90 years

His life has been so rich.  His contributions so many.  And in these last years of his long and amazing life his world is growing increasingly small.  I don’t think too often about what the rest of my life will look like.  My today is full and requires everything I have (and usually a little bit more).  But when I’m 90 I surely hope I love Jesus and love family the way my Grandpa does.  Getting to share a week with him this July was such a treasure.  Since we won’t all be able to travel back east for his 90th birthday bash, we celebrated out here.

Great Grandpa with Rylee at the beach
With Audrey!
Our last living grandparent, Grandpa Larson, and his 7 great-grands!
My sisters and I with Grandpa

As we took turns going around the room and reading him our birthday letters, we shared with him the impact his life had had, on us and on many.  After each of us spoke, he would say that he hoped that what we’d said was even partly true.  And we would choke up and tell him that indeed, what we had spoken was what we meant.  His humble and tender heart, the way he tells me “You’re doing such a great job, keep up the good work with those kids!” speaks so deeply to my being, every single time he says it.  He is a great and brilliant man who has worked very hard and lived a full and rich life.  It was a delight to celebrate with him while he is still with us.

 

 

 

Why we homeschool

I love reading other people’s post about why they homeschool and I used to struggle to formulate a proper response succinctly when people would ask me why on earth I would choose to keep my kids with me all day, all year.  So this year, really for myself more than anyone, I thought I ought to make myself write out some thoughts on the matter.

There are a lot of reasons why we homeschool now though if I’m honest in the beginning it was more from fear of other options and a dreamy hope that we would whittle away blissful days of learning together.  While we do spend days learning together and it is awesome, bliss isn’t probably the best descriptor.  Chaotic, messy, loud, passionate, frustrating, rewarding and meaningful would better fit the bill.

One of my favorite aspects of home based learning is that learning becomes a lifestyle that we live out together.  We don’t sequester off a ‘school room’ and only do school certain minutes in that certain place.  Though some times and spots (the kitchen bar or table or couch or covered front porch or under a tree on the front lawn)  we do more traditional work, the boundaries of home and school blend into a beautiful mess.  It can be a Saturday morning at 10 and Caleb can find a brilliant green striped caterpillar and we can work on identifying and classifying it together.  It can be Rylee not feeling well and waiting till 4 pm to sit down for her math lesson because she tends to work best later in the day anyway.  It can be a week that several people we know are sick or in need and we spend a Tuesday baking and cooking food together then delivering it to bellies that will be blessed by it.  Life and learning and loving get all wound up in this indescribable way and it is hands down, every day worth the sacrifice and the work.  It’s worth missing out on coffee dates with friends after school-drop-off time and time to pursue hobbies and such.

We are able to adjust for different children’s learning pace and style when they learn in this setting.  This has been a huge blessing as we’ve watched our children grow and develop in their skills and styles.  I am challenged to be a student of my students and to figure out how best to bring them to feast on knowledge, truth and great literature.

Facilitating sibling communication and relationships, sometimes my least favorite job, is also a part of our learning lifestyle.  We get all day to figure out how to work together, how to all pitch in to make this home run smoothly, how to honor mom and how to work hard.  We mess it all up all the time and we learn and we get the chance to give grace every single day.

When we talk about the stars in the sky and read about the founding fathers, I marvel and wonder out loud at how God works and designs and uses the lives of people to make history.  This I love.  I could not imagine not being the one to stand before them impassioned and animated reading the Declaration of Independence and talking about what freedom means and the price so many have paid for us to enjoy it.

We can hunker down and get a school-days worth of work completed in a couple of hours.  Then we can pursue carving, sewing, tree-climbing, adventure-finding and delight in nature before the sun goes down.  We can have friends over or go to classes at co-op or take field trips when we fancy.  Even if its a weekday afternoon or morning.  The freedom and flexibility abound and I love that.

The way ‘school’ soaks into life and the kitchen table gets covered with handwriting practice and maps.

The chance to be the one learning the most about who my kids are, how they can thrive, what they are passionate about and what sorts of choices (and friends) they are making, I am incredibly grateful for this.

Just a part of the iceberg here, more thoughts are mulling about but for now, I’ll just say that the (official) new school year is upon us and I can’t wait to dive in when the day is here.  But for these last few days of summer, you’ll find me sleeping in, drinking coffee on the front porch at 10 am in my jammies with my kiddos hanging around…

loving

every

minute.

4-H fun!

Our summer has been even more fun than we’d hoped given our recent entrance into the wide world that is 4-H.  When we dropped in at the open house last September we were still living in our little house, our kids praying and dreaming for some space to climb trees and raise some animals.  We met a super sweet lady who had a dairy goat farm and we were hooked.  She was passionate about kids and animals.  She had a wealth of knowledge about something we were interested in and a heart to share it.  That last sentence probably sums up a good deal of all that is 4-H.

We decided to jump in and join the goat group even though we had no hopes of having goats in our little yard.  I sort of figured we’d live vicariously through the ones who did have goats and we’d learn a lot in the process.  My goodness are we ever glad we did.  Our kids have grown in their confidence and abilities in ways I never expected.  The look on their faces walking away with ribbons for participation and good work was priceless.  The friendship they’ve found there has been of even greater value.

We started into the world of fairs and showing animals with a small community fair this year.  It was quite possibly the best day of our summer.  My face hurt from smiling by the day’s end.  The icing on the cake was that my grandpa planned his trip out to visit to correlate with the fair.  So he got to see his great-grands do their first show.

There were no rides, just old fashioned games like potato sack races and climb-the-greased-pole.  The food was cheap and the pace was slow.  It was the best induction into the realm of showing animals and projects and such.  Little did we know when we started this adventure that we would move this year and be able to have our own goats!  We enjoy them more than we even thought we would.  They are wonderful companions and pets!

Finding order – with a houseful of kids

Yes, I realize that five kids between 18 months and 9 years of age is not a houseful to some, but it is to most.  And I most certainly have felt a big pull to make some strides in the area of organization and planning our days to work better.  When we moved this spring I thought I had this great chance to implement 52 grand ideas on ‘how-we-can-do-things-better’.  Turned out we actually had this great chance to clean out, give away and somehow survive moving.  That was about it.  And it was plenty.

I emailed a few veteran mama friends towards the end of May.  We were (barely) crawling to the finish line and may or may not have finished our grammar work before calling it ‘summer’.  My email went something like this:

I have a lot of small people at my house.  I love them.  They are messy and loud and imperfect (darn it!).  I am feeling pretty overwhelmed.  I want to be able to manage my home better, spend more time doing fun stuff with my kids, train them to help more efficiently and effectively and to PUT THINGS AWAY AFTER GETTING THEM OUT.

So those may be the main bullet points but in reality my honest email was much longer and was a plea for some direction, inspiration and encouragement.  This stage with young ones is just plain hard.  No way around it only one way, through.  I trudged forward and packed our years school materials away for summer and took a deep breath.  There was so much I loved and I am ever so thankful to get to have them with me instead of sending them off every morning.

There were several approaches to getting organized but some basic principles, that I’d seen pay great dividends even when I merely dabbled in them, continued to surface as I searched for ideas and help.  Themes like:

  • get up before your kids and get ready for your day before it gets away from you
  • assign chores to your children, stick with the same ones so they get in a groove and do them well – to learn a good work ethic, everyone needs to learn to help out
  • expect EXCELLENCE – show them what a good job looks like and challenge them to greatness
  • children thrive on structure and routine, it makes them feel safe
  • mom’s need to model discipline and self-control (and sitting on the couch/computer/facebook on a smart phone/etc need serious boundaries)
  • one can schedule and still cultivate free play, creativity and other lovely things (I did not know this, really!)

Early June I wrote a friend (who I knew was struggling in the same ways) and suggested we read and brainstorm how we could plan better and make our life at home with our kids run more smoothly.  She said a quick yes.  We read and made lists and bounced ideas off each other and our husbands and made more lists.  Our goal was to, by summer’s end, have a workable schedule for our entire days during the (home)schooling year.  We would meet up late August and spend a few hours (celebrating her birthday) and hashing out all the details to form our many lists and thoughts into a master family schedule.

Today was the big day.  We woke with the sun and I drove a long ways while she took a ferry across the water to get to our meeting place.  After a hearty breakfast we broke out the gelly roll pens, the mechanical pencils, the plethora of lists, big erasers and a lot of determination.  We spent hours working and planning (and talking).  I think I drank 4 cups of coffee and 6 glasses of ice water and 2 mugs of tea.

We interrupted each other a few dozen times and erased what we’d written more times than that.  Though this part seemed hard, it was easy compared to the work ahead.  We have patterns that need changing, habits that need breaking and it won’t be a piece of cake for sure.  In a few weeks, I’ll be sure to post again and update on how the implementation all went down.  I expect it to be more than rocky.  But we will persevere and adjust when needed.  For now, we’re soaking in these summer days and spending every extra minute at the fair and in the sun!

When church hurts

My sister is nearing the home stretch in her third pregnancy, I guess I could certainly count on her to give me a good description of uncomfortable.  But I’ve been mulling over a different sort of uncomfortable.

It has been close to four years (gasp, really?  is that possible?) since our decade long stint serving and working full time in the church setting came to a close.  Our family and friends, our whole life truly was wrapped up in a place that we loved.  We were known.  We belonged and it felt good.

Dealing with the grief and loss in and after that season was very onion-like, we would deal with one thing only to realize there was still more.  Some of it I hated because my heart hurt so bad I couldn’t see straight and some was so sacred, so holy that I relished it for what it was.  After a hiatus from church altogether, we visited a dozen church one summer anticipating ‘fun’ and ‘variety’.  Hmmmm, there would be many words to describe it but fun it was not.  We were strangers, visitors, unknown nobodies.  Sometimes we were welcomed and directed and sometimes we were chastised for sitting in the wrong spot.

When we left our long time church home, our place of comfort and community, one of the whispers that God kept speaking to my heart was this:

You will never again be as comfortable as you were here.

I was tempted to be bitter and angry.  But I had done bitter and angry plenty already and the fruit was sour.  I refused to sign up for more on purpose.  I let the words sit in my heart and simply waited.  As the months passed and the fog of sadness lifted a bit I began to see the down side of being comfortable…

  • it was special and felt good to walk into a place and know that everyone knew who I was but somehow I forgot that not everyone felt that way
  • it was hard to find the courage to try new things or dream different dreams because the draw of stability when you have kids in your life is a very strong draw
  • staying put is (often) easier than stepping out
  • living in a nest-like cocoon of community can be a bubble that leaves you out of touch with the world around you

I began to understand that my comfort had often brought along with it complacency.  In order for me to realize that a change was imperative, my world needed to fall apart.

And it did.  What first felt like I-can’t-breathe gave way to maybe-I-can-get-dressed-today which later led to we-all-might-survive-this-just-possibly.  But the sense that we were headed for a different walk, a different sort of path was something I could not shake as we moved forward.

In the past two years we’ve been part of a new place of fellowship.  It has felt like home.  It’s been precious and encouraging and has built us up.  We know we are supposed to be there.  But like any place where a bunch of imperfect people get together, there is hard stuff.  There are challenges that are uncomfortable.

This time however, I am determined to do better at living in that middle place where I can “take my shoes off” but I’m not so at ease that I don’t see the needs all around me.  I have been gifted with children who don’t all perfectly fit in with their peers and this is indeed a monumental gift.  It forces me to be sensitive and aware in ways I would not normally be.  I am learning to welcome the feeling that things aren’t quite right because that means there is room for improvement and that means that I get to watch things happen that are beyond my ability.  I love that.

The one thing

It used to be the way he held my hand in front of his parents when we were seventeen.  Oh the little I knew about how much I would chase down their approval of me for years and years to come.

Then it was the way he wrote love to me on real paper with a real pen, signed his name and signed his heart to mine one piece at a time.  I would wait for days, instead of seconds, to hear from him in another decade before technology replaced real relationships and we all lost the beauty of having to wait, the appreciation that comes with anticipation.

It was the way he kissed me that put him (and those lips of his) into a category all his own.  I dreamed about seeing those lips on babies that were ours.

It was the scent of Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren, I could smell it across a church service and the mere smell twisted my heart all up.

It was absolute, raw charm that exuded from deep brown eyes.  They burned and etched their way right through me.

It isn’t always the same thing for more than a few months or years.  There have been a lot of ‘one things’ that turn my heart his way, that melt the heart of mine that freezes up sometimes. 

The way he stands up for me, even when I don’t always deserve it – not much more says love than someone’s “I am with you, for you, at all costs”.  

How he thinks this post-five-baby me is something to look twice at.

All these little and big things morph into a marriage that while it isn’t perfect and some days it is plain ugly,

we are

both

still

here.

Today Mat Kearney’s been playing through the speakers….song after song around here because the heart is (only a little) frozen and those words, the way that music (and a whole lot of Jesus) wove hearts back together just a few years ago does something deep, something beyond words.  I go about my day and breathe deep and listen.  Words and melodies and phrases that trigger memories, trigger love.  And its one of those seasons when love needs a little prompting. I know how lovely things can look on a blog, at church on Sunday, at the grocery store in line saying hello and anywhere else.  Yes, there is a generous smattering of lovely here and we choose gratitude most of the time.  But you’ve got to know that every day isn’t a perfect one.  And if your whole life feels like the imperfect one, let me just spell this right out:

Nothing is beyond repair.  You, your marriage, your children or anything else that seems hopeless, isn’t.  I know so few things for certain but one of the precious few is that God is so, truly in the business of miracles and doing impossible things.

I swore I’d never forget.  Never forget all the ashes He turned into beauty right before my very eyes.  But time makes it easier not to remember.  The sting of a fresh hurt or even a handful of heartaches blurs the memory of the miracles.  So I’m off to listen loud and relish that warm feeling inside from today’s “one thing” that melts my heart for the husband of my youth.

 

A boy and his dreams

Today the wide-eyed one who loves to wonder told me with with brazen confidence:

See that tree mama?  What I’m gonna do is climb it to the top and jump out after I make some wings.  I’m going to glide down (a brother interjected, “won’t you FALL?”) Oh no, I won’t fall I will GLIDE.  It’s going to be great!

I smiled at the blue-eyed one.  Much of life seems to bear down hard on this precious son.  The way he feels and learns and sees and hears makes for
o-v-e-r-w-h-e-l-m-e-d him more often than I wish.  Who am I to crush his dreams?  Who am I to be the voice of reason and tell him he can’t and it won’t work and here are 10 reasons why that is a terrible idea?

How many times have I crushed him already?  Not been tender enough when he was (slightly) injured for the millionth time and I could not muster one more ounce of compassion?  This the one child that managed to break his foot simply leaning back on a kitchen chair because he could not sit still through dinner.  How have I taken the fun out of something meant to be lighthearted when all he wanted was to dream big?

He’s hard at work behind me right now.  The sweet grunts and groans of boy deep in his work.  Believing big that he can do something great.  Is it my job to tell him he can’t fly?  He can’t change the world? Just because I feel so darn grumpy this morning?  Or just because the world is a terrifying place where the most unimaginable things happen?  Every.  Single. Day?

He just finished the work.  “I’m going out to fly mama!”  Hope filled and an ear-to-ear grin.  “I’m right behind you, hang on” I call to him. 

I grab a camera and chase the one who I know will one day conquer great things, for all the small he has to learn to conquer everyday.

“Do you think its going to work?  I’ll climb up and you hand me my wings so they don’t break, okay? (he pauses) Maybe I should come down a few branches and try lower first?”

He trusts me, implicitly, despite my daily failing him.  He knows I’m in his corner.  Despite the thousand times I’ve wondered why he didn’t get a better mother than me, somehow he loves this one that he has.  He asks if I think this is the right height. I breathe relief.  I didn’t want to say it.  Thankful he figured it out on his own.  He waits and shouts “READY!” and jumps.

My eyes well up behind the lens because its not every day I see this kind of sheer glee from him.  I love it.  I love his sparkle and his creativity and his determination.  I love the way he cradles grasshoppers and moths in his hands.  The way he knows the sounds of different birds in our yard.  I literally relish every single second because I know it won’t last an hour, maybe not even five minutes but the taste of this moments, these moments with this boy….they are so sweet my heart hurts.

Where big brother goes, little brothers long to follow.  This does not always pan out well here.  But it did today.  Little brother searched for his own cardboard, his own scissors and tape and formulated his own ‘wings’.  The littlest brother was happy to swing in the hammock chair while the big boys proved their awesomeness. The tree proved a challenge so we moved the picnic table to the edge of the deck which was a perfect, still challenging but not quite so crazy, height.

Someday his jump will take him out of my nest and into the wide world.  I will miss his good days and his bad.  I will miss the way he tucks himself under my arm on the couch because someday he won’t fit there.  I will not always be his leading lady so I am determined to find more days like this one and love them with all my heart.