Category Archives: Family

Expecting Baby #4, An Almost-Move, & Nesting

Warning: Vulnerable post ahead, written with love. 🙂

We were done having kids. I had been giving away baby essentials to people who I thought needed them. I gave away the crib, the baby clothes, the maternity clothes, and the stretchy wrap. I wiped my eyes quietly and frequently when my youngest quit nursing. We were saying goodbye to the baby stage.

However, saying goodbye to the baby stage also meant saying hello to a whole new world of possibilities. The kids were old enough that we could all go out together without a stroller or diaper bag. My husband and I could pursue our music business and gigs much more easily. I was starting to feel like my body was my own again.

All dressed up for a friend’s wedding last year. 

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On Badly Behaved Adults & Doing Good to Others

Today, I was leaving the store with my three little kids. It had been particularly crowded with all the holiday shopping, but the kids had been miraculously well-behaved. We survived the trip, cashed out, and steered our cart toward the exit.

As we were leaving, we heard raised voices. An older man and middle aged woman were shouting at each other on the way out to the parking lot. When we walked outside, their voices became louder, and profanity after profanity started spewing from the man’s mouth.

My children gaped at this behavior. They silently stared as our cart approached.

I was feeling more and more offended that they weren’t thinking of my children as we walked past. My kids, who are seeing all the signs and cards that proclaim the season “Merry & Bright.” My beautiful children, to whom I am nearly always repeating myself about not screaming or hitting, being patient, using kind words.

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The Secret of Saying “No”

I’m very much a “yes” girl at heart. Yes, I’ll volunteer for this and that fundraiser. Yes, I’ll be at the extra service this week. Yes, I’ll teach that extra class. Yes, I’ll sign up for extracurriculars. Yes, I’ll meet up at the coffee shop.

But this year, I’m learning to say “no” more than I ever have.

The Secret of Saying No

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No, I’ve got to stay home this week to catch up. No, I’m sorry, teaching that class is actually going to take me away from other priorities. No, I can’t do this fundraiser this time, but I’d love to help next month.

It sometimes means saying no to a lot of good things. Sometimes it means missing out on something that I’d really like to be part of. Sometimes it means giving something up for a time so that I can refocus on other goals.

This year, we’ve said no to a couple of job possibilities that weren’t going to be a good fit for our family. We cut way back on our extracurricular school activities as we settled into our first real year of homeschool. I said no to attending births, no to multiple playdates, no to several homesteading projects, no to the commitment of regular blog posts, and no to teaching some lessons that weren’t fitting in my schedule.

I’m learning to say no to a multitude of self-inflicted pressures. No, my house doesn’t have to be clean today. No, I actually don’t have to make everything from scratch this month. No, I will not feel guilt over the lack of crunchy stuff going on in my life right now.

Happily, all of this gives me room to say yes to the things that matter most right now.  Yes to homeschool. Yes to a few dedicated music students. Yes to gigs that work well for our family. Yes to practicing voice. Yes to time at home together. Yes to reading, yes to drawing, yes to laying together and talking about our day.

Nothing is permanent, and I can always re-prioritize what commitments I choose to take on down the road. However, I can’t get back the time that I lose hustling and bustling and trying to do everything at once.

Here’s to saying yes to the things that matter most.


Kids Can (and Should!) Cook

I wrote this post a while back, but I’m realizing my own need to revisit it regularly. It’s easy to get frustrated with kids in the kitchen, and to just want to do it yourself to save time and hassle. I often forget the reasons why I so want them to learn to cook in the first place! So, here’s to you and me both working towards this goal together. Press on, parents of sous chefs.

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Kids should cook.

Kids should know where food comes from. They should know food preparation basics. They should have the basic skills they need to cook a simple meal. And, ideally, they should enjoy doing it!

Kids Can Cook(J cooking his own egg for lunch. He’s able to do it from start to finish- with supervision at the stove, of course.)

“Anyone can cook, and most everyone should. It’s a sorry sign that many people consider ‘from scratch’ an unusual and even rare talent. In fact, cooking is a simple and rewarding craft, one that anyone can learn and even succeed at from the get-go.”How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, by Mark Bittman.

I don’t want my children to grow up without a clue as to how to perform simple cooking tasks for themselves. I don’t want them to rely on microwaves and fast food joints. I’d hate for J to one day get his own apartment and stare at his stove in dismay, not knowing where to begin.

Why? Part of it is about life skills. A little home economics goes a long way for kids these days, especially when the push for more convenience and less labor is growing ever stronger. But more importantly, I want my kids to have a healthy relationship with food: to know where it comes from, to know what they’re putting into their bodies, to make moderate and nourishing choices when possible, and to be grateful for what they have.

How do we get started on this process? It can seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t cook too much yourself.

There are lots of kid’s cookbooks available, but these resources can be either a blessing or a curse. Sometimes they actually teach kids a simple recipe. Other times, however, they just teach children to microwave chicken nuggets and make a special dipping sauce out of three different condiments you already have in your fridge. Really? Is this cooking? Is this what we want our children to have in mind when they think of preparing a meal?

Look, I’m not a great cook, but I do an awful lot of it. And from the time my kids are very little, I have them in the kitchen with me, helping with simple tasks. Is it always easy? No. Do I get frustrated and fed up with them making a mess of things? Yes. Do I push them to do it perfectly? No. Do you end up with carrots in the silverware drawer? Yes. Is it worth it to teach them? Yes.

You can do this.

For the youngest children, just having them “work” alongside you is great. If you’re making bread, give them a small piece of dough to mold while you knead the big loaf. Give them a small amount of flour to draw in. Yes, it will get on their clothes and the floor. Can it be cleaned? Yes, and maybe you should invite them to help wipe it up with a towel.

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For 2-3 year olds, have them try simple kitchen tasks. Scooping cups of flour. Mixing ingredients in a bowl. Cracking eggs. Washing the potatoes before you peel them. Mashing the apples you’re cooking down into sauce.

For preschoolers, try having them begin sequencing tasks. For muffins: First we mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, then we gently put them together. Or, for an omelette: heat the pan, add the chopped veggies, whisk the eggs and milk, then pour the mixture onto the hot pan. Top with cheese while it’s cooking. Cooking is a homeschooling mom’s dream lesson- it’s great for beginning math (counting, adding, etc.), science (how does baking soda work?), and general life skills.

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You can have elementary aged children practice skills that require more coordination. J (not quite 5) is already practicing proper knife skills with a butter knife. Once your children are older, you can teach them to use a real knife- always supervised, of course. Older children can try recipes that require a little more finesse- like using a double boiler, or trying to cook eggs in different styles (over-medium, sunny-side up, hard-fried, etc.). Older children can read recipes themselves, plan a meal, and learn proper safety precautions for using the stove or oven.

My sister-in-law has each of her teenage children take a night of the week cooking, and they can make great meals for the whole family. The younger ones always have responsibilities to fulfill for the meal as well. Imagine what a good foundation they will have for when they leave the home!

While it’s true that I’ve spent a lot of times pulling my hair out while trying to guide my son in helping, we’ve had just as many times that cooking together has been an encouraging and bonding experience. Yes, it can be a lot of work at first, but the memories we have created are wonderful, and I am proud of all that he is learning in the kitchen.

cooking with kids

All that work is starting to pay off! J just made his first full meal for us last night- tuna burgers and toppings on homemade buns, with homemade ice cream for dessert. I had to help him with measuring (he can’t read yet), shaping the buns (he just needed a break from prep), and flipping the burgers (we don’t want burnt little hands!), but he did everything else himself. The resulting meal was delicious, and he was proud of it. In fact, he doesn’t even like tuna- but he ate it because he cooked it himself and wanted to take part in his meal.

Kids can cook, and they probably should too! A little energy and patience put into teaching them cooking skills will set them off on the right foot for healthy eating, independence, and food appreciation- for life!

Would you like a little help to guide you on the way? The Kids Cook Real Food course from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship looks like a wonderful resource. It’s definitely on my list to try! 


When Homesteading Ain’t No Fun

It’s August and I haven’t written in three weeks. Whoops.

We had a family reunion in Vermont, and it seems that I never got back into the groove of writing after a week away. Perhaps I’ve been in a bit of a post-vacation funk.

Enjoying a family reunion away from the homestead.


There’s been a lot on our plates– Life decisions to be made, a homeschool year to organize, sibling arguments to mitigate, budgets to balance, lurking unfulfilled ambitions, and the feeling that we’ll never get it all together. To be totally honest, keeping up with the homesteady stuff on top of it all has just felt like one more big chore to complete.

I drag my feet out to the rabbits and chickens every morning, baby in the Boba backpack and shrilly screaming children misbehaving every 56 seconds, or so it seems. The grass is wet and I can’t drag the rabbit tractor without slipping around. I inadvertently step in poop. I open the chicken coop and accidentally let a rooster escape. My son grabs the hose from my hands while I’m filling the waterers so he can make a rainbow. It takes me 30 minutes to do 10 minutes worth of chores.

A girl and her goat.

(A girl and her goat.)

And whatever the heck I’m trying to do, I’m often doing it wrong. I planted lots of stuff in the wrong places this year. I under-cooked our home processed rooster, and over-cooked the store bought chicken. I forgot about the extra rhubarb stocks in the back of the fridge where they lay in wait until they were moldy. I’ve broken 2 dishes in 36 hours. I’m spending WAY more money at the grocery store than I used to and all my self-reliant bragging is coming back to haunt me.

This isn’t always easy. Or fun.

But no one necessarily said it would be.

Today, I’m reminding myself of lots of blessings so I won’t be so tempted to complain.

This land, these animals, the plants from the earth are truly a provision for our family. There’s been more than once I have literally thanked God for having food in our backyard because we couldn’t afford to buy much. And though I’m not always super-efficient, raising our own food is usually a significant savings compared to the grocery store.

The hard work is good for us. It builds character. It reminds us that we’re not always in control of everything. It makes us persevere when I would really rather just sit back and order Chinese every night.

Kids on the Homestead

And best of all, I’ve got a loving family to do it with. Even though the kids can be a challenge, they are also an absolute joy. Really, trying to homestead without them would be positively boring. I can only hope that these early years will teach them much about caring for the world around them and being thankful for what they have. I desire that they look back on these memories with fondness.


And then there’s my husband– gardener, farmer, builder, musician, repairman, innovator, motivator, lover, father, friend. He runs the grand majority of this operation, and I am so incredibly thankful for him.

Though it may not always be a barrel of laughs, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. <3


The Best Parts of June

Father’s Day: We celebrated with four families at our house on a sunny, humid, Pennsylvanian afternoon. Tim fired up the mud oven and I gloried in the delicious sights and smells of a roaring wood fire and grey smoke drifting across the yard. I prepared sourdough pizza crusts while listening to music turned up loud on my high school stereo that has survived years and multiple moves to come sit on top of our kitchen fridge. The kids played in the grass outside, getting dirty and hot and scraped up like kids do on summer days.

As I carried out unbaked pizzas to my husband on a wooden peel, I thought to myself, there’s not much better than this.

The Best Parts of June

Hot, sticky days under a clear blue sky make me feel alive. Perhaps it’s because they hearken back to a time when I had less responsibility and more dreams. Or maybe it’s the fact that we still get that “school’s out for the summer” feeling when my husband is done teaching. Likely, it’s the combination of more family time and the twitterpation effect of slower days spent together under the sun.

June is when we start to see new crops in the garden, like kale, radishes, and garlic scapes aplenty. It means ripening black raspberries and fresh strawberry picking. It’s when I can really start cooking meals with whatever is fresh and available.

Summer evenings avail themselves for family fishing trips, marshmallow roasting, fires built and lightning bug hunting. The evenings drawl on and the kids stay up late. Just last week, my son fell asleep as we spent time stargazing. My husband carried that big boy up the stairs and tucked him in like a baby.

June means festivals, fairs, and eating more hot dogs and ice cream than we should. It means letting the kids have a little extra money for silly little things like three minute pony rides or a big soft pretzel. We are normally so tight that we can’t indulge in these things, but for some reason summer nudges us and whispers to loosen up a little bit.


An impromptu beach trip? Check. A picnic at a park? Check. Face painting? Check. I love seeing the kids discover and delight in it all. What else can we squeeze in before the summer days fly away from us?


Let’s keep this summer thing rolling.




Let Your Kids Do Real Work

We live in a society that seems to keeps kids separated from the real world and the responsibilities that come therein. We expect that kids will want their toys, their tv, their friends, and their playground much of the time. We also seem to expect that it’s unfair to disengage them from their happy place to ask them to do a job with an adult.

Children should most definitely have a lot of free time to play and explore as they feel led. However, I don’t think that giving them a job is harmful.  I would even go so far as to say that we are doing children a disservice when we don’t let them participate in real, meaningful work.

Let Your Kids Do Real Work

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What kind of work? 

The kind of work your child can participate in depends on where you live, what your lifestyle is like, and how old your kids are. We tend to have the kids help with a lot of outdoor jobs- planting seeds, egg collecting, filling animal feeders, raking, and the like. My kids are also becoming excellent sous chefs who enjoy chopping vegetables or stirring a pot for me while I’m cooking. There’s also putting away laundry, sweeping the floor, picking up messes, and housework of all kinds.

Job possibilities for children are really endless. Older children could help to contribute to a family business or parent’s jobs. Let them help file documents for you, proofread a student’s paper, answer phone calls, or help with banking and budgeting. Better yet, encourage them to start an entrepreneurial venture of their own!

If you’re stuck for ideas, ask yourself these questions:

  • What could my child do that would be a legitimate help to me?
  • How can I involve my children, even in the most mundane of jobs?
  • What’s the smallest task my young child could complete to feel as though she’s participating?
  • How can I introduce a life skill to my child through working together?

Rainy day rhubarb pie. #rainyday #harvest #foodprep #dessert #kidsinthekitchen

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

Disclaimer: We totally are NOT perfect in getting our kids to work with us, nor have we achieved just the right balance between work and play. My kids get in the mud, watch their favorite shows on Amazon Prime, cause trouble, whine about boredom, etc., etc., etc. So don’t get the idea that we have perfectly industrious, hard-working helpers all the time!

Instead of being afraid to make our children lift a finger, we can battle entitlement and encourage strong character by including our children in real-life work. Let’s talk about some of the benefits.

Work gives children needed life skills. During my college career of kitchen work, I watched several high schoolers struggle with operating a vacuum cleaner, or stare at a pot of soup with trepidation. It was apparent that these kids had never been taught basic household modes of operation. By taking the time to teach our children how to dust, scramble an egg, hammer a nail, or help make a budget, we are giving them the life skills they need to become independent, responsible adults.

We cultivate desirable character.  Motivation, confidence, steadfastness, responsibility, ingenuity, patience… I don’t know about you, but these traits don’t just fall upon me out of the great blue sky. I’m constantly learning, and one of the best God-given tools to get me to get over my selfish whining is doing hard work. It only makes sense that participating in work- with a good attitude- is good for our children as well.

Work gives children purpose and beats boredom. I find that there’s less time for moping, fighting, and complaints of boredom when I have my kids actively participating in the the day’s duties. Watering the animals and the plants in the morning, helping to prepare a lunch picnic mid-day, wiping out the bathroom sink in the afternoon, stirring a pot or putting away dishes in the evening- all of this keeps them busy doing good things. And there’s still plenty of time for them to play in between!

Work can help to loosen the grip of negative peer dependence. I’ve been slowly reading Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood. This lovely book (which deserves it’s own review, really) made a valuable and relevant point. When we teach children how to work, they develop maturity and value as responsible members of society. This can help contribute to freeing them from the feeling that they have to remain juvenile alongside their (perhaps) less industrious friends.

Work allows children to give real contributions to the family. There’s nothing quite like seeing my son’s pride and joy when he really helps Dada build something. Or hearing my kids’ delight while they serve dinner at the table, knowing that they helped to cook it for everyone.

Work gives your family quality time together. I get a thrill every time I see my husband and son out planting something, or when I get to cook alongside my 2 year old. It’s so much fun to spend the time together and get to talk and enjoy each other’s company. We make the best memories when we work together!


Do you work with your kiddos? What jobs do you give them? What’s your favorite part about it?

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Unplugged Update

If you remember, I issued myself an “Unplugged Parenting” challenge a few weeks back. I promised to turn off the screen and social media unless my kids were taking a nap or having quiet time. I’m a little over halfway through the challenge, so I thought appropriate to give you guys an update.

Unplugged Parenting

The short of it? It was really awesome until I completely fell off the boat last week. And when I say completely, I mean it. I got sick last week with some weird bug, and spent the large majority of the time vegging out. I hurried through homeschool, put the kids in front of shows, scrolled through the smartphone unabashedly, and we all had a dreadful few days hooked on screens again.

Well. We could use a reset button, couldn’t we?

Before that, as I said, I felt that “going unplugged” on a long-term basis was really beneficial and enlightening. I can think of very few times in my life when I’ve had little or no access to screens, phones, video games, tv, computers, etc… However, each occasion where that’s been the case has been so rewarding.

As for the last three weeks, I’ve been surprised by how much more time we had. (Who knew? The internet is a time sucker!) We got more accomplished and played more together. I didn’t have that uneasy feeling that I had just wasted a perfectly good half hour doing who knows what on Facebook.


We were SO much less distracted. I didn’t “just check” this or that throughout the day- and so, I was present with my children. It sounds simple, but actually listening to, learning from, and being with my children without going down so many technological rabbit trails was a really beautiful thing. It’s amazing how much we can miss without realizing it.

We spent more time outside, played more music- and I would wager to say, just enjoyed real life more.


Consequently, we were also less grumpy. (Generally, of course.) I think that’s because we were spending more quality time together, and better tending to each other’s needs.

The best night was a night that we made heart-shaped pizza together. We made a TOTAL wreck of the kitchen mixing dough, rolling it out, using cookie cutters, and topping teeny Valentines-ey culinary creations. To make thing messier, we baked a quadruple batch of friendship cake at the same time. We ate by candlelight with the counters in complete shambles around us.

After dinner, my husband turned on Pandora, plugged in his bluetooth speaker, and turned up some music. My daughter stood by my side, “washing” dishes with me, while I handed my son a dish at a time to dry and put away. My husband chipped away at the countertop. It was a cheerful scene, reminiscent of Snow White and her animal friends whistling while they worked. The kitchen got cleaned relatively quickly and we ended the night with family reading time.

Now why couldn’t we live like that all the time? Undistracted, cheerful, hardworking, kind? Focusing on the relationships instead of all the screens that steal our time and attention?

I’m not fooled into thinking that removing technology will create a perfect world for our family. And of course, technology isn’t bad in and of itself. However- at least for this mama- removing it for a time definitely seemed to help us refocus our priorities.


So here I go again. I may have flopped and failed for a bit, but it’s time to just pick up where I left off and carry on for the rest of this challenge. I know I won’t regret it. <3




Unplugged Parenting

Unplugged Parenting

“Mama, can we go outside? Can we go sledding?!?”

After several months with hardly a nod to old man winter, we finally got our first notable accumulation of white stuff this week. (I’m not complaining.) I groaned as the children tugged at my shirt hem and scrambled for boots.

“Not right now guys,” I answered, stalling. “I’ve gotta take care of a couple things first.”

I mentally tried to work up the gumption to get the three kids snowsuited, hatted, gloved, and bundled. My inner sluggard despises the preparation and supervision needed for outdoor winter play, especially when I’m trying to keep an infant warm too.

I had just gotten the baby to sleep when the kids asked to watch a show on Amazon. I said yes, with great relief, and set them up in front of the computer. I’d much rather do that than deal with bulky layers, potty needs, icy fingers, and wet play clothes.

It was a lazy mother moment, to say the least. I let them be content with another episode of Daniel Tiger on the screen, instead of the chill and crispness of a winter’s day with fresh snow on the branches, and the promise of coming inside for hot chocolate and a warm bath afterwards.

It’s an example that’s indicative of my own problems. I’d much rather sit down in front of Facebook than knit. I’m more addicted to my smart phone than my music practice. Email can easily suck away the time that could be spent building blocks or playing dragons with my children.

What’s more than that, I find that too much “tech time” can put a real damper on all of our moods- mine included. We get cranky and irritable after staring at a screen. None of us want to be distracted from that which is entertaining us. It’s ugly to see it in a 2 year old’s temper tantrum when a show is turned off. It’s even uglier when a parent doesn’t want to be pulled away from his or her own “toys.”

We talk often about creating an “unplugged childhood” for our kids. What about unplugged parenting?

When my kids are grown, what memories will I want to look back on? Hours of scrolling through countless news feeds, communications, beeps and notifications? Or doing, being, loving, living together?

I think the answer should be obvious.

I’m going to commit to going the next 40 days (yes, inspired by the Lenten season) in not being on the computer or smart phone unless the kids are asleep or having quiet time. I usually think these kinds of rules feel a little silly, but sometimes it helps me to make changes if I have a concrete plan. Plus, if I make a public commitment to do it then it will be good motivation to follow through. 😉 All the blog and social media posts that you see from me for a while (including this one) will be pre-scheduled.

Technology can be quite useful, and it isn’t inherently bad. However, it’s become far too much of a distraction for our family, and that needs to change. Anyone care to join me?


Learning Peace

Learning PeaceHave you noticed the “one word” trend for each new year? I don’t know where it came from, but the idea is to pick a particular character quality or aspiration that can be summed up in one word, then use it as your personal motto or goal for an entire year. A good friend of mine is aiming for kindness. Other words-of-the-year that I’ve heard recently are “flourish,” “rest,” “joy,” “balance,” “freedom,” etc.

I’ve never jumped on board with the one word deal. How in the world could you pick just one quality that you wanted to focus on for an entire year? To me, it just seemed gimmicky and lacked depth. Life is, after all, multi-faceted, and the lessons to be learned can’t always be boiled down to just one principle.

Of course, I’m sure the one-worders would agree with me on that. Picking one word is just a tool, not an ultimatum for life- and I’m all for whatever tools help you grow. (But still. It’s just the part of me that can’t pick up a self-help or parenting book without squirming in my seat a little.)

Despite my aversion to year-long words, the trend got me thinking about a lesson that I’ve been very slowly learning: peace.

Can I be honest? I seem to always be stumbling through life, and motherhood is no exception. Postpartum depression took me by surprise after the birth of my son, and my subsequent pregnancies were no emotional picnic either. I’m never sure if I’m doing the right thing with my kids.

The weight of parenting worry is a heavy load to bear. I still have to regularly beat down the monster that tells me I don’t deserve to mother these beautiful children.

kids2015Though my last pregnancy was desired, I came to be terrified of having our third child. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to manage it. I actually had to have a good cry and tell my midwife that I changed my mind about having another kid– during my labor. (Ha.)

My pregnancy had been soured by my own fear. When I needed to practice acceptance, I was clenching my jaws in nervous anticipation. When I should have been grateful, I was consumed by anxiety and self-pity. What a waste of what should have been a happy time.

But then when I had that baby, I fell in love all over again. She was so tiny, so soft, so beautiful. I felt almost physically pained by the regret of how much I had dreaded her arrival, and wanted nothing but to hold her and treasure the moments before her infancy vanished.

Everything about her pointed me to this- that I needed to be at peace with the undertaking that is motherhood.

Yes, it’s hard. I yell too much, sleep too little, pick too many battles. It’s easy to be cranky at home. It’s far simpler to be the miserable bear I don’t want my kids to be than it is to model the peace and joy that I want for them to embrace.

It’s easy to despair, to compare myself to other mothers, to fret over all the things I’m not doing that I should be doing, to be guilty over the habits I probably shouldn’t allow to develop… But maybe I’m just getting overwhelmed by things that really shouldn’t be so concerning.

So even though I don’t usually pick just one word for a year, maybe I can at least take a hint from those who do. Perhaps being at peace- and sharing that peace with those in my family- is what I’m supposed to learn at this time in my life.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.” Isaiah 26:3