Summer : August

All across the state the sunflowers are hanging their heads low in a last bow to summer and I am doing the same. The weather was terribly hot in the middle of August and the heat oppressed me. I wilted every day right along with my morning glory vine. I canceled play dates to stay in the A/C. Finally, the heat broke and I ventured outside to find that the leaves have already started changing color and the sun’s rays are slanting in a telltale way.  The birds stopped visiting my sunflowers. I think they have picked them clean. Now the large sunflower heads are black and bow not in the heat but as a last salute to another season of fullness. It was a rich one overall. There were definite ups and downs, highlights and weeks I’d rather forget. I guess life is that way. Summers are so full and busy and rushed with pockets here and there of lazy afternoons and vacation days and boredom.

The book club is finished. I enjoyed reading the book and the conversations that it sparked but I recognize it as only a beginning. I am lining out ideas for a friends’ get together sometime in September. I have a lot of thoughts percolating these days: the rebellion against American culture that is true community, the importance of putting a fair bit of elbow grease into developing/sustaining friendships, the necessity of ritual in our lives and relationships, how to see the holy in the everyday. I am reading a Eugene Peterson book about what he terms “earthy spirituality” and his words are resonating. Honestly, it feels really good to be meditating on specific issues that I care about again. Living in America is no joke and I didn’t realize what a culture shock it was going to be coming back here. I feel like the last couple years I’ve just been remembering to breathe, in a way. I’m sure having two babies in that span of time has something to do with it too.

We are working away at school and trying to settle in to some kind of routine. It is proving more difficult than I had hoped. It seems like every weekend I sit down and look at our schedule and try to rework it yet again. But we are all happy and healthy and learning so much about life.

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Summer : July

It has been so hot. I don’t remember previous summers with heat indexes that remained well over 100 day after day. It is hard to breathe out there. I struggle just to get everything watered and cared for before I duck back into the house! I know we used to live without air conditioning but I don’t know how. I am so spoiled with it now.

The biggest news for July is that I started a book club. I am really good at making plans on paper and even talking to people about those plans but I am pretty bad at following through with them. But not this time. This time I made a list of friends to invite, chose a book, figured out the chapters to read and dates to read them by, then sent the text. I  knew from the get-go that it was right. I had that feeling. This book club is something I need and I believe that the girls I invited might need it as well. I need to be reading about the beautiful, messed up church. I need the community of other women, other moms. I need to make space to think about what my doubts are about, recognize my own pride and cynicism, ponder together with fellow searchers the way forward from here.

My mom visited and it could not have been a more timely stay. I needed a break in a way that I didn’t even realize. After she had been here about a week I realized that I was breathing normally again. When had my breath become so shallow and my tears so ready to flow? When had my kids started praying “patience for mama” at dinner? Why is it so easy to go blind to the holy in the daily mess? I forget about grace so I struggle through day after day becoming more and more agitated and tight.

My cousin has a vacation spot about 2 hours from here and she offered it to us for a holiday. I packed up the kids, coffee, wine, and a giant stack of books and we hit the road. I sat on the porch with books and sunlight making shadows through the trees. I watched the kids play on the grassy hills and run through the gardens and the sprinkler. I took walks every morning, craning my neck to watch the heron lift off the pond. I felt like I was living in a Mary Oliver poem. But with 4 kids, of course. It was a gift of rest and space to get things back in the right order. Room to set my heart towards abiding in His grace.

A few notes:
~ My garden had become a major source of discouragement for me and I have just recently rallied myself to try to dig some of it out from under the weeds to see what’s growing. It’s not all bad news but I am thinking of making some major changes for next year. In a bit of a sad twist, the mama deer who had been systematically mowing down my plants was hit by a car. Her fawn was left behind and after seeing him in the woods off and on for a few days I finally found him under a couple monstrous vultures on the side of our driveway. So now I can’t even curse the deer over my failed tomato plants.

~I am obsessing over blue cheese and caramelized onion galettes. I keep making them and eating the whole thing before Ben gets home from work. Last year it was shishito peppers that I couldn’t get enough of but this year it’s the onions. And mushrooms, yum.

~ I am somewhat frantically creating this year’s school curriculum out of bits and pieces. It is slowly getting onto paper which is helpful. I’m really excited about this year together with my kids. Every year I get a little more comfortable in this homeschooling thing.

~Mary Oliver. I feel myself becoming more myself as I read Mary Oliver. She opens me up in ways I never expect and the openings are allowing so much light in.

We are moving into the last month of summer. I feel like I am ready. We have packed some good, solid fun into these summer days and we’re not through yet. We have a birthday and trip to the mountains still ahead of us. But I’m not crying about fewer hours of daylight and I will be dancing through the meadows when the air turns crisp.

 

Summer : June

We kicked the summer off right with a camping trip in Tennessee with friends and family. We camped near a lake, swam during the afternoons, and sat by the fire at night and again with coffee in the mornings. All the little kids were so dirty and exhausted which I think means it was a pretty great trip.

We celebrated Willow’s 7th birthday near the middle of the month. How can this girl be 7 already? She has a strong stubborn streak and a passionate sense of justice. She has a sensitive and tender heart that listens for God’s voice. She hears it, too.

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We celebrated the solstice with wild blackberry picking at a friend’s house and dinner on their back deck. I meandered around her gardens, coveting her poppies. My garden was so happy at the beginning of June and I was feeling quite pleased with it until one morning I walked outside with my coffee in hand to discover that we had been visited by deer in the night. So many things were wiped out, chewed right down to nubs. After the deer came the horned caterpillar creatures who stripped the tomato plants of leaves in an hour. Then the tomatoes and squash developed blossom end rot and one of my favorite herbs was chewed to death by a wooly caterpillar. Needless to say, I am feeling quite deflated about the garden. We have had masses of cucumbers, some onions, cherry tomatoes, peppers, lots of herbs, and an amazing volunteer sunflower. I try to look on the bright side.

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I have started pulling together some thoughts about next year’s school year but it is all still a jumble of dates, co-op opportunities, and book options. Eventually I will take over the kitchen table and nail everything into place. Hopefully by the end of August.

In the meantime, we’ll keep swimming at the YMCA, reading our summer books, enjoying time spent with friends, and trying to keep the garden alive and the critters out.

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Spring : May

We have enjoyed a beautiful Spring. The weather has been pretty hot some days but it still cools off at night and I am thankful for the lingering season. It is cool enough to sit on the porch with my coffee in the morning and let my sleepy eyes slowly focus in on the yellow cucumber blossoms, the red salvia, the purple basil.

Ben and I had an unexpected disappointment about mid-May that tainted everything for about a week or 10 days. It had to do with the job Ben is currently working; it had to do with money. I despise getting upset over money. I wish I didn’t have to depend on it like I do. I try to trade goods with people whenever possible. I am currently baby sitting a little boy on Saturdays while his parents work their farmer’s market stalls in exchange for veggies, poultry, or feed for my hens. We trade coffee to park rangers, mechanics, and graphic art designers and eggs to friends for fresh milk. It makes me feel self sufficient to exchange a quality product or my time for items that we want or need. But at this point we have way more bills to pay than coffee can cover so I am forced to think about money, or the lack thereof. But this unexpected disappointment that discouraged me so much also focused my thinking about some things. After a squall passes everything looks so much sharper and cleaner.

When we lived in Mexico we said that if we ever moved back to the States we would furnish our house through Goodwill. Well, we have. Nothing matches, many things are worn thin and cobbled together and it would  not be at all surprising if you came to our house and fell off a wobbly chair. Mostly, we’re comfortable here. It is kind of the way we have always made home. Occasionally though, I think about how nice it would be if we could replace the florescent light fixture in the kitchen. Or if the stained carpet and ripped linoleum could be torn up and replaced with wood or tile. I have blamed a lack of money for these minor aesthetic annoyances but as I thought about our situation I realized that we could find the money. If I stopped buying my meat and produce from our local farmers and controlled myself when I get near a garden nursery we could save enough money to make these changes. Or Ben could sell his motorcycle and some of our camping gear. The reality came to me: it’s not that we don’t have enough money, it is that we choose to spend the money we have on other things. The trick is to not feel like less when other people’s things are so nice. I know for some of you this is probably not an issue and for the most part, it’s not an issue for me either. If my pink living room walls start to irritate me I can walk outside and sit in the garden which provides me with so much joy and satisfaction. But there are days when it does bother me. It is then that I am going to try to remember that my value system is different, that’s all.

I could also consider the plight of those who truly have little or those who have nothing at all. Of families stuck in generational poverty due to institutions, laws, and cultural norms that won’t allow them to escape. Families forced to leave their homes due to violence in their streets or crime in their neighborhoods. Individuals forced to hide parts of themselves in order to feel accepted and loved, or even just safe from bodily harm. The list could go on. I recognize that I have the luxury of thinking about these situations while I live in my safe little world. Some days I feel wrung out and I attempt to pray. Other days I feel frustrated that I am living this life so far removed from those who Jesus chose to dwell with. I get comfortable in my isolation, my little home tucked back in the woods and that scares me.

I recently listed to a podcast about Rachel Held Evans’ life and in a clip of her speaking at an event she said, “Tend to the vulnerable things.” It has been my most recent reminder that I am here now. This is my place at this moment in time. I have four little children who need tending to. Constantly. I continue to sit with the idea of who the vulnerable are in my life and I have begun to see quite a few “vulnerable things” that I can tend to. It is not the sacrificial life of service that I had envisioned when I was a teenager but it is where I am and I will continue to be open to growth and change and learn how to tend to those people surrounding me. The pink living room walls can wait for another day.

 

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Spring : April

Here I am nourishing children, a marriage love, a garden plot, two cats, 17 hens, a fascination with food, and my own thirsty soul. We are well.

School is evolving as the season changes. We are not content to let our lessons drag on through the day so we try to knuckle down early and finish off at least the majority of our work. When we began our curriculum I quickly realized that the language arts portion was pretty far ahead of where the kids were so we moved on with the other subjects but took it slow with the reading and spelling portion. We have now completed the other subjects and have about 8 more weeks of language arts to officially finish up second grade. We are working through a new math program and really enjoying it and keeping it simple with history: mostly biographies and a little geography, as well. Science is, naturally, taking place outside these days. We are combining art and poetry with our natural science study and once a week we get together with other homeschoolers to go hiking, read, and explore the world around us. As the days continue to warm up we might shift desk subjects to the heat of the afternoon and spend our mornings outside while it is still cool.

We wrapped up lent and celebrated Easter with a family camping trip, our first here in Virginia. It felt so good to be camping again. We loved camping at the beach when we lived in Mexico and tried to go as often as we could. Waking up in the night at a State Park I thought I heard the ocean waves but realized it was the wind in the tall oak trees. My heart ached then but in the morning we sat around our campfire and drank hot coffee and it was good.

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I had a friend who led yoga classes on the flat roof of her home in the town where we lived in Mexico and as we were finishing up our session we could feel the cool breeze blowing off the ocean. We could see the lights from a low sun resting in stripes across the lagoon where the crocodiles swam and white birds flew. And every evening the peacefulness of that beautiful moment would be broken by a crying child and a yelling mother, a howling dog, the loudspeaker on a passing truck announcing the sale of tamales. “Cierra los ojos,” my friend would say. “Escucha los sonidos de tu pueblo.” She taught me to hear those sounds not as an interruption to the beauty but as part of what made up this small village we had chosen as our home. I consider this one of the more valuable lessons I have been gifted. I hear her voice in the mornings when the daily commuters drive past our house, occasionally drifting onto the rumble strips.

Much like our family routines are being adjusted as we move into a new season so my heart is continuing to settle into this season of life here in Virginia. And even as my heart longs for places and people I have left behind – for the ocean that breathes fresh life into my bones – I am opening my heart and listening for the sounds that make up this place.

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Spring : March

And spring it is! Every tree has buds and tiny, new leaves. The forsythias are glowing their yellow hues around every corner and the spring bulbs are all blooming. Every fall I try to drop a few dozen bulbs into the ground and every spring I am surprised and grateful when they unfold their cheery flowers into the crispness of March. The fourth weekend in March I brought the first cut flower bouquet of the year into our dining room. It made me smile like a fool.

I prepped garden beds all month. I went ahead and made my order for seed potatoes so now I have no choice but to finish weeding, breaking up dirt, mixing in compost, and laying down a weed barrier around the beds they will grow in. It’s much easier on the back to place happy little flowers in the ground and I’ve done a little of that as well, just to keep my spirits up while I wait impatiently for our last frost date.

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The tomato seedlings are the happiest I’ve ever had thanks to my little brother’s greenhouse which he let me borrow. I also have started a number of different flowers in there. Slowly, slowly I am learning this little plot of land we are on and figuring out how to foster an environment where different plants can grow. Every year that passes I feel more confident about what might grow and where I can branch out and try new things. I fail and kill a lot of plants, actually, but I have had some great successes, as well.

In March we enjoyed reconnecting with family we had not seen in years. It is always a joy to watch my kids play with cousins. Or are they second cousins… It was also a nice break to get out into the old farmland of Virginia.

We went to North Carolina for my birthday. Eggs benedict, wine, conversation, laughter, it was everything I wanted it to be. I made bank this year with a new Suburban and a dish washer!! Talk about life changing… something about having a fourth child made me want a dish washer and I have not been disappointed. Even now, every time I load it, pour in the soap, and push a button I feel grateful for it. And the truck? It feels like luxury. We call it “El Chapo”.. may have something to do with the slashed seats…

 

And now we are two weeks into April when I am finally getting around to posting this! My computer is on the fritz so we’ll see if I can keep nursing it along. Also, I have been down with a terrible head cold. Which has left me so much more time to read and dream and plan. More to come…

Winter : February

February. It seems February has always been the hardest month to get through. When I was a kid we used to go to the ocean in February. When I lived on the coast I used to remind myself that with the passing of February the craziness of the tourist season would be dying down for us at our cafe and soon we would be able to breathe again. Now that I am back in a location with four seasons I remember how long February can feel: please just get me to March and spring!

However, I am happy to report that while my driveway and yard are a series of puddles and mud pits my attitude is remaining positive. It helps that we continue to have warm, sunny days interspersed with the rain. And the bulbs are coming up! Almost every day I walk around the house and look at the bulbs bravely pushing their way into the light.

Not long into this month we enjoyed a glorious week of sunny days in the 60’s. (If you have not noticed, I watch the weather like a hawk. I use my weather app when I plan outings with the kids, when I plan meals, when I brainstorm garden ideas. I recently realized that I have started watching the level of the James River like I used to watch the behavior of the waves on the ocean. Somehow watching the sky, the nature around me, helps to keep me grounded even if it does make me sound like an oddball.) I saw this glorious week of warm weather coming and booked our days full of fun: trips to the play ground with friends, dinners out of doors, lots of garden clean up, bonfires.

By the time we reached the weekend and the snow returned I was ready to crawl back into my cave and return to hibernation. We have winter for a reason. It is important to settle in and hunker down with our families, our thoughts, our plans. It helps us grown the roots down a little deeper, I think.

Now. I used to live in a tropical environment when the time for work and play was during the winter. That left us the summer… that long, lonely season that some years lasted from April to November. We used to hunker down then, as well. Tropical summers are nothing to laugh at. The point is, we need time to come back to ourselves. It is easy to be distracted. I am tempted in so many ways, by so many things, to keep my life busy. I can stay home for days and still keep my mind overly busy with all the news, entertainment, and information available to me right here. It is hard to say no.

I have been struggling with some anxiety recently. In those moments I just want to numb it with some kind of distraction. It is hard to sit down in silence and look at it. Over the years I have dealt with depression and anxiety. I know that dark place and I don’t like it. I have found people who will look at me and say the words I need to hear and I have discovered that trying to push the darkness aside and ignore it is not the answer. I leaned into it this month and learned a little bit more about myself and about my lack of trust in a loving Father. So the struggle continues and I continue to attempt to walk in a grace not mine.

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A few notes…
Lent begins next week. I am thinking of marching my kids out into the world as beacons of light. I plan on visiting some lonely people, surprising someone with an act of kindness, and giving a gift to a stranger.

My birthday is later in March and I get to celebrate with my daddy which makes me really happy.

Did I say homeschooling was going really well? Yeah, we’ve hit a bit of a rough patch… but we took a week off and are trying some new things and so far we’re doing ok again.

In March I want to write more, pray more, and put lots of seeds in the earth.