My one-of-a-kind mother

She is 64 years beautiful, my one and only, not-like-any-other-mother in all the world.  I haven’t ever met anyone quite like her, and I don’t guess I ever will.

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When asked by her friend how she’d like to spend her birthday (today), she answered “a picnic in the Arboretum with my daughters and granddaughters”.  So that’s just what we did, a girl day in all of Spring’s blooming, pink glory.  And we even had an extra bonus, my mom’s younger sister was here unexpectedly and got to join in the fun!

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She’s the one who can step up, step in when there is a mess of any sort…be it the heart kind or the laundry kind.  She has listened and loved for so many hundreds of hours over the past 35 years of my life and I’m just now beginning to understand the greatness of that gift.  She has offered wisdom and grace and encouragement when my need has been paramount.  She has stepped out in faith, taken risks, been brave and continued to pursue Jesus with all her heart.  She has modeled a faithful, unwavering commitment to the vows of marriage, which in this era is a fading thing of beauty.  That we’ve been blessed to live within 30 minutes drive of her and my dad for these past 15 years is such a treasure.

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What a perfect day we had to celebrate!  Warm spring days aren’t any given around these parts and we couldn’t have asked for a better one.  Nor could any of us girls have asked for a better mom.  Each of our lives holds all sorts of bits and pieces of her life and love all wrapped up into the women we are still becoming.

Thank you mom for letting each of us be “us”
and loving us
better with every passing year.

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I read these verses this morning and they so describe my parents, we may be more familiar with the cherry tree instead of the cedars of Lebanon but certainly they are planted and rooted in God’s house, still bearing fruit in their “old” age, full of “green” life and declaring still the faithfulness of God…

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.  They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92:12-15)

Spring snapshots

Busy days here…keeping up with school work and farm work is filling the days right up.  Here are some glimpses into what we’re up to:

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The boys and daddy headed to the local Mountain Man show – by next year I vow to have a proper outfit for the hubby to wear, if he dares!

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It was sunny one day, so they donned swimsuits and went down the creek…turns out it wasn’t warm enough for a swim…but it was fun.

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worlds’ cutest little garden helper

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“the kind of thing brothers like to do”

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our friend Tom doing a (fantastic) barn add-on so we’ve got room for babies due end of April

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this farm girl has been working overtime helping with animals and work these days – her goat Blanchette is due May 1 with her first set of kids – we can feel them moving inside her belly every day

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the 54 meat chicks have graduated outdoors to their chicken tractor – thank goodness, smelly little buggers overstayed their welcome in the garage

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how this chicken could NOT make you laugh out loud, I don’t know, her name is Benny and she was the “free bonus chick” with our hatchery order – she or he is a riot – she resides in a pen with 25 brown Rhode Island Red pullets (below)

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remember those strawberries I wrote about?  here they are, putting down roots and setting new leaves!

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bare root raspberries, just getting their first leaves, seems weird to plant a stick looking thing in the ground and expect it to do something, but it is!

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trying out a bite of dandelion next to the cucumber bed

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daddy’s super cool mason bee home that we put three tubes of dormant mason bees into with hopes they will come out soon and pollinate all over our yard!

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Audrey taking Nana for an ATV ride!

 

The fantastic Finn

He turned three this week.  If I thought I had been exposed already to “all things boy” with two other boys already, I was wrong.  Phineas continues to keep me on my toes and I continue to marvel at the person he is…

Dear Finn,

Nearly every single day you do something that astounds, surprises, shocks or terrifies us.  Just when we think we’ve figured out how you manage to get out of your room in the middle of the night to take a Costco-sized bag of hoagie rolls into your bed with you, we are found wrong, again.  You’ve mastered the “child proof lock” over and over.  It apparently is no match for your ingenious young self.  You have a tree in the front yard that is sort of your own…you climb to the top with ease, have done so since you were 2 1/2 years old and peek out the top calling my name.

You potty trained yourself for three months last summer but then decided that was overrated and haven’t done so again since.  When I hold up a green crayon and ask you what color it is, you reply “John Deere”.  And I don’t correct you.  Truth is, I’ll be sad the day you are grown up enough to call it green.  You know the rest of your colors just fine.  Your vocabulary and ability to communicate is beyond any of your siblings at this age.  When you open your mouth in the company of someone who doesn’t know you, they are quite always surprised to hear you chatter on in long sentences….you’ve done so for at least 6 months already.

You live, breath, love all things John Deere.  You can’t stand wearing jeans but love wearing either pajama pants or your Carhartt “farm suit” as you call it.  This morning while I was doing dishes I looked out my window to see you outside, in 38 degree February weather, walking around the yard with your new “chainsaw” trying to fell every tree you came across.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, you were content to sit on the playset and hold your saw and grin at me:

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I came downstairs two weeks ago to find you very diligently doing the dishes…

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Obviously they needed doing.  This is you in a nutshell.  You see everything around you.  You find ways to obtain or accomplish just about anything you set your mind to.  You are tenacious and determined and possess such strength that sometimes I can only shake my head and hope that your dad and I can harness and direct your energy in the right direction.  I can’t wait to see who you will become, who you were created to be.

We are so thankful for all that you bring to our family!

Love,

Mama

Adding to our flock

We’ve spent the better part of these past two years figuring out how to care for and utilize the space we have.  We didn’t plant a garden the first year but waited instead to see where the summer sun would be hottest.  Then last year we had a baby due right at the peak of harvest season so we (wisely!) decided to forgo the garden and joined a CSA for produce instead.  Our hens are getting older and aren’t laying as predictably as before.  That, coupled with the fact our kids would like to sell eggs (and already have customers waiting!), meant adding to our laying flock.  Which meant chicks.  Which meant having a brooder space for them to be safely out of Finn’s reach, the cat’s claws and warm enough despite getting them very early in the season.

I didn’t want to add work to my already very hard working husband’s plate.  So the kids and I set out to build a large box-type home for the chicks.  I learned many things about power tools in the process, like using big screws in the impact driver on really dry, cheap wood means splitting the wood at least 50% of the time.  I got splinters.  The box isn’t beautiful.  But it serves its purpose and for that I am proud.  The best part is, we got to work on it as a team, which is always fun…

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these loud “chicks” were waiting inside the completed brooder to greet daddy when he came home

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nothing quite so fun as going to the post office first thing in the morning to pick up a very loud peeping box of cuteness!

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Why mud means hope

It may not make any sense to anyone except me.  Which is entirely okay.  But coming outside just now to rally some boys for some heavy lifting work only to find them emerging from the forest wearing wide grins and pants covered in thick mud….it was a glimmer for me.  A glimmer of what might be some day soon.

Spring might come.  We might some time, not too far from now, spend days outside, one after another.  My boys, despite their glaring, enormous differences in personality, might get along with each other within the common cause of the outdoors.  Though the wind whipped brisk and chilled all bits of skin that weren’t covered tight, warmer days will arrive.

It’s been a long winter.  The metaphorical one and the real one.  There have been many, more than normal, cold days where we’ve been sequestered to the indoors.  This is especially hard for one of our kids, the one who lives and breathes all things nature.  So finding my boys wielding my purple pruning sheers and pants that will for sure never be the same again, somehow this fills me with hope.  Getting stuck in two feet of mud and losing a pair of boots in the process was the common ground these two needed today, even if for just one day.  The mud means the ground isn’t frozen which means we’re not frozen.  We will pull through. We might be messy and sure get things wrong along the way.  But we will be all the stronger for it…

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Eleven years old

Dear Rylee,

I held your hand tonight in the van, for miles down the dark, rainy highway on our way home from your little brothers’ birthday dinner.  I squeezed you tight and thought you’d let go but you just held tighter.  We’d been talking birthdays and gifts and Kenya.  You talk often of your friend there, your sponsored child who lives across the world from us.  She is never far from your thoughts, your heart.  But especially today.  She’s just about to have a birthday too, the exact same age as you.  I doubt she’s ever heard the term “tween” even if that’s the category her age falls into.  I also doubt she’s ever heard of Playmobil toys.

You have been saving for a long time for a very specific, sizable Playmobil set.  One with cows and a milking room and all sorts of cool farm stuff.  Tonight on our rainy day home you told me you’d been thinking.  That instead of wanting that set that you wanted to put that money toward the trip you plan to take to meet your African sister-friend in about two years.

You also asked if you could request that for your birthday and Christmas you simply get money toward that same goal instead of presents.  You explained why, having thought it all through quite obviously and knowing the cost would be great and it would take some planning, some setting aside of certain things in order to be able to go.  You told me you really didn’t need more presents but that you just wanted so much to be able to go to Kenya.
That’s when I took your hand in the van.  With tears and a heart plum full of love for you, my oldest daughter, I told you you were beautiful…that your heart was beautiful…that I loved who you were and how you cared about the things that matter most.  It was one of those moments where everything is crystal clear and you don’t want to forget a single detail.  You aren’t one to say what you don’t mean and I knew as you spoke that you meant every word.

You are indeed a beauty.  Inside and out.  We are insanely blessed to have you as our first born.  The gift you are to my life, to our family is beyond any measure.  You spent your first weekend as an eleven year old sewing.  First pillowcase dresses for girls in poverty in Africa…then sewing matching dresses with your dear friend, dresses that you wore together to church on Sunday.

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I’m well aware we are on the cusp of a new era of parenting as we creep closer to the teen years.  While that will hold its own set of wonder and challenge, for now I’m savoring the girlhood just a bit longer and relishing what we have right now.

So grateful that you are here.

Love always,

Mama

Finding rest in the midst of chaos

I sit across the table from her in the early morning as we drink coffee in the corner of this tiny breakfast spot that is a 45 minute drive for both of us.  It’s the perfect middle meeting place.  She drives south as I’m driving north.  It isn’t anything pretty to look at, this little diner that seems to be full of locals who all know each other and talk farming and friendship and bureaucracy.  But to me, on this rainy Saturday, it is sacred ground.

We’ve somehow managed to carve out time with none of our combined thirteen children and have two full hours of face time.  Not the electronic app type, but the real kind where I can reach across my coffee cup and touch her arm.  There is little time for chit chat or anything light or mindless, not today.  We know our time is short and we both know too there is heartache of many varieties on each side of the table.  There are twenty five years of friendship in between as well.

Our banter is quiet and though we find things to laugh about, as we exchange words and share about life, something happens that is always a bit beyond the reach of my understanding.  Somehow, in the sharing, in the hearing, in the remembering together, the burdens that are pressing so heavy on my heart are lifted just a bit.  We don’t answer any big questions or solve any mysteries.  The process reminds me of these words that are life to me these days…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

These two hours are rest for my soul.  In the midst of the talking, the listening and the tears there is some sort of mysterious exchange.  It feels like she is a stand-in for Jesus.  There isn’t any better way to describe it.  In daring to speak out loud my deep sadness and struggle, and listening to hers….in shouldering it alongside each other in the corner booth, it doesn’t weigh the same.  It is lighter.

At certain times, I think God knows we need a physical person to represent him in our life.  We need someone living, breathing, sitting right there whose own eyes well up when they see us cry.  Someone who holds no judgement over our failure or mistakes.  Someone who doesn’t offer an answer but extends compassion and makes sure we know they aren’t going anywhere.  We can read in a book or on a blog or know God’s word by memory, all sorts of truth.  But there are moments in life when things press in a little (or a lot) too hard and we need a person who looks like Jesus to hold us up, to bear with us under the weight of life, until we can stand again.

Thankful today that we don’t have to walk it alone.  That one way or another, God stands near.  Ever present in our pain.

It takes two

There are black mascara lines streaking downward from both my eyes.  My cheeks are  flushed red and my heart still beats a little too fast.  It was 4H tonight and I was hell bent on making it work to go even though Chris had plans and that meant I would have to go alone with six children.  I had my reasons, it only meets once a month, our oldest two have presentations to give tonight and so on.  By dinner time it had already been a tough day on multiple fronts and all signs pointed to “don’t do it”.  But I didn’t want to disappoint our responsible, studious oldest daughter who had her puppet show all prepared and handouts freshly printed.

Being a mother means sometimes having the responsibility of doing things alone with your kids.  It’s just part of the gig.  Depending on work schedules and kids activities there might be lots of things you manage to do by yourself.  We rock Costco every two weeks or so, the kids and I, because we need to.  Same with the dentist, the orthodontist, choir and co-op classes.  We either figure it out or we stay home.  And then there are a few things that require two parents for success.  Those include church, the aquarium, any place that involves jumping or bouncing and 4H meetings.

We were 4H bound.  We managed to leave early so we could score a good parking place.  There may have been crying about jackets but all in all, we departed.  The meeting went off without a hitch and the presentation was stellar.  Their audience laughed and smiled while they acted out the life story of a sea turtle.  I watched while I nursed the baby.  Meanwhile, Phineas was dismantling a part of the piano, shutting himself in the dog crate and barking, abusing his ice machine privileges or trying to find a way into the sealed cookies that were for snack time later. While I tried to keep tabs on him, Liberty was busy spitting up all over their carpet.  Still, in general we were surviving.  Then Finn took the closet off its hinges with his brute two year old force.  All the kids were in an uproar and found it exceedingly hilarious, which led him to believe likewise.  He brought me by the hand to show me what he’d done and then promptly said he was sorry.  I may have laughed and then said “we need to leave before we break anything else!”.

My heart had wanted, earlier, to either stay home or put enough pressure on the hubby that he would give up his plans and come with us.  But I didn’t like that feeling.  I wanted the best of both worlds, he could go out with friends and I could be supermom and tackle 4H with grace and charisma.  Perhaps that’s called pride?  Or ignorance?  I’m not sure.  I am sure of one thing, I should have listened to myself.

After I sent three kids out the door with express instructions to go to the van, which was just outside said door, I ran back inside for Liberty who was in the arms of a friend.  When I opened the front door, my boys were running up the driveway hill toward their younger sister who was standing in the dark nearly on the white line of the country road (read: no sidewalk, barrier or bright streetlights).  They were laughing and bursting with energy.  And I startled the poor baby in my arms as I screamed for them to come back.  They hightailed it to the van, knowing instantly from my tone that they’d made a very bad judgement call.

I cried all the way home.  For so many reasons.  Mainly two.  I was terrified.  Seeing my little girl standing at the road far beyond my arms reach made my heart stop.  That kind of fear has to be the worst kind.  And second, I knew it was too much but I went anyway.  There are things I can do and things I can’t.  But I’m less than okay with the “can’t” list.  I don’t like it.  I want to be able to manage without my husband for most any task. I’ve been pining away for spring and summer projects, dreaming big dreams that are giving glimmers life and light to a heart that is heavy with challenges we’re facing with one of our kids.  Trying to find ways to do them on my own and do it most efficiently, so that I don’t add to his already significant workload, thinking I’m helping and doing right by doing it myself.

The reality is we are meant to figure out how to do it together.  All of it.  When the need for independence and being able to ‘get the job done’ trumps the cohesive nature of marriage, no one wins.  As I tried to drive home tonight, unable at times to see the headlights clearly through my tears, I slowed down and called Chris.  I had to.  I couldn’t keep driving without hearing his voice.  I tried to tell him what had happened, that everyone was okay but that it was so scary, that I should have stayed home, that it was too much for me to go alone.  And then I said what my heart really felt, really feels if I’m honest…

I need you.  I need you to talk to me.  I need you to tell me it’s going to be okay.  That we are okay.

My independent-prone self wants to not say that, wants to feel like I can make it work, sort things through, find an answer to any dilemma, tough it out, hang in there, muster up the grit to keep on….and I usually do.  There are great strengths to being that sort of person.  But just ask my husband, there is great weakness too.  The partnership that marriage was designed to be doesn’t work as smoothly as it could when one party or both act like they don’t need the other.  It isn’t the “helpful gesture” that I think I thought it was.  I think dreaming my garden dreams or debating the necessary size of meat bird pens or designing kidding pens for our pregnant goats might be better thought through and hold more value for both of us if I wasn’t doing it by myself.

Taking some deep breaths here and vowing to make sure my (amazing) husband knows how much he’s needed and allowing myself the space to say “I can’t” when I need to.  Want to see my favorite picture of him from last year?  It was the Easter parade and he toted 5 goats in the back of our van in a tarp (and five of our children as well…not in tarps), wrangled goats and children all the way down Main Street for hundreds of onlookers and always with a smile.

c and goats

Looking back to summer

Yesterday it seemed like the sun might set at 3:30 in the afternoon, the sky was black and ominous and promised showers but it was bone dry outside.  I nuzzled a soft baby head and felt a pang of nostalgia wash over me.  It feels like summer just ended last week, then our daughter was born and here I am knee deep in dark, wet days.  Some quick math tell me Liberty is almost 10 weeks old so I must be off somewhere…oh how my mind wants to cheat and steal when it comes to time.

Just before the actual sunset, spectacular beams of light burst through the trees and lit up our patch of land.  The sky was still so dark.  But somehow light was finding its way through.  It was so dramatic and so stunning, I made the kids come outside and see it before the light disappeared.  Writing about it makes me think of sweet friends who we were privileged to share life with last year at church and in our home group.  They abruptly moved to Arizona in August in pursuit of treatments that might help Bryan’s aggressive melanoma.  The road they are walking, at just freshly past 30 years old and with two young kids, makes my face pale.  Talk about darkness in the light of day.  Talk about needing light to burst through and find its way.  Talk about wanting to steal time.  Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder why things like that happen.  It is anything but fair.

My reaction to thinking about them yet again is twofold…first prayers for the miracles they need.  And second is calculating all that lies around me – a sacred, precious, puking mess.  Three days in with a wicked stomach virus that has completely taken over.  As I sat with Finn yesterday on my lap, killing time until bedtime by watching tractor movies on youtube, I breathed his smell in deep.  I rested my weary head on his sweaty neck and remembered the highlight of his summer as he chatters on about each John Deere he sees on the screen.  It was this:

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He could sit on my lap and stare at that picture for ten minutes.  And believe me, there isn’t much that keeps him busy for ten minutes!  Its been two and a half months and he still asks every time we drive that directions, “Can we go to the fair mama?”.  I thought doing the fair, nine months pregnant, with five other children might just do me in.  And it may have come close.  But oh the happy in his voice when he talks about it, remembers with me, the insane crazy fun we had practically living at the fairgrounds for six straight days.

Bedtime finally came and we did the same heartbreaking routine every night these days:

Mama (at his bedside): Finn, what song should I sing with you?

Finn:  No, I don’t want you to go mama, I want to sleep WITH you.

Mama:  How about I pick a song?  (I do, and I start to sing)

Finn (big brown eyes brimming with sadness): Oh mama, no, please don’t leave me.

Over and over again.  If I start to cry, like I did tonight, I leave sooner than later because there is a baby to feed and other kids that need tucking in.  I promise him that I’ll see him in the morning and that when the sun comes up, I will be there.  And I think again of our friends in Arizona and how much I want their sun to come up and their too-long-night to be over.  Every single day – even our puke-filled ones or the ones where all your kids are in hysterics at the grocery checkout or the ones where all your life’s efforts don’t seem to count for anything or any other kind of less than lovely day – is such a tender gift.  To be prized, tucked away and treasured.  Tomorrow is not promised to us, today is what we have.

All in the family

One of the challenges that I’d never really thought much about that we would face as our family grew was that we would have choices to be made about what sorts of things we would say yes to outside the things we do at home.  Not that we spend our days here in a bubble not engaging with the outside world.  Not at all so.  We love having a steady stream of people here for one thing or another.

Some of our friends are highly involved and committed to year around sports.  While for certain families this works great, it also has the potential to fragment the family quite a bit.  Dinners together are the exception instead of the rule.  The costs for kids who move beyond recreation-level sports are into the many hundreds of dollars per season.  However, even for just 6 weeks of YMCA level, “for fun” soccer for our kids it would have cost us almost $500.

When one child excels in a sport, it’s easy to get excited and put others on the sidelines (literally and figuratively).  We’ve watched this play out just this past year in fact.  It is harder than I’d have guessed to find things that a family with several children can be involved in together.

Two years ago this fall we happened upon a county wide 4-H meeting near us.  We stopped and talked with each club leader for any animals we were interested in.  The commitment levels varied a great deal.  The personality and “feel” of the groups did as well.  We still lived in our tiny rambler with our five children, mostly quite happily.  We had chickens and a dog and a cat.  We were far from anything that resembled any sort of country, agricultural life.  But we signed up anyway.  Figuring we could just learn about animals, make some friends and have some fun.

We had no idea what we were in for.  We spent that first year learning all sorts of interesting things about dairy goats.  But better than that we made some great friends.  Grown up ones as well as kid ones.  Each of our children were challenged to give presentations to the group.  Learning to stand up in front of your peers and share about something is such a helpful lifelong skill.

When we had the opportunity to move part way through that year we found ourselves living at the end of an unmaintained county road with a small pasture already in place.  And it happened to be just about kidding season.  Three baby goats quickly found their way to our little family farm and into our hearts.

Of course fair season is the culmination of the 4-H year.  We didn’t really “get” that the first year.  Last year we showed up at one small community fair and had a ball.  This year we did the same fair (pictures below!) but had anticipated all year long that we would do the Big One.  The full Monty of the fair world around these parts.  But it requires its own post which I promise to work on this week.  For now, here are some snapshots of us enjoying our time at Silvana together.  Even just a one-day, all day event for seven people isn’t a small affair….but it was insanely fun for all of us.  Finn included!

Finn getting ready to take on the show ring with the Tiny Tots
Audrey getting Little Su ready
Finn and Kodiak
Audrey and Little Su in the ring
Finn showing Kodiak
Finn with the (lovely) judge
Kyler with Posey
Caleb with Wyatt
Rylee with Blanchette
the lineup!
lovin' us some cousins who came to watch!
our little goat show-girl
the fantastic Finn
sweetest Kyler face ever
going for a sno-cone run
taking a snooze wearing his show ribbon - hard work wrangling goats when you're two!