on their way. Happy reading and thanks for commenting.


Just a few pictures of life these days to finish this up.....

I've got a quilt in at my house, the first of three for my girl's beds, and I can't tell you how much fun I'm having! It also makes me miss my Mom. Quilting and Mom just go together and it's funny what triggers grief.

Charles likes to play with my pins, sticking them into the quilt and calling them "snakes",  for whatever reason, and looking underneath to see all the "pokes".

Lillian turned eight and was quite pleased with the doll sized garment bag and hangers she had been hoping for.

The weather has taken a definite turn towards fall and in the spirit of acceptance and resignation, we had a little "hot drink party" one evening.

I have to concede that the cool, crisp mornings are beautiful but Oh, Summer! Missing you already.

And with that, I will run along. The ever looming what-to-make-for-supper question must soon be answered........

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: Anything But Simple

Somewhere in the dark, hidden corners of my heart hovers a dream. Occasionally I allow it to surface -- the secret, improbable idea that I could write a book. That someday, magically, I could have the ability to paint pictures and draw images and weave words that would carry a reader through page after page. That somehow I could acquire the determination to accomplish such a monumental feat.

Then, I read books like Anything But Simple by Lucinda J Miller, and I shake my head decidedly. I am quite content to write little blog posts and let others accomplish the monumental feats.

I've been reading Luci's blog for quite some time. I've enjoyed reading about her life, her dreams, her stories. More than a tiny, hovering dream, Luci has had a passionate desire to write a book. The burning intent for her words? To capture life as she has experienced it.

Luci grew up in a small, Mennonite community in rural Wisconsin. To grow up Mennonite is to be set apart from the world at large for life. The best way I can think of to describe this odd phenomenon is to imagine being born Russian and living in America. You can learn to speak English fluently, dress American, eat American, adopt the customs and the thoughts and the ways of Americans but you will always be a Russian. So it is to be born Mennonite.

As God so often seems to enjoy doing, in an odd twist of circumstances, Anything But Simple is not the book Luci first dreamed of writing. However, I think it captures the burning intent she so longed for: life as she has experienced it.

Luci is a very gifted writer. Not only does she weave stories and ideas for the reader to ponder and digest, she infuses emotion and layers of feelings into her words. As you read about her childhood, her family, her dreams, her struggles -- you are there. You feel the painful shyness of the little girl who cannot bring herself to mention needing a bathroom; the sensitivity of the lonely teen who is sure they are not only different, but alien; the growing awareness as an adult of two worlds and the struggle to navigate through both.

In the telling of her life as a Mennonite, Luci pours out her heart openly and honestly. There is no catching the high points of the Mennonite world and exaggerating them, no unrealistic portrayal of how Mennonites think they should look. What Luci shares is reality and the reality is that while she was born a Mennonite and will always be set apart from the world at large, she was also born a sinner with a heart no less in need of a Saviour - no less bent toward sin - than any other person ever born.

When I contacted Luci with an offer to do a book review and giveaway on my blog, she graciously accepted my offer and sent me an autographed copy of Anything But Simple and the chance for one of my readers to win a copy of their own! Her books are available on Amazon and Menno Media or you can contact Luci through her blog to purchase an autographed copy.

For a chance to win your free copy, leave me a comment and be sure to include an e-mail address where I can contact you. This giveaway will close one week from today and is open to only US mailing addresses.