Tuesday, March 27, 2012


It's just so hard for a little one to understand why the "big kids" can go outside...

smocked baby

Please take me outside, Momma!


How about if I get my own coat, drag the stool to the door, and try to turn the knob myself?

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It's ABOUT TIME, Momma!!!

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All sweet baby girls should have at least one smocked bishop dress in her wardrobe, whether she lives in the south or not!



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Those wonderfully warm "summer" nights are gone, we're back to an actual Michigan spring, but we sure enjoyed that week of sunshine warming our skin, soft evening breezes, birds bustling through the tree branches, and the creaking of the swingset while laughter echoed between the hills.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Driving down the road last week, I overheard this conversation in the back seat:

Elayna: "...and there will be 3 Mommas and 2 Daddies in our house. And there will be a baby and I will born the baby!"

Emmy: "Hey! I'm NOT A BOY!"

Elayna: (pausing for a moment) "There will be 4 Mommas and 2 Daddies! I didn't call you a boy!"

Emmy: "But I'm not going to be a Momma. Mommas have stretched out skin all over their tummy and I don't want to have that."

Me: *Cough*Choke*

Elayna: "But... EMMY!"

Emmy: "And besides that, we are NOT going to have babies, we are going to be WORLD EXPLORERS, remember? You can't be a world explorer if you have babies!"

Elayna: "Well, I changed my mind."

Emmy: "You CAN'T change your mind, Bean! You HAVE to be a world explorer!"

Elayna: "Yes, I CAN!"

Emmy: "But Bean, we're going to have the *Yellow* explorer truck! The YELLOW one, Bean!"

Elayna: "No, we're not!"

Emmy: "Yes, we are!"

Elayna: "No, we're NOT!"

Emmy: "YES WE ARE."

At this point I was chuckling and they were giving up on each other.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Paddy's Day Greenies!

In keeping with this Christmas/Valentine's tradition of being a day late and a dollar short, I'd like to present you with these "St. Patrick's Day" girls in green. On March 18. Naturally.

Even though these were taken a month ago.

Hey! It's been a busy week!

February 2012 069

Locks and Lace



I promise, she's not wearing lipstick! I don't know what was up with the color on this one! I tried to correct it but.... I don't know, maybe it was all the GREEN in the pic that was throwing me off!

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February 2012 039

Spring Sprung

...and the south wind blew.
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8 days after those pictures of the snow storm were taken, this is what the same chunk of land looked like:

10 days after we woke up with no power, no water, 15 inches of snow, and -10 degree weather, it was....

....are you ready for this?

81 degrees.


In my 12 years of living in Michigan, this is definitely a first for me. So far the only time I've busted out the shorts in March it was to pack them for a trip to Florida!

Happy Girl

I'm gonna hafta like shave my legs now, man.

Sure, it's been a mild winter and all, but I am just not READY for SUMMER yet. It's MARCH y'all!


I'm convinced the moment I pack up the snow pants and stow away the snow boots the weather will laugh in my face and I'll realize I've just fallen for the best bait-and-switch EVER.


So for the moment I am eyeing the boxes of summer clothes and reluctantly digging out a single item at a time as needed, in all its folded, wrinkly, storage bin glory, worn only if the poor children get so sweaty it's either let them wear it or let them go naked. Which wouldn't bother them any.

As insane as it sounds, we've had 3 days over 80 degrees in the past week, and three more in the immediate forecast.

Now if Torch Lake would just warm up as quickly, we'd be all set. You know, minus the humidity and bugs that inevitably accompany this sort of weather here. And somewhere, in the deep woods of Michigan, a tiny black fly bursts forth, hungry, seeking its prey...

Sunset 1

Friday, March 16, 2012

Roughing It - Part 3

March 4: evening

We prepared for bed, wondering what the work week would look like. Flannel pajamas, socks, and hoodies pulled up over our heads, we crawled in between the flannel sheets and snuggled down under the piles of blankets and down comforter.

This was nothing new to us, though. Our bedroom used to be a front porch. I think they forgot to put insulation in the walls. And if you peel up a floorboard you'll look straight down to.... dirt. Nope, not kidding there. It also sits on the northwest corner of the house, you know, to get the full effect of those lovely nor'westers that like to blow through in the winter. You know that whole "Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap" thing? Yeah, we get that now. We finally put a thermometer INSIDE our bedroom a couple of months ago, just to see how cold it really gets at night in the winter. This was a mild winter - the lowest temp we saw in our room was 38.

March 5:

But on Monday, March 5, I didn't think to go back, in the predawn darkness, and look with my kerosene lamp at the temperature gauge in the bedroom, though with an outside reading of -10, it was likely to be pretty close to freezing in there.

Colby dressed in the dark living room, warmed by the fire in the stove, and drove away to work, his lights blazing through the utter darkness surrounding us in the valley, illuminating the snow covered trees. I stood in the window, holding the lamp, watching him blink his brake lights back at me three times to say "I love you", then turn, his headlights winding through the trees.

By the time the children were awake I was 100 pages into a new book.

And I'd discovered the plain cake donuts that Colby had brought home. Let me just say right now there is something simply wonderful about a plain cake donut dipped in coffee.

We began our day as we usually do on school days, with worship and reading, but it was impossible to hold their attention long. As the sun came up it was obvious the day was going to be beautiful. The blue sky against the snow that still clung heavily to every branch made an impressive backdrop to their SNOW FORT!!!!




After a fun time in the snow and a warm up by the fire with hot chocolate, we packed up and headed out to run some errands and escape from the isolation of the house.

Little Valley Farm




We went to Colby's Dad's house where the kids played the wii and I was able to take a shower and catch up on facebook a little before we needed to run a couple more errands and head home.

After dinner we read more of Farmer Boy and tucked the bundled up little Evie Claire into her bed before sitting down at the table for a round of Review & Herald's Birds game.

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The kids take this game very seriously, if you can't tell! At least the older two do. They compete to get the birds of prey books. Elayna would rather sit on my lap and snuggle still.

March 6:

By now the routine didn't feel as foreign. No more fumbling as I lit the kerosene lamp, no more trying the light switches every time I walked into a room. Now if only I could say the same for the other tasks of the day, like getting water for washing dishes, bathing, and getting clean water to drink. I didn't even WANT to think about what I'd need to do for laundry. Either way, doing it by hand or taking 4 kids to the laundromat held the same basic lack of appeal.

We do have a well in our basement. We are fortunate to be able to have such a readily available source of water, but our old hand-pump needs a small repair in order to function. If we had been able to use the pump during our power outage, it would have been incredibly helpful. I also need a wash board, more chimneys for the other two kerosene lamps, a pair of Muck Arctic Sport boots like Colby's (try wading through thigh-deep snow in YOUR husband's boots for a while, whew!) and maybe some more perseverance in the optimistic attitude category.

Because, to be honest, by this time the adventure had gone out of it for me completely. Why bother making the bed? Why bother getting dressed? The house felt dirty. I felt dirty. It was beginning to feel like a camping trip that I couldn't go home from.

But we got up anyway, made the bed, washed the dishes, and hit the school books. At lunch time we were out of drinking water and were needing to pack up and go get more when I noticed the service truck parked out by the downed power line.


Shortly after that two bucket trucks showed up and within an hour the electricity was back on. It was LOUD. The refrigerator, water pump, and water heater seemed deafening after so many days of silence(and yes, writing it now, it does seem funny to call anything "silent" that included the presence of 4 children).

By nightfall we had all had baths. Warm, soothing, scrubbing-clean baths that felt heavenly. We tried to put the children to sleep with guitar music again, but it didn't work. It wasn't the same without the candles and kerosene lamp. We tried reading Farmer Boy, but only got through a couple of pages. The kids were excited. I couldn't really blame them. The whole thing had been a grand adventure that they won't soon forget. They went upstairs to their nightlights and their Your Story Hour tapes and climbed into their beds to sleep, safe, sound, warm, and to wake to new adventures on the morrow.

Outside their windows icicles dripped and clumps of snow fell from the branches and a south wind began to blow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roughing It - Part 2

March 3:

And then it began to snow....

.... and snow....

.... and SNOW...

Sometime in the night the power lines went down beneath the heavy snow-laden branches of our neighbor's trees.
Wrong Turn

We woke around our usual time of 4:30, lit a fire in the wood stove, and fumbled for some candles to light. Lined up across the mantle, they looked cozy and inviting, but were very poor light to read by, and dawn was hours away. I set the tea kettle on the wood stove, heated water for instant coffee and sat in cozy silence as we waited for daylight to show us what we already knew: Snowmageddon had HIT!

Ha ha ha! Don't you love that word? I always think of those poor, unhearty souls living in Indiana who shut down the schools with any snow accumulation over an inch and scream, SNOWMAGEDDON!

Yellow House

Colby, of course, stubborn soul that he is, who never misses work on account of weather, though he drives over an hour each way in blinding blizzards at times, shoved his way out the door, down the road, and off to church. Where he was met by the few other stubborn, like-minded souls and they "fellowshipped" since there could be no service without a (stuck-in-the-snow) pastor. Or piano player. Or... members.

We had cold cereal for breakfast, ran water into jars and pitchers until the pressure was gone, and toasted bagels on the wood stove. Buckets of snow were brought in to melt so we could flush the toilet.

Corner Post

We read books, drew pictures, played in the snow, dug out more candles, filled the kerosene lamp, and waited for the power to return. I finally found the connector for my car phone charger and I was really excited that I'd still be able to at least make a phone call! Turns out smart phones are not that smart out here in the sticks if you don't have wifi. But a dumb phone is better than no phone! Except for the part where I had to leave it in the car to charge so it was like having no phone. Hmm.

Colby went outside with the kids in the afternoon and built a snow fort, complete with long, winding tunnel and a roof above their heads.




Late that afternoon we went for a drive to see the snow. (And take pictures of old barns, of course!)
Fry's barn

White Barn

As the sun went down and the light waned, we pulled into a gas station to buy a couple of gallons of drinking water before going home. They were the last two jugs available and more customers were coming in behind us asking if there were more in the storage room! The lady in front of us had 8 gallons of water that she was buying, and all around us we heard stories of power being out, people without heat, families trying to find rooms at hotels, though several of the hotels were without power themselves.

We went home very thankful for our wood stove. Not only did it provide enough heat to keep us warm and safe, but prevented us from having to spend money on hotel rooms or generator fuel.

But we did have to figure out how to keep everyone warm while we slept.

In this old, old house, there are original floor grates that bring up warm air from the living room to the girls' room and Joshua's room. The forced air heating ducts were not added until much, much later! The floor grates were covered up when the forced air system was put in, but when we installed the wood stove 4 years ago we opened them back up so we wouldn't have to use the forced air to keep the kids warm in their rooms. The nursery, however, is completely disconnected from the forced air and has no access to the heat from the wood stove. We have always needed a space heater in there for the winter months. An electric space heater.

There was really no place warm enough in the house to have her sleep without being bundled up, so I layered her clothes and zipped her into her Patagonia sleeveless bunting, socks and uggs, jacket, and wished she would keep mittens on her little paddies. We did this every night we were without power, and except for the night she wet through every layer of clothes, she woke up warm and happy.

In the evening Colby brought out his guitar and played Dixie, One Tin Soldier, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound, until the children fell asleep sprawled around the living room in front of the fire.

March 4:
Sunday morning we slept in.

No point in getting up just to strain our eyes at the tiny little letters in books in the dim light.

The flannel sheets felt good. The house was quiet. We dozed, and I tried to remember the last time I'd slept in till 7. I think I must have been sick and unable to fully enjoy it as it should be enjoyed now and then. The fading darkness eventually called us out of bed, and again Colby built a fire and this time I set the stove-top percolator above the newly lit flames and waited for the smell of coffee to wake me up.


I mixed up some pancake batter, fed the fire, and cooked pancakes on our frying pan on top of the wood stove. Note to self: buy a cast iron fry pan. Why don't we already own one of those things? Actually, the pancakes turned out fine, even without a cast iron pan to use, and the kids gobbled them up without complaint.

We brought in buckets and buckets of snow to melt, which turns out to equal about few teaspoons of water when it's all said and done, or so it seems when all you do is bring in buckets of snow and wonder where the water is all going.

The refrigerator was beginning to warm up so I emptied the produce bins and Colby filled them with snow. We shoved them back in place and for the rest of the power outage, the snow in those bins did not fully melt. Nothing went bad. Of course, it helped that our laundry room was completely unheated and the milk, silk, and eggs went out there to stay cold!

I gathered, melted, and heated enough water (FINALLY!) to wash my hair with over a bin set in the bathtub. It felt good, but it was no hot shower!

Ah, well. Pioneer women never got hot showers, bathed once a week, and they still felt human! I can DO this!, I told myself.

We spent the day once again reading, drawing pictures, playing in the snow, and holding a teething baby. Two teeth broke through that day. A molar on top, and an incisor on the bottom.

In the afternoon Colby went up to town and bought the missing parts (rather than drive back over to the city) for my stove, and by evening I was able to use the new gas cook stove to feed us, and heat water for washing dishes, counters, and faces.

More than anything else, it was that inability to wash my hands, grab a warm washcloth to wipe the baby's face and hands, and scrub off the table with that grated on my nerves. I kept a kettle on the stove with water specifically to dip a cloth in and clean with, but it never felt very clean to me, always a little gritty, though I think it might have been more mental than actual.

Once again, night fell cold and dark around us, seeped into the farmhouse, and we lit our candles and kerosene lamp. Colby drew out his guitar from its case in the corner, and I sang while he played. The children sat silent until their eyes grew heavy and we slipped them off to bed. Without night lights, without story tapes to listen to, without fuss, without fear.

We sat in the warm, steady glow of the kerosene lamp and wondered how the week would go. In the 10 years we've lived here, we'd never had the power out for 48 hours! Now it seemed as if it could go on at least that much longer, if not more. The night was growing colder; by morning it would be 10 below zero.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Roughing It - Part 1

It started over a month ago. My oven kept burning my cookies.

And taking two hours to cook my Special K Loaf. But mostly I was bummed out about the cookies.

See, I make really good chocolate chip cookies. Possibly the best chocolate chip cookies you've ever had. No, I don't have a big head and it doesn't need to be checked by a doctor. It's just... well, if you have never had my cookies you'll just have to drop by sometime and have one. And if you have, right now you're not even attempting to argue.

So, burnt cookies. As much as some (*cough* Dad) (*cough* Raini) love their cookies burnt, it was really bumming me out.

After a few batches of those and a few mishaps with raw K loaf and uncooked dinner rolls, it finally dawned on me that it was my oven that was not functioning, not me!

The top of the gas range still worked, though, so we took our time shopping around for a replacement and didn't try to use the oven (accept for that one frozen pizza incident). Let's just say craigslist is NOT the thriving hub in northern Michigan that it is in other parts of the country. And have you priced out new stoves recently?! No, thanks. Not if we could help it!

February 24:
Eventually we found an electric stove, used, but working. Okay, this will work in a pinch, I thought, so Colby brought it home, plugged it in, checked each burner to make sure it worked, and set me to cleaning it while he drove the old stove out to the scrap yard. (Don't you just love the finality of that little tidbit?)

After I scrubbed, I turned on the oven to 350 and went on my merry way of Friday afternoon cleaning and what not and thought I'd just try and see if the oven "felt" like it was getting to be the right temperature for baking.

15 minutes later I no longer cared if the oven was a perfectly well functioning appliance!

The house was filled with a stench that had us all choking, coughing, gagging, and BEGGING for mercy from the horrid monster of a stove-thing that sat stinking up our kitchen! We couldn't get it turned off and cooled off fast enough! The windows and doors stood open while the snow fell outside, the children all looked bewildered as they pinched their noses, and I was ready to sit down and burst into tears. Except... not anywhere near that stove.

Why the stench?, you ask. Well, if you've ever had the fortitude to live in a REALLY old house, you come to terms with the draftiness, the crumbling plaster, the dust bunnies on steroids... and mice. Usually the mice come in from any number of avenues beneath the house, rather than be imported via used kitchen appliances. But yes, once you have smelled the distinct smell of mouse, you'll recognize it anywhere.

I have another lovely mouse story to regale you with later. After I finish this stuff with the stove and the stuff about the storm. Don't let me forget.

So yes, back to the stinking house. The best we could do at the moment was to leave the windows open and flee to the hills. Or just to the grocery store, to stock up on lots of no-prep junk like crackers, bagels, and boxed cereal? Yes, even boxed cold cereal. Previous to this, it had been MONTHS since I'd bought a box of cold cereal! Dude, that stuff's expensive when you have a family that eats a whole box in one meal!

Seriously, I wandered aimlessly around the store trying to come up with ideas of what to fix for meals that didn't consist of the usual from-scratch ingredients I am used to on our frugal budget.

At least I still have my crock pot
, I sighed as I checked out.

At home the house was livable again, cold, but livable. Colby took the stove apart looking for the source of the smell and found it deep down inside the insulation around the oven... a mouse nest. Good enough. Schwoop! The stove went back out the way it came in and left me with a hole in my kitchen.

Just in time for Sabbath.

That week we looked high and low for another replacement stove that didn't cost an arm and a leg. In other words, we wanted to find a used one in good condition (i.e. without passengers to bring with it). Felt grateful to find one for just $100 on craigslist, spoke with the seller, made arrangements to pick it up on Friday.

Thursday night he called and said he sold it.

All during this time I'd been cooking with my crock pot and in pots sitting on top of the (really old) wood stove. Ahhh, it's been a good old stove, but really, it's very, very old cast iron and it's cracking. I can see an orange glow in the crack across the top. Uh, maybe I shouldn't admit that where my mother can read it! We are planning to replace the stove this year before fall hearth-fire season starts up again. (so if anyone sees a good deal...)

Colby hung up the phone from that disappointing phone call and told me the stove was gone. I looked at him a good long while with my chin wrinkled up and my lips pursed to keep from busting into tears, then turned and started walking determinedly toward the door.

"Hey, where are you going?", he asked the back of my head.

"If I have to WALK to Interlochen TONIGHT, I'm going to give that guy a piece of my mind!", I tossed back over my shoulder.

He got up and bodily blocked my way to the door, put his arms around me, and reminded me that God doesn't make mistakes.

"There is a REASON God didn't want us to waste our time and gas to go over there and buy THAT stove. I promise."

I sniffed away a few tears, but still went to bed feeling really bummed that the next day we'd be going into town and spending a bit more than $100 to buy a new stove. And still wanting to give that guy a piece of my mind. 'Cause, seriously, WHO DOES THAT? Who sells a stove out from under a woman who has been without a stove for a WEEK? Doesn't he know how inconsiderate that is?!


March 2:

The next morning we piled in the truck and shot over to town to find a stove. Well, first we had breakfast at Bob Evans. Then we shopped for a stove. First things first, you know, hot breakfast and all that.

So, we shopped around and coming up short we headed to a big box store.

"I'm looking for a gas range." Colby told the attendant in the stove department.

"We have this and this and this model here and ...", the attendant pointed out as they walked the floor model aisle.

"No, I'm looking for a simple gas stove, non electric.", Colby specified.

*Sniff*, said the attendant, with a completely puzzled look on his face. "These ARE gas stoves, the electric ones are over there..."

"I'm looking for one that doesn't need any electricity to run, no electric light, no clock, no plug-in."

"Like.... for a hunting cabin? That kind of stove?", said the bewildered attendant.

"Yes," Colby answered, "for a cabin."

So, once we established that we live in a rustic cabin, it was smooth sailing from there. Apparently that was the magic words, and off they went to the "cabin stove" aisle and found what we were looking for.

Our shiny new stove all loaded up, we headed home that Friday afternoon, excited to be able to cook in a somewhat normal fashion and maybe even get some bread rolls baked before Sabbath.

Or not.

At home, with all the lovely connections and testing processes and what-nots associated with installing a new stove, Colby discovered that the big-box store had neglected to include one tiny little thing: the propane conversion kit (which was included in the price we paid).

Once again, no stove in time for a nice Sabbath meal. No time to run all the way back to retrieve the missing parts. No alternative but to just wait until Sunday.

And then it began to snow...

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Does He Answer When We Pray?

I think we probably all have days when we feel as if our prayers are ascending no higher than the ceiling. Today is one of those days for me. I remembered these videos that a college friend of mine has produced and directed that I have been meaning to take the time to watch. I'm glad I watched them today. Hope you each gain a blessing from these stories of answered prayers, too!

marius from answered.tv on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

TOS Review: Reading Eggs!


Reading Eggs is an online program where kids learn to read!

There are no downloads, no software purchasing to do, just a simple, online-only subscription-based program.

We have tried several different programs this year to facilitate the learning to read process. This one was hands-down the girls' favorite! They never once called it "school", complained or whined when I asked them to sit down for Reading Eggs time, and instead asked to "play" their Reading Eggs "Game" often.

When one girl was on Reading Eggs, the other was invariably sitting next to her, watching. They both enjoyed it immensely!


First order of business: take the reading test to be placed at the right level. I was amazed that Emmy tested at a much higher level than I expected. She is still a little bit behind grade/age level, but is making great progress now towards the end of the year!

After both girls took their placement tests, they began work on their lessons. I don't even know where to begin! The website is such an easy layout, so intuitive, that after a session or two with each child, I needed to supervise their use of the program very, very little. The lessons are set up as a path to follow from one end to the other, with a big arrow pointing to where the student needs to click next. On the left side of the screen is an easy-to-read option spot where they can leave their lesson and go to their other choices, such as Playroom, Story Factory, Arcade, My House, etc. More options become available as the child progresses through the lessons.

The Playroom really looked like a playroom that any child would love to dive into at the end of a lesson time! You could choose any number of simple activities from blocks to puzzles, painting to book reading. Emmy's favorite was the painting. Every time.


Golden Eggs are earned by completing lessons which can then be used to choose games to play in the arcade. The arcade was actually explored very little as the girls found the lessons to be fun and entertaining on their own!

The parent interface is also very easy to use, easy to navigate. At the dashboard, you can choose each child from a drop-down menu to see their progress reports, what they've recently completed, and their estimated reading-age, phonics skills, and sight words. You can also go to the Free Activity Sheet page and download activity pages to go with each lesson!

Reading Eggs is for children just learning to read, ages 4-7. There are 100 lessons and they are currently working on more lessons to extend this part of the learning process for older kids who still struggle with the basics. If you have a child who reads the basics well but might need a little extra help with reading comprehension, Reading Eggs also offers Reading Eggspress! Geared toward the 7-13 year old crowd, this interactive learning tool teaches lifelong reading skills.


Occasionally Elayna (age 4) would become confused and need help with her lesson. At those times, I would come to the computer to help her and look for an easy button that would repeat the instructions so I could hear it and quickly move on. There isn't one. At first I found that frustrating for myself as a johnny-come-lately helper, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was teaching my children the importance of listening carefully to instructions the first time. And not once were we stumped for more than a minute or two. With a little bit of trial and error, deductive reasoning, and patience, Elayna found she really could figure out what needed to be done!

We found this to be just the right amount of interaction, animation, and graphics/sound for our family. There is not constant movement and music, which is important for us because I have one child who is easily overwhelmed when there's too much going on!

I see this as a great tool for any classroom, homeschool or not!

Pricing for Reading Eggs/Eggspress subscriptions are:
$9.95/month per student or..
$49.95 for 6 months (add a second child for an additional $24.95 - a 50% discount!)
$75.00 for 12 months (add a second child for $37.50!)

Sign up for your Free Trial here! No credit card is required, and you can sign up for up to 3 children!

As with all of my TOS Crew reviews, this product was provided to me for use in my own homeschool classroom free of charge in exchange for an honest review of the product and how we used it personally. I was provided access to the Reading Eggs program for one child for three months.


To read more reviews about this product by other TOS Crew members, go here!


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