July things + Deer Mouse vs. The World

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It is Friday and another summer week has flown by.  As I type, a half-drunk mug of tea sits besides me, thunder rumbles low in the distance while rain patters on outside.  In all my grumbling about summer, the heat, and how deflated it makes me feel, I am reminded of the many things I do really cherish about summer.  There are few things as lovely as a summer storm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I treasure their almost-daily predictability and the coziness and reprieve they lend to the hot days.  I am grateful for the produce of the garden, though it has reached the unruly stage where I feel like a gardening failure every time I step foot in it.  It’s only because I can’t keep up with it and manage it perfectly, but really, is that what defines a good gardener? Perfection?  Hardly.  We are still harvesting good food for our table with enough to share, and that is a blessing and a sweetness I always miss come cooler weather.  I savor the long bright days where children can play well after dinner outside and we can enjoy late walks in the cool of the day.  I’m especially grateful for the shift in our schedule, the setting aside of our formal school work and the embracing of the quieter rhythm of learning by inspiration.  My mind so needs the break from the churn of teaching, planning, executing, analyzing, and the children do also.  Lately they’ve been “playing school” and admitting that they are missing it, and it’s always important for them to experience that, I think.  I was reminded at a homeschool conference I attended recently that our brains are able to receive and connect concepts best in our REST.  Over the summer our little children’s minds are marinating the concepts we have taught.  So many concepts click and seem far easier when we pick up our school books again come Fall.

So, those are some of the really wonderful enjoyable parts of summer.  Picnics on the parkway, muggy hikes, the way we cherish a breeze.  Pool visits weekly, farmers markets.  So many things really, why do I complain?  But the truth remains that I am a winter girl through and through, and the best part of summer is the anticipating of fall, the turn, the cozy evenings, the camping, the daily fires, the hot stews and soups, the opening of school books, and all such loveliness.  I feel more inspired/creative in those seasons, more myself.

I don’t often enroll my children in activities mostly because of cost and secondly because of my own need to keep a simple and open schedule.  I am content to keep our running around to a minimum.  However, as our children grow, they need all sorts of experience and enrichment, don’t they?  We mothers will stretch ourselves so far and wide for these little ones we love so much.  So this summer has been busier with activity than normal, and that has been good.  I am feeling the adjustment of children who are getting older and needing different things, outlets and experiences beyond what I can provide at home.  And I do believe we will be introducing more activity this fall, though I will still fight to keep it simple and manageable for myself.

Phoebe spent last week in Drama Camp and finished the week performing in her very first play.  It was truly so special.  She is much braver than her mom!  She played the part of “the farmer” in “Deer Mouse Vs. The World.”  When she was ready to say her first line on stage, she took a big breath with a grin on her face like for a second she was overwhelmed with joy, nerves and excitement.  I held my breath, too, wondering if she would freeze or forget her lines, but she dove right in and did such a great job.  I am so proud of her and marvel at the way she is changing, growing up, transforming right before my eyes.  I can’t help but miss the little Phoebe she used to be but also feel so much joy and excitement about the stage we are in and what lies just ahead of us.  Motherhood stretches us in incredible ways, doesn’t it?  Always, this capacity to increase, to rise to the next challenge, to expand and make more room, to go farther than we thought we could. Always, this holding of our breath as our child takes a new “first step” and we watch them soar.

yarn along

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The skies are brooding, ready to open up any minute.  I am just sitting down with a cup of afternoon coffee, which I never ordinarily make, but after a busy morning running errands and sitting for 2.5 hrs (!!) in eye appointments for the children and then hurriedly mowing the lawn for the last couple of hours before we have a few days of heavy rain… I think I’ve earned it. 🙂

Yesterday I took the kids to the Greenville Zoo for a fun day trip before we picked up my parents from the airport in Greenville.  It was a super fun day but no naps were had by all and today the house is quiet and hopefully the younger babies sleep and we have a more peaceful afternoon.

I finished the test knit hat for Noah and you can see finished photos of it on instagram or ravelry.  I’m making more headway now on Wren’s like sleeves top, beginning on the front/bodice portion of it.  It is so lovely to knit with Cestari, even if it is primarily cotton.  This yarn is super soft and just so soothing moving through my fingers.

I just ordered the book Devoted by Tim Challies (affiliate link) with some birthday money and am excited to start it.  It’s a small book about the lives of the mothers of some of the most influential theologians and men of faith in history, and I’m curious and hungry for the mothering tune-up I so need.  I feel the need regularly to immerse myself in books that sharpen, encourage, and shape me as a mom since this is probably the most impactful and important work I will ever give myself to.  Still have a few other books on the go as well.

Anything good that you’re reading or working on lately?

Joining with Nicole’s weekly Crafting On and Ginny’s yarn along.

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.

yarn along

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I’ve been knitting this baby blanket for our little girl, coming the last week of February.  I’m not a great lace knitter, I don’t think, in that I don’t really have much practice knitting from charts and in order to follow of line of instructions I really need total focus.  I’m not to the point where I can memorize lace.  Thus, I must have quiet to work on this blanket!  Sometimes I can do more mindless knitting while I do school with Phoebe.  This project is something I can only work on when the kids are in bed at night and I’m not watching something I’m terribly interested in.  That being said, I absolutely love working on it and wish I had bigger chunks of time to do so!  I am adding one extra lace repeat on the side and bottom to make the blanket a bit bigger.  I already love how it’s looking and can’t wait to see it block out when it’s done.  Knitting with Quince & Co. is always a treat!  (Brandon graciously let me indulge on yarn for this project.)

I’m reading A Circle of Quiet for the first time.  Just a few pages in, really, but enjoying and commiserating with her reflections on motherhood and creativity.  Often find myself craving my own little circle of quiet.  These days, even though I attempt to rise earlier than the kids, Philippa’s little ears seem to hear my coffee brewing on the stove and she always creeps out with tousled hair to snuggle with me in the dark while I read.  So few moments truly quiet + alone.  I ache to spend more time writing, as I used to, but feel like there is so little time in these busy days, and my brain is going in so many directions that the work of focus has become quite a labor.  I know that there are seasons of producing in our lives and also seasons where seeds are lying dormant in the soil doing the necessary work of waiting in the dark.  Good things will grow eventually, and we must be patient with the process and not always ancy for the fruit.  Each day and season has its own gifts to be enjoyed and thorns to handle.

Linking up with Nicole’s weekly Crafting On.
Affiliate links included.

yarn along

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I cast on the Antarktis shawl for my mom in Fibre Co. yarn meadow, color way Bergamot. Ive wanted to knit with this yarn since seeing Ginny Sheller’s shawl last year, and my mom happened to pick the same pattern, so that is fun!  It’s my second time knitting this pattern and its fun to see how much I’ve grown in my knitting since the last year.  I’m really enjoying this knit and the yarn is just perfection.  Super soft and airy, yet rustic.

I finished From Good to Grace last week and loved it to the very end.  Its one of those that feels like it was written just for me.  This one, Mere Motherhood, is deeply engrossing.  I have a hard time putting it down when I do find a few minutes to read before bed.  She’s a bit rougher around the edges than I expected, and I’m curious to see where the book goes.  I love memoirs.  The kids and I have done something similar to her “morning time” in the past and I’m curious to implement something a bit more in-depth this next school year.

What are you reading or making lately?

Joining up with Nicole of Frontier Dreams’ weekly Crafting On.
Affiliate links included.

long days of small things

In order to find God it is perhaps not always necessary to leave the creatures behind…The world is crowded with Him…
The real labor is to remember, to attend.
In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.
C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

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Yesterday I woke up to the laughter and squall of children in the room next to mine.  The day began in the rush and hurry of need and hungry tummies.  I normally try to get up before the children, but I had been struggling with sleeplessness and a bout of anxiety in the middle of the night and slept fitfully.  My plans for the morning were interrupted by an unexpected trip to the doctors office to check on one child who woke up with pink eye in both eyes, then running to pick up a prescription and grab a few groceries before heading home.  It was afternoon before I breathed a breath of prayer to God and realized I had completely missed my time with Him in the morning.  My soul instantly cringed–how could it have been nearly all day before I even remembered God?  Then came the familiar rush of guilt with a dose of self-hatred to boot.  All this soul amnesia.  I shake my head as I wash the dishes.

Last November I retreated away to a hermitage a few hours from here.  I went alone for the weekend, Brandon had offered to keep the kiddos.  Motherhood and the constant presence of people all looking to me with their pressing needs–it can wear an introvert out.  It can wear any person out, I’m sure!  We need to pay attention to our souls, we must take small breaks, place spaces in our calendars, slip away when we can to refuel.  We need silence, we need reflection, we need sleep and solitude.  That weekend was glorious.  The cabin was perfectly cozy at the very tip top of a mountain.  I kept my journal open and wrote endlessly, read the scriptures and studied, read other books, knitted without interruption, went for walks in the woods, cooked simple meals, rested, worshipped, prayed.  It took me almost the whole weekend to really relax and unwind, and I realized how tightly wound motherhood had made me, along with the added role of care taking for phoebe.  All of the worry and strain, the financial burden, the roller coaster of her improvement and decline.  I needed that time away, so I could reenter the fray with renewed energy and focus and love.  I needed time to seek God in the quiet, as I used to in my days before children.  I needed uninterrupted time alone with Him to hear from Him.

If only we could have these times whenever we need them.  If only we could guarantee some respite, rest, and silence throughout the year, then we could seek God as we desire to, as we think we should.  And I do believe times of refreshing will come, pockets of rest.

However, when we would flee difficulties in motherhood, most of the time God would have us press in.  Where we would avoid and escape, He has us pick back up, day and night.  Motherhood is so constant, endless, around the clock, with needs that can simply swallow us whole.  Our souls can cry out–

“Oh, that I had wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee away and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
(Psalm 55:6-8)

We think we will find relief in escape, in a break–a sometimes we do.  But is it good for us to set our eyes on the next break on the horizon and survive until then hanging on by our toenails?  Beyond that–can we only find God in our escapes, our breaks, in the quiet place of refuge?

Or could He possibly have treasures for us right in the maelstrom of motherhood, right in the trenches of it?  Must we wait for Him on the sidelines of life–sidelined by little people and their needs–or can we have Him right here to the full in a way we never expected or anticipated before?

Could pressing in and finding Him in the weary work–could this possibly be the point?  The thing He wants us to learn, the muscle He wants to strengthen?  Of course its far easier to find Him in the quiet place of refuge.  But if we can’t find that quiet place of refuge, do we wave the white flag of defeat and turn our hearts off to God until we can have a moment alone?  Or can we find a way to God in the very mundane, simple, undervalued work/tasks of motherhood?

Could the tasks turn out to be a path to God?

What if the very practice of mothering and doing the work of motherhood–washing the dishes, feeding the hungry mouths, wiping the bottoms, folding the laundry, teaching, admonishing, disciplining, training, guiding–could these things possibly be a spiritual discipline of sorts, leading us to know God, experience Him, enjoy Him in a way we never could or would choose otherwise?  Could there be treasures here for us–right here in this season–that we’ll miss if we shut down and vow to hold on until the crazy ride is over?

What if God is not only found in the lofty theological ivory towers, the seminary classroom, the pew, the sanctuary, the prayer closet, the monastery–but here, scrubbing the floor around a toilet.
Here, chopping onions and carrots.
Here, holding a feverish child.
Here, in the pickup lane at school.
Here, singing a hymn over a sleepless child.
Here, organizing shelves, stacking piles.
Here, in the rush-hour traffic home from work.
Here, in the weary waking hours.

What if we could find God in the ordinary work of motherhood rather than trying to fit our old habits and disciplines into this new rhythm–which for most of us feels cramped, incompatible, impossible.

Is it possible in this season of little ones to be both a good mother and to keep close company with God?

This is what is addressed in Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.  This book exceeded my expectations.  I was a bit afraid it would be another moany-groany book about motherhood without being terribly helpful.  Instead, it was honest.  Real.  Insightful.  Provocative.  Thoughtful.  Helpful.  It addressed our great hunger for God, our desire to know Him, our frustration with all the things that seem to work against us and keep us from Him.  She ends each chapter with a practice, tangible things to anchor us to God throughout the day.  Things like our breath:

“Inhale deeply and realize you are breathing in God’s unfailing love.  Exhale and release into his unceasing presence.  Suddenly, breathing–your easiest daily accomplishment–is an act of worship, meditation, and prayer.” (McNiel, p. 12)

Without adding a burden of more tasks to our schedule, McNiel helps us to find God in each of the tasks we already perform daily, and do them as unto the Lord.  Like walking, eating and drinking, cooking, household tasks, sleepless nights, pregnancy, diapers, breastfeeding, to name a few.

McNiel commiserates without sounding whiney, encourages and exhorts without loading on a heavy burden of guilt.  She feels like a true companion in this journey of motherhood, someone who understands its complexities and enjoys them, glory, grit and all, because of the way they point us to God.

I devoured this book, crying over sections of it, marking up nearly every page, returning to it over and over, savoring it.  It is one I will need to reread more than a few times, I believe.

If you are a mother afraid you might be missing out on some great spiritual life because of your busy role as mother–maybe this book is for you.  If you ever feel a bit like you can’t breathe under the pressing weight of this season, a bit like you can’t breathe–Maybe this is one to ask for for Mother’s Day?

*

Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
Affiliate links included in this post.

 

 

 

yarn along

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I know I said I wouldn’t cast on anything until I finished birthday sweaters, but Phoebe’s sweater has gotten to such a size as to be difficult to take on-the-go, so I simply *had* to have a smaller project on the needles in the meantime.  I cast on these fingerless mitts on Sunday and have already almost finished the first one.  It is a very therapeutic knit for me, and I have loved the pattern!  I am using some of Ginny’s own indigo-dyed yarn, a merino sport weight, which I bought back in the summer and have been dying to use.  I’m still learning a lot about pairing which yarns with which patterns, and how different fibers behave, so I’m not always confident in my choices.  But this is how one learns, I suppose!  I am so happy to be knitting with Ginny’s yarn at last, it is truly beautiful and I love the subtle variations in color.

I finished Falling Free last night and began Missional Motherhood, which I bought with some birthday money back in June.  I will review Falling Free soon (spoiler alert: go buy it.  LOVE.) but Missional Motherhood is one I am reading just for pleasure, because I will read everything Gloria Furman writes, for all of time.  I’m enjoying it already, only a couple of chapters in.  I feel like I need a “mothering” tune-up of sorts, a refocusing, every few months (at least), as this is my full-time and most important work.  I know I can trust Gloria to offer that.  She is impeccable at bringing heady theology down into the nitty gritty mundane of our everyday lives.

I’m joining up with Ginny’s weekly yarn along today.

Affiliate links included in this post.