reorienting

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When life crowds in and all the pain and hurt breaks our heart, sometimes we need to escape.  I don’t know what it is about the wide open spaces, the heights, the familiar trails, the quiet of the wilderness and the piercing fresh air, but it truly does wonders.  We are facing some hard things personally and I asked Brandon last weekend if we could spend the day Saturday out hiking somewhere.  I didn’t have the energy to think about where to go, and somehow he knew just to quietly drive me to one of my favorite areas, Black Balsam and the Shining Rock Wilderness area.  We speak few words to each other, I knit on the drive, snap photos while hiking.  Mostly we just enjoy the respite from our every day landscape.  I think about place, and why familiar places can minister so much to our souls, all the memories sewn into the landscape.  I have been coming to these trails since my childhood, but mainly since my high school days when I first fell in love with backpacking.  I have come to these trails many times to be with God, to be in the wide open silence, the whipping wind, the other-wordly play of light and cloud.  Now we bring our children along as we go, feet tracing routes we know like the lines on our hands.  We hike most of the day, five miles in all I think, in which their little feet kept up with our pace with barely a complaint.  We get back to the car around 3 in the afternoon and eat lunch all piled in the hatch of the van, wet and muddy, tired but refreshed.  Souls reinvigorated.  I am so thankful for this little tribe of mine, the way we explore and sojourn together.  These children are so precious to me and I’m so proud of them.  I pray they learn to endure when the way is foggy and unclear, when the weather turns from sunshine to storm.

The mountains feel a bit like they’re moving under our feet and we find ourselves reaching out for that which is immovable and certain.  I can never express how profoundly grateful I am for the scriptures, for the God of the scriptures who is THERE, who speaks, who is unchanging and wholly Other while being intimately close, and for His word which is sure and will endure forever.

I turn to these old words from a treasured commentary by Walter Brueggemann called The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith:

“Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith…There are no meanings apart from roots.  And such rootage is a primary concern of Israel and a central promise of God to his people.  This sense of place is a primary concern of this God who refused a house and sojourned with his people (2 Sam. 7:5-6) and of the crucified one who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

A sense of place is to be sharply distinguished from a sense of space as has been stressed by some scholars.  ‘Space’ means an arena of freedom, without coercion or accountability, free of pressures and void of authority.  Space may be imaged as weekend, holiday, avocation, and is characterized by a kind of neutrality or emptiness waiting to be filled by our choosing.  Such a concern appeals to a desire to get out from under meaningless routine and subjection.  But ‘place’ is a very different matter.  Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations.  Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny.  Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued.  Place is indeed a protest against the uncompromising pursuit of space.  It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom.

Whereas pursuit of space may be a flight from history, a yearning for a place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage.  Humanness, as biblical faith promises it, will be found in belonging to and referring to the locus in which the peculiar historicity of a community has been expressed and to which recourse is made for purposes of orientation, assurance, and empowerment.  The land for which Israel yearns and which it remembers is never unclaimed space but is always a place with Yahweh, a place well filled with memories of life with him and promise from him and vows to him.”

Yes, maybe that’s it.  When all is spinning, we need to return to places that remind us of who we are, where we are going, what is sure and unchanging.  Maybe returning to those places is what helps to reorient us to the God of the place, and the promise of His presence with us in all our sojourning.

sweaters and sunny days

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We recently had a string of sunny, incredibly warm and spring-like days.  It was in the 60s and 70s and everyone in our home wanted their skin in the glorious rich sun.  So we spent as much time as we could outside, playing, picnicking in the yard, trying to soak it up.  I love winter so much and I don’t mind the cold and gray days, but it was a gift to have a short reprieve and remember what is soon coming.  The air held that smell of warming soil and all of us began to think about planting and growing things again.  Buds are forming on the trees and some of the bulbs we planted in the fall are beginning to send up shoots.

Phoebe set to work on planting a little “garden” in a corner of the mulch of their play gym.  She transplanted various weeds and onion grass from the yard and I even overheard her singing to her little plants.  I kept walking through our little garden plot, thinking and planning.  I’m excited for those planting days that will soon be upon us, but I know how much work it adds to our plate as well.  Also, I’m just not quite done with winter yet.  I’m still hoping for a few more snows!

I finished up Phoebe’s flax sweater (with a good few modifications).  Despite my best efforts to modify the neckline and ripping it out a couple of times, it still turned out quite large.  She doesn’t mind it but I wish it wasn’t quite so boat necked.  I shaped the arms a bit more drastically than the pattern called for and also cropped the sweater.  She has been wearing it constantly in rotation with her other hand knits, and I so love that about Phoebe.  She is always so grateful for anything I make for her.  The yarn is some rustic farm yarn from our recent visit to a local sheep farm called Bovidae Farms.  The yarn is dry and toothy and very lanolin-rich.  I loved knitting with it, it’s incredibly warm and every time she wears it she smells like a little lamb.  She’s also been wearing the sweater inside out and it looks just a good worn on the wrong side!  I hadn’t blocked it before taking these pictures of her wearing it and it looks a bit better after blocking, of course.

It has been back to feeling like winter again, as it should for just a bit longer.  We have days of rain ahead of us in the forecast so we are missing that warm sun but we know it’ll be back soon.  In the meantime, we’re happy to have woolen sweaters to snuggle up in.

happy birthday to daddy

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His birthday always comes quietly amongst all the hubbub of the Super Bowl.  Not that we are sports people (we’re not) and we don’t watch a single other game all year long (unless olympics are on or occasionally the world cup), but he likes to watch the Super Bowl.  We went to church as usual on Sunday, and I encouraged him to go do something fun that afternoon — go fly fishing, mountain biking, running, or whatever would be refreshing to him.  He decided to take the older two kids mountain biking, while I stayed home so the younger two girls could nap.  It ended up being perfect as he ran into a few friends on the trail, including phoebe’s best friend, which made her day.  She also got to pet a horse that was at the trail head too.  They came home just before dinner and I forgot to snap a photo of them.

I made his favorite dessert, cherry pie (using this crust recipe and the filling recipe from this one) with homemade ice cream, and his favorite food ever, pizza + caesar salad for dinner.  I always use this recipe for our favorite pizza crust and topped this one with spinach, pepperoni, and local grass-fed chorizo and it was amazing.  We watched the game while eating dinner and intermittently taking care of kids, singing happy birthday + blowing out candles before wren went to bed, and opening his gifts.  I got him this book on fly fishing, always trying to stoke the flames of his passions for the sports he loves and has so little time for.  The children wrapped up paintings they had made for him, and their handmade cards were the highlight of the evening.  I also gave him money toward a tool he’s had his eye on.

I think it was simple and fun day, and we really enjoyed being home together.  It’s hitting me that he’s getting closer to turning 40 and that just seems so odd.  I still feel like we are in our 20s.  Maybe that never really changes.  We are really thankful for this guy who works very hard to take care of us and pour his love out on us.  He loves fiercely, steadily, and often quietly, and we love spoiling him when we can!

horses for her eighth

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Just after winter solstice eight years ago, a bright and shining light was born into this world.  You, our sweet Phoebe girl.  Our horse crazy girl.  Vivacious, energetic to no end, singing and talking and dancing all the day long.  We knew we would love our little baby girl but we had no idea how everything would change the moment we laid eyes on you.  You came so quickly I was still in shock when I was staring into your dark eyes and wrinkly forehead.  Were you really here?  Were you really real?  You stole our hearts then and you still have them now.  It’s not easy being first, being the oldest, but I can’t think of someone more well-suited for the task.  You are a leader if ever there was one, never shy or unfriendly.  You are brave and bold, my girl, facing your own set of challenges with a cheerful spirit.

Eight years old feels grown up in ways that make my momma heart ache a bit raw.  Normally on your birthdays you are up before the sun and can’t wait to open all of your presents at once.  You have grown up this year, I suppose, and instead you spread the opening all throughout the day even until just before bed.  You received a horse for your Kaya doll that we found at our favorite consignment store as well as a barn and corral for your other horses.  You and I have so enjoyed the Misty of Chincoteague book series so we gifted you this Album of Horses book by the same author.  Your birthday sweater was still damp on the blocking boards but you couldn’t wait to wear it and your sparkly purple skirt as well.  You have worn your sweater literally every day since your birthday and truly you are the most knit worthy person I know!  It’s a joy making things for you.

Your daddy and I are so very proud of you Phoebe, thankful to know you and humbled to raise you.  We hope you grow this year in your love for God and for His Word, that you continue to seek Him and rest in His favor over you, His love that can’t be measured or lost.  We hope its a year full of growth, adventure, learning, and laughing.  Happy 8th birthday!

Love,
mom

Ps. Phoebe’s cake is the Chocolate Layer Cake made from the Paleo Kids Cookbook (highly recommend if you’re looking for ways to recreate children’s favorite foods and snacks) and I found organic and naturally dyed sprinkles from our local food co-op (very pricey though!).  My children haven’t really ever had sprinkles on anything so they were so enamored and excited, which made the cost worthwhile.  The cake seemed like it was going to be a big flop and it wasn’t pretty but it was delicious!

pps.  Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.  (That just means if you click through and happen to also purchase the same item through my permalink I get a very small payment from amazon without any cost to you.  Thank you for supporting this blog and our family!)

december birthday boy

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My sweet Noah man

You are everything kind, tenderhearted, sweet, and brave.  You have a quiet strength, and it’s a good thing with all these sisters around to take care of.  I love the way you love others and care for others, seeing and noticing especially those on the fringes.  It’s a sensitivity I hope you hold onto in this abrasive world.  You love trucks and cars and its all you asked for for your birthday, besides green hand knit socks and a sweater.  (You are so sweet to your momma, loving the things I make for you and wearing them happily, treasuring them.  I don’t know how long that will last so I’m enjoying it while I can!)  You love pouring over books with beautiful illustrations so we bought for you the Nature Anatomy book, and you have been carrying it around with you outside, identifying all sorts of treasures in our yard.  Your birthday was spent first with pancakes, then opening presents with daddy before he had to go to work.  We planned to go the fire station but it was pouring rain and mommy made the rash decision to do a “quick” stop to the walk-in bone and joint clinic to check on phoebe’s foot (which she injured jumping off the stage at church barefoot).  That took far longer than anticipated and we had no time for the fire station and no where to park in all the rain, so we opted for hot cocoa and movie at home instead.  It’s just like you, to sacrifice your plans for others, but we will make it up to you and visit the fire station soon!  I think you still had a fun and happy day.  I love you so much my one and only little man, now six years old and so tall and grown.  It is a joy to see you growing especially in your reading and art skills, as well as in your faith.  You are so quick to remind me that you love me very much but “not as much as I love God.”  May He always have first place in your heart.  I’m so very proud of you.

Love,
mom

an imperfect, happy Christmas

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“My discomfort with the gifts was a result of the circumstances that rendered me impotent to deal with buying them.  By the very nature of things, there was a limit to the time that could be expended in acquiring them and an even greater limit to the money that could be spent.  While the season’s moralizers will always claim that the amount spent is not important (“It’s the thought that counts”), intelligence and simple observation militate strongly against that position.  The thought behind a standard boy’s bike and the feel of a ten-speed racer under that same boy are very, very unequal to a fourteen year old.  In 1984, they were also very unequal to my checkbook.

That year, the inequalities and loss of time were multiplied by children, children-in-law, grandchildren, grandmothers, and godparents.  The real issue, however, was that children need to experience the security and the largess of having those this-world things that help them fit easily into the patterns and flow of their own lives, both social and domestic, private and public.  For fourteen year olds in a farming village, that meant ten-speed racers…

Gifting is a way to demonstrate love.  It requires that we study another so intensely as to perceive his or her unspoken desires and meet them.  It means to startle with the unexpected, the perfectly chosen.  For our children we had always seen it as a way to form a thankful and satisfied adult, to create a readiness for generosity, the early habits of appreciation, and a sense of blessedness.”

I read these words by Phyllis Tickle in her short book of stories from her farm called What the Land Already Knows early in the month of December.  A small little book, yet multiple times in the dark night while I would be reading it, tears would prick my eyes.  Yes, to feel overwhelmed with the December things–the gift buying, the desire to bless our children and hope to provide them with hearts that understand what it feels like to both receive and give generously.  The desire to spend our affections richly on the One to whom the seasons is all about, Jesus, the babe in the manger.  The tug and pull of gatherings, pageants, birthdays, meals, Advent readings, the gift buying and wrapping (which largely falls on me and it can bring such weariness even though it is a joy).  The questioning of ourselves–are we spending ourselves (both our time and money) well in this season?  Are we giving our children too much?  Too little?

Her words brought freedom and the reminder of what it’s like to be a child–to hope for an item and to receive it.  To anticipate the good gifts of Christmas morning, to work through the ungratefulness and dissatisfaction in our hearts that can sometimes follow.  Her words helped me as a mother to wrestle my own guilt and frustrations with myself down–we are finite, limited.  We have so many pressures in these years with little ones and so few resources.  We cannot hope to dance through this season perfectly, we will mostly limp through it held up by the gracious and loving arms of the babe who came to save us.

This Christmas morning began with a child who wet the bed and then a screaming baby woken up too early.  I had slept quite poorly and had a hard time being in a good mood until well into the afternoon, unfortunately.  I apologized multiple times to everyone and was mostly very grateful that Brandon was unusually chipper and unaffected by my grouchiness.  Three different loved ones gave me products intended to help puffy, tired eyes this year and I do so hope these products do the job! 🙂

We had filled the children’s stockings with dried fruits from nuts.com, chocolates, a stainless steel cup, pencils, a couple of small toys, as well as a pair of knitting needles.  Yes, everyone got needles because all three older children are asking now for knitting needles and yarn. 🙂  Phoebe wanted her first pair of circular needles, which I had told her she would receive if she stuck with a knitted project and finished it.  (She has mostly done that).  Wren received some new rubber bath toys, her first glass sippy cup, new spoons, a rainbow stacker and a ball.  Each child got a book, one smaller item they wanted, and then one larger item.  Grandparents had sent along new pajamas, dried mangoes, books and such, plus one larger gift: a trampoline!  Both Brandon and I had gifts from secret santas (my family drew names for Christmas) and we both got each other a few things when in previous years we haven’t simply because of inability.  He bought me a beautiful pendant necklace (theres just something so romantic and lovely about a man giving jewelry to his girl).  He treated me to way too many bath salts, lotions, candles, as well as a new ball winder which feels heavenly to use.  I treated him to some new tools and carhartt overalls, a new belt and hat.  He spent the remainder of the day putting together Phoebes bike and the trampoline and we had a simple dinner of veggies/hummus, cheese and sandwich meat with a little bit of sushi (my favorite!) from our favorite local spot.

After baths and reading together the children treated us to a surprise performance of the nativity while they requested I play “Silent Night” on the piano.  It was so precious and sweet and it blessed me so — yes, when it’s all said and done and they’ve been inundated with far more than they really need by way of material items, they do understand what this season is all about.  We’ve been remembering the waiting for the Savior and what it’s like to hang in the long dark waiting for His coming and then to celebrate His arrival, Immanuel, God with us.  How we need Him!  What a miracle it is, God wrapped in such small, frail human flesh–given to us.

It was a Merry Christmas filled with the usual interruptions, bad attitudes, apologies, forgiveness, snuggles, joy and laughter that typically fill a family’s day.  All this holy wrapped up and tucked into all this ordinary.  I hope it was a Merry Christmas for you too, dear reader.  May these days leading up to the New Year be filled with sweet reflections, peace, and joy!

ps. I’ll pop back in here soon with photos from both Noah’s and Phoebe’s birthdays. ❤

snow for a week

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Last week we had the biggest snow we’ve potentially had in many years here in North Carolina, and we personally had close to 16 inches.  It stayed on the ground for most of last week and today is the first day we’ve really seen the sun and the ground since then.  Everyone enjoyed it so much and somehow we managed to have electricity throughout the entire storm, while many of our neighbors went for days without power.  It was neat seeing the neighborhood pull together to help one another, checking in on the elderly and those without power and offering to help where needed.  We enjoyed a lot of time out in the snow and also keeping our hands busy inside with a few crafts like stringing up dried oranges for garlands both inside and out (for the birds), paper snowflakes, cookie making, painting, christmas movies, etc.  It’s been good to take a break from our usual school work to make time for these activities and just being together, but of course it isn’t perfect.  We still have a lot of bickering and momma getting frustrated with the soggy layers all over the floor and the messes everywhere I turn, but it has been good just the same.  I’m such a work in progress when it comes to patience and grace with my children, and I’m making a concerted effort to do things together this holiday season that are fun for them even if they’re a bit stressful for me.

We went to the Christmas pageant at our church, and we went to our small local mall to send off a package and walk around (i.e.: let the children run and blow off some pent up energy) and happened to visit with Santa while we were there.  I think it’s the first time any of my kids have sat on Santa’s lap and given their Christmas requests.  It was pretty cute and we had some good conversation afterwards, and I remembered so many visits to the mall with my family during Christmas time when I was growing up.

Yesterday we went into downtown Asheville for a Christmas brunch with my family that’s local, since we all help with my dad’s remodeling business in one way or another.  We usually eat out (when we do eat out together) at Posana’s restaurant because it has an entirely gluten-free kitchen and it’s one place we feel safe letting Phoebe eat.  It is a huge treat, thank you mom and dad!  It was windy and cold, but still fun to walk all around and see the Christmas decorations.  Phoebe wanted to take a picture of me (I’m wearing my Timber cardigan and Campside shawl!) and I’m thankful she did, even if I don’t love being in front of the camera.

Over the weekend we went to the annual open house at our favorite pottery place in Brevard, NC and then visited with our old neighbors there for a few hours which was such a treat.  (Elizabeth, if you’re reading, you know I’m talking about your grandparents!) 🙂

Evenings during Advent are spent gathered around our advent wreath, coloring ornaments for the Jesse tree as we read through Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  Last night we lit the “joy” candle and it’s hard to believe we are just a few days away from Christmas.  Noah turns six on Thursday, Phoebe turns eight on Sunday and then Christmas is upon us.  It’s going to be a very full week ahead!

I hope you’re staying cozy and warm, enjoying these last few days of anticipation.