Home group + children = real life

We began this journey in September, I read the sign up list for small groups at church and ours was the only one that said “children welcome”.  Which is totally normal for American church, I get it.  But we decided from the get go that if we were going to host a community group in our home, it would have to be all of us.  The logistics of a weekly sitter wasn’t even the real issue.  The much more significant factor was that we saw great value in figuring out how to build community with our kids in the mix.  They are after all, an integral part of our life.

After much consideration we decided last summer that we would host a Sunday evening group and meet for dinner at 5:00.  We thought maybe no one would sign up for our family oriented group.  We had no idea that we’d end up spending the better part of a year sharing life with these 21+ people (11 of them being children 10 and under!).

Here are a few reflections and lessons learned from our first year doing this:

  • Sharing a meal together weekly is a major investment – but it is tremendously worthwhile.  Everyone has to eat right?  So why not figure out how to do it together?
  • Simply eating together poses all sorts of opportunity to get to know people better.  You gain understanding of food allergies, favorites and how people tend to eat in their own homes.
  • By delegating the components of each meal, the load can be shared reasonably well with the whole group.
  • NOT delegating means me cooking dinner for 20 people.  Which happened more than once.  But it was my poor planning and failure to ask for help.  Lesson?  Next time we will choose 5 or 6 favorite meals and simply rotate each week through the options.  This would require much less of me (who already plans and prepares about 18 meals a week for 6 or 7 people).
  • Hosting a small group does not require impeccable housecleaning skills.  Sometimes the guest bath smelled terrible.  Sometimes the counters weren’t cleaned off.  Sometimes there was still laundry about.
  • It’s more than okay not to have your house in tip top shape.  It’s real and real is good.  What matters far more is that your heart and attitude say “welcome” when people walk in your front door.
  • If you’ve been having a spat with your hubby and aren’t on speaking terms, it might be slightly awkward to have a load of people over, discuss a book and pray together all the while offering a cold shoulder to your spouse.  Dealing with your issues would have probably been better.  However, this again, is just life and sharing it with others is part of the journey.  No one has it together all the time and its okay for other people to see that!
  • When you don’t feel well and you want to stay in bed, throwing sweats on and saying “come on in” anyway is enough.  There is something intimately wonderful about inviting others into your (imperfect) life and home.
  • Your children will at some point be very loud or very naughty or very naked and it will be embarrassing.  This.  Is.  Life.
  • Half way through the year I told everyone “You are like family now and it sometimes takes me 2 or 3 days to finish the dishes from us all eating on Sunday!  So I really need some help in the kitchen after we eat.”  Problem solved.
  • Paper products are expensive and wasteful.  I couldn’t see buying and using them every week.  So we use real dishes.  This wouldn’t work for everyone (which is totally okay, you’ve gotta do what works for you!) but we made it work.
  • While kids played after dinner, we could discuss the chapter in the book we were reading together and then pray for one another.  Yes, we were interrupted at times.  Especially in winter it was a little hard and loud.  But the kids learned over time that they needed to wait till after we prayed to ask for dessert or to come see their shows.
  • It is a tremendous privilege to be able to pray for others and even more amazing to watch those prayers be answered.  Every family in our group including ours came up against some tough stuff this year.  Being able to share those burdens is a beautiful picture of love in action.
  • And last but certainly not least – everyone could use a Roger in their life…

Don’t ask me how he got dubbed “Roger”, I’ve absolutely no idea.  But Kyler, in this particular costume, is Roger.  And he has entertained us many Sunday nights.  Tonight’s year end final show was as unique as the rest:

the crew


Farm kids

If you’ve visited us here, you know I use the term farm loosely – it’s more a hobby farm.  We don’t have land cleared for growing our own food, I completely gave up on gardening this year, I don’t even have one single tomato plant growing (I do have hundreds of seeds that I’d hoped to plant this spring!).  But we do have all sorts of animals (including goats we will breed next year so that we can have fresh milk), chickens that provide our eggs and various wildlife that call our back forest their home.

Here are some snapshots from the past week or two of life around here…

taking an ice cream break on operation "put together play set" day!
taking an ice cream break on operation “put together play set” day!
Rylee and her sweet pal Ellie mowing Rylee's patch of the back lawn
Rylee and her sweet pal Ellie mowing Rylee’s patch of the back lawn

these brave ones came closer to the house than usual - I'm fairly sure our noise level here isn't conducive to their being super close but this was sure special!
these brave ones came closer to the house than usual – I’m fairly sure our noise level here isn’t conducive to their being super close but this was sure special!
the view from the kitchen window that morning...
the view from the kitchen window that morning…
a few mornings ago, I heard Finn leave the garage, when I caught a glimpse of this I ran right back in to snap a photo (he had no idea I was there the whole time)
A few mornings ago, I heard Finn leave the garage, when I caught a glimpse of him I ran right back in for the camera (he had no idea I was there the whole time).  Truly, this pic is the essence of my boy in so many ways.
Upon quietly following him, I realized he'd gotten handfuls of goat treats and was heading out to doll them amongst his goat friends.
Upon quietly following him, I realized he’d gotten handfuls of goat treats and was heading out to doll them amongst his goat friends.
He reached up to throw the last treat over to see who could snatch it up fastest - then headed back in to find some other fun thing to do.  The boy is more resourceful than I can possibly express.
He reached up to throw the last treat over to see who could snatch it up fastest – then headed back in to find some other fun thing to do. The boy is more resourceful than I can possibly express.

First annual Ciderfest

We traveled north to visit some precious pals and spend the day celebrating fall and pressing apples for cider.  There is NOTHING like the smell of hundred of pounds of apples being smashed into brown cloudy liquid yum.

First the kids helped rinse the apples before tossing them into the (homemade=awesome) thing that chops them all up before pressing…

Then Kyler stood by with jugs, which were filled super fast because our apples were so darn juicy!

Living history – colonial times

History in a textbook can be so boring that the whole subject is forever labeled as far from interesting.  One of my favorite things is when I get the chance to make it come alive for my children.  Today was one of those days.  Our American Girl book club group met here today and we studied colonial America.  We’ve been hard at work all week getting ready and I was nervous last night that the day wouldn’t meet up to our collective expectations!

Colonial Williamsburg, where the Felicity books take place, is a place so near to the heart of our family.  We’ve visited numerous times and my grandparents live there.  My husband is a history major and is totally passionate about history.  I am the teacher of our children so I am immersed in all of it all over again and that has to be one of the best things ever!

We started with a book discussion, talked about colonial times, what their life looked like and how it differed from ours.  We talked about the Patriots and Loyalists and how much was at stake during that time. The girls joined me at the table where I’d put out several things similar to what they would have seen in the late 1700’s.

Glass blown by hand tinged green from the algae in the water, large keys made of metal and brass, candle holders to light dark nights with no electricity, extremely heavy iron that had to heat in the fire before using them and a washboard for all the hand washing of laundry.  A copy of the Declaration of Independence and a colonial map, just for fun!

In discussing clothing and bathing, we learned that the reason they wore those white caps on their heads wasn’t just the style but that it kept their hair clean – bathing was such an ordeal.  The mob cap protected them from sun as well as kept their heads cleaner.  My (amazing) mother offered to sew white mob caps for all the girls and also to get ready little small mob caps for their dolls.  It was too fun!

  The girls glued lace to the edge of their doll caps then let it dry and later threaded elastic through to complete the project – they were so proud – they turned out darling!  Even the boys insisted on dressing up, their job was to tend the fire outside.

I walked the girls outside, talked about how much work just making a cake would be, getting milk, making butter, grinding flour and collecting eggs.  We don’t get milk yet from our goats but we talked about how they would have had animals that all served a purpose and were key to their survival.  Our horse is a cute pet but I said that horses would have had to work hard then, plowing, pulling carriages or being ridden.  We checked for eggs but there were none, I’d taken the last two from under the hens this morning to bake our apple cake for snack time!

We made a button spinner, buzz saw type game with a string and button, played Blindman’s Bluff in the backyard and colored colonial paper dolls.  We talked about the things they used to play with – corn husks, shells, flowers, leaves and tried to imagine those being our ‘fun things’.

Getting to do this with these girls was the highlight of the month for me and for sure one of the highlights of our year!  Next time we meet I am hosting a formal tea, teaching how to curtsy and dance the minuet.  We might learn some manners too!

Simple summer fun

She’s carrying her seventh baby blessing and I recently miscarried our sixth.  We have quite the clan of little people when our tribes are together.  When she comes I feel no pressure at all to clean house or hide all the laundry.  We both educate our children at home so during the year we have less time for these lazy sorts of days but oh my goodness do we enjoy them when they come.  Last Thursday was one of those that we never wanted to end….

and my all time favorite summer photo (possibly ever) because it seems to exude everything ‘summer’?

Rainy day wonders

“Yes, its cloudy…yes, bring your jackets”  “But WHY are we going to the beach in the rain mom?!”  “Because we live in Seattle and we cannot be thwarted by bad weather or we will miss out on everything!”

We had a grand adventure on Tuesday – it was an unusually low tide and we ventured to the beach despite cold weather and rain on the horizon.  Anyone want to take a gander at naming all the creatures we found!?

A girl called Tina

There are many ways my life has been shaped and changed by loss.  One of the most

tangible is my constant awareness that things around me can change at any moment.  Because one time they did and I’ll never be the same.  Hence my passion for writing letters (on real paper with a pen) to people to tell them how special they are to me and for doing crazy things like using my birthday money to take my friends out for dinner just because I want nothing more than time with their precious faces and my tendency to remember mundane little details about people because I don’t want to forget.  It could also explain why I like to step back sometimes and marvel at the big picture.

The beginning of the (very) big picture of my friendship with Tina began when we were 16.  She blew onto the youth group scene out of no where and seemed to have priorities that matched mine in many ways.  Boys and Jesus and adventure.  We were fast friends.  Her blond haired, blue eyed sparkle brought with it intoxicating energy.  I briefly entertained the notion that there really wasn’t room for the both of us in the group but quickly decided there must be.

We shared stories and laughter and trouble and boys (sometimes at the same time, that never went well).  We woke early before heading to our high schools to ‘pray’ together.  Oh what I wouldn’t give to hear one of those early morning talks!  I’m not sure but its likely there was more talk than prayer, maybe occasional gossip but two hearts who wanted so badly to follow Jesus in a way that meant something.

We raised some hell while we were trying to find our way to heaven on church retreats and camp-outs….spied on boys at night in the dark, listened to them outside their showers at the campground and did our best to rock climb, beach hike and backpack for days without a complaint.  We may or may not have attempted to join the local Search and Rescue team.  In the middle of our training weekend in the pouring cold Seattle rain, I may have feigned a terrible knee injury just so we could call it quits without looking like idiots.

After high school we went different paths and then promptly got engaged and married the same year AND started into our very young married lives in ministry at the church we’d attended for years together.  When she and her new husband were lacking proper housing we “graciously” opened our tiny condo to them for “as long as they wanted to stay”.

Good heavens, I still shudder when I think of what a miserable hostess I was for those weeks, maybe months, I’ve blocked the whole season out of my memory – honest.  I made a fuss about EXACTLY what corner shelf she could put her dishes on.  I’m pretty sure I made fusses about just about everything.  It is amazing to me she ever talked to me again after they moved out.

Ministry life seasoned us both, in different ways but we both shouldered a generous share of disappointment and disillusionment.  Motherhood seasoned us even more.  I don’t know what I expected her to be like as a mom but I do know something, the sort of mom she turned out to be was more amazing and more beautiful than I’d imagined.  The privilege of watching someone go through not one but many metamorphic changes is, I believe, one of the great things of life.

Raising babies and serving God in the ministries we’d given our all to brought deeper connections and much more genuine, grown up relationship.  We knew each others’ garbage and still stuck around.  We were so very different but so very drawn to one another in friendship.

Then in one day, everything we’d known for the past ten years came to a screeching halt.  We came to an impasse.  There were words and there was silence and there was the deepest kind of heartache.

It would be a true impossibility to explain the nuances of it all or to do any justice to how broken both of our hearts were.  Never in my life before or since have I felt exactly like that.  And I didn’t talk with her then or for the almost two years after, but I think she probably felt something similar. We walked opposite directions but in the same circles, to say it was awkward is an understatement.

I yelled (quite literally) at God.  I told Him I could not see how His gracious hand who had never been anything but faithful to me could allow such a thing.  And I told Him that He would never, could never heal this wound or restore that relationship – no matter how hard He might try.

This might be getting long and its okay if no one is still reading…I have to tell the rest because, well, it’s the best part.

Tina became more “Tina” and I became more “me “and I hope we both became more Jesus.  We lived and loved and learned how to walk out our unique and distinct calling.

Months, then years went by.  Slowly, in whisper quiet ways that only God is great at, pieces of the wall we’d both helped build were taken down.  Some didn’t hurt and some hurt a lot.  There was grace, beautiful and broken, given on both sides.  There were wise and tender husbands who had wiped so many tears whose ears had listened so faithfully to our bleeding hearts.

I don’t know why it surprised me so.  But it did.  He did just what I said He could not and in the most incredible way.  And I think He delighted in every moment of it.

Now, when we’ve just come into the lovely new space of friendship again, she is leaving. Not just any leaving but moving-to-Chile-leaving.  Which is why I did what I do and spent a great amount of time over the past couple weeks thinking about all our shared history and memories and being insanely grateful that God fixed what was broken before thousands of miles stood between us.

At that last possible moment to say goodbye yesterday before she got on a plane headed south, I whispered these words as we hugged one last time:

I’m so glad this hurts this much.  It would have been so sad if it didn’t.”

That is one of the most mystifying and complicated aspects of love.  Real, genuine, sacrificial kind of love opens up the heart to unspeakable pain and joy beyond measure.  I cried all the way home just replaying the impossible things God had done to bring my heart and hers to this sort of goodbye instead of hearing she’d left in an email from my mom or something like that.

Deeply grateful to serve a God who is all about the impossible and all about redemption.

OCC party – 4th year?

Just trying to put one foot in front of the other here…realize I’m way behind on blog pictures.   One thing I love about homeschool is that we can do stuff like this during the week, weekends tend to fill fast and get crazy and it’s nice to be able to move school work around to have a house full of people over for something special.   Back in November we did our annual Operation Christmas Child party and filled shoeboxes with friends, it was a wonderful time:

The joy of creating

In this stage of mom life many things get started, few are finished and much of life requires doing the same things over and over and over again.  Pondering this and also wanting to be as economical and thrifty as possible for the holidays, I decided to host a mom craft morning.  Four uninterrupted kid-free hours, a sewing machine, all our collective ideas and supplies and plenty of food!  Not only did we have a delightful time with one another, it felt wonderful to make some lovely things that we can give as gifts for Christmas.

When your days consist of diapers, discipline and dishes it is, in my opinion and experience, extremely important for survival to have time set aside that fills your cup and allows you a break from regular life.  I believe that ‘regular life’ is profoundly important and valuable and that pouring out my life for my family and others is the way I want to live.  Investing in the lives of my children is exactly how I want to spend my days.  But I also think it’s my job to find ways to step back and intentionally take care of myself so that I can do my primary job with excellence.

With that said, in the midst of a week of unusually out of control behavior from one child and more than normal busy days, here is my continuing list of gratitude:

#312 – time to create and craft

#313 – beautiful things

#314 – slipper socks

#315 – first dentist visit in 3 years…the feel of clean teeth!

#316 – pulling out sunscreen in November

#317 – hot pink toes ready for sand

#318 – tears poured out on behalf of a child

#319 – a husband willing to take 4 kids out for 4 hours

#320 – being ready to go back to church after…a very long time

#321 – hearing my transformed husband share a piece of his story with others

#322 – marveling at all God can do with our broken hearts

Ranger Kyler’s birthday party

A few months ago I found old movies on DVD from the thrift store.  One was a bunch of old Lone Ranger episodes.  The kids were hooked.  So naturally, Kyler ended up with a Lone Ranger party this year.  I’m actually finding it a delightful challenge to pick a theme and plan a party that doesn’t blow the bank (like $250 to rent Jump Planet!) and that is plain old fashioned fun.

My sister had her baby last week so my planning had been minimal but we still pulled off a super fun day at a gorgeous local park

The kids were instructed on the Lone Ranger’s job of bringing justice to the Wild West, they were informed that a bank robber bandit was loose in the park (Daddy) and they need to find him.  So they headed out with hats and horses gallivanting  around the park.

Doesn’t he look bad? (grin)

It was a great day for this little man and although he got a bee sting and his eye is now mostly swollen shut, I’d say it was just about perfect.  We’re getting the hang of this birthday thing…two years ago we decided that we wanted birthday’s to be a bigger deal and to take the focus of Christmas off the gifts and focus on the Gift and on blessing others.  We also talked about how having a large family we needed to be intentional about celebrating the uniqueness of each person in our family.  While we don’t have it figured out, it’s sure fun learning!