Alabama Get-Away

A few years ago, some friends that we had become acquainted with through ministry work had invited us to come visit them in Alabama.  The time never seemed right, but this spring, when my husband suggested we schedule a few days vacation before our full summer of hosting work teams began, the time seemed good to take them up on their invitation.  Traveling south, the mountains soon gave way to a more rolling landscape.  We were surprised to see the Georgia sign on the highway, but soon we entered back into Tennessee, and then on to Alabama.  As we neared our destination, the land was interspersed with beautiful lakes.

Our friends were delightful hosts.  We enjoyed their company and conversation, delicious meals, relaxing in their hammocks, and learning about their travels and missionary experiences through the various art and nick-knacks they have collected.  The kids enjoyed talking to their parrot who could whistle a tune, meow like a cat, imitate a thumb piano, and call out the hostesses name.

One afternoon, we visited the Huntsville Botanical Garden which happened to have a special display of giant Lego Brick figures scattered throughout the gardens.   Figures included animals, flowers, and a rototiller.  The largest figure was constructed from over 60 thousand bricks.  I especially enjoyed the Herb Garden and the Butterfly House.  The temperatures were in the 90Fs that afternoon, so it was fun to get misted in the Children’s Garden.

The next day, we visited a nature preserve which was a lovely, peaceful retreat from the city.  We hiked the trail around the lake which included a wooden bridge, some log structures, a chapel, and a fishing dock.

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That afternoon, we experienced the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.  The kids weren’t that excited about going, and I didn’t know if I would be interested either; but the center turned out to be fabulous!  The displays were interesting and interactive.  The kids rode the Space Shot Simulator where they “experienced 3 Gs of liftoff and simulated micro-gravity” according to the brochure.  Two of them were thrilled, and two were less than thrilled!

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The climbing wall was a fun activity as well.

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There were real rockets on display, and even a lunar rock sample.  It was fun to see all the kids wondering around in their Space Camp groups.

Overall, our visit was a fun, refreshing time.

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Maple Syrup Story

2018 was our second year of collecting maple sap.  (You can read about last year’s experience here.)  In late December, we tapped three maple trees on the hill beside our house.  For most of January and February, we collected sap each time there was a flow.  Checking the buckets involved hiking around the hill, which was easy for the kids; but when the buckets needed to be emptied, I required a walking stick to manage the climb.

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Finding a bucket half full of sap was exciting!

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After emptying the metal bucket into a plastic bucket to bring to the house, the sap was poured through cheesecloth to remove bits of dirt and insects.

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Because we were only getting sap from two trees (The third tree never did flow.), we decided to freeze all the sap and boil it down at the end of the season.  Over the two months, we collected approximately eleven gallons of liquid.

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A little over a week ago, when I had a full day to be close to the stove, the boiling process began.  Around 8:30 AM, I started two stock pots on medium-high heat.

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Throughout the day, when there was more room in the pot, more sap was added.  At around 9:00 PM, the sap had boiled down to one smaller pot remaining.  By a little after 10:00 PM, the sap was thickening; and when it dripped off a spoon in a sheet (similar to making jam), we had syrup!

From approximately eleven gallons of sap, we ended up with one cup of syrup.

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A few days later, we ate our own maple syrup on homemade pancakes and waffles.  While my husband and boys enjoyed the taste, our daughter and I felt like the syrup had an “off” flavor.  I’m not sure if I cooked it a bit too long, or if we could have collected some sap on a warmer day, or if the taste varies from tree to tree.

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The experience of processing maple sap to syrup was fun and educational.  I have new respect for the time and effort that goes into processing large quantities, and I now understand why the cost of real maple syrup is high.  Every season is a learning process, and we look forward to trying again next year!

Full Days

In the last number of weeks, my days have become very full leaving little time or mental energy for blogging; but here are a few glimpses from the last month.

There have been late afternoon hikes at Kingdom Come State Park.

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Seeds have been planted, and the greens and radishes have poked their heads up through the soil.

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Beautiful bulbs have bloomed.

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We spread wonderful compost full of earthworms on a bit of the vegetable garden.  This was our first successful experience at generating compost.  It did not cover much of the space, but look how dark it it!

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We have seen warm, sunny days; brisk, snowy days; and a few showstopping sunsets.

20180312_15561020180315_193902Sometimes busy can feel overwhelming; but pausing to look back, there have been times of rich blessing and beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter into Spring

Each year, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I so very much enjoy the January pace of life.  This year was no exception.  There were enough weather-related cancellations to allow for some margins in our weeks.  During those margins, games were played, puzzles were put together, and long-neglected toys were brought out to use in new and creative ways.  Time was spent crafting, reading, cracking and picking out black walnuts, listening to Beethoven and Chopin, and collecting maple sap.  There were more consistent times of family Bible reading, singing, and playing piano.  I took a yoga class, planned the vegetable gardens, ordered seeds, and researched relaxed home school styles and methods.  On more than one occasion, we enjoyed a visit with friends.  For me, this January was a much-needed time of refreshment.  I deliberately wanted to press into the moments, to take in nourishment for the soul and spirit so that I might have energy to give of myself in the coming months of many interactions and busy moments.

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As February has commenced, our days have become fuller; but the anticipation of spring is upon us.  During this week of temperatures in the 70s, the children have played outside, trees have begun to push out buds, and daffodils and crocuses have burst into bloom.  After checking the long range weather forecast for March and April,  it appears that spring may be here to stay; so I tucked a few seeds in the ground including spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, parsley, and radishes.  If I can find a clear day with some time, the peas, carrots, and beets will be next.

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After the cold and hibernation of winter, spring sunshine and warmth enliven the spirit.  Each season has its value and joys.

Skating on the Pond

Growing up in south-central Pennsylvania, usually once or twice a winter the farm ponds would freeze hard enough to ice skate.  Although I never was great at skating, it was fun to glide around on a cold winter’s day or evening.  My husband, having grown up in Ontario, is a good skater and was used to playing ice hockey every winter.  Our children, who have spent most of their childhoods in southeastern Kentucky, had never experienced ice skating.  So after a week of freezing temperatures, when my husband announced that the camp pond was frozen, we were excited to slide around on the ice.

At our home in town, the dusting of snow was gone; but as we drove up the mountain, there was still enough snow to make the trail and hillsides look pretty.

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While my husband has skates, the rest of us slid in our boots which wasn’t the easiest since the pond was snow-covered.  Then we got the idea to push each other around on a chair.

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Even I took a turn!

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After their dad was finished skating, the older three kids took a turn with the skates.  While the skates were a bit big, they got the idea.  They all enjoyed hitting the puck around for a quick game of hockey.

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Our oldest declared that we all need to get skates for next year.  This is only the second time in the ten years we have lived in this region that we have had enough days of freezing weather for the ponds to be safe, but I’m glad we got to enjoy one day of skating this year.

Driving down the mountain, the icicles hanging from the rocks were a beautiful sight to behold.

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Even though the cold has been bitter, there has been beauty and fun to be had.

Tasting of Joy and Sorrow

It has been an eventful holiday season, one with a variety of experiences and emotions.  Over Thanksgiving, my parents and brother spent several days with us.  The men worked on projects including siding and electrical around our house and the camp.  The women and children baked Christmas cookies, some to eat and some to give away.  We feasted, played games, opened some birthday presents, hiked around looking for wild horses, gazed at a beautiful water fall, and had some good discussions.  The time was extra special because my brother had just come out of prison after three and a half years.  He talked of taking pleasure in the simple things of life: working hard, spending time with family, and enjoying nature.  He seemed really well, and we all had hopes for a fresh start.  He returned home, found a job, was working hard and long hours, and spending time with his children.

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Thanksgiving Dinner
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Hiking at Dingo

Early December 11, my parents called to tell us that the coroner had appeared at their door, that my brother had been found dead, most likely of a drug overdose.  He was thirty-four years old.  The shock was profound: life forever changed, hopes dashed, family altered.  Over the next few days, plans were made; and many people reached out.  There was the hustle and bustle of visitation, the funeral, and the burial.  Various emotions came and went: sadness for what could have been, grief for what has been lost, anger for wrong choices, questioning addiction and how God looks at all of this, comfort in God’s mercy and the peace He brings, joy in the love shown by family, friends, and acquaintances. In some ways, it all still seems a bit surreal, like a bad dream from which one hopes to awaken.

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A blessing from our Sunday school class.

But life goes on: December 18, our oldest turned sixteen.  For several years, he has been anticipating learning to drive.  A few days later, he passed his permit test.  A new adventure begins!

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Sixteen Candles!

Christmas this year was spent with my husband’s family in Ontario.  We enjoyed reconnecting with his parents, siblings, and their families.  With the temperatures in the single digits and several snow falls, we surely experienced winter.  We quickly realized our shoes were of no use and ended up wearing boots the rest of the time there.  The children and their cousins enjoyed indoor hockey and volleyball, sledding, and riding around on GT snow sleds connected to an ATV.  Some of them shoveled snow and helped with farm chores as well.  The snow made the towns and countryside look beautiful, but my husband was glad to leave all of the driving in it behind!

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Hockey!  (Our four are in the middle.)
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Shoveling off the Deck (Notice the thermometer: -8 C, one of the warmer days!)
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Walking in a Winter Wonderland (Photo credit to my husband)
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Beautiful countryside (Photo credit to my husband)
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Blue skies/ cold temps (Canadians can be hard-core: Look at those sheets hanging!)

Today, as we are on the verge of a new year, I am thankful for God’s grace and provision through the past months.  There have been joyous times, and there have been days of sorrow as well.  Through it all, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

Visiting Washington D.C.

In November, we traveled to Pennsylvania to attend some training for our ministry work.  On the way home, we took some vacation time in our nation’s capital.  It had been about seventeen years since my husband and I had visited, and our children had never been there.  The weekend was chilly but fair.  We arrived on the afternoon of November 11 and spent quite a bit of time driving around looking for parking.  Once we finally found a parking spot, we began walking toward the Lincoln Memorial.  There were quite a few people milling around the memorial.

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From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we had a beautiful view of the Mall with the Washington Monument in the background.  While the monument looks close, the perspective is deceiving.  That afternoon, we figure we walked over five miles from our parking spot, around several of the memorials, to the Washington Monument, then toured the Air and Space Museum, and back to our vehicle.

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On our journey, we stopped at the Washington Monument which is difficult to photograph because of its towering height.  A point of interest is the varying shades of the stone which is due to the start and stop of construction and to rock coming from two different quarries.

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Eventually, we wound up at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  My husband and I noticed that since our last time in Washington, the security is greatly increased.  To get into any of the museums, you must empty all your pockets, put any belongings on the belt, and go through a scanner.  Before we entered the building, our oldest noticed that there was a sign stating items that were forbidden including knives.  Being a country boy, he had his knife attached to his belt.  My husband decided they should hide the knife in a flower bed.  Of course, going through security, he managed to set off the alarm.  We were not sure if it was his cowboy belt buckle or his cowboy hat.  By Monday, I suggested he leave all his “paraphernalia” at the motel, and he sailed smoothly through security that day.

Sunday afternoon, we wondered around the outside of the White House and toured the Visitor’s Center.  When we first walked up to the grounds, I was surprised how small the President’s home is.  On pictures the White House looks so grand; but compared to the other massive buildings of the city, it is quite modest in size.  Right away, we noticed there were quite a few security people around; and there were guards on the roof as well.  Later that day, when we were leaving the city, we saw the President’s plane flying overhead.  Later, we found out it was Mrs. Trump returning from her travels.  Another interesting experience was finding ourselves in the middle of a gathering and being offered a program: the purpose was Muslims protesting Isis.

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After fighting traffic and searching for a parking spot Saturday and Sunday, my husband decided we would ride the Metro into the city on Monday.  That was a new experience for all of us, from figuring out the ticket machine, to choosing which train to enter, and learning where and when to exit.  It was interesting to people-watch and imagine what each person’s role in life was.

After a delay where the Metro sat for a few minutes, we arrived just in time for our appointment to tour the Capitol Building.  We met our Representative’s assistant and were able to see his view of the Capitol from his office window.

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Our tour guide was quite knowledgeable of the history of the Capital Building.  She guided us capably through several layers of security.  The Rotunda was especially breathtaking.

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After our tour, we wondered around outside the Capital and enjoyed our picnic lunch.

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In the afternoon, we toured the Smithsonian Natural History and American History Museums.  In the Natural History Museum, we saw a variety of animals, rocks, and gems.  I think we all enjoyed the American History Museum the most.  We had a fascinating tour guide that summarized United States’ history in one hour.  There was something of interest for everyone including vehicles, the First Ladies’ ball gowns and china, and historical items such as Lincoln’s top hat.

Our Washington D.C. trip was interesting and enjoyable, but the best part was experiencing it together as a family.

A Day in Cincinnati

In September, we attended a work retreat near Cincinnati, Ohio.  As one of the learning activities, we visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a fascinating museum of history of that time period.  Our guide led us through the highlights of the four floors of the museum.  One stop was what appeared to be a tall log cabin.  The building was, in fact, a slave pen.  The guide informed us that twenty to thirty men and women would have been held there awaiting transport further south.  It was a solemn experience to stand inside and remember the horrible injustice that is part of our nation’s history.  Another area of the museum depicted types of places in which escaping slaves would hide along the underground railroad.  One account is of a man who mailed himself to freedom in a package.  For most of his journey he was upside down in the crate.  Our youngest got inside the box to experience a bit of the feeling.

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During our lunch break, we took a picnic down by the Ohio River where there is fun, interactive park for kids of all ages.  The children enjoyed the giant checker board, the keyboard with chimes, the flying pig, the exercise pipes, the large swings, and the water pumps and channels.

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The day was beautiful, sunny, and mild.  The sky was brilliant blue with puffy white clouds.  There were several types of boats on the river.

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The suspension bridges were intriguing, and it was fun to walk across one onto the Kentucky side.20170928_14390620170928_143732

It was a great day of learning and experiencing a bit of Cincinnati.

 

 

 

Vacation and Return

After full weeks of hosting summer volunteer groups, I was feeling spent; so having a time of relaxation and renewal was a blessing.  As a family, we experienced spiritual refreshment at Roxbury Holiness Camp, relaxed as we experienced Chincoteague and Assateague, and reconnected with family in a variety of settings.

At the ocean, the children frolicked in the waves both with and without boogie boards and created sandcastles on the beach.

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My husband and I enjoyed the water and sitting under an umbrella.  There is something quite soothing about the sound of the waves on the seashore.

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One morning, we climbed the winding stairs to the top of a lighthouse.  The view was amazing.  I felt dizzy as we peered over the railing.

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After a time away, it feels good to be home.  I was so glad to see that the gardens are still producing.  We picked green beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots, beets, squash, a cucumber, parsley, and various greens.  Fourteen quarts of beans were added to the freezer.

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Tonight we enjoyed a crock pot meal made of many ingredients from our garden including potatoes, onions, squash, tomatoes, parsley, and oregano.

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Praise the Lord for His gracious provision!

Glimpses of Summer in the Mountains

Beautiful blossoms are attracting the butterflies and bees.

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The other day, I noticed this tree blooming.  The blossom is like a bristly feather fan.

We have got quite a stand of mullein growing out of an old pile of coal at camp.

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The string beans are bearing: both Roma and wax.  The second picture, which I think has interesting perspective, was taken by our youngest.

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A friend dropped off a solar dehydrator for us, so I am experimenting with herbs and greens.

Interesting mushrooms are growing under the oak tree beside our garden.  I think they might be edible, but I am too cautious to try them!

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An afternoon at Martin’s Fork Lake was a welcome break from the heat we have been experiencing.  I had forgotten how beautiful the view is there.

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