the busy and lazy and timeless days of summer

Here we are, August. August! I cut a bunch of echinacea and rudbeckia and couldn’t even believe it. What happened to the peonies? Scratch that. Where are the daffodils? How are we here already?!

But oh, we have filled these days. Some filled with the nothing that summertime begs for, some filled with much anticipated activities. Soccer camp, swim lessons, and musical theater camp — far more here and there than our usual summer schedule, but it has been so much fun and just right for this year.

What hasn’t happened this year is much [any] gardening. The grass is growing quite well between hardy perennials, despite the fact that hot and dry weather has left the lawn looking brown and crunchy. I’ve never experimented with total neglect, and I can’t recommend it, but a new baby in May has bumped weeding and pruning waaaay down the totem pole. The good news is I haven’t lost anything, and hopefully that will still be true next spring. There’s a time for everything, I guess.

Last week I decided on and ordered our books for the coming school year, so that means this week will see us purging and tidying the school cupboard once again. I’m both excited about all we’ll learn and dreadfully sad that our summer days will end in a few weeks. There’s a time for everything.

*****

Old familiar tasks done in a new beautiful kitchen.

Evening walks in nightgowns and pjs.

Mama’s rug in my room.

Learning croquet.

Wagon full of beauty.

Three soccer players!

Enid’s regular activity. (Some days.)

Up bright and early every swim-lesson morning! So proud of just that, never mind the swim progress.

Cousins made it even more fun.

Sister love.

An early NOT swim morning by myself.

Donning ballet slippers.

Constant companion, growing and changing and more loved every day.

the magic of home

A magical thing happens every day, all around us, and probably without much notice:

A once-empty house, four walls and a roof, becomes a home.

Thanks to my mother, who taught (and continues to teach!) so well the importance of making a home and creating a haven where life can gently be nurtured, I am somewhat aware of this magic taking place in my own house, which I saw as empty with my own eyes 8 years ago, and which we have filled with much life and living every day since. I have worked hard and labored daily to make it so. I have waved my magic wand of dishcloth and Oxyclean, kisses for boo-boos and bed time stories, Christmas carols and paper hearts and lazy summer picnics. But I don’t think I really believed the same thing happened at my childhood home until last week, when I walked through the door and saw the topsy-turvy chaos of a home being packed up and moved out.

I didn’t really believe it could possibly have ever been an empty shell, because the magic happened there so fully, so deeply. It seemed that perhaps we had grown up in a truly magical place, where the haven of love infused with the energy joy had simply always gone on and on.

How strange to see with my own eyes the emptying of rooms, with price tags attached to memories.

(How glad I am that the house will not long stand empty, but will be promptly filled again with the magic of another skillful and loving mother and father.)

And so, a house is just a house, and we take the magic with us — that greater-than-its-parts thing called family.

But.

And here I pause these days, taken aback by how strongly I am feeling that “but.”

It was just a house, and we all still have each other and the memories that live on in our hearts and in the stories told and the inside jokes laughed loudly at over family dinners. But it was our house. It was part of us. We were never young sisters apart from that gabled room, and the best play happened on those pine boards. That pile of gravel and sand still belongs to us, our scraped knees and Mama scolding us again about playing in sand. No one else will enjoy the open kitchen but know deep in their hearts that what it really wants to be is paneled and small with red lace curtains. My mama’s cool hands on my feverish head belong to that house. My daddy came home to that driveway, and we waited eagerly for him on hot afternoons, on the porch with our swimsuits on and sunscreen applied and towels ready to GO! I suppose my birthdays would have happened every year no matter where we were, but the fact is, we were always there, in that dining room. I learned to cook there, to rock a baby to sleep up in that little nook, and those gardens growing are planted in the soil that I turned, one spade at a time, under the hot summer sun. My dad told me to rinse the dishes with cold water so I wouldn’t cook the traces of egg yolk onto the surface, and we stood side by side at the peninsula. He sat by me on the piano bench and taught me how to play “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate” in the key of F while Mama called from the kitchen, “I want her to read music, too, Ricky!” And speaking of music, won’t we always just laugh and laugh at how Jamie and Julia would stand on the porch and practice their fife tunes, serenading the entire town.

In that front room, we had evening devotions and I watched my mom and dad sing with enraptured faces to the Jesus they knew so intimately, and I wanted that, too. Up in that bedroom, I knelt by my bed and asked Jesus to love me, too. I remember a lunchtime when my mom and dad were at odds, and I remember so well my mother standing by the telephone on the wall and saying, “I’m sorry, Ricky,” and him kissing her and all was well again. In that downstairs bedroom I met a brand new brother, held a birthday-gift sister. A chubby baby girl arrived there, too, fast and dramatic. In that house I cried with my mother over miscarriages. Then there were wedding showers and baby showers, and six wedding mornings when the house was filled to bursting with preparations and joy and gowns and flowers and togetherness. We bore sorrows together, we dealt with sin together, we weathered storms and persevered through growing and stretching and learned to hope in God together. And all under a red roof that was home.

I’m not sure how you say goodbye to something that is a part of you. I’m surprised by the layers of emotion that overwhelm me these days. But this I am sure of: Not everyone grew up with a house jam-packed and overflowing with the blessing of a family who loved and grew together in the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit’s presence — and so I count even my tears as a blessing. And I also know this: the magic that happened there was a bit of heaven itself, the Kingdom of God being worked out in our hearts, and what I really and truly long for is the home that is awaiting us in eternity. Music and food and parties and quiet and joy and fellowship will abound there, and we will at last be satisfied.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

tending gardens (or, mothering)

Large family realities: Here, Cecily has dug a cantaloupe rind out of the garbage and is happily gnawing off every last bit of juicy melon. And I am just sitting and nursing the baby and glad it was at least from the top of the garbage.

I know I’ve already said it, but investing in my older children is beginning to pay off in ridiculous dividends.

It’s not just the actual work they do, although that needs to be mentioned and applauded. The environment of our home, while far from perfect and in daily (moment by moment?) need of realignment and repentance and renewed vision, is rich with cheerful energy and joy and a general spirit of friendship. Like a garden, the weeds continue to pop up like crazy if left for just one day unattended, but the plants we so vigorously guarded and hoed and watered and pruned and watched over and shooed pests away from day and night for so long — they are growing taller and stronger and bearing fruit.

“Invest” sounds like such a great idea, but I wonder if it sounds easier than it is to the one seeking help as they stand in their disaster of a kitchen surrounded by crying babes and temper tantrum-ing toddlers. Investment in those little years isn’t quite like throwing a few thousand dollars into a mutual fund and hoping it all goes well. Not quite.

There is so much work, defining the goals of your family, the standards you feel the Lord calling you to, and then daily digging in and working toward that end. I looked at my children on Sunday morning, all standing and singing nicely as they’ve been taught — even the 2 year old — and I thought, it wasn’t always like this. Not all of my 2 year olds just stood and clapped and sang and then sat down politely. The first couple had to be taught — every single Sunday, week after week, and with lots of practice at home in between. But now my little girls are growing up in the shade of these strong young men we’ve raised, and they just do what they see them doing. (They don’t seem to always notice that those young men stay in bed when we ask them to. Still working on that… among other things!)

But that particular moment, I realized, was a direct result of all the Sundays that Ryan and I did not throw up our hands in frustration and either just let the boys do what they wanted to do, or decide what’s the point, let’s just skip church for a few years.

It’s hard work to “invest”. But that initial breaking of ground — turning sod, picking out rocks, working in fertilizer, and maybe only then finally planting the seeds you now must protect and cultivate — that doesn’t happen over and over. At some point, a garden begins to grow, and it’s a wonderful, amazing thing to stand back and observe. Take a deep breath and savor the moment as your eldest son makes the burgers and the next son organizes a game for the younger set and your daughters set the table nicely, and you just think, wow. This was not my life when my third and fourth baby were born.

This past week I stopped to take pictures of William, who is hitting a great growth edge this summer. He’s taken up the task of mowing here at home, for the most part, and this week even ventured across the street to mow for my father. Blessing us, blessing others.

He woke up early on his first morning of appointed breakfast duty (a new twist to our summer routine) and learned how to make pancakes — and then, because it’s his personality, he did it again two mornings later in order to perfect the art.

And so many moments in between, he’s quietly working away at his assigned [boring, monotonous, done-it-a-million-times] chore. Bonus in this shot: Beatrice singing away as she vacuums, learning to cheerfully chip in just as her brothers do.

(And bonus-bonus: Jameson took this photo and my heart just melts. What sweet days these are, with a little baby girl curled up in my arms, wanting absolutely nothing in the world except to be near my heartbeat.)

june 14

Yesterday was three weeks with our Enid Catherine. How we love her.

And how those days flew — as I knew they would, but still always such a strange shock to tally them up and realize it’s been weeks and you’re not sure where it all went. Somehow it always seems wrong, when I’m moving so slowly and intentionally, that moments and hours still have the audacity to move quickly.

My sister said something like, “I’ve done this enough to know the details won’t always be fresh in my mind, but the impression of these days will remain.” Yes. We sink our whole self into each moment because there’s an impression being made — on her life, on their lives, on my life. We are shaped by these fleeting moments.

We are keeping a tight orbit these days, with Enid at the center still. I don’t go far, they don’t go far. We hold a baby, prepare meals to be shared al fresco, blow bubbles and ride bikes and shoot hoops and figure out how on earth to get the frisbee to go where you want it to go. We clean feet and braid hair and tidy the house before running back out to the great wide world out our door.

Yesterday while Enid slept soundly in her basket, I organized the play kitchen and “taught” Cecily how to make pasta primavera and cake. It was so special — her shining eyes told me so.

settling in, waiting, soaking up sunshine.

That sums up the last few weeks of life, I suppose.

What started to certainly feel like a long 11 (or so) weeks without our usual rhythms has resulted in a beautiful, open kitchen that feels so grown up and real and like me. How amazing it was to see the elements of cabinetry and collected antiques get put into place, exactly resembling the drawings and ideas I’ve been concocting for so long.

I feel above and beyond blessed. I just keep smiling.

The cupboards are arranged (at least, for now!) and I have almost broken the habit of going to the garage for refrigerated items (where the fridge was kept since February!) The wide expanses of windows that we missed so very much are freshly appreciated as we gather around the kitchen table for meals, and enjoy the family room’s views.

And just in time to watch the world magically and suddenly turn to vibrant green right before our eyes!

Such a long winter we had, with no real hints at spring. April cold and gray, windows shut tight and not even a thought for summer clothing switches. But then, suddenly, it all changed. Better late than never, and certainly received with extra thankfulness and enjoyment, spring has arrived. Trees that were only in bud a week ago are unfurling leaves. Lawn is emerald and lush and scattered with the sunniest dandelions. Daffodils went from tentative little shoots to full blown flowers in only a few days. Bird song fills the morning. Cheeks and shoulders are pink at the first suggestion of sunshine, after months and months of sweaters and snowsuits.

We soak it in and pinch ourselves and try to find the sunscreen.

And we also are waiting. 40 weeks and 5 days, waiting. Keeping up the balance of walks and exercise and crossing off to-dos while guarding rest time each day, collapsing into bed each night. I’m feeling so good this pregnancy. I feel pregnant, but good, and I’m so thankful for that. The kids are so excited, and how fun to be living in an atmosphere heavy with expectation.

I’m feeling less prepared for the actual delivery than I have in the past, but learning even there to lean and trust. What ifs can creep in, and certainly life is uncertain in so many ways. But this is true: Strength for today, a favorite lyric from a favorite hymn. He knows the way I take, and He has promised to never leave or forsake.

Courage is the word on my heart this time around — at first, a reminder to myself to take heart and have courage, but as I mulled that over and prayed for a fresh dose, the deep assurance that God will not just give me courage; He will be my courage. I don’t need to keep it together and hold on; I can fall on Him and lean on Him completely, and He won’t let me down.

This morning, a spring rain that began so gently I don’t even know when it came, and now strengthening into a thoroughly soaking downpour. Even this is lovely and calming, as gray settles in around spring greens. We will take this day slowly, quietly. We will know that His name is near, and how that changes everything.

a record of moments

This little family journal is in need of an update, although my memory isn’t nearly good enough to recall every moment worth preserving. But, a bit of a try:

There have been the smallest moments that pile up into absolute treasure — William leading our worship times with his guitar and repertoire of about 5 chords, with Jameson sometimes playing along on piano; Beatrice devouring “The Saturdays,” while standing right at the doorway to the kitchen, hoping against hope that Daddy might need her for something; kids rediscovering the woods now that the snow isn’t overwhelmingly deep and coming back with muddy boots and stories of what they found this time; sitting a bit like sardines all together in “the den” to watch a movie on a Sunday night; nap times and bedtimes with me sitting in a rocker, reading to the girls until Cecily is asleep or at least settled, quickly finishing “Understood Betsy” (so darling! — a favorite), and now onto the Shoe books; packing up ingredients, kids, math and piano books, and heading to my mom’s kitchen for a few afternoons of baking in an oven (what a treat!); walks in warm spring sunshine with Cecily on my back, and walks in winter wonderlands the very next day as the North Country reminds us all of its impossible unpredictable nature; crockpot meals and hamburgers coming out our ears, and soooo many bagels…

There have been less mundane moments, too —

Ryan walking away with just a scratch from quite the crash at Whiteface, and how thankful we all were; the three big kids preparing a performance of “Anything You Can do” for Grandparents’ Day that demanded they do and give a bit more than their natural comfort level; Easter weekend plagued with a tummy bug, keeping us home on Good Friday (where we all did our sardine routine and joined the CFC service online — perfect) and that meant after much excited preparation on Saturday evening, Ryan and I ended up staying home all day Sunday sick while the kids happily celebrated with grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins; me getting to spend a solid week of time laying floors with Ryan while our kids [mostly] happily tended to each other — not exactly the weekend getaway I’d been hoping to squeeze in before this baby, but maybe even better.

And the slow and steady progress of life in and around us: Boys working to prepare for another year of NYSSMA involvement and growing in their musicianship. Cecily talking more and more. A kitchen ready to be painted and have cabinets installed this week! Number Six baby continuing to wiggle and grow and drop and all that end-of-the-line kind of stuff, and me marveling that we’re already here, a few weeks away from meeting them. And yes, me trying to focus on the “meeting them” part and not get too uptight about the “delivering them” part.

There have been ups and downs in the last 6 weeks, sometimes just the normal life kind of stuff, and sometimes much bigger. His hand is there, leading, in both mountain and valley. There have been “I’m gonna snap!” moments, and there, too, His grace is always there, correcting and realigning and sometimes just giving rest. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask… and suddenly that’s there, too — seeking hearts led, souls taught His ways.

The wheres and the hows of life are sometimes fun, sometimes interesting, sometimes disappointing — but the Who that we find Him to be in all those things: that’s the treasure. That’s the golden thread we hold onto, that we delight in each morning. Great is Thy faithfulness, we sing, but we truly know that as we simply live. Each morning, waking up, asking, “Will you meet me in this day, too?”, and discovering that the answer is always and forever yes.