Friday, August 4, 2017

7QT: the trouble with radio silence edition



Hi, y'all.

The thing about blogging breaks is that they aren’t really breaks. Life has a way of being full of things. I keep meaning to write about them, and instead of waiting for me to sit down and do that, life just keeps rolling on with more and more things happening. As a way to ease back into blogging, I thought I’d do a quick-ish catch up post to let you know what we’ve been up to the past few months.





1. This has been our most ambitious garden year yet. I built a fourth raised bed, made a new flowerbed/herb garden on the corner of the house by our patio, and dug up a huge quantity of weeds and garlic chives that had taken over a former flowerbed to try to create a cottage garden. Things have done well- we had more strawberries than ever this year, the tomatoes and cucumbers are out of control, and we had lettuce well into July because of its position in the shade of a corkscrew willow tree that has finally gotten large enough to cast a decent shadow. My lavender stayed alive this year, and the four o’clocks I planted have finally grown up enough to reach the trellis. The cottage garden is a work in progress, but I think it’s looking promising.








Despite all the good, though, this past week has brought record numbers of squash beetles and Mexican bean beetles, neither of which have ever been this big of a problem before. The cucumber plants have spots that turn into holes that turn into wilted, brown leaves and the cucumbers themselves are bitter. I’m trying to rally and keep things under control, but part of me wants to pull up the cucumbers and the squashes and just fill those beds with spinach and lettuce for a fall crop. Maybe some peas. Could I do that?





2. We had a lovely trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my extended family. It was wonderful for our kids to have their cousins to play with all week…and to my astonishment, we actually had moments where both George and I were sitting in chairs on the beach while the kids played. This is definitely the first time since Sam was born almost 9 years ago that we’ve been able to both kind of relax at once.






3. A friend loaned us his copy of Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. It’s a story of a family of four children who spend their summer at a country house with a small sailboat. In Boxcar Children style, they are allowed to sail the boat to a small island nearby and camp out there. Adventures ensue. This charmingly British book was new to me, and it has changed my kids’ lives. They play at sailing all the time now, turning our play structure into a boat and wrapping our swings around the posts to be the rigging. If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s a perfect read-aloud- nothing earth-shattering ever happens, and yet it manages to be very exciting reading! The Audible recording by Alison Larkin is also quite good.


The sailors in my backyard were further inspired by their new favorite movie, Disney’s Moana, which is one of the best Disney movies to date. Moana is a strong, independent non-princess who sails her own canoe and manages to convince a demigod to do the right thing. Her grandmother, Grandma Tala, is my favorite character ever to appear in a Disney film. The sailing in the movie got wrapped into the sailing play…and now Felix struts around with his shirt off pretending to be Maui.




4. Sam joined the swim team this year and loved it. He had practice almost every day in the month of June, and we often listened to books (Swallows and Amazons) or the Moana soundtrack in the car on the way. In fact, we figured out that if we started the soundtrack in the pool parking lot, it would take us into our driveway as the final notes sounded. I cannot believe how many times I have heard those songs this summer. Swim team has ended now, but Sam is already talking about next year. And all of us are still singing the songs.


5. Felix celebrated his third birthday this week with coffee cake for breakfast, a trip to a favorite playground and lunch at Chick fil-A. He did not want a traditional cake and asked us to take him out for ice cream instead. I appreciate the chance to fulfill someone’s birthday dreams with such a simple request. Things seem to get more complicated as they get older, you know?







6. I spent many hours this summer working on a new study for the Blessed is She series of Blessed Conversations. The studies are designed for small groups to use as a way to dive deeper into Church teaching and grow in faith together. My study is on the cardinal and theological virtues, but there are six others by some of my favorite writers, covering a variety of topics from the Trinity to the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes. There is also a leader's guide for women who are facilitating small groups. They are available for purchase now. I really want to try out one of the ones I didn’t write and am thinking about getting a group together…because I always seem to want to start up new things as fall approaches...





7. ...but maybe someone else will start a group and I can just go be part of it, because I have a bad habit of getting all excited at this time of year when school is about to start and suddenly I think I can do everything when there is about to be a lot more to think about and do! We have two first graders and a fourth grader this year, along with our energetic three year old who will definitely keep things interesting. I’m not sure how difficult it will be to have three people in academic subjects instead of just one- Kindergarten is pretty relaxed around here, and this is the first year we will be juggling multiple math books. When I start to get anxious about how hard it is going to be, I remind myself that it cannot possibly be as hard as going from one child to three children all at once in the first place. Giving birth to twins and bringing them home to your almost-three-year-old has to be more difficult than starting them in school with your almost-nine-year-old, right? That’s what I’m telling myself.





If you made it this far, you’re all caught up! How has your summer been? Ever read Swallows and Amazons? What are your thoughts on Moana as compared to the other "princessy" movies?

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum today for 7QT- be sure to go check out Kelly's homeschool prep update and all the other assorted miscellany, all neatly organized into lists of seven. 







Monday, July 31, 2017

To Felix, on the eve of your third birthday



This morning, we made play dough together.

You’ve been asking for days, since early last week, to play with play dough. We didn’t have any. I told you we could make some…but there was laundry to do and dishes to clean and errands to run and school curriculum to order. You were outside with your brother and sisters, or I was trying to convince you to take a nap, and we never seemed to get around to the play dough.

This morning is your last morning of being two years old, and if we can’t make time for it now, when will we? So I said “yes,” and we spent half an hour dumping flour and oil and cream of tartar and Kool-Aid and salt, mixing and stirring and tasting (yes, you did, and although it must taste awful it can’t hurt you, I guess) and kneading and rolling and patting and playing.



This, I suppose, is the difference in my parenting of you, my fourth child. I know now that now is as good a time as any. As hectic as it feels sometimes to have a two-year-old, things don’t necessarily get less hectic when he turns three, or four, or any other age. You’ll get better and better at cleaning up your own messes, and eventually you’ll be able to read Where the Wild Things Are to yourself every single night before bed instead of asking me to do it for you. You’ll pop into the bathroom and take your own shower and pop out again, maybe even remembering to hang up your towel, and I won’t sit by the side of the tub and watch you pour cups of water over your own head while you sing songs from the Moana soundtrack, all chubby cheeks and glistening skin and your sister’s heart-shaped sunglasses.




I’ll do less and less of the ordinary for you. You can already dress yourself and wash your hands and face and basically get your own breakfast. Somehow, though, your budding independence doesn’t result in our having more time to just hang out together.

Is it that you have more to do that doesn’t involve me? Or is it that I fill all those small moments when I would have been cleaning your hands with mopping the floor? Our house is tidier than it used to be when you were an infant, but I still feel like all I ever do is clean it up…and in exchange, I have a lot less time of smelling the top of your head in the rocking chair. You tag along with the big kids…out to the driveway to ride your tricycle or to the backyard to build a fort or to play hide and seek…and instead of hanging out and watching you, I run to the sewing machine or the computer or grab a book or my knitting and try to carve out a few minutes for myself to work or sing or create something that will remind me that I still exist apart from all that laundry. Your brother grabs himself a snack and gets you one, too. Your sister gives you a push on the swing or reads you that tiresome Clifford book for the thirteenth time today. You have people to do these things for you- people other than me.




Still, when you bump your head or scrape your knee, it's my lap that comforts you, and my kisses still mostly work as the best way to take the sting out of your injuries. Although you’re quick to correct anyone who calls you "little," you still pretend to be a baby monkey, climbing up my body and dangling from me as I shuffle down the hall.





I treasure your exuberance, your silly stories, your determination to tell knock-knock jokes even though you don’t quite understand the form. I always save you the orange cup and the purple ice pop and almost all of my croutons. You don’t like the way my reading glasses look and constantly ask me to “push those glasses up” on top of my head. If I have the book memorized, I do it just to oblige you.




You’re my “yes” kid. We said “yes” to the possibility of you, and I find myself saying “yes” to everyone else more often than I might have if you hadn’t joined our family. I’m older and wiser now on my fourth two-year-old than I was when I had just one two-year-old for reference. Beyond that, though, I know that wonderful things can happen when people say yes. Wonderful things and wonderful people, like you.

Happiest of birthdays to you, my littlest man. You’re sunshine in my heart.



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To the former owner of my new copy of Wuthering Heights


Dear Gordon,

I’m not sure if I should really call you Gordon. Maybe Mr. Taylor would be more respectful. After all, you are probably older than I am, since during your life you both acquired and sold off your beautifully-bound copy of Wuthering Heights.

Since I am holding your Wuthering Heights, you are not holding it any longer. Why? What separates my life from yours…why am I in the habit of acquiring lovely books for my library while you are parting from the ones that once comprised yours?

Did you ever even read this book? If you did, you held it gingerly, barely opening the covers to be sure you wouldn’t put any pressure on the spine, the way my old friend Colleen does, wanting to ensure that her beloved books are always perfectly preserved. I searched the pages for telltale signs- your notes (not a one), a crease (no such thing), a stray pencil mark (no pencil has ever touched this book). Nothing gave you away until page 259, where I found a single, solitary crumb, maybe from some long-ago cookie. It left a tiny grease spot on the thick cream-colored page when I brushed it off. It might have once been oatmeal.

I wonder- do you like raisins or chocolate chips in your oatmeal cookies? And do you think a person needs to choose one or the other, or can someone really appreciate both?

(I’m definitely for chocolate chips every time.)

Wuthering Heights might not turn out to be the best book I read this year. I might not love it. I read it once before, in high school, and I remember almost nothing about it except the names of the characters and the windswept Yorkshire moors. I can’t predict whether I will love this book enough to read it again and again as I have some of my others. I just don’t know yet.

What I do know is that I am very much enjoying holding your book, and that even if I don’t enjoy it, I will keep it for a long time. When I buy books, I like to buy used ones, and I always buy the very nicest copy I can find.

My hunt for the very best copy I could afford, in this case, led me to your old book, now absent from you, its original owner, but still bearing your bookplate on the front page. It proudly proclaims that it was “privately printed and bound expressly for The Heirloom Library of Gordon J. Taylor.”

There is nothing at all wrong with a paperback book. Some of my most treasured book friends have been paperbacks, the covers eventually curling at the edges and separating from the spines as the glue ages. I have literally read them to pieces. Your book, your former book which is now mine, is not going to fall apart. It’s serious about self-preservation- the kind of binding my daughter Lucy would use as a stepstool to reach something forbidden on a higher shelf- solid, heavy, and clearly not going anywhere. The cover, a sort of medium blue, stamped with gold vines and flowers is the kind of cover my daughter Nora would trace gently with her finger and then carry off to hide under her pillow, hoping I wouldn’t notice it was missing from the shelf. The blue ribbon marker, a tiny bit frayed on the end, is substantial. It’s no cheap ribbon. It’s the kind of ribbon marker my son Sam would say “indicates that this is obviously not an inexpensive book.”

And so, just like that, we are connected, and I’m wondering about you- about this bond we now share, about whether you were a fan of British literature in general or just added this one to your shelf because it was the next in the series. Was this a gift from your grandmother, who always hoped you’d be a reader? Did you have children who borrowed it from the shelf to set up risers for their toys to have a concert or to build steps for a castle, the way I used to do with my dad’s never-opened collection of Harvard Classics?

Whatever the situation, I’m grateful to have your book now that you no longer need it. I promise to give it a good home. For now, it will be living on the table at the end of my sofa or on the one beside my bed as I make my way through it and get reacquainted with Heathcliff and Catherine. After that, it will live on the second shelf of my living room bookcase, snug beside Pride and Prejudice on one side and Jane Eyre on the other. I think it’s important for sisters to be together, and besides, the divide between fans of Austen and the Brontes has been grossly exaggerated, don’t you agree? I tend toward Austen over Bronte, although I reject the need to make such a silly choice at all.

Come to think of it, I would definitely put raisins in oatmeal cookies if I had no chocolate chips.

Thanks for the book, Mr. Taylor. I hope this note finds you happy and at peace, wherever you might be.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Five-Minute Friday: Middle.



I’d never choose to be in the middle of anything
preferring a window for the scenery and a place to rest my head
or even the aisle, for making a quick escape with a restless child or a restless heart.

The middle is confining-
claustrophobia sets in.
I can’t easily go forward or back
and I feel stuck.

I’d much rather just have started
                in love with a new yarn!
                loving this story so much!
                delighted with a new training plan!
or be nearly done
                only three more rows to knit!
                just a page and a half to go!
                finish line in sight!
               
But life is teaching me that the middle has its advantages.
Hugs and snuggles from both sides,
a better view of the pictures in the storybook,
plenty of popcorn still in the bowl when it passes by,
sofa cushions perfectly broken in but with years of life left.

So I’m sitting in the middle more often these days,
cultivating an appreciation of the here and now
noticing what’s right in front of me
resisting the temptation to hurry ahead or linger, looking backward.

Sometimes the middle is messy, tear-stained, sticky, or covered in fingerprints,
  but it’s where we are right now.
If we can’t go over it, under it, or around it,
if we have to go through it anyway,
we might as well try to appreciate it.


For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Heading Home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Angus.


When we look back on it, I think we will say that Nora’s first love was a horse named Angus.

He has been sitting in our backyard for several years, ever since some older friends outgrew him and he needed a new home. As the youngest in a chain of families, our children often receive special things that other kids no longer want to keep but also don’t want to give away completely. If things live at our house, the thinking goes, the bigger kids might be able to come visit them sometimes.

They almost never actually do need to come visit their old things, but I think it makes it easier to rehome them if the possibility exists- we can see them again if we need to!

Angus has been occasionally ridden by many people, but he truly began to live a couple of weeks ago when Nora suddenly adopted him. After checking out every book on horse care from our little local library, she relocated him from his square of dead grass near the sand table to a space she cleared out under our play structure, which she now calls “Angus’s stable.” She put down a bed of straw and grass from the field for him, which she cleans out every day and replaces with new grass. She brings him water and “oats” (a mixture of sand and clover and crushed sea shells) in a bucket every day. She takes him out to the field, dragging the heavy metal frame with its springs behind her, and “trains” him, then carefully reinstalls him in his stable and rubs him down with a cloth before covering him with his “horse blanket” - an old towel we use when we occasionally decide to wash our van.

She does all of these things in all kinds of weather, wearing her flowered “horse working” boots.

Her devotion is inspiring and a little puzzling. I’ve never seen her take care of anything with such joy or dedication. She throws on her coat and mittens after breakfast, pulls on her boots, and heads out the back door, calling, “Gotta go do my horse chores now!” before skipping off to rub noses with Angus.

She and I have struggled together lately to do things with a cheerful heart. It's hard sometimes to help her navigate through the bumps of her day when she just wants to sit down and complain about the parts she doesn't like...and for my part, it's hard for me to admit that God didn't create her strong will for me to control! It’s amazing how this self-assigned plastic horse has given her such purpose. It's amazing how Angus has easily created a rhythm in her morning that has nothing to do with me. It’s amazing how willingly she does her other chores in the morning so that she’ll have time to take care of Angus before our morning meeting. It’s amazing, because I couldn’t have come up with this as a Nora management strategy, and it’s amazing because she didn’t need me to come up with it at all.

She did it all by herself.

Sometimes, parenting is hard...but sometimes, we make it harder than it is. Sometimes, our kids know exactly what they need. Sometimes, we just need to trust them to figure it out.