Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blueberries for Sal, Horses, and Other Things


One of the things I love about going to the mountains is that it is like stepping into an entirely different season.  Summer has been mild here in Virginia, but even so we often find ourselves with temperatures in the eighties.  It is warm, and sometimes hot, but rarely cool, and by August, we are daydreaming about bundling up for the winter.  We have learned that in the mountains of West Virginia, it is about twenty degrees cooler than it is at home.  This year, we packed long sleeves and sweaters, which ended up being perfect!  Can you believe that there was one morning that it was 35 degrees?!  In August!  Apparently it has been unusually cool in West Virginia, too, which actually ended up working in our favor.  

Usually, July is peak wild blueberry season.  You can find huckleberries  in August (which are, it turns out, a lot like blueberries, but with a large seed in the middle), but blueberries are long gone, having been picked over by hikers and wildlife alike.  But this year's cool weather has pushed everything back from its normal timetable, and so we had the unexpected good luck of being around for wild blueberries.  We knew we had to get up to Dolly Sods to do some hiking and blueberry picking.

Back in the winter, when we were planning all of this out, we decided to invite our neighbor Carly.  Part babysitter, part surrogate big sister, she is one of the most delightful people we know (and now an honorary member of the family).  And in the end, it proved to be the ticket to having a truly restful vacation with five kids six and under!  Besides, there are a lot more board games to play with three people than with two (here are some favorites).

So anyway, when we decided to do some ambitious hiking with the kids, it ended up being surprisingly relaxed.  Ben and I each carried a baby on our back, and Carly told some epic stories to the kids (I think she must have spent on the order of five hours crafting tales about spiderman and princesses and kings.  She's pretty much the best.), which we've found distracts them from the intensity of the hiking at hand.  I was really proud of all the kids, but Hugo and Lily in particular for hiking five miles on some difficult terrain.  It's kind of amazing what kids are capable of, and I think each and every person felt a tremendous feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the peak.  Which was sweetened by the fact that the peak of the mountain happens to be where all of the wild blueberries grow.  I think Hugo in particular was convinced that he was a character from Blueberries for Sal.  The little bear, not the human, of course.

Two sunburned baby noses (yikes! I always forget that sweater weather has equally strong sunshine!), one breakfast of waffles with wild blueberry sauce, and a few canoe rides later, we big girls went for a trail ride on horseback, which must have been the crowning achievement of Zosia and Lily's lives thus far.  Certainly something to dream of for the next few months.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Away


Two weeks before the twins were born, when he should have been making extra meals, or folding baby clothing, or whatever other nesting activity is appropriate for anyone about to welcome not one but two babies into his family, Ben booked our summer vacation.  Let me tell you, it seemed ages away, and like a bit of a silly idea.  We had a million practical considerations, and were quite busy from moment to moment.  Who was thinking of summer?

But then during the coming days, those most difficult days of my pregnancy, when just getting through the day or even the hour seemed to be the primary task at hand, I found myself closing my eyes and imagining our favorite mountain spot in West Virginia.  I'm sure as Ben was taking on essentially every household task in addition to working a full time day job, as he did in those final days, he did too.  Our twins would be almost eight months old.  We hadn't even held them yet, seen them yet, or safely welcomed them into the world yet, but on our vacation all of those unknown details would be filled in, and we would be able to enjoy one another's company in a magical spot in nature. I imagined the little lake, the cool air, the mountain breeze.

We just got home from our week, and last night when I closed my eyes I still saw it in my mind.  The mountains, the pine trees, the deep silence.  My mind feels so clear, and as we settle back into our own quiet day to day back home, I am realizing what a tremendous year it's been.  Tiring, exhilarating, filled with incredibly hard work, and the deepest joy I have known.  And now we find ourselves in a more restful season, gratefully accepting the gift of rejuvenation.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Leisure Reading



Throughout the week, Ben is always sending me interesting articles he comes across.  I always read them, and they're usually really good!  So I thought I would share a few favorites from the past couple of weeks.

Here's an article that talks about sleep as a competitive advantage (as opposed to thinking of working extra long hours as the competitive advantage).  And if you think it's ironic to be writing about sleep when I have two babies in the house, you should look at this Ted talk about how we naturally sleep (Spoiler: it's not in a single stretch of eight consecutive hours!).  Mothers of nursing babies, you have to read it!  It will make you much more chill about that 2 am feeding.

I loved this article called Masters of Love.  It has some wonderful thoughts about ways to have a lasting, successful, marriage.  Years ago, when a newly engaged friend asked us for our best marriage advice, Ben had an immediate answer: Always assume positive intent.  Is your spouse late?  Messy?  Grumpy?  Did (s)he leave underwear on the floor in the bathroom?  The answer is the same: assume positive intent.  "Ah yes, a hermeneutic of generosity," our friend responded, which is a beautiful way of putting it.  Whatever you're going to call it, I strive every single day to live it out with Ben, with our kids, and with whoever I might come across.  It will change the way you look at the world.

This is exactly how I feel when I think about these babies growing up!  This little girl has captured my emotions to a T.  The best part is when the baby smiles at his sobbing sister.

Have you guys watched Bob's Burgers (link to one of our favorite episodes)?  It is a seriously funny adult show (definitely not for kiddos!), and I think you'll find the characters just as silly as we do.  Here's an interview with the cast which you should look at after you've watched a couple of episodes. Can you believe the way they cast those voice actors?

And here's some research that supports what I think many parents already know: it's play that makes kids smarter, not classroom time.  And with that, carry on with all of your summer adventures!

We're taking a bit of a technology break these coming days: looking forward to dropping in soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Slow


You guys, we found a turtle!  Spotted by Zosia while crossing the street just like it was no big deal.  We deliberated for some time about whether he was a pet or a wild animal, but the determination with which he was crawling towards the creek led us to believe wild animal.  We spent a little while trying to train him (with success, if you would ask Lily or Hugo, who would stand directly in his path while yelling "Here, turtle!  Here, turtle!" and then claim victory when he took a step towards them before changing directions).  And then we released him and he crawled away, eager to continue on his journey.  Quick as a wink, and here we were thinking that turtles were supposed to be among the slowest in the animal kingdom.  Just a few minutes, but he certainly captured our imaginations.

Our lives these past few months have been composed of many such little fragments.  Any moment has a list of five very urgent matters that must immediately be tended to.  A meal, a diaper, a guest, a game, a book.  And then, five minutes later, the list changes.  It creates a beautiful mosaic of a day, although in the moment, it can feel like a bit of a marathon.  And despite the fact that I sometimes find that a morning has flown by and I have not gotten off of my feet once, I nevertheless have become a little addicted to the quick pace of life, to tell you the truth.  It is thrilling and feels incredibly fulfilling to be able to care for one another diligently, and there's a way that a big family starts to feel like a well oiled machine.  

Every now and then these days, we find ourselves with a longer stretch of quiet time, and it's that slowness that takes some adjusting to.  Last week, the girls participated in a sweet little dance camp, and I found myself only with Hugo while the babies napped in the morning.  We would read something like ten books, play a few games, all at the most leisurely pace.  Eventually we would tidy the house a bit and get a sack.  Every moment I was filled with the feeling that surely I must be forgetting something.  But no, there was nothing extra.  Just Hugo and two napping babies.  What a funny feeling!  And these days I'm realizing that it's okay to slow down the pace, since things will be quieter when the big girls are in school this year.

Which brings me to our school decision for the coming year.  As many of you know, this past year we homeschooled for first grade.  We loved it.  We loved having Zosia around, loved the fact that we could learn so much so quickly and then spend the rest of our time learning through play.  It was a wonderful year, and it was an incredible gift to have our whole family here during the year that we welcomed twins (seriously! My two "big girls" have proved themselves competent as baby holders, baby entertainers, and even baby diaper changers.  It was like having two built in mothers' helpers).  

However, as the year progressed, we realized that finding time for formal instruction was becoming trickier.  Now, enter two crawling, cruising babies, and it is suddenly even trickier.  As much as we loved homeschooling, it became clear that this coming year was not a good homeschooling year.  Regardless, we felt like there were a lot of things that we had accomplished at home that were wonderful.  Things like nature study, reading live books, integrating our faith into our schooling, and being actively involved in the educational process.  We felt sad to be letting these things go, and started thinking and praying of a way to continue along this path.

I can't narrate all of individual events that transpired in such a small space, but they go something like this.  We found a school, one that we loved, and every barrier  (substantial barriers, mind you!) were lifted one by one.  Our prayer for clarity was decisively answered.  The girls will be in school together at a sweet small Christian school that is close by, that is very homeschooling friendly, and that welcomes (requires, even!) substantial parental involvement.  And what's more, not only do they support the type of school we tried to create at home, but we feel like have a lot to learn from them.

We are all excited to imagine what this coming year will hold!