365 Picture Books

What happens when……….

………you realize chubby hands and fussing babies are being directed towards the toy box instead of snuggled on the couch?

………. you face reality and acknowledge your long-term love affair with picture books is not going away?

………..there is a Read-Aloud Revival podcast urging everyone to begin a reading streak?

……….. you finally sign up for Instagram and realize you have an excuse to share book pictures?

Well, a brilliant idea is born, of course! I’d like to invite you all to come along as we read through 365 picture books in 2015.  Taking place via social media as well as here on the blog, I’m going to indulge my passion for picture books, snuggles and writing all at once.


What does all this mean?

You can expect to be bombarded with photos of picture books via Instagram. Each bok will have the title and author listed, as well a number indicating how close we are to reaching our goal.

Quaint commentary from equally quaint youngsters will be shared (if appropriate).

There will be a blog series that discusses absolutely nothing but picture books.  Alphabet books.  Recent releases.  Peter Spier.  Folk tales.  Fairy tales. Caldecott Medal authors. Really-rotten-books-I-wish-I-hadn’t-grabbed. The only limit I’m going to place on my enthusiasm  is a requirement that any book I review must be in my personal collection.

From time to time I’ll post some mystery pictures, and we’ll see who can identify the book. There won’t be a prize other than the soul-wrapping warmth of having properly identified a beloved illustrator.  Which is, obviously, the greatest prize of all.

I’d love for others to take up this challenge as well.  Grab the image from above for your blog, and/or post about your progress on the social media platform of your choice. Use the hashtag #365PictureBooks, and remember to include the number of books you’ve read so far.

Anyone who can make it through 365 different picture books, and has posted about their progress on a regular basis, will get their name on the 365 Picture Books honor roll.  Just because.


A Mother’s Feast: January 2015

It’s January!  Which means it’s time for our very first A Mother’s Feast link-up here at Stronghaven. In case you missed it, here’s the original “What is this all about?” post.

Mother's Feast Option 3

I’ve been humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of interest in this endeavour. Most of my ideas start out quite impulsively and never come to fruition, and it’s mostly due to all of you that history did not repeat itself this time.

A special mention goes to Brandy Vencel for designing the nifty graphic, as well as to Mystie Winckler and Karen Andreola for their valiant encouragement.  Thank you, ladies.

This post has been difficult to write.  Not because I lacked ideas, but because I had so many!  Should I tell of my personal plans for learning in 2015?  Should I write a heart wrenching essay on why this issue matters so much?  Should I chatter away about seasons of life and making time? I hope to write all of those posts eventually, but for today I’ve decided to share a story.  It’s the story behind a picture, the picture that has become the image representing A Mother’s Feast.

What a rich morning it was!  I’d woken to a quiet house, I had quietly brewed my tea, and sat down at my desk with my Bible, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional, my handy bullet journal and a cup of colored pens.  The house was warm with the bone-soaking, toe-heating warmth that only wood heat brings, and I wrapped my hands around my mug of tea and felt content.

As I read through the morning’s devotional selection I was struck by how the words of Spurgeon echoed words that my brother had spoken to me only the day before.  I quietly contemplated the words I had read before choosing an elegant blue shade of ink with which to capture the concepts I was contemplating.  I read a chapter from Proverbs and one from Philippians, choosing a verse to copy into my journal as a rich thought for the day.

My devotions over, I texted briefly with My Man, who had already been at work for hours.  As I spoke with him, I looked at the scene before me and briefly basked in the love it portrayed.  My mother-in-law’s sewing box, filled with all our art supplies.  The patriotic mug my own mother sent to me.  The pens my husband purchased for me just so I wouldn’t have to choose.  The Spurgeon devotional, a gift from my sister-in-law when I was spiritually struggling.  My hard-cover Thompson Chain Reference Bible, a birthday gift from My Man.

In the crib behind my back the baby stirs, wakens and fusses.  On the couch beside me a sleeping boy stretches, and sits up.  The quiet is over.  Lightly bouncing the baby on my hip, I balance the camera in one hand and attempt to capture my morning moment.  Toddling feet cross the kitchen, and a sleepy Boo greets me with “I’m so hungry, Mom!”  It’s 5 AM.

This was a real morning in my home.  I really did sit and bask in the richness of it, and I found my soul refreshed and filled, able to face the day ahead with increased equilibrium.  But there was more to that morning than idyllic moments.

The reason I was up so early was a massive toothache that had been stretching on for days. The house was so cozily warm because I had risen every few hours throughout the night to feed the stove.  The bitter cold outside had made the pick-up engine refuse to start, which meant My Man hadn’t been able to take the propane tanks to town to get filled. I was unable to sip on the tea I brewed: the warm liquid aggravates my tooth.  My Man would be coming home early today, but only because I have been unable to head out into the biting cold to feed the critters.  When I sat down at my desk I had to clear a place on the floor for my feet: I had not been able to vacuum for a few days, and had not even insisted on tidying the living room the night before.  Less than an hour after I snapped that photo I was curled up on the couch, holding a heat-pack to my face and moaning while the children stared in horror.

I want everyone who looks at the restful photo of my morning to remember that it occurred as one moment of peace in a very chaotic day.  This is how our feasting will generally occur. Only rarely do we have grand moments that come together when everything lines up properly.  No, the majority of our time for nourishment will come when we step away from the necessarily busy pace of the day to quietly feed our souls a few words.

Much of my reading will occur due to insomnia. My commonplace book will always contain those baby scribbles from when I failed to shelve it properly and my little ones decided to imitate mother.  Many early mornings will be missed because the baby nursed three times that night and I was semi-comatose.  Many devotionals will be read under my covers as I try to keep the light from waking the children just yet.  Many book discussion thoughts will be scribbled on the backs of envelopes and grocery lists, and many of those scribbles will never reach another mind. But they will happen, and they will be my feast.


Any posts on this topic are welcome.  From practical to philosophical, from grand plans to nitty-gritty implementation, there is much need for this issue to be discussed.

This link-up will be open for a month: please feel free to add more than one link during that time.

Remember to link to a specific post and not your whole site


A Hymn for the Year Ahead

Be Still My Soul

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.


Mother Culture Link-up

Mother culture is a topic that has been much on my mind this past year, but mostly in the form of wondering if it really, actually was worth my time.  I first discovered this concept in a Parent’s Review article of the same name, an article from which I will quote extensively. If you haven’t read it before, I would urge you to take the time to do so now.

To be honest, I have forgotten why feeding my mind and soul is so important.  Right now nothing matters besides the dishes and the animals and the snippy children and the noses that need wiped.  All I want to do is tidy and clean over and over again, the only way I know to express my love and prove my worth.  My mind is tired and my body is exhausted and my soul is in agony and all I can see is the doll that needs picked up and the math page that needs finished.

All at once (to take an extreme case), a young girl who has all her life been sheltered and shielded, not only from every trouble, but from every experience of life, is made responsible for the home happiness of her husband………………….. Before she marries, she pictures to herself little of the extreme difficulties of managing that most complicated of machines, a household–not for one week only, during her mother’s absence, but for year after year, without stop or stay, for the rest of her time.

If these two things are difficult, how very much the case is complicated when a wholly untried responsibility comes upon her, and not only her own health, but that of another depends on how she manages her life. And then, perhaps, just as she is grasping the situation, and one child fills her whole heart, more room is wanted, and more and more, and the servant questions goes on, the management of expenditure goes on, the desire to be more than ever her husband’s companion grows stronger and stronger, and the centre of it all is one little woman–wife, mother, mistress all in one! Then it is that she gets overdone. Then it is that she wears herself out. Then it is that, in her efforts to be ideal wife, mother, and mistress, she forgets that she is herself. Then it is, in fact, that she stops growing.

I am a good housekeeper now.  It’s been a week, more than a week, longer than I have ever gone in my life.  I have a clean and tidy home, the meals are served on time and all the school work is getting done.  It is the culmination of years of research, weeping, prayer, lists, heart-ache, longing, striving, effort upon effort upon effort, failure upon failure upon failure.  Years of learning to see myself as I truly am, and then not allowing that horrifying realization to handicap me. I have run this race, and I have achieved my goal.

Yet today my Rosie sat down to sew herself a little shawl for her doll, and quietly commented that she hopes very much she won’t be a mom when she grows up.  Further questioning revealed that she would like to be able to make beautiful things, not always work and only think about making things.

Last night, when I tried to explain my transformation to a confused husband, he seemed horrified rather than pleased. I’m still not sure why, and not knowing bothers me.  I feel as if I finally have something to offer, something worth loving, but the people I am trying to serve have already discovered how to not need me.

There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing!

Is there not some need for “mother culture”? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, “I simply have no time for myself!” “I never read a book!” Or else, “I don’t think it is right to think of myself!” They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification. There are, moreover, unfortunately, only too many people who think that sort of thing so lovely that public opinion appears to justify it. But does public opinion justify anything?  Does it justify tight-lacing–or high heels–or bearing-reins for horses? It can never justify anything which leads to the “Oh, it’s only mother” tone in any young person.

It seems that once again I have finished a project only to lift my head and realize life has collapsed outside of my tunnel vision.  Always before it’s been some wonderfully creative project that left my home in shambles.  This time it has been the achievement of practicality only to realize that I’ve lost something along the way, and I truly do not understand what it is.

It would seem as if we mothers often simply made for ourselves the difficulties we find in after life by shutting our minds up in the present. What we need is a habit of taking our minds out of what one is tempted to call “the domestic rag-bag” of perplexities, and giving it a good airing in something which keeps it “growing.” A brisk walk will help. But, if we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness.

What is mother culture, you ask?  I think it is purposefully stepping outside of the moment, considering something outside our own immediate sphere for a brief time. It is acknowledging the fact that we Mothers are also people, people with minds and souls and bodies that need wise tending. I’ve become quite skilled at living in the moment, at treasuring moments, at applying myself to the task of the moment.  These are all good things that needed to be conquered, but I do not want to stagnate here.  I very much want to keep growing, to remain available to a busy man who wants someone delightful to talk to or an attentive girl who is just discovering the allure of creating beautiful things.

In 2015 I’ll begin hosting a monthly mother culture link-up, and I’d love for you to join me.  We can talk about what we have learned, about how we managed to make the time to read or journal, about why it’s important to not let our minds and souls grow stale.  The posts can be practical or philosophical. You can be encouraging and optimistic or poignantly introspective. You can write about your goals or your accomplishments. But please lets acknowledge the hope and purpose of steady, purposeful self-education.

I plan to create a special page where I will link each month’s post in order to create a sort of permanent archive on this topic.  That page will also include a set of rules and a more succinct description of the concept of mother culture.

Mother Culture: What it is and What it is Not

It’s Not Selfish

What is Schole

Until January, my friends……………………


Thanksgiving 2014

This past week began with My Man being gone on business.  Together the children and I managed to hold the loneliness at bay by having a giant “sleepovers.” Each night everyone but the baby piled into my bed and we watched Brave on the laptop.  And when it was over we’d just restart it, until everyone had drifted off to sleep. Then I would lay in the darkness and listen to the sounds of their breathing, and feel the bed gently wiggle as each one turned and tossed, and I would feel so thankful.  Thankful from the depths of my soul that here, surrounding me, were little people who depend on me and keep me depending on God.

By the third night I think we could have just turned off the sound and quoted the entire movie word for word. :D

In one of the funnier moments, the children were wondering why their father is so very talented at the work he does.  Little Boo matter-of-factly states “It’s because he has big nipples.”

We all just stared at her for a moment, then Zorro (obviously prepared to leap to his father’s defense,) says “He has WHAT??!!!”

Boo holds her arms out and boldly flexes.  “Big nipples.  Like me.”

We *eventually* explained that the word she was looking for was “muscles.”  When we could talk through the laughter……

We had fun making some felt crafts as gifts for Thanksgiving, and I particularly enjoyed listening to Rosie agonize over which Superhero mask she should make for her father.  “The Hulk is strongest, but Batman is the most handsome…..”  She eventually chose to go with Batman.

Then, glory be, he was home for 4 days straight and we slept and snuggled and cooked and built and shopped and loved and laughed and generally basked in the warm glow of Thanksgiving and the haze of prosperity with which we are blessed.




Bullet Journal Attempt

I have about 20 blog post drafts, 3 gifts to make and a Thanksgiving celebration to plan.  So I thought I’d take a moment to do what I do best: procrastinate.  It’s sort of Amy Jo’s fault.  Okay, it’s all her fault.  She mentioned Bullet Journals, and I just HAD to look it up one morning, which led me to discover that it would solve ALL of my problems and I would magically become superwoman!


Okay, not quite.  I’m jumping in mostly because (A) I’ve had this grid journal for years and now have an excuse to use it and (B) as much as I love Paperless Organization, there are aspects of it that really didn’t work for me. It requires periodic access to an electronic device, and I’m wasting too much time on those.  Also, I don’t think it’s good for the children to see me constantly checking my tablet, which they mentally associate with gaming.  But I absolutely need something which I can access repeatedly.

I don’t know if Bullet Journaling will solve any of these issues, but I managed to set my system up in tiny bits throughout the day: it was the least time-consuming to figure out of all the systems I’ve tried.  Admittedly, the principles and methodology laid out in Paperless Home Organization have gone a long way towards helping me discover what does and does not work.  All that to say… I couldn’t find anything about homeschool mothers utilizing such a system.  So I figured I’d talk a little about what I’m doing, and later I’ll decide if it works.

I have a set of “beginning pages” immediately after the index which contain information I need to reference to plan my days.

Daily Rhythm this page reminds me not to get bogged down into one particular aspect of our day.


Recurring Tasks These pages remind me of tasks that will roll around regularly.  I have one page for monthly tasks, one page for each day of the week, and I *might* add a daily page, I haven’t decided.


School Notes  One page for each topic, in which I can write down a book to buy, a memory selection to add to the rotation or a resource I am considering utilizing.  Many of these ideas come to me during school time, and I don’t like trying to enter them into the Evernote.


Important Contacts  There’s not very many addresses and phone numbers that need to be kept on paper: but for those that do, they go on this page.

Planning Ahead If there’s an important event that’s far enough ahead I don’t have the pages prepared for it, I will mark it on this page and then transfer it to the appropriate month when ready.

Chore Lists  We have 1/2 hour chore times after every meal, but I have trouble focusing on my work and coming up with tasks that the children can tend to. They each have a few standard chores, but those only take them 10 minutes or less. I’m hoping that by having a standard list of appropriate chore ideas, I can look at the beginning of each day, decide what is the most pressing need and add it to their list of assignments.

I gave each month it’s own shopping list.

The Daily Calendar is where I really changed things up.  I tried going with just one page, but not far into the first day I realized that  I’m going to need a two-page spread for each day.

Each daily page will be given 5 sections

Household is anything related to indoor maintenance.

School is anything related to the children’s education.

Personal is where I jot down tasks for my personal education, notes on the children’s health or behavior, a prayer request, an inspiring thought or a tender moment, a book I want to add to my list, a letter I want to write…..

Farm is for anything related to outdoor maintenance: the garden and animals both come under this heading.

Writing is where I will add blog tasks, thoughts I want to share on the AO Forum or note one of the 100 random (but catchy!) sentences that occur to me throughout any given day.




Delight and Disaster

Our Pumpkin is truly blossoming. Adorableness abounds.

She marches around the house saying “Muuah.  Muuuaah. Muuaahh.”  It took a little while, but we figured out that she is not attempting to say “Mom”: she’s kissing us.  When someone kisses back at her she becomes excited and thrilled and generally acts as if all is right with her world again.  If she hears any noise that sounds like akiss she begins calling “Muuahh.”  We’re having fun with this.  *looks innocent*


She can very clearly nod “yes” or “no” to questions.  What’s funny is when she hasnt quite decided on her answer, so she swings her head in a few circles before settling on one or the other.  :)  Even though she’s not talking at all she understands everything said to her, and her ability to answer questions is quite handy.

She’s running to give hugs when Daddy comes home.  She’s bringing books to anyone she thinks might read to her.  She calls the cat by running around the yard meowing loudly.  She giggles when birds come to the feeder outside her window.

Unfortunately, her talent for disaster has taken some precipitous bounds as well.

It started last Sunday with the Cornstarch Incident.

The next day she discovered how to climb atop the kitchen table, where she not only broke the eggs that were in the basket, but she carefully painted a path across the table with them, and then climbed down and added egg to the cabinet door…. And her hair…. And the floor… and the wall…. all within the space of half a math lesson.

Next she discovered how to remove her diaper.  But she was wearing an adorable little dress which disguised this fact.  There were puddles, and worse, to clean up from that one. The same day of the diaper removal a rooster got into the living room.  I have had chickens for 9 years and never, ever has one WALKED INTO MY HOUSE!!!!!! Any guesses as to what was the first thing that rooster did when he got nervous?  *sigh*

The following day, my lovely little lady discovered how to open the toilet, a source of endless wonder.

And then, she found the dog bowl……..


Life, lived rapidly, seems to be my Ordinary Moments these days.

On a brighter note, I can finally drink coffee again. I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s a Really! Big. Deal.  In honor of that, I thought I’d add a picture that has been making me chuckle all week long.  It showed up on my FB feed and now lives in my head.  :D

Funny Coffee

Oh, and it looks like the cat is pregnant as well as the dog.  The children discovered a large orange tom far up a tree the other day. They spent the better part of their free time trying to coax him down, or climb up to him, but neither option succeeded.  The following day he was gone, and now Clever is looking suspiciously rotund.




Capturing Ideas

Last night Rosie and I read Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” together, which led us to discuss My Man and how much the poem reminded us of him.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

I find myself awed at the power of words.  Awed by the ability of of Longfellow to capture the timeless idea of manly strength within a few short lines.I have seen families where the men have failed at this, when each morning and evening only see tasks not attempted, tasks not begun.  I have known men who spent their youthful energy in avoiding the forge of life rather than facing it head on, but they have not been men on whom I was dependent.

I have been blessed to see this ideal lived in individual ways by my grandfather, my father, my husband, my brothers.  I hope to see it lived someday by my son.  I am grateful for the words of Longfellow; the way he captured this ideal has allowed generations to read and consider it.  Thankful for these words that I can share with my children, words that allow their minds to form a picture of worthy manhood in an age when manliness is often despised or perverted.

This morning we sung Faith of Our Fathers, and I was reminded anew of the obligation of each generation to pass along good and right thoughts, that they be not lost.

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word!

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
How sweet would be their children’s fate
If they, like them, could die for thee!

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

With all that is going on in the world: as Christians are persecuted abroad and Christian ideals are rejected more and more by our society, I want these words sunk deep into the minds of my children.

Ideas are captured in words, learned by the mind, but ultimate touch the soul.

WWW ladydusk


Preparing for Winter

It’s time once again for the weekly roundup of homestead happenings.  A cold spell has plagued us for the past week, but we had ample warning that it was coming and were able to prepare.

Zorro has been using his father’s axe to split firewood.  It took him 30 minutes to split his first log, but since then he has only improved.  It’s rather nice to have such a productive outlet for his boundless energy.

While their brother split firewood, Rosie and Boo gathered straw to stuff the doghouses with.  Katie is pregnant (oops!) and will whelp around the end of November.  It’s been four years since we needed to keep a litter of pups indoors, but I think that’s what the winter will hold for us.


I finally feel that I have perfected our bread recipe, and the system for making it.  Fresh bread three times a week has been quite a hit around here.  I I think my system just might deserve it’s own blog post.


Monday night there was quite a commotion when a pick-up rolled at the edge of our ravine.  2 ambulances, 3 Emergency Response trucks and 7 police cars lined our tiny dirt road.  Zorro and I slunk bare-foot through the woods and watched from the darkness, prompting My Man to make some vague remarks about Children of the Corn.  I ignored him, of course.

Big Wreck

This spring a peregrine falcon migrated through and took an inordinate interest in my chickens.  We spent the day outside waving sticks and shouting, and were relieved to find ourselves falcon’ free by the following day.  This event had slipped from my mind, until a looked out our large picture window to see a rooster running for dear life as a falcon dove towards him, pulling up just in time to avoid hitting our greenhouse.  There were two falcons this time, but being autumn our chickens have plenty of sheltering growth to hide under, and it wasn’t many hours before the falcons moved on.  I’ll need to make sure we’re alert to this issue in spring in case they come back through again.

Still, a falcon!  not just one, but two of them!  How cool!  As long as our chickens are safe, I don’t mind taking a day or two so we can observe these splendid birds.

I’ve been finding some interesting photography on my Kindle lately.  What big eyes you have, my dear!


See my beautiful colored pens? While I was agonizing over my choices thoughtfully deliberating my options,  My Man swiped up both packages and I ended up not having too choose.  Now I can  feel that snuggly “I am so loved” feeling every time I sit down to plan something or write in my (growing) collection of notebooks.


Last but not least, it would appear that some events are generational.  Like playing in massive amounts of fine powder, and looking slightly guilty when caught.

Powder Escapades