Thursday, September 14, 2017

Family and Service

Last weekend, both sets of grandparents joined us at church. Mom and Dad Reed (who are currently serving a mission in Richmond, VA) drove up from their mission. In spite of Mom Abbe's illness, Mom and Dad Abbe drove 16 hours (one direction) to be with us. The occasion? My husband was set apart to serve in the bishopric of our church congregation. This is a big deal for him. In our church, the ministers are not paid; they volunteer their time. This new calling is a wonderful opportunity for service, growth, and testimony building. 

This position in our church will also impact our family in terms of less time with Owen. His evenings and weekends will include church meetings, training, and administrative work. For Charlotte, the impact is personal. She said, "I won't be able to take a nap with Dad during sacrament meeting anymore!" Yes, they were sleeping partners during last year when Owen was working the crazy night-shift hours. But now, Owen will sit up on the stand with the rest of the bishopric. 

As with any substantial change, I've been thinking about the "big-picture" questions lately: the purpose of life, the value of family, and what makes a life worth living. The answers I feel are most genuine are really the most simple. I feel as though I am at my very best when I'm invested in serving others. I've learned this from my own parents and in-laws who delight in service. I've learned this in the walls of my own home as I've tried to focus on my children. The tug and pull of self and service are real. Finding balance is a struggle. But the truth that people, and connecting, and working together bring joy is also real. 

I take the most comfort in something my parents reminded me of as they were walking out the door, bags in hand, ready to drive back to Richmond. "Your life is mirroring our life," my mom said. "When you were a senior in high school, I served in the stake and Dad served in the bishopric." My memories of that time are sweet. It was a busy time, no doubt! I remember driving from event to event, often with my mom. I have a vague recollection of watching my dad sit on the stand or conduct sacrament meeting, instead of sitting next to us on the bench. These are happy memories. Good memories. 

Memories worth repeating. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Loudoun County Fair 2017

The fair began with a bang this year as Elise won Junior Miss County Fair and Amelia was the runner up! The girls answered their questions with sincerity, personality, and eloquence. I knew Elise was a front runner when she answered the question, "What is your long term 4H goals?" with the joke, "World peace for the children...through bunnies!"And I loved when Amelia exclaimed, "You can show your animals all year long!" 

The rest of the week was filled with the best of fair: demolition derby night, frozen turtle pie on a stick, bunny dress up, circus acts, and carnival rides. We spent our days hanging out in the bunny barn, and on the best days, we stayed until past the evening entertainment to close up the barn. There is something so exciting about the morning setup - watching vendors organize their stalls, seeing the animals be fed, being one of the first people on the fairground. And nothing is quite as magical as the lights of ferris wheel at night or the cheers from the crowd during the nighttime bull ride.  

There were a few NEW highlights to our week. Grandma and Poppy came for a visit and shared a day-at-the-fair with us! Elise participated in the hypnosis show. And Madi participated in her first Round Robin competition.
And on the last night of fair, I actually had a date night with my favorite person. We watched part of the monster truck show, walked through the blinking lights of the carnival, and shared a treat.
To me, fair IS summer and summer IS fair. Summer is just not complete without our fair week. It is the culminating fun after a year of meetings, preparation, and work. I love working at the ice cream shack with the kids for that wonderful "free scoop." I love our frenzied baking day and entering cakes into the fair. I love the thrill of auction night, with the 4H kids wearing their freshly-pressed, button-down shirts. I love how by the end of the week, I knew some of the vendors by name, and they knew me. I love the way the cowboys kneel during the prayer before the rodeo. I love waving to the kids while they ride the rides with their friends. 

Only 11 months, and we get to do it all over again. I can hardly wait. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sun, Sand, and Ice Cream

Oh the joys of summer. There was that moment...there on the beach, the sun toasting my skin, my toes digging until they found cool sand, while I watched Owen and Truman work on their masterpiece sandcastle. The ocean spread out before me so big and full of color. I counted at least six variations of blue: cornflower blue in the sky, turquoise, sea green, steel-blue, deep blue (almost navy), and sea foam blue. It was the epitome of summer. Waves crashed, seagulls called, and I bobbed and played in the ocean with my family.

And then there was the ice cream: summer's true delight! I loved the sign "Welcome Home" that greeted us as we entered the air-conditioned sanctuary and began to select our flavor for the day. Our first day at the Island Creamery, I figured we frequent the parlor every-other-day. Um. We went. Every. Single. Day.
Can I just admit that having access to cable TV was also part of the vacation joy? We haven't had cable for three years, which means the only time we ever watch TV is if we're watching a DVD. But for a week, we enjoyed Chopped, NASA's Unexplained Mysteries, and Forensic Files. After a day of sunshine and swimming, it was so nice to sit in comfy chairs, snuggle, and watch fun shows together.

Thursday night, the Marina hosted a kids' pool party. Madi and Elise started their own spontaneous dance party. As the sun set, it painted the world with rose and gold. Somehow that beautiful ocean, looked even more beautiful. The marsh grass glowed in bright lime green. It was magical light. Summer's evening gift. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mormon Prom 2017

A little rain, a bit of mud, lots of pink, a beautiful backdrop, thousands of twinkly lights, and incredible kids were just a few parts that made this year's Mormon Prom memorable.

First of all, the dress. Oh this was a challenge! Back in February, Madi and I spent a couple weeks pouring over pictures and prices on the internet. There were late-nights of frustration when we decided there was just NO POSSIBLE way we were going to ever find a modest, pale-pink, reasonably-priced dress. We settled on trying one of those "made-to-order" sites where we entered measurements for a custom fit. I think I closed my eyes when I finally clicked "submit" hoping that the Chinese company would actually come through and deliver a dress that looked like the picture. Miraculously, the dress arrived a nail-biting 14 days later. Thankfully, the dress was perfect!

The date. Madi was asked by Josh Holtom, a wonderful young man in our stake. They doubled with Mara Berringer (one of Madi's closest friends) and Spencer (one of Josh's closest friends). It was a true date with a special dinner at Lightfoots in Leesburg. I love that it all worked out! The picture of Josh and Madi with the boutonniere are one of my favorites from the night - I had just mentioned something about the huge amount of trust shown during the pinning of a boutonniere. Madi laughed and I think Josh tried to laugh.

Friends. We are so blessed to have an incredible ward with wonderful youth. The Hamilton Ward youth and their friends met at the dramatically picturesque Morvan Park for pictures. We applauded the color coordination of the beautiful ladies.

The theme of the dance was "Enchanted Evening." Antique mirrors, garlands, bottle-lights, and paned glass windows decorated the lodge-like setting.
The food was Pinterest-worthy. I mean, really?! 4000 cake pops in a woodland setting, s'mores bar, and Italian Sodas were some of the highlights.
The personal highlight - besides seeing my daughter and friends enjoying themselves - was a tiny celebration that passed almost unnoticed. My husband ended his year-long, night-time work schedule Friday night. Which meant that for the first time in a year, we attended an evening event together. We chaperoned the dance. We talked with our friends from the ward and stake, peeked in at Madi (only a couple times), sampled the yummy food many times, and celebrated. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

200 Miles

Last year my girls and I signed up for craziness: running 200 miles as a relay team from Charlottesville to Williamsburg. When my girls rated their most favorite experiences from 2016, this race was at the top of their list. So, we did it again! This year, we added another Abbe girl.
As I ran my miles, I found myself contemplating the ridiculousness of putting ourselves in this "artificial" extreme situation - very little sleep (if any), long miles, and long car rides in between. I'm guessing my pioneer ancestors would scratch their heads in confusion about this activity. But in the middle of the extremes we found laughter, courage, teamwork, and more laughter. And that's why I love it. It's a break from the normal. It's a goal achieved by relying on each other. 
The night time runs included an extra adventure when Elise was startled by barking dogs. I bolted from the car in Mama-bear fashion when I heard her scream, ready to take on the vicious dogs myself. Thankfully, they were fenced. In an act of dedication, Elise decided to finish her leg even after the scary encounter.  
More courage was shown by Jess (AKA bandit runner) who completed her legs in spite of terrible allergies and asthma. That girl pulled out her inhaler, medicated herself, donned the scarf (to the envy of all!) and ran!
There is something beautiful about watching my girls work together and accomplish hard things. One of my favorite moments of the race was catching sight of Amelia, who ran the last leg of the race. Amelia had been in the other van with her best friend, Melanie, for the duration of the race. When I saw her emerge from the woods with a quarter mile left, I felt so proud of her. I was equally proud and touched to see Melanie at her side. They finished the race together. 
Some more memorable moments:
The gratitude I felt as my head hit the pillow, even if the sleep was only for two hours. 
The incredibly rejuvenating feeling of a shower.
Representing OMF again..."See A Cure!"
Sweet Frog before second set of legs.
Enjoying the witty banter of Jess and Joseph.
Crazy man riding a bike past the window of the Iron Horse restaurant (those beads and the bonnet).
Elise's joy at finding a blinkie light during her leg. 
The failure to find breakfast...and the glory of finally eating an omelet and pancakes (post race). Sleeping while waiting for our food to arrive.  
Marci's comment: "I feel so blessed to do this!"
Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. 
High-fiving preschool kids at the end of my first leg.
"Exchange Zone Ahead" signs.  
Cat-fact questions from Van 2. 
Having Luke Sauter drive down in the middle of the night to run 13 miles with our team.  
Peanut Butter M&Ms. 
Madi saying, "You know you're tired when the asphalt feels comfortable."
Here's the dream team (from left to right): Jess, Joseph, Jenny, Luke, Melanie, Amelia, Madi, me, Elise, Cori, and Kyle. Way to go! Let's do it again!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What it Takes Sometimes

First, we tackled the Duty to God goal: make a well balanced meal for the family. Truman worked next to me in the kitchen, chopping, mixing, and reading a recipe. We learned an important lesson about not using the same cutting board for raw chicken and broccoli. The end result tasted delicious, "Chicken, snap pea, pineapple stir fry in black bean sauce." But the best learning moment occurred when Truman said, "Cooking dinner takes a lot of multitasking." Yes. Yes it does! This validation was wonderful.
Next we pursued the last minute passing-off of merit badges for the upcoming Board of Review. We drove to two different leader's homes and got things signed off on those blue, rectangle cards.

Of course everything took longer than expected. I had left the kitchen in a state of crazy - the cooked-from-scratch kind of crazy. I had left the other kids to fend for themselves for the evening with their homework and instrument practicing. 

And somewhere along the dark, gravel road on the drive back home, I realized that sometimes this is what it takes. Sometimes I have to leave the mess behind. Sometimes I have to leave four other children behind to help one. And I know when my husband is finished with this upheaval of a job, we'll share these jobs and less people in our family will feel left behind. But on this night, it was the best I could do. 

I came home to a mostly clean kitchen (yes, angels live in my house!) and a monumental herd of stuffed animals at the top of the stairs where Charlotte had entertained herself. It was a soul-stirring moment when I realized my children also know what it takes: it takes a family. It takes everyone pulling together, working together, pressing forward together. Sometimes we're the ones in the car being helped. And sometimes we're the ones left behind at home to face the mess. Either way, we need each other. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Two Days with My Daughter

We cross the street, empty but for the parked cars and a few yellow cabs. The city is strangely quiet for a city that never sleeps. We enter Central Park from the west side near a group of runners who stretch and chat. We pass the arbor made from twisted vines thick as a broomstick handles, a whimsical landmark. We join the Saturday morning runners and begin Madi's birthday run along the paved path. She talks with me, and I cannot now recall our topics. But the sun shines. The sky opens above us like a huge blue umbrella. The city skyline marks the permitter. We marvel at the rooftop luxury apartments with their terraces and trees growing in pots. She tolerates my requests for selfies, and do-over selfies. And six miles later, we find ourselves where we started. The street is a little more crowded. The park holds more runners, dog-walkers, and vendors.
I took Madi to NYC for the first time in March 2008. She was eight years old. The highlights of that trip were lunch at the American Girl Store and playing the floor piano at FAO Swartz. It snowed our first night there, large quarter-sized flakes filled the sky soft and white. We purchased "I love NYC" hats because it was colder than we expected.

Nine years later.

We consider going back to FAO Swartz to recreate our first NYC memory. Google informs us the iconic toy store on 5th Ave. has closed.  We look at each across our slices of perfectly thin pizza in disbelief. It is really closed? There is no more FAO Swartz? And there it is. An ending. A symbolic hint of the changes to come over the next four years.  Childhood gone.

I love this girl of mine. I love her sense of adventure, her love of literature, her gift of words, and her companionship. I love her so much that it aches to think of the coming changes. Sad for me. Happy for her.

Which, of course, makes this day all the more significant. It turns our morning run into a snatch of perfection. It turns our pizza eating, cookie munching, and restaurant hunting into treasures. They are memories in the making that will linger longer than a toy store, longer than a trip, and certainly longer than a cookie lasts in my tummy.