commonplace books and letting the laundry go for a day

"As one New York Times story about millennials in the workplace put it, managers struggle with their young employees' 'sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination.'"

I wrote this quote from Ben Sasse's The Vanishing American Adult in my commonplace book about a month ago. Looking at it again today, I had a great big "yep" followed by a mental "Note to self: You may be a millennial, but NEVER BE ANY OF THOSE THINGS."


Just reading it again makes me want to delete Instagram and call my parents to thank them for raising my sisters and me with plenty of resilience.

That's part of the benefit of keeping a commonplace book: It allows you to go back over what you've read, what you've thought on or discussed, what stuck out to you as you thought through ideas or worked through concepts, and revisit them as often as you'd like.

Especially if you're like me and have about four books going at the same time.

Not to mention the audio book on Geronimo I started today.

Did you know his wife, mom and children all got killed by Mexican soldiers?

Me neither. This is why we read.

Also, why are there not more hours in the day? Asking for a friend.

There's two things I should mention here because now I'm thinking about reading, which always gets me off track, because -- well -- I want to go read.

(1) If you're a stay-at-home mom like me, I highly recommend setting aside 15 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever you can spare to read each day. This was a struggle for me, even though I love to read, because there is always laundry to do or dishes to put away or basement steps to sweep, but my sister reminded me that that was just the point: They will ALWAYS be there, and if I was always doing them, I'd never make time for the things that stretch my brain, like reading. So, when both the kiddos lay down at 1:00 p.m. for nice, long naps, this mama finishes the lunch dishes and then takes 20 minutes to read.

And tries not to feel guilty about it.

(2) I keep my commonplace book handy while reading. That, too, was my sister's brainchild. If you don't use one already, you can find plenty of websites that fill you in on how to start and maintain one, but the gist is this:

  • Buy a blank journal or index cards or a notebook, and start reading. 
  • As you find quotes or thoughts or ideas that stand out to you, write them down. 
  • Find a way to organize them, perhaps by category or by the author or whatever works for you. But develop a system so that you can find those ideas back when you want them for your own writing or edification. 
  • Now, millennials, don't panic but . . . don't use your cell phone for this. Yes. That is correct. I'm asking you to kick it 1880s style (or 2000s style) and actually use this thing call a PEN. You'll be amazed at how you'll retain the concept you're writing. 
It's really that easy. Read widely. Mark things of interest to you. Write them down. Develop a book -- or a resource center really -- of other people's thoughts and writings that have impacted how you think.

People have been doing this for centuries. Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan -- all commonplace book keepers. Why not you too?

I finished reading Sasse's book a month ago, but I'm still thinking on lines and thoughts that reinforced what I already believed or that opened up an idea to me I hadn't considered before. And that, I suppose, is the end goal of the commonplace book: To keep your brain in a perpetual desire for growth, truth-seeking, and knowledge.

Are you a millennial? Well, then, if you feel the need to overshare IG stories or snark at your boss, let it at least be something worthwhile, something thought by someone long before you, something time-tested, something -- I hope -- you've written in your commonplace book.


Can we randomly talk about one thing I have been loving lately?

PS This has nothing to do with farming. Or cows. Or pumpkins even. I'm just so excited that pumpkins actually grew at our house that I have to show them off as long as possible, because it may never happen again. 

These might be squash-like unicorns right here. 

The Bigfoots of the fall world. 

The Loch Ness monsters of great pie fame. 

Are they supposed to be turning brown like that? I feel like that's not supposed to happen. 

Ok, don't look too close. 


Pumpkins? What pumpkins?

(The unicorns apparently aren't so perfect after all.)

Back to the point: I am loving how people are returning to making handmade goods they give as gifts. 

All you ladies who took part in the mug swap, I love that you are drawing upon your painting and handlettering and design skills, your cardmaking and cookie baking, your knitting and sewing and crocheting. 

I love that my mom sews baby clothes, my sisters bake amazing breads and sew adorable buntings, my mother-in-law cross stitches, and my sisters-in-law quilt table runners and stitch quiet books. 

I love that a new friend from the city brought me an embroidered tea towel she made herself in the midst of raising five children. 

And I love that a new friend from the country sent me a hand-quilted trivet she pieced together in her spare time as a busy mom of three and wife to an equally busy farmer. 

I love that seeing what each of these women make urges me on to do the same for others.

I love that we are slowing down and putting thought and care into our gifts as we are able. It's not for everyone, but for those who are good at it, who enjoy it, who give of themselves through the work of their hands, yes, I am loving that. 

So what am I making to give as gifts? I'm so glad you asked because . . .

You're all getting pumpkins for Christmas this year!

(Hey, I planted them, pulled the weeds, watered them. That counts as handmade in my world. No? Not buying it? Well, shoot. Back to the drawing board . . . )

Whether you're stitching or baking, sewing or knitting, stamping or carving, painting or drawing, thank you. You restore -- piece by piece -- my faith that there are gifts that will be passed down, not perhaps because they are the most impressive or expensive, but because someone took the care, the time. 

Here's to the work of our hands, to unique Christmas and birthday gifts, to crafting flops and baking successes, to laughter and awe, to making something for someone because he matters, because she will truly appreciate it. Here's to you!

What are you making right now? 

it's harvest time in the city -- errrrr --- country

When combines emerge and dust starts to fly, I basically start singing, "It's Christmastime in the city" because harvest means fall and fall is basically winter and winter is essentially Christmas, so I'm pretty much ready to start wrapping presents. 

While summer will always be my true love, I cautiously admit to not completely disliking fall and the sound of all the activity in the field, hearing the dryer on the grain bins running at night, sleeping with the windows open and watching the leaves change colors. 


But, oh summer, how our little family will miss you. Fall and winter bring their joys, but gone will be the days of playing in the kiddie pool, scratching around in the sand box, eating our snacks on the front porch, picking flowers from the garden and smelling freshly mowed grass. 


Farming, perhaps more than most livelihoods, reminds us of the seasons. It's not just switching from lemonade to pumpkin spice latte weather. It's switching from drinking gallons of water and trying not to get sunburned while welding on hot tin roofs to wading through the muddy slush of winter, chipping ice from ponds for cows to drink and warming hands around thermoses of coffee before heading back out into the cold. 

But it's not winter just yet. So for now, we will wave at the combine, cheer for truck drivers, disregard all the dust, slow down for tractors on the highways and light a fire in the fire pit when the evening gets cool. 

Summer may be on its way out, and winter may be on its way, but for now, it's simply harvest time in the country.

we grew pumpkins, people!

In case you've missed out on this week's installment of the Zucchini Wars: Forget Zombies, These Are Way Worse, we are losing. 

To quote Lieutenant General Chesty Puller of the United States Marine Corps, "They're on our left. They're on our right. They're in front of us. They're behind us. They can't get away this time!"

Loosely translated, THEY'RE TAKING OVER. 

But you didn't stop by to talk about zucchini. 


Can we instead talk about the fact that there are pumpkins on my porch that have not been eaten by dogs? 

This may not seem like a blog worthy post to you, but I stopped putting up any outdoor decorations after year 1 of marriage. The Christmas wreath got chewed up. A bunting on the deck was -- I don't know -- eaten presumably? Corn husks were dragged across the yard and dismantled. Pumpkins were gnawed apart. You name it and our dogs attempted their best to destroy it. 

So there our deck sat -- alone and sad and decorationless -- until this year. 

Thanks to my father-in-law and a couple of gates, no dogs are anywhere on the deck. And they're certainly nowhere near the pumpkins -- or "poppins" as the toddler calls them -- we somehow managed to grow ourselves.  


My sister gave my farmer some pumpkin seeds from a massive pumpkin patch near her house -- the kind that sells season passes because there's so much to see and do there -- and they didn't disappoint. 

Not bad considering I weeded them about three times, watered them about the same, and then watched them take over the garden. 

Well, the part of the garden that wasn't being ransacked by guerilla zucchini plants taking no prisoners. 


We grabbed some corn stalks from the field, a handful of mums from the 'Marts, and called it a day. 

A good day, because have I mentioned? NONE OF THE DOGS ARE EATING MY DECORATIONS. 

Next question: What's the verdict on spraypainting zucchini orange and pretending they're decorative squash?

Asking for a . . . friend.

what I'm eating and listening to

In case anyone is wondering -- after the Great Zucchini Pandemic of 2017 -- yes, we are still harvesting that Energizer Bunny of all squashes. The stuff just will -- not -- stop. Thankfully, kind people are taking it off my hands, because you can only grate so many gallons of it, puree so much for baby food, and make so many loaves of zucchini bread before you have to move on with life.

If I were more Ma Ingalls and less myself, I'm sure I'd come up with a way to do something amazing with it that will save us from starving when the first blizzard hits this winter. But in the meantime, I'm banking on Aldi's low prices and fresh zucchini bread when I remember to thaw some of the grated stuff.

On the flip side, the lovely thing about NOT being Ma Ingalls is that I can listen to podcasts while my toddler calls her grandma on her fake Blackberry and the baby rolls to his tummy and then gets angry when he can't flip onto his back and I grate roughly six metric ton of zucchini.

In case you're in the mood for some listening variety, here are some favorites in our house:
  • Issues, Etc. = Obviously. We're Lutheran. We love being Lutheran. We love learning Lutherany things. But Issues isn't just for Lutherans. It's for anyone seeking the truth in pretty much any realm: the media, politics, ethics, the home. I have some favorite guests, so on the days I'm feeling in a history mood or a liturgy mood or an "I'm sick of the media" mood, I pull up their name and go to town. (And yes, if you listen to Issues, we are the "Missouri dairy farmers love Issues, Etc." people whose cows are mooing in the background. Don't ask how I got them to moo. I actually looked both ways down the road to make sure the neighbors didn't see me trying to get the heifers to moo back.)
  • Hillsdale Dialogues. From North Korea to the Paris Accord, from the Constitution to the Declaration of Independence, from C. S. Lewis's Abolition of Man to Aristotle on tyranny, it's all here. If you have a half hour and want to be challenged in your thinking, this is for you. These podcasts are funny, historically grounded, timely and always food for thought. 
  • Your Morning Basket. I don't think it's a big shocker for anyone that we intend to homeschool our kiddos. And while that's a few years off yet, I'm starting now to read the books that make the case for doing so and listening to other veteran homeschoolers who have good suggestions on what to do and what not to as you begin teaching your children (what not to: get over-eager early on and try to do too much. what to do: read lots of good books with your kids and let them play. I'm in!). This podcast makes the case for time set aside each morning -- with all the kids -- to review or loop through a small group of hymns, poems, ideas, maps, etc. -- just enough books or journals to fit in a basket. This time allows all the kids to work together, regardless of age, to review a poem they're memorizing or a hymn they've working on singing before spreading out to start their day. Because it's based largely on memorization and building on what you know, the repetition not only gives some structure to your family's morning but also allows your kiddos to draw on what they've committed to memory throughout the year and beyond. 
 So if your garden is going gangbusters in the zucchini department, or if you're simply in the mood to listen to something new, if you're in the midst of baking these delish zucchini chocolate chip muffins (recipe courtesy of my sister-in-law) or if you're sitting on your deck soaking up the last of the summer heat, give one of those a listen.

Also, eat muffins. Or carbs of any kind really. Between history, theology, families and schedules, you can't go wrong.

Also also, chocolate chips.

Happy Labor Day!


2017 Here I Swap -- Fall Mug Swap update and FAQ

Hi, ladies. If you signed up before midnight on Friday, August 25, good news! You're in.

Also . . . 507 of you! We did it! We hit 500. Whew.

When will I get an email about who my mug buddy is? Between now and September 11, you'll receive an email outlining your mug buddy's style, fall loves and other information.

Any suggestions on how to put this package together? As a reminder, after reading up on your new friend (feel free secretly to check out her social media pages too!) and getting a feel for her style, head to Walmart or Home Goods or any place in between to put her fall swap package together. Please spend at least $10.00 but no more than $25.00.

When do I need to mail the package? Send the package -- along with a little note with your name and how she can connect up with you -- by September 25 so that she receives it in time for October and the Reformation.

Packaging tips? Be sure to wrap your mug well. Bubble wrap is your friend! One layer of tissue paper ensures that your buddy will receive a broken mug with only a handle to drink out of, which is virtually impossible.

What happens when I receive a package myself? Post a picture of your fall swap package when it arrives. Use the hashtag #hereiswap2017 on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. You can meet even MORE Reformation-lovin' ladies that way!

What if I don't get an email from you? If you gave me a fake email address or one you don't check often, chances are, it's gone forever. But if you gave me a real email address and haven't heard from me by the end of the day on September 11, feel free to shoot me an email so that we can see if my email ended up in your Spam box or waltzed off elsewhere in outer space.

when zucchinis fight back

People, I'm trying to like gardening. I am.

But I stink at it. I really do.

When I'm pulling weeds around 47 million watermelon plants that only produced 3 actual melons, I find myself thinking, "Is there a reason I'm spending a half an hour every day doing this when watermelons are $2.99 at Aldi?"

I haven't come up with a good reason yet.

But as a testament to the courage and fortitude of the zucchini plants, who survived regardless of my lack of weeding love, I'm now freezing gallons upon gallon bags of shredded zucchini, making zucchini boats every other day, and slicing zucchini into fries and baking them.

I was about to say that makes me like gardening, but the jury's still out.

Want to eat 12 loaves of zucchini bread and talk about it?

Actually, me neither. I've got weeding to do.

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