olive, 5 | I either want to be an artist, a dancer, or a pizza girl. | This week I found you playing outside hosting a tea party with tasty treats and drinks made from mud. When I asked you if you were using my dishes, you simply looked away and sulked. The answer was obvious, yes.
blythe, 8 | I want to be a doctor or a veterinarian and definitely a coffee girl! | You’ve been doing grammar lessons together with Burke, and two of you learn together in such a specific way. You try so hard to keep up, aiming to blurt answers before he does–such a competitive little sister.
burke, 9 | That’s such a hard decision–probably a paleontologist. | We worked in the yard all day on Saturday, preparing the yard for Spring gardens and grass. Each time I looked over at you, you had a creature in your hands, sometimes a snake, sometimes and toad.
liam, 11 | I either want to be photographer or an architect–any job that doesn’t require me to work in a cubicle or wear a tuxedo. | This week you told me you wanted to go to school at Oxford. I can hardly think about how close those years and decisions are.
Since the kids are getting older, I have tried to think of ways to incorporate more of their voice into this portrait project. I’ve opted to add a new dynamic by asking each of my children one new question each week. I’ll continue adding my little anecdotes afterward, but I think this will be such a great addition to our annual portrait album. I’ve asked them six other questions that I plan to back post in weeks 1-6, some of the answers have honestly surprised me, in a good way though.
There’s a large hole in the window screen just over our kitchen sink. Inside it, two tiny wrens are building their nest, their secret. All day, they pop in and out of that hole, one pinching a twig in its beak, another grasping an old leaf. Sometimes they pause on the branches of the nearby tree and sing a song. Other times they simply gather new pieces and begin the process over again.
Patience can be such a funny lesson.
As children, we learn to practice patience externally. Wait for dessert. Wait until I’m finished talking. Wait until we get there. As an adult, patience becomes a matter of the heart. Wait for that opportunity. Wait for that person. Wait for that dream. Wait for God. Like the birds in my window, our hands and bodies remain busy with rote while internally we continue waiting for what’s yet to come. As the circumstances change, so does the waiting. Somewhere in this process, I am learning to be patient.
olive | Last weekend, you asked me to buy you a Teen Vogue Magazine and these $1 earmuffs while we were running errands. Although you could not understand why I said no to the magazine, you have worn these earmuffs everyday this week and keep telling me, “they keep my ears so warm.” I secretly hope you wear them into the spring.
blythe | We traveled out to the country for a day this week to spend time with good friends. One of their daughters gave you these slippers, a gift she could no longer wear. Everyday since, I watch these giant, pink lizard feet pace and skip and dance through the house, a natural compliment to your bright pink robe.
burke | When I bought you all new art journals last year, you requested the small, pocket-sized one–a perfect choice for car trips and outdoor walks. You’ve recently taken to sketching trees and told me you particularly loved the way this one’s trunk was turning out, “a little wider and twisted.” This little book is such a gift for you to collect your favorite observations and insight. I’m hoping it will continue to evolve into more of an art journal for you, a place where you can write your heart and the way you see the world.
liam | Although you are an avid reader, you love comic books and often create your own. I’ve noticed more and more how you are changing, maturing, wanting to be seen more as an adult than a child. You pay attention to the social nuances and many times try to lead peers and younger children around you into resolution and smart decisions–always in a fun-loving and gentle way. You certainly aren’t perfect, but I love watching how some aspects grown and change while other playful ones remain.
Cooking is both simpler and more necessary than we imagine. It has in recent years come to seem a complication to juggle against other complications, instead of what it can be—a clear path through them.
– Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal
When we sold our last home–a mid-century ranch we had renovated and transformed over a seven year period–the couple moving from Germany asked to include our large farm table in the sale, too. My husband looked at me with eyes that said, “well, what do you think?” and it took only as long as my mouth needed to form the word no to answer. They could have the newly refinished oak floors, the limestone countertops, the fridge we had bought for our first home, my favorite dining room light fixture, the large garden we had built from scratch and the new Oak trees we had planted to take over after our old, tired Oaks gave way–but the table felt sacred to me. It was more than wooden utility. For me, the table is story. In the cup rings, scratches, and uneven stain, I see hundreds of meals shared with friends and family, the school days and watercolors, the birthday parties and candle-lit dinners, the celebration of new marriages and babies, the tears of hardship and the stories of courage and belief. For almost a decade, this table has soaked up our life-spilled stories and days and every crumb we’ve shared in between. This piece was moving with us.
Yet somewhere in all of the transition and pace of last year–in the repairing of our new home, establishing new rhythms, and the haste to make ends meet financially–our family table became buried beneath tools and dust and projects and life, and our mealtime and cooking practices were buried along with it. Meals became forced and hurried, as did the connection we had with one another around it. Even this, the wandering and forgetting, is part of this table’s story. By the end of the year, I yearned for the leisure of this space, the connection with one another through food and conversation, even the messy and loud sort. I had realized that in all of my efficiency of routine to get things done, to simply take care of needs, I was skimming off some of the richest parts, the creme of our family life, our togetherness. We were becoming a familiar modern story of fast-food and moving meals.
I realize my story also belongs to many of you, not a tale about a piece of furniture or a specific food group, but one about a way of life, a connection with meals and togetherness. As Edith Schaeffer wrote in The Art of Homemaking, “Meals can be very small indeed, very inexpensive, short times taken in the midst of a big push at work, but they should be always more than just food.” Your family mealtime might take place at a beautiful formal dining table or perhaps around a kitchen island, a card table, or breakfast nook. Whatever the spot, a family meal doesn’t always require a dining room, fancy food, or a tablecloth, and although I prefer the slower, longer meals, it doesn’t always have to be that either. The true beauty is that the family table takes on as many shapes and forms as the people who fill them. The point is to keep returning, to keep nurturing that mealtime togetherness regardless.
At the end of last year, my husband and I began to evaluate our home-life, looking to mend the connections, relationally and practically, that had been neglected and strained during all of our change the last few years. Our family table seemed to be a simple place to begin, a place that we all longed for and needed for its regular meals and togetherness. Like few other things, the table nurtures and nourishes us. It cultivates story and memory with one another. It reminds us, even in a ten minute lunch, how to pause and receive. Below I wrote out some of the ways we’re reprioritizing this space and using our time around the table together. They will of course look different in your own home, but I hope they will somehow inspire you to keep nurturing your meals and the people you share them with.
start the day together // Since Mark leaves for work each morning just after 7am, we’ve been waking the kids up at 6:45am to come to the table, eat a simple breakfast, read this, and pray together. This time is usually quite simple and only 15 minutes or so long, but it’s become a sweet consistent way to begin/reset for our day.
add fresh florals // Fresh flowers and greenery are always one of the first meal details to cut from our budget. While they’re not a practical necessity, fresh flowers naturally draw attention to a space, to a place. I’ve noticed as my children are getting older, they notice and appreciate these details, too, “ooh, pretty flowers, mom!” This year, I decided to take a bit of our grocery cash each week to set aside for a few fresh blooms and leaves. It’s a small thing, but significant in nurturing a specific space, I think.
clear and clean the table // Without paying attention, I’ve realized it’s easy to simply get up and walk away from the table after a meal, leaving the dishes and crumbs right where they were. (I’m sure that’s not the case in your home.) Additionally, our table, naturally located in the flow of foot traffic, also becomes an easy place to drop mail, keys, library books, unfinished school work, etc. Although it seems obvious, no one enjoys gathering around a dirty or cluttered table. Take time before and after meals or other activities to clean up. Each of our children have specific jobs around mealtime preparation and clean-up. Currently, our girls (ages 5 and 8) are in charge of the table space right now, making sure it’s prepared and cleaned afterward, while the boys (ages 9 and 11) clean and clear the kitchen workspace and dishes.
make time to share // When we lived with my sister and brother-in-law for a year, there were ten of us at each meal (if no one else joined us). We needed a way to connect with one another in a very simple way, so my brother-in-law, Tim, began a tradition called “best/worst.” Each evening, one person begins by sharing the best and worst parts of their day, then they choose someone else at the table to do the same. This person shares and then chooses the following and so on until everyone has had a chance to share. We still practice this several nights a week, and I’m always surprised to hear the highlights of their days, often they’re far more simple than I expect, sometimes event the food iteself.
include the kids // Perhaps this is another obvious point, but having the kids participate in meal-planning and meal-making naturally slows us down, gives them familiarity with different cooking practices, and cultivates expectancy about the meal itself. Depending on their age, they might chop or process vegetables. They can sauté the onions, line the parchment paper in the pan, stir a pot of soup, kneed dough or butter the bread. Create space and time to have your children with you in the kitchen. Teach them how to protect the fingers while chopping or properly wash the food beforehand. Give them cookbooks to flip through and discover what they might like to try.
What are some of the ways you/your family connect at mealtime?
olive // During our last trip to the library, you only selected cookbooks, and this week, we’ve been making a few simple recipes from this one (my favorite of your choices). Here you’re making a ranch dip with fresh dill, greek yogurt, onions, and garlic. We enjoyed it all week at snack time with fresh sliced peppers and carrots. Another night, you made brownies from scratch for our home church. I love your affection for making, for filling others with good foods.
blythe // This week, when the sun appeared, you climbed the trees in your winter boots. It felt like the simplest picture of your determination, a clear and unrelenting focus. I love how easily you perform your work, without the slightest of distractions.
burke // As the days begin to warm again, I find you out in this spot more often, writing, reading, thinking. You watch the wildlife in our yard so carefully, always reporting where birds are nesting and the toads are hiding. I love your love for nature, for creation.
liam // This week, we’ve continued working in the yard, cleaning out dead plants and limbs, creating a space for our garden. One afternoon, you scooped piles of mud from the ground and made pottery: bowls, cups, and dishes of various sizes. I can’t wait to watch all the ways your artistic expression expands in these coming years.
This week the girls spent 4 days on their own with Nina and Papa while the boys stayed home with us. Blythe and Olive loved every bit of their time away, having some special attention and doing a few special activities, like watching Annie and Paddington, building puzzles, or playing with cousins. We enjoyed having time with just the boys doing a few memorable things together like eating Sushi, watching Guardians of the Galaxy, and working in the yard together. The boys kept saying to one another, “the house is just SO quiet.” I think we all missed the noise and life those girls both bring to this place.
olive // on this day, you played in a puddle in your favorite dress, throwing your hands full of water and mud to the sky–your smile, missing teeth and full of song. Dad often tells you how much he loves this small window of time without your front teeth. You are adorable.
blythe // I found a picture this week of you at age 4. You were sitting at our coffee table, your head resting in your arms, while you watched your older brothers play with their Legos. I notice that same expression now when you step on a skateboard, testing out their hobbies. I love watching you learn from them and form your own path and style.
burke //I caught you treading through what’s left of our backyard brush, talking and laughing with dad a few feet away. Your heart and expression always seems so relaxed in nature, even in our little yard. When I asked you to look at me for a picture, you turned and stuck out your butt instead, laughing at your own joke. I love your quirky humor.
liam // This week I met with your orthodontist about putting on your braces. When dad mentioned to you that the orthodontist also wanted to pull your last two baby teeth, you quickly began wiggling them. You successfully pulled one of them two days later. This is a small picture of how motivated you are when you want/need to be. You hate having your teeth pulled.
My husband and I recently watched an old episode of Friends, one where Monica passes around recent pictures she’s taken, nervously saying, “don’t touch the photos! It will leave fingerprints.” My husband looked at me and said, “it’s such a different world now.” And it’s true. Like so many of you, I rarely have images to pass around to my children or friends. Instead, I simple pull out my phone to pass around or email images from my computer. A few months ago, I wrote a bit about the art of memory keeping and my goals to combine my writing and images about our life into a printed journal. This is something I’m aiming to change in 2015.
Sometime early last year, I discovered life:captured inc., a modern school for memory keeping run by two very talented women in Australia, Trish and Ronnie. Through workshops and, more recently, online classes, they teach everything from storytelling with your images to organizing your files and printing life books or story books. They were creating exactly what I had always envisioned and offering me tools to learn the same!
In November, they offered their first round of online classes–a more realistic option for me, seeing that their workshops are hosted in Australia. I chose the six-week course, “InDesign for Beginners,” with Ronnie because I had no experience with this Adobe graphic design software and I wanted to learn how to create templates for my own family storybooks. It was incredible! Each week, Ronnie would release a new lesson including video guidance, notes (the transcript of the videos), and lesson assignments to practice for the week. Enrollment to the class also included a private class forum to dialogue with Ronnie and other students about things that were challenging or not working well. Most lessons could be completed in 30 minutes, a reasonable time commitment, I think. And you could review previous lessons at any time. I had to do this after the holidays, since I had missed a couple with all the family happenings. I ended up watching each lesson twice over the course and used the printed notes to underline shortcuts or parts I kept forgetting for quick reference.
I certainly recommend having an iPad or tablet to watch the videos. It’s not impossible without, but you’ll end up watching, pausing, and flipping to your own InDesign screen back and forth often, which could easily become frustrating and cumbersome. I did this the first lesson. With the iPad (or some other device), I could play the videos beside me and follow along simultaneously on my own screen. Here’s a couple of screenshots from one of the projects I developed while in the class. I chose writing, quotes, and DSLR images from our afternoon at the beach last summer.
One of my personal goals this year is to print more photos and family journals this year. (It was last year, too, but I feel more equipped this time.–wink.) One of the most helpful parts of the class was hearing and seeing how Ronnie organizes all of her online files throughout the year. Some images she prints weekly, others seasonally, and others annually. Isn’t she incredible? I am so inspired to keep these files in order and print them this year!
Maybe you’re like me and have a goal to print more photos or photo books of your children, or maybe you’re just learning how to use a camera and want to learn take better pictures and tell stories through them. Either way, I highly recommend any of life:captured’s online classes. I should also note, the deadline for their next group of classes is this Saturday, January 31–so jump in quickly!
This post is in partnership with life:captured inc., a small business devoted to helping others with modern memory keeping. As always, all thoughts and opinions I write are my own.