Thursday, March 31, 2011


I am not one for making New Year's resolutions. Actually, I must confess that I'm not much for setting goals of any kind, besides our schedule of coursework for the school year. "For lack of vision, the people perish." Yes, I've read the quotes about how if we aim for nothing in particular, that's probably what we'll end up with.

Before moving back to Obion County, however, I did a sort of mid-life assessment and actually thought of a list of goals I would like to accomplish - not by any particular date, just somewhere in the near future.

I wanted to teach a women's Bible study. For years, I had sat at the table and feasted on the rich fare lovingly prepared by others. Then, I realized that over time I had somehow become an "older woman" - and that having benefited so much from the labors of others, I should endeavor to serve others in return.

I wanted to write a book. Something more than a short story, from start to finish.

And, there was one other thing I had on my list - three is such a nice number - but I can't even remember what that third thing was. Maybe it will come to me some day!

Anyway, after almost six years in Obion County, I have indeed had the opportunity to lead a women's Bible study. And not just one study - I've been blessed to lead/"facilitate" three different studies. Hard work? Yes. But the rewards, to myself and others, far outweighed the sacrifice of time, study, and emotional energy. And, I've had opportunity to teach children's classes and to teach at summer camp. What a blessing!

And, yes, I have actually finished a book. Albeit a very bad book, but that's not the point. I've heard that each book must be written a minimum of three times. Well, my first story has been coughed out onto paper and now resides in a filing cabinet under the computer table. Maybe someday I'll get around to the first rewrite, and the second, ....

I can't recall that third goal from 5+ years ago, but I was asked recently what things I would like to see happen in my life over the next five years. Hmmmmm.... My answer? Well, five years from now, I would like to be writing more. I would like to be more involved in ministry to the body of Christ and in outreach to the lost. In five years, I would like to be able to say with certainty that I know how to dance, from the inside out. I would like to be able to fire a handgun with confidence. I want to learn how to charm bees.

In five years, all but one of my children will be graduated from high school - I would like to be having a whole lot of fun with the last child still at home, before she, too, leaves the nest. And, I would like to be learning the new role of grandmother.

What about you? Where do you see yourself five years from now? What things would you like to do between now and then?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Last weekend, I was blessed to attend a women's retreat at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church. This was a wonderful, fast-paced time of fellowship and study with my sisters from Grace and ladies from other churches in our presbytery. While waiting for one of our sessions to begin, I enjoyed studying the beautiful stained glass window above the pulpit area at the front of the sanctuary. The colors and the detail were gorgeous, a song of worship set in glass, illuminated even on a gray day by the light of the cloud-shrouded sun.

On the sleepy drive back to Obion County Saturday afternoon, I considered that my life - our lives as believers - are not unlike that stained glass window. Bits and pieces of color and light, carefully fitted together into a God-glorifying work of art.

I had recently been thinking about how life is full of unexpected, unimaginable joys and disappointments. Thirty years ago, I could have in no way predicted the path my life would take. As a young high-school graduate, my course was set: I was going to college, first for an undergraduate degree and then for a degree in veterinary medicine. I was going to establish a practice as a vet, specializing in large animal care. At some point, I would marry, and then maybe have two or three kids. La, la, la, la....

Anyone who knows me knows that none of the above actually happened. My life took a very different course. Along that new path - the one I hadn't planned for - God brought me incredible blessings and joys that I could not have even imagined for myself.

He also brought - and brought me through - tremendous heartache. It's as if, on a handful of occasions, He completely shattered my heart. Allowed it to be splintered into a thousand pieces. But, those heartbreaks are being redeemed. I was thinking Saturday, that it's like He's slowly taking the broken pieces and fitting them together into a living portrait of His grace, something even more glorious than that brilliant window in the sanctuary at Riveroaks.

Back home, I thought it would be interesting to do a little research on how stained glass windows are made. And this is where it really gets good...

The glass used in these magnificent windows is not made of bits and pieces of "accidents," broken chips swept up to be recycled. No, the glass is created specifically for each window. First, an artist designs the window. Then, glass blowers painstakingly create the varieties of glass needed, in exactly the colors and weights specified by the artist. The window-maker carefully cuts each piece of glass according to his pattern, and then grinds it to fit precisely into his design. When each piece - created, shaped, and fitted together with incredible care and precision, from beginning to end - is finally in place, the window maker "sets" the glass so that it is strong and structurally sound. Not only are these windows beautiful, they are extremely heavy - but, by the wisdom of their creator, they are designed to support tremendous weight.

God is not about the business of having accidents and then scrambling to clean them up into something that looks intentional. It's not as if He goes, Oooops! I made a mistake. I'm so sorry you're disappointed. - or - I'm so sorry your heart is broken. I didn't mean for that to happen. I will try to find a way to make it better somehow. No, God is not in the business of gluing together broken pieces of the ball He dropped, the fragile pieces of my heart.

Because God never drops the ball.

Rather, God has a plan and a design from the very beginning, from before the foundation of the earth. And every single thing that comes into my life - from the joy of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7! children, to the grief of shattered relationships - every single thing is a carefully planned and orchestrated part of His design and purpose to create in me a work of art that displays His glory and beauty to the world around me.

The fire of the glass oven is not an inconvenient consequence of the art of stained glass - it's the deliberate, carefully heated, closely monitored birthplace of something glorious.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I was asked last week during an interview what was one thing I would like to change about myself. That's a doozy of a question! I can think of several things I'd like to change. Some serious: I want to know God and practice His presence more. Some, not-a-big-deal - I want to stop burning the toast. But, sitting there under the gun and having to shoot from the hip, I answered...

I wish that I were better at communicating, at expressing how I feel in such a way that it connects with others. My emotions tend to be deep and quiet, slow to find expression. As my daughter put it, I'm "heavy" - kinda like a black hole. I do not regret that I feel deeply, but I do wish that my feelings worked themselves out into effectual communication with the people around me.

Just as an example: When giving birth to child #4, I opted not to have an epidural. Needles of any kind scare me - the pain of childbirth was preferable to the knowledge that some dude was snaking a long plastic "needle" into my back. Blech!

Anyway, as I moved into transition...for the uninformed, that's the period of labor right before the baby is born, when contractions are hard, fast, and serious - in the overly-sensational movie scenes, it's when the woman starts screaming and swearing and swinging at anybody nearby....

Anyway, as I moved into transition, concentrating on breathing and staying on top of the pain, I commented to Dr. Settles and the attending nurse, "This is really uncomfortable!" I wasn't screaming or cursing, just matter-of-fact-ly stating reality. The nurse absolutely howled with laughter: "Well, I think that's the first time I've ever heard it put that way!"

What about you? What's one thing - serious or silly - that you'd like to change about yourself?

Monday, March 28, 2011


I am the Heavy out our house. I guess because I'm the Mom, because I'm with the kids all day, and because we home-school, I'm the parent who says, "Finish reading your literature assignment." "Your chore is washing the dishes tonight." "You've been on the computer too long." "Just because it's raining doesn't mean you can spend the entire afternoon on the PlayStation." "The speed limit here is 55!" "Your attitude toward your sister this afternoon is entirely too critical and mean-spirited." "Where will you be going and when will you be back?"

Life isn't all Mom riding herd on the younglings. We do have some very pleasant, enjoyable times together. I think my kids are the most amazing, fascinating people I know. I love being in their company, learning about their music, meeting their friends, hearing their dreams and interests. But, if there's a need for correction, for some input that's less-than-delightful, nine times out of ten that will be coming from me.

I've long been aware of the blessing/burden of being the Heavy, and I have to admit there have been times when I've wished I could be the Fun Parent. When I started keeping baby Maryanna last fall, one of my motivations was that I wanted to have a little bit of income to set aside particularly for doing fun things with or for my kids. An occasional movie at the theater. A spontaneous trip to McDonald's for lunch. It hasn't exactly worked out that way, though - piano lessons have been fun for the girls, but mostly the money has gone for gas for the car, shoes for the shoeless, etc. Seems like as much as I want to be fun, my nature just refuses to join in the dance.

Being the Heavy - and wishing I weren't - slapped me upside the head again last night. We have a family movie night each week, usually on Saturday. Yesterday, with the weather cold and gray and no evening services at church, Steve thought it would be a nice diversion to have an extra movie night. He and one of the kids headed to the video store and picked up the three Mission Impossible releases. We settled into our seats with our popcorn and watched the first movie. Then, someone suggested we put in the second DVD, just to find out what Ethan Hunt's next assignment would be.

Well, once we had the next story introduced, you can guess what happened. The kids wanted to go ahead and watch the rest of the story. Mom, on the other hand, thought that everyone should be calling it a night and heading to bed. I wasn't up to an all-night movie marathon, and I didn't think my students should be either. After a round of protest, I thought, You know, this is just me being the Heavy again. I need to lighten up. "Well, alright, you guys go ahead and watch the movie, but I'm heading to bed." Of course by then, with my having registered my initial objection to any further movie watching, the rest of the family didn't feel like they could indulge in another movie and they turned the TV off. Bummer. My effort at loosening up and letting things go a little backfired. Instead of ending the evening on a light-hearted note, the kids were down-in-the-mouth about having to curtail their movie watching, and I was feeling gray for having put an ineradicable cloud over another fun family event. Blegh!

So here it is Monday morning. Time for Mom to rouse the sleepyheads out for another day of schoolwork and chores. But I am tired of being the Heavy. Somehow, in the midst of the very real demands of this job of motherhood, I need to find a way to lighten up.

Any suggestions?

Friday, March 25, 2011


God is Sovereign.

For I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. - Psalm 135:5-6

God is Good.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. - Psalm 86:5

God loves me very much!

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. - 1 John 3:1a

God is absolutely sovereign, completely good, and perfectly loving. And, He's my Father: I belong to Him!

Got that? Good. Today is going to be a great day!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Wednesday was a good day. No off-site classes or errands to run out in town. No sweet baby to tend - Mommy is on spring break this week. No looming projects to complete. Just home and school. Amazing what we can accomplish in a day when we JUST STAY HOME. We finished schoolwork early enough that I even had time for a visit with Grammy before I had to start supper. With a month of such days, we could easily be finished with this year's school work by the end of April. Sigh. Wishful thinking!

Today will be different. Class at UTM and an appointment in Union City this morning, piano lessons this afternoon, a little grocery shopping tucked in there somewhere, Zumba and coffee date tonight. Preparations for this weekend's women's retreat - woohoo! And, since I'll be out of pocket Friday and Saturday, preparations for leaving the house on auto-pilot while I'm gone. Doesn't look like we'll make quite as much progress in the math and science books today as yesterday. Well, there's always next week...

Which leads me to a totally unrelated topic. Last night, Helen was STARVING, but couldn't find a satisfactory bed-time snack. Actually, as I pointed out, she was not starving...she was hungry. To be more specific, Helen is growing. Like a rocket. Already left "big sister" behind on the growth charts. Anyway, back to bedtime snacks. We have some Go-To late night snacks at our house, including, but not limited to.....

Toast - cinnamon toast, toast with jam, plain buttered toast, peanut-butter toast
Cereal - personally, I prefer Cheerios with bananas, or Raisin Bran
Ice Cream - not my favorite, but the kids easily go through a gallon a week
Cheese - cheese and apples, cheese and crackers, just plain cheese
Marshmallows - only in winter, when there's a fire in the fireplace!

What about your family? What are some of your favorite bedtime snacks? We could use a few new ideas at our house!

Monday, March 21, 2011


Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. - Psalm 51:6

David's prayer of repentance when the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba - Psalm 51 - has served as a model prayer of repentance for Christians for centuries. As a child, I remember a particularly beautiful song we used to sing in church based on this Psalm. It has long been one of my favorites.

Reading through David's prayer this week, I felt like light bulbs were going off again. You delight in truth in the inward being...

The women at Grace are beginning a study of 1 John. At our first meeting, we looked at how sin hinders our fellowship with God. We talked about our excuses for sin, our wrong ways of dealing with sin, our tendency to downplay or make light of our sin. Basically, we just don't want to be honest about the fact that we are sinful, and that our sin is truly an offense to God. I guess it was Saturday morning's discussion that made Psalm 51:6 pop out at me during my latest read-through.

You delight in truth in the inward being... Why the sudden discussion of truth, right in the middle of a prayer of repentance? Truth about what? Truth - about my sin. About how I love my sin. About how I want to please myself more than my God. About my inability to truly repent - or to even desire to repent - apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.

Seems lately I've been learning that one of the sinister deceptions of Satan is his selling us the lie that if we downplay our sin instead of honestly confessing it, if we just ignore the white elephant in the corner and work harder to do better, then we will be able to conquer sin, please God, and free ourselves of the burden of our guilt.

Oddly, this verse in Psalm 51 seems to be saying that God desires just the opposite. He doesn't want me to come to Him telling Him my excuses, or how my sin is at least not as bad as Joe's, or how I'm going to clean up my act and make everything better. He wants me to tell Him the truth.

God, of course, already knows the truth, all the ugly details of my sin. But God wants me to know and own the truth - the truth that my sin is not about my circumstances, or my family history, or my not knowing better. My sin comes from my heart, from my inward being; it's what I want. It's here, in my heart, that I so desperately need to be honest about my sin - with myself, and with my Creator.

I am praying for God to open my eyes to the reality of my sin, for me to be able to see it as truly vile. I am praying, too, for the courage to call a snake a snake...for the courage to tell the truth, even in my inward being. I am praying that God will set me free from the sin of lying to myself...and to Him.

"If we confess our sins," - if we tell the truth - "he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Reading in Deuteronomy this month, I feel like light bulbs keep going off. Yeah, I read all this stuff last year, so it shouldn't be anything new, right? Wrong. Every time I read this Book, something else jumps out at me - maybe that's why it's called the living Word of God. Funny, too, how - whether I've read ahead for a couple of days or I'm "behind" in my daily reading schedule - I find myself exactly where I need to be, reading words that speak with surgical precision to the struggles of the day at hand.

This week, I find Moses exhorting the children of Israel as they prepare to move into to the Promised Land. A recap of their recent history, military instructions, property details, reminders of who they are and of Whom they serve - a broad, deep, fascinating book. On the brink of receiving all the goodness that God has promised, the people are reminded: "The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might..." Then, they are told to go in....and destroy.

I have to be honest - When Scripture talks of cities being devoted to complete destruction, it kind of turns my stomach. Kill all of the men, women, and children. Do not take their sons and daughters to be married to your own children. Kill the livestock. Completely roll over and obliterate their cultural and religious customs. Don't even spare their religious artifacts: "...break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images." People, this is no "politically correct" God we serve!

I've often wondered, How would I feel if I were an Israelite fighting man on the front lines, marching into Canaan? I just don't know if I'd have the stomach for the grisly task God had assigned me. What if I were in the company of women coming in behind? How would I handle being part of the clean-up crew, faced with so much carnage and destruction? Folks, these people were called to do some very nasty business. And it wasn't nasty business that would be executed suddenly, all at once: grit you teeth, do your job, and then deal with it. BAM!, like some kind of natural catastrophe - no time to really think about what's happening until the storm has passed. No, God said He would clear away the Canaanite people "...little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you." (Deut. 7:22)

Another thing that I love about the Word of God - besides the fact that it really is living, new every time I read it - is that it doesn't paint a fairy cream-puff picture of life. It is honest, often gruesomely honest, "piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, or joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Even piercing to the secret places of my own cowardly, timid, squeamish heart!

Although Scripture exposes things that make me uncomfortable, things that may even make me recoil, although it makes demands that cause me to quail, it also gives me tremendous comfort. I am comforted because the nasty business that I find before me in my own life is not something that has caught God by surprise. It's not a situation that He somehow overlooked or neglected to write about in His book.

As Christians, we are called from darkness to light. From death to life. From bondage in Egypt to liberty and abundance in the Promised Land. Like Israel camping on the banks of the Jordan, God reminds us: "You are mine. You belong to me. You are ultimately and completely secure in my hand." Then, He points us to Glory and tells us to get marching, reminding us that He will be with us and fighting for us every step of the way.

Fighting? Yes, fighting. God doesn't save us and then zap us straight to heaven. This Christian journey, with all that is good and sweet about it, isn't going to be a holiday in the park. No, a whole lot of this journey is nasty business. It's devoting to complete destruction those things which entice me away from loving God with all my heart and soul and strength. It's chopping down idols and smashing altars and burning to ashes the beautiful artifacts of my former paganism.

No, God hasn't called me today to put men, women, and children to the sword. For me, it's the false images I have of myself, who I think I should be, what I think I deserve in this life. It's covetousness and discontentment, a tendency to seek self-promotion and my own glory. It's hoarding grace for myself and sharing none with others. It's a thousand and one details of daily, humdrum life in my pre-Christ Canaan, habits and routines and taken-for-granted things that I haven't yet given a thought.

I should not be surprised at the struggles in this life. God has told me what to expect: these struggles will be messy, and it will take time...maybe a lot of time...before there is any sign of victory or pause to rest. God has already told me that He will not make an end of these battles all at once.

But, He has also promised that He is standing with me, fighting for me, and that none of them - none of the pagan kings or gods of sin and self and stuff and insecurity - none of them shall be able to stand.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


My Mom used to say that spring in NW Tennessee was that time of year when the weather alternated between summer/winter/summer/winter, until it finally decided to stick with summer. Last week, I was working out in the yard in shirt sleeves, loving the warm sunshine; today, I am freezing! Maybe the boys will get a fire started to knock the chill out of the house. Thankfully, our forecast calls for temperatures back up in the 60's by Saturday. (Of course, that's no guarantee that we won't be back in the 30's come next Monday!)

This slamming back-and-forth between summer and winter is messing with our heads. Literally. Everyone at my house is dealing with sinus congestion - partly allergies (the jewel weed is blooming) and partly from the flash weather/temperature changes. I don't like to be cold, but I wince when the heater turns on. A long sit in a mentholated steam room sounds like heaven right now!

On a more positive note, I LOVE walking around the yard each day and discovering new green things poking out of the ground. The day lilies and irises are pushing up long, green leaves. The daises and black-eyed-Susans are sprouting. The bare rose canes are swelling and stretching into life. The hydrangeas even have a few green shoots.

I am a woman who appreciates flowers and yard plants that take care of themselves, that come back year after year. You know, the kind that can't be killed. Sadly, my four o'clocks - a normally indestructible plant - did not survive last year. I believe it was a horse-induced fatality. Thankfully, Reuben has planted a new bed of them. These are particularly dear flowers because the seed for them came from Carol, a friend I won't get to see again this side of Glory. Each summer, the bright pink four o'clock blossoms give me a chance to feel like I'm back at Carol's, sitting on the porch sipping coffee. Makes the wait for Glory pass a little more sweetly. Every morning, I check for the first sign of four o'clocks pushing through the mud - nothing yet, but it's still a bit early.

My coneflower didn't make it either. Not that it wasn't a hardy, it succumbed to a human-induced death. Not naming any names, but one of my kids has strict instructions now to be more aware of the plant life around the house!

The plum tree is covered with blossoms, and the sweet-breath-of-spring, and the spice bush. Today, it's COLD outside...but warmer weather will soon be here to stay.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


"HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! GET ON!...." I bolted out the back door, arms flailing and feet pounding. I probably set some kind of speed record as I whipped around the corner of the garden shed. The adrenaline was pumping and I felt like I could've run forever. I stopped at the fence line at the edge of the hayfield, though - didn't seem much point in going further. "GET ON, YOU DOGS!"

Three dogs - one black lab, one lab-sized fluffy white dog, and one St. Bernard-ish behemoth - had just run through my back yard, headed for the chickens. Fortunately, I spotted them just as they reached the flock of hens, and my screaming rampage sent them running.

Folks, we live in the country. Out here, big dogs, running in packs (that's groups of 3 or more), are nothing but trouble. All three of these dogs had collars. They were probably just somebody's family pets. Affectionate, docile, harmless. Until they joined each other for a romp through the countryside. Unfortunately, no one had given them lessons in chicken etiquette. My guess is they haven't had lessons in cow etiquette, either. Their owners probably think these dogs wouldn't hurt a flea, much less a chicken or a newborn calf.

I have some sad experience with bad dogs of my own, but I don't have any problem with the country man's rule: if you see my dog in your cows (chickens/etc.), you have my permission to shoot him. Still, I'm a bit of a pushover, a bit soft around the edges. So today, my tactic was run and holler. But we have new baby chickens on the way, and no dogs of our own to guard them. I'll be keeping a sharp lookout now, and, with the boys' help, I'll be getting in a little target practice this weekend. Just in case.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Last Friday, 15-year-old Benjamin replaced the pump on my washing machine, thus ending a 2-and-a-half-week Red Alert at our house. THANK YOU, BENJAMIN!!!

This afternoon, I sat at the kitchen counter checking email. Sniff, sniff,... Smoke! I looked out the window - a plume of white wafted across the front yard. Well, where there's smoke, there's fire, right? A little concerned, I headed outside to locate the source of the smoke. Turns out, the two highschool boys had kindled a fire under the big black, cast-iron cauldron. They were boiling up a thick mash of walnut hulls so they could dye steel traps. With trapping season over and this winter's furs sold, Ben pulled all his traps last weekend. Today, he's getting them ready to be stored away in the trapping shed until next fall and the start of another season.

Leaving a batch of traps to simmer, the two firemen joined me for a walk next door to Grammy's where we visited and caught up on community news. As we sauntered home, Splash!, the 17-year-old jumped with both feet into an ankle-deep mud puddle. Suddenly, both boys were grabbing mud clods, laughing and pelting each other as they ran up the driveway and back to the bubbling, smoking cauldron.

Home again, I thought maybe I'd have just enough time to whip out a blog post before time to start dinner. I poured a cup of coffee, cranked up the computer,and twiddled my fingers on the keyboard, waiting for inspiration.

BAM!! I bolted out the door and ran to the end of the porch. "What was that?!" Well, the guys were taking advantage of the sunny afternoon to practice firing the black powder pistol while they waited for the traps to finish "cooking."

And now, smelling of smoke and splattered with mud, my two young men are stoking the grill, getting ready to cook deer steaks for tonight's dinner.

Sometimes in this great symphony of life, all the notes settle together into one deep, grand, soul-satisfying chord.....times just like today.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Every time it rains, when the clouds finally leave, I find they have painted the fields a more shocking shade of green.

It seems that every day, there is a new woolly, bright-eyed calf frisking about the pasture.

Night or day, it's never as quiet as it was in the frozen heart of winter. Birdsong, more today than yesterday, and there will be even more tomorrow. A swelling crescendo.

The pond is full for the first time in I-can't-remember-when, and the creek has remembered how to sing, a sing-song Spring song.

Tulip and June Bug forget their years and think for a moment they're as young as Little John. How can such big animals play so riotously, like such small children?!

The Sweet-breath-of-Spring is blooming, its honeysuckle perfume a clarion announcing that summer cannot delay forever! Martha planted a new rosebush this week. Today, Reuben hiked back on the farm and brought home some cuttings of spice bush, now adorning the table.

We're picking out peeps, ordering a new flock. This year's choice: Buff Orpingtons. Go ahead - say it..."Buff Orpingtons." Dare you to not smile! Just talking about Buff Orpingtons increases our anticipation of the arrival of these fuzzy bits of sunshine.

The honeybees have ventured out to say Hello.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Total mayhem reigns inside the submarine. Gauges going berserk, alarms sounding, sailors racing down narrow corridors, frantic to get into position. Commands shouted from the captain to tense, sweating crew members. Then the Big Red Light flashes. An ear-splitting buzz pulses in the narrow confines, warning of the imminent meltdown of the sub's nuclear reactor. Suddenly, nothing else matters - all the other crises are temporarily set aside so that the crew can focus on averting this new disaster. First things first - the reactor has to be stabilized.

The ship is perilously close to the reef, with the surging waves pushing it ever-closer to certain disaster. Forget about calming the cow in the cargo hold, or about peeling potatoes for Cook, or about mending sails. Right now, it's All Hands On Deck until the ship is safely past danger.

The airplane loses an engine. The prairie catches fire. However it's illustrated, it's just life. We're busy chinking our log cabins, breaking sod, stitching up calico dresses, scavenging buffalo chips for the fire - the days are full from sunup to sundown, and we can't imagine NOT scurrying from one of these tasks to the other. Then, we see the orange glow on the horizon and all of our normal busy-ness stops.

There are different degrees of Red Button issues in life. Chest pains - emergency room - hospital....without a second thought, school and chores are suspended until further notice. On the less stressful end of the spectrum, the car is in the shop today....well, we'll just reschedule piano lessons and make a run to the grocery store tomorrow.

At our house, I think the biggest "small" Code Red is the washing machine. We run probably 3 loads of laundry a day, and two or three times that on Saturdays when the college students are home. Clothing, bedding, towels, kitchen all adds up to a LOT of laundry when you have 9 people living under one roof! Miss one day of laundry, and we have six loads to chug through instead of three. Miss two days, and you just about can't walk into the laundry room. Miss a weekend or a snow day....chances of recovery look very slim indeed!

Which brings me to the reason behind today's post. Our Red Alert! has been screaming for just over two weeks. Tom and Ben, with Dad's oversight, did some finagling soon after meltdown, and, after cleaning out the pump, were hopeful that the washing machine was back in operation. Alas! Our hopes were dashed when the display once again flashed a malfunction code. A handyman friend came over last weekend to assess the situation and thinks he has identified the problem - now, we are waiting for a replacement part.

To me, this feels somewhat like I'm in a submarine that's about to experience a nuclear meltdown. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration....but right now, we have laundry baskets piled waist high in the downstairs bathroom (that's where I moved it so that Handyman could actually get to the machine), piled knee-deep in the laundry room (that's where we started putting it again after Handyman left), and dominating a corner of the upstairs bathroom. I haven't looked to see how much laundry is piled in the kids' rooms - don't even want to think about it.

In a moment of desperation, I actually loaded up a car full of baskets last Saturday and drove to the laundromat in Union City. I ran out of money at five loads. It costs $1.75 to run ONE load of laundry through a washer! If I ever find that I have money to invest, I'm going into the laundromat business. Anyway, I packed home my five clean loads, and my other unwashed laundry, and began running the wet things through the dryer. It was almost midnight before the last load came through, and I was pooped.

Today is Thursday. Let's say the needed part arrives by the end of the week. Then, let's hope Handyman can take some time to get over and install said part. Maybe, just maybe, we'll be back in the laundry business by Saturday. I can't even imagine how long it's going to take to dig through this mountain of dirty clothes, towels, and sheets.

So my Red Alert buzzer is still screaming and the laundry is still piling up....BUT, Hallelujah!, help is on the way. Next week, Lord willing, we'll be back to relatively smooth sailing and this will all be a bad memory.

What about you? What's the number one Code Red at your house?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


"How'd your test go?"

Heavy sigh. "Well, when the teacher handed out the test, I looked at it and thought, 'Am I in the right room?'"

Definitely not a good sign!

One of the reasons I like for my kids to take a couple of classes on campus while they are still completing their high school requirements at home is so that they can see how they will react to and process different aspects of a traditional classroom. Taking a math test at the kitchen table is a totally different ballgame from taking one in a college classroom!

For most of my kids, taking tests is rather like having a school holiday. "Test today? Awesome!" Not so for my high school junior...which makes his on-campus class this term so valuable. He's not learning math - he's learning to identify and deal with test anxiety in a classroom environment.

The first test didn't go so well. He said he looked at the first page and drew a total blank. Tick, tick, tick... Second page - mental blank. Flip. Flip. Flip. The last several pages were multiple choice: "Which graph illustrates the function f(x)=-----, reflected over the x-axis and shifted four units to the right." At this point, his brain kicked on and he worked easily through the remaining problems. Final score? Let's just say it was a bust.

"So, when you were sitting there looking at the first page of your test, was it like your mind completely blanked out? Like it was nothing but a white screen?"

"That's exactly what it was like!" He seemed relieved at the thought that maybe someone else had experienced the same thing. "It was like I had never seen one of those problems before in my life...I was just looking at weird scribbles on a page."

Funny thing is, when he got the test back (with its abysmal score), he sat down at the kitchen counter and worked through every one of the problems. "Hey, I know how to do this." He seemed surprised that the problems were really not difficult, amazed that they had looked so foreign and unintelligible on test day.

Test 2 is next week and we're already strategizing. First off, he's going to start at the back of the test, with the multiple choice problems. Then, once his brain has warmed up and relaxed a little, maybe Page 1 won't trigger such a freak out. He's doing LOTS of review problems in preparation - maybe manipulating third-degree equations and using synthetic division can become more of a reflex, with enough practice.

I know some of you are teachers and several of you are experienced test takers. Any suggestions for dealing with test anxiety? Any tips for avoiding a mental white out?