Coming to terms

I’d intended to write a cute post about how we came around to renaming our blog “A Place For Little Feet”.  About the plethora of little feet that surround our life here, be they animal or human, there are many.  But this post is all I could come up with and it may not be cute but it’s honest and honest is all I have to offer right now….

Last Wednesday found this mama of six in a mess of a kitchen trying to uncover some counter to make lunch for the hungry.  There wasn’t a square inch available.  Of the counter or of the mama.  There were dishes and the various random somethings that inevitably get left out when eight people live in a home together and live a full, big life together.  And there was the heart worn thin from ragged survival-mode days that take more than you think they do.  The cumulative total effect of a year that was harder than the past several on many levels finally coming to be counted.  Like it was time to pay the piper and the debt is always more than you think it is right?

Somehow, I’d been trying to keep up with my five-kid life pace despite having now six.  Trying to fit in, accomplish, DO everything I deemed necessary and good and crucial whilst the reality of the half a dozen sweet things that call me mom was in the clouds and posed no limitations.  Never mind the well-meaning “Well, I guess once you have a few, it really doesn’t make a difference adding more right?”.  Words like that rang in my mind as the months ticked by and I kept doing and kept keeping up with my (many) friends who have two or three children.  I made sure to say yes whenever it was humanly possible and worked hard to make all the moving parts of our life somehow keep moving.

Where things got off course, I don’t really know.  Well, I have some ideas but that really is a whole other post.  Though Liberty is a sweet thing of a baby, has been from Day 1, she is still a person.  She requires attention and care and mental/physical energy.  She is absolutely, unequivocally a profound gift that we are incredibly thankful to have been given and wouldn’t trade for anything.  But to operate without any adjustments when someone new joins the family, is foolish.  No matter how much like super mom you might feel like.   When my wise friend (and mother of eight) up yonder says things like “I just don’t know how you’re keeping up with this pace….” I should do a little inventory and assess just how we are keeping it up.  Instead, we just kept on going.

Until last week when we were one day away from going on vacation and I said I couldn’t go.  Friends, if you get to the point you can’t handle going on vacation (albeit with the entire extended family which, though crazy fun, also requires a certain ability to function) then perhaps you can’t handle your normal life either.  That same day I was in my (disastrously messy) kitchen a woman walked into my backyard.  Not living in a neighborhood but out in the country this was highly unusual.  I looked closer through the window and recognized her from church.  I walked out on the deck and said as calm of a hello as I could muster and asked what she was doing here.  She smiled and said she was here for the meeting, the VBS planning meeting that I’d offered to host.  She walked into my lived in, things-all-over living room and I just tried to keep breathing.  The fact that I was hosting a meeting and hadn’t a clue, was again evidence of the debt and the time had come for some re-evaluating.  She told me how coming in to my house in this condition was like a warm hug, because how often her own house looked the same.  I silently wished I could just have given her an actual, real warm hug instead of endure sitting through the meeting wondering how I was functioning this poorly.

I called my husband at work and told him I could not possibly go on vacation.  He graciously offered to take our five oldest with him and left me at home for a couple of days.  I would join him if I was able.  And I had serious doubts about just what I was able to do.  I had been trying to keep up with too much for too long.  Something had to give.  And the reality was, something had given.  Me.  Every day of the week, every hour of the night, living, breathing, giving.  To a degree that was far beyond was was intended for any person, whether they have six children, a slew of animals and all sorts of people with needs (and brokenness) interwoven into their life…or not.

About at that point, I read this post.  I sat shaking my head at my computer, which I only sit at every few days even, no time to read.  Planned neglect.  It sounded strange, how could neglect be a good thing, but then it all made perfect sense.  I’d said yes to so much good and tried to be faithful to so many great things and needs that I’d missed out on doing the very best things excellently.  My kids paid a price, as did I.  The mom they had two years ago was more focused, more intentional, most aware of her own need and thus more dependent on grace to come through.  The mom and dad they had two years ago did not have their hands in so many different things and they loved each other patiently, kindly.  They did a few things and did them well.

There are so many great things.  But we weren’t created to do them all.  We were made with limitations and needs that God alone can meet.  We were designed each to give and love in certain circles and to learn how to say yes and when to say no.  I do know this, but I absolutely have not practiced it.  The pie was sliced in so many pieces that the ones who matter the most, who are my first calling if my priorities are right, got less than best.  My practical husband who often has short, simple and clear wise answers to life’s challenges heard my heart last week and agreed with my “state of the union” assessment.  And he knew better than to give a quick easy answer.  When a significant course correction is in order, there isn’t a quick and easy five steps today and we’ll be good to go tomorrow sort of way forward.

So, I guess that’s all today, just coming to terms here with the reality of my life with all these little feet.  And its a beautiful reality.  A treasured, blessed one for certain.  One I need to make count every day, in the all the right ways.

The great chicken harvest of 2014

It was a bold endeavour, purchasing 54 day old tiny chicks and expecting them to grow to eating size in twelve weeks.  It felt bold or at the very least presumptious to expect them to turn into food in such a short time.  I had intended for Caleb to help me with the meat bird chores but honestly, I sort of enjoyed the routine of my solitary morning ritual of heading out to the far end of our property with a big bucket of feed and five gallon water buckets to replenish their supply.  Though heavy, the chicken tractors were just light enough for me to move by myself.  The heaving of them across a new patch of grass every morning was good hard work for this mama.  After giving them a new location each morning, I fed them and watered them.  Each tractor held 25 birds and in the last four weeks, they sometimes went through five gallons of water in one day. The rate of consumtion for food and water rather blew me away.  It was so far above and beyond our upcoming flock of layers.  And with the consumption came incredible excrement.  They poop more than you can imagine because they are growing so much.

Here are a few lessions learned now that harvest day has come and gone, in case its helpful for anyone…or simply intriguing for those who think this whole thing seems crazy:

  1. In order to save hatchery shipping costs, we went in with two other families.  We ordered 165 chicks together.  We estimated the feed we would need and also bought that together and had it delivered by the pallet to our home.  Doing these two things together saved at least $200 dollars between our three families.
  2. The other two families (who had done meat birds before) rationed out their food properly and did not run out of food like I did (read my other post, from before butchering day, here).  I on the other hand, was naively amazed how “hungry” they were and just kept feeding them.  This meant buying about 800 lbs more feed part way through raising them.  Which seemed a big bummer and would really increase my cost per pound of raising them.  However, in this particular instance, my ignorance paid tremendous dividends.  When our friends drove up with their birds on harvest day, they were totally shocked at the size of our birds.  They were literally twice the size.
  3. A stainless steel table to do all the evisceration on is invaluable.  I’d planned on using our plastic folding tables from Costco and then just bleaching them well.  But our friend Mike brough a chest high stainless table, probably intended for dressing deer or other game.  Because of its height, we didn’t have to bend over for hours.  AND it was very easy to sanitze/clean.  Which proved excellent.
  4. Using the rented equipment from our county, which included a stand with stainless kill cones, a blood collecting basin, a dunking rack and scalding tank and a defeathering tub, made a potentionally dismal task into sometime inherently doable.  Even for a novice mama with six kids!  Once everyone sort of “fell in” to a task, things moved very quickly.  We processed the first 50 chickens in about two hours and then took lunch.  The second 50 took less than two hours.
  5. Kids can do more than you think.  This is perhaps what most blew me away for the day.  Very early on, several children had proved themselves indispensable.  Caleb and TJ and two adults caught the chickens and put them upside down into the kill cones.
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    photo 1 (1)

    The most humane way to harvest a chicken is to place it upside down where it quickly gets a head rush and is fairly still.  Then with a sharp knife, slitting the neck so the blood can drain out swiftly and fully.  Caleb did almost all of that job and he did it very well.  He is ten years old.  I was surprised and very impressed.  Rylee and her friend Elianna rocked the scalding tank and defeatherer.  They would take the chickens from the boys and hook them by feet up to the rack and then dunk them until their feathers were loose enough to go into the defeathering tub.

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  6. Evisceration is more of a grown up job.  If you botch it, you puncture the bowels and then have a poopy mess inside your chicken.  Which is not ideal.  Having a tall table to do this work was extrememly valuable.  And having many hands on the task was also awesome.  It made the work fly by.
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    photo 1
  7. Having a hearty lunch ready and waiting is imperative.  We ate big bowls of chili from the crockpot (thanks Nana!) and went right back to work.
  8. You need more ice than you think!  It was a sunny warm day.  We used all ten bags of ice we got.  Keeping the chickens cold after defeathering before evisceration is important as is keep them cold after they are all done.  We soaked them in a salt, ice water brine all day before packaging them for the freezer.  We don’t have big coolers but used clean, garbage bag lined stainless metal 32 gallon trash cans.  They worked beautifully, just required lots of ice.
  9. Shade would be helpful.  We would have been better off with a white tent over the table where we did the finishing work.  It got warm quickly and though the hose water was cold, it still would be better with shade.  Next year for sure we’ll have a tent over that table.
  10. A vacuum sealer, though the bags are spendy, is super nice for storing the birds.  A two gallon freezer ziploc would work, we used some.  But the vacuum sealed ones, I’m sure, will keep better in the freezer.

All said, it was an amazing day.  We worked super hard and with a great crew of people, it really went very fast.  It was truly easier than we expected.  I was super proud of our kids, they were something else.  At the end of the day we netted 250 lbs of chicken in the freezer.  We traded a few for work.  And cooked a couple right away.  But most of them are in the freezer! After all was said and done, we all agreed we’d definitely like to do it again.  It was very worth the work.  Besides the bit of time feeding them each morning, really it only entailed one long day of work.  Which was quite manageable.

Andrea Laurita Photography

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When people come to our home, one of the first things they comment on is a set of four square canvas prints on our living room wall.  They almost always ask for the story behind them, which I never get tired of sharing.  Our friend Andrea of Andrea Laurita Photography is a talented photo journalist.  She has woven her gifts with the lens into a variety of jobs over the past decade or so, allowing God to use her in all sorts of places and ways.  The four prints we have are of beautiful children in Sierra Leonne, Thailand and Afghanistan.  They are a constant reminder of the world around us, far beyond what we see every day on the farm.  They help me remember.  And if the photos weren’t enough, Andrea used the proceeds from them to help fund a college education from a girl she met in Liberia.

Currently, this darling young friend of ours lives in Portland.  She is spunky and gracious and flexible.  Exactly what I think makes her a fantastic professional photographer.  All the photos you see on our blog, header and side bar, are accredited to her.  And can I just say anyone crazy enough to take on a photo session of a family with six kids is downright brave!  We’ve never been disappointed in her work.  She has wonderfully captured our family several times now.  If you live within a couple hours of Portland and are even considering doing family photos or are getting married or have a new baby, check this girl out!  She is willing to drive to the Seattle area, especially if a few people want to book a session the same week or weekend.

Here are a few favorites from this last session she did for us, which we decided to do at home this time instead of traveling somewhere “photogenic”:

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Summer Bucket List 2014

Too easily the days pass right on by and before we know it, fall is knocking on the door.  So, we make a list.  It’s a collective effort by each member of our family, everyone gets to chime in on what they want us to do!

  1. Go to Birch Bay
  2. Campout with cousins
  3. Go to Edmonds beach
  4. Play outside
  5. Go kayaking
  6. Go swimming in a lake
  7. Climb Mt Pilchuk
  8. Take the free ferry to Jetty Island
  9. Pick strawberries
  10. Pick raspberries
  11. Pick blueberries
  12. Keep training Willow to pull the cart
  13. Sleep through the night (um, mama might have put that on the list on Liberty’s behalf!)
  14. Paint kids bedrooms fun colors
  15. Go to the Silvana Fair with our goats
  16. Show goats at Evergreen State Fair
  17. Have a summer party
  18. Go fishing
  19. Build a treehouse
  20. Host a kids creation camp
  21. Camp in tents in the backyard
  22. Find new ways to cook whole chicken
  23. Make a path into the forest
  24. Start kids’ egg selling business
  25. Learn how to make goat milk soap

Welcome summer!

After a week in a motel in town with six kids in tow, we were thrilled to be back home on Friday one day before the official first day of summer!  After our septic snafu and water damaged floors, we had to be out of the house while they repaired and refinished the flooring that had been soaked.  All of life aside from the absolute necessities sat on the back burner while we lived out of our van and two cozy motel rooms…traipsing back and forth to our house to feed the goat babies their bottles early and late each day, milk our mama goats, feed the meat birds and layers, check on dogs and cats, etc.  To say it was crazy is a wild understatement.

But I’ve said it before and it still rings true, doing hard things together forges a sense of family.  Whether its a difficult hike in the mountains, a camping trip gone total disaster or a season where all of life is plain hard…the result can be the same.  It all hinges on the choices we make in the midst of the chaos.  That and for me at least, believing God to be above and beyond my circumstances, whatever they may be.  He has proven his absolute faithfulness over and over, and most often through the stuff of life that is either seemingly mundane or wickedly painful and difficult.

Children are amazing in their ability to adapt and look on the bright side.  A week in a motel with mom and dad…with a pool even?  Too fun!  My ability to do the same is certainly lacking however.  The first night I was wound so tight my whole body hurt from our “adventure”.  After a long night, with little sleep from all our family being in such close quarters, we enjoyed the free breakfast buffet that everyone had high hopes for.  Well, it turned out to be a bunch of Costco food dumped on a counter.  Again, the kids had great fun checking it all out and all I did was pine away for my kitchen, healthy pancakes and eggs from our chickens.

By the end of day one, I needed a serious course correction or it was sure to be a long and miserable week.  So I snatched my attitude from the dump it was in and put my chin up and decided we would do this week up right.  And we did.  We swam every night, ate dinner at most of the restaurants our town had to offer.  We figured out how to wash clean all our milking supplies and goat bottles in the motel bathtub twice a day.  We moved sleeping arrangements around until we found something that worked.  We had our beloved cousins over for a swim in “our” pool just for fun too!

I’ll spare you the play by play, suffice to say that we survived.  We gave grace many times and sometimes lost our temper.  Life was strangely simple actually.  I did miss our daily work and routine and animals.  But I didn’t miss the way I flurry around from project to chore to laundry to negotiate a peace treaty to make food to clean up a spill….always onto the next thing and often missing the chance to sit and read a book with a little one or hug another one super tight just because.

Many lessons learned.  Seems to always be the case.  Always room to grow and room to learn.  In the spirit of summer, we put our summer bucket list together, making sure we seize the season and squeeze every bit of fun right of it together  I’ll post it later today in case anyone needs any inspiration!

Growing chickens for meat

When I think about my cherished upbringing in the suburbs, I still sometimes do a double take as I’m walking outside each morning to milk a goat and feed 80 chickens and such.  Whose life is this?!  Mine.  Only mine.  And though it brings with it all sorts of interesting challenges, I wouldn’t trade any of it.  Starting with the six amazing children we’ve been blessed with and straight on down to the poor attempt at a garden outside my kitchen window.  I thought perhaps it might be helpful/interesting to get a step by step snapshot of our “let’s grown our own clean, well-treated chickens” endeavor.  So, if it is, read on…otherwise check in later this week for updated baby goat photos or scroll straight to the bottom for photos of our kids butchering their first chicken!

  1. First off, we decided last year that if we ever planned to raise our own food for meat, we’d better taste something comparable to make sure we liked it.  If you’ve eaten grass fed beef alongside feedlot cattle from the grocery store, you can certainly tell the difference and we figured chicken would be similar.  Those frozen disks of ginormous chicken breast are pumped with salt and other stuff and the taste is a long ways from a pastured chicken fed only good things.  I’d guess the nutrition varies a good deal between the two as well.  We purchased three large broilers (code for “raw whole chicken”…its okay, I didn’t know that either) last year from a local farmer.  This darling young couple runs a small farm near us and offers a weekly CSA produce basket as well as various animals for meat (goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs and I think a cow or two).  They weighed about 6 1/2 pounds and cost us about $30 each.  I know, sticker shock, I can get 13 pounds of frozen breasts at Costco for that price!  The meat was incredible, buttery rich and tender and delicious.  The chickens were so large they would feed even our family for two meals which is quite something.  We were sold and looked forward to trying to do this ourselves the coming spring.
  2. There are two paths to choose on raising your own chickens for meat, you buy Cornish Cross type chicks that are commercially bred to produce huge breasts and grow super fast.  They are ready to process (code for “butcher your chicken so you can eat it”) in about 6 weeks.  Its wild, really.  Tiny chick to big chicken ready for your table in a month and a half.  But that breed is behind our American obsession with white meat and cheap (less than healthy) food.  We figured if we were going to all this trouble, we might as well go the heritage breed route and raise the traditional, slower growing, normally proportioned sort of poultry.  We chose Freedom Ranger chicks from a hatchery in Pennsylvania run by an Amish family.  With a name like “Freedom Rangers” they were hard to pass up, and more importantly this was the breed our farmer Micha had grown so we knew they were tasty.
  3. Perhaps step #3 should be “start small”.  But we don’t do small very well and wanted it to be worth the work, so we went big, hoping to grow in 12 weeks or so, enough chicken to last our family many months.  We purchased 54 chicks that arrived March 20 to our local post office.  We also figured we’d lose some, but at this point, just 10 days from processing day, there are 51 of them out there in the yard!
  4. They need to eat!  A ton.  Literally.  Well almost.  We will have purchased about 1000 lbs of feed for them by the time they are ready.  Finding a good price for quality feed was imperative.  There are a few local mills that offer bulk pricing, we first used Scratch and Peck in Bellingham but then when that ran out (so much for my careful calculations!) we bought from Natural Farm and Feed east of the mountains.  Both were bulk orders brought by truck on pallets.  But after comparing the two, we’ll go with Natural Farm and Feed for next year.  Better price and less waste from the feed.  Buying feed that was non-GMO, didn’t contain corn or soy, was important.  Again, why go to the trouble to raise meat yourself only to feed it “junk food”?  That is why we chose a whole grain, non-GMO, soy/corn free feed to grow the birds.  It wasn’t cheap, it was hundreds of dollars spent at one time for only a hope of translating into healthy, wonderful food for our family.
  5. They need a safe, predator-proof place to live.  A friend of a friend sold us two movable chicken tractors that our birds live in.  We move them every day but they still trash the grass worse than you can imagine in their 24 hours on each fresh patch!
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  6. They need massive amounts of water.  Because these birds grow so fast (in comparison to their egg laying counterparts) they eat, drink, poop at a much higher rate.  It’s amazing.  Using 5 gallon buckets with chicken nipples plugged into holes on the bottom is my absolute easiest, cleanest, favorite method of watering chickens.  I made 4 of them this year and couldn’t be more pleased with how they’re working.  The bucket rests upside down in the tractor so I can fill it from the top without opening their pen.  Lovely, because they are aggressive and always HUNGRY!  They love to peck my farm boots or any fingers that are available.
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  7. Well, that’s all I’ve got so far….we’ve rented the processing equipment for a week from Saturday from our county.   Once we complete this adventure, I’ll post again with any other tidbits from along the way!  For now, here are pics of our kids hand-processing a chicken two days ago (I was in a hurry and clipped his wing while moving the chicken tractor before church!).  They were very eager to help turn this bird into dinner.   We enjoyed chicken gravy and mashed potatoes tonight, courtesy of one happy, healthy bird that lived its whole life in our yard.  Pretty super cool if you ask me…
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    caleb dunking
    part way there!
    chicken dinner!
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    Baby likes chicken dinner!!!

The view from here

The sky is overcast and gray but all the sounds around me are a dead giveaway.  It is spring.  There are birds singing in every direction.  The rooster crows every five minutes and his teenage counterpart tries to follow along but can’t get the job done just yet.   There is a girl with an electric shaver trimming her goat to perfection for the dairy goat show in two weeks.  There are 5 week old goat kids frolicking with two human kids at their heels.  There is the constant clucking of the proud laying hens and the frantic hustling of the two dozen pullets who can’t yet lay and get a pecking every day to remind them they haven’t yet arrived to a productive adulthood.  Our ten year old son is inside at the stove, he just popped over to me in my chair in the grass to ask “Can I make you an egg?  Please!?”.  How could I say I’d already had toast and wasn’t hungry?  He is mastering the art of frying eggs.  He is proud of the fact he now makes them even better than his mama does (could have something to do with the focus he brings and the constant multi-tasking of this mama!).

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Our epic water emergency of last week seems, for just a moment, a distant memory and life is calm and peaceful and instead of make another list for something, I sit and watch.  There are way too many weeds in the driveway.  I ought to pull grass from the base of the fledgling raspberries so they can grow.  The seed potatoes are still sitting in the garage.  Pretty sure they aren’t going to grow me new potatoes in there.    But there are peonies to watch.  The splendor of those blooms of theirs is unparalleled.  They have to be one of most glorious flowers in the Pacific Northwest.  Staring at the peonies wins over the other tasks that practically call my name as I sit in the grass.

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I should be calling the flooring people for the repairs that will need to be made inside where the water flowed down the hallway.  But all I can think about is the irony of the fact that though we were without water for a spell (which felt no small thing whilst 6 kids were throwing up), we had the luxury of a friend with a truck and a big heart, who toted 5 gallon buckets of crystal clear spring water from the artisan well that flows 24/7 down the hill from us.  I have no idea how it works or who put the spout there.  But the water is amazing and free for the taking.  In spring time it sometimes pours out over the road, it is such a plentiful source of abundance.  The reality that the bulk of the world has no access to water like that and drinks daily from filthy rivers or mud-puddles seems so gravely wrong to me.  I told Audrey last week, the most common cause for death for children five and under around the world stems from drinking dirty water.  She said, “Wow, I’m glad I just turned six!”.  But it is a painful reality.  One that I can’t ever get far from my mind, especially when I drive past that water.

What are we supposed to do, us born into a life that compared to most of the world, is chock full of abundance?  Take constant inventory I guess, and find ways to give more, love more, bless more.  Hold loosely to things, not in a disrespectful way but it a way that reflects the truth that says people matter more than the stuff.  While its tempting to bemoan the mess that waits inside for me, I’d do best to count myself incredibly blessed to have books that line shelves and boxes full of hand-me-down shoes for my kids and coats in every size (despite the fact that said items are piled in disarray at the moment).  Clothing and a safe home and water and food enough to share, the things that I easily forget to be thankful for.  But take one away for a day or two and I’m quickly reminded how the basics are really all we need. The continual tension is good I suppose, it is right and when it leaves, that’s when I should worry.

For now, I’ll just soak in a few more minutes of enjoying my view from the grass.

 

When the family tree is tipping

I glanced up while feeding the baby today at the one of only two walls in my home that bear any semblance of “home decorating” and had to smirk.  Somehow in the chaos that has ensued here this past week, the tree painting on the family wall was all askew:

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It seemed fitting.  Saturday evening after what we thought was “a quick stomach bug” had ended, our friends came over to buy some hay.  As Chris stood in the hall with his buddy Mark, he said perfectly calmly, “Hey, you’d better move over, you’re gonna get wet.”  In a quick second, the craziness of what was happening clicked and he jumped into action, grabbing towels, calling for reinforcements, etc.  We eventually had to turn the whole house water off to stop the flooding down the hallway.  Simultaneously, I was outside, in the pasture overseeing goats and milking and such, musing about castration methods with my friend Sam.  Rylee ran up to me and said “I don’t feel good” and promptly lost her dinner just shy of my boots.  As I walked her inside, I heard the calls for help and towels and got wind of the “water emergency”.  Um, yes, turns out the septic pump quitting and the subsequent “backing up” that happens, it indeed quite a crisis.

By the next morning, we realized our floors were buckling and we needed to call insurance, which we’ve never done so that was a whole new thing to figure out.  They sent people out immediately to put up industrial fans to dry the floor and walls and rip out anything damaged.  While I’m rinsing out throw up bowls (without running water), there are all these workers in our house.  And the extra fun fact here?  Though it was a weekend day, my hubby was filling in for our pastor who was on vacation….so he absolutely had to go to church.  He apologetically departed and went to Safeway with a bottle of shampoo and washed his hair in the bathroom there so that he didn’t have to preach with serious bedhead.  Initially, a good part of our downstairs was sequestered off with thick plastic and full of the big fans, but by this afternoon it looked like this:

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Imagine fans so loud you can’t hear if someone is throwing up in the next room or calling Mom for help…seriously, they were loud.  We went for a drive a few days ago to get a break and though all seemed okay, before we made it home someone was throwing up in the van.  This went on for a couple days and by today, despite the continual stomach issues people were having (as in:  “Mom, gross, help…Finn was playing on the deck but he just threw up all his chocolate cookies and the dog is eating it” and “Babe, I know you just got to work but I feel like I’m dying, you gotta come home right now”) we had to get out of here.  We went “hiking” for a couple hours on a trail nearby and breathed deep the fresh, quiet air.  It was therapeutic and wonderful even if it ended with me carrying an 8 month old on my back and a 35 pound three year old on the front.

The vintage, cutesy sign I bought for our anniversary was suddenly more than an art piece, it was us. 

together

It was the way we shift into action in the midst of crisis and the way we both try to be gracious even though we feel like we’re about to snap.  How he stayed up hours one night to do dishes and clean counters just so there was one space that didn’t look like this (after the clean up crew came and emptied out a closet into our schoolroom):

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This is real life.  It’s where the family tree either puts down deeper roots and survives the storm or topples over and gives up.  We might have been blown around a bit this week.  For sure.  There were moments that left me feeling one step from crazy.  But then as I’m weeding the garden and digging out the cat poo that is infiltrating my spinach, Finn says to Audrey, “Guess what? I like ants.  I found an ant and I put it in my pants and its in there.  Right now.  I have an ant in my pull-up!”.  Really, honestly?  I laughed a lot.  I told and retold the stories and made them seem like entertainment because the alternative, the sitting around in a puddle of tears, just doesn’t work so well.

My parents are in blistering heat halfway around the world sharing hope and love and LIFE with people who can’t imagine my fuss over losing a bathroom for a week or three.  They’d be thrilled just to have a toilet.  As I sweat it out in my laundry room next to the fans doing their (loud) work, I think of my mom who can’t stand hot weather, laying that down to go where God called, even if its 118 degrees.  As I swish out yet another throw up bowl, I’m keenly aware that there is an incredible hospital an hour away from here chock full of children who would give anything to just have a bad bug for a week.  They just want to live.  Perspective is everything.  It’s true.

So, for the record, we’re still standing folks.  A bit bruised and weary but the fact remains:

We’re in this together.

On walking and waking together

I was just a month past my teens and freshly turned twenty, sixteen long years ago.  He’d won my heart years before, when I wasn’t even old enough to drive a car.  Against all odds, we were still an inseparable pair and despite the long distance of college, he asked me to share the rest of life with him.  I asked him first if he’d asked my dad (he had!) and then I said yes.  A few weeks later we went on a walk with a friend and her camera and she snapped this photo:

The beginning of the journey

A year of planning and dreaming and anticipating what life together would look like.  Quiet walks and plenty of time to talk.  Coffee dates whenever we pleased and the occasional jump into the lake on a sun-setting summer night.  Both with two years of university remaining, we studied hard, worked hard and served hard on staff part time at church.  Money in short supply but not lacking in the burning-with-love-for-each-other- department.  Oh the waiting, it felt like we would never make it to that altar!

It was easy.  The saying yes.  The beginning of the journey.  That uncharacteristically warm summer May afternoon with 427 people sitting watching.  Its the staying in yes that isn’t the easy part.  No one tells you that.  Years without babies with hearts full of ministry life then the years with babies, one after another.  The quaint little college apartment with organized everything gave way to a cute and crowded condo by the lake which gave way to the darling rambler where we would welcome our fifth baby blessing on our bedroom floor on a cold February evening.

There were scars by then.  The kind you see, that tell of a body swollen beyond capacity time and again.  And the kind you don’t see, the ones that tell of losses and disappointments that rend the heart all sorts of broken.  There were all the months I spent sure that no other married ones who loved Jesus this much could possibly find life this hard.  Whatever of “happily ever after”?

Just when it seemed the heart was plum full and how could I possibly learn to love more, deeper, softer….there was always more.  Room for more.  Growing, changing, forgiving, learning, CHOOSING.  It was always that that was hardest for me.  That it wasn’t always going to feel lovely and beautiful.  It was going to be a falling apart mess sometimes and I would always have to choose.  Choose to be steadfast.  Choose to forgive.  Choose to stay present.  Choose to love extravagantly.  All in the midst of a culture that says marriage isn’t forever and I should do what makes me feel good, despite the cost.

I booked a babysitter days ago, chose the nicest restaurant in our country town for us to share dinner and anticipated what two hours off alone together would be like.  Life is full and loud and some face time is such a rare gift.  Just five hours before our to-be anniversary dinner I heard these infamous words “I think I’m going to throw up mom!”  And I dropped everything, ran to the kitchen and ushered her to the bathroom.  I cancelled the sitter and texted the sad news of our dashed dinner plans.  An hour later as Finn joked about “choking up” as he calls it, and playing with the bowls I had put out, he turned sheet white and lost his lunch all over the kitchen floor.  The hubby texted back and offered to pick up dinner and I mopped up nastiness one batch after another.

He brought take out and we sat on the back deck so we could eat sans vomit-smell.  Liberty kept us company and we mused about our state of affairs while eating out of a box with plastic forks.

We exchanged gifts, which was hysterical because we both shopped at Costco for each other, obviously because the boxes were identical.  We agreed on many accounts but especially this…the sharing of the journey, in all its imperfection and mess, the walking together instead of alone, the waking up in the same bed with the same person day after day after day…it is profoundly precious.  It is not overrated.  It is nothing less than amazing in all its “ordinary-ness”.

As I took bites of food on the deck in between rounds of running in to empty full puke-bowls, I could only smile.  This is it.  This is real life.  This is our life.  An unexpected end to our fifteenth wedding anniversary to be sure.  But then most of our life together has been unexpected and beyond what I’d dreamed of.  I could not ask for a better someone to share it all with.  Our walks may be slower and louder these days, but they are rich and brimming with love and laughter and all sorts of sweetness we are crazy thankful for.

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