Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dear Mom,

I've been avoiding this, Mom.
Been spending half my time 
pretending there's nothing going on
and the other half trying to figure out
what it is I'm trying to avoid.

It would be tempting to blame it all 
on four innocent pieces of fabric.

We had fun shopping for them --
well, mostly anyway.
It took us awhile to decide
what we each wanted
but I think in the end we were 
pleased with the choices we made.

And it was fun to decide
how to make them --
A square neck or a round one?
These sleeves or those?
A belt or no belt?
But somewhere between decisions 
and seams and hems
the fun began to seep away and
a new feeling took it's place.

The only word I could honestly give
the feeling was resentment.
After all, let's face it,
 no one ever plans to make dresses 
for their Dad's wedding!

As I stitched and ironed
(and used the seam ripper),
I would discover a lump forming
 in my throat
and pretty soon a tear would escape
and then another and another....
If no one was around,
the tears might turn into
a full blown sobfest
but mostly I would take myself
in hand and preach.

Why am I crying anyway?
I'm happy for my Dad.
I'm glad this is happening.
 I like Sara, for pete's sake!

And no, you are not going to write about this, 
I would tell myself. People do not
 need to know everything.

It is good to deal in facts, I believe;
to not allow oneself to wallow
in a hopeless mess of
 feelings and emotions.
On the other hand, it is also good 
to realize that one is human
 and therefore 
one will have feelings and emotions
that cannot be dismissed completely even with the truthfulest of facts.

A friend of mine said it best 
when I poured my feelings into 
her kind ears --
"Because. It's missing your mom.
Let the grief come."

Ahhh. That is it.
It's not because I'm unhappy 
about the plans,
Not because it's all so 
hard and terrible, 
And for sure not 
because I don't like Sara!

It is really the simple fact that the need for these dresses 
brings home the stark reality 
that you are not here, Mom.
And I miss you, that is all.

And so, when the lump comes into my throat and the tears spill down my cheeks, I will allow them their place; they are necessary and healing.
But come Saturday, when we don the lovely dresses and celebrate a new beginning, I will smile with happiness in my heart for the two 
special people joining hands. 

Because it is okay to miss you, Mom,
and embrace the welcoming of my dad's new wife all at the same time.

And maybe it's okay for people to know everything, after all.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Complete Guide to The Best Way To Can Tomato Juice

#1. When you go to the local Amish man to pick up your bushel of green beans, casually mention that you'd like two bushels of tomatoes rather than just one like you had ordered. When he says he's got them today if you want them, take them. Block out the fact that you are doing a bushel of beans today and you still need to sew a dress in the next 7 days, amongst numerous other things. Take them!

#2. Go out for supper with two girlfriends after doing said green beans. Be sure that one of them is a friend who owns one of these babies. 

*It's called a Vita Mix!

Listen skeptically as she tells you how she puts her tomatoes through this wonderful contraption and the juice is ready to cook - no Victoria Strainer; no other type of hand cranked sieve of any kind. 

#3. Borrow The Thing. I'm probably way behind the times but people, it works! This thing is the Do you know how much time I've spent cranking tomatoes through a sieve? Me either. But way too much.

#4. Next you need a daughter to cut up tomatoes for you. Preferably one like mine who sticks with it til it's done.

#5. You also need a son to run the fabulous blender. It is Much the best way.

#6. Then, you need a sister who teaches you how to cut out the other time consuming factor in canning tomato juice - water bathing for twenty minutes. Introducing: The Oven Method. Again, I am probably way behind on these revelations but in case you are like me, I will explain.

-- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. In the mean time, cook your juice down. 

-- Fill oven with jars. I left them in there for fifteen-twenty minutes but I'm no expert on this.

*Just a little aside here. If you are like me - end up with jars with the paper still on - when you get the jar out of the oven, that paper will slide right off!

-- Place lids in pan. Cover with water and bring to a boil; turn on low. And, by the way, if you've never learned the secret of canning with (and re-using and re-using) twist lid jars, you're welcome. They work beautifully.

-- Once your juice is boiled down, keep your juice simmering, your lids hot and grab a hot jar out of the oven. (Oven mitt!)

-- Fill your jar, put the lid on, presto! Set to the side and repeat, repeat, repeat.

-- Enjoy the delightful "Pings" as the jars begin to seal.

I know it isn't really worth it these days, tomato juice is cheap at the store. But Oh, there is nothing like the feeling of satisfaction looking at those lovely rows of ruby red.... and it tastes better, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Beauty For Ashes or The Dead Hanging Basket

Last year in May, on the first anniversary of the passing of my mother, several different ladies from church gifted me with plants. I was so touched to think that they remembered the date and took the time to let me know it! I don't do well with doing that sort of thing for others and it made me feel very small and humble to think that they cared enough about me to remember with me.

One of them gave a lovely hanging basket. I didn't take a picture of it but it looked a lot like this...

I'm not very great with flowers. I love them and I dream of beautiful flower beds but I've never had them. You see, beautiful flower beds don't just happen. They take lots of tender care, not to mention some money and know how, and I just have never put in the effort. I have done some hanging baskets and window boxes and those type of things but even there my green thumb is lacking.

So. The lovely hanging basket gifted to me...

Well, with no porch I didn't have a good place to hang it, for starters. I planned to buy a hook to put by the door or a hanger of some kind to put out by our back patio but - you guessed it. It never happened. I'm ashamed to say what did happen, actually. The dear, thoughtful lady who was so sweet to remember and care might read this and how would she feel??

Maybe if I say it real fast and get it over with -- I hung it on the end of the clothesline and it died. 


It lived for awhile. It bloomed profusely and looked gorgeous and I would notice it again and think, "I've got to make a better place to put this!" Then it started looking sickly. Jasmine was determined to nurse the thing back to life, so we cut it back and she watered it diligently. It revived somewhat but never to it's original glory and eventually it gave up completely and shriveled into nothing.

Me being the neat, orderly, particular type, I left the thing hanging right there on the end of the clothesline. It weathered the fall, and then the winter, and there it hangs still.

This morning I was out busily hanging my towels. The sun was hot and I was doing my job quickly - bend, select towel, flip on the line, pin pin pin.
I don't know what made me look at the empty basket hanging there forlornly on the end of the clothesline but it caught my eye and my busy fingers stopped short.

Could it possibly be?? Surely not a flower in the corner of that dry, empty old basket? However in the world could it be?!

But there it was, sure enough. Pushing up bravely through dry, old dirt was one little shoot with dainty, perfect flowers blooming brightly.

I stood still and gazed at it with a twinge of awe. How in the world did that brave little shoot emerge from a pot of dry dirt that had sat empty for over a year? A lump rose up in my throat and tears threatened to fill my eyes. The analogies and comparisons that could be made were endless and the beauty of a God who can bring life out of the dark, dry places filled my heart in that moment.

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We Have This Moment

All five are home again, 
after two weeks of someone being gone.

I'm reveling in hearing, 
"It's so good to be home, mom!"
"It's good to eat food 
that tastes like home." 
And other such heartwarming sentiments.

Two weeks ago Isaac went off to a week of Youth Camp in IN and last week, he returned and Jasmine took her turn. I think they both grew several inches, inside and out, during those days away. I think I may have grown as well.
It's a kind of growing, isn't it, to have pieces of your heart walking around in different parts of the USA?

It's only beginning I'm afraid,
this having a part of me
in different places at different times, and I don't think any mother anywhere has ever been ready.

I've been thinking about that fact
 a lot lately.
I'm concluding that the only
thing I can really do
 is treasure the moments I have now.

And there are many interesting moments, I assure you.

My house is in a constant state of chaos these days, which isn't too hard
with five children in a house that measures 24x32.

But when I think of the few short years that I will actually have them 
all under one roof,
it's a little easier to remember
to embrace the chaos
and treasure the moments --
like these....

Operation Legos: divide the blocks by color; two people get yellow and green, two people get red and blue. 

Each team build a building

 Using plenty of imagination

And a large dose of your arguing skills

Then it's time to take the fun a step further and
 play a 'Detective Game'
(can I just say right here, these kiddos are their dad's, every one of them??)

First, you set up the town

Complete with all the cars and people

Then, it's time for the story line: A girl's mother (I believe it later turned into her grandmother) died, and left her the mansion. The two 'bad guys' (Jasmine and Lillian) don't want her to have it, so when the girl comes to visit, they set up things to make her think the house is haunted. The police and detectives (Isaac and Jennifer) must then unravel the mystery and solve the problem. And, of course, ultimately stick all the bad guys in jail!

Interesting Moments Indeed.

I might add here, the whole operation actually started with three begging the fourth to play a game with them. When the fourth refused to cooperate, their mother suggested they propose a deal (Hey, it was one way to keep the three from begging her next!)
So, the fourth agreed to play the game the three wanted, if the three would then play Detective with the houses and people....which then evolved into 
all of the above.

When the noise level is way too high,
and I can hardly walk through
my living room for the chaos of imagination, I hope I remember how it will feel to have pieces of my heart wandering the world and how happy I am to have them all here with me under this one, small roof.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I Thank Thee More?

We were visitors at church that Sunday, tucked into a row with hardly enough room for our family of seven. I was keenly concious of the watching eyes as I did my best attempt at deftly balancing song book and three year old in my lap between elbow in my rib on the left and shoulder brushing mine on the right. It was hardly the best atmosphere for noticing any profound message in the songs being sung and I really wasn't trying; I barely knew the song we were singing, actually.

Suddenly a phrase in the third stanza grabbed my attention with somewhat the same effect of an electric fence and an oblivious cow. Say what again? I thank thee more for what?? 

   "I thank Thee more that all our joy is touched with pain..."

I sat there, stunned for a moment, while the voices around me continued on with their singing.

   "That shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain -- So that earth's bliss may be our guide, and not our chain."

The words echoed and re-echoed in my mind. Was it really possible to say that? I thank Thee MORE??

Those words stuck in my mind, and three days later I finally took the time to look up the song in our songbook at home and study it more. I've concluded that I would like to have known this woman who penned such profound words.

"My God, I thank Thee, who has made the earth so bright -- So full of splendor and of joy, beauty and light -- So many glorious things are here, noble and right.

"I Thank Thee, too, that Thou has made Joy to abound -- So many gentle thoughts and deeds circling us round; that in the darkest spot of earth some love is found.

"I thank Thee more that all our joy is touched with pain; that shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain -- So that earth's bliss may be our guide, and not our chain.

"I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast kept the best in store; we have enough, yet not too much to long for more -- A yearning for a deeper peace not known before.

"I thank Thee, Lord, that here our souls, though amply blest, can never find, although they seek, a perfect rest -- Nor ever shall, until they lean on Jesus' breast."

Even so come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

You Never Know

Some days life flows along with all the predictable mundane duties that result from a family of five children. You do laundry and clean up messes and cook meals and wash dishes and scrub dirty toilets and tubs with alarming regularity. You settle fusses and dole out punishments and kiss ouchies and  listen to the ever repeated refrain of "Mom. Mom! MOM!!"

Then there are days when chance collides with circumstances and you find yourself in the back of a stranger's vehicle doing something completely out of the ordinary. If you're on your toes, you might have the presence of mind to snap a couple of photos and turn your adventure into a story before the opportunity passes...or you might nearly miss it, like me.

Last year my girls discovered wild raspberries growing around the edges of their grandparent's property, where we live. They waded through weeds and brambles searching out the tiny little treasures, returning to the house triumphantly with purple fingers and just enough berries to whet their appetites for more. Once, they found enough to turn them into a couple of pies but mostly the meager piles were carefully divided and quickly consumed.

This year, they've been at it again. The berries are just beginning to ripen well and Monday they arrived back inside all hot and sweaty with a nice bowl of them.

But the excitement of the nice bowl of berries was quckly forgotten in the hullabaloo of words.

"Mom, we were down by the road picking and this man stopped and asked us if we're berry pickers? We were kind of scared but we were like, yeah, we're picking these wild ones."

These days one hardly dares to let their children do anything on the road alone, even if ours is a quiet, country one. Stories abound of all the bad things just waiting to happen when we are least expecting it. But this time it was a good thing.

"He said he has a raspberry patch that needs to be picked and he wondered if we'd want to pick it!"

"For free?" I wondered. I'm not a Mennonite for nothing, after all.

"I think so. He said he would stop in here after he talks to the neighbor man and, Mom. If he knows the neighbor man and the neighbor man knows grandpa then he's probably fine, right? Can we go, Mom? Will you go with us?"
Somebody was bubbling with anticipation at this point.

Sure enough, minutes later a red vehicle pulled in and I met the grey haired gentleman on the sidewalk.

"Hello, young lady!"

He clasped my hand and gave it a shake while he introduced himself and explained about his berries that he couldn't get anybody to pick.

"They all say it's too hot to pick em but when I saw them girls along the road I said, there's my berry pickers! If they'll go to that much work to get berries..." he chuckled heartily.  "It's not a big patch but I've gotten five gallons off a there already."

I assured him we'd love to pick berries and he left with the promise to return in 20 minutes to pick us up. When he got back, the two youngest had been sent up the hill to grandpa's and the three of us were waiting with pails and water bottles in hand and shoes on our feet.

We piled into the back of his vehicle and headed off, with him keeping up a steady commentary and us wondering where in the world we were going? He drove right past the lane where I knew he lived but the mystery was soon explained when he told of owning four (or was it six?) farms and that where we were headed was about fifteen minutes away.

We bounced along on a dirt road while he filled us in on the terrible coal company people who he is fighting tooth and nail to keep from ruining the land around where we live. That wasn't the only subject, by any means, but it was obviously one dear to his heart. Talk turned to school and carrying concealed weapons.

"Now are you Amish or Mennonite?"


"Which was it that had that school shooting? You know, where they visited the fellow that did the shooting." I confirmed it was Amish. "I just don't know if I could go that far and respond the way they did, could you do that?"

Well, of course. I'm a Mennonite; nonresistant, turn the other cheek. Thoughts can go through your mind in a flash, you know, but an honest answer was what came out of my mouth.

"Well, I'd like to think that's how I would respond but if it came down to it and that was my children, I have a feeling it would be a lot harder than I think."

"That's right. That's exactly right." He seemed pleased with my honesty.

We finally came to a few tumble down buildings amongst waist high weeds and he turned into a narrow driveway.

"Here's where you start wondering if you're getting kidnapped," he chuckled.

I laughed and told him I wasn't too worried.

We bounced along a bit further, and came to a stop. To our left we saw an overgrown berry patch that someone had obviously planted at some point in time, judging by the fence around it. We climbed out with our pails and he showed us the best place to pick.

"Whatever you pick in an hour you can have!" He told us. And we set to work with a will.

The sun was hot, and the berries? The berries were beautiful. Nothing like the tiny little things the girls had been picking at home! These were bigger, and much more plentiful.

Picking berries must have taken all of the old fellow's concentration because the stories ceased and we picked in silence. Except for a few mutters of "Ouch" here and there, and him assuring us that we should feel free to trample down the brambles in our way, the only sounds were berries being dropped into buckets.

I'm not sure how long it took us but we soon had the top part of the patch picked, which was all he wanted done as his brother was coming in in a few days and he wanted to save the bottom of the patch for him.

The air conditioning felt awfully good as we situated berry buckets and got ready to leave.

"Are you in a hurry?" he asked me, as he turned his vehicle around.

I assured him we weren't, thinking maybe he had some other errand to run on the way home.

We turned left, instead of right, as we left the narrow lane and I had no idea where this road would come out. But I wasn't too concerned. All the back roads around here connect to places you'd never dream of and, sure enough, we eventually came out to a place I recognized. The only puzzle was, at the stop sign where we should have turned right to go home, he again hooked a left and I watched with interest to see where this would take us. Maybe he needed gas?

Understanding dawned when he pulled in at a little, country drive-in and wondered what we'd like? A rootbeer? An ice cream cone?

It was then that I finally had the presence of mind to recognize a good story when I saw one. As we drove away, with ice cream cones in hand, I grabbed my phone for a hurried snapshot to prove that this all really happened.

We have other things to prove it, of course - purple fingernails, scratches on our legs, delectable raspberries to turn into desserts, and a new friend who's red vehicle we will recognize and wave at when he drives by. I hope the next time he needs berry pickers he comes straight to our door first thing!

I told him to stop by that evening and I'd give him some crumb cake but he insisted he wanted us to have it all.

So we went ahead and enjoyed it ourselves.

And so, that is how the old saying proved true -
You never know what a day
will bring forth.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Life And Pictures

Story time is over, so here are a few pictures to update you on life around the Eicher household. We are enjoying no school and the freedom to do random projects and be either productive or the mood (or need) strikes.

This was a very random one, thought up and carried out almost completely on her own. A little blanket for Charles.

One day the girls had fun helping me set up a 'fancy' table 
for Chris and I to have a date on the porch of the new house.

They're begging to do it again 
for the whole family.

Speaking of the new house...

We've been painting...

And hanging lights...

And my cabinets are in!

*Just fyi: this is the way we choose paint colors -- we go down to the local yocal and check out the mis-tinted paint. We grab any half decent colors and buy them for super cheap. Then we play with mixing tablespoons of colors til we get a "formula" we like. The area we painted is from eight different gallons of paint, I believe. So if you like a color you see, I'm afraid I won't be able to offer you a Sherwin Williams name or anything :)

The pictures make it look like we're close to done but pictures can be deceiving. Not everything is ready to be painted yet but it's coming,
little by little.

Time spent at the lake is always fun

And so is fabric shopping...
for the first hour...
We think we're going to try our hand 
at quilt making. We'll see.

And I'm getting ready to sew
... and sew ...and sew.
Eight dresses cut out 
for the females in this house. 
My thumb is sore from cutting!

This is how my bed looked
one lazy morning.

All in all, summer is being pretty good to us. Some days, in the midst of the noise and chaos.....the trying to keep children occupied and settling fusses; the busyness and never a quiet suddenly hits me. I won't have them all around me for long. These are the days that will make up their memories of F A M I L Y ---
right here, right now. 

My children will one day be me with my siblings. These are the days that are shaping their future years.