My Kind of Madness

Over time, I’ve become convinced that madness must run in the family. How else can I explain my insane desire to “live simply” which, by necessity, involves all sorts of discomforts from merely annoying insects to knockdown drag-out encounters with the wild side of creation? Whoever said nature was innocent, never met nature up-close and personal.

My husband and I both grew up in cities. He in Los Angeles, I in Milwaukee. We both traveled and knew “something of the world” before we met and married. Thankfully, we both came to the conclusion that we wanted to raise our kids in the country. Images of blissful encounters with nature and the soul-steadying reality of hard work encouraged us to forge ahead with what would become a lot more intense experience than we could have ever realized.

But that was good. Otherwise, we would’ve never done it. God isn’t stupid when He doesn’t color in all the details. Oh, no.

Luckily, John was very strong and loved nature. He was soon dubbed “Our Amish Paul Bunyan” by the homeschooling dads. Good thing because I was rather busy having babies. Eight babies. Yes. One at a time.

During those years, we learned to raise laying hens for eggs, meat birds for our winter chicken supply, maintain a humongous garden, and raise bees and gather the honey. Each spring, John collected sap from the maple trees and made maple syrup. That was fun. Kids around a huge cauldron over an open fire in the backyard stirring…and stirring…and stirring. And then pancakes. Life was good.

We got a cow and learned to milk it. Or rather my eldest daughter did. I hid with the chickens. But I did learn to make cheese. Sort of. Okay, my homemade bread was eatable, though.

We are the kind of people who drive other people nuts. We don’t use air conditioning—unless you have a heart condition or are with social services. We actually like to recycle. All the kids work. Or else. Pretty much everyone collapses on Sunday. No need for a “Though shalt rest” commandment. God knows what He’s doing.

When John was diagnosed with Leukemia, our youngest was only seven months. There was no way I could do everything. So I didn’t. I simply did what I could. The kids did what they could. John did what he could—till he couldn’t do anything. But those joint efforts—raising the chickens, milking the cow, making cheese (sort of), gardening—they did a lot to keep the rhythm of our lives going even when our hearts were skipping beats.

John died in December 2013, and since then, the kids and I have struggled to maintain the core of our little natural world. I can’t really call it a farm. We have loosey-goosy hens that lay eggs in the doghouse, meat birds that die without asking, and bees we watch but do not follow, a middle-sized garden, fruit trees, nut trees, and more dogs and cats than I care to count. Don’t ask about the possums and assorted critters that like to visit. We do chat on occasion. I tell them to go home. They ignore me.

When things get tough and I’m ready to give up on one more thing, I remember why John and I started this foolishness in the first place. There is something sublime about working hard and living according to your conscience. Nature isn’t always easy, but in the fruits, vegetables, nuts, critters, weather, and the land itself, we see daily facets of God’s abundant imagination.

We learn balance and integrity while working with God’s created world. Jesus spoke in nature parables all the time. We are stewards. If we’re not ever vigilant, weeds will destroy our garden.

There’s nothing quite like the blessings of hard physical labor, homemade bread and strawberry jam. It isn’t the amount of land worked, the number of chickens raised, the variety of critters encountered. It’s the interaction. The noticing…the caring…the faithfulness needed to keep everyone alive. We are known by our fruit.

It’s my kind of madness.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Real World Disconnect

Some people would say that we are more connected to the world than ever, but I wonder if this is really true. I heard a statistic this week that suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. That tragic information made me pause. Why would teens, in a world full of options, choose to end their lives?

What are kids connected to? Or disconnected from? They are connected to the vast information web, they are connected to sound bytes, superficial relationships built on Facebook and Twitter, they are connected to pictures, images, and sounds, but too often, they’re disconnected to what is happening right in front of them.

What actually feeds us—spiritually and physically?  “You shall be known by your fruit….” I do not get fed by social media interactions. Even e-mail has its limitations. It’s not to say that these technological innovations don’t have their purpose and value. But it is to ask: “What are we crowding out when we engage in them to the exclusion of other forms of human communication and interaction?”

When I took my kids to the lake yesterday and they ran around watching the geese and ducks, sat and enjoyed the sun setting over the water, and played tag down a wooded path, they engaged in a real-world reality check. They absorbed a truth which cannot be improved upon. Joy and health seeped into their beings.

When I go outside and work in the garden, when I take a walk down a country road, when I sit and chat face-to-face with someone, even a stranger, I engage in a real-world reality that cannot be replaced by any technological gadget.

I wonder if that is why some television programs have become so weird. They are reflecting that absence, that disconnect, that xeroxed print, which has been copied too often and become anemic and a little warped in the process.

Perhaps what our teens need is a little more time with natural reality, not “reality” shows. Perhaps what some writers need is to reflect human beings and our real world, and not slapstick, word-bytes meant to get a laugh or jerk a tear.

Perhaps, reality isn’t meant to lead to suicide.

~~~

Mortality Among Teenagers Aged 12-19 Years: United States, 1999-2006. (2010). Retrieved February 20, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db37.htm

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

A Change of Perspective

Today’s Gospel reading was the parable of the talents and the sin of omission, so when the boys brought in buckets and buckets of apples this morning, I could hardly ignore them.  It would have been a sin to waste so much good fruit, even if they aren’t the prettiest apples in the world.  They are the ones that grow on my trees, the gifts that God has given us this year, and though I had a long to-do list, I shoved everything aside to work on those apples.

I found myself working alone at first, but as I assigned jobs and the kids found their peelers and slicers and sat down to work, they also found their humor.  It was not long before an “I-don’t-have-time-for-this” silence was replaced with, “Remember when we…”

Since I was the senior cook in charge of the canning, I had to make sure the apples were spiced with sugar and cinnamon before going into the hot jars and then into the even hotter boiling bath. In the midst of all this, a water filter had to be changed and a couple band-aids applied, but I found myself listening to the kids reminiscing about other family activities, some of which I had never known about… And I realized that life really is what happens when you are planning other things.  It is in accomplishing the jobs at hand that create the warmest memories.

When we first moved out here nearly twenty years ago, I used to listen to the farmers’ wives talk about the 20 quarts of jam they put up or the 4000 pints they froze. At the time I was rather underwhelmed by their accomplishments simply because I was so blatantly ignorant of how much work it took to put up a measly seven jars of anything.  Now I know better. I also understand why they smiled when they reminisced. They weren’t just proud of their accomplishments; they had enjoyed the time with family, the stories swapped, the jokes played on each other.  I can envision what it was like because we have repeated the process several times now.

Perhaps, at first, it does seem like just another big job, and I have to hand out paring knives like a Drill Sargent, but after a bit, those talents which seemed like a burden, quickly repay the effort.  The kids and I have a change of perspective and perhaps a change of heart too. Life is in the little moments.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Nature Never Forgives

The quote attributed to Pope Frances saying, “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives…”  seems very apropos today. The whole concept of forgiveness is a rather celestial one. From debt forgiveness to nature’s revenge, what can we take away from this assessment?  How do we direct our lives toward forgiveness and being forgiven in a world born of both natural and supernatural truth?

For me, nature has been a rather simple affair. Like the Holy Father, I have found the natural world to be awesome…though not without some terrible characteristics. This year’s bountiful garden may produce wonderful fruits and vegetables, but weeds grow fast, spread their seeds wide, and poison ivy never gets friendly.

For the past several summers, I have made the same mistake.  At some point in late summer, I forget the tortures of past experience, and I step into a poison ivy patch or cut down what I consider some harmless vegetation, and I end up with miserable itching for weeks. Is there a statute of limitations on my experiences? Yet, as the memory of my suffering decreases, so my reckless boldness increases.

When I look back on history, I see the same trend.  I read about debt crises of the past and I wonder that humanity could fall into the same terrible pattern again and again. Though the momentary crises with Greece may be passed, the problem of world debt is not.  Like poison ivy, it is born of the same truth, a reflection of indisputable reality. And reality will take care of itself.  Looking at the looming social security crises, I can almost feel the creeping itch of poison seeping into our system.  Debts will have to be paid, sometime, by someone.

Yet, Greece’s debt was partially forgiven.  As Pope Frances reminds us—men can forgive. We have the power to do so, but we cannot totally eradicate reality. That is the province of God. Only God can forgive our debts so that they are totally wiped clean.

It seems like a generous thing to forgive as God forgives. In fact, we are commanded to do so by God Himself. Yet, I do not believe God intends us to forget reality altogether. There is a reason He made nature as predictable as it is. There is a reason why He made us a combination of natural and supernatural reality.  We are not yet fully alive to the supernatural world.  We have limits.  If you doubt this—time and death have their shared wisdom to impart.

Though nature can be awesome and beautiful, it is also a powerful teacher. It is a part of a complete reality which reminds us of something we might like to forget: we are not God.

As we steward our planet, spend our money, and choose our leaders, it might be wise to keep nature’s limits and poison ivy’s wrath in mind.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Simple Summer

I’m sitting outside on the back porch, while Merry, the cat—a poor injured stray we saved—is sitting at my feet doing what cats do…resting and checking out the world whenever the mood hits. The pine trees sway in a gentle breeze while white, fluffy clouds sail serenely overhead.  We’ve had a lot of rain lately, so everything is green and gorgeous. A red rose in a nearby pot practically glows against the backdrop of pine trees. Various summer flowers bloom in their summertime brilliance. Flies and bees and a little jumping spider have also made an appearance. The chicks, still in the brooder house waiting for their outdoor pen are running about, trying their wings as they learn that the ground cannot hold them bound.

The awesome beauty of this summer day, the chirping multitude: sparrows, red-wing blackbirds, robins, cardinals, and cooing doves, the laughter of young children at play, the haunting melody played by one of the girls at the piano, rustling waves of breezes cascading over the fields of corn and beans all work together, creating a pallet of beauty that any artist would envy.

When I considered what to write on my blog today, no words would come.  Yet as I sit here surrounded by simple summer, I find I do not need words—just eyes and ears and a heart willing to believe that this is real.

When the winter winds blow, the sky laden with grey clouds and the birds silenced in their nests, I will remember this day. The yellow buttercups, the red rose, the buzzing bees will live in my heart and imagination. Even in my dreams, I will remember this day, and no matter the clouds or the cold and the barren waste of winter, summer will yet live.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Gardening Grace

Gardens are like family: they demand attention; they can get out of hand real quick, yet they feed you in ways nothing else can.  For all of my aches & pains, my dislike of getting muddy, and my squeamish attitude about bugs that live in colonies, I am willing, year after year, to start the garden over again.  This year is no exception. Considering the work involved and the many family needs demanding my attention, I had to think long and hard about this particular vocation before I even got started.  Is gardening really worth my time and effort?  After all, I could buy almost everything I want at the grocery store.  But in the end, I was converted toward the wholesome reality of a family garden by a few simple but profound truths.

#1 A garden draws me into the natural world far from technology.  With all of society’s advancements—it is good to get away from the computer screen & worldly concerns and reacquaint myself with the good earth. Plants and animals have been here a lot longer than our human-made tools & toys, and they still have something to say to me—if I dare to listen.

#2 Gardens demand a lot and give a lot.  They require consistent effort.  They force a person into a serious commitment of time, sweat, and occasional tears.  If I don’t take care, weeds take over.  If I don’t protect it, the garden will die. This simple reality reminds me of a basic truth in every important relationship: no love, no stewardship, no fruit.

#3 I know what goes into my garden, so I know what goes into me. This may seem paranoid but in a world of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics for animals, and various other unknowns, I like to know what feeds the animals and plants which feed me. Cancer has struck too close to home to assume that every chemical remedy is a good one.

#4 There is some correlation to God as Creator and myself as a gardener.  When I plant a seed, I know it is His seed, I know He forms and shapes the life that comes from the seed, and I know that all the growing universe is His – but in my small world, I can cultivate a small part of it, making it orderly, beautiful and fruitful. When faced with international disasters, national worries, and personal struggles, it is no small comfort to enjoy God’s life in a garden – gardening grace – I call it.  And so it is.

#5 My final reason is purely mercenary.  I enjoy knowing that I have stocked some food away for a rainy, stormy, or snowy day.  I never know what the future will bring. Having a few jars of homemade jam, pickles, or salsa, some onions & herbs hanging in the kitchen, some frozen peppers, corn, squash, and pumpkin stocked in the freezer, makes my life a little more comfortable. Despite my aching back, my heart is at ease knowing my garden is there, waiting for me in the morning.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

J. R. R. Tolkien

In my mind, J. R. R. Tolkien is a heroic figure. He understood that the greatness of humanity lies within each of us through our faithfulness to our daily mission. He was a Catholic, the son of a Catholic convert, and an ardent believer in God. It was under his influence that C.S. Lewis embraced the reality of Christianity.  While a young man, he formed a club with some close friends, and despite the small size of the group, they had some very big aspirations.  They believed that they had a mission to change the world, to make it a better place.  As for many people during World War I, (and later World War II) this vision was put to test when several of Tolkien’s friends died. They were not able to live out their noble aspirations. But in a letter, Tolkien was reminded of their ardent dreams, and he was encouraged to go forward—to fulfill his own potential. He did. An ordinary man in so many ways, yet his faithfulness to his family, to his wife and children, his students, his friends, and his stories reach us today.

After I had read most of his major works and become astonished at his incredible insight and clarity, I decided to read more about him so I could better understand his background and his mindset. In one book (J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter), I read about one of his typical days where his bicycle broke down and he was late for dinner while a stack of papers waited at home to be corrected. I was nearly pulling my hair out thinking about the fact that he could have been home writing great literature.  But then, (after I became more reasonable), I realized it was because he knew how to fix a bicycle, cared about being home for dinner, made it to meetings, and corrected innumerable papers that he was the kind of man who could write so faithfully about the human heart and the reality of suffering as well as the idiosyncratic silliness of common human interactions.

Tolkien, like many of his characters, could not predict the future, but he was engaged in humanity’s struggle to overcome evil, nevertheless.  May I today aspire to the same noble faithfulness of a simple Hobbit—and an honest writer.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00