The Death of America (2)

Part 2 of 2 – Read the first part of the story here.

Almost every day, Curt watched for America to come to the fence. She was hungry because Greeny never let her have her full portion of food. So, he enticed her with pieces of bitten apple. And he made sure Greeny saw it. America always left the fence when she saw Greeny move. Slowly, Greeny would saunter up to the fence, the queen of her estate. Curt would close his palm and ignore her. Once, he held out his hand to her and asked, “You want some?” To his surprise, Greeny actually moved as if she would take it! As she bared her old teeth, attempting to nab the piece of fruit, Curt pulled his hand away. “Go on, you old nag! Nobody wants to feed you.” He muttered to himself, “…sorry excuse for a horse,” as he tossed the piece of apple away and called to his dog. The sound of heavy hooves arrested his attention, and Curt turned back to see Greeny had rushed to the center of the field where America stood and was kicking and stomping her relentlessly. Curt moved toward the fence as America tried to get away from Greeny, but the jealous horse followed close, kicking and stomping in a fit of temper. Curt looked toward Renard’s house, but he knew no one was home. Curt was convinced Greeny needed to be stopped, but what could he do?

“Stop it, you old nag!” he yelled. As America turned at the sound of his voice, Greeny kicked the spirit out of her, hauling into her right flank. It was a magnificent kick, and America responded by limping out of the way. But Greeny wasn’t done. ‘That beast is gonna kill her,’ Curt thought helplessly. The unwelcome idea that he was somehow involved in this beating caused him to squirm inside. So, he got his dog and went back to the house. He didn’t let Spike out for the rest of the day, and that evening America limped into her stall.

Over the weekend, Curt noticed a horse trailer parked in Renard’s driveway. On Monday, Curt saw America in the field by herself, her leg wrapped in a bandage. Soon Curt saw Greeny and J-Trey in a connected field, divided by a fence. Separated from her, Greeny watched America intently. Curt took advantage of the injured horse’s peace by buying a bag of baby carrots and giving her one each day. He told himself it would help her recover. Curt didn’t care that Greeny watched him feed the little carrot to America each day. His hatred and disgust for the mean animal in the distant field remained steady, so that his benevolence toward America grew. Soon the bandage was removed, and she looked none the worse for wear. Greeny and J-Trey were returned to the field, at which time Greeny ignored America and America avoided Greeny. So far so good. But the first afternoon Curt came out to give America her carrot, Greeny trotted up to the fence expectantly. Curt called to America and walked to another part of the fence. America didn’t even look at him. Greeny blew through her nostrils, as much to say, “You’re trying my patience, you moron, but I’ll condescend to forgive you.” And Greeny followed Curt along the fence line. Curt allowed her to approach him, and then he closed his fingers over the carrot in his palm and pushed the horse’s muzzle away with his fist. “I told you. You’re not getting this, you old nag.”

Curt knew what he was doing. As much as he despised Greeny, he knew he was egging her on. And Greeny responded with all the enthusiasm of a jealous, old horse. She galloped toward America, who abruptly bolted toward the fence gate near the Renard house, looking, no doubt, for her owner’s protection. But both Renard and his wife were away. Greeny got in a few kicks that day, but nothing so severe. America, flush and well-fed, was able to outrun her and keep her distance until Greeny tired.

The next day, when Curt tried again to gift a baby carrot to America, Greeny did not come to the fence. A ripple of elation ran through his body, as America looked at Greeny and at the carrot. He knew she was hungry. Her belly had grown used to being full during her convalescence, and now Greeny was eating her portion of feed again. At first, Greeny refused to take notice of the man standing at the fence line. She turned her back on him and nibbled the grass. Timorous, America stepped toward Curt. Greeny lifted her head and sauntered over to the fence, placing herself between America and Curt. He lifted the carrot and tried to call America to him. Greeny snorted, a comment on his pathetic attempts to undermine her authority. Curt walked the fence line and called to America until he finally gave up. He whistled to Spike and made his way to the back door, mistaking Greeny’s meandering gate toward America as a sign of placid acceptance. But he heard the terrible crack and turned in time to see that Greeny had kicked America in the face. America stumbled back and took off. Greeny chased her with the energy of a colt. She was in a full-blown tantrum, as though the days of watching America receive special attention from Curt had finally amassed into a raging fury that was overflowing her old, bloated body. Curt knew there was nothing he could do. The game was growing old. He came inside and threw the rest of the bag of carrots in the trash. He didn’t like carrots anyway.

One evening, after Curt had ceased to pay any mind to America or any of Renard’s animals, Mary Emma and her mother paid Curt a visit. It had been raining most of the day, but the rain had finally stopped. So, he grilled some hotdogs, and they lingered outside as the sun was setting. As the two adults talked, Mary Emma ran around the backyard with a half-eaten hotdog until Greeny came up to the fence. America, too, had seen the food in Mary Emma’s hand. She stood some distance behind Greeny, hungry but not hopeful.

Mary Emma, seeing the miniature horse approach, stepped toward her with the piece of hotdog. Curt jumped up immediately. “Get away from that old nag!” he called to his granddaughter, his tone so sharp that Mary Emma immediately dropped the hotdog into the mud and backed away from the horse. Curt hurried toward Mary Emma and reached her at the same time as her mother, who drew the child away.

“She’s a mean rascal,” Curt explained. “Don’t feed her and don’t rile her.” He eyed Greeny, and Greeny eyed him.

“Go on!” he told her. He spit, picked up the muddy piece of hotdog, and threw it in the direction of America. America jumped back as though she was afraid of the object hurled at her. But she was too hungry not to try for the food. Greeny stomped, reared, and ran  at America. Curt didn’t wait to see what happened. He followed his daughter and Mary Emma into the house.

It was the weekend, and the Atchleys were out of town for a day. The horses were left to themselves for the night, and when the morning came, America was nowhere to be seen. Renard and his wife returned home that afternoon, and, still, America didn’t appear. Like a spry horse, Greeny trotted cheerily around the entrance of their barn until Renard went out to investigate.

As the evening came on, Curt stepped outside to give Spike a chance to relieve himself and noticed several men were gathered about the miniature horse barn. Something heavy had been hefted unto the back of Renard’s truck; the tires sank deep into the wet soil. Greeny watched from a separate field in the back. Curt didn’t notice when Spike slipped through the foliage in his yard and headed to where Renard’s backfield met Curt’s property. But J-Trey saw him and galloped and danced about in the backfield when Spike barked a greeting to the young horse.

Renard, still standing in the bed of his truck, heard the barking and straightened to look over at his neighbor.

“Here, boy,” called Curt. “Spike!” The dog ran back to his master, who pulled him back into the house and shut the door.

And the moral of this story? Using your influence to stir up strife between innocent parties as a way to get back at someone you feel has wronged you only results in harming the innocent. When you think it’s all over, it will come back to haunt you. The shorter version is: Harboring envy for your neighbor will end up killing America.

The Death of America (1)

(Part 1 of 2)

Renard Atchley owned more than half the land down Cotton Bole Road. He owned an old softball field, two old barns, and acres of pastureland where his goats and standard horses roamed. He owned a swimming pool, a tractor, and a little, yappy dog. His wife had her own sports car, and if that wasn’t enough, one of his two miniature horses had just had a foal. The baby miniature horse was irresistibly cute. And when Curt Johnson’s four-year-old granddaughter, Mary Emma, came for a visit, she wandered over to the fence that divided Curt’s yard from Renard’s to see the darling. It just so happened that Renard was in his field at the time. When he saw Mary Emma stretch her little arm through the fence, he motioned to Curt to pull her back.

Renard wasn’t a mean fellow, nor was he a bad neighbor; he was just gruff in his manner. Curt might have seen the sense in Renard’s warning to keep Mary Emma from the new horse, but even while he called on his daughter to help him guide the protesting child away from Renard’s foal, he grumbled to himself. “Crotchety old —… Must think he’s the mayor.”

Curt suffered from a bit of envy. He himself owned only a two-acre lot next to the Atchley land. His land was kept a bit wild and overgrown. Trees and bushes surrounded his house, and he liked it that way. It gave him privacy. But it was a stark contrast to Renard’s well-mowed, sprawling fields. No, Renard had never been a favorite of Curt’s.

To make matters worse, Renard kept his eye on Cotton Bole Road. He stated openly to his neighbors that he didn’t want any riff-raff down his street, and he would hint that there were already one or two living there who didn’t meet with his approval. Renard’s “policing” of the street was the eternal burr of unrest that stuck in the seat of Curt’s already ruffled britches. Curt felt deeply the insinuation that he was one of the “riff-raff” on Cotton Bole Road. Whether this was true or not—certainly, Renard had never stated such to Curt—it planted a seed that would culminate in the death of America.

America was the mother of the newborn miniature horse. She had been bought before it was known she would foal. She was added to Renard’s assortment of farm animals to be companion to Chestnut Green, a miniature horse that had been retired from a pony-riding company. Greeny, as she was called, had been Renard’s for well over a year. She fascinated onlookers, but Greeny was old and had been retired for reasons other than age. She had turned ornery and reticent toward people, especially those who had the nerve to pet her. She would turn her backside to any who tried, and there was no pleasing her. Even Renard felt he had his hands full dealing with her distrust, and he concluded she needed a friend. Perhaps another miniature horse might teach Greeny to trust people again—or tolerate them, at least.

America was brought into Greeny’s field to share her estate, and Greeny began, at once, a series of bullying tactics to humble America. Greeny was alpha, and it was her mission during the day to press upon America her dominance. America was not to eat or drink or be afforded any human attention or pleasures a miniature horse might enjoy on the Renard property. Everything was Greeny’s. Unless Greeny granted her the leftovers, America would suffer. Greeny enforced her rules on America by using her front legs to kick the new horse about. In the first days of America’s introduction, Greeny followed her around the field, kicking her repeatedly. As America moved away, Greeny would triumph for a spell, then come at America again. Renard put a stop to this behavior by separating the animals, reintroducing them, then having to separate them again. This went on for a time until America became sufficiently cowed. Once her condition was known, a longer separation occurred—in which Greeny won the field, only to have two horses share the field a time later. Still, motherly America remained cowed, and Jolly Trey, or J-Trey, was too spirited and young for old Greeny to keep up with. Greeny magnanimously ignored J-Trey and basked in the joy of her one aim in life—to show America she was the boss.

Sometime after little Mary Emma’s visit, Curt was walking in his yard and saw Spike, his pointer-foxhound mix, playing with J-Trey. Not that Curt knew the foal’s name, but he smiled as he watched the foal and dog run the length of the fence, turn the corner and run along the border of his land. Back and forth the animals ran, and when the pony would stop and stare, Spike would pant and stare back until the fun began again. Curt watched until he noticed Renard’s car roll out of his driveway and up the road in front of Curt’s property. Renard lowered his window, and Curt walked up to his neighbor’s car with a grin. The entertainment between his dog and his neighbor’s foal had spread a good feeling over him. He expected a similar reaction from Renard, but Renard looked all business. Curt’s smile slid from his face as Renard pointed to Spike. “Your dog is gonna wear out my horse. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop him from chasing J-Trey.” Then Renard nodded, approving his own message to Curt, and drove away.

Curt called his dog to him, and, as he did so, the force of Renard’s reproach hit him. Spike didn’t obey at once, and Curt hesitated until he noticed Renard’s car had come to a stop at the top of the road. The car waited there, so that Curt yelled to Spike with unaccustomed firmness. Spike wasn’t used to being yelled at, nor was he used to be called the names Curt called him. As Curt in uncharacteristic brusqueness brought his dog to heel, he was distinctly aware that Renard was making sure his orders were being carried out. The anger in the pit of Curt’s stomach sizzled and fomented as he brought Spike back up to the house. He fumed as he listened to Spike lap his water on the front porch.

Curt Johnson fumed for days each time he led Spike out into the yard and the foal innocently trotted up to the fence. He fumed until he allowed Spike to go out during the hours when Renard and his wife were away from home. He stayed on the porch as the dog and the foal ran the fence line—back and forth like the best of pals. Watching them, Curt experienced a sense of triumph, but that soon turned into resentment with Renard. Renard had more, and Curt had what he had. Complaining to the county about a pompous, arrogant neighbor who wouldn’t let your dog get his energy out was fruitless. Curt thought about this one afternoon as Spike played chase with J-Trey along fence facing the road front. Curt was standing on his property near the fence line and was rolling a small apple in his hand that had dropped from one of his wild apple trees in the backyard. He took a bite from it. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as the ones at the supermarket, so he spit it out and dropped the apple. The little apple piece landed near the fence, and America’s nose came through the wood to test the object. She stretched her neck but couldn’t reach the apple, so Curt walked up, picked up the piece, and approached America. Timid but interested, America didn’t jerk back or show her hide to Curt, like Greeny would have. She took the piece of apple and ate it.

Curt took up the apple and bit off another piece for her, which she took tamely. “You’re not a rotten apple, like that other horse,” he said. And then he added, “like some people.” Just as he finished speaking, Greeny horned her way between him and America. Curt had seen how Greeny bullied America. He gathered another apple beneath the wild tree, and rubbed it on his pant leg to clean it off as he returned to the fence. He bit off another piece for the horse and called to America, “Here, girl.” He completely ignored Greeny. America looked but did not approach. Greeny remained stationed between them, but did not take the offered apple. Greeny turned her back on Curt, and as he stood at the fence and watched the two horses eye one another, he told the ornery horse, “You’re a rascal, you know that? You’re just like your owner.” He tried a couple of times more to cajole America. He whistled to her, but she wouldn’t even look at him. Her eyes stayed fixed on Greeny. Curt held out the apple piece long enough that Greeny, at last, sauntered away. Cautiously, America stepped toward Curt, and just when she would take it from his hand, Greeny bound toward her. Curt took a step back as Greeny lifted her legs and began to stomp at America. She kicked and she stomped until poor America was halfway down the field. Curt hated Greeny, and all the anger and resentment that had welled up in him for Renard seemed to fit nicely into the disgust he had for this mean animal. He called to Spike, and they went back into the house. But that was the beginning of the end for poor America.

Death of America’s conclusion will be posted next week. Stay subscribed!

Tales from the Last School Year

When I first started homeschooling, Magne was a little fellow. I wrote about our first day then (and you’ll find that below). This year began with Dawn and Pearl navigating the adventure of dual enrollment. Online dual enrollment requires a serious learning curve. We spent the first day in a panic attack, a meltdown, and a crying binge. Just this past week we were finally beginning to feel the satisfaction of getting into a comfortable rhythm when a call came from my son that he was experiencing hot and cold flashes and had a bad headache. Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not going through menopause, I advised him to get a COVID19 test… which came back positive.

As per the protocol of his school, he came home to isolate himself until the virus runs its course. Realm and Magne must have great minds because, without talking to each other, they both drew the same lines of demarcation and have not crossed them. None of the family is to be exposed! Magne sequestered himself in his room like a hermit, or a leper in this case. His room is out in the garage with its own air and ventilation system, so we’re not even sharing the same air.

Oddly, this makes me sad. Except for video calls, I’ve seen his face only once through the window in the backdoor as he carried his dinner in from the TV tray outside his room. At least I know it’s really my son in the room. I was beginning to wonder.

He seems to be doing fine. He’s keeping up with his studies online and feeling well enough to game with friends late into the night. He’s designated one door his through which he goes out to exercise and get sunshine. (This I insist on.) We don’t use that door, so we don’t even cross paths. So, this Labor Day weekend of our last school year we are spending together in the same house. That’s something.

The First Day of School (c. 2007)

I know I was fretful about how our first day of homeschooling would go this year, but never fear; it was worse. The morning did not begin as other mornings, so we’ll have to forgo that opening. My parent’s A/C had quit working, and they were spending the night, along with my sister and their charge, a girl of four. We will call her Goldilocks. This leaves my three as the bears.  But on this particular day only the twin toddlers were being bears. The eldest was my rock who greatly held his mother together—poor child, taking care of his mother at the grand ol’ age of five.

Goldilocks was loath to be parted from the bears on Wednesday morning, the first of August, and I was of the impression that to have her stay might tame the wild, unruly creatures. So, I put Goldilocks into the playroom with Bear One and Bear Two and turned on a Dora movie so I could work with my son on his schoolwork in the dining room. We were in the midst of a sentence-building activity when heightened screaming commenced. Bear One was in a desperate situation, even my son knew this.  He said, “I think that’s bad.”

I rushed into the room, expecting a tussle had resulted in a minor injury. Bear One was on the floor before me in her birthday suit sitting in something white. Behind her were Bear Two and Goldilocks, equally lacking garb, with their hands in the white substance which was spread upon the floor in large quantities. I searched the room for some clue as to what the substance might be and espied an empty box of my laundry detergent.

Yes, Goldilocks and the two bears were covered in laundry detergent, and Bear One had discovered Gain was a cause of irritation to her little, “powdered” bottom. Into the tub went the bears (Goldilocks’ turn was next), and my knight in shining armor came to the rescue by saying, “Don’t worry, Momma, I’ll make sure the girls stay in the tub while you go clean up.”  He proceeded to set up two camp chairs, where he and Goldilocks presided at the door of the bathroom like fans at a tailgating party.

I vacuumed and vacuumed and scrubbed and vacuumed.  For anyone who has not tried playing beach with laundry detergent, you might not know the sticky tendencies of this cleaning agent.  It also makes a bathtub and its inhabitants extremely slimy.

My mother and sister returned and tried to help me put the house back into some semblance of order. I fear the carpet in the playroom will always feel sticky; and I admit, I think I will never have a pleasant thought for the merits of powdered laundry detergent again.

Some of you may be wondering, “How did they get to the detergent in the first place?” This is how the tale goes:

Bear Two saw the box sitting on the dryer (the laundry closet is in the playroom). Bear Two pulled open the dryer door, stepped up on the lip of the dryer opening, grabbed the box, and the rest is evident.  Hence, I could blame myself for having kept the laundry detergent on top of the dryer, where I have kept it for the year and a half we have lived here, but I prefer to blame Bear Two. She knew better.

I asked Goldilocks, who is older, why she had participated in the free-for-all instead of coming to tell me. She replied, “I wanted to play in it, too.”

And that was the first day of school.

Recipe Time! Low Carb Chili

This week two friends I haven’t talked to in months contacted me, out of the blue, about going low carb. So, I thought I’d share one of my favorite low carb recipes with you!

This is the Little Rilla Homemaker version. If you don’t have an instant pot and don’t want to chop veggies, the next version is easier. I made this recipe while we were in Boston.

* I’ve posted my Mexican seasoning recipe here. You can substitute a taco seasoning packet for the Mexican seasoning. I make my own seasonings is to reduce preservatives, msg, and processed oils in the food I serve my family. (Yes, I packed my seasonings and took them to Boston with us.)

Let me know in the comments if you’d like more low carb recipes!

Boston, and Why I’m So Glad

This summer, our family took a trip to Boston. If you’d asked me two years ago if I thought making a trip with the kids to Boston was a good idea, I would have said no. And that was before the pandemic travel measures. I am praising my Heavenly Father and thanking Him that I’ve experienced such a difference in my ability to function since I learned about the impact of healthy keto chemistry. Our trip was not only possible but enjoyable and memorable.

Three years ago, we made a family trip to D.C. We loved D.C. (even though I dealt with vertigo the whole time). And now we love Boston. We soaked in the history and were as touristy as you please.

Blogs abound with advice and tips on how to experience Boston. Guess what! I have my own experience to share. First, I’ll tell you what the experts say to do, then I’ll tell you what we did.

Use the Boston Transit System The MBTA is highly recommended because of traffic in the city. So… we rented a car. I am so glad we rented a car! The plan was to spend two days in the city itself, so we had very little time to bebop around town.

My tips for Parking in Boston

  • Search discount apps, like Groupon, for vouchers that give you all-day parking for the two-hour price. Parking is ridiculously high, but not using public transportation easily cut our travel time in half.
  • We are not used to big cities and parking protocol. We almost learned the hard way the necessity of keeping a picture of our parking pass upon leaving the garage. There is no internet reception in the bowels of those parking garages. You have to scan that barcode to drive in and to reenter the garage.

Stay in the City “Stay in Boston if you can, especially the North End, because you can walk anywhere from there.” I looked and looked for a place I thought would be comfortable for us to stay in the city. The apartments were astronomical to rent in town. Five grown people sandwiched in a hotel room is not in a family’s best interest if they wish to remain a loving family.

My tips for Accommodations

  • Find a rental away from the city. We stayed in a suburb. I’m so glad we did! I really hope the hotel industry does not kill VRBO and AirBNB. (I think that was attempted during the pandemic.) We need those cute, renovated old houses right in a residential area. They give you a taste of local living. Realm made walks around the neighborhood, finding great local food options that we wouldn’t have known about if we’d just searched for online eats.
  • Some rental owners are gracious enough to allow you to drop off your luggage before check-in. Because our rental contact was so accommodating, we were able to see the beach, eat at the Original Kelly’s Roast Beef, visit the Marblehead Tower, and see Carcassonne Castle on the day we arrived.

Follow, follow, follow, follow… Follow the Freedom Trail! The consensus online for tourists is to go in numerical order along the trail, first to last, leaving the last sites, the Bunker Hill Monument and U.S.S. Constitution, for another day.

My tips for the Freedom Trail

  • Visit the sites in the opposite order. We started with the U.S.S. Constitution, then made our way over to the Battle of Bunker Hill Monument and museum. Then we drove into the city and walked to the Old North Church and Paul Revere house. This put us in Little Italy around lunch time. The Old North Church and Paul Revere House are, I’m convinced, essential to grasping the importance of what happened in Boston and in Lexington.
  • Visit Concord/Lexington before Boston. We spent the first full day of our stay in Concord and Lexington to immerse ourselves in the history of what occurred before the Battle of Bunker Hill. (We also toured Louisa May Alcott’s house, Orchard House, which I loved!) The Battle of Lexington happened before Bunker Hill. The Battle Green tour, the Hancock-Clarke House, and the Buckman Tavern really put you in the moment of what happened during that confrontation (or “skirmish”).

Additional Tip for Lexington

  • Use Lexington By Foot & Phone. The Lexington Historical Society has an amazingly informative tour by phone as you walk the green at your leisure. It’s free (donations appreciated) and we were able to take our time and pick and choose. Some of us were a bit teary-eyed on listening to what happened to those brave men and their families.

Eat at Little Italy Per the advice of many articles I read on Pinterest, we saved our tummies for the North End. There were tons of Italian places to eat. (Actually, most of the region around Boston is this way. Turn a corner, and there will be a little shop with “Somebody’s First Name’s Pizzeria and Roast Beef.”)

My tips for Eating in Little Italy

  • Having bipolar disorder, I wanted to sleep well, have plenty of energy, and avoid anxiety and mood swings on this trip by staying in keto chemistry. I was willing to be flexible with a few carbs, but pizza crust is not worth my trouble. I thought about just ordering a pizza and eating the toppings off, but—honestly—the abundance of pizza places made the thought of pizza a bit meh. So, while some of the family ate pizza, the rest of us waited and happened upon a place with mouth-watering, authentic Mexican food. I have never had salsa like I had at Villa Mexico Cafe. It was a beautiful blend of flavors. Momma King fed us and saw to everything like we were her children. So, I guess my tip is that you don’t have to eat in Little Italy. There are so many good places to eat in Boston! (I’m also a fan of B.Good now. Fresh avocado slices on a juicy, bunless burger? Yes. Just yes.)

Visit the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum I knew the Tea Party was going to be crowded and highly commercialized. It was the most crowded place we chose to go on our trip, and it was such a highlight! If my obsession with tea has been insufficiently expressed to my dear reader, let me just inform you that Abigail’s Tea Room lets one buy the cup to taste five different teas that were popular during that time period. It’s lovely.

My tips for the Tea Party Attraction

  • Save the tea party for last. The museum presentation circles round to what happened at Lexington. My three kids, as they watched the ending film, were able to piece together the events and solidify the purpose of what went on in Boston and Lexington, and how that changed the future of our country. Another teary-eyed moment followed. So, my evil plan as a homeschool mom succeeded! Muwahahaha.

There’s a possibility that this is our last family trip. This was our last senior trip. My babies are growing up. As they embark on other academic journeys and interests, I will no longer get to be their educational guide. I’m so glad I spent these years of my life teaching them and being to them

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

A word that shall echo forevermore!

Paul Revere’s Ride

Under Construction

When I first walked into our house, I told Realm, “This is doable. We can work with this.” Those probably aren’t the words most people say when deciding to buy a home. The words were full of meaning, though. They meant more about our marriage than they did about the house. Realm is a craftsman at heart. He’s always loved to design and create. He looks at a potential project and says, “I bet I could build that.” In the first years, I responded, “I bet you could, but please don’t.” But things change, and really nervous, perfectionist people—who can’t stand for a project to sit in a corner for years and years waiting to be finished—can change, too. Okay, I still hate the projects unfinished and sitting in the corners, but I have more confidence now that they will get finished. Or, maybe, I’m more confident that I won’t die of insanity if they aren’t completed. (Probably that one.) So, we took on a big, hundred-year-old project that happens to be my house. It feels old. It’s just a baby when compared to many aged structures, but it feels old to me.

Part of my house was a small store built in the 1910s. It was moved onto the property and added onto in the 80s. There is one room I really love because it gives me the impression of walking onto the lower deck of an old ship. A dark, wooden beam crosses the ceiling, and a window takes up the back wall of the irregular-shaped room. We call it the study now, but one day it will become the captain’s quarters.

Sometimes I think we haven’t gotten very far with our house project. Realm, with the help of his dad, added a bedroom and bathroom in the garage. With the help of friends, he and Magne installed a French drain and pump to stop the foundation from moving and the floor beams from sagging. This past spring, we embarked on a family project of pulling up the uneven kitchen floor and adding sturdier sub-flooring. I got to pick out the new flooring for that!

One wall of my kitchen is covered in a large, dry-erase board with item after item of future things to work on. In a way, it’s a constant reminder of who I am. Over the years—especially through this time as a home educator—my life has been under construction. I have learned to embrace the spirit of improving and fixing and growing when I wanted to be established and completed. I’ve had to swallow my pride a million times and accept that I make mistakes all the time, no matter how right I think I’ve got things. I’ve also had to accept the blame for actions I didn’t do or even cause. I’ve been misunderstood regardless of how I want to be understood. That’s part of life. There are many road markers that remind me my journey isn’t over. This project—my life—isn’t over. With all of my shortcomings and my fears, my Creator keeps reminding me, “This is doable. We can work with this.”

The Luxury

“Mama, do you think there is luxury in Heaven?” Fiona looked up from her mom and dad’s bed, curled up in the warmth of the laundry pile that had just come from the dryer. It was a chill winter morning, and she’d raced upstairs to her parents’ room the minute she was up. The master bedroom wasn’t completed yet. The window frame was boarded up, and the walls were unpainted. There were blankets on the plywood floor to keep feet from catching splinters. Still, it was a couple of degrees warmer upstairs.

As her mom folded her dad’s white t-shirt, laying it across the foot of the bed and smoothing out the wrinkles, she smiled. “I suppose there is nothing but luxury in Heaven. Why?”

1940s Girl in the Garden by Shawna Mac (Licensed: CC0 Public Domain)

Seven-year-old Fiona rolled in the warm, soft fabrics fresh from the dryer. “Because I love luxury,” she said, burying her arms beneath a pile of clean socks and underclothes. “Mama, I think this is the most luxurious place on earth!”

“What? Sitting on underwear?”

Fiona giggled and sat up. “No. I mean, being in your big bed in this new room with all these warm clothes and… and being with you!”

Fiona’s mother placed another folded t-shirt on the stack, came around the bed, and scooped up her little daughter into her arms. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she cuddled Fiona and kissed her.

Fiona wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed her back. “Isn’t it luxurious, Mama?” she whispered, the heat of her breath against her mom’s cheek.

Mama looked down at her Fiona, looked into her trusting, dark eyes, and answered, “It is, baby.”

Karma Meets Good Fortune

My husband Realm doesn’t always follow the rules. He does things like taking a handful of the weekly ads at the grocery store for kindling on winter evenings. He believes that a yellow traffic light means “speed through this intersection and you win!” Using turn signals is optional, and this seems especially true when he is weaving through traffic or pulling out in front of another driver. He has no qualms about spitting his gum onto the sidewalk or out the window. As you can see, I’m maintaining a list of all these adverse behaviors, but it’s not for any reason you might suppose. My daughter Pearl clearly understands my reasons for keeping track of Realm’s feats of inconsiderateness. In fact, as her father swiped a handful of ads and carried them out of the store one evening, she warned him, “Karma, Dad.” And then, when he laughed and began to explain the mainstream definition of karma, she said, “Well, it’s more like Mom is getting your karma by association.”

You see, whenever I enter a grocery store hoping to find a weekly ad in the tray, they are always out. Or when I have the green light at the intersection, some maniac driver speeds across, determined to “make it” long after the signal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped in gum. And my sister, Gemma, thinks I need to seek PTSD therapy for my knee-jerk reaction to cars pulling onto the road beside me while I’m driving by. It’s because I’ve had a lot of drivers pull out in front of me brimming with confidence that my vehicle’s brakes are in tip-top condition. My brakes have held steady, but my nerves have not. My nerves are shot, and I blame Realm. Why do his poor decisions come back to bite me? Maybe it’s because he never needs a weekly ad. Maybe his shoes are too dirt-encrusted for that wet, stretchy gum to stick. Maybe he can run lights and dodge cars like he’s in a pinball machine because he’s got some sort of serendipitous-ness.

It wouldn’t surprise me. He wins all types of drawings and contests. He’s won Godiva chocolate—I mean the big pyramid package. He’s won two iPads, along with gift cards, cooler cases and backpacks and t-shirts. It’s a nuisance how many travel mugs we have because he won them. (I’m constantly trying to unload them when he’s not looking.) Fortunately, he has not come home with a leg lamp.

So, is his luckiness a shield that wards off the karma stuff from happening? Does it ricochet off him and hit me? You’d think this would make me wary of hanging around him. And, yes, I cringe when he zips through an intersection at the last minute. I admit to lying back in the passenger seat, closing my eyes, and announcing, “I’m not here,” as we zig-zag through traffic. I also admit to eating more than half the Godiva chocolates and getting one of the iPads, not to mention enjoying a few Amazon gift cards. My exercise t-shirts are easy to pick out because he brought home duplicates of the same shirt in my size. Not only does he hand over his winnings, he picks out things he thinks I’ll like the most. He’s kind of nice that way. Plus, when there’s gum in the tread of my shoe, he stops and gets it out for me. So, it’s not so bad, really. By the way, is anybody asking Santa for a tumbler with a random business logo on it? Yeah, I’ve got leads on some tumblers.

Mapping Out the Reader Profile

I was talking to a high schooler, Annette, who bewailed her loss of interest in most of the books she reads. She isn’t alone. I’m a bookworm, but I lose interest, too. I asked her what caused her to lose interest. She told me many of the books she reads are recommended by friends, but the stories her friends are gushing over leave her rather unimpressed. “I’m not into fairies or time machines or magic,” she explained. Reading about another character with magical powers is a chore to Annette; she knows it will be another madhouse plot, and that does not tempt her to finish the chapter.

I asked Annette about some of the books she likes. She leans more towards nonfiction but averred, “It’s not that I don’t like fiction. I just don’t like the make-believe fiction that everybody’s reading right now.” There was something oxymoronic in that statement, but I understood what she meant. Fantasy fiction and science fiction aren’t for everyone. And, yes, it’s a bit frustrating trying to find a good read if you don’t like those genres because that sums up so many of the books my kids and their friends are recommending. And I’ll be the first to admit the plots do tend to run together after a while.

Annette added, “I don’t really like the task of reading, so if I know I have so many pages to go before the chapter is over, I’m counting the pages in the back of my mind. And it doesn’t matter if the chapter ends on a cliffhanger; I’m done!” I remember feeling like this about my reading assignments in school. Systems of learning like to grade literature skills by how many chapters the student successfully finishes and whether the review questions were answered with the correct perspective. That’s bound to check the passion and ambition of any reader. (On the other hand, one highschooler bragged to me that he’d read War and Peace. “It was easy,” he said. “I read it in, like, a week.” I asked him what he thought about the story, and, sadly, I don’t think he got much out of it. I guess one can be a little too ambitious about reading books.)

My daughters have developed their own preferences for the books they read, based on their personalities. I like to listen in when Pearl is trying to persuade Dawn to read a story she’s enjoyed, and vice versa. They know what the other likes, and they will tell each other, “I don’t think you’re going to like this book,” or “I didn’t like it, but you probably will.” Sometimes, they read books purely to test out the other’s hypothesis. In essence, each is mapping out her individuality as a reader while learning other readers’ preferences.

As a bookworm, and as their literature teacher, I want my daughters to keep those reading preferences flexible. I try to assign books I think will grow their tastes and experiences. And, of course, I try to win them over to my favorite reads. In turn, they like to recommend their latest book finds to me. They’ve listened to enough of Mom’s analyses to know I have no qualms about telling them when a story is weak, unoriginal, or tripe. For this reason, they’ve carefully studied my reader profile to help them recommend a winner. I asked Dawn, “If you wanted me to read a book, what would you tell me about the story to persuade me, or–what I’m asking is, what do I like in a good book?” Counting on her fingers, she answered, “It has to be well-written. You like when the writing (narrative/style) is different, and you like it to come from a different perspective.” She tapped her fourth finger. “And it has to have symbolism.” I have to say, she knows my reader profile.

Annette’s reader profile stumped them. She doesn’t want to read just any old book, and, certainly, not another book about fairies and magic. When they tried recommending historical fiction, she became a little frustrated. Historical fiction is too much like a school assignment. She wants to enjoy a story, not learn about a time period. So, I pulled out an old book I’ve kept for its message and its approach.

Jean Webster, Public Domain

“Try Daddy-Long-Legs,” I told her. Jean Webster writes a charming, witty character, Judy, into existence by allowing the reader to stand in the place of Judy’s mysterious sponsor as she writes to him about her life. There is so much to enjoy about this story, yet it’s a challenging book to recommend. First, it was published in 1912, so it doesn’t really relate to the 2020 teen. It takes a bit of context to understand the situation and position of women in the early 1900s. It isn’t preachy, which is a downfall for historical fiction writers writing outside of their own setting, but it can come off a bit prudish for some readers. This is no small irony; the author was considered both a civil rights activist and a supporter of eugenics. Further, Webster was interested in implementing socialism in the form of government-run systems to provide for the needy (like her orphan, Judy). She uses Jerusha “Judy” Abbott’s story to introduce awareness of large numbers of people experiencing hardship and raises the call, or duty, of the public to step up and work out a system to help supply the want. To do this, Webster relates to her reader through a personal, one-to-one relationship model of an orphan and her sponsor. She creates a philanthropy association that chooses Judy to receive financial support from an anonymous citizen who gives of his means to an orphan he doesn’t personally know. It’s a social experiment with the underlying question: will Judy use the assistance to launch herself into society and learn to make her own way in life? What Webster actually accomplishes is a brilliant, humorous tale about how one attentive benefactor changes the life of a spunky, driven child, and how their relationship develops as Judy matures. It’s a story about compassion and courage, not about the outcomes of experimental socialism in government. Still, some readers steer clear of this book because of the author’s views.

In picking this book for Annette to read, I considered her particular temperament and preferences. I also thought about her perspective. For example, I know she’s shown interest in 19th and 20th century period movies, so women’s roles of that time wouldn’t be problematic to her reading experience. I considered her background and felt pretty certain that the socialist-tinted aspects of this story would simply be perceived as a message to seek opportunities to be generous and help others. She finished Daddy-Long-Legs in four days (when it usually takes her weeks, she said, to slog through a book). She asked me if there were more books like it because she wanted to read more. I told her about the sequel, but I also told her, “No, there aren’t any books exactly like that one.”

from the Library of Congress, Public Domain Archive

Some would read Annette’s statement, “I don’t really like the task of reading,” and conclude she isn’t the reader type. Yet, Annette found a book that she enjoyed, a book that caused her to want to read more. How is that so? I would assert that sometimes it’s the writer’s method of approaching the reader that draws or repulses that reader. I would also assert that some books have a unique approach that charms even the most particular reader. While there is no book that fits or agrees with everyone, there are some books that reach across genres and times to touch many, many readers. When this happens, a writer can still be heard a century later. These are writers that, by chance or design, know how to map out a reader’s profile.

A ‘Fridge by Any Other Name

When we first moved into our house, we didn’t have the money for a new refrigerator. Fortunately, the previous owners left one for us, only it did a poor job regulating the temperature. Cruciferous veggies that sat near the back came out frozen and spoiled. Ruined produce is a tragedy, and my mourning was heard throughout the house. So, our goal, among many, became saving up for a new refrigerator—well, new to us. Discussing our move to his coworkers in passing, Realm mentioned the refridgerator situation among things we were looking to fix up after buying our home. A generous co-worker approached Realm the next day, offering us a refrigerator she had in her garage. We were elated, we were thankful, and we moved the new (to us) ‘fridge into the kitchen and kept the old, partly-working one in the garage for overflow. This is the first time in my married life I’ve had two working ‘fridges going. So, here I am, fulfilling that never-before-attained stereotype, enrolling myself in the society of American families who use two human-sized cooling containers to hoard their lifetime supply of cold food stuffs–that only last a week. I hear my minimalist side weeping. My frugal side is cringing at the electricity bill. My green-loving side is completely confused because… am I reusing what I have or am I wasting resources with the second ‘fridge’s energy draw? (First world dilemmas.) Obviously, my practical side won because my desire for smaller spaces and less stuff cannot compete with living with people who are just as opinionated and hungry as I am. And all I can say to the inner minimalist shaking her tiny head at me is, “Let’s declutter the bathroom, shall we?” She is slightly mollified.

Yet, I wasn’t ready to tackle two ‘fridges. I couldn’t designate which was which. It seems so obvious to my reader that I should designate them “the fridge in the kitchen” and “the fridge in the garage,” right? Not so easy. For weeks, I couldn’t get out the words “fridge in the garage.” I would repeat, “the fridge… the fridge..” while a kid held a bag of zucchini in anticipation. They would shift the bag in the direction of the ‘fridge in the garage. “No, no!” I’d respond, ruffled by what should’ve been an effortless interaction.

I’m not sure if it’s part of having Bipolar Mood Disorder or a mental block or what, but it’s been a family game for years that everyone tries to guess what Mom is not able to say. In situations where I’m multitasking, like cooking in the kitchen or driving, I simply can’t get certain words to come to me. My daughters have lived with me long enough to know how to work around these lethologica limitations. They make nicknames for things. Like, we have two butter dishes I struggle to refer to individually. One dish is called “Philip” (because I often ask someone to fill up the butter dish), and the other is named “Melton” (because someone I’ll call “the son who didn’t consider what would happen” put its plastic lid in the microwave once and now the lid fits like a botched lip job). After offering all sorts of names for the ‘fridge, Dawn teasingly suggested, “How about ‘the fridge that must not be named’?” “Coldemort” was born, and now, I can tell the kids where to store the 2-ton barrel of cheddar and which gets the forest-like crate of broccoli. The minimalist in me is dead.