Tuesday, December 22, 2020

2020 Christmas letter


I always find it difficult to try to accurately summarize a year of life for 9 different people in just a few sentences at the end of the year.  2020 somehow seems trickier than ever to capture with words.  I tried writing a letter to send along with our family photo and updated address back in November, but it just didn’t come together for me. I thought perhaps the addition of some photos may help the letter come to life.  So here it is, imperfectly improved.



Dearest Friends,


This is by no means a comprehensive view of the year, but simply a few notable events from our lives as we somersaulted through 2020.

We started the school year with 5 children enrolled at FBCS. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the last 8 weeks of school found us learning the ropes of homeschooling. Thanks to the excellent coaching of our FBCS teachers and the grace of Jesus each of our 5 scholars advanced to the next grade level.


Our weeks of staying at home in the spring were certainly a mixed bundle of happiness and stress. We were each on our own learning curve that pulled and pushed us to grow. Leading a church during a pandemic has proven to be an ongoing stress for Amos. Homeschooling 5 kids and helping teenagers process their loneliness and disappointments of 2020,  plus staying on top of the daily physical needs of our family keeps pushing me into uncharted territory. Our children have been amazingly resilient and creative and mostly cooperative as we’ve navigated the challenges and joys of 2020.


In early March while browsing local real estate I found a property that nearly made my heart stop because it met so many of the criteria we had previously set when discussing the possibility of some day moving away from our town home.  The next day Amos and I made an appointment to see the house and two days later we took the whole family for a tour of the property. After a few agonizing days of prayer, getting advice, pushing the pencil, dreaming, and negotiating we found ourselves signing papers to become the owners of a 15-acre property and a century old home. That day we also married a boatload of work.


Nothing about this process was smooth since we signed our contract just days before our country shut down all non-essential business for a few weeks. Our attorney did everything possible to keep the process moving a long and we ended up signing the final documents in the parking lot next to our house.


The following weeks were full of remodeling parts our new house, going through all our accumulations from 17 years of marriage and 7 children, getting our town home ready to put on the market, hauling loads and loads of stuff across town, digging up a big garden and just all kind of general transitioning from urban to country.


Selling our home on Pine Street ended up being a journey all of its own, but one that ended beautifully.  After our original buyers backed out, we were able to offer our home to family friends who were moving from Pittsburg to Meadville. The timing worked out perfectly for them and we were so happy to be able to pass our home (which we loved very dearly) on to people that we know.

Early August we enjoyed a 3-day trip to Michigan, along with Amos’ extended family, to surprise his sister Linda for her 50th birthday party. Traveling on a charter bus was a first-time experience for our children. The delight was doubled by sharing the ride with a bunch of cousins. There was plenty of fun, food, games, laughter, good conversation and memories to last a long time in those 3 days spent together.


 Our children were happy to head back to school the end of August after what felt like a long break from the classroom. While there is still uncertainty about the future, we are grateful for each day that they can have in person schooling.


Angeline turned 16 this fall. Amos lost a few more hair and I gained a few new grey ones. Truly, we love having an extra driver in the house and anticipate the day when she can drive independently. She also was thrilled to join the youth group this fall. She is our in-resident laundry lady, barber, pianist and deer slayer.


Nicholas is 14 years old and quickly passed me up in stature this past year. He is our senior hunter, grounds manager and mechanic.  In his spare time, he loves to work on scroll saw projects, tear apart engines and read. He is enjoying a robotics class at school this fall. This winter he plans to remodel his attic bedroom.


Joshua joined the teenagers in our home just of yesterday.  He was excited to finally be old enough to go hunting with the older guys this year. Joshua is our quiet but dependable and diligent workhorse. He has won Isaiah’s favor by devoting lots of time and energy to him.


Christopher is our party animal. He is happiest surrounded by people and a swirling tornado of books, craft supplies, games, good food and conversation. He loves pretty much any sport and works hard to compete with his older brothers. He enjoys disc golfing and has quite the arm for a 10-year-old.


Cassie is 7 years old and enjoying 2nd grade. In fact, she loves school so much that she often plays school with Elliana in the evening. Cassie is full of energy and spirit. She likes spending time out in the woods by our small frog pond. Fishing in our pond here on the new property has been a pleasure for her. I think she would fall in the category of a “tom boy”.


Elliana, on the other hand, is our girly girl. She loves playing with her doll babies and calico critters and writing letters to her friends. She spends a lot of time playing with Isaiah and reporting on all his demolition projects. It’s a big responsibility for a 5-year-old sister to stay on top of him.


It is hard to believe our baby is 2 years old. Isaiah’s greatest accomplishments this year were getting potty trained and learning to talk. Currently he loves to talk about the hunting accomplishments of his family.  He has an exciting life being the youngest of 7. He thrives on the attention of his family. Naturally, we all think he is the most charming, intelligent and lovable 2-year-old in the universe.


This fall Amos enrolled in Servant Institute, a 2-year training program that FBEP offers for leaders. There are some opportunities for me to join him at certain times in this training and development. While this does not feel like a great time to be adding more to our plate, we are excited about the opportunity to grow as individuals and leaders. Our hope is to become better equipped to serve our church and community.

Certainly, much more could be said about the experiences of 2020.

We are grateful for the faithfulness of Jesus.  We are grateful for the ways that Jesus speaks to us through the faith, love and works of His children!!


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Hunting Camp

These days it feels like our home has morphed into some sort of a hunting camp.

There are just 5 hunters in this household and about 2 more wanna-be's.

Speaking of wann-a-be's....the littlest brother is completely overcome with talk of hunting and of deer. He carries his miniature buck with him everywhere these days and often fall asleep with it cradled in his hands.

First there were 7 weeks of archery season.

Now it is rifle.

I think we just have one more week to go.

There are still a number of tags that could be filled. 

I am already wonding about freezer space if too many more deer are harvested.

I am getting more comfortable with running a hunting camp every day. 

I think my Grandma would be proud of me.  She ran a stellar camp in her day. 

My own mother coordinates an impressive camp these days. She hosts hunters from hours away for days on end. She has coffee and all kinds of tasty morsels ready on demand.

Now to be sure, I have not attained the level of competency, ease or selflessness of my kindred women folk, but I'm working on it.

It helps me to keep things simple and straight forward when I think about my job during this season. I can't be all things to all people, but there are a few things I can do to keep my campers happy.

1. Rustle up lots of grub. 
Fresh baked cookies and coffee may gain a few brownie points, but basically anything hot and filling will do the trick. Always be busy stirring something up when they come in the door, even if it's just left overs or microwave popcorn.

2. Act like you understand their hunting jargon even when you don't. Join in the talk. It will make them laugh if nothing else.
"Of course you shouldn't over-hunt our 14 acres of woods. I simply can't think of a worse crime to            commit!!!"

"Yeah, I agree. The barometric pressure today is just horrible for hunting!"

3. Never speak a discouraging word concerning the competency of the hunters in your camp. 

By nature, hunters are fairly hearty folk.  However, they can become rather fragile when reminded of their weaknesses too often, especially when the reminders come the women folk who choose to spend their days in comfort by the hearth.

4. Celebrate their victories.

Yup. Celebrate. Hoop and holler and dance around when they are successful. Brag about their good shot to other hunters who may happen to enter your camp. Make your hunters feel like they're the best hunters in the world. 

Admittedly, I am getting a little tired of this hunting business.

I am sick and tired of all the camouflage and orange accents around my home. 

I am ready for a  Saturday to go shopping.

But. I am looking forward to that delicious deer bologna.

There's an excitment and comaraderie about these days that I am going to miss when they're gone.

To be sure, I am THRILLED that my boys and my girl like to spend time in the woods. I am thankful that my husband spends hours along side them in the woods. I am grateful for the meat that they harvest.  I am proud as peaches of them and I will keep running this camp as long as they want me to. I hope that our home will be Hunting Camp Central for these Stoltzfus hunters for a very long time.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Of kids learning to drive and potty training all in the same week



 Of course I am not talking about just one child. I do have 7 of them, after all.

This past week my oldest daughter turned 16 years old.

She's been waiting for this day for quite some time. 

Me too.

BUT. I wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be for me to breathe during that first ride with her behind the wheel.

 It wasn't exactly the most terrifying experience of my life, but it was one in which I felt like my life and the lives of my entire family were on the line and I had little to no control over how it was all going to end.

Thankfully, the first little drive ended at our home with a suburban load of intact people.

Thankfully, her dad is doing the teaching and most of the riding with her. He reports that she is doing great and improving every day.

I am happy to have another driver in the family. I am happy for her to be gaining her long anticipated independence. I am happy to have another grown lady to consult and brainstorm and work with here at home.

(edited to add that I did drive with Angeline yesterday and I agree with my husband. Her driving skills have more than tripled in the last week)

While my husband is out driving around town with the 16 year old, I am sitting (or maybe running) around the homestead trying to potty train our 22 month old son.

There are some things that you just never really get to be that good at, even with years and years of experience.

Potty training is one of those things.

You can research all the latest methods* to potty train your child in just one weekend or you can try the method that your mother used to train you nearly 40 years ago. No particular results are guaranteed since every child has their own little mind and own little quirks.

I have learned a few things along the way that seem to make the process a little less rocky for the child and slightly more pleasant for the parent.

Here's my list of things that are very important to have in place when you embark on the toilet training lessons:

1. Set aside a week to focus on potty training. Don't feel pressure to do anything besides stay 100% focused on your child and keep up with the minimal needs of your family. It's a good idea to spend the bulk of at least 3 days at home. No one will die if you have hot dogs and popsicles for dinner once in a while.

2. Make a commitment to plunge into this and give no thought to turning back to diapers or pull ups. This is a big learning curve for a toddler and it requires 100% commitment from mom to be consistent. Switching back and forth between diapers and underwear sends all kinds of confusing messages to your child.

3. Make it a fun and positive experience for the child. Stickers. Candy. Paw Patrol shorts. Special snacks. Celebrate victories big time.

4. This isn't a good time to begin addressing the 47 other issues in your toddler's life. Remember, we're trying to keep this as positive as possible.

5. Keep all cleaning supplies and clean clothes near by. You'll be needing them. Accidents feel more aggrevating to me when I have to run upstairs for a clean set of clothes and then go and find the cleaning bucket and rag. However, if I am prepared for  the accidents and even planning on them, I am not so easily annoyed. Remember we're trying to keep frustration levels as low as possible for the child and mother.

6. Take a break when your toddler takes a nap. This potty training process is intense and demanding. I don't really care what all is calling your name. Take a least 15 minutes to enjoy a little down time. He will soon be awake and you'll need to be back on high alert for the next 6 hours. You will be better prepared for the intensity of the rest of the day if you see to a few of your own needs along the way.

{ leather furniture and hard surface floors are your best friends during this training season}

7. My mental preparation (which includes my insistence on keeping my schedule as free from extra obligations as possible) for this week of training is key to keeping the week low stress and happy for both me and my child. I didn't make the connection between my preparation and commitment to the training process and our success rate in my earlier years of parenting. Now I know that we're in this together. And we're  both going to stick at it until we are 100% successful.

My tips are not completely fool proof by any means. 

But they are helping me stay positively engaged with my son. And so far, this guy has been a real champ!!!

So. There's my week of potty training and learing to drive. 

I have less to say about the driving since I'm on my first and steepest ever learning curve with that. One parent told me that it gets easier and less stressful with each child. I think I can believe that, at least if it follows my experience with toilet training.

It's an exciting life.

* Lora Jensen has shaped some of my approach to potty training. While I do not adhere 100% to all her rules, I have found many of them very helpful.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Memos from a lady in the thick of it

Things I am learning these days:

1. How to hold intelligent conversations with Sherwin Williams employees.

2. How not to let the above mentioned person(s) intimidate me with their professional advice when I KNOW which specific product I need for my particular project.

3. How to trust my 14 year old son as I navigate tight spots with the Suburban and trailer

4. How navigate the drive and the purchase of used furniture from a neighboring city without my husband. Yes, the kids all went with me. They were a tremendous help. I couldn't have done it without them. No, they did not ride on the furniture on the way home.

*are you catching a theme yet?? Big vehicles. Tight spots. Smart teenagers...

5. How to survive more dirt and exhaustion than I previously thought possible. 

6. How to scrape practically ANY product off the surface of any wall. Please don't ask me for advice yet on this. I'll probably need some therapy before I'm ready to talk about it.

7. My kids are an AMAZING work crew. We have all the normal behavioral issues and attitudes (plus some) of a family of 7 kids, but at the end of the day, it must be said that these guys have done at least 70% of the renovation and moving work in the last 8 weeks. I am immeasurably proud of them.

8. My husband has more stamina than I do.  He's being both an early bird and night owl these days. I am basically an exhausted pigeon. I am immeasurably proud of him too.

9. I am not quite as chill about change as what I like to think I am. I am very sad about leaving our neighborhood of 15 years. I will always be grateful for this place and these people who have significantly shaped me.  I will remember with fondness our years on Pine Street. I'm trying not to cry right now.

10. It is possible to feel a lot of excitement and sadness at the same time. I am  truly excited about the opportunities and open doors that our new home/property will bring to our family. In spite of the previous point, I do believe this is the right move for our family right now. I am happy to embrace it.

*yeah, I know. I am the most sporadic blogger in the world.   However, recently my children discovered my dusty blog. They had such a great time reminiscing and laughing together about the good and bad times.

 "Mom, you should keep writing about our current adventures!!"

So. I am going to try...for them as much as anybody. I have been failing miserably at keeping current photo albums or journals. Maybe this will be my future gift to them.

You're welcome to follow along if you like.