Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Summer Vacation

In only 11 days we'll put this school year in the archives; students will head off to summer vacation, parents are scrambling to make childcare arrangements; playgrounds & pools will echo with laughter and shouts of fun; backyards will morph into forts and castles and hide-n-seek spots; swing-sets & sandboxes will get a work-out; grills will go to work on dinner and barbecue; lakes will hum with fishing and boating enthusiasts while swimmers will splash from the docks.

Summer vacation calls. 

What a blessing it is to look forward to these easier days.  I'm sitting right now in my living room, windows open and listening to the sound of a few robins calling back-n-forth with the low hum of insects providing a cozy backdrop of sound.  Some evenings there's the sound of the softball game at the field across the street, while children of spectators tear around on the playground nearby--shouts from the field announce exciting plays, shouts from the playground when kids escape from the pirates or It.  My cat lolls on the back of the couch and watches me type.  It's all rather cozy.

This evening I picked the first of the asparagus, and some of the stalks are fabulously thick--they will make a tasty pan:  a bit of butter to saute, a clove of minced garlic and some salt.  Maybe some parmesan sprinkled on, too.  I pulled weeds while I was out there, still dressed in my work clothes (a dress and sweater!), and I felt a bit naughty "working" in my "good clothes" as we called 'em when I was growing up.

I love these nice days of late spring--before the heat of summer rolls in with humidity and mosquitoes.  I love the tulips and bleeding hearts in my front flowerbed and the lily-of-the-valley along the back of the house. 

This past weekend I noticed a female oriole at my jelly feeder that hangs from the end of the clothesline.  The female is so dull compared to the male (radiant bright orange!).  It happens every year when I see a "blackbird" in that feeder--and I think, "why is a blackbird eating grape jelly?" and then I pause to look closer, and my heart does this little jump of excitement, because I realize "They came back again!" 

Feeding birds is kind of an act of hopefulness.  Like with orioles or have to put the food in the feeder BEFORE you even see the birds--the food has to be there when they arrive, if you want to keep them coming back to your yard.  Don't ask me why, I just know that on the years when I "forget" or "put it off another week" . . . and the birds arrive without the welcoming feeder waiting for them, the birds seem to be "not as active" at my feeders even if I keep them replenished after the arrival. 

Orioles & hummingbirds remind me of my childhood because they seemed like such exotic birds, not like the ordinary and so-common robin that is everywhere.  The first time I ever saw an oriole nest I was so worried for those baby birds, suspended so precariously (it seemed!) in that long dangly nest; I wondered what happened when they wanted to shift around and stretch their baby legs!  My grampa loved taking us kids out into the woods; he knew so many trees and wildflowers by name; he started me on my nature-study-journey.

Another summer my dad gathered all of us children around a small cedar shrub growing near our front porch; he gently pushed aside a branch to show us the tiniest nest I've ever seen in my life: a hummingbird nest, with FOUR EGGS!  They were so small it was incredible.  Once we knew the nest was there, it was so tempting to check on the little family but we knew it could also hurt the baby birds, so we stayed away.   

I've never seen another hummingbird nest since then--and 50 years is a l-o-n-g stretch.  I've seen the general direction they head from my feeder, so I know there's a nest "over there" somewhere (pointing toward a big pine tree across the street), but where?--no idea.  So I content myself with watching them dart in & out around my feeder by the kitchen window.

This summer when your kids are starting to get bored (probably Day 2 of vacation, right?), do me a favor.  Head to the local hobby store with the kids, and pick out some spiral-bound sketchbooks (they go for about $5--or less if you watch for the sales--but worth every penny!), grab a mechanical pencil because it's always sharp--and take a few minutes to teach your kid how to write with it (so the lead doesn't break); put on a hat, take an old blanket and go sit in a spot at the local park or in your backyard.  Sketch a tree in your yard--and follow it through the seasons (it's pretty cool!). 

Sketch some dandelions.  Show your kids how to draw without lifting their pencil from the paper (check out Sketchbook Skool on Instagram for ideas).  Label the drawing with the date and description.  Look at the sky and note the type of clouds overhead; check your phone or read a thermometer for the local temperature.  Sketch a simple cloud bubble or a shining sun (circle with rays going out) or a partly sunny day in one corner (make it about 1-inch by 1-inch).  In another corner note the temperature.  In the third corner note your location.  If you wanna get fancy start by putting a simple frame around the page (like a half-inch in from the edge).  Make it a little squiggly so it doesn't look perfect.

Tomorrow or the next day, wedge in some more time doing some nature study.  If you make it a part of your daily or weekly routine, you will be forming a lovely layer of memories for your children.  Don't FORCE them to be artistic, keep it simple.  Bring along a picnic lunch.  If they want to sketch a picnic table (geometric shapes are often easier than nature-y things--at first), that's fine, too. If they're into it, let them use watercolors to illustrate their sketches (practice on other paper first, please).

And Mom, this assignment is for you, too.  Children, especially young ones, will see you having fun and will want to copy you.  Don't say "I can't draw."  I don't care, just try.  Learn along with your kids and model the habit of TRYING something new, and doing it with enthusiasm--you don't have to be perfect.  Just try.  And don't give up--you'll never get better if you give up after the first failure. 

There are a lot of nature-journaling people on Instagram and Facebook, posting pics of their journals & sketchbooks every day (search on these hashtags:  #naturejournal #nature #naturestudy #naturestudylessons).  Gather ideas from them.  Or check out my other blog: .... there are TONS of ideas in the sidebars and articles.  I haven't posted much there recently as I no longer teach that class, but the info is still valid. 

Head to a secondhand book shop and see if there are any nature guides for sale.  Find a bird guide and a wildflower guide or one for trees.  Keep these handy.  Identify all the trees in your yard, or the flowers along the edge of the hiking trail. 

Another thing you can do over vacation, with your children, is teach them some homemaking skills.  Do they know how to use a bread machine to make pizza dough?  Or cinnamon rolls?  You're saying, "I don't even know how to make bread--how can I teach my children?"  Well, if you can read this blog, you can read a recipe.  If your children can learn to spell or do math, you can learn bread-making.  And it is FUN to do these things together!!  So get your apron on, girl, and pull out the flour and get making! 

That's my Best-of-Show ribbon!
If you're planting a garden, put in some cucumbers.  I always planted mine in long rows (two seeds about 2 inches apart kind of side-by-side, the next two seeds about 6-inches away).  My favorite cuke seeds for making dill pickles were called "Homemade Dills"--I don't remember how long it takes for them to get to harvest-able size...but I usually planted (in WI and MN) around the end of May or beginning of June and usually had a decent crop by mid- to late-August.  If you're in a warmer zone, you can put those seeds in already now and harvest sooner.  Here's my all-time favorite dill pickle recipe--and I really did win "BEST OF SHOW" with this recipe at the Trempealeau County Fair in the open class Food & Nutrition Department for canned food. 

Have a sandwich-making contest once a week.  Pick one or two ingredients that the kids have to use, and tell them they get points for being creative for today's lunch.  Winner gets to do something special (you know your kids & what makes them get on-board).  First time out something like "peanut butter + one other thing" (think banana, honey, nuts, whatever you have in the cupboard or fridge).  Cut everyone's sandwich into smaller pieces based on the number of kids participating.  Make rules like "no help from Mom (because she's the judge)" and "it has to be edible" and "you have to eat your creation" and you have to try a bit of what everyone else makes, too.  I'd also have a rule about a clean working spot (teach CAYG pronounced cagey "clean as you go" techniques).  Mom would judge sandwiches based on tastiness, creativity, & whatever else your group decides.

Host a family "star gazing evening" out in the country; pack a special night-time picnic (use a star-shaped cookie cutter to make fun-shaped sandwiches) OR pop popcorn to toss in a paper shopping bag and make something starry to drink or just water with star-shaped ice-cubes or just call it Star Gazers Telescopes or Midnight Slush.  Before you go add the SkEye app on your phone--point it skyward & learn the constellations.  OR purchase a planisphere which is a cool gadget to study the night sky BEFORE you go outside (some of them have fluorescent markings to be used outside).
Image result for planisphere
Go to the library once a week, explore different stacks each week. (Mom, look for "summer art projects" or "field guides" or coffee table books that may be interesting for kids--you never know what will trip their trigger!)  Unless  you have a "very good reason" let them check out "as many books as" (fill in the blank:  they want & think they might "read", or that they can carry, how many can you read in a week, are willing to pay fines on, etc).  I always made my kids pay their own fines from their own money--it bites much more & increases the likelihood of learning a lesson when it "hurts in the pocketbook."  I also didn't let my kids dog-ear pages OR lay their open book facedown (bad for the spine); I actually charged "fines" for that at home, 25-cents a time--it was a money-making venture for awhile there til they learned "Mom means it!"  Teach them about book marks AND one day you might want to do this project: make Summer Vacation bookmarks--use the SPECIAL MARKERS for this (ones they don't otherwise get to use). 

Go to a different park each week.  Tell the kids you want to find The Secret Hollow or that they'll need to find The Perfect Spot.  Wear your SuperMom cape!  Have fun!

Wear hats, play dress-up, make a tent over the clotheslines. If you don't have a clothesline, drag out the real tent--"tonight you get to sleep in the tent!"  Read books out there.  Build a fort.

Have a tea party out in the lawn under the trees.   Your daughter can invite three friends (just enough to fit cozily around the cardtable), "bring your favorite doll, too--oooh, and wear your prettiest dress."  Let your 8-year old plan this affair, from making the finger sandwiches to brewing the tea.  The rule for a tea party:  you must have some savory food and some sweet food.  Pickles, fresh bits of veggies, crackers & cheese, some small slices of deli-meat---those are some savories.   Sweets can be cupcakes or chunks of donuts.  Arrange on pretty plates (break out the good china--well, don't actually BREAK it).  

Set up a daily routine.  Stick to it.   Have a one-hour "quiet time" right after lunch; nap, read, draw--everyone "be quiet."  Limit screen time.  If they say they're bored, say "Good that'll help you be creative, now go outside and play unless you want to help with some cleaning chores."  I kept a list of "special chores for bored children" (post it on the inside of a cupboard door), add to it as the week goes on.  It can include real chores (load/unload the dishwasher, clean the toilet) but also boring chores (dust the woodwork in the whole house, etc)! 

Learn a new hobby as a family or one-on-one with a particular child.  Sewing, crocheting, bottle rockets, gardening, tending the neighbor's chickens.  

Host a neighborhood barbecue or picnic or game night or fire-pit evening.  Play "after dark" games WITH the children--I mean like, "Mom, you're It."  Flashlight tag.  Hide-n-seek. 

Read aloud from an exciting book.  Explore new authors.  Keep a list of all the books read.  Set a "reading goal" for the summer (let your child pick--they're often more rigid than you would be) which may be x-number per week or count pages/week or chapters.  If you have a kid who likes to draw ask her to sketch "what happens next" after you read a chapter. It will be fun tomorrow to see if it turned out like she thought.

Go on a bike hike.  Or a hike hike.  Take up geocaching or letterboxing. 

Learn calligraphy (call it spy-writing to make it fun for the 9-year old boy).  Incorporate it into your nature journal.  Make scrolls and do proclamations!

Go on a scavenger hunt.  Go on a nature scavenger hunt.  Go on a field guide scavenger hunt. 

Rainy day fun:  movie & popcorn.  OR What happens to X if you put it in the rain?  (Flour, construction paper, cotton balls, etc)--but be scientists about it and make a hypothesis (educated guess).  What are your findings?  OR bake a Rain Cake.  I don't know, do something fun inside:  watercolor painting (get it?), wash all the mirrors in the house, watch home videos from a couch cushion fort.  Coloring books with Mom's Special Markers.

Press leaves & flowers.  Once they're flattened, add to your nature journal, along with the Latin & common name, also the place where collected and any memories of that day.

Play travel games while driving:  'I Spy. . . " or the "ABC Game" (make up tricky rules to add twists for older children & to keep them interested if you have a wide age-range)

Learn about road-side geology or geography.  Have a magnifying glass handy.  Collect rocks.

Create a "genius box" or "genius kit" (fill a shoebox or bin with junk drawer remnants:  screws, twisty ties, popsicle sticks, bits of yarn or string, googly eyes, wire, small scraps of lumber, glue, tacks, marbles, whatever dibs & dabs that are laying around unclaimed)...let your children MAKE SOMETHING magical from it.  You might have to get them started, but my two boys LOVED when I pulled that thing down for them and went off on their own to make something.  Be sure to ooh & ahh over it when they show it to you later. 

Limit screen time.  I know I've said it already, but it's important.  Mindless scrolling turns your brain into mush (I used to say this to my kids if they wanted to watch TV).   "Go read a book."  Even if they howl "I'm soooo bored."  Don't give in.  Stand your ground, you are raising a child who needs to use his imagination. 

Pick up roadside trash in your neighborhood as a "family community service project."  Get out and meet your neighbors.   Have a bike parade.  

Have fun with your kids.  Recall the memories you have of the lazy summer days--don't fill up the days with TOO MUCH planned stuff, assign chores tied to a fixed/meaningful deadline ("this needs to be done before baseball practice or swim lessons or lunch"), let them roam the fertile fields of their imagination, too! 

Summer isn't about putting a lot of miles on the car and stress on the whole family.  Let your days roll by in a blessed haze of happy days--

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born & a time to die,
a time to plant & a time to uproot,
a time to kill & a time to heal,
a time to tear down & a time to build,
a time to weep & a time to laugh,
a time to mourn & and time to dance,
a time to scatter stones & a time to gather them,
a time to embrace & a time to refrain,
a time to search & a time to give up,
a time to keep & a time to give away,
a time to tear & a time to mend,
a time to be silent & a time to speak,
a time to love & a time to hate,
a time for war & a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dancing in the Rain

I was recently asked to give the opening devotion at a Christian women’s one-day retreat.  “Is there a theme passage for the conference?” because I thought, I can poke around on that a little bit, do some word-study, go off on a tangent.  But was told “nope, no theme passage.”   Well, you know me:  not a problem for Deb!  I can always find something woman-y, encouragement-y to talk about, right?   Plus I know how God drops little nuggets in my path. 
The next morning, I was getting ready for work and was already thinking about the conference title “Dancing in the Rain”.   A few minutes later I sat down to read my morning devotion, and the reading for that day was Psalm 30.   As I read through the psalm little images popped into my mind as I thought about King David (or even myself!) in these various predicaments:  a little white face looking up from the bottom of a dark & dank pit or crawling up from a musty, horrible grave!    I imagined God’s hand reaching for me and how I’d feel secure and safe.     

As I got to the end of the verses—oh my!  My wonderful heavenly Father was reaching for my hand and there I was twirling around like His little princess, in a beautiful frilly dress—and it goes flying out in ripples—and oh! my dress is the color of JOY, and out of my mouth comes this impossibly beautiful song that no way! can I keep it in:   my heart is overflowing, I just can’t keep quiet!   Look what He’s done for me! 

the color of joyI knew that this last verse (in green below) was just perfect for the opening devotion for this conference.  NOTE:  I left in the divisions where we read responsively at the conference.  
Psalm 30
A psalm.  A song.  For the dedication of the temple.  Of David.
L:  I will exalt you, Lord,
A:  for You lifted me out of the depths
B:  and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
L:  Lord my God, I called to You for help,
A+B:  and You healed me.
L:  You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
A+B:  You spared me from going down to the pit.
L:  Sing the praises of the Lord, you His faithful people; praise His holy name!
A:  For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime.
B:  Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
L:  When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
A:  Lord, when You favored me You made my royal mountain stand firm;
B:  but when You hid Your face, I was dismayed.
L:   To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:
ALL: “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?
B:  Will the dust praise You? 
A:  Will it proclaim Your faithfulness?
L:   Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
ALL: Lord, be my help!”
B:  You turned my wailing into dancing;
A:  You removed my sackcloth
A+B: and clothed me with joy,
L:  that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent.
ALL: O Lord my God, I will You thanks & praise You forever!

clothed with joyYou might have a lot going on in your life right now.  Dusty windowsills.   A dirty toilet bowl.  A pile of laundry.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Fear.  Sadness.  Sorrow.   My dear!  He knows exactly where you are and what’s going on.  Sure, there are times when He lets you flail around, but would your faith ever grow if it wasn’t tested and prodded to mature and grow?  

You might be standing at the bottom of a very deep pit right now, looking up, wailing miserably, wondering if God has any clue, if He’s even listening because it sure seems like you’re talking to an empty room!  

Certainly there are times when it seems our prayers are unheard, but you are His daughter!!  He NEVER stops listening—He hears every syllable.   More than anything He wants to have a lifelong, eternal conversation with each of us. 

You might be going through a really rough time, maybe you think God is hiding His face from you to punish you for sins in your past.  Sister, please remember He loves you.   He’s already healed you from the worst thing that could ever happen to you—He couldn’t imagine spending a single moment without you, so He sent His son to Calvary to pay the price for all the sins that are weighing you down.  He took the drab prison clothes and draped you with a magnificent gown of the most exquisite fabric.  Christ is right now in heaven working on YOUR room in his mansion.    

REMEMBER this:  when we place our confidence in the Lord and what He is doing through us—we CAN praise the Lord.  We can dance in the rain because the Lord is dancing there with us.   Think of every woman you know.   Each one has gone or is right now going through some kind of trial or trouble or struggle.  Most of us will go through MANY trials before we get to Heaven. 

The Lord has put us here, together, at just this time, at just this place as part of His magnificent plan.  Christian sisters—today.  At home, in our churches.  To minister to each other.  And for Him.  The Lord is sending showers of blessings.   And our heavenly Father has clothed us with the Joy of His salvation.  

In our lives--sunshine or rain--we can sing for joy and not be silent because with our eyes focused on Jesus, letting Him lead the way, our lives will be filled with praise and we can dance in the rain!  

Praise the Lord!

Dear Lord, thank You for bringing us to this moment.   Thank You for each woman reading this prayer, with whatever burdens she is carrying.  Lord, help us to drop all our burdens and cares on Your shoulders and to trust You even when we’re walking through a dark valley.   Walk with us, Lord, through difficulties.  Lift us when we stumble.   Carry us when we just can’t.  Rain Your blessings on us, Lord, and help us dance in the rain and sing Your praises daily.    Send your Holy Spirit to be with us each day, bless the words from our mouths that we might encourage one another; give us courage in whatever role You’ve assigned us, to be better disciples and and wives and mothers and daughters and sisters and friends.  Lord my God, let us praise You forever! Amen.

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