• Thursday, February 05th, 2015

Or, “How I spent half an hour last night.”

With all the wool that Willow works with (okay, unintentional alliteration there), I decided I wanted to know what needle felting was like.  It seemed like a Willow-y kind of project.  I ordered a couple of wool sweaters and decided to go for it.

Discovery one:  You can’t get the needles and blocks from our local Joann.  *cue sad music*

So… I went to and scouted kits.  I really liked these two:

Basic Kit
Fox Kit

Discovery two:  Murphy’s Law applies to crafts too.  Of course, it’s out of stock.

The good news, however, is that I really didn’t want to make a 3-D object first time around.

So, I hopped on over to Hobby Lobby to buy something else one day and while I was there, I bought a kit that you can actually get on Amazon too.  But hey.  It worked.  Life is good.  I also bought some flat wool felt to practice on.  I thought it made sense.  Why ruin my sweaters with practice?  Note:  the kit from Amazon shown in the picture has something I WANT (and will probably order if I still want to do this later–FINGER PROTECTORS!!!)

Now to do this little project, I decided I would be “Willow-y” and get a glimpse of how someone does it and “do my own thing.”  Learn as I go.  Try not to impale my fingers with barbed needles.  YOUCH!  *Spoiler alert*  I didn’t.  Yet.

So…  let me needle you a bit…


Needle Felting Kit
Roving  (These I bought for 1.50 each (pkg) from the Daiso store in SoCal.  Love those stores.
Big idea.  (Free)

Here goes…

Supplies.  Roving, felt, block, needles.  that's it.  Don't even need scissors!

Supplies. Roving, felt, block, needles. that’s it. Don’t even need scissors!

Those needles are SHARP

Those needles are SHARP

Unrolled felt.  It didn't want to stay flat, so I just rolled it the opposite way, smooshed, and voila!  (I'd almost say "wa-la" to annoy Ashley, but it makes my eyes bleed)

Unrolled felt. It didn’t want to stay flat, so I just rolled it the opposite way, smooshed, and voila! (I’d almost say “wa-la” to annoy Ashley, but it makes my eyes bleed)


Just tore a tiny piece off of it.  Just a smidginess.

Just tore a tiny piece off of it. Just a smidginess.

Then I started "twistin'"  (and yes, I was singing this song...  It was 2 a.m.... it worked!

Then I started “twistin'” (and yes, I was singing this song… It was 2 a.m…. it worked!

Goodness I have big hands in this pic! Anywho... that's how I got started.  Stuck that thing in there and then stuck it again--like 40 times or so.  Onto the next centimeter.

Goodness I have big hands in this pic! Anywho… that’s how I got started. Stuck that thing in there and then stuck it again–like 40 times or so. Onto the next centimeter.

It's coming along... I would choose something um...detailed for the background.

It’s coming along… I would choose something um…detailed for the background.

Splicing was easier than I expected.  Just flatten the piece you have a bit, flatten a new one, roll and pull a bit as you do.  Twist.  Done.  WOOT!

Splicing was easier than I expected. Just flatten the piece you have a bit, flatten a new one, roll and pull a bit as you do. Twist. Done. WOOT!

This is what it looks like on the back.  If this was thinner felt (it is THICK--like 2-3 thicknesses of what you get in cheap craft felt), I think the pattern might show up well on the back.

This is what it looks like on the back. If this was thinner felt (it is THICK–like 2-3 thicknesses of what you get in cheap craft felt), I think the pattern might show up well on the back.

close up with needle for effect.

close up with needle for effect.

That’s it.  That’s what I got done in 30 minutes of needle felting.  Stay tuned for part two!

• Tuesday, February 03rd, 2015

imageIt happened again. Another woman came up to Willow at church, bemoaning the fact that her husband isn’t appreciating their new “ambient lighting” (read: candles she bought from Willow last month) or that he has to plug in the satellite TV box half an hour before any game because she keeps it unplugged to “avoid the intrusion of the world on our home.”  He likes the sports part of the world, thank-you-very-much, and is sick of being made to feel like he’s sub-par for it.

Their counters are covered with tomato and pepper seedlings.  From the sounds of it, they’ll have enough plants to feed half of Fairbury.

We won’t even talk about how unimpressed said husband was over his newly darned socks.  I believe Willow said his words were, “When I hear ‘darned socks’ I hear it as the euphemism it should be.”  Apparently he doesn’t like the lumpiness around his heel.  Imagine that.

I expected Willow to tell the woman to learn to do what made her happy without infringing on the rest of her family’s preferences.  I’ve heard her say that before.  She suggested to one woman that just because the TV is in the house, doesn’t mean she has to turn it on.  She told the same woman that it wasn’t wasteful to make her own bread–even if she’s the only one who wants it. “Roman Meal” for hubby and kids and artisan style breads for her–there’s nothing wrong with both.  So, that’s where I was expecting her to go with the conversation.

She didn’t.

I’ll never forget her words.  “Denise, why do you want to cut out the electricity and grow a garden?  Why do you want to darn socks?”

It seemed like kind of an obvious answer to me, but I waited to see if Denise would say something else–something I hadn’t thought of.  She didn’t.  She said, “I love the peace and joy you have in your home.  I love the purposefulness of your life.  I want that for my life–for our family’s life.”

I sat back and waited for the words I’d told myself a thousand times.  Waited to hear, “Live your life with purpose.  Don’t try to dictate the purpose of others’ lives.”

Again, she didn’t say it.  This time, her shoulders squared a little.  I saw her lips tense and her eyes narrow, and I admit, I had to swallow twice to choke down the lump that formed in my throat.  Denise was going to get what Josh and I call a “Willow switching.”

In those very calm, scary cool tones she can get when struggling to control her temper, Willow shook her head and said, “Don’t do it, Denise.  Don’t try to copy my life or anyone else’s in an attempt to find the perfect formula for yours.  I do what I do because I love it!  I am not joy-filled and purposeful because I don’t use electricity for everyday life.  It’s the other way around.  I’m joy-filled and purposeful, and as a result, I don’t choose to use it.”  When Denise started to protest–when she insisted that copying Willow was the only way she knew how to try, Willow dropped the final bomb.

“You, my friend, are guilty of lifestyle idolization.  I want no part of it.  Go home.  Throw away your holey socks.  Plug in your conveniences.  Go shopping online.  Then pull out your Bible and search it for what the Lord wants for your life.  If it is growing vegetables and writing by candlelight in the evenings, then add carrots to your garden and make an appointment with your optometrist and then go for it.  But you may find that it’s designing digital scrapbook elements or writing a travel blog.  Maybe it’s just being a wife and mother. Maybe it’s starting your own company.  Whatever it is–make it yours.  Stop trying to be someone you’re not.”

Yeah.  I went home from church that day and had a long talk with Josh.  I definitely am guilty of “lifestyle idolization” sometimes.  And because of it, sometimes I overlook how much my husband gives up of his own comfort and preferences to please me.  That’s got to stop.


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• Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

491243931Becca’s nesting.  It started in the barn.  I went out to oversee the trade-out of goats and wow.  That barn has never been that clean–even when Mother got so mad at me for refusing to give up my afternoon at the fishing hole to help her build a loom I didn’t want in the first place. She brushed down every wall in an attempt not to let me have it for my selfishness. As an aside, can I just say I’d give anything to be able to forgo fishing for Mother’s happiness?

The kitchen actually sparkled in the sunlight.  She polished every single surface.  then she went out and disinfected everything connected to the stalls.  Yes. Disinfected.  I had to make her leave the animals out all night so they could BREATHE.  *see, I already learned to use “all caps” to emphasize a word.*

Once she polished every hinge, knob, and latch (yes, she did), she went out to the family chicken coop.  Stop laughing.  She did.  While chicken hawks soared overhead and threatened the existence of my flock, Becca power sprayed (that thing is amazing!) the coop down and then took a steel wire brush to the more stubborn… deposits.

Then she painted it.

I can’t stop laughing just thinking about it.  Mid-painting, Josh arrived.  For those who haven’t met him, Josh is a very sensitive man.  He’s protective but not like Chad.  Chad would be concerned with me climbing the roof to shovel off snow.  He’d yell at me to get down and then get all quiet until he controlled his anger at me for being selfish.  Josh just walked over to that coop–rare enough in and of itself–and led her over to the porch.  He brought her a pillow to sit on, a glass of water, and a couple of cookies.  Then he went and finished painting the coop.  In case the significance of that action is not obvious, I’ll state it bluntly. Josh and house paint do not mix.  Josh and chicken yards do not mix.  Josh hates dirty work, smelly work, and “handyman” stuff.

But Josh loves Becca.  And that’s what made it so beautiful.

I know he would like to think that was the end of her “nesting.”  It was only the beginning.

The trailer came next.  I admit, I went over there and just sat to watch.  I’ve never seen anything more fascinating.  And before you ask me how I could let a VERY pregnant woman do all that work by herself, just remember that she’s pregnant–and bossy.  I don’t think even I was that bossy with the boys.  For the record, she is delightfully charming about it.  She gives orders that she follows up with apologies and offers to do nice things for you.   So she ordered me to sit, practically begged me to forgive her for being rude, and offered me tea and cookies.

Then she went on a rampage.  It was quiet, methodical, and gently done, but it was still a rampage.  She reminded me of that woman I met at the ladies’ conference–the one who is all about de-cluttering.  I think Becca bagged up half their possessions.  Josh says that he took it all to a storage unit.  He said I could publish this as a gentle way to let her know that it’s not gone yet.  I’ve never seen that trailer so clean, and Becca and Josh both keep a very clean house.

But by far the sweetest thing has been the diligence with which she has devoted every free moment to preparing clothing for this child.  She designed and sewed diapers in three separate sizes.  Then she sewed, knitted, and quilted several blankets.  She  sewed her own socks!  For the baby, I mean. She’s made sleepers, toys, and attempted to make new nursing bras–and failed.

But she did all of this in the space of three weeks and while keeping up her regular work.  If she was quite a bit bigger, I’d be confident that she is carrying twins.

I can’t stop laughing.  I’ve retyped this sentence a dozen times, trying to write it without mistakes, but laughing makes it difficult.  Just as I wrote about her layette for the baby, she came in and asked for the laptop.  Apparently it needs to be cleaned up. She mentioned emptying trash and “de-fragging.”

So, I’ll go work in the greenhouse–the one that she’s swept out daily for weeks now–and let her finish her de-cluttering projects.  It is my contention that she will not go into labor until she’s done, and her idea is to get done with everything so she can have the baby early.


• Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Living so close to Willow for so long has been kind of an immersion project–a chance to experience raw, day-to-day life “her way.”   It’s been beautiful.  But one lesson I had trouble adjusting to was the guilt I felt when I couldn’t recreate things the same way she does because I didn’t have a lifetime of practice in creating beauty out of raw materials.  I was used to craft kits, lessons, and tutorials.  Willow has learned to see everyday items in new ways.

Josh has been good for me in that respect.  He has taught me that imitating her results isn’t wrong. It’s not “cheating” but using what skills and materials I do have in ways that I find pleasing–even if it means I buy those materials.

She’s been making thank-you cards since Christmas–for obvious reasons.  She told me that she and her mother always spent a lot of time creating beautiful cards for after birthdays and Christmases.  It seems strange to do that for someone in your own home, but it’s beautiful too. So, I got the “thank you card” bug and decided to take her design and create it “my way.”    But first, I want to share what she did–just because the work she puts into something as simple as a thank-you card is truly remarkable.

I came into the kitchen a few days after Christmas and she had piles of stuff all over the table. A couple of brown paper bags, cardstock, a piece of burlap I remember from a bag that she used to have hanging in the barn.  It held small garden tools, if I recall correctly.  It tore a while back and then it disappeared.  I assumed that she’d burned it.  Apparently not.  It was all washed and ready to use.  Then there was a little dress that Kari had torn and stained.  I couldn’t imagine what she was doing, so I asked.

“Making thank-you cards.”

Yes my mind did immediately think, Of course you are.  So, I poured myself a cup of coffee and began watching.  Her cardstock was white–plain and boring. She cut each piece in half with a x-acto knife and folded it.  Then she opened them flat again and cut pieces from the brown paper bags–just a bit bigger than the card base on each side, but the same height.  I started to ask why when she pulled out rubber cement and began slathering it on the cardstock.  Then I saw why.  It would have shown a tiny bit of white if she hadn’t made it a little bigger.  She trimmed it up and voila–a “kraft” paper card base.  I would have (and eventually did) just bought kraft cardstock.

The next thing she did was to take another piece of cardstock and wash it with a robins egg blue.  This she pinned to the mini clothesline she has hanging on the wall over the stove.  I’m used to seeing dish cloths or towels drying there.  Paper–who knew?

While it dried, she folded a scrap of the grocery bag and began cutting.  It took a few tries, but eventually she managed to cut the shape of a butterfly that satisfied her.  With that, she traced it onto white paper and cut out a dozen or so butterflies.  Let’s just say it took forever.  Chad and the children arrived home from their visit to the park in the middle of this, so she had to put it all away.

The next afternoon, at nap time, she started again.  She cut the sheet of paper into eight equal pieces and then cut a notch out of the bottom of each one to create a flag.  She said, “I saw one like it on the Pinterest that Mom uses–just that little notch, but isn’t it cute?”

“The Pinterest.”  Only Willow.

Then the assembly began.  She wrapped each flag with a strip of burlap, and then ripped the lace from the upper ruffle of Kari’s little dress.  I thought she’d pull out the iron, but she didn’t.  She just used the edge of the table as a sort of iron, and pulled the lace back and forth across it until it laid flat.

Once the flags were assembled, she began writing.  A simple “thank you” on each card front bottom is all she used.  Just the kraft card base with the word written in brown was enough.  But once those were done, she glued her flags to each one.  Then she pulled out the butterflies again.  On each one, she’d hand sewed–through the paper–white seed pearls.  She said they were leftover from a bracelet that broke when she was a little girl.  I was afraid to ask if they were real pearls.  I thought she might actually say yes.

tycardIn the end, the cards were lovely.  I wanted to make my own.

So… I bought the following:

Kraft cardstock-  (4 sheets at .50 per sheet from the paper store)
Blue cardstock- (1 sheet at .50 per sheet from the paper store)
Spool of burlap- “ribbon” from Christmas clearance at Walmart (1.00)
Glue-backed pearls- (6.00 for enough to make 50 cards!)
Pink printed paper- (1.00 from the paper store)
Glue runner- (3.00 from Walmart)

And I borrowed a friend’s butterfly paper punch.

Sure… it wasn’t “free” like half of Willow’s stuff was.  But it’s mine.  and I love them.  And I love knowing that the card tucked into my husband’s lunch today, thanking him for taking such good care of me on days I’m too worn out to even look at the stove, shows the love I feel for him in the work I put into it.  And that’s the most beautiful thing about Willow’s ways… they reflect her heart.  For some people, it would be a handwritten note on notebook paper.  For others a phone call “just for nothing.”  Others might do it by baking muffins or sending a note on Facebook.  But for Willow, it’s sharing her creativity with the person she wants to honor.  And we all know that as she works, she prays for us.  Isn’t that the best part of all?



• Monday, January 05th, 2015

I stepped into the kitchen the other day and Willow pointed to an open journal on the table.  “Chad thinks you should put some or all of that one on the blog.  He thinks folks might enjoy it.”  She looked at me with a familiar expression on her face–the one that says, “I don’t get it, but I’m willing to try.”

So, with a cup of the mint tea she grew and formulated herself in hand (remind me to tell you how she did that), I sat down at the table, rested my sore arms and even sorer back (this baby sure is taking a toll on my body!) and read.


December 26th

Another Christmas is over–done.  People told me that as the years pass, Christmasses without Mother would become easier.  They were right.  What they didn’t tell me is that they would also become more precious and, in that regard, more difficult.  The older my children are, the harder I find it to be without her.  I want to ask so many questions–things I never imagined needing to ask back when it was just the two of us working here together. Chad says that I forget how hard she found parenting me in the beginning.  I haven’t forgotten, not really.  But Mother had a beautiful quality.  I can’t find the right word for it, but she knew how to learn from her experiences and mistakes and grow with them.  She didn’t repeat those mistakes over and over.

To be fair, she also didn’t try to overcome all of her faults and weaknesses. Some she used as a mantle of protection.  But despite it all she tried.

Of course, this has little to do with Christmas. But pondering our times together made me think of Mother and sent me on that tangent. As we put away our decorations each year, Chad always says, “This was the best Christmas ever.”  I don’t know if it’s some tradition in his family, if he really thinks it, or if it’s a momentary expression of gratitude for all that the Lord has done for us throughout the year.

515068635But this year really did seem like “the best Christmas ever.”  The boys were old enough to appreciate the deeper meaning behind the tree, the gifts, the lights, and the joy of the season.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Liam’s face as he listened to his father reading Luke–again–and understanding dawned.  “Jesus was really a baby!  Like Kari was.  Like Aunt Aggie’s baby in her belly.”  He looked up at me and said, “Why?”  I suspect he was remembering Kari’s diapers.

I told him, “Because He loves us.”

And, apparently infancy is an even greater misfortune than I had ever imagined, because Liam’s response was simply, “He must love us a LOT.”

Lucas, on the other hand, while very fond of our nightly readings of the story of Jesus’ birth from one of the gospels, seemed to be most affected by our traditions.  I think he used the word why until, had it been minutes on his cellphone, he would have gone way over his limit. “Why do we have a tree, Mama?”  I explained how the tree came to be in use at all and how we choose to see a tree in our family. I don’t think he liked the idea of repurposing a pagan tradition to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but Chad’s discussion of choosing to use familiar things to tell a Bible story–kind of like Jesus’ parables and Paul’s sermons at the Acropolis–seemed to strike a chord.  His twenty-four hour disdain of the tree became a constant source of questioning and observations that seemed wise beyond his years–at least to me.  “Does the tree make Jesus sad?  He died on a tree.  A baby would be sad.”  And when I told them to let their lights shine before all men–even their little sister *cough*– he said, “Mama!  Like the lights on the tree.  Jesus dying on the tree helps us be lights for Him!”  Where do they come up with this stuff?  It’s so profound in a childlike way.

They know most of the words to most of the Christmas carols.  We sang them all day every day until I was thoroughly sick of them.  But it worked.  Even now as I write, I hear the words to “Joy to the World” interspersed between “Vroom, vrooms” of their cars and whinnies of their horses.  I wonder how Handel and Watts would like to hear the song with the percussion of little boys at play.  I suspect they’d like it better than said children’s mother.  But despite the repetition that sets my nerves on edge, my heart is blessed to hear the sounds of my sons singing praises to the Lord at their young ages.  It’s genuine.  It’s heart-felt.  And isn’t that what matters more than variety, peace, or quiet?

And little Kari, despite her constant trying of my nerves and patience, developed a heart for giving.  I had to limit her–direct her every step, but she gave each one of us one of her greatest treasures for Christmas.  Daily she brought me armloads of things to “Wrap pretty, Mama.”  And daily I had to redirect her to choosing just one thing for each of us.  Becca’s baby will have Kari’s favorite stuffed toy–a puppy I made her as a baby.  The poor thing cried a little as it went into the box.  I tried to talk her out of it, but she was determined to give Becca’s child “Fido.”  Yes, Chad named the silly toy, “Fido” and nothing I did would convince her to change its name.  She only has a couple of toys that were strictly hers and masculine enough for her tastes.  But she gave them to Liam and Lucas with such joy.  “For Jesus.”  At first, I didn’t understand her.  I kept correcting her by asking which one was for Lucas and which was for Liam.  She answered the same each time, but as we wrapped and decorated the packages, she kept patting them with a satisfied air and saying, “It’s for Jesus.”

I get it now.

I’d like to think that Mother can see us–knows how rich our lives are.  I know her fears, as with her tears, are wiped away in the arms of Jesus, but I would like to know that she is blessed by how the Lord has blessed us. I know that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” but I am not confident of what that means.  Does it mean that all Christians who are with Jesus now observe and pray for us to remain strong in the faith?  Or is it referring to just those who died shortly after Jesus’ death?  I suspect the former, but I am no theologian.  Maybe that’s what I’ll study this year. Maybe I’ll find the answers,, and even if I don’t, that much time in the Word won’t hurt me.

Christmas is gone.  Easter beckons. While some say we weren’t commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ–only His death and resurrection through communion–the angels did.  The wise men did.  And we could not celebrate His death if He had not been born.  So, I’ll say it again.  Happy Birthday, Jesus.  Thank you for the greatest gift of all–You.

• Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

People often ask me if I project myself into my work–if I write my story, albeit fictionalized.  While I can’t say that I never do that, it’s not usually an overt decision when it happens.  Sometimes I write what I need to learn, and Willow’s story became that.  I never intended to write about a young woman so very different from people around her.  I assumed, as I typed the first paragraphs of Past Forward that I would show just how similar we all are at the foundation.

I was wrong.

Something about Willow’s personality and philosophy of life kept pushing its way to the forefront of her story.  It became like a theme song, one I finally named “Live Life Deliberately.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in life–to allow it to propel you in random directions without regard for how you want to live. I think that’s why people resonate so strongly with Willow.  One could say she chose to carpe vita–seize life.

I’ve received more emails about Willow than any of my other characters.  People write to tell me about their balcony container gardens, the Christmas cards they made last year, or their first attempts at making soap or candles. People have taken up knitting, sewing, painting, drawing, rug hooking and braiding, and I can’t remember what all.  There are communities where a single hen or two lay eggs every day in suburban backyards–because a fictional character inspired their owners to step out of modern American culture and live a dream.

candles11Even as I sit here, I’ve got one of the tallow candles I made last year burning next to me. I don’t need the light.  I didn’t need the candle.  I made them because I wanted to see just what kind of work went into the process.  It’s one thing to research and do the math to figure out hours and total yield.  It’s another to render tallow three and four times before deciding it’s clean enough to burn.

When I did it, a friend asked why people were so drawn to things that are hard, smelly, uncomfortable work.  It made me uncomfortable because I didn’t know the answer.  I am, by nature, a very lazy person.  I don’t want to live Willow’s life.  I want the fruits of it, but I don’t want to do hard, physical labor making soap or candles just so I can then have a way to clean up after making those candles or have light by which to make that soap.  I don’t want to garden, can, raise animals, hang clothes on the line, or a million other things that Willow has to do. Would I like it if it “just happened”?  Sure!  But unlike the delightful stories I get from readers who have “turned off electricity” for the day or week (leaving on essentials like refrigerators etc.), I like my electricity. I want it.  So why am I sitting here beside a flickering mason jar candle with lights on in the kitchen behind me and the corner of this room?

It’s a reminder.

See, while I don’t want to replicate Willow’s exact life in mine, I do want that purposeful living she embraces.  She chooses to make her soap, make her own “light”, and grow her own food.  That is how she chooses to live deliberately.  This candle, with its occasional snaps and crackles, glows brightly beside me, giving much more light than you’d expect from half a cup of tallow.

And it gives me inspiration.

I’m working on a non-fiction book whenever time allows (which isn’t often).  It’s an exploration of how a life lived deliberately looks from the perspectives of people who live very different lives.  I want to focus on the principle of living deliberately, not the method. Willow’s method is hers.  It might be perfect for you or your sister or your neighbor.  It’s not perfect for me or for everyone. So, as I struggle to find that perfect balance in my life (even if I’ll never achieve it), I wonder about others.

How do you live deliberately?  What do you do to ensure that you are making purposeful decisions that direct your life in the path you desire most?  How is your life different than it was before you made that decision?

If you’d like to be part of this book and are willing to be interviewed, I would love to know more. I would love to learn with you and from you just what it means to live deliberate, purposeful lives.  Please Email Me:)

• Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Image courtesy of Etsy. Painted leaf can be purchased from LoisArmstrongArt.

Living on Willow’s farm has taught me more than how to butcher a chicken or render tallow for candles.  While making my own soap, cleansers, and personal hygiene products is rewarding and a step in the direction I want my life to go, the lessons I’ve learned from Willow and her mother can’t be seen in a row of canned vegetables, fruits, and jams. I’ve learned most from who they are (and were) as people.  These lessons are rooted deep in my heart now.

People meet Willow, hear about her life, visit the farm, and they’re struck by the vast amount of work it takes to “do it all.”  Those three words are like a mantra or something. The amazing thing is that having lived both lives, Josh and I see a truth that I don’t think most people can grasp.  Despite the hours of hard physical labor Willow puts in every day, she has much more free time–“me time”–than anyone we know.

When we were talking about it the other night, Josh suggested I write and share a bit of our conversation because it really impacted both of us.  So, here we go.

Did you know that Willow takes a walk every day?  A lot of people do that, so it’s really nothing remarkable–not unless you know her and know what happens on that walk.  She sees things.  She notices insects.  Nothing remarkable there.  We all tend to notice the pesky things.  But Willow notices things about them that I wouldn’t have thought to look for, much less embrace and enjoy.  She finds them beautiful (assuming they aren’t in her home).  She marvels at their design.  As workouts go, her walks are useless because sometimes she doesn’t make it more than a couple hundred yards from the back door and all because she spends too much time watching–observing.

She’ll also come back and tell you what insects were noticeably absent or overly abundant. From that, she’ll hypothesize about what animals and birds are in abundance and which ones are low in population this year.

But the most fun is when she brings nature back with her.  Yesterday, she brought home several leaves–some thoroughly dry already, others still pliable despite their vivid fall coloring.  The boys clambered to see, and she gave each boy one of the dried, curled leaves. They disintegrated in seconds.  I’ll never forget her words.  “This is why you need to learn to ask.  You say, “Mommy, do I need to be gentle?”

I thought she was a bit crazy, but she pulled out two of the fresher leaves and passed one to each boy.  Lucas’ little fist curled around the stem, but he didn’t seem willing to test its pliability.  But he didn’t ask. So she prompted him.  “Ask me if you can touch it or if you need to be gentle.”

And so the lesson went.  It took several tries, but after a few minutes, each boy had learned a lesson–not the one Willow hoped to convey.  They didn’t understand her explanation of how and why leaves change colors.  They didn’t grasp that the veins on the backs of the leaves are like the veins under our skin.  But they learned how to treat delicate things, and they learned it on something that didn’t matter.

And I learned.  I learned that being a mother isn’t diapers and feedings.  It isn’t tucking them into bed and reading a story.  Well, it is.  But that’s not the main thing.  The main thing is what your children learn when you do those things.  They learn how to care for things–for people.  They learn without even realizing it.  It began with Kari–that intentional education without a formal setting.  I loved reading about it, but I admit I’ve looked into local private schools and pre-schools.  I’ve looked into every educational style–every curriculum style.  And yes, my baby won’t even be born for four more months.  I’d decided on a Charlotte Mason approach in a home education setting.  I thought it sounded closest to Kari’s plans while still giving me a concrete framework and assurance that I am not leaving gaping holes in my child’s education.  I was sure Josh would agree with me, but do you know what he said?  He said, “Becca, you can’t love the principle, love the results, want to replicate those results, and ignore the process.”

He’s right.  Kari’s educational process isn’t the only right way to educate a child–whether at home, school, or anywhere else.  But I love the naturalness of it. It’s what my heart longs for.  And I’m compromising out of fear.  Well, I was.  I’m going to give myself six years of trying it Kari’s way.  Birth to six.  If I feel like my child is far behind other kids at that point and I can’t stand it, well… okay.  But I have a feeling that it’ll be far richer than I ever imagined.

I’ve seen the fruit of this life.  I want it.  I just have to learn how to develop it in my life without trying to be someone I’m not.  That is the hardest part of all.

Oh, and what did Willow do with all those leaves?  Can you believe she painted them?  Chad’s making barn wood frames from a few pieces they salvaged from the burned barn–even ones with charred edges.  They’re stunnning. I sure hope one is going to be my Christmas present!

• Thursday, July 24th, 2014

chautona-card60That the author has been making cards.  She’ll be putting one up on her craft blog every day for a week or two.  She’s not quite the artiste that Willow is, but she makes a cute card or two now and then.  :)


Category: Craft Ideas  | Tags: ,  | 2 Comments
• Tuesday, April 01st, 2014

Well the overwhelming consensus (all three of you) was that I should try the chinaberry bead making process.  So, today I did the first step. The process is both easy and tricky.  Even the tricky parts are easy, but tricky is tricky regardless of ease.  I started to take pictures of the process and thought, “Do people REALLY want to see a pan full of boiling china berries? Do they REALLY wanna see that mushy stuff all over my hands?  I didn’t think so.  BUT, if you do, I actually found a website that has pictures.  You can see it HERE, HERE, or HERE. 

But I do want to describe the process.  I’ll admit, I had rosy ideas about the process.  I thought I’d feel quite Willow-like in my industry and creativeness.  And I did.  But as I always tell people, “The simple life is not an EASY life.”  I always forget that. My head knows it, but my heart doesn’t want it to be so.  So, it was with great eagerness that I pulled out the berries I’d had the kids pick for me a couple of years ago (and never did anything with).

Step 1:  Boil the berries.  To do this, many people recommend a pot that you’ll never use again.  So, with that in mind, I opted to spend five bucks on a cheap pan at Walmart.  Just in case.  The berries are toxic to humans but enticing to birds.  When birds overindulge, they actually act intoxicated.  I guess that means that our two trees are contributing to the delinquency of feathered friends.  Please forgive us.

So, I boiled the berries.  Didn’t take long.  They didn’t look all that interesting and the smell isn’t pleasant.  There are worse smells (Burned beans are a close second to this), but this was pretty bad.  It’s a sickly sweet scent that while not strong, is definitely there.

Step 2:  Remove the outer shell.  I did.  The instructions said to do it while the berries are still hot–just out of the boiling water.  I melted my fingerprints. I’m sure of it.  Thankfully, I don’t plan to take up a life of crime, so I don’t think I’m a danger to humanity.  Before I describe this part, I have to interject that I didn’t like how they were looking, so I sent Ethan (number two son–number eight child) out to the tree for “fresh” ones.  Those boiled even faster.

Let’s just say that you want fresh ones, okay?  Good.  Glad you’re with me on that.  By “fresh” I mean not dried out for the past two years, not just grown on the tree.  The ones on my tree are definitely “dried”.  Okay.  Here’s what you do.  You take about six berries from the pan.  After much trial and error, I discovered that this is the optimal number.  As FAST as you can, you squirt the “pit” of the berry out of one end with one hand and into the other.  If you squirt out the end that once held the stem, it comes out fast, easy and in one movement–usually.  This is not guaranteed.  Also, by the time you get to the last one, it becomes much harder already.  It took me around fifteen seconds to do all six usually, and the last one took twice as long or longer than the first.  Why?  Because it seems like the minute you take them out of the pan, they begin to cling back to the pit!  It’s bizarre.

Furthermore, once you start squeezing the cooling berry, the insides turn to mush and stick to your fingers like glue.  It’s truly a mess.  Just sayin’.  So six is about all you can do at once.

Step 3:  Wash.  This is another reason for doing only six at a time.  It’s easiest to wash if you put the water on cool and very low.  Rub both hands together under the water, keeping the beads between your palms and fingers as they roll.  You’ll lose one now and then.  Willow would say, “Deal with it.”  I say, “Don’t let it bother you.  Life is too short.”  ;)   The goal with this wash is to get all that sticky stuff off.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  i.e. “Do this until you have a bunch of berries pitted, washed, and drying.”

Step 4:  Dye if desired.  I cheated.  Most instructions say to let them dry first, but I didn’t.  One, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t.  Two, I didn’t want to wait.  Three, I had this weird idea that maybe the dye would seep in further if I got it in there while it was all saturated.  I think it was a good choice.

Now there are two kinds of dyes that people mention purchasing.  You can buy food dyes (like I did–I bought those shown at the right) or you can use Rit Fabric Dye.  There are other dye ideas such as beets or saffron or whatever.  I wanted to do something that I could control a little easier.  I’m lazy that way.  Willow would have totally done the beets.  Don’t you think?

beads1I decided to go with red and black.  I loved the beautiful red ones on the one blog post I shared, and I had already planned to do black with tiny pewter beads between each one.  I thought it sounded cool.  So, I started with red.  One small jar that we’ll never use again became my “dying jar.”  I put about 1/2 tsp of the red dye in about 3/4 cup of super hot water.  It was cool.  Looked good, actually.  I let them sit and used the plastic container that once held all the other ones that I dumped today to do the black ones.  Same quantities.  I let both batches sit for well over an hour or two.  When I rinsed them, I rinsed until the water ran clear.  They’ve been drying ever since.  Don’t they look pretty?  I’m kind of excited now.  The little beads sitting there all nice and sweet almost make up for the smell and the headache I got (I am HIGHLY sensitive to smells–not allergic to them, but the slightest anything leaves an impression for a bit. No one else in the family felt anything (although they all commented that it didn’t smell nice).

So, that’s how you START to make the beads. Next time… drilling.  I get to pretend to be a dentist or something equally terrifying.  Stay tuned. Prayerfully I’ll only get blood on the red beads, eh?

Oh, and with all the goop I had under my fingernails and everything, I highly recommend a shower later.  Scrub your hair well so that they REALLY get clean under there.  I don’t think the beads themselves are toxic.  I think the mash that you squeeze them out of is.  And that ends up under your fingernails where they COULD then contaminate your food. So even if you think you’ve got ‘em clean… wash again.  Just in case.  And the final beads…


Stay tuned for part two.  I just realized that I didn’t take pictures of the “beads” before dying.  If you want to see them, this is what they look like, check HERE at the website shown above (this is a direct link to one of her pictures).

• Saturday, March 29th, 2014
chinaberry beads

Image courtesy of Pinterest

I was talking to Willow the other day–movies.  I mentioned the old Tammy movies and talked about how she said that “Nothing dresses up an outfit like Chinaberry beads.”  Of course, Willow wanted to know what those are, so I asked Chautona to make some.  She’s not sure, though.  Does anyone care about “chinaberry beads?”  I think they’d be a fun project–stringing a homemade bead necklace.  The picture shows possibilities.  And you could always buy yourself one there instead if Chautona says no…