Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. — Henry James
Last weekend we traveled south to a sweet family wedding near the coast. With buying and working on our home this summer, travel has been minimal, more often equating to spurts of quality moments and experiences in the everyday normality. I use the word normality loosely. Although the weekend was brief and our beach time even briefer, it was good to lather our souls with sand and salt and sun for an afternoon. We rode a ferry and climbed the jetties, watching sea turtles dive for food and various fish wiggle by us. With sticky bodies, we moved to a more remote beach, where we floated on the waves, collected mollusks, jumped from the dunes, and chased the sun and seagulls until our bellies grumbled for dinner. It was the most beautiful of summer afternoons, the most beautiful summer gift.
I woke up this morning at roughly 3:00am unable to go back to sleep. After tossing around for a while, I decided it was a good time to catch up on this portrait project here–one of the many parts of this blog that has suffered in all of our transitions. Have I told you yet how difficult it is to maintain normal routines while living in a house you’re renovating? I thought so. Just double-checking. Each day we are focusing more on closure to projects and putting things in their proper space, and I admit, it feels really good, like sleeping in your bed after traveling. It’s the return of something familiar. I’ve been working on some exciting things for the Wild and Free conference coming up in September; are any of you going? I would love to meet up if you are! Like most everything else in our life right now, we’ll be doing a few things differently with our homeschool next year, so I’m beginning to brainstorm what our homeschool routine will look like and create my school shopping list. I’ll share more of that soon. As for this space, due to limited time and our currently scattered lifestyle, I’ve turned down or postponed several collaborations here this summer. I’m hoping as things settle more in our home, it will settle here also, bringing back some familiarity to what feels slightly spastic. ( p.s. If you follow this blog via email or any other medias, I apologize for giving you five posts at once. )
liam // Your dad warned you of snakes in the sand dunes, and you replied, “ok.” and ran straight for them, jumping from the highest peaks.
burke // The sand was littered with mollusks, which you began collecting until you realized they were still alive. Then you promptly returned them to the beach.
blythe // You floated alone through the water like the ocean and all that was in it was yours. I had to wade out to you when it was time to go home, much to your dismay.
olive // You swam and played with your siblings for a bit and then retreated to the sand where you happily played alone in your endless sandbox.
Sometimes perfectionist slips in here, only wanting to present that part of our life which is pretty and organized and complete (even in thought). I try to sit down and write out the drafted in-betweens, the messy [emotional, physical, spiritual] process of our life, only to walk away with a few words, an unfinished script. It’s not an intentional edit on our life, really. I’ve always struggled with writing in the process, writing in the middle. I find it easier to do something and then work backward through the process, like a recipe or a book, assessing the parts based on the whole, understanding the end from the beginning. I feel silly saying this now, as if any of us knows the end when we begin anything.
Earlier this summer, my sister and I (and our six kids) drove to the coast to meet our sister-in-law and nieces for the day. Storms over the Gulf caused more substantial waves and tides, which meant fun play for everyone and close eyes on the kids for safety. We left the day with salt and sand in our hair and minimal pictures, but later Kristen sent me these. As parents, we tend to focus more on the logistics of raising up people (an important focus, by the way), mostly conversing about everything from the napping and feeding schedules of infants to the nurturing of souls in childhood to the burgeoning and transitional landmarks of teen years. However, maybe the journey of parenthood is more than raising children. Maybe parenthood is also a deeper journey into ourselves, a teaching tool for our own hearts.
As I watched Olive stand fists to the sky, the fierce waves crashing her chest, I learn more about courage, about standing firm when life bring higher, stronger tides. Sometimes courage helps us overcome loss–a job, a house, a dream, a person. In the hardest seasons, courage roots us, reminding us to stand, to endure what is hard and pushing against us. Other times courage propels us out of security into something new, into deeper waters. This is every parent’s journey, every person’s journey. When the future paralyze us with fear–the fear of failure, the need for things to be a certain way, the idea of perfection–courage calls us forth. Sometimes we must move forward alone, a personal journey or experience. In the best times, we move forward with someone, hand in hand.
Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve been reading memoirs* one after another, wildly moved and bolstered by the face of courage in real people. Although with different voices and perspectives, each narrative has carried one single message: today is a gift; be brave with it.
*In case you’re interested or looking for something to read, I’ve recently read Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (I can’t recommend this enough.), A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor by Dana Canedy, Paris in Love by Eloisa James, and A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (currently reading). Before summer ends, I still hope to read: The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes (really gearing myself up for that last one–it’s substantial).
We’re trying to establish routines again–a bit of play, a bit of house work, a bit of school work, a bit of rest–dividing up hours of sweltering heat. We barely go outside in the middle parts of the day right now–except for yesterday when I made the older ones run 10 laps around the house perimeter for repetitive arguing with one another. The heat combined with long periods indoors makes everyone grumpier. And don’t worry I gave them plenty of water. (wink.) Olive came home with strep throat this weekend, which means she’s spent the last few days wrapped in my arms or snuggled into my lap. It’s the only redeeming part of sickness, really. She hates her medicine so much that each morning she tries to convince me she’s well enough not to take it, “See mom? My throat doesn’t hurt anymore, so I don’t need to drink that stuff, right?” Apparently, the idea of completing the disgusting antibiotic is too conceptual for the five year-old who doesn’t feel sick any longer.
After a summer of erratic living, I, too, am finding steadier rhythms. I’m waking up before the kids again, and although a part of me grumbles at this, my days (especially the mornings) always go a bit smoother when I begin with an hour or two that doesn’t involve me talking with someone. I enjoy my first cup of coffee in silence, sometimes writing or reading, sometimes watching the sun rise over our neighbor’s roofline. Either way, I feel more prepared to lead my children through our day, opposed to the willy-nilly routine we’ve had most of the last six months–which I always enjoy for seasons.
Although I generally have a simple style aesthetic, it’s even simpler in this heat. Most days, I tie back my hair or quickly sweep it up into a messy bun or braid. I dab a bit of concealer under my eyes–because I never want to look as tired as I am (wink)–swab on a bit of blush and lip gloss, and try to drink plenty of water (after morning coffee). I stay cool in simple summer dresses or shorts, and usually pick one piece of jewelry with it–this time the skyline medallion, courtesy of Market Colors.
You all know how I love highlighting small businesses, especially ones who give back. Market Colors is a business supporting craftsman artists in Africa. Each affordable purchase directly helps these craftsmen build a steady income for housing, food, and education. Plus, their handmade products are beautiful–like this clutch or this wallet both crafted in Kenya. See anything you or a friend might like? Enter cloisteredaway at checkout to receive 20% off. Code expires Friday at midnight EST. Enjoy and stay cool!
Although Mark and I try to have at least a weekend or two a year to ourselves, we generally go away for those days, holing up in a place where someone else makes our bed and food, and we can slip out of most every typical role and routine, parenthood included. As I mentioned before, this week was different. We certainly worked. We still made our bed each morning and cleaned our home. We rearranged furniture and cleaned out neglected piles and closets. Mark painstakingly installed floating shelves in our kitchen (which look incredible–I can’t wait to share), while I painted the rest of our cabinetry (white, of course) and left for work at the college on my two usual days. Some friends lamented us, wishing us to spend the week in real vacation mode–and honestly, going into the week, I felt a tinge of my own sadness, too. However, remaining home this week was pleasantly surreal. Void of the usual [running, squealing, laughing, fighting] noises, I could hear our home’s more subtle sounds, the way our old windows vibrate when the AC runs or the way our floors creak under our footsteps. I listened to the birds chorus each day’s beginning and the locusts hum its end. I moved through ordinariness almost seamlessly–without bodies draped over me or “emergency” helps like finding shoes or snacks or a babysitter. I listened to the audiobook Paris in Love, a memoir of a couple (both professors and writers) who decide to move their family to Paris for a year. Distracted by James’ description of patisseries, and Parisian style, art, and architecture, I lost track of how long I painted. On a side note, when possible, always listen to an audiobook while painting. I had a night out with girlfriends and went on a movie date with Mark. Of course, Mark and I also enjoyed uninterrupted conversation and time together, too, and for the first time in a while, we could discuss and dream possibilities instead of merely what we had scheduled for the day. We ate our meals together, sometimes with other people, sometimes just the two of us. When I picked the kids up on Saturday, ready to squeeze and kiss them, I realized the most restorative part of last week was remembering life with just the two of us, before the decade of parenthood, before the home renovations and interstate moves. Just the two of us. This week, I remembered the quality of our life isn’t about what we’re doing; it’s about whom we’re living it with. A good note, I’d say.
liam // Dad and I often catch you eavesdropping on our conversations and lovingly call you Radar, letting you know we see you. I sometimes catch you listening to the world this way, paying attention to the small sounds someone others might notice.
burke // If there were an award for the best idler, I would give it to you. You are upset if you are rushed out of bed, wanting time to read or simply stare out the window. I often find you like this, simply thinking. I have always loved your thoughtfulness and slower pace.
blythe // dancing. You are always dancing. And when I watch you, I glimpse a part of your spirit otherwise left hidden. I hope you always express yourself this way.
olive // This week, you returned from Nina Camp with strep throat, deciding maybe you were too little to go. On another note, you’ve begun reading beginning readers and love it. I have found you more than once studying adult books for the simple words you know and recognize. I love watching this curiosity grow in you.
I met my mom for lunch and ice cream yesterday and then left all of my children with her for Nina Camp, a week of fun the grandparents host/plan each summer. The only prerequisite for this special week is that you are at least five in age (and their grandchild, of course). This is Olive’s first year to go–the first thing she mentioned the morning of her fifth birthday–meaning she has officially graduated into the “big kids” category, and subsequently, Mark and I close a chapter of parenthood. We no longer have babies.
Typically, Mark and I would seize this opportune week for a romantic adventure, just the two of us. However, this year, with the kitchen still in-process and our checkbook tighter than ever, we’re enjoying a “stay-cation” as they say–meaning we’re working on the house and working our jobs instead (you know, in hopes of relaxing that tight checkbook). Don’t feel too sorry for us, though. The kitchen is turning out beautifully, and we’re indulging ourselves a bit this week by eating out for breakfast, going to the movies, drinking good beer and malbec, listening to audiobooks while we work, and enjoying silence or one another when we’re not. It’s the little things, right?
In the meantime, I apologize for the sporadic posting here and hope after this renovation to be less flaky and return to some sort of normalcy, whatever that means. Hang with me, friends. Updates on our kitchen progress are coming soon. xo