The summer is winding down. I can feel it in the air and see it in the slanting of the sun’s rays across the kitchen floor. I feel the stirrings in my heart for rhythm and routine. This summer has been a whirlwind, exactly what a summer should be: too many late nights, friends and family, dirty kids being tucked into bed without washing up, guitars around bonfires, camping in the tent, hikes, swims, s’mores.
Our stay on John’s Island for the family reunion was perfect. It was the first time we had all been together at my grandparents cabin as adults. We had so much laughter. We watched the bald eagle soar over our heads and listened to the seals at night, we spotted the orcas and tried oh so hard to spot even one jumper; we were too early for the salmon, though. We chopped and stacked lots of wood and painted sealant on the captain’s room upstairs. It felt good to do some upkeep on a place we love so dearly. I think my favorite part might have been watching my children with their cousins, so many grimy little hands and feet. Those kids played hard all day, everyday in the same magical places I did when I was their age. We are so blessed to have this legacy, to be a part of this family.
The first weekend back we celebrated Ayden’s 7th birthday. I still have a hard time telling people he’s seven… He began soccer last week and will be playing on the same team with two of his buddies. We’re all pretty sure it’s gonna be awesome. His face simply beamed through the entire practice. In September he’ll start first grade along with Willow. Homeschooling is a whole other story… but I think it’s going to be better this year.
The second weekend I was shocked by the events in Charlottesville. I was shocked by the hatred. It is the only word that I have been able to stick on the response I felt. It seemed like I spent the weekend walking around in a fog, listening to the news, refusing to believe but being forced to understand that the hatred is real, palpable. On Sunday evening after dinner we received news that a dear friend of ours had passed away suddenly. My heart breaks for his family, his legacy. He was such a gentle, strengthening friend. The light for me throughout the weekend was welcomed into the world as a promise and a hope: little Sojourn James is the seventh cousin to join our family. My sister and her lovely family are doing well. So thankful.
With the cooler temperatures we have begun cleaning up the grounds around the house a bit. There were three trips to the dump over the weekend as we clear away piles of rusty metal and old barbed wire. We burned leaves and brush and tilled up the winter garden bed; my little broccoli and cabbage seedlings are doing well and the first round of carrots are growing in the garden. We have family coming for the last hurrah of summer, Labor Day Weekend.
This garden… well, it is teaching me patience. I walk out every morning and check on the flower buds but every morning they are still buds. They are closed up tight and I can’t even tell what color they will be. What are those pretty petals doing in there? How long can it take to grow flowers from seed? A long time, apparently.
I also planted a vegetable garden. The first year of our marriage I planted tomatoes and they did really well in spite of my lack of care and know how. Now I spend many mornings and evenings reading gardening blogs and trying to pinpoint which bugs I should be smashing and how to trellis cucumbers. We had a few homegrown salads, some snap peas, and now we are plucking beans off the vine. We’ve gotten a few cucumbers and some new potatoes. The tomatoes are taking their sweet time… but there are lots of green promises of red.
It is incredible to me every time I put a seed in the ground and a few days later up comes a bunch of tiny sprouts. I never expect it to work and somehow it does. My garden is a wild one. I keep throwing flowers in when I read that they are good companions for one plant or another. Or when I get tired of flowers that won’t bloom fast enough I just throw more zinnia or cosmo seeds in. There is a spindly little rose bush smack dab in the middle of the garden. It started as a stump and I tried to rip it out. I am so glad I failed because it has bravely sent out its shoots and given us some deep red roses. The pole beans and cucumbers are out of control. I feel bad for them as they are so obviously sending out their tendrils in hopes of latching on to something but all they get is thin air – actually, it’s quite thick, humid, palpable air right now. But I also kind of enjoy the challenge of sitting in front of the tangle of vines trying to see the prize, a plump, perfect vegetable – grown from a seed!
The kids like to help sometimes. This has produced thick seedlings in some areas and sparse seedlings in others, broken tomato stems, flowers with half the root ball still out of the ground, and plenty of joy as they finally see the cucumber hanging there ripe for the picking. My kids love cucumbers. Tonight we dug up some pretty, purple potatoes. Everyone participated, even Huck Finn, the kitten. Ayden carried them inside and washed them up at the sink. He said he felt like a farm boy. I catch them tearing off basil leaves as they pass by and in my fear of not having enough basil for late summer pesto I have thrown about 4 packages of basil seeds in the ground. Of course, every seed seems to have germinated so we should be ok.
In other news, we are leaving next week to a family reunion in Washington State. Back to John’s Island. We are counting down the days!
The weather is HOT right now and we go to the pool at the YMCA almost every evening.
We took a break from the weather and went to the North Carolina mountains for a few days and played with cousins and aunties and uncles.
And here are a couple shots from our little summer solstice party.
It’s a pretty fun summer so far.
It’s been a rough couple weeks for us. We have been busy, distracted, challenged, and stressed. I have not been sleeping well for that last few days. It’s been good but rough around the edges. There are many reasons for this that I won’t go into now but I need to tell you that so you can picture today’s beautiful moment. I am sitting on the porch in the shade with a naked Liam nearby, the kids have climbed up a tree and are playing a game involving Star Wars characters. I am reading an article in the New Yorker and Liam is playing with beer bottle caps (Under my supervision, of course. It’s dangerous to leave a one year old alone with beer bottle caps: perfect choking hazard. That’s when Liam is most content though, with a choking hazard. So…).
Liam suddenly looks at me and makes one of his cute, one year old noises. I put down my magazine and look at him as he smiles then throws his head back and lifts his arms, making that adorable “look” noise again. I realize he is recognizing the wind that has just picked up and is blowing the trees all around us. I smile and laugh with him, throw my arms up and say “WIND”! He smiles, arms still overhead, and starts to clap. He is experiencing the sensation of the wind on his skin, in the trees blowing above him. Nothing else. Just experiencing wind. I tried to keep him in the moment as long as I could. It was like freedom for me, that one moment of sheer joy in a natural, everyday occurrence. Why do we cease to enjoy these simple pleasures?
I was reminded of an evening in Melaque when I was sitting down by the ocean watching the sunset. Little Ayden was sitting beside me playing in the sand. He was building something with sticks and bits of shell and plastic bottle caps he had found on the beach. It was summer when the waves are big and boisterous, the only sign of some disturbance out on the open ocean. Suddenly a huge wave crashed, sending spray up onto the beach where we were sitting. Ayden stopped what he was doing and looked up, squinting at the mist hitting his face. He looked at me with the same joy and recognition: that briny ocean water was hitting his face and he knew what was happening. It was no longer just a sensation he couldn’t explain, he was connecting the ocean wave’s spray with the sensation he was feeling on his skin. I had the same response I did today with Liam. The world seemed to pause as I recognized a sensation, the little miracle, that was taking place for my child.
There are no pictures only memories to hold onto and hope they last. But these little moments remind me… There are miracles all around. Just stop. Recognize the small wonders.
Winter was not what I expected it to be, namely, cold. We had cold days and cold winds but we also had days when the temperatures climbed into the 80’s. I enjoyed the moody weather and the kids and I spent many afternoons at a playground meeting new people.
We did have one big snow in January. The kids had been watching the sky all afternoon and just when they had stopped looking for it, tiny little dots began to fall. They were the kind of snowflakes you can only really see out of the corner of your eye. The kids were ecstatic. Slowly the snow began to fall more steadily and the flakes became more visible. We ate dinner and the kids climbed into bed with promises and reassurances about the snow that would be there tomorrow. At 5 AM the kids were out of bed with their faces plastered to the window. The world as they had known it was gone and in its place was a white winter they had only heard of in books. We got 5 inches of soft, powdery snow and it stuck around for a few frigid days; long enough for everyone to get their fill. Ayden and Willow were shocked to find out how cold snow is and then how wet. They could not figure out how to layer and grew frustrated with the mittens, socks, scarves, hats, and zippers. For kids who grew up in shorts and flip flops at the most this was a lot of fuss just to get outside!
Our house has a gas fireplace in the little living room. I have always scoffed at gas fireplaces preferring the ruggedness of chopped wood and ashes all over everything and the “real experience.” I love my fireplace now. It was winter at its best snuggling up on the couch next to the fire with books and coffee. I had dreamed of winter days like that through many tropical Thanksgivings and Christmases.
The kids and I stumbled into a homeschool group that meets every Monday and we love it. We read and discuss books, take nature walks, write poetry, learn how to play new games, create art through many different mediums, and present our creations to the rest of the group. It was incredibly helpful for me as I struggled to figure out what homeschooling was going to look like for us.
On Thursdays our local library hosts a story hour with songs and crafts and we were there every week. I remember the library in Sitka, Alaska when I was Willow’s and Ayden’s age as a magical, almost mysterious, place. The kids and I spent many long afternoons at the library and we usually brought home about 15 beautiful childrens books for the week.
I attempted a winter garden but did not get much to grow. The weather was so erratic and I was late getting things into the ground; a farmer friend told me there were just not enough hours of sunlight. Everything germinated and stayed alive throughout the winter but the radishes, beets, and various greens did not mature. However, my ability to just keep things alive gave me confidence to try a garden in the Spring, so I still count it a success.
We rang in 2016 on a sandy beach, blowing off firecrackers, watching candled lanterns floating out over the ocean, and of course burning our Christmas tree. I was pregnant with our third baby and we were just gearing up for the busiest part of the season at our little, coastal cafe. For the first time in 5 seasons we were able to breathe during the height of the busyness and in the evenings we moseyed into town to catch live blues, soft rock, or reggae bands which munching on fiery peanuts and sipping cold beers. We made it to pool volleyball and out to the beach during the week. We began to dream about what next year would be like when our staff would be trained to roast coffee and we had even more free time.
But first we were headed stateside for a break from the extreme heat of summer and to welcome our new baby. It was still dropping below freezing when we arrived and we quickly learned to bundle up and sit in the sun when possible. Soon the temperatures warmed and the best of spring arrived, and with it’s full moon Liam arrived as well. We were now a family of five living with friends, Papa working a job, and kiddos playing hard and naked all day in the summer sun. As we made plans to return to our beach town in the fall something unexpected happened. We were offered a new life. In one quiet sentence: “Why don’t you stay?” we were given a choice, an opportunity. In retrospect, I see how over the years Ben and I have mostly taken the opportunity, said “yes”. And still it has never been an easy decision to make. This one was no exception.
The fall found us house hunting, house finding, house decorating, and home making. We settled in at the end of October and spent a somewhat tumultuous holiday season shuttling back and forth from our new home to visit family and Ben made a trip to Mexico to set up a managing staff for our cafe. And all of a sudden it was New Year’s Eve again.
We had a bonfire, shot off bottle rockets, and burned our Christmas tree. Then we put the kids to bed and things got quiet. What a year… a new baby, a new home, a new job, new friends, new food, a new president, a new culture. It was exhausting and we drank bubbly, kissed, and fell into bed. 2017 had arrived.
It is now the beginning of September. It is hard to believe we have already been here 5 months and most of the summer. Virginia is hot and humid like Mexico but it cools off at night and we live in air conditioning which makes life so much more bearable. Even so, I am eager for the cooler temperatures that the forecast is predicting.
We did spend almost a month in North Carolina with my sister and her family. The mountains with so much water it just flows out of the ground and pours down the street. Hot coffee on the deck in the cool shade before the sun makes its way around to heat up our skin. Walks and hikes with babies and we did not sweat. I miss it.
We managed once again to get all of us together. Two parents, five children and their spouses, one more son, and now 6 grandbabies! It was a week’s worth of late nights, early mornings, volleyball, hiking, river swimming, and laughter!
Life for Ben and I keeps on changing in unanticipated ways. We encourage one another to keep on smiling and do the best we can with what we’ve been given, which is so much grace upon grace. And we get these beautiful gifts all along the way: a warm evening in the lake, snuggling kids into bed with campfire smoke still lingering in their hair, lightning and thunder at night, dew-wet feet in the mornings. Always good coffee. And crickets.
The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone.” they sang. . . Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall. . .
~ from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web
I’m not sure how to write this post. I’m not really sure of what I want to say. Since the middle of April I have been living in America. I haven’t been here since May of 2014 and that was only for a month of visiting family and celebrating a sister’s wedding. In 2013 we spent the summer in the San Juan Islands of Washington but I was on a remote island with no wifi, no television, and very little interaction with the outside world. So I would say that the last time I really lived in America was the 5 months we spent in Washington when Ayden was born in 2010.
While living in Mexico we follow American news and, to some extent, American politics, but we prefer to get our daily news from the BBC and Al Jazeera. We celebrate Thanksgiving but not Independence Day. We speak English but we don’t keep up with the Kardashians; I’m not even sure who they are and I don’t care enough to google them in order to find out. We only know about new music when someone posts a video on Facebook, the only social media outlet we know how to use. I suppose we live like the expatriates that we are.
I grew up as an expatriate. When I was 6 years old my family moved to central Mexico to plant a church in a small town. We were the only foreigners who lived there for the first few years of our stay and everyone knew us. When my mom walked through the market to buy our groceries with 5 little blonde children in tow women of all ages would reach out and touch our hair as we walked by. We moved back to the U.S. when I was 13 but only for three years. At 16 I was back in Mexico only to turn around at 17 and head back to mid-America where I immediately started traveling outside the U.S to Latin America, Asia, and Europe. I barely had enough time to get my teenage feet planted on American soil before I left again, let alone form a mature opinion on American culture.
I was homeschooled and, living outside the U.S., we studied American history and economics from a distance as though examining a foreign country. I grew up believing in the American dream and that hard work, perseverance, and integrity is the way to build a successful life. (A philosophy that carried my Grandfather to success and one that has been severely challenged in my own life.) I believed that America was a beacon of hope to those looking for freedom from oppression and that she accepted migrants willingly since the country was built by migrants. I grew up knowing that America was that golden country where the truths were self evident and accepted by its inhabitants: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain, unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I grew up believing that in America slavery had been abolished and that men and women of all ethnicities had equal rights and that racism was dead. When I was a teenager I finally learned the national anthem; “Oh say, does that star spangled banner still wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave?” still brings tears to my eyes every time. But I tear up because I have come to realize that America is not the country I grew up believing in. It seems that the only people who believe this is the home of the brave are the ones willing to carry and use guns to prove it. And that is not freedom for those on either side of the gun.
The violence of the past week has broken my heart. Perhaps it is that being in the U.S. now I am hearing more about these senseless and unjust shootings than I would have or maybe there has been more bloodshed over the past few months and it is all adding up. I am beginning to think my heart hurts because I am supposed to fall on my knees over this country that I love and pray for the healing of so many wounds. I want to march in the streets and yell and scream at the unjustness and senselessness of all this killing. I want to close my ears and eyes to the death and move on with my own life. I cannot do either but I can pray for America and believe that Jesus’ kingdom of peace and justice is not that far away and that others are, like me, praying and believing.
Please read the words of another person struggling alongside: D.L. Mayfield’s excellent post In the cocktail party of my life.