Proving the Porch Prophets Wrong

April 13th, 2018

When we were designing our current home, I read about front porches extensively.

Social commentaries wrote of the decline of front porches as a metaphor for loss of community. Design folks talked about how so many homes have inadequate front porches – large enough to add expense, too small to actually live on. Go big or go home, they seemed to say. Yet they cautioned that plenty of people dream of a front porch, even build a usable one, only to find that their lives don’t match their aspirations.

I was, and am, determined to avoid that terrible fate.

Our front porch

We spent last summer putting a railing on the porch, made a gate for the front steps right before we licensed for foster care this year. Daniel got us a porch swing for Christmas and I used saved up gift money to buy a table and chairs.

Whenever the weather warms to sixty degrees or so, Daniel and I will move “couch time” out to the porch swing, swinging and talking about our days while the kids play in the yard. The wind chime Daniel gave me for my birthday a couple years ago jingles merrily behind us.

I get up to make dinner, and when the time comes to set the table, I tell Daniel that I think I’d like to eat on the porch today.

“I’m shocked,” he replies. “Shocked.”

A tale of two batteries

April 12th, 2018

I clicked on the mouse.

Click. Click.


I turned the mouse over to see if it was turned on.

Rattle. Rattle.

That’s not normal.

I opened the battery slot to discover…

that Louis had taken out the mouse’s AA battery and replaced it with the baby monitor’s AAA battery.

He’s been using the baby monitor as a clothes iron.

Abundance: I Don’t Have to Start a Fire

March 18th, 2018

Have you ever considered that for most of human history, if you wanted to eat hot food you had to start a fire?

I’d defrosted some BBQ Pork from the freezer, intending to put it in the crockpot this morning before church. But instead, I had to throw together a Sunday school lesson (what happens when one teacher is gone for the week and then two more get sick? Well, the one that’s left makes do!) and neglected to put in the pork. So we microwaved the pork when we got home from church.

And then, while I was cleaning up dishes, my PrayerApp reminded me to give thanks to God for the material blessings he has given us.

That’s when I started thinking about the abundance I enjoy.

I don’t have to start a fire.

Instead, I can start one of my two crockpots (if I remember in time). Or I can throw food in the microwave. Or fire up my propane range with the turn of a knob. Or I can stick food in one of the two ovens I own (convection or standard).

That’s right. I own SIX food-heating devices (and that’s not counting the specialized water heaters I have – an electric coffeepot and tea kettle – or the waffle iron or George Foreman grill).

We have such an abundance.

Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to start a fire.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

March 3rd, 2018

I’m glad I set my expectations low for this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge – because we didn’t get far.

But Tirzah Mae and I read Little House in the Big Woods together during rest time. I had to convince her to put down the picture books so we could pick up Laura nearly every day – but, nearly every day, she tried to convince me to keep reading Laura when I came to the end of the chapter. So I’m going to call it a win.

She asked me to re-read “the part where Aunt Ruby and Aunt Docia are fixing their hair” several times and named Louis’s doll “Charles” after Pa. The harmonica was renamed as a fiddle, all the better to play “Buffalo Girls” with. We played with a balloon like Laura and Mary played with the pig’s bladder (although Tirzah Mae and Louis had a harder time sharing the balloon than Laura described her and her sister having!)

I occasionally wondered how much Tirzah Mae was understanding, but the things she talked about indicated that she understood more than I thought. I’ve also come to realize that some of the beauty of this first volume is its episodic quality. The seasons of the year (from the onset of one winter to autumn of the next year) provide structure for the book, but there is no overall narrative arc that one must understand. So if Tirzah Mae doesn’t understand churning butter? No problem. She’ll learn later and will still be able to enjoy the dance at Grandpa’s house.

I interviewed Tirzah Mae briefly this morning (about a week after we finished) to hear her thoughts on the book.

Which part do you remember?
The bear

Was there one bear or two bears?
One bear

What was the other one?
The stump of a bear

What did papa do?
He’s not papa, he’s pa.

So, what did pa do?
I don’t know. Hit it with a stick.

Should we read Laura again next year?
No… Just today.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be revisiting Laura in the future :-)

Thanks to Barbara for providing the impetus to continue reading and re-reading Laura year after year!

Postscript: Louis also enjoyed a few of the “My Little House books” books – and I caught a great photo of him perusing one here.

Where do toys come from?

February 12th, 2018

If you were to ask my children where toys come from, I’m almost certain they’d say “Mama.”

Press further, and you’d discover that my kids think mama makes all toys.

I know this because I get the Constructive Playthings catalog, and, like children have been doing for at least a century, my children use it as a “dream book.”

But while other children might recognize the catalog for what it is and might ask their mother to buy them the toys found within, my children come running to me:

“You should make THIS (pointing at one toy) and THIS.” And then they’re flipping through the catalog like mad, pointing at virtually everything, singing together: “THIS and THIS and THIS.”

They have limitless faith in my abilities.

When labels mislead

February 10th, 2018

I have a deep, dark secret. It’s bound to have other dietitians ready to throw me out of the club.

I don’t read labels.


I generally buy food based on price and count on my general tendency towards minimally processed ingredients for ensuring that I don’t end up with too much sodium or added sugar in our diets (although, who am I kidding, we get plenty of added sugar in our diets – I know it’s there because I’m removing it from my sugar bins by the cup- and spoonful.)

Anyway, there is one item where I routinely read the label (or at least read it when I’m deciding between stuff – then I go on autopilot.)

I read the labels on cans of fruit.

We eat canned fruit almost every day. If we were to try to get our 3-4 servings of fruit per day from fresh fruit alone, it could get pretty expensive (or pretty unvaried during certain seasons); but by using a combination of canned, frozen, dried, and (seasonal) fresh fruit, I can feed my family a good amount of fruit without breaking the bank.

But since I feed my family canned fruit on a daily basis, I have nutritional criterion for what I buy. I want as little added sugar as possible. What’s more, I want as little added sweetener as possible.

So, when possible, I try to get fruit packed in water. If that’s not available, I’ll go with fruit packed in its own juice or in extra light syrup. If fruit is packed in some other kind of juice, I want the concentration of that juice to be the same as the concentration of straight juice (so no using half the water to reconstitute fruit juice – that’s the nutritional and flavor equivalent of heavy syrup.) I only buy fruit in heavy syrup as a treat (for instance, you can’t buy canned plums any other way – and I have fond memories of my mom’s home-canned plums so I pick some up a couple times a year.)

Then came Splenda – and fruit canners decided all their dreams had come true. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, Splenda is heat-stable AND replaces sugar molecule-for-molecule. This means that they can use Splenda to get the same results as sugar (sweetness and better fruit texture) without the extra calories/added sugar that consumers don’t want. Perfect. They started using Splenda in their canned fruits.

I am not a fan.

Not to say that I’m not a fan of Splenda in general. It is a wonderful substitute for those who need to reduce sugar and still want to make their own recipes (so, it’s a great choice for diabetics who want to be able to eat their favorite dessert without having to make the rest of the meal completely carb free).

But even in the absence of the calories from sugar, I don’t want my children to grow up thinking canned fruit should be as sweet as it would be if it were canned in heavy syrup. I want to train their taste buds to think that water-packed (or “own-juices-packed”) fruit is “the way canned fruit should taste.”

But then I started using Walmart grocery pickup, where reading labels isn’t as easy as scanning visually while you’re tossing a can into your cart.

At first, I bought the Great Value fruit labeled “No Added Sugar.” But that was packed in Splenda. No go.

I switched to fruit “With 100% Fruit Juice”. It contains an extra 3 grams of sugar per serving (that’s 3/4 teaspoon) than fruit canned in water would.

But last week, I saw that there was a new item available: Great Value canned fruit packed IN WATER.

“Hooray! At last!” I thought, as I added it to my favorites and ordered some cans.

My hooray turned to disappointment when I looked at the label before I opened the first can of peaches.

These were not peaches packed in water. These were peaches packed in Splenda. They’d just changed the name of the “No added sugar” variety.


Snapshot: Little Boy Reading

February 9th, 2018

We only found a few of the “My Little House books” to check out of the library for this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge – but Louis is loving this one:

Louis reading "County Fair"

County Fair, adapted from Farmer Boy

Heart outside my body

February 5th, 2018

Elizabeth Stone (whoever she is) once said that “making the decision to have a child… is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

Most of the time, when I read this quote on a pretty background while scrolling through Pinterest, I roll my eyes. That is everything that is wrong with parenting these days, I think. Parents are just too absorbed in their children.

And then my baby gets her first cold.

All my children

I remember it with Tirzah Mae, a few weeks after she came home from the hospital. She was snuffling and gasping and we’d been trained into terror of RSV by the NICU staff.

We took her to our doctor, who smiled indulgently at these first time parents freaking out about a simple cold. He described the warning signs of something worse than just a cold and sent us home (thankfully, he didn’t /doesn’t subscribe to the “give a baby antibiotics just to ease troubled parents’ minds” line of thought.)

Even knowing that Tirzah Mae’s cold was just a cold, I still felt with every labored breath that my heart was rattling outside my chest – and that said heart was just about to break.

Somehow, it doesn’t get easier. Beth-Ellen was a term baby. Her objective risk of serious complications of a cold is lower than the other children’s risk was. I’m a more experienced mom and have weathered dozens of colds.

But when Beth-Ellen got a cold this weekend, at just shy of six weeks old, my heart was out there coughing. And when she lost her voice and could only squeak instead of screaming? My heart, oh my heart, squeezed until it’s crushed. And when she started wheezing with every breath in and out? I was sure she was dying – and that I was dying with her.

And just as I’m about to wake my husband and tell him we need to head to the ER (but am worried because, for some reason, it seems like every time we go to the ER, the problem resolves while we’re there and I look like a fool) – anyway, just as I’m about to wake Daniel and head off to the ER, I remember where my heart actually belongs.

My heart doesn’t belong in my children’s chests. It doesn’t even belong in mine. My heart belongs to God.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5 ESV)

Sure, I’d prayed for Beth-Ellen at our evening devotions, and earlier when she’d come up in my prayer app. But during all this worrying? I hadn’t been entrusting her to the Lord.

I stopped. I confessed my lack of trust. I prayed for healing and for wisdom to know when to have Beth-Ellen seen. I entrusted my daughter to God’s care, entrusted my heart to him.

And the labored wheezing settled, the noisy breathing calmed, the restless sleep eased. My daughter slept in peace.

And I did too, my heart still walking outside my body, but this time walking with the one who holds it – and my daughter – so tenderly.

My heart and my daughter can find rest in God alone.

To paraphrase the Psalmist: Why so troubled, O my heart? Put your trust in God!

Tax Time, Now and Then

February 3rd, 2018

Now that it’s the beginning of February and everyone has gotten us our tax documents, it’s time for the Garcia household to do taxes.

So Louis and Papa sat down this morning to plug the numbers into Turbo Tax.

Louis sits in papa's lap, doing taxes

It got me reminiscing about tax time in my family growing up.

Growing up, Dad did the taxes with a paper form (when did electronic filing and tax software start? He probably started using TurboTax sometime in my teen years).

April 15 meant papers spread across the kitchen table as dad crunched numbers and filled out the form.

Why April 15? Well, no need to give the government your money any sooner than necessary. Let it sit in your own bank account earning you money. (Of course, this logic only applies if you’ll be paying taxes versus getting a refund for taxes already withheld.)

Around 11, it’d be time to slide the completed form into its envelope and carefully affix the stamp, flag flying upside down as a sign of distress.

Then to the car, to drive to the downtown post office, where uniformed employees stood beside the big blue mailboxes collecting tax forms from all of us to-the-wire filers. (Is that memory correct? Were there really people there collecting tax documents? Or were we so late that they were there counting down the time until midnight when they’d empty the mailbox and ding everyone after us as a late filer? Or am I just imagining the person in uniform standing beside the mailbox during those late night visits?)

Let’s just say that our children will have a very different experience of doing taxes than I did.

We love Laura

February 2nd, 2018

“We’re going to get some more books about Laura from the library,” I told Tirzah Mae.

“With Pa and Ma and Mary and Carrie?” she asked.

I answered yes.

Tirzah Mae knows and loves Laura and Ma and Pa and Mary and Carrie from the “My First Little House Book” Christmas in the Big Woods, which we had in our Christmas basket this year.

But our trip to the library only yielded three “My First Little House Books” – and of those three, two were about Almanzo rather than Laura. I sought to relieve Tirzah Mae’s obvious disappointment by promising that we could get mama’s Laura book from the basement and read it together.

It was already late and mama was busy with other things when we got back from the library, but Tirzah Mae reminded me of my promise again and again until, the next morning, we finally went down to the basement to get Little House in the Big Woods.

We started reading right away, reading the first part of the first chapter, until just before the pig butchering.

We were reading – are reading – Laura for Barbara H’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

I’ve also checked out a number of new-to-me children’s biographies of Laura, but I don’t know how much I’ll be able to read of them since my personal reading time is limited and Daniel and I have a couple books we’re trying to work our way through together.

However much we manage to get through, I’m so glad to join Barbara again for this challenge (the sixth year participating in the challenge and my second year participating with Tirzah Mae).

Because we love Laura.