Friday, November 27, 2015

The Smallest Moment

Thanksgiving is filled with happy moments, isn't it? 

Pie moments 
Whipping cream moments 
 Dessert table moments. My personal favorite this year: cranberry upside down cake!
 Kitchen island overflowing with goodness moment. 
Ice skating with friends moment.
 Charlotte-antics moment.

Truman summed up the day best when he said, "I wish everyday could be Thanksgiving!" My son speaks truth.

Of all these moments, however, my favorite Thanksgiving moment yesterday was so fleeting, I'm sure no one noticed but me. The pies were made, the three tables were set, the house was clean (thank you to my five helpful children!), our friends had arrived, and even the blessing on the meal had been said. Owen and I stood side by side for the slightest moment. Our backs were against the kitchen sink, and I took in the sight. All that delicious (shall I say gourmet?!) food covered the kitchen island, the kitchen bustled with children getting in line to fill their plates, and the family room echoed with the sound of talking and laughter in our home. I squeezed Owen's hand for a second and he squeezed back.

That hand squeeze with my husband signified so much. It was a thank you, a "look how our kids have grown", a "we're getting older but I still love you",  a "how wonderful to have a full house," and a "look at all our blessings!" moment. It was celebration mixed with the kind of gratitude that humbles me and fills my heart to the aching point.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for all the moments, small and large, quiet and rambunctious, tear-filled and belly-laugh-filled, alone and crowded, and, of course, the tiny but oh so significant hand-squeeze moments that fill my life with joy.  

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lessons from XCountry

For Madi, this was the season of overcoming an injury. After doctor appointments and a brutal needle compression test last spring, we weren't sure what to expect this cross country season. Madi started seeing a chiropractor, and little by little the numbness and lower leg pain subsided. However, the mental struggle coupled with lingering pain made the first few races challenging.

This was the season of personal dedication and discipline. Madi decided to make drastic changes to her "fuelling." No desserts. No candy. No refined starches. More real food. Lots of fruits, veggies, and protein. Her favorite breakfast was her powershake: half a banana, 1/2 cup almond milk, ice, and two dollops of peanut butter. I watched, in awe, as Madi exercised discipline time and time again. No candy on Halloween. No apple fritters when I made them for a party. It was tough. But she was tougher. The coach also modified her workouts, catering them to her (which often meant less miles).

It worked. Madi ran a fantastic final three races of the season at crucial team moments. The Valley girls were seated 5th at Conference, and they needed to be in the top three teams to continue on to regionals. Madi took a tremendous 2nd place finish for her team. At Regionals, they had another surprise finish allowing them to continue to states. 
Here are the Viking girls at Conference, Oatlands, VA. 
This was the season of surprise endings. At States this past Friday, the girls were told by their coaches, "When we crunch the numbers, it looks like you could place from 9th to 2nd place. If everyone on the team has a good could get 2nd." But it was a long shot, at best. They were seated and expected to get to 7th out of 15 teams.
The autumn day started chilly especially with a brisk breeze which sent showers of leaves tumbling from their last perch on trees. But the sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky. Owen took the day off so we could support Madi together. And Glen and Karen came to join us as we cheered on the Valley Vikings. The race snaked across long stretches of meadow, hugged the woods, and charged up hills. In the last mile of the race, Madi had made her way to third place for her team and in the top 25 overall (there were 100 runners in the race). With two teammates in front of her, the Vikings looked like they were having a solid race. 

We had no idea just how good they performed until, to everyone's surprise, they announced Vikings girls placed 2nd overall at state! A huge accomplishment considering they were seated 7th. My favorite moments of the day: seeing the girls from across the field in their final huddle/prayer right before the race, watching Madi charge up the final hill, running alongside Owen as we moved to our next cheering spot, seeing Coach Joan skip and leap when she found out the girls got 2nd place, snapping shots of the girls being interviewed by local journalists about their surprise victory, standing next to Karen in the loooonnnng line to get Madi a shirt, and embracing Madi to celebrate her accomplishment.

Here, the girls are interviewed by journalist about their surprise performance.
These shoes have run many miles together this season.
Celebrating 2nd place - we're counting it as a Viking Victory!

Below is my favorite picture of the season. The girls had just finished their regional meet, securing a place at States. This was their cool down run in the twilight of an autumn evening. 

I've always loved running. I've been running since I was in 2nd grade when my Dad would take me running with him after work. But there's something even more inspiring and satisfying about watching my children run. It's bigger...nostalgic and epic at the same time. It's the archetypal journey coupled with the inner struggle. My girls run faster than I ever have in my life. And although I love to see them and their team succeed, it's the determination and sacrifice before the races--in the training and discipline--that make the victories memorable. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Peacocks and Angels

When my NYC weekend adventure plans were dashed, my plan B was a DC day. At my friend's urging (she actually said, "Your kids HAVE to see this room!"), I took my kids to the Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery. Since it was a Tuesday and a non-school holiday, we had the room basically to ourselves.

The gilded room holds an eclectic collection of vases from Asia and the Middle East with a beautiful Whistler painting as the centerpiece. After a quick look around, we sat on the bench in the middle of the room and thumbed through a book with information about the room. Using the pictures in the book, we played an impromptu game of "I spy" and tried to locate the items shown on each page. The result was a mini treasure hunt for turquoise vases, textured pottery, gold painted butterflies, and peacock feathers (which we found on the ceiling!). The hardest to find was a cat statue, no bigger than a salt shaker, that we finally found sitting at the feet of the woman in the painting.
Next, we selected our favorite item in the room and shared it with each other. Elise liked a purple vase with sapphire streaks trailing down the sides like a rain storm. I love when my children interact and connect with art.  

Madi chose our lunch spot: Sweet Green. According to our GPS, it was only .8 miles away which we decided was a doable distance. When we arrived at the .8 destination, the restaurant was no where to be found. So we continued to the next closest one...another .7 miles away. There were a couple moments when we all seriously doubted if the food would be worth long walk. Charlotte was the hero of the walk, keeping her complaining to a minimum as she held tightly to her McDonalds bag.

Sweet Green did not disappoint! Organic, locally grown vegetables make the most delicious salads. I had the Wild Child Grain Bowl: organic wild rice + organic baby spinach, cilantro, peppers, raw beets, shredded cabbage, carrots, raw seeds, avocado, miso sesame ginger dressing. Delicious!!

Our final stop was to visit an old friend of the American Art Gallery. I visited this sweet angel every week during my lunch break when I worked as an editor on Pennsylvania Ave. She is still as serene as ever, her feathers still so pristinely white. Although she hasn't aged a day, I certainly have! The last time I visited I was so young...probably about 24. I thought my life was so "crazy" and "busy" back then with my full time job and daily commute into the city. How wonderful and strange to bring my children to the museum to see her. My life is still "crazy" and "busy" just in a completely different way.  On a day like this--visiting art and eating good food--I'm grateful for all my crazy/busy, the chance to hold Charlotte's hand for 3 miles, and time spent with my favorite five angels.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Passage of Time

I've been thinking about "time" lately. A speaker at my church began his talk (sermon) with the following statistics: the average American will spend 9 years of their life watching TV, 1 year cleaning, and 4 years driving. 70% of our life is spent in front of multi-media. In addition, women spend 8 years shopping and nearly 1 year deciding what to wear.

Wow, time adds up quickly, especially when you consider we sleep for 25 years over a lifetime. Just with those statistics, the remaining time is limited and precious. And I didn't even look up the statistic for time spent working at a job!

Lately, the seasons seem to change more quickly. Autumn appeared overnight, with a blushing tree and a sudden drop in temperature. One night this week I awoke shivering, and was actually surprised! I tiptoed upstairs in the dark, dug out the heavy blankets, and tucked one over each sleeping child. The cold came so quickly, I was unprepared...almost accosted by it.  On Monday, frost painted my car windows. I scraped hurriedly, sending puffs of white crystals into the dark morning air. Madi was late to early morning seminary.

In an effort to preserve (or cling!) to the season, I scramble to fit in the autumn traditions. Pumpkin and apple picking. Cookie baking. Caramel apples. Autumn runs. Halloween decorating.

But it's more than just the seasons. Yesterday, I waited with Madi in the doctor's office so she could get some blood tests done (nothing serious, just testing for iron levels). She was brave - even when her vein collapsed and they had to do a second needle in the same arm! I found myself thinking about the first doctor appointment I took her to...fifteen years ago. She was two weeks old and had to get some shots. She cried, of course, and so did I. I remember after the shots were finished and Madi and I were still crying, the kind nurse said, "Take your time here in the room." And so I did. I rocked her until she stopped crying and had fallen asleep in my arms.

Was that really 15 years ago? How could time have moved along so fast? How is this sweet first baby of mine get so tall (5' 6") and grown up? When did she become tough and brave?

On my best days, I'm aware of the passage of time and try to drink in the present. I hold Charlotte in a tight hug a little longer, I make dinner with a little more care and gratitude, and I actually listen as my children tell me about their day. I champion family walks, I walk my daughter to the bus stop, and say yes to the request for "one more chapter, please!"

I pause.

I get two more autumns with Madi before she goes to college. Pause. I try not to cry, try not to curse the quick passage of time, try not to feel too much guilt about the years that unconsciously seemed to slip by.

Instead, today, I will try to pause.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Memorable Summer Moments #2-5

Argh! It's already September 6th! How could that possibly be correct? With autumn knocking on my door, here are memorable summer moments #2-5.

#2 - Friends. We have been blessed to see the outpouring of friendship this summer. From friends who let us stay in their homes to friends who shared a fun outing...

Friends helped me laugh this summer. They helped me see the blessings. And they were a source of therapy and comfort.
Dump visit with Jess!
 Beach day with Shelley - my best friend from high school. How is it that we are in our 40s with SO MANY CHILDREN? Wasn't it yesterday we were driving to school together in the cold mornings, singing Match-Maker on the stage, and toilet-papering Brad's room?
Re-connecting with overseas friends was a reminder that friendship transcends time, oceans, and continents. How I needed this short but precious visit with Melissa!  It was a balm to my soul to connect with someone with whom I shared the Jakarta experience. And in her 6-year-old way, Charlotte's reconnection with Tate was equally, if not more, important. 

Shana and Jesca! How we love you! How we love the stories, the laughter, the meals at Exeter, the night at the fair, the ice cream at the farmer's market...
Fish and chips at Portsmouth, NH, followed by ice cream...of course!
Then there was the serendipitous meeting at the Piano Guys Concert with my dear friend, Corinne.  
Then there are the un-photographed moments: The pancake breakfast with Karen when we played hooky from the ward's 4th of July breakfast because it was just too dang early. The SYTYCD sessions in Jess's basement. The long runs with Maria where I poured my heart out as we compared mothering moments. This summer, experiences with friends reminded me what is important in life and gave me so many reasons to celebrate. 

#3 New England Escape
It has been over ten years since I've traveled back to Boston and Cape Cod. This spontaneous trip ended up being the recreational highlight of the summer. It was the first time my children had visited my old stomping grounds from my Sophomore to Senior years of high school.

We visited Faniuel Hall in Boston and dined on scallops wrapped in bacon, crab rolls, and Boston Cream pie. We saw the swan boats and walked to the Old North Church.
We spent one morning in Sandwich, walking down main street and drinking water from the spring fountain at the Dexter Grist Mill. I introduced my children to the boardwalk and Sandwich Town Beach.
This week-long escape was just that: a much needed escape. A reminder that life is good and fun.

#4 Owen's Garden

Owen broke ground on his garden a full month before we broke ground on the house. He had the electric fence up and running to keep out the deer before the foundation of the house was poured. And we've reaped the benefits of the garden all summer long. The only problem? What do we do with 30 GIGANTIC zucchinis?

#5 Morning Runs

This is where I worked out all my frustrations. This is where I shared time with my running daughters and was even joined by Truman and Amelia on occasion. This was my place solace. This was one of the few places where I felt in control of my out-of-control summer.

I was sad to say goodbye to my children as they started school this week. But honestly, I wasn't too sad to say goodbye to summer 2015. However, looking back - especially with the lens of perspective - I realize it wasn't so bad at all. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Memorable Summer Moments (Post 1)

This is not a typical top ten summer moments least not typical for me. 

In my last post I called our summer “the lost summer.” And yet, as I look back we managed to certainly build memories, just not in the typical summer-recreational way. And so, during this first week of the 2015 school year, I want to pay tribute to our summer with a top 5 list.

Top Summer Memorable Moments:

#1 The House

It’s really quite amazing to watch a house built. I remember walking the perimeter of the giant hole in the ground last fall, careful to not step too close to the edge. The sheerness of the in-the-ground walls seemed to defy everything I knew about dirt. I tried to imagine a basement and house in its place. Then we watched the cement, framing, wiring, plumbing…all the layers of work. The process seemed sluggish at times, like trying to watch the earth rotate. And at other times (especially during the roof and siding installation), the progress seemed magical in its speed.

One favorite part of the building process for the kids was the massive dirt pile. While Owen and I worked or met with our builder, Thomas, the kids played fort or “Lord of the Rings” or army out on the dirt pile. Shoes came back coated with red clay. Legs and arms wore a thin film of red dust. It nearly broke Charlotte’s heart when we told her the dirt mound was not a permanent part of the new

One of the least-favorite (but memorable) parts of building was our brilliant decision to save money and paint the entire house ourselves. Owen and I have done lots of painting during our married lives, so we thought (naively) how hard can painting a house be? Let me tell you…we were unprepared for the hours and hours and hours of work.

First, picking the paint. This was a painstaking process. I credit my husband with patience beyond anything I’ve ever seen from him. Thirteen test colors of gray on my walls before I fell in love with Benjamin Moore’s Stonington Gray. Best color ever!! 

It took seven blues before choosing three different ones (I couldn't pick just one) to go in the master bedroom, the office, and mudroom.

Then there was the family room paint fiasco. Owen painted an entire room before I decided it was the wrong color. He and Grandad, with great patience and love, repainted the room. We eventually went with the lighter color: a beautiful Benjamin Moore Edgecomb gray, and I'm soooo glad we made the change!

Then came the trim. Every baseboard. Every window. Every door. (They're still not done). And the hated, loathed, cursed closets! How I hate painting closets (they’re also still not done).

But I loved painting with Elise. We sang Christmas songs and hymns to pass the time. And on the 4th of July weekend we enjoyed the company of the Petersons and Tyler Davis who helped us make progress.

I could go on and on about picking tiles, hours spent online looking at lighting options, and sitting for 10 hours with Kim at Home Depot crunching numbers and making adjustments to fit our cabinets budget. But perhaps those moments are not worth remembering. They are the clutter of my summer. The lost hours. I’d rather remember the moments with my family…of Charlotte wearing red dust from head-to-toe, of Owen and Grandad returning home after a painting day, covered in paint, looking like they’d returned from an expedition to the top of Mount Everest, and of Christmas hymns in July with Elise.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I used to think...

I used to think being a good Mom meant making a home-cooked, hot breakfast every morning for my children. I used to think being a good Mom meant taking my children to a daily summer adventure: swimming, library story time, the farm, and amusement parks. I used to think being a good Mom meant having a clean, orderly house. I still think those are good things, but I've modified my definition of being a "good Mom."

This summer I've learned a lot about myself. Since June 20, we have been homeless. Not in the live-out-of-our-car homeless. But more like living a gypsy-life-style as we've moved from place to place living with friends and family. We sold our Ivandale house (a true blessing!) in early June but our new house has taken much longer to finish than we ever expected. It's still not finished.

We've made ten moves since June 20th. The following pictures show move number 5; there was no room in the car for Charlotte, and she is very unhappy about it.

This summer, I've made a home-cooked, hot breakfast for my kids maybe three times. As we've lived in other people's homes, I haven't had access to a kitchen on a regular basis...and even when I did, I couldn't always find what I needed (where's the mixer? where's the baking soda? where's the muffin tins?).

This summer, we've been to the swimming pool once. It was a three hour escape while I helped a friend out by watching her children.

This summer, we have not attended library story time, the farm, or an amusement park. Not even once.

In some ways, I feel like this is a lost summer. It was swallowed up in Home Depot visits, hours of painting, online shopping for tile/fixtures/and flooring, and packing re-packing and un-packing. I feel a lot of guilt when I think about it. But in other ways, in lieu of being a "good" Mom (at least in how I've traditionally defined it), I've become something completely different. I've been a strong Mom. I've been a Mom who keeps trying. I've been a Mom who falls apart, but then picks myself back up and keeps going. I've been a Mom who faces complication after complication and postponement after postponement and have remained somewhat sane. Emphasis on somewhat. And maybe those things are better than "good" because they're real.

When we look back on this summer, we will categorize it as the summer where we learned we can do hard things. As the summer of realizing how generous and amazing our family and friends are (thank you to EVERYONE who opened their doors, shared their trucks, painted next to us, and invited us for Sunday dinners!) As the summer of learning to work hard. Of painting - lots of painting! Of working (yes, it was work) at the Pickwick Drama Camp!

But we will also remember it as the summer of Sunday afternoon walks. Of morning runs. Of a glorious trip to New England and visits with precious friends. Of beautiful sunsets. And of the rare, rare moments of calm family time and even rarer, home-cooked family meals. But the rareness has made the moments that much more meaningful.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

4th of July

I know, I know. It's been more than a month, but I'm still playing catch-up.

It has been three years since I've enjoyed a Purcellville 4th of July parade. And it does not disappoint. We park our car at the Blaylock's house and walk to Main Street. We sit on the lawn in front of the Cardinal Bank with our friends. Truman and Charlotte, with grocery bags in hand, wait eagerly on the curb for the candy-tossing to begin. Everything is so familiar, but I see it with new eyes. From the American flag, to the cleanness of the streets...I'm so grateful for America.

Tractors, scouts, politicians, horses, and every fire engine within the county (it seems) roll by. How I love a parade!
 We gather at Magen's house for her annual BBQ. It rains, spoiling the outside plans, but Magen opens her home to all 35 of us! Pulled pork, hot dogs, salads, Holly Davis's applebars (I had four - no joking), and root beer. The tastes and smells of the 4th of July I have missed the past three years.
My favorite moment of this day, however, has nothing to do with tradition. Elise and I realize we need some camp chairs for the fireworks show - and all of our camp chairs are currently in storage. We dash to Walgreens to see if they have any for sale. Elise decides to tryout the chair in the aisle - test its comfort level. We struggle to set up the chair (it's more complicated than our tired brains can handle) and so this is the result during the test-sit:
The chair folds up around her, practically eating her. Elise gets stuck. Somehow the locking mechanism engages, and we really can't get her free. We laugh so hard, we become the "disturbance in aisle 3"! Tears roll down our cheeks as the chair situation becomes more and more ridiculous. 

How I love laughing with my children!  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

An Escape

I'm about to do something I've never done on my blog: post a very unflattering picture of myself. 

Here it is:
This is my "MOVING WEEK" face. This is the "I'm living in my own personal horror movie" face. I decided to post this because it truly sums up my emotional turmoil, and it serves as evidence to a decision we made in the middle of the moving process.

We needed a break. An escape from the hard work. A reward. So Friday night - in the middle of our packout process - the girls and I escaped down to DC to see Newsies (Owen and Truman were on a scout camp out).

We went to the National Theater on Pennsylvania Ave. and entered their ticket lottery. Even though we didn't win one of the $25 tickets, we did take the offer to buy a remaining ticket for $50 each.
It was worth every penny! The energy of this cast was amazing. We clapped and stomped our feet as they danced. We laughed right out loud and felt relief from the gruelling schedule of the week.

And as is customary for us, we waited outside the stage door to meet the actors. Our favorite was the actor who held a cigar in his mouth almost the entire show...even while spinning pirouettes and leaping across the stage!
I loved sharing this experience with Madi, Elise, and Amelia. I love the way musical theater provides both escape and inspiration. I'm so glad we made this spontaneous decision to jump in the car and treat ourselves to a fun night out on the town.