Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Townhouse Again

And here we stand again. Our townhouse is for sale. If you know anyone who is looking for a townhouse in the Chicago area, please send them our way! We are motivated and eager and the house is in great shape.

Thanks everyone! Together we are finally going to get this thing done! : )

Friday, May 30, 2008

Novice Gardeners #1


A year and a half ago, we moved into this house that we fell in love with a while back. I guess that is not entirely truthful... we fell in love with the yard. As the parents of four busy children, we knew we wanted a yard that would give them the space they need to play. Outside. A lot. : ) It was Father's Day two years ago that we took a glance over the fence into the backyard of this house that was for sale... and there it was... a backyard we could see our kids in.


The story of our move (and life since then) is long and to be saved for another time. But regardless of how difficult things may have become, we have loved every minute of living in this house. It is old and basic and functional and just the sort of place we had hoped to raise our family. One of things we really looked forward to doing in this "new" house was raise a garden. The previous owner was renowned for his gardening ability and we gratefully glean lessons from his fingerprints all around.


We began our gardening experience last year and fumbled through our first season happily eating the veggies that survived our inexperience. The kids learned to weed... we learned to weed... we learned the wonder of Preen! : ) We grew zucchini as big as the kid's legs and baked more zuke bread than any one family should be blessed to consume! And we loved it... all the work... all the harvesting... because it was fun and because we could do it and because it was free!




So, now starts the new season and maybe you are gardening, too. This past weekend was the first weekend this year when we felt comfortable enough to begin to plant without a fear of frost. The garden plot was rototill-ed and we strung a rope through the center of the garden so we could keep track of our rows and so the kids would know where it was safe to walk. We planted seeds and seedlings and studied companion planting so our veggies will be happy. Wondering what went in? Here is our list:

tomatoes

chives (came up all by themselves)

cantaloupe

watermelon

strawberries

herbs

green beans

zucchini

eggplant

acorn squash

lettuce

onions

cucumbers

peas

pumpkins (huge and tiny)

and one beautiful baby apple tree!



So, that is our list... what is on yours? We are learning as we go... step by step. We moved things around this year... separated our squash plants and put the tomatoes in a sunnier spot. We involved the kids in the planting and will have them help a lot with the upkeep and harvesting. As summer begins, we will post pictures now and then to show you how it is coming and I hope to hear from you about what you are learning in your own gardens, as well. There is something so homey about working side by side with your family to till the soil, weed the rows and protect the baby seedlings as they grow up... It's a lot like parenting, isn't it?



The First Day



Yesterday, my older boys finished up their school year and for us, summer began. It has not at all felt like the end of the year since Spring has never quite shown up in Chicago. We have had more cold days than ever before and have had frost warnings several times in the last week. But, it was time for the end and the end came.

The end of the year is always a sad time for us. My kids attend an amazing school where they are happy and challenged and loved. Saying goodbye to their friends is one thing... saying good-bye to teachers is clearly another. Come September, friends will gather again but the days my boys will spend with their teachers have completely come to a close. It is a loss that they feel each and every year.


That said, they were ready for a slower pace. The need more sleep, less structure and time to revel in the amazing creation God has draped generously around us. And so we begin our summer... on a day that will threaten thunderstorms all day long!

With rain threatening, I sent all my kids out the door first thing this morning. If we will spend our afternoon bouncing off the indoor walls, we need to make the most of the pre-precipitation hours. Out they went, somewhat unsure of what to do, to begin their summer vacation. Within just a few minutes, a wonderful rhythm of sibling play began in our backyard. Josiah mixing water and sand and dirt to make "breakfast" for his koala Webkins. Elizabeth hitting balls off the tee and swinging on swings and watching her big brothers play. Noah pitching to Benjamin who is trying to find his game. And momma watching it all with a heart over-flowing. No bickering. No fighting. Peace in the yard and a few minutes to catch our breath. A very good thing.


As summer begins and we face an endless string of structure-less days, may we all have moments when we can see clearly what is most important before us. These three months will have more to do with moments in the yard than expensive vacations away. An hour of pitching, a mudpie and bat will form for our families the memories that stick longest in their minds. And in ours.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Day of Pause

Today is Tuesday. With the year's activities winding down, this is the first day in weeks when I really have no where to be. My children do not have activities... we oddly do not even have baseball this evening. My littlest ones do not have preschool. The Mom's Group I run has finished for the season and at 10:00 AM, I am still in my pajamas. This day is, for us, a day of pause.



Yesterday Josiah and Elizabeth went to preschool for the very last regular day. While Elizabeth will return in the Fall to that school, and to that amazing group of patient, Godly women, it was literally Josiah's last day. He takes endings hard and spent a lot of time over the weekend reflecting on this loss. It was a bittersweet day... not just for him but for me as well. Tomorrow is Elizabeth and Josiah's preschool program and Josiah will graduate. He will be given a Bible storybook and will walk across the front of the church and somewhere in those steps he will cross over a hidden threshold and find himself in a whole new world. No longer a preschooler but instead a kindergartner.



Today, Noah is on a field trip. The fifth graders are at the Dunes for the day celebrating the end of grade school. My oldest is heading to middle school and today is his day to play and run and rejoice. Mark went with him and though it is barely 60 degrees outside, both talked about jumping into Lake Michigan with Noah's buddies from school.



In two days, the fifth graders will spend one hour, in school, having "the talk". There is no way for me to ignore it or pretend it is not happening. He is growing up. I must admit, I have mixed feelings about it all... I am excited for Noah and find myself smiling at how enthusiastically he is approaching his own adolescence. But, I know what it is to be momma to little boys. I know what it is to be momma to babies and preschoolers and elementary students. What does it look like to parent a young man? A teenager? This holds new challenges for Mark and I. It is a strange thing, I think, to look into the face of growing boy and still see, somewhere behind his eyes, the face that I gazed upon the day he was born.


I was at a baby shower this past weekend. A dear friend of mine who taught with me for years in Indiana is expecting her first baby. She is thrilled and those of us who have traveled with her could not possibly be happier. We were asked to share parenting advice and each of the women in the room eagerly jotted down a thought or two. We sat together with decades of parenting experience... many having little ones and some of us in the throes of adolescence. There were women there too who had children leaving for college and some with children older than that. One momma suggested that my friend take the time to hold her children... and do not rush... sit and hold them and revel in that moment because in very short order, her babies will be grown. And do you know what happened next? That room of mommas, all in different stages, swallowed hard, dotted at their eyes and held in their hearts the memories of their babies in their arms, rocking, singing, crying, holding... moments that passed all too quickly.



Today is a day of pause for us. While we sit here at home, enjoying a gloriously slow morning with little to nothing calling us to the next best thing, my kids are preparing for changes in their young lives. Elizabeth will be going to preschool, without Josiah... a fact that already has her telling him how much he will be missed in the fall. Josiah will be going off to full-day Kindergarten... leaving behind his beloved preschool and his sister and and momma as well. Benjamin will be heading into fourth grade... the year of projects and a lot of "parent homework". And Noah? He will be in middle school... with a locker and a team of teachers and a social scene that will be new and different. It is a lot of change for us. But for today, we have a minute to breathe and think and reflect on the wonder of the journey we have traveled so far. We have time to be grateful for it all and know that it has been GOOD... really, really GOOD. Change does not have to be negative and for me this is a good reminder. Being with my babies through each and every stage has been an incredible experience. I have great hope that the future holds the same.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Old Gray Shirt

It still surprises me that I cannot predict which days will hold one of those overwhelming "mommy moments" and which will not. After all, I am not a newbie! Having been at this for over 11 years, you would think that I would know when I was going to be faced with something that ties all those years together and sends me adrift on a wave of nostalgia. And, one would certainly never expect an old t-shirt to do that very thing.

Monday, Josiah started the day by reading his preschool calendar to find that it would be paint day. He was thrilled and I was grateful for a reminder to send my two preschoolers out the door dressed in less than their very best. Off we ran to drop them off and I found my head swimming with many responsibilities and expectations for my free two hours.

It went too quickly and maybe I was tired. I didn't see it coming. I picked up Josiah and Elizabeth and began my usual series of questions about their morning away. Did you read any stories? Did you sing songs? Who did you play with today? And then, it came. From behind my seat, Josiah's voice... "Momma, we get to bring home our paint shirts today." Both Josiah and Elizabeth simultaneously flung their well used paint shirts from inside their preschool backpacks.

I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw my two little ones beaming with t-shirts streaming in circles above their little heads. And then, the memories fell on me like rain and not one part of me was not awash in their power.

It was years ago and Noah was only four. I was getting ready to kiss my first-born good-bye as he skipped his yellow jacketed self off to preschool for the very first time. The list had come from the school and I had dutifully collected the expected items, labeled them and sealed them inside zip-lock bags. My baby needed a paint shirt and the teachers had suggested that we use one of mom or dad's old tees. I rifled through my drawers and pulled out an old gray Hanes that I literally never wore. I wrote Noah's name on the inside collar and packed it into a bag for the beginning of his academic career. : )

Fast forward two years. Noah was in first grade and it was time for Benjamin to begin his preschool year. Same list. Same shirt. With a permanent marker, I wrote Benjamin's name in block letters across the hem on the shirt pocket. Tucked in bag, sent to school. A well-used shirt!

Four years later, Josiah started school. I had to think... no, truth be told... I had to SEARCH to find the shirt. When I did it this time, it was from no nostalgic motive but instead from a point of pure economics. I HAD a paint shirt for a preschooler somewhere and did not want to purchase or sacrifice another shirt for this purpose. It took some time... a lot of time... to figure out where an unwearable, paint stained, double labeled shirt might have landed for four long years. Hours into my reconnaissance mission, I found the shirt! With a permanent marker, I covered over Benjamin's name on the pocket (a move I now regret) and wrote Josiah's name, big and bold, diagonally across the belly of the shirt. Off to preschool it went. Josiah found great joy in adding a bit of paint to the shirt each time he used it at preschool.

This year, for the first time ever, I had TWO preschoolers and had to find another seldom used shirt for my daughter to wear. The old gray tee was joined by a pink striped shirt in the ziplock at the school. I have to be honest though and say, the pink shirt looked so... well... ordinary in comparison to the rainbow painted, thoroughly splattered, name emblazoned gray shirt that had been worn for so many preschool projects.

Preschool ends next week. Josiah "graduates" on Wednesday and the school year is wrapping up. A bit at a time, the supplies from the list are making their way back home and so it came to be that my 4 and 5 year old children were spinning shirts above their sweet little heads in the van on Monday afternoon.

When we got home, it all became so clear to me. Josiah is done. You do not need a paint shirt in Kindergarten and there are no boy babies home with me awaiting their turn for a year in our beloved preschool. Yes, Elizabeth will go off to preschool, one more year, but she will take with her the pink shirt she has fully claimed as her own. The gray shirt is done. Done. How can that really be?

We came home and Josiah and Elizabeth went outside to play. I sat in the family room with the shirt in my hands and shook it out to really take it all in. As the shirt unfolded, the characteristic aroma of powdered temperas filled the air around me and I let my hands fall gently across the preschool masterpiece decorating the front. The names were all there... one does not launder a paint shirt often... and I could see Noah's on the collar, Benjamin's on the pocket (though sadly covered over) and Josiah's beneath two years of dried preschool paint. A history of days gone by and a story told in pictures... in markers... in names on a shirt I never wore. I felt it all right then... the days upon days of raising my boys and the overwhelming reality that my boys are all done with preschool. They are growing into students... growing into teens... growing into men.

How can it be that holding a t-shirt in my hands can bring all the little details of a lifetime of parenting into such clear view. Three blonde boys, three shining faces, three yellow jackets, three sets of stories and questions and experiences all held by one discarded gray shirt. How can it be that the past can be so clear and so PRESENT at the same time as the future feels so close?

It still surprises me that I cannot tell when a "mommy moment" will hit me in the deepest part of my very self. I have been at this a long time already... but today I know that I want to be at it for a long, long time to come. I hold this shirt on my lap and get ready to tuck it gently into my cedar chest, knowing fully that these early years have already gone too fast. But the memories we have are GOOD ones and I am grateful to have proof in tempera on an old gray shirt.
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