Lessons in the Clouds

Earlier this year, my four-year-old drew a picture.  As she told me the story of what it was, I was surprised at how much it related to my current circumstances – and the wisdom the Spirit impressed upon me through her.

On a simple piece of brown construction paper, she had drawn colorful clouds above her and a black, hairy bear next to her.

God in the clouds

God in the clouds

“This is me.  God is trying to get my attention in the clouds,” she told me, “but I’m too scared of the bear!”

She spoke as if her fear paralyzed her from seeing the beauty of the clouds or from looking to the God who painted them for her.  I realized I had often been doing the same.

While my early mornings were brightened by great beauty in the quiet stillness before my three, active little girls awakened, I still found myself steered by my fears, fears that sometimes seemed completely irrational and other times were so real to me that I couldn’t seem to think clearly.

What if something was wrong with the baby I carried?

How would I deal with the needs of four children under the age of five?

How would we survive those first days and weeks after the baby was born with no support network in place in the new city we lived in?

Would our financial situation support us?

What if something went wrong with our planned home birth?

So many questions and doubts plagued my mind when this was the scene right outside my window.


Brilliant colors changed continually as the angle of the sun gradually changed.  Blazing oranges and bright pinks softened as the sun ascended over the horizon.  The shadowy mountains came alive as the light shone on them and reflected off the snow-capped peaks.

Mountain Sunrise

Some mornings I didn’t even look, I was so immersed in my own plans or fears.

But when I did take the time to watch the beauty of the sunrise, I was struck by how temporary that beauty was, how each moment was different, colorful, amazing, and then — over.

These days of mothering four children under five (Yes, the fourth one arrived safely not long ago, and God has completely provided for us through others, despite my fears.) are hard.  I’m tired.  The house is in varying degrees of disarray depending on the moment.  The laundry, dishes, cooking, diapering, feeding, and dressing can seem overwhelming at times, and yet, I still need to take time to enjoy these precious days.  They are temporary.  Each moment is different, colorful, amazing, and then — over.  

The moment when my three-year-old’s soft voice tells me, “I want to be with you, Mom.  You’re my best, best friend.”

The moments of holding my newborn close as we gaze into each others’ eyes.

The moments my one-year-old takes my face in her hands, smiles broadly, and laughs boisterously as I play our game of turning my head to one side and then back to face her.

The moments of seeing my four-year-old feel success and pride in her accomplishments as she writes her alphabet, solves a problem, or composes a new song that she insists on singing at the top of her lungs.

Different, colorful, amazing, and oh, so easy to miss.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)

Today, may we take our eyes off whatever we may be fearing and fix our eyes on Jesus.  He’s trying to get our attention and show us the most beautiful revelations of His love!  We just need to be present where He’s placed us and take in the moments He’s given.

LEANing My House – The Revelation – Part 1

No, that’s not a typo.  I can’t really talk about cleaning my house.  At best, I’m a work-in-progress with that goal.  But, as an industrial engineer focusing on life at home with little ones, I can take the opportunity to search out ways to use my background to make things run more efficiently, and that’s what Lean Systems are all about.  I haven’t done a very good job of this in the past, but recently a new opportunity has presented itself.

A move.  A chance to start over and try again.

In the last few months, our family decided to move, packed up most of our things, left for vacation for a few weeks, packed some more, and moved to a new house in a new state.  It’s been nearly six years since our last move, and we’ve welcomed three children in that time, so I was not only out-of-practice with moving, but also, there were a lot more considerations this time.

The last time I faced a major down-sizing move was when I left my 2-bedroom loft apartment for an out-of-state move to share an apartment with a friend while we went to graduate school.  I was able to store a lot of the “stuff” that was dear to me but not particularly needed for school at my grandma’s house until I would return.  I was in the apartment for a year, then moved to a house with my new husband.  We moved again after a year and a half, back to my home state, where I could be reunited with those things I’d nearly forgotten about, at least to some extent.  We had a 2-bedroom house for a year, so most of the non-essential items remained boxed up in the basement.

Then, finally, we bought a house.  A five-bedroom house.  A house with enough room for all of my “stuff.”  We inherited furniture.  We bought furniture.  We were given some of my grandmothers’ dishes. (Which I cherish!)  We acquired all the “baby stuff” new parents need.  My parents gave me the things they’d kept for me from when I was young.

And, I, by nature, seem inclined to keep everything.

Over the summer, as we prepared for this move, I tried to pack the non-essential things when I had time.  (Have you packed with young children around?  The long-forgotten toy is suddenly whisked out of the box and cannot be parted with.  Or, I hear, “What’s that?” as little hands reach for a breakable gift from a dear friend.)  As time went on, I found I liked the extra space in the cabinets.  Sure, I missed my muffin tins a few times, but I didn’t have time to be baking much anyway.

When we arrived at our new home, we got the house fully operational fairly quickly – kitchen, bathrooms, beds, dressers were put together within a day or two.  The garage was still packed full of boxes, but I could prepare meals, the girls had some toys to entertain them, and we could sleep comfortably.

…To Be Continued…

When Life Hands You a Snowstorm… Make Snow Ice Cream!

Sometimes in my part of the country, we’re blessed with snow.  I love to watch the large flakes dance to the ground, covering the ground in white and creating a serene scene that sparkles in the sun and seems to swallow the noise of the city.  Snowfall here isn’t always that picturesque, but I feel a little excitement even when I get to watch the “sideways snow” that flies as small ice missiles from the north, shooting across the sky.

Earlier this month, we had a beautiful snow.  Twelve inches of white.  You can almost make out my ruler in the picture.

12" of snow

12″ of snow

Last year during a wintry weekend, I saw a friend at Women’s World, a conference held in my town.  With snow on the ground, she shared an easy recipe for snow ice cream.  It was so simple and easy, that although I wrote it down (somewhere), I remembered it in my head.  When this beautiful snow fell, I knew it was time to give it a try!  With heavy snow forecasted for my area again this weekend, it’s time to share it with you!

Snow Ice Cream

8-9 cups of clean snow (I just filled a bowl full.)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients well and enjoy!

I didn't have to go far to fill my bowl with snow!

I didn’t have to go far to fill my bowl with snow!

We had made brownies earlier, so we enjoyed brownie ice cream sundaes!

Brownie Snow Ice Cream Sundaes

Brownie Snow Ice Cream Sundaes

The reviews are in…

February 4 - February 9, 2014 019

Good to the last bite (or lick)!

Good to the last bite (or lick)!



We’ll be making this again.  Maybe even today…

A New Groove

I’ve been away from blogging for a while… A long while. I remember thinking last June, “I’m tired (really tired), and Clara’s birthday is coming up. I’ll just take a few days off of writing so I can prepare for the party.”

I did. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and I easily justified that.

The only problem was that after the party, I was still too tired to spend time blogging at the end of the day instead of sleeping. My writing focus was spent completing an article from my dissertation work so my advisor and I could submit it for publication. That piece came together, but I was getting closer to my due date, and any extra energy needed to be applied to an attempt to clean the house. My little one’s due date came and went in mid-July. Ten days later, we met our third little girl, Charlotte.

July 10-August 2, 2013 112

Then, the days and nights became a blur of activity with three little ones under 38 months in my care. I hope I took enough pictures in those months because the memories are foggy, even now just a few months later. There was much to learn. Such as…

Where do we put another car seat? What was the optimum way to position the 3 car seats in our 6-passenger Ford Freestyle with all three girls needing complete help with the buckles? We chose the wrong way first. It involved opening the hatch, lifting the 16-month-old over the back of the far rear row of the car into a rear-facing car seat, gently (?) dropping her into her place, crawling onto the bumper, wedging my head and my arms into a position that would both hold myself up and enable me to buckle the straps. Yeah, that didn’t work out. My husband could do it well, but my arms are much shorter than his. We’ve got a manageable arrangement now with the younger two in the middle row and the 3-year-old in the far back. (It’s about time for our middle daughter to face forward which may shuffle things a bit again, but at least that problem doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore.)

How will I manage to get everyone in and out of the car multiple times a day? The first week of preschool was brutal; I won’t lie. Charlotte was about 6 weeks old, and our schedule that week included 4 trips to preschool, 3 to church, and probably a few more outings, such as grocery shopping.  That week, I thought homeschooling would be the best option for us simply because we wouldn’t have to spend an hour traveling back and forth and dealing with the stress of trying to make it somewhere on time. This has gotten easier, too, though the baby may still decide it’s time to eat right as we’re ready to grab our bags and head out the door or a dirty diaper is discovered as I push on a little shoe.

How can I get everything done? We were so blessed by our church family to have some meals brought to us the first few weeks after Charlotte’s birth. I hadn’t figured out the whole freezer meal thing beforehand, and we don’t have a lot of freezer space anyway, so this was such a blessing! I also remember delighting in God’s daily provision. On the days I didn’t have enough energy to keep going and I desperately needed a nap, the three girls miraculously slept at the same time! That may not be a big deal to families that have a structured schedule at their homes, but I couldn’t get my older girls to sleep at the same time (or my middle one to sleep for very long at all), so there was no doubt in my mind about Who was taking care of me.  I treasured that my God is the one who saw my efforts and needs when no one else could.

Honestly, though, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question. My house isn’t clean. The laundry is unfolded. I don’t have a meal plan for the week, and I didn’t make it to the grocery store on my regular day. The sink is full of dirty dishes, and the fridge is rather empty.

But I love on my little girls, and we have what we need for the day. Today, we put puzzles together – over and over again. I read a couple of chapters in “Little House in the Big Woods” aloud, to the 3-year-old’s delight.  (She asks to “play Laura” often.) I held my 3-year-old close and tossed her upside down and tickled her when she was upset that, “No one has time for me.”  I sang to my baby and danced with her in my arms.  I put the bow the 1-year-old requested in her thin hair, again and again.  I let my oldest crack the eggs and pour the scrambled mixture into the pan (and showed her how to clean up her spill).  We played hide and seek.  We watched some favorite videos on YouTube.  We shared hugs and kisses.

My baby is now six months old. The fatigue of those early weeks is finally subsiding, and I’m looking to find the rhythm of our new normal as a family of five. I’m dreaming of taming the chaos, but the reality is I will never really find the answer to that question of how to get everything accomplished.  The key will be to find what God has assigned me for each moment and to be faithful to obey – and to let the rest, all those things I think I am *supposed* to do go.

Jan1-18, 2014 018I’ve got a lot of growing to do to accomplish that task faithfully, but I’m trying to do a job worthy of my calling, be that finding a routine to keep the dishes washed to better honor my amazing husband or a groove that includes a celebratory dance down the hallway with three little girls following behind.

(And I’ll try to share our journey with you more often again.)

The Power of Praise (and a Birthday Story)

“Never comes mortal utterance so near to eternity as when a child utters words of loving praise to a  mother!  Every syllable drops into the jewel box of her memory, to be treasured for ever and ever.”

– George B. Lyon

I am beyond blessed, and only one of my three children can talk!

And, that dear daughter’s birthday is today.  Three years ago, I began Saturday as normal (whatever that was before kids.  I’m not sure I remember.).  *Wait a minute, now I remember better.  I had contractions through the night that kept me from sleeping, except for a couple of hours in the morning, which I took to rest.  It’s easy to forget the harder things.* I had been having contractions for about a day and a half, but they were somewhat mild and 10-15 minutes apart.  I was one week past my “due date.”  I was getting frustrated with the waiting but dreaded the thought of having labor induced.

Our neighbor had asked for some help on a spreadsheet, so I was at their house developing a form, I think, on MS Works.  I stayed there while they left to pick up their new little chihuahua, Bella.  As I walked home across the lawn, my water broke.  I calmly told Chad we should probably have some lunch (this was around 12:30 p.m.), repack the hospital bag (I had unpacked it earlier in the week in my frustration.), and start to head that way.  (We live about 5 minutes from the hospital.)  We arrived at the hospital about 1:30, and this time (We’d been in for a false alarm a few days prior), labor was progressing!

That afternoon is a treasured memory for me.  Time passed quickly, it seemed, as I rocked back and forth on a birthing ball with my husband rubbing my back at just the right times.  We sang worship songs together in between contractions.  I got to relax in the “hot tub” our hospital has for a little over an hour in the evening.   As midnight neared, I was fully dilated and pushed for less than thirty minutes to meet our 9 lb. 3 oz. baby girl.

A treasured day

A treasured day

I remember the hard parts of that day – a little.  The doubt I felt as the nurse suggested twice that pitocin would speed labor along (especially when the transition contractions were pretty intense, and I was just fine with the 5-minute break instead of 2-3 minutes between them).  The discomfort of the IV in my hand (which in my memory was worse than the entire rest of the non-medicated childbirth experience!).  The focus I needed through those intense contractions.  The burning as I pushed.  All easily forgettable.

Especially when you’re entrusted with such an incredible gift!

Happy 3rd birthday, Clara!  You are a precious blessing to us!

Such a blessing!

Such a blessing!

The Chicken Chronicles – New Quarters and a Smaller Brood

It’s been a while since I’ve had any chicken stories to speak of.  Spring seems to be the busy time for changes in the hen house, and this year is no different.  Since Pepper and Wilhelmina died, we’ve just been enjoying our eight hens and the eggs they’ve produced throughout the fall and winter.  And, thanks to my husband’s grand ideas and handy work, they again spent the winter in their beautiful home, complete with heat lamps and glass windows.  (Did I share the story about the time they started a fire and nearly burned down their house?  Maybe that’s another post.)

Side View of the Chicken House

Side View of the Chicken House

We loved letting the chickens roam freely in the yard.  They loved it, too.

But we did not love their poop.  Especially on the patio.  Especially as we planned to spend more time outside.  Especially as our one year old was crawling, but not walking yet (and still putting many things into her mouth).  ICK!

So, one day, my husband took down the chicken house.  A flower garden is growing in that place now.

And, the chickens got moved to their summer house, a structure my husband had built a few weeks earlier.

The chickens' new summer house.

The chickens’ new summer house.

Alas, this new home was too small for all eight of the girls, so one day, Salt and Henrietta took a ride to go to a new home.  Shortly after that, Big Red Mama and the Rhode Island Red that I think was our infamous Toe Pecker (I don’t miss her going after my toes!) also moved on to grander adventures.

Now, Bandit (who is totally our alpha chicken), Ginger, Mary Ann, and the unnamed remaining Rhode Island Red have the house to themselves.   They still get to wander the yard at times, but it’s more rare.  They seem to be enduring the change.  None of the girls has seemed excited about it.  Egg production has gone down to nearly nothing, and for a while, they were pecking open and eating the eggs that were being produced.

They seem to be getting used to the new arrangement, and they were delighted when my husband added an extra feature to their home recently!  I’ll save that for another day.

To read more of our history with our chickens, check out these past posts:

The Beginning
The Surprise
The New Kids on the Block
The Eviction
Thelma and Louis’ Last Adventure
Making New Friends
The Pretty Birds Join the Brood
The Attack
A New Home and a New Beginning
An Update

What’s a STEM Woman (at Home) to Do? Part 2

Women can – even at home.

(This was really the post I meant to write last time, but I guess the 2 a.m. hunger call and late-pregnancy insomnia inspired my last post to go a different direction.  This post is more about how I’m using my STEM inclinations at home now.)

I’ll be honest.  I thought staying at home might would probably be boring.  In the months between turning in my resignation and leaving my job, I thought frantically of how I could best remain connected to my profession in some way.  Could I continue to research and publish?  Could I consult companies in the geographic area I’m in?  Could I teach community college or online courses as an adjunct faculty member?  Surely, I must need something, I thought.

I don’t recall ever being exposed to feminist rhetoric directly, but I somehow got the message as I was growing up that domestic duties were, well, boring and unchallenging.  This baffles me now, not because I currently find delight in washing dishes, but because my grandmother was a professional house keeper for others and found joy in that and because my mother stayed home, never complaining, patiently and diligently taking care of our home, meals, clothes, and well-beings.  My other grandmother delighted in cooking (and was EXCELLENT at this).  With such family examples, how was I misled?  I’m not sure.  I even remember, as a child, taking great pride in my work to make the bathroom sink shine and to pull all the crab grass from around Grandma’s iris plants.  But, by the time I reached junior high, my mind was firmly set that home economics classes in cooking and sewing were a waste of my time.  Anyone could cook, right?  And, when someone could choose a class like advanced biology, really, was there any contest?  Did people really major in that (home ec.) in college?  (I mean no disrespect now!  These are my thoughts as a teenager – pretty immature.)  A semester of wood shop and a semester of home economics were required our eighth grade year, though.  My pathetic pair of sweat pants I attempted to construct and the bad taste of our team’s Spanish rice should have told me that there was more to these pursuits than simply following directions.  Perhaps my failures in these areas discouraged me, too.  Besides, I got more attention for excelling in math and science.

Anyway, so it was with very little training and likely less skill (and probably not the best attitude other than a deep love for my children) that I chose full-time domestic life about 18 months ago.  But, God provides.  Without me wearing myself out trying to find ways outside of the home to use my training and interests in the sciences, He’s giving me opportunities.  I want to share these with you.  I believe that, whatever your field or background, there are applications of your skills at home that can keep you interested and occupied.


  • I recently sent an inquiry to a home-school group in my town to see if my background could be useful to homeschooling parents and students as a tutor in STEM fields.  I connected with a woman who teaches high school biology and chemistry to 10-15 students a year.   She needed some help with grading biology lab reports next year, and it even pays a little bit!  This will allow her to take on a few more students without sacrificing as much of her family time, and it gives me a way to help without worrying about the preparation and testing that I know I won’t be up for with the new baby coming this summer.  I get to study biology again!  This is a subject that I loved my two years of study in high school but haven’t been able to return to studying or reviewing it since then due to other priorities (and a very rigid chemical engineering curriculum).
  • I get to see nature in a new, slower way as my almost-three-year-old daughter asks questions and notices things I don’t.  We talk about them.  We talk about how we could find the answers to her questions.  We read books.  I’m learning with her while getting to teach!


  • This is, admittedly, the area I struggle with the most, I think.  I miss working on the computer.  I am on my computer some, writing, checking Facebook, and checking e-mail, so I don’t mean just opening up the laptop.  I miss analyzing data in Minitab or creating a complex spreadsheet template to solve a problem for someone.  I do have an interesting dataset from my dissertation that I could play around with some more, but I haven’t made time for that.   As statistical software (even MS Office) products go through revisions over time, this is one area I fear losing my “edge” in, but that was happening a bit with my teaching job, too (being out of industry and not getting to use/apply those tools frequently).  
  • This is also an area where I see the most potential for learning as new online resources and tools are developed.  Any time I can learn something new, I’m happy.  :)   Hey, if I can program in FORTRAN and use SLAM to create a simulation, surely I can learn some of these new tools and use them, as applicable, for my work at home. 


  • “Engineers make things.  Industrial Engineers make things better,” is a slogan that I think was chosen by the Institute of Industrial Engineers.  (Now, for any hard-core electrical engineers out there, this might seem a little simplistic.  As a chemical engineering student, I joined the crowd that called IEs “imaginary engineers.”  Give me a chance, though.)  Every day at home, I get to work on continuous improvement in quality of both goods and services.  I am faced with the challenges of optimizing production processes.  Lots of processes.  
  • Optimization goes beyond finding “what works for me” in these processes.  There are actually mathematical formulas that can be created to help determine how many sets of clothes you may need (really need) for each child, how often you should do a load of laundry, and more.  (I plan to write more about these as I explore them myself.)  Perhaps I’ll even come up with some new formulas of my own.  (One of my favorite chemical engineering professors told us, “Never use a formula you can’t derive.”  That advice doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me now.)


  • Think beyond simple price comparisons at the grocery store.  At home, I get to consider the time value of money and think of how we can best try to optimize our savings and spending, balancing investments and debt.  This is an area I need to spend some time on, as it is available, because I think we can do better.
  • One of the greatest blessings of the last year was being able to tutor my friend, Staci, though the quantitative methods courses her Ph.D. in education requires.  These statistics discussions let me use my stats vocabulary (fun!), learn about different applications of various tools (hard sciences are different from behavioral or social sciences), and get some new research ideas.  
  • And, my dear mentor, Linda, suggested I could always practice my calculus during nap times.  :)  (It’s been a while, so I could use the practice!)


  • You may think being out of academia leaves a person without academic research possibilities.  I’m finding otherwise.  There are still a couple of papers from my dissertation I’m working on revising for submission to journals.  I get new ideas for research possibilities in applied statistics each time I attend the Fall Technical Conference.  
  • There are also classes in research methods being taught in the area, and I was able to help one of my husband’s friends through an accelerated class last fall.  This involvement was encouraging as it showed me some of the “holes” in what was being taught (at least at this particular college), helped me consider new teaching or tutoring possibilities, and affirmed that I know my stuff when it comes to researching and writing research papers.  I wonder if there will be opportunities to help other undergrads at my local university.
  • Also, being immersed in this new life at home, I’m developing other research interests, probably more qualitative in nature, that would explore the longitudinal effects of homeschooling, for example, so my research “pipeline” won’t be completely empty, should I decide to return to an academic position some day.    The only problem is funding.  I wonder if there are grants out there for independent researchers who need new software to explore their ideas…  

So, I encourage you, if you think staying at home with your family looks like career suicide or complete boredom, consider my story.  I was getting bored enough at my first engineering job within the first year or so,  that I applied to grad school to start taking classes again.  I haven’t felt that boredom at all yet.  Not even close.  I do wonder if my gap of outside-the-home work history, lack of continuous publications, or step away from computing software will impact my ability to get a job later in life, but I’m trusting God with that.  He’s building my resume in new ways, helping me develop skills that are oh-so-necessary, while being able to focus on the little lives He’s entrusted me with to care for and teach.

And I’ve never had work that is so rewarding!   

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