Thursday, June 25, 2015

Books, Summer Food, Fireflies, and Remembering Things

::Summer reading is in full swing, and it seems like a lot of our books are ones we've already read!  I'm reading The End of the Affair, which I last read what feels a lifetime ago, when I was pregnant with Zosia.  It's beautiful, well written, and insightful, and luckily my memory is so bad that I feel as though I were reading it for the first time!  Ben is reading The Hobbit, which seems perfectly fitting given that we're about to embark upon our own adventure (and for the record, Ben remembers books perfectly, but will often choose to reread a book simply because he knows he likes it).  We're reading The Penderwicks at Point Mouette with the girls, which really, truly is the *perfect* book for summer (although if you're new to this series, start at the beginning!).  And the babies love anything with animals: I Am A bunny is a favorite along with Oh What a Busy Day!  I seriously could read these really good children's books again every single day and never grow tired of them.
 ::No clue where Clara found these, but she insists upon wearing them often.  Given the fact that she is usually our style maven, I am going to have to find her something a little more chic, or she will never forgive me!
::There is something about losing someone close to you which forces you to re-examine a lot of things about your life.  Am I doing things right?  Are there things I would look back upon my life and regret?  Am I spending my time and energy on the things that matter the most in life?  Ben and I have had so many wonderful, fruitful, and soul searching conversations over the past few weeks, which I will always hold in a special place in my heart.  One random thing that we both agreed upon is that we would like to be more intentional about remembering special days (birthdays, anniversaries) of loved ones.  Truth be told, we are usually so scatter brained, we're lucky to remember our own childrens' birthdays!  A few days after we had the conversation, a birthday calendar arrived in the mail, which Ben has hung up in our kitchen.  I am feeling so good about this resolution, and am hoping we will do a better job of remembering and celebrating the people we love most!

::One thing I love about living in a place which such distinct seasons is that I notice that the way we eat shifts so drastically from season to season.  We're definitely not strict "seasonal eaters" "local eaters" "organic eaters" or anything else that fancy (whew, looking at our run of the mill grocery bill, I'm having a hard time imagining how people swing that sort of thing!), but we do buy food that is ripe and cheap, and as close to whole as possible. We also avoid using the oven on hot days (or use it extra on cold days!) which means that desserts in particular are either chilled or unbaked in the summer.  This morning I threw together some chilled granola bars loosely based on this recipe (reeaaaally loosely, but they turned out fine!), and they were a big hit with the kids.  And don't worry, I made sure to even out that half of a granola bar up there-- that's what moms are for, right? (Oh, and Clara prefers to feed herself these days.  I think you'll agree she seems pretty capable!).

::When Ben and I were newly married, we started gathering up National Geographic field guides.  If we saw one in a thrift store, we would buy it.  We would buy one for one another for Christmas.  By the time the kids came around, we had a bona fide collection, and it's one of the best purchases we've ever made.  I love that as our kids become interested in nature, they have easy access to beautiful pictures and facts to help their exploration.  One Father's Day or birthday or something I bought Ben a bird feeder, and I would say that is one of my other best long term purchases.  He's actually really diligent about keeping it filled, and we are graced with the loveliest variety of birds, and the kids really enjoy trying to identify each one!  

:: The season of fireflies is upon us!  I have distinct childhood memories of catching fireflies in the summer, and love watching my own little ones participating in the seasonal ritual.

I still can't quite believe in only two weeks we'll be on another coast entirely.  Are there fireflies in California?  I sure hope so.  I imagine we'll be discovering a new set of wonders out there, but in the meantime, I am savoring every last moment right where we are.

Monday, June 22, 2015


This darling little thing just turned four.  Not only is four quite possibly my favorite age, but Hugo is among my very favorite people.  He's loving and sweet and kind and creative, and has the engineering mind of his father to boot.  He will walk up to good friends and say, "I love you!" and give them a big hug and if you're lucky, a kiss, and he really means it.  He will walk around in full character, be it a superhero, or adventurer, or builder for days to the point that there have been whole weeks that we have called him by some other name, he is that into the character.  If someone compliments his shoes he might say, "Oh, these are my skis.  They help me get away from bad guys," because that is just what his world looks like.  He has sort of been my permanent sidekick for these past four years, and I have loved every bit of it.  

We had a couple of families over to celebrate his birthday (Ben made a little "pin the head on superman" game, which could not have been a bigger hit!), and his big gift was a camelback backpack, which he now wears whenever he leaves the house.  It is blue, because for Hugo, everything is better if it is blue.  He is just so dear to us, I don't think there's a single member of the family who doesn't enjoy Hugo's company (except for the occasionally the babies, who sometimes decide they've had enough of his affection, thankyouverymuch.  One can only receive so many kisses, right?).  I am so excited to see what this year might bring!  Happy Birthday, sweetheart!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grief and God's Bounty

I knew something was wrong when I heard the basement door creek open in the middle of the day, and saw Ben, still in his cycling clothes, drenched in sweat, walk in.  He didn't give me a hug, but took my hand and led me to the couch, told me to sit down.  He held both of my hands and looked at me for a moment before he had to look away.  "My parents called.  My brother John has been in an accident." Before he could finish, before his voice broke into sobs, I knew.  Before he uttered those impossible, cruel words, "He's dead."  We held each other and prayed: for strength, for wisdom, for comfort.  For John's family, his wife, his children.

I wish I could show you everything I have seen and felt over the past week.  My heart has broken a thousand times: from the sorrow and the beauty.  The way our family pulled together, showed up in full force, held one another through tears.  The hundreds of people who came to John's memorial service, the stage filled with other members of the Air Force, the service filled with testimony after testimony of this great man: his sweetness, his loveability, his inner strength.  I wish I could tell you the way my heart dropped when I saw the flag draped coffin, the sudden physical realization of the reality of this whole thing, that no, John was not going to walk in the door with his wide contagious smile and assure us that this had all been a mistake.  The poignant beauty of his widow sitting beside his coffin, eyes closed, luminous face raised, mouthing the words to a hymn with the hint of a smile.  A smile.  It is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I will see in my life.  A love song to the man she loved, and to the God who created us even in her grief.

We stayed in North Carolina for our niece's graduation from high school on Saturday.  John's eldest daughter, who is beautiful and kind and reminds us all a great deal of her father.  As she crossed the stage and our section of the bleachers cheered, I felt an incredible pride and joy.  God has brought us together, and God is faithful to us through these trials.  We are strengthened by John's presence in the Communion of Saints and can truly feel him here with us even as we long to be with him in person.  These are difficult days, for John's wife and children, for John's parents, his siblings, and everyone who loved him.  But I pray as we look back upon them we will see not only our sadness, but God's bounty.  I know John would have it no other way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Teaching Babies to Swim and Other Summer Things

::It was a really festive weekend: My birthday, our Anniversary, and then a holiday on Monday to boot!  I don't remember the last time my birthday was on Memorial Day weekend.  It felt like the best present!  Both Ben and my Dad gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers, which means I have rotating vases through the house.
::The key to a hot and muggy Virginia summer is staying wet, and I think that these babies have caught right on!  Some of you might remember that last summer we started working on making the babies really comfortable going under water.  

Basically, it goes something like this: when your baby is about three or four months old, you can start working with them in the bath.  Take a cup of water bath water, say a key word (ours is "Dive in!"), and pour the water over their face.  It sounds kind of crazy, but believe it or not, our babies didn't cry a single time.  Babies have a natural reflex to "turn off" their breathing when they go under water (after all, they were in water the whole time they were developing in the womb), so it's really less about teaching them something new than about helping them remember their natural instincts.  Do this every day for a week, and then you're ready to move to the pool.  

Now, just get in the pool together, hold them up in front of you, and say your key word ("Dive in!") before dunking them under water, just for a second or two at first.  In all likelihood, your baby will look a little surprised and confused, but will remain quite content (and will not inhale water). Continue doing these little dunks every now and then (maybe just two or three in a day).  As they become comfortable with this over the coming weeks, you can put them in for more and more time, ultimately even letting go of them under water.  This is when they can start to experiment with swimming towards you.  Skeptical?  Check this out!

After a long break this winter, we were curious to see if the babies "remembered" their diving instinct again this summer, and with the pool opening up, we've had the chance to observe.  Dorothy (pictured above holding the hose) is obsessed with going under water, you guys!  Immediately after you dunk her, she says "Again!" grins, and starts trying to dive under.  Clara tolerates it, but is sort of meh, whatever about the whole thing.  We'll see what developments this summer may bring!  Obviously, we are going to need to take some videos of our little swimmers in training!

(And if you try this at home, I would say the key is to make sure your baby is happy throughout.  If you have a baby who is sensitive to any of this, just hold off and try again later!)

:: All of a sudden, the babies are (not quite) 18 months going on 18 years and request to sit in a regular chair, eating all of their meals with utensils.  This is really amusing to me, but I would say that slightly more food ends up in their tummies than on the table, which makes it mommy approved!

::What's Memorial Day without a little time working in the yard, and a fire in the outdoor fireplace?  Hugo and I were determined to offer a helping hand together, although I did not plan on putting down my coffee (which I was sipping on, thankyouverymuch), and Hugo couldn't quite hold up his end of the wheelbarrow.  That's okay, we got it done eventually.  Our deck, front step, and bathrooms are all draped with drying pool towels and bathing suits, Hugo is at a little summer camp as I write, and if you stand outside for more than five minutes, you will break a sweat (and the gnats will find you).  I dare say summer is here!  I just love it!

On the days that I am out and about with kids, I tend to be a little bit more reliable snapping and posting pictures on my phone-- find us over here for more of the day to day!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Here, There, and Pioneers

These past few weeks have felt like we're living between two places.  On one hand, we are spending all of our free moments preparing to move to California.  There are things to be sorted, and papers to be filled out, and plans to be laid.  I have a babysitter coming regularly (queue Alleluia chorus!) which has allowed me to start working through each of these things, or just calmly prepare a dinner without children underfoot, depending on my mood.

Ben went out to California this week, and while we obviously missed having him here, it was thrilling to be able to see everything through his eyes.  Our new house, a school for Hugo, the neighborhood we'll be living in.  It's all so exciting!  Ben would send me little texts and notes through the day like, "Just had breakfast at a diner that I think you're going to love," or "Went for a run and saw some kids riding bikes to school!" just to help me imagine everything.  There are so many things I'm already excited about, the top two being that 1. We are a short walk from a Crepe place and 2. Our house has a finished attic which is magical.  I mean, I think I would move to California for those two things alone!

But then on the other hand, plain old life is continuing around here.  As many things as need to be done, we still have our basic needs for nourishment and rest.  There are sandwiches to be made, and clothes to be pressed, and noses to be wiped.  All these little children are great at reminding us of this!  And so, even while packing and planning, we are pretty much just continuing life as usual.  We are in particular relishing the things we love about Virginia in the spring (and summer!), like running through the sprinkler whenever we want to, azaleas that erupt in flashy colors every May, and time with all of the friends that we hold dear.

The big girls and I have been watching the "Little House on the Prairie" series for the first time, after reading the books enough times that we can recite the storyline.  I love these shows, and they have been the ultimate motivation to me.  Here is a family that relocates every few years, often due to some big disappointment, from one challenging life to another.  And yet they preserve family unity, manage to find a community, and accomplish great things amid their failures.  There's something so incredible about that pioneering spirit, and I see it echoed in the hardships my own parents faced to immigrate to this country.  It is a beautiful thing to hear the stories of those who came before us and succeeded in doing hard things, because it makes us realize that we can do them, too!  How's that as a pep talk for your week?  Happy almost Monday, friends!