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"Rise and shine, girls. I've let you sleep in; time to get up." His words are invariable. This is how I've been awakened every morning for as long as he's been waking us up.
I don't mind being awakened since I like the morning. Sarah's another matter; I let her sleep while I take a shower, then I get dressed and rouse her again.: "Dad says it's time to get up so you might wanna wake up."
She mumbles assent, grabs her iPod, and flops out of bed. I head downstairs with my Samsung Galaxy tab in hand and check emails as I make breakfast and button clothes for the little ones. Jimsie (Levi) toddles in looking for a snack so I kiss him and sit him on the counter where he looks at the matches and talks about "a boxful of little fires." I've always got my tablet or my current book at this hour; you waste precious time cooking eggs and bacon with two hands.
Mama and Dad finish their prayer-time together and we gather at the table. I'm sent to howl for the girls from the bottom of the stairwell, or I send one of the younger kids to oust them from their sweet sleep. Anna and Leah stumble downstairs last and grab the milking pails, heading out to take care of our frighteningly productive herd of goats.
Dad stops them; they know we're supposed to eat breakfast as a family so they'll have to wait till after the meal to milk the goats. Anna grumbles and slings herself into her chair, the short pieces of hair around her face aiding in her disgruntled appearance; Leah fixes a cup of coffee, loudly complains that all we have for cream is goat's milk which she has formed a round campaign against, and plops in the chair across from me. Little Gracie blesses the food (not leaving out the dead dog, the dead neighbor, and our older brother's good night's sleep) and we eat while discussing everything from why you can sometimes see the moon in the day, to who has been concocting plans for the weekend without consulting the family schedule, to how they make Pringle's chips and which lines in The Sound of Music we used to misquote.
At some point in the melee, Dad declares a state of silence and brings out his iPhone to read the day's chapter from Oswald Chambers's My Utmost for His Highest; we're quiet. Most of the time I listen but sometimes without my consent, my mind takes a walk with a new story idea and I snap back to a frightened attention as Dad reads the last sentence of the devotional. I pray he won't quiz me on what we just read, but I know he'd laugh if he called on me and I confessed ignorance; my writing-induced ditziness amuses him.
After the final prayer, the silence explodes like a dam bursting and the house will not be quiet again till school-time. We're always singing: sometimes the same song in harmony, sometimes six different songs at once. I'll hum Colbie Callait, while Anna warbles "Nella Fantasia", Grace and Abby sing "On my Own," and Sarah and Leah come in swinging the milk-pail and bellowing "Haven't Met You Yet". None of us stops and joins the others; we just keep on our merry way, each belting out her own tune. This is how we discover so many brilliant mash-ups, I'm convinced.
Dad summons those of us whose turn it is to work in the landscape business for the day. If it's my turn, I grab a book or three, head out, and never get home till 9:30. These days I don't have time for writing, but I do manage to get in a concentrated hour of reading while we make the trek into town. He usually takes two or three of us, and we seldom know till breakfast who will be home and who will be working.
If I'm not working, I finish the chores and Mama starts school with the kids. I head upstairs to pretty myself up and put on makeup, clean my room, put away laundry, and what-not. When that is finished, I go my Lair: the place which never ceases to soothe the soul. Now is my time to plan lessons, get in my writing quota, respond to emails, write blog-posts, and read other writers' blogs. I click into my iTunes account and turn on Kate Rusby with the volume down low, and start plunking. Generally I can get over a thousand words in one hour, leaving time for my other pursuits. If I have an especially inspired day, I'll work in two different stories and give adequate attention to each. (but not very often.) During the spring and summer, however, I seldom have the leisure of this slot of time at all; we spend all morning working in the gardens. If I do have the slot, however, I am generally Laired till lunchtime when I descend from my eyrie to scrape up something for lunch.
There is no family meal-table for lunch: we sit here, there, and everywhere, and often I'll take my plate and a book out to the porch, enjoying the view for ten minutes before it gets any later in the afternoon and the sun is too harsh in one's eyes to read. When we built the house, the decision to face the front toward the West was intentional--we have a gorgeous and unimpaired view of the sunset; but toward 3:00 we must draw the blinds or else blink like moles upturned from their furrows of earth till the blaze lessens in fury. After the lunch-break it's back to washing dishes, sweeping, running laundry, etc.
Afternoon is the time when (if I'm not at work or watching the kids or doing something for Dad) I have time to take an Agatha Christie or The Mind of the Maker or whatever pet-book of which I am in the process of reading, and stow myself away somewhere. I can't read sitting upright--it's just not my thing, so I sprawl on a couch or sit on the porch with my feet propped on the railing, or lay on the floor of my Lair; sometimes I'll read aloud if it's a difficult piece of work and I understand it so much the better. If the sunlight is gentle enough to bear sitting on the porch, I choose that and Cricket comes to curl in my lap and sit on my book and generally make a feline nuisance of herself till I ease my novel out from under her and pet her absentmindedly with one hand. Generally speaking, though, I don't have much leisure in the afternoons: this is the chunk of time when I teach the classes I prepare for, or watch the kids while Mama does the grocery shopping (or do the shopping myself), and when 4:30 comes around I begin the lengthy and involved process of making dinner for a family of ten.
A curious trait of my character is that I must have a recipe to get me started (i.e. a goal set before my eyes of what I intend to make) but I never stick to the recipe once I've read it; philosophers would have a heyday with that one, I'm certain. Often I will search online for half an hour for a recipe that sounds good, then look at the ingredients list, realize I have none of the ingredients or could make it so much more creative, and ditch the instructions. By default, I end up making dinner pretty much every night. (except, of course, when I'm working.) I actually enjoy the different sort of creativity which cooking for a large and often impecunious family requires--substituting anything for everything is rather good practice, you know. Plus, as I said about breakfast, I can cook with one hand and read with the other; you don't actually have to watch the food, I've discovered. A quick glance now and then to be sure you aren't holding your book too close to the flame or that the roux isn't burning is quite good enough. In between batches of pots and pans on the stove, I step outside onto the porch to watch the sunset with Jimsie who, by this point, is usually getting fractious and needs the distraction as much as I.
"Look at that sunset," I say to him as we sit on the sun-baked bricks of the front steps. This is our familiar catechism, and I watch to see if he'll catch my unspoken question.
His blue eyes flick up to the sky and the dimples show in his baby-face. "God made it."
"Yeahhh," I say, rewarding him with a kiss. "God made that sunset for you."
As pleasant as it is to sit with an adorable toddler on the porch in a wash of sunset, the second half of evening-work still calls; the girls milk again and I wash up the dishes and call the little girls from folding laundry to setting the table. Then we eat, sometimes with Dad and the work crew, sometimes not, and the third (or fourth) round of chores commences. Jimsie gets his bath now, or else it's straight to bed with him. Depending on the day of the week there is a different sister whose job it is to tuck the little ones in; when it's my turn we brush his teeth, change him, have a tickling session, and settle down in Mama's rocker where he requires at least two stories: one about birds and another about cows. I fluff his pillow and he nestles down in his crib with a content sigh. I rub his back and pray with him, then sit in the dim light coming from the crack in the bathroom door and read or check emails on my tablet while Jimsie (and Grace) falls to sleep.
By the time he is asleep and Abby has been tucked in, it is generally 8:30. The evening is fair game now; if I have not had time to write, I'll slip into my Lair and wearily plunk out as many words as are left in my bones. On the days of happier schedules, I will have already accomplished this and can watch a movie with the girls.
Dad is the warden of our sleep and, to his credit, begins to sound the closing bells around 10:00 so that if we went to bed when he first suggested it we should not have any trouble waking at 6:30 when our alarms go off. But Mama has taught us to be night-owls and we never do listen; Dad goes round like the Town Crier two or three times more till 11:00 has come and gone and finally our movie or discussion is finished and we're ready to call it a wrap. I stand at the front door and call Cricket who never listens either. After a few summonses, she is relegated to a night outside and I lock the front door and head upstairs.
Sarah and I change and get ready for bed, and squeeze in a little bit of reading before one of us decides to turn out the light. We have our sparring and debates at this hour if one of us is in a philosophic mood, but more often than not we're simply very tired and drift off to sleep with a quiet "Good-night" that is echoed by the wider-awake one of us.
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