H O M E

I’m home! Our tree is decorated! There are cookies in the tins, awaiting frosting and sprinkles! The washing machine is running and my suitcase is empty and Instacart filled our bare cupboards!

My four oldest were a smashing success in their opening night of A Christmas Carol. Yet again, a wonderful experience for them, surrounded by encouraging peers and kind adults and fabulous talent (which they think is completely normal and perhaps will be quite surprised to grow up and find that not every rural population can orchestrate and direct and choreograph and set design and costume and then sing, act, and dance the way this population can!) This has been their December thus far, and I’m so glad to be here to see the final product. Truly wonderful. William’s touching five minutes of Young Scrooge brought me to tears. You should go see it if you can.

And my December thus far wrapped up with a plane trip home for my two littles and me. After eleven days with my sister’s family, it was time to return — and I’m so glad to be back at the helm of my little ship, but if only Virginia were not so far away. Being with Carina was every kind of special. Even without a brand new baby whose arrival I witnessed (miracle upon miracle, ever time!), a whole week and a half to just be with their family, helping and loving and watching and laughing and getting to know those little personalities (or rather, big personalities in small bodies!) better than ever — what a privilege and gift.

I’m so blessed to have sisters who are closest friends. We don’t just share mutual memories — we share each day going forward and are eager to be a part of helping and encouraging the future we’re walking out in the Lord.

I’m also so very blessed to have four oldest children who gladly gave up their mama for eleven days (because they truly love Ricky and Carina as much as I do) and who were nothing but cheerful, friendly, responsible, and capable the entire time I was gone. Ryan kept praising them to me, and whenever I was able to FaceTime them, I could instantly sense their joyful camaraderie. My time away was so sweet because I never for a moment was concerned about the ones back home.

Ryan sent me a video — and this is just a screenshot, obviously, but before I could even be impressed by Fiona’s excellent reading, I was overwhelmed by the way Jameson served breakfast each day just because he honors me: candles lit, scrambled eggs in covered casserole dish, Christmas dishes used.

Or this photo that almost made me cry — evidence of big brothers playing happily with little sisters, making their dreams come true:

Several years ago, after thousands of days of investing in young children, I suddenly felt that glimpse of where we were heading: to a place where we would be able to give and reach beyond our little family circle because my children had been invested in and taught and were ready to bear weight as we opened our arms to the world around us. And I saw that this month — my children making it possible for me to go and bless. Very amazing.

So I’m logging these memories, knowing that I am about to be whisked into the beautiful busyness of Christmas celebrations, not the least of which includes Victorian ringlets and vitamin C by the boatload for my young thespians. Happy Friday everyone!

family memories

Where do I start? After spending November waking up in the middle of the night with my mind full of details and planning and excitement, my alarm went off at 4am on November 20th, and we were off! Ten days all together, driving 2,700 miles to visit family in Virginia and Florida, with swimsuits and Christmas presents and coloring books and snacks all packed into our van.

And now it’s all but over. Another memory to recall.

Long 13 and 15 hour drives with kids who never once complained. Except for Cecily, who took awhile to understand that we were actually going to be in the van all day, they never even asked the whiny, “How much longer??” The van would look like a bomb went off, pencils and books and stray fruit snacks everywhere, and the boys would cheerfully tidy it up the next day, getting us ready for the next leg of the journey. We cheered every time we crossed a state border, and noticed the changes in trees and landscapes along the way. McDonalds breakfasts at 8 were our ritual. Hours and hours of audio books, music, and just silently watching cars go by. All with my favorite people.

Virginia time with Carina and her family — where we got to celebrate a birthday, visit their new church, tour a battlefield and a plantation, and I enjoyed morning walks in sneakers instead of winter boots.

Florida was a birthday party for my mother in law, Thanksgiving with a full table of food and family, pool time and Turkey trots, and putting up the Christmas tree all together. It was so special.

Then back to Virginia, to be with a sister who was already in the early part of labor when I arrived. A quick goodbye to Ryan and the four oldest kids, and now I’m settled in here for a few more days, sharing early mornings with nieces, making food and running laundry, going on outings, and getting to dote on the tiniest and sweetest new baby.

My heart is full and thankful.

*****

Jameson is 13.

As birthdays go, this one was pretty up there on the enjoyable chart. First, I hardly have to think of a thing: Jameson has plans made well ahead of time, and I just have to text the people he tells me to text, buy the food he asks me to buy, and supply the nerf ammo he asks for — and he makes the party happen. Second, his plans are growing more and more thoughtful, simpler, more fellowship-centered. Third, his friend circle is amazing. He could pick any two from the group of friends he has, and I would marvel at the kindness and happiness and thoughtfulness of their character. It is one of the things that strikes me every year as an incredible blessing in our lives.

And, as birthdays go, this was a pretty big one. I felt a bit raw and emotional that morning, getting food ready for after church and quietly trying to process how we got here already, so soon, too fast. That baby whose arrival signaled the biggest change of my life, the toddler who I doted over and spent every moment with, the six year old whose sparkle and creativity kept me on my toes and made me love him all over again — how could that all be over, gone, already?

But in the early moments of the morning, as these thoughts swirled in my heart and mind, a tall and lanky boy, whose smile has more charm than mischief these days and whose body is growing thick with muscle, came into the kitchen and draped his arm around my neck. “Happy birthday, J,” and he leaned against me for a hug, quietly. We’ve loved each other his whole life, you know. Sometimes I can feel him trying to wrap his mind around all of the emotion, too.

Thirteen. Making grand strides and sometimes epic stumbles toward adulthood, and we are ever so proud and blessed and in awe of this person with whom we share our lives.

(Sorry for the amount of photos. It really was a lovely day.)

july.

Time for a photo dump, as apparently it’s now August, July is somehow over, and except for pictures I’m not even sure I would remember what we did!

Somewhat in order, with huge gaps because I did a horrible job remembering to take pictures this month, July was:

taking the kids to Norwood Lake (my one and only effort at “I’m going to get the kids to the beach this summer!”);

celebrating the 4th with no parade due to heat + humidity, but an enjoyable discussion of the Declaration around the breakfast table, and a long and lovely afternoon in Carina and Ricky’s backyard;

a trip to Maine where cousins are always the highlight, but beach trips and ice cream and pool time and baseball games are fun, too;

summer evenings of frisbee and reading and learning to do the slide by her 1-year-old self and somersaults and mosquitos;

starting the brain dump of school planning (if you follow Brietta on IG now is the time to laugh at her table of books vs mine. We all laugh over our kids and how “different each one is.” That never stops being true. My sisters all amaze me in so many ways!)

swim lessons that cousins did, too, and the fun day they stayed with us and we rocked the van all the way home to the tune of Newsies;

playground visits with a toddler who’s way less scared of heights than her mama;

waking up one morning to a lawn full of the tiniest, prettiest mushrooms;

slipping away from this one each afternoon (that we’re home!), and making myself pause to notice her sweetness — it’s always so tempting to rush to the list of things I hope to do in the one hour when everyone is napping/resting/reading!;

the summertime pleasures of juicy fresh fruit, free bouquets along the roadside that are yours for the picking, and a freckled daughter getting older by the moment;

a last hurrah with cousin Margaret before their big move, and laughing at all of her wild imaginations and antics and brilliance (they really are all so different, and I get to see that up close times 24, almost 25, make that 26… plus 4 on the other side… so many nieces and nephews to enjoy!)

Not pictured at all is my sister Camilla’s stunning performance in a community theater production that was so far beyond community theater quality; lots of work with Ryan as he keeps the ball rolling with his company; a church picnic that was lovely; play days with friends; lunches after church; lots of walks after dinner; chess obsession for the boys; Shakespeare camp; goodbye party for the Gilchrist’s; and beautiful sun-drenched mornings sitting with my Bible and journal on the side lawn, serenaded by a thousand birds and wishing it could go on forever.

July is over. Time to go inside and flip the calendar. A whole new month, another month of summer, although my thoughts are turning… Here, the past photo on my phone:

An invitation to fill those empty spaces with all the new hopes and plans for a year of learning and growing.

spring growth

What a slow spring we’ve had.

And even as I type that, I realize how many things we can learn from observing the course of nature. Sometimes promised seasons of vibrancy and fruitfulness are slow in coming — but they come. Lilacs two weeks behind, peonies nowhere to be found, furnaces getting a break for the first time since October — this is a northern spring, for sure. And yet, green is bursting forth in all of its June glory, shade upon shade, dazzling and sumptuous, rejoicing to take its place on the stage of time.

It comes. He makes all things beautiful in its time — and somehow, in a soul-deep way that you and I both know but perhaps can’t quite understand, that beauty and marking of seasons makes us aware of the eternity set in our hearts. We long for more, for what the New Earth will be.

Snow melts, grass grows, but more amazingly: legs stretch long into girlhood, muscles grow hard into the density of manhood, babies forsake infancy and begin the efforts of talking and interacting, new skills are learned and workloads undertaken. Grades completed, books finished, fresh horizons are scanned in the continual longing of children for tomorrow.

There are springs when the heat comes before I’m ready, and I find myself scrambling in a panic to get ahead of weeds and voracious perennials that have enforced their dominance while I was unprepared. I am feeling a bit like that in this garden of motherhood. Gorgeous new blooms are ready to burst alongside the mayhem of weeds and untidy borders and pruning (and did I miss my chance? Is it too late?) Sometimes I wonder if I’ve turned a bit more sod than I should have, and if the garden dream has outgrown my reality. In this garden of motherhood, I’ve always been in over my head. Shape a person? Love them well, teach them well, train them well? Me??? I can fumble around with fertilizer and cuttings outdoors without too much fear of messing it all up (there’s always next year.) But what about this? This immense task of nurturing people?

It’s more than I can do. It’s what I was made for, and at the same time, it’s a calling that demands I do things I simply cannot do on my own.

But you know what? It’s not my garden. There’s a Master Gardener at work here, with a beautiful scheme in mind, and He’s asking me to work and learn alongside Him. My work is like 2 fish and 5 loaves — which is to say, not much at all in the face of the enormous calling — and He does miraculous things when instead of hiding that, or putting a limitation on it, I offer it all to Him.

The sun is shining hot this morning. Rain is forecasted for the next [as many days as my weather app will load]. But today, soaking in the warmth and and joy of gardens growing by leaps and bounds and the sound of children laughing and running and blooming.

another month

I get busy — busy with my time, but busy in my mind, too — and suddenly it’s been a month and there are only a few pictures on my phone, nothing written here, and life has just slipped by again.

A month ago, the boys were off skiing with Ryan on an epic (to them) three day tour of three mountains, thanks to tickets Ryan was blessed with. Today I’m looking out rain-spattered window panes to a new color — one that sprang up overnight, as pouring rain drenched the earth and awakened dormant life. Green. Green is hard to even remember in February, and by the end of March I’m wondering if it really ever will come, and then suddenly it’s here. Robins are here, leaf buds are here, crocuses are here, kids in mud boots laughing and running and rediscovering are here — it’s all here.

Can I be honest? I was sad to watch the sledding hill melt. The path they walked every single afternoon and the trails they had carefully established for their sleds were the last to go, and I took a few deep, shuddering breaths that bordered on sobs as they caught my eye day after dwindling day. A whole winter gone. I love these warmer days — love to watch them scatter this way and that, dribbling balls and riding bikes and exploring in the woods and carving out new “houses” under bushes — but they scatter, and in the winter, they are a little tribe of playmates, always together, always inventing games they all can play, helping one another and laughing together and being my little brood. And so I sigh each year when it ends. Happy for the warmth of sunshine and hours of fresh air and ready to dig into the work and maintenance of summertime, but there’s a special quality of being hemmed in that winter brings. And now we have said goodbye to another year’s snow and are hurdling headlong into the outward days of summer.

A month looks something like:


Skiing!


Snow disappearing.


Three days away with Mama and Daddy for a work trip.


Five weeks of a Bible study and sometimes her cousin came to play.


This one on the go, but also wanting me so much still.


William calling me from my task of switching clothes from winter to summer, and finding this waiting for us. Wow!


She’s off and running, about 6 months ahead of the Dunphey standard.


Neighborhood games of “box ball”.


So eager to try some carrot.


This one! I could write a book about her.


Naptime every day looks like this. It will be gone before I know it, but for now, she nurses and drifts off every afternoon.


This week: Easter preparations!


Flowers!


I gave the hydrangeas a serious pruning. I love working outside and watching kids play!


My littlest and biggest. He loves her so much!


Every chance they get, long into the evening.