Monday, April 22, 2013

Hidden Artist Within (in appreciation for a lovely lady in-the-Lord)

Hidden Artist Within
(in appreciation for a lovely lady in-the-Lord)

     The finish is wearing off the farm table. It is one of the messiest places in the house, when covered with cutting boards, vegetable scraps, bread four, mixing bowls, or groceries. Just before breakfast I oiled it.

oak farm table

     I oiled the antique butter press, too, and found a potholder I had sewn during my first attempts at log cabin patchwork. It felt good to do some sprucing up.

antique butter press

     Breakfast was hot cereal. The Man-of-the-House made a smoothie and left a few frozen strawberries behind – thawing in a dish. At an impulse his wife poured them onto a bowl of cereal. Their son appreciated the novelty when it was served to him.  

     I was feeling domestically uplifted. You see, the day before I had turned a few pages in The Hidden Art of Homemaking and that is all it took. On Easter Sunday an older-woman-in-the-Lord went to be with Jesus. This inspiring lady helped to shape my life. I never met her in person but I shed a tear for Edith Schaeffer. Hearing her messages on L’Abri Fellowship tapes and reading some of her writings satisfied a longing. In those early days I longed to know what a dedicated Christian woman looked like – that is - what was important to her, what she thought and felt, how she lived. I sought an example and found one when I made a book friend of Edith Schaeffer.

     In her writings she describes a myriad of ways to love God, love people, how to serve them and enjoy their company, all-the-while making special the day-to-day aspects of life. (Hmm, doesn’t this sound something like “the chief end of man?”) Most interesting of all, Edith Schaeffer expressed her personality and her art freely within the realm of family and domesticity.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

     In her book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking Mrs. Schaeffer makes an appeal to the Christian woman who is married or unmarried. She holds fast to the belief that because a Christian is in communication with God the Creator, this should lead to an increased capacity to live creatively. There is no place for humdrum when we are made in our Creator’s image. We experience greater fulfillment as women and homemakers when we find and uncover the hidden artist within us.

     An unmarried young lady, busy wife, exhausted mother, might not feel artistic. Mrs. Schaeffer says we become stoical and inhibited by tucking away the artist within us. Are we safekeeping the effort of artistic expression for a later or a better time? She challenges and persuades us to express ourselves in creative ways now, today, wherever we are living. As we grow in the fruits of the Spirit we also have the wonderful freedom to grow in creativity. But we have to step forward and give talent a try.

     According to Edith Schaeffer it is a solemn responsibility to be a homemaker. It requires that we develop our personality and use it to minister to our husband, children, and in hospitality. Becoming a Christian, a wife and young mother all within a few short years, I needed someone to open my eyes to the varied opportunities of serving in the home. Edith Schaeffer provided a kindly nudge for me to step forward.

     In the confusing list of houses our family rented or owned over the years, I took little steps forward. A handful of bulbs, a few annual flowers and herbs were planted in containers. If a patch of sunny ground was available I planted the kind of vegetable - such as zucchini – that an inexperienced gardener doesn’t need a green thumb to harvest.

     I haven’t any particular knack for flower arrangement but Edith Schaeffer taught me what matters most – flowers are to cheer and to add beauty – so bring them indoors. Recently I stuffed as many apricot daffodils as would fit into an empty spice jar. I placed the flowers in a different sort of place - on the bathroom sink for the Man-of-the-House and me. It was indeed cheery.  

     Over the years a sprig of herbs and a few wildflowers came together to make a bedside bouquet for a sick child or husband. “Are these for me?”
     “Yes, dear. I hope you feel better, soon.”

     Edith Schaeffer also taught me how to enhance family life and make togetherness enjoyable. “Happy relationships within a family do not spring up without someone working at it,” she says, “someone who is not putting himself or herself first.” We might not consider this to be homemaking until we read Mrs. Schaeffer’s touching words. Creating a friendly atmosphere of home is homemaking. It is an atmosphere where unrushed time is taken to build relationships. In her book, examples of drama, music and other creative recreation, provide alternatives (and stand in contrast) to today’s enthralling media choices.

Andreola Sisters 1993

     One suggestion is to give handwritten notes. Oh, I liked this idea. Handwritten notes were affectionately given to my children. In time it caught on. The children began writing notes of their own.

      Notes can be left on a pillow, secretly slipped into a suitcase, placed among the schoolwork, laid on a dinner plate, or taped to a door. They say, “You are special to me,” while they are saying thank-you, I’m sorry, get well, wonderful performance, good job, I know this was a sad day for you, or I’ll miss you.” What can take the place of a handwritten note in our modern world – especially one with a drawing?

      I cherish the notes to “Mom” that I’ve saved.  

     “We are citizens of a heavenly country and look forward to a home which is being prepared by God,” says Edith Schaeffer. Meanwhile we can do some creative feathering of our temporary earthly nest. Among her frugal tips for interior decorating, it is her invitation to add comfort and color to an otherwise drab apartment that especially ministered to me when I was feeling drab myself. 

     I remember one rented place that was covered in gray-brown wall-to-wall carpet – the kitchen too. The incident of dropping an egg meant a good amount of time was spent on hands and knees mopping the gooey spill out of the kitchen carpet while playful children surrounded me. I remember the temperature in the kitchen rising and being already frazzled that supper would be far from punctual. “Don’t cry over spilt milk,” came to mind - to which I added defiantly, “What if the milk seeps into the carpet?” 

     Although that kitchen had gray-brown carpet and gray-brown cabinets, it wasn’t a drab kitchen. The lovely bright sunshine that poured into it prevented this. The countertop was also unforgettably bright - humorously so – but at the time I wasn’t laughing. It was kumquat orange - an orange akin to Fluorescent - and overpoweringly garish.

     With Mrs. Schaeffer’s encouragement I made the best of it. Peering through the window of a charity shop I eyed a pitcher. It was cream porcelain with bright old-fashioned orange roses. “It’s got a crack on the handle,” pointed out the Man-of-the-House, who was trying to sympathize with his wife’s “orange problem.” I had my doubts that he was thoroughly convinced it was a significant problem but he put his arm around me and bought it for me, anyway. That Saturday the antique rose pitcher became a dainty addition to the counter top - blending in, and softening the color scheme. On some days it held creamy-white flowers. 

     “What ever happened to that pitcher?” Dean asked me (20 years later) after reading the draft of this post.
     “I gave it to charity,” I said, “a long time ago.”  
     He looked puzzled. “I liked that pitcher.” 
     “Really?” was my curt reply.
     The-Man-of-the-House fell silent.    

     Has your life been touched by Edith Schaeffer’s ministry? I’d be happy to know if you've also been influenced by The Hidden Art of Homemaking. Are you reserved about leaving a comment? Never mind. You are cordially welcome to click the inconspicuous word “comments” at the end of the post to read what others may share here – anytime.

Thank you for visiting,
Karen Andreola


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where There are Flowers There are Insects

Where There are Flowers There are Insects

     There is a lack of insects in our Nature Notebooks. Yet, here is a bee on Sophia’s page.

     It is the flowers that get the most attention. But where there are flowers there are insects.

     Weeding the winter cress out of the front garden I saw that our crocuses were populated with bees when their petals were open to the afternoon sun. I decided it would be wise to weed when the garden was shaded and the petals less populated. 

     Entomology is a subject in which I have a bias - a bias born of cowardice. I prefer the “nice” insects. It is the nice ones that appear in our Nature Notebooks: the bumblebees, honeybees, ants, butterflies and ladybugs. Perhaps we can call them the storybook insects, along with crickets and fireflies. Of these, as well as the less tolerable bugs, my children became familiar. I managed somehow to keep my bias to myself.

     While inspecting our newly blossoming daffodils, the tree stump brought back a memory. In my girlhood I remember sitting on the edge of a rotting tree stump in my neighbor’s front yard waiting for her to come out to play. As I waited I gazed into the rotted hole in the middle of the tree stump. It was filled with rainwater. I had excellent eyesight as a child and was startled to see what was taking place in the hole. Little hairy, wiggly worm-like creatures jerked and flitted about in the water. “These must be wigglers,” I thought. In grammar school we drew the life cycle of the mosquito in class. I had never seen a “wiggler” - larva stage - before, but I did now. Bitten enough times by the adult fly I was curious. But I was also creeped-out. I never sat upon that tree stump again.

     My children and I began our study of insects, along with a selection of other living creatures, with Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 3 and Book 4 (3rd and 4th grade). These reprinted Readers were originally meant for children to read themselves, but I recognized the writing style to be the kind that lends itself to enjoyable, attentive listening and thus a narration, too. Therefore I read them aloud. The science facts are presented in a “child-friendly” way. It takes some talent to do this. Not every writer has this natural ability that seems to come to those who have a sensitive regard for children.


     The pen drawings in these age-old Readers are accurate but inadequate at standing on their own. Photographs and modern books can stand in.

     The title 1001Bugs to Spot, sounds ambitious but its colorful array of creepy crawlies are divided into an array of habitats, including that of the garden shed. (Do you know what’s in there?) Children will enjoy searching for, and pointing out, the living things on the pages – one day – one habitat - at a time.

     You might like the gentle introduction to insects in the wispy watercolor drawings of Charlotte Voake in, Insect Detective by Steve Voake. Reading this book aloud would help a home teacher like me keep her bias under cover.  

     And yet book-knowledge has only one part to play. The living things on the pages of the Nature Readers, for instance, are what an American child would be likely to bump into; some only in a rural environment, but many could be found in the back yard. Therefore, observing them “in person” (like my mosquito larva) is the ideal.

     When our family lived in town, surrounded by a little grass with only a few bushes up against the house, I snipped a twig from one of these bushes, placed it in a screened jar, and kept it on the kitchen windowsill. On the twig was a toasted marshmallow-looking ball. I knew it to be a praying mantis egg case.

     It was the middle of May and wonderfully warm. We went out. When we returned the jar was filled with tiny praying mantises – what looked to be – from a child’s figuring – a
hundred babies. (My entomologist-minded son reminds me that they are nymphs.) We examined the hatchlings . . . I mean nymphs, closely. 

     Then I took the jar outside to set them free in the shrubbery. One remained conveniently on the bush at the front door all summer. It is the way of these creatures to adopt a territory. 

     Over the course of a year, here in the farmland of Pennsylvania, we photographed our praying mantises. Our first photographs are of the tiny hatchlings in our boxwood. 

     They grew larger and larger, lived among the flowers, and became easier and easier to spot whenever we had the opportunity for a little leisure on the patio. 

     We watched them eat. The photographer had to steady himself on his elbows to take this shot of an evening meal of woolly bear.


   The instant I was told by a bird enthusiast that a large praying mantis could capture a hummingbird I drew in my breath. I’ve spotted these beautiful birds hovering in our zinnia garden where the mantises lie in wait.  

“I hope I never see the day when our praying mantises are fed and fattened on hummingbirds,” I told the enthusiast. “No wonder these birds are so skittish.”

Together we shuddered at the thought.

     Several toasted marshmallow-looking egg cases have been attached to the branches at the edge of the woods all winter. Mid-May will be another birthday. 


a yellow doily from a blog friend,     Sophia's crocus

Happy Nature Study,
Karen Andreola

Thank you Dean and Nigel, for your photography. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

We Help Mommy

We Help Mommy
“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands.”   Milton Berle

     I was talking with one of my married daughters on the telephone recently. Sophia lives an hour and a half away by country road, by bridge over the Susquehanna, by interstate highway and by tunnel through the city of Baltimore. Dean and I see her family less often than we’d like. But we talk.

     At both ends of the telephone there is a cleaning cloth in use in a free hand. How do I know? One morning, Sophia stopped our conversation in mid-flow with, “Wait a minute. What’s he doing?” After this exclamation I heard a laugh. Then she said,  “Would you like to know what your little grandson was just doing? You won’t believe it.”

     “Oh, I think I might,” I said with a confidence born of experience.

The back door at Grandma's house
    She told me. “He pushed a chair up to the fish tank, dipped a sponge in the water and was washing the wall with it. It’s a good thing I just changed the water in the tank.”
     “He likes to do what he sees Mom doing. You have a cleaning cloth in your hand, don’t you?

     “How did you know?”

     “Just one of those things,” I said, taking credit for what was really an easy guess. In my long homemaking career it’s been my habit to start dusting the moment I begin a telephone chat. Apparently this trait is being carried through the family tree.     


   “Don’t you use bibs?” I hazarded when visiting. The words came out of mouth before I could check them when I watched birthday cake crumbs not only fall from the high chair but fly off the tray like sand on a windy beach. 

     “Bibs don’t do much,” my daughter replied a little dolefully. “And I sweep the floor all day, anyway.”

     “No wonder he likes to play with your dust pan and broom,” I said, “and the little broom at my house, too." Then I encouraged her with, “Soon you’ll have helpers.”  

     There comes a time when a mother does have more than two hands.

     To a young child, play and work are one-and-the-same. Eventually children transition into being helpers. They learn to do what they may not always want to do. Picking up after themselves and doing small chores contributes to a child “a sense of belonging” in the family. The feeling of accomplishment and of making a difference is a good feeling. The feeling comes when Mom shows her appreciation. And she sure can use some help around the place.
     A mother can do a job better and in less time. There is not doubt about that. But the effort her child puts into a less-than-perfect job at the beginning, during the learning curve, can be acknowledged with a smile, a “thank-you” or “well done” even if crumbs are un-reached behind a table leg, a crayon rolls away and is broken under foot the next day, or a soap bubble or two clings to a rinsed dish in the drain.

“Work of any description adds to one’s happiness.” Grandma Moses

     This statement by Grandma Moses seems to be exemplified “in miniature” in two Golden Books of my collection. I had read them aloud often to my young children (ages 2-5). It's the age that children like hearing the same stories again and again. And the tender scenes and words found in these stories were ones I didn’t mind repeating. We Help Mommy by Jean Cushman is based on the author’s experience with her young children at home who spend the day helping her. The Martha and Bobby in the book are the names of her own children. 

     Illustrator Eloise Wilkin (1904-1987) painted pictures that charm me. By the stroke of her paintbrush she recreates Cute with a capital “C.” But it is also her portrayal of the joys of childhood, a young child’s wonder of nature, security of home, and love of family that attract me. I like her early American décor (her braided rugs, stenciled walls and Windsor chairs) and am swayed by how her characters dress – nice and tidy.

      Probably back in the day Eloise Wilkin’s illustrated (the mid-20th century) there was nothing remarkable about how she painted her mothers – that is – wearing skirts – both around the house and outdoors. Evidently to her, trousers were things worn by men.

     We Help Mommy is still in print, part of a collection of nine Golden Book favorites in one hardcover: Eloise Wilkin Stories.

      We Help Daddy by Mini Stein was another of our oft-read Golden Books. But it is left out of  Eloise Wilkin Stories. Perhaps it is the depiction of Daddy with a smoking pipe in his mouth, a pipe appearing in most of the scenes, that made the editors reluctant to include this story in the collection. Although out-of-print, used copies of the book may still be available.

     Children will become acquainted with helping out in the kitchen when the natural reward for their work is cookies – a treat. Peeling potatoes is not as glamorous. It isn’t as interesting as cutting cookie shapes. But when mashed potatoes are served on the table at supper, topped with a pat of butter melting on top, it is something to be proud of, too. When a teen, our Yolanda became a mashed potato expert.

A friend of mine would read aloud to her children as they surrounded the bed to fold several piles of clean clothes and towels. The clothes were folded before the chapter ended. Another mother relies on the hands of her big boys to unload the car when she pulls into the driveway with the week’s groceries. I’m certain you can come up with your own list of practical ways a child can be an amiable helper. In families where home life is the center of activity: learning, playing, working, worshiping – this is the surest setting for peace, purity and maturity.

summer 2012

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” John Ruskin 

Discussion is Invited,
Karen Andreola