the things that ground me

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Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, and we had a happy day together doing simple, fun, local things.  Earlier in the week the children had picked out a dessert they wanted me to make (from this cookbook), and we had shopped for the ingredients together.  I began making the custard early in the morning, finishing in time for us to scoot to the parade in our little town.  I don’t think I’ve taken the kids to a parade before (or can’t remember?) except for the local Parade of the Tractors that we happened upon last year. 🙂  It was pretty simple and short, but still fun to do something festive together.  Daddy worked part of the day, so we missed him but made the best of it.  When we got back, the kids played in the sprinkler and cooled off while I prepped lunch.  During nap time I finished the dessert and spent some time in the breezy sunny afternoon browsing through the garden.  Later, the children went through the garden, Phoebe picking the ripe tomatoes from her plants, gathering romaine for dinner and our first cucumber (which was amazingly delicious).  The kids each helped decorate our dessert tart and after dinner/dessert we found a good spot in town to watch fireworks.  Some dear friends met up with us last minute and it was so very sweet and fun to watch our children experience the fireworks together.  My heart was full.  I was thinking about it yesterday while just living a simple yet fun day at home: these are the things that ground me when life feels hectic, busy, full.

I’ve reached this point in motherhood where I feel overwhelmed and out of breath (on a soul level) pretty much daily.  I feel like I’m spinning plates, one after the next, and dropping half of them.  The things I love, the things that feed my soul and creativity often get choked out in the “churn” of the day, though I fight to squeeze them in in smaller quantities.  I long sometimes to step back and have everything stop for a second so I can catch up.  My children need things from me that I can’t always anticipate or understand or feel able to give.  Decisions need to be made that overwhelm + cause anxiety.  I think as mothers we are constantly measuring: measuring how we are doing, if we are doing enough for our children, enough for our husbands, friends, etc.  We are evaluating and analyzing all the time, feeling guilty most of the time and certain we are probably not measuring up.  This week I’ve been asking some questions of myself that are hard, facing some decisions that have caused me to lose some sleep.  It all feels like a state of constant churning.

So I seek out the things that ground.  The scriptures.  The garden quiet, plants growing steadily and unobtrusively, swaying in the breeze, buzzing with bees and birds and life.  Knitting.  Evening tea with Brandon.  Prayer.  Singing.  Watching the family of blue birds nesting in the birdhouse in our garden again this year.  Listening for those little “chirps.”  Making food for our family.  Snapping photos.  Working with my hands.  Being in the wilderness.  Paying attention to and getting to know our own little town, seeking community in our church.

These “grounding” things aren’t always available to me, but I seek them out when I can.  They help settle me and remind me who I am and where I am on this spinning planet.  Maybe you feel like that sometimes, too.  I hope you can find a few things that help you feel your feet on the ground and remember that you are human in this place.  Limited, loved.

beginnings + endings

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It’s the shoulder-season time of year, things beginning and ending.  Schools nearing their finish, spring bursting into summer.  Pools are opening, farmers markets are filling with first fruits.

Phoebe had her ballet recital a few days ago and did so well!  We were so proud of all her hard work and focus, and truly amazed at how much she has learned this year.  I don’t know that we can afford to keep her in classes going forward, but it was a joy to see her complete a semester.  She was way too grown up in her makeup (gag, though–sort of hate seeing kids in makeup.  Luckily she hated it too and couldn’t wait to get it off) and she was enamored watching the rest of her dance company do their performances.  So fun to watch her.

We gave Phoebe a violin for her birthday in December but had to pack it up rather quickly since we were moving shortly thereafter and I had no idea how to tune it, so she hadn’t really been allowed to try it out.  I felt a bit like a horrible mom for giving her a gift and then basically putting it away for months.. so we found a little local music store and went this week to get it tuned and learn a bit how to hold it.  I’d like to start her in some lessons soon.  She is eager to learn and has been pulling it out and playing often now that she’s allowed.  I want our home to be filled with music, even though the beginning process of learning and instrument feels a bit painful.  I know older moms whose kiddos play and sing together (even my own siblings and I) and the sacrifice in the beginning (of more noise) is so worthwhile in the end!

I do some photography on the side (very little! very amateur!) for my dad and husband’s remodeling business, taking “after” pictures of their work for their website.  I was out at a client’s home in Fairview and stopped by a little self-serve farm stand nearby to pick up fresh flowers and fresh strawberries.  These berries are the best.  Everything from that farm stand is impeccable, and I’m rarely out that way so I stop there whenever I am.  Anyway, I knew we had to make a strawberry pie with those berries, and fresh homemade vanilla ice cream.  So Phoebe and I got to work on that in the afternoon, after wrapping up some school work while the other two were sleeping.  It’s fun to bake with her but also messy and sometimes I’m not up for the extra work.  Our pie was pretty good, but not quite what I was imagining.  Anyone have a good strawberry pie recipe (gluten free/paleo)?  Brandon loved it, though.

We’ve had a lot of rain this past week and the last couple of days have finally been dry and warm and sunny, so we checked on our little green growing things.  Our garden is a bed of hope for me, a reminder of so many precious truths: seeds will produce fruit, hope begins in the dark soil but eventually bursts into reality.  Great bounty comes from small endeavors in faithfulness.  We grow whatever we feed + nurture. Weeds come easy and choke out the good plants, while the good plants take more effort to grow.  Putting hands in soil, watering daily, watching and waiting–it somehow teaches me on a deeper level than just reading about seeds and soil.  Physically toiling in it preaches.  It reminds me of Jesus’ giving us the gift of the Lord’s supper: bread and wine.  Physical elements that we are meant to regularly handle, touch, taste, see, smell.  It preaches the Gospel to us in a different way, a physical way.  Every time I take the Lord’s supper, the experience of it itself preaches, brings new understanding, new enjoyment of God, deeper worship of Him.  We are busy growing things aren’t we–all these beginnings and endings, these little indicators that seasons are passing, time is moving, children are growing right before our eyes.  Time is slipping away, pushing forward whether we are ready for it or not.  We can’t hold a single day down.  We can see it and receive it and enjoy it and then it slips right out of our hands, making room for the next day, the next beginning.

I’ve been reading in Ecclesiastes for the past couple of weeks as I study through the Old Testament (using Nancy Guthrie’s Seeing Jesus in the OT series, which I highly recommend!) Anyway, I’ve been reading about toil and meaninglessness and vanity and living for the moment.  It’s been a bit depressing for me at times, because in some ways I find my cynical self agreeing with the hopelessness of the author at times.  Does any of this matter?  All this toil that seems to produce so little?  Yet we have a hope that the author didn’t yet have, the hope we find in Christ who reversed the curse when He rose from the dead and who gives value to all of our work, telling us that whatever we do for the least of these in His name will last.  It’s a mystery to me still, but yet I plod onward–learning to do small things with care and love and with eyes fixed on Jesus, finding Him and worshiping Him in all the little beginnings and endings.  It’s part of why I blog here–to see the ordinary, holy moments in my days, to mark the passing of time, to savor the things that I so easily miss, to look and hunt for beauty in the bread and in the wine.  To see that He gives everything, and everything I have is somehow a gift from Him, even the hard things.  All is grace.  He withholds no good thing from us.

my campside

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The work of creating is important work for me.  I’m learning that I’m a maker, and I love making things–bringing beauty, even simple and small, into our ordinary days.  Bringing order from chaos.  It’s a good work.

Knitting small stitches from soft fiber–one small stitch after another, little ordered steps in a long arduous journey following a path laid out for me–ending in a beautiful finish.  Ending with something functional, satisfying, luxurious, beautiful.  It is a good reminder to me of the work I am doing as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a friend, as a child of God–small seemingly inconsequential steps on a long and arduous journey.  It will result in something beautiful.  Our work is, as the scriptures say, producing something, working for us an eternal glory that far outweighs the trouble we’ve gone through (2 Cor. 4:17).  Maybe it seems silly, but finishing a creative project is satisfying to me in that way–our small steps and small obediences are producing something beautiful, friends.  Let’s keep on until the finish.

I finished my Campside Shawl weeks ago and have worn it almost every day since then.  (Which is why it took me so long to block it–so glad that I did though!  It opened up the eyelet sections and made it even larger/cozier.)  It is crazy warm, squishy and cozy.  I didn’t know if I would wear a shawl, feels sort of old-lady-ish, but I am!  I’ve loved just throwing it over my shoulders for a quick warm layer during this spring season.  It is such a cheery yellow and it makes me think of camping in the woods, which I can’t wait to do soon (will take my campside with me!)  Knit it Madelinetosh, color way Harvest.

the language of flowers

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“The earth laughs in flowers.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A little while ago I typed this question into google: “what is the purpose of a flower?”  Interestingly, most of the links that came up talked about the scientific purpose of a flower in the process of reproduction and pollination.  In fact, many of the articles said that the “sole purpose” of a flower is for reproduction for the plant.  Of course, on a scientific level, that is true!  But if I were to ask you what the purpose of a flower is, would that be the first thing that would come to mind?  I find that to be a rather sterile view of the world (never mind the irony).  Surely art has something of value to say to us and not science only.  I was a little surprised that nothing about the cheering effect of flowers was mentioned.  Or their smell.  How about the way they are used to make perfumes?  Or the fact that they have long been acknowledged to have medicinal and therapeutic benefits?

My little Phoebe-girl loves picking flowers and creating little bouquets and arrangements.  I asked Brandon to make her a flower press so she can begin keeping them in a more lasting way.  Maybe it’s just my quest for permanence, my longing to hold onto these fragile days that are blooming and fading so quickly.  How these kids are growing!  How I cannot seem to hold them down and keep them still and just this way for just one minute.  To keep Noah just as he is, trotting out of bed early in the morning, always playing “lion” and referring to himself as the lion (such as, “the lion wants a snack,” and “lions don’t like thunder,” etc.).  Or this game that phoebe and noah play together frequently called “boswell” where noah is the cat, boswell, and phoebe is his owner and walks him around on a “leash.”  Or how philippa is talking up a storm and constantly bowling us over with her personality, always trying to keep up with phoebe and noah, loving to read the “fock” (fox) book every night (“I love you Because You’re You”).

These days are so weary and exhausting and full and busy just with the simple work of running a household and keeping everyone fed and happy, and then all of a sudden everyone has grown again and I just want to hold everything down for a minute and keep it still so I can take it in.  But the days just keep going, time just keeps ticking away.  I suppose thats part of why I snap so many pictures, this quest to hold onto these days and not forget them.

Anyway, as for the press, Brandon made it for phoebe this past weekend and she loves it!  She felt pretty special that daddy made something just for her, and she has been busy pressing flowers.  I want to get her a little simple journal where she can glue the flowers in, but she also may make some cards with them for thank you notes and such.  It’s a simple thing, but one that I think helps her pay attention to the natural world around her, the beautiful things that God created not just for the holy work of reproduction, but also for the holy work of beauty.  I can’t wait to use the flower press as a way for Phoebe to begin a nature journal and as a way for her to catalog different plant species in the future for educational purposes.  But for now, I want her to pay attention to and simply enjoy the beauty she finds around her.

He created our souls to be moved and affected by beautiful things.  It’s why we give flowers to someone who is grieving.  It’s why we bring flowers to someone who just had a baby or who accomplished something great.  It’s why we spend a fortune on fresh blooms for a wedding, sprinkling them all around, signifying new life is beginning.  It’s why a girl gets a fresh bouquet and immediately breathes them in deep.

Beauty has a high and holy power to turn our heads and turn our hearts.  It is a beam, a shaft of light in the dark, and if we trace the beam back to the source, we see the beautiful God whose incredible mind created all of us and all of this, and we sing, Glory!

Last weekend my soul was aching to get up into the mountains, to escape the heat wave we’ve been suffering through, and also just to feel like we got away a bit from the house and our ordinary routines.  We went with my parents for a picnic on Sunday afternoon to nearby Craggy Gardens.  After dinner Noah kept begging us to go for a hike, so we meandered through one of the little hiking trails, walking slow, looking for things to wonder over, exploring and discovering, and phoebe collecting treasures, of course.  Feathers, rocks, found string, pretty leaves, flowers.  I find her little treasures all over the house, tucked in pockets, drawers, baskets.  Fancy that, how to a child, every little thing can be heavy with significance and beauty and purpose.

*

(If you want to make your own flower press, some simple instructions can be found here or this is a cute one for purchase if you don’t have a handy man around.  The book I snapped pictures of is this one here, a seasonally organized simple craft book using everyday items found around the house.)

 

the very favorites

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And yet in all of the festivities, these are the very best moments of all.

Morning coffee on the porch, everyone greeting the day slow, groggy-eyed holding warm mugs and snuggling.

Brothers bent over tackle box.

Auntie feeding nephew.

His little round tummy and bright happy eyes.

Sisters in a row, catching up and catching wind in their hair.

Sibling date (sans our kids!) in the town of Watkins Glen, getting pizza and Ben & Jerry’s and the most delightful little yarn store.

Walking the marina together.

Tubing and wakeboarding and running the boat until it ran dry.

Campfire gatherings in the evening, knitting and talking and playing guitar.

Squirt guns and barefoot bike rides and bubbles.

The boy coloring all over his body and face during nap time, “Line Man” as daddy declared him.

Mom and Dad stealing away for a tandem kayak in the whipping sun and wind.

Nap time watercolor quiet.

All the babies sleeping soundly under quilts.

Early morning glory in the sky and last sunsets set aflame with 4th of July fireworks.

All this glory, all these holy ordinary moments, hemmed in by sunrises and sunsets.  Morning and evening, days ticking by, and us trying to squeeze from them every last drop, us trying to savor this never-to-be-repeated now.  These are the very best moments of all, the ones we almost miss, the ones we pass over.  It’s all good, but these are my favorite.

(Other trip posts here, here, and here.)

 

new things

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I wound my first skein of yarn by hand into a ball and could finally cast onto my first shawl!  This yarn is truly dreamy to knit with, as so many others have said, but I’m not sure I’m crazy about the colorway.  I’ll see what I think when I finish up.  In some light, it reminds me of the ocean on a gray day, or of Phoebe’s little sleepy eyes, which makes me love it.  I finished up a little baby hat this week in that gorgeous super soft deep pink yarn.

Philippa has been really into pointing out all the “no-no’s” this week, walking around (or climbing on my desk) and pointing and asking, “no-no?”  As if she doesn’t know.  She is definitely going to be our craziest little one so far.  Last night after I pulled her out of her chair after dinner, I took off her pants which were covered with food.  Normally we bathe the kids right after dinner.  I was going to let her wander for a minute while I finished eating and next thing I know I see her naked bum walking around carrying her cloth diaper in the other hand.  She yelled “da-tye!” (bath time) and went running and squealing for the bathroom as I chased her.  She is hilarious and I have NO idea how she got her diaper off.  She is into everything, and she loves throwing laundry in the toilet.  Sigh.

The kids and I tidied up the backyard and the sandbox this morning, resurrecting it.  Phoebe is pretty excited about it being mud pie season again and I hope to add a few more things to her outdoors kitchen.  These past few days have been warm and sunny in NC and even though I didn’t think I was ready to see winter go, these warm days are so pleasant that I’m starting to dream up little spring projects for us.  Philippa loves being in the backyard and is content in the sandbox for quite a while.  We might see some snow again this week, but we’ll enjoy whatever we get, whether sun or snow or just drizzly cold.  It’s all a season, it all comes and goes, and each day bears its own gift and its own rub.

We met with a new nutritionist for Phoebe last night, a specialist in our area for Celiacs.  It was probably the first time I’ve felt like we really have an advocate who is able to help us, who is knowledgeable, compassionate, practical, and seems to really care.  We’ve met with a few others, and this was the first time it felt right.  After looking at what Phoebe is getting calorically per day, she was pretty mystified as to why her weight is dropping, even after 6 months on a gluten-free diet.  In some ways that made me feel better, but it also concerned me.  We should see and hope to see growth SOON.  One thing I really appreciated was the fat folder of resources she gave me for local restaurants with details about each one, best grocery resources, flour recipes, coupons, etc.  She encouraged us to give up oats for the next 6 months as there has been controversy recently on the processing of oats and unintended cross-contamination.  We also talked about trying to diversify the grains Phoebe is eating beyond mostly rice products, so I’m really excited to have some recipes to play around with millet, sorghum, amaranth, and some bean flours which are new to me.  I keep taking it a step at a time, a couple new changes at a time, which saves my sanity and makes it more manageable.

This week has felt like the first hints of spring, and I have told the kids to be looking for the very first buds on the branches.  Whoever spots them first will get a little treat of some sort, so they have been looking every day.

 

winter rains + change

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Last week was a terribly busy and stressful week with more doctor appointments than I care to recall.  Everyone here is okay, just some appointments following up on Phoebe’s growth and progress since her diagnosis, a first-time visit to a brand new support group for kids with Celiacs, and some appointments for myself.  I had heart surgery a number of years ago, and have been mostly doing fine, but lately have had an increase in palpitations/skipped beats, so I’m following up on it and wearing a heart monitor for the next month (its so fun to be a tangle of wires).  It was strangely gratifying to have the doctor tell me it’s probably mostly the fact that I have three kids five and under.  Sleep deprivation and stress can do crazy things to a person!

A drizzly cold rain is spitting outside as I type this over a steaming mug of tea.  Every day it seems we hear more and more birds singing, and February is nearly over.  We try to get outside and run and explore as much as we can.  Spring is on its way, though I can’t say I love spring as much as I do winter.  I am still hoping for one more good snow in March!  In fact Phoebe dressed all in white the other day and told me she was a snowflake and then proceeded to chant “We want snow to come our way” all morning.  God gives special attention to the prayers of a child, right? 😉  I don’t want to let go of the early mornings huddled around the fire, everyone gathered over books, tangled hair and blankets.

We went to SC over the weekend to help Brandon’s parents do some work on their house to get it ready to sell.  While the guys worked outside all weekend, my mother-in-law, kids and I spent time together inside and out exploring some nearby parks.  We are always grateful for time with them and that they offered to pay Brandon for the work, which is unnecessary but a huge blessing to us in this season where finances are tighter than ever.

In other random news, Phoebe had her first loose tooth last week.  She got up from nap one day with a terrified expression, like she thought she would be in trouble, and announced that she wouldn’t be sucking her fingers anymore because her tooth felt uncomfortable.  All week she tilted her head to the side while she chewed (it is her front bottom tooth) and yesterday morning during breakfast, it just came right out.  I think she was surprised that it really didn’t hurt!  She had a note and $1 from the tooth fairy in the morning, which she promptly put in her little wallet.  Noah thinks the whole thing is so cool and he can’t wait for his teeth to fall out.

Meanwhile, Philippa has been getting molars and has been miserable the past few days.  Also, I have begun officially weaning her.  She nurses only in the morning and at night before bed, but because of some of my own health reasons, I need to wean her.  I’ve been delaying it because she still loves it and so do I.  I kept hoping she would sort of lose interest.  She cried pitifully for it this morning and I nearly caved, but it’s one of those times that necessity must rule over emotion.  I will hold onto the night feeding a little longer and then in a few weeks we will both have to let go.  I have loved nursing my babies so much, and I never know if God will choose to give us another, but I have also been nursing and pregnant nonstop for the past six years and my body is letting me know it needs a rest.  If it was up to me I would probably hold onto these years forever, but God finds a way to help us let go, even when our fingers have to pried off of the thing.

I love being a mother so much, I count this the most privileged work of my life.  I hate the letting go parts that come with it, and I know I will fight it at every stage.

I’m so thankful that in it all, all the changes I don’t love, my God remains changeless.  I love that the same words that soothe my soul and bring me peace and comfort are the words that have comforted and satisfied countless thousands of others for hundreds of years.  Changeless.

When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
(Psalm 61:2 ASV)