Sunday, September 14, 2014


"Mom, Joey is eating the brown sugar," Lu hollers underneath the bedroom door.

Ugh. I roll to my back. "I'll deal with it when I get up," I call toward her voice.

The patter of little feet chase littler feet back toward the kitchen. I throw back the covers and fumble for the bathroom. Then I stare at the closet, mentally assemble nine outfits before I settle on a church sensible ensemble.

"Mom, Joe's chasing me with the scissors," Myra blusters through the door.

Joe, scissors in hand, cavorts to a stop, catches my eye, and hops from one foot to the other. "No, Momma. No, Momma," he squeals.

The morning carries on like this, one lurching stop to the next. We finally land for lunch somewhere around 1:30, Jane ironing out a furrow between her brows and Jack setting the table.

"Well, next time I could just not tell you what's for lunch in case I have to change my mind," I say. "That's what we do for Joey."

"Nooo," Jane sighs.

Little pails of soup, fresh stale bread, butter. We eat. And sit. And slop a little more bread in the broth.  Something like calm settles in, a slush around our ankles.

"Could you possibly find me a book before naps?" Jane says.

"Yeah, I could probably do that," I say. I stack Craig's empty bowl in mine.

"Being book-less," Jane says, "is sort of like being lifeless."

"Yeah," I grin, "I guess it is. I'll be down stairs. Come down when you're ready."

The afternoon gradually sighs to a full stop. Jack clatters the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. Jane and Lucy hang the wet towels half of the family left in a heap wherever they dressed. A thin glaze of order drizzles in the cracks.

I find Joe obediently settled in to the boy's bottom bunk.

"I love you, Joe," I say. I hunker down cheek to cheek and wait for his eyes to settle on mine. "I love you," I say. His pupils trace my face.

"Need hug," he says. Plaid shirt and checkered blankie, we melt into a hug. He blooms affection.

And then like a treasure hunt, I search out each child, smile into their eyes. We hold still, feel the slow moments of love.

The harsh moments fill out with muscles and flesh. Discipline frames us in. Affection nourishes us.

"Look Momma," Joe calls as I tarry past his room. "I covered myself up." Checkered blankie stretched from toes to shoulders, his voice rings to me. We smile as I pass.


5608. "I read this much just to see if I could," Lu points to page in Because of Winn Dixie. "And then I was salivating to read more," she says.

5609. "We don't have to do your hair," Myra instructs Joe, "'cause it's all boyish."

5610. Roasted pineapple and habanero sauce.

5611. Salad in a bag. Two of them. The kind guests bring and leave the extra for another day.

5612. More homemade chocolate sauce.

5613. Jane finishes a paper on Christopher Columbus and Jack a fable.

5614. Lucy finishes her first quilt, a dolly one.

5615. We cut the fabric for another one all in blues.

5616. The children practice again the age old principle: free time comes from hard work.

5617. Jane makes a peach pie. We eat it all in one sitting -- the nine of us all on the farm.

5618. Craig scrubs the floor underneath the table until it shines.

5619. He trims the gangly banana plant into something more indoor-ish and less likely to take over a seat at the end of the table.

5620. The children help us harvest the last of the garden. Joe breaks out a lifejacket for the occasion.

5621. Plum picking.

5622. Craig turns an old wrought iron patio table into a fire pit.

5623. Craig's mom bakes a ham for us and sends us home with garden fresh green beans.

5624. Half the kids pile in the four-wheeler with Craig and his dad to bring a pile of corn stalks to the neighbor's horses.

5625. I start cutting the fabric for a new quilt of my own. Coral reds, lime greens, garnishes, and twists, Lucy helps me lay out the fabric.

5626. Jack gets a book on how to draw animals.

5627. All week the children leave me notes with chickens and rhinoceros and giraffes and magpies. I even get a kingfisher. I marvel at how a year of practice has taught them to shade.

5628. We all come down with sore throats and colds, and still, we weave a life together, just keep right on going.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


"Are you surprised I can do this while talking?" Lu says.

I look up from a slice of plum toast. Across the table, she writes the answers to addition facts. It's like watching my piano teacher carry on a conversation and play Jesus Loves Me at the same time.

"Yeah," I say. "I am." I swallow, pause to lick plum jam off my lips.

"I think I know why I'm better at minus than plus," she says pencil still scrawling.

"Uh-huh?" I say.

"'Cause I was working harder at minus than plus." Eight plus two, she writes ten.

"Huh," I say.

"I'm so delighted when there's minus," she says.

I watch the pencil trace out neat numbers beneath the equal sign of each problem. I shake my head, spoon more jam onto my toast.

All this after I dragged her unwilling self in from the monkey-bars, I think.

But as I watch each answer form itself in her head and then on the paper, I marvel. I'm so delighted when there's minus. She sees the path. Off road, barely visible, but true: hard work leads to delight.

I steel my mind for the work ahead.


5591. "Well, that's the end of that fly's life," Jack says after a tha-whack of the flyswatter.

5592. Amish butter, the kind you can taste on toast, even through plum jam.

5593. Turkey wraps. Sausage wraps. Ham wraps. Craig tells me I have to start actually cooking again. Everyone practically cheers when I make wraps -- all week long.

5594. Coconut sour cream fruit salad, the coconut toasted golden brown.

5595. Asian chop salad, the kind that goes perfect in a wrap.

5596. Chocolate sauce -- homemade.

5597. The kids plop Joe in the backyard swing and push, push, push him up to the sky. Under-dogs they call it, and circle like a carnival pushing him, pushing him up to the sky.

5598. "Joe fell out of the swing," Jane calls. "Oh no, what did he hit," I say. "Just the ground," she pipes back. A kiss and he's all better.

5599. "I'm making some sort of whip," Myra says, "but I'm not gonna whip anyone."

5600. Someone gives us a gift: a bunk bed for the girls. Jane beams. She's a top bunk girl.

5601. Mom and I make our weekly coffee date, frame in the world afresh.

5602. I sew together the first steps of a new quilt. Thirty fabrics, three-hundred-twenty squares, the hum of the sewing machine frames the whole of Friday night.

5603. Fresh popcorn, the basement swept clean, Craig plays poker with his buddies.

5604. We make our annual visit to the fair. We leave just as dehydration and exhaustion take over then nap the afternoon away.

5604. I come across Susanna Wesley's definition of sin: Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things: in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself."

5605. I take note of our pastor's first sermon after his sabbatical. He quotes Dallas Willard: Hurry is the archenemy of the spiritual life.

5606. "Who I am becoming as a person," Pastor Joe says, "in the end, is much more important than what I accomplish."

5607. I let these quotes orbit in my mind and once again set my mind to worship our Lord in all I do.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. ~Psalm 19:14

Sunday, August 31, 2014


"I'm glad you had a fun time on your date," I say. I fold a scrap of hedgehog fabric into a triangle and stack it in the bookshelf next to other triangles.

"I really did," Jane says. Fresh home, in black and white stripe skirt, she skips down the last basement step. I brush fuzzies off the sewing desk into my palm.

"It's always a treat to spend time with Daddy," I say.

"It is." She staccatos each word, nods, the wide curve of a grin the defining feature of her face. "And he actually asked me some really challenging questions," she says

"Like what?"

"Like, What has God been teaching you lately?"

"Yeah?" I say. She leans on the desk corner, all conversation around my clean-up.

"And I was like, To love the other kids more and not be irritated by them. I prayed for that, and then God gave me A LOT of chances to practice it. I was like, WOW." She pauses and lowers her voice, "I kinda wondered if I shoulda even asked for it."

"Huh, yep," I say. "'Course that's the only way to get good at something." I stop, meet her eyes in a comma of a grin, water blue eyes.

"Yeah," she says. We blink and the moment courses on.

The basement sembled back to order we follow the evening upstairs. Craig barbecues. The children chop carrots. We find seats around the table, the liturgy of dinner. One communion leads to the next.


5577. "Mom, ya might just want to take a few deep breaths before you come out here," Jane calls from the open car door. "Don't freak out. It's kinda a mess."

5578. We count down the bittersweet days before Olivia leaves for England.

5579. We close another summer with a small group barbecue. Another stride of friendship leaves us all standing a little taller.

5580. Pete and Rosie throw a garage sale. By sheer charm alone, they sell an old dresser for us.

5581. The girls and I have a sewing bonanza, the basement split open. I cross the finish line baby quilt in hand for sweet baby girl.

5582. Sweet and sour beets.

5583. Two batches of biscuits. Jane saves dinner. Twice.

5584. A new biscuit cutter and other treasures from Great-Grammie.

5585. Old sheet music.

5586. Gramma's cradle, the one from when she was a girl.

5587. Fried chicken, homemade -- on the farm of course. Joe helps Grampa clear the dishes.

5588. A friend passes on pink cloth diapers for our new baby. Hooray!

5589. Craig brings running water to our basement. A new era begins.

5590. We weave another week back to Sunday morning and begin again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Good News

"I'm thinking of getting a sword," Myra chimes as I fold laundry at the old black couch.

Jack waves a giant turkey feather plucked from the blackberry patch. He orates on how to tie a rope around a feather and then tie it around your forehead - like an Indian. I stack towels, fold summer pjs.

"I'm making a sword with wood and putting a feather on top," Myra adds.

Joe screams from somewhere in the sun room.

"Stop trying to micromanage Joe," Jane hollers from the basement.

It's the first week of school. They begged for a month, and now it's finally here. School. I pass out new freedoms and greater burdens of responsibility.

They nod, and next I know, there is Jane sprawled on the floor mapping a week of literature all in sticky notes. Jack and Lu join forces to map colonial America. Myra and Joe try their best to mimic reading and end in a game of tag out back.

School. My favorite.

Then, end of week, the kids assemble a castle all in pillows and footstools, quilts and a blanket. They share a box of Nerds and listen to Narnia. They make rules and an economy. For all the pillowed mess, they speak affection to each other.

"Don't chew the Nerds," Jane says, "suck on them. They last longer." Myra crunches through hers. Jack saves his.

"Yeah," Lucy says, "if you chew up the Nerds, you are being a glutton." Everyone nods some assent, but Myra still crunches hers. Jack saves his.

Craig and I let the mess orbit around us, a castle. Soon, the tiny box of Nerds is gone, we set the ten minute timer, clean up. Another scene begins.

We get the good news this week that we're having a baby girl. A girl. We can picture her there with us, another nucleus of complexity. Each brings out a different side of us and each other. Another dimension. Irreplaceable.


5562. Joey wails his complaint 5am Monday morning when Jane confiscates my birthday chocolate from his smudgy hands.

5563. We have an old-fashioned chat on the patio with Kyle and Carolyn. Their garden surrounds us with beauty.

5564. The seven of us gather around my doctor's ultrasound monitor. He announces the jubilant news: it's a GIRL. Craig was the only one of us to guess right.

5565. Egg salad with pecans and bacon, Mom makes us a labor of love.

5566. A palette of nail color, the girls and I pour over pretty fall colors.

5567. I start planning fall outfits, skirts and long leggings, boots to the knees. Leggings. Leggings are just the best.

5568. We head to the farm for a blackberry blitz and a birthday party. Craig's dad turns 77.

5569. His mom sends us home with garden produce and the most fragrant rose.

5570. Craig starts renovation on the basement bathroom, the school bathroom. His brother and sis-in-law pour forth help and advice.

5571. A bag of groceries from Trader Joe's.

5571. Hand-me-downs. Bags of them. And a dolly.

5572. I eat a cupcake, thick with almond frosting. Joe, leans belly-up on the counter, nose to nose with my fork. "Share, Momma, share," he cheers.

5573. Mozzarella, parmesan, feta, the cheeses of summer.

5574. The garden begins to pour forth tomatoes and cucumbers.

5575. I read again CS Lewis' essay, Membership.

       How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family.

       If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure. Its unity is a unity of unlikes, almost incommensurables.

5576. Incommensurables. Nucleuses of complexity. Our family grows by another dimension.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


"I sang Jesus Love Me and he quieted down," Jack whispers from top bunk.

I grope in the dark, a body pillow lumbered to the floor. I feel the bumpy curve of Joe's spine curled around blankie-boy. Sacked out, sleep fresh on his skin, he groans as I heave him into bed.

"He fell out," I say.


"Sleep good, Jack," I whisper.

"Wuv you, Mom," Joe breaks in.

"Love you," I say. "Love you, both." I lilt to bed on sleep-wobbly legs, the dreg ends of Jesus Loves Me skirting behind.


5552. "I like Jesus a lot," Myra says. "And I really like the Meter Reader. I watched where he goes. He lives REALLY close."

5553. We all get a solid hour of fun at Mom's house before Jack pukes, and we all scatter home.

5554. The pukes gradually move through three of the seven of us, me included. Nothing's so sweet as being well again.

5555. I note again the great wealth of help Jane contributes to our home when it winds up missing the morning she's sick. She recovers in time to run the house while I'm down. And somehow she makes it look easy.

5556. Craig and I attend a conference together. We feel again that good feeling of tracking together on ideas we enjoy.

5557. Then we crash for a movie before bed. We agree; While You Were Sleeping is a classic. I'm voting for Pure Luck next.

5558. My mom turns 60. Each year just keeps getting better, a friendship deep and complex, as wide and open as the horizon.

5559. Fresh tomatoes in the garden, bowls full.

5560 Craig spoils me with pizza for Sunday lunch.

5561. I keep finding graces of love, like Jesus Loves Me in the night. Goodwill. Goodwill encircles our steps.

Thanks again, Mom, for the pics.