Monday, July 29, 2013


"Actually she does have a strong personality," Jane chats. She lobs a wet paper towel my direction.

Paint tray slung in my left elbow, I snag the towel and dab a green drip out of the carpet. Jane flops a spare cloth across her wrist.

"She has a strong personality, but it's under control," she says.

I nod, toss the paper towel, and slick more paint on the sunroom wall. It flicks specks into my hair, across my arm.

"I want to be like that," she says, eyebrows furrowed as if tracing her own quirks and drives.

It's 2am, the sunroom one and a half coats apple green. Two hours of Bible commentary and now we talk, just talk. We catalogue everyone we know, trace philosophies of discipline and education, faith, success, failure. We talk and talk and the words never run out. They just grow and grow.

"I just love talking with you, Momma. I just love that we get to do this together," she whips the wet paper towel again and hops off the arm of the couch. "Here, do you need another one?" she says.

It's the grand staff and we're composing the tune. All those strokes of paint and it's the scaffolding, all the notes just hanging there in mid-air waiting to be sung. And so we do.


4657. "Mom," Jack tolls, "grasshopper turds are a little littler than mouse-turds. You wanna see one?"

4658. "Mom," Jane inquires, as I scrub another drip out of the carpet, " do you think a carpet cleaner would approve of how you are doing that?"

4659. "Lucy, I'm making a REAL tomahawk," Jack bounds into the sunroom, "so I can be an INDIAN."

4670. Jack constructs an Indian headdress out of rope he crocheted and chicken feathers. "Mom, look at my Indian HAT," he exclaims.

4671. Dan comes over and calks the sunroom for me before I paint so I can surprise Craig when he gets home from camp.

4672. My baby brother lets me borrow Duck Dynasty, the one we gave him for his birthday that he hasn't had a chance to watch yet.

4673. "Is this meat?" Jack frowns as he strips a chicken. "It looks like a strip of fat, but..."

4674. Jack tears meat off the roasted chicken and passes the good pieces to Lucy first.

4675. BEST summer salad. Green leafs, peaches, raspberries, roasted pecans, vinaigrette, whipped-cream-cheese-greek-yogurt.

4676. We meet for small group barbecue. The night ends in a splendrous game of tag.

4677. I read an excerpt of The Brothers Karamazov and Jane responds, "It sounds like he's thinking the way real people think."

4678. Lucy grouses about all the biting bugs. "Do you think they're gonna have to say SORRY in heaven?" she says.

4679 Craig's mom brings two buckets of raspberries, a clutch of sugar snap peas and bush cherry syrup up to town. The kids take her on a tour of the garden.

4680. We make raspberry pie.

4681. Jane and Grammie go pick up the pottery they painted. They return with a sketchbook.

4682. "Jesus, thank-you that we can love you all the time," Lucy prays, "even in situations where people say we can't."

4683. Cerissa and the boys come over to play on her birthday.

4684. A family of six invites us to dinner. About twenty years ahead of us, we watch the inner workings of their family and take note. Each and every member infuses us with worth. It's astounding. Beautiful.

4685. "Rosebud," Janie chides Myra Rose, "did you know the person whose right doesn't have the last word? They don't have to have the last word 'cause they're RIGHT."

4686. We have ASL in the newly painted sunroom. We share tears over stories of God's grace.

4687. Trader Joe's run: coconut cream, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, Everyday Spice, blue corn chips.

4688. Make-up remover.

4689. Face cream.

4690. Dried cherries.

4691. Craig preforms a wedding. Jane and Jack tag along, internalize everything about their hero.

4692. Logan turns eight. We meet at the pool and perfect exhaustion makes that one degree turn to perfect satisfaction.

4693. Zeke turns three.

4694. I prune and stake the 71 tomatoes. Sweat drips glistening stripes down my arms and legs.

4695. I mention how sweltering and tired I am. Jane disappears and then shows up with ice cold water to cool my throat.

4696. We roll out a picnic blanket for the city's royal fireworks display, the backdrop for a summer symphony performance. The finale leaves us breathless.

4697. I observe again the rhythm of hard physical labor interwoven with the rubric of mental disciplines: kindness, prayer, literature, organization.

4698. Hard work seasons our days and the food tastes delicious.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


"My birthday is just my FAVORITE day," Jane chimes Thursday morning. Freshly nine years old, she dithers from the bedroom, her walk-on-the-ball-of-your-foot stride the perfect engine for the day. "And everyone else's birthday," she adds, "just because we get to be together."

We titter through the house, her in a flouncing blue party skirt, me in the grown-up damask version. At each turn she's leaned on an elbow, a perennial smile tugging her face upward.

"Momma, I love you so much," she shakes her head deliberate and intense, but wide and happy as the whole sky. We shuck breakfast into the dishwasher whip cream and drips of plum syrup not withstanding. "I don't care what we do as long as we hang out," she says.

We tie the morning into some semblance of a bow and then head out on a date, the July sun a warm infusion between car and coffee shop, bookstore and clothing store.

"So how would you describe Daddy?" I say as we dally over cinnamon rolls, hers with a birthday candle plucked from the center.

"The perfect man," she says with nary a pause. "And you the perfect woman. I can't think of anything else." Earnest, unself-conscious, she turns to the formidable roll, pliable, cinnamony.

"Here want me to cut that for you?"


Unrolled like sheeting, I press my fork into the nape of the roll and release a full square of bread.

"Here, you have some." Mine long gone as if it were an eighth the size of hers, she rips a strip off the sweet cinnamon bread and gestures toward me. She grins, immovable. It's delicious.

We skitter on, hand in hand, the July heat an embrace between each shop, the green grass outside the bakery, balmy around the edges of our flip-flops. We slow, let the moments take longer.

At each stop it's the same: we're together. Hands linked, eyebrows up, everything is a pleasant surprise.

"Are you having a good birthday?" I ask as we head home, me piloting the suburban full-speed down the city's biggest arterial, she directly behind me.

"'Course," she says, "Why wouldn't I be? I'm saved. Even if I was in prison I'd be having a good day."

There, that sunlight so yellow and bright, her eyes so blue, the palest shining blue, I see it, sharp, as if the silhouette of every feature: Contentment. The substance of riches. It feels like walking on water.


4641. "Mom, I'm looking at your tomatoes for you," Myra chatters while I weed. "They're looking good," she says, "Some of them are looking dead."

4642. Jack converts his bed into a fort for the summer.

4643. Strawberries! We pick 1.25 gallons on the Holland homestead. The kids trim and clean the berries themselves.

4644. Currants. We pick 2 1/2 quarts of currants in the afternoon sun and then recline with popcorn and Bob Cornuke's The Search for Mt. Sinai.

4645. Ice cream scoop. I get a new ice cream scoop, heavy and long like a crowbar with wings.

4646. Grammie takes Jane on a date. They carve out the whole middle of a day, visit over books and pottery and summer burgers.

4647. I purchase a new pair of Reef flip-flops for 62 cents.

4648. Jane turns nine.

4649. The lovely whirlwind of a birthday party, many conversations spinning at once, children loping across the yard, the boys embroiled in a wrestling match, grown-ups reclined on the grass and around picnic tables it's the perfect culmination. And then everything settles. Jane cradles her new Bible to her cheek. "This was my best gift of all," she says.

4650. Then Craig heads to camp, the speaker this year. He preaches his sermons to me and my eyes well with tears. Worth. He tells of our great worth and the fearfully awesome greatness of God.

4650. "Daddy leaves such a big hole," Jane sobs. "I'm just afraid we're going to fall apart."

4651. Craig gets me the audio book of Seven Men for my birthday. We listen to it while he's gone.

4652. The Brothers Karamazov.

4653. We break into volume two of The Story of the World. "Mom," Jack says, "I really like that new Story of the World. Yesterday when I was folding laundry I was listening to it, and I could barely work it was so interesting."

4654. My mom stops by while Craig is gone. Two whole days wisp by like a gentle breeze. I note again the immeasurable worth of life experience and a woman ahead of me in the journey.

4655. Dan and Cerissa stop by with the kids and make our night perfect, beyond perfect. The bonds of family and friendship mingle. We all rejoice for the goodness of it.

4656. We all band together and make each day good and solid under our feet.

Monday, July 15, 2013


"I came in to help because I heard it was a big mess." Jack strides into the kitchen. That same on-the-ball-of-you-foot-stride of his father defines his countenance.

I shake a periwinkle rag into the sink. "I just finished," I say. "It was. It was a biscuit-crumbly-mess. I got down on my hand and knees to clean it up."

"Oh." He cocks his head, sandy red hair buzzed short and coarse. I shower the rag clean with the spray setting. "Thank-you for cleaning that up." His earnest blue eyes frame the moment.

Then it's Saturday. A long day of confrontation, redefining the clear boundaries of our home, a pool party, a tired crew, I find the long sigh of a day ends with me in the bathroom scrubbing mint green walls.

Jane trollies in to brush teeth. "Momma, how are you?" she chimes.

"Oh." I sigh. That personal conviction to always offer this child honesty, and I eddy. "Tired," I finally say. "Kind of worn out, like I'm giving and giving and not getting filled up." Somehow in the distance of a few words that female devotion to face-to-face conversation and both toothbrush and scouring rag have rallied to the peripheral.

"Momma, when you're having a moment where you feel like that we should go down into the library and read together." She furrows her eyebrows, the intensity of a physician. I slacken my forehead.

"That's a good idea," I say.

The moment spools on, but we just sort of stand there. And then, "Momma, when you give and give, it means other people are getting."

"Yep. And that's a good feeling. You never regret giving." I nod.

She half-nods, and then, "Except one time I did."


Now seated coffee-shop style knee to knee, her on the step-stool, me on the toilet lid, she carries on. "One time," she says, "I gave Myra half my brownie and she didn't like it so she went and hid it. And then she showed it to me, so I kind of regretted that." Here we are again nodding in tandem like the swing pendulum of a vertical clock.

"Yeah," I agree, "I guess that shows how you should always be honest. That's another thing you never regret. I mean not like: YOU LOOK HORRIBLE TODAY, but honest like saying something even if it's bad news." I marvel at how we mimic each other's expressions, trace the emotions through mime. "Like with Myra," I say, "wouldn't you've rather she said: I DON"T REALLY LIKE IT?"

"Yeah." A simple exchange and suddenly we're each in possession of something new, something that was just a moment ago inside of the other person. Strength. It's the piecing together of a puzzle.

Another moment and toothbrush and scrub rag flutter back to motion. The evening carries on.


4623. "Let's dance! Mom, let's dance," Myra titters. "That was fun. Let's do it again!" I try to make pancakes for lunch, but it keeps erupting into dance.

4624. "It DOES take patience," Lucy says as we sing the old hymns. "That's why I like this song." Me too.

4625. "I like casual," Jane begins. "I'm just like, why don't we just have a casual wedding where we wear clothes just a little bit fancier than church clothes instead of go out an buy like a $100 dress."

4626. Craig's mom brings us a little bowl of fresh strawberries. We make a strawberry cheesecake.

4627. Jane fries eggs. I make biscuits. "I enjoy doing this with you," she says.

4628. Cousins visit from Alaska. We have a swim day at Grammie's. The grown-ups eat turkey cranberry summer salad and recline in the shade next to watermelon and water fights, sidewalk chalk pulverized into paint.

4629. Cool summer dusk, a BBQ gone long, we linger with our small group.

4630. We start each day with a weed round-up in the garden. Lucy pulls 800 on Wednesday. Jack pulls 1000 on Thursday.

4631. I make harvest rolls as per Craig's mom's recipe. They perfectly encase BBQ fanfare.

4632. Feta salad with pecans and cranberries, Lay's potato crisps, another BBQ ambles and tarries into the evening. BBQs finally eclipse our winter soup pattern.

4633. Coconut ice cream, browned-butter chocolate sauce.

4634. By miracle I avert three migraines in one day a visual aura announcing each one.

4635. Lucy receies the dolly of her dreams: a baby boy. She names him JOE, swaddles him in a flannel blankie and brings him to sign language and chores. He hardly ever cries.

4636. Our ASL teacher returns from vacation.

4637. Friends join us at the pool. The kids and husbands swim. Wives visit. The night runs long and smooth like the sparkling sun on swimming water. We bask in the friendship.

4638. A friend lets us pick their strawberry patch clean while they vacation in Hawaii.

4639. "What are you thankful for lately?" I spur conversation while the kids and I wait in the Costco parking lot for Craig. "Everything," Jane pipes up. "Just everything." Everything. I marvel at the good fruits of confrontation and discipline: Everything. Thankful for EVERYTHING.

4640. A light headache still seasons the evening; still, I set my mind to do what is good -- what is right and good.

Monday, July 8, 2013


"Mom, thunderstorms remind me of the glory of God." Lucy says, the crashing thunder that woke us just shy of 5am fresh in her mind. She capers down the one-step divider that leads to the sunroom, bare feet leathery and thick with summer play.

We tritt-trot out the back, the lawn abundant and moist between our toes. We beeline for the long rectangular garden lush with tomatoes and coleus, cucumbers, marigolds, green beans, geraniums. We drop to our knees and cultivate. We sweat under noonday sun, buckets of sweat. It drips out the creases of our elbows and knees as we weed the furrows of soil.

We weed and weed and drink in that good feeling at the end of our work. Accomplishment. Hard work. It tastes like a fresh peeled orange and handful of crisp grapes. It flexes like a sinewy muscle, a bond of belonging. Work. We work together.

And then we swim.

"I'm afraid this one's a little too short," I frown. I shake the black swim skirt, give it a good tussle, hold it up to my waist, frown again. "It's okay for by the pool, but then walking home..." Jane and I both stare at it.

"Are you afraid people will think you have disrespect for your body?" she asks.

Disrespect. An almost invisible film overlays the skirt.

"Yeah, actually I am." I toss the skirt on the dryer to deal with later, and we cavort off to the pool, our shoulders light as if we could possibly take flight along the way.


4611. Garlic scapes. A friend brings me garlic scapes.

4612. I tell the kids the story of John Newton. Amazing Grace.

4613. "Since Joe's so sweet, I sometimes pretend he's my baby," Lucy says. "Except I actually can't nurse him. That's the only thing."

4614. Myra scrapes the roof of her mouth. "Mom, can I have a band-aid in my mouth?" she asks. "I WILL open my mouth."

4615. Craig draws up plans for the chicken coop addition and executes. Architecture, engineering, and general contracting, simple math to his reasoning mind.

4616. Craig's brother and sister-in-law host the annual Fourth of July block party. It's a regular old-fashioned picnic, field games and all.

4617. We gather for small town fireworks with the families in our small group. Rachelle makes festive goodies in all manner of red, white, and blue, and the kids keep saying, "Happy Birthday, USA!" It's the first of a new annual tradition.

4618. I knit the first half of Lucy's new sweater.

4619. Family gathers down on the farm. We make a day around barbecued sausages and blackberry pie. We linger in the hot afternoon sun while Joey naps and various groups target practice, climb the cherry trees, or dillydally through the gardens.

4620. The cousins invite us to roast marshmallows and make s'mores. Sugar bliss, we trot home well into the night full and happy.

4621. A chalkboard, an old-fashioned green one. Craig procures a second-hand chalkboard for our school room. He hangs it next to the old farm table. The children scribble it full.

4622. I face the next season ahead, scorching hot summer, full of hope.