Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Pottery Works

I am not fond of city driving. Even downtown Lancaster pushes the envelope of my enjoyment, but I don't mind driving to The Pottery Works. It is located on Orange Street, directly across from a parking garage. The parking garage is a significant detail because not only can I drive to The Pottery Works without stress, I can park within seeing distance of my destination--not something I can say for many city excursions. 

The knowledgeable and friendly staff guides newbies through the steps of painting pottery and offers tips to those who ask. I'm not much of an artist or painter, but I feel like one when I sit at a table full of brushes and colors and possibilities.

Last fall, Sophia and I painted pottery with a friend of mine, Priscilla.

Everything looks better after it has been baked. However, even the kiln couldn't transform my little container into what I had originally envisioned. My succulent doesn't seem to mind; it has grown significantly in its little striped nest.

Recently, I spent an evening at The Pottery Works with my sister from Minnesota. We chose a table by the window where the light of the shop spilled onto the sidewalk and caused passersby to look in--longingly, I supposed. Maybe they wished they had a friend with whom they could share the experience. 

For me, that is the biggest drawing factor of The Pottery Works. It is a shop that provides the space, supplies, and clean up service for friends who want to create beautiful art and happy memories. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Little Pine, the Place that {Almost} Redeemed Camping

After the mega camping fail of 2021 (read about that here), John wanted to take me to Little Pine State Park, a campground in the PA mountains that actually has trees and shade. Going to a beautiful location definitely held appeal. But still, I told John that I'm arming myself with the same mindset I had when entering our church's three-day fast: "This suffering will do good things for my soul." 

"You do know," John said, "that some people go camping because they actually enjoy it, right?" 

Right. But arming myself with the mindset that self-deprivation will be good for me felt like the prepared way to go.

Little Pine State Park is a beautiful campground, even to people who aren't naturally drawn to camping. Our tent was pitched on a carpet of pine needles within hearing distance of a small but dashing river. We were surrounded by the same trees John had camped beneath when he was a boy, adding a touch of nostalgia to the place. We didn't have electricity or cell phone coverage, but all of us agreed that only enhanced our weekend.

We grilled burgers over the fire for supper, toasted marshmallows for s'mores, and went to bed late. I felt rested when we unzipped the tent door in the morning. My immediate view was a green picnic area, towering pine trees, and the edges of a mountain. It was a gorgeous start to our day.

On previous camping trips, the children always had cousins with whom they could dodge off and play. But this time, our family unit stayed together, a super fun aspect of our weekend. We checked out the river and a lake. The views were breathtaking from the top of the dam. The hill leading to the dam was breathtaking too; someone is out of shape.

Tyler and John fished for the trout that swam tantalizingly around their feet. Tyler fished in knee-deep water long after his legs turned red from cold and the rest of us had lost interest. He tossed back everything he caught except a solitary 14" brown trout that we cooked over the fire and served with butter. 

While my men fished, I sat on a rock and watched my other children entertain themselves in a shallow creek. They had no manmade toys, but they were fully engaged for a couple of hours. They floated dandelions and sticks, built dams, stacked up rock towers, climbed rocks, played with a frog, and threw rocks into the creek. I watched them, amazed at the possibilities a child sees in rocks, sticks, and ankle-deep water.

Sophia used water and a stick to paint rocks.
Great idea because your canvases are endless
and your work area is mess-free.

On our way home, John asked what I thought of my Little Pine experience. I didn't know how to answer. In many ways, it was a wonderful weekend as a family. 

But the raw truth is that camping will always be camping with smoke in your eyes and biting bugs on your neck. Neighbors had moved in with a gigantic bloodhound whose indefatigable baying reverberated throughout the entire campground. They also brought a Lab that celebrated their arrival by leaping out of their grasp and peeing either on our camp chair leg or directly in front of it. Throughout the weekend, tiny worms fell from our canopy into my dishwater, dangled into our hair, and needed to be picked out of our food. On the way home while contemplating my answer to John's question, I was still finding worms on myself. You would think there would be easier ways of achieving family togetherness and quality time. 

But even with unregenerated dogs and the messiness of nature, I had more fun and fewer opportunities to remind my soul of its necessary and beneficial purification than I expected. And I loved spending time with my favorite people. 

My verdict? Don't sell the tent.

At least not yet.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Buying Houses Like Proverbs 31

I told you what it is like living along a busy road. You can read about that here. A few days after I posted that, I was cleaning up my computer files and found a story I wrote in 2020 about the yellow house we were living in. I thought you might like it.

I couldn’t imagine why John looked startled. All I had said was, “You know? I feel like a Proverbs 31 woman and think I will buy our house from the landlord. By the time you come home from work tonight, you could be a homeowner.”

He eyed me suspiciously, as if I might be feverish and my reasoning crazed. “You want to buy this house? The house we don’t like?”

“Yes. It is the size we don’t like. We could attach the garage to the house and add a school room.” 

I already knew what the backyard could become if we put a picket fence along the flowerbed and added a flowering crabapple tree. We could seed grass in most of the garden, paring it down to a manageable size and giving the children more yard to play in.

“The backyard could be really cute,” I said. “Plus, we might like even like the house if it was twice the size.”

John was relentless. “The landlord said it needs a new roof. But I think what it really needs is to be bulldozed and rebuilt.”

We would not be homeowners by nightfall.

No doubt about it, the house is quirky. On moving day, we learned our doors were too small for our couch to fit through--we had to buy another couch. All bookcases leaned forward dangerously on our slanting living room floor until someone came with a level and shims to prop them up. The landlord had recently changed the staircase enough that a double bed mattress was stuck upstairs and everything bigger than a single bed was stuck downstairs, including the wardrobe for our closet-less bedroom.

The house was built in 1806, the year Lewis and Clark explored the West. You can expect hand-hewn beams to have some curve and character. I got used to having toys with wheels roll two feet away from the wall when I forget to turn the steering wheel when I park them. The children have new games to play like racing matchbox cars by lining them along the baseboard and letting go on the count of three. 

Lewis and Clark contemporaries didn’t need spacious houses or closets, apparently. Zillow says our house is 608 square feet. By the time we added our belongings to the small rooms, the house shrank still further. That’s why, if we are going to stay here a long time, we should own it and add on. Connect the garage to the house and add an upper room where we could host guests or have a brightly lit schoolroom lined with all the closets I'm missing out on now. 

My plan seemed brilliant until it rained.

Rain made lakes in the yard and a river in the pasture. It dripped onto boxes of winter coats in the attic and flowed steadily through our basement. I took off my socks and picked my way through the basement to find the stream's source. Water bubbled from the floor in a pencil-thin fountain from the floor, dripped from a doorframe, and spouted out of a crack in the wall. The three streams converged to form a river almost large enough to show up on maps.

My children thought it was a personalized gift, judging from a pint-sized prayer that said, “And thank You for the water in the basement so we can play in rain without ever having to go outside and get cold.”

But it was the same water that convinced me of John’s wisdom. We didn't want to buy a house with have a leaky, 214-year-old foundation. 

With fresh inspiration within me, I opened a realtor’s website. The first house I saw took my breath away. It was built from the same blueprint as my childhood home. I knew which room would be the school room and where I would put my bookcases.

“I found the perfect house!” I texted John. “I feel the Proverbs 31 woman stirring within me again. You might be a homeowner before nightfall.”

Monday, April 25, 2022

An Ethiopian Lunch with Mom

We three PA sisters liked to think that Mom came to Pennsylvania to visit and benefit her favorite people. But our confidence in her priorities was shaken when she heard that Awash Ethiopian Restaurant was not serving lunch on the day of our mother-daughter outing. 

"We might need to figure something else out for lunch. Awash doesn't open until 4:00."

"What?! I am going home." 

Home is an injera-less region of Indiana, which is why we girls suspected that someone had ulterior motives in coming to Pennsylvania. But we spared Mom from an early departure by postponing lunch, stopping at an extra store to fill in time, and battling Costco's crowds when our stomachs were growling. At 4:02, we dashed through a cold rain and stood shivering in Awash's foyer. 

But the restaurant was locked and the Open sign was dark. We peered through the glass door, searching for any sign of life in the building. Nothing stirred. 

Waiting until 4:00 to eat injera for lunch was tolerable. Waiting until 4:00 to eat lunch, only to be turned away by an unlit Open sign was unthinkable. 

"Is today a holiday? Do Ethiopians close for Easter Monday?"

"Call them!" Mom said. 

We could hear a phone ringing inside. It rang once too often for our comfort, but then a man stepped within our line of vision to answer the phone. I could hear both sides of the conversation. 

"Are you open today?" my sister asked.

"Yes, we open at 4:00." 

"Great! We will be ready for you."

From a previous visit to Awash, we recognized the man who unlocked the door and gave entrance to five laughing ladies. He was the former owner, one who created a positive cultural experience for anyone wanting to eat injera and stew with their hands. This time he was the waiter, giving recommendations from the menu and patiently putting up with our indecision. 

"What?" She looked up from her menu in disbelief. "You want lamb? Ugh. I hate even the smell of lamb. Definitely no lamb." 

"Okay. No lamb, then. Let's do D2 and the vegetarian combo." 

"Isn't D2 the spicy one? Can they make it with no spice?"

We came to a happy conclusion at last, and the waiter left to brew our tea and probably tell stories in the kitchen about the ordering dilemma at Table 8. The tea was strong and wonderfully warming on a cold April day. 

When the communal platter of food arrived, spice lovers discovered a couple of stews that had delightful amounts of zing, even though the stew labeled with a spice warning had not been ordered. We were given no plates or forks, but by tearing off a piece of injera, scooping up a stew, and lifting the bite directly to our mouths, plates and forks were not missed. We tried it all. Lentils, red beets and potatoes, vegetables, chicken with a hard boiled egg, beans. Perfection.

Mom with all four of her daughters. Kaiti was with us 
from Minnesota, making this an especially happy
mother-daughter outing. 

We left the restaurant pleasantly filled and happy that we were able to satiate mom's injera crave. At least temporarily.

* * * * * * * * * *
Did you know?
Injera is a spongy, elastic, and slightly sour flatbread made from teff, a tiny grain that grows in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Teff is rich in protein, calcium, and iron and is gluten-free. To make injera, teff is ground into flour, combined with salt and water, and allowed to ferment for several days. The fermented batter is poured onto a hot skillet and cooked like a pancake or crepe. Ethiopians make injera the size of a large serving platter and pile thick stews onto it. To eat the meal, simply tear off a piece of injera, scoop up a bite of stew, and pop it into your mouth to receive that dynamic explosion of flavor. Or, to show respect and love like the Ethiopians do, pop the bite into your friend's mouth. Mom? We missed that part. You will have to come back.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Living by the Fast Lane

picture sourced from

About a year ago, we moved to a brick house along a main thoroughfare. The house would meet our needs well, but the road concerned me. Indeed, traffic noise, exacerbated by the wail of emergency vehicles and the beep of snowplows, kept us awake for two whole weeks after we moved. 

About the time I no longer crawled out of bed feeling like I had cared for a colicky newborn all night, our much-loved cat decided she had enough of this noisy nonsense. Her eyes grew wild and wilder, and her ears laid back so far they nearly inverted. She lived under the hood of our van and could barely be coaxed out to eat. Whenever I left the premises, I had to open the van hood, remove the cat, and speed away before she leaped back in for protection. When she could handle the stress no longer, she cast a final wounded look in our direction, dodged our grasping hands, and disappeared into the field. Permanently. It was a sad day.

Sometimes we give up on getting our mail because we have to cross an autobahn to reach the mailbox. Olympian-like, we crouch at the edge of the road, one leg extended far behind us, one hand on the tarmac, poised for the sprint and calculating the cost. At Christmastime when it took two hands, two arms, and a chin to carry the mail back across the street, it was worth the dash. But now? Risking your life for geriatric bathtub advertisements is decidedly less compelling.

Sometimes my mom-friends talk about taking walks for fun or therapy or weight loss purposes. I am not naturally drawn towards walks in the first place. In the second place, my skirts being sucked into the traffic by speeding Tyson chicken trucks while horse and carriages storm up the berm behind me makes me feel disinclined to take Sunday afternoon strolls. We learned, though, that if we walk the edge of two neighboring yards and through the alfalfa behind our house, we can reach a quiet field lane. I’m not utilizing it enough to lose weight or anything, but sometimes creating distance from the road noise is a pleasant change. Call it therapy.

Our location helps offset the busy road. John only has six minutes to work and ten to church. We are half a mile from a discount grocery store and just as close to a superb Mexican restaurant. We live next door to a bookstore that sells gifts and games, books and Bibles, science experiments and school supplies. I walked across our yard one day to buy a calligraphy pen during art class. I sent a child to buy balloons for our yard sale sign. I can keep my prize boxes for homeschool and Sunday school nicely stocked. Speaking of stocks, John has been threatening to buy stocks in the bookstore.

Our location means friends can come to my house without going out of their way. On separate occasions, I have had coffee and flowers delivered by ladies who were passing by. Once, a friend sent me a text saying, “I’m waving at you.” I looked out my kitchen window and saw her standing on the porch of the bookstore. She smiled when she saw me and waved more enthusiastically. Out-of-state friends have dropped in after shopping next door. 

Mostly, receiving unexpected friends has been positive—unlike receiving the unexpected electrician who didn’t bother calling before he came in the early morning “because your landlord said you are always home.” I’m confident that the same electrician won’t repeat the same offense.

But I hope that my friends aren’t scared off by catching me unawares. On my son’s birthday, we spent our afternoon at the library, in a bakery, and playing games. We did not spend the afternoon cleaning, as is our usual Friday afternoon routine.

Suddenly, my daughter said, “Mom! Your cousin is here.”

I glanced out our window to see my cousin from Michigan and my former classmate from Indiana standing on our doorstep. The odds of being caught by them on a day like this were low. My hope lay in the hands of my children.

“Quick! You guys clean as fast as you can.”

Little dust clouds puffed up around their heels as they kicked into frantic action. There would be nothing I could do about the state of the kitchen, but no matter. I stalled my friends in the entryway, buying time for my children to transform a natural disaster zone into respectable living conditions. When I could hold off no longer, my guests and I meandered through the kitchen but instead of turning into the now-clean living room on the right, one of them, a schoolteacher, saw our schoolroom on the left. The room that hadn’t been touched.

“Oh, I want to see your schoolroom!” And they turned left.

I’m afraid that not even our brightly colored, 140-link paper chain trailing around the ceiling eclipsed the waist-deep river they waded through. Paper projects my four-year-old had given up on, books he had abandoned, a teacher’s desk buried beneath papers that needed a home.

Even while I was smiling and showing them the brown paper bag buffalo hides we painted earlier in the year, the jianzhi we cut on Chinese New Year, and the Wall of Fame where I post neatly written spelling words, creative artwork, and good tests scores, I was thinking, “Dear God, please don't let them be permanently scarred."

They never saw my living room. We stepped back into the entry way to talk about science fair ideas. Of mixing hydrogen peroxide and dish soap with a catalyst to make a gigantic bubble mess so big you can disappear behind it. Disappearing messes. I could get into the idea of that marriage.

But not disappearing friends. I sincerely hope they return.

Living along a busy road hasn’t been as bad as I thought it might be. We still roll our eyes over loud mufflers or the snow plows that sound like they are scraping off the top layer of asphalt. 

But if you see me striking across the field, heading away from the house, it isn’t because I’m leaving like the cat did. I might be creating distance from the road noise or simply spending time with a friend. 

I call it therapy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Thanksgiving 2021, plus 14 Ways to Survive a Hotel with Bored Children

We celebrated Thanksgiving weekend with family in Virginia. When we talked about the things we are most thankful for, relationships with God and family kept recurring, reminding me how richly blessed I am to have an amazing God and so many stellar people in my life. 

Our Thanksgiving weekend included a traditional turkey (shared with an Indian)...

Bird Song has one talented seamstress for 
a grandma.

...and a not-as-traditional Thanksgiving turkey (not shared with an Indian). 

On Saturday, we visited Sea Quest and hand-fed animals like wallabies and iguanas and parakeets. If your children ever want something to do in Lynchburg, look up Sea Quest, a hands-on zoo aquarium. 

We made new friends and visited old ones. 

On the way home from our happy weekend, our van began having internal issues and showed its discomfort by puffing clouds of steam from under the hood. Following the advice of my mechanic-dad, we abandoned the idea of limping home and checked into a hotel at 10:30 pm. In the morning and three garages later, John found a merciful mechanic who squeezed us into his hectic after-the-holiday-Monday. 

Meanwhile, I stayed at the hotel with three children, no paper, and no games except those of my own making. My better boredom buster ideas are posted below in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. 

1. Eat Breakfast. And take your time about it because when people are eating, they are not dying of boredom, thirst, or starvation, three conditions which can happen simultaneously and on short notice, depending on your age. 

2. Play 'Hide the Dog'. We didn't have a thimble but had an almost-thimble-sized dog. Hide the Dog worked well for seven rounds until the Child Wearing Shoes accidentally stomped on the sore toe of the Child Not Wearing Shoes. A wild holler of pain scared the fun out of the game entirely and had me cringing lest we be reported to the front desk.

3. Watch "The Most Dangerous Ways to School." We followed the journey of four young children in the Himalayas as they walked 100 km on a partially frozen, partially rushing river to get to a boarding school. Incredible. Afterwards, I told my children that if we lived in the Himalayas, they would have to content themselves being sheepherders and farmers because I cannot imagine sending them on a week-long journey that risks their lives.

4. Play word games like, "How many words can you think of pertaining to traveling?" And, "How many words can you think of that rhyme with car?"

5. Move children and luggage to the lobby at check out time. Offers a diversion, even though all of your antics are now public. If I had thought about it before we checked out of our room, I would have left the luggage behind and rode the elevator to the top floor for a good view of the town. 

6. Have your youngest imitate how different animals walk. And walk with his hands on his head. Hands on his knees. Walk backwards. With his eyes shut, but don't...eeks...hit that...lamp! Game over.

7. Do a scavenger hunt. Give them a list of ten things to take pictures of. This was my list, written on the back of a paper in my purse.

8. See how much luggage one person can carry (not pull) across the lobby. 

9. Skip a tile when you walk across the foyer. Now two tiles. Now three. And now four. Five? Not happening. 

10. Span the carpet. 

11. Sing Christmas carols. 

12. Nix wrestling. Nix playing on or with the luggage carts. (Trying to avoid eviction.) Nix the older sending the younger alone in the elevator to the sixth floor. 

13. Talk to people who come through the lobby, including the curious who want to know if you are Amish. "Ma'am," she said, "I just want to tell you that your babies are beautiful. The way you dress is so beautiful. Don't you change." My babies missed all she said except that embarrassing word--babies. 

14. Send a group pic to the aunt who asks, "You on the road yet?"

(What an hour and a half of being in a lobby can do to you.)

Somehow, we left the hotel in good humor, a testimony to the truly extraordinary children I have been given.  

Friday, November 26, 2021

There is Always Something to Be Thankful For

If I were to describe Thanksgiving 2016 in a couple of words, I would choose therapeutic and life-giving. At the time, our little family lived on the edge of Accra, Ghana’s esteemed capital. Ten fruit trees and a rectangle of grass grew on our property, but otherwise, the rest of our premises was man-made: a cement house, large gray brick courtyard, and a high wall that outlined the perimeter of our property and obstructed our view of the neighborhood. When I left our courtyard, it often meant going deeper into the city where there were, of course, more cement buildings. Tall ones. Unfinished ones with rebar poking crookedly from second stories. Buildings with crumbling concrete or brilliant paint. The streets were clogged with the chaos and commotion of too many cars and too little parking.

On Thanksgiving weekend, we traveled four hours to celebrate the holiday with other Americans. Our hosts’ home had a spacious backyard that ran in grassy exuberance up to the Atlantic’s rocky shore. The expansive ocean was wonderfully therapeutic to my city-sore eyes. The salty breeze that blew inland brought a welcome change from the stale air stirred by our lazy ceiling fans.

On that Sunday morning, a group of us gathered beneath a red-and-blue-striped canopy. I listened to the message, truly. But at first my attention was glued to that majestic ocean. I could see miles of surging water between me and the horizon. Hand-crafted fishing boats that carried men to prime fishing spots bobbed on undulating waves. A mast from a sunken ship poked tenaciously above the water, then disappeared beneath higher crests, adding mystery and intrigue to the scene. Nearer to me, waves crashed against the rocky shore and exploded into liquid fireworks.

All I saw thrilled me. I tried internalizing the view, knowing I would want to drink from its beauty many times after we returned to our cement-clad home.

But the scenery wasn’t the only thing I would carry away.

The speaker that morning was a stranger to me, a visitor named Leonard Meador. He and his wife were traveling with an aid organization and happened to be in the area for Thanksgiving. In his message, Leonard told us that he received a cancer diagnosis and a grim prognosis several years earlier. At the moment, Leonard’s life was no longer threatened by rogue cells, thanks to successful treatments, but he spoke candidly with no noticeable self-pity of those difficult days.

“When I awoke each morning, I chose thankfulness because I knew that regardless of my circumstances, there is always, always something to be thankful for.”

Thankful? When his world and maybe his very life was crumbling? I forgot the waves and the ocean. These were not empty platitudes spoken from pharisaic lips. They were words coming from a man who had chosen daily gratitude in the face of death.

Leonard continued. “I knew I always had something to thank God for because of these absolutes:

  1. God is still on the throne. 
  2. Jesus is preparing a place for those who love Him. 
  3. Our God, unlike the gods of other religions, loves us and wants a relationship with His children.
  4. Jesus saves us from our sins." 

I pocketed the crux of Leonard’s message and carried it with me to Accra, through the end of our term in Ghana, and eventually back to America. Especially during Thanksgiving season, I remember this message and consider the absolutes within it again. Regardless of my disappointments and unfulfilled dreams, regardless of failure, regardless of kidnappings and political unrest and pandemic complications that can unsettle me, there is always, always something to thank God for.