Monday, July 21, 2014

Little Kids' Vacation 2014, Pt. 1

We took a week-long trip. Cade didn't go with us; I'd told him our (mostly little-kid-oriented) plans and offered to wait until early August when he could go with us. He wasn't interested, so our trip coincided with his being at Scout camp. I told myself he'd had many adventures (including Disney World) in the nine years before he had siblings, also that he's going on vacation with his other family later this month; still, it felt a little strange to be on vacation without him.

We drove, first, to Erin Quigley's house in Annapolis. She's always glad--excited, even!--to have us. Jim worked from her house the next day while she and I took the little kids back to Clark's Eliok Farm in Ellicott City. (You can read about our first trip, here.) I enjoyed our second trip as much, maybe more, as the first.

As I've shared before, many of the structures from the former Enchanted Forest have been moved onto the farm, and it really is a magical place with admission of only $5/person. The five of us took a hayride, and the little kids each took a pony ride; still, my grand total was $41. (The farm also offers barrel-car rides and gem mining for small, additional fees. Check ahead if you're interested in gem mining, as it's available only at certain times.)

The photos below were taken near or inside the maze area of the farm, which is the part we hadn't explored previously.

Clark's Eliok Farm is one of my favorite places on earth. Erin said: "I think you enjoy this more than the kids," and yes, probably. My heart and camera love everything about it. Clementine's already at an age where she's looking for mechanical rides, but I would take these lovingly-crafted, fiberglass characters and structures over rides any day. I love the vibe of this place: the freedom to amble along in any old direction, to bring a packed lunch and break bread under a shade tree.

That evening, after Jim finished working, we all headed to the private beach area in Erin's neighborhood. The weather was perfect, the waves of the Chesapeake Bay gentle. It was magic of a different sort and a wonderful way to end the first day of vacation.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Since at least ninth grade, I've never failed to think of you the week of your birthday. Matthew's birthday, skip two days, Mark's birthday, skip one day, your birthday. You and I were never much for talking on the phone, but, every year, I sent love spiraling into Scott County, Tennessee for your birthday. I never forgot.

At the approach of what would've been your thirty-ninth birthday, I didn't have a fixed point for sending love, and it hurt me. I hurt all over, to be be honest, from furrowing and clenching and fighting the urge to curl up and sleep (or die) in the shape of a comma. No good end. Just indefinite pause.

And I've seen you more in death than I had for many years in life, but I don't much know how to talk about this...or about my strange, knot-rendering grief. In my everyday life, there's no one who knew you...or me, as I was when we were pre-teens and teens. I don't know how to explain: you were neither relative nor love interest, ever, and we hadn't been close friends for twenty-couple years; still, your presence in the world steadied me.

I talked to Carlena a couple weeks ago, which helped because she was there for some of what you and I were. And then, the day before your birthday, I talked to Erin Quigley; I was in her company, and she's known me long enough to have determined I'm either not crazy or crazy but worth loving unconditionally, anyhow. I didn't know quite what to say to Carlena or Quigley, but both times, the release of air and liquid made me feel less like a pressure cooker and more capable of deep breath.

The day before your birthday, I lifted my little son onto the back of a pony and thought how happy you'd be to see it, and just on the heels of that, I decided to believe you could see it.

Then our little party walked into the woods and stumbled upon a gingerbread house, and I laughed with delight because gingerbread houses are part of our reality; I have made it so. I chose, in that moment, to believe you could see us in our sun-dappled spot in the woods. You're eternal! Maybe you're free from the confines of space and time, now. Maybe you're more with me, now, than ever. At the very least, I carry part of your story, and it's mine for the telling.

Armed with these thoughts, I stood before Erin Quigley's mirror the next day, your birthday, and decided to use my own eyes as a fixed point for sending love. I took a deep breath and said it; with all the love in my heart I said: "Happy Birthday, Jason!" And instead of entering me as I'd imagined they might, my words rose and scattered like a cloud of fluttering cabbage whites, making their way to (all the places) where you are.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Unblogged Happiness: June Edition

06/01 - Clementine's recital. I was in Tennessee with Jim (who had lost his mother two days before) and missed it. That was hard, but--given that Clementine had been practicing her ballet and tap routines since September--I'm so glad she was able to participate. I'm especially grateful to my mom, who drove eight hours to stand in for me, then delivered our precious girl to us in time for the funeral. 

Seven of Clementine's loved ones showed up to watch her recital. I put Cade in charge of flowers, and his sweet stepmother put together a special arrangement just for Clementine. The other dance moms were completely supportive. April's photos, below, are a gift. You find out who your friends are.

I can hardly wait to watch the recital DVD!

Photos by April Young

06/06 - Visit to my parents'. In the photo just below (top left), my parents were planting pastel M&Ms with the little kids. The funny thing is that--after dark, when the kids were asleep--Mom crept out to the planter to replace the M&Ms with lollipops only to discover that the M&Ms had already "sprouted and bloomed." She said it messed with her for a few seconds until she realized Dad had beaten her to the task.  

06/09 - Cade (far right) and our curly-headed friend Andrew advance to the rank of Star.

We'd returned from Tennessee with our nine-year-old nephew Boone and spent a couple weeks sharing our favorite things with him.

06/10 - Metro Richmond Zoo

06/13 - Bear Creek Lake

06/13 - Bear Creek Lake

06/14 - Water Country USA

06/20 - Science Museum of Virginia

06/20 - Science Museum of Virginia

06/22 - Mom had been in Maryland visiting family, and we met her in Staunton so Boone could hitch a ride home to East Tennessee. Afterward, we picked cherries at Spring Valley Orchard in Afton. 

06/27 - Daddy's girl. We'd had a big week: VBS for the girls, senior-citizen luncheon with our friends from the adult home, two trips to the pediatrician with Chip (who had the croup and an ear infection), and that's just scratching the surface, really, as I'd also taken a friend to the ER and visited two other hospitals to welcome/photograph new babies. I took this photo of Clementine and Jim at the event for culmination of VBS. She was pouting because it was time to go. I love this photo because I love this moody little girl, also this man who parents with everything he has.

06/28 - Honeybee Festival at Rockwood Park. This was our first time attending this free and educational event, and I'm so glad we went. The girls made bees out of pipe cleaners and had their faces painted. Clementine was all about the bee petting; did you know that drones (boy honey bees) don't sting? 

05/29 - Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

That's Cade's friend Sam carrying Charleigh (Top R). Cade's friends fit right into our family: an answer to prayer, for sure.

05/30 - Our first trip to Swift Creek Berry Farm for blueberries, this year. (We've been a second time, by now.)

I doubt that, in almost four years, I've ever blogged so little as I did, June. It would be easy to look as these photos and assume I was too busy, but truth is: I was too sad. I was doing what I do when I'm sad, which is to say: I tear up the road even more than usual; photograph even more than usual; bake even more than usual (think cherry and blueberry pies); and make even greater efforts, than usual, to fill that seventh seat of the minivan. These are constructive (or, at least, not destructive) ways to bring myself back around.

I do feel better, now, than I did. My life is beautiful and full, and I never didn't know that. If anything, I've been sad because my life is fleeting in its beauty and fullness. I feel that and have been fighting to enjoy the moment I'm in instead of grieving its too-quick passage. 

I'll leave you, for now, with some photos of the new babies in our lives: each so perfect and precious, each such a gift from heaven.

From Top to Bottom: Babies Caleb, Kayelynn, and Haven

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On Breastfeeding. And.

My Favorite Breastfeeding Photo. Charleigh, April 2011.

This is, but isn’t, a post about my breasts. In case you’re already thinking you don’t want to read about my breasts, we’ll go with isn’t, or at least, isn’t just.

It seemed as though I were flat-chested forever, long after the other girls in my class. When my breasts grew at last, they grew over the course of one summer. The others wondered and whispered about me, come September: boob job over the summer?

And, no. They would’ve known the truth had they seen the stretch marks and general lack of perkiness under my bra. Truth is: I felt disappointed from the outset of my adult body. Braless, strapless, and backless have never worked well for me. Neither have spaghetti straps; my bra straps, under them, are three times as thick. Not cute.

(Praise be, nonetheless, for my bras. I wept when I at last discovered bras that offer proper support.)

I thought for the longest time that I’d have that boob job, some day: a reduction, a lift. After children, I told myself. After breastfeeding. I really did think that through, too, because I always supposed I’d bear and breastfeed children, just like my mother and her mother, before her.

After my first child was born, I learned that breastfeeding is neither as simple nor as easy as it sounds. My nipples cracked and bled, and my dad (who may have been my most impassioned champion) bought me a green, metal box of Bag Balm—a milk cow’s salve—from the Tractor Supply. It worked, but I became familiar with other discomforts over the next fourteen months: clogged ducts, a hole when my baby (who had, by his first birthday, every tooth save his two-year molars) bit clean through my nipple, and engorgement when I decided to go cold turkey on the entire operation.

Breastfeeding was harder than I’d expected. From start to finish, it required more than I’d expected. But the painful, sacrificial aspects of the experience made it even more precious to me, and in recent years, I've breastfed three more children. To date, I’ve spent five years and three-and-a-half months of my life breastfeeding. I never guessed that I’d spend so much time...that I’d breastfeed my way into my forties...that I'd breastfeed a twenty-month-old child.

I never guessed that at forty years of age, after spending five years and three-and-a-half months of my life breastfeeding, I’d often grow weepy when thinking of weaning a twenty-month-old!

I’m not writing to tell you what to do, and why. I’ve fed and loved my babies by breastfeeding, but there are other ways to do these things. So many other ways.

I’m writing to tell you: I’ve come to love my less-than-perky breasts, stretch marks and all. A neonatal nurse walked into my hospital room, once, as I breastfed one of my infant daughters: “Wow!” she exclaimed: “You have the most perfect breastfeeding breasts I’ve ever seen!” My heart swelled, in that moment, with gratitude for not only her kind, perspective-changing words but also the fearful and wonderful way in which I am made.

There will be no boob job.

But I promised you that this isn’t just a post about my breasts. I mean for it to be a post about patience, a means through which I encourage you to love yourself: even the parts that you deem imperfect or unlovely. Because you may just discover that those parts are the ones that serve you best, define you in some gorgeous way, or spill unspeakable joy into your life. You may just. I hope this for you.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Breaking the Silence

I could tell you where I've been, but I don't know. I don't even know where I am. I'm on the couch, but I'm not. Everywhere I've been, I haven't. (Been.) I'm in hot pursuit of myself.

Someone has stolen my words. It seems possible that I'm the someone: that I've swallowed my own words, that they've coated my belly with dust. I feel a little sick.

Yesterday was my mother-in-law's birthday. I'd forgotten, but Jim reminded me. I don't feel like we've talked much since her funeral. We've argued some. We've kept busy.

I'm forcing myself, just now, to stay still while awake, and if I'm honest, so much of what I've done, lately, has been part of a great effort to ward off depression. At least three times in the last couple weeks, I've done each of the things I do when I'm trying to avoid the pit. Some of them more.

I'm not in the pit. Still, I feel the heat rising from its yawning mouth. I look through the heat, and like gasoline fumes it distorts everything. You know what I mean. You've stood, haven't you?, at the pump in your flip-flops, the sun beating down, the go-go juice evaporating even as it pours into your tank. Maybe you haven't. I'm an expert in such matters. My tank is bottomless, the hot, black road the best lover I've ever had.

The sadness: it's not about my mother-in-law. It is, however, about change and the passage of time. My niece Brandi had a baby on Wednesday. She's perfect. I love her, already. But where has the time gone? Because it seems like just yesterday that Andrea, Brandi, Cade, and I were living together: that the kids were twelve and four, that I was reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to them. But it wasn't yesterday. It was ten years ago. Cade will start high school in the fall. I don't know if I'm ready.

Clementine's old enough, now, for kindergarten, and I don't know if I'm ready. It's time to submit a notice of intent, and I don't know if I'm ready. Baby Chip isn't a baby, anymore; I'm prone to bursting into tears about it.

I can't say for sure that I've loved anyone well enough, ever; yet, I'm so tired from the trying.

Cade and Baby Haven

No one wants his or her own sadness, let alone someone else's. You don't want mine. I know this, so I stop writing. I don't want your sadness, either, but I'll take it. I'll do my best to drown it in the lake. I'll carry it with me in the minivan, burning up the road, the brakes, tanks full of gas; driving toward I-don't-know-what; driving away from so much more. Or not. (It doesn't work, most times.)

In case you're like me and don't know what to do with sadness, I'll take it. Send me an e-mail. Talk to me.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For Father's Day: A Repost

I am, 100%, my daddy's girl.

Mom has accused me, many times, of being just like my dad, but we all know my extroversion and sensitivity had to come from somewhere, and--if I were guessing--I'd credit her.  (My *cough* parachuting-hypnotist parent.) 

Still, I've definitely got some Carl Shafer going on, and I've got the sense that I'm exactly what happens when my parents collide (and raise up, with care), and I'm glad for it.  I can tell you, honestly: I've never wished to be anyone else.  I've wished to be better, but never other.

I've thought for days what I might write to pay tribute to my dad on Father's Day and find it impossible to pour so much love into a blog post. 

But I can share with you this: my dad permitted my first-grade teacher to give me a bunny, and he bought me a real pony and, later, a real horse.  He rode big chunks of the C&O Canal with me, on horseback.  He took me swimming in the Conococheague and rose up from the water of that tributary looking like a pirate, one eye closed.  He took me crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay; raccoon hunting in northern Pennsylvania and east Tennessee; fishing in various waters; camping in various parks.  There was an entire, father-daughter weekend camp, once, when I was a Brownie. 

My dad made the characters in the blue Bible Story book come to life and "elves" move the train around the Christmas tree backwards at my command.  He rug-burnt his nose, once, when his "all fours" got tangled up, playing bear (or horse) with me on his back.  He helped make many pinatas (including, once, a pink, Christmas pig) and a rocket ship for my raw-egg "astronaut."  Also homemade potato candy and chips, homemade ice cream, scrambled eggs red with tomato juice.

He removed, painlessly, my splinters.  He played games of all sorts with me: Pick Up Sticks, Stratego, Spades, Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit.  He made my mom's baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle hop hills on the way to Hollowell Brethren.  He drove the youth bus for Millbranch Missionary Baptist. 

He drove over an hour, once, just to change my truck battery; eight hours, once, to retrieve my friends and me after I flipped a car and landed upside-down in a swamp near Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and another eight hours, once, just to get in the car and accompany me to Wolf Trap, where we watched The Wizard of Oz, to the National Symphony and Orchestra's playing the score.

I could write each thing as its own story.  Maybe, over time, I will, and all the other things, too.

But no matter what or when, the point is this:
my dad loves me, and--even in the bad times--I've always known.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
I'm glad God picked you for mine.

Dad and Clementine

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Unblogged Happiness: May Edition

Early Mother's Day Dinner (just the 6 of us) at Cheeburger Cheeburger

Followed by Frozen Yogurt at Sweet Frog

A few hours (more dinner and frozen yogurt) on Mother's Day with the family into which I was born.

Big Dragon of Caryville, TN

Homemade Banana Pudding

Jellystone Luray (just a quick stop to check it out)

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

You'll be wanting that banana-pudding recipe. You can find it here.