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.

settling back in

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I love being home.  Our family trip to upstate New York was fun and restful in some ways, chaotic and exhausting in others, but regardless, it is always so nice to come home.  When we drove in from NY on a Monday afternoon, Brandon had about two hours to quickly unpack and then repack before his flight left for a week-long work trip in California.  So, even though we had a week back at home, it didn’t quite fully feel like we were “back to normal” without Brandon around.

This past week it was good to get back into our usual rhythms.  I’ve noticed that I don’t quite feel settled into a place until I’ve been cooking or baking in it.  Making that first loaf of homemade (gluten-free) bread and filling the house with that smell feels like coming home.  I was busy this past week making gelatin gummies for the kids, a big batch of granola for Brandon and I, bread and “snack bars” galore.  Phoebe has stopped eating her usual Lara Bar snack in the mornings and so I scramble to find something she will eat in place of it.  She is pretty limited with what she will snack on and we are trying so desperately to increase her caloric intake, so for her to drop a favored food always sends me back to the drawing board and results in lots of receipe testing.

Our days have been simple.  The weather has been roasting hot and humid (ugh), and the kids have still been busy outside, coming in with cheeks flushed with heat.  I don’t love summer, but I try to make the best of it.  Picking blueberries and flowers from local farmstands, and savoring the daily afternoon thunderstorms helps me endure it.  Our little porch garden hasn’t done very well, and I miss having the larger plot we had at our last rental.  Sigh.  Dreams for the future.  Yesterday we had a really informal “half-birthday” party for Phoebe and Noah at my parent’s neighborhood pool with their favorite little pals.  I didn’t snap any pictures (gasp!) but it was fun all the same.  Their half-birthday was really back in June (20th and 23rd) so when you celebrate the half-birthday late, what on earth do you call it?  It was such a treat for the kids, though, who often find it hard to have a party with their friends around their birthdays (which are the week of Christmas).  It was fun for me, too, to see the children playing and swimming together and gather with some of my favorite friends.

I’ve been busy finishing up a few knitted projects.  My brother and sister-in-law brought back some yarn from Iceland for my birthday and I knitted some slippers for myself with one ball of it.  I’ve tucked them away for winter but I’m already longing for those first cool wisps of fall air.  I also finished up the Antartkis shawl that I made for a lady I used to babysit for back in my high school days.  It was what I solely worked on during our trip to NY so I was able to finish it fairly quickly (for me) and she picked it up this week.  I loved knitting it, especially since there was no purling and it was a really simple/easy pattern and yet still interesting.  When I’m knitting something I grow attached to it in some way, all that time spent fingering the yarn and bent over it with concentration and enjoyment.  It’s hard to give it away or to attach value to it, but also such a sweet thing to be able to make something special with my hands for someone else!

Phoebe’s homeschool co-op begins in about a month (!!!!!) and so my mind is shifting to all the projects around the house and all my piles of clutter and unfinished business that I hope to have organized before our first year of school begins.  A friend has offered to give us a couple of twin beds for the kids, and so I think we’ll be rearranging bedrooms for the children.  I’m craving a major house purge.  I’m hoping to organize my desk area and clear out a little space that can be for schooling.  I’m also hoping to squeeze in a camping trip with some friends before school begins, too.  It feels way too soon to be talking about our first child going to school, and the sentimental part of me is resisting this big change, even though I’m super excited to begin, too.  So many books to read!  Curriculum still to pick out!  School supplies!  House projects!  And still, to fit in time to read long snuggled with children on the couch, to stay up late for fireflies and late evening walks.  I want to hurry through summer because fall is my favorite, but also am so mindful that this is our last summer EVER before our lives begin to revolve around school, and so I want to enjoy each muggy, buggy day.

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.)

 

origins

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These are among some of my favorite pictures from our New York trip.  What special times they were, filled with a lot of significance for this family.  One of the goals for our trip was to see Brandon’s family’s roots, the places where his parents grew up and met, the schools and streets they walked, the trails they frequented.  Many of these places are also the soil for Brandon’s earliest and happiest memories.  For years I have heard stories of all of these places–what a thing to be able to visit them and to watch the next generation running through these familiar fields.

So one day of our trip we spent hiking Watkins Glen State Park right by Seneca Lake, climbing through the moody canyon.  The pictures speak for themselves, don’t they?  It was gorgeous and when we finished a huge downpour threatened to fall, so we made it out in perfect time.

Another day we drove to Breesport, NY and drove through the rolling country roads to the big yellow house where they spent their first years as a family, caretaking for a big abandoned asylum.  This house holds some of their happiest days, the house with the pond and a white duck named Ellen, who came when Brandon’s dad would call and laid eggs for their family to eat.  The swing set they played on and the sloping hill that is perfect for sledding.  From there we went onto Elmira, seeing Brandon’s grandparent’s home, visiting with them there, walking the grassy trail behind their house to the creek they caught crawdads and splashed in.

I count us fortunate to have been able to see and share these places with Brandon’s parents and grandparents while we still can!

a love worth traveling miles for

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As the shadows lengthened, we left the party and took the kids to a nearby little amusement park, just perfect for them.  They’ve never experienced anything like that, so they were filled with glee running from ride to ride with their tickets.  Philippa was obsessed with the “ore-sees” (horsey’s) on the merry-go-round and probably rode it several times over, eventually realizing the ticket was her way in, and just walking up to the gate with a ticket and waiting there until the attendant saw her.  They all loved it and every day after Phoebe and Noah asked me if we could go back.

arriving

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Earlier in the year Brandon’s parents began talking to us about a family trip to upstate New York (where they are originally from) to surprise Brandon’s grandparents for their 60th wedding anniversary.  We were really excited because 60 years of marriage is a huge accomplishment and worth the long haul to gather and celebrate.  Also, we looked forward to seeing all of Brandon’s roots and having some time together as a family.  Brandon’s dad offered to rent a large home on Seneca Lake that would house us all.  Since it is about a 12-hour drive from home, we decided to split it up into two day chunks.  The first day we drove (and by “we” I mean Brandon.  He let me knit the whole way!) to Luray, Virginia, met up with everyone (Brandon’s parents, brother + wife + baby, and sister) and did a fun tour of Luray Caverns.  We spent the night there, got up early and headed to Seneca Lake.  Isn’t it gorgeous countryside?

The home Dad rented was just perfect.  Absolutely beautiful and with an incredible sunrise view every morning, tucked away at the very end of a laneway situation behind a hops farm.  The kids had been anticipating this for weeks and were nearly beside themselves with excitement to spend a whole week with Baba + Nain (Brandon’s parents) at a lake!  After we arrived, we unloaded and promptly deep-cleaned the entire kitchen (making it a gluten-free celiac safe-zone for our Phoebe girl, such a gift to us!), the kids were out on the water.  Brandon took them all out for a paddle boat ride, and then Phoebe wanted to upgrade to a tandem kayak with Baba before deciding she would just manage her own little boat.  She is pretty amazing in the water, fearless and quick to learn.

The next morning Brandon was trying to sneak out of our room at the crazy hour of 4:45 or something.  He couldn’t wait to go fishing.  I crept out after him and literally gasped when I looked out toward the dock and saw the sun swelling up just ready to burst over the horizon.  I grabbed my camera and nearly ran out to get pictures and take it in.  It was so serene and stunning, we couldn’t help but get up at least by 5 am every morning to catch each sunrise.  It’s dumb, I’m sure–we should have been sleeping in on vacation–but we don’t get to see that kind of glory every day and in our minds, it was worth it.  Every day boasted a different sky, each sunrise and sunset entirely new.  It was pretty incredible and I relished the early morning quiet, reading, sipping coffee, knitting to the quiet sounds of the lake.

summer getaway

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We’re heading out of town so the blog will be quiet for a week or so, most likely!  We have a long drive ahead of us and a week by a quiet lake to look forward to, gathered close with family.  I’m looking forward to laughter, snuggles, sleeping a little later, having uninterrupted time with Brandon, reading, knitting, journaling, and reconnecting with loved ones!  Share all about it with you guys soon. ❤  Until then, happy summering in your corner of the world.

setbacks

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It’s been hot here this week, at least in my opinion.  I’m a big baby when it comes to heat.  We’re keeping a little kiddie pool filled on our porch for the kids to play in and cool off, which they often swim in in their undies and then run around the yard like little wild indians.  We try not to appear too white-trash but sometimes you do what you must to keep kids outdoors and away from screens while it’s hot and humid.

June has been sort of up and down.  My brother and his new bride came for a visit early in the month after their honeymoon to Iceland, and we had a blast soaking up as much time with them as we could during that weekend.  Phoebe is quite attached to her new auntie.

I took Phoebe for a weigh-in recently and found she had lost a little more weight and her BMI has dropped again from 7% to 4%.  I know overall since her diagnosis we have seen her gain about 5 pounds and gain a few inches in height, but the fact that she keeps gaining and losing and not having the kind of “catch-up” recovery that the research suggests she should has me worried.  We’ve been keeping a food journal the last week and going over her caloric intake with her nutritionist and she believes we should try and get another 400 calories per day into Phoebe.  That’s NO SMALL FEAT, I tell you.  It’s hard not to be discouraged and to feel like we are facing impossibilities.  It’s hard to not grow weary in this work and throw my hands up in frustration.  But sometimes you go on simply because you just have no other option.  This is the hand that has been given us, and this is the work the Lord has given in this season.  It makes me fall on my face a lot, yet I can see so much good in it all, even though I find my soul complaining often.  Some days are good and we feel strong and capable, other days the fear rages and the weariness threatens.  I have learned to be honest with the Lord and to just walk with Him in it all.  I cannot tell you what a comfort the Psalms have been to me in this season.  I am listening to them constantly on Sandra Maccracken’s new cd Psalms and also Shane and Shane’s Psalms, Vol. 2.  I’m reading them daily in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus.  I cannot tell you how often I don’t have words, yet the Psalms somehow impart them and pull the words out of my soul in prayer to God.  His Word is like oxygen to me.  We press on in hope and trust.

I’ve been helped by Sara Groves’ words in this video as she shares some about her struggle with depression and anxiety, specifically her question “What is the Gospel that saves me?”  When the anxiety builds, I come back to this.  What is the Gospel that saves me?  Health?  Ease?  A thriving child?  These things are legitimate longings of my heart, but will my soul survive if God doesn’t give these things?  At the end of the day, my hope isn’t in a certain result, it can’t be, because that is a frail hope.  At the end of the day, my hope must be in Jesus and the promise of a secure future with Him no matter what comes on this green earth, a future where He will finally heal all disease and right all wrongs.  I am beginning to understand Jonathon Edwards’ plea: “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.”  If I can shift my perspective, usually my view of the present changes and I am able to find my way through.

By the end of the summer if we haven’t seen considerable growth in Phoebe, our nutritionist is recommending we seek a second opinion by a pediatric celiac specialist, which will entail some travel to either Georgia, Boston, or Chicago.  Pray with me for growth?  And for wisdom and endurance in the journey.

In other random bits and pieces of news, I’ve been taking a few photos for my dad and husband’s building and remodeling company for their website and also to make a little extra income.  We were out snapping pictures of a gorgeous deck they built recently, and the kids were happy to see daddy and what he was working on.  I had to snip off my little Noah-man’s beautiful curls this morning.  He needed a bit less hair in all this summer heat, and I needed to see his eyes again.  I don’t do a terribly great job, but at least it’s free and he doesn’t mind my imperfect cuts.

I still love June, even with all of its ups and downs.

when you feel like it all depends on you

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There seems to be a magic to these longer June evenings, where the light stretches long and we let the kids stay up a little later just to savor it.  This is our last summer before we start schooling, and it is sobering a little.  I was reminded earlier this week that we only have 18 summers with our children.  I only have 13 left with Phoebe.  I read these words by Ann Voskamp earlier this week and brim with tears.  Soon I will be on the other side of all of these busy childrearing years.  And so I make plans and ideas to really enjoy this summer together, most of them simple.  And the laundry overflows, the bills pile, the decisions need to be made, and the headlines scream news that breaks my heart and makes me feel helpless.

And we have dinner together as we usually do, and I laugh as I look over to see Noah pushing buttons on his pretend phone.  We have a “no phones at the table” rule, we remind him with twinkling eyes.  He says he is “just checking the Bible,” already wise to the powers of persuasion.

They bathe and get in their jammies, and then beg us to go out for a walk.  We relent, and I grab my camera as we head out the door.  Phoebe carries a bucket to collect her treasures (whatever flowers, pinecones, and leaves that catch her eye).  We head down to our little neighborhood lake to check on the new baby goslings, and are happy to see momma duck and all 8 of her ducklings.  We tell the kids to sit down and be quiet so we don’t scare them away and much to our surprise, momma duck brings all her babies right up the hillside to us.  They are peeping quietly and pecking around on the road and then promptly head back to the water.  It is such a sweet moment, all the children hushed in wonder.  It is as if momma duck wanted to show off all her babies to us.  This will be our third summer in this neighborhood and the first time there has been so much wildlife at the lake.  It provides a lot of opportunities to teach and observe and then go find library books and explore topics and questions further.

And I quiet my soul and praise God for the way He provides perspective.  My soul hungers for wilderness places, even ones as tame as our little lake, because I remember, I see again.  Getting up into the high places far from the noise of machines and man, as my husband and I did recently, gives perspective.  I see the city and houses lying far below, tucked into the hillside and valleys and I wonder at God’s perspective.  How small we all are!  How tiny our little homes and streets and lights and city buildings!  In the grand wide world, smaller still.  But then to get knees down in the dirt of my own plot of ground and wonder at how much is going on here without my involvement or help or notice — fiddleheads unfurling, birds finding food and shelter, trees growing leaves again, bees pollinating, ducklings hatching.  What a vast bounty is here, teaching me of the abundance of God through the incredible diversity and variety of creation.  The species of trees and flowers that I cannot even name or identify, the rain that falls on the mountain peaks dripping through the mossy ground into springs that form streams of water cutting down the valley and crevices, nurturing it all, slowly finding its way into my kitchen sink.

God is above it all.  God looks on it all.  God sustains it all.  God does not need my help in order to accomplish it all.  This land is a loud song of His abundance.  His creativity.  His ability.  His goodness.  His control + sovereignty.

This land is a loud song of my smallness.
My dependency.
My limitations.
My frailty.
My humility.

These are good things to remember.

And maybe you need to remember, too.  Even a small walk in your neighborhood or a nearby trail with the intent of noticing the small things, the hidden things that are growing and living without a hint of your involvement, can be helpful.  It can help loose the tight bonds of worry and fear and self-sufficiency, to a joyful restful dependency on a good God.

The laundry, the gritty floors, the decisions, the finances, the needs and the headlines: it all matters, and I am responsible to be a faithful with what He gives me, busy working.  But He holds me together.  It is all falling apart, but He holds me together.  He holds you together.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
 who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

 To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
    and because he is strong in power
    not one is missing.

 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:21-31

 

first gifts of summer

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The days are heating up, thunder rumbles across our skies most afternoons.  We bend and obey the weather, spending our time outside in the cool early mornings, hunkering down after lunch for naps and quiet and stormy weather.  The city markets in Asheville are opening again, and Phoebe requested that we buy a big bucket of fresh strawberries at the last one we went to.  They really were the best strawberries we’ve ever had, and she’s eaten handfuls every day.  We made these grain-free strawberry shortcakes together for dessert with whipped coconut milk.  All my kids love helping in the kitchen, and I’ve been trying to once again make more of an effort to let them help more, especially Phoebe as the oldest.  Both she and Noah are learning to handle a knife and chop things with me assisting, of course.  She’s been asking for a french braid every day pretty much, and she is asking often for me to “picture” this or that.  She really likes to put on a super cheesy grin for the camera, while I prefer catching the more candid moments.  Maybe the phase will pass.

We also made our first round of popsicles, just blending yogurt, honey, fresh strawberries, and a little bit of flaxseed.  We dropped a few blueberries and chopped chocolate chips in, too, for fun.  We bought these BPA-free molds last summer and used them almost weekly.  We pulled out our little plastic pool from the garage and filled it up for the first time the same day my parent’s neighborhood pool opened.  So, pool days are officially here and we are thankful!  It’s not terribly relaxing for me to take them to the pool but it is maybe the best way to endure the muggy heat of the summer and still have the kids outside for part of the day.

I scribbled down a bunch of family plans and goals for the summer, things I want to make and do with the kids, parts of the yard and house I would like to organize and tidy and rearrange as we start to prepare for homeschooling this fall.  I realized I don’t do very many crafts with the kids, and I’d like to have a space with craft supplies and maybe attempt a once-weekly craft time with them, at least.  We play a lot outside, read a ton, and they are often imaginative and having unstructured play time, but children just love doing crafts, having mommy’s full attention and getting to make a mess and create something beautiful at the same time.  I’m checking this book out from the library for some inspiration.  And I’m taking them to story time for preschoolers at the library, which has music and craft time.  I should probably have been doing it sooner, we went this past week and all had such a fun time.  I made this incredible granola this past week (per Alicia’s recommendation), needing a cold summer breakfast option since Brandon and I both are a bit tired of eggs and pancakes, alternatively.  I forgot how much I love having a good granola on hand, and this one is so simple and fast to make with a very small ingredient list.  I think we’ll be living off of it this summer.

Last weekend we drove up to Balsam Mountain on the Parkway to visit one of my best friends from college and her family.  They live in TN and whenever we come close by one another we do our best to sneak in a visit.  They were camping for the weekend there, and we wanted to join them but just didn’t pull things together in time so we went for the day on Saturday instead.  What a treat it is to see our kids play together, and just to be outside together by a campfire, snacking, catching up and laughing.  When Brandon and I were first married and moved out to Colorado, they moved out also to a nearby town and some of our best memories were sharing times with them there.  I told Mary in a text later how much these brief hang outs make me ache to live closer to them.  When we left, we saw an elk on the roadside, and a few wild turkeys as well.

These are the early gifts of summer.  The first fruit from the vine, the gathering with friends, campfires and pools and the hopes and dreams for these sunny warm days.  Our last summer before school begins and we transition into a new season of family life.