home and away

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“The Scarecrow listened carefully, and said, ‘I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.’

‘That is because you have no brains,’ answered the girl.  ‘No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful.  There is no place like home.'”

-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In a recent blog post I shared all about planting our garden, only to discover on this past Saturday morning that the bulk of what we had planted had been eaten by a family of groundhogs.  Our entire day Saturday was spent rectifying the situation, digging a 1 ft deep trench around the garden and putting up fencing.  It was an all-day slog, half of it done in pouring rain and in between nursing and napping babies and feeding children.  It was a ton of hard work and come Sunday, I just wanted to get out of the house.  It can be a point of tension for Brandon and I sometimes on the weekends–he, working outside of the home and eager to be home and rest and work on projects here.  I, working inside the home all week, eager to get out on the weekends and be refreshed elsewhere.  On Sunday he agreed to drive up to a favorite spot of mine on the parkway for a hike and picnic.  No sooner had we hiked to the top of the ridge and he took a few photos for me of my finished Timber cardigan, when the skies opened up and began pouring on us again.  We got back to the car muddy and soaked (again) and ended up eating our picnic in the car at a pretty overlook.  It was fun and refreshing.  But still, when it was all said and done everyone was eager to go home and get cleaned up.

It’s funny how our ordinary days can feel so gray and blah sometimes and we are eager for more beautiful country, but in the end there really is no place like home.  In the end most of our lives are lived in the ordinary moments, and it’s these I’m convinced we’ll look back on with the most fondness.  All the glory we didn’t realize was such until later. I think that’s why I teared up when I read that quote from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while reading to the children.  Sometimes it feels like we aren’t doing enough, sometimes I feel like I’m not giving them enough, like I’m not enough.  Like these days are too gray and dreary for them compared to all the fancy and exciting things other families are able to do for their children.  I’m hoping that this proves true–that there’s no place like our home for them, our simple ordinary growing-up-together years.

We are wrapping up our final official day of school TODAY (!!!) and with tomorrow’s fresh new month begins our “summer break.”  Now, of course, I don’t plan to quit all things educational, but our schooling will look less like ploughing through the necessities and more like soaking in our curiosities.  I hope to do lots of reading on a blanket in the yard, lots of adventures and hikes and exploring.  Learning along the way, delving deep into whatever strikes our fancy.  Making time for crafts and fun, garden discoveries and kitchen experiments, field trips and camping.  Sadly, these are the things we have so little time for during ordinary school days.  I read a comment by a fellow homeschooling mom recently who said they don’t take breaks for summer because schooling is their way of life and they don’t feel the need to take a break from it.  I’m trying not to feel “less than” upon reading that.  The reality is, the last couple of months have been quite a challenge with Phoebe and getting our work done and she and I both need a break.  I don’t think a break or a shift into more passive learning is a bad thing or gives schooling a negative connotation.  The reality is, learning is hard work sometimes, and taking a break can be refreshing.  Just like escaping to the mountains for a rainy hike makes coming home all the sweeter.  I so want to recapture for her (and I!) the joy of learning and discovery and remind her that learning is a part of every facet of daily life.  But at 7 years old, I don’t feel the need to constantly call everything we do “school.”  I believe that giving the children a wealth and breadth of experience and information will enrich their minds and souls.  I still think they need long stretches of play, free time, time to explore, imagine, and discover on their own.  What better time than summer for such things?  So yes, we will keep practicing flashcards and we’ll keep reading books together, but mostly we are hoping for some fun and some adventures.

planting days

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The last couple of weeks have been busy prepping and planning for our vegetable garden.  We had prepared the ground and then had about a week straight of nonstop rain, as did most of the eastern US I believe, and then we thought we better get things in the ground when we had a few sunny days while we were able.  We are very amateur gardeners really, and still learning a lot as we go.  Last year we did maybe a third of the plot we prepared this year and had an over-abundance of veggies.  (We had just moved into the home and rushed to get a few things in the ground.  Then I found out I was pregnant and was so super sick I couldn’t go near the garden or smell or even look at any of the produce from it.  So weird, I know, but when I’m pregnant all vegetables and basically anything food related make me sick. 😉  SO we ended up blessing our neighbors with all of our organic produce.)  This year we wanted to expand the garden and grow some new-to-us things, branch out a bit from our usual swiss chard, zucchini, herbs, cucumber and tomatoes.  We went a bit crazy at the garden store, as we usually do, finding things we were excited to grow.  Phoebe also wanted a square of the garden for her very own and when asked she mainly wanted to grow strawberries and flowers.  Her science segment for this part of the year has been plant life so this is perfect for some hands-on learning.  We’ve done a few things together from this book and then found this cookbook from the library, which has been fun to read together and pull some lessons from and also learn about as we plan what we want to grow.  Phoebe is the pickiest eater I’ve ever known and we’ve tried many things to get her to branch out in her eating (including occupational therapy, etc).  Growing our own food is somewhat of a necessity because of the cost of feeding a family of six on a mostly grain-free diet, but also we want our picky eaters to maybe be inspired to try eating the things they’ve grown themselves (one can hope!).  Last summer when I was spending most of my days alternately gagging and laying on the couch, noah and philippa spent hours every day in our tiny garden plot picking all our ripe produce for me.  I couldn’t believe how much they loved it and took ownership of it when I was laid out.

Phoebe and I planted a few things from seed which really intimidates me because I’ve never had great success from it.  I feel like planting from seed should be intuitive and primal but somehow I really fail at it.  Maybe this will be my year?!  I’ll keep you posted.  I had seeds for carrots, dwarf kale and purple top turnips, so phoebe and I planted those, along with a few pots of herbs.  They’ve been sprouting up abundantly and that’s been so neat for the kids to see!  And me!  Every time it feels like a curiosity–this tiny seed, buried in the dark soil, this miracle of tender sprout and leaf.  Now, for transplanting things and hoping they take off well from there.

Brandon and I spent much of last Sunday getting the bulk of it in the ground, and I’ve been sowing the remaining seeds with the children during the week when we’ve had bits of time.  We’ve planted a couple varieties of cucumber, some yellow squash and zucchini, green and red bell peppers, sugar snap peas and regular peas, sweet potato, a plethora of strawberry plants, swiss chard, beets, romaine lettuce, asparagus, fennel, basil, chives, oregano, sage, cilantro, (our thyme and rosemary came back from last year), marigolds and nasturtiums for pest control, and five different varieties of tomatoes.  Phoebe planted purple coneflowers and zinnias as well as strawberries in her corner of the garden.  All of the children have been so interested in helping plant and weed.

I wasn’t raised growing vegetable gardens so I don’t have much working knowledge, but I’ve always been interested and awed and somewhat mystified by it all.  Many summers when I was growing up we would drive up as a family to my extended family in Ontario, Canada and usually would spend a few days with my grandparents on their cozy little farm before heading up to the Muskoka lakes.  As soon as we would arrive usually we would take a walk through their extensive gardens, go visit my grandpa’s beehives and workshop where he extracted the honey.  I wish I had paid more attention to it all and asked more questions and soaked up more of their knowledge.  I felt somehow daunted by it all but drawn to it.  Already today I’ve seen all our sweet potatoes tender little leaves have been chewed off and a good portion of our lettuce plants too, so I think John the Rabbit has been visiting when the children have left the yard vacant.  Onto the task of protecting and nurturing all that we’ve planted and hoping for a happy yield!  Right now it is all looking so tidy and sweet, but it’ll be a lot of work and come July it’ll be downright unruly, I know.

twelve years strong

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We sat rocking on the porch, a constant cool breeze tinkling the tines of the wind chime hanging nearby and it sounds like a hymn.  A pair of mourning doves cooing over and over in the branches right beside us, near enough to touch, flying back and forth together to their nest.  Over and over, the cooing song.  We drank steaming mugs in the warm sunlight.  And I almost missed it, the significance.  It didn’t settle over my soul until today,  the symbolism of the dove.  A symbol of peace.  Peace, my word for the year.  Peace, the word God has been speaking to me repeatedly in scripture at the outset of 2018.  I came across these words today:

“Mourning doves represent peace of the deepest kind, soothing and quieting our worried or troubled thoughts, enabling us to find renewal in the silence of the mind.”

Did you know mourning doves mate for life, raising their brood together with devotion?  Did you know mourning doves typically symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace?

What a kindness from God, to remind us that in this season of marriage and parenting which is so busy, strained, loud and tired, that He offers us peace.  There is peace to be had in Him even in the midst of these busy, blessed years.  That He is with us and desires to be more with us.  He has brought us through some very great difficulties in the last 3 years specifically, some things we couldn’t have anticipated walking through.  It’s taken a toll on us in some ways, but in others it has drawn us closer together.  We’ve had a lot of rich discussions about what it means to be a Christian, and we’ve leaned into that conversation in ways that make us both uncomfortable at times.  We’ve had to extend way more grace to one another than we knew we would need, and we’ve seen our own sin and ugliness more clearly.  But, I always recall the words of Eugene Peterson: Our sin is never meant to be the main event, but God’s work on our sin, His work which covers our sin, is the main event.  All of our brokenness has given us a deeper understanding of His love and unfathomable grace.  I feel held by Him and seen by Him.

Brandon and I went away for the weekend, our 12th anniversary weekend, to a cabin in the mountains a couple hours away from home.  We went there last year as well and had such a sweet time we wanted to return.  Our lives are a lot noisier than we could have imagined not that long ago.  Neither of us realized how much quiet we had in our lives before, and how much we need regular doses of it to be able to think clearly and calm.  Brandon even remarked that his job is constant noise, working in remodeling with tools all day long.  We so love this season of raising a family together, but both being introverts does make it very taxing at times, to have so little retreat and rest.  When we’ve gone away to this cabin or make any measure of space for alone time together, we always feel like we’re taking a deep breath after holding it for so long.  It’s necessary, essential somehow to our makeup.  And we remember each other, how much we enjoy being together.

These cabins that we escape to are meant for spiritual retreat.  I’ve gone away to this place before alone for a solo retreat, which was so incredibly healing.  Still, it doesn’t feel wrong to use this place as an anniversary retreat.  It’s something holy, this being married, and we need to remember that.  We need to remember one another, and we need to re-member: to be put back together again after so many of life’s trials and difficulties and distractions pull at us all year long.  We need to do this work before God, in a sacred place, and it is so beautiful and sweet to do so.  These little cabins feel like sacred ground, and every time I have gone I’m afraid God won’t meet me/us there again like He did last time.  But He does.  In that holy hush, He speaks.  There is nothing more that we need to restore and reconnect with one another than first reconnecting to God as individuals, and then seeing each other again with fresh eyes.  We find our way back to God and to one another in the particular and peculiar quiet of creation, drinking deeply of its abundance, and in words and reflection.

 

It felt like it was a huge process getting to the cabins, with a lot of traffic and stops along the way, but when we made it, we got right out into the woods for a few miles of hiking to a gorgeous waterfall.  It made the shift into a quiet weekend more immediate, getting out into the dusky quiet woods, seeing deer, many birds, a ring snake, and the usual squirrels and such.  We lose our sense of being bound to time without children and their schedules and demands, and we just did what we felt like doing rather than keeping an eye on the clock.  When we got back to the cabin from our hike it was dark and we were starving.  In the morning we took our time, lingering long over coffee and books and quiet, then went to the Wataugua River for some fly-fishing.

Our little wren-bird came along and is so sweet.  She was a bit fussier than usual, but still very easy to have along with us and mostly quiet.  I didn’t get as much knitting time as usual because she was in arms more often, but I did a lot of reading.  The cabin had the book by Lauren Winner, Wearing God, that I’ve wanted to read for some time and had forgotten about.  It was fascinating and I read a good chunk of it, and now have it on hold at the library so I can finish it.  I must say, though, it is really one I want to buy and have on hand.

B and I have taken to gifting each other a traditional anniversary gift (using a list like this one here).  Last year was represented by “steel” (and B gave me a steel knitting needle).  This year was linen and silk.  I struggled a bit for what to give him in that category, but had felt prompted to revisit our vows.  Brandon and I wrote our own vows rather than saying traditional vows, which was special.  However, I don’t remember this many years later what it is we wanted to commit to specifically.  I felt like we need our vows to be visible, a regular reminder of what we have purposed and promised.  So I decided to paint our vows on a couple of canvases (linen, sort of?) to hang in our bedroom.  They turned out pretty close to what I imagined and I’m really happy with them.  Brandon appreciates gifts like this, so I think he was happy with them, too.  It took a lot of digging to even find where we had our vows stored away.  Reading over them again sent me in a tailspin of memories.  Oh, to be a new bride with all the naiveté and infatuation!  Yet I can’t help being grateful to be waayy beyond that now, with 12 hard-won years under our belts, and to still love each other a great deal, and a great deal more honestly.

Brandon gifted me with a couple of skeins of yarn (I’m wanting to try a brioche shawl, and am thinking the Marley Shawl by Andrea Mowry), a driftwood Lykke circular needle (I’ve had my eyes on Lykke’s for so long!  I can’t wait to cast something on!), and a new pair of lululemon leggings, which I so desperately need and love.  He said he forgot to check what year 12 represented on the gift list, but I wasn’t complaining.

We also decided to attempt to invest a bit more intentionally in our marriage this year, and came up with a “12 for 12” list, a bucket list of sorts for this year, with 12 dates or things we want to do together before our next anniversary.  We haven’t quite finished the list but we are trying to do some bigger goals and some smaller, more feasible things: run a benefit 5k, go to a concert, mountain bike at Tsali (where I’ve wanted to bike since high school), read a book together (this is actually something we’ve never managed to do!), camp out at a favorite mountain bald, build something for our house together, etc.  I’ll share more about this list as we go, I think.  I’m hoping we continue to make time for it, for each other, for our marriage and investing in FUN together because life can be bleak and exhausting if we don’t intentionally plan in some fun.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, let me know and it may make the list! 🙂

It’s true what they say–the older I’ve gotten, the less I feel like I know.  But if I’ve learned a few things about marriage, one nugget is this: it really does get better with time.  Are you in a hard season, friend?  HANG ON.  It gets better.  Are you in a good season?  It gets better!  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, of course there are circumstances that can end or alter a marriage irreparably.  But in the usual sense, in an ordinary marriage that has seen and survived hard days, I am astounded time and time again how good it can be!  How it can keep getting better, sweeter, richer.  How the time invested and the obstacles overcome seem to give us such a depth of intimacy I couldn’t have imagined.  We’ve seen so much road together, it’s been so unexpected.  No one on earth knows me and my interior like Brandon does.  He holds so many of my secrets, and I his.  So many people say about their spouse, “If I had to do it over, I’d marry you all over again,” and I’ve honestly felt like I don’t know if I can say that.  That sounds horrible, I know, but it’s because I’m such a big chicken and I’d be too dang scared of the hard things we’ve faced together in marriage!  I’d selfishly want to protect myself and probably be a hermit somewhere.  But, oh, what I would have missed out on!  As C. S. Lewis says, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable” (The Four Loves).

Don’t be afraid to commit to love.  It is terribly inconvenient and challenging, but there is no greater avenue to experiencing and understanding God than to love another person and give up your life for them, to both receive and extend forgiveness time and time again.  To be made into the image of Christ together with another, as one.  There’s nothing like it.  Many of you know exactly what I mean, right?!

May God root our marriages more deeply in Him.  May He make this year sweeter than all the rest.  May we not be afraid to give ourselves to love, true love which lays down its life for another.  May we find Him in each other and through each other in ways that continually surprise us.  May we never grow weary of the good work of love!  And may He hold us together when we are falling apart.  He is able.

 

happy may

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Fairy houses in the nook of the great big maple, sprinkling of flowers in the new grass.  Shade beginning to dapple the yard once again.  Skeins of wool snuggled next to one another in a row, projects ready and waiting for time.  Already a couple of weeks have gone by since these photos were taken, our property bursting with blooms and bright green.  I feel like if you listen closely, you can nearly hear shoots breaking through soil, leaves fluffing out on tree limbs, everything eager to live.  The weather this week has been downright hot at times.  I’m trying to wrap up our school year and make garden plans, going through the kid’s closets and organizing clothes for the warm season.  May and June are fun months, with some celebrations sprinkled in, and everything feels buzzing with busyness, plans, and activity.  I’m trying to be gentle with myself as I try to keep the plates spinning.  My mind is tired and I have a good bit of work ahead of me today, so I will leave it at that.  Just wanted to pop in and say hello, and happy May.

family pictures

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When Wren was a couple of weeks old we tried to assemble ourselves in nicer clothes, I threw on some makeup and curled my hair, and we attempted a few family photos by just propping my camera on windowsills and dressers and setting the timer.  Typically family pictures result in some frustration and tears from a few kiddos, but this time it was relatively quick and surprisingly smooth.  I mean, it wasn’t entirely tear-free:

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But as long as Brandon randomly yelled out “snozzcumbers!” and “bellypoppers!” from  the BFG book (the kid’s favorite lately), we got some good laughs and smiles. These children all love Wren so much and all want to hold her so that helped, too.  Philippa and Noah wanted to take some photos with their “phones,” making clicking sound effects as they did.

Tired, puffy (me), and wrinkled though we were, I’m thankful we grabbed a few pictures to remember these early days with our March girl, these early days of becoming a family of six.  Already she has grown and changed so much!

books, yarn, and babies

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Lots of reading, snuggling, dandelion picking, school, imaginative play, and yarn taking up most of our days lately.  Nursing + rock-a-bye babying too.  Quiet days at home mostly, without any sort of hustle out of the house.  Driving each other up the walls sometimes because of all that proximity, finding each other to be our best friends the rest of the time.  With the weather warming up, we are finding ourselves outside more of the day, making garden plans, smelling the earthy scent of soil and honeysuckle on the breeze.  Spring is a shoulder season, a tug-of-war between winter and summer, and lately we see both winter days and summer days, and we don’t mind either one bit.

My mind feels all over the place, too–feeling behind on garden plans and preparations while trying to stay focused on finishing our school year well.  As I’m coming out of the initial recovery period after having Wren (she’s 6 weeks old tomorrow!) I feel my strength and energy returning, and we’ve been out almost daily for walks and fresh air.  I find myself reminded to keep my camera in hand, snapping pictures of our ordinary moments.  I find myself remembering and reorienting to who I am and what I love.  Sometimes I feel like I should rename this blog “books, yarn, and babies,” because it seems I have little head space for much else.  I promise more “soul” content will come soon, at least I believe it will.  But even as I say that, I hear the dichotomy.  I’m learning to remember that, as Gerald Manley Hopkins said,

“Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
(As Kingfishers Catch Fire)
He shines in all that’s fair.  I find Him in the simple beauty of my current work, which is laboring over these children and this home, aiming to see Kingdom come, here and now, even if I lose sight of the connection sometimes.

I started this baby blanket for Wren at the end of January, and it feels just right for spring with all the lace and dusty pink.  I gave it a bath last night and blocked it and can’t wait for it to dry so I can snuggle her in it!  I used Quince + Co Osprey yarn which is incredibly squishy, springy, warm and soft.  With it being finished, I’m eager to begin a new project. Finishing things breathes fresh air into me, feels like a clean slate.

I hope wherever you are, you are finding bits and pieces of new life, freshness, spring, and the hope it seems to bring.

family + an easter sweater

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It’s taken me all week to get this blog post out, squeezing in moments here and there to work on it.  Everything seems to take a lot longer these days.

We stayed home Easter morning which felt a bit sad, but with Wren still being only four weeks old and a lot of sickness still lingering in our area, we felt it was best.  I also couldn’t fathom getting everyone dressed and out of the door on time, let alone myself and baby.  We’ve only gone to two dr appointments thus far, otherwise we’ve pretty much been home, so toting everyone around still feels overwhelming.  We had a quiet and easy morning, then headed over to my parents house around lunch time to be with family.  It was really sweet to be together!  My youngest brother and his wife had their first baby 5 days before Wren was born, so it was a treat to have them drive here from Virginia to share baby Silas with us and be together for Easter.

One of my other brothers and his wife live close by, so to have as many of us together as we can is a blessing.  (My sister and other brother and their families live in British Columbia, Canada and we miss them especially in times like these!)

The cousins playing and making memories together is precious to all of us and brings a lot of joy.  I’m thankful to my parents for hosting and pulling together such fantastic meals, such a treat for all of us.  I contributed a vegan + gluten free raspberry cheesecake, which was simple and not terribly sweet, but I really loved it and would make it again.

I also finished my featherweight cardigan a little bit ago and finally blocked it and wove in the ends, so wearing it for the first time on Easter felt special.  Its my first cardigan for myself!  I cast it on before I was pregnant so of course it is sized for my “normal” body size, and will fit a bit better after losing baby weight, but it still fits just fine for now.

I hope it was a happy holiday weekend for all of you also!