New Passions

Long a fan of construction vehicles, Louis has lately shifted his interest to dinosaurs and mythical beasts.

So I am busy all day answering questions like: “Is an allosaurus bigger than a blue whale?” or “Does a stegasourus eat meat?” (Answer: “I’m not sure, son – I know very little about dinosaurs. How about you find your book and we can look it up.”)

Louis with his mouth (closed, thankfully) full of food

Frustrated with my lack of answers, he has started to just make up “facts” about imaginary dinosaurs. “The excavator dinosaur is as big as an orange shark, but still smaller than a blue whale.”

It’s a small step from imaginary dinosaurs to dragons – and Louis transforms into Sedonafee, a genuine fire-breathing dragon. Sedonafee is terribly proud of his little brother – HE breathes meatballs instead of fire. (Cooked meatballs. His mouth is like an oven that cooks them first.)


Love Comes Easily. Charity Does Not.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”

~I Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)

I’ve tried to make it a governing principle of my decision making as it concerns this pandemic. “How can I love my neighbor in this instance?”

Should I venture into public or stay home? Should I invite someone in or visit on the porch? Should I wear a mask or not? Should I comment on this post or not comment on this post?

Well, how can I love my neighbor in this instance?

It has mostly come easily for me, thinking this way. Perhaps because I have relatively little fear of this virus for myself or my immediate nuclear family (and because we live far from our extended families, meaning that physical contact with them always requires advance planning and careful decision making.) Perhaps because I also have what I consider to be a healthy fear of infectious diseases from a population standpoint. Perhaps because I remember what it was like to have a baby the medical world wanted me to bubble wrap – NICU staff didn’t want me to take my first two even to church for their first year of life. When I took my preemies into public, I was relying on the conscientiousness of others to protect my vulnerable and not-yet-fully-vaccinated little ones from diseases that regularly put children in their situation back in the NICU and even kill them.

So loving my neighbors by taking COVID precautions has mostly felt pretty straightforward.

Love comes easily. Charity?

Not so much.

You see, charity would have me be patient with those who are (in my opinion) unnecessarily fearful regarding COVID – and patient with those who are (in my opinion) unnecessarily reckless regarding COVID. Charity would have me think kind thoughts and speak kind words about those people with whom I disagree regarding COVID.

Charity would not boast to my husband about how much smarter and more loving I am than all those other people out there who aren’t making the same decisions I am. Charity would not arrogantly assume that her perspective on COVID is the only one worth having. Charity would not be rude (even just internally) to those stupid people who… (do you see how easily my thoughts turn to rudeness?)

Charity would not be irritable toward or resentful of those who misinterpret my attempts at loving as fearfulness for self. Charity would not rejoice when someone “gets what they’ve been asking for” and finds out that COVID isn’t a joke after all.

Charity would bear the misunderstanding. Charity would believe the best of others’ motives. Charity would hope that even the reckless not be hurt or hurt others. Charity would endure the misinformed Facebook posts without having to tirade to her husband about those ALL CAPS EXCLAMATION POINT DOINKS who have no understanding whatsoever of science or immunity or how masks are supposed to work.

I am not charity. Not even close.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

~I Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

I have to repent daily for the uncharitable thoughts I think as I read the news or scroll through Facebook. I have to repent daily of the uncharitable words I speak when I complain to my husband about the latest ridiculousness that has me up in arms.

Lest I grow puffed up because of how well I have prioritized loving others during this pandemic, I must remember how poorly I have prioritized charity.

And I must fall upon the mercy of the God who is love, who in His charity reached down and redeemed me – impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, short-tempered, unbelieving, cynical me.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

~Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)


Love makes us do strange things

This past year has been full of strange things. Stay-at-home orders. Face masks. Cancelled events. Working from home. Foster care relicensure via Zoom. Court via Zoom.

It’s been hard to make decisions in a world cowed by COVID. Even harder when everyone has a different perspective on both the problem and the solution.

For us, we’ve tried to keep one thought at the forefront of our decision making process. We’ve tried to keep love at the center.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”

~I Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)

So when lockdowns were first implemented and our foster daughter could no longer have visits with her mother? We arranged to have daily video chats (as difficult as those are when the “chatter” is not yet 2 years old and there are four other little chatterers in the house.) And when it became evident that restrictions would be prolonged? We insisted on taking on the personal risk so that in-person visits could resume – which meant that we also took on personal restrictions so as not to pass that risk on to others. Our foster daughter’s contact with her mother became the only contact our family had with people outside our family. Because we wanted to love our daughter and her mother by giving them the opportunity to bond instead of letting the fragile bond that was just starting to be established to become a casualty of COVID.

When the time came to decide whether to travel to see our families at Thanksgiving, we opted to stay at home and to instead plan to see them for Christmas, when we had the time to isolate before and after. Because we wanted to love both our families and our community.

When Sunday school reopened this year after a spike of COVID hospitalizations in November closed it temporarily, we opted that I would continue to teach but our children would not attend. In doing so, we hope to reduce our family exposure sufficiently that I can stay well enough to not be regularly leaving my Sunday school team in the lurch when I (the lead teacher for our class) can’t attend due to illness. We want to love my Sunday school students and my fellow teachers.

And when the Southwest Power Pool, which regulates power across the plains, experiences unprecedented demand combined with record low temperatures literally “freezing” some types of energy production? We close our drapes (all day long) to prevent heat loss, turn the heat from 68 to 65, and keep both the lights and the computer off. The sourdough I’d planned to bake sits unbaked; I switch to disposable diapers so less laundry piles up while I’m eschewing the dryer; I handwash dishes instead of running the dishwasher. Because we want to love our neighbors – and if a dark, quiet, cold house for me means they don’t have to suffer from power outages? It’s worth it.

Because I want whatever I do to be done in love.

And love makes us do strange things.


Put ’em in the bathtub

You’d think by the time a woman was shepherding her sixth baby through early toddlerhood, she’d have no more tricks to learn.

But you’d be wrong.

It never fails to frustrate me that brand-new puller-uppers LOVE to play in the toilet. Keep them out of the toilet and they’ll be digging around in the bathroom trash.

The worst thing is, when one is busy in the bathroom, one doesn’t always have a lot of ability to keep a baby’s hands out of inappropriate places.

It won’t really do much good if I take my hands out of the toilet where I’m rinsing dirty diapers just to move her hand away from the ick. And if I’m washing my own hands and they’re all wet? That’s not really ideal either. I’m going to have to wash them again (along with the baby’s hands) anyway, but I don’t really want to get her outfit all wet…

It’s a conundrum. It has been a conundrum for the past five and a half years since Tirzah Mae started pulling up on things.

But I’ve finally discovered a hack so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.

Shiloh, in my bathtub while I dress for the day

Put her in the bathtub.

Of course.


Humans are the only mammals who…

If you’re going to start a sentence with “humans are the only mammals who,” I sure hope you’re planning to share a fun fact, not to make an argument (unless your argument is that humans are unique among mammals.)

Alas, when I hear “humans are the only mammals who,” I brace myself for one particular argument: milk drinking.

Should humans drink milk from other species?

Well, humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning.

Tirzah Mae and Beth-Ellen drinking cow's milk
Young humans drinking the milk of another species

Folks, this is not a scientific argument. Say I accept your premise that humans are the only mammals who drink milk from other species. Does it follow that humans ought not drink milk from other species? No, this merely means that humans are different from other mammals.

The reality is, this is only one of many significant ways in which humans are different from other mammals. Humans build fires to heat their homes and cook their food. Humans wear clothing. Humans use soap. Humans write blog posts. Humans use medications to treat and prevent illness. We are truly exceptional creatures.

If “humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning” is an argument against milk-drinking, why shouldn’t the same argument be used to say we should all run around naked and unwashed? Why shouldn’t we also argue that we should only eat raw food (or food that has just happened to be cooked by the sun, without human intervention)?

Furthermore, is the statement that “humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning” even true?

When I was growing up, we took regular trips to visit my grandparents in rural northeastern Nebraska. There was one particular farm along the way that kept their cows and their pigs in the same pen. My siblings and I were always fascinated (and a bit grossed-out, to be honest) to see the pigs suckling on the cows. Perhaps the only reason “humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning” is because few other mammals have opportunity? After all, I think humans might be the only mammals who express their milk and that of other animals to be consumed versus consuming it only directly from the breast/udder.

So, anyway, if you’re trying to make an argument that cow’s milk (or non-milk cow’s milk substitutes) is unnecessary for humans, please try another argument.


This rant brought to you in response to something I read from someone who should have known better. Since I actually agreed with her true underlying point (that a child who is allergic to cow’s milk doesn’t need an alternate milk source), I didn’t bother to try to straighten out her argument – but I did want to get my frustration with that argument off my chest.


Note to Self: You don’t need to finish

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that if I’ve started something, I might as well finish it.

As in, “I resisted the temptation to eat my emotions for a while, but now that the bag of potato chips is open, I might as well finish the whole thing.” Or “I know I’m not supposed to yell at my children, but now that I’ve got the TIRZAH MAE!!!!! out, I might as well finish my tirade.”

Sure, I feel guilty afterward. I swear that I’m NOT going to do it again. But then the staccato (and much too loud) “LOU-IS!” springs forth from between my clenched teeth and there we are again. I started, so I might as well finish.

Tirzah Mae
Louis
Beth-Ellen

But I’m coming to realize that’s not at all true.

In fact, if I want to have any success at not starting, I need to start by not finishing.

The “BETH-ELLEN!!” bursts out. I feel immediately guilty – and I stop. I take a breath, check my tone: “I’m sorry. Mama shouldn’t have yelled. Beth-Ellen, you may not…”

The more practice I get at stopping and repenting, the sooner I remember to stop. The sooner I remember to stop, the less frequently I start. I get into the habit of obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit instead of ignoring him.

And my home becomes more and more peaceful, reflecting the fruits of the Spirit: peace, patience… gentleness, and self-control.

Mental note: just because you started, you don’t need to finish. In fact, it’s much better that you don’t.


Expanding and Contracting and Expanding Again

How many times have people commented on what they see as the impossibility of our life? Difficult deliveries. Lots of young children, one right after the other. Foster care thrown on top.

How many times have I responded back that God gives grace for what he gives? I didn’t have the grace (or the skills) for three when I only had two – but God gave the grace when he gave the third child. Ditto four. And five. (Even if the skills are still a work in progress, to be honest!)

Nothing makes this more clear than when a foster child moves from our home.

Sweet P lived with us for 20 months and was reunited with her biological family in November of last year. We were so excited (still are!) to be able to participate in a successful reintegration. Of course, it was bittersweet – as happy as we are for her and her family, we are also sad to no longer have the connection we once had (We are so thankful that we have a good relationship with Sweet P’s family and have been able to see her a few times since reintegration, most recently an overnight just last night.)

Five children (including Sweet P!) around the dining room table
The view around my dining room table this noon – five of my precious children together again

Anyway, having a foster child move is bittersweet, but there’s another feeling I wasn’t quite prepared for when we started fostering. It was a feeling of… ease. Like, “wow, it’s a lot easier to parent four than five.”

The strange thing is, it wasn’t that easy to parent four back before four became five. My capacity expanded somewhere along the way. God gave grace for what he gave – grace for five.

But our family size contracted for a bit, and the bit of ease that comes with four instead of five has given me additional wiggle room now that I’m frequently parenting alone while Daniel travels for business. And has given me some additional wiggle room to help me establish good habits in our homeschool.

But it’s time for expansion again.

Four children has become five again.

Not a foster child this time. We’re not sure when Daniel will be done traveling and the logistics of a new placement don’t work very well with our current situation (lots of appointments that need to be done rapidly don’t work very well when you have four other children that you can’t take with you – thanks COVID! – and a husband that may or may not be out-of-state at any time in the near future). So we won’t be taking new foster children until we have a more settled schedule.

Playdough with the figure of a very pregnant woman stamped onto it
The Sumerian cylinder seal I made for myself as part of our history studies (Tirzah Mae thinks I should start looking like this tomorrow, since I’ve been pregnant almost a month :-P)

But four has become five again – it’s time to stop popping bon-bons (ha!) Instead, we are preparing to expand again as God gives grace for a new little one arriving on the outside sometime in September.


A Girl of Many Layers

Beth-Ellen came to me, complaining that her shoes didn’t fit. Would I help her put them on?

Oddly, she seemed to be right. I could have sworn those shoes fit yesterday. But wait…

I peeled back her sock just to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Yep. Three pairs of socks worn on top of each other.

Beth-Ellen's foot with three pairs of socks

But three pairs of socks is barely scratching the surface of this girl’s love of layers. She’s worn as many as six or seven pair at a time. She’s also been known to layer three shirts and stick a dress on top of it all.

She’s a character, our Beth-Ellen girl.

And we love her.


It’s Still Christmas

Intermixed with the breezy autumn calls of “Happy Fall Y’all” and #PSLlove come the inevitable announcement of the first appearance of Christmas merchandise or music at [insert store of choice].

Everyone quickly agrees that this must be denounced and comments their own personal line in the sand for decorating for Christmas and/or listening to Christmas music.

Until 2020, that is. In 2020 we didn’t go into stores, so we couldn’t complain. Also, we’d been living Groundhog Day for several months by then and it seemed everyone was ready for a bit of cheer.

My Facebook feed filled with photos of homes decorated for Christmas on November 1st, complete with #sorrynotsorry.

Now that it’s January 5, I’ve been seeing a week of announcements that trees have been taken down and Christmas cleaned up. It’s a new year, on to new things.

Not here, though. It’s still Christmas at Prairie Elms.

For the past several years, we’ve chosen to celebrate Advent in a way that attempts to heighten anticipation.

I set up the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent. And then we sit and wait with an unadorned tree for one whole week. The children ask, “Can’t we put on the lights? Please?” They know that they’re only yet seeing a glimmer of what the tree will become.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we load the tree with lights and plug them in. Beautiful. But we’ve barely enjoyed the lights before the children are begging, “Is it time for the ornaments yet?” No, no. We hold off on that for another week.

On Gaudete Sunday, at last we can enjoy the tree in its full splendor, loaded with ornaments.

The Prairie Elms Christmas Tree

Those couple of weeks of waiting offer opportunities for us to talk about how Israel waited year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millenia after millenia for the Promised Messiah. Like the slow revelation of our decorations, prophecies hinted at the Messiah who would come, whetting their appetites for the full revelation of the Coming One. And then, then – such a sweet revelation – Christ Incarnate.

But once the tree is up? We keep it up all Christmas long.

Through the first day of Christmas, the second day, the third day, the fourth, and on through the twelfth day of Christmas. We take our Christmas tree down on Epiphany, January 6, when Christmas (the liturgical season) is over.

So maybe you’ve moved on past Christmas into the new year (no shame in that!) – but we haven’t quite yet.

At Prairie Elms, it’s still Christmas.


I Do Sourdough All Wrong

A little over a year and a half ago, I bought a dehydrated sourdough starter off the internet. Since then, I’ve been consistently making sourdough all wrong.

Dough straight out of the breadmaker (pictured in background)
  • I keep my starter in the fridge rather than on the counter
  • I only feed my starter when I’m getting ready to make a new loaf of bread (whether it’s been a day or a month since I last fed it)
  • I don’t measure my starter when I’m feeding it – I just scrape the whole thing into a bowl and feed it (whether it’s 4 oz of starter or 12 oz)
  • I don’t pre-ferment or fold and stretch my dough – I just chuck it in the breadmaker on the dough cycle and let it do its thing
  • I don’t use recipes specifically designed for sourdough – I just calculate how much extra flour I need to convert my tried and true bread recipes to sourdough
  • I don’t form boules or any other fancy-shaped loaves – I just stick my dough in a standard loaf pan and bake it like that
A half eaten loaf of faux-buttermilk bread and a full loaf of half-whole-wheat sourdough bread waiting to be eaten

In 2021, I’m planning to try some traditional sourdough, just for fun. But if it ceases to be fun? I can always go right back on doing what I’m doing.

And if you’ve been thinking about trying sourdough but are intimidated by all the fancy instructions, replete with NEVERs and MUSTs? Take a deep breath and dive in anyway – sourdough done all wrong still tastes pretty good.