botany on the back porch…

                        and other delightful subjects we stumbled upon this past spring & summer…

table for 18 please

st. francis, our rabbit, enjoying a walk and a snuggle with angel, our new friend

It’s Sunday afternoon and I am five minutes away from a much anticipated nap.  Here’s our table full of Sunday afternoon friends who are now joining us for church and lunch and singing and fun.

(See previous post) I wish I had video camera mode turned on while the kids were singing Jamie Soles’ Psalm 8—maybe next week.  They were amazing and kept requesting to sing it again, but we limited it to twice.  The plan is that Katelyn, a Redeemer college student, and we, in our Great White Ark (van), will pick the kids up from their apartments to worship together at church weekly; cooperative kids are invited to our house afterwards for food, fellowship, and teaching through the Bible starting at Genesis.


maple tapping in tn

nth drilling tap holes in the maple tree

I’m not sure that it’s going to be successful this year.  But now that we know that it can be done, we are thoroughly excited.  Some Canadian friends shared some maple taps with us last year, and a friend in Knoxville successfully tapped a maple tree this year and boiled the 5 gallons of sap down to a quart of maple syrup.  We put in our taps and so far, we think we’ve collected mainly a rain shower with a slight hint of maple sap.  But we’re anticipating… He said there are three weeks left in the season.  Maybe…

ekh snitching a sap snack

jdh securing buckets on taps

elijah about to descend

josiah with mr. matt












We loaded the Great White Ark to full capacity with gear, kids, and picnic goodies

and went up to the mountains for some rappelling with friends.


matthias' first time


Who’d’ve thought…  little boys’ dreams do come true.  A wood crawling with raccoon, a trap, and a .22 rifle now mean more than defending our chickens—now it means extra pocket money to our little guys.  We met a fur trader this week who bought Josiah’s raccoon from him.  He told us that whereas 90% of fur sales used to be to the United States and Canada, that the booming economies of China and Russia now take 80% of the fur market. The raccoon pelts are prepared and sold, most of them becoming the warm interior lining of heavy winter coats.  Though it depends on the quality and size of the animal fur, our little trappers can get $2.00-$5.00 per unskinned raccoon (merely bagged and frozen) and over twice that for those properly skinned and tanned. Raccoon can be trapped and killed all year long, but only from mid-November through the end of February can they be sold to fur traders.  Besides that, during the summer the raccoon furs tend to be shaggier and less desirable, particularly those of the reproducing females.

While I am entirely meeting the stereotypes of a Tennessean,  I may as well mention the following: those interested in free venison can request that Parks and Services put them on a contact list to be notified when deer are run over.  Yes.  Laugh.  It’s the outworking of our infamous Road Kill Law that now makes it legal to eat road kill. It’s not as completely archaic as it sounds.  Previously, if you ran into a deer and you wanted the venison, it was tough luck for both you and the deer.  Now, you can fill your freezer with venison, a consolation prize for a dented vehicle.  The unclaimed kills are distributed to those on the road kill contact list via Parks and Services (not in meat packaging, mind you, so be prepared).   While we have eaten venison before (and it was delicious), we haven’t tried road kill yet.  But how nice, though, that if we wanted to, we could.



once lost, now found---scooter, neighbor kitty

this morning's justice for raccoon, chicken predator

a   r e d e m p t i v e   g l i m p s e

f o r   a   1 5 -p a s s e n g e r  v a n

I wasn’t exactly thrilled at upgrading from mini-van to 15 passenger van.  I called it the Great White Ark.  Chris’s employees called it Moby Dick.  I cringed every time I passed someone coming the other direction the first few months, not out of embarrassment, though I might should have, but out of fear of side-swiping them. Whenever I had to drive it, I felt as insecure as a fifteen year old with a driver’s permit, only I was on my own now, with five kids in tow at the mercy of my driving skills and, more importantly, the goodness of God.  I parked in the farthest parking lots.  I literally stopped at a low tunnel bridge to ask assistance of a road construction worker:  “Sir, can you tell whether this thing will fit under there?”   He laughed, but he wasn’t so sure either…he told me to pull up slowly and helped me to decide.  It did.  Tunnel height signs had never meant anything to me before.

Despite my initial lack of confidence and skill in driving it, in the short months of owning the Ark, I have (amazingly) only caused incremental damage:  I backed into a bike leaning against our retaining wall; the handle bar broke a fragment of our brake light cover.  I went on my merry way down the road in the early-darkening night of winter to get groceries only to be pulled over by a cop.  I was flustered.  I docked the boat in the nearest shopping mall and upon finding out my crime—the important one regarding fragmented brake light covers—I commenced to look for my papers.  Next came my new-found discovery.  I had no interior lights, a luxury I had always formerly taken for granted.  I managed to feel for the car papers and give them to the policeman who, noting my nervous concern, tried to alleviate it by saying he’d just give me a warning and that frankly, the reason he pulled me over was because my van fit the description of another that had committed felony in the area—the five children and I on our way to get groceries just didn’t fit the suspects, I suppose.  Chris and I saw that same description of the suspect vehicle posted on a downtown restaurant a couple of days later and had a hearty laugh at our Great White Ark’s twin: broken light cover (yep), dent on the side (yep), tinted windows (yep)…  Yes, not flattering, but a very honest description of our own Great White Ark.  The other day,  Chris, who looked inconveniently shady himself, wearing a black toboggan on his cold, bare head, (not a sled, mind you, but a “toque”, for all you Canadians with translation problems here) waved at a passing pedestrian friend on the UT campus and offered him a ride.  Our friend, not recognizing him from across the street and in our “suspect” van, looked a little concerned for his safety as well. (:

It isn’t a thing of beauty, true, this van; and I sarcastically exhort others to tame their temptations to covet it.   But lest its ugliness be despised altogether, I must relate its redeeming values which endeared this former church bus and this former Mexican landscaping van and brought it into our family.  It’s paid for.  And its utilitarian tool value was high because not only can it haul more than twice our family size, it could haul all our family and everyone’s bike; or, in a pinch, it could pull Chris’ work trailer.  It has vinyl floors which can handle the wear and tear of its hauling vocation and be hosed down fairly easily—a car feature any one with children can appreciate to some degree.

But Sunday was a very redemptive day for our Great White Ark. It had borne my sarcasm and ridicule long enough, awaiting the glorification that only God can bring to those dented, dirtied, and large gaping spaces in our lives. Pastor Grimsley had noted earlier this week in the Wednesday Bible study how, as we see in the order of creation, God first creates spaces, then fills them appropriately, meaningfully fulfilling their purposes.  This van was one such space begging for His filling. And fill He did.  A college student with connections to a ministry with Section 8 housing in downtown Knoxville brought her two little friends two Sundays ago.  The next Sunday, six more little people eagerly awaited a ride to church.  We met them and invited them home for lunch, but they had plans already and so we rescheduled for the following Sunday. To our delight, plans were made to fill the corridors of our Great White Ark  with the next Sunday’s additional children who needed a ride to church and our house afterwards.

It was filling for us too.  We had been praying, Josiah joyfully reminded us all, that God would do just that—that he would open up doors for our family to share more of Christ’s love in our community.  I was  giddy with excitement.  I expressed it to Josiah.  He could understand, “That’s just how I feel about squirrels,” he admitted sincerely to me.  He’s been avidly defending our bird feeders against squirrels and raccoons, fulfilling some Y-chromosome based instincts that I don’t wholly connect with, despite the fact that I enjoyed shooting in my free time during my childhood, too.  The two nights before he had set a trap for a raccoon; this morning he had accidentally caught one of the neighbor’s cats who had been posted as missing for a month with a reward.  I understood his delight too, and laughed at our out-of-sync way of  connecting.

So Sunday came and the van filled.   Then it unfilled.  Then we filled two pews, then three, then two again. The filling and spilling were verily a little messy.  We filled, I hope, with God’s Word.  Then we spilled out of church, filled the van again, then filled up our home.  Fifteen children washed hands in turn.  Three or four girls, with sparkling exclamations about all the new smells and textures pulsating about them, passed Eden around and rolled and shaped the risen dough into four long baguettes with me in the kitchen.  They helped bring in logs for the fire.  One girl came in from the barn cradling a warm chicken egg on her cheek, explaining that she was going to keep it warm and hatch it.  Chris later tried to relate the comical barnyard introductions he had seen firsthand.  “That’s a real chicken?  I’ve never seen a real live chicken!  That an egg?  That [egg] came from the chicken?  You aren’t going to eat it are you?  Don’t eat it!  Yuck!” (:.

After the stray ends of lunch preparations came together, we filled the long harvest table, sang the doxology, ate till filled, then filled the house with more song.  Our cups overflowed, truly, since one dear little helper found such delight throughout the meal in being sure that everyone’s glass was filled with ice.  Dessert followed and I also made good on my outstanding debts to everyone—I had promised dark chocolate chips to all who memorized the first phrases of the Lord’s prayer on our trip home from church.  We spilled into house and yard again, filling it with abundant movement and noise, then back into the van, then back to apartments where we had met this morning, the place where this particular van seemed so specially suited.  I hope the filling and spilling don’t stop there.  There are so many spaces awaiting His redemptive purposes.