What I found in the ‘begats’

When I was a kid and we’d get stuck in the begats in the Bible, I’d find my attention wandering and sometimes I’d wonder why they even bothered to keep track of who was born to whom.  But lately I’ve been wandering there myself.

Mom, me and my granny (~1967)

Mom, me and my granny

On a whim a few weeks ago I checked out Ancestry.com.  When I found out it was a monthly subscription kind of thing, I decided to spend a month plowing through and finding everything I could, with the tightwad plan to unsubscribe as soon as I got done.  Except– hah– it turns out ‘done’ takes longer than you think when you’re doing genealogy.  One rabbit trail uncovers three more leads, and each of those uncovers a few more.  And far be it from me to leave a stone unturned.

I started with my own family, most of whom were fairly easy to track for five generations or so.  But beyond that, around the late 1800’s, is when most of my clan came from Germany, Norway and Sweden, some of them straight through Ellis Island.  There’s where the tracking starts to get hard.  Names and dates get muddled. Similar confusion seemed to happen around that era when I tracked down John’s family tree, many of whom came from Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

 

Luggage on Ellis IslandIt’s easy to imagine how exhausted mothers standing in long lines at Ellis Island with cranky children might not quibble with the guy behind the desk who’s just spelled their name wrong or transposed the numbers in someone’s birth date. Half of them are afraid they’ll get sent back to where they came. Some of them might not have read well enough to correct anyone’s spelling anyway.

Ancestry.com is great about giving lots of hints, and you can make guesses about who begat whom.  But certainty seems to go out the window after a few generations.  It doesn’t help that both sides of the family share a dizzying array of ancestors named Anna Marie, Sophie, Mary, Elizabeth, and John– very funny to me, especially since I have a husband named John, a brother named Jonathan, and sisters named Anna Marie and Sophie Elizabeth.

John Meistrell

John Meistrell with wife Elizabeth, daughter Mary and granddaughter Angelina

 

For awhile I honestly wondered if the Anna Maria Wessling on my side of the family might actually be the same person as the Anna Maria Wessing on John’s side– both from Prussia, both born in the same decade.  Except John’s relative was baptized in the Catholic church and mine in the Lutheran.  Ah.  Nevermind.

But one branch of John’s family- through his paternal grandmother– is much less confusing. They’ve been in America literally from the beginning. One hosted George Washington in his home. Later that same home was part of the underground railroad. Others fought in the Revolution. One ancestor helped scope out the Plymouth colony the year before the actual colonists arrived. (Yes, really.) Others were some of the first settlers born in the new country, their parents literally having arrived on the Mayflower. Wow.

Back in England they were born in castles and fought alongside kings of England, and married other people from other castles.  I’ve got a whole list of castles that Erika and Jared might want to visit when their European travel sends them toward Great Britain.  Fascinating sounding names like Raby Castle, Leicester Castle, Wolveton House and Ravensworth Castle. I’ve never in my life really been interested in seeing Great Britain, but John has always loved castles, and this obsessive little hunt has me thinking it might be fun to see some of these places too.  Someday, maybe.

It’s not all grand and exciting though, even in castle-land. Judging by John’s relatives, people back then were lucky to make it to age 50. Adulthood began young too.  In timeline after timeline girls were married at 12, 13, or 14.  Some were even as young as 10 years old, though the ones that young made me hope the birthdates listed were wrong. Who could stand to marry a daughter off at age 10?  My heart breaks.  They were still babies.

And then speaking of babies.  so many mothers died of childbirth. Many babies didn’t live past the age of two. One girl married at 12 and was widowed at 18, at which time she was already a mother of two.  So very sad.

And then there were the life-changes immigrants must have experienced moving to the New World. One ancestor living in the Plymouth Colony married 5 times in 10 years, with husband after husband dying off, leaving her with an ever-growing number of children to feed.

One young guy was born in a castle in Ireland, immigrated to America, and ended up working at the train station in Chicago where he held the ignoble title of alternate snow shoveler. He wasn’t even the main snow shoveler.  He was the alternate. Hopefully he was born with a lot of spunk and was able to withstand that dramatic change in circumstances with fortitude.  Or who knows– maybe he shoveled snow at the castle in Ireland too?

Censuses taken in America showed people living together with other families in one house.  (I wonder how big the houses were?)  There were widows living with many children after husbands died young.  There were mortgages on farms, and homes that were worth $1100 owned free and clear.   My mother in law tells the story of her dad’s family, with so many children of so many different ages that (with people going to school and jobs) that the only time they ever remembered being all together was once, for a single photo.

Of course this genealogy adventure gave me only the barest snippet of a view into the lives of all these relatives of ours. It was just a flyover.  But I was left with an overwhelming admiration for those souls who went before us, and a feeling that — whether we live in a castle with servants or a tiny house with two other families– we’re all just doing our best through the struggle to take care of the ones we love.

For all our different circumstances and beliefs and life stories, we’re all so much the same, aren’t we?

Toddler tantrums and baby diapers and feuding relatives and illness and moves and ever-changing life circumstances — those are the things that make life challenging no matter the size of your house.

And the things we long for most as humans don’t change at their core either: happiness and health and freedom and opportunity and unity with the ones we love. And hope for a brighter future.

One opportunity in particular felt very clear in my mind.  Though much in life can be out of our control– where we were born, or who we get for our family, or what joys and heartbreaks we will experience–  we all have a choice as to how to respond to those things.

No matter how restrictive or free our government.  No matter who gets voted into office.  Whether our job in life is to make pizzas or to shovel snow or to mow lawns.  Whether we’re programming computers or helping people have babies or cleaning their teeth or teaching their children, or ‘simply’ raising our own children to be people of honor and character— we get to choose our attitudes and our responses to it all.

The guy shoveling snow at the train station could have been bitter at what he perceived as downward mobility in his life.  Or, shovel in hand, he could have opened doors for struggling mothers, and whistled as he worked, and been a friend to the people around him, then gone home to love his family, secure in the belief that God has his future mapped out.  And it was all good.

Every person has that choice.

The man sitting in the photo above was on John’s side of the family, an ancestor of his maternal grandmother.  In his obituary he was described as ‘kind, considerate, and lively to the end.’ What an inspiration he must have been for those who follow. That’s the kind of person I want to be too, no matter what the future brings. I want to be an encourager. A doer. A life-bringer. Following in the footsteps of ancestors before me.  With the hope that our children will see that in me, and want that spirit of faith and courage for themselves as well.

It’s a wonderful life.

Changes

Lots has been going on around here lately, things that are good and timely and affirming of all the work we have done as parents over the years. Exciting for the kids, and yet also so very wistful for me.  After many years with a whole houseful of kids we are now down to three at home, a number which may soon shrink to just two.

In September after a fair bit of apartment hunting, Josh and Lidya and Zeytuna found an apartment which they are renting together.  They are 18, 21, and 18 respectively, capable and ready to be out on their own, so this is an exciting venture for the three of them.

I am more than a little happy that during this first foray of theirs out into the world they will still be with each other.  I think that among the three of them I’m sure they will be able to sort out this new journey and take their first steps out into the world with confidence.

Ben, also 18, is apartment-hunting with two good friends. And if the most recent lead on an apartment comes through, he also will be out into the big world very soon.  Which means we may possibly have four kids moving out in just a month.

It’s quite an adjustment for us still living here at home, one that honestly I am trying to not dwell on a whole lot. (The feelings— eek.  Might be safer to let them just trickle in as they must, rather than opening the door wide and wallowing just yet.)

Basically it is a whole new phase of life, ready or not.  It’s a big adjustment for Emily and Julianna too, our youngest girls and soon to be the only ones still home at 14 and 11.  Last night we played dominoes on the living room floor, talking as we played, mostly about how strange it is to have so few people living here.  We talked about how lots of families only have two kids ever.  That’s their normal and they survive just fine.  But for us, so far, it definitely feels abnormal.

Good, of course, for the just-grown kids. I honestly am rejoicing that they’re working hard and doing well enough that they can head out and have their own adventures. We raised them all along with the intent of getting them to self-sufficiency.  This step is normal and will doubtless continue to mature them, in ways that wouldn’t be likely at home.

But it is going to take awhile for it to feel normal around here.  Till then we will work and homeschool and play dominoes and read stories (this one was FABULOUS!!) and do all the normal life things that have been happening in our home for decades.  When it gets too quiet we’ll invite the grandbabies over to inject some noise and commotion back in.  We’ll zip over to the beach every few weeks to keep tabs on the new fun that’s happening over there.

girls at the beach

And eventually we will get back to a new normal, one that will be rich and good in a new and different way.

But right now I’m walking past empty bedrooms and sighing a little.  Grabbing favorite treats for the just-moved kids to help stock their new kitchens.  Texting them to check in on their new lives. Hugging our youngest two with a little more intensity, determined to enjoy every minute of our time together.

Oh, and making an arts and crafts room for our youngest two girls out of one of those empty bedrooms.  We’re thinking an easel and a chalkboard wall, and cubbies for all those art pens and paper and other supplies.  Maybe even a place in a corner to leave my sewing machine set up all the time.

(To which my 11 year old says, “Mom, you hardly ever sew.”  Well, I might just do it more often if I’ve got my space set up all the time.  We’ll see!)

Because change….it’s not always easy.  And sometimes adding in a bit of fun (both long-enjoyed and new) eases the way when the changes feel big.

September happenings

I can’t remember if I mentioned to you that our oldest son and his wife are having an adventure this fall. They took a leave of absence from their jobs and are traveling Europe for several months. If you would like to read about their adventures, their blog is here: Regretless.life

Just for fun, here’s a picture of my garden at the beginning and end of the season.  As you can see, things went kinda nuts.  We’ve had all the tomatoes and cucumbers that we can eat, as well as a fair number of peppers, both hot and sweet.  We’re still waiting for the rest of the watermelon to ripen.  Here’s a video to see the rest of THAT story!  🙂

Beginning and end of summerThe biggest problem of the season turned out the be the dog taking a liking to both tomatoes and cucumbers.  I am thinking of installing an invisible fence next year, since that seems like the best way to keep her out but still allow us access.  Not sure how much those things cost tho….maybe we will end up with some kind of mesh fence…

Finally, if you haven’t seen what’s up with the beach house, go check it out!  We have WALLS, and are planning a trip next weekend just in time to see the roof going on.  Woohoo! You can subscribe in the pop-up to get updates on the progress.

August happenings

waterparkWe’ve had a busy, interesting week. Last night we went to a Family Force 5 concert that was held at our local water park.  It turned out to be a fun choice of venue.  The stage was in front of the wave pool, and the weather was perfect for an evening at the water park– hot enough we were glad for the water, but not so insanely hot that we burned out feet walking between rides.  And as always, Family Force 5 put on a really fun show.

I finished a really interesting book last week.  It’s called A Million Miles in A Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. The book is funny, thought-provoking and just great writing!  I’ve been recommending it to everyone in sight lately because I enjoyed it so much.

This week I’ve also slowly been painting our master bath, trying out the Sea Salt paint that I’m considering for some of the bathrooms in the beach house.  John and I both love the light, calm muted green of the paint.  It’s a winner!

In other house news, we got our building permit this week for the beach house!  The very next day our contractor got the hole dug for the beach house, with foundation-pouring happening within the next week or two. I put up a couple new posts, and we can’t wait to go see some actual honest-to-goodness progress in a few weeks!

Emily, age 14, is helping with Vacation Bible School at our church next week, and will be playing the part of an oLittle-octopusctopus in the daily skits. She and I got brainstorming about what she might wear to look like an octopus, and we decided some sewing was in order. Luckily there’s Pinterest, where almost any craft you can dream has already been attempted by someone else.

We based our project roughly on this tutorial and I think it turned out fun. You add elastic to the tends of the tentacles to get that fun curl.  Still thinking about headgear, but here’s our adorable Ali modeling the legs.  It took most of an afternoon to sew, but I think it turned out really fun, and will be interesting for the kids watching the play.

Hard to believe it is already August.  With as busy as we’ve been lately, I think we won’t be jumping back into school til September.  We’re still having too much fun with summer!  How about you?  How’s your summer going?  Are your kids going back to school soon?

 

Beach time

Here’s a snap from a quick trip we made to the beach this week.

Beach in July

Felt weird to be traveling with only two kids, but all our bigger kids were working, and so we took the plunge and went off to play without them.  We missed them all lots, but had fun with the youngest two anyway.

And if you’re interested, here’s an update on the great beach house adventure.

Summertime party!

July4-2016 (14)We have the family tradition of a big 4th of July party complete with a barbecue, games, prizes and a water balloon fight.  Since we moved into the new house, I’ve been puzzling how we could pull all this off in our tiny back yard.

So in planning for the party, I hunted for games that took a little less space. Pinterest came to my rescue as always, and I settled on a plastic horseshoe game, a ring toss game made with kiddie swimming tubes and pool noodles on stakes, a squirt gun/cup race, and a relay race using kitchen spoons and water balloons.

 

 

Also, a BIG bowl of candy to improve teen participation in the kid-games. Here are a few pictures of the festivities.

Thanks to a little breeze, the ring toss and horseshoe games were surprisingly challenging even at close proximity, enough that several adults played for quite awhile.

Ring toss game

food and funIMG_20160702_190804767_HDR (169x300)

 

The teens clustered around the candy bowl. And soaked friends with water toys. And also stole mom’s phone for a selfie or two.

Sisters

 

 

 

The little ones loved the tub full of water balloons, somehow even managing to resist throwing water balloons until it was time for the ‘big’ water balloon fight.

 

Cousin fun

Treasure

Below, behind Julianna, you see the cups on string that the kids had fun shooting down the ‘track’ with squirt guns.

AllwetAnd as always, the water balloon fight was the highlight of the party.

Water balloon fight
See how big my tomatoes are getting there in the background?  Not to mention the kids– it blows my mind that our little grandsons are already FOUR.

Getting wet

Along with the usual family group, several of the teens invited friends, which added to the fun of the party.

Wild water

Here you see Ascher and Ranger delightedly soaking Daniel with their squirt guns, and John in the background playing horseshoes.

Spraying DanielOur little back yard proved very up to the water-party challenge.  We only tossed things over the fence once, and lots of good fun was had by all the participants!

Sweet babies

Our next adventure

I looked at my blog the other day and was shocked at how long it’d been since I’ve last posted. We did just get back from church camp, which with all the cooking and prep that I do each year, does take a bit of time. I was also working extra before we left to make up for the days off.

But there’s also another thing that’s kept us busy lately, and I’ve been itching to tell you about it. You may remember that awhile back we bought a piece of land on the Oregon coast, with the big audacious dream of building a house there someday? Well, that day is coming soon!

OurHouse

We lined up a contractor and nailed down our house plans, and talked through the nitty gritty details of cost, and decided that 2016 is the year!  We hope to have a building permit by mid-July, and if plans come together as our contractor is predicting, we could have this house built by the end of the year.  Squeeee!

It has been a whirl of phone calls around here lately, mostly between our contractor and me, working out all the many details.  There’ve also been lots of text messages with the wonderful Becky, my friend who staged our previous home so beautifully that it sold in 36 hours.  She is giving me advice regarding flooring and furnishings, with the goal of making this home a stylish, comfortable and family-friendly retreat.  Our plan is to use it for our own family several weeks of the year, and then rent it out to other families during the rest of the year.  I’ve done a ton of thinking and research to make it functional for groups with a variety of sizes and needs.

The house is 6 bedrooms and 4-1/2 baths, which includes 3 full master suites.  There’s also some fun bunk space planned for kids in the family room downstairs, allowing the house to sleep 16 in beds, with 4 more possible on cots if your crew is really big.

The outdoor living space will include a hot tub, a fenced yard, and a big deck with gated stairs for kid-safety.  We’re also planning a wheelchair ramp, an accessible bathroom, and a stair chair to cater to folks with mobility issues.

The neighborhood has a pool, good beach access, and tennis courts, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium is just 20 minutes north, so there are many good outdoor options nearby.

I’ve rambled long enough for now.  But I’m so excited that I want to pinch myself, so you can bet you’ll be hearing more about this adventure very soon!

 

Summer Movie Ideas

If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to some serious down time this summer, both for you and your kids. But you also don’t want your kids’ brains to completely stagnate in the process.

My girls will be reading at least an hour a day this summer, and will also continue to do just a tiny bit of math.  Emily is finishing Algebra 1 and Julianna will be reviewing her hard-won multiplication facts at least once or twice a week. Beyond that, we’re wide open.

AmericanGeniusBut I am planning to sneak in a bit more learning with the help of Netflix. One show that the girls are already enjoying watching is called American Genius. Here are some great lists of other interesting and educational moves that are available for kids these days:

Movies for kids about real scientists

Historical movies for kids ages 6-12

Nature documentaries for kids

Not-boring history movies for kids

Read the book, watch the movie

 

Just these five lists alone would keep your kids in movies for weeks, I’m pretty sure!  What educational offerings have you enjoyed on Netflix with your kids?

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Mother’s Day

We had a nice visit with family on Mother’s Day.   One of the highlights of the day had to be when all our grandchildren arrived at once, all hurrying toward the front door in great excitement at being here to visit.  What delight.  🙂

Arriving

Here’s a photo of my momma and me with one of those sweet grandbabies.  Hard to believe she is nearly 3.

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Many goodies were brought, and eaten, including WAY too much chocolate.  The Reeses’ cheesecake was my Mother’s Day gift from Zeytuna.  Didn’t she do a lovely job?

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Another highlight of the very lovely day was staying up late chatting with a bunch of the kids about all sorts of silly things– just sitting around enjoying each other. I felt very blessed.

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And finally, here’s a photo of our very first homegrown flower bouquet from this new house of ours, picked just today. Along with the flowers, I’ve been picking LOTS of cilantro lately.  We have so much that I even tucked some into this bouquet for greenery.  Very fun!

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A little girl and her heart

In August when we traveled to Ethiopia, we were blessed to be driven around by a wonderful man named Dawit. This was actually the third time he has been our driver in Ethiopia, and we couldn’t have had a better person to keep watch over us. By the time the two weeks of this trip was done, he felt almost like family to us.

With Dawit

With Dawit

On Mother’s Day I found out that his little daughter Yohana, age 1, has a couple of fairly serious heart defects for which she will need surgery.  For those of you with medical knowledge, she has a large atrial septal defect and a small patent ductus arteriosis. The problem is that this type of surgery (though commonly and easily done in the US) is not available in Ethiopia.

The closest place for this child to be treated is in Kenya, at a mission hospital where a visiting US surgeon will be next February. The cost is overwhelming for this young family, as you might imagine. She will need to travel to Kenya twice, once in August for an evaluation, and then again in February.  Just airfare and hotels will probably cost around $2000.

Thankfully a number of people have come together and already donated $2800, enough for travel, and for at least some of the medical care needed. But if you are inclined to donate to cover more of Yohana’s medical expenses, you can do so via paypal through a medical missionary in Ethiopia named Jodi Ross. Jodi is a trusted friend of my sister Sophie, and they lived and worked in Ethiopia side by side for several years. Jodi’s email is jodi_rss@yahoo.com.  Feel free also to email her with questions.  And whether or not you are able to help financially, would you consider praying for little Yohana?  This has to be a scary time for Dawit and his wife.

Thanks so much!