Family Time

Katurah just announced that we are a very random family. I thought this was kinda funny but when I looked around I thought maybe she was right. So here we are at 9:00 PM on a Thursday evening.

Mom cutting out dresses for her and Katurah. Excuse the toys in the background. No, I did not pick them up before going to bed.

Dad working on a batch of ‘panhous’ with Loren showing keen interest.

Bert and Paul supposedly working on the new Relish Barn website, but on closer inspection that seems to be trucks that I’m seeing.

Katurah is for some reason checking her blood pressure by putting the cuff on her foot. I feel very uncertain as to the point of this. 

I can’t quite tell if she’s laughing or crying here but she is trying to get her dress finished.

And this was my project. Breakfast for tomorrow morning.

Matt is conspicuously absent. He was in bed already.

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My Heritage 

I value my heritage too little, I think, and other times I think I value it too much. I have too little appreciation, too little knowledge, even, of the trail marked out for me to follow. Perhaps it backfired- they made the road to easy- or perhaps they simply did not expect a day when Christianity had so little opposition. One is unlikely to prepare for what one does not expect.

I think, sometimes, of those hero martyrs gone before. I think of the scores of men and women who died for their faith and I am ashamed of how little I do think of them. They who died for that which I take for granted. The heroes, the cloud of witnesses, do they not deserve our utmost respect. Should not we hold them up as heroes just as the African Americans do Martin Luther King Jr. and the baseball players Babe Ruth?

But we don’t. Too often we do not even know their names, much less their stories. Do they not deserve more?

And then at times I think we value our heritage too much. It becomes our identity to be an Anabaptist instead of being a follower of Jesus. We care more about what church someone is from than we do about whether they’re excited about Jesus. We spend more time discussing geneologies than we do about what God has been doing for them.

There is a dichotomy in our story. We have developed a culture of being “the quiet in the land” but our heritage is one of heretics and law breakers. We are followers of Jesus. We are also Anabaptist. They are labels we wear. They set a standard do us to follow. But even here, the pathway is vague. Rocky. Ridden with side paths and detours. We must choose beyond these labels. What kind of Anabaptist will you be. Are you, like Conrad Grebel and Felix Manx, revolutionary in your thinking, daring to think beyond what you are taught, daring to go farther than your teacher or will you choose to be the quiet in the land. Peaceful farmers who mind their own business. 

We have a heritage, we have a culture. I believe our culture was born of our heritage but I also believe we have gone too far. Our country has gone too far. Our churches have gone too far. 

We can no longer, in good conscience, be the quiet in the land. God has called us to higher paths. It’s time to reclaim our heritage.

We lose the things we do not appreciate. We make the mistakes of our ancestors when we no longer tell their stories. We lose too much, my friends, when it no longer seems important. 

Am I a follower of Jesus? Am I an Anabaptist? Can I be both? Perhaps it’s time to take an honest look, to be sure that the things I think are Anabaptist really are Anabaptist. Is my culture Anabaptist or is it simply an accumulation of traditions? What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus and am I willing to be one of His.

Mexico Day

In an attempt to make social studies relevant and interesting and celebrate some birthdays in the process, we dedicated our afternoon to Mexico. Sharon, Rose, and Angela spent they’re forenoon cooking and brought us an amazing lunch of tacos, rice, guacamole, tres leche cake and flan.

The 6th graders are studying Latin America this year so they had prepared a presentation for us.

We had a bit of trouble with our Pinata but they did manage to get to the candy eventually.

The younger ones made sombreros out of paper plates and cups, the older ones did a traditional Aztec craft using yarn and sticks. Ojo de Dios. Which, I understand, means ‘eye of God’. They turned out to be amazingly simple and fun as well as beautiful

 Rosie had a short Spanish class and taught us a few basic words. Although I realize quite well that they will never learn it well and fluently by having a Spanish class every now and then, that’s not really the point. The point is that they learn that languages are different. That ‘a’ in English may have a different sound in Spanish. That grammar rules are different. That they even have sounds not represented by our alphabet.

We ended the day by playing “pin the tail on the donkey” I was very surprised that most of them had never heard of it before. It was a success, I believe, and silas won the 1 dollar coin.

I told my students recently that the correct answer to “why do we study __________(any subject) is “because it makes my life better”. I believe that learning is fun. I also believe that many children have forgotten that learning is fun. If I have one goal for my students it is simply that they would graduate as eager to learn as they were to start first grade. 

Wild Horses?

One of my favorite things about my mountains is how there is always more than what you see at first sight.

Several of our Church people have talked about how they went to see the wild horses. I never paid much attention to what it actually was. Not until they asked our family to go with them one evening. 

Willy was home from Faith Mission for the weekend. Bert and Willy are best friends. So as Bert wanted to be with Willy and his family wanted to be with Willy, his mom suggested we just all do something together, and suggested we go see the wild horses. We said sure.

We drove winding roads for about an hour before turning onto a steep gravel lane that wound up, up the mountain.

It was lovely. We reached the plateau at the top and parked our cars. The horses came running. Turns out the horses aren’t wild at all. They were overwhelmingly friendly. I’m slightly scared of horses. I like to pet them over the fence. Being surrounded by a herd of horses who are all sniffing and nudging at me is slightly overwhelming. I petted them gingerly. 

The story seems to be that the horses are abandoned. There are approximately 150 horses there on several hundred acres. There is a run down trailer in a corner of the field that looks lived in but we didn’t see anybody. I doubt if anyone really takes care of them. They roam at will, and forage for their food. 

Loren found this “heart shaped” rock among the hundreds on the hill. I suggested he keeps it for about 30 years and then gives it to his girlfriend. He just looked at me kinda funny and said “but I gave it to you”. 

Oh. 

Now I have a “heart shaped” rock.

Bert says that when my children in times to come say “What mean these stones? ” I can tell them the story of this evening. I guess that would work.

We ate supper there. Up on the mountain. The sun went down slowly as we munched sandwiches and chips, drank cups of tea and ate pieces of chocolate cake. Bert and Willy thought this would be a good time to change the tail light in his truck. I don’t know why.

We girls rode down the mountain on the back of the truck. We bounced along, singing at the top of our lungs ‘ Poor Folks’ ‘Single Life’ and ‘Will the Roses bloom in Heaven’

At the bottom of the hill we jumped off the back and piled into the truck. We forgot to close the tailgate. That was the last we saw of our 5 gallon water jug. Hopefully someone finds it and uses it. It was a good jug.

We ended our evening at Dairy Queen. Eating ice cream and talking about horses and life and anything else that entered our minds. 

These are magic moments, and therefore magic days, and therefore magic years.

October in my Mountains

October has come to my mountains. Glorious October. If you’ve never been to my mountains in October, come now. You won’t regret it.

The skies are the bluest blue in my mountains, the grass the greenest green. And in October, the trees are a riot of oranges and yellows. 

Goldenrod grows in abundance in the fields along with all manner of wildflowers

Harvest time is upon us and we gather the last of the garden; squash, sweet potatoes, and herbs

We went walking this afternoon, my friend and I, and as we. wandered along the winding trail we marveled at the beauty of God’s earth. Why us, we wondered, why should we have this much beauty set before us. Why, when the world is full of pain and hurts, are we surrounded by glory? why? 

We picked persimmons. and acorns and cat tails. We jumped over the snake on the path.

She poked him with her stick because she’s that kind of friend but he only looked at us so we went on our separate ways.

We’ll never understand the “whys” of God. A God we could understand would be pointless, no longer God. And so my heart holds thankfulness. I am thankful to God. A God I will never understand. A God I do not wish to understand.

School days

These 3 girls found a tiny snail and kept it in a cup for several days, while they diligently cared for it and observed it.

 Learning about line drawings in art class.

Four square is definitely “game of the year”. They would play it every single recess if we’d let them.

A social studies project. They studied Nigeria and built their own tiny compound with clay houses.

7th and 8th grade reading list for the year. We’ve already had some amazing discussions on the books they’ve read so far.

I love that they are learning about formal debate and slavery and the cival war all in one project.

The story of Eleanor 

When Eleanor was but a wee little thing, Paul rescued him, He kept him in a little bed in his bedroom and fed him with a dropper. We thought he would die. Kittens don’t often survive when cared for by 12 yr old boys. But Eleanor did. He grew slowly but surely, his coat black and glossy. He was a house cat from the start, coming and going at will through Paul’s bedroom window that he kept propped open just for him. It never seemed to enter his mind that he was not every bit as much a part of the family as any of the rest of us, and perhaps he was right.

Loren named him Eleanor. He was just a little fellow then, and Eleanor a tiny kitten. We didn’t realize until later that he is actually a tomcat. But it was too late then. He must forever be Eleanor now.

  You have to understand, we aren’t exactly a cat loving family. We aren’t a cat hating family either. More like a ‘cats should stay in the barn’ kind of family. Dad never allowed cruelty of any kind and I’m proud to say that I have 6 brothers who would never kick a cat. Dorcas Smucker says you can judge a man by how he treats a cat and I dare say she is right.

Eleanor doesn’t really consider himself a cat tho, He is after all, part of the family. If he needs to get out during the night, he knows he needs to go into mom and dad’s room and meow loudly. He knows if he wants breakfast he needs to get from dad, he’s the only one who actually shares his food.  

We have come to feel it is quite comforting on winter days to see watch him sleep before the fire. He keeps himself meticulously clean and we have never found cat hair in our house. Even Larry, who is the closest thing to a cat hater in the family, grudgingly admitted that “he is pretty nice as far as cats go”

He is the most patient cat I have ever met. He let’s children play with him, pull his tail, hold him clumsily. Anything. Almost. There was only one little girl ever who was too much for him. We found him hiding in the closet. 

    Our friends and family are all a bit shocked by Eleanor’ s presence, justifiably thinking that our family has enough chaos without adding a cat to the melee. But Eleanor adds a bit of security to our lives. He’s always there, a constancy in the ever changing scenes of our life. Usually.

    Last week, Matt and Paul were driving happily down the road about a mileage a half from home. Matt was driving at a pretty good speed when he heard something on the back of the truck and glanced back just in time to see Eleanor take a flying leap off of the side of the truck.

    Matt and Paul, who have thankfully never been infected with the cat hatred that seems to be required of teenage boys, pulled off and walked up and down the road calling for the family cat. They saw no trace of him at all.

    They came home, and we waited anxiously for several days, hoping he had lost only one of his nine lives. Matt felt fairly sure he was dead. “I was going pretty fast, I’m not sure he could have survived”

    Paul was more hopeful and I think couldn’t bear the thought that his beloved Eleanor was really gone.

    Three days went by. We began to give up hope. Perhaps he really was gone. And then, there he was. His face has a big scrape right above his eye and he’s a bit thin. But he was home. He was welcomed with a feast of milk and chicken. Dad sent a message to all the family “the prodigal has returned!” When Loren came home from school he flopped on the ground beside him and just held him for a little. There was much rejoicing. He that was lost has been found.

    A Food Adventure

    There is one thing I really appreciate about my Mom. Ok, there’s more than one but this one is really big. She always made food seem like an adventure. When there was something new to try she always tried it and she was excited about trying it. She made us feel as if we were definitely missing out by not trying it.

    When the first green peas were ready to pick, we fought for our share. When we had fresh lettuce salads in the spring, it was a time of excitement. She presented new recipes as though they were a new found treasure. “Guess what I made!” and we would all dive in ready to share our opinion on this interesting new dish.
    As a result, her children are, for the most part, not picky eaters. And all of us eat adventurously.  When we spent a week in Haiti with Aunt Mary we eagerly tried each new dish. Some of them thought the banana porridge was going a bit far, but none of us regret trying it. When bert came home from the Philippines he proudly told us about the moment on the plane when the stewardess was passing out breakfast of either egg sandwiches or “Chou lo tolko” (ok fine, it was something like that). All of his comrades asked for an egg sandwich while Bert said confidently, “I’ll have the Chou lo talko” He had no idea what it was and I’m not sure that he had much more of an idea what it was after he ate it than he did before he ate it. That’s beside the point, however. The point is that trying this food, no matter what it was, added richness to his life.

    In the last year we’ve discovered a lovely little Thai place in kingsport that inspired us to try cooking some Thai food ourselves. Sharon has nearly perfected her sticky rice and spring rolls are surprisingly easy, fun, and delicious.

    We’ve always loved Chinese food and we have an awesome buffet in Middlesboro but recently a friend of ours was telling us about a Chinese takeout place that’s there too. Tonight I had a chiropractor appointment so Sharon went with me and when I was done there, we suddenly remembered this little Chinese place.  We felt it was an opportune time so we found it on the GPS and after some twists and turns and a wrong turn or so, we finally found it on a back alley. Sharon parked, looked around, and announced “I am definitely not going in there.” I got out quickly before she could leave. 

    “We are so going in there. You’re gonna regret it if you leave. ”

    “What if we die?!”

    “Greg eats here all the time and he didn’t die”

    I marched in and Sharon followed reluctantly, still quite uncertain.

    I scanned the menu, and ordered confidently.

    “I’ll have the shrimp lo mein”.

    He looked at me and rattled off a whole row of broken English much to fast. I caught something about chou mein and lo mein and assuered him I really did want the lo mein, while mentally pulling a blank on what the difference is between the two.

    Our food was ready in about 5 minutes. We climbed back into our car and drove out into the main part of town before stopping to eat it. 
    It was piping hot and delicious. Fresh Cabbage rolls and General Tso’s chicken and fried rice on top of the lo mein, which was a mixture of bok choy, celery and onions. 

        Sharon says she’s never eating there again. She loved the food but she’s a little more grossed out than I am. I think I’ll eat there again. It was good. And besides, they have a big menu and I think it would be such an adventure to try everything on it

    A Sacrificial Life

    Sharon and Bert spent the last three days in Florida. They served large pots of chili and fried many a hot dog. They also cooked breakfast each morning for a crew of hard working  volunteers who spent their days doing flood clean up and chatting with people who had lost so much.

    Sharon, Meg, and Rosie were the 3 girls in the group. Emily (my co-teacher) and I watched them go a bit enviously. It inspired some thinking on my part. It started before they left. I said to Sharon “make sure you pray for the people you serve food to”.

    She laughed “that’s your job,” 

    And so I thought about that and I thought about Mary and Martha. I identify with Martha. I can so see myself there, making supper for the visiting pastor and being so totally annoyed that Sharon just sits there and listens to him talking instead of helping. I mean, really, this guy came far to preach for us and he’s no doubt hungry and tired. Tired of talking even. Everyone should just mind their manners and give the guy a break. Everyone knows you don’t talk to guys when they’re hungry or tired. I see myself there. In Martha’s shoes. I feel sorry for her. People are always so hard on her and I’m just here like, no, that’s me. Please try to understand. Marthas always mean well. 

    But it was good for me to have the chance to be a Mary. It was good for me to be the one who stays at home and prays. I could use more time sitting at Jesus’ feet. 

    But it was hard for me to see them go. I would have loved to be in the middle of it. It was much more of a sacrifice for me to stay here and teach my wonderful students and do the housework in the evenings than it would have been to get up at 5:30 to make breakfast for 30 people. To me, just having that experience is worth far more than any money I made the 3 days they were there. An experience is something that no flood waters can ever take from you. Something that is always part of who you are.

    We had some good texting conversations too. Ones that went like this:

    Meg: “Don’t y’all feel guilty for being at home making money while we are here serving the Lord?”

    Me:”Don’t you feel guilty for leaving us at home to do our work plus yours?”

    We really do enjoy those conversations. And it did make me think a lot about what service really is and what it means to live sacrificially. I think most of the time the ones who make the biggest sacrifices are the ones we never notice because they’re somewhere in the background, quietly working or maybe simply sitting at the feet of Jesus. 
    It’s not that Mary wasn’t doing anything. Don’t ever think that. Mary simply knew where the real power was. Mary, I think, was a prayer warrior. She was involved, committed, and busy. Busy serving the Master. Just as we should be.

    I’m slightly worried that this sounds like I’m really bragging myself up for being the sacrificial one here and staying at home but that really isn’t the point. It just made me think. That’s all.

    The price of adventure

    Although she has nine children and a big burly husband, my aunt Erma is, at heart, probably the most adventurous of all of my aunts. She, along with her husband and seven of her  children spent this week at our house while they built a barn for bert on the farm that he rents.

       We’ve had numerous mini adventures together all week long but tonight was the big one. 

    About 20 miles from our house, up winding mountain roads and trails, you’ll find Hensley’s settlement. It’s an abandoned settlement, perfectly preserved with barns, cabins, a schoolhouse, and a moonshine still. Most of the time the only way to get there is by hiking a rigorous 4 miles up the  mountain. Once a year they open the road and let people drive up (4 wheel drive vehicles only) 

    We tried this before once. It went like most of our family adventures do. There was supposed to be a meteor shower. It was so cloudy we didn’t see a single star. We almost got stuck going up and the boys ended up getting out to push us through a mudhole. Someone picked up our water jug by the top and it fell and spilled into the pasture leaving us with zero liquid for our 2 hours of wandering through the settlement. We haven’t tried it again. Until today.

    Last night we thought it would be a good idea. John and Erma were both enthusiastic and wanted to go so we thought, why not?. Of course this time will be different. 

    I was making donuts all day with the youth group and since it was cold and rainy all day, I assumed that the idea was dropped. I guess not. Mom called me about 4 and wondered why I wasn’t home, they’re waiting on me to leave. oh. ok. We were just finishing up the donuts so I flew home, dashed up the stairs, in and out of the shower and back out into the truck.

    We had some very philosophical discussion on wether doing things like going to Hensley Settlement on a cold rainy day adds new dimensions to your life or simply makes you miserable for 4 hours of your life. If I would find it more enjoyable to spend my evening in a coffee shop, why wouldn’t I just do that? Or do I miss something important when I think like that? We agreed that we can all choose to enjoy our evening even if we’d enjoy other things more but that doesn’t really answer the question.

    All that aside, Hensley Settlement is quite fascinating both historically and in simple beauty. The thick fog gave us an eerie beauty that one only experiences occasionally.

    We picked apples off of 100 year old trees.

    And this was my favorite. I am totally fascinated by old quilts. More than anything else they seem to hold the stories of the generations before.

    And so now I think of the things this evening has brought to me. Besides the apples and the quilts, I chewed on a sassafrass stick (it tasted like chai tea)and  I learned that jewelweed is a cure for poison ivy.  After seeing the graves of ten children, all from the same family, I have a renewed appreciation for the hardships of the pioneer life.


    We gave up on the picnic supper though, and came home to eat sandwiches and drink hot chocolate in our warm, lighted house. And because of my mixed up values I ate a chicken salad sandwich made with sourdough whole wheat bread and carefully crafted hot chocolate with cocoa powder and coconut oil and then finished up with half a piece of pecan pie made with high fructose corn syrup.