Sunday, August 21, 2016

Potatoes





"Mom," Jack says, "I put some potatoes in the fruit basket for you," his potatoes, his own, fresh dug from his garden. His head poked in my room, bright freckles and a sky-blue shirt, I smile at him.

"Oh, thanks," I say. Perched on the edge of my bed, I've been staring at the open closet trying to extract something that will fit and look appropriate. The children bustle down the hallway behind Jack. Everyone's prepping for a day at work with Daddy.

"You can use them for whatever you want," he says, "like making chips or fried potatoes or WHATEVER you want." I smile, watch his eyebrows curve around those blue eyes. "'Cause, I like to have a little surprise for you any time I'm gonna be gone," he says. That closet full of clothes and nothing to wear and then this.

"Aw, thanks, Jack."

"Yeah!" he says. With that he clicks the door shut, scampers down the hallway, and soon the house is quiet, just Betsy and me.

All day I think about those potatoes. I fry them up for dinner, split them with Craig. We agree, hands down, the best potatoes. Ever. Could have eaten a whole bushel of them. But the nourishment, that was all Jack.





Gratitude:

6032. We have a garage sale with Pete and Rosie, a huge success.

6033. The kids help Craig move everything back into place in his classroom after the painting is done.

6034. I finish another sweater for baby boy.







6035. And a blanket.

6036. We finish the first week of school. Memories of the self-discipline required for learning begin to re-emerge. It feels good.

6037. We celebrate my mom's birthday.

6038. We celebrate Craig's dad's birthday.

6039. We land on Sunday tired and grateful for rest. It's the long afternoon nap, laundry forgotten on the couch, and bedtime come early.



Sunday, August 14, 2016

Knock-Knock





"Can I do a knock-knock joke on you?" Myra says. "It'll be really quick."

There in fleece jammie shirt and pink running shorts, the only jammie shirt/short combination she could find, Myra laces her fingers together and turns her hands inside out. Knock-kneed, she does a half-squat.

"Okay," I say. There at the table, I lean on my elbows, a book sprawled open and half finished between them.

"It's one that Jane always does on me," she says. She rolls her eyes up and to the left as if tossing a pinball over her shoulder.

"Okay," I smile.

"Knock-knock," she says.

"Who's there?"

"Abraham Lincoln."

"Abraham Lincoln, who?" I say.

"You don't know who Abraham Lincoln is?" she says a grin unspooling. I giggle, Abraham Lincoln, but that grin, wide like a tomato split from ripeness, it lingers past the punchline.

"That's a pretty good one," I say.

"Yeah," she says. I stare, there leaned on an elbow. She blooms and retracts like a geyser, a fountain. She blinks, something slow and quiet. And if simple attention could give nourishment, there it is. In a moment, we've consumed something intimate as breath and formless as water. Manna.

"Okay, go get in bed," I say. And she does.









Gratitude:

6018. Lucy slices a pile of apples from the neighbor's tree. She hums as she fills her bike helmet with the slices to share with cousins out front.







6019. "Jesus," Lucy prays, "I pray you make our country strong and healthy and whole, but not the kind of strong where everyone is cruel."

6020. The kids clean out Craig's shop.

6021. Then, they help him move all the things in his classroom to the middle of the room so the walls can be painted.







6022. Jane tries to "help" one of the other kids more than they want. "Just wait for him to ask for help," I say. "But he has a little problem with pride," she says, "he will never ask for help." We still grant him the dignity or at least the adult correction.

6023. "Thanks for birthing so many hard workers," Craig says to me. Bliss.

6024. We attend a leadership seminar with all of our kids.

6025. We finally FINISH the library, studio, and all the school supplies for starting school tomorrow. Everyone is so excited.







6026. I get a couple of new shirts that stretch all the way around by growing belly.

6027. Chocolate. The simple note of love that a chocolate bar sends.

6028. We make sleep the priority it should be and schedule it into our days as a strict discipline.

6029. I continue to recover from heat exhaustion. Each day I gain a little strength.

6030. We have a special dinner to celebrate the end of summer break and beginning of school. It even includes mac-n-cheese cheetos.

6031. Another year, another season, I note the gradual turning of the days. It's almost as if I could see the ripening of each child.



Sunday, August 7, 2016

Jack





"If you want," Jack says, "you can hold this and look at it." He plunks a black pocket knife on the couch arm. Folded up like origami but, long, heavy and smooth, I pick it up with fingertips.

"Thanks," I say. He grins, arms crossed over his bear chest, hands in his armpits. He unholsters his hands and shows me a small knob on the blade. Just the right stroke on the knob, and you can pop the knife open with one finger.

"Wow," I say, secret knowledge swelling between us. I fold the knife down to its smallest footprint and tuck it's stone-weight in my palm.







The evening whirlwind at hand the children rampage the rodeo loop from old wooden chest at my feet 'round the kitchen, down the hallway, through the labyrinth of jammies, toothbrushes, and clothing that's hopefully tossed in drawers. We set a ten minute timer for all elbows, knees, and shoulder to heap in neat mounds for evening prayer.

"Here," I say as Jack reappears, "I better entrust this back to you." His pocket knife warm and weighty still in my hand, I offer it out into the space between us. "Thank-you," I say.

"Sure," he says, a calloused hand already encircling the knife shell. "Now, you know how to open it with one hand," he says. He winks at me. I smile. Something of immense value exchanges there. And something very other stands before me, masculine. I stare, the difference so pleasant.





Gratitude:

6003. Jack turns 10.

6004. We find a CAR to fit our growing family. Craig begins to mastermind the car retrieval: El Paso, Texas.







6005. Craig comes into a steal on hardwood flooring remnants and writes up plans for a new family table.

6006. New essential oils; ginger, marjoram, and lavender.

6007. A doctor check reveals baby boy is doing well.

6008. Craig gets a new shirt.

6009. The garden finally squeezes out a few tomatoes of various varieties.







6010. New bathmats.

6011. Barbecued hamburgers.

6012. New balls of yarn.

6013. Craig and Jane build a Lincoln Log tower. It measures out at four inches from the ceiling.







6014. A spatula to replace the broken one.

6015. We find the last of dregs of summer sopping up well with school prep. We await the first day with anticipation.

6016. Craig helps me rearrange the studio.

6017. Peace settles over the house. We enjoy the play; we prepare for work. Contentment.



Monday, August 1, 2016

School





"Huh," Jane says.

"What?" I say. A live feed of the Democratic Convention splayed in front of us, I look up at Jane. She's staring at one of the keynote speakers.

"The more promises you make," she says eyes still fixed on the speaker, "the more you're gonna have to break." She says it like a poem.

"Yup," I say.

"The more you make 'em, the more you break 'em," she says.

"Come on, keep working on the library," I say. She cradles a novel in one elbow seesaws toward the L's and slips it in after Lewis. We organize books while we take in the political climate -- another side in their own. Sans the commentary, clarity materializes unbeckoned.

The library gradually takes shape.







"I thought I didn't like school until it was taken away for a season," Jane says. I scan a list of sixth grade literature. "Mom," she says, "I'm just itching to start school more than ever."

"Things that you work hard on you end up loving," I say.

"Yeah," she says, "I'm just like: Oh, I wanna LEARN right NOW."

"Here, this is an extra, go put it in the picture classics," I say. She scoops it up like a child, finds it's slot in the bookshelf by the window.

The afternoon slides by slowly like a shared pastry slowly unrolled and eaten in small bites.

Breakfast the next day, we're on to school again.

"So," I say, "I was thinking you should be thinking about what you want your schedule to be this year."







"Oh, yeah," she says. "I was thinking we should start with the hardest thing in the morning. So," she tilts her head, "like writing."

"Huh, good idea," I say.

"And then like piano and Spanish and math facts," she counts subjects off on her fingers, "and then right before lunch to Saxon Math 'cause I'll be like: Oh good, lunch is next. And it'll be like, like," she pauses.

"Motivating," I say.

"Yeah, and I think we should so reading last, like not after lunch, but LAST," she says. I picture fifth grade, her three hours into silent reading sprawled on the couch and the rest of the afternoon work forgotten.







"That's a good idea," I say. "I want to sit down with you and actually write it all out."

"O-kay," she chimes. I smile. All those unbending hours, all those times of saying again and again, Of course it's not fun. Being GOOD at things is fun. YES, you have to do it anyway -- and gradually in imperceptible increments, here we are. Affections are born just like anything else by pain and toil.





Gratitude:

5997. I turn 38. Another year wheels itself around and I find myself more observant, less worried, and increasingly determined.

5998. "The kids could make that themselves," I say of Craig's dinner ideas. "I know," he says, "but they just bless me so much. I want to make it for them."







5999. I get heat exhaustion. Craig and the kids scoop up all the daily details and let me rest.

6000. A friend invites me to coffee, and we exchange writing, editing, politics, philosophy, and scripture observations, tasty tidbits. Two hours slide by way too fast, but neither of our cars get towed.

6001. Mom and I run errands and chat on my birthday. We map all that is precious in the world, noting every detail, every conundrum, every tremor of faith, the hidden life of humility, and joy and satisfaction sprouting from unexpected springs. It's a feast of kings. Plus, we get chocolate. Then the checker at Trader Joe's gives me a bouquet for my birthday.

6002. Craig continues to surprise me with devotion, humor, and kindness. Happy and undeserving, I pray I can grow to be more like that.



Sunday, July 24, 2016

The TENT





"Joe," I say, "Joe, come here."

"Yeah?" He trollops around a peninsula of kitchen cupboards.

"We have to stick together today," I say. I pat the table bench next to me, a small safety zone separate from general mischief. "To HELP each other," I say.

"Weeeelllll," he says, "can I play with Betsy in the sunroom?"

"What are you doing in there?"

"Throwing an ant in a spiderweb." He mimics my raised eyebrows, furrows his brow. "But the web is INSIDE," he adds.

"Well," I sigh, "where is it?"

"By the door. Can I?" he says.

"Ahmmm. Ok."







Later he trollies past the kitchen, orange diaper bucket in hand.

"WHat are you DOing?" I say.

"Making a TENT," he says.

"With the DIAPER PAIL?" I say once again burrowing a furrowed brow into his blinking eyes.

"I don't want Betsy to BREAK the TENT," he says over-anunciating "break" and "tent". I blink. He blinks. "Maaaaaybe I will use a stool," he says and tromps off.

Later a clatter in the pantry. "What is that sound?" I call from the table.

"The oatmeal bucket," he says.

"Oh," I say.

"I keep needing BUCKETS," he says.

"For WHAT?" I say.







"For the TENT."

"Might have to switch to something ELSE," I say. He stares. I blink. The oatmeal bucket two feet tall and still slung over one arm, he blinks.

"Maaaaybe a stack of blankets instead," he says.

"Is this to keep Betsy out?" I say.

"I already have THAT," he says.

"Sounds like a lot to clean up," I say, my eyebrows creeping up my forehead again.

"I like," he sways. "I like," he frowns. "I don't CARE," he finally says. We grin an informal truce. The tent burgeons in the sunroom. Coverlets, quilts, blankies, two black stools, an empty bucket, and a rocking chair flesh out the tent.

I carry on with chores. He builds, then cleans. Something like work unfolds betweens us. We ride it like a trolly car, satisfaction like a lunchbox on the seat between us.









Gratitude:

5984. A long week, Craig gone some of it, the kids and I band together. The house feels so empty when he's gone.

5985. In the void, the children and I talk and talk and talk. We map and frame their small worlds, memorize the important principles.

5986. We watch most of the Republican Convention and talk and talk and talk. Jane notes all the moves. I watch how she sees the move behind the move and generally assess the trajectory of ideas with accuracy.

5987. We find a feed of the convention without all the commentary and talking heads that tell you how to think. Just the speeches, please. Together, we make our own opinions. Everyone joins in. It's like a party.

5988. I find a recipe and make sourdough tortillas.

5989. The basement floods with a thunderstorm gully washer. I come face to face with how Craig shines in house emergencies and I, well, don't.

5990. We clean up the best we can, set up a fan, and heave a huge sigh.







5991. "Ya know," Joe says, "garbage-mans actually have HOMES." He watches the garbage truck with religious devotion and dreams of being a garbage-man one day.

5992. The baby kicks and kicks and kicks up a storm. Small reassurances.

5993. I sometimes help with dinner prep; otherwise the children make and clean up dinner.

5994. Many days I look outback to see Betsy marshaling a mass of blankets, babies, and stuffed animals, with Joe and Myra.

5995. The responsibilities of life swirl around us. Each day they feel both heavier and lighter. The yoke is easy, and the burden is light. I'm beginning to see how this is true.

5996. Each day we work to bow our hearts to our Savior, and each day our love for Him grows.



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sketch Exercises





"Look," Myra says, "it's actually kind of easy." Seated in penmanship form she circles her pencil in whorls that perfectly match the width of wide-ruled lines. "I can't wait to show Grammie," she says.

"It's nice," I say. Askew at her elbow lies a key of all the different sketch exercises Grammie assigned to the big kids. She pauses, finds her place in the key and starts the next shape.

"I bet Zeke is doing this now," she says.

"Oh," I say.







"Now," she says, "I'm gonna have to start doing ACTUAL school work, don't ya think?" She looks up, all eyes and eyebrows.

"Suuuure," I say.

"Yup," she says and continues down the exercise list, determination, more like an accessory than a burden.








"Where are the other kids?" Myra says. Sunday afternoon, slack and leisure, the house tidy, quiet, and full of sun, we settle into quiet corners. Craig and I hold down opposite ends of the leather couch.

"Napping," Craig says, "so they can go with me tonight."

"Oh," Myra says. She darts off, a dead run down the hallway. We hear a thump on her bed. All the kids want to volunteer in Daddy's class. Even Joe begs each Sunday.







I note how as we've limited their exposure to marketing and some of the trends their peer pine after they find different things to desire, different goals to strain for. Trimming out tv seems like a gift more than a burden.

Craig falls asleep on the couch, and I while the afternoon away in quiet.





Gratitude:

5971. Libby gives birth to a perfect baby, sweet niece, Wylie Sparrow.

5972. I make two raspberry pies. Enough of the drips on the bottom of the oven begin to smoke that we have to fill the house with fans and open the windows. The result, though a little burned, is delicious.

5973. Jack and I figure out how to make sourdough pizza crust. Whole wheat too! Everyone agrees, it's a real find.







5974. Heavy whipping cream, bread-n-butter pickles, balsamic glaze, dried mangos, a few kitchen essentials restocked.

5975. Fresh almond ice cream.

5976. We harvest the first garden cucumber. I give it to Jack, but he gives me lots of samples.

5977. I get the curriculum library almost organized while the big kids help Craig at work.

5978. Joe skins his knee climbing trees out back. It forms the thickest scab I've ever seen. By some miracle most of it falls off on it's own. "Now, I'm gonna find my scab," he says. "It would be FUN if I found it."







5979. I finally figure the ins and outs of dying baby items safely. We collect the supplies and begin the process, a stack of muslin blankets ready to transform.

5980. "I cleaned my room," Joe says. "I'm gonna go see," I say. "You gonna look under the beds?" he says. "Yeah," I say, "ya wanna go finish?" He nods.

5981. Myra and Joe run something over to Cerissa. Betsy mopes around, cries, and finally settles on my lap. "Are you looking for Myra and Joe?" I say. YES, she nods emphatically.

5982. Tomorrow Jane turns 12, such a lovely age. We prepare for the unfolding of a young woman over scape of this next season.

5983. We fall each night into bed completely submissive to the refreshing lull of July. Summer tarries on.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Egg Dish





"Soooo, are you attached to this?" Craig says. He hold up a serving dish, little egg indentations around the plate's perimeter. It's painted in six-year-old script, Jane's.

"Uhmmm," I say.

"'Cause I'm NOT," he says. I'm sitting on a plastic food bin, the two of us in front of the pantry, miscellaneous, boxes, bags, and cartons stacked around us.

"Wellll," I say, "I'm not really either, but I'm not sure how to get rid of it." I smile with my teeth, blink-blink.

"I'll let YOU have that conversation with Jane," he says.

"Wellll," I say, "maybe we could just break it. Not really." I grimace.

"Here," he says. "Jaaaane, come here." From the kitchen a spoon clanks. Jane appears. "Hey Jane," he says, "are you attached to this?" He holds up the dish, rubs his finger in one of the little indentations.







"No," she says.

"Oh," I say. Craig looks at me. I look at him.

"I was just sort of waiting around for it to break," she says.

"Oh," I say.

"OH," Craig says. We split grins; giggles spill out our cheeks.

"I guess we were too."

In that moment, I realize again what my momma always says: It's not the things that matter; it's the time spent together. It's one of my favorite things about her. Things are just things.





Gratitude:

5953. Fresh basil, the biggest, hugest hand-sized leaves of fresh basil.

5954. A few staples: garbanzos, fish sauce, ginger ale, and tiny peanut butter cups. Manna.

5955. Linen for a baby blanket.

5956. Quilt batting.







5957. Fabric dye, navy blue, apple green, apache black.

5958. By miracle we retire the old hole-y living room couch for a new-to-us perfect couch. The whole house feels brand new.

5959. Raspberries fresh picked by Craig and the kids.

5960. Betsy starts trying to dress herself.

5961. We earmark more things for a garage sale.







5962. Small efforts in organization: quilts folded in size order, toys corralled to a bin, budget paperwork marked and filed, the pantry reset.

5963. The children help Craig at work. Manual labor, they come home exhausted and happy.

5964. A clean kitchen sink fills the kitchen with pleasure.







5965. Each of the kids grow a little more opinionated and a little more kind. It's better than fine dining or expensive clothes. Confidence sprouts when we're not even looking.

5966. July lulls unexpectedly cold, the smell of cool rain, evening breeze.

5967. We await the arrival of a brand new niece.

5968. Jack gives me a daily tour of his garden, each leaf worthy of inspection.







5969. "I've missed you," he says after helping Craig all week. "I could just talk to you for hours," he says. Me too.

5970. Each night closes like a long sigh. Goodness encloses the moments.