Thursday, May 29, 2014

Psalm 23 (Videos)

I'm not much of a videographer, but I thought I'd share these little videos of the girls. They had been saying they were afraid at bedtime, and I remembered our having a children's book about Psalm 23. The book, Comfort for a Child's Heart by David and Helen Haidle, explains the psalm one line at a time, which is exactly how the girls learned it. It took a month or so of bedtimes for them to memorize the entire thing, and they continue to recite it every night. It does seem to comfort them, and you know, I didn't anticipate how comforted I would be in relearning the psalm myself, also in knowing my little girls will carry it into any and every situation. Psalm 23 was our friend Bob Pino's favorite, and I like to think he's looking down. I'm so thankful for the timeless beauty and relevance of God's Word.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Strawberry Pickin' at Chiles Peach Orchard

Our local berry farm decided not to open for pick-your-own strawberries, this year, because--after our cold winter and a harsh, spring storm--the crop isn't what it should be. I read about a couple other farms in the Greater Richmond Area but decided to take the little kids to Crozet for "Come Grow with Us," the children's program at Chiles Peach Orchard. Then it became a matter of convincing Rachel and Zach to go with us. That was much easier than I'd expected given the fact that Rachel's baby is already working his way "toward the light"; I just had to promise to drive her into Charlottesville at lightning speed if she went into labor :)

"Come Grow with Us" costs $7 per participating child and includes a craft, a story, a container for pick-your-own, and a snack. The craft, yesterday, was a strawberry. Each child painted and dusted it with jello (to make it smell good); glued some seeds on it; and traced one of his or her hands to become the top of the berry. Clementine's Strawberry Shortcake dress was mine and has its own, special story

I can't tell you much about story time, yesterday, because I was busy supervising Chip as he climbed into and out of a little wagon.

Chip's outfit was Cade's: just one of the few outfits I kept.

Charleigh was kind of funny in the strawberry patch. She was slowed by her concern that her fruit was ripe enough; over and over, she held up a berry and asked: "Is this red enough, Mama?"

Clementine and Zach filled their containers in no time, and Zach seemed to have a knack for finding that rare, large berry.

Chip didn't have a container, but he didn't mind; he was happy to try and fill his belly with berries (and, later, with ice cream).

All in all, it was a perfect celebration of what bursts warm and ripened into the world.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

We remember those who have died in service to our country
and express our deepest gratitude to their loved ones left behind.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Roller Skating

Bottom Left - The Girls' Friend Josie

How long has it been since you've roller skated? I'm trying to remember but don't know how long it had been for me. I have photographic evidence that I roller skated around the time of my twenty-first birthday, but surely it hadn't been nineteen years. Or maybe it had.

I found myself in a roller rink today because Clementine's and Charleigh's friend Lexi had invited them to celebrate her birthday there. My girls had never worn roller skates before and were hesitant to get out on the rink. I was going to rent skates, but turns out: my friend Jill wasn't using hers, and she and I wear the same size.

"It isn't like riding a bike," she said, handing me the skates. I put them on and felt tall, then tall and old. I wondered if I were going to fall and break my hip; I'm not even lying to you.

Left - Birthday Girl Lexi with Her Mom Lori; Right - Clementine

I went around the rink once by myself, then once with each daughter. Clementine proved a better skater than her little sister but also more trepidatious. Each girl was happy to head to the smaller (practice) rink after her lap with me. I went around twice more with Jill's daughters, then handed over the skates with relief: near falls, no falls.

Bottom Left - Charleigh; Top Right - Me & Char; Bottom Right - My Friend April (Josie's Mom)

Tell me: what are your memories of roller skating? Most of mine are from elementary school. I was never an excellent skater--at least in my own mind--because I couldn't spin the "turn yourself around" part of the "Hokey Pokey"; I had to skate a small circle, instead. I couldn't Limbo well or skate backwards, and I never mastered the crossover technique. Still, I remember feeling quite light and fast on my feet so long as I was skating forward.

I remember the pizza, popcorn, and--best of all!--soda pop (which we didn't drink, at home) of the roller rink. I remember the Madonna and Michael Jackson of the roller rink. Our Girl Scout troop visited fairly often, but I almost preferred to attend a birthday party or take a field trip there because, you know: couple skates.

I visited the roller rink just before my family moved to Tennessee and remember crossing my fingers that Darold Starliper would ask me to couple skate, but he didn't. I told myself it was only because he was very shy, and I marched right up to Bruce and asked him, instead. It felt like a very brave and scandalous thing to do because I was an eleven-year-old girl, and (although it was 1985 in south-central Pennsylvania) Bruce was the only African-American in our class.

I haven't seen Bruce for twenty-nine years. I don't remember his last name and know for well that I wouldn't recognize him on the street. But I smiled thinking of him, today (how he said yes), as I skated around the rink with a small, sweaty hand pressed into mine.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Culminations. Ruminations.

I was sick as a dog, Saturday, but Charleigh had been working toward that trophy since September. What's a mama to do but buck up, Little Camper? And I'm so glad I did.

The Kindercise program in which Charleigh is enrolled is evidently the oldest of its kind in the nation. It's a well-oiled machine; I'll tell you that. Charleigh attends class during the week, and I don't think I've ever seen her class exceed, say, six kids. Three or four is typical, and their teacher Miss Olga leads them, together, from station to station during their hour-long class.

It's been fun to watch Charleigh progress in her jumping, rolling, climbing, hanging, swinging, balancing, etc. At the start of the year, she couldn't move into a headstand (against a mat) by herself; now, she can.

The hour-long awards ceremony was set up much like class in that the children moved from station to station to demonstrate their skills. Every child was occupied at pretty much all times: brilliant! The last fifteen minutes were dedicated to awards, and every child had his or her moment on the podium. The smile on Charleigh's face says it all; doesn't it?

Miss Olga and Charleigh

Meanwhile, Clementine is working toward her dance recital. She has one practice left before dress rehearsal. Here's a photo of her class, Monday night; hopefully, I'll have recital photos, soon.

Clementine is in the back, on the far left.

Last night, Clementine, Charleigh, and I attended Cade's spring concert. He plays bass clarinet. I take my camera to every concert, but at this point, I have no idea why. I can see Cade walk in and out, but after he sits, I really can't see what he's doing, at all.

Having said that, the 8th-grade band sounded great. Cade said they earned a superior rating and third place when they played at Busch Gardens last week. He decided recently to participate in the high-school marching band, next year. As a former band kid who's heard only the very best things about the high-school band, I couldn't be more thrilled.

But the other thing I want to tell you about last night is that--after the concert, as the girls are I were walking down the hall to leave--I ran into a friend. "Did you have a sister here, tonight?" she asked. "I saw you sitting with someone who looks a lot like you."

"Oh!" I said. "That was Cade's stepmother!" And I could tell I caught her off guard, but what she doesn't know is this: the moment of her question was, hands-down, the best moment of my week, so far.

Imagine what she saw: two dark-haired, glasses-wearing women sitting side-by-side in the audience, nudging one another...laughing, chatting, even whispering! like sisters. My little girls were sitting beside Tabitha: between her, actually, and a man: Cade's dad Jason, my ex-husband. None of it was contrived or for show; we are family.

This is an important part of my story. This is doing divorce well. (And for the record, at any given moment, we're far from the only ones doing it.) This is about redemption. This is the work of the Lord. He's so, so much bigger than every statistic and every stereotype.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Approaching Our Seventh Anniversary

When we set the GPS in our driveway, it says six hours (on the dot) to Jim's mama's. It takes more like seven-and-a-half with the little kids; each travels well but has a squirrel bladder. We stumble road-weary into Jim's mama's trailer, and there's no vacation element to our visits, these days. Sometimes I take the kids out for awhile, but--having gotten up with Jim's mama in the middle of the night--I do it tired and because the kids are climbing the walls, getting on each other's nerves and everyone else's, too. I wonder about Jim and his mama the whole time we're out...not because he's incapable, but because (given that he's working remotely) he's busy, distracted. Also because at her current level of need, things can become awkward pretty quickly even for me, and I'm of her gender and not of her blood.

We returned home from Mother's Day weekend Tuesday evening, and I've been wrong ever since. I thought just exhaustion, at first, but then my throat went sore. This was days ago, but last night, I woke from a dead sleep for the sidewalk-scraped pain in my throat. I have a hacking cough, a runny nose, watery eyes. Clementine shares my cold, I think; I listened to her sneeze a dozen times in a row, this morning, from the spot we shared on the sofa.

So I've struggled, lately, in thinking of a positive something to share, but here it is, a happy announcement: things are well between Jim and me. If you knew us, really knew us, you'd know it hasn't always been well between us; in fact, at the outset of this crisis with his mama, things got as bad as they've ever gotten. At some recent point, though, we realized: this moment in time really matters. How we handle it matters.

We've been motivated, lately, to treat one another with extra kindness. I value the sentiment of the Golden Rule but understand that--if I know how Jim would have something "done unto" him--there's more kindness in going that route than the one I would choose personally, if roles were reversed. He's reached a similar understanding; I can tell. Truth is: Jim and I differ in so many ways, and after almost seven years of marriage, we're just starting to understand how to bless and help one another.

Our small group participated recently in a DVD study called Sacred Marriage. Have you heard of it? I got a lot out of it, but my very favorite moment was the one in which Gary Thomas said it takes seven to ten years for a couple to learn to live together. It's tragic, he said: oftentimes two people are just on the brink of figuring things out when they call it quits. And truth be told, up to that point I'd been a little angsty about the approach of Jim's and my seventh wedding anniversary. My first husband and I split up after about six-and-a-half years of marriage. I've heard the phrases seven-year ache and seven-year itch all my life.

Gary Thomas's words filled me with hope, and I've been watching ever since for evidence that Jim and I are just on the brink of figuring things out. It's there. Over the past few days, I've found it in the way he's handled this summer cold of mine. I could go into the details but won't; what's important is that he's learned what I like when I'm sick (very different from what he likes, when he's sick) and done his best to please me. I keep thinking: what if this is it? What if we're on the brink? What if we've fallen over the very edge? What if it's happily ever after from here on out? And I guess there's no point in expecting anything less.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Year and a Half

After hours of fresh air, I had drifted off to sleep on the sofa. You saw me there--my eyes closed, my cheek resting against the cool denim of the pillow--and climbed into my lap. You settled so gently (fell asleep so quickly) in my arms that I hardly knew you were there. You always seek a lap when you're tired.

Sometimes I look at you and remember my old baby doll Susie. I slept with her every night, too, and she always smelled a little like my breath and body. She stayed bald, though, and her stuffing fell out after her cotton wore thin.

I wonder if you'll be especially tender after so much loving. Your sisters seek you out when they're upset, and it's the sweetest thing in the world to look up and see one of them lying across your lap, your pudgy hand patting her head and back. You're always good for a squeeze, and more than once, you've changed the tide of my day with your drive-by kisses.

You love animals, balls, a good beat, books, water, steps (anything climbable). You scrape the skin off your noggin over and over. You have the best laugh and the heart of a great singer. You're mostly chill. You're still unweaned.

Happy eighteen months, Baby. I so love being your mama.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Poem for Mother's Day

I remember the sleep training of my brother.
Mom was too soft-hearted to let us cry it out
and had started by sitting just beside the crib
after putting him in it. Over a few weeks' time
she'd backed (one foot at a time) up until
she could put him in the crib and go sit down
just outside our bedroom doors on the hard,
polished wood of the hallway. I imagined her
long, berry-brown legs folded like a cricket's
(or accordion style) but could see nothing
of her: just the hot, orange tip of her cigarette.
I fell asleep many a night staring out at that
bright circle, that hole she burnt in the dark.
I was only four or five, and I reckon it's been
about thirty years since Mom quit smoking,
but for some reason I've carried that memory:
maybe because to date she's never let me
cry it out, never left me alone and afraid.
Maybe because I've never once turned in
her direction that my eye hasn't caught light.
I say to you: the Lord can redeem even a
filthy habit, make beauty from every ash,
every ember, every wisp of stinking smoke.

Friday, May 9, 2014

How We Co-Labor: A Marriage Letter

Dear Jim,

I feel so happy in this moment and almost a little guilty for it (given the situation with your mom), but just: you'll never know how conflicted I felt about homeschooling the little kids, and for how long. Sometimes I flip-flopped from one hour to the next. Even if I managed to lean one way for an entire week, I didn't have peace, and I didn't understand why...especially because I was really praying.

My pro and con lists were almost the same length, and I could write them out for you, but truth is: all the cons stemmed from self-doubt. I didn't know if I could do it, and maybe I can't.

I never thought to ask God to send you home (I wonder why; you'd worked from home before Char and Chip were born, and that had been good for us), but--when you told me you'd be working remotely starting May 1st--I remembered all over again: God sees me. He knows who I am, how I am. He knows what I need.

Your job keeps you hopping (or talking and typing). I don't see you much during the day; you're holed up in the office you put together in the corner of our bedroom. But that's okay. I don't need you much during your work hours. I need you during what used to be your driving hours. I need you to help this morning hater get the day started, and I need you to help me shut the day down.

You'd struggled to understand why I'd been so very...done by 6:30, so I was touched, today, when you said: "I have a whole new appreciation for what you've been doing around here, and I'm sorry I haven't been more supportive." All this time, that's what I've wanted: not so much for you to do anything as for you to see me. Now, you do. Or, at least, you hear me. And when a little person gets particularly unruly downstairs, your voice booms down from above like the very voice of God. I had no idea how much I needed that little bit of reinforcement.

I'm not too proud to admit: I don't know if I can homeschool the little kids. But I know we can. I have so much peace about it, now. What a gift to have you home.

I love you.

**writing in community with Amber and Seth Haines

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Unblogged Happiness: April Edition, Pt. 2

The following photos were all taken in East Tennessee (at either Jim's mama's or my parents') during the second half of April.

Naptime at Mamaw's

My Sister-in-Law Jill, Dying Eggs with the Kids

Obviously, my shutter speed wasn't what it should've been, but I love the delight on Clementine's face. We were making Empty Tomb cookies.*

Jim's mama with her grandbabies, all dressed for the church service we had right there in the living room. Chip was being pretty uncooperative, so we handed him a bag of jelly beans and told the others not to look at him :)

Easter Egg Hunt

My beautiful niece Adalynn Grace, sleeping in her mamaw's bed. This is my favorite photo from all of April.

Such a sweet moment: playing jack-in-the-box with Jim's mama.

Daddy's Girl

I had my photo taken on this swing the day Jim and I got married.

Pretty Boy (The hens are named Carla, Charla, Darla, Marla, and Starla.)

He'd taken quite the tumble the day before: down only one step, but the fine gravel at the bottom took a toll. He's looking much better, now.

Mom e-mailed me this photo that one of her friends took with her phone. She had a fancy tea party with the girls while Jim and I were in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg. LOVE my mom.

*Empty Tomb cookies are cookies with a story (that of Jesus's death and resurrection) that include only a few ingredients and taste good. The little girls seemed to really enjoy making them. Click here for the recipe/instructions we followed.