Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Never-Ending Opportunity

"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him."
 2 Chronicles 16:9

I remember the day Chris took me to look at the little piece of land he was considering buying. There were trees and brambles and briars; fallen logs and leaves and limbs. All of it was situated on one steep hill. We scrambled up through the woods, dodging thorns and branches. Chris was busily dreaming and scouting out the best spot to build; I was looking around at it all in bewilderment - "A house? Here?"


But we bought the land and the dreams began turning into reality. Then the lane went in. From that day forward, there was one nagging question in the back of my mind - "How am I going to get in and out of here in the wintertime?"

I've talked about this before - how I never had to drive in the snow before moving to Ohio, how I dread it and hate it and, in short, what a chicken I am. And now here I was going to be on this Hill, with no way in and out but a steep lane. Not only that, the steep lane comes out right in the middle of a fairly major hill on Pennyroyal, the road running past our house. Put simply, the whole situation is basically a chicken's worst nightmare.


We did bite the bullet and concrete the lane. Last summer, we also blacktopped the parking area by the house. Major, major improvements and without question a good investment; we would have been hauling in new gravel regularly.

So, here we are at The House On The Hill for a year. That lane has continued to be a thorn in the flesh. It's not just bad in the winter, see. Even in the summer you have to know how to maneuver the thing so as not to produce ominous scraping sounds from your vehicle. This can be quite alarming, especially to visitors who are generally a bit more concerned about their vehicles than some of the rest of us. It is completely possible to enter in and depart from said lane without the scraping sounds, but one must Know How. Like Eeyore playing Pooh sticks, there's a twitchy sort of way, if you know what I mean.

All in all, I have become somewhat used to this treacherous lane that elicits so many comments and wonderment from all who see it. I've joked that I will homeschool my kids in the winter months and I still cringe as I listen for the scraping sounds every time someone comes to visit. For the most part though, I've gotten used to it. I still dreaded winter but that's nothing new and I already know that worry isn't going to change anything. Besides, I've also discovered that God can actually handle wintertime pretty well, imagine that?


I thought maybe God would handle it by giving us a mild winter with very little snow. Well, He has pretty much turned that idea upside down. I wish I would have counted the number of times it has snowed since Christmas. Really, I think it might have been too many to count! It's not that we have had such a huge accumulation, like some people, but just enough to cover up the cleaned up roads - and lane - again and again and again.


It was early one morning during the first part of January when it came to me. I was standing in the kitchen, getting ready to start the morning routine of lunches and breakfast and school prep. The noise of the snowblower filtered in through the window; my husband was out there, again, clearing off the lane before heading to work. He'd bought that snowblower at our school auction and every time I heard it's hum, my heart melted into a puddle. Forget the roses and chocolates. Let me tell you, seeing my man out there in the early morning hours or late at night after a long day at work, faithfully cleaning off that lane in the freezing cold puts more stars in my eyes than any flowers ever could.

It was in that moment that I heard God whisper, "That lane is a never-ending opportunity for me to show myself strong on your behalf."

I stopped mid-stride in my morning bustle and stood there in awe. I'm not sure I can explain how sacred that moment was. You can't very well hate something with such great potential, can you? "A never-ending opportunity..." it almost gave me goosebumps. A lump came into my throat, as I stood there in my kitchen with tears in my eyes and my hands raised in worship, "Oh, dear God! Thank you for that lane; thank you for a never-ending opportunity!!"

I still groan when it snows, I still dread needing to get out there. But now it's a dread laced with anticipation - 'How is He going do it this time?' And you know what? He is so creative!

Some days He has the school board chairman cancel school (Bless the man). Some days He has my husband park the van at the bottom of the lane and gives me the courage to brave the road and backing the van back into its precarious spot. (You see those marks behind the van? That's where Isaac took a little run and slid all the way down to the van.)


Some days He has grandpa pick them up here instead of me taking them to grandpa's to catch a ride (he takes them to school Monday and Thursday). Many days He has the sun shine just enough so the lane is clear by 3:00 when it's time to go to school again. (Huge perk of concrete and blacktop; our lane is usually the first to be clear!)


He doesn't do it the same every time and it doesn't always look the way I imagine it will, but always, He shows Himself strong. It never ends.

I call that amazing.

Monday, February 12, 2018

For The Stingy Succulent-lover

 My oldest daughter, Jasmine, has fallen in love with succulents and the wonder of propegation. She has spent hours reading up on the tricks and methods of propegation for different types of succulents. I love to watch her experimenting and carefully babying her little plant babies. Today she is sharing her knowledge with us in a guest post!
-----------------------------------------


I love springtime;
I love green plants.
I am crazy over succulents
and I'm Miss Conservationist
who delights in
saving her precious pennies.
This is how I grow
my succulent
collection with little cost
and great fun.


The leafless stem above
is the remains
of a leggy succulent.
Propagation
works best when 
your plant has
become
leggy and unhealthy,
with leaves
spread far apart
as the plant
tries to get
the maximum amount
of light it can.
At this point,
You have two options.

#1. Allow your
plant to continue
growing in this manner
until all the leaves
wither and the succulent
dies. 

#2. Start propogating!
To do this, start by
removing the
leaves from the stem
of the succulent, leaving only
a small rosette at the top.
When removing
the leaves from the succulent,
start with the bottom leaves
and work your way up to the top.
Wiggle each leaf gently
until you
feel a little snap.


Be sure to get a clean
pull, leaving 
no part of the leaf
attached to the stem.


The leaf nearest you
shows a clean pull. 
The one further
 away is broken on the edge
and will
not grow a new plant.

Last, cut off 
the rosette at the top with a pair of
sharp scissors.
Lay the leaves and rosette
on a saucer or a shallow tray.


Keep the saucer with the leaves
on a windowsill
that gets lots of indirect sunlight 
until they callous over.


Notice the difference between
the two leaves above.
The one closest to you has
calloused over
and has a bit of a protective
"scab" on it.
This scab will keep the
leaf from
absorbing too
much water, thus
preventing it from
rotting.


This leaf is an example
of rotting.
It has turned a
yellowish brown
and is limp and 
waterlogged.
It will die soon. 
So no watering until
the leaves
have scabbed over, you hear?

At this point,
lay your leaves on top of a
container of dry soil. 
As you can see in the picture 
below, the tips of the leaves will
really not be touching the soil at all.
  

And now, remember
that rosette
you snipped off the stem?
When it forms a "scab", 
simply place the stem into the ground
and it will grow roots and 
continue to grow.
Water it as you would
water a full grown
succulent.

Now back to those leaves.
At this point, we
begin the W and W process -
watering and waiting.
This phase can be kinda tricky
because succulents don't 
need much moisture.
Water the leaves very rarely
before baby plants begin
to grow. I water mine
once a week  with a spray bottle.


When you see tiny roots and baby
plants beginning to grow,
give them a good soaking
whenever the soil is
TOTALLY
dry.

The key here is to not over-water.
Overwatering is one of the
most common
reasons that succulents die.
 If you give them too much
water and they start to rot, 
there's basically nothing
you can do for them.
However, if your plant
isn't getting enough water, 
you can easily take
care of that!
ALWAYS err on the side of
underwatering.


After many hours and days
and weeks
and possibly even
months of waiting, 
your baby plants will be
ready for planting.
The ones in the picture
above aren't quite ready yet. 
I like to wait
until the original mother
leaf that was pulled off the stem
withers and dies.
Then simply remove the mother
leaf from your baby succulent,
( being careful
not to remove the roots)


 Place
your succulent
in well draining
succulent/cactus soil,
and continue
to water once a week,
or whenever
The soil is TOTALLY Dry.


It takes anywhere from
6 months
to one year for succulents
to reach a
"normal" size.
Make sure your babies
get lots of sunlight,
a good soaking
only when the soil is
dry, and lots
of patience.


This particular
succulent has been growing
for about 3 1/2
months,
and it's still
itty bitty.
So don't worry if it
seems like
your plants just
aren't growing, it takes awhile.


Here's an example of a
"normal size"
succulent.

Note that, although
this method of
propagation works for
most succulents,
it doesn't
for others. I've tried
propagating
blue chalk sticks
using this method with
a zero success rate.


These plants require
a cutting for 
propagation, so the point is,
 don't be afraid to experiment.
Maybe you'll find that you need
to use a different
watering method or
less sunlight than I do. 
Figure out what
works for you.
Have fun.
And whatever you do,
DO NOT OVERWATER!

-------------------------------------------------
Have you tried propegating succulents? We'd love to hear your tips!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Curious George And The Little Boy With The Funny Hat

This is George.


George is a good little.......
well, not actually a monkey
but we can pretend.


George was once a little girl's
 pencil topper
 but then she gave him away
and now he lives with his friend,
The Little Boy With The Funny Hat.


George has many adventures
with the little boy with the funny hat.
The little boy likes to take him everywhere!

One day he went along to the post office


And the library


and McDonalds.

George likes to ride around
 in the little boy's coat pocket


 or to be carried, 
all snuggled up in his hand.


Sometimes he shares the
 little boy's cookies


Or sits beside 'Honey Bear'
and listens to stories
on the computer.


Sometimes he gets to help
play baby doll
and take rides in the back
of the old, pink stroller.





George is a very tiny
little monkey,
and hard to keep track of.
When he gets lost,
the little boy with the funny hat
is very sad.

"Where is George?"
He will cry.
And the whole family will go
on a George hunt.
Just when they are sure they have seen George for the last time,
he will turn up again 
in the most unlikely places!

In the seal of the washing machine --

What a scary experience 
that was for George!

Tucked under a blanket
where he spent a whole night
and a day before being discovered --

What a joyful shout 
went up that day!

In an abandoned heap
where he spent the night at the bottom of the steps --

What a lonely night 
that must have been!

And many other places 
too numerous to mention.

George is a good little monkey and always up for an adventure but at the end of the day his favorite place to be
 is snuggled up in the hand of
 The Little Boy With The Funny Hat
 as he drifts off to sleep.


The End.

-----------------------------------
This is a true story starring my youngest who is enamoured, at this point in life, by Curious George Stories and imaginary friends.
'George' has long since disappeared to who knows where. In his place, we now tote 'Honey Bear' who is much easier to keep track of. Someday, when 
The Little Boy With The Funny Hat
 is all grown up and the days of imaginary friends long past, I will pull out this story and show his children what a sweet little boy their daddy was.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

39 Things

January is over and so is Q & A time -- the 'official' time, that is. Your questions are always welcome.

I just had a birthday on Sunday and I got the crazy notion to tell you all
                   39 Things About Me:

1. I am the youngest in a family of six.

2. I like empty trash cans.

3. I'm learning to crochet off of YouTube videos. It's so much fun. (Funny story behind this is that I got the idea about a month ago while lying in bed with the stomach flu. I watched crocheting tutorials to get my mind off my churning stomach.)


4. I have brown eyes.

5. When I have Facebook notifications, I save them up for later.

6. As of Saturday, I have a child with a permit. (I have no idea how we got here and I'm pretty sure I'll never be the same after my first ride in the passenger seat.)


7. I could easily live without ice cream.

8. I enjoy being alone.

9. I am just learning to like coffee.

10. I wear glasses.

11. I like to hang laundry outside. Even when it means icicles. (Actually, I'd never had that happen before!)


12. I was 23 when my oldest was born.

13. And 34 when my youngest was born.

14. I love to quilt.

15. I cannot make decisions.

16. I dislike winter.

17. I don't enjoy cooking.

18. I'm discovering that I love plants.


19. I got married at the age of 22.

20. I am 5' 2".

21. I have very thin hair and not much of it.

22. But I am proud of every grey one on my head.

23. I hate conflict.

24. I am not a Shopper.

25. I like to sew.

26. I have less than 20 dresses in my closet.

27. I am married to a man who loves to surprise people. (One day when we were shopping, I drooled over this cute cart. He bought it and snuck it in here Sunday after I thought they had given me my birthday gift. I was happy to make his day with my cluelessness.)


28. As a rule, I prefer working alone.

29. I wear a size 6 1/2 - 7 shoe.

30. And I have less than 10 pairs of them.

31. I don't like to drive

32. I am directionally challenged.

33. But I'm learning to go places with my GPS! (Friday me and my GPS went shopping in Holmes County while Chris and the two oldest had a quiz meet. Although I left all the goodies there, wandering around in this place was good for my soul.)



34. I hate making phone calls.

35. I lived in the same house from birth until marriage.

36. My sweaters/jackets are nearly all grey or white.

37. None of my grandparents are living.

38. I enjoy music.

39. Next year I will turn 40!

And now you know all about me ☺
How many things do we have in common?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January Q & A: Guest Post

Linda and I go way back to the awkward days of early teens. We giggled together at sleep-overs (never mind shaking the front bench with our silent laughter during church) and confided in each other through the pimples and the growing pains of youth group years. We went to Bible school together and whispered our crushes and our struggles into each other's ears. We came from two very different worlds and sometimes the gap between us loomed too large to span; other times the common ground between us drew us closer than the younger sister I always wanted.

In time, we grew up, married and parted ways. Linda and I haven't seen each other for years but she is still that friend I shoot off a message to when I know no one else will understand or I desperately need someone to shoot straight with me. Without fail, she is never shocked by my messes and always tells me how to "straighten up and fly right" in the wisest way possible.

It is no surprise that I turned to her for help this month with question #10. When she answered my plea for insight with -  "I don't know that anyone did anything to help *blend* cultures. That was one of the very hard things. There was no honor given to the culture I had been raised in; everything "English" was bad, or at least needed to be examined carefully. Everything Mennonite had an air of sanctity and questioning the religion/culture line was rebellious. 
Now having said that, I have seen a *big* shift in those attitudes in our generation. There's a part of me that thinks if those in authority back then would have had this new openness, we might have stuck it out longer." I said, "Aha! Would you consider guest posting for me??"

And bless her, she did.

                  ---------------------------------
If you were plucked up out of your comfortable home and community, and plopped down on the other side of the world, what would you expect? Assume the people there are believers, so you're not there as a missionary. You're just there to live. Are you going to try to change the culture to suit yourself? Are you going to try to completely change yourself to adapt to the native culture? Or do you hope to learn as you go, and find joy, acceptance, and peace?

Cultural differences can be a fascinating exploration, but it's a bit of a mine-field, too. It's so easy  to  blunder into hurtful territory, and so hard to repair the damage you might not even know you caused. The Lord has put me in a front-row seat for observing a lot of microcultures within the American macroculture. For example...

I grew up homeschooled (1). My early religious exposures were Baptist (2), then switched to Mennonite (3). Early in my childhood we lived in a mid-sized town (4), then we moved waaayyyy out in the country (5). I married a man who, like me, grew up "worldly", then joined the Mennonite church as an adult; his family has never been religious (6.5). We moved to his home state (7), halfway across the country from mine, and joined a non-denominational church with anabaptist roots (8). We didn't stay long there, and church shopped for an exhausting year before the Lord sent us our home fellowship (9). If I thought we had been cultuarally diverse before, well, our home fellowship makes it look like a walk in the park!! 

But let me back-track a little, to trying to fit in with Mennonites specifically. Please understand, this is from my personal experience. Each person, each situation, each congregation, is unique and will have its own issues, it's own highs and lows. These are things that stand out in my memory as specific issues as a young woman trying to fit in with Beachy Amish Mennonites.

The main issue: The mixture of doctrine and culture is bewildering, and often frustrating, to someone from the outside. 

I understand that the Bible has specific language about modesty, but... cape dresses?? Where is it found that we should wear solid colors? And black pantyhose is completely counter-intuitive to modesty, but whatever, I don't want the old ladies to chew me out, so just scour the shelves for the last pair of Off Black. Nevermind that I can see the Bishop's daughter's underwear right through her "modest" cape dress (don't you know she's the example to be held up to!). 

It would have helped if someone had been willing to acknowledge the difference between Biblical principals (modesty, headcovering) and cultural application (cape dresses, pleated net coverings with strings). It would have helped to feel accepted and valued while I learned the principles, before expecting me to adopt the culture. I am forever grateful to the few who patiently answered questions, pointed me to scripture, and were willing to admit when things didn't make sense-- especially when the majority were hearing the same questions and condemning me as rebellious.

There are doctirines that are applied in unique ways, for example, the holy kiss. A friend took her pre-teen son to visit a Mennonite church for the first time. He rushed up to her after the service, eyes bugging out of his head. "Mom, we have to leave right now!!!"
"What's wrong?"
"The men are KISSING EACH OTHER!!"
--It's a hilarious story, but just imagine that poor kid's panic. It helps to anticipate ways that you are different, and offer gentle explanations. Your minor discomfort may prevent another person's trauma.

There are parts of the culture that I value highly to this day. The emphasis on home and family, the sanctity of marriage, the church as a family, not just where I land on Sunday. We did life together. We sewed and cooked, tended babies and gardens, exchanged patterns, seeds, recipes, hand-me-downs, and lots of laughter and love. My church family was far closer to my heart than my blood relatives. But I still struggled to fit in.

Smaller issue: Everybody is related to somebody... except me.

The conversations with new people go like this:
Hi, my name is Linda Fletcher. (holds breath)
Fletcher?! Where are you from? (looks confused)
Arkansas (sigh)
Who are your Parents?
Carl and Debbie... (wait!)
Now, what was your mother's maiden name? (begins to look determined)
Martin, but-- (oh, boy, here we go!)
Oh, Martin!! Where was she from?
Kansas, but really---
What are your grandparents names? (looks really, really determined)
Ezra and Edna, buttheywerentMennoniteorAmish. YoudontknowmeIpromise. (Ugh!)

^^^^^ please. stop. doing. this.^^^^^
I was already an oddball, borderline pariah. There was no need to rub it in. When you meet someone new, meet the person, not their genealogy. 

Another small (not-so-small) issue: My culture is valuable, too.

It hurts, deeply, to be expected to leave everything behind. There are things that need to be left behind, but not everything, and not all at once. Be gentle. Be willing to let the Lord do the convicting. You don't have to be suspicious of everything in my past just because it's not familiar to you. Yeah, I don't need to teach your kids to sing Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, but I can still sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

One last scandalous act, as we were leaving the Mennonite church after out marriage, was to exchange wedding rings. Why? Because my grandmother believed with all her heart that you weren't really married if you didn't exchange rings. We did it to protect her heart, to refrain from offending someone with a weaker faith. The gossip and backlash from out church families was astounding. A reception at my husband's home church was summarily cancelled. A man my husband looked up to as a father (who wasn't at the wedding, but knew about out rings in less than a week) yelled at him over the phone; he was crushed. That heart connection was completely broken. The rings have stayed.

Since then, we've become part of a fellowship of believers that is unique in it's ability to embrace differences. We come from a lot of different places, both geographically and experientially. There are families who actually practiced idol worship before they came to Christ. There is a sister who was set free from addiction and human trafficking when she met the Lord. There are those who were raised Catholic, or in a cult, or just abandoned by society altogether. 

What unites us? The Life of Jesus in our hearts. 

A few years ago I had a conversation with an older Chinese sister in our church, in which I expressed frustration with a lack of what I thought was "like-mindedness." I had deep concerns about the differences in practice between our family (lots of kids, homeschooling, wearing skirts/dresses) and a lot of the other families around the same age (more typically American). Her words resonated deep with my years of struggling to fit in with Mennonites, and completely changed my outlook for my family today. In a way, it really set me free.

"Every Christian, every true Believer, has the Life of Christ in their heart. We all share this same Life. We also have, individually, the Light that God is giving us for the path He sets us on. You do not have the same Light as I do, because we are not on the same path. The Lord may illumine the same scripture to you in a completely different way than He does to me. The scripture does not change, but our understanding may. If we try to fellowship around the Light that we have, we will quickly become frustrated. We are in totally different places. We don't match at all. How can we then walk together? We walk together in His Life. We rejoice together because He lives in us! We encourage each other to listen to the Lord, to press in and really hear Him, and then walk in that Light. That is how we can be so different, and yet still the same."

What it all boils down to, really, is our hearts. Love God, and love people. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Ask gentle, sincere, and respectful questions. Really listen to each other.

Praise God, He has not made us to be cookie-cutter Christians! The same God who created our varied and fascinating world lives in us!!

            ----------------------------------------
Thank you, thank you, Linda. God bless you so much for sharing. You are a gem.

January Q & A: #10 Blending Cultures

Question #10:

"Lately I've been noticing how unique each culture is... I'd love to hear you explore how to blend cultures, how to honor the good in each culture, how to even intentionally change what needs to be changed in our own culture."

My initial response to this question was, "Wow. That is a mighty big question I'm not sure anyone has an answer for; what does this lady think I am??" ☺

It is a good question, though. A question that has the potential to change the world. But is there a world-changing answer? Is blending cultures possible?

Again, because I am a Mennonite and know that the question came from an Anabaptist origin, I am viewing it from that perspective. Anyone who has any experience with Anabaptists of any stripe knows that we are our own distinct culture. What may look initially like some simple differences in beliefs quickly becomes an intricate complexity of cultural differences for anyone choosing to join from 'the outside'.

It is easy for those within a culture to expect those entering to make all the adjustments - "They want to join us, they can adjust accordingly." It is just as easy for those entering to expect those within the culture to extend all the grace and patience - "They wanted to win us, they should be willing to be understanding." It is a process that is complicated, easily hurtful and just plain hard.

My family has had the unique experience of welcoming a step-mother into our family. We love Sara. She is a sweet lady; kind, caring, humorous, understanding. She makes our father very happy which, in turn, makes us happy. But she's not our mom. She doesn't know our inside jokes, our childhood stories, our history, the things that make us tick. We have no history of shared experiences to give us that rich, comfortable relationship you automatically associate with children and parents. We are beginning to build experiences, yes. But it is impossible to manufacture them.

I think it is somewhat the same with blending cultures. Are there things those within the different cultures can do to help with the process? Certainly! Are there things to avoid that are hurtful? Absolutely. Is there a formula to follow to manufacture blending? Not really.

I distinctly remember an experience I had several years after moving to Ohio. At that time there was a couple from the community coming to our church and the lady and I had struck up a bit of a friendship. She struggled very much with the blending of cultures and I struggled very much with wondering how I could be helpful.

One Sunday it was announced that there was a project for the choir to participate in, anyone was welcome to help. I don't remember the specific project the choir was asked to do, I'm thinking record a few songs. Well, I had helped with a Christmas program or two by that time, so I showed up for the scheduled evening of practice. Now, I am a shy, quiet individual. Walking into something like that is extremely hard for me but I took myself in hand and walked in.

Unknown to me this was a meeting of members from back in the glory days of The Antrim Mennonite Choir. I immediately felt as out of place as... I don't know... a Mennonite in a bar room? These people had years of stories and laughter and experiences they shared. They knew each other almost like family members. They had gone places together, learned songs together, traveled together; they practically had their own special language. If there was any way I could have become invisible and quietly disappeared from that meeting, you can bet I would have.

On the way home, as I was vowing that I would never do that again, it suddenly hit me. This is how my friend feels with us Mennonites, only magnified about 99.9%. For me, it was just one little meeting; I could share many other experiences with those same people and not deal with those feelings. How hard would it be to deal with that feeling every time you came to church, every time you visited someone's home, every time you shared a conversation? Wow. Talk about perspective. Just realizing how difficult it is to be so different helps tremendously with being sensitive and welcoming and kind.

On the other hand, I also realized this: What made me feel so out of place at that meeting? Was it the people there? Not really. If I was honest, I had to admit they had been very welcoming; friendly; inclusive. I was certain any one of them would have told me I was more than welcome to be there. If I was even more honest, most of the problem that evening was really me. Had I been ok with acknowledging my different-ness and the fact that no amount of kindness and acceptance and inclusion from the people there could change that in the moment, maybe the evening would have been different.

I guess I am saying all of this to say -- there are many sides to this issue. It is easiest to point out the other side's faults, to know how they should change or why that shouldn't have felt hurtful to them. I think one of the most helpful things we can do for each other is listen well. If they said that felt hurtful, it did. If they said they didn't mean it that way at all, they didn't. If they said that's why they did it, it is. It's called Grace.

I've asked a dear friend of mine who has walked many miles in the shoes of blending cultures if she would share some things from her journey with us here. I will be back with her story tomorrow.

Monday, January 29, 2018

January Q & A: #8-9 Activities for Boys & Staying Warm In A Dress

Question #8:

After my post about activities for children, specifically girls, someone wondered -- what about ideas for boys? Especially in the 4 - 13 year range.

For some reason I drew a blank on ideas for boys. Maybe part of that is because for 11 years I only had one boy, I'm not sure. Anyway, I had asked for input on this question and one mom suggested -- "Teach them to cook. It's wonderful for mom and survival skills for them!" My first thought was that the mom might have to survive the teaching phase first ☺ I agree though, it's a great idea. My husband is a first rate cook and I love it!

And then I got this perfectly lovely email from a mother who clearly knows all about boys and how to speak their language. Here are her ideas:

What do you do to keep boys in the ages of 4-13 busy?

Well, short of buying a farm or investing in a bounce-house, I am not always sure myself...

We live in town, homeschool, and have one girl (age 10) and  three boys (ages 7, 5 and 1) so keeping the children gainfully employed is something I frequently wrack my brain over!!!

With trial and error here are some of my favorites:

1) Legos (and lots of them!) 
They can be pricey, but put it down on every birthday and christmas wish list and you will not regret it! Yes, they get everywhere, and yes, the directions fall to pieces, but put a sheet on the floor to contain the mess and make clean-up a breeze, and let the imagination & play begin!

2) Space to run indoors-
I am beginning to accept the fact that boys have lots of energy (unlike their mama!) and need outlets for it, so if it’s at all possible, have a space where they can throw a rubber ball and get pretty active indoors in the winter. We have an unfinished basement which isn’t all that great to look at, but with the floor cleared of debris, some green masking tape to mark off a “two-square” game board, and a dartboard on the wall, it makes a pretty suitable playground. 

3) Dot- to- dot books- 
My seven year old has spent hours in his dot to dot books! Our favorites are the Extreme Dot-to-Dot series, and they have a variety of themes and skill levels to pick from, so there is something for everyone! Not only is it fun to see what the picture turns out to be, but it also provides some counting/concentration practice!

4) Puzzles- 
This is definitely a winter activity in our family, but I like having a puzzle in the works during the cold months when we spend so much time indoors. I have found that the children sit and fix better and longer if I sit down and fix with them, so it can be a really good family activity. We have done several 1,000 piece puzzles, but I find that if a puzzle takes too long or is too difficult, it just sits there, so it’s best to find one that fits the level of your children, and 500 piece are good for us right now. One of our favorite things to do while fixing is my next activity idea…

5) Listening to audiobooks-
My children love listening to stories on tape/CD, and now we often borrow audiobooks online through our library’s website and play them off the computer or a cellphone. We even bought a nice collection through Audible (online) and find that it has been well worth our investment, although borrowing through the library is obviously still the most economical route! Some of the boy's favorites are: The Henry Huggins collection (by Beverly Cleary), The Boxcar Children, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many others. The Laura Ingalls Wilder series is a timeless classic, too, and the narrator, Cherry Jones, does a wonderful job! Just tonight we were listening to Farmer Boy while we started a new puzzle, and that helped another winter evening pass pleasantly by!

6)Boredom Buster jars-
This idea is not original with me, and it is not one I have used much yet, but I recently made my own with a list of chores- and a few fun things thrown in for good measure- on an afternoon when I was desperate to end my seven-year-olds boredom!!! I told him he had to pull random slips out of the jar until a certain time and it actually worked pretty well! I got some windows washed and the cupboards wiped off, and he learned (for the moment) not to use the “bored” word quite so freely!!! 

7)Tools and old computers-
Maybe not everyone has spare computer parts sitting in their basement, nor do they want their son applying his hammer and screwdriver to the aforementioned spare computer parts, but sometimes this is just the ticket for a good boy’s activity: and they might even learn a thing or two about how something works during the destroying process!!!

8) Let them hone their interests-
My oldest son likes helping in the kitchen about as much- maybe more than- his older sister, so a good way to keep him gainfully employed at times is to have him help with peeling carrots, dicing potatoes, mixing a cake, or putting toppings on the pizza. And while I’ve never tried this, I have friends who allow their sons to do projects on the sewing machine (possibly an old one, so yours isn’t ruined for life?) and I think it’s good to keep in mind that many of the things we think of as girls or women’s work/hobbies are very well suited to boys as well! 

9) Books, books, books! 
I am a bookworm myself and have worked pretty hard to raise children who are, as well, but we love books! We go to the library a minimum of once-a-week, and go through tons of books thanks to this wonderful resource! The children usually pick books they enjoy or are interested in, but I also scour the shelves for books I think they might enjoy. My seven year old enjoys geography, for instance, so it might be books about the U.S. or some other country for him, and once it’s home, he’ll often read it, even if it’s not one he would have found or chosen himself. I also like to bring home a variety of picture books, and they can be anything from humorous, to educational, to autobiographical, and there again, I often find that they enjoy more variety than they would naturally pick themselves, so don’t be afraid to choose for them! I think a love of books is contagious.

10) The Library-
Speaking of books, I thought I should reiterate that while the library is a wonderful place to wile away a few hours on a cold, dreary day, they are also a good resource for other things as well! Our local library offers story time, Lego club (see activity #1), American Girl Club (for which you do not need an American Girl doll in order to attend!) and even a STEAM Saturday, among other classes, and if you’re comfortable with these things, and don’t mind a few evenings- or the occasional Saturday- out, they can be a wonderful opportunity for the children to learn new things and interact with new people. 

Thank you, thank you Joanna Hendricks!! I loved your ideas and the humor with which you shared them.

Something my oldest son enjoys doing is setting up dominoes in fantastic ways. He's had many, many fails but it can occupy a lot of time! Here is a poor quality video of a pretty cool attempt that actually worked. He also loves attempting magic tricks.

         --------------------------------------------

Question #9:

"How do you stay warm wearing dresses in the winter? Do you have practical advice for what kind of layering garments, how to not look sloppy, etc?"

Several of you responded to this question. It seems we all agree on this one; the answer to staying warm wearing a dress is -- Leggings. When I was young, the answer was tights. I always hated them. I can handle leggings, although I am picky about how they fit and feel; tights, not so much. Leggings fit nicely under a dress without bunches and bulges. You can get different lengths and with a long skirt or paired with a warm pair of boots, no one even needs to know you're wearing them.

When we lived in our small house, which was very chilly around the edges in the winter time, I lived in a turtleneck and leggings under my dress and socks and slippers on my feet. Some of my daughters like a long sleeved tee-shirt under their dresses; some prefer layers on top -- a sweater/jacket under their coat.

          --------------------------------------------
Bonus Question:

Does anyone have creative ideas for storing the Sunday School papers some churches pass out every Sunday (Partners, Story Mates, Companions)? If so, please share in the comments!