Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ethan informed me today that when he is 16, I'll be 40.  Which led him to point out that when Juniper is 16, I'll be 50.  Which further led him to conclude that when Juniper is 40, I'll be long gone.

Wait.  What?

Back up a second.

When Juniper is 40, I plan to be a hip, young, hot 74 year old great grandmother, thank you very much.  I have big plans for those years.  I will wear my hair long to my waist, silvery white, and in a loose hippie braid decorated with fresh wildflowers.  I will perfect my sultry Latin dance moves (which I will learn at the dance lessons our kids will give us as a gift for our 50th wedding anniversary).  I will go out in public without shoes.  I will be in the newspaper as the cool old lady who ran her first marathon as a septuagenarian.  And I will drive 12 mph slower than the posted limit, speeding up only when someone tries to pass me.

That's right.  Big plans.

"Who knows", I told him, "maybe I'll even be at Juni's 70th birthday party".  Shoeless, dancing the cha cha cha,  and proudly wearing my finisher medal, of course.

Asa brought the conversation to an end when he called out from the back of the van,"OK, MOM, THEN WHEN JUNI IS 100, THEN YOU'LL BE LONG GONE!"

Yes.  Yes I will.  And it got me to thinking.

One day, maybe sooner, maybe later, these precious little ones that I call "mine" will have to live without me.  They will have to know how to make their own breakfast, tie their own shoes, adjust the strap on their own swimming goggles, iron their own clothes, stand up for themselves, give to others, and serve God however they are called to do so.  Looks like I've got a big job ahead of me.  But on top of WHAT they must learn to do, it is important to me HOW they learn to do it.

If you hang out at our house long enough you will inevitably hear me ask my kids to do something.  Put their shoes away.  Wash the windows.  Vacuum up a mess.  Play with the baby sister.  Or, for goodness sake, FINISH YOUR SCHOOLWORK! And, in response, sometimes you may see tiny shoulders slump, frustrated sighs escape, or maybe even sweet little eyes roll.  And that's when you may hear me say, "thank you for obeying, please do it with a happy heart!"  Followed by my cheesy smile and fully expecting a cheesy smile from them in return.

Once, when Ethan was much younger, we read a story about a man who lost his ability to walk and talk.  As a result, he could no longer work and provide for his family.  When they story was over, Ethan said, "That really wouldn't be so bad.  At least if I couldn't walk or talk, I wouldn't have to do chores anymore!"

Oops.  Clearly, he missed the lesson.

It's easy to think of work, whether it be at home or outside the home, as something we HAVE to do.  But I try hard to teach my children that work is something we GET to do.  I want them to be thankful for hands that can hold a mop, feet that can take trash down the long driveway to the road, and a healthy mind that can read the list of morning chores.  I want them to appreciate the ability to accomplish even the most mundane of tasks, and find joy in the opportunity to serve.  I want to teach them not just to work, but to whistle while they work!

Today, as I watched Ethan clean the kitchen, I saw a hint of a smile on his lips, and quickly scooped up my camera to document his happy heart.  For posterity.  And, of course, to scroll through with him the next time I get an eye roll instead of a whistle.

Ethan, before realizing that he is being watched

Hi Mom.  Is counter cleaning really photo worthy?  You are one funny, crazy lady...

And the antics begin

The whistle

Throw in some goofy expressions....

As long as the camera is on me, I might as well dance!

Ham it up, baby!

I stopped snapping just before the real booty shaking started.  Trust me, it was for your own good.

I can guarantee you that I will leave my kids with the ability to clean a kitchen with a smile.  Now I have proof.

But I hope that I have taught them more than how to work well.  I hope that I have taught them how to love well.  If I am not there to kiss their boo boos, dry their tears, or just offer a middle-of-the-day-no-reason-needed hug, I pray that they have learned to offer those things to one another.  Because what they are learning now to give to each other, is what they will later know how to give to the world.

I pray that God can use the imperfect offering of love that I put into my children, and bring out of them something beautiful and amazing for his glory.


Monday, July 16, 2012

I love my life.

Sometimes I am afraid to say so.  Maybe I think I'll jinx it or something.

But, it's true.  I love it.

I love waking up in the morning to warm sunshine streaming through my windows, a toddler snuggled up so close that her breath is tickling my face, a little someone standing beside my bed asking for hair to be braided or breakfast to be cooked or plans to be made, puppies barking at grasshoppers, and hours stretching out before me full of normal every day beauty and promise.

I love watching my kids love each other.
Ethan is quickly becoming less of a little boy and more of a young man.  He is testing limits but still holding onto the sweet innocence of a child.  I am proud of the man he is choosing to be, and I'm proud of the example he sets for his younger brothers and sisters.  I know that sometimes I don't give him enough credit (or slack) in the job he has as the eldest child in the family.  It's a tough assignment.  I often tell him that I realize it must be hard, but he is the one the Lord chose for the position so he can handle it!  Ethan and Ezra have a special relationship that completely warms my heart.  Although they are 7 years apart (Ethan is 11 and Ezra is 4), they totally enjoy each other.  Ezra likes to pretend that he is Ethan's little pet dragon.  Don't tell my big, tough 11 year old that I told you this, but Ethan loves this game too.  When we arrived home after church and lunch today, these two shed their church clothes, hurried into their bathing suits, and ran out to the pool.  Just the two of them, lost in a world of imagination and brotherhood.

While I was taking these pictures of the boys, Juni snuck outside behind me.  You wouldn't realize it until you really get to know her, but this girl is quite a character.  She can kiss you and pinch you in the same second, all with a mischievous little grin on her face.  And just like her brother before her, she prefers to be naked.  All.  The.  Time.  I'm not kidding, I can't keep clothes on the child.  She yells and writhes when I try to put a diaper on her and if she can manage to wiggle out of my grasp she takes off running like her tiny bare hiney is on fire, laughing all the way.  But without the pressures of neighbors and busy streets, it just doesn't matter.  Our little streaker can run, slide, jump on the trampoline, chase the dogs, play in the creek, and feed the chickens without a stitch on.  Our own little hippie baby.

As the late afternoon sun began to make its way behind the hills, Justin grilled steaks, Asa and I made mashed potatoes and green beans, and Astrid and Julia made dessert.....mud pies!  I guess some days sisterhood involves some serious mudslinging.


And what young boy could sit idly by and watch his sisters have all kinds of muddy fun without him?

Would you believe me if I told you that we moved out here to play in the mud?  Ok, that may not be the only reason, but it's part of it.  I guess it's less about the actual mud and more about what the mud represents.

Freedom.  Freedom from the pressures of pristine lawns.  From thinking that my children always need to look cute and clean.  From fears that someone else's kid might get caught in the muddy crossfire and end up in tears.  Freedom from the gossip chain, the mommy bikini competition at the neighborhood pool, and my kids always feeling like they need the newest toy, video game, or electric scooter.

Mud is a beautiful thing.

As I walked alone out to the chickens this evening to herd the ladies out of the woods and into their coops, I was suddenly struck with gratitude.  I had a full belly, a healthy body, a warm breeze on my face, cicadas singing in the trees, birdsong surrounding me, fields and trees and hills before me, and a house full of love and laughter behind me.  I just had to stop and say, "Thank you".

Thank you, Lord, for smiles...

muddy feet

tangled hair

big brown eyes

scratched up blue framed glasses

little fingernails and toenails that need to be cut

missing teeth


dirty handprints on my walls

endless interruptions

half eaten apples in my fridge

bedtime stories

snotty noses

...the every day, normal sweetness that I am blessed to encounter at every turn.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I am surrounded by the sweet sounds of home.  Ethan is singing while he slowly makes his way through his math work.  Asa and Julia are sharing a bowl of dry cinnamon cereal, and amidst the clanging of spoons I can hear snippets of conversation about kittens and bike races.  Astrid and Ezra have retreated to the girls' room and have an Owl City CD turned up so loudly that they have to yell over it hear each other while they play.  Juniper is 30 minutes into one of her late afternoon naps on my lap, quietly and deeply breathing, tempting me to join her.  But, since I have been waiting nearly three months to post, I am resisting the temptation.

It's hard to believe that we have been in our house for over two weeks.  We are finally settled comfortably between a forested hill and winding creek, with no other houses within our view.  And we are loving it.  Ethan enjoys it for the simple fact that he can get up from his schoolwork and go outside to relieve himself (as he did just now as I was typing this).

Home.  Finally.

These two weeks have brought us adventure, excitement, life lessons, and even a little heartache.

Moving day was just as it should be, with friends and family helping, hauling, laughing, eating, and playing.  The days that followed have been filled with visits from many friends, first dinners in our new home, trips to the creek, firefly chasing, swimming, planting, crawdad hunting, and so much more.

But last week we faced the reality, more than once, that we aren't in the neighborhood anymore.  Our sweet 9 week old kitten, Calista, went missing.  Monday she was here, playfully pouncing on our bigger cat Lucy, and meowing at the back door with big green eyes, begging to come in.  And the next day she was gone.  The wild land is not a safe place for little ones like her.  After two days of not seeing her around I feared the worst, but kept the kids hoping for the best.  It's been 9 days now since we have seen her, and reality has set in.  She isn't coming back.  And, despite what I told the kids, I don't think she ran away with a group of gypsy kittens passing through in the night to pursue a new life of riches and glamour.  I think she got eaten.

Just two days after Calista disappeared, we had a terrible, sleepless night.

That day, our two bigger dogs, Abby (fox hound) and Pippa (cocker spaniel), had been in a pretty rough fight.  Abby hurt Pippa badly enough that I brought Pippa in to rest and recover.  About 11:30 that night, just as Justin and I were about to fall asleep, we heard one of our two puppies (pyrenees/golden retriever mix, about 11 weeks old) cry out in pain, then whimper desperately.  Fearing that Abby was assaulting them, Justin jumped out of bed, took a few seconds to find his glasses, and ran to the back door.  The pups, Ingrid and Matilda, usually sleep on the back porch all night, right next to Pippa, who keeps watch.  Neither of them were there.  He came back into the room and told me that he couldn't find them.  I got up quickly and went outside.  I called for them.  Faint puppy barking came from somewhere in the woods in response.  Just a few frantic barks.  Then nothing.  Justin shined his flashlight into the darkness of the thick trees and spotted two reflective eyes.  "I think I see their eyes," he said.  "No, I don't think so," I replied, "dogs eyes don't reflect like that.  Cats do."  We looked at each other with concern and alarm.  While our house was being built, the contractors told us that they had seen a bobcat coming in and out of the woods.  Could this bobcat have attacked our pups?
".....it couldn't have gotten two at once, could it?" I asked.
"I don't think so," he said slowly, "but now that I think about it, I only saw one of the pups when I came out right before dark to check the pool.  I remember because I reached down to pet her and wondered where the other was, since they are always together."
Justin walked toward the woods, baseball bat in hand (even though we have several guns) and called for the puppies again.  Nothing.
He went back in the house for his keys.  He got in his truck and shined his lights into the woods as I called over and over again for Ingrid and Matilda.  He drove all over, covering about 10 of our 30 acres, trying to find them.  Maybe they were out by the chicken coop, teasing the ladies?  No puppies there.  Maybe they were on their way to the creek for a moonlight swim.  No trace of them on the path that direction either.
Images of a tiny helpless black kitten and two little white puppies being dragged off by a ferocious feline flashed into my head.  Everything always seems worse at night, and worse and worse did it seem, the more I thought about it.
Why would the pup have been crying?  Was there another explanation?  Why wouldn't they come when I called?  Why was there only one when Justin went out earlier?  I couldn't come up with any benign reason.  Every thought was filled with glowing cat eyes and razor sharp claws.
I cried, wondering how I was going to tell my children that their precious furry girls had been ripped apart and consumed.  I didn't sleep much that night, and apparently neither did Justin.  Although we never crossed paths, we both spent those wee hours alternating between restless sleep and getting up to check the porches in hopes of finding Ingrid and Matilda snoozing up against the house.  The last time I checked was about 4:30am.  They were still gone, but I finally drifted off to sleep, worried about the morning, when the kids would go outside to feed the girls and realize that they were gone.

I was abruptly awakened by Justin calling my name.  I opened my eyes and just as that sinking feeling began to take over again, I noticed his smile.  "Guess who's back!" he exclaimed.
"REALLY?!?  They're here?"
"Yep.  I went outside, thinking I was looking for carcasses and they came bouncing out of the woods."
"Little brats," I said, "someone needs to teach those two to come when they're called!"
I was so relieved.  I went outside and scratched behind their rotten little ears, and reprimanded them for putting me through that misery.

Justin started getting ready for work and I went to the kitchen to start a happy day breakfast while the girls filled one bucket with water and one with chicken feed to tend to the ladies.

Less than 5 minutes later Julia and Astrid burst through the door with worried and frantic expressions.
"The chickens are gone!!!!  We went out to feed them and the coop door was open and there are no chickens there and there are piles of feathers everywhere leading into the woods!!!"

And they were right.  The ladies were gone.  The little chicks we had hand raised since they were just days old, the ones that we had spent time and sweat building a coop for, the ladies that I had driven out to our land twice every day to give food and water, the sweet pet chickens that had just the day before laid their first proud eggs, were gone.

When I finally went outside to survey the scene I was horrified to see clumps of chest feathers here, piles of tail feathers there, and even a few heads amongst the carnage.  It looked like a horror movie.  I stood solemnly next to the empty coop and called out weakly, "ladies?  ladies?  Is there anyone left?"
I thought I heard a quiet cluck coming from the woods.  I took a step closer.  "Ladies?  Are you there?"
Slowly, cautiously, a little red hen emerged from the brush at the edge of the trees.  She looked around her as she stepped hesitantly toward me.  When she arrived at my feet and I reached down to pet her, I heard another cluck and looked up to see another battered and slightly defeathered victim making her way out of the woods to join us.  I have never in my life been so happy to see chickens!
These two were the only ones who survived that night.  Two of eight.
We received a blessing, though, when a friend told me of a friend of hers who was giving her 5 chickens away!  The next day, we drove out and picked up 5 new ladies, experienced lay-ers, whom we welcomed with an open coop!

Sweet Matilda
Rowdy Ingrid

Asa after a swim

running to the coop to check for eggs

some of the ladies

two eggs in one of the coops

one egg in the other

farm fresh eggs.  and yes, they do taste better!